Thursday, October 30, 2008

Replies to a Lutheran Who is Offended by Being Excluded from Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass

By Dave Armstrong (10-30-08)

This comes from exchanges on the CHNI forum. The woman whose words are in blue is the wife of the man in question. She is a Catholic.

* * *

After attending Mass just twice with me, my Lutheran husband refuses to go ever again because of the Church's "rules" about Communion. He believes it is wrong to tell anyone they cannot receive Communion, for any reason---in other words, no one should be excommunicated, and Protestants should be welcome to receive, regardless of what they think it means (the true Body and Blood or just a symbol). His basis for this belief is the portrayal of The Last Supper in the Bible: Jesus said, "Do this," and no one was turned away, not even Judas, who was the betrayer. I trust that Holy Mother Church knows what she's doing when she says people must be "properly disposed" to receive and be "in communion to receive Communion." My husband feels the Church has not earned this trust and that all the lack of Christian unity is the Roman Catholic Church's fault (for insisting people accept every single thing the Magisterium says as Truth). Like that somehow, if the Church would just welcome everyone with open arms and allow all to receive Communion, the rift would begin to mend. (Would it? But that's a different question!) In the meantime, he is unwilling to budge. Are there Scriptures or writings from early Church history which demonstrate that it's okay with Jesus to turn people away from the Eucharist? (Or, if not turn them away, then at least have this clear teaching that only Catholics in good standing are supposed to receive?) One of you smart guys or gals on here must be able offer some insight. I've been struggling with this issue for months.

Great question. It's not a lack of charity at all; it is a biblical mandate. That's the bottom line: what does Scripture say about who should receive communion, and what that act signifies (in the corporate sense)? Several Christian groups have closed communion: not just Catholics (Missouri Synod Lutherans come to mind). I wrote about this: "Why Are Non-Catholic Christians Excluded From Receiving the Catholic Eucharist, or Communion?"

* * *

I am going to read your article, Dave, and I'm sure it will be helpful. I have mentioned to my husband about other Christians who have closed Communion (including some Lutherans), but he thinks they are ALL WRONG---which is why he is picky about which Lutheran church he goes to. I was remembering this a.m., though, that we had to become MEMBERS of our Lutheran churches before the pastors would baptize our babies there. Isn't that kind of the same thing/just as "bad," if one is going to make a fuss? This issue, more than anything else, is what keeps my husband from considering joining the Catholic Church. He doesn't agree with the Marian doctrines, either, but the Eucharist is the real stumbling block.

I think the Bible is fairly clear that the Christian community is to be united in doctrine. This is presupposed before they take Holy Communion together. It's precisely why the early Church took a long time with converts: they had to thoroughly understand and accept the Catholic faith before being allowed to the communion table.

Your husband may have many reasons he gives for his opinion on this, but he has to ground them at some point in Scripture: that which Protestants and Catholics hold in common, and which both regard as inspired revelation.

My husband sees Communion as a beautiful thing, as well, but that's partly why he has such a problem with "men" keeping people away from Jesus (by keeping them from taking Communion). It makes so much sense to us who understand how TRULY big a deal this is, but my husband comes from the Lutheran tradition, which acknowledges the "Real Presence" but doesn't really treat the sacrament as if it really IS Jesus (for instance, if they use a loaf of bread from the grocery store to do Communion, they don't really have a problem with tossing out the leftovers).

[Dave: various Lutherans differ on their beliefs in this regard]

I would like to say that I have been totally enjoying reading your blog/website. I am learning a lot there (reading about the Reformation now). Trying to get up the courage to direct my husband to that site. Any mention of anything Catholic stirs up tension between us, so generally I try to avoid bringing things up---though we have done plenty of discussing. It wears me out!

The info on your site is a lot to take in. For me, it's been great affirmation for my decision to leave Protestantism and become (go back to being) a Catholic. Still, my husband loves, in arguments, to bring up the terrible things done by Catholics to "keep people in line" in the past (e.g., the Spanish Inquisition and so forth). I remind him of the many acts of violence done by Protestants to Catholics, but other than invasions of monasteries, I usually don't have too many examples (and honestly, I think he thinks they probably deserved it). Your blog is an ARSENAL of such info! I will, however, hold off on directing him there until I am sure he is ready for it. And even then, it will probably only make him mad. He is extremely smart and remembers everything and seems able to win any argument. He's mostly intellect, I'm mostly emotion, so you can see how I don't do too well trying to persuade him of anything. He prefers to read Lutheran websites that will keep him grounded in the faith tradition of his youth.

* * *

On a very recent episode of "The Journey Home," someone e-mailed to ask about this very topic---he and his wife had converted and his wife still struggled with Protestants being unable to take Communion. In reply, Marcus mentioned that up until about 200 years ago, ALL churches (as far as he knew) had closed Communion. He seemed to indicate that this started changing as more and more Protestant churches splintered into new denominations and as the churches became more liberal. Does anyone know anything about this or know where I could find out more about how this happened and why? If I'm going to mention this to my husband, he is going to want FACTS---names and dates and places, that sort of thing---or else he won't believe it.

* * *

My husband and I had another of our long discussions just the other night. Nothing I said had any effect on him. He says that when he sits in a Catholic Mass, all he can feel is rejection. Regardless of the fact that he believes every word of the Creed and does in fact believe in the Real Presence, the unspoken message at Mass (from his perspective) is this: "Since you refuse to accept every single Catholic teaching as absolute Truth, you are not a 'true' Christian, and therefore, you may not receive Jesus through Communion in this place." For him, it all boils down to authority. Plain and simple, he cannot accept that the Catholic Church legitimately possesses the authority it claims for itself. Because of this, many Catholic teachings are suspect. I'll have to address these in other threads in the forum. In the meantime, I just keep praying for unity. It's all in God's hands.

* * *

the unspoken message at Mass (from his perspective) is this: "Since you refuse to accept every single Catholic teaching as absolute Truth, you are not a 'true' Christian, and therefore, you may not receive Jesus through Communion in this place."

This is, of course, contrary to fact. It's not about Catholics denying that other non-Catholic Christians are Christian, but about the proper, legitimate, straightforward requirements for participation in any given group, be it religious or otherwise. Some people can't meet the requirements to get in the military. A seven-foot man is not likely to be a jockey, and a five-foot man will likely not get into the NBA (though a few actually have). One has to meet requirements to enter a college or to be hired at a job, with particular requirements. You gotta be 35 to be President of the United States, and 30 to be a Senator. What "discrimination"!

Likewise, being a Catholic means something intellectually; doctrinally. Many denominations care little about doctrinal distinctives, but we do, and so did all the early Protestants (and, I would say, Jesus and the apostles and Church fathers). We presuppose a doctrinal unity. Taking communion is being part of the Catholic Church. Therefore, one who doesn't agree with Catholic teachings cannot partake. What's so complicated or controversial about that (I'm writing rhetorically now, with your husband in mind)?

I've never understood, myself, why this is so vexing to some people. I really don't get it. I would never dream of partaking in a Protestant service. It would have never crossed my mind, back when I was a Protestant, to partake of communion in a service (let alone to be offended that I wasn't allowed to), if I knew that they had membership requirements, or even if I personally disagreed with them on doctrine (even if they allowed intercommunion themselves).

To me it was a simple matter of both respect for one's surroundings and honesty. I wasn't one of them, by choice. Why would I want to, in effect, pretend to be one of them, by doing everything that they do when they get together to worship God?

