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Sunday, October 1, 2017

"Essentials of Christianity" and refuting the "But Catholics disagree too!"

Thanks to the Protestant Reformation, Christianity has now grown into a behemoth of tens of thousands of differing Christian denominations.  When one divorces himself from obedience to a central teaching authority, or magisterium, one opens himself up to being his own arbiter of what it means to be a Christian.  "I don't believe [A] even though that's what my church teaches" leads to a separation from this particular body of beliefs...and one cannot then deny another fellow brother in Christ the right to say, "Yeah, well I don't believe [B] even though you believe that's what is required to be a good Christian".

It's just what the devil ordered, IMHO. Chaos and confusion regarding what it means to be a Christian. Separation and disunity on doctrine.   Is baptism required for salvation?  Is Saturday the Lord's Day? Can we lose our salvation? Are we going to be Raptured? Is God a Trinity? 

Are the above "essential" to being a Christian? Since the Bible doesn't tell us what's an "essential" doctrine, it depends upon which Christian you ask.

It will be posited, however, that Catholicism is not immune to these divergent theological opinions also.  The "Tu Quoque" ("but you do it, too!) argument is presented.  

And they are correct:  there is indeed disagreement among Catholic circles as well.  Should girls be permitted to be altar servers? How can All Saints Day be a Holy Day of Obligation in one diocese but not in another diocese? (This is based on the bishop's discretion). Why do some diocese get a dispensation during Lent for St. Patrick's Day to eat meat? (Also based on the local ordinary's discernment). Which is better--that Latin Mass or Mass in the vernacular?

Apologist Jimmy Akin gives a response:  "A number of points may be made: First, Catholicism has a functioning magisterium that can decide that these matters are not essential differences. Second, the relevant schools adhere to the teachings of the magisterium and, if their views were reprobated, would accept the results (or cease to be faithful Catholics). Third, the differences between Catholic schools of thought have nowhere near the magnitude of the difference among Protestant schools. Compared to the differences among Protestant groups, differences among orthodox Catholic groups are trivial. Finally, the fact that the Catholic Church has a magisterium means that there can be—and on the most important theological matters there is—an official Catholic position. There is no parallel standard in Protestant circles that can speak for Protestantism."

And a Protestant may also offer this objection:  you all have your own problems in your Catholic churches. Look at all the Catholics who disagree with your Church on matters like abortion, homosexuality, women's ordination. 

We respond: this is not an equivalent comparison. Catholics who disagree with Catholic teaching are being "bad" Catholics. However, Protestants, when they diverge from their own church's doctrines, are simply being "good" Protestants...following their own personal, private interpretations of the Word of God, as has been permitted and celebrated by Protestantism since the Protestant Reformation.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Sola Scriptura and the "Essentials" of Christianity

                      “Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, 
                                                   and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37


The belief that the Bible Alone is the sole rule of faith, or Sola Scriptura (SS), has been the foundation for Protestantism for 500 years.  Unfortunately, SS, as well as the idea that there is no need for a central teaching authority, or Magisterium, has led to the splintering of Christianity into tens of thousands of different denominations.  

Tens of thousands. That's simply crazy.  Clearly, SS is the recipe for chaos and confusion. It does NOT lead to unity in doctrine. Each of these denominations claims that their interpretation of Scripture is the correct one, teaching different, and often contrary, views of what the Bible teaches.

(Here is a list of just 5000 denominations, and this list does not include independent churches that are popping up, on every street corner in every city, almost daily, like this: 


Related image

Some Christians may argue that it doesn't matter that there are thousands upon thousands of different denominations because these denominations agree on the "essentials".  As long as there is conformity to these "essentials", the other differences in doctrines are extraneous or secondary.

However, if you ask a SS Christian what these "essentials" are, you'll get different answers.  

Here's one list I saw of "essentials" Christians must believe:

1) belief in One God
2) the divinity of Christ
3) the resurrection of Christ
4) the fall of man
5) salvation by grace through faith

Note that this does not include the Virgin Birth, the Trinity, that Scripture is the Word of God, the existence of heaven, hell, the forgiveness of sins, the command to proclaim the gospel, the obligation to worship God on Sunday, the immortality of the soul...

