Monday, July 6, 2009
Sunday, June 7, 2009
I find reading the Apostle John's letters especially beneficial for the simple reason that they are non-Pauline; they allow for a contrast, a reading of a different tenor or tone. John opens his first epistle by explaining that he preaches the word which he had seen and which was "made manifest" to him (1 John 1:2). He shares what he saw so that his audience might have "fellowship" with him, who is himself in fellowship "with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." (v. 3.)
To have fellowship with one another, an ambition that is (in my finer moments) quite dear to me, we must walk in the light, which is Christ. And in that case, the blood of Christ "cleanses us from all sin." (v. 7.) This serves as a preface for the beginning of 1 John 2, a recent liturgical reading. John says that "we may be sure that we know him" by "keep[ing] his commandments." (1 John 2:3.) This is reminiscent of John's own Gospel, in which he records the words of Christ, that "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15.)
Is the keeping of Christ's commandments a required step to validate and vest one's claimed love for Christ, or is it mere evidence of election? In other words, from John's letter does it appear that obedience is a sign of or an agent in achieving unity with Christ's propitiatory work? Is there a condition or not?
1 John 2 reads as if there may still be a condition. "He who says 'I know him' but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: he who says he abides in him ought to talk in the same way in which he [Christ] walked." (1 John 2:5-6). The disobedience doesn't seem to undo (on its own) one's possession of truth, but rather to evidence that the person is "a liar." But on the other hand, some action really flows from the keeping of commandments -- it is not mere assurance, mere evidence of prior election. In whoever keeps Christ's word, truly love for God is perfected. (As a matter of interpretation, this has to differ from a text that would say, "already perfect love is made known.")
It could be that, upon appreciating our having received the grace to obey divine commandments, we both find assurance in what has been done, and cooperate in the perfection of this love. If this is objectionable, I suspect the objection arises from a predisposition to a monocausalistic view.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
There is a classical dispute in the law of contracts, the underlying problem of which also bears on the doctrine of sola Scriptura.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Today's army wrestles with the working out of individualism and the 'liberating' ideology of the previous centuries. Headlines from a few years ago savored the excitement generated by a U.S. Army junior officer who refused to deploy to Iraq. His reason: he believed that the Iraq war was immoral and illegal, so he would not participate.
In the same year, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church ruled to petition the U.S. President to allow soldiers to selectively conscientiously object to conflicts "on the basis of just-war criteria." The Synod noted the Christian's obligation to obey national authorities, but saw this obligation as being trumped by "our ultimate loyalty...to God." By "our," the Synod meant "each individual Christian's."
This has me wondering about private judgment and effective warfare, both in the context of military soldiers fighting military wars, and in the context of Christian soldiers fighting a spiritual war.
Are we the Army of Christ, or many armies of one? Armies are effective when they amass a stronger force than their enemy. Strength comes from obvious things: size, training, discipline, and cohesion. But if each soldier can privately determine the rectitude of the commander's course, cohesion and discipline evaporate. Would Col. Chamberlain have been able to send his 20th Maine Regiment on a daring charge, thereby holding Little Round Top and saving the Union flank at Gettysburg, if private dissent was allowed? Could Gen. Eisenhower have thought to take the beaches at Normandy with an allied force in which individual conscience could trump military orders? (And I note that the individual's conscience and judgment are far from clear when facing the prospect of incoming hostile fire.)
The sine qua non of successful warfare is an obedient soldier. Every military needs him before it can hope to have cohesion and unity. Even guerilla forces, irregular militia, and insurgent rebels abide by this modus operandi; they have leaders and subordinates, rules of obedience and enforcement of disobedience.
So for what reason might we conclude that the Army of Christ would be any different? The concept of obedience is hardly a minor tangential characteristic of soldiering, so I do not think this is an instance where 'all analogies break down.' To the contrary, if anything is derived from our being characterized as armor-wearing "soldiers," it should be that we are part of the whole, with the whole depending on its parts. We are not Wrestlers for Christ, after all. And we are not an army of one. We should be one Army of Christ. It is--and has been since time immemorial--the soldier's to obey, and the commander's to lead.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Monday, March 2, 2009
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Please visit a new website project in which I am enthusiastically engaged: Called to Communion: Reformation Meets Rome.
