Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A True Anglican - Richard Hooker Quote

After my last post, I found this quote which I really enjoy, it gives me peace about this whole thing. It is from Richard Hooker, pretty much a doctor of the Anglican Church, he was an extremely influential theologian, and was one of the only protestants in the reformation era who spoke well of Catholics. He wrote this about those who condemned Catholics for not believing in Sola Fide:

"God is no captious sophister, eager to trip us up whenever we say amiss, but a
courteous tutor, ready to amend what, in our weakness or our ignorance, we say
ill, and to make the most of what we say aright."

Hopefully it is true, I found it interesting that the contemporary Pope at the time of Hooker, said that his works would endure till the end of the age and spoke highly of him - or rather as highly as one could expect a Catholic to speak of a Protestant/Anglican.

Ugh...God help me. (Catholic v. Protestant)... again

"But since it would take too long to set out here the successions of all the churches, we shall turn to that great, ancient and universally known church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul, and we shall show that the tradition it has received of the apostles and the faith that it preaches to men has come down to our time through the regular succession of its bishops; and thus we shall confute all those who, in whatever way, whether by self-complacency, vainglory, blindness or error, enter into unauthorized assemblies. For it is with this Roman church, by reason of its more powerful pre-eminence that every other church, that is to say all the faithful everywhere, ought to agree, inasmuch as in this church the apostolic tradition has been preserved continuously by those who come from everywhere." St. Irenaeus ("Against All Heresies," c. 180 A.D.)

"there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas (Peter)’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" - St. Paul (1 Corinthians 1:10-13, c.60 AD)

"If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins... let him be anathema" - (Catholic Council of Trent c. 1550 AD)

"it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, ‘he sat down at the right hand of God’, and since then has been waiting ‘until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.’ For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified." - St. Paul? Barnabas? Priscilla? (Hebrews 10:10-14 (c. 95 AD)

I have spent all of my spare time and energy in this Catholic-Protestant debate, I've lost sleep and friends and a possible future career. I am so tired. This is just a sample of what I deal with. I've discovered something strange. No matter how hard I try to read Church History, it is overwhelmingly 'Catholic', it supports the papacy and the historic episcopate (bishops), etc. BUT, No matter how hard I try to read Catholicism into the Scriptures, I find they are overwhelmingly Lutheran/Protestant.

So I'm left with this horrific situation, either turn my back on all of Church History and Sacred Tradition, including those which chose the canon of scripture, OR, to turn my back on the Sacred Word of God, eternal immutable, inspired and authoritative. The problem is that both groups claim they can read both scripture and tradition with a clear conscience, well I can't. I can't read the Council of Nicea and not be Catholic, and I can't read Romans and not be Protestant.

The other problem is that both Tradition and Scripture hold Anathemas for those who reject them. Both claiming to be from God. So St. Paul writes in Galatians 1:8 that if anyone believes a different gospel than the one he taught, they are damned, and St. Irenaeus writes if anyone divides the church or is out of communion with Rome, they are anathema.

Now Protestants say obviously the church screwed up and was led into heresy, and Catholics say obviously my interpretation of scripture is wrong. I've tried so hard to read the New Testament as a Catholic, but short of removing Romans, Galatians, Corinthians and Hebrews, I could not do it. Luther - no matter how late he came in church history - I believe was correct in his interpretation of imputed righteousness and sola fide. Catholics will laugh and say 'so the gospel itself, the central message of the church was unknown to it for nearly 16 centuries?!', whilst Protestants must embarrassingly say 'yes'. Catholics must embarrassingly say that even though the scriptures clearly show this, they are wrong and that really Scripture is only a part of Tradition and can't be used against it.

And so my soul is looking like Ireland as it always is.

It is also two different conceptions of God. In Lutheranism/Anglicanism God has peace with humanity, his wrath has been satisfied, he loves everyone, and if they merely believe, they will be saved and immediately after death be in the presence of God. In Catholicism God is like 'Two-Face' in Batman, if you commit a mortal sin the gun is to your head, but if you go through the proper cleansing ritual, then suddenly he loves you again. And even if you do everything right your whole life, you still get burned (purgatory). In Luther salvation is the gift of God, in Trent it is the temporary chance of God.

Yesterday I watched Rob Bell's "The Gods Aren't Angry", and it was really good. But it was the epitome of Luther, he argues well that if this idea -of God only loving us because we offer him something - is true, then there's no more point to Christianity than Judaism or Paganism for that matter, just another group of humans, trying to appease the angry gods. So does God love me? or does he burn with righteous anger towards me because I am a heretic who actively divides his bride the church, with mortal sins on my soul which will earn me eternal damnation?....ugh, I'm so tired of this.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Unity not Uniformity

During a college Q & A the famous apologist Ravi Zacharias was asked by a Muslim why Christianity was so splintered and that if he wanted to join a church how would he pick the true one out of all of the thousand denominations. This I thought would be Ravi's time to plug the Christian and Missionary Alliance (his denomination), but rather he said something which I will attempt to quote: "Know this, that unity is not uniformity, and that ultimately Salvation does not depend on which denomination you are affiliated with, but rather with whether or not you know Jesus Christ".

