Monthly Archives: July 2013

Have I ever mentioned that summer is not my favorite time of year? I try not to be too vocal about that, since I know a lot of people who live for summer and would beat me to death with their beach umbrellas if I mentioned my bias, but summer just makes me think of heat, which makes me think of drought, which makes me think of deserts, which makes me think of cactus, which makes me think of scorpions, which makes me think of writhing in agony. Not a lot of happy connotations to the word “summer” in my mind….

And this year summer in our part of the country has been unusually pestiferous. No drought – far from it. We’ve had precipitation, at least trace amounts, 50% of all days this year. We’re talking IMPRESSIVE humidity. And fungus – there are toadstools everywhere. The difference this year is that the fungus has fungus. There are more cicadas out there than there are people, and no shortage of any other kind of bug, either. And to crown all these glories, because it is summer we are treated to that recurring seasonal phenomenon known as “road construction” (because things just weren’t unpleasant enough). One-lane roads, traffic back-ups, the perfume of asphalt wafting in through your overheating car’s ventilation system.

Little known fact: even the Old Testament saints had to put up with road construction. You probably just never realized it because it all just sounded so much nicer the way Isaiah phrased it:

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Sounds almost like it won’t hurt at all. A stroll in the park, or through the wilderness, as it were.

And this understanding of a painless preparation of the way of the Lord jibes beautifully with the philosophy of modern-day first-world wimpy Christianity, where we believe that all things shall just automatically be added unto us, whether or not we seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness. Christianity, to us, is like being selected as a participant in a game show, where we lucky contestants just get handed stuff, you know, for free. Everybody wins, or at least everybody goes home with a parting gift.

In that sense our Christianity truly is wimpy, as in Wimpy, Popeye’s sidekick, the guy who will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. We want the benefits that come with faithful service today, minus the boring part about the faithful service. We want to grow in grace without making any effort to grow in grace. We want the King to come riding down the roads of our lives with no prep work on our part at all. We Christians are charged with bringing Christ to the world. It doesn’t just happen. He didn’t say that He was making straight His path through the wilderness of our hearts and we just needed to chill while He took care of it. We’re the road crew. We have to show up for work every day, filling in the potholes, leveling the bumps, so that the glory of the Lord will be seen. If the people around us are having trouble seeing His glory, it’s because we’re slacking off on the job.

And it is a job.

Christianity is not a game show with a cosmic Bob Barker showering prizes down upon the contestants. Christianity is a construction job, and we’re the road crew, tearing down, building up and straightening out under the direction of our Foreman, the Holy Spirit. Spiritual progress, that is, “sanctification,” is going to cost us, but it is not optional. These paths we are making straight are a part of US. If we have allowed potholes to form in our lives, we have to get them filled in. If there are treacherous hairpin curves, those have to be straightened out. Mountain roads would slow the King’s approach – get those leveled! Low-lying areas can flood, so you can’t have the path running through there. Fill those in! The Foreman has made the plans, but He won’t do the work while you rest. You are His co-worker; your cooperation is necessary to the success of the project. Trying to get the job done without the Foreman would be useless. Expecting the Foreman to do the job without you, while you snooze in the shade, would be foolhardy. Show up for work every day before dawn, while it’s still cool outside, and await His direction. He’ll show you where He wants you to work today. You might be digging, you might be filling in, you might be pouring asphalt. You’ve got a job to do.

A job? As in WORKS?

Well, let’s put it this way:

Keep alert with all perseverance.

Pray without ceasing.

Offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually.

Do all things without grumbling or complaining.

Avoid godless chatter.

Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies.

Fear God, and give glory to Him.

Rejoice in the Lord always.

Exercise [your gifts] accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of your faith; if service, in your serving; or you who teach, in your teaching; or you who exhort, in your exhortation; you who give, with liberality; you who lead, with diligence; you who show mercy, with cheerfulness.

Contribute to the needs of the saints.

Practice hospitality.

Welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed you.

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree.

Let all men know your forbearance.

Pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

Do good to all men, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Live in peace.

Bear one another’s burdens.

Encourage one another and build one another up.

Conduct yourselves wisely towards outsiders.

Pay everyone whatever you owe them—taxes to whom taxes are due, tolls to whom tolls are due, fear to whom fear is due, honor to whom honor is due.

[The rich] are to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous.

Women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel.

Urge the younger men to control themselves.

Shun the worship of idols.

Shun immorality.

Shun youthful passions. Aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace.

Glorify God in your body.

Abstain from every form of evil.

Do not be weary in well-doing.

Show yourself in all respects a model of good deeds.

Consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.

Whatever your task, work heartily.

Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness.

Take your share of suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

Run in such a way to win the prize.

Train yourself in godliness.

Aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.

Make love your aim.

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father through him.

Aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands as we charged you.

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!

Test your own work.

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

That’s the voice of the Foreman, speaking through St. Paul, who wasn’t wasting expensive papyrus and ink by scribbling unnecessary exhortations. Pray, praise, fear, glorify, rejoice, practice, contribute, welcome, bear, encourage, stimulate, conduct, control, avoid, shun, abstain, run, pursue, build, train, aim, aspire, test, examine, work…. His words aren’t just nice suggestions for us to adopt someday, maybe, if we find the time, nor are they redundant observations on what’s going to happen automatically to all Christians – otherwise, why would he command them? “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” As we walk in the works that He has prepared for us to walk in, the highway is made ready. Christ is prepared to come to the world through our lives, but the path has to be prepared, and the road made straight. Our sins, both of omission and of commission, hinder His plans, and in some cases throw a monkey wrench into the whole operation. As our faith works in love, the glory of the Lord is revealed.

The King is coming. Break out the heavy equipment, and get rolling.


On the memorial of St. Peter Chrysologus

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: A28 Scrap by Romski/Wikimedia

Asphaltbauer by Sascha Pöschl/Wikimedia

I was born in New York state, but I grew up in Arizona, in Scottsdale, “the West’s Most Western Town.” I suppose that my childhood would be considered idyllic by today’s standards. My father worked hard to provide a stable, financially secure existence for his family. My mother, a stay-at-home mom, made our home really worth coming home to. My sister and I were given the privilege of an education that my father never had. My parents took us to church every Sunday (even though they disagreed on which church to take us to). Life was good. There really was only one tiny fly in my ointment. As an Arizona teenager of the female persuasion in the 1970s, I had my nose rubbed in my shortcomings every summer, just as soon as some DJ saw fit to crank up the old Beach Boys standard, (I Wish They All Could Be) California Girls. Then suddenly, by the authority vested in the Beach Boys, I had been weighed and found wanting. California Girls had been officially declared “the cutest girls in the world.” Arizona girls were… not California Girls.

The story of my life. As a teenager, I was acutely aware that I was deficient in certain “must-have” qualities. My sister was beautiful, the kind of girl who could make heads turn when she entered the room. I was, to put it diplomatically, average-looking in a high-school milieu where looks were everything. Making things worse, I was (and remain) socially awkward. I am a slow thinker; witty repartee is not my thing. Whatever gene is responsible for producing “poise” in humans is recessive in my DNA. Trending towards the Asperger’s end of the spectrum does not bode well for one’s ability to deal with people. I was not, and am not, a “people person.” I was not athletic or coordinated; I couldn’t style my hair or apply makeup attractively. I had anxiety issues. As a supremely bashful, oversensitive teenager, I was painfully aware that I was just not measuring up in the estimation of my peers. As far as the world was concerned, I could pull up stakes and move 300 miles west, but I was never going to be a “California Girl.”

