Monday, May 31, 2010

Why Other Christians Get It Wrong

This is continuing on the question of, "How do I know when my church is wrong?" that I started in the last post. You convince yourself that what you believe, based on the bible, is very close to the actual truth about God at least in all important matters. I say "convince yourself" because there are a bunch of hard questions you had to set asside to get here but so be it. But you still have the problem of other Christians. Why do so many arrive at different places than you when they start with the same bible?

I know, as a protestant, I underestimated this problem for a long time. I mostly talked about faith exclusively with reformed Christians. I had very little exposure to the wide range of opinion within Christianity. I have even less exposure to Christians of history. Modern mass media is starting to break this down but certainly when I graduated college 25 years ago I had almost no exposure to non-reformed ways of interpreting scripture.

The easiest answer to why others get it wrong is because they have made basic errors in faith or reason. Either they lack intelligence or they don't pray enough or they don't take the bible seriously or they follow traditions of men and not true Sola Scriptura. Essentially saying the problem is those guys are just not doing Christianity right.

That actually works until you get to know them. Once you interact with Christians who disagree with you then you have to recognize these assumption as not very charitable or you have to move into an even more hateful attitude towards them. Happily, in modern time, most people realize the hateful approach is not where God wants you to go. Unhappily hateful Christians are much more common on the net than they are in real life. Here is one example from a recent post:
I know that Bryan Cross has said that it's unkind to speak about him in the third person, and no doubt the words argumentum ad hominem will escape from his keyboard coming up here.

But for you Reformed folks who are trying to figure him out, what I'm about to say may seem unkind precisely until the moment when one of your children, or one of your church members, or even a Westminster-trained pastor that you may know, becomes enamored with and traipses off to Rome. At that point, then, ask, what is the real unkindness?
At one time this argument was used to justify putting heretics to death. Now it is merely used to justify making personal insults. Jesus said if you call somebody a fool you have already committed murder in your heart.

The trouble is coming to grips with the concept that these people are not fools. They are not evil. They are not biblically ignorant. Yet they have not come to the ideas that I claim are clearly taught in scripture. Somebody is doing something very wrong. It becomes hard to escape that that somebody is me.

There is one more way out of this mess. You can blame it on God. This is the Calvinist idea that they are just not predestined to be saved so that is the problem. I shall write another post about that.

Right When I Am Wrong

How does God correct us when we fall into error? On a personal level we can think of many times when we had our thinking about some aspect of the faith corrected. It might happen through a sermon, through personal devotions, or through a bible study. Often it is the combination of scripture and another Christian. But what about errors in the church? What if some error is shared by your faith community? Could that happen? Now when I was a protestant I really believed the answer was basically No. The people I knew were such impressive Christians. But the fact was that there were other groups of impressive Christians teaching some very different doctrines. So either they were in error or we were in error. Was there a good reason to assume it could not be my church making the mistakes? Beside, I didn't believe my church was infallible so I had to accept it was at least possible there were errors.

Now there are 3 possible answers to this question:
  1. My church might be wrong but it does not matter because it is only about minor matters.
  2. My church is not wrong and other churches do not agree with it because they are defective in some way.
  3. My church is not wrong and other churches do not agree with it because God has not given them the same light He has given us.
The first one is mostly wishful thinking. It is what you tell yourself when you want to ignore the question but it does not stand up to scrutiny. Are all differences about minor matters? What is a minor matter? You could lean on salvation by faith alone and assert that the content of that faith was unimportant. What mattered was your heart. It didn't matter if I believed  in ordination of women or infant baptism as long as I accepted Jesus as my saviour. But what about premarital sex or abortion? Does that not mean liberal Christianity is somehow a valid option? I didn't believe that but what not?

At the end of the day faith had to matter. We needed to reorder our lives around what we believed. Can we really then say we are unsure of the truth of those very principles? I was doing teen ministry. Could I tell a teen that he should embrace chastity and sobriety because that was God's will for his life. That the constant message from the culture that drinking and sex were the best things in life was just a lie. Then could I tell him I was not really sure about those very teachings? That they were minor matters about which Christians disagreed?