I thought it was certainly a different way of answering the question. Catholicism's 'extra ecclessiam nulla salus' is another standard answer. I thought this was a good quote on Ravi's behalf for a few reasons. It is true to early Christianity, in 1 Corinthians 1 St. Paul talks about denominations already forming. Indeed many of the epistles are to fragmented churches with disagreements and problems, there was the schism in Corinth, the racist jews that our first *Pope sat with in Galatia* (Peter - see Gal 2), and the Roman church of course with all the division we can read about in Romans 14. This yields alot of interest to me. Note this passage:

"Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgement on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honour of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honour of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honour of the Lord and give thanks to God...Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister?...each of us will be accountable to
God." - Romans 14:1-6, 10 NRSV

What a great way to look at the faith, I guess he is a Saint for a reason. This is God's message, it's the exact opposite from the Catholic or Calvinistic method. St. Paul doesn't say 'for those of you abstaining from meat, ANATHEMA!!! may God's curses torment you, Ye heathen Heretical schismatic who would divide the apostolic unity of the one true church!!!!PHGSODIHSGPISDGJ'.... Thank God for ecumenical Paul. This isn't any of that fundamentalist 'the truth always divides', it's just 'yes, we disagree, but don't judge each other, and worry about yourself and God - that's who you are accountable to.'

I like what Paul also says in Ephesians 2 about how Gentiles and Jews are united in Christ, I think the same is true of the church when he writes "For he [Jesus] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us...In him the whole structure is joined together" Eph 2: 14, 21 (NRSV). So later when he writes, "there is one body and one Spirit...one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all." Eph 4:4-6 (NRSV) it really shows how Christ is in all and he has broken down the barriers. Even if we have 'broken communion' we are all in communion with Christ. The unity of the church does not depend on man, much like creation, salvation and all the other major points of the bible, but depends on God. It would seem we can't do anything right, and so Christ did it for us, again.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Gift of God - Covenent, Salvation and Christology

I have been struggling with the age old issue that seperates Protestants and Catholics: What place do works have in salvation? I find that there are 3 key texts for understanding this (in my pathetic opinion) James 2, Ephesians 2, and Matthew 25.

I've already done James 2, and I must say that Catholics win some ground in that it does *sound like a refutation of Sola Fide, although Calvin and Jared compose a good counter-argument. The main problem is the fact that if they are right (Catholics), how on earth do faiths retain our justification. That's when we step from the biblical to the traditional, suddenly we find a phrase like 'retain our justification' and then we fall into this weird sphere which leaves us with a God who cares more about physical actions then the position of the heart, in essence a pharisaical (is that a word?) legalism, which many Catholic complain to me about (actually only 3 but still). On the other side, we have of course the free-grace-r's, whom Bonhoeffer dismisses quite effectively as well in his chapter on "Cheap Grace".

I read through the other 2 passages today and here are my thoughts and conclusions - at least for now, which shockingly place me in the sphere of Protestantism, something I haven't seen in a while. It appears I might be reshaking Luther's hand again, before all is said and done.

Ephesians 1-2.
I've been trying REALLY hard not to read my bible in the way I was taught as a reformed baptist, and been actively trying to make my bible sound like Catholicism, I have of course a strange Wesleyan-Orthodox theology, and so reading Ephesians 1 - the Calvinist gospel, yielded an interesting result for me.

Now, I go with the Arminians in that when I read Ephesians 1 and everything about predestination I see St. Paul discussing more of a category, rather than individuals. I think he's discussing the church as a whole, the new covenant group, and that God somehow has pre-destined (for a God outside time and space, I don't see how foreknowledge without predestination is possible) the church. So, it says in v4 that we are chosen to be "Holy and Blameless" meaning sanctification. In these chapters St. Paul contrasts the 'others', the pagans, those ignorant of Christ, and the Elect. Those whom God chose to reveal Christ to. Those in the new covenant. So he sealed them with the Holy Spirit and these are God's people.

He keeps saying though things like 'heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation' and that the people 'believed in him'. Very Protestant (i'm not honestly saying St. Paul was protestant or Catholic, I'm just saying it is points on their side. He seems to be saying that the formula is: 1. you were bad, 2. luckily God predestined you to be holy, 3. (because) you heard the gospel and believed. Paul always talks about faith and grace in these chapters and rejects the notion that the people of God/the church/believers really had anything to do with it. He is saying (in my opinion) that Christ achieved it all.

