Category Archives: Christian Unity

Christian Unity: When Will We Learn?

My fellow Christians, why are we divided?  Do we not all believe that Jesus is the Messiah?  Do we not all have access to the same Bibles?  Do we not all know the Apostles’ Creed?  Do we not all read the words of Jesus and the Apostles?  Why are these things not enough to keep us united in spiritual battle?  What do we lack?  Why are we not “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” as Paul admonished us to be?

We lack that which transforms a great horde into a well-oiled, disciplined, effective army:  allegiance to a central chain of command.  We also lack the holiness that comes from being disciplined and united.  How can we preach holiness while maintaining division?  The two are not compatible.  A divided army simply does not fight well.  Holiness is what we use to wage spiritual warfare.  Division is not holy.  Our lips profess allegiance to Christ, but our actions show division, contention and strife.

When will we learn that Jesus established a visible Church hierarchy, a chain of command for all Christians to follow and be accountable to?  We cannot be united while preaching and teaching different doctrines.  We cannot be united while following leaders that oppose each other.  When will we learn that unity requires humility and the swallowing of pride?  Soldiers must learn to follow orders that they may not agree with or fully understand.  When will we learn that we cannot worship wherever and however we want?  Worship cannot be invented by us.  Christian worship has been instituted by Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  We cannot effectively function as different parts of the same Body if we are not fully united to that Body.  When will we learn that being Christian is not about choosing one’s preferences from a smorgasbord of doctrinal options, but about being obedient to the Faith?  One Lord, one Faith, one baptism.

When will we learn that genuine Christian unity will elude us until we reverse the perpetual, explosive trend of protest and division and return to the central command of Peter’s chair?

Rom 16:17, 1Cor 1:10, 1Cor 3:3, 1Cor 11:18, Matt 16:18

So, What’s Your Opinion?

Jesus called his Disciples to follow Him and they dropped everything and followed Him.  Then He spent three years teaching them.  I don’t recall Jesus ever asking His Disciples for their opinions.

I don’t see any indication that Jesus’ time with the Disciples was like many modern day Bible studies where people sit around sharing their own impressions of what this verse or that verse means to them.  I can’t imagine Jesus asking the Disciples for opinions on how to interpret Scripture.  If He did ask them, I certainly can’t imagine that Jesus would be satisfied with two or more opposing interpretations.  It is hard to imagine Jesus responding, “Well, that’s fine if you guys can’t agree on what it means, as long as it’s not essential to your salvation.”  It seems that Jesus taught them and they listened.  They may not have understood everything completely, but they had to accept what Jesus taught them.  Nothing was subject to personal opinion.  Even when Peter had the correct answer to a question (“You are the Christ”), Jesus didn’t say, “I like your opinion about me, Peter!”  Jesus didn’t give Peter any credit.  Jesus made it clear that God provided that correct answer, not Peter.

We need to have Jesus teach us while we listen.  That’s why Jesus gave us the Church.  He didn’t give us lots of different churches with opposing views and opinions.  Jesus gave us the Church with a successive hierarchy led by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus spent three years teaching His Disciples what He wanted them to know.  After Jesus ascended to Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to make sure that they (the leaders of Church) would be able to “connect the dots” and continue the process of teaching until the end of the age.  To listen to the Church is to listen to Jesus.  God still provides the correct answers.

There is nothing in the Bible that says, “And Jesus told them to go and write a book to guide people’s opinions after the Apostles die off.”  The Bible itself does not claim to be our ultimate guide and authority.  Obviously, having access to the Bible has not resulted in Christian unity or concensus.  There are too many opposing opinions in play.  I can’t recall Jesus ever being interested in everyone having a right to their own opinions.  He seemed very interested in obedience, though.

