A Truer Ecumenical Movement — Who is a Christian?

Posted April 19, 2010 by loydf
Categories: Christianity, Real Presence, salvation

Tags: ,

Ryan Self, the publicist for Abilene Christian University Press, kindly sent me a pdf file containing the manuscript for Radical Ecumenicity: Pursuing Unity and Continuity after John Howard Yoder, a work dedicated to exploring the ecumenical thoughts of John Howard Yoder, a “celebrated Mennonite theologian” as Mr. Self properly described him in the email sent out to a some WWW bloggers drawn, I gather, from those who’ve shown some interest in the work of Professor Yoder. I’ll be writing from a Catholic viewpoint, fully accepting the items in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed and the claims of Rome that Christian churches should be united with the Pontiff of the Catholic Church, who happens as a matter of historical accident to be the Bishop of Rome, but I don’t think modern Catholics, or other modern Christians, have coherent ways to think and speak about human beings and the world we inhabit. We’ve lost contact with Creation and, hence, with the Creator.

Before going further, I’ll give three of my reasons for wanting to write some blog entries about this book and about the general subject of ecumenicism:

  1. I was baptized in a Congregationalist church as an infant and later was re-baptized in a Campbell-Stone church in Atlanta in the mid-1980s. About five years later, I entered the Catholic Church. I wasn’t happy with the Catholic Church as a human institution and I’m still not happy with it as a human institution. I’m far from being a Catholic Triumphalist though I strongly believe that the Catholic Church is the core of the pilgrim Church on Earth. My reasons for becoming a Catholic are complex and form a novel rather than a sentence and I’ll not write the novel here. In any case, I wish to better understand and communicate my reasons for decisions made in my ongoing spiritual journey. I believe that God sent me on this journey for my own good but also to teach what I learn to others.

  2. I respect the moral integrity of John Howard Yoder and many others from the peace churches. Professor Yoder in particular has shown the courage to witness to his belief in a radical and self-risking non-resistance. Though I support the concept of just-war, I think Yoder was right in When War is Unjust in claiming that just wars are not possible in our age.

  3. I also have a great respect for those Christians who make a serious effort to study the Bible, including Mennonites and the members of the Campbell-Stone churches. All Christians, including Catholics, should work to develop the intelligence and honesty to read the Bible as a source of ever-fresh understandings of God’s own Creation and of the story of human salvation set within that Creation. At the same time, I think that Mennonites and many others too easily dismiss the revelations present in the Apostolic traditions which were developing even while Saul was still persecuting Christians and the Gospels were still being transmitted mouth to ear. I’ll also claim that Christians, as Christians, should be learning from God’s Creation. It’s not just a neutral setting, not the pagan world co-eternal with the God of Plato, but rather a very particular work which reflects some freely made decisions of the God of Jesus Christ. I would conjecture that Creation itself carries a lot of truths God wishes us to learn, not just that we might build better power-plants but that we might learn to think a little bit more like our Maker.

Since the number ‘3’ is holy to Christians, I’ll also list three issues which we must honestly discuss if we’re to play our proper role in forming the Body of Christ.

Who is a Christian?

John Howard Yoder misstates the teaching of the Catholic Church in the essay reprinted as the ninth chapter of Radical Ecumenicity, The Ecumenical Movement and the Faithful Church:

Roman Catholics have no difficulty with such [ecumenical] questions, for they believe, consistently and in line with the doctrines of the church, that it is possible to be a Christian only within their own organization.

There are many Roman Catholics who think they’re the only true Christians, but that’s not the teaching of the Catholic Church. This is what the college of Catholic Bishops had to say when they gathered for the Vatican II Council:

The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but who do not however profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter. [Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, Section 15 of Chapter II: “The People of God”]

The name of “Christian” honors all who have received a Trinitarian baptism — “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” using water. It is, in fact, a sacrilege for a Catholic to knowingly re-baptize someone who has received such a baptism. In cases of doubt, priests will perform what is called a conditional baptism. (“If you are not baptized, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”) So long as water — as little as a drop of spit if necessary — and the Trinitarian formula is used and the intent is proper, the baptism holds, even without faith on the part of the recipient though the graces of baptism won’t flow into the recipient until he has faith. In other words, baptism, like any Sacrament, is an objective act done for God and under His instructions and with His participation. It’s not primarily a human act of ritual convention though it necessarily becomes that as a secondary matter.