Riches is another key theme, it is that when Christ came and died he 'drew men unto himself' (Jn 6:44) and that they could become 'in Him' and 'in Christ'. The amazing thing to me is the pattern, it is that CHRIST earned it, NOT us. There can be no merit. The Catholic position is the opposite in some ways, in that they believe in salvation by grace, but that we can still merit our salvation. As St. Thomas Aquinas states:

"Man, by his natural endowments, cannot produce meritorious works
proportionate to everlasting life; and for this a higher force is needed, viz.
the force of grace. And thus without grace man cannot merit everlasting life"
(St. Thomas Aquinas ST I-II:109:5)

However in Ephesians 3:13-14 it says "in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility" (ESV). This is of course Christology, talking about how the blood of Christ brings unity between the believers. But I am always amazed at how throughout the letter the theme is always - Christ achieves eternal life, he distributes grace, and in his crucifixion he has bought all of the elect, they HAVE BEEN saved, in the Past tense. Somehow, mysteriously Christ bought the salvation of St. Thomas Aquinas, over 1000 years before he was born, because he was one of the elect, he 'believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness'.

It says in Chapter 2:4 "even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved" (ESV). It is a reoccuring theme that Christ has made us alive, not us. How do we know those who have been made alive? they have heard the gospel, they believe, they are being made holy. Again St. Paul hammers it out 'by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.' It seems clear to me that the case is closed for Paul, salvation is seperate from holiness, from works, from boasting.

Now I know Catholics will argue 2 things here. 1. Works means - works of the law of moses, etc. blah blah N.T. Wright, 2nd temple judaism, blah. I know. I've heard it. However, if the ESV was translated properly (I have no clue if it is), it says 'not your own doing', rather than Works/works of the law of moses. 2. This is talking about 'initial justification' blah blah Lutheran-Catholic joint declaration on Justification blah. I know. I've heard it. However, Paul doesn't seem to understand Trentine Catholicism, in that he says in v.6 "and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ". It goes straight from justification by grace, to glorification, theosis etc. This left my Catholic-side screaming: 'For the love of God Paul, don't you know about meritous good works! don't you know about Purgatory and indulgences! don't you know that you are one of the greatest of the saints, and that if you look at yourself in the mirror and say a hail mary you will earn 1000 years out of purgatory because of the merits of ... well you and the saints'. I realize this is one passage, but still, if you were in Ephesus, this was all the church really knew outside the basic life of Jesus, and the OT. It seemed enough for them.

Good Lord, I seem like a Calvinist. Ephesians 1 will do it to all of us... 'he desireth that all men might be saved' come on Andrew, remember 'sins of the world-not sins of the elect' ... just repeat it over and over again.... There we go, Wesleyan once more. Moving on.

Now the other thing is, I didn't discuss Chp 2:10, in typical Protestant style. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." But again, this says nothing about Salvation, it only seems to me to be pointing to proof of justification, proof of election, proof that you are in God's covenant. There is my protestant reading of Ephesians 1-2, may God have mercy on my soul, I defy the position of the church.

I was always guilted by Catholics and Orthodox who would say that if this IS the gospel, if this is the message, why did no one preach it throughout church history until Martin Luther in the 16th century. Why? How could the Gospel be lost. That is why I bought into Catholic interpretation, because it is a good argument. However when I honestly look at the text and at the life of Protestant and Catholic churches in my city and elsewhere, I have to embarrassingly say along with Luther that I really do think this is the gospel. I really do think that Christ lived, died, and rose to save us, to make dead people alive, not to empower us to be better, not to gain victory and then make us gain victory ourselves, not to make bad people pull themselves up. I think the fundamental premise is that they can't, ever. And even Christ's victory over death still has each Christian die. And even his victory over sin can't in this life free us from sin. I think it's a noble ideal, that we somehow become like Christ and merit our salvation. However, I can't do it. Me, personally, I can't be that way. Only Christ can I think, I will always be the same selfish fat bastard. But Christ is so much more, and when I give up everything and let Christ work through me, when I admit that I am rubbish, and give up my hope that I can save myself, then God changes me. I have to much faillure to be triumphalistic. My good works were predestined by God, and they don't merit anything other than thanksgiving to Him.

Matthew 25.
If Ephesians 1 was the Calvinist Gospel, then Matthew 25 is the social gospel. Now the idea of Covenant is still something I don't truly understand, but here is my underdeveloped view of it. Belief, faith, baptism, communion, are all things we do to enter into the covenant, but the key is really submission to Christ and trust in his ability to save us. Now the thing I never noticed before is that at the beginning Christ seperates the sheep and the goats, sheep on the right. Sheep on the right. Christ = The Good Shepherd (Ez.34, Jn.10), believers = Sheep, those in his covenant, those who believe, those who are saved. And on the left he seperates the goats, goat typically associated with Satan. As 1 John tells us, all who sin are children of the devil, which means, everyone except Christians and the Blessed Virgin Mary (Gen 3:15 + 1Jn3:8 = sinless Mary) are goats/children of the devil.

