Crossfunction: 2005

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Do our prayers do anything?

I was amazed at a recent discussion about prayer, in our Bible study. Here's a boiled-down version of the conversation:

J: If I pray secretly for 'Fred', can those prayers help him?
Z: Yes.

J: So, if I pray for Fred, God blesses him through my prayers?
Z: Sure.

J: Then, if I refuse to pray for Fred, he doesn't get those blessings, right?
Z: Wrong. God can still bless him without Your prayers.

J: Of course God can still bless him. God can bless Fred in lots of ways, through different instruments.
Z: Exactly.

J: But I thought You just said that Fred actually does benefit as a result of my prayers.
Z: He does. But God can bless Fred without waiting for Your prayers.

J: Either our prayers bring about blessings from God or they don't. Scripture says that our prayers are effective. They actually bring about good. If I refuse to pray, I'm refusing to let God bless Fred through my prayers. I'm preventing God from blessing Fred through one of the instruments that God specifically wants to use for Fred's blessing.
Z: You can't block God.

J: Yes I can. And I do, whenever I sin. Sin prevents God's will from being carried out in my life, and this can and does hurt others too. If I refuse to pray for Fred, I'm blocking one channel of God's grace into Fred's life. I'm not preventing God from blessing Fred in other ways, but I am preventing Him from blessing Fred in one important way: through me.
Z: But God doesn't need Your prayers. He can bless even if nobody prays.

J: You're going in circles. You can't have it both ways, Z. Scripture says prayer is powerful and effective. Consequently, a lack of prayer causes a lack of some good and truly important effect that God desires to accomplish. If You say that my refusal to pray has no affect on Fred, then You can't claim that my prayers can do him any good. If You take that position, Your view of prayer is at odds with Scripture.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

1 Corinthians 14: May women speak in church?

1 Corinthians Chapter 14 (RSV)

14:33. For God is not the God of dissension, but of peace: as also I teach in all the churches of the saints.
14:34. Let women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted them to speak but to be subject, as also the law saith.
14:35. But if they would learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church.
14:36. Or did the word of God come out from you? Or came it only unto you?
14:37. If any seem to be a prophet or spiritual, let him know the things that I write to you, that they are the commandments of the Lord.
14:38. But if any man know not, he shall not be known.

Do You follow Paul’s decree in Your church? Does Your church hold that it is “shameful” for women to speak in church and therefore they must “keep silence” there, learning by questioning their husbands at home?

Don’t tell me this passage is difficult, because Paul is clear and straightforward in his writing. Some passages of Scripture are couched in mysterious language, but this certainly isn’t one of them. If we have difficulty with this passage it’s not because we don’t understand it, but rather because we do understand.

So if this passage is abundantly clear in its teaching that women must “keep silence” in church, why do we spend any time now debating the matter as if it were not settled in Scripture? The reason is that we are not accustomed to following Paul’s decree. For most of us our experience of church has been free from any such restriction upon women. Many of us perhaps have never even heard this matter discussed.

Upon finding this passage in our Bible reading maybe we continued on without seriously considering the possibility that our churches are in grave disobedience toward an apostolic instruction. And if we realized that Paul’s rule is contradicted or cancelled nowhere in Scripture, this too raised no serious concern. The rule was so foreign to our culture and church experience that it obviously must mean something other than its self-evident meaning, or at least is no longer binding upon the church today. Everyone apparently knew this, because nobody bothered to discuss it. This mindset was transmitted to us not from the pulpit, but non-verbally, as if by silent osmosis. But is this a scripturally sound position for us to adopt?

I put the question to my Protestant friends: Is it a biblical principle that our interpretation and acceptance of a solemn command of Scripture should depend upon the interpretations and traditions we have received from our church? Doesn’t the principle of sola scriptura (“Scripture alone is our rule of faith”) insist that we reject “traditions of men” that appear to us contrary to Scripture? Yet most Protestants and Catholics permit women to speak in church.

For Catholics this is not a problem, for we can simply answer, “Yes, it definitely is a biblical teaching that the authentic interpretation of the message of Christ is revealed through the Scriptures AND the preaching of the apostles AND their legitimate successors. And their successors for centuries have not continued to require women to keep silent in church.”

As a Bible-believing Christian I firmly believe that Jesus keeps His promise to preserve His Church from falling into error concerning the “commandments of the Lord”. It’s clear to me that the principal way in which He does this -“the Bible way”- is through the action of the Holy Spirit, Who preserves correct interpretation of God’s Word through the teachings of the apostles and those who have received the apostolic imposition of hands and remain united to the bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter.

But if one rejects this Catholic view and yet insists that women may speak in church… I just can’t imagine how one can defend that from Scripture.

Monday, October 17, 2005

1 Corinthians 10: A Communion with the Blood of Christ

1 Corinthians Chapter 10 (RSV)

1 I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same supernatural food 4 and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

6 Now these things are warnings for us, not to desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to dance." 8 We must not indulge in immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put the Lord to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents; 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 14 Therefore, my beloved, shun the worship of idols.

