Sunday, January 8, 2012

You Can't Get There From Here....

It started at a railway station outside London when we were recently traveling abroad. We had this amazing train pass that was supposed to let us travel all over for one low price. We wanted to go to Stonehenge (or something like that) and the man in the ticket booth looked up at us and said with a thick accent, "ya cahn't get theh from heyah..." Arthur and I looked at each other dumbfounded. What did that mean? We can't get to this hugely important historical monument from this city? It is impossible to achieve our transportation goals from this spot? What on earth? (We can hear so many of you remark."Yep, the give-up mentality of all those European socialists.")

From Britain to France to Austria to Italy we would occasionally get that reply. The phrase refused to register in our brains even after this concept was translated to American. It only meant that within the boundaries of that particular railway system, there is no direct route. You either have to change to a different rail system, make transfers on theirs or you would have to add walking, a bus, or auto to the plans.

I have been tempted to use that phrase when speaking to my Protestant friends when they accuse the Catholics of being idolators or rejecting scripture. I usually pause with my mouth gaping open and can't think of anyway of answering it in a short timeframe. And the fact is you really can't get there from here... because we do not use the same "rail system." Our basic understandings and ways of getting to the same place differ quite a bit and if we try as Catholics to use the Protestant systems of understanding Christianity, we find it extremely difficult to connect.

As Catholics we have to lay out some groundwork in order for our Protestant brothers to understand where we are. We cannot start out by answering their questions about Mary or the Inquisition or celibacy of the priesthood. We should just reply "you can't get there from here." There is no direct way of reaching understanding when you start in the middle of the story. You will never get to the fullness of truth when you debate or discuss theology on faulty premises. You have to begin with the premise of Catholicism and then go out from there.

So, what premises should we make clear before engaging? Unfortunately there are several and each take a tremendous amount of explanation. Catholicism, being 2000 years old, isn't good at soundbites. I think of Treebeard's quote in Lord of the Rings, "You must understand, young Hobbit, it takes a long time to say anything in Old Entish. And we never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say." That is pretty much Catholicism.

Because it is so complex to explain, often Protestants give up and say,"Shouldn't this be simple? Isn't the gospel simple?" To them I reply, if Japanese is your native tongue it seems simple to you, but when you try and teach it to someone speaking English, it can't be learned in a few minutes. Catholic to Protestant isn't quite that difficult, but at times it seems like it.

If a person, especially a Fundamentalist, really wants to understand Catholicism you will have to prove a few premises first before getting into specific theology.

SIDE NOTE: There is also another problem. Lots of Protestants will say they are interested in what you believe but really just want to open up discussion so they can correct you and bring you to their understanding of the gospel. When a Protestant asks questions, before saying a thing, ask them if they believe Catholicism was/ is/ or will be the Whore of Babylon. If they start carefully chiseling their words and break eye contact or admit they do, don't even waste your time getting into a discussion. If they honestly believe that the Catholic church is the Whore, then in their minds, the Catholic Church is unredeemable. Whatever logic, scriptures, history you bring up will be passed over. You and your church are untrustworthy and on the Devil's side. If you believe God wants you to try and convince them it isn't, that Catholicism is the Bride of Christ, bless your heart and peace be with you. Let me know if it works.

If however, you believe the person is truly desires and understanding of Catholicism start with these premises:


Catholics reject Sola Scriptura.

Catholics do not believe in an invisible Kingdom.

Our source of authority is not a book. For Catholics, our source of authority for salvation and living as a Christian is the Word of God. The Word of God is what proceedeth from the mouth of God and it is manifested threefold. The Word of God is breathed in oral form and when it is breathed it became:

One: Flesh--Christ, the Word. When salvation was accomplished on the Cross, Christ returned to heaven and left his New Covenant body on earth. We, Christians are His visible body, His visible kingdom on earth. The church, as His Body, has His authority to pass down, protect, and interpret what He taught them. The two means by which His Church protects what He told them is:

Two: Oral tradition and Three: Written tradition. The oral form came first, it is God-breathed and infallible, inerrant. Some of that was later recorded with small symbols on papyrus or vellum and became the written form of God's word. Both are equally important. God uses the same miracle to protect His truths in oral form as in written. There is no magic in those squiggly lines on paper. They are the Word written. The source is the miracle, not the book itself. God is inerrant and that inerrancy is recorded in scripture.

What God spoke is authoritative. Catholics do not pit the Apostles' written words against the words they spoke and never wrote down. They are both God's word. The Catholic church obeys all God's words. Catholics reject Sola Scriptura because Jesus never taught it, nor did His Apostles, disciples or their successors. The inerrant, infallible, God-breathed scriptures support Catholic teaching and they prove Catholic teaching.

God's Word was given to an organized, visible church.
The visible church preaches orally and having written down a portion of what they preached in gospels and letters, later compiled those writings, translated them into 120 different tongues in the first few centuries and continues to protect and disseminate them.

