Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why Are Catholics So "Cold?"

Over Memorial Day weekend, I went with a friend of mine to Shenandoah, Virginia, and then to Oak Hill, West Virginia.  We went to Mass at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church.  It was an enlightening experience for me, and I'm very glad that I went. I'll get to why in a moment.

I. The Problem

One of the common frustrations that people have with Catholic parishes is that they seem impersonal.  Let me give three examples of what I see Protestants doing that I largely haven't been seeing Catholics do:
  • A woman that I know has been church-shopping at various Baptist churches in northern Virginia. At more than one of the churches she went to, the pastor asked if there were any visitors, people went out their way to greet her and introduce her to other people, and they gave away free gifts.  In one case, she filled out a visitor card, and by that afternoon, had a package of goodies on her doorstep. 
  • Another woman I know told me about how the pastor of the church she grew up in will travel up every season to change the flowers by the roadside where her aunt died in a car wreck.  
  • When I was looking online on Google Maps for Catholic churches in northern Virginia, I came across Christ the King, which has this offer: "For six weeks we will gather with friends and neighbors for an honest and open conversation about life, meaning, and the basic tenants of the Christian faith. We will be at the Royal Restaurant (734 N. St. Asaph St.) on Wednesdays 6:30-8:00 p.m., from May 18th through June 22nd. For our first gathering, we'll pick up the tab for dinner! For more information, contact Christ the King's office at 703-535-6815." I was surprised and pleased to see a Catholic church doing this sort of outreach... at which point I realized that Christ the King is Anglican.
I'm not saying that every Catholic parish has to do any or all of the above. But I am saying that the fact that Protestants tend to do these sort of things more than we do makes the lot of us Catholics seem spiritually lukewarm, and personally cold.

II. The Roots of the Problem

I think that reputation is at least partially unfair.  I have a few reasons for thinking this. The first is simply that  I've gotten to know priests personally.  Northern Virginia has some of the finest priests in the country, hands down -- the seminary she draws from was recently profiled by an Evangelical as "a visit to Heaven," and he was wowed by the sanctity of the young men he found there.  These seminarians and priests aren't uncaring: in fact, many of them push themselves to their breaking point trying to care for their flocks.  

Second, there's the nature of the Mass vis-à-vis Protestant worship services. At Mass, we believe that we experience and encounter Jesus Christ in the Flesh, in a totally unique way in the Eucharist. We don't just come together to lift our prayers to Heaven (although we do that as well), but we partake of Him here. The worship space of the Church is a sort of hallowed ground.  When you're face-to-face with God Himself, it's unreasonable to ask that you chit-chat with your neighbor.  While small talk on the street is often a very Christian form of outreach, when you're kneeling before the divine, such small talk seems insulting to God, rather than friendly.

Finally, there's the cold, hard data, which paints quite a picture. Nearly all my life, I've lived in big city parishes.  The diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, where I grew up, has 97 parishes and missions serving over 134,000 Catholics.  The diocese of Arlington, where I live now, has 74 parishes and missions, serving roughly 450,000 Catholics. The archdiocese of Washington, where I work, has over 140 parishes serving over 580,000 Catholics, with Mass in twenty different languages. That means that for every church or mission in Arlington, there are roughly six thousand Catholics. And that's on average: inside the city itself, you've got the more populous churches, and the churches with a large influx of tourists and visitors.  To put those numbers in perspective, the Baptist church in that first example which hand-delivered a goody basket, had roughly 40 members. 

Now, granted, all of the numbers above are based upon diocesan self-reporting, and I imagine that the number of Catholics in the pews on any given Sunday is far smaller.  But even adjusting for that, the point remains: Catholic priests in bigger cities tend to be swamped with parishioners, to say nothing of the tourists, the Catholics from out of town, and the non-Catholics who may be exploring the Catholic church, or visiting with friends. Speaking personally, I can attest that this creates a very different dynamic.  It's easy to welcome someone new to men's group, since it's tiny, and we know who's new. It's not easy to do the same at Mass -- is this someone who's new, or who you just don't recognize? I'm far more hesitant to strike up a conversation with some random pew-sitter than I am with a new guy at men's group, and I imagine that other Catholics are the same way.  To those Christians used to tiny churches, this comes off as cold.  (I think something similar may partially account for why people from rural areas often find city dwellers rude, although there's also a genuine rudeness that goes with the anonymity of a big city).

III. The Catholic Church for "Mountain Folk"

That's why it was nice to get to Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic church out in Oak Hill, West Virginia. It has a tiny congregation (West Virginia's not very Catholic), with a fair amount of visitors, since it's near the New River Gorge. The priest is one Fr. Paul Yuenger, and he seems to be a perfect fit for the congregation. His weekly column in the bulletin, depicting him in a cowboy hat, answers questions about the Catholic faith ranging from annulments to apostolic succession. Every Saturday, they have "Scripture sharing" at the local Bob Evans, with the instruction to "bring a Bible and a friend"! And on Sunday mornings before Mass, they have an adult Bible study. 

When my friend and I went, the priest made a point at the end of Mass to invite all the visitors to pick up a gift on the way out of Mass. The gift, it turned out, was a small plastic rosary, with a little card with the name of the church, and a message that we were in their prayers.  In the back of the church, we were warmly greeted by one of the parishioners, who asked us all about our trip. Since we had a long drive ahead of us, we didn't stay long, but the sidewalk outside of church was full of parents chatting, and children playing and ringing the church bells. 

My point in mentioning all of this is that I suspect that if Catholic parishes were as small as the Protestant churches I described above, they'd seem more outgoing. The fact that small Catholic groups (like prayer groups and mission trips) are outgoing suggests this, as does the presence of small, outgoing Catholic churches like Sts. Peter and Paul.  I don't mean to suggest that we Catholics have nothing to worry about. But I do mean to suggest that much of the solution may be as simple as trying to form smaller Church groups, rather than trying to jettison those Catholic distinctives which often take the blame.


*The "mountain folk" reference comes from this charming statute outside of the church. It's St. Joseph, and reads: "JOSEPH, PATRON SAINT OF WEST VIRGINIA, SPECIAL CHAMPION OF ALL WORKERS, AND OF US MOUNTAIN FOLK."



Friday, May 27, 2011

Prayers for the Dead: Memorial Day in 2 Maccabees

Since this Monday is Memorial Day, I thought it would be fitting to talk briefly about prayers for the dead.  This is particularly so since the most explicit Scriptural depiction of prayers for the dead involves praying for the souls of dead soldiers.  It comes from 2 Maccabees 12:38-46:
Judas rallied his army and went to the city of Adullam. As the week was ending, they purified themselves according to custom and kept the sabbath there. On the following day, since the task had now become urgent, Judas and his men went to gather up the bodies of the slain and bury them with their kinsmen in their ancestral tombs.

But under the tunic of each of the dead they found amulets sacred to the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. So it was clear to all that this was why these men had been slain. They all therefore praised the ways of the Lord, the just judge who brings to light the things that are hidden.

Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. The noble Judas warned the soldiers to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice.

In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.
It's a moving passage. Judas has lead his army in battle, and discovers afterwards that God permitted some of the Israelites to be killed in battle, since they'd been wearing idolatrous amulets.  This scene alone captures a strange contradiction: on the one hand, these men died fighting for God and Israel; on the other hand, they still clung to superstition and idolatry.

I'm reminded that Joe Feuerherd, the publisher of The National Catholic Reporter, died of cancer yesterday morning.  I've made it clear in the past that I think that much of the Reporter's  agenda is not just wrong, but heretical. But while Feuerherd may have clung to some heresies (and I can't say even that much, since I know next to nothing of the man), he lived a life dedicated in some way to God, and Katherine Jean Lopez's moving tribute makes clear that this was a man motivated by charity.  Our job isn't to sort of the contradictions of human existence, or to guess how God might judge the moral gray areas in each other's lives. Our job here is to pray for both the living and, in a particular way, the dead.

