Friday, April 29, 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Spirit, Truth and St. John’s Gospel (Ch. 14-16)

Over fifty years ago, he had walked closely with the Lord. Now as the only living Apostle,  John reverently took up pen to add to the memoirs of the Messiah. 
The Spirit brought to John’s mind the evening Jesus led His eleven disciples towards Gethsemane and assured them:
"I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.”

Now, through the Holy Spirit, John had become able to bear these things--the deepest spiritual mysteries the Apostles were unable to comprehend until after the Resurrection.  With this in mind, John related all that his master had taught, probing the depths of its meaning. Toward the end of his story in chapter fourteen, John recalled the profound, heartfelt instructions of Jesus even as the the Cross was overshadowing the evening. 
At Gethsemane, as one disciple was at that very moment betraying him and the rest were about to scatter, Jesus thought not of his own spiritual battle but encouraged his Apostle’s with these words:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me....I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever--the Spirit of truth. ...But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 

Jesus continues in the following two chapters: 

When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. 
Guiding Us Into All Truth
There are two ways that believers have interpreted these words of Christ. 
  • Many assume Jesus’ promise was universal, that the Holy Spirit directly deposits truth into all true believers’ minds and hearts. 
  • The traditional view is that Jesus is speaking of the church that He was establishing. The promise was spoken to the Apostles as the leaders of this church, not to all individual Christians. John was not writing this to let everyone know they were going to personally know all truth, but He was telling the readers that the church established by Christ would be given the Holy Spirit--as an entire body--so that they could be assured that the church would not lead them astray.
This is why I believe the second interpretation is correct. 
Jesus made that statement to those Apostles who were there--specific to them because they had heard what He had said throughout His ministry. Jesus knew there would be false prophets and shepherds who had heard Him who would twist His message. He knew there would come a day when things would become chaotic with everyone claiming they knew what Jesus had said and each vying for authority on His words. The Spirit would come to those God had placed in charge of the church so that insecurities wouldn’t arise, they could be utterly confident in their memories and their authority as His representatives.
As His appointed, anointed leaders who were to go out and spread the gospel, they would need miraculous help to remember all that he had told them personally. If you notice the context, Jesus says that the Counselor will remind them of what He has said and how to testify, as they had been with Him from the beginning. (Christians today cannot be reminded of what He said for we never heard Him say it while on earth--we were not there, nor were we with Him from the beginning.)
If Jesus meant that the Holy Spirit would bring all Christians into the fullness of truth directly, why warn against false teachers and prophets? If absolute, infallible truth is implanted into the individual Christian heart and mind, then there would be no need for a church with teachers, apostles and certainly no need for Scripture.
Sola Scriptura
Without realizing it, many Christians today place into the text the idea that the Holy Spirit will come into the individual’s mind to interpret the Bible. If you will read the context of what Jesus was saying to the Apostles, nowhere is scripture mentioned nor implied. It is a promise to bring us into the fullness of truth--through the Spirit--not through scripture. If we are going to take the text at face value, then none of us will ever need the Bible. This puts those who believe in sola scriptura in a dilemma.
Perhaps the text is not meaning that God will bring us as individuals into complete truth. Perhaps what John is writing is that Christ’s Apostles, as leaders of His church, will be given the fullness of truth so that when they speak as a group--not individuals--His Spirit will be there reminding them of all Christ had taught them. Then all truth can be passed down from within the Church. The church and its appointed leaders can be trusted and we can be at peace knowing when we listen to God’s appointed leaders, they have all truth and will not deceived us.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Obedience in the Darkness, Part IV by Teresa Beem

(The first three parts can be found at 

“Sweet Jesus, Precious Lord, 
More than anything, I desire to know You 
know You at all cost, know You at any sacrifice,
Though You slay me, yet will I serve You.” 

Little did I know that daily plea would lead me down a shocking path of darkness, of theological terror and confusion that would culminate in the sweetest spiritual euphoria--far beyond being saved, beyond being a Christian, beyond feelings and faith, doctrine and dogma. He, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, awoke me with the gentlest whisper, and I found myself inside the Kingdom of Heaven.
To relate my journey and try to map out how I arrived there is impossible--only God knows. However, I will do the best I can to plot the points. 

Having explored America’s diversity of Christian worship, from sea to shining sea, there were those who were concerned that we had not yet found a spiritual “home.” I was enraptured to experience Christians in diverse places and in diverse manners worshipping God! (Even if the theology was desolate and left me in a spiritual angst.) To me, there was no hurry, I had eternity to learn of my Savior.

