Thursday, October 30, 2008

My Journey of Understanding Mary...

My relationship with Mary has gone through so many stages. Here is a brief overview of the stages that it has gone through:

Dumb, dumb, dumb Catholics. Why are they so fascinated with Mary and not focusing on Jesus? Why is she so important to them? She is not any better a person than I am or any other person on this Earth? She is not God or Divine. She was only a vessel that God used to fulfill his plan of salvation. If it wasn't going to be her, it would have been someone else. Instead, they should be focusing on Christ, our Savior, and not Mary. By focusing on Mary, they are not spending time with our Lord and Savior. What would Mary say about all of these prayers to her and not to God? She would be ashamed.

Courting a Catholic Woman
Hmmm....This woman is teaching me a lot about what Catholics really believe. Catholics do not believe that Mary is divine. I could have sworn that is what they thought. I know that they pray to Mary, but not in the same sense as I had originally thought. I thought that prayer was synonymous with worship when talking in a religious context. However, I am learning that there are more meanings to prayer. When Catholics pray to Mary, they are making an earnest petition and/or supplication. Whew!!! I am so glad that I got that cleared up before I take things further with this Catholic woman. I am glad that I worship a merciful God who will see that Catholics do not worship Mary and instead are asking her to intercede for them on their behalf - even if I and my Protestant brothers do not understand it. Too bad that Catholics don't know that the dead people can't really hear them.

Catholic Curious
I love my Catholic wife. She is the best. She sure does keep a lot of Catholic books around though. I mean they are everywhere. Take for instance when I had some time to...think, and I wanted something to read. I picked up some book explaining why Catholics do the things that they do. It had a lot of great stuff in it. More and more, I am realizing that there are a lot of misunderstandings regarding the Catholic Faith. Hmmm....they are making a lot of claims. I wonder if they are true. I mean, let's just imagine that what they are saying is right...Jesus founded one Church with Peter as the Head of that Church with the power to bind and loose. That same power has been given to all of the Pope's throughout history...almost over 2000 years. Wouldn't that be something...what if it is true.......nawwwwww!!!!!!

Catholic Leaning
Wow. I just got back from the Defending the Faith Conference in Stubenville and it was amazing. I learned to appreciate Mary a lot more. God reached into time and crafted this young girl to be pregnant with the Saviour of the World. I mean instead of inscribing the Word of God onto stone tablets, He was going to inscribe the Word of God onto flesh - and he chose this little Jewish woman to be the Ark of the New Covenant. I remember how much the Jews loved that Ark of the Old Covenant. It was something that only the most holy people of the Levite tribe could ever see once a year. If those stone tablets were that important and the Old Ark was so holy, how much more important would the New Ark be?

Also, this business about Mary staying a virgin until death, makes perfect sense now. Joseph knew what was going on. He knew what God was about to accomplish through Mary. He knew that she was the Ark of the New Covenant. If he would have regarded the Ark of the Old Covenant with such reverance, as to he would not be able to see let alone touch, how much so would he regard Mary? He would not have believed himself worthy to defile such a Holy Virgin. I am surprised that he was even able to stay in the same room with her.

Maybe I was wrong about Mary being just like me. Maybe she is a little more holier than I am and a little less of a sinner. I mean after all, the Bible says:

In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!(Luke 1:42).

Evidently she is more blessed than all of the other women to walk the Earth, because scripture says so. Something else I never noticed before:

...From now on all generations will call me blessed,(Luke 1:48).

Uh oh. I have not been calling her blessed. I have been regarding her the same as any other person, even myself. That means that I have not been giving her the honor that she deserves. It is funny that I can get excited about meeting a movie star or a famous author, but I cannot even give the Mother of Jesus the honor that she is due. All of a sudden it is a lot easier for me to refer to Mary as The Most Blessed, Ever Virgin Mary, Mother of God.

I have grown and I am still growing in my understanding of Mary and the role that she played in salvation history. God did not have to use Mary in order to put into action His plan of salvation, but He did. I don't think that He did that on a whim. I don't think that He just randomly selected some Jewish girl out of thin air either. I believe that Mary was especially created for this purpose.

As far as taking attention away from Christ, she doesn't. The only reason why she is even considered Holy is because of Christ. When you say Holy Mary, Mother of God, you are in fact describing Christ, not Mary at all. She is holy because of Christ, and the only reason why we refer to her motherhood is because she is the mother of God.

I was also able to reconcile my understanding with the dead in Christ being able to witness our journey and pray to the Lord on our behalf. I discuss that in the Communion of Saints post. Out of all of the saints that have ever existed, I know that Mary made it to heaven. If that is the case, I know that she would be the first one to approach for intercession amongst all of the saints of God.

Whether you are in agreement of what I am saying or not, let us not diminish Mary anymore. She is not on the same level as us regarding holiness. Let us not be afraid to say that she is blessed. To fail to do otherwise is unscriptural.

On a lighter note...

I have a very dear friend who is a professed atheist. He does not believe in God, and I choose to love him anyways. We often get into great discussions over a pint of beer or two.

I just received an email from him where he is suggesting that if we were to ever brew beer together, some possible names of the beer. Here they are:

The Atheist & Adherent
The Advocate & Apostate
The Convert & Cynic
The Disciple & Delinquent
The Heretic & the Heralder
The Proseletyte & Pagan

I hope that you find this as amusing as I did.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Liturgy of the Hours

As Christians, we are called to pray. I think the Bible mentions something along the lines of praying without ceasing. This is something that I am horrible at doing. I am not a good prayer warrior.

