Saturday, December 25, 2010

Holy Night

Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Beautiful song

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A basic summary of (a few) Church teachings

A few days ago I recieved this comment on an old post:
Hey Ruth, I have some question after reading some of your posts regarding the church and your recent missions to Uganda. Please read all scriptural references given, prayerfully consider their meaning in the context of scripture, alone. Thought....

If "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God", and "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us..." How does salvation come by baptism/membership in a church, when scripture clearly defines the church as a body of true believers?
"Neither shall their be salvation in any other (name)".... so why has the glorious Church been lifted up as a precursor for salvation, or the vessel through which the Holy Spirit is "unleashed", or limited in His work, so to speak? I would like to ask one more simple question for thought. If you delete this post that is OK, but please read for your own edification.

According to Ephesians 2:1-10, you are saved by Grace through Faith (not your own doing, the Faith to believe comes from God). It is grace, or unmerited favor, and faith that is the gift from God. This may help you clarify Ephesians 1:3-14. "sealed with the promised Holy Spirit" He won't let you go. See Romans 5:8, while we were sinners, Christ died for us, and looking at Romans 5:15-16 this for grace to abound much more since, according to one man's transgression sin entered the world, and death through sin, by one man...Christ, many more are offered grace.
There is really nothing to "figure out" or understand here except that we are all under God's wrath/judgment because He is Holy, and we are not...PERIOD. Our efforts to please Him, or try and appease Him for falling short of His standard of Holiness are "as filthy rags." But PRAISE be to God because He provided the substitutionary sacrifice that was perfect (lived a righteous life, tempted as we are but was yet without sin) so that the righteousness of Christ could be "credited" to our account, so to speak, when we believe in Him.

(Romans 4:8 Blessed is the man in whom God does not impute sin. - this is a one time legal declaration by God...not a life-long, hope I can become good enough to please Him. We would ALL be doomed if that were the case. Where would the "peace that surpasses all understanding" be in that type of salvation. See Rom. 10:6-7. We don't say who will reach up into heaven and bring Christ down or who will reach down and bring Christ up from the abyss (or grave)...why, because God has already done this on our behalf, ONCE for all.

We don't need a priest like in the old testament to offer any kind of sacrifice for us, now or forever. Hebrews 10:14-17. v.14 "For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." How many offerings? see v.12 "But when Christ had offered for all a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. focus on ONCE and the NEW covenant he makes in Christ's blood for the redeemed. In light of these verses, Rom 10;6 and Heb 10:12, is a perpetual sacrifice for sin by a priest, who himself sins, necessary? Or has scripture already answered this question with a PERFECT sacrifice who said "it is finished" when He had completed His Father's work here on earth? Ruth, please take these passages to heart, they are the foundation of the gospel (Good News) of what Christ did on our behalf. It is not that I am trying to discourage you, but only to help you discern that scripture interprets scripture. All 'revelation' must be brought to bare in "light" of the revealed Word of God, not teachings of men, who themselves may be errant. Heb 9:24-28. Christ does not need to be offered many times in mass for sins. He did this once, and will return to save those who eagerly await Him. Phil. 1:6
Please bear with me in this long post (if you've made it to here, that's pretty good!). I promise you its extremely interesting (or at least I thought so). This has taken way too long to post, which is why I don’t have an apologetics blog. This site is excellent at explaining what the Church believes and why. I do have a disclaimer on the right, over there ---->, but it seems this post will have to be an exception. Since the questions were asked to me, I’ve answered them. You may also check out the Vatican’s website or the Catechism. But of course, if you want to continue the discussion, I will do my best. These explanations are how I understand them and they are in no way complete (one could write books on these subjects).

I am using the Revised Standard Version for quoting the Bible (and commentary from the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible for inspiration).

First of all, I would like to explain how the Catholic Church interprets scriptures. We look at the Bible in its entirety. Believing it is the inspired word of God, we don’t ignore some parts in favor of others. This includes the Old Testament. We take Jesus very seriously when he says “Do not think I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them” (Matthew 5:17). The Greek word translated “fulfil” means “to make complete”. We believe the New Covenant includes and concludes the Old Covenant. The entire Bible tells the story of salvation and always gives us God’s plan for what to believe and how to live and worship. I tell you this because that is how I will be answering your questions. I will look at what the Old Testament (and Old Covenant) included and how it has been perfected in the New Covenant with Jesus.

