Last May, I got the chance to speak at a Biola chapel. Here’s the recording of it. Fast forward to 23:40 to watch it.
Before the summer, my friends and I joked that I was “going home” to Catholic Land, and I’m not sure I really noticed how non-figurative our joke was until I got there. (I should mention that the first thing we did after getting to our hotel was walk to the Vatican and hear Pope Francis give a homily and pray the Angelus.)
Mostly I’ll be talking about Rome, because that’s where we spent the most time, but traveling through Italy I never realized how much is here to see. St. Benedict’s first monastery, Sienna (I thought it was in Spain somewhere), the bloody corporal, the conversion place of St. Augustine (didn’t click until here), St. Aquinas’ chair that he taught from, or St. Mark’s bones. And these are just some of the things I didn’t know about.
But before I get into some things that I want to highlight, I just want to mention this. In the spring I tried to go on a mission trip to Italy and was denied because I was Catholic. But man, what if I hadn’t been?! There is literally so much to work with here as far as evangelization. I think one of the most generic principles about spreading the gospel is knowing how to look for opportunities that, like doors, will naturally lead the conversation to Christ and the Faith. Sometimes we give the excuse that no opportunity came during the conversation or that we missed it and couldn’t circle back. Now these are pretty weak excuses basically anywhere in the world, but they’re downright petty if you’re in Rome. Rome: a city with streets named after famous Christians, crosses on all the high points, symbols of the Church on basically anything that isn’t a church itself, and filled with the pealing of church bells and people in habits patrolling the streets. What a place for the New Evangelization to take place. So many touchstones of Christianity that excuses pale.
*Bells for vigil mass are ringing as I’m writing this in the Cinque Terre 🙂
- I was caught off guard with how many things we saw in Rome were from Christian Rome, not Ancient pagan Rome. The years of Roman history that I had taken only covered the history of the ancient Romans and not anything after the Fall of Rome. So it was surprising to find as much if not more of the Eternal City’s attractions were from Christendom as were from the pagan empire. And much of what was from the pagan empire was preserved through the ages because of the Church. For example, the Senate building and the Parthenon were both preserved through the millennia because Catholics transformed their used into places of worship.
- Following from the last surprise, what was fascinating and encouraging to see was the baptism of things pagan. In my junior year of high school, I read Bede’s account of the Church in England. A common event in the history is for pagan worship sites to be “baptized” into Christian Churches. We see this manifest in America almost exclusively in Christian traditions like the Christmas Tree, Easter eggs, and wedding rings, but not so much in actual places. Rome is full of examples. The most prominent is the Parthenon. For those that don’t know, the Parthenon was the temple in Ancient Rome that was dedicated to the worship of all the gods. So when I walked in I expected to see statues of deity around the room, not an altar with a crucifix over it. But low and behold, this ancient center of paganism is now a church with daily services held in it.
- Another thing noticeable around this city is the obelisks. These ancient landmarks for getting around the city have noticeably been topped with crosses. They are all over the place. Brought from Egypt, the obelisks in Rome were a sign of their dominion over the known world and were useful ways of knowing where you were in the city. And as if they were history textbooks themselves, they now show the dominion of Christ over the world and the paganism of these two civilizations by object and location.
- Where else in the world are there prayer chapels at transportation hubs? We had all kinds of transportation during our time there, including train and obviously airplane. In each major station or airport, there were multiple “prayer rooms.” Some of them even had schedules posted for daily group prayer, sometimes twice a day. What an awesome thing for these places to provide. I know so many people (ahem…my sisters) that stress out about traveling. What better remedy could there be for anxiety than a sacred place to talk to God right at the place of your departure.
- It’s 7:45am on a Wednesday, it’s our day to sleep in, and you know what woke me up that morning? Not toilets flushing, not a coffee machine, not girls arguing over time in the bathroom, but church bells. On a Wednesday. And they weren’t ringing every hour, but at 7:45 in the morning and at 8. First, what a blessing it is that the reception of our spiritual food is not limited to one day of the week. Second, what an awesome thing it is that the church in Italy (or at least Florence) has the “audacity” to ring loud bells from the center of the city throughout the work week to announce a daily service. I think if we did something like that in the states we’d probably get sued for a disturbance of the peace, a hate crime, and infringement of the first amendment.
- In relation to this, I loved that the main attractions of most of the cities we visited was a cathedral or basilica. Or even just the fact that there were way more churches in a town than what I’m used to. Take Assisi for example. It’s a very small quaint town, and on our walking tour through it, we stopped in five churches (and not just small ones). And if you know the size of Assisi, that’s a lot per capita, and what’s more is that there were more than five other steeples we didn’t grace with our presence (vis versa if we want to be real here) that were visible over the town.
In a solemn state of mind, reflecting on the prominence of the churches in Assisi (or Italy at large) makes me a little melancholy. If you ever drive down Central Ave in Phoenix AZ, you can see the same number of churches in Assisi on one street if you drive but 30 seconds. However instead of differentiating the buildings by their individual names, you look to the genus denoted on their sign so you can categorize it in the great taxonomy of denominations.
And all this external stuff is great. As to the hearts of the individual parishioners that I saw at daily mass in Monterosso or elsewhere, I can’t speak of their personal walk with God. I’ve heard for years that Europe is overrun with modernism and very secular, and even that the European Christians are as such. But what I do know, is that for a good fire, one needs a fireplace. And Italy is an amazing fireplace.
So this one is for the math nerds (I mean it’s for everyone, but I think this is a fun approach).
If you follow the stream of posts on this blog (even if they’ve been sporadic as of late) you’ll remember I posted a bit back in March: A Catholic Apology (Part 1: Purgatory and Apostolic Succession). It was labeled “Part 1” because I was answering the first two of 20 objections to Catholics being Christians from a Protestant blogger. I want to tackle the 18th objection, “Unity i.e. Ecumenism is a sin.” The next ones I’ll write about are his points on Mary.
Ok, but to the point. I just have to say I’m interested in seeing the response to this because the main arguments I’m going to use for church unity I have pretty much come up with on my own. Maybe I’m not the the first one to use them, and it’s just a “great minds think alike” situation, but if I knew that then me making this point would be irrelevant. ANYWAY this post is divided into two parts: the biblical mandate for Christian Unity, and my arguments for church unity (which I’ll call the ontological mandate for church unity).
First to define ecumenism. Ecumenism is (per Webster): ecumenical principles and practices especially as shown among religious groups (such as Christian denominations.) Of course we should never define a term with itself so the definition of ecumenical is:
- a : of, relating to, or representing the whole of a body of churches
- b : promoting or tending toward worldwide Christian unity or cooperation
Ok so now that we’ve go that out of the way, my Protestant friend here is opposed to ecumenism, even calls it a sin, and his main contention as far as biblical support goes is from 2 John 9-11 which reads (in the KJV for his sake):
9 Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.
