Images, Statues, Idol Worship and the Reformation

Sometimes the best way to strengthen one’s beliefs and convictions is to see if they hold up to scrutiny by others. It is also in the practice of defending one’s beliefs in a sensible, reasoned manner that they are in turn strengthened and further resolved. Unfortunately, when it comes to dialoguing by way of social media (Facebook in particular, I am not too keen on conversations restricted to catchphrases  or pictures, as is the case with other platforms), oftentimes I find myself left hanging after taking the time to start a meaningful, relevant or challenging discussion.

One of my staunchly Calvinist acquaintances posted a link to a satirical piece entitled The Case for Idolatry: Why Evangelicals Can Worship Idols. The point of the work is that since Jesus did not speak out openly against idol worship, evangelicals should be free to do just so.  I suppose the teaching behind the write-up is that Jesus also didn’t speak openly against homosexual lifestyles or a range of other vices, and therefore Christians should feel free to indulge. Point taken.

My friend went on to post the following addendum to this post:

Excellent. The central reason for the reformation was a reaction against overlooked and often encouraged idolatry. As we reach out to brothers who live in error, we do well to remember this greatest error.

My response:

How was idol worship “the central reason for the reformation”? Are you claiming that Roman Catholics are idol worshippers?

His response:

That they encourage idol worship, yes. Are all individual Catholics idol worshippers, no. At the time of the reformation idols were everywhere, images in churches were bowed down to. Relics were bought and sold, and the host was worshipped as the actual body and blood of Jesus.

My response:

It’s funny you speak in past tense. The Roman Catholic Church along with many high church Protestant traditions still have images, statues, relics, etc. But idolatry has always been condemned by the Church.

The Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566)
says: “by worshiping idols and images as God, or believing that they possess any divinity or virtue entitling them to our worship, by praying to, or reposing confidence in them” (374).

Also, the latest Catechism states: “Idolatry is a perversion of man’s innate religious sense. An idolater is someone who ‘transfers his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God’” (CCC 2114).

Bowing down to images or statues does not necessarily and should not constitute “idol worship” or worship at all (unless it is worship of God alone in His heavenly glory), but rather veneration or honour and respect of what the image represents. It is also Biblical. While God forbade the Hebrews to worship false idols, he also commanded them to create many religious images for the purpose of Temple worship.

Simony, or the buying and selling of relics, is also strictly forbidden by the Church. Pointing to abuses during the era of the Reformation by greedy churchmen does not define the teachings of the Church. I would challenge you to find a credible source where this is taught, or where idolatry is encouraged.

Veneration of relics along with the Saints has been part of Christianity from the very beginning, in the Scriptural accounts such as Acts 19:11-12, as well as second century written accounts of martyrs such as Bishop Polycarp, a disciple of John the Apostle, who was burned at the stake and his bones carefully preserved for veneration (more info on relics

The host is also worshiped because of the doctrine of the Real Presence, which has great support in the writings of the Fathers and strong Scriptural support with passages such as the bread of life discourse in John 6 or 1 Cor. 11:23-27 . It is one of the great mysteries of faith. Even Lutherans believe in the Real Presence, although in terms of a Sacramental Union rather than a full on transubstantiation. It follows that the Church’s views on this doctrine developed as many other doctrines developed and were later defined, including the nature of Christ’s divinity and the doctrine of the Trinity.

I don’t say all these things for sake of argument, but honest discussion. It is not helpful to one’s faith to write off other traditions without fully understanding what they purport to believe. Yes, abuses in practice occur, but they do in every faith tradition, and its not fair to caricature the beliefs of others.

His response:

Just a quick response, which I will divide into three; and I want to be careful to say that my argument was a historical argument, with the realization that not all catholic brothers are drawn away from God by idolatry of the saints. 1. I am not against high liturgy or against high church. I am not against, in fact I am for, beautiful churches, with images used for decoration. I think Protestants have lost something of this in their worship. Worship is a picture of heaven and we should make it so as much as possible. 2. I am against using an image as a talisman for the worship of God, to help in the worship of God, as if that image has something in itself, which is a defense of images given to me by certain friends of mine who are Catholic or Orthodox. I am incredibly suspicious of and most likely completely against any bowing down to such an image. I am completely against praying in front of any image. The heart may not be idolatrous, but the action is. To separate an action from intention is in itself a type of gnosticism, but in this case a Catholic one. The way many Catholics and Orthodox think of their images is in such a way and if they are intellectually honest, they will warn their people about transferring their love of Christ to the image. They will warn against bowing down or praying in front of images and the host. To not do so is to enslave their people to these images, when they should belong wholly to Christ. It is very clear to me that the Catholic Church at the time of the reformation did countenance these practices, which perhaps was cleaned up to some extent by Trent and the Counter-Reformation. 3. I believe in the real presence, but from Calvin’s understanding, that is, through the Spirit, we eat of the actual body and blood of Christ, but their is nothing in the the bread and wine themselves and therefore outside of communion itself the bread and wine are not to be treated as holy. This does not mean that Catholics and Orthodox are not brothers, any more than the people of idolatrous Israel were not brothers to the people of Judah.

