Monthly Archives: January 2016

Paradigm Shift – The Role of Mary

The person of Mary and her role in salvation history is a huge paradigm shift when moving from evangelical non-denominational Bible Christianity to the traditions of a Divine and Catholic Faith. It is so large and complex it is often cited as the last theological obstacle when conversion takes place and even then it is mostly an assent of the will.

Protestant denominations vary greatly on their veneration of the person of Mary but evangelicals tend to give her little to no veneration outside the season of Christmas. Scripture, the key source of teaching and authority in Protestant Christianity, says little about her role in salvation history outside the virgin birth of Jesus. Protestants also take issue with Catholics who “worship” Mary and claim she remained a perpetual virgin, citing places in scripture where it mentions Jesus’ “biological” brothers and sisters [Matthew 12:47; James, bishop of Jerusalem, writer of the same letter and the so-called brother of our Lord]—hence, Mary must have had other children, presumably by Joseph later on [Matthew 1:25 is particularly vivid]. And this must be so because, as an axiom, the Scripture is inerrant. Mary ultimately becomes an important and useful “servant” or handmaid of the Lord with no more significance than other notable characters of the Bible.

Catholic Sacred Tradition tells a very different story altogether. First, Mary was immaculately conceived meaning that she did not have the stain of original sin. Mary was prefigured in Genesis 3 (Protoevangelium) and by the Ark of the Convenant in the Old Testament, being a sacred vessel containing the law, the priesthood, and the manna (bread of life) in the person of Jesus Christ. After Jesus’ nativity, she remained a Virgin and did not bear any other children. She suffered with Christ in His Passion as the prophet Simeon predicted in Luke 2:35. After taken in by the disciple John (behold your mother), she moved to Ephesus and was later assumed into heaven and there reigns as the Queen (specifically not as a king’s wife in the European monarchies but has the mother of the king in the Davidic dynasties) of Heaven according to Revelations 12 and intercedes on behalf of the Church militant. She is explicitly not worshipped which is reserved for God alone, but venerated as the first apostle and the person through which dual-natured Jesus obtained His humanity. She is not a goddess, but the mother of God, the God-bearer, or the Theotokos. She is unique in human history and the Bible says “all generations shall call her blessed”. She’s a super big deal in Catholicism and its incredibly dishonoring to God and “Our Lady” to think that she only gave birth to Jesus Christ as if God simply needed a temporary surrogate rent-a-womb then faded her to black.

Analysis

I once thought, If Mary is so important to salvation history why does the Bible speak very little about her? It is important to note that not all of what we know about God, Jesus and the New Covenant is necessarily written down in Scripture. See the earlier Paradigm essay on the source of Authority. The Bible was compiled in the fourth century to normalize the liturgy of the word carried on in the early church. It was not compiled to be the encyclopedic reference for all that we know and understand about God. On the contrary, the Bible even says that there was much Jesus had said and done that was not written down. See John 21:25. Do you think some of that missing material was important?

Even still, what little the Bible does say should at least reflect what the Church transmits and teaches about Mary. Although there are a number of Marian doctrines we could examine, clearly, the one idea that she is a perpetual virgin is totally orthogonal to the text—it’s clearly wrong.

Or is it?

First, belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity is not really a big game changer—it may or may not have a big impact on Christians system of belief. Nevertheless, it may interest one that the Catholic Bible also uses the words “brethren”, “brothers”, “sisters”, “siblings” to translate the same passages like Matthew 12:47. They don’t try to wash it out with their own translational fudging. However translated, the Church is keen to point out that these words are used because in the original language and culture of first century Palestine, these were common words to connote relatives of various sorts. Even today, a complete stranger might be addressed as “brother” in the Middle East. In Sub Saharan Africa, adult friends of a family are addressed as aunt and uncle even if they are not related by blood whatsoever. And today in Hawaii everyone is called “brah”.  This practice is actually more common than not in considering all the cultures of the world.

Hebrew and Aramaic have words for father, mother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, uncle, aunt, brother, and sister. To describe any other relation, such as cousin, half-sibling, nephew, relative, kinsman, or close friend, they used the word for ‘brother’. In these languages the designation “brother” is not linguistically restricted to an actual individual from the same mother, and therefore one cannot base an argument against the perpetual virginity of Mary on the fact that there are individuals in the New Testament called “brothers” of Jesus.

