Transubstantiation and the Eucharist

We have started catechism classes at my parish in preparation for adult baptisms and confirmations over Easter. As part of the classes, the Rector and his wife have started a mini Anglo-Catholic series for the next few weeks and opened up the invitation to anyone in the parish who wanted a refresher. Last night we focused on the physical aspects of the church building herself (the naive, the sanctuary, the narthex, etc). One of our soon-to-be Christian sisters, asked what physically happened to the water when it is blessed by a Priest. It was a good question and one of those innocent questions whose answer is usually overlooked and taken for granted by cradle Catholics. This opened up into what happens to the bread and wine when the Priest blesses it.

It is important to note that it is not official Anglican theology (haha official Anglican theology, as if that is even a thing) that the bread and wine literally turn into the Body and Blood of Jesus. In fact, transubstantiation is seen more as a doctrine that falls short of the meaning and grace inherent in the Eucharist (which was news to me when I started attending an Anglo-Catholic parish but an idea that I have come to embrace). Father Travis pointed out something that he said came from a theologian whom he respected greatly (he didn’t mention who it was and I didn’t ask after to follow up but the way it sounds I am pinning it on Alexander Schmemann for now). When the Priest consecrates the bread and wine which come from the people as physical gifts that represent what nurtures and sustains us, they are essentially making the bread and wine into more of what it is supposed to be. Because in our secular world bread and wine are commodities, to be bought and traded and sold and what drives those economies in our physical need for sustenance. But when the faithful  conduct the offertory and bring up these items to the altar to offer to God, they are transformed by the Priest into that which they were meant to be, a gift from God, a part of God that was given to us to sustain us and bring us to everlasting life with Him. I thought that was a beautiful and very interesting aspect of the Eucharist. In that sense it does become the Body and Blood of Christ because that is the food required for salvation (as Jesus says very clearly in the Gospels, “unless you eat of my flesh and drink of my blood you will not have eternal life.

Personally, I’ve always maintained the literal interpretation of the bread and wine becoming the Body and Blood of Christ. And I probably always will subscribe to this understanding because it makes sense to me. But what Father Travis shared is certainly not in contradiction to that doctrine, rather it compliments and enriches it. It also allows a person who struggles personally with the doctrine of transubstantiation to come to the alter with reverence, and worship filled hearts. It is very Anglican in that sense and for that reason I am drawn to it.

As a side note, my favourite part of the evening was when we started to dip into devotions to Mary (a very contentious issue within Anglo-Catholicism). People shared their thoughts and opinions (which were varied). I explained that the doctrine of Mary’s immaculate conception is actually a new innovation in the Roman Church that was brought about via a new tool the Pope was given after Vatican I, namely, ex cathedra powers to declare matters of faith and morals without concurrence in synod. But at the end, amid all of the hanging tension from the discussion, Father Travis says, “well this seems like a good time for tea, let’s have tea.” And I immediately realized how Anglicanism is able to keep such a large tent erect without major issues, we always break for tea when things get heated.

WordPress #Catholic Tag

Do anyone else find the #Catholic hashtag on WordPress to be insanely depressing? It is loaded with blogs with titles like “True Catholic” and “Authentic Church” that rail on the present day pontificate of Pope Francis, the status of the church on a range of social issues and the ecumenism with fellow protestant Christians. It is depressing and sad and it hurts my heart to see the Church and Body of Christ do divided among the faithful here. It especially troubles me that seemingly thoughtful and devout Catholics are turning on their fellow church members in a blanket condemnation of the so-called Culture of Death.

When I read the posts in the #Catholic hashtag in WordPress, it reminds me of what Jerusalem must have been like at the time of Jesus. If the pharisees had WordPress their #Jewish hashtag would look a like like what the #Catholic one has been made to look like by a handful of modern faithful. The fact that these people do not see the connection in what they are doing today to the Body of Christ and what the Jewish leaders at Jesus’ time were doing with the law is deeply troubling for me. When I read through the hashtag, I see a self-proclaimed Church-militant that is obsessed with minor liturgical movements like whether to take the Eucharist on the hand or mouth (never minding the fact that we are in a crisis worldwide because people are not receiving the Eucharist at all), I see a supposed Church-militant that is more obsessed with sex and homosexuality than the secular world they are so quick to condemn and I see nothing but hate, division, vitriol and disgust and there is nothing Christ-like about any of those things. Worst of all, they are doing it all in the name of Christ, which saddens me to no end.

My prayer today is that the Spirit moves and helps these people to see that they are scourging the Body of Christ when they write these posts and continue down these divisive and dangerous paths. I pray that the Holy Spirit give them wisdom and grace to see the error in their ways and to come to know Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Lent 2019

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up my childish ways.

