Roman Catholic

This tag is associated with 13 posts

Ecumenism and Lutheranism – Reformation 500

2017 marks the 500th anniversary of what is hailed by many as the start of the Reformation: Luther’s sharing his 95 Theses. I’ve decided to celebrate my Lutheran Protestant Tradition by highlighting some of the major issues that Luther and the Lutherans raised through the Reformation period. I hope you will join me as we remember the great theological (re)discoveries that were made during this period.

Ecumenism and Lutheranism

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Franz Hildebrand, two German Lutherans in the early 20th Century, wrote a catechetical statement in response to the question: “Why are there so many churches?”-

We are really supposed to be one church. In the midst of our incredible divisions we urgently seek communion among all Christians. It will only be possible for us humans ever to have it if we keep waiting and believing [in Christ] who is faithful to his church. (Cited in Schlingensiepen, 80, cited below)

Bonhoeffer and Hildebrand’s response is brief, but shows key aspects of ecumenism that we can continue to seek today. The first point is to realize that the true church of Christ ought to be one both in spiritual and in temporal reality. The second point is that we remain divided, but seek such unity. The third point is eschatological: we must realize that no human efforts will succeed in uniting the church; instead, we hope for Christ’s return to bring about the ultimate unity of His Church.

Elsewhere, Bonhoeffer points out that ecumenical movements must never disregard that real differences in belief and doctrine and practice exist among the present day church. Nevertheless, Bonhoeffer followed his own catechetical statement and urgently sought unity and communion among all Christians. Ecumenism does not mean ignoring all differences or agreeing they don’t matter; instead, we acknowledge our differences and seek to find unity where it does exist.

The church body to which I belong, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has recently made an ecumenical statement that both acknowledges continued difference and shows points of unity with the Roman Catholic church: the Declaration on the Way. I believe this document is an important one, particularly as we continue to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The ultimate prayer for ecumenism, I believe, is “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”

Sources

Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance translated by Isabel Best (New York: Continuum, 2010).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Please check out my other posts on the Reformation:

I discuss the origins of the European Reformations and how many of its debates carry on into our own day.

The notion of “sola scriptura” is of central importance to understanding the Reformation, but it is also hotly debated to day and can be traced to many theological controversies of our time. Who interprets Scripture? 

The Church Universal: Reformation Review–  What makes a church part of the Church Universal? What makes a church part of the true church? I write on these topics (and more!) and their origins in the Reformation.

The Continuing Influence of the Reformation: Our lives, our thoughts, our theology– I note the influence that the Reformation period continues to have on many aspects of our lives.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 4/24/15- abortion and evangelicals, apologetics, and more!

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneWinter is back, apparently, here in Minnesota. It’s COLD! And it snowed on Monday and Tuesday. Anyway, here we have some reading to keep you entertained on chilly nights. The topics are abortion and evangelicals, raising kids, apologetic methods, science fiction, and a debate over the Reformation.

Evangelicals Opposed Abortion Much Earlier than You Think– It has been said that evangelicalism wasn’t originally pro-life or oriented against abortion. Is that true? Moreover, does it even matter? Here’s an article examining the historical claim. My own thoughts are that it doesn’t matter when evangelicals began working against abortion. The question is whether abortion is morally permissible (or not). Whether a group historically opposed it or not doesn’t do much to the current debate other than provide a rhetorical flair. This post takes away some of that rhetorical flair.

4 Reasons the Internet May Influence Your Kids’ Faith More Than You– What influence does the internet have on kids exploring questions about the faith? How might awareness of this influence help us to confront worldview issues?

Comparing Apologetics Systems: Methodology and Practice– How should we do apologetics? Here is a post outlining some different approaches to apologetics and how they might be applied.

Spec[ulative]-Fic[tion] Subgenres: Superheroes & Fairy Tales– Christian publisher (of science fiction and fantasy) Enclave has an interesting post comparing the genres of superhero writing to fairy tales. They’re the same publisher who is re-releasing Kathy Tyers’ works. I had an interview with this awesome sci-fi author regarding worldview questions and science fiction here.

Revelation TV Debate: Church would have been better off without the Reformation?– Here’s an interesting debate about whether the Reformation was a good development in church history. The debaters are James White and Rev. Dr. Thomas Norris.

Book Review: “Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment” by Gregg R. Allison

rctp-allisonGregg Allison’s work, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment, provides a point-by-point look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church along with commentary and critique throughout from an evangelical perspective. The book thus provides an enormous number of avenues exploration, so we’ll focus on just a few topics here.