But it may surprise Evangelical Christians that the Protestant Reformers believed in Mary’s perpetual virginity too—it’s not just a Catholic thing:

  • Martin Luther on the Virginity of Mary: “It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a virgin. … Christ, we believe, came forth from a womb left perfectly intact” (Weimer’s The Works of Luther, English translation by Pelikan, Concordia, St. Louis, v. 11, pp. 319-320; v. 6. p. 510).
  • John Calvin on the Virginity of Mary: “Helvidius has shown himself too ignorant, in saying that Mary had several sons, because mention is made in some passages of the brothers of Christ.” Calvin interpreted ‘brothers’ in these contexts to refer to cousins or relatives (Bernard Leeming, “Protestants and Our Lady”, Marian Library Studies, January 1967, p.9).
  • Ulrich Zwingli on the Virginity of Mary: “I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin” (Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Berlin, 1905, v. 1, p. 424).
  • Ulrich Zwingli on the Virginity of Mary: “I esteem immensely the Mother of God, the ever chaste, immaculate Virgin Mary …; Christ … was born of a most undefiled Virgin” (Stakemeier, E. in De Mariologia et Oecumenismo, Balick., ed., Rome, 1962, p. 456).

It’s only in our modern and secularized Christianity of the last century or so that this doctrine has been thrown under the bus. But why? Did millennia of Catholic and Protestant theologians and scholars get it wrong?

There are other proofs that Mary did not have any children other than Jesus. The fact that Jesus committed Mary to the care of his disciple John (behold your Mother) shows that Mary had no other children, otherwise they would have taken custody of her as would be their familial duty.

Alas, as always, the naked text of the Bible can be marshalled to any defense by those so willing. But taking another approach, in the following passage, apologist Scoot Hahn supports Mary’s Perpetual Virginity by appealing to our understanding of the sacred and the Old Testament.

God gave her singular graces because of her unique role in history. He made her sinless from the moment of her conception. He called her to be “Ever-Virgin.” Why? Because she was to become the vessel of God’s presence in the world! Now, the vessels used in the temple service were made, by God’s command, of the purest, most precious metals; and they were reserved only for sacred use. You could not repurpose the temple’s golden altar as an end table. You could not take the chalice used for libations and fill it with a cold beer on a hot summer night. Apart from the temple service, even the finest wine would profane the sacred vessels. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with end tables or alcoholic beverages, but the temple vessels were sacred and for God’s use only. Mary’s body was that kind of vessel. Once blessed with God’s presence, she could not simply “retire” and resume an ordinary married life. What would be permissible and even honorable for others would be a profanation for the Mother of God. And it should go without saying that God would preserve the vessel of his presence from contamination by sin. [Hahn, Scott (2014-05-27). Angels and Saints: A Biblical Guide to Friendship with God’s Holy Ones (Kindle Locations 1822-1831). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

 

Something to think about.

 

Paradigm Shift – Graven Images

This paradigm shift considers the use and ubiquity of images, that is, paintings, statues, stained glass, architecture and art that depict saints and stories from the Bible.

Protestants view the use of images in prayer, liturgy, and religious ceremony as idolatry—a sin prohibited in both the Old and New Testaments, particularly the ten commandments which prohibit the use of “graven images” and bowing down to them in worship. However, for some reason, Protestants do not object to Nativity Scenes.

It’s no secret that the Catholic Church have always used icons, statues and the like for devotional and religious purposes. Indeed, it’s standard practice to have statues of Mary or some saint at which people will kneel in prayer or light candles. Obviously, the Catholic Church misunderstood or ignored God’s enduring commandment on this issue. Right?

Analysis

First, let’s face it, Catholic church buildings are way more beautiful than the typical evangelical Bible Church. Catholic sacred places, particularly the cathedrals and abbeys of European antiquity, are designed to draw our spirits out and upward through depictions of the Divine through physical art forms—and why not? Art (the temple Curtain, tapestry, the Ark of the Covenant, Menorah), architecture (the Temple in Jerusalem) and music (The Psalms) were always part of religious expression and likely the reason God gave us these things—for worship and for beauty among general purposes.