Here's another list of someone else's opinion about what's "essential" for Christianity.  Note that there are some overlaps, but also some new "essentials" and some missing "essentials".

And here's yet another list of Christian "essentials".

And we should remark on this great irony: the SS Christians will get this list of "essentials" from their religious tradition...NOT from the Bible.

For the Bible does not offer a list of what are "essential" beliefs and what are secondary.

This diverse list of "essentials", in which SS Christians cannot even agree upon, is testimony to the idea the Sola Scriptura is untenable.  It simply cannot work. It does not work. To the degree of thousands upon thousands of differing ideas about what Jesus meant when he taught Bible Verses [A, B and C].

Now, thanks to SS, we have a multitude of different denominations, with a multitude of permutations of these doctrinal differences:

Abortion
Baptism--by sprinkling? Immersion?  Infant? Adult? Sacrament? Ordinance? In Jesus’ name only? 
Church leadership vs no leadership
Death/Soul Sleep
Divorce and remarriage
Drinking permitted?
Female pastors
Health and wealth gospel
Hell, or no hell
Homosexuality
How many sacraments are there?  
Is there such a thing as sacraments?
Is God‘s Holy Name Jehovah
Lord’s day on Saturday or Sunday
Music or no music (Singing or no singing)
Once saved, always saved?
Ordination
Predestination
Rapture
Sola scriptura/private interpretation
Sunday worship obligatory?
The Eucharist 
Tongues (some believe others are not saved if they don't speak in tongues)
Trinity vs. Unitarianism
What's a sin, what is not a sin
Wine vs grape juice at the Lord's Supper

It is testimony to the fact that we, with our darkened intellects, need a central authority--that is, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church--to provide light and direction as we journey towards Him.  

We need a Church that is the guardian and authentic interpreter of the Word of God, so when there are disagreements about the Scriptures (and there most certainly will be, for the Scriptures themselves say that there are things that are "hard to understand")
In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures. --2 Peter 3:16
we will have the assurance that we will be guided by Christ himself, through His Body, the Church,  to the correct meaning.

"Me and My Bible Alone" just doesn't work.

NEXT WEEK:  addressing the "Tu Quoque"--that is, the "But you do it, too" rebuttal.  "Catholics disagree on things, too!"

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Why Don't Catholics think the Bible is the sole rule of faith

                         “Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, 
                                          and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

Question:  Why don't Catholics think the Bible is the sole rule of faith?

Short Answer:  Because the Bible never says that it's the sole rule of faith.  


Longer Answer:  It's a self-refuting doctrine to claim that the Bible is to be used as the sole source of doctrine. Whenever we are approached by a non-Catholic Christian with this question, we should ask, "Where does the Bible claim to be the sole rule of faith?"

Answer: no where.  However, typically what is offered by the non-Catholic is 2 Timothy 3:16:  "All Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction and for training in righteousness".

Catholics give a hearty AMEN! to 2 Timothy 3:16...however, saying that all Scripture is inspired isn't the same thing as saying that the Bible is the sole rule of faith.  What 2 Timothy 3:16 means is: if it's in the Bible, we know that it comes from God.

However, non-Catholic Christians still have the onus of providing a Bible verse that says that the Bible is all we need to follow Christ.

Often, they will respond with, "Well, then you Catholics must not view the Bible as the Word of God!"

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Catholics revere the Bible.  As the Catechism states:

For this reason, the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord's Body. She never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life, taken from the one table of God's Word and Christ's Body.

In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, "but as what it really is, the word of God". "In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them."

We proclaim that the Word of God is Jesus Christ Himself, and that he was revealed his Word through 2 channels: Scripture and Tradition.  Sacred Scripture is the written Word, and Sacred Tradition is that which was orally transmitted, from Christ, through His Apostles, to the Catholic Church.  (Sacred Tradition is not to be confused with cultural traditions, or customs.  Sacred Tradition has nothing to do with "how we customarily did things--it's just our tradition to do it that way".)

One example of Sacred Tradition is the 27 book canon of the New Testament.  That is, the table of contents.  No Christian can know what books belong in the Bible, except through submitting to the authority of the Catholic Church. There were over 100 different early Christian texts which the early Church Fathers assessed and evaluated, and of those, 27 books were discerned to be the inspired Word of God.  

