Two Popes, Two Right Approaches

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It was surreal for me the morning last February that I found out that Pope Benedict was resigning.  I thought there was a type-o in my internet source.  At the time I was in the process of entering into the Catholic Church after thirty years of calling myself a Protestant.  Soon when Pope Francis was shown to the world, I was encouraged to consider myself as always an evangelical in the sense of bringing the whole gospel to the whole person in the whole world. 

If you click on this link you will see at the thirty minute mark a plea from a simple man with an immense role calling for reconciliation.

http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2014/02/we-know-pope-francis

It is fitting that he reflect humility and grace as a pope.  I say this with total conviction knowing that in a context of people that say they are in unity with the Church Jesus started there should be some awe in what he says. In almost a weird timing for this season and with the historical event shown in the link (only by seeing that link will help explain what I referred to above) I write today that there is a role from Peter to Francis that uniquely lays down the final word on earth. 

 

When there was a controversy in the early church a council happened.  One such council was in Jerusalem 20 years into the life of the Church.  Human people attempted to reason together about the idea of gentiles being required or not to be circumcised to be in the kingdom.  This included apostles and prophets.  But the shepherding was on one, barely literate former fisherman

Acts 15:7 “After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, ‘My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. 10 Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.’ 12 The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles.”

The first objection I would have to this being a proof text about the papacy is that the silence was for Barnabas and Saul.  That does not work because the text does not say, “kept silence as they listened to Barnabas” but “kept silence, and”. 

Hair splitting?  Let’s compare scripture with scripture.

Acts 11:18 “When they heard this, they were silenced [after hearing Peter]. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

21:40 “When he had given him permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the people for silence; and when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:”

Aha! Paul got silence too and he was not a pope!  True, but he motioned for it and the crowd were unbelievers that were curious to see what all the ruckus was about.  Curiosity is not reverence. 

In contrast we see this following example with Peter and not Paul or any other apostle, Acts 12:17 “He motioned to them with his hand to be silent, and described for them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he added, ‘Tell this to James and to the believers.’ Then he left and went to another place.”  This is the only case of a Christian other than the Lord silencing believers to absorb what was being said.  If it seems like he is more special in his role than any others it is because he is. 

The other argument about Acts 15 being proof for the papacy is the role of James.  After this passage, James gives directions about the gentiles not being bothered any more about the controversy and what specific other things to do.  Aha! He is really the head of the church and Peter was lower!

First, this is a misunderstanding about delegated authority.  If you are serving on a submarine and the captain says you are sailing to Japan, the executive officer (XO) walking around the deck giving complimentary aspects does not diminish the captain. 

Also, by looking at the words of Jesus to Peter, we see that Peter was able to “bind and loose.”  In other words Peter could define dogma, that which is foundational and unchanging, as well as discipline which is a temporal rule to deal with managing the church and open to change.  Peter’s XO being James, he was basically being a manager under delegated authority of the leader and could manage with discipline consistent with the binding and loosing authority of the pope.  If that is not enough, you can look at many first and second century quotes collected in The Fathers Know Best by Jimmy Akin or Upon This Rock by Steven Ray.   

Another verse that points to Peter being chief of the apostles is form Jesus, Luke 22:32 but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  Okay, so he would be in charge of the goosebumps, right?

Not quite.  The word for “strengthen” is in context of confirming as in installing in authority.  When I graduate this May, will I be handed my diploma by a janitor?  The janitor may be a noble person, but it takes someone of higher academic authority to confirm be as a social worker in academic credentials.  

So in summary, Pope Francis could be doctrinally correct and sound less ecumenical to Protestants in calling them to be in full communion with the visible, apostolic church that Jesus founded on an impulsive fisherman (I would never say popes are impeccable, just infallible in a specific context).  However, I hope that we can meet in the middle as Catholics (like me now) and Protestants and remember that in the midst of divisions we seek God with true meekness: our personal power and even God-given identity yielded to humility in Christ. 

Prison Break Out of The Box

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We are all under a death sentence.  Dying from birth, as they say.  Most people decide not to look at it that way but ponder how they can live best. Intentionally living the best puts the person into one of two paths (often both): eat and drink for tomorrow we die or preparing for a heavenly reward. 

            Where Peter comes into the story this time is that he had been on a course of living a life with a lot of purpose for several years by the time he was arrested by Herod.  He had a very unique mission given to him by Jesus to, “Strengthen [or confirm] your brothers” and “freed my sheep”.  But he had also been told very plainly that he would die a martyr’s death with an emphasis that he would be out of control.  Getting arrested after one of his best friends is beheaded must have looked like the scenario he had been told about.  This makes a passive role inherently for this first scene but in the context of a non- passive life in all of the right ways.  

While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him.