But what about the first commandment? In Exodus 20:4 we read

“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, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing mercy to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Regarding this first commandment it is important when understanding scripture that we understand the context, language, intent, culture, and all aspects from which the writing originated—-otherwise we will interpret scripture through the lens of our own times, culture and politics and end up with what we want to believe. So what about the Exodus of Israel and the Ten Commandments?

The Israelites from Egypt were polytheists and needed this first commandment in a big way. They were not the devout Jews of the first century by a long shot, but were familiar with the pagan deities of Egypt and Canaan.  Although they had the God of their fathers (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), they had others they worshipped and adored. Did not Rachel grab the household gods in Laban’s tent? Did not Joseph practice divination? Did it not take centuries to wash out the polytheistic habits of Israel—Molech and Asherath poles in use up to the Babylon captivity? This was the mindset of antiquity, not the mindset of modernity. In the ancient world it was the practice to create an image of the gods you already worshipped. The first commandment addresses this outright for a people who were to be set apart from the other nations, for, it was routine in ancient times to appease all would be gods just so that things (agriculture, wars, health) would go good for you.

But did this forbid the creation of images for the purposes of right worship and praise? If so, how is it that the tabernacle and temple were infested with images? The Ark of the Covenant had Cherubim on it; the Temple had images of cherubim, pomegranates and created things. Solomon’s temple had impressive figures of twelve oxen—scandalous, given the old Egyptian penchant for cattle worship. In Exodus 25 and 1 Kings 6:23 there is no prohibition against statues and images that are not regarded as idols of worship since they built many into the Temple that God made His dwelling and filled with His glory. And what about Moses erecting the image of a snake in the wilderness? Was this idolatry? Not at first, but when in latter centuries Israel started to actually worship what the image represented in the form of a pagan god, the snake was cut down by Hezekiah (2 Kings 18). Images and statues are not the problem per se.

Let’s take this a step further. In contemporary evangelical Bible churches we are brought into worship with elaborate music productions, slideshow transitions and stage lighting—some very expensive and lavish. Is this wrong too? Do I worship the emanations of sound and light or are they simply vectors toward the worship of God? Like music and lighting, physical objects divert our attention away from the noise of the world and into the presence of God. I don’t know about you, but I find it a useful and conducive mechanism, especially if you live in the hectic DC area.

Finally, Catholics don’t bow down and worship images of the saints nor do they worship the saints (including Mary) in any instance—that’s a total misunderstanding. Prayers to the saints for intercession are considered no different than you asking me to pray for you or for some issue. By asking me (the Church Militant) to pray on your behalf, are you worshipping me? Of course not. Then why is it a problem to ask the saints that stand in the presence of God (the Church Triumphant) for intercession? And you may notice that prayers to the saints are prayers for intercession, not words of worship and adoration.

Corollary: Iconoclasm

Iconoclasm is the destruction of religious images—priceless works of art and antiquities in the name of a religious cause. ISIS is the modern version of this, destroying ancient artifacts including a 1400-year-old monastery in Iraq this week alone. How tragic!

But the Protestant Reformation also involved iconoclasm in the 16th century, destroying what was the patrimony of every Christian then and now: monasteries, statues, bas-reliefs and other works of art defaced or destroyed by the Reformers. This included King Henry VIII Dissolution of Monasteries where abbeys and their artifacts were destroyed including the loss of whole libraries of books, musical scores and the knowledge therein. Can you image the destruction of Michelangelo’s David or Pieta or the ruin of the Duomo in Florence? Thank goodness we can enjoy those things today since Italy managed to stay out of the Reformation and its teachings.

Appendix: Church teaching on images and art. It is rather profound.

Here are a few of the teachings from the CCC on the use of sacred images and icons.

1159 The sacred image, the liturgical icon, principally represents Christ. It cannot represent the invisible and incomprehensible God, but the incarnation of the Son of God has ushered in a new “economy” of images: Previously God, who has neither a body nor a face, absolutely could not be represented by an image. But now that he has made himself visible in the flesh and has lived with men, I can make an image of what I have seen of God… and contemplate the glory of the Lord, his face unveiled.