I'm aware that some Protestants will reject 2 Maccabees, because they don't see it in their Bible.  I would say only this in response:
  1. On what basis can you show that 2 Maccabees isn't Scripture?  I've mentioned before nobody in the Early Church thought the 66-Book Protestant canon was the correct canon of Scripture. So if Protestants can't show why their own canon is right, I don't see how that's a basis for rejecting 2 Maccabees.
  2. 2 Maccabees was believed to be inspired Scripture by the early Church. It's affirmed as canonical by Origen, Augustine, Jerome, and a lot of other Fathers. Are there any reasons for believing we know better than them on this issue?
  3. There's sound reason to believe Jesus treated 1 and 2 Maccabees as Scripture. The Jewish holiday Hanukkah celebrates the Maccabees' re-dedication of the Temple. Both First and Second Maccabees call for it to be celebrated, and these are the only Scriptures which do so (remember, the Talmud and Mishnah weren't written yet, and were never considered Scripture).  And we see Jesus Christ Himself celebrating Hanukkah in John 10:22.  
  4. Even if it isn't Scripture, it's still true. Even if one refuses to accept the Second Book of Maccabees as inspired Scripture, that doesn't mean the Book is false. If you don't want to treat it as Scripture, at least treat it as a history book.  And it shows that the pious Jews of Israel believed in praying for the dead. Judas Maccabbeus calls for the praying, and there are no signs that anyone thinks this is strange.  The author of 2 Maccabees even talks about how this practice proves that there's an afterlife, something rejected by many of the Jews who rejected these Books (Luke 20:27). So the controversial part wasn't that Judas was praying for the dead, but that there was an afterlife.
  5. Even if it were false, it'd still tell us something.  Even if the author of 2 Maccabees were completely making up this account, we'd still be able to tell that some of the Jews before Christ believed in praying for the dead.  After all, the author explicitly praises the practice.
So praying for the dead was done prior to the time of Christ, and the early Church continued the practice, and there's no hint in Scripture that it's somehow immoral or wrong.  Beyond that, there are plenty of hints of it throughout the New Testament.  For example, when Paul writes to Timothy, in 2 Timothy 4:19, he says:
Greet Priscilla and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus.
It's somewhat remarkable that while he tells Paul to greet Priscilla and Aquila, he doesn't tell him to greet Oneisphorus, only to greet that man's household.  While it's not 100% clear, this seems to suggest that Onesiphorus is now dead, something made more clear a few chapters earlier (2 Timothy 1:16-18):
May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.
So there are references to greeting Onesiphorus's family, while Onesiphorus himself is described in the past tense ("he often refreshed me").  This is followed by what looks very much like a prayer for his departed soul: "May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day!" It's possible that's not what's going on here. Neither Paul, nor apparently any other New Testament writer, felt that it was necessary to write on whether or not to pray for the dead.  But given that the early Christians (and the Jews before them) did pray for the dead, this silence seems to suggest their approval.

Of course, it's much easier to simply say that 2 Maccabees is part of the Bible, and shows quite clearly that it is "holy and pious" to pray for the dead. So this Memorial Day, offer up a few prayers for those who died defending our freedom (and the freedom of others), as well as for all of the recently departed, including Joe Feuerherd. May the Lord grant that they will find mercy from the Lord on that day!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What Scripture Says About Using Relics

A while back, a Protestant friend of mine wanted to understand what relics were, and how it was different than magic or idolatry.  I think the Catholic belief in relics can be traced to Scripture and to the earliest days of the Church, so I thought I'd do my best to lay that out today.

What Does the Church Teach?

To begin with, what does the Church teach about relics? So far I know, the Catechism has only one entry that mentions them, and it says:
1674 Besides sacramental liturgy and sacramentals, catechesis must take into account the forms of piety and popular devotions among the faithful. The religious sense of the Christian people has always found expression in various forms of piety surrounding the Church's sacramental life, such as the veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the stations of the cross, religious dances, the rosary, medals, etc.
In other words, relics are one way of drawing us closer to God.  We're not saying that the veneration of relics is indispensable to salvation, and we're not saying that you should (or may) worship relics.  “Veneration,”  called dulia in the Latin, is a sort of religious honor, the way we're humbled by manifestations of holiness.

Think about it this way.  There are folks in this world who you'd be humbled to be next to -- the folks you consider your personal heroes.  That's not a bad thing -- in fact, it's a sign of humility. Of course, it can be a bad thing, if your heroes are bad role models. But with the Saints, the Church points us towards heroes of the faith, something of a Hall of Fame of those who have run the race before us.  This is all very Scriptural: Hebrews 11 does the example same thing with the heroes of the Old Testament, declaring that “the world was not worthy of them” (Heb. 11:38).  That is, Hebrews 11 praises both God working through the Saints, and the Old Testament Saints themselves.

So that sense of wonderment -- where we see the work of God lived out in a person's life, and we honor and respect that -- that's probably the best way I can describe “veneration.” I should also point out that Catholics venerate the Holy Bible. We don't think it's God, obviously, but we recognize that God is at work in the Bible in a unique way, distinct even from how He's at work in the lives of the Saints. I suspect that most Protestants venerate saints and the Bible in their own private way, they just don't call it that.

So with relics, we've got the same thing. These are the bones, clothes, etc., of the great Saints who have gone to God before us. But beyond simply being an object of religious honor, to remind us of God's work in the world, and those who have gone before us in Faith, we believe that miracles can actually happen through the use of relics.  It's this last belief that gets labeled as idolatry or superstition, so let's see what the Bible has to say.

What Does Scripture Say About Relics?

(1) The starting point for an examination of Scripture on this point should be Acts 19:11-12:
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.
That's what Catholics believe about relics, nothing more, nothing less.  Look at the elements:

  1. The objects in question are handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him,” what Catholics would call Paul's relics.
  2. These relics are producing miraculous healings, without Paul doing anything.
  3. These healings are still a way that God performed extraordinary miracles through Paul.” 
  4. These are actual miracles, not simply some placebo effect.
So the first thing we can say is that what Catholics believe about relics seems very much to be how Scripture describes relics. There are people healed because they got to touch a relic of St. Paul's. But why does God do this? I think that there's a hint in the fact that these are counted as “extraordinary miracles through Paul.”  It's a sign of God's favor on a particular Saint.  One of the ways we determine if a given person is in Heaven is if God performs miracles when we pray to that person. If He does, it seems to confirm that His favor is upon them, just as the Resurrection showed that the Father's favor was upon Jesus Christ.  Finally, though, the fact that Paul doesn't actually do the miracle -- God does -- shows that while the Saints are honored and blessed by God, He's still the one in the driver's seat. The Saints lead us to God, and always refused any attempt to be made into gods themselves (see Acts 14:11-15).

(2) But these miraculous relics weren't limited to Paul. In Acts 5:12-16, we hear
The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 
As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.
Again, we see the same thing: a relic of the Saints (here, the mere shadow of Peter) brings about innumerable blessings, miracles, and healings.And the reason is for the same reason that the Apostles were performing “signs and wonders among the people.” It showed that these men come from God, and that their message is true.

(3) We see this in the life of Christ Himself. Mark 5:25-34:
And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak,  because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” 
“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
This is a very different miracle from the ones we're used to.  Here, simply touching the clothing of Christ heals this woman, before He's even aware that she's there. Mark actually makes a point of including the fact that He felt the power go out from Him, but still asked who it was who had touched Him.  And Jesus ascribes the healing to the woman's faith, although it's clear that His own power is the operative power of healing.  She's got the faith to believe that simply to touch something worn by Christ is sufficient to be healed.  Some Protestants consider that superstition, but our Lord apparently does not.