A non-Christian friend of mine asked me what I was planning on giving up for Lent this year. I sighed and explained that the idea of giving something up for Lent was a childish expression of our faith. I went on to explain that as an adult, we are called to focus on three main aspects of Lent; almsgiving, prayer and fasting. The problem with approaching Lent as a period of 40 days when we give something up is that more often than not what we are giving up is something we shouldn’t be engaging in anyway, and Lent is not supposed to be a time to work at eradicating bad habits or creating new ones, rather it is about preparing ourselves to be witnesses to Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In an adult faith, Lent is more about adding and enriching than it is about taking away and giving up. Fasting is but one aspect of the Lenten season.

I have three spiritual goals in mind for this Lenten season in order to prepare myself to witness the Resurrection of my Lord and Saviour.

First, I will be setting up the electronic collection plate service with my church. At present, I donate to the church on an ad hoc basis and usually directly into the collection plate each Sunday with whatever change or cash I have in my pocket at the time. Same for my donation for parish events. Part of my Lent this year will be budgeting a percentage of my income to be donated to the church on a bi-monthly basis. This will extend outside of Lent obviously, but I am using my Lenten obligation of almsgiving to establish the rate and the transfers so that I can ensure a steady donation stream into the future.

Second, I will be making a serious effort to pray Morning, Evening and Night prayer from the Roman breviary each day during Lent (including the Sunday feast days, which traditionally are not subject to your Lenten fast). This plays directly into the prayer aspect of Lent and my hope is that I can develop better habits for prayer and making time for more structure prayer in my life. I am drawn particularly to the Liturgy of the Hours for many reasons but the strongest is that the prayer as the breath of the church is tied to the seasons and the mass readings. It really is a wonderful way of sanctifying time, which is a core of the Christian faith (especially in comparison to Eastern faiths).

Third, I will observe specific fast days where I will avoid eating from sunrise to sundown. I would love to go a full day without eating but with my kidney disease, it is not recommended. However, a breakfast in the morning before the sun rises (and after my Morning Prayer) and a late supper once the sun has set will do the trick. I know friends who avoid alcohol and other types of vices, but these are the sort of things that I mentioned earlier should be avoided anyway, so their place during the Lenten season is questionable. Plus I do not drink that much anyway, so it wouldn’t be much of a thing to give up. Avoiding coffee on the days when I fast will be the hardest I would imagine.

I also plan on attending the Stations of the Cross liturgy at my church which adds to the prayer aspect of Lent.

What are your plans for Lent this year?

Authority of Rome: A Catholic Perspective

This post is the third and final instalment on a series concerning the authority of Rome and the infallibility/supremacy of the pope. We will explore the doctrine of papal infallibility from the lens of Christians who still call themselves catholic despite no longer being in official communion with Rome. For some, this is because they do not see Rome has holding the monopoly over what is and is not catholic. For others, this is because they believe that the Roman Catholic church has departed from true catholic teaching or “that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all” (Fr. Vincent of Lérins). This post will examine those positions specifically from the Old Catholic Church and the Anglican Catholic Church. For the purpose of this post Roman and catholic will be distinguished terms; it shall not be assumed when one reads catholic that this means Roman.

The only place to start when we discuss the position of non-Roman catholics on papal infallibility and supremacy is the First and Second Vatican Councils– more so the First Vatican Council. As we learned in the Roman perspective on the issue, the doctrine of papal infallibility/supremacy that we understand today is relatively a very new concept within the Roman Catholic Church having been defined clearly in the 1870s and then further refined in the 1960s. When speaking of papal authority within the church there is a definite pre- and post- Vatican Councils era that any honest observer should take into account when reflecting on a supposed catholic position on the doctrine itself. A period before the doctrine was defined where there today exists a dispute between Romans and catholics as to whether said authority was exercised without resistance (and hence not requiring definition) or was not exercised and hence didn’t require any resisting. And a period after the doctrine was defined when a portion of the Roman Catholic church broke away on the issue itself and many Roman catholics now attend Sunday services in Anglo-Catholic churches– and the established Roman Catholic church insists that the doctrine makes up a core component of the catholic faith requiring strict obedience.

There is no dispute that in the pre-Vatican I council period of the church there was no definitive (let’s say written down, at least) definition of the the doctrine of papal supremacy. Today, proponents of papal supremacy (the Roman Catholic church as a whole) maintain that the doctrine existed during this period but, as Cardinal Newman said, did not require defining because it was held to the evident by the church and her faithful. However, there is a segment of those who call themselves catholic (but not Roman), who would maintain that the doctrine was not defined because it did not exist and was never truly held to be evident by any single person. These faithful point to catholic textbooks and catechisms such as the one I quoted in the previous post that clearly stated there was no authority granted to the pope of that kind.

(Q.) Must not Catholics believe the Pope himself to be infallible?

