Being Catholic at Biola – Vlog 3

While this is not the only video I’ve been a part of regarding this topic, it is by far the most personal and I wanted to share it with all of you.

Questions:

1. You have shifted your faith from Protestant Christianity to Catholic, correct?

2. There is this stigma that Catholics on Biola’s campus are treated differently or don’t belong. Do you feel like you don’t belong? And did you feel like you belonged before you had shifted?

3. What do you feel is the best way to attack this stigma?

4. What would you like for other Biola students to know about your faith?

Special thanks to Jessica Cornel for putting this together in order to bring awareness to Catholics’ experience of Biola.


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The Local Church Fetish

So this is something that I’ve been fascinated with during my time here at Biola (and I hear it other places as well, but mostly here because, well, I spend most of my time here) and that is the apparent obsession with the “local church” that Protestant Evangelicals have. Ecclesiology is always talked about in this context, prayers of gratitude are offered for the “gift of the local church,” and students are encouraged to attend and get involved with, guess who, a local church.

But first, what do Protestant Evangelicals mean by “the local church?” I feel that a fair exemplar would be John Piper. He says, “a local church is a group of baptized believers who meet regularly (physically) to worship God through Jesus Christ, to be exhorted from the Word of God, and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper under the guidance of duly appointed leaders.”

Now I do want to be clear about one thing before I get into the meat of this post. I am in no way critiquing the existence of local churches nor the devaluing the grace and fellowship that they able to communicate to believers. A small Baptist church of 40, a non-denominational church of 500, and a Catholic parish of 200 all fall into this category of a local church, and all communicate love and koinonia to a specific group of believers in a community.

My critique here is the fetish with the local church that is constantly displayed by Protestant Evangelicals. Being grateful for the local church is no sin, but just like if we exclusively eat meat (which is a staple food group), we will suffer from the absence of the other staples that exist to keep us healthy (both spiritually and physically).

The Local Church is a Great Thing

I first want to point out the amazing and unique blessing the local church is. The local church offers fellowship to a local group of believers, a fellowship that transcends (hopefully) age, class, gender, and ethnicity. Of course, this an ideal and not done perfectly in every local church, but witnessing this diversity in my current parish has been very refreshing. The local church offers actual people to rejoice when we are rejoicing, to mourn we are mourning, to admonish us when we stray from the Way, and to build each other up. These are our teammates on this marathon of life, and what a blessing it is to run with brothers and sisters who share our most core identity: adopted children of God. This kind of community is something rarely found outside of a religious lifestyle.

This local church community is so healthy for our spiritual life, but it is not sufficient, just like meat is not the only staple food group. Our life with our local church must also be balanced with a life in communion with the universal church. If we lose sight of the “catholicity” of the Church (catholic as an improper word means “universal”) then we face a variety of dangers that I will spell out later.

A common defense of exclusively focusing on the local church is that the Church has always been manifest in this way alone; that the churches that met in homes in the first century were completely independent of each other and were able to exercise authority over all things in their local church. If this view sounds like it would never be held by anyone, you can pick up a book I had to read for a New Testament Community and Leadership class this semester: Paul’s Idea of Community by Robert J. Banks.

Issues with the Obsession

There are multiple issues that arise if we identify the house churches of the New Testament as the biblical norm or if we claim that they are analogous to modern, independent, “house churches.”

Before we dive into what the Scriptures have to say, let’s take a look at the larger historical context here. I am not debating that the early church met in congregants’ homes, but I think there is a relevant question here that doesn’t get addressed by proponents of this home-church-since-antiquity theory. Why did the church meet in homes? Was it because this was part of Christian orthopraxy? Or were they forced to do so because of a government that persecuted them? Think the Japanese house churches in the movie Silence.

I think that taking the mere fact of churches meeting in homes and concluding “this is how it should be” without taking into account the context of the persecution of Christians is like concluding that a goalkeeper can’t use his hands on the soccer field because of one occasion at the beginning of the game where he came out of the box to kick the ball.