Moving overseas helped. There I was generally given a free pass because of my exotic appeal – I was from the U.S., and therefore automatically mistaken by some folks as a California Girl. Perhaps when people in Germany or Taiwan ran up against my introversion and my dorkiness they attributed them to the fact that I was American (who can understand those Americans?), and let it go. I don’t know. I only knew that I was more comfortable overseas than I had been at home. Eventually, though, I moved back to the States, and once again found myself to be something of the odd-man-out.

By that age I was getting used to it. You are what you are – I told myself. No big deal. So you’ll never win a popularity contest. California Girls are a dime a dozen. Just raise your kids well and do a good job at work; that’s all that matters – I told myself. You are an acquired taste. God made you the way you are, and you need to acknowledge His sovereignty and trust that He has a purpose. You need to be thankful – I told myself.

But I wasn’t thankful – I was quite resentful of the fact that I was a quince tree in an apple-tree-prizing world. Who wouldn’t want to be an apple tree? Apples are the “California Girls” of pomology – so coveted, so beautiful, so desirable. You can eat them, make cider from them, make applesauce out of them, add them to fruit salad and bake them into turnovers. Where would Mom be without apple pie? An apple a day even keeps the dreaded doctor away. The Andrews Sisters certainly never warned anybody not to sit under a quince tree – what could happen to you there? People flock to commercial orchards in the fall to pick their own apples. Grocery stores carry an impressive selection of apples year-round. Who doesn’t like apples? Apples are GOOD.

I bet the Beach Boys like apples.

But I’m not an apple tree. I am a quince tree. I bear quince fruit.

You may not be too familiar with quince fruit; it’s not really in high demand. I have yet to find a quince in the supermarket. Quince fruit is actually too sour and astringent to be edible, and quince fruit is hard; you have to cook it if you want to eat it. (Alternatively, if it is allowed to become frostbitten and decay a little, it softens to the point where it becomes edible – oh, boy. Watch out, though; the high concentration of tannins in uncooked quince can induce a sensation of choking.) The Farsi word for quince fruit is apparently “beh,” most likely an onomatopoeic pronouncement on the flavor. And I hear that several centuries ago they made a drink out of quince fruit, to be used as a purge.

How flattering.

None of this information served to increase my satisfaction quotient. While most of this was a reflection of and on my personality, it had spiritual implications as well. I understood the concept of surrendering all that I am to God for His use, but my compliance ranged from half-hearted to non-existent. We are all called to produce the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. That I could do, but those fruits are produced differently by different people. I have known charismatics whose expressions of joy could get them arrested for disturbing the peace. I’m an introvert; I just don’t express joy in that manner. My manifestation of gentleness or faithfulness might strike you as overdone or underdone, depending on your personality and the circumstances, and that was distressing to me, because I didn’t want to bear fruit that pleased God – I wanted to bear fruit that inspired admiration in my fellowman. Popularity, admiration, success – that was what I longed for. At least I could become a California Girl Christian! As a Christian, I have been commanded to bear fruit. Certainly! – I told myself. But not quince fruit.

I wasted decades trying to be the kind of Christian that other Christians would like and admire. Evangelical churches urged me to be a “winsome” ambassador for Christ – winsome, as in “attractive or appealing in appearance or character; engaging, charming, fetching.” After years of trying, I’m here to tell ya that it ain’t gonna happen. I can be kind, patient and forbearing, but “fetching” just isn’t me. I lack the requisite social skills to be convincingly winsome. Sometimes, though, I felt like I was expected to fake it. And sometimes I felt like others were faking it. They may have been more “winsome” than I was, to be sure; but they were faking faith, faking hope, faking love, because they knew that it was expected of them. Some of my fellow Protestants believed that when you were born again, God changed you into an apple tree. Becoming apple trees was the goal; it was their definition of “walking with the Lord.”

So I continued insisting for years on being allowed to dictate which kind of fruit I was going to bear, until one day the truth came over me – I wasn’t bearing any fruit at all.

Not everyone is an apple tree, I finally had to admit, nor should they be. The world is full of orange trees, peach trees, cherry trees, mango trees and lemon trees. Let’s face it, certain types of fruit are just more popular. People would rather eat an apple than eat a lemon. Of course, if it’s 90 degrees outside and they want lemonade, those apple trees they planted aren’t going to help them. Similarly, you can’t make a cherry pie out of kumquats. But then again, if you’re trying to make kumquat liquor, cherries are useless to you. And if God is searching for someone with my particular proclivities and temperament through whom to express His grace, no one else is going to do….

That’s why He made me the way I am – not to impress people, not to please the world, but to please Himself. I can be useful to Him. And when I bear bushels of ripe, well-formed quince fruit, no matter how the world feels about it, I am pleasing to Him. The fact that most people prefer apples to quinces really isn’t my problem – God wants there to be quince trees in this world. I wasted years of my life trying to be what I wasn’t in order to fit the popular mold. If God ever needs a bowlful of quince jelly – here I am, Lord. I’m bearing fruit for You to use as You see fit.

And did I mention that quinces are high in vitamin C, copper and iron? Cooked and sweetened, they inspired the food writer for the LA Times to gush over the “lovely rosy color and a fragrance and flavor that for me conjures up pears and spices and maybe a touch of orange flower water thrown in.” Exotic, no? Spiced and baked in Riesling, they make an out-of-the-ordinary dessert for those evenings when you just can’t look another apple strudel in the eye.

I believe even the Beach Boys might be persuaded to try a bite.


On the memorial of St. Samson

Deo omnis gloria!

Different kinds of apples in a supermarket, by Abrahami/Wikimedia

Famous Koum Quat liqueur from Cirfu, Greece by Edal/Wikimedia

Around this time of year many people’s thoughts turn to Christmas, if only to breathe a sigh of relief that five months still remain between them and figuring out what to get for Aunt Martha. Stores have “Christmas in July” sales to drum up business, and at this time of year my daughter, when she was younger, would always beg to be allowed to play Christmas carols. It’s been 7 months since the Big Day, and in the summer heat many hearts look back, remembering the joy that accompanies the celebration of the “miracle of Christmas.”

As we all know, the “miracle of Christmas” is supposedly the birth of the God-man. Close, but no cigar. The “miracle of Christmas” actually took place 9 months prior, at the Annunciation, for when Mary gave her “yes” to God, the Incarnation began. The so-called “miracle of Christmas” is the Incarnation.

Catholics dwell on the Incarnation (literally, the “enfleshment”) all year round. But why? With every recitation of the Nicene Creed we recall the moment when “for us men and for our salvation He came down from Heaven, and by the power of the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became Man.” In the Apostles’ Creed we do mention His birth, but only for the purpose of highlighting the fact that His mother was a virgin. That Jesus was born was no great surprise – He grew inside the womb of His mother for 9 months; birth is the expected outcome. It was His Incarnation that deserved to make headlines. As an Evangelical I was steeped in the life of Christ, His sacrifice on the Cross, His triumph o’er the grave and His soon-coming again (heavy emphasis on that last part). The Incarnation was a theological concept that I was familiar with, but it really didn’t play any kind of role in my daily Christian scheme of things. Yes, the second Person of the Trinity became a Man – how else could He have offered up His Life on the Cross to save me? End of story.

As a Catholic, I now realize that the answer to the question of the Incarnation is not just “Jesus became a Man so He could die on the Cross to save me.” Not by a long shot. The Incarnation is the beginning of the story of my redemption, the middle of the story, and the ongoing, never-ending story to which I as an Evangelical never gave a second thought. The theology of the Incarnation is the underpinning of all things Christian.