There’s an old hymn I recall from my Protestant days.  “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.”  The key is deciding who, and/or what, to obey.  There are so many opinions.  There are so many churches teaching so many different things about Jesus and Scripture.  Jesus knew this would happen.  It’s human nature to muddy the water.  That’s why Jesus gave us His Church with a Spirit-led, successive hierarchy.  To obey His Church is to obey Jesus.  If we wait until we understand every teaching clearly, we will never step forward in faith.  Like the Disciples, we must accept things we do not fully understand.

Sound scary?  I have yet to know of someone whose life or soul was brought to ruin by faithfully following what is taught in the Catholic Catechism.  Challenged, perhaps, but not ruined.  It’s all about Jesus, after all.  And that’s more than simply my opinion.

Becoming One Flesh: Eucharist And Marriage

Dr. Scott Hahn recently posted an excellent Facebook response to a question about the Eucharist being closed to non-Catholics.  His answer reflected on his own spiritual journey from Evangelical Christian to Presbyterian minister to Catholic.  Each step in his journey brought him closer to understanding the sacramental aspect of both marriage and the Eucharist.  Each relationship is a “one flesh” union requiring fidelity and integrity.

As I reflected on Dr. Hahn’s answer, it occurred to me that perhaps a lack of understanding about the Eucharist and marriage contributes to the wide acceptance of contraception.  For example, if marriage is not viewed as a sacrament, it becomes only a symbol and loses integrity.  It can be manipulated according to the will of anyone desiring to make use of its symbolism.  If Holy Communion is only a symbol, it loses any need for fidelity.  Anyone can “join in.”  There is no need for full union between participants.  The Eucharist becomes merely a symbol of common feelings rather than a reality of a “one flesh” union.  Since everyone “feels good” about Jesus, they should all be allowed to partake of the Eucharist, right?

Ironically, few married people would be comfortable becoming one flesh with someone they were not fully united to in marriage.  That’s called infidelity and it is rightfully frowned upon by most married people.  We don’t let everyone “join in.”  So, why should we be ok letting people “join in” the one flesh union of the Eucharist if those people are not fully united with Christ’s Church?

And why should we let people partake of the Eucharist if they don’t even believe that what they are participating in is an actual, “one flesh” union?  That’s like being in a contraception marriage.  There are lots of “good feelings” that feel like bonding, but there is not a one flesh union taking place in the marriage.  It is a lack of integrity.  The marriage is only symbolic of the feelings they have about each other.  They do not take the marriage to its full realization of a one flesh, life giving union.

One of the best ways for the devil to mess up our relationship with Christ is to promote the following errors:

–          The Holy Communion is only symbolic.  The bread and wine are not transubstantiated into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.  We don’t need to become one flesh with Christ at Communion.  All we need is our good feelings about Jesus and the Bible.

–          Contraception is fine and even preferable.  Sex and marriage are mostly about bonding and “good feelings,” not primarily about becoming one flesh and creating new life.

–          Anyone that believes in Jesus should be allowed to participate in Holy Communion.  No fidelity to the Church or her Christ-given authority is necessary.

The two Sacraments of Eucharist and Marriage are intimately connected in such a way that an attack on one serves as an attack on the other.  A deeper understanding of one leads to a deeper understanding of the other.  “Becoming one flesh” is a critical theme that connects the two Sacraments in a unique way.

Catholics are not mean, snobbish “elitists” that refuse to let other Christians “join in.”  We simply hold to the understanding of Jesus and the Church Fathers who saw the need for covenantal integrity and marital fidelity within marriage and within the Church.

Holy Week: The Servant Is Not Above The Master

I’ve been reflecting today about Holy Week and the finale episode of The Bible series on the History Channel.  I’ve been thinking about what the world did to Jesus.  Jesus told His followers that they also would be hated and persecuted because of Him.  He didn’t hint that the world might do so, but He assured them that it would do so.  He also told his followers to expect, accept and embrace suffering.  The Apostles were virtually all killed for following Jesus.  The next 2000 years produced innumerable, Christian martyrs, including many of the first popes.

