Category Archives: Non-denominational

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

Rosary: does the Bible really condemn repetitious prayer?

THE PROTESTANT CHALLENGE: How can the Catholic Church teach that the rosary is a legitimate prayer when the Bible forbids repetitious prayer?

The rosary is a popular Catholic devotion that the Catechism endorses as a “form of piety” that expresses the “religious sense of the Christian people” (1674).  [It is a prayer form that developed for the illiterate, ordinary people as only clerics were taught to read and write.  Those same clerics were required to recite the Liturgy of the Hours, which is a formalized way of singing the Psalm twenty-four hours a day, praising God for time, which is a holy gift from God.  Since ordinary people could not read the books for this form of prayer, the rosary developed, so they could say the simple prayers they had memorized in imitation.] But for many Protestants, the rosary, with its repetition of the Hail Mary (Lk 1:46-55) prayer, contradicts Jesus’ command to “Use no vain repetitions as the heathens do” (Matt. 6:7; KJV). It would seem that the Catholic practice of praying the rosary is a direct violation of Jesus’ command.

MEETING THE CHALLENGE

1. Jesus wasn’t condemning prayers that involve repetition, but rather the idea that the quantity of prayer determines its efficacy.

The Greek word translated “vain repetition” is battalogeō, which can mean to speak in a stammering way, saying the same words over and over again without thinking. But it can also mean “to use many words, to speak for a long time.” So it can connote either mindless repetition or quantity.

Which meaning does Jesus have in mind?

The context reveals that Jesus has the quantity of prayers in mind. For example, Jesus says in verse 7, “For they [the Gentiles] think that they will be heard for their many words,” as if their many words could wear down the gods in order to get what they wanted. This is the mentality of prayer that Jesus is telling his disciples to avoid—the mentality that sheer volume of words ensures that God hears us.

This explains why Jesus says in verse 8, “Don’t be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” The implication is that it’s futile to think a bunch of words is needed for God to hear a prayer, because he already knows it.

So, Jesus is not concerned with repetition simply. He’s concerned with the idea that simply multiplying words makes prayers efficacious.

2. The rosary is not meant to gain favors from God due to the amount of prayers repeated.

According to the Catechism, the rosary is an “epitome of the whole gospel” (971). It is meant to focus our hearts and minds on the mysteries of Christ’s life, mysteries such as his conception in Mary’s womb at the Annunciation, his birth in Bethlehem, his baptism and preaching ministry, his glorious resurrection, and his ascension into heaven.

Meditating on these mysteries is meant to give us a deeper knowledge of Christ and draw us into a deeper communion with him, so that we can be more conformed to him. And we include Mary in that meditation because her soul “magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:46). The rosary, therefore, is a way to meditate on Christ in order to foster a greater love for him. The repetition of prayers serves that meditation—and that’s a biblical thing.

3. The Bible affirms prayers that involve repetition.

We can start with Jesus Himself. Notice that right after Jesus condemns the “vain repetitions” of the Gentiles, he commands the apostles, “Pray like this…Our Father who art in heaven.” Does Jesus intend for us to only say it once? Are we forbidden to repeat the Lord’s Prayer? Most Protestants have said it many times; perhaps they say it more than once a day.

Another example is Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father…remove this cup…not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). Mark tells us that Jesus prayed this multiple times: “And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words” (14:39). Surely, Jesus wouldn’t be violating his own command not to pray with “vain repetitions.”

We also have an example from the “four living creatures” (angels) that John sees in heaven: “Day and night they never cease to sing, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty” (Rev. 4:8). If any prayer involves repetition, it’s this one!

The Psalms even give us forms of prayer that involve repetition. Consider, for example, Psalm 136. Its refrain, “for his steadfast love endures forever,” occurs twenty-six times. Must we say that the Holy Spirit (the third person of the Trinity) who inspired the Psalmist to write this, is at odds with Jesus (the second person of the Trinity)?

Since the Bible affirms prayers that involve repetition, we can conclude that the repetition in the rosary does not violate Christ’s words.

COUNTER-CHALLENGE: Why should we think that a condemnation of useless repetition is a condemnation of any repetition? Couldn’t there be repetitious prayer that is heartfelt and helps us love God more?