(A.) This is a Protestant invention: it is no article of the Catholic faith: no decision of his can oblige under pain of heresy, unless it be received and enforced by the teaching body, that is by the bishops of the Church.

Another good example from history is that of the use of oaths of office, especially throughout England, Scotland, Whales and Ireland (and even into Quebec and Canada) because of the historical religious tension between catholics and protestants in those regions. In the early 1800s during the reign of the King George III, a catholic who wished to take public office in any form had to swear an oath that protected against a (now defined false, and therefore heretical) claim by popes that they could forgive regicide and directly guide state affairs through their office (what was in the pre-Vatican councils period, the fundamental question of papal supremacy, it was not about faith or morals at this point). Part of the oath stated, “it is not an article of the Catholic Faith, neither am I thereby required to believe or profess that the Pope is infallible.” And this was supported by the Irish bishops in 1826 when they stated in a pastoral letter to the faithful:

[t]he Catholics of Ireland not only do not believe, but they declare upon oath … that it is not an article of the Catholic faith, neither are they required to believe, that the Pope is infallible, and that they do not hold themselves ‘bound to obey any order in its own nature immoral’, though the Pope or any ecclesiastical power should issue or direct such an order; but, on the contrary, that it would be sinful in them to pay any respect or obedience thereto. (Pastoral letter, 25 January 1826)

Contrary to what the Roman church and her theological authorities continue to repeat, it does not appear that there was a clear definition or understanding of papal supremacy/infallibility in the early church, nor was there indications of a consensus among Bishops, clergy and faithful. This is the position of many catholics who fall outside of the Roman church. They do not see a legitimate claim that the doctrine of papal infallibility/supremacy has existed clearly through-out the history of the church– and some consider this to be new doctrine.

Along the same lines of there being no clear consensus on the authority of the pope through-out the bulk of the history of the Roman church, Old Catholics specifically charge the Roman church with the error of adding doctrine to the faith. This point was touched on in the post on the protestant position on Roman authority as well. The premise is that the whole collection of what has been revealed to mankind concerning God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as well as the mission and intention of the Church has been handed down in what is called the Deposit of Faith, this Deposit can be accessed by the church and she does regularly as a source of her teaching and preaching of the Good News around the whole world. However, she cannot add to this Deposit, because what has been revealed has been done by God and cannot be altered or added to by the church– not even the pope. And the Roman church does hold to this belief as well. It is without question a catholic doctrine which is professed in the Apostle’s Creed when we say that we believe in One Holy Catholic Church– meaning whole and complete as well as united and together. However, the Roman church does not consider the doctrine of papal infallibility– first defined in the 1870s and again in the 1960s– to be new doctrine because it is a fruit on the tree of faith which has grown over time– or, as Cardinal Newman pointed out, it has existed the whole time (which as we explored earlier, is not entirely conclusive). Old Catholics maintain that what has been taught within the faith throughout the ages and for all time was altered during the course of the First Vatican Council and then again during the Second Vatican Council. Admittedly, there has been some significant controversy within the Old Catholic movement (the “leader” who I quoted in the opening of this post never even associated himself directly with the break from the Roman church) and today the Old Catholic church permits the ordination of married male Priests.

The fallout of not adhering to the authority of Rome but still holding catholic value (or attempting to), is clear in the Anglican Catholic church of today. Members of this church often see themselves as catholic, and would even consider themselves as individuals to be in communion with Rome and still catholics despite the official position from Rome being that they are not in communion. They take issue with certain non-essential elements of the Roman faith which within the Roman church are taken very seriously. These are the trivial cultural practices that although very important, are often presented within the Roman church as being on an equal footing with tenant of the Creeds, for example. This is often because of the zero-sum-game that is created an organization is establish along the blind adherence to how a single man does something in a specific part of the world. Anything you do, regardless of where it falls along the hierarchy of importance within the faith, becomes taboo when it is not in line with what Rome does, it puts the actions and will of the pope on equal, if not very, very near footing with the Will of God for His Church. That is a problem to many Anglican Catholics who have left the Roman church as a result.

A summarizing sentence for the catholic position on papal infallibility/supremacy and the authority of Rome could be: it was never part of the catholic faith to profess the infallibility/supremacy of the pope, that is a new doctrine and it is an error of the Roman church to continue to teach it.

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Feeding the Five Thousand

In the Gospel reading for this Sunday we hear the account from John of Jesus feeding five thousand people with bread and fish who had gathered to hear him preach near Passover along the shores of the Sea of Galilee (called Tiberias in the reading).