1160    Christian iconography expresses in images the same Gospel message that Scripture communicates by words. Image and word illuminate each other: We declare that we preserve intact all the written and unwritten traditions of the Church which have been entrusted to us. One of these traditions consists in the production of representational artwork, which accords with the history of the preaching of the Gospel. For it confirms that the incarnation of the Word of God was real and not imaginary, and to our benefit as well, for realities that illustrate each other undoubtedly reflect each other’s meaning.

1161    All the signs in the liturgical celebrations are related to Christ: as are sacred images of the holy Mother of God and of the saints as well. They truly signify Christ, who is glorified in them. They make manifest the “cloud of witnesses”29 who continue to participate in the salvation of the world and to whom we are united, above all in sacramental celebrations. Through their icons, it is man “in the image of God,” finally transfigured “into his likeness,”30 who is revealed to our faith. So too are the angels, who also are recapitulated in Christ: Following the divinely inspired teaching of our holy Fathers and the tradition of the Catholic Church (for we know that this tradition comes from the Holy Spirit who dwells in her) we rightly define with full certainty and correctness that, like the figure of the precious and life-giving cross, venerable and holy images of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, our inviolate Lady, the holy Mother of God, and the venerated angels, all the saints and the just, whether painted or made of mosaic or another suitable material, are to be exhibited in the holy churches of God, on sacred vessels and vestments, walls and panels, in houses and on streets.31

1162  “The beauty of the images moves me to contemplation, as a meadow delights the eyes and subtly infuses the soul with the glory of God.”32 Similarly, the contemplation of sacred icons, united with meditation on the Word of God and the singing of liturgical hymns, enters into the harmony of the signs of celebration so that the mystery celebrated is imprinted in the heart’s memory and is then expressed in the new life of the faithful. (2502)

Comparison

Compare the  Lutheran Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavik started in 1945 (completed in 1986) with the Catholic Sagrada Famila in Barcelona started in 1882. I compare these since they represent roughly the same architectural era (20th century). The Sagrada is still under construction and won’t be done until 2032 (approx.).

 

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Hallgrímskirkja, exterior

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Hallgrímskirkja, Interior

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la-sagrada-familia-front

Sagrada exterior

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Sagrada, Interior

Paradigm Shift – Communion of Saints

The reason Catholics prayer to the saints is tied up largely in the doctrine of the Communion of Saints. This paradigm shift talks about who is considered a saint in the different traditions.

Generally speaking, the Protestant idea of a saint is anyone on Earth claiming to be a Christian. The idea of a pecking order in any hierarchy of Protestant Christianity is slightly repugnant—mostly from the taint of democratic ideals. Upon someone’s death there is a binary decision made somewhere about one’s final destination: heaven or hell.

The Catholic Church, on the other hand, believes that the Church is made up of three major parts: The Church Militant, the Church Expectant, and the Church Triumphant. The first are those Christians waging spiritual warfare here on Earth, while the last is that standing in the presence of God. The penitent Church in the middle is that temporarily residing in purgatory. In these domains there is hierarchy—something God expressly instituted in marriages, in homes, in society (government), and in the Church. John’s revelation shows that the throne of God is encircled by 24 elders. And Jesus disciples quarreled about who would sit at his right hand—a decision Jesus did not dismiss but rather disowned.

Along that note, the Divine Comedy by Dante dramatizes the hierarchy of hell (inferno), purgatory (purgatorio) and heaven (paradiso) with various levels. Saints are those who’ve attained the highest level, standing in the presence of God as part of the beatific vision. The Catholic Church acknowledges certain saints by name and declared to be in the presence of God and interceding on our behalf. Revelation talks about the prayers of the saints before the throne of God.

Analysis

The Catholic communion of saints is more fluid than the rigid Protestant counterpart. Jesus, in lecturing the Sadducees (the equivalent of Protestants in first century Judaism) about the Resurrection in Matthew 22:23-29, underscores the reality—those that are “dead” are not dead but, arguably, more living than those around us on Earth. We see glimpse of this in the Transfiguration. With that premise in mind, it is argued that the Catholic praying to the saints for intercession is no different than people on Earth asking to pray for each other for specific reasons. Because “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” [James 5:16], the Church figures the prayers of those close to God will avail even more.

As a corollary to this doctrine we have a related idea of praying to Mary with which Protestants really, really struggle. The Hail Mary being the best known Catholic prayer in this regard goes like this:

Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among all women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.

