"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Faith, the Church, and Politics

In attempting to think more deeply about the relationship of Faith and Politics, I've run across two programs that have made me re-think some of my preconceptions. Both contain intelligent conservative and progressive Christians discussing these issues, give them a listen:


1) Speaking of Faith: "Evangelical Politics" - The first is an episode of "Speaking of Faith," a program on American Public Radio, where Chuck Colson, Gregory Boyd and Shane Claiborne talk about the relationship between church and state, from the prespective of three generations of evangelicals.


2) White Horse Inn: "Christianity and Politics, Part 1 / Part 2" - Second is a two part talk with two Christians involved in politics, one Democrat and one Republican. D.G. Hart, one of my favorite Christian writers and author of the book: A Secular Faith: Why Christianity favors the Separation of Church and State, joins the talk to explore: What is the role of the church in Politics? The shared opinion here might suprise you.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Reply to Mr. Adam Pastor: A Vindication of the Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ


Under an old post, one Adam Pastor commented attacking the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, specifically in the point of the Deity of Jesus. I encourage you to read it here first if you want the full background to this reply, and on another blog where the issue came up again. Adam Pastor’s response contains 3 main points.

1) Jesus is god as in elohim (a given title), not Yahweh (a matter of essence) so
God is Father, Son is Lord
2) Echad = one (?)
3) Propitiation can be accomplished by a mere man

First, I might point out that Mr. Pastor has conceded that Jesus is identified as God by Thomas (John 20:28), but has insisted that, in short, “God doesn’t always mean God,” in that, Jesus is not God in the sense that the Father is God (ultimately identified by Mr. Pastor in the Hebrew name Yahweh). The premise of this is stating that the Scriptures identify Jesus as “elohim,” but that is a title given to Judges and Moses as God’s “ultimate Judge and Representative.” Such an interpretation is given to John 10:34-35, where Jesus uses the plural of God (θεοι). I agree that Jesus is bestowed with titles of Judge and being Representitive. In fact, Jesus is also identified as an “apostle…of our confession.” (Heb 3:1) Jesus is indeed the Representative, Judge and Apostle of God.

But is this all that Jesus is?

Mr. Pastor submits yes saying:


“There is ONE GOD, the Father.
The man Christ Jesus our Lord is in Heaven at the ONE GOD's right hand.
The Lord Jesus is the ONE GOD's right hand man so to speak!
ONE GOD and ONE man!

It's that simple. It is not a difficult teaching at all.”
Or more simply in the earlier reply:

"ONE GOD, the Father; &
ONE Man, the man Messiah Jesus our Lord!!
ONE GOD, ONE Man
ONE GOD, ONE Lord"


I submit no, this is not all that Jesus is on three grounds beyond the explicit identification of Jesus as God:

A) Jesus is identified as God in the same way the Father is
B) Jesus possess Divine Attributes
C) Jesus is to be Worshipped as God

A) Jesus is identified as God in the same way the Father is.

Mr. Pastor has questioned the use of Theos applied to Jesus as being used in a different sense than when applied to the Father. Though I do not accept that as valid, the Scriptures are so clear as to the deity of Jesus that we can establish such a diety even beyond the explicit identification of Jesus as God in passages such as John 20:28, Titus 2:13, etc. I must point out, however, one wonders how exactly Mr. Pastor would expect the authors of Scripture to express Jesus as God in the same way as the Father explicitly if they do not do so even by the identification of Christ as both Lord and God in John 20:28.

Mr. Pastor, however, has set up a dichotomy between Lord and God, God as an singular existential state and Lord (or even God) as a title like Moses stated above, I.e. judge and magistrate. According to him, God is the Father, and the Lord is Jesus. Does the Scripture do this? It seems to in 1 Cor 8:6 in using the appellation of God for the Father and Lord for Jesus:


“there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”
But this begs a further question: What does it mean that Jesus is called Lord (Κύριος)?

Mr. Pastor has claimed that Jesus is only god in the sense of elohim. Yet, the additional title given to Jesus of Κύριος (Lord) is bestowed on the Hebrew names of Elohim, Adonai and Yahweh indiscriminately. One can see this in Psalms 16:2, where the text reads: “Yahweh, you are my adonai.” The Greek Septuagint (LXX) translates both of these as Lord (Κύριος): “Lord, you are my Lord.” Not only does the LXX do so, but the New Testament does as well, such as when Matthew 22:44 quotes Psalm 110:1. The Hebrew read: “Yahweh said to my adonai” and is translated into Greek in Matthew 22:44 as “The Lord (Κύριος) said to my Lord (κυριω, genitive of Κύριος).” Both uses contain the singular article.

Therefore, Mr Pastor’s statement of there being only “ONE GOD,[and] ONE Lord” as one God=Father, and one Lord=Son, is false then under his own method of reading, because the Father (identified by Mr. Pastor as Yahweh) is Lord and Jesus is Lord. There would then be two identified as Lord! This is important, because this affects one’s reading of 1 Cor 8:6 “there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ.” This is no proof text for Mr. Pastor when by Paul saying there is “one Lord Jesus Christ,” this is not to the exclusion of the Lordship of the Father (for the Father is called Lord too as displayed above). Within the same sentence, Paul cannot mean “there is one God the Father” to the exclusion of the diety of Christ. The two phrases of “one God the Father” and “one Lord Jesus Christ” are identifications, not theological statements of “Jesus only is Lord, and not the Father” or “The Father only is God and not Jesus.” One could just as easily say, there is one God the Father and one Lord Jesus Christ as there is one Lord the Father and one God Jesus Christ. The titles of God and Lord belong to both Jesus and the Father, without ceasing to be truly one God and one Lord in their shared Godhead. There is one God, and the Father is God and Jesus is God.

We see this identification not only of the Father as Lord, but of the Son with the same titles as the Father in Hebrews 1:10. There, the author says the Father speaks to the Son (Heb 1:8) words intended for Yahweh in Psalm 102. The preceding verses contains the title of Yahweh for God, then says the Father spoke to the Son the words directed to Yahweh. Jesus being called Lord in Heb 1:10 entails everything that the Father being called Lord entails, and addresses Jesus as Yahweh.

