Sunday, December 30, 2007

CRC + RCA = ?

Rev. Bob De Moor, an editor of the Christian Reformed Church's magazine, The Banner, gave a wish list of things he hopes the Lord will do with that denomination over its next 150 years (Now What?, November, 2007). This was done on the occasion of the celebration of the denomination's first 150 years.

Before he gave his list, Rev. De Moor stated, "One safe guess is that the CRC will be as different from what we are now as we are from those original five churches that started us off a century-and-a-half ago. In a changing world, that’s as it should be. (emphasis added)"

This conclusory statement seems to rest on the presumption that the Church, or perhaps just particular faddish denominations of the Church Invisible, ought to change with the times. I would risk reading too much into his statement if I started talking about the birth control pill, gay marriage, or pop theology, so I won't.

One wish in particular was noteworthy for this, my blog on ecumenicity, namely that the CRC of AD 2157 will "have merged back with the Reformed Church in America, from whom we should never have broken away in the first place". This statement drew fire from Adrian Van Geest in the January, 2008 edition of The Banner (Merging Back with the RCA).

After noting several serious obstacles to reunion, she ends her criticism with a powerful one-two:
"I’m not sure how much leadership on exploring these issues with the RCA we can expect from the Banner editor in light of his belief that we should never have broken away from the RCA in the first place. That, incidentally, raises the question of how much we should have celebrated the CRC’s 150th birthday. Perhaps we should have mourned 150 years of schism instead.

"But where would we have been had there not been a CRC these 150 years? Where would a never-separated Reformed Church have been today? I doubt if that would have been a more orthodox church. And would undoing this split make us increasingly more bland—which I believe we have become too much already? Are we content to settle for a lower common denominator to make it work? (emphasis added)"

The perhaps-unintended pun about church denominations and lowest common denominators is catchy. That aside, her question that I have embolded is an excellent one. I might reach the opposite conclusion.

I've often wondered where the liberal PCUSA would be if the Southern Presbyterians and other forebears of the evangelical PCA had never left it. My personal opinion is that where strict adherents to a principle leave the less strict, the principle collapses. And with Protestantism, it always seems to be the strict that leave, for the sake of "purity". This seems to be a derogation of Christ's High Priestly Prayer on unity (cf. John 17). Perhaps for the sake of purity of the Gospel, the CRC left a generation of RCA'ers bereft of their "right" anchor. This broken body, subsiding mostly in centrists and a "left" anchor, did just what one might expect. I prefer unity.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Man's Chief End

Question and Answer One of the Westminster Shorter Catechism states that man's "chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever".

I came across what I believe to be the Roman Catholic answer to the same question (i.e., "What is the chief end of man?"). Man "alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God's own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity" (Catholic Catechism, 356).

The difference between these two is interesting. The Calvinist sees man as existing for God's glorification and man's enjoyment of Him. The Catholic sees man as existing to share in God's life. It seems straightforward that this difference follows from the respective positions Calvinists and Catholics hold on man's free will. The Calvinist admires God's monergistically sovereign decree to salvation and reprobation, and feels thankful for happening to be in the former camp (of salvation). The Catholic sees an ongoing call to cooperation with and love of God.

The Catholic Catechism notes that "sin is an abuse of the freedom that God gives to created persons so that they are capable of loving him" (ibid., 387). I find this idea that there can be no love when there is no freedom simple and persuasive. If this idea and the Catholic view of the chief end of man are right, then of course man has free will.

If God's glorification requires receiving love from His (predestinated) elect creatures, and if there can be no love without freedom, then the Shorter Catechism's First Q&A is at loggerheads with Calvinism's double-election teaching. In other words, if His glory requires love, and love requires freedom, then our living out this Great Predestinated Drama will fail to meet our chief end.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Palmetto Stater

To read about a South Carolina main-stream Protestant lawyer pondering the claims of Catholicism, who happens to identify himself as a liberal (and who loves hiking!), see here. His blog makes for an excellent read so far - I went cover to cover.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Descended Into Hell

Awhile back I noted the early 20th century work of Arthur McGiffert, "The Apostles' Creed: Its Origin, Its Purpose, and Its Historical Interpretation" (1902), available from Google Books. That earlier post discussed whether or not current Protestant uses of the Apostles' Creed match the "original intent" of the church that created it. To repeat the words of a Creed, but not its substance, is to fail to subscribe to that Creed.

The Apostles' Creed tells us that Christ "descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead."

The Reformed circle teaches that Christ went to hell to suffer the torment of damnation on our behalf, in order to be a sufficient substitutionary atoning sacrifice. Calvin taught this, particularly noting that, "If Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual (Institutes, Book II, Ch. 16, Sect. 10)" and later, "surely, unless his soul shared in the punishment, he would have been the Redeemer of bodies alone. (ibid., Sect. 12)" These Reformed teachings are deeply woven together with the notion of Christ's substitutionary atonement, His standing "accused before God's judgment seat for our sake." At any rate, this has been my life-long understanding.

So I was none too surprised to learn from McGiffert that "The idea that Christ went down to suffer the torments of the damned in order to complete thereby his expiatory work arose first in the middle ages. (196, emphasis added)" I learned here that a 3rd Century Syrian Creed teaches that Jesus "departed in peace, in order to preach to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the saints concerning the end of the world and the resurrection of the dead." McGiffert notes several early theories of what Christ did upon His descent to Hades, none of which match Calvin's theory.

Theologians of my Reformed circle criticize many Orthodox and Catholic doctrines as inventions of the Middle Ages. But Calvin's view, that Christ descended into the Hell of the damned to be a substitutionary atonement because his physical death and resurrection were insufficient to redeem His people, came from the Middle Ages. Perhaps, on a more philosophical level, this stemmed from Calvin's separation of spirit and matter. One could say that if the earlier teaching were correct, Calvin's could be a big enough theological change to merit the title "heresy", no?

On Continuity Of Principles

The entire second half (aka "Part II") of John Henry Newman's An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine is devoted to distinguishing between doctrinal Developments and Corruptions. This follows Part I, which readily established that Christians believe in a multitude of 'developed' doctrines. To make the development/corruption distinction, Newman creates seven "Notes", and spends the second half of the book giving them flesh. His second Note, that "There is no corruption if it retains... the same principles," I find profound.

Principles lie deep in an entity's psyche. They are it's First Things, and make for a better test of heresy than does doctrine. "The life of doctrines may be said to consist in the law or principle which they embody. (Ch. V, Sec. 2(1))" Unlike doctrines, which are concrete and specific, and which grow over time, principles are abstract and permanent.

This section of Newman's may seem largely academic, but I wonder if it contains a new way of articulating that which divides Western Christianity (new for me, that is). A Protestant and a Catholic will have one heck of a time trying to discuss the doctrine of papal infallibility, for instance, as they do not agree in principle. The conversation is fruitless until it turns to debate principles.

The same can said of intra-Protestant discource, for that matter. A major principle of my Reformed denomination is "Covenant", with many doctrines flowing therefrom. To stay "Reformed", varied developments are allowed, so long as the Principle of "Covenant" remains intact. Some Baptists accept and others reject Calvinism, all while remaining Baptist, because their unifying principle is credo-baptism.

Consider what makes one "Evangelical". With the swelling of liberalism within mainline denominations, those who did not abandon faith in the Gospel became united. The doctrines of baptism, predestination, and continuing revelation fell as secondary doctrinal victims to the great principle of faith in the Bible's truth. Some will even extend this titular courtesy to Roman Catholics! It became our defining feature.