Take the story of the Good Samaritan, for example, a story exceedingly familiar to Evangelicals. We preached on it and taught it to our children. I could have recited it in my sleep. A man was travelling and got mugged. As he lay by the side of the road expiring, a priest came along. The priest knew, of course, that it was important for him to help his fellow man. He also knew that by touching the poor wretch that he would be rendered ritually unclean. He passed by. A Levite also came along and neglected to render assistance for the same reason. A non-Jew, a heretic, that is to say, a Samaritan, then came along and did what the priest and the Levite should have done, putting the man on his donkey and transporting him to safety at a nearby inn. He even paid for the man’s care, promising to recompense the innkeeper for any expenditures he incurred. The story teaches us that our “neighbor” is anyone in need. End of story.

But one day, as a Catholic, I was confronted with St. Augustine’s take on this story, beginning with the words, “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho; Adam himself is meant.”

Whoa – that’s a different way of looking at it!

Yet from an Incarnational point of view, that’s a very appropriate way of looking at it. For here we find the rationale for the Catholic emphasis on the Incarnation as it relates to Jesus’ odd statement:

Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.

As an Evangelical, that was something of a stumper for me. What did Jesus mean by that? Obviously, Jesus didn’t mean that He saw the Father being born in a manger, preaching the Gospel to men, eating with tax collectors and sinners, healing blind Bartimaeus…. Yet, what did He mean? And did it have any implications for the way I lived my life?

St. Augustine got it. He approached the story of the Good Samaritan not from my Evangelical “go out and help your neighbor – Jesus said so” understanding of the parable, but from the Incarnational “here’s why you are helping your neighbor” point of view – because “Adam himself is meant.”

According to St. Augustine, an alternate reading of the parable begins with God, Who comes upon fallen man lying by the side of the road. He binds man’s wounds, takes him to the Inn (which symbolizes the Church) and instructs those who work there to take care of this man, promising to compensate them for their expenditures when He returns. And it is in light of that Incarnational reading that we understand why we love our neighbor – because God loved us first, and as His body we do what He is doing.

And how could we not? For as Augustine explains in another context:

All men are one man in Christ, and the unity of Christians constitutes but one man. Let us rejoice and give thanks. Not only are we to become Christians, but we are to become Christ. My brothers, do you understand the grace of God that is given us? Wonder, rejoice, for we are Christ! If He is the Head, and we are the members, then together He and we are the whole man.

Jesus became Man so that man might become a part of His body. As a part of His body, you love as He loves, and lovingly do the works that He does, even as He does the works that His Father does. Jesus’ eyes are always seeking the lost, and His ears listening for their cries that His feet might hasten to where they have fallen, His hands raising them from the dirt and His arms embracing them, His shoulders bearing them until they grow strong enough to walk on their own. Got that? That’s you and me – His eyes, His ears, His feet, His hands, His arms, His shoulders. As St. Paul told the Corinthians, “You are not your own!” There is simply no other way to be a member of the Body. The judgment stories that Jesus tells emphasize this fact: there will be people who flaunt their faith (“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord!'”) and even their miracles (“Did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?”) Yet Jesus fails to recognize those who are clearly not members of His body, doing what He is doing. Waving in His face His supposed “Lordship” in their lives and the miracles they have worked in His Name but independent of Him is to no avail – “I don’t know who you are!” is His answer to them.

So my Evangelical understanding that I had to love God above all things and my neighbor as myself was correct – as far as it went. But lacking an Incarnational insight into the situation, I did not understand that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us so that I, a creature of flesh, could be made a member of His body, and as a member I can do nothing of myself; I can only do what He is doing.
Through me, Jesus would tenderly raise the dying man from the side of the road and carry him to the Inn where he could be brought back to life. That the Second Person of the Trinity was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became Man is far from being the mere flashpoint of the ongoing, never-ending story of my life as a partaker of the divine nature. The Incarnation means more than I ever could have guessed, for it is the key that unlocks the mystery of all those “works” that we Protestants avoided like the plague, the works upon which the Church insists, the works on which the churches in the book of Revelation are judged (Rev 2:2, 2:9, 2:13, 2:19, 3:1, 3:8, 3:15), the works which distinguish the sheep from the goats (Mt 25:33), the works by which a man is justified (James 2:24).

To paraphrase St. Augustine, what could be a better sign of how much God loves us than the Son of God deigning to share our nature? At Christmas we celebrate just one small (but glorious!) glimpse into what the Father is doing through the Incarnation of His beloved Son. And it is something to CELEBRATE, in December or even in July.


On the memorial of St. James the Greater

Deo omnis gloria!

Eisegesis is a fifty-cent word to describe the way the Scriptures are abused when we take our own ideas and read them into the Bible. Eisegesis was the foundation of my Evangelical understanding of John chapter 6. As a lifelong Protestant, I had been taught that when Jesus said over and over and over that we must eat His body and drink His blood, or we will have no life in us, He didn’t mean what He actually said. We Evangelicals read one or the other of our two core beliefs into that passage. We believed that everything Jesus ever said or did revolved around the doctrine of sola fide (faith ALONE) or sola Scriptura (the Bible ALONE), so we interpreted “Eat My body” and “Drink My blood” to mean either “‘Eating’ and ‘drinking’ = BELIEVING!” or “Jesus is telling us to ‘feast’ on the Holy Word of God!” depending on who was preaching the sermon. The one thing that was OBVIOUS to us was that Jesus couldn’t have meant for us to take His words literally (as they were taken by everyone, everywhere for ten centuries). By the time the preacher was done, the import of the passage had been explained away quite professionally. An electric shock ran through my body when I finally sat down one day with a Bible and read John 6 with no commentary, no footnotes, and no preacher telling me what the text actually really meant. I was confronted with Jesus’ straightforward insistence that “Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” I searched in vain for the part where Jesus explained privately to His disciples that what He actually meant was that the flesh which He would give for the life of the world – which He insisted over and over again that we MUST eat – was the Bible or our faith or some such nonsense. But to Protestants, Jesus simply could not be saying what He appears to be saying here, thus necessitating a kind of magic act on the part of the interpreter, with a lightning-fast substitution of one concept for another. In my mind this conjures up a picture of a corny old-time magician waving his wand over his black top hat and calling out his magical incantation of “EISEGESIS!” – thereby changing the handkerchief which just went into the hat into a big white bunny, and the verses about the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist into yet another passage supporting sola fide or sola Scriptura. Have stranger things ever happened?

This explains why so many verses which appear at first glance to support Catholic doctrine undergo such a strange change in the hands of Protestant eisegetes. Almost all of these passages are transmogrified into references to “faith” or commentaries on the authority of Scripture. Please don’t misunderstand –according to the Holy Catholic Church, the Bible is without question the inerrant, inspired Word of God. However, the Evangelical doctrine of sola Scriptura does damage to the purpose for which God has given us His Holy Word. According to Evangelicals who promulgate the notion of “the Bible ALONE,” Holy Scripture is the only authority here on Earth to which a Christian ultimately need answer. But since the Bible itself never actually tells us this, nor can the doctrine of sola Scriptura actually be found in Scripture, the only way Protestants can maintain this insistence with a straight face is by constantly waving the eisegesis wand, reading “the Bible ALONE” and “the authority of Scripture” back into the text despite whatever the subject actually happens to be.

