Sunday, February 21, 2016

Great read: homily for funeral Mass of Antonin Scalia

Fr. Paul Scalia's homily at his father's funeral (source):
February 20, 2016

We are gathered here because of one man. A man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to even more, a man loved by many, scorned by others, a man known for great controversy, and for great compassion. That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth. It is He whom we proclaim. Jesus Christ, son of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, buried, risen, seated at the right hand of the Father. It is because of Him, because of His life, death and resurrection that we do not mourn as those who have no hope, but in confidence we commend Antonin Scalia to the mercy of God. 

Scripture says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” And that sets a good course for our thoughts and our prayers here today. In effect, we look in three directions: to yesterday, in thanksgiving; to today, in petition; and into eternity with hope. We look to Jesus Christ yesterday--that is, to the past--in thanksgiving for the blessings God bestowed upon Dad. In the past week, many have recounted what Dad did for them, but here today, we recount what God did for Dad; how He blessed him. 

We give thanks, first of all, for the atoning death and life-giving resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our Lord died and rose, not only for all of us, but also for each of us. And at this time we look to that yesterday of His death and His resurrection, and we give thanks that He died and rose for Dad. Further, we give thanks that Jesus brought him to new life in baptism, nourished him with the Eucharist, and healed him in the confessional. We give thanks that Jesus bestowed upon him 55 years of marriage, to the woman he loved, a woman who could match him at every step, and even hold him accountable. God blessed Dad with a deep Catholic faith, the conviction that Christ’s presence and power continue in the world today through his body, the Church. He loved the clarity and coherence of the Church’s teaching. He treasured the Church’s ceremonies, especially the beauty of her ancient worship. He trusted the power of the sacraments as the means of salvation, as Christ working within him for his salvation. Although, one time, one Saturday afternoon, he did scold me for having heard confessions that afternoon, that same day. And I hope that is some source of consolation, if there are any lawyers present, that the roman collar was not a shield against his criticism. The issue that evening was not that I’d been hearing confessions, but that he’d found himself in my confessional line. And he quickly departed it. As he put it later, “Like heck if I’m confessing to you!” The feeling was mutual. 

God blessed Dad, as is well known, with a love for his country. He knew well what a close-run thing the founding of our nation was. And he saw in that founding, as did the founders themselves, a blessing. A blessing quickly lost when faith is banned from the public square, or when we refuse to bring it there. So he understood that there is no conflict between loving God and loving one’s country, between one’s faith and one’s public service. Dad understood that the deeper he went in his Catholic faith, the better a citizen and a public servant he became. God blessed him with a desire to be the country’s good servant, because he was God’s first. 

We Scalias, however, give thanks for a particular blessing God bestowed. God blessed Dad with a love for his family. We have been thrilled to read and hear the may words of praise and admiration for him, his intellect, his writings, his speeches, his influence, and so on. But more important to us—and to him—he was Dad. He was the father that God gave us for the great adventure of family life. Sure, he forgot our names at times or mixed them up, but there are nine of us. He loved us, and sought to show that love, and sought to share the blessing of the faith he treasured. And he gave us one another, to have each other for support. That’s the greatest wealth that parents can bestow, and right now we’re particularly grateful for it. 

So we look to the past, to Jesus Christ yesterday. We call to mind all of these blessings, and we give Our Lord the honor and glory for them, for they are his work. 

