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.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Busy Week at the Vatican

John Allen describes all the goings-on here.  Check out what the central activity of the world's oldest Christian church looks like.

I think that Allen's summary is useful from an apologetics perspective since it can inform the imagination of people who are so accustomed to thinking of the Christian churches only at the local level.  To see how the Pope, cardinals, and bishops administer the unity and mission of the church at "headquarters" can help break us out of that box.  Of course, the church at the local level is (or at least ought to be) integrated in union with the bishops and the Holy Father, since we all share the same mission of the Redeemer, and we all share a place in the same episcopal hierarchy (though not necessarily the same place).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

On Homosexuality and the Bible

Check out this post by Msgr. Charles Pope.  It provides a good summary of the Catholic position as well as a link to an interesting YouTube video on the subject.

From a Father to His Aborted Child...

Check out this powerful video:

Dr. Monica Miller: Photographing the Holy Innocents

When I was a student at the University of Michigan and a parishioner of Christ the King Catholic Church, I was able to make the acquaintance of many strong pro-life advocates for the unborn.  Though I never met Dr. Miller in person, I attended sessions directed by her husband for training in sidewalk counseling outside abortion clinics.  I have long followed the work of Dr. Miller's organization "Citizens for a Pro-life Society," which has accomplished much good in Michigan and across the country.

I was pleased to see Dr. Miller's work and photography of abortion victims be the focus of a recent New York Times (related) blog entry

I invite you to take some time to learn about Dr. Miller's work, and please remember to take some time today to pray for the all the victims of abortion, including both children and their mothers.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Home Sweet Home...

My home parish while I lived in Michigan, Christ the King Catholic Church, recently captured the attention of a blogger over at Intentional Disciples.

It is hard to put into words how much I miss this parish.  Few things move me to tears, but just thinking of the parish and its members--and their love for Jesus--draws moisture to my eyes.  Yes, it is difficult to describe such a place without appearing overly sentimental.

That's why I'm pleased to link you to this perspective of a more objective observer...

Thank you Jesus for the gift of this wonderful parish.  I beg you to send your Holy Spirit and renew your Holy Catholic Church.  Let tongues of fire dance on our heads once again!

I would encourage all my readers to subscribe to Christ the King's weekly podcast, which features all the homilies given at the church.

I would especially consider my non-Catholic readers who don't think Catholics are "saved" to check out Christ the King's parish statement.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Webster Bull has done it again...

Check out this beautiful post, titled "Because I am Happier than Ever."

...and don't forget to read the comments!

Under the Cross of Lepanto

Brother Stephen offers this post in honor of this feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

I was particularly moved by his account of Dr. Manuel Irurita y Almandoz, Bishop of Barcelona from 1930 to 1936:


During the Spanish Civil War, Irurita y Almandoz spoke out against the abuses of Barcelona's leftist government and was marked for execution. After several months of administering the diocese from hiding, he was apprehended. One of his killers later testified that when he was brought before the firing squad, he said,
I bless all of those who are in my presence, as I also bless the bullets that will occasion my death, since they will be the keys that will open the gates of heaven for me.
His cause is under investigation.

[end quote.]

Why Be Catholic?

This list, for starters.

Go, Mother!

Where would the Catholic Church be without Mother Angelica?  I shiver to think...

The Pope seems to agree.

On Evangelization

Jon Leonetti over at the Catholic News Agency has just published a three-part series on Catholic evangelism.  The first part can be found here, and the second and third parts can be found through the link on the first page.

The third part addresses what often is going wrong when someone leaves the Catholic Church, and I think he is right.  Peter Kreeft makes the same general point that Leonetti does when the former states that "spirituality abhors a vacuum."  Kreeft notes that if a soul is not getting fed (as it ought to) in a particular Catholic parish, it will find another group.  Of course, many people also leave the Catholic Church because they are not willing to live up to the exacting moral requirements the Church upholds (in obedience to Jesus and the apostles), such as the prohibition of remarriage after divorce, artificial contraception, abortion, homosexual behavior, etc.  Sadly, however, there still remain many people who are not hearing the gospel proclaimed at their neighborhood Catholic parish, and so they go elsewhere.  Why is this sad?  Because they end up missing out on the riches of grace Jesus wants to pour into their lives through the sacraments, most especially the Eucharist.  But of course, the sacraments are not magic.  The soul must be open to receiving the torrent of grace that Jesus wants to give, and if these same souls are not hearing the Gospel proclaimed, how will they then be properly disposed to receive the sacraments, the Word made flesh?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

If no one is Pope...

I recently came across two interesting discussions of authority.  The first is an article by Msgr. Charles Pope titled If No One is Pope, Everyone is Pope.  The fundamental question addressed is: who speaks for Christ?

The second discussion is from Fr. Robert Barron of Wordonfirevideo.  I discovered this video a couple weeks ago, and Msgr. Pope includes it at the bottom of his article.  I'm attaching it here for convenience.  It is worth viewing, especially for his umpire analogy.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mark Shea on the Sacrament of Confirmation

Mark Shea is continuing his study of the sacraments by looking at the second sacrament of initiation: confirmation.

Here is the first installment.

I'm looking forward to the next, which I'll post when he publishes it.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Another Revert to the Catholic Church

Read James McGrail's story here!

The Little Flower

St. Therese of the Child Jesus, my wife's patron saint, has her feast day today.

I love St. Therese, and I invite everyone to get to know her by reading this article.

Read about St. Therese's intercession in my own life in my post "My History, and My History with Baptists."

St. Therese, thank you for letting fall a shower of roses in my life!  Thank you for your humble example of love for our savior.  Thank you for your holy obedience.  Thank you for your profound love!