Sunday, November 19, 2017


It took me a while to watch this movie. I had heard it was not that great. It the story of some Jesuit priests in Japan who suffer persecution and eventually apostatise. That is they give up the Catholic faith entirely and start working to oppose it. Such people did exist. They shocked Europe. Jesuits folding under persecution was unheard of. Yet we never really fully understood why. This movie offers one scenario I guess.

One thing that seems implausible about this movie is the priests never remind me of real Jesuits. Now the actors went to Father James Martin, a modern Jesuit, and tried to learn something of Jesuit spirituality. The trouble is modern Jesuit spirituality is very different from 17th century Jesuit spirituality. Modern Jesuits would apostatise in a New York minute. In fact, Father James Martin is know for arguing very liberal views. Some might say he has already come close to apostasy without much persecution at all. Just a little social pressure from the liberal academic elite and he folds like a house of cards.

These characters are like that. It does not take any pressure at all to get them to question their faith. They express very serious doubts very early in the movie before any real persecution has happened. Even the title of the movie, Silence, comes from there repeated confusion over God being silent. I have never heard a priest talk like they do. So the shock that is supposed to take place when the apostasy occurs is just not there. We more have the feeling of why are these spiritual weaklings being sent into this very hard assignment with no support?

The thing that really bothered me about this movie is how pro-persecution it was. There was this constant narrative that Christianity was causing problems for Japan and nothing good was coming from it. That Japan was totally justified in using torture and murder on a large scale to deal with this problem. That religion can be effectively stamped out by getting the leaders to publicly oppose the cause of Jesus. Even when you do this using the worst forms of torture those turned leaders will still be effective in opposing the faith.

This is scary in today's day and age. Atheism is on the rise and one wonders how quickly our society can forget about freedom of religion. We have a society where many talk about how annoyed they are that Christians seem to cling to their beliefs. How could we deal with that? Could western society turn to violence to try and stamp out Christianity. If you are looking for movies that try and suggest that then you will like this one. It is all about how great it is when the state bans Christianity.

These Jesuits make none of the arguments you expect Jesuits to make in this situation. So many lame objections to the faith remain unanswered. You look at a Jesuit like St Edmund Campion who articulated the faith so well under the persecution of Queen Elizabeth I. Even a Jesuit like St Francis Xavier who founded the Catholic church in Japan and deserves a movie much more that these guys.

One idea that goes unchallenged in the movie is that the brutally violent rulers who stamp out the faith will suddenly become nice benevolent rulers once Christianity is gone. That state sponsored torture and genocide will stop on its own and human rights will start to be respected because these people gave up their faith. Nothing could be less likely. Evil does just go away. The way to defeat evil is the encounter Jesus. Without Him government brutality would continue without limit.

The movie does show the heroic martyrdom of many Japanese Christians. It repeatedly points out that they are simple peasants. Suggesting the problem is the people who have planted such ideas in their minds. The people actually doing the killing are not seen as the problem. Yet the beauty of their faith still comes through. You wish for the priest to find such courage but he never does.

If they theory is right and the reason the priests apostatised was because their faith was really not the Catholic faith but actually a 17th century version of the modernist heresy. If such a thing is even possible. If that is what happened in Japan then it is a sobering warning of what could happen in the west. The worldwide Catholic church cannot be destroyed but major countries can have the church wiped out for centuries at a time. Could that happen here? Could our clergy become open to the idea that the Christian faith is not something we should die for but rather something we should be pragmatic about? That there might be a better strategy to improve society than offering the word and sacraments of Jesus Christ? You would hope that with so many more priests and bishops that at least some would stand up to the pressure. Still the conversations between the Japanese inquisitor and Jesuit priest are not that hard to imagine happening in the west with liberal priests and secular politicians.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Just Enough Religion

Today we focus on Matthew 25:1-13:
The Parable of the Ten Virgins
1“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.6“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’7“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’9“ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’10“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.11“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’12“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’13“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Here Jesus is giving us some final instructions and does so with 3 illustrations. Matthew 25 is the last chapter of the gospel before we go into the crucifixion and resurrection stories. So we are dealing with the final points of Jesus' teaching ministry. The 3 points are the stories of the 10 virgins, the talents and the sheep and the goats. All stories about people who seem to be on the road to heaven yet some of them make it and some of them do not. Do Jesus is giving us warning. Don't do these things. You might not receive the salvation you are expecting. 

The story of the 10 virgins is quite simple. The foolish virgins have just enough oil to get them to the wedding banquet. The wise virgins have extra oil. They are virgins so they are not big sinners. They are waiting for the bridegroom so they are not without faith. Yet some of the virgins have just as much oil as they have figured out they need. The trouble is they miscalculate and end up missing out. It seems unfair.

You hear that a lot. People think they are doing OK with respect to religion and expect God will not condemn them to hell. After all they are descent people and they have not completely ignored religion. God is merciful. There is nothing to worry about. Jesus is suggesting there is something to worry about. The road is going to be longer and harder than you expect. If you think you will be OK you should think again. 

In fact, Jesus goes one step further. He suggests in verse 12 that these 5 foolish virgins don't know God at all. How can that be? It is not like they brought no oil at all. The trouble is they asked how little they could do and still be saved. How could they avoid hell and still live fairly normal lives. That is the wrong question. That is the question we ask when we don't really know God. When we know God we ask how much can we do. We ask if there is anyway I could show more love for God or help my neighbour more. That is a question that will totally transform your life if we ask it and really mean it. Yet it is what we ask when we encounter God. 

So in some ways the lack of extra oil is about faith expressing itself in works. Not expressing itself in doing some works but really expressing itself by dominating the life of the believer. It is precisely the kind of religion our culture refuses to accept. You can be Christian but don't be a fanatic. Spend you Sunday mornings any way you want but don't let it transform the way you look at the world. Accept what we accept. Be politically correct. Colour within the lines.