10 If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:
11 For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.
So what do we have here? We see that John says that there are those that do not abide in the doctrine of Christ, and as believers we are not to enter them into our house (contextually a cultural sign of communion) or to wish them God speed (the religious equivalent of “good luck.”)
So unity with false teachers is a sin. Seems pretty clear. However this point begs the question of this whole discussion, are Catholics Christian or not? We aren’t given a list in 2 John of who those false teachers are. But regardless, let’s apply this objection to unity to the two possible conclusions of our discussion.
- If Catholics ARE NOT Christians (so they are some of those false teachers,) the unity being sought with them is not in the pursuit of ecumenism, because ecumenism (as defined above) is unity within Christian Churches. So to recap, pursuing unity with Catholics (assuming they aren’t Christians) would not be ecumenism, making 2 John 9-11 completely irrelevant in condemning ecumenism in this scenario.
- If Catholics ARE Christians, seeking unity with them would fall under ecumenism, but it would also mean that they are not false teachers, because they do abide “in the doctrine of Christ,” again making this verse irrelevant to the conversation at hand.
So the question is still to be answered for my friend of course, whether or not Catholics are Christians, but we can know that whatever the result, the virtues of ecumenism are completely unaffected by it.
The Biblical Mandate:
But maybe you have been wondering, why pursue ecumenism in the first place? Can’t we just be content in our multitude of different churches as long as we worship the same God? I think the answer to that question is an obvious, “NO.” So first, let’s see what Scripture has to say about it.
I think the best exposition of the biblical mandate for unity is found in Peter Kreeft’s new book: Catholics and Protestants: What Can We Learn from Each Other? In chapter 4, Dr. Kreeft addresses five lies in the statement, “Of course it would be nice if we all agreed, but we just don’t, and can’t.” The first four lies revolve around the words “Of course,” “would be,” “don’t,” and, “can’t.” The fifth lie, he says, is that,
“it is not ‘nice’, it is necessary…What does God think of our divisions? Find out. How? It’s easy. He told us. Read His Book. Read–and pray, if you dare–John 17:11, 21-23, and pray about 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, not just because I say so, not to find out what I think, but to find out what God thinks and says about the whole point of this book…”
“…Do it. Actually do it–now, before you read another paragraph. Don’t just think about it–do it…Put down this book and read the Book first. Reread Christ’s prayer in John 17 and hear not just the concepts but the passion. Reread 1 Corinthians 1 and hear Paul’s passion. See whether he has any tolerance at all for denominationalism. Then read Psalm 133:1; Romans 15:5-7; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Ephesians 3:1-14: Philippians 1:27; 2:2, 5; 4:2; and 1 Peter 3:8; 4:1. And if you don’t have a Bible, go steal one.”
Luckily for you, if you’re reading this, you’re online and don’t have to steal a Bible you can just click the link to see the Bible texts there. There is no doubt that there is a biblical mandate for church unity.
However, a lot of people differ over what the degree and nature of this unity is. Dr. Kreeft spends a lot of his book working that out in what I think is a beautiful and systematic way, so I highly recommend you check it out. But I want to make some claims about the degree and nature of church unity with my own arguments, or the ontological mandate, as I’m going to call it.
The Ontological Mandate:
Ok so this is the bit for the math fans out there. I’m calling it An Ecumenical Calculus. And since it is a bit more like math than prose, I’m going to do my best to put it proof form like those awesome geometry problems from high school. [side note: it’s been two years since I tested out of college calculus, so feel free to call me out if my equations don’t work].
Let’s first take the orthodox assertion that the Trinity is unified as One, or the Godhead experiences unity. Let’s designate the degree of unity that the Trinity experiences is Unity to the x degree. (I’ll just put this here so we’re thorough, but the different degrees of unity exist: the unity of me to my countrymen, the unity of me and my family, the unity of me and [fingers crossed] my future spouse). So now we have unity^x = the unity of the Trinity.
Now working from the orthodox assertion in the Nicene Creed that there is “One church,” we could designate the degree of unity of the members in the Church is Unity to the y degree. So now we have unity^y = the unity of the Church
Now to reconcile these.
Of all the verses posited above in the Biblical Mandate, I think John 17:22 addresses this mathematical problem most fittingly. Christ prays to the Father about his followers, “…that they may be one, as we are one.” This seems to balance our equation, because x, the degree of the Trinity’s unity (of which the Father and Son experience), is prayed for the Church that experiences the degree of y.
So here we see x=y. And correct me if I’m wrong, but with any equation you can add a common base. And if the concept of unity (which needs some kind of degree inherently) is added as our common base, then we get unity^x=unity^y. Which translated means that the Trinity and the Church experience the greatest degree of oneness possible. Perhaps they are different in type since one is an uncreated unity and the other is derivative, but both are known to be “One” in the Creeds, in the Bible, and most importantly by Christ, because he only has one body, his Church.
This seems pretty unbelievable, and especially considering the past 500 years; both Protestants and Catholics warring against each other, in actual carnage or from the pulpits. So let’s try to tame this seemingly absurd equation down. Let’s appeal to Philippians 2:10-11 and say that this unity is a prophecy of an eschatological kumbayah instead of a present reality. However a reference to “all knees bowing and tongues confessing Jesus Christ as Lord” in the future doesn’t invalidate the existence of a unity of believers who do profess that in the present day. Indeed in the first part of John 17:22 Christ says, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one…” Seems to me that Christ has already given us at least this tool to become one. He’s also given us the Bible, the Apostles, also the Holy Spirit (specially working through the other two) all to be of one mind in Christ Jesus. The abundance of supernatural gifts directed towards unifying believers seems to suggest that the end of these means is on this side of the veil. Why would someone give you a shovel if you weren’t supposed to use it?
But it doesn’t stop here.
Maybe you’ve been convinced that we are to work towards unity because Christ calls for it and gave us the tools for it, but what kind of unity is being aimed at here? A lot of Protestant ecclesiology claims that this is an invisible unity, and how could they do anything more given their history and origins? But Catholics and Orthodox claim that this invisible unity exists along with a visible church unity. This can be seen that even though the Orthodox split, they remained as one in theology and practice. How can they make such claims?!
Well here is my argument for a visibly unified church. It follows Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God. And since ontological arguments work from something’s nature, like the nature of God, let’s work within the nature of the Church that we’ve already established: the church unity Christ prays for is of the greatest possible degree and that all three Christian traditions assent to the existence of an invisibly unified Church at minimum.
Ontological Argument for the Visibility of the Church
- The Church unity that Christ prays for is a unity than which nothing greater can be conceived
- Orthodoxy assents to an invisibly unified church
- Therefore a unity than which nothing greater can be conceived exists in the invisibly unified church
- It is greater to be unified than not to be unified
- Therefore, if the Church is unified only in the invisible sense, then Church unity is not as great as it could be (it isn’t a unity than which nothing greater can be conceived)
- But the Church unity that Christ prays for is a unity than which nothing greater can be conceived
- Therefore the Church unity that Christ prays for is not only an invisible unity
- Therefore the Church unity that Christ prays for is includes a visible unity
I think that this is a pretty strong argument for the visible unity of the church. And to accept this argument doesn’t mean that you have to hold that visible unity is better than invisible unity, simply that something without visible unity is lacking something in the department of unity.
