Unscrambling the Bad Dialogue

Miscommunication-Cartoon“Lost in translation” is a sometimes nightmare in the art of diplomacy.  Either a message is incomplete or, even worse, fear or hostility emerges from the recipient. In dialogue across the religious spectrum there is the matter of wide gaps on some concepts in the languages as well as cultural nuances. 

One case of this can be found in the last 500 years between Catholics and Protestants.  As I have written before, Catholics are misunderstood on when they are speaking in definitive theological intent on wording and those times that are metaphorically spoken.  An example is when the metaphorical wording is implying how Mary has a distinct holiness but means it as extrinsically obtained. 

Ironically, the modern Protestants may even misunderstand the original Reformer fathers.  For instance, when I was evangelizing recently in a Catholic ministry a fiery Protestant emphasized sola gratia (grace alone).   That does tie back to Martin Luther.  However, he maintained a work of grace to be baptismal regeneration which the modern, zealous Reformed Christian would not ascribe to. 

More specifically on the translation is the Latin to English post-Reformation divide with an example like “holy”.  When a Protestant hears of a pope being referred to as “his Holiness”,they may perceive that Catholics see the pope as internally based in his holiness.  This is not true as one can see with an example of when Pope Francis was asked, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergolio?”   He answered that he is a sinner. 

To see this linguistically one can see the Latin root word santus.  It morphed into cognates that sound similar in the more blatant Latin based languages like Spanish and Portuguese for both holy as in Holy Spirit as well as saints.  While the former, holiness is intrinsic but for the latter, it is because they know they are sinners at the same time and wanted sanctification. 

Next is how “prayer” is used as an operative term in casual or fully theological conversation.   When Shakespeare writes, “Make haste, I pray then” we give him the benefit of the doubt that one mortal is not worshiping another mortal.  In modern language in a petition to a court undergirded by English common law the petitioner says they “pray this court…..” would do such and such.  Again, the judge is not being worshipped. 

So to with how Catholics or Eastern Orthodox pray to the saints.  They ask their intercession and the context is Christ centered.  The dilemma is that Catholics and Protestants in English have their wording quirks and in at least one direction there is a lack of benefit of the doubt in examining the written or spoken word.  When one is biased towards a person or group in examining their characteristics, the traits that confirm what is expected will be seen and the traits that counter what is expected are dismissed.  This is called confirmation bias. 

Another word that blurs the communication is “merit”.  Protestants often have taught that Catholics believe they get merit for salvation through their works.  The confusion is fueled in part about the Catholic Church due to the etymology of the word. 

In the second century, the Latin word meritum (“merit”) was introduced as a translation for the Greek word for “reward”, and so entered the theological vocabulary.  The doctrine of merit [Catholics] and the doctrine of reward [Protestants] are two ways of expressing the same concept (The Fathers Know Best, Jimmy Akin). 

In the 5th and 6th centuries the Catholic Church condemned Plagiarism and Semi-Plagianism which was a heresy that taught one could earn salvation with works absent of grace.  Later the Catholic Church stated “none of those things which precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification; for if it is by grace, it is not now by works; otherwise, as the apostle says, grace is no more grace” (Decree on Justification 8, Council of Trent). 

But sometimes, a good translation happens.   In 1999 there was the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification which included Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later known as Pope Benedict VI).  They collaborated, looked through the history with cooler heads than some of the hotheads of both sides 500 years ago and said ,“By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part,” its key passage said, “we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping us and calling us to good works.” We are called to a life where faith is working through love (Galatians 6:5). 

For Jesus’ prayer of unity in the Body of Christ (John 17:21) to be realized, we owe it to our Lord to listen better and pray more.  As brothers and sisters redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, we owe it to each other too.

At the time I write this, I went to an event in the John 17 movement last night.  It is a touchstone for good dialogue and prayer for each other.  That is not all of the work, but honoring what unites us is a start. 

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Indefectability

Old Church

I heard a striking story once that nailed the continuity of Christianity to a T.  Tim Staples was on a place once seated next to a young, polite mormon man who had just finished his two years of missionary service.  One of the stances of the Mormon Church is that Christianity started in its pristine shape but then became apostate.  Along came the prophet Joseph Smith who restored what was dead.

On this theme, Staples had some follow up questions on that point.  He asked him “Is ‘all scripture God-breathed’ and is ‘useful’ like it says in 2 Timothy 3:16?”.  He answered yes.  Then he took him to the following passage that most people do not think about.

 “If your brother[l] sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector (Matthew 18:15-17).

His wise follow ups after the young man said this passage were: Is this also applicable?  “Yes!” Was it applicable 5 years ago?  50?  Yes.  Yes.  In 1790?