Yet, my story was building.... Ruminating around were several revelations all slowly culminating into one huge “ahah!” almost exploding my brain. I was researching the Ante-Nicene Fathers’ writings, taking several religion classes about Christian history and the canonization of the Bible as well as spending time daily discussing theology with friends on my online ecumenical group.

For me, this passion for understanding Christ through theology wasn’t about salvation or being right, or knowing more than others. Since childhood I felt safe and secure knowing that my Lord had died for my sins. Bible study and prayer had always been a part of my daily routine. And faith? I didn’t know anything but righteousness by faith through God’s grace. My father had so thickly polished my soul with with faith, that all those years at sea with Seventh-day Adventist legalism never penetrated my hull.

He was my best friend, my beloved, my Savior. Why wouldn’t I be zealous to know every tiny bit about Him possible? So when I heard my love knocking “Open up my sister, my beloved” (Songs 5:2) I sought Him... and some of it was in study....

The Holy Written Word of God
I was born on November 10.... proud and delighted to share my birthday with the preeminent Christian since St. Augustine-- the Blessed Martin Luther! But the more I studied his writings, I realized that he was instrumental in the dismantling of God’s holy written Word. For sixteen hundred years the scriptures contained books Protestants no longer read. Luther and the other reformers judged them as uninspired, not God-breathed. How they concluded they had the permission to condense scripture, I will never understand.  I thought it hypocritical that the reformers’ battle cry was “Sola Scriptura” when they literally tore out books they disproved of (ironically, the ones that backed up Catholic doctrines). In the end, the reformers cry was really more  o sola mia than sola scriptura. Instead of the scriptures being their final authority, they made themselves the final authority over scripture. 

The Ante-Nicene Fathers’ Writings
These first and second century bishops (taught, ordained and commissioned by the Apostles to lead the churches that they started) taught Catholicism! They believed in the sacramental real presence in the communion bread. They believed in true and false teachers as well as the abomination of any schisms. They believed in immersion and in sprinkling baptism and in baptismal regeneration; they believed Sunday to be a holy day commemorating the resurrection of Christ; they believed in an immortal soul, respect for Mary, relics, .... uh oh. They were Catholic and catholic.... both. 

Catholic Beliefs
All the while our online discussion group was becoming heated because of me. These tricky papist apologists were winning all the theological battles--using scripture! How dare they! I didn’t believe for one minute that what they were writings was truly what Catholics believed. That wasn’t what I was taught Catholics believed. The were trying to use deceptive watered-down and Protestant-ed up strategies. I threw genuine-southern-belle-all-out-true-blue-hissy-fits on the world wide web. Stamping my feet and blubbering like Glenn Beck giving a patriotic soliloquy,  I swore I would expose those Catholic demons! So I bought a catechism, a Catholic encyclopedia and doctrinal history book. Scouring through them I found out just the opposite of what I intended. They hadn’t misrepresented Catholicism. Their doctrine was biblical.... maybe I had never thought of it like they had, but it wasn’t a matter of throwing away the Bible--the Catholics interpreted it differently. (Gulp.) 

In fact their entire language and worldview was different. Misunderstandings were bound to happen. Indeed, they do not believe that we earned salvation. They didn’t even view salvation like we did. Salvation to a Catholic isn’t eternal life, it is seeing Christ face to face (the Beatific vision), living in total surrender to Him in His presence. The eternal living part was secondary--after all--if our souls are immortal we are already assured of eternal life, the question is not if, but where we will spend eternity. The church, the Beloved Bride is the Kingdom of Heaven and you are baptized (covenanted) into it--not through a sterile law but as adopted children. Though the kingdom will be consummated when Christ literally returns again to celebrate the cosmic wedding feast, we are now living inside it as Christians today.

“No..... no... no... no.. no.. No... NO.. NO! NO!  NO! .... NOOOOOOOO!!!!

Please God, pleeeeeease. I don’t want to become a Catholic. They cannot be right. There is no way I can accept this. No way. 
Yet, the more I studied Christian history from atheists, Protestant and Catholic sources, the more my stomach sunk. I had finally gone bonkers, all this study had, had.... brainwashed me. So I took a while off and had some wine, read a couple novels, went to the beach. But I still prayed my prayer from the top of this post--and I still meant it. 

After a few months, I experienced a reoccurrence of a particularly painful condition I have. It was around five o’clock in the afternoon and I was in excruciating agony. My medications began to kick in and I felt a need to be in God’s presence in a special way and beg Him to take away this chronic physical burden. So I thought I would go to my church and just sit in the sanctuary (I have done this a lot in my life when I went through troubles). Because of the time, my churches I regularly attended were not open. I knew the Catholic church would be, so I drove there and knelt and prayed--no begged--the Lord to take away the pain. I was so desperate, I promised that if He took it away, I would at least look into joining the RCIA (the Catholic adult educational classes). When I got up to leave, I was pain free and I have never had a reoccurrence of that magnitude again. (It hasn’t been totally healed yet though.) 

