Friday, February 14, 2014

If Catholics Called Things By Protestant Names (Part 1)

One of the biggest challenges when attempting to explain Catholic doctrine is the language barrier. In other words, many of the terms that Catholics use to describe their beliefs seem down right strange and unbiblical to some. And although there any number of doctrines that Protestants accept that are not explicitly named in the Bible (i.e. the Trinity and the Incarnation), many would argue that these are at least easily inferred by reading the New Testament. Yet whether or not there is a double standard here, the perception is there regardless. Thus, what I am endeavoring to do in this particular post is to "walk back" some of the theological language in an attempt to give it a more Biblical sounding phraseology. I should mention however that Biblical language itself arises out of an encounter with Jesus Christ, and therefore should not be confused with some sort of divine glossary. Scripture is an encounter with Christ, not a catechism. Consequently, what I am seeking to do here is precisely what the early Church did long ago, which is to take the experience of the followers of Christ and give it a vocabulary that is deeply rooted in the totality of Biblical tradition. Incidentally, I should mention that for some of the examples provided below, there is more than one alternative.

1. The Immaculate Conception-----------> Mary's Immaculate Redemption (Example A)

What often scares off Protestants about this particular doctrine is the impression that they believe it gives (viz. that Mary was in no need of a Savior, and that her glory arises out of her own goodness). However, with the phraseology provided above, my is hope is that I can dispel some of these misconceptions. First of all, it is essential to understand that at the back of all Marian dogma is the work of Jesus Christ. Hence, what we say about her salvation is really just an extension of what we say about our own. To put it another way, just as we believe that one day we too will be completely "immaculate" and without sin, so also the Blessed Virgin Mary. The primary difference between the two is that Mary received this benefit from the first moment of her existence, whereas we will receive it much later on. Mary was the first in line to be "saved", because, quite literally, she was the first in line to receive him. Therefore, let us not begrudge the mother of our Lord this singular grace, because had she not received it, then neither would we.

----------------------------> The Predestination of Mary (Example B)

If you tend towards a more Calvinistic reading of Scripture, then this formulation may be even more pleasing to you. What action on the part of our Sovereign Lord could better epitomize his ability to accomplish all things than choosing a woman from all of eternity, forestalling her from the stain of original sin, and then perfectly/immaculately redeeming her on account of her Divine Son. Is this not more emblematic of God's power than simply maintaining our universal rottenness, with an admittedly shiny veneer? Yet if God can forestall the effects of sin in one case, then why not in any case? How is it more powerful to impute snow to a dung heap, than it is to take that which should be a dung heap and immediately transform it into something that is without spot, wrinkle, or blemish (Ephesians 5:27)? If God is really all-powerful, and his grace is in fact "irresistible", then would it not seem more than a little disappointing to express that power and omnipotence by simply creating the appearance of goodness in us? What would be far more impressive is to reverse the effects of sin altogether (Benjamin Button style), restore our lost innocence, and make us entirely new creatures. And so who in God's creation could possibly be a better candidate for this "immaculate makeover" than she who- from the first moment of her conception- was capable of bearing God's image?

2. The Assumption of Mary------------------------> The Rapture of Mary

The term "rapture" does not appear anywhere in Scripture, but rather was a concept that was developed much later on (just to re-enforce an earlier point about how such terminology comes about). That said, in recent decades this idea has received renewed interest, especially on account of the popular "Left Behind" series. In Latin the word simply means to be "carried away", or "taken up", but in some Protestant circles it has practically become the lens through which the present age is to be interpreted. The premise of this end time theology goes something like this: if you wish to be "taken up into heaven" and thus avoid the coming "tribulations" (i.e. when everything hits the fan), you must believe in Jesus Christ coupled with this doctrine, lest you risk being "left behind". As it corresponds to the doctrine of Mary's Assumption, I am not precisely sure where the objection lies. What the dogma essentially states is that at the end of Mary's life she was taken up body and soul into heaven, or to put in more evangelical Christian terms, Mary was "raptured". In the Old Testament already we hear of this phenomena happening in the case of Enoch and Ezekiel. Does it make more sense that these Biblical figures would be assumed/raptured into heaven, but not the woman who was the only one in history to share the same DNA as God? Understandably, the objector will point out; "Well, Scripture describes this event in the case of Enoch and Elijah, but not in the case of Mary." But this is not entirely the case. In the book of Revelation, John (who lived with Mary until the end of her earthly life) sees a woman (bodily) in heaven that fits the description of the Virgin Mary (Revelation 12:1). This woman may be regarded in other ways, but it is undeniable that she first and foremost fits the description of the mother of Jesus Christ. Even the accompanying symbolism in this passage, and those prior, seem only to re-enforce our prior suspicion about this Lady (i.e. Mary is the New Ark of God). All this to say, what was being done in days of old is apparently being done in "days of new". For according to Scripture, the remarkable grace that was afforded Elijah, Enoch, and now Mary, will eventually be granted to all of the faithful- not by their own power of course- but by the power of our Lord who will eventually "assume" all of the faithful into heaven. So let us call it the Rapture of Mary if it pleases, but do not say that it is unfitting that the mother of our Lord should be the first after Christ (though apparently she wasn't) to be "caught up into the clouds to meet the Lord in the air." 1 Thessalonians 4:17

