I probably won’t be signing the Nashville Statement, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t

In case you have not heard yet, there is a new statement from prominent Evangelical Christians that got released recently. It is called the Nashville Statement, and it is their attempt to combat certain aspects of the Sexual Revolution by upholding sexual morality from a Biblical perspective. It is not long, and you can read it here.

It is my own personal belief that contraception has been a foundation stone of the Sexual Revolution. Evangelicals as a group have not repudiated contraception, which means that they have accepted a foundational aspect of the Sexual Revolution within their ranks and on an institutional basis. Since the statement neglects contraception, I don’t want to endorse these Evangelical’s neglect of their implicit reliance on an important aspect of the Sexual Revolution. I don’t want to give the impression that this reliance is no big deal and not logically problematic to everything else they oppose about the Sexual Revolution.

The statement does say that marriage is procreative, but that seems ad hoc to me. Why is marriage procreative if contraception is OK? I will continue to say it: a right to pregnancy-free coitus among opposite-sex couples (aka “the contraceptive mentality”) created the “need” for abortion and same-sex marriage, and contributed to the “need” to de-gender our legal code.

The sex with of a “guarantee” of no children is seductive, obviously. This is one aspect of the Sexual Revolution that many otherwise orthodox Christians like. They have participated in redefining the Sixth Commandment, and this is a spiritual and logical obstacle to combating the other sinful and heretical aspects of the Sexual Revolution.

Having said all that, I might change my mind and sign it. We’ll see. I’ll have to work it out in my mind and that might take some time. If I think the benefit of showing support outweighs my reluctance to sign something that I think is logically problematic, I’ll sign it. If I do, I’ll update this post.

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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.

Now, I can think of a counter argument. I’ll tell it here but I don’t think it is effective and I will explain why: the Jews of the Jewish Synagog in Acts 17 who were “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” The leaders among them had that right by virtue of their authority, which they acquired by birth. By what authority do people today use the Bible?

Also I would like to mention here John 5:39, where Jesus says, “You search the scriptures because in them you think you have eternal life, and it is they that bear witness to Me.” It is probably fair to say that the Jews in Acts 17 were not searching the scriptures to receive eternal life. They weren’t using the Scriptures as their final authority. That actually doesn’t even make sense given the context. If those Scriptures were the final authority, then they would not have needed St. Paul to preach to them. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes by hearing,” not “Faith comes by reading.” In order for one person to hear, somebody else has to speak. The transmission of the faith is from person to person, not from book to person. There is no Biblical evidence of individualistic reliance on the Scriptures. As we see with the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 (emphasis added):

But an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south[a] to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert road. 27 And he rose and went. And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of the Canda′ce the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasure, had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture which he was reading was this:

“As a sheep led to the slaughter
or a lamb before its shearer is dumb,
so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken up from the earth.”

34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, pray, does the prophet say this, about himself or about some one else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus.

Deeper issues between Catholics and Protestants

I am mainly posting this here for my own reference.

There are deeper issues between Catholics and Protestants than disagreements about this or that doctrine or dogma. I recommend starting with the bolded part, then reading the whole thing.

Both the Protestant and Catholic positions affirm the authority of Scripture as the divinely inspired (“God-breathed”) written word of God. So the Catholic teaching concerning the authority of Scripture entails that Scripture has authority over the Church, because the Church affirms both that Scripture is God’s word, and that God is the ultimate authority over His Church. Therefore the Protestant-Catholic disagreement concerning Scripture is not as simple as saying that according to one side Scripture has authority over the Church and that according to the other side Scripture does not have authority over the Church. Rather, the actual disagreement regarding Scripture is over four points that are not per se about the divine authority of Scripture. They are: (a) whether Christ also gave teaching authority to men, (b) whether that teaching authority continues through the succession of ordinations, (c) whether that teaching authority includes the authority to determine what is the authentic interpretation of Scripture, so as to determine for the Church what is orthodoxy and what is heresy, and (d) whether the deposit of faith is not limited to what was included in the Scriptures but also includes the Apostolic Tradition which the Apostles preached orally, and is preserved in the Church Fathers. The Catholic position answers yes to each of those four. Protestantism answers no to one or more of these four.

Source: Authentic and Inauthentic Reform

How big is your Jesus?

jesus i trust in youOne of the things that persuaded me to become Catholic was the idea that Christ established a Church that has continued into the present day. Once I understood Apostolic Succession and the magisterium, I found this more compelling than the alternative view I had been implicitly raised with and unknowingly accepted.

The alternative view is that Christ started a church but then left it for some unknown reason to fall into error, or worse, that he was too weak or unloving to keep his church from error. He somehow guided this church to codify the Bible infallibly, and to define a few key doctrines correctly (ie, the Trinity), but there was little else that this church did that was correct.

