Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Christian Realist's (Brief) Perspective on General and Special Revelation

Back when I was a kid the minister or Sunday school teacher, I don't remember which, was talking about how God provided us with "General Revelation", which was the material universe, and "Special Revelation", which he memorably described by holding up a Bible and noting that he was holding the sum total of God's Special Revelation.

General Revelation tells us about God because God caused the universe to come into being and it therefore reflects His nature, and Special Revelation was explicitly provided to us by inspiration, dictation, and the observation and recording of historical events.

The two must be in harmony because God is rational and so it would make no sense for these two representations of God's nature to be in conflict with one another. Throughout history, however, there has been a perceived conflict between the Universe as we understand it versus the content of the Bible, a conflict that continues to the present day.

General and Special Revelation, while related, are distinct bodies of knowledge. Each informs the other, and our goal is to increase our understanding of them, coming closer to the fundamental Truths of each.

Our knowledge of what the universe is, from quarks to cosmos, evolves over time as we're able to build on the knowledge that was gathered before, and as our technology gives us access to information about the universe that was previously inaccessible.

Likewise our understanding of the Bible grows and changes over time, as our culture and society become more sophisticated: no more the explicit subordination of women, tolerance of slavery, or genocide. Arguing that the Bible is always taken literally, and not subject to interpretation, is specious: for example, very few conservative Christian churches implement 1 Cor 11:5-6 regarding the covering of women's heads in church.

Our knowledge of the universe is imperfect, and our wisdom in interpreting the Bible is imperfect, but in my opinion we have a good overall handle on both. When the two come into apparent conflict, research, reconsideration, and refinement of our understanding of one or the other (or both) is needed.

The material universe, and our knowledge of it, is objective. It can be observed, measured, and experimented upon. It works consistently and reliably in its framework of physical laws, and it truly has no secrets, only things that have not yet been discovered.

Special revelation provides an explanation and rationale for our place in the universe, it addresses existential, ethical, moral, and philosophical issues of what is humanity, and how we should then live.

The Special Revelation of the Bible builds on the General Revelation of the universe, so it cannot contradict it.

When the two appear to conflict, more research and study, in pursuit of a more complete understanding, is needed. The Bible "amplifies" the understanding and explanation of nature, it does not define it. The material universe is as it is, its reality is its own definition.

Astronomy and geology have determined that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, and the earth 4.6 billion, respectively, and these are objective facts. The "young earth" interpretation some make of the Bible's Genesis account of creation that concludes the Earth is 6000 years old flies in the face of the facts, and so is clearly wrong. The "six days" of creation obviously can't be interpreted to mean six literal 24-hour days, because that interpretation conflicts with reality. And that should've been the end of that debate once the ages of the Earth and the universe had gotten pinned down.

Putting primacy on one's interpretation of Biblical passages when discussing objective reality, i.e. the behavior and composition of the universe, is misguided, it's mixing apples and oranges. Too many Christians don't understand this, and think that citing the Bible to support one's belief about any particular subject, spiritual or material, is irrefutable proof that that belief is a fact. (In actuality, the facts of the nature of the material universe are right in front of one, and all that's required is a willingness to study, analyze, and understand. And maybe an NSF grant or two :-)

Since the Bible literally defines the Christian faith, citing the Bible is perfectly valid in that domain, e.g., "What is the Christian conception of 'Heaven'?".

But it's much less so when stepping outside that domain: "How do you know there's a heaven?" "Because the Bible says so." Such an assertion is completely lost on an atheist or anyone who doesn't acknowledge the Bible as an authoritative document.

Christians, especially conservative ones, don't seem to grasp this latter point--because that authority is an intrinsic part of their belief system, discounting it is inexplicable, and so it's concluded that the work of the Devil is the ONLY possible explanation.

For a person to become a Christian, they need to understand what the Christian faith is, and accept that it's a valid faith. Now one obviously uses the Bible to describe what it is, to show that it is internally consistent, and to show that it is consistent with human nature, but one can't use the Bible to "prove" the Bible. A person who moves from non-believer to believer may have it come on them like a bolt from the blue--an epiphany--or it may be a long, intellectual struggle that brings one to belief, or more commonly something in between, like the example of one's whose "life changed" due to the acceptance of Christianity.

The better that Christians understand this, and what the limitations of Biblical argument and interpretation are, the more effective they can be in bringing people into God's kingdom.

But the more they try to assert the preeminence of one's interpretation of Biblical passages that touch upon the natural world in a way that seems inconsistent with observed reality, the more foolish they come across (and I don't mean foolish in a humble, edifying way, I mean foolish in a "you're wrong" kind of way). And this just makes the task harder, because not only are Christians perceived as being out of touch with reality, but by not realizing it, and worse, unwilling to alter their beliefs in the face of reality, give the perception that Christianity is more about blind loyalty to a set of detached-from-reality beliefs, rather than the living, breathing, growing faith that it is.

