Thursday, November 24, 2011

Response to Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) Street Evangelists, Part 18 of 24

This is the eighteenth part of a 24-part series of responses to a street evangelist I met from Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE). Please click here to see the first post, which contains a set of links by topic to all the posts in the series.

18.  Using the KJV instead of a Catholic version.  It was stated that I should take a look at the KJV rather than use a Catholic version.  The argument is a common one: faulty Catholic doctrines are in part a result of faulty translations.  This statement can not be born out of careful comparison, because many Catholic and Protestant scholars alike say the difference between the best Protestant translations (including the KJV) and the best Catholic translations are quite small.  Every translation, ultimately, suffers by being a translation, but I can tell you that I feel very comfortable arguing for the Catholic faith from the KJV, and at times, I even prefer it.  I own and use the NIV, the KJV, the NKJV, the RSV, the NJB, the Douay-Reihms, and look at other translations online through sites like Bible-gateway.  In almost every case, the results are the same.  So, the argument that learning Christianity from the KJV instead of the Catholic version leads to a different Christianity doesn’t hold water.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Response to Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) Street Evangelists, Part 17 of 24

This is the seventeenth part of a 24-part series of responses to a street evangelist I met from Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE). Please click here to see the first post, which contains a set of links by topic to all the posts in the series.

17.  Baptist Converts to Catholicism.  I mentioned that I have an iPod full of the personal testimonies and conversion stories of Baptist pastors who have converted to Catholicism.   Now, I fully acknowledge that people convert from every church to every other church.  The reasons I brought up these stories are:
a) even though we all know in our minds that people convert in every different direction, it seems unthinkable to most Baptists that a Baptist pastor would convert to Catholicism;
b) what is important is not that Baptist pastors are converting, but why they are converting.  Why would they make such a huge personal sacrifice, where they give up their job, their pastorate, and often many friends, to join a church that, in many cases, they would have once said was the last church they would ever consider joining?

Yes, people leave Catholicism all the time.  In some cases, Catholics leave because they were very poorly catechized, went to a parish that was not very alive, and found a nice evangelical church much more friendly and welcoming.  To that, I say bravo to the evangelical churches!  Many Catholics are learning from you to improve our own church, and those of you who have converted to Catholicism bring rich graces into the life of the Catholic Church!  In other cases, Catholics leave because they have embraced a life of sin (either through contraception, divorce and remarriage, abortion, etc.) and have decided to find a denomination that teaches that these sins are okay.  Sometimes, Catholics also leave Catholicism because they have been taught lies by people who are against the Catholic Church, and leave the Catholic Church on the basis of these lies.  For instance, if I was gullible enough to believe the person from LBC who told me that we recrucify Christ in the Mass, I would leave the Catholic Church immediately, because the Bible clearly says (as the Baptist would definitely point out) that Christ was sacrificed “once for all.”  However, I know my faith, and I’m not gullible, so I can see through a false claim when one is presented to me.

Even though the motivations behind the types of conversion outlined above are very different, notice that neither one presents a good reason to leave or join any church.  (We shouldn’t leave because another church is friendlier, to avoid conversion from sin, or because we have been fed a lie.)  Rather, the main reason we should join a church is because it is true.  It is the truth that will set us free.

And…when you listen to these Baptist pastors who converted to Catholicism, they all say that as much as they loved being Baptist pastors, it was the truth of Catholicism that drew them in (even against their wills, sometimes).  As one book of conversion stories is titled, these converts were “surprised by truth.”

Here’s what I recommend: take some time and listen to 10 stories of Catholics who left the Church, and compare them to 10 stories of Baptist pastors who joined the Catholic Church.  Discern what all their motivating factors are, and most importantly, try to determine how well they seemed to have a grasp on their former faiths.  When people leave the church, are they headed toward a greater or lesser unity?  What about when people join the Catholic Church?

The easiest way to get to them is to get to Baptist pastors’ conversion stories to Catholicism is at EWTN.  Click on this link, and then enter “Journey Home” in the search space for “EWTN programs” (not “series”…you want the second space down).  This will bring you to over 600 conversion stories to the Catholic Church, many of them by Protestant ministers of one stripe or another.  Scroll through the pages to find stories of Baptist converts.  There are well over fifty of them.  Also look for “former fundamentalist,” or former “Bible missionary.”  These titles also apply well to people at a place like LBC.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Response to Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) Street Evangelists, Part 16 of 24

This is the eleventh part of a 24-part series of responses to a street evangelist I met from Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE). Please click here to see the first post, which contains a set of links by topic to all the posts in the series.

15.  “If we’re all saved, that’s basically all that matters.”  
One gentleman made it seem like there was no need to discuss differences if we were all already saved.  I think this a reductionistic view that is contrary to the love of God.  Jesus, out of love for us and a desire for everyone to be saved, offered his passion so that “we may be one” and that the “world may know” that the Father sent the Son.  Yet, this gentlemen’s attitude was more like: it doesn’t matter if we are one.  All that matters is that you are saved.

While being saved is an important thing, all of the Bible can not be boiled down just to being saved, if by “saved” you mean a person entering into a relationship with God through being forgiven of original and personal sins and regenerated.

Rather, God wants our salvation to be complete in Him, and that includes God’s family being unified.  The consequences of our salvation extend beyond the individual who is saved to the entire mystical body of Christ, God's people who were once scattered and are now gathered at and by the cross of Christ.

This gentleman’s view of salvation seems to be a lot narrower than what Jesus himself wants for his followers.  Jesus wants to give us more.  Lord, give us hearts that are open to more of what you want to give to us!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Response to Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) Street Evangelists, Part 15 of 24

This is the fifteenth part of a 24-part series of responses to a street evangelist I met from Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE). Please click here to see the first post, which contains a set of links by topic to all the posts in the series.

15. “I believe there are saved Catholics.” 
 I was really confused by this statement, since Pastor Witmer on multiple occasions has grouped Catholics together with unbelievers, atheists, Satanists, Occults, etc. Further, Baptists usually seem to take a special delight when a Catholic converts, as if they have been rescued from the bondages of “Romanism” and been introduced to true Christianity. When you say that you believe there are Catholics who are saved, are you sure? Is it possible, in your mind, to have entered into an authentic relationship with Christ yet believe in transubstantiation, infant baptism, veneration of Mary, etc.?

Or, do you think that Catholics who are saved must not really follow their Church in these areas…and are thus not really Catholics.

I’ve told you in this letter that I consider you my brothers and sisters in Christ. How do you view faithful Catholics such as myself, who genuinely love and follow our Lord and the Catholic Church, which we believe He established?

Shameless Popery: Treating Jesus as a King Without a Kingdom

Shameless Popery: Treating Jesus as a King Without a Kingdom: One of the most important points to understand about Catholicism is that the truth of the Catholic Church flows from the truth of Jesus Christ. Her status is inexorably tied up with His. I've been reading John Allen's book-length interviews with Archbishop Dolan, A People of Hope. I'm excited to do a full review of it soon (it's a superb book), but I wanted to go ahead and highlight something that Abp. Dolan said, because I think it illustrates this point neatly:
Just as most people missed the divine in Jesus because of his humanity, so do most people miss Jesus in the Church because of our earthiness, because we are clumsy, we are sinful, we are awkward. But this is how Jesus continues to radiate his grace and mercy, through the Church. That’s the leap of faith today. I think Father Ron Rolheiser says it well: We want a king without the kingdom; we want a shepherd without the other sheep; we want a father, with us as the only child; we want a general without an army; we want to believe without belonging.
There are two points to make about this: first, that the success of the Church flows from the success of Christ; and second, that we need to change our thinking about salvation.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Response to Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) Street Evangelists, Part 14 of 24

This is the fourteenth part of a 24-part series of responses to a street evangelist I met from Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE). Please click here to see the first post, which contains a set of links by topic to all the posts in the series.