I do remember having that conception of the church, so let me defend my old view for a moment. That view fits with how I imagined Christ’s ministry while he was walking on the earth. He was an itinerant preacher, wandering from place to place, preaching the Gospel and performing miracles. He appeared to be outside of the established Jewish hierarchy, railing against it to discredit it, to encourage people to abandon it and to follow him.

I see now that my picture of Christ’s relationship to the Jewish hierarchy of his day was not correct. Why? Because that hierarchy was established by God, so Christ was not discrediting the hierarchy itself or its authority. He was only discrediting the poor conduct and lack of faith of its members. For example:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice…” (Matt. 23:1-3)

Sitting on Moses’ seat is a big deal. It means that the authority structure was established by God. There is no way Christ would encourage people to abandon or disrespect that authority structure while it was still active. It was, however, annulled with the implementation of the New Covenant.

The Catholic claim is that the priesthood of the New Covenant is a continuation of the priesthood of Melchizedek, not of Aaron. Christ is a priest in the order of Melchizedek, and he established a hierarchy that is founded on, and operates through, himself. The Apostles and their successors participate in and express Christ’s priesthood. They operate in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. So when, for example, I go to confession, I am confessing to Christ, not to the priest, strictly speaking. The order of Melchizedek forms the backbone of the Church (read more about this here, starting at 1544).

Christ has kept this hierarchy and the Church it supports free from error in regards to its teachings regarding faith and morals, and to me, this is a miracle. This living Church is the very sort of miracle he would perform. To me, it means that he is a lot bigger and more loving than I originally thought he was.

Grace and the sacraments

I’d like to talk about grace. Specifically, how grace is given and the mechanism for how it flows into the life of the believer.

I was a Protestant/Evangelical for a short time, but definitely not a theologian. So I might not represent the Protestant/Evangelical view on this point correctly. On the other hand, there may be multiple views since there isn’t one governing body among them to define orthodoxy on this point. Even so, I am open to being corrected.

It seems to me that under Protestant/Evangelical theology, there is no explicit “vehicle” to impart grace, no explicitly defined way that grace flows into the life of the believer. It is just sort of like an invisible cloud that somehow appears, surrounds, or is absorbed into the believer’s soul once faith in Christ is exercised. If faith in Christ ceases, the cloud departs. For those who believe in Once Saved, Always Saved (OSAS), the cloud never departs.

Protestants/Evangelicals reject the necessity of the sacraments. I have had the impression that they reject the physicality associated with the sacraments. They seem to recoil at the idea that God has instituted something physical as a way to channel grace into the life of the believer. To them, grace is only imparted in an unseen, spiritual manner, like an invisible cloud.

As I have mentioned before, I spent a lot of time in a gnostic cult, where we actually studied different gnostic texts by famous gnostic authors (such as G.I. Gurdjieff and his most famous disciple, P.D. Ouspensky). So I am very well acquainted with it. Gnosticism has two main ideas: 1) there is special, hidden knowledge which is only given to certain people, and this knowledge is what saves people. 2) the physical realm is undesirable, evil, and/or ultimately unnecessary. It needs to be shed and discarded the way a snake sheds and discards his skin.

-The physical is bad!Because of that experience, anytime I see people rejecting the physical, claiming it is unnecessary or bad, my alarm bells go off.

The Church does not teach that special knowledge saves people, and she teaches that the physical is good. So good, in fact, that our physical bodies will be resurrected. Because of this, the sacraments make sense to me precisely because they are physically based.

The Church teaches that the sacraments are the normative “vehicle” through which grace is given to Christians. This physicality speaks to the goodness of the physical creation, to Christ’s humanity and his physical body, to the idea that the physical is good, that God loves the physical, and he uses it for our good.

I take the physicality of the sacraments as evidence for the the Church’s claim about who she is, not as evidence against that claim.

Edited to add: this post is based on a comment I left on a blog called Orthodox Christian Theology.

Where does Christ get his blood for Hebrews 9:12?

Hebrews 9:12

… he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

I was reading Hebrews 9, and this verse jumped out at me. I remember learning as a Protestant that Christ’s resurrected body had no blood in it. Here is an example of what I mean. This is from a popular Protestant website called CARM.org:

The Bible says that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50). If this is so, then how could physical body have been raised? The answer is simple. After His resurrection Jesus said, “Touch me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:39). You must note that Jesus did not say, “flesh and blood.” He said, “flesh and bones.” This is because Jesus’ blood was shed on the cross. The life is in the blood and it is the blood that cleanses from sin: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul,” (Lev. 17:11). See also, Gen. 9:4; Deut. 12:23; and John 6:53-54. Jesus was pointing out that He was different. He had a body, but not a body of flesh and blood. It was flesh and bones. I am of the opinion that Jesus’ body had no functional blood in it. Remember, after the resurrection He still retained the wounds in His hands, feet, and side. But, His blood was the thing that cleanses us of our sins: “but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin,” (1 John 1:7). His body was raised, but it had no blood flowing through its veins. It was a glorified, physical body.

