Tag Archives: Catholicism

Thoughts On Sola Scriptura (aka The Bible Alone)

Sola Scriptura (Bible alone) is a founding principle of the Protestant/Evangelical churches I was once involved in. On the positive side, I learned a lot of Bible from many wonderful, Christian people. Obviously, the Bible is a necessary part of the Christian life and we need to study it. However, I eventually learned that the Bible alone wasn’t intended to provide us with the fullness of the Christian faith. There was something missing. The following are just a few of the thoughts that resulted from my journey away from Evangelicalism/Protestantism and back to the fullness of the Faith in the Catholic Church.

If Sola Scriptura is true, it would seem that:

  • Jesus would have said to His disciples, “Write everything down and distribute those writings to every nation” instead of, “Go and teach all nations.” (Matt 28:19)
  • Paul would have said, “Faith comes by reading the Word of God” instead of, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Rom 10:17)
  • Paul would have told Timothy, “Scripture alone is sufficient for perfecting you as a man of God.” However, Paul’s message to Timothy was, “All scripture is profitable…” (2Tim 3:16-17)  As an analogy, water is profitable and necessary, but not sufficient for sustaining life. Food, shelter, clothing etc. are also profitable and necessary. Christians need the Church and her Sacraments as much as they need Scripture.
  • There would be a verse somewhere in the Bible that clearly indicates that the Bible alone is sufficient. Instead, there are verses extolling the necessity and profitability of Scripture, but not that the Bible alone is sufficient.
  • We wouldn’t need preachers or teachers or evangelists. We would only need to put the Bible on display and let people read it. There would be no need to explain anything in the Bible, as its contents would be self explanatory.
  • We wouldn’t need Martin Luther or anyone else to teach, argue or debate the sufficiency of the Bible alone. The sufficiency would be self evident from the Bible alone. We would need no other teaching authorities.
  • Jesus would have said to his disciples, “He who reads your writings reads me” instead of, “He who hears you hears me.” (Luke 10:16)
  • Paul would have said to the Thessalonians, “Stand fast and hold only to what I write down.” What he told them was, “Stand fast and hold to the traditions I taught you, either by letter or by word of mouth.” (2Thess 2:15)
  • The Apostles would have written something to the effect of, “We’re all going to die off eventually and we’ll have no successors. Therefore, our writings will be your guide.” But they did choose successors. (Acts 1:21-26)
  • We wouldn’t need a Church to tell us infallibly that the Book of Revelation belongs in the Bible while The Gospel of Thomas does not. The proper contents of the Bible would be self evident. The successors of the Apostles eventually decided (among other things) that the book of Revelation belongs in the Bible but the Gospel of Thomas does not. If the Catholic Church is fallible, then the Bible isn’t infallible. (The effect isn’t greater than its cause.)
  • Protestants wouldn’t need Luther or any other teaching authority to show them that the apocryphal books do not belong in the Bible. Such exclusion or inclusion of any books would be self evident. (If Luther is a fallible man, how can the canon of the Protestant Bible be trusted as infallible? Again, the effect isn’t greater than its cause).
  • Jesus would have told His disciples to resolve their disputes by appealing to Scripture. Instead, He told them to “take it to the Church” as their final authority. (Matt 18:17)
  • There would be a verse in the Bible stating that all Christian truth must be stated in the Bible. The Bible makes no such claim for itself. The Bible points us back to the authoritative Church.
  • The Ethiopian eunuch would not have needed Philip to interpret the scriptures for him. (Acts 8:27-30)
  • The Bible would be understandable by believers that read it. Instead, it is often difficult to understand. There are even verses warning the reader about the difficulties and dangers of biblical interpretation. (2Peter 3:16)  Different people reach different conclusions while claiming to be led by the Holy Spirit.
  • Paul would have called the Bible rather than the Church “The pillar and ground of the truth.” (1Tim 3:15)
  • Jesus would have said, “The Bible is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by the Bible.” But, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” The Church is the very Body of Christ. We come to the Father by way of the Church (i.e. Christ Himself, the Living Word of God).

These thoughts are not the only reasons I returned to Catholicism, but they help illustrate the importance of a both/and approach to Bible and Church authority. My error was in thinking that I needed to choose either the Bible or the Church as an authority (an error I was ironically taught by Protestant teaching authorities, not by the Bible alone). In reality, the Bible and the Church are both part of the same authority given by Christ.  The Holy Spirit weaves them together to provide believers with “all things” Christ wants us to have.