15 I speak as to sensible men; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

23 "All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For "the earth is the Lord's, and everything in it." 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 (But if some one says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then out of consideration for the man who informed you, and for conscience' sake-- 29 I mean his conscience, not yours--do not eat it.) For why should my liberty be determined by another man's scruples? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? 31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please all men in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

"Perceivest thou the wisdom of Paul, how in both cases he points out Him as the Giver, and thereby brings the Type nigh to the Truth? 'For He who set those things before them,' saith he, 'the same also hath prepared this our Table: and the same Person both brought them through the sea and thee through Baptism; and before them set manna, but before thee His Body and Blood.'"

Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople (A.D. 347-407)
Homily XXIII on First Corinthians

"In very truth it is a marvellous thing that God rained manna on the fathers, and fed them with daily food from heaven; so that it is said, "So man did eat angels' food." But yet all those who ate that food died in the wilderness, but that food which you receive, that living Bread which came down from heaven, furnishes the substance of eternal life; and whosoever shall eat of this Bread shall never die, and it is the Body of Christ."

"Now consider whether the bread of angels be more excellent or the Flesh of Christ, which is indeed the body of life. That manna came from heaven, this is above the heavens; that was of heaven, this is of the Lord of the heavens; that was liable to corruption, if kept a second day, this is far from all corruption, for whosoever shall taste it wholly shall not be able to feel corruption. For them water flowed from the rock, for you Blood flowed from Christ; water satisfied them for a time, the Blood satiates you for eternity. The Jew drinks and thirsts again, you after drinking will be beyond the power of thirsting; that was in a shadow, this is in truth."

"If that which you so wonder at is but shadow, how great must that be whose very shadow you wonder at. See now what happened in the case of the fathers was shadow: "They drank, it is said, of that Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were done in a figure concerning us." You recognize now which are the more excellent, for light is better than shadow, truth than a figure, the Body of its Giver than the manna from heaven. "

Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (A.D. ~387)
Treatise on the Mysteries, 47-49

Monday, September 19, 2005

John 3:15: A serpent, a Savior, a sacrament

4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food." 6 Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses, and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live." 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

Numbers 21:4-9

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:14-16

After the people’s miraculous exodus from bondage in Egypt, their joy to turned to bitterness in the wilderness. They complained against God and Moses and blasphemed God’s gift, the bread from heaven. They suffered snakebites in punishment for their sins. The snakebites caused great pain, in many cases followed by death. This great suffering brought many of them to acknowledge their sin to Moses and ask his intercessory prayer that the serpents be removed. Now, God certainly could have simply removed the serpents and healed the people on the basis of their interior repentance. Instead, He provided through Moses a peculiar ritual, in which those who participated could “live”.

What can we say about this ritual?
  • It required a specific action on the part of the minister: Moses had to place a “fiery serpent” on a pole and make it accessible to the people.

  • The ritual bore a divine promise: God said that “every one who is bitten” would survive upon seeing the serpent.

  • It required a specific action on the part of the one desiring healing: he must look upon the serpent. In this, each person hoping to be healed needed to acknowledge his sins by gazing upon the representation of the consequence of their sins, the wages of which is death.

  • It was effective. The passage specifically tells us that people indeed were saved from death by obediently performing the outward action demanded by the rite.

  • It did not require perfect interior repentance. The outward action perhaps depended on at least some sort of repentance, but the 'bar' was set low, so to speak.

  • The snakes themselves, as well as the painful bites they caused, were not taken away. The people still had to suffer from painful but temporary consequences of their sins. Yet God, through the ritual, cancelled the fatal outcome of their punishment.

  • Healing was on God's terms, not the people's. They wanted their suffering taken away. Instead, God gave them life. They wanted their wishes granted simply by their request to Moses. Instead, God required a specific action that would require and manifest obedience on the part of the sinner.

Jesus, in the Gospel of John, relates this reality to Himself. In fact, the incident in the desert foreshadows the crucifixion of our Savior. The serpents were not sin, but they were sent by God because of sin, and to chastise, and to urge sinners to repentance. Jesus was not sin, but He was sent by His Father because of sin, and to call sinners to repentance. The serpents and their icon on the pole together brought conviction of sin and a means of rescue from its fatal consequence: natural death. The crucified Lord brought knowledge of sin and a means of rescue from its eternal spiritual consequence: eternal death.

21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

Bible Q&A: According to the Bible account…
  • Who was healed… everyone who repented, or everyone who looked at the serpent?
    –Those who looked at the serpent.

  • Did anyone survive who did not look at the serpent?
    -We aren’t told.

The serpent on the pole prefigures the sacraments of the New Covenant, particularly Baptism. In Baptism, God has prescribed a simple ritual which He requires man to perform in order to obtain a supernatural promise: forgiveness of sins and a share in the very life of God.

38 And Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him."

Acts 2:38-39

Again God 'sets the bar low' in order to make His grace and salvation accessible to everyone, including us many who have difficulty repenting perfectly of our sins. God helps us to understand just how unmerited His forgiveness is, by attaching it as a divine promise to the simple human act of washing, but washing that is always received, never done for oneself. People desiring Baptism do not and can not baptize themselves.