Magicians generally employ an assistant, and the assistant when Protestants read “the authority of the Bible” into the Bible is named “Assumption.” In order for the trick to be performed successfully, Assumption must first of all demonstrate to the onlookers that whenever the Bible discusses “the word of God,” what is meant are the Holy Scriptures. This obviously confuses the issue, making the role of Scripture seem beefier and more comprehensive than it actually is. Protestants, for example, list Eph 1:13, Phil 2:16, Ps 130:5, Lk 11:28, Deut 8:3, Is 40:8, Ps 107:20, Jn 5:24, 1 Sam 15:23, Rev 19:15, Ps 89:34, Rom 10:17, Ps 138:2, 2 Tim 3:16, and other verses as examples of the Bible’s preeminent importance in the life of the believer. Verses such as Ephesians 1:13 and Philippians 2:16 discuss “the word of truth” and “the word of life,” apt descriptions for the written word of God, but also a good way to describe God’s spoken word – as Jesus said in Luke 11:28, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” That “word of God” Jesus was talking about could be the Scripture that was read to you this morning at Mass, or it could be His words preached live and impromptu and never written down for posterity. In other words, when the Bible talks about the “word,” it is not always the written Word (i.e., the Holy Bible) which is necessarily meant. The spoken Word is equally “the word of the Lord.” (For this reason, the Catholic Church rejects the doctrine of “the Bible alone,” embracing instead the doctrine of “the Word of God alone.”) Yet Evangelicals are in the habit of collecting such verses and pressing them into the service of their argument that the written Word, the Bible, occupies a position other than the one Catholics believe it holds. On a Protestant website, for example, you can find verses like Psalm 107:20, “He sent out His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction,” under the heading of “The Bible is a Source of Healing and Protection” – evoking visions of a flying leatherbound KJV healing and delivering the Israelites in their distress! In an Evangelical context, the efficacy and significance of the spoken Word of God are virtually ignored, despite the fact that Jesus told His apostles quite clearly that when they preached the Gospel, their words would be His very Word: “He who hears you, hears Me.”

Check out Hebrews 3:12-19 and Hebrews 4:1-3, 11- 13. The author of Hebrews tells us how to those who came out of Egypt, the spoken Word of God was preached. The Israelites disregarded not the Holy Scriptures (which did not as yet exist), but rather the preaching of Moses, the one to whom God gave the authority to lead the children of Israel. They were disobedient to God’s commands given to them through His chosen leader:

Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, while it is said, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.”

For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.

Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said….

Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

According to verse 2, the Israelites had “the good news preached” to them by Moses, just as the Christians to whom the author of Hebrews is writing had the “good news preached” to them by the apostles. The “word of God” which is being extolled in this passage is the oral preaching of God’s servants Moses and the apostles – not to say that the written Word is not equally “living and active,” but to say that Evangelicals very often disregard this detail concerning apostolic preaching or deal with it in a very perfunctory manner. That the Word of God is living and active and powerful is made abundantly clear by the Scriptures which tell us that by the word of the Lord the very heavens were made. Where sola-Scriptura Christians go wrong on this is when they blur the lines between the spoken Word of God, which created the heavens and the earth, and the written Word of God, the Bible, which did not. Verses which clearly refer to the spoken Word which either proceeds from the mouth of God Himself or from the mouth of one of His servants are drafted into the service of the “Bible alone” argument. The apostles preached the very Word of God, and thus the early Christians are admonished in Hebrews 13:7 to “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.” As a Protestant I envisioned those leaders reading the Bible to their congregation and expounding upon it. The author of Hebrews knew that many in his audience could remember the apostles speaking the Word of God to them. There’s a difference.

Beware the shell game. Protestants have invented a theological concept known as
“the authority of the Scriptures.” It is necessary to play this shell game in order to keep the doctrine of “the Bible ALONE” intact. If it can be shown from the New Testament that authority is vested in some person by God, and that that person must then be obeyed because God gave him authority, then the assertion that the Bible is the ONLY authority for Christians can be shown to be incorrect, the Reformation pillar of sola Scriptura teeters, and Catholicism begins to look a whole lot more plausible. Protestants dwell on the importance of the written Word to the neglect of the spoken Word, because the spoken Word is uttered by an authoritative speaker. This may sound like a minor detail, but he who neglects this detail becomes a mark for thimbleriggers.

The Reformers, in their desire to answer to an authority other than the one God established, that is to say, other than the Holy Catholic Church, conned their followers by substituting the supposed “authority of Scripture” for the authority of the leaders of the Church. Thus John Calvin read Ephesians 2:19-22:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

And saw fit to compose the following commentary:

But such wranglers are neatly refuted by just one word of the apostle. He testifies that the church is “built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles” [Eph. 2:20]. If the teaching of the prophets and apostles is the foundation, this must have had authority before the church began to exist. Groundless, too, is their subtle objection that, although the church took its beginning here, the writings to be attributed to the prophets and apostles nevertheless remain in doubt until decided by the church. For if the Christian church was from the beginning founded upon the writings of the prophets and the preaching of the apostles, wherever this doctrine is found, the acceptance of it-without which the church itself would never have existed-must certainly have preceded the church. It is utterly vain, then, to pretend that the power of judging Scripture so lies with the church that its certainty depends upon churchly assent. Thus, while the church receives and gives its seal of approval to the Scriptures, it does not thereby render authentic what is otherwise doubtful or controversial. But because the church recognizes Scripture to be the truth of its own God, as a pious duty it unhesitatingly venerates Scripture.

Now you see it – now you don’t, as the Reformer takes the text of Ephesians 2:20, carefully places it under his exegetical shell, and then “Presto! Change-o!” delivers to the reader not a Church “built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles” as the verse reads, but rather, as Calvin put it, a church built upon “the teaching of the prophets and apostles.” Flimflam!
The teachING (i.e., the Scriptures) is now, according to the Protestant interpretation, “the foundation,” not the teachERS, the apostles themselves.

And Protestants are dazzled by the smoke and mirrors. As a Protestant blogger writes concerning this very bait-and-switch passage perpetrated by Calvin: “Thank God the Scriptures undergird the church’s practice, and govern all. Thank God for Paul, who wrote clearly, instructing us to search the Scriptures and study them in order to seek authenticity in a man’s teaching – even his. Thanks be to God for the inestimable gift to us of His Holy Word.” Amen to that last part, but where exactly does the Bible teach that it “undergirds the church’s practice and governs all”? Where? When the Judaizers disturbed the peace of the Church with their insistence that new Christians must be circumcised, the leaders of the Council of Jerusalem did not turn to the authority of the Bible. They turned to the authority vested in them by Jesus Christ, and they made the decision that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised in order to enter the Church. Baptism is the new circumcision! as St. Paul later wrote. Had the Council relied on “the authority of the Bible,” all Christians males would to this day have to be circumcised, since the Bible at that time consisted of the Old Testament, and the Old Testament mandates this! The announcement of the Council’s decision began not with “The Bible says” but rather with “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28). The first Christians devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42) because the apostles taught with authority. St. John insisted in his first letter that “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us.” (1 Jn 4:6) – St. John, as an apostle, could say that! All this boils down to that pivotal declaration in St. Paul’s first letter to the Bishop of Ephesus, Timothy, that the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth. The majority of Protestants have no idea that that phrase is even in the Bible, for they have been taught to read diligently around that passage. I read around it for 45 years.

Protestants are, however, by virtue of their adherence to the concept of “the authority of the Scriptures” incapable of reading their Bible any other way. Take this entry on a Protestant website as an example. The writer is commenting on Jude 27. Note what, according to the writer, Jude is supposedly warning against:

Some 1,500 years later, Jude records a strong warning about such men who come into the church as false teachers, arrogating to themselves the authority of God and His Word: “Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion”. The characteristics of false teachers within the church include pride, selfishness, jealousy, greed, lust for power, and disregard for the will of God. Just like Korah, today’s false teachers disregard God’s plan and are insubordinate to God’s appointed authorities. Their end will be the same as Korah’s. Thus the warning: “Woe to them!”

Now read the passage in question, Jude 3-23

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.

Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties. But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.

It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage.

But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.

Remember the Protestant writer’s contention: “Jude records a strong warning about such men who come into the church as false teachers, arrogating to themselves the authority of God and His Word.” See the part about God’s word in verses 3-23? Me either. True, the text says that these men “reject authority” but every one of the examples of the authorities they reject are human or spiritual beings, nothing about the supposed “authority of the word of God.” While noting that modern-day false teachers “are insubordinate to God’s appointed authorities,” (which, in his Protestant context, would mean the pastor of whatever Protestant church the false teacher attends) the writer still somehow sees the Bible in a passage where no mention of it is made; he has been conditioned to understand it thus.

