Crossfunction: 2010

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

December 8: Feast of the Immaculate Conception

"Mary was predestined from eternity to be the Mother of God, by the decree of Divine providence which determined the incarnation of the Word." - Second Vatican Council, Lumen gentium, 61

"God loved her with a unique predilection. He filled her with the greatest abundance of his celestial gifts and her participation in the divine nature exceeds that of all the angels and saints together. Her life reflects so great a fullness of innocence and sanctity that a more exalted creature cannot be conceived of, except by the Creator himself." Pius IX, Apostolic Letter, Ineffabilis Deus, 8 December 1854

"We look up to her, as on a Star that guides us, shining through the dark clouds of human uncertainty. The annual Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception shines bright from within the background of the Advent liturgy. We contemplate Our Lady in the divine economy of salvation as the 'Gate of heaven' through which the Redeemer comes into the world." John Paul II, Address, 8 December 1982

Do You wish to draw closer to Jesus?  Draw closer to Mary.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Getting it right

Hi, Ian!

You wrote,

hi John,
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I'm not a student of theology and am not able to interpret why you feel that what is written here is evidence of apostolic authority. This directive seems kind of harsh and the date suggests it is the word of men

The Creed of the Council of Toledo, A.D. 400, 447: (14)
"The rule of the Catholic faith against all heresies...
12. If anyone either believes that any scriptures, except those which the Catholic Church has received, ought to be held in authority or venerates them, let him be anathema."

We all believe in the same new testament and it changed everything, so why then is there this strife, why does the Holy Spirit dwell in people of all denominations, how does someone like Heidi Baker do miracles, by the glory of God which is working though her. Her ministry is non-denominational. I suggest that it's not what church you go to, that's not it at all, but how you well you follow Jesus's instructions about humbling yourself that Christ dwells in you, Ep 3:17 I started my walk with God just over a year ago and am a bit disappointed that more believer's aren't tuned into what God says we can do, Mark 16 : 17 & 18 or John 14: 13 & 14 according to the word, we should really be able to make a big difference. We need more of the kind of teaching about what we can do if we get it right [emphasis added]

-Ian K., letter of June 24, 2010 (reprinted with permission)

Ian, congratulations to You for just recently starting to walk with God!  That's wonderful and exciting, and with God's grace You'll continue to grow in faith, hope and love, persevering to the end. 

You're right to say that the Holy Spirit moves in the hearts of Christians in many denominations. But there's more to it.  If we want to gain everything the Spirit has to offer, we need to cooperate.  If God offers us many of His gifts through the ministry of the Church He founded, can we expect to receive them all if we are not united to His Church? You can't be truly united to Jesus without being united to His Church. Pride might try to seduce us into doing it all on our own, but don't be fooled! Jesus knew what He was doing when He founded His Church, and it's for our blessing.

If You had to go on a dangerous combat mission You would want to be trained, equipped, and accompanied by the best military officers.  You'd want to survive Your mission.  You'd want to have every possible advantage, and You'd want to get it right.

The Christian life is no less important!  It's dangerous because we still have defects and easily fall into sin.  Living by faith does not mean "winging it" without the many helps the Holy Spirit provides through the Church.  Does God provide graces and assistance to Christians who belong to many denominations?  Certainly.  But does He provide ALL His assistance in this manner?  No.

Living by faith is both a spiritual and a practical matter.  We must trust God, but we must trust Him enough to do what He says and unite ourselves to His Church.  There we find the 'big guns' of the spiritual life: the Sacraments which Jesus instituted, fellowship, apostolic teaching, and many other blessings too.  It simply makes sense to equip ourselves with the best that God offers us. It's not enough just to do good works. We need to be securely founded on the truth which Jesus entrusted to the apostles.

This is how we can really get it right.

Now, a response to Your quotation from the Council of Toledo... You raise two objections against it.

  • First: You say it sounds "harsh", but I say it's merely an uncompromising statement about which writings belong in the Bible. It's very similar to Paul's statement to the Galatians to safeguard the preaching they had received from apostolic sources:

    "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed."
    Galatians 1:8 RSV

    Is Paul's statement harsh? Perhaps. But we should be more concerned with whether it's true, and whether it applies to us. There are lots of statements in Scripture which may seem a little harsh. The apostles sometimes used pretty tough talk, and Christians today probably need a bit of that, just like in the first century. Shouldn't the Church proclaim the truth with whatever words best fit the situation?
  • Second: You imply that since the Creed of the Council of Toledo occurred in the fifth century A.D. that therefore its teachings are "the word of men".