How does salvation come by baptism/membership in a church, when scripture clearly defines the church as a body of true believers?

The Old Covenant was entered into by circumcision. The New Covenant is also entered into by circumcision, but in a different way. Here is what I wrote back in June:

Phil 3:2-3, which says, "Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh". True circumcision refers to the spiritual circumcision of the heart, which happens at Baptism. This spiritual circumcision is obviously prefigured with bodily circumcision, but is no longer necessary (because we now have the true circumcision). Deuteronomy 30:6 tells us that God will circumcise our hearts so that we will love God with all our hearts and souls. (Also see Romans 2:28-29 and Colossians 2:11-12)
In the New Covenant, our hearts are circumcised by baptism (thus making the regular circumcision unnecessary). Ezekiel 36:25-27 says “ I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.” Christian baptism does just that. Acts 2:38 says “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” In the Catholic Church we are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and when the water is poured upon the head (or the person is immersed), sins are washed away, the Holy Spirit rests upon them, and they are now a very real part of the Body of Christ, the Church. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…”(1 Cor. 12:13). 1 Peter 3:21 also states “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (I think you would also enjoy reading 1 Peter 3, starting at verse 18, which talks about Jesus dying for sins once for all.) Christ DID die for our sins and ONLY because of that, now we can be saved. Baptism is how you enter into the salvation he offers us.

The next part of your question is about the church as a true body of believers. My explanation of baptism already hit on this a little, but I wanted to completely answer your question. The Church is a true body of believers. At baptism, one becomes a member of the Church. The Church is the body of Christ, with Christ as the head of the body/Church. “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27) and “He is the head of the body, the Church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent” (Colossians 1:18). So by baptism, you come into the Church. And that leads into your next question…

Why has the glorious Church been lifted up as a precursor for salvation, or the vessel through which the Holy Spirit is "unleashed", or limited in His work, so to speak?

A few assumptions made about the Church in this question are incorrect. Firstly, nothing can limited God in His work. The Church doesn’t claim this, nor can it ever, because it simply is impossible. The Church is where God has revealed Himself to us and it was created by God Himself to enact His grace and use it as a means to save us. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). The word “Church” is used in the Old testament for the “congregation” of Israel united to God. The Church today is an assembly united to God, and was started by Jesus Himself. Although there are countless ways God acts, it is through His Church that God reaches us and administers His grace. The Church is where “God’s grace is on full offer. The Church is where we find the fullness of life Christ wants for us.”-Fr. Robert Barron

I was just thinking about this last week. I’ll share with you the analogy I came up with.
I think we will agree that learning isn’t restricted to any one thing or place. You can learn in many different ways with many different things. But someone who goes to school, we would say is “educated”. Someone who has a degree from a respected university is “more educated”. But if learning isn’t limited to a classroom, or books and teachers with lesson plans, why do we say that? Because in the classroom, we learn about a subject more fully, more in-depth. The structure of school, with different grades, subjects, and ways of learning, is a more conducive environment for learning and for learning something well. If someone was only being taught things as they went on with their life, many important things may be missed. For instance, if I never went to school, I would hardly know anything about math. I wouldn’t know much about biology, such as cell structure. I wouldn’t have read “classics” simply because those weren’t something I wasn’t interested in at the time. Even though I have a mother who has been a teacher for almost 30 years, and have been to countless museums, historical sites, and have traveled a lot, my education still would not have been as complete as it is if I didn’t go to school. And I know I’m still not done learning.

I see this comparable with the Church. Yes, you “can get God” other ways and in other places, but it’s in the Church where you find a true and complete understanding of God. I have experienced God’s love in a more tangible way, and have learned more deeply about God in the Church than I have ANYWHERE else. I believe, and the Bible says, it’s because Jesus created it and that is the main way He wants it to be. As I’m typing, I know I need to stop myself. I can probably go on about the Church for the next million words. If you would like to know more, I would love to tell you : )

I will now respond to the next part of your comment, which didn’t have a particular question.