Now I was always taught that those who looked after the poor, who did everything 'for the least of these', were the ones who go to Heaven, and the others who neglected the poor, hungry, and naked, were the ones who went to Hell. HOWEVER, it says that to the ones on the right that they served him well, that they did the work of Christ, but they are judged TOGETHER, or Corporately. The Church itself is judged as Righteous on Judgement day, not the individul. Those outside the Church who do not share in it's corporate blessings, those who have not stayed in Christ, are the ones who are judged to go to "eternal punishment".

Thus, my believe is that we must stay "in Christ". I've always said that Predestination doesn't honestly matter, because if we are predestined not to believe in predestination, there's no changing our minds anyway. I am thinking that St. Paul's theme the more and more I read and re-read, is that we must be "In Christ" and those the people who are saved and will be made holy through sanctification, and that it is by grace, through faith, the good gift, salvation, the gift of God.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Facebook Religious Status

I realize that people complain about my constant switching of religious views on facebook. I should officially stop all changes until Easter this year, when I either will become a Roman Catholic, an Anglican, or maybe even some kind of crazy Lutheran. I switch my religious views depending on the day. Usually Sundays I'm an Anglican, as I go to an Anglican church, but usually in a month I do 3 Anglican masses, and 1 Roman Catholic. It's a balance a bit.

Really I am only officially a Baptist. I was baptized in a Baptist church in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Even if I agree with Roman Catholic theology, that doesn't make me a Catholic, I'd have to be confirmed, and likewise being an Anglican would only be the result of an Anglican confirmation. So I should just leave it at Christian in general - or as the traditionalist Catholics believe 'heretic' - but that isn't one of the options on facebook.

Anyway, in all fairness I've basically been Orthodox in my theology. My unbelief in the 'filioque' and my rejection of Papal Infallibility as well as Sola Scriptura and the Protestant concept of a priesthood of all believers. So I'm a bit in the middle, I've always felt I'd fit theologically into East Orthodox shoes, however Bishop Ware (Orthodox) says that if you live in the west and want to be Orthodox, just become Catholic. That was what I read when I first decided to tell my parents I was becoming Catholic. So from the start I've really loved the Orthodox, but as my blog has illustrated, they won't have me. Thus I am stuck either being an Anglican Catholic, or a Roman Catholic. But the case is, that I should stop changing the status until I actually officially AM one.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Westminster Confession: Scripture 2

As I was re-reading and rethinking my judgement upon the Westminster Confession I realized I might have been a little harsh. I'm not a proponent of Sola Scriptura, however I am realizing that it is the Word of God and deserves respect and the ability to critique tradition. Of course I believe it is from Tradition we recieve the canon etc, however I am reading a book called "Christ and the Bible" by John W. Wenham right now, and he goes to show how Christians in the early church had a high view of the Old Testament, and Christ himself when confronted always said 'it is written'.

Maybe much of biblical interpretations are up for debate, but then I realized, so is Tradition. I've been studying the Orthodox-Catholic split recently and I've learned that the Greeks and Latins had much different Traditions, both equally valid and apostolic, but people drew different conclusions and interpretted patristic quotes in many ways. So yes, nothing is black and white, but Scripture can't be thrown out just because some parts are debatable.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Westminster Confession of Faith: Scripture

To me, the easiest thing in the world to be, would be a Calvinist. You get to call yourself one of the elect - which is a cool title - you get certainty about your salvation, you get answers to every question you could imagine. I've always said that the two best theological systems which answer everything coherently for the most part are 1) Calvinism, and 2) Catholicism. Now I'm an Anglican/Orthodox Wesleyan today at least, so why wouldn't I just pick one of these great systems? I decided to read the Westminster Confession today, to remind me of all the reasons I can't be a Presbyterian and I read all of the first part about scripture. Here is a link to it:http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/ (I've seen Jared rip the Council of Trent to peices, so I don't feel as bad taking one of his favourites and pointing out my opinion on it's shortcomings)

It starts off proclaiming that God is revealed in Nature/Natural Theology, but that so His will might be known he revealed himself in Scripture. As well the Apocrypha is NOT to be declared inspired Scripture. The 'true' OT canon contains only 39 books.

Problems with this:

1. Jesus never left a command for people to write scripture
2. Jews couldn't agree on a canon for the Old Testament. Till 90CE council of Jamnia, after the Christian church was already established.
3. Scripture has no canon list within itself
4. St. Paul and the others constantly quote the Septuagint - the Greek Old Testament which contains the Apocrypha.
5. Jesus is actually God's revelation and His Word.

"We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture." WCF V (prooftext used-1 Timothy 3:15)

The problem is, the early church DIDN'T have a bible, outside the Septuagint, which was the Old Testament, which contained the apocrypha, and possibly they had some Pauline literature. And that prooftext/footnote says the CHURCH is the pillar of truth, not scripture.

"The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly" WCF IX

Hmmm. So which scripture do we pick if something is unclear. For example, in Corinthians it talks about baptism for the dead... which scripture do we go to for that? In 1 John 5 it talks about a "Mortal Sin" which leads to death. But what scripture can we use to interpret that?