For proper Ecumenicity, does it not seem fair to say that we must articulate the underlying principles of our beliefs before we can challenge one another on our doctrines and their development?

[UPDATE: See here for a term paper written by blogger Danny Garland Jr. (of Franciscan University of Steubenville) applying Newman's seven Notes to the doctrine of Papal Infallibility.]

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Unauthorized Edition?

Two Christians were recently discussing the Church. One said to the other, "I don't understand how you can be comfortable remaining within Protestantism." The other said, "You've been in my shoes. What's so hard to understand?" And the first said, "When I was in your shoes, there were two questions to which I had never given thought. Once I did, and as I've found no satisfying answers, I am unable to go back."

Q1. What authority gave the rule that the Bible is the sole source of Authority for God's Church?

Q2. What authority defined the Bible's canon as containing these 66 particular books?

[I variously considered these questions in these two posts: here and here.]

The comfortable Protestant often falls back on observations of the grave depravity of the Western Church at the time of the Reformation. The uncomfortable one is not even able to appreciate the strength of sentiments a faithful Christian would have felt in Luther's time, watching their Bishops and Pope lay waste to the holy visage of the Church. However, the questions above still stand.

Who sent you (cf. Acts 15:24)? By whose authority do you declare this new teaching?

But then, the comfortable Protestant fairly asks, "Where does it say in Scripture that the Church would be preserved from all error?" Any takers?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Harvest Truly Is Great

Last night I watched the movie "Amazing Grace", the chronicle of MP William Wilberforce's efforts to ban the slave trade in the United Kingdom. This was my second viewing of it. I get indescribably uncomfortable watching this film. The analogy to the work the Christian Church has before it of ending abortion is unmistakable.

The movie left me restless, upset, unable to sleep. It reminded me of Christ's words, "The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest. (Luke 10:2, KJV)" When I was an unexposed-to-Catholicism Evangelical, I lived as though life were about spreading the Gospel (i.e., instructions on how to become saved). Now, as an exposed-to-Catholicism Christian, I realize that life is about the Gospel (i.e., that God is Love). Living out the Gospel (vice a focus on merely spreading it) will entail painful work until my life is complete. Before I sought rest and comfort in this life (since I had already checked off the "Saved" box). Now I seek to make my calling and election sure by satisfying my convictions to do Kingdom Work.

What have I done for women seeking to make use of the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic up the street from my law school? Perhaps I'd better get to the work of sharing the Gospel of love up there. What have our pro-life Senators done to imitate the efforts of Wilberforce? They wring their hands and blame the Supreme Court. That's a quitter's excuse. If you have a "Pro-Life" Senator that has not introduced legislation to end abortion-on-demand, please kindly inform him that he's a quitter. And send him a copy of "Amazing Grace" while you're at it.

Can we not put our minds together and come up with a bill that will help stem the tide of infanticide? We cannot wait for 5 Justice Scalia's to be appointed to the High Court before expecting our Pro-Life Senators and Congressmen to take action. The Court may be (presently) as good as it's going to get for the Pro-Life movement in some time. There must be something our elected officials can do. I would much rather see them lose the good fight, then not take up its standards to begin with.

I propose the following, and would love to hear other suggestions (unfortunately, being under Maryland Senators, I would have no more success than a voter in any other traditionally Catholic, Pro-Choice state): a Bill allowing the States to define when life begins, and requiring the courts to apply the 14th Amendment's protections of life, liberty and property to all persons who are on the "begun" side.

Seems too good to be true, and I feel all over that it would never work; but not working at it doesn't work either. Roe v. Wade was built on this foundation: If the fetus is a "person" within the meaning of the 14th Amendment, Ms. Roe's case collapses...but the Court "need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins"...doctors, philosophers and theologians can't reach consensus, so the judiciary won't be able to...therefore, the states may only claim an interest in "the potentiality of life". O'Connor's Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision upheld Roe, without touching this foundation and with lots of talk about stare decisis (respecting precedent).

A new law by Congress, passed after an extensive period of findings where they could call medical doctors to explain the advances in neo-natal medicine and radiology since 1973, could have the staying power that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act had with the post-O'Connor Carhart court. That case showed a willingness to defer to Congress's judgment. Should Congress adjudge that there is strong evidence of life beginning before half the fetal trunk passes through the cervix (our present standard), they could hand off this social determination to the States. And if the States are empowered to determine when life begins, Roe is undermined. Casey's stare decisis rambling would also be undermined by new statutory law.

But you may need to pardon my idealism.

I think it could fail because the court could say that it's not for the Federal Congress to grant to States the power to determine when life begins. But this would have the marvelous impact of forcing the court to face dead-on the weakest (and most crucial) aspect of the Roe decision. Every discussion I've had with a Pro-Choicer involves carefully avoiding the question of when life begins. Almost all of them, when pressed have had to conclude (I think as post hoc rationalization) that life doesn't begin until birth. And that is becoming, thanks to medicine, an increasingly tenuous position to take.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Half a J.D.

Finals are done! Praise the Lord for seeing my family through another tour de force, made difficult exclusively because of my pride -- pride that the grades turn out better than the next guy, so I can continue to act nonchalant about beating others. Does "many who are first will be last, and the last first" apply to law school? Gasp!?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Mathison Cont. (Tertullian)

[Read my prefatory piece on Mathison's "The Shape of Sola Scriptura" here.]

It's been a little while since I've addressed the underlying research and analysis used by Keith A. Mathison in his articulation of the doctrine of sola Scriptura. I've noted that the entirety of his popular work is centered around the principle that the Reformers sought to return the Church to a view of Scripture that he calls "Tradition I". This is contraposed against, inter alia, "Tradition II", which is defined as "the concept of tradition that allows for an authoritative extra-biblical source of revelation. (p. 39)" [Note: the Apostolic Churches do not claim to rely on continuing general revelation in order to teach authoritatively.]

So far I have considered his treatment of Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria. I am unpersuaded by Mathison's claims that the early Church Fathers proffered a view that the Regula Fidei was "inscripturated" into the Bible to be the sole norm and authority of the Christian Faith.

That dusting off having been accomplished, let me take up Mathison's discussion of Tertullian, the 2nd Century ecclesial author (later turned heretic).

Mathison says. Like Irenaeus, Tertullian taught that the oral preaching of the Apostles was written down in Scripture. He rebuffed a teaching of Docetism by saying that "there is no evidence of this, because Scripture says nothing." He condemns the idea that the Apostles did not reveal all to all men but instead disclosed some of their knowledge only to a few and in secret.

Tertullian believed that the Scriptures furnish us with a rule of faith, and this rule of faith is the "hermeneutical context for a proper interpretation of Scripture." Because the Scriptures and the Regula Fidei both have the apostles as their source, they are mutually reciprocal and indivisible.

My analysis. Tertullian rebuffed an aspect of a certain heresy by saying that it lacked evidence in Scripture. It does not follow that Tertullian believed that all Truth is contained within Scripture (i.e., sola Scriptura). Any adherent to Tradition II could equally criticize for lack of evidence a heretical belief on account of Scripture saying "nothing" of it. Crudely stated: Scripture contains Truth; many derivative Truths can be deduced from Scripture; therefore, a teaching that is not derivable from Scripture lacks evidence. This accounts for Tertullian's view, without requiring Tradition I.

That Tertullian condemned the Gnostics for claiming that there were secret written teachings of the Apostles speaks nothing to Tradition I or II. The Catholics and Orthodox do not maintain that they derive teachings from any secret revelations given only to Bishops.

