Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fr. Tad Pacholczyk on 'Test-tube Babies'

Check out this compelling video from Catholic TV!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

John C. Wright on the Myth of Christian Conservatism

Check out this interesting analysis of the political/ideological make-up of America's "right" and "left" parties.

Wright argues that there are not two political parties in America but six, which then allows him to make some keen observations regarding a number of today's political currents.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Response to Lighthouse Baptist Church April 12, 2009 Service - On the Bread of Life

With the start of the new year, I will be expanding my scope to reach every Baptist pastor in the Newark, DE area.  Although I have enjoyed focusing on the first Baptist church in the area with which I became acquainted (Fairwinds Baptist Church), I look forward to meeting other pastors and establishing relationships with other people who are committed to overcoming differences and creating understanding through dialogue.  Through prayer and dialogue, and ultimately through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, may Christ's prayer and St. Paul's command for true and complete Christian unity be perfectly fulfilled!  As this unity involves doctrinal unity (but includes spiritual unity, sacramental unity, etc.), one productive place to begin is to examine the doctrinal differences and conflicting Biblical interpretations that so often serve as the grounds for the existence of different denominations, including Baptists.

On my blog, I'll be focusing on local churches that offer Internet-based archives of past sermons, so that readers can readily verify whether or not I have misrepresented the pastor that I engage.  Whenever possible, I'll reference the precise minute/second mark at which particular comments occur.

The first sermon I'd like to consider is one given by Pastor Tobe Witmer at Lighthouse Baptist Church in Newark, DE.  The sermon caught my eye as I was scanning the archives of the Church; it is titled "The Bread of Life," and can be viewed by clicking here and searching for the sermon titled "Bread of Life."  (It's the fourth sermon down as of this writing.)  As always, direct quotes/summaries from the sermon will be in blue, and my comments in black.

Opening comments and Prayer (0:00-1:44)

One remarkable thing about this introduction is that while Pastor Witmer says very little by way of Biblical interpretation (he comments more directly on the cantatas that were sung), he mentions four different times about the "analogy" of the bread of life.  Analogy...analogy...analogy...analogy.  And the first words he says after finishing the prayer (start around 1:44), refer for a fifth time in under two minutes to an "analogy."  Obviously, we should not be surprised that Pastor Witmer is taking the standard Protestant position of treating the bread as a symbol of accepting Christ.  But what is remarkable is that Pastor is working quite hard to plant his conclusion in the ears of his listeners before he has actually considered the Biblical evidence that leads up to it.  Perhaps Pastor's interpretation is correct, but what if it is not? It is important that we not buy Pastor's conclusion before testing his arguments from the Bible and from a historical perspective.

The Catholic Church has taught since its inception almost two thousands years ago that the bread of life is not only a symbol of Jesus (which it is), but even more powerfully than that, that it is Jesus himself in his fullness.  The Bread of Life that Catholics receive at Holy Communion is truly the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our lord and savior, Jesus Christ.  We enter into Christ's sacrifice which is being offered for all time on the altar in heaven to the Father for our sins.  (More on this later.)  The bread of life is valuable as a symbol, just like a photo of a beloved may be very special.  But if you truly love the beloved, then the Real Presence of that beloved (if true) is infinitely more valuable than the mere symbol.  (More on this here.)  At this point, however, I'd ask you not to take either my word for it or Pastor Witmer's word for it.  Simply know that, historically speaking, there exist dozens upon dozens of conflicting understandings of what the bread of life is within Protestantism, all of which conflict with the historical understanding of what Jesus meant in John 6, which I believe has been faithfully maintained by the universal ("Catholic") church for two millennia.  (John the Evangelist's student, St. Ignatius of Antioch, was the first person to call that organization of true Christian believers the "Catholic Church."  He called the Church "Catholic" shortly before he was martyred about 75 years after Jesus's crucifixion.)