This first part of the prayer is straight from scripture, Luke, so no objections to quoting scripture. If we adhere to the idea that the saints are still alive, including Mary, saying this to her in prayer is not worship—it merely restates an enduring fact in this salutation. The second part of the prayer was added in the middle ages:

Holy Mary, mother of God, prayer for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

Here the prayer asks for Mary’s intercession, addressing her as the mother of God which is also scriptural—Jesus’ human nature came from Mary. It was also understood that the mother of the King (the Queen in Israelite monarchy) had special access to the King. This is supported by the fact that Mary badgers Jesus into turning water into wine at the wedding of Cana, even though it wasn’t time for Jesus’ ministry.  He honors her request and does it.

So then, the Catholic practice of praying to the saints including petitions to Mary are not ungrounded. Perhaps the Catholics are not as wrong-headed as one might believe.

Consider Hebrews 12: 1 which talks about a great cloud of witnesses.

 

 

Paradigm Shift – Sacraments

What are sacraments?

To some degree, all Christians believe Jesus Christ instituted “practices” that the Church would perform as part of her mission on Earth. When understood to be practices with a supernatural, sacred and salvific properties, roughly speaking, these practices are called sacraments. For example, Baptism is one such sacrament although many denominations would regard baptism as merely symbolic rather than supernatural. Like all the sacraments, Jesus instituted baptism commissioning his disciples to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19. As one discovers with the sacraments, there is a proper application that validates it: in the case of Baptism, it must involve water and must be Trinitarian.

Some mainstream Protestant denominations recognize a few sacraments, usually two—baptism and communion — while many evangelical Bible churches do not recognize a “sacramental economy” at all.

Conversely, the Catholic Church recognizes seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, holy communion (Eucharist), penance, anointing of the sick, holy matrimony, and holy orders. According to the Catechism: [1131] “The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.”

Although there is much to understand about the sacraments, their purpose, their symbolism, their prefiguration in the Old Testament, their application and salvific significance, the first thing to understand about the sacraments is: did Jesus really institute them. Although the Church claims that the sacramental system was passed on from the beginning through Sacred Tradition, we can still see evidence of the sacramental system in Sacred Scripture:

  • Water baptism. We saw the commissioning of this in Matthew 28:19.
  • Confirmation (anointing, baptism of the Holy Spirit, usually with oil or laying on of hands by apostle). Along with baptism, the two sacraments are considered part of Christian initiation. Jesus modeled the combination of baptism and confirmation in Matthew 3:13-17. Of course we see in the Acts of the Apostles many places where the baptism of the Holy Spirit was administered. Indeed, the word “Christian” is from the word “Christ” which means anointed.
  • The Eucharist (the Most Blessed Sacrament) was instituted at the Last Supper and prefigured in the Old Testament as well as vividly in John 6 where many disciples left Jesus on the “hard teaching” of eating Jesus’ body and blood for eternal life. One writer called these disciples “Proto-Protestants”. 1 Corinthians 11:23-33 also talks about the institution of the Eucharist, the sign of the New Covenant.
  • Penance, (or Confession, Reconciliation, Conversion). In John 19:20-23 we see the apostles are given the authority by Jesus to forgive sin—but why? It’s interesting the disciples had the authority to heal, cast out evil spirits, preach, etc. beforehand, but this authority was provided AFTER the resurrection. This authority, according to the Church, has been passed down through apostolic succession and evolved in format. So when one goes to confession (with the required disposition), the priest has the authority to forgive any grave sin and reinstate the baptized to the sacramental community of the Church. Protestants argue that you don’t need to go to someone to have your sins forgiven but that God can forgive you your sins directly. Catholics do not deny that this is possible but also argue that the ordinary way (the way we know about and the way Christ instituted) is through the sacrament of reconciliation.
  • Anointing of the Sick. This is quite vividly described in the book of James. Because it involves the forgiveness of sin, only a priest (called an elder in James) may administer it. Likewise, Mark 6:12-13 talks about the disciple’s ministry of anointing the sick.
  • Marriage is a sacrament. Not everyone participates in this sacrament administered by the authority of a priest. The Catholic Church understands marriage to be between one man and one woman, indissoluble. That is why divorce and same-sex marriage will never be condoned in the Catholic Church for, as a sacrament, no one has the authority to change it up—not even the Pope. Marriage was instituted in Genesis and validated by Christ in Matthew 19:1-12.
  • Holy Orders. This is the ordination of men to the priesthood. Not everyone receives this sacrament, e.g., women cannot be priests. Paul and the disciples represented this priesthood as did the tribe of Levi in the old testament. When Jesus chose twelve men, he modeled this sacrament.