In closing the Westminster confession says of Scripture, that it is "The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined" -WCF X

That is the pipe dream that all of Protestantism rests on. The idea that somehow scripture actually speaks... it's a text, and it has to be read, it has to be translated, and it has to be interpretted. The Calvinists seemed to have arbitrarily picked up the bible, removed the apocrypha, and said that it is in short the Christian Qu'ran. If this were so, all matters of faith would be easy. Almost as easy as having a Pope who is essentially God on Earth and can infallibly define any article of the faith, and bind and loose anything on earth and in heaven. I wonder if he 'defined' God as nonexistant, then he could make everything end. But as the Catholics say, he will get hit by lightning before that happens... a very realistic scenario... but enough of all this childishness.

In short, I would love to be a Catholic or a Calvinist, but there are many questions of the faith which cannot be simply answered, they are a mystery, as only the Orthodox realize.

Friday, July 11, 2008

little Anglican Church

I've been going to this little Anglican church for the last 3 weeks and it has been great. I'm going again this sunday, they have a wonderful balance of the Traditions and Scripture, they have long readings, and a good priest. They also have amazing stain-glassed windows.

False Dichotemies?

I've been accused by Catholics of setting up false dichotemies. It is a claim leveled at all Protestant Christians as well, when they say Tradition and Scripture contradict one another. Now I can understand the Catholics' anger when some say this, because 99.9% of Protestants have never read a single church council. Indeed I was a baptist for 18 years and never heard of the Apostles' Creed. I didn't even know what a creed was.

I also admit that in light of everyone I know being angry at me for trying to become Catholic, I AM looking for an easy out, and thus sometimes when I read the church fathers I read quotes anachronistically and making them sound like Luther etc. HOWEVER, there is in my opinion many True Dichotemies that can't just be dismissed. I think that Traditions DO contradict Scripture and thus hold more of an Anglo-Orthodox perspective.

Here is a simple example. "a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate....not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money." - 1 Timothy 3:2-3. In Roman Catholicism the Tradition (church discipline technically) is "a bishop cannot be the husband of one wife" and I need only guide you to "The Borgia Popes" for a great example of a 1 for 1 contradiction of everything St. Paul writes here about a Bishop. So to say that clerical celibacy and scripture are but horse and rider, is idiotic.

There are other dichotemies as well, and entire Catholic books written in defense of such contradictions and near-contradictions, so to say outright that it is idiotic and maniacal Protestants inventing these dichotemies, it is not. It is history itself.

Also remember the words of Our Lord Jesus, who I guess was just being an irksome protestant as well, when he said: "in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" - Mark 7:7 KJV. Now this is clearly to the pharisees regarding the law, HOWEVER, it does show that there are traditions that religious leaders have which contradict God's law. (And I can debate all day on Matthew 16).

Now, there are some traditions which I believe to be valid of course. For example, the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. It's an old tradition, you find it in Origen's commentary on Matthew, Ignatius of Antioch, Jerome, Athanasius, Ambrose, and others. Guess who else believed in her perpetual virginity? John Calvin, Martin Luther, Zwingli, and John Wesley. This idea that Mark Driscoll talks about where she could never have been a virgin all her life, is based more on modern conceptions of sex, than Holy Tradition. So yes, I believe it is a true historical tradition of the Church that is a part of the deposit of faith. However there are dichotemies I believe, and the Eastern and Western split of 1054 shows that people long before protestants knew that there were contradictions.

Hence why I say:
Scripture, Tradition, Logic.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Quote on Homosexuality

While I don't really care that much about homosexuality as it doesn't pertain to me, the debate right now is gigantic. It's almost frustrating because the bible is so obviously against homosexuality that people who quote it, get arrested for hate crimes. The debate I don't think is so much theological as it is social/political. You have liberals and conservatives. It just doesn't make sense to me why someone would want to be a minister of Christ and spend all of their time trying to make the gospel easy or socially acceptable. I'll let you in on a secret... he dies in the end for all the stuff he says. Well they've disbelieved in the resurrection for all these years, it was only a matter of time till they started disbelieving the crucifixion. However here is an interesting quote I found from Anglican Abp Desmond Tutu:

"The Jesus I worship is not likely to collaborate with those who vilify and persecute an already oppressed minority [...]. I could not myself keep quiet whilst people were being penalized for something about which they could do nothing, their sexuality. For it is so improbable that any sane, normal person would deliberately choose a lifestyle exposing him or her to so much vilification, opprobrium and physical abuse, even death. To discriminate against our sisters and brothers who are lesbian or gay on grounds of their sexual orientation for me is as totally unacceptable and unjust as Apartheid ever was"

I have a strange view in that I believe the bible is clearly against homosexuality, but it is also clearly against free speech and equality for women, and for slavery. So there's the problem really. How much was written in the culture of the near east 1 century, and how much was the unchangeable Word of God. I think Abp. Tutu is right in that no one chooses to be villified, and I think sexuality is more of a percentage than a direct black and white thing, and that it is complex. I think modern medicine has shown that they have little to no choice over it. So in some areas I think the Archbishop is correct, in others, not so much. We must love homosexuals, they sin, just like liars, and hate filled conservatives. But to utterly ostracize those who are repentent is completely graceless.

