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: http://bit.ly/nEBsGE.
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).

Response to Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) Street Evangelists, Part 6 of 24

This is the fourth 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.

6. An Infallible Bible does little good without an infallible interpreter.  I asked a number of questions up above relating to whether you believe yourselves to be infallible interpreters of Scripture.

Here, I’ll just ask you to consider the perplexing problem of what good inspired Scriptures are if we can’t be sure we understand them.  Keep in mind: everyone thinks they have the most reasonable interpretation of Scripture, or else we wouldn’t have Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Adventists, Church of Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Assemblies of God…along with the many sub-groups of the above as well as the countless “non-denominational denominations.”  Certainly, almost no one stays in these churches without agreeing on at least what they consider the essential teachings of those different denominations.

The recent controversy over Rob Bell’s book on heaven and hell, which is so sadly dividing evangelical Protestants, shows that the Bible is a book that can be interpreted in many different ways by people going on the Bible alone.  Ironically, few Protestants today share many beliefs in common with Martin Luther, although they claim to be following the same Bible Alone as he claimed to do.

Let me put the whole question another way: if God saw fit to inspire the authors of Scripture as they were writing, why would he not also protect those people who occupy the offices (remember that discussion from question #1?) that he created, especially when he told the original occupants of these offices: “He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me” (Luke 10:16).  This verse once again speaks to the authority of the leaders in Christ’s church to speak in His name, which would be an impossible command to give Christians if he did not also grant the church the special protection of the Holy Spirit.  Thus, when the Church authoritatively decides a dispute between Christians in Acts 15:28, they say, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”  Bible Christians from the beginning of the Church have always recognized the Holy Spirit’s work through the Church (especially through the apostolic bishops of the church, and most especially when these bishops meet in council), and the Church is promised that protection especially when she is defining faith and morals in order to protect the sacred deposit of faith passed down from the beginning.

To put the question yet another way, how could Christ grant the Church the power to bind and loose (“what you bind on earth is bound in heaven” as Jesus says in Matthew 16:19 and 18:18) if he didn’t protect the teaching of the Church with the power of heaven itself?

Christians have always believed that God does protect the Church (specifically: the pope and bishops united with him) from teaching error (a) in the areas of faith and morals and (b) when these popes and bishops are teaching the universal church with the explicit intention of defining something infallibly.  Infallibility is due to the special protection of the Holy Spirit; it is not an ability that any man has on his own.  The charism of infallibility is given to someone by virtue of the office they sit in.  This does not mean that certain bishops have not fallen into heresy, but no individual bishop has the gift of infallibility.  Only when the bishops teach in union with one another and with the bishop of Rome, the Pope, and define a doctrinal or moral truth for the whole Church, are they thought to be speaking infallibly.  Infallibility is actually a much more limited doctrine than most non-Catholics (and even many Catholics!) understand.  It does not mean that the Pope is infallible on everything, such as who will win the World Series or that he will solve every math problem correctly.  It doesn’t even mean that the Pope’s private theological writings are infallible.  It doesn’t mean that the Pope is impeccable and does not sin.  (This seemed to be a surprise to one of you when I mentioned it.)  It also doesn’t mean that the Pope will always teach the truth in the best way or in the best timing.  It simply means that when the Church defines something as true (such as the New Testament canon), it is true.   They don’t make it true by defining it; they simply use their authority to teach with greater clarity what is true already, but has come under attack and needs further strengthening.  The great theologian St. Augustine once said that he would not believe the Bible were it not for the authority of the Catholic Church.

What good is an infallible Bible without an infallible interpreter?  Looking at the sea of division with Christianity over the last five centuries, the answer is: not much.  With those divisions in mind, how are we ever to convince the world that we have "the truth" without the world looking back on Christ's Body (the Church) with the words of Pontius Pilate on her lips: "what is truth?"  Only in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church do we find the blueprint for Christian unity.  And it just so happens that this Church is the only church that can make the reasonable claim to have been founded by Christ himself on a Rock (Matthew 16:16-19), can claim truthfully to have never changed one of her doctrinal or moral teachings, and is the only church today even applying for the job of being the one, true Church.  She is a church that more and more faithful Protestants are joining out of the realization that the divisions of non-Catholic Christianity are not Christ's will for his Bride.  (Read their stories here and here and here.)  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Response to Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) Street Evangelists, Part 5 of 24

This is the fourth 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.

5.  Religion doesn’t save us.  I addressed this pretty fully already above.  Our religion is Jesus Christ.  End of story.  Thus, for a Christian to say that “religion doesn’t save us” is tantamount to saying that “Jesus does not save us.”

The whole rhetoric of “baptism, church membership, religion, etc.” not saving us is really based on a kind of “either/or” thinking.  Either Jesus or baptism.  Either Jesus or church attendance.  Either Jesus or religion.