This attitude perhaps has something to do with a sort of theological relativism (I'm trying to comprehend it now, by speculating as to its ultimate cause). This is the thinking that holds that we're all in the same boat. Honestly-held differences don't matter anymore. But this is an insult to all the men and women of any Christian stripe who lived and fought and strove for the promulgation of the distinctive beliefs that they truly believed in with all their hearts and souls (some even dying for those faiths and visions). In the past, people at least recognized that there was one truth, and that one had to argue and contend about that truth (Jude 3). They didn't just say it was irrelevant, and that anyone who named the name of Jesus could receive the Holy Eucharist, even if they had a heretical notion even of Who Jesus was.

This sort of analysis was eloquently stated by my friend Al Kresta, in a marvelous talk detailing his conversion (reversion) story, given in my own home, that I later transcribed. He was critiquing the notion of "mere Christianity":
Mere Christianity also undermines confidence in the local church, or (if you believe in them) the denomination, which is secondary to one's primary commitment to Christ. But this is schizophrenic. It pits the head against the body, and ultimately it betrays Jesus Who says the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church, the body. These things are connected. The head doesn't regard the body as a "necessary evil" like many evangelicals do. They think that you gotta go somewhere to get Bible teaching, so you go to church. [The Church] is secondary only in the sense that it flows from my commitment to God, and is entailed in that commitment. How ecumenical is mere Christianity, if it removes the doctrine of the Church, which is central to two of the three Christian traditions? So it really isn't very fair to Orthodoxy and Catholicism. [It amounts to saying that] God is not able to adequately reveal Himself through the things that he has made, or the people that He has called. It's a slap in the face of God.

Mere Christianity is dishonest in that it requires a soft-peddling of differences between Christians. And it belittles our brothers and sisters in the past. When we say "let's transcend and rise above all these denominational distinctives," we are actually emasculating the various Christian traditions. The very things that Wesley and Luther and Calvin found as solutions to the problems of their day, we're saying, "it's not important. Let's just get above 'em. It doesn't matter that these brothers regarded these things as central and essential to the Christian life.
We're so superior to them that we can just rise above it." And I find that that's a very belittling approach to these men and women. Accept them on their own terms. Disagree with them if you have to. But don't say they're irrelevant. Within their systems, these denominational distinctives are meant to be solutions to serious problems in the Christian life, and when we don't take them on their own terms, then we're regarding these men and their traditions as pathological, petty, or unwise. I think Luther was wrong [about justification], but I can't say he's unimportant, you see. And that's what I don't like about "mere Christianity."
For him, it all boils down to authority. Plain and simple, he cannot accept that the Catholic Church legitimately possesses the authority it claims for itself.

I find this ironic, because he has now contradicted himself, when one steps back and closely scrutinizes what he is maintaining. He objects to the Catholic Church drawing lines based on its own understanding of requirements for Holy Communion, worked out from the very beginning of Church history (in the early days of the Church, new catechumens went through a long, arduous process of education and spiritual formation before even being allowed into the second part of the Mass).
He rejects Catholic authority, yet at the same time is offended that he is not allowed to be part of the ritual that this same authority -- that he rejects --, sensibly sets limits to. Note the comparison between the following two things:
1) Rejecting the self-understood authority of a form of Christianity.
2) Rejecting the rules that same Christian body sets for itself and being offended that they don't bend to everyone's whim and fancy.
I would contend that anyone can and should honestly exercise their minds and conscience and supernatural, God-given faith in determining which faith is true or the most true. That's an honest and honorable exercise (and we encourage it on this forum and in CHNI as a whole, as part of our very purpose). But being tiffed and miffed because some Christian group says we can't receive communion with them is both irrational and also arguably dishonest.

If he can reject Catholic claims of authority altogether, why does he not recognize that the Catholic Church can consistently reject his assumed arguments for receiving the Eucharist in a Catholic Mass? He doesn't set the rules for this body that he rejects; they do! So why in the world does this offend him? Should I hold a grudge against Harvard Law School my entire life, if I didn't meet the requirements to get into the school? Are they supposed to bend their entire rules and "tradition" just so I can come in and not be offended? It makes no sense. The two propositions don't go together. He needs to work through the issue in a more self-consistent manner.

I was a bit more rigorous and "tough" in this reflection because we're dealing with a person who seems to pride himself on his thinking and skepticism (by your report). Well, then I am challenging him to be much more aware of his premises and the illogical and inconsistent conclusions that he has deduced from them. If he truly loves thinking and logic, and so forth, then he'll welcome the challenge and not get angry, because that is what thinkers do. They love the challenge (just like the fathers did with regard to the challenge of heretics), because it lets them exercise their minds and analytical abilities, to better defend what they already believe, or else discard their position as inadequate to answer the critiques directed towards it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why Catholic and Other Christian Pro-Lifers Vote for Obama

By Dave Armstrong (10-29-08)

Ten Reasons Submitted For This Incredible "Disconnect"

My wife has a good friend who is inexplicably voting for Obama. For a Catholic to do that is absolutely against Catholic moral principles. For a morally conservative evangelical Protestant (my wife's friend) to do so is also against their own ostensible principles (assuming there is any attempt to consciously be consistent and principled).

How does one explain or deal with these things? Here is how I do it, because if I didn't have some explanation I would go absolutely nuts too, dealing with it (I'm not an overly emotional type, but I am very passionate indeed about principles and ideals and consistency, and moral reform of society):

1) Failure to integrate faith into a consistent view of all of life, and compartmentalization of religion and other aspects of life.

Thus, people (even good, committed Catholics and other Christians) don't seem to see a connection between what their faith holds and how they apply it to life, or politics in particular. They also compartmentalize economics from religion and faith. If they think one candidate will help the economy, then they'll vote for them, no matter what he thinks on the pro-life issue. In effect, money becomes more important than human life. But they don't think of it in those terms, because they never get that deep in reflecting upon it. They're simply operating on the basis of the notions above.

2) Antipathy to one individual incumbent or candidate causes them to vote for the other guy, no matter what he believes, or how it violates Christian / Catholic principles.

This is a variation of #1. The basis of this decision is not moral principle, but more so a matter of taste or style. One chooses a President in the same way that they choose a dress or suit coat, or a flavor of ice cream, or style of living room. Obama has a certain appeal or charisma or he's good-looking, etc. That's enough. The pro-life cause be damned (which they are not consciously thinking, but it is the effect nonetheless).

3) The counsel of despair.

Pro-life can't prevail anyway (abortion has been legal for 35 years), so why even bother anymore? Therefore, we'll vote for the guy who isn't pro-life, but has some other good ideas.

4) Denial of the reality of pro-life gains.

President Bush and the Republicans in Congress have done nothing, etc. Poppycock. Bush signed bills prohibiting partial-birth abortion (infanticide) and put in two great pro-life Justices onto the Supreme Court (Roberts and Alito). But let's deny all that and pretend that nothing is any different with a Democratic President, who will put in ultra-liberal Justices and hundreds of other lesser judges who want to make law rather than interpret it, and who believe in a goofy progressivist legal philosophy, whereby the Constitution can change according to present whims and fashions. The Supreme Court now has four solid pro-life Justices (Alito, Roberts, Thomas, Scalia). Justice Kennedy sometimes votes against extreme pro-abortion practices (e.g., partial-birth infanticide). Justice Stevens is 88 years old. If he retires and a pro-life Justice is appointed, then the Justices are 5-4 pro-life. If a second liberal Justice retires or dies, then it'll be 6-3 pro-life, assuming McCain picks a good pro-lifer (and that he or she doesn't flip-flop like Kennedy mostly did). That is the stakes of this election. But throw all that out the window, because Obama is more appealing than McCain and the economy is struggling? . . . Let's snatch defeat from the jaws of victory after 35 years of solid pro-life activism . . .