We look to Jesus today, in petition, to the present moment here and now, as we mourn the one we love and admire, the one whose absence pains us. Today we pray for him. We pray for the repose of his soul. We thank God for his goodness to Dad, as is right and just, but we also know that, although Dad believed, he did so imperfectly, like the rest of us. He tried to love God and neighbor, but like the rest of us, did so imperfectly. He was a practicing Catholic, practicing in the sense that he hadn’t perfected it yet, or rather, that Christ was not yet perfected in him. And only those in whom Christ is brought to perfection can enter Heaven. We are here then, to lend our prayers to that perfecting, to that final work of God’s grace, in freeing Dad from every encumbrance of sin. But don’t take my word for it. Dad himself, not surprisingly, had something to say on the matter. Writing years ago to a Presbyterian minister whose funeral service he admired, he summarized quite nicely the pitfalls of funerals and why he didn’t like eulogies. He wrote “Even when the deceased was an admirable person, indeed especially when the deceased was an admirable person, praise for his virtues can cause us to forget that we are praying for and giving thank for God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner.” Now, he would not have exempted himself from that. We are here, then, as he would want: to pray for God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner; to this sinner, Antonin Scalia. Let us not show him a false love, and allow our admiration to deprive him of our prayers. We continue to show affection for him and do good for him by praying for him, that all stain of sin be washed away, that all sins be healed, that he be purified of all that is not Christ. That he rest in peace. 

Finally, we look to Jesus, forever, into eternity--or better, we consider our own place in eternity, and whether it will be with the Lord. Even as we pray for Dad to enter swiftly into eternal glory, we should be mindful of ourselves. Every funeral reminds us of just how thin the veil is, between this world and the next, between time and eternity, between the opportunity for conversion and the moment of judgment. So we cannot depart here unchanged. It makes no sense to celebrate God’s goodness and mercy to God if we are not attentive and responsive to those realities in our own lives. We must allow this encounter with eternity to change us, to turn us from sin and toward the Lord. The English Dominican Father Bede Jarret put it beautifully when he prayed “Oh strong son of God, while you prepare a place for us, prepare us also for that happy place, that we may be with you and with those we love for all eternity. 

Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever. My dear friends, this is also the structure of the Mass, the greatest prayer we can offer for Dad, because it’s not our prayer but the Lord’s. The Mass looks to Jesus yesterday. It reaches into the past, to the Last Supper, to the crucifixion, to the resurrection, and it makes those mysteries and their power present here, on this altar. Jesus himself becomes present here today, under the form of bread and wine, so that we can unite all of our prayers of thanksgiving, sorrow and petition with Christ himself, as an offering to the Father. And all of this, with a view to eternity, stretching towards heaven, where we hope to enjoy that perfect union with God himself and to see Dad again, and with him rejoice in the communion of saints.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Response to Charles Pritt of Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) on Baptism (June 10, 2012 Sermon)

[Update July 3, 2012: I altered a few sections for clarity.  Also, I should note that I cribbed the format of this post--pictures and all--from one of my favorite blogs, Shameless Popery, written (mostly) by Joe Heschmeyer.]

The video clip below is from the June 10, 2012 Sermon at Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) given by Pastor Charles Pritt.  (Pritt is the music minister at LBC, which makes his sermon all the more impressive.  As a professional musician myself, I appreciate a musician who is passionate about God.) In this sermon, Pritt tackles some difficult verses from 1 Peter 3, and I am happy to report that at some points, Pritt's interpretation of these verses (especially in regard to Baptism) fits very closely with a Catholic understanding of Baptism.  Praise be to God!  I admire all the Pastors at LBC (so much that I would love for us to be able to worship together with one mind and heart!), and I admire Pastor Pritt's efforts to follow God's Word in 1 Peter 3 to the best of his understanding.

I.  Introduction

That said, it is important for Catholics (perhaps even Catholics who now attend LBC but who are reconsidering returning to the Catholic Church) and even for Pastor Pritt to see (1) how denying baptismal regeneration forces one into an uncomfortable interpretive dilemma when getting to verses like 1 Peter 3:21 and (2) how the Catholic teaching on Baptism makes greater sense of this passage than the Baptist interpretive tradition within which Pastor Pritt developed his sermon.

