Called to Conversion And Unity

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Tomorrow is going to be my fifth Easter as a Catholic.  These years, from when I first investigated into the claims of the Catholic Church to my entering it, then my wife and now nearly two years of college level formation has been a whirlwind.  It has been a great ride and I am excited for what the Lord is going to do in the years to come for my family and I.  I see conversion as a continual call as a Christian to take up ones cross and follow Jesus wherever He leads.

I would like to address my anniversary as a Catholic with a different reflection for a moment.  Yes, I have a bias that the Catholic Church is awesome but I am also aware that for many Christians who are not in communion with Rome they have not yet discerned that this is their spiritual home.  So what is the meeting place I should have with Christians of good conscience that are tied to the same basics of the historic Christian faith?

I like Nicea as a meeting point.  What that is for theologians of both the Catholic and Protestant persuasions is where a council took place that elaborated on the Apostles’ Creed.  This was especially a referendum on the theology of who Christ is.

God from God, light from light, True God and True Man begotten not made.  Consubstantial with the Father He came down from heaven and by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary He became man

As Rich Mullins said about this creed, “I did not make it.  No it is making me”.

There could be a reader of what I am writing that still is persuaded that Catholicism is not true Christianity.  For me, that is sad.  I would suggest to all of my Protestant brothers and sisters two points: I have grown closer in my relationship to Jesus Christ in these last several years and that there is more that unites us than divides us.  My love for Jesus and my neighbor has only increased.  My prayer time is better and I have a renewed love for the scriptures in engaging my faith with a good breadth of what the Catholic Church teaches.

Now more than ever, it is important that Christians learn to stand together as we consider the growing wave of persecution against Christianity across the globe.  In fact, last year there was a crucial meeting between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kiril in Cuba about how to find a defense for their flocks mutually.  This is a good development  when I consider how the one unanswered prayer of Jesus is “that they all be one” (John 17:21). Or in the words of Peter Kraft about ecumenism “Brothers tend to stop fighting when there is a mad man at the door”.

The Nicene Creed addresses four marks of the Church.  These are applicable for discussion whether one sees Church of church in it.  The first is “one” which I addressed above.

The second is “holy”.  This has many facets to it and in light of a recent event it worth exploring particularly with the sacramental point of view.  Recently a lifelong Protestant known as the Bible Answer Man, Hank Hennegraff, was received into the Greek Orthodox Church. Some are editorializing that he has left biblical Christianity.  For me, I admire his courage even though I am a Catholic.  Some may object to my wording but at some point he must have thought , “Here I stand, I can do no other”.  He speaks of theosis which is where Christians partake of the divine nature through communion with Christ.  He connects that in context with the Eucharist particularly.  The sacramental perspective can be verified with an open mind by reading the early church fathers and their interpretation of the New Testament which was written closer to their time than that of the reformers.

There is Catholic and then there is catholic.  Either way, I hope that Christians of good conscience can see that there is a universality to the gospel, how universally it should be proclaimed and universally experienced.

Apostolic can seem like a scary word.  Really, it does not have to be.  When the Pharisees asked Jesus by what authority he said or did things, one could say that this was healthy skepticism.  Who really wants to follow someone who made himself pastor and has a close circle of fans?  How far is that from a cult?  Apostolic succession simply means that one can trace in the authority that hands were laid on them with a sacred imparting of an anointing that started in the upper room when Jesus breathed on his apostles the Holy Spirit to represent the redemptive aspect of Him.  With the Bible Answer Man, he is going to a source that I as a Catholic would affirm has a history of guarding the deposit of faith including in the sacramental expression of Christianity.

But this is not to put down my Protestant history.  It is from my Protestant experiences I can talk about my love for bible memorization, my first zeal in pointing to Jesus and time in prayer.  I am thankful for the pastors and other loved ones that invested into me so much that I am an evangelical still albeit I believe fulfilled in that in the Catholic Church.  With a renewed fervor, I hope that increasingly my Protestant and Orthodox brothers can join me in loving each other as Jesus prayed and telling the world He is risen indeed!