What is meant by “the Catholic faith in its entirety”?

There is the Catholic faith in its entirety which is professed by the members of the 20+ Catholic churches and also by the Orthodox churches and by a few independent Eastern churches. In the modern age, the Catholic Church has, in fact, re-established relationships, sometimes full communion, with some ancient churches in Asia and Africa. The entirety of the “Catholic faith” centers around the fullness of the Eucharistic Rite where a priesthood in the line of succession of the Apostles can consecrate the bread and wine produced by men so that it becomes the Body and Blood of Christ. Those priests are acting under the delegated authority of the one true Priest, Jesus Christ who gave us this commandment:

So, Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” [John 6:53(b)-54]

These are hard words? What would you expect from the incarnate Son of God? Did He come to confirm the common sense of that age or ours? Or did He come to teach us that truth is richer than any human body of common sense and we have to respond to God’s Word, to His words, and to His Creation, that we might move towards that greater truth? To move towards that greater truth is to move towards God and towards the world of the resurrected where we might share the life of God, true life.

After Jesus spoke such hard words, many of His followers went away, most certainly not because He claimed that He gave bread to symbolize His own flesh and wine to symbolize His own blood, but because He taught that His followers must eat His flesh and drink His blood. Those who wish to understand the importance of this issue can read John 6:52-71 and note the story about those who had trouble believing the words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood includes a discussion of Judas Iscariot. Christ Jesus spoke some hard words indeed.

The Catholic Church doesn’t teach that all those who refuse to accept these words as a true commandment are traitors as was Judas Iscariot. Yet, that refusal creates a difference that can’t be ignored by those churches which believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine. Even those baptized properly and honored with the name of Christian cannot share communion with Catholics or Orthodox or members of a few other Eastern Churches, churches which have maintained a priesthood which can celebrate a true Eucharistic Rite, because they would be eating unworthily. The word ‘unworthily’ in this context doesn’t refer to any moral problems but rather to a lack of faith that Jesus Christ is truly present in that consecrated bread and wine. You should have faith that Christ is truly present before consuming the Precious Body and drinking the Precious Blood of Christ. Or better, you should wish to have faith that Christ might provide that faith. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

Why is unity so important and how can it be sought?

The Body of Christ is one and yet it is composed of many human individuals who remain fully individual just as the one God is three divine Persons, Father and Son and Holy Spirit. The Son is the link between God and man, being one of the three Persons of God in His divine nature and divine Person as He is the head of the Body of Christ in His human nature and divine Person. The Body of Christ is a multitude of individuals who are one in a real sense, as Father and Son and Holy Spirit remain individuals though united as truly one God.

We mortal men can’t simply unite ourselves to Christ the way we might join the YMCA. We can’t even realize the necessary degree of unity by gathering together for prayer services nor by consecrating ourselves to God by an effort of our human wills. The Almighty Himself has to act to bring this about and the churches which believe in the Real Presence teach that the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is the material agent of God’s act of forming us into the Body of Christ though it will be fully realized only in the world of the resurrected.

Moving On

Before we can understand promises of salvation, we need to have some shared way of talking about empirical reality that we might understand what is being saved and how it is that a mortal and finite creature might be able to even tolerate, let alone enjoy, some sort of life without end. Otherwise, whether a Christian talks to a fellow Christian from whom he’s separated by historical or doctrinal problems or whether a Christian tries to evangelize a nonbeliever, he’s merely babbling. Even if they don’t understand the intellectual issues, the children who drift away from Christianity and the nonbelievers who think us deluded, sense this hollowness and dishonesty in modern Christian claims to speak ultimate truths. We can’t even speak about men in a way that makes sense in light of modern biological and medical knowledge and yet claim to be able to speak of the nature and possible salvation of this disordered creature. We retain a pre-modern view of time and space and yet claim to be able to speak about eternity.