[Editor: Ps 51:1]

AFTERTHOUGHT: One of the benefits of praying the rosary is that it protects us from focusing our prayer too much on what we want and need. Praying for our needs is a good thing, but it shouldn’t be the only thing we pray about. The rosary helps us to focus on what should be the first object of prayer: Jesus.

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

Revelation 22:18-19

“Catholic Bibles are bigger than Protestant ones. The Catechism teaches that the canon of Scripture includes “forty-six books for the Old Testament (forty-five if we count Jeremiah and Lamentations as one) and twenty-seven for the New” (120). Although Protestants agree with Catholics on the books that make up the New Testament, there are seven books in the Catholic Old Testament canon that they reject: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. They also reject portions of the books of Daniel and Esther. Catholics refer to these seven books as the deuterocanonical (second-canon) books and Protestants call them the Apocrypha.

You may run across a Protestant who rejects the deuterocanonical books because he thinks the Catholic Church added these books, in violation of John’s prohibition to add to the Bible:

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Rev. 22:18-19).

John says not to add to Scripture, yet the Catholic Church literally added seven whole books and more!

Reply:

1. If we granted for argument’s sake that John here is referring to the entire canon of Scripture, then Protestants would be guilty for removing the deuterocanonicals.

If we suppose that John is talking about the biblical canon (the list of all the books that make up the Bible) in Revelation 22:18-19, then the challenge becomes a two-edged sword. A Protestant may argue that the Catholic Church added books to the Bible, but a Catholic can just as easily argue that the Protestant community took some books away.

The seven books found in the Catholic Old Testament that are not found in the Protestant Old Testament were widely held as Scripture all throughout Christian history, and it was not until the Protestant Reformation that their canonicity was called into question and rejected on a major scale.

Prior to the Reformation, some individuals did question the canonicity of these books, but for the most part Christians as a whole accepted them. Numerous fourth and fifth-century Church councils authoritatively declared them to be inspired: the Synod of Rome (A.D. 382), Council of Hippo (393), Third Council of Carthage (397), and Sixth Council of Carthage (419). Protestant scholar J.N.D. Kelly affirms the major consensus on these books in the early Church: “For the great majority, however, the deuterocanonical writings ranked as Scripture in the fullest sense.”

Such historical evidence makes this challenge difficult for a Protestant. If Revelation 22:18-19 refers to the canon, then the prohibition of “taking away” from it is just as strong as the prohibition of adding to it. So how can Protestants reject seven books from the Bible when Revelation 22:18-19 forbids it?
2. This passage is not even discussing the canon of Scripture but merely the book of Revelation.

These verses, however, don’t even refer to the entire Bible. The Greek word use here for book, biblion, can mean “small book” or “scroll.” In the ancient world, it was impossible to fit the entire Bible on a single scroll. The books of the Bible were originally individual compositions, such as an individual scroll, and the biblical canon as we know it was a collection of individual scrolls, a library of books. That’s why they’re called the “books” (plural) of the Bible. These books would not be put into a single volume until centuries later.

Therefore, it makes most sense to read the phrase “book of this prophecy” as referring to the scroll in which John is recording his prophecy, namely, the book of Revelation. As such, John’s instruction not to add or remove anything refers to the book he was writing—Revelation—and not the future canon of Scripture (which wouldn’t be authoritatively settled for centuries after).

A similar instruction is given is Deuteronomy 4:2, where Moses says, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it; that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” Moses wasn’t referring to the whole Old Testament canon; otherwise we would have to side with the Sadducees and reject every Old Testament book outside the Pentateuch. He was merely prohibiting adding or taking away from the “statutes and the ordinances” that constitute the Mosaic Law.

Since we now know that John was not giving instructions concerning the biblical canon, but instructions governing the book of Revelation (don’t add to the prophetic text of Revelation and don’t take away from it), it becomes clear that Revelation 22:18-19 doesn’t undermine the Catholic canon, regardless of whether the Catholic Church added books to the biblical canon or Protestants subtracted from it. Of course, we must not add to or subtract from the canon of Scripture. But that is not what John is talking about in this passage.

Reply: How could John be referring to the entire biblical canon in Revelation 22:18-19 when the canon wouldn’t be settled for another several hundred years?