We have just launched, choosing Ash Wednesday as our kick-off. Spread the word with all those who may be interested in engaging in the discussion. The contributors are all Catholics who converted from Reformed protestantism (plus me). Among them are several seminary graduates, notable Reformed seminaries at that.
I can attest to the group's sincere desire to have a charitable discussion in the pursuit of Truth, for the sake of our obedience to God's will. Our aim is to write in a more thoughtful, more carefully edited way than blogs typically allow. This is our small contribution to the pursuit of unity among Christ's followers, that we may be truly one body, one vine. I believe this to be the end of properly oriented ecumenism.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Enrolling in the class was a difficult decision, but staying un-enrolled seemed no easier. I wanted to enroll because I believed I needed to be put in a more consistent pattern of training for my own discernment about the Christian Church. Prior to that point, studying Catholicism had been too easy to walk away from, then rush back into, only to walk away again upon becoming desolate over some foreign teaching or other. It was difficult to enroll, though, because I had anxiety that the momentum of the class toward the Easter Vigil would make the outcome all but inevitable.
How has it turned out? Well, I'm not even sure. I do know that there is a certain momentum toward the Vigil. But several fellow candidates are not intent on joining, so the momentum is not inescapable. The consistency of weekly study of Catholic teachings has been beneficial, even if I had previously exposed myself to most of those teachings. There has been less of a focus on the discernment process itself than I had hoped, but given that this is a one hour / week class, my hopes were misplaced.
I have been able to focus particularly on discernment itself, i.e. reflecting on God's will and calling for His people and for me in particular, through other means. Meeting with my protestant pastor and with the priest who teaches RCIA has been challenging and enriching. Best of all was a three-day silent 'retreat' I was able to attend, taught by a priest of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, which used the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. There is nothing quite like shutting up for a few days, and committing oneself completely to prayer. Staring Catholicism, particularly Marianism, in the face for that weekend was a struggle. Here, like with my RCIA class, I did not walk away with a clean and easy answer. Discernment, like movement, is a process, and I have had to accept the necessity of patience.
So here I am, a day away from Lent and a few weeks away from the Easter Vigil, uncertain of what I will do. As a baptized Christian, I could enter at another time by making proper arrangements, so I needn't have a "now or never" perspective. I have a growing perception of how difficult Faith is, and how easy Doubt is: I can call all foreign truth-claims into doubt, and huddle in my little corner of familiarity, ignoring the forces pulling me out. Faith is so easily shattered, ever vulnerable but for the Grace of our exceedingly gracious God.
No one said this would be easy.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
When I picked up the book, I did not know whether to believe the nearly 100 miracles described. St. Columba is said to have walked on water, raised the dead, and described future (as well as contemporary but distant) events with great accuracy. So many and profound were the miracle accounts that I came to think they had to be embellishments. But still, there were simply far too many of them for me to think they were wholly baseless.