Personally we think that way as well. We want to be Christian but we don't want it to interfere to much with our fun. Do enough to get saved but you real source of joy is the things of the world. We get caught in that kind of thinking all the time. We don't really believe that. That is not our creed. Yet our hearts go there again and again. In some ways it is the root of all sin. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Price Of Atheism

What is important to you? The odds are if you become a consistent atheist you will have to rethink it. Does knowledge matter to you? Do you like to learn about science or philosophy? Knowledge means nothing if atheism is true. Does love matter? Are the people closest to you the most important consideration at the end of the day? If atheism is true then love is an illusion. What about art or music? Do you see beauty as something worth sacrificing for and pursuing with great intensity? If atheism is true it is just a strange curiosity of evolution.  What about meaning? Do you want to do something some day that really matters? With atheism is impossible even in principle for any human action or inaction to matter. What about goodness? Do you want people to say you always did what was right even when it was hard? That becomes incomprehensible with atheism.

Sure Christianity ask you to surrender everything. Yet Christianity gives you those things back again in a much better way. Knowledge matters because it is ultimately knowledge of God. Everything becomes reoriented towards God and gains meaning and significance. With atheism everything becomes reoriented toward nothingness. Really it becomes re-oriented towards your own brain but as a defect in your brain. Something that gave humans a survival advantage at some point in history. We got those things the same way we got our appendix or our baldness. It is just the way the genetic ball bounces. 

Satan offers us a deal where he takes our soul and offers us nothing in return. Really when we talk about a person's soul we are always talking about those things that seem to go deeper than physical reality. It is not that there are unrelated to anything physical but there seems to be more there. Atheism has to say sense we have is flat out wrong. They don't have evidence to prove it is wrong. They have to accept it because it comes with the metaphysical assumptions they have made. This is precisely what they ridicule Christians for when they say they believe something on faith. 

So atheism seems like it costs you nothing. When you go deep you find it costs you everything. Christianity is the opposite. It seems to cost you everything but after you embrace it you are much richer than you were before. 

So why can't atheists see this? I mean the vast majority don't want to deny the importance of love and art and human dignity and whatever else. Why don't they see that rooting these things in the random processes of evolution is not going to give them the value they should have. Partly it has to do with a lack of philosophical training. People believe in human rights but they don't understand why they believe in human rights. It just seems clear to them. They don't see the connection to where we have traditionally said the human person comes from. All creatures are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. If there is no creator where do the rights come from? There is very little attempt to wrestle with such questions. There is no real understanding how not having a logic foundation for something will mean it can disappear any time it is challenged. 

The other reason is people just don't see Christianity as a viable option. They see it as anti-science and anti-sex and just not very respectable. They are wrong but it causes many to embrace atheism without any real reflection because they see not alternative. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

What Do We Know For Sure?

I was talking with a protestant about theology recently. His reflection was around this question of what do we know is from God and what is just human opinion. He didn't say so but I think it was as it relates to the LGBT questions. How much of what we think is Christian comes from God and how much has just been mixed in with Christianity over time? Now where he went from this is into a more liberal Protestantism in order to avoid claiming to speak for God on matters where we are not sure we know what God really thinks. I can see his point. Nobody wants to assert a moral principle and get it wrong. This is especially true when said principle puts more demands on other people than it does on you. Saying sodomy is intrinsically disordered does create more challenges for a same-sex attracted male than it does for me who has no temptation in that area. So we only want to say that if we are sure we are right.

The other point I can really see is that we don't know many things for sure if we assume a protestant approach. We have the principle of Scripture Alone and we have many different opinions on what scripture really teaches. One can always assert that those opinions that disagree with yours are avoiding what is clearly taught in scripture. Sometimes that is true. Still accusing people of that is uncharitable and in many cases unwarranted. People can arrive at many different conclusions with sincere hearts and sound reasoning. Yes some are just playing games with scripture but just excluding those does not eliminate the problem. Legitimate disagreements are very numerous and very significant. 

So where does that leave us? Is liberal Protestantism the best answer? I found it untenable. You have to realize that this problem of uncertainty does not just apply to the question of the day. It applies to all questions. No matter what we are talking about we have some that see clear scriptural direction but we almost always have significant disagreement. Are there any exceptions? Certainly the list has grown a lot shorter during the last 50 years. If there is anything left where there is strong consensus you should not be surprised if even that breaks down at some point in the future. Differences of opinion about scripture are everywhere. If Christianity is to become agnostic on all these matters then that is quite a weakness. 

So when we declare scripture to be inconclusive where do liberal protestants turn? In practice they turn to the culture. What does society say is the right answer to LGBT questions or anything else? Why not? The culture is strong. If your faith is not offering you anything solid then you end up in the same position as an atheist. You listen to what most people are saying and you go with that. If you don't you are going to be in for a fight and who wants to fight when one is not sure they are right?

The trouble is your Christian faith ends up being quite useless. Again and again you end up in the exact position as the atheist. Jesus said we would know the truth and the truth would set us free (Jn 8:32). Yet we end up not knowing much truth at all. Is this really the way Jesus mean it to work? My conclusion was No. Jesus has provided a way to let us know the Word of God even when there is much disagreement. 

How do we get there? One way is to look at why people disagree about scripture. Mostly because they come from different traditions and bring different philosophical assumptions to the process of interpretation. Bryan Cross talks about that in this video as well at this website. Once we get that we can ask how Jesus tells us to avoid incorrect assumptions. Hint: it involves a role for the church. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Lenten Journeys

Catholic spiritual leaders often invite the faithful to go on a journey during lent. I did one this year from TMIY and it was very good. What strikes me now is that it is over. Why is that? The liturgical journey we are on is not over. We have 40 days of lent where we do penance and focus on our sin and our frailty. We need that. Sin runs deep in us and we need to take some serious time to deal with it. Yet that is not the whole story. Lent gives way to Easter. Easter is not just a party. It is a season of joy and victory. It is 50 days rather than 40. That is not just because we want to enjoy good things longer than we want to deprive ourselves of them. It is also because living the joy and victory is also a complex business. 

