Category Archives: Ecumenism

Sola Scriptura is unbiblical


-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.

During his four-year tour, he became involved in ministry with various Assemblies of God communities. Immediately after his tour of duty, Tim enrolled in Jimmy Swaggart Bible College and became a youth minister in an Assembly of God community. During his final year in the Marines, however, Tim met a Marine who really knew his faith and challenged Tim to study Catholicism from Catholic and historical sources. That encounter sparked a two-year search for the truth. Tim was determined to prove Catholicism wrong, but he ended up studying his way to the last place he thought he would ever end up: the Catholic Church!

He converted to Catholicism in 1988 and spent the following six years in formation for the priesthood, earning a degree in philosophy from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, Pennsylvania. He then studied theology on a graduate level at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, for two years. Realizing that his calling was not to the priesthood, Tim left the seminary in 1994 and has been working in Catholic apologetics and evangelization ever since.

“Sola Scriptura was the central doctrine and foundation for all I believed when I was Protestant. On a popular level, it simply meant, “If a teaching isn’t explicit in the Bible, then we don’t accept it as doctrine!” And it seemed so simple. Unassailable. And yet, I do not recall ever hearing a detailed teaching explicating it. It was always a given. Unchallenged. Diving deeper into its meaning, especially when I was challenged to defend my Protestant faith against Catholicism, I found there to be no book specifically on the topic and no uniform understanding of this teaching among Protestant pastors.

Once I got past the superficial, I had to try to answer real questions like, what role does tradition play? How explicit does a doctrine have to be in Scripture before it can be called doctrine? How many times does it have to be mentioned in Scripture before it would be dogmatic? Where does Scripture tell us what is absolutely essential for us to believe as Christians? How do we know what the canon of Scripture is using the principle of sola scriptura? Who is authorized to write Scripture in the first place? When was the canon closed? Or, the best question of all: where is sola scriptura taught in the Bible? These questions and more were left virtually unanswered or left to the varying opinions of various Bible teachers.

The Protestant Response

In answer to this last question, “Where is sola scriptura taught in the Bible?” most Protestants will immediately respond as I did, by simply citing II Tm. 3:16:

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

“How can it get any plainer than that? Doesn’t that say the Bible is all we need?” Question answered.

The fact is: II Timothy 3—or any other text of Scripture—does not even hint at sola scriptura. It says Scripture is inspired and necessary to equip “the man of God,” but never does it say Scripture alone is all anyone needs. We’ll come back to this text in particular later. But in my experience as a Protestant, it was my attempt to defend this bedrock teaching of Protestantism that led me to conclude: sola scriptura is 1) unreasonable 2) unbiblical and 3) unworkable.

Sola Scriptura is Unreasonable

When defending sola scriptura, the Protestant will predictably appeal to his sole authority—Scripture. This is a textbook example of the logical fallacy of circular reasoning which betrays an essential problem with the doctrine itself. One cannot prove the inspiration of a text from the text itself. The Book of Mormon, the Hindu Vedas, writings of Mary Baker Eddy, the Koran, and other books claim inspiration. This does not make them inspired. One must prove the point outside of the text itself to avoid the fallacy of circular reasoning.

Thus, the question remains: how do we know the various books of the Bible are inspired and therefore canonical? And remember: the Protestant must use the principle of sola scriptura in the process.

II Tim. 3:16 is not a valid response to the question. The problems are manifold. Beyond the fact of circular reasoning, for example, I would point out the fact that this verse says all Scripture is inspired tells us nothing of what the canon consists. Just recently, I was speaking with a Protestant inquirer about this issue and he saw my point. He then said words to the effect of, “I believe the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth as Jesus said in Jn. 16:13. The Holy Spirit guided the early Christians and helped them to gather the canon of Scripture and declare it to be the inspired word of God. God would not leave us without his word to guide us.”

That answer is much more Catholic than Protestant! Yes, Jn. 16:13 does say the Spirit will lead the apostles—and by allusion, the Church—into all truth. But this verse has nothing to say about sola scriptura. Nor does it say a word about the nature or number of books in the canon. Catholics certainly agree that the Holy Spirit guided the early Christians to canonize the Scriptures because the Catholic Church teaches that there is an authoritative Church guided by the Holy Spirit. The obvious problem is my Protestant friend did not use sola scriptura as his guiding principle to arrive at his conclusion. How does, for example, Jn. 16:13 tell us that Hebrews was written by an apostolic writer and that it is inspired of God? We would ultimately have to rely on the infallibility of whoever “the Holy Spirit” is guiding to canonize the Bible so that they could not mishear what the Spirit was saying about which books of the Bible are truly inspired.

In order to put this argument of my friend into perspective, can you imagine if a Catholic made a similar claim to demonstrate, say, Mary to be the Mother of God? “We believe the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth and guided the early Christians to declare this truth.” I can almost hear the response. “Show me in the Bible where Mary is the Mother of God! I don’t want to hear about God guiding the Church!” Wouldn’t the same question remain for the Protestant concerning the canon? “Show me in the Bible where the canon of Scripture is, what the criterion for the canon is, who can and cannot write Scripture, etc.”

Will the Circle be Unbroken?

The Protestant response at this point is often an attempt to use the same argument against the Catholic. “How do you know the Scriptures are inspired? Your reasoning is just as circular because you say the Church is infallible because the inspired Scriptures say so and then say the Scriptures are inspired and infallible because the Church says so!”

The Catholic Church’s position on inspiration is not circular. We do not say “the Church is infallible because the inspired Scriptures say so, and the Scriptures are inspired because the infallible Church says so.” That would be a kind of circular reasoning. The Church was established historically and functioned as the infallible spokesperson for the Lord decades before the New Testament was written. The Church is infallible because Jesus said so.

Having said that, it is true that we know the Scriptures to be inspired because the Church has told us so. That is also an historical fact. However, this is not circular reasoning. When the Catholic approaches Scripture, he or she begins with the Bible as an historical document, not as inspired. As any reputable historian will tell you, the New Testament is the most accurate and verifiable historical document in all of ancient history. To deny the substance of the historical documents recorded therein would be absurd. However, one cannot deduce from this that they are inspired. There are many accurate historical documents that are not inspired. However, the Scriptures do give us accurate historical information whether one holds to their inspiration or not. Further, this testimony of the Bible is backed up by hundreds of works by early Christians and non-Christian writers like Suetonius, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Josephus, and more. It is on this basis that we can say it is an historical fact that Jesus lived, died, and was reported to be resurrected from the dead by over 500 eyewitnesses. Many of these eyewitnesses went to their deaths testifying to the veracity of the Christ-event (see Lk. 1:1-4, Jn. 21:18-19, 24-25, Acts 1:1-11, I Cr. 15:1-8).