This also shows Mr. Pastor’s sarcastic statement “GOD is now in the presence of GOD for us!?! Pleassseee!” to be silly and childish, in that we may say “The Lord is in the presence of the Lord.” Such as is the reality we have seen in Matt 22:44 - “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand.”

So we can see, the Scriptures do not share Mr. Pastor’s characterizations of the words God and Lord as exclusive to either the Father or the Son, but present them as applying to both the Father and the Son. And as said before, Thomas gives Jesus both titles unambiguously: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) So should we.

B) Jesus possesses Divine attributes

Mr Pastor’s presentation of John 1:1-4 is brief, which is appropriate as it destroys his argument. When in John 1:14 we are told the “Word became flesh,” Pastor says, “Its in verse 14 that GOD's [spoken] word became flesh resulting in Jesus Christ.” The Word is identified here, but it is not identified as spoken, he has read this in himself. The Word is identified as “God.” The “Word was God.” This time, singular as in the one God, not plural as in John 10’s exploration of elohim as applying to Moses. When God becomes flesh, when the Eternal takes on the temporal, yes, this results in Jesus in his full Person as God and as man.

Jesus is the Word of God, that is God. God became Flesh, and so is identified by John the Baptist in John 1:15. This shows us the shared divine attributes of Jesus and the Father since John the Baptist declares that Jesus pre-exists John the Baptist in John 1:15, 30, even though Jesus was born as man after John. This is the next point that leads us to acknowledge Jesus’ deity, namely that Jesus has the same divine attributes as the Father such as here eternality, or such as Omnipotence and Authority (Matt 28:18), Omnipresence (Matt 28:20), and Omniscience (John 1:48, Matt 11:47). The teaching of Scripture is that Jesus was first in the morphe of God, before becoming in the morphe of man (Phil 2). Jesus was God taking on flesh, not flesh being bestowed a title.

C) Jesus is worshipped as God

The Scriptures make clear commands that no one is to be worshiped except God. (Ps 115:1, Isa 42:8, Luke 4:8) Yet, we also see that the author of Hebrews wants to attack the idea that Jesus is just a high figure like an angel. In Heb 1:5-6, the author writes that the Father says of the Son: "Let all God's angels worship him." This passage is very reminiscent of Psalms 97:7: “All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods (elohim)!” Such a passage also brings in our previous point, namely that Christ’s status of elohim is higher than the judges or Moses, for Jesus is to be worshipped. Worship is only allowed for God, yet worship is commanded of Jesus, the Son. This is because the Son is God.


2) Mr. Pastor’s reflections on “echad” (or one) do not clarify. Two Persons are refered to as one flesh in Gen 2:24. Two Persons can therefore make up one reality. Jesus makes a similar connection in John 10:30, when he says “The Father and I are one.” The question is “one what?” The what is God. Two persons in Genesis 2:24 make up one flesh. Two Persons (Jesus and the Father) make up one God, without using a different sense of echad, one.

The language for Jesus’ status as Son is that he is begotten. When mentioned in John 3:16, the word is actually a combination of one, or only and begotten (μονογενής). The distinction should then be made between sons of God in the sense of the saints, and this different category for Jesus. This is the Father begetting a Son, not merely adopting as with God and men. Tell me, what is your father? When a father begets, is it something different from himself? Do pigs beget dogs, or do humans beget bananas? No, human begets human. God begets God. God the Father begets God the Son.


3) On propitiation by man I will respond later when I have a little more time.

Friday, September 26, 2008

God as Sweetness


I'm re-reading Augustine's Confessions. Having just finished Book 9, I again was exposed to one of my favorite parts. Augustine has struggled with the sweetness of sin, and his inability to turn to God. Now, after recounting his conversion, Augustine looks back and begins to ask these questions to God:

But where was my free will during all those years and from what deep and secret retreat was it called forth in a single moment, whereby I gave my neck to Your “easy yoke” and my shoulders to Your “light burden,” O Christ Jesus, “my Strength and my Redeemer”? How sweet did it suddenly become to me to be without the sweetness of trifles! And it was now a joy to put away what I formerly feared to lose. For You cast them away from me, O true and highest Sweetness. You did cast them away, and in their place You entered in Yourself--sweeter than all pleasure, though not to flesh and blood; brighter than all light, but more veiled than all mystery; more exalted than all honor, though not to them that are exalted in their own eyes. Now was my soul free from the gnawing cares of seeking and getting, of wallowing in the mire and scratching the itch of lust. And I prattled like a child to You, O Lord my God--my light, my riches, and my salvation.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Images of Baptism: Understanding Modes

Towards mutual understanding:

Everyone agrees that Baptism is a sign. The London Baptist Confession lists baptism as signing: “death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.” The Westminster Confession adds “a sign and seal of the covenant of grace” and “of regeneration” to that list. Each time baptism is performed, often all those items are not visited, but certain signs may be communicated by the very mode of baptism. Traditions will use different modes, and each communicates a different truth about the sign of baptism. Before those practicing other modes dismiss immersion, they should understand the biblical image communicated therein. Also, those practicing immersion should understand the biblical images communicated in pouring and sprinkling:

Immersion:
Immersion is the exclusive mode of baptism for Baptists and certain Orthodox. The image communicated is one of burial and resurrection with Christ. (Col 2:12) The image here communicates a wonderful picture of repentence, turning from sin that once was sweet, and now is bitter to Christ who is now sweeter. Such pictures can help the Christian know the inseparable relationship between faith and repentance in the death and rising, just as Romans 6:4 says:

“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Pouring:
Many other traditions, including Anabaptists, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Reformed and others will allow pouring as a mode of baptism. This mode was also used in the early church, as evidenced in the early church manual the Didache, (7.3) a document perhaps as old as the New Testament writings. The image here communicated is one of pouring out of the Spirit.