Lately, I have been spending more and more time learning about God rather than spending more and more time being with God in prayer. Some may say that when you learn about God, you are spending time with Him. While this is true since we are called to love God with our minds, we are also called to love God with our hearts and our soul(Matt 22:34-40). While I have been doing a good job recently of loving God with my mind, I have not been doing a good job of loving Him with my heart and with my soul.

I have decided that I am going to love God more with my heart and my soul through prayer. One of the ways that I am going to do that is by participating in what is called the Liturgy of the Hours or also referred to as the Divine Office. These are a set of daily prayers, scripture readings, and songs that are performed at different hours of every day.

I am making a comittment to at least do the morning prayers, every day. I can't think of any other way to start off the day right, than to spend some time with God. Universalis is a website that walks you through the entire of the Liturgy of the Hours, but I am going to use a publication called the Magnificat. It is a small book that can be carried around and used without having to be in front of the computer.

Anyone care to join me?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Protestants believe in Sacraments

I am currently reading a wonderful book titled, More Christianity by Fr. Dwight Longenecker. Before you jump to conclusions and think that this is a rebuttal for C.S. Lewis book, Mere Christianity, let me first explain that Fr. Longenecker has the utmost respect for the work of C.S. Lewis. C.S. Lewis admits himself that he attempts in his book to discuss the core of Christianity. Fr. Longenecker instead is discussing more which complements and adds to the mere without taking anything away from it.

Something that I read in this book made me think. Fr. Longenecker proposes that most Christians outside of the Catholic faith, believe in sacraments. Now, being a Protestant for 30 years and never hearing the term sacrament used outside of the Catholic Church, made me suspicious of what he was talking about.

He goes on to explain that sacraments operate on 3 levels - mental, spiritual and physical. Sacraments are physical things in nature that has a spiritual and mental effect. For most Protestants that read this, they will agree that they have seen ministers use holy oil to anoint the sick or heal the injured. Why do we do that, if we do not truly believe that God can work through physical means? Is there power in the oil? Is there power in the hands of the minister? Not without God there is not. Therefore we do believe that God can work through physical means to give us His grace. Just because we never referred to the anointing of oil as a sacrament, does not mean that we do not believe in sacraments altogether.

Catholics and Protestants are very much alike. Catholics believe in sacraments, and so do Protestants. The one sacrament that we both believe in, without question, is the power of the Holy Cross. God used a physical means in order to provide His Grace for all people.

I originally believed that Protestants do not believe in sacraments. I am starting to agree with Fr. Longnecker in saying that it is not that Protestants don't believe in sacraments, it is just that Catholics believe in more sacraments than Protestants. It is not out of the Protestant's realm of possibility that God can dispense His grace through physical means - therefore, I do believe it is possible for Protestants to accept the sacraments that Catholics believe in. These sacraments include (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Marriage, Holy Orders, Reconciliation, Last Rites).

What do you think? Do you think that Protestants believe in sacraments?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Defining Peter 2 - Gates of Hades / Keys to the Kingdom

This is the follow up post to Defining Peter 1. Although it is not necessary to read that first post, I would still recommend doing so.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.(Matt 16:18-19).

Gates of Hades will not overcome it...
Gates of Hades is definitely talking about the Gates of Hell. In other words, Jesus is promising us that His Church will never be destroyed. It will last from the Book of Acts to Judgement Day.

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven...
In order for us to better understand all scripture, I think it is vital that we become better Jews. Let's face it, the Bible was written to a people and culture that existed 2,000 years ago and sometimes, without being familiar with that culture, a lot of information is lost and misunderstood. Sometimes, many of us approach the Bible like it was written in 21st Century modern english. This is not a good practice.

When the disciples heard that Jesus was giving Peter the keys to the kingdom, they would have known exactly what Jesus meant. This imagery of keys is not a new concept in Jewish culture. In order to better understand what these words would have meant to a Jew, let's see how it is used in the Old Testament

I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open(Isaiah 22:22).

This passage is taken from Isaiah 22, where Shebna is removed from his high office as the King's Chief Steward and is replaced by Eliakim. Notice that neither Shebna or Eliakim have the role of the King, however the office is given the authority to shut and open. This authority is given in the form of the key to the house of David. The House of David refers to the Davidic Kingdom.

It all fits together. Jesus is giving Peter alone the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven telling him whatever he binds on Earth will be bound in Heaven and whatever He looses on Earth will be loosed in Heaven. This is the same language of authority that Isaiah uses in order to describe the office of Eliakim. A language that the Jewish disciples would have recognized and understood. The authority that Peter has was because of the role given to Him by Christ. The Chief Steward of the Kingdom of Heaven is a role that Peter and his successors are to play in governing Christ's Church here on Earth.

There is another Scripture where Jesus gives the ability to bind and loose to the other Apostles (Matt 18:18). However, Jesus never gives anyone but Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, Peter has supreme authority over the Church on Earth, above and beyond the Apostles. Don't misunderstand me. The Apostles work together with Peter all being led by the Holy Spirit in order to lead the Church to all truths (Acts 15:28). Peter just has the role of Chief Steward of Heaven. Jesus is King, Peter is the Chief Steward, and the remaining Apostles are the other Stewards.