Now, what do we find when we examine the historical record? Jesus Christ—as a matter of history–established a Church, not a book, to be the foundation of the Christian Faith (see Mt. 16:15-18; 18:15-18. Cf. Eph. 2:20; 3:10,20-21; 4:11-15; I Tm. 3:15; Hb. 13:7,17, etc.). He said of his Church, “He who hears you hears me and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk. 10:16). The many books that comprise what we call the Bible never tell us crucial truths such as the fact that they are inspired, who can and cannot be the human authors of them, who authored them at all, or, as I said before, what the canon of Scripture is in the first place. And this is just to name a few examples. What is very clear historically is that Jesus established a kingdom with a hierarchy and authority to speak for him (see Lk. 20:29-32, Mt. 10:40, 28:18-20). It was members of this Kingdom—the Church—that would write the Scripture, preserve its many texts and eventually canonize it. The Scriptures cannot write or canonize themselves. To put it simply, reason clearly rejects sola scriptura as a self-refuting principle because one cannot determine what the “scriptura” is using the principle of sola scriptura.

Sola Scriptura is Unbiblical

Let us now consider the most common text used by Protestants to “prove” sola scriptura, II Tm. 3:16, which I quoted above:

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The problem with using this text as such is threefold: 1. Strictly speaking, it does not speak of the New Testament at all. 2. It does not claim Scripture to be the sole rule of faith for Christians. 3. The Bible teaches oral Tradition to be on a par with and just as necessary as the written Tradition, or Scripture.

1. What’s Old is Not New

Let us examine the context of the passage by reading the two preceding verses:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood (italics added) you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

In context, this passage does not refer to the New Testament at all. None of the New Testament books had been written when St. Timothy was a child! To claim this verse in order to authenticate a book, say, the book of Revelation, when it had most likely not even been written yet, is more than a stretch. That is going far beyond what the text actually claims.

2. The Trouble With Sola

As a Protestant, I was guilty of seeing more than one sola in Scripture that simply did not exist. The Bible clearly teaches justification by faith. And we Catholics believe it. However, we do not believe in justification by faith alone because, among many other reasons, the Bible says, we are “justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24, emphasis added). Analogously, when the Bible says Scripture is inspired and profitable for “the man of God,” to be “equipped for every good work,” we Catholics believe it. However, the text of II Tim. 3:16 never says Scripture alone. There is no sola to be found here either! Even if we granted II Tm. 3:16 was talking about all of Scripture, it never claims Scripture to be the sole rule of faith. A rule of faith, to be sure! But not the sole rule of faith.

James 1:4 illustrates clearly the problem with Protestant exegesis of II Tim. 3:16:

And let steadfastness (patience) have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If we apply the same principle of exegesis to this text that the Protestant does to II Tm. 3:16 we would have to say that all we need is patience to be perfected. We don’t need faith, hope, charity, the Church, baptism, etc.

Of course, any Christian would immediately say this is absurd. And of course it is. But James’s emphasis on the central importance of patience is even stronger than St. Paul’s emphasis on Scripture. The key is to see that there is not a sola to be found in either text. Sola patientia would be just as much an error as is sola scriptura.

3. The Tradition of God is the Word of God

Not only is the Bible silent when it comes to sola scriptura, but Scripture is remarkably plain in teaching oral Tradition to be just as much the word of God as is Scripture. In what most scholars believe was the first book written in the New Testament, St. Paul said:

And we also thank God… that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God… (I Thess. 2:13)

II Thess. 2:15 adds:

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions you have been taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.

According to St. Paul, the spoken word from the apostles was just as much the word of God as was the later written word.

Sola Scriptura is Unworkable

When it comes to the tradition of Protestantism—sola scriptura—the silence of the text of Scripture is deafening. When it comes to the true authority of Scripture and Tradition, the Scriptures are clear. And when it comes to the teaching and governing authority of the Church, the biblical text is equally as clear:

If your brother sins against you go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone … But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you … If he refuses to listen … tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Mt. 18:15-17)

According to Scripture, the Church—not the Bible alone—is the final court of appeal for the people of God in matters of faith and discipline. But isn’t it also telling that since the Reformation of just ca. 480 years ago—a reformation claiming sola scriptura as its formal principle—there are now over 33,000 denominations that have derived from it?

For 1,500 years, Christianity saw just a few enduring schisms (the Monophysites, Nestorians, the Orthodox, and a very few others). Now in just 480 years we have this? I hardly think that when Jesus prophesied there would be “one shepherd and one fold” in Jn. 10:16, this is what he had in mind. It seems quite clear to me that not only is sola scriptura unreasonable and unbiblical, but it is unworkable. The proof is in the puddin’!”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Idols – Ex 20:4-6

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” –Ex 20:4-6

The Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region (commonly referred to as the Amazon synod) met in Rome from 6 to 27 October 2019. Pope Francis announced on 15 October 2017 that it would work “to identify new paths for the evangelization of God’s people in that region”, specifically the indigenous peoples.

The Amazon basin, according to one Vatican report, covers some 6,000,000 km^2, with a population of 2.8 million divided among 400 tribes that speak some 240 languages belonging to 49 linguistic families. The Synod defines the region to include all or parts of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Venezuela and Suriname.

On Oct. 21, five statues were taken, apparently quite early in the morning, from the Carmelite Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina, four blocks from St. Peter’s Basilica. They were thrown off a nearby bridge into the Tiber River. These events have been a source of much controversy in the Church.

In a Universal Church, especially one that spans the globe, just like in any society, some Catholics do weird things; depending on what side of weird you may be standing on from the viewpoint of the other doing weird things from your point of view, being human.  They may be misunderstood, culturally, or not, or they may be wrong, or somewhere in between.  Welcome to being human.  Love one another.  Even if they throw your artwork off a bridge.  -cf Jn 13:34-35


-pachamama statue in Santa Maria in Traspontina

-Amazon synod participants bow in tree planting ceremony, Vatican gardens

Catholics ONLY WORSHIP GOD!!!!!!!! – dulia, hyperdulia, honor, veneration vs latria, adoration, worship

CCC 2132 “The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, “the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype,” and “whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it.” The honor paid to sacred images is a “respectful veneration,” not the adoration due to God alone:

Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is.”


-by Karlo Broussard

THE PROTESTANT CHALLENGE: How can the Catholic Church approve of religious statues when the Bible forbids having graven images?

Catholics are known for putting statues and images in their churches and using them in their private devotions. The Catechism affirms such devotions, calling the “honor paid to sacred images” a “respectful veneration” (2132).

But, for many Protestants this is problematic, biblically speaking. God commands in Exodus 20:4-5,

You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God.

God says, “No graven images,” but yet the Catholic Church has images all over the place. God says, “Don’t bow down to images,” but the Catholic Church encourages such acts of piety. These Catholic practices contradict God’s word.

MEETING THE CHALLENGE

1. In these verses, God can’t be condemning religious statues and images, because elsewhere he explicitly commands making them.

Consider, for example, the two gold cherubim (cast sculptures of angels) that God commanded to be put on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant (Exod. 25:18-20). God also instructed that cherubim be woven into the curtains of the tabernacle (Exod. 26:1).