A little digging through Tertullian's work has been revealing. He taught that the Holy Spirit sat in Office over the churches, not permitting them to understand or believe differently than that which He (the Spirit) was "preaching by the Apostles" (On the Prescription of Heretics, Ch. XXVIII). He famously said (with sarcasm) that the heretics could validate their claims of having Apostolic teaching by unfolding "the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such manner that their first bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles." The Bishops he called "transmitters of the apostolic seed" (Ibid., Ch. XXXII). Finally (of my brief surveillance of his work), he notes the double honor of Rome's apostolic authority (Ibid., Ch. XXXVI).

Lastly, Mathison's view that the Regula Fidei is particularly authoritative (though "indivisible" from the Scriptures) because it derives from the Apostles is nothing short of fascinating (and enticing). The view seems necessary to prevent rejection of the early Creeds. But this rule of faith exists nowhere in writing -- it is notional, and at best made analogous to the Apostles' Creed by Mathison. So he acknowledges that there is a deposit of all Truth in the Church, that it is properly handled and interpreted within the Church, but then maintains that the early Church Fathers recognized its as no more than co-extensive with Scripture. Up until that last part, Mathison's is a very Catholic sounding view.

Conclusion. Mathison has yet to show a belief from the early Church that the Bible, the "inscripturation" of the Regula Fidei, had any authority independent of the Apostolic Successors within the Church. Such independence has to be shown though for sola Scriptura to stand.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Anticipating Sabbath Rest

[Note: I use the term "Sabbath" as referring to my day of rest on Sunday, but realize that this is not the universal use of the word even within Christianity. I don't mean to state an opinion as to whether other Christians should call Sunday "Sabbath".]

A movie very dear to me is the 1971 classic, "Fiddler on the Roof." I was fascinated when I first saw it (in entirety, as an adult) by Tevye's earnest expressions as the Friday sun begins to set. "The Sabbath is coming!"

I am not unusual in the PCA for having certain Sabbatarian beliefs. I try to keep my Sabbath observation fairly low-key, and primarily see my obligation as refraining from money-making non-essential labor (note: my subjective belief).

Some Reformed Protestants maintain that observing the Sabbath is no longer a binding moral law, as they believe that our "Sabbath-rest" has come in Christ, thus satisfying the 4th (aka 3rd) Commandment. But even if my observance is for the sake of a mere prudential rule, it offers much reward.

One small thing I have learned from this rest is that I am much more mindful to take care of work due on Monday in advance of Sunday. Beyond fending off procrastination, there is a more enduring lesson to be gained. Today, I have work to do, for the harvest is plenteous (cf. Mat 9:37). Tomorrow, I may be dead, or Christ may have returned; I may soon enter my Sabbath-rest. So I best prepare today, I best tend to what needs tending. My weekly rest helps me to remain mindful of my coming eternal rest, and the work I need to do in preparation of it. As Tevye knew, "the Sabbath is coming!"

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Credo Epilogue: Anticredalism

All churches have Creeds. Creed, of course, is of the Latin word "Credo", or "I believe". I've said before that the non-denominational utterance "no creed but Christ, no book but the Bible" is itself a creed. Some churches believe that no one set of beliefs can be right; that too is a belief. The PCA has its own little creed. All churches have a set of beliefs, so all churches have Creeds.

Protestants necessarily teach that all statements of belief are valid (i.e., Truthful) only insofar as they agree with the Scriptures. [I will set aside for now the antecedent problem that this belief follows a priori a belief subject to untruthfulness.] If formulations of belief are only valid where they agree with the Bible, then their worth is as a forum for discussion, an opportunity to strive toward the Truths within the Bible.

Consequently, creeds should always be open to debate, handling, picking apart, and modifying. And that means that no one should be bound ever to subscribe to a belief in one system of theology as Truth. No one should be bound ever to submit to a particular form of ecclesial governance. These things can only be right insofar as they agree with the Bible, and whether they agree with the Bible needs to remain open for debate (for the individual's determination). To lock one into a particular fallible articulation of Truth locks one out of considering that that articulation may be inaccurate, which locks one into a belief that it is accurate, which conflicts with the protestant view that nothing but Scripture is infallible. Phew.

So, to the Protestant mind, no vows for church membership or officership should be taken, other than a vow to the Prior of Priors, that the Bible is God's only Authoritative Revelation. And how the Prior of Priors obtained to infallible status is (as I humbly see it) the great logical flaw of the Reformation.

Credo III: The Man Jesus

Do protestants properly treat the Godhead? Trinitarian teachings are complex and nuanced, nearly impossible for me to discuss without saying something that is probably (unintentionally) heretical. Our prayers made to "God" almost always mean to "the Father", and we usually pray in "Jesus name" alone. (Note: Christ prayed with particularity to "Our Father").

I was struck when I read 1 Tim 2:5-6 the other night: "For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men. (NIV)" This is not language that the majority members of the Council of Nicea would have chosen. "God" and "the man" Jesus appear quite distinct.

In principle, protestants should accept and adhere to the ancient ecumenical formulations regarding the Trinity and the Nature of Christ only insofar as we find them to agree with Scripture. But these points do not seem to be truly open for debate. If salvation, baptism, continuing revelation, et cetera, are open for debate, why is not the nature of Christ or His relation to the Father?

I suspect that if I were put to the task of determining the nature of the Godhead using nothing but the Scriptures, without reference to later doctrinal development, I would have to argue for a position differing from the ancient creeds. Protestants must accept that we inherently subscribe to a model of doctrinal development, or else let the creeds be fair game for debate.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Seekers Abound

It seems I am not the only person infected with curiosity, and having a difficult time accounting for the challenges that the Ancient Apostolic Churches have posed to Protestantism.

Do visit The Lutheran Seeker.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Credo II: Athanasian Creed

It is interesting that Auburn Avenue PCA, a controversial church to say the least, expressly embraces the Athanasian Creed, where its parent denomination is less enthusiastic.

I can guess at why the Athanasian Creed is disfavored within the PCA. To my recollection, I've never heard it spoken in any Reformed Church. It says in part, "From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies; and shall give account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting and they that have done evil into everlasting fire. This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved."

At least on its face, this exposition on the Last Judgment is hard to reconcile with either a Lutheran or a Calvinistic-Reformed view. Certainly, the case is made more difficult in the context of Calvinists, who hold that God strictly predestined all of mankind to Salvation or Perdition, not based on some type of foreknowledge of one's deeds or heart, but by His Sovereign decree alone (what Calvin dubbed the 'Horrible Decree'). Such a view makes virtually senseless this line of the Athanasian Creed.

I imagine that the PCA would be hard-pressed to condemn the use of the Creed, but it's no surprise that it is not falling over to get the Creed recited in its churches. Those of the Auburn Ave Theology persuasion, on the other hand, are more comfortable admitting that works are in same antecedent way a necessary component of the calculus of salvation. It is fitting, then, that Auburn Ave PCA would choose to use the Athanasian Creed.

(to be continued...)

Navy Chaplain Faces Court-Martial

UPDATE: Read here about Chaplain Lee's guilty plea.

The Navy Times reports that a Navy Chaplain, a Catholic Priest, will be court-martialed for certain counts related to sexual misconduct this week in Quantico, Va. Both homosexual conduct and his HIV-positive status are claimed in the article.

I have on good authority that he was likable and there were no indicia that these allegations are true. This may be a good reminder that one should not expect Liberachi-like behavior from those in sensitive positions of trust who might act in a sexually improper way. We are all prone to various temptations. We can neither give up our guard, nor take for granted that a "normal" fellow is not facing the trials of the Temptor. We must all be on guard, for ourselves and for one another.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Credo I: Binding or Not?

