Crossing The Tiber– Three Years Later and Going Strong

Crossing The Border

It is an interesting divide at times since I became a Catholic.  There are some in my professional field of social work/counseling that would see me as a cultural throwback and obstinate to change.  My brothers and sisters in Christ in the Protestant communities would say that I have gone way back to Mosaic law and yet that I would attempt to not be in a black and white Christianity.

One such well meaning brother I will call Bob would like to see me come back into the light and see things clear.  The catalyst for this letter is that he wanted me to respond on the verse “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6).  I did not want to respond to this on my iPhone.  I also thought about how we do not communicate with each other as well as I wish.  That is me with him but many of his other friends that are in the loop.  One of many things I hope to point to is the sense of mystery that God has in the Christian faith and particularly in the Catholic Church.  I also address below a sense of the need for the right authority on doctrinal matters.  Ultimately, I would say that if there is no standing authority to sort out what the Bible “clearly says” then I would have to question the Lord part in Jesus Christ.  After all, he said “upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

Last, before my Protestant brethren read my retort below, please know that I appreciate what I got out of the Protestant communities over the years I was in them.  I learned to appreciate the Bible, I learned first about the power of community, prayer and the many roles of the Holy Spirit.  Most importantly I was first formed in my walk with Jesus there.  I do not wish to offend anyone.  But please know that if you still will not “cross the Tiber” into the Catholic Church that you will consider that we could be brothers in Christ right now.

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So now that I have time on my hands and the kids are quiet (by the way, I hope you and “Janet” had a Happy Easter), I can write out better on my response with my Mac rather than my iPhone.

A few things are coming to mind where it seems we are talking past each other.  The first is the role of Sacred Tradition (which lends itself to apostolic succession).  I immediately recoiled at the Catholic Church when I remembered that I would be heading into “the traditions of men” and that I “did not want to be religious”.

This worry dissipated after considering several things.

!: Protestants have about as many traditions as Catholics.  It’s just that Catholics are better at writing them down.

1: There are Traditions and there traditions.  I know a married priest in the Byzantine rite who does not personally do the rosary.  He is not against it.  It is just not his thing.  And they have rosaries in his rite.  The canon of the New Testament is an example of Tradition.  I assume you agree with that one.

2:  Christianity has survived for 2,000 years.  It survived until 402 when Pope Donasus ratified the canon.  But it did not do it alone.  Jesus set up a Magisterium with a line of succession and that line of succession including the popes discerned under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the Bible.

3:  You can deny that last premise.  But like RC Sprout said in that matter “We have a fallible list of infallible books”.  This is difficult.  Hebrews almost did not make it in.  The Epistle of Barnabas, 1 Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas almost did.  Maybe the apostasy had started already and those books are meant to be in.  I am a big fan of two of those non-canonical books but I trust the sovereignty of Jesus working through the Church that he has preserved from dogmatic error including the pope when he speaks ex cathedra.

4:  Just as I said about traditions are on both sides, there are magisteriums as well.  Below are leaders in these respective denominations who stated their cases of where the Bible is very clear.  Remember, I am not quoting people on the social fringe like David Koresh or the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas.  Their titles and statements speak for themselves and show that sola scriptura is found wanting.

“The Bible clearly teaches, starting in the tenth chapter of Genesis and going all the way through, that God has put differences among people on the earth to keep the earth divided.” – Bob Jones III, defending Bob Jones University’s policy banning interracial dating/marriage. The policy was changed in 2000.

“The right of holding slaves is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.” – Rev. Richard Furman, first president of the South Carolina State Baptist Convention.

“People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon. This fool…wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.” – Martin Luther in “Table Talk” on a heliocentric solar system.

He added the word “alone” to Romans 3:28, to make it read “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith ALONE without the deeds of the law.  This was to buttress his new philosophy that we are “saved by faith alone.” He also kicked out 7 books of the Old Testament that he didn’t like – Sirach, Wisdom, Baruch, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Judith, and Tobit. These books were all included in the very first printed bible, the Gutenberg Bible, in the century before Luther was born. He also changed the nuanced meaning of other verses to make them more “German,” and more in line with Luther’s thinking of what God should have said. Imagine if some Pope did this!  The Protestants would be up in arms, and rightly so. But because Luther did it, and stuck it to the Catholic Church in the process, he gets a pass.