Evangelicalism in Dialogue

One issue that some may see rising from Allison’s approach is the notion of “evangelical thought” or perspective. Allison himself notes how difficult it would be to pin down one specific approach. He does, however, do a good job of approaching the various aspects of Roman Catholic theology in a way that allows for different evangelical voices to get a say. For example, in his discussion of the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist/etc., he critiques Roman Catholic teaching from a number of different evangelical positions. That said, Allison is Reformed and focuses much of the space for critique on offering a specifically Reformed criticism. This means that at some points those outside of the Reformed tradition may feel they have differing criticisms to offer that are not fully covered.

One can hardly fault Allison for this approach, however, because the space needed simply to cover the Catechism and offer a critique is large.

Roman Catholicism Outlined and Critiqued

The value of the book for many will be found in the fact that it does present Roman Catholic teaching as found in their official Catechism. Allison does a great job simply presenting what the Catechism teaches in each section before he offers a critique.

Allison’s critique often focuses on either the Church-Christ identification or the nature-grace interdependence in Roman Catholic theology. It is the latter which is the most prominent critique offered. Roman Catholicism sees human nature and grace working together whereas evangelicalism sees human nature as corrupted through the fall and not working together with grace. Allison does an excellent job showing numerous difficulties with the Roman Catholic view on this topic and then showing how many doctrines of Roman Catholicism are dependent upon this faulty premise.

Allison’s critique of specific doctrines is also helpful. His criticisms of papal and magisterial infallibility are on-point, concise, and decisive. His outline and critique of Mariology, justification, etc. are each valuable and insightful. Again, however, readers may be left hoping there was more space to dedicate to each individual topic.

Some other issues

One issue that happens a few times is that Allison seems to inadequately ground his critique. This is particularly the case in a number of places in which the criticism amounts to “evangelicalism dismisses x.” Such a “dismissal” happens frequently through the book on minor topics, but it leaves the reader wondering on what grounds such ideas are dismissed. Often, the only grounds provided is something like not having sufficient biblical warrant or because of its reliance on one of the above mentioned overarching themes (Church/Christ or nature/grace).

Another issue is that Allison sometimes offers critiques that do not seem very convincing or are products of his theological presuppositions. For example, his discussion of baptism and his denial that Jesus is speaking of baptism in John 3:5ff seems confused, to say the least. Indeed, he confirms that the discussion of “water and the spirit” are being used in such a way as to refer to the same thing. However, no real alternative to baptism is given of this water- and spirit-filled notion. It is simply asserted that it cannot be baptism because that would mean an anachronistic notion (baptism) was in the text. But of course John the Baptist was around before Jesus, and he baptized with water… and the spirit. Now, I am Lutheran, so my perspective on baptism certainly differs from that of Allison’s, but his treatment of this passage seemed exegetically impossible.

Conclusion

Gregg Allison’s interaction with Roman Catholicism is enormously helpful in that it walks readers through the beliefs of Roman Catholics from their own Catechism. The strength of the work is its broadness, which is also its weakness as individual topics are sometimes skimmed over too briefly. That said, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment is a simply fantastic book for those looking to learn more about Roman Catholicism and the issues that divide it from evangelical theology. Allison has done a service to the church with this book that provides both a reference and a critical perspective when dealing with Roman Catholic theology.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Gregg Allison, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Downers Grove, IL: Crossway, 2014).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

By Whose Authority? The question of authority in the church

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The Question of Authority

One cannot question that perhaps the most central issue which divides the Roman Catholic Church from Protestants is the question of authority. The issue touches upon a number of others. Who has the authority to interpret Scripture (ultimately)? What is the structure of a church? How do we learn doctrines? It must be acknowledged by all that the Roman Catholic Church’s claims to authority are paramount. It is possible for the Church to claim infallible authority for its teachings, however few claims they have actually made.

The question of authority persists in its importance today. If one church body–the Roman Catholic Church–is capable of infallibly defining doctrine for the whole of the Christian world, and some deny these doctrines, then that automatically means that those who deny these doctrines are in some sense denying God. It is important to note what the Church itself has said regarding this doctrine. Here is part of the definition of infallibility from the First Vatican Council (Section 4, Chapter 4):

[W]e teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.

What is to be said about those who deny any teaching that the Pope declares infallible? Again, I’ll allow the Church to speak for itself:

So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema.

Because I personally do reject some of the infallible teachings of the Church (such as the Marian Dogmas of perpetual virginity, immaculate conception, and the asumption), I, by virtue of this teaching, am anathema. Thus, it should be clear that the authority of the church is at the core of the divide between Catholics and Protestants.

Discordant Voices

The problem of authority is often pressed by Roman Catholic thinkers as a kind of argument against Protestantism. The way in which it is is presented is often through an argument for unity. For example, the claim is made that the Magisterium is capable of preserving doctrinal unity to a higher degree than the Protestant denomination. The claim is also often accompanied by an offhand remark about the number of Protestant Denominations. What is the implication? The discordant voices within Protestantism are, in some way, to be viewed as a discrediting piece of evidence when it comes to the nature of the truth claims of these churches. The implication (as quoted here) that some Roman Catholic apologists draw is that this proves the necessity of an infallible interpreter of doctrine/Scripture.

