Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mormons at Your Door: What to Expect

Yesterday, my friends Cary and Meg invited me to join them at dinner with a couple of Mormon (LDS)* missionaries.  They were both in their young twenties (and I suddenly felt old, at 26, for the first time). I thought I'd share my experiences, for two reasons: to help prepare Catholics for Mormons who come knocking, and to get us to think more seriously about our own call to Evangelize.  Today, I wanted to talk about what to expect; tomorrow, I want to focus on how to respond to Mormon arguments, and which arguments you might consider making on your own.

I. How Mormon Evangelization Works

I think as Catholics, there's a lot there that Mormons do in their missions which we could learn from, particularly about the role of laity in the New Evangelization. Here are the basics, both from what I've observed and what they described.  Mormon missions last two years (for men) or eighteen months (for women), and they don't get to choose where you're sent. Most missionaries are young men, ages 19-21.  Women may also be missionaries, but must be at least 21, and it's much less common. Nearly every religiously-active young man becomes a missionary: "approximately 30 percent of all 19-year-old Mormon men in the United States serve, while between 80 percent to 90 percent of those from active LDS families go. At BYU, for example, there are virtually no 19-year-old men."  As the above stats show, the Mormon missionaries are some of the best Mormonism has to offer.  There are a surprising number of nominal or religiously lax Mormons, but they're not the ones likely to knock on your doors. 

That said, the missionaries still have a lot to learn. And counter-intuitively, that's why they're there.  As Catholics, our natural tendency would be to worry about sending half-prepared young people out to Evangelize, worried that they're spread inaccurate information (and that does happen with the Mormon missionaries). But by being put in a position where they're questioned and challenged about their faith, most of the half-prepared Mormons come back with a better grasp of what their church teaches. 

That said, Mormons aren't sent out completely unarmed.  First, there's the Missionary Training Center in Utah, which prepares them for the challenges and realities of two years as a missionary, from language skills (if necessary) to learning the basics they'll need.   Second, missionaries are sent in two-man teams, with a clear senior and junior missionary.  Last night was no different.  One guy was meek and a little nervous seeming. He was from a small town in Idaho, and while he was on month five of his two year mission, he had only been in the D.C. area since last Thursday.  The other guy was (I think) nearing the end of his two year stint, and was a charming and outgoing, talking during dinner about his desire to be a coach, and how much he enjoys surfing.  When tough questions would come up, if the junior guy would start to fumble it, the senior guy would step in to help.  

II. The Best Weapon in the Arsenal

What all three of us Catholics were surprised about was that they were in no hurry to discuss theology.  After hearing their personal testimonies, it made sense.  While the senior missionary had grown up Mormon, the junior had converted at eleven (from nothing in particular) after he began going to an LDS church with his grandma.  That is, he wasn't persuaded by some dogma or apologetic argument. He just found a loving community, and came to trust them, and what they taught.

I have no doubt that this is exactly how a lot of Mormon conversions happen. You have someone, maybe they go to Mass every Sunday and slip out after without talking to anyone. Despite going there for years, they're relatively anonymous, and in any case, don't see the other parishioners except on Sunday morning.  Then a couple of Mormons meet with them, and simply act Christian towards them. They don't persuade them (at first), they simply witness through their conduct.  Perhaps they'll do a few meals together and get to know one another, and one day, the missionaries will probably invite this person to their church, where the same thing happens: they find a welcoming community.  

By the time hard questions of dogma come up, it's a battle between logic and emotions, which looks like a battle between the head and the heart. Missionaries know to constantly emphasize two points: (1) just pray on it, and (2) look for the fruits. If those are the only two ways you're seeking truth, it's easy to come away with the impression that God must want you to be Mormon, and that the LDS church must be God's Church, since it bears such good fruit.

III. Watch out for Proof-Texts

Finally, Mormons, like nearly everyone else, have a few proof-texts which they rely heavily upon.  If you're not familiar, a "proof-text" is a passage from Scripture used to prove a particular doctrine. The term is often negative, suggesting that the verse or passage is being taken out of context.  For example, Evangelicals use 1 Timothy 2:5 as a proof text, to say that since Jesus is our "One Mediator," they say there's no room for a Catholic priesthood, or we shouldn't pray to Saints, etc.  Of course, in context, the verse doesn't actually support these claims. Mormonism is no different. One of the proof-texts is Amos 8:9-12, which they claim is an Old Testament prophesy of a Great Apostasy in which the Church would disappear from the Earth.  Out of context, it sort of sounds like that:
“In that day,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.
I will turn your religious festivals into mourning and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.
People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it.
But in context, we discover a couple things fatal to the Mormon interpretation:

  1. God's talking about Israel in exile, how she will be shaken and humbled, but then restored (read Amos 9 for the context).  That is, in context, this isn't some passage about the New Testament Church falling away at all. It's God punishing the Israelites, who have been chasing after pagan gods (Amos 8:14).
  2. He also promises that a remnant will remain (Amos 9:8).  So regardless of whether it's about Old Testament Israel or the New Testament Church, it's not a total apostasy.
  3. The people is Amos 8 are viewed as thirsting after "the words of the LORD," and unable to find them. But Mormonism believes that the Church, even after the alleged Apostasy,  honored and faithfully preserved every Old and New Testament Book.  As an offshoot of Protestantism, they use the King James Version (meaning that they reject the Deuterocanon), but my point is that they don't actually think that the post-Apostolic Christians were left searching for the "the words of the LORD," and unable to find it. They think we had it all along. 

So the passage which might have seemed, on the surface, to be a really surefire proof of a Great Apostasy turns out to fall apart on closer inspection.  Of course, unless you happen to know the Book of Amos really well (and I admittedly don't), you're not going to know the context of the passage.  So what do you do?  Write it down, and look it up.  Look for Catholic Scriptural commentaries (particularly what the Church Fathers said on these passages), ask an apologist, and so on.

For example, you might not have thought about this angle, but Origen taught that the Amos 8 prophesy was brought to complete fulfillment with Christ.  That interpretation makes some sense.  After all, God promises, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your religious festivals into mourning and all your singing into weeping.”  And what do we see at the death of Christ?  Darkness over the land, starting at noon (Luke 23:44), and mourning and weeping (Luke 23:26-27) on Passover (John 18:39).  This marks the transition point from when God's revelation is revealed through Israel, and when His revelation is revealed through His Church.  The first-century Jews would have expected that God would continue to provide new and ongoing revelation, more and more Books of the Old Testament.  But He doesn't. They suddenly find themselves in a famine, hungering for more Scripture, but not finding it.  Is Origen's interpretation right? Maybe. But it's certainly a lot stronger than the idea that this was about the New Testament Church going into a total Apostasy.

Conclusion

So this, more or less, is what to expect if you get visited by Mormon missionaries. Expect a few convincing-sounding passages to support controversial doctrines, but as part of an overall outreach that focuses more on Goodness than Truth.  Tomorrow, I'll go into the details of the arguments Cary, Megan and I raised, to give you a sense for things you might want to say (or not say) if you find yourself in this position.


*I know that there's some controversy over the preferred nomenclature ("LDS" v. "Mormon"). Since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints owns both LDS.org and Mormon.org, I don't think either is viewed as particularly offensive.