This isn’t what the Church teaches. The Catholic Church teaches that Christ’s resurrected body does have blood in it. But that is not the point I want to make here.

Instead, I want to ask a question. If the Protestants are correct, where does Christ get his blood in order to fulfill Heb. 9:12 where it says, “taking…his own blood”?

Presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice Romans 12:1

Romans 12:1

I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

I read this today and something occured to me. Isn’t this what Jesus does for us at mass? He presents his body to us, a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to the Father.

Looked at another way: does he ask us to do something here and now that he himself does not do here and now?

 

Book review: Catholics and Protestants–What Can We Learn from Each Other?

I’m reading Peter Kreeft’s book, “Catholics and Protestants: What Can We Learn from Each Other?” So many gems and great discussion starters here. I think it will be a great help to both sides. Kreeft is a convert to the Catholic Church, from Presbyterianism. It might be tempting for Protestants to think he is going to be very partisan, and to make a case against Protestantism, but he doesn’t do that. Among other things, he describes what is excellent in Protestantism, and how (some, perhaps many) Catholics need it. He is rather critical of the Catholic Church for not doing a good enough job emphasizing the need for a personal relationship with Christ, but he does not downplay what the Catholic Church brings to the table.

Probably the most important point he makes is to say that the issue of justification has been solved. In other words, Catholics and Protestants don’t believe differently about justification, even though we thought we did going all the way back to beginning of the Reformation. It was, in fact, the impetus for the Reformation. So the central issue that sparked the Reformation has been solved.

People of good will on both sides of the Catholic/Protestant divide will benefit from this book. At the very least, it can provide many talking points for people to use as spring boards for open and honest discussion.

 

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.

The Unjust Steward is the pope? Luke 16

The Parable of the Unjust Steward appears in Luke 16. It is also referred to as the Parable of the Shrewd Manager. It is part of the mass readings for yesterday. This parable always confused me, but recently I think I might have made some sense of it in light of Catholic teaching. I have not seen this explanation elsewhere. Let me give a shot and see what you think.

Summary: the master hears a bad report about the steward squandering the master’s property. So he demands an accounting and fires the steward. But the steward needs a place to go after he’s fired. So he contacts some of the debtors and reduces their debt. The master commends him for this. Presumably, the debtors then welcome the steward into their homes.

Here’s what I think:

  • The master is God.
  • The steward is the pope.
  • The debtors are souls in Purgatory.
  • The steward reducing the debt represents indulgences that are possible due to the pope’s possession of the keys to the kingdom and the treasury of merit (reward).

When I say, “the pope,” I am referring to the office of the Pope and not any one particular pope.

Catholics believe in two kinds of punishment for sin because there are two kinds of sin. There is mortal sin which leads to eternal punishment if it remains unrepented, and there is venial sin which leads to temporal punishment. Eternal punishment is hell. Temporal punishment happens here on Earth and also in Purgatory.

Because of the keys of the kingdom given to the pope by Jesus, and also the treasury of merit (reward), the pope through the Church can reduce (or even eliminate) the temporal punishment of sin. He can do this even though he himself might be doing bad things or have bad character.

Then, the holy souls in Purgatory will be grateful for receiving a reduction in the amount of temporal punishment they receive that came from the pope’s possession of the keys to the kingdom and the treasury of merit (reward). God is obviously happy with the debt being reduced, since he wants people with him. Once they are out of purgatory, they will pray for the pope, since he will be in Purgatory for being an unjust steward. Once he is out of Purgatory, they will receive him into their dwellings (John 14:3).

Having said that, I’m struggling what appears immediately following the parable. For example, immediately after the parable Jesus says:

..for the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light. And I say to you: Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity; that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings.

I’m not sure how that part fits into what I’ve said.

Here is a similar explanation, but it places Jesus himself as the unjust steward. I think it makes more sense to put the Pope as the steward. What do you think?

Here is a video of two Catholic apologists addressing the question of the bad popes. Both are very well known in Catholic circles, and I’ve met them both. The man on the left in the red shirt is Patrick Coffin, and the man on the right is Tim Staples. They don’t address Luke 16; I linked the video as a way of showing that, possibly, bad popes = unjust stewards.

See also: