Monday, December 28, 2009

97 Verses Opposing "Once Saved, Always Saved"

During the Dec. 17, 2009 sermon at Fairwinds Baptist Church, Pastor Carlo made the following statement during a discussion of the doctrine of eternal security, the notion that once people are truly saved, they will never lose their salvation:

"Those people who say you can lose your salvation, I don't know how...what they're reading in the Word of God, but I don't find that in the Word of God."

I was surprised to hear Pastor Carlo make this remark, since I have personally shared with him the very verses from the Word of God that Christians who do not believe "once saved, always saved" [OSAS] cite as support of their denial of this doctrine.  I assume he was using a figure of speech here, but the truth of the matter is, Pastor Carlo does know what verses we cite.  He simply doesn't interpret them as contradicting this doctrine which is clearly so important to his theology.

To further the conversation between Baptists and Catholics regarding this doctrine, I'd like to share 97 verses that seem to oppose the doctrine of eternal security.  Granted, some of them might be debatable, and that is perfectly fine by me.  The Bible is not a series of proof-texts, and I would like to be the last person to treat it that way.  So, I invite you to disregard as many of these 97 verses that you like, but remember, all it takes is one verse breathed by the Holy Spirit and we are bound by the obedience of faith to believe that truly saved persons can lose their salvation.  And don't forget that in accepting the Biblical teaching that truly saved people can lose their salvation, you are joining the vast majority of Christians--both Catholic and Protestant--through all of Christian history who have understood the Bible in this way.

Before launching into the 97 verses themselves, please note the following:

A)  I have a tract that provides these verses and more, including a simple visual diagram that plots out the categories people could be in when they die.  The category that this tract (and this post) deals with is the second category: people who at one point were truly saved but did not persevere to the end, thereby ending up in hell for all eternity.  Catholics and Baptist both agree that categories one (that there exist unsaved people who, naturally, don't persevere in grace to the end) and three (that there exist saved people who DO persevere to the end) exist, but we are not talking about these categories here.  The question is: is there Biblical evidence (either explicit or implicit) that suggests that category 2 exists--that truly saved people can fall away and lose their salvation?

B)  We have to be careful with this final phrase.  When Catholics speak of "losing one's salvation," they do not mean that this person returns to the state they were in before becoming regenerated by God at the first moment of their salvation.  Rather, through serious, mortal sin, Christians can reject God's sanctifying grace through an action of their own will.  Even so, such individuals retain the regenerated nature of their soul, such that through repentance, they can be restored to a state of sanctifying grace without needing to be regenerated all over again.  Still, to enter heaven, one need not merely be regenerated but truly in a state of fellowship--a state of grace--with God.  Indeed, souls that die in friendship with God but are not perfect are, by God's grace and mercy, purified as through fire, so that they can enter heaven. (1 Cor. 3:15).

C)  The last thirty verses are a variety of conditional statements relating to salvation that Biblical writers make.  When the Bible says something like "you will go to heaven, so long as you keep the commandments," this implies (to most readers) that you will NOT go to heaven if you do NOT keep the commandments.  People who believe eternal security, however, believe that anyone who is truly saved will keep the commandments, and thus, these conditional verses only apply to people who are not truly saved to begin with.  Thus, if an apparent "Christian" goes about breaking the commandments, this can only mean (or at least call into question) that they were not truly saved to begin with.

Thus, the critical question going into each of these conditional verses is: to whom is the writer speaking?  Is the writer speaking to saved Christians in his letter?  If so, where does he suddenly make the switch and point out that "the following statements don't apply to you; they apply only to anyone reading this letter who has not been saved"?

I have quite a difficult time finding these exception clauses, and so I would submit that these conditional verses are written to saved Christians (though they apply to non-Christians as well)--the same saved Christians to whom each letter as a whole is written.  If you agree, then each of these conditional statements ASSUMES that saved people can lose their salvation.

D)  After the verses themselves, I will offer a brief discussion of the verses used by Pastor Carlo to support the idea of eternal security.  After all, it is not enough only to provide Biblical support for the Catholic understanding.  It is equally important to see how the verses used to support eternal security are being misinterpreted, which is usually fairly easy to do by simply looking at the Greek verb tenses.  (Which is why the vast majority of Christians simply do not buy this doctrine.)

E)  Finally, this post will have to be a work in progress.  To begin, I'm basically cutting and pasting the verse references from my tract, along with some fragmentary incipits to aid the memory.  As I develop this post, I will unpack how each given verse supports the view that truly saved persons can lose their salvation.  In some cases, I will try to anticipate counterarguments and answer those as well.

So without further ado, here are:

97 Verses Opposing "Once Saved, Always Saved"

1. Luke 8:13           Seeds receive Word with joy, but no root.
2. Luke 12:42-46    Master assigns place w/ unbelievers
3. Luke 15:11-32    Prod. son was “dead but alive x2”
4. John 6:66-71      Disciples turned theirs backs on Jesus
5. John 15:2           no fruit=cut off from vine
6. John 15:6           cut from vine=thrown in fire
7. John 17:12         Judas was lost, doomed to destruction
8. Rom. 6:15-16    slave to sin=death
9. Rom. 11:20        unbelief=broken branches
10. Rom. 11:21     God will not spare you either.
11. Rom. 11:22     Continue in kindness or cut off
12. 1 Cor. 6:9-10   Fornicators [etc.] will not inherit...
13. 1 Cor. 9:23-27  St. Paul disqualified from prize?
14. 1 Cor. 15:1-2   Otherwise, you have believed in vain
15. Gal. 5:1-4; 19-20 You have fallen away from grace
16. Col. 1:21-23    Reconciled...if you continue in faith
17. Heb. 3:6          In house IF we hold on to courage/hope
18. Heb. 3:8          If Today...harden not your hearts
19. Heb. 3:12        Unbelieving hearts turn away from God
20. Heb. 3:14        Share in Christ IF we hold firmly till end
21. Heb. 6:4-6       ...if they [the saved] fall away...
22. Heb. 6:8  the end it will be burned.
23. Heb. 10:23-31 If we deliberately keep sinning..
24. 2 Pet. 2:20-22 If those [saved]...are overcome...
25. Rev. 22:19       Take away words=take away share
26. Matt. 5:27-32   Pluck out lustful eye vs. body to hell
27. Matt. 6:12-15   Forgive we have forgiven
28. Matt. 13:40-42 evildoers thrown in fire like weeds
29. Matt. 18:21-35 Master/servant parable re. debts
30. Rom. 8:13        to live according to sinful nature=death
31. 1 Cor. 10:12     Be careful that you do not fall!
32. Heb. 12:25 will we escape if we turn away?
33. 2 Cor. 11:2-4     Like Eve, your minds...led astray.
34. Gal. 6:7-9        We will reap...IF we do not give up
35. Col. 2:18-19    Don’t let anyone disqualify you...
36. 1 Tim. 1:5-6    ...some have wandred away...
37. 1 Tim. 1:19     ...some have shipwrecked their faith
38. 1 Tim. 1:20     ...these I have handed over to Satan.
39. 1 Tim. 4:1       ...some will abandon the faith...
40. 1 Tim. 5:8       denying faith=worse than unbeliever
41. 1 Tim. 5:15     Some have turned to follow Satan.
42. 1 Tim. 6:10     Some...have wandered from the faith
43. 1 Tim. 6:18-19 do take hold of life
44. Heb. 2:1 that we do not drift away
45. Heb. 2:3 escape if we ignore salvation
46. Heb. 10:35-39 ...those who shrink back=destroyed
47. James 5:19-20 wander from truth = sin = death
48. 2 Pet. 1:5-11   If you do these things=never fall
49. 2 Pet. 2:20-22 Saved+corrupted=worse than before
50. 2 Pet. 3:16-17 the ignorant twist scripture=destr.
51. Jude 4
52. 1 John 2:28
53. Rev. 3:4
54. Rev. 3:5
55. Rev. 3:11
56. Eph. 5:5
57. 2 Tim. 2:12
58. 1 Cor. 11:32
59. 1 Tim 3:6
60. Matt. 18:7-9
61. Heb.4: 1-4
62. Rev. 2:4-7, 10, 19-26
63. Rev. 12:8

Salvation as Contingent

64. John 15:10
65. Romans 11:22
66. 1 Cor. 15:2
67. Gal. 5:2-4
68. Col. 1:23
69. Heb. 3:6
70. Heb. 3:14
71. Rom. 8:13
72. Gal. 6:9
73. 1 Tim. 5:8
74. 1 Tim. 2:15
75. Matt. 6:14-15
76. 2 Pet. 1:5-11
77. 1 John 1:6
78. 1 John 1:7
79. 1 John 1:8
80. 1 John 1:9
81. 1 John 1:10
82. 1 John 2:3
83. 1 John 2:4
84. 1 John 2:5
85. 1 John 2:9-11
86. Matt. 18:35
87. Rom. 8:17
88. 1 John 2:15
89. 1 John 2:24
90. 1 John 3:6
91. 1 John 3:7-10
92. 1 John 3:17
93. 1 John 3:24
94. 1 John 4:7-8
95. 1 John 4:16-18
96. 1 John 5:2-5
97. 2 Tim. 2:12

Verses Used to Support OSAS

[coming soon]

Sunday, December 27, 2009

150 Reasons to be Catholic (or not something else)

At Our Catholic Faith, Dave Armstrong gives "150 Reasons Why I'm Catholic, and You Should Be, too!"

The list is worth checking out, whether you are Catholic or not!

Benedict XVI on St. Paul

Ignatius Press has recently published a collection of our Holy Father's general audiences that focused on the apostle Paul.  Since the topic of justification has come up recently on this blog, I thought I'd point my readers to a this book.

Excerpts from the book can be read on Google books by following this link.

The relevant essays can be found by searching for "justification."

The essays themselves, once found, can be read for free at the Vatican's website.  Start here, and simply find the general audience by the date listed in the book.

Finally, when I read articles written by evangelicals like this summary (thanks to WHW for the link) from Christianity Today, I can't help but think how very much Catholics share in common with many Evangelicals' understanding of justification.  From a Catholic perspective, there may be room for points of disagreement regarding the fine details of what justification entails, so long as a number of basic truths are not denied.  It turns out that the majority (if not all) of these basic truths are shared by Catholics and (many) Evangelicals.

Many of the canons of the sixth session of the Council of Trent are actually represented in the article linked above that WHW so kindly pointed out in a comment to the previous post.

To really move the conversation forward, I'm always curious to ask Evangelicals the following question:

What specific points from the following two (Catholic) explanations of justification do you find problematic and/or inconsistent with the points that you agree with?

1) Council of Trent, Sixth Session - On Justification
(See especially the canons beginning about half way down the page.)
2) Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1987-1995 - On Justification

I often wonder what Christianity would look like if all non-Catholics suddenly understood that the Catholic Church does not teach (nor has ever taught) that we can be justified by our own human works (apart from God's grace), an idea often referred to as "works-righteousness"?  Even in the Christianity Today article mentioned above, the Catholic position is not given any consideration, apart from a (dismissive?) reference to its supposed teaching of "works-righteousness."

According to Luther, the doctrine of justification was that issue on which the reformation stood or fell.

I'm sorry, but can we really justify using a doctrine about which so much agreement exists as a basis for division?

In my opinion, Pope Benedict XVI is a model ecumenist in the essays linked above.  He shows that he is willing to grant the terms and understanding of those who would count themselves opposed to his teaching, so long as the truth is not violated, in order to open the door to true, uncompromising unity.

Likewise, I see something similar happening in some notable evangelical leaders, though there are still some who "are not quite ready" to end the divisions of the Reformation so that true, ongoing, unity-producing reformation can continue.

Since this is the case, both Catholics and non-Catholics are beginning to find themselves uniting behind the common question:

Where are our differences?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Wright and Piper on Justification

Looking forward, one of the things that I would like to do with this blog is comment on the very recent exchange that has taken place on the subject of justification between N.T. Wright (Anglican bishop of Durham) and John Piper (pastor of Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis).

I am deeply intrigued by both figures.  Piper, besides for being someone with whom I've had the joy of wrestling with on this blog, is perhaps one of the most recognizable--not to mention well-liked--names in Baptist theology and preaching these days.

Wright is also highly respected, perhaps as much by those who disagree with him as those who do (hence, Piper's readiness to devote a book-length response to Wright's views).  Within Catholic circles, Wright has been attracting attention because many people who have become attracted to Wright's theology have gone one step further and become Catholic, leading some people to ask if Wright's theology leads to Catholicism.  Wright has denied the claim, but it is easy, given first impressions, to see that Wright is far closer to Catholic ideas of justification than someone like Piper is.

In the interest of full disclosure, my initial reactions to Wright have always been that he is a profoundly deep and careful thinker and that he is indeed on the right path (though not always there yet).  On the other hand, I have a difficult time reading Piper without noticing what, to me, seem like gaping holes in his account both of what Wright has said and what the Biblical texts themselves say.

Rather than try to justify these initial responses here, I'd first like to state two general reactions that involve both authors.  These questions are really more like meta-questions that arise out of my own desire to figure out why I side so readily with one author and not the other.  Am I missing Piper's brilliance or Wright's logical gaps?

From a Catholic perspective, there seem to be two significant meta-differences (though the first difference may actually be a difference between both authors and the Catholic perspective):

1.  What Piper (more often than Wright) is calling the "New Perspective" may actually be the older perspective, and what Piper seems to think is the old perspective is (from a Catholic perspective) a very new perspective indeed.  While Piper claims that neither Wright nor he put traditions old or new above the Scriptures, Piper still seems to position his interpretation in a historical context so as to add a conservative weight or frame to his position.  I can't help but sense in between the lines of the rhetorical dance Piper performs at the beginning of his book that he feels like he is losing the debate on this issue, and that deep down, he harbors a significant fear that what he thinks is the very heart and mission of the Reformation will be lost.

2.  Perhaps more interesting, I think, is a difference between the authors and their positions themselves.  Piper strikes me as taking a very heady approach to the topic.  He takes umbrage to the idea that we are saved by believing in correct doctrines, yet, he immediately back-pedals as close as he can to the idea so as to connect his view of justification with the heart of the gospel.  (Again, Piper's apparent need at every turn to preserve as much ground as possible makes it seem like he is in the defensive.)

As a music teacher, I find time and again that if a person is struggling with one aspect of a performance, say fingering, that true weakness--and with it the true solution to the problem--is often found in another domain, say, in the ear's understanding of the pitches or rhythm.

I think that the difference between Piper and Wright might not ultimately be that they simply interpret some passages differently than one another, as if they could both somehow look at all the same passages at the same time with the exact same emphases (etc.), they would simply see the truth of the other's position.

In this case, I think the difference is more of a meta-difference, and one that relates not to Biblical exegesis but rather to liturgy.

I think the fact that Wright belongs to a (high) liturgical tradition and Piper does not accounts for the large chasm between their views on justification.  It is not so much that Wright reads the Bible differently than Piper, but Wright reads it in a liturgical context.  In contrast, Piper's reading of the Bible is the heart of the liturgy at his Baptist Church.  Piper preaches about Jesus for an hour a week to his congregation.  Wright celebrates the liturgy with his congregation.

I hypothesize that it is impossible to appreciate the difference between Piper and Wright on justification without understanding the profound difference between their experiences of liturgy.

Piper's book starts out with eight points about Wright's view of justification that give him pause--eight things that make Piper think that Wright's views will lead away from effective preaching of the gospel.

But the gospel for Wright isn't first about the preaching of the gospel!  It is about experiencing the gospel himself who is Jesus!  It is about worshiping Jesus with His covenant people, the church.

For Piper, then, Wright's view of justification threatens the very core of what Piper's experience of Christian worship has been: the proclamation of the word.  Wright, on the other hand, seems to have a much more nuanced approach to the Scriptures, since his liturgical universe doesn't hinge so much on the doctrine as on the person of Jesus.  At the same time, this more liturgical-minded, covenantal  approach to justification ends up being reflected in the very doctrine of justification that Wright develops.  It is no wonder, then, that from Wright's perspective, Piper seems incapable of appreciating the very pieces of the puzzle as Wright lays them out.  Wright's approach to reading the Scriptures seems to fall outside the realm of possibility in Piper's imagination.

As a Catholic layman who is by no means an expert in theology, I imagine that a significant portion of both Piper's and Wright's arguments will go over my head.  As an apologist, this becomes yet another reason that we need an authoritative magisterium to set at least some guidelines to the discussion.  Absent these authoritative guidelines, I would suggest that it becomes very difficult for the average Joe to know the truth.  Yet, did God intend for the truth--the Truth that is Jesus--to be known only by those of us with high-flying intellects?  Of course not!

Not only does the Catholic Church provide authoritative guidelines for interpreting the Bible, but the church is also careful to point out that within these guidelines there is ample room for interpretation, so much room in fact that it may be that the majority of both Piper and Wright's views could be considered compatible with Catholic theology.  Catholic theology really is more like a wide-open playground that is simply surrounded by a fence to prevent the children from falling of the precipice that lies beyond it.  The dogmas and doctrines of the church (which ultimately represent the Church's interpretation of the Scriptures) do not squelch dialogue but rather open up true dialogue by clearly marking the space within which possibilities may be explored.

Within this space, you can easily find someone like Pope Benedict XVI saying that the idea of justification by faith alone is correct, so long as faith is considered to be a faith that is animated by love and charity throughout life.  Whereas Piper seems hung-up on the particularities and technicalities of a precise doctrinal summation, both Wright and Benedict seem open to expressing all that is true, good, and holy.