UPDATE: Part II is now posted.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"Gendercide": 160 Million Baby Girls Killed for Being Girls

The generally left-leaning Foreign Policy has published a jaw-dropping article written by a pro-choice reporter, Mara Hvistendahl, who documents how an unholy alliance between the US government, the United Nations, population control groups, and Planned Parenthood lead to the death of 160,000,000 unborn children for nothing more than being female.

This wasn't some backwards culture somewhere "out there." This was an American-led and American-funded way of global population control.  The details Hvistendahl digs up are grim.  For example, Steven Polgar, Planned Parenthood's head of research, convinced the ironically-named National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) that sex-selective abortions were a way of curbing population sizes.  His views were quickly accepted by those "population bomb" fearmongers:
In the years that followed, Population Council President Bernard Berelson endorsed sex selection in the pages of Science, while Paul Ehrlich advocated giving couples the sons they desired in his blockbuster The Population Bomb. "[I]f a simple method could be found to guarantee that first-born children were males," he wrote, "then population control problems in many areas would be somewhat eased." In many countries, he wrote, "couples with only female children 'keep trying' in hope of a son." A wide range of population control strategies were on the table at the time, but by the end of the decade, when the NICHD held another workshop on reducing birth rates, sex selection had emerged as an approach that participants deemed "particularly desirable."
That "simple method" turned out to be sonograms, followed by abortions if the child was unlucky enough to be a girl.  And these abortions were
In South Korea, Western money enabled the creation of a fleet of mobile clinics -- reconditioned U.S. Army ambulances donated by USAID and staffed by poorly trained workers and volunteers. Fieldworkers employed by the health ministry's Bureau of Public Health were paid based on how many people they brought in for sterilizations and intrauterine device insertions, and some allege Korea's mobile clinics later became the site of abortions as well. By the 1970s, recalls gynecologist Cho Young-youl, who was a medical student at the time, "there were agents going around the countryside to small towns and bringing women into the [mobile] clinics. That counted toward their pay. They brought the women regardless of whether they were pregnant." Non-pregnant women were sterilized. A pregnant woman met a worse fate, Cho says: "The agent would have her abort and then undergo tubal ligation." As Korea's abortion rate skyrocketed, Sung-bong Hong and Christopher Tietze detailed its rise in the Population Council journal Studies in Family Planning. By 1977, they determined, doctors in Seoul were performing 2.75 abortions for every birth -- the highest documented abortion rate in human history.
In one of the more shocking twists, we discover that the U.N. Population Fund and the International Planned Parenthood Federation helped cover up China's systematic forced abortions:
The country accepted Western aid belatedly, in 1979. But after years of being kept out of the Middle Kingdom, the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) and IPPF jumped at the opportunity to play a role in the world's most populous country, with UNFPA chipping in $50 million for computers, training, and publicity on the eve of the one-child policy's unveiling. Publicly, officers at both UNFPA and IPPF claimed China's new policy relied on the Chinese people's exceptional knack for communalism. But, according to Columbia University historian Matthew Connelly's account of the population control movement, Fatal Misconception, in January 1980 IPPF information officer Penny Kane privately fretted about local officials' evident interest in meeting the new birth quotas through forced abortions. Accounts of those eventually leaked out, as did reports of sex-selective abortions. In 1982, Associated Press correspondent Victoria Graham warned that those augured a spreading trend. "These are not isolated cases," she wrote, adding: "Demographers are warning that if the balance between the sexes is altered by abortion and infanticide, it could have dire consequences."
Obviously, once you cross into women being forced into abortions they don't want to have, the fig leaf of "women's rights" is long gone, and the unadulterated evil lies bare. This was even acknolwedged by one of the more outspoken supporters, the British microbiologist John Postgate, who acknowledged that "A form of purdah" might be necessary, in which "Women's right to work, even to travel alone freely, would probably be forgotten transiently." Charming. And it appears that the horror, for both women and societies, might just be beginning:
In China, India, Korea, and Taiwan, the first generation shaped by sex selection has grown up, and men are scrambling to find women, yielding the ugly sideblows of increased sex trafficking and bride buying. [...] But what happens to women is only part of the story. Demographically speaking, women matter less and less. By 2013, an estimated one in 10 men in China will lack a female counterpart. By the late 2020s, that figure could jump to one in five. There are many possible scenarios for how these men will cope without women -- and not all, of course, want women -- but several of them involve rising rates of unrest. Already Columbia University economist Lena Edlund and colleagues at Chinese University of Hong Kong have found a link between a large share of males in the young adult population and an increase in crime in China. Doomsday analysts need look no further than America's history: Murder rates soared in the male-dominated Wild West.
You should definitely read the full article.  You should also read Ross Douthat's response to Hvistendahl's book on the same subject, “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men.” Douthat includes details from the book which are yet more grim, about Chinese villages with signs saying, “You can beat it out! You can make it fall out! You can abort it! But you cannot give birth to it!”  Douthat also comes to the very conclusion which Hvistendahl tries to avoid:
This places many Western liberals, Hvistendahl included, in a distinctly uncomfortable position. Their own premises insist that the unborn aren’t human beings yet, and that the right to an abortion is nearly absolute. A self-proclaimed agnostic about when life begins, Hvistendahl insists that she hasn’t written “a book about death and killing.” But this leaves her struggling to define a victim for the crime that she’s uncovered.

It’s society at large, she argues, citing evidence that gender-imbalanced countries tend to be violent and unstable. It’s the women in those countries, she adds, pointing out that skewed sex ratios are associated with increased prostitution and sex trafficking.

These are important points. But the sense of outrage that pervades her story seems to have been inspired by the missing girls themselves, not the consequences of their absence.

Here the anti-abortion side has it easier. We can say outright what’s implied on every page of “Unnatural Selection,” even if the author can’t quite bring herself around.

The tragedy of the world’s 160 million missing girls isn’t that they’re “missing.” The tragedy is that they’re dead.
Douthat carries this argument over on his blog. All of it, while grim, is well worth the read.

Son Rise Morning Show: Warning Others of the Disease of Sin

I'm a little tardy in posting this, but here's the Son Rise Morning Show episode that I was on last week. Due to my schedule, and some technical difficulties, I haven't actually had the chance to listen to it myself yet, so I can't tell you exactly at which point in the episode I come on.  Last time, I had an 8:40 AM interview, which came on at about the 2:45:00 point in the mp3. This time, the interview was at 8:20 (yes, for some inexplicable reason, I decided 8:40 wasn't early enough), so I probably come on around the 2:25:00 mark, if I had to guess.

It's on the topic of "Warning Others of the Disease of Sin, or the Dangers of False Charity," so even if you don't get a chance to listen, feel free to check out the post.  I hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why Does God Call David a Man After His Own Heart?

In Acts 13, during Paul's first homily to the Gentiles, in Pisidian Antioch, he explains some Jewish history.  At one point (Acts 13:22), he says:
After removing Saul, He made David their king. He testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after My own Heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’
And sure enough, in 1 Samuel 13:13-14, the prophet Samuel warns Saul,
“You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”
But calling David a man after God's own Heart is a strange statement. This is the same David was responsible for much bloodshed both before and after becoming king, had a number of wives (1 Chronicles 14:3) and concubines (2 Samuel 5:13), and in the most notorious incident, impregnated Bathsheba, the wife of one of his soldiers, then had the soldier killed in the line of duty to cover it up (2 Samuel 11).  We're left without question that God rebukes David for this, and punishes him and his household (2 Samuel 12).

