Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Comparative Exegesis of Hebrews 8 / Sacrifice of the Mass (vs. James White)

From James White's website. His words will be in blue. My cited words will be green.

"A Comparison of Exegesis"

Dr. James White quoted from my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (first edition, published by 1stBooks Library, 2001, from Chapter Five: "The Sacrifice of the Mass: 'A Lamb . . . Slain'"), pp. 69-70 (pp. 97-98 in Sophia Institute Press edition, 2003):

The theme of the Epistle to the Hebrews is Christ as our High Priest. As such, the "priestly" verses are very numerous (for example, 2:17, 3:1, 4:14-16, 5:1-10, 6:20, 7:1-28, 8:1-6, 9:11-15, 24-28, 10:19-22). The teaching here acquires much more meaning within Catholic Eucharistic theology, whereas, in evangelical, non-sacramental Protestant interpretation, it is necessarily "spiritualized" away. For nearly all Protestants, Jesus Christ is a Priest only insofar as He dies sacrificially as the "Lamb" and does away with the Old Testament notion of animal sacrifice. This is not false but it is a partial truth. Generally speaking, for the Catholic, there is much more of a sense of the ever-present Sacrifice of Calvary, due to the nature of the Mass, rather than considering the Cross a past event alone.

In light of the repeated references in Hebrews to Melchizedek as the prototype of Christ's priesthood (5:6,10, 6:20, 7:1-3,17,20), it follows that this priesthood is perpetual (for ever), not one time only. For no one would say, for example, that Christ is King (present tense) if in fact He were only King for a short while in the past. This (Catholic) interpretation is borne out by explicit evidence in Hebrews 7:24-25:

He holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

If Jesus perpetually intercedes for us, why should He not also permanently present Himself as Sacrifice to His Father? The connecting word, consequently, appears to affirm this scenario. The very notion, fundamental to all strains of Christian theology, that the Cross and the Blood are efficacious here and now for the redemption of sinners, presupposes a dimension of "presentness" to the Atonement.

Granting that premise, it only remains to deny that God could, would, or should truly and actually re-present this one Sacrifice in the Mass. God certainly can do this, since He is omnipotent. He wills to do this because Jesus commanded the observance of the Lord's Supper (Luke 22:19). Lastly, one can convincingly contend that He should do this in order to graphically "bring home" to Christians His Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection, and to impart grace in a real and profound way in Communion. The One Propitiatory Atonement of Calvary is a past event, but the appropriation of its spiritual benefits to Christians is an ongoing process, in which the Mass plays a central role.

The Sacrifice of the Mass, like the Real Presence in the Eucharist, is an extension of the Incarnation. Accordingly, there is no rational a priori objection (under monotheistic premises) to the concept of God transcending time and space in order to present Himself to His disciples. Nor is there any denying that the Sacrifice of Calvary is always present to God the Father and to Jesus Christ, God the Son. How then, can anyone deny that God could make the Cross sacramentally present to us as well?

Now let's examine Dr. White's reading of Hebrews 8 (his words will be in blue; to read his statement by itself, follow the above link; I have moved the footnotes to where they occur in the text).

James White, introductory exegetical comments prior to deeper exegesis of Hebrews 8:6ff.

The immediately preceding argument, leading to the key presentation of the new covenant in Heb. 8:6-13, flows from the identification of Christ with the superior priesthood of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4, cited in Heb. 7:17, 21), leading to the description of Christ as the e;gguoj (guarantee/guarantor)[1]

[1] e;gguoj is a hapax legomena in the NT, appearing only in the Apocryphal books of Sirach and 2 Maccabees prior to this. It has semantic connections to avrrabw.n (down payment) in Eph. 1:14, for in common secular usage it refers to providing security or a guarantee, normally in a financial or business transaction. The guarantee then of the better covenant is introduced here within the context of Christ’s superior priesthood, His indestructible life, and divine ability to save to the uttermost (7:24-35).

Nothing to quibble with here . . .

of the new covenant, and also bringing the first use of krei,ttonoj diaqh,khj, better covenant, in 7:22, “so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.” Heb. 7:23-8:5 comprises a demonstration of the basis for the apologetic assertion that the new covenant is, in fact, a better covenant (part and parcel of the purpose of the letter), one that flows from the priestly nature of Christ’s work. 7:23-25 proves this by the contrast of the mortal priests with the one priest, Jesus Christ; and 7:26-28 does so in light of the sinfulness of the many priests and hence their repeated sacrifices versus the singular sacrifice of the innocent, undefiled Christ.

This is uncontroversial as well (as far as it goes). But of course White does not here deal with my own particular argument, that Jesus holds a perpetual priesthood ("He holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever" -- 7:24; not just a one-time priestly sacrifice of Himself that has no application to His priesthood beyond the time it occurred in history).

Yes, we agree that Jesus sacrificed Himself once on the Cross (7:27). But that is a one-time act, in history. Why, then, does 7:26 continue to refer to Jesus as a "high priest" in the present tense, "exalted above the heavens"? It is this paradoxical interplay between the one act and the "present-ness" of Jesus' priesthood that suggests a timeless nature of the sacrifice: precisely what Catholics claim is occurring at the Mass: the one-time sacrifice is being made present to us, because Jesus is a priest "forever."

8:1-6, then, provides first a summary statement of the preceding arguments (i.e., our one high priest has entered into the heavenlies) and then provides the thesis statement for the description of the superiority of the new covenant from Jeremiah 31 with the assertion that Christ has obtained “a more excellent ministry” than that of the old priests, that He is the mediator (in contrast, in context, to Moses, v. 5, Gal. 3:19, John 1:17) of a “better covenant” enacted on “better promises.” Some brief comments should be offered exegetically on these texts.

Again, no significant disagreement, if at all. Of course the New Covenant is better, and Jesus surpasses Moses, etc.

First, Christ’s role as singular and never dying high priest, and the resulting assurance of the perfection of His work, is seen by the writer as part of the demonstration of why the covenant of which He is the guarantee is “better” (7:23-25). While our English translations normally say something like, “The former priests existed in greater numbers” at 7:23, the literal reading is simply, “the priests,” contrasting[2]

[2] Using the common me.n/de. form translated “on the one hand/on the other hand.”

the plural with the singular “he” (oi` vs. o`) in v. 24. The work of the many priests is, of necessity, imperfect, for they are “prevented by death” from “continuing” or “abiding.” But, in contrast, He “abides forever,” He is no longer subject to death. Hence, He, unlike the old priests under the old covenant, holds His priesthood (which has been shown to be superior in the preceding arguments) avpara,baton, permanently, or, in some sources, without successor. Both translations fit the context, for He never lays aside this priesthood, hence, it is “permanent” in contrast to the former priests. But likewise He has no successor in His office. The entire concept is meant to be in contrast to the old priests and their inherently temporary nature. As a result of the permanence of His priestly position,[3]

[3] o[qen, “for which reason.”

Sure, but this doesn't rule out the Catholic claim with regard to Jesus' priesthood. It makes little sense to me to keep referring to Jesus as a "priest" in the present tense when He is (according to most Protestants) no longer doing at all what a priest does (sacrifice). Jesus sacrificed Himself as the Lamb of God. That was His priestly act (this is stated explicitly in 7:27, so it cannot be doubted).

But if that was strictly a past tense and not perpetual, why keep calling Him a priest after He is glorified in heaven? It would seem much more sensible to refer to His one-time priestly act, rather than continuing to call Him something denoting a characteristic activity that He is no longer performing.

Christ has an ability the old priests did not possess. He is able to save. The profundity of the words may deflect proper attention. The permanence of His life and position as high priest grants to Him the ability to save. He is active in saving, and He is capable of so doing.

If He is actively saving men -- present and future tense -- (as is undoubtedly true), but is doing so as a priest then He is presently saving by the sacrifice of Himself (i.e., the priestly act) which is an act made eternally "now". Thus we are right to the heart of the Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the same concept. Jesus saves us as a priest. The sacrifice is of both an ongoing and salvific nature. This is the Mass! It's heartening to see that James White can present it so clearly from the Bible despite his own lack of belief in it.

As noted above, the soteriological content of the superiority of Christ’s work as high priest and of the new covenant cannot be dismissed or overlooked.

I agree 100% That's why I go to Mass every Sunday and partake of the body and blood of the once-for-all-sacrificed Lamb of God, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, made sacramentally present by the sublime miracle of transubstantiation, because this sacrifice is my salvation. It's not often that I get excited about the Mass based on the arguments of an anti-Catholic Baptist who detests the very concept. :-)

The extent of His salvific work is noted by the phrase eivj to. pantele.j, which can be translated “forever” in the sense of permanence, or “to the uttermost” in the sense of completely, similar, in fact, to avpara,baton above. Owen noted the propriety of seeing both senses in the text:

[John Owen] "Take the word in the first sense, and the meaning is, that he will not effect or work out this or that part of our salvation, do one thing or another that belongs unto it, and leave what remains unto ourselves or others; but 'he is our Rock, and his work is perfect.' Whatever belongs unto our entire, complete salvation, he is able to effect it. The general notion of the most that are called Christians lies directly against this truth….That this salvation is durable, perpetual, eternal… and there is nothing hinders but that we may take the words in such a comprehensive sense as to include the meaning of both these interpretations. He is able to save completely as to all parts, fully as to all causes, and for ever in duration."[4]

[4] John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Hebrews 6:1-7:28, in The Works of John Owen, William Goold, ed. (Ages Digital Library, 2000), pp. 646-647.