Now that we have, hopefully, had some success in controlling our passions and dealing with the sin in our life the question of how to best use that freedom from sin. Consider these words of Jesus from Luke 11:
24“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ 25When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. 26Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”
Jesus is explaining one danger of just focusing on fighting sin. When we win the battle against sin we can have a bit of a spiritual vacuum. If we don't fill that with virtue and positive activity then other vices or even the same vice can come back. The church gets this. That is why the journey does not end with Easter. It ends with Pentecost. Really it needs to continue into ordinary time because it is only when our ordinary life is changed that we know a permanent improvement has happened.

Yet almost all the lenten journey stuff you see ends when the 40 days is over. The 40 days is not followed up with a 50 days that prepares you to launch into something really big and exciting. It is like we are done. We don't see Easter as a victory that changes the game in our favor but rather as something that ends the game. We keep saying we are a resurrection people but don't really think deeply about what that means. It does not help that Pentecost occurs at the beginning of summer. Churches are more interested in taking a break at that point than challenging people to start something new.

Now a lot of lenten programs get this. Then know that just focusing on sin and penance is not complete. Yet rather than add an Easter portion to their journey the incorporate much of that into lent. The trouble is the two parts of the journey need to be separated. Often we find one part easier than the other and we do that part well and neglect the other. Two spiritual seasons for two different aspects of growth makes sense. Yet we don't do it. People are willing to put out effort for the lenten season but they don't want to do much for Easter. 

So what does Easter look like? Think of the disciples on the first Easter. Jesus dies. Jesus rises. There is immediate joy. Yet it is hard for them to figure out what is next. Jesus stays for a while and totally convinces them He is really alive. The He commissions them. Then He leaves. We go through the same sort of thing. We die during lent. If we did it right we rise again with new life. Yet what does it mean? 

First of all, it should strengthen our faith. When we embraced prayer, fasting and alms-giving we ended up not losing our life like common sense would indicate but gaining a richer life like Jesus promised. That is experiencing the truth of the gospel on a very personal and practical level. Often we end up breaking bad habits we once thought were unbreakable. Like the old song says, "You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart." That kind of power acting inside our hearts should blow us away as much as seeing Jesus rise blew away the disciples.

Secondly, it should put us in touch with our spiritual gifts. When we rid ourselves of sin we don't lose our identity but we become who we are truly meant to be. We start to enter into the intimate communion with God we were created for. Think of the church in Acts 2 and the detachment they experienced from earthly goods and their hunger for the word of God and the sacraments. 

Anyway, this is getting long. My point is that lent is not the end of the journey. It is step one. Often it is the hardest step. Still when you get it right you want to keep going.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

God is Love

As Christians when we thing about the words God is Love we tend to think of them as a statement of theology. 1 John 4 boldly states that God is love. In the face of all the pain and evil we see in the world it is a pretty audacious claim. One that changes the way we approach life. Still I have been thinking of it a bit different. I have been thinking of God is Love as a statement of philosophy. That is that we cannot have a coherent notion of love unless we believe in God. Christians can talk about the mystery of love forever. When they ponder it they often talk about what happened on Good Friday and Easter as the best example of unfathomable love. 

Atheists are in a very different place. They believe in love. I mean they believe in the human experience. How could they not? Yet when they try and go deeper and explain exactly what it is, where do they go? They go to brain chemistry. They go to evolutionary biology. We have certain responses to certain stimuli because they created some survival advantage for us at some point in our evolution.  That is what we call love. We value love not because it is inherently valuable but because of the random events of our evolution. We enjoy love for the same reason a shark enjoys killing. We evolved that way. 

St John Paul II said man cannot make sense of himself unless he gives himself away in love. I think most realize this is true. Yet is it a feature or a defect? An atheist would be forced to say even that meaning is an illusion. It is just that the feelings evolution gave us with respect to love are strong but they are not any more meaningful because they are strong. A Christian would say it is meaningful because when you love you connect with God. This is because God is love. So love can be meaningful if there is a God to make it meaningful. If there is no God then it can't be despite the fact that it really, really feels meaningful. 

This is a place where the atheist has to make a choice. Either to believe, on faith, that love is meaningless despite his feelings or to stop being an atheist and say there must be something more than the material world. The other choice is to simply live the contradiction and not think about it too hard. The last choice is obviously the easiest. Yet if atheists pride themselves on anything it is their brutally honest rationality. Some have taken the second option. Jennifer Fulwiler is the name that pops to mind. 

So love implies God. To say God is love you would also have to say God implies love. Does it really? Certainly people have believed in God's that didn't always love. Yet if we that love is the highest human value and acknowledge that it is that way because God made it so. Then would we not be justified to conclude that God must be love? Fr Robert Spitzer actually takes it a step further and suggests that God must be the greatest possible lover. That the Christian God should be seen as possible and even probable because it paints God as the greatest lover in giving His son to die for our sins. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Mary at Cana

Just reflecting on John 2:1-12. The wedding feast in Cana:
1On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
4“Woman,a why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.b7Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
8Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”They did so, 9and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
11What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
12After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.
The first thing that strikes me is the opening lines. A wedding took place. Jesus's mother was there. Why is Mary mentioned first? You would expect John to start by saying Jesus was there and then follow with Mary and the disciples were also there. He does not. He tells the story like Mary is the main character with Jesus and the disciples playing supporting roles. Still he does not mention her name. She is referred to as Jesus' mother and, by Jesus, as "woman." So the emphasis is not on her in isolation. Her relation to Jesus and the fact that she is a woman are in focus.