13 comments:

chad said...

'... build on the knowledge that was gathered before'

I believe that there is no more revelation going on, but that the Holy Spirit reveals deeper insights into previous revelations. Christ even said that he wished he could tell us things but that we couldn't possibly understand them. I think he is slowly making these things apparent to us through the Holy Spirit and helping us to understand them.

This is why the Catholic Church advocates extremely careful interpretation of scripture and claims to be the one true source of divine interpretation. That isn't to say that the Holy Spirit can't inspire and teach non-Catholics, but that the proper channel established by Christ for formalized understanding and personal revelation through existing scripture is through the Catholic Church.

And if you look, the teachings of the Church basically agree with what you're saying and it's the Fundamentalist Evangelicals that seem to be so terribly confused.

It seems every day some congregant is going out and calling himself a pastor and founding a new church based in his (or her) specific interpretation.

There are now over 30,000 Christian denominations just in the U.S. alone (somewhere around there, I'll have to double check that, but I think it's close +/- a few thousand).

Most of them claim to be the One True source of personal revelation through the Holy Spirit. Now, either they're mistaken, or the Holy Spirit is very, VERY confused because most of the teachings of those 30,000 denominations are contradictory with most of the other denominations.

When it comes down to it, there has only really ever been one, Catholic, and Apostolic church from which most modern Christian theology (despite Protestant claims otherwise, 99% of their theology comes from the Catholic Church Fathers and from people like St. Augustine and St. Aquinas) comes. There have been disagreements and the Orthodox broke off (but the chasm between Orthodox and Roman Catholic is not nearly as wide as that between Roman Catholic and Protestants).

Christ dubbed Peter 'Petros' and said that on Petros, he would build his Church and Peter, Paul, James, John and all the other disciples followed something very similar to modern-day Roman Catholicism (Bishops/Apostles with one primary Bishop/Father or 'Papem'-- Pope among them making the tough calls in deference to the other Bishops). Even the Orthodox follow this mode to a large extent. It wasn't until the 16th century that Christianity turned so suddenly and rejected most of the hierarchy which allowed, immediately for such desperate view points within the first century of Protestantism alone (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Luther's successors, etc).

In summary, the focus purely on the Bible for the sole source of Christian theology is wholly a Protestant invention and no other major Christian denomination follows that rule and acknowledges the importance of tradition and the writings and teachings of Church Fathers and noted doctors of the Church since then. The Orthodox follow Sacred Tradition, so do many other Eastern, non-Orthodox/non-Roman-Catholic churches.

Even the Bible doesn't authorize itself, let alone as the sole source of knowledge gained from the Holy Spirit! (If the Bible is the sum total of Christian theology, then where does it authorize the Bible's creation? Which books are in it?, etc).

One other thing: How many Protestant Scientific Institutes do you see?

The Catholic Church has some dark times, granted (Galileo), but it has since corrected them and has contributed, ironically, towards sciences (including astronomy!).

The Vatican has several higher learning and science centers (not just theology!) including a world-class astronomical observatory, biological/chemical labs, etc.

Anonymous said...

I think it is really sad to see that the "Catholic Church" thinks it is okay to be so openly arrogant. It's like you think Catholics are the chosen ones.

To say that the Fundamentalist Evangelicals seem to be so terribly confused.

Why would you ever think you are above any other Christian and put down there beliefs? If you are Christian then you know you are not perfect. Do you really think Jesus is concerned with the name of your denomination or more so with where you heart is? You should try to be more like Him and not judge others or put yourself above others.

chad said...

@Anonymous: First, I am not the Catholic Church, I am only a Catholic.

Secondly, neither the Catholic Church nor I think we are 'chosen ones'. Actually, I do in a way: I think we're ALL chosen ones by God (both Christian and non-Christian).

Thirdly, I don't think it is 'arrogant' to dispute non-Catholic Christians on theological issues. The Fundamentalist Evangelicals, for example, have absolutely *NO* problem ATTACKING Catholics calling the Church 'the Whore of Babylon', etc. Tell me, who is 'arrogant'?

At any rate, the Catholics and Evangelicals agree on about 90% of things and disagree on the other 10%. Someone has to be right and someone has to be wrong, right? I believe in absolute Fullness of Truth. And, having been an Evangelical, I can unequivocally state that the Catholic Church has always and originally possessed the fullness of Christ's truth.

That is not to say that Evangelicals posses NO truth, they just do not posses the FULL truth.

As to the 'confused' point, don't take my word for it, look at Evanglicalism: They can't even agree amongst themselves what is The Truth. There are literally TENS OF THOUSANDS of different denominations. If that isn't confusion, I don't know what is.