So why did God refer to this rash and often sinful king as a man after His own Heart?  Fr. Arne Panula, my spiritual director, explained it to me last Friday.  As part of punishment upon David (2 Samuel 12:11-12), God permits David's eldest son Absalom to usurp the throne, causing David to flee into exile (2 Samuel 15:14).  Absalom then sleeps with David's concubines, just to spite him (2 Samuel 16:21-22) and plans to kill his father (2 Samuel 17:1).

David ultimately organizes an army to retake Jerusalem, but he instructs his men, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake” (2 Samuel 18:5).  As it happens, Absalom gets caught by the hair in the branches of an oak tree, “leaving him hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going” (2 Samuel 18:9).  The original soldier who finds him remembers that he's not to be harmed (2 Samuel 18:12), but Joab, David's commander,  takes three javelins and spears him, and then his men finish killing him (2 Samuel 18:14-15).

Meanwhile, messengers are running from the battlefield back to David.  The first one, Ahimaaz, immediately ran to notify David that Absalom was captured, without waiting around to find out what happened to him. After Absalom was killed, a Cushite messenger followed to deliver the bad news. Pay close attention to King David's reaction, and what it tells us about God's own love for us (2 Samuel 18:28-33):
Then Ahimaaz called out to the king, “All is well!” He bowed down before the king with his face to the ground and said, “Praise be to the LORD your God! He has delivered up the men who lifted their hands against my lord the king.” The king asked, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” Ahimaaz answered, “I saw great confusion just as Joab was about to send the king’s servant and me, your servant, but I don’t know what it was.” The king said, “Stand aside and wait here.” So he stepped aside and stood there.

Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The LORD has delivered you today from all who rose up against you.”  The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”

The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you — O Absalom, my son, my son!”
And that's why he's a man after God's own heart.  God knows what it's like to have rebellious sons, to have sons who act like they hate Him, and who try to take everything that rightly belongs to Him.  And like David, God will secure His rightful throne. But He doesn't do so out of hatred for sinners, but always with a concern for their well-being and salvation (just as David handicapped his men, by ordering them to retake Israel without harming Absalom).  Ultimately, David acts the most like God when he's willing to die in the place of his sinful son, just as Christ died for our own sins.

Just as Absalom (who, I should note, was David's heir, as his eldest son) wanted his inheritance early, Jesus describes Heaven as our inheritance (Matthew 25:34), and in the parable of the prodigal son, He uses the image of a son who demands his inheritance early to represent those who seek earthly pleasures over the joys of Heaven (Luke 15:12).  The parallel between God and us, and  between David and Absalom even extends to names. Absalom's name means Peace is my Father, or Son of Peace.  Meanwhile, Christ is prefigured as the King of Peace by Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:1-3).  So all who are followers of Christ, and are sons of the Father, are sons of Peace just like Absalom.  And God's message is that He'd gladly die in our place to avoid us the pains of eternal death.  And then He did so.

At this point, Fr. Arne pointed to a copy of this photo on his wall:


It's Pope John Paul II visiting Mehmet Ali Agca in prison to comfort him.  Agca, if you don't recall, was the man who had tried to kill the pope.  The would-be assassin and his would-be victim sat alone and talked intimately for some time,  and the pope refused to reveal the contents of what the two men had said:
“What we talked about will have to remain a secret between him and me,” the Pope said as he emerged from the cell. “I spoke to him as brother whom I have pardoned, and who has my complete trust.”
We do know that the pope left him a rosary, and that years later, Agca announced his intention to convert from Islam to Catholicism.

This paternal love for a man who makes himself your enemy is the love modeled by King David, by Pope John Paul II, and best of all by Jesus Christ Himself. We should all strive to be men (and women) after God's own heart, by loving and caring for our enemies in this way.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Why Pray to Mary in Front of the Blessed Sacrament?

Yesterday, I was asked one of the best questions about praying to Mary that I've come across: why do we pray to Mary in front of the Blessed Sacrament?  If we really believe that the Eucharist is Jesus, why focus on His mortal Mother instead of Him, when He's right there?

Let me provide some background.  Some friends of mine brought an Anglican friend (who has a genuine interest in Catholicism) with them to Mass.  He and I had earlier talked about the fact that his "Anglo-Catholic" parish takes a very high view of the Eucharist, believing in the Real Presence in some sense.  Through God's mysterious Providence, the homily was on the difference between the Anglican and Catholic understanding of the Eucharist (I love when God does things like this).  Father talked about an Anglican seminarian who didn't understand why he couldn't receive at Mass, and the priest he'd been speaking to responded, "Do you worship the consecrated Eucharist with the worship due to God alone?" The Anglican conceded that he didn't, and the gulf between the two views was made clear.

Since yesterday was the Feast of Corpus Christi, we had a Eucharistic procession after Mass, going from the church to the church cemetery.  Upon arriving, we worshiped Christ in the Eucharist and prayed the rosary. Afterwards, I had a chance to sit down with my Anglican friend, and we talked a bit about what had happened. He'd been struck by Father's homily, which convinced him to join us in adoration. But he had been disconcerted by the fact that we were praying the rosary: if what Father had said was true, that this was God Himself, why take time away from worshiping Him to honor Mary?

After thinking about it for a bit, I came up with two explanations. I'm curious what others think of these, and how they might have answered the question themselves:

1) One of the highest honors you can pay someone is to respect and honor their loved ones.  

For example, one of the best compliments you can give a man is to compliment his mother, wife, or children, those people he feels protective of. Complement him personally, absolutely, but tell him he has a good family, and you've really paid him a compliment.

I was fortunate enough to be in London when Queen Elizabeth's mother turned 100.  There was an enormous parade through the city, the "Queen Mum" was featured on money, and so on.  It was the most epic birthday party I've ever attended, I'll say that.  And of course, the guest of honor's daughter, the Queen of England, attended (and was, in fact, probably partially-responsible for the celebration). So here was the highest-ranking royal in the country, the Queen, yet everyone was paying attention to her mother. And the Queen wasn't even threatened or offended by this: why? Because (a) she's not insecure, (b) the Queen Mum wasn't a threat to her, and (3) she loved her mother.

Likewise with Christ. Mary isn't trying to become the fourth member of the Trinity, or steal Jesus' spot.  And God isn't insecure or jealous of Her.  Instead, He lavishes Her with honors, so that She's "clothed with the sun, with the moon under Her feet and a crown of twelve stars on Her head" (Rev 12:1), and She says of Herself in Luke 1:48-49, "From now on all generations will call Me Blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for Me."  And Christ makes clear that He loves and honors His Mother.  In addition to being Her God, He's also Her Son.  And like any loving Son, He thrills at seeing His Mother honored.

2) We should be very wary of pitting good against good.  