Then the young man’s face was downcast.  1790 was thirty years before his beloved prophet had his revelation.  So before that, even if one could say there could be more than one valid Christian, there would be nowhere to settle disputes.  The young man was discouraged and a seed was planted that there had to be some kind of Christian community that was both visible and authoritative from Jesus’ passion until now.

And that is the crux of how that argument comes down to: the reliability of Jesus depends in part on a continuity of an institution that keeps existing and has authority in faith and morals.  This is why Jesus said  “upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  Apostasy?  No match unless one believes that Jesus was a liar, lunatic or combination of that with legend.

There is more to this ongoing church.  It is to carry on the proper glory given in worship to God.  “Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).  So, how can an apostate church bring glory to God?

The other mission of the church that is meant to keep going is being a witness to the grace of God.

that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them (Ephesians 2:7-10).

Notice those words “might show” and “we should live in them” are to be ongoing and not just for Paul’s day.  The context is set up as “the ages to come”.  So God does not get what he wants?  Or, again, does God do this through an apostate church?

And then there is the matter of Mary.  According to scripture there has to be some level of veneration of Mary through all the generations. “And Mary said: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed’ “ (Luke 1:46-48).

So in every generation there needs to be a people who are giving some reverence to Mary the mother of Jesus.  We have this recorded in the word of God in her conversation with an angel.  If this was conceit on her part about “all ages” then surely Gabriel would have set her straight to make sure no one would worship her.  But yet one can find veneration to her among the Anglicans, Catholics, Coptics and Eastern Orthodox.

Next, there needs to be a perpetual teaching office for any kingdom to continue that is rooted in a spiritual line.  We learn from the Old Testament that there was a teaching office in the magisterium, scriptures and tradition.  Jesus gave us the apostles who carried on the Old Testament and had tradition that would pass on something orally “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).  This includes the proper celebration of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11) that is what we know through the early church fathers as the Eucharist.  When Jesus said in the gospels that his blood is true drink and his flesh is true food (John 6) and that “This is my body” he meant it and commissioned a church government to regulate the distribution of himself in the Eucharist.

Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God… They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, Flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.” —Letter to the Smyrnans, Ch 6. 107 AD.

He was on his way to be martyred when he wrote this. He was the third bishop of Antioch. The first city where the word Christian was used.

But the teaching office?  We have the word of God!  Scripture alone!  Nor really.  If you look at Acts 1 the apostles replace Judas with Mathias.  He never wrote an epistle just like most of the apostles but in that chapter they quote the psalms about another taking his office.  In quoting the Greek translation of the Old Testament the word for office is where we get episcopate as in that which a bishop holds.  You then see that Paul later tells Timothy to set up bishops who would guard the deposit of faith and would spread that to still more people setting the stage for four generations alone (2 Timothy 2:2).

Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.  Ignatius Letter to the Smyrnans.  107 AD.

In fact, it was bishops that organized the final canon of scripture even more generations later in the late 300’s.  Bishops of that confederation belonged to lines of apostolic succession that are now called Catholic, Coptic and Eastern Orthodox.

But in that council, not the first of its kind, the organized canon was not official without Pope Damasus I presiding over it in 382 and Pope Innocent I finalizing in 405.  Even then the historical residence of the Pope was in Rome (look further back to the 90’s with I Clement the letter).  The bishops could not have anything officially infallible without the say so of the Bishop of Rome.

At this point I would like to get back to the rock and church reference in a fuller context.

Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you [singular], Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16: 16-19).

Peter would be a new royal steward and chief of the new magisterium of the New Israel.  Anyone else that would come up as a new bishop for centuries to come would be defaulted to be approved by Peter or whoever would take also his office with the same logic as Matthias replacing Judas.  In other words, papal succession went with apostolic succession.

“ ‘Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.’ “(Luke 22:31-33).  The word here for strengthen is not just a pep talk.  He would confirm them.  As much as I appreciate the janitor staff of where I went to school, for them to confer on my parchment at graduation would be inappropriate.  Someone of a higher standing than me in that university handed that to me.  In this era, it is common to lift high the banner of “spiritual but not religious” but make no mistake: Jesus is religious, he founded a church and it is hierarchical. I have been the chief of the supposed “spiritual” argument.  But as you can see in what I have outlined above, I believe I have encountered Christ in the context of a a 2,000 year old, Marian spirituality, Petrine governing, authoritative, transcendent called out community.   I am home.

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”.

Breadcrumbs to Bread: Continuity

ContinuityLogo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended Reading:

Pope Fiction by Patrick Madrid

Upon This Rock by Steven Ray

The Fathers Know Best by James Akin

Reasons to Believe by Scott Hahn

Rallying Cry

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            “The main things is that you keep the main thing the main thing.” Overly simplistic saying from Germany I know, but applies when a group gets sucked into the minutia of how to keep a group going. Complications of the politics of a group can be very distracting and can tax our attention from remembering what the rallying cry is. Every group needs that rallying cry.