Infallible Magisterium?

Initially, the claim sounds a bit appealing. One may trust in the infallible Church to settle the debate on various theological topics once and for all. One need not try to draw out the implications of specific texts for themselves, leading to any number of diverging interpretations and arguments and ultimately, the splitting of the church into ever-smaller units each warring against each other and saying they have the truth.

There’s one major problem, though. By whose authority does one make the decision to trust in the infallible magisterium? This question should be on the mind of any individual who chooses to join the Roman Catholic Church based upon the argument from authority. After all, it is the decision of the individual to trust the Church which leads to accepting the Church as the infallible authority.

One must then ask the question: are you infallible? That is, is your [fallible] decision to make the Roman Catholic Church your infallible authority itself an infallible decision? Could you be mistaken? If the answer is that you are indeed fallible and you may be mistaken, then it must follow that any trust placed in the allegedly infallible Church must be equally fallible and stand upon shaky ground. For it is the person who joins the church who has joined the Church, not vice versa. The decision rests upon the individual, and it is therefore a fallible decision to make the Church infallible for one’s faith.

This argument therefore tears down any grounds one might have for asserting that one should trust the infallible Church in order to eliminate the discordant voices of Protestantism or choose-your-own-theology which may be the case outside of the Roman Catholic Church.*

*This is not to mention the often discordant voices within the Roman Catholic Church itself and the fact that fallible persons must interpret allegedly infallible statements in order to discern what they mean. Are you an infallible interpreter? Surely not.

Sola Ecclesia?

Moreover, suppose it is correct that the Church is the infallible interpreter of the Bible and tradition. Does this not mean that any allegations that one is under the authority of the Bible, Tradition, and the Church really boil down to the authority of the Church? After all, the last and final authority in interpreting the Bible, Tradition, or the Church is the Church. If one has a dispute about the meaning of a biblical teaching, the Church may (but does not have to) make the ultimate, infallible decision regarding its meaning. If one argues that tradition hints at something which the Church does not teach, the Church is the ultimate arbiter of tradition as well. Thus, it seems like the final authority in every case lies with the Church. The system, I would argue, ultimately boils down into sola ecclesia.

A Final Note for my Roman Catholic Readers

I want to end with a call to my Roman Catholic readers. First, I would note that in this post I have not sought to insult or denigrate Roman Catholics or their beliefs. I have allowed the Vatican to give its own definitions and presented them, I hope, without distortion. Second, I think that we need to be honest about the differences that we have rather than covering them up. Third and finally, these differences should not, I hope, lead us to be incapable of working together in social and yes–at times–even theological issues. I hope that you will be comfortable interacting with me on this topic and others. I appreciate whatever insight you would like to share.

Links

The Church Universal- Reformation Review– I discuss the possibility of maintaining a universal church in light of the breakup of the church into ever smaller groups. I place this discussion against the background of Reformation theology.

“20,000 denominations”– an in-depth analysis of the claims of those who wish to use denominationalism as an argument against sola scriptura. The link for the article the author evaluates is now down.

Much of the argument found herein has been learned from listening to or reading James White, and although I do not directly quote his work I am greatly indebted to him. A particularly helpful work was The Roman Catholic Controversy.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 8/2/13

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneAfter a brief hiatus, “Really Recommended Posts” are back. This go-round I have found for your reading/viewing pleasure a debate on sola scriptura, Buddhism, fear, the Shroud of Turin, and presuppositional apologetics. As always, let me know what you liked/didn’t like! Send me your own recommendations!

Is the Bible the only infallible rule of faith? Tim Staples vs. James White (Video)- A (lengthy) debate between a Roman Catholic and a Calvinist regarding the rule of faith. Should we hold to sola scriptura, or do we need the Magisterium in order to preserve teaching? The debate is really worth listening to.

A Comparison of the Ethical teachings and Impact of Jesus and Buddha– A brief insight into comparative religions between Buddhism and Christianity. What of truth in other religions? I found this a very interesting post.

Fiction and Fear– A really excellent post over at Hieropraxis which notes the importance of an element of fear in fiction. The post ties this back to the relevance of the Christian teaching of Christ’s redeeming work.

Shroud of Turin Blog– I am not convinced that the Shroud of Turin is authentic. However, I do find some of the work being done regarding its authenticity is very interesting. This blog has a constant string of posts related to various evidences in favor of the Shroud’s authenticity. I recommend it for those interested in reading on the topic, with the caveat of my own (hopeful) skepticism.