The book of John uses the image of water for the Spirit throughout the book, explicitly stated as such in 7:38-39. In Titus, God is said to wash us (using the word for washing associated with baptism in Acts 22:16) saying God saved us, “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly.” (Titus 3:5-6) Images of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit also exist in Acts 2:17-18, 33.

Sprinkling:
Other Reformation traditions will use sprinkling as a mode of baptism. Leviticus 16 instructs the priest to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant to “make atonement for the Holy Place,” becoming a perfect type of Christ’s atonement, where he acted both as High Priest and as the sacrifice. When making this connection with the mercy seat in Hebrew 9, the explicit identification of baptism with sprinkling is made in Hebrews 9:10, 13.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Driscoll agrees! :)

Not to fight more, but a Reformed credo-baptist (Mark Driscoll) has agreed that many denominational distinctives have gone away, not only with Baptists but many others. I don't agree that all denominations will weaken in influence (this has happened, but I don't know that it will continue necessarily). Many of his comments are true about Liberal Denominations (PCUSA, ECUSA, United Methodist, etc). Anyway, just interesting!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Faith: Head or Heart?


In making my way through "On Knowing Christ" by Jonathan Edwards, I have found one of the more explicit statements of Edwards' approach to the relation of head and heart in religious matters. Edwards is absolutely right that the head is first engaged to aprehend a truth about God and this is necessary. But then, the heart must be engaged to love that truth and move the affections. The rationalist approach to religion errs in making religion something merely of the mind. The enthusiast errs in believing religion can go directly to the heart without passing through the mind. Edwards stands in the middle and casts a pox on both their houses:


"THERE are two kinds of knowledge of divine truth, viz. speculative and practical, or in other terms, natural and spiritual. The former remains only in the head. No other faculty but the understanding is concerned in it. It consists in having a natural or rational knowledge of the things of religion, or such a knowledge as is to be obtained by the natural exercise of our own faculties, without any special illumination of the Spirit of God. The latter rests not entirely in the head, or in the speculative ideas of things; but the heart is concerned in it: it principally consists in the sense of the heart. The mere intellect, without the will or the inclination, is not the seat of it. And it may not only be called seeing, but feeling or tasting. Thus there is a difference between having a right speculative notion of the doctrines contained in the word of God, and having a due sense of them in the heart. In the former consists the speculative or natural knowledge, in the latter consists the spiritual or practical knowledge of them.

Neither of these is intended in the doctrine exclusively of the other: but it is intended that we should seek the former in order to the latter. The latter, or the spiritual and practical, is of the greatest importance; for a speculative without a spiritual knowledge, is to no purpose, but to make our condemnation the greater. Yet a speculative knowledge is also of infinite importance in this respect, that without it we can have no spiritual or practical knowledge."

-Jonathan Edwards in the sermon Christian Knowledge in "On Knowing Christ"

Friday, September 19, 2008

Mere Christianity: Only the Hallway



“I hope no reader will suppose the ‘mere’ Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions - as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in…When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall.”

- C.S. Lewis - Preface to Mere Christianity.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Jonathan Edwards on Romans 11:36


“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” - Romans 11:36

Jonathan Edwards in “God Glorified in Man’s Dependence”:

“The several ways wherein the dependence of one being may be upon another for its good, and wherein the redeemed of Jesus Christ depend on God for all their good, and these viz. That they have all their good of Him, and that they have all through Him and that they have all in Him.

That He is the cause and original whence all their good comes, therein it is of Him;

and that He is the medium by which it is obtained and conveyed, therein they have it through Him;

And that He is the good itself given and conveyed, therein it is in Him.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My Favorite Baptists

Lest my preference for the biblical inclusion of children in the covenant dismay my Baptist friends, there are several Baptists in Church History I do dearly benefit from. I thought here I might give my appreciation for the 5 best men that the Baptists have given to the Church:


The Preacher: Charles Spurgeon
Spurgeon is best known as “The Prince of Preachers.” His sermons are rich theologically and display a great talent for understanding the minds of the listener. He would often ask the very questions that the topic would bring up as if the audience was asking him about it. His sermons are definitely worth studying for style and substance. But Spurgeon cared not just for his own ministry, but for the training of the next generation of preachers. Some of his insights are preserved in the classic “Lectures to my Students.” [Iain Murray wrote a great biography highlighting Spurgeon's Calvinism called "The Forgotten Spurgeon"]


The Missionary: Adoniram Judson
Few people (other than my brother) have read any thing written by Judson, because his story is far more compelling. Judson was the first missionary to Burma, a title he was (too) proud of. Of course, God likes to strip us of those things we treasure instead of Him, and so one might read in the story of Judson’s life. To the Golden Shore is the best I know about to read up on Judson’s story.


The Hymn-writer: William Gadsby
Gadsby is perhaps, with Anne Steel, the greatest Baptist hymn writer in history. Gadsby compiled a hymn book for Baptists that infused their theology with much needed grace. Gadsby included non-Baptist hymn-writers Toplady (“Rock of Ages”), Isaac Watts (“When I Survey“), Newton (“Amazing Grace” ) and Cowper (“God moves in a mysterious way”) along with some of his classics (like the one I highlighted a year ago) “The Love of Christ is Rich and Free” and “Jesus the Lord, my Savior” [Many of Gadsby's hymns are being put to modern music by Red Mountain Music and Indelible Grace.]



The Novelist: John Bunyan
Bunyan penned the second most read and published book in the English language (behind the Bible), Pilgrim’s Progress. The book told the story of the life of a Christian through allegory. Bunyan wrote it while in prison for preaching without a licence. Bunyan also wrote Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, an account of his own spiritual journey. It does seem however, Bunyan’s church became a pedobaptist Congregationalist church after getting into some disputes with Baptists over the doctrine whether or not to allow members and communicants that were not re-baptized (much like the Piper and Grudem debate) and he eventually came to see it as needlessly divisive. But he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress as a Baptist so I will count him…


The Theologian: John Gill
I often consult John Gill’s magnus opum: his commentaries on Scripture. John Gill was a particular Baptist preacher who was perhaps one of their greatest theologians. Yet, here is where the my appreciation is the thinnest. Gill has many great insights, but also construed the doctrines of grace in such a way as to lay the groundwork for the hyper-Calvinists (whom Spurgeon called the followers of Gill). So far in reading his commentaries, I cannot tell if Gill himself disparaged the preaching of the gospel to everyone, or whether his followers just didn’t get him (which I am more apt to think). Still, his followers gave the doctrines of grace a bad name in Baptist culture, that Spurgeon was an exception to, and not the rule. Nonetheless, Gill’s commentary usually has a perspective I need to wrestle with.