My response:

“I am against using an image as a talisman for the worship of God, to help in the worship of God, as if that image has something in itself, which is a defense of images given to me by certain friends of mine who are Catholic or Orthodox. “

Why should
images not be used to help in worship of God? God commanded the Israelites to construct the Ark of the Covenant, the dwelling place of the Lord, out of gold with golden cherubim. Also, in Num. 21:8–9 we see that images can also be used in ritual. I believe that any understanding Catholic would vehemently oppose any worship or adoration of the image itself and would caution other faithful to do the same. Worship is alone reserved for what the image represents, much like a photo of your mother reminds you of her and draws your heart to thinking of her.

You say that, “To separate an action from intention is in itself a type of Gnosticism, but in this case a Catholic one.” I believe what you are advocating for is Gnosticism, as you are condemning the use of material things to help and assist in lifting our hearts up to the heavenly realities they point us to. God created a world of beauty and symbol, so to use what we have been given to aid in our worship and veneration is to reject Gnosticism, which would advocate for a rejection of the material to help us spiritually, which is what you are suggesting.

You say that the act of bowing or praying in front of an image may be right at heart but wrong in action. But how can you say that bowing or praying in front of an image–or a person for that matter–always constitutes worship of the material thing? In many Asian cultures, bowing is a sign of respect, as would be the case if you were to have the privilege of meeting the Queen. Also, many times people will kneel by their bedside in front of their Bibles to pray, or kneel in front of friend in order to pray for them. Should these actions themselves be condemned because they are somehow worshiping the Queen, praying to the Bible or a friend? Of course not. To think that physical signs of reverence or prayer in front of objects or individuals is directly related to idolatry or prayer to objects is foolish thinking. The action cannot be inherently wrong in and of itself, and the heart defines the meaning of the action in these instances.

You say that you support the adorning of church buildings with beauty. When you see the beauty of stained glass and the truths contained within, is your heart not drawn to worship of God or the inspiration of the Apostles and Saints? What good is aesthetic beauty in a church context if they do not draw you to these things which they represent. And if they do stir your heart, would you not be drawn to kneel, bow, or pray in their presence?

” It is very clear to me that the Catholic Church at the time of the reformation did countenance these practices.” I would ask you to provide one legitimate, official teaching of the Church that promotes idolatry or worship of images if you believe this is true.

To find us some common ground, I do agree that there may be Catholics who have been badly taught or are ignorant to the correct use of images, but clearly the extent to which you take your argument, that the actions themselves are abhorrent despite intent or that the Church somehow promotes idolatry, is baseless.

Again, on the Real Presence, you are following the tradition of a medieval theologian. Please read the quotes from the Church Fathers and you will see that they very much believed that the host should be treated as holy. Christ himself was willing to lose all of his disciples for the sake of the hard teaching of the Real Presence in John 6. Also, Paul in 1 Cor 11:27 clearly states that to unworthily partake of the bread and wine is to sin against the very “body and blood of the Lord.”

His response:

just a couple of quick points again. 1. there are two practical ways to live out gnosticism. One is to be afraid of matter in general. The other is to deny importance to the position of the body. To say that two people may bow their head before an image and say that they are doing two different things is a type of gnosticism, just as much as those who say matter is un-important. 2. When Moses found the people worshiping the calf, which was to be a representation of the God of Israel, they did not try to make a distinction between reverence and worship.”3. We may bow to men, because they are made in the image of God. 4. The very viper that was used in Numbers 21 was later destroyed because men worshiped it. 5. unlike family members, deceased or far away, we do not need pictures of Jesus, because He is always with us through His Spirit. 6. The ultimate image of God is Jesus Himself, and we only may worship God through his flesh. 7. When John fell down before an angel in Rev. 22, the angel, beautiful and something that brought great worshipful feelings into the heart of John, told to get up, because he was to worship God alone. 8. Calvin’s doctrine of the real presence had to be developed, because of the improper use of the sacrament. Yes it is to be viewed as Holy, but only in context of worship, where we are taken into the throne room of God and brought to the supper of the lamb. 9. The great comfort of all this is that whether a church worships in a great cathedral or a humble cottage they do not need anything other than Christ himself to bring them before God. 10. Finally, this does not mean, as some protestants assume, that beautiful church buildings should not be built, for they are physical expressions of our thankfulness to God.