I don't think I'm 'above other Christians', I just know that the Catholic Church was there at the beginning (after Christ ascended into Heaven), has been there all along, and is here today. Evangelicalism is a johnny-come-lately with a watered-down, imperfect set of beliefs that do not reflect the fullness of Christ's teachings (they seem to ignore large swaths of the Gospel and the Epistles).

'then you know you are not perfect' -- I never claimed to be! What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?

I'm merely claiming that the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of Christ's Truth and can rightfully claim the true mantle of Inspiration of the Holy Spirit in dogma matters. No other denomination can claim this mantle, certainly not the Evangelicals. And even if the Evangelicals could, WHICH CONTRADICTORY DENOMINATION COULD CLAIM IT?

See the problem there? Which of the 30,000+ variations is THE ONE TRUTH HOLY, CATHOLIC, AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH?

'Do you really think Jesus is concerned with the name of your denomination'

YES! Well, more than just the name, he's concerned that we FOLLOW HIS TEACHINGS TO THE FULLEST. The only way to do that is to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church which is the fullest embodiment of his teachings, AUTHORIZED BY CHRIST HIMSELF through PETER ('... and on *THIS ROCK* I will build my Church' -- Jesus Christ).

No other denomination, certainly not the thousands of Evangelical denominations can claim that authority. Their authority comes from some guy in the 1500's or the 1600's or the 1700's or the 1800's who thought he knew better than 2,000 years worth of guidance by the Holy Spirit.

'... be more like Him and not judge'

When did I judge others? You're not making sense.

I have not judge anyone. But we are called by Christ to judge ACTIONS, WORDS, and DEEDS as Good or Evil -- JUST NOT THE PERSON!

I'm not judging people, I'm judging the theology of various Evangelical Churches. Their theology stands on its own merits and it can be evaluated and critiqued as such.

It should be noted that I believe that all Christians that subscribe to the Apostles and/or Nicene Creed (which includes all Christians except maybe Jehova's Witnesses, 7th Day Adventists, and Mormons) will be saved and I would fight along side with any one of them if it came to that.

I'd rather have a Christian (including Evangelicals) by my side than any other type of person.

Again: I'm talking about theology and reason and logic, not individuals. Some of the best, holiest people I know are Evangelical Christians.

Marc said...

The (slightly) maddening thing is, Chad, that I'm good with about 90% of your post. It's when you veer off into the "the Catholic Church has always and originally possessed the fullness of Christ's truth" that you start to lose me. Which is annoying, since I find the 90% of agreement very thoughtful :-)

"the Catholics and Evangelicals agree on about 90% of things and disagree on the other 10%. Someone has to be right and someone has to be wrong, right?"

Well, it depends on the 10%. Sometimes it's simply a difference in practice, so it's neither right nor wrong, just different.

I grew up in a conservative, evangelical church and many of its members would be very uncomfortable in a rollicking, emotionally-expressive Pentecostal type church (some even think such emotional expression in a worship service is misguided). Conversely I think those who enjoy that level of energy would've been very bored in my church.

I suspect in Roman Catholicism too that there are marked differences between the practices of urban Irish Catholic churches vs Phillippine Catholic churches vs Guatemalan churches vs Nigerian ones.

These different practices aren't wrong, they're just different scenery on the highway to the Golden City.

You make a big deal out of there being several Protestant denominations and many variations within them, asking "Which of the 30,000+ variations is THE ONE TRUTH HOLY, CATHOLIC, AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH?"

You're begging the question that someone does have the "ONE TRUTH"; and then asserting that the Roman Catholic church is the possessor of that Truth.

My position is that no person or organization yet has full comprehension of that Truth. That was one of the points of the original post: "Our knowledge of the universe is imperfect, and our wisdom in interpreting the Bible is imperfect, but in my opinion we have a good overall handle on both." Our understanding of Christian theology continues to evolve. You're certainly not going to try to argue that the 16th Century Roman Catholic understanding of Christian theology and practice is indistinguishable from that of the 21st Century, are you? And Protestant theology and practice continues to evolve as well--they all have to, because our technology and culture evolves.

That there are a myriad of ways to approach God and Christ is hardly a sign of confusion, it's a reflection of the richness of human nature and culture. Certainly this penchant for variety in interpretation and practices has sometimes gone awry, with differences of interpretation turning into doctrinal schisms that rip a church apart--and even Catholic congregations have had to deal with this.

"No other denomination, certainly not the thousands of Evangelical denominations can claim that authority. Their authority comes from some guy in the 1500's or the 1600's or the 1700's or the 1800's who thought he knew better than 2,000 years worth of guidance by the Holy Spirit."