Of course Jesus is "able to save completely." We Catholics adhere to sola gratia just as much as Protestants do. But that doesn't mean that the Eucharist is irrelevant as a sacramental means to receive this salvation that was accomplished at the cross. Jesus showed this when He gave His exposition recorded in John 6. He makes it clear that what He means by "bread" is His body:

. . . the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. (John 6:51)

In this verse, even White has to concede that bread = flesh. Otherwise, it would mean that what won our salvation on the cross was literally a chunk of bread, rather than the precious body of our Savior and Redeemer. So He means this quite literally: the bread is His body. That's why He states two verses later:

. . . unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life . . . (John 6:53-54)

And four verse later, He reverts back to speaking of "bread" as His body:

This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died [i.e., not merely natural bread]; he who eats this bread will live for ever. (John 8:58)

It's very clear (it could not be any clearer than it is):

1. Bread = Jesus' flesh (Jn 6:51)
2. Eating Jesus' flesh and blood gives eternal life (Jn 6:53-54)
3. Bread = Jesus' body; which, partaken, causes one to live forever (Jn 8:58)

So the equation of Jesus' body and the bread is stated outright (Jn 6:51) and then by inexorable simple deduction:

A. Jesus' Flesh and Blood give eternal life.
B. Bread gives eternal life.
C. Therefore, Bread = Jesus' Flesh and Blood (for how can mere bread cause one to attain eternal life?).

Just as the Father’s will for the Son revealed in John 6:38-39 demands perfection in His role as Savior, so too here the very same soteriological perfection and completion is central to the work of the eternal high priest. This is brought out with strong force in the rest of the verse, for the author indicates both the object of the salvific work and the basis thereof, and both are intensely “priestly” statements. The singular priest saves “those who draw near to God through Him.” This clearly harkens back to the people who drew near in worship to God in the temple, and their representative, the high priest on the day of atonement. There is specificity to the salvific work of the priest. He does not make a general plan of salvation available, He saves a specific people (cf. Matt. 1:21). And secondly, “He always lives to make intercession for them” points to the same perfection of the high priest. His indestructible life means He never lays aside His priestly role, hence, since the high priest interceded (evntugca,nein, Rom 8:34) for those for whom He offered sacrifice, Christ ever lives to make intercession for those who draw near to God through Him, resulting in the perfection of their salvation. The work of intercession guarantees the salvation of a specific people in this passage. This is vital to remember as we look at the key text in Hebrews 8.

No quibble here; Jesus saves utterly as a result of His sacrifice on the cross.

Similar themes appear in 7:26-28, including the perfect character of the high priest (v. 26), which establishes another element of His supremacy over the old priests, for He does not have to offer sacrifice for His own sins, and then the sins of the people. But here also appears a concept that will be expanded upon greatly at a later point, for the author says, “because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.” Self-offering is yet another aspect of what sets the priesthood of Christ apart, for obvious reasons, from the priesthood of old. The high priest presents the offering in His own body, a concept expanded upon in chapter nine. But He did so “once for all.” The sacrifice is a singularity in time, for the author uses the temporal adverb, evfa,pax, to strongly emphasize this concept. The old priests sacrificed often for themselves, while Christ offered one sacrifice (Himself) for the people.

No disagreement to speak of here. The sacrifice was once and for all, historically-speaking. But for God, it is still "now" and there is a sense expressed in the Bible that it is constantly made "present" to us. It was intended to be a perpetual rite and remembrance, because Jesus commanded us to observe the Lord's Supper. Paul, too, recounts a eucharistic tradition that he "received" and "delivered" (1 Cor 11:23). He noted that Jesus said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood" (1 Cor 11:24; cf. Lk 22:20, Mk 14:24, Matthew 26:28). Martin Luther made an excellent exegetical argument pertaining to these verses:

[T]his spirit will not believe what the Word of God says, but only what he sees and feels. What a fine faith . . . The text is too clear and too powerful . . . For this word more forcefully and powerfully than any before requires that the blood is in the sacrament . . . this word of Luke and Paul is clearer than sunlight and more overpowering than thunder. First, no one can deny that he speaks of the cup, since he says, “This is the cup.” Secondly, he calls it the cup of the new testament. This is overwhelming, for it could not be a new testament by means and on account of wine alone.

(Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments, 1525; LW, 40, 216-217)

In the same work, Luther makes a fascinating argument that a symbolic Eucharist turns the sacrament into a futile work of man rather than a grace and blessing from God:

He thinks one does not see that out of the word of Christ he makes a pure commandment and law which accomplishes nothing more than to tell and bid us to remember and acknowledge him. Furthermore, he makes this acknowledgment nothing else than a work that we do, while we receive nothing else than bread and wine.

(Ibid., LW, 40, 206)

Jesus' Sacrifice is not only present to us on earth, but also in heaven. In the next section of the same chapter in my book, I noted that an "altar" is mentioned as in heaven, in the book of Revelation many times (6:9, 8:3,5, 9:13, 11:1, 14:18, 16:7). Why is this, if altars and priesthood ceased with the one Sacrifice of Jesus? This is after Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension. Nor is it just Jesus at this altar in heaven. We are told that the "prayers of the saints" are being offered there (5:8-9, 8:3-4). Altars are also mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament.

St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, in an explicitly eucharistic passage, uses language suggesting that he sees the eucharist as a sacrifice involving an altar (hence priesthood, hence the Sacrifice of the Mass): He mentions the "altar" of the Old Covenant in 10:18 and makes a direct analogy with the altar of the New Covenant in 10:21:

You cannot drink of the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.

Even Baptists like James White (and many other Protestants) have not completely avoided the language of priestly sacrifice, since they still speak of the "Lord's table"
and even an "altar call." What altar? That is the language of priesthood and sacrifice. So even non-sacramental Protestants can't help retaining a remnant of New Testament eucharistic and sacrificial, priestly talk. Hebrews 13:10 states that "we have an altar." Again, why, if the old system of priesthood is gone and the only priesthood of the New Covenant is that of Christ at Calvary? This is the New Covenant!

Lastly, I will close with the final words of the chapter here considered, from my first book, showing, I think, that the Sacrifice of the Mass is in perfect accord with the New Testament indications, and that James White has a lot of explaining to do.

He is welcome to do so. I have agreed with much of his presentation because it does not conflict with Catholic teaching (it is simply incomplete; purged of all clear-as-day New Testament sacramentalism). But he would disagree with much of my exposition above. We don't know why he would unless he tells us.

[T]he climactic scene of this entire glorious portrayal of heaven occurs in Rev 5:1-7. Verse 6 describes a Lamb standing as though it had been slain. Since the Lamb (Jesus, of course) is revealed as sitting in the midst of God's throne (5:6, 7:17, 22:1,3; cf. Matthew 19:28, 25:31, Hebrews 1:8), which is in front of the golden altar (8:3), then it appears that the presentation of Christ to the Father as a Sacrifice is an ongoing (from God's perspective, timeless) occurrence, precisely as in Catholic teaching. Thus the Mass is no more than what occurs in heaven, according to the clear revealed word of Scripture. When Hebrews speaks of a sacrifice made once (7:27), this is from a purely human, historical perspective (which Catholicism acknowledges in holding that the Mass is a "re-presentation" of the one sacrifice at Calvary). However, there is a transcendent aspect of the Sacrifice as well.

Jesus is referred to as the Lamb 28 times throughout Revelation (compared to four times in the rest of the New Testament: John 1:29,36, Acts 8:32, 1 Peter 1:19). Why, in Revelation (of all places), if the Crucifixion is a past event, and the Christian's emphasis ought to be on the resurrected, glorious, kingly Jesus, as is stressed in Protestantism (as evidenced by a widespread disdain for, crucifixes)? Obviously, the heavenly emphasis is on Jesus' Sacrifice, which is communicated by God to John as present and "now" (Revelation 5:6; cf. Hebrews 7:24). The very notion of lamb possesses inherent sacrificial and priestly connotations in the Bible.

If this aspect is of such paramount importance even in the afterlife, then certainly it should be just as real and significant to us. The Sacrifice of the Mass bridges all the gaps of space and time between our Crucified Savior on the Cross and ourselves. Therefore, nothing at all in the Mass is improper, implausible, or unscriptural, which is why this doctrine was virtually unanimously accepted until the 16th century.