5) Buying the pro-abortion lie of "imposing my values . . ."

The propaganda of the last 40 years would have us believe that life of the preborn child is not something that society should protect, and that to think so is unduly imposing personal opinions on a society. Funny, then, that the same people think it is fine and dandy that homosexual values can be forced upon everyone, on pain of charges of extreme intolerance. Thus, any sexual practice is fair game, while human life is simply a "personal issue."

6) Religion has nothing to do with society.

Variation of #1. This buys the secularist lie that religion is merely a private affair. So if anyone expresses a religious view in the larger society, it is a naughty no-no, according to what our secularist overlords (who run education, academia, the media, the entertainment industry, etc.) want us to believe and how we should behave. Just keep it in the church . . .

7) The one-issue voter canard.

This is utterly ridiculous, but not given to short summary. The war in Iraq is often brought in here, as a supposed "equivalence" issue to abortion. But of course, there is no equivalence. Wars can be argued pro and con, but abortion goes on day in and day out. Every day in America about 4000 babies are butchered (about the amount of all casualties in the present war). Abortion is intrinsically immoral, while any given war (like any instance of capital punishment, or police use of force) may be justified or not. Abortion is a deal-breaker. Anyone who favors it accepts things that are absolutely incompatible with Christian, biblical morality.

8) Acceptance of the pessimistic view that a Christian cannot positively affect government and society.

The government is too far gone and cannot be Christianised anyway. This is a variant of #3 and the flip-side of #6. We can't do anything about an inevitable increasing secularization, so who cares who we vote for? Put in the "new guy."

9) The two parties are exactly the same anyway.

Variant of #4. The person who thinks like this, or who adopts a "third-party" / libertarian approach, is operating outside of the practical reality of politics. The fact is, that there are major differences between the parties. Republicans aren't perfect, by any means, and are increasingly influenced by secularism and libertarianism themselves, but to not see any major differences is really dull thinking (to put it mildly).

10) It's time to make a statement and have a black President.

This is about the only good thing I can see in an Obama presidency. It shows that we have gotten past the institutionalized and formerly rampant racism that is America's original sin (which delights me, as one who has had a strong interest in race relations issues for over 40 years). But it is no reason to vote for a person who favors the killing of children. How can one rejoice in the overcoming of racism, as symbolized by a (half-) black President, and all that that implies (equal rights), while turning around and sanctioning the slaughter of children (including a greatly disproportionate number of black children)?

It's like being in favor of the destruction of the KKK, because they lynched hundreds of black people, while favoring the Nazis who murdered millions of Jews, Catholics, Poles, Gypsies, handicapped, etc. How can one be in favor of one thing and against another which involves the same rights on a far more fundamental level (the very right to life itself of the most innocent among us)? How can one favor Brown vs. the Board of Education while at the same time accepting the equivalent of the Dred Scott case of 1857, where the personhood of black people was denied? Likewise, Roe v. Wade defined preborn human beings out of existence, and denied them any rights. Thus, history repeats itself.

* * * * *

The following are brief exchanges on the CHNI forum with a Christian (possibly soon a Catholic) who did vote for Obama. I had written, in another recent paper:
The lousy catechesis, due to the modernist, liberal crisis in the Church in the last 50 years, has decimated catechetics, evangelism, and apologetics. Catholic schools were taken over by the liberals, so that Catholics got an education almost as secularized and stripped of distinctive Catholic elements, as the public schools were offering. So all those Catholics, if they didn't make any individual effort otherwise, came out as good liberals, devoid of a Catholic identity and worldview (so that half of them at the moment see no incredible disconnect in voting for Obama, and see no conflict between that act and the moral and social principles of their faith).

What do you mean by this statement Dave A. Can you briefly clarify?

The briefest clarification is to say that no Christian can vote to sanction childkilling, by voting for a person who will promote and sustain it (when there is a clear pro-life alternative, as there is in this election). 

I know there are conservative Christians in both camps (RC and Protestant) who will vote for Obama rather than McCain in the upcoming election.

Of course. And they have insufficiently harmonized their faith with their vote. Someone disagrees? Let them come present their case. I say that they have none.

Just how far should our personal "faith" beliefs (e.g. pro life) bleed into the secular world in which we live and affect the decisions that have to be made in that realm?

Jesus is Lord of all of life. There is no part of life that our faith shouldn't affect, for the Christian. Otherwise, we are making idols of those parts of life that we try to deliberately separate from our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and Transformer of Culture (lots of people do this regarding sexual issues, of course).

What does this all mean for Roman Catholics going to the polls - particularly those tired of the issues associated with the Bush Administration and Republican leadership as a whole?

It means that the choice is clear: no traditional Christian who accepts traditional Christian morality can sensibly, consistently vote for Obama, since there is a solid pro-life alternative in McCain. Abortion is the leading issue of our time, by far.

Didn't mean to get too political on the forum - just looking for some good ol', down home clarification.

Why should any pro-lifer or Christian vote for a rabidly pro-abortion candidate? How can they justify voting for a man who thought children born alive after botched abortions, should be killed (this is a matter of record), and who agrees with partial-birth abortion (also a matter of voting record), where a child is delivered (head only), then has his or her skull pierced by scissors, and brains sucked out? Would YOU vote for such a person who believes these things, gillert? What is so difficult to understand about this (all of you out there who want to vote for Obama)?

Those who vote for people who support such abominations have blood on their hands and will stand accountable. Legal abortion exists in America mainly because we Christians have been compromised and a bunch of wimps, that we let it stand without doing anything about it. Voting is the most painless way we can use to end legal abortion, but we can't even do that, because so many of us vote for things we don't even believe in ourselves. Lord help us.

So are you saying - Dave A. - the only election issue that a Christian need worry about is abortion/pro-life?

McCain is divorced and remarried and not a Roman Catholic. Rudy Giuliani is a Roman Catholic and is divorced (not certain if he remarried). Both are Republicans and both are pro life - yet from a Roman Catholic perspective they have a sinful record. Is the voting Christian then to dismiss one sin simply in favor of a pro life stance?

George Bush is an evangelical, pro life Christian - but his social policies leave a good Roman Catholic and some evangelical Christians wanting. By and large - Republicans are pro-life but lack greatly in the area of social justice and welfare - two things which are very important in Roman Catholic teaching. How does the Roman Catholic voter reconcile these issues?

I'll come clean - I voted for Obama - and I struggled greatly over the decision - as I consider myself to be a conservative, pro-life Christian - but when I considered the other candidate and his questionable moral background - not to mention his desire to continue the social administration (or lack thereof) of George Bush - I found him to not compare to the other. Obama seems to be addressing the great social needs of the U.S. - he seems prepared to improve the U.S.'s international image - he seems able to help solve the most pressing issues facing the country - even if he is not pro-life.

Also - how has the government changed anything over the years for those of us in the pro life camp? Year after year Republicans with a pro life record are elected and year after year they fail to make abortion (under most or all circumstances) illegal. Wouldn't it be better to vote for a politician who seems to be best prepared to deal with the issues at hand - even if he or she is pro choice - while putting resources into the local level - on a person to person level - trying to get women to make decisions about life that are most in line with what God wants?

It seems largely naive and compartmentalized when only one issue drives the ethos of the Christian vote when there are so many other issues that are very important to God. If I become a Roman Catholic again - must I vote pro life or face a mortal sin? Does the RCC allow abortion in any/some circumstances?

