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.

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House of Doubt-Rocking The House Part I

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If one looks at the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, he presents himself as a supernatural person with an approach that is above earthly concerns. His agenda changes common narratives.  In the following passage he challenges norms with “super-norms”.

He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,

and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph” (Luke 4:16-22).

Jesus basically hit the assembly with a stun gun on the lowest setting but high in stirring a hunger in the truly humble.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to—  Simply, Jesus is saying that he is given authority from God in heaven.  Outside of the box thinking from an outside of this world source.

bring glad tidings to the poor— This is to say that there is a provision to be made who are poor.  Poor in money?  Poor in spirit? By going into the Old Testament he draws their attention to when manna fell from heaven to the Israelites.  Each day when the daily bread would fall someone would say “Basar!”  Meaning that provision for another day had come.  Jesus came to bring himself as what we needed in spiritual supply as the living bread and not just manna (meaning “What is it?”).

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives-Jesus was sent to proclaim that God wants peace on earth, has goodwill towards humanity and that the jail doors are open due to a pardon.  Where repentance falls in there is for the person to walk out if they accept Jesus in his totality.

recovery of sight to the blind— This has two meanings.  One, there was a blame game around at that time that if someone was infirm in their body that they or their parents sinned for them to be that way (see John 9). Jesus brings a much broader view than that.  The other is the awareness of the need of being saved.  Last, literal miracle on that which is disordered in his will.

to let the oppressed go free— This was about the power of sin that infects the individual as a slave.  Slaves had a servile fear of their master who can show wrath to them if they are caught failing.  Jesus and the Apostle Paul speak of God as Abba, Father (Daddy).   “{H}ow God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.- With that Jesus laid down the gauntlet.  He has made a declaration about himself and that going forward his ministry can be up for markers that he is the fulfillment of this prophecy.  With the word “today” Jesus marks himself in history.

So right here is a summary of what Jesus is in the gospel and meaning to do then and now:  be heaven sent, be the intimate answer to the unspoken questions of the heart, communicate a pardon to humanity,  illuminate hearts with grace and truth and heal the inner parts of the person.  From this he would draw them into being partakers of his divine nature in him being our fulfillment of all desire.

If one is open to God working outside of the box, that does not seem bad,   Otherwise, it could seem to be.

We see both here.

And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words.… They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph— Not the only time that a group would have mixed reviews of Jesus.  Thoughts like, “I like his words, but shouldn’t he be a bit of a surprise?  As we will see, Jesus loves them too much not to give them a surprise.  Just not always the one they are looking for.

TO BE CONTINUED

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”.

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

It’s A Wonderful “Wasted” Life

Old Woman SmileNobody wants to waste their life.  By wasting ones life I mean not grasping those dreams that are natural to the gifts you have and of the desire of the heart.  For some people they see their life as wasted because a tragedy has come upon them.  For others they see their life as wasted because they gave up time for someone or something that was not worth it in the sense that there was no return on the investment.  This could apply to toxic relationships or to addictions that for too long are on the same day to day level in priority as eating, sleeping, breathing and shelter.

But sometimes there is a perspective from the outside in when observing someone that has lived below their means and far from the gifts and amenities that could so be grasped.  Someone goes to jail for months or years because of a righteous cause in standing up for the oppressed.  I heard of a monk who did not have the money to redeem a slave along with the slave’s brother and so took the slave’s place.  What “a waste” if one looks at that with classist values.

But what about God’s point of view looking at unselfish sacrifice?  Is it a waste or an investment with a return far above earthly riches?  Such is the case for an old widow named Anna.  The view of the author and, by extension God, becomes quite clear and beautiful in shedding light on the subject.

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,  and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.  And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

There was also a prophetess—  As the story pivots from old Simeon, who prophesied, to Anna it is mentioned that she is a prophetess.  I perceive this as an emphasis for several reasons.  One is that Luke frequently writes with narratives that create gender balance.  If you see the resurrection of the son of the widow of Nain you must also notice the resurrection of the daughter of Jairus.  Second, Anna seems to have provided  a testimony of the nature of God and his plan of redemption by her past lifestyle of dedication that then launches her to declare things in words.  It is like talking the talk is worthwhile only when you have walked the walk.

She never left the temple— By the time we get to this line, we see her life in the temple as all she had.  For her to be widowed after seven years and then go into the temple implies that she was barren and without children from that marriage.  There was no law against her being remarried and I am not aware of a practice of kidnapping women and being forced to live a nun-like existence against her will.  She chose God’s temple to be her all in all.

but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer— And here we see the beautiful note of her will and where she chose her will to be centered.  She was a worshiper.  As I contemplate the infancy narratives which drawn open hearts to worship God in Christmas, we should remember that worship to God is best in simplicity.  Though not everyone is called to live a dedicated religious life, those who do it shine a light to God that illuminates his glory and in the hearts of those who see it and are open.

