Scriptures at the Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee western shore
We’re staying near the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee. This is a photo of its western shore.

Today we are at the Sea of Galilee. We arrived last night, and will be departing tomorrow. Our tour is constantly on the move, and every day is filled with many different sights. I couldn’t go with my group today to see the sights, because I had homework to finish. I worked on it like mad before leaving for this trip, but couldn’t get it all done. Some of it is due on Sunday, and because of the crazy touring schedule, today is the only day that I could have finished it. The entire trip, I knew that there would be at least one day that I would not be able to see the planned sights, and today was that day.

So everybody else boarded the bus after breakfast, and I stayed behind. I felt a little sad and lonely, but the area is very beautiful and the weather was perfect (the area reminds me of Batiquitos Lagoon in Carlsbad). Plus, I’m at the Sea of Galilee!! How cool is that? I felt confident that the Lord had something special for me today.  We are staying at a kibbutz that is on the lake, and it is like a small resort. It was very quiet all day, since most of the guests were out touring with their groups.

Before starting my homework, I sat down by the lake to pray and to read the scriptures. After I finished praying, I opened the mass readings for the day. The gospel reading was from Mark chapter 7. I hoped that the Sea of Galilee would be mentioned.

Golan Heights 20180209
Golan Heights, the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee

“Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ (that is, ‘Be opened!’) And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, ‘He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.'”

I was so touched! Here I was, sitting by the Sea of Galilee, perhaps near an area where Jesus himself once walked, and there it was in today’s reading.

Later, when reading it again, I noticed the part where it says, “He took him off by himself away from the crowd.” Then I got teary, because I had spent the day by myself “away from the crowd.” Yes, the Lord was with me, and he did have a special little signal for me today, as I thought he would.

(I took these photos later in the day, when it started to get a bit foggy. Earlier in the day it was very clear. I wish I had taken the photos then. Just imagine yourself at Batiquitos Lagoon on a quiet, sunny day, and you will have a good idea of what it is like here.)

 

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Thank you!

Acts 15: private judgment and authority, part two (first response to Jesse)

I previously wrote about an exchange I had on a Protestant’s blog. On that same blog, another Protestant named Jesse invited me to respond to his post about private interpretation. My answer was similar to the other answer, but takes a different turn near the end:

council of jerusalen
The Council of Jerusalem from Acts 15

… in Acts 15 those who favored circumcision for new Christians were forced to use their private judgment regarding the verdict of the council. They had to choose to accept the council’s verdict, or their own view of Scripture. In like manner, the Catholic position is that an authoritative council, or the Pope, or all the bishops throughout the world, exercise a magisterium regarding what Scripture means. In just the same way as the council in Acts 15, with respect to all Christian dogma, Christians must accept this human authority on the meaning of Scripture and other matters. We are not free to interpret Scripture in a manner that contradicts the human authority. We certainly can read Scripture ourselves and the Church encourages this. I believe that Catholics can legitimately dissent from certain Catholic teachings (not all, just certain types) but I am not clear on how that works (Google the phrase “faithful dissent” if you want to learn more about it). I do know that the Church teaches that we must follow our conscience even if our conscience is wrong.

Catholics may use private judgment in a limited sense. But when we talk about private judgment, I am not sure that we are talking about the same thing. It seems like Protestants have much wider bounds to their private judgments than Catholics do? For example, I’ve heard of Protestant churches splitting over non-doctrinal issues. If true, that is private judgment going too far, don’t you agree?

You mentioned some limits of private judgment in your post by listing some reasonable sounding criteria, then saying this: “…and by obeying the wisdom of the godly church leaders or instructors who give us the necessary tools for properly understanding the written Word of God.” Aren’t you saying here that Protestants have a magisterium? That’s what it sounds like to me. We need a magisterium! After all, we are sheep, as Jesus said. We are not all able or capable of doing the theological work of discerning dogma, canon, etc. Because we are sheep, we need help, and God has provided it.

Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin (a former Protestant) has pointed out that Protestants inadvertently recreate their own magisteriums because somebody must establish and maintain group cohesion:

The typical Protestant church thus unconsciously reinvents the Catholic [magisterial] system that it consciously scorns. It does this out of necessity, since there is simply no way to maintain an organized, healthy group which works in harmony without having someone with the authority to determine what the group is going to do and to expel those who won’t go along. You cannot have a classroom, a work crew, a social club, or a nation without someone with that kind of authority, and you certainly cannot have a church without one. Someone in any group must be able to say, “This is what the group is going to do” and “If you won’t do it and will continually publicly oppose it, then you cannot be part of the group. You must leave the classroom, work crew, social club, society, or church.”