Any readers interested in my efforts to provide a shared Christian view of empirical reality can download a book I’ve made available for free for personal use: Four Kinds of Knowledge. My general viewpoint is a Thomistic existentialism updated to consider modern empirical knowledge about Creation. St. Thomas Aquinas, seemingly an outmoded Scholastic, has been rediscovered by some modern scientists because his way of thought deals so well with empirical reality. You can find one of the best explanations of Thomistic theories of human moral nature in How Brains Make Up Their Minds by the neuroscientist and philosopher Walter J. Freeman.

I’ll end with two interesting quotes from St. Thomas Aquinas’ commentary on 1 Corinthians. [This commentary and many other writings by St. Thomas are freely available from Ave Maria University. Google for the download site if you are interested.]

[J]ust as a disciple reaches an understanding of the teacher’s wisdom by the words he hears from him, so man can reach an understanding of God’s wisdom by examining the creatures He made… [Page 17]

[T]he wisdom which attains to God through the things of this world is not the wisdom of this world [in the sense used by St. Paul in his dismissal of worldly wisdom] but the wisdom of God… [Page 51]

Pro-life Stupidity in Massachusetts

Posted January 17, 2010 by loydf
Categories: abortion, Christianity, Moral issues, political fraud, politics

Tags: , , , ,

The latest cause of the pro-lifers, at least those who are Catholic, in Massachusetts is to help elect Scott Brown to fill the spot left vacant by the death of Senator Ted Kennedy. Brown has this statement on his website:

Abortion

While this decision should ultimately be made by the woman in consultation with her doctor, I believe we need to reduce the number of abortions in America. I believe government has the responsibility to regulate in this area and I support parental consent and notification requirements and I oppose partial birth abortion. I also believe there are people of good will on both sides of the issue and we ought to work together to support and promote adoption as an alternative to abortion.

Is this pro-life? “I think killing babies is kind of yuckie but the decision to kill babies or not should be made by the women and their doctors and only in accord with government regulations.” No wonder the enemies of Christianity don’t even bother to respect us.

With apologies to George Bernard Shaw, here’s the joke:

Brown: Will you vote for me if I support a woman’s right to abortion but hint I’ll to try to cut down on the number of abortions and to pay respect to parental authority?

Christian the pro-lifer: Well, yeah, I guess I would because there don’t seem to be any better candidates.

Campaign life goes on for several weeks…

Brown: Will you vote for me if I support a woman’s unlimited right to abortion with no restrictions, generous government funding, and a Planned Parenthood counselor in every hospital?

Christian the pro-lifer: What kind of a defender of innocent life do you think I am?

Brown: We’ve already established that. Now we’re just negotiating the details.

For those who are interested, this is alleged to be the original dialogue as found here (go down the page to Anecdotal Dialogue):

* GBS: Madam, would you sleep with me for a million pounds?

* Actress: My goodness, Well, I’d certainly think about it

* GBS: Would you sleep with me for a pound?

* Actress: Certainly not! What kind of woman do you think I am?!

* GBS: Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.

(This dialogue is also attributed to Winston Churchill).

Brown is at best abortion-advocate-lite and there are signs announcing enthusiastic support for Brown to be found on the yards of devout Catholics and in the windows of cars parked in front of Catholic churches. Maybe we should just complete our sell-out of Christ and hang placards from the feet of the crucifixes over altars.

Brown shows his moral integrity in his stance of so-called Obamacare. Heck, he’s bragged about helping to write and enact Mitt Romney’s pioneer version of governmental we-now-own-your-body health care expansion and now he solemnly proclaims his opposition to Obamacare. How else would he have suckered the Tea Party crowd into supporting him? The pro-lifers were easier. He only had to promise not to be as enthusiastic about killing babies as the average Massachusetts Democrat, and Martha Coakley is certainly average.

