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 said, “I am 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. 1 Corinthians 13:11

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?

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. (John 1:1)

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?” (John 1:35-38)

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?” (John 20:14-15)

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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When Father Bradford Goes Away — Congregation of St. Athanasius

An essay written by Fr. Joseph F. Wilson in 2001. Every once in a while, my friend Father Bradford will … Continue reading →

via When Father Bradford Goes Away … — Congregation of St. Athanasius

A large part of what drew me to the Anglican Catholic church away from the Roman Catholic church was the liturgy. My first High Mass experience at my local Anglo-Catholic parish was intense and I had walked into it without any clue as to what I was getting myself into. The choir was amazing and sang the entire hymns, there were beautiful vestments, and incense, the Priest faced east with the people (one of the Priests was female! and the other I am pretty sure just mentioned his family sitting in the pews!!) and the booklet for the service had all of the text the Priest would say, what I was required to say and little notes to make sure I understood what was happening (I went to RC school from kindergarten to grade 12 and there was more liturgical information in that little booklet than I had been exposed to in my whole Catholic formation). The mass lasted an hour and a half, starting at 1030 and going all of the way to 1200 and when I looked around at about the hour mark it didn’t seem like people were squirming in their pews ready to jump out at the words, “the mass has ended.” Also, everyone was welcomed to the hall for a light lunch and socializing together afterward, which I have come to learn is a regular occurrence and a staple at most Anglican parishes.

At any rate, I want to share this particular post with you by a Priest who is reflecting on spending time in a Roman Catholic designated Anglican Use parish (a little different than the Anglo-Catholicism that I find a home in under the Church of England, but not by much). Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Definitions — The Soporific Sycophant

I promise that this is not a petty junior high school girl question; I have a larger philosophical question in mind. So do me a favor and follow this dumb scenario for a second. There is a guy and a girl who are seemingly friends. The girl has a crush on the guy but we […]

via Definitions — The Soporific Sycophant

Editor’s Note: She doesn’t have commenting up on her blog but I wanted to respond directly to the questions raised in this post because they are very interesting.

To kick off, intent does matter. And it matters in our government too. In order for any act to be deemed criminal in our justice system it requires that two elements be present actus reus (the criminal act) and mens rea (a criminal mind, or criminal intent). Mens rea specifically can have an objective or subjective analysis. For example, first degree murder requires a subjective analysis of mens rea, that is that the individual themselves were intent on killing the victim. Manslaughter on the other hand requires an objective analysis of the mens rea, regardless of what the individual intended would a reasonable person in the same situation conclude that the action could cause death. And the way you approached what is essentially a division of objective and subjective reality with your dating question in your post is exactly where you should be starting in these lines of questions. You asked whether an act between two people going out could be objectively a date but subjectively not. And you dove further, and questioned whether it was possible that one person could concur with the objective reality while the other did not– and I wager once I am done this comment you’re going to realize you already do know the answer.

Suppose you and I are standing in a room facing each other with a large wooden table between us. The room is completely bare, save for a large window directly behind you. From where I stand the table is light brown because the sun is shining directly on it. From where you stand the table is dark down because the sun is not shining directly on it. We are asked what colour the table objectively is and I say “light brown” and you say “dark brown” … who could be correct? Objectively the table must be a colour but subjectively, how we individually see the table, there are literally hundreds of millions of different colour combinations that the table could be called. Does it mean that the table in fact has no objective colour? That there is no objective truth? We can use a better example to dive into this question. What makes a fork a fork? You might say well a device that can be used to pick food and transport it in pieces to the mouth. Well I can do that with a screwdriver, so can a screwdriver be a fork? There must be something, some essence, that makes the fork a fork. For early philosophers like Plato that essence was the concept of the perfect fork that existed on some other plane but which we were aware of in this imperfect world (he used the analogy of a perfect circle which although easily conceived by humans, can never actually be physically made here on earth). Schopenhauer (who I love) went a little further and said that objects have a thing-in-themselves that usually manifests in utility, so a fork is a fork because, when I look at it, I imagine using it to pick and eat food and I do this because the thing-in-itself for a fork is a device used to pick and eat food. Schopenhauer also added that the thing-in-itself could never fully be perceived or understood either, for once it manifested itself materially it would become imperfect and therefore would cease to be a thing-in-itself. But I digressed in the philosophical history lesson.