13. “Baptism does not save you.” The kind lady who was out walking told me this, and when I told her that the Bible actually says the exact opposite…well, I don’t think she believed me.

Here is the KJV translation of 1 Peter 3:18–21:

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Other translations put it, “baptism…now saves us.”

Now, I fill be the first to tell you that taking a bath in mere water does not save anyone. But the Catholic Church has NEVER taught that baptism is a mere washing with water. Also, the Catholic Church has NEVER taught that baptism is a work that we humans do to “work” our way to heaven.

Rather, baptism is a work that God does on our soul, but he does this work using physical matter for our sake as humans (who are both body and soul). Obviously, Jesus could have healed the blind man by saying, “be healed.” But Jesus saw fit to rub spit and mud on the man’s eyes and have him wash it off. Likewise, Jesus heals us of sin in baptism using matter, though it is obviously not the matter itself that does the healing. Baptism is Jesus’s work on our souls through water AND Spirit.

Okay, now consider Baptism for a moment in Scripture. When Jesus says we must be “born anothen” in John 3:3, he immediately expands on what he means by using a parallel expression that we must be “born of water and spirit.” Put the two expressions together, and you get Jesus saying: “you must be born again of water and spirit to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Two points: 1) most Baptists imagine a born again experience to have nothing to do with water, and 2) Jesus joins water and spirit, and in doing so he is joining two things that we find inseparable throughout Scripture.

For instance, consider:
➢ Genesis 1:1—the spirit hovered over the waters out from which came the first creation. We are new creations in Christ, and we arise as new creations from the waters and spirit of baptism.
➢ Genesis 7-9—We see waters cleansing the earth of sin, and the spirit (in the form of the dove) bringing the olive branch of peace and salvation to Noah. In 1 Peter 3:21, Peter specifically cites this as a type of baptism, where Christians in the New Covenant are saved through water and spirit, not by the water’s washing, but by the appeal of a clean conscience brought forth by the spirit…and all this occurs, says Peter, IN BAPTISM! (Keep in mind as well that the Ark is itself a type of the New Covenant Church, which as a whole is saved through the waters and spirit of baptism.)
➢ Exodus 14: Moses crossing the Red Sea. Remember, Moses and Israel were saved from bondage (sin) through water that was parted by a strong wind (the Spirit) to enter the promised land (a type of heaven). Once again, we see water and spirit bound together in Scripture.
➢ Let’s jump ahead now (skipping things like the Jewish rites of purification, which was what the stone jars at the Marriage Feast of Cana were for, by the way…) So, Jesus once again reaffirms the connection between water and spirit as a vehicle for communicating our salvation to us. You could think of all of the Old Testament as a divine pedagogy for recognizing and appreciating everything Jesus does in the New Testament. But does Jesus’s teaching that we must be “born again of water and spirit” really mean baptism? Let’s look at the context of John 3:
➢ John 1: What is going on here? Baptism! And when John the Baptist baptizes Jesus, what appears? The Spirit, in the form of a dove, and the voice of God is heard calling Jesus His son. Likewise, when we are baptized, the Spirit works on our souls and we are made into children of God.
➢ John 2: At the Wedding Feast of Cana, Jesus performs his first miracle using the water in the stone jars for the Jewish Rites of Purification. What were these rites a pre-figurement of? Baptism.
➢ John 3: “You must be born again of water and spirit.” This is the only way that Nicodemus, who approached Jesus at night (in a state of spiritual darkness), can move into salvation (spiritual light). According to Jesus, it must involve water and spirit. Jesus joins them together; let no man put them asunder!
➢ John 3: What do the apostles do right after Jesus teaches this to Nicodemus? They go out baptizing!
➢ John 4: By John 4, how has John framed Jesus’s promise of a “spring of living water welling up to eternal life”? Baptism.
➢ When Jesus dies on the cross, John notices the following: Jesus gives up his spirit, and then water and blood flow from his side. The early church saw in this moment a profound image: Just as the first Eve was born from the side of the first Adam, the new Eve (the Church) is born out of the side of the new Adam (Christ), and the Church is joined to the bridegroom precisely through the water (Baptism) and the blood (the Eucharist).

So, Baptism is never thought of in Scripture as just a bath in water. Rather, it is in Baptism that Jesus Christ saves us. Our salvation is something Jesus does on us, and the Bible says that Baptism is when he does it:
➢ 1 Peter 3:21: “baptism…now saves us.”
➢ Romans 6: “baptized into Jesus Christ”
➢ Romans 6: “baptized into His death”
➢ Romans 6: “buried with him by baptism”
➢ Colossians 2:12: “buried with him in baptism”
➢ Titus 3:5: “he saved us, by the washing of regeneration”
➢ Acts 2:38: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Now, even if you don’t agree with the interpretation above, can you at least see that Christians (Catholic and Protestant) who believe in baptismal regeneration have a Biblical basis for believing this? Add to this the fact that all the students of the apostles and their successors, for the first centuries of Christian history and for many centuries beyond, all believed in baptismal regeneration, and I think the case tilts strongly in the Catholic direction.

Finally, note that what Catholics are accused of (trying to be saved by a mere washing in water)…IS NOT ACTUALLY WHAT CATHOLICS BELIEVE! We believe we are saved by the “water and spirit” of baptism. Jesus joins the two together. Baptists separate them, and then pick on people for believing in water-only baptism, even though NO ONE ACTUALLY ATTEMPTS TO DO WATER-ONLY BAPTISM BUT BAPTISTS (and other Christians who deny baptismal regeneration).

For Catholics, baptism means what Jesus said it means: “water AND spirit.”  What God has joined together...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Response to Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) Street Evangelists, Part 13 of 24

This is the thirteenth part of a 24-part series of responses to a street evangelist I met from Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE). Please click here to see the first post, which contains a set of links by topic to all the posts in the series.

13. Do this in REMEBRANCE of me.  Many Baptists with whom I have spoken have turned to this word spoken by Jesus at the last supper to deny the very words that Jesus had just spoken: “this is my body.”

In a nutshell, the Catholic argument is: Jesus said “this is my body.” Jesus said “truly, truly I say unto you, unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you” (John 6) Jesus said it, Christians have always believed it since the beginning (except those in John 6:66 who turned away and did not follow Jesus any longer), and I see no reason to deny the clear teaching of my Lord.

Now, the problem with how many Baptists interpret the word “remembrance” is they look the word up in their Webster’s dictionary and they interpret it within the framework of 21st-century notions of metaphysics.  Doing so, they draw the conclusion that something that is “remembered” is not present, but rather thought about as a past event.  It is only present in the memory and in the symbols we use to remember it, but the thing symbolized is itself absent.  Our 21st-century metaphysics tell us that remembering something does not make it present in any way, shape, or form.