In conclusion, then, it is, I think, evident that the Book of Hebrews and the scenes in heaven in the Book of Revelation are suffused with a worldview and “atmosphere” which is very "Catholic.” The Mass, rightly understood, fulfills every aspect of the above passages, most particularly in the sense of Christ as the ultimate Priest for whom the earthly priest "stands in," and in the timeless and transcendent character of the Sacrifice "made present" at Mass, but never deemed to be an addition to, or duplication of, the one bloody Sacrifice of our Lord at Calvary.

(p. 71 in 1stBooks edition; pp. 99-100 in Sophia edition)

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Another "Lousy Catholic" Convert to Protestantism

We converts to Catholicism are often told that we didn't understand Protestantism before we left it (and that was, of course, why we left -- we were dupes of Rome and her nefarious, deceitful apologists because we were so stupid in the first place). In most conversion stories to Catholicism that I have seen, this isn't the case at all.

In fact, the exact opposite is usually true: it was the commitment to Protestant Christianity and all that is good in it which made these inquirers study and ponder a further move into Catholicism, with its sacramentalism, Mariology, Tradition, papacy, etc. We saw the move as a simple progression upwards; not a reversal or revolution or rejection of what we had already learned. We were committed Protestants, "good" Protestants; who really believed in the system and tried to live it out.

In any event, the argument is made that we converted because we were either ignorant, or non-observant, already-compromised Protestants. We were never really part of the club: we had the smells and bells and attraction to mysticism and the goddess-Mary and a perverse desire to give up our mind and submit to every jot and tittle of the pope's utterances (including when we should blow our nose and what color socks to wear in the morning) in our warped souls, and so were easy-pickin's for Rome. I exaggerate, of course, but to read some cynical observations of Catholic converts, they aren't all that different from this scenario.

This is -- for the most part -- all a bunch of nonsense, of course (as those of us who are converts are well aware). But how often and how much do we hear about similarly ignorant converts from Catholicism to Protestantism? Did they really know their faith before they left it? Were they dupes of the anti-Catholic Protestant apologists and sophists? Or did they have an inexorable, irresistible attraction for private judgment and sola Scriptura in their souls from the beginning, and an irrational longing for whitewashed walls and plain clapboard churches and 90-minute hellfire-and-brimstone sermons and altar calls with the sinner's prayer and the King James Version or interminable pentecostal worship sessions where the people say "Praise God" and "Hallelujah" and "Thank you Jesus" 742 times without engaging in "vain repetition" and the same person goes up front to get "saved" for the 6th time in seven weeks? See how silly the rhetoric sounds if we turn the tables?

If we can cast doubt on Catholic converts due to ignorance and compromise in their former faith-lives, why not apply the same standard to Protestant converts? Yes, why not? But, as I have shown here over and over, anti-Catholics are nothing if not admirers of double standards.

Now, I do wish to note that the Catholic Church bears a great deal of blame insofar as atrocious, abominable catechesis has been scandalously widespread for well over a generation now. Liberalism (along with many other cultural and sociological factors) has made ignorance and nominalism almost the norm.

Yet the individual remains responsible for his own soul, too (Catholics are not just a bunch of mindless clones: we must learn on our own also). A proper understanding of Catholicism is no further away than a couple of books (or even several solid, "meaty" articles): either apologetics or catechetical material. Now with the Internet it is even easier to learn. Within a solid week of study, anyone could have a working knowledge of what they are required to believe as a Catholic, and why they should believe it. And this is why I do what I do and am so passionately committed to it. The more educated Catholics are, the more likely they will remain Catholics, and confident, spiritually-thriving ones. The less-educated they are, the more likely they will leave the faith.

I shall now provide one example of a convert to Protestantism who was thoroughly ignorant of Catholicism, from Eric Svendsen's NTRMin Board. Note well what has happened here! The bolding is added:

* * * * *

3/1/04 1:18 pm


i've lurked here a long time, but will take this opportunity for intro, in case i decide to post.

my name's rich. i've posted under the name rswood in the past on julie staples' board.

i converted from catholicism 2 years ago now. i was a cradle catholic, but somehow managed to avoid many of the catholic distinctives because they felt inherently wrong. i never prayed to saints or mary, didn't really believe purgatory was real, didn't believe i needed a priest to confess my sins and for most of my time there didn't believe in transubstantiation (although for a season i did).

reading my bible during high school and college only convinced me further that something was amiss. years later i began taking these queries seriously. i was not content in being a lazy catholic. i would research the rcc's claims--if true, i would give up and submit and be a rosary-praying, flesh-eating catholic. if not, i would leave the rcc.

i read works by sungenis and hahn, and listened to every debate of james white's over and over. the slam-dunks for me were salmon's "infallibility of the church" and webster/king's series (yes, i even pored over every endnote). your book on mary was also very helpful, eric! far moreso than, say, hahn's.

i've lurked here for over a year, and am still reading a ton and gaining in knowledge. the next issue for me is going to be coming to terms with the doctrines of grace, although it seems a foregone conclusion that i already believe them--i will however probably give hunt/geisler some last words on it to see if i can be convinced otherwise.

* * *

3/1/04 4:39 pm

"huh? ha!"

oh i forgot to mention i'm californian, 29, and married almost 6 years. my wife converted with me--interestingly she was a cradle-catholic who went to catholic school and the whole nine yards and somehow avoided all the same errors, independently. i'm convinced there are Sheep in the rcc--despite the catholic church. i can think of no other way in which someone can be dunked in families of rosaries and prayer cards and not get wet, yet emerge with the three solas without evangelical interference or even knowing what the solas are. our own experience actually has really helped us understand the doctrines of grace.

* * *

3/5/04 2:50 am

"i've also heard"

of people who claim a pure faith who stay in the rcc to win souls.

. . . they are still IN the rcc physically, but know Jesus apart from Rome's errors. one of the greatest things i came to understand as i learned rcc doctrine was how few in the rcc have a clue really what they're supposed to believe. time and again i talk with catholics who think it's ok to ignore a ton of catholic doctrine, and by so stripping themselves of romanism, end up purely though imperfectly Christian. by imperfect i mean that they aren't being fed, lack knowledge.

so that's just it--they don't tolerate rome's teachings, instinctively (most haven't been taught to avoid these things). they sit in the pews, partake of communion without understanding what they are assenting to when they say "Amen" before receiving it, pray without any mediator to their mediator, confess their sins in private, and so on. i feel like it's my job now to tap them on the shoulder and get them into the Scriptures, and ultimately into a church that will feed them properly. i have a brother and friend in just this position. by God's grace it's just a matter of time til they come out of the rcc entirely because in most senses they aren't there anyway.

* * *

So who were the key players in causing this person to convert? All the usual suspects: James White, George Salmon (a 19th-century anti-Catholic Anglican), Eric Svendsen, William Webster, and David T. King.

I've refuted most of these folks over and over and they have never overturned my reasoning (in virtually all cases they totally ignored it, which seems to be the usual modus operandi of the anti-Catholic in the face of serious critique). This person was taken in by specious reasoning. He felt that he had to choose between light and darkness. Catholicism was the non-Christian system of darkness and Protestantism was the Christian light. So of course, thinking that, he had no choice but to become a Protestant. This is the lie that the anti-Catholic apologists try to put across.

Here are some refutations of these guys (perhaps another victim of their sophistries and slanders and inaccuracies and misrepresentations and anti-rational rantings can be saved):

See my Anti-Catholicism page. Look under white, Webster, Svendsen, and King. See also:

My Old Anti-Catholicism Page

The Church and Infallibility: A Reply to Anglican Polemicist George Salmon (B.C. Butler; includes much material dealing with Newman, the papacy, and development)

Monday, March 29, 2004

The Protestant Sacramentarian Controversies (Calvin vs. Luther vs. Zwingli)

An "outtake" from my upcoming book: The Catholic Verses. It was too historical, and the emphasis of the book is biblical ("the editor hath spoken!"). But this is interesting historical information, I think (at least for a history buff / nut like me), so I saved it.

[now available only in chapter 12 of my book, Biblical Catholic Eucharistic Theology]

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Debate on Abortion, Part II (Dave & Sogn)

Sogn sent me this in e-mail:

General reply to Dave on the subject of abortion:

For the last two weeks, since I last posted in the mode of dispute over abortion, I've been wrestling with profound misgivings and, with considerable pain, trying to reevaluate my beliefs. I've reached some provisional conclusions, which I will now disclose.

I have come to believe that abortion is invariably the destruction of an innocent human person regardless of whether the fetus has developed sentience yet. This means that virtually all abortions are wrongful killings and may legitimately be proscribed by law, with the exception of certain rare cases. I am thus recanting more or less the entirety of my previous contentions on this subject, with further details to be addressed below.

One item I found especially helpful in this reconsideration process was an essay by Peter Kreeft, which I found among Dave's many links on the topic: 'Human Personhood Begins at Conception'. It is a good analysis of the moral and philosophical crux of the dispute between pro-choice and pro-life partisans: Functionalism, i.e. "defining a person by his or her functioning or behavior." I have realized that, in one context or another, such as this one, I have embraced functionalism for decades - since college, in fact. I have come to realize that there is an irreparable disconnect between my functionalism and my Christian beliefs. It was the growing sense of this conflict that provoked the second thoughts I experienced almost immediately upon initiating this dispute a few weeks ago.