In the clip below, I recommend starting just before the 18-minute mark, when Pastor Pritt deals most directly with Peter's teaching that " saves you" (1 Peter 3:21).  If time allows, I strongly encourage you to listen to the entire sermon, which contains many wonderful truths, most especially that it is Christ's death and resurrection that saves us.  (Catholics assert that it is in Baptism that the salvation won for us on Calvary is applied to us by Christ.)

Here is the passage under discussion (1 Pet. 3:18–21 NKJV; emphasis mine):
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison,20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
Here is the same passage in a slightly more reader-friendly translation (NAS):
18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21  Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you— not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 
And here is what Pastor Pritt has to say about these verses (begin around 17:50):

II.  Noah's Salvation and Our Salvation: Through Water

The most challenging aspect of 1 Peter 3 for Baptists is v. 21: " saves you."  This verse alone would seem to end the debate.  Baptism now saves us.  Or does it?

Before trying to answer this question and examining Pritt's interpretation, let's list the data found in the passage itself:
  • Peter refers to the days of Noah, when eight people were saved by water in the Ark.
  • Peter almost off-handedly (without argument or explanation) says that Noah's salvation was a type of Baptism, which saves you now.
  • Peter clarifies that we are saved not by washing off of filth from the flesh but through the appeal of a clean conscience to God, through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Notice that Peter directly connects Noah's salvation and Baptism in the text.  Yet, Pritt begins by connecting Noah's salvation with "what Christ did for us" (forward to 21:30).

There is an important element of truth here: the salvation experienced by many in the Old Testament (Noah, Abraham, Moses and the Israelites, etc.) points toward the salvation we receive from Christ in the New Testament.

Yet, "what Christ did for us" does not result in the salvation of every human being since (and before) Calvary.  Somehow, the salvation won for us must be applied so that individuals can be born again into Christ's body.  Something must take place that causes us to become "new creations in Christ" (2 Cor. 5:17).  Put differently, Catholics and Baptists agree that we are saved by the merits of Christ's passion, death, and resurrection alone.  The difference between us seems to be in how we believe the grace of Calvary is applied to our souls.

It is this question that Catholics believe is addressed by Peter's letter.  Peter claims that " saves you...through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ."  As Paul writes in Romans 6:3, we are "baptized into his death" (a verse Pritt looks at later).

So, while Pritt's first interpretive step (in the video above) changes the accent from baptism to "what Christ did for us," this reading isn't fundamentally opposed to 1 Peter or Catholic teaching.  Catholics happily agree that our salvation is through what Christ did for us.  We group Baptism under that heading: it is Christ who baptizes us.  It is Christ who applies the grace of Calvary to our souls in Baptism.

III.  Parallels between Noah's Salvation and the Sacrament of Baptism

In the sermon, Pritt points out some good parallels between Noah's salvation and our salvation in Christ, including that "we are rescued from wickedness...saved from spiritual death...and the judgment of sin destroys the wicked."  Pritt then draws a connection between the ARK that went through the flood and JESUS who went through the crucifixion.  

Most Catholic commentators would add that the Ark also represents the New Testament Church.  Here, I think a both/and approach is ideal, and in fact, I rather like the connection Pritt draws between the Ark and Jesus.  Whereas during the time of Noah, Noah and his family were saved and everybody else destroyed, Christ actually allows himself to be destroyed so he might rise again to win the victory over sin and death.  Similarly, Christians must die to sin so that through Christ we can be resurrected to new Life.  

As much as I like the connection between the Ark and Christ, there is much to be gained by thinking of the Ark as a type or precursor of the NT Church, which is saved through the waters of Baptism.  The Ark/Church connection does better justice to the text of 1 Peter itself.  In the NT reality being compared to Noah, we are saved by Baptism through the resurrection of Christ: "Baptism now saves you."  The "WE" being saved is the church--the people to whom Peter is writing--not Christ.  So, the Ark, that held the covenant family of God during the time of Noah corresponds to the Church, which holds the covenant family of God in the NT (see 1 Tim. 3:15).