But this conclusion also runs into biblical issues. First of all, if all the churches that met in homes were entirely independent of each other and were completely void of a notion of a universal church, then how could the church leaders, including Peter and Paul, exercise authority of all these churches in Acts 15? If you’re unfamiliar with Acts 15, this is when the leaders of the church convene to discuss the ethnic diversity of the New Covenant. If these churches are their own separate pods, then a gathering of leaders would hold no authority over them.

Furthermore, we can look to the manner in which Paul exercises his authority through his epistles. First of all, I am not claiming that the cluster of churches that Paul founded are their own group under Paul. This claim would fly in the face of multiple passages, not the least of which is the whole book of Romans. The church in Rome was there before Paul had arrived, but he had heard of them and their faith. So two things here, A) how dare Paul write an authoritative letter to a church he had never locally been a part of?! B) how on earth did he hear about this church if it was its own little, isolated community?!

Beyond Romans though, Paul makes sure to emphasize in 1 Cor. 1-4 that he did not come to boast in his own merits so that they would follow him, but that they should follow Christ. This reminder comes from Paul because the Corinthians had started dividing into those who followed Paul and those who followed Apollo. We can start to see how Paul would be against this isolated communities; first by his condemnation of factions, second by his authority over both groups even when he is not locally present.
Moving on to Ephesians, Paul launches into a giant passage from 1:15-4:16 on the unity of the Body of Christ based on the unifying agent of Christ himself. 2:14 “For he [Christ] is our peace, who has made us [Jews and Gentiles] both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility.” I will only use this verse, although this passage is rich with others that are just as applicable (especially 4:1-6), to point out that Paul is dealing very large groups of people here; Jews and Gentiles, entire ethnic groups that were not geographically limited. If the unity of the body that Paul is waxing on about here is only to be limited to a local body of believers, then why is he dealing with such large concepts (ethnicity, culture, baptism, the Spirit)? Surely these concepts transcend the Ephesian church.

I feel like I’ve said enough about Paul, but I’ll just add this one thing about epistles in general. If these New Testament communities were meant to be isolated from each other, then why were the epistles of Paul and others that were written to these specific communities circulated between the churches? Without these circulated letters, we would have no Bible, and the Bible is a crucial thing to Christianity, and more uniquely so to Protestants arguing this house-church theory since they claim it to be the only infallible rule of faith.

Moving on from the epistles, we can also see the universal church in the book of Revelation. John writes to multiple churches at the same time here. These seven are Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Structurally we can see that John is not just pastoring a single local community but seven different churches spread of modern western Turkey. Not only that, but he also writes to Ephesus, who already have their own letter from Paul. This is why I said above that I’m not claiming the churches Paul founded are specifically under him. Because if they were, why does John just think he can butt in?

Finally which of these churches was Jesus referring to in Matthew 16:18? Table all questions about what the rock is, what is this church he is going to build? Is it one local church in Jerusalem, or maybe Salem, Massachusetts, or maybe Salem, Oregon? We run into problems quickly if we limit our sense of “church” to the local church, not least of which is Jesus’ proclamation that he will build a church and not churches.


Moving on from the potholes of this line of thought, I want to lay out some strengths of embracing a stronger consciousness of the universal church, and also describe their shadow sides.

One/Travel

If we understand the church as “one,” we don’t run into the problem that comes along with traveling or finding a church on vacation. Finding a church that fits our culture or the traditions and community we already experience in our hometowns is virtually impossible if we don’t take seriously the fact that Christian ecclesial communities share in a universal unity. One thing that I have heard about from fellow believers who hold this view, Protestant and Catholic, is the enjoyment of attending church in a different country. I had the awesome opportunity of attending mass in Italy last summer, and it was great to know that I could still worship while traveling.

The consistent gathering together of believers to worship is an essential practice in the Christian’s, and if we think we are kept from that because we are away from our own local church, then we need to reevaluate our commitment to this practice and our view of Christians in other churches. If we take this arrogant view that we can only practice corporate in our hometown, we imply something about the power of our adoption as children of God that I don’t think we mean to.