When God gave instructions for building the temple during the reign of King Solomon, he commanded that two fifteen-foot tall cherubim statues be placed in the holy of holies (1 Kings 6:23-28) and that “figures of cherubim” be carved into the walls and doors of the temple (1 Kings 6:29). Later, in 1 Kings 9:3, we read that God approved of such things, saying to Solomon, “I have consecrated this house which you have built, and put My name there forever; My eyes and My heart will be there for all time.” God’s blessing on the temple is certain evidence that He doesn’t oppose having statues and sacred images in places of worship.

Another example where God commanded the making of a statue is Numbers 21:6-9. The Israelites were suffering from venomous snakebites; in order to heal them, God instructed Moses to construct a bronze serpent and set it on a pole so that those who were bitten could look upon it and be healed (Num. 21:6-9). God did later command that the bronze serpent be destroyed, but only because the Israelites started worshiping it as a god (2 Kings 18:4).

2.  What God’s commandment forbids is the making of idols.

The context bears this out. Consider the prohibition that precedes it: “You shall have no other gods before me” (v.3).

Then after the passage in question, we read, “You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” Given this contextual prohibition of idolatry, it’s reasonable to conclude that God’s command not to make “graven images” refers to making images to be worshiped as deities, or idols.

Accordingly, we note that every time the Hebrew word for “graven images” (pesel) is used in the Old Testament it’s used in reference to idols or the images of idols. For example, the prophet Isaiah warns, “All who make idols [pesel] are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit; their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame.” Other examples include, but are not limited to, Isaiah 40:19; 44:9, 17; 45:20, Jeremiah 10:14; 51:17, and Habakkuk 2:18).

Since making idols is what this commandment forbids, the Catholic custom of using statues and images for religious purposes doesn’t contradict it, because Catholics don’t use statues and sacred images as idols. The whole of paragraph 2132 (referenced above) states the following:

The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, “the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype,” and “whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it.” The honor paid to sacred images is a “respectful veneration,” not the adoration due to God alone.

Catholics don’t treat statues, or the people whom the statues represent, as gods. As such, the biblical prohibition of idolatry doesn’t apply.

This challenge from modern Evangelicals shows that there’s nothing new under the sun. The Catholic Church dealt with this sort of objection all the way back in the eighth century when it condemned the heresy of iconoclasm at the Second Council of Nicaea (787).

Iconoclasm was the belief that all religious images are superstitious. In response to this heresy, the council declared that religious images were worthy veneration and that any respect shown to a religious image is really respect given to the person it represents.

In having images or statues of Jesus, angels, Mary, and the saints in its places of worship, the Catholic Church is following the Old Testament precedent of incorporating images of heavenly inhabitants that serve as reminders of Who is present with us when we approach God in liturgical worship.

The representations of the cherubim in the Old Testament served as reminders that they were heavenly inhabitants present with God. Since humans have been admitted into heaven (Rev. 5:8; Rev. 6:9; 7:14-17), it’s reasonable to employ representations of them, too.

What about pious acts directed to the statues, such as bowing? Doesn’t Exodus 20:4 prohibit “bowing” before graven images? Well, the Bible forbids bowing before idols. It doesn’t forbid the physical act of bowing before something or someone when that something or someone is not an idol.

For example, Solomon was not guilty of idolatry when he bowed before his mother in 1 Kings 2:19. It was simply a gesture of honor given her as queen mother. Jesus Himself says in Revelation 3:9 that He will make “those of the synagogue of Satan” “bow down” before the feet of the Christians in Philadelphia. If bowing before another were, in and of itself, an act of worship, Jesus would be causing idolatry. But that’s absurd.

So, pious acts and postures can be legitimate when directed to the person that a statue or picture represents if the action is not used as a sign of the adoration or worship that is due to God alone. And such honor for the saints is their due because of what God has done for them. Jesus says, “If any one serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:26). The saints in heaven, who our statues represent, have served and do continue to serve Jesus. As such, the Father honors them. And if the Father honors them, we can too.

COUNTER-CHALLENGE: Are all religious images idols? How can you know?

AFTERTHOUGHT: Among some Christian communities, the commandment not to make “graven images” is listed as the second of the Ten Commandments. This differs from the Catholic numbering of the Ten Commandments. But seeing the prohibition to make “graven images” as part of God’s overall prohibition of idolatry provides an explanation for why the Catholic Church doesn’t consider it a separate commandment.”

Love,
Matthew

The Protestant Challenge

Oral Torah


-by Karlo Broussard

Q. What is the Protestant challenge that you meet in your new book?

Karlo: In Mark 7:9-13, Jesus chastises the Pharisees for holding to traditions that entail a rejection of God’s commandment and make void God’s Word. Many Protestants claim several Catholic beliefs fall under this condemnation, because they think such beliefs contradict the Bible.

The challenge usually takes the form, “How can the Catholic Church teach X, when the Bible says Y?” For example, how can the Catholic Church teach that Mary remained a virgin after Jesus’ birth when the Bible says that Jesus had brothers (Matt. 13:55)? Or how can the Catholic Church teach that works have a role to play in our salvation when the Bible says in Romans 3:28 that “we are justified by faith and not by works of the law?”

It’s this sort of challenge that I meet in the book, covering fifty of the most common challenges that Protestants make.

Q. Is this challenge the only Protestant challenge? Or, are there other kinds of challenges? If so, how do they differ from this one?

Karlo: The challenge that I meet in my book is not the only challenge. Any Catholic who talks religion with Protestants has at some time been challenged with the question, “Where’s that in the Bible?”

Much of Catholic apologetics, especially since its revival in the late eighties, has centered on answering that question, offering positive arguments for the biblical basis of Catholic doctrine. But, since Catholics don’t operate on the principle of sola scriptura, we don’t believe that every Christian truth has to be explicitly found in Scripture. We also appeal to truths revealed by God and preserved outside of the Bible in Sacred Tradition.

For example, Protestants may ask, “Where is Mary’s bodily assumption in the Bible?” But a Catholic can simply reply, “I don’t need to justify it with Scripture, since I can accept it on the basis that it’s a part of Sacred Tradition as infallibly defined by Pope Pius XII” (Munificentissimus Deus, 1950).

Of course, a Protestant is not going to find the above response persuasive (and it would open up other debates about Christian teaching authority). But at least he can’t charge a Catholic with incoherence in his belief.

The kind of Protestant challenge that I address, however, does charge a Catholic with incoherence. And this is the kind of challenge that a Catholic must meet, because whatever the Church teaches, even if derived principally from Sacred Tradition and not the Bible, can’t contradict the Bible. Scripture and Tradition are two streams of revelation that flow from the same source, God.

Our task as Catholics, therefore, is to show that Catholic teaching doesn’t contradict those Bible passages that some Protestants think pose a threat to it. The purpose of this book is to help the reader fulfill this task.

Q. What are some of the main Catholic beliefs that our Protestant friends challenge us on that you show don’t contradict the Bible?

Karlo: I examine fifty challenges that cover a variety of beliefs concerning Church authority, Scripture and Tradition, salvation, the sacraments, Mary and the saints, eschatology (study of the last things), and Catholic life and practice.