 

            The Church is no exception. Those that call themselves Christian are not supposed to just have an over and done with spiritual event at conversion but continue in it and never just alone. Christians are supposed to commune of Christ and with each other. And both aspects not in a way that is dry or intellectual.

 

            Simon Peter, who we have seen to be a work of progress while in progress, hits this theme here.  

 

 

1 Peter 2:4-9

4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in scripture:

“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
 a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
 has become the very head of the corner,”

8 and “A stone that makes them stumble,
 and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

            Peter had been learning for years in the context of the Holy Spirit and community that Jesus is living through His followers with paradoxical, familial and liturgical imagery.

 

            though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight,

 

            This is a fine point on how to perceive Jesus from a discipleship perspective. Before we can take up our cross we should appreciate the paradox that Jesus was favored by God but rejected by man. The lesson for the young Church was that rejection of man does not take away the value of God’s love for us.

 

            and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house

 

That “and” depends on us resting on knowing how precious we are because Christ is in our hearts.

 

            But notice the repeated term of “living” in this same passage. There are two reasons for this, I suspect, that Peter is motivated by. First, his famous confession of Jesus was that He was “The Christ, the Son of the living God.” If we rest on Christ, the solid cornerstone, then the living nature of His sonship, anointing and divine nature is appropriated to us. And it is indeed a rest because the wording is passive with “let yourself….”

           

to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

 

            But just because we can be in a rest, that does not mean that we don’t respond in context of the cross. It is easy to think that only someone special with robes can direct a concentrated offering of worship to God. Though there is clearly a mandate for a liturgical priesthood, anyone who is a Christian is a priest by the graces of baptism. And we do not do that by the merits of our works alone but by the faith and work infused especially in the Eucharist: receiving Christ’s body, blood, soul and divinity.

 

            Am I making a jump? There is some light in the passage below.

 

Phillipians 4:5 “Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

 

The connection is in thanksgiving. The primary language of worship to God is in with that and went by the Greek word eucharistia. Why is the Lord near? The natural habitat for scripture in in the mass where the body of the Lord is discerned and consumed. But for those that have dull vision, then the experience is blurry at best and there is no response to His grace.

 

            So next Pope Peter gets into the details even deeper (see last blog) on what the identity of the gospel is on a macro level for those who receive it.

 

 But you are a chosen race,

            We are used to racial concepts as a social construct. But the social construct that should result where the gospel hits is an equal reconciliation with God and each other. “Red, and yellow, black and white we are precious in His sight”.

a royal priesthood,

            There is the liturgical reference again. But this time it has a reference of authority.             We should not take the sacrifice of Jesus as savior if we remember He is first Lord.  

a holy nation,

            A nation has borders, language and culture. Our border is the line of redemption. Our language is thanksgiving in the mass and our culture is found in the debt to love.

God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

            This points to another corporate mission of all believers whether they are formal ministers or not: to be ambassadors for outreach. We should be so transformed that we point to Jesus through living out the calling we have.

            It all starts with coming to Him. What is stopping us?

More Precious Than Gold

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I remember a joke about gold when I was a kid.  Goofy but educational.  A guy is walking down the street when a criminal rips off his watch and runs.  The guy says, “AU! Give me back my watch!” AU is the periodic table symbol for gold.  I got this from the Facts of Life.  

That occurred to me in a roundabout way, when I wanting to write this blog today.  Why is gold so precious?  It is not a small thing to appraise something as more precious than gold. 

Gold is shiny. It is dense.  But particularly it does not absorb outside material.  No stain, no muss, no fuss. 

 When it comes to the things of this world that bring us down, how easily are we stained?  The worries of this life?  Ways to objectify people?  I remember the words of John Paul II were something like, “Love people, use things.  Do not use people and love things.”  There are a lot of dirty things that can cling to us if we do not have a fundamental lean to something that really grounds us in what matters. 

Such is on my mind with Simon Peter here. 

Acts 8:14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16 (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money! 21 You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness.” 24 Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me.”

There are two things at least we can get from this story.  First, Peter walked with something more precious than gold or silver: he had Jesus and kept Him in mind as his greatest treasure.  Based on some prior verses in Acts 8 we can guess that Simon the magician had bling since his magic show was popular.  

The next thing is “God’s gift” in this context.  Peter could not pretend to sell the gift of the Holy Spirit because it was not for sale.  Jesus defined the Holy Spirit as a gift to be received from your Father in heaven.  God is in the grace business, not in the profit-business. 

The rest of this interaction is profound and a bit complex.  Peter refers Simon the magician to God for forgiveness.  Maybe he knew Simon had been baptized as a believer or maybe no one had told him.  The bottom line is that Peter did not see him as having any “part or share” in the Church. 

This is important because of the response of Simon to Peter.  Simon is repentant perhaps further than Peter might have hoped for.  He asks for Peter to pray to God for the grace to not be cast out or be kept out of the Church. 