Holy/Accountability

If we realize this stronger unity between local church, church discipline (argued by some to be another mark of the church) becomes a more realistic expectation. The church discipline practiced in the New Testament (think Corinth) is virtually impossible to imitate today because if a member is asked to leave a local church and ponder his sins, it is easy for this member to just hop down the street to the next church that affirms whatever errant lifestyle he has chosen.

Of course, when we state that the Church is “holy” in the Creed, it is both an affirmation and an aspiration. The Church is holy in its mission and its people are set apart to be the salt of the earth, but we are at the same time sinful, imperfect, and worldly. The Church is responsible to guide the continual renewal of the faithful and to admonish those who stray from this aspiration of holiness. However, how can we accomplish this as a church if our membership in the community of God means that we’ve found a local church that affirms our lifestyle?

Catholic/Diversity

In relation to the first point, we uphold the diversity of the church if we recognize our unity with churches from different cultures, ethnicities, languages, and practices. The shadow side here is that we close ourselves off from these and take a “my-way-or-the-highway” mentality about our own local church with its own non-essential cultures, ethnicities, language, and practices. My local church in La Mirada experiences a great internal catholicity. It is diverse ethnically, culturally, and we mainly do things in English, although sometimes we will sing a song in Filipino or Spanish.

It is not uncommon for churches to be accused of being exclusive in some sense because they don’t have a diverse congregation. I want to make two comments on this. A) I believe that believing in the legitimate diversity found in the universal church is a great remedy for this predicament in local churches. On the flip, I believe there is no small correlation between a church’s stance on this universality and the extent of its diversity. B) I do not believe that it is a necessary thing for every local church to have a noticeable internal diversity. Local churches should not have a quota. However, they should be self-aware of anything that might impede this diversity. If you’re a church in a multi-ethnic community, you should probably be reflecting that community. If you’re a church in a homogenous community, you probably shouldn’t be stressing about reflecting the same diversity of the church in the multi-ethnic community. All this to say, the gospel transcends all divisions and we should put behind us anything that might suggest otherwise.

Apostolic/Continuity

If we recognize the universal church, which transcends time as well as space, then we can be more faithful in our stewardship of the truth about the gospel and the appropriate response to it. And on the flip side, if we totally isolate our local churches from other churches, both physically and temporally, we can lose sight of our roots. If our local church now is all that exists, why should we accept the words of some Palestinian authors written a couple millennia ago? Why should we accept the list of books that some Mediterraneans put together for us? Why should we accept the changes to that list that Luther made? Why can’t we make changes to that list now? A healthy dialogue between local churches helps us stay true to what has been passed down from the Apostles so many years ago.

Conclusion

In an age marked with narcissism, let us not become narcissists about our own local church, and look to the siblings we worship with across the world. I guarantee you that your own little church cannot be salt to the entire world on its own. It is our unity, and not our factions, as Church that can attest to the unity the Godhead desires with us.

The Texan Lighthouse

I was going to write a post about this article at a later date, but since it’s starting to float around Biola’s social media circles, I figured why not now.

I stumbled across this article last weekend, and I was quite taken aback. The people who wrote it claim to be a Christian research center, and seem to make quite a killing by attacking other Christians.

Below is the article which was written attacking Biola University. Biola is where I attend and am majoring in Biblical and Theological Studies. Biola was founded in 1908, primarily as a response to liberal theology which was corroding Christian orthodoxy. It was also just ranked as the top university at which to study the Bible by thebestschools.org However, this research center seems to think it is heading in an opposite direction.

Apparently this research center has been trying to alert the world to the gradual demise of Biola University since it began over a decade ago. In this most recent warning cry, they call attention to the way our President, Dr. Barry Corey, spent his sabbatical: partially at a Benedictine Monastery. This action, on top of other things, should signal (according to them) the demise of Biola into “contemplative spirituality,” which (according to them) radiates with the “message that God is in everyone,” which implies (according to them) “Christ died for us in vain as man would not need a Savior separate from himself.”