You know, having been an evangelical yourself, that the obvious rejoinder to this is that just as you claim that evangelicals possess an "imperfect set of beliefs that do not reflect the fullness of Christ's teachings", the Reformation was triggered by the belief that the Roman Catholic church had "run off the rails" and lost sight of the charge given to Peter by Christ, and that it was the Reformation and Protestantism that pulled the practice of Christianity back to its Biblical roots.

I know, you're shaking your head at that :-), but you know what? I'm fine with that. Neither of our opinions on the goals and results of the Reformation are going to keep you or I from following Christ's teachings. It's what we do in the here and now that matters, and whether one practices in the Catholic, Orthodox, mainstream Protestant, Evangelical, or skeptical theist tradition is up to each individual.

Continuing to seek after the Truth, and to live it, is what matters.

chad said...

Marc: Great reply, thanks!

I wasn't talking specifically about the traditions of worship and liturgy. Speaking of Catholics, there are quite a few 'Rites' as they call them in the Catholic church. For example, there is the Eastern Rite practiced by the Syrian, Turkish, etc Catholic Churches. They have a very ancient liturgical practice that pre-dates even the Latin Church, but they acknowledge the primacy of the Pope in Apostolic matters (they didn't split with the Orthodox during the Great Schism).

I don't necessarily have a problem with the way the Eastern Rite is performed, or the Latin Rite, or the Carribean churches or the Hispanic churches, etc. I don't have a problem with Pentecostal lurching and such (in that context, because that's their tradition). These things are OK, imho, and bring a richness to Christianity.

What I *DO* have a problem with is some of their theology. For example, I do think it's completely wrong that Baptists, for example (among others) treat the Eucharist so poorly ('just grape juice', 'just a symbol', etc). For all the Bible beating, I can't seem to figure out how anyone can come to the conclusion that 'this *IS MY BODY*' means 'it's just a symbol'.

Having participated in these circles, and seeing how much time many Protestant folks spend bashing the Catholic Church, it seems that many of their theological decisions (usually revolving around the Eucharist, but in other areas too) are just knee-jerk reactions to avoid being 'too Catholic', regardless of what the Holy Spirit and their heart is telling them is the truth.

One note: "ONE TRUTH HOLY...' that was a typo, I was quoting the Creed and meant 'ONE TRUE HOLY...', sorry.

You said 'yet has full comprehension of that Truth' -- perhaps, but the fullness of the Truth *YET REVEALED TO US AT THE PRESENT TIME* is possessed fully by the Catholic Church. Other churches may or may not receive guidance, but it is practiced imperfectly, not properly understood/interpreted, etc.

'...16th century Roman Catholic understanding of Christian theology is indistinguishable from the 21 century'

No, like I said, our understanding has increased, but it has not invalidated previous dogma. The Catholic doctrines concerning the Eucharist are as true today as they were in 33A.D.(ish). The doctrines concerning the Purgatory and Prayer for the Dead, for example, are just as valid today as they were when Paul and others discussed them in the first century. The Roman Catholic theology has followed a clear, consistent line of reason.

On the other hand, Protestant theology is inconsistent, contradictory, fluid and hard to nail down. Some seem to have it together (Lutherans), but others seem to be branching, changing, and mutating constantly (Baptists, Episcopalians/Anglicans, Methodists, etc). It's hard to take their theology seriously when they can't even take it seriously.

That article you linked is, unfortunately, a poor one. It's yet another article in the myriad of articles saying that the Church should change to some current fad or trend. Of course, this is usually coming from secular or non-Catholic who goes to a watered down 'clapping service' I like to call them that doesn't challenge your conviction, doesn't hit you with anything 'uncomfortable' (like abortion is wrong, artificial birth control methods are contrary to God's will, etc).

I tell you, every time leaders of the Church have fallen into that 'modern relevancy' trap, it has ALWAYS turned out poorly. The Church is timeless and has existed for 2 millennia and will exist far into the future, after this fad and after many other fads and people looking to 'feel good' and 'get more out of' a WORSHIP SERVICE intended to GLORIFY AND WORSHIP service. As long as people are confused about the WHOLE POINT of WORSHIPPING GOD and keep looking to get things out of a service intended to honor and glorify God, they're going to keep getting disappointed and look for some 'Happy Days' church where they play rock and roll and clap and sing songs and don't talk about serious things that might offend someone and cause them to go away.

Now please read Luke travel narrative in the middle of the Gospel of Luke and tell me if this has anything do with what Christ intended?

As for the Reformation, the Reformation was triggered because the current leadership, the HUMANS, were in error. The theology of the Church proper was still intact and valid, but was being abused by CORRUPT AND UNHOLY people who happened to have subverted the authority of the Church. Never has the Church ever taught that you can SELL indulgences. This was a heresy and Luther was right to rail against it. Where the evil entered was when, in his vanity, he chose to split from Rome rather than fight it and, probably, be martyred for it. Interestingly enough, the Church had been in similar situations in the past (for example, in the 14th century) and Saints rose up and defended the Church and told the Pope and the Cardinals where they can stuff it and they rebuilt the Church leadership. St. Catherine of Siena is a perfect example of this. Please read her story on Wikipedia.