Beginning of Sermon Proper (1:45 - )

In the first 20 seconds or so, we actually get five or so more emphases of "analogy," with receiving the bread of life being equated (by analogy) to receiving Christ as the spiritual food of our souls.

As a Catholic, I would agree that if Jesus had stopped his bread of life discourse at the middle part of v. 51, there would be little textual reason (within John 6 alone) to think that Jesus was insisting that we eat his flesh and drink his blood in something other than a purely spiritual or symbolic manner.

But notice that Jesus doesn't offer the supposed "analogy" and then back down and explain what he means in spiritual terms.  Rather, he goes on to emphasize not the "believe in me" aspect, which we certainly must do, but rather, he gives us something that is very difficult to believe in:

v. 51 (part 2): ...and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.

v. 53: Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.

v. 54: Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

v. 55: For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.

v. 56: He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.

v. 57: As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.

Jesus says six times in six different ways that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood.  From the very first utterance, Jesus says that this flesh is the very flesh that he will give for the life of the world.  In v. 57, he further intensifies his language by using the greek word "trogon," which literally means "to chew" or "gnaw."

Jesus could hardly have used more literal language if he tried.  Yet, Pastor Witmer, if asked what is the bread he shall give, would most likely answer (something along the lines of) "the bread Jesus shall give is the spiritual food of receiving him as your lord and savior."  So, why does Jesus fill in this answer (starting in v. 51) using language that no Baptist pastor would ever employ?

The question these verses raise for Pastor Witmer is: how is he going to diffuse the vivid and literal language that Jesus was employing, language that ultimately caused thousands of followers to walk away?

Beginning of Sermon cont. (2:15)

Pastor Witmer summarizes the context of Jesus's bread of life discourse starting around 2:15.  He starts by talking about the feeding of the five thousand.  While it is Pastor's prerogative to introduce whatever context he wishes, I would point out that from a Catholic perspective, Pastor Witmer has missed pointing out an incredibly important detail: that this entire scene occurs when "passover was at hand" (v. 4).  These words go far beyond letting us know what time of year it was.  Rather, they provide a key part of the context, especially for Jews who understood time to work in a mystical way.  Just like we remember each Thanksgiving where we were at previous Thanksgivings, the apostles would likely think back to Passover a year before when they sat in the Upper Room with Christ.  As Christ held up the bread and wine at the last supper and said "take and eat, this is my body," they would have surely recalled what he had taught them exactly one year before.  As Catholic convert Scott Hahn has beautifully pointed out, John understands Jesus to be the true Passover lamb.  Jesus is both victim and priest, and he offers his sacrifice as the "lamb standing as if slain" in heaven (Rev. 5:6) and as a "priest forever in the order of Melchizedek" (Heb. 5:6-7:17) in which his body and blood are offered in the form of bread and wine, by which we enter into Christ's one sacrificial offering of himself to the Father.  Just like in the Old Testament, the Jews had to eat the Passover lamb, though in a bloody manner, we also eat the Passover lamb (to become like Him), but in an unbloody manner.  Yet, it is still his body and blood, soul and divinity...the only sacrifice that can save us from our sins. 

Put simply, from a Catholic perspective, Pastor Witmer has left out a key piece of Biblical data from his sermon: the fact that the bread of life discourse is made at Passover time by the Lamb of God.

Pastor Witmer correctly points out that Jesus has just fed the five thousand, and that they incorrectly responded to Jesus by thinking of him as someone who could provide for their physical, earthly needs rather than their spiritual needs. 