To see the full color of this, I should talk about the sacraments. When you are baptized there is a deep, indelible mark on you that saves or makes one whole (1 Peter 3:21).  You have received the good news of God’s love in Jesus.

The next sacrament that is important is confirmation.  Confirmation is for someone to be counted as a part of God’s orchestra called the Church and is infused with the Holy Spirit.  When the Holy Spirit came upon the 120, they were confirmed.  The Holy Spirit speaks to, and then from, our hearts Abba (Daddy), Father. It confirms a key perception by which we can walk in unity with the Head and the Body. 

What this reminds me of is a frequent saying of Dr. Scott Hahn that, “The good news keeps getting better.”  Simon recognizes where he was falling short and had a good idea about this new kingdom on how to fix it. 

Simon could have gone to any Christian, maybe Phillip the deacon and evangelist for this prayer.  But he responds straight to Peter.  There is a common misnomer in our culture of “Jesus and me”.  But Simon asks Peter instead because Peter was priest as well as an apostle.  Priests administer the sacrament of confession (John 20:22-23, James 5:15-17). In some way Simon recognized that as a newly baptized believer.  

If Simon perceived the Jesus and His Church as just another gig, he would have walked away.  But I believe that by some understanding of the witness of holy living in Peter and the power of Christ’s sacraments that he saw something more.  Simon was working in the wrong currency.  The first pebble he wanted was to be made whole. Since there is not a further comment from Peter I can assume that he showed God’s mercy.  

So in this journey of conversion, if we choose it, what are we wanting for this life that matters and how much do we want it?  Baptism saves us.  Confirmation joins us.  Confession renews us.  God wants us to have it all in at least some way.  Do we?  

Sundays with Simon Peter– Truly Caught.

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A little early for Valentine’s Day, I know.  But bear with me.  There is a lot to learn about love.  Especially when it is paired with suffering as we will see in a moment.

If we were forgiven by someone we loved and betrayed, would we still know how to talk with them with the “new normal” of grace?  If the stain of guilt gets in us, we can seem to be much harder on ourselves than God. But if we have let God down, maybe Him forgiving us and giving us a mission can up the ante.  That being an ante of faith and broadening our perspective on something.  We are blessed not unto ourselves but to be a blessing to those around us. That is what love can be so uniquely when we have a true encounter with this mysterious carpenter.

This is the conundrum that Simon Peter finds himself in this story.  He denied Jesus in his darkest hour, but jumps off the boat and swims to Jesus after the resurrection knowing first that He is Lord.  Then Jesus invites them all to Denny’s…sort of.  Then….

John 21:15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

Jesus is up to something here, but we have to look beyond our modern English language perspective to appreciate it.  Jesus asks in Greek, “Do you love me with a willing love?”  Like a divine sense of intentionality.  But Peter doubts himself possibly because he keeps responding with the word for brotherly love only.  Jesus lays down the dare, “Do you love me with a brotherly love?” When it says that Peter is hurt, it is because he thinks Jesus casts a shadow on his ability to love Him at the most simplistic level.

But Jesus is out to show how much faith He has in Simon Peter and that he is a part of the grace agenda for His Church.

18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Elsewhere, Jesus says a lot about taking up your cross and following Him.  He even talks about seeking to lose your life in Him and finding it.  Jesus calls for martyrdom for only some but never forces someone.  If you do not have the disposition in your heart to give all for Jesus, then you are in unbearable suffering.  But if you suffer with love, it changes everything.  Jesus is confirming that Simon Peter will indeed walk in a willing manner.  But He needed to make the conversation raw and authentic.

Okay.  I get it Jesus.  But the mission of feeding your lambs, tending your sheep and dying like you is a lot.  How about if I deflect the pressure about how I should not be singled out for such a life and death?

20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

To follow Jesus takes a lot of simplicity with passion. When Peter decided to jump in the water he said simply, “It is the Lord.”  Whatever our mission is.  A big one or small one.  We just need to keep in touch with Him.

But how?  Holy communion comes to mind.  In the eyes of the flesh, they went to Denny’s with Jesus.  In the eyes of the spirit, it was a mass.

12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.”

1: The accepted the invitation of Jesus and joined him.

2: The disciples undoubtedly discerned the personhood of Jesus (look at 1 Corinthians 11 for a related theme).

3: They took the bread.  To take the bread of Jesus is to make practical in every way His atonement for your sins that He can be vibrant in you.

4: To take the fish is like being catechized in the fullness of truth fitting for those who are captured in Him.  When Peter caught the fish Jesus called him to, it was men or mankind. If you are a baptized Christian, consider what it is to be caught in His divine plan for the big picture of His Church and the small picture of your life.  That is your greatest promotion in this life: in being in Him. As Paul said, “To know Him.  In the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.”