My main problem is with those like Gene Robinson who go around flaunting their homosexuality like a badge of courage and who think it's practically the gospel. These folks don't even believe in the virgin birth, deity of Christ, resurrection, Trinity etc. I personally don't think you should even be able to be a member of a Christian church unless you can confess the Apostles, Nicene, Chalcedon, and Athanasian Creeds faithfully, let alone be a clergy member. However there are much more important issues than homosexuality. I mean selfishness is a sin, but you don't see a crusade erupting over it.

So why don't we just leave it at: some people are naturally homosexual, it is still a sin, just as we are all inclined to sin in general, God help us all, but thanks be to Jesus for freeing us from sin, let's move on as best we can, and ask God once we get to Heaven why he left us in a state of moral irresponsibility but still holds us responsible. There are much greater tragedies: AIDS, Starvation, Genocide, Congregationalism, and Rap music. Lets worry about those first.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

St. Gregory of Nyssa Against Rome

I just read this quote in "The Life of Moses" by the Church Father St. Gregory of Nyssa. I'm supposed to find this universal affirmation of Roman Catholicism everywhere in the church fathers, but I don't see it much outside St. Augustine and Ambrose. Here's the quote:

"The Church is also called Christ by Paul (1 Cor 12:12, Eph 1:23), it would be well to regard the names "apostles, teachers, and prophets" as referring to those servants of the divine mystery whom Scripture also calls pillars of the Church. (1 Cor 12:28f, Gal 2:9) For it is not only Peter and John and James who are pillars of the Church, nor was only John the Baptist a burning light,(Jn 5:35 but all those who themselves support the Church and become lights through their own works (Phil 2:15) are called "pillars" and "lights." You are the light of the world, (Matt 5:14) says the Lord of the Apostles. And again the divine Apostle bids others to be pillars, saying Be steadfast and unmovable (1 Cor 15:58). And he made Timothy an excellent pillar, when he made him (as he says in his own words) a pillar and ground of truth. (1 Tim 3:15)" - St. Gregory of Nyssa, "The Life of Moses" (bk.2 , pt.184)

So strangely, St. Gregory says that all who are members of the church are pillars, all who work out their salvation and are called to be apostles, or teachers or prophets. This is hardly an endorsement of a Monarchical Papacy. Of course you could also interpret it that since all of the characters listed were Bishops/Apostles that Bishops are the pillars of truth, and as Ignatius says "where there is the Bishop let the multitude of believers be, even as where is Jesus Christ there is the Catholic church" or something to that effect. But this just says Bishops, and Anglicans, and all the Orthodox Churches, and Old Catholics, and Porvoo communion Lutherans, all have Bishops in the line of the apostles.

So it seems the Papacy's monopoly on Apostolicity is less and less likely to me. Though this quote certainly doesn't endorse groups like the Baptists and other Congregationalists.

Heresy, Scripture, and Tradition

I found a guy's blog with this quote in it and I thought I should put it up for discussion, it is from St. Vincent of Lerins "Commonitorium" written in 434 CE/AD:

"But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church's interpretation? For this reason,—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.

Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense "Catholic," which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors."
I'm not trying to say this means that the Catholic church today in the 21st century led by Pope Benedict XVI is THE only church, as the Eastern Orthdox could read this quote without a problem. You have to remember that at the time, EVERY orthodox christian church was one, the Catholic church, and then it subsequently split. So the Anglicans and Orthodox and Lutherans today all come from this original Catholic church, we would all be Catholics back then, and this is all of our heritage. So we don't simply default to the modern Catholic church because there is the same word used, which means Universal, or According to the whole. It is still an argument of who are the true Catholics. Presbyterians think they are, and Lutherans think they are, and modern Roman Catholics think they are.

But this is an interesting quote from church tradition that scripture is to be interpretted by the church as a whole. This slaps Congregationalism in the face as well as SOME interpretations of 'priesthood of all believers'. But for those international denominations and churches who decide what scripture means, through tradition, still have a fighting chance.

What I take from St. Vincent's quote is this: Scripture is the Word of God, however it must be interpretted, and it is interpretted through Tradition. Tradition is that which has been believed by all, everywhere, always. This is why the church as a whole must search through tradition and examine what scripture means.

I think the Orthodox are correct in that we cannot understand more about Christianity than the apostles did at the time. Of course the debate now is about what the apostles believed. And that is why we need Tradition.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Eastern Orthodoxy

Eastern Orthdoxy seems like the near perfect version of Christianity. I think they have an amazing balance of Tradition and Scripture. Scripture is still allowed to critique traditions and it is held in high esteem (even if the communion as a whole can't agree on the canon of it).

