Monday, September 27, 2010

tradition isn't Tradition

Catholics follow Scripture and Tradition with equal reverence. Evangelicals understand what Scripture is, of course, but Tradition is often misunderstood. What is it? Didn't Jesus specifically teach against following tradition?

Matthew 15.1-6
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked,"Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!" Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God, he is not to 'honor his father' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.

First, Jesus is against upholding traditions that contradict the commands of God. Jesus no doubt followed many customs that were not explicitly commanded by God, the use of synagogues as an example (also, modes of speech, dress, etiquette, etc). All churches, evangelical or Catholic, have traditions like this. Maybe your church always sings Silent Night during their Christmas Eve Vigil service. Maybe your church always takes the collection after music worship but before the sermon. These are just customs of practice. They are not commanded by God, but neither do they contradict the commands of God.

Second, and most importantly, the 'tradition' that is being talked about in this passage is 'the tradition of the elders'. What's being referred to here is a custom or a way of doing things, that perhaps developed over time. No one here thinks this practice came from God, it comes from 'the elders'. And this is not what Catholics mean by Tradition. In other words, the above passage isn't even referring to what Catholics call Tradition. This is what Catholics mean by Tradition:

Catholics believe that the Word of God was definitively revealed to the world in the person of Jesus Christ. The deposit of faith has been fully given and nothing will be added to it. This Word of God has been passed on in two ways:

(1) It has been passed on in writing, which we refer to as the Sacred Scriptures. It "is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit." (CCC 81)

(2) The Word of God has also been passed on "orally by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received—whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit". (CCC 76) This is called Tradition.

The teachings of both Scripture and Tradition originate only from Jesus and the Apostles. If an idea originated from a time after that, it's not a part of either the Scriptures or the Tradition. The Church may better or more fully understand or find new ways to articulate what has been passed on, but nothing can be added to either the Scriptures or to Tradition.

So Tradition does not come from man, it comes from God himself. When the Catholic Church bases something on Tradition, she is basing it on the Word of God. And since both Scripture and Tradition pass on the Word of God, they cannot contradict.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes a very clear distinction between what the Tradition is and what it is often misunderstood to be by evangelicals:

"The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus' teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition.Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical, or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In the light of Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church's magisterium." (CCC 81)

So we have traditions, customs that have sprung up here and there for various reasons. These originate from man and can be changed or abandoned, especially if they are found to contradict the Word of God. We also have Tradition, which is a means by which the Word of God has been passed on to us. It originates in God and cannot be changed or abandoned, nor can it contradict itself or Scripture since the Word of God cannot contradict itself.

tradition isn't Tradition.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Who's Really In Charge

I have often heard evangelicals level the charge that Catholics do not really ultimately follow the Word of God. According to Catholic belief, the Church's Magisterium - the bishops led by the Pope - has the final authority in the Church to interpret the Word of God. Some evangelicals say that because the Magisterium gets to interpret the Word of God, the Magisterium is the one who is really in charge.

But such evangelicals forget that interpretation is always a part of the process of understanding the Word of God. Someone has to interpret, and if, according to their own reasoning, whoever makes the final interpretation has the real authority, let us see who has the ultimate authority for evangelicals.

I think most evangelicals are just following their pastors, and I think most of us can agree on that. Most evangelicals are unable to do the research necessary to even have a relatively informed opinion about whether what their pastor is teaching is accurately based on the Word of God. Now, they usually like their pastor, they trust him/her, they know that he/she is more educated than they are, and they are willing to listen to him/her. In fact, that's one of the main reasons they're going to church in the first place - to learn. So although evangelical pastors don't have absolute, never-to-be-revoked authority like the Catholic Church claims, in the very least many pastors have an incredibly great amount of influence over their congregants. The church pastors are the ones who are doing the interpreting and are therefore, by the reasoning used against Catholics, the ones who are really in charge. The argument that evangelicals sometimes use against Catholics comes right back at most of them.

Some of the more educated and passionate evangelicals out there will object. They pray over Scripture daily, vigorously study it, and think - perhaps rightly - that they have a decent handle on what Scripture teaches. They are certainly not just following their pastors, they check everything out for themselves.

But is such a position really better? For who then is making the final interpretation for such people? Themselves. They may consult pastors, theologians, books, study aids - but at the end of the day, they make their own final judgment. In fact, many such evangelicals take pride in the fact that they are not slaves to any church authorities, hierarchies, or pastors - that they are their own authority. Again, applying the reasoning used against Catholics, this means that these evangelicals are really just following themselves, not the Word of God.

But we have forgotten something: the Holy Spirit! Yes, evangelicals might say that they are not following themselves because they have the Holy Spirit and follow Him.

And that is exactly what the Catholic Church says about its Magisterium! Such evangelicals use the same reasoning to justify themselves as the Catholic Church does, except that the Church is even better: it provides a reason why we should trust the the Magisterium to follow the Holy Spirit accurately - its apostolic authority and succession from Jesus himself, and a history that shows continuity in teaching over a 2000 year period. Individual evangelicals have neither justification. In fact, the innumerable and widely divergent interpretations among individual Christians who are supposedly being led by the same Holy Spirit seems to undeniably point to the fact that unordained individuals attempting to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit in matters of belief are extremely inaccurate. So in all those cases that evangelicals are not following God (since God cannot contradict himself), they are following someone else, most likely simply themselves.

In the end, the evangelical charge that the Magisterium is really the one in charge of Catholics comes back to bite evangelicals. We are left with the fact that, whether you are a Catholic or an evangelical, someone will be interpreting the Word of God. Both claim guidance by the Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church's Magisterium has reasons to backup its claim to being guided by the Holy Spirit, and thus be keeping God in charge. Evangelicals provide no added reason and experience proves they are untrustworthy, leaving the only conclusion that evangelicals are the ones who are perhaps not ultimately following God, but that someone else is really in charge.