Or maybe I’ve made an error in my calculations and you’ve spotted it, let me know!
Also a fun note: the picture on A Catholic Apology (Part 1) is The Delivery of the Keys by Perugino and I got to see the actual thing in the Sistine Chapel last week! This photo is of the Basilica of St. Francis, who is considered one of the first ecumenists.
Ciao from Italy!
I stopped blogging last fall cuz life got nuts. I hope that this isn’t the case for everybody, but I think I’ve noticed a pattern in how I approach semesters. The progression of mental states is something like this:
- Back to Determination during the break.
If that list doesn’t make sense here’s some photos from when my friend convinced me to pose in what looked to be a frozen lake.
But I’m feeling the need (and I also now have the time) to jump back into it. So I’m already planning blog posts on Mary, Ecumenism, and probably a bit about when I travel to Italy later this month. But as always I mainly want answer questions that readers have or discuss topics that you want to hear about.
I also have the rest of the theses from my KJV-only friend to answer, so if I don’t get questions, I’m just gonna work on those.
But I just wanted to give a little recap of what’s been going on so far since I last posted. So here we go.
So I mentioned in On Being the Elephant that I had to stop writing until I found a Catholic community of people to support me…more or less. In light of that I actually went and started a Catholic Club at my University. Basically the need I saw was that there are about 90 Catholic students at Biola, but of the 5-6 that I’ve met, they also only know about 2-3 others. At a school of 4,000, that not a lot for a common interest that very communally oriented to begin with.
The club’s name is Ex Aqua (Latin for “out of water”) and that came out of feeling a bit like a fish out of water, because I know belong to the largest group of Christians out there, but at Biola it’s almost flipped. It’s also symbolic of being baptized. The club has three purposes:
- To foster a community of Catholic students at Biola,
- To encourage each other to be positive representatives of the Catholic faith at Biola and beyond,
- To introduce the Catholic voice to the theological discussion at Biola.
The group is really open to everyone (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant), we only ask that those who join have a desire to work towards a greater unity of Christian brethren. The club has a few members so far, but we’ve got a long way to go, so if you’re a Biola student that would be interested in joining, we’d love to welcome you in (shameless self-plug). So anyway that was what I was up to in January.
Sitting at a booth promoting this club, someone came up and put their name down and let me know that she was leading a mission trip to Italy in the summer through the school. This piqued my interest, since as you should know I want to show Christ at the center of the Church to Protestants and nominal Catholics alike, and Europe is full of nominals (or so I’ve heard). So I applied and interviewed for it. But…
Turns out the trip to Italy was partnered through Cru (formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ). And they don’t consider Catholics to be Christians. So I got told by Biola that I could go on a mission to East Africa or Macedonia, but I couldn’t go on a gospel proclamation trip in Italy since I believe in “a different gospel.” I decided not to go on another trip, because I didn’t feel like I was being called to them like I was Italy.
Fortunately later in March, the American contacts for Cru came to Biola for our annual Mission’s Conference. I got the chance to sit down for about 2 hours with them and chat about their reasons, but we also chatted about just generic differences between Catholics and Protestants. When it got to the point that the wife (an ex-Catholic) informed me that the Church was trying to get Mary officially placed as a goddess, I knew that this wasn’t going to go anywhere good. It shocks me that even the largest missionary organizations can have hold such a slanderous view of the Church. I think this points to the need for truth in everything even from a pragmatic view, and here’s why. We all know missionaries make a lot of money in their profession…I’m kidding. Given the limited resources that missions have, it seems imperative that those resources (people, money, relief supplies, Bibles, tracts, etc.) be effectively applied. If we start sending missionaries to different churches because we (wrongly, or maybe just with bad information…like Mary as a deity) believe that they aren’t saved, then we’re wasting time and resources on infighting. Of course the constant reminder of the gospel to those who already believe is essential to the mission of the Church, but that is not what we’re talking about when we say to brothers, “If you stay in your church, you’re not going to be saved. Come to my church.” That’s just the paramount manifestation of the spirit of schism.
I’m really interested to hear how the mission went for the Biola team since I know they didn’t have that same mindset of “sheep-stealing.” But this freed up my summer and I looked into possible internships for the summer. Catholic Answers doesn’t have an internship program, but I emailed them anyway asking if they had need of college student for the summer.
Around this time, I also switched majors from Philosophy to Biblical and Theological Studies. I’m not sure about this, but I’m pretty sure I’m the first Catholic B&TS major at Biola. So it should be really interesting to see how it goes. I’m taking Ecclesiology in the fall so that should be fun. I figured that I was doing enough theological study in my free time to just have answers for my friends, that I should just make my hobby my major. I also just want to build bridges between Catholics and Protestants, and as I’ve been telling people, you have to know both riverbanks to build a bridge.
Just after this I got offered the opportunity to speak at a chapel at Biola. (I’ll post the video on here when it gets published). I made up my mind to talk about the brokenness I’ve experienced in the Church but also the hope of reunion that we can hold onto. I probably spent 12 hours preparing that 7 minute speech. Probably 6 out of my own anxiety, and 6 from trying to edit it down to fit the time and content requirements. I say content requirements because the people in charge of chapel said that I could name Cru in my speech. Why? Because they had too close of a relationship with Biola. I didn’t know that testimonials could get so political, but I guess I was wrong. So instead I had to say, “missions organization” and I feared that that would make people think SMU had excluded me, and apparently some people took it that way unfortunately. But I guess that’s the price paid.
Two days after that I was in invited (with a handful of other students) to attend a luncheon with the Board of Trustees. While there I actually got to chat with Biola’s President for about 20 min about my time at Biola as a Catholic. And I talked with his speechwriter, for about another hour. Needless to say I’m really excited to see what happens this next year with denominational diversity at Biola, especially since October marks the 500th Anniversary of the 95 Theses sparking the Reformation.
But that leads to now, and I get to spend the summer working at Catholic Answers, who’s website, get this, is Catholic.com. But they’re the second most visited Catholic site other than the Vatican, and is my dream place to work in the future. I have been blessed beyond my imagination with what I have going this summer, and that time includes a lot of space for studying and blogging. So get ready for more. And as always I’ll try to keep the next ones under 1000 words.
Sidenote: I’m gonna start using Instagram to promote this blog more. So if you’re on Insta go give @recapturingcatholicism
Have an awesome summer!
*Posted from an earlier personal FB post*
[If you don’t want to read the entire thing, just read the last two lines. But this is why I am at Biola, and plan on staying]
It’s no secret that we often find out that something we disagree with isn’t all that we thought it to be. We often find ourselves seeing our opponent as something they are not. For example, I used to think that everyone who was pro-choice was pro-abortion, as if they thought abortion was a good thing. Obviously that’s not really the case.