As I was reading Ephesians 2:1-10, I couldn’t help but also read the commentary. I know I can’t say it better, so I’ll write it here:

The first half of the chapter (Ephesians 2:1-10) explains how Christ reconciles men with God. (2:8) grace- The biblical term for (1) God’s favor and (2) God’s supernatural life. The former designates the conditions of its bestowal (a free and undeserved gift, Romans 6:23), and the latter designates the content of the gift we receive (a share in the divine nature, 2 Peter 1:4). Have been saved-(the notes led me to Romans 5:10, which comments on “shall we be saved”. It says) Salvation can be described in terms of the past, present and future. It is past with reference to Baptism, which saves us from our sins (1 Peter 3:21, see above). It is a present reality when we allow grace to make us steadily more virtuous and holy (1 Cor 1:18). It is a future hope that we will for ever live with the Lord in glory (Heb 9:28, CCC169, 1026). (Now back to the Ephesians commentary) Through faith- Faith is instrumental in saving us and uniting us with Christ. In the context of conversion, salvation is conferred through the instrument of Baptism (1 Peter 3:21), and salvation is received through the instrument of faith (Romans 3:24-25). For Paul, belief in Jesus Christ is a divine gift (Phil 1:29)… (2:10) good works- Works of righteousness that pertain to salvation (Romans 2:6-7). These are made possible by the grace of God empowering us from within (Phil 2:12-13, Heb 13:20-21). The Second Council of Orange decreed in 529 A.D. that man, weakened by the fall of Adam, is incapable of performing good works worthy of eternal life by his own natural strength. Only by supernatural help of the Spirit can we be humble, obedient, and loving in a way that truly pleases the Lord (Canons 1-25. CCC 2008-11).

The rest of Ephesians chapter goes on to talk about the old circumcision (of the flesh) and how God reconciles men and nations with one another. A few things about this. 1. I wanted to show you that we believe many of the same things (and that some of the things you said come straight from Catholic councils going back to the 6th century). We are both Christian and regard Jesus as God. I hope you weren’t under the impression I believe anything contrary to that. By the way, the Catholic Church gave the world the Bible in 393 A.D. when the Council of Hippo listed the books (before then, many Popes had decreed the same list). 2. Also, to reiterate how important Baptism is. It is completely necessary for salvation. 3. That being a Christian isn’t a one time deal. God isn’t the president of an organization. He doesn’t want your yearly dues and a “belief” statement every so often. God wants everything you have. He wants to completely change your life (inside and out). He wants us to freely choose Him, which means choosing to live as He directs us to. That means to strive for holiness, for your whole life. How great would a marriage be if you showed up on the wedding day but never spoke to your spouse again? The life of a Christian is continuous conversion. Like you referenced, we are filthy as rags, which means we must be given faith and grace and salvation, but God doesn’t force us to receive any of these against our will. If we choose to reject Him later, God will respect that choice. God doesn’t let us go, but at the end of our life if we reject Him, then God respects our wishes.

We don't need a priest like in the old testament to offer any kind of sacrifice for us, now or forever.

Although this wasn’t a question, I need to respond to this. Priests are extremely important. Jesus is referred to as the High Priest (The entire Hebrews chapter 7 talks about priesthood, and how and why Jesus is the High Priest.), so obviously, we need (at least one) priests. In the Old testament, we have three “kinds” of priests. The high priest (Aaron, Exodus 28:3), ministerial priests (Aaron’s sons, Exodus 28:40-41), and universal priests (Israel, Exodus 19:6). And in God’s mighty plan for the world, we now also have three kinds of priesthood. The High Priest is Jesus (Hebrews 2:17, 3:1), the ministerial priests are the ordained priests and bishops (Romans 15:16, 1 Timothy 3:1,8; 5:17, Titus 1:7) who have been given to us by God since Jesus first chose his apostles, and the universal priests are all the faithful (1 Peter 2:5,9, Revelation 1:6). We are incorporated into the priestly office of Christ upon our Baptism. We are all priests, called “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). The ministerial priests are the ones asked by God in a special way to “feed and tend the flock” (John 21:15-17). Not everyone in the flock can tend and feed. There have to be shepherds where that is their primary and life-long mission. Each of the universal priests and the ministerial priests share in the priesthood of Jesus. Jesus, again, is the reason we can even be priests in the first place. It always comes back to Him.