Taking issue

From my experience which is not as in depth I have found that Protestants tend to say that church splits were wrong, well the ones that happened after the church they belonged to were wrong. Kind of like when driving everyone slower than you is a slow poke and those faster than you are reckless and should get off the road. Well this Baptist refuses to get off the road. I do not accept that Baptists have to be viewed the way Matt says they are in his post on history. He brought up “Baptist Distinctives” here are the ones I like as printed in Christian History. I LOVE all the people Matt listed as his heros and view myself as part of that stream. It would seem I am more willing to drink from his well than he is mine. In fact so much that I would not call Calvin “his” but he belongs to all of us! I also think that if these distinctive can be proven to not go back to certian periods in Church History then we have a problem or should at least admit that the Church has never been gasp “perfect”. That there are things to restore I feel no need to doubt. That the church is unbroken in history I also feel no need to doubt. Now I understand these will cause debate. I believe Jared has argued against all of them with me in some respect with acceptation to the Bible with a different focus and Preaching and evangelism. But I believe these distinctive have something to offer the catholic Church as a whole. If a majority of a tradition must follow it to be true are a majority of Presbyterians as good as PCA? And why would we not take a catholic view of the problems of Christ’s church? From that view we are hopelessly divided and we should close up the whole shop of Christianity. Leave the Baptists is enough? Which ever boat we chose to fish from we should be committed to the fleet and humbly admit those outside our tradition might understand something we don’t. Which is why I love to read from and as much as possible, have fellowship with many Christian traditions.

Baptist Distinctives
Five key convictions that have been essential to Baptists from their beginnings

The Supreme Authority of the Bible
The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience. We acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God and government of the Church which are common to human actions and societies and which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.
Thomas Helwys (1611)

Believer’s Baptism
Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, given by Christ, to be dispersed only upon persons professing faith. The way and manner of dispensing this Ordinance the Scripture holds to be dipping or plunging the whole body under water. It is a sign as follows: first, the washing of the whole Soul in the blood of Christ; second, the interest that the Saints have in the death, burial and resurrection; third, a confirmation of our faith that as certainly as the body is buried under water and rises again, so certainly shall the bodies of the Saints be raised by the power
of Christ, in the day of resurrection, to reign with Christ.
The London Confession (1644)

Local Church Autonomy
Each particular church has a complete power and authority from Jesus Christ to administer all gospel ordinances, provided they have sufficient, duly qualified officers …to receive in and cast
out, and also to try and ordain their own officers, and to exercise every part of gospel discipline and church government, independent of any other church or assembly whatever. Several independent churches where Providence gives them a convenient situation, may and ought for their mutual strength, counsel, and other valuable advantages, by their voluntary and free consent, to enter into an agreement and confederation.
Benjamin Griffiths (1746)

Preaching and Evangelism
The work of the Christian ministry, it has been said, is to preach the gospel, or to hold up the free grace of God through Jesus Christ, as the only way of a sinner’s salvation. This is Doubtless true; and if this be not the leading theme of our ministrations, we had better be Anything than preachers. Woe unto us, if we preach not the gospel! It will not be denied that the apostles preached the gospel: yet they warned, admonished, and intreated sinners to repent and believe; to believe while they had the light; to labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life; to repent and be converted, that their sins
might be blotted out; to come to the marriage-supper, for that all things were ready: in fine, to be reconciled unto God.
Andrew Fuller (1785)

Separation of Church and State
As religion must always be a matter between God and individuals, no man can be made a
member of a truly religious society by force or without his own consent, neither can any corporation that is not a religious society have a just right to govern in religious affairs.
Isaac Backus (1781)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why I am glad he left.

No not because he will not be missed here. Just getting your attention there! Matt seems like a great guy, we are truly poorer for his departure. Baptists have a lot of troubles and are bleeding members as a result. But I must confess since I never considered myself a Baptist I never learned much of their history and was prone to many a snide remarks about them. Ones my wife, who was saved thanks in no small part to a Baptist Church that reached out to her family, never like to hear me say. She has been happy to see me defending them in my thoughts a bit. It came to the point where I was willing to join her in taking the label. That made her smile when I said “sure I am a Baptist”. Now to my beloved Presbyterian brethren I must say thank you for lighting a fire under me. I know more of my own history and have felt a fresh love of my Baptist heritage and in the memory of receiving the ordinance of Baptism. The meaning of death, burial and resurrection has deepened for me.

This has been hanging on my wall for a week now. The Swedish Baptist Union sent it to me when I asked them about it. Wow all the way from my mother land! As that Baptist that annoys so many John Piper would say when we are talking about Baptism we are talking mainly about Christ. So yeah, I love this painting. Thanks guys for putting up with me as I argued with you, but mostly with myself. I now rest where I started. Proud, but not to proud ;-) to be a Baptist.

The Story of the Painting can be read here.

Matt Bradley: Why I left the Baptist Church



If you visit this site often, you have probably seen in the posts the comments of Matt Bradley. Matt Bradley and Jay Bennett are two of the men from whom I have gained much over the past year just sitting with, talking to, and listening to the two of them argue out theology which has given me a theological vocabulary and understanding of the ministry that made it palpable to me. Matt recently moved to Nashville to be ordained as a minister in a PCA church there. He recently posted his reasons for switching from being a minister in the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) to the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America). If interested, you can see what moved him to change. I’ve never really been part of a Southern Baptist Church, and my church experiences have been a little more positive in other traditions, so my linking does not means I share the same experiences, but just think others reading this blog might find the topic interesting. Go leave him some comments if you do!