On a recent visit to the website of Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church (PCA), I saw that they "embrace the ancient catholic creeds (the Nicene, Athanasian, and Apostles' creeds) as defining the doctrinal boundaries of the Christian faith."

The PCA website admits to no formal position on these three ancient creeds, but its Book of Church Order tells us "[i]t is proper for the congregation of God’s people publicly to confess their faith, using creeds or confessions that are true to the Word, such as, the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, or the Westminster Standards."

The "such as" leaves much to be desired. It reminds me of the Congregationalist tendencies (where each particular church decides for itself what to believe) of the PCA. The Auburn Ave Controversy serves as a clear exemplar. Each church may make use of creeds that are "true to the Word", but who is to decide which are true?

Is the Athanasian Creed a proper interpretation of scripture or not? Are its expressions mandatorily binding on a Presbyterian, is this a matter of conscience, or are its expressions anathema to the Presbyterian interpretation of the Word of God?

The Presbyterian system binds no consciences, but merely attempts to filter what is taught. It narrows ecclesial discourse to be within its boundaries, but does not and cannot narrow belief to those same bounds. Its authority is strictly over the outward act of teaching, not over internal belief. Since I am saved strictly by right intellectual belief and not by overt acts, the role of the church in my salvation is thus made narrow. Unless its filter of teachings is set just right, it may not act to push me into the right intellectual camp.

(to be continued...)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Newman on Bible as Authority

I'm not very far into it, but John Henry Cardinal Newman's famous An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine has already given me much to ponder. Consider his discussion on the Bible as infallible authority.

Pardon the long quote, but if you are interested in church authority, it will be worth your time.

"The common sense of mankind... feels that the very idea of revelation implies a present informant and guide, and that an infallible one; not a mere abstract declaration of Truths unknown before to man, or a record of history, or the result of an antiquarian research, but a message and a lesson speaking to this man and that. This is shown by the popular notion which has prevailed among us since the Reformation, that the Bible itself is such a guide; and which succeeded in overthrowing the supremacy of Church and Pope, for the very reason that it was a rival authority, not resisting merely, but supplanting it. In proportion, then, as we find, in matter of fact, that the inspired volume is not adapted or intended to subserve that purpose, are we forced to revert to that living and present Guide, who, at the era of our rejection of her, had been so long recognized as the dispenser of Scripture, according to times and circumstances, and the arbiter of all true doctrine and holy practice to her children. We feel a need, and she alone of all things under heaven supplies it. We are told that God has spoken. Where? In a book? We have tried it and it disappoints; it disappoints us, that most holy and blessed gift, not from fault of its own, but because it is used for a purpose for which it was not given. The Ethiopian's reply, when St. Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading, is the voice of nature: "How can I, unless some man shall guide me?" The Church undertakes that office; she does what none else can do, and this is the secret of her power...

"The most obvious answer, then, to the question, why we yield to the authority of the Church in the questions and developments of faith, is, that some authority there must be if there is a revelation given, and other authority there is none but she. A revelation is not given, if there be no authority to decide what it is that is given. In the words of St. Peter to her Divine Master and Lord, "To whom shall we go?" Nor must it be forgotten in confirmation, that Scripture expressly calls the Church "the pillar and ground of the Truth," and promises her as by covenant that "the Spirit of the Lord that is upon her, and His words which He has put in her mouth shall not depart out of her mouth, nor out of the mouth of her seed, nor out of the mouth of her seed's seed, from henceforth and for ever." [citing 1 Tim. 3:16* and Isa. 59:21] (from Chapter 2, Section II, emphasis added)"

* I believe this should be 1 Tim. 3: 15.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Fetal Murder, Texas Style

[Fine Print: the below is about an hour's worth of Google-only legal analysis, so I welcome any corrections, especially from my esquired readers.]

For an interesting piece about non-elective abortion being treated as murder in Texas, read here. By "non-elective abortion", I mean the death of a fetus-child not elected by his or her mother to be performed by a physician, and I mean to exclude "spontaneous abortion" (i.e., miscarriage).

It is an interesting approach Texas has taken, and an interesting fact pattern it is pursuing in court. A boyfriend, angry at the recently pregnant mother of his child, murdered her (and the child with her). He is being prosecuted on two counts of murder. Texas defines capital murder to include, inter alia, murders of more than one person in one "criminal transaction", and of a child under the age of six (Tex. Penal Code, Title 5, Sect. 19.03(a)(7)(A) and (a)(8)). So, much is on the line for this young man.

Criminal law requires both a guilty mind (mens rea) and a guilty act (actus reus) to have a guilty defendant. The guilty mind element does not mean that one has to hate or feel scorn before one faces criminal liability. Rather, it requires that one act with intent, knowledge, or recklessness with regard to the prohibited conduct.

The Texas Penal Code defines murder as "intentionally or knowingly caus[ing] the death of an individual" (Sect. 19.02(b)(1)). As Texas has separately defined a fetus as an individual, a physician intentionally causing the death of a fetus there would meet both the mens rea and actus reus requirements of Texas' murder statute.

Of course we know such a plain reading does not conform with the U.S. Supreme Court's mandate in Casey v. Planned Parenthood, the standing ruling that reinvented the sputtering rationale underlying Roe v. Wade. A law that inhibits a so-called "fundamental liberty interest" such as abortion will be struck down (as was, for example, the fate of Connecticut's anti-contraception law in Griswold v. Conn.). I, for one, would enjoy seeing the Supreme Court strike down Texas' entire Criminal Homicide Chapter as an unconstitutional infringement on fundamental liberties, but those sensible jurists in black are too wise for such attention-gathering shenanigans. They will find a subtler way to act. They could, for example, simply strike down the Texas law that defines a fetus as an individual. That would solve several problems, including the possible death sentence this father faces for killing his girlfriend and child.

I really believe that states opposed to the Roe mandate can do no better in the near term than to legislatively define the fetus as a person endowed with his or her own rights. The difficulty here in distinguishing murder from medicine may leave courts looking high and low to nix the law. I hope to hear more of this case as it works its way through the cogs of the appellate process.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Church-State Organic Unity?

Vladimir Soloviev, in "The Russian Church and the Papacy", tells us that neither the Church nor the secular state (relying upon its own resources) can succeed in establishing "Christian justice and peace on earth."

In discussing the co-mingling of church and state, he says "if we consider the political and social condition of Europe toward the close of the Middle Ages, we must admit that the papacy, robbed of its secular organ... was unable to give a genuinely Christian organization to the society which it had governed."

He saw the social constitution of Europe as based on power disparity, an insurmountable barrier between "victors and vanquished". This caused a horrific tendency to do violence, making "every country the scene of civil war and plunder... Where in all this can the features of a truly Christian society be recognized?"

Turning to his modern era (late 19th century), Soloviev reviews secular efforts at providing political justice in Europe. Post-Reformation European states, freed from church oversight, tried to improve upon the Church's labor. The result?

"The philosophy of the revolutionaries has made praiseworthy attempts to substitute for [Christian] unity the unity of the human race--how successful is well known: a universal militarism transforming whole nations into hostile armies and itself inspired by a national hatred such as the Middle Ages never knew... and a continuous lessening of the moral power in individuals."

I am certain that had Soloviev lived to see the devastation of war upon Europe in the 20th century, his opinion would have only strengthened. This humanism-based unity continues in full force, but I am curious to know what will replace waning Nationalism (or will Nationalism resurge?). His individual moral power line was prophetic.