God bestowed this visible, organized church with the titles: The Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven. A major theme of the written word is the story of God's visible, organized people. Indeed, His New Covenant Kingdom is an intrinsic part of the gospel. For John came preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven!

And actually, there is no such thing as an invisible church. For if the church was invisible, there would be no Bible. Scripture was birthed from the New Covenant visible, organized church begun by the Messiah.

Jesus Christ commissioned His disciples and endowed them with His authority to bind and loose and preach the gospel. This God-authorized body of shepherds interpret scripture in unity with the Holy Spirit. Christ taught against private, individualistic interpretations of faith and morals.

The Catholic Premise is that we answer to God--all God's words. Because we are His Bride we would never contradict those we wrote in the Bible. Never.

Your Protestant friend will at this time want you to prove this to them in scripture. Explain to them that their insistence that it be in scripture would be comparable to telling Michelle Obama that she must prove all she knows of the president by pointing to the page and line written in his memoirs. That will sound ridiculous to a Catholic.

This clearly shows the problem with debating Catholicism. We don't use the same system and you can't get there from here. We cannot agree on the premise of Sola Scriptura or the premise of an invisible church or that God gave us the right to a private interpretation of faith and morals. Their only final source of all truth is what they personally believe the Holy Spirit is showing them in scripture. We teach what God taught us-- through tradition, which later was partially written down.

So it is futile to discuss or debate Catholicism with someone who doesn't believe your premise and it is wrong for us to argue upon their false premise. In general, the fullness of truth cannot be established upon a faulty premise. (Although, God can do miracles--so I won't say it can never happen!) Let the Protestant know gently that you are not trying to convince them, you are simply opening up a window into Catholic understanding, so there can be mutual respect.

If they are willing, for the sake of understanding their Catholic brothers and sisters (and God bless them if they are) to take our railway system to truth, then you can begin other important premises:

Covenantal Unity

The Kingdom of Heaven

After they understand the premise of our authority, we can show how the Bible does indeed point to the Catholic Church as the Kingdom of Heaven. Then you can begin taking them through scriptures showing how, when you see it through Catholic interpretation, it does indeed support Catholic teaching. Show them how God came to fulfill the Kingdom of Heaven through His promise to David and establish an actual kingdom--organized with leadership: apostles, teachers, etc. It is a unified visible body. It began as a seed with the Apostles and will continue forever. Then you can point to the story of how God gave the keys of this kingdom to Peter and how it was foretold by Isaiah in chapter 22. Get to know the story of your church so you can then explain it using scripture to a Protestant.

During all Catholic explanation of our interpretation, the Protestants will, naturally upon their premise, believe the Holy Spirit brought them to their particular understanding and they will think we are twisting scripture. All we can do at that point is agree to disagree. But if they are willing to listen (understanding the Catholic worldview that we receive truth via God through His Apostles and the Bible records that infallibly) then continue with other vital Catholic premises that differ from Protestants.

Covenantal Salvation

The model of salvation is family covenant, not simply a legal exchange. You are born again at baptism, you enter the family of God and you are indelibly marked as a child of God. You can chose to disregard your inheritance. When you run from the kingdom, you become like the prodigal son who is in need of returning to the father’s house. Catholics see the process of salvation as a family.

There is not a moment when you are saved just as there is not a moment you were perfect to your parents. You were seen as perfect when you were born, then as a three-year-old, you became more perfect when you came home and showed your parents your first crayola picture. You are perfect, becoming perfect and will be perfect as you grown and mature and make mistakes and see the mistakes and feel sorry for them and repent. You never loose your status as children under any circumstance. But if you leave your family forever, you will not get your inheritance. God will not disinherit you, you choose to be disinherited. That is your choice.

The Body of Christ

Catholics see no difference between the church and Christ, they are one! What Christ does, His church does. They are one body therefore what Christ did, the Church did. The Catholic Church makes no distinction between Him and itself. When Christ said He is the way, the truth and the light, the Catholic Church believes that because they are His physical body on earth, one with Him, that they are the way, the truth and the light. If no one can come to the Father but through Him, the church teaches that no one can come to the Father but through His Body! We are one and God's true body on earth. Discover all the Biblical texts that support this and know them. They are dozens of Catholic apologetic websites that can help you.

(Side Note: Now I know I opened a can of worms here, because the Catholic Church does pass on the Apostolic teaching that one can be saved who never belonged to the Catholic Church.... we'll deal with that another time.)

Because we are God's body on earth, we have been given the responsibility of spreading to the world the means of salvation. The Catholic church believes God gave them the keys to heaven. But not to hell. Because we believe God is sovereign, we never pronounce someone soul is in hell, no matter who they are. God judges mercifully. Though Christ gives us a sure way to spend eternity with Him and the church tells the world what that is, God is never bound to any laws He creates for man. God saves. It is not formulaic.

