Deal Or No Deal?

Bread Cross

Nobody likes a cynic.  They suck the air of hope out of a room.  Hopeful people of reason, even if partly sympathetic to their points will not want to be around them.

Such is the encounter of Satan in the wilderness when he tempts Jesus.

The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written:‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:3-4).

Just because we can do something does not mean that we should.  In medieval times a common saying by those in power was “Might makes right”.  In the pride of man there can be even a presumption in the name of religion that God must approve of what we do or want to do or we are not as destined for greatness as we think.  Plus God has us as his favorite and therefore if use of our power on a whim is what we want then there is so be it.

If you are the Son of God—- Satan thinks Jesus is a mere man and Son of God is just for someone with a kingly bearing.  Good guess in terms of those of the line of David but wrong.  The deeper things of God are beyond simple logic.  If we discern the things of God with no humility we might occasionally see what is meaningful.  But to discern something of mystery that is tethered in the heavens?  Entirely a case of spiritual blindness.

One does not live by bread alone— Jesus is God become flesh on earth but in this response he makes it clear that he is far beyond earthly in what defines him.

but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God— There is a fuller context here.  Jesus was fluent in the Old Testament like any good rabbi would be.  Quoting this line is like a shorthand for a larger truth.

He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your ancestors, so you might know that it is not by bread alone that people live, but by all that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3).

Jesus is under no illusion that Satan, the father of lies, is about to convert.  But Jesus is Truth and speaks thus as a witness for all who want to discern who he is.  As we read this story there is a pointer to us that he is meant to be  the one who makes the unknown known and the unenlightened to be enlightened in grace.  How much grace?  All the grace! This is why Paul wrote of “the light of the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ”.  What comes forth from God the Father that is pointed to by Jesus is a word of grace for those who acknowledge their dependence of Jesus.  The truth of Jesus in the face of Satan’s dare points to that very freeing life that we have in surrender to the Father’s will.  And Jesus in his humanity took with him to the cross that knowledge when he sweat blood and died on a Roman cross.

And for the reader here who would be a disciple of Jesus and takes a gulp about such reckless dependence, keep in mind that there is a word for you if you take up your own cross.  What it sounds like to encounter that word of grace is between you and God.  And it is good.

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Passing It On

Slide 1

“Who died and made you….”, insert word into the blank.  This is a common challenge someone makes to someone who assumes authority that is not theirs.  I remember when I was  a kid that sometimes the one being challenged would cite a parent or teacher or some other adult who had indeed given them charge of a situation.   Then the accuser would comply or rebel.  But if the challenged one had no comeback then it was usually assumed that they do the “walk of shame” away from the school yard taunt.

When I was a young adult I was intrigued by the writings of a man named Gene Edwards.  He wrote great Christian historical fiction that still stands up today as worth reading.  But he also had some non-fiction books that had a mixed effect on me.  One hand, it made me hungry to see the continuity of the Christian people living in the first century continued or restored in the 20th.

But secondly he made me hunger for the snapshot of church we get in the book of Acts as the way to go always and that it was definitely not hierarchical.  He saw apostolic authority only as something to be used then and now at a minimum and that most things of consequence were left to the laity.  Being you, almost my definition, made me love what he was saying and easily swayed by rhetoric that was against anything perceived as modern day Pharisees.

There was a central verse for this that I pondered on day and night. “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

A cornerstone to that list is with the apostles teaching.  Surely, if God was going to “restore” Christianity to the purity of the apostolic age then he would need to raise up apostles.  But that song and dance has been tried before regarding someone new on the scene with a gift for reformation.  It is a long story but I erred in many movements in my Christian life become a man or group of men were considered “on the cutting edge” and raised up “for such a time as this”.

But Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition do not indicate this.  First, the premise I had was wrong in that since only something evil would make the church drown in error in doctrine and practice then that means Satan in large part got the upper hand.  But this would be a contradiction with the words of Jesus when he said, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  Am I making the connection too strong?  Logically, I do not see how.