Matt Bradley: Why did you leave the Baptist Church?

Part 1: People (good ones in the PCA)
Part 2: Theological Difference
Part 2B: Doctrinal Differences

Part 3: Historical Background
Part 4: Leadership Problems
Conclusion.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Henry Lyte's Final Hymn


Henry Lyte holds a high place as one of my favorite hymn-writers. Indelible Grace recently released their fifth album (buy here), including an amazing version of Lyte's "Abide with Me." [sheet music here] Lyte wrote this hymn while dying of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis. He finished it the same Sunday he gave his final sermon. He urged his parishoners:

"O breth­ren, I stand here among you to­day, as alive from the dead, if I may hope to im­press it upon you, and in­duce you to pre­pare for that sol­emn hour which must come to all, by a time­ly ac­quaint­ance with the death of Christ."

Such circumstances give more meaning to lines such as "Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes." I've highlighted the lines that always hit my affections when I read them:


Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word;
But as Thou dwell’st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.

Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings,
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea—
Come, Friend of sinners, and thus bide with me.

Thou on my head in early youth didst smile;
And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee,
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Why I Cannot be Roman Catholic


My investigation of the Christian faith has largely been executed in an historical manner. Such a journey often leads people to switch traditions. As for myself, I found myself most comfortable in Reformed Presbyterianism. But I also see some people look past Geneva (or even Wittenburg and Canterbury) to Rome. I must admit, at one time of reading Chesterton and Peter Kreeft, Rome looked like a magical destination. Yet, the more I study Historical Theology, the less Rome appeals to me. That is partly why I did this series, not just to bash Roman Catholics, but to explain why studying history led me away from Rome and not towards it. The areas in Romanism that attracted me (tradition, authority, etc) were not best preserved there. Instead, fidelity to a faith centered on Christ, that faith of the apostles and evident in so much of the history of the work of the Holy Spirit across time, leads me to Reformation Christianity. I want to do a few posts sometime on a more positive note of “Why I am a Reformed Catholic,” or Reformation Christian, or whatever, but I want to give some of topics I’d like to cover (Imputation, Word and Sacrament, Sola Fide, etc) a little more time to simmer in my mind, and allow myself some time to do some broader reading in systematics to best craft those posts. Let me know if there is any interest in such a thing or if I am writing these blog series just for my own benefit. Here is a recap of the Roman Catholic series:

Why I cannot be a Roman Catholic:

1) I believe in the catholic faith (and Rome departed from catholic teachings)

2) I believe in Tradition (as apostolic teaching, not mere transfer of authority)

3) I believe in Merit (Christ's Merit, not man's merit)

4) I believe Mary is the Theotokos (And points to Christ, not herself for devotion)

5) I believe in Authority (of Scripture above church, councils, and popes)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Why I cannot be a Roman Catholic (Part 5): I believe in Authority

I don’t have as much time for these posts with school work piling up, but I thought I would end on a final question of Authority. The question relates to the ability of the visible church and one in authority to contradict the true faith. Can the church or tradition be placed in a position of authority?


I would like to submit that the question must be nuanced to be of any value. For if the question is merely stated as above, the Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox should answer yes. There are many different ways at looking at authority in relation to Scripture, tradition and the church. I would like to briefly (probably too briefly) explore three possibilities. The Pope authoritatively determines doctrine, the Councils authoritatively determines doctrine and the "Church Fathers" determine church doctrine. My answer to the Church fathers and the councils is actually, yes they do to a large degree help determine the faith. Yet, the question is not just a determination of doctrine, but an infallible guide. The real question becomes: Can the Pope, a Council or a/the Father(s) infallibly be an authority of the Christian faith in the same way Scripture can?


The Church Fathers?


Some, mostly those new to Church History, will place the Church Fathers, (variously grouped from the Apostolic Fathers to Augustine or perhaps to Gregory the Great) in a place of authority and infallibility alongside the Bible. I think seeing Church Fathers as the deposit of infallible authority is the weakest answer. Various early church fathers, and not just Origen and Tertullian, but recognized orthodox church fathers like Gregory Nyssa, contradict each other and accepted orthodox doctrine in certain areas. If the Church Fathers are an infallible guide, do we accept Ireneaus’ premillenialism, or Augustine’s amillennialism? Do we hold to the Latin fathers who held to Christ’s presence in the Eucharist as a function of the priest’s invocation, or to the Eastern Fathers’ view of the presence as a function of the Holy Spirit? Do we hold to the partaking of the Eucharistic presence as by faith (as Augustine does) or as objective, as Thomas Aquinas does? Considering their disagreement with each other, it is not disrespectful to put them in a secondary relationship to Scripture, as the Second Helvetic Confession put it in Chapter 2: “Neither do we think that we do them any wrong in this matter; seeing that they all, with one consent, will not have their writings equated with the canonical Scriptures, but command us to prove how far they agree or disagree with them, and to accept what is in agreement and to reject what is in disagreement.”


And this is true, when writing about theology, early church theologians cited Scripture as a rule over faith. Tertullian would often base points of argument on merely stating "for the Scriptures have taught us." [Against Praxeas, ch 17] Justin Martyr called Typho the Jew to believe on the authority of "so many Scriptures [as] proved to you." Typho's criteria for belief is "the Scriptures compel me to admit." The early fathers themselves held Scripture to have authority over them.


The Church Councils?


One must first ask what is meant by elevating “councils” to authoritative status. In the early history of the church, multiple synods and councils met, some now called the “Ecumenical Councils” and some not. The Councils of Toledo where rejected as not speaking for the entire church by the East. Other councils such as Orange issued decrees that were later lost to a great part of the church. Generally, there are either Four or Seven Councils recognized by Christians. The first problem is identifying what is a genuine ecumenical council. The Council of Hieria met as an Ecumenical Council, but was later rejected by a subsequent Ecumenical Council (Second Nicaea).