“If your Papist annoys you with the word (‘alone’ – Rom. 3:28), tell him straightway, Dr. Martin Luther will have it so:  Papist and ass are one and the same thing.  Whoever will not have my translation, let him give it the go-by: the devil’s thanks to him who censures it without my will and knowledge.  Luther will have it so, and he is a doctor above all the doctors in Popedom.”, from J. Dollinger, La Reforme et les resultants quelle a produits. (Trans. E. Perrot, Paris, Gaume, 1848-49), Vol III, pg. 138.

“Sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents…We have sufficient light from the Word of God for our proceedings.” – Captain John Underhill, defending the Puritan decimation of the Pequot tribe.

“The evidence that there were both slaves and masters of slaves in churches founded and directed by the apostles, cannot be got rid of without resorting to methods of interpretation that will get rid of everything.” – Rev. Leonard Bacon, in defense of American slavery. (Christian ministers wrote nearly half of all defenses of slavery, often citing Scripture to make their case.)

“The Bible is the revealed will of God, and it declares the God-given sphere of woman. The Bible is, then, our authority for saying woman must content herself with this sphere…Who demand the ballot for woman? They are not the lovers of God, nor are they believers in Christ, as a class. There may be exceptions, but the majority prefer an infidel’s cheer to the favor of God and the love of the Christian community.”  – Rev. Justin Dewey Fulton in his treatise against women’s suffrage.

“Wherever we have the races mixed up in large numbers, we have trouble….These religious liberals are the worst infidels in many ways in the country; and some of them are filling pulpits down South.  They do not believe the Bible any longer; so it does not do any good to quote it to them.  They have gone over to modernism, and they are leading the white people astray at the same time; and they are leading colored Christians astray.  But every good, substantial, Bible-believing, intelligent orthodox Christian can read what the Word of God and know that what is happening in the South now is not of God.” – Bob Jones Sr., in his treatise against integration entitled, ‘Is Segregation Scriptural?’

Someone needs to be a body of interpretation.  Like the Protestant JND Kelly said about Moses, “Moses taught without error”.

Now this gets practical in what is called a theological normative.  This term applies to a doctrine or practice that is the norm but allows for God to work in a mysterious way.

“If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe that God has raised him from the dead you will be saved”.  Great! Hallelujah!  But what if you were born without a tongue?  Hell for you.  The thief on the cross did not know about the resurrection.  No belief?  Hell.

“It is appointed once to die…after that, the judgment”.  Amen!  Except what about Lazarus, the son of the widow of Nain, Jairus’ daughter and Dorcas?  It’s a miracle!  They have to be alive today!  We should find them.   Hope they speak English.

Now as to John 14:6.  “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father but through me.”  But how can an unborn baby or severely mentally disabled comes to God?  What if there is a mystical encounter with Christ that comes in the twinkle of an eye between life and death?  Then through that encounter with Jesus that we in our flesh can’t witness Jesus brings them to the Father with all their faculties intact.  This is why I have confidence that the three children I have lost are in heaven.  As a Catholic I have hope.  I see not under a God of law or the courthouse.  I have a God who is gracious yet holy.  If the day came that I embraced again your theology I would have to accept that my innocent children are in the lake of fire for all eternity.  I would then lose 7 books of the Bible, sacraments that were founded by Jesus in the scripture (I can give you verses if you wish) and by default embrace a Christianity that died after Carthage but was revived by an anti-Semite named Martin Luther.  I would also have to question if Jesus is Lord because then there is no evidence of this “True Church” between Carthage and Luther though Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail.

As a member of the Body of Christ, my eyes are fixed on Jesus.  But my ears are not he successors to the apostles.  After a while in my discernment I was down to  Catholics, Orthodox and maybe Coptics.  Now I enjoyed all of Jesus’ grace and am more free to love God and love my neighbor standing on Jesus and “the church, the pillar and foundation of truth”.

A King, A Wedding and a Mass

Long Live The King

The book of Revelation fulfills the themes of Church and Kingdom.  This can be seen  through hermeneutical keys of the universality of faith started in Abraham, the Davidic dynasty, nuptial language, sacraments and apostolic foundations.