Study, But Lean Not On Your Own Understanding

I found the article Why Catholicism Is Preferable to Protestantism to be quite thought provoking. It addressed a question that I personally had wrestled with for some time in my spiritual journey. The question is one of authority. Since I am the one that ultimately decides which church to align myself with, does that not make me the ultimate authority? Aren’t Catholics and Protestants both doing the “same thing” in that regard? How can either of us claim to have different, ultimate authorities (i.e. Church vs. Bible) if the final authority is ultimately the individual?

The answer lies within the following statement from the article:

“How is the Catholic’s judgment different from a Protestant’s, if at all? The difference lies in the conclusion, or finishing point, of the inquiry they make. Whereas the Protestant can ultimately submit only to his own judgment, which he knows to be fallible, the Catholic can confidently render total assent to the proclamations of the visible Church that Christ established and guides, submitting his judgments to its judgments as to Christ’s.”

Another way to approach the issue is to ask, “What is being let go of?” When we let go of something, we relinquish control over it. We relax our grip. We hand over control to someone or something other than self. We submit. There, then, is the essence of the “finishing point” mentioned in the article.

Both Protestant and Catholic must use reason to come to a final conclusion. “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2Tim 2:15)  God expects us to use our brains. On the other hand, we can go too far with our use of reason and trust in it more than we trust in God. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” (Prov 3:5)

There comes a point where one must “let go of” one’s own understanding in order to trust and obey God. That is the finishing point for the Catholic. It is not the total absence of reason, but the reasonable response to trust in God. One cannot “trust” without “letting go.” Hence, the Catholic sees that the way to trust and obey Christ is to trust and obey the Church given by Christ. The Catholic ultimately “let’s go of” the trust in personal understanding where doctrine is concerned.

A perfect example can be found in John chapter 6. None of Jesus’ followers understood why they must eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ in order to have eternal life. However, some stayed with Jesus and others stopped following Him at that point. Those who stayed did so, not because they understood Jesus, but because they trusted Jesus. Peter said it best: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter did not scrutinize Christ’s words against scripture and render his own, personal conclusion. He submitted to Christ. Those that left remained constrained by their inability to make sense of Christ’s words. They tried to “figure it out” and, ultimately, clung to their personal authority.

The Protestant must continue to cling to personal understanding of Scripture in order to insure that the truth is being “rightly divided.” Personal interpretation of Scripture must rule the day in order to guard against heresies. If I, as a Protestant, disagree with the direction my church is headed, I can switch to a different denomination more closely aligned with my personal interpretation of Scripture. Even though I may “search the scriptures to see if these things are so,” I still make my decision based upon my personal interpretations of those scriptures. Ultimately, there is never a “letting go of” my own understanding where doctrine is concerned. Either the doctrine aligns with my personal interpretation, or, I find a new church.

The Catholic ultimately makes a decision to give up personal authority in favor of Christ’s authority. The Catholic submits to Christ by submitting to the teachings of Christ’s Church (even when those teachings are “hard sayings” not easily understood through diligent study). This is not blind faith void of reason. It is a reasonable trust in the authority of Jesus.

The Protestant must ultimately cling to personal, fallible authority in order to claim submission to the authority of the Bible (an authority the Bible does not claim for itself). Unlike the Catholic, there is not a “letting go of” personal authority for the Protestant. The personal authority must remain in order to empower any potential “protest.” This dynamic may serve democracy well, but the Church is not, and never has been, a democracy. For the Church, it results in continuous fragmentation as people do what is right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25).

We Walk By Faith, Not By Feelings

I saw a church sign that said, “God seem far away? Who moved?”

Implication: it’s your fault if God seems distant.

Nonsense. What about Job? What about the Psalmist? What about Jesus who said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” What about folks going through a very real depression or “dark night of the soul?” What about Saints such as Therese of Lisieux or Mother Theresa, etc. who felt a distance from God despite their holy lives?

Sometimes God seems far away and there’s not a darn thing you can do about it. There’s more to being Christian than sitting on a mountaintop and dancing for joy all the time. There are valleys, too, and sometimes they are excruciatingly deep and wide.

We walk by faith, not by feelings.

Why Mass Is Boring (Or Is It?)