Go ahead Dave....slaughter me.....I'm ready...... !

So what about the social issues that are largely ignored by Republican candidates?

Where does it Scripturally tell us that a pro life stance is to be held above all other moral and social commands of God?

I've thoroughly dealt with all this fallacious moral reasoning in justification of voting for childkillers in many papers: some mentioned above (especially the "one-issue" one), and others, listed on my Life Issues page. I'm not gonna go over old ground (in terms of what I have already argued at length). If someone truly wants to grapple with the critique of this "de facto pro-abortion position" then they can read those papers. Such a vote cannot be justified on Catholic principles, as is increasingly being stated with more and more forcefulness by Catholic bishops.

* * * * *

Millions of Christians who say they are pro-life will vote for Obama, while the oldest liberal Justice on the Supreme Court (John Paul Stevens) is 88 years old. If Christian pro-lifers would simply vote consistently with their stated beliefs, we would have a great chance to put in a pro-lifer, which would make the Court 5-4 solidly in favor of life (and Kennedy a swing vote on some extreme abortion laws), for the first time since abortion was legalized.

Instead, Obama will put in a fervent pro-abortionist who will sit on the court for 20-30 years. That is one major thing that is at stake in this election. I always reiterate that legal abortion is here primarily because Christians (and particularly Catholics) have insufficiently incorporated their faith into their lives, with regard to how they vote. They talk pro-life but vote for the guy who favors childkilling (they don't "walk the walk"), and this is the reason it continues: good people who do nothing about it because of this absurd disconnect of their rhetoric and their act of voting.

God is watching . . . there will be a ton of reckoning on Judgment Day over this issue.

* * *

I made the following reply to a letter from a Catholic pro-lifer who is seriously considering voting for Obama:

Hi [name],

Thanks for your letter and for giving me a chance to express my opinion on this gravely important matter.

I'd say that it is impossible for an orthodox Catholic to justify a vote for Obama. 

Bottom line (I would say) is that a Catholic can't justify (on essentially utilitarian or pragmatic grounds) a vote for a pro-abortion political candidate when a pro-life candidate is available, because abortion is intrinsically evil in a way that war, etc., is not. It's a non-negotiable and a deal-breaker. It's true that abortions have declined in recent years, but that is certainly not because of the policies that have been pursued by pro-abortion Democrats and Republicans who agree with them. It is because of things like abstinence education, sensible alternatives (adoption; crisis pregnancy centers) and because of ceaseless pro-life activism.

The factors that have reduced abortions would continue just as much under McCain, because many people agree about those things (that less abortions are better; adoption is preferable; more informed choices, etc.). Therefore, if the two candidates are arguably equal in their effect on that plane, it stands to reason that a pro-lifer should support the man who thinks Roe was bad law and who would put pro-life Justices on the Supreme Court. The stakes are very high.

If a person like you votes for Obama, in effect you are sanctioning his approval of things like FOCA, killing a child who was intended to be aborted and survived, partial-birth abortion, etc. It is those positive evils that you are also supporting; not just an overall scenario that you feel will reduce abortions. A Catholic cannot support a thing that is intrinsically evil, and candidates who favor these evils, and you'll be doing that with Obama, but not with McCain.

Please seriously consider your vote in this regard. I hope I have been able to persuade you to continue to vote for the pro-life candidate, and to not be taken in by fallacious reasoning that a so-called pro-choice candidate will cause less abortions than a pro-life candidate.

The likelihood is that things will stay pretty much the same no matter who is elected (because the evil is so entrenched in society and law and the public is radically divided), but that is beside the present point, which is one of civic duty from a Catholic perspective, and moral principle, in line with Catholic teaching. Moral principles are not circumstance-relative.

* * *

In looking over a Wikipedia article about "Conservative and Republican Support for Obama" I was astonished to see that Frank Schaeffer: the son of the famous evangelical writer Francis Schaeffer, now an Orthodox Christian, and one who had been (I thought) staunchly pro-life, supported Obama. Read his ultra-absurd rationale in The Huffington Post. Isn't it great to be trendy and relevant and fashionable?

Jesus' Treatment of His Mother in Relation to Catholic Marian Veneration

By Dave Armstrong (10-29-08)

I was asked on the CHNI board:

The passage where Jesus says "who are my mothers and brothers" in answer to someone saying his mother was there. The pastor wonders if we are supposed to show such veneration to Christ's mother, why didn't He do it Himself in that instance?

Here are the passages:

Matthew 12:46-50 (RSV) While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother."
[note: v. 47 is a disputed text, and is actually skipped in the RSV and other recent translations] 
Mark 3:31-35 And his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you." And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother." 

Luke 8:19-21 Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him for the crowd. And he was told, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you." But he said to them, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it."

The Catholic Encyclopedia ("The Blessed Virgin Mary") comments on this:
At first sight, it seems that Jesus Himself depreciated the dignity of His Blessed Mother. When He was told: "Behold thy mother and thy brethren stand without, seeking thee", He answered: "Who is my mother, and who are my brethren? And stretching forth his hand towards his disciples, he said: Behold my mother and my brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my brother, and my sister, and my mother" (Matthew 12:47-50; cf. Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21). On another occasion, "a certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to him: Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the paps that gave thee suck. But he said: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it" (Luke 11:27-28). 

In reality, Jesus in both these passages places the bond that unites the soul with God above the natural bond of parentage which unites the Mother of God with her Divine Son. The latter dignity is not belittled; as men naturally appreciate it more easily, it is employed by Our Lord as a means to make known the real value of holiness. Jesus, therefore, really, praises His mother in a most emphatic way; for she excelled the rest of men in holiness not less than in dignity. Most probably, Mary was found also among the holy women who ministered to Jesus and His apostles during their ministry in Galilee (cf. Luke 8:2-3); the Evangelists do not mention any other public appearance of Mary during the time of Jesus's journeys through Galilee or Judea. But we must remember that when the sun appears, even the brightest stars become invisible.

Earlier in the article, the author dealt with the similar question of the miracle of the wedding at Cana (used in Protestant "anti-Marian" polemics in the same skeptical way):
The evangelists connect Mary's name with three different events in Our Lord's public life: with the miracle in Cana, with His preaching, and with His passion. The first of these incidents is related in John 2:1-10.
There was a marriage feast in Cana of Galilee. . .and the mother of Jesus was there. And Jesus also was invited, and his disciples, to the marriage. And the wine failing, the mother of Jesus saith to him: They have no wine. And Jesus saith to her: Woman, what is that to me and to thee? my hour is not yet come.
One naturally supposes that one of the contracting parties was related to Mary, and that Jesus had been invited on account of his mother's relationship. The couple must have been rather poor, since the wine was actually failing. Mary wishes to save her friends from the shame of not being able to provide properly for the guests, and has recourse to her Divine Son. She merely states their need, without adding any further petition. In addressing women, Jesus uniformly employs the word "woman" (Matthew 15:28; Luke 13:12; John 4:21; 8:10; 19:26; 20:15), an expression used by classical writers as a respectful and honourable address. The above cited passages show that in the language of Jesus the address "woman" has a most respectful meaning. The clause "what is that to me and to thee" renders the Greek ti emoi kai soi, which in its turn corresponds to the Hebrew phrase mah li walakh. This latter occurs in Judges 11:12; 2 Samuel 16:10; 19:23; 1 Kings 17:18; 2 Kings 3:13; 9:18; 2 Chronicles 35:21.
The New Testament shows equivalent expressions in Matthew 8:29; Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34; 8:28; Matthew 27:19. The meaning of the phrase varies according to the character of the speakers, ranging from a most pronounced opposition to a courteous compliance. Such a variable meaning makes it hard for the translator to find an equally variable equivalent. "What have I to do with thee", "this is neither your nor my business", "why art thou troublesome to me", "allow me to attend to this", are some of the renderings suggested. In general, the words seem to refer to well or ill-meant importunity which they endeavour to remove. The last part of Our Lord's answer presents less difficulty to the interpreter: "my hour is not yet come", cannot refer to the precise moment at which the need of wine will require the miraculous intervention of Jesus; for in the language of St. John "my hour" or "the hour" denotes the time preordained for some important event (John 4:21-23; 5:25-28; 7:30; 8:29; 12:23; 13:1; 16:21; 17:1).
Hence the meaning of Our Lord's answer is: "Why are you troubling me by asking me for such an intervention? The divinely appointed time for such a manifestation has not yet come"; or, "why are you worrying? has not the time of manifesting my power come?" The former of these meanings implies that on account of the intercession of Mary Jesus anticipated the time set for the manifestation of His miraculous power; the second meaning is obtained by understanding the last part of Our Lord's words as a question, as was done by St. Gregory of Nyssa, and by the Arabic version of Tatian's "Diatessaron" (Rome, 1888). Mary understood her Son's words in their proper sense; she merely warned the waiters, "Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye" (John 2:5). There can be no question of explaining Jesus' answer in the sense of a refusal.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dialogue with a Presbyterian Pastor Regarding Ordination, Priests, and Universal Vocations