This is why the Pope is so important in the Catholic Faith. Just like the Chief Steward in Isaiah was not meant for one man alone, but instead was a role that was created and meant to be occupied, so is the role of the Pope. Peter was the first Pope. His successors flow all the way through time down to the current Pope, Pope Benedict XVI. He is the leader of the Church here on Earth. That is why when He speaks, people listen. They may agree or disagree with what he has to say, but the fact that they listen at all shows his importance within the Christian Community.

Side Note: This was the clincher for me. Once I realized that Jesus did create a Church here on Earth with Peter as it's Earthly Shepherd, and that Jesus' Church would be led to all areas of truth by the Holy Spirit, and Jesus was going to co-sign every decision made by the Pope in communion with the Magisterium, I was pretty convinced that I was going to become Catholic. There were many practices of the Catholic Faith that I did not believe in, including Mariology, Communion of Saints, Confessing Sins to a Priest, however after giving the Church an opportunity to speak for herself, she has not failed to convince me of her truth. If this is the Church that Jesus created, why wouldn't I join?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Do you have an Assurance of Salvation?

Are you saved? Do you even know if you are or not? When were you saved? Would you like to have an assurance of your salvation? Wouldn't you like to know without a shadow of doubt that you are saved?

I know I would. So, how is one saved? There seems to be many different answers to this question, however, they all have one thing in common. Believing in the Lord Jesus who paid the ultimate price on Calvary for all of the sins of all of the people that have lived and will ever live forever and ever. Amen.

This is a statement that most Catholics and Protestants will agree on. Yes, Catholics and Protestants do agree on things :). So what do we disagree on? What is so different between the two groups regarding salvation and why? The biggest difference that I have seen, being on both sides of the fence, is what does it mean to believe.

From my Protestant background, this meant that you have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior. This is something that I did when I was a little boy. He became my Lord and Savior, and I decided at that time that I was going to live for Him. From that point on, I was saved and my salvation was assured. My salvation was complete and I did everything that was necessary in order to be saved.

According to most Protestant tradition's, salvation is a one time event, where you accept the Lord by faith - Sola Fide. All you need to do is believe on Jesus, and you are saved. There are many verses in the Bible that would seem to support this belief, however, we should always look at the context of passages as well as take into account the whole body of Holy Scriptures in order to understand God's message to us. What does the Bible say about the infallible assurance of salvation:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.(1 John 5:13).

Here is where I was always taught that I can have an assurance of salvation. If I believe on the name of the Son of God then I know that I have eternal life. What I never asked myself was, what does it mean to believe in Jesus? Is it just purely mental assent that Christ is Lord, or is there something more?

When studying Scripture, it is unhealthy to just pluck a verse out of the Bible without taking into account the context of which it was written. In order to understand the context of which John is speaking in 1 John 5:13, we should not immediately go searching to other books in scripture. In fact, it would be ideal if we can find the answer to that question within the same book. John does even better than this. He actually explains at the beginning of this chapter what it means to believe in God.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.(1 John 5:1-2).

So let's break it down. 1 John 5:13 tells us that we can be sure of our salvation if we believe in Jesus. 1 John 5:1-2 tells us that we know if we believe in Jesus and love the Father if we love his children. Then we know that we love his children by carrying out His commands. It is clear that those who believe on the name of Jesus, keeps his commandments. This is not anything new. Jesus even says it Himself.

If you love me, you will obey what I command.(John 14:15).

Is there an assurance of salvation? Yes. So long as you keep God's commandments.

We believe that the Holy Scriptures are inspired from God. They are infallible and free from error. So regarding the assurance of salvation, let's see what Paul has to say:

Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.(Rom 11:22).

So, we are called to continue in God's kindness. If we do not continue in his kindness, then we will be cut off. In other words, we have to continue within the unmeritted favor of Christ (God's grace), if we are going to attain salvation.

Here is a great article titled, Assurance of Salvation. This will do more justice to this topic than I can ever do.

Just in case you do not take the time to read the article, I do want to share one quote with you. It is how we are to answer the question, "are you saved"?

"As the Bible says, I am already saved (Rom. 8:24, Eph. 2:5–8), but I’m also being saved (1 Cor. 1:8, 2 Cor. 2:15, Phil. 2:12), and I have the hope that I will be saved (Rom. 5:9–10, 1 Cor. 3:12–15). Like the apostle Paul I am working out my salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), with hopeful confidence in the promises of Christ (Rom. 5:2, 2 Tim. 2:11–13)."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Defining Peter 1 - Caesarea of Philippi / Name Change

Growing up in the tradition of Sola Scriptura, I always wondered what was so fascinating about the Pope. Sure, he is a man of God (and I think that anyone who did a fair examination of his life would ultimately come to the same conclusion), however, why is he so important?

I remember my wife talking to me about how important he was. To me, he was just another man, no better than me. She told me that he was the leader of her Church. I told her that my pastor is the leader of my church, big deal? We both have leaders of the Church. However, there was definitely a stark difference between the leader of her Church and the leader of my church. When my Pastor was out in public, he was not followed by an army of officials and when my Pastor spoke, he would draw a crowd, but nothing like what the Pope draws. So I have to wonder, where did it all begin? Is there a reason why this man is so important? More importantly, what does the Bible say about all of this. I know, I know, I can't help it, I have been raised and trained Sola Scriptura for over 30 years. However, what I found in Scripture was very interesting.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"

They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"

Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
(Matt 16:13-19).