In learning how to debate, one of the first steps I was told to take was to establish a value that I am trying to uphold. And of course the opponent was to do the same. If we think that to discuss a certain issue necessitates that we have identical or directly opposing values, then we get ourselves into a mindset that sets up a straw man for the opponent. If I think that my value on the abortion issue is life, and therefore my opponents value is death (directly opposing), then I’m claiming something absurd. These death advocates would not be protesting police brutality and the death penalty if they were really death advocates. Instead the values of a pro-life opponent are not directly opposite of life. Their value is choice, thus the title “pro-choice.” The assumption that just because they’re pro-choice means they’re “pro-abortion” or “pro-death” is not only absurd, it sets up a straw man that is easy to dismiss and thus logically fallacious.
One of the first steps in argumentation or critical thinking is to hear your opponent’s contention. And not just audibly hear it, but to let it stand as an objection that is to be answered. And not just to let it stand, but to interpret what they’re saying in the strongest possible sense. St. Thomas Aquinas is famous for his argumentation not because he could argue his point well, but because he could argue his opponents’ points well, and sometimes better than they could. It is in refuting strong arguments that strong arguments become relevant and significant. We sharpen iron with iron, not cheese.
The first step to disagreement is then to understand what you are disagreeing about. As a general rule, this understanding is not obtained by learning about an opponent from an ally of yours, except in the case of good reasoners i.e. Thomas Aquinas who could even make his opponent’s case better. But often times, in arguing against something, we paint them as disreputable, irrelevant, or crazy. This type of polemic is a complete disservice to those wanting to learn about a position other than their own. That is why I always say to go to the person you disagree with to figure out what you disagree about.
If we don’t confront an opponent head on, we can start to distort other positions while we fester in our own little bubbles and echo chambers. This is why gossip and slander is so dangerous. I don’t know if anyone remembers the Veggie Tales superhero LarryBoy, but one of the villains he faces is the Rumor Weed. He is eventually victorious because the rumor is cut off at the root by talking to the person that the rumor was about. Archibald was not actually a robot with batteries that needed to be recharged. SPOILERS!!!
What’s my point? I do have a point, I promise, and it relates to a systematic theology textbook that all of Biola uses. But to set this up, I will quote Fr. Fulton Sheen, “There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing. These millions can hardly be blamed for hating Catholics because Catholics “adore statues”; because they “put the Blessed Mother on the same level with God”; because they say “indulgence is a permission to commit sin”; because the Pope “is a Fascist”; because the “Church is the defender of Capitalism.” If the Church taught or believed any one of these things it should be hated, but the fact is that the Church does not believe nor teach any one of them. It follows then that the hatred of the millions is directed against error and not against truth. As a matter of fact, if we Catholics believed all of the untruths and lies which were said against the Church, we probably would hate the Church a thousand times more than they do.” I experience this on a daily level being a convert to the Catholic Church. And typically I try to assume the best about where these misperceptions come from: the uneducated, wive’s tales, emotionally driven polemics, proselytization, and outrage mongering. Rarely do I find misrepresentations among the thoughtful people who can do their research (not to say that that means there’s no disagreement).
But unfortunately the venerated Wayne Grudem does give such a misperception. Not in a heated sermon or anything, no. His false witness comes in his Systematic Theology textbook. Further this grave error is not a negative spin of a Catholic doctrine or anything, it’s a complete ignorance of it. What I am speaking of is in chapter 24 of his Systematic Theology on Sin. In section 4 he addresses the Catholic division of sin into “venial” and “mortal” sin. True. Catholicism makes this divide. He then goes on to define as the Catholic teaching of sin as such, “a venial sin can be forgiven, but often after punishments in this life or in Purgatory (after death, but before entrance into heaven). A mortal sin is a sin that causes spiritual death and cannot be forgiven; it excludes people from the kingdom of God.” And he doesn’t just give a passing definition of mortal sin, he elaborates on this definition as a premise for his next few paragraphs and goes even deeper in his footnote (number 22 if you want to look it up). False. Catholicism teaches that the only sin that is unforgivable is the sin of impenitence. Don’t believe me? Let me take you to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
In paragraph 1855 of the CCC, the effectual nature of mortal and venial sin are defined as such: “Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.” Nowhere here do we see anything about mortal sin being unforgivable, but one could extrapolate the “turns man away from God” as leading to “[excluding] people from the kingdom of God.” However this would mean that this person would have committed this mortal sin and continued in it without repenting, which would mean that a mortal sin on its own is not enough to merit eternal damnation. And that is why the CCC states in 1864 that, “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.”
I don’t know how to put this, but Grudem could have taken at least five minutes to check the Catholic teaching on sin. There’s no excuse for this given that the CCC is public domain on the internet and the section on sin is clearly labeled “THE GRAVITY OF SIN: MORTAL AND VENIAL SIN.” Such an overlooking might be understandably acceptable in a blog, live interview, or an impassioned sermon. But for this evangelical titan to bear false witness in his systematic theology textbook, it is not only shameful, but dangerous as well. It scares me to think of all the people who have read this book, as a Biola student or otherwise, and have come out thinking that their separated brethren limit the mercy of God and dam up the grace flowing from the crucifixion, and how much further this separates the church in its many divisions in a year that marks the 500th year of the Protestant Reformation.
The first step to disagreement is to know what you disagree with, not the why, the what. Once the what is understood, then we can move on to the why.
A Catholic Apology
If you thought this was going to be an apology as in me saying, “sorry,” ya thought wrong. An apology, according to Webster’s first definition, is “a formal justification.” The Apology is actually a book by Plato, and is one of my favorite books. But it is really something of a court transcript of Socrates being anything but sorry. Apology is also the word that gives us “apologetics.” So if you’re looking for a confession here, sorry…this is not that. Also I have traditionally “blogged” in the past, but this piece is meant to be more academic than entertaining, but that should not disqualify it from being intriguing.
Since starting my blog, there have of course been those who disagree with me. But to another level, there are those who make a point to consistently vocalize their disagreement. This isn’t a bad thing, but it deserves some attention. Those of you who look at the comment threads will notice I am speaking of the blogger, Sentient Christian. After having extended dialogue with him, I asked him to provide a list of objections to Catholicism being Christian. He has given a list of 20 heresies from Catholicism, and the standard by which these are heretical is that they are contrary to the Scriptures KJV. So without further ado, here are the 20 Theses of Sentient Christian:
3Veneration/worship of mary
4so-called prayers to mary
6Title of pope Vs Mathew 23v9,
7RCC=Whore of Babylon as in Revelation 17 KJV
11The second commandment deletion by RCC
14Mary as co-redeemer
15The catholic so-called priesthood
16The beginning of the RCC
17Final authority Vs RCC tradition
18Unity i.e. is Ecumenism a sin
20Mary’s Children and Mary’s so-called perpetual virginity.
So just to be clear the debate at this point looks like this:
Me: Catholicism is Christian.
