How do we know if we have fulfilled our obligation to worship God?

I came across an interesting argument over at Nick’s Catholic Blog. He calls this argument the Ultimate Catholic Apologetics Argument (UCAA). I am not sure about that characterization, but at the very least I think he is onto something.

Let me restate his observation about Protestant worship service, using my own words:

Protestant Sunday worship services contain two structural features that are not found in the Bible: 1) The order in which the elements occur. 2) No definitive way to know that the obligation to worship God has been fulfilled.

So what are the elements that might be part of a Sunday worship service? Here are some that we can find in the Bible:

  • prayer
  • singing worship songs
  • preaching
  • Bible reading (out loud)
  • Eucharist (aka communion or Lord’s Supper)

Nick has pointed out that the Bible does not tell us:

  • in which order these should appear in a Sunday worship service
  • which elements MUST appear in order to ensure the fulfillment of our obligation to worship God

He argues that it means that we cannot look to the Bible to know with certainty whether or not we have fulfilled the obligation to worship God. If he is correct, then this is an extremely strong argument against Protestantism. However, I can think of a counter argument that Protestants could use to explain why they believe they fulfill the obligation.

Instead of continuing to argue head-on whether or not Protestants fulfill the obligation to worship God, I will address it from an entirely different angle in my next post.

If somebody believes that we don’t have an obligation to worship God, I addressed that here.

On Sunday worship

Under the Old Covenant, Saturday was the day for worship. But all Christians (except Seventh Day Adventists) worship on Sunday. There is not a lot of support for a change in the day of worship in Sacred Scripture, yet the day was changed. Here are the passages I found in the New Testament describing certain activities happening “on the first day” or “the Lord’s day” (Sunday): Mark 16:2, Mark 16:9, Luke 24:1, John 20:1, John 20:19, Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2, Rev. 1:10.

The Old Testament also shows another meaningful day: “the eighth day.” Eight days after a male child was born, he would be circumcised (Gen. 17:12). Similarly, eight days after the sabbath is the first day, Sunday. Look at a calendar, put your finger on any Saturday, then count forward each day. When you count up to eight you will be on the first day of the following week, which will be a Sunday.

christus_ravenna_mosaic
Christus Ravenna mosaic, c. 550. Doesn’t directly apply to what I’m saying here… I just thought it was pretty. 🙂

The Scripture is clear about the requirement to worship on the sabbath. Yet the Scripture references above don’t add up to a clear argument for changing the day of worship and rest. Relying on Sacred Scripture alone to make that argument doesn’t seem very persuasive to me. If you read each of the New Testament verses above, you will see that they are all descriptive; none are imperative. Here is an example of an imperative statement:

“You shall love the Lord your God…”

This can be found in Matt. 22:37, Mark 12:30, and Luke 10:27. It is easy for us to understand him regarding what we are supposed to do, but he does not then change when we are to do it. There is no explicit command in Sacred Scripture to change the day of rest and worship from Saturday to Sunday.

The New Covenant ushered in a new way to worship. It follows then that it ushered in a new day to worship. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) has a lot to say about this but these two references make the point:

1166 By a tradition handed down from the apostles which took its origin from the very day of Christ’s Resurrection, the Church celebrates the Paschal mystery every seventh day, which day is appropriately called the Lord’s Day or Sunday. The day of Christ’s Resurrection is both the first day of the week, the memorial of the first day of creation, and the “eighth day,” on which Christ after his “rest” on the great Sabbath inaugurates the “day that the Lord has made,” the “day that knows no evening.”

2174 Jesus rose from the dead “on the first day of the week.” Because it is the “first day,” the day of Christ’s Resurrection recalls the first creation. Because it is the “eighth day” following the sabbath it symbolizes the new creation ushered in by Christ’s Resurrection.

Sunday as the day of worship proclaims the most important aspect of the New Covenant, Christ’s resurrection.

See also: Tradition precedes Scripture.

Tradition precedes Scripture

I’ve been reading some blogs that are written by people who believe that Scripture carries greater weight than Tradition. I hold the competing belief: that we would not know what Scripture is except for Tradition telling us. Unfortunately, people who believe those two things have been debating back and forth for a very long time. They quote Scripture verses and historical figures ad infinitum.