What I found out was that the new RCIA classes at that parish didn’t begin for months. So, with a deep sigh of relief,  I kinda put joining the classes aside. As if that miracle wasn’t enough, I remember praying to God one morning for another sign--a HUGE sign that he wanted me to pursue the Catholic faith (this had to be unmistakeable because, come on, the Catholic Church--the Roman Catholic Church?). 

My son’s high school was right down the road, so I got in the car as usual and began driving down our city streets, quietly repeating my prayer for a sign. “A big sign.... a big, big sign! Please Lord. Immediately after praying that I saw a brand new billboard. A huge billboard on the right side of the road with a blue emblazoned word “POPE” on it. I shook my head and blinked my eyes. What? As I drove closer, I saw written in little letters “vote for” so-and-so Pope. It was the last name for a candidate in an upcoming local election. That sign had been put up the day before. You have to admit, it was literally a huge sign. 

Several more miracles occurred to assure and reassure me that God would protect my apprehensive heart, as my mind was becoming more and more convinced through research, prayer and Bible study that God wanted me in the Catholic Church. 
The fall of 2007, Arthur and I tip-toed into the RCIA room of the Catholic Church, Bereans--with Bible in hand--a large chip on our shoulders and with narrowed, suspicious eyes. The priest was shocking, the nuns were liberals, the RCIA director, cool and mediocre, but as the weeks flowed by, we became smitten by the love of the doctrines--the real presence in the Eucharist, the sacrifice of the mass, purgatory, devotion to Mary, the rites and rituals, the holy water, the crucifix. All had layer upon layer of extraordinary meaning and spiritual depth. Oh, it was scriptural--I just had never fully opened my eyes and ears.

It was like a flash of heavenly fire burned up all my doubts, the years of confusion, the pleas to be near the ever-burning flame of His love. Here was God--eternal, merciful, majestic, loving. Here was truth, absolute truth. 

It is impossible to believe in Protestant America, but Catholic theology is more biblical than any other--by far--I had studied. There is no way I can condense just how deep, amazing and fabulous Catholic doctrine is in this little testimonial. This isn’t an apologetic post but an experiential one.

Our thoroughly Protestant book “It’s okay Not to be a Seventh-day Adventist” debuted  in July of 2008, a few weeks after we were confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church that Easter. It was bittersweet, for as glorious as it was to enter the Kingdom, I knew my Protestant family and friends would not understand. But my prayer was answered and my darkness had turned into the light shining from the face of Christ. 

All the dull, confused rocky conglomeration of relativistic theology, now turned to sparkling gemstones. The lights of heaven had been turned on, and now I could see. Oh I know, the Catholic Church is full of wonderful and pretty rotten people who, like Judas, have betrayed Christ. But just as Christ had given me eye to see myself as He sees me, so He gave me eyes to see His Beloved Bride as He sees her, beautiful, spotless, virginal, perfect. For He sees us both through the cleansing water of His Word. 

There it is, my story. And now I am home. If you want to discuss the theology I would love to give to you what was freely given to me. But this story wasn’t a debate about Protestant versus Catholic interpretation of Scripture. It was my love story. How Jesus came and answered my little prayer, my little plea in the darkness. And I return His love with the words of the Beloved:

Set me like a seal on your heart, 
like a seal on your arm. 
For love is strong as Death,
Passion as relentless as Sheol.
The flash of it is a flash of fire,
A flame of Yahweh Himself. 
Love no flood can quench,
No torrent drown.... 
(From the Song of Songs.)

Monday, April 4, 2011

We Give the Cross Power

We live in an untrustworthy world with an overabundance of sincere promises never kept, of passionate commitments vowed and broken, of agonizing disappointments. So, although I know the Garden of Eden was perfect, I understand our first parent’s  reaction to the call for utter trust in God. Trusting isn’t easy. 
Momma Eve, whether allegorical or real, is a tragic figure. I feel great sympathy for her spiritual collapse and temptation not to trust God. It is all too familiar in my own life. Life for most of us is pitiful and full of sorrows. We go from a childhood innocent vulnerability with breathless expectations to isolated brokenness. The nearer we travel towards our bodily demise, we live shattered; our body in slow disintegration, relationships growing cold and distant, emotions and senses dulling. 
Death is the ultimate divider from our fellow humans, even our spirit from our body.