By Dave Armstrong (10-23-08)

Dr. John Ortberg is the senor pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, in Menlo Park, California: a member of a new Presbyterian denomination called the ECO: a Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. Dr. Ortberg's profile on his church's website states:
John Ortberg passionate about "spiritual formation," which is how people become more like Jesus. His teaching brings Scripture alive and invariably includes practical applications and warm humor. John's education includes a Master of Divinity degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Fuller Seminary. The former senior pastor of Horizons Community Church in Southern California, John also served as Teaching Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago area. John is the author of "If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat" and, most recently, "It All Goes Back in the Box." He has also contributed to other books and periodicals.
See also his personal website, Wikipedia entry, (which states that "He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary including a Master of Divinity degree and doctorate in clinical psychology"), and list of books on amazon (he is a prolific author).

The following is a critique of his sermon, "Every Life Comes With a Gift," from 12 October 2008 (you can listen to it or read it in pdf format on the church's Sermons Online page). Dr. Ortberg's words will be in blue:

* * * * *

Here are some thoughts that occurred to me as I read the sermon:

What that means for you is you don't have to live in guilt anymore or shame or hiding or darkness, whatever you have done. We have a priest who sat down.That is the good news. The price has been paid. You have been forgiven. You are set free. We have a priest who sat down. 

No one is denying that Jesus' work on the cross was in any way insufficient. The only problem with the implication here (priests are no longer necessary) is the biblical data regarding absolution and a continuing priestly function, in order to grant that. It isn't just "believe in Jesus and every sin past and present is all taken care of." No; there is a formal procedure to repent and get rid of ongoing sins. 

We have a priest who sat down, and what this means for you is all the junk, all the darkness, all the guilt, all the mess-ups…I mean really, really bad stuff…it’s covered. It’s paid. That’s the good news. 

Yes, of course it is. But this has to be appropriated to us, and one way is through absolution. Other ways are the sacraments of the Eucharist and baptism. But he would deny that those are sacraments, being a Presbyterian, and believe that they are only symbolic. Not according to the Bible and the fathers . . . .

They did not limit the priesthood to a few special people. They didn’t eliminate the priesthood. They released it. They unleashed it. They made it available to everybody in the body. They said things like, “You (plural) you all are now a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” They said things like,”But now, you (all, everybody) are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, holy nation, people who belong to God.” Now, after Jesus, no more two-tiered system. No more dual traps. No more dividing people up into the amateurs and the professionals. Now everybody’s a priest. 

I specifically answered this argument with a chapter of my book, The One-Minute Apologist, with plenty of biblical argumentation.

In the New Testament the term ‘minister’ is never ever used for a special group of leaders with special credentials. In the New Testament they are very careful about this language. The ministry belongs to everybody. Nobody is in the bleachers; everybody is on the field. Everybody’s in the game. 

What about the terms elders, presbyters (1 Tim 4:14: KJV), deacons, bishops, in the NT? I think the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. What, e.g., is the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15? That's just a bunch of Bible-believing "Joe Q. Christians" -- all on the same egalitarian plane? Hardly: it was "apostles and elders" (Acts 15:4,6,22-23). James functioned as a bishop at the Council, and indeed, we know that he was the bishop of Jerusalem. Peter functioned (arguably) as a papal figure. 

For this reason, the vast majority of Christians throughout history have at least believed in ordination, if not priesthood (Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans). Dr. Ortberg is arguing that a continuing priesthood (in the Catholic sense) is unbiblical. I am asserting in reply that it is this evangelical Protestant ecclesiology that is unbiblical, and I am giving tons of biblical support for my position.

He's even demonstrably wrong on his specific point regarding the word "ministers":

In the New Testament the term ‘minister’ is never ever used for a special group of leaders with special credentials.

This is easy to handily refute with just a Strong's Concordance and online Bible. Here we go:
Luke 1:2 (RSV) just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers [huperetes] of the word, [i.e., the disciples, who are regarded as proto-priests insofar as they are given the power to "bind and loose"]

Acts 12:25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission [diakonia; KJV: "ministry"], bringing with them John whose other name was Mark. [referring to apostles; bishops are the successors to the apostles; we see the succession in, e.g., the replacement of Judas, and Paul's apparent commissioning to Timothy, to carry on his work]

Acts 20:24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry [diakonia] which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. [Paul]

Acts 21:19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. [diakonia] [Paul]

1 Corinthians 3:5 What then is Apol'los? What is Paul? Servants [diakonos: KJV: "ministers"] through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. [Paul; apostles]

Paul even distinguishes between his ministry and its fruit, four verses later:
1 Corinthians 3:9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.

1 Corinthians 4:1 This is how one should regard us, as servants [huperetes;: KJV: "ministers"] of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. [Paul and apostles]

1 Corinthians 16:15-16 Now, brethren, you know that the household of Steph'anas were the first converts in Acha'ia, and they have devoted themselves to the service [diakonia; KJV: "ministry"] of the saints; I urge you to be subject to such men and to every fellow worker and laborer. [clearly a set-aside, called ministry, and note that others are "subject" to them]

2 Corinthians 3:5-6 Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers [diakonos] of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life. [Paul, in context: see previous chapter -- and fellow apostles]

2 Corinthians 5:18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry [diakonia] of reconciliation; [Paul; by implication, other such workers, too]

2 Corinthians 6:3-5 We put no obstacle in any one's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants [diakonos; KJV: "ministers"] of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger; [about Paul, in context]

2 Corinthians 11:23 Are they servants [diakonos; KJV: "ministers"] of Christ? I am a better one -- I am talking like a madman -- with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. [Paul]

1 Timothy 1:11-12 in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. I thank him who has given me strength for this, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful by appointing me to his service [diakonia; KJV: "ministry"], [Paul]
2 Timothy 4:5 As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry [diakonia]. [Timothy]

[see also: Acts 26:16: "appoint you to serve" (Paul: huperetes); Rom 15:16-17 (Paul: leitourgos); Ephesians 3:7 (Paul: diakonos); Col 1:23,25 (Paul: diakonos); 1 Tim 4:6 (Timothy: diakonos); all "minister" in RSV]
Twenty passages?! How could all this be missed?