Unfortunately at this point he is not answering the questions I had brought up, namely to cite an official Catholic Church teaching that promotes idolatry or buying and selling of relics. He also still conflates worship and veneration, believing that any bowing to an image is equal to idol worship, not matter the intent (although he says bowing to a human person is OK because humans are created in the image of God, which doesn’t fit into his prior logic).

Sacrament of Confirmation as Found in the Book of Acts

14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Sama’ria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; 16 for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. ~ Acts 8:14-17

ACOC Marriage Commission

The Commission on the Marriage Canon: Anglican Church of Canada

The Anglican Church of Canada is well-known as being, along with our Episcopal Church neighbours to the south, controversial to say the least when it comes to pushing forward a progressive liberal agenda on core doctrines such as marriage. Several dioceses within the Anglican Church of Canada have already for some years allowed the blessing of same-sex unions, but this is separate from being able to conduct a legitimate same-sex “marriage” or wedding ceremony. This change would have to take place at the national level by altering the Marriage Canon, requiring a vote by the bishops and laity.

The General Synod recently voted to entertain a resolution to take a vote on making this change to the Marriage Canon in 2016 that would recognize marriage as the union between two persons, regardless of gender. While I believe strongly that popular opinion or a democratic process of this sort that includes the laity, elected or not, has no place in the Anglican Church’s structure of authority, it is the reality of the situation that (unqualified) people like myself are now able to submit proposals for or against the upcoming motion. The fact that we are even entertaining the idea of altering the Marriage Canon is completely and utterly ridiculous as it outright contradicts the teachings of Scripture and tradition.

As disheartening as the whole process is, nevertheless, I feel an obligation to stand up for what is right and true. I am encouraged by the examples of the Fathers of the Church like St. Athanasius who put everything on the line to preserve truth. And so here I share with you my contribution to the Commission:

Dear Members of the Commission on the Marriage Canon:

As a life-long Christian I have come to find myself in the last several years drawn to the Anglican tradition for several reasons. The most relevant to the Church’s recent discussion on marriage stems from the importance and necessity I find in the traditional Anglican pillars of authority: namely Scripture, tradition and reason. From my viewpoint, it only makes sense that the Anglican Church must retain its connection to these three pillars in order to maintain any authoritative integrity in its doctrines.

The Scriptural case for marriage between one man and one woman, using the plain and perspicuous teachings and examples across the entirety of the Old and New Testaments, couldn’t be clearer and has been well covered by other submissions. To claim that Scripture (or Christ himself, such as in Matthew 19:4-6 or Mark 10:7-9) teaches otherwise is to embark on a journey of disingenuous eisegesis rather than a hermeneutically sound exegesis of the text. That is, one has to ignore the original intended meaning in order to force upon the text a progressive modern bias or understanding of marriage and sexuality completely foreign to the authors’ intent. This form of interpretation provides for no boundaries and will almost certainly lead to heresy.

In addition to the sheer weight of Scripture we must also consider the tradition of the Church since its inception, including within the Anglican tradition (namely the Book of Common Prayer). Nowhere in the history of Christianity, from the Apostles to the Fathers of the Church and onwards until the present day, do we find any support for homosexuality or “marriage” of anyone other than a man and woman, nor do we find any biblical interpretation in tradition that supports such a notion. On the contrary, we find that the tradition, as passed down from the Apostles and preserved in the Church, rejects unlawful marriages. Eusebius of Caesarea, as just one clear example, states:

“[H]aving forbidden all unlawful marriage, and all unseemly practice, and the union of women with women and men with men, he [God] adds: ‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for in all these things the nations were defiled, which I will drive out before you. And the land was polluted, and I have recompensed [their] iniquity upon it, and the land is grieved with them that dwell upon it’ [Lev. 18:24–25]” (Proof of the Gospel 4:10 [A.D. 319])

When weighing the evidence in Scripture and tradition, it becomes clear that to be true to reason is to reject homosexual unions as being part of God’s plan for human sexuality, marriage and the family. By natural law the sexual act between same-sex persons is disordered and cannot lead to the creation of the family or the will of God for humanity to “be fruitful and multiply.” As stated by St. Thomas Aquinas:

“It is evident that, in accord with natural order, the union of the sexes among animals is ordered towards conception. From this it follows that every sexual intercourse that cannot lead to conception is opposed to man’s animal nature.” (Super Epistolam B. Pauli ad Romanos, Cap. 1, Lec. 8)

Also, reason does not support the notion that doctrinal declarations can be decided upon by popular opinion. The Church was never intended to be ruled as a democracy, with God’s eternal will being decided upon—or worse yet, His revelation reneged—by popular vote. It shouldn’t be up to me or any other layperson to decide what is and what isn’t God’s revealed truth. The fact that I have to write this letter to defend one of the most fundamental doctrines of the Church as made clear by Scripture, tradition and reason is disheartening to say the least.