If we look at the first four Ecumenical Councils, perhaps there can be more agreement there. While the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian Definition have a position of high importance in identifying orthodox Christianity, are they on the same level as Scripture? Scripture carries the same inspiration in Genesis as in Revelation, can we say this for the first four councils? In the first council in Nicea, an anathema was affixed at the end of the creed, condemning any who say Christ is of another “hypostasis” than the Father. By Chalcedon (the four council), Christ was being describes as one in ousia with the Father, but a different hypostasis than the Father. At one point, the wording of hypostasis was anathema, at another it was catholic faith. I say this not to undermine those creeds, which are vitally important to the faith, but to place the fluidity of tradition and developing understanding in contrast to the Scriptures.


The Councils display a developing understanding and a fluidity of terminology and words. Scripture, on the other hand, lends itself to interpretation based on the particular wording, tense and phrases invariably, rather than with fluidity. Jesus based His defence of resurrection on the particular tense of a verb in Exodus. (Matt 22:23-33) Jesus also spoke of the Law being preserved in such a way in the Law that neither a “jot or tittle” would pass from it. (this incidentally, is not a philosophy of text criticism, but a statement of the precise nature of Scripture's authority to the word.) Deuteronomy stated God is one, and though the New Testament developed the three persons, it was never to the denial of the Shema (that God is one). On the other hand, Nicaea first said one hypostasis, then developing terminology and need of another term then required the church to declare three hypostasis.


Can the Pope contradict the true faith?



I would submit for your consideration the little known case of Honorius. Honorius was Pope in the early Middle Ages and publicly backed the Monothelitist heresy. The church anathematized (condemned as a heretic) Honorius in the third Council of Constantinople for his heresy. In this case, the pope in authority did not speak for the true catholic faith. In fact, this case was cited in 1870 by Roman Catholics who did not want papal infallibility to become official doctrine (yes, it was not a formal doctrine until 1870). Of course, modern Catholics can use an achronistic new category of ex cathedra to read back into the affair to say that somehow though Honorius was supporting, writing letters and encouraging people to believe such a heresy he still was not "officially wrong" because he did not say he was officially speaking from the chair of St. Peter. It is a good argument since that phrase was not used for making teaching “official” by bishops of Rome - but it was said about the bishop of Rome in the Council of Chalcedon when they praised the current bishop of defending orthodoxy at the council. This is another interesting instance where the orthodoxy of the bishop of Rome was judged by others and not his own self-declaration, but I digress. One must deal with the fact that to be true to the catholic faith during Honorius’ reign, one had to disagree with the Pope to be catholic. That is because the true catholic faith is about something other than mere human authority. But for more detail, and how this helps disprove papal infallibility, see Schaff’s treatment here.


The Authority of Scripture.


Catholic apologetics cannot allow for a fallible Pope, mostly due to their quasi-Gnostic view of Scripture. What do I mean by quasi-Gnostic view of Scripture? Catholics set up interpretation of Scripture as this impossible task, best left to the magesterium. The Papacy becomes the only way to know if an interpretation is correct. In this way, modern Catholic apolegtics sets up a faith to crumble. The idea that the teaching of the Pope was errent now has set up a situation where because the Scriptures are set up as a foreign book of codes, it no longer is able to be understood at all. Is this how the early church interpreted the Bible?


Irenaeus, when facing the question of interpretation, never appeals to a magesterium, but boldly declares, "the entire Scriptures, the prophets, and the Gospel, can be clearly, unambigiously and harmoniously understood by all..." but the important distinction between the Christian understanding and the pagan is "...all do not believe."

There are several principles the early church sets up for the interpretation of scripture, the first:

1) Believe and you will understand.
This is a trust in the authority and of God to speak through the Scriptures. Anslem said this more broadly about theology stating he does not "understand in order to believe, but believes in order to understand."


2) Christ is the key to interpretation
The Apostolic Father Ignatius wrote to a group of believers who debated if they should accept the gospel preached to them in the Gospels and the preachers, questioning how to interpret the Old Testament (which they refered to as the ‘archives‘). Ignatius replied “But for me, the archives are Jesus Christ, the unalterable archives are his cross and death and his resurrection and the faith that comes through him.” [Ignatius to the Philadelphians 8:2] The rule of faith in interpretation was to see the Scriptures through the lens of the person and work of Christ. The first creed of Christianity is "Jesus is Lord." (Rom 10:9, Phil 2:11, etc.) Such a creed is not merely bestowing a title, but the reorienting of all life to a different paradigm. This reorientation extends even to the reading of Scripture. The true interpretation of Scripture is Christotelic. But you can read more on that elsewhere…


3) Scripture does not answer all our questions
Irenaeus ends his short section on interpretation declaring that though some questions can be clearly answered from Scripture, not all can. "In regards to those things which we investigate in the Scriptures, we are able by the grace of God to explain some of them, while we must leave others in the hands of God." Scripture does not intend to explain some scientific matters like the human circulatory system or even some theological matters such as the circumstances of the fall of Satan or workings of the responsibility of man and the sovereignty of God or the reasons behind God's election of some and not others.


The writings of the church fathers inform our reading of Scripture. The creeds provide the boundries. Christ provides the key. Yet, in the end, the Scriptures are our only infallible rule for faith, of which no other has claim, be it tradition, a pope, a theologian or a council. Perhaps this is why theology remains both a science and an art. Yet, objective truth remains, as the Second Helvetic puts it:


“Who Is The Judge? Therefore, we do not admit any other judge than God himself, who proclaims by the Holy Scriptures what is true, what is false, what is to be followed, or what to be avoided. So we do assent to the judgments of spiritual men which are drawn from the Word of God.”