What is pre-suppositionalism? What is presuppositional apologetics?– Over at Wintery Knight, this interesting post turned up with a critique of presuppositionalism as an epistemology (largely based on this post at The Messianic Drew). I found it interesting, though I do not fully agree with all the critiques leveled therein. For balance, I would also direct readers to Janitorial Musings for a counter-argument to the first major contention against presuppositionalism- Presuppositionalism and Circularity. I think readers should read all the posts involved for a more complete picture. Judge for yourselves what to think of the presuppositional “worldview” (to use Drew’s term–I would lean towards saying “epistemology” instead).

“For Greater Glory” – A look at a movie about Christianity in the face of violence

fgg-movieFor Greater Glory tells the story of the Mexican Government’s persecution of the Roman Catholic Church following its anti-catholic laws written in 1917. It follows the lives of various Cristeros, those Mexicans who revolted against the government in the name of religious liberty. The movie goes beyond being just another Western movie to exploring some extremely important sociological and religious themes. I won’t summarize the plot (you can find that here), but there will still be SPOILERS below.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good 

The general Enrique Gorostieta Velarde is clearly a “good guy.” He was, himself, no Christian and certainly not a Roman Catholic, but he stood up against those who would persecute people simply for their beliefs. He also did not stand for compromise: he wanted toleration to be granted to Roman Catholics. He fought for an ideal. Even if that ideal was not one of the faith he was fighting to defend, he felt that there was injustice, and fought against it.

It is unclear whether the historical Enrique Gorostieta Velarde ever became a Christian. In the film, it certainly make it seem as though in making his arguments, he came into a kind of faith in God. It also seems to be the case that the historical general had some political ambitions in that he desired to bring about a change in the Constitution to provide for more toleration.

Father Christopher is an example for Christians everywhere. He does not back down in the face of violence. He became a martyr by standing in front of men who were doing him violence and proclaiming Christ to them. His martyrdom served as inspiration for a number of people in the film.

The Bad

The anti-catholics in the film are clearly the “bad guys.” It is hard to argue with this. Anyone who chooses to attack and kill people simply because of their beliefs certainly qualifies for the catchall “bad guy” terminology.

Plutarco Elías Calles, the Mexican President, an atheist, decides that he must use a violent crackdown to keep the Roman Catholic Church from becoming involved in Mexico. He couches his oppression of the Roman Catholics in language of secularism. Instead of focusing upon their religion, he makes his argument based upon the rule of government: the Roman Catholics serve a ruler (the Pope) who is outside of this country, and so they are a danger to the stability of this country. Despite this “secular” language, the fact of the matter is that throughout the film, the government is viscous not just towards the Roman Catholics as people who serve a different master, but also simply as religious persons. Crosses  are burned and churches are destroyed. People are slaughtered during worship. It is a wholesale war against Christianity.

The Ugly

The film does not draw a hard and fast line between “good” and “bad,” however. There are also the ugly: those who, with good intentions, also commit atrocities. The Cristeros (those who fought for religious tolerance of Roman Catholicism) who commit atrocities were the “ugly.” Some felt they had to fight evil with evil, and committed horrible acts in the name of their cause. This is exactly what Christians are called to avoid.

Just War and Pacifism

The movie brought up the constant debate within Christianity between just war theorists and pacifists. It was surprising how lucidly it presented the issues. There were those in the film who refuse to use violence to fight against the government, citing Christ’s example of turning the other cheek. Yet even they become involved in getting supplies such as bullets to the Cristeros. On the other hand, there are those who argue for a just war tradition: when injustice is running rampant, should not Christians be among those who stand up against it, even if that calls for using force? The film never answers one way or another; instead, it leaves it to those watching to weigh the merits of just war and pacifism.

I tend to favor the just war theory myself. It seems to me that if a government like the Nazi Regime exists, then it is perfectly justifiable to use force to prevent them from perpetuating their evils.

Historically, according to more than one source I looked up, it is argued that the Cristeros actually had little impact on the overall outcome of the changes and toleration which came to Mexico. Instead, it was a deal negotiated by the Vatican with the Mexican government. Yet it seems for me historically perplexing as to why, exactly, the Mexican government would have desired a compromise if the Cristeros were not in operation. I speak here as no expert on the topic by any means. I’d be interested in reading your own thoughts.

The Elephant in the Room

It is hard to see this movie without thinking about the elephant in the room: atheists are in power, and religious people are killed. It’s a theme in the movie, but it also plays out time and again throughout human history: the French Revolution, the Soviet Union, the massacres of Armenians in Turkey, the Spanish Civil War, and more. Why is it that it seems, historically, every time a secularist government has taken power, the religious persons are the ones who suffer violence?

The answer to this vexing question seems to me to be quite clear: the notion that religion is violent and secularism stops violence is just false. Not only that, but the distinction between secular and religious is, itself, a mere construct with no ontological reality. I have argued this before when I discuss the Myth of Religion.