I think it is very tempting to think that we are absolute individuals, discerning every single dogma on our own with the Holy Spirit. Speaking for myself, I know that I did not discern the dogma of the Trinity on my own, for example. Somebody told me about it and showed me the Scriptures for it. I suspect that is what goes on with everybody.

God in his mercy gave us a magisterium that we can rely upon to help us know His will and His ways.

If you would like to read the exchange, go here.

Image credit: Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing

 

Acts 15: private judgment and authority, part one

Several days ago I had an exchange on another blog, a Protestant blog. Overall it was a cordial exchange and I think it went well. He made his points, I made mine, and we countered each other in a pleasant way.

I want to post portions of what I wrote there because I think it is important. It has to do with the idea of private judgment, and how private judgment ends at God’s established authority. Catholics often criticize Protestants for exercising an “absolute right to private judgment,” and Protestants will counter by saying that Catholics legitimately exercise private judgment too. But each side does it in a different way, with different limits. Here is what I wrote:

It is accurate to say that I made a private judgment regarding the claims of the Catholic Church. After that, I surrendered it. I do not continue to exercise it on individual doctrines, because I believe that the Church is Christ’s bride, and whoever hears her hears him.

I may be mistaken, but it seems that private judgment means something a little different to Protestants? The Catholic surrenders his private judgment once he becomes Catholic, because God only teaches one truth and the Church is his authority on earth to teach it. I am not certain this is the case with Protestants. I say this because of the different Protestant faith communities that exist. Aren’t they all continuing to exercise private judgment on various matters? I’ve heard of churches splitting over non-doctrinal issues. Wouldn’t they claim they were exercising private judgment? At what point do we surrender our private judgment?

I am completely convinced that God’s mercy is better revealed in and by the Catholic Church than the alternatives. So yes, that is my private judgment on the matter. I don’t think Catholics are being hypocritical to “call out” Protestants for their (seemingly inordinate) use of private judgment, but they might need to do a better job explaining it? It just doesn’t seem like we are talking about exactly the same thing.

I also wrote this:

… let me take an example from the book of Acts to support the idea that Christians need, and actually do have, a final human authority to resolve disputes or contradictions, and that private judgment ends with that authority, not with the Scriptures.

Certain Christians believed that people needed to be circumcised in order to become Christians. Others responded by saying that circumcision was not necessary. Debate ensued. Those who believed in the necessity of circumcision undoubtedly had clear Scripture verses on their side. But what happened? A council was convened, and more debate ensued. Ultimately, the council decided that circumcision was unnecessary. After making their non-scripturally based arguments, they cited one rather weak verse to support their position, a verse that does not even mention circumcision. Those who favored circumcision had to make a private judgment: either comply with the council, or with their own view of the Scriptures.

Given what I know of debates today between Catholics and Protestants, I find this circumstance quite convincing for the Catholic position. Debates today rage on and on over this or that doctrine, and victory is claimed on the strength of the verses presented. Not so in Acts 15. The issue of circumcision was decided by human authority with weak Biblical support.

peters vision
Peter’s vision from Acts 10

The issue of circumcision was decided by human authority. Peter had a vision about the gentiles coming into the Church, and there was a lot of debate during the council. Even if I concede that the council was totally following the Scriptures only, and not influenced by Peter’s vision at all (which seems highly unlikely) or anything else, it doesn’t matter. The council decided what the Scriptures meant, and those who disagreed had to make a private judgement: agree with the council about what the Scriptures meant (and change their views), or hold onto their views. They did not get to retain their previous interpretation of Scripture and remain in good standing as Christians.

The council was what enforced the issue, not the Scriptures. It should be obvious that the Scriptures can’t enforce anything. I’ve touched on this idea before here. Similarly, the NT verses discussing church discipline mean nothing if there is no human authority that has the final say.

If you want to see the entire exchange, go here.

For Reformation Day: Protestantism hurt and confused me

Reposting this from last year. A brief synopsis of my personal experiences within Protestantism.

https://everybodysdaughter.wordpress.com/2016/10/31/protestantism-hurt-and-confused-me/

For Reformation Day: Bible conundrum

I recently had an online disagreement with somebody, a Protestant. I asked her to cite Bible verses to support her position. So she did. I replied I disagreed with her interpretation of those verses. Then I asked her if I had an obligation to accept her interpretation. I also said that if her answer was yes, that I DID have an obligation to accept her interpretation, then to tell me where or from whom she received her authority to impose her interpretation upon me (and presumably upon every other Christian). Then I asked her what we should do if I disagreed with her claim about the source of her authority. Her response was that I was using an ad hominem. I responded by saying that I was not criticising her, but I was criticising her presupposition. So it wasn’t an ad hominem.