When I was a boy, I would sometimes whine to my mother that I was bored. My kids do the same thing to me. I heard someone say once that “a bored person is a boring person.” So, I echo my mother’s advice and suggest to my kids in one way or another that they use their imagination.

We have become used to being spoon-fed and entertained. We are bombarded with all sorts of stimulus. We are media junkies. We have become so accustomed to musical and visual effects that our imaginations have atrophied. We can barely put down our phones to engage in conversation with the people next to us, much less God.

Disney World, for example, is lauded as a world of imagination. Actually, it’s a world of entertainment. We don’t need to use our own imaginations there. All of the imagining has been done for us. We pay to have it spoon-fed to us. It is the same with movies and television. Computer Graphic Imagery (CGI) rules the day. We sit and we watch. We are spectators addicted to entertainment. Little or no imagination on our part is required. Entertainment is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be a good, recreational thing. We just rely on it too much these days. It is killing us spiritually.

So, we find ourselves sitting in pews and wondering where all the action is. If the homily (sermon) doesn’t entertain us enough, we’re bored. If the music doesn’t move us enough, we’re bored. We become entertainment critics watching a lackluster “show” and our reviews are not good. We whine and cry that we’re bored and uninspired. Great preaching and inspiring music is nice to have, and God can certainly use those things to our edification. But the Mass is the same event even if it’s just a few people in a little room with no music and no great sermon.

The imagination we need to employ is not the kind that engages in fantasy. We’re not supposed to sit and daydream or “make stuff up.” Christianity is not about having an “imaginary friend” we call God (as many atheists claim). Rather, we are to use the part of our imagination that allows us to “see” with the eyes of faith that which is actually happening in the spiritual realm.

It’s somewhat like listening to a sporting event on the radio. The radio announcer calls the plays, but we must “see” the game in our minds’ eye. Watching the game on television or at the stadium requires less imagination. When listening to the game on the radio, we can still cheer along with the crowd because our imagination allows us to be “at the game.”

The Mass is not a “show” or a “game.” It is not a spectator event we are to sit and watch. We are not there to be entertained. The Mass is an event that we are to participate in. Active participation requires us to engage our God-given imagination.

Imagine being at The Last Supper. Through the miracle of the Eucharist we actually are at The Last Supper! The priest is “calling the plays” of what is actually taking place!” Our imagination is not supposed to help us “pretend” like we are there. It is supposed to help us “see” that we actually are there. In our minds’ eye we can see the saints and angels around us. We can see Christ telling us to “take and eat,” “take and drink.”

This is where the “radio announcer” analogy falls apart. We are not simply listening from a distance, wishing we were “at the game.” We are actually made present to what is happening!” We are not merely recalling past events. We are made present to the eternal sacrifice of Christ! We are not supposed to say, “Oh yeah, I remember hearing about The Last Supper, the crucifixion and the resurrection. I remember it. I’m going to make sure that I don’t forget that it happened.” No, we are supposed to see it happening in the present. God is eternal. No past. No future. When Moses asked what God’s name was, God told him, “I Am.” When we go to Mass, we are made present to the eternal sacrifice of Christ.

Was anyone yawning in the Upper Room when Jesus said “This is my body” and “This is my blood?” How many of Jesus’ followers were bored during the crucifixion or upon seeing Jesus resurrected?

Mass is boring? Really? Mass isn’t boring. We have become boring. C’mon! Let’s stop looking for entertainment. Let’s stop pining for “better preaching” or “better music.” Let’s use our imagination and actually participate in the eternal event!

South Birds Fly, But How? And Why?

Animals have instincts. Some migrate. Some hibernate. All of them search for food. They nest and they breed without question. Humans have instincts, too. What separates us from the animals is our search for meaning. We question our instincts. Animals simply live and die by them.

I have never completely understood why some scientists display such animosity towards the idea of God. These same scientists show no distain towards animal instincts. Indeed, some scientists have devoted their lives to studying such animal phenomena. However, the human instinct to search for meaning in God draws fire from them.

Humans have always been, and still are, spiritually inclined. Certainly, science has debunked many superstitions. However, the scientific method has not replaced the instinctual desire to know God. Religion is not comparable to the impotent scales on the tail of a snake that used to be functional legs. Human spirituality is still operative and functioning. In fact, science has excelled partly because humans are spiritually inclined. Many of the greatest scientists throughout history have been priests and other religiously inclined people.