Pastor reads from John 6 (3:40)

He begins in v. 25 and pauses around 4:15 to take issue with v. 28, where his followers asked "what shall we do?"  Pastor Witmer I think interprets this verse a bit more negatively than is necessary, as if "doing" things to get to heaven is a bad thing.  I'm sure even Baptists have to "do" something to get to heaven, even if that is accepting Christ as savior.  Accepting Christ as savior is something we "do."  There is nothing wrong with asking "what must I do to get eternal life?"  Then, Pastor W. reveals a bias against works.  Jesus says that "the work of God is that you believe."  Notice, Jesus says that believing is a work.  Yet, Pastor Witmer tries to read this verse to mean the opposite, as if Jesus is saying, "don't work, just believe."  From a Catholic perspective, this shows a bit of an anti-works bias that causes Pastor W. to twist the text a wee bit.  I feel more comfortable sticking with Jesus here and accepting that believing in Him is a work that I do, though Pastor W. and I would agree that this work is entirely wrought from start to finish by God's grace.  Thus, my believing is ultimately a work that God does through me and in me by the free gift of His grace.  (This is what the Catholic Church teaches; just read the Catechism of the Catholic Church!)

Pastor continues reading John 6 (4:40-8:00)

Interestingly, where Jesus keeps going, Pastor Witmer stops.  Jesus keeps going to say what we read in versus 52-57 (and even beyond that), but Pastor W. stops at v. 51.  The only textual snippet that Pastor W. gives us that suggests that Jesus is pushing the idea from the metaphorical to the literal is when he says "and the bread that I will give is my flesh."  That is precisely where Pastor W. inserts 15 minutes of talking, right at the beginning of the climax of Jesus's discourse!  From a Catholic perspective, Jesus's discourse has been censored.  Even if Pastor W. goes back later and comments very briefly on what follows (which he does not), it can likely not have the effect that Jesus's own words have when read straight down.

Pastor comments on what he read from John 6 (7:57 on)

"That's a lot of verses, but I'd only like to only concentrate on the bread portions."

As a Catholic, I'd again point out that if what occurs after the first part of v. 51 is left out, then of course I'd agree that Jesus seems only to be speaking metaphorically (if we don't consider any other context).  But what I would challenge Pastor Witmer to answer is: why not consider the entire bread of life discourse when trying to understand what Jesus meant?  Why focus only on what he had to say in the earlier part of the discourse when Jesus rhetoric is so clearly aimed toward the climactic moments of the speech?

8:15-10:00-and following:  What is up with this bread?  An important commodity in ancient times.  A food that we need for physical survival.  But also (in the case of John 6), a spiritual food that we need, that satisfies a longing of our soul.  10:00 "This is the analogy that he is trying so patiently to show."  Even atheists know deep down that they have this need.  Man can not be only satisfied by his own ideas, religion, etc. 

11:20  Materialism will not satisfy.

11:55  Jesus says that these people are not even there to see miracles anymore.

12:20  "I am that bread."  I am the real deal.  He is the bread of life who will satisfy your soul...not an idea, not a religion...Jesus himself!

13:30  Jesus is the rock to stand upon during sorrows of life.  He is the anchor of your soul.  He is the bread of life.  He satisfies the starvation that you would otherwise have in hell.  14:15  "Wages of sin is death"  You'll either be judged for it our you'll allow the bread of life who already suffered for it on calvary to be judged.

14:40  I'll only have time for a few verses...a few "slices of truth."  [hee hee!]

look at v. 31...v. 32...v. 35  I am the bread, he who believes in me...     "I am the one who can give eternal life, I am the bread of life."

Much of what Pastor Witmer has said above is correct.  He is basically splashing around in the verses before the point where Jesus becomes explicit about what this bread of life is, and how it gives salvation.  Of course, this is fine for him (and all of us to do), but one can not then draw a conclusion that applies to all of the verses that follow.  Notice that Pastor keeps equating "I am the one who gives salvation" with "I am the bread of life."  What is being left out entirely is the causal connection that Jesus himself establishes between the "eating and drinking his flesh and blood" and "having eternal life."  (By the way, Pastor is not even touching the "drinking his blood" part of the analogy, yet no one drinks bread.)  The scandal of what Jesus says following v. 51 can not be avoided so easily.  After all, it was this very scandal that finally caused the (presumably thousands of) followers to leave.

16:09  Jesus explains more in v. 35.  He is obviously not speaking about physical bread.  We need spiritual bread, not physical bread.  

