Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Warning Others of the Disease of Sin, or the Dangers of False Charity

If you had a friend who was oblivious to the fact that he was dying of an easily-treatable disease, would you warn him?  Would you, perhaps, do even better than that, and tell him how to get treatment?  Certainly, I'd hope so.  Otherwise, what sort of friend are you? And ideally, you could even bring yourself to tell a stranger, if you knew that their life depended on it.  Hopefully, it wouldn't matter to you if society viewed it as "bad manners" to bring up the topic of disease or medicine.

An "easily-treated disease" is how William Lane Craig suggests we look at the disease of sin, and I think he's absolutely right.  All of us know people we think might be dead and dying in their sins, people we love, and don't want to see end up in Hell. (Hopefully, we don't even want to see our enemies end up in Hell).  But for a number of reasons -- cowardice, a false sense of humility (Oh, what do I know about the Gospel?), and a false sense of charity -- too many of us refrain.  Without much effort, I can think of situations, and particular people who I wish I would have told about the Gospel or confronted about their sins.  I imagine with a moment's hesitation, most of you reading this could think of a similar list.

We're told it's bad manners to talk about sin and Hell - so be it.  We'll just have bad manners, then.  Christ tells us to take up our Cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23), and that "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10). If the worst thing we face is being frowned upon by society, that's a tiny Cross and a pitiful persecution.  The Fathers who brought us the Gospel endured torture, death, and public humiliation.  We can't endure bad manners?

Or, like the devil in Matthew 4:1-11, those who oppose talking about sin and Hell will misuse Scripture.  Particularly, they'll cite to Matthew 7:1-5, which famously says:
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.
People frequently distort this passage to say that we shouldn't judge right from wrong, or those doing good from those doing evil. But only a few verses later, Jesus says, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits" (Mt. 7:15-16a). How are we to determine good fruits from bad, and true men of God from the wolves in sheep's clothing without some form of judgment? Quite simply, we can't.

Certainly, it's not our place to condemn anyone to Hell, or to decide that we're better than our neighbor.  That's the sort of judgment to which we're not permitted. And even when confronting others about sin, it's true that we should assume the best -- assume, for example, that they're not aware that what they're doing displeases God.  Even Matthew 7:5 talks about the need to "cast out the mote of thy brother's eye," just not at the expense of spiritual self-examination.

Amongst Catholics, I find that the hardest people to talk about judgment and Hell with are Protestants.  A Catholic might feel quite comfortable warning an atheist, or some other non-Catholic, that they need to believe in Christ and become Catholic to save their souls.  But to suggest to a Protestant that his salvation is insecure seems like an offense against basic Christian charity. It's not.  Instead, the uncharitable thing to do would be to stay quiet.

In 256 A.D., when St. Cyprian of Carthage wrote, "He cannot have God as a father who does not have the Church as a mother," he wasn't talking about non-Christians, but about those who left the Catholic Church for the various Christian sects.  He accused them of abandoning the Bride of Christ for an adulteress. And in saying this, he's merely repeating what we know from Scripture:

  1. Christ, while on Earth, established a single Church, His Church, upon the rock, Peter (Matthew 16:17-19). 
  2. This Church alone is described as the Body of Christ, and as the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-31).  
  3. To persecute this Church (Acts 8:3) is to persecute Christ (Acts 9:4).
To knowingly reject this Church, is to knowingly reject the Body of Christ, to knowingly reject the Bride of Christ, and to knowingly reject Christ Himself.  If you cannot be saved but through Christ (John 14:6), and Christ is not an adulterer with multiple Brides, then salvation is only through the Church. To choose another church is to set up a false Bride, which is why Cyprian calls it adultery.

Now, it's true that God is All-Merciful, even when we sin (Daniel 9:9), and that He is forgiving of the sins done in ignorance (Acts 17:30).  We would be wrongly judging if we declared those non-Catholics who've perished to be in Hell.  We simply don't know their souls. In speaking of those who can't be reached by the Gospel (those who are dead, for example), we should trust in God's Mercy, and hold out genuine hope for their souls.  But in contrast, we should presume, for Evangelization purposes, that all non-Catholics (and a number of Catholics) are in need of the fullness of the Gospel for their salvation. To fail to Evangelize because we figure God will overlook their sin would be to put Him to the test, and to gamble with another person's soul. 

