Saturday, May 29, 2010

Catholics and Assurance of Salvation

There is a difference between Protestant and Catholic. A BIG difference that I see many people trying to downplay. We have so many theological points we agree on, but how we get to them is vastly different. 
Lately I have been watching I absolutely love it. Michael Voris is the man!! Awesome. (For the really good stuff you have to pay a measly $10 a month for Premium membership, but well, well worth it for anyone who is Catholic or is interested in Catholicism.)
However... (and this is certainly not a criticism of Michael Voris, but he simply reminded me of what I have wanted to tell Catholics since starting RCIA)... 
Bridging the gap between a Catholic and Protestant worldview.... whew... that is a monumental task, full of misunderstandings. 
Let me give you a for instance. 
About “assurance of salvation.”
Catholic teach against saying you are “saved.” And with their perspective it is a perfectly Biblical and truthful way of seeing things. However, Catholics need to step into a Protestant worldview and they will understand how vital this doctrine for spiritual survival. 
Let me start with a visual. Protestants are holding onto a thin rope that reaches into heaven and that is their only connection to God. This rope is their assurance that God loves them, that God is there for them, that God is going to protect them and keep them safe from the Devil. This rope is their only hope! 
Joe Blow Fundamentalist is certain that God is indifferent (or worse) to those who have not had a born-again experience. (Some denominations teach God loves them but still is impotent to save them...) Those without a relationship with Christ “in their hearts” are children of wrath. Nothing they can or will ever do--no matter how good-- will please God. Their righteousness is as filthy rags. They are without hope and destined for eternal damnation until they “gets saved.” Baptism does nothing more than make a public announcement that a person has been born again. Protestant parents do everything possible to get their children and other loved ones “saved.” For it is in that experiential miracle, that great “aha” cosmic event of grace, that they know God loves them. That is their proof moment (like a proof-text). Their greatest fears, their eternal self-hatred ceases and they can know--know--that they are no longer a child of wrath.
They have nothing else. They don’t have a community of faith that reaches back to the Apostles and into the heavens. They don’t have real sacraments--only lifeless simulations, imitating symbols. They don’t have Peter. For a Protestant it is just Jesus and me. They have nothing tangible--no relics, no rites. You cannot and should not try and cut that rope of assurance and connection with Christ. 
You see they cling to the rope with all their heart and soul. It is their sabbath rest. 
“Jesus loves me this I know. Now my life has meaning. Now I am loved....” 
To a Protestant--the Kingdom of God is still yet to come... an actual community with structure--that is simply not going to happen till Christ comes again. They do not live with the idea that there is an actual kingdom--organization--community. They cannot rely on anyone or anything. They have no exterior backup. They will argue that they have their church--but that, I assure you in their minds, does not have the weight, the gravitas of the actual Kingdom that goes straight back to Jesus himself. They take comfort in a tiny island of misfit toys awaiting Santa Claus. They do not have a powerful kingdom to give them comfort--truth--clarity. Everything for a Protestant is dependent on a future security... all they have today is a hope.... an assurance that one day, they will be safely in the Kingdom.
To attempt convincing them they can’t know they are saved and proving it with Bible texts is not the avenue to their souls and understanding. When someone is clinging to a spiritual rope, telling them the rope is weak, stupid.... unbiblical--- well, don’t go that route.
Instead, describe the rock, the foundation. Describe how Peter was given the keys of the Kingdom. Spend your time--not arguing the validity of the rope--but the incredible safety of the rock! 
Baptism is it!! Baptism is entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. From that point on you are in, you are no longer a child of wrath, but a child destined for salvation. You are a part of a vast Christian family that extends from heaven into purgatory. This Cosmos of love ushers you into the safety of God’s sheep fold. It’s gates are strong, it’s walls are vast and indestructible and high! Protestants need security.
Talk about the community of those in heaven who constantly pray for our souls and their faith combines with ours to make ours strong and vital and perfect! In Catholicism you are never alone. You have Mary and the saints who have had two millennia of showing us the way to Jesus.  
Talk about the sealing of the spirit through anointing and consecration.
Show them that in the ancient church, God has many, many shepherds He has placed in command. These priest-heroes have given up the comfort of wife and family to rescue His lost sheep if they stray. They are there to give the comfort and security of the sacrament of reconciliation. Talk about the Eucharist as the heavenly manna, the bread of immortality and the receiving of the divine life. 
Talk about the safety of the Kingdom of Heaven. 
For when you do you are not cutting their rope, but you are saying “POINT YOUR TOES!!”
For when they point their toes, the Christian hanging desperately onto the rope will find that right below their feet--an inch or two--is the ROCK of our salvation. The foundation of the Kingdom of Heaven. Eventually when they get their bearings, when they begin to trust the rock of Catholicism, they will let go of the rope. They will know their souls are safe inside the sheepfold.
Don’t panic theologians! I am not saying teach them the once-saved-always-saved doctrine. Tell them--if they really want--they can leave.... God will not bolt the door so they cannot ever go against Him. Even as a child of God, we can choose to leave.
Often I get the feeling Catholics see the idea of assurance-of-eternal-life as giving license to Protestants to go out and do what they want, haughtily dismissing sin as irrelevant--the whole Lutheran “sin with gusto” thing. This is truly not the case for the vast amount of Protestants.
Many Protestants have spent their entire lives in crushing torment over being the child of wrath, the lowest of the low, a sinner in need of a Savior, whose only hope was in the little phrase “blessed assurance.” They are told that it only takes faith and God will accept you and love you. With faith, the former child of wrath can walk in confidence knowing he is a member of the household of God.  For the first time, they have joy and begin experiencing the gospel of peace. 
They need to be treated with the kindest of intentions. Catholics needs to be even more nurturing. Show them the beauties and infinite mercy found in the treasury of faith of Catholicism. Show them inside the Kingdom of God, there is no fear, but immeasurable grace. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Joy of Catholic Unity