The church should be led by people who have been given the spiritual gift of leadership. The church ought to be shepherded by people who have been given the spiritual gift of shepherding. The church is to be taught by people who have been given the spiritual gift of teaching. The church is to be administrated by people who have been given the spiritual gift of administration. Starting to catch on to how this deal works? There’s never been anything like this before. 

Yes; God gives gifts. But this doesn't wipe out any sense of hierarchy or subjection to elders, deacons, priests, bishops, etc. I'm a teacher, myself, in the Church, in the capacity of the lay apostolate of apologetics. The Church encourages this, and I obviously believe in lay ministry. But Catholics don't feel any need to eliminate the priesthood because other people have gifts and can be useful in the Church, too. Both/and, not either/or. We can't do such a thing because it is too biblical, and too established in the early Church and all Church history till the 16th century. 

When I was growing up, the common idea was this: A bunch of people might get together to form a church and the first thing they would say was, “We will hire a minister.” They would use that language. New Testament never does, but they would. We will hire a minister. What would the minister do? He would do the ministry. We would even talk about somebody entering the ministry. 

I submit that it is because those things are explicitly biblical, as I believe I have just shown. The NT may not use the terminology "hire a minister" but the same exact thing is taught, since there is such a thing as an ordained minister or priest, and Paul wrote about how the laborer (Christian workers or ministers or pastors or priests or evangelists) were worthy of their hire (1 Cor 9:4-14; 1 Tim 5:18; cf. Jesus' identical teaching: Lk 10:2,7). Therefore, since there is such a thing as a distinct ministry of pastor or shepherd, and one which is worthy of being remunerated, I find it to be perfectly, exactly biblical to talk in terms of "we will hire a minister."

Dr. Ortberg is senior pastor at his own church! Are we to believe that he is no different from anyone else at his church; he doesn't get paid; it's all volunteer work, just like any of the other members of the Church serving God during weekdays as bakers or accountants or construction workers or office managers or waitresses, or fulfilling their vocation as mothers of young children or home-schoolers, etc.? Stay-at-home moms who have a profoundly important vocation don't get paid, so he doesn't, either, right (because we're all equal in Christ and all have our own gift)? Oh, he does get paid as a pastor (maybe not)?

If so (which is exceedingly likely), then I guess we're right back where we started and he himself is indeed different in some sense and a troublesome counter-example to his own argument. He has a seminary degree and the requisite training. So he's a pastor. But he's no different from anyone else, and there is no such thing as a "minister" with special abilities, or a call to same in the NT (so he has argued). I think at some point his argument reduces to, at best, a distinction without an actual difference, or logical circularity. Or he would have to resign his job as a remunerated pastor, in order to consistently make his argument, no? Perhaps he can make a living from his books alone, which I have almost done myself, but not quite (which is one reason I work at CHNI: to make up the difference between book royalties and the required income to pay the bills).

The other thing that isn't so biblical is the congregationalism inherent in Dr. Ortberg's "egalitarian" ecclesiological vision. In the Bible, one was appointed or ordained. This was true even of Paul (Acts 26:16; Gal 1:18, 2:9). The biblical model is for higher authorities (e.g., bishops) to ordain call a person to ministry, not the democratic, congregational system of Baptists, Presbyterians (at least to some extent), and other independent or non-denominational Protestants, where everyone who is a member has a vote.

I agree wholeheartedly, though, that every person has a gift and a calling and a special place to do something in the Body of Christ. That part of his message is wonderful and much-needed in all Christian groups. I just don't pit things against each other that the Bible doesn't dichotomize:
Everyone exercising their gift necessarily reduces to no priesthood [or, in Protestantism, no ordained ministry of pastor].
I don't buy it, because it's not biblical and not at all logically required.

He writes: "You were created for ministry, and if you miss your ministry, you miss the reason for which you were created." 

Amen! I reiterate this all the time, myself: everyone has a calling. This is Catholic teaching, too. 

The idea in that tradition was, to be a minister you needed a special calling, and that was kind of a code for a mystical, emotional encounter with God where God tells you that you are special and you cannot go into the marketplace like ordinary Christians, but you must go into church work. 

Calling (biblically and in the Catholic tradition and others in the same way) doesn't make someone better than anyone else; it simply means that he or she has been called to a particular ministry that calls for more than the ordinary commitment, and the specialized abilities, from God, to fruitfully fulfill the calling. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 7, and recognizes that an unmarried person can give "undistracted devotion" to the Lord. Priests and nuns who give up marriage and sexuality for the sake of service to others are special persons, for that reason, but not intrinsically "superior" to other people. 

There’ll be sometimes, not always by any means, but sometimes when I’m working on a message, and all of a sudden, words and images and stories and thoughts and ideas will begin to flow. Sometimes so fast or with such an intensity that I can hardly write them down, and sometimes I’ll just put he pen down for a moment and say, “God, nobody will ever know what just happened right here at this desk, nobody will ever know but You.” I’m so glad, I’m so grateful. See, there are times when, in my gifts as best I understand it, I experience God and His presence and His calling in a way that if I didn't have that, I can't imagine how much poorer my faith and life with God would be. 

This happens to me a lot, too, being a writer. I can relate quite a bit to it. It's such a joy being able to study the Bible and to learn Catholic teaching and the fullness of the apostolic Christian faith, for the purpose of sharing it with others. I am blessed to be able to do this full-time. It's an apostolate and a ministry. I'm simply exercising the call to apologetics and evangelism that I received from God in 1981. I knew what I was to do with my life at that time, as an evangelical. Before then, I didn't have a clue.

My last thought is this: I've been in both the evangelical and Catholic worlds. And one thing that is exactly the same in both (because people are people) is the fact that only a small number of any given group will be active in ministry or their felt calling. It's fine to talk about the ideal, and we must do so, but the reality is that in fact most of the work will fall to the pastor or priest and a small group that surrounds him (the "inner circle" of a congregation or parish). And I think it is partially because of that concrete reality that perhaps God knew it was best for every local church to have a leader. It's human nature. There will always be leaders in just about any social group, religious or otherwise.

But this is how God set it up. That's not only true for the local church, but also the universal Church, which is why I believe God desired for there to be one leader: a pope (without denying in the least all the other roles discussed above). And, of course, I present all kinds of biblical arguments for that, too, but that is another topic!

* * * * *

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Did Jesus Regard Homosexual Acts as Immoral and Prohibited by God?

By Dave Armstrong (10-22-08)

Someone asked on the CHNI forum:

I have a question about homosexuality as this was being discussed in comments on a podcast. It was said that Jesus never mentioned this and that it is not mentioned in any of the four Gospels. This appeared to be used as a reason to say it is OK, and that Jesus did not think it important. They acknowledge that Paul and Leviticus have references but take this as a "minority". I gave some answers but need some guidance to be able to explain the Catholic take on homosexuality. . . . My gay friends (I have dear friends in all circles) say that they want to be accepted not just tolerated. They want to have husbands, etc. I answer any questions they have and discuss things with honesty and with love so we have a healthy relationship even tho they know I am totally opposed to their lifestyle. BUT I need more help to answer their attacks-anyway that is how I see it- on marriage, the teachings of Jesus and the Gospels.

I would contend that there is indirect indication of Jesus' acceptance of the traditional Jewish prohibition of homosexual acts, or sodomy, in His approval of the judgment of Sodom (Matt 10:15; 11:23-24; Lk 10:12; 17:29). Obviously, He would agree with that, since, being God, He Himself judged Sodom and Gomorrah.