In actuality, the Bible treats these pairs of words as “both/and.”  If we have Jesus as our true religion, then we need Jesus and religion, because there is no distinction between them.  If Baptism is the very tool Jesus uses to save us, then the two can not be divorced from one another.  If the Church is truly the inseparable bride of Christ, Christ’s mystical body of which he is the head, then it is inconceivable that one could be saved without being somehow a member of the Church.  Being a member of the Church is quite literally the very state of being saved, as we are members of Christ’s mystical body.  Many Protestants inadvertently decapitate the mystical body of Christ by trying to imagine the body without the head, or vice versa.  In fact, this is unthinkable.  Church membership is necessary, and one starts playing dangerous games with Biblical language when one tries to put a wedge between Christ and His Bride.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Response to Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) Street Evangelists, Part 4 of 24

This is the fourth 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.

4.  Salvation first, then Baptism.  You would be surprised to learn that the Catholic Church is fairly close to Baptists when it comes to this topic, though there are also some important differences.

First off, let me say that before anyone above the age of reason can be baptized in the Catholic Church, they must first have faith.  Baptism is not magic.  You can’t try to baptize a person who could believe in Christ for salvation but does not and have them be saved.

That being said, Catholics do not agree with the idea of “salvation first, then baptism,” because the Bible itself says in 1 Peter 3:21: “Baptism…now saves us.”  According to St. Paul in Romans, we are “buried with Christ in baptism” (Romans 6:4).  Jesus himself, in John 3, says that we must be “born of water and spirit,” and the entire context for this passage, all the way from John 1 to the beginning of John 4, is – you guessed it – baptism.  Thus, it is an error to separate temporally (salvation first, then baptism) two things that are tied together.  Baptism is the cause that produces salvation, the effect.  Faith must also be present, but we aren’t saved by faith.  We are saved by God’s grace, applied to our souls in an act of regeneration, which we receive through the “washing of regeneration “(Titus 3:5).

Again, it can’t be emphasized enough: we are saved by grace alone.  The question is, what and when and how does that saving grace do the saving?  Remember: we are not saved by our faith or our good works.  We are saved by Christ giving us the “circumcision without hands” (Colossians 2:11) which St. Paul immediately in the next verse associates with Baptism. 

So, faith must be present…but God does the saving when we are “baptized into his death” and “buried and raised to life with Him in baptism.”

The Bible could not be clearer.  Also, all the students of the apostles who learned Christianity from the authors of Scripture believed in baptismal regeneration.  It took almost 1,500 year for any Christian to deny baptismal regeneration.  Even Martin Luther believed in baptismal regeneration based on the Bible alone, as do many Protestants today.

Now, there are a lot more questions I’m sure you have about baptism (infant baptism, what if baptism isn’t possible, like the thief on the cross, etc.).  And I’d be happy to address any of these you’d like to discuss further.


Please see part 14 for a more extended discussion of baptism!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Response to Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) Street Evangelists, Part 3 of 24

This is part 3 of a 24-part series.  Click here to see the post for part 1, which contains links by topic to the rest of the posts in this series.
3.  Veneration of Mary and Mary’s Immaculate Conception and perfect obedience to Christ.  There is so much to say about Mary from the Bible.  Many books have been written on the subject, despite the fact that many Protestants seem to think that the Bible is almost silent on Mary.  In fact, the verses that speak of Mary speak volumes, and one thing that many converts to Catholicism have said is: how could I have missed the Bible’s many riches on Mary as a Protestant? 

My purpose here will not be to convince you of everything, as Catholic beliefs about Mary usually take some time for Protestants to wrap their minds around.  I’ll begin by offering a few introductory remarks:

(a) Mary is God’s handiwork.  The things that are so wonderful about Mary are not Mary’s doing!  They are about God’s work in Mary.  So, Protestants should be careful in denying Marian doctrines, because in doing so, they might be inadvertently subtracting from God’s glory by not recognizing the amazing things he accomplished in and through Mary…things that were foreshadowed as early as the first book of the Bible.
(b) Marian doctrines are most important in how they protect very important doctrines about Christ.  In other words, to deny almost anything the Catholic Church teaches about Mary is to actually dance at the edge of Christiological heresy (or even to pass into it!).  Mary was indeed human and infinitely less that God, but the things God did for and through Mary have a lot to do with who Jesus Christ is: the incarnate second person of the Trinity.  So, again, caution is in order.

That being said, the first question is easy to answer.  Where does the Bible speak about venerating Mary?  Well, Mary herself, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, proclaims that “all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48).  God himself honors Mary above all other humans by choosing her to bear the savior of the world in her womb.  (As Christians, we are called to imitate Christ, and we do so in honoring those whom he honors, most especially His mother!)  Jesus, from the cross, makes Mary the mother of John and everyone else whom God has called to be brothers and sisters in Christ.  As good Christians, we honor our mother and father, and this includes honoring our spiritual mother, Mary.  God did it first by greeting her with an angel and declaring her “kecharitomene” (Luke 1:28), a term that St. Jerome first translated as “full of grace.”  Other translations say “highly favored one,” which again speaks to God’s own veneration of Mary.  However, both translations fail to capture the richness of the name that God addresses Mary with through the angel Gabriele.  “Kecharitomene,” based on the root “charis” (grace), is only found this one place in scripture, and it denotes a kind of unending preservation by the grace of God.  Thus, “full of grace.”  “Kecharitomene” not only points to God’s special protection of Mary by his grace, but in using this term to address Mary, God is saying something about Mary’s very nature, which God has seen fit to fill with his grace into the past and into the future.