But I am not sure I can agree with the ultimate conclusion he reaches, that church and state must be closely aligned in an organic union "without confusion and without division (emphasis original)" to achieve "true social progress". My disagreement probably stems from my very non-Orthodox eschatological belief that such "true" progress is not for this world. The best I expect to see is fits of something less than "true" (i.e., idealistic, Kantian) progress, always to be interrupted by sin. Even granting that Christ gave His graces to the Church such that it can be preserved from all error, I don't see that flowing into an establishment of an infallible state. Heaven is not on earth. Not yet.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Early Church Worship

If you are interested in learning how the earliest Christians worshipped God (and ordered their services), please read this excellent article from the Orthodox

(HT: Tim Troutman)

It spells out the development of Christian worship practices from Jewish-synagogue roots, to attending both Jewish and Christian services, and finally to being excluded from Jewish practice, and left exclusively to Christian practice.

I was particularly interested in the dual practice of conducting an "Agape Meal" (or "Fellowship Meal") and Eucharistic celebration. I've read (from Reformed writings that I can't put my thumb on) the theory that the Agape meal was one and the same with communion. This has been used to justify children communing (paedocommunion), and to detract from stronger sacramental sentimentalities in the Lord's Supper.

The way one handles, interprets and applies the lessons of History has consequences.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Peter, Oakseed Of Papalism

Sometimes it's hard to remember why I ever got swept up in curiosity about the Apostolic Churches. The more I experience of Catholicism in practice, the more I find that makes me cringe.

But then I look back, and my memory is quickly revived. In Protestantism, all truth seems relative, made subject to individual will. Authority is tentatively placed in the hands of 66 Bible books, but no one can explain, without reaching for pluriform post hoc justifications, what the authority of the placement of the Bible as authority and the definition of its canon was.

19th-Century Orthodox writer Vladimir Soloviev has had some of his writings recompiled into the brief book "The Russian Church and the Papacy". Catholic Answers publishes the work, which gives a noteworthy critique of the Eastern Orthodox approach to church authority (especially biting is his articulated claim that secular emperors orchestrated the various heresies the Church has faced). The recent ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and certain Orthodox theologians makes his discussion of the authoritative, and not merely honorific, primacy of the Roman Bishop seem prescient. There's nothing like authority to cure malaise over individualism.

He says about the development of the doctrine of Papal Primacy:

"Scripture tells us of the primacy of Peter; his right to absolute sovereign authority in the Church is attested by Orthodox tradition [(having previously cited, inter alia, St. John Chrysostom)]; but no one possessed of any historical feeling or indeed of any ordinary common sense would expect to find legally defined powers taking effect according to fixed rules in the primitive Church, not only of the period when "the multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul" but also long after. There is always the temptation to expect to find the branches of the oak in the acorn. The real and living seed of the supreme authority of the Church which we discern in the prince of the apostles could only be displayed in the primitive Church by practical leadership on the part of Peter in every matter which concerned the universal Church, and this is what we actually find int he Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles (emphasis mine; pp. 152-153)."

Studying doctrinal development has been challenging and rewarding. I recommend it to anyone hoping to learn from the practices of the early Church.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sophistry Sinks (genuine) Ecumenism

Please see the excellent discussion of a precondition to genuine ecumenical dialogue at PrincipiumUnitatis.

The thesis is:

"One precondition for genuine and fruitful ecumenical dialogue is understanding the difference between sophistry and rational dialogue, and being sufficiently self-disciplined to engage only in rational dialogue and avoid all sophistry."

I'm persuaded! May we avoid sophisms and seek the Truth.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mary Forgive Me? Grant Me Heaven?

St. Germanus of Constantinople, famous for not submitting to Emperor Leo III's iconoclastic rule, recorded in his prayer to Mary, "Do not despise petitions which have been uttered by an unworthy mouth. On the contrary O Lady glorified by God, considering the love with which we say these things to you, grant us forgiveness of sins, the joy of eternal life and freedom from all faults. (Homilia in Sancta Mariae zonam, as translated in Glimpses of the Church Fathers by Claire Russell)"

This fits with the overall tenor of his homily, but for the whole thing you'll have to acquire Russell's work.

I wonder, within Catholicism (and Orthodoxy!), what petition to Mary would "cross the line"? Germanus' expressions of Marian devotion attribute merciful, salvific and sanctifying acts to her. Even granting that God chose Mary to be the Ark-womb of Jesus and the New Eve (countering Eve's introduction of death into the world by introducing Life into the world), I am caught unprepared to imagine a defense of St. Germanus' exuberance. An expression of gratitude to Mary for 'causing' the possibility of New Life differs in kind from a petition to her to grant forgiveness, which of course only Christ Jesus can grant.

I suppose the apologist could contend that Germanus was asking her to "grant" the forgiveness indirectly through her petitioning to her son to do the real effectual granting. But this is not remotely the clear meaning of the expression "grant me forgiveness" or "grant me eternal life." At some point, shouldn't prudent concern for confusing and improperly catechizing the masses outweigh what is hoped to be achieved by this type of request to Mary? After all, this is no small expression, having no small implication on Christology (the purported end of all Mariology).

Nagging feeling, anyone?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Interfaith Concert

To see the Hindi Pushpanjali Dance Group, hear a Mormon choir or experience the Washington Baha'i Chorale all in the comforts of a Basilica dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, consider attending the 28th annual "InterFaith Concert"

I wonder, what are the rules of proper deportment when in the presence of an altar consecrated by the Bishop? Will the elements of the Eucharist remain present in the Tabernacle during these performances?

And who is really comfortable with this arrangement? I would guess that the faithful Muslim or Mormon is going to look forward to this event primarily for the opportunity to "poach" those of the others faith groups present... but I've always been a nay-sayer.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Marian Prayers and Angst

It is no small wonder that, as a conservative Reformed Protestant, one of the hardest concepts for me to accept (or even tolerate) about the great Apostolic Churches is their Marian devotions. From what I've read, mine is not an uncommon experience. While not the prima facie catalyst of the Reformation, I note that today it seems to be the most prominent issue with which we justify our divisions. My ordained Reformed dad has opined that if it weren't for Marianism, the church could have reunited shortly after the Council of Trent. Would that this had been true.

While the formal Catholic teachings on Marianism stand up to some measure of my (admitedly individualistic) scrutiny, I fester over the Marian 'lex orandi' side of things. I have been repeatedly assured by Catholic Aplogetic literature that any prayer to Mary is no more than a petition for her to pray for us. To ask her or any saint to do more than petition to Jesus is to exceed permissible bounds.

The 'Hail, Mary' sure seems to fit safely within that rule, what Fr. Neuhaus would call rightly ordered devotion. But how about the traditional prayer, 'Hail, Holy Queen'?

"Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!"

It is surely a hard teaching that asking the Blessed Mother to turn her eyes of mercy toward us is formally nothing more than asking for her intercessory prayers. It would seem more safely within the confines of formal teaching to say 'pray that we may receive your Son's mercy.' I know, I'm biased -- not atuned to the Catholic Marian Pathos. I seek to understand, but see the danger of getting 'rightly oredered devotion' to Mary 'wrong' as a grave matter - superstition of not idolatry.

I know... I know...

Trash Can Lunch

Walking through what could objectively be described as a "depressed" neighborhood in Baltimore I saw a rather horrifying sight. I'm sure I've seen this many times before, and I'm certain that I will see it again. But it was striking nonetheless. A woman was eating her food from a city trash can.

"Okay, Thos, what's your point?"

I have a few points: 1) remember to be thankful for the meals you've been given this day, 2) remember that God answers when we petition to him, "give us this day our daily bread" (ergo, don't take your provisions so for granted that you forget to ask and thank the Giver), and 3) be prepared with a course of action the next time you see a person eating their meal out of the refuse.