While I admire their concern for the purity of the Christian gospel (that man has been separated from God by their sin, and that God sent his Son to provide the way of reconciliation to him), I think they misunderstand that which they so adamantly hate, and it seems they will use whatever methods, valid or invalid, to debunk those who think differently. One can immediately recognize that this article is committing the fallacy of “slippery slope.” I mean the title of the article almost spells it out.

But they also commit the fallacy of “the texas sharpshooter.” The texas sharpshooter is a blip in reasoning where one basically creates their own definitions to things and then uses them to prove their point. In this case, this looks like defining contemplative spirituality as well as something it is not. While contemplative theology does focus on silencing oneself to come to a posture where one can hear the voice of God if he is speaking, it does not assert that God is not uniquely and separately manifest in the Trinity. This also doesn’t necessarily assert that any of the divine is in men. While so some contemplatives do, contemplative spirituality can simply mean quieting oneself to hear God outside of oneself.

It also does not assert that the small share of the divine nature, that it communicated to men by the indwelling of the Spirit or the abiding of Christ, nor the image of God that is shared by all humans are somehow able to reconcile sinners to God. But the editors of Lighthouse Trails say that it does, and henceforth condemn it. This is analogous (in logical form) to someone claiming that “red lights mean, ‘go,’ and therefore those who obey red lights will go.” But red lights don’t mean, “go,” and one finds this out by reading what a driver’s manual or the Department of Transportation says.

While these false definitions might arise from research errors, I am lead to believe that the reason might be even more destructive.

A phenomenon I have noticed in my own experience, along with many other defenders of the Catholic faith, is what has been dubbed the “ABC Rule,” Anything But Catholic. If you wonder how this shows up, it manifests in comments like this from a student in my Theology 2 class last year, “Oh well I can’t believe in Purgatory. That’s what Catholics believe, and we know they’re wrong.” It also shows up in the immediate skepticism that shows up in Protestants when you mention Catholics believe or practice something. It’s actually pretty fun each semester to see the light bulb go on in my classmates’ heads when they either figure out or I tell them I’m Catholic. What’s not fun is the change in the value of my contributions to discussion before and after that lightbulb. The basic principle is that if something is accepted by Catholics, it must be subjected to a more intense skepticism and should warrant suspicion.

This is what you will find in this article. The appeal to the ABC Rule almost undergirds the entire condemnation of contemplative spirituality because of its link to monasteries.

But what is even more concerning than that is the comments by readers of the article. On the original Facebook post by Lighthouse, you can find ABC comments all over the place. And what is more frightening is that Biola alumni are making them.

As I always argue, if Catholics are admitted to Biola (which requires assent to it’s Doctrinal Statement), and Biola students are being taught that Catholics have a theology contrary to orthodox Christianity, then something is off. It is sad that an institution, that claims to be “interdenominational university” and asserts that the Church is comprised of all who truly believe in Christ, can still produce graduates who follow an ABC train of thought.

I think this is great opportunity for Biola and Dr. Corey to address this article and emphasize the good that can be gained by listening to the wisdom of others, both within and without the Church, and that Catholics who truly believe (just like Protestants who truly believe) should be treated as brothers and sisters in Christ; a truth which seems lost on some of Biola’s graduates, current students, and (dare I say) current professors. Such an action who underline Biola’s mantra this year of “All as One.”

At the end of their article, Lighthouse offers all those connected to Biola a free copy of their book on contemplative theology. In the spirit of hearing their side, I asked them for one and it’s in the mail. Maybe some of you feel that it might be nice to do the same. It’s free anyway, and maybe after reading it, you can send them a letter, like I will be doing, concerning all its errors if it uses the same kinds of arguments it does in this article.