Now, none of this is to say that Mary didn’t need a savior.  Every human being after the fall of Adam and Eve needed/needs a savior.  Only through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross can anyone, including Mary, be saved.  However, God can save us in two different ways: he can forgive us our sins after we commit them, or he can protect us by his grace from ever having committed them in the first place.  Just think of all the sins you didn’t (I pray) commit today: murder, theft, adultery, etc.  Because you are a Christian, by God’s grace, you probably do not sin in ways that you otherwise might.  All praise and glory be to God for this.  In Mary’s case, he simply saved her from all sins, including original sin, before any of these sins could stain the person who Jesus loved most particularly from all eternity.

Mary’s sinlessness is due not to Mary’s power, but rather to God’s power and grace, which she was in constant submission to (by God’s grace).  Her “fiat” (be it done unto me according to thy will) was not only a temporary yes to God, but actually was born of a life of faithfulness, a life of being God’s “handmaid”.  And all of this was due to God’s grace and is for His glory.  Thus, when Jesus responds to the person that says “blessed is the womb that bare thee,” Jesus actually heightens the honor of Mary by saying, “Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it” (Luke 11:27–28).  Mary kept that Word, quite literally in Her womb and in her life, more deeply than any human in human history.  Jesus is intensifying Mary’s blessedness, not knocking it!

There are other doctrines about Mary that we could talk about from the Bible (Mary as the New Eve, the Ark of the New Covenant, the Mother of God, Mediatrix, etc.) but I think it better to move on for now.  I'd be more than happy to help you think through these ideas about Mary, all of which are firmly rooted in Scripture and in the Christian's family's knowledge of God passed down to us from the apostles.

Now, what about those verses from Romans 3, such as “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”?

The crux of the argument hinges on the word “all.”  Is Paul here offering a proof text saying that every single human being absolutely sins with absolutely no exceptions?  Of course not.  Jesus didn’t sin.  Babies don’t sin.  People with severe mental handicaps do not sin.  Even though it is true that most humans being do sin, that does not mean that the word “all” can only be understood in absolute terms.  If so, Paul would be wrong, whether or not Mary sinned or not.

Rather, the word “all” also has a common figurative sense.  If I said “all the town showed up to see the Phillies play,” you would take this word in context to mean that the game was very full, and that many many people came out for the game. 

So, the word “all” is open to literal or figurative interpretation. 

Further, if you read this verse in context, the first thing you’ll want to do is study how this citation of the psalms fits into the argument Paul is making in Romans.  Obviously, Paul is not talking about Mary here.  His argument, rather, is against those Jews who were trying to “work their way to heaven,” performing human works (apart from faith or grace) to try to merit heaven…by “obligating” God to grant them eternal life for their human works of the law.  Paul reprimands them appropriately: “the wages of sin is death.”  In Romans 3, where the “all have sinned" quote comes from, Paul is making a comparison between those who try to obligate God to grant them heaven by using the “works of the law” (as opposed to good works wrought by God’s grace by those living a life of faith).  Those who place themselves under the law end up being condemned by the law, because those works are the works of sin and of wretchedness.  Since these works of the law are being performed outside of a faith relationship, says Paul, they place the people who perform them in the category of “no one righteous, no not one,” for “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  So, Paul is using these verses to paint in broad strokes the two categories:  those that try to work their way to heaven by trying to obligate God through “works of the law,” versus those who gain righteousness through a faith relationship with Christ.  Now, here’s what is critical to note:  in using these verses from the Psalms to define these categories (Psalms 5, 10, 14, 53, 59, 140), Paul would have been calling to mind the categories set forth by the very Psalms he was citing!  (The Psalms were for the Jews what the Star-spangled Banner is for Americans.  If I cite “Oh, say can you see?” you immediately call to mind the entire words, assumptions, history, and national pride of the entire song.  Similarly, when Paul cites “all have sinned,” he calls to mind the entire Psalm, and all of its meaning and significance, for his Jewish audience.  And, what categories do these Psalms Paul is citing lay out?  The Psalms clearly define and contrast two groups: those who are unrighteous and out of God’s friendship…AND THOSE THAT ARE RIGHTEOUS (Psalm 5:8-12, 10:12-15, 14:5-7, 53:5-6, 59:9-13, 140:12-13)!  In other words, Paul isn’t denying that some people (Christians, and even faithful Jews like Abraham, who is exhibit A when the New Testament talks about justification) can actually live righteously.  He is simply arguing that the only way to do so is to live a life of faithful obedience to God.  Thus, Christians in friendship with God no longer fall under the “there is no one righteous, no not one” category, because they have been saved through faith by God’s grace.  God’s grace changes their lives and gives them the power to live righteously, not by performing human works under the law, but rather by performing works of grace…truly good works that our empowered 100% by Jesus working through us.  These are the only good works that can merit heaven, because they are Jesus’s works, not our own.  And this is EXACTLY the way the Catholic Church discusses good works:

2007 With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator.
2008 The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. the fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man's free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man's merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.
2009 Filial adoption, in making us partakers by grace in the divine nature, can bestow true merit on us as a result of God's gratuitous justice. This is our right by grace, the full right of love, making us "co-heirs" with Christ and worthy of obtaining "the promised inheritance of eternal life."60 The merits of our good works are gifts of the divine goodness.61 "Grace has gone before us; now we are given what is due.... Our merits are God's gifts."62

Back to Mary: Catholics simply understand that Mary lived, by God’s grace, in a state of friendship with God for her entire existence (just like the original Eve should have done but failed to do).  Therefore, it would be an error to think that Mary would have ever fit into the “all have sinned” category that Paul is mapping out in Romans.  In fact, Paul’s point in all of those citations of the Psalms and all of Romans is that there exists another category (“those who are righteous through faith in Jesus Christ”), and it is this category that Mary fit into for her entire existence.  And, we pray, you and I are in this same category through our own faith relationships with Jesus Christ!  That is why Mary is the model Christian.  May we be, like her, “handmaids of the Lord” (Luke 1:38) and may we follow her constant advice: “do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Response to Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) Street Evangelists, Part 2 of 24

This is a 24 part series.  The first post contains the "table of contents" (so to speak) and links by topic to all the parts in this series.

Okay, since there are 22 topics, all of which deserve more attention than I have time to devote at this point (seeing how I’m already up to six pages!).  I think it makes most sense to offer the short responses and invite you to choose 1 or 2 topics from this list that you found most intriguing or troubling to go into more deeply.  (Of course, how you respond is completely up to you!)  I’ll number the responses so that you can jump to them from the list given above.

2.  The Church is the “pillar and ground of truth.” (1 Tim. 3:15).  Elsewhere in Scripture, Jesus tells the apostles that Holy Spirit will “guide you into all truth.” (John 16:13).  We know that the fullness of truth, the “faith” was “once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).  This raises some important questions, such as: if the church is the pillar and ground of the truth, which church today in the yellow pages is actually serving this function?  Which church is really following the Head of the Church, Christ, and which churches are following traditions of men?  If the Bible is the only authority, then why doesn’t the Bible say so?  (Note: the Bible is authoritative, but it never says anywhere that it is the only authority.)  Instead, the Bible itself presents other authoritative sources of truth besides the Scriptures.  St. Paul commands his followers to stick fast to the traditions he has passed on to them, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15, 1 Cor. 11:2,  2 Thess. 3:6).  He doesn’t say that they should only go by the traditions he wrote down.  Rather, he says that they should follow everything.  St. Paul taught in some places for years.  I see no reason to assume that nothing he taught was important except for the things that he wrote down.  In fact, many of St. Paul’s letters address the things that the Christians in various churches missed or got wrong…not the specific things they got right.   In other words, Paul never intended all of his writings to form a summary of the Christian life and belief.  Rather, he seemed more interested in setting up a Church that would maintain the traditions through the selection of faithful men (like Timothy, for instance).  He worked hard to do just that, as did the rest of the apostles.  (Yet – those of you that I spoke with today seemed to have little interest in reading the writings of those very faithful men the apostles chose.  Why is that?)  So, we see that the Bible speaks of traditions that Christians are obliged to follow.  We also see an authoritative Church, founded on the apostles, the first bishops of the Catholic Church.  We know the apostles held an office in the fulfilled Davidic kingdom of king Jesus.  The KJV actually is the best translation for showing us!  Here is Acts 1:15–26:

 15And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,)  16Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus.   17For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry.   18Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.   19And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.   20For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.
 21Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,   22Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.   23And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.   24And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen,
 25That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.   26And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

So, here we see Peter in his role as head of the apostles stand up (which was the same gesture he performed when speaking authoritatively at the first Church Council: the Council of Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 15).  Peter declares that Judas must be replaced, since his office—his “bishoprick”—remains even after Judas has vacated it.  Peter and the apostles draw lots and choose Matthias to be numbered with the apostles.  So, we see that from the earliest times, the Church of the Bible was guided by Bishops.  These bishops held offices that Jesus himself established in choosing the apostles, and these offices didn’t disappear when one bishop/apostle died.  Rather, bishops succeeded the apostles, who held the posts first.  The bishops’ job is to continue passing on the traditions, unchanged and unaltered, and that remains the job of the successors of the apostles—the bishops of the Catholic Church—today.