I have also realized that certain powerful prejudices have biased my thinking on this volatile subject for a very long time - again, since college. When I was almost 20 I had a quasi-religious (in terms of emotional intensity) conversion to radical feminism while reading a play on the subject of abortion. This dovetailed with my inherent personality traits in such a way that I became a zealous androgynist, or what has been pejoratively called, by some conservative pundits, unisexist. By that I mean that I despised the very idea of gender-based or -specific roles, and, in particular, I viewed the fact that childbearing was the unique role of women as one of nature's more grotesque injustices. I wanted men and women to be as role-interchangeable as physical reality would permit, and I assumed it would permit a great deal, especially if women could be freed from the encumbrance of unplanned pregnancy. Hence my passionate commitment to the pro-choice perspective.

Along with that ideological development I gravitated naturally to the functionalist view of personhood. I never engaged in dishonest claptrap about what was being aborted - e.g. that it was just "a clump of cells" or just "part of a woman's body." I always acknowledged the humanity of the victims of abortion, though not their personhood (functionalism again), and viewed abortion as a tragic necessity, a lesser evil when the interests of an autonomous woman (and full-fledged person) clashed with the interests of the marginally sentient proto-person within her. The liberty and autonomy of each woman was a non-negotiable, bottom-line imperative in my thinking. I wanted nothing - and no one - to get in the way of a woman - a rather abstract woman! - pursuing her dreams or her vocation.

However, like so many pro-choice ideologues, I don't believe I could ever have endorsed the abortion of my own child. The issue never arose, but neither my wife nor I could have chosen abortion (with a possible exception to be addressed later). Yet I viewed the legality of abortion as a sacrosanct prerequisite for women's autonomy and equality with men. I was edging toward the popular "I'm personally opposed but let's keep it legal" point of view. That was clinched when I embraced the cause of animal liberation. My empathy with the suffering and vulnerability of helpless creatures made it absurd to harden my heart to the plight of preborn humans. I was definitely opposed to abortion - personally - yet I could not take the further step of renouncing legal abortion. I did, however, begin to regret the unlimited abortion right bequeathed to us by the Roe v Wade decision, and I embraced the idea of some restrictions. I was especially aghast at the legality of late-term abortions. Apart from extraordinary circumstances I didn't think abortion should be legal beyond the first trimester.

One comment on Roe v Wade: From the moment I read that ruling in its entirely, I never affirmed it as constitutionally legitimate. It was transparent hocus-pocus, inventing an ad hoc "right" that has no basis in the constitution. (IMO, any time a jurist invokes a word like "penumbra" should be enough to set off the klaxons in our minds!) I had always believed that abortion should have been legalized through legislative due process, as had already happened in several states prior to the 1973 judicial fiat.

Earlier I mentioned "prejudices" - plural - that biased my thinking on abortion. One was the androgynist feminist ideology I've already mentioned (which hinged on a quasi-utilitarian functionalist view of personhood). The other, particularly ignoble, factor was my loathing of the religious right and all its self-appointed spokespersons (e.g. Phyllis Schlafly above all, for her anti-ERA stridency, as well as people like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and all the usual suspects on that side what later came to be called the culture war). I also held the Catholic Church in very low esteem as one of the preeminently retrograde forces retarding the march of human progress, but evangelical Protestantism (from which I was apostate) was no better in my eyes. I was a militant atheist for most of the years I was most zealously pro-choice, and I yearned for the thorough secularization of human civilization.

Then along came God, who, in His typically unscrupulous manner, began to undermine my atheism. The first blow came when my conscience was convicted concerning animals, culminating in my embrace of vegetarianism and the broader philosophy of panzoism. A sufficiently compartmentalized mind might have been able to sustain atheistic panzoism indefinitely, but I've never been that good at isolating some parts of my mind from other parts. My emphatic rejection of ethical relativism followed closely upon my embrace of panzoism, and an ensuing chain of cogitative events culminated a few years later in my re-experience of God and renunciation of atheism. Yet I retained my repugnance of traditional, conservative religion, and my concept of God lay within the metaphysical ballpark known as process theology. I called myself a deist.

I was quite content as a deist, but God was apparently not satisfied with that status quo in which He was loving and benign but fairly safe and domesticated. Deism proved to be a kind of halfway house for me. God is always up to something, and in due course He impertinently maneuvered me into confronting the claims of Christ, whom I had thought safely dispatched to the realm of inspiring but inert myth. I had embarked upon a process of study intended to solidify my case against Christianity, but something went awry and I eventually saw the error of my apostasy. I humbly returned to faith in Christ seven years ago on March 27th (which fell on Thursday of Holy Week that year). As I noted previously (I think in the panzoism discussion) I did not convert to a church, as some Christians do; mine was a quintessentially Protestant conversion, in the sense that I was going one-on-one with Christ. As far as I was concerned, the subject of the "One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church" of the Nicene Creed was a wide open field awaiting investigation.

Conversion may begin in a definite moment, but it's also a painstakingly gradual process that never ends, at least in this life. When I returned to faith in Christ I carried some shoddy baggage. I retained some of the faulty philosophy (e.g. functionalism) and prejudice (e.g. against some of the more conservative elements of Christian tradition) from before. Dealing with these issues has been a very slow and sometimes unpleasant process. I'm only now getting around to the practical business of baptism, and I'm only now piecing together a more sound position on the moral status of abortion. I've been persuaded that functionalism is incompatible with fundamental principles inherent in Christian faith and discipleship. For that and other reasons, the thesis I defended only a few weeks ago is untenable.

I hope I will be pardoned for this lengthy autobiographical introduction to the resumption of our earlier dialogue, but I deemed it worthwhile to provide some background to what I have to say. It might also be interesting for some people who have never been anywhere near the pro-choice side to have a glimpse into how one fellow Christian, starting from a distant point, has been led on a long journey to the other side.

Dave: Of course, I am ecstatic over your change of mind and heart on this issue, and I express my deep admiration for your willingness to not only admit you were wrong but to write so candidly and openly about it. Way to go, brother! You have gained my respect in a profound way. I also agree with you that it is a great opportunity for those of us who have never interacted much with a "pro-choice" position to see how it is self-understood, and how it relates to Christian faith -- where that is also present. I appreciate, as always, your amiable, yet substantive writings, and I always welcome your feedback.
Note: there was much more in Sogn's letter, which I will post in the BlogBack, so as not to make my front page too long. He responds to our previous dialogue. I'll post his remarks without additional comment first. Then I will respond to some things in the next entry.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Jesus, Vegetarianism, Bambi, & Us (vs. Keith Akers)

Keith Akers is a vegetarian writer, brought to my attention by the vegetarian advocate regular to this blog, Sogn Mill-Scout. First a little background on some of Mr. Akers' religious beliefs. Though he apparently eschews formal involvement with churches (see his "About" page), he is drawn to several ideas of the Unity School of Christianity (which is not a Christian group, according to traditional notions of orthodox Christianity held by all the major Christian groups: Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox). Here are some of his thoughts about this group, in his paper, "Unity and Early Christianity":

Unity School of Christianity, a New Thought denomination initiated by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore around the beginning of the twentieth century, is important because it recovers three critical pieces of early Christianity, as reflected in Jewish Christian Ebionism . . . These elements are (1) vegetarianism, (2) the "Christhood of the believer," (3) the priority of divine experience over written documents.

About the second aspect, he writes:

For Unity, it is the indwelling of the spirit of God that gives authority, and this indwelling is available to all. It is not something reserved for the unique, holy Son of God; it is for all believers. This same point of view can be found in early Christianity, among the Ebionites.

. . . There is an important corollary to this idea, which is the rejection of original sin. Unity, and indeed all New Thought churches, reject the idea of original sin — that we are somehow inherently sinful at birth.

. . . Borrowing from Luther’s terminology, I refer to the divine indwelling of Christ as "the Christhood of the believer" — everyone is his or her own Christ, reflecting Jesus’ own words, "the kingdom of God is within you." The first Christians did not think that we needed to go through Jesus in order to get to God. After Jesus had left the earth, in the upper room at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came directly to all the believers. To the early Christians, the answer to the question of whether the Christ has come, or even whether or not Jesus is the Christ, is superfluous: the believer is the Christ.

This is not orthodox Christianity. It is not Christianity at all, and I am duty-bound to point this out (nothing personal against Mr. Akers). He himself recognizes this in his final paragraph:

We certainly shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that Unity and Ebionism are completely in harmony. There are stylistic and other differences between Ebionite Christianity and Unity . . . Nevertheless, we have here an example of two movements — one ancient, another modern — which both grasped key elements of Jesus’ teachings which are conspicuously missing from most of modern Christianity.