On Dating a Church, a response

I've enjoyed reading the posts over at Jesse Browning's blog "A Narrative Called Life," including this post in which Jesse uses the analogy of dating to finding the right (new) church. The idea of community was obviously an important one to Jesse, as I know it is to many people who seek smaller churches or home churches. I posted the following response, since I think that something of the community may actually be lost in these church environments, as inviting as they might be.


[Your blog gives me so many good reasons to procrastinate grading my student's exams.]

I appreciate the idea of community, and certainly the Mass sends us out into the community to perform works of mercy and charity (such as evangelization, feeding the hungry, etc.)

But I wonder if the *feeling* of community leads us to the kind of community in Christian worship that we ultimately find modeled for us in the book of Revelation, where all of God's people (including at least one person, John), including all the angels and saints in heaven worship the "Lamb standing as if slain" around the throne. From a Catholic perspective, the community of the church that worships together is not a localized, provincial entity as much as it is the entire mystical body of Christ joining together in a single sacrificial act of praise and thanksgiving. We may not know each others names. It may not *feel* like the the kind of "community" we (somewhat nostalgically?) long for in our fragmented, postmodern culture. But ultimately, it is a community that does indeed worship together. And it is a community that meets together no matter what avenue or city we attend "church" at. That is because, as Hebrews teaches us, when we show up to Mt. Zion, we now enter the New Jerusalem. We worship not only with Joe, Susie, and Bob sitting next to me, but also with grandma who passed away last year, and all the angels, and the saints and martyrs and the church of the first born and those made righteous. *This* is the community that the Bible invites us to join when we worship. And, if we read Revelation like Christians have since the beginning, we understand that this liturgy is one that culminates in a supper: the marriage supper of the Lamb. In all of it--the prayers, the readings, the Holy, Holy, Holy--and through all of it, we participate in the battle plan of the God who reigns over heaven and earth, and we enter into this cosmic, heavenly liturgy everyday we go to Mass.

The Mass is heaven on earth!

Two quick stories for your delight:

At my former church in Ann Arbor, MI, a Methodist minister drove by and saw giant flames leaping from the roof of the barn (the main church while the new sanctuary was being built). He pulled over and ran up only to find Mass was in session and the Eucharist was being consummated.

At the Florida church where I grew up, shortly after they built a Eucharist adoration chapel, two militant atheists were walking down the sidewalk near the church. Out of the chapel, they suddenly saw bursts of bright pulsating light. They walked up and knocked on the door, and a dear friend of mine who was adoring Jesus came out. They explained that they had seen a light, and she explained that the person who created the universe and died on the cross to save them was in that very room, hidden under the appearance of bread.

The father and son are now Catholics!

Returning briefly to the sense of community:

When I meet other devout, plugged-in Catholics, no matter where I am in the country or world, we have an instant, communal bond (we comfortably worship together, chime in with the same prayers, no matter what the language, and partake of the same Eucharist). We have the same Holy Father, and we are members of a single, united family, a world-wide community that meets locally, to be sure, but exists primarily at the universal, catholic level.

May the peace of Christ be with you!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Piper to the Pope, a response

Denny Burk just posted a clip of John Piper answering the question of what he would say to the pope if he had two minutes with him. The transcript of the clip, below, is taken from Piper’s own website.


If you had two minutes to talk with the pope, what would you say to him?

O my, I have never asked myself that question at all.
I would say, "Could you just, in one minute, explain your view of justification?" And then on the basis of his one minute, I would give my view of justification.
I think Rome and Protestantism are not yet ready. I don't think the Reformation is over. I don't think that enough change has happened in Roman understanding of justification and a bunch of other things.
I'm just picking justification because it's so close to the center. You could pick papal authority or the nature of the mass or the role of sacraments or the place of Mary.
But those seem to be maybe a little more marginal than going right to the heart of the issue of, "Do you teach that we should rely entirely on the righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith alone as the ground of God being 100% for us, after which necessary sanctification comes? Do you teach that?"
And if he said, "No, we don't," then I'd say, "I think that right at the core of Roman Catholic theology is a heresy," or something like that.


Here is my response, which I added over at Burk's blog:

I'm surprised that Piper put justification at the center--as the core issue between Protestants and Catholics. In some respects, the commentators seem more aware of the central dividing issue than Piper did in this clip:


As Ron Dodson put it: he doesn't mind a bishop in Rome, just one who claims to be "authoritative over me."

The question then becomes:

Who does have final authority over the Christian believer?

The savory tension in Piper's clip is that Piper is, in a sense, his own Pope. Piper is the one who the Holy Spirit guides to lead Piper to the truth, not a successor of St. Peter.

The clip could have been called:

"Pope Piper to Pope Benedict"

So then, Piper finds himself in the awkward position of having to undermine the authority of one of the most brilliant theologians alive today while somehow elevating his own authority to speak on justification. I wonder--would Piper would have been so bold talking to the predecessors to Pope Benedict XVI, all the way back to Clement, Cletus, Linus, and finally St. Peter himself?

Ironically, much of what Piper ends up saying about justification is also believed by Catholics and taught in the Catechism.

Catholics believe that we are saved through Jesus Christ alone through grace alone. From the beginning to the end of salvation, it is the grace of Christ merited for us on the cross. Nothing apart from God’s grace—whether faith or works--can get us into heaven.

Further, Catholics believe that our initial justification is wrought by faith.

Because of these similarities, Piper is forced to suddenly become quite technical. I doubt that many of his own congregants would follow the intricacies of thought that go into Piper’s understanding of justification.

So, to focus the discussion a bit, I would ask Piper the following the questions:

1. Do you believe justification is a one-time event? If so, why do New Testament writers, who all use Abraham as exhibit A when it comes to justification, refer to Abraham as being justified at three different points in his life?

2. Where does the Bible teach that we are justified by faith alone?

3. Where does the Bible teach that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, rather than infused in us whereby we become “partakers of the divine nature”?

4. Of course, if our righteousness is merely the result of a legal decree by which we are accounted for as righteous such that our future sins do not affect our right standing before God, then it would seem that our eternal salvation is secure once we receive the gift of initial salvation. Yet, the Bible contains much evidence that our post-initial-justification sins (if they constitute a serious total rejection of God’s will and life) DO cause people to lose their salvation. Thus. St. Paul tells his followers to “work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” What, according to Piper, do we have to fear and tremble about once we are saved? Where does the Bible teach that once we are accounted for as righteous, we can not lose our salvation?

5. Where in the early church—that community of people who received their faith from the apostles and read the language of Scripture in their native tongue read the Bible in the cultural context within which it was written—do you find anyone who understands justification like Piper does almost 2,000 years after the fact?

6. How will the model of authority and church structure assumed by Piper ever lead to the glorious perfect unity that Christ offered his Passion to achieve (John 17) and that St. Paul commanded? My evangelical work in Catholic apologetics is done to try to achieve unity of belief, worship, etc. with both my Catholic and non-Catholic brothers and sisters, whom I love with fond affection. Yet, we are divided in many respects. The Body of Christ which is meant to show the world that Jesus was sent by the Father (John 17) through its profound, visible unity has become deeply and visibly disunified. It falls on each of us to dialogue with each other and work together toward that unity which Christ desires for us. And so, trusting completely in His grace, I offer the above questions to keep this important dialogue alive.

Finally, here is Pope Benedict’s response to Piper.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Catholics and Mega-churches

The rise of mega-churches represents one of the more fascinating religious phenomena of the last quarter century or so.  But is a mega-church approach to the Christian liturgy one that can be reconciled with Catholics' understanding of the Mass?

This article opens up the topic, but what is really interesting are the comments that follow.

Now Available: The Writings of John Henry Cardinal Newman

Catholic convert (from Anglicanism) and cardinal John Henry Newman has written some of the most important works of apologetics this century, most especially his Apologia and his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.  These works have brought many Christians back home to the Catholic Church.

This link to Newman's writings will be permanently kept on the sidebar.

All the Evidence for God

Cardinal Ruini just finished hosting a conference of brilliant minds all talking about one thing: God's existence.  The article caught my eye when I saw that a well-respected scholar of music aesthetics, Roger Scruton, presented.  Turns out, a host of some of the most intelligent Christian philosophers shared perspectives on how God's existence fits seamlessly with our human existence and creation.

Wish I could have been there...

Read about the conference here.

The Miraculous Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Fr. Z posts a wonderful article with his commentary about the miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe on his blog.

Through this miracle, God drew an entire people to himself...all through the intercession of Jesus's blessed mother.  How very evangelical!  Mary is the model both of the Church and of all things evangelical.  Her message is always that spoken at the wedding feast at Cana: "Do whatever he tells you."  Mary's soul always "magnifies the Lord."