For someone to have a conversion and hold on of Jesus they are first met with the choices that he is Lord, Liar, Lunatic or Legend.  For Jesus to be discerned as Lord in ones heart the truths are that he was what he said he was, did what he said he would do and is with us to the end of the age (more on the last one when I write about breaking the bread).  If he said he would build a Church that would never fall, but it did, does that not cast doubt that he rose from the dead?

For it to last, there would have to be safeguards based on Jesus and the ongoing revelation by the Holy Spirit.  An example is where Paul writes to a Timothy who was a bishop under him but meant for others in the church to overhear since at the end of the letter he says, “Grace to you” using the plural form.  “And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well” (2 Timothy 2:2).  Right there is a trust of Sacred Tradition to be passed on at least to a fourth generation.  Now are these just nice sayings?  We can look at Paul earlier in his ministry on this.  “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).  “Stand firm” is more serious than a handed down recipe.

But not just anyone can carry that weight.  “Do not lay hands too readily on anyone, and do not share in another’s sins. Keep yourself pure” (1 Timothy 5:22).

But can this be passed on with good intentions to the empowerment over all people like Americans think of “We The People”?  Not so easily.  “For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God  that you have through the imposition of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6).  This lends to the doctrine of Holy Orders and apostolic succession.  This is a sacrament that part of the guarding of the deposit of faith and its access.  For instance we see it next to the sacrament of baptism which is the baton of salvation in the adding to the number of the church.  Both belong side by side.

Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And we shall do this, if only God permits.  (Hebrews 6:1-3).

This is the skeleton of the Church of Jesus Christ as indicated by Scripture and Tradition.  With the truths above she survives.  But with the truths below she thrives.

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God,  built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-21)

So is this “teaching of the apostles” still ongoing?  If one reveres the Bible then to be consistent it begs reverence for apostolic authority until at least the 4th century when it was codified.  Objectively speaking, what has been outlined above points to a church that has had a laying of hands, never passed away, never ceased teaching the same doctrines of the early church and definitely has current the Holy Orders.  Long story short, that leaves us with the Coptic, Orthodox or Catholic Church.  I would posit that this deposit of faith rests in its fulness in the Catholic Church.  How it is the Catholic Church and not the others will be explained later.

Recommended reading:

The Fathers Know Best by Jimmy Akin

Crossing The Tiber by Stephen Ray

House of Doubt:A Ladder For A Skeptic

Jacob's Ladder

There is a fine point between cynicism and skepticism.  There is also a fine point between going forward in a faith community with an engaged mind with critical thinking in the Drive gear and being too passive with ones mind on Neutral.

In is is my bias, since I do not believe in true spiritual seeking as an objective experience: to be a fully informed Christian is to engage all senses of the person including the intellect.  If someone tries to sell you a Christianity that allows no questioning, do not walk for the door—- run! Below is an example of Jesus having a healthy attitude to skepticism.  Too often those that are on a spiritual journey overlook the power of questions but here Jesus obviously does not.

The next day he decided to go to Galilee, and he found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:43-51).

Phillip was dedicated to Jesus by the time he approaches Nathaniel.  When he approaches him he communicates on what they knew were their signs of hope in what Moses and the prophets to say.  He uses a common faith shorthand to communicate the historical context and momentum that is realized in Jesus.  This is and infuse faith and culture perspective.

But Nathanael responds, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  He hears of the deposit of faith context, actual name and cultural context of a backwater town that seems to simple for any far reaching consequence but focuses only on the last one.  He was likely a spiritual seeker to begin with or Philip would not have approached him right away.  But my above statement rings true in how there can be subjectivity, a bias, that the seeker brings in applying the critical mind to a spiritual picture.  His emphasis was on how God would bring out greatness from what is already impressive.  But the beauty of the pattern of Jesus who is God made flesh (John 1:1, 14) is that he dwelled among us in intentional community.  This especially needed to be a footprint without a flashy context or faith would be too easy.  I would say to Nathanael that when faith comes too easy it is “easy come, easy go”.

Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him—- This is a turning point.  Jesus respect Nathanael’s response even in his error.  A true Israelite would be embedded in the highlights of salvation history and Nazareth was not one of them.  Though there is presumption or conjecture in Nathanael’s doubt there is a single-mindedness on the God of his understanding having continuity in patterns of his understanding and thus a good loyalty.  Where I might see him as a glass half empty Jesus sees him as a glass half full and able to work with him.

You will see greater things than this—- Jesus brings context that his supernatural knowledge of the spiritual and physical location of Nathanael is only one piece of all in God’s kingdom that would be accomplished.  By speaking of angels Jesus is making reference to something even larger than Israel since being the “King of Israel” is not the end for Jesus.  This reference of angels ascending and descending goes to a worldwide promise of God’s kingdom.

Then he had a dream: a stairway rested on the ground, with its top reaching to the heavens; and God’s angels were going up and down on it. And there was the Lord standing beside him and saying: I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you are lying I will give to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and through them you will spread to the west and the east, to the north and the south. In you and your descendants all the families of the earth will find blessing (Genesis 28: 12-14).

Jesus speaks in shorthand to Nathanael that he appreciates his contextual thinking, knows his bias and is countering to emphasize that our individual journeys can have meaning only if we remember that God’s grace is for everyone.  Our personal conversions are to draw us to dwell in fellowship eventually to a worldwide fellowship that engages in God’s grace.

And where is this evident in the passage?  It is in Philip that we see an important lesson in the invitation.  He responds to the challenge of his friend with “Come and see”.  But this is not the first time we see that phrase in the Bible or even that same chapter.  It was from the prior day after Jesus is baptized.

Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon (John 1:38).

Philip was only extending the invitation of Jesus.  Jesus promised in the context of making disciples and baptizing them in the Trinitarian formula (Matthew 28:20) that he would be with us to the end of the age.  How deeply he will do that is up to us as we are healthy in skepticism and openness to blessing to the world.

Breadcrumbs to Bread: Continuity

ContinuityLogo

No one likes an absentee parent.  Those who by biology are the parents who gave life to the child and walk away.  The term deadbeat seems appropriate because by ditching their responsibilities they deaden a part of their heart.  Ways to be a deadbeat can include detaching themselves from the nurture of the child financially, emotionally and in physical presence that includes protection.

Soon after I became a Christian when I was young, without Christian parents teaching me the faith, I tried to construct an understanding of God’s involvement on the earth.  I heard about “silent years” at times that seemed brief and made sense.  One was not knowing from the Bible what happened with and through Jesus from the ages of 12 to 30.  There was a guess that Jesus lived the life in all appearances of a carpenter guy who knew his Torah well.  I had little problem with that since I got the sense that Jesus’ growth was a model of holiness in itself and people around him that saw it could see something good about that in hindsight.

But the longer periods were hard to swallow if God the Father is not a deadbeat to the people who were in covenant.

After Joseph in Egypt there seemed to be some prosperity and then there was oppression by Pharaoh.  They suffered for 400 years until God appeared to Moses.  Deadbeat there?

Not at all.  During the generation that they were prospering, and after, they kept alive the covenantal understanding of what God had done with their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They also carried an important understanding of the involvement of the wives involved and counted their burial ground sacred.  When God does show up he reveals himself to Moses and to Israel as the God of the above named.  Also they were really into having babies to be in the position of getting into the land someday and filling it with their flesh and blood if they could be free.  God was silent indeed but their covenant based prayers were not and God tells Moses they their cries had reached him (Exodus 3).  Although it was hard, the lesson is that their being fruitful and believing in the covenant was a conversation with God where words and actions spoke equally loud.  Enough that Pharaoh hated that light of increasing population and slaughtered their toddler boys.