Here, we start to detect a dichotomy that Pastor Witmer is setting up between spiritual bread and physical bread.  He only sneaks it in at first, saying we need one, not the other.  But here, Pastor is mischaracterizing what Catholics believe.  The Eucharist is spiritual bread and physical bread, since Jesus in his fullness is not only a spirit in heaven but a body as well.  Thus, communing with the fullness of Christ means communing with the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus (see 1 Cor. 10 and 11).  It is not either spiritual or physical; it is a both/and.  It is the fullness of Christ, who is really and truly present to us in the Holy Eucharist.  The bread which Jesus gives us is his flesh, but not his unglorified, pre-Resurrection body, but his glorified body that we partake of in an unbloody manner as it is offered to the Father for all eternity in heaven.

17:09  When we hurt, we desire someone to give us spiritual comfort.  We invent so many things to satisfy this hunger...psychology, etc.    17:40 religion that has Jesus but also all these other things I have to do to do along with Jesus to be right with God.  No, there is only one thing that satisfies: the bread of life.  If you add anything to Jesus, you'll never be satisfied. 

Pastor Witmer may be quite surprised to know that I think he is right here, but with a few important qualifications.  Yet, I am concerned that Pastor has in mind what to him might seem like excesses in the Catholic Church (and perhaps in some non-Catholic denominations as well).

First, here is what I mean.  The Catholic Church teaches that we are saved 100% by grace alone through Christ alone.  We rely solely on the mercy of God and the free gift of God's grace for our salvation, that is if we are truly a well-formed Catholic. (I hope that we can leave badly formed Catholics and Baptists out of the argument!)  The things we do as Catholics are often things that Christ is actually doing on us to save us.  It is Christ who baptizes us and pours into us a clean Spirit.  It is Christ who performs the Eucharist and feeds us his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.  It is the Holy Spirit who confirms us and seals us with the gifts to be able to proclaim the gospel.  Speaking of...Pastor's statement seems to rule out adding the Holy Spirit and the Father to Jesus as avenues of our spiritual satisfaction.  I doubt he intended this, but we must be careful to note that the extremism of Pastor's statement seems to be motivated by what is at heart an anti-Catholic bias.  Yet, as a Catholic, Jesus is at the center of everything I believe about the sacraments (which are his saving actions), about the Church (which is his mystical body that he guides and protects), about Mary (who bore Jesus to the world), about the saints (who intercede for us as members of the one mediator), etc.  For Catholics, it is all about Jesus.  Everything is about Jesus, even if outsiders sometimes have a difficult time seeing it.  Yet, as many recent converts have noted, the Church is much more beautiful when viewed from the inside!  Converts to the Catholic Church agree in unison that their relationship with Jesus deepened in amazing ways after they joined.  Perhaps this is because the "excesses" of Catholicism are actually the riches of God's grace poured out for Christians.  Perhaps it is the non-Catholics that are lacking!

(That being said, I praise the Lord for how many amazing things non-Catholics do for the kingdom even when they are dealing with fewer riches.  Catholics have VERY MUCH to learn from their faithful non-Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ about keeping Jesus at the center of their lives, which our very popes have encouraged us repeatedly to do...and many of us do in fact strive to do!) 

18:15  It is not a religion that satisfies; it is Jesus that satisfies.

Here is another false dichotomy.  Either religion or Jesus.  But religion is the belief in and worship of God.  I would suggest that Jesus is our religion, ultimately.  The two are not opposed.  We are a religion of a person, Jesus Christ, who is the head of his mystical body, the Church.

The problem with false dichotomies is that they shut down thinking rather than foster it.  They plant an intellectual roadblock between two things that are meant to flow seamlessly from one to another.  Christianity should actually boast to God's glory about its religion, because its religion is unified in the one person of Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, our religion does not reflect this unity because we Christians are in fact deeply divided in many important respects.  The fact that so many people want to separate religion from Jesus--as if we are embarrassed about the Christian religion when we stand before Jesus--should motivate us to reconsider the things that divide us and to work diligently to overcome every source of division so that once again, the Christian religion should radiate the glorious unity of the person of Christ Jesus.  After all, it is by that unity of the the Church that the "world would know that it was [the Father] who sent [Jesus]" (John 17).