The mission of redemption in the Gospel is partially defined at the pivot point of God’s promise to Abraham.  The universal opportunity of the Gospel is implied by an angel who said,

 I will bless you and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants will take possession of the gates of their enemies, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth will find blessing, because you obeyed my command (Revelation 22:-17-19).

It is important to point out that this multitude will be numerous, on the offense against the enemies’ gates and be a source of blessing to all the nations.  This is fulfilled in part if one looks at “Catholic” meaning “according to the whole”.  It is also fulfilled in part if one sees that the blessing of Jesus on Simon Peter the first pope how “upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  The Church is meant to be on the offense in evangelism and in spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-17).

But as to Revelation there is a particular fulfillment in the eschatological sense.

After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands (Revelation 7:9).

It is important to note in light of early church history we know that Christians were often baptized in white robes.  This symbolized their purity in Christ but also points to the priesthood of all believers.  By the merits of Jesus the High Priest of their good confession and through the sacramental grace of baptism, this fully realized people of God are a blessing to all nations in their priesthood in Christ.

The theme of the Davidic dynasty is fulfilled in Revelation and is noted often as authoritative and not to be disputed.  The foundation of the Davidic dynasty is laid in 2 Samuel where Nathan says,

I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord also declares to you that the Lord will make a house for you:  when your days have been completed and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, sprung from your loins, and I will establish his kingdom. He it is who shall build a house for my name, and I will establish his royal throne forever….. Your house and your kingdom are firm forever before me; your throne shall be firmly established forever (2 Samuel 7:11b-13, 16).

After, David was a fog of war and the Babylonian captivity.  Confusion abounded until Jesus came and was known to many as Messiah and also as the “Son of David”.

But again, in an eschatological sense there is fulfillment here.  “Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet. There were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world now belongs to our Lord and to his Anointed, and he will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)

In this passage is a vital case of “the Old revealed in the New” (St. Augustine). Jesus the Christ is the “Anointed One” but is not the first in salvation history.   Kings in Israel’s history were anointed using the Hebrew word from which we get Messiah.  The authority of David’s kingship is alluded to as an example for how true strength is affirmed.  “The holy one, the true, who holds the key of David, who opens and no one shall close, who closes and no one shall open“ (Revelation 3:7).

What is important to see in patterns in the passages is how permanency is clear and to whom it is given. This is unique authority from God the Father.  Otherwise Jesus is one of many co-kings.  Also of note, we can see again the theme of universality but it is in the worldwide scope of the reign of Jesus whereas the passages above are in an ecclesial and royal contexts.

 

The Old Testament points to the paradoxical identities in God as both Creator and Bridegroom.

“For as a young man marries a virgin,

your Builder shall marry you;

And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride

so shall your God rejoice in you” (Isaiah 62:5).

This works well in understanding the Jewish culture.  It was customary for an engaged man to build a house for his future bride and it would take a year.  The high point at the end of the year would be the wedding and residing together.  Again, in an eschatological context, we see a fulfillment.

“Let us rejoice and be glad

and give him glory.

For the wedding day of the Lamb has come,

his bride has made herself ready.

She was allowed to wear

a bright, clean linen garment.”

(The linen represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones.) Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These words are true; they come from God.” (Revelation 19:7-9).

The fulfillment of God being the Creator and Bridegroom is multifaceted here.  Glory is given to the Lamb (Jesus who is divine), the wedding day is present, the bride is sanctified through her works in faith and there is a blessing to those who are called.  This passage is wrapped in divinity even in the end where it is clear God is declaring this to be true and this declaration of righteousness of this wedding is of Him.

Staying true to God in a covenantal perspective is essential in salvation history from Moses to the future era of the ultimate redemption of God’s people.

 “You will keep this practice forever as a statute for yourselves and your descendants.  Thus, when you have entered the land which the Lord will give you as he promised, you must observe this rite.  When your children ask you, ‘What does this rite of yours mean?’  you will reply, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice for the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt; when he struck down the Egyptians, he delivered our houses.’ Then the people knelt and bowed down, and the Israelites went and did exactly as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron” (Exodus 12:24-28).

You shall also make a table of acacia wood, two cubits long, a cubit wide, and a cubit and a half high” (Exodus 25:23).