Elsewhere in Scripture, we see Jesus give authority (the “keys of the kingdom” were an ancient symbol of primary authority) to Peter as the chief apostle (Matthew 16) and to the apostles in general (the power of binding and loosing in Matthew 18).  In Matthew 18, we even see Jesus teach that if a conflict arises between Christians, they should ultimately bring it to the Church.  Notice, the Bible, once again, describes the Church as having a living, breathing authority.  In fact, in Matt. 18, a person who doesn’t abide by the Church’s judgment is to be cast out, or “excommunicated.”  Matthew 18 is a verse that is rendered meaningless by our present state of 30,000+ denominations.  If I have a problem with another Christian about abortion, to which church can I bring the problem to for judgment?  Some churches say abortion is okay, others not.  If I have a problem with another Christian about infant baptism, once again, many churches believe it is okay, and others do not.  My point: Matthew 18 presumes an ongoing Church that has authority (both in Bible times and now) to make judgments and to “bind” Christians by those judgments.

So, to be Catholic is to recognize that the Bible describes three centers of authority in the life of a Christian: Sacred Scripture (written traditions), Sacred Tradition (oral traditions), and an authoritative Magisterium, whose job it is to pass on both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition perfectly intact, without addition or subtraction.  Now, the Catholic Church, which has faithfully passed on both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition for 2,000 years has grown to understand both of these precious deposits more deeply, but the Catholic Church has never changed a single one of these teachings.  Granted, the Church does have certain “small-t” traditions or practices that can change with time (such as priestly celibacy, for instance), but nothing that pertains to faith and morals can ever be changed.  In other words, something that was doctrinally true in the year 100 is still true today.  Something that was morally wrong in the year 100 is still morally wrong today.  Only the Catholic Church has never changed a single one of her doctrinal and moral teachings.  (Every other Christian group has changed at least some of their doctrinal or moral teachings…even Baptists.)

Now, before you discount Sacred Tradition, remember that you yourself actually follow some Traditions.

The biggest one of all is the table of contents of the Bible.  We all believe in inspired Scriptures, but how are we to know that the books in the Bible are the right ones?  No book of the Bible itself says that “the books of the Bible are…” and then lists them.  And even if it did, how would we know that that book itself was inspired?

The only way we can trust the table of contents of the Bible is if we trust the bishops of the Catholic Church in the first four centuries of the Church, since it was these men who had the task of assembling the New Testament.  They did just that in the Councils of Hippo and Carthage at the end of the fourth century A.D.  Did you catch that?  No canonized New Testament even existed for the first four hundred years of Christianity!  Rather, local communities of believers had various documents and letters, and each used various groups of letters in their liturgies.  Some local churches didn’t think that Revelation was inspired; others did.  Some local churches thought that St. Clement’s letter to the Corinthians was inspired, others didn’t.  Some thought that the Didache (also called “The Teachings of the Aposltes”) was inspired, others didn’t.  There were well over 50 books that could have been included in the New Testament, and it was ultimately the Catholic Church that decided—under the guidance of the Holy Spirit—which books should be included in the New Testament.  Yet – this same Church had already been teaching many Catholic doctrines for centuries by the time they canonized the New Testament.   According to some Baptists, by the year 400, the Catholic Church was already deeply in apostasy.  Yet, these same Baptists trust the decisions those Catholics in apostasy made in assembling the New Testament, even suggesting they were guided by the Holy Spirit!  In any case, the Canon of Scripture is an important Sacred Tradition that Baptists and Catholics follow together (with the exception of the seven books from the Old Testament and, at first, the three New Testament books that Martin Luther removed because they didn’t support his new doctrine of justification by faith alone).

Realizing that trusting the Canon of the Scriptures meant trusting the Catholic Church, the famous Protestant theologian R.C. Sproul has concluded that we have a “fallible canon of infallible books.”  In other words, Sproul admits that we can’t actually know with absolute certainty if the books in the Bible are the right ones!  What we can learn from Sproul is that if you throw out the Catholic Church, you lose an infallible canon of Scripture as well.  Which raises the question: how do you know the Bible you believe is actually the inspired, written Word of God?

There are other Sacred Traditions that Baptist follow as well, such as the prohibition against polygamy.  No where does the Bible explicitly prohibit polygamy.  Martin Luther, recognizing this, once admitted that he couldn’t prohibit polygamy based on the Bible alone.  (Verses such as the one commanding bishops to be the “husband of one wife” even seem to imply that for others, having more than one wife is okay.  At least the Bible would read that way to someone who wanted to think that polygamy was okay.)  Rather, the prohibition against polygamy has always been faithfully preserved by Christians as a Sacred Tradition, something passed on by the apostles but never actually written in the New Testament.  Throw out Sacred Apostolic Traditions, and you throw out the only way to prohibit polygamy.  The Bible Alone doesn’t prohibit it.

Even Jesus recognized authoritative Traditions in the Old Testament.  Remember when he tells the apostles to obey the scribes and Pharisees that sit in Moses’s seat (Matt. 23:2).  The idea of an authoritative “seat of Moses” is no where found in the Old Testament…yet, Jesus assumed that his listeners not only knew what he was talking about but also that they were supposed to be obedient to the occupant’s authority…even when the people in positions of authority were vipers!

Was Jesus against all tradition when he said we shouldn’t follow the traditions of men?  No – Jesus and Apostles expect us to follow the Sacred Traditions of God, taught to the Church by the Apostles.  These Traditions are not traditions of men, and so Jesus’s condemnation of tradition does not apply to them.