So, for example, with regard to Church authority, I defend the Catholic belief that Jesus established his Church with a hierarchy with Peter at the head. With regard to Scripture and Tradition, I defend the Catholic belief that a Christian must accept and honor “both Scripture and Tradition” (CCC 82), because the Church “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone” (82).

On the topic of salvation, I meet challenges to the Catholic belief that salvation and justification are not one-time events of the past but have different stages, and that good works play an essential role when it comes to the ongoing and final stages.

The sacraments that I defend include Baptism, the Eucharist, Confession, the Priesthood, and Marriage.

The challenged beliefs about Mary are the familiar ones: her perpetual virginity, her sinlessness, and her Queenship. The main belief about the saints that I deal with is the intercession of the saints.

With regard to eschatology, I tackle challenges that deal with Purgatory and the Catholic view of the end times in relation to Protestant views on the Rapture and the millennium in Revelation.

Finally, I meet challenges made against the Catholic practices of clerical celibacy, abstinence from meat on Fridays during Lent, calling priests father, praying the rosary, moderate use of wine, and Catholic statues.

Q. Can you explain a little bit about what the reader should expect when they read each chapter?

Karlo: Each chapter begins with a brief statement of the Catholic belief, usually derived from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Then, the Protestant challenge to the belief is explained.

The section where I meet the challenge usually consists of two to three ways in which one can show the Catholic belief doesn’t contradict the Bible. Also, some of the responses require that I give positive biblical evidence for the belief. And this, of course, equips the reader with what’s needed to answer the other Protestant challenge, “Where’s that in the Bible?”

After learning how to meet the challenge, the reader is given a “Catholic Counter,” which is a brief question that a Catholic can ask a Protestant as a sort of counter challenge. We can’t always be on the defensive. We have to learn to challenge our Protestant friends’ beliefs as well.

Q. What is the ultimate goal for this book? In other words, what do you hope it will accomplish for the person who reads it?

Karlo: My hope is that the reader will become more efficient in their conversations with Protestants. Also, I hope the book will strengthen the reader’s own faith, helping him or her know that in embracing Catholic teaching he or she is not “making void the word of God through [his or her] tradition” (Mark 7:13).

Love,
Matthew

Tell me brother, are you saved?


-by Jimmy Akin, a former Presbyterian, Jimmy is a convert to the Faith and has an extensive background in the Bible, theology, the Church Fathers, philosophy, canon law, and liturgy.

“There are many books on the subject of salvation, and many of them share certain characteristics:
1. They focus exclusively on the subject of eternal salvation.
2. They focus in particular on the doctrine of justification.
3. They often ignore, in the interests of systematic theology, the way in which the Bible uses language.
4. They are often written in a polemical, hostile style.
5. Due to the authors’ unfamiliarity with the way other groups of Christians express themselves, they mistakenly criticize views on which there is no disagreement in substance.

The Drama of Salvation is different.

While it does discuss the subject of eternal salvation, it also seeks to show that the concept of salvation in the Bible is much broader than that.

While it discusses the doctrine of justification, it also gives attention to other biblical themes relating to salvation.

While it addresses concerns of systematic theology, it focuses significantly on the way the Bible talks about salvation—the kind of language Scripture uses when addressing it.

While it takes a very definite position on many matters, it is not meant to be polemical or hostile toward those with other beliefs.

Finally, while this book is critical of positions I believe to be in error, it takes great care to understand the ways in which different groups of Christians express themselves.

Tragically, Protestants and Catholics often talk past each other, failing to perceive the ways that the other uses words and phrases. I hope that this book will help both Catholics and Protestants “translate” the theological language of one group into the language of the other so that individuals on both sides can better understand what their partners in dialogue or controversy actually mean, not just what they say.

Often the two groups are led astray by terminology. They often perceive themselves to be in disagreement when actually they are not—or, at least, when the disagreement is not as sharp as they think.

This is precisely the kind of situation that St. Paul was addressing when he warned about quarreling over words. He instructed St. Timothy to charge his flock “before the Lord to avoid disputing about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (2 Tim. 2:14).

Similarly, Paul said that a person who is quarrelsome about words is “puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing; he has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among men who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:4–5).

Contemporary Christians of all persuasions need to take Paul’s words to heart. My hope is that this book will help bring about a greater understanding of how Scripture treats the subject of salvation and how different groups of Christians understand it.
Something is desperately wrong with the world. We all sense it. With all of the wars, crimes, hatreds, and cruelties the world contains, something is definitely wrong. Mankind’s catalogue of sin and vice is endless, and there seem to be new moral challenges every day.

What’s worse, the problem is not just in the world. It is within us. Each of us has done wrong in our lives. Sometimes we have done things that are very wrong. If we are lucky, we have enough conscience and courage to face our own misdeeds. But too often, we rationalize them away or we ignore them and pretend that they don’t exist.

The fact that we realize there is something wrong with the world—and with ourselves—raises a set of questions: What will happen as a result of all the bad things that take place in the world? Will the innocent always suffer? Will the guilty always triumph? Will matters ever be put right? Is there justice in the world? And if there is, can that justice be tempered with mercy?

Religions and philosophies propose different answers to these questions. From the Christian point of view, there is ultimate justice. In the last day, God will judge the living and the dead. He will eventually right every wrong. He will console and compensate those who have suffered innocently. He will punish those who have done wrong. And He will be merciful to those who have sought His grace and forgiveness.

From the Christian point of view, all human beings will have one of two destinies: to be spiritually united with God in heaven or to be spiritually separated from God in hell. The former promises an eternity of happiness, the latter an eternity of anguish.

Obviously, one destiny is preferable to the other. The question is how to make sure you have the preferable one—or, to put it another way, how to make sure that you’re saved.

Salvation is one of many terms the Bible uses to describe the way God works in our lives to deal with the effects of sin. The basic image is one of rescue. To save someone is to rescue him, as when a fireman saves someone from a burning building, or one soldier saves another on the battlefield. Any time someone is saved, he is rescued from a perilous situation.

From what are we being rescued when God saves us? This can be understood in different ways. In one sense, we are being rescued from being eternally lost. That state, though, is a result of our sins, and so we can also think about salvation as being rescued from our sins. Sin entered the world through the agency of the devil, and so we can think of salvation in terms of being rescued from the powers of darkness as well.

In addition to conceiving of salvation as rescue from one state, it can also be understood as rescue to another, better state. In this sense, God can be understood as saving us from hell to heaven, from sin to holiness, and from the devil to God himself.

None of these understandings are exclusive. They are all compatible.

In addition to the concept of salvation, the Bible uses other images to describe the way God deals with sin in our lives. These include justification (being made righteous), sanctification (being made holy), and forgiveness (releasing of spiritual debt). All of these describe different aspects of what God does in our lives to deal with our sins.

These concepts are what this book is about. In the coming chapters, we will look at them and the rich and, at times, surprising ways that Scripture employs them. We will also look at the controversy that surrounds them. Unfortunately, not all Christians understand these concepts in the same way. The disagreement is particularly strong in the Protestant community, which is sharply divided on several points.

