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. 

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