Saturday, July 21, 2007

How can I criticize Mother Teresa?

I just finished reading Mother Teresa: A Simple Path. I was asked to read this book to see if it should be placed in our church library. I am recommending that we do put it in the library because of its positive elements and for the Christian reader to be informed about her historical work, but with a statement of caution in the flyleaf. Why is that?

Mother Teresa is well known for her work with "the poorest of the poor" in Calcutta, India and around the world, for which she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. This book is a collection of thoughts by Mother Teresa and her followers on her philosophy of life and ministry. This path is summed up on page 1 of the book this way: "The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, and the fruit of service is peace."

The book is inspiring in its devotion to love the poor by loving Jesus Christ through the poor. There are many inspiring testimonies from volunteers, prayers, and simple statements that show how she kept her focus on her mission. She had a wonderful appreciation for the value of every human life, including the unborn. On p. 55 she asks why people worry about children being killed in wars but do not oppose mothers killing their own children.

I hesitate to say anything critical about Mother Teresa, because she has done far more for the needy in the name of Jesus than I have. However, I must point out that in an attempt to be non-judgmental, Mother Teresa falls into the error of universalism. That is, she teaches that any religion is an equally valid way to get to Heaven. For example, on p. 31 she says, "I've always said we should help a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Muslim become a better Muslim, a Catholic become a better Catholic." This contradicts the words of Jesus, who said He was the only way to the Father (John 14:6), and the words of the apostle Paul, who said that there is salvation in no other name than the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12). We should not be surprised that Mother Teresa takes this viewpoint, as universalism is a common view of salvation among Roman Catholics. Nevertheless, Protestants who are inspired by her devotion should be cautious of her as a theologian.

Since Mother Teresa has died, she will no doubt be made a "saint" by the Roman Catholic Church (actually all believers are called "saints" in scripture, as we see in Philippians 1:1.) Her work is truly inspiring and deserving of recognition. However, her teaching about salvation sadly falls short of the teachings of the Bible.


Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Rev. Rogers,
Taking out of context one short passage from Mother Teresa and ascribing "universalism" to her beliefs about the unique role of Chirst in salvation is unfair.
I would challenge you 1) to read much more of what she has written and 2) to provide your source for your claim that "universalism is a common view among Roman Catholics." It is most certainly not the view of this Catholic, nor is it the view of any of the Catholics I know, nor is it what our Church teaches.
We agree that Sacred Scripture refers to all believers as "saints." But there is a difference between a saint (small "s") and a Saint (capital "S"). It is analogous to the difference between polish and Polish. I don't suggest you use Polish on your shoes, or you will have one made Pole on your hands.
When the Church declares a person to be a Saint, we are saying that he or she was an uncommon example of discipleship, someone who, in exemplary ways, followed the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Mother Teresa and the other Catholics who know that all who are saved are saved through Jesus thank you.
Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh
Our Lady of Lourdes Church
Port Wentworth, Georgia

Brother Bob said...

Father Kavanaugh,
The quote was not taken out of context. I read every word of the book, and I noticed this trend throughout the book. The quote I gave was only one example. Here are additional quotations from the book:
"I have never found a problem with people from different religions praying together. What I have found is that people are just hungry for God, and be they Christian or Muslim we invite them to pray with us... (In this passage she goes on to say she encourages the reading of any scripture from any religion at devotions.)
"God is not separate from the Church as He is everywhere and in everything and we are all His children-- Hindu, Muslim, or Christian...
"Anyone is capable of going to Heaven..." (In this passage, she does not clarify that going to Heaven is by faith in Christ.)
(Mother Teresa, A Simple Path, p. 31-32, 59, 73.
Mother Teresa says that she is saved through Jesus, but she clearly leavess the impression that Muslims can be saved by Islam, Hindus by Hinduism, etc.
I will return with a separate reply on your challenge regarding universalism being common among Roman Catholics.

Brother Bob said...

Now, regarding the question of whether it is common for Roman Catholics to teach universalism, please note these quotations:

"The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God" (Catechism #841)

The above appears to imply that Muslims who follow Islam will attain salvation and are not damned.

The prominent but dissident Catholic theologian Hans Kung said:

"First, we Christians can no longer look upon Islam as a path to hell -- as did the earlier Catholic teaching and as many conservative Protestant churches still do today. Rather, we should view it as one possible path to eternal life (which, since Vatican II, is possible for the Catholic Church, but is still disputed by some within the World Council of Churches). Islam, too, is therefore a path of salvation..."
[A Christian Scholar’s Dialogue with Muslims by Hans Kung]

Kung was a dissident Catholic, but here's a statement from a Vatican official: "The universality of Christ's redemption for Jews and gentiles is so fundamental throughout the entire New Testament ... that it cannot be ignored or passed over in silence," "This does not mean that Jews in order to be saved have to become Christians; if they follow their own conscience and believe in God's promises as they understand them in their religious tradition, they are in line with God's plan, which for us comes to historical completion in Jesus Christ," ― Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, Nov. 6th 2002.