The Bible never teaches the concept of an authoritative Bible. People have authority. Angels have authority. To the Lord Jesus Christ all authority has been given in Heaven and on earth, and He has vested His authority, not in a Book, but in His apostles and by extension in their successors.

A book, even an inspired, inerrant Book which is the very word of God, cannot possess authority, nor can it “teach” us. The fiction of “the authority of the word of God” was an invention of the Reformers who, like all good magicians, urged their onlookers with the misdirection “Pay close attention!” whenever they needed to distract them lest they note the sleight of hand. Attention needed to be shifted away from what the Reformers were actually doing – refusing to obey the legitimate authority of Jesus’ Church – to the manmade doctrine of “the authority of the word of God.” In the Bible all authority lies with God Himself. And in the Bible, we see God delegating His authority to people in order that they might be His representatives. Their authority was very real; St. Paul, for example, exhorts his disciple St. Titus, bishop of Crete: Rebuke with all authority! Leaders like Titus and Timothy and their successors on down to the present day derive their authority, not from the word of God, as Protestants would have it, but from God Himself. Thus, when the leaders of the 16th-century Church told Luther that he must cease and desist from teaching error, it wasn’t simply a matter of their opinion versus Luther’s – it was a matter of their authority as successors to the apostles versus his (nonexistent) authority. Period.

Assumption is an invaluable assistant in the Protestant magic act. Ask her to stand aside, and the audience becomes restless, sensing that the magician does indeed have something up his sleeve. The theme of apostolic authority, as well as the continuing authority of the successors to the apostles, runs clearly through the New Testament, there for all the world to see (Mt 18:17, Lk 10:16, Mt 28:19-20, Acts 1:8, Acts 2:42, Acts 15, Acts 16:4, Titus 2:1, Titus 2: 15, 1 Tim 1:3, 2 Tim 1:13-14, 2:2, 4:2, 1 Jn 4:6) – until you enter the sideshow of the Reformation. At that point, certain truths are made to vanish, replaced by novel doctrines unheard of before the 16th century, to the acclaim of an audience that has no idea it is being bamboozled. Beware when you see the authority of the Church that Jesus established being used as a prop in this sad act, because…

Now you see it – now you don’t!


On the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: A magician at Taunton Carnival by Boliston

In my experience, Protestants have a lot of questions about the veneration of saints. I have had to explain to more than one person what a “patron saint” is, and why anybody would want one. I explain that your patron saint is your prayer partner, someone in Heaven to whom you can go when “the prayers of a righteous man” (or woman) are crucial. A patron saint also functions as a role model; Catholics strive to conform their behavior to that of their patron saint, hoping with his or her prayerful help to emulate the saint’s virtues. I also think of patron saints as great teachers, and it is a wonderful aid if a collection of their sayings or a book they wrote is available – it’s like taking them as a spiritual director. Some saints have been given the title “Doctor of the Church” because of what the Church calls their “eminent learning and high degree of sanctity.” From these men and women especially the whole Body of Christ is called to learn. If your patron saint happens to be among them, you’ve got a whole lotta reading ahead of you – those considering apprenticing themselves to St. Augustine of Hippo, take note! On the other hand, if you take St. Augustine’s mother, St. Monica, as your patron, you won’t be reading any of her writings. There aren’t any – everything we know about her comes from her son. Yet her resolute example as a parent devoted to praying her child back into the Church is something St. Augustine can’t teach you; he can only recount it secondhand….

To give an example from my own life, my patron saint is Thomas Aquinas. It is said that one day his sister asked him how to achieve sanctity. St. Thomas’ answer is a two-word revelation:

“Will it.”

Taking my cue from the life of my patron saint and from his instruction, I have a very clear goal that I’m aiming for. When I wake up each morning, I needn’t ask myself what my goal should be for that day – it’s already been spelled out for me. My single-minded focus has to be on becoming a saint. Everything in my day needs to be ordered to that end. Asking the intercession of St. Thomas, I strive to imitate his intense devotion to Christ.

But why imitate a saint when you can just follow Jesus?

Well, several reasons – first of all, because there’s biblical precedent for it. St. Paul, patron saint of many, himself said, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.” Taking a saint as your model can make certain elements of Christian doctrine more comprehensible. This is because the light of Christ shining through a saint is like light shining through a prism – it is broken down into its components, becoming easier to understand. WWJD is a great question, but it can be hard to come up with a great answer in every situation. How would Jesus, for example, be a good student? By familiarizing myself with the holy example of St. Thomas Aquinas, student and teacher par excellence, and with his oft-quoted “Prayer Before Study,” I can gain a clearer idea of what Jesus would have me do.

This is how we learn from our patron saints, profiting from their teachings as well as their life experiences. If your patron is St. Teresa of Jesus, you might take her famous advice as your motto: “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you. All things are passing away. God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices.” Her reforming spirit and her rejection of spiritual mediocrity will challenge you to change the way you live. If you are one of those who have chosen St. Francis de Sales as your patron, you can read his very detailed instructions on holiness in his Introduction to the Devout Life. His success in leading tens of thousands back into the Catholic Church, and the techniques he employed, might be equally inspirational to you. Each saint is an individual with his or her own individual approach to and relationship with God; we can learn much by asking the saints for their “take” on living for Christ!

So, how is this supposed to play out in an individual’s life? July 20 marks the first anniversary of the homegoing of Andrew Moore, the 20-year-old college student who was hit by a car and killed last year as he walked in the Crossroads Pro-Life Walk Across America. His father, Joseph, who blogs at Yard Sale of the Mind, has made a special “In Memorium” page for Andrew in which he recounts details of his son’s life and links to articles discussing the events surrounding his death. He mentions that Andrew had taken St. John Bosco, the 19th-century Italian founder of the Salesians, as his patron saint. If it is our goal to conform to the piety of our chosen patron, it seems that Andrew, knowingly or unknowingly, did an extraordinary job, as evidenced by the following quotes from Don Bosco, juxtaposed with excerpts from a news article discussing the life of Andrew Moore. See how compellingly the wisdom of St. John (who loved to instruct young men) was exemplified in the life of his “son” Andrew:

“Be guided by reason and not by passion.”

Love — and logic — are what made Andrew Moore spend untold hours praying the rosary in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Concord, where abortions are performed a little more than a mile from the home in which he grew up, much loved in a lively, critical-thinking and faith-filled family of five children.

“Even in boys, love of God should express itself in zeal.”

Andrew, as a very young kid, says, ‘If these babies in the womb are human beings, and they’re killing them right down the street, how can I sit at home and let that happen?’

“Gentleness is the favorite virtue of Jesus Christ.”

Nancy Tomsic, director of religious education, recalled that Andrew tried to energize some of his fellow students in Confirmation class at Queen of All Saints to join him.

“He would say the rosary out there all the time,” she said. With his peers, however, the “very gentle soul” did not get far.

“He was very present to the daily Mass crowd,” Tomsic recalled.

And from that group emerged people with whom he could share prayerful moments on a sidewalk a couple of blocks from the church.

“Be brave and try to detach your heart from worldly things. Do your utmost to banish darkness from your mind and come to understand what true, selfless piety is. Through confession, endeavor to purify your heart of anything which may still taint it. Enliven your faith, which is essential to understand and achieve piety.”

“Everyone at the College could see that he was very devout, and was deeply dedicated to pro-life work. But what was not readily apparent were the pains he took to avoid even the slightest bit of discrepancy between his conscience and his behavior. His devotion and work for life was not for show, but because he realized he would never be at peace until he carried through on what he knew to be true. He was a good and pure soul, seeming to be headed for a religious vocation. Both us Dominicans and the Norbertines were after him!”