On the surface, my friend's question is a very good one.  Every moment we pray to Mary is a moment we're not praying to the God in front of us, right?  But I was reminded of Mark 14:3-5:
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
In fact, it's apparently in response to this that Judas decides to betray Christ (Mark 14:10).  So the woman has done a good thing, and the response of Judas and the others is essentially that it's not the best thing she could have done with that money (Christ actually disputes this, by the way - Mark 14:9).  My point is that there's always a demonic desire to turn good against good.  Every moment spent helping the poor could be spent in prayer, every dollar spent on building beautiful churches could be spent on the poor, every minute praying to Mary could be spent praying to Jesus.

We become incredibly stingy with our time, talent, and treasure when it comes to doing those things which are pleasing to God.  But do we ever hear people say, "every dollar spent on amusements could be spent helping the poor," or "every moment watching TV could be spent praying to Jesus"?  If so, it's much less common.  For that matter, every moment spent criticizing another Christian for helping the poor, or donating to the Church, or praying to Mary could be spent doing something good for God, like praying, rather than tearing apart the Body of Christ.  So instead of making one good the enemy of the other, why not spend all the time you want praying to Mary, and all the time you want praying to Jesus, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit?  If you find you have less time for TV or back-biting against other Christians, those are sacrifices that are much more worthy of being made.

Finally, Scripture tells us, "confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 5:16).  So every moment in prayer to Mary, telling Her our troubles, asking Her for Her prayers, is a moment in obedience to God and Sacred Scripture.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Answering Lutheran Objections to Church Structure and Authority

Yesterday, I described a class lecture given by a Lutheran pastor, Mark Anderson, on the canon of Scripture and the authority of the early Church.  Pastor Anderson showed how rejecting the authority of the early episcopacy would leave you without a Bible and without any reliable way of distinguishing orthodoxy and heresy, admitted that Protestantism still hasn't found a way of solving “the question of authority, which is really the question,” yet declared himself an opponent of episcopal governance.  He responded with a link to an article by the Lutheran Joseph Burgess, to which I now respond to.

Pastor Anderson,

Behind all of the excess verbage and unnecessary use of Latin (seriously, was it necessary to say cum grano salis, instead of “with a grain of salt”?), it appears that Burgess makes (a) a number of baseless theological and ecclesiological assertions, which he never bothers to justify, and (b) a few actual arguments. If I may, let me respond to each, in turn.

Baseless Assertions

In the former category, Burgess simply dismisses, out of hand, the idea that Catholics and other non-Lutherans even know God, because we disagree with the Lutheran view on Law/Gospel. But who put Burgess (or the ELCA, or Luther) in charge of defining the content of “the Word,” “the Law,” “the Gospel,” or “the canon of Scripture”? As a wise man once said, “Where do we go finally for resolution of doctrinal problems? Where do we go finally for resolution of theological questions? Who determines what the meaning of Jesus Christ is?” Burgess just gives himself (and those he agrees with, theologically) this authority and moves on. That’s no answer.

Likewise, Burgess quotes himself for the conclusion that “there is no special gift (charism) of infallibility in the [M]agisterium.” On what basis do we know that Burgess is right and the Catholic Church is wrong on this issue? Burgess’ answer seems to be, “Because the Catholic Church is wrong.” Again, not an answer.

Bizarrely, Burgess provides no evidence that for any of his central claims. He simply asserts them and moves on, even praising the German Lutherans for refusing to “make decisions about dogma” when a Lutheran minister (Baumann) declared the pope the head of the Church or when another (Schulz) declared that there was no God.

There are a number of of other examples where Burgess makes sweeping claims as well, without supporting them (“The gospel is, of course, sola fide and sola cruce,” “Christian freedom, of course, includes the adiaphoristic principle,” and so on), but I think the above are the most important.  But more fundamentally, given that (a) Burgess never points to any authority outside of himself for his claims; and (b) neither Burgess, nor the ELCA, nor Luther himself  claim(ed) to have the charism of infallibility, and can’t define dogma, why trust them over the Church which brought us the Councils of Jerusalem, Nicea, etc., and does claim to be uniquely led by the Holy Spirit? She has a better doctrinal track record and, at the very least, a colorable claim of infallibility.

Actual Arguments

I count four actual arguments in Burgess' article (if I've missed any, let me know):
  1. Sometimes, we don't want to obey the Church.
  2. The historic episcopate has been a fallible mark of church unity.
  3. The Church actually enforces orthodoxy.
  4. The historic episcopate is not “an irreversible development in God's plan.
Burgess' first point is that a “recent study (1982) by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the former LCA, done with the help of the Alban Institute, on the functions of the bishop points up the dilemma: both pastors and congregations want their bishop to speak with authority when he agrees with them, but not when he disagrees. There's the rub.” Very true. The sheep want shepherds with actual authority to direct the sheep, but only if they're not the errant sheep themselves: then they talk about the importance of Christian liberty. But  how is this an argument against the episcopacy?  It sounds like an argument for it, to prevent us from becoming puffed up on our theological conclusions, and mistaking our reading of the Bible for the Gospel.  We need an episcopacy not to police our brother's sins, but to better see the plank in our own eyes.  Yes, it's tough medicine; yes, it's humbling. But emphatically, these are not arguments against the episcopacy. If every sheep is left to follow their own opinions, we'd have no unity (a fact which Lutheranism and all other forms of Protestantism illuminates all too clearly).

The second argument, is that there have been times when the episcopacy (which Burgess never defines, but by which he apparently means, “a majority of the Church's bishops, at any given time”) sometimes are wrong. To support this, he cites to the Catholic bishops during the Reformation not abandoning Catholicism, and to the Arian bishops of the fourth century. Interestingly, if Burgess' definition of “episcopacy” is simply “popular opinion among bishops,” we agree.


The problem here is that Burgess ignores or fails to understand the difference between “the Magisterium” and “the episcopacy.”  At times, individual bishops embrace doctrinal views which are wrong.  Sometimes, there are a lot of bishops backing the wrong horse.  For a while in the fourth century, for example, perhaps even a majority of bishops were Arian.  How did the Church solve this?  By calling the First Council of Nicea, which then condemned Arianism.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit, unpopular Truth triumphed over popular heresy.   So disputes, including ones in which bishops take opposing sides, are solved by the Magisterium, since the Magisterium is guided by the Holy Spirit in a way that individual bishops are not.  This is how things played out in the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), how they played out at the Council of Nicea, and how they played out at the Council of Trent.

Burgess' third argument is that, according to the late Fr. Richard McCormick, within the Catholic Church, “Episcopal unity is revealed as enforced, not genuine.” Again, true enough.  After Nicea, the Church didn't simply say, “believe in Arianism if you want to.”  Instead, Trinitarian orthodoxy was “enforced,” Arianism died out as a movement, and the post-Nicene Church enjoyed a fuller unity as a result.  The basis for episcopal unity isn't that every bishop happens to agree with every other bishop, but that good bishops have the humility to submit to the Magisterium. Fr. McCormick, too proud to accept Catholic teachings on fundamentals like abortion and birth control, say this as oppressive.  But this is just another instance of wanting Church authority until you're on the wrong side of orthodoxy.