To commit an act of sin requires both a sinful act and sinful intention. Sometimes this intention is subjective (i.e. did the person themselves knowingly intend this sin) and sometimes it is objective (i.e. would a reasonable person in the same position conclude it would be a sin before doing it).  It is not much different than our criminal system (probably because the criminal system was modelled after our understanding of sin at first). The difference between the criminal system and how God distributes justice is that a judge from the courts of the land cannot read into your heart and soul and know what you were thinking and knowing at the time. God really doesn’t require the objective reality because He is the objective reality and because He knows your subjective self objectively, that is what makes Him God. He does not have to compare your actions to a concept of a reasonable person because He can just know what you were thinking and what motivated your actions. He also knows what defences you might have before you even need to make them. A great Priest once told me something very insightful in high school when I was struggling with the same questions about sin because I do not consider it a sin to have sex outside of marriage in a monogamous and loving relationship. And I racked myself over this because objectively it can be said to be a sin but subjectively it did not feel that way to me and not just feel but logically it seems the spirit of the sinful act was a lack of monogamy and a depreciation of sexual acts. So he summed it all up for me,

“You know, come Judgement Day it will be just you and God, not me, not the Pope, no lawyer, no advocate, just you and Him. And you won’t need to speak or even defend yourself, He knows. And He will pass judgment. So if you’re comfortable in your decision, like really deep down comfortable and can say to yourself, knowing that God knows if you’re doubting or if there is a place inside saying it is not right that you are ignoring, that you are not sinning, than you are ready for Judgement Day.”

And I think considering the nature of God and the realities of objective and subjective truths in the world, that this is a pretty good approach and one that is certainly evident in the Christian faith.

 

A Word on Orthodoxy

I have had a few people message me concerning my last post, specifically about how I defined ‘orthodox’ as being an emphasis on early church liturgy and worship. The first few messages I tried to address privately with the individuals in question, but since a few more have landed in my inbox, I decided to write up a quick hot take on orthodoxy and how it is a word and term that gets used in such a perverse manner within Christianity today.

Around the end of the Middle Ages a movement began to take form within the Christian church in Europe. There was a desire to go back to a more “pure” church that was more like what the church would have been for early believers throughout Israel and the entire Roman world immediately and shortly following the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. When we speak of the church in that period we call it the patristic church. There is a spiritual and temporal reason for this push to go back to how things were done originally within the church. First from a spiritual perspective, the men and women who established those practices were closer to Christ in terms of time and space than we are, so that could give them more insight than we have today regarding what Christ’s intention was for His church. And secondly, from a temporal perspective, without any sort of guidance in the face of multiple forms of worship and adoration, the Church Fathers concluded (no doubt with the guidance of the Holy Spirit) that the best litmus test to determine what would be good and bad liturgy should be whether or not it was practiced in the patristic Church.

So having this historical perspective in mind regarding roots of the movement to turn to the early church for guidance in how liturgy should look today, we can say that orthodoxy is a desire to justify all forms of modern worship and liturgy using the rites and customs that were developed by the early church. True orthodoxy goes a step further and says that only those rituals and customs established by the early church are pleasing in God’s eyes and validates a human action as liturgical, orthodoxy is embracing a single form of liturgy to the exclusion of all others. It is important to note that orthodoxy should not be confused with the development of liturgical forms of worship via sola scriptura. An example of this would be an evangelical church that baptizes anyone who walks in the front door on any given Sunday on the grounds that Scripture does not explicitly state a catechist period is required. Interpreting Scripture alone personally and developing modern liturgy around that unilateral understanding of the Bible is not catholic and it certainly is not orthodox. To go back to the baptism example I used, we know that in the early church that there were established and enforced time periods for a potential convert to Christianity, and that catechism classes were a fixture of the early church right from the start. Taking that historical fact and building it into our liturgical practice today is exactly how true orthodoxy manifests itself within the church. It is orthodox that we have Christian schools for our children, adult initiation programs for converts and an entire liturgical form around the act of baptism.