            You don’t have to be a pope to be in community.  When I was going through a divorce and severely depressed I was freshly getting integrated into a healthy church and bible study that loved me warts and all.  In that dark season I knew God’s grace in the context of the prayers of my spiritual family. 

 The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his wrists. The angel said to him, “Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” .  Peter went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel’s help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision.

            This is profound.  God puts us in places where nothing is in our hands and in other places where things are in our hands but in context of cooperation with Him.  Like Mary carrying Jesus saying, “Be it done unto me according to thy word.”  The latter applies to Peter here and he is given a hint if you remember where Jesus told him what to expect as shown below from John 21:18-19. 

            18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

            There is a contrast in terms of him being ordered to get up quickly, and fasten his belt himself.  But the “follow me” part work as more than just following and angel.  He is following the Lord who sent the angel. 

10 After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him. 11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

            Orders given on how to respond and orders carried out.  Again we see Peter pushed in his thinking out of a box like the recent posts about sharing the gospel with the gentiles but even better: Peter is experiencing faith in Jesus even beyond even rightfully assumed expectations of Jesus. 

            Can I think of experiencing something like that? I think it may be true of my conversion (or I may say reversion) to the Catholic Church.  It has been nearly a year since I was received into the Catholic Church but I can remember stretching my mind beyond many of my Protestant assumptions (e.g. Catholics worship Mary, they don’t value the Bible enough, they overemphasize the papacy, salvation by works etc.).  But systematically things unfolded that showed me God can work in layers that I could not see and I was thinking far too small. 

12 As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying.

            Remember what I said about the prayers of the saints and community?  Peter experienced faith in the context of community like we are all called to.  He wastes no time. 

 13 When he knocked at the outer gate, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. 14 On recognizing Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she insisted that it was so. They said, “It is his angel.” 16 Meanwhile Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the gate, they saw him and were amazed.

            Nothing profound here, but I think that is hilarious.  Peter was a holy man but he had a history of a temper!  I guess one practical tip is that if you don’t hear a response the first time you try to engage in fellowship, keep knocking!  The bookends of this story are community and community for a reason.  We are quirky people individually called to walk with quirky fellowship.  Whether we are in a passive state or participating state, let’s remember to intentionally believe big and love widely. To do both will pay off in openness to miracles, community and eventually a noble passage to the next life.   

 

Guess Who I’m Bringing To Dinner?

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One thing so common about appreciating a mystery is that if it comes from too intangible a perspective, you can’t replicate it for others so easily.  If it was like that, it would not be a mystery.  Mother Theresa said that early in the morning she listens to God.  When asked what God says, she responded, “Oh, He is listening too. If you have not done it, I can’t explain it.”  

            In the last two blogs we have seen how Peter was first invited and then arrived at the mysterious reception of gentiles into what he had assumed was a Jewish members only thing.  

11:1 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step

            This Peter knowing that it was a process when different intervals of experience marked with a divine hand.  He had authority to play the pope card, but he wanted this truth to trickle into his associate apostles and all believers.  There was a road ahead of integrating gentiles into the Church, and he wanted this to be both doctrinally and qualitatively received. 

This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.

             Peter is bringing things a step up by making this personal.  By saying the “three” part he is reminding the Church of his own great denial but his own great redemption.  You see, we all have denied Jesus, but for those who have encountered Him, we have been restored. 

The Spirit told me to go with them

            Peter may be using the pope card right now in referencing the Holy Spirit.  I say this because when Anannias and Saphira played their trick, he said, “Why did you lie to the Holy Spirit?”  He is making a stand. 

and not to make a distinction between them and us.

            This is the first explicit declaration of the walls coming down between peoples because of God’s love in context of the gospel.  Increasingly from here, anyone who calls themselves a Christian and marginalizes their neighbor due to a twist on natural law miss the mark. 

These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house.

            By looking at the story we know it is 3 Jewish believers + 3 gentiles= 6 brothers. 

The Greek word for this is slam dunk (metaphorically speaking).  Peter is declaring a major change though he says it in passing. These are family members. 

the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning… “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God”  

            Peter is humbling himself and those that have received this grace by making this experience universal in opportunity.  But where it comes to being an answer to someone’s prayer, Peter is seeing this as something where it is not about him, but become about him if he gets in the way.  To an extent, we can hinder God.  We can even fight God.  But in the words of Rich Mullins, “He will have to give you a bloody nose and then give you a ride home on His bicycle.”  In a slightly overlapping context, Peter’s successor Francis said famously, “Who am I to judge?”

            So where do these last three blogs leave us in being a part of extending God’s grace to the Other? Accept the invitation of God to love your neighbor as yourself, show up, and pass the invitation to those of “your own” to join you.  Such is the revolution of Jesus: to love everyone.