In saying all these things it is important to remember that a Christian should not have to compromise complete and unconditional love for all persons no matter their sexual attractions while upholding the eternal truth of marriage. Some may feel that not affirming same-sex attraction is akin to denying a person the love of God and the reality that they are created in His image. Nothing could be further from the truth! As we are told, “…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

We have all inherited sinful natures and must take up the cross of discipleship (Matthew 16:24). For each of us that path is different, but all of us—whether we hold same-sex attractions or not—are called either to celibacy or marriage. There are good Christian men and women with same-sex attractions who have chosen both of these things and are experiencing the grace and blessing of God. None of us Christians were called to an easy existence where every moral shortcoming—whether innately derived or externally provoked—should be affirmed as being in God’s plan for how we should conduct ourselves. Rather, “[b]lessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).

As a married young man, I have begun to learn the reality of marriage as a sacred covenant of love that shouldn’t be defined merely by sexual attraction. Marriage is ultimately a path to holiness, an opportunity for us to learn the meaning of true love and sacrifice towards our spouse, and God-willing, our children, in the same way Christ displayed for His Church. In the same way, celibacy can also be a path to holiness and a way to dedicate oneself to serving God and others.

I must be honest and say, not as a threat but as an act in accordance with my conscience, that should this change be made to the Marriage Canon I will no longer in good conscience be able to remain faithful to God while at the same time submit to, and place my trust in, the authority of the Anglican Church.

I hope and pray that as you consider all these things you will be led by the Holy Spirit into all truth.

Prayerfully submitted,

Josh Brown

Manila Cathedral Wedding

Divorce and Remarriage

As a Protestant I have come to accept divorce as a byproduct of our broken and sinful world. Many Christians I know have divorced and remarried, and are completely content with their decision to do so with no moral quandary. Of course, I always saw divorce as a negative thing to be avoided and always as a last resort, but never considered remarriage to be a form of adultery or a state of sin.

When I learned of the ancient Catholic teaching against divorce and the prohibition of remarriage based on the teachings of Jesus Christ himself in Matthew 19, I was taken aback and had to rethink many of my assumptions. After coming to understand the strength of the Catholic interpretation of Christ’s command (in the end it does come down to interpretation, and therefore authority) and it’s high view of the covenant of marriage as it was intended to be (“Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate”), I couldn’t deny it’s truth. As with all the Catholic teachings (and those of Christ and the Apostles), their purpose is to point us towards God who accepts nothing less than perfection on our path to Sainthood (Matthew 5:48). Mediocrity, I found, was not an acceptable form of Christian living. Sin, including divorce and remarriage, could not be accepted or “lived in.” And as with any difficult teaching that conflicts with culture and society, the Church is now needing to address a growing pastoral crisis where just about half of American marriages end in divorce. Many see this as an opportunity to provide their solutions.

I recently found article found in Commonweal Magazine entitled “Separated Faithful: How Should the Church Handle Divorce and Remarriage?” advocates for the Roman Catholic Church to alter the way it deals with the divorced and remarried by using the fourth century example of Canon 8 of the Council of Nicea, which permitted the rigorist Novationist sect to join the Catholic Church on the condition that they would commune with the remarried. The idea is that ecumenical councils can usher in the needed change. This particular example is a poor one, however, as it is almost certain that the remarried in this case were widows permitted to remarry–not the divorced. While remarriage in this context was controversial in the early church (the Novationists of course considered it adultery), the point is that the developing views of the Church did not outright contravene Scripture in a way that accepting the divorce and subsequent remarriage would.

Lawler and Salzman are effectively calling the Church to accept the malaise of our society’s failure to uphold its marital vows as reason enough to go back on Scripture, Tradition and the doctrine of the Church. Lawler and Salzman appear to equate the Church’s view on marriage to be an “ideal” topen to change due to the changing circumstances of Christianity’s sinful practitioners: “The Catholic Church has always insisted that monogamous, indissoluble marriage open to the possibility of children is the ideal context for sexual relationships. But that ideal is changing—among Catholics and Protestants alike.”