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Quote of the Day: the church catholic


"The Catholic church is one mystical body of Christ, and all good Christians make up but one body, incorporated by one charter, that of the gospel, animated by one Spirit, the same Holy Spirit who by his gifts and graces quickens, enlivens, and governs that body. If we belong to Christ, we are all actuated by one and the same Spirit, and therefore should be one." -Matthew Henry on Ephesians 4

Friday, September 05, 2008

Augustine on Friendship


For a class, I am (re)reading Augustine's Confessions. It has been four years since I last read them (way too long!). His life story drips with perception and deep insight while he bleeds Scripture in every turn of phrase. In book 4, a close friend of Augustine dies. The experience created a "tettered bleeding soul" and then Augustine pens what must be one of the greatest descriptions of friendship in Western Civiliation:

"There were other joys to be found in my friends' company which more powerfully captivated my mind - the charms of talking and laughing together and kindly giving way to each other’s wishes, reading well-written books together, sharing jokes and delighting to honor one another, disagreeing occasionally but without rancor, as a person might disagree with himself, and lending more excitement by that rare disagreement to our much more frequent accord. We would teach and learn from each other, sadly missing any who were absent and blithely welcoming them when they returned. Such signs of friendship sprang from the hearts of friends who loved and knew their love returned, signs to be read in smiles, words, glances and a thousand gracious gestures. So were sparks kindles and our minds fused inseparably, out of many becoming one.

This is what we esteem in our friends and so highly do we esteem it that our conscience feels guilt if we fail to love someone who responses to us in love or do not return the love of one who offers love to us, and this without seeking bodily gradification from the other save signs of his goodwill. From this springs our grief if someone dies, from this comes the darkness of sorrow and the heart drenched with tears because sweetness has turned to bitterness, so that as the dying lose their life, life becomes no better than death for those who live on. Blessed is he who loves You [Oh, Lord], and loves his friend in You and his enemy for Your sake. He alone loses no one dear to him, to whom all are dear in the One who is never lost. And who is this but our God, the God who made heaven and earth and fills them…Your law is truth, and You Yourself are Truth. "

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Why I cannot be Roman Catholic (Part 4): I believe Mary is the Theotokos


My summer free time reading has been filled with Historical Theology. In reading the history of doctrine, I noticed I had a blind spot: Mary. My attention to Mary, mother of Jesus, only consisted in the fact that she was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus. Beyond that, what was there to learn from her? Soon, I realized there was much to learn from her.

First, what did it mean that she was the mother of Jesus? In the Christological debates asking about the deity of Christ, the most orthodox thing to say about Mary was that she was "Θεοτόκος" (Theo=God, tokos=bearer). This does not mean Mary is "God the Mother” (as I heard one person attack the term), but that Mary is “God-bearer.” This title contains the baffling paradox, that a teenage single mother carried inside her the One who created her, Who created the earth she walked on and the universe in which that earth hung. The Creator was held in a creature.

Second, I had to learn that Mary was supreme in her commitment to Jesus. Before any signs, Mary knew her son’s mission, commanding others to do “whatever he says” at the wedding in John 2. Mary was there at the beginning of Christ’s ministry, and even at the end at the cross in John 19:25-27, even when the “great” disciples had run off. Though Mary may have had a lapse of judgment back at the temple in Jesus’ youth (leaving him, then scolding him), Mary was committed to her son’s adult ministry from start to finish. Christ’s mother and earthly authority was supremely submissive to her Son’s authority and duty.

Throughout my studies, I found Mary to be someone of honor in the early church, and continuing in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, who lifted up Mary as a supreme example of holiness, and I had to agree: Mary was the Theotokos and truly a saint worthy of imitation.

That was until my reading encountered the post-Thomas Aquinas Latin church. During Thomas’ time, a new teaching arose that declared that Mary was conceived immaculately herself. Both Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux opposed this new teaching, for if she was conceived this way, and born without original sin and herself was sinless, then she also would need no redemption, and all humans need redemption, even the mother of the Redeemer.

The Latin Church, however, pushed a noble honor of Mary into idolatry. They changed the accepted interpretation of Scripture. Originally, Proverbs 8:22-31 had always been interpreted as pointing to Christ, the wisdom of God (see the debate with Arius). Now Mary was the wisdom of God according to Nicholas of Cusa. Richard of St. Lawrance could even insert Mary’s name into John 3:16 - “that Mary so loved the world that she gave her only son” …Mary was “my only hope” [Thomas a Kempis] and exercised “maternal authority over God.” [Gerson] Finally, Mary could be “adored as God” according to Nicholas of Cusa, a mediatrix between Christ the Mediator and humanity. Despite the honor given to writers like Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux who opposed some of this, the cult of Mary dominated the scene. The paradox of a creature carrying God, became herself the god of many.

Despite my deference to the development of the treatment of Mary in the East, even to the point of not finding the “ever-Virginity” of Mary to be a doctrine worth fighting over for those who hold it, yet the Latin Church went beyond the bounds of devotion. Saints make up a “great cloud of witnesses” but their primary job is to be witnesses. The lives of the saints abound in rich treasures of contextual gospel living, worship and devotion, but if their actions do not point upward, they are distractions. God shares his Glory with no one, and no one is worthy of worship other than God. (Ps 115:1, Isa 42:8) It is quite important to keep the title of Mary as Theotokos, especially for its Christological importance, but most importantly to point to the object of worship which she bore, not to herself. The cult of Mary as it arose in Latin Christendom is neither catholic, nor Christian. Mary’s greatness is found in her bearing not a mere man who rose to greatness, but bearing the great God who condescended to humility and suffering.