Consider: Your Protestant friend might argue that because the New Testament doesn’t quote any of the deuterocanonical books we have good reason to exclude them from the canon of Scripture. This is common among some Protestants. But this logic would demand that we also exclude from the canon Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Obadiah, Zephaniah, Judges, 1 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Lamentations, Nahum, Joshua, Obadiah, and Zephaniah, since the New Testament doesn’t quote any of these. I don’t think your Protestant friend wants to make his biblical canon any smaller!”

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

Non-denominational Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church, Coming to a Conclusion (Part 6 of 6)


-please click on the image for greater detail


-by Keith Albert Little, “The Cordial Catholic” (@cordialcatholic)

Coming to a Conclusion

“In hindsight, I can draw a pretty straight line in my journey towards the Catholic Church. It began back at that Evangelical youth group not many years after I first encountered Christ, when I realized that the system as I understood it simply didn’t make sense. If we could read our Bibles and interpret them in all sorts of different ways, if we couldn’t come to the same conclusion on life-impacting things like salvation or the definition of marriage, then that system was broken. Maybe it was never what God intended, anyway.

It became clear to me through reading the stories of other Catholic converts, from digging into the history of my faith through the early Church Fathers, and through studying the Reformation that I hadn’t fully understood my place, the place of the Bible, and the role of the Catholic Church in my Christian faith. Having been fair, having done the research, having studied and prayed and wrung my hands, I realized I had no other option than to become Catholic.

But the journey wasn’t all that smooth. I called up the closest Catholic Church and began RCIA, thinking that all Catholic churches were the same. It was the “universal Church” after all, right? The parish we ended up in, however, was rather sleepy. There was nothing for kids, nothing for families, and no real faith formation aspect to parish life. My wife, who had been tangentially along for the journey, made a heartbreaking observation one morning after Mass.

It was the first time she’d attended with me. We were splitting our time between worship services at our non-denominational church and Mass at the local Catholic parish. This particular morning, on the way home, she turned to me in the car and said, with a sly look on her face, “I saw a miracle happen today at Mass!”

I joked, “Honey, that happens every time; it’s called the Real Presence of Christ!” She rolled her eyes and replied, “No, it happened after the priest prayed the Eucharistic prayers. I closed my eyes when he started praying, and when I opened them up again, everyone had their coats on. That way, they could rush out the door as soon as they received the Host!”

I sighed. She was right, and I knew it. At this particular parish, the culture of Drive-Thru Catholicism was rampant, and it depressed us both. How could I be joining a Church that seemed so apathetic? Didn’t they know about the miracle of Christ present in the Mass and how every time the priest celebrates Communion he’s mystically linking us to the Last Supper? Didn’t they realize that we’re singing and praying in the presence of choirs of angels?

I’ve since met and spoken with many converts, and they have shared the same challenge that we faced. The Evangelical church we had attended was bursting at the seams with programming for kids, missions outreach, small group ministries, Bible studies, discussion groups, worship services, and all kinds of activities and programs to engage the congregation in good works. We built each other up as disciples of Christ. But such vibrancy can be difficult to find in Catholic communities. I’ve also learned that sometimes we need to build it up ourselves.

My wife and I did find a parish which took its mission of evangelization seriously and drank deeply from that well every week. She entered the Church the year after me.

There’s something else I’ve learned. As converts, we have special gifts to give to the Catholic Church. We have a perspective and zest for the faith that those who were raised in the Church often find difficult to capture. We’ve also seen what else is out there. With the Eucharist as the focal point, we’ve seen the fruits of robust children’s ministry programming, of youth groups and Bible studies and discussion groups — we’ve seen, firsthand, how these aspects of parish life can help to build up the whole Body of Christ and equip Catholics for their mission. The Catholic Church, in its individual parishes, certainly has work to do here, but it’s work in which converts like us can play a fundamental role. It’s one thing, I think, to become Catholic. It’s quite another to commit to being renewed, every day, as a disciple of Christ — and then to sharing that fire. God willing, that is what we’ll continue to do.”

Love,
Matthew

Non-denominational Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church, Married & Muddled (Part 5 of 6)


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-by Keith Albert Little, “The Cordial Catholic” (@cordialcatholic)

Quashing Quibbles

I had held preconceived notions about the Catholic Church. However, they were largely unintentional, and they were quickly quashed as I began to read.