The Trinity.

One of the most mysterious and frankly challenging beliefs in all Christianity. Three in one. Impossible, absurd. But it forms the basis of all of Catholic thinking. I am probably not going where you think I am going with this, so please stick with me for a moment.

Three in One. Multiples within the single. It is not the heresy of collectivism where the soul loses itself and melds into oblivion. Neither is it a worse heresy of radical individualism where the soul is isolated and in need of no one. No, the mystery of God is the Triune--not a single, not a unit, but a completeness, a unity. God's essence, His very nature is communal.

Every breath of Catholicism calls us to this same unity. The very definition of sin is that which breaks our oneness with God.

Sin is not a set of acts or deeds that the Lord sifted through, like examining objects at a garage sale, then  labelled one "evil" and another "good" depending on His mood. The things that cause our souls, our minds to fracture, those things which tear us from the wholeness of being Christ's beloved--that is what sin is. What was the punishment for sin? Again, I do not believe it was a random, unrelated punishment. It was more of a prophecy of disintegration. When we pull against our original unity with God, our souls and flesh are torn apart, they decay into separateness. That is the definition of death, the separation of the soul from the body; the very fibers, sinews, bones, skin, organs separate from themselves and deteriorate.

When you examine the core of Catholic teaching, it is all meant to bring us back into unity--with ourselves, our fellow humans and God. God is our example--Trinity--the unity of three in one.

The unity of marriage was to serve as an example of what God's relationship to His bride looks like: "The Two shall be one flesh." The man and wife--but also the child and parent are actually part of each other's flesh.

The highest and holiest form of worship for a Catholic is the Sunday mass where the bride is called by her Beloved to come and share eternity with Him. Share His life, His sufferings, His resurrection, His very body with her. She is called to the the Marriage Supper and every shared song, amen, liturgical reading, even the shared cup reminds us that each one, each individual is vitally important to the completeness and wholeness of the Body. It is a mystery we partake in--God came down and partook of humanity, that we may, through His body and Blood, partake in Divinity.

We are called to lay aside our monomania, our rights, our very life to become part of that great incomprehensible wonder of Unity.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Does Christianity Fulfill Paganism or Is It Based On Paganism?

What did worship look like in ancient (non-Christian, polytheistic) cultures?

Faith: Polytheistic religions used the phrase, "the fates" to describe how one placed the the future in the hands of the gods, but it is essentially the same as belief in, trust in the power of one's god. Although scholars today tend to imagine that the more technologically advanced civilizations discarded a real "heart belief" and simply followed worship to one's gods ritualistically, that theory is not backed up archeologically. There are thousands and thousands of prayers from these periods that show a deep sincerity of faith to their gods.

Prayer: Pagan prayers took both communal and personal characteristics much like Christian prayers today. They saw prayer as a pathway to contact with the gods. Each prayer not only included praise towards the deity, but requests and petitions as well as promises to perform acts to honor the gods.