That is, the Bible didn't tell us what belongs in the Bible.  All Christians--even those who claim to be Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) advocates--unwittingly defer to Sacred Tradition when it comes to knowing what's actually an inspired text.

Incidentally, when in dialogue with Christians who object to the Catholic view of Sacred Tradition and who hold a Sola Scriptura point of view, it might be helpful to show them that they do indeed believe some things NOT found in the Bible, and thus are contradicting their Sola Scriptura paradigm.

Most Christians believe these things that are not found in the Bible:

-God's Revelation ended with the death of the last apostle.  Not in the Bible, but believed by a majority of Protestants.

-The canon of Scripture is closed.  Christians believe that there are no further books that may be considered inspired.  This is something known by Tradition, but not found in the Bible.

-And, (again, referencing the table of contents of Scripture)--that the Gospel of Mark, for example, is the Word of God. For the Bible does not say that the Gospel of Mark is inspired. (And even if an ancient text did claim inspiration, does claiming to be inspired make it so? Nope. The ONLY way that any Christian knows that the Gospel of Mark is God-breathed is because the Catholic Church told them it is.)

Incidentally, Bible Alone Christians also have a lot of practices that aren't found in the Bible--having a steeple on their building, folding their hands in prayer, Wednesday evening Bible studies, altar calls...so if they're going to be consistent, they should not object to Catholic practices which also aren't found in the Bible, such as praying the Rosary, devotions to particular saints, blessing ourselves with holy water.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Where is the Pope in the Bible?

Question: Where is the Pope in the Bible?

Answer:  This question presupposes that everything we believe as Christians has to be found in the Bible....which is something that the Bible never declares.

Our faith/doctrines/teachings don't come from a book, no matter how holy.

Our faith comes from Christ, through His Apostles, to the Church. Catholicism was whole and entire* before a single word of the New Testament was ever put to writ. The Bible reflects what was already proclaimed by the Apostles and their successors, but is not the source of our faith.

And this Sunday's readings do indeed reflect the teachings that Jesus founded His Church on Peter and Peter was given authority over the entirety of the Body of Christ. That is, this Sunday's readings reflect the concept of the papacy.

In the first reading we see the keys to the palace being given to Eliakim, who is the king's prime minister: 

I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim's shoulder;
when he opens, no one shall shut
when he shuts, no one shall open.--Isaiah 22

Being given the keys was a hallmark of authority. When the king is away, Eliakim is in charge.

And in the Gospel we see the keys to the kingdom being given to Peter:

I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. 
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;--Matt 16

When the King is away, Peter is in charge.  

Thus, what Peter "binds", that is, declares authoritatively that his flock is obligated to do, heaven "binds" as well.  And what Peter "looses", is "loosed" in heaven.  It is a reflection of the authority of Peter to teach infallibly on matters of faith and morals.

From Scott Hahn:

"When Jesus gives to Peter the keys of the kingdom, Peter is receiving the Prime Minister's office, which means dynastic authority from the Son of David, Jesus, the King of Israel, but also an office where there will be dynastic succession. When I discovered that, it was like the blinders fell off. Within a few weeks I had gotten together with the leading Protestant theologians in the world, one of the most reputable anti- Catholic Protestant theologians and spent ten hours with him and then in a Mercedes we drove two hours and I presented this case, and his only comment was, "That's clever." But he said, "You don't have to follow the Pope because of that." I said, "Why not?" And he said, "Well, I'm going to have to think about it." He said, "I've never heard that argument before." And I said, "It' s one of the basic arguments that Cajeton used against the Protestants in the 16th Century and Cajeton was one of the most well-known defenders of the Catholic faith and you've never heard of him before?" I said, "I had never heard of it before until I discovered it on my own and then found it in all these other people." And he said, "That's clever." Clever, perhaps. True, definitely; enlightening, illuminating, very interesting....

The role of Peter as steward of the kingdom is further explained as being the exercise of administrative authority as was the case of the Old Testament chamberlain who held the keys."

Now, what he means there is that nowhere else, when other Apostles are exercising Church authority are the keys ever mentioned. In Matthew 18, the Apostles get the power to bind and loose, like Peter got in Matthew 16, but with absolutely no mention of the keys. That fits perfectly into this model because in the king's cabinet, all the ministers can bind and loose, but the Prime Minister who holds the keys can bind what they have loosed or loose what they have bound. He has, in a sense, the final say. He has, in himself, the authority of the court of final appeal and even Protestants can see this.