The outward act of Baptism is so simple, so commonplace... yet so illustrative of the great supernatural reality taking place: the Spirit hovers over the water; water flows from the side of the Savior; God says "Let there be Light"... and the Light of Christ dawns upon the first day of a new creation more glorious than God's creation of the universe. All we need do is cooperate to the extent that God's grace has enabled our feeble will. If all we can do is set our eyes upon the cross, if all that time permits is the brief expression of faith of the thief on a cross, then God can save. But let us not put ourselves and our children in the category of those Israelites who did not gaze upon the serpent on the pole either out of pride, negligence, or disbelief. We can not safely presume they were saved.

The Bible plan -God's plan- is for us to preach and follow the sure and level path that God has provided, which begins with Baptism to ignite the lamp of our soul and set our course toward heaven. In this washing we are assured to receive the promise of eternal life through the waters of Baptism, to gaze upon our Savior through the lifegiving water flowing from His side:

he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit...

Titus 3:5

17 The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let him who hears say, "Come." And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price.

Revelation 22:17

Saturday, September 10, 2005

1 Corinthians 5: Let us celebrate the festival

1 Corinthians Chapter 5 (RSV)

1 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father's wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. 3 For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment 4 in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

One who scandalously lives an immoral life should be expelled from the assembly for his own good and the good of the Church. Sometimes excommunication is a necessary medicine, for by it the sinner may be brought to his senses and realize his spiritual danger.

Excommunication is a warning and a foreshadowing of the dire eternal consequences that certainly will follow if one persists unrepentant in grave sin. In this particular case Paul pronounces his binding judgment "in the name of the Lord Jesus", and imparts his authority to the church at Corinth with the command to expel the manifest sinner. Here we see a concrete exercise of apostolic authority in a disciplinary matter. Without this authority, exercised by those who legitimately bear it, the Church would be powerless to impose this serious remedy.

6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Unleavened bread, the paschal lamb, "the festival"... these all are references to the Passover feast. Paul speaks not of the Old Covenant festival in which many lambs are sacrificed and consumed, but rather of the New Covenant festival foreshadowed by the old. In this new festival, the Eucharist, believers are united to the Paschal Lamb, Christ, and to His once-for-all sacrifice that transcends time. We partake of the flesh of the Paschal Lamb and drink the precious Blood He shed for us, and thereby share in His eternal life. This side of Heaven there can not be a more perfect union with Jesus than this: to receive Him -His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity- within our souls and within our bodies; and both body and soul receive the foretaste and pledge of eternal life whose roots are sunk unshakeably deep in the rock that is Christ.

Paul draws an analogy between the bread of this feast and the Corinthians themselves, in order to illustrate a lesson. In preparation for a feast of such intimate union with God the bread must be prepared from dough unpolluted by the leaven of boasting or immorality. The Corinthians themselves are referred to not merely as preparing or partaking of the bread, but as actually being that bread. If they are to "celebrate the festival" without demeaning or contradicting its meaning, they themselves must be free from the leaven that can spoil the whole loaf of bread.

Why is it so important that the bread -both the actual bread consumed in the festival and the figurative "bread" composed of believers- be unleavened? In chapter 11 Paul writes:

23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 25 In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.

1 Corinthians 11:23-29

The New Covenant festival of which Paul speaks is the Eucharist, in which Christians distinguish by faith and receive the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus, and are united with Him. This not a merely symbolic union, but a profound encounter between Jesus and the children of God. Therefore Jesus, Who is the sacrificial Lamb of the New Covenant and the Bread of Life, is united with His bride the Church, which is to be a pure and unleavened loaf set apart by God for Himself. We must not dare to attempt Eucharistic union with Jesus without first renouncing sin and asking to be made capable of such union.

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; 10 not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber--not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. "Drive out the wicked person from among you."

In chapter 4 we were warned not to pass judgement on others. Here we are told not to hang around with "immoral men". Doesn't this imply we have to judge which men are immoral? Is Paul inconsistent? I don't think so.

I think that in chapter 4 the main points about judgement are these:
  • Don't presume to pass final judgement; God will judge finally.

  • Don't make Your acceptance of the authority of Your spiritual fathers -the apostles and those appointed by their authority- depend upon Your judgement of their holiness.

On the other hand, in chapter 5 Paul insists that a fellow believer who is living an openly immoral life should be avoided. To me it seems that this caution applies equally to our spiritual fathers as well as other fellow believers. That is, if an apostolic successor -a validly ordained bishop of the Catholic Church- is living a manifestly scandalous life then I would do well to avoid him. However, I would not do well to deny the authority he has been given, or to hold him or his brother bishops in contempt.

Jesus picked sinners to be apostles, and he has picked sinners ever since then to carry out their apostolic ministry. We are commanded by Paul to accept those sent to us -like them or not- and only in cases of manifest immorality may we have justification to pass temporary censure against other believers, especially those sent to us by the apostles to teach and guide us.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Paul to Proteus...

We have received word that Paul does not intend to dignify Proteus' letter with a written response, but will "correct" his "son" upon his next visit.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Shall we listen to Paul or Apollos?

Proteus, a son of Abraham, a citizen of Corinth, and follower of the Christ Jesus preached by Apollos, to Paulus a brother and fellow believer. Greetings.

