Saturday, January 28, 2006

New blogs 

I have added two blogs to my blogroll, and it's especially fun to me since they're both RCUS blogs.

The first is Simplicity, from a member of my congregation. It's full of the ponderings and experiences of a dear Christian lady who's learned from experience to live her faith. I enjoy it; I'm sure you will too.

The second is Soli Deo Gloria, and I'm not as familiar with it as Simplicity. But it's a thought-provoking read, exploring issues and thinking through passages. It's been profitable to me so far.

I'm a very new pastor to the RCUS, but I was, as far as I know, the first RCUS blogger, starting all the way back in September of 2003. It's nice to see more coming along all the time.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Salvation of the Pope, again 

About a year ago, I posted an article regarding the salvation of Catholics, prompted by the death of John Paul II. I took the position that regardless of all the accretions and heresies that have accrued in Catholic theology, they still trusted in Christ for their salvation, and thus salvation might be possible for them, even for a knowledgeable Catholic. As I'm sure you recall, many of you took me to task for my views.

I decided to do some research on the subject, and since we were dealing with a particular man, it seemed to me most appropriate to address the writing of that particular man. Or actually, his speaking. I found a book call The Way of Christ, which is actually a series of lectures that the former Pope delivered to groups of college students at a retreat in the '70s. It's a little dated, but hopefully it will give us some insight into the beliefs of this man in particular.

From p. 72, on the subject of witness:

“This [Christ giving Himself to mankind] is constantly taking place through Christ, because he is constantly creating us, coming to us sacramentally and creating us from within, to the extent that we allow and in accord with the opportunities that we provide....

“However, there is a second aspect of this situation, inasmuch as we too create Christ. This is not an empty expression, for the Christ we create is known as the Church. We often hear it said that the Church is the mystical body of Christ and that we are part of it; we are its components, or, if we want to retain the anaolgy, its cells. So we can say in a certain sense that he depends on all of us. The mystical body of Christ, the Church, depends on us; it is our creation or our work. The action begins with him: he creates us, and we, who have been created divinely by him, in turn create him, the church.

“My dear ones, we create him first and foremost through the witness we bear him. I have said this in different contexts in the past few days. We create Christ above all because we bear witness to him.”

What follows from this is a discussion of the crucial role that the church, martyrs and Mass all have to play in “creating Christ”. The church, therefore, is in an ongoing process of creating Christ and recreating Christ through its witness, which puts the RCC's reliance on tradition in a whole new light for me.

From p. 73:

“You may have been struck by the fact that at Mass the priest bends and kisses the altar. He does this because the altar contains relics of martyrs who bore witness to Christ with their death...”

The priest therefore consciously involves the worship of the martyr with the worship of Christ, since the martyr played a part in creating Christ, and in “a certain sense” WAS Christ, because the martyr bore witness of Christ, and it is bearing witness of Christ which creates him in us and us in him.

Now, on p. 84, turning to the subject of prayer, John Paul II tells us that we pray because we know God exists, and everyone prays, whether they know what they are doing is prayer or not. Then, this:

“We can understand the expression 'witness of Jesus Christ” in a very specific and literal way. We all know who Jesus Christ was, and we know how he gave his witness, a witness made up of deeds and words...

“The witness of Jesus Christ can be broadened to include all God's revelation to mankind from the beginning to the end. Thus the witness of Jesus Christ contains both the original revelation which we find in the first chapter of the book of Genesis, and also later revelation, linked to the history of the People of God in the Old Testament...

“Believing means having the witness of Jesus Christ within oneself, and many people do have it. However, people have it and carry it within themselves in very different ways: Christians do so, as is clear from their name and from their baptism, but non-Christians also do so, in a different manner. Since the Second Vatican Council we have come to see this question more clearly and accept it with an open mind.”

The former Pope has therefore said that God communicates revelation to man in a variety of ways, that all of this revelation is “bearing witness” of Jesus, and that containing this witness within you is “believing” in Christ. Therefore, not just the church, but all of mankind, insofar as they believe anything true at all about God, are bearing witness of Christ, and per the previous section, are therefore creating Christ and being created by Christ. The witness of Christ includes what we see in the Bible, what we see in creation and what we see through the history of God’s people, both Old Testament Israel and New Testament church.

Having read this material, I believe I can now very safely come to the conclusion that the Pope was in fact teaching “another gospel”, and is therefore anathema. He has denied the importance of belief in the Gospel; he has denied that faith in Christ is the only way to heaven; he has blurred the distinction between God and man; he has mocked the need for Christ's death. To what degree this theology is the theology of the whole RCC I am not perfectly aware, though the RCC certainly did say that people other than Catholics can go to heaven, and now I know what they mean when they say that.

I thought I'd throw in this gem, too: On p. 23 of the book, talking about Christ and turning his attention for a moment to Mary, he says this:

“When God first revealed his plan for the incarnation of his son, he spoke to the serpent about the Mother of God: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; she will bruise your head. (Genesis 3:15)

“She was with Christ at his birth and also at his death. Thanks to Mary we are with Christ. Through her, as her descendants; hers and his; his and hers.”

I bet you didn't know that all our Bibles have Genesis 3:15 wrong. The Vulgate says, “_She_ will bruise your head, and you will bruise her heel.”

We can therefore add to the Pope's crimes, that he denied that salvation was by Christ “alone”; it was in fact by Christ and Mary, according to him.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Boys and the "ghettoization" of Education 

Instapundit quotes the New Republic [reg required] on the crisis in the education of boys.

I didn't read the New Republic article since I didn't bother to register. But it seems from Instapundit's comments that it doesn't say much about the causes.