Pope John Paul II said that normally, “it will be in the sincere practice of what is good in their own religious traditions and by following the dictates of their own conscience that the members of other religions respond positively to God’s invitation and receive salvation in Jesus Christ, even while they do not recognize or acknowledge him as their Saviour (cf. Ad gentes, nn. 3, 9, 11)” (Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue – Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Instruction Dialogue and Proclamation, 19 May 1991, n. 29; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 1 July 1991, p. III).

This last quote may clear up the reason for our disagreement. Many statements that I read from Roman Catholics, such as the last quote above, teach that good, religious people are saved by Jesus Christ, even if they don't acknowledge Jesus Christ. This is like trying to have your cake and eat it, too. The Bible does not give us such an option. Jesus says in Luke 12:8-9 that a declaration of faith in Christ is required for salvation: "And I say to you, anyone who acknowledges Me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God, but whoever denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God."

Bloodiest of Ladies said...

I believe Mother Theresa has already been cannonized. Below is the process, and mention of her, but I've included it for the process.

***The process of becoming a Catholic saint is very lengthy, often taking decades or centuries to complete. The canonization process has been in the news off and on over the past few years, because of the movement to make Mother Teresa a saint.

Soon after her death in 1997, Mother Teresa's followers began pressing the Vatican to waive the rule that prevents the process of canonization from beginning until five years following the candidate's death. This rule has traditionally been used to allow for a more objective look at a person's life and achievements. In 1999, the pope did waive the five-year rule, allowing the canonization process to begin. Here are the steps that must be followed:

A local bishop investigates the candidate's life and writings for evidence of heroic virtue. The information uncovered by the bishop is sent to the Vatican.
A panel of theologians and the cardinals of the Congregation for Cause of Saints evaluate the candidate's life.
If the panel approves, the pope proclaims that the candidate is venerable, which means that the person is a role model of Catholic virtues.
The next step toward sainthood is beatification. Beatification allows a person to be honored by a particular group or region. In order to beatify a candidate, it must be shown that the person is responsible for a posthumous miracle. Martyrs, those who died for their religious cause, can be beatified without evidence of a miracle. On October 20th, 2003, Mother Teresa was beatified. She will now be known as Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata.
In order for the candidate to be considered a saint, there must be proof of a second posthumous miracle. If there is, the person is canonized.
These alleged miracles must be submitted to the Vatican for verification. Sister Teresia Benedicta of the Cross was canonized in 1997 after the Vatican verified that a young girl who ate seven times the lethal dose of Tylenol was suddenly cured. The girl's family was said to have prayed to the spirit of Sister Teresia for help. In Mother Teresa's case, her supporters are arguing that she has performed at least two posthumous miracles. In one case, a French woman in the United States broke several ribs in a car accident -- reportedly, her wounds were healed because she was wearing a Mother Teresa medallion. Another possible miracle occurred when Mother Teresa appeared in the dreams of a Palestinian girl, telling the girl that her cancer was cured.

Once a person is a saint, he or she is recommended to the entire Catholic church for veneration. Some saints are selected as patron saints, special protectors or guardians over particular occupations, illnesses, churches, countries or causes. For example, the Pope is planning on naming a patron saint of Internet users and computer programmers. Several saints are being considered, but the lead candidate is St. Isidore of Seville, who is credited with writing the world's first encyclopedia. Click here to see a full list of patron saints. ***

Bloodiest of Ladies said...


I have to wonder sometimes how it is that people think they've come to have a handle on the mind of God. I know the answer I'll get; The Bible. It's a wonderful book, full of valuable stories and I, for one, think King James did a heck of a job putting the only version any of us are reading together.

I do wonder, though, what is required to have ourselves believing that a book (wholly unprovable) is the absolute standard by which to damn people to hell.

Could it be that a primative society wrote their thoughts about something they didn't (and we still don't) understand? Could it be that God arranged for them to write it in different ways to show himself in a way that different people would understand? Do any of these books really contradict one another in anything but title and some names? And if they do, could it not be that over the last 2000 years there were just mistakes?

I know you can answer every question there. I also know that every answer will hinge on the absolute and singular authority of the Bible.