SC: No, it is a false religion
SC: *These 20 reasons*
Me: How do these disqualify Catholicism from being Christian?
SC: They are contrary to Scripture KJV
Me: Ok let me respond…
And this is my response, so let’s go…
First of all, I will be using the KJV Bible as much as possible so as to be using the accepted authority of my opponent, and because the debate revolves around Catholic doctrine being contrary to this particular translation. Whether or not the KJV is the only authoritative Bible translation or if Sola Scriptura is true are other debates for another time, but for now I will play on his turf.
It should also be noted, as Sentient Christian pointed out to me, that the prologue to the KJV is explicitly Anti-Catholic. Here’s a link.
So by using the KJV as a Catholic, something that was published with the intent to unravel Catholic theology, I am embarking on something analogous to doctors using snake venom to heal people.
That being said, here goes.
Now as you should recall, the charge here is that the teaching of Purgatory is contrary to Scripture KJV and therefore Catholicism is not compatible with Christianity. Purgatory, the word, is not found in Scripture KJV, true. But neither is the word Trinity, so we must look at concepts that point to its reality even if it’s not explicitly named, like we do with the Trinity.
Also it should be noted that since there are no verses that my opponent has applied to show the contrary nature of Purgatory, I can’t refute his objection. But I can make the positive case for a biblical basis for Purgatory.
Here are some passages organized by the order of appearance in the Scriptures KJV.
2 Maccabees 12 KJV
43 And when he had made a gathering throughout the company to the sum of two thousand drachmas of silver, he sent it to Jerusalem to offer a sin offering, doing therein very well and honestly, in that he was mindful of the resurrection:
45 And also in that he perceived that there was great favour laid up for those that died godly, it was an holy and good thought. Whereupon he made a reconciliation for the dead, that they might be delivered from sin.
Matt. 5 KJV
26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
Luke 12 KJV
59 I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence, till thou hast paid the very last mite.
1 Cor 3 KJV
8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.
10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
Rev 21 KJV
27 And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
So before I start my defense, I should acknowledge this one assumption: that not every man has been perfectly sanctified at the time of their death. Should Sentient Christian disagree with this assumption, let him argue against it with the Scripture KJV. But for now, I will be using that as a given.
That being said, the passage in Revelation 21 tells us that nothing that “defileth” or “worketh abomination” will enter into Heaven (check the verses around it for context if you doubt me.) So (this is where my assumption applies) if we are not perfected at the time of death, we cannot enter into Heaven at the time of death. But if we’re Christians and can’t go to Heaven right away, where do we go? Not Hell. Then it must be some third place. Working backward through my list, let’s visit 1 Corinthians. We see men reaping what they sow in these passages with metaphors of farmers and builders and wages after death. Verse 15 is the one I want to direct your attention towards. It shows that even though our work be imperfect, we will still be saved, “yet so as by fire.” It is a common theme in Scripture to use fire as refining source. In passages like Zechariah 13:9, Psalm 66:10, Isaiah 48:10, 1 Peter 1:7, and Job 23:10 we see this language of God’s refining of his people to bring them to perfection. In this way Purgatory is understood as the purifying step before entrance into heaven, the outdoor shower outside of a beach house or the welcome mat on the front porch. And it will not be until we have been completely purified that we may enter (Matt 5:26, Luke 12:59.) I hope you can see a biblical basis for the concept of Purgatory from the Scripture KJV here.
Now you may have noticed that I included a passage from 2 Maccabees 12. You should also note that it is KJV from the original version in 1611. Now even if the authors back then did not include it as something inspired by God (well then you ask why did they even put it in their Bible?!) they included it as a historical record of what the people of God did. And here we see them giving sin offerings for the dead. Two things, this tells us that the Jews believed in a place post-death where sins still merited some kind of sacrifices. This can’t be place of eternal damnation (Hell) nor can it be the place of eternal life (Heaven) since Jesus tells us that we cannot travel between the two in Luke 16:26 KJV. The second thing it lets us in on is that Jews believed that they could make effective reconciliation for those who had died.
All that to say, the concept of Purgatory has been around since before Jesus, and is not some invention of the Catholic Church like some would like to think. Nor is it contrary to Scripture KJV, but rather in accord with it.
2. Apostolic Succession
In the absence of any verses presented contrary to the existence of an apostolic succession (the uninterrupted transmission of spiritual authority from the Apostles through successive bishops,) I will show its compatibility with Scripture.
But first some good KJV Scripture to start my case.
Matthew 10:40 KJV
40 He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.
Matthew 18:15-18 KJV
15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Luke 10:16 KJV
16 He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.
Luke 22:29-30 KJV
29 And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me;
30 That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
John 17:8 KJV
8 For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.
John 20:21 KJV
21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.
22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:
23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.
Acts 1:20-26 KJV
16 Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus.
17 For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry.
18 Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.
19 And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.
20 For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.
21 Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,
22 Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.
23 And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.
24 And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen,
25 That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.
26 And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
Romans 10:15 KJV
15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
2 Tim 2:1-2 KJV
1 Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
2 And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.
Hebrews 6:1-2 KJV
1 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,
2 Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
3 And this will we do, if God permit.
Ok well that was a lot. Hopefully you can already start to see where I’m going with this. But I’ll lay it out for you.
So in defending the compatibility of the apostolic succession, which as I’ve defined above is the uninterrupted transmission of spiritual authority from the Apostles through successive bishops, the first part is to show that the Apostles had any kind of spiritual authority at all to pass on to their successors. This is pretty easy to find in the Gospels this idea, indeed the first passage I presented gives us Jesus telling the Twelve that those who receive them, receive Jesus himself, and then receive the one who sent Jesus (God the Father.) Receiving the message of the Twelve is a pretty big deal then, and even a more serious one when we look at how it is presented by Luke. Jesus says again to those he sends out in 10:16, “…and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.”
“Ok…,” you’re thinking, “we just have to like them. They don’t necessarily have any authority though.” Well that’s when the next few passages become distinctly relevant. In Luke 22, Jesus appoints the Twelve to a kingdom, where they will judge the twelve tribes of Israel. “Who are the twelve tribes of Israel at this point?” This is also to whom James addresses his epistle, and in context is understood to be symbolic of all Christians. Who knows? Maybe he got his metaphor from Jesus himself. But whoever they are (seems like all Christians) Jesus gives the 12 an authority over them “as my Father has appointed me.” Moving on to John, Jesus tells us that he has given the words to them, the same words that the Father gave to him. I won’t go into the significance of the word “logos” since that’s a Greek word and isn’t in the KJV of the Bible. But we see this concept conveyed again a few chapters later when Jesus appears to the Twelve after his Resurrection. He tells them that he is sending them out just as the Father sent him. He breathes on them and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and then he tells them, “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” The Pharisees would respond but “who can forgive sins but God only?” (Mark 2:7 KJV) Indeed it only follows “…that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins…(Mark 2:10 KJV)” because of the one who sent him, and if that same Son of Man sends the Twelve as the Father has sent him (which is repeated multiple times in the Gospels as I’ve shown,) it only makes sense that the Twelve would have that authority as well. …I hope this is clear; to me (and Catholics for millennia) it seems elementary.