    I dealt with this issue in my previous letter, and I don't want to waste Your time by repeating my explanation in detail. But in a nutshell, Scripture teaches clearly that the apostles' legitimate successors today have the same authority to teach that the apostles had in the first century. When they do so they are not teaching the "words of men" but the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If we reject them we reject Christ.

You said You're "not a student of theology", and didn't respond to my biblical defense of the importance of the Church. But You're a Christian now, and Christians have to be committed to following the Gospel truth wherever it leads. Call it theology if You want, but it's really just the Good News of Jesus Christ.  And Scripture shows that if we want the fullness of that Gospel truth, our best option is faithful unity with the apostles and their successors.  

"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

Arguing that we don't need the apostles or Church -"the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15)- is like telling God that we don't need exactly what He has revealed we do need.

The truth about this is too important to gloss over. As a Christian You have a right to know the truth, and a duty to respond to it.

Ian, good talking with You! I hope You'll write back with Your thoughts.

John Robin.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Talking to "dead" people?

Praying to saints in Heaven: Does the Bible support asking saints in Heaven for their help?

"He is not God of the dead, but of the living..."
Mark 12:26

What does it mean to “pray”?

1. To utter or address a prayer or prayers to God, a god, or another object of worship.
2. To make a fervent request or entreaty.

Is prayer effective?

…pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.
James 5:6

We should pray for each other because God chooses to make our prayer effective. And the closer one is to God, the more effective is his prayer. One who is deeply united to God is powerful in prayer.

Should Christians pray for each other?

Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.
Ephesians 6:18

Prayer is effective, and God commands us to pray for each other. Therefore we should pray constantly.

I appeal to you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf
Romans 15:30

We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers
1 Thessalonians 1:2

Do Christ’s members in Heaven pray any less constantly than Paul did on Earth?

How are believers connected to Christ?

I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15:5

We are connected to Christ as branches to a vine.

"…that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
1 Corinthains 12:25-27

We are united to each other as the distinct members of a body are united under the head.

For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
Romans 12:4-5

We are as connected to Christ as members of a body are connected to that body.

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;
Revelation 19:7

Believers are individually and collectively united with Christ as a bride is united to her husband. Those in Heaven have more perfectly entered into this nuptial union.

Does death separate believers from Christ?

For I am sure that neither death, nor life… will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Rom 8:38-39

Because believers are united to Christ, they are united to each other –whether in Heaven or on Earth.

He is not God of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.
Mark 12:26-27

Those who have “fallen asleep” in Christ are spiritually separated neither from Christ nor from us.

For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.
1 Corinthians 13:9-12

Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
1 John 3:2

Are those in Heaven aware of what is happening on Earth?

Scripture teaches that those in Heaven are indeed united to us and are concerned for us.

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; they cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?" Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
Revelation 6:9-11

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect
Hebrews 12:22-23

Believers on Earth already have “one foot in the door” of Heaven, and stand in the invisible presence of the company of Heaven.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
Hebrews 12:1

Those in Heaven witness our lives.

"See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven."
Matthew 18:10

The angels of the children of God are present in Heaven.

Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Luke 15:10

The angels in Heaven are aware of a repentant sinner.  Are repentant sinners kept a secret from the saints in Heaven?

Can those in Heaven pray for us?

Those in Heaven not only can and do pray, but directly participate in offering our own prayers to God.

And when he had opened the book, the four living creatures and the four and twenty ancients fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.
And they sung a new canticle, saying: Thou art worthy, O Lord, to take the book and to open the seals thereof: because thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God, in thy blood, out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation:
And hast made us to our God a kingdom and priests, and we shall reign on the earth.
Revelation 5:8-10

The “ancients” or “elders” sing that they were “redeemed… out of every tribe”, and that they were made a “kingdom and priests”. Only humans are priests, and only humans can be redeemed from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation”. Therefore these are human souls in Heaven. (Whether they are embodied we are not told.)

They each bear before the throne of God “vials of odours” or “bowls of incense”, “which are the prayers of the saints.” These saints are either on earth or in Heaven. Most Christians believe this passage refers to the prayers of saints living on Earth. Therefore, there are souls in Heaven –the “elders”- who are actively involved in offering to God the prayers of Christians on Earth.

A kingdom of priests… Does this mean “every man for himself”? On the contrary, it means every man dedicates himself in love for the good of others. Is this reality of self-giving love to end once we arrive in Heaven? No, it is fulfilled and made perfect.

What do priests do? They represent their people before God. They offer worship and prayers to God on behalf of others. They make sacrifice for themselves and others.