Luther however, for whatever reason (I believe he was tempted by the various evil political leaders at the time who were railing against Rome's ability to command more money donations than the politicians were able to collect in taxes), decided to scandalized the Church and throw all of Christianity into turmoil. Unlike the Orthodox schism, Luther also decided to do away with most of what had always been Christian tradition.

I take offense at the 'Biblical roots' comment. First, Christianity was rooted LONG before the Bible was ever written/assembled and it was rooted on Peter as the Pope of the Church and his decisions along with those of his peers (the other apostles/bishops).

The Bible was assembled AS A RESULT of the Catholic Church TO SUPPORT the Apostolic Tradition Authority of the Church (read about the First Council of Nicea and how the Baptists and other Protestants are trying to subvert and redefine what actually happened there (Warning: PDF))

"It's what we do in the here and now that matters"

Agreed, but if you're not following Christ's teachings when you're doing it, then you're most likely working tangentially to the will of God and not advancing the Kingdom of Heaven.

Marc said...

Here's what I see:

On the one side there's Chad (for example), a devout and knowledgeable Roman Catholic. He believes that "the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of Christ's Truth and can rightfully claim the true mantle of Inspiration of the Holy Spirit in dogma matters."

And that Evangelical Protestantism "is a johnny-come-lately with a watered-down, imperfect set of beliefs that do not reflect the fullness of Christ's teachings".

And on the other side I can consider the younger version of myself, or one of my Evangelical buddies, who knows their Evangelical beliefs to be complete, consistent, and true to the teachings of Christ and the Early Christian church [point taken about "Biblical roots", I was referring to First Century Christian teachings, as subsequently collected into the Bible].

And that the Roman Catholic church has gotten caught up in ritual, and that extraneous beliefs and practices have been incorporated into their theology that are not supported by Christ's teachings or those of the early church fathers.

I see the two sides debating and arguing, each puzzled at how the other, who's obviously intelligent, cannot see that their (Catholic or Evangelical) theology is perfectly clear, straightforward, and correct; and at the same time being completely oblivious to the gaping holes that are plain to see in the other's beliefs.

After an hour of this the two of you are standing there (or sitting in front of your PCs), arms crossed, utterly perplexed that someone could find any reason not to simply get on board with something so simple, clearcut, and self-evidently True as Catholicism/Evangelicalism.

And this is where I come in, and make my point that obviously our understanding of Christian theology is imperfect and incomplete, for how else can you explain such an impasse?

At which point then you both begin to question my faith and try to convince me that one can in fact have concrete certainty, because that is the one thing you do both agree on :-)

This is why I will rarely get into point-by-point arguments and refutations on matters that are highly subject to interpretation, i.e. matters of faith.

Without the acknowledgment that our knowledge, and our ability to know, is imperfect, and accepting that we could in fact be wrong, there's little chance of learning more about the Truth.

"But", the objection goes, "God has blessed me with deep and abiding Faith and so I know I'm right!"

The key here is Faith, which is "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb 11:1). Faith is not knowledge, it is assurance and conviction (or substance and essence, depending on your translation).

There is objective knowledge, and then there is faith. Objective knowledge is factual information that can be demonstrated and logically proven to anyone with an open mind. Faith is the next step beyond that--I know that my wife exists, I have faith that she loves me.

Unfortunately knowledge and faith are too often conflated, treated as if they're one and the same, which leads to intractable theological arguments and absurdities like "young earth creationism".

They're not the same, and to be able to learn one has to understand the proper context, and the limitations, of both. This is what I tried to describe in this original post.

When you acknowledge the limitations of your knowledge and understanding of both tangible reality and of faith, then, I believe, you're opening yourself to the dynamic exploration of all of God's creation and understanding one's place within it.

masterduurk said...

Marc: Thanks for putting this blog up! I give thanks to God for your faith to apply scientific inquiry into His truth. I agree: If we believe that God created all reality, then all truth must be God's truth. Most christians I know agree that we cannot fully understand God, and that he is revealing new insights into His reality on a daily basis. To deny or ignore scientific findings is to cling to an older, less perfect understanding of truth.

I also give thanks that you are both able to discuss this topic openly on this forum, however, I am disappointed that a topic about discerning God's truth has devolved into a denominational quarrel about who's version of the "truth" is "more correct". The anonymous quote dated Nov. 4 hit the mark concerning this topic.