Mystery: The idea of clashing supernatural forces of good and evil and that man has a place in this ultimate fight is also an age-old idea.

Visions and Prophecies: Dating back thousands of years before Christianity, oracles and supernatural ecstasies, very similar to Pentecostalism, were part of religion. The ancient Shrine at Delphi is a place where pagan prophecies and visions took place.

Healing: All religious systems had rituals and prayers that the adherents believed would cause the gods to heal them. They even held "healing" services and ancient records describe the miraculous healings.

Virtue: Honest and ethical behavior was expected from most ancient religions, although they may differ from our standards somewhat. Misbehavior was expected to bring bad luck or punishment from the gods. Pythagoreans and Epicureans had traditions that taught certain ways of life brought reward.

Scriptures: Not all religions had written laws and stories given from their gods, some did such as Hindu, Buddhism--but all had oral proscriptions and legends about how the gods formed the world and how they expect us to behave. These were considered sacred very much like Christians consider the Bible.

Divine Calling: Polytheistic religions believed certain people had a "divine" calling to teach others about their gods.

Sacredness: Pagan religions had places (churches), people (pastors, evangelists), things and times (holy days) they set aside as sacred.

Sacrifices: Pagan religions included sacrifices of unblemished animals that were taken to the temple and immolated after being anointed with salt and flour by the person giving the sacrifice.

The similarities are endless-- Pagans and Christians both have:
Conversion stories
Pagan Messianic prophecies that resembled Christianity: Virgin birth of deity who becomes savior of man.
Born-again rituals
Heaven for the righteous
Hell for the sinner
Final--last day events--Armageddon
Creeds and doctrines
Certain cults in polytheism claimed they should be free to worship the gods as their conscience dictated
Immortality of the soul (for certain people)
Soul sleep (for other persons)
Holy wars
Marriage ceremonies with cake, lifting bride over threshold, wedding rings (many other similarities)

When King Solomon said millennia ago that there is nothing new under the sun, he was right. Being a Christian, I am certainly not saying that Christianity is the same. I am just saying Christian forms of worshipping and even some theology are very similar to paganism.

So, when we realize that Christianity brought very little unique to religious rites and beliefs, we have a clear choice. Is Christianity a mere culling from the past? Are the critics correct when they say because Christianity brings relatively nothing new to religion and that it is similar to polytheism, that Christian roots are pagan?

Christians must acknowledge that arguments that point out the similarities are logical and that one can look at the facts and surmise that Christianity is simply a new form of paganism. However, it is just as logical to look at the similarities and suggest that Christianity fulfills paganism. That the ubiquitousness of religion and its cycles of mysteries and beliefs---rather than invalidate and disprove religion--does quite the opposite. These repeated similar beliefs, known in all languages, all geographical areas of the world, all time periods, all phases of evolution and development of civilization rather prove something... There is A TRUTH they are pointing to....

We can look at these facts and logically, reasonably surmise that these all came from an original source. And Christianity claims that original source.

"In the fullness of time" Christ came and fulfilled it all. He was what these promises, recycled and corrupted as they were by different societies, were pointing to.

To my Protestant Friends: 

Please, be mindful of suggesting that Catholicism is wrong and erroneous because their rites and rituals look similar to paganism. If you use the logic that, "if it is similar to paganism" and predates Catholicism therefore, it is then evil or sinful, you have just cut your own throat.  You certainly can say that because Christmas trees began in Druid homes, therefore it is evil to have Christmas trees, but then you must logically say that if Druids prayed then it must be evil to pray.

To have a clear and coherent argument you must prove the intrinsic evilness of an action rather than a comparative argument such "since jailbird Billy grew up reading The Hardy Boys series, therefore the Hardy Boys series are evil and we should not allow our children to read them." That is a lose-lose argument for the Christian.

Look at the above list. All of these religious beliefs and practices predated Christianity and all were used in polytheistic worship. So if Catholicism is evil for similar worship, anyone else's worship that looks similar is also. That logic can be used to prove Protestantism is ALSO based in paganism.

Paganism was the mimic, the distorted mirror of an ancient truth.... a truth that came to its climax, its actualization in Christ.

We do not let go of the doctrine, the rites because they have been fulfilled. They were NEVER wrong--but were corrupted by the evil one so that the form would be deflected into false worship. Now our worship--of prayers, holy days, prophecies, etc. are fully realized and made perfect through the Savior.