Why do so many present day Christians expect their lives to be free from suffering?  Jesus said that the servant is not above the Master.  The servant follows the Master.  The Master suffered for speaking, indeed for being the truth in love.  The Master did not suffer because He spoke things that made everyone feel good.  The Master did not suffer because He pointed out how fair and free from injustice the world could be.  He suffered because He testified to the sinfulness and injustice of the world.  He suffered because He pointed beyond this life and our attachments to it.

I’m not suggesting that Christians need to go out and pick fights or seek out ways to suffer.  But, I do believe that if we stand for truth when the world tries to feed us lies, we will not need to seek out suffering or persecution.  It will come and find us.  If it does not come looking for us, we’re probably not following Christ.  If we receive constant applause from the world, we’re probably not following Christ.

Jesus said, “Blessed are you when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy: for behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.” (Luke 6:22-23)

Christians, are we prepared to be blessed?  Are we prepared to leap for joy?  Christ had His resurrection.  Ours is yet to come.  We are still in the world.  But, we are not of the world.  Speak the truth in love.  Then, be ready to follow the Master.

The Bible Is Not A Pastor

The election of Pope Francis has triggered some discussion with my non-Catholic friends.  Such conversations often reveal misconceptions about Christianity, Catholicism and the Papacy in particular.  I’ll try to make a few things more clear in “layman’s terms.”

There is a slogan that is used by many non-Catholic Christians, especially those from Fundamentalist backgrounds.  The slogan is, “No hope in the Pope!”  The meaning being that Christians should place their eternal hope in Jesus Christ, not in an imperfect man.  As a devout Roman Catholic, I agree with their premise.

The misconception is that Catholics follow the Pope instead of Christ, or that the Pope trumps the Word of God in some way.  Many non-Catholics believe that the Pope can make up whatever rules he wants, even if they contradict biblical principles.  They often think that “infallible” means “impeccable.”  Infallible is not the same as impeccable.  In other words, Catholics do not believe that the Pope is totally free from error or that he is free from mistakes.  Even Peter, the first Pope, made mistakes.  He also made some infallible statements and decisions when God gave them to him.  For example, when Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” it was Peter who gave the infallible answer, “You are the Christ.”

Most of my non-Catholic, Christian friends go to church somewhere.  Those churches have pastors.  The people in those churches generally trust God to speak to them through the preaching/teaching of their pastors.  If they have questions about the Bible and its meaning, they typically ask their pastors for an interpretation.  Or, they read the Bible and make their own interpretations, or they ask a friend for an opinion.  If the preaching or teaching of the pastor is deemed incorrect, there are other pastors in other churches to choose from.  The trick is to determine whether or not the preaching and teaching of the pastor is properly aligned with the “final authority” of the Bible.  There are many pastors teaching many opposing things about the Bible while all claiming to be “led by the Holy Spirit.”  So, how can they know who is right?  Checking the Bible does not solve differences of opinion about the Bible.

The Bible is not a pastor.  The Bible cannot lead the people in the way that a shepherd leads a flock.  Jesus told Peter, “Feed my sheep.”  Jesus gave Peter (and his fellow apostles) a specific office of authority that included “binding and loosing” of things here on earth and in Heaven.  He also gave Peter the “keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.”  By giving Peter this unique office, Jesus mirrored the Old Testament tradition of a king appointing his prime minister.  Peter’s office also needed to be filled upon his death, just as the empty office of Judas had been filled.  This is why we have a 2000 year succession of Popes and apostolic authority in the Church.

The Catholic bishops are the successors of the apostles.  There are more than twelve of them now because the Church is so large and global.  Yet, there still is only one head of the apostles.  There needs to be a “go to guy,” a pastor that all the Church is accountable to.  The Bible alone cannot fill this role.  There are too many varying opinions about how to discern and interpret the Bible.  Incidentally, no one even knew what books and letters to officially include in the Bible before the Catholic Church made that decision nearly 400 years after Christ.  The Bible is actually part of the Sacred Tradition handed down to us from the leadership of the Catholic Church.  Part of the Pope’s role (along with his fellow bishops) is to protect this Sacred Tradition (aka “The Deposit of Faith”) which includes the Bible.