Lawler and Salzman then go on to their primary reference, the practice of the Eastern Orthodox Church, whereby up to two divorces and remarriages are acceptable on the limited grounds of adultery (using an interpretation of Christ’s words in Matthew 19:9 as an exception): “When a marriage is over, even if the spouses are still alive, oikonomia impels the church to mourn the loss of the marriage. But the church must also be compassionate, because the church is the household of the merciful God. This compassion permits the remarriage of an innocent or repentant spouse. Orthodox liturgy differentiates a second marriage from a first, noting that grace is always threatened by sin, that the Christian ideal is always at the mercy of human frailty. The second-marriage liturgy lacks the joy of the first. It ritually proclaims that no one present, including the priest, is without sin. The church is summoned to minister compassionately on behalf of a compassionate God.”

The argument is that if the Catholic Church adopted this compassionate model of expression towards those who have fallen short, it would be doing so in obedience to God who may wish to show his compassion in this way in allowing divorced and remarried couples to partake of the Sacraments. Unfortunately, a plain reading of the Catechism of the Catholic Church would exclude any such deviation from tradition:

CCC 2384 Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign. Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery:

If a husband, separated from his wife, approaches another woman, he is an adulterer because he makes that woman commit adultery; and the woman who lives with him is an adulteress, because she has drawn another’s husband to herself.

“Public and permanent adultery”! This teaching, backed up by Christ’s very words, is mutually exclusive to any Eastern Orthodox rite of accepting a new marriage after divorce. CCC 1650 states that those who are divorced and find themselves in a new civil union “find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law.” This grave sin (effectively public adultery) and infidelity to Christ’s command is ongoing, not merely something that can be lamented and moved on from as in some cases in the Orthodox tradition. There is hope, however, for receiving the Eucharist and finding reconciliation with Christ and His Church by living in “complete continence” or in certain circumstances when children are involved, as brother and sister. In any case, it is the role of the priest to lead a couple into right relation with God and the Church.

The mutually exclusive approaches of the Orthodox and Catholic faith mean that the divorced and remarried in the Orthodox tradition are seen as those living in ongoing, consensual sin in the Catholic tradition. Only one Church has it right—not both.

While I haven’t researched this topic enough to say, the only way the Catholic Church could accept the exception in Matthew 19:9 in the way the Orthodox Church does would be to change its longstanding interpretation of the text (an explanation of the Catholic interpretation of the so-called loophole, which I found to be quite strong). Unfortunately, if this re-interpretation is made, and one sinful party’s “unchastity” or “adultery” is grounds for divorce (which seems reasonable enough), the disciples surely took it to be an unreasonably hard teaching in Matthew 19:10 when they considered it better not to marry at all than to be subject to it. This simply adds more weight to the Catholic interpretation.

Any capitulation towards an acceptance of divorce and remarriage, as much as it can be softened through ceremonial and liturgical lament in the Orthodox tradition, would simply open the door to a further proliferation of divorce. I can’t see any way around that inevitable result. It’s ill-effects would also be compounded in a culture that has come to accept divorce as commonplace…unfaithfulness and adultery are sinful acts even more commonplace than divorce itself, which means inevitably more divorces would naturally follow (now acceptable—or at least accepted—by the church). We must remember Christ’s words in Matthew 19:11: “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given…” And this is regarding all holy ways of living, whether married or celibate. Marriage is not for everyone and should never be taken lightly, and the sinfulness of one party does not dissolve the one flesh that God has joined together (Mark 10:8-9). According to Christ’s teaching, no man has the authority to dissolve this sacred union.

A refined pastoral approach may be forthcoming at the upcoming Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family in October 2014, but I take heart in Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins words in his recent interview with Word on Fire:

Catholic teaching on divorce and remarriage is “not open to change,” as it is faithful to Jesus’ instruction on the indissolubility of sacramental marriage, but the Church can do better in helping those suffering in this area.

Infant Baptism Stained Glass

A Concise and Compelling Case for Infant Baptism

The Shameless Popery blog has posted an excellent and concise case for infant baptism. Speaking from my own personal experience, I have seen my level of understanding and acceptance of of infant baptism go through several phases.

At first I had a very difficult time accepting the entire concept, mostly due to a deep rooted conditioning to viewing it as a symbolic profession of faith. I believe the best way to describe my initial views would be to say that infant baptism appeared to cheapen the act of profession of faith and the symbolism and act of obedience it fulfilled.

Slowly I began to accept it more and more as a valid interpretation of the Biblical text by the sheer weight of evidence in historical Church practise and in the writings of the Church Fathers. The first step to acceptance was seeing that there was almost no early evidence against the practise of infant baptism, but there was surely soft Biblical and hard historical-traditional evidence in support of the practice. The fact that the Anabaptist rejection of infant baptism only surfaced in the the 16th century, in opposition even to the Magisterial Reformers, again reinforced my new understanding. How could the Church have had it wrong for over 1,500 years?