“Purity is the special reward of being humble.”

“Andrew was somewhat shy at first, about approaching women and offering them a pro-life brochure,” Zarri said. “But his confidence grew, along with his wonderful prayer life. He had certain innocence about him, and was very humble, yet he had a great way of engaging people in conversation.”

“I do not fear at all what men can do to me for speaking the truth. I only fear what God would do if I were to lie.”

Some people could not be engaged. “After enduring an especially hateful and personal verbal attack from a middle-aged man, I saw tears in Andrew’s eyes,” Zarri said. “I tried to comfort him and reminded this special young man of how the disciples considered it a privilege and a joy to suffer ‘for the sake of the Name.’ He took that to heart.”

Crabtree, a retired firefighter, described the prayerful vigils outside the abortion clinic as “very humbling.” The honking and the cursing of passers-by could be hard to take, Crabtree said. His former student turned teacher.

“He taught me to keep quiet, be humble and take insults,” Crabtree said. “He was very sensitive and he was not afraid to show what he was feeling.”

St. John Bosco emphasized to the boys under his care the importance of living single-mindedly for Christ. Andrew lived and died in that spirit.

Love made him hand out pamphlets to pregnant women, and their spouses or friends, when they’d accept them. Andrew wanted them to know there was another way.  

And that love put him on a highway in central Indiana, in the early-morning hours of July 20, more than halfway across America on a Crossroads pro-life walk, where, while praying the rosary, he was struck by a car and killed instantly.  

He was 20 years old.

“Do good while you still have time.”

Refracted through the prism of St. John Bosco, we see the “colors of God” playing across the life of Andrew Moore. Andrew was still a work in progress when his time on earth ended, but most folks my age would envy what he had achieved.

St. John Bosco, patron saint of Andrew Moore, pray for us that we, too, may heed your words and do good in the name of our Lord while we are still able. Pray also, St. John, for the soul of Andrew Moore, and for all those who love him. May his life be an inspiration to many. We ask this to the eternal glory of the One both you and he serve forever and ever. Amen.


On the memorial of St. Ambrose Autpert

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: Light dispersion of a mercury-vapor lamp with a prism made of flint glass by D-Kuru/Wikimedia Commons

Try squareReformation-era theologians had it made. Early Church history was shrouded in mystery, having accreted so many legends and myths that many decided that the entire story of the first Christians needed to be pieced together from Scripture alone, since all other writings were, in their eyes, obviously suspect. The Reformers were more than happy to concoct their own histories. Based on what very little information they had, they felt free to assume that the Jewish canon had been decided centuries before the birth of Christ, thus making the Protestant Old Testament canon a slam dunk. When the Catholic Church protested that God had invested in her the power to discern the canon, this claim was held up as proof that the Church was a self-deceived, power-mad institution that couldn’t be trusted. Protestantism marketed itself as the historically correct version of events.

Protestant historians have had to eat that marketing claim over the ensuing five centuries. A number of well-known, modern-day, conservative, Protestant scholars concede that there is simply no proof that the canon was decided by the time of Jesus, and that that idea was an assumption on the part of the Reformers. They’ve been chewing on some other uncomfortable historical revelations over the years as well, certain archaeological discoveries and literary finds. The Didache is one of those finds. The Reformers knew of the Didache, which was a “church order,” something that author Mike Aquilina likens to “a missal, a manual, and a catechism rolled into one.” But they knew of it only because it was named in the writings of the early Christians. No extant copies were available, until one fine day in 1873 when an Orthodox metropolitan found one in the Codex Hierosolymitanus. This was published in 1883, knocking Protestant historians for a loop, for the Didache is an ancient document. Most historians date it to the late first to early second century, while some claim that it was written even earlier than that, actually before the composition of most of the New Testament. And what it tells us about the early Church is pretty hard to swallow from a Protestant point of view.

Many modern-day Protestant scholars will graciously admit that the 1st-century Church looked nothing like the church envisioned by the average Protestant believer. The average Protestant, however, does not get his history from Protestant scholars; he gets it from more popular sources such as Dr. Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Books such as these allow the average Protestant to feel educated on certain Christian topics without ever being confronted with historical facts which might upset his theological applecart. I should know; I used to rely on books like these. Systematic Theology serves as a good example of how popular Protestant authors do history.

In his chapter on the canon of Scripture, Dr. Grudem addresses the subject of the Didache by adding a footnote to address his concerns. It begins:

It is appropriate here to say a word about the writing called the Didache. Although this document was not considered for inclusion in the canon during the early history of the church, many scholars have thought it to be a very early document and some today quote it as if it were an authority on the teaching of the early church on the same level as the New Testament writings.

Dr. Grudem’s objections to the teachings of the Didache shed light on the popular Protestant method of evaluating early Christian historical documents, and are instructive because they demonstrate to Catholics how Protestants come to very different conclusions than do Catholics concerning early Church history. Note what Dr. Grudem objects to, and why.

This footnote begins with a historical error – we know that the Didache WAS considered Holy Scripture by some in the early Church – Protestant Bruce Metzger, a recognized expert on the history of the New Testament canon, mentions Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Didymus the Blind, specifically. Dr. Grudem is not overly familiar with the history of the canon, as he demonstrates in Systematic Theology‘s chapter on the canon of Scripture, and a great deal of what he proposes concerning the discernment of the canon would be hotly contested by Protestant scholars. Dr. Grudem, however, writes for a popular audience and takes a good number of his talking points from other popular Protestant authors, who likewise ignore the assertions of contemporary conservative Protestant scholars when they contradict the popular narrative.

Concerning his specific objections to the teachings of the Didache, Dr. Grudem lists nine areas in which he believes that the document “contradicts or adds to the commands of the New Testament.” He worries, for example, that fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, fasting before baptism, the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer 3 times a day, and baptism in running water or by pouring have no grounding in the New Testament and are therefore suspect. Dr. Grudem objects to these presumably because he attends a church where “everything we do comes straight from Scripture!

All congregations have practices. I have attended many Protestant churches where “everything we did came straight from Scripture,” and I was told to stand up at a certain point in the service, shake hands with those around me and possibly even introduce myself. No one ever began shrieking that such a practice can be found nowhere in Scripture. We were also required to pray the Sinner’s Prayer before we would be considered “saved” – a prayer which is found nowhere in the Bible. Dr. Grudem complains that being instructed to pray the Lord’s Prayer 3 times a day is “adding to the commands of the New Testament.” Seriously?

Dr. Grudem’s concern stems from the belief that “some today quote [the Didache] as if it were an authority on the teaching of the early church on the same level as the New Testament writings.” Let’s try to sort that out. The New Testament is the inspired, inerrant word of God; so says the Holy Catholic Church. It contains many of the teachings of the apostles. The men whom the apostles ordained went on to impart those teachings to a new generation of disciples. Our only means of determining what those men taught the next generation is to read their writings. To my knowledge no scholar, Protestant or Catholic, claims that writings like the Didache are inspired Scripture. Scholars do, however, claim that those writings provide an invaluable window into the way the early Christians understood the apostolic teachings. I believe it is to that invaluable window which Dr. Grudem objects, because he is appalled by what he sees through that window. The view is exceedingly Catholic.

