Monthly Archives: September 2011

Renewed Denial of the Roman Catholic Church, part 1: The Temptation to Become Catholic Again

Back in June, I confessed in a conversation on Facebook that much of Protestantism annoyed me.  Longtime readers will know that I believe in consistency — hermeneutics should be consistent, interpretations of passages should incorporate what has gone before, and your bar of acceptable proof should be even across all areas of your life.

Protestantism just isn’t consistent.  Protestants throw out whole swaths of Christian tradition and invent new things.  They claim they follow the Bible closer than Catholics, but do they?

No, as it turns out.  Most Protestants tell you that faith alone saves you.  Yet the Bible, held to be the word of God, forcefully argues that this isn’t the case.  The sentence “You see that a person is saved by works and not by faith aloneactually appears in the Bible (Jms 2:24)!

Another example is that most Protestants reject Catholic Tradition on the grounds that it developed later than apostolic times.  Interesting.  So, Marian dogmas originated in the mid to late second century, while the papacy developed over a few hundred years to solidify in the sixth century, and clerical vestments were developed in the tenth century.  All of those are rejected for the alleged late development.

Now, if Protestants were consistent, then there a few of our own cherished doctrines that should go.  Some came over 800 years later than the latest dogma of the Church rejected as a “late development.”  The 6,000 year old earth concept was developed in the sixteenth century.  The Rapture wasn’t mentioned until around 1850 in any literature that I’ve ever seen.  Altar calls are from the late 1800s, too.

The early Reformers came up with the idea of the seven Catholic Sacraments as symbolic of Christ rather than literal dispensers of grace over and against Tradition.  The Eucharist was no longer a true sacrifice in the sense of being the literal body and blood of Christ and one with the first sacrifice on Calvary, but now becomes a symbol of the death of Christ (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, p1365-1367; cf. the Westminster Confession XXIX.2).  Again, this is over and against not only Tradition, but the Bible (see 1 Cor 11:23-32).

The universal church was founded by Jesus Christ, not by Martin Luther or John Calvin.  So it is wholly inconsistent to throw out vast quantities of Sacred Tradition just because you feel like it, or because you lack the historical understanding of the evolution of the Christian faith.  The teaching functions of the Church have been eliminated or minimized in Protestantism–to its detriment, I believe.  What we end up with a range of possibilities, from no central teaching arm to a carbon copy (but less effective) of the Catholic hierarchy.

My own Grace Brethren denomination has no higher authority other than the individual pastors of individual churches.  Presbyterian have a constitution that can change through a majority vote from the individual presbyteries; but members must abide by the Westminster Confession of Faith, which cannot change.  The Anglican/Episcopal church has monarchical bishops, but no central Pope figure (though the Archbishop of Canterbury has certain “primacy” over the larger church, but not nearly what the Pope has over the Catholic Church).

The lack of a centralized teaching authority in Protestantism sorely tempted me to rejoin the Catholic Church.  In the next post, I want to discuss high church.  It is both biblical and necessary for the body of believers to remain in union with one another.  But that alone cannot bring me to be Catholic, as it turns out, and we will see why in part 3.

Did God Cause 9/11?

In honor of the victims who lost their lives on September 11, 2001 and the brave heroes who rescued many survivors, I wanted to take on a common objection to the Christian model of God.

Objectors typically point out that God is omnipotent and omniscient according to the Bible, and either of these is grounds to believe that God is behind every evil action, either directly (by omnipotence) or indirectly (by inaction despite knowing the event in advance through omniscience).

Which leads to two questions:

  1. By virtue of his omnipotence, did God cause the terrorist attacks of 9/11?
  2. By virtue of his omniscience, does not halting the attacks make God as guilty as the planners?

No and no.  Let’s find out why.

The first is fairly easy to dispense with.  The capacity to do something isn’t the same as actually doing it.  I can throw in a load of laundry and do the dishes, but I don’t do either very often.  If the dishes or the laundry are done at my house, I’m not necessarily the cause (even though I’m more than capable of doing a load of laundry).  Odds are, if either of those tasks are done, it was my wife who accomplished both.

So it is with God.  Though God is capable of bringing about terrorist attacks on the scale of 9/11, that doesn’t mean he did.  In fact, as we’re about to discover, it is quite doubtful that he had anything to do with them.

From a Reformed perspective, isn’t God is the ultimate cause of everything?  Not exactly — that’s actually a strawman that Arminans throw at Calvinists.  Properly, God has foreordained that which will come to pass, and most think that Calvinists teach that God’s decree is one dimensional.

