Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Humor: How Many Christians to Change a Lightbulb

I am a huge fan of Steve Ray.  Not too long ago, he posted this joke, on his blog.  I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did:

CHARISMATICS: Only 1 - Hands are already in the air.
PENTECOSTALS: 10 - One to change the bulb, and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness.
PRESBYTERIANS: None - Lights will go on and off at predestined times.
ROMAN CATHOLICS: None, they only use candles.
BAPTISTS: At least 15 - One to change the light bulb, and three committees to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad and fried chicken.
EASTERN RITE CATHOLICS: Don’t know yet. They’re still waiting for permission from Rome to change the bulbs.
EASTERN ORTHODOX: None. Orthodoxy never changes, and, in addition to burning candles like the RCs, they use oil-burning lamps. Electricity is for those Gregorian calendar-using, liberal ecumenist jurisdictions.
ANGLICANS: Eight. One to call the electrician and six to say how much they liked the old one better. Plus one dissenter saying they should steal the RC’s candles.
ANGLO-CATHOLICS: At least eight as well: crucifer, torch-bearers, thurifer, boat-boy, sub-deacon, deacon and priest carrying the new bulb on a silk pillow…
EPISCOPALEANS: 3 - One to call the electrician, one to mix the drinks, and one to talk about how much better the old one was.
MORMONS (non-Christian of course): 5 - One man to change the bulb, and four wives to tell him how to do it.
JEHOVAHS WITNESSES: None, too busy knocking on doors telling everyone they have the wrong lights.
UNITARIANS (non-Christian of course): We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey you have found that light bulbs work for you, you are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your light bulb for the next Sunday service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, 3-way, long-life and tinted, all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.
METHODISTS: Undetermined - Whether your light is bright, dull, or completely out, you are loved. You can be a light bulb, turnip bulb, or a dim bulb. Bring a bulb of your choice to the Sunday lighting service and a covered dish to pass.
NAZARENES: 6 - One woman to replace the bulb while five men review church lighting policy.
LUTHERANS: None - Lutherans don’t believe in change.
AMISH: What’s a light bulb?
JEWS: Where’s Jacob’s ladder when you need it?
UNBELIEVERS: None, they’d rather sit in the dark

God Bless....

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Walking Contradiction

Some things just go great together.  Peanut butter and Jelly.  Cookies and Milk.  Coffee and Scones.  Other things don't mix very well.  Oil and Water for instance.  This is a classic example of a contradiction.

There was a time in my life, when I would have considered someone who is in my current state, a Walking Contradiction.  To be African American and Catholic (at the same time) was an absolutely ridiculous concept.  I mean, the two just didn't go all.  Of course, since I have been attending a Catholic Mass for the better part of 9 years now, I have occasionally ran into a Catholic that was Black.  In the same breath, I have always wanted to ask them, "How in the world did you become a Catholic?".  I never did muster up the courage to do so.  And thankfully, I didn't have to...

I heard about Alex Jones many years ago.  Alex Jones, and myself have many things in common.  We are both African American, from Detroit and attended a Pentecostal Church Of God In Christ Church - except he was the pastor.  When I had first heard about this man, who after 25 years of pastoring his church, decided to leave his church and become a Roman Catholic, I just chalked him off to being a nut.  It is one thing for a Lutheran, Episcopalian, or an Anglican to become a Catholic, but it is a completely different story when an African American Pastor leaves his gospel music church to become a Roman Catholic.  Not only that, but also to bring a considerable amount of people from his church into the Catholic Church with him...all of them were nuts.

After a couple of years of chalking him off to being a fruitcake for doing such a thing, I finally decide to watch his testimony that just so happen to be amidst my collection of VHS tapes (thanks to my lovely Catholic wife)....and this is where the story of my conversion began....

Fast forward almost a year, and I find myself a Roman Catholic.  A Walking Contradiction.  I had a chance to speak briefly with Deacon Alex Jones this past weekend.  I shared with him my story, and how his testimony played a role in me being a member of the 2009 Tiber Swim team.  I gave him a huge hug, and thanked him for the courage to share his story.

Do I miss the Gospel music in the church service - of course.  Do I miss all of the hand-clapping and catching the "Holy Ghost" and all of the things that come with being a member of an African American church - definitely.  However, I would not trade in the Sacraments and the Treasures of being in full communion with the Church that Christ began for any of it.

God bless...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Deacon Alex Jones in Belmont

If you didn't know, Deacon Alex Jones was one of the most influential people in my journey to the Catholic Faith. I was just told that he will be speaking, this weekend, in the Greater Grand Rapids Area. I am forwarding this information to you all.