Science is but one aspect of the human search for meaning. There is more than one way of “knowing.” Birds don’t fly south for the winter due to their scientific conclusions about weather patterns and food sources. Birds simply “know” to migrate, and scientists accept and study this fact. Therefore, I see nothing scientifically incongruent with accepting that humans can simply “know” that God exists. In other words, it is built into our wiring.

I had one person tell me that, eventually, science will close all the gaps in our knowledge and demonstrate how invalid religious thinking really is. But, science is basically in the business of answering the mechanistic, “how?” questions. The human search for meaning includes existential, “why?” questions. Science may tell us how we arrived on planet Earth, but not why we are here. Consequently, science can never “close all of the gaps in our knowledge.” Humans instinctively desire to know answers to the “why?” questions.

The issue we face as humans is that our instinctual desire for meaning can derail our instinctual “knowledge” of God. Doubt is an intrinsic quality of this instinct. Animals do not have this problem. Animals follow their instincts without question. Yet, doubt is not a bad thing. One does not seek and find without doubt. I don’t blame anyone for doubting the existence of God or the intentions of religious people. However, when such doubt leads to the complete elimination of one’s spiritual instinct and/or the ridicule of those who follow their spiritual instinct, doubt has become a dehumanizing element.

People “know” there is a God the way animals “know” to migrate and hibernate. I see no reason to ridicule human instinct while praising animal instinct. Both are equally real and worthy of study. Science may someday be able to decipher the mechanisms behind such knowledge. However, science will never answer the question of why such knowledge exists within us. Ultimately, we instinctively want to know why. We are scientifically and existentially inquisitive beings.

What? To Jesus Through MARY?!

I used to worry about the phrase, “To Jesus through Mary.” In my years away from Catholicism, I took it as verification that Catholics were misled into placing way too much emphasis on Mary, to the detriment of their relationship with Christ. I used to think, “No, we go through Jesus to God, not to Jesus through Mary. Jesus is the ‘one mediator between God and man.’ This “going through Mary” stuff just isn’t right.”

Then, during my journey back to Catholicism, I began to become aware of something. How did I learn about Jesus? How did I learn that Jesus is called “the one mediator?” I learned it through people at my church who knew the Bible. How did those people learn about the Bible? They learned about the Bible through other people. It seems that no one simply picks up a Bible and learns it in isolation. There are always other people involved, even if it is just the person that placed that Bible in the drawer of your hotel room. The Bible itself came to us through the Catholic Church.

No one actually goes directly to God through Jesus alone. There is always someone else involved, just like Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch. I once had a pastor that liked to talk about how he found Christ through Billy Graham. I think Billy Graham is a great preacher. Lots of people have discovered Christ through Billy Graham.

One might argue that the Apostle Peter or Paul was even greater than Billy Graham. Many have come to Christ through Peter and Paul. But, do you know who is an even greater disciple than either Peter or Paul? Mary. She is the perfect disciple of Christ. When I ask myself, “Who can take me by the hand and lead me to Jesus Christ?” I have to respond, “Mary.” No one was physically or spiritually closer to Christ than Mary. No one lived a more pure life of devotion to Christ than Mary.

Mary was always within the will of God, even when she was confused, scared and grief-stricken. If anyone can show me how to live for Christ, it’s Mary. So, should I go through Mary to Christ? Of course! It makes perfect sense. I can’t think of anyone better than her. “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Hmm…sounds like something her Son would say (“Not my will, Father, but your will be done”). Yeah, now I have no problem going through Mary to Christ.

Go Ahead And Be A Princess, Girl!

I recently took my family to see the new Cinderella movie.  I applaud Disney for making this movie.  Prior to seeing it, I watched Fr. Barron’s video commentary.  You can watch it yourself, so I’ll not go into everything Fr. Barron said.  Suffice it to say, he helped me see the story from a Christian perspective.  For me, it made the movie that much more impressive and inspirational to watch.  (If you have not seen the movie, there are a few little spoilers in Fr. Barron’s commentary, but they didn’t bother me).

Disney princesses tend to get a lot of criticism from people that disapprove of their unrealistic representation of girls.  Disney makes their waists too thin, their eyes too big and their hair too perfect.  These princesses rely too much on being rescued by handsome princes when they ought to be fending for themselves and determining their own destinies.  They give girls the wrong idea of what true feminism is, superficially and internally.  Some of this criticism is probably justified.