3. Priestly Celibacy --------------------------> Pauline Virginity (Example A)

One of the major misgivings that Protestants have concerning ministry in the Catholic Church is the fact that priests, with a few notable exceptions, are not permitted to marry. And while this is not a complaint merely consigned to Protestants (for many Catholics feel the same), it does seem to be a sticking point for some when it comes to being able to relate to the Church's ecclesial way of life. I have heard on any number of occasions my Protestant brothers and sisters complaining; "… but then how can they possibly relate to the needs of their congregation" or "without being married, how can they help counsel married couples?" I do not deny that these are valid concerns, and while I would like to address each of them, one by one, I must restrain myself and not go off on a tangent about doctors not needing to have cancer in order to treat patients with it, or jurists not needing to be guilty of crimes in order to judge them properly (in fact, I think the reverse is often preferable). And I certainly must avoid speaking at length about how not every priest or Protestant minister needs to be a professional counselor in order to give good counsel to married couples. No one's experience is precisely the same, so if that is the measuring stick of usefulness, then no one is useful. Are priests sometimes too detached from family life, yes. Are biological fathers sometimes too detached from family life? Do I really need to answer that? Anyhow, what we are discussing here most importantly is whether or not there is sufficient Biblical evidence to uphold this radical teaching of the Church. I suppose I could appreciate this complaint more if not for the fact that St. Paul, the one to whom Protestants look the most (other than Jesus Christ), were not himself a celibate. While of course never disparaging marriage, St. Paul did quite openly express his desire that the Corinthians might live in the same unmarried state as he (1 Corinthians 7:7). Imagine if a Protestant or Catholic pastor today said something like that to his congregation. "I understand that for some of you it is best to be in the married state, but oh how I wish that all of you would prepare yourself for the coming of the kingdom by living as if you were brother and sister..."

---------------------------------> Kingdom Celibacy (Example B)

But even if St. Paul had taken a wife, there would still be one passage from the Gospel of Matthew that would be utterly unavoidable in this regard; "For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and those who are made so by others, and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept it should accept it" (Matthew 19:12). Apparently accepting a teaching such as this was not only difficult in our time, but in Jesus' as well. Notice the final example that Jesus provides. This "eunuch" is not merely one because of some unfortunate accident, but rather because he has chosen it freely as a means to give greater glory to God. Such a lifestyle choice would seem- in a most radical way- to mirror that of our Lord's, who himself was a "eunuch" for the kingdom. Where in Protestant theology is there room for such a laudable sacrifice? In the Old Testament there are various instances of individuals avoiding sexual activity as a sign of purity and devotion to God, but one specifically that stands above the rest. In the book of the prophet Jeremiah, God tells Jeremiah "not to take a wife". Historically, this drastic measure was related to the fall of Jerusalem, but meta-historically this prophetic sign points to a new order of things. As all prophets are in some way suggestive of the person of Jesus Christ, so also Jeremiah. And while Jeremiah is not the Savior, his behavior is meant to point to Jesus. Hence, the follower of Christ is not only called to deliver the same message as Christ, but to conform his life, inasmuch as he is called, to that very same lifestyle. And so how does Scripture describe that kingdom lifestyle? According to Jesus himself, it is a lifestyle which invites its inhabitants (at least in the above context), to "be like the angels in heaven... who are neither married nor given in marriage" (Mark 12:25). One may find this teaching "difficult" to countenance (as Jesus himself was quick to admit), but what we cannot say is that it is an invention of the Catholic Church.