The problem with this interpretation is that Jesus wasn’t using the word with 21st-century dictionaries and metaphysics in mind.

The word for “remembrance” was a special Greek word, anamnesis, that was used in the Old Testament primarily in the context of the Jewish Passover and other sacrifices, the very salvation event that Jesus, the true Passover, was in the act of fulfilling.  So, if you want to understand “remembrance” in context, then turn not to Webster but to the Old Testament Passover ritual and sacrifices.  When you “study this out,” you’ll find that every time anamnesis is used in the Old Testament Hebrew and Greek cultures, it was in connection with sacrifice (see Numbers 10:10, for instance).  Thus, Jesus is connecting what he is doing in the last supper with the “new covenant,” with the “Passover,” and with “sacrifice.”  We know that Jesus is the “Lamb of God,” and John points out how sour wine was offered to Jesus on the cross using a hyssop branch, the same branch used at the original Passover in Egypt to sprinkle the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of those who were “passed over”.  We also see that not a bone in Jesus’s body is broken: he is truly the Lamb of God, offered for our salvation on the cross.  (There are many other connections, John is pointing out, but you probably already know them, so I’ll move on.)

Yet, the sacrifice of Calvary begins in the upper room, where Jesus freely offered his body and blood in the first Mass.  And just like the ancient Jews had to eat the Lamb (or else their first born son would die), we also have to eat the lamb, but not by consuming our Lord’s body and blood in a bloody manner.   Rather, at the last supper, our Lord provides a way that we can commune with him in His fullness: through the Eucharistic sacrifice. 

That is why Jesus didn’t just offer his body and blood, but said, “take this eat…do this as a memorial sacrifice of my offering” which gets us closer to the meaning of anamnesis.  I recommend taking a look at this article for more on this topic:

Even better would be to buy Brant Pitre’s book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist.  Or, check out his talks on this very subject here.

I have a LOT more to say on this subject below when I talk about how Catholics understand the Mass, and why the Mass is not a “recrucifixion of Christ.”


Okay, I think that gets us through everything we spoke about.

I’ll try to be a bit briefer with the topics that I believe were covered by the other group. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Shameless Popery: Martin Luther and the Book of James

And another terrific post by Joe Heschmeyer, this time on Martin Luther's assessment of the book of James...and what this says about the reliability of Luther's understanding of Justification in other Biblical texts (esp. Paul).

The combox discussion is also quite illuminating...

Here's the link:

Shameless Popery: Martin Luther and the Book of James: Martin Luther's hostility to the Book of James is well-known, and I've mentioned it in other contexts, but I wanted to consider today the im...

Response to Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) Street Evangelists, Part 12 of 24

This is the twelfth part of a 24-part series of responses to a street evangelist I met from Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE). Please click here to see the first post, which contains a set of links by topic to all the posts in the series.

12.  The Latin Mass.
Thanks for bringing up the Latin Mass. I love both the older Latin form of the Mass and the New, vernacular form as well. The language used at Mass is not a doctrinal issue, and so there is no problem with people using either one.

Also, make sure you think about the use of Latin historically and with all the facts.

For much of Church history, Latin was a language that common church-goers knew, so we shouldn’t imagine that no one understood the Mass until Vatican II began allowing the vernacular languages to be used. Further, even as time went on and fewer and fewer people knew the Latin language, the prayers of the Mass were often learned through repetition of hearing them, and children were educated in Latin as a second language, so many people understood the Latin being used. Even I have almost no training in Latin, but I know the Mass well enough to be able to follow the words in Latin. (It really isn’t that hard!) On top of that, after the invention of the printing press, the Church made available “missals,” a booklet that contained the Latin prayers of the Mass on one side and the translation on the other, just so that everyone could follow along if they needed/wanted to. And finally, the parts of the Mass that were not repeated every week, most especially the sermon on the four to five bible readings, were always given in the vernacular language. In fact, for the last five hundred years or so (the period where the Latin language fell out of general use), the priest at Mass would usually begin by translating at least the Gospel (if not more) into the vernacular language.

Here’s a little story that might help give you a different perspective on the use of Latin.

Imagine your family eating at a dinner table. You all speak the same language, and you use that language to bond with one another, sharing stories, creating unique turns of phrases that only your family understands, and passing on memories of what grandpa said, using that funny word that he loved to say, and that unique inflection that he always gave it. Over the decades, you watch your children grow, until they start bringing their own children with them to the dinner table. You pass on the family stories, raise them to know what it means to be a member of the Hall family, and share with the grandchildren the same laughs about (great-)grandpa that have enlivened family dinners for generations. Eventually your children’s children begin showing up to the dinner table with their children. You are by now an old man, but you relish returning week after week with your family that has, over the years, remained unified as a loving family, sharing stories, laughs, tears, memories, and the joy of family life.

Then one day, something changes.

A great-grandchild shows up to the table and has chosen to begin speaking a new language. That child doesn’t mean badly, but in choosing the new language, he forgets almost all of the older, family language. It doesn’t effect things too much at first: the child still kind of understands the stories about grandpa and most of the inside jokes are not lost on him.

But the trend continues.

Within a few months, almost all of the grandchildren have started speaking a new language, and none of them have chosen the same ones. Out of love, you and your children begin learning these languages so that you can do your best to translate the family tradition into these new tongues.

But you quickly realize that some of the most precious memories, stories, and laughs only make sense in the original language. In fact, the entire family identity would be lost if the original language itself was abandoned. With it, the unity of the family, bound up in the entire history and memory of the family would dissolve.

Now, if you are a family man like I am, the sense of horror at the dissolution of the family makes one want to cry: “Stop! Keep the traditions alive! Don’t give up the family language!”

One hopes and prays that the children are only going through a phase and will one day desire to know their roots enough to at least try to understand the family language enough to learn her history, her story, and the unique forms of expression and address that bind her into a solid unit.

My friend, the Catholic Church has always struck a great balance between preserving the family language while doing everything in her power to make that language accessible (relative to the need for accessibility) to the “great grandchildren” of the family. Like I said, the Church has made the translation available for anyone who wanted to follow along, and the non-repeating parts of the Mass were always spoken in the vernacular. Anyone who really wanted to understand could; they just had to pick up a missal.

I don’t know Latin or Greek, but I know the prayers that are still prayed at Mass in these languages, and you probably do to. “Kyrie Elieson” means “Christ have Mercy.” “Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi” means “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world…” It is a prayer that every Catholic around the world prays at least four times in every Mass, and this prayer shows that any true, faithful Catholic trusts in Jesus as savior. (Long tangent: They might not always articulate this trust in the terms that a fundamentalist Baptist in your neck of the woods would use, but that doesn’t mean that these Catholics do not accept that Christ is their savior. That’s why it is unfathomable to me that Pastor Witmer can group Catholics in general with unbelievers, Satanists, etc., as I have heard him do in multiple sermons. I trust that he is not speaking out of malice, so I can only conclude that he is almost completely ignorant about Catholicism, and I feel quite sorry for the people who believe that the things he says about Catholics are true. He, and these people, will one day have to give an account before God as to why they would believe and share such negative things about other Christians without first checking to see if they were even true. Now, remember, there will always be sinful Catholics, and there will be Catholics who show up and warm a pew each week but who don’t have a relationship with Jesus. But that doesn’t at all mean that all Catholics don’t have a relationship with Jesus. I am almost certain that Baptist have their pew warmers as well, though it would be wrong of me to judge your church by the weakest members in her!)