But that’s only the first bit. I know. The second part is making the case by Scripture that this authority given the Apostles by Jesus which was given him by the Father can be passed on through the generations (the whole succession part of this discussion.)
I’ll start with the fact of the absence of any verse that the authority of God that Christ bestowed on the Twelve ends with their death. The point argued here is that the apostolic succession is contrary to Scripture, but unfortunately there are no Scriptures that tell of of something like “The apostles had the authority of God, but when they died the authority of God through them ended.” I could stop here. My case is done. By the standards of Scripture KJV-only, there is nothing contrary to the apostolic succession. But something feels incomplete about it, so I will try then to demonstrate the compatibility of the apostolic succession with Scripture KJV.
It seems only right that the place for this support would come right after Jesus leaves. In Acts 1: 20-26 the first thing we see the apostles do after the Ascension is figure out who is going to fill the “bishoprick” of Judas, who had since died. I have to be especially thankful to the KJV for this translation. Most translations I’ve read use the word “office” instead, but the KJV only makes its support of the episcopal workings of the church that much more explicit. It is key to note that the position (“bishoprick”) Judas was given as one of the Twelve (the significance of which I’ve argued for above) didn’t disappear with his sinful actions or his subsequent death. The bishoprick remains and is to be filled by another so “that he might take part of this ministry and apostleship.”
Need I really say more? But I can, so I will. In the passage from Hebrews above, we hear the author give a list of foundational doctrines, “repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.” “What is this laying on of hands?” you ask. Well whatever it is we need to recognize that it gets lumped into a group with such Christian hallmarks such as repentance, faith, baptism, and resurrection. Whatever it is, it demands our attention and our adherence. There are two senses in which people have understood this phrase. In Acts 8:17, 19:6 this rite effects the infusion of the holy Spirit; in Acts 6:6, 13:3, 1 Tm 4:14, 5:22, 2 Tm 1:6 it is a means of conferring some ministry or mission in the early Christian community. The Catholic titles for these two understandings are confirmation and the holy orders respectively. Now it should be noted that the first implies the existence of the second, and the second is the point I wish to focus on. In the passage of Acts where Matthias is chosen to succeed Judas Iscariot, we see that it is not just the Twelve gathered there, there were 108 others gathered. And here we see the first division of clergy and lay. I’m bleeding into another point here that I will address later on, but it is important we see the need for the clergy here in this sense, and the clergy is shown to be the 12 and their successors. On to more things…
To be continued…because this takes awhile and I’m a full-time student with no spare time for Internet debates.
One of the attributes of America that I find intriguing is the fascination in being “different,” “hipster” if you will. I don’t think that this is different from most people; I think we all have an inherent and flawed fascination with the novel, the new, the modern. It accounts for the success of advertising and its captive consumer culture. I remember (with a smirk) the days when I played competitive soccer and Nike would come out with new colors for the same model cleats every two months or so, at which point the old colors (although no different in make) would drop $40 in price. It’s hilarious.
All this to say, I wonder if we give being different and unique too much hype. To continue with the cleats analogy, some of the guys wearing old Adidas Copas (ancient bare bones cleats) were just as good as those wearing the new Nike Mercurials with all the bells and whistles.
They’re both still cleats. Yes, there are some differences but they are both still soccer cleats. This is their essential attribute and nature. The fact that one is more flashy and novel is of no practical consequence. They’re both still soccer cleats
My point is, being new and different is not all it’s cracked up to be. Going into this semester, I have to wonder if I was riding off of that hype. A rare Catholic in a sea of evangelicals at Biola University. I fell victim to the appeal of being different. And coming to the end of the semester I find myself completely drained.
I was blessed with a supportive community this summer at Younglife that accepted my Christianity as valid, and time spent with them was refreshing and a much needed retreat from a pretty rough year before that. It’s communities like this that give us the support and environment any human needs to first be themselves and then to refine.
This was the energy I was riding into the school year, and now that wave has come to the shore and nothing but foam remains.
I’ve been isolated before, different than those around me. I played soccer with non-Christians, been to classes at a secular college, so I know what means to be a religious minority. But in cases like that I had Christian friends to rely on, or to pass people on to if they had a question I couldn’t answer, and to support me in times where I felt alone. I wasn’t the only Christian people knew. I didn’t carry the sole weight of exemplifying and explaining the Christian faith to the people I knew.
Things are a little different now. While I am in an almost exclusively Christian community at Biola, I am one of the only Catholics I know. According to the school’s statistics, there are about 90 Catholics in our 4,000 undergraduate school; however since the environment is predominately Protestant, not a lot of Catholics feel comfortable identifying as such publicly. I’m one of 2 that has, and I only know 3 other Catholics beside myself. Which is pretty sad if you think about it. It’s very similar to the early Christians hiding in the catacombs during the Roman persecution.
This would be one thing. But since I don’t come from a Catholic background, I don’t have friends back home I can call for help, a family to lean on and go to mass with, or years of knowledge about Catholicism to draw on. In someways I feel like St. Peter, a disciple of Jesus for a short time and then called before the Sanhedrin to be questioned. An illiterate (most likely) fisherman called before an intimidating religious court. I can only pray that the Spirit would grace my witness as it did Peter’s.
It truly is a shame and I think the reality of my minority experience is so out of sync with the reality outside of my life. There are approximately 1.3 billion Catholics in the world, and that makes up a majority of the world’s Christians. But even though my particular church might be made up of a billion, I could count those with whom I actually have a relationship on my ten fingers.
Being the Elephant in the room has been too exhausting for me to do on my own. It’s why I haven’t kept up my blog as vigorously; and until I find a group that can support me, I won’t be posting on the blog.
But before I disappear I have a few things to ask of you, my reader. If you are a Catholic reading this, please pray for the Catholics at Biola, that we might be set free from the fear we live in, and also for the Protestants here that they would see the value in appreciating the first 75% of their Christian history.
If you are a Protestant reading this, my appeal is to your emotions (and I know that’s not a valid appeal, and as a philosophy major this makes me cringe). I hope you can see the real, individual pain that the division of church causes in people’s lives, like myself. It is not just some congregational rivalry; it affects people on a personal level. Please work towards reconciliation both theologically and relationally. One of the really easy ways to do this is to stop using the language of “Christian and Catholic” when you really mean “Protestant and Catholic” (unless of course you really do mean to draw a line, in which case, please use the language of your conviction).
I’ll take this last moment to present a dilemma I find with Protestant culture (and this is an example from Biola, but it is definitely applicable to my experience before college).