Feeding Line, Dividing Line PART V: One Proposal, Two Answers

Marriage-proposalThe conversion of the heart and a paradigm shift is no small thing.  Changes converts make are radical to the core of how they live, love and hope which happen only in total surrender.  The preceding moments of  tension may be a setting of ones choosing, God’s choosing or a bit of both.  When one is about to convert, the tension comes in the understanding of life as we have known and not knowing the details of what we are getting.  When Jesus told the Jews one day that to have eternal life they had to eat his flesh it was time to leap forward or backwards.

Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.   But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (  John 6:59-69).

Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever—  This could be the payoff if they get it.  The people in the time of Moses had manna from heaven which was the word for “What is it?”  Jesus comes as the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6) in a visible, sacramental context.

These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum— This is not an incidental statement by John.  John made a point here that the very scene where the Law is read is where teaching happens that brings interpretation of the first five books of the Bible.

This saying is hard; who can accept it?— In my experience as a Christian in post-modern America moral relativism has often sneaked into how people make decisions on truth.  If they are grounded in the divine, truth is discovered and obeyed.  If they are grounded by the wisdom of this age then it is up for a subjective vote and the pope is in the mirror.

Does this shock you?-  This is like a spiritual soundcheck.  He then asks if they would be ready to know the big picture.  This may have been rhetorical.  The answer was no for most but Jesus is out to propose and not to impose.

It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.— For those that read this verse and say it proves the Eucharist is not efficacious then they misunderstand what is being said.  Notice Jesus said here “the flesh” not “my flesh”.  In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus sees the disciples sleeping when they were supposed to pray.  He says there that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).  The flesh is weak for the disciples in the garden because they were not engaging their flesh in obedience to the Holy Spirit in their hearts.  His flesh is spiritual life for the world because Jesus was 100% divine and 100% human.

As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him— This is the moment of decision.  They declined the invitation of Jesus for a communion that is oneness with God: a divine proposal.  They were along for a great ride and got free bread the day before.  Jesus proposed more.  As an addictions counselor working with clients in treatment I tell them their “addiction is outside that door doing pushups”.   In the same way the former life for even those that are complete converts is always wanting reunion.  To leave Jesus is to look at truth in the eye and say “No. Not going to do it”.

“Do you also want to leave?—  When I became a Catholic I had much joy but I still knew that following Christ still is a continual process.  At Easter Vigil the congregation reaffirms the faith that is “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic” (Nicene Creed 325).  Even for those that are baptized and confirmed there is an annual decision to make where one reaffirms the Catholic Christian faith.  And for my Protestant brothers and sisters, to leave the same Lord, faith and meaning of baptism is always up to you as well. We all have free will.

Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.—  The disciples are humble and thus tied to the wisdom of eternity rather than the wisdom of that age.  There is an objective truth, and they know Him as the all consuming reality (alethia).

We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God-  They have come to a conversion point and for each of them it has come gradually in how they came,  saw and were conquered. This is the nature of discipleship.

Each disciple of Jesus has a DNA in the church that Jesus started.  Together the Body of Christ is meant to be a bride to whom Jesus is returning. Jesus is The Bridegroom proposing marriage in the context of faith and reason sacramentally.

The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalized them: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division. “Will you also go away?”: the Lord’s question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only he has “the words of eternal life” and that to receive in faith the gift of his Eucharist is to receive the Lord himself (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1336).  

Feeding Line, Dividing Line Part III : From Mystery to Scandal

Jesus Holding The Bread

Often religion gets a bad rap and often for undeserved.  One example is being ethnocentric on God’s the favor. But the message of Christianity is a universal in design and meant to be expressed that way.  To be a Christian is to grow in holiness while being holy.  Christians have fallen short at times in keeping Christianity moved by the world rather than moving the world.

It is worth noticing how the gospel’s proposal is unfolded with universality, mystery and challenge.  Unfortunately the proposal is met with unbelief and cynicism.

Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. But I told you that although you have seen [me], you do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me,  because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.” The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets:

‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”  (John 6:31-51).

It was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven—  Jesus begins to challenge them to the transcendent.  If the manna, which means “What is it?”,  is drawn back only to Moses and the past then the faith is only a subjective religious experience.  Instead Jesus draws their attention to God the Father in the context of the present.

For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world— The distinction here is that this sustenance, coming only come from God, is for the world.  This revisits John 3:16 in that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son….”  Jesus is to be consumed and it is from divine love that resurrection life touches those from everywhere.

Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said… “whoever comes…whoever believes ….Everything that the Father gives me will come to me—  They have a hard time discerning how serious Jesus is about the nature of offering himself.  Jesus speaks to them with a qualifier about the “whoever”  and points to the heavenly Father.  To speak of this kingdom is by a family table and in mystery.  Also one can see the conversion is “both/and” in coming to Jesus by destiny and choice at the same time.

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life— But the context is in coming and believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  If it is just by a worldly point of view that he is just a carpenter, good teacher, great prophet or nice guy then there is little redemptive.  Such a perspective of all that Jesus is has  much emptiness.

Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’? —-  Paul addressed this to early believers who could have, and likely were, swayed by the philosophies of their day. Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer” (2 Corinthians 5:16).  However, in the context of this whole passage it is worth considering the same for the Eucharist.  To the eyes of the flesh when Jesus died not he cross it was just a Roman execution.  Likewise, to the eyes of the flesh now one could just see a wafer at an altar of Catholic, Orthodox or Coptic parish and wonder what thus fuss is about.  But with eyes of faith the perspective changes when a priest hold up the Eucharist and says.  “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”.

I will give is my flesh for the life of the world— A beautiful thing happens in the path of conversion to Jesus.  One does get that introduction through evangelization  like what happened with the first two disciples by John the Baptist.  Then the disciples on that day by the river ask where Jesus is staying.  He said, “come and see” (John 1:39).   The measure of God’s love for the world of John 3:16 is  infinite.  The most normative way for us to respond is repentance, faith, obedience and with the greatest virtue of love.  From this we thank God for sending Jesus.  This is what early church communion was in Greek using the term for communion: eucharistia.

The Eucharist has been present since Jesus ascended and is an extension of The Sacrifice of Jesus who said he would be with us “To the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). This is not a later interpretation.  A eucharistic  interpretation was noted by St. Justin Martyr in 155 in his Dialogue with Trypho.

“And this food is called among us Eucharistia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.” – (First Apology, 66. 155 AD)

St. Ireneaeus of Lyon agreed with this interpretation in 189 in Against All Heresies.

Then, again, how can they say that the flesh, which is nourished with the body and with His blood, goes to corruption, and does not partake of life? Let them, therefore, either alter their opinion, or cease from the things mentioned. But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the of the resurrection to eternity. (St. Ireneaeus  Against All Heresies Book IV, Chapter 18).

One interpretation is right and one is wrong. One embraces Jesus today for all he presented himself and the other has limitations. Such is the dichotomy of scandal or mere symbolism as I will address next.

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”.

Breaking More Than Bread

Eucharistic-Bread

Several years ago I remember hearing about someone switching churches for a reason that I could not connect to: a man that switched from being Baptist to Episcopalian in part because he found the liturgy to be so beautiful.  Liturgy?  Really?  You mean like formal presentation of that bread and wine with those fancy clothes?

That was my cultural bias in belittling it because I prided myself on my informal formation as a Christian. My parents did not identify themselves as Christian and I became a Christian without their guidance when I was 10 and became a church goer at 14.  I did not take into my life a habit to pray before meals and cussing was not a problem for me.  In fact, I rarely made it a point to dress nice for church because God knows my heart.  There was even a season of my life when I avoided “dry, organized church” of any kind choosing to be in a house church that was off the rails and not reverent to traditions of Christianity that had unity and history to it.  So on that liturgy anecdote “Really?” seemed to make sense.

But years later, my meandering journey in following Christ took me unexpectedly into the Catholic Church.  To stay.  I actually like it.  Another interesting point is that I wanted a Christianity to experience that was consistent with a matter of fact declaration on fresh, pristine form on how, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).  In this setting I have found this verse to be fleshed out in the most fulness.

But this is not just a matter of just a ceremony for ceremony’s sake.  This is the full realization of what is to take the message of John 3:16, thank God for His sacrifice of His Son and infuse it relationally into ones soul and body.  In the Old Testament they had a bread sacrifice to God called the todah.  In the Greek translation from Hebrew they used the word eucharesteo.  This is where we get Eucharist where Jesus is present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Did I still accept Jesus at 10 with a simple prayer? Yes.  But with The Eucharist it is blown into 3D and it draws me to a unified walk with Church in light of salvation history.