(4) Go back to the Old Testament, to Elisha. 2 Kings 13:20-21 says,
Elisha died and was buried. Now Moabite raiders used to enter the country every spring. Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet.
This passage is important, because it shows that the Saint isn't actively performing these, in the way that other miracles are performed. Even after Elisha's dead, God works through him.  That's the reason relics work, at the end of the day: because God wills to use all sorts of things to bring about healing and salvation.  But He doesn't choose randomly - in every case, it's either been His Son or the Saints who He works through.

(5) Finally, we know that the early Church used relics, as well.  That is, just as Elisha's bones show that healing relics pre-date the New Testament, the early Church shows that they continue on after the New Testament. Let's take just a couple example.  First, through Eusebius (c. 263-339 A.D.) and Caius (early 200s), we know that the early Church kept the “trophies” of St. Peter and St. Paul in the Vatican.

St. Augustine, beloved by Catholics and Protestants alike, said that in Book XXII, Chapter 8 of City of God that:
For even now miracles are wrought in the name of Christ, whether by His sacraments or by the prayers or relics of His saints; but they are not so brilliant and conspicuous as to cause them to be published with such glory as accompanied the former miracles.
That's pretty clear.  Likewise, St. Ambrose of Milan, writing in the latter half of the fourth century, wrote:
For after I had dedicated the basilica, many, as it were, with one mouth began to address me, and said: Consecrate this as you did the Roman basilica. And I answered: "Certainly I will if I find any relics of martyrs." And at once a kind of prophetic ardour seemed to enter my heart.

Why should I use many words? God favoured us, for even the clergy were afraid who were bidden to clear away the earth from the spot before the chancel screen of SS. Felix and Nabor. I found the fitting signs, and on bringing in some on whom hands were to be laid, the power of the holy martyrs became so manifest, that even whilst I was still silent, one was seized and thrown prostrate at the holy burial-place.
The first paragraph refers to a Catholic practice - in consecrating a Church, we embed the relics of a Saint. As you can see, this custom is not new.  A little later, in the same letter, Ambrose writes:
On the following day we translated the relics to the basilica called Ambrosian. During the translation a blind man was healed [...] They [the Arians] deny that the blind man received sight, but he denies not that he is healed. He says: I who could not see now see. He says: I ceased to be blind, and proves it by the fact.
So relics were widely used, venerated (there are folks falling prostrate!), and are bringing about miraculous cures. What we see is that from the Old Testament, down through the New, through the times of the early Church, all the way to the present, the same central things have been believed about relics. Catholics simply conform with this Scriptural belief.  It's not idolatry or superstition. It's good old-fashioned Bible religion.

Finally, note that Catholic Answers has a great list of early Church writings about post-Apostolic miracles, some of which involve relics, here; and a helpful entry on relics here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why Liberal Scholars Are Wrong on John 21 and Luke 5

I've mentioned before that the New American Bible has some extremely sketchy footnotes. By buying into liberal theology, the original NAB editors slip in all sorts of absurdities into the footnotes. Let's take a concrete example of this -- John 21. First, some Scriptural background:
  • In Luke 5, as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1), He commissions Peter to cast his nets into the water (Luke 5:4). Peter does, and despite having had no luck catching anything all night (Luke 5:5), in obeying Christ, they bring in an enormous catch of fish, which begins to tear the nets (Luke 5:6). Peter then says to Christ, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Jesus then calls Peter to become a fisher of men (Luke 5:10). Peter is with James and John and unnamed others when this occurs (Luke 5:9-10).
  • Then you have John 21:1-19, the post-Resurrection appearance of Christ to the Apostles “by the Sea of Galilee” while “Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee's sons, and two others of His disciples” (John 21:2) are fishing.  After an unsuccessful night of fishing Christ tells them to cast their nets over the right side of the boat, and they catch such a large amount of fish that they can't bring it in  (John 21:6). Later, Christ commissions Peter to bring in the net, and he's able to do it single-handedly (John 21:10-11).  I've looked at the implications of this before. But Christ segues to His commission of Peter as shepherd of the sheep (John 21:15-17).

There's a lot of theological meat there to chew on. Christ has made Himself manifest in a way that reminds the Apostles, and particularly Peter, of their original agreement: to become fishers of men.  He then show Peter that not only does he need to Evangelize (that is, "catch" the fish), but he has to lead as a Pastor (to continually tend and care for the sheep).  The first event is foreshadowing the second, but they're clearly two separate events.

Nevertheless, the NAB is convinced that this means it must be the same event. The footnotes says:
There are many non-Johannine peculiarities in this chapter, some suggesting Lucan Greek style; yet this passage is closer to John than John 7:53-8:11. There are many Johannine features as well. Its closest parallels in the synoptic gospels are found in Luke 5:1-11 and Matthew 14:28-31. Perhaps the tradition was ultimately derived from John but preserved by some disciple other than the writer of the rest of the gospel. The appearances narrated seem to be independent of those in John 20. Even if a later addition, the chapter was added before publication of the gospel, for it appears in all manuscripts.
And:
This may be a variant of Luke's account of the catch of fish; see the note on Luke 5:1-11.
It's an outrageous statement. It's only a variant if John or Luke is lying, since they both specify the time and place, and they don't match up. Nor would this be a mistake. The whole point in John 21 is that it's a Resurrection appearance of Christ, while in Luke 5, it's Jesus at the very start of His ministry.

Besides being faithless, it's silly. They're i at different times (start of Jesus' ministry v. after His Resurrection), with different people, and while the nets begin to tear in Luke 5:6, John says that the nets don't tear at all in John 21:11.  Virtually none of the details are the same other than: they're fishing, and after Christ miraculously causes a great catch of fish, He uses this as a metaphor for Evangelization -- and specifically Peter's role as earthly head of the Church.

But none of this is surprising or requires a conspiracy theory, since four of the Apostles are fishermen, including Peter. You might as well assert that any story that someone says happened "while I was at work" must have happened on the same day as all of their other work stories.  Fishing is Peter's job.  And the connection between fishing and Evangelization is an obvious metaphor for Christ to pick up upon: there are numerous fishing and shepherding references in the Gospels. Besides that, Christ builds upon the fishing metaphor here in a way He doesn't in Luke 5.  It's much more sensible to view John 21 as a fulfillment of Luke 5, in the same way that the Crucifixion is a fulfillment of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, rather than the same story.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Harold Camping, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Population Bombers: Fool Me Once...

I'd been looking forward to being able to say that Harold Camping had done the manly and Christian thing by boldly facing his arrogant mistake.  He presumed to know the mind of God, when Christ clearly describes the time and date of the End Times as concealed from man and known only by the Father (Mt. 24:36).  Much of what Camping does is good, so if he could get back on his feet after this, he could actually end up helping the Kingdom of God.  Instead, we got this:
Judgment Day forecaster points to new doomsday date
Now, Camping's old timeline was:
  • May 21, 2011: Judgment Day. Massive Earthquakes, the saved are raptured up to Heaven.
  • May 22 - October 20, 2011: Hell on Earth.  Nobody can be saved.
  • October 21, 2011: The End of the World.
Camping's new timeline is:
  • May 21, 2011: Judgment Day. Now we know, Camping says, that it was just Invisible.
  • May 22 - October 20, 2011: Plain Ol' Earth.
  • October 21, 2011: End of the World. The rapture has been rescheduled.
In fairness to Camping, October 21 was always an important date in his eschatology, so it's not like he's pulling a date out of thin air.  This is a date he "calculated" some time ago.  It just turns out that nothing he's forecasted is coming true.  Because he (again, quite arrogantly) assumes that God Himself endorses Camping's invented eschatology, he's convinced the model must just need some slight tinkering.  He's actually declared, “We had all of our dates correct.”