So, what in the world is going on here? To tell you the truth, there is a ton. There are literally books written explaining these passages of Scripture, and there is no way that I can ever do it justice. I listened to Steve Ray give a talk on this topic, and it was amazing. Steve Ray is one of the main reasons why I am joining the Catholic Church, and his talk on this was very pivotal in my conversion.

There are so many things to examine in this scripture. Let's get started:

Location :- Caesarea of Philippi.
History tells us that Caesarea of Philippi was not just some random place. There was something there. Something that Jesus had chosen as a setting in order to give Peter keys of the kingdom of heaven.

That something was a church to the pagan god Pan. Was this important? Was it an accident that Jesus was about to reveal something special to Peter regarding His Church with the backdrop of a pagan church of Pan?

Of course it was important. Jesus was about to institute His Church. The Real Church - not some pagan false god church, but the One True Church for the One True God. Imagine being there with Jesus and Peter, and Jesus says "and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.". I am sure that Jesus was implying something along the lines of, "this church behind us, that doesn't mean squat". I am going to build my Church. But I am getting ahead of myself...

What is in a name?
One of the great things about the Bible is that it is so consistent. From the Old Testament to the New. St. Augustine says it best (paraphrsing here)

The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New.

Something that is shown clearly that when God wants to do something special in the lives of His followers, he occasionally backs it up with a name change. He changed Abram's name (which means father departed) to Abraham (which means father of many )(Gen 17:5), Jacob's name (which means decietful)(Gen 37:26) to Israel (which means to prevail)(Gen. 32:28)

When Jesus changed Simon's name to Peter, he was doing something special. (I just learned that no one was named Peter in those days. It is an entirely made up name at that point).

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock...

This is the English translation of this verse, and it has caused some confusion. We know that Jesus would not have been speaking English. Instead, he would have spoken Aramaic. Therefore the verse would have been closer to:

And I tell you that you are Cephas, and on this Cephas...

Clearly saying that Jesus was going to build His Church on Peter. Of course, Jesus is the Head of the Church and always will be, but Peter is the Shephard of that Church here on Earth.

We see more evidence of this after Jesus' Resurrection:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"
"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."

Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?"
He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep.
(John 21:15-17).

Although there were many disciples present, when Jesus spoke these words, he was speaking to Peter specifically. We recognize the language. He was telling Peter to be the Good Shepherd on Earth. Peter was to be the leader of God's Church on Earth.

Let's not be confused. Jesus is the Head of the Church. The only reason why Peter has the authority that he has is because it was given to him by Jesus, using the metaphor of keys which would have been understood by the Jewish people at the time...but more on the keys in the next segment.

...stay tuned, more to come in Defining Peter 2

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The need for a Teaching Authority....

I just got done reading a great post regarding the need for a teaching authority written by someone from the Reformed Christian tradition. This author even cites John Calvin in order to support his point.

Sola Scriptura or Scriptura Solo.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Saint Justin Martyr - My Confirmation Saint

One of the characters in the book the Four Witnesses, was a man by the name of Justin Martyr. I have chosen St. Justin Martyr, as my confirmation saint.

St. Justin Martyr is one of my new heroes of the faith. He lived from 100 - 165 A.D. and is in the Hall of Fame for Great Early Christian Fathers. St. Justin Martyr was a philosopher, and as such, was very logical and intelligent. Being a software developer, I tend to think logically as well, and because of this I have enjoyed his style of writing.

St. Justin Martyr lived in a time when it was illegal to be a Christian. To be a Christian meant death. One of the reasons why Christians were put to death is because the Emperor of Rome was usually declared a deity and you had to worship him. Of course, Christians would not worship anyone other than God. Another interesting reason why it was illegal to be a Christian is because it was thought that they were seditious. The reason why they were considered to be seditious is because they were seeking another kingdom. This of course was interpreted by the Roman officials that they were a terrorist organization wanting to overthrow the Emperor's kingdom. Of course, Christians were not referring to the Emperor's kingdom, but instead Christ's Kingdom.

During this time, Christians did not worship in churches. Instead, they were forced to practice their worship hidden in each other's homes. Non Christians would only hear the rumors of how the Christians worshiped behind closed doors. Christians were always being accused of "drowning babies" and "cannibalism". This of course was in reference to Baptism and Holy Eucharist (Communion). After being accused of these things to the Emperor and his court, St. Justin Martyr decided that he would set the record straight in his various works known as the Apologies which include the First Apology and the Second Apology. The term apology is based on the word apologia which means to give a defense. (1 Peter 3:15)

The reason why these documents are so important is because it gives an account of the Christian beliefs and practices during this time. St. Justin Martyr, felt compelled to explain the Christian faith to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (yes, he really did exist). He urged that Christians should be judged fairly, and not on the rumors that was being spread by the pagan culture.

He earned his crown of martyrdom, in 165 A.D. and we celebrate his birth into eternity on April 14th.

Have you ever been interested to know more about the Early Church? What they believed and how they practiced? If you are like me, then you probably don't know much about this time period. Knowledge of my Christian Heritage included a gap that ranged from the Book of Acts to the Reformation. Only recently have I started to get more involved with the forerunners of the faith, including St. Justin Martyr. May we be forever grateful to St. Justin Martyr as well as the other saints that make up this great cloud of witnesses, for defending and spreading the faith.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Communion of Saints....really?