Jean Vanier remarked about this passage that Jesus could have kicked off his ministry in a lot of ways. He could have gone to the temple. He could have focused on prayer or on scripture or a bunch of other things. Yet he starts by taking them to a party. A party where there a wedding being celebrated and wine being consumed. It is a joyful occasion. A celebration of love.

Yet the joy is not born out of a denial of sin. Where is the sin in the story? There are 6 20-30 gallon jars of water for ceremonial washing. What were they washing themselves from? Sin. Why so many large jars? This household seems to have frequently called to mind their sins and asked God to forgive them. It was they way they lived.

Still the theme of joy is here. Joy that is natural human joy. Yet human joy is finite. The wine runs out. Jesus provides an abundance of wine measured in the same jars that show their desire for holiness. Jesus provides a better sort of joy that becomes evident when the superficial joy runs out.

Yet Jesus does not just do this. He seems reluctant at first. Mary tells Him the problem. She does not ask him to do anything. His response seems strange. It actually parallels some of the things demons say to Jesus (Mt. 8:29; Mk 1:24 and 5:7; Luke 4:34 and 8:28). Sort of acknowledging an authority but suggesting that authority does not apply here. Like Jesus was saying I would normally do what you ask out of respect for you as my mother but not this. Mary accepts it but still does not give up. Really there is no other instance of Jesus seeming to say one thing and do another like this one. Like we are meant to see Jesus have his heart softened by his mother's intercession. Apart from her impact on Jesus we see her impact on the servants. She tells them to obey Jesus. Having Mary intercede is not an alternative to obeying Jesus. We have to do both.

Yet what about that word "woman?" Jesus refers to women that way a few times. It is not disrespectful. Yet nobody else in Greek literature refers to their mother that way. Jesus does so consistently. Why is that? As a protestant I was taught that meant Jesus thought of her as an ordinary woman and not as His mother. That would make Jesus less than human and in violation of the command to honour His mother. Maybe rather than making Mary less than His mother He is making her more than His mother. Maybe He is connecting her with all womanhood. Certainly that is where the early church fathers went. They connect this with Gen 3:15 and call Mary the New Eve.

Jesus is actually presented here as a bridegroom messiah. Some more liberal theologians have used this passage to suggest Jesus was married. The bride and groom are not mentioned here and the one time the bridegroom is addressed by the master of the banquet we are aware that he should be saying this about Jesus. Remember there is a lot of Old Testament talk about the Messiah as Israel's spiritual husband. John is drawing on this and Mary is standing in for the church which is the bride.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Don Johnson

Talking about justification makes a lot of sense to a relatively small subset of Protestants we are a bit nerdy about theology. I happen to be on of those but most people are not. I was listening to Don Johnson on The Journey Home and he talked about justification in a much more compelling way for the average person. 
His story was interesting because he talked about justification without using any of the same language. He got into it because he had arrived at essentially the Catholic position on justification without knowing anything about the historical controversies. He arrived there mostly contemplating the book of Exodus. That our story parallels the story of the Israelites. We are enslaved to sin like they were enslaved to Egypt. God saves us miraculously. The we receive the law like they did right after the Red Sea. Then there is a journey through the wilderness. In fact, the journey lasts 40 years because they are slow to learn what God is trying to teach them. The Red Sea was not the end of their salvation. They had to be transformed over time before they could enter the promised land. Likewise we can't be saved just by a one-time event but must journey towards heaven after that initial commitment. 

People are not well versed in theology these days so his protestant church just loved this teaching. It was quite a while before anyone pointed out that this is precisely the opposite of what the reformers said about justification. So he started to read. He read Alistair McGrath's book on the reformation where he said this idea, which he called forensic justification, was completely new around the year 1500. Maybe you can find it in Jan Hus but not earlier. He started reading major Christian thinkers before that and saw that this was true.

The interesting thing is he did all this without any influence from Catholics and any notion of becoming Catholic. He did eventually convert but it took him a long time. He didn't even want to refer to the pre-reformation Christians as Catholics. He called them historical Christians or orthodox Christians or some such phrase. 

While Exodus is an interesting angle from which to approach the justification from it is not as strange as I first thought. Paul and the other apostles were Jews. They knew the Old Testament first. So they would approach everything starting there. Paul explicitly draws the same parallels between our Christian journey and the journey in Exodus. 

The other point he brings up is how the implausibility of forensic justification has led some to reject Christianity altogether. He spent a lot of time arguing with atheists and heard this often. Why should a good man go to hell because he believed the wrong thing and a bad man go to heaven because he had said the sinners prayer at some revival once? Is that really fair? I know grace is inherently not fair but any God that declares someone righteous when they are not seems quite strange. 

For me, it teaches me the value of using ordinary layman language. When we are talking about heaven and hell there can be no more important topic to anyone. If they are real and our lives determine which one we go to then we need to be very concerned. Yet finding the real information in the midst of all the falsehoods is quite a challenge. Really impossible without God's help. I can see people saying God would not leave us like that so He must not exist. I can see people saying God would not leave us like that so Catholicism must be true. To say God did leave us like that seems like the only choice a Protestant has.  

Sunday, March 5, 2017

If Paul Was A Protestant

Following the last post I wanted to give a few more details on why I thought the Protestant reading of Paul was problematic. I ran into passages in Paul's writing that if Paul was thinking like a Protestant as I understood Protestantism he would not have written like he wrote them. Not really searching for unexplainable defeater passages because lots of theological gymnastics are possible. The question is does Paul write like someone who believes in Faith Alone or does he write like a Catholic who sees faith as important but also that it needs to be expressed in love and action before it does us any good? It started with this passage from Gal 5:6:
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.
This seems simple enough. Yet what would a Protestant say? He would not say "faith working through love." He would say "faith alone." I know he would. If that is what Paul believed this would be the time to give the summary statement. Why does he back away and bring in works? Supposedly, Christianity took 1500 years before figuring out that Paul really meant Faith Alone. If he was really thinking Faith Alone and the Holy Spirit was guiding him to communicate Faith Alone then why didn't he write "faith alone?" Not only did he not use the phrase here but he never uses it.