Conclusion

“For Greater Glory” is a movie that should be a must-see for those interested in worldview discussions. I could see it being used at an interfaith group, church youth group, or seeker group to generate discussion. The movie is definitely violent, and it shows the good, the bad, and the ugly unapologetically. It is for that reason that it must be seen.

What is perhaps the most shocking part of this movie is the fact that, prior to watching it, I had never heard or even imagined that Mexico had persecuted Christians. The violence committed against Christians by others in authority continues into the modern era, and it is truly depressing to know how little we hear about it. I can’t help sometimes but join with David and say “How long, Oh LORD?” (Psalm 13).

Links

I discuss the way that construct of “religion” has been used to denigrate an alleged “religious other” in my post: The Myth of Religion.

I have looked at a number of other popular movies. Check them out (scroll down to see more posts) in my movies category.

An interesting discussion of Christian pacifism can be found over at Glenn Andrew Peoples’ blog: Pacifism, Matthew 5, and ‘Turning the other cheek’.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 2/1/13

postThinking About ‘Future Things,’ Part 1– One area I will admit I have very little knowledge about in relation to Christian theology is eschatology. This series by Reasons to Believe provides an introductions to many aspects of eschatology and provides a fairly balanced view. I enjoyed it greatly and came away feeling much better informed. I recommend checking out the whole series.

Wukong’s Dilemma– An interesting look at Buddhist philosophy and the dilemma of a works-based religious system. I found this a very fascinating post.

Lance Armstrong, Thor and Ideal Heroism– A comparison of ‘real life heroes’ to the idealized heroes we construct. I found this post very insightful. I highly recommend it.

Christianity and High Beauty (With Pictures!)– A simply excellent post on the relation of the Christian worldview to beauty. There is much to be said about the importance of aesthetics in reality. This post hints at many of these themes.

Tim Keller, Women, and Ignoring your own rules– I found this post really excellent. It evaluates some of the Gospel Coalition’s stance on women in light of the rules that one of its adherents, Tim Keller, holds regarding discussion with other people. The problem is that they make many claims about egalitarians which simply are not true.

Critiquing Mormon Theology: An Innovative Approach– A presuppositional apologist examines various doctrines of Mormonism and offers a critique. It’s an interesting look into how the presuppositional approach can be integrated into a broad apologetic.

The Cross and the Stars– This is a fascinating look at some Roman Catholic science fiction authors. Readers of this site know I love science fiction and write about it frequently under popular books.

Saint Nicholas- A Christian life lived, a story told

It has been remarked, with much truth, that all of us lead double lives, a life of our fancy, in a world of things as they should be, or as we should like them to be, and a life in a world of things as they really are. And this is as it should be. We can lift the level of real existence by thinking of things as we should like them to be. It is well not to walk with one’s eyes always fixed on the ground. (McKnight, cited below, Kindle location 401)

It is easy to hear the “real story” of Santa Claus, but few investigate further than looking it up to see the parallels between the Bishop of Myra’s life and that of the story of Santa Claus. There is so much more to his story–and indeed to stories in general–than that.

Saint Nicholas (270-343 AD) was a valiant man who fought prostitution, abortion, and poverty. He attended the council at Nicaea, from which we received the Nicene Creed. At that council, he defended vigorously the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. He was an exemplar of Christian teaching put into practice. Not only that, but the legend which has grown up around his life has inspired and enthralled untold numbers of people through the Christian era.

It is important to note the intertwining of legend and truth in the stories about St. Nicholas, and the impact that has had upon innumerable people. George McKnight, writing in the early 1900s, explored a number of issues related to the mingling of fact and fiction in the life of St. Nicholas. The quote highlighted above touches on many of these topics.

First, there is power in narrative. A story which is told well is one which can effect change. We are impacted by fantasy in ways which cause us to reflect upon reality with new–perhaps better trained–eyes. Second, we, as spirited people in a world which we so often see only as the physical, are called to heights of reality by fiction. As McKnight noted, “It is well not to walk with one’s eyes always fixed on the ground.” Our eyes are driven upwards and outwards by the stories we hear–they cause us to interact with others in new ways, and they also cause us to think about topics which perhaps we had not even considered before.

The story of St. Nicholas is no different. Yes, legend has crept into the accounts of this godly man, but what is the purpose of that legend? Not only that, but is it possible to separate out the fiction?, McKnight also commented upon the nature of radical skeptical history being done in his time (about 100 years ago). He bemoaned the fact that nearly every facet of Nicholas’ life is thrown into question with the arrival of critical scholarship. But of course to focus merely upon what is historical fact or fiction is to miss the entire point of the life of St. Nicholas. McKnight goes on:

The story of St. Nicholas consists almost entirely of a series of beneficent deeds, of aid afforded to humanity in distress, accomplished either by St. Nicholas… or through his intervention… The conception of St. Nicholas, then, is almost that of beneficence incarnate. (Kindle Location 469-481).