But the problem with how the word orthodox is used today is that it has been warped to really mean ‘conservative.’ Meaning, a person or catholic who adheres to the traditional precepts of the church (but more often it specifically relates to how one see social issues within the church). This is wrong. It is wrong because what this little change in meaning of the word orthodoxy does is paper over partisan positions within the church using ecclesiastical terms. And if you are an Anglo-Catholic you probably hear it all of the time, that priest who wears his cassock after mass when speaking with parishioners during lunch is described as being “very orthodox” by parishioners who are not used to seeing a priest in a cassock. Or a person will write on a Christian blog that they are “orthodox” and therefore will never accept gay marriage as being a Christian concept. Who gets to be married by the church is not a question of orthodoxy, it is a question of church teaching and Biblical interpretation, which are entirely different things. Whether or not we have a marriage ceremony at all is the orthodox question in that mix. If a church suddenly decided that marriage was no longer a sacrament worthy of a liturgical movement, that would be unorthodox (there are churches that practice this, they are unorthodox). The fact that some churches allow same-sex couples to engage in the beautiful liturgical movement that is the Christian wedding ceremony is not unorthodox, it is the application of church teaching within a very orthodox practice of two people going to church together for their special day to witness before their friends, family and God their Christian commitment to one another. It saddens my heart to scroll through the ‘Christian’ or ‘catholic’ tags here on WordPress and see post after post of Christians attacking other Christians for not being orthodox or being too orthodox over a debate of whether or not the priest should face the people or not during mass. They miss the mark because while they are fighting over this trivial issue, there are actual unorthodox churches that have gone away entirely with a organized form of worship that includes an officiant– that is unorthodox. It is not unorthodox for a pastor to set up a youth geared mass with music from instruments like guitars and drum sets. It is unorthodox to conduct a so-called Christian service with only that music and nothing else, saying that the music alone gives us the Eucharistic form of worship we need and that God instituted for us during the Last Supper.

So how do you avoid this very common misunderstanding of the word orthodox and it’s use within the church? Before you label something orthodox or unorthodox, ask yourself if this wasn’t a spiritual issue but a temporal one, would you find yourself using the word ‘conservative’ instead of orthodox or ‘progressive’ instead of unorthodox. If that is the case, chances are you are not using the term properly. If you are calling yourself orthodox because you like to discern yourself from your fellow Christians who believe in Christian same-sex marriage than you are using the word improperly. If you are calling yourself orthodox and you show up to a church that never prays the Kyrie together (literally the oldest form of worship we know in the church) and this troubles you than you are bang on the definition. Partisan categorizations, even ones that are given fancy ecclesiastical terms to paper over the temporal labels, have no place within any Christian church. We are not conservative Christians or progressive Christians or classic Christians or [insert temporal partisan adjective here] Christians– we are Christians. And we are part of the catholic church, which means our Christianity is universal, meant for all, regardless of whether you are a conservative, progressive, liberal or otherwise when you are not sitting the pews. We undermine a legitimate catholic principle of justifying the sacredness and importance of our liturgy using practices from the early church (orthodoxy) when we remove the true meaning from the word orthodox. We give some form of legitimacy to truly unorthodox liturgy when we try and take this term and apply in within the church in a way it was never meant to be used.

God be praised!

Image credit.

185 Years of Anglo-Catholicism

Many Anglican Catholics are probably already aware that this past July 14th marked the traditional commencement of the Ango-Catholic Movement within the Anglican Church with a sermon by John Keble at the University Church of St Mary’s in Oxford. I’ve pulled this quote from Ritual Notes via The Anglophilic Anglican concerning the event:

“Most Anglo-Catholics know that 185 years ago today, John Keble ascended the pulpit at the University Church of St Mary’s in Oxford to deliver the sermon at the opening of the Assize Court. If the date is not remembered, the result certainly is. John Henry Newman wrote that this sermon, easily forgotten during any other time, was the beginning of the Oxford Movement.”