That was not a big deal. You can't read to much into what a person did not say. Yet the question kept coming back. Look at Rom 2:6-8
But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.
Can a Protestant explain this? Of course. Yet we are in Romans. This is the place Paul allegedly teaches Faith Alone most clearly. Right here he is doing a terrible job. He seems to teach exactly the opposite. God will repay each according to what they have done. Not according to faith. Now a Protestant would say Paul overthrows this in later verses. That the faith talk later should be taken seriously and this should be ignored. Yet if Paul believed in Faith Alone and wanted to teach Faith Alone in this document why would he talk like this? I can't imagine Protestant phrasing things this way.

Then there is the famous verses from 1 Cor 13:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Here he pits love against worship and love against alms-giving and even love against martyrdom. That is OK. Protestants would do that. Yet he also pits love against faith. Really? Can you ever imagine a protestant going there? Faith is supposed to be central and love is supposed to be inevitable once you have faith. So how does this make any sense? I know it is hyperbole and all but it still seems like a statement not Protestant would make.

Once you open you eyes to these sorts of statements you find them all over the scriptures. Paul has many more. Jesus has some huge ones. You stop unconsciously fitting everything into the Faith Alone mindset and start noticing that the bible was written by someone who did not have that mindset.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Justification and Tradition

Thinking about how tradition influences the way we interpret the bible. One key between Protestants and Catholics has always been the area of justification. How are we made right with God and therefore saved? When I first had the Protestant view explained to me in Catechism class I found it very convincing. My only real question was, why are there still Catholics? I mean the bible has been available in the vernacular for centuries and I felt it had been clearly demonstrated that the Catholic position was inconsistent with the bible. So why had the Catholic position not become the equivalent of the flat earth position? Why did anyone in the modern world still think it was true?

The answer was that I was taught these particular scriptures from this particular point of view. The texts were picked for me. The words were explained to me. The problem texts were downplayed or completely ignored. It was a complex question. The people teaching it were very confident. They were people I trusted, including my father. I thought I was engaging in critical thinking but I really was not.

Later I did take a course in witnessing to Jehovah's Witnesses where they did bring up James 2 and how it appears to flatly contradict Faith Alone. We learned how to answer those questions. I still did not know that James 2:24, "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone," was actually the only place the phrase "faith alone" occurred in the bible.

Really it was not until I read some extended debates on the topic between Protestants and Catholics that I started to doubt the idea that the Protestant interpretation was clearly right. Why did I spend many hours reading through such debates? Really because my emotional situation had changed. I had married a Catholic and I had met many Catholics that were good solid Christians. It made me rethink my original question. Why does anyone think the Catholic position is worth any consideration? Except this time I was at least a little bit open to the chance there might be an answer.

It does really take quite a few hours because there are many texts that need to be considered and many different arguments on each side of the debate. It is hard to give highlights but I shall try. The first step was to realise that in Galatians and Romans St Paul is not focused on the relationship between faith and works and salvation. His primary focus is on the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. That does not mean what he says about faith and works is wrong. It does mean he does not give all the expected explanations of related truths.

So when he says we saved by faith and not by "works of the law" he does not explain that this faith needs to be expressed as love and that is going to mean good works. Why doesn't he explain this? Because he has the ceremonial Jewish law primarily in view. This is why his classic example of a work of the law is circumcision. He is not thinking of the 10 commandments. Otherwise he would have made clear that the life of grace can't be lived in contradiction to the moral law.

Now we need to be careful. What Paul says about being saved by grace through faith apart from the works of the law does apply to the moral law. St Augustine says so. So does St Thomas Aquinas and so does the Council of Trent. Some Catholic apologists get this wrong. Some Protestants see this in St Augustine and think he was basically a Protestant. He was not.

What is important is the order. Grace first, next a response of faith, then a response of love cooperating with grace and producing good works. They all have to be there.

As with most questions there is not just one protestant answer. Luther's and Calvin's position were quite strong on works being totally irrelevant. If you collect some of there quotes you won't find many protestants that will preach those today. In fact, most of the preaching and teaching on this I experienced as a Protestant was watered down. It makes sense. The connection between works and salvation is talked about so often in the New Testament often without the mention of faith. A lot of the difference is language. Sanctification is still important to Protestants although they would not say it is part of justification and Catholics would not. Yet the core ideas are more similar than they first sound.

The doctrine does make a difference but not typically in the way we think about salvation. It makes a difference in the way we think about related issues. Sacraments, mortal sin, penance, saints, purgatory, etc. Once you have made good works irrelevant even if they are nice then a lot of things fall by the wayside. This is typical of heresy. One major error leads to many other errors.

When we see that one new doctrine contradicts many existing, Christian doctrines we should question the one new doctrine. When it is frequently contradicted by Jesus and the New Testament writers then there is more reason to question it. Yet we don't question these things. Not really. Not seriously. Not unless or until we get in the right emotional space to face the possibility we might be wrong. To really take that seriously. If I had married within the Protestant church I doubt I would have ever gone there.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


This is the time of year where people announce they are becoming Catholic. They can do so anytime but the typical time for the sacrament is Easter and the typical time to make the go/no go decision is right around now. So there have been a few stories as there are every year. A couple mentioned that one issue for them was that they didn't know what tradition was. That sparked something in me. I had some of the same issues. When I started exploring the church I thought of tradition as a mindless "monkey see, monkey do" phenomenon. A lot of protestants still seem to have ideas like that.

