Sunday, February 12, 2012

Contraception and Church Epistemology

Ephesians One:
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth. 
In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit....
...that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened... 
And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church,  which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (vs.7-11, 13, 17, 22) 
Summation: Christ lavished upon His Body, the Church, His wisdom to unite all things. 
Within this first chapter of Ephesians, the great epistemological question is answered for all and for eternity. He has made known to us the mysteries of wisdom and salvation and knowledge and enlightenment and gave these things to His Body, the church.

Upon this rests the infrastructure, the first cause, the heart and core of how Catholics and Protestants differ in their thinking. Catholics have always read Ephesians one (and all of the New Testament) in the context of the church being visible, organized--one that is catholic and apostolic.(1)

 For Protestants this concept of a visible church organization, started by Christ that continues to today, is alien and utterly rejected. The body is an invisible group of believers.

I offer this post, not to convince or proselytize, but to clearly contrast the understanding of Catholic and Protestant world views. The way we imbibe the truths of Ephesians one will point out the differences in how Protestants and Catholics experience God. For the very way we experience God and Truth differ. For both of us it is richly multifaceted.

How We Experience God
Protestant(2) Perceptions: 
The Holy Spirit draws us to God through the beauties and complexities of nature, through other Christians in socialization and corporate worship, through divine instruction of scripture and through prayer. For Protestants the most intimate and immediate of spiritual connections with Christ for is through a direct relationship in prayer. The physical link for a Christian to Christ is a book, the Bible. It is the historical “paper trail,” the object, the evidence, the substance that attaches a reader to the author (God). 
Catholic Perceptions:
Catholics would not diminish the Protestant way of experiencing God but add to it a new dimension with the sacraments. Catholics most intimate spiritual connection with Christ is directly partaking in His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist (Communion Service) as well as in prayer. The Church itself is the physical link that attaches a Christian to Christ. The Word of God in Flesh instructed the Apostles who transmitted His teachings to their successors by speaking and writing. Both are infallible records of the Truth. Catholics “paper trail,” the object and evidence that attaches the believer to the source is the Catholic Church itself (The Bible being an important part of her paper trail).
Catholic rites, rituals and prayers unify us with ancient worship. Through the Liturgy, we feel the blood of the early church coursing through our veins.
How we experience Truth
The Holy Spirit guides the Christian in interpreting scripture and in gleaning from the trusted sources of Christian scholarship. The fullness of truth is entrusted to the believer’s conscience convicting him of good and evil. 

The Holy Spirit guides His Bride in interpreting scripture and teaching the fullness of truth. The conscience must be formed by God’s Word passed down by the Apostles through the Catholic Church.
For the Protestant, this means of transmittal of truth is invisible, for the Catholic, visible. Analogies might include that Truth is received for the Protestant more like Wifi, the Catholics firewire. For the less computer savvy, Protestants use cellphones while Catholics use land lines or perhaps Protestants use Star Trek transport beams while Catholics use train tracks.

Here’s a better, but more extensive metaphor:

Protestants see themselves as little tributaries being fed by the rain from heaven. Coming together they create a great river bringing Truth to the world. Catholics see the great Truth river as the Catholic Church fed by God’s rain. They are the trees planted by it, absorbing its waters and producing fruit. Truth is received by drinking.

Does that mean the Catholic church thinks unless you drink from her river you have no truth? Absolutely not. The rain of truth falls on the just and the unjust. It is freely given to all and you can find truth in pagan cultures, in atheists, world religions and everywhere. But the fullness of truth is not in a droplet or pond. God gave the river of truth to the Catholic Church. 
Protestants, of course, protested that claim, hence their name. Having been a Protestant the vast majority of my life, I can see how that claim comes across arrogant and totalitarian. I will not attempt an apologetic here, rather I think it necessary for both sides to understand each other and their way of getting to God and His truth.
To understand Catholics you need to see where they find the source of Truth. They see the fullness of Truth not directly implanted into our hearts and minds (via Holy Spirit inspired Bible study) as individuals, but given to the Apostles to hand down, infallible, pure and unadulterated within the structure of a visible organized church.

For unity sake, the Catholics would say that though Christians have the Holy Spirit bringing us truth, God never promised that each would have all, the entirety, of truth. Rather believers have a piece of the puzzle and only together as a Body of Christ will the whole be seen perfectly. That limitation is supposed to brings humility and harmony. 
So, let’s step out of philosophical worldviews and into a current tangible example of what I am describing.
Most Protestants interpret scripture in a way that does not oppose contraceptives, so their consciences are not violated by using them. They would also dismiss as dictatorial a church attempting to impose such a view. 
The Catholic Church can point to certain passages in scripture that reinforce what they teach, however, the Bible is not the source of their knowledge, but its proof. They received the information verbally by Christ, their Head and Groom. It was transmitted to the church by the Apostles and some of what they learned was put in inerrant, God-breathed written form--the New Testament.
Catholics claim that Christ instructed His Apostles that contraception is a grave moral sin and they are obligated to pass on that information. Catholics do not invent or formulate their dogmas, they believe they received it and then are required by God to pass it on. Catholic dogmas and doctrines are not their opinions and can never be changed by a pope, a magisterium, by democratic vote, etc. When people tell the church it needs to update its doctrines, they do not understand Catholic thought. The doctrines were never theirs, they were commissioned only to preserve them and teach them, they can’t change them.
When a new problems such as cloning and in vitro fertilization arise about which Christ didn’t specifically teach, the church doesn’t take an opinion poll, it doesn’t take the pulse of the cultural norms, they don’t even ask the pope and let him decide. When the Catholic Church today makes disciplinary statements they convene the magisterium who then do mountains of research in the church archives learning what all the church fathers passed down in order to follow the spirit of the written and oral Word of God.

The Catholic Church recognizes that no personal interpretation of scriptures is infallible, so the church studies the situation in the context of what the 2,000 years of inspiration and call upon the promise the Lord made to His church, that the gates of hell cannot prevail against her and that whatsoever she binds will be bound in heaven, and then the magisterium follows the Holy Spirit’s guidance in teaching about faith and morals. 
Protestants will of course disagree, but this is what Catholics truly believe and teach. 
The Catholic Church believes that Christ gave Truth to His Bride to unify and not divide. Wisdom and insight was lavished upon us “making known to us the mystery of His will.” That in the fullness of time He gave the church, “which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Eph. 1)
In today’s climate, it is important for the government and Protestants to understand how the Catholic Church thinks, that we might have a better understanding and respect for each other.
1. Which would include the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
2. It would be impossible to describe each Protestant denomination's beliefs, so this is a general statement.

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