If you hear anything of what I’m trying to say, hear this: don’t make up bad arguments just so that you can bash other brothers and sisters in the faith.

https://www.facebook.com/LighthouseTrailsResearch/posts/939859312838885

Straw Dads, or A Catholic Apology (Part 3: “Call no man ‘father’”[Thesis 6])

My dad has taught me a lot over the years: how to shake a hand, how to assume the best of others and treat them with respect, how to know my place and earn the right to be heard, how to act with conviction, how to not run from conflict, how to follow Christ’s words when trying to resolve it, and to always try to build bridges and not walls. These are just a few of the valuable life lessons that come to mind when I think of what my dad has taught me over the years. Usually on medical releases and other such documents where I am required to designate our relationship, I write/check/bubble in “father.” But in Matthew 23:9, Jesus says not to call any man on this earth “father” because we only have one Father in heaven. So am I sinning when I call my biological dad, or any other man, my father?

For those of you following the blog, you know that I take time occasionally to address a list of objections from a King James-onlyist to Catholicism being a valid expression of Christianity. These objections are based on the belief that these doctrines/practices are contrary to the Bible (KJV). So far I have addressed Purgatory and Apostolic Succession in Part 1, and Ecumenism in Part 2. This time around the objection I’ll answer is sixth on his list: “Title of Pope vs Matthew 23v9.”

To be clear, the basis of this objection is that this part of the Catholic faith is contrary to the Bible in KJV. As with the past parts of this series, this means I will only be using the KJV when quoting Sacred Scripture.

So to parse out the basis of this common objection I will give you a little background. First of all, the title of “pope” comes from the Latin word “papa,” which is a cognate of the Greek word “pappas” which is child’s word for “father.” This objection is also commonly tied to objecting to the reference to priests as “Father ____” The reason why is that in Matthew 23, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees and in verse 9 he says, “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.” (KJV)

To put it simply, Catholics are acting contrary to Jesus’ words in Mt. 23:9 when they call the successor of Peter, “pope,” or their priests, “Father ____,” and therefore this sinful and contrary to orthodox Christianity.

Before I launch into a defense of these titles, I have to point out that this is such a common objection that my reply will in no small way be influenced by the methodology of Catholic Answers (where I spent the past summer) in answering this. For their tract on the topic, you can click here. But this is also such a common objection that it sometimes gets used in a joking manner of speaking. Actually over Christmas, a couple of my Protestant friends were poking some good-humor at my transition and used this as a humorous example of polemics. I hope that by the end of this defense, you too will see why this objection is often used as a joke. However there are those who do hold that this objection is a valid contention in determining the orthodoxy of Catholicism, my KJV-only friend being one of them.

So finally, here’s an apology (defense).

Firstly, those who hold fast to this objection, hold to it because they take Jesus’ words literally. However, if they looked any further than this verse in the Bible, they would quickly run into some problems. For example, if I were to say that, “it’s raining cats and dogs,” you wouldn’t take my words literally because they were meant to be used as a figure of speech, an idiom in this case. But if you did take my words as literal, you would have a lot of trouble finding a climate on the planet earth where cats and dogs evaporated, condensed, and precipitated.

Not least of these problems, would be that it would rob us of the title we give to the first member of the Trinity, that being the Father. In theology proper, the Godhead is asserted to be “ineffable.” This means that the nature of God is indescribable in human terms. In light of this, God reveals himself in anthropological terms, like “Father” and “Son.” However, if the term “father” is robbed of its anthropological referent in the abolishment of biological “fathers,” then God would be quite inconsiderate giving us a title that has no meaning to us humans.

Now people who use this objection might say that Jesus was only condemning the non-literal use of the term “father” (which seems to be putting words in Jesus’ mouth since he never specifies), but this is still problematic since in Scripture we see multiple times where this title is used to refer to more than just God the Father or biological fathers. In Genesis 45:8, we meet Joseph as he is revealing himself to his brothers. Here he says, “So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and ruler throughout the land of Egypt. (KJV)” So here have and Old Testament use of the term to refer to fatherhood as more than just biological, but in a special sense i.e. a mentoring relationship.

