Question: I am trying to convince my cousin that Roman Catholics are wrong…he is asking where in [the] Bible is it written in the New Testament [that] we must not pray with a photo or idol of Jesus Christ.
Answer: I understand that you are concerned because your cousin prays before a photo or statue of Christ. I know you are concerned because these images can become an idol that a person could pray to if not instructed correctly. Also, that you want to find a verse in the New Testament against this so you can win your argument with your cousin.
I have seen Roman Catholics in Mexico and some in the United States praying before images of Christ, Mary or one of the saints. We as Evangelicals get very concerned about this sort of thing because of the fear of breaking the commandment that says we should not make an image of God to worship it. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image-any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.” Exodus 20:4-5
One of my friends is a Roman Catholic who loves the Lord, so I asked him about this very thing, that you are asking. I said something to the effect, don’t you believe it is wrong for people to bow down and worship a statue of Mary or others? I shared with him how I had seen people in Mexico kneeling before what we would call an idol of a saint or of Mary, etc.
His answer was interesting, because he commented, “We know that we are not to worship the statues. Good Roman Catholic churches have this in their teaching, that you should reverence Mary and the saints but we are not to worship them. The statues are just there to help you get your thoughts on Christ. The people who worship the images are wrong in doing this and are untaught,” he said.
This seemed to make sense to him, but it really didn’t convince me. To me it would be a hindrance, not a help. Also, I would worry about those who would get the wrong message from the image in front of them, as so often has happened and some actually do pray to the images.
I know of an Evangelical church in Mexico, where the Roman Catholics call Evangelicals (Halleluiahs), which is probably not that bad of a nick name, anyway, they wanted to try and stop the work being started in their village, so they brought a statue of the Virgin Mary hoping that this would drive the Christians away. This didn’t work, so they tried persecution and other tactics. Needless to say, the Halleluiahs are still there and growing in numbers all the time.
That being said, I am not sure that the best way to reach Roman Catholics who are not born again is by trying to change their beliefs where we differ. My approach, and I believe it is Biblical, is to witness to them in love. We might be able to win an argument and lose the one we want to reach. Jesus and Paul’s approach to witnessing was to find areas of need. With the woman at the well for Jesus it was to point her to Himself as the living water. For Paul it was to point the people on Mars Hill to the unknown God that they worshipped.
The way that I have found that works to reach Roman Catholics is not to argue about our differences, but it is better to speak to what we do agree upon. We both believe Jesus is the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity. We believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, that Jesus is both God and man. We both believe that there is a heaven and a hell. We both believe that the Bible is the Word of God.
So we have a starting point for our discussion. Now, I would use their own Bible (it is very similar to ours) to show them verses like John 3:16, Romans 3:23, and Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:8,9, etc., and read the verses in the context as well. Why should we discuss these other issues, like praying to Mary or the saints first, these things, in most cases, will fall away if a person becomes truly born again. Your goal should be to show them the love of Christ, not to try and win arguments about the faith. They will change in their attitudes and desires after they are truly saved. Christ has to do that work in them; it is not something you or I can do.
So stick to the basics of salvation. Roman Catholics have a strong reverence for the blood of Christ as He shed it for them on the cross. Why not stay on this subject and point out that you are trusting in Christ’s blood to save you. They will listen to you if you share in the love of Christ with them.
Why not offer to study the Bible with them, or invite them to your home Bible study? They would be far more apt to come to a home Bible study than they would be to go to your church. When they come to the home Bible study do not harp on things in the Roman Catholic Church that you do not agree with. Again, share in love, like you would want someone to talk to you. Show them from the Word of God why you believe what you believe. Pray for them and show them true Christian love! Watch how these methods will work with many Roman Catholics. Many are searching for the truth and are coming out of the Roman Church to find it.
It is sad how we show Christian love to reach the atheists, but when it comes to showing someone who is religious how to be saved, we so often treat them with hostility. The love of Christ is still what reaches the lost religious person as well as the atheist. Wasn’t it the love of Christ that reached you? Think again how Christ reached out to the lost Jews, and I am not talking here of the lost religious leaders who hated Him, but the others who showed interest, like Nicodemus.
Let’s look at that story and see how Christ witnessed to a seeking religious Jew, who, by the way received the message of Christ and became a follower of His. 38 “After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. 39 And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.” John 19:38-39
Now let’s go back to the beginning of the story of Nicodemus and see how Christ witnessed to a religious person who was seeking the truth: John 3
“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, you must be born again. 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?”
10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? 11 Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” John 3:1-21
Notice that Jesus did not really argue with Nicodemus, but rather in love showed him the way of salvation. This is the best way to witness to your Roman Catholic relatives and friends, or for that matter, anyone else who you want to win to the Lord Jesus Christ.
I hope this will be of use to you,
Gary T. Panell
For more information email me: [email protected]