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

 

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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.

Embarrassed by the Catholic Church

Some blogs have so much strenuous objection to the Catholic Church, and it goes on and on and on… I do wonder what is under all that negativity. Sometimes I get the impression that the people are embarrassed by the Catholic Church. Nobody has ever said so, at least, I haven’t seen anyone admit it. It’s just a impression, a feeling, I get from time to time while reading different blogs and posts.

There are Bible verses about being ashamed of Christ or the Gospel. If the Church is his one-flesh bride (Eph. 5:32), then I think it is reasonable to apply those verses to her.

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.

Jordan Peterson on Postmodernism

I love this man and have watched many of his lectures. This is a MUST SEE video. Only 12 minutes long. Gives a brief overview of what conservatives are up against, and briefly describes how to make conservatism appealing to young people.

Ecclesial Deism, part two

Ecclesial Deism

I have posted this article before, but it is so good that I’m posting it again. This time, I am going to try to define its central terms. I want to do this because the article is long and extremely complex. Not easy or light reading for sure! The author goes into a lot of detail that is super interesting, but a bit distracting. Even so, he gets to the heart of the matter, and in order to understand him, the most important terms need to be clearly identified and defined. By so doing I think I will be able to convey the argument.

1) Ecclesial means “pertaining to the church.” It comes to us from Greek.

2) A quick summary of the terms “deism” and “theism.”

Deism is the belief that God exists, but he doesn’t care about us. He created us and the whole universe, but leaves us alone to manage our lives on our own.

Theism is the belief that God exists, but he is a personal God who cares deeply for us and for all of creation.

An easy way to remember the difference between deism and theism is in this expression: “God is in control.” That can only be said by somebody who is a theist. A deist would never say such a thing.

3) When we put “ecclesial” together with “deism,” as we see in the link above, we have the idea that an impersonal God created the church but then left her to manage her affairs, her heirarchy, and her authority on her own. An ecclesial deist does not believe that Christ remained in control of his church from her inception, keeping her from error. Since Christ is not in control of the church according to the ecclesial deist, she can fall into error in regards to Christ’s teachings on faith and morals.

4) When we put “ecclesial” together with “theism,” we have the idea that Jesus Christ, who is God, created the church and has always been with her, guiding her and caring for her deeply. He did not ever leave her, but remains with her forever. Like her husband Christ, she is both human and divine. We see the human parts easily; the divine parts are harder to discern. Being perpetually guided by her husband Christ, she has never erred in her teachings on faith and morals.

The author never puts the terms “ecclesial theism,” together in the article, but I think these definitions get to the heart of the matter pretty well.

On the value of suffering

One “Thanks be to God,” or one “Blessed be God,” in adversity, is worth more than a thousand thanksgivings in prosperity. –Father M. d’Avila

St. Bridget once received and bore patiently a succession of trials from various persons.. One of them made an insulting remark to her; another praised her in her presence, but complained of her in her absence; another calumniated her; another spoke ill of a servant of God, in her presence, to her great displeasure; one did her a grievous wrong, and she blessed her; one caused her a loss, and she prayed for her; and a seventh gave her false information of the death of her son, which she received with tranquillity and resignation. After all this, St. Agnes the Martyr appeared to her, bringing in her hand a most beautiful crown adorned with seven precious stones, telling her that they had been placed there by these seven persons.

Source: https://saintlylives.wordpress.com/2017/03/12/suffering-part-3-of-5-2/

The public institution of private property

If you go to a friend’s party, and decide to take something from his home without permission, that’s called stealing.

Let’s say you saw a laptop computer tucked away in a corner at the party, and decided to take it without saying anything to anybody.

You stole it.

Let’s break this down to understand the dynamics a little better. Why was it stealing?

One reason is that we have something that I call “the public institution of private property.”

We all understand what private property is. In that sense, our collective understanding of private property is a public institution–we all agree to the rules that establish what constitutes private property. That agreement, to live by those rules, is a public action.