Then as I went to bible studies I heard that their was another four hundred years of silence after the minor prophet Malachi until Jesus arrives on the scene.  The deadbeat dad feel was disturbing to me there as I perceived the deist “God on the other side of the universe” in play where wisdom and miracles cease for Israel of any divine intervention worth noting.  Particularly disappointing is that in salvation history there was nobody with delegated authority from God there.

But then I discovered the Catholic Church and the seven books of the Bible that were taken out in the Protestant “Reformation”.  In that I realized that there were virtually no eras in those centuries without miracles, wisdom or prophecy that prepares the way for Jesus from Moses on.  And of great importance was some kind of a set spiritual authority.

There was some insight on this from Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz (Mishnah, Sayings of the Fathers, 1943) “The Jews have always maintained that, along with the Law of Godwritten on stone, the oral Law or tradition was also passed down through succession from Moses.  The ancient oral tradition of the Jews was codified in the Mishnah, which states, “Moses received the Torah on Sinai, and handed it down to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets handed it down to the Men of The Great Assembly…Simon the Just was one of the last survivors of the Great Assembly. He used to say, ‘Upon there things the world is based: upon the Torah, upon Divine service, and upon the practice of charity.’ “

And then there was the next period of God seeming to be a deadbeat: supposedly within generations after the apostles died, the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased and any earthly based rule of faith outside of the Bible ceased.  In fact, no authentic Christianity existed until God’s great “Reformation Fathers” arose in protest to that dusty man-made institution in Rome, founded by Constantine in the 4th century was confronted.  The true, pure Christianity was rediscovered by these great men.

A few intellectual problems were there in some of my formation hear as well as my assumptions. These problems screamed at my much later in my Christian life.

1: The Great Apostasy happened in 325 AD.  No valid Christianity until the 1500’s.

2: Yet in the late 390’s the New Testament canon of scripture was finalized.

That takes mental gymnastics right there.  First, how are we to respect the canon of the NT if it was put together over 60 years after the great falling away and long before the “Reformation”?

There was was still something else that was confusing to me in the words of Jesus.  For someone to consider Jesus as Lord they are choosing that as truth over him being Liar, Lunatic or Legend or a combination of the latter three.  I chose Jesus because he said he would be crucified, rise from the dead and draw all men to himself.  I believed he did all of the above and that the Holy Spirit empowered the apostles to teach and work with authority including for some of them to writer inspired scripture (ironically Protestant minister RC Sproul calls the Bible “A fallible list of infallible books”).

But another prophecy of Jesus was not being fulfilled if the Great Apostasy was true.  Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”

For continuity to work there has to be a continued line of authority like the Mishnah alluded to above.  And it was implied based on church history classes I took in a non-denominational church I went to.  There were heresies that were fought against.  Thank God for the Bible!  Except these heresies were refuted before the Bible was established.  Some more confusion there.

But after all of the gymnastics are done with this part of church history at last the heroes come that renew the true Christianity like Martin Luther and John Calvin.  The problem that plagued me was that it is difficult to see salvation history being put on track by someone who was so openly anti-semitic. I did not want to believe it when as a Christian senior in high school a speaker at my school on the holocaust mentioned “On The Jews And Their Lies”.  He was actually a visiting professor from a Lutheran university.  Here is an excerpt.

“My advice, as I said earlier, is: First, that their synagogues be burned down, and that all who are able toss sulphur and pitch; it would be good if someone could also throw in some hellfire...Second, that all their books– their prayer books, their Talmudic writings, also the entire Bible- be taken from them, not leaving them one leaf, and that these be preserved for those who may be converted…Third, that they be forbidden on pain of death to praise God, to give thanks, to pray, and to teach publicly among us and in our country…Fourth, that they be forbidden to utter the name of God within our hearing. For we cannot with a good conscience listen to this or tolerate it…The rulers must act like a good physician who, when gangrene has set in proceeds without mercy to cut, saw, and burn flesh, veins, bone, and marrow. Such a procedure must also be followed in this instance. Burn down their synagogues, forbid all that I enumerated earlier, force them to work, and deal harshly with them. If this does not help we must drive them out like mad dogs.”