Analysis

As one apologist put it, Sacraments are the opposite of Magick (in the spiritual sense not in the Las Vegas sense). Whereas Magick manipulates the properties of the spiritual world to affect something in the physical world, sacraments manipulate the properties of the physical world (bread, oil, wine, hands) to affect something in the spiritual world (salvation, atonement).

The large paradigm shift here has to do with what the Church does or is supposed to do. According to Catholics it administers the sacraments with the appropriate authority. Compare this to a Bible church that predominantly preaches the gospel and studies the bible—all good things that the Church applauds.  But without Bibles, Christianity is merely disadvantaged. Without sacraments and liturgy, there is no Christianity at all. Think about what Christians were doing the first one thousand years before Guttenberg made Bibles readily available through the printing press and Luther conjured the sola scriptura philosophy. They were celebrating the sacraments instituted by Christ.  Catholics still do–all seven.

 

St. Augustine

How I wept, deeply moved by your hymns, songs, and the voices that echoed through your Church! What emotion I experienced in them! Those sounds flowed into my ears, distilling the truth in my heart. A feeling of devotion surged within me, and tears streamed down my face—tears that did me good. [Augustine’s Confessions]

Paradigm Shift – Format of Worship

This paradigm shift discusses the differences in church services and what happens there. In this essay I select the Roman (Latin Rite) Catholic Mass although the Church recognizes a number of rites that have developed over time.

A typical evangelical Bible Church services starts with music and singing, often praise songs with a contemporary sound but sometimes traditional hymns. There are usually worship leaders, professional musicians, and vocalists to get things going, set a mood and create a spirit for worshippers to participate. The use of lighting and multimedia might also be employed. There might be a special music transition featuring a soloist or some other art form to get people settled for the next phase, the sermon. Central to the worship service of a Protestant Church, the sermon is usually based on a passage of scripture and used to illuminate a truth about God or a way for Christians to live—ironically sola scriptura cum persona.  After the sermon there may be an “altar call” (though there isn’t an altar anywhere) or blessing. Prayers are generally impromptu and concluded with the name of Jesus.

When Catholics go to Church they go to Mass, a word derived from the Latin word missa which means to “send forth” and where we get words like “mission”, “missionary” and “dismiss”. All Catholic masses are typical because it is a specified ceremony of words and actions with some variation in content depending on the feast day. The mass starts with an introit—a song or chant—in which the priest processes toward the altar where the sacrifice will occur. There are several phases to the Mass: 1) the penitent rite in which everyone admits their sin and asks for mercy 2) the Liturgy of the Word in which scripture is read 3) the Liturgy of the Eucharist in which the Last Supper / Christ’s Crucifixion is re-presented in time/space. The bread and wine used during the last rite are transubstantiated into the body and blood of Jesus Christ and faithful Catholics will eat and drink this during Holy Communion—the most central and sacred part of the Mass. After communion, the congregation is dismissed with a blessing to go back out into the world as a people set apart for the divine life and sacred duty.  Prayers are always prescribed and usually end with the name of the Trinity.

Analysis

I do not know where the format of the Bible Church service originated—it’s most likely an American evolution. It can vary from service to service somewhat and may be punctuated with special events, causes, calls to action, new study series or book recommendation. Services are planned ahead as an event that requires improvement, change and, to be honest, a bit of marketing. Let’s face it, many Bible Churches are a blend of worship and entertainment. The centrality of the sermon often creates organizations centered around performance and personality. That is why congregations established or expanded by Lon Solomon, Joel Olsteen, Joseph Prince, Robert Schuller, Rick Warren and other mega-pastors tend to diminish in size, message, purpose after the pastor retires.