The reason that Camping's eschatology bugs me is four-fold:
  1. It's arrogant. It presumes to know the mind of God, and it boldly charges into the one area He makes clear is off-limits, making the same mistake of Adam and Eve.
  2. It's not really Scriptural.  That is, it tries to use Scripture just as a history book so it can run some calculations off of a few eschatological prophesies.  Every one of the failed Doomsday Prophets does this. They assign specific year to Biblical events (even though the Bible doesn't actually give us that level of detail), and then decide how long the world will last, before coming to a date that always happens to be in the near future. So they're not really reading the Bible to come to better know Christ, but to just figure out when some events occurred to put into their mathematical model. Scripture serves virtually no purpose apart from a history text, and it can be used interchangably with, say, the writings of Josephus.
  3. It makes Christianity look stupid.  The media, and particularly professional atheists, like to treat this fringe as if it were what Christianity is all about. Christians feel compelled to side with either nasty secularists or clearly-wrong Rapture believers.
  4. It's a spiritual hazard.  The reason God doesn't provide us with the end date is that we could die at any time. Each year, roughly 57 million people die. To put this in context: Camping claimed that only three percent of the world would be raptured, about 200 million people. His first false prediction (Judgment Day in 1994) dates back to 1992.  That means that since Camping started falsely predicting  that 200 million people would be raptured, approximately 1.08 billion (with a B) people have left the Earth the old-fashioned way.  That's the equivalent of roughly one out of six people currently living, and it surely includes a good chunk of Camping's flock.  While they were eating, drinking, and being merry in preparation for the May 21 Rapture, many of them, and those around them were dying. Read Luke 12:16-21, and tell me whether you think God wants us to speculate as to the End Times, or just be ready to go whenever it happens.


The fact that Camping's speaking of an Invisible Judgment Day is ominous. This was how Jehovah's Witnesses rationalized Charles Taze Russell's false prophesy that the Second Coming and the end of the Age of the Gentiles would come be on October 1, 1914. After they moved the date a few times (up through 1935), they eventually declared that the End Times actually began in 1914.  But invisibly. They point to World War I as a turning point in human history, because there were wars and famines... but the Great War started months before the all-important October 1 date, and the most notorious elements of industrialized warfare preceded that war by decades (there were Gatling guns in the Civil War, and concentration camps in the Second Boer War). As for famines, the Chalisa famine killed 11 million people... back in the 1700s.

What Camping is heading for is a totally non-falsifiable theory, like the sort the Jehovah's Witnesses have. No amount of evidence can disprove that last Saturday was an Invisible Judgment Day, just as no amount of evidence can disprove that October 1, 1914 wasn't the end of the Age of the Gentiles. Sure, there's absolutely no evidence for either assertion, but look at the mathematical model!  James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal points out an interesting parallel between religious doomsday false prophets like Harold Camping, and their environmental doomsday false prophet counterparts:
Something else bothers us about the media mockery of Harold Camping, as justifiable as it may be. Why are only religious doomsday cultists subjected to such ridicule? Reuters notes that "Camping previously made a failed prediction Jesus Christ would return to Earth in 1994." Ha ha, you can't believe anything this guy says! But who jeered at the U.N.'s false prediction that there would be 50 million "climate refugees" by 2010? We did, but not Reuters.
I'd add to the list of environmental doomsday prophets the Population Bomb theorists, like Paul Ehrlich, who famously predicted that throughout the 1970s and 80s "hundreds of millions" of people would starve to death, and that,  "If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000." In fact, virtually every prediction Ehrlich made was proven false, as I describe here.  What happened to this absurd false prophet?  He was awarded a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award for promoting "greater public understanding of environmental problems" in 1990, after nearly all of his prophesies had already been debunked.  Like Camping and the UN's chicken-little wing, whenever a doomsdate date would come and go, Ehrlich would claim he just needed to tinker with a model, but the Big Doom was coming... and soon!

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Holy Trinity and the Church: You Can't Have One Without the Other

Jesus and the Father: Distinct, but Inseparable

Yesterday's Gospel is a great one, and one line of it is pretty famous. It's John 14:1-12, in which Jesus said to His Disciples:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in Me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to Myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way.”

Thomas said to Him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you know Me, then you will also know My Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.”

Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know Me, Philip? Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say,‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own. The Father who dwells in Me is doing his works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in Me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”
This concept that Jesus and God the Father are inseparable is something He comes back to repeatedly.  Note what He's not saying: that He and the Father are indistinguishable.  There's a heresy, called Modalism or Sabellianism, that says the Trinity is simply One Person operating under different forms or masks: that God the Father is God the Son is God the Holy Spirit.  This is false.  In fact, Jesus begins this teaching by distinguishing Himself from His Father: “You have faith in God; have faith also in Me.” So you can coherently speak of the Father and the Son as distinct Persons of the Trinity.  But the fact that they are distinct and distinguishable does not mean that they can be severed. Jesus makes it clear to Philip that you can't have Jesus without the Father, or the Father without Jesus.  The Trinity is a package deal.

God and the Church: Distinct, but Inseparable

So far, everything I've said it pretty non-controversial to mainstream Christians.  But what Catholics see Christ doing in Scripture is drawing the Church into that package deal. And this is problematic for those folks who claim that they've got such a great relationship with Jesus that they don't need the Church. Let's look at the Scriptural evidence.  First, there's Luke 16:10, where Jesus says to the seventy-two, “Whoever listens to you listens to Me; whoever rejects you rejects Me; but whoever rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” So just as you can't reject Jesus without rejecting the Father, you can't reject the Church without rejecting Jesus.  That's a straightforward, but provocative, claim.

Next, there's John 17. Like John 14, this is from the Last Supper discourse, in which Jesus imparts some final words of wisdom before His Death.  By John 17, however, He's switched from speaking to the Apostles to praying for them, and in doing so, prays for us as well:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and You in Me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.

Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory You have given Me because You loved Me before the creation of the world.
Righteous Father, though the world does not know You, I know You, and they know that You have sent Me. I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love You have for Me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
That's pretty blatant, and pretty extreme: “May they also be in Us” is a radical prayer for God the Son to ask of God the Father.  It's easy to gloss over it in when we read this just as a prayer for unity. It's something far beyond that.

There are a variety of other passages on point, too.  Paul describes the relationship between Christ and the Church as that of a Husband and Wife who have become One Flesh, then summarizes it as a “profound Mystery,” the Greek word for sacrament (Eph. 5:32).  Elsewhere, He describes the Church as Christ's own Body (1 Cor. 12:27).  This last analogue is a helpful one for understanding the Mystery. We can distinguish between ourselves and our bodies - we can have a willing spirit and an exhausted body, for example (Mark 14:38) - but we can't be separated from our bodies during our time on Earth. Where we go, our body goes.  You and your body are a package deal, and your body is a part of who you are.

That's why when Saul “began to destroy the Church” (Acts 8:3), Christ says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:4), and says of Himself: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” So you can't persecute the Church without persecuting Christ.  Scripture's pretty clear, then. Just as you can't accept Jesus or the Father, and reject the other, neither can you accept God or the Church and reject the other.  Jesus has drawn the Church into the Trinity, into the Us He refers to in John 17.

The early Church was also really clear on this point.  Notice that the first passage above  is where Jesus famously calls Himself, “The Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). Then look at what the early Christians called themselves: “The Way” (Acts 19:9; Acts 24:14; Acts 24:22). So from the time of the Apostles, the Church was declaring Herself indispensable to salvation. To reject the Church is to reject the Way, the only way to the Father.

What Specific Role Does the Church Play? Our Mother.