Because Pritt puts the accent on "what Christ did for us" rather than the more specific idea of "baptism" (by which I still mean the ritual involving water), he misses some rather important parallels.  For starters, when Peter evokes Noah, the entire story of Noah is called to mind, and this story involves far more than being saved by water.  In fact, if those flood waters had never resided, Noah and his family would have eventually perished as well.  After the flood waters reside, Noah sends out a dove, which is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.  This dove returns to Noah carrying an olive branch, a symbol of peace with God.  After making land-fall, God enters into a covenant with Noah and his family.

How do these aspects of the story find their parallel in the "baptism" that now saves us?  Well, if by "baptism" Peter is referring to the ritual involving water...quite a lot!  Both Noah's salvation and Baptism involve water.  Both Noah's salvation and Baptism involve the Holy Spirit.  Both Noah's salvation and Baptism involve finding peace with God.  Both Noah's salvation and Baptism involve entering into the Covenant family of God.
Tim McClure, Noah and the Dove

From this text alone, one could derive a nearly-complete theology of Baptism: Baptism is a saving act involving water and spirit that causes us to die to sin and be born with a clean conscience in a state of friendship with God as a member of his covenant family, all through the merits of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

One connection highlighted above (and missed by Pritt) is key: that Noah's salvation involved water AND a dove.  Likewise, Baptism involves not only water but the Holy Spirit as well.  In other words, Catholics believe that Baptism saves us not because we are taking a bath but because the Holy Spirit works in and through the waters to regenerate our souls.  The water is a powerful sign and symbol of the interior action being accomplished in us by the Holy Spirit.  Again: Baptism, according to Catholics, involves an inseparable connection between water AND spirit.

Alex Sokolov, Crossing the Red Sea
Notice that this connection between water and Spirit is found all throughout the Bible!  The first creation (in Genesis 1) emerges from the Spirit hovering over the waters; we become new creations in Christ through the water and spirit of Baptism.  We see water and Spirit in Noah's salvation; Peter explicitly connects this picture with the water and Spirit of Baptism.  We again see water and the Spirit (in the form of Wind) at the salvation of the Israelites as they escaped bondage (sin) by passing through the Red Sea (Exodus 14).  When Jesus is baptized, the Spirit descends, again in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven declares a family relationship with Jesus: "this is my beloved son."  And then, Jesus turns to Nicodemus (who approaches Jesus in a state of spiritual darkness) and tells him: "you must be born from must be born of water AND Spirit" (John 3:3-5) And after this message, what do the apostles go out and do: baptize!  Water and Spirit: What God has joined together...

So, when Peter connects the salvation experienced by Noah to our salvation by Baptism, he is connecting two things that share the elements of water and Spirit, a connection that is supported at key covenant-making moments throughout the Bible.

Yet, this is not the reading of 1 Peter 3:21 that Pritt offers.  Further, the two interpretations he does offer seem to contradict one another.  Both are based on an a priori assumption that Baptism understood as a ritual involving water does not save.

IV.  Interpretation #1: Baptism Does NOT Save Us

This reading of 1 Peter 3:21 is most common among Baptists.  According to Interpretation #1, Baptism is understood as the religious ritual involving water commonly referred to as "baptism."  In this reading, the ritual of water baptism does not save.  This interpretation strains 1 Peter 3:21 since this verse, frankly, literally says the exact opposite of the Baptist interpretation of the verse.  How does Pritt arrive at an interpretation of a verse that in fact says the opposite of what the verse itself says?

He does so by pitting water AGAINST the Spirit and by pitting Baptism AGAINST the saving work of Christ.

Thus, when Peter says baptism saves us and then adds the addendum that washing off dirt from the flesh does not save us, Pritt understands Peter to be making a sudden shift or self-correction from what he just said.  It is as if Peter is making two contradictory statements in sequence:
1. saves you.
2.  No, wait, Baptism does not save you because no mere washing can save.  It is the pledge of a clean conscience through the resurrection of Christ that saves.  Baptism is a mere external ritual that accomplishes only an external washing.  You see? Peter denies that an external washing saves!