You might be interested to know that the great-grandchildren have made it through their “phase.” In the Catholic Church, the youth (such as myself) are beginning to tap into their roots and request the availability of the Latin Mass. We appreciate now that some doctrines can’t be communicated with accuracy in every language, we’ve seen too many translators try to “tamper” with Mass translations (often resulting in a watering-down of the faith), and we are learning to understand the Bible and the liturgy in their original languages. Many of us now realize that the great experiment of changing the Mass into the vernacular didn’t really do anything to increase our engagement (at Mass, I still see people who sit there bored and unengaged…perhaps the problem isn’t one of the language but of the human condition!). In contrast, in every Latin Mass I have attended, there is a profound sense of reverence, focus, attention, and worship.

That being said, many others prefer the Mass in the vernacular, and this is perfectly acceptable. There is no reason for Christians to be divided over options when both options are good and acceptable.

Now, returning to our story:

How would you feel (as the head of the family) if a neighbor from outside the family showed up at the door and began chastising you for trying (just as your longstanding family identity is beginning to slip away) to maintain the family language in reasonable ways?

How do you think I feel as a Catholic when people outside the “immediate” family show up at the door and chastise the Catholic Church for trying to maintain the family language in a reasonable way? The only difference is, the Catholic Church is trying to protect memories and traditions and truths that are far more valuable than those of your or my biological families.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Shameless Popery: Answering Four Common Protestant Objections to the...

Joe Heschmeyer has delivered another fantastic post, this one dealing with the papacy. Highly recommended:

Shameless Popery: Answering Four Common Protestant Objections to the...: Andre , a Protestant on his way into the Catholic Church, recently had something of an exit interview with his former pastor. His pastor m...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Christian Disunity as a Problem of the Imagination

I used to live in one of the liberal hotbeds of the Midwest, Ann Arbor, MI.  Some of my most interesting experiences there came from volunteering at the Right to Life booth at the Ann Arbor Art Fair that took place every summer.

One encounter at the Art Fair has stuck with me over the last five years since it occurred.  A man walked up and posed the following dilemma:
"Imagine that there was an IVF clinic that contained a refrigerator full off 500 embryos.  Also in the clinic was a baby playing in the back nursery.  Now, imagine that the clinic caught fire, and the firemen could only rescue the embryos or the baby.  Who would you suggest they save?"
The innocent older lady sitting next to me fell for the trap and answered, "the baby, of course."  Next thing I knew, the vindicated man had marched away before I could even begin to form a response.

Now, there are a number of problems with the dilemma posed by this gentleman.

First, the dilemma (as stated) sets up a false opposition by structuring the problem such that you can only save the baby or the embryos.

The only proper response to this problem is: shame on you for even imagining such a dreadful situation where 500 embryos are left to burn.

Second, the man's dilemma breezily accepts a situation in which 500 embryonic human beings are created without the caring, loving protection of their mothers' wombs and are stored like pieces of meat in a refrigerator...without even a comment on the atrocity of this evil.

The only proper response to this is: shame on you for even imagining a situation in which 500 human beings are left in a refrigerator without rightful protection of their mothers.

In short, I should have told the man: "You don't need an argument.  You need a spanking."

In other words, the real problem in this experience was a problem of the imagination.  This man, and many in our culture, has allowed himself to imagine as perfectly normal a situation in which 500 embryos are left to freeze or burn.

This problem of the imagination came to mind as I was reading a recent blog post by Bradley Cochran at his thoughtful and engaging blog, Theo-philogue.  On Bradley's blog, I chimed in some thoughts related to Cochran's discussion of Albert Mohler's distinction of doctrines (and, by extension, doctrinal differences) into three tiers.

Here is the relevant part of my comment:
On the flip side, if Jesus Christ is the Truth, how can we take any of these critical issues and say that it is acceptable for Christians to divide over them? What truth of Jesus Christ can be viewed as unessential? And where do Jesus's and Paul's constant prayers and commands that...we be perfectly unified allow for us to even *imagine* a situation where we allow divisions (and the "institutions of division"*** that support them)?
***John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint
It strikes me that the real problem underlying Mohler's three tiers of Christian doctrine (essential, ecclesial, unessential) is that it also breezily assumes doctrinal differences between Christians.  Even though we as Christians should be just as horrified at doctrinal differences at any level as we are at the idea of 500 embryos burning in a clinic, here, Mohler seems to just accept that the differences are going to exist.  You just have to choose: the baby or the embryos....ecclesial unity or doctrinal purity or both.

(UPDATE: In the above sentence, I'm not trying to equivocate the two sets of choices.  I AM equivocating the structure of the respective decisions, however.  That being said, it is worth noting that the doctrinal and ecclesial disunity that exists in Christianity today has allowed for ecclesial communities that accept IVF and a host of other morally problematic behaviors to exist.  The truth will always be a matter of life and death.)

I really pray that in this new millennium, we lovers of Jesus Christ will fervently pray that he wake us up and purify our imaginations.  Let us no longer passively imagine a situation that Jesus offered His passion to avoid.  Jesus hates divorce, whether it occurs between a bride and a groom or between groups of Christians and His Mystical Body, the Church.

Let us no longer imagine a situation where Christians revel in the twists and turns of doctrinal disputes, always willing to play the trump card of "well, that's not an essential doctrine, so let the arguments continue!"

And, by God's grace, let Christians return to the living, breathing authority that Jesus left us to protect those doctrines that are truly essential, so that we may not fall into schism and division over those that truly are not.

I believe that deep in many Christians' hearts, there exists the knowledge of where that authority is found...and can only be found.  It is not easy for any of us, myself most included, to submit our minds and wills to this authority that speaks in Jesus's name ("he who hears you, hears me").  But, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will grant all of us the humility and honesty to turn our minds and hearts back to the Church that Jesus himself founded.

Woe to those that know where the fullness of truth (who is Christ himself) is to be found and choose not to pursue Him.

But how great the blessing for those who abandon all (man-made traditions, family, friends) to follow the pearl of great price.

Lord Jesus, give us pure imaginations...give us your imagination...and let things be on earth as they are in heaven!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Problem with Fundamentalism

Today, I was reflecting on a paragraph I wrote in a previous post that discussed the notion that true Christians are united on "essential" idea that implies that it is okay that they are disunified on unessential doctrines.  Here is the paragraph in question:
And finally, we must remember that doctrines are not like bullet points on a list.  Rather, they are like musical lines in a great symphony of truth.  Change one line, and the entire relationship of all the musical voices shifts.  Change one line, and the entire tapestry of truth is fundamentally altered.  Change one truth, and you have a different symphony.
Admittedly, having graduate degrees in music theory, this metaphor carries a certain weight and attraction in my thinking.  Theologians like Hans Urs von Balthasar have also noted the "symphonic" quality of truth.  Most Christians would agree that there is a holistic nature and integrity to the truth, since Jesus himself is the truth.