Are we then to accept the teachings of every man who preaches Christ, even though his words and actions depart from what God has revealed through our fathers the patriarchs? It is said that You reject circumcision, which Moses gave us as an everlasting covenant. Do you make the children of Abraham equal to pagans? Apollos has preached here in our city on many sabbaths, and has not given us this teaching.

It is further said that you have been expelled from synagogues in many cities and have received the indignation of holy men. How are we to know whether you are sent by God or Beelzebul?

Why should we listen to You?

1 Corinthians 4: Call this man "Father".

1 Corinthians Chapter 4 (RSV)

1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. 4 I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God. 6 I have applied all this to myself and Apol'los for your benefit, brethren, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.

7 For who sees anything different in you? What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift? 8 Already you are filled! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! 9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are ill-clad and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things.

14 I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me.

17 Therefore I sent to you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. 18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?

My paraphrase:
How should You regard us apostles? We are no more than servants of the servants of God, faithful stewards dispensing the mysteries that God has entrusted to us for the good of His children. Like any servants, we are required by our Master to be faithful. Yet whether I am faithful in Your eyes or the judgement of any human court does not matter to me; not even my own judgement about myself matters. I am not aware of anything against me, but that doesn't prove me blameless. It is the Lord -not You or I- who finally will judge me. Therefore do not presume to pass judgement on the Lord's appointed stewards before He comes in judgement. He is the One Who will uncover the secrets of men's hearts and bring to light what is hidden. Then every man will receive his recompense. I have applied all this to myself and Apollos so that You would understand not to set us, Your teachers, against each other through vain alliegances and prideful divisions, nor should You presume to pass judgement on us. God has appointed us Your teachers, and it is for You to receive us in faithfulness and love, just as we have obediently received the Lord's command. Do not subject us to the scales of human judgement.

For are You any different than us? What good, what holiness do You have that You did not receive from God? If it has all been a gift, why are You proud? So quickly You have become wiser than Your teachers! Already you presume to judge us! Without us You have become kings! How I wish You truly would live as spiritual kings, so that we could reign with You! But God is showing the world through us His apostles the example that You should have followed: we are weak -but You triumph in strength; we are despised -yet You revel in honors. Even now we lack food, drink, clothing, shelter, or home. We toil with our own hands. We bless when cursed. We persevere in suffering. We seek peace with those who slander us. We are despised as the scum of the earth.

I don't write this to shame You, but to warn You as my beloved children. Even if You think You have countless "guides" in Christ, You do not have many fathers. For I -not they- became Your father in Christ Jesus through the Lord's revelation, and You should follow my teaching and example.

Therefore, I Your father have sent You Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to represent me to You in Christ. He will teach You with the authority by which I myself teach the churches everywhere. But some do not submit to my authority, perhaps thinking I shall not come to You. But I shall come, if the Lord wills, and I will not be swayed by vain arguments but shall test the true "power" of these arrogant people. For the kingdom of God is not talk but power. Which do You prefer? Must I punish my children, or shall I visit You in gentleness?

Thursday, August 25, 2005

1 Corinthians 3: Saved -but only as through fire.

Christ in Majesty, mosaic, Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C.

1 Corinthians Chapter 3 (RSV)

1 But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men? 4 For when one says, "I belong to Paul," and another, "I belong to Apol'los," are you not merely men?

5 What then is Apol'los? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apol'los watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. 10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it.

11 For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-- 13 each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

16 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? 17 If any one destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are.

18 Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness," 20 and again, "The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile."

21 So let no one boast of men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apol'los or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; 23 and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's.

Paul again with humility affirms his position as a servant of God, but one having the authority to teach definitively. He warns against building upon any foundation but that which he and the other apostles have laid by the grace of God.

He addresses Christians and reminds us that our works shall be judged. We shall enjoy reward or suffer loss, depending upon the outcome of that judgement. He does not refer to loss of salvation in this context, but rather addresses those of us who are ultimately saved. In this context "loss" refers to the suffering associated with the consuming fire's purification of us from those works we performed which were not worthy of Christ, and of which we had not fully repented.

In other words, all Christians indeed will face judgement following death. Even those who are to be finally saved will be held accountable for their works, which follow them through death to a most just judgement. Those works which were sinful or otherwise not worthy of Christ will be purged from us by a consuming fire. We ourselves shall not be destroyed by this fire, but rather shall pass through it as a final purification.

This purification is necessary because, as Paul reminds us, "God's temple is holy, and that temple you are." As the apostle John testifies, "nothing unclean shall enter [heaven]" (Revelation 21:27 RSV). If before death we have not completely turned away from sin and renounced all attachment to sin and sinful desires; if we have not permitted God's grace to thoroughly complete our sanctification before death, then upon death we shall not yet be fit to enter heaven. We must first face this Day of the Lord and His revealing fire. These flames shall complete the purification that we failed to complete prior to death.

This purifying fire is a sobering reality, but is a proof of God's love and mercy. For it is through this fire that our heavenly Father will perfectly complete the work of sanctification which He began in us. Is it a second chance at salvation? No, for those who do die outside of God's friendship will never enter heaven, and will only suffer the eternal fires of hell.

Only those who die in God's friendship shall be saved, and it is only these who may undergo this purification. All of these shall enter heaven.