I love the fact that they allow for mystery, and that they seem so ancient in how they do things. At the Catholic Church I occassionally attend they use modern Christian music. But I remember listening in History class to the Liturgy of St. Anthony, and the beauty of the churches. I love the Icons which constantly remind me of the Great Cloud of Witnesses. I think if I ever went into one of those churches it would feel like that line in the Apostles' Creed "The communion of the saints", the one covenent body on Earth and in Heaven. It's a great image.

As well the Filioque issue to me is in favor of the East Orthodox (for those unfamiliar with it, the Orthodox belive the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, whereas the Catholics add, or the Orthodox remove - depending on your position of course - the Filioque, which is latin for 'and the Son', thus Catholics believe the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.) In my reading of scripture I believe it is the Father. (but of course, I haven't read intensively on it).

I think their position on Tradition is what I like the most. The fact that they ordain married priests, and that they seem to have an amazing reverence for God. I also really like a few of their saints. I enjoy the Eastern Mysticism, and frequently pray the Jesus prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner) as they do, and find it beneficial.

Of course the closest Orthodox church is a 45-50 minute drive away, and I hear they're even less welcoming than the Catholics (which would mean probably not letting me in the door). And the Church is split up into about 19 churches all claiming episcopal authority over the same diocese, and they are ridiculously nationalistic (quite like Catholics as well except substitute Irish and Italian, for Greek and Russian).

I remember my grandmother telling me a story about how in the Ukraine in my great grandmother's time, the Mennonites and the Ukranian Orthodox used to come after church and bake together and that's how alot of Mennonite recipes came to be. I like that kind of ecumenism. Two totally different theological viewpoints, both heretics in the eyes of each other's dogma, but they can come together as one body on the Sabbath and bake. We need more ecumenical baking, and I wish there was an Orthodox church in town...

Friday, July 4, 2008

The God Who Stoops

I was once taught by a wise man that in Greek, grace meant to stoop in compassion and be willing to help. I remember reading the words in St. Luke's gospel which describe Jesus. There were 2 adjectives that he found after all his investigation, which described Jesus. "Grace & Truth". The painful part is the truth, it's the part that no one wants to hear, it's the part about everyone being on the ground. Before you can realize the beauty of a God who stoops to our level in compassion, you have to recognize that you're the one in need of help.

I had a bunch of my close friends from Bible School at my house last week, it was amazing how much we loved each other and respected each other, and yet how I'm sure if you asked each one of us, we would have been ashamed of many of our choices since Bible school. We would have many regrets (at least I do) but in spite of all that and the possibility that we knew the truth about each other's secret faillures, we still had grace and love for each other. I'm reminded by my friend Jenn quoting Oscar Wilde I believe, who said 'the best view of the stars is while laying in the gutter', or something to that extent. That kind of grace from my friends makes me remember why the gospel is so important.

In my lecture notes it says "nothing surpasses the gospel in relevance or urgency". Those words seem colloquial in Christianity, but more and more I think it is true. Jaroslav Pelikan once said "If Christ is raised, nothing else matters, if Christ is not raised, nothing else matters". I thought about that statement for probably longer than a healthy time, trying to figure out all that was being said. I think it means that if the gospel is true, and that Christ stands victorious over death and all else, then everything else is subordinate to the ultimate importance of that truth. And likewise, if the gospel is a lie, then life itself has no inherent meaning. The resurrection really is the proof of everything. It's such a beautiful picture, that God himself has walked through our path the first time in the person of Christ. He showed us our victory over death, and he walked every step of the journey. In the deepest part of my soul I want to be able to walk that path. I think my faith needs to be renewed in his grace, I need to believe in the God who stoops, the gracious God.

There's a prayer in the Rosary I prayed tonight, it's at the end of one version of the 'Hail, Holy Queen' and the line is "Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ." I don't know whether we are imputed Christ's righteousness, or whether we are infused with it, but in the everyday part of my life, this is my earnest prayer. That I might be made worthy of the promises of Christ. I think of those promises off the top of my head which seem so unreal, but so amazing, John 8:12 "I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but shall have the light of life". "I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he die, will yet live". I love the verse that describes Abraham as a friend of God, I always talk about it with people and about at the end of Deuteronomy when it says that no one has ever known the Lord like Moses who spoke with God face to face. I want to be made worthy of the promises of Christ, and I think if I can - or rather if God can (for the Monergists in the crowd), then nothing else will matter... as Dr. Pelikan pointed out earlier.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Are You Saved? maybe? I hope?

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit...If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned" - Jn 15:1,2,6 (NIV)

"So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' " 'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.' " - Luke 13:7-9 (NIV)

"For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned." -Hebrews 6:4-8 (KJV)

For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The LORD will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: “ For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul." Hebrews 10:26-39 (NKJV)


I like in the King James, the vineyard owner (God) says of the baren tree "why cumbereth it the ground?" - strong language.