With this general approach to religion in mind, let us move on to interaction with Mr. Akers' thoughts on Jesus and vegetarianism. First, I will respond to various portions of his article, "Christian / Vegetarian Dialogue": [his words will be in italics]

[M]ost vegetarians, when confronted with the idea that Jesus at meat, will say something like this: "Jesus ate meat? Your Lord and Savior, who is God incarnate, ate meat? Why should we pay any further attention to this unethical religion?"

This illustrates the "non-negotiable" status of vegetarianism as an ethical absolute in that position (at least what might be construed as the "purist" position).

The heart of the vegetarian movement is the claim that it is wrong to eat animals killed for food. Once you stipulate that Jesus ate meat, further discussion between Christians and vegetarians on ethical issues is not impossible, but progress will be limited.

I agree.

What kind of basis do we have for ethical vegetarianism, if we stipulate in advance that Jesus ate meat? The answer I would give is simple: in practical terms, there is none; to condemn meat-eating is to condemn a meat-eating Jesus.

Consistency would seem to demand this, yes. And such a position obviously is a virtually impossible one for Christians to take: Jesus being sinless and the incarnate God.

There are ways you can consistently maintain both ethical vegetarianism and follow a meat-eating Jesus, but they are quite awkward and would have limited appeal. So let us examine, from various sources, possible arguments in favor of vegetarianism in spite of a meat-eating Jesus.

1. Different periods of history require different ethics . . .

. . . "Somehow, it was all right for Jesus to eat meat, but it’s not all right for us; somehow, we are ethically obligated to uphold a higher standard than Jesus did." Who can fail to see that this is inconsistent?

Mr. Akers is thinking consistently, according to his own premises.

2. Killing animals is sometimes necessary . . .

[Mr. Akers makes some small concessions, then concludes]:

The question is not whether we can be perfect and avoid killing every tiny bug and insect; the question is whether not eating animals for food is a both desirable and a reasonable behavior to expect from us or from the Prince of Peace in a time when we do not have to eat animals for food.

So Jesus sinned once again . . .

3. The "Factory Farming" Gambit: Jesus may have eaten meat in the first century, but with the manifest cruelty involved in the modern factory farming system, it is wrong to eat meat today and Jesus would not eat meat today.

. . . But will it convince anyone to become vegetarian who thinks that Jesus ate meat? This appears to be a rationalization adopted by conservative Christian vegetarians after the fact, rather than a serious attempt at talking with Christians about factory farming. It makes Jesus a rather inconsistent moralist; meat-eating is all right, as long as it doesn’t cause too much suffering. This argument would legitimate most meat-eating throughout history.

. . . This position of course is possible, and it is certainly more enlightened than that of most meat-eaters, but it is not an ethical vegetarian view. It is a "reformist" point of view that vegetarians and animal rights advocates often ridicule . . . it’s hard to see how anyone who believes, and feels, that meat-eating is wrong is going to be persuaded to follow such an indecisive Jesus.

All of the above analysis, presupposes, of course, that meat-eating is absolutely wrong in the first place. But Christians (or anyone else) will want to know how one arrives at such a position; on what ethical and epistemological grounds?

4. For world hunger reasons, and the inefficiency of producing meat and other animal products, vegetarianism is necessary.

Here is another argument that lets Jesus off the hook for eating meat; presumably, the inefficiency of meat production was not a significant factor in the hunger of Jesus’ day. This is indeed an ethical argument, but it is about the ethics of our treating humans. In other words, we have no obligations towards the animals themselves, but we do have obligations toward humans, and because eating meat causes other humans to suffer (they are deprived of the grain fed to cattle), we should be vegetarians. By this logic, it is all right to kill a stray dog, but it is not all right to kill your neighbor’s dog. This isn’t a bad argument to use with people who have no compassion for animals; at least this way the dogs who have owners are safe. But an ethical vegetarian is one who sees our obligations to animals as extending at least as far as not killing them for food, regardless of the economic or other factors involved in meat production.

Again, these intermediate positions are deemed unacceptable and inconsistent with a "hard-core" or "purist" vegetarianism.

5. Jesus is fallible, so perhaps he did not see the vegetarian issue clearly, though we should follow him in other respects.

This argument, as far as I know, has never been made in public, though some people have suggested it to me privately. Such an argument, while it would satisfy most ethical vegetarians, essentially takes us out of Christianity. Here is a key ethical issue, central to our lives, and central to the lives of at least some of Jesus’ contemporaries and followers. Yet Jesus himself did not understand this issue. If we are to find spiritual role models, it will either have to be Christians who saw this issue more clearly than Christ, or it will be among non-Christians. To say that Jesus was wrong about a key ethical or social issue does not logically take us out of Christianity, but it does take us beyond Christianity for all practical purposes.

Mr. Akers is absolutely correct about how such arguments rule out Christianity, and he has maintained logical consistency throughout -- as we would expect from a philosophy major (i.e., assuming the correctness of his initial premises). Vegetarianism is adopted with such conviction, that if Jesus rejected it, so much for Jesus.

Despite the arguments of some conservative vegetarian Christians, they remain largely uninterested in vegetarianism for ethical reasons, concentrating instead on the health aspects. One can also advance various reasons, such as mercy and compassion, to limit the worst abuses of meat consumption, but obviously mercy and compassion is inherently limited — it cannot be extended to the act of killing and eating an animal for food without changing conservative Christian theology. I wish them luck in their efforts. However, as a practical matter, ethical vegetarianism is incompatible with the orthodox view of a meat-eating Jesus.

This is correct (and that is why blog regular Sogn must choose between the Bible and "ethical vegetarianism." There is no cogent, sensible, intermediate position (as Mr. Akers is eloquently proving). And there is such a thing as historic, orthodox, biblical Christianity, and an absolute prohibition of killing animals (and eating them) as unethical is inconsistent with it. It can't be sustained for a second if one accepts the Bible as an infallible divine revelation.

I have met countless people in the vegetarian movement who were once Christians, or were raised as Christians, but upon becoming vegetarian found no place for themselves in the church they were raised in. They simply dropped out. They correctly perceived that their new beliefs were incompatible with the conservative Christianity which they knew. The vegetarian movement today is significantly secular, anti-religious, and anti-Christian.

Thanks for the honesty and drawing the inevitable stark contrast.

That element of vegetarianism which is interested in spiritual matters tends to be eclectic, open, tolerant, and progressive. The vegetarian subculture did not acquire this character either because of a deliberate program to exclude Christianity, nor by chance; this happened because people who are open, tolerant, and progressive in matters of food are usually also open, tolerant, and progressive about other matters as well.

I wonder how "progressive" and "tolerant" it is on the issue of abortion (child-killing, usually entailing child-torturing)?

Christianity is in ferment. The struggle to change society and the struggle to change Christianity are not two different and independent events; they are parallel and interrelated events. Everywhere, people are saying things that have not been questioned for centuries and that would have been unthinkable a century ago. The spectacular and steady popularity enjoyed by such progressive thinkers as Matthew Fox and John Shelby Spong is evidence that Christianity is changing.

Not at all; it is evidence that liberal Christians who reject historic, biblical Christianity are more numerous and currently fashionable according to the zeitgeist. That has no relation to the truthfulness or falsity of orthodox Christianity. Liberals and dissidents, like the poor, are always with us.

On the other hand, there is a strong conservative element within Christianity that wants to keep things the same.

Yes, truth has an annoying way of being quite "samey." The laws of thermodynamics or of gravity don't change according to the whims and fancies and trendy fads of a particular age. Neither do Christian doctrinal and theological truths.

. . . In the long run, this conservative element is clearly losing the battle . . .

Why didn't they lose it centuries ago, then? Why is orthodox Christianity still here if there is this mythical, inexorable "progressive" direction of history? G.K. Chesterton has a great line about, "at least five times in history the Church has gone to the dogs, but in each case, the dog died."

Efforts to promote vegetarianism within Christianity — if they are to be more than just "back door" efforts — must attack the problem at its source. Christianity has lost its way on countless issues: by making judgments on people whose lifestyles or religions are different, by advocating war and violence, by putting forward a primitive and hateful theology, and by ignoring consumerism in a rich and wasteful society. Vegetarianism cannot be separated from these other issues. If we are committed to Christian renewal, we must start with the practice and teaching of Jesus and must radically reinterpret the nature of Christianity.

Thanks to Mr. Akers for another clear statement of the inherent anti-Christian nature of this philosophy, complete with the inevitable "tolerant hatred" of Christian thought, assumning it is hateful because certain ethical distinctions are made, and some behaviors are deemed sinful. It's okay to assume killing an animal is sinful, but how dare we say that homosexuality is!!! That must be hatred and could be no other . . . so suddenly (but not surprisingly, Mr. Akers becomes quite unreasonable (in terms of internal consistency -- his premises already were unreasonable, in my opinion).

Now onto his article, "Was Jesus a Vegetarian?":

Was Jesus a vegetarian? This issue is too complex to be answered with just a few Bible verses. In fact, it cannot be fully answered in a short article . . . The New Testament takes contradictory stands on this issue, sometimes seeming to condemn and sometimes seeming to support vegetarianism.