Catholics, in the Protestant eye, can often be lumped alongside Mormons, in so far as good works being at least a factor in justification, as religious people that claim to be Christians, but in fact aren’t…and therefore are not saved. I’ve had this said to my face if you doubt that this happens. Biola, my university, has a student mission called EMI (Evangelical Mormon Interactions.) This provides an opportunity for Evangelical Christians and Mormons to hangout and (I’m assuming this happens because I’ve never been involved) witness to their faith. I know that growing up when Mormons would knock on our door, we would not turn them away, but invite them to discuss faith and try to help them see the true Christian gospel.
My dilemma is this: if we, Catholics, are as lost as Mormons, why is the reaction to the Catholic Church scorn and condemnation instead of the outreach and concern extended to Mormons. If we are both lost, reach out to both of us. Our responsibility of evangelism is to all, not just to the ones we choose. And if we are not lost, then why is there scorn and condemnation?
This is the dilemma I will end with. Perhaps I will write again sometime, but I simply can’t keep this up.
Peace be with you,
A brother in Christ.
I know I haven’t posted in a few weeks; part of that is due to college, but it’s also partially due to talking with friends about Catholicism face-to-face. And that is gonna be what this post is about. And I think that this post applies to anyone who is looking to converse with anyone of conflicting beliefs, even if you’re not Catholic.
Two weeks ago, I had an appointment with the Spiritual Direction program that is offered at my university and that I take part in. It’s like Christian counseling but in like Flintstone-vitamin-potency, to where it’s mainly you vocally processing your life to a second person. I’ve been struggling in recent weeks with doubts about my capacity to care for people’s emotions, and it took verbalizing this to realize the rut I was slipping into.
When I was 15, my faith really became my own while serving at a Younglife camp; and the switch was not that I was some rebellious, angsty sinner that rejected God, but that I was a calloused, Pharisee-like sinner that rejected the ones that God loves. At that camp that I realized I had been ignored the love aspect of the gospel which is inseparable with the truth aspect. I realized that in the past year or so I have been negligibly falling back into that partial gospel-view I used to hold. Part of this is due to the fact that I am very analytical by nature (which isn’t a bad thing necessarily) and due to my circumstances I have let that part of me run rampant. In transitioning to Catholicism, the major changes are intellectual ones and not so much different heart orientations, so naturally my focus has been on the truth-aspect of the gospel for the past year or so. Indeed this blog is more driven towards the truth-aspect by nature.
Something my sponsor has encouraged me to do whenever my Catholic-adverse environment comes up is “to just love people.” Confession: I failed at that. In Andrew’s ideal world, everyone could recognize logic as supreme. But this is not the world that I’m in, nor is it the ideal world. The ideal world would reflect our God, who holds truth and love in perfect balance.
So these past weeks I have been trying to reorient myself to implement love and truth in my living out of the gospel.
In doing so, I have come across a few things; three for now. We will call them the Trinity of Scarecrows for now.
1-Scarecrows stand in one spot. They’re stuck in the ground.
These people could be called robots in a sense. They maintain a set position and continue on that track with no regard to others’ humanity. These are the people who read Nietzsche and put his thoughts on force over reason into practice. I’ve experienced these people online (and somehow in real life) and you can tell their not interested in convincing a human being of their beliefs, but you rather force you to accept their robotic dominance.
In contrast to this behavior, I would encourage that we realize that those we are trying to convince are humans and not objects to bend to our will so that a sense of dominance can boost our ego. Rather, if we do convince someone of a truth, our reaction should not be that of triumph, but of joy and brotherly love as we welcome another into the dynamic journey of truth of which we ourselves are a part.
2-Scarecrows don’t have minds. To borrow the trope from the Wizard of Oz, scarecrows just don’t have intellectual capacities. In this context I don’t mean to take the metaphor that far, but just to say that scarecrows don’t have intellectual humility; meaning that they are not open to thinking of their own beliefs as beliefs, but as absolute truth.
In relation to the first point, an attribute of this one is stubbornness. However, the source of such a characteristic in this case is not from a robotic, domineering view of people, but rather a pride that isn’t willing to view oneself as human. This stubbornness comes from an unwillingness to examine one’s beliefs, to admit that one doesn’t understand the full picture on their own, to admit they could be wrong.
I would encourage these people to see that whatever they might believe might have strong rationale behind it, but that there is a slight possibility that they could be wrong. Even I must admit that I don’t know everything, and that is why I encourage people to ask me questions on this blog, because it will further refine my understanding (and hopefully others’) of the truth.
3-Scarecrows are straw men. Seems redundant, but in conversation there is this concept called the “straw man.” Essentially it means that one puts forth the argument of his opponent in an insufficient or inaccurate manner and then disproves it to demonstrate his opponent is in the wrong. Here are some examples I have heard recently about Catholicism:
1-The Catholic Church claims that the pope is infallible.
Many popes were corrupt and sinful.
Being corrupt and sinful makes someone fallible.
Therefore the Catholic Church is wrong.
2- The Catholic Church says that contraception is wrong because it would stop the physical growth of the kingdom.
We know that Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual one and therefore is grown spiritually.
Therefore there is no reason to say that contraception is wrong and thus the Catholic Church is wrong.
In the first example, the first two statements are true, but the third is proposing a definition of “infallible” that the Catholic Church doesn’t use. When the Catholic Church says that popes are infallible, they do not claim that the pope is impeccable. We are all sinners, even the pope. So this is an example of a straw man (and equivocation) argument that is very popular.
In the second example, the argument presumes the reason that the Catholic Church gives for condemning contraceptives. Now this argument is very easily shot down because it is a pretty bad one. However, this is not the argument that the Catholic Church uses and so the whole argument is invalid. The contraceptive argument is much more philosophical and relies on the concept of natural law, not this horrible presumed one. I heard this argument from my Old Testament professor last week. It is truly a shame that such straw man arguments that are supposed to represent the Catholic Church are taught to the thousands at this university.
I would recommend that, when arguing for something with which we disagree, we use the arguments our opponent would use.
So watch out for scarecrows this Halloween and in all of life.
So as promised, this week’s post is about verses that had been “glossed over” when I was a Protestant. Now to before I started listing these, I should preface my intent a little bit.
In putting forth these verses, I am not doing these things:
- Proof texting-saying this one verse proves something wrong and the Catholic Church right in its teaching.
- Saying that Protestants reject these verses outright as non-authoritative.
- Saying that the Bible contradicts itself.
My intent here is to put forth verses that I have stumbled across in the past year or so, that I had never heard answers to at school, bible study, or church growing up. And it is not that they were never read or hidden (through high school we read all of the New Testament and most of the Old), but that these were never expounded on or explained, regardless of the glaring necessity that they be addressed to justify a Protestant understanding of scripture. So…here we go.
James 2:24 (teased last week)
James always presents a sticky situation for those who want to say that we are saved by faith alone. Its argument is typically summed up in verse 26 “faith without works is dead” In a general sense this passage is typically explained to me that James is saying we are still saved by faith alone, but that works are natural consequence of a living faith. Thus works show faith, but have no inherent, saving merit to them.