Finally, I am only now beginning to see it as a necessary part of salvation through the Biblical witness throughout the New Testament and the constant teaching of the Church. To say that baptism is other than saving and sacramental is to deny or twist Scripture and even the words of Christ in John 3:5. I’m also coming to see that baptism, along with the entirety of the New Testament, should never be divorced from it’s first century Jewish context, and along with this being able to read the New Testament in light of the Old. In this way, St. Paul is clear in Colossians 2:11-12 that baptism is the new circumcision of the whole self, an act of God which initiates a person into the covenant family.

Beginning to see truth and accept a different understanding of a doctrine as personal as baptism naturally takes time, study and meditative reflection. Being able to let go of what we are comfortable with for the sake of being able to fully receive God’s grace and enter into His Kingdom is always worth the risk. “Faith seeking understanding,” in the words of St. Anselm, is the best way to put it. It is important to let go of a faith that we like or have always believed in order to embrace a faith that more deeply understands and coincides with the truths and realities of God, which are always higher than our thoughts and feelings on any particular issue (Isaiah 55:8-9). I am beginning to see that this exercise is wrought without ever having to abandon reason, logic or a commitment to the infallible and internet teachings of Scripture. On the contrary, exercising one’s faith in seeking true understanding will bring joy and fulfilment in seeing the grand beauty and cohesion of the truth found in the teachings of the Catholic faith.

Hillsong United Worship Band

The Present Dilemma of Evangelical Worship

One of my Protestant evangelical friends posted the following article on Facebook entitled “Is Evangelical Worship Headed for a HUGE Crash?” which is currently making waves on the website. While I can’t speak on the sensational headline of whether or not there will be a collapse, slow decline or perhaps an awakening and reformation of evangelical “performance oriented” worship, I couldn’t resist sharing from my 22 year experience with contemporary evangelical worship and how I found an answer:

Evangelical worship in general was something that I’ve always struggled with. For one, it’s extremely hard to please everyone because everyone has different musical preferences. On top of this, a worship service is made up of two parts: songs and a sermon. If one or both of these “falls flat” there is little left of the worship experience. It’s only natural that a lot of focus (and pressure) falls on the worship “leaders” and the preacher to perform well.

The solutions given in the article are helpful but they don’t fix the underlying foundation of modern evangelical worship. I often thought it easier to tell people that it’s not about liking the music, it’s about our hearts and our sincerity in worship. But this is not a solution without offering people the something more that they crave.

I’ve found the answer to this dilemma in discovering the beauty and depth of liturgy and the Eucharist. You hear it all the time where people say, “we want to worship like the early Christians and the NT church!” The early church was liturgical, and the altar and the Eucharist were at its core! 

Here’s some very early descriptions of Christian worship from the Church Fathers.

The parts of the Eucharistic liturgy come together to form the communal worship (and meal!) of God’s covenant family: the Introductory Rites (including confession and absolution…preparing our hearts for worship), Liturgy of the Word (four Scripture readings where the OT is revealed in the NT with the Gospel as the centrepeice, a Homily to nurture the Christian life, Profession of Faith and Prayers of the Faithful as a response to the Word), the Liturgy of the Eucharist (where we are joined to Christ by receiving Him) and Concluding Rites (a blessing and dismissal, so we can go out and be Christ to the world).

If the music underwhelms and the sermon falls flat, it’s no longer the focal point but a support for the main event, along with the rest of this beautiful offering of our worship and receiving of God’s grace by God’s people!

I came across this short message from a former evangelical worship leader and could relate to his reflection.

Latin Mass Painting

What’s Going on in the Sacrifice of the Mass?

For many Protestants, the sacrifice of the Mass is often misunderstood. For example, this blogger stated after reading the Catholic Answers tract on the Sacrifice of the Mass came to the conclusion that at “every mass the Catholic church thinks they re-sacrifice Christ. This means Christ must be re-sacrificed over and over and over and over and over again.” I would like to bring some balance and proper understanding to this often misunderstood rite.

The misunderstanding lies in the idea that Catholics believe Christ’s “once for all” sacrificial death on the cross to be insufficient for the forgiveness and pardon of sins. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Protestants will point to Christ’s words on the cross, “it is finished” (John 19:30),  to back-up their misinformed claim.  Therefore, Catholics are said to re-sacrifice Christ over and over again, century after century, on the altars of Catholic Churches around the world, thus diminishing the finished work of Christ on the cross. As Christ is really, substantially present in the Eucharistic Host and wine (body, blood, soul and divinity), the Catholic understanding of perpetual sacrifice must be to quite literally crucify Christ over and over again.