Ah, of course; so those terrible "conservative" Christians who came after the apostolic period obviously changed the Bible and perverted it into a contradictory document: half-enlightened and so-called "progressive," and half-"fundamentalist" . . .

. . . The letters of Paul give clear evidence of a controversy over vegetarianism. Paul believes that it is not necessary to be a vegetarian in order to be a Christian.

Good. Jesus agrees, since He ate fish and lamb, as I showed in my exposition on the biblical perspective on meat and vegetarianism.

The Jewish Christians are alone in early Christianity in placing heavy emphasis on the rejection of animal sacrifice. Yet the historical Jesus was clearly opposed to animal sacrifice, as we can see from one of the key events in Jesus’ life — the last week of his life, leading up to his crucifixion. According to all of the gospels, Jesus went into the temple and disrupted the animal sacrifice business:

And Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, "It is written: ‘my house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers." (Matthew 21:12-13; parallels at Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-17)

Who were the ones who bought and sold in the temple, and why were they selling pigeons? The animals which are being sold are sacrificial animals, and it is these dealers in animals whom Jesus is angry with. The primary practical effect of this confrontation was to disrupt the animal sacrifice business — chasing out the animals to be sacrificed, or those who were selling them to be sacrificed. "Cleansing the temple" was an act of animal liberation.

This is sheer nonsense. If Jesus had rejected the system of animal sacrifice, then He wouldn't have observed the Passover, and Scripture tells us in several places that He did that (the Last Supper was a Passover meal). He wouldn't have included in his parable of the prodigal son a reference to killing the "fatted calf" in order to celebrate the wayward son's return (see my above-mentioned paper).

This is a classic example of an otherwise intelligent person becoming quite the special pleader and irrationalist when it comes to sensible Bible interpretation, committing massive eisegesis (i.e., reading into the text one's preconceived notions rather than letting it speak for itself). "Fundamentalists" aren't the only ones who engage in shoddy and specious hermeneutics. Those who disbelieve in the inspiration of the Bible do far worse.

Most of the rest of this article involves the usual higher critical arbitrary and by no means proven historical theories, culminating in the obligatory (but equally unproven) conclusion:

Later editors of the New Testament further distorted and confused Jesus’ views on animals.

Of course, all the evidence I have brought to the table (no pun intended) contrary to the position of "ethical vegetarianism" would be part of these cynical, self-serving distortions by these "later editors." No one has any cogent, consistent method by which we determine such additions, of course, but that is unimportant; a mere trifle. The main thing is to have some means by which we can disagree with and "diss" any biblical passage that we don't personally care for.

Jesus was undoubtedly vegetarian, since this was the original teaching of Jewish Christianity.

He was? I thought the question was so complex it couldn't be dealt with in an article? Hmmmm.....

For Jesus, the law commands nonviolence; we are not to shed blood, whether the blood of humans in warfare or the blood of animals in meat consumption or animal sacrifice.

No matter how many texts to the contrary are produced . . .

Jesus risked and gave his life to disrupt the wicked and bloody animal sacrifices in the temple.

That's one of the silliest claims about the Bible I have ever heard, which is really saying something, since I have seriously studied the Bible for over 23 years now.

But the religion of Jesus has been lost from modern Christianity.

So you say (and wish). Others think quite differently.

Thanks for the debate.

Reformed Protestants Take on the "Invisible Church"

Another of my series of posts designed to show the significant "common ground" that Catholics and many of the more thoughtful and reflective Protestants (particularly of the Reformed variety) have; in this instance, pertaining to the nature of the Church. The following excerpts come from Reformed pastor Tim Gallant's sermon: Ephesians 2.19-22: "God's New Temple Under Construction"
We live in a time when even those who call themselves Christians have given themselves over to a very extreme individualism and all the sloppy thinking that that entails. Baptism is not seen as necessary. The Church is not seen as necessary. Salvation is understood as a personal, invisible encounter between the detached, individual soul, and God. Church is at best a support, something helpful to boost our faith, a place where we can learn things that we have difficulty learning at home. In other words, going to church is simply pragmatic - it's helpful.

It's kind of like taking vitamins. You really ought to be able to eat healthily on your own with a well-balanced diet, but since that is so difficult, vitamins are a really good idea.

It has become very popular to speak of belonging to "the invisible Church." What matters, we are told, is not whether you belong to a visible, tangible body of believers, but whether you belong to "the invisible Church."

And of course, belonging to an invisible Church is completely untestable and unchallengeable. Make the claim, and who can doubt you?

People who belong to the invisible Church lay all their stress upon things that are unidentifiable and therefore not open to question. "I don't go to church, but I'm a Christian. I believe in God. I know that I'm saved. I trust Jesus Christ." "I don't need a church telling me what to do; I can serve God on my own; I can worship God at home or anywhere."

I challenge you go to your concordance when you get home, and look up the word "church." Look at what's happening in the context. You will discover that the overwhelming majority of references could not possibly refer to an invisible church. They refer to identifiable groups of people. And the rest of the few references that remain could only theoretically be applied to an invisible church; they are far better understood in context as referring to recognizable congregations, or the sum of recognizable congregations.

. . . The temple that God is building does not yet look like it will after the return of Christ, to be sure. This temple is now imperfect and marred by weakness and even peopled with hypocrites. But it is nonetheless a visible body, not a hypothetical "spiritual" "uncollected collection" of all people who deep in their hearts believe in Jesus.

You see, we need to get beyond the North American "me and Jesus" mentality. The "Jesus" that by-passes everything else and just deals directly with individuals. . . is a figment of individualistic imagination. It is not the Jesus of the Bible. The Jesus of Scripture is the Head of the Church.

'Twas the Month After Election

- A Satirical Poem -

I know; it isn't Christmas, but it is an election year, so I thought it would be worthwhile not to forget the fathomless imbecility of our last Presidential election in the United States:

[be forewarned: not for the faint of heart of Democratic persuasion; remember, this is humor!]

An admittedly highly partisan take-off on the lunacy of the 2000 presidential election, with a doubly Christmassy twist . . .

'Twas the month after election, when all through Florida land,
Not a single vote was certain, from pencil, stylus, or hand.
The chads were all hung on the ballots by a hair,
In hopes that Democratic canvassing boards soon would be there.
Palm Beach ladies wrestled with senility, all smug in their views,
With visions of conspiracy; "Buchanan we didn't choose!"
Some counties had butterfly ballots, or pregnant dimples "clear,"
And liberals wracked their brains for a long bleeding-heart's smear.

When on the White House lawn there arose such a stink,
They sprang from voting booths to loathe conservative rat finks.
Away to the media crusading Algore flew like a flash,
And tore open honesty and truth, evil Republicans to bash.
The moon and the sky, like Chicken Little, were caving in,
Giving a lustre of "plausibility" to cynical Democrat spin.

When what to our disbelieving eyes should appear,
But a grown-up whining crybaby, as certification drew near.
With a little old Supreme Court, honorable, liberal, and slick,
To legislate on a whim: this kangaroo court so quick.
More rapid than eagles, Algore's counselors came,
And he whistled through fake smiles and called them by name:

Now Daschle! now Daley! now St. Christopher! now silly Boies!
On, Lieberman! on, Jennings; I'd Rather have Brokaw media ploys!
To the brink of shamelessness! To the very pinnacle of folly!
Now Daschle and Gephardt: dash away objectivity & fairness, by golly!

As the Constitution before the wild propaganda campaign died,
Faced with the obstacle of rule of law, they circumvented and lied.
So to thrice-counted punch cards salivating canvassers they flew,
With bags full of dirty tricks and chads; arrogant and self-righteous too.

And then, in a twinkling, Algore heard in his head,
The prying and gnawing of conscience's dread.
While practicing Reaganisms, in the mirror saw he with squinting eyes,
Three luminous Ghosts of Close Elections Past, in but slight disguise.
They were covered in greasy ballots and dollars, from head to foot,
And their reputations were all tarnished with compromise and soot.
Like a bundle of risky schemes, Algore -- dazed -- fell flat on his back.
He looked like the Gipper, but dumber, less wrinkly; as if high on crack.

Richard Nixon's eyes: how they twinkled! his jowls: how merry!
His fingers made the "victory" sign (McGovern he buried).
His droll little mouth said: "Let me make this perfectly clear.
I put country above ambition, in '60 and '74: what a year!"

Old Rutherford Hayes' beard was long and white as fleece.
A stump speech from long ago he held tight in his teeth.
The smoke-filled rooms encircled his head like a scarf:
"When they called me 'Your Fraudulency,' it made me wanna barf!"

Then handsome JFK told Algore: "I won because of debates on telly,
But old man Daley's Chicago shenanigans made victory kinda smelly.
Even Tricky Dick gracefully, manfully conceded, like a jolly old elf."
With a wink he warned: "So should you, in spite of your devious self."

Algore suddenly arose, rubbing his eyes and twisting his head,
Soon giving hostage America to know it had nothing to dread.
He spoke no more lies and half-truths, but went straight to work,
Selling all his big oil stock(ings); no longer the big jerk.
And pointing his finger at himself instead of patient W. Bush,
He resumed his former pro-life views, and racial strife wouldn't push.
He sprang to the congress; to fellow Democrats giving a call,
And urged upon them statesmanship; ugly bickering to stall.