Knowing that Jesus is the truth, and all that is (including truth) finds its origin in God, it is baffling to think that anyone could consider a part of divine revelation--or even knowledge that can be known through our gift of reason--to be "unessential."  Certainly, there does exist a hierarchy of truths, but that hierarchy itself, and the balance and relationships within it, all assume the importance--the necessity even--of every truth in the structure.  To think that Christians can disagree over some of these truths without effecting the entire balance and divine artistry of the entire symphonic composition is to say that certain Biblical truths are unnecessary, inconsequential, superfluous, and ultimately disconnected from the entire integrated design that is the truth of Christ.  In other words, revealed truths are either essential or not even worth talking about...and certainly not worth dividing churches over.

Yet, every time I speak with a Baptist about the ecclesial and doctrinal divisions within non-Catholic Christianity (and even Baptist Christianity), I am told that "true Christians agree on the essentials."

All of this makes me think that the problem with fundamentalism is that it is not fundamental enough.

This is not meant to knock fundamentalists, many of whom are sincere in upholding the fundamental truths of Christianity.  These fundamentalists are to be commended and admired in their fidelity and commitment to Christ.

This is to say, however, that fundamentalists can not feel completely at home in their fundamentalism until they find their home in the Catholic Church, in whom the fullness of truth subsists...and through whom the whole of Christian truth is preserved and taught.  The fullness of truth, who is Christ himself, is fundamental, essential, and as beautiful a symphony as has ever been conceived.

Come and see!  This truth has been preserved by God's grace through His Bride, who finds its visible head and leadership in the teaching authority (the Pope and bishops in union with him) of the Catholic Church.

Response to Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) Street Evangelists, Part 11 of 24

This is the eleventh part of a 24-part series of responses to a street evangelist I met from Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE). Please click here to see the first post, which contains a set of links by topic to all the posts in the series.

11.  The Issue of Leavened vs. Unleavened Bread.  When asked about this, I said that we use unleavened bread.  We do so because that is what Jesus used at the Last Supper.  Also, the very idea of “breaking bread” supports the notion that the early Christians favored unleavened bread, since this was the type of bread that “broke.”  Thus, using leavened bread is a practice (a small-t tradition) that we follow in the Western wing of the Catholic Church.  A handful of Eastern Catholics, and many Orthodox Christians, use leavened bread.  Here is an article that goes into the subject in a bit more detail.

All that being said, I just don't see how this issue constitutes legitimate grounds for division between Christians.  Can anyone add further insight to this problem?

(Woo hoo for a short answer!)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Shameless Popery: The Dog That Didn't Bark: Eucharistic Theology in ...

Shameless Popery: The Dog That Didn't Bark: Eucharistic Theology in ...: In the Sherlock Holmes story “Silver Blaze,” involving the disappearance of a thoroughbred racehorse, Holmes points out a major clue...


Dear readers:

I encourage you all to take a moment to check out Joe Heschmeyer's fine blog. I'll be posting links to some of his posts here on my blog occasionally, as they offer a strong case for the claims of the Catholic Church as well as an equally compelling model of how to share the truth in a loving manner.

Shameless Popery: Did St. Ambrose Believe in the Real Presence?

Shameless Popery: Did St. Ambrose Believe in the Real Presence?: On Thursday, I also noted that St. Augustine's mentor, St. Ambrose, wrote in the late 380s that the Eucharist “ is the true Flesh of Christ ...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Response to Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) Street Evangelists, Part 10 of 24

This is the tenth part of a 24-part series of responses to a street evangelist I met from Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE). Please click here to see the first post, which contains a set of links by topic to all the posts in the series.

10.  We (true Christians) only disagree on unessentials.  This response doesn’t really solve the problem.  First of all, who has the authority to decide exactly what the “essential” doctrines are?  Is “eternal security” an essential doctrine, because if so, the vast majority of Protestant Bible-only Christians do not believe it.

You see, the list of unessential doctrines must itself be an essential doctrine that every true Christian agrees on, or else the whole house of cards collapses.

Further, when we are dealing with Truth, and Jesus is the Truth, how can anyone say that some Truth is unessential or unimportant?

Further still, where does the Bible say that some division over doctrinal or moral issues is perfectly acceptable?  Surely, there are places in Scripture that recommend Christian's being sensitive to one another in non-essential areas, but no where does the Bible say that a moral question can be answered positively by some and negatively by others.  Rather, St. Paul commands that we be like-minded and in perfect unity in the one faith.  To suggest that some category of “unessential” doctrines on which we have divine revelation exists in which it is okay for Christians to disagree about seems contrary to the minds of Paul and Jesus.  As I pointed out in our conversation, Jesus prayed in John 17 for our oneness to model that of the Holy Trinity, and there are no minor doctrinal differences between the Father and Son!

Closer examination shows that these “minor doctrinal differences” are the very things that are ripping the entire Body of Christ to shreds, causing scandal to the world.  Remember: Jesus prayed that our oneness would “show the world that I was sent by the Father.”  If we are visibly disunified, then we as Christians have failed to follow Jesus’s plan for evangelization…the very plan that he offered his passion to achieve!  I can’t think of a single doctrine that at least some Christian organization believes the opposite about…all based on the Bible alone.  The fact is, the “minor differences” are not actually minor.  They involve major issues such as the nature of baptism, the recipients of baptism, the nature of sin, the doctrine of justification, the question of eternal security, and much more.  None of these are minor; they cut right to the core of Christian theology, as you well know.

And finally, we must remember that doctrines are not like bullet points on a list.  Rather, they are like musical lines in a great symphony of truth.  Change one line, and the entire relationship of all the musical voices shifts.  Change one line, and the entire tapestry of truth is fundamentally altered.  Change one truth, and you have a different symphony.

On what basis, then, did Jesus ever think, praying His high priestly prayer in the upper room, that Christians would ever be able to fulfill His prayer for unity?

The answer: He founded a Church to teach authoritatively in His name (Matt. 16:16-19, 18:17-18).  That Church, almost from the very beginning, has called herself by the name, “The Catholic Church.”

At various times throughout history, some people have broken away from the church to teach doctrines contrary to her.  Praise be to God that a tidal wave of Christians (Anglicans, Baptist, Lutherans, etc….even an entire Protestant congregation in Detroit not too long ago) are returning so that the Body of Christ can be perfectly unified once again.

Musical Iconography

It is somewhat ironic (yet in equal measure understandable) that music was one of the few religious "icons" not thrown out by iconoclasts.  Perhaps this is because it does not offer a physical target at which icon-busters can throw stones.  Perhaps music's seeming intangibility simply protected it from the impulse to throw physical reminders of religious truths out the window.

For this, we can be thankful.

Yet, studying and teaching music as I do, I have to remind my students that music actually is quite physical in its matter.  For starters, sound produces a change in the matter that connects the instrument to the ear of the listener.  Sound is literally communicated through space using packets (waves) of dense and non-dense air that hit the ear hundreds of times each second.  These sound waves physically hit our ears much like waves at the beach hit the shore.  In response to these waves, our mind perceives sounds, and our minds do what human minds do automatically: they try to make meaning of these sounds, understanding them to form harmonies, melodies, and so forth.  These sounds can remind remind us of spiritual realities just like the light waves that bounce off physical icons and strike our eyes and minds can.  Further still, we become musical and physical icons as we interact with music by producing it ourselves.  We fill our lungs fill with air as we sing, and our collective physical participation in the music making becomes an icon of our unity as the Body of Christ.  We feel the vibrations of the pew, as it (and the rest of the sanctuary) trembles with the vibrations of music praising our Divine King.