We don’t get to decide for ourselves what constitutes private property. There is no “privatizing private property.” If we all got to decide for ourselves what constitutes private property, then it should be obvious that chaos would be the result. Anybody could take anything they wanted at any time.

It would be hard to accumulate goods and wealth. It would be hard to even take care of your own family. Trust would decline dramatically, being replaced by suspicion and fear.

The strong would prey upon the weak. It would become a might-makes-right culture.

Privatizing the rules for private property would not strengthen private property rights. It would eliminate them.

 

Catholic/Protestant Dictionary

There were many steps involved in becoming Catholic. I found that theology was only one of those steps. As I’ve mentioned before, Catholic culture was an unexpected and rather large hurdle.

Our_Mother_of_Perpetual_Help
Catholic art and culture intimidated me at first.

Maybe I already told this story. I’m not sure, but if so, please indulge me for a moment. Catholic culture is a very real thing, and I first discovered this when I attended a Catholic conference several years ago, before I converted. Many vendors were selling all sorts of Catholic artwork that was very ornate and elaborate. Many of them had images of Mary and other saints. All of these things were difficult to get past in my mind. The closest Protestant equivalent is a Christian bookstore that sells gifts and artwork, and even then it’s just different.

I finally realized that this was just the cultural part of Catholicism–it was not dogmatic. In other words, there was no requirement for me to display Catholic art in my home as a step to becoming Catholic. It was a big relief for me to realize that. I wish somebody had explained it to me though. Unfortunately, I had to figure it out on my own. I am not sure why that is.

Even so, there is a cultural transition. Part of it has to do with Catholic words, phrases and ideas. Many Catholic terms sounded very foreign to my ears… but only at first. At some point I realized that the terms only sounded foreign—the ideas behind them were not foreign at all. Here is a chart I made that is sort of like a Catholic to Protestant Dictionary. It is amazing how many Catholic ideas reside in Protestantism. But of course all that makes sense to me now, since Protestantism has its theological and historical origins in Catholicism.

catholic-protestant-dictionary

I take credit for some of these, since I genuinely figured them out on my own. But I got a few of them from Mark Shea, and a number of others from the Coming Home Network forum. So I’m not alone in making these kinds of observations. Other converts have as well. And just to be clear: I am not saying that there is 100% equivalence between the every item on this list. In some cases there is, but in other cases there is not. Even when there is not, they are close enough to convey the meaning.

I hope this chart helps Catholics and Protestants understand each other better.

*For elaboration on the confirmation/baptism equivalence, see here. For elaboration on the merit/reward equivalence, see here.

5/19/2017: Catholics say “divine law,” and Protestants say, “Biblical principles.” Not a perfect overlap but they are similar ideas.

9/1/2017: Catholics have an Act of Spiritual Communion, Protestants pray to receive Jesus into their hearts. See here for details.

Today’s Version of the Cathar Heresy

There’s nothing new under the sun.

The Five Beasts

The Chateau de Montsegur, a Cathar stronghold The Chateau de Montsegur, a Cathar stronghold

Catharism was a dualist heresy that swept through Latin Christendom during the High Middle Ages; its growing popularity alarmed Church authorities. It was called by many names (the Catholic Encyclopedia lists twenty-two) but historians prefer to refer to them collectively as Cathars (“pure ones”, or “puritans”). They believed the physical world was the creation of the evil God of the Old Testament and the spiritual world was formed by the God of the New Testament. It was just the latest version of the recurrent dualist heresies like Gnosticism and Manichaeism, but also resembles elements in contemporary secular society in disturbing ways.

This heresy’s primary requirement was the repudiation of marriage and family. Since the evil physical body was only meant to entrap spirits, marriage and procreation were forbidden. Their spirit-liberating ritual known as consolamentum, similar to the Catholic Last Rites, would be denied to children and pregnant women. Their distain for the human body was so extreme…

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