4. Confession -----------------------------> The Sacrament of the Altar Call (Example A)

Ironically, the term "altar call" which, again, is not expressly in Scripture, is in some ways better suited to a Catholic milieu. After all, Catholics really do have altars, and they really do see those altars as places eminently suited for sacrifice. In any case, what unites the various versions of the "altar call", is the fact that, in whatever church they take place, they generally tend to involve three things; a) the admission of sins; b) a commitment (or re-commitment) to the vows of Baptism; and c) the desire for some semblance of peace and reconciliation with God. The fundamental difference between the Protestant version of "confession" and the Catholic one (at least outwardly), is that Protestants are actually quite old school about how they carry out the ritual. For instance, in the early Church if one needed a "come to Jesus" moment they too expressed it in front of the whole congregation. Thus, the individual today who goes up to the front of the congregation, confesses their worst, and then is mowed down by a touch of the hand and a dose of the Holy Spirit, is not all that different from those who did so in the early centuries. Yet in spite of every good intention, the Church recognized the danger and abuse that can occur when one so openly exposes their guilt (let us please avoid the Church of Oprah, thank you). Subsequently, the Church thought it eminently advisable to make such "re-commitment ceremonies" much quieter so as to bypass all of the potential for public theatrics. Indeed, making the "altar call" private was not only helpful in terms of avoiding blatant hypocrisy, but also in terms of inviting a more frequent opportunity for a personal "come to Jesus", irrespective of whether or not the preacher called for it on that particular night.

-----------------------------------> Baptismal Renewal (Example B)

One of the most common concerns that Protestants express when it comes to the idea of going to Confession is the scandal of having to confess one's sins and failings to another man. Interestingly, most do not object to speaking about private (or embarrassing) matters when it comes to a trained physician, or psychiatrist, but are nevertheless outraged to have to so when it comes to God's trained physicians. Perhaps we ourselves lack the necessary fear and concern about our spiritual lives that we apparently possess when it comes to our physical bodies. At any rate, to be fair what it may come down to (I think) is not so much faith in the physical capability of a doctor to heal, but a lack of faith in a human authority to forgive sins (only God can forgive sins). And the truth is, if we really don't have to humiliate ourselves in the process, then why do so at all? Yet whether or not we accept the Sacrament of Confession per se, all Christians do accept the idea that God's forgiveness, at least in Baptism, cannot take place ordinarily without the aid and mediation of another human being. In other words, yes, other human beings can (and do) communicate the Lord's forgiveness to us in the Sacrament of Baptism. If you are a mainline Protestant and you believe that the sacrament of Baptism has effect, then you too believe that another human is capable of "absolving" you and "reconciling" you to God. Even if you do only believe that Baptism is a symbol without effect, you still had to have had someone communicate the idea to you in order to accept Him it into your heart. Is it biblical to say we need other human beings in order to be reconciled to God? Well, according to St. Paul it is; "All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself in Christ, and who gave us this ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). Strangely enough (or not so strangely) "reconciliation" is one of the titles that the Church gives the Sacrament of Confession. All the Church is really saying here is that after you receive that initial "absolution" in Baptism- then that same Baptismal grace can be restored to you, especially if you, like the Prodigal Son, completely fall away from the Faith. If there is a ceremony for the forgiveness of sins in the first case, then is it really so unreasonable that there should be a ceremony for those who need to turn again to the Lord? What is the point of Christ telling the apostles that they can forgive sins (or not) if their part in the "ministry of reconciliation" is purely symbolic? And if a man can administer the forgiveness of sins in one case (Baptism), then why is it so ridiculous to suggest that he could do it in another?

5. The Communion of Saints ------------> The Fellowship of the Saved (Across Time)

The word saint should not be regarded as a dirty word. To the contrary, to be holy and pure (which is what the words means) is the very criterion for entering heaven (Revelation 21:27). But for various reasons, some of which are primarily historical, some Protestants tend to shy away from words like; "communion" and "saints". Nevertheless, both of these terms are undeniably Biblical. I think the fundamental reason for this discomfort has a lot to do with how these terms are generally employed. If a Southern Baptist hears the words "saint so and so", they will in all likelihood associate it with what they would regard as idolatry, and if they hear the word "communion", the first thing that may come to mind is the "hocus pocus" of the Mass. By contrast, if we substitute a word like "fellowship" for "communion", and "saved for "saints" we may be able to allay some fears about our motives here. And that's all well and good (you may say), but the deeper difficulty lies well beyond the language barrier. What is really at issue is the Catholic belief that this "fellowship" may, and in fact does, extend beyond well beyond the confines of this life. The fear is that if you begin to impute a certain power and attention to anyone other than the "sole Mediator between God and man" (1 Timothy 2:5) you will somehow take the focus away from God. And I do not disagree that this could be a real problem. However, just because something could go wrong doesn't mean that the idea itself should be effectively abolished. If that were the criterion, humanity should have been annihilated long ago. The primary problem with declaring that everything in heaven (besides God) is essentially passive is that it is decidedly unbiblical. Indeed, every time we do get a glimpse of heaven in Scripture, the creatures that dwell there are anything but a bunch of tame puppets. The truth is Scripture give us more of an insight into the unusual activity of God's heavenly creatures than it does of God Himself.

