Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Time and Timing

During the course of a 45 to 60 minute "Bible study", it's amazing (and disheartening) to think of how little of that time is spent actually looking into the text.

Sure, the sermon is usually based on the text for the day, but it is sort of a platform on which the preacher stands, rather than the ultimate end.

Perhaps the Catholics are right to keep it down to a out 10 minutes... At least they've spent an equal or greater amount of time doing what is the supposed goal of Fundamental Evangelicalism--"simply teaching the Word of God".

Take a sermon I recently heard, based on a chapter in the Gospel according to John. The chapter was 42 verses. Let's say the sermoner spent 10 seconds reading each verse (although it's generally closer to 5 seconds). That's 420 seconds, or 7 minutes. Then, each 5 to 10 verse section gets about 2 minutes of application. That's 8-16 minutes. Let's say 15.

So, we have a total, so far, with simple reading and application, of about 22 minutes. And that's if he's reading slowly and you're in a long chapter!

So, what's the rest?

This reminds me of one time, when I was young...

(If only my illustrations were that engrossing!)

Stories. I know I've done it. I'm not condemning anyone here. I'm saying that, perhaps, a Sunday morning service is not the time to drag out all of your old stories, even if "The Time Grandma Hit a Cat with the Lawnmower" really does emphasize your main points about Jesus healing a blind man.

So, how long should sermons be? I don't know. Who should we emulate? Who is good at making a point and not rambling?

Read a parable from the Gospels. See how long it takes you to read it aloud in a conversational voice. You're looking at about 2 minutes for most of them.

And Jesus never had a problem getting His point across!

On 1 Timothy 3:15

I mentioned in another post that I had never noticed that Paul, in his 1st letter to Timothy, calls the Church the pillar and foundation of the truth. When I read this with an open heart just a few months ago, it blew me away.

Paul just casually states that the Church is in such a role. This has huge implications for Protestantism.

As a cradle Protestant who grew up in a sort of emergent Pentecostalism and later found himself in more fundamentalist circles, I'm accustomed to thinking of "the church" strictly in the sense of "anyone who is a faithful follower of Christ". That seems to be the most common understanding of the term within evangelicalism. The idea is that as long as you have made some sort of commitment to Jesus, you're part of the church, and we're all bound together in a mystical way. We can't know how we're bound together, but we are.

At least in some way, this is very close to the Catholic idea of the "invisible church" (all those who are following God to the best of their knowledge and abilities).

The reason this becomes problematic for Protestants is that there is no way this non-organized, extremely divided group or people could be a solid foundation of truth.

Let's look at a moral issue, for example:

What's the truth about homosexual relationships? Is it wrong? Is it neutral? Is it inherently good?

Ask a someone in an Independent Baptist Church. You'll almost certainly get a clear answer. They are very likely to tell you that living a homosexual lifestyle (i.e., being actively gay) is inherently wrong.

OK, so the church (in the Protestant sense) says being actively gay is wrong, right?

Not so fast.

Now go ask someone in an "Open & Affirming" congregation in the United Church of Christ the same question. You'll get quite a different answer.

So which is it? Is living an openly gay lifestyle right or wrong? If "the church" Paul is talking about is merely the mystically-united group which Protestants generally claim it is, then Paul, though otherwise divinely-inspired and inerrant, made a mistake here.

So, either there is a visible Church, established by Christ, with a visible head, and a consistent teaching authority, or the Bible is wrong.

I don't know about you, but I'm not about to bet on that second choice.

Pillar and Foundation of Truth

According to 1 Tim 3:15, who or what is the pillar and foundation of all truth?
Go ahead, go look it up. I can wait.
...Thinking music...

That's right, THE CHURCH is the pillar and foundation of truth! For some reason, I can't remember noticing this verse at all before a few months ago , when I started investigating the catholic church. I know I had read it before that point, but I guess I had skipped over it, and I can only assume that anyone whose teaching I have sat under must have glanced over the verse, too.

Heck, I know that's what I would have done. Just like when you come to a verse that challenges your presuppositions, you wrestle with it a while and you come to a conclusion. Mine were usually 1 of the following:

1. It really means what it says in context, which demands of me a radical alteration of my current doctrinal stances
2. The author didn't really mean that/it was just for his time period/he's using a different definition of such and such word/it's just a minor verse anyway.

In short, the choice is to embrace the contextual meaning of the passage and reconcile one's beliefs to the text or to ignore the passage substantially.

