Monday, December 2, 2013

Is The Reformation Over

I wrote this as a guest entry for Zach Hunt's The American Jesus Blog.  I was not selected :( but Zach I am sure had a tremendous amount of entries and was gracious enough to write me a thank you email for my submission. 

So it goes on my blog :)

We recently celebrated the informal holiday of “Reformation Day” on October 31st .  That day when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the church door and sparked the Protestant Reformation.  As an Evangelical I always recalled this day as a sort of day that my faith tradition took back the Christian Faith from the oppressive Roman overseers.  Not knowing much of details, not ever reading the thesis, and not ever questioning why I was not Lutheran or Catholic or anything else, I carried on my life with no real knowledge of what happened in Germany in the 1500’s.  I don’t think I was alone in that area as a layperson in Evangelical America.  What was the Reformation? And more importantly why are Protestant’s “protesting” the Roman Catholic Church today? 

If the goal of the Reformation was to “reform” the Catholic Church, what teachings of the church were in need of Reforming and are those things still at issue today? When we look at some of the 95 theses, I have to wonder if I really understand what was happening back in 1517 in a very different time and place.
Things that perhaps seem so foreign to American Protestants such as:
6.     The pope himself cannot remit guilt, but only declare and confirm that it has been remitted by God; or, at most, he can remit it in cases reserved to his discretion. Except for these cases, the guilt remains untouched.
7.     God never remits guilt to anyone without, at the same time, making him humbly submissive to the priest, His representative.
17.  Of a truth, the pains of souls in purgatory ought to be abated, and charity ought to be proportionately increased.
18.  Moreover, it does not seem proved, on any grounds of reason or Scripture, that these souls are outside the state of merit, or unable to grow in grace.
27.  The pope does excellently when he grants remission to the souls in purgatory on account of intercessions made on their behalf, and not by the power of the keys (which he cannot exercise for them).
And far more of which I find the Catholic Theology today to be in resounding agreement. As I look at Protestant and Catholic relations, I often wonder if modern Protestantism has thrown out the baby with the bathwater on some issues. Perhaps losing grasp with things like liturgy and sacrament in exchange for the rationality and logic forming minds cultivated by a purely scriptural identity with the Christian Faith.  At the same time, wondering if the Catholic Faith has deepened division, by dismissing Protestant objections and beliefs.
Although, the Reformation is far too complicated to be fully addressed in 1000 words here and now, I think this is a serious question that is important in putting aside many differences that have accumulated since the Reformation.  Atrocities on both sides have led to misunderstandings, mischaracterizations, and plain bigotry in some cases.  As the Protestant Churches moved from the Reformation the fact that this was perhaps not so much a reformation as a schism and reinvention have become much more clearer.

Perhaps it is time to reread the 95 theses, and read what Luther’s original discussion points were, and put ourselves in that time and place and ask ourselves, “Does the Roman Catholic Church still have issues regarding these?”  If not, I would have to ask  the question, “Would Luther have felt the need to write these thesis if he were a priest today and was witness of the Catholic Church today?”

I believe that answer is no. That if Martin Luther was a priest in the Catholic Church today, he would not feel the need to break from the church as he did before. Perhaps the same could be said for Calvin if he had been removed from the confusing blending of Church and State of that time.  Although we can never go back to that seemingly innocent moment in 1517, we can evaluate our theology, our history, our commonality, and ourselves and work on placing aside differences in our traditions that hinder, while seeking unity.  Both Sects of Christianity have much to learn from each other.  For example, Protestants can learn much from formulating a Christian history that is just as full and flourishing before the 16th century as after, and Catholics could learn much from Protestants in taking their beliefs to a more relational and personal level.  In returning to the basics, examining our histories, and acknowledging our mistakes, perhaps we can bring healing to a very fractured past. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Church Fathers were Catholic - On Authority

I have touched on the issue of authority in a couple previous posts.  I am going to try and do a new segment called "The Church Fathers were Catholic" in which I examine the church fathers on issues such as a"authority", Eucharist, Confession, and Baptism, among potentially others.  For now I will attempt to start with the issue of authority.  This is a very significant issue, and one that underlines every other issue.