18:21 A Church can not satisfy you.

This is true if the church is separate from Christ.  Catholics see the Church as Christ's mystical body.  To be in the Church is to be in Christ.  Christ heads the Church; He feeds the Church; He sanctifies the Church; He is one with the Church.  The two can not be separate, and their oneness is a great sacramental mystery, as Paul points out in Ephesians.  The oneness between Christ and the Church indeed is the one ultimate sacrament from which all sacraments flow.  Being in the Church then is satisfying because it means we are in Christ.  Thus, it is incorrect to state that a Church can not satisfy you.  Jesus's Church sure can!  But again, there is really a deep, profound agreement between Pastor Witmer and the Catholic Church here.  The Church satisfies because of, and only because of, Jesus Christ, who is mystically one with her.

19:32  After more preaching of the Gospel (all of which is very good and true...including stuff about being in Christ and praying to the Father), Pastor reinforces once more the "believing"/"bread of life" connection.  Goes back to the earlier versus in John 6 about believing and doing God's will.  God had a plan to save us through Jesus.  Our rescue plan is called the bread of life, with Jesus's body being broken for us on calvary.  He sent the bread of heaven to save us.

21:20  v. 39 "but should raise it up again on the last day." (see v. 40 and v. 44)  He can never resurrect you up if Jesus had not raised before you.  He rose first so that you could raise.  He has changed millions of people's lives.  If you eat this bread (receive Jesus), you will have eternal life.

21:24-24:25  Jesus is a living bread.  A dead bread can't save you.  You need a living bread to give you eternal life.


Finally, with four minutes to go in the sermon, and 16 minutes after he interrupted Jesus's discourse right at the climactic moment beginning at v. 51, notice how Pastor Witmer's tone of voice suddenly changes.  Also, notice that he doesn't really engage the verses following v. 51 and rather focuses on people who "got messed up" there:

"People really got messed up at v. 51 when he said in the last part 'and he shall live forever, and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.' The skeptic at the back yells 'cannibal! He's a cannibal! He's going to give us his flesh to eat?' All of us who are on this side of the cross understand that his flesh went up on the cross, and understand that he died physcially so that those who receive him spiritually could be saved.  We understand that; that is what he was talking about.  You must receive him to be your living bread of life.  Just as you eat a slice of bread, you must consume or receive Christ by faith.

At this point, Pastor Witmer conceals a critical point.  He equates "All of us who are on this side of the cross" with the "we" in the next sentence who understand "that," yet then Pastor subtly shifts that meaning of the "that."  

First, I would clarify that "all of us who are on this side of the cross" do NOT agree about what Jesus meant in the bread of life discourse and how this relates to the sacrament/ordinance of the Lord's Supper.  For instance:

1.  The early fathers of the church who received the faith from the apostles themselves believed that Jesus was truly present in the Eucharist.  St. Ignatius, who was a student of St. John, wrote that "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 the Father, in his goodness, raised up again."  He wrote this around 110 A.D.!  Other early Christians like Justin Martyr, Cyril of Jerusalem, and others all offered clear and unanimous testimony to this universal understanding of the early church.  See this tract by Catholic Answers which compiles some more quotations from the early church.

2.  The Orthodox churches, which split from the Catholic Church shortly after the turn of the new millennium, also uphold the ancient, orthodox interpretation of those latter versus from John 6, the very ones that Paster Witmer did not address in his sermon.

3.  Early Protestants held a council to try to clarify what they believed about the Lord's Supper, and they came up with hundreds of conflicting interpretations, which consequently caused even more divisions within an already dividing set of Christians.

Thus, I think it is inaccurate to refer to something that "all of us on this side of the cross" believe, especially when those who believed so close to the cross held a radically different interpretation.