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiber’i-as. And a multitude followed him, because they saw the signs which he did on those who were diseased. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, “How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place; so the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (John 6:1-15, RSV)

The miracle of Christ feeding the five thousand– aside from the Resurrection– is the only one mentioned in all four gospels. The miracle is important within the context of the Gospel of John because it forms the co-foundation, along with the miracle of turning water into wine at the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11), of John’s emphasis on Jesus as the “bread of life” (John 6:35-59). This idea forms the backbone of our catholic liturgy where Christ gives Himself in the bread and wine forming the Body and Blood and feeding the multitude of His faithful (CCC 1335).

The passover is mentioned three times in the Gospel of John (supporting a three year public ministry of Jesus). It was an annual Jewish celebration to commemorate Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. It involves gathering for a liturgical feast called a seder in which the story of Exodus is retold, unleavened bread with dressed lamb is served and psalms are sung. The importance of passover in this story from John’s gospel is an undercurrent of the on-going narrative as Jesus’ coming to be that of the true “Lamb of God” (John 1:29), whose redeeming work would accomplish a new deliverance from sin (John 8:31-36). The connection between our liturgy and the liturgical meal inherent in the seder is made evident in John 6:53-58:

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 at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.

And further expanded on by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 bringing the seder feast, Christ and the Lamb of God together (no doubt strongly inspired by the Holy Spirit):

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Jesus gives thanks to the bread and fish before distributing it to the people. The Greek word used in the original translation of the gospel account is eucharisteo which is where the English word Eucharist derives from. This miracle is a clear foreshadow of the institution of the Last Supper and has a direct link to the celebration of Mass that we catholics gather for on Sunday (and everyday for that matter, all around the world).

God be praised!

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From ‘What’ to ‘Whom’

The Gospel according to Saint John is one of my most treasured books of the New Testament to use as a base for meditation and prayer. It is easy to dive into the synoptic Gospels with concordance, commentary and study Bible in hand to cross reference passages, compare events with other historical evidence and build up the three year mission that was Christ on earth. It is not as easy with the Gospel of John. But it is easy to get lost in the mystical, metaphysical and flat out supernatural depths of the Gospel of John. And we see this right from the opening passage of his account of Jesus:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

I could spend (and have) hours praying, thinking and expanding on that single line. Saint John grasps the concept of the Logos (Greek: “statement” or “utterance”) which was present in Greek and Roman culture as an association to the order of the universe. Very common to what we would call the natural law today. And what Saint John is telling the whole world (in a very catholic sense) is that Christ is the Logos, Jesus is the Word, the same Word that was present when the world was made (Genesis 1:1) and the same Word which all things were made through (the order, so to speak). This message is universal because shadows of it existed and still exists today within the world outside of the Church. This is because the Word is Truth and relevant in everything we do as creatures created by God through the Word.

But in this post I want to focus on just two very small parts of John’s Gospel that I think have profound implications for the mission of Christ and how we understand the relationships between the Covenant in the Old Testament and the New Covenant in the New Testament.

When we speak of the Gospels from a literary analysis perspective, all four can in fact be placed into a particular Greek genre known as bioi (Latin: vitae) which roughly means Lives. This genre of writings in Greek and Roman society were more than just a biographical sketch capturing the life of the individual from a unbiased perspective, rather the author sought to convey the virtues and greatness of the individual (desirable traits in ancient Greek/Roman society) by writing about key events in their life and demonstrating said virtues and greatness subjectively through the observance of their actions. Greek authors such as Xenophon and Plutarch (and Romans such as Tactius and Sueontius) were popular for these writings on significant Greek/Roman public figures. When studying the Gospels from a literary perspective, we can say that the four Gospels is the bioi of Jesus of Nazareth. It that bioi has hallmarks of Greek writing, such as placing an emphasis on the first words of an individual.

So with that in mind, what are the first words spoken by Christ in the Gospel of John? It happens after John the Baptist is introduced, while Jesus is seen walking along the shores of the Jorden River by some disciples of John;

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?

Jesus turns to the disciples of John, who have started to following Jesus along the shores of the Jordan, and He asks them clearly; what do you seek? What. This single line probably seems rather innocuous, it does not even get specific mention in my catholic study Bible. But let’s take a look at the first words spoken by Jesus after He has risen from the dead;

Saying this, she [Mary Magdalene] turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?

The Risen Christ asks Mary not what she is looking for, He now asks whom are you looking for (whom do you seek)? I think that this transition from what to whom that we can see clearly in the Gospel of John from the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry to the start of Jesus’ heavenly one, signifies the transition of the Law to Christ. From the what to the whom.

For the Jew around the time of Christ, faith was all about what one had to do to gain salvation. It was about living a uniquely Jewish life as God’s chosen people among a sea of Gentiles and unholiness. This is why the Temple was divided into two major portions, one where people would give sacrifice and offerings to God around the outside of the core Inner Temple– where God resided. That place was only accessed once a year by the High Priest with a blood offering on behalf of all of the unworthy people outside. Day to day Jews laboured and toiled to live out in accordance with the law, and they were supported by the Priests who laboured to understand the Will of God when it came to His acceptance of their sacrifice. It was all about the what.