Is this final purification a reason to be lax about our sanctification in this life? Certainly not! Jesus commands us:
"You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48 RSV)

God hates sin and requires us to do everything in our power to repent of it and live holy lives. By grace this is possible. Yet we know that Christians still struggle with sin. Who among us would claim to have already reached the perfection of holiness that Jesus demands and which is a prerequisite of all who wish to enter heaven?

Thank God that His mercy extends even beyond the point of death, and He is able to complete the purification that He began within us, and which we cooperated with: provided we persevere to the end in His grace.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Titus 3: Baby gets a bath

The Epistle of St. Paul to Titus, chapter 3

1 Admonish them to be subject to princes and powers, to obey at a word, to be ready to every good work.
2 To speak evil of no man, not to be litigious, but gentle: shewing all mildness towards all men.
3 For we ourselves also were some time unwise, incredulous, erring, slaves to divers desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.
4 But when the goodness and kindness of God our Savior appeared:
5 Not by the works of justice, which we have done, but according to his mercy, he saved us, by the laver of regeneration, and renovation of the Holy Ghost;
6 Whom he hath poured forth upon us abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Savior:
7 That, being justified by his grace, we may be heirs, according to hope of life everlasting.
8 It is a faithful saying: and these things I will have thee affirm constantly: that they, who believe in God, may be careful to excel in good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.
9 But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law. For they are unprofitable and vain.
10 A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, avoid:
11 Knowing that he, that is such an one, is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned by his own judgment.
12 When I shall send to thee Artemas or Tychicus, make haste to come unto me to Nicopolis. For there I have determined to winter.
13 Send forward Zenas, the lawyer, and Apollo, with care, that nothing be wanting to them.
14 And let our men also learn to excel in good works for necessary uses: that they be not unfruitful.
15 All that are with me salute thee: salute them that love us in the faith. The grace of God be with you all. Amen.

In today's meeting there was much discussion about whether verses 4-6 refer to Baptism, and whether this Baptism rightly can be given to infants. Of course the Catholics in the group answered 'yes' to both questions, although among the rest of the group the answers were somewhat mixed.

Most seemed to agree that Baptism of adults and older children should not be given without some expression of faith by the recipient.

There was less agreement on Baptism and infants. Some members were not comfortable with the idea that infants, apparently without any expression of free will, could legitimately receive Baptism.

But consider the status of infant males under the Old Covenant. They were made part of the covenant through circumcision on the "eighth day", and this rite was imposed upon infants by their parents in obedience to an uncompromising divine edict that made no provision for obtaining the child's consent:

Genesis chapter 17
12 An infant of eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations: he that is born in the house, as well as the bought servant shall be circumcised, and whosoever is not of your stock:
13 And my covenant shall be in your flesh for a perpetual covenant.
14 The male, whose dash of his foreskin shall not be circumcised, that soul shall be destroyed out of his people: because he hath broken my covenant.

Scripture is clear that circumcision made infant males members of the Old Covenant. As Hebrew children grew in age and understanding, they became accountable for living out their faith in obedience to God's will.

Scripture is likewise clear that the New Covenant founded by Christ is greater than the Old in every way, and its ceremony of initiation -Baptism- is offered to all persons. Consider Saint Peter's Pentecost sermon:

Acts chapter 2
37 Now when they had heard these things, they had compunction in their heart, and said to Peter, and to the rest of the apostles: What shall we do, men and brethren?
38 But Peter said to them: Do penance, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins: and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
39 For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are far off, whomsoever the Lord our God shall call.

Many Protestants would say that Peter clearly required that all must positively repent prior to Baptism. But if this were so it would impose a restriction upon entry to the New Covenant that was not present in the Old Covenant in the case of young children. It's important to realize that Peter was answering an adult question: "What shall we do?". And Peter's answer was to those equipped to hear and respond to it: You must repent and be baptized.

But Peter immediately affirms that "the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are far off, whomsoever the Lord our God shall call." Therefore, three thousand were Baptized that day. Is it plausible that the children in the crowd were denied Baptism after Peter's explicit teaching that the promise was for the adults and their children? In light of Peter's exhortation it is hard to think that men, women, or children were denied Baptism that day.

Ceremonial entry to the New Covenant is glorious in comparison with the Old. It visibly embraces both women and men; it embraces Jew and non-Jew; it embraces old and young -even infants! Peter and Paul are adamant that in Baptism what really counts is not so much what the recipient is doing, but rather what God is doing. It is God that makes Baptism effective. It is God -not man's words or beliefs- that initiates regeneration, renewal, and new life. So long as man cooperates to the extent God enables him, Baptism delivers all the spiritual goods that Scripture promises.

While circumcision truly brought even infants into the Old Covenant, it did not bring about spiritual regeneration. Baptism does both, and because the power depends on God's passionate desire to call all persons to receive eternal life, He imparts regeneration and renewal to every recipient of Baptism who does not place an obstacle in God's way.