At the end of the day, God alone knows who is and isn't going to Heaven. But in His Mercy, He's shown us a foolproof path.  If we follow Christ, as members of His Body, the Catholic Church, our salvation is secure.  You don't need to assume the other person's Hell-bound to show them a more perfect way to Heaven.  Even a Protestant already on their way to Heaven will find a more beautiful and a more perfect way through the Catholic Church.  Ask nearly any convert, and you'll hear the same story.  So help guide those you love back on this path, gently and humbly, and your conscience can be clean, knowing you helped shake them of the deadly disease of sin.  And as 1 Peter 3:15-16 tells us,
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. 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, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

36 comments:

  1. Very well said! Too often the falsely charitable among us are a scandal to others as well as to fellow Catholics.

    http://marksheafatphony.blogspot.com/

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  2. Another great article. I only have suspicions about one line at the end this time... "Ask nearly any convert, and you'll hear the same story---That the path to Heaven is more beautiful in the RCC"

    Don't we hear converts to any religion hum that tune? I point you to Theoldadam's comment in the last section where he says his conversion from the RCC to Lutheranism was something he'd do again because it was in line with Truth.

    I believe that I've found "a more beautiful way" to Heaven through the RCC, but I don't think that the feeling is evidence or support of this particular way to Heaven actually being more beautiful.

    People that convert always believe their way is more beautiful and correct...or they wouldn't convert.

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  3. Brock,

    Good points.

    We believe that the Lord can call His people from within any church. His Word is that powerful.

    While we (Lutherans) believe that we know the Truth, we don't believe that we are the only ones who know it, as so many churches believe that they alone have the Truth.

    We believe there are Christians and non-Christians in all churches where Christ's love and forgiveness is proclaimed in some fashion.

    During a BIble study about Mormonism, someone asked my pastor, "Could there be true Christians in the Mormon church?"
    And the pastor said, "Sure. There might even be some here."

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  4. Ulick,

    Did you read the part from Scripture at the end, about doing this "with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience"? Because a blog dedicated to name-calling and reputation smearing is unbecoming to a Christian, regardless of who the target of calumny is. I happen to like Mark Shea's work (particularly his books) quite a bit, but even if I couldn't stand his work, this would be a horrible way to address it.


    Brock,

    That's almost certainly true. But a lot of Catholics are worried about evangelizing to Protestants because we imagine, "since they're so happy where they are, why upset the apple cart? What if we convince them the Church is the True Church, and then they hate it?" My point is that people almost always happier once they make the switch to Catholicism. In both cases, we're dealing with something subjective. I don't think it proves or disproves the truth of Catholicism, but I do think it overcomes one facile objection to inter-Christian Evangelization.


    Old Adam,

    I think your pastor's right. There are almost certainly saved people within Mormonism. But that doesn't make Mormonism, as a Church, correct. The question is really about which visible Church Christ established, and whether He desires all to be part of that Church, not whether it's guaranteed damnation to fail to join.


    Joe.

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  5. oldadam,

    good point, so why not be mormon? also another reason why no one should declare themselves "saved," certainly it seems arrogant that one would cast upon God the requirement they be saved by any action they have taken...

    btw, the catholic church teaches that many churches and "faiths" preach truth, but only one has the fullness of the truth...

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  6. That's where we differ, Joe.

    We aren't so concerned about the visable church, because we know that the "wheat and tares grow together", and because we feel that Christ is the Head of His Church, and not any particular church here on earth.

    I do agree agree with you that good doctrine is important, however, and while I believe that there may be believers in the Mormon church, their goofy theology makes it hard to understand how that could happen were it not for a God that can cut through all that to reach whommever he pleases to reach.

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  7. Old Adam,

    We agree on the "wheat and tares." We should expect that the true Church will contain some who don't seem (and may not be) saved, because that's how Christ describes the Church on Earth. But He also makes clear that this Church is visible.

    God promised to choose our shepherds for us (Jeremiah 23:4), and Jesus establishes a visible hierarchy from the start, with the Apostles. That's significant, because that visible hierarchy contains Judas. At the head of this visible hierarchy is Peter, who Christ specially calls (John 21:15).

    Paul refers to the Church as "the Household of God, which is the Church of the Living God, the Pillar and Foundation of Truth" (1 Timothy 3:15), and we're to shun anyone who ignores the judgments of the visible Church (Mt. 18:17). And Hebrews 13:17 tells us that we need to obey Church authority: "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account."