But Jesus came. And what Jesus literally did was enter into the Inner Temple on our behalf without any authority from the Priests of the day (because He had authority and power from His Father, God) and He did not bring with Him a blood offering, for the living Divine Blood coursing through His human veins was the offering and it would be the final offering. Thus ending the requirement for the Temple and shattering any concept of what when it came to seeking God. Now when we reach out to God we do ask for what do we seek, we ask for whom do we seek and the answer is Christ, our High Priest and Final Sacrifice that removed us from the bondage of sin once and for all.

The Old Testament, for the most part, is all about the what. It is telling us about what is to come, about what we have to do in the meantime and what went wrong to explain how we ended up where we are in the world. The New Testament, for the most part, is all about the whom– and that whom illuminates the Old Testament in retrospect. It no longer is about what is to come, but whom is to come. Not what we have to do in the meantime, but what the One who came showed us by example to do. And it is not about what what wrong in the world, but who came to finally save us from sin.

From what to whom. What a powerful and amazing change. And everything in between is justification for the change. Let’s today not ask what we have to do…let us ask about the one who gave His life for us and purchased everlasting life!

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Thoughts on the Bible

Haden Clark over at Help Me Believe shared an article by Jeffrey Poor of Rethink concerning the relationship between the Old and New Testament. I wrote a comment that criticized the original article on the premise that it suggested that there was a difference in how God work in each Testament. I’ve decided to expand on that comment in this post and explore a little deeper into the relationship between the Old and New Testaments and reading and understanding the Bible in general.

I encourage you to read the original post on Rethink and I’ve posted my full comment here:

I am not sure if I agree that God seems mean in the OT because he is “operating under a different set of rules” and that “when Jesus entered the picture he changed everything.” Everything that is contained with the NT is hidden in the OT. The reason for this is because the core message of the OT the covenant between God and humanity is revealed in the NT through the Body of Christ and His sacrifice for our salvation. I think that the problem with this post is that it starts from a premise that the OT and NT are different, unique and distinct which they are not, both are a unifying force of each other. I like to think of the OT as a giant forest with trees, and rocks and small streams and uneven pathways. We walk through this forest without the NT and without Christ in the dark. Our foot hits something hard on the ground and we can reason and suppose it to be a rock. Walk into something wet, and assume it is a stream. By the end of walking through this forest we get a pretty good idea of what the whole area is like (little stream here, big tree there, hike up a hill over there) but it is not the full and complete picture because we did it in the dark. Christ is like a giant flashlight, now we know that the wet thing we walk through was a stream, but that hard thing our foot hit was actually a stump and not a rock (close before, but now we know for certain what it is). The OT is like a facet dripping slowly overnight and the NT is the sink that is filled with water at the end, and if I want to beat this analogy to death, Christ would be plug in the drain keeping the water held together.

I think that the first place to start when we talk about the Bible as a whole to is to understand that the Bible is not entirely a Christian object. It is a collection of books that stretch over 3000 years, through many different eras from the perspective of many different people with many different faiths and written originally in many different languages (many of which do not even exist today). There is a tendency among Christians to ascribe a singularly Christian (and I’ll even add modern western) perspective on the entire Bible which has no historical or theological support.

When we start from the premise that the Bible is in fact a collection of many books with many perspectives, interpretations, translations, understandings, themes, lessons and imagery we can automatically understand why there are entire faculties of learning dedicated to the study of this wonderful book. From viewing the Bible holistically, splitting it in two by the Old and New Testament or deep into each book and letter individually, we gain a better understanding of the deposit of faith through the Word of God present in the Bible. We can even understand why some strains of Christianity, especially those more catholic oriented, insisted upon the interpretation of the Word of God falling to a formal magestrium that brings together the whole of the Deposit of Faith. We can also gain a better understanding why some Christians reel at the thought of the Word of God being capable of being read and understood by any single person at any single point in time– I would wager that this concept is one of the great failings of the protestant wing of Christianity. It fundamentally undermines the realities of the Bible as a sacred text that spans thousands of years. It immaturely presupposes that a person brought up in a western world removed completely from the world present in the Bible can somehow pick up the book and simply “get it.” If that was honestly the case we wouldn’t need Jesus, and we wouldn’t need the Holy Spirit because from the moment the Israelites were brought out of Egypt they would have “got it” and everything would have been fine.