So what role does the Church play in salvation, then? The clearest answer comes from Revelation 12:1-2. There we see a Woman enthroned in Heaven with a crown of twelve stars -- the Woman who gave birth to Christ. Catholics view this as a symbol of both Mary and the Church, just as the twelve stars represent both the tribes of Israel and the Disciples (Luke 22:29-30). The Woman is the enemy of the devil, identified here as a dragon (see Genesis 3:15), and we're told: “Then the dragon was enraged at the Woman and went off to wage war against the rest of Her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.” So the devout followers of Christ are considered children of the Woman. This is one reason why Catholics refer to “Mother Mary” and “Mother Church” - it's how Scripture describes our relationship with Mary and the Church! Again, this is all very much the teaching of the early Church.  St. Cyprian of Carthage, who lived in the first half of the 200s (dying in 258 A.D.), famously wrote, “he can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his Mother.

Which Church?

The early Church was clear about what She meant by “Church.” Cyprian, in the same treatise I just quoted, explains that while all Twelve were Apostles, Peter was specially chosen by Christ, “that He might set forth unity, He arranged by His authority the origin of that unity, as beginning from one.” In support, he quotes Matthew 16:18-19 and John 21:15.  Cyprian's point seems irrefutible: if the earthly Church has numerous authorities of equal rank, there can be no lasting unity. If there were even two earthly heads of the Church, there would come a point at which the two men couldn't agree on a direction, and the Church would split. Optatus of Milevis, writing in the 360s, makes the same point in Chapter 1 of Book II of Against the Donatists:
You cannot then deny that you do know that upon Peter first in the City of Rome was bestowed the Episcopal Cathedra, on which sat Peter, the Head of all the Apostles (for which reason he was called Cephas), that, in this one Cathedra, unity should be preserved by all, lest the other Apostles might claim----each for himself----separate Cathedras, so that he who should set up a second Cathedra against the unique Cathedra would already be a schismatic and a sinner.
Other Fathers say the exact same thing -- the Church to which they refer is that One headed by the successor of Peter, the Catholic Church.  She is the Way, indispensable to salvation, by the mysterious design of God.

What Does All of this Mean?

What this means is that everyone who have ever been saved is saved is saved by Jesus Christ through His Catholic Church. So those who reject the Catholic Church reject God, while those who accept God accept the Catholic Church. This is a two-way street, and it leaves open the question of those who try to have Christ without the Catholic Church.  Christ captures this tension well, in Matthew 12:30 and Luke 11:23 declaring that those who are not with Him are against Him, and in Luke 9:50 and Mark 9:40 declaring that those who are not against us are with us.

Just as those Old Testament Jews who earnestly sought after God the Father were unknowingly following God the Son, so too there are those whose union with Jesus brings them into a union they don't recognize with the Catholic Church. And just as God promised in the Old Covenant to count the faithful Gentiles as Israelites (Psalm 87:4-6, Hosea 1:11), the same is true in the New Covenant (Romans 9:25).  As Catholics, we should pray for our Orthodox and Protestant separated brethren in Christ that they are both (a) drawn into formal union with the Catholic Church, and (b) counted by God as members of His Catholic Church in spite of themselves.

Finally, remember the example of St. Paul.  As a Pharisee, he was killing Christians out of a misguided zeal for God.  In His Justice, God could have damned him.  He wasn't just anti-Catholic, but murderously so.  But instead, Jesus Christ showed His Mercy on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. We shouldn't write anybody off, no matter how anti-Catholic they seem. God knows their heart, and the motives for their actions.

If you want more on these subjects, I've written at greater length elsewhere on salvation outside of the Church, the Church as the Body and Bride of Christ, and the Woman in Revelation 12.

Update: It turns out, Carl Olson beat me to the punch with a better article.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Live-Blogging the "Apocalypse"

Since today is the day that the Family Radio folks is the Rapture, I thought I'd keep a tab on what happens (or more importantly, doesn't) today, and I'll be listening in to Family Radio (you can listen to it, live, here). I'll try and update it throughout the day.  All times are Eastern Standard Time:

1:14 AM - It's currently 6:14 PM in Tonga.  If Family Radio were correct, we'd expect to hear reports of Raptured Tongans.

1:19 AM - This is a bit surreal.  The East Coast station is running a program about heart health, and how to reduce your cholesterol.  Meanwhile, the West Coast station is playing an apparently pre-recorded program "showing" how Scripture proves the end times. So far, the speaker is hammering the fact that Biblical "days" sometimes means "years."  True enough, but it's hard to see why it always means years.  I'm incredulous at the number of assumptions built into their model "proving" the end times mathematically.  But what's stranger than that has to be the heart health program.

1:25 AM - Two comments already!  It's nice to see how Christopher and Fr. Strobl are spending what may or may not be their last night on Earth.  On a more serious note, it occurs to me that there are some folks who really will die today.  A lot of them, just as there are every day.  I hope that those people prepared themselves as seriously as if the world were truly going to end.

1:32 AM - From Twitter:
Rapture prank: On Saturday, take some of your unwanted clothes and shoes and leave sets of them arranged on sidewalks and lawns around town.
Nice.

11:30 AM - I'm not great at live-blogging, I guess.  That was quite the intermission.  The Family Radio server is slow -- it seems that I'm not the only person trying to figure out how they're going to spin this one. Their logo is still this:
It gets under my skin that they claim that the Bible “guarantees” that their interpretation is the right one. It's the sort of arrogance that St. Jerome condemned: “And let them not flatter themselves if they think they have Scripture authority for their assertions, since the devil himself quoted Scripture, and the essence of the Scriptures is not the letter, but the meaning.”  The Bible doesn't “guarantee” that today is Judgment Day. The Family Radio spin on what the letter of the Bible meant does.  And that's a guarantee worth a heck of a lot less.

11:43 AM - It's already tomorrow in Australia (try to not let that blow your mind).  Since it's May 22, 2011 there, the Aussie papers are crowing over Family Radio's self-humiliation.  The Herald-Sun gets its digs in (justly) at the Jehovah's Witnesses, and others:
1. Followers of William Miller believed the world would end on October 22, 1844.
2.The Jehovah's Witness religion has predicted the end of the world in 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975 and 1994.
3. Charles Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, predicted the world would end in 1794.
4. Famous forecaster Nostradamus predicted doomsday would happen in July 1999.
5. English mystic Joanna Southcott predicted the world would end on October 19, 1814, when she gave birth to the Messiah.
Miller's the precursor to the Seventh Day Adventists.  I think it's fair to take these folks to task, but let's remember a distinction.  When someone like Wesley or even Miller calculates the end of the world, it's based on doing the math from a faulty interpretation of Scripture.  It's a mistake (and often an arrogant one), but one that Christians can easily make if they disregard Mt. 24:36. When someone like Joanna Southcott claims that the world will end with her in a central place, it's much worse.  She claims Scripture foretold her in Rev. 12 (instead of Mary and the Church), and claimed to receive prophesies. She was either crazy or in league with genuine evil. So it's only right to keep Camping in perspective.

11:50 AM - The Family Radio European station  is still up, and doing Christian music.  Which is going to get weird really quickly.  In most of Europe, it's already past 6... so either the station isn't run in central or eastern Europe, it's run by those "left behind," or Camping's a false prophet.  More than one of those may apply.

11:54 AM - The European show's host just signed off wishing us a "Blessed Lord's Day tomorrow."  What??

12:20 PM - Worth remembering: the Family Radio folks claimed that there would be earthquakes with the Rapture.  So there's no hiding behind the idea that maybe some folks somewhere got raptured, and we just didn't notice.  The gig is up.

12:22 PM - International Business Times has helpful pre- and post-apocalyptic clocks so you can ring in the rapture around the world.

1:57 PM - John Armstrong takes Harold Camping to task in a big way over at his blog.  This may be the first time John Armstrong has ever gotten angry. Ever.

5:58 PM - Showtime.

6:01 PM Still here. Uh oh.

6:04 PM The local Family Radio run station has switched to local programming. Now it's a woman from the American Lung Association handling softball questions. The last question: "What is smog?" This IS hell.