Like the thrice-daily recitation of the prayer which Jesus prefaced with the words, “When you pray, say “Our Father…” (in obvious contradiction to the Evangelical aversion to rote prayers), the doctrines taught by this very Catholic document are jarringly foreign to Dr. Grudem’s Evangelical Protestant sensibilities. Holy Communion only for the baptized and the necessity of final perseverance are teachings which have been held by Catholics for 2,000 years, teachings found in the Didache, and teachings which Dr. Grudem finds unbiblical. He could have objected as well (although he apparently overlooked it) to the Didache’s insistence that the Mass is a sacrifice. Such teachings are enough to convince Dr. Grudem that the Didache fails to faithfully reflect the beliefs of the early church. Yet, many, many of his fellow Protestants would present to Dr. Grudem various and sundry New Testament passages, all of which teach the necessity of persevering to the end (Mt 24:10-12) – to those Protestants, a first-century document enjoining Christians to remain faithful unto death is simply what one would expect, and Protestant historians would chime in, pointing out to him that that is exactly what they find in the historical record, not only in the Didache but in all the writings of the Fathers. But Grudem, a “once-saved/always-saved” proponent, feels comfortable making the assertion that “Such a document, of unknown authorship, is hardly a reliable guide for the teachings and practices of the early church.” The necessity of final perseverance is out of the question – as an Evangelical, Dr. Grudem simply does not read his Bible that way, and therefore assures his readers that the Didache cannot be representative of early Christian beliefs…

because the early Christians believed and taught exactly what Wayne Grudem believes and teaches.

And that is the foundational Evangelical assumption which leads teachers like Dr. Grudem into so much error. Dr. Grudem and Evangelicals like him will tell you that he looks at writings such as these, measures them “against the Bible,” and finds them wanting. He does not realize that he is not measuring the teaching of the Didache against the teaching of Holy Scripture; he is measuring the teaching of the Didache against his own admittedly fallible understanding of Scripture, which he then ascribes to the first Christians no matter what they themselves wrote. In that sense, he is the ruler against which truth is being measured, and when the Didache is found wanting, it is wanting in the sense that it contradicts HIS beliefs.

How can fallible human opinion be the tool against which we measure truth?

There’s a nifty thing used by carpenters called a try square. If you want to construct a perfect corner, you need a perfect, predetermined right angle, which means you must introduce into the situation a tool which authoritatively presents a perfect right angle as the model.  A ruler will lay out a straight line for you. If you want something to be “dead square,” you need a try square.

A similar tool is necessary when attempting to “square” writings such as the Didache with the teachings of the Bible. Protestants lay down their “ruler,” the Scriptures, “eyeball” the document in question, and then list objections such as the ones compiled by Dr. Grudem. When asked if the document “squares” with the Bible, Protestants will say “no,” pointing out that they have used “the Bible” as their measurement. That is like using a board (albeit in this case an inspired, inerrant board) to determine how to lay another board at a right angle. A Protestant of another denomination will use the same Bible and yet come up with a different list of objections, because he too is “eyeballing” the Didache’s relationship to Holy Scripture, going by his own fallible understanding of the Bible.

Nowhere does the Bible tell us that it is the try square by which other teachings can be measured. It does, however, tell us what that try square is:

…the Church, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth.

This “pillar” and “foundation” form the perfect right angle, the perfect try square. Catholics lay Holy Scripture along the “foundation line,” and place the writings we wish to compare with Scripture along the “pillar line.” Rather than “eyeballing” the relationship between the writings in question and our fallible understanding of Scripture, we avail ourselves of the divinely provided try square – the Church with her teaching Magisterium. Thus we can say that the teachings of the Didache, while NOT inspired, square with the teachings of Scripture, and do not “contradict or add to the commands of the New Testament.”

Protestants will be the first to admit that human beings can err, and err grievously. They err when they believe that their own individual understanding of what the Bible says IS “what the Bible teaches.” No pastor can make the claim that his understanding of Scripture is the same exact thing as Scripture itself, and neither can any pope, for that matter. But Catholics have the Church, given the official seal of approval in 1 Timothy 3:15, to guide our investigations. Protestants have… their own understanding.

The Reformers struggled with this. Calvin, when evaluating the letters of the martyred bishop St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 107 A.D.) against his own very set notions on church government, came to the conclusion that the letters were forgeries – they had to be, because they described a turn-of-the-second-century Christian community with the ecclesiastical hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Throwing the God-given try square into the trash, Calvin substituted his own understanding of Scripture, and was forced to reject the priceless testimony of a very, very early martyr for the Faith because that testimony just couldn’t be squared with the way Calvin read his Bible. Modern-day conservative Protestant historians, setting aside the ax Calvin was grinding, accept the authenticity of Ignatius’ seven letters to the churches, dating their composition to the earliest years of the 2nd century.

Yet many great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren of the Reformers are still having the same allergic reaction to the early Church Fathers. The Fathers’ works describe a Church that is Catholic to the core. Their writings debunk the very useful Protestant myth that Catholic distinctives like the papacy and the Mass are the invention of those participating in the Constantinian conspiracy, when the “real Christians” were forced into hiding. The utter silence of the early Christians on popular Protestant themes such as once-saved/always-saved baffles modern-day Evangelicals, while the Fathers’ insistence on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and on baptismal regeneration can be downright indigestion-provoking to Evangelicals who then feel tempted to construct historical workarounds like the “Bible-only Christians of the Dark Ages” theory. At odds with the rank-and-file, conservative Protestant scholars do not hesitate to admit the historical truth that the Church of the first few centuries was exceedingly Catholic in appearance.

Yep, the Reformation-era theologians had it made. They just blithely discounted the witness of the early Church, discarding the try square of the “pillar and foundation of truth” and insisting on their own versions of history and their own understandings of Scripture.

And there were no pesky conservative Protestant historians around to prove them wrong.


On the memorial of the Carmelite Nuns of Compiègne

Deo omnis gloria!

I recently posted about the Trail of Blood, a booklet based upon the sermon series by a Baptist pastor named J. M. Carroll. Carroll was preaching on the “history” of putative faithful “Baptists” from the 1st century down to the 20th. Since, according to Brother Carroll, “Baptists” did not always go by that name, he listed some “marks” by which those reading historical accounts might recognize faithful “Baptists” and their churches by any other name. He mentions, for example, that those churches would celebrate only two “ordinances,” the Lord’s Supper and baptism, and that baptism was, of course, by immersion only. He tells us that those churches would have “two kinds of officers and two only – pastors and deacons. The pastor was called ‘Bishop.’ Both pastor and deacons to be selected by the church and to be servants of the church.” And he explains that:

The churches in their government and discipline to be entirely separate and independent of each other, Jerusalem to have no authority over Antioch–nor Antioch over Ephesus; nor Ephesus over Corinth, and so forth. And their government to be congregational, democratic. A government of the people, by the people, and for the people.


Sounds like Pastor Carroll was under the impression that Abe Lincoln was one of the Twelve, or at least one of the 72. While his historical grasp may have been a little shaky, Carroll was not alone in his belief that true Christian churches must be governed democratically. This is a common theme in independent churches, the idea that the early Christians were kind of the forerunners of the French Revolution, Christians who embraced their own peculiar version of the three theological virtues: Liberté! Égalité! Fraternité! Freedom fighters by their very God-given nature, these believers abhorred the specter of monarchy in any form. “The truth will set you FREE!” was tattooed on the left bicep of each proto-Baptist, and anyone who tried to tell them what to do could go take a hike, right up the steps of the guillotine platform.

This congregational system of government is described thus by Dr. Andreas Köstenberger (Wake Forest):

In churches practicing congregational polity authority is vested in the church as a whole, although it is a matter of debate to what extent the church is able to delegate this authority to church leaders and whether or not church leaders’ authority is derived from the congregation or directly from Christ. Typically, in a congregational system the church does the following: (1) select, appoint, and, if necessary, remove church leaders; (2) (help) guard pure doctrine; (3) exercise church discipline and decide on church membership; (4) participate in major decisions affecting the entire congregation (Dever, Display of God’s Glory, 31–43). Usually, the congregation operates in democratic fashion by way of regular church business meetings at which each member has an equal voice and vote. It is often noted, however, that some of these procedures may owe more to the political democratic system than New Testament teaching.