What is meant by tradition? It is the whole impact of who you hang out with and what emotional attachments you have to them. What preachers do you listen to? What books do you read? What songs do you worship with? What friends do you confide in? Which opinion leaders do you respect? What stories do you connect with? 

The thing to notice here is everyone has a tradition and it is always hugely influential on your thinking. People don't think in a vacuum. They talk to each other. They influence each other. People who you love and respect will influence you more. If you are in a circle of friends where a certain thinker is hugely respected then you will have a strong tendency to go along with that line of thought. 

Often people underestimate the influence of tradition on them. They see it on other people. He is just that way because his dad is that way. He was raised to believe that. Yet when you ask the actual person about their own opinions they typically say it is not tradition. They say they have sound reasons for believing what they believe. They can list them for you. Yet that does not mean that person was not influenced hugely by tradition.

Tradition does not tell us to stop thinking. It tells us to think a certain way and gives us reasons to do so. Yet a different tradition would tell you to think a different way and give you reasons for doing that. Often the deciding factor is not which set of arguments is logically better but which set of people is emotionally more trustworthy. In fact, we rarely go against the thinking of the group we have grown comfortable with. That is tradition.

So tradition is not just people latching on to old ideas because they are old. Very modern ideas can gain a wide following simply because that is what everyone else seems to think. So someone saying that sex outside marriage is wrong because Christians have always believed that is appealing to one kind of tradition. Someone saying sex outside marriage is OK because everyone is doing it is appealing to another tradition. A modern secular tradition of thought which is not less of a tradition because it is new. In fact, many people accept it without serious question precisely because the tradition is so strong.

What we need to be clear about is that traditions can be very wrong. We can see this in the previous example. No matter what you believe about sex outside marriage you are going to believe one tradition or the other got it wrong. That is a big deal. Many people accepted a wrong answer to this important question because they listened to the wrong tradition.

Protestants talk about not letting tradition be the main guide of your thinking. They think the bible should be. That is actually humanly impossible. We don't make big life choices apart from other people. Sure the bible plays a role but often there is debate over what the bible says so you need to decide what to make of that. Tradition is always going to matter. Different people will have different opinions. Whose thinking do you trust more? That is how humans make choices. They don't just sit down with a book and ignore what everyone else thinks. They want their opinions affirmed by others before they really trust them.

In practice Protestants pick one particular set of thinkers they like. Not a bad thing to do. Yet there are many different groups who disagree with each other on many different questions. These groups used to be called denominations. Not so much anymore. People from different denominations can be very much in the same theological school of thought. People from the same denomination can be in very different groups. Yet these schools of thought are many and diverse. It really does matter that we get the right one. These are the big decisions that are supposed to transform our lives. We want to get them right.

Catholics believe God enters in to this with His grace. That He gives us something called Sacred Tradition. A certain set of people and opinions and ways of thinking that God has highlighted over time as being true. He has used the popes and the bishops of the church to do this in each generation. What this gives is a way to make decision as a Christian that is not inhuman. It gives us real people living the faith in the real world that we can trust. 

The trouble is that God pointing us to one source of truth means He is also saying a lot of other traditions have been getting things wrong. Modern society has made some real errors. Many Christian thinkers have made some real errors. So all the things we believed because they were emotionally easier now become harder. Sometimes we have to disagree with family and friends. Sometimes we have to face the fact that almost everyone we knew and trusted got this wrong. It rocks your world. 

Yet that would not happen if you chose to know and trust those who also have a commitment to this same Sacred Tradition. That is how God expected His church to work. That people would lead each other into truth and unity because we would actually be part of one body with the same head.  

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Conversion of Paul

The feast day for the conversion of Paul was Jan 25. The day of prayer for Christian unity was Monday, I think. These things got me thinking. Paul was a believer before his conversion. In fact, he was a very zealous believer. He believed strongly but because he believed strongly when he believed wrongly he was impossible to convince. We all know people like that. It is very likely that in some areas we ARE a person like that. I mean we tend to live like all the mistakes are being made by others but logically we can work out that that is probably not the case.

In some ways this feast is hard. It highlights the problem but does not really offer a solution. Should we really wait until we see a blinding light and hear the audible voice of Jesus? We certainly hope and pray that that happens to others who are on the wrong road and many of us pray it happens to us to when we are on the wrong road. Yet the number of errors is far greater than the number of Road to Damascus experiences.

Many of the people who do claim to have had a moment of divine revelation contradict each other. We believe Paul but we don't believe Mohammad like Muslims do or Joseph Smith like Mormons do. So just chasing people who tell these kinds of stories does not seem right. Yet there is something about this story that is instructive.

We all need to have this encounter with Jesus. We all need to have our life interrupted and to be struck blind for 3 days and to receive a baptism that would have been so offensive to us before that encounter. Yet meeting Jesus does not look the same for everyone. For Paul, the person of Jesus was the most offensive thing. There was so much of the faith he was willing to accept but this one thing he could not accept. That Jesus was the Messiah.

Is that what we have trouble with? Most of us not. We are OK with warm fuzzy feelings towards Jesus. Even atheists generally try and say nice things about Him. We don't find Him offensive. So what is the part of the faith we find offensive? That is different for everybody. For some it is the sexual morality. For others it is just the notion of faith rather than proof. For some it is compassion for the poor. Sometimes it is connected with people from other Christian traditions.

The conversion of Paul has a special place in evangelical Christianity. That life-changing experience where the truth of Christianity becomes clear is the very centre of their spirituality. Growing up in a dutch reformed church it really was not so central. Some people had that experience and some did not. Yet the traditions that flowed from the Great Awakening movements in the US do put that very much at the centre. They try and manufacture such moments in people.

Heresy is like that. They take a Catholic truth that Catholics have forgotten about and they embrace it to the point of error. In this case it means they elevate it to the point where they make all the sacraments irrelevant and the struggle for holiness irrelevant and just focus on that one encounter. Yet we cannot lose sight of the fact that there is a truth there.