Why do Catholic call priests “father,” when Jesus said to call no man “father”? Well, if Jesus meant that literally, what do I call my Dad? And what about the verse where Jesus Himself calls Abraham our “father”?

Why do Catholics pray to saints? They don’t as if the saints are God. But they do believe that after a Christian dies, he is still part of the Body of Christ, and we can continue to pray for each other, to Christ, after we die. It’s either this, or Christ hasn’t conquered death.

Don’t Catholics worship Mary? No. They venerate her, putting her in a place of importance because she’s clearly prefigured in the Old Testament. She is the new Ark of the Covenant and the New Eve. As one of His last acts on the cross, Jesus tells us that she is our “mother” (John 19:25–27).

In the light of good Catholic teaching and an actual reading of what Catholics believe, my objections and misconceptions seemed juvenile. And I felt lazy, silly, for never having tried to understand what Catholics believed before. Now, as I began to get a better grasp, I was astounded at what I was learning.

Here was a Church that claimed authority not to only collect the books of the Bible together, but to interpret them as well. A Church which claimed unity under the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. A Church which drew a straight line from the first Apostles to the bishops of today, claiming an authoritative link to the very words of Christ, who said, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).

Suddenly, a Catholic Church came into focus that I had no idea existed — a Church which taught that the elements of Communion actually become the Body and Blood of Christ because, I learned, that’s what Jesus says in the Gospel of John (chapter 6). For all our “literal reading” of the Bible, we’d missed one of the most literal parts. Jesus says we have to “eat” His flesh, and when His followers throw up their hands in disgust, He becomes even more graphic, explaining that we have to “gnaw” His flesh! Then, when many of His followers walk away, declaring it a difficult teaching, He does nothing to stop them. Instead of clarifying for His disciples, as He’s often pictured doing, He simply asks, “Do you want to leave, too?”

Even more shocking is the evidence from the early Church Fathers. As a relatively well-educated Evangelical, I’d always been taught to treat my Bible as if it had fallen into my hands directly from its writers’ pens, as if the years between the texts being written and their arriving on my bookshelf simply didn’t exist. But they do exist, and in that time period, lots of important things were being written. Of particular interest are the early Church Fathers. Many of these Church Fathers lived immediately after the Apostles and had important things to say, vital perspectives on the development of the Christian Church.

Shockingly, these early Church Fathers were completely Catholic.

In the Fathers writings, we see ample evidence to believe that they understood Communion as Catholics do today, as the real Body and Blood of Jesus. We find appeals to the Bishop of Rome, lending significant credence to the position of Pope, the successor of Peter, even in the infant Church. We find widespread use of relics, prayers for the dead, and prayers to deceased Christians. We find a particular veneration of Mary, an understanding of infant baptism, and even a version of a worship service which looks shockingly similar to our modern-day Mass.

To my complete surprise, the early Church was Catholic.”

Love,
Matthew

Non-denominational Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church, Married & Muddled (Part 4 of 6)


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-by Keith Albert Little, “The Cordial Catholic” (@cordialcatholic)

“In the meantime, life took over. Maria and I got married; we bought a house, and she changed careers. The family church we’d been attending, the outgrowth of the student church where we first met, moved in to share a space with an aging Lutheran congregation. Suddenly being in a building meant for worship, as opposed to our old space in a community center, meant we were suddenly much more “traditional.”

There was an altar, although we didn’t use it, and stained glass. There were an organ and pews, and we’d even occasionally see the Lutheran pastor, at the very end of our service. He wore a Roman collar and vestments. Suddenly, my simmering interest in tradition ignited.

Around this time, too, the issue of the meaning and mandate of Christian marriage began to be widely discussed in the Protestant world, with battle lines and hot debates quickly forming. On the topic of marriage, I needed to figure out where I stood, and I wanted to base my beliefs on the Bible. Our little church community was largely undecided, leaving it up to each individual’s own theology. But I didn’t know mine; I hadn’t given it much thought. When I began to dig into the Bible, into commentaries and literature written by everyone from respected theologians to practicing homosexuals, I realized that no one had a clear answer, and nothing made much sense.