One problem with this reading is it doesn't explain why statement #1 ("baptism now saves you") was made in the first place.  Even though this reading still doesn't explain why Peter initially states that " saves you," the opposition between external ritual and internal regeneration assumed by most Baptists (and seemingly assumed by Pastor Pritt here) allows him to accent the addendum and then move on to say "aha! it is the appeal of a clean conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ that saves...NOT Baptism!" (I hope you can see the wedge between ritual and internal regeneration in action that undergirds Interpretation #1)

How does Pritt and other Baptists solve the dilemma?  By suggesting that baptism is a sign that points to or "pictures" the saving work of Christ and our salvation in Christ.  According to Baptists, our baptism is a proclamation of our having confessed Christ with our lips and accepted Him with our hearts.  In this reading, then, when Peter says "baptism now saves you," he really means that "what baptism points to [Christ's saving work] now saves you."

At the end of the day, this position is actually not far from what Catholics believe.  Catholics do believe that Baptism is a picture of Christ's saving work.  Catholics believe being immersed in (or sprinkled with) water does picture the regenerative action of Christ on our souls.  

The difference is that Catholics believe that Christ actually does these things to us during and through Baptism!  We don't disagree that it is Christ's saving work that now saves us.  We simply assert that Baptism is Christ saving work, and not simply a human ritual devoid of Christ, the Spirit, and God's grace.  In other words, Baptism for Catholics is infinitely higher than an empty human ritual, because God himself works through it.

Here is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it (paragraphs 1215–1216; quoting Justin Martyr and St. Gregory of Nazianzus): 

St. Gregory of Nazianzus
This sacrament is also called "the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit," for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one "can enter the kingdom of God." "This bath is called enlightenment, because those who receive this [catechetical] instruction are enlightened in their understanding. . . ." Having received in Baptism the Word, "the true light that enlightens every man," the person baptized has been "enlightened," he becomes a "son of light," indeed, he becomes "light" himself: Baptism is God's most beautiful and magnificent gift....We call it gift, grace, anointing, enlightenment, garment of immortality, bath of rebirth, seal, and most precious gift. It is called gift because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; grace since it is given even to the guilty; Baptism because sin is buried in the water; anointing for it is priestly and royal as are those who are anointed; enlightenment because it radiates light; clothing since it veils our shame; bath because it washes; and seal as it is our guard and the sign of God's Lordship.
What a beautiful summation of the Catholic understanding of Baptism, delivered to us from the fourth century!

In a nutshell, Pritt assumes in Interpretation #1 that by "baptism," Peter has in mind the ritual involving water.  (This definition of baptism is required to be able to then argue that the ritual is an external sign that points to our salvation that presumably occurs at some previous point in time.)

V. Interpretation #2: Baptism DOES Save Us.

As you can see from the heading, Interpretation #2 seems to directly contradict Interpretation #1.  In #1, Baptism does not saves us.  In Interpretation #2, it does.

What gives?

In Interpretation #2, Pritt suggests that the baptism referred to by Peter is a "spiritual Baptism," something that apparently occurs completely separately from the "water Baptism" that does not save.  

This interpretation fits a growing trend to read any reference to baptism that suggests baptismal regeneration as being a "spiritual" baptism or immersion into Christ.  This approach is taken by Pritt in regard to 1 Peter 3:21 as well as Romans 6 (which claims we are "baptized into Christ's death"). 

Notice how both Interpretations flow from the wedge placed between water and spirit in denying a priori the very possibility of baptismal regeneration.  Once the wedge is in place, you get the possibility of "water Baptism" and "Spirit[ual] baptism." 