Perhaps even the most rigid iconoclasts lose themselves in awe at the aesthetic grandeur of Renaissance polyphony or the magnificence of a Lutheran Chorale Prelude...or even the humble simplicity of a hymn sung prayerfully on a bright Sunday morning.

One of the many things I love about being Catholic is that we embrace not only icons that lift the soul through sound sensations, but also icons that lift our souls through our eyes and noses as well.  We become icons in adoration of God as we feel and place ourselves in postures of adoration, standing to hear God's Word and kneeling before God's presence.  And Jesus himself, who communes with us through his Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist, invites us to receive Him into our bodies and souls.  Though we taste and see bread and wine (the accidents that remain after transubstantiation), we figuratively taste and see the goodness of the Lord through our participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice that takes away our sins and helps us to become saints by His free gift of grace.

Considering the almost universal embrace of beautiful, soul-inspiring music across Christendom, I remain baffled why more Christian communities don't embrace similarly moving icons in other aesthetic domains.  At the same time, I remain ever hopeful that music can point us back to our senses--all of them--as an important means of engaging the whole human person in the worship of our God.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Response to Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) Street Evangelists, Part 9 of 24

This is the eighth part of a 24-part series of responses to a street evangelist I met from Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE). Please click here to see the first post, which contains a set of links by topic to all the posts in the series.

9.  Finding the truth by “studying it out.” The problem with finding Biblical truth by just “studying it out” is that thousands upon thousands of Christians who genuinely love Jesus and want to know His truth using the Bible alone and who study the original languages and generally study Scripture for countless hours…all come to different conclusions.

The second problem with this model is that it renders most Christians throughout history incapable of finding the truth of God (if, in fact, the only or best way to do this is through Scripture study).  Why?  Well, until the invention of the printing press, no regular Christian owned a Bible, and very few could read it anyway.  Even today, many people lack the intellectual capacity to make subtle textual connections across books, solve difficult theological problems that arise from Scripture, learn the ancient languages of Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic to be able to read the Bible in its original language (very little was written in Aramaic, but this is the language Jesus most often used when speaking, and some important words must be understood as being spoken in this language), and to study the ancient culture that was the primary audience for Scripture, so that they can read the Bible with the assumptions of author/audience in mind.  So, if Jesus had intended us to learn the truth by “studying it out” he was thereby excluding the vast majority of Christians who ever lived throughout the centuries.

A third problem is that the idea of “studying it out” presumes that when you sit down with your Bible, you do so in a kind of vacuum apart from any and all influences that could sway your reading one way or another.  The fact is, no one reads the Bible apart from the countless influences—the “lenses”—that effect our reading of Scripture.  For instance, even though Mary as the New Testament Ark is plain as day to me as a Catholic from the Bible, most Protestants have never seen the Bible verses that support this because they do not realize they should look for them!  Jesus tells us: “he who seeks, finds.”  But the reverse is also true: if you do not seek, you will not find.  That being said I GREATLY appreciate that you are a genuine seeker of Biblical truth in general.  I really mean that, and I can tell you that I find your faith, and that of your pastor and churchgoers, quite inspiring.  BUT, the point of the seeker comment also applies to specific doctrines.  If one does not look for something specific in that vast ocean of Scripture, they will most likely not find it.

A fourth problem is that there are some doctrines and moral teachings that, up to a certain point, ALL Bible-only Protestants, including Baptists, found in the Bible.  Take for instance the Bible’s prohibition on contraception.  Did you know that all Christians and Christian pastors until 1930 taught that contraception was a grave sin before the Lord?  They did so based on the Bible, and they did so in great unity.  Not a single document can be found anywhere before 1930 where a Protestant minister went on record saying the contraception was an acceptable behavior for a Christian.  But when the Anglican Church (at their Second Lambeth Conference) began allowing contraception in a few limited cases, a crack in the dam of solid Christian teaching formed.  By today, every Christian denomination has caved in on this issue and has changed their moral teaching to say that contraception is acceptable before God.  (That is just one example of a significant change in doctrinal/moral teachings by Baptists.)  Now, if you were to ask a Protestant what the Bible says about contraception, most would probably answer “nothing,” not even realizing that it would have been inconceivable less than 100 years ago for a Christian to consider using contraception in good conscience.  My friend, do moral teachings of God ever change?  Is what is wrong in the first, second, third, fourth….fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries suddenly right when a sexual revolution tells Christians that sexual activity should be free (and without babies), and contraception is the necessary requirement to make it so?

Problems #5-8 with the doctrine of the Bible alone (the unspoken underpinning of the suggestion to "study it out") is that it is unscriptural, unhistorical, unthinkable, and unworkable.

(a) Sola Scriptura as unscriptural: No where does the Bible say that the Bible ALONE has final authority.  The word “alone” is important.  Most all Christians (including Catholics) agree the Bible is inspired and has authority.  The difference is the word “alone”…and it is not found in Scripture.  Thus, Sola Scriptura is self-refuting.  Scripture also speaks of authoritative Traditions and an authoritative Church.

(b) Sola Scriptura is unhistorical: Sola Scriptura was not a doctrine that was believed by any Christians until Martin Luther used the doctrine to deny the other two sources of authority mentioned above.  Within two decades of launching the Reformation, Luther wrote to Calvin lamenting the result of his new doctrine, saying that every Christian is using the Bible alone to come up with different and crazy new doctrines.  Luther saw very quickly that when you rip the family book out of the family for which it was written and out of the family traditions that preserve its interpretive context, then you have a book whose meaning is quite literally up for grabs.  And that is just what has happened outside of the Catholic Church, with the divisions into 30,000+ competing denominations.

(c) Sola Scriptura is unthinkable: As I mentioned above, no one approaches the Bible alone.  We all carry interpretive baggage—our interpretive traditions—when we read Scripture.  The question is: are those traditions the Sacred Tradition passed down from the apostles that preserve the entire body of apostolic teaching (including what books are truly apostolic and which are not!)…or are they traditions of men?

(d) Sola Scriptura is unworkable:  As convert Scott Hahn has suggested, just imagine if the writers of the constitution simply mailed a copy to every citizen and said, “may the spirit of George Washington inspire you to interpret this doctrine correctly.”  What would we have?  Absolute chaos and anarchy.  Likewise, when millions of Christians all read the Bible alone, we also get interpretive chaos and anarchy within the Church.  In other words, lets say you are a Baptist and you want to have an abortion and your pastor tries to convince you otherwise, now you can just find another church that argues from the Bible (wrongly, I think, but we can’t assume insincerely) that abortion is okay.  And if you can’t find that church, you can become a pastor and found your own church that teaches exactly what you believe the Bible to mean.  Sola Scriptura has produced the ecclesial anarchy that we find today.  Even within the Baptist movement, you find “free will Baptists,” “Independent Baptists,” “Fundamental Baptists,” “Evangelical Baptists,” “Southern Baptists,” and the list goes on.  These groups share significant differences over the nature of sin, redemption, and the relationship between local congregations and the larger body of believers…all important areas of difference, if you ask me.  And that is just within the Baptist faith alone.