This is why infants not only can be Baptized, but why they should be Baptized by their parents with great joy and at the earliest practical opportunity.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Titus 1: "...I also appointed thee"

Book of Titus, in Latin, 13th c.  Oxford, England

The Epistle of St. Paul to Titus, Chapter 1

1 Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of the elect of God and the acknowledging of the truth, which is according to godliness: 2 Unto the hope of life everlasting, which God, who lieth not, hath promised before the times of the world: 3 But hath in due times manifested his word in preaching, which is committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior: 4 To Titus my beloved son, according to the common faith, grace and peace from God the Father, and from Christ Jesus our Savior. 5 For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and shouldest ordain priests in every city, as I also appointed thee: 6 If any be without crime, the husband of one wife, having faithful children, not accused of riot, or unruly. 7 For a bishop must be without crime, as the steward of God: not proud, not subject to anger, not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre: 8 But given to hospitality, gentle, sober, just, holy, continent: 9 Embracing that faithful word which is according to doctrine, that he may be able to exhort in sound doctrine, and to convince the gainsayers. 10 For there are also many disobedient, vain talkers, and seducers: especially they who are of the circumcision: 11 Who must be reproved, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake. 12 One of them a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are always liars, evil beasts, slothful bellies. 13 This testimony is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; 14 Not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men, who turn themselves away from the truth. 15 All things are clean to the clean: but to them that are defiled, and to unbelievers, nothing is clean: but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. 16 They profess that they know God: but in their works they deny him; being abominable, and incredulous, and to every good work reprobate.

I risk repetition on the topic of apostolic authority, but it's only because Paul repeatedly stresses this central theme in his letters. In his letter to Titus Paul raises the matter again before he even concludes his greeting!

3 But hath in due times manifested his word in preaching, which is committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior... 5 For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and shouldest ordain priests in every city, as I also appointed thee

How does Paul understand God's word to be "manifested" "in due times"? Elsewhere he elaborates on Jesus Christ as the Word made flesh, but here his focus is on the Word of God in its verbal form, which is transmitted primarily "in preaching", and by teachers designated through the authority of the apostles.

Saint Paul. Breviary of Martin of Aragon. Spain, Catalonia, 15th Century.
By whose preaching? Paul's... and the other apostles and those whom they have ordained to the task. Again and again through Paul's letters he refers to the special commission that the apostles have uniquely received, and which distinguishes them as authoritative both in teaching and in governing the Church. Paul's Church is not one in which one is a teacher or pastor simply because he feels the urge, or because his friends voted to approve him to the role. It's a matter of apostolic authority, and Paul is uncompromising on it. For him it's vital to preserving and proclaiming the full Gospel in a world in which there are so many distorted gospels and counterfeit teachers.

In this chapter, he reminds Titus that just as he, Paul, was "committed" the Gospel by the "commandment of God", so he has now appointed Titus to carry on this mission and to carefully appoint other men to share in this role through the ministries of priest ("presbyter") and bishop ("overseer").

Throughout these letters to Timothy and Titus, does Paul ever offer an alternative to this model of apostolic ministry?

Monday, June 27, 2005

2 Timothy 3: Dangerous times

Raphael. Cartoon for St. Paul Preaching in Athens. c1513-1514. Mixed media on paper, mounted on canvas. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK.

2 Timothy Chapter 3 (RSV)
1 Know also this, that, in the last days, shall come dangerous times.
2 Men shall be lovers of themselves, covetous, haughty, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, wicked,
3 Without affection, without peace, slanderers, incontinent, unmerciful, without kindness,
4 Traitors, stubborn, puffed up, and lovers of pleasures more than of God:
5 Having an appearance indeed of godliness, but denying the power thereof. Now these avoid.
6 For of these sort are they who creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, who are led away with divers desires:
7 Ever learning, and never attaining to the knowledge of the truth.
8 Now as Jannes and Mambres resisted Moses, so these also resist the truth, men corrupted in mind, reprobate concerning the faith.
9 But they shall proceed no farther; for their folly shall be manifest to all men, as theirs also was.
10 But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, patience,
11 Persecutions, afflictions: such as came upon me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra: what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord delivered me.
12 And all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution.
13 But evil men and seducers shall grow worse and worse: erring, and driving into error.
14 But continue thou in those things which thou hast learned, and which have been committed to thee: knowing of whom thou hast learned them;
15 And because from thy infancy thou hast known the holy scriptures, which can instruct thee to salvation, by the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
16 All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice,
17 That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.

Throughout this epistle Paul has passionately urged Timothy to preserve and transmit "the gospel which thou hast heard of me in faith" (2 Timothy 1:13). He calls it, "my gospel" (2 Timothy 2:8). He does not mean that he owns it, but he means to distinguish the gospel which he has received and transmitted to Timothy, from the many other false gospels being spread by false teachers.

Now Paul tells us something about these false teachers. He characterizes them not so much by their erroneous doctrine as by their unseen, disordered passions and sinful lives. They perhaps present an "appearance... of godliness" but deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5). What does this mean? Paul explains.

He compares them to Jannes and Mambres, whose names Paul knows not from Scripture -they are named nowhere else in the Bible- but by oral tradition. These men were Pharoah's magicians, who when confronted with Moses, God's appointed messenger, resisted him and his message. When Moses displayed God's power through his staff turned serpent, Jannes and Mambres likewise produced serpents from staffs. Whether their sign was a clever magician's trick or was brought about by demonic power, the purpose of their counterfeit sign was to discredit Moses and deny the truth of his testimony. Even though Moses' serpent devoured the others, the magicians' efforts contributed to the hardening of Pharoah's heart as well as their own.