And another angel came and stood before the altar, having a golden censer: and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer of the prayers of all saints, upon the golden altar which is before the throne of God.  And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God from the hand of the angel.
Revelation 8:3-4

The “angel before God” likewise participates in offering incense with our prayers, making our prayers more pleasing and acceptable before God.

Why should we pray to saints in Heaven when we can “go straight to God”?

We should indeed go “straight to God” with our prayers daily, even constantly. But we should not selfishly pray only for ourselves. We should pray for all those believers who need our prayers. Likewise, just as we should pray for others, it is right to ask others to pray for us, just as Paul did.  Do we need the prayers of others any less than Paul did?  The Bible teaches we are united to all believers, including those in Heaven.  Should we exclude them from our requests for help?  Not according to Scripture.

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving; and pray for us also, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison, that I may make it clear, as I ought to speak.
Colossians 4:2-4

The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.
James 5:6

The prayers of the saints in Heaven are very powerful because these saints are deeply united to God, and because they love us very much and care for our salvation.  They are willing and able to assist us with their powerful intercession before God.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Is the Bible the pillar of truth?

Yesterday I received a letter from a fellow who’s got some pointed questions (and misgivings) about the Catholic Church. Below I take up one of Ian K's issues, and hope we'll have an opportunity to discuss them all… (I'm reprinting Ian's name and most of his letter with his kind permission.)

hi- the pope claims that the only true church is catholic. How can a statement like this be made? I belong to a non-denominational church who's only doctrine is what is written in the bible. The catholic church clearly worship idols, all the statues of different saints or the virgin Mary, who was only a woman not a deity. The catholics are responsible for more negative PR than the devil. How come you could only eat fish on Fridays and then suddenly it becomes ok to eat meat. I have yet to come across either in the scriptures. This however, is only a small point but it shows the catholic doctrines are from man and not from the word of God. You say yourselves "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" -Mark 2:7 RSV yet confess to priests and they forgive you. That alone should be the end of the discussion. But there's so much more. What's with all the priests getting away with pedophilia and the many examples of the churches being a huge, magnificent structure in the middle of a slum. This is missing the whole point (wasn't it share the wealth?) and, at the same time, driving people away from God...
-Ian K., letter of June 5, 2010

Hi, Ian, nice to hear from You. You’ve got lots of good questions, but too many to try answer all at once. I’d like to try to focus on one point at a time, and then see where it takes us, okay?

What does the Bible say about it?

Perhaps the most basic issue You raise is about where Christian doctrine comes from. You wrote,

“I belong to a non-denominational church who's only doctrine is what is written in the bible.”

Well, You’ve got lots of fellow Protestants who likewise believe that Scripture and Scripture alone is the sole rule of faith and morals. You probably know that this doctrine is called sola scriptura, and of course it’s one of the pillars of Protestantism.

However sola scriptura is not taught by Scripture. It’s not even compatible with Scripture. In fact, Scripture teaches against it clearly, repeatedly, and emphatically. Yet many people believe the doctrine because, well, they love Scripture as the inspired Word of God (which of course it is), they’ve been taught by their family or their church to accept this doctrine, and they assume it's true.

But if we love Scripture, we must love the truth and desire to know more clearly whether Scripture really teaches what we've been told it does. So what does the Bible say about it?

Scripture does not teach that Jesus delivered His saving message by simply dropping a book from the clouds and leaving us to figure it out on our own. Instead, He picked disciples and personally taught them His message through words, deeds, miracles... His whole life, death and resurrection. He appointed some of them to be apostles with the mission to carry His message to the ends of the earth. He gave them the protection of the Holy Spirit to guard the purity of the message. And He gave Peter, and the others in union with him, the authority to interpret it definitively and preach it without error.

"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
-Matthew 16:18-19 RSV

"He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me."
-Luke 10:16 RSV

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."
-Matthew 28:18-20 RSV

This apostolic ministry is at the very foundation of the Church Jesus founded, and it’s something the Church can’t do without in the twenty-first century any more than it could in the first century. That’s why from the very beginning the apostles used their authority to appoint other men to share in their apostolic ministry. In the book of Acts we see Matthias appointed the first successor to the apostolic ministry. (cf. Acts 1:15-26)

No other foundation

"And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb."
-Revelation 21:14 RSV

"You form a building which rises on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone."
-Ephesians 2:20 RSV

"...and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house..."
-1 Peter 2 RSV

This is the way Jesus built His Church: He’s the cornerstone; His apostles are the foundation; we are the living stones which are built upon that foundation. We're not free to change the way Jesus built His Church. In any case, can the bricks of a building remain secure if they leave their foundation?

