Tag Archives: Denominations

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.

Why Don’t Catholics Carry Bibles To Church?

If you watched the History Channel’s The Bible series, you might not have noticed that there was something missing in the last episode.  The Apostles were spreading the Gospel far and wide even as they encountered much persecution and opposition.  The number of Christians was growing substantially.  Paul of Tarsus was shown disrupting Christians as they participated in The Lord’s Supper (Mass), and inciting the crowds to murder Saint Steven.  After his conversion, Paul was shown visiting various parts of the world and preaching to them.  What was not shown were Christians carrying Bibles around.  That’s because the Bible did not yet exist (only Old Testament scrolls existed).  Nevertheless, the Gospel was being preached and people were being converted.

It is ironic that, when people start new churches and make attempts to recreate the environment of the first Christians, they bring their Bibles with them.  The first Christians had no Bibles and most could not even read.  “Faith came by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).  The Word of God was preached by the Apostles and the men they appointed.  One did not need a Bible.  All that was needed were ears to hear.

Eventually, some things were written down and letters were sent to various Christians.  Over time the Church gathered up quite a bit of written material.  But even then, people did not generally know how to read.  And the written materials were not handed out for everyone to bring to the service with them.  People still had to be read to and come to faith by hearing, not by reading.

The Church carried on in this manner for about 400 years until it was decided that the inspired writings needed to be compiled into one collection of books.  The Bible is a collection of writings, a library (from Koine Greek τὰ βιβλία, tà biblía, “the books”).  The Catholic Church had to decide which writings were inspired by God, and which ones were not.  They did this through the authority given by Christ 400 years earlier and under the direction of the Holy Spirit.  Hence, we were given the Bible.

However, Christians still were not carrying Bibles to services with them.  They still could not read.  There were only a limited number of copies of the Bible.  The Bible was copied by hand over centuries.  Were it not for Catholic monks bending over tables in monasteries and protecting the copies we might not have Bibles today.  A congregation was blessed to have even one copy of the Bible.  It was so valuable it had to be protected from theft and damage.  Still, the people came to faith by hearing, not by reading.

The invention of the printing press made it possible for more folks to have Bibles.  Even then, it took years before Bibles were household possessions.  It was a mixed blessing.  More people had Bibles, but there was more confusion about what was in the Bible.  Suddenly, everyone that could read became a Bible interpreter.  Rather than being good for the Church, this phenomenon fragmented the Church.  People began to think they knew better than the Church that had written, compiled and preserved the writings for hundreds of years.  Today we have a Bible in every hand, but we also have 30,000+ ways of interpreting the Bible.  The Church is weakened in her mission to the world by such division.  People took the Bible away from the Church and started thousands of other “churches.”  This is not the Christian unity that Jesus and His Apostles had in mind.  People hijacked the Bible from the Church and coopted the name “Christian.”

Today Catholics are still listening to the Word of God being read to them (although they can certainly read along from their Bibles or the Catholic Missal if they want to).  If a Catholic goes to daily Mass, he/she will hear nearly the entire Bible over a three year period.  Literate Catholics are also encouraged, even exhorted, to read and learn the Bible outside of the Mass.  We are offered Bible studies and have access to all sorts of educational materials about the Bible.  We can even interpret the Bible as we read it, as long as we don’t come up with ideas that contradict the apostolic teaching of the Church.

The Catholic Mass is divided into sections.  One section is the Liturgy of The Word.  This is where we hold up the Bible (literally hold it up to honor and reverence it), read from it, and preach about it.  However, The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the high point of the Mass.  This is where we do what Jesus told us to do in remembrance of Him.  Even throughout the entire Mass there are words from Scripture integrated into the service.  For most Bible-Christian churches, the high point of the service is typically singing, the reading of the Bible and preaching.  Catholics also do these things, but we have preserved Christ’s emphasis on the Eucharist, His life-giving flesh and blood.

Most Bible churches have communion, but it tends to be a lesser emphasis and is only symbolic in nature.  Some churches only have communion once a quarter.  Mostly they focus on the Bible and preaching.  The Apostles would not recognize such services.  They would be looking for the Eucharist, not the Bible.  Churches that emphasize the “Bible alone” are a relatively new phenomenon, but most people are not aware of the history.  They just assume that Christianity has always been based on the Bible.  But, the reverse is true.  It is more accurate to say that the Bible is based on the Church.  The Church did not always have the Bible.  The Church came first.

So, Catholics don’t usually carry Bibles to church with them, even though the Bible is actually a Catholic book.  It’s not that we don’t believe or teach from the Bible.  For 2000 years our Faith has come by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God whether written down or not.  Catholicism is original, authentic Christianity in its fullness.  We love the Bible.  We teach and preach from the Bible.  We read and listen to the Bible.  It is a Catholic book.  It is part of us.  We carry it in our hearts wherever we go.