I'm always flat-footed when I encounter these situations. I don't want to embarrass anyone for being poor. I don't want to act like I'm some kind of Warren Buffet of the slums. I don't want to mindlessly dole out whatever cash I happen to have in my wallet (not that I'm opposed to poor people choosing to spend their cash on Captain Morgan). But I do want to feed Christ when He's hungry. Unfortunately, today there were no food establishments within sight (the nearby shops had plywood windows), for I was going to run and grab some un-trash-canned food to give her. But if anyone cares to opine on a better plan, I'm all ears.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Dobson a Defender of Life?

[NOTE: This post is meant to be about the power of para-church organizations as much as about abortifacients.]

Driving into Washington, D.C. last week at 5:00am, I had my dial tuned to a local Christian radio station. They were replaying an event from the "Family Values Voters Conference" honoring Dr. James Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, an organization dedicated to "Nurturing and Defending Families Worldwide." The event was the "Family, Faith and Freedom Gala Dinner" and included praises from the likes of Chuck Colson (Prison Fellowship), Ed Meese (Heritage Foundation), as well as "doctor's" son, daughter and wife.

Flattery and praises aside, what raised my ire was a claim one of these distinguished panegyricists made of Dr. Dobson's pro-life track record. I can't find a transcript of the event, so this para-quote is to the best of my memory: 'Dr. Dobson is an unmatched defender of the sanctity of life.'

My knuckles turned white on the steering wheel more from this fallacious statement than from the insane drivers on the Anacostia Freeway (295 South in D.C.). You see, Dr. Dobson (a doctor of philosophy, not medicine or theology) has come to the conclusion that the birth control pill does not have an abortifacient effect (see my contradictory evidence here). His position paper on this matter used to be available online (I read it years ago, and you can find the broken link here, at footnote 60), but now you have to mail in to request it.

But we are given this snippet from the Focus on the Family website: "The majority of the experts to which Dr. Dobson has spoken feel that the pill does not have an abortifacient effect. A minority of the experts feel that when conception occurs on the pill, that there is enough of a possibility for an abortifacient warrant informing women about it."

Enter the power of the para-church, and the colossal strength of the Evangelical superstar. In the court room, a judge decides which testifying witnesses qualify as experts. A jury sits through the tedium of their expert testimony and is expected to painstakingly weigh the evidence. But in Evangelical Christendom we have delegated that chore to a Ph.D. granting his imprimatur to his own committee's report. He has spoken with the experts, he has tabulated who thinks the pill kills and who does not, and he has reached the verdict: it probably does not, but at least you should know.

This is only possible because of the categorical tool employed by Focus on the Family: contraception is a matter of conscience. The Bible is not clear on this point, so you can decide for yourself. And if you need help, Dr. Dobson has already decided for you. Never mind that under one scheme a loss of sexual liberty is on the line, and under the other a loss of your child's life. Don't let the Pope, your mother, your elder or your husband tell you the pill causes abortion. Don't listen to the "minority" of medical and scientific experts either -- especially not them, since they fail to adhere to the mainstream scientific consensus. Take solace from the para-church organization; it's a matter of conscience.

As for me, I have reached the conclusion that Dr. Dobson is not an unmatched defender of the sanctity of life. I pray that he uses his position to become one. But we must beware the solace of the para-church, for its contrived authority will be no comfort on the day of judgment.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Twin Survives Abortion Attempt

Read about the mother who asked doctors to abort her impaired son so he could die peacefully in the womb next to his twin brother, rather than cruelly in this world. Not only were the doctors unable to conduct said mercy killing, but it turns out this boy is doing just fine in this cruel world too!

(Note: "Wrongful Birth" is a cause of action in at least some of these United States. Fortunately, this mother seems happy that both of her twin sons were born.)

Perhaps of most significance to me in reading this article was the clear use of life/death language in regard to the boy's state while still in utero. Unfortunately, I think the level of comfort with that language is based on his mother's desire to have him, as opposed to his inherent worth as a human creature. But maybe this is progress nonetheless.

HT: Drudge.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

God's People One Whole Garment

God's people of the New Covenant are like one seamless garment, untorn.

In 1 Kings 11:29ff, we read that Solomon would lose his kingship of the 12 tribes of Israel. There would be a tear in God's chosen race, as Israel and Judah would divide into separate kingdoms.

"About that time Jeroboam was going out of Jerusalem, and Ahijah the prophet of Shiloh met him on the way, wearing a new cloak. The two of them were alone out in the country, and Ahijah took hold of the new cloak he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. Then he said to Jeroboam, "Take ten pieces for yourself, for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon's hand and give you ten tribes... I will do this because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molech the god of the Ammonites, and have not walked in my ways, nor done what is right in my eyes, nor kept my statutes and laws as David, Solomon's father, did. (NIV)"

Compare this pericope with John 19:23-24:

"When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

""Let's not tear it," they said to one another. "Let's decide by lot who will get it."
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said,
"They divided my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing." So this is what the soldiers did. (NIV)"

The old Prophet tore his garment to symbolize the division of God's chosen people, caused by their rebellion. But the garment of our Prophet, Christ the King, was seamless and remained untorn.

There is a tendency within Protestantism to read the account of the division of the Jews as prophetic of the New Covenant and the Reformation -- to liken Catholicism to the Israelites. But if the garment typology of 1 Kings and John bears merit, such a likening is no cause for comfort. God's people are no longer a divided garment or a divided kingdom, broken into pieces. We are called to be one (John 17:11), seamless, undivided. This would be ecumenicity.

Christ have mercy.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Gay Catholic Parishes

As Providence would have it, the local Catholic parish in my town has a "gay and lesbian ministry" and considers itself to be "gay friendly." They proclaim this: "committed to an attitude of welcome and firmly opposed to discrimination in all its forms, we declare our support for gay and lesbian Catholics..." I didn't know "welcome" was an attitude. I have the highest doubt that they oppose discrimination "in all its forms." I'm sure that they have a definite opinion of the policies of Bob Jones University, for instance, and of people who choose to go there.

There's a thoughtful program to make sure that children between the ages of 14 and 18 feel comfortable expressing their desire to be identified as homosexual. We should make sure that those enduring the process of puberty feel that their inclinations are welcomed.

They even have photos on the Parish website from the 2006 Gay Pride Day.

What's one to do? Pride over practicing what their Church calls a sin? How about Incest Pride Day! Masturbation Pride Day! Bestiality Pride Day! Or, closer to home for many perhaps, Affair Pride Day! Perhaps this "ministry" invites to communion those with homosexual desires but who are not practicing their homosexuality. Those-Inclined-To-Have-Affairs Pride Day?

This makes it very hard to take Catholicism's teaching seriously. Perhaps the new Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore will make the Catholic Church's teaching more evident.

UPDATE: And lest you think that this is all happening under the Bishop's radar, this was in a recent Bishop's Report from Bishop Rozanski, "I wish to commend the community for your inclusion of Gay and Lesbian Catholics into the life of the community, including specific ministries in this area—Beginnings, Reclaim and Gay and Lesbian Ministries." One may be excommunicated for having doubts about indulgences, but another is 'incommunicated' as a Gay or Lesbian Catholic...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Which Reformation History?

I found this brief Protestant Reformed version of reformational history, by Rev. Wayne Brouwer, on the Christian Reformed Church's publication's website. It's quite well written, especially given the space constraints the author faced.