To embrace the sacred scriptures in their entirety or to ignore them in their entirety. (for we cannot pick and choose)

Unfortunately, it seems that "bible-teaching" evangelical fundamentalists would rather reject the entire canon of scripture than embrace a passage that's too Catholic-y for their tastes.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Semi-Permeable Membranes of the Various Protestantisms

Mark P. Shea, Catholic convert and writer extraordinaire, points out some inconsistencies. If Protestants are really anti-Tradition (and he explains how they aren't...sort-of-kinda-sometimes), they are, by extension, anti-Scripture. Why? Find out by reading his post!

The Semi-Permeable Membranes of the Various Protestantisms

(Hint: It has to do with the fact that Sacred Scripture is the written portion of Sacred Tradition)

And Matthias was Chosen

on the Divinely-Inspired Existence of Official Structure in the Body of Christ

Many Protestant groups (from the Independent-Fundamentalist churches to the theologically liberal "Mainline" denominations) dogmatically defend the legitimacy of multiple types of church government, claiming they were all used in the early Church and are all found in the Bible. Some groups claim there are explicit examples of episcopal, presbyterian, and congregational leadership structures, with some groups favoring examples of further governing models in the Old Testament (i.e. the "Moses model", where the pastor (quasi-)independently leads the local congregation, just like these folks claim Moses lead).

There are mentions of elders and deacons in the New Testament, but they are often in conjunction with (and never in contradiction with) the episcopal leadership structure. For example, just because there were local deacons does not mean that they would vote on whether or not they would follow Paul's apostolic teaching.

The most biblical account of the early Church after Christ's resurrection is, of course, the Acts of the Apostles. This history book chronicles the infancy of the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

In the book of Acts, we do have unequivocal evidence of a priesthood (presbyterate), a formal class of offices who, though not necessarily the recipients of some special reserved VIP seating in Heaven, are responsible for the correct spiritual practices of believers.

As an example, take a look at Acts 1:15 and following. I came across this early this morning as I started reading Acts again. Jesus had ordained the 12 Apostles, but Judas died. The prophecy that another person should "take his office" is important. Not only does it show the authority to ordain passing from Christ Himself to His Apostles (and by extension, their successors, and their successors, and so on), but it also indicates that an office existed to be filled.

This may not be earth-shaking for you, dear reader, but you must understand that I've found myself in largely anti-structure, anti-tradition, fundamentalist circles for the last few years. This "discovery" of a specific structure of Church government just a few verses after Christ's Ascension really shifts and rattles some paradigms for me. It has made logical sense for a long time, but here's plain and simple Scriptural evidence.

Further still, not only is there some kind of office, but look at the man they chose: Matthias, according to v. 21, had "accompanied [the disciples] all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among" them. That was the qualification. They pared it down to two guys, then put it in God's hands and cast lots. If there were at least 2 guys that met the qualifications to be apostles all along, why didn't Jesus just ordain these and make it 14 Apostles (or at least 13, as He doesn't seem to choose Joseph/Barsabbas here)?

Could it be that He actually did this on purpose, knowing that Judas would split open, spill his guts, and die, thus leaving a vacancy to be filled by the Apostles?! Could it really be?

As time went on, more people were ordained through the laying on of hands to this "office" (Greek here is "episkopen"-the office of overseer, and the word from which we English speakers get "bishop").

If there was no particular structure that the Church is obligated to use, then it sure seems silly for Jesus to have set this all up and set the ordination procedures in motion. Since our Lord did do so, I think we can assume that this leadership structure (episcopal system maintained through succession all the way from Christ's earthly ministry through today) is probably a good one.

This is a strong argument against the "anything goes (and if it doesn't, you start your own "church" where it does)" mentality of modern, American Christianity.

New Verses

Just a quick note to explain a new tag that I may be using frequently: "new verses".

Growing up Protestant, we were always encouraged to study the bible. However, there are many passages in Scripture that support doctrine that only the Catholic Church consistently teaches or explicitly condemn doctrine that only the Catholic Church consistently condemns.

Somehow, completely unintentionally, we who personally revere Scripture tend to skip over these tough passages. Now, knowing a bit about what the Church teaches, I seem to discover "New Verses" each time I get into the Word.

I explain it like the trick picture that is, depending upon your perspective, either kissing faces or a vase. Let's say you see the kissing faces, and your friend points out the vase image. Now, knowing the vase is there, you cannot go back to only seeing the faces.

Well, now I am seeing the beauty and truth in the teachings of the Catholic Church, and it's getting harder and harder to see why I'm not Catholic.

When I read Scriptrue, I keep "discovering" these "new verses" that aren't really new at all. To me, however, the ink still seems wet.