It says something interesting about God's character that he is so filled with wrath about Christians who don't bear good fruit that they don't deserve the ground they walk on.

Here's another famous quote I came across:
"The proof of love is in the works. Where love exists, it works great things. But when it ceases to act, it ceases to exist." -Pope St. Gregory the Great

I am less than thrilled with thinking about all of this. Protestantism has no answer to these verses except a list of contrary verses that go something like: John 5:18 John 10:27-30 John 14:16-17 Romans 8:37-39 . Once again (what a shock) we are left debating on the principle of Sola Scriptura, a foundation without a foundation, as I like to call it.

Catholicism has an answer, but it isn't a nice one. It's called the Sacrament of Penance, later it was renamed Confession because 'Penance' sounded scary, and then it was renamed 'Reconciliation', but despite this "Mighty Ducks" trick play of switching your name for victory, the result is the same old thing. You confess, and you're given Penance. Protestants start screaming now about nothing in the bible ---whoops:
"On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together...Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." - John 20:19,21
And for those of you who know Church History and Historical theology, the Bishops are the modern day equivalent to the Apostles who give this job to subordinate priests. It's there, in the bible, just as valid as the Great Commission. And until John Ortberg or Bill Hybels comes out with the latest book "Blissfully Unaware: 12 steps to ignoring verses that don't make you feel happy and/or don't fit your theology", it seems we must actually address the problem. I feel like the King of Mean Bible Verses today.

See in Catholic Theology they consider these wilful sins, 'mortal sins' (see 1 John 5), which too are in the bible (*cough - until you mistranslate them as something else, like you did with 'bishop'.). If you commit a mortal sin, it's like a "Get out of Heaven Free" card, in the game of Soteriological Monopoly. You go to Hell. So if the Pope got up and said "I like Nickelback" (I think it's a mortal sin) then Papa Benny 16 would be having a 'dance with the devil in the pale moonlight' unless he confessed to a priest... or I guess himself? since he's like St. Peter circa 21st century.

Anyway, all this to say that in reading those verses and such I think I've realized that I'm not saved. I'd like to be, I just don't live well enough, every sin I commit is pretty much a mortal sin. But this brings me to even more ridiculous things about Christianity in general.

I was talking to Hannah the other day, and I realized that whether you're Catholic or Protestant, one of our doctrines still is that the Dalai Lama and Gandhi are going to Hell, but convert to Christianity, Son of Sam - David Burkewitz the serial killer, is going to Heaven. Isn't that weird? That in our theology, God is more pleased with the serial killer than other men who worked so hard to make the world a better place, and strove for Christian Ideals, even if they didn't know it or do it actively?

There's something so elegant and just about salvation by works. It is just. As Aristotle would say "Justice is giving to each man, that which he deserves". But in Christianity there really isn't any Aristotelian Justice. I mean, poor Christ, the only man who doesn't deserve it, suffers the wrath of God, and then bad people are made good. That doesn't seem just at all. Catholicism again answers this with Infused righteousness, where you actually merit your own salvation (work out your own salvation in fear and trembling-Philippians), albeit, through the grace of Christ.

So I wonder if I will see Jesus, having committed many mortal sins, and having tasted the Holy Spirit and turned away from him daily, and having every action of mine as utterly inadequate to appease a Holy God. Calvinism teaches that if God sent everyone to Hell, he would still be Good, and it would be a fair choice, so is my trouble with this fact, ingratitude? I mean, someone has to go to Hell. Someone does for sure, so am I just being self-centred to think myself as not 'someone'. I guess I'll have good company, I can talk to the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Richard Dawkins, and see if Dante was right about the whole Popes in Hell deal.

Of course I've been overtly trusting of Catholicism throughout this whole thing. Maybe the Catholics are lying or mistaken, maybe God just gave us Christ as the Word of God, and scripture is a good guess (this would be the logical conclusion as the canon of scripture was decided by Catholic councils), and we all are just supposed to enjoy ourselves. I don't think so though, it seems to easy.

I saw a group on facebook with a title like 'I love Allah and hope he forgives me', and I thought, hmm, that could be a Catholic title for a group probably. Is all we have hope that Christ will have merited our forgiveness? I guess. So I'm feeling very Islamic today. Strangely all the guilt and fear of Hell does little to nothing to abate my oncoming sins for today. They will occur as sure as the Sun will set and rise again, and I am left in this Manichean world of corruptness, and sin, in hope of grace.

The Calvinist preacher Jonathon Edwards wrote a sermon called 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God' and I quite like it, he wrote "Therefore let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come". ... I just spent half an hour trying to find this quote to end on, but I can't find it, so I leave you with Jon Edwards (I think one of the most overrated writers ever, but that's just opinion).

So the Protestant tells me to awake and fly to Christ, and the Catholic tells me: "Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus" ... Outside the Church, there is no Salvation.