The pro-lifers will claim he’s the best they can get and we’ll have to support him and hope for the best. We’ve heard similar claims over the past few decades as Christian leaders have negotiated away their moral integrity, and that of American Christianity, step by step. Maybe Brown will be different? Maybe he won’t betray us as did the Supreme Court appointees of those alleged moral conservatives, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan? Maybe he won’t betray us as did the Bushes and Dole and nearly every Republican who so strongly supports morally conservative stances. So long as they’re out of power. In power, they at least maintain the status quo on abortion, big-government, the coming of the-government-owns-your-body healthcare, and other issues. In power, they often advance the agenda to which they claim to be opposed.

This is Einstein’s definition of insanity as found here:

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

There was a man beheaded in Austria during World War II because he refused to serve in the Austrian Army once the Nazis had taken over Austria. He wasn’t a pacifist nor a coward. He’d gone on maneuvers as a reservist a few years earlier but he wouldn’t put on his uniform so long the Austrian Army served the evil purposes of the Nazis, even though he had some young daughters who would be orphaned and a young wife who’d face a tougher life without him.

His name was Franz Jaggerstatter. He was recently beatified by the Catholic Church, a major step in being declared a saint. I’m pretty sure I know where Jaggerstatter went after he was beheaded. I have fears about the destinations of those who collaborated with the Nazis because it seemed to be the less evil of choices at the time. I have suspicions about the destination of the bishop who advised him to serve in the Nazi-Austrian army for the sake of his young daughters. I have trouble imagining that Blessed Franz would have voted for Scott Brown even if a still more evil politician would have been elected. Christians don’t support great evil even when still greater evil is the other possibility. When those sorts of choices confront Christians, we have no choice but to to refuse to support either the great or the greater evil and to leave the matter in God’s hands. Admittedly, God’s solutions sometimes involve decades or even centuries of suffering and hard work to rebuild what we have allowed to decay, but He is the boss.

We’ve long passed the time when we Christians have to say the political entities of this age aren’t ours and we can only withdraw to build Christian communities and prepare for a future which will be better only if we put Christ and His commandments at the center of our thoughts rather than illusions that we’re clever enough to win something by negotiating with those who don’t share our moral committments and who have betrayed us consistently (Republicans in particular but establishment politicians in general). In the political realm, we Christians aren’t clever. The record indicates that we’re very stupid, at least that our leaders, including those in pro-life groups, are very stupid.

But cleverness was never the point. Moral integrity was the point. When you trim your principles, when you attempt to beat an immoral political system by using their own means, you’re compromising only one thing — your own moral character. If pro-lifers, moral conservatives in general, wish to do something, then boycott the system in a very public way. Let the world know the American political system has become an evil joke. Don’t enter the evil joke yourself and pretend you can turn it into an edifying tale. And, most of all, don’t try to drag Christ and the Body of Christ along with you as you travel some gradual road to Hell along side of the likes of Brown and Bush and whomever.

The Novel “The Hermit of Turkey Hill” is Available for Download

Posted November 9, 2009 by loydf
Categories: unpublished novels

In 2008, I put samples of three novels on my website for free download. I’ve now made the entire manuscript of The Hermit of Turkey Hill available for personal use. This novel is based loosely upon events that happened when my grandfather, Charlie Milroy, was Chief of Police in Ludlow, MA. Those events closed out around 1938 or so.

This book is under a somewhat restrictive Creative Commons license which is included with the manuscript. See Unpublished Novels for a description and for the link.

The Novel “A Man for Every Purpose” is Available for Download

Posted July 28, 2009 by loydf
Categories: literature, Moral issues, unpublished novels

Tags: , ,

[This is a copy of an entry at Acts of Being.]

In 2008, I put samples of three novels on this website for free download. I’ve now made the entire manuscript of A Man for Every Purpose available for personal use. This is a book that queries the human self-consciousness, the moral self-awareness: Where do you live? Past? Present? Future? All or none or one or two?

This book is under a somewhat restrictive Creative Commons license which is included with the manuscript. See Unpublished Novels for a description and for the link.

The Novel “Corporate Sex” is Available for Download

Posted June 25, 2009 by loydf
Categories: unpublished novels

Tags: , ,

[This is a copy of a posting on my other blog, Acts of Being ]

In 2008, I put samples of three novels on my website for free download. I’ve now made the entire manuscript of Corporate Sex available for personal use. This book is under a somewhat restrictive Creative Commons license which is included with the manuscript. See Unpublished Novels for a description of the book and for the download link.