When we pick up the Bible there is a temptation to want to open the cover and start reading. Doing so is certainly one way to take in the Word of God but doing so will also generate confusion. Genesis was certainly not the first book written in the Bible, it actually has two creation stories and is hard to understand if read literally without an understanding of Jewish literary techniques. For example, in the OT we are told that Abraham lived to be 175. No human has actually lived to be 175. We can watch some Christian bend and twist in order to provide “reasoning” why this is the case for Abraham, but there is a simple explanation albeit one with profound implications for how to interpret the Bible as a whole. It is in fact a common Jewish literary device to ascribe a long life to being in favour with God. This comes from the Jewish understanding of sin which supposed that the cause of sin and death in general was being unfavorable with God (for whatever reason). Thus, the flip side of this is to promote the fact that a person is in favour with God by adding years on to his life in the story. A Jew living in the desert hundreds of years before Christ would not have read that part of Genesis and thought, “oh my Abraham lived for a long time” he would have thought, “Abraham had great favour with God.” It is for that reason that Abraham’s age is even mentioned in the Bible.

Another good example of the dangers of jumping into the Bible without any sort background is when we talk about dinosaurs. I have heard some pretty amazingly irrational arguments as to why the Bible never mentioned dinosaurs. We have their bones plain as day before us today. We can use technology from the brains that God gave us to even date the bones in order to better understand our world. From undermining the very legitimate science (without any reason evidence other than the Bible) to claiming that dinosaurs and man lived on earth together (insane with absolutely no science to back it up) to even claiming that Satan put the bones in the earth to make us question God (probably with the assistance of Darwin himself somehow), Christians the world over have bent over backwards to explain the dearth of something so real and so present before us today in the Bible. And yet there is a simple explanation. The Jews in the desert didn’t have time to sit around and dig up dinosaurs (especially while in exile which is when most of the best parts of the OT were written down), they never even had a concept or understanding of their existence. So of course they do not make their way into the Bible. They also have no relevance on any stories or lessons within the OT. The whole purpose of the creation stories in Genesis are not about how God made the world (we will never know that while here on earth, even with the Bible) but that He made it and it was good and pleasing to Him and even more so it is about Him creating mankind in His image and marking us uniquely among His other creations. So we have to ask ourselves, when we dive into the creation story and take the seven days literally or the listing of animals created in the process literally are we really taking away from the story what we are supposed to take away? I say no absolutely not, we miss the mark when we undermine the Biblical teaching and focus on the wrong aspects of the story.

It might seem like I have digressed a little from my point but I am going to bring it all home now. Reading the OT and NT is a lot like how we approach the Bible as a whole. The law contained with the OT makes no sense if we do not have the teachings of Christ to back it up. Just the same as reading the OT requires us to have a broad understanding of Jewish theology, culture and literacy, so too does it require us to have a deep understanding of the NT. And in typically God fashion, it all hangs together (to steal a C.S. Lewis line) and comes back full circle. We cannot understand or grasp the importance of the NT without the messages and the coding in the OT. Together each book forms the yin and the yang and each have an eye within each other. Amazing how even the composition of the Bible itself is a fingerprint of the nature of God and man here on earth!

In closing, I firmly believe that it is fallacy and a vector for Satan to do his most effective work to attempt to interpret the Bible on a personal basis. We need the Church, we need our history, we need the history of the authors and we need a broad understanding of the cultures at play. We also need the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is amazing that we are able to hold this book in our hands and that it has been compiled and bound over two thousands years plus and counting.

God be praised!

Christianity and Homosexuality

Author’s note: This entry was written some time ago on a blog that doesn’t really exist anymore. I spent some time today reading posts in the ‘Christian’ and ‘Christianity’ tags on WordPress and the topic of homosexuality seemed to dominate the discussion. I decided to balance some of the vitriol and outright false teaching with this entry I penned some time ago.

My frankness here is totally intentional: the Christian Bible, when we actually take the time to read and understand it as a whole, neither condemns nor permits homosexuality as we have come to understand it in modern times. For most people reading this on both sides of the argument, this is probably going to come as a great surprise. To the devout Christians, I am sorry you have been tricked into believing something that the Bible does not take very seriously and actually has nothing of any value to offer in modern times. And to the broken hearted homosexual, I am sorry for all of the pain ill-informed Christians have caused and will continue to cause into the future.

Let’s take a step back.

There are a grand total of six references to homosexuality (and even with this conclusion we are loosely using the term homosexuality) in the Bible. Surprisingly, if you were an alien who was foreign to this planet and you spent a few minutes listening to any Christian talk radio show or television programme (or read Christian tagged WordPress posts), you might be under the impression that homosexuality and sex are the focus point of the Bible. This is simply not the case. The Bible spends more time talking about why you shouldn’t wear two pieces of cloth on your body or plant two different seed types in a single field than it does about having sexual relations with a person of the same sex. It certainly talks a lot more about love and acceptance (straight from the mouth of Jesus Christ Himself no less) than about condemning this and that person for such and such reason. Again, if you were foreign to this world and you listened to most Christians speak you might think that the whole book was littered with “condemn this” and “spite that,” which again is not the case.