Jesus, of course, is The Good Shepherd.  He is the Head of the Church.  Catholics worship Jesus and strive to follow Jesus.  Part of following Jesus includes following the earthly pastor appointed by The Holy Spirit.  Jesus promised that The Holy Spirit would guide His Church.  The Pope is simply an instrument of The Holy Spirit.  I have a pastor in my local Church, but he also is answerable to the highest, earthly pastor.  In this way, we heed the words of the apostle Paul “that there be no divisions among you.”  (1Cor 1:10)  When disagreements arise, as is often the case with human beings, the Church authority is there for direction and discipline (Matt 18:17).  Without that 2000 year old Church authority, Christians have no rudder to steer them on the drifting waves of conflicting opinions and divided denominations.

Infallibility means that God protects the office of the Pope from teaching error in faith and morals.  It does not mean that everything the Pope says is infallible.  Nor does it mean that the Pope is sinless or free from mistakes.  Infallibility is given to the Christ-established office of the Pope.  The man himself, like Peter, is just a man.  The Pope cannot contradict Sacred Tradition, including Scripture.  The Pope cannot add to or subtract from Scripture.  Catholics believe that God is powerful enough to protect the office of the Pope, just as God is powerful enough to protect the inerrant, inspired Bible that the Catholic Church compiled.  He gives us His Word and a pastor to guide us all.  Jesus is The King, and the Pope is His earthly Prime Minister.  What an awesome God we serve!

Jesus Vs. E.T.

There are lots of reasons I can give as to why I choose to be a Catholic Christian.  I can talk about the necessity of Church authority in a world of relativistic, secularized theologies and individualistic Bible interpretations.  I can talk about the historical consistency of the Church from Christ until today in an atmosphere of endless church splits and fragmentations.  I can talk about how the Catholic Church stands firm on issues of morality while other churches cave into public pressure and secular culture.  I can talk about the need for unity, community and guidance in a world of Jesus-and-me, church-hopping Christians who “don’t want to be told what to do.”  I can talk about 2000 years of sacred Tradition and the deposit of faith being preserved by the Catholic Church.  I can explain that, without the God-given authority of the Catholic Church, Christians wouldn’t even know if their Bibles should contain The Gospel of Thomas or The Gospel of John or the Book of James, for it was the Catholic Church that decided the answer.  I can appeal to both reason and faith from the perspective of Natural Law and theology, etc., etc.

To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, it’s hard to give a short answer as to why I decided to be Catholic, because there are at least 10,000 reasons all leading to the conclusion that Catholicism is true.  But, after all is said and done, the ultimate reason I want to be Catholic is because I love Jesus Christ, and I want to follow Him.  I want to be with Him.  But, as much as I love Him, He loves me even more, and wants even more to be with me.  I’m not content to have a long distance relationship with Christ.  It is not enough for me to only have Jesus “in my heart” and read His letters and listen to preachers talk about being with Him in Heaven some day.  I want to be with Him now.  Thankfully, Jesus wants this even more than I do, so He set up His Church to provide the means.

But it’s not all about me and Jesus.  Jesus loves us all the same.  So He set things up in such a way that we can all be with Him, and He with us, not just “in our hearts” but in our very physical presence and essence.  I used to imagine that Jesus did a kind of “E.T” thing.  In the movie “E.T.” the little alien creature goes back to space and leaves his friend Eliot behind in tears.  In order to consol Eliot, the alien points his glowing finger at his friend’s head and says, “I’ll be right here!”  In other words, “I’ll be with you in spirit, or I’ll be present in your thoughts, but actually, I’m leaving you.”