Through the intercession of the Blessed Mother Mary--our Blessed Mother--may the divisions between Christians be healed and perfect unity attained so that the "world may know" that the Father sent the Son (John 17), and may all people be drawn to Jesus Christ, the only savior of the world.

I would propose to my non-Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ that our collective evangelical efforts will be hindered and even damaged until we are in union with each other and with Jesus's and Mary's evangelical plan.

Monday, December 14, 2009

On Evangelical Anglican Catholics

See (former Anglican) Fr. Dwight Longnecker's essay here.

The opening two paragraphs:
What happens when former Evangelicals find their way home to the Catholic Church through the Anglican Church? They bring with them into the Catholic Church a whole range of gifts from their former traditions. They bring the zeal and dedication of the Evangelical. They bring wide and deep knowledge of the Scriptures. They also bring the Anglican love of fine preaching, excellent hymns, reverent worship and beautiful language and liturgy.

The new Personal Ordinariate for Anglicans may attract far more than a few disgruntled Episcopalians. A whole range of Protestant Evangelical Christians are 'out there' searching for a church where they can exercise these great traditions from Evangelicalism and Anglicanism in faithful full communion with the Catholic Church.
Fr. Longnecker's perspective is well worth getting acquainted with...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Undercover at Planned Parenthood

Live Action, a pro-life student group that began at UCLA, has recently uploaded a new video, one that provides an undercover glimpse into the counseling offered at Planned Parenthood.

May Mary, the Immaculate Conception, whose feast day we celebrated yesterday, intercede before the Son for the souls of these abortionists. Our Lady of Guadeloupe, pray for us!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On Artificial Contraception

Msgr. Pope offers this essay on artificial contraception and the Church's teaching.  It is well worth reading, especially if you aren't familiar with the historic, cross-denominational prohibition against artificial contraception that lasted until 1930.

History has once again shown the bright wisdom of the Catholic Church's stance on moral issues against a culture that is slowly but surely sliding into darkness.

Come Home

I recently read a short piece by Fr. Zuhlsdorf that carries certain implications for apologetics.  The snippet below comes from an essay that can be read here:
Once upon a time I had an experience similar to what I think is happening here while I was working for the Pont. Comm. Ecclesia Dei in Rome.

We were having a terrible exchange with an American bishop. Volley of letters letters went back and forth across the Atlantic. People wanted the old Mass, and he refused absolutely. They petitioned. He rejected. They sent us the copies of the petitions. He would deny there was any interest. He would say he never got petitions.  We would mail back copies of his acknowledgment of the petitions.  He wrote stern letters telling us to mind our own business. We wrote back saying that this was our business. It became uglier and uglier.

One day a letter came from him that was so nasty it simply couldn’t be borne.

I wrote a draft of a response entirely proportioned to the tone and content of that bishop’s letter. My draft was intended to end the debate.

When the Cardinal came that afternoon, this was the great Augustine Card. Mayer, first President of Ecclesia Dei, he called me in to go over the various drafts that had to be finalized and then sent.  At last we came to my draft to that bishop.

Card. Mayer, nearly 80 at the time, had been a monk, an expert at the Council, an abbot, professor, curial Secretary, Prefect.  He is perhaps the holiest man I know.  He has a practically perfect grasp of English. He would normally make subtle changes in the language of all the letters he would sign. There was no question but that he could: he was the Cardinal and all the letters I wrote became his letters.  He was ready to hear a reason for or against a change, but he was usually right with each "suggestion".

So there was no surprise at all when my tough-minded letter came to the fore that he said,

"Here you write X. Do you suppose instead we could say Y?"

We went on to the next word in that manner… and the next… and the next, until – both of us chuckling a bit – there was nothing at all left of what I had written. The page was filled with corrections and cobwebs of lines and marks.

At last, I said "Clearly Your Eminence wants something else. It’s my job to make your job easier. Give me some direction."

He paused and looked at the large Murillo painting of the Blessed Mother on the wall of the office for a while and then said:

"At a certain point we must stop arguing and try to open their hearts."

With that I went back to my desk, pondered this for a while, and then rapidly wrote a short letter to that American bishop.

I took it in to the Cardinal, who make a minor change here and there, and off it went.

A few weeks later we received news from people in that bishop’s diocese that, not only had the bishop permitted the older form of Mass, he came to celebrate it himself for them.

"But Father! But Father!", you are no doubt saying.  "What did you write?  What saved the day?"

After the usual clink of incense at the beginning, common to all curial letters, I merely wrote that we regretted greatly the way our correspondence had gone. We hoped that it might improve. But given the earnest desire of the people in his diocese, ...

"Would Your Excellency please not open your heart to these people and help them?"

That seems to have been the real problem, after all.

At a certain point you have to realize that arguing isn’t going to achieve the result you desire.

At last you must strive to open hearts.
When sharing with non-Catholics about the Catholic faith (which, we must remember is their faith--their family--as much as it is ours), we must remember the importance of eventually putting aside our arguments and appealing to the heart.

From this perspective, perhaps the two most powerful words of Catholic apologetics for our non-Catholic brothers and sisters are:

Come home.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Home from Iraq...Home from Heaven

Creative Minority Report recently posted a beautiful clip of a 10-year-old's reaction to her father's surprise return home (safe and sound) from Iraq. I must have watched it a dozen times, and I would invite my readers to do the same.

The Return from Iraq - Click here for another funny movie.

This past Sunday at Mass, it occurred to me as I was adoring Jesus in the Holy Eucharist that what is so unique and special about the Mass is that Jesus returns Home. Not just a letter from Jesus. Not just a picture of Jesus. Not just a symbol or reminder of Jesus.


Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

In the fullness of His Humanity and the fullness of His Divinity, on the altar.

If our hearts are in love with our savior, and if we've been given the grace to believe this sacred mystery passed down from the beginning of Christianity, then the video clip above can teach us something of what our spiritual reaction to Jesus's coming might be.

Our reactions need not be exactly the same, of course. The point is simply that there is something absolutely unique about being in the presence of the Beloved, whether that beloved is your daddy or the divine Spouse of our souls.

My heart breaks to know that there are so many Christians out there who love the Lord Jesus Christ yet are not present when he comes to visit us in His fullness.

If you are a member of a denomination that believes the Lord's Supper is only a symbol, I invite you to consider the girl's reaction in the video above.

Would she have been equally satisfied had a symbol of her daddy (say, a photo or a statue) appeared?

Somewhere deep in our hearts, we all long to be close to our Beloved. A symbol will never do for us. And it will never do for Jesus either, who loves us infinitely more than we love Him.

In the Holy Eucharist, the savior of the world comes onto the altar. In reality, the altar and all of those who surround it are taken up into heaven to participate in the once-for-all offering of the Lamb of God before the Father. That is why we cry out "we lift our hearts up to the Lord!" We experience a foretaste of eternity when we join in the marriage feast of the Lamb.

And all of this happens during the Mass.

May the little girl's response be for us a kind of spiritual and emotional pedagogy for our own response to these awesome truths--the truths that point us to the Real Presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the Eucharist, Jesus is home from Heaven.

Let us give thanks!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Call your Congressmen TODAY!

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

On behalf of all the unborn, mothers, and Christian healthcare workers who are caught in the crossfires of the abortion holocaust in this nation, I urge you to call your congressmen (if you have not done so already) to register your voice that abortion should not be funded in the health care legislation that is to be voted on soon.  If you have the time, a personal phone call to each congressman's Washington office can really do a lot of good.  (The office staff are always very courteous, and it feels good to have your voice  heard!)

You can easily find contact information for your Senators and Representatives by going to these websites:

When you call your senators, here is a suggested text for you to say (taken from the Catholic Key blog):

“During floor debate on the health care reform bill, please support an amendment to
incorporate longstanding policies against abortion funding and in favor of conscience rights.
If these serious concerns are not addressed, the final bill should be opposed.”

When you call your representatives, here is a suggested text:

“Please support the Stupak Amendment that addresses essential pro-life concerns on abortion
funding and conscience rights in the health care reform bill. Help ensure that the Rule for the
bill allows a vote on this amendment. If these serious concerns are not addressed, the final bill
should be opposed.”

Let us do everything we can to curb further funding of abortion in this country.

And may the power of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit bring this holocaust to an end so that children live and souls be saved.  Let us beg for the intercession of all the saints, angels, and our mother Mary for these petitions.

In Christ,

ps.  I've been swamped with work lately, but stand in awe of the incredible things that have happened in the Church in the last few weeks.  The Holy Spirit is moving in powerful ways bringing many separated brothers and sisters back into the fold.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Francis Beckwith on St. Justin Martyr

One of the greatest joys of being a Catholic apologist is to witness converts discover their long family heritage.  Some converts describe it as waking up from a coma or from amnesia only to discover that you are a member of a royal family line and heir to all the fortunes of the kingdom.  There is so much to learn--truths, family members, customs, rituals, saints--and all of it is so brilliantly wonderful, treasures beyond words.