Okay…there is so much I’d like to share, but I promise I’ll try to keep my next answers shorter.  (No promises, but I’ll do my best!)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Response to Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) Street Evangelists, Part 1 of 24

Recently, as I was driving in a neighborhood near my home, I saw a couple gentlemen going door-to-door.  From their appearance, they didn't seem to be selling anything; rather, they had the appearance of door-to-door evangelists.  So, I decided to pull over and meet the evangelists.  Were they Mormon?  Probably not, given the lack of a white shirt and tie.  Were they Jehovah's Witnesses? Most likely not, since they were not carrying a Bible and a bag of magazines.

Turns out, these two gentlemen were from Lighthouse Baptist Church in Newark, DE, the same church that I have spent some time responding to on this blog.

The gentlemen invited me to come to their 9/11 memorial service.  I thanked them for their kind invitation, and then mentioned that I was Catholic.  I also mentioned that I am fairly active in sharing my faith, and I asked them if they would be interested in having a longer conversation than we would be able to have on the sidewalk.  I explained that Jesus's high priestly prayer in John 17, in which Christ prayed that Christians would be one as Jesus and the Father were one, motivated me to reach out to Christians to overcome differences and work toward unity.  Since Christian unity is predicated on a proper understanding of truth and authority, I asked a question that I thought could get a dialogue going: "what is the pillar and foundation of truth?"  (For more on this, keep reading...)  Needless to say, in a short conversation, over ten different topics were brought up--all areas of difference that separate us as Christians.  Importantly, other topics were brought up in which we share important agreement.

As I was leaving the neighborhood, I decided to introduce myself to another group that was walking around going door-to-door.  A similar conversation ensued, covering a different set of topics, many of which regarding significant areas of difference between Baptist and Catholic Christians.

Because of the brevity of both conversations, I took some time respond in more detail in a letter to one of the first gentlemen that I met.  In this series of posts, I'll make available the letter that I wrote in response to the topics that were brought up.  The first post will provide an introduction and a summary of the 22 topics.  Then, 22 posts will follow that respond to each topic.  Finally, a concluding post will summarize the major points and questions that I would like to leave with my Baptist brother.

Please join in praying for Christian unity and for the conversion to the fullness of the faith of all Christians!

Without further adieu, here is the introduction to my letter to the evangelists from Lighthouse Baptist Church:



Dear [friend],

I really enjoyed meeting you and [your friend] in the neighborhood on Saturday.  As someone who has gone door-to-door myself (all over the country, in fact), I understand and share your enthusiasm for the Gospel message!  I also have a deep respect for you and the members of your church, all of whom I consider to be my brothers and sisters and Christ, even though there remain sad divisions between us.  We are still brothers and sisters through our common faith and baptism in Jesus Christ, and my heart swells with love at the idea that all of us Christians could be perfectly unified as a Christian family, just like Jesus prayed for us to be in John 17, and St. Paul continuously demanded.  I have spoken in the past with Pastor Witmer, a man who I greatly respect, even though he doesn’t really understand the Catholic Church that well (from an objective perspective).  He is a man who is passionate about Jesus Christ and who tries to follow Him as best as he can (at least as far as I can tell from my limited perspective).  You all are VERY lucky to have such a pastor, but I know you know this alreadyJ.   I listen to about two to three sermons of his every week on the website, and I would tell you that the vast majority of what he affirms is solid, Biblical truth…and truths that Catholics believe in.  For the record, the Catholic Church teaches, and I believe, that there is only one way for anyone, ever in the history of humanity, to get to heaven, and that is Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh, and he died for you and for me to pay the eternal punishment for our sins.  As Pope John Paul II said in the first line of his first letter to the Catholic Church when he became Pope: “The redeemer of Man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history.”  The Catholic Church also teaches and believes that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired Word of God and occupies a position of highest authority.

So, before offering a few thoughts on our conversation on Saturday, I wanted to make sure that you were aware of the common ground that we share.  I would ask that you rejoice with me that we do share such important common ground, and in some respect, as important as the other topics covered in this letter are, all the topics we could ever cover must always grow out of the reality of who Jesus Christ is, and we can be thankful that we share a common love and obedience for our Savior.  I hope that we can find a way to grow that love by continuing dialogue, and allow love to do what love does best: unite (us to God first, and us to one another second).  If Jesus’s high priestly prayer, and one of the explicit intentions for which Jesus offered His passion and death on the cross, was for you and I as Christians to be unified, then as difficult as this process may be, we can trust that the angels in heaven rejoice when two Christians are united in the truth.  Of course, the difficulties and frustrations we might experience in dialoguing about our real and important differences could never match the sacrifice that Jesus paid on the cross for the unity that he longs for us to achieve.  (Many Christians seem to think that Jesus’s prayer in John 17 is na├»ve.  How could he ever expect the members of his body to be unified?)  So, let us first turn to Him in prayer: Jesus, through Your most precious Mercy, grant us the grace to mend the tears and schisms within Christianity, dissolve the misunderstandings, eliminate unfounded suspicions, forgive each other of the sinfulness of our Catholic and Baptist forefathers (and even ourselves), and to create an openness in our hearts for full reconciliation so that the Holy Spirit can blow in our respective communities in a mighty way to bring about conversion to the fullness of truth. Lord Jesus, we place ourselves and our divisions under your Blood, and we ask the infinite Mercy and Grace that you poured out for us by the Cross be applied to the divisions that separate us as your children.  Grant us a fervent desire to be one and to receive the gift of unity that you prayed for the night before you died, and grant us the patience and humility to listen to each other with humility and treat each other with charity, in all things.  We ask all this through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen!