I don't doubt that God exists, and unlike most people claiming a major religion, I can't imagine a loving God looking for reasons to send people to hell. If I treated my child that way everyone would call me a bad parent, why do we not expect more of God? And why have some become so steeped in their small expectations as to not even consider that an all-knowing God might have thought to lead different people differently?

The world is full of beautiful things, things to be happy about, things to show us power and plenty. Those things don't have to be seen through an anglosized version of a book written by people even less prepared for the circumstances than we are, and called into a good deal of question by the things that can be proved.

Brother Bob said...

You are correct that I find my answers in the "absolute an singular authority of the Bible." Everybody needs a worldview. For some people it is the latest Michael Moore film or the writings of Karl Marx or the opinions of Oprah Winfrey or their favorite commentator on Fox News. I prefer the Bible, which will still be here long after the above-named persons are forgotten.
However, I think you misunderstand the God of the Bible. Rather than a "God looking for reasons to send people to hell," I find a God looking for people to bring them to heaven. The parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 is a beautiful example, where the forgiving Father (representing God) sees His repentant son returning, and even while the son is far away, the Father runs to him and throws His arms around him and kisses Him.
The God of the Bible is the God mentioned in Romans 5:8, who proved His own love for us while we were still sinners, by sending Christ to die for us.
You see, God is a God of justice who cannot ignore our sin. Heaven is a place of perfection, where we cannot enter in because of our sin. But God is also a God of love, so He made a way for every person to be able to have sin forgiven and go to heaven, by trusting in the sacrifice of Christ.
C.S. Lewis has a classic book called The Great Divorce, which is not about divorce from marriage but about the gap between heaven and hell. The book describes an imaginary bus tour of heaven and hell. In the book, those who reject Christ do not like heaven, because they don't want to be in a place that worships a God they don't worship.
Those who go to hell do so by their own decision to reject the way of Christ offered to them.

Anonymous said...

Hello Friend, You should not hesitate to call Mother Theresa what she is: a false teacher. Giving people food and clothing and then helping them to hell with damning doctrine is the purest form of hate. Stating this biblical truth is not about judging the dead, it's about warning the living. Her good works are filthy rags to a righteous perfect God. To say that her good works did anything to justify herself in God's eyes is to blaspheme God's holiness. God cannot stand to be near anyone if they cloth themselves in anything but the righteousness of Jesus. She has helped millions into hell by lying about the bible and telling people it's ok to be muslim; it's ok to be buhddist; it's ok to be hindu. IT'S NOT OK. IT SENDS YOU TO HELL FOR ETERNITY AND ETERNITY IS A LONG TIME. And Mother Theresa is undoubtedly swapping flames with Pope John Paul II and every other do-gooder moralist that hates God. She has been burning in hell for a few years now and she has eternity left to go!

Anonymous said...

Brother Bob,

I would like to offer you some advice and admonitions: If you put the MT book in your church library, put it next to a copy of the Quran, Book of Mormon or Vanity Fair.
Don't lend a hand to the father of lies by peddling his lies that are straight out of hell! Don't fear man (e.g. someone who likes to be called Father--what a sick joke), who will certainly persecute you when you say "a 'good' lady like mother theresa is burning in hell because she worshipped deeds" In her own words:

"What we are all trying to do by our work, by serving the people, is to come closer to God. If in coming face to face with God we accept Him in our lives, then we are converting. We become a better Hindu, a better Muslim, a better Catholic, a better whatever we are, and then by being better we come closer and closer to Him. If we accept Him fully in our lives, then that is conversion. What approach would I use? For me, naturally, it would be a Catholic one, for you it may be Hindu, for someone else, Buddhist, according to one's conscience. What God is in your mind you must accept." [Desmond Doig, "Mother Teresa: Her People and Her Work", William Collins Sons & Co., Ltd., Glascow, 1976, page 136, as quoted by Constance Cumbey, in "A Planned Deception: The Staging of a New Age Messiah", Pointe Publishers, East Detroit, Michigan, ISBN 0-935897-00-3, page 108].

It's astonishing to think about how many people she helped into hell. And all people want to talk about is how many people she fed???!!! She fed them alright--she fed them to Satan. She clothed them alright--she clothed them with white flame!

Brother Bob said...

Dear Anonymous,
The tone of your comments are so harsh that you will turn off the very people you are trying to persuade.
While I obviously agree that Mother Teresa's teachings are in error, I do not agree that it naturally follows that she is going to hell. I believe Mother Teresa was a Christian who went to Heaven, and it is NOT because of her good deeds. It is because Mother Teresa clearly states that for her, her faith is in Jesus Christ to save her from sin. It is unfortunate that she did not teach that Jesus is the only way to Heaven for all people, and I agree that her teaching can lead others astray, but I do not agree with your statement that "Mother Theresa is undoubtedly swapping flames with Pope John Paul II." If salvation is truly by grace through faith in Christ, then that includes imperfect people who may not have all of their theology correct, but they trust in Jesus alone to save them. From reading her book, I am convinced that Mother Teresa believed in Jesus alone for her own salvation.