I remember being in a dorm room hanging out with my then girlfriend (now wife), and having her try to explain to me this idea of the Communion of Saints. I just couldn't buy it. It is funny, but I don't actually remember learning about this during my 3 years at Catholic High School. They must have taught it, but I just don't remember it.

I guess I have always had a thought that the people that I loved, who had passed, were not really dead. Instead they lived on in heaven with God. I don't know where I get this tradition, maybe it has to do with my my upbringing.

So obviously, I did not have a problem with the idea that our dearly departed brothers and sisters in Christ, were not really dead. However, at the same time, it was only recently where I heard these words of Christ, anew:

But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living."(Matthew 22:31-32)

And let us not forget about the Transfiguration:

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.(Matthew 17:1-3)

From this, I can assent that after we die, we are not completely dead. How do I know? Because Jesus said so.

However, the Catholic belief will take it even further than this. They actually believe that those who died in Christ, are actually in heaven, witnessing of our lives here on earth....

Let's continue with the dorm room conversation that I had one night with my soon to be bride. She actually broke out the Bible and showed me a reference in Scripture that proved her point.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us(Hebrews 12:1)

I told her that this is just referring to the Angels that are in heaven, and nothing more. Silly Catholic girl, who doesn't understand scriptures.

Fast forward to this past Thursday morning, I am reading through the book of Hebrews, and I come across this verse, except for this time, I see it in a whole different light. The reason why I saw this verse in a whole different light, is because I actually read the chapter before it. I should have known that whenever someone starts a sentence with "Therefore" they are actually referencing something that they were talking about bad.

If you read Hebrews 11, you will see that the author (who still is unknown) was referring to a whole bunch of people who had died before Christ. In other words, people who had died faithful to God. When the author says in Hebrews 12 Therefore...great cloud of witnesses, he is linking this list of saints of God to the great cloud of witnesses.

Wow....okay, I get it now. We are all connected. We are all baptized into one body and nothing will ever separate us from God's love.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Romans 8:38-39)

In addition to that, we will not be separated from each other. The physically dead in Christ, witness us, the physically living here on Earth run with perseverence the race marked out for us. Do you suppose that they will just be watching, or do you suppose that they will be praying for us as well?

Catholics believe that they will be praying for us. Why would they be doing that? Probably because they are in heaven, which means that they are in God's presence, and that is what Christians do - we pray to God for each other. If we are called to pray for each other here on Earth, how much more will we be praying for each other when we step on the other side of eternity?

However, if you are anything like me, you probably want to see some scripture to back it up. Am I right? In case I am, I found a great article titled Praying to the Saints. I can attempt to do this article justice, but I would rather let it speak for itself.

God Bless you all...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Do Catholics claim the sole means of salvation?

During one of the many conversations that I had with a friend of mine during my journey to the Catholic faith, he mentioned to me that Catholics believed that Salvation can only be found through the Catholic Church. This really made me upset and frustrated. I couldn't believe that the Catholic Church, let alone any denomination would ever begin to claim such a thing. So I immediately started to do some research on this subject.

The first step that I made was Google. I searched for salvation is only through the catholic church and according to the first hit in the results, I found out that it was true...or so I thought.

Rick Jones, the author of this article quotes the following from the Decree on Ecumenism:

"The Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism explains: 'For it is through Christ's Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained.'"

Wow. That was an eye opener. That is it. Enough of this Catholic stuff. Evidently this is not the Church that Jesus Christ founded. Being a Protestant all of my life, I cannot and will not deny the work of Jesus Christ happening within my church and happening within me. If the Catholic Church truly believed that it was the only means of salvation, then I did not want to hear any more of it.

However, after looking more closely to the quote, I noticed that it wasn't saying that at all. It was saying that the fullness of the means of salvation can only be obtained through the Church. After pondering that a little while, I decided to read the Decree on Ecumenism and found the following quote, that Rick Jones seemed to conveniently overlook:

It follows that the separated Churches(23) and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church.

Regardless how you feel about the Catholic Church, she definitely does not teach that salvation is restricted to her members alone. She will always admit, that separated brethren do not have the fullness that is only attained within the her, but she has not denied that salvation can be achieved outside of her either.

Now, regarding the author's next statement, I had to consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Side note: The Catechism of the Catholic Church has to be one of the coolest aspects of Catholicism. Until this time, I have been part of many different Non-Denominational Fundamentalist Pentecostal style churches. I have never been a part of a faith that had an official book on everything that it believes. This is great. Any question that I may have on what the Church teaches, I can look to this book and get an least when I can understand what it is saying :)

Rick Jones only quotes partially from the Catechism. Here is the entire quote: means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body: Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.

Is Salvation made through the Catholic Church. Yes. She is the one that is responsible for protecting and defining the Holy Scriptures, defining the two natures of Christ both human and divine, as well as defining the Trinity - all necessary beliefs to be considered Christian. We do owe the Catholic Church for protecting and spreading our faith to all of the ends of the Earth. So we must agree, at least on this level, that salvation has been made possible through her.

Is Salvation made only through the Catholic Church. No. As a matter of fact, the only teaching that is taught regarding those who are outside of salvation are those who act knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it. This does not apply by any means to Protestants and their tradition of faith collectively. This would only apply to those individuals who know and believe the Catholic Church to be what she claims to be, and still turn away.

When I was a Protestant, technically I still am but I am sure that by now you know where I am headed, I didn't believe that the Catholic Church was all that she claimed to be. Now, I believe she is. If I choose to walk away from the Catholic Church and never enter into it, knowing what I know, the Church says that I am outside of salvation.