Here is the syllogism:

  • Since God is one, He does not change, and He only teaches one truth, there can only be one objectively correct interpretation of Scripture.
  • There is disagreement of what Scripture means between two or more Christians of good will. They all can see this.
  • No parties to the dispute have authority to enforce the correct interpretation, but one or more do not realize this. One or more believes that making better arguments or citing more or better Scripture verses is the way to resolve the dispute. Yet the dispute is never resolved.
  • No agreement is made. Visible fractures develop between Christians, since the parties to the dispute all believe themselves to understand the correct interpretation of Scripture (which is a tacit reinforcement of the first point above).

By what authority may somebody enforce the one and only correct interpretation of Sacred Scripture when there is a disagreement between Christians of good will?

Neglecting contraception is a big mistake

Is it possible to argue effectively against the Sexual Revolution without arguing against contraception? I do not believe it is. It is clear that many Christians who are against certain aspects of the Sexual Revolution (such as abortion and same-sex marriage) are in favor of Christians using contraception. But I see a definite link between the two.

So what is the Sexual Revolution? Let’s look at some secular sources. Google, which seems to have scraped this definition from Oxford Dictionary, defines it as:

the liberalization of established social and moral attitudes toward sex, particularly that occurring in western countries during the 1960s, as the women’s liberation movement and developments in contraception instigated greater experimentation with sex, especially outside of marriage.

Wikipedia says that it is:

a social movement that challenged traditional codes of behavior related to sexuality and interpersonal relationships throughout the Western world from the 1960s to the 1980s. Sexual liberation included increased acceptance of sex outside of traditional heterosexual, monogamous relationships (primarily marriage). The normalization of contraception and the pill, public nudity, pornography, premarital sex, homosexuality, and alternative forms of sexuality, and the legalization of abortion all followed.

Dictionary.com says that the Sexual Revolution was:

A drastic relaxation in general standards of sexual behavior. The most recent occurred in the 1960s and was helped by the introduction of the Pill, an easy and reliable method of preventing pregnancy.

It should be clear that contraception is inseparable from the Sexual Revolution. So why do most Christians fall silent when it comes to contraception?

Contraception is very seductive. Instead of sex being a presumptively fertile activity, sex becomes a presumptively sterile activity. The appeal of sex without babies is strong. Many people who use contraception seem to believe that they have a “right” for pregnancy-free coitus. A right to pregnancy-free coitus completely explains the problem of abortion.

The United States Supreme Court alluded to this “right” for pregnancy-free coitus in its Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision in 1992. This decision, the subject of which was not contraception but rather abortion, mentions the word “contraception” nine times, and “birth control” once. For example:

“[P]eople…have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.

“It should be recognized, moreover, that in some critical respects, the abortion decision is of the same character as the decision to use contraception...”

Contraception is the main lynchpin here, not abortion.

It should not be a surprise then that a survey conducted in 2015 of women who had abortions, 70% identified as Christians, over 40% said they attended church once a month or more, and 20% said they attended church at least once a week. Given that they identify as Christians, there is a disconnect somewhere with these women. I propose that a major disconnect has happened within Christian circles that do not explicitly reject contraception. They have accepted the “right” for pregnancy-free coitus. By so doing, the logic must follow, and abortions will happen.

Undoubtedly, some who use contraception and still become pregnant do not choose abortion. But they reveal their reliance on the “right” for pregnancy-free coitus by saying that they were not “intending” pregnancy, and/or by labeling those children as “happy accidents” or worse, as mistakes. The child’s very existence should be evidence that there is no “right” for pregnancy-free coitus, that sex is not a sterile act. But rather than rejecting the “right” to pregnancy-free coitus as a false right that has no basis in reality, we adopt intentions and labels that cover for it because we love the pleasure of sex more than we love truth. By labeling a child like that, we are saying to them, “You are an accident, and your existence does not undermine my right to pregnancy-free coitus. Since you were an accident, I was being generous to allow you to live, because you came into existence in violation of my right.” Either the child is a gift from God with an intact ontology and personal anthropology that adults are bound to respect as a duty in justice, or the child is an accident who lives at the pleasure of his parents. I do not see a middle ground here. In fact, what I see is an inequality between those who have their personal anthropology and ontology respected by their parents, the legal system, and the wider society, and those who do not receive such respect.

Same-sex marriage eventually became accepted, and this follows the logic established by contraception. A “right” for pregnancy-free coitus among fertile opposite-sex couples means that sex is presumptively a sterile act. If sex is presumptively sterile, then there is no need to restrict marriage to opposite sex couples, because children are no longer logically integral to marriage or coitus.

Given the separation of marriage, sex, and children that has been widely accepted in Christendom, there is not much left to justify the exclusion of same-sex couples from enjoying the benefits of civil marriage. After all, by accepting the suppression of children from sex and marriage, this elevated sterile sexual pleasure to the highest sexual good for many Christians. If sterile sexual pleasure is indeed the highest sexual good, then it is illogical to exclude couples who can never under any circumstances bear their own children.