In both passages what is implied is that the people are invested in a recapitulation of the deliverance by God in the Exodus according to His covenant promises.  Their servitude in the Seder and the building of the acacia table (Table of The Lord through the OT is often a synonym for sacrificial altar) serves as a shadow of things to come. Revelation addresses the superior covenant in Christ.

They sang a new hymn:

“Worthy are you to receive the scroll

and to break open its seals,

for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God

those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation.

You made them a kingdom and priests for our God,

and they will reign on earth.” (Revelation 5:9-11).

Again, we see the royal and the liturgical connected again, but this time it is in the people of God in Christ who are redeemed by the blood of The Lamb rather than a lamb.

Last, there is a pattern of government established in the Old Testament pointing to an order of things in the New.  He took twelve stones, for the number of tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the Lord had said: Israel shall be your name.” (I Kings 18:31).  This was reinforced in the generation after Moses as well” (Joshua 3:12).

The Church is built by Jesus in part on the apostles (Ephesians 2:20), this is reinforced in a broader dimension in experience than what a pre-Christ doctrine could allow in salvation history.  This is because, though Jesus said that the apostles sit on thrones,  they were also instrumental in founding a liturgical kingdom that bridges a heavenly reality.  We know this through John 20:21-23.  Absolving

“The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation, on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14).  Each name had a story and a testimony by martyrdom.  A majority of the apostles were martyred but also they served in martyrdom and being in service.  Both factors are fitting to be represented because of the liturgical aspects sprinkled throughout this book (e.g. Jesus as the Lamb is mentioned 28 times in its 22 chapters).  This book through the areas highlighted above brings to fulfillment God’s promises in the contexts of kingdom, liturgy and nuptial celebration.

Recommended Reading:

The Lamb’s Supper, Letter and Spirit and Consuming The Word by Dr. Scott Hahn.  Probably best appreciated in that order since they make a trilogy though it is non-fiction.

Upon This Rock by Steven Ray

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“That is your truth, this is my truth”.

“There are many paths to God.  Many ways up the same mountain.”

“The times have changed.  We must get with the times.  We know so much more now than that antiquated wisdom of the past.”

These are common phrases that are said in post-modern society.  With that thinking is a common error of modernism: the wisdom of the past is not wisdom for all ages and the wisdom of this age is inherently superior because it is modern.  Where that mentality comes in with discourse in Christian circles can be stark in results.  When there is pressure to bow down to something that is in direct contradiction with Christianity often the Christian who stands firm is considered “bigoted, intolerant” etc.

Or there is another direction of compromise.  The professing Christian lets the drips of emotional blackmail to be “current” or “evolve” and gets their reward from man’s favor.

But Christianity is stubborn.  Its ways are by design to be rooted in love and hoping for eternity and far beyond what is fashionable.  St. Paul who was schooled in religion and philosophy testified to this. when he said,  “But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

But this “pillar” is unmovable in calling by the nature of its Lord.  And this is the truth about Jesus in how he was always an outsider of the world with the calling to be an insider to save it: Jesus is fully God and fully man.  Theologians call the co-existing of Jesus’s natures to be the hypostatic union so that there was never a time when he was not.  Sometimes the attacks on Christianity are vicious and sometimes flattering.  Christians are called to be holy.  The world would call us stubborn.  Satan would hope to question the heavenly roots of Christian faith just as he would question the special calling of Jesus.  With the case in point below, we can see the holiness of Jesus, the founder, ironically all the more clear under temptation.

Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, “I shall give to you all this power and their glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written:‘You shall worship the Lord, your God,and him alone shall you serve.’” (Luke 4:5-8).

I shall give to you all this power and their glory—  The critical force of evil here is the appearance of the legitimacy of evil to be a rightful status quo.

If you worship me—  Notice that Satan does not tempt Jesus to worship only him.  But worship is to God alone.  All sacred service is unto the will of the Father.  Jesus spoke this not as just a good Bible quoter but one who has an eternal love with the Father.  What was on the horizon of this sacred and spiritual intimacy was to be shared later with a marginalized, sinful Samaritan woman.

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth;[i] and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24).