Elsewhere in the NT it is further explained how the Jews regarded Sodom, and why it was judged:

1 Timothy 1:10 (RSV) immoral persons, sodomites, kidnapers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 

2 Peter 2:6 if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomor'rah to ashes he condemned them to extinction and made them an example to those who were to be ungodly; 

Jude 1:4, 7-8 For admission has been secretly gained by some who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly persons who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. . . . just as Sodom and Gomor'rah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. Yet in like manner these men in their dreamings defile the flesh, reject authority, and revile the glorious ones.

Genesis 19:4-5: But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them."
According to Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament (edition of Baker Book House [Grand Rapids, Michigan], p. 334; Strong's word #3045: yada):
(3) to know, to become acquainted with any one . . . Often put by a euphemism for sexual intercourse. -- (a) of a man; to know a woman, i.e., to lie with her, Gen. 4:17,25; 1 Sa. 1:19, etc.; also as applied to crimes against nature, Gen. 19:5.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1939), Vol. V, p. 2821 ("Sodomite"), states that "Sodomite" is the English translation of the Hebrew kadhesh (or qadesh): Strong's word #6945), which referred to male temple prostitutes (Deut 23:17; 1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7).

The King James Version uses "sodomite" for all five of these passages.

RSV: "cult prostitute of the sons of Israel" (Deut 23:17)

"Male cult prostitute" (1 Ki 14:24; 15:12; 22:46; 2 Ki 23:7)

The New Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1962), notes:
Gn. 19:4,5 concentrates on sexual perversion, particularly homosexuality.
("Plain, Cities of the," p. 1003)

Another way that can be used to show that Jesus disapproved of homosexual relations is to note what the Mosaic Law stated about it:

Leviticus 18:20-30 And you shall not lie carnally with your neighbor's wife, and defile yourself with her. You shall not give any of your children to devote them by fire to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. [22] You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. [23] And you shall not lie with any beast and defile yourself with it, neither shall any woman give herself to a beast to lie with it: it is perversion. "Do not defile yourselves by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am casting out before you defiled themselves; and the land became defiled, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you shall keep my statutes and my ordinances and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (for all of these abominations the men of the land did, who were before you, so that the land became defiled); lest the land vomit you out, when you defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. For whoever shall do any of these abominations, the persons that do them shall be cut off from among their people. So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs which were practiced before you, and never to defile yourselves by them: I am the LORD your God." 
Leviticus 20:11-15 The man who lies with his father's wife has uncovered his father's nakedness; both of them shall be put to death, their blood is upon them. If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall be put to death; they have committed incest, their blood is upon them. [13] If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them. [14] If a man takes a wife and her mother also, it is wickedness; they shall be burned with fire, both he and they, that there may be no wickedness among you. If a man lies with a beast, he shall be put to death; and you shall kill the beast.
And what did Jesus think of this Mosaic Law?:

Matthew 5:17-19 Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (cf. Matt 7:12; 22:40; Lk 16:17) 
Matthew 23:2-3 The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. (cf. Matt 23:23)
Jesus observed the Law in its entirety. He worshiped in synagogues and the Temple; He observed the Jewish feasts (the Last Supper was a Passover dinner: Matt 26:17-19; Mk 14:12-16; Lk 22:7-15). He casually made reference to the authority of Moses over His own disciples (Matt 8:4; Mk 1:44; 7:8-13; Lk 16:31; 24:44; Jn 5:46; 7:19-23).

There is no indication that He disputed any of these received laws. Therefore, He accepted as part of the whole, the injunctions against homosexual acts. Case closed.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Biblical Evidence Regarding a Vigilant, Moral Assurance of Faith with Perseverance, in Hope

By Dave Armstrong (10-21-08)

From discussions on the Coming Home Network forum. The person whose words are in blue is seriously considering returning to the Catholic Church. CHNI Helper and my co-worker, David W. Emery's words will be in green.

* * * * *

Read the Catechism. That is the one best way to know the Catholic faith, and to know what a Catholic must believe. Leave the fine distinctions of authority to the theologians. They don't affect anyone's day-to-day life or walk with God. The Catechism is designed to present it all in one neat package, what the Church teaches.

Occasionally the theologians get something right and can positively influence the bishops. You know the saying: "even an unplugged clock is right twice a day." The greatest theologian in the Church right now is the Holy Father.

Oftentimes, Protestants who are thinking of becoming Catholics want to get bogged down into legalistic-type discussions and minutiae that they had usually not been applying when they were Protestants. One of the things along these lines is the "infallibility regress " argument that I see a lot and have been replying to lately. This argument tries (quite futilely) to show that Catholic authority is incoherent because one has to be an infallible interpreter of infallible decrees.

Nonsense. The answer is that Catholic faith is not philosophy (or, specifically, epistemology). The faithful are not philosophers, nor are they required to be. All we need is a normally functional brain.

What Catholics need to believe is in the Catechism. I urge anyone who is seeking the truth and the place of the Catholic Church in the overall truth of God to not get bogged down in minutiae and hair-splitting distinctions and rabbit trails that won't do your spiritual life a bit of good.

Maybe it would be profitable at this point to speak a moment about legalism and systematizing. You will recall that in the gospels Jesus spoke many things to the people in parables, following the rabbinic tradition in his instruction. The Scribes and Pharisees often opposed him on the grounds of their legalistic interpretation of the Law. How did Jesus reply? Usually in a very simple and direct manner, e.g., “Show me the coin used for paying taxes. Whose image and inscription do you see there? (Caesar’s.) Very well, pay to Caesar what you owe to Caesar, and to God what you owe to God.”

Catholicism is not Pharisaism. Academic knowledge, in all its complexity and intricacy, has its place, but it is not necessary for salvation. What is required are faith and the fruits of faith, charity being one of those fruits, just as the Bible says.

It is so hard for me to deal with this idea of not being able to know the destiny of a soul after human death.

Why? Why do you feel you have to know about every person's destiny? We can't know that. Even John Calvin held that no one could know for sure if someone else was in the elect or even (absolutely) if they themselves were. But we can believe and know that God is both just and merciful, and that every person will end up where they deserve to be.

What we do know that we have to do is believe that Jesus died for us, and wholeheartedly serve Him as our Lord and Savior and Redeemer: as a disciple. Then I think we need to figure out where this Church that He founded exists, if it exists at all. If it does, it is also central to salvation, because the Church is, after all, the Body of Christ.

Even though we have settled the outside the church and those who never hear issue - where does that bring us? Would it be safe to say that although we cannot know whether a soul goes to hell or heaven after death

Or purgatory . . .

- the best place to be to ensure the best chance of the soul going to heaven would be in the Roman Catholic Church participating in the life of the church and all its fullness?

Exactly. That is the fullness of both God's truth and the means of grace, to attain salvation: primarily through the sacraments. But it's not merely mechanical or automatic. One has to not be in a state of mortal sin, and in good graces with God, following Him with their whole heart. That's why we Catholics are big on examination of conscience and confession.

So if we cannot know where someone - even ourselves - is going after death and all we can know is that this "Church" can carry us along salvifically via the sacraments if we are in good standing with God - what joy does this bring a faithful person? It seems to me that in the RCC there is this process - e.g. the sacraments - that helps the faithful along the salvation process. Do the faithful ever know if they have gone through the process enough in order to have peace re: where their soul is going?