As far as priests being sinners, I will direct you to Numbers 16:1-3. Korah and 250 other well known community leaders rose up against Moses and accused him of declaring himself holier than the rest. They argued because all are holy, none should claim a position higher than the rest. This is basically the same argument only you reverse it saying since no one is perfect, they can’t be “higher”. But as I’ve already explained, God chooses His priests, and it is to share in the priesthood of Christ. Also, we are told to obey the elders (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, 1 Timothy 5:17, Hebrews 12:9, 13:7,17, 1 Peter 5:5), and those who do not are judged harshly (2 Peter 2:10-12, 1 John 4:6, 3 John 1:9-11, Jude 1:8-10). Jude 1:11 tells us that “they will perish because of their rebellion”.

Is a perpetual sacrifice for sin by a priest, who himself sins, necessary?

I’ve already answered the part about the priest sinning and I’ll let Nicholas Hardesty explain the rest. Read more here.

When [Jesus was on] the Cross, he gave his entire self to the world so as to achieve the objective redemption. In other words, in giving of his entire self, he made it possible for man to enter heaven. But, the merits of this total self-giving must be applied to us somehow if we are to benefit from it. This is the subjective redemption. Every day man is in need of it, so Jesus never ceases to give to the Father his one gift on the Cross. This gift is made real in our lives through the Mass, when celebrate the gift of his entire self (to the Father, and consequently to us) in the Eucharist.

[Jesus] abolished the old sacrifices so as to set up the very sacrifice that we celebrate in the Mass. It is in the Mass that we are "sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:10).

Some people use Hebrews 10:12 as a mark against the Sacrifice of the Mass, but this verse is in reference to the sacrifices of the Old Law that he abolished. The blood of lambs will no longer do. Now we partake of the Blood of the Lamb (1 Pet 1:18-19; Rev 7:14; 12:11). His Blood is the new covenant (Lk 22:20; Heb 12:24). Just as the levitical high priest offered sacrifice to the Lord and then the people ate the sacrifice (to participate in the Old Covenant), in the Mass the priest stands in the person of Christ offering His one sacrifice to the Lord and then we eat the sacrifice (to participate in the New Covenant).
If this still seems a bit strange, just read what Justin Martyr (yes, this is the famous Christian martyr) says about the Mass, and more particularly, about the Eucharist, which is really what you are referring to. This was written in 155 A.D.

God speaks by the mouth of Malachi, one of the twelve [minor prophets], as I said before, about the sacrifices at that time presented by you: "I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord, and I will not accept your sacrifices at your hands; for from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, my name has been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering, for my name is great among the Gentiles" [Mal. 1:10-11]. He then speaks of those Gentiles, namely us [Christians] who in every place offer sacrifices to him, that is, the bread of the Eucharist and also the cup of the Eucharist. (Dialogue with Trypho 41)
The Mass (in its basic form) has been celebrated since Jesus first did it at the Last Supper. When we celebrate Mass, the one sacrifice of Jesus is re-presented. What Jesus did on the cross for us is enough, and now we have access to it every day with Mass (as Jesus instructed us to do). You can read more from the early Church fathers about the Sacrifice of the Mass here. Or simply more info on the Sacrifice, here.

Last thoughts:
Your comment was intriguing, in that it lead me to see the biblical basis for the beliefs of the Catholic Church. I hope you also read what I have written and honestly think about them as well. In your comment you pointed out being “sealed with the Holy Spirit”. Catholics are sealed with the Holy Spirit when they are confirmed. If you're interested, you can read more about that here. Also, here is a good look at the reasoning behind “scripture interpreting scripture” (Part 1 and Part 2). May God bless you abundantly during this Christmas season!