Helping people to see how sinful they are, how powerless they are without Jesus, to challenge them to embrace Jesus and make this moment a life-changing moment. that is a powerful thing. Modern Catholics tend not to go there. We should more. We talk about conversion as an ongoing thing and that is true. Yet conversion often requires big decisions. We can't be afraid to challenge people to make big decisions. Not asking them to think about it but asking them to decide right in the moment. Jesus did not ask Paul to think about anything. He told him, "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

Paul also said in Acts 26:19, "I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven." It is still important that people follow up that experience with a life of obedience and prayer and sacraments and all that. Still the experience remained important. Paul talks about it over and over. That is key. Many Catholics don't seem to have a way to talk about their faith. A central conversion event can give someone a story to tell, something to explain why they are Christian and why you should be too.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

More With Luke

This response is meant to complement my other one. I may just keep going until you tire out; you're the first Catholic I've happened upon who is interested in addressing my questions and concerns on such matters. (I haven't actively looked, although it has been on my to-do list.)
I am happy to be helpful. I have been thinking about and writing about these sorts of questions for quite a few years now.
Authority is not about dismissing anything. It is about knowing things. Anytime you assert that you know God's will on some point are you dismissing everyone else? You are offering wisdom. Do you believe in the scriptures? Why would truth arrived at in that way be less dismissive?
I am somewhat aware of the arguments over the role of church tradition in interpreting scripture; Brad S. Gregory wrote what seemed to be a decent overview in The Unintended Reformation. I've read Stephen Toulmin's Cosmopolis, which does a good job of grappling with the consequences of vying authorities in the wake of the Reformation. I've started Jeffrey R. Stout's Flight from Authority. So I'm not completely naive in the matter of authority.
I am familiar with Brad Gregory's book. The others sound interesting as well.
My question is what the timeline is for full maturity, such that we can get the underlined in arbitrarily many followers of Jesus:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31–34)
Paul seems to believe that arbitrarily much of this maturity can be achieved before the eschaton:
I don't think we will every get to a point where all Christians are fully mature. Certain saints have reached full maturity but for the vast majority of us it is very much a work in progress. There is a greater grace with the coming of the Holy Spirit. That does not mean covenant community we saw in the Old Testament suddenly is not longer a part of the picture. Scripture does not say that. Nobody in the early church went there. In fact, the New Testament talks about the Church as an important part of the Christian life. 
Actually, authority underlies the entire New Testament. Why does what St Paul says to the Ephesians matter? Because He has an authority over them. Where does that authority come from? From his encounter with Jesus but that encounter was authenticated by the Church. He was eventually sent by the Church and recognised as an apostle. You can make similar observations for the authors or any New Testament book. 
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:11–14)
Of course, we must deal with how that "until" is approached. Is there some very strong hierarchy up until "we all attain to the unity of the faith ...", at which point it simply dissipates? Or does it actually decrease so that the body may increase? When parents raise their kids to be adults, which dynamic is healthier?
Again, the until is on a person by person basis. I do not think we ever get to a point sometime after St Paul writes this where they Church fundamentally changes. The Church is to grow and develop but remain essentially the same. A fundamental shift in the nature of the coventant community implies a new covenant. Yet the covenant Jesus brought is to be the last one. Martin Luther cannot bring a better covenant that the one Jesus brought.
There are special graces with the offices. Some don't cooperate with those graces and can be very bad popes or bishops. On the whole we have had very few of those. Certainly the last couple centuries have been very good. Why can't God's grace work that way?
I think a case can be made from scripture that spiritual power tends to inversely correlate with social power. There are good reasons for this: those with social power are able to influence perception of reality such that the outliers are marginalized and silenced. This process can work for quite some time, until the marginalized grow sufficiently large in numbers. Then you get what appears to be calamity to those with social power—the marginalized often see what is coming much better, because they're not able to rest on socially accepted explanations (example: Chris Hedges' 2010 article Noam Chomsky Has ‘Never Seen Anything Like This’, which presages Brexit and Trump). There's interesting sociological research on this matter I can cite if you'd like.
I don't think this is true at all. Moses has social power. So did David. They were also spiritually very powerful. The bible criticises Kings and spiritual leaders for exercising power in an ungodly way. Never for simply having power. 
I think the Church has always been called to be separate from political power. It has sometimes failed to do so and bad things have resulted. Still Catholicism has been much more separate from and state authority than Orthodoxy or Islam. That is a blessing. One of the many ways God has been keeping us out of some bad places.
As to the record of the RCC over the last couple centuries, I don't know it well enough to comment. There is the obvious problem I'll leave unnamed, because it's probably an automatic derail. If I can go back further than two centuries, I would ask why Sublimis Deus got rolled back—at least, the bit which forbids slavery. I can see an argument along the lines of God commanding divorce certificates while intending for divorce to ultimately become obsolete, but (i) I'm not sure that actually worked; (ii) I'm not sure that's a spiritually wise plan after Jesus' death & resurrection. It is possible to compromise too much with evil, but I've never had an in-depth conversation on what constitutes "too much".
Is the obvious problem the sex abuse scandal? That can derail things. Yet it should be noted that nothing that happened there is hard to square with the Catholic teaching on the Church or the Priesthood or the Papacy. It is a terrible thing but it is just sin. Sin is something we expect even inside the church. I was raised as a preachers kid so I knew about some of the dirty laundry in my childhood church. It is the same all over.
Sublimis Deus did not get rolled back.  It is an encyclical of Pope Paul III. Teachings of the popes can be respected or disrespected. When they get disrespected that is unfortunate but they remain the teachings of the Church. 
RG: Without the grace of God that comes through popes and bishops even Christian tradition is going to succumb to these psychological forces.
