Thursday, October 17, 2013

Catholic Beliefs - They're Biblical ... Deeply Biblical

I meet Christians from many different backgrounds, and I realize that several of our Catholic beliefs and practices seem foreign to them.  From time to time I'll even hear some element of the Faith referred to as "unbiblical," meaning that it isn't supported by the text of Scripture and therefore suspect, if not flat out wrong.  So lets take a little time to explore this issue.

First, we should all take a step back to ask ourselves, "Where does the Bible itself say that all of our beliefs as Christians have to be found in Scripture?"  People will try to point toward verses such as 2 Timothy 3:16-17; but re-read them - objectively, that is not the claim being made. The Bible actually extols, not itself, but the Church, as "the pillar and foundation of truth" (1 Timothy 3:15).  And why is that?  I have a few thoughts:

All Christians realize that God's written word is "deep."  Anyone who has studied the Bible for any period of time has had the experience of reading a passage once and appreciating it, only to come back to that passage several months, if not years later, to be hit between the eyes by a deep truth that went unseen on the first reading.  In the past 27 years I have had this experience multiple times - sometimes with a single passage!  That's because the words we find in Scripture are not just human, but divine.  There are always new depths to be mined!

So why is the Church "the pillar and foundation of truth"?  Well, she isn't just some institution moving through time.  No, she is the Bride, the Mystical Body of Christ, moving through time (Eph 4:11-16; Rev 22:17).