Similarly, the false teachers of whom Paul warns Timothy produce a false sign -the appearance of godliness- to conceal the reality that they are not sent by God and do not bear His message. Their "appearance of godliness" -a sham holiness and supposed knowledge of spiritual things- is skin deep, for their lives contradict the truth that God truly gives the power to turn from sin and grow in holiness. These false teachers do not believe or wish to believe that such transformation is possible or necessary.

From the first centuries of Christianity, some heretics promoted the error that only the soul is good, and all matter is evil; therefore, they taught, we should expect the body to desire and to naturally carry out evil acts, and that temptations to such sins can be irresistible. If they are irresistible, we aren't culpable for giving in to them. These heretics taught that if the body is evil, it is futile to try to make it behave virtuously. In the end, they held that salvation for Christians is salvation of the spirit, and the body can be permitted to run its course of sin.

Paul seems to be addressing just this sort of error. He identifies "silly women laden with sins" (2 Timothy 3:6) as particularly vulnerable to the lie that we can not resist temptations to sin. Women -then, just as now in many places- are too often victimized by men seeking conquest and sexual gratification without cost or consequence. The false teachers condemned by Paul in this chapter perhaps included some who were spreading a false message as a means for taking advantage of women in a particularly demeaning way: their victims would be left with an increased burden of guilt from which they would feel powerless to be freed. For them, the Gospel has been emptied of its power to bring about godliness.

In contrast, Paul's gospel is one of salvation for the whole person, body and soul, and a life transformed by the Gospel is one illuminated by holiness and virtue.

2 Timothy 3: Finding the Gospel, the Bible way

Here are two different ways to find someone sent by God to definitively preach the Gospel: which is the Bible way?

Method 1:
Seek out a preacher whose message about Christ sounds right, and appears to agree with Scripture. If so, observe his life to determine whether his example agrees with his teaching. If so, acknowlege him as a man of God and an authentic teacher of God's Word.

Method 2:
Seek out a person who has received the gift of the imposition of hands -like Timothy- from one who himself has received this apostolic gift -like Paul. Embrace his teachings unless they appear to contradict what the Church and Scripture clearly teach.


Method 1 is essentially a Protestant approach. It relies on me -with the help of the Holy Spirit- determining whether a given preacher is teaching and living the truth, in which case I will decide to believe what he says. If at some point his message doesn't sound quite right or his life doesn't look quite right, I'll have to reconsider.

Method 2 is essentially a Catholic approach. It relies on the scriptural fact that Jesus gave His apostles the power to preach the Gospel and through the imposition of hands to pass on that ministry to others, who are also able to do the same. Therefore, God sends us teachers who have been publicly set aside for that ministry according to the clear pattern set down in the Gospel and followed continuously since the first century. If such a man then teaches things that seem to contradict what Scripture and the Church teach, then I have to be careful not to be deceived by his potentially false teachings. If his life contadicts his teachings, then again I have cause for caution.

Paul before Agrippa.  Tiffany Studios.  Union Congregational Church, Montclair, NJ.
Note that the two methods are rather different. Method 1 requires me to build a case FOR a preacher in order to decide whether, in effect, his message is good enough to be believed.

Method 2 more exemplifies the belief that Jesus makes His appointed teachers readily recognizable, just as He did in the first century, and they are to be welcomed with respect and trust. We recognize them the way early Christians were to recognize the teachers sent to them: they were sent by the apostles or those sent by the apostles. At the same time, we must recognize that individual teachers can teach error, and their words must be weighed against the teachings handed down by the apostles through Scripture and Tradition.

These legitimately ordained teachers teach with true authority as long as they continue to teach in union with the successors of Peter and the other apostles.

Monday, June 20, 2005

2 Timothy 3: sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition

The Conversion of St. Paul.  Carravaggio, 1600. Oil on cypress wood, 237 x 189 cm.  Odescalchi Balbi Collection, Rome.

Paul wrote to Timothy:

14 But continue thou in those things which thou hast learned, and which have been committed to thee: knowing of whom thou hast learned them;
15 And because from thy infancy thou hast known the holy scriptures, which can instruct thee to salvation, by the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
16 All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice,
17 That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.

This passage offers a clear view of Paul's concept of how the Gospel is transmitted: by Scripture and apostolic preaching.

Verse 14 urges Timothy to hold fast to the teachings which have been "committed" to him. On what basis? Because Timothy knows that Paul, the messenger of those teachings, is an apostle. Timothy is to "continue" in these things not because they sound good or seem plausible, but because Paul expects Timothy to recognize Paul's position as an apostle and therefore one who speaks definitively with teaching authority received from Jesus.

Verses 15-17 affirm the divine inspiration and value of Scripture in providing instruction profitable in achieving salvation. But these verses were written in the same breath, so to speak, as verse 14, and so rightly coexist with a harmonious meaning.

Paul never taught that oral tradition made Scripture unnecessary, nor did he teach the opposite. Rather, as the whole passage makes clear, Timothy is exhorted to respect and live by all the apostolic teachings he has received, whether they have been communicated to him via sacred Scripture or by authoritative apostolic preaching.