The Most Important Argument

Finally, Burgess raises his most important argument: “On the question of the historic episcopate our Confessional literature is very specific: ecclesiastical ranks ‘were created by human authority.’”  This question is most important of all: if the office of bishop (as something distinct from the presbytery) was established by the Apostles, we ought to obey it, rather than rejecting Apostolic Christianity.

Of course, the three ecclesiastical ranks in question, bishop (“Overseer, 1 Timothy 3:1), priest/presbyter (“Elder,” 1 Timothy 5:17), and deacon (“Server,” 1 Timothy 3:8), are each mentioned in Scripture and are of Apostolic origin.  But the stock anti-episcopal response is to claim that bishop and presbyter are the same office, based on some grammatical ambiguity in Acts 20:27-28, and a few other passages.  Now, there are plenty of good responses to this within Scripture itself.  For example, in the Old Testament, the Overseer was the sole man in charge (see Proverbs 6:7, comparing him to a commander or ruler), while the Elders were a ruling body (Exodus 3:16).  And using the ambiguity with which the New Testament writers sometimes speak of the three offices, you could just as easily prove that the Apostle Peter was really only a presbyter (1 Peter 5:1), or that the Apostle Paul was really only a deacon (Col. 1:25).  It's a much stronger hypothesis that the New Testament writers are saying that each Christian leader is called to oversee and to serve, even if their office isn't Overseer (Bishop) or Server (Deacon).

But since we have differing interpretations of what the Scriptures mean here (based on what I think it's fair to say is a genuine ambiguity), let's get back to what you rightly identify as the first question, the question of authority.  Should we simply part company, each with our own theological interpretations, or listen to the historic Church?  In your talk, you said the latter, and I agree.  So let's put two questions before the historic Church: 
  1. Did they think the Church had two or three tiers?  
  2. Did they think the Church structure was instituted by the Apostles, or a latter innovation?
The answer to both questions is surprisingly uniform.  St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing shortly before his own death (c. 107 A.D.), wrote to the Magnesians, in Greece, “I have had the privilege of seeing you, through Damas your most worthy bishop, and through your worthy presbyters Bassus and Apollonius, and through my fellow-servant the deacon Sotio,” so we know that they had this structure from the earliest known records.  Likewise, Ignatius tells the Ephesians, in modern-day Turkey, to obey “the bishop and the presbytery,” referring to the bishop, Onesimus, by name. And he refers to himself, in his letter to the Romans, as “the bishop of Syria,noting that they'll have no bishop but God after he's dead (h/t Called to Communion).

But not only do we unambiguously see this identical tri-fold structure (a single bishop, a body of presbyters, and deacons) throughout all of Christendom within a decade of the death of the last Apostle, we're also told  that it was the Apostles themselves who set up the episcopacy.  In 180 A.D., St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in modern-day France, wrote that every church on Earth could trace their lineage back to the bishops appointed by the Apostles:
It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times...
Irenaeus then recites the chronology of bishops in the See with “preeminent authority,” Rome.  Without giving the full list, it begins, “The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy.

Both Ignatius and Irenaeus, and many others besides, are making incredibly bold claims about a Church hierarchy instituted by the Apostles, and headed by one bishop per city (each called to be loyal to Rome, as Irenaeus tells us).  If this isn't the universal belief of the early Church, where do we see opponents rejecting the episcopacy as an accretion, as you do?  Or where do they at least deny that the episcopacy is created by the Apostles?

Conclusion

Pastor Anderson, this is what I meant in my last post, when I suggested you identified the right problems, and even offered the right solutions, but didn't follow your own advice.  If you're serious about submitting your own opinions to the historic Church, you should do so in this matter, and on the canon of Scripture, and on justification, and the Eucharist, and so forth.  Otherwise, you seem to simply tie up the burden of following Tradition and the Church for others' shoulders, while not carrying that burden yourself (Mt. 23:3-4).

In Christ,

Joe.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Lutheran Pastor Shows the Need for the Catholic Church

Steve Martin (the Lutheran blogger known as “Old Adam,” not the actor/comedian) has been talking with a motley crew of us Catholics in the comments here about how Lutherans can know which Books are in Scripture. Steve directed me to a talk his pastor, Mark Anderson, gave on the subject.

I listened to it last night, and was pleased to say that I agree with probably 80-90% of what Anderson had to say. First off, he recognized that the importance of understanding the question of authority:
The question of authority, which is really the question, that’s where it all starts. And that’s where it has been percolating since the Reformation. The question of authority has not been resolved in the Christian church. That’s the question that’s wide open, and that accounts for a lot of the diversity and the multiplicity of churches, and denominations, and so forth. This is the problem that has not been solved. It continues to fester, and be chronically part of our life as Christians.
The question of authority isn't important so we can know who has “power” or who gets to be “boss.” Instead, Pastor Anderson defines the question of authority like this:Where do we go finally for resolution of doctrinal problems? Where do we go finally for resolution of theological questions? Who determines what the meaning of Jesus Christ is?As Anderson noted, we see this appeal to ecclesiastical authority in the New Testament, whenever Paul opens his letters by declaring himself an Apostle (which was constantly: Romans 1:1, 1 Cor. 1:1, 2 Cor 1:1, Galatians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, 1 Timothy 1:1, 2 Timothy 1:1, and Titus 1:1). Paul begins by reminding everyone he's an Apostle, because it means that they have to listen to his message. They can't just say, “I don't interpret the Old Testament that way," or “when I heard Jesus say that, that's not the interpretation I took." Personal interpretation of Scripture and of the words of Jesus must submit to Paul's Apostolic authority.

So the question of who has valid authority today is the question. Before you can know whether you're living in accordance with “the Gospel,” you need to know what the Gospel is. And Christians will gives you probably thousands of different contradictory answers, from “just be a good person,” to “believe in Jesus, and how you live doesn't matter” to everything in between. We're told that we need to be a part of the visible Church to be saved, or (as Harold Camping has been teaching) that membership in the visible Church is a mark of your damnation.. So those wanting to live out the Gospel need to know, “Who can I trust?” And as Pastor Anderson notes, Protestantism still can't answer that simple question, five hundred years on. We'll get to why that is in a bit.

I. How the Early Church Handled the Question of Authority

Anderson noted that the early Church faced this problem as well. Here's how he described the fourth-century Church, and its similarity to Protestantism today:
The Church Fathers sat down and said: ‘We’ve got to do something about this. We’ve got “orthodoxies” which are heretics all over the map. Nobody knows how to talk about Jesus. Nobody knows exactly what the Gospel is.’ And it’s hard for us maybe to appreciate that completely, but all we have to do is look to the current state of affairs in the Christian Church, the multiplicity of congregations and denominations, points of view, to realize it is up for grab. And it doesn’t help to just stand up and assert more loudly what you believe to be the Truth. I mean, hollering – the proclamation of the Gospel is not a shouting match. The loudest voice isn’t necessary the one that’s gonna win - or should.
And Pastor Anderson even conceded that this problem was solved by the very episcopacy which he rejects, saying:
I don’t think there’s been anyone who’s been more critical of the move towards episcopacy than I have. But anyone would be a fool to look over two thousand years of Christian history, and not recognize that many of the Bishops of the ancient Church played a pivotal role in seeing to it that the doctrine of the word of God was adequately protected, and faithfully proclaimed. In fact, it was largely due to many of their ministries that we have what we have today in terms of Christian orthodoxy and Scripture.
So the early Church was faced with this problem, but had a solution. The Church authorities (the episcopacy) settled the dispute. Anderson even goes further, acknowledging that “the papal see becomes a logical extension of Apostolic authority taken about as grand of heights as you can get.” Now, I'd dispute this characterization somewhat (the pope's authority is actually far less than that of the Apostles, and less than what Mormonism's leadership claims for itself), but his core point, that Apostolic Succession was viewed in the early Church as continuing through all the Bishops, but particularly the Pope, is absolutely true. And this solved the question of Authority, and this preserved the Gospel intact. And yet Protestants today, including Anderson himself, refuse to accept this solution. So instead, they're left with no answer, and no agreement on what the Gospel even is.