The Red Flags Of Religion And Tradition

There were two, main concerns expressed to me by Bible Christians when they heard that I was Catholic.  First, they were afraid that I lacked a personal relationship with Jesus.  Second, my “religion” and its “traditions” were what prevented me from having that personal relationship with Jesus.  In other words, religion and tradition are bad, relationship is good.  Whenever you hear someone make this point, red flags should begin to frantically wave.

If someone tells you that Jesus is anti-religion or anti-tradition, don’t believe a word of it.  Jesus was anti-hypocrisy.  He told His fellow Jews, “Do what the scribes and Pharisees tell you to do, because they sit on the seat of Moses.  Just don’t act the way they act” (Matt 23:1-3).  In other words, “Your religion and tradition is good, but your religious leaders are behaving badly.”

Jesus confronted the scribes and Pharisees and called them hypocrites.  Jesus also pointed out that they had piled on man-made traditions that were ruining the good, God-given religion and Sacred Tradition.  Jesus never said, “Get rid of the religion.”  He essentially said, “Stop ruining the religion that God gave you.”

Jesus took the religion that God had given the people and made it better.  He fulfilled the religion and brought it forward; He did not abolish or destroy religion.  Jesus continued the religion given by God. Jesus established His Church, placed certain men in charge of the Church, gave those men His own authority and commissioned them to spread the religion.  The religion is called Christianity.

Like Judaism, Christianity contains Sacred Tradition (Tradition with a capital “T”).  Catholics know this as “The Deposit of Faith.”  This is handed down by apostolic authority, the authority given by Christ.  For example, the Apostle’s Creed, the seven Sacraments and even the Bible are part of Sacred Tradition.  When people condemn “tradition” they are unwittingly condemning the Bible.  The Bible was given to us through the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church.  Paul said, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thess 2:15).  Here we can see that both oral and written traditions are important and are given by apostolic authority.  Catholicism contains both the written and the oral Sacred Tradition.

Catholicism also has traditions (tradition with a lower case “t”) that are disciplinary, pastoral or cultural in nature.  These are not the same thing as Sacred Tradition.  However, that does not mean that these traditions impede a personal relationship with Jesus.  These are outgrowths of a personal relationship with Jesus.  Imagine, for example, a mother and a daughter making cookies together every year for Christmas.  That is a family tradition that grew out of a relationship that already existed.  Making cookies does not “replace” the relationship between the mother and the daughter.  So it is with many Catholic, lower case “t” traditions.  Catholicism does not interfere with a personal relationship with Jesus.  Catholicism is all about a personal relationship with Jesus.

There are occasions when people abuse Catholicism and/or fail to make the connection between the religion and the relationship.  This has always been the case.  That is why Jesus warned us about it.  Jesus knew that the abuses in Judaism could also happen in His Church.  Nevertheless, He established His Church and promised that it would endure by His power, not by man’s power.  It has endured.  2000 years later, the Catholic Church is still going, still spreading the Gospel, and is the largest charitable organization in the world.  After all, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).  In other words, religion should promote charity (love) and holiness.  Such is the goal of authentic Catholicism, the religion of Jesus Christ.  Those who believe otherwise simply misunderstand authentic Catholicism.

So, Catholics, when someone wants to tell you that your religion is preventing you from having a personal relationship with Jesus, red flags should begin to fly about.  Tell them that quite the opposite is true.  Your religion is a personal relationship with Jesus.  It was given to us personally by Jesus.  The more you learn The Faith the more you will know this to be true.

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!

Yet Another Grain of Truth

Recently, my doctor told me to go on a gluten free diet.  No gluten.  No wheat.  Although it needs to be confirmed, my blood work shows I may have Celiac Disease.  So, I have been following doctor’s orders, and experimenting with gluten free products.

Some products are better than others.  One thing I have noticed is that my gluten free breads, cookies and pancakes don’t hold together very well.  They seem to crumble or separate rather easily.  The gluten in wheat apparently has a cohesive quality to it that other grains lack.

When faced with the “go gluten free” order from the doctor, I began to wonder what I should do about Holy Communion.  Although I had heard some vague mentioning of this issue, I never really paid much attention to it.  Now I have to, so I did a little research.  I discovered this article:  http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/why-wheat-bread

Previously, I had no idea how scripturally important it is to use wheat for the Eucharist.  Two points really struck me.  First, the sacramental substance really is important (like using only water for baptism and not milk or orange juice, for instance).  Secondly, the cohesive quality of wheat has so many spiritual and symbolic applications that never occurred to me until I read this article.  No other grain can fulfill the role.  Suddenly, I saw the Eucharist as the source and summit of the Christian life in a whole new light.  When I hold a hamburger on crumbling, gluten free bread or watch the bottoms fall out of my gluten free pancakes and cookies, it reminds me of how important it is for all Christians to partake of the authentic, Holy Eucharist in unity.  We are not supposed to be divided into competing, crumbling denominations with our own versions of the Lord’s Supper.  We are supposed to worship in one accord with the Holy Eucharist holding us all together.