Francis Beckwith, former president of the Evangelical Theological Society and convert to the Catholic faith, connects with St. Justin Martyr on his blog.  Check it out!  This simple post provides a peak into the life of one evangelical convert who continues to discover his roots.

Baptism Now Saves You

In 1 Peter 3:21, St. Peter writes, " saves you."
Baptists, of course, explicitly teach that baptism does not save you.

Baptists must implicitly assume that Peter actually believed like Baptists believe, that baptism does not save you.  (I say must because we are dealing with a binary possibility here: does or does not.  If you don't believe one, then you must believe the other.)

If they assume that Peter-the-Baptist believed what they believe, they likely assume that why he believed baptism does not save is the same reason why they believe that baptism does not save.  Thus, Baptists implicitly assume that Peter-the-Baptist thought of baptism as an outward ritual involving water only, and that the Spirit is in no way involved, that no grace is imparted during the ritual, and that nothing happens within the soul of the person baptized.

But if Peter-the-Baptist believed all these things, why would he then say baptism now saves you?  Why would he say that a grace-less, outward sign saves you?  No Baptist pastor in a million years would say that baptism saves you.

Peter's expression plainly and simply doesn't make any sense if Peter really thought like a Baptist.

Further, why does Peter unpack the idea that baptism saves you by describing its action as an interior action, when he knew full well that no interior action occurs during a baptism, since the interior change already occurred previously (according to Baptist theology)?

Moreover, why does he connect the ritual and imagery of baptism in the New Covenant with the time point in the Old Testament when Noah was saved through water?  Doesn't this dramatize the idea that baptism saves you now, which is the very point that Peter-the-Baptist would never want to make?

Finally, lest we blame Peter-the-Baptist for a temporary verbal indiscretion, might we ask what the Holy Spirit who inspired this text was thinking?  Is this not the same Holy Spirit who knew that Christians from the very beginning of the Church would begin teaching consistently and universally that baptism now saves us, and would do so for 1,600 years until the Anabaptists came along to set things right?  Why didn't the Holy Spirit ward off this dangerous, work-based, false teaching by inspiring Peter simply to preach "Baptism does NOT now save us"?

My dear Baptist readers, it is not your job to answer these questions.  Rather, I would recommend that you ask these questions to your pastors, Bible-study leaders, and Bible teachers.  Ask all of them; don't let them dodge the bullet by not letting you fire it.   Ask your pastors and weigh their answers against what Peter taught in 1 Peter 3:21.  Think critically about the answer you are given; do not assume that it is correct until you have critically verified it as such.  (After all, the whole point of the exercise is really to test your Pastor's teachings by God's word, just like the Bereans did in Acts.)  Compare their interpretation of this passage with how others have interpreted the passage historically.  How did the early church fathers who learned the faith from the apostles understand baptism?

Do some research.  Think critically.  Love the truth.  Seek the truth.  And the truth will set you free!

Exorcizing--not Exercising!--the Spirit of Vatican II

Thank you, Jesus, for sending holy bishops to lead your Church, especially Bishop Nickless!

Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa is announcing in his newest pastoral letter that the Church under his leadership will embrace the interpretive tradition of continuity in regard to the teachings of the Vatican II, as opposed to those who interpret this council as a break with the past.

Read a portion of Bishop Nickless's letter here.

As more and more bishops like Bishop Nickless join the episcopacy, I believe we will see an acceleration of the new evangelization.  As Bishop Nickless points out in his letter, the Church is thriving wherever a hermeneutic of continuity is practiced, and dying wherever it is rejected.

Top-of-the-List Reading on the Papacy

Steven Greydanus recently published part 8 of his series on the papacy over at Jimmy Akin's blog.

This is really important reading, especially for anyone who doesn't think the papacy was instituted by Christ.

From my dialogues with Baptist pastors about the papacy, my experience is that none of them know the Catholic, Biblical arguments for this institution.  Not even the basics.

Don't be led astray.  Read the arguments.  Study God's word.  Come to know the truth!

Response to Fairwinds Baptist Church: On (Not) Knowing God's Word

[Welcome new readers.  Before you go, please don't forget to check out the links to thirteen other Fairwinds responses listed on the right side of this page.  May the Holy Spirit be with you all!]

Pastor Carlo often makes statements that go something like this: "Anyone who believes [X, Y, or Z] clearly does not know God's word."

These types of statements are a red herring!  (A red herring is a term that refers to a point in an argument that is meant to distract from the true crux of the argument.)  These statements are a red herring since we all know that people who believe differently from Pastor Carlo do, in fact, know God's word, insofar as we accept Pastor Carlo's own reduction of God's word down to the words of Sacred Scripture.  (Catholics do not make this reduction.)

As a Catholic, I would openly acknowledge that Baptists know God's word (for present purposes, the Bible).  Methodists know God's word.  Presbyterians know God's word.  For that matter, Mormons know God's word.  And so do JW's, Calvinists, and every other Christian or quasi-Christian group you can think of.

The problem is really that these groups interpret God's word differently, and perhaps incorrectly at times.

Thus, Pastor's statement really ought to be:

"Anyone who believes [X, Y, or Z] clearly does not interpret God's word the same way that I do."

Besides for the fact that this statement lacks the rhetorical punch of the original version, the revised statement also reveals something significant about what is missing from the first statement.

The first statement conceals the fact that Pastor Carlo makes his interpretation of God's word the standard, rule, and final authority for the faith of his congregants, at least so far as the various doctrines about which he is preaching are concerned.

After all, if the measure of truth when it comes to baptism (for instance) is how Pastor Carlo thinks about, then Pastor Carlo's congregants have two choices.  First, they can put their faith in Pastor Carlo's interpretation of the Bible and simply accept his interpretation as correct.  Or, they can ask themselves, on what basis do I trust that Pastor Carlo is the final authority on the interpretation of baptism in the Bible?

If Pastor Carlo is 100% correct 100% of the time, then no worries.

But does Pastor Carlo claim to be perfect in his interpretations?  I doubt it.  What standards, then, can Pastor Carlo's congregants use to judge when and if Pastor Carlo's interpretations are correct, and thus worthy of the trust that he presumes in making the original statement?

Ironically, the only standard that many congregants use to judge Pastor Carlo's interpretation of God's word is their own interpretations of God's word!

Do you see the problem here?  Not only are their interpretations of God's word conditioned by Pastor Carlo's preaching week after week, but even if they weren't, this standard simply displaces the problem.  Now, it is the congregants' interpretations that are the final, absolute rule and authority.

But by what standards can these congregants judge whether or not their own interpretations are correct?

The common answer is: by God's word.  But we are talking about the interpretation of God's word.  The next answer is usually: faith.  But we are not talking about faith in God; what this hermeneutic boils down to is faith in oneself!  While I have every reason to have faith in God, I have every reason not to be faithful in myself.  I make countless errors every day!  Yet somehow I am supposed to trust that I can pick up this gigantic book written in a languages that I do not know for a culture that I hardly know and somehow come to the correct interpretation all on my own?  And I am supposed to have faith in this interpretation?  On what grounds?

I think for most Protestants, the only answer to this final question is that they have no other option.

But there is!

There is another option.

Let's go back to Pastor Carlo's statement, and let's reword it into a statement that a Catholic apologist might make.  Ask yourself: what authorities are invoked in the following statements?

"Anyone who believes [X, Y, or Z] interprets God's word differently than the historical successors of the the apostles."

"Anyone who believes [X, Y, or Z] interprets God's word according to a tradition that arose 1,600 years after Christianity began."

"Anyone who believes [X, Y, or Z] seems to privilege these verses in their interpretation of Scripture while failing to account for these verses."

"Anyone who believes [X, Y, or Z] does not hold the interpretation of Scripture that has been safeguarded by the authorities Jesus chose and protects by the power of the Holy Spirit to transmit the correct interpretation of God's word to you and to all generations."

These statements are a bit more candid than Pastor Carlo's original statement in that they actually point to some objective standard that the listener can go to and study.  Rather than be faced with the choice of accepting or rejecting the authority of Pastor Carlo's interpretations, the reader can go an study the early fathers of the Church.  The reader can study the historical context of Protestant doctrines.  The reader can study various interpretations of Scripture to see which one makes the most sense of the Bible.  (Protestant converts seem to all agree that Catholic theology and the Mass make the Bible come alive.)  The reader can study the explicit claim to authority that the Catholic Church makes, so at least they can be clear about their rejection of it, if they so choose.

But if Protestants absolutely reject the authority of the Catholic Church, then they ultimately reject the Bible as well, because the Bible was written by Catholics, compiled by Catholics, and was ultimately canonized by a council of Catholic bishops.  The contents of the Bible itself--its table of contents, so to speak--is itself an authoritative Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church.  It was the authority of the bishops that was employed to determine which books should and should not be in the New Testament.