I point you to Galatians 5:20 that divisions and discord are a fruit of the sinful nature, while 1 Corinthians 12:25 encourages us that ". . .there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other." This is not to say that we should not debate and subject scripture and belief systems to the rigors of scientificy scrutiny, but rather we are to be unified in doing so! If I claim to have the "one truth" and deny that other denominations may not have a more correct understanding on certain aspects than I do, I close myself to the possibility of better understanding God's truth. Indeed, God wants us to seek a better understanding of truth continually: "Let us discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn together what is good (Job 34:4)."

Undeniably, God calls us to put aside denominational differences and unite to study, observe, reason, wrestle with, and better understand truth. All quotes are NIV.

Marc said...

Masterduurk...

I appreciate your encouragement.

I don't think we've quite devolved into full-scale denominational mud-slinging quite yet (and I'm not going to argue about it! :-), and my comment immediately above yours is partly an effort to head that off.

I will go on record, though, that while I'm a fanatical believer in free speech and opposition to censorship, any posts that do nothing but slag another's denomination will be summarily, and unapologetically, deleted.

We're trying to let the light bleed through here, there's plenty of other places for spewing discord.

chad said...

It is saddening to me that we have fallen so far that an attempt to reason and logic is interpreted as 'mean' and uncharitable.

Never once have I ever said anything personal about anyone or EVER insinuated that Evangelicals are bad people, bad Christians, etc. Never once have I ever questioned anyones motives. Never once have I questioned their love and devotion to Jesus Christ.

Yet that's all the responses can seem to dwell on and seem to be avoiding the real meat of the argument. I'm beginning to wonder why everyone in this discussion seems so focused on the feelings and emotional arguments and accusing me of being uncharitable rather than focusing on the real argument.

I would be failing a person as a Christian brother if I didn't point out that the theology that what their particular church happens to be teaching on any given Sunday is wrought with errors and inconsistencies and leaves them more at risk of sin and open to the influence of the culture and even the Enemy himself.

I find it no small amount of irony that you quote Paul since EVERY SINGLE ONE OF HIS EPISTLES TO CITIES/CHUCHES is doing just that! He's chastising them for their mistaken theology, he's imploring them to follow the Church's teachings and listen to their Bishop (or some cases, telling the Bishop to get in line with Rome).

What I am doing now is tantamount to what Paul was trying to do: Point out the errancies in the local variances of theology and try to bring those local churches back in line with the Apostolic Tradition (since the Bible wasn't formulated yet... hint hint! See a pattern here?)

We can go point-by-point, if you like, and I can show you how every 'extraneous belief' is far more in line with 'original Christianity' than anything that the Evangelicals have discarded or changed (for example, how Baptists have completely discarded all meaning in the Eucharist and treat it as just a 'meal' or 'symbol' which is COMPLETELY contradictory to 2,000 years of Christian tradition, teaching, and scripture).

I can show you, ON THE MERITS, and prove to you what I say.

Please stop perverting my argument by appealing to emotion and ascribing malice that I'm some how assaulting your denomination.

It's also fallacy to assume that all denominations are equal. They can't all be equal because many of them are completely contradictory on MAIN KEY tenants of the faith.

This confusion is wrought of sin, like a previous poster mentioned. This debate, however, is wrought of deep Christ-like love for my fellow Christians, wanting them to understand that they can achieve a deeper understanding, holiness, and peace through Jesus Christ by following His teachings and accepting His Will in all things, not just those things we find comfortable.

Many Evangelicals are super awesome at fighting abortion and their energy, enthusiasm, and commitment is truly a wonderful gift from God and a Blessing to all humanity. But the Catholic Church stands nearly alone in its fight for life in all stages from conception to natural death -- excluding unnatural evil deaths such as the death penalty in most cases. The Church is almost wholly alone in its stance against Artificial Birth Control (which, IMHO, is the sole source and cause for almost all of the life issues we face in our culture today... I can make a good argument for this).

I would like to note that I have seen more and more Protestant churches start taking stances against artificial birth control and standing along side their Catholic brothers. This warms my heart and reminds me of the best that Christianity has to offer.

So many protestants are afraid of doing anything along with the Catholic Church for fear that it may look like they're submitting to the Pope somehow. This fear, I think, is a 'smell' (like a 'code smell' in programming) that something is wrong -- why are they so afraid of aligning with the Pope in certain cases?

One final thought:

You can insinuate that I'm somehow being close minded (please debate me on the merits!), but I will remind you that there is far more close-mindedness and uncharitibility coming from the Evangelical side than there is from the Catholic side. Just read Chick Tracts or Fallwell or just about any major Evangelical leader's writing today and you'll see comments like 'Whore of Babylon' or 'Idol Worshippers', etc.

I have asserted in a professional, courteous, and charitable manner that Evangelicals do not embrace the full breadth of teachings of Christ. This is a matter of fact. You can argue whether this is a fact or not, but you CAN'T (or shouldn't, at least) argue that this is somehow spawning hatred or discord.