This becomes remarkably clear with the canon of Scripture. Pastor Anderson praises the early bishops for settling the canon: but he rejects their canon. You wouldn't know this from his talk -- he talks about them settling “the New Testament canon” -- but the Church didn't settle “the New Testament canon,” it settled the entire canon of Scripture, period. Old and New. In fact, the early Church was quite adamantly opposed to the heretics who dreamed that there was one God of the Old Testament and one of the New, and were fervently insistent that there was one God, and one Deposit of Faith.

So with the New Testament, as Pastor Anderson notes, we have the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but there were other contenders as well: Anderson lists: the “‘Gospel’ of Peter, we have the ‘Gospel’ of Thomas, what’s called the Protoevangelium (the ‘first Gospel’) there are other ‘Gospels’: the ‘Gospel’ of Barnabas, the ‘Gospel’ of James, that were not included in the New Testament.” It's upon the authority of these Catholic bishops, at the Council of Carthage, that we trust that which Books are Biblical, and which are not.

Yet look at what the Council actually decided. You can find Canon 24 of the Council of Carthage right here (that's Calvin College's version). In the same breath, it establishes the Old and New Testament. They're not even separate canons. You can't say, “I think the Book of Hebrews is Scripture because Canon 24 of the Council of Carthage says so,” but then say, “I don't care what Canon 24 of the Council of Carthage says, I don't think 1 Maccabees is Scripture.” (Luther was at least consistent, and felt comfortable rejecting both 1 Maccabees and Hebrews, James, Revelation, etc.). So if you care about believing what the early Church believes, then start using a Catholic Bible. Start giving the episcopacy and particularly the papacy which the early Church gave. Conversely, if you don't care about believing what the early Church believes, or think you know more about the Gospel then they do, then don't pretend otherwise.

So what Pastor Anderson is saying is mostly all true: we should look to the early Church, we should let the Church authorities settle theological disputes, etc. But where he goes wrong is that he doesn't practice what he preaches, or he'd be Catholic. To understand how he goes wrong, look to Luther.

II. The Role of Luther

Pastor Anderson's description of Martin Luther is remarkably revealing. There were three comments he made which are worth drawing out. First:
[Luther] never assumed that the Roman Catholic Church wasn’t Christian. That’s what you hear today. That’s what you get from radical Protestants, the non-denominational sectarians who just wipe everybody out with one swoop. Luther was part of the tradition: it’s the tradition that nurtured him, he was baptized as a Roman Catholic, he was brought up in the traditions of the church, it was in that Church that he heard the Gospel, that he wanted to be a follower of Christ, that he wanted to give his life in service, in the monastic life.
So Luther doesn't begin by saying that the Church is the “Whore of Babylon” or “Synagogue of Satan.” That craziness all comes later. At the start, the Reformation was genuinely intended to be a Reform, not a Revolt. Luther started out trying to help the Church as best he knew, out of a genuine love for the Catholic Church. On this point, we agree 100%. But then what happens? Pastor Anderson says:
As the gap widens [between Luther and the Church], as Luther finds that the papal see is not very responsive, does not want to be responsive to him, they’re more interested in, as he said, fleecing the hide of the German sheep” than they are in dealing with these important theological matters, Luther moves away, more and more, from Tradition, he moves towards Scripture. He finds himself having to defend himself, more and more, not so much based upon Church Fathers, but upon Scripture alone, and he discovers that – that works. There’s plenty of ammunition without having to go anywhere else. And this is where the various Protestant groups within the Reformation begin to catch fire.
So despite a well-meaning start, Luther's hit two bumps in the road. First, the reforms he suggests aren't immediately accepted, and his own ideas don't seem as brilliant to the pope as they do to him, and Luther gets impatient, and then embittered (hence the hurling of insults about fleecing the German sheep, and many more far worse). Eventually, of course, the Church mulls over many of Luther's proposed reforms, and accepts a number of them. But some of them were legitimately bad ideas, and some were unfaithful to the Gospel that this very Catholic Church was pledged to protect. This second point is a bigger bump: Catholics begin telling him that many of his ideas are contrary to clear Church teachings, commemorated in specific Councils.

So what's Luther's response? Besides hurling insults, it's too look for what Anderson calls “ammunition.”  When he finds that while he can't defend some of his ideas from Christian Tradition, he can use certain verses of the Bible to make it sound like he's right.  And “ammunition” is the perfect word here, because Luther used Bible verses as weapons, as do the various other Reformers and Radical Reformers championing a thousand contradictory views (until they eventually picked up actual weapons). So Luther turned to sola Scriptura not because Scripture says so (It doesn't), but because it means he doesn't have to concede he's wrong, when he doesn't feel like he's wrong.

But despite his growing animosity towards Catholicism, Pastor Anderson reminds us that Luther still wanted to come to peace, but on his own terms. He describes Luther's position as this:
“The authority of the papal see is not sufficient because popes have erred, Councils have erred in the past. Let’s all agree, we can have a pope, we can have bishops, but let’s all sit under the authority of Scripture, so that we’re not taking the opinions of men, and making them binding on the consciences of people.”
That seems pretty accurate to me. But here's the problem: the pope didn't (and doesn't) view himself as above Scripture. He simply understood the Gospel to mean something different than Luther did.  And if Luther disagrees with the bishops, and with the pope, on the meaning of Scripture, you have to side with the episcopacy/papacy if Church authority means anything.  If the Church is only in charge if you happen to agree, She's completely powerless.  If a shepherd only gets to decide where the sheep go if the sheep happen to agree, the shepherd is worthless.

So if Church authority means anything, faithful Christians have to side with the Church's view of the Bible over Luther's.  If they don't, then they can't complain when Rob Bell comes along as the newest Luther, proposing a view of the Gospel rejected by the Church.

But subjecting the Church to the Bible is even more troubling from a Lutheran perspective. Anderson said of the Lutheran view of Scripture:
Lutherans, as I say, have elevated Scripture, and we say it is to the point of saying, “It is the final word in all matters of faith and life.  It is the final Authority in all matters of faith and life.”
But it's precisely because Luther rejects the authority of the popes and Councils that there's no basis on which to say what the proper canon of Scripture is. If you can't agree on which Books are in the Bible, how can the Bible be your rule of faith?  So instead of solidifying the basis of Scripture, Luther ironically undermines Scripture completely.