Sourced from these classes I took:
The History of Ancient Rome by Dr. Garrett G. Fagan, Pennsylvania State University
Christian History by Michael Voris, St. Michael's Ministries
Early Christianity: The Experience of the Divine, Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson, Emory University
The Story of the Bible: Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson, Emory University
The Early Middle Ages: Dr. Philip Daileader, College of William and Mary
From Jesus to Constantine: A History of the Early Church, Dr. Bart Erman, UNC Chapel Hill
The History of the Bible: The Making of the New Testament Canon, Dr. Bart Erman, UNC Chapel Hill

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Joy of Catholic Media

The depth of Catholic understanding of both life and the scriptures is infinite. I thought as a Protestant I knew scriptures. And believe me I did. (Or so I thought in comparison to other Protestants.) My friends, who were always among the most highly educated--you know, with more letters after their names than in them--were always amazed at my knowledge of scripture. I could win ANY bible trivia game and did so on many occasions when I would play my university-student friends (who had WON their own College Bible Bowls.) I had read through the Bible so many times that I literally had worn several Bibles out. I was very proud of this fact--as you can see!

So, when I was studying Catholicism, I was a bit cocky. On my first visit to see a priest I mentioned the Nephilim of Genesis.  ("Oh, Father Ernst--YOU DON'T know about the Nephilim---snicker, snicker--well, let ME a Protestant enlighten you about the mysteries in scripture....") Over the next year of RCIA I was given a big smack right in the pride department. Now don't get me wrong--it wasn't RCIA. They didn't even talk about the Bible at all--these were lay Catholics--hardly what I would call knowledgeable of scripture. Again when the Archbishop came to class and bet us all that no one could answer this question: What was another name in the OT for Mt. Sinai?" I rolled my eyes and whispered sardonically under my breath... "Sheesh, let me know when you have a hard one...." Like Leave it to Beaver's Judy, I stuck my hand in the air and casually through out, "Mt. Horeb" and gave a smug smile at the class.

During RCIA I started reading Catholic writings: St. Augustine, the Catechism, Chesterton, Muggeridge, the Catholic Encyclopedia.... dozens and dozens.

Yikes. Slap, pride started to deflate......

In the end, I wept for joy! There is no humiliation so deeply soul-satisfying as knowing you don't know it all!! I found myself surrounded by saints and inspired writings that dwarfed my grandest spiritual thoughts. The Catholic knowledge of Christ and His great mysteries of faith stunned me and sent me reeling. There is something out there-- a mystery--a gorgeous epic of breathtaking glory that begins to unfold and it never ends. The Catholic church is an inexhaustible ocean of new heavenliness to explore.... You think you have reached the end of one thought, one tiny little doctrine or tradition, just to find that it opens a door to an unexplored universe of understanding. Catholic faith is ever expanding, a cosmos of truth that rather than inhibits, unlocks and displays love that literally overwhelms you. At times I have to pull back from the overstimulating phenomenon of it all and take a rest! Our bodies are simply not capable of holding such exquisite, almost painfully exquisite, thoughts for too long. But they are a taste of what we will fully experience when our bodies are perfect.

Would you like a taste of this glory?

Watch or listen to archived programs of Mother Angelica, Father Groschel "Sunday Night Live", The Journey Home, Threshold of Hope, EWTN live, The World Over....

Get a membership to and watch "The One True Faith" "Basic Training" or anything there--just keep in mind it is for Catholics who have left the church or are not living the faith so Michael Voris can sometimes come across a bit strident.

Listen to EWTN Catholic Radio online:

Read: The Privilege of Being Catholic
           How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization
           Upon This Rock
           Mary, Mother of the Son series

Keep watching and reading till you get it--it takes time --SIX years for me. At first it seems strange, weird, even against God. You will have to jettison any pride you have. These may offend you, hurt you, anger you--but in the end, you will bless me for suggesting them to you.

Catholicism is a taste of heaven, because it brings us to Christ and His kingdom.

"Lest you become as a little child you will in no wise enter the kingdom...." Pray that our Lord will show you the great and glorious mysteries of the Catholic faith. Once you get past the shock that you have been lied to about what Catholics believe and open your heart to humbly receiving the truth...... don't say I didn't warn you..... You are in for an experience you never expected...

Sunday, May 9, 2010