In fact, I found this quotation in Martin Luther from 1530, years after he had left the Church, "Why are you searching heavenward in search of my keys? Do you not understand, Jesus said, 'I gave them to Peter. They are indeed the keys of heaven, but they are not found in heaven for I left them on earth.'" This is Jesus talking, "'Peter's mouth is my mouth, his tongue is my key case, his keys are my keys. They are an office.'" Luther even saw it, "'They are a power, a command given by God through Christ to all of Christendom for the retaining and remitting of the sins of men.'" The only thing that Luther won't admit is that there was succession after Peter died, which is exactly what the keys denote, given their Old Testament." Dr Scott Hahn on the Papacy | Catholic-Pages.com

Until the King returns, the one in authority is holder of the Keys!


*******************

*Although Catholicism was whole and entire from the moment the Apostles received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, it is true that our understanding of this kerygma developed.  Doctrinal development, increased clarity of the teachings, further explication of what has been revealed is ongoing.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Bible, Fundamentalists and Atheists

So I saw this meme circulating on the internet:





Clearly this is a case of a teenage atheist having fun with a meme generator who has never really been taught how to read the Bible.

Firstly, NO ONE should be reading ANY text in the way that a programmed robot does.  That's just absurd.  We read everything with a discerning eye, and the Bible is no exception. 

Secondly, if we're going to program a robot to do exactly what the Bible says, why not make a meme that uses these verses:

"Honor your Mother and Father"--Authorization Code Deuteronomy 5:16

"You shall not wrong any widow or orphan"--Authorization Code Exodus 22:21

"I would give my bread to the hungry and clothing to the naked"--Authorization Code Tobit 1:17

"Love your neighbor as yourself"--Authorization Code Matthew 19:19

Thirdly, Catholicism does not get its moral code from the Bible. Our moral code comes from Jesus, through His Body, the Church.  We do not glean our doctrines from a harrowed and fundamentalist reading of a Book, no matter how holy.

"The Church does not sit down and derive the dogma from the tortured reading of a few isolated texts of Scripture. Rather, it places the Scripture in the context of the Tradition handed down by the apostles and the interpretive office of the bishops they appointed."—Mark Shea--"What is Sacred Tradition"

I have noticed an amusing and ironic similarity between atheists and fundamentalists:  both use a very literalist and tortured reading of a text in order to come to an interpretation of what this text means.  That is, when both Christian fundamentalists and atheists read Genesis, they both read it as if it were a scientific treatise on creation.  Fundamentalists accept this as science, atheists reject it.  But both think that Genesis should be read as a historical, scientific text.

Also fundamentalists and atheists alike profess that faith and reason are opposed to each other.  Fundamentalists and atheists create a weird false dichotomy: choose ONE.  EITHER have faith OR use your brain.  Choose to blindly believe OR follow science and your intellect. Catholicism however professes that faith and reason are "2 wings upon which the human spirit rises to contemplate the truth"--Pope St. John Paul II--"Fides et Ratio"

A wry but astute observation that was coined by Mark Shea:  "Scratch an atheist, find a fundamentalist" is certainly applicable to the above meme.  "Both Christian fundamentalists and Atheist fundamentalists have in common a flat-footed and simplistic approach to questions of faith, science, reason, and biblical interpretation".
Would that everyone who reads the Bible were able to read it in the way it was meant to be read:  through the lens of Sacred Tradition.  Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, outlines how we are to read Scripture:

1. Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole Scripture”;

2. Read the Scripture within “the living tradition of the whole Church”;

3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith.

Taking isolated texts, as the teenage meme-creator has done "is sort of like looking at a goldfish and seeing only a circulatory system, an excretory system, a pair of gills, a pair of eyes, some randomly distributed fins, a bunch of scales, a nervous system, and various connective tissues, all of which just happen to be crammed into a goldfish-shaped space—and then spending all your time looking for “junk DNA” in the goldfish cells while steadfastly ignoring the swimming, living fish."--"Tools for Thinking Sensibly About Scripture"




"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15