Well, Catholics would joyfully affirm that spiritual baptism does save us.  In other words, in its most basic form, Pritt's Interpretation #2 is compatible with a Catholic understanding of Baptism.

Catholics, once again, simply affirm that water baptism always involves the Spirit.  The Bible always connects water and Spirit, and Catholics do so with regard to our theology of Baptism.

Further, I see no basis for separating spiritual baptism from water baptism, and I'll try to give some more arguments for this position below.

For now, simply note that this Interpretation #2 is not compatible with Interpretation #1 since they start from different definitions of "baptism."  In other words, it is impossible to reconcile these two interpretations because they start from fundamentally different assumptions about what the author literally meant by the word "baptism."  Certainly it is possible to build off the literal meaning of a text (to achieve a spiritual or analogical meaning, for instance), but these higher meanings can never contradict the literal meaning on which they are based.

That said, Interpretation #2 is compatible with the Catholic understanding of Baptism; it simply fails to connect the two things that are inseparable throughout the Bible: water and Spirit. 

Also, note that Pritt offers no basis in the text itself for deciding which understanding of Baptism Peter had in mind when he wrote " saves you."  Did Peter have in mind the empty ritual that doesn't save, or the spiritual baptism that does?

VI.  Developing a Biblical Understanding of Baptism

Without a clear basis to know how Pritt understands the word "baptism" when it occurs in Scripture, it is difficult to dialogue much further with Pritt's sermon.  It would seem that anytime the Bible speaks of baptism as something connected to our salvation, Pritt could say that "baptism here really is referring to spiritual baptism" or "baptism there is simply another word for immersion."

The Catholic, and I believe Biblical, position on baptismal regeneration is supported by three fundamental interpretive keys:
  1. Baptism, unless the context clearly suggests otherwise, is to be understood in the NT as referring to the ritual of baptism involving water and the Spirit.  This interpretive principle is supported by the practice of the early church as recounted in the NT and in the writings of the early church fathers.  Just think: John the Baptist baptized in water.  Jesus was baptized in water and the Spirit descended.  Jesus says we must be born again...of water and spirit.  Jesus sent the apostles out to baptize, and on Pentecost, 3,000 new believers (along with their families) were baptized in water.  So, the entire Biblical context and practice of the early church makes definition #1 of "baptism" to be the very thing that comes to any Christian's mind when they hear the word "baptism."  In fact, this understanding of baptism is so normative that strongly suggests that phrases such as the "washing of regeneration" (Titus 3:5) refer to Baptism.
  2. Baptism involves water AND spirit (John 3:5).  Thus, Baptism has the potential to be soul-saving and sin-forgiving.  Acts 2:38: "Repent and be baptized...for the forgiveness of sins."  Baptist theology denies that baptism can cause the forgiveness of sins, despite Peter's clear teaching during the first sermon ever preached.  (NB: Baptism is not opposed to faith, repentance, etc.  Rather, Baptism is the very action of faith on the part of the believer...and the response of Christ in Baptism is to perform the "circumcision made without hands.")
  3. Baptism applies the saving work of Calvary to our souls.  Baptism is Christ's work that we participate in.  It is not a human work done apart from Christ or God's grace.  In other words, no Catholic believes that Baptism replaces the work of Christ on the Cross, as if trying to be saved by Baptism is to try to bypass being placed under the blood of Jesus shed for us on the Cross.  Never!!  Baptism is the very means by which Christ produces within us a "circumcision made without hands" (Col 2:11), which Paul immediately links guessed it: Baptism!  
These Biblical interpretive principles make it quite easy to come to grips with 1 Peter 3:21.  But they also explain the enormous weight put on Baptism elsewhere in Scripture.  During the Great Commission, for instance, Jesus Christ himself leaves the apostles with the command to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19).  Isn't this a bit shocking?  Shouldn't Jesus have said to make disciples by getting people to accept Him into their hearts?  Why the emphasis on Baptism if it is merely an empty ritual, and why make it seem like the very process of making disciples rests on baptizing them?  The Great Commission not only supports baptismal regeneration; it practically requires it to make sense!  Similarly, when Paul writes to the Ephesians that there is "one faith, one Lord, one Baptism" (Eph. 4:5) he acknowledges the importance of Baptism by placing it alongside other essential components of our salvation.  