We can be as certain of our salvation as we are about anything else of which we have knowledge. But because we are creatures, we cannot have absolute certainty about any knowledge. We can have 99.9999 percent certainty, but we cannot have 100 percent, because absolute knowledge about anything is reserved to God. Still, it’s clear that our “near certainty” is pretty reliable. In other words, we do know what we know, including what we know about our own salvation. In Catholic theology, we call this knowledge “moral certainty,” as opposed to God’s “absolute certainty.” On the other hand, our relationship with God is based not on humanly acquired knowledge, but on faith. Why? Because God transcends the realm and capabilities of human knowledge. Our finite minds cannot grasp the infinite, and our finite experience cannot transcend the universe that is its context. We know the unseen, even what comes from revelation, by the things that are seen. This is why God became incarnate, is it not? John 20:29; Romans 1:20; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 11:1; 1 John 4:20. How, then, do we know God best? Through our loving relationship with him. The knowledge of love plumbs the depths of infinity much more securely than intellectual knowledge. We see this loving relationship at work on the human level in our matrimonial bond.

My point is that there is a difference between faith and humanly acquired knowledge, and Christianity is a divinely revealed religion which requires faith. Faith is not deduced from prior knowledge or from our observation of phenomena, but comes from God’s self-revelation.

I was thinking about this today. Could we use a percentage example to describe one's chances of salvation based on RC standards - e.g. In the Roman Catholic Church, baptized and confirmed, goes to mass every Sunday, confession every Saturday, and participates in the sacramental life of the church regularly - 98% Protestant baptized and confirmed, goes to a Protestant church every Sunday, reads the Bible regularly - 54% God-fearing Muslim going to the mosque regularly - 6.2% I still consider this topic - if I become Roman Catholic, based on the RC's understanding of theological justification, I would not know if my soul was going to heaven. With lack of this knowledge - I would begin participating in the sacramental life of the Church - a system designed to help me along the way of salvation as I continue to ponder where my soul will be after my death. I sin along the way - but I am uncertain if I have venally sinned or mortally sinned - so I dash off to confession so that I can have my soul cleansed - only after - of course - doing some sort of penance - i.e. saying 10 Hail Mary's hoping that my penance was enough to cleanse my soul of its former sins. Is that how it works - basically? I forget a lot from my childhood as a Roman Catholic - pardon me. If this is in fact how it works - a cycle without any end until death - I ask again where is the hope - the peace - the love?

Now we're getting back to unhelpful legalistic discussion again. The Catholic faith, or Christian faith generally speaking, is not about legalism and obsessive bondage but about faith, hope, and love; about a relationship with God and with our fellow man, and faith that God has provided His children with an authoritative teaching Church, so that they don't have to spend their entire lives in an abstract search for all theological truth, never achieving it (because who has that amount of time or knowledge to figure everything out, anyway?). The true apostolic tradition has been received and delivered to each generation, through the Church, by the guidance of God the Holy Spirit.

I didn't mean to imply at all that we are out to sea without any hope or joy, because we're not absolutely certain of our salvation. God wants us to be vigilant and to persevere. This is a good thing, not a bad thing, because human beings tend to take things for granted and to become complacent. Unfortunately, much of the Protestant theology of salvation (soteriology) caters to this human weakness, and is too simplistic (and too unbiblical).

I wholeheartedly agree with David: the degree of moral assurance we can have is very high. The point is to examine ourselves to see if we are mired in serious sin, and to repent of it. If we do that, and know that we are not subjectively guilty of mortal sin, and relatively free from venial sin, then we can have a joyful assurance that we are on the right road.

I always use my own example, by noting that when I was an evangelical, I felt very assured of salvation, though I also believed (as an Arminian) that one could fall away if one rejected Jesus outright. Now as a Catholic I feel hardly any different than I did as an evangelical. I don't worry about salvation. I assume that I will go to heaven one day, if I keep serving God. I trust in God's mercy, and know that if I fall into deep sin, His grace will cause me to repent of it so that I can be restored to a relationship with Him.

Much of this felt assurance or lack of same comes down to temperament. Martin Luther claimed to adhere to a belief whereby one is assured that he is saved, but he was always worried about God's mercy and his own state. That's because he was prone to cyclical deep depression, and clearly burdened by overscrupulosity (as we know from the accounts of his almost ludicrous practices in confession, when he was Catholic). We know this; there is little doubt about it. I have argued that his tendency to depression had a direct effect on his theology of salvation. In any event, I as a Catholic am far less worried than Luther was about my soul and salvation.

So we see that one's temperament is far more of a factor than their theology is. But on a theological plane, we observe St. Paul being very confident and not prone to lack of trust in God at all (as with Luther). He had a robust faith and confidence, yet he still had a sense of the need to persevere and to be vigilant. He didn't write as if it were a done deal: that he got "saved" one night in Damascus and signed on the dotted line, made an altar call and gave his life to Jesus, saying the sinner's prayer or reciting John 3:16. No. This is what Paul wrote:
1 Corinthians 9:27 but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 
1 Corinthians 10:12 Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 
Galatians 5:1, 4 . . . stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery . . . You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 
Philippians 3:11-14 that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own . . . I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

1 Timothy 4:1
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.
1 Timothy 5:15 For some have already strayed after Satan.
So we see yet again, that the biblical record gives us what is precisely the Catholic position: neither the supposed "absolute assurance" of the evangelical Protestant, nor the manic, legalistic, Pharisaical, mechanical caricature of what outsider, non-experienced critics of Catholicism think Catholicism is, where a person lives a "righteous" life for 70 years, then falls into lust for three seconds, gets hit by a car, and goes to hell (as if either Catholic teaching or God operate in that infantile fashion).

The truth of the matter is that one can have a very high degree of moral assurance, and trust in God's mercy. St. Paul shows this. He doesn't appear worried at all about his salvation, but on the other hand, he doesn't make out that he is absolutely assured of it and has no need of persevering. He can't "coast." The only thing a Catholic must absolutely avoid in order to not be damned is a subjective commission of mortal sin that is unrepented of. The mortal / venial sin distinction is itself explicitly biblical. All this stuff is eminently biblical. That's where we got it!

Moreover, the reason we are so concerned about falling into mortal sin and being damned, is because St. Paul in particular states again and again that those who are characterized by and wholly given over to certain sinful behaviors will not be saved in the end:
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
[note baptismal regeneration: "washed" and the imnplication that sanctification and justification are united, unlike Protestantism, which formally separates them, and makes sanctification not directly tied to salvation]
Galatians 5:19-21 Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 
Ephesians 5:3-6 But fornication and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints. Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (cf. 1 Tim 1:9-10)
Non-Pauline passages concur:
Revelation 21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.
Revelation 22:15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and every one who loves and practices falsehood.
So we have to be vigilant to avoid falling into these serious sins, but on the other hand, Paul still has a great assurance and hope. Vigilance and perseverance are not antithetical to hope and a high degree of assurance and joy in Christ:
Romans 5:1-5 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.
Romans 8:16-17 it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Romans 12:12 Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 

Romans 15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 

Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. 

Galatians 5:5-6 For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love. 

Ephesians 1:9-14, 18 For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. . . . having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 
Colossians 1:11-14 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 

Colossians 1:21-24 And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 

Colossians 3:24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ.
Compare the non-Pauline passages:
Hebrews 6:10-12 For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. 

Hebrews 10:22-24 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 

1 Peter 1:3-7 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
We see, then, as always, that Holy Scripture backs up Catholic claims at every turn. We have assurance and faith and hope, yet this is understood within a paradigm of perseverance and constant vigilance in avoiding sin, that has the potential to lead us to damnation.