Two accounts from the book seemed worth highlighting here. The first caused the speculation that St. Columba himself encountered the Loch Ness Monster:
On another occasion also, when the blessed man was living for some days in the province of the Picts, he was obliged to cross the river Nesa (the Ness); and when he reached the bank of the river, he saw some of the inhabitants burying an unfortunate man, who, according to the account of those who were burying him, was a short time before seized, as he was swimming, and bitten most severely by a monster that lived in the water; his wretched body was, though too late, taken out with a hook, by those who came to his assistance in a boat. The blessed man, on hearing this, was so far from being dismayed, that he directed one of his companions to swim over and row across the coble that was moored at the farther bank. And Lugne Mocumin hearing the command of the excellent man, obeyed without the least delay, taking off all his clothes, except his tunic, and leaping into the water. But the monster, which, so far from being satiated, was only roused for more prey, was lying at the bottom of the stream, and when it felt the water disturbed above by the man swimming, suddenly rushed out, and, giving an awful roar, darted after him, with its mouth wide open, as the man swam in the middle of the stream. Then the blessed man observing this, raised his holy hand, while all the rest, brethren as well as strangers, were stupefied with terror, and, invoking the name of God, formed the saving sign of the cross in the air, and commanded the ferocious monster, saying, "Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed." Then at the voice of the saint, the monster was terrified, and fled more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes, though it had just got so near to Lugne, as he swam, that there was not more than the length of a spear-staff between the man and the beast. Then the brethren seeing that the monster had gone back, and that their comrade Lugne returned to them in the boat safe and sound, were struck with admiration, and gave glory to God in the blessed man. And even the barbarous heathens, who were present, were forced by the greatness of this miracle, which they themselves had seen, to magnify the God of the Christians.(Medieval Sourcebook: Adamnan: Life of St. Columba; Penguin, at II 27, p. 175).
The second tells of his raising a boy from the dead:
(Medieval Sourcebook: Adamnan: Life of St. Columba; Penguin, at II 32, p.179).
At the time when St. Columba was tarrying for some days in the province of the Picts, a certain peasant who, with his whole family, had listened to and learned through an interpreter the word of life preached by the holy man, believed and was baptized the husband, together with his wife, children, and domestics.
A very few days after his conversion, one of the sons of this householder was attacked with a dangerous illness and brought to the very borders of life and death. When the Druids saw him in a dying state they began with great bitterness to upbraid his parents, and to extol their own gods as more powerful than the God of the Christians, and thus to despise God as though He were weaker than their gods. When all this was told to the blessed man, he burned with zeal for God, and proceeded with some of his companions to the house of the friendly peasant, where he found the afflicted parents celebrating the obsequies of their child, who was newly dead. The saint, on seeing their bitter grief, strove to console them with words of comfort, and exhorted them not to doubt in any way the omnipotence of God. He then inquired, saying, "In what chamber is the dead body of your son lying?" And being conducted by the bereaved father under the sad roof, he left the whole crowd of persons who accompanied him outside, and immediately entered by himself into the house of mourning, where, falling on his knees, he prayed to Christ our Lord, having his face bedewed with copious tears. Then rising from his kneeling posture, he turned his eyes towards the deceased and said, "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, arise, and stand upon thy feet." At the sound of this glorious word from the saint, the soul returned to the body, and the person that was dead opened his eyes and revived. The apostolic man then taking him by the hand raised him up, and placing him in a standing position, d him forth with him from the house, and restored him to his parents. Upon this the cries of the applauding multitude broke forth, sorrow was turned into joy, and the God of the Christians glorified.
We must thus believe that our saint had the gift of miracles like the prophets Elias and Eliseus, and like the apostles Peter, Paul, and John, he had the honour bestowed on him of raising the dead to life, and now in heaven, placed amid the prophets and apostles, this prophetic and apostolic man enjoys a glorious and eternal throne in the heavenly fatherland with Christ, who reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost forever.
Maybe we don't see such miracles today because our modernist minds lack the broad faith that these ancient, new converts possessed. Also, perhaps the missionary nature of St. Columba's work was an element of God's providentially willing to make miracles happen through this man. It was interesting for me to finish this book around the same time that I read Fr. Amorth's book on exorcism, as it helped to remind me of spiritual realities that lie beyond the perception of my own senses.
Monday, January 12, 2009
The second part of the argument is based on a misunderstanding of the mediation provided by the Catholic priest, specifically, the re-presentation of Christ's once-and-for-all sacrifice on Calvary (see Fr. James T. O'Connor, The Hidden Manna (2d ed. 2005)). As there is no presentation of, or mediation by a new sacrifice, Christ's perfectly sufficient sacrifice suffers no derogation. Thus, I will focus on the other part of the argument, which sees a priestly cast as contrary to the Bible's description of a priesthood of all believers.