Based on the facts above, Luther should not be called a latter apostle of grace.  Not only did Luther not respect the dignity of the Jewish people but he even threw out 7 books of the Old Testament.  His justification was that he was going by what the Jews in Europe told him were canonical who in turn based that opinion on a Jewish rabbinical school in Jambria in the 90’s AD.  So on that he honors what Jews have to say?  On scholastic opinion at the end of the apostolic age?

There is further signs that Luther was not the herald of continuity of pure Christianity.  He was famous for his “5 Sola’s”.  One was Sola Fide which is Latin for faith alone.  He was so sure of his doctrine that he added the German word alone in his Bible translation of Galatians 3:28.

But I will return to the subject at hand. If your papist wishes to make a great fuss about the word sola (alone), say this to him: “Dr. Martin Luther will have it so, and he says that a papist and a donkey are the same thing.” Sic volo, sic iubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas. (2) For we are not going to be students and disciples of the papists. Rather, we will become their teachers and judges.

Let this be the answer to your first question. Please do not give these donkeys any other answer to their useless braying about that word sola than simply this: “Luther will have it so, and he says that he is a doctor above all the doctors of the pope.” Let it rest there. I will from now on hold them in contempt, and have already held them in contempt, as long as they are the kind of people (or rather donkeys) that they are.

Do you feel the love?  So with the authority invested into himself, Luther states, “I know very well that in Romans 3 the word solum is not in the Greek or Latin text — the papists did not have to teach me that. It is fact that the letters s-o-l-a are not there.

So if Martin Luther is addressing himself against a body of teachers that are equally arrogant and of no higher authority than him then it is the Protestant scholars fallible interpretation against those of the Catholic side.

But history does not inform us this way.  Ireneus lists the order of the bishops of Rome until his time at the brink of the 3rd century with a primacy assigned to them.  The aforementioned canonization of the Bible that went through an ecumenical council at Hippo in 393 and Carthage in 397 was not ratified until the Bishop [Pope] Donasus in Rome declared it in 402.  This is because he was a successor to Simon Peter to whom Jesus said he would receive the keys and would be able to bind and loose which was a rabbinical term for declaring truth in faith and morals.

In coming back to the orphan point it is worth noting this scripture where Jesus is addressing his apostles,  “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you…The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you” (John 14:18, 26).

Suffice it to say, as a former Protestant who has come to the Catholic Church, I can say with confidence that Jesus leaving the Holy Spirit is on the individual and the church level in the sense of the one church that he founded and has protected from error for 2,000 years.

But the default mission in the continuity of the Church with evangelistic mission.

 Go, therefore,[l] and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.[m] And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

I hope I have not offended any of my Protestant readers out there.  I see God’s glory in your fellowships and that people are truly coming to a relationship with Jesus Christ.  In fact, my formation as a follower of Jesus for many years was in Protestant churches including a discipline for prayer and reading the Bible and standing up for righteous causes.  But the same council in Nicea of 325 that defined Jesus was 100% God and 100% man also declared “one, holy Catholic and apostolic church”.  I hope somewhere out there is someone that will join with the Father’s will in all its fullness.

Truth and history have consequences.  I pray for my Protestant readers that they ask of God what I did when I was in the season preceding the first insight into the Catholic Church, “Your kingdom come”.  You may find, like I did, that it never left because Jesus through the Catholic Church is with us unto the end of the age.

Recommended Reading:

Pope Fiction by Patrick Madrid

Upon This Rock by Steven Ray

The Fathers Know Best by James Akin

Reasons to Believe by Scott Hahn