Rather, the Bible teaches that we are to follow the Traditions whether they were passed on in written or oral form, and both of these streams of truth are protected by the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, founded by Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago to act as a faithful mailman for the complete Word of God (not just the written portion of it).  That Church has never changed one of her doctrinal or moral teachings…no matter what the sexual revolution says.

Now, in response, good Baptists would most likely say that they don’t need to follow a church, because the Holy Spirit leads them into truth.

A couple quick responses:
(a) When Jesus promises the Holy Spirit guiding the church into the truth in the Gospels, he is invariably talking to the apostles, on whom he has given the authority to preach in His name.  This is not to say that the Holy Spirit doesn’t guide Christians, but when it comes to the unity of the Body, Jesus has ordained that certain men have authority to define doctrine, morals, and even liturgical practices so that the Body of Christ can remain unified throughout time and space.  In other word, Jesus never promises to lead all Christians individually so that they don’t need the authority of the Church.  Just think: why would Jesus spend so long talking about Church authority and never mention that for the vast majority of Christian history, there would be no such thing as an authoritative church?
(b) The other problem with this idea is simply the question: how do you know you are following the Holy Spirit and not any one of that array of influences: sermons (since you were a kid), radio programs, books, tapes, Jack Chick tracts, Bible footnotes, etc.?

And…if you are trying to convince me that your interpretation is right and mine wrong, how can I know that you are being led by the Holy Spirit, and not the Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Free-will Baptists, etc.?

At stake here is: how does the Head (Jesus) lead the Body?  How has this been understood historically?  How might Jesus have thought to lead his Body in a way such that every person on earth could know which Church really served as the “pillar and ground of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15)?  If the Church is Jesus’s Church, then how does a new Christian today know which Church to listen to for the fullness of Christ Himself, who is the Truth?

Pope Benedict XVI on the Mission of the Church

I found these paragraphs from our Holy Father's final message to a group of German lay Catholics to be quite inspiring.  You can read the rest at Whispers in the Loggia.
The Church’s mission has its origins in the mystery of the triune God, in the mystery of his creative love. Love is not just somehow within God, he himself is love by nature. And divine love does not want to exist in isolation, it wants to pour itself out. It has come down to men in a particular way through the incarnation and self-offering of God’s Son. He stepped outside the framework of his divinity, he took flesh and became man; and indeed his purpose was not merely to confirm the world in its worldliness and to be its companion, leaving it completely unchanged. The Christ event includes the inconceivable fact of what the Church Fathers call a commercium, an exchange between God and man, in which the two parties – albeit in quite different ways – both give and take, bestow and receive. The Christian faith recognizes that God has given man a freedom in which he can truly be a partner to God, and can enter into exchange with him. At the same time it is clear to man that this exchange is only possible thanks to God’s magnanimity in accepting the beggar’s poverty as wealth, so as to make the divine gift acceptable, given that man has nothing of comparable worth to offer in return.

The Church likewise owes her whole being to this unequal exchange. She has nothing of her own to offer to him who founded her. She finds her meaning exclusively in being a tool of salvation, in filling the world with God’s word and in transforming the world by bringing it into loving unity with God. The Church is fully immersed in the Redeemer’s outreach to men. She herself is always on the move, she constantly has to place herself at the service of the mission that she has received from the Lord. The Church must always open up afresh to the cares of the world and give herself over to them, in order to make present and continue the holy exchange that began with the Incarnation.

To be a member of the Church is to participate in the Incarnation by being a member of Christ's mystical body.  How beautiful and awesome is the invitation we receive to be Christ's hands and feet and voice as He ministers to and through us!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Response to Russell Moore on Pat Robertson and Divorce

Over at Moore to the Point, Dr. Russell Moore has a terrific blog post about Pat Robertson's recent suggestion that a husband or wife could legitimately divorce an Alzheimer's-afflicted spouse and get remarried, on the premise that having Alzheimer's was a "kind of death."

I completely agree with Moore's assessment of Robertson's remark (which seemed to be made somewhat off-the-cuff, though is still dead wrong).

What I found particularly interesting, however, was the discussion that bubbled to the surface in the combox.  As you can imagine, because many non-Catholic Christians do allow for divorce and remarriage in at least some circumstances, some commentators were forced to use more nuanced language when describing the category of exceptions into which Alzheimer's (to them) does not belong.  (Of course, the problem with a house built on sand--people's private interpretations--is that there is no guarantee that more Christians in the future won't put Alzheimer's into the exception category.)  In a nutshell, these commentators tried to prove that Alzheimer's was not an exception by rehearsing the standard definition of the exceptions that Protestants do allow (based on a certain reading of Matthew 19:9).  

From my Catholic perspective, which allows for no exceptions at all, the possibility of at least some exceptions is really a game changer--one with serious implications for what/how/why marriage is and is not.  In other words, it is a much easier argument to say that marriage is a bond created by God, and nothing man can do can put that bond asunder.  Only death can do a husband and wife part.  If marriage is truly forever, it can only be so based on God's real action on the lives of the spouses.  They do not make themselves one; God does, and "what God has joined together..."

We can no more put marriage asunder by our sins than by any other action we can commit.

And, it is worth noting that the historic understanding of marriage and Jesus's prohibition of divorce and remarriage in any circumstance stretches back to the earliest Christians in the first centuries of the Church.

Those who admit exceptions, then, offer a radically different understanding of marriage: marriage, their position implies, IS something that can be rent asunder.  Divorce from one's spouse IS possible.  Man CAN choose to put their marriage asunder.  God's divine action CAN be undone by man's decree.

Now, it is possible that two people presumed to be married were did not actually enter into sacramental marriage the day they made their vows.  Shot gun weddings, for instance, do not effect a sacramental marriage.  And the Church, in an act of love and mercy, does offer to consider the evidence that a marriage never took place in the first place.  (Sadly, this process has been abused in some corners of the Church, and I pray for those people who have not taken the process seriously and have annulled perfectly valid marriages.)  Still, it is possible for someone who has never truly been married to obtain a civil divorce and later enter into a true sacramental marriage.  This could not be considered "remarriage," since that person had never before been married.