If sterile sexual pleasure is the highest sexual good, then it could be argued that same-sex sexual relations are superior to opposite-sex sexual relations, since there is no chance of an unwanted intruder (pregnancy) imposing himself into a same-sex sexual relationship. See, for example, some homosexual advocates’ use of the term “breeders” as a derogatory way to label opposite-sex couples who bear children. Also, if children are licitly separated from sex and marriage, then it is logical for them to be obtained in a manner that disrespects their ontology, such as by utilizing third-party reproduction.

Infertility does not undermine what I am saying. In the real world, the world based on facts that impact real human beings, some opposite-sex couples with unwanted infertility do conceive children, and some opposite-sex couples who contracept also conceive children. As Dr. Ian Malcolm said in the film Jurassic Park, “Life, uh, finds a way.”

Many will completely discount this point. For them, life doesn’t find a way. Instead they turn everything upside down. Like the scientists employed in the lab of Jurassic Park, they find a way for life. This means a few things:

  1. They believe they are bigger than life, that they can, and that they ought to, control the creation of life in a direct manner.
  2. They’ve built their lives and their entire worldview on certain aspects of “sexual freedom.” Curtailing this “freedom” means a lifestyle change. Not easy to do, and there are no worldly incentives to actually do it.
  3. They unwittingly place sterile coitus in a more prominent position than human life conceived at unexpected times. Even if they are otherwise pro-life, this undermines their pro-life position.

Let’s consider a different angle: when human life is spontaneously conceived, it is exercising an important form of freedom. It comes into being apart from the explicit will of another human being. Nobody commanded it to come into existence. Certain conditions happened (a sperm found an egg), and the life sprang into being. This phenomenon is an overlooked aspect of human freedom. The Sexual Revolution’s adherents need total control over the creation of human life, because spontaneous human life interferes with sexual pleasure. That form of freedom must be suppressed, because spontaneously created human life imposes unwanted obligations upon others. It is difficult to accept that an orgasm has eternal, or at least long lasting, consequences, and eliminating unwanted obligations while maximizing sexual pleasure is at the very heart of the Sexual Revolution, even if it means killing hundreds of millions of human lives to achieve. While many Christians are not in favor of killing human life through abortion, they are in favor of the logic and lifestyle that leads to it.

To accept contraception is to accept a foundational aspect of the Sexual Revolution, including the logic that leads to abortion and same-sex marriage. We can’t effectively argue against something while simultaneously accepting its foundation. Arguments against the Sexual Revolution will become stronger and more effective when Christians reject its cornerstone, contraception, in large numbers and on an institutional basis.

Jennifer Johnson is a Catholic convert, is the author of Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds Equality for Children, and is the Treasurer for the Ruth Institute.

Jesus said, “It is written…”

Strictly speaking, the Bible doesn’t teach us anything. Teaching requires a teacher, a person. You can do a little experiment to see what I mean. Set your Bible in front of you, closed. Say to it, “Bible, teach me about Christ.” Then wait. What happens? Nothing happens, of course. The Bible did not suddenly open and begin to speak. Opening a Bible, reading it, then teaching what is written in it requires a person. The Bible itself is not super clear about a number of important things, and this one reason why there are so many factions within Christianity, all claiming the Bible as their infallible authority. It is also why we must be careful about who we listen to about the Bible.

The Bible is the Word of God. It is good for us to read it and meditate on it. Jesus said, “It is written…” He did not say, “It teaches…”

1 Cor. 1:12 does not say, “I am of the Scriptures”

Seckau Basilika Engelskapelle Bekehrung des Äthiopiers
The Ethiopian Eunuch and Philip from Acts 8. Credit: Uoaei1 Wikimedia Commons

I wrote this post as a response to an interaction I had earlier today on my blog.

1 Corinthians 1:12 says: “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.” (KJV)

St. Paul is discussing divisions among the Christians. I just thought of something though. None of the examples St. Paul gives are saying, “I am of the Scriptures.” If the “Bible alone” doctrine is true, then this situation would have been a good opportunity for the Holy Spirit to teach it, it seems to me. After all, they certainly had Scriptures at that time, what we now call the Old Testament. And the Scriptures are important. They are the Word of God. Many people say that are the highest or final authority. If that were true, then certainly some of the people St. Paul mentioned would have said, “I am of the Scriptures.” Why would they be saying they were of one person or another if the Scriptures alone were the highest authority?

Today, Christians will often say, “I don’t follow any person. I use the Bible alone as my authority.” This sounds just like saying, “I am of the Scriptures.” Yet there is no Biblical example of somebody identifying with the Scriptures in that way.

The Scriptures are like a Holy Reference Book, to be sure, but it is a two-edged sword and we must be careful when using it.