God bless.

In 1993, Alex Jones was the pastor of a primarily African-American Pentecostal church in Detroit. His decision to research the beliefs and practices of the early Church began an eight-year spiritual journey that would lead him, his wife, and over half of his flock to conversion into the Catholic Church.
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Belmont is happy to present An Afternoon With Deacon Alex Jones, author of No Price Too High, on Sunday, May 17th at 2:00. Deacon Jones will passionately preach about The Treasures of the Church. There is no charge to attend, but a free will offering will be taken.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ground Rules...

Before we dive into the next topic, I thought that it may be beneficial in order to setup some ground rules. Evidently, there are people who have commented in the past, and they are upset at the way that I am moderating the conversation.

I humbly apologize to those who feel as though they have been slighted by the way I have moderated the conversation, and I ask that they will help me come up with ground rules that will be beneficial to everyone.

So, to start off, I will offer two ground rules..

1.) Everything that is said in the comment section, should be said in a spirit of charity.

We should not be attacking each other personally. The only thing that should be grounds for debate are the theological positions that we hold, not the person that is holding them. In other words, no personal insults.

2.) I will no longer block comments...

This one is a stretch for me, but so long as it fosters communication, I am willing to do it. In the past, I have blocked comments, due to not being on topic, or violating the 1st ground rule that I mentioned. Instead, of blocking comments, I will respond to the comment asking that the commenter stay on topic. In the case of comments that violate the 1st ground rule, I will let the comment of the commenter speak for itself.

Are there any other ground rules that you think would be appropriate to consider?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sacraments: The Sacrament of Baptism...

For the first time ever, in the history of this blog, I have a contributor. Willison, has been involved in some of the discussions on this blog post in the past, and motivated by the current discussion happening on the post titled, Anonymous Challenges Salvation, where we have talked more about Sacraments and specifically the Sacrament of Baptism, he offered to contribute this blog post. I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I did. Thanks Willison...

Let’s cut to the chase: What is a sacrament?
If a sacrament DOES something, than it becomes a lot more important than if it only SYMBOLIZES something. It’s awful hard to argue that something “symbolic” is “necessary”. It might be helpful, therefore, to consider sacraments generally, to better understand the sacrament of baptism specifically.

Jesus taught us to call God “Father” not just so we would feel close and cuddly to God, but so we could better understand why he does some of the things he does. Anyone who has been a parent of a 3 year old has dealt with those never ending “why” questions. The answers to “why does it rain?” or “why do things die?” or “why do we use money?” are very complicated issues that a 3 year old couldn’t understand even if he wanted to. Yet, a growing mind with a question deserves an answer. So a good Dad boils it down. He starts using words the kid will understand and draws on experiences the kid can relate to. That’s what we do – the sinful flawed version of a parent. God – the perfect version of a parent – who is infinitely more advanced compared to us than a human adult compared to a human child – would do no less. Thus, he made sacraments.

As far as we know, humans are unique in all of creation. We are physical beings – formed out of the dust of the earth – with a spiritual soul – breathed into us by God himself. Angels are only spirit. Animals are only physical matter. Humans are both. In fact, the Church teaches that BOTH body and soul are ESSENTIAL to be “human.” (That is why we believe in the resurrection of the body. Our physical form is not a “soul transportation device.” It is – and always will be – half of what God created us to be. Humans do not become angels in Heaven.)
So let’s say that God – the perfect parent – wants to transmit his grace to a human. Two issues come up: First, he chose to design humans with this dual nature, so undoubtedly he would want to impart his grace to the whole creature, not half of it. Second, like a parent, he wants us to understand what is happening - and he knows that our physical experiences are more familiar to us than the purely spiritual ones.

Consider Matthew 21:24-25. Jesus was being questioned about his authority to act as he was. In classic Jewish style of debate, he answered a question with a question, “John’s baptism – where did it come from? Was it from Heaven or from men?” Of course, the chief priests and elders were trapped and couldn’t answer that without shooting themselves in the foot. It seems to me, that is still what we are talking about. Clearly I think Jesus was saying it came from God, as did his authority. And the Priests thought it was John gone wild, just like they thought Jesus was doing, but they couldn’t say that because the people would disagree. Notwithstanding the Priests, Jesus’ question all but says Baptism is an institution ordained by God.