So what were the major doctrines? Could we be sure we were right even about those? No. If we were we would be asserting a doctrine of infallibility. We didn't want to go there. But assume we solved this problem. Assume we knew what the major doctrines that defined the faith were and that we were confident we were right about them. I had some pretty strong ideas. I didn't have an objective criteria to get me there but I knew roughly where I should end up. Just assume that place was right and move on.

That leads us to response #2 and #3 which I will address in another post.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Truth and Love

Caritas in Veritae we the title of Pope Benedicts's latest encyclical. It followed in line with a theme John Paul II had been talking about quite frequently. That too often people in the church had been seeing a conflict between teaching the truth of the Catholic faith and showing love for those same people. For example, if they encountered a pregnant woman in a difficult situation that was headed for an abortion they would know the teaching of the church was to tell her that abortion is a mortal sin. But they asked themselves what was the loving thing to say. Often they would water down the teaching of the church and sometimes flatly contradict it to try and say the loving thing.

Benedict says this choice between truth and love is a false choice. That to be loving one must always be truthful. That often means speaking hard truths. The harder they are the more important it is to speak them with love. But we must speak them.

So why don't we? One reason is we don't actually believe it. That is we buy into the secular thinking that this woman really is better off having the abortion. We know that choosing life is what the church would want but we don't fully accept the idea that committing a gravely evil act cannot make her life better. We overrule God and think our advise is better than His. Of course, we tell ourselves it is not God we are disobeying but just the church. But we lack trust. We see a gap between what is revealed to us by faith and what our secular thinking would tell us. We chose to trust ourselves more than we trust God.

Another reason we won't speak the truth is because we want to be liked. We say we are acting out of love for the other person but we are really acting to be loved by that person. It is likely that telling this woman the truth about abortion will cause her to react negatively. It won't always happen but it is one scenario we might expect. We tell ourselves it will do no good to destroy our relationship with this person. But it comes back to being self-centered. We don't trust the person to be able to see the wisdom in God's law. We don't trust God to be able to show it to her. We know how to get the praise of men and we get it. Then we convince ourselves it was all about love.

Pope Benedict rightly points out that Catholics have cut these kinds of corners. What has been the result? We have engaged in social action mostly as well-meaning humans and very rarely as agents of God's grace. If we don't go fully embracing God's truth, especially God's most counter-cultural truths, then we are living in the flesh and not in the spirit.

Psalm 19

I was listening to the Grace To You radio show last night. John MacArthur was talking about the Sufficiency of Scripture. He picked Psalm 19 as the most clear and concise statement in the bible about this. He focused on verses 7-9:
7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.

8 The precepts of the LORD are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.

9 The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever.
The ordinances of the LORD are sure
and altogether righteous.
The amazing thing here is there is no reference to scripture in these verses. We have the law of the Lord, the precepts of the Lord, the statutes of the Lord, the commands of the Lord, etc. So he starts with the assumption that these phrases are talking only about scripture. He even does this when his stated goal is to prove the sufficiency of scripture.

This is how deeply embedded assumptions about Sola Scriptura are. A bright guy like MacArthur cannot even address them when he tries. He sets himself the task of proving scripture is sufficient and proves only the Word of God is sufficient. He can't even address the possibility that the Word of God might be bigger than just scripture. So much so that he declares a text that does not mention scripture at all to be the clearest, most concise statement of a principle about scripture.

The amazing part is that I know nobody is going to see the hole on his logic. I do because I have been thinking about such questions for a long time now. But 10 years ago I would have found his argument very convincing. I would never have noticed his huge question beg. That is because I shared the same reformed tradition. I had the same embedded assumptions. So I would have listened and has my ideas reinforced just like most of his listeners did. I would have said that my intelligence and John MacArthur's intelligence would allow me to be sure no error was made.

Starting Again

I have been blogging for a while but my blog was dropped by my previous blog host. I changed the title. I used to be called Purify Your Bride. That was a reference to the church as the bride of Christ. The phrase was used in a song that I learned as an evangelical Christian. It resonated with me as I became Catholic. The question of what was the church and what did it look like was central to my conversion. I was meditating on that phrase quite a bit when I needed to pick a name over on the old Catholic Exchange forum. So I picked that name and kept is when I created a blog. But that phrase does not resonate with me as much anymore. I now believe the church is pure in the most important ways. It has been preserved from impurity and does not need to be fixed. So the name does not really fit anymore.