That being said, we are truly saved when we receive Christ spiritually, but Christ also wants to save us physically, and ultimately, he offers himself to us both physically and spiritually.  It is not an either/or, but a both/and.  Christ tells us that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood in the most physical, graphic terms possible, and one year later, at the fulfillment of the Passover during the last supper, the Paschal Lamb institutes the very manner by which Christians could do just that.  It is here where Christ for the first and last time speaks the words "New Covenant" and commands his apostles to "do this."  Jesus puts the Lord's Supper at the very heart of his fulfillment of the Old Covenants.  The Eucharist is central to the life of the Church!  And according to the book of Acts, the first Christians followed Jesus's command to "do this" by breaking bread every time they met, and surely every Lord's Day (Sunday).  Acts 2 describes this explicitly, yet I have never heard a Baptist pastor describe why they do not follow this New Testament model laid out for us in Acts.  Further, Malachi once prophesied that a perfect offering would be given from the rising of the sun to its setting.  This perfect offering is Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist--the only perfect offering there is, since this is the same offering that began in the upper room, continued through calvary, and finds its completion once and for all in heaven.  It is through this offering of Lamb before the Father in heaven in which participate and re-present on earth the once for all (time) offering of Christ on the altar in the New Jerusalem (see Hebrews).

25:03  Now listen, some of you from your childhood traditionally, that conjures up thoughts of Holy Communion.  "I receive Him."  I've talked to many people who have said, "Yes, I've received Jesus Christ.  I took Him last week in Holy Communion last Saturday or Sunday or whenever."  Now listen, Christ is clear.  Look in your Bible in v. 35, 40, and 47.  It is very clear what He means by receiving him.  [If it is so clear, then how did all the students of the apostles--those who learned to interpret the Bible from those who wrote the Bible--get it so wrong?  And if it is so clear, why are there so many conflicting interpretations even among those Christians who go by the "Bible alone?"] "I am the bread of life.  He that cometh...will never hunger...He that believeth...will never thirst." This consuming...Look! Look up here!  We're done!...this consuming or  receiving of Jesus is not a physical wafer or physical bread or something you do physical.  It is belief of the heart.  Belief of the heart, that I believe on him as my lord and savior, that is, trusting him as my savior.  That he is really God come in the flesh, really came to die for my sins.  It is not "doing" either.  They ask, "what must I do that we should work the works of God?"  Jesus says, "this is the work of God, that you believe in him whom He hath sent!"  It is an interesting thing that some people try to work their way to heaven, and they never get there.  

Here, the false dichotomies between the physical and spiritual and between working and believing come back in full force.  

First, if the Catholic belief in Jesus's real presence in the Eucharist is correct, then those folks actually did receive him!  Pastor Witmer has yet to deal with the very versus in John 6 that actually support this belief (not to mention the many other verses in the Bible that point to this interpretation).

But more importantly, by focusing on v. 35 and following while forcing attention away from v. 51 and following ("Look up here!"), Pastor Witmer is not even giving the evidence (v. 51-57) a reading, much less a fair, engaged reading.  Why does Jesus go on with such intensity?  Why does his language become as graphic as it does?  Why did even the apostles seem ready to leave?  Historically speaking, why did all the students of the apostles all get it wrong with such...consistency?  Where is the outrage and debate in the early church which would have occurred had someone introduced a false doctrine of such shocking content as...well, as what Jesus actually says in v. 51-57?  How does Pastor Witmer account for all the Eucharistic miracles that have occurred down through the ages?

Further, why insist that Eucharist is a "physical wafer" or "physical bread," when it is "the spirit that gives life"?  Not only does the spirit enable the believer to understand Jesus's words that the bread is really his flesh, but it is the glorified body and spirit of Christ in the Eucharist that makes it so life-giving and full of grace.  For all Pastor Witmer talks about believing Christ, he actually doesn't believe Christ when he says "you must ["trogon"=gnaw on] my ["carx"=meat/flesh]."  Rather, he (I assume innocently, though incorrectly) reinterprets what Christians have always understood Christ to mean in John 6.