The most famous reference to homosexuality, and the one that is trod out in each and every discussion on the topic by seemingly devout Christians, is the story of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. We all know how it goes, apparently the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah where such an abomination in the sight of the Lord that He sent angels to investigate the problem. While these angels were visiting in the form of human males, the house they were staying in was encircled by an angry mob who demanded that the owner and host, Lot, send the strangers out so that “they may come to know them.” The modern English translation describes the mob as being all of the male citizens of the town. However, the Hebrew phrase in the original text actually would more accurately describe the entire townsfolk (read: male and female) coming out and surrounding the house. Never mind the clear implications that the take-away from this story is that we should not gang rape people and we should protect our guests when they are strangers in our home (probably a great lesson for ancient civilizations where being a stranger in a foreign land was extremely dangerous). Modern Christianity instead focuses on the (false) fact that the group was male and that they demanded that other males come out to be raped. To some modern Christians there is link between modern homosexuality especially between two people who are engaged in a loving and exclusive relationship and having an angry mob demand the ability to gang rape strangers. But in reality and in Christianity there actually is not a link. We are told later on that Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed by a pillar of fire because “the outcry against its people [had] become so great before the Lord.” This is of course after Lot had offered his two virgin daughters to the angry mob to “do to them as you please” (never minding the extremely immoral action here). And after Moses and the Lord had a talk which pretty much ended in the Lord wagering that he would destroy an entire city if he could not find a single good person (again, we can just gloss over the moral implications of a God who simply wipes creation off of the face of the planet at whim).

Leviticus condemns sexual relations between men. It does not mention sexual relations between women which either means it is permitted or it was simply overlooked by the framers of the Law. We also recall that the Law rejects the mixing of meat and dairy, the murder of people who do any action on the Sabbath and the permits the outright oppression of women. It is hard to overcome the specific clauses of the law today unless we gain a better understanding of where they come from, why they exist in the first place. Let’s not forget the historical perspective in Scripture and the fact that we know that the Book of Leviticus was written at a time when the Jewish population was very small and surrounded by Babylonian influence while in exile from Israel. At a time when Jewish leaders were afraid of the small group being overcome by the powers that surrounded them. It is understandable then that this Law would primarily serve to sustain the small group of people. And that is exactly what the most provocative sections of the Law seek to achieve. When we understand the historical context of Leviticus we can digest the Law in a more modern sense. We know that the Lord is Justice and there is nothing inherently just in cherry-picking law in application and yet this is exactly what happens when Christians rely on Leviticus so much to support their position on homosexuality. Ironically, they will state this position while wearing two different pieces of cloth on their body, after having just consumed a delicious meal of pork with a side of dairy and while standing before a field planted with two different strains of seed (all violations of the same Law they are smacking against a minority). Now there are rules within the Law that are still relevant for us, and we know this because Jesus actually said that they were important when He established the New Covenant (thus fulfilling the First). These are the Ten Commandments. Interestingly, the Ten Commandments represent a certain moral code that is somewhat universal across time and space in our humanity. We (the collective humanity ‘we’) have all almost always agreed that murder in cold blood is immoral. We have always looked down on stealing and cheating. These are moral codes which are written on our hearts because they belong to God and God made each and every one of us. There is nothing in the Ten Commandments about being in a loving relationship with a person of the same-sex. And I would say that this should mean the world to the Christian. It should not be a game of pick the cherry to define what is essentially a theologically weak position to support being against homosexuality and same-sex marriage as we understand them today. And certainly it is no pathway to condemning a same-sex relationship that is chaste and exclusive as any other Christian relationship ought to be.

Since we brought Him up, let’s turn to Christ.

Christians will often try and make the debate about homosexuality and same-sex marriage “simple” by pointing to the story of Sodom and the provision in Leviticus and will say “Jesus would condemn the homosexual.” Like most things that seem simple and clear cut, there is actually more here than what meets the eye. For starters, it is dishonest from a Christian perspective to start any discussion on any topic without starting with Christ and ending with the Law He fulfilled. The Bible from a chronological perspective starts with creation and moves through Abraham, Moses and the prophets all leading up to the birth of Christ and His death and resurrection. But the Bible from a Christian perspective works backward with His Death and Resurrection as the focal point and moving back through the prophets. And there is a very important reason for this, while we stumbled through the Old Testament as humanity we were like a hiker with a poor flashlight. We got glimpses of the Lord and our position within the universe, but it was never made clear to us and this is evident in some of the wild and crazy things that happen in the Old Testament. And then comes a friend with a bright light, brighter than any star including the sun. And our path is illuminated. And just like that hiker, we can see our entire path and beyond with this new Light. That Light is Christ. So an honest Christian does not waste their time stumbling through the dark because as Saint John tells us we have the Word now among us. Why would we blindfold ourselves and hike the path when we have daylight to guide us? So let’s start with Christ.