LB: I suggest some careful thinking about your train of thought. There is a pattern I have observed among those who used to be socially powerful but have lost that power. They tend to think that they had and still have enough of the right answers, and everyone is just sort of irrationally rebelling. Their loss of social power is the fault of others; little to no interesting introspection is required of themselves. I am seeing Protestants slip into this mode of thinking/​rationalizing in the US, and I am concerned that the RCC may have engaged in it with respect to its loss of power in Europe.
RG: I am a convert. So I have never had any power through Catholicism.
I don't think that's relevant to my point. The claim is that "the grace of God that comes through popes and bishops" is a necessary condition for preventing "even Christian tradition is going to succumb to these psychological forces". What I am saying is that this could be false. What I think we should do is construct the best models we can for it being true and it being false, and then use those models in a friendly competition, where we attempt to pursue truth, goodness, and excellence in relationship—relationship between humans & God, humans & other humans, humans & themselves, and between humans & themselves.
I think humans have been doing that since Peter became the first Pope. The history of Protestantism is one of the best arguments for the papacy I know. The history of the Church before the Reformation is strong as well. 
I don't think testing God's word is generally a good idea. Try adultery for a few year to see if it brings happiness? No. It is sin. Don't do it. Yet many have done the experiment so you could learn from them. So Yes. Look at the complete failure of Protestantism but don't add your own sins to that pile.
I was raised Reformed. I did get a sense growing up that people were rebelling against something. Yet what was it? Generic Christianity but what was that? The churches were moving as well as society. So I didn't think we had right answers. I would never say Catholics don't need to do any introspection. I think they church has many faults but it is a vehicle for grace. Anything negative you say about the church I will likely agree with. Still it is not a reason to leave her because she is the Body of Christ.
I definitely agree that the RCC is a vehicle for grace. Anyone who thinks you need to be particularly holy or righteous or just in order to be a vehicle of God's grace needs to read Hebrews 11.
I found this difficult as a Protestant. I realised that if the RCC was wrong it was not wrong just a little. The Papacy, the Eucharist, the Priesthood, Mary, etc. If these are errors they are not small errors. They make the Church a massive abomination. It becomes a liar, lunatic, Lord type of argument. A church that makes such audacious claims cannot be a nice vehicle of grace. It is either right, or deeply confused or downright evil. Can the history of the Church be squared with deeply confused or downright evil. The Church that fought all those heresies and produced all those saints? The church that defined the canon of scripture?
But I still must push back against what I see as the infantilization of the majority of people. Push the "until" of Ephesians 4 to the eschaton and you infantilize. Exercise coercive power and you infantilize. Treat some vocations as more valued by God than others and you infantilize. What is the problem our world faces today? Too many adults are children. See CT's When Are We Going to Grow Up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity (pdf), or the NYT's The Death of Adulthood in American Culture. The populism we see today is a result of the immature finally realizing that those in power (who are often more mature in the sense required for at least quasi-stable governing) aren't being good parents. Maybe God never designed reality for such sustained parent-child relational dynamics; maybe God designed it to break down if the children aren't being helped mature in a reasonable time frame.
I don't see this at all. We see ourselves as Children of God. This means we look to father figures in out priests and look to mother figures in the church herself and in St Mary. Yet the family is there to help us grow up. It is not there to keep us infants. 
Coercive power? I experienced much more pressure to conform to the good as a Protestant. I would never have called that coercive although it likely meets the technical definition. As a Catholic there is more of a sense of proposing truth rather than imposing truth. I would prefer stronger leadership. So your continued use of the word "coercive" seems quite strange. I am not aware of anyone else describing the Church that way. 
LB: Recall who is routinely criticized in the Bible: religious leaders in power. This should be a sobering fact. Sadly, I cannot ever recall being taught that religious leaders in power today could possibly fall into the same patterns. It is as if there is a belief that ever since Jesus died, the religious power elite could not be arbitrarily corrupted.
RG: Catholicism does not say religious leaders are perfect. They are called to do better than the pharisees but do have temptations. Still Jesus does not respond by saying His Church will have no leaders. He responds by saying His leaders will be different. So we will still have leaders. Starting with Peter and the Apostles and continuing to the present day.
But God and Jesus didn't criticize religious leaders for failing to be perfect. He criticized them (and Israel as a whole) for stuff like this:
“Thus says the Lord GOD: This is Jerusalem. I have set her in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. And she has rebelled against my rules by doing wickedness more than the nations, and against my statutes more than the countries all around her; for they have rejected my rules and have not walked in my statutes. Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Because you are more turbulent than the nations that are all around you, and have not walked in my statutes or obeyed my rules, and have not even acted according to the rules of the nations that are all around you, therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, even I, am against you. And I will execute judgments in your midst in the sight of the nations. (Ezekiel 5:5–8)
You note that there have been some terrible popes in the past. Can you tell me whether all the reasoning you have deployed on this page applies even during the tenure of such popes? Should they and the RCC be trusted just as much then, as you want it to be trusted now?
The covenants do get stronger as they go on. This covenant is to be the final covenant so  the talk of Israel being replaced with a better Temple or a better Passover or a better Priesthood would be fulfilled in the Church. 

Yet moral problems do persist. Yes, there have been times when moral problems in the church were severe and perhaps even greater than those in some other religions. We are called to recognise what graces God has given the Church and what He has not. If we had a truly bad pope or a truly bad bishop then we would need to be extra cautious. Think of Matthew 23:1-3:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.
We would be in exactly the situation Jesus describes. He goes on to detail at length many of the things the Pharisees were doing wrong. Yet He still commands His followers to obey. Yes, we would pray for a time when virtue and authority would come together. Yet one thing we could never do was start another church. There is one Church started by Jesus and we are commanded to keep it united. We are never commanded to make sure we get all the doctrinal questions right. We are to stay together as one body and let the Holy Spirit guide us into all truth. Trust Him to do what Jesus promised he would in John 14:26.