Friday, June 18, 2010

My Food Stamps Reform Fantasy

I've had some troubles recently, and some problems with formatting before publishing the last post added to it, but I hope to be back to regular posting soon, as I have more frequent dependable internet access for a while. Anyway, here's a bit for today!

This post is somewhat off the usual topic of this blog, in that it is of a more cultural focus than spiritual, though it is certainly impossible to separate the two.

Listening to an old episode of Catholic Answers LIVE entitled, "The Sanity of Smallness in a 'Super-Size Me' Culture", I was reminded of what happened to me last night at the grocery store:

A couple in front of me, aged between 30 and 45, were purchasing all their groceries with food stamps. As I casually looked to see what they were buying (or, it could be said, what we were buying for them), I noticed a container from the deli section labeled "Food Stamps Eligible". In the container were some sort of teriyaki-flavored fried chicken pieces. I thought about how raw chicken would be much more economical (and healthier), but conceded in my mind that it was, at least, meat.

The fresh cookies from the bakery were harder to justify, but not as hard as the frozen-fully-cooked-super-processed-uber-salted BBQ chicken wings, which were, in turn, not as difficult to justify as the cans of name brand soda.

Now, before you fill the comboxes with anger, let me just say this: I have no problem at all with helping those in need. As Christians, this is not an option. I would argue that, if my earned dollars weren't going to government social programs, I could do much more to support local food pantries that actually get real food into the hands of local families living in poverty.

At the very least, I would (and do) argue that food stamps, or any other government benefits for those who do not earn money should not pay for junk. Really, this is in everyone's best interest. How about a quick reworking of our welfare system. Here's my basic plan:

In general, you need to show that you are trying to get a job or trying to work to provide for yourself and your family. Whether this means applying to jobs or submitting copies of your paystubs is up for debate. Either way, you must be able to show that you're not just sitting on your butt. If you're not working (or trying to work), you're going to go hungry. Send your kids to school, and they'll get fed. If you're a lazy bum, your stomach should be grumbling. It's called motivation.

OK, so you're working or trying to get a job, but you're still not able to support your family. If you qualify for assistance, here's what that means:

Upon entry into the program, you will be required to attend a couple basic cooking classes. These will cover the following basics:

1. Clean & safe preparation of food, especially safe cooking of meats (checking internal temperatures and so on).
2. Budgeting your money (since you'll only be getting your account reloaded once per month, you need to understand how to make it last by watching what you spend).
3. Basic cooking (you need to know how to make a basic fried/baked/grilled meat dish, a few types of vegetable dishes, and so on. We're not talking about Emeril-level pizzazz here, we're talking about going from raw chicken, dry rice, and frozen green beans to a simple, delicious, nutritious meal using a few spices and proper cooking. Let's even cover slow cookers. You'll be working all day, and it's nice to come home to a cooked meal that you prepared in 10 minutes before heading out the door earlier in the day).
4. Clean & safe storage of food (you're going to be making most of your diet from scratch, so you'll mostly need to keep the staples, like flour and rice, with your frequently replenished produce, eggs, dairy, and meat. You're not going to have a freezer full of store-bought, microwaveable, over-salted, nutritionless snacks).
5. Keeping your kitchen (and home) clean and pest-unfriendly (learn how to do dishes and clean your home. The goal is to feed yourself and your family, not roaches and rats).

I could go on and on, but these are some basics.

Food stamps should pay for staples (basic ingredients like rice, flour, dry beans, meat, fresh/frozen vegetables, eggs, and dairy) and not much more. I understand that it's nice to have a pop every now and then. I understand the temptation to buy microwaveable frozen dinners and snacks. But neither of those are real food.

What is real food?

Take some raw chicken. Cut it off any bones, and cut it into small (1/2" or so) chunks. Fry it in a little butter or just straight in a skillet. While it's frying, boil (or steam) some green beans. Add a dash of ground red pepper (or another seasoning) to the beans after you drain them. You could cook some brown rice for more fiber, carbs, and to stretch the meat a bit more. Put the rice on a plate, and put some chicken on top (you could even make a nice gravy by adding some flour and milk to the drippings after you've cooked the chicken, and pour the gravy on top of the chicken and rice). Put a sensible portion of chicken, rice, and green beans on the plate.

Pour a few glasses of the lemonade you made last night (from lemon juice, sugar, and water), have your family members sit with you at the table.

Thank God for your blessings (your family, your food, etc.). Ask Him to nourish your souls as the food nourishes your body.

That's some real food.

Friday, May 14, 2010

"I am Saved!"