The Bottom Line is this:  Does the authority lie in Christ and his church or on you the individual?  This is what I will examine.

As an evangelical, I was taught that the Bible was our Sole Authority.  This always frankly bothered me.  How was the Bible Alone the Sole Authority?  There are so many interpretations of the Bible! So which interpretation is correct?  Just ask anyone and they will tell you that THEIR interpretation is correct or at least that is what they think.  Others may say, and with some merit, that the "majority opinion" is what is true.  As such they may agree that Jesus is God and Believe in the Trinity and perhaps a few other doctrines (Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura perhaps) and then the rest is put up as the "non-essentials".  Unfortunately, it is these "non-essentials" that divides families, communities, and churches.  The evidence of what these "non essentials" mean is in the destruction left in their path, surely they are truly part of "the essentials".

To emphasize the point of the necessity of an interpreter of the scripture I will use a simple example, and a personal one.

How is the Bible and what it says implemented in our lives? And how, more specifically, is it used to settle very real disputes between the faithful?

 What is Christian marriage? What are the roles of the spouses? What is love? Do you need to "hate your family" in order to follow Christ? Can you have a family and follow Christ? When one spouse is taught something contrary to what was always taught growing up, and what "the majority" of the Christians around us thought, then how do we handle this?  Imagine a scenario in which questions like this arose. Imagine the amount of friction and pain can confusion that comes with such questions.  Imagine both parties of the marriage believing strongly in their interpretation of scripture regarding this. Now this couple decides to get help resolving this and despite appealing to friends and family and Church, at the end of the day there were two opinions on what the Bible said.  Both sides argued from scripture and both sides held their opinion as to what the apostolic author intended.

How is one to determine the better opinion? Or more clearly, how is one to determine which opinion, if any, is the Truth of Christ?

One may say common sense, or majority rules,  which is fine for a theological forum, but not in the intimate realities of an individuals life! It could easily be argued with merit that, Jesus did not do what was popular, and "narrow is the road and few find it".

These are very good points against the idea of "majority rules". On top of that it is not a Biblical idea.  It is not how things were settled in Acts 15 at the council of Jerusalem, and throughout church history, heresies were condemned despite their popularity.

Whenever speaking of settling disputes and church authority, I find it is imperative to look at Matthew 18 where Jesus tells us exactly what to do regarding this issue;

15 If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

We should have been able to confront each other on Christian teaching regarding marriage, or any other "non-essential" then if necessary go to a couple friends or pastors, and finally go to the church and have the church tell us what is true and what is not.  

This brings up the great question of which church? 

Naturally, when one party refuses to trust a specific church, then anything that church says is moot, and there are no consequences.  you just go and attend a church that you do agree with.  The dispute in my example was UNABLE to be settled by the church I attended, because it lacked the authority to settle the dispute.  They lack the authority to say "thus sayeth God" leaving that authority to the individual and their personal relationship with God. Further, if this was a non-essential, something not regarding salvation, the church was satisfied to allow you to find a church more in line with your beliefs.

 How is this not truth relativity?

Prior to finding the Catholic Church, and as a result of this issue, I thought the only way to settle this dispute is going to be to find what was historically taught about these verses.  What did the early Christians believe about marriage and what did they teach.  What I found led me directly to the Catholic Church.  

I will argue that the only church that has the ability to effectively manage disputes according to Matt 18, is an apostolic church and specifically the Catholic Church. 

At this point I can talk about what the Bible says about church authority, I can point to Peter receiving the keys of the kingdom in Matt 16:18, I can point to the Apostles being given the power to forgive sins in John 20, I can point to this being implemented through Paul's letters of correction to different churches, and I can point to a clear implementation of church Authority in Acts 1 when Matthias is appointed and Acts 15 when the issue of how to treat circumcision is declared. 

I am not going to go through all of that in detail, because it can be found widespread over the internet and in textbooks.  The arguments have been made and made well, and yet there is still dispute over if the verses are interpreted properly.  If it doesn't line up with your tradition it is imperative to find away around it or else risk the fall of your tradition. And that is exactly what occurs. 