Everyone, as far as I could tell, claimed to base their perspective on the Bible, and no one agreed. It was our youth group debate all over again. We could all use the same proof texts and somehow come to widely differing conclusions. With the youth group, it was something as fundamental as how God saved our souls. Now, it was a different question but just as fundamental. The stakes were high, and the answers were equally murky.

How was it that we could all look at the same Scripture and come up with different ideas? How could this be the system for understanding our faith as God intended it? Why was knowing how to follow Christ so confusing? I didn’t get it. There was something flawed in the way we used the Bible and the way we understood our faith.

Once again, I decided to do some digging.

Later on in my journey towards the Catholic Church, I came across a quote by G.K. Chesterton in his book The Catholic Church and Conversion that really hit home. I’ll paraphrase by saying that once you decide to be “fair” to the Catholic Church, you can’t help but convert. In other words, once a person decides to truly dig into the teachings of the Church in a fair, honest, and open way, it inevitably ends in conversion. You can’t help but become Catholic. I’d liken this to a mouse trap, but in this case, the “mouse” lives!

So anyway, I decided I needed to be “fair” to the Catholic Church. After all, I’d learned enough about Catholics from skirting around the edges to know that they believed some fundamentally different things from what I believed, and if they were the same Church that put together the Bible, then they must, I reasoned, still have some claim to authority. I decided that I needed to know exactly what Catholics believed, from authentic Catholic sources.

First, I found a list of books tailor-made for non-Catholic Christians. It included works by Scott Hahn, Steve Ray, and Thomas Howard, as well as some introductory theology by Frank Sheed. It was like turning on a faucet full blast!

To begin with, I had no idea what Catholics actually believed, and hearing about Catholic doctrine, tradition, and beliefs from actual practicing Catholics felt like drawing in a great big mouthful of air after realizing I’d been holding my breath. What I was reading was eye-opening.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Non-denominational, Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church, Building the Bible, Part 3 of 6


-by Keith Albert Little, “The Cordial Catholic” (@cordialcatholic)

Building the Bible

A few things happened in my last couple of years at university that caused the nagging feeling that I was conscious of to grow into something I simply could no longer ignore.

I was working a tedious warehouse job during the summer between my third and fourth years and had heard about this brand new thing called podcasting. Only a few podcasts were available in those days, and I subscribed to one. It was a podcast about movies, television shows, and video games hosted by, it turns out, a priest. Although I don’t know what I’d imagined priests being like, I had assumed that they wouldn’t be real people, interested in hobbies like video games and TV. But through his podcast, the priest exposed me to the fact that Catholics, even Catholic priests, could be real people — and genuine about their faith, as I learned by listening to stories from his life.

Next, I began an internship. It was at the student church I’d attended for years. One day, the pastor called me into his office with an important question. Sitting me down, he asked, “Which is more important: the Bible or Tradition?” Years later, I learned that my pastor friend was on his own journey into rediscovering his former Catholic Faith as he worked on his Master’s degree, and I was his sounding board. But I didn’t know this then.

“The Bible,” I said instinctively, knowing what every kid knows in Sunday School, that the answer is always either “Jesus” or “The Bible.”

“But then who put together the Bible?” he asked earnestly. I was dumbstruck. It was a question I’d never considered.

He went on to explain that the tradition of the Church put the Bible together — that councils attended by bishops authorized by the Catholic Church — the Catholic Church! — lent credibility to the books that appear in our Bibles. It was these councils, led by the Church, that affirmed what would eventually make up our biblical canon. I was incredulous, but he was right. Tradition, he mused out loud, came first. It was responsible for putting the Bible together; therefore, it must be more important. I didn’t argue because I knew he was right. That was where our Bible came from. The original authors didn’t provide a table of contents.

That somewhat banal question, asked by a Protestant pastor, began in earnest a journey I’d been avoiding since my days in the youth group and our predestination scandal. After all, the Bible doesn’t tell us that it’s infallible, that it can be trusted as-is, that it’s the sole rule of faith that we should follow. I knew I believed these things as an Evangelical Protestant and that I’d learned them somewhere. But suddenly they seemed to be premises which were awfully flimsy. Where did the Bible say these things? And how did I know them to be true? To my horror, I didn’t have the answers. I struggled to find them.”