Recently, there were billboards around my city advertising for an all girl Catholic high school.  The ads had fairy tale imagery and the message was, “You’re not a princess,” or “Make your own dreams come true.”  I understood that the idea being promoted was for girls to get their heads out of the fairy tale clouds, quit waiting to be rescued, stop being the proverbial “fair maidens in distress” and get a practical education.  I think the idea certainly has merit.  However, I believe girls need not relinquish the title of “Princess,” as long as they know where true royalty comes from.

The Cinderella story (and the movie) focuses on the Catholic virtues of fortitude (courage) and charity (kindness).  Other virtues are exemplified within the movie as well.  Fr. Barron’s video commentary highlights the Christian salvation theme in the story and how it mirrors the relationship between Christ and His Church.  Cinderella is all of us.  We do need to be rescued from the slavery of sin which covers our true beauty.  We do need to embrace virtue.

As Christians, we are all called to embody fortitude, charity and all the virtues.  We know from Romans 8:15 that we are adopted children of God and cry, “Abba, Father.”  We know from 1Peter 2:9-10 that we are royalty.  We are destined to reign with God on high.  As children of The King, what else can we be but princesses and princes?

I have no qualms about referring to my daughter as a princess and my son as a prince, because I am teaching them that they are children of the King.  As they grow, they will know that their ultimate destinies lie not with Disney, but with royalty on high.  They will know that, long before there ever was a Disney, they were called from above to have courage and to be kind.  They will know they have a seat at the royal table.

Self

Self awareness is good. I must pay attention to my body, my thoughts and my soul. I must know myself and know how I may be affecting myself and those around me for better or for worse.

Self care is good. My body, my mind and my soul are gifts given to me. I must take good care of these gifts and not neglect them or abuse them.

Self control is good. I am responsible for managing my emotions and for choosing my thoughts and my actions. No one else can do this for me.

Self-centeredness is not good. I am not the center of all things; God is. My life must revolve around God. God is love. Love includes self, but love is not centered on self. Love must ultimately be centered on others.

A Shift In My Focus

The largest percentage of my blog has been apologetic in nature.  Partly I’ve been motivated by a desire to grow in knowledge of my own faith by explaining some of it to others.  I also hoped others might take an interest in the Faith and discover Christ for the first time or rediscover Him in new ways.  All I can really measure is my own growth.  Maybe others have been influenced, maybe not.

I’ve come to a point where apologetics interests me less.  Certainly, if someone asks me a question about Catholicism I will do my best to answer or suggest further resources.  However, I’m finding that too much focus on apologetics is stunting my spiritual growth.

Apologetics is, after all, a discipline of defending a certain position.  It has its place.  Nevertheless, as a marriage and family therapist, I am keenly aware that defensiveness can be quite toxic to relationships.  In fact, high levels of defensiveness between spouses has been deemed a “marriage killer.”  I see it play out often in my therapy office.  Considering the fact that marriage models the relationship between Christ and His Church, it seems fitting for Christians to avoid a defensive stance as much as possible and choose the opposite approach of vulnerability.  Vulnerability is the birthplace of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).  Vulnerability is the cross.

Vulnerability leads to openness, dialog, discourse, empathy, understanding and unity. Defensiveness leads more often to division, blame, accusations, lack of personal accountability and closed hearts.  Would one rather embrace a knight in armor or a vulnerable child in swaddling clothes?

Again, apologetics has its place and I do not disregard it as important.  But even apologetics must contain a degree of vulnerability to be effective.  No human can be 100% right all of the time.  The best armor is never completely impervious to attack or injury.  Christian apologists must be humble, vulnerable and willing to admit error.

Personally, I’m becoming less interested in explaining Catholicism and more driven to live it.  Let’s face it, most people really don’t care how something works as long as they know they can depend on it to work.  There’s only so much I can explain anyway.  I just want to be an example of the transforming power of Christ and His Church.  Hopefully I can shift my writing to reflect that goal.

The following is a song written and performed by a skeptic who also happens to arguably be the most popular and talented rock drummer in the world, Neil Peart.  (If you don’t like rock music, humor me.  The lyrics are pertinent.  I’m a drummer, so, there you have it).