So, I will focus more on the church fathers.  These are people that often knew the Apostles or lived right after them, people that lived before the Council of Nicea that most Christians accept as authoritative, and people who give good witness to how the Christian Faith should be practiced. 

Jesus tells us in John 14:26

"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.

He prays that 

"The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; John 17:22

and he tells us that 

 on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[c] will not overcome it. Matt 16:18

If we are to believe Jesus, and believe that he knew what he said and said what he meant, then we must believe that he will guide his church with the Holy Spirit, desire unity of his church rather than division, and that evil will not overcome his church.  

This should bring serious question to anyone who does not belong to a church that traces its origins to the Apostolic period.  I will not deny that Christ can and does still work in many of these churches, but that does not mean it is the church he founded and the church that properly cares for the Truth given once and for all to the saints. 

I will dive more into the Church Fathers in my next post, teased by the following quote;

See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.
St. Ignatius of Antioch - 107 AD

Friday, May 10, 2013

Protestant Relativism and the Problem with Authority

I found this blog post very interesting, and the discussion that ensued with another blog follower even more interesting. Ultimately it was a great discussion highlighting the differences between most protestant positions on authority, or perhaps the lack of authority.  Here is the Blog

Evangelicalism And The Problem Of Orthodoxy

And below I will cut and paste my discussion front he comments.

Jon  a day ago
I really enjoy your blog Zach, especially posts like this that resonate closely with me as to why I left the evangelical tradition.
I am really curious, with your knowledge of the reformation and church history, what is holding you back from becoming Orthodox/Catholic?
For me, once I saw the historical truth of Christianity and saw that the early church believed things like infant baptism, the real presence in the Eucharist, the authority of bishops/Magesterium etc... And this same church under the Holy Spirit canonized the New Testament, I had a hard time saying God left that tradition at some point and an even harder time justifying why I did not have the same traditions as the first century church. 

Bob M  Jon  20 hours ago
This is the other danger with not understanding church history: Idealizing the past. Just because the church once thought a certain way does not mean we should forever think that way. The history of mankind is the story of God constantly refining our understanding and practice, and that refining process is not over. That's not to say that there isn't value in traditions but we shouldn't treat them as better just because they're older, either.

Jon  Bob M  19 hours ago
With all due respect, I could not disagree more. Of course if you simply mean non revealed traditions, like wearing sandals verses shoes, or meeting in catacombs rather than churches then, sure those can change and do change. However, Revealed truth from God does not change. Our understanding of it may grow over time, but the fundamental truth deposited by God in the NT, and through Christ and the Apostles is the only truth.
During the Old Testament times, God was constantly revealing bits of the truth through his prophets and people. Then the fullness of God's truth was delivered through Christ and the Apostles. The Bible makes it clear that Divine Revelation ceased with the death of the last Apostle. Of course their are pseudo christian groups that deny this (i.e.: Mormons), but Evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox, and most Protestants, affirm this fact. Because of this, we must accept teachings on foundational parts of the Christian Faith as they were presented to us by the Apostles. The Apostles taught an essential doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration, an essential doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Authority of the Church, etc... Much of this is found in the NT, and further readings of the earliest church fathers (those that learned directly from the Apostles) further confirm.
I suppose if you want to say that Luther, Calvin, Zuigli, etc..., received Divine Revelation from God and were prophets, then you would have authority for your position, otherwise, they simply replaced God's revealed truth with their own.
Zach makes a great point on the number of denominations today, there are so many, that you can find which ever one floats your boat. This makes Matt 18 pointless regarding handling disputes, you know, first you confront your brother, than you meet with others, than you take it to the church. This worked great when there was 1 authoritative church (and still works great for Catholics), but this is how all those denominations were created. When someone disagreed with the church, then they just created their own, or found one that did agree with their position. This makes truth relative to the individual, which is a false position. There is one truth revealed by God, and it is our duty to follow that truth not out own.

Bob M  Jon  3 hours ago
"The Bible makes it clear that Divine Revelation ceased with the death of the last Apostle."
Where exactly does the Bible make this clear?