Compare this to language like 'Whore of Babylon' and ask yourself who is doing more or less to try to further the debate on REAL SUBSTANCE and merits.

Stick to the points and leave the appeals to emotion behind. We will never get anywhere accusing each other of being 'mean spirited' or such like that.

Marc said...

Chad! Chill!

Other than some anonymous dipshit, I haven't seen anyone making personal attacks on you, or accusing you of doing such.

Please don't take questioning and criticizing one's beliefs and ideas as a personal attack on the one that holds them!

Please carefully reread the comment I posted regarding "Chad and Catholicism vs Evanglicalism". I was trying to make an even-handed presentation of how both sides can be fully convinced of their own correctness and faithfulness to the Word of God, and are both seeking only to point out the errors of the other in the apostle Paul's spirit of bringing those in error closer to the teachings of Christ. If that was perceived as an attack on you, I apologize, the fault is in my writing skills, not in my intent.

I can conceive that Roman Catholicism (and your presentation of it) is 100% correct. But I don't think it is.

I can conceive that any one denomination of Evangelical Protestantism is 100% correct. But I don't think it is.

I can conceive that my personal Christian beliefs are not 100% correct. And they probably aren't :-)

That there are in fact some number of theological incompatibilities between Catholics and Protestants, and amongst Protestant denominations, makes a compelling case that a full and accurate understanding of Christian theology is not yet within our grasp. And I'm perfectly fine with that.

Acknowledging my imperfect understanding and being willing to learn, study, analyze, weigh the arguments, and change is how I strive to get closer to God.

And I'm sorry, but no one--Catholic, Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Orthodox, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, et.al.--who purports to hand me The Answers is going to get a free ride, no matter how strongly they're convinced of the Truth of their beliefs' faithfulness to God.

And I'll tell y'all right up front, you can't use the Bible to objectively prove that the Bible is correct, nor can you can use RC theology to objectively prove the Truth of Catholicism, nor can you an atheist use absence of evidence to prove evidence of absence (of God).

In other words, you can't cite your claims as objective proof for the claims.

Know the difference between objective facts and the convictions of faith. Go back and read the original post.

Approach humbly, every one with an open mind and a willingness to learn.

Oh, and everything I wrote here could be wrong.

chad said...

Marc,

What is getting my goad is that you and the other poster are speaking flippantly and seemingly shrugging your shoulders about the fact that Christianity is in such disarray.

This is a very serious matter, IMHO and I have tried to provoke a debate on specific matters of faith, but I see now that this is futile as you're not interested in that kind of debate (which is fine).

Your post gives me the shivers and serves as a 'theology smell' (kinda like a 'code smell' in programming) leading me to think of 'relativism'.

I believe in absolute Truth and that it is possible for us humans to reason and logic and obtain, through the gift of the Holy Spirit knowledge of this Truth (perhaps not the WHOLE truth, only that which the Holy Spirit is willing to allow us to know).

You mention Paul 'bringing those in error closer to Christ' - that's what I'm trying to do. If we're all 'sorta right' or 'kinda right' or 'partially right' and you suggest that it would be uncharitable for us to try to convince the other that he is in error, then we're not being Paul-like, let alone Christ-like.

We have a duty as Christians to inform each other when we're in error. And we need to have some goalpost to know what 'error' and 'non-error' is so that we might stay on the right course. Christ has provided us with this goalpost through the Church.

Under what authority -- what Right did Paul have to tell anyone that they were in error? Who told Paul what was right and that these people were in error?

When the First Council of Nicea was formed, each Diocese was required by the Pope to send a delegation. These delegates had authority, granted by their Bishop (sometimes the Bishop himself went, sometimes not) under the authority of the Pope.

This Council, with their Apostolic Authority uniformly declared Arianism a heresy. They also decided other things like re-asserting the authority of the Church in theological matters (Arianists, like Protestants today, challenged the authority of the Pope and Councils like the Nicean Council), infant baptism.

So, while I'm not saying the Church is always 100% correct on everything, I believe it's 100% correct on the things which the Holy Spirit has revealed to us and it contains 100% of the things that the Holy Spirit wishes us to retain as Dogma/Doctrine.

Other churches posses some of this knowledge to varying degrees, but not to the fullness of the Catholic Church.

I totally reject the idea that the Holy Spirit is giving each denomination SOME of the knowledge. That would be total confusion and chaos (like what we have today). Confusion and Chaos are the practical manifestations of sin in this world and those in it. God elevates, enlightens, reveals, and informs. God creates clear lines of demarcation making it stark to either obey or not obey, to follow or not follow, to not sin or to sin.

If we didn't have the Church, there would be no one single Christian entity that I could turn to to get any type of fullness of theology.

Final thought:

I know this first hand because I suffered from it: It seems that Protestants have all but forgotten the thousands of years between ~40A.D. and ~1520A.D. A lot happened in that time, including several Protestant-like revolts.