And we heard him exclaim, as he conceded by the book,

Life means far more than stealing elections by hook or crook.
Jesus said: "the first shall be last, and the last shall be first."
So for the good of the country, my ruthless ambition I will burst.
I've been a chameleon, exaggerated, and torn groups apart;
Now it's time to stop demagoguing; I'll examine my own heart.

And all marvelled at Algore's classy cry, ere he finally faded out of TV sight:

Happy Christmas to all, and to Dubya, you put up a good fight!

Written on 9 December 2000, before the election was decided.

Fictional Dialogue on Sola Scriptura ("Bible Only")

Catholics accept Church authority and a reliable, divinely-protected Tradition, whereas Protestants "pick and choose" which traditions are to their own particular denominational taste. This is arbitrary in two ways:

1) There is really no cogent, non-arbitrary method for Protestants to determine which tradition is true (e.g., NT Canon) and which is false (e.g., Marian doctrines);

2) The notion of "authority," where present at all in Protestant ecclesiology, is inadequate for the task of proclaiming "authoritatively" which tradition is true, and the grounds will be circular in any event:

Protestant (P): X is a true, biblical doctrine because it is biblical.

Catholic (C): According to which denominational tradition?


C: How do you know your tradition is true, while others which contradict it are false?

P:Because we are the most biblical.

C: How do you know yours is the most biblical?

P: Because our exegesis is the most all-encompassing and consistent, and true to the clear teaching of Scripture.

C: But the other Protestant traditions claim the same superiority . . .

P:I must say in love that they are wrong.

C: How do you know they are wrong? I thought that Protestants were supposed to be tolerant of each other's "distinctives," especially in "secondary" issues, yet you are calling fellow brothers in Christ "wrong."

P:I am compelled to because they have a faulty hermeneutic and exegesis, and I must stand firm
for biblical truth.

C: How do you know they have a faulty method of interpretation?

P:By Scripture and linguistic study, and the consensus of scholarly commentaries, and because R.C. Sproul said so [ :-) ]

C: But again, the others claim the same prerogative and abilities.

P:Then if they are wrong, they must be blinded by their presuppositional biases, or else by sin.

C: How do you know that?

P:Because they come to the wrong conclusions about the perspicuous biblical data.

C: Frankly, I would say that that is circular reasoning. But, even granting your contention for the sake of argument, how does an uneducated seeker of Christian truth choose which denomination is true to the Bible?

P:The one which is most biblical . . .

C: Now, don't start that again [smiling]. They all claim that.

P:Well, then, the one which is apostolic and has roots in the early Church.

C: Then the Fathers must be studied in order to determine who has the early Church, "apostolic"

P: Yes, I suppose so [frowning].

C: But what if it is found that the great majority of Fathers have an opinion on doctrine X contrary to yours?

P:Then they are wrong on that point.

C: How do you know that?

P:By studying Scripture.

C: So when all is said and done it is irrelevant what the early Church, or the Fathers, or the Church from 500 to 1500 believed?

P: Not totally, but I must judge their beliefs from Scripture.

C: Therefore you are - in the final analysis -- the ultimate arbiter of true Christian Tradition?

P: Well, if you must put it in those blunt terms, yes.

C: Isn't that a bit arrogant?

P: Not as much as the pope and a bunch of celibate old men in red hats and dresses telling me what I should believe [scowling].

C: You make yourself the arbiter of all true Christian doctrine, down to the smallest particular, yet you object to a pope who makes an infallible pronouncement about every hundred years or so!!!! Most remarkable and ironic! I say you are obviously a Super-Pope, then.

P: You can say that if you like. We call it the primacy of the individual conscience.

C: So you think that your own individual opinion and "conscience" is superior to the combined consensus of hundreds of years of Church history, papal pronouncements, apostolic Tradition, Councils, etc.?

P: Yes, because if a doctrine is biblical, I must denounce any tradition of men that is otherwise.

C: For that matter, how do you know what the Bible is?

P:Well, I'll quote from John Calvin: "Scripture is indeed self-authenticated; hence it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning . . . Illumined by his power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else's judgment that Scripture is from God . . . We seek no proofs, . . . Such, then, is a conviction that requires no reasons . . . I speak of nothing other than what each believer experiences within himself."

[Institutes, Book I, chapter 7, section 5 / vol. 1, pp.80-81 in Battles/McNeill ed.; emphasis added]

C: That seems intrinsically unreasonable, by Calvin's own stated criteria. Yet you've attempted to give me reasons and logic throughout this whole conversation!

P: Faith requires no reasons. The Holy Spirit makes it clear.

C: Well, that's a whole 'nother ball of wax. But I would say that you would not know what NT Scripture was for sure, if not for the Catholic Church. Calvin's criteria is essentially no different than the Mormons' "burning in the bosom" as a justification for their beliefs. Besides, on what
grounds do you trust Calvin, when he contradicts earlier Church Tradition? Scripture is not self-authenticating, in the sense of its determining the extent and parameters of itself. This is clearly shown in the divergences in the early Church on the question of the NT Canon.

P: There was a broad consensus among the Fathers.

C: I'll grant you that . . . very broad. But there is more than enough difference to require an
authoritative decree by the Church to put the matter to rest.

P:But God guided those Christians specifically because His Word was at stake.

C: Oh? First of all, I'm glad to hear that you acknowledge the 4th century Church as "Christians." Many Calvinists and other Protestants think the Church was already off the rails by then!

P: Well, that's silly, because Chalcedon was a good Council, and that was held in 451. So was Ephesus in 431.

C: Good. So you agree that God guided the early Church. But not in all matters?

P: No, not when they talked about the papacy, Mary, bishops, the Real Presence, communion of saints, penance, purgatory, infused justification, baptismal regeneration, confession, absolution, apostolic Tradition, apostolic succession, and many other erroneous doctrines.

C: How do you know that?

P:Because those doctrines clearly aren't biblical.

C: According to which "clear" denominational tradition?

P: Ours . . .

C: [smacks forehead, then throws hands up and gazes toward the heavens, wincing in despair]

And so on and so forth. Yet Protestants claim we are the ones with an epistemological problem!

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Jesus Would Support Child-Killing???!!!

Forwarded to me by blog frequenter Sogn Mill-Scout:
"Abortion Provider's New Chaplain Posits Pro-Choice Jesus"

Jim Brown and Jenni Parker
Agape Press

A conservative Protestant activist says he is appalled but not surprised that a United Methodist minister has been hired to serve as chaplain of the nation's largest abortion provider.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America has selected Pastor Ignacio Castuera to fill the newly created position and communicate "the theological justification for choice, sexuality, and contraception."

Castuera serves as pastor at St. John's United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, California, and has been a member of Planned Parenthood's clergy advisory board for the past ten years. A longtime, strong supporter of abortion rights, he has worked with California Abortion Rights Action League on numerous pro-abortion campaigns, and once headed an outreach project of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a group that has honored him for his commitment to "reproductive freedom."

Castuera even promoted the Planned Parenthood's pro-death ideology in print. In a May 2003 article in the pro-abortion organization's Clergy Voices newsletter, Castuera commented that one can extrapolate" from all the other life-affirming stories about Jesus in the Bible that he "would indeed support a woman's right to choose."

The pastor has written numerous articles in professional journals and newspapers, and in his new capacity, he will continue to promote Planned Parenthood's mission and vision as an official spokesperson.

Mark Tooley is director of the Institute of Religion and Democracy's United Methodist Action steering committee. He says Planned Parenthood has for some time used its clergy advisory board and members like Castuera to provide a religious veneer for the agency's promotion of unrestricted abortion rights. But UM Action's director contends that the abortion mill's new ministerial mouthpiece does not speak for the traditional Church.

"Rev. Castuera and others who are willing to serve the cause of Planned Parenthood represent very much a limited aberration within Christianity. Certainly they don't come from the mainstream of Christianity," Tooley says.

The Institute on Religion and Democracy works to reform the social and political witness of the American churches, and Tooley's committee specifically seeks to defend Church beliefs and practices in the spirit of John Wesley, the father of Methodism.

Tooley says the hiring of Castuera comes as no surprise to him and is all part of pro-abortion activists' divisive political strategy.

"Planned Parenthood is trying to show that Christianity is divided over the issue of abortion," he says, "and that's why they have their clergy advisory board, and that's why they have the chaplain -- only for that political purpose. But in fact, for 2000 years Christianity has been almost entirely uniformly on the side of defending the sanctity of all human life, including unborn life."

Tooley believes Castuera is unlikely to be disciplined by the United Methodist Church, especially considering the fact that the denomination's leadership and national bureaucracy have supported abortion for the past 30 years. While the United Methodist Church officially opposes partial-birth abortion and the use of abortion for birth control and gender selection, it officially defends the individual's right to access abortion services.