I have a theory that has to do with the idea of "ghettoization". I don't know what the original source of this thinking is, but the idea is that as an activity becomes associated with one particular group, others who don't want to be associated with that group eschew that activity. So for example, no straight man dare like Barbra Streisand because that is widely perceived as a "gay" taste.

This theory is already somewhat developed in relation to race in schools. Black students who try hard to excel at academics are often accused of acting white, if they are in certain kinds of schools.

My theory is, that academic success in school has become associated with "girlish" behavior so that boys stop trying. I believe this to be an inevitable artefact of mixed-gender mass education.

We all know that girls mature faster than boys. I taught high school briefly, and my experience (confirmed by all the more experienced teachers I knew) is that in junior high and early high school, most of the best students are girls. This is true in all subjects. I was a math teacher, and even though math is often though of as a more male discipline, my best seventh through tenth-grade students were almost all girls. By eleventh grade it started to balance out and by twelfth most of my calculus students were boys.

But it is very hard for a boy to be bested by a girl at anything. Boys are very competitive generally, and it is hard on their fragile adolescent egos to be so completely dominated by girls at something. Further, the whole structure of school is geared toward rewarding more typical female behavior. Aggression and competition are both dirty words in most schools, yet these are the things that motivate males. So, I believe that out of defensiveness over their difficulty competing and their inability to fit easily into the modern school structure that seems at every turn to try to force them to act less like boys and more like girls, they opt out of the system entirely and bolster and affirm their manhood in other ways, ranging from the relatively harmless like video games, to the quite harmful like joining gangs and beating homeless people with bats.

We need to rethink our approach to education, especially of boys. Homeschooling and gender-segregated education both do a lot to address this issue, as there is no longer an unfair comparison being drawn between boys and girls generally in either system. The approach has lots of benefits for girls too I believe, though I'm not going to get into all that right now.

Education needs to be about more than just churning out lots of little cooperative worker bees. For boys, we ought to be engaged in training them to be men, and we ought to be thinking about the best way to do that. Encouraging them to be more like girls seems destined to fail, and it is.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The problem with the "God-shaped hole" 

I have often heard Christianity presented by the "God-shaped hole" image. Perhaps you've heard this? The idea is, we all have a hole in us, a hole that only God can fill, and we keep trying to fill it with other things like sex or drugs or work, but only God can fill that hole. I find this presentation of the Gospel highly problematic and objectionable.

It seems very much to me that the "God-shaped hole" presentation is essentially an argument for syncretism. Syncretism, as you may recall (if you don't, go read the original article) is the attempt to mix the worship of God with the worship of other things. It is basically the fundamental sin of the people of God, that which leads the external body to apostasize over and over.

The "God-shaped hole" presentation is saying that there's nothing wrong with my life per-se, there's just something missing, and if I add that one thing, which of course is God, then everything's going to be fine. But the call of the gospel is not to add Jesus to my life as-is. It's to accept the need for my life to be radically transformed. This is why we call it being "born again". Of course, we didn't call it that first. Jesus did.

Spiritual rebirth is the basic way that Scripture talks about salvation. One aspect of salvation is inseparable with death, and the other aspect is rebirth. Jesus says that we must "take up our cross" and follow Him. Taking up our cross does not mean accepting some unpleasant burden, it means accepting our death. Paul talks about the putting off of the old man and the putting on of the new. All of these expressions talk not about the need to simply add something to our life, but about the need to be rid of the old nature and to accept a new nature from God.

To put it another way, salvation means accepting that our whole lives must be turned over to God for radical transformation. The "God-shaped hole" idea does not adequately express this idea.

As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. The way that we first communicate the gospel to someone is likely to stick with them for a long time. When we convince someone to accept the gospel on false pretenses, specifically that they can simply add the worship of God to all of the idolatry and wickedness already in their life, then we are converting them to syncretism, and we leave them not really any better off. God can of course work through our weakness, and such a conversion may eventually result in a healthy mature Christian, but this is no excuse for bad theology going in.

The Bible is clear- the reason we need salvation is that there is no good in us, that is, in the natural man, the man as we are before salvation. All of that evil and rebellion must be destroyed by the salvation of Christ. We must be, in our entirety, nailed to the cross with Him if we are to be resurrected with Him. Yes, this is a much more confrontational model of understanding the gospel than the "God-shaped hole", and I think this is one important factor explaining the popularity of that model. People can accept the idea that they just need to add God to their lives. This preserves their autonomy and concept of self-worth. But it is precisely this autonomy and perception of self-worth which must be destroyed. They are the primary obstacles to a true relationship to the God who created us.

Any presentation of the gospel which does not strike against man's essential desire to remain in control of his life is not valid. Any presentation which affirms his value and worth apart from God is likewise not valid, and must be rejected. Just because an evangelical tool is popular and seems to produce results is no reason to accept it. Making a convert is not the goal. Making a convert to the truth is the goal. For we must ask, when we make a convert, what are we converting him to? Pray we are not like the Pharisees who make a proselyte, and when he is made he is twice the child of hell as we ourselves.

Hello Again, and, Sermons 

Hello, my loyal readers! If you're still checking in with us, despite this blog not having been updated in close to a month, thanks very much. Christmas break has extended somewhat beyond Christmas, but I'm ready to get back to some serious thinking again.

I've posted four sermons. Three of them are from Acts and one is one of my Christmas sermons. There's a sermon on slander, one on the origin of Paul's ministry and the way he defends that ministry to the Jews, and one on Paul's efforts to reach his final destination to Rome. My Christmas sermon is on the complete nature of Jesus' redemption. God bless you all in the new year!

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