Moore's blog post, and the comments that follow, are worth the read.  Here, for your convenience, were my two comments:


Dear Dr. Moore,
I just found your blog for the first time today, and I couldn’t agree with you more about your assessment of Robertson’s latest statement.
I wonder, though, how culpable we are as Robertson’s Christian brothers and sisters. As crazy as Robertson’s statement was, the fact is, Christians still divorce all the time for a wide variety of reasons. Some then remarry, yet are still accepted by their congregations (either current, or perhaps new). It is hard for me to imagine that any preacher would make the blunder that Robertson made if Christians took our Lord’s prohibition of divorce and remarriage more seriously…by not getting divorced and remarried. With that in mind, I ask the Lord for mercy not only on Robertson but on the entire body of believers who claim Christ as their Lord, yet find ways of rationalizing behaviors that He clearly condemns. And though I have never divorced, I wonder how my own sins scandalize other believers and non-believers alike.
On the issue of the supposed “exception” that Jesus seems to make, it is worth noting this immorality clause only occurs in one gospel. If you were a Roman Christian reading Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’s language would not have allowed for exceptions to the no divorce and remarriage rule. Jimmy Akin has a terrific commentary on Matthew 19:9 here:
Come, Holy Spirit, and reunite your faithful Church around our Head, Jesus Christ, so that the errors of those who teach apart from her can be clearly and unequivocally understood as such!
God bless,
Sorry…I just realized that one sentence didn’t communicate what I intended:
I believe that congregations should accept people living in a state of sin…but not accept their sins. I think it is problematic when congregations think that they can just ignore a person’s public sin while accepting the person. I am not a pastor, and I can’t begin to imagine the pastoral difficulties associated with this issue. On that note, I am thankful that my church (the Catholic Church) has such clear, yet loving and pastoral, guidelines for persons who have divorced and remarried. The Catholic Church is clear in that no person who has truly been married can ever validly be remarried, since they are married to their first spouse until death do them part. No sin can put a marriage asunder, since God is the creator of that marriage bond.  
I do think that this is the truth that has been lost across so much of Christendom, and it is a faithful return to God that can open our hearts to repentance, healing, and forgiveness…but only if those who are remarried are willing to turn away from their sin. I know this is a hard truth for many to accept, but with God, all things are possible, and nothing is better than following God’s will! His mercy and grace are always sufficient, and we prove that to be true most particularly when we as His children let go of the sinful aspects of our lives that we can’t even imagine living without!
God bless,

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Response to Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) Street Evangelists, Part 8 of 24

This is the eighth part of a 24-part series of responses to a street evangelist I met from Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE). Please click here to see the first post, which contains a set of links by topic to all the posts in the series.

8.  Why read the Early Church Fathers when we have the Bible?  This is a GREAT question.  First, we never read the Early Church Fathers in place of the Bible.  The Bible is the only written, inspired Word of God.  (The Word of God is really Jesus, and everything he is, did, and taught, not all of which is contained in the Bible.  In other words, there is also unwritten Word of God, primarily in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the Word Himself, whose Holy Spirit, the third person of the Most Holy Trinity, keeps alive the full teachings of Christ in His Mystical Body, the Church.)

Rather, the Early Church Fathers serve as a witness to what early Christianity was like.  And as faithful witnesses do, they report in their writings their beliefs and practices.  Thus, they have a historical authority, even though they have no Scriptural authority.  Just because their writings aren’t Scripture doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from them what it meant to be a Christian in the year 100 or 150 A.D.

The question is really about interpretation.  When we read the Bible, we always do so using lenses.  If I wear pink lenses, the world appears pink.  If I wear green lenses, the world appears green.  When I am interpreting the Bible, the same thing holds true.  We all interpret the Bible using some type of filter.  The question we need to start asking is: how do I know my interpretive filter is correct?

One way to begin answering that question is to begin thinking historically: how long have people been reading the Bible through my Baptist lenses?  How did the people in the first two centuries of Christianity understand the Bible?  What lenses did they use?  How does the Bible appear when I try their lenses on?

Remember, the Bible is the Bible is the Bible.  We all read the same words on the page, albeit with (usually minor) differences of translation.  But we come to different interpretations because we each have a different lens through which we look.

How do we get those lenses?  From a variety of sources: Bible studies, Bible footnotes, sermons, billboards, radio programs, books, magazines, conversations, experiences, etc.   None of us read the Bible on an island.  Not one.

The question then becomes: if one is willing to learn how to read the Bible from all of these other (fallible, uninspired, man-made) sources, why would one not want to add to that list the early church fathers, when these people studied with the apostles and their immediate successors?

So, to answer the question, why read the early church fathers, I would answer: so that you can read the Bible through the lenses of those who were there at the beginning…those who sat at the feet of the apostles and gave their lives to defend what they had been taught.

After all, who would you trust in a game of telephone, the first person to receive the message, or the last?

As Baptist convert Stephen Ray likes to say: "the waters of Christian doctrine are always cooler and cleaner at the source."

And that source, as a little research will prove, was Catholic.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Response to Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) Street Evangelists, Part 7 of 24

This is the seventh part of a 24-part series of responses to a street evangelist I met from Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE). Please click here to see the first post, which contains a set of links by topic to all the posts in the series.

7.  The Early Church Fathers’ interpretation of Scripture.  Many Protestants out there have not really studied the writings of the early church in any great depth.  Turns out, even most of the Protestant seminaries that I have studied (and especially the Baptist seminaries) don’t spend much more than a semester studying the first 1,500 years of church history, and to cover that ground quickly, they usually rely on a history textbook that “filters” out the distinctive voice of the early church. 

Thus, many Protestants don’t realize that in the first century, Christians already identified as members of the “Catholic Church.”  Christians already celebrated the breaking of bread at every liturgy (as we even see in Acts 2), and they believed the Eucharist (the consecrated bread and wine of communion) to be the body and blood of our Lord.  And this was taught by the bishop (St. Ignatius of Antioch) who was chosen to replace Peter when the apostle left for his final journey to Rome (where he would eventually be martyred).  Infant baptism was already a well-established practice by the early second century, and the bishops claimed to practice it because it is what the apostles taught them to do.  And remember: St. Paul commanded them to follow everything he taught them, not just that which was written in a follow-up letter.

The early church had bishops, presbyterois (which we English speakers contract to “priests,” not to be confused with the priests of the Old Testament), and deacons, a tri-partite structure of “Holy Orders” that remains in Christ’s church today.

I could go on and on, but my point is this:

(a) clearly, the early church, guided by those faithful witnesses trained and appointed by the apostles to pass on Christianity, was Catholic; and
(b) there is no record in the first centuries of some massive slide into apostasy at the end of the life of the apostles.  We do know that many heresies developed (Arianism, Docetism, Gnosticism, Nestorianism, etc.), but Protestants universally recognize that it was the early Christians—the early Catholics—who were the ones fighting off these early heresies.  And they were successful in doing so!  Yet – these same early Christians were practicing the Mass.  Before Justin Martyr was martyred, he was asked by the Romans to describe the worship of Christians.  If you read his First Apology, you’ll see that the Sunday worship he describes is fundamentally the same thing we have in the liturgy today: readings, a message, prayers, a “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and then something Justin describes as the “Eucharist,” in which we eat special “Eucharisted bread.”
(c) the students of the apostles serve as a witness to the beliefs of the early church
(d) to be able to go to a Bible study with the student of an apostle is an AWESOME opportunity, but you may also find it a challenging one, because these early preachers, most all of which gave their lives for preaching this Gospel, were preaching a Catholic gospel!

The question then is: why should I trust modern Bible interpreters 2,000 years later when they contradict those people who read the Bible in their native tongue and studied it in the midst of the very people who wrote the Bible?

I put that question to Pastor Witmer many times, and he has not yet answered it.

Please pray for him and encourage him that you are willing to follow the truth of Sacred Scripture wherever it is leading all of you at LBC, even if that means to a Christianity that is different…and better…than anything you have ever known.  And in the context of this point: a Christianity that is the same Christianity as what the apostles taught and meant in their writings (vs. the traditions of men that entered the scene 1,500 years later through a monk by the name of Martin Luther, who actually wanted to take all the books out of the Bible that disagreed with his new ideas).