    So knowing which visible Church Christ founded is absolutely indispensable to following Him as He directs. To ignore the question of the visible Church would be to ignore what Jesus Himself established and ordered us to follow. In Christ,

    Joe.

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  8. Well, we disagree about Peter being the head of His visable Church.

    When Christ said, "upon this rock I will build my Church" we believe He meant Peter's confession of faith..in Christ...and not the man Peter.

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  9. Joe, I'm not sure I'm understanding you compeletely. In essence what I have from you right now is:

    We should evangelize to protestants because when they convert they feel better. Thus, it's for their own benefit that we evangelize.

    If that's the only point you are making I don't mind it, but it also justifies evangelization by every religion.

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  10. @Theoldadam

    Do you know that Peter is the aramaic word for "rock", and it is the first time it was ever recorded that the word "rock" was made a proper name?

    That seems to lend credit to the "rock" meaning more than just the faith of Peter.

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  11. Old Adam,

    Even if it's Peter's confession of faith in Christ, it's still Peter's confession of faith in Christ. He doesn't say He'll build His Church upon anyone who believes. This is an intensely personal blessing. Look at what Jesus says in Mt. 16:17-19:

    1. “Blessed are you,” (singular);
    2. “Simon son of Jonah,” (not just Simon, but Simon bar-Jona);
    3. “for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven” ("you" singular, again);
    4. “And I tell you” (singular);
    5. “that you” (singular);
    6. “are Peter,” (a name meaning Rock, and given only to Peter);
    7. “and on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (upon which rock? Upon this rock, not every rock);
    8. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven;” (you, singular);
    9. “whatever you bind on Earth will be bound in Heaven,” (you, singular);
    10. “and whatever you loose on Earth will be loosed in Heaven.” (you, singular).

    So ten times in the span of three verses Jesus specifies that He's talking to and about Peter individually. Ten times. And we're to think He meant that this was a promise to just anyone?

    I did a five-part series on the role of Peter in Scripture, beginning here:
    http://catholicdefense.blogspot.com/2011/02/pope-peter-part-i-strengthen-thy.html

    You should read it and tell me what you think after you're all done. In Christ,

    Joe.

    P.S. Even if the Church weren't clearly founded on Peter in Matthew 16, you're still faced with the problem of a Christ-established visible Church you're called to be subject to. It wasn't like I hung my hat on Mt. 16:17-19 alone in my last comment.

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  12. i'm begining to think that theoldadam doesn't like me :(

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  13. Brock,

    Yes, I did know that (thanks).

    But we still believe that Peter's confession of faith is the rock. Not the man himself.

    Theologically, in light of the sinful nature of man, and the power of the Word to change hearts and draw His own to Himself, it makes more sense (to us)...not that everything has to make sense.

    And then we look at the long line of Popes and see all that has gone on there. Many were good and quite faithful stewards of God's Word...and others...not so much.

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  14. Brock,

    I'm not meaning to say that. I'm meaning to say something nearer the converse. Catholics who know their religion is true sometimes avoid proclaiming it to well-meaning Protestants for fear that the Protestants won't enjoy Catholicism or get as much out of it spiritually. I'm saying that this objection is false, as converts can attest.

    Clearly, that a religion makes you feel good isn't a sufficient reason to Evangelize. But if that religion is True, the fact that it also is beautiful and makes you feel good is a great bonus, and an added reason to Evangelize. Of course, in an ideal world, people would be concerned with simply pursuing the Truth at all costs. But God doesn't require us to choose between Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. In Christ,

    Joe.

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  15. @theoldadam

    None of us are perfect. Look at David and Soloman... They had many illegitimate practices, but God still upheld his promise to David that Soloman would be king.

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  16. Exactly, Brock.

    That's why we trust alone in the One who is perfect! :D

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  17. Steve / Old Adam,

    The point is, if you reject the Catholic Church because of bad popes, you'd have to reject the twelve Apostles because of Judas. And to reject the Apostles is to reject the One who sent them (see Matthew 10:40; Luke 10:16). You can't separate Jesus from His Bride. In Christ,

    Joe

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  18. Joe,

    I do reject the 12 Apostles as the ones to whom I place my allegiance.

    I love them for the fact that they proclaim Christ and that they are in Christ, as my brothers.

    But (as the Scriptures say)there is One Mediator. There is One Father.

    I don't begrudge you your allegiance to the Pope. Just letting you know my reasons not to go there.

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  19. Matthew 10:40, “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives the One who sent Me.”