6. Intercession ----------------------------> Angelic Intercession (Example A)

Another doctrine that tends to make Protestants a little queazy is the doctrine of intercession/intercessory prayer. Once again, Jesus Christ is the sole Mediator between God and man, so why complicate matters by throwing in other figures? The problem with this mentality, however understandable it may be, is that it rooted in a false understanding of authority. Yes God is the ultimate Authority over everything, but in his generosity he permits his creatures to share/participate in that very same authority (lower case) all while preserving his own. Why? Because God is not an autocrat, he is rather a Communion. A prime example of God "sharing" this intercessory power can be seen in the activity of the angels. In the Old Testament we encounter what are referred to as the armies of God (called hosts). No, these are certainly not those gluttonous little chubby cherubs that you see on Greeting cards. To the contrary, they are front line warrior who battle against powers and principalities. We are also fortunate enough to hear tell in the the Old Testament (and New) of the Archangels; Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. These angels are sent on a variety of errands, which involve, but are not limited to, delivering apocalyptic messages from God Himself to God's people. Included in all that, are numerous other spirits, too mysterious and unusual to be adequately defined here. In the New Testament we continue to encounter a whole array of angels. For example, we are briefly introduced by Jesus to the creatures known in theological terms as "guardian angels". Their particular assignment is to guard specific human beings. Thus, each individual has their own personal body guard assigned to them by God. And while their primary duty is to safeguard those to whom they have been assigned, they do, from what I hear, take personal "requests".

----------------------------> Our Guardian Ancestors (Example B)

All of the Synoptic Gospels recount Jesus on the mount of Transfiguration engaging in a conversation with both Moses and Elijah. But just because Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, does not mean that he is through with them. We are not like Kleenex in God's eyes. Sure, God could raise up a patriarch from the very stones in the street, but for whatever reason, he never chose to do things that way. Even in the New Testament, it is clear that the disciples and the early Christians were naturally inclined to revere the patriarchs and prophets of old, even if they recognized Christ as the Savior. To ignore these great titans of the faith (as with the saints in general) would be a form of breaking the 4th Commandment. Indeed, just as we would not have life without our physical parents, so also we would know nothing about salvation without the help of the Patriarchs, Matriarchs, and the prophets of old. And whether or not you accept that they can in fact intercede for us now, it is undeniable that they already have done so in a most profound way. For how else would we know about the Faith without them? Yet for those who are still holdouts on this issue, let me suggest the possibility that many Protestants already implicitly accept the idea of intercession, albeit in a rudimentary fashion. For example, how many times have you heard a Protestant (or anyone for that matter) refer to a deceased loved one as some sort of angel in heaven "watching over them", or a blessed spirit "smiling down"; or even, dare I say it, a saintly figure who invites "a little bit of heaven" into your home. I suppose anyone can accept the idea of a saint in heaven interceding for them, so long as the saint happens to be biologically related to them. Well, good news, in Baptism our relationship shares an even deeper familial bond!

------------------------------> The Offering of the Elders (Example C)