Been a while since I updated. I have part 2 of a previous post (on literalism) written, but not finished enough to post. My internet access is spotty at best (no access at home, so I'm on intermittently), hence the irregular updates. If you subscribe, it might be easier if you want to stay up to date on posts. Anyway, here you go!
On the Catholic Answers Forums, someone started a thread asking what other forum members think of when someone says, "I am saved". What comes to mind?

Someone soon replied:
I would think the same thing if a Catholic said it:

How do you know?

Even St. Paul had doubt to his salvation. If you say that you are saved, then it would mean that you either did what God wanted you to do and now He owes it to you. Or you are so sure of your own sanctity that you could enter heaven right now. Neither one of those positions strike me [as] logical.
Interesting take on the issue. God knows my heart far better than I can. Numerous Scripture passages mention what I would call the "ongoing nature of salvation," or sanctification, meaning that, after proclaiming faith in Christ and putting our trust in Him, we must follow Him.

"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:11b, NIV).

Jesus doesn't say, "You've prayed a certain prayer, you're good to go! Seeya in Heaven!"

Paul says that our reasonable, logical response to God's grace is to live holy lives. James writes that we're not saved by a faith alone, but by works.

We've been grafted into the vine. Some of those originally in the vine have been pruned away. If God was willing to prune out the original branches due to fruitless results, won't He also prune the ingrafted branches that have become fruitless?

Seems plain that the issue is far more complex than "I prayed the sinner's prayer, signed a card, and I'm saved now!"

Shouldn't we be clear about that?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Problem with Strict Literalism, pt. 1

In his work De Principiis, Origen wrote that
The simple man may be edified by the 'flesh' as it were of the Scriptures, for so we name the obvious sense; while he who has ascended a certain way may be edified by the 'soul' as it were; the perfect man...may receive edification from the spiritual law, which has a shadow of good things to come. For as man consists of body and soul and spirit, so in the same way does Scripture.
Though it may not have been his original intent, Origen's idea shows one massive flaw in the literalist interpretation of Scripture--it misses a heck of a lot!

(Another issue is the reality that practically no one is consistently practicing literalism, but more on that in part 2)

If Scripture is the only directly divinely-inspired letter from Christ to His Bride the Church, then we must drink from the fullness of its depths. Yet it is often those who claim most adamantly to hold the doctrine of sola Scriptura who sip the most shallowly.

Trying to meet God through His Word via a strictly literal reading of the text is like getting to know a person by staring at him in awkward silence for long periods of time. Sure, you could memorize outward things--facial features, hair color, that scar on his elbow--and maybe even theorize about some deeper matters--the reason for that faraway stare, perhaps--but you won't actually come to know the person. You won't become fraternally united.

Strictly superficial/literal Scriptural reading is kind of like taking an awkward elevator ride with God. There's some music playing in the background, and you might remember the length of His beard--maybe you'd even remember enough to help out the police sketch artist, but you try to avoid making eye contact, lest he ask you a deep question, like "How are you, My child?"

Because, all to often, our conception of the "God of the Bible" is so neatly contained. He wouldn't intrude in our lives, right?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Historical Primacy of the Bishop of Rome

Being the son of a seminary graduate does have its advantages. Namely, the Access to Books. I have a bunch of books on loan from my father. The only one I haven't looked at thoroughly is Williston Walker's A History of the Christian Church. I just cracked it open earlier this week.

Anyway, I'm reading the section about "The Growing Importance of Rome"1 right now, and Walker is acknowledging a sort of historical primacy of Rome.

Even antedating what he identifies as the point when the Catholic Church really began structurally crystallizing, there does seem to be a recognized authority carried by the congregation in Rome, where "Paul and Peter died":
Even before the close of the first century Clement, writing anonymously to the Corinthians in the name of the whole Roman congregation ([c.] 93-97), spoke as for those who expected to be obeyed. The tone, if brotherly, was big-brotherly.
Later in the paragraph, he mentions Irenaeus of Lyons assuming that all churches needed to agree with the Roman church.

I found it interesting.
1. Walker, Williston. A History of the Christian Church. 3rd ed. New York: Scribner, 1970. All quotes come from pp. 60-61.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My journey, in a nutshell.

As the saying goes, to understand where I am now, you must understand where I've been, or something like that. Here's a quick background:

I grew up in church, quite literally. As the son of a Protestant minister, I was in church just about every time the doors were open (and a good number of times when they weren't). My father has served as an ordained minister in 3 denominations since I was born, seeking earnestly to follow God's calling. He has always been one of my heroes, in both the spiritual and earthly sense.