III. The Situation Today

Pastor Anderson notes that the result of the Reformation and the advent of sola Scriptura is perpetual schism, with each person becoming their own pope, saying that the Bible means x, and being accountable to no one:
But what happened in this radical Protestantism of the Reformation? The fleshly pope was replaced with a paper pope. Why? Because they understood that if we’re gonna dump the whole system of ecclesiastical structure, then what do we use to order our life? We use the Bible. Okay, that was a misunderstanding of Luther. Has it been tried? Oh yeah, look around. We are at the point in the splintering of Protestantism, particularly radical Protestantism, where virtually every congregation, and every preacher up front with his Bible, or her Bible, becomes an authority on the word of God unto itself. It is radical congregationalism, splintered congregationalism. There is no helpful witness there, in terms of the great scope of the Church’s life and thought across the generations.
I agree, except that rather than a misunderstanding of Luther, it's the unavoidable result of his thought.  We see this in every Protestant denomination that's taken sola Scriptura as its mantra: every single one.  At some point, it's like those defenders of Communism who kept just imagining that it was being implemented wrong: the problem isn't the implementation, the problem is the idea itself.  Even Pastor Anderson's own local church is evidence of this, as Steve informs me that they're thinking about splitting away from the ELCA.  Constant schism and a drive towards congregationalism is the end result of Protestantism wherever it's tried.

Now, Pastor Anderson is rightly disgusted with those preachers who take a posture of:
“Don’t you dare question what’s being taught today, because it’s coming right out of the Bible. You might have a question, but don’t bring it up, because after all, I’m teaching the Bible, this is no theology, there’s no doctrine being taught here, I’m just teaching straight out of the Bible. You’ve got a problem, you’ve got a problem of God.”
He actually goes much, much further than I would, and declares this “Christofascism,” and compares these Christians to bin Laden and the Taliban. But again, while I agree with him, I don't see how he can pretend that Lutherans are immune from this.  The comment that began the dialogue with Steve Martin was his claim in the comments here that Lutheranism “proclaims the [G]ospel in its purity,” and that now “that I am free from all the spiritual navel gazing and Christian progressivism, I don't think I could ever return to Rome or go to an Evangelical church where there theology is basically the same as Rome's (a lot of God and a little of me).”  And so it's gone: he's resisted any distinction between “the Gospel” and “Lutheran theology.”  In this way, Luther himself “becomes an authority on the word of God unto” himself.

So while I think Anderson correctly diagnosed the problem, he doesn't see the depth of it. He still imagines this can be cured if only people became Lutheran, or understood Luther's message better. There were two heartening things which Anderson said towards the end of his talk, in talking about his encounter going to a the Catholic Cathedral in Milan:

  1. He went in dripping with anti-Catholic prejudice.
  2. He was surprised to discover that the beautiful artwork was Biblical scenes, and that it was possible that these peasants were actually expressing a faith in Jesus Christ.  He concluded, “I could see how this arena of worship could be a powerful statement of Biblical faith.
One of the major things that we have to get over in this debate is the unseen anti-Catholicism.  The particular form it generally takes is an assumption by non-Catholics (and ex-Catholics) that they knew what the Catholic Church really teaches, either based upon a parish they used to attend, or some books they've read about (not by) Catholics. Acknowledging this bias, and then allowing one's self to be open to having it corrected is beautiful, and should inspire us with hope.

Conclusion

Let me leave you with what I think are two of Pastor Anderson's stronger points.  First, that Scripture should never “be read apart from the common life of the Church.”  That's a simple argument for Tradition.  Second, he said, “How dare we write off 1500 years of Christian witness, because it does not suit our narrow interpretation of the word of God? And that is what is dividing the Christian Church as we speak.

Of course, as I've said before, anyone taking seriously what Pastor Anderson (or, for that matter, Luther) says about the dependence of Scriptural interpretation upon the Church will find that they'll have a very hard time defending such common Protestant doctrines as:
  1. Baptism is just symbolic (that is, it's not regenerative, and the Holy Spirit doesn't actually cleanse us through it);
  2. The Eucharist is just symbolic (it's not actually the Body and Blood of Christ); 
  3. Justification is just forensic (we're declared righteous by God, but we're not actually made righteous through the Holy Spirit); and 
  4. The Bible is composed of the 66-Book Protestant canon.
So the hurdle isn't that Anderson doesn't understand the problem, or even that he can't speak to what Christianity ought to be doing.  The problem is simply that he's just not doing it

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Purgatory and Ghosts

Randal Rauser, an associate professor of historical theology at Taylor Seminary in Canada, wrote a column on Tuesday for the Christian Post, called "Should Christians believe in ghosts?"  He began by showing that the  ancient Israelites believed in ghosts (Rauser points to the conjuring of Solomon in 1 Samuel 18), and that the Apostles believed in ghosts, quoting Mark 6:48-50,
He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.
And Luke 24:36-37,
While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.
Rauser then shows, by telling his readers that "Gregory the Great" (that is, Pope Gregory the Great) discussed a number of alleged ghostly apparitions in 585 A.D.

But the question, not of ghosts per se, but of ghosts roaming the world, is a bit troubling theologically.  Shouldn't they be in Heaven or in Hell?  Professor Rauser's response to this problem was fascinating to me:
Many Christians have understood ghosts, or at least some of them, as enduring a purgatorial existence. But this does not exclude other possibilities such as some "lost" ghosts who are engaged in malevolent mischief (e.g. poltergeist activity) or ghosts who are regenrated but engaged in particular missions on earth. Moreover, even the purgatory option is open to Protestants, so long as it is qualified appropriately (i.e. some views of purgatory are inconsistent with Protestantism but others are not).
I found two things fascinating here:
  1. That Rauser was willing to acknowledge the possibility of the existence of some form of Purgatory.  He leaves the question at this, without explaining which forms of Purgatory are compatible and which are not.

  2. Conversely, the notion that some views of Purgatory are "inconsistent with Protestantism" is something of an odd claim, these days. Is there anything under the sun that isn't consistent with some form of Protestantism?  And who's in charge of Protestantism, to decide which things are authentic manifestations or reforms of the Protestant tradition, and which things are deviations?
Fortunately, I wasn't the only person with raised eyebrows at this admission. One of the commenters wrote, “Dr. Rauser, could you explain the purgatorial possibilities open to Protestants? I’ve never heard of this. It would certainly be fascinating in its interpretive potential as it applies to the paranormal.”  And yesterday, he responded.  In relevant part, he explained:
Purgatory, boiled down to essentials, is constituted by the following claim:

(1) the process of sanctification in the regenerate continues posthumously.

That’s it. All you need for purgatory is (1). You can always add additional claims like “this posthumous process of sanctification expiates the guilt of sin” but a claim like that is not essential to the doctrine of purgatory.

There is no inconsistency between the core claims of Protestantism and (1). Therefore, it follows that Protestants can accept a doctrine of purgatory.

Just to hammer this point home, let’s assume that a Protestant has absolutely impeccable credentials because she holds to the following very traditional, mainstream Protestant claims:

(2) Penal substitution: Christ suffered in the place of the elect, taking the punishment that was owing to them.