New Job


Just an update in the life-happenings of the Millegans: I was recently hired as the new Director of Faith Formation for youth at St Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Buffalo, MN. Very exciting for us! We are in the process of finding a house in Buffalo so we can live closer to the church. Say a pray for us and the church. I will continue working on an MA in Theology at the St Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St Paul, MN, but will take fewer classes at a time.

Krista's health is going great. Except for the blood thinner she takes every evening, I forget that she even had a problem. Praise the Lord! Elijah is doing great, too. He's getting closer to rolling over every day! And he can stand pretty well too if you help him with balance.

Also, several people have asked what the purpose of the blog is. That is a great question! I'll be working on something that tries to explain that, and hopefully I can have it up as a page with a link at the top sometime in the next few weeks.

- Brantly

Saturday, September 11, 2010

10 Quick Things Every Evangelical Should Know

In no particular order...

- The phrase "faith alone" appears in the Bible only once, in James 2.24: "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone."

- The exact 66 book canon used by Protestants as their Bible did not exist until the 16th century. No theologian, bishop, or Christian group claimed the exact combination until Protestants created it. Protestants made their canon by removing books and portions of books which had been universally accepted as part of the Bible for centuries.

- Martin Luther, hero of Bible-defending Protestants, in addition to removing books such as Wisdom and Tobit, also attempted to remove the New Testament books of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation from the canon. In his famous German translation, he took them out of order and placed them at the end with a note that he didn't think they were Scripture.

- Although his translation of the Bible into German is often hailed as a break-through in bringing the Scriptures into the venacular, Martin Luther's was not the first - the Catholic Church had already made at least 18 different full translations of the Bible into German.

- Prior to the 16th century, no Christians anywhere had ever conceived of the Church apart of the concept of apostolic authority and succession, as Protestants do.  (Aside from, of course, heretics such as the Gnostics.)

In addition to the Scriptures themselves, which bear witness to apostolic authority and succession, extra-Biblical Christian writings as early as within the 1st century bear witness to the fact that the apostles passed their authority on to successors who passed it on to others, and that the Church was visibly built around such authority.

- The doctrine of sola scriptura is found nowhere in Scripture. In fact, the opposite is taught: "So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by letter." (2 Thess 2.15)

- Nowhere does the Bible say that either baptism or the Lord's Supper are to be taken as merely symbolic. Metaphysical claims are made regarding both without any qualification (e.g. Romans 6Matthew 26.26-27).

- Though all evangelicals today reject the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary, Protestant Reformers Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, and John Calvin, and even the later John Wesley, actually agreed with the Catholic Church that Mary remained a virgin her entire life.

- Though many evangelicals criticize the Catholic Church's Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), Jesus specifically gives his disciples the power to give and withhold forgiveness in John 20.22-23: "And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.'"

Friday, September 3, 2010

Casually Worshiping God

After arriving, you grab your coffee at the church's coffee shop and take it with you into the worship space, often some sort of auditorium with a stage. Generic CCM is playing in the background as announcements flash across the screens. Small groups of people are standing conversing while others are finding their seats. Without much notice from the congregation, the music worship team comes up on the stage. As the band begins to play, the leader welcomes people to the church and encourages them to worship in whatever manner is comfortable for them. Following the music, everyone sits and listens to a relevant message.

The atmosphere is relaxed, informal, casual.

Are there evangelicals that worship differently than what I have just described, and who take their worship very seriously and reverently? Yes. But it hasn't been the trend, and it is no longer the norm. What I have described above, isn't just how some evangelicals, perhaps the more norminal attenders, happen to be approaching their worship of God. This is the environment that many evangelical churches today intentionally create, and take pride in doing so.

An example: Life Church claims over 26,000 weekly attenders at 13 campuses in 6 states, making it the 2nd largest church in the US. In the "What to Expect" section of it's website, it's first point is "casual atmosphere".

A Google search with "casual worship atmosphere" returns results of innumerable churches that also tout the casualness of their worship. One such less known church that came up had this picture and accompanying description on their home page:

"We are using the coffee illustration to best define who we are. When you think of coffee, you think of relaxing with friends and getting to know them better or enjoying the view over a steamy cup. That's how church should, relaxing, and all the while giving you the boost you need to go through the week! At our services you can expect extremely creative messages that are relevant to what's going on in your life. Our services are an hour and five minutes long with a casual dress code. It is a comfortable environment that easily fits into your life, yet provides you with a worthwhile experience."

Of course, many evangelical churches that do not self-describe themselves as casual on their website nonetheless worship in the same manner.

The problem, I hope, is obvious: there is nothing casual about worshiping the Almighty God of the universe.

Let us compare what the Catholic Church expects of it's worshipers.
The sanctuary is truly that - a sacred place. The most prominent feature of the room, front and center, is a representation of Jesus on the cross. On the side walls hang the Stations of the Cross. You enter the sanctuary silently, or at least quietly, crossing yourself with holy water as a reminder of your baptism. You genuflect before entering the pew out of reverence. Once you reach your seat, you kneel to pray in prepration for the Mass. In some Catholic Churches, a speaker will welcome the congregation prior to the start of Mass and ask everyone to take a moment to silently prepare their hearts and minds. The Mass that follows is orderly and specific, and has both standing and kneeling at various points to show special respect. And it all culminates in the profound reception of the Body of our Lord.

In other words, the worship is reverent and serious.

Do all Catholics approach Mass as reverently as they should? Sadly, no, though many do apporach Mass reverently. But however imperfectly, reverence is for what the Church strives. And it is not just an abstract ideal that is recommended; it is built in to every aspect of the ritual of the Mass.

Because there's nothing casual about worshiping God.