When I came to the age of reason, I started passively rejecting God. I can't recall a time when I didn't believe--at some level--in Jesus as my "personal Lord and Savior", or when I ever doubted the existence of God (questioned, yes. Thoroughly doubted? No). I didn't "break up with God" so much as I stopped trying to see Him anymore. I had no reason to stop believing in God, but I didn't feel like I had reason to live for Him.

This "passive rebellion" or lazy runaway faith continued until late in high school, when things culminated in depression and other problems. I was never the the drug-addicted-prostituting-drunk-on-the-bathroom-floor type of PK you so often see in the news. I did have an extremely distorted view of myself and of life, as always comes from a distanced relationship with God.

I made a personal commitment to follow God in early 2004. I figured I'd made a royal mess of things in just a few short years trying to go it alone, so I'd give things to Him and hope He would sort them out. I believed God was calling me to a deeper level of Christianity than pew-warming, so I've been trying ever since then to figure out just what that call is.

Upon entering college, I became involved with a campus ministry and a local church. I mentioned to this church's pastor that I felt called to serve in some capacity, perhaps with youth. In the few years since then, I have served as the youth pastor, and have been "ordained" in that capacity. I have greatly enjoyed my time in this church, and I have a deep love for the leadership and congregation, but I have felt increasingly convicted over the past couple years that this particular form of Christianity is not where God is calling me to be long-term.

Like most born-and-raised evangelicals I know, I would have agreed, even a year ago, with the common appraisal of Catholicism, "Yeah, I think Catholics can be Christians, but most probably aren't." The traditions and rituals just seemed too much for my (seemingly) tradition-less and un-ritualistic view of the faith of Jesus.

However, about 8 months ago, an Orthodox priest shook some things up in my thinking when he explained the Orthodox view of the communion of saints. This got me thinking, and I studied Orthodox Christianity for some time, in much more detail than I ever had. Interesting and beautiful, but there were a number of things that just did not resonate with my soul.

5-6 months ago, a friend sent me a book, Kevin Orlin Johnson's Why Do Catholics Do That?. Like most Protestants, this question had crossed my mind many, many times. Unfortunately, like most Protestants, I realized I had never bothered to find an answer.

I tore through the book. I read Karl Keating's Catholicism and Fundamentalism. I began realizing that most of my arguments about Catholicism were based on misunderstandings. No, they don't really worship Mary, or any other saints, or the pope. If my spiritual framework had trembled a bit after the conversation with an Orthodox priest, it was now beginning to quake violently.

So, sitting amidst the shattered remnants of Solas, I find myself more ardently seeking God's direction than ever before. I've graduated with my undergraduate degree, and I was ready to head right on to a Protestant seminary to work on an M.Div.

I am not a member of the Roman Catholic Church. I never have been, and I cannot say whether I will or will not be Catholic in the future. But, for the first time in my life, I cannot give a "certain" no to the question,

Will I enter communion with Rome?

What's with the Title?

Having started many blogs in my time (even before I realized they were called "blogs"), the earliest of which dates back to my extremely angsty, narcissistic, and confused ramblings of high school, I realize that one of the keys to a good blogging experience is a catchy name. Something athletic for the sports blogger. Something poetic for the literature blogger. Something...angsty and un-understood for the high school-ish emo-would-be blogger (as I once was).

I have many thoughts (though few are profound), and writing helps me chew them up, mull it all over. If I can write out these ruminations, I'll post them on a blog, and complete strangers can comment on them.

This was my revelation a few months ago, but I couldn't think of a name. Well, I have thought of a name (and that's why you can read this, of course). "in the silence and the thunder" is the title. It's taken from this poem:

"In the Silence and in the Thunder"
I desire a relationship with God,
Yet more greatly does He desire such with me.
I desire to seek real Truth, unchained by all our earthly fallacies,
Yet more greatly does He work to reveal it.
I want to find Him in prayer, in meditation,
in community, in solitude,
in happiness and in sorrow, rejoicing and grief.
In the silence and in the thunder.

To gaze upon gilded plaster and allow Him to transcend the gap I cannot cross.
To enter those "sermons in stone" and gaze into the Face of the One to Whom they point and know in my mind,
believe in my heart,
and speak with my spirit, mouth, and life that truth, that love, eternally echoed by the heavenly choir,
"Sanctus. Sanctus. Sanctus."

And hear Him in the silence and in the thunder.

This poem is a very brief expression of some recent changes in my journey to serve God. I hope you'll enjoy my take on things and offer some feedback. For example, if you see a huge logical error in something, let me know (kindly, please). If you think you have a book I'd enjoy, recommend it. If you want me to share a prayer request, testimony, or humorous anecdote, let me know. We'll see how it goes.