Ultimately, the point that I am trying to make is that Rick Jones, as well as others who promote the lie that the Catholic Church teaches salvation is only through her, are mistaken. The Catholic Church does not believe that it is the only means of salvation. She also does not teach that salvation cannot be attained outside of the Church.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Natural Family Planning - The Moral Answer to Contraception

My wife and I have been happily married for 8 years, and we have 3 wonderful children that God has blessed us with. Throughout our marriage, we have been practicing Natural Family Planning - and have experienced first hand the blessings that come from it.

We are now praying, and I hope that you will pray for us also, if we are being led to be trained as instructors for the Couple-to-Couple League in order to teach others how to practice Natural Family Planning. It seems that God has been tapping us on the shoulder telling us that now is the time for us to share this great ministry. One of the ways that we believe His will is being revealed is through an email that I received from the Bible Christian Society, that compared Natural Family Planning with Contraception. I am attaching this email below.

If anyone has any questions regarding Natural Family Planning or would like to learn more about it, please feel free to ask.

Thanks and God Bless...

The following is from John Martignoni of the Bible Christian Society from his Apologetics for the Masses - Issue #98 on the topic of Natural Family Planning and Contraception...

I want to finish my argument against contraception, by simply noting that all Christian faith traditions – Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox – used to believe that contraception is morally evil, and I would like to quote some Protestant theologians as evidence of this:

Martin Luther: “Onan must have been a malicious and incorrigible scoundrel. This is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery. We call it unchastity, yes, a Sodomitic sin. For Onan goes in to her; that is, he lies with her and copulates, and when it comes to the point of insemination, spills the semen…Surely at such a time the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed…He was inflamed with the basest spite and hatred…Consequently, he deserved to be killed by God. He committed an evil deed.”

John Calvin: “The voluntary spilling of semen outside of intercourse between man and woman is a monstrous thing. Deliberately to withdraw from coitus in order that semen may fall on the ground is doubly monstrous.”

Adam Clarke (Methodist – 18th century): “The sin of self pollution, which is generally considered to be that of Onan, is one of the most destructive evils ever practiced by fallen man. In many respects it is far worse than common whoredom, and has in its train more awful consequences.”

Johann Lange (Reformed – 19th century): Onan’s sin, a deadly wickedness, an example to be held in abhorrence, as condemnatory, not only of secret sins of self-pollution [masturbation], but also of all similar offenses in sexual relations, and even in marriage itself…It is a crime against the image of God, and a degradation below the animal. Onan’s offense, moreover, as committed in marriage, was a most unnatural wickedness, and a grievous wrong.”

Thomas Scott (Anglican – 18th century): Onan’s habitual conduct, was not only unnatural and detestable in itself, but full of envy and malice, and not without something of the nature of murder in it; for the same principle would have induced him to murder a child born to him but accounted his brother’s, if he could have done it with impunity.”

Mr. Scott clearly saw that the contraceptive mentality leads to the abortion mentality and the infanticide mentality.

It wasn’t until the Anglican’s Lambeth Conference in 1930 that any Christian faith tradition approved of contraception. The 1930 Lambeth Conference approved of contraception only in “rare” circumstances, but the hole had been punched in the dike. Even though most Protestant denominations condemned the decision of the Lambeth
Conference at the time, within 20 or 30 years, pretty much all of them had changed their teaching on contraception. The Catholic Church stood alone on this issue.

Aldous Huxley, a British writer who was actually an atheist, wrote his book, “Brave New World,” as a response to the Anglican decision. In this novel, the “utopian” world of the future features promiscuous sex, human embryos grown in hatcheries [think test-tube babies], the separation of sex from reproduction, and so on. It’s pretty prophetic. In other words, here is an atheist, using principles of natural law, who clearly recognizes, back in 1932, what the wide-spread acceptance of contraception will lead to. If you haven’t read the novel, please pick up a copy.

On to Natural Family Planning (NFP). The argument is often made that there is no difference between contraception and Natural Family Planning…at least, when NFP is used to avoid a pregnancy. The argument is that since the end is the same – no pregnancy – then the means to the end – whether NFP or contraception – are morally equivalent.

Well, let’s look at an example and see if the means to an end matter, even when the end is the same. Let’s say we have two men, both of whom are the main breadwinners in their family. They both work at jobs where the desired end of their work is to provide support to their wives and children. One of them works at a bank. However, the other works at robbing banks. So, the end is the same – they both support their wife and children – but the means are different. So, are the means to the end morally equivalent, since the end is the same? Obviously not. One means of supporting your family is moral, the other is immoral.

So, I believe I can safely say that the means to an end do indeed matter. That even though the end is the same, different means to that end can indeed differ in terms of their moral standing.

Now, let’s look at NFP and contraception, specifically. Are they different and, if so, how?

First, what is contraception? Contraception – which means contra, or against, conception – is the deliberate frustration of the natural processes that occur in physical relations between a man and a woman. Contraception basically works by either causing the “spilling” of the man’s seed, or by interrupting the natural cycles of the woman and preventing ovulation. (Note: the birth control pill has both contraceptive and abortifacient properties – it either prevents ovulation (contraceptive), or, if ovulation and then conception occur, it causes changes to the lining of the uterus making it impossible for the brand new human being to implant in its mother’s uterus, thereby causing it to die (abortifacient)). In other words, contraception is the deliberate attempt to use a good given by God (physical relations between a husband and a wife), yet frustrate one of the God-given purposes of that good – the bearing of children. I t intentionally separates the life-giving and love-giving aspects of relations between a man and a woman.