(3) Double imputation: at the moment of regeneration/conversion the guilt of the elect person is imputed to Christ and his righteousness is imputed to the elect.

(4) Justification: at the moment of double imputation the elect person is justified.

There is simply no conflict, or even discernable tension, between (2)-(4) and (1). Thus, a Protestant who has reason to believe that the process of sanctification continues posthumously should have no problem accepting (1) whilst retaining.
Given that Catholics don't think that Purgatory is something apart from the work of Christ, I'm at a bit of a loss for how "some views of purgatory are inconsistent" at all. The real difference appears to be, not with Purgatory, but with how Protestants and Catholics understand justification and sanctification.

Within Catholicism, God doesn't simply declare us righteous, He makes us righteous, though the Holy Spirit.  Anything less would be akin to God lying.  In contrast, Lutheranism claimed that God merely declares us righteous, while we remained depraved sinners - Luther compared it to snow covering a dunghill.  Another analogy would be a white shirt stained red with sin.  Luther's view of justification would just have God putting a white shirt over the stained shirt,* and pretending the stained shirt didn't exist; Catholicism views God as actually washing away all the filth.

This renders sanctification nearly meaningless in Lutheran theology. It's simply not necessary for salvation at all.  Instead, sanctification is simply the result of being saved, just as within Calvinism, both justification and sanctification are results of being saved.  So sanctification is helpful for convincing yourself you're saved, but it doesn't do anything.  If that's all sanctification is, there's no reason for Purgatory.

The reason that Purgatory doesn't fit well within a Protestant schema isn't that it adds something to the work of Christ. It's that if God cares enough about our sanctification to continue to work on us until we're actually cleansed, then it must be more important than mere evidence of our justification, and it seems to be necessary to enter Heaven (Rev. 21:27).  If all that's true, forensic-only justification, the most important doctrine of the Reformation, is almost certainly wrong.

Having said all of this, I'm actually not saying that Rauser is necessarily right about ghosts, or about ghosts being in Purgatory (my own inclinations match Jimmy Akin's), but only that if he is, then it seems to me that he's showing why the Lutheran understandings of justification and sanctification are wrong, or at least incomplete.  If Rauser gives serious examination to the problem of Purgatory, it seems almost certain that he'll find himself confronting the Catholic question soon enough.  I'm pleased to see him going down that road, and pleasantly surprised that the Christian Post is permitting him to do so.

*While I disagree with Luther on justification, this was more or less my approach to my wardrobe for many years.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Gaining the Whole World at the Cost of Your Soul: The Lesson of Abram and Lot

Yesterday's First Reading was from Genesis 13:2, 5-18:
Now Abram was very rich in livestock, silver, and gold. [...] Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support them if they stayed together; their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together.

There were quarrels between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and those of Lot's. (At this time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were occupying the land.) So Abram said to Lot: "Let there be no strife between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land at your disposal? Please separate from me. If you prefer the left, I will go to the right; if you prefer the right, I will go to the left."

Lot looked about and saw how well watered the whole Jordan Plain was as far as Zoar, like the LORD'S own garden, or like Egypt. (This was before the LORD had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) Lot, therefore, chose for himself the whole Jordan Plain and set out eastward. Thus they separated from each other; Abram stayed in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the Plain, pitching his tents near Sodom. Now the inhabitants of Sodom were very wicked in the sins they committed against the LORD.

After Lot had left, the LORD said to Abram: "Look about you, and from where you are, gaze to the north and south, east and west; all the land that you see I will give to you and your descendants forever. I will make your descendants like the dust of the earth; if anyone could count the dust of the earth, your descendants too might be counted. Set forth and walk about in the land, through its length and breadth, for to you I will give it." Abram moved his tents and went on to settle near the terebinth of Mamre, which is at Hebron. There he built an altar to the LORD.
Some time ago, I heard a great homily preached on one line of this passage: "their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together."  There's so much which can be mined from that punchy little statement.  The wealth and possessions which we're told will bring us happiness divided the family of Abram and Lot. It lead to their herdsmen in-fighting, and it ultimately resulted in them separating. Again and again, we see this happen, that those things which we expect will make us happy just tear us away from those we love.

But there's something else which the priest yesterday pointed out.  Lot wants the best for his family, and he's unashamed to take what he believes is the better half, as a result.  But look at the factors Lot considers when deciding which half of the land to take:"Lot looked about and saw how well watered the whole Jordan Plain was as far as Zoar, like the LORD'S own garden, or like Egypt."  He then proceeds to settle near Sodom, despite the fact that "the inhabitants of Sodom were very wicked in the sins they committed against the LORD."  He's so caught up with making sure his family is taken care of financially that he's not looking after their immortal souls.

Father mentioned that we often do this today, particularly with education. We want the best for our families, so parents will save up to send their kids to the most expensive and academically prestigious schools they can find, or they'll encourage their kids to attend a top-rated school.  But while imaging their kids as wealthy and successful, they too often don't give enough consideration to whether those kids will be strong Catholics.  I know that St. Mary's in Alexandria particularly has this problem, since many of the kids are from pretty wealthy families, who have high ambitions for their kids. One consequence is that the kids in these families are so busy with sports and other extracurricular activities to bolster their college resumes that the parish has been unsuccessful in getting a high school youth group going . They've tried both before and after school, but nothing seems to work.

It's worth remembering how this plays out for Lot's family.  They settle in to Sodom, and Lot's daughters marry two of the locals.  But were it not for his uncle's constant intervention on his behalf, Lot and his family would have been killed numerous times: first by the neighboring tribes (Genesis 14), then by the wicked men of Sodom themselves (Genesis 19:1-9), and finally by the wrath of God raining down fire and brimstone upon that town (Genesis 18:16-33; Genesis 19:23-25).  As it is, Lot still loses his wife, when she looks back (Gen. 19:26), as well as his two faithless sons-in-law (Genesis 19:14).  Their attachment to what they mistook as the good life devastates the very family Lot is trying to protect, and but for the grace of God, they would all have been dead.

Jesus remarks on this desire to put financial security above everything, including the spiritual formation of our families: "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mt. 16:26).  Instead, He offers a superior way: "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Mt. 6:33).

Abraham is wealthy, but he isn't married to his wealth.  He willingly, even voluntarily, takes the seemingly-worse half of the land.  But he makes it the better share, because what's the first thing he does?  Upon arriving at his new home, "he built an altar to the LORD." Abraham seeks God first and prospers. Lot misses the big picture, and is barely saved.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Radio, Radio!

Tomorrow, Wednesday, I'm going the second radio interview of my adult life.  Once again, it'll be for EWTN Radio's Son Rise Morning Show; this time, it'll be at  8:20 in the morning (that's Eastern time). It'll be on this morning's post on warning others of the easily-treatable disease of sin.

It'll be live locally (in Cincinnati, I think), and then repackaged and broadcast nationally at a later date. Last time, I think it was rebroadcast the very next morning (I can't say for sure: I was fast asleep).  If you want to listen to it live, go to http://www.sonrisemorningshow.com/.  Click the "On the Air: Click to Listen" button at the top of the screen.  Oh, and forewarning: the people trying to listen live on their iPhones weren't able to, so you may need a good old-fashioned desktop computer.

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.