To set the stage for that discussion, we will begin by looking—in broad outlines—at the view that was common prior to the Protestant Reformation and that is still common among Catholics, Orthodox, and members of other historic churches.

It is a view that is rooted in the Bible.”

Love,
Matthew

Ecumenism 2

“Ecumenism is open to two kinds of misunderstanding or abuse. First, it can be misconceived as aiming merely at a modus vivendi and more friendly relations among communities that remain divided. Second, there seems to be a temptation for Catholics to represent Protestant views, formerly rejected by the Church, as not irreconcilable with Catholicism, to thin down Catholic doctrine to aspects that may be compatible with Protestant positions, and to dodge the differentiation between truth and error.

The Second Vatican Council, however, in welcoming the Ecumenical Movement and encouraging its progress, has not sanctioned such confusions. The Decree on Ecumenism repeatedly states that the aim of ecumenism is the restoration of full unity between the now divided communities (see nos. 1, 4, 5, 12). It is with this objective in view that the document readily admits that we can learn from the separated separated Christians (nos. 4, 6), and it urges that we should try to understand better the mind of the separated brethren (no. 9). But the Decree also demands “that it should become clearer what the position of the Catholic Church really is” and “that our faith be more adequately expounded” to the separated Christians (nos. 9, 11 para. 2). It warns that those things which we can learn from the separated Christians “have carefully to be distinguished from the Deposit of Faith” (no. 6). There is no room for a license to blur essential differences. The Decree explicitly cautions against confusion in stating: “Nothing is so alien to ecumenism as that false irenicism by which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers damage and its genuine and plain sense is obscured” (Nil ab oecumenismo tam alienum est quam ille falsus irenismus, quo puritas doctrinae catholicae detrimentum patitur et ejus sensus genuinus et certus obscuratur. No. 11).

True ecumenism is a common quest for the truth and for possibilities of re-establishing real unity. The principal objective of such endeavors is, of course, the discovery of agreements and a rapprochement without detriment to the truth. But since truth is opposed to error, it is also necessary to make distinctions and even to venture criticism. Honest inquiry for the truth does not evade the challenge of serious criticism.

Catholics are at present criticizing their own past and the present condition of their Church with a zeal which to some extent is surely justified and healthy, though it often overshoots the mark. But is it only Catholicism that requires to be criticized? Is it not necessary that the principles underlying the separate existence of Protestant churches should also be critically examined?

The movement that resulted in the division was started by Martin Luther. Crucial to his theology and spirituality, from about 1518 onward, was his new conception of faith. This concept was a seed whose germinative power has remained unimpaired throughout four-and-a-half centuries. It is the inchoate form of anthropocentric theology. Now it is anthropocentric trends which at present are causing considerable confusion in Protestantism and Catholicism alike, and the writings of modern Protestants evidence the impact of Luther’s central idea. A critique of this idea seems therefore requisite for clarifying the situation.

But is it wise to reopen an old wound which has just begun to heal? Should we not be glad that the period dominated by controversy has at last come to an end? Would it not be more helpful to the cause of reconciliation to confine our studies to features in Luther’s thought acceptable to all partners in the dialogue?

There is no one today who denies that there are genuinely Christian values in Luther’s works. The present author is well aware that these can be made fruitful for true ecumenism and he has been anxious not to overlook such values even in writing this critique. However, experience of recent years has come to confirm his conviction that a positive evaluation of Luther’s ideas presupposes criteria, and these can only be gained by critical scrutiny. The present confusion is in a great measure the outcome of a lack of criteria. Today, a critique of Luther’s central concept is not a triumphant assertion of Catholic claims but an attempt to discern one of the origins of dangers that threaten all churches alike.

The thought of pre-Protestant Luther (1509–17) is grand and deep. His passion for the Word of God, his “theology of the cross,” and his spirituality of humility revivified vital elements of Catholic tradition with an originality indicative of charism. Even his anti-philosophical attitude is evidence of his total surrender to the majesty of God. His allegiance to nominalism did not impair his religious originality. On the contrary, he kept a critical attitude toward tenets of that school and succeeded in making its way of thinking subservient to his intention, which was exclusively and passionately religious. All the great impulses of a truly Christian nature that remained even in his later career date from that early period which, though very different from prevailing forms of medieval Catholicism, must be judged as the promise of a Catholic renewal.”

-Hacker, Paul (2017-09-22T23:58:59). Faith in Luther: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion (Kindle Locations 391-428). Emmaus Academic. Kindle Edition.

Love & truth,
Matthew

Ecumenism

“For Lutherans and Evangelicals must come to terms—for the sake of true ecumenism—with a central question that, as John Henry Newman rightly observed in his Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification, the Reformation theologians never clearly answered: What exactly is justifying faith? Is Luther’s concept of reflexive faith faithful to the testimony and teaching of the New Testament and the earliest tradition of the Church?26 Does Luther’s understanding reflect at all the patristic patrimony about faith? Is it compatible with the consensus of medieval theologians, the teaching of the Council of Trent, the post-Tridentine theological consensus, and the teaching of Vatican I on faith? Last but not least, is it fully compatible with the differentiated consensus formulated in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification?…

True ecumenism will climb patiently and irrevocably the narrow and steep path of the unshakable commitment to the truth, the unity it yields, and the dialogue, encounter, and common inquiry to which the truth beckons and commits. True ecumenism cannot be nudged along by church-diplomatic machinations and various other contraptions but requires common prayer, mutual charity, indeed brotherhood, and long-suffering patience under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in a shared eschatological horizon. In season and out of season, true ecumenism will be committed to one principle and one principle only, a principle in which genuine unity is already inchoately present.

-Hacker, Paul (2017-09-22T23:58:59). Faith in Luther: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion (Kindle Locations 213-220, 222-227). Emmaus Academic. Kindle Edition.

Love & truth,
Matthew

26 Over the course of more than one generation, a number of important New Testament scholars have developed a “new perspective” on the theology of the apostle Paul, a perspective that stands in sharp contrast if not contradiction to Luther’s understanding of reflexive faith. The most important voices in a debate over which more ink has been spilled than over virtually any other topic among NT scholars from all ecclesial backgrounds are Krister Stendahl, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West,” The Harvard Theological Review 56/3 (1963): 199-215; E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1977); James D. G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005); and N.T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God 4 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013). That Luther’s understanding of reflexive faith is rather well alive among Evangelicals is demonstrated amply in a volume that challenges N.T. Wright’s interpretation of Paul on justification: John Piper, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007). See N.T. Wright’s response: Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009). Most recently, in his important study Paul and the Gift (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), John Barclay has steered a via media between the “old perspective on Paul” (deeply informed by Luther’s interpretation of Paul through the conceptual lens of the reflexive faith) and the “new perspective on Paul.” Yet, importantly, in Barclay’s book one will search in vain for traces of Luther’s reflexive faith.