So Scripture describes the Church as a "spiritual house", a building with a permanent cornerstone, a permanent foundation, and living stones connected to each other and united to Christ through that foundation.

Where's the Gospel?

Now, it wasn't until years after Jesus ascended to Heaven –even decades later, in some cases- that some of these men wrote the books of the New Testament under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Where was the Gospel to be found during these years before the New Testament ever existed? How was it preserved, interpreted, and taught before any of it was written down? The same way that Jesus delivered it: through the oral preaching and living example of the apostles and their successors. And did the apostles stop their preaching once the books of the New Testament were completed? Of course not. They wrote these books to supplement and reinforce their ongoing teaching, not to replace it.

“But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder...”
-Romans 15:15

The apostolic preaching continued, carried on through the centuries by those appointed by the apostles and their successors.

The apostle’s writings are authoritative not because they are written, but because they are of apostolic authority. It is through apostolic authority that we know which books belong in the Bible, and it is through this same authority that we are helped to discover their authentic meaning.

From the hands of the apostles

My point is not to deny the importance of Scripture, but rather to insist that it’s of utmost importance to interpret and understand Scripture correctly, according to the mind of Jesus and His apostles. For this we must use the means that Jesus has provided His Church. And Jesus gave His Church apostles with the authority to interpret and teach. Should we study Scripture privately and prayerfully? Certainly. But always we must listen to the apostles and their successors and embrace their teaching. Scripture repeatedly warns us against accepting doctrines that contradict the apostolic tradition.

"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

"Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast -- unless you believed in vain."
-1 Corinthians 15:1-2 RSV

"But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. --As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed."
-Galatians 1: 8-9 RSV

"And we [the apostles] have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation,"
-2 Peter 1:19-20 RSV

If we cut ourselves off from the apostolic preaching, claiming that “we don’t need apostles because we have the Holy Spirit”, we delude ourselves.  The apostolic tradition is a most precious safeguard of the Gospel truth.  Separate ourselves from this, and we separate ourselves from God's appointed safeguards of the Gospel.

"There are some things in them [Paul's letters] hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures."
-2 Peter 3:16 RSV

Rejecting apostolic succession and the Church's teaching authority, Christian denominations have arisen, split over doctrinal disputes, multiplied, and split, again without ceasing. One need only browse the internet or the phone book to see the resulting disunity: tens of thousands of Christian churches with thousands of different creeds: a pathetic tower of Babel where the world needs to see one, shining city on a hill.

Standing on the pillar of truth

"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."
-Acts 2:42 RSV

The protection of the Holy Spirit which Christians enjoy has several forms, but primarily we receive it through remaining faithful to what we’ve received from the teachers God has sent us. But this does not permit us to pick teachers according to our own liking. Rather, the pattern of Scripture urges us to seek out those who truly have apostolic authority, those who, like Mathias, were picked and appointed by those who themselves received this authority.

Paul wrote that the Church is:

"...the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth."
-1 Timothy 3:15 RSV

It is this Church which Jesus gave the power to interpret and explain His message, and many gifts to help us live that message in a way pleasing to Him and helpful to our salvation and sanctification. If we wish to be united with Him, should we not seek direction from those whom He sent to guide us?

Again, according to Scripture, what is “the pillar and bulwark of the truth”? The Church. The Church is our guarantee of receiving the truth of the Bible intact. Doctrines which contradict what the Church teaches therefore contradict the apostolic preaching and should be rejected, no matter how pleasing they may sound.

Ian, most Christian churches deny that they have the apostolic authority I have described above. The Roman Catholic Church claims to have this authority, and this claim is supported by 2000 years of history showing an unbroken chain of apostolic succession.

Some Christians deny this history exists, deny that the apostolic ministry is a permanent part of the Church, deny even that it even existed past the first century. But to deny these things one must deny Scripture. And this we can’t and mustn’t do.

Ian, I propose to You that sola scriptura -the belief that all Christian doctrine should or could be based purely on Scripture- is actually a doctrine of men, not of God. It’s not a doctrine taught by Jesus in the 1st century, and it didn’t gain traction until it was promoted by certain European men in the 16th century. It’s a pillar of Protestantism, but it’s not a pillar of Scripture, and certainly not a pillar of truth.

So, Ian, I ask You: what do You think of the biblical fact of apostolic authority which I've tried to outline above? Do You agree that we should take it seriously?

Thank You for writing to me, Ian, and for Your great questions. Perhaps once we finish up with sola scriptura and apostolic authority we could talk about Your other questions.

Please do send Your thoughts!

John Robin.