VII.  What did the First Christians Believe?

Justin Martyr
The earliest Christian pastors, some of whom were even appointed by the apostles and their immediate successors themselves, believed in baptismal regeneration.  For them, baptism was more than an empty ritual but was something that actually imparted saving grace.  They believed that the waters of baptism were holy because of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

For instance, writing around the year 150 A.D., Justin Martyr reports:
"As many as are persuaded and believe that what we [Christians] teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, and instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we pray and fast with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father . . . and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit [Matt. 28:19], they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, ‘Unless you are born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’ [John 3:3]" (First Apology 61)
Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, writing near the end of the second century (around 190 A.D.) writes:
"‘And [Naaman] dipped himself . . . seven times in the Jordan’ [2 Kgs. 5:14]. It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [this served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions, being spiritually regenerated as newborn babes, even as the Lord has declared: ‘Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’" (Fragment 34).
Irenaeus was a student of Polycarp, who was a student of John the apostle (along with Ignatius of Antioch).  Note that both Justin and Irenaeus tie water and spirit together, Justin by his reference to the Trinity and to the third chapter of John's Gospel, and Irenaeus to this same chapter.  We clearly see here the existence of an interpretive tradition that has its roots in the very teaching of the people who wrote the Scriptures being interpreted.

Ignatius's writings also contain implicit nods toward baptismal regeneration, and the importance of baptisms being conducted by the bishop.  Given that Ignatius was chosen to replace Peter when the chief apostle made his final voyage to Rome, the apostolic pedigree of baptismal regeneration is solid.

Add to that the following: if the early church universally denied baptismal regeneration, then where is the outcry when the heresy of baptismal regeneration was hoisted upon the Church almost immediately after the death of the last apostle?  And why were the apostles so quick to appoint people to important positions of leadership who obviously held baptismal regeneration if this doctrine was not part of the apostolic faith?

VIII. Conclusion

I began this essay pointing out that the Catholic understanding of baptismal regeneration makes verses like 1 Peter 3:21 much easier to interpret.  In fact, the Catholic understanding of baptism is the only understanding that allows one to see a glorious and harmonious convergence between Scriptures and the life and teaching of the early church.  If the faith was truly left once for all with the saints (Jude 3), then we would expect to see a continuity of faith and doctrine between the early church and Christians today.  In regard to Baptism, this continuity of doctrine can be traced back to the earliest Christian teachers and even to the apostles themselves!  As Peter put it so well: "baptism now saves you."

Baptist readers: what do you think?  I invite you to share your thoughts, questions, and counter-arguments in the comments section below!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Another Catholic Convert: Leah Libresco

Join me in welcoming (and praying for) Leah Libresco, who recently announced that she was converting to the Catholic Church from an atheist background.

Two things I love about the interview below:
1.  The truth of the Church's moral teachings attracted her.  Too often, Catholics fail to share how wonderfully good the Church's moral teaching are; we wince to mention contraception and skirt away from that and other topics that might offend our listeners.  Yet, the Church's moral teachings are beautiful and just as true as each of her doctrines...and just as attractive!

2. Even though Leah focused on the coherency of the Church's moral position, she describes the best thing about being Catholic as...the Eucharist.  Being able to believe and receive Jesus in the Eucharist is the best thing that could ever be for anyone, anywhere, anytime.   Leah gets it!