Bible study: Acts of the Apostles


-“Saint Paul”, Bartolomeo Montagna, ~1431 AD


-by Casey Chalk

“Ecumenical Bible studies: they are often demonstrations of the best and worst of Christian dialogue. In their most beneficial form, they offer opportunities for members of various Christian traditions, be they Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed, or various strands of Evangelicalism, to share their own rich understandings and applications of Biblical literature. Alternatively, they can devolve into unprofitable contests of “name that Scripture verse” to support some particular doctrine — justification by grace through faith alone, Petrine primacy, infant baptism, you name it. A tendency among those Christians eager to “keep the peace” in a setting featuring divergent theological beliefs and practices is to try to find common ground, lowest common denominators, and “non-negotiables.” Such attempts can themselves be profitable, though at times the result is a conversation lacking any theological depth, the participants so frightened of controversy and of offending one another that folks reduce themselves to “this is how this Scripture verse speaks to me” comments. Better than nothing, I suppose, though certainly less than what we are called to do as Christians when approaching Holy Scripture. It’s hard to imagine St. Paul walking into a synagogue in Corinth and declaring in firm confidence to the Jews present: “You may have your own interpretations of the Torah, which may be equally true, but let me tell you what this Scripture means to me!” Is there any way for Christians of different theological stripes to bridge the gap? In this post I will propose an alternative way to read and discuss Scripture that I think offers opportunity for more fruitful exchanges between Christians.

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

One of the biggest obstacles to overcome in ecumenical Bible studies is that individuals from different traditions have certain “voices” speaking to them when they sit down to read Scripture, and it’s not that we are all schizophrenics. What I mean is that no one really sits down to read their Bible in a vacuum, as if one could really isolate their reading in such a way that it was just that person, the Holy Spirit, and the text. Rather, we read Scripture with all manner of unavoidable influences: what others have told us about the text, what we have read others say about the text, what influence the text may have had on our lives (presuming we’ve read it before), what associations we have with certain words or ideas in the text, and so on. Truly, there’s no such thing as “me and my Bible” — it’s me, my middle-school youth group leader, my first “Teen Bible,” the pastor at my church, Christian radio, that course I took in college, what my significant other believes, and on and on.

To take a more doctrinal view, some Protestants will be reading their Bibles in light of doctrines prevalent in mainstream evangelicalism (say, Rick Warren or Philip Yancey), Reformed thought (say, John Piper or R.C. Sproul), or even the “emergent church” movement (think Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz or William P. Young’s The Shack). Catholics, on the other hand, will read their Bibles in light of popular Catholic thinkers like Scott Hahn or Bishop Robert Barron, and probably with various Magisterial teachings from Church councils or papal doctrinal statements floating around in the background, as well. None of these influences, I would argue, can be easily put aside in an ecumenical Bible study, because their mark on our thoughts and practices runs deep. But neither can members of different traditions just accept an opposing position, as if an evangelical would say, “fine, I’ll just put my opinions on hold for the next hour-and-a-half and act as if whatever the Pope says is true.” We do indeed need some “common ground” beyond just picking up the Bible and starting to read it together, and it needs to be more than just some overly-deferential and vapid validation of everyone’s opinions. Since the New Testament, and particularly Paul’s letters, are one of the more popular texts for Bible studies, I want to focus my attention there. In this case, I propose that reading Paul in light of another New Testament text, the Book of Acts, can reap ecumenical dividends.1

Why Acts?

Using Acts as an interpretive “lodestar” can be an effective tool for ecumenical dialogue because it itself is something everyone at the table should already agree on: it’s Scripture! There shouldn’t be any Protestants, Catholics, or Orthodox asserting their defiance to the book, as if it represents some subtle means of asserting one’s particular theological tradition over the conversation. In addition to this fairly obvious point, I can identify at least three other good reasons why Acts can be an interpretive lodestar — meaning, just as certain stars in the sky, like Polaris, can serve as a guide the course of a ship, so Acts can serve as a guide or reference point for reading Paul.

The first is that Acts is history, specifically, the history of the early Church during part of the Apostolic age. Generally speaking, reading a history of a particular era shines light on the “primary texts” of that era, helping contextualize and make sense of that historical period. Consider this example: let’s say you want to learn about the American Civil War. There are many great collections of letters, diaries, and memoirs regarding this historical period: Elijah Hunt Rhodes, Sam Watkins, Mary Chestnut, etc. You could certainly pick up one of them and just start reading. But will much of the text make sense to you, especially if you have little knowledge of that period? If your goal is to answer certain broad contextual questions regarding the Civil War, like “what were its causes?,” “who were the most important people?”, “what were the most important events”?, and “how and why did it end?”, these texts will not provide a systematic or thorough answer. Indeed, they weren’t intended to, because they were occasional, meaning written in reaction to a certain occasion. Elijah Hunt Rhodes, an enlisted soldier in the Union Army, didn’t intend his journal to be a history — he was simply recording his own personal experiences. In order to have a history in the modern sense, one needs a book (or books) written by someone who has read scores of primary and secondary sources, interviewed people, and visited important sites. You need a general history.

The Book of Acts is, in a sense, exactly that kind of general history. It is an overview of the major events and themes of the early Church, beginning with Jesus’ ascension into heaven around A.D. 33, and ending when St. Paul was imprisoned in Rome (probably around A.D. 60). Of course, for us as twenty-first century readers, Acts is itself a primary source of information about the early Apostolic Church, but it would not be too much of a stretch to call it a type of “secondary source,” or maybe more accurately a “proto-secondary source.” The author, St. Luke, very explicitly says in the beginning of the Gospel of Luke that his research is a compilation of information based on eyewitness testimony. If we read Acts first, and read Paul’s letters (or any other letters in the New Testament, for that matter), in light of what we know about the Church in Acts, we are sure to reap interpretive rewards.

A second reason to understand Acts as a general history is an argument from literature. Consider this analogy: if you wanted to know about Jane Austen and her literary corpus, reading all of her literature would give you quite a few details about her: her own life, and the major themes and ideas of her writing. But it would still be incomplete, because reading Austen’s work doesn’t tell you a lot of important things about her, information that would illuminate much of her books. If you were to read other works by authors who have done research on Austen, or who have sought to compile a biography of her life, you would be able to grasp more fully what she is trying to accomplish in Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility.

St. Paul’s letters are themselves a genre of literature, what scholars often call epistles, a type of formal letter. If you want to understand St. Paul, his life, the themes and doctrines that defined his theological understanding, you could read only the thirteen letters ascribed to him. Yet this would be woefully incomplete, especially given that the Book of Acts contains so many details about his life and teachings. Indeed, in addition to his conversion story (related three separate times!) and his missionary activity, Acts features several sermons of St. Paul, giving an additional important aspect to interpreting his teaching. Moreover, St. Paul is the main character of the second half of Acts, so much so that he is mentioned 131 times in the entire book. If you know Acts, you will better know St. Paul.

Finally and somewhat obviously is the organization of the New Testament itself. One may know that the books of New Testament are not listed in chronological order. In chronological order, the first book of the New Testament would likely be the Gospels of Matthew or Mark, or possibly Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Then would be most of Paul’s epistles, followed by the Gospel of Luke, then Acts, possibly some more epistles, and finally the Gospel of John and Revelation. Yet in our our Bibles, we have Acts coming right after the Gospels, before any of Paul’s epistles, the other epistles, or Revelation. Why?