Generally, Protestants will skip to Hebrews 7:27 which states that unlike the high priests of the Old Covenant, Christ “has no need to offer sacrifices day after day” as “this he did once for all when he offered himself.” The misunderstanding lies in the interpretation of the phrase “once for all.” Catholics understand the sacrifice to be an eternal sacrifice that never ends. Both sides would agree that the bloody sacrifice on the cross is a past event and that Christ is no longer suffering, bruised and beaten, but Catholics would take it one step further to say that this one-time sacrifice remains “ever present” as an eternal reality, offered perpetually on the altar in Heaven (the reality of the heavenly altar is presentedthroughout Revelation while Christ is also revealed as the heavenly Lamb with the marks of sacrifice).

This same sacrifice, the one accomplished on the cross and presented for eternity in Heaven, is the one that is re-presented at every Mass. Not a new sacrifice, not a re-sacrifice, but the one and the same sacrifice of the cross, with the power to redeem and forgive all sins.

CCC 1364 In the New Testament, the memorial takes on new meaning. When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ’s Passover, and it is made present the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present. “As often as the sacrifice of the Cross by which ‘Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed’ is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out.”

Protestants and Catholics would agree that the “altar of the cross” accomplished our redemption, yet Catholics would go on to say that Christ instituted the Eucharist as a means for the “salutary power” of Christ’s flesh and blood to be applied in our lives.

The work of our redemption is now being carried out in the present tense because of the sacramental nature of the Eucharist. Our participation in the once for all sacrifice of Christ through its memorial and re-presentation “apply its fruit” in our lives as often as we participate, as seen in CCC 1366 below. In comparison, in the Old Covenant animals would have to be killed over and over again to imperfectly accomplish forgiveness of sins. Now, by partaking of Christ’s perfect sacrifice 2,000 years ago, we can experience God’s mercy and receive his supernatural grace.

CCC 1366 The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit:

[Christ], our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer himself to God the Father by his death on the altar of the cross, to accomplish there an everlasting redemption. But because his priesthood was not to end with his death, at the Last Supper “on the night when he was betrayed,” [he wanted] to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit.

It’s important to note that Christ is eternally the High Priest of Heaven (Hebrews 7:17), and the role of priest is to offer sacrifices. The role of Christ as Priest is to perpetually offer his sacrifice of the cross for all eternity. The beautiful part is that he gave his Church the ability to partake of this Passover Meal in order to both remember, and make present and active, the reality of what it accomplished for us all.

Jesus Teaching

Almsgiving in Tobit as Taught by Christ in the Gospel of Luke

This one was a bit of a double-whammy. The words and promise of Christ concerning almsgiving parallels the teaching in Tobit 12:9. If this doesn’t give at least some credibility to the deuterocanonical texts as well as the sacrament of penance as it pertains to almsgiving, I’m not sure what else would:

For almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin. Those who perform deeds of charity and of righteousness will have fulness of life; ~ Tobit 12:9

But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you. ~ Luke 11:41

It’s also worth quoting another deuterocanonical text on almsgiving, which speaks of the significance of this act in the eyes of God:

A man’s almsgiving is like a signet with the Lord and he will keep a person’s kindness like the apple of his eye. ~ Sirach 17:22

For most Protestants this sort of teaching appears to be works based, which by definition would mean we are saved out of our own doing by the good works we perform. This is necessarily a cheapening of the work of the cross. But then how can we properly understand Christ’s teaching, which clearly teaches that a certain work (almsgiving) produces a certain result (a clean interior self, or soul, or as in Tobit, a purging of sin).

The key to properly understanding Christ’s words in their most literal sense is to begin to uncover the Catholic understanding of justification by grace and works. That our faith, working itself out in love by the grace of God through Christ, allows us to become truly holy and acceptable. This is, of course, a very complex issue and the core doctrinal dispute underlying the Protestant Reformation which I will try to explore more deeply in a future posting. But in the context of almsgiving, it is imperative to recognize that the merit of a person’s almsgiving is only possible by God’s grace through the finished work of Jesus Christ:

“If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or by the teaching of the Law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema” ~ Council of Trent; Session 6; canon 1.