Instead of doing that, I thought of different way to approach it. It is very simple and tangible. First let’s lay a bit of groundwork and define “tradition.” Here is what I found on Wikipedia:

“A tradition is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past. Common examples include holidays or impractical but socially meaningful clothes (like lawyer wigs or military officer spurs), but the idea has also been applied to social norms such as greetings. Traditions can persist and evolve for thousands of years—the word “tradition” itself derives from the Latin tradere or traderer literally meaning to transmit, to hand over, to give for safekeeping.”

That definitely describes written alphabets and written languages. They have symbolic meaning and have been passed down within groups or societies. The purpose of alphabets and written languages is to transmit or hand over ideas. The fact that I can write this, and you can understand it, is due to a tradition surrounding what constitutes the alphabet and how it works to form words, sentences, paragraphs, complete thoughts, etc.

In order to communicate in a way that others can understand, the tradition must be followed. If I violated the tradition too much, you wouldn’t know what I meant. For example, if you saw a random string of characters like this:

kflsjkl02w3kvvfjei58gjkkhjosuior94909924jgbn;oto365265yuvjhw4y5i45hvhj2ysdro

rosetta stone
The Rosetta stone provided the way for people to understand Egyptian hieroglyphs.

…it would be difficult to know what it meant, or if it meant anything at all. It might be some sort of code, it might mean that the person who wrote it doesn’t understand how to use the tradition, it might mean the person is incapable of using it, it might just mean that their head landed on the keyboard from falling asleep, or it might be a different language with its own tradition. Not following or understanding the tradition creates confusion.

This means that without the tradition of a written alphabet and a written language, Scripture would not exist. After all, Scripture is the written Word of God.

This is a tangible way to understand why tradition precedes Scripture.

Image credit: © Hans Hillewaert via Wikimedia

New Testament verses that point to the First Commandment

Catholics believe that we have an obligation to God to worship him on Sundays. Some Christians or other people might not agree with this obligation. Does this mean that they believe worship is optional? Think about it for a moment: if worship is not obligatory, then somebody could legitimately choose to never worship God. This is unthinkable for a Christian.

Let’s go one step further: if somebody permanently opts out of worshiping God, are they sinning? Matthew, Mark and Luke all show Jesus affirming the first commandment to love God (Matt. 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27). Notice the imperative: “You shall love the Lord your God…” It is not optional. How do we show love for him? Through worship. There are other ways as well, but we can’t neglect worship.

Here are some other verses from the New Testament that point to the first commandment (there were more than I thought there would be!):

1 Cor. 16:24:

If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.

2 Tim. 3:1-5:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people. (emphasis added)

2 Tim. 4:8:

Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

James 1:12:

Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him.

James 2:5:

Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?

1 Peter 1:8:

Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy.

1 John 2:5:

 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected.

1 John 2:15:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.

1 John 4:21

And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.

 

Weeds in the Catholic Church

Sometimes people object to the Catholic Church because they see that some of her members are problematic: hypocrites, dissenters, abusers, etc. And it is true that those people exist.

Before I became Catholic, I saw them too. So I hope nobody reading this thinks I did not see them, that I’m blind or ignoring that they are there. I did see them.

Our_Mother_of_Perpetual_Help
At first I felt intimidated by Catholic art.

Thankfully, I had the grace to realize something important about them: their presence does not change the Church’s claims about who she is. Once I saw the history of Christianity like a tree, so many other things fell into place, this being one of them. For me, it boiled down like this: if the Church is who she says she is, I must become Catholic then reconcile my other issues in light of that. And I had other issues, but my issues with problematic members melted away very quickly in light of Matthew 13. (My objections about Mary vanished almost instantaneously one night shortly after enrolling in RCIA. I’ll tell that story another time).

Here are a few issues that took me longer to work through: at first the liturgy seemed very strange and foreign; I often felt sad about going to mass alone; I resented the RCIA process because as a baptized Christian it seemed inappropriate for me to be there (and I later learned that my instincts were correct); it took me a while to get used to going to church with some people who had very different political views than mine; I felt intimidated by Catholic art and had to figure out my relationship with it; I had to figure out the difference between the elements of what was required to be Catholic vs. Catholic culture. There are probably other things but this is all I can think of right now. So yea, I had some hurdles to overcome.

It was clear to me that once I discovered the correct foundation, everything else that seemed strange, foreign, or even wrong has to be dealt with after that. Doesn’t that make sense?