As part of my discernment over the claims of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, exploring history has been one of my two major tasks (the other being authority). I'm no historian, but I've read enough to know how much this version of history is tailored to meet its own ends. It's a self-licking ice cream cone.

Of course, historical and theological scholars have composed incredibly lengthy volumes on church history, and discerning ecclesial historical "truth" is no easy task. Rev. Brouwer gives a crisp summary of the Reformed "party line" of church history. The church healthfully grew until Rome's (the Empire, that is) collapse. For the next millennium it slid into increasing error. In this time east and west did not agree on authority and theology. The pope's importance grew in this period, and the perception arose that he was a primate. The East nicely allowed children to commune (I've observed a growing admiration for this Orthodox practice in CRC literature and PCA practice and teaching), while the West developed sacraments for discipline, as tools of power. The East experienced the Spirit, while the West limited Him. Eventually, power and corruption of the sacraments led to the Reformation, where the new church in the West came to look like the church in its original pure form.

I believe that much of these observations are debatable at best. The Real History, I venture to say, was not nearly so clean, and not nearly so supportive of the Reformation's claims. We do not look like the early church. We never have. Do you think your church would be brave enough to try to so look?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Doctrinal Growth In 434 A.D.

Again I have found a gem in Claire Russell's "Glimpses of the Church Fathers." She gives her reader a portion of St. Vincent of Lerins' Commonitorium. Little is known of St. Vincent beyond his writing, but this work dates from 434 A.D. According to Russell, he "is an ecclesiastic writer in Southern Gaul in the fifth century. He died around 450 in the monastery at Lerins."

Chapters 22 and 23 of the Commonitorium comment upon 1 Tim 6:20, "O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid profane babbling and the absurdities of so-called knowledge. (NAB)" St. Vincent articulates that Timothy is to keep the deposit of faith, to "preserve the talent [i.e., the gift] of Catholic Faith inviolate, unadulterate." The warning against altering this deposit is clear, "You have received gold; give gold in turn. Do not substitute one thing for another... teach precisely what you have learned..." I began to think I had stumbled against some good anti-Catholic literature (oh boy!)... St. Vincent's exposition was clear -- Paul warned Timothy, 'Don't change the deposit! Don't add anything! Teach just what you have been given!'

My surprise at this early testimony lasted only a few sentences. St. Vincent draws a wonderful analogy: the deposit of faith is like a human body, "which in the course of years develops and unfolds, yet remains the same as it was." As much as a grown man looks like the infant he was, so too does developed doctrine resemble the original deposit. But it is still the same body, the same being.

He writes of the process of doctrinal growth beautifully, "For it is right that those ancient doctrines of heavenly philosophy should, as time goes on, be cared for, smoothed, polished; but not that they should be changed, not that they should be maimed, not that they should be mutilated."

And then he hit my jugular with shocking prophecy of how I've come to view Protestantism: "For if once this license of impious fraud be admitted, I dread to say in how great danger religion will be of being utterly destroyed and annihilated. For if any one part of Catholic truth be given up, another, and another, and another will thenceforward be given up as a matter of course, and the several individual portions having been rejected, what will follow in the end but the rejection of the whole?"

Do read on (in the Catholic Encyclopedia link above) to St. Vincent's Chapter 25, in which he gives some biting views apropos to Protestantism, such as "hardly ever do they [here he is refering to heretics] bring forward anything of their own which they do not endeavour to shelter under words of Scripture" and "hardly a single page [of heretical writings] does not bristle with plausible quotations from the New Testament or the Old." Read further still, and you will learn his rule for the right interpretation of Scripture, and his views on the Pope of the Roman See.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

My Thin Places

Since we now have My Computer, My Documents, MySpace, My Yahoo, My Network Places, et cetera (ad infinitum, ad nauseam), I thought I should have a My Thin Places. Thin Places are places at which the spiritual world and this world are particularly close.

So here are two, one I have not visited in many years (but have been to many times), and one I just discovered (but plan to visit often).

1) Isle of Iona, Scotland. Don't be too put off by the experimental, ecumenical Iona Community (and they mean something different by "ecumenical" than I did when I named this blog "Ecumenicity"); this place is thin. It was on this isle that St. Columba landed to bring Christianity from Ireland to the Scots. Columba's Bay, where he landed, makes for a beautiful and meaningful pilgramage, but the thinnest place for me is the wee golf course on the western beach, by the ancient caves. Of course, don't miss the famous Iona Abbey.

2) Crypt Chapel of the Baltimore Basilica, Maryland. I just discovered this thin place last week, taking a productive lunch break from my studies. The entire Basilica was closed for some time while it underwent extensive renovation and refurbishment, including the creation of a crypt chapel (pictured). I overheard the tour guide explain that B.H. Latrobe (Jefferson's architect) originally intended for this crypt to be included, but it was not completed until the recent renovation (note: the tour guides, while interesting, make prayer in the crypt a little less thin). Not only is this Crypt a place to draw close to Jesus, but it happens to also be the only truly beautiful spot in Baltimore (that I have seen).

I suppose some of you that are of a Catholic persuasion could insist that the building didn't make it thin so much as a certain Presence? I'm not sure about that, but may the empirical studies continue! Please feel free to recommend your own favorite Thin Place.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Is Salvation A "Free" Lunch?

I was recently reading Claire Russell's "Glimpses of the Church Fathers". The following from an Augustinian sermon caught my attention (Sermon 77).

"And be not much disquieted for a thing so great [i.e., salvation], because of the largeness of the price. Its price is no more than what you have. Now to procure any great and precious thing, you would get ready gold, or silver, or money, or any increase of cattle, or fruits, which might be produced in your possessions, to buy this I know not what great and excellent thing, whereby to live in this earth happily. Buy this too, if you will. Do not look for what you have, but for what you are. The price of this thing is yourself. Its price is what you are yourself. Give your own self, and you shall have it. Why are you troubled? why disquieted? What? Are you going to seek for your own self, or to buy yourself? Lo, give your own self as you are, such as you are to that thing, and you shall have it. But you will say, "I am wicked, and perhaps it will not accept me." By giving yourself to it, you will be good. The giving yourself to this faith and promise, this is to be good. (emphasis mine)"

While it is true that God's gift of grace is freely given (Mat. 10:8), it is also right to note that we have to give something up of ourselves as part of our Christian faith. The freedom of grace aside, Augustine tickled my American sentimentalities -- nothing can be "free"'. The economist's mantra that "There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch" affects my view of the economy of salvation.

I am reminded of the deeply indebted servant whose king forgave his tremendous debt (Mat. 18:23-35). Because of the king's pity, the servant got a "free lunch", freely given. Sadly, he then turned around and, failing to extend the favor, had his fellow servant thrown in debtor's prison (a notion also foreign to the American mentality).

What has bothered me as a law student (and here is a clear indication of how polluted my mind has become) is that the king had him incarcerated after the debt was cancelled. If there was no debt, how was the king acting justly by having him incarcerated? Could it be that the king incarcerated him for a new debt, and not for the cancelled debt? While the old debt of millions truly was cancelled, perhaps that freely received grace placed the servant under a new law, the law of grace. He was to forgive others as he had been forgiven. And if he violated this law, he would be under a burden equal to (or greater!) than that which was cancelled by the king.

Just a thought, that's all. But this view helps me embrace Augustine's sermon, to see that the "price" of my "freely" received salvation is a giving up of myself. The price here, the price of compliance with this new law of grace, is complete self-sacrifice (which is not to say that God's grace is not sufficient to make up for my deficiencies in conforming to this new law). As my father-in-law always says, "What a deal."