Francis & Bartholomew

The Hope for Unity: Nicea 2025

I was quite shocked to see this story yesterday highlighting the agreement between the Pope and Orthodox Patriarch to come together in Iznik, Turkey (formerly Nicea) in 2025 in order to celebrate the first truly ecumenical council that produced the Nicene Creed:

Patriarch Bartholomew revealed that he and the Roman Pontiff had “agreed to leave as a legacy to ourselves and our successors a gathering in Nicaea in 2025, to celebrate together, after 17 centuries, the first truly ecumenical synod, where the Creed was first promulgated.” The Council of Nicea, held in 325, brought together over 300 bishops and approved the formula of faith now known as the Nicene Creed.

Of course there was overreaction at first, with Catholic Culture reporting this to be a new ecumenical council (a claim that they later retracted), but regardless, it provides for hope. If there’s one thing that modern Christians need to be reminded of is that God is never in a hurry, and neither is His Church. What seemed impossible for centuries became a prayerful reality in 1964 when Patriarch Athenagorus I and Pope Paul VI mutually lifted their respective excommunications.  What may be even more substantive and exciting is the Common Declaration signed by Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I on May 25 that marked the 50th anniversary of that historic event:

[The Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch] held private talks in Jerusalem and signed a Common Declaration in which they pledged to continue on the path towards unity between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

The last 50 years have shown themselves to be an era of dialogue, and as we continue to pray as Christ prayed, “that they all may be one” (John 17:21), we can hold on to the hope of unity, both visible and invisible, that we share in Christ alone.

EDIT: It appears that the Vatican has dialed back the expectations for this meeting. That doesn’t mean great things won’t happen, but we must put things in perspective take it one step at a time. Miracles don’t always happen overnight!

Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter by Pietro Perugino

Finding the Fullness of Truth as Odedience to Christ

One of the greatest travesties of modern times is the subjectivity of truth: what is true for me may not be true for you. Rather than pondering the cogency of this understanding ,  it is accepted as the de facto framework upon which people’s entire realities are built. It’s tragic in that each decision one makes becomes a building block in a wall that separates a person from finding what is objectively true. Each decision and valuation is thus understood to be neither right nor wrong, but rather pragmatic and arbitrary.

Unfortunately, it only takes one step back and a small amount of thought to understand that this basis for reality fails before it even begins. As William Lane Craig explains so clearly, this way of thinking is sophomoric and self-refuting, for the statement itself of “there is no such thing as truth” is itself a truth claim. An atheist who believes there is no God cannot be just as knowledgeable of the truth as a theist who claims quite the opposite. In the same way, a Christian who believes that Jesus Christ is the only way to everlasting life is in complete disagreement with the understandings of a Muslim or Jew who deny this claim. Lastly, a person who claims there to be no objective truth is himself claiming to know the truth about reality: that there is no objective truth to be had.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

My real point in saying all this is that there is truth to be had, and that truth lies in Jesus Christ. We are obligated to be people of the truth, to truly listen to Christ’s voice with open minds and open hearts. Pilate did the right thing to ask, “What is truth?” (John 18:38), and we are to do the same.

Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king.For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” John 18:37-38

My journey began long before the thought ever crossed my mind to begin questioning my evangelical Protestant paradigm–the only paradigm I have ever known, the one that served me so well and led me into a real, living relationship with my Lord and Saviour and has granted me fellowship, the opportunity the serve and inspire others, and grow in faith and knowledge. But over time I began to see the deficiencies in evangelicalism, with unanswered questions that led to an increasing frustration in faith. I found clues along the way, discovering the beauty of the Anglican liturgy and the rich deposit of Church Tradition, but in the face of doctrinal relativism, I realized the Protestant world as a whole lacked the authority and claim to truth necessary for the fullness of faith.

I am now beginning to find true satisfaction in the answers revealed through sacred Scripture and Tradition, and namely, the faith of the Catholic Church. For many evangelicals, such a conclusion may seem prosperous, but for every destination there is a road that is travelled, and it is that road and the story of the journey that allows us to understand how we arrived at the final destination. As our Lord was intent on us knowing the details of the time the prodigal son spent away from home, we should begin to understand the importance of the journey, as it matters as much as the destination when trying to understand the grace of God.

Should we fear the truth? Never. The truth will set us free (John 8:32)! In the days, weeks and months to come I hope to begin to articulate my journey.

“There are not even 100 people in this country who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they think the Catholic Church to be.” Archbishop Fulton Sheen

I’ve started this blog partly because I want to have a place where I can practice the discipline of organizing my scattered thoughts into reasoned prose. Secondly, I would like to provide a resource for those who may find themselves travelling the same road, or who may be wondering why it would be necessarily to travel such a road in the first place. But primarily, I find myself in this place in obedience to Jesus Christ and the truth that I believe he has prepared for myself and the world to discover. I am here to find His Truth in His Church, and I invite you to join me as I seek to draw closer to our Lord.