Jimmy Akin on Purgatory

Check out this great new video published by Jimmy Akin on the doctrine of Purgatory.  In it, he exams the common saying that "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord," a phrase that is often used to deny the existence of Purgatory.  However, as Akin shows, this phrase is a misquotation of Scripture.  Other Bible verses (esp. 1 Cor. 3:15) are used to support the doctrine of Purgatory.  Especially interesting is the final section of the video, in with Akin discusses the mistaken notion that Purgatory takes a certain amount of "time" (as in measurable time as experienced by persons before death).

Sunday, June 3, 2012

"Not For Itching Ears" ponders Early Church Traditions

'Just stumbled on a new blog today, written by an Evangelical Protestant with an unquenchable interest in the early church.  I found this post, the article it cites, and the discussion that follows to be particularly interesting, especially in light of my dialogue with local Baptist pastors recounted on this blog.

While some pastors (not to mention average congregants!) have a difficult time recognizing the role of tradition in their interpretation of Scripture, Jim (author of "Not for Itching Ears") clearly recognizes that "our tradition interprets the Word in such a way that it makes the Word teach our tradition" (comment taken from the combox).

So, make your way over to "Not for Itching Ears," and check out Jim's post "A Compelling Case AGAINST Sola Scriptura? (Scripture Alone) Part 1."

Our Holy Father is coming Philadelphia!!!

I can hardly imagine better news than what was just announced in Milan today:

Pope Benedict has chosen Philadelphia as the meeting place for the eighth World Meeting of Families!!  Now granted, these meetings occur once every three years, so we have to wait until 2015 for our Holy Father, God willing, to visit our archdiocese.

These will be an exciting three years as the archdiocese prepares for this meeting.  I pray that the Holy Spirit be poured out in the hearts and souls of the members of the Church in Philadelphia so that we are ready to receive the gift of our Holy Father's visit!  May we hear Jesus speak to us through his vicar on earth, and may we respond with joyful obedience to what he teaches us.

I was just reading a meditation written by Joseph Ratzinger on the Creed this morning, and I was struck (as I am every time I read our Pope's writings) at his sophistication and beauty of thought, his broad view of human life and culture, and his deeply Christian perspective on the relationship of Jesus, his Church, and the world.  We are so blessed to have such a wonderful Holy Father, and doubly blessed that he will be visiting our shores so soon!  I can HARDLY wait!!

Rocco Palmo has the full scoop here.

If you are a non-Catholic reader who wonders why the Papacy is so important, why we call our Pope "Holy Father" (something I was just quizzed on in Chick-fil-A a few days ago!), why we have a pope to begin with, or where the papacy is found in the Bible, please add your questions in the comment box below!

And finally, the announcement itself:

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Video Response to Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) - Part I - Introduction

Given the power of images and sound on the Internet, I've begun making video responses to Lighthouse Baptist Church in Newark, DE. Obviously, this is a modest first stab at making video responses, and I hope to increase production value over time. But, the heart of the videos is the message, which attempts to establish frank, open, and most importantly, charitable dialogue with my fellow Christians who worship God within this local Baptist congregation.

 I should add that I greatly respect the evangelistic mission that members of this congregation (including Tobe Witmer, their pastor) exhibit. Witmer recently created a short DVD presenting his Baptist understanding of the Gospel (granted, he would likely disagree with this characterization, but we'll move on for now...), and he plans to distribute 4,000 copies of this DVD around the Newark (DE) area this summer. In fact, a copy arrived on my own doorstep just today!

So, I better get moving in composing a Catholic Christian response to this particular Gospel message (not all of which, incidentally, is incorrect. As a Catholic, I offer a hearty "Amen!" to every Bible verse read, as well as many of the interpretations of these verses offered by Witmer.)

But I get ahead of myself. 

Here is my introductory video response to Lighthouse Baptist Church. Through this video, may Baptists at LBC know that they are loved, prayed for, and welcomed by local Catholics, and that we stand ready to dialogue about our commonalities and differences as we pursue Christ, ever keeping in mind HIS prayer that "we may be one" (John 17).