Ok…I get that justification of faith alone to verse 26, but the part that I never saw before this year was verse 24 which goes as follows, “See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” ……..What?! It should be also noted that this is the only passage in the entirety of scripture where the phrase “faith alone” (Sola Fide) appears. Now note that this passage does not say that we are justified by works alone and not faith at all (as my Foundations of Christian Thought professor rebuked me this week), but rather simply states that our justification is not attributed to only faith, but to works as well. This verse and the ones surrounding (21 and 25 in particular) demand answers to justify the idea that our work has nothing to do with our justification/righteousness.
1 Peter 3:21 and John 3:5
Now ok, I know this isn’t a strictly Protestant/Catholic divide, but the way I was raised and was baptized was with the understanding that baptism is a symbol of being saved or a public proclamation of faith in Christ. Even within Protestantism this is disputed and even Luther would have disagreed with my old church’s stance, but I’m refuting the teachings of my past here so I will proceed.
The verse in 1 Peter goes, “This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.” In John, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”
Ok if somehow baptism is just a symbol that has no eternal significance, then I am confused how these verses could be reconciled realistically. These verses demand answers since they are clearly talking about a physical baptism in real water and not some abstract.
Communion is also a pretty big distinction between Catholicism and Protestantism, disagreeing on the presence of Christ in the Eucharist or simply a symbol from the Passion Week. Growing, I always had this feeling that this couldn’t just be a symbol and had to have something more to it. But that was just a hunch.
John 6:53 says, “So Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.'” Now this seems pretty drastic, and if you read the context, Jesus says to portray the severity of what he is saying. If he was trying to be symbolic or metaphorical, he has three chances in this passage to retract his controversial statements.
How a merely symbolic or nonessential view of Communion (Eucharist) can be held in light of this passage truly perplexes me.
On this topic of Communion, we can also look to the persecution of the Early Christians. One of the main accusations in the Roman courts was that Christians were cannibals, because of their abominations in the Eucharist. Now it would be bad reasoning to say that because we don’t have any documents where they pleaded, “No, it’s just a symbol!!” means that they never did. But nevertheless, we don’t have much to say that the first Christians believed that they were partaking in the real body and blood of Christ through Communion.
…but the point here is to focus on Scripture, whoops.
1 Corinthians 3:15
Now this is a verse that that doesn’t really prove a specific point, but it certainly raises questions and was never addressed in my learning of Corinthians.
It goes, “But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.”
A lot of Catholic apologists point here to “prove” the concept of Purgatory. I think that’s not really a solid argument from what this verse says alone. But nevertheless, I think this verse does raise a good point, both in the discussion of the role of works and of what salvation looks like. This verse is in a passage talking about us as believers building on Christ, our one and only foundation. This “being saved, but only as through fire” language certainly rings familiar to Purgatory. I would love to here a satisfactory Protestant interpretation of this verse.
There are more verses that I have stumbled across and wondered why they are never addressed, but these few I think are the most important ones to bring to conversation.
Again if any reader has a topic they’d like to hear me write about, don’t hesitate to submit a question in the comments.
Peace be with you!
I planned on writing a more theological blog post this week, talking about verses that demand answers that had been “glossed over” when I was a Protestant. But because I’m a master procrastinator, I didn’t leave time for myself to meticulously gather all of them (downside of not having a photographic memory.) To give you a taste though, I had never even heard James 2:24 mentioned in any context before this year. So that’s a teaser for next week.
But this week I have to talk about something more close to the heart: Ecumenism. First a definition. Ecumenical: involving people from different kinds of Christian churches. Ecumenism, then, is the ideology of working towards a unity in Christian churches.
To flush out the idea a little more, this ideal stems from (in a verse) the High Priestly Prayer in John 17: 20-23,
20 “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. 22 And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.”
We are supposed to be one in Christ to the extent that we are as unified as the Son is to the Father. THAT’S INSANE!! Can we even begin to imagine what that would look like? Now some might try to say this is trying to reflect on the unity are those who are saved will experience once in heaven. But I would stop them right there and point them to the end of verse 21 where we can clearly see that this unity has to do with our witness to the present world. That being said, I find it hard to believe that a prayer of Christ’s could fail and in a world that where the church is so split up, this passage (and others) should remind us of the importance of the unity of believers.
(For the purposes of this blog, I will be addressing the divisions of Protestantism and Catholicism, disregarding the Orthodox tradition of Christianity. I do this simply because I am more aquainted with these two traditions than the later.)
Unfortunately, there’s been two downsides to this ideal. The first is that in efforts to solve the dividing points, there is the concern that convictions will be compromised in order for reconcilliation. This cannot happen. The truth will always be more important that unity. The cheapening of our convictions cannot be the source of our unity.
The other downside that I have seen merely in conversation with others is that a lot of Christians are content to live in separation. Unity has no value to them and any effort we make would be wasted. The heavenly unity of believers is all they care about. Or in some cases I’ve experienced, reconciling with other churches would violate 2 John 9-11 which states:
9 Anyone who is so “progressive” as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him in your house or even greet him; 11 for whoever greets him shares in his evil works.
Unity cannot happen, in this case, because we don’t want it.
These two downsides carry two extremes:
1-Prizing unity above all else, even convictions of truth
2-Not prizing unity at all
Neither of these attitudes are condoned in John 17, because as 22-23 states,
And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.
We are called to unity in Christ, not unity in unity. If someone does remain in the teaching of Christ, he cannot be unified with others in Christ. And so John and 2 John pair together.
However concerning the second downfall, a closer reading of 2 John is neccesary. Indeed the disassciation form false teaching is absolutely neccessary. However this action of disunity assumes a knowledge of the teaching and what it is and if indeed it is contrary to the teaching of Christ. Too often I find people not even willing to listen to others’ teaching based on their preconceived notion of what it is (lol me a little over a year ago) and thus disassociate from them prematurely. This is not what is condoned by 2 John and indeed is quite near the definition of bigotry.
Thus ecumenisim must be centered around unity in Christ. Indeed with divisions so stark and polarizing, only through Him could such healing be acheived.
…Now I haven’t really said much positively about ecumenism or how to get there. To do so would take much more space than I have left to write in. But to name at least something, a united Church would show God to the world. Christ’s body is not supposed to be a hacked up amputee. Again back to the High Priestly Prayer, the effect of unity is quite plainly spelled out:
21 so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.
If for nothing else we should be unified in Christ for the purpose of helping the world to believe in the sending of Christ from the Father.
Once discovering that I am an audible learner, I took to podcasts. One of perhaps my favorite lectures of all time is one by my favorite author, Peter Kreeft. Only this last spring did I realize that not only did he have a nearly identical testimony to mine, but that he was Catholic. I looked up his podcasts and he had one on ecumenism (which I will attach below) and it is a beautiful masterpiece of an argument. To give you a taste of his attiude, here is one of his quotes,
“And so Catholics need to be better Protestants to be better Catholics.”
With that, I hope you enjoy…
*This post was approved by an Anglican