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.


Physical sex is public information, not private information

To my eldest daughter,

I saw that you posted this video on your Facebook wall. I almost left this comment there, but decided against it for a couple different reasons. So many things are wrong with what she’s saying here that I had a hard time knowing where to begin. I’ll begin with the idea that occurred to me first.

1) It is an example of gnostic thinking. This video is pure gnosticism, which, among other things, is a denial of the importance of the human body. See, for example, what she said at the 1:10 mark about “… living meat skeleton…” The entire video is attempting to negate the importance of our interlocking parts.

2) It’s an example of Screwtape’s advice.  Remember what I said about Letter 1 of the Screwtape letters, and how important it is? Let’s quickly review how Screwtape contrasted truth and falsity with other characteristics:

He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” or “false,” but as “academic” or “practical,” “outworn” or “contemporary,” “conventional” or “ruthless.” Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong or stark or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.

Look at the video again, at about the :46 mark. She mentioned the word “outdated.” That immediately reminded me of the above quote. I was reminded of it again at the end, when she told people to be themselves in their gender expression, which was an admonishment to be courageous. So do you see? There are no direct truth claims being made in her video. She must ignore mountains of science telling us that sex differences are real, and that they matter, in order to make her argument.

3) Physical sex is public information, not private information. At about the :50 mark she claims that physical sex is private to every individual. In my opinion, this is the most explosive claim in the entire video. Let’s unpack that thought to see how damaging it is.

It is no secret that women are not as strong as men and that men commit more crime than women do. I was recently in New Orleans, alone, wandering through the French Quarter. My risk for being accosted was much higher from the males around me than the females. Instantly knowing which sex somebody is provides me with important information and helps me make decisions. Here’s another example: a couple years ago I was jogging along the street by my apartment. I saw young man on a dirt bike behind me, riding slowly towards me. He eventually caught up to me and started making small talk. I was immediately suspicious of him. We got to a corner where a traffic light stopped us. It turned green and I let him cross while I waited. At the same time, I pulled out my phone to call a friend. Perhaps confirming my suspicions, when he got to the other side he got off his bike and started fiddling with it. The light turned green and I crossed over, walked passed him, and kept talking to my friend. I turned around a couple times, and he got on his bike and rode back in the other direction. Now, imagine if I was unable to determine his physical sex. This would have made me more vulnerable than I already was, since I may have lowered my guard if I thought he might be a woman.

If everybody’s physical sex is no longer public information, this puts women at risk since they’ll have less instant information about their risks while they are in public places.

Don’t misunderstand me: I am not saying that all men are criminals. I’m just stating the statistical facts regarding them. Given how much I’ve railed about our cultural rejection of the category of “father” (see here and here for two examples), I hope I’ve made it clear just how important men are.

4) Did you notice the straw man fallacy?  At about the 1:00 mark, she states that when somebody asks about the sex of somebody else, they are asking “What genitals do you have?” She has misrepresented the intention of what the person is asking, then she ridicules that intention. That is a classic straw man fallacy. She’s reduced the question into an inaccurate form in order to dispute its (inaccurate) premise; she’s disputing that sex differences matter by making people look ridiculous who seek information about them, not by actually arguing from science that sex differences don’t exist or are irrelevant for women walking alone. Notice too the expression on her face after she poses the question. In fact, the way her left eyebrow is cocked throughout the video is a subtle form of shaming. I don’t need to examine somebody’s genitals to know what sex they are.

Thank you for posting the video and for your commentary on it. You said essentially what Dr. Morse has said: “A good and decent society should obliterate all differences between men and women except for those that are deliberately chosen by individuals…. Society’s job is to endorse the individual’s self understanding and enforce it throughout the rest of society.” That’s a quote from her talk in Salt Lake City last year.

I love you very much and am very proud of you. xxxooo


Jesus established a visible Church that He protected all this time

Remember when I told you how I saw the pattern of how things would play out? So much just dropped into place in my mind’s eye. I saw the Church like a tree going back through history. I have struggled to articulate it with any detail. Here’s what I said back in July:

Not long after I left the cult I knew that I had to reject the gnosticism I had been taught there. I wanted to return to my first love of Jesus, son of God, second person of the Trinity, that I had when I was younger. For a couple years I considered returning to some sort of Protestant church but intuited that I would eventually become Catholic anyway. Meandering through Protestantism first, then converting to Catholic later, was a definite possibility, but at some point I realized that it would be inefficient. So I went straight to the Catholic Church. Seeing what I saw about contraception and how it harms the “one flesh” teaching of scripture was the main pivot point, but there were other things as well. For example, I needed a firm historical basis for the church I would join, and I found that in the Catholic understanding of apostolic succession. So again I saw the pattern of how things would play out and made a choice based on that. But articulating that pattern came later, and, in fact, I’m still working on it.

Just today I came across the blog of somebody who articulated much of what I saw. So if you’re curious to understand better why I became Catholic, I recommend this:

Ecclesial Deism

I must warn you: it is long. But it is really good. The comments are good too (although I’ve only read a few of them). Just to be clear: it is not that I had every thought expressed there, but the general structure of his thinking reflects what I saw about the Church. In particular, what the author said about ecclesial gnosticism, I intuited but couldn’t articulate.

The arguments and evidence that Jesus established a visible Church that He protected for 2,000 years are far stronger than arguments and evidence for the opposing view. Ecclesial Deism makes this very clear.


Sara, a song about Stevie Nicks’ abortion

I used to like this song. The melody is pretty, but once I found out its meaning, I couldn’t enjoy it like I used to. From LifeSiteNews:

Stevie Nicks is no stranger to rumours. She finally confirmed longstanding conjecture that she wrote one of her best-known songs partly about the child she conceived with Eagles frontman Don Henley, then aborted.

Henley said more than 20 years ago that the Fleetwood Mac song Sara, which hit number 7 on the Billboard charts in 1979, was about the baby they never saw.

“I believe, to the best of my knowledge, [that Nicks] became pregnant by me. And she named the kid Sara, and she had an abortion – and then wrote the song of the same name to the spirit of the aborted baby,” he told GQ magazine in 1991. “I was building my house at the time, and there’s a line in the song that says, ‘And when you build your house, call me.’”

In a special interview with Billboard magazine on Friday, Nicks said their baby inspired many of the song’s lyrics.

Ronald Reagan said, “I notice that everybody for abortion has already been born.” He naively thought that once it was proven scientifically that the unborn were human, this would change people’s minds. But it didn’t. Why? I think one explanation can be found in gnosticism, which I define as a denial of the importance of the human body in God’s plan for salvation. The lyrics of Sara might be a good example of gnostic thinking. Why is Nicks’ singing to the child as if nothing significant about their relationship has changed? Maybe it’s because what she did to her baby’s body doesn’t matter, and the baby’s body itself doesn’t matter.