I know that problematic people in the Church are a stumbling block for many, so let’s return to them. What does Sacred Scripture say about them? Here is what Jesus said about weeds in Matthew 13:

‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’

So yea, weeds are there. Jesus said that we can’t pull them out, since doing so would damage the wheat. He also said that they need to grow up together until the harvest, and at that time they will be separated. This means that while we are alive there is time to learn about God’s ways and grow in holiness. This applies to me as well as people I think are problematic. And I’m pretty sure that some of them think I’m a problematic stumbling block! lol So right there we see that it is subjective. What I mean is that I’m not the final judge of who the weeds are, and neither is any other person. Thanks goodness for that.

The Lord knows those who are His (2 Tim. 2:19). I pray I am among them.

10 tips for successful commenting on my blog

OK so the other day somebody came onto my blog and the interaction troubled me a lot. It was as if I was being accused and found guilty of a false sin, a sin not found in the Bible. Now, maybe I’m not characterizing it correctly, or maybe I am. But regardless of that, what transpired was an attempt to avoid my argument by discrediting my character. This list is the result of that interaction. I created it because I foresee similar interactions in the future with different people, and I want to be able to link back to this post rather than repeat myself over and over.

10 tips for successful commenting on my blog

1) Don’t make up false sins. Sin is clearly defined in the Bible. Avoid making up false sins. They will lead you astray.

2) Don’t find me guilty of your false sin. If believe you must expand on what scripture says regarding what a sin is, keep in mind that I have no obligation to accept your interpretation.

3) Discrediting my character will be a losing strategy. Why? Several reasons.

  • You are changing the subject and I will point this out.
  • I may use it as an opportunity to teach readers about the sort of fallacy you used.
  • Your false sin doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of how much of a sinner I really am. I have committed actual, Biblical, REAL sins. So there is no need to make up a false sin to find me guilty of committing.

4) Address the substance of my arguments. Point by point, detailed descriptions of why you think I’m wrong work best for me. Be sure that I have not addressed what you are saying. I find that people rush through my posts without reading them thoroughly, and say something in their comment that I addressed in the post. I put a care into what I write, so it means a lot to me when readers use care when reading and responding.

5) I welcome original, thoughtful dialog, and will be suspect of a response that seems canned, predetermined, or unthoughtful. Why? Because my arguments are unique. Marriage is a stand-alone issue, and so, for example, I never talk about gay sexual activity. I don’t have to talk about gay sexual activity to defend marriage. If you respond by accusing me of being against gay people, you are trying to discredit my character by giving a canned response. You either didn’t read my post or you read it but couldn’t/wouldn’t formulate a response to it. Imagine me describing a mountain, and somebody comes along insisting that I am against oceans. It’s a non-sequitur and makes it hard for me to take you seriously. Please avoid it on my blog.

6) I am a convert to the defense of natural marriage. For example, I did not vote yes on California’s Prop 8 marriage campaign in 2008. I converted to this issue in about 2010. So don’t assume that I’ve always held this view. I have not.

7) I defend a broad category called “natural marriage.” This includes the sub category of “sacramental marriage,” but I do not focus my defense on only the sub category. In my view, the sub category is not specifically under assault. It is only under assault to the extent that the broader category is.

8) I am just as hard, if not harder, on other kinds of family breakdown as I am on same-sex marriage policy. A cursory glance at the posts on my blog will confirm this.

9) Comment deletion/redaction/editing policy. Examples of when I might do one of these: criticizing my Church without providing reasons or citations; attacking my character; spam.

10) I view the category of “sexual orientation” in light of Romans 6. Romans 6 talks about being a slave to sin. “Sexual orientation” is used to justify sexual behavior, as if the behavior cannot be freely chosen. Doesn’t that sound like to being a slave to sin? Now, I know from first hand experience that until we get our lives right with Jesus, sin is powerful, and even after we do, we still have to struggle against it. I also know that because of His grace we can choose to reject sin and follow God, day by day.

Thank you.

Family building and slavery

chesterton photo“Family building” is a pleasant sounding phrase that hides unethical practices based on similar arguments used to justify slavery. For one thing, it deliberately separates a child from his family tree in order to satisfy a market demand for children, thereby turning children into commodities. People are beginning to connect the dots between “family building” and slavery. See, for example:

Mothers urge ban on surrogacy as a form of slavery

The similarity I see to Fredrick Douglass

Sperm and egg donation foster technology-induced child slavery

Here’s another interesting thing to think about. Modern-day “family building” advocates justify the practice by arguing that there is no a priori family to destroy. They arrive at that conclusion through the twin beliefs of “love makes a family,” and “biology does not matter.” According to G.K. Chesterton, the same lack-of-family argument was made by advocates of slavery in the United States back in the 1800s (emphasis added):

“The Servile State… has always been embarrassed by the institution of marriage. It is an old story that the negro slavery of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ did its worst work in the breaking-up of families. But curiously enough, the same story is told from both sides. For the apologists of the Slave States, or, at least, of the Southern States, make the same admission even in their own defence. If they denied breaking up the slave family, it was because they denied there was any slave family to break up.