Furthermore, if we visit Job in Job 29:16, we hear him dialoguing with his friends saying, “I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out.” (KJV) Here “father” is used to refer to the role of benefactor practiced by Job towards the poor. Referring to Eliakim in Isaiah 22:21-22, God says, “And I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” (KJV) Again note the non-biological and non-divine referent of the title “father.” In this instance, it is used in reference to a steward of God’s people, not unlike the pope (vs. 22 look familiar?) In reference to the ascension of Elijah, we find Elisha in 2 Kings 2:12, “And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.” (KJV) Here we see fatherhood used in spiritual sense.

To recap, there are multiple instances in the Old Testament where the title “father” is used by God and faithful people of God to refer to someone who is neither God the Father nor a biological father.

But perhaps things changed in the New Testament. Maybe like the fulfillment of the law that Christ provided, he fulfilled our relationship to the Father in a way that we should no longer use the title to refer to anyone but him. However on a reading the New Testament, one must conclude that this is not the case.

In the first and minor sense, we see that “father” can refer to an ancestor and is not just limited to an immediate male parent in the New Testament, notably in reference to Jewish Heritage. For instance, in Acts and Romans where we hear of Father Abraham and Father Isaac from Stephen and Paul.

But even more, we see uses of the title “father” throughout the New Testament that don’t have any biological connection. I will only list a few examples here (needless to say, all KJV.)

In 1 Corinthians 4:15 Paul writes,“For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” If Paul, who being the writer of these “God-breathed” words, refers to himself as a father of the Corinthians having “begotten [them] through the gospel,” we might want to take a hint on the morality of calling other men “father.”

In 1 Timothy 5:1 Paul entreats Timothy saying, “Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren,” etc., thus comparing the relationships with in the church (primarily spiritual) to familial relationships, like father and son. Indeed Paul implies his fatherhood when addressing Timothy in his second letter. In 2 Timothy 1:2, Paul calls Timothy his son, and knowing the family history of Timothy from Acts, we can easily deduce that this cannot be taken in a literal and biological sense.

So ok. Enough about what Jesus was not saying. It seems pretty clear that from reading the rest of the Bible (KJV or otherwise) that this verse in Matthew 23 is by no means a kibosh on using the title “father” to refer to people other than God the Father. So what does it mean then? Jesus wasn’t just spewing hot air, so what was he saying?

Well like I referenced before, people use figures of speech to communicate. Jesus used figures of speech too, he’s most famous for talking in parables, which is a figure of speech, but he also used hyperbole as well. The best example is when he tells his followers to cut off their right hands if they cause them to sin. If this was literal, you might expect Jesus to command Peter to cut of his hand when he cuts off the guard’s ear, or to cut out his tongue. But he doesn’t. Why? Because it’s absurd to think that Jesus meant these words to be understood literally.

So we know that Jesus uses hyperbole, but what would make us think that Jesus is using hyperbole in this verse specifically? Let’s look at the surrounding context. Here is Matthew 23:1-12:

“Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” (KJV)

So if Jesus was speaking literally here, we also need to condemn the usage of terms like Rabbi (or teacher) and master. This poses similar problems like the ones I’ve already addressed when we encounter divinely inspired Scripture using these terms in places like Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, in which he uses “teacher” in 4:11, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;” and “master” in 6:9, “And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.” Seeing the usage of the other words supposedly condemned by Christ in Matthew 23 should key us into the fact that Jesus may have been saying something a little bit more nuanced.

The audience of Jesus in this passage is the Pharisees and the main point of his address here is to call out the pride and ambition in which they seek out prominence. This is not how the leaders of the people of God should act. Jesus tells us explicitly what godly leadership looks like. It looks like service. John’s account in chapter 13 shows us Jesus playing show and tell. Kneeling to wash the feet of his disciples of which he is Lord and Master, and then teaching them that this is the example they are to follow.