In the model that most non-Reformed folks attack, if life were Red Riding Hood, God is David Leslie Johnson.  If life were Spider Man or Mission: Impossible (how cool would that be?), then God is David Koepp.  If life were a 007 movie (best scenario yet!), then God is Neal Purvis.  If life were Inception or Memento, then God is Christopher Nolan.

Get it?  Those guys are screenwriters.  Life, however, is most certainly not a screenplay, and God is not a screenwriter.  The decree of God for this earth is not so one-dimensional that it can be reduced to a pile of 112 white, 8.5 x 11″,  typed in Courier New, 1″-margin pieces of paper.

God’s decree has more flexibility than a shot list and George Lucas-style unrealistic dialogue.

Part of God’s eternal decree is the free will to choose our paths apart from him.  Our liberty is not forfeit, neither is the responsibility we bear for our choices (despite their contingency).  And,  moreover, God is not the author of sin.  Mankind is wicked enough — we don’t need help creating sin!

The Calvinist affirmation: God is sovereign, yet we are responsible.

Which means that the 9/11 terrorists chose, apart from God, their paths.  And those paths are to destruction, as are all paths chosen apart from God.  Unfortunately, their destruction led to the forfeiture of many more lives than just their own.

Freedom to do horrendous evil sometimes, unfortunately, means that we do horrendous evil.

Is God, then, responsible because — knowing 9/11 would happen — he did nothing to halt it?

Nope.  As I’ve argued above, God’s gift of free will means that curse of moral responsibility.  God is not obligated to clean up our messes.

Which actually raises another interesting question.  If God did stop sin, how would we ever know?  We wouldn’t.  So, then, is God the restraint on sin that Paul speaks of in these verses?

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessnessis revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. (2 The 2:3-8)

And there is at least one biblical example of God staying someone from sinning, despite that person having a prime opportunity.  In Genesis 20:1-18, Abraham lied to Abimelech and told him that Sarah was his sister rather than his wife.  So Abimelech, smitten with Sarah, tries to take her as a wife.  I think we all know what that means (wink wink, nudge nudge!).

Yet, Abimelech never had the ceremony, nor consummated the relationship.

When the truth came out, and Abimelech pointed out that he was innocent, duped, and didn’t do Sarah, did God congratulate him for keeping it in his pants?  Uh, nope.  God said, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her” (20:6, emphasis added).

Interesting.  God stopped Abimelech.  There is precedent, both in the apostle Paul’s passage and in this earlier example, of God restraining mankind’s sin so that it isn’t as bad as it could be.

The bottom line is that we notice the ones that God lets by, like 9/11.  But we can’t fathom how many he might hold back, essentially saving us from ourselves.  The ones he stops might be worse than 9/11.

But why let any through?  Two main reasons, I think.

First, perfection of the saints’ faith:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (Jms 1:2-4)

Second, revealing pretenders:

A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.  He who has ears, let him hear. (Mt 13:3-9, explanation at 13:18-23)

A third reason, not in the Bible, is the display of compassion.  Look at what happened post-9/11.  Every country rallied to the U.S.  Everyone sent relief to the victims.  Volunteers to clean the rubble weren’t in short supply.  Blood donations soared.  When President Bush announced the War on Terror, the armed forces suddenly had more recruits than they knew what to do with.  Chain stores were out of American flags.

Patriotism was no longer out of style.

Truly, a person is refined in fire and tribulation.  If you have it too comfortable, then you will never know what you’re truly made of.

So, Augustine summed it up the best when he wrote, “God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist.”  If God has a great reason to let the evil through, then we can hardly hold him responsible for the results since the results are the good things intended for us, and the suffering perfects our faith and our humanity.

Other Posts in the Coordinated Blogging Event:

Case Against the Case for Gay Marriage, part 4

David, an atheist who is dedicated to exposing Christianity for what it is, has begun a new blog that I discovered quite by accident.

Though he deleted the post that this series is replying to, I am still running my series.

David lays out the following argument in favor of gay marriage:

  1. Homosexuality is not unnatural. (answered)
  2. Neither homosexuality nor its acts have been proven inferior to heterosexuality or its acts. (answered)
  3. Marriage is a basic human right. (answered)
  4. Homosexual unions are unfairly not being given full and equal rights as heterosexual unions.
  5. Therefore, homosexual marriages with full and equal rights should be legalized and put into effect.

These get easier and easier to answer.

Premise (4) is a nominal attempt to say that homosexual unions aren’t given full rights through a fallacy of special pleading.

However, that’s not the case for three reasons.  First, we have shown that homosexuality isn’t the typical order of things.

Second, we have demonstrated that heterosexual unions are superior by simple utilitarianism — which is the typical philosophy of right and wrong espoused by supporters of gay marriage (see NotAScientist’s comment for a great example of utilitarianism in action).