If You Sell Your Soul to the Devil, Don’t Be Upset When He Comes to Collect What Belongs to Him

Posted April 3, 2009 by loydf
Categories: abortion, civilization meltdown, Moral issues

Tags: , , , , ,

Catholics and some other Christians are worried about the loss of a right by medical personnel to refuse participating in procedures which they consider wrong on moral grounds. That seems appropriate, but so does the statement:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’ [Mat 5:38]

But Jesus tells us that isn’t just inadequate, but fully wrong. He demanded of His followers:

But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you and do not refues him who would borrow from you. [Mat 5:39-42]

The followers of Christ are commanded to act in a way different from the morality of the world. We’re called to live as followers of Christ, obeying His commandments and trying to imitate His ways of speaking and behaving. Does that mean that when confronted with threats of evil from those who might be either willfully evil or merely misguided and deluded, we are to arrange for campaigns to swamp Pilate’s telephones with protests and to bury the Sanhedrin’s poor secretaries under mountains of post-cards asking that they respect the conscience of that poor Jesus of Nazareth?

I say this tongue-in-cheek but such campaigns of moral pressure might be appropriate, they might work, if our Pilates and our High Priests are in substantial agreement with us but prone to stray because of the temptations and pressures of power. That’s not the case in 2009. Our leaders, even when they make great shows of attending Christian worship services, clearly don’t feel bound by the Sermon on the Mount. Many clearly don’t feel bound by the Ten Commandments. Many radiate a sense of self-righteousness as they propose and carry out programs which violate the traditional moral teachings of the West but can be presented as a compassionate response to the sufferings of those with horrible diseases or those who feel sexual urges not allowed by traditional Christian morality. Some probably are truly motivated by subjective moral urgings to try and solve those problems. Certainly, that seems true of many of the medical researchers involved in stem-cell research which might involve embryonic lines of cells and might be moving towards human cloning to produce creatures with diabetes or Lou Gehrig’s Disease for experimentation, creatures which will never move beyond an embryonic stage and will never live outside of some antiseptic and glistening laboratory container. Years ago, doctors associated with Harvard Medical School made available lines of embryonic stem-cells for such experimentation and every so often announcements are made that someone has managed to engineer a line of stem-cells, maybe embryonic and maybe not, to have a certain defective gene or metabolic condition. We also have to remember that the techniques developed even in moral lines of research on adult stem-cells could be deployed rapidly to clone human beings or human-animal hybrids. In an age of moral disorder, all technologies can be deployed for questionable or downright evil purposes.

I’m willing to claim that nearly every research hospital in the United States, including probably most that were founded by Christian organizations — even Catholic religious orders, engage in activities which are in violation of at least the more demanding moral systems developed from the Sermon on the Mount and may well be in violation of the most lax interpretation of the Ten Commandments. At the very least, Catholic hospitals will ship poor and uninsured patients to ‘welfare’ hospitals in the same way as for-profit corporate hospitals. Finances force them to do so, you say? Why did they reorganize their finances so that they would be in such a position? Was their no one in those hospital systems, no one in the bureaucracies of the dioceses, no one in the ranks of Catholic businessmen serving on boards of trustees, no one at all who could see that they were transforming Catholic institutions into servants of the Principalities of this world? I would conjecture similar statements could be made about all those hospitals founded by other Christian groups, some of which still bear terms like ‘Presbyterian’ or ‘Methodist’ in their names.

If the medical systems in the United States operate in ways that are morally objectionable to Catholics or other Christians, if the American government — duly elected by the American citizenry — increasingly subsidizes acts which Catholics and other Christians consider to be evil, why do Christians wish to participate in those systems and why do they accept money and other gifts from that government?

I’ve seen arguments that any who disengage from these increasingly evil institutions need time to do so gradually but now we see that such doctors, nurses, and others might have no place to go. If it were ever possible to aim at some sort of separation, the time has likely passed. We, and our parents, have forced us into a position where we have but two choices, suffering as did our Lord Jesus Christ or surrendering to the Principalities of the world.