Truly and simply this is why I cannot be Roman: Romanism too often fails to keep the main thing the main thing. It places a man (or a woman) in the place of satifier, of ultimate authority, and of worship. The center of our life and worship is Christ. Theology is not primarily a reflection on the words of Calvin or Aquinas or papal encyclicals or Ecumenical Councils or Creeds or even Scripture - it is a reflection on the Word. Theology is understood by, points to, resolves in and professes the Word as Person, in Christ. He is our Mediator. His Spirit is our guide. His Father, the Son reveals; for the Triune God is revealed in and by Christ. The Scriptures are His word. The Church is His Bride. Religious reflection can often obsess over Soteriology or Ecclesiology - and this might be acceptable, if it is obsessively looking for Christ. A man who may be too often an idol himself once said: “men are born idol makers.” We may place trust in many things as Christians: a preacher, an upbringing, a teacher, in a Pope, or a Reformer or tradition. Yet none of these is worthy of our trust in the same way as Christ. The highest they can attain to is a pointer to God in Christ.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Why I Cannot be a Roman Catholic (Part 3): I Believe in Merit



The spark of the Reformation is undoubtedly the issue of indulgences. Indulgences, however, only point to the bigger issue of the Reformation, namely: The abandonment by the Roman Church of the catholic doctrine of the work of Christ. But two late medieval innovations must be considered before any evaluation of the Roman Church’s lack of congruence with tradition may be made: penance and merit.

Penance itself was not a new theological concept. The concept would even live on in Reformation traditions. The Eastern Orthodox believed in penance as an instrument of maintaining the seriousness of sin. The late medieval Latin church, however, described the parts and efficacy of penance in a novel way in the time of Duns Scotus. Penance now had three parts: contrition, confession, and satisfaction. One must feel guilt for their sin, confess the sin, and then make restitution for their sin.

The final stage of the Latin doctrine of penance, satisfaction, led to another novel doctrine. Satisfaction had been explored in Anselm before, and as he explained it, satisfaction rests on the basic and reasonable idea that any wrong requires an act of restitution to the wronged party. After Anselm died, later medievals began applying satisfaction to the work of penance: man was able by his own actions to merit grace from God. The best short summary of this belief was stated by theologian Gabriel Biel: “When people do their best (Quid in se est), God infallibly gives grace.” This was because, “by virtue of contrition our sins are forgiven.” [John Fisher]

The problem with this formulation of satisfaction in penance and merit lies in its novelty.

The gospel the early church found in Scripture did not look for the salvation of man in men’s own works or man’s merit but Christ. The Athanasian Creed identifies Christ as He “Who suffered for our salvation.” The Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed presents the work of Christ in suffering, dying, and rising again as all, “for us and our salvation.” The Definition of Chalcedon also presents the purpose of Christ’s incarnation as “for us men and for our salvation.” The satisfaction Anselm wrote of in “Why God Became Man,” was the satisfaction of God’s wrath accomplished by God Himself in Christ.

Some late medieval theologians tried to reconcile this contradiction with an explanation of merit as gracious receiving or a distinction between two types of merit (condign and congruent). Man’s merit was merely a lesser merit, in response to grace; a means of acquiring Christ’s “first meriting.” Obviously, Men could not merit all that was needed for salvation. One approach, mostly by the volunteerists, could be seen as a marketplace where a customer might want a product of $100 value, but only possesses $50, or even less, perhaps $10. The merchant graciously sets the condition so that he may give a product worth $100 for the $10 on his voluntary decree beforehand (in actu secundo). [and Protestants are accused of legal fiction!] Others (the more sacramentalist leaning) employed different models, instead putting the customer in need of extra merit so to his own merit would be added what the Church was able to distribute from the “treasury of merits” that Christ and the saints had left over from their good deeds. Men could then merit Christ’s merit. Satisfaction was worked out in an imparted grace in man, where he perfected the grace given him in good works.

Yet, even these were pitiful attempts to harmonize these innovations with tradition and Scripture, because both Scripture and the testimony of the church was to the gospel through the merit of Christ. This is the merit I believe in, Christ's merit won on my behalf. I can do no other from the testimony of Scripture where men’s “wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23) I can do nothing else from tradition where Augustine, commenting on Romans 6:23 wrote, “[Paul] preferred to say ‘the gift of God is eternal life,’ in order that we might understand that God leads us to eternal life for His mercy’s sake, not for the sake of our merits.”

The formulation of penance made by some late medievals violates the catholic faith. Athanasius in On the Incarnation stated: “But [mere] repentance would, firstly, fail to guard the just claim of God.”[sec 7]

No act of repentance or penance by itself can answer God’s demand for justice in man's violation of His infinitely great law. Athanasius argues man was the offender, but man was incapable of atoning for his own sins. God was the only party that had the ability, but was not man in order to make atonement. Thus, God must become man to be our substitute:

“It belonged to none other to bring man back from the corruption which had begun, than the Word of God [Jesus].” [sec 10] “The common savior of all has died on our behalf, we, the faithful in Christ, no longer die the death as before.” [sec 21]

True merit is found only in the passion of Christ, not in the works wrought by people. The true strange work of salvation is not accomplished in reconciling God to man inside man, but “alien” to man (Isaiah 28:21) Righteousness is not found coming from man, but “the Lord is our righteousness” (Jer 23:6)

There could hardly be stronger words in Scripture for the uselessness of our deeds before God. We have nothing of value to exchange, indeed what we have is of anti-value. Our reading of Isaiah 64:6 is sanitized in our translations because we do not want to offend people at church. But when our righteousness is called “filthy rags” the translation is inaccurate. The proper meaning of the words translated “filthy rags” is actually “soiled menstrual rags.” There are few ways to more emphatically stress the anti-value of works than calling them bloody tampons. They have no value and are negative in value. If you try to sell them, people may pay you to get the menstrual rags away from them, but not give them a positive value higher than their already positive value. Any talk of our relative merit is mere sophistry. As Paul tells us:

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. (Rom 4:2-4)

That is why Paul said, God is the “one--who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” The gospel tells us “It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Rom 4:24-25)

The work of Christ is the ground of justification, not works or merit. Christ is the satisfaction and propitiation of God’s wrath, not our dirty menstrual rags, for as much as we think our filth is worthy, God does not want to touch them, and cannot be near our most holy deeds for they are all tainted with the stench of sin. As Clement of Rome so aptly put it, we “are not justified by…works which we have wrought in holiness of heart.” The catholic faith is in the God who justifies the ungodly, who Himself must merit our salvation if we are to have any hope of salvation. I hope all who read will realize that there is no other refuge except when “your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Pet 1:21)