In the book of Revelation, we hear of all sorts of unusual creatures performing any manner of inscrutable tasks; from opening divine scrolls, to hurling down dragons to the earth. And yes, we  also hear about the activities of saints and the elders bringing the prayers [of the people of God] to the mighty throne of God; "…the four living creatures, and the twenty four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one was holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God's people" (Revelation 5:8). If this is not a form of intercession, I am not quite sure what would be. The point is if Heaven is anything like the Bible describes, then standing around watching God do everything will be the last thing it will entail. Even when God does speak in Scripture it is usually through another. In fact, God the Father only speaks three times in the Gospels, and two of those times include the admonition; "listen to my Son!" And what does the Son say and do (who is also God, incidentally)? He gathers a group of apostles and tells them to go out and imitate him; "As the Father has sent me so I send you... those who listen to you listen to me" (Luke 10:16). The only clear example that Scripture provides of creatures worshipping "day and night" appears in book of Isaiah and Revelation. In Isaiah, the prophet has a vision involving the seraphic angels who worship ceaselessly before the throne of God. Yet in spite of all this truly awe-inspiring worship, that is not the only thing they do. Apparently they are also charged with being guardians of the throne of God. Why does God need a fiery six-winged seraph at his throne in order to guard it? I don't know, ask Him. Of course it is true that everything done in a Godly manner is (or at least should be) a form of divine worship, but the picture that we get here suggests that even in the next life it will involve far more than passively prostrating ourselves. The truth is many Protestants already implicitly acknowledge the point that I am trying to make here (even if it all sounds very Catholic), for they themselves will recite guardian angel prayers without a second thought about it, they themselves will at times declare that a deceased loved one is watching over them, and they themselves have no problem admitting that in certain circumstances they feel the loving presence of one who is no longer accounted a member of the human race. All this to say that if God doesn't mind sharing his mission and power with us (as is so clearly demonstrated in Scripture), then why are we bending over backwards to prove that God flies solo? Could he? Yes. Does Scripture suggest that he does? Generally speaking, no.                                  



  1. Very nice. Always looking for ways to relate and you do so very well.

  2. Loved reading this, thank you. You've given a whole new line of reasoning I can use the next time I'm faced with a flabbergasted Protestant!

  3. Why do we need to rename these things?
    Is this in the context of ecumenism, compromise, accommodation, watering down the faith, or Protestantization of Catholicism. It has all been tried before, just leave things the way Tradition has handed them down to us. If others want to join in, that's evangelization, but why take away from those already in the pews and give to those who are not; that is not evangelization. I think Jesus said something about this . . . casting pearls . . . This is just clever pride misunderstood as creative thinking (is that the same as blogging?)

  4. You write with charity and truly know how to evangelize. If these clear and concise paragraphs do not convince people of their errors its might not be the words that are not clear to them but perhaps their intentions. God did say "for many are invited but only few are chosen"(Matthew 22:14). I was a late bloomer getting back to the faith but because of people like you who believe in the sinner (like our Lord did) everyone has a chance to be saved in this world from chaos and confusion fueled by the Luther's of the world. Thank you again for approaching these topics with love and understanding instead of bitterness.

  5. Thank you Nick. I think you truly appreciate where I was coming from when I wrote this. Sadly, I am not sure the Deacon read this at all. There is no suggestion here that the Church should re-name anything, rather I am pointing out that the doctrines themselves are neither anti-Biblical nor anti-Protestant, which is why I gave them a Protestant twist. In what sense is this pride or false ecumenism Deacon?

  6. Catholics know that the bestselling "Left Behind" books and movies have grossly perverted Catholicism's biblical "rapture" doctrine - the only "rapture" view before 1830.
    The 2000-year-old Catholic "rapture" (the "caught up" in I Thess. 4:17) occurs AFTER the final "tribulation" (post-tribulation) while the 185-year-old evangelical Protestant "rapture" supposedly occurs BEFORE it (pre-tribulation) and is said to be "imminent."
    All Catholics should read journalist Dave MacPherson's "The Rapture Plot" (available by calling 800.643.4645) - the most accurate documentation on the history of the pretrib rapture which began in British cultic circles in 1830. By twisting Scripture, this new doctrine gave folks the (false) hope of being evacuated from earth before the chaos found in the book of Revelation.
    "The Rapture Plot" reveals, for the first time, how a Plymouth Brethren historian, after John Darby's death, secretly and dishonestly changed the earliest "rapture" writings of the Irvingites (the first group publicly teaching a pretrib rapture) so that he could wrongfully credit P.B. leader Darby with "dispensationalism" as well as with that rapture view! (Some still view Darby as the "father of dispensationalism" even though MacPherson's book amply proves that Darby wasn't first or original with any crucial aspect of that system but subtly plagiarized others!)
    The leading pretrib rapture merchandisers (Scofield, Lindsey, LaHaye etc.) are openly anti-Catholic and believe that the Antichrist during the coming tribulation will be headquartered in Rome (and you can guess where!).
    For more shocks Google "Catholics Did NOT Invent the Rapture," "The Real Manuel Lacunza," "Pseudo-Ephraem Taught Pretrib - NOT!," "John Darby Did NOT Invent the Rapture," "Margaret Macdonald's Rapture Chart" (she originated the pretrib rapture!), "Edward Irving is Unnerving," "Famous Rapture Watchers," "Evangelicals Use Occult Deception," "Pretrib Hypocrisy," and "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty."

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