Once upon a time I would have totally discounted the “dead-formalism” of the liturgical worship of the Catholic Mass, facetiously labeling it “Simon said” sit, stand, knell, say, respond.  But in contrast to the “jazz things up” each week to stimulate the congregation, it not only makes sense but when seen around the centrality of the Eucharist, it is the reason we go to church every week. In many of Lon Solomon’s sermons that call forward the traditions of the Jews, the holidays and rituals they celebrated served as reminders from generation to generation. It makes sense from the perspective of history why this was important since it conveyed sacred tradition from generation to generation through the mechanics of ritual, responsorial, symbolism and song.

For the uninitiated, the Mass is weird, foreign and mysterious—rife with symbolism and meaning. It dates back to antiquity and is generally the same in every Catholic Church everywhere in the world. The Mass has also evolved over centuries but holds as its source the Last Supper. Catholics argue that liturgical elements of the Mass are evident in the Old Testament, the Gospels, the Epistles and the Acts—many of the liturgical formulas are straight scripture. When you go to Mass it may seem foreign because, it is argued, one is transported to a foreign place, heaven, and much of what is done and said is representative of John’s Book of Revelation.

A prototype format of the Mass is also reflected in the story of Jesus walking with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) where he talks about what scriptures said about Him (Liturgy of the Word) and the breaking of bread (Liturgy of the Eucharist). The Gospel of John (Chapter 6) talks about eating Jesus body and drinking his blood to obtain eternal life—what the Catholics point to as biblical proof for the Eucharist. Paul references the Mass in his letters to the Churches (1 Corinthians 10:14-22, 11:23-33, Hebrews 9:1-5). What’s more the mass is prefigured in the Old Testament especially as the Passover lamb and the manna from heaven. And the writings of the early church fathers reflect a similar format of orthodox (“right praise”) worship. The amazing part of the Mass is that it is performed every day, everywhere in the world. The mass has been celebrated since Jesus instituted it and no one is allowed to modify it on their own.

Aside from the homily, there is little that can be subject to personal style or creativity in the Catholic Mass.  In fact, the priest wears a chasuble to shroud his identity as he is supposed to be representative of Jesus (alter Christus) and not himself. That is why, when the Gospel is read by the priest, everyone stands–it is Jesus speaking his own words. And no matter how good the music is, no one applauds. Although congregants become attached to their priest, it is quite common for bishops to reassign priests—and Catholics are used to this even if they don’t like it.

There is an interesting set of videos on the mass and one that came out today talked about Unity and Variety in the Mass.

Paradigm Shift – Salvation

Prerequisite to this discussion is the concept of salvation. The assertion is that mankind is in a fallen state and under God’s judgement and requires salvation to reclaim eternal communion with God. Protestants and Catholics differ on the doctrine of salvation.

Along with scripture alone (sola scriptura), another pillar of the Protestant Reformation is faith alone (sola fide).  This pillar refers to the doctrine of salvation—that God forgives sinners based solely on faith and is separate from any sort of “good work” on a sinner’s part. We cannot earn salvation but are saved by grace alone. In some factions, salvations can never be lost either—once saved, always saved. Since no one can earn God’s salvation, technically, no one can lose it either, or so the logic goes. Certainly, the role of works is also part of salvation, but as a natural response born of gratitude toward that which is, as Bonhoeffer called it, costly grace. In other words, “works” are symptomatic of a true saving faith and true conversion, but not essential to it.

Catholics also believe that sinners are saved by grace, but the Church believes it is our reasonable duty and responsibility to stay in grace through works of humility, penance, prayer, charity and maintaining a holy life in accordance with Church teaching and discipleship.  We continually and actively participate in our own salvation through the life of the Church, for God, in love, doesn’t compel us toward him. If we reject God, we turn away from God in free will. And he respects that in an act of love.

Analysis

As one would expect, there is no shortage of bible verses to support either claim. Protestants will often refer to works as “dead” or “a dead formalism” whereas Catholics view good works as part of God’s salvation economy, for we are to be rewarded for our good works as is promised in many places in scripture. Again, there are countless Bible verses to support either position.[1]

In some regards, the two teachings on salvation are similar. Salvation is through unmerited grace and good works are a component of this salvation in some manner. Intuitively we think there is something wrong and inconsistent about claiming to be a Christian but not living like one. Christians are judged by the world and each other to live according to some concept of a Christian ideal: moral living, social justice, charity, respect for others, the Golden Rule and so forth.