*As a side note, this practice of serving by washing each other’s feet is preserved within the Catholic Church. On Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday, the church gathers and the priest washes the feet of the parishioners. In some larger parishes, some members will share in the service of washing the hands or feet of others. It is something truly beautiful to participate in, and you don’t have to be Catholic to join in.*

This is not the leadership of the Pharisees, however. As Jesus portrays it, their leadership looks like hypocrisy, greed, self-righteousness, lusting for high positions and titles, vain clothing, and power. This is the message of Jesus: humility. We are not to lust after these titles in themselves, even though they may properly exist and be used, but we should remember that to which they point. This is what Paul exhorts of the masters in Ephesus: to remember that they have a Master in heaven.

I have my earthly father. I have my primordial Father. I have my many spiritual fathers on earth, of which my dad and priest are two.

Bible 2018

Hey all,

For the year of 2018 I have committed to read through the Bible. Below I will post my schedule for January. If you would like to join a group I’ve created for this purpose, click here. I plan on spending 15 minutes a day reading. That’s a little more than 1% of a 24 hour day. So by the end of the year, I, and anyone who would like to join me, will have spent at least 3.65 days of the year reading God’s Word.

Please join me on this journey. As a tree soaking my roots in his Word, I would love to be a grove instead of a lone tree (Psalm 1).

Fast and Pray: The 500th Anniversary 

Friends and Family,

As some of you might be aware, October 31st, 2017 symbolically marks the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Some will be throwing a party in a spirit of “good riddance” (my old school will be throwing their annual carnival), some will look back and see a date of an unavoidable misfortune and tragedy for the Church, still others will look back and mourn an unnecessary schism that has resulted in bloodshed and centuries of prejudice among the children of God. 

I fall into the last category; and so for this significant day in the history of Church, and Western Civilization in general, I will be spending the day by fasting and praying as a way of remembrance for the centuries of conflict from battlefields and pulpits and classrooms. 

  1. I will be unplugging for the whole day (phone, watch, laptop)  
  2. I will be fasting from food all day. 
  3. I will be shoeless for the day. 
  4. I will be shaving my head. 

I lay all of this out publicly not for vanity’s sake, but to plead with you all about how seriously we need to be taking this blasphemous rift between Christians. I encourage you to offer up something during your day, whether it be social media, food, your comfort, or your appearance. And when we endure these small sufferings, we offer them up to Jesus, who carried The Cross alone and disconnected, hungry and thirsty, barefoot and beaten, scourged and disfigured. 

And to whom more fitting to offer these inconveniences than to the One who spent his last minutes in the Garden praying to the Father that those who followed him would be one as he and the Father are one, and that through this unity the world may now that the Father has sent the Son, and that he loves them even as he loves the Son (John 17:20-26).

So I ask you all to keep this schism on your mind and in your hearts during this significant day for Christians. I ask that you would offer up fasting and prayers for the Church, which is Christ, because it is Christ’s body. 

I beg you with the heart and words of The Apostle,“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Eph. 4:1-6) 

Where the Streets have Saint Names

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 🙂

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

An Ecumenical Calculus, or A Catholic Apology (Part 2: Ecumenism [Thesis 18])

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):

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Damn.

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

  1. The Church unity that Christ prays for is a unity than which nothing greater can be conceived
  2. Orthodoxy assents to an invisibly unified church
  3. Therefore a unity than which nothing greater can be conceived exists in the invisibly unified church
  4. It is greater to be unified than not to be unified
  5. 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)
  6. But the Church unity that Christ prays for is a unity than which nothing greater can be conceived
  7. Therefore the Church unity that Christ prays for is not only an invisible unity
  8. 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!

In the Meantime: Sophomore Year of College 2016-2017

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:

  1. Determination
  2. Satisfaction
  3. Complacency
  4. Panic
  5. Surrender
  6. 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:

  1. To foster a community of Catholic students at Biola,
  2. To encourage each other to be positive representatives of the Catholic faith at Biola and beyond,
  3. 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!