This view is founded on 1 Peter 2:4-5, where the Apostle says, "As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him — you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (NIV)"
But a general priestly office (held by all believers) excludes a particular priestly office no more than the general "offering" of "spiritual sacrifices" excludes the particular offering of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary. In fact, that a general priesthood can exist along with a particular priestly cast is proven by the Pentateuch. Exodus 19:3-6, depicts Moses receiving a message from the Lord for the house of Jacob and the people of Israel: "Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." But the existence of this general priesthood of all of God's people did not bar David from raising up a priestly tribe as described in 1 Chronicles 23 ff.
I am a layman. I do not know whether, in the development of eucharistic and episcopal doctrine, the eventual use of the word "priest" was the perfect choice. But I do know that the arguments against its use suffer from the aforesaid deficiencies. I also know that the classical Protestant term "minister" itself implies some mediation -- it means (in its verb form) "to administer or dispense." The Reformed minister dispenses God's grace via the word and sacraments. The very act of dispensing what is not one's own is a mediatory act. Therefore, if some human mediation denies Christ's sole mediation, then out with that term too.
Friday, January 9, 2009
Fr. Gabriele Amorth's An Exorcist Tells His Story was not precisely what I expected, but entirely worth the read. I expected the book to be a series of sci-fi-like accounts of demon encounters and exorcisms. Instead, it was a masterful blend of describing the exorcist's practice, giving vignettes of demonic encounters, and articulating the theological realities at play during these encounters. The need for exorcisms is great, Fr. Amorth explains, even if encounters with actual demons are rare.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Friday, January 2, 2009
The de-churched nature of our theology makes evangelism hard to do without seeming salesy, because churchless evangelism unavoidably promotes a consumerist soteriology. When it's just you and Jesus, you (the consumer) "invite him" (the product) "into your heart" (brand adoption) and "get saved" (consumer gratification).Id. at p.22.
While distinct from the main focus of Wigg-Stevenson's discussion, his painting of religious decisions in the light of the American consumerist mentality provides insight into the denominational marketplace as well. The reactions I have received from fellow Reformed Christians to Catholicism's arguments are understandable when viewed through the consumerist lens: "I would agree with them if it weren't for their adoption of doctrine X," or "I just can't stomach the Catholic culture."
The presumption in these conversations seems to be that I was dissatisfied with my present ecclesial selection, so I returned to the denominational marketplace to see if I could find a better fit. We happen to live in an era where many can be 'choosers.' As choosers, we approach the ecclesial buffet and ponder what is the best fit for our meal tastes. And being used to making choices catered to our particular predilections, we are (no doubt) hesitant to set our tastes to one side when choosing or re-choosing church.
The fallacy, I believe, is in conceptualizing the sects of Christianity as market choices of varying merit (or worse, as fungible commodities), instead of fragmented pieces of one body, badly in need of organic unity. I am not close to leaving my present denominational market choice because of deficiencies in the choice qua choice. The terms of that analysis are entirely wrong. I encountered truth-claims that conflicted with my denomination's truth-claims, and which my denomination's teachings could not resolve (viz., the post hoc answering of the Canon Question, and the absence of authority to be a schismatic church).
There is no market choice to make. Minivans and station wagons are both types of automobiles. They both get passengers and cargo to a destination. Corn and rice are both types of side dishes that can nourish the body. One of those could be a less desirable choice, a bad choice, or even a wrong choice for one, many or all people. But if the Catholic ecclesiological view is entertained, we could view the buffet as containing one dish of real food, and other dishes that are not food at all (a few options may even be poisonous).
My challenge in explaining the claims of Catholicism and its critiques of the Protestant Reformation is in avoiding the impression that I simply find Catholicism preferable to competing choices such as the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). (A conclusion with which they can simply and readily disagree.) Rather, the discussion must demonstrate that Catholicism claims itself to be without competitor, the one Church to which we are all called to be in communion.