Authority is the key issue, the ultimate issue that separates Catholics from non-Catholics.  Catholics are satisfied to openly and obediently follow the teachings of other men, and we do so trusting in Christ's promise that "the gates of Hades will not prevail against the Church" and that he continues to send the Holy Spirit to guide and protect the apostles and their successors in the truth.  Apart from this faith in Christ's promises, Christians would have no reason to trust these Catholic bishops either.

Non-Catholics find themselves in a difficult position.  Since few of them are highly-trained Biblical scholars, most of them end up following the men that preach at their local church.  What irony!  These Christians are part of a movement that ultimately protest an authority protected by the Holy Spirit only to become obedient to an authority not protected by Him.

And this, I think, explains Pastor Carlo's red herring.  The red herring tries to distract you from the reality:

"Anyone who believes [X, Y, or Z] clearly does not interpret God's word the same way I do."

Nor should we, Pastor Carlos, unless you claim the charism of infallibility, the authority of a bishop who has succeeded the apostles, and fidelity to the orthodox teachings of Christianity left once for all with the saints (Jude 3) and the early fathers of the Church.

The truth is out there, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  Seek and you will find!

I invite you to consider coming home to the Church, the family of God, which is the "pillar and foundation of truth" (1 Tim. 3:15).  There is only one world-wide Church that makes the claim to be the pillar and foundation of truth, and it is the same Church that has existed since she was founded by Christ in Matt. 16: the Catholic Church.

(We call her the Roman Catholic Church since our first pope, St. Peter, was martyred in Rome, and his bishopric was then based in the city.  If St. Peter had been martyred elsewhere, then I suppose the Catholic Church would have eventually come to be identified by a different city.  Of course, it is fitting that Christ's kingdom on earth should be centered in the historic center of humanity and pagan culture in the ancient world.  For centuries, dating back to St. John's student Ignatius in 110 A.D., we have simply called ourselves the Catholic Church.)

May the peace and guidance of the Holy Spirit be with you, now and forever.

Steve Ray's Crossing the Tiber is on Google Books!

Former Baptist Steve Ray's book-length conversion story is (partially) available on Google Books.

This is really terrific news, because Steve's book really goes into detail about the intellectual, spiritual, and historical journeys that led to his conversion to Catholicism--a conversion that many of my Baptist readers should find intriguing.

Readers will quickly see that Steve's conversion was not a rash or irrational decision.  Readers will also be able to see that Steve was in love with the Lord and was willing to pursue the Truth of the Lord wherever it led him.

One of the most valuable parts of the book are the footnotes to the conversion story, which include many citations from Protestant scholars.  Ironically, it was the writings of Protestant scholars that played a significant role in pointing Steve toward the Catholic Church.

Also of great importance are the latter two sections on Baptism and the Eucharist, where Steve examines the Biblical and patristic sources of these doctrines.

As you read, remember that Steve is not a highly-trained theologian (though he has by now far surpassed the average laymen in his knowledge of God).  Learning the truth does not require three PhD's in dogmatics.  But do notice that Steve thinks critically and researches his topics with an open mind and heart.  So join Steve in really studying closely what the earliest fathers of Christianity had to say about baptism and the Eucharist.

Read Crossing the Tiber here!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

On Infant Baptism

Msgr. Charles Pope offers a great summary of the Church's position on infant baptism. He makes the following three points:
1. The baptism of infants is a powerful testimony to the absolute gratuity (gift) of salvation.
2. The Baptism of infants also powerfully attests to the fact that the beauty of holiness and righteousness is available to everyone regardless of age.
3. The Baptism of Infants also attests to the fact that faith is gift for every stage of development.

On Hell

Check out this interesting article on hell by Carl Olsen.  Fr. Barron also has a very good way of presenting the doctrine of hell:

An Abortionist turns to Divine Mercy

Thanks to Patrick Madrid for posting this interview.

More Miraculous or Less?

Baptism and the Eucharist are two sacraments (as Catholics call them) or ordinances (as Protestants often call them) in the New Testament church that have clear types in the Old Testament. 

One way to generally distinguish Catholic theology from Protestant theology is to say the following:

In Catholic theology, the New Testament sacraments are MORE miraculous than their Old Testament types.

In Protestant theology, the New Testament ordinances are LESS miraculous than their Old Testament types.

Let's consider baptism first.  In the Old Testament, the types of baptism (the first creation, the story of Noah, the passing through the Red Sea, the water that came from the Rock) all constitute powerful acts of God that in most cases were powerful, visible miracles.  In many cases, the types of baptism saved God's people while simultaneously washing away sinful oppressors.

For Catholics, these types all point to the even GREATER miracle that Christ performs when He baptizes someone into the family of God and washes away any stain of original or personal sin.  (Note: Christ is the one who performs baptisms.  Baptism is Christ's work, not ours.)  At baptism, we become a new creation.  At baptism, the Holy Spirit that hovers over the waters enlightens the soul and makes us children of God.  Baptism is the spiritual counterpart to circumcision in the Old Testament.  Through baptism, we are initiated into the family of God.  Baptism is a great, miraculous event for Catholics.

For many Protestants, baptism is not a miraculous event.  There is no grace attached to baptism, since baptism is strictly an outward symbol.  All of those miraculous types of baptism in the Old Testament foreshadowed a New Testament ritual that is actually spiritually powerless.  People may have been saved through the types of baptism in the Old Testament, but no one is saved by baptism in the New Testament.  Sin may have been washed away by the Old Testament type, but the New Testament reality is powerless to wash away sin.

Now let's consider the Eucharist, the bread of the Lord's supper.  In the Old Testament, the manna that was given in the desert was truly miraculous.  This bread that came down from heaven fed the Israelites in their journey across the desert, and it fell in double quantities on Friday so that they Jews could truly rest from their food gathering on the Sabbath.   Right before Jesus's famous bread of life discourse in John 6 (which remember, occurred at the time of Passover, one year before he was to institute the Eucharist at the last supper and give his life on the cross as the true Paschal Lamb of God), Jesus performed another miracle involving bread, in which he multiplied the loaves to feed the thousands of people that followed him.

For Catholics, these types of the New Testament Eucharist are less miraculous than the reality to which they point, in which Jesus truly feeds us and communes with us in his fullness--in his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity--hidden under the species of bread and wine.  Since the beginning of Christianity, Christians have faithfully passed on the apostles' understanding of Jesus's words in John 6, which is that He meant what he said.  Jesus insists over and over, and says in as many different ways as possible, that His flesh is real food and his blood is real drink.  He even goes so far to say that this flesh is the same flesh that he will give for the life of the world.  All the early fathers of Christianity, including many who learned the faith from St. John the apostle himself, all believed that the bread and wine of the Eucharist is truly Jesus Christ himself.  Indeed, the Eucharist is the miracle of miracles, and the miraculous presence of Jesus in the Eucharist continues to this day to manifest itself physically to believers.  (Check out this most recent, developing story, which appears to be yet another Eucharistic miracle!  For other Eucharistic miracles, click here.)

For Protestants, the Lord's supper is an ordinance that imparts no grace in and of itself apart from whatever grace is involved in remembering Jesus's passion and death on the cross.  The bread and the grape juice are certainly not miraculous in any way, shape, or form, and are usually discarded in the trash can after the service.  This is not viewed as wrong, since the elements are not considered miraculous.  Most Protestants have a difficult time explaining why Jesus would have them go through a simple ritual of eating bread and drinking grape juice as a means of remembering his passion and death, and thus, the ritual often is justified in terms of our need to be obedient.  It is typically scheduled to occur once every three months, even though the members of the early church celebrated the Eucharist every time they met to worship (see Acts 2).

Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice

Michael Coren comments on the media's reaction to the latest scandal in the Catholic Church.  Read about it here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Response to Fairwinds Baptist Church October 11, 2009 Sunday Evening Service

[Welcome new readers.  Before you go, please don't forget to check out the links to thirteen other Fairwinds responses listed on the right side of this page.  May the Holy Spirit be with you all!]

This service was unusual in that it featured a video skit/diary (that I could not see as I was listening only to the audio), two testimonies, and a sermon by the youth pastor, Jerry Factor.

While I may (or may not) have the time later to comment on more details of the service, Brother Jerry made a comment toward the end of his sermon that is worth a closer look.

Brother Jerry was using the story of the Prodigal Son to demonstrate the love God shows us when we get saved.  And while it is certainly true that God welcomes each of us with open arms when we are born again--when we become children of Abba, daddy, father--I find it odd that Brother Jerry would use the story of the Prodigal Son to illustrate this.