Jon  Bob M  2 hours ago
The New Covenant, sealed by the blood of Christ is eternal. He died, resurrected, ascended into heaven and will come back to judge the living and the dead. The correct attitude of a Christilan is to accept this revelation and live it while expecting the end times. If there were to be a new revelation, it would be in addition to and outside the eternal covenant... outside of Christ.
Here's how Dei Verbum, the scripture document from the Council, states it: 4. Then, after speaking in many and varied ways through the prophets, "now at last in these days God has spoken to us in His Son" (Heb. 1:1-2). For He sent His Son, the eternal Word, who enlightens all men, so that He might dwell among men and tell them of the innermost being of God (see John 1:1-18). Jesus Christ, therefore, the Word made flesh, was sent as "a man to men." (3) He "speaks the words of God" (John 3;34), and completes the work of salvation which His Father gave Him to do (see John 5:36; John 17:4). To see Jesus is to see His Father (John 14:9). For this reason Jesus perfected revelation by fulfilling it through his whole work of making Himself present and manifesting Himself: through His words and deeds, His signs and wonders, but especially through His death and glorious resurrection from the dead and final sending of the Spirit of truth. Moreover He confirmed with divine testimony what revelation proclaimed, that God is with us to free us from the darkness of sin and death, and to raise us up to life eternal.
The Christian dispensation, therefore, as the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away and we now await no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Tim. 6:14 and Tit. 2:13)

Jon  Bob M  2 hours ago
The following verses seem to indicate that the Christian faith was delivered complete, once and for all, to the saints of the first-century Church, that Christians are to hold to those ancient apostolic traditions, taught by word of mouth or by letter, and that Christians are to reject any new teachings that are contrary to those ancient apostolic traditions.
3Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 1:3)
15So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter. (2 Thessalonians 2:15)
6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel-- 7not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9

Bob M  Jon  44 minutes ago
1) None of these verses indicate that revelation has ceased, only that, only that further revelation may not contradict scripture itself. I believe the Bible itself to be Divine Revelation of a unique type. However...
2) You seem to be equating the ancient apostolic traditions with the canon of scripture itself. I believe this is misguided, although from your worldview I understand your position. Having had many conversations with a Russian Orthodox priest, I know the logic. However...
3) There is a difference between scripture and the church's historical interpretation of scripture. I do not hold the interpretations of Dei Verbum to be of equal weight to scripture itself.

Jon  Bob M  19 minutes ago
Well, a couple of thoughts,
1) The Bible, particularly the New Testament Canon is a Tradition.
2) Your position that there is a difference between scripture and the churches historical interpretation of scripture is understandable but mistaken. You see, the New Testament is a tiny piece of the entirety of what the Apostles taught. It is the core, and the foundation of beliefs and faith. However, Jesus and the Apostles taught so much more than what is written, as the verses I shared state. We must look at scripture coupled with the teachings of Christ and the Apostles. John 20:30-31 " Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."
Are we to believe these things were unimportant? Or are we to understand, especially in those times (paper a luxury and writing tedious), that there was a lot of clarifying dialogue preached to Christians by the Apostles?
I must say, I find your position understandable in our culture. It is this attitude of relativism and finding your own truth that permeates our culture today. This is how people find justification for abortion and homosexual marriage and a host of other issues within the pages of scripture. This is also how people like Joseph Smith were able to create their own religion.
I suppose you would say, that since God is still revealing his truth to us, we can never know who holds it other than our individual self. After all, you would have no authority to say my interpretation is wrong and yours is right, nor anyone else's for that matter. Maybe the truth is held with the mormons, pentecostals, methodists, evangelicals, SDA, Jehovah's witnesses, evangelicals, or dare I say even cult groups like the Branch Davidians. How are we to know anything for certain with your point of view???
I suppose at this point you would say, "well if its contrary to scripture then that group does not hold the truth". However, your position sets you up for failure as you cannot approach the historical teachings of the church to settle your dispute and the groups that differ from you go to the same pages of the Bible to justify their positions. Hmm if only there was a magesterium and historical writings from the early church that we could go to for clarification of what Christ and the Apostles were really teaching!!! Oh Wait there is!!!

I will keep you apprised of any future responses!