7:34 PM Just heard an advertisement for one of their tracts telling us how we can know when Judgment Day will be.  I'm confused by every part of that.  Was that pre-set to run after the Judgment Day had already occurred?  Or did someone decide that this would be a good time to convince people that the Judgment Day had, in fact, occurred?

12:07 AM I've had my share of fun updating this intermittently throughout the day, but I have a serious request. While Family Radio was always a fringe movement, and a joke even amongst Evangelicals, there were genuine, well-meaning Christians who put their hopes on Harold Camping's false predictions. These people are probably going through something horrible right now, as they realize that they weren't raptured.  We've had our fun at the bad theology, but let's lift them up in some serious prayers, that out of this disappointment, they emerge stronger and better Christians, rather than having their faith shaken.  Good night, everybody.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Apocalypse Now?

As you're almost certainly aware, tomorrow is the day that Harold Camping of Family Radio claims that the world is going to end.  Well, technically, it's tonight. Camping claims that there will be a different rapture per timezone, at 6 PM each timezone.  The first rapture, in lovely Tonga, would occur at 6 PM local time, which is 1 AM Eastern, and still Friday night throughout most of the US.

Apparently, God uses timezones?  That's odd enough, when you realize how screwed-up time zones are in places like central Asia (If you were to go due north from Calcutta, India, all the way to the north coast of Russia, you'd pass through some six different time zones, without ever going east or west).  But it gets a whole lot crazier when you ponder the eternal fate of those who are on airplanes.  For example, you're a rapture-ready Christian on a plane, and it's 5:30 PM, then you cross a timezone, and it's 6:30 PM.  Whoops - missed the Rapture.



Seeing Evangelicals prepare for the Rapture shows it to be not just intellectually absurd, but quite a callous eschatology.  Here's what Family Radio says about those of us still alive on May 22:
On the other hand the bodies of all unsaved people will be thrown out upon the ground to be shamed. The inhabitants who survive this terrible earthquake will exist in a world of horror and chaos beyond description. Each day people will die until October 21, 2011 when God will completely destroy this earth and its surviving inhabitants.
That is, nobody can be saved. Between May 22 and October 21, humanity is in terrible awareness of its imminent damnation, but it's helpless to stop it.  This, says Camping, will be the fate of all Christians who remain in churches, and 97% of the global population.

Sickeningly, Camping thinks this will happen to some of the folks he works with, and his advice is for them to just keep running the Christian radio station.  He wrote his co-workers a goodbye letter, instructing them to carry on Family Radio after he's raptured.  That is... while they await their imminent and unavoidable damnation.

The thing which is irritating about this eschatology isn't that some people will be damned -- that's completely understandable, given the reality of sin. It's that rather than trying to help those people, the response from Rapture Evangelicals is to want to run away, to turn one's back on the world completely, and let them languish in their sins, die, and go to Hell.

So intellectually and morally, the Rapture is bankrupt. Scripturally, it fares no better. There are a handful of proof-texts used to prove the Rapture.  And it's true, that in a particular sense, we will be taken up. That is, into Heaven, at the Last Judgment.  Scripture's actually quite clear about this. There's going to be a Second Coming of Christ at which we'll be judged, and either taken into Heaven or sent into Hell.  No secret exodus of the saved, but Christ, in glory, as visible and noticeable as lighting in the sky (Mt. 24:27). Not only is it true that "about that day or hour no one knows," (Mt. 24:36), but when it happens, there won't be folks left behind. Mt. 24:50-51 discusses the fate of the disobedient servant- he's destroyed at the Last Judgment, not "left behind." When Christ returns in glory at the Second Coming, the gig is up as surely as it is at our deaths. We either go to Heaven or Hell.  Pretty simple, really.

In addition to failing intellectually, morally, and Scripturally, these Rapture traditions are theological novelties. With only a handful of exceptions (probably 2-3 verifiable ones), the earliest Rapture-theorists are John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) and his student Cyrus Scofield (1843-1921).  That is, the theory of the Rapture is younger than America.

From a Christian perspective, we can point to that and say, "It's nonsense, then."  Even knowing nothing else, we can say that a "theological novelty" is a polite term for a heresy. If you're "rediscovering" what Jesus and the Apostles really taught, you're acting like a new-age Gnostic. The notion that God would allow everyone from the time of Christ to the time of Abe Lincoln misunderstand Christianity so thoroughly is staggering.

This is the same problem with plagues other eschatological novelties, like Full Preterism.  But look at how David Green, a Full Preterist himself, defends against these accusations:
“As for the argument that the church couldn’t have been wrong about eschatology for about 2,00 years (or more accurately, about 1,800 years), Gentry is yet again using a Roman Catholic argument. How could the Reformers have been correct about ‘forensic justification by faith alone’ when the post-apostolic church NEVER taught that doctrine until about the year 1500? According to Gentry’s fallacious reasoning, Reformed Theology must be an unbiblical and damnable heresy. Gentry’s argument (‘Hyper-preterism’ is new in church history. Therefore it is false.) brings the Reformation down like a house of cards. ‘Forensic justification by faith alone’ was just as ‘new’ in the 1500’s as ‘hyper-preterism’ was ‘new’ in the 1800’s.”
Exactly. So by the same token that we can dismiss folks like Camping and the Full Preterists as totally wrong on eschatology, because they've concocted a heresy, we can say the same about Calvin and Luther on justification. Significantly, this was one way that the early Church disproved heresies. St. Jerome, in Against the Luciferians, wrote:
We ought to remain in that Church which was founded by the Apostles and continues to this day. If ever you hear of any that are called Christians taking their name not from the Lord Jesus Christ, but from some other, for instance, Marcionites, Valentinians, Men of the mountain or the plain, you may be sure that you have there not the Church of Christ, but the synagogue of Antichrist. For the fact that they took their rise after the foundation of the Church is proof that they are those whose coming the Apostle foretold. And let them not flatter themselves if they think they have Scripture authority for their assertions, since the devil himself quoted Scripture, and the essence of the Scriptures is not the letter, but the meaning. Otherwise, if we follow the letter, we too can concoct a new dogma and assert that such persons as wear shoes and have two coats must not be received into the Church.
That point is devastating for two reasons.  First, it shows how you can misuse Scripture alone to justify nearly anything.  If you want to "disprove" that Christians who wear shoes are saved, just take Luke 10:4 out of context. If you want do the same for Christians with two coats, do the same with Luke 3:11. Even the devil can play the sola Scriptura game (Mt. 4:1-11).  And second, the early Church's response to this was always the same: the Church founded by Christ, which can't be traced back to a mortal founder, is the true Church.  So any theological innovation (like the Rapture) or denomination whose lineage can be traced to someone other than Christ (like Calvinism) is in the wrong.

Catholicism, in contrast, can trace Her lineage to Rome, who Paul salutes as having the Christian faith (Romans 1:8; Romans 16:16), and to the first pope, Peter. And Peter is the rock Jesus Himself builds His own Church upon (Mt. 16:17-19). That's the sort of stable foundation Christians should want to build upon.


Update: I couldn't resist quoting this, from the hilarious Simcha Fischer:
Yes, yes, I realize that the so-called “Jimmy Akin” already covered the story about the scholar who has predicted that the end of the world will be May 21, 2011. What can I say? The man calls himself an apologist, and yet somehow fails to grasp such a simple concept as figurative language. For instance, when Christ says, “Listen, this here is actually, literally, super-de-really my body, and when I say that, I mean that it actually is actually my actual body”—well, that’s what we call a “symbol.”
But when Peter says, “A day is with the Lord as a thousand years”—um, hello. That’s literal.
Yup, that's the theory in a nutshell.

Update 2: Via Mark Shea:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Don't be Shocked: Marriage Redefined

I still remember when I heard a clear defense for "same sex marriage" for the first time in college. The reasoning went along the lines of: "the only difference between same sex marriage and what is currently allowed is that some people think the sexual behavior of two men or two women is icky." It struck me then and it still hits me now. Is that right? In too many ways, unfortunately, yes.