The Catholic viewpoint seems to comport better with our intuition if not our desire. One is tempted to say that a backslid Christian was never saved at all in order to preserve the faith-alone doctrine; otherwise it is hard to make sense out of it. It begs an odd question: how sinful can one be and still be saved? The Catholic answer is simple: you must be totally sinless. Any backslid Christian has fallen dangerously away from grace and the Church. This regression has eternal consequences if not remedied: repent and live the life prescribed by the Apostles, Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture (all that composes the Church). Axiomatically, one cannot be sinful and be in the presence of God.

But it also goes back to the first paradigm on Authority; with many takes on the Bible, who has the authority to teach truth? Although Martin Luther seem to do the most with sola fide, he wasn’t the first. The new testament epistles reveal situations in the Church where people were not living the way Jesus taught and transmitted by the Apostles—Sacred Tradition. Paul had very strong things to say about such conditions including the command to expel the immoral brother. The epistle of James, which Martin Luther called the “epistle of straw” presumably because he believed it was only good for burning, calls out this topic in some detail. Look up James 2:14-26 in which the Apostle talks not about a dead work, but a dead faith without works.

[1] Look at the article of Sola Fide on Wikipedia to see the list of scripture for and against.

Paradigm Shift – The Source of Authority

The source of authority in this context means that which has the authority to teach faith and morals to the world, specifically Christians or any would-be disciple of Christ.  The assumption here is that the teachings from an unchanging God are also unchanging.

The first part in McLean Bible Church’s Spiritual Bootcamp series from head pastor Lon Solomon is about the Reality of the Bible because, as he says in the sermon, all we know about God, Jesus, salvation, creation, et cetera, comes from and begins with the Bible.  And so, in that tradition, the Bible is the source of what we know and is our source of authority. That is why the inerrancy of the Bible is crucial, for to be in error, at any point, poses a problem: how can we trust the Bible as a source of authority if it has flaws? Evangelical Christians defend the inerrancy of the Bible as if their soul depends on it because, in that tradition, it does. One of the pillars of the Protestant Reformation is sola scriptura (scripture alone) and, so, the Bible’s place in authority is paramount. Consequently, if a particular doctrine cannot be discerned clearly in the pages of the Bible, it is suspect or false.

The Catholic Church source of authority is, rather conveniently, the Church itself or more specifically the magisterium— the authority represented by the present Pope and his bishops as well as all the church’s past teaching as a continuum traceable to Jesus first authorization of the first pope, Peter, in Matthew 23:18, commissioned as the rock on which Christ would build his Church.

Analysis

Protestant and Catholics actually agree that the Bible is authoritative.  The difference is, in the Protestant view, the Bible stands as authoritative in the hands of the believer guided by the Holy Spirit, whereas Catholics believe the Bible is authoritative in the hands of the Church guided by the Holy Spirit. After all, the Church was responsible for compiling the canon of scripture, so how is it that Protestants use the very thing composed by the Church as authoritative without recognizing the authority of the Church that compiled it?

And when one considers that there are numerous Protestants denominations of varying viewpoints but only one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, which paradigm appears to be working? We tend to read the Bible through the lens of our personal experience, culture, language, politics and desires. So what really is the source of authority? Is it the Holy Spirit, a false spirit, or ourselves?

Catholic teaching is remarkably, almost miraculously, stable. Teachings that many mainstream Protestant denominations once held to be true have been eventually warped or disregarded including teachings on birth control, sexuality, marriage, divorce, perpetual virginity of Mary, male priesthood, salvation and a host of theological topics. Conversely the Catholic Church is routinely criticized for not changing with the times.

Paradigm Shift – Introduction

Conversion from Protestant Christianity, specifically Evangelical Bible Christianity, to Roman Catholicism involves a number of large paradigm shifts in perspective and thinking. It is not possible to understand the differences between the two as well as what Catholics believe and why they believe it without these dramatic changes. This series is designed to highlight these paradigms shifts in the hopes of bringing separated brethren into the fullness of faith.

For each essay, I will try to present the Protestant view juxtaposed to the Catholic view and Analyze. These posts will also be listed in one place as links in the main menu item above “Paradigm Shifts”