Many Saints were made and locked in key tenants of our theology - St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, etc. These people formed much of the theology we all use (Protestant and Catholic alike).

We all need to look at these people and their lives and understand how they responded to Christ in their live and made themselves Holy and followed God's will. We need to not JUST look at Paul, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Pope DidSomethingReallyBad, or Pope DidSomethingReallyGood.

Marc said...

Chad,

It's kinda ironic: what you see as "disarray" I see as "dynamic" :-)

So it's not flippancy at disarray, but delight at the dynamism. I don't get worked up over the differences per se, they're to be expected in a dynamic, evolving faith and theology. I do get worked up over the notion that it's all been figured out and now it's time to get everybody onto the right path. Despite the fact that many people have many different views of just what is the "right path", and every one of them will gladly tell you that God has told them that this is their mission and responsibility.

Few seem to take 1 Cor 13:12 to heart: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known." Right there, in the Bible, from Paul, to Corinth, Paul comes right out and says we (and he) don't have a full understanding, and we see only dimly.

Yet all I have to do is turn on the TV on Sunday morning or tune in to any one of a half-dozen religious television networks and there will be no shortage of persons who have been given crystal clear direction by the Holy Spirit that they are to admonish and correct the beliefs and actions of others--all in the spirit of Christ's love and for salvation of course.

Are they wrong? Here's a specific example: In the early 80s there was a fairly popular Christian musician to whom God had spoken that he needed to become a missionary to the Roman Catholic church, to show Catholics how they needed to be born again in order to be saved. I would think, Chad, that you would find this notion fairly offensive. And this artist would have been happy, even eager, to sit down with you and engage in just the sort of debate you were looking for. (He has since passed away, though.)

But the point of this is that he was called by God and the Holy Spirit to minister to Catholics. Was he wrong? Where did he come up with this notion? He had been an effective minister for Christ through his music and ministry, and was absolutely convinced that he'd been directed to this new ministry by God. With no less conviction than that underlying your confidence in the theology and soundness of the RC church.

How do you resolve this? Or the myriad of other examples of this conviction that are everywhere and ever-present today?

To me, the resolution is crystal clear: "...we see in a mirror dimly..."

"I believe in absolute Truth and that it is possible for us humans to reason and logic and obtain, through the gift of the Holy Spirit knowledge of this Truth (perhaps not the WHOLE truth, only that which the Holy Spirit is willing to allow us to know)."

I completely agree with this. But the assertion that the Catholic church, and that of every other church preaching that they possess a full and complete understanding of The Way to Salvation and how one should live their life in every detail, that I find presumptuously premature--especially for an admittedly imperfect humanity.

The way I see the growth of understanding of Christianity in a way parallels the way science works: Look at the materials, study them, seek understanding--from the material and from God. Study what others have figured out, discuss and debate with others who are pursuing Truth.

Don't walk into a debate saying, "These are my beliefs, they are inarguably True, and I will defend them against all challengers." One can't, or more accurately, won't learn anything taking that approach.

And I'm not picking on you, Chad, I've got plenty of beefs with conservative Christians who stopped at the "kindergarten theology" of "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." That assurance is all well and good, but there's so much more to learn. And it seems that too often once one has settled on a particular belief framework, questions and challenges are anathema to it and must be crushed by any means necessary.

This is sad. Christianity is a mansion of magnificence and dynamism, and the environs for a rich and rewarding life. And way too many are unwilling to explore and learn, to venture past the "foyer", or to allow anyone else to, or even acknowledge that there's anything more to Christian theology than...

"Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

masterduurk said...

Again, I thank God for the zeal He has given both of you for seeking the truth, and I thank both of you for sticking with it.

It encourages me to see that we have reached a conclusion that incorporates both perspectives, and I think we've all come away a bit more edified. This is one of the great mysteries and wornders of God, that "now we see dimly, as in a mirror," yet the Lord wants us not to be complacent in seeking the truth.

Two very comforting thoughts come out of this:

1: I can acknowledge that I do not understand the whole truth, but can still put my trust in the undeniable truth we are given in scripture: Jesus Christ died and rose again that I might have salvation and guidance.

2: We are all given biblical imperative to seek out God's truth which he has chosen to reveal to us only in part. Even so, one day we will all understand perfectly for "then we shall see face to face."

I hope we can all embrace with joy the quest to know God's truth as we seek to learn from each brother and sister and edify one another in return. Whether Catholic, Evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, (God forbid) non-denominational or even unchurched, let's look together for our Father's reflection in His word and in His awesome creation.

"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

- 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NIV)

"90Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures. 91Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you . . . 160All your words are true; all your laws are eternal."

-Psalm 119:90-91,160 (NIV)

Praise God!