Jennifer Fulwiler presents this challenge to those who would defend traditional marriage: We need to start engaging in dialogue with our fellow defenders of “traditional marriage” on what that term even means. I totally agree. We need to be honest about where we are at and how we got here.

One of my best friends has a very sharp and astute critique of the current state of marriage. He notes that we shouldn't be shocked by where we are at right now. We allowed ourselves to get to this point. We've allowed the definition of what marriage is to be so skewed that we can't feign surprise when the very definition of marriage as being between only one man and one woman is challenged. In this context, the "we" I am referring to is all Christians. If we want any chance to re-frame the debate and restore the dignity of marriage on a grand scale, we have to first look to the redefining of marriage we've allowed in practice.

Basically, here's the current definition we're now working with based on the behavior of too many Christians:
  • There is room for selfishness: Selfless love is at the heart of marriage. Unconditional love means just that: willing the good of the other no matter what. It's the love that doesn't count the cost. We didn't come up with this type of love. It's how God loves us and marriage is meant to be a clear icon of God's love for us. The problem: we have redefined marriage as a way to make me happy. We expect marriage to fulfill all of our selfish desires. We even say silly things like "you complete me." We make love conditional: I'll love you as long as you love me. That is not selfless. That is not unconditional. That is not how God loves us. We love as long as we still feel loved all too often. Marriage is formed more by the ego than by the Cross. We are made to give ourselves away in love. Currently, we settle for much less.
  • Being faithful only starts at "I do": When we talk about being faithful regarding marriage, we most often only start the discussion from the wedding on. If that's our perspective, we've really missed the point. The gift of faithful love involves giving a heart that does not belong to anyone else. A major crisis today is the casual regard for the gift of the heart (especially as expressed in sexual relations). Marriage might be viewed as the last time a heart is given away, but it's rare that it's viewed as the only time. No where is this more clear than in our appreciation of chastity. Unchaste behavior is not just breaking a rule or a rejection of the love of God, it is an act of cheating on a spouse...even if someone doesn't even know what the spouse looks like yet. That which is meant for the good of marriage is shared outside of it. Promiscuity isn't just permissible, it's pandemic. Being faithful in the ways of the heart must be approached from a lifelong perspective or "being faithful" risks being meaningless.
  • It's really a personal decision: While there are parts of our relationship with God that are personal, the decision to get married isn't one them. Marriage is a communal act. It is not just ordered to the good of the couple, but the good of children and ultimately the society. Everything other people might know that precedes and follows the "I do" of a couple in marriage is a public commentary on marriage itself. Marriage is not a private institution and the effects of marriage are not restricted to the particular married couple (especially when children are involved). However, we have been working under the assumption that each marriage exists in a vacuum.
  • Intentional sterility is a responsibility: When did "responsible parenthood" get tied to a fear of children? Real responsible parents view marriage as a relationship of freedom that anticipates and embraces new life. Looking at the behavior of most couples today, condolences instead of congratulations are in order when a child is conceived. The choice to make the conjugal act sterile in most marriages is staggering. We've gone from sterility being a curse to it being a blessing. The "contraceptive mindset" has become a duty instead of a detriment.
  • One and done? Maybe in the movies: Like marriage being faithful, marriage being for life is seen as something more poetic than pragmatic. Most couples don't enter marriage aware of an expiration date. Most couples really do want to be married for life. However, most couples will also concede that there may be a point when marriage should be temporary. We seem to forget that once our definition of marriage ceases to include permanence, we cease to understand marriage.
If we have redefined marriage in such ways, how else are we to respond when challenged to broaden marriage to embrace sodomy? Sodomy really is just "icky" if we are willing to define marriage on our terms instead of God's terms in other ways. At the end of the day, we have no one to begin the blame game with besides ourselves. Christians give the greatest scandal to marriage right now. If marriage can be selfish, open, personal, intentionally sterile, and temporary, then why should sodomy-based marriage garner such fresh outrage? Taking the next step of discussing the complimentary nature of the sexes and "limiting" marriage to just one man and one woman is near impossible if the other essential aspects of marriage are treated as optional.

Here's the hope: Jesus is married. He has a beautiful bride, the Church. If we want to promote the dignity of Christian marriage, we must first look to how Jesus loves us. His love is faithful (He has only one bride), forever (it's an everlasting covenant), total (Jesus holds back nothing), free (He doesn't love because he has to, but because he wills it), and fruitful (it gives birth to new life in the Spirit). If we embrace Christ's definition of marriage, we really will prepare many more souls for celebrating the everlasting wedding feast of Heaven. Until we are unified in our understanding of marriage as Christians, we have no right to be shocked when marriage is redefined in other ways. Only when we have a clear understanding of Christian marriage can we hope to effectively shape public opinion regarding marriage as an institution.

Sola Scriptura and the Authorship of the Gospels

In recent years, liberal Biblical scholars have trotted out all sorts of novel theories about the authorship of the Gospels.  For example, there have been claims that the Gospel of Luke was written by a woman, despite his use of the masculine in referring to himself in Luke 1:3 (it's masculine in the Greek, not the English).  The "evidence" for this, by the way, is that Luke focuses a lot on Mary and the other women accompanying Christ.  Using that same evidence, I can prove that Pope John Paul II was really a woman.

Most of these theories are quite silly and can be waved away. But it got me thinking: is there any reason why an Evangelical would accept that the four Gospels were actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? After all, none of the four Gospels state who their author is.  The closest we get is John's Gospel, in John 19:35,
The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.
But that only establishes that the Gospel is based upon John's eyewitness testimony. It doesn't necessarily prove that St. John wrote it himself, or whether this was a disciple of John recording his oral testimony.  In fact, the authorship of the Fourth Gospel is the most hotly debated point.  Likewise, from Luke 1:3-4 and Acts 1:1-2, we can see that the same man authored both, and wrote them for "Theophilus."

The Church Fathers on the Authorship of the Gospels

So taking the Bible alone, we can't say who wrote the Gospels.  Looking at the writings of the Early Church Fathers, however, we can.  St. Irenaeus of Lyons addressed the issue of the authorship of the Gospels in Against Heresies in 180 A.D. From Book III, Chapter 1:
Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.
In about 207 or 208 A.D., Tertullian wrote that the Gospels were all written by Apostles (in the case of Matthew and John), or students of the Apostles (in the case of Mark and Luke). From Book IV, Chapter 2 of Against Marcion:
We lay it down as our first position, that the evangelical Testament has apostles for its authors, to whom was assigned by the Lord Himself this office of publishing the gospel. Since, however, there are apostolic men also, they are yet not alone, but appear with apostles and after apostles; because the preaching of disciples might be open to the suspicion of an affectation of glory, if there did not accompany it the authority of the masters, which means that of Christ, for it was that which made the apostles their masters. Of the apostles, therefore, John and Matthew first instill faith into us; while of apostolic men, Luke and Mark renew it afterwards. 
In Book III, Chapter 24 of Eusebius's Church History (written in the early 300s, and based in large part on much earlier sources), we hear:
Nevertheless, of all the disciples of the Lord, only Matthew and John have left us written memorials, and they, tradition says, were led to write only under the pressure of necessity.


For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue, and thus compensated those whom he was obliged to leave for the loss of his presence.


And when Mark and Luke had already published their Gospels, they say that John, who had employed all his time in proclaiming the Gospel orally, finally proceeded to write for the following reason. The three Gospels already mentioned having come into the hands of all and into his own too, they say that he accepted them and bore witness to their truthfulness; but that there was lacking in them an account of the deeds done by Christ at the beginning of his ministry.
Likewise, he cites Luke as the author of Acts in Book II, Chapter 11 and elsewhere.