This is the great consequence of Momma Eve’s choice to distrust He who is Trustworthy. She discarded her sunlit, safe purity and wholeness to enclose herself in an icy deceptive veil of self-protection. It left her more vulnerable than she could ever imagine. Now the security of the Father’s love was breached by the slow building of the barrier of doubt. The triune unbreakable unity of faith, hope and love was held at a distance. Love no longer could flow unobstructed between Creator and beloved creation.

Distrust crept into the virginal innocence of planet earth, brought by the Father of Lies. And nothing could ever be the same. For love requires the unobstructed openness of total self-giving. When we distrust because of the fear of disappointment and heartbreak, love is hindered and unity destroyed. 
The odd circumstance arose that the sinner, Eve, mistrusted the innocent God. God had done nothing to hurt or disappoint Eve and yet she, without a basis for unfaithfulness in God, relinquished her own faith becoming the perpetrator. From the first woman in collusion with the first man came evil. And now man needed fences on his property, boundaries to his emotions and laws for himself and his neighbor. Suspicion arose, cynicism blocked out the warmth of even the memory of a innocent and safe world.
Rather than obliterate His creation, God, as the broken-hearted victim of betrayal, put into place the immortal mystery of restoration. Unfathomable to the weak and limited imagination of man,  the Eternal Sovereign chose the way in which He could ultimately persuade and assure the cosmos that He was a God of love, trustworthy as the authority and incorruptible in His justice as Lord. He did not choose to simply pardon man convincing him of his trustworthiness in only words. He could have sent the unfallen angels on a mission to evangelize the world. He could have played out the effects of sin on a magnificent hologram in order to convince us of His rational, honorable righteousness. 
These and innumerable more options, He in His wisdom did not choose. He chose to captivate His creation and triumph over sin by a supreme demonstration of sacrificial love. He spread out His arms in humble acceptance to be beaten, torn in hours of scourging and torture. He vulnerably submitted to the most humiliating death to repair the brokenness of His unfaithful humanity. His heart was consumed with joy amidst all the agony thinking of each one of us by name. He was wooing us back with His love restoring our faith in Him. And this is how He chose to show us that He is trustworthy. 
In our world today, we are told by our teachers (taught by our psychologists) that what we need to be mentally healthy is to have self-confidence. We need to develop strong and correct boundaries (which are necessary to some degree in this unsafe and fallen world.) Protect yourself, trust no one. Stay in the safety of independence and self-reliance.
Then our spiritual authorities often then tell us, who are hiding inside our emotional bulwark, that we should toss over these fortified walls the gospel of Christ. I call it the “drive by evangelization.”
There is little in the western worldview that teaches us to self-sacrifice for others. Yet, even in this dangerous world, God is showing us that true restoration begins when we take down these boundaries of mistrust in Him (and eventually even others). We are being led into a spirituality that demands unmitigated vulnerability, even when it means pain. It means a trusting submission to Him even when the outcome is disappointment and a crushing of your heart.
Christ knew that the only authentic solution to a breech in humanities’ trust and faith is through sacrificial love. But where I will go further than most Christians today is I am going to suggest that Christ’s Passion is not enough. Yes, for the atoning of all humanities sins, absolutely. What I mean is that in the Western world, glutted by evangelization and centuries of theological sparring, mankind is hungry for more than words and promises of “we’ll pray for you.” The sacrifice of the Cross seems irrelevant and remote to most people, they cannot relate to it. 
God has given people, little Christs, who can be the intercessors to lead people to grasp what happened the cross. We are called to be His Body to the world. Though we cannot atone for other’s sins through our loving sacrifices, our intercession can bring Christ’s sacrifice near and make it understandable.
Because of the absolute necessity of sacrificial love to restore the disunity of faith and trust in the Lord, the Bible alone is not sufficient for spreading the gospel. The Bible cannot sacrifice for them, but Christians can. Others will not be saved until they can experience the cross and often reading it in scriptures is too distant. We make the cross personal by our humble servanthood, by our sacrifice for them--our patient, caring, giving of ourselves, our time, our ear to listen, our involvement in their lives.
As wonderful as it is to hear about the gospel, we are not called just to speak it but to live it. That doesn’t mean we are supposed to look like the unspottable Christian and behave as an example to others. (Although that is not objectionable, Jesus calls us all to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.) But what this perfection looks like and acts like is not just about doctrine and altar calls and witnessing. It is humbly sharing in the joys and sorrows, it is breaking your will and desire, your plans, your life as Jesus was broken for us. Sacrificial love absorbs a verbal punch without retaliation. It gives the other what is good for them, even when it takes away what you need. It sacrifices. Christianity is in great need of eyes that see and ears that hear, not just from those who are dismally tired of being witnessed to, but from the Christian himself who needs to engage in surrendering and offering up oneself for the another. This will give the Cross its power.