Contraception is akin to bulimia. With bulimia, someone will eat a big meal, but then frustrate the God-given purpose of eating – to provide nourishment to the body – by intentionally causing that meal to be regurgitated. They want the pleasure of eating, but not the results. With contraception, they want the pleasure of sexual relations, but not the results.

NFP, on the other hand, in no way interferes with the natural God-given processes that occur between a man and a woman. The man’s seed is not “spilled.” The woman’s natural cycles are not interrupted. Everything is just as God decreed it to be.

Now, someone might say, “But, if you deliberately have sexual relations only during the part of the woman’s cycle where she is infertile, then it is equivalent to ‘spilling your seed.’”

Well, my answer to that is to ask a series of questions: Is it immoral for a husband and wife to have sexual relations at any time during a woman’s cycle? The answer to that, is of course, “No.” Next question: Does God require of us that we have as many children as we are physically capable of having, or does He recognize that there are times when it is necessary for us to temporarily abstain from having children? I don’t know of any theologian, Catholic or Protestant, who says God requires of us to have as many children as we are physically capable of having. Next question: Since God does not require of us that we have as many children as it is absolutely possible for us to have from a physical standpoint, does He then provide us with a moral means whereby we can temporarily abstain from having children when we have sufficient reason to do so? I believe the answer to that question is, “Yes.” I believe the answer to that question i s, “Yes,” because God has plainly given us a natural means by which to avoid pregnancies – carefully considering the woman’s natural cycles of fertility. Last question: Does the Bible give us any indication as to whether or not contraceptive methods are acceptable in God’s eyes? The answer is, “Yes.” Again, the story of Onan in Genesis 38 that I discussed in Issue #95 and to which the Protestant theologians I mention above refer to. And we see, quite clearly, from the Bible that God is not pleased with contraceptive practices. The Bible shows us they result in death.

So, to sum up these questions and answers: It is not immoral for a husband and wife to have sexual relations during the infertile period of a woman’s cycle; God does not require us to have as many babies as it is theoretically possible for us to have – He recognizes that there are times when foregoing a pregnancy may be necessary; as such, He must have given us some morally-acceptable way to at least temporarily abstain from having children; and He has shown us, in the Bible, that there are immoral ways to abstain from having children. So, is there a difference between NFP and contraception? You bet there is. Furthermore, contraceptive methods, as we see in Genesis 38, lead to death.

And we can see in our own times that death does indeed come from contraception. Physical death in the form of AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases that flourish because of promiscuous sex made possible by contraception and the widespread acceptance and practice of homosexual sex that is the natural consequence of separating the unitive (love-giving) aspect of sexual relations from the procreative (life-giving) aspects of sexual relations. Spiritual death that results from unrestrained lusts and sexual desires that are unleashed when the natural consequences of sex are separated from the sexual act itself. Men treating women as mere objects – within marriage and without – for their sexual gratification. Widespread pornography. Pre-marital sex. Extra-marital sex. The death of marriages. The death of nations and of peoples as their populations implode because of declining birth rates. The death of millions of unborn babi es as the contraceptive mentality – the anti-life mentality – leads directly to the abortion mentality, and the deaths of millions of already born children as the abortion mentality leads directly to the infanticide mentality. The acceptance of contraception also leads to the basest of perversions – child pornography, pedophilia, bestiality, and so on. All of this results from the widespread acceptance of contraception. Death, death, perversion, and more death.

What else does contraception do? Well, since the most common contraceptive used is the birth control pill (and, lest anyone should write, the pill is also abortifacient, but most women who use it do not realize this), then we have millions upon millions of women chemically polluting their bodies. The birth control pill has led to all sorts of ill health effects for women, not the least being rising rates of infertility. Think about it. A woman who uses birth control pills is chemically telling her ovaries to basically shut down their egg-producing function – sometimes for 10 or 15 years or so. Then, all of a sudden she wants to have a baby and she expects that her ovaries will just kick right in after years and years of chemical abuse and inactivity? Sure they will…

Now, let’s look at what happens with NFP. With NFP, the love-giving and life-giving aspects of sexual relations are not separated. There is no natural outgrowth from NFP of all the horrendous consequences mentioned above that result from contraception. The NFP mentality, one of working within God’s design to temporarily avoid a pregnancy, does not lead to any of the consequences that the use of contraception does. And, even if NFP was widely misused, does anyone think it – with its built in safeguards against unrestrained sexual relations – would lead to the sexual excesses that contraception has led to? Ain’t no way!

And when I mention the possibility of NFP being misused, what I mean is this: As with anything, it can be misused for ill purposes. If a couple uses NFP to avoid having children on a more or less permanent basis, for reasons that are not “serious” – in other words, if they have a contraceptive mentality, even if they do not use contraception…if they have an anti-life mentality…then their use of NFP would be immoral. NFP is to be used when there are grave or serious reasons for avoiding a pregnancy…it is not to be used as a “natural” alternative to contraception. But, again, even if it is misused, the requirements of NFP - the periodic abstinence, the communication required between man and woman, and so on – keep some check on the passions, so that there would not be the same consequences as what happens when contraception releases the passions from all restraint.