But more than that, the questions to Jesus were, “By what authority are you doing these things?” “And who gave you this authority?” His response was to bring up his baptism! Now sure you can argue that they are two unrelated issues that happen to have the same answer, but Jesus rarely did that when he taught. I believe he brought up his baptism and the Baptist, because they were the answers. By what authority? Through the grace of God received in my baptism. Who gave it to you? God Himself, through John the Baptist. But instead of saying that, Jesus tried to get the priests to realize it for themselves by asking, “John’s baptism – where did it come from? Was it from Heaven or from men?” When they responded with “we don’t know”, he basically said, “then I’m not telling.” But I believe the answer is there nonetheless.

This “symbol-only” view of baptism doesn’t seem in line with something created and given by Heaven. Did God give us a ceremony simply as a public display of what he already did? If true, this symbol would be intended to glorify God, but glorifying Him is something from us to Him (From men to Heaven). Jesus implied baptism was from God to men. So consider two things: If baptism was designed by God to be the method by which he chooses to give us His grace, wouldn’t that clearly be “from Heaven” and not from men? And secondly, does God, anywhere in the Bible, create any institution (other than holidays and activities to remember his great acts like Passover) where humans are supposed to do certain things simply to symbolize a passing of grace which they have already received? Let me save you some time: no.

So, can THE BIBLE, prove for us that this is how God works? Of course! The Bible is filled with references to actions God requires humans to do BY WHICH he chooses to confer his grace. This is not an exhaustive list, but consider the following examples:

1- Circumcision – In Gen. 17 God told Abraham circumcision was a sign of the covenant, but went on to say if a man is not circumcised he is not part of it. In other words, your part of the covenant when you become circumcised. The surgery does something. If you argue it is ONLY a sign of the covenant, you must overcome the fact that without the sign, you don’t get the covenant. He said to the Jews if you’re 9 days old and not circumcised, you’re not part of the covenant. The moment you become circumcised, you’re part of it.

2- Priests – In Exodus 28:40-42 God says to anoint and ordain certain men as priests. Then later in Leviticus 8 He describes how it should be done and it gets VERY relevant to our discussion. 1st the man had to be washed, but it is not until oil is poured on him that he becomes the consecrated priest of God. The oil does something, the ritual washing doesn’t. In fact, this sacred oil to make things Holy is so special God himself specifies the recipe and limits both its use and the people who can use it in Exodus 30:22-33.

3- In Exodus 17, when the Israelites were thirsty, God said go on ahead and you’ll see a rock. Strike the rock, and I’ll make water come out of it. He didn’t say, up ahead I placed a well. Or there’s a rock with water coming out of it up ahead. He made Moses strike the rock, with a particular stick, to get the water. A physical act THROUGH which he chose to give his blessing. In fact later, Moses struck a rock too many times and God was so mad he didn’t let Moses go to the Promised Land.

4- When Israel decided they wanted a king, Samuel anointed Saul in private (1 Sam 10:1) and from that moment on he was King. Not when he accepted. Not when Samuel recognized him. But when the oil hit him. We know this wasn’t symbolic because later, in the public ceremony, he was not re-anointed as a symbol of his submission to God for the people. He was simply presented as their king. Then later when David had a chance to kill Saul, he refused – not because he was king – but because he had been anointed. (1 Sam 24:10) In the same way, the Bible says David got God’s power after his anointing (1 Sam 16:12-14).

5- In 2 Kings 5 God cured a King with leprosy. Elisha told the king to be healed he would have to wash 7 times in the Jordan River. He didn’t cure him and command he go through the traditional washings commanded in Mosaic Law. In fact the king was mad that Elisha didn’t just pray over him. He couldn’t understand why the Jordan River when he had perfectly good rivers close by. But to be healed, he had to do it God’s way. The 7th washing actually cured him.

6- In Mark 6:12-13 the Apostles anointed the sick with oil and healed them. The anointing with oil is how God chose to heal them. In the same way, James tells us at James 5:14-15 that sick people should have elders of the church (not just any believer) pray over them and anoint them to get better. Certain people, doing certain things, to receive God’s blessing.

7- In 2 Cor. 1:20-22 Paul explained that by anointing us, God put His spirit in our hearts, and His seal of ownership on us. He doesn’t specifically mention baptism, but I can’t think of what else he would be referring to. Because of our anointing, through our anointing, by our anointing, God put His spirit in our hearts.