I am personally a recent convert to Anglo-Catholicism from the Roman Catholic Church. I was raised Roman Catholic and attended a conservative Roman Catholic school from junior kindergarten to grade 12. The fact that I am not entirely comfortable using the word ‘convert’ when I speak of my recent membership in the Anglican Church and specifically the Catholic wing of said church, is proof of the complexities that dominate the catholic debate within the Anglican Church and indeed among many protestant flavours of Christianity.

Because I was raised Roman Catholic I spent the vast majority of my life under the impression that the Bishop of Rome and the entire Roman Church had a monopoly on the word ‘catholic.’ I’ve always believed (as per the Creeds) that the catholic church is the one, true, holy and apostolic church founded by Christ. I just, like many Roman Catholics, equated ‘catholic’ with Roman and the Pope and all that came along with that system. I was first introduced to the idea of universal catholicity (specifically the Branch Theory), or the core of the Oxford Movement– which is quiet simply that the Roman Church does not hold court over what is catholic and what is not– a few years ago after a Roman Catholic commentator who I had great respect for left the Roman Church after having an epiphany over social issues within the church. His leaving the Roman Church and taking up worship in the Anglican Catholic church piqued my interest and I began to research. I learned that what made a church catholic was not adhering to the will of Rome or speaking in Latin but rather it was a staunch devotion to the Creeds, to orthodoxy (meaning placing emphasis on the original forms of worship of the Church) and to an understanding of a truly universal church founded by Christ. I always knew that I was a catholic, if not because I do not feel like I am worshiping God in a manner that is pleasing in His sight unless there are bells and smell (as those who criticize the richness of catholic liturgy like to say). I knew I was a catholic because I believed firmly in the Creeds– never, even in the darkest and loneliest moments in my faith have I doubted the articles of the Creeds. And I knew I was catholic because I had a deep conviction that Christ did not found a fragmented and broken form of Christianity with sects fighting between each other each holding a nugget of truth, I firmly believe that the catholic church is the one Christian church founded by Christ.

But here is the kicker: catholicism can never be confined to one single sect. Catholicism is universal, it is applicable to all people, all races, all tongues because it is the Body of Christ here and present on earth. And because we are all creations of God, no matter where we come from or what we do in this life, we can all be part of and served by this catholic church.

I am an Anglican Catholic today because I do not believe that catholic is the same as being Roman. I believe that the Roman church places too much emphasis on culturally important aspects of the faith (like not eating one hour before Mass) to the point that what is dogma and a core belief and what is a cultural or best practice is often just lumped in as essential all around. I also believe that the doctrine of the Supremacy of the Pope is flawed and uncatholic– there is nothing universal about linking the movement and spirit of the universal church to one arbitrary geographical location here on earth. I also take issue with doctrine that has come out of the direct authority of the Pope such as Papal Infallibility and the Immaculate Conception– I do not see these as core catholic concepts, but they are certainly Roman.

“The Catholic Revival in the Church of England had nothing to do with gin, lace, and backbiting, as is often caricatured. Yes, elaborate ritual and church building followed in the next generation, but this was a logical development of the belief that the Church is not the same as the Post Office. [Or, as I sometimes put it in defending the use of traditional language in worship, “The liturgy – the worship of God – is not Uncle Joe’s barbecue.”] The Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives and not the same as chicken tetrazzini at the weekly Rotary Club. The development of ritual and devotion was the servant, the handmaid, to the truths Keble turned our minds to 185 years ago.”

I have never felt more catholic, more Christian than when worshiping and sharing fellowship in an Anglican Catholic church.

God be praised!

The sky is falling! — Episcopal Cafe

By Juan M.C. Oliver, Custodian of the BCP The first word coming to mind at the thought of new liturgical development called for by the 79th General Convention is anxiety. Looking at it closely, I find two types of anxiety both in myself and in others discussing the matter. The first is knee jerk anxiety.…

via The sky is falling! — Episcopal Cafe

Coming on the heels of my post about Biblical interpretation, I wanted to share this post from the Episcopal Cafe about orthodoxy and liturgy with a focus on language and historical context when we talk about words in liturgy and our faith.

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!