Third, marriage rights are regulated for perfectly valid reasons.

Therefore, it is easy to conclude that there is no special pleading going on.  Recall for something to be special pleading, there can be no valid reason for differentiating it from other cases.  In the case of gay marriage, there are big differences between it and heterosexual marriage, which is exactly the reason its forbidden in the first place.

This means (4) is out of gas.  And, it means I’m done without having to address (5) as a conclusion.  David has uber-failed to establish any of his premises as true.  In fact, they are all false.  Therefore, the conclusion is faulty and I will let this series stand, unless David cares to defend himself.

Case Against the Case for Gay Marriage, part 3

David, an atheist who is dedicated to exposing Christianity for what it is, has begun a new blog that I discovered quite by accident.

Though he deleted the post that this series is replying to, I am still running my series.

David lays out the following argument in favor of gay marriage:

  1. Homosexuality is not unnatural. (answered)
  2. Neither homosexuality nor its acts have been proven inferior to heterosexuality or its acts. (answered)
  3. Marriage is a basic human right.
  4. Homosexual unions are unfairly not being given full and equal rights as heterosexual unions.
  5. Therefore, homosexual marriages with full and equal rights should be legalized and put into effect.

Now we tackle premise (3), which is (like its predecessors) demonstrably false. Read the rest of this entry

Case Against the Case for Gay Marriage, part 2

David, an atheist who is dedicated to exposing Christianity for what it is, has begun a new blog that I discovered quite by accident.

Though he deleted the post that this series is replying to, I am still running my series.

David lays out the following argument in favor of gay marriage:

  1. Homosexuality is not unnatural. (answered)
  2. Neither homosexuality nor its acts have been proven inferior to heterosexuality or its acts.
  3. Marriage is a basic human right.
  4. Homosexual unions are unfairly not being given full and equal rights as heterosexual unions.
  5. Therefore, homosexual marriages with full and equal rights should be legalized and put into effect.

Premise (2) pretty much deserves a rhetorical “Are you kidding me?” in reply and nothing more.

David’s incoherent explanation:

According to the American Psychological Association, it has officially been declared that homosexuality is not a choice or a decision. (source)

Which we already acknowledged in the refutation of premise (1).  The issue with premise (1) is that homosexuality was immoral, not that it is “unnatural;” it is certainly found within nature and is likely a part of our human nature.

But that doesn’t make it “good.”

Now, this premise takes it that we haven’t proven it “inferior,” but it never takes the time to define what would constitute the act being inferior. Read the rest of this entry

Case Against the Case for Gay Marriage, part 1

David, an atheist who is dedicated to exposing Christianity for what it is, has begun a new blog that I discovered quite by accident.

It’s actually a funny story, which I’ll tell even though it has nothing to do with the actual argument that I’ll be critiquing from the site.  I was trimming my RSS feed and noticed that, very long ago, John W. Loftus had started a blog called Counter-Apologetics Master Program.  He intended to create a degree program to combat Christian apologetics.  I noticed that it hadn’t been updated in a long time, so I visited the site to see if it was even still active.

Turns out, the blog address had been abandoned by Loftus, but claimed by David.  David started his blog as a counterpoint to Matt Slick’s ministry CARM, even calling his blog by the same acronym.  Probably to get accidental traffic.

So, anyway, I literally wandered into this by total accident.

In a deleted post, David challenges CARM to reply to his argument in favor of gay marriage.  I don’t know if David deleted the post because it’s a terrible argument, or because he’s attempting to refine it.  However, I’m still going to answer it, a piece at a time, in this series.

Even though I’m not affiliated with CARM.

Read the rest of this entry

Some More Changes

I decided that it is more productive to tinker with the layout of the blog than it is to actually blog.

For the sarcastically impaired, that opening sentence was meant to be taken ironically.

However, I think that I have achieved something pretty grand.  I have taken a lot of clutter out of the sidebar and moved it to the footer areas.  So the tinkering wasn’t a total waste of my time.

Although I did write a lengthy diatribe about how boring the powers-that-be want your writing to be at my personal blog.  Ironically, it’s probably boring.

Anyway, I’m probably going to post the first entry in the aforementioned case against gay marriage series shortly.  I would have posted it sooner, but I thought of an obvious objection to it, put it on hold, then didn’t get back to it (even though I had the answer the next day).

Plus, I have some pieces I’m writing for submission.  Some for possible pay, which (of course) would be awesome.  Even more awesome if I could keep a steady income stream through writing.  My ideal, dream job.

Anyway, new piece on gay marriage coming soon.  Stay tuned!