Remember that the New Testament canon did not arrive in the early Church overnight, nor was it easily agreed upon by all Christians. The books of the New Testament were written over a period of around 50 or 60 years, and many churches didn’t have access to all of those books for centuries. The earliest lists of New Testament books we have are from the latter half of the second century A.D. — this includes the Muratorian Canon and a list provided by St. Irenaeus of Lyon. No body of Christians (at least that we know of in the historical record) weighed in on an authoritative list of the New Testament until the four century. When these councils did vote on the content of the New Testament, they placed Acts directly after the four Gospels. This seems to have been a reasonable decision, given that the Gospels tell the life of Jesus and His Apostles up through the resurrection and ascension, and Acts picks up the story from the ascension. Possibly a bit more curiously, these Church councils separated Acts from the Gospel of Luke, which most scholars recognize was written by the same author, given the similarity of language and themes. In between the two books the councils placed the last of the Gospels, John, written almost certainly last, and also almost certainly after Acts. Why do this? Possibly because the council wanted to declare to readers: “first, know the story of Jesus; then,, know the story of the early Church; and once you know those stories, know the epistles of Paul and others.” Acts appears where it does in the New Testament because the Church in the fourth century believed it important for people to read it before reading St. Paul’s own works.

A Few Questions to Explore

I’d like to briefly move from theory to application. Bible studies often feed upon group questions for discussion. I’ll propose a few here, with the overarching theme of asking what happens if one reads St. Paul’s letters (or other Apostolic letters, for that matter) in light of Acts. I’ll also offer a few of my own reflections as I’ve sought to read St. Paul using Acts as my lodestar.

Question 1: What were the most important issues facing the early Church as recorded in the Book of Acts? Once you’ve named two or three, consider how those issues are addressed in St. Paul’s letters.

I would argue that apart from the persecution of Christians by Jewish and Roman authorities, the most pressing question facing the early Church was this: who is in the Church, and what do they have to do to be part of it? More specifically, is the Church only for Jews? If Gentiles are allowed in, do they in any sense have to become Jews? Note that the first recorded conflict in the early Church is between Greek-speaking and Hebrew-speaking Jews over the distribution of food to widows from their respective communities (Acts 6:1). This cultural-linguistic division becomes more pronounced when some Church leaders start sharing the Gospel with non-Jews, including an Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40), and a Roman centurion and his household (Acts 10: 1-48). Moreover, the centurion’s conversion is so controversial that when St. Peter returns to the Church in Jerusalem he is forced to defend himself against certain Jewish Christians (called “the circumcision party”), who question the decision to baptize a Roman pagan. This conflict becomes an overwhelming tidal wave by Acts 15, when certain Christian men assert that “unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).

The greatest controversy within the early Church seems to localize on this particular question: do Gentiles who convert to Christianity need to become Jews by being circumcised and accepting Jewish dietary laws? The Church determines in Acts 15 that no, they do not, but the question continues to dog the Church: St. Paul tells us in Galatians 2:11-21 that St. Peter, coming under the influence of the same “circumcision party,” had separated himself from Gentile believers in Antioch, for which St. Paul publicly reprimanded him. This is actually the only mention we have within the New Testament of one Apostle publicly rebuking another.

What I’ve described above suggests that this was the predominant controversy of the early Church, encompassing the entirety of the historical period during which St. Paul’s letters were written. We should thus ask ourselves how the issues cited in the Pauline epistles (including his discussion of “faith v. works”) appear when viewed as part of this particular conflict over the status of Gentile Christians.2

Question 2: How did the Apostles pursue evangelism toward Jews and Gentiles in the days of the early Church? What was necessary to become a Christian? Do we see those priorities identified in St. Paul’s letters? Is there continuity or discontinuity in St. Paul in comparison to Acts?

St. Peter gives the first sermon of the early Church, recorded in the second chapter of Acts. When his audience asks him what is necessary for them to be saved, his response is that they repent, be baptized, and “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). The theme of baptism is consistent throughout the conversion stories of the early Church, repeated in Acts 8:13, 38-40; 10:44-48; 16:15, 33; 18:8; and 19:5, among others. Baptism, it would appear, is an essential feature of the missionary efforts of the Church. Moreover, baptism seems to be intimately united to the gift of the Holy Spirit, as if the sacrament in some sense actually serves as the mode by which new Christians receive the third person of the Trinity. Baptism also plays a dominant role in St. Paul’s theology, and is often united to discussion of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5, 6:3-4; 1 Corinthians 1:17, 6:11, 10:2; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 2:5-6, 5:26; Colossians 2:11-12; Titus 3:5-7, etc.).

Question 3: What is the Church according to Acts? How does the Church resolve crises and conflicts? How does that compare to what St. Paul says about the Church?

The Apostles, unsurprisingly, are central to the leadership of the early Church. Indeed, Acts is largely a story of just a few key leaders: St. Peter, St. John, St. James, and St. Paul. St. Peter and St. Paul loom the largest. As noted above, the debate over the place of Gentiles within the nascent Church seems to reach its apex in Acts 15, when we read that “the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter” (Acts 15:6). This is in a sense the very first council of the Church, with the most important leaders, including St. Peter and St. Paul, present. Indeed, it is St. Peter who seems to give the “keynote address,” while St. James confirms St. Peter’s judgment. The council, apparently representing “the whole Church,” then sends a letter to the church in Antioch with its determination and various commands, while apparently claiming to act with the authority of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28).

The role of the Church is also central to St. Paul’s letters, emphasizing the importance of its unity (1 Corinthians 1:10-13; Ephesians 4:1-6), its holiness (1 Corinthians 6:1, 16:1; Ephesians 5:25-27), its universality or catholicity (Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 3:8-10), and its apostolicity (Ephesians 2:20; 1 Timothy 3:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 11:2). Indeed, St. Paul’s ecclesiology is so high, he declares the household of God, the “church of the living God,” to be the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).3

Conclusion

Disagreements between Protestants, Catholics, and other Christian communions over the interpretation of Scripture are inevitable. In settings like Bible studies, however, we too often try to gloss over the differences as if they weren’t there, or as if discussing them will weaken our fellowship. This only needs to be the case if we aren’t capable of respectfully listening to and considering an interpretation or belief different from our own, or of communicating our own position with humility and charity. Yet through prayer and the aid of the Holy Spirit, we can overcome our own weaknesses, and find far richer ecumenical dialogue in the process. Reading the letters of the New Testament through the lens of Acts presents one opportunity for such conversation. We will likely disagree over such issues as the role of faith and works in salvation, or the how and when of baptism, or the exact nature of Church authority. Yet rather than returning to our usual mode of defensive apologetics or proof-texting, we might all benefit from a careful study of Paul in the context of Acts. We might be surprised what we find.”