Before I unpack this passage I should point to the fallacy of infinite regression.  If someone wants to argue that there is no God, they would point to the causality all in the universe.  The lines of cause have to come to an end where one traces the origins of the universe back far enough.  The stubborn atheist will even say “Well that’s just the way it is” (Bishop Robert Barron, Mystery of God, 2015).

But what about an infinite progression?  If there is a God and He is personal, would he not be worthy of worship and service?  And what could be considered a focal point for that worship and service to Deity that would be holy and personal?  Paul stated that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15).

Jesus, though divine, is our means to meaning including truths when they are inconvenient.  The gospel is really about service and inconvenience under the motivation of true love.

“[T]herefore, he had to become like his brothers in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (Hebrews 2:17-18).

Perhaps you are reading this and do not want to be all in to a Christianity that has Jesus as Lord with an extension of his nature through and identifiable body of believers.  How about sampling some of the nice, cuddly Jesus with “suggestions” about discipleship? This will work with goosebumps or the set of an Oprah taping but it would not be the Jesus of the gospels nor the Jesus for whom many martyrs have died.   Jesus is the Lord and Savior that calls all people to repent and be all in.

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).

I’m all in.  Come and join me.  Come and follow Him.

The Prayers With Meaning

heavenandearth

Having a spiritual identity as a group  based on good intentions will take them only so far.  So too those with good doctrine , a community feel and social norms that reinforce that identity.  All the more for a community to be Christian and be fully centered in relationship to Jesus that is vital.

That is the lesson of prayer for the Church in its early days and also for today as we see that, “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).

What I have covered of the other three traits are not without importance individually but are unable to flourish if they are not guarded in prayer.  Prayer is the soil and climate by which apostolic teaching, community and ceremony in Christ flourishes.

But what kind of prayer is being discussed here?  What is important to notice is the implication from the Greek.  The point is that the word for “the” (τη  definite article – dative singular feminine) is there.  This makes it something that is experience as a definable communication with God and very purposeful.

We can be informed in the context of the very same verse in that the “breaking of the bread” is used.  We know from the revelation of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that their eyes were opened fully to who Jesus was in the breaking of the bread.  We also know from both Old Testament and rabbinical mishnas that sacrifices, including the grain one, prayers needed to be accompanied.  The theme for the grain offering was thanksgiving (todah).  When that was brought over to the Greek translation of the Old Testament the word was eucharisteo (from which was get the eucharist).

But it should be noted that the corporate prayer in those gatherings needed to be held in context of the delegated authority of the apostles.  It is implied by the next verse as well as many sources from the early church fathers that the prayers connecting the corporate people was through those with holy orders since they “Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” (Acts 2:43).  It flows well that “the prayers” were prayed by the apostles.  In the next years this is passed on to the presbyters (prebuteroi) from which we get priests.

This continues a pattern that is in the Old Testament.  Several times someone who is King of Israel attempts to do what is liturgical in worship but God rebukes them and reaffirms the importance of the priesthood.

I can hear the words of the skeptic.  There would be questions like “But how could there be riles to prayer in what was the pure,pristine Christianity before the corruption of the Catholic Church?   And isn’t the Law done away with?

First, the prayers that go with the presentation of the eucharist are entirely Christocentric as described below.

In this Paschal and sacrificial prayer, everything is recapitulated in Christ: God and the world; the Word and the flesh; eternal life and time; the love that hands itself over and the sin that betrays it; the disciples present and those who will believe in him by their word; humiliation and glory. It is the prayer of unity (Catechism of the Catholic Church,paragraph 2748 1994).

This was a part of the apostles job description (and their successors) to “do this in memory of me”.  This was an instruction given only to the apostles and for those who would directly succeed their office.

One last point about the prayer environment that rounds out the Church that Jesus founded: these prayers in connection of the appearances for bread and wine transcend our physical reality on earth.  I learned this through two ways as a I journeyed from my thirty years as Protestant.  On a quiet afternoon in a small Spanish mass in Wickenburg, Arizona I had a distinct impression of the presence of angels.  When I received the Eucharist that day (I found out later I was not supposed to yet) there was a sense of heaven and earth meeting.  After finding out about how the mass is represented throughout the book of Revelation it only became crystal clear.

In conclusion, what I have come to understand that the four points of Acts 2:42 need two kinds of environments.  The environment of apostolic prayer and also delegated authority in proper succession: the Catholic Church.