    Luke 10:16, “He who listens to you listens to Me; he who rejects you rejects Me; but he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”

    If your understanding of Christ as Sole Mediator means you can't affirm those passages, or fall on the wrong side of them, your understanding is off. But frankly, I'm not sure what you mean by “allegiance.” I mean, Catholics don't view Benedict as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Just as the visible head of the Church established by the Lamb.

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  20. Yes. I believe that Jesus is speaking there about Himself and the Father.

    Our allegiance is to the Word, and the Word alone.

    (because we know where the hearts of men tend to take all of this (towards us, and what WE DO) )

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  21. man, oldadam, won't you just say hello to me?

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  22. scredsoxfan2,

    Sorry about that! I have got so many things cooking and I jump around so much...ah foget it. I have no excuse!

    Maybe it's just that yopur Red Sox beat my Angels like a drum every time they play each other!

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  23. no prob, i can empathize, those dern yanks did it to us for so long...

    best of luck to the angels (the MLB team angels, LOL) this year...

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  24. You guys have given those yanks their comeupance, and that I am grateful!

    But you guys are THE toughest team for the Angels to beat. It's a miracle when the Angels do manage to beat them.

    What's the sc stand for? (if you want to divulge that)

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  25. grew up in south carolina (SC) and am a red sox fan by birth right (dad from Boston), and am the 2nd child...

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  26. Oh... I was certain your tag stood for Scared Sox Fan. Referring to the White Sox being terrified of the Royals of course lol

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  27. The very first time I saw it, I thought your handle meant "Sacred Sox Fan," which seemed like an awfully high view of the Sox, or oneself. It was probably a week before I figured out the South Carolina connection.

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  28. LOL!, Brock! Your Royals take a bite out of my Angels now and then, too!

    scredsoxfan2,

    I thought it might be South Carolina.

    I was hoping (though) it stood for So. Cal...where I live.
    Well, as one sc guy to another...God bless you!

    PS- Manny R. was fun to watch (I also watch the Dodgers) for a little while (until He blew it- again). But you know all about that story.

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  29. scared...of the royals, are you serious? can anyone really be scared by the royals.... ;)

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  30. I dunno...they throw a nice wedding! :)

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  31. oldadam,

    if you get a moment, i did ask a question back over on the other post on how the "robber council" establishes the papacy, and again as a brother in Christ, I am a huge fan of Romans...

    God Bless

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  32. I'll go and check it out.

    I'm running a bit late for work, so my response will be very brief.

    Thanks.

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  33. scredsoxfan2,

    I left a comment over there.

    Gotta get ready for work. This working in a grocery store sure is a glamourous life!

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  34. Often the strongest objection I encounter is pure relativism out of fear of engaging the intellect: that's your truth, but somebody else might believe something different. It's the most stubbornly frustrating, since it says there is no universal truth, while purporting to be one! How do you guys confront such nonsense?

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  35. Actually, your timing is perfect: Carl Olson does a good job addressing this argument in a post he wrote yesterday.

    After Deepak Chopra made the claim, "Once war becomes a clash of absolutes, there is no breathing room for mercy. Absolute truth is blind truth," Olson responded: "Dare I ask: Is that statement absolutely true? Because if it is, it's blind truth. And if it isn't, then it isn't true. And so it goes."

    Also, make sure you watch the video he links to, because it's hilarious: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJXEHAmpJps&feature=player_embedded. To see a supposedly brilliant thinker knocked off his pedestal by some random guy in an audience in 37 seconds... is priceless.

    So relativism is self-refuting. Absolute Truth can be established positively, as well, through three questions:
    (1) Is there a God?
    (2) Has this God chosen to reveal Himself?
    (3) Does this God make exclusive truth claims about Himself?

    Relativists like to say things about how maybe the Trinity to Christians is the same as Brahma to Hindus, but that argument is also easily answered. God, in the Bible, makes clear that He's God alone, that He's immutable, and that He has a particular nature. He can't both be and not be. So you can't coherently confirm self-refuting and contradictory statements about God.

    Either (1) Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6), or (2) He's not the Way, but only a Prophet (the Islamic claim), or (3) He's not the Way, and not even a Prophet (virtually everybody else). Only one of these can be true.

    Ultimately, relativists deny the core claims about Christianity, which means that they're claiming that Christianity is objectively false (not just false to them), meaning they're not really relativists, but something else: generally agnostics with a poor grasp of logic.

    In Christ,

    Joe

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