I will close by saying this: Contraception seeks the pleasure of a God-given good, while deliberately frustrating the God-given consequences of that good. NFP, abstains from a God-given good, for a time, to avoid the consequences of that good. Again, it’s akin to bulimia vs. fasting. When one fasts – let’s say you skip lunch for a while – to lose weight, you abstain from the pleasure of eating so as to temporarily avoid the natural consequences (taking on additional calories) of eating. You also train your will to control your passions, as you do with NFP and periodic periods of abstinence. With bulimia, you enjoy the pleasure of eating, and then participate in the unnatural act of intentionally throwing up what you have just eaten in order to avoid the consequences of eating. Essentially the same thing with contraception.

NFP vs. Contraception – are they the same? I don’t think so.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Confessing sins to a preist....hmmmm

Why do Catholics confess their sins to a priest? Don't they know that only God has the power to forgive sins? If Catholics would just read their Bible, they would know this.

This is one of the many problems / issues that I had with the Catholic Church. After 30 years of being taught that only God has the power to forgive sins, it is a difficult pill to swallow to think that Man would have the power to do such a thing. So in my research, I started to dig deeper into the scriptures and see just what the Bible has to say about such things.

One of the first things that I realized is that Catholics do believe that God is the ultimate authority. Jesus has the power to forgive sins:

Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, "This fellow is blaspheming!"

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home." And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.
(Matt 9:2-8)

So, if Jesus has the authority to forgive men of their sins, did He ever give that authority to men? Yes...He did:

Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." 22And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."(John 20:21-23).

Whoa. You mean to tell me that Jesus gave the Apostles the ability to forgive sins? This was brand new to me. So now, we have Jesus who can forgive sins, and the Apostles, mere human beings, that have the ability to forgive sins. Very interesting.

I shared these finds with a friend of mine over lunch one day. He mentioned that he was also not aware of this verse. After doing some research on his own, he came back and told me that there was no where in the Bible where we see the Apostles exercising this gift that the Apostles were given. Ultimately, this gave me the impression, right or wrong, that although he believed that the Apostles were given this authority, that he doesn't believe that the Apostles ever exercised it.

I would imagine that the Apostles, who were in charge of spreading the Gospel, and creating God's Church, would have exercised every gift that they were given by God. They also, would have shared with the Early Church the fact that they were given the authority, by God, to forgive sins. This would especially be true since it ended up in the Holy Scriptures. I really have a hard time imagining that they never exercised these gifts during their Holy commission here on Earth.

However, the challenged still remained. Does the Scriptures show evidence of these Apostles forgiving sins? Before we answer that question, I would like to show that it is not unusual for God to use Priests to forgive sins:

'If a man sleeps with a woman who is a slave girl promised to another man but who has not been ransomed or given her freedom, there must be due punishment. Yet they are not to be put to death, because she had not been freed. The man, however, must bring a ram to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting for a guilt offering to the LORD. With the ram of the guilt offering the priest is to make atonement for him before the LORD for the sin he has committed, and his sin will be forgiven.(Leviticus 19:20-22)

Here, we see that God is using a priest as the mediator for the forgiveness of sins. The guilty party is encouraged by Mosaic Law to go to the priest in order that your sins may be forgiven. You see, this is not an unusual practice, and it is also a Biblical one.

To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ(2 Corinthians 2:10).

Here we see that the Apostle Paul encouraging us to forgive sins, and he will forgive those sins also. However, when he forgives sins, it is different than when you and I do. When he forgives sins, because he is an Apostle, he forgives it in the person of Christ - in persona christi.

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.(James 5:13-16).

So the elders have the ability, through prayer to forgive sins. Wait a minute, I thought that Jesus only gave this ability to the Apostles. And for that matter, how in the world did Paul attain the ability to forgive sins in persona christi? Now the elders and Paul have the ability to exercise this gift as well? How is this possible? This is possible through Apostalic Succession.

So, the elders and the Apostle Paul received the authority to forgive sins from the 12 Apostles who received the authority from Jesus Christ Himself. Also, those elders and presbyters of the Church kept passing down that authority over the years to the Catholic bishops and priests today. Hence, the belief of asking a priest to forgive sins is not only scriptural but also scripture encourages us to do so.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Are there different level of sins?

For many years, I have heard that there were different levels of sins. I chalked this off as another practice of the Catholic faith that was not founded in scripture, and therefore were traditions of men.

However, I never took the time to investigate the claims of the Catholic Church's teaching on these different sins - mortal and venial. Now that I have started to investigate the claims of the Catholic Church, I am finding that this view can be supported through scripture - namely:

If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.(1 John 5:16-17)

From this, it would seem that John is suggesting that there are different classes of sin - on that leads to death, and another that does not lead to death. I found this to be very interesting.

I also found an article written by Mark Shea, whose book I am currently reading, to be very interesting as well. In it he explains that he once also believed that there was no classification of sin, but shows how even Jesus seems to describe different classes of sin:

What does Jesus mean in making a distinction between "little" and "much"? Why did he say that the one who knows his master's will and does not do it will be beaten with many blows, while the one who does not know his master's will and does not do it will be beaten with few blows (Luke 12:47-48)?

Not that I want to get beaten by any blows, but there seems to be a suggestion from our Lord and Savior that there is a distinction between different types of sin. Now of course, it is better not to sin at all, but at the same time, is it important to understand this difference between the two classifications and it's implications?