Jesus promised to never leave us nor forsake us.  He also said He would not leave us orphans.  On the road to Emmaus Jesus met the men who begged Him to stay, even though they did not recognize who He was.  Jesus did not point to their heads or their chests and say, “Don’t worry, I’ll be right here!”  No, Jesus vanished from their sight, but, as they requested, He stayed with them in the bread, and that’s how they recognized who He was.  Jesus can do anything He wants with His glorified body.  He chooses to be present with us in bread and wine, so we can all touch Him, be with Him, partake of the Sacrificial Lamb and be united in one Body with Him.  This is what Passover was foreshadowing.  We are saved by the blood of the Lamb, but we also physically partake of, and become one with, the Lamb.

Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit as the Church’s teacher, Comforter and power.  However, the Holy Spirit is not a substitute for Christ’s physical presence among us.  Jesus said He would send the Holy Spirit to teach the Church what it needed to know.  One thing the Church needs to know is that Jesus is here among us!  He longs to be with us and become one with us.  The Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life and unity.  If you love Jesus, don’t just read His letters and sing songs about Him.  Follow Him and really be with Him!

A Talk With The Youth

I’m back in the saddle again after a break from writing.  Sometimes I just run out of things to say.  A period of contemplation and soaking in of the life that surrounds me usually provides some thoughts to share.  The introverted side of me is always reluctant to speak for the sake of speaking.  So, I try to have something to convey that may be pertinent to someone.

Recently, I was asked to share my story of Catholic reversion with some eighth graders at a local Catholic school.  It was part of an attempt to capture their interest in upcoming youth events that may help them stay involved with their faith as they become more independent.

Afterwards, it occurred to me that, when I left Catholicism, the Protestants I was involved with wanted to hear my “testimony.”  They wanted to hear how God had worked in my life to bring me out of Catholicism and into their fold.  Catholics had little interest in hearing about why I had left.  Upon returning to Catholicism, the only folks that openly want to hear my story seem to be Catholics.  There are no Protestants approaching me and asking me to tell why I decided to leave them and return to Catholicism.  Now, it is the Catholics that want me to “testify.”

It would be nice if everyone had a listening ear.  It would be nice if everyone had a “teachable spirit” and a willingness to hear truth spoken in love (even truth that hurts).  But, I suppose it is human nature to take sides and dig in one’s heals and feel threatened or bewildered by opposing opinions.  We all want to feel secure in what we believe.  We tend to seek out like minds to confirm our beliefs, not opposing views that challenge them.

In telling my story, it is important for me to make clear the positive contributions that both Catholics and Protestants have made in my spiritual journey.  My desire is that all Christians heed the prayer of Jesus that we, as believers in Him, “all may be one.”  Therefore, in talking about my return to Catholicism, I try to avoid an “us against them” attitude.  Obviously, it would not make sense for me to be Catholic if I did not believe Catholicism to be true.  But I try to approach that truth as one would direct a thirsty soul to water in a desert.  “It’s over here.  Come this way.  Look at this awesome gift God has given us!”

I only had a few minutes to speak to the eighth graders.  After briefly explaining how I left Catholicism and found my way back to Jesus and His Church with the help of Protestant Bible teaching, I presented them with the following scenario:

“Have you ever loved someone so much that you just wanted to be with them?  Writing a letter wasn’t enough.  Talking on the phone wasn’t enough.  You had to be with that person physically.  You had to embrace and hold that person so close that you practically melted together and became one.”  I noticed many of them nodding their heads.  “That’s what the Holy Eucharist in the Catholic Church is like.  The Bible is like letters from God.  The presence of His Spirit is sort of like talking on the phone with a loved one.  But God loves us so much, He desires to also be with us physically, and melt into us and become one with us, and us with Him (after all, He did make us eternally spiritual AND physical creatures).  God makes this life-giving embrace possible through the physical presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.  The Catholic Church is where this 2000 year old miracle takes place.  That was the biggest reason for me coming back to Catholicism, and it’s the biggest reason for you to stay.”