I believe the Bible is pretty clear. God often chooses to bless us through physical actions and tangible things. Of course, sometimes He also blesses without a physical act. But I have never seen where he blessed someone in the quiet of their hearts and then required, or even suggested, they go perform some physical act to symbolize the blessing. (No, not lepers Jesus healed presenting themselves to priests. The presentment was a legal procedure so they could rejoin the community.) That is why the Church teaches the baptism Jesus and the apostles keep talking about is not symbolic, but a transference of grace. If you are not baptized, you are not part of the kingdom of God. You have not received his grace. At the moment you are baptized, you receive the grace.

Now does God NEED sacraments to produce his grace and power? No. He is almighty. He can do it whatever way he wants. However, he has created us and knows we are physical creatures in addition to our spiritual nature. Therefore, it was out of His kindness and understanding of human nature that he has chosen to use physical things that we can witness to pass His grace on to us. Now because He has chosen to do that, He also requires us to utilize it. I believe God is not the type of God who institutes something and makes it optional. That’s why I believe it is required, and actually causes us to receive His grace and be cleansed of original sin.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Anonymous Challenges :- Salvation

If you are only paying attention to my blog posts, you are missing out on many discussions that happen in the comment section. Recently, one of my commenters, Anonymous, has challenged the Catholic Church's teaching, doctrine and practices in the comment section of Examining Why Martin Luther was Excommunicated. There are at least 9 different challenges presented by Anonymous, as well as biblical evidence that would seem to support their claim against the Catholic position.

What I will attempt to do, is provide a post for each of the claims against the teachings along with my response, as a Catholic, based on Catholic teaching. I welcome and invite everyone to participate in the discussion. Let's please stick with the topic at hand. The first topic is Salvation.

Regarding the topic of Salvation, Anonymous says:

Salvation: The Roman Catholic Church teaches that salvation is by baptismal regeneration and is maintained through the Catholic sacraments unless a willful act of sin is committed that breaks the state of sanctifying grace. The Bible teaches that we are saved by grace which is received through simple faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), and that good works are the result of a change of the heart wrought in salvation (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17) and the fruit of that new life in Christ (John 15).

Before we begin, I would like to say that I agree 100% with what Scripture says. As a Christian, I believe that Scripture is part of the Word of God (the written portion), and therefore I submit myself totally to it. Because of this, I do not see any contradiction within the above statement. I can only guess, but I think that the arguments that Anonymous is trying to make is the following:

1. The Bible does not teach Baptismal Regeneration
2. The Bible does not teach Baptism plays a role in salvation
3. The Bible teaches that we are saved through Grace, not through Sacraments

Let's dig into each of these points, shall we?

Does The Bible teach Baptismal Regeneration
In order to determine if the Bible supports or is against something, we should first have a good understanding of what that something is. Since a Catholic belief is currently on trial here, let's first understand what the definition of what Baptismal Regeneration means to a Catholic.

Baptismal Regeneration means "being born again". I do not know many Protestant denominations that do not use the phrase "born again". Also, I do not know many Protestant denominations that believe that you do not need to be "born again" in order to enter into the kingdom of Heaven. The point that Catholics and Protestants differ is not on the subject of regeneration, since we all know the the Bible teaches you must be born again. Where we differ is how.

Catholics believe Scripture when it says:
In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.[a]"
"How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. (John 3:3-5)

Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus, that you must be born again to enter into the kingdom of heaven. When Nicodmeus asks for clarification, Jesus explains to him that being born again means that you must be born of water and the Spirit. This can only mean baptism. Therefore, the Bible does teach Baptismal Regeneration.

Does the Bible teach that baptism plays a role in Salvation.
In order to refute this position, it would be great if we can show, from Scripture, that Baptism plays a role in salvation...

and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge[a] of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,1 Peter 3:21

This one scripture verse says that baptism saves. To deny this is to deny clear teaching of Scripture.

Does the Bible teach that we are saved through Grace, and not through sacraments
The Bible teaches that we are saved through Grace Alone. That is Catholic teaching as well. So once again, we agree on another point.

Sacraments, are the normal way that we are to recieve God's graces. So in effect, if we are saved through Grace Alone and Catholics believe that the normal way we receive God's Grace is through the sacraments, is there really a point of disagreement? We can argue whether or not Sacraments are the way to recieve God's graces, but from a Catholic perspective and a Protestant perspective, we need God's graces to be saved.

So there it is. That is this Roman Catholic's response to Anonymous regarding Salvation and the Catholic Church's view of Salvation from a Scriptural perspective. As you can see, I do not believe that it is contrary to scripture, but instead is in full harmony. I look forward to the conversation that this will hopefully inspire. Depending on how much conversation this post generates, as well as general business of life, I will plan to respond to Anonymous other claims in the weeks to come.

God bless...