The irony is that Paster Witmer actually imputes his understanding of the bread-as-symbol onto Catholics (and others?), and then accuses Catholics (and others?) of relying on a "physical wafer."  However, Catholics have believed since the Church was founded two thousand years ago that the bread of the Eucharist is far more than a physical symbol.  As St. Paul himself says in 1 Cor. 11:29, he who eats and drinks without discerning the Lord's body eats and drinks judgment to himself.  It may be a physical object, but it is truly Christ's body and blood, present under the appearance of bread and wine.  Being Christ in his fullness, the Eucharist is both immanently physical and spiritual.  The Eucharist extends the very miracle of incarnation into every Catholic and Orthodox church around the world, approximately 300,000 times each day!

Finally, Pastor Witmer throws in something about working your way to heaven.  The Catholic Church specifically forbids trying to work your way to heaven, since it can not be done.  The Church even forbade this idea at the Council of Trent.  Nothing we do by our own human powers can ever merit eternal life.  However, we all have to "do" something to be saved, or else we would all just end up in heaven.  "Saved" people all have to "do" something, even if that means praying a sinner's prayer or accepting an altar call.

The Eucharist is a Catholic's altar call, and it actually involves a real altar, and on this altar, a real sacrifice, Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who offers himself to the Father, and we with him who commune with him.  He is our true Passover.  He is the blood that marks us for salvation.  Our salvation is His work in our souls, and it is wrought from beginning to end by his grace.  This is the constant teaching of the Catholic Church.  Anyone who has told Pastor Witmer otherwise has not shared the truth.  (According to many pastors who have converted to Catholicism, they learned many false things during their days in seminary and in anti-Catholic books about the Catholic Church that they later discovered to be false.)

From here to the end, I only summarize Pastor Witmer's comments, though I invite the interested reader to listen to the sermon.

26:18  It is also an interesting thing that "they saw him but they did not believe on him."  It is not enough that you believe in him.  You must put your trust on him.  It is not about being a good boy, or joining this or that church, or in your infant baptism or baptism.  It is trusting what He did on the cross. 

Whether or not you agree with what I have written above, it should be fairly obvious by now how I would respond to the above closing remark.  Pastor Witmer is absolutely correct that we must trust Jesus for our salvation.  But in so far as Jesus is one with His Church (which he is); in so far as Jesus demands that we keep his commandments (which he does); in so far as Jesus offers to baptize us in living waters imbued with His Holy Spirit (which he does); and in so far as all of these things are but a few of the many graces that flow from what he did for us on the cross (which they are), then let no one drive a false dichotomy between the Church, the moral law, the sacraments and Jesus Christ who created all of these things for our salvation!

And this is the bread of life.  

(But what about verses 51-57?)

So ask Jesus to be your Lord and savior.  That is your only hope for heaven.

Amen!  But also let him be the lord of our beliefs, and let us pray for the grace to believe the truth about the Eucharist that has been passed down to us from the beginning.  It is because Jesus works through and in both Baptism and the Eucharist (not to mention the other five sacraments) that they, too, can be thought of as bases of our hope for heaven.  It is all about Jesus!  The sacraments don't detract from the finished work of Christ on the cross.  Rather, they are the very application of Christ's work on the cross to our souls.  (This is one thing that Baptists don't think about too much: how is the blood of Christ applied to our souls?  How do we receive the Holy Spirit?  For Baptists, it is through a much more limited set of actions than for Catholics, but we both agree that it must be applied to us somehow!)

We are saved by grace alone through the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Praise God for this glorious truth about which Baptists and Catholics agree!


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Catholic/Baptist Dialogue in Rome

I just found this summary of a meeting in Rome that took place in late 2003 between Baptist theologians and members of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

If I have time, I'll eventually add a brief commentary...