Free love is the direct enemy of freedom. It is the most obvious of all the bribes that can be offered by slavery.  In servile societies, a vast amount of sexual laxity can go on in practice… One of the conveniences of that pagan world is that, below a certain level of society, nobody really need bother about pedigree or paternity at all… of all the bribes that the old pagan slavery can offer, this luxury and laxity is the strongest…” From Fancies versus Fads, pp. 128-129

Summary: it’s OK for the strong to take advantage of the weak, since the weak aren’t part of a family anyway.

As I have argued before, sexual and reproductive liberty is a might-makes-right ideology. Imight makes right 2 fully expect it to end up in the ash heap of history, repudiated and reviled. Chesterton’s book was published in 1923, decades before “sexual liberation” and the corresponding and widespread breakdown of the family. The man was a prophet.

Thanks to Stephen R.L. Clark who directed me to the Chesterton quote through his book Biology and Christian Ethics.

The OSAS pattern is present in Catholic practice

When I was in Kindergarten and for part of first grade, I attended a small Christian school. One day in first grade, the teacher was reading one of the Gospels to us, at the part about the Crucifixion. She asked us to consider praying the Sinner’s Prayer to ask Jesus into our hearts, to accept Him as Lord and Savior. She said that if any of us wanted to do this, we could talk to her after school and she would lead us in a prayer. I immediately knew I wanted to do this, and so I approached her after school. She led me in a prayer, and I had a picture of Jesus actually coming into my heart. Later she gave me a small red New Testament with a lovely inscription that included a reference to Psalm 119:105:

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”

That was a powerful experience and the emotion of it stayed with me for years.

As far as I can tell, according to “once saved, always saved,” (OSAS) I am saved. The reason I bring this is up is not to argue for the doctrine, which I don’t believe as a Catholic, but to show how the OSAS pattern of salvation is present in Catholic practice.

So just to be sure that I still understand OSAS correctly, I looked it up just now on two different websites. I don’t know if these are representative of all who believe the doctrine, but the descriptions seem reasonable and align with what I remember:

The Bible teaches “once saved, always saved” — that we can be saved once and for all only through a repentant, saving faith in Jesus Christ. Once a person has accepted Christ as Savior, they may wonder if it is possible to lose that salvation. What if they commit a sin? What if they commit a lot of sins? What if they do something very, very wrong? Is it possible to be saved, and then lose that salvation? Fortunately, the answer is a resounding “no.” Once a person has accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, he/she is forever saved. This fact is referred to as the doctrine of “eternal security,” often summarized as “once saved, always saved.” From All About God.

“Once saved always saved” is the position that when a person becomes a Christian he can never lose his salvation… CARM’s position is that salvation cannot be lost.  We believe we are secure in Christ, not because of our ability and faithfulness, but because of God’s.  We believe that Christ paid for all of our sins: past, present, and future.  From CARM.org

I also looked up how to be saved from the same websites:

Salvation is simply a process of confessing and believing. A man must confess that Jesus is Lord… Next, he must believe that God has raised Jesus Christ from the dead. From All About God.

Believe in Jesus.  Receive Jesus, who is God in flesh, who died and rose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:1-4) as your Lord and Savior (John 1:12).  Ask Jesus to forgive you, to come into your heart, and to wash you clean from your sins.  Pray to Jesus.  Seek Him.  Ask Him to save you. From CARM.org.

As a child I prayed for Jesus to come into my heart, asked Him to forgive me of my sins, and asked Him to be my Lord and Savior. So I think it’s pretty clear that if somebody reading this truly believes in OSAS, they needn’t worry about me.

Now I am going to show how that same person needn’t worry about other Catholics, since the OSAS pattern is part of Catholic practice.  There are three components to being saved, according to OSAS. The person needs to:

  1. Confess that Jesus is Lord.
  2. Believe that God raised Him from the dead
  3. Sincerely ask Him to forgive the person’s sins.