That is, the story of St. Nicholas, and the legends that surround him, turn him into a type of Christ–one who is deeply concerned for humanity and showing Christian love for God and neighbor.

Yet this is not all there is to the life of the Saint. Although difficult to sift from the legends, there is a historical core to the life of St. Nicholas which is just as profoundly Christian as the legends which have grown up around him. With that said, we turn to the story of St. Nicholas, with an eye toward how his life is one of a Christian lived as well as a story told.

Nicholas is well-attested to have attended the council of Nicaea. There is a possibly apocryphal story about his st nicholas-heretics-presentsattendance there wherein he confronted the heretic Arias himself and slapped him in the face. The story continues, telling of how Nicholas was initially exiled for his act but later allowed to return after Arianism had been thoroughly acknowledged as heresy. Although it is nearly impossible to know whether this story is historically accurate, there is at least some truth behind the story in that Nicholas was known to vehemently defend the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

Nicholas actively opposed prostitution. However, instead of simply condemning the practice, he also gave money to young women in need to keep them from turning to prostitution to feed themselves. Again, this truth served as the basis for a possibly historic legend in which Nicholas learned of three women who were about to turn to prostitution (or be sold into slavery, depending on the account) because they couldn’t pay their dowries in order to be wed. Nicholas is said to have thrown a bag of gold for each young woman through their window so that they could be married instead of sell their bodies. Again, this legend may not be true–but it points to the truth about Nicholas’ life–he gave to those in need and fought against the evils of prostitution. It also points beyond itself towards an ideal.

Nicholas fought against the Pagan practices, which led to his persecution and imprisonment by those angered by his preaching against false idols. Furthermore, his opposition to paganism included working against a number of practices in the pagan world, including abortion. Roman Catholics have continued to spearhead St. Nicholas’ commitment to helping children. A search for “Nicholas of Myra” turns up adoption agencies one after another. Christians have used Nicholas’ example as a call to end human trafficking and slavery. One can see throughout these historical kernels how myth and legend could grow up around this figure–fighting heresy, giving to those in need, and having utmost concern for the innocent were all aspects of St. Nicholas’ life. We don’t necessarily know the extent of his actions in these areas, but we know enough to be inspired.

Therefore, we turn to another part of McKnight’s thought-provoking quote at the beginning of this post:

…all of us lead double lives, a life of our fancy, in a world of things as they should be, or as we should like them to be, and a life in a world of things as they really are. And this is as it should be. We can lift the level of real existence by thinking of things as we should like them to be.

Take a moment to consider what McKnight is saying here: we know there is a realm of absolutes–a way that things should be. We also have a way that we should like things to be. But the way the world “really is” does not often reflect that. Yet we can enact change upon our realm of existence–we can “lift it up”–by focusing on the way that things should be, and living our lives differently because of that. St. Nicholas enacted this in his life, working towards the ideal while living in an imperfect world. The legends of St. Nicholas inspire us to do the same. We are not to focus so much on the critical challenge–which stories are true and which are “only” legends. Instead, we are to focus on St. Nicholas as a story–one which inspires us to change the world around us.

Nicholas’ life was one which fought against poverty, paganism, heresy, prostitution, and idolatry. He incorporated sound doctrine into his life and then lived it. There can hardly be a better example of a Christian life lived than that of St. Nicholas. Yet that is not all there is to the story of the “real” saint. No, his life is one of calling us to live a life for Christ as well. His life is action. It is a life incarnate with truth and the beneficence that comes from the Christian worldview. It is a call to follow Christ.

Sources

James Parker III, “My Kind of Santa Claus.”

Robert Ellsberg, “St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.”

George Harley McKnight, St. Nicholas (New York: G.P. Putnam’s sons, 1917). This book is available legally free of charge in a number of digital formats through Open Library.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Pre-Election Day 2012 Political Readings for Christians

The U.S. election in 2012 is just around the corner. I think it is a monumentally important election for a number of issues. I have surveyed the ‘net for Christian perspectives on varied political issues and presented them for your browsing pleasure. We are all biased, we cannot deny that, so please don’t bother accusing me of being biased one way or the other. I’ll talk issues, I won’t debate whether or not I’m biased (I am, and so are you).

Natural Law and Christians in the Public Square– One of the most difficult questions for Christians in politics is “How do we interact in the Public Square?” David VanDrunen provides a way forward by viewing Natural Law as a way to interact in the public square with people who don’t share our beliefs. It is an extremely lucid article, and I highly recommend it.