Monday, October 22, 2007

Baptismal Regeneration

The title of this post is a dirty phrase in Reformed circles. Quite dirty. We are caught between the claims of our Western Catholic roots (that baptism washes away the guilt of original sin), and those of later Protestant bleachings of sacramentalism (that it is an entrance symbol for believing adults).

A tradition of disbelief in baptismal regeneration kept my wife and me from looking too far into the conservative branches of Anglicanism many years ago, before I could ever entertain Roman Catholic claims.

The Reformed view teaches that baptism is a type of entrance rite into the Visible Church, and that it is a real means of some grace, but that it does not effect a forgiveness of original sin nor guarantee membership in the church invisible on the part of the infant. Therefore, if a child dies before the age of determination (of faith), their state of salvation is known only to God in his divine and sovereign decree of election. Here, for me, is the rub. At the loss of a child in utero, I was starkly faced with this idea that the salvation or damnation of a child of the kingdom was a horrifying mystery, seemingly random to my pathetic perceptions.

No one in our church or family would tell us that the eternal disposition of our stillborn son was completely indeterminable by man. Stranger still, they would not have been willing to tell us that this child, had he died shortly after baptism, was any more assured of salvation than by his death in the womb. Double election/predestination does not work that way. To posit otherwise is to effectively embrace Baptismal Regeneration (or some effective baptismal regeneration by parental desire, in the case of our stillbirth).

Friday, October 19, 2007

Why O'Connor Probably Doesn't Stuff Scalia's Stocking

[Fear not; the tide of abortion-related posts will soon abate as my Constitutional Law class leaves the issue in the past.]

"But to portray Roe as the statesmanlike "settlement" of a divisive issue, a jurisprudential Peace of Westphalia that is worth preserving, is nothing less than Orwellian. (Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992))"

For these and other brilliant and inflammatory comments by Justice Antonin G. Scalia about the Supreme Court's foisting inividuals' abortion "rights" against the states, see his dissent at the bottom of the page here.

Here are some more for good measure: (this one said mockingly paraphrasing the plurality's prevailing opinon) "We are offended by these marchers who descend upon us, every year on the anniversary of Roe, to protest our saying that the Constitution requires what our society has never thought the Constitution requires. These people who refuse to be "tested by following" [our decision] must be taught a lesson. We have no Cossacks, but at least we can stubbornly refuse to abandon an erroneous opinion that we might otherwise change - to show how little they intimidate us."

Observe here that the High Court does indeed take note of the annual March For Life, held on January 22nd!

Lastly, "The people know that their value judgments are quite as good as those taught in any law school - maybe better." True, that. The only view I've been able to discern as being taught in law school is that relativity is virtuous, and absolutes are inherently evil.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Inflating Balloon Of Liberty

I recently read Justice Brennan's dissent in a case about presumptive paternity within marriage in spite of blood tests proving otherwise, Michael H. v. Gerald D, 491 U.S. 110 (1989). It stoked my curiosity of whether liberalization in democratic states and churches is a one-way street:

"...the plurality ignores the kind of society in which our Constitution exists. We are not an assimilative, homogeneous society, but a facilitative, pluralistic one, in which we must be willing to abide someone else's unfamiliar or even repellent practice because the same tolerant impulse protects our own idiosyncrasies..."

This case is set up in my Constitutional Law class in the sequence of discussions over contraceptive rights, abortion rights, marriage rights (for prisoners, the indigent, etc.), and homosexual sodomy rights. Brennan's angst that his judgment of another's lifestyle is indistinguishable from another's judgment of his is patent. In all these cases, the unspoken rule seems to be this: if no one individual is fit (i.e., has moral authority) to pass judgment over another, a "liberty" is granted. This, I believe, is the direction we have been in, and will continue to be in until the end.

Can anyone think of an example where a democratic populous has enjoyed an individual "liberty" and then forsaken it for the good of the whole? Certainly slave owners had the individual "liberty" to possess other human beings as chattel, but that was a loggerhead conflict set in motion from before our nationhood, ultimately resolved only after the spilling of tremendous blood (and not by the democratic process). It is hard for me to imagine that this populous, now that it has enjoyed easy divorce for so long, could willingly revert to the more disciplined and principled approach of days gone by. Likewise, it is hard to imagine a wholesale sacrifice (i.e., giving up) of the personal "liberty" enjoyed in getting to abort an unwanted fetus-child (though I can imagine a scenario where certain artificial limitations are put in place to quell a guilty conscience, as was done by the Partial-Birth Abortion Act).

We hunger to do as we please, and to have our actions legitimized by the populous.

Same with denominationalism. Once a group of like-minded Christians decide they are going to enjoy a liberty of conscience over a particular matter, why would they sacrifice this individual liberty to the will of the whole? It is hard for me to imagine the PCA, for example, deciding that, since strict Sabbath observance is the plain meaning of our confession, and since Sabbatarianism has a fine pedigree within the Reformed faith, the exception granted to elders on this teaching should be withdrawn. This will not happen. Likewise, denominations that have embraced the ordination of women as normative will not revoke that hard-fought personal "liberty".

It is this singular direction in which liberty marches that has caused so much schism within Protestantism. One cannot reign in democratic liberty, so one's only option is to start a new democracy. Liberty, individual liberty, is like an inflating balloon with a one-way valve. It will never give it's air back to the democratic collective, and it will eventually burst.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Roe Unplugged.

I had an interesting experience in Constitutional Law last week, discussing Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973). In the court's opinion, Justice Blackmun side-steps the question of when life begins by referring to the fetus as "the potentiality of life". My professor engaged me on this particular point. He asked, "when does that potential of life begin". I said, "I think it might begin when my buddy goes to a bar and buys a girl a drink." Meaning, of course, that the potential existed at that point for him to eventually impregnate his fellow drinker.

By reducing the meaning of "potentiality" to my absurd statement, I find a deep and shameful flaw in the Roe opinion. The judges know they are not the appropriate body to make the value judgment of when life begins (Justice Blackmun said as much), so they had to discuss a fetus as mere potential. "Potentiality" is implausibly open-ended and implicitly its own value judgment.

Sadly, I think the profundity of my point was lost in the humor. The professor's own point, that there is a "potentiality of life" when a man masturbates, was also lost on a classroom of apparently bright people enamored with a court claiming to be able to distinguish life from not-yet-life in spite of the particular democratic wills of particular democratic states.

I get the palpable sense from my professor and generally pro-choice classmates that Roe, as legal reasoning, is categorically disliked. At best, the advocates of abortion rights seem as fond of Roe as perhaps an average peaceable Iraqi is of a U.S. soldier patrolling his neighborhood these days -- they don't like the form of the protector, but they wouldn't give up the protection. The pro-choice affinity for Roe as law reminds me of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men: "You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall... I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way..." 'Never mind that the court is making an impermissible moral judgment contrary to the popular will of the people. We need to ensure unwanted children do not enter into this world.'

I am coming to believe that I have been wrong to place my hope in the very institution that gave us abortion rights to protect unborn children. The cartoon above is obtuse. Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 sustained and reinforced Roe in 1992 on these lines: O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Stevens and Blackmun joining or concurring, and Rehnquist, White, Scalia, and Thomas dissenting. While Alito's vote will most likely be the opposite of O'Connor's, Ginsburg's appointment to replace White has been perhaps the most significant seat shift on this issue since 1973. Without Justice Kennedy experiencing a change of heart, today's Casey decision would still be 5-4 at best. As long as our elected officials only stop sitting on their hands for the length of time necessary to point their shameful fingers at the Supreme Court, we are culpable as a society for failing to protect the most innocent of victims with our laws.