After all, the son in the story was already a child of the father.  He was the prodigal SON, was he not?  The prodigal son asked for his inheritance (which is basically an act of disowning the father), blew it all on a life of sin, and ended up feeding the very animals that Jews couldn't even eat (pig).  Finally, he decided to return home, knowing that even the father's servants had it better than he did.  Yet, when he returned home, his father ran out to meet him!  Read the passage from Luke 15:20-32, to which I have added emphases.  This is one of the most moving passages in the entire Bible:
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.  The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'  But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.  Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on.  'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'   "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.  But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'  'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'
The story of the Prodigal son has long been read as an allegory about salvation.  But notice that the story this allegory tells is not the same as the spiritual story Brother Jerry is using it to describe.

The story of the Prodigal Son does not show us a person who is becoming a son (by being born again, so to speak).  Rather, it is the story of someone who is already a son, but has become "lost" and "died" through sin and through the rejection of the father, but has then repented, become "alive again," and is now "found."  Notice, while in sin, the son was still a son, and the father was still his father, but the son was still thought of as dead.

Similarly, a Christian can choose to reject God through serious, deadly sins.  Though he or she will remain a new creation, this creation will be lacking the sanctifying grace that is necessary to enter heaven.  Such prodigal Christians must return to the father, just like the prodigal son did.  They must receive the forgiveness of the father, for they are dead in sin and lost but must be found.

Sadly, the doctrine of eternal security claims that you can be a prodigal son but that you do not die.  People who hold to eternal security believe that once you are born again, no amount of sin could possibly cause you to lose your salvation (what Catholics call being in a state of grace).  No amount of sin could cause you to die spiritually.

Ironically, people who hold this doctrine always frame the idea in terms of God remaining faithful.  They also point out that no one or no thing can rip us out of God's hand.  The fact is, they are right.  Just like we see in the story of the prodigal son, the father remains faithful, as is shown by his watchful eye for his son's return.  Just like we see in the story of the prodigal son, the father allows no one to come in and steal his son from his house.

What proponents of eternal security never address is the possibility of the son, by an act of his own will, deciding to leave the father's house!  Yet, this is exactly what happens in a parable that Jesus Christ himself gives us.  In the story of the prodigal son, which Brother Jerry himself uses to illustrate a truth about salvation, we see someone who is "saved" become dead in sin and lost, and then through repentance return to his fathers house.

All the other verses cited by supporters of eternal security never deny the possibility of Christians pulling themselves out of God's hands.  No verse in scripture says that Christians can't later reject their salvation and thereby lose it.  Many verses of the New Testament warn Christians about presuming that once they have received the grace of initial salvation they will necessarily make it to heaven.  The story of the prodigal son is only one of many such verses that show it is possible to lose your salvation.  Over seventy more verses can be found on my tract: Salvation in the Bible.

But the story of the prodigal son also shows that it is possible to enter back into a state of grace through repentance.  This is a point that Pastor Carlo seems to really struggle with.  Remember how he said a few weeks back that if we could lose our salvation and then get saved again, that Jesus would have to die on the cross all over again?  (This argument is a red herring, since we all know that there is no need for Jesus to ever have to die on the cross again.  As Hebrews tells us, his sacrifice was "once and for all."  Does Pastor really think that people who hold a different view from him have no other explanation for how the grace of God works in the lives of people who repent?)

Does Pastor's explanation really make sense to you?  I've asked Baptist pastors to explain why Jesus would have to be re-crucified, and no one has ever given me an answer.  Any answer at all.

I think this is because there is no answer.  Just think: did Jesus have to die on the cross each time a new person gets saved? Of course not!  Rather, the grace Christ merited for us on the cross is applied over time (even many centuries later) when people get saved.  Likewise, when Christians reject God through sin but later repent, it is that same merciful grace that gets applied again to those Christians' souls, such that the blood of Jesus washes away their sin and its eternal debt.  Pastor Carlo likes to quote 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."  Notice that the verb tense is future.  He purifies us again, even after we have been saved, and he does so without having to die on the cross.  Even though we are saved, we each commit future sins that need to be forgiven.  Ironically, Baptist theology usually claims that Christ forgives all of our sins--past, present, and future--when we are saved.  Why, then, does St. John speak of needing to confess sins if those sins have already been forgiven?

Note well: not all sin leads to death.  Not all sins completely sever the relationship we have with our father.  After all, even the non-prodigal-son in the story likely sinned, but never in the radical way that the prodigal son did.  That is why we see St. John make the distinction in 1 John 5:16-17 between sins that lead to death and sins that do not.  The Catholic church did not make up these two categories; they are found right in Scripture:
If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that.  All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.
And what are those sins that lead to death, sins that cause those who commit them to not inherit the kingdom of God (unless they repent)?  See 1 Cor. 6:9-11:
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.  (See also Gal 5:21, Eph. 5:5)
This is where I am confused by Pastor Carlo's distinction between "unsaved sinners" and "saved sinners."  Is he saying that "saved idolaters" will inherit the kingdom of God?  Is he saying that "saved prostitutes" will inherit the kingdom of God?  Is he saying that "saved theives, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers" will inherit the kingdom of God?  If so, where does Paul ever make the distinction that Pastor Carlo often makes between "saved idolaters, etc." and "unsaved idolaters, etc."?

(By the way, the early church often referred to baptism as the washing of regeneration (see Titus 3:5).  St. Paul's connection of being washed with being justified and sanctified is one of the many verses in the Bible that support the ancient, orthodox view of Baptismal Regeneration, the view that was held by everyone in the first centuries of Christianity and even many of the first Reformers themselves.)

Pastor Carlo's rhetorical flare of "saved sinners" vs. "unsaved sinners," motivated as it seems to be by the strong Protestant impulse to deny the relevance of works--even sinful works--to salvation, seems to contradict his more recent emphasis that you know you are saved because your life changes and you become a new creation.  I'm confused.  I thought that the whole idea of a "saved sinner" puts the rhetorical emphasis on the fact that your life hasn't changed.  You are still a sinner.  You still fall under the condemning description of Romans 3:11-12:
There is no one righteous, not even one;
    there is no one who understands,
      no one who seeks God.
 All have turned away,
      they have together become worthless;
   there is no one who does good,
      not even one.
So which is it?  Do born-again Christians "have" (not just "should," as Pastor Carlo usually puts it) to show a change of life and a turn from sin?  Or, can we simply accept the mercy of God, let him forgive all of our sins (past, present, and future) and then continue sinning?  What happens if I accept Christ as my Lord and Savior, turn from sin, but then a week later take up my life of sin?  What if it is a month later?  A year later?  Can I ever lose my salvation?  Can I ever leave my father's house?

We have to remember something about the story of the prodigal son that often goes unmentioned: the father lets the son leave.  This is the same Father of mercy and grace that we serve.  He loves us so much that he gives us the free will to love him back!  He loves us so much that he lets us leave him if we choose, yet he waits there for us to return.  This is an unspeakable love.  We are given the gift of free will so that we can freely and truly love the Lord with all our heart, mind, and strength, and God is willing to give us this gift even if it means that some people will choose by an act of their will to turn from Him who loved us first.

Eternal security paints the picture of a father that either will never let us leave (even if we will to), or one that pretends that we don't leave, since none of our works are good anyway (Romans 3:12), and simply accepts Christ's righteousness in place of our lack thereof.  Neither picture of God the Father is as beautiful as the one that Jesus himself gives to us in the story of the prodigal son.  Because we can fall away, we must "work out our salvation in fear and trembling" (Phillipians 2:12).  We never fear that God will renege on His promises, or that he will allow the evil one to snatch us away.  We should, however, tremble at the possibility that we will renege on our promises and fall into a state of deadly sin.

Let us take confidence in the fact of God's mercy.  The story of the prodigal son paints a picture of the mercy of God, who is ready at the first sign of repentance to accept a fallen-away Christian back into his loving arms.  And, please Lord, let us never presume that we can't fall away.  Let us never turn lukewarm, or else we know by your Word that you will spit us out of your mouth (Rev. 3:16).  Let us never neglect the gift of salvation, or else we know of no escape (Hebrews 2:3).  Let us never fall into deadly sin, for we know that those who commit these sins and die unrepentant shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-11).  Let us not only cry "Lord, lord" with our lips but with our lives and actions, lest on the Day of judgment you say to us, "I never knew you, you workers of lawlessness" (Matt. 7:23).

Now is the time to explore that ancient Church of the living God: the Roman Catholic Church.  In her, all Christians will find the the fullness of truth, the absolute assurance of truth, and the fullness of Christ who is the Truth.  The Church is the household of God, the pillar and foundation of Truth (1 Tim. 3:15).  It is not the pillar and foundation of the interpretations that happen to be preached at one particular building or in one particular denomination.  The true church is the pillar and foundation of the objective truths once left with the saints (Jude 3).  These truths will never change, and they have been passed down faithfully from generation to generation through the Roman Catholic Church, the only church that even dates back to Jesus, who founded her (Matt. 16).  Since the doctrine of eternal security is not one of these truths once left with the saints but is rather a rather new and novel (mis-)interpretation of only a handful of texts, we must, in obedience to He who is Truth, let go of this false doctrine.