A Mormon in the White House?– One area that many Christians have expressed concern about has been whether we can vote for a Mormon without violating our conscience. Nick Peters over at Deeper Waters has a fantastic article that approaches this from a unique angle. Here’s one choice quote:

What we have to ask [in regards to the President] is not “Who believes like me the most in religion?”, but “Who is more capable of doing the job?”

If there is one area we should be concerned about, it’s that Christians unfortunately are not producing the best candidates. Christians are shying away from politics when we shouldn’t. There are several brilliant Christian minds that could make a difference in the world if we will allow them to do so.

Are Reproductive Rights Civil Rights?– Another area of major importance in the election concerns reproductive rights. Paul Rezkalla discusses this hot issue from a unique perspective: whether it involves civil rights. I have written a great deal about abortion specifically on my pro-life page.

California: Obamacare exchanges will raise health insurance premiums up to 25%– Obamacare is supposed to make life easier on those without health insurance, and even on those with health insurance. Does it actually do that? This case study in California suggests otherwise. Wintery Knight’s site is awesome in general, so I would recommend you browse it.

Should we vote for 3rd party candidates?– A pragmatic argument for voting with the major parties in order to bring about the most possible good. There is an alternative view on why we cannot compromise offered below, the post with a title starting “Abolitionist’s Voting Guide.”

Abolitionist’s Voting Guide addendum, or more info on how we will note vote Romney– Abolish Human Abortion, a movement I wholeheartedly support, offers this post on why we cannot vote for compromise regarding the abortion issue. Equally important is their “Abolitionist’s Voting Guide” which argues against any type of compromise when it  comes to one’s vote. I highly recommend reading this along with the post above on whether we should vote 3rd party. It will help give you a balanced perspective.

Your Vote in this Election– Tom Gilson at Thinking Christian urges Christians to vote and to use discernment in their voting decisions. Some great advice in a concise form here.

Freedom of Religion and the HHS Mandate– I write about HHS Mandate and the fact that it is not so much the issue of contraception or abortion that is at stake; rather it is religious freedom that is under attack.

Modern Secularism and its Disdain for Conscience– Are Christians imposing their religion on others? Can we vote for what we believe? A number of tough topics are tackled in this great post.

A Pre-Election Post: Abortion and the Right of Conscience– Matt shares some insight into the right of conscience in the medical field. He explores how the topic relates to the coming election.

For the Roman Catholics out there (and those interested, like me!), check out Disciple’s post on the Vote which features a number of Catholic resources for voting discernment.

The Church Universal: Reformation Review

Perhaps the most crucial debate of the Reformation Era was over the nature of the universal church. During the Reformation, the church had split into numerous separate bodies. But were each of these bodies truly “the church”? Was salvation only found through membership in the Catholic Church? Finally, how did one determine what church bodies were part of “the church” if there were some new criterion for establishing what counted as “the church”? Having found their origins prior to the Reformation and a spectrum of answers during the Reformation, these questions continue to be debated into our own time.

The Church Universal

The key to understanding the emerging doctrine of the church within the Reformation is to note a distinction in meanings for “apostolic continuity.” On the one hand, one could note a literal apostolic continuity in which the authority of the Apostles themselves was passed from one person to another. On the other hand, some argued that the authority of the church was found in continuity with apostolic doctrine, not with a literal continuity of passed-on authority (McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction 141ff, cited fully below).

The Protestants began to view church authority as a consequence of right doctrine. This view allowed them to divorce themselves from the Roman Catholic church (and thus potentially lose the literal passing down of authority from one to another from the apostles) while still maintaining that their own churches remained part of the church universal.

Yet this was not the only question facing those trying to distinguish which churches were “true” as opposed to “false” churches. Surely there ought to be some signs of a “true church” to distinguish it from those that had fallen away. Martin Bucer and Martin Luther offered ways forward on this: the marks of the church. Luther insisted that what made a true church was “right administration of the sacraments and true preaching of the Gospel” while Bucer held that there was a third mark: discipline (Diarmaid MacCulloch The Reformation, 181, cited below).

The Background to the Reformation Debate

Alister McGrath notes how important it is to note the origins of the reformation debate regarding the church here. Specifically, the debate can be traced back to the Donatist controversy in the earlier church (third century). Essentially, this controversy centered around the very nature of the true church. The Christian church had been persecuted, and many had renounced their faith in order to avoid persecution. The question was asked: should these persons be allowed back into the true church? Could they still administer the sacraments and interact with the true body of Christ?

The Donatists said that those who had lapsed had become apostate and could not be allowed back into the church. However this belief was eventually considered to be incorrect and detrimental to the unity of the Church. Augustine argued against the Donatists and pointed out how the church is a “mixed body” of sinners and saints (McGrath, 144ff).

The concept of a sinner-saint was utilized by Martin Luther and other Reformers to note that the church was a body in which the Holy Spirit was actively working sanctification. That is, God was working to make the Church holy, but that did not mean that each individual in the church was absolutely devoid of sin.