Late invention?  The accounts of having the Eucharist in the Early Church Fathers writings are numerous.  But one can see something profound with Jesus on the day of the resurrection.  Two disciples of Jesus come upon him on the road to Emmaus but do not recognize him right away.  He takes the fog away eventually like he does for anyone who seeks him honestly.

And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:30-35).

Safe to assume that they consumed the bread?  Almost.  Once Jesus gave thanks and consecrated, his presence is extended in the bread.  They knew him in the breaking of the bread.

Klasis is the Greek word for the actual breaking of bread.  In a solemn way this happens in a holy, fellowship time.  But there is another breaking of the bread can then be done in smaller settings that are not as formal.  There is room to build relationally with one another that does not take away from Jesus.

“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke (klasis) bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:46).  This is beautiful, compliments the pillar of above about fellowship and is a sanctified time because of the primary breaking of the bread in the sacrifice reflecting The Sacrifice on the cross.  It is in the institution of the Eucharist that Christ gives us the source and summit of our faith as we walk in God and together.

This is where Jesus expressed something that was to have meaning but must be apprehended (like getting the “jist” of something) and comprehending.

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me (John 6: 54-57).

Here, all of the crowd save the 12 disciples walk away.  The twelve maybe apprehend and others will not soften to such an offensive mystery.  But the two men on the road to Emmasaus?  Many other Christians through the ages such as Catholic, Orthodox and Coptic?  Different story.  But now I can tell you it is my story as well.

Right Premise, Right Community

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I remember learning about mores in college.  They are cultural norms about how a people collectively are supposed to live regarding both big and small things. I had to take at least one course in sociology to get into my Bachelors in Social Work program I suppose to fit a proverb one teacher said that, “the macro helps you understand the micro” (Andre Pruit, personal conversation, 2012).

But in a religious context this could lead to what is a called a moral life.  In a society that embraces moral relativism, it is helpful to see the moral norms for what they are when fully expressed: objective realities that are pointed to by natural law implicitly but articulated in a religious life explicitly.  This is pointed to by those in authority no matter what society one belongs to.  What smaller rules there can change but on the bigger ones it is a matter of objectivity being unmovable if it is religious and calling itself divine.  Moral truth also would need to be the wisdom of the ages and not the wisdom of just this age right now.  Or another point would be a “Church that is not moved by the world, but moves the world” (GK Chesterton).

“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life [fellowship], to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:20).

To be moved and illuminated by the apostles’ teaching was to be tied to the example of giving all of ones self to the will of the Father.  This meant that the original Christians saw that to tie themselves to Jesus was to be tied together in living the life of holiness.  The cultural norm for them was in the commandment of Jesus “to love one another, just as I have loved you”.

But that is just the principle of this holy people then as well as those who walk in that calling now and is both redemptive, internalized and continuous.

Resting on the fullness of the gospel, kingdom message, of Jesus Christ there is a proper definition of the dignity of the human person and of God’s covenant love in the Christian life.

But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Once you were “no people” but now you are God’s people; you “had not received mercy”

but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and sojourners to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against the soul. Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that if they speak of you as evildoers, they may observe your good works and glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:9-3:1)

This is a word about being those who experience Jesus in a community setting.  God has touched them, they live out a life of grace and the glory is given to God.  When people of faith go off track is fundamentally because they go into a downward spiral from forgetting God as their first love, they live off of their guts and glory is withheld to a human kingdom (sometimes with the most fluent of Christianese).

But do the apostles put themselves out of a job if a community does so well?  Maybe in part if if in part a true overseer of God’s people would rejoice about it.  What can be said is that whether the Body of Christ walking in the fulness of truth is observed in the 1st century or the 21st, there is a divine calling of should that should be there.

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).

So can there be holiness in Church?  In as much as it is tied to first right instruction from apostles teaching/Sacred Tradition (which preceded the Sacred Scripture of the NT for hundreds of years in canon form) and unity in common life.  Do you, dear reader, know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?  If so, I rejoice over what God has done.  But to be baptized into Christ is to be baptized into a holy nation that can be “sharing in a heavenly calling, reflect on Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Hebrews 3:1). Most fundamentally in the balance of these principles is what I embrace now as a received member in the Catholic Church.

 

Breadcrumbs to Bread: Continuity

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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