Love, & Christian charity,
Matthew

1. I am indebted here to Fr. Sebastian Carnazzo, a professor at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Theology at Christendom College, who provided this methodology in his New Testament course.
2. Helpful analysis of this question can be found in N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997) and N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992).
3. Taylor R. Marshall, The Catholic Perspective on Paul (Dallas, TX: Saint John Press, 2010), 35-46.

The Limits of Ecumenical Dialogue

swedish-bishops
-Swedish Lutheran bishops

longnecker
-by Fr. Dwight Longeneckera former Evangelical Protestant, graduate of Bob Jones University, turned Anglican priest, turned Catholic priest.

“The ecumenical teams for Lutherans and Catholics have been hard at it and produced a new document on Church, Eucharist and Ministry called Declaration on the Way.

It’s all full of enthusiastic and optimistic language about how Lutherans and Catholics are all starting to agree after 500 years.

I hate to be a party pooper, but like the ecumenical talks with the Anglicans, it seems to me that we are further apart than ever before on some very key issues and that on these issues which are so divisive we are on ever widening tangents.

You remember Chesterton’s observation, “When two paths begin to diverge the gap between them always widens.”

The language of these ecumenical documents is always very elastic. The participants efforts to agree are laudable. We all want church unity, but too often they seem to be straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

In order to find “points of convergence” the dialogue masters find minor points of agreement, pump them up and then deflate the larger and more important points of disagreement that remain.

My other grumble about this sort of thing is that the language, in an attempt to be diplomatic and find points of agreement is invariably ambiguous, vague and deliberately confusing, and where it is not all this it is contradictory and illogical.

The attempts to find points of convergence must be balanced with a clear understanding of the truth. (Ed.  PLEASE!  PLEASE!  PLEASE!  DO NOT confuse consensus with Truth!  If everyone agrees, that does not make it TRUE!  And, if everyone disagrees that does not make it untrue!)  We must agree on the truth (not really, I take Fr Longnecker’s point here clearly, but as I just said, the Truth is the Truth,  More is not Better, often, Better is Better, always, whether we like it, dislike it, agree with it or not, hence the definition of the word Truth = Veritas,”Moral principles do not depend on a majority vote. Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is wrong. Right is right, even if nobody is right.” Venerable Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen), not agree on some vague re-formulation of “belief statements.” (This is why classical Christianity has a CREED!!!!  Every syllable of which has had wars fought over it!!!  Every syllable of which has had much blood spilled over it!!  Perhaps I dramatize a little, but not THAT much!)

Here’s an example in a passage about women’s ordination for example. Fr Longnecker’s comments are in BOLD.

“Most Lutheran member churches of the LWF hold themselves free under the gospel to ordain women. Why is that? They see in this practice “a renewed understanding of the biblical witness” which reflects “the nature of the church as a sign of our reconciliation and unity in Christ through baptism across the divides of ethnicity, social status and gender” OK. They’re going to change the ordained ministry and admit women. (Lund Statement, § 40). At the same time, “it can be said that in general the Lutheran churches which have introduced the ordination of women do not intend a change of either the dogmatic understanding or the exercise of the ministerial office” (Ministry, § 25).OK We’ve changed the understanding of the ordained ministry but we do not intend to change the understanding of the ordained ministry. Significantly, churches in the LWF that do ordain women and those that do not have remained in communion with one another.

The Catholic Church does not consider itself as authorized to ordain women. Nevertheless, in The Ministry in the Church the international dialogue commission affirmed that the Catholic Church “is able to strive for a consensus on the nature and significance of the ministry without the different conceptions of the persons to be ordained fundamentally endangering such a consensus and its practical consequences for the growing unity of the church” (§ 25). This is gobbledegook. So the Catholics also want to have their cake and eat it. We are not going to ordain women but we think ordaining women doesn’t really matter. Really?”

Most worrying about this starry eyed optimism is the head in the sand attitude of those involved in the dialogue. Both the Catholics and Lutherans involved seem blind to the fact that most Lutherans don’t give two hoots about unity with the Catholics.

They’re like the Anglicans.

I can remember when I was an Anglican seminarian and found myself debating women’s ordination with a female theology student.

I said, “But women’s ordination will present a serious obstacle in the path to unity with Catholics.”

“Good God!” she exclaimed, “I don’t want to be a Catholic! What on earth do we want unity with them for?”

Whenever one of these documents from the ecumenicists came back to the Church of England General Synod it was invariably shot down–not by the Catholics, but by the Anglicans. When I was a priest in the Church of England the ARCIC folks came back all warm and fuzzy with a document about Eucharist, Ministry and Church. Oh, there was so much agreement! There were so many “points of convergence.” Then when it went to the CofE General Synod for approval it crashed and burned. Both the liberals who hate the Catholic Church for being so conservative and the Evangelicals who hate the Catholic Church for being Catholic shot it full of holes and it died a quiet and dignified death.

The worst thing about this document is the recommendation that Catholics and Lutherans perhaps should begin receiving communion together (Intercommunion, General Prohibition Concerning, Canon 844). “It suggests that the expansion of opportunities for Catholics and Lutherans to receive Holy Communion together would be a sign of the agreements already reached and the distance traveled.”

When speaking about intercommunion I often say being in communion with the Catholic Church is like being married. You either are or you are not. If you are you can make love together if you are not you shouldn’t. To do so is either fornication or adultery.  (THINK about the word!!  INTERCOMMUNION, to be in UNION within!  As a visible sign!  Tangible act!  Finally, more than just WORDS!  VERY, VERY PUBLIC ACT & WITNESS!!!  And, there are now witnesses to your very, very public act and witness of affirmation of union within another denomination, affirming ALL THEY hold and believe to be True!!!  Now, answer the question whether you should receive outside your denomination?  Intercommune?  Are YOU, PLURAL, NOT SINGULAR!!!, as a member or your union, your denomination, in UNION?  Within?  Do you hold and believe to be True ALL this other union holds to be true?  Do you even understand ALL this other union holds to believe to be true?  This is the GRAVE & SOLEMN statement you give whenever you receive communion!!!  Whenever!!!!  Appreciate THIS the next time and every time thereafter you are in line to receive!!!!  LORD, MAKE ME WORTHY!!!!!  ONLY GOD CAN!!!)  🙂

To extend the analogy, for Lutherans and Catholics to start sharing communion before full unity has been achieved is a bit like saying, “Bob and Sally have had a wonderful vacation together, so they should wind up their fun time by jumping in the sack together.”

In other words, “Let’s celebrate full communion while we do not have full communion.”  (HERESY!!  HERESY!! HERESY!! “Hello?  Inquisition?  Come, right away!!  I’d like to report…”)

Once we cut through all the obfuscation, diplomatic double talk and intellectual mumbo jumbo that’s what it comes down to.
One final note: I can remember as an Anglican reading in the gospel that Christ called for their to be one flock and one shepherd.
I asked myself what I could do to help promote church unity and I realized that there was one, solid, sure and positive thing I, as one Christian, could do to bring about church unity.

I could become a Catholic.

So I did.”

Love,
Matthew