No kidding?

“Autonomy” is the watchword of these folks, just as it was that of the first Christians. Independent churches (that is, many Baptist churches, some nondenominational assemblies, charismatic fellowships, and Church of Christ congregations) may not have much to do with each other, but they do have a lot in common; they are all independently governed and egalitarian, following the system of checks and balances set up by Jesus Himself.

So, if an independent church answers to no man, who exactly does the governing? Well, probably the pastor, you’re thinking. Think again. Think: One man, one vote. Under a system where pastors are literally voted in and out of office, there is no question that the congregation retains final authority. Ponder that for a moment. The congregation – that’s Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Smith, Aunt Lou, Cousin Billy Bob and his fiancée, Nora Mae, as well as Billy Bob’s 18-year-old high school senior daughter from his first marriage – are in charge of distinguishing between orthodox and heterodox doctrine…. Should the pastor start to get “out of line,” theologically speaking, he will soon be getting into line – the unemployment line. And what makes Nora Mae believe that she has the doctrinal understanding to distinguish between all the fine theological nuances that can bring a pastor under suspicion of heresy? She’s been well educated in Biblical doctrine, dontcha know – by Pastor Jones, whom she helped elect last year as pastor of her church….

Don’t bother trying to fathom that – it won’t become any clearer upon reflection.

But it’s BIBLICAL – independent church-goers will tell you. There is no such thing in the Christian church as a hierarchy, because the Bible says:

…you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Pet 2:5

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Pet 2:9

He has proved his love for us, by washing us clean from our sins in his own blood, and made us a royal race of priests, to serve God, his Father. Rev 1:5-6

There it is, all laid out for everyone with eyes to see: THE PRIESTHOOD OF THE BELIEVER! There’s even historical documentation of how well government of the people, by the people, and for the people worked in the history of the church – the Council of Nicaea! Those godly pastors studied their Bibles, and then held a big meeting to decide the question of the deity of Christ, and the doctrine of the Trinity won by a majority vote! See how the Holy Spirit works through the Christian democratic system?

Silly you – you always thought it was something about the Catholic bishops meeting in council to guard the good deposit which was entrusted to them through the help of the Holy Spirit living in them….

So Jesus envisioned the independent church system, and instructed his apostles in democratic decision-making techniques. We know how important this was to Him from the many Bible verses in which this is discussed, verses like:

The Democratic People’s Republic of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel! (Mk 1:15)

And Jesus went from town to town preaching the gospel of the Democratic People’s Republic of Heaven. (Mt 9:35)

And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the Democratic People’s Republic of Heaven. (Mt 13:10-11)

…there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the Democratic People’s Republic of God come with power! (Mk 9:1)

And let us not forget that beautiful verse that so many independent church-goers have embroidered on couch pillows:

The Democratic People’sRepublic of God is within you.

(Lk 17:20-21)

Of course, from an independent church point of view, a church hierarchy, one with deacons, priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and (shudder!) a pope, is just of the devil, as Martin Luther went to great lengths to point out in his Babylonian Captivity of the Church:

How if they were compelled to admit that we all, so many as have been baptized, are equally priests? We are so in fact, and it is only a ministry which has been entrusted to them, and that with our consent. They would then know that they have no right to exercise command over us, except so far as we voluntarily allow of it. Thus it is said: “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” (1 Pet. ii. 9.) Thus all we who are Christians are priests; those whom we call priests are ministers chosen from among us to do all things in our name; and the priesthood is nothing else than a ministry. Thus Paul says: “Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (1 Cor. iv. 1.)

Luther was of the egalitarian opinion that God had never intended for certain people to exercise real, meaningful spiritual authority over others. And there’s Biblical precedent for that, too – Numbers 16:1-3.

Now Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took action, and they rose up before Moses, together with some of the sons of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown. They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?”

And where did Korah, son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi get this idea that Moses and Aaron couldn’t tell him what to do? From the Bible – Exodus 19:5-6!

Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine, and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Korah, son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi and his buddies deduced from God’s statement recorded in Exodus 19:5-6 that
since the nation of Israel was “a kingdom of priests,” God had not established a ministerial priesthood to lead his people, and therefore Moses and Aaron “have no right to exercise command over us, except so far as we voluntarily allow of it,” as Luther, son of Korah, son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi and his buddies liked to phrase it. Things didn’t end too well for old Korah, come to think of it….

When Moses heard this, he fell on his face; and he spoke to Korah and all his company, saying, “Tomorrow morning the LORD will show who is His, and who is holy, and will bring him near to Himself; even the one whom He will choose, He will bring near to Himself.

Thus Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the doorway of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the LORD appeared to all the congregation. Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.” But they fell on their faces and said, “O God, God of the spirits of all flesh, when one man sins, will You be angry with the entire congregation?” Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the congregation, saying, ‘Get back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.'” Then Moses arose and went to Dathan and Abiram, with the elders of Israel following him, and he spoke to the congregation, saying, “Depart now from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing that belongs to them, or you will be swept away in all their sin.” So they got back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram; and Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the doorway of their tents, along with their wives and their sons and their little ones. Moses said, “By this you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these deeds; for this is not my doing. “If these men die the death of all men or if they suffer the fate of all men, then the LORD has not sent me. “But if the LORD brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the LORD.” As he finished speaking all these words, the ground that was under them split open; and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. Numbers 16:4-5, 18-33

The thing independent church-goers often get confused about is the fact that the Bible doesn’t actually teach the doctrine of the “priesthood of the believer.” Check out those verses again – it’s the ROYAL priesthood. This makes sense, since Christ is our King and we His co-heirs. The Kingdom isn’t a democracy – it’s a monarchy, and the royal household is administered by the royal steward, the master of His palace (Is 22:20-23; Mt 16:18-19) who acts as the King’s representative. As Jesus never declared unto Simon Peter in Matthew 16: “I will give you the keys to the town hall of the Democratic People’s Republic of Heaven, where you shall hold interminable meetings at which each believer will have an equal voice and vote!”

Just as the Israelites were “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” so too Christians are “a royal race of priests.” Just as every Israelite under the Old Covenant was a “priest” and yet still subject to the ministerial priesthood God established under the leadership of Aaron and his successors, so too Christians under the New Covenant are all “priests” and yet still subject to the ministerial priesthood God established under the leadership of Peter and his successors. And thus, as Christians we need never pray “For Thine is the Democratic People’s Republic!” It’s God’s Kingdom we’re citizens of, where rightful authority is a given, and obedience is a virtue, a Kingdom in which the admonition “Obey your leaders and submit to them” has real meaning, rather than the vertigo-inducing “obey your leaders and submit to them until you happen to disagree with their interpretation of the Bible, and then vote them out of office, or split the church, or find a church whose leaders are preaching something more in line with the way you read your Bible, at least until you happen to disagree with them and then start the whole sorry cycle all over again….”

It’s the Catholic Church, with a pope, with bishops, with priests and deacons, a hierarchy which unites every parish with every other parish into one Church, one Body. It’s not a hard concept. Remember, all that liberté! égalité! fraternité! stuff doesn’t always end real well, and (Brother Carroll’s beliefs notwithstanding) Christian it ain’t. Unity is the theme of God’s Kingdom, a unity rooted in the same Faith and the same blessed Hope that Catholics of whatever parish share, a unity that stems from Love. And yes, that necessitates a hierarchy, to serve and to shepherd us, to direct and to discipline us, to love and to lead us royal priests safely into the Kingdom of God.


On the memorial of St. Ulrich of Zell

Deo omnis gloria!