As I prayed that prayer, it struck me that I should also first apologize (to you and the other group that was walking around) for interrupting you sometimes as you were speaking.  At times, we all kind of jumped in at once, and while I take this as a sign of our common enthusiasm for truth, I wanted to apologize for the times I let this enthusiasm turn into rudeness.  Please forgive me.

Also, before saying anything at all, I first want to clarify the topics brought up when we met, just so that I can make sure that I understand what you were saying before offering a response.  You can use these topics as a kind of roadmap or table of contents to the response offered below, but please, if I misunderstood your position in any way, please ignore the response and first clarify what you meant.

Finally, I should also note that I ran into a few other kind folks from LBC as I was driving out of the neighborhood.  Since my memory is a bit fuzzy on which topics you brought up and which topics they brought up, I’m going to list them all below, separating them as best as I can between your group (#1) and theirs (#2).  If you would be so kind, please give them my warm regards.

Finally, someone mentioned that I should go by the KJV, so most all the quotes below are taken from that version (unless I’m citing something from memory).  (Doesn’t Pastor Witmer go by the NKJV, though?)

Group #1 Topics:

[Each topic will link to a future post in which I respond to that particular topic.]

1.  Introduction (This post is the introduction.)

2. “The pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Tim. 3:15).  I brought this topic up as a question: “what is the pillar and ground of the truth”?  I loved your first answer: Jesus Christ.  Indeed, Jesus Christ is the foundation and head of the Church, and He is most certainly the Way, the Truth, and the Life…but I think the question gets at how we gain access to that headship.  Where do we turn for the truth?  What’s the source?  What is the pillar and ground of the truth?  Your next answer was “The Bible.”  I’d like to respond to this answer in more detail below.

3.  "No Biblical basis for Catholic veneration of Mary"  When speaking about Mary, you asked where in the Bible does it say we should venerate Mary?  You also mentioned the fact that Mary herself “rejoices in God Her savior,” implying that she could not be immaculate as Catholics believe her to be.  You then mentioned that she had to have sinned, as supported by the verse from Romans 3 that says “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  (Check that verse with the KJV, as I’m citing it from memory.)  And then later, in Romans, Paul quotes the psalms again with the line “there is no one righteous, no, not one.”  (Check with KJV again, if you would like.)  So, you seem to be arguing from this evidence that Mary could not be deserving the veneration or titles that Catholics understand and honor her with.

4.  "Salvation First, Then Baptism"  About baptism, you mentioned that we must be saved first, and then baptized.  The idea, if I understand correctly, is that nothing like baptism, church membership, religion, etc. can save us.  I don’t think you articulated at that moment what does save us, so feel free to respond by saying (in positive terms) what does save us.   (I imagine anything that you articulate in positive terms, Catholics agree with.)

5. "Religion Doesn't Save Us"  In response to the idea that religion doesn’t save us, I pointed out that for Christians, our religion is a person: Jesus Christ.  Ours is a religion not of a theory, an idea, a book, or a way of life…but of a person, and His name is Jesus.  Thus, the true religion does save, because the true religion involves being a member of Jesus, loving Him, and being in a personal relationship with Him.  I’ll say more about this below.

6.  "What good is an infallible Bible without an infallible interpreter?”  I asked you this, and I believe your response was: “good question.”  Could you clarify whether or not either of you consider yourselves infallible interpreters of Scripture?  If you are not, then why should I follow your fallible interpretation of Scripture over mine (or over a Church with a 2,000 year history that claims infallibility)?  If you are infallible, how do you know…and how can I know that you are?  Also, do you believe your pastor is infallible?  If not, how do you know when to trust him…and when not to?  And if you are the final judge of when or when not to trust him, then that makes you the highest human authority over yourself?  Which leads back to: are you infallible?  Why should I also make you the highest human authority over me (letting go of my interpretation of Scripture to follow yours)?

7.  The Early Church Fathers.  I brought up the fact that the students of the apostles, the earliest Christians in the first and second century of Christianity, were all thoroughly Catholic.  I posed the question: why should I follow your interpretation of the Bible when it goes against the understanding of God’s Word of those people who learned Christianity from the very people that wrote the Bible?  I asked if you both if you had ever studied their writings (which take up many volumes).  You answered “no.”