It is this Truth that is drawing so many faithful, God-loving Protestants to become fulfilled-evangelicals by becoming Roman Catholic.  And, praise the Lord, the Catholic Church could use as many of these evangelicals as possible! 

I invite you to take a closer look at the Catholic Church.   I invite you to come home.

Praise be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Response to Fairwinds Baptist Church October 11, 2009 Sunday Morning Sermon, Part 2

[Welcome new readers.  Before you go, please don't forget to check out the links to thirteen other Fairwinds responses listed on the right side of this page.  May the Holy Spirit be with you all!]

One thing Pastor Carlo said at the end was that Fairwinds Baptist is a kind of hospital for the spiritually sick.

I was reminded of a similar expression by one of the most important bishops of the early church.  In writing about the Eucharist, St. Ignatius of Antioch (who learned the faith from St. John the apostle himself) wrote around 110 A.D. the following in his letter to the Ephesians:

Especially [will I do this ] if the Lord make known to me that you come together man by man in common through grace, individually, in one faith, and in Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David according to the flesh, being both the Son of man and the Son of God, so that you obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ.
This are a number of really striking truths packed into this one sentence.  First is the emphasis on unity being connected with obedience to the bishops and presbyters (of which "priest" is the English contraction).  St. Ignatius not only assumes a nominal difference between bishop and priest, but he also assumes that we all know that we should be obedient to their authority. 

Second is the connection between the unity through obedience with the "one bread," which is the Eucharist.

But most relevant to Pastors comment is St. Ignatius's reference to the "medicine of immortality," the Eucharist.  In case there was any question about what St. Ignatius believed about the Eucharist, I'll include this quote from his letter to the Smyrnaeans:
Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.
If the Eucharist is the medicine of immortality as this disciple of St. John the apostle taught (and was soon to be martyred for), then what would St. Ignatius think of a church that does not believe in the Eucharist?  A hospital without medicine.

From a Catholic perspective, Fairwinds Baptist Church is indeed a hospital where people dying spiritually may turn to learn some important things about Jesus.  Unfortunately, they will also learn some things about Jesus that are not true.  But perhaps even more importantly, this hospital lacks the medicine of immortality that Jesus himself left to his Church in the upper room the night before he was to give his life for us on the cross: the Eucharist.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  Jesus is really, truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the Eucharist.  You can visit Jesus today.  You can sit next to him.  He waits for you and he waits for me in all the tabernacles around the world.  And he desires to pour forth infinite graces into your lives, if only you would open up your mind and heart to his real presence in the Eucharist.

Mother Teresa once walked into a Cathedral that was under construction, and so the tabernacle door was open, the candle was out, and all the hosts (a consecrated host is Jesus Christ in the appearance of bread) had apparently been removed.  Thus, when Mother genuflected in front of the tabernacle, the bishop who was accompanying her said that Jesus was not there, and that she did not need to genuflect.  Her response was: "but he is."  The bishop had explained that Jesus had been removed because of the construction.  "But he is there."  The bishop told Mother that they would go look, and sure enough, a single host remained in the tabernacle.

May we all have as loving and sensitive awareness of Jesus's real presence in the Eucharist as Mother Teresa had.  This awareness starts with an act of faith whereby Christians accept the ancient teaching of Christianity regarding the Eucharist.  Oh come let us adore Him!

Jesus is really, truly present in the Eucharist!  He is the medicine of immortality.  Jesus in the Eucharist is the medicine that stocks our spiritual hospitals.  Without the medicine that HE provides, how much success do we think we can have on our own?

Check out this amazing video:

Response to Fairwinds Baptist Church October 11, 2009 Sunday Morning Sermon, Part I

[Welcome new readers.  Before you go, please don't forget to check out the links to thirteen other Fairwinds responses listed on the right side of this page.  May the Holy Spirit be with you all!]

There are a number of REALLY good points in this sermon, such as the need to constantly evangelize for Christ.  Of course, there are a number of theologically confusing points that were thrown in that could use some clarification.  For instance, Pastor Carlo at one point mentioned in passing St. Paul's expression that we must "work out our salvation in fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).  He didn't unpack this verse at all, even though it seems to contradict Pastor's later point that St. Paul had an absolute confidence in his salvation.  How can "fear and trembling," which St. Paul directly connects with a kind of salvation that gets "worked out," be used to support the idea of eternal security that Pastor Carlo constantly preaches?  Why does St. Paul elsewhere say that "I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified."  That doesn't sound very confident, in Pastor Carlo's terms, does it?  It is almost like St. Paul thinks that Christians must live a certain way or that they could be "disqualified."   According to Pastor Carlo, no one is ever disqualified once they begin running the race.

By the way, the critical listener will notice that Pastor Carlo throws in many, many verses into his sermons that he never really stops to take a look at (and from my experience, neither does the congregation).  While he can certainly construct his sermon however he sees fit, there is a kind of illusion that results when so many verses start flying in the air.  The illusion is that Pastor knows the Bible inside and out.

However, the critical listener will recognize that the number of verses that get thrown in to pad the basic points of the sermon are usually the same 20-30 verses over and over.  The only reason this illusion works is because these are more verses than most Christians have memorized in any type of systematic way.

The other side of this illusion is that Pastor Carlo's listeners come away with thinking that they have been fed by the Word, when in fact, the Word has barely just passed briefly under their noses.  Again, this in and of itself is not a bad thing.  I'm just saying that to get fed by the Word, it is sometimes necessary to slow down, sit down, put the Word in, and chew on it for a little while.  This almost never happens in Fairwinds sermons, and I wish I knew why.  All I can say is that I'm not sure if the members are really getting fed.  They are hearing the verses, but are they really being given a chance to digest them?  Any good teacher knows that for true learning to take place, the materials that are being presented must be limited in number and must be fully explored and critically examined, or else they basically fly in one ear and out the other.  This is just a fact of how our brains work, and the fact is exacerbated by folks who aren't functioning on the same intellectual plane that Pastor Carlo is.  I think the problem is even more exacerbated when the majority of the service is spent listening to Pastor Carlo speak.  If the majority of things said are flying in the majority of ears and out the others, then where is the average Fairwinds member getting fed?

I am concerned about this because I speak with Baptists all the times, including members at Fairwinds Baptist, and they never seem to really have a grasp on what the Bible says.  For instance, they know the Romans Road, but do they really understand the book of Romans?  They know John 3:16, but they never have really looked at John 3:5 in context.  Terms like "Melchizedec" are greeted with blank stares.

GRANTED: this is also true from many Catholics.  My purpose here is to question whether Baptists really know the Bible as well as they think they do, given the illusion they witness most Sunday mornings.  I really wish many of the Baptists that I meet would take a humbler approach to their knowledge of Scripture.  Rather than claim, like Pastor Carlos often explicitly does, that anyone who believes [X, Y, or Z] clearly doesn't know God's Word (which seems to implicitly state that we, who make this bold statement, DO know God's Word), I wish they would adopt the position of the Ethiopian Eunech from the book of Acts, who states "how can I understand this unless someone explains it to me?"  None of us know the Bible as well as we should, which means that none of us can trust that we (or our Pastors) by their own power can come to the 100% correct interpretation of Scripture.

We need the Holy Spirit to guide our understanding of the Scriptures, but we ALSO need to know HOW the Holy Spirit guides Christians to know the correct interpretation.  Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit protects the authorities in the Church when they proclaim their interpretation of Scripture.  Protestants generally believe that the Holy Spirit guides (protects?) everyone when they interpret the Scriptures.

I would simply say that the first model works, and the second one doesn't.  The first model works well for people who understand the truth is objective.  The second model works well for people who ultimately think of truth as subjective.

For 2,000 years, Jesus has been teaching his mystical body through the power of the Holy Spirit, who has especially protected Christ's vicars on earth, Peter and his successors (see Matt. 16).  The Pope and all the bishops united with him preach with authority when they pass on the Biblical truths once left with the saints.  (One reason many Protestants are drawn to Catholicism is that they recognize an authority of preaching that they always yearned for but ultimately never experienced outside the Catholic Church.)

For 500 years, the second model has led to nothing but subjectivism, relativism, denominationalism, and division.  Everyone interprets the Bible the way they think the Holy Spirit is guiding them, and there is no final authority to say where truth ends and falsehood begins.  Thus, innocent Christians around the world show up on Sunday morning and our fed falsehoods rather than the Truth who is Christ, and they have have no way of knowing it! 

Wow, this post quickly got side-tracked, so I think I will go ahead and publish it, and then create another post that actually address some of the points Pastor Carlo brought up in his sermon.