Christ says absolutely nothing about homosexuality. Period. He does, however, say a lot about love and acceptance. And He does a lot to show this acceptance in practise. For example, He dines with a tax collector who would have been the most hated and reviled person in any ancient city of His time. There is most certainly a parallel here between the tax collector and those we have made the most hated and reviled people in society (homosexuals are pretty high up on that list by the way). If Jesus was here today, I truly believe that without question, He would attend a Pride Parade and it would piss off the Church establishment (much the same as it angered the Jewish establishment when He ate with the tax collector). He also says something very powerful during the Sermon on the Mount which I think has real life application today: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” and “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Ironic that most militant Christians would actually quote both of those Beatitudes to justify their opposition to same-sex marriage, but they have terribly missed the mark here. For the last Beatitude wraps up the entire Sermon perfectly, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Again, the militant Christian will attempt to claim that in modern society they are being oppressed by having to give up their beliefs in the name of the same love and acceptance that Christ directly preaches, you tell me who is bearing false evils against who in this argument? I think it is pretty clear.

Following the resurrection and ascension of Christ, the Apostle Paul writes that laying with a man is an abomination before the Lord. The only problem is that we are cherry picking to the extreme his entire letter when we confine that statement to just being about homosexuals. Let’s take a look at the entire passage:

Therefore God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons due penalty for their error.

That last sentence has particular sting for the gay community. Several readers may well remember when so-called Christian leaders leached this line out of the Bible and applied it to the AIDS outbreak in the late 1980s and early 90s. Absolutely horrendous and most certainly unChristian to the highest degree. But Saint Paul is not talking about modern homosexuality. He is talking about lust and lustful sexual acts. He is talking about the trends of his own time where powerful men took boy slaves as sex toys and woman often the same with their male servants. This was seen as lavish and unholy because it is lavish and unholy. Most people today (include almost all homosexuals) would agree just the same as Saint Paul is pushing us to see. However, we have twisted this powerful message into something so small and insignificant that we have lost sight of the meaning. This line could very well to applied to same-sex relationships, in that they ought to be between two people who love one another and that we should consider promiscuous sexual acts to be immoral because they are a form of degrading the human body and spirit. This applies to opposite-sex relationships as well. And we do see what happens when a person engages in irresponsible serial sexual relationships with no end, there is often a physical and mental toll on the person over time. This is what Saint Paul is getting at, this is how this passage is supposed to be understood. It is not about homosexuals.

There is absolutely no guidance in the Bible that would offer any insight on how we should deal with same-sex relationships. Aside from the clear message of love and acceptance. This is not a carte blanche for members of the gay community to turn to sexual relationships outside of marriage and to engage in promiscuous sexual lifestyles. In fact, same-sex couples are called to the same level of fidelity, honesty, love and exclusivity as opposite-sex couples. This is the Christian way. However, because we have cast out homosexuals writ large from the Christian community we have essentially forced a life of sinfulness on to an entire group of people, we have caused a group of people to become persecuted and we have done it in the name of Christ (sound familiar). We do not permit same-sex marriage in the Christian church, so we have condemned the good gay Christians who want a life together with the same amount of Christ-like love and support as the heterosexual couple from enjoying the fruits of marriage. This is our sin and our problem to fix.

I will close on one final thought.

Blaise Pascal was a famous mathematician and part-time philosopher who, while very sick and dying in his deathbed, scribbled thoughts on scraps of paper which were posthumously complied and became known as Pensées (French for ‘thoughts’). There was a gem of logic in what we now call Pascal’s Wager. Basically, he concluded that it was better to believe in God because if you were right than you enjoyed eternal life and if you were wrong than you suffered eternal punishment. Conversely, if you didn’t believe and were wrong you were punished and if you were right you gained nothing in the after-life that didn’t exist. I’ve always had a fondness for this wager because it can be understood by the pagan without an entire introduction to the Bible and Christian thought. It can also be applied to how Christians should act as Christians. For example, in the face of an unclear moral question is it better to condemn or to accept. If we condemn and we are right we gain satisfaction in the face of the Lord. If we condemn and are wrong we face damnation. If we accept and are wrong we at least followed the example of Christ. If we accept and we are right than we gain satisfaction. I believe that acceptance over condemnation in the face of unclear moral questions is a defence which would be acceptable to God on Judgement Day. I, for one, would rather stand before God to justify why I accepted and loved so and so regardless of their actions over standing before God to justify why I cast away one of His creations.

God be praised!

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