Sincere Catholics do all of those. For example:

  1. Every Sunday, we recite the Nicene creed which states: … I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God…
  2. That same creed also states: …for our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
  3. Catholics who are sincere in their faith confess their sins regularly. So even the very first confession a person makes satisfies OSAS, it seems to me. The fact that it happens before a priest is not relevant to OSAS, since the scripture says, “Confess your sins to one another,” and, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” The Protestant objection to confessing to a priest doesn’t apply to OSAS, since the doctrine itself doesn’t state that the person can’t confess with somebody else listening. Now, perhaps it is possible that the Catholic really believes that he is confessing ONLY TO the priest. But if he believes this, he is mistaken about Catholic doctrine. Jesus is definitely part of those sessions, and the Church teaches this.

Another example: these three things also happen during Catholic confirmation, which we regard as a sacrament that finishes the initiation process into the Catholic Church. The person is asked a number of questions to which he must give public assent in front of the congregation, among them:

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, [God’s] only son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered death and was buried, rose from the dead…

Since confirmation is a sacrament, the person needs to be in a state of grace, which means that he must have already repented of and confessed his sins. Going through the motions in an insincere way does not count, neither according to OSAS nor Catholic doctrine.

Now, as I said earlier, this is not an argument in defense of OSAS. Let me be super clear that Catholic doctrine does not teach OSAS. I am using OSAS as an opportunity to describe Catholic practice so that those who believe it can have an opportunity to see the Church in a new way.

What does it mean to abide in Jesus? (John 15:5)

As I mentioned a few days ago, I am still in the process of articulating why I became Catholic. I am an INTJ and have a gift of recognizing patterns. I saw the pattern of the logical and scriptural consistency of the Catholic Church, and I became Catholic because of what I saw. It’s been four years, so you might think I would have worked out all of those details by now. But going back and articulating the mechanics of what I saw is not very interesting to me. So I haven’t spent a great deal of time doing it. I trust my own judgment about what I saw (another INTJ characteristic), so don’t feel a strong urge to reverse engineer what happened. But for some reason the words come to me spontaneously from time to time.

It happened just today.

One of the things I saw in my mind was how the history of Christianity is like a tree. Its trunk grows for a period of time, then it splits apart into branches as time goes on, especially at the Reformation. At that point it splits into smaller branches and even twigs.

Here is a diagram of Church history presented two ways. The first diagram is right side up. The next one is upside down. The upside down diagram looks like a tree, with a trunk, some shoots off the trunk, and branches at the top. It wasn’t that I had this particular diagram in my mind, but I am using this diagram to explain my thought process.

history of catholic church
The history of Christianity…

 

history of catholic church upside down
…looks like a tree when you turn it upside down.

If you start at the top of the tree, on a twig for example, then trace the historical lineage down to the stump, you end up Catholic which is founded on Christ. Since He is the vine, then based on John 15:5 it made sense to me to get as close to the vine as I could. Once I saw the history of Christianity like this, I knew I would not be content spending time on what looked like the twigs of the tree. They seemed too far away from Him.

Later I saw how Ephesians 5:31-32 is related to this. St. Paul says something that did not make sense to me until I looked at it through Catholic eyes:

“‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church.” (emphasis added)

As far as I am aware, the marriage discourse in this chapter is always applied to human married couples. I am not aware of these two verses being treated in a literal way among Protestants or Catholics. I’m not an expert on Protestant or Catholic apologists or the arguments they make, so I may be entirely off the mark there. It seems, though, that if people do apply those verses to the church, the verses are viewed figuratively or as a mystery that will be revealed after we die or at the resurrection. But it became clear to me that this is not the case. It is true right now. It seems clear we must take St. Paul at face value here, which means that where the Church is, Christ is. I don’t remember when, if it was at this juncture or earlier, but I was able to easily reject any argument that stated or required Jesus to have somehow lost control of His Church at some point in time. It seems clear that this could never be the case, first because to argue that way diminishes the power of Jesus and His work on the cross. Second, because He said that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). Third, we apply Eph. 5:31-32 literally instead of figuratively which makes it clear that there is no way Christ was ever separated from His Church.

Notice what He says about abiding in John 6:56:

“He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (emphasis added)

How do we do this? In order to abide in Jesus (John 15:5), we abide through His Church because they are one (Eph. 5:31-32), and because of whom we abide in Him by receiving His body and blood (John 5:56) every Sunday. Where the Church is, Jesus is. It is a mystery exactly the same way it is a mystery how the egg and sperm become one.