Love,
Matthew

Non-denominational, Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church, Calvinist Confusion, Part 2 of 6


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-by Keith Albert Little, “The Cordial Catholic” (@cordialcatholic)

Calvinist Confusion

“I knew right away that I’d been given a new lease on life. I had been spared a punishment I deserved. We had bullied that kid, and now that he was grown up and bigger than we were, I had deserved to have my lights punched out by him. Instead, God had sent me the sign I’d asked for, a sign which clearly spared me from the punishment I was due. I knew poetic justice — or mercy — when I saw it. I surrendered my life to Christ, even though I hadn’t the faintest idea what that meant.

I proceeded, then, to do all the classic things that Christian converts did back in the early 2000’s. I bought a T-shirt. I bought a WWJD bracelet and thought it was the coolest secret club ever. And I bought a Bible and began reading at Genesis. By the end of Numbers, I was so bogged down that I gave up, until someone wiser told me that I needed to start with the Gospels. “Beg your pardon?” “With Matthew,” he said. Best of all, I got connected to a great youth group at a local Pentecostal church.

Looking back, I can draw a somewhat straight line from my first encounter with Christ to my running, arms agape, into the embrace of the Catholic Church. But in that moment, it wasn’t so clear.

One of my early memories as a Christian was when Calvinism crept into our youth group conversations. It began innocently enough — someone had read something somewhere — but quickly became a full-blown scandal, with Bible passages being hotly debated over Quarter Pounders at McDonald’s on a Friday night. In retrospect, I’m grateful for how we spent our time — debating theology rather than getting drunk like so many of our high school peers — but the debate nearly tore the youth group apart.

Back then, I couldn’t figure out how we were all looking at the same passages of Scripture and coming to different conclusions. How did this make sense? And why would God make the Bible so confusing, open to so many interpretations? In the end, it was a vicious debate, and more than one of my friends walked away from church back then, convinced by the Word of God that they weren’t amongst the “elect.” It was painful to see, and it’s painful to think about it now. I made it through, but I’d never forget the confusion caused by all of us trying, on our own, to interpret our Bibles.

I began university by attending a vibrant student church that met on campus at the University of Waterloo. I remember the first time I went, seeing a lineup of 200 students snaking down the sidewalk outside the campus nightclub. It was Monday night, and the church was to meet at seven o’clock.

Truly, I owe a lot to my years at that student church. Over the course of my university career, I was very involved with the church, from small groups, to setup and decorations, to sound and video production. Through friendships forged at the church, I met a beautiful woman named Maria, who later became my wife. I dug into my faith like never before, faced with a couple of questions I just couldn’t work out.

The first came from reading C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. In it, Lewis presents a picture of the afterlife which looks a lot like purgatory. Instead of dying and suddenly being in the glorified presence of Christ and the angels, the souls of the Christian deceased slowly make their way towards God on a bus ride towards the light, through a dark and solemn land. Thinking about what I had read, I realized that Lewis’s picture of heaven, and how we transition there, made a lot more sense than mine. I’d been raised, theologically, to believe that when I died, no matter what I had done in this life, I would instantly be face to face with Christ. My sins, of course, would be wiped away, and I’d be ready to be in His presence immediately.

But that never made sense to me. When I thought about it, I wondered how would I get ready? After all, I wouldn’t suddenly be free of all my bad moods, my hurts, and hangups the minute I died. How could I bring those things with me into heaven? Lewis’s analogy of the long, slow journey by bus made much more sense. I began to understand how Purgatory could be an opportunity to prepare my heart and mind to see God. But it didn’t fit into my Evangelical theology, and that would bother me for quite a while.

I had a similar experience with Confession. It occurred to me, after encountering a passage about it in a Bible study, that we didn’t do Confession. We were told to, right there in black and white in our Bibles, but we didn’t, and I couldn’t understand why. When I asked around — my peers, my pastor, and wise people that I trusted — no one seemed to know. We just didn’t do it, and no one knew why. Like my view of the afterlife, which didn’t jibe with what I’d been taught to believe, the confusion over Confession was something I just couldn’t shake off.”

Love,
Matthew