Thank God for the bishops that insist that Catholics must keep at least some gluten in our communion bread.  I love the authenticity of Catholicism and the Church’s steadfastness.  I’m not offended one bit that the Church’s suggestion to me is, “Receive Christ from just the cup, because both the bread and the wine are transubstantiated to become the whole Christ.”  Nor does it upset me in the least that completely gluten free wafers are not offered.  I would have it no other way.  I want the Church to remain authentic in every aspect.

Incidentally, those who ask, “Doesn’t the gluten disappear when the bread is changed into Christ?” are misunderstanding what transubstantiation is about.

Maybe I have Celiac Disease, or maybe I just have gluten sensitivity.  In any case, this experience has opened my eyes to yet another grain of truth in Catholicism.  The more I learn about it, the more I appreciate it.

None of Us Christians Do What the Bible Says

Imagine that there are two or three Christians having a discussion (or an argument) about doctrine (not hard to imagine).  How can they settle the dispute?  Someone will likely suggest that they open a Bible to see what it says.  The problem with that idea is that the Bible will not “say” anything.  The Bible will sit there quietly on the table waiting for someone to read it and interpret it.  Once it has been read and interpreted, some person (or persons) will do the “saying.”  Hence, opening the Bible will usually result in multiple, competing interpretations about what the Bible supposedly “says.”  Opening the Bible does not work well in resolving disputes or creating unity among Christians.

The fact is, all of us Christians base our doctrines and beliefs on what some other person or people say that the Bible “says.”  There are many voices to choose from, such as the Pope, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Charles Stanley, Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, Thomas Merton, Beth Moore, Joel Osteen, (insert your favorite preacher here), or even our own, personal opinions.  There are over 30,000 Christian denominations whose differences are supposedly based on what the Bible “says.”

Consider what happened when Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  Jesus got a bunch of different answers.  “Some say, Elijah, some say John the Baptist or one of the prophets,” etc.  When Jesus asked them, “Who do you say that I am?” it was Peter that spoke up and said, “You are the Christ.”  Jesus told Peter he was not only correct, but he was blessed because his answer was given to him by God, not by some person.  This was validation of the special anointing Peter had from God, not just some lucky guess on Peter’s part.

It is amazing that, in the midst of many voices and opinions, God decides what the answer is and appoints the person to say the correct thing.  God did not stop there with Peter.  In Peter’s anointing, Jesus established a unique office with authority.  When Peter died, the office was filled by another.  That’s who the Pope is.  Peter was the first Pope.  The other apostles also had special authority given to them.  Their successors are the Bishops.  The Pope is simply the head Bishop.  These men not only have the God-given authority to interpret the Bible, they also had the authority to say which books belonged in the Bible when it was assembled.

But why do Christians even need such an authority?  Why can’t we just open up a Bible to see what it says?  Because the Bible doesn’t “say” anything.  To quote G.K. Chesterton, “You can’t place the Bible on a witness stand.”  It sits there quietly on the shelf, waiting to be read and interpreted.  For example, is water baptism necessary for salvation?  Is the Lord’s Supper really Christ’s body and blood, or is it just a symbol?  The word “Trinity” is not in the Bible, so, is God really a Trinity?  Nowhere is it written in the Bible to, “Accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior and you will be saved.”  Who came up with that phrase?   Is that really how to be saved?  These are all interpretations told to us by various people.  But which of those people are occupying authoritative offices established by Jesus?

Of course, you and I can and should read the Bible.  Christians are supposed to read and study the Bible.  We just have to remember that both right and wrong conclusions can be drawn from it.  Even Peter wrote that there are things that are hard to understand.  We need the correct standard to apply things to.  That’s why we need the authoritative Pope and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.  Jesus formed it that way.  Humans can’t re-form the authority that Jesus formed.  That’s called fashioning God into our own image.  It’s backwards.  Despite good intentions to correct some abuses, the Protestant Reformation fractured and fragmented the Church rather than “re-forming” the Church.

The Bible is the Living Word of God, but it does not stand alone as a sole authority.  It co-exists with the life and authority of the Church.  The two cannot be compartmentalized and distanced from each other.  As Christians, we are not really going by what the Bible alone “says.”  We are either going by what the authority Jesus established says, or by what someone else says (even if that someone is ourselves).  In other words, every Christian either has a pope, or has become their own pope.  Yet, like it or not, there’s only one Pope that occupies the Chair of Peter and has his authority from Christ.  He and the other Bishops in union with him have much to say about what is written in the Bible.  Are we listening with humility?