Catholicism and Capital Punishment (Avery Cardinal Dulles)

Abridged version of the article from First Things (April 2001).
The early Christians evidently had nothing against the death penalty. They approve of the divine punishment meted out to Ananias and Sapphira when they are rebuked by Peter for their fraudulent action (Acts 5:1–11). The Letter to the Hebrews makes an argument from the fact that “a man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses” (10:28). Paul repeatedly refers to the connection between sin and death. He writes to the Romans, with an apparent reference to the death penalty, that the magistrate who holds authority “does not bear the sword in vain; for he is the servant of God to execute His wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). No passage in the New Testament disapproves of the death penalty.

Turning to Christian tradition, we may note that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church are virtually unanimous in their support for capital punishment, . . .

Summarizing the verdict of Scripture and tradition, we can glean some settled points of doctrine. It is agreed that crime deserves punishment in this life and not only in the next. In addition, it is agreed that the State has authority to administer appropriate punishment to those judged guilty of crimes and that this punishment may, in serious cases, include the sentence of death.

Yet, as we have seen, a rising chorus of voices in the Catholic community has raised objections to capital punishment . . .

The Catholic magisterium does not, and never has, advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty. I know of no official statement from popes or bishops, whether in the past or in the present, that denies the right of the State to execute offenders at least in certain extreme cases. The United States bishops, in their majority statement on capital punishment, conceded that “Catholic teaching has accepted the principle that the State has the right to take the life of a person guilty of an extremely serious crime.” Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, in his famous speech on the “Consistent Ethic of Life” at Fordham in 1983, stated his concurrence with the “classical position” that the State has the right to inflict capital punishment.

Although Cardinal Bernardin advocated what he called a “consistent ethic of life,” he made it clear that capital punishment should not be equated with the crimes of abortion, euthanasia, and suicide. Pope John Paul II spoke for the whole Catholic tradition when he proclaimed in Evangelium Vitae (1995) that “the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral.” But he wisely included in that statement the word “innocent.” He has never said that every criminal has a right to live nor has he denied that the State has the right in some cases to execute the guilty.

. . . it seems safe to conclude that the death penalty is not in itself a violation of the right to life. The real issue for Catholics is to determine the circumstances under which that penalty ought to be applied. It is appropriate, I contend, when it is necessary to achieve the purposes of punishment and when it does not have disproportionate evil effects. I say “necessary” because I am of the opinion that killing should be avoided if the purposes of punishment can be obtained by bloodless means.

The purposes of criminal punishment are rather unanimously delineated in the Catholic tradition. Punishment is held to have a variety of ends that may conveniently be reduced to the following four: rehabilitation, defense against the criminal, deterrence, and retribution. Granted that punishment has these four aims, we may now inquire whether the death penalty is the apt or necessary means to attain them.

The death penalty, we may conclude, has different values in relation to each of the four ends of punishment. It does not rehabilitate the criminal but may be an occasion for bringing about salutary repentance. It is an effective but rarely, if ever, a necessary means of defending society against the criminal. Whether it serves to deter others from similar crimes is a disputed question, difficult to settle. Its retributive value is impaired by lack of clarity about the role of the State. In general, then, capital punishment has some limited value but its necessity is open to doubt.

There is more to be said. Thoughtful writers have contended that the death penalty, besides being unnecessary and often futile, can also be positively harmful. Four serious objections are commonly mentioned in the literature.

There is, first of all, a possibility that the convict may be innocent. John Stuart Mill, in his well–known defense of capital punishment, considers this to be the most serious objection. In responding, he cautions that the death penalty should not be imposed except in cases where the accused is tried by a trustworthy court and found guilty beyond all shadow of doubt.

It is common knowledge that even when trials are conducted, biased or kangaroo courts can often render unjust convictions. Even in the United States, where serious efforts are made to achieve just verdicts, errors occur, although many of them are corrected by appellate courts. Poorly educated and penniless defendants often lack the means to procure competent legal counsel; witnesses can be suborned or can make honest mistakes about the facts of the case or the identities of persons; evidence can be fabricated or suppressed; and juries can be prejudiced or incompetent. Some “death row” convicts have been exonerated by newly available DNA evidence. Columbia Law School has recently published a powerful report on the percentage of reversible errors in capital sentences from 1973 to 1995. Since it is altogether likely that some innocent persons have been executed, this first objection is a serious one.

Another objection observes that the death penalty often has the effect of whetting an inordinate appetite for revenge rather than satisfying an authentic zeal for justice. By giving in to a perverse spirit of vindictiveness or a morbid attraction to the gruesome, the courts contribute to the degradation of the culture, replicating the worst features of the Roman Empire in its period of decline.

Furthermore, critics say, capital punishment cheapens the value of life. By giving the impression that human beings sometimes have the right to kill, it fosters a casual attitude toward evils such as abortion, suicide, and euthanasia. This was a major point in Cardinal Bernardin’s speeches and articles on what he called a “consistent ethic of life.” Although this argument may have some validity, its force should not be exaggerated. Many people who are strongly pro–life on issues such as abortion support the death penalty, insisting that there is no inconsistency, since the innocent and the guilty do not have the same rights.

Finally, some hold that the death penalty is incompatible with the teaching of Jesus on forgiveness. This argument is complex at best, since the quoted sayings of Jesus have reference to forgiveness on the part of individual persons who have suffered injury. It is indeed praiseworthy for victims of crime to forgive their debtors, but such personal pardon does not absolve offenders from their obligations in justice. John Paul II points out that “reparation for evil and scandal, compensation for injury, and satisfaction for insult are conditions for forgiveness.”

The four objections are . . . of different weight. The first of them, dealing with miscarriages of justice, is relatively strong; the second and third, dealing with vindictiveness and with the consistent ethic of life, have some probable force. The fourth objection, dealing with forgiveness, is relatively weak. But taken together, the four may suffice to tip the scale against the use of the death penalty.

The Catholic magisterium in recent years has become increasingly vocal in opposing the practice of capital punishment. Pope John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae declared that “as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system,” cases in which the execution of the offender would be absolutely necessary “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” Again at St. Louis in January 1999 the Pope appealed for a consensus to end the death penalty on the ground that it was “both cruel and unnecessary.” The bishops of many countries have spoken to the same effect.

The United States bishops, for their part, had already declared in their majority statement of 1980 that “in the conditions of contemporary American society, the legitimate purposes of punishment do not justify the imposition of the death penalty.” Since that time they have repeatedly intervened to ask for clemency in particular cases. Like the Pope, the bishops do not rule out capital punishment altogether, but they say that it is not justifiable as practiced in the United States today.

In coming to this prudential conclusion, the magisterium is not changing the doctrine of the Church. The doctrine remains what it has been: that the State, in principle, has the right to impose the death penalty on persons convicted of very serious crimes. But the classical tradition held that the State should not exercise this right when the evil effects outweigh the good effects. Thus the principle still leaves open the question whether and when the death penalty ought to be applied. The Pope and the bishops, using their prudential judgment, have concluded that in contemporary society, at least in countries like our own, the death penalty ought not to be invoked, because, on balance, it does more harm than good. I personally support this position.

In a brief compass I have touched on numerous and complex problems. To indicate what I have tried to establish, I should like to propose, as a final summary, ten theses that encapsulate the Church’s doctrine, as I understand it.

1) The purpose of punishment in secular courts is fourfold: the rehabilitation of the criminal, the protection of society from the criminal, the deterrence of other potential criminals, and retributive justice.

2) Just retribution, which seeks to establish the right order of things, should not be confused with vindictiveness, which is reprehensible.

3) Punishment may and should be administered with respect and love for the person punished.

4) The person who does evil may deserve death. According to the biblical accounts, God sometimes administers the penalty himself and sometimes directs others to do so.

5) Individuals and private groups may not take it upon themselves to inflict death as a penalty.

6) The State has the right, in principle, to inflict capital punishment in cases where there is no doubt about the gravity of the offense and the guilt of the accused.

7) The death penalty should not be imposed if the purposes of punishment can be equally well or better achieved by bloodless means, such as imprisonment.

8) The sentence of death may be improper if it has serious negative effects on society, such as miscarriages of justice, the increase of vindictiveness, or disrespect for the value of innocent human life.

9) Persons who specially represent the Church, such as clergy and religious, in view of their specific vocation, should abstain from pronouncing or executing the sentence of death.

10) Catholics, in seeking to form their judgment as to whether the death penalty is to be supported as a general policy, or in a given situation, should be attentive to the guidance of the pope and the bishops. Current Catholic teaching should be understood, as I have sought to understand it, in continuity with Scripture and tradition.

For further reading, see:

Why the Death Penalty? Capital Punishment and the Catholic Tradition, by Christopher Kaczor (philosopher).

Capital Punishment and Church Teaching (Part 2),
by Fr. William Saunders.

Issue of the Catholic Dossier devoted to capital punishment (Sep/Oct 1998; includes articles by Msgr. William Smith, Charles E. Rice, Gerard V. Bradley, James Hitchcock, and Janet E. Smith).