Can Evangelicals Rely on These Accounts?

There are plenty more sources as well, but the point is clear. The early Christians were quite adamant that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the Gospel writers. But here's why that's tricky for Evangelicals.  In Book II, Chapter 15, Eusebius explains that Mark was a follower of Peter's from his time in Rome. And St. Irenaeus says that Matthew wrote his Gospel "while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church."

But Evangelicals often deny that Peter was ever in Rome, and almost universally reject the theory that the Church has its foundations in Rome. After all, conceding that the Church is (a) Petrine, and (b) Roman goes a long way towards establishing the papacy.  So instead, a rather large Evangelical camp treats the Early Church Fathers with suspicion (and sometimes, as outright frauds and heretics), precisely because they're so Catholic. For example, here's Dave Hunt and T.A. McMahon explaining why you shouldn't spend your time worrying about what the Church Fathers say, and here's John Piper claiming that the Church from 100 A.D. onwards is unreliable, so "We are in a better position today to know Jesus Christ than anyone who lived from AD 100 to 300."  And that doesn't even count the folks like Ed Stevens, who claims that all the true Christians were raptured in 70 A.D.

So to the extent Evangelicals reject the Church Fathers, they're cutting of the branch on which they're sitting. Without the Fathers, you can't say who wrote the Gospels, or whether the Gospels were considered orthodox by the early Christians, or whether they were considered inspired Scripture.  Almost everything we know about the Bible comes to us from the Fathers.

Of course, I'm not suggesting you have to think that each of the Fathers is 100% right on everything (nobody takes that position, as they occasionally disagree). Nor am I saying that it's particularly important to the Faith who wrote the Gospels -- I'm just using it as an example of something almost all Evangelicals believe about the Bible, but which they're not getting from the Bible itself. My point is simply this: without the Church Fathers, there's no particular reason to trust that we have the correct Books of the Bible, and no particular way to know anything helpful about who wrote those Books, such as whether the writers were honest and orthodox.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Did Christ Die for "All," or Just "Many"?

Five-point Calvinists claim that Jesus' Death on the Cross was not for the whole world, but only for those few who are saved. For the rest, Calvinists claim, Christ didn't die for them, and no amount of faith or virtue could ever save them. Catholics rightly reject this as contrary to both Scripture and even a basic understanding of the nature of God's Love. Which is why it's all the more important that the new Mass translation doesn't lead Catholics into think that Limited Atonement is compatible with Scripture or the Faith.

As many of you are aware, on the first Sunday of Advent this year (November 21), we'll be using a different Mass translation than we've been using in the past.  Essentially, this English version is more faithful to the Latin text, and more faithful to the Scriptures quoted throughout.  One of those changes in particular is quite controversial. Currently, the words of institution for the Blood of Christ are:
“Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.”
In the new translation, “It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven becomes “It will be shed for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven.  This change is more faithful to the Latin, and more faithful to Christ's words, recorded in Scripture (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24).  So which is right: did Christ die for many, or for all?

In a sense, the answer is both. In Greek, "many" doesn't mean "a lot, but not all," like it does in English.  It just means "a lot." So Christ is saying that He's offering up His Blood for the masses.  Many is the opposite of few, not a point between none and all.  So if you invite 100 people to a party, and all 100 show up, you'd have many and all.  So when  Christ says His Blood will be shed "for many," He might be saying only for some, or He might be saying for all.  This passage alone doesn't tell us.  But the rest of Scripture does.

I. The Calvinist Argument for Limited Atonement


You'll quickly find that almost all of the Calvinist arguments for limited atonement fall into one of these two errors:
  1. Scripture says that Christ died for group, so it must mean only group. 
  2. If there are some who Christ died for who aren't saved, this makes the Cross deficient.
(1) We see the first argument on the Wikipedia page on Limited Atonement, and it neatly summarizes the case:
1. Jesus lays down his life for the sheep.[Jn 10:14-15]
2. Jesus will lose none of his sheep.[Jn 10:28]
3. Many people will not receive eternal life.[Mt 7:13-14]
Therefore, the Calvinist position is that Jesus did not die for everyone, but only for those whom the Father purposed to save.
John HendryxJohn Piper and GotQuestions.Org use similar arguments.  The problem is in premise #1.  You can find a lot of passages which say that Christ died for the Church, and John 10:14-15 says Christ died for His sheep. But it's false to claim that Jesus died for only the sheep, and nothing that any of these Calvinist apologists cite to suggests that they can add an "only" to John 10:14-15.


Just look at Galatians 2:20,
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Christ died for Paul.  Does that mean He died only for Paul? Of course not.  Rather, Paul's showing the depth of Christ's love for Him.  Likewise, in John 10:14-15, Jesus is explaining that He's the Good Shepherd, and proceeds to show the depth of His love for His sheep by His willingness to lay down His life for them.

(2) The second argument fares no better. If I buy you a free movie ticket, but you don't come to the movie, there's nothing wrong with the ticket.  If it's possible to resist the Holy Spirit (which Calvinists reject), then it's possible to reject the free gift of salvation. Scripture explicitly says that it's possible to resist the Holy Spirit. From Stephen's speech in Acts 7:51-53:
“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
So if we reject and refuse the merits of the Cross, that's a problem with us, not the Cross.


II. The Catholic Response

So as we've seen, neither of the Calvinist arguments for limited Atonement are very strong.  But what are the Scriptural passages supporting the notion that Christ died as a ransom for the whole world, including those who choose damnation?  Well, 1 Timothy 2:1-6 says,
First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.
That's pretty explicit.  It means just what it says. Christ died as a ransom for all, so limited atonement is false. God desires all men to be saved, so unconditional election and double predestination are false.  Christ is a ransom for all, and God desires all to be saved.  Many Calvinists struggle with this: how could an all-powerful God's will be thwarted?  It's precisely because salvation must be freely accepted or rejected. God can't force someone to make a free choice (you might as well demand that God make square circles -- it's a meaningless contradiction in terms). We see this quite clearly when Christ says to the people of Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
If free will doesn't exist, this passage becomes meaningless. Christ is clearly saying that His will, that they should return, is being thwarted, because they're refusing to return.

Likewise, we see even in the Old Testament that salvation was offered even to those who would ultimately die in their sins.   In Ezekiel 33:11-12, God gives this message to Ezekiel:

“Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’ 
“Therefore, son of man, say to your people, ‘If someone who is righteous disobeys, that person’s former righteousness will count for nothing. And if someone who is wicked repents, that person’s former wickedness will not bring condemnation. The righteous person who sins will not be allowed to live even though they were formerly righteous.’”
It clearly shows that (1) it's possible for the righteous to turn away from their salvation and go to Hell, and (2)  God offers salvation even to the damned.  So "Once Saved, Always Saved" is false, and so is limited Atonement.

John 3:16-21 famously says:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
This is quite clear.  Look at the second sentence: Christ died for the whole world, in order to save it.  John then separates "the world" into two categories: "Whoever believes in Him," and "whoever does not believe." Of these two groups, Christ died for both, but only the former are saved through His Atoning Death: For "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."  So what's necessary is not only for Christ to die for us, but for us to have faith in Him.  Otherwise, faith becomes irrelevant to salvation (see places like Luke 7:50 and Ephesians 2:8, which show it is not).

Christ is also described by John the Baptist as "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29).  You get the picture.  To go back to my movie theater analogy, Christ has bought tickets for everyone to get to Heaven, paid for out of His own Blood.  We may accept or reject those tickets.  Only those who believe in Christ accept this free ticket of salvation. The rest miss out on Heaven, not because the ticket wasn't there, but because they freely rejected it.

So when we watch the priest lift up the Chalice at the consecration, He's holding up our ticket to Heaven, Jesus Christ, whose Blood was poured out for many, and for all.  Let us never forget that.