How did all of this fit into the Reformation discussions on the true church? Simply put, the Donatists were radically schismatic. They sought to divorce themselves from “sinners” within the church. The Donatists were condemned for their schismatism, and so the Reformers had  to deal with the fact that they themselves had either been forcibly removed from or split from the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, the importance of apostolic authority through theological unity became central in understanding the continuity of the Church.

The Modern Debates

The notion that right doctrine delineates the true church as opposed to literal apostolic continuity has a number of interesting outcomes which are very relevant for today’s church bodies.

First, it introduces a great difficulty for many church bodies in determining with whom one can fellowship. If the authority of the church universal is based upon true teachings rather than a passing down of authority from one person to another, then where is the line for how much teaching must be correct in order to remain as the true church?

Different church bodies offer different answers. Some church bodies err on the side of openness and humility and allow many into their fold who hold radically differing views. People in these organizations may hold to different views on things like the ordination of women, the age of the earth, and the like. Other church bodies err on the side of unity in doctrine and restrict membership to those that affirm sound doctrine as taught by their own body. For these church groups, a certain creed or body of work is referenced as the authoritative teaching of the church. If one differs from these teachings, then one is not part of their church body. (For more on the notion of using creeds or bodies of teachings as authoritative interpretations, see my post on “Who Interprets Scripture? Sola Scriptura, the Reformation, and the modern era.”)

To be frank, some Christians fail to recognize the diversity of these answers and simply assume that anyone who has a differing organizational structure is “liberal” or “conservative”–using the words in a derogatory manner. Such an attitude does not contribute to discussions on church organization. By failing to recognize the commendable attitude of humility in the churches that emphasize the unity of faith as opposed to the unity of individual doctrines, some unfairly label other church bodies as unbiblical or apostate. Similarly, by failing to recognize the commendable need for unity of belief in church bodies that emphasize right belief, some unfairly label these church bodies as schismatic or unchristian.

It also seems to me that both of these groups should learn from each other. Too many church groups vary too far one way or the other on these issues. Church bodies that emphasize humility in doctrine can often undermine their own church’s teachings. Similarly, church bodies that emphasize unity in doctrine can undermine their capacity for outreach and cooperation with other church bodies.

The Roman Catholic Church, following Vatican II, officially viewed non-Catholic churches as separated brethren–other bodies of true believers who were practicing independently. Such an affirmation ultimately undermines part of the debate that has raged since the Reformation: are Protestants saved, according to Roman Catholic teaching? This debate was hot during the Reformation and beyond, as the Roman Catholic church continued to deny salvation outside of the Catholic Church. Now, however, it is acknowledged that salvation can be found within Protestant circles as well.

Finally, the options Luther and Bucer offered to describe the “marks of the church” continue to be extremely important. Bucer’s emphasis on independent church discipline has–insofar as I can tell–largely fallen by the wayside, though it remains a point of interest in Anabaptist and other traditions. Although I would be hesitant to make a structured church discipline one of the marks of the true church, it would appear to be greatly important to have a system for disciplining those within the church who do not adhere to basic moral and/or doctrinal norms. However, this must be consistent with the notion that all believers are sinners being formed into saints through the process of sanctification. The modern church in the West perhaps does not have enough emphasis on the importance of church discipline, but caution should be taken so that a reform in this area does not lead the church back to a Donatist-like position.

Conclusion

So what makes a church a true church? The Reformers do still speak to us on this issue. Continuity with apostolic teaching is that which designates a true church. It is not easy to know where to draw the line between unity and humility, but over-emphasizing either leads to great difficulties for a church body. Of utmost importance, however, is the acknowledgement that though not all church bodies agree on every topic (there’s an understatement!), these church bodies are part of the saving body of Christ and therefore part of the salvific work of the Holy Spirit. Remembering this simple fact might help to spur on a bit of humility and unity among the Church Universal.

Links

Please check out my other posts on the Reformation:

I discuss the origins of the European Reformations and how many of its debates carry on into our own day.

The notion of “sola scriptura” is of central importance to understanding the Reformation, but it is also hotly debated to day and can be traced to many theological controversies of our time. Who interprets Scripture? 

Sources

Alister E. McGrath a, Reformation Thought: An Introduction (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

Diarmaid MacCulloch The Reformation (New York: Penguin, 2003).

Image: credit to Beatrice- http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:San_Pietro_e_Ponte_SAngelo_(notte).jpg

Thanks

Alister McGrath’s Reformation Thought: An Introduction was a gift from an anonymous donor. I was blown away when I saw it show up at my door and I have to say Thank you so much for being such a blessing! Whoever you are, you made my day. Well, more than just one day actually. This series of posts is a direct result of your donation. Thank you!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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