8.  "Why Read the Early Church Fathers when I have the Bible?" About these same early church fathers, one of you asked if what they wrote is Scripture.  I think the point you were making is that if it is not in the Bible, why read it?  In other words, you seemed to see no reason to read the writings of the early church fathers as a source of information regarding what the Bible means.  Basically, you believe that the Bible alone is the sole authority in the life of Christians.  (Note well: I do not consider the writings of the early church to have the same authority as Scripture, because these writings are not Scripture.  That doesn’t mean that they don’t stand as an authoritative witness to what the early church was like, what they believed, how it was structured, etc.  More on this below.)

9.  The Bible Alone and "Studying it Out"  This gets us to the more general problem of Biblical interpretation.  One of you mentioned that you learn truth from the Bible by “studying it out.”

10.  Agreeing on the Essentials.  In response to the idea that Christians come to different conclusions from Scripture, I think one of you mentioned that true Christians agree on the essentials, and that the minor disagreements are inconsequential, don’t matter, or something along those lines.  (Please correct me if I have misunderstood you here.)

11.  Unleavened vs. Leavened Bread.  About the Mass, one of you asked if we used unleavened bread at the Mass.  I can’t remember exactly the argument you were outlining, but I do remember one of you saying about the time Jesus broke bread with the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24.  If you could clarify the point you were making here, I’d appreciate it!  I have some things to say in response below, but at this point, I’m unable to respond to the point you were making because I don’t understand it.

12.  The Latin Mass.  Also, one of you mentioned the Mass being in Latin, which I assume you think is negative because people could not understand the prayers, making the whole thing seem somewhat meaningless.

13.  Do This in REMEMBRANCE of Me.  Also about the Mass, one of you mentioned that transubstantiation can not be true based on the fact that Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me.”

The fact that we covered twelve topics in about as many minutes should tell both of us that there is a lot that needs to be discussed if you and I as Christians are going to work toward the reconciliation that God desires for us!

To add to that, here are the topics that came up as I was talking with people in group #2:

Group #2 Topics

14.  The kind lady in the group told me that Baptism doesn’t save me.  I pointed out that the Bible says “Baptism…now saves us” (1 Peter 3:21, KJV), to which she responded, “no it doesn’t.”

15.  In the course of the conversation, one person mentioned that he believes that there are saved Catholics.

16.  Another thing that was brought up is that, if we’re all saved, then that’s fine, and we don’t need to worry about differences here and there.  (This point was kind of thrown in, and I’m not sure I have the point quoted exactly right.  I think it is an extremely important point to think about, though, so I’m including it on the list.)

17.  I brought up the fact that I have an iPod with many stories of Baptist pastors who have become Catholic.  A person in the group mentioned that people go from/to every different denomination.  I later mentioned that what is significant is not the fact that these Baptist pastors converted, but it is the reasons why they convert that need to be understood, especially since the process of conversion itself is one that involves so many difficulties (leaving the pastorate, losing friends/family, losing a job, etc.).  Why are they doing this, especially when these men already know the Bible so well and are trying to follow Jesus and His Word even more closely by becoming Catholic?

18.  The topic of the KJV of the Bible was brought up.  It was implied that if I use a bad translation, then I’m going to reach wrong conclusions.  (Like I said, I own the KJV, and I’m quoting from it extensively in this letter.  I believe the KJV to be a fine translation, though I lament that it is missing the 7 books from its Old Testament that Martin Luther removed.)

19.  I know that the early church fathers were an important topic with Group #2 as well.

20.  One person mentioned the “Romans Road,” implying I think that Paul lays out a path to salvation that is different from the path to salvation preached by Catholics.

21.  One person repeated the claim that Catholic “recrucify Christ in the Mass.”  I said that we emphatically do not, and that I have searched for over a decade to find a single Catholic document that says that we do.  (For the results of my research, read below.)  The person who made this grievous accusation at the Catholic Church then asked, well what does the Catholic Church teach then?  I told him I would really love to answer that question if he is really honest in his desire to hear the answer.  He said “no” and began to walk away.

22.  I also asked if the person who accused Catholics of “recrucifying Christ” could cite anyone or any documentation to support this accusation.  I did not receive any.

23.  I remarked that the answer is: no, we do not recrucify Christ.  I then said: I would think you would be happy to learn this.   Just imagine a reverse situation:  what if someone had been telling me lies about Baptists, such as that Baptists are racists.  If I finally met you today and told you that I had heard that Baptists are racist, and if you then told me that I had been misinformed and that you emphatically are not racist, that would be reason for me to by happy and relieved.  To add briefly to my comments made in the neighborhood: It would also give me reason to not going around spreading an unsubstantiated lie about other Christians.  Also, I would have to ask forgiveness harboring such a cruel suggestion in mind for so long without actually going and asking a Baptist if Baptists are racist.    …Yet, falsely accusing Catholics of recrucifying Christ is far, far worse than accusing Baptists of being racist.


Okay...that's all for now.  Over the next few weeks, I'll post the next 23 posts covering the different topics and a final summary.

May the peace of our risen Savior be with you!