Anonymous said...

Rev. Rogers:
Your interpretation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church #841 ("The above appears to imply that Muslims who follow Islam will attain salvation and are not damned.") is incorrect. While that may APPEAR to you to be the meaning, it is not, because you do not understand the integrity of Catholic theology. Taking Catechism #841 out of context - the context is the Church's teaching regarding the unique role of Jesus in salvation - may make it APPEAR that we teach that Muslims are saved without Jesus. But this is not the case. Anyone who attains heaven does so through the unique mediation of Jesus Christ.

Your incomplete undersatnding of the integrity of our theology also leads you to misunderstand the quotes you cite from Mother Teresa.
"...she leaves the impression that Muslims can be saved by Islam, Hindus by Hinduism, etc." As a good Catholic who believed in the necessity of Jesus for salvation, I am quite sure that Mother Teresa did not want you to think she was saying that Muslims or Hindus could be saved without Jesus.

Quoting a "dissident" theologian as a representative of Catholic teaching and belief makes about as much sense as my quoting a former Baptist minister who has converted to Catholicism as an example of what Baptists teach and believe.

Moses and Elijah, both in heaven, made no "declaration of faith in Christ," yet they are in heaven. Severely retarded children, incapable of making a "declaration of faith in Christ" are, I believe, also in heaven. Now, I am sure you will say that in these circumstances, God achieved their salvation in some way other than a declaration of faith in Christ.

And that is what I am saying God can achieve in non-Christians. If God has chosen to save the Hebrews Moses and Elijah, can can choose, if God so chooses, to save the Muslim. And all of this is accomplished because Jesus died on the cross and rose on the third day.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh
Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church
Port Wentworth, Georgia

Brother Bob said...

Father Kavanaugh,
Thank you for these clarifications of Catholic theology. It was helpful to understanding your position on this critical issue.
So you are telling me that I was incorrect to say that Catholics believe a Muslim is saved by Islam. However, what I hear you saying is that a Muslim can be saved by Jesus, while remaining a professing Muslim. That is, that a Muslim can refuse confession of faith in Christ, and still be saved by Christ.
I appreciate the distinction, but I would still call that viewpoint universalism.
There is a great difference in God saving an Old Testament believer who lived before the time of Christ, such as Abraham or Moses, who looked forward to the Messiah, and God saving a Muslim, who does not believe Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus said in John 8:56 that Abraham looked forward to seeing Jesus' day.
What I'm trying to say is it is one thing to say that a person is saved by Jesus when that person cannot yet make a declaration of faith, such as Abraham who lived before Jesus came, or a retarded child who has not attained a mental understanding. However, it is quite another thing to say that a person is saved by Jesus when that person can make a declaration of faith in Jesus, but refuses to do so, such as a Muslim who knows of Christ but prefers to believe the Quran's statement that it "dishonors Allah to say that he has a son."

Bloodiest of Ladies said...

It's been awhile, and so I nearly didn't say anything here, because the conversations have moved on, but you know me. I always have something to say.

This seems redundant, because the very end of both our positions is the same. But then I think the way we get to ends is important, and I don't understand yours. I'm sure that I'm missing something, but can't figure out what it is.

The idea of making such huge, important decisions then applying them to other people on the basis of something so questionable seems like a bad idea to me. And even if it seemed like a good idea, all the answers seem to ride on very basic logical fallacies. What am I missing here?

Brother Bob said...

It boils down to two questions:
1. Is the Bible accurate in what it reports about Jesus?
2. Did Jesus claim to be the only way?
The evidence strongly supports both #1 and #2. The New Testament is verified by over 5,000 ancient Greek manuscripts. It is the most accurately preserved ancient document in history. And in that New Testament are many statements that Jesus made, claiming to be the only way to God. For example:
“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” -- John 14:6 (NIV)

If the answer to #1 and #2 is correct, then the dilemma for those who want to say that Jesus is a way to God AND there are other ways to God, is that Jesus didn't allow that option. If all religions are true, then Christ must be false. Jesus clearly said that he was the only way. So Jesus was either Lord like he said, or he was a liar or a lunatic. You cannot say that Jesus was just a "good man" or "great teacher." He didn't allow that choice. Either Jesus was the biggest liar and hoax there ever was, or he was the biggest nutcase and delusional fanatic there ever was, or else he is the Son of God in flesh and Savior of the world.