The church is not individualistic but communal. As the Trinity is communal, so every thing from marriage, family, community, church, heaven and earth are communal in nature--not isolating. The structure of salvation is communal. We are saved with the help of others. And no sin is personal and no good deed is personal. All we do affects the church. We are all intertwined. It is extremely difficult for Americans to understand this....

Matter is Good

The World is good. Never did God reverse that pronouncement even when He cursed the ground. God’s creation is and always has been good! And it was even made better when Christ took upon Himself the curse and lifted it through His suffering, death and resurrection. Therefore all the material world is good. Go hug a tree... take a picture of a sunset and put it on your wall. Catholics worship the Creator using His creation. After all, God used His creation by becoming matter in order to save us. So it is naturally that we would use matter to worship Him. Rites, rituals, relics--these all use the material to teach us of God and to help us reach perfection.

The Bride of Christ

The Enlightenment worldview dictates that we be the measure of all things. This right-to-judge theology employs a personal conscience-based interpretation of scripture. Catholics premise differs in that it teaches the fullness of truth is not placed directly into man via the Bible and the Holy Spirit. The Catholic church teaches that we humans must be taught. The fullness of truth is given to His Holy Bride to disseminate.

God's Sufficiency, not Biblical Sufficiency

The Holy Spirit (promised to the church) enlightens the mind and heart of the hearer--through the Bible, through His Bride and through nature. The Holy Spirit is sufficient to use anything to reach a person for Christ. The Bible alone isn't sufficient, neither is the church, neither is nature. But all is sufficient when used by the Holy Spirit for our salvation! And the Holy Spirit has chosen the Bride to bring the fullness of truth to the world.

Mysteries of Faith

The mysteries of God are so deep that often a person must receive the Eucharist for years before his mind can comprehend some doctrines. There is no room for judging others. The mysteries of God are revealed by the Holy Spirit and prideful ideas such as "an understanding of Christian history will automatically make you a Catholic" or Protestants who claim their interpretation is "the plain reading of scripture" is not being charitable. No matter how brilliant your education, nor how high your IQ, nor the numerous times you have read the Bible, you cannot understand scripture unless you are taught by the Holy Spirit. God uses nature, the Holy Written Word, Tradition, people, numerous ways of teaching us. Be careful of judging others who do not understand. And if someone isn't getting "it" as quickly as you think they should...humble yourself and remember that understanding is a gift of grace.... not intelligence.

For the Catholics, the primary and greater reality combines both the physical and the spiritual. The realities of the Trinity are mirrored in marriage, the real is the Trinity and the symbol in flesh is marriage. Marriage isn’t an afterthought that God decided "this looks a lot like what I am trying to express, I think I will use the marriage relationship to explain to humans about the Trinity." No, marriage was foreordained and created for the very purpose of understanding the Trinity and the relationship between God and man. Again, food was not created merely for sustenance but we were made to be hungry and thirsty, filled and satisfied, to point to the better reality found in hungering and thirsting after righteousness and satisfaction in Christ. Our bodies were created for the Eucharist.

The world will look at Catholicism and think it is contradictory: How can you claim to be based upon reason and fully embrace the world of science and also accept the supernatural? How can you claim your salvation to be totally based in God's sovereignty and grace, and still accept free will and the merits of our works.... Ahh!! God is very clever and does indeed do these things and more.

(One of the most amazing things about being Catholic is that you always have the saints to follow! Pride cannot enter into your mind--you cannot think you know anything at all when you study the giants of the Catholic church. It humbles even the most scholarly of Catholics. When one can bi-locate then they can claim to be spiritual! Read St. Augustine, St. John of the Cross, St. Anselm, go live like Mother Teresa. Yeah, we have a lot to learn!)

That is more than enough to keep you busy for months just explaining the premises of Catholic thought. But once they understand, explaining more specific dogmas, doctrines and discipline will more easily flow. For example we can tie the Marian dogmas to the Queen Mother of the Davidic Kingdom. Communal faith, indulgences, penance all flow from the idea of the unity of the kingdom.

Most Protestants will draw their theological sword and expect you prove each point to them from scripture alone even after you explain that God did not require everything to be written. But be very patient and let them know each time that they are arguing upon a different system of thought than Catholics and we don't look to the Bible to provide all the answers.

Truly, have courage when you speak as a Catholic. In the end, even though it is not our sole authority, the Bible comes to life and reaches down deeply into the heart and soul when you understand it from a Catholic perspective. After all, it should, it is her own story. And once you understand these premises all the rest will become understandable--you will be able to "get there from here!"

1 comment:

Charissa said...

Ooooooh, this is a good post! I missed it because you wrote it on my birthday :) I think I had too many happy birthday posts on my wall, so I didn't see the good stuff!