In allegorical terms, Christ is being freshly crucified in these United States of America, and few Christians have picked up their crosses to march alongside their Lord. Those who take their beliefs seriously are more likely to be canvassing the crowds of those watching in confusion or horror or glee as Christ moves by under the burden of His cross. Why are those Christians canvassing the crowds? Apparently, they think to convince Pilate and the Sanhedrin to change their ways of thought and behavior. They think to convince the Principalities of the world to give up what supports their worldly power and take up with beliefs that will deny the authority of earthly rulers to dictate what is right and what is wrong.

They think the world is to be redeemed not by acts of suffering and martyrdom but rather by political processes by which we’ll somehow achieve that fantastic result of non-believers and weak believers choosing to live by Christian moral laws. Didn’t Christ give us those laws in the Sermon on the Mount? Well, yes, Christ gave us those laws in a very emotional way that provided for some of the most moving scenes in the history of Hollywood productions. I’m sometimes proud and sometimes ashamed when my emotions lead me to tears as I read those words of our Lord.

Such emotions played no part in our Lord’s own ways of showing compassion, nor in the ways of the greatest of saints, detached as they have to be when relieving spiritual or corporeal sufferings. The Sermon on the Mount isn’t validated by those subjective feelings, warm or shivery, which they draw forth, nor were they validated by internal coherence nor by natural law reasoning but rather by His later submission to the unjust acts of His own creatures. When Christ hung on His cross, His authority to make extraordinary demands upon us was validated, not because He was suffering for us but rather because He was offering Himself to the Father in an act of obedience beyond our understanding. If we take Christ’s own actions seriously, His refusal to so much as preach to Pilate or the Sanhedrin, we are forced to believe the only way to change the behavior of non-believers and weak believers is through suffering and death, that of Christ first but that of His followers when necessary. Not all ages are filled with martyrs and not all forms of martyrdom have been the same but we Christians in 2009 seem to be in the position of having to pay the bill for a lot of sins over a number of generations.

Let’s think seriously again about our situation in 2009. Having corrupted even knowledge of God’s own Creation to our own purposes, having accepted gifts from men who value money and power above all conflicting moral demands, we wish to claim to be loyal followers of the God whose commandments we’ve disobeyed. We tell ourselves that it might be true that even Catholic hospitals accept money from a government which helps to kill American children in the womb and actively kills Iraqi and Pashtun children on the ground, even Catholic researchers accept money from government agencies or private foundations which are also paying for research into such horrors as human cloning, even human-animal hybrid cloning, but we tell ourselves we can remain above that. We’re part of the system but the evil work is being done in the lab down the hallway and we never go past that doorway into that evil place.

Our bluff has been called. Satan has come to claim our souls and Daniel Webster doesn’t seem to be near to rescue us by verbal trickery. The government is saying, more or less, “You’re on our payroll and you’re accepting our money for chemotherapy. You have to be good, loyal citizens and participate in abortions as well.” We object.

The devil might own our souls but, “Damn it, we have our pride and our integrity. We have a claim to a spot in Heaven even if we’ve sold our souls to the devil.”

Evil may be brought under some control for a short while. The Church may recover and begin to grown again. But this recovery can come only when Christians are willing to suffer, even to accept painful and degrading deaths, rather than accept the gifts of an increasingly evil medical system, rather than to accept the gifts of an increasingly evil government.

Christ suffered to save us and gave us no other way to defeat evil than to suffer along with Him. Yet, even before we suffer to save others, we have to remember the simple common-sense rule:

If you don’t wish the Principalities of this world to make a claim on your soul, don’t accept their gifts and don’t let yourself become dependent upon them.

This Blog is Now Alive Again

Posted April 3, 2009 by loydf
Categories: Uncategorized

After taking a break, I’ll be posting occasional entries here. I’m concentrating on new books and upon some work at my other blog, Acts of Being. In fact, I’ll be posting a new entry soon.

If anyone is out there…