2 Timothy 2: Five generations of apostolic tradition!

Paul exhorts Timothy,

1 Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus:
2 And the things which thou hast heard of me by many witnesses, the same commend to faithful men, who shall be fit to teach others also.

Let's unpack that verse 2...
-Paul spoke certain things to "many witnesses";
-these witnesses delivered these things to Timothy;
-Timothy is to commend these things to "faithful men";
-These men are to teach others.

Count 'em... that's five links in a chain, an unbroken chain by which the Gospel is transmitted from apostle to the far reaches of the Church via those appointed to teach.

We've already seen in the book of Acts how, after he was called by Jesus, Paul was visibly appointed to the office of apostle through the imposition of hands. And we have seen Paul speak of how he appointed Timothy to a similar role -also through the imposition of hands.

Now we see the bigger picture. Paul and the other apostles can't preach the Gospel to the whole world alone. They recognize that they have received a divine commission and have teaching authority, but they also recognize that they have the power to appoint other men to share in this same office. Timothy has received this office and ministry through the imposition of hands, as have so many others before and after him.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

1 Timothy 3: Why can't Catholic bishops marry?

Today the question was asked, "Paul clearly permitted married men to become bishops, but the Catholic Church doesn't let married men become bishops. Doesn't Catholic practice on this point contradict Scripture?" Excellent question.

It's important to recognize that scripture distinguishes between doctrine and church practice or "discipline". Doctrine -official teaching about matters of faith and morals- can't change because divine truth doesn't change. What's true is true. Church discipline, on the other hand, is a separate matter. It refers to how the Church maintains order and carries out its mission.

Without going into the history of why the Church later adopted the rule of celibacy for bishops, the fact remains that the Church regards this not as a doctrine but simply as a matter of discipline, and has kept the rule in place for many centuries because she judges it to be a worthy and wise practice, one which has yielded great blessings for the Church. You and I may agree or disagree with the wisdom of the rule, but that's hardly relevant. The point is the Church has the authority to govern itself in matters of practice for the sake of the good of its members, and it has this authority from Christ.

Now, as circumstances change, the best way to maintain order and promote the good can likewise change. Someday, the Pope conceivably could cancel the rule of celibacy for bishops. The New Testament shows numerous of examples of the Church developing disciplines, and we don't have to look far for one. In our meeting today, there was some disagreement over this simple fact.

Yet just a few verses earlier Paul wrote,

"women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire 10 but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion. 11 Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. 12 I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent." 1 Timothy 2:9-12 RSV

If we are to maintain that sort of teaching in the New Testament is a matter of unchangeable doctrine, how are we to interpret this passage? One must conclude that today women are obliged to remove braids from their hair, gold jewelry from their bodies, and must learn in silence from their husbands -no matter how ignorant of the faith their husbands may be! What's more, nowhere in the New Testament are these rules cancelled.

The Catholic Church does not teach that these rules about women are matters of unchangeable doctrine, so I'm free to believe that they were temporary rules which Paul imposed for a unique set of circumstances in a local church, circumstances which do not apply everywhere today. But I'm deeply curious about how some of my Protestant brothers and sisters can justify setting aside Paul's restrictions on women if they do not acknowlege the Church's power to interpret Scripture, discern discipline from doctrine, and make temporary rules to address temporary situations.

Monday, May 16, 2005

1 Timothy 3: What is the "pillar and bullwark of truth"?

My Protestant brothers and sisters rightly have a great love for Scripture and revere it as the Word of God. But if, as many of them claim, Scripture and Scripture alone is to be our sole rule of faith, then why doesn't Scripture anywhere say so?

Does Paul say that the "pillar and bullwark of truth" is Scripture? No. He describes "the church of the living God" as "the pillar and bullwark of truth" (1 Timothy 3:15 RSV)

Does this place the Church above Scripture? No, but it places the Church and Scripture in proper perspective. Elsewhere Paul says, "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter." (2 Thessalonians 2:15 RSV)

Paul's perspective -the Bible perspective- is that we have received the Gospel through men appointed by God, and their message has been transmitted to us by both written and oral means. The message is not authoritative simply because it is written down, but because it is of apostolic authority. When Paul and the other apostles speak, their spoken words weigh as much as when they write.

The Gospel and the whole message of Christ are transmitted to us not exclusively by the written word, but through the living Church in virtue of apostolic authority, through the laying on of hands.

The Church had this apostolic foundation and leadership in the first century, because Jesus founded it that way. It needs and continues to enjoy that same foundation today, because truth is ever under attack and man is ever in need of a visible teacher, sent by God, whose authority comes from God through the apostles.


We've been meeting once or twice weekly for years... mostly Protestants of various denominations and a few Catholics. It's been a wonderful experience in many ways. One of the things I especially enjoy is growing in my appreciation for the biblical foundation for the Catholic faith, and in trying to learn how to defend the faith scripturally and rationally. Learning from my Christian friends in the group has been no less rewarding, and their examples of faith have been a huge encouragement to me.

I'd like to use this blog to sort of think out loud about some of the ideas we encounter in Crossfunction: especially ideas that relate to identifying the Church that Jesus founded, and how to distinguish that Church today.