And coming forward at that very time— This makes the scene very much church though they did not know it as such.  She steps in on the coat-tails of Simeon’s  prophesy that carries with it glory and suffering.  She comes in as a second prophetic speaker in this spontaneous congregation of Jesus and is a second witness (like the Pauline pattern of 1 Corinthians 14) to confirm that this was far more than a circumcision of baby boy but the sneak peak of the Messiah.

she gave thanks to God—- If we blink we will miss it.  If she did not have an attitude of worship of those years it would be “Thanks for nothing!” but instead it is a matter of knowing that all those years of service to God mattered and she knew supernaturally what for in someway as she saw the New Temple held by parents in the Old Temple (cf. John 2:18-22).

and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem—- This is rich too.  God’s message is one of hope but is to be discerned supernaturally.  Once discerned and internalized how does one not declare it to those who you are in contact with?

The message of this story is that God care about you.  He wants to be your hope but to experience the superabundance of grace one needs to be where God has called them, worship with all of life and leave the payoff to God.  It could be five years in, at the age of 84 or in heaven.  But the point is that if you gain Christ, you gain everything.  Anna’s five minutes in the presence of Jesus was enough.  Is it yours?

Growing Old Gracefully

rabbi

For people of great or low stature, there tends to be a drive that their lives matter.  Some people have moments that encapsulate that sense of meaning that their interaction with this world has meaning above themselves.  For some, they peak early.  Others have that moment way later.  For those with a low, burning fire of spirituality going on that sense of meaning or interconnectedness stays beyond a moment but through much of their life span.

One man who had a sense of meaning was Simeon.  Here is his story and how it connects to living life.

 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go

in peace, according to your word,

for my eyes have seen your salvation,

which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,

a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and glory for your people Israel.”

(Luke 2:25-33).

a man—- This is loaded if we think about it right.  Typically when someone thinks of Bible characters they think of pomp and circumstance as kings, fighters or wise people.  The first key here is that God wants to use normal people.  “A man” like him shows that “normal people” can have an encounter with the divine.

righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the holy Spirit was upon him—- This is also loaded in meaning.  He had that low burn in keeping and seeking a relationship with God and engaging his faith into God’s restorative agenda for Israel.  With the amount of revelation he had he was faithful to the jist of where the Old Testament points to.  The key point is that he centered on God’s agenda beyond his own interests.  With that, the Holy Spirit was on him.

It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit—  this was key in the sense that such a life would meet with a meeting point of wholeness that is not only a pass off gift of God but that of personal presence of God.  The Old Testament was pointing to an anointing by the Holy Spirit that would write God’s law in people’s hearts.  The Messiah to come would bring it all together but relationally.

He came in the Spirit into the temple… he took him into his arms and blessed God

This is beautiful.  Simeon in the first place is able to recognize Jesus for who he is because he engaged in his understanding in the ways of God as matter of spirit.  Much later Jesus explained to a racially marginalized woman that the coming true worshippers would worship the Father in spirit and truth.

he took him into his arms and blessed God

Although it was a point of contact with what he prayed for, the beauty of Simeon’s response was in true worship to God.

Now, Master, you may let your servant go

    in peace

Simeon finds that his greatest treasure to attain is that grace from heaven would be realized on earth before he leaves it.  Somehow Simeon knows that this grace of the Father in the Messiah is for the world beyond Israel.  I can only guess that Simeon, true to the Hebrew meaning of his name, was “one who hears”.  In hearing God through a lens of sustaining grace it is made known to him that the true light has come that the light of creation is only a glimmer of.

Also it is worth noting that Simeon does not see that the universal application of the Messiah is at the detriment of Israel.  Simeon may likely have known that the successive covenants of the Old Testament increased in the number of people they effected (family, tribe, nation, kingdom).  Simeon saw the day of Jesus meaning salvation to the Gentiles and he embraced it.

One more thing I see in this passage is that in addition to Simeon seeing God’s grace beyond bigotry was that he turns in a moment to the next generation.  I heard once from a former pastor of mine named Jess Strickland that often the vision God brings to his people are not for their generation but the next.  He is ready to die in peace and pass something on in joy to Joseph, Mary and the newborn Jesus.  In other words we see that Simeon was  man who, like the twilight of the Old Testament, that grew old gracefully.

As I write this I ponder that I am a 45-year old man.  I am not at the end of my life as far as I know but I pray that I can cherish Jesus in all he is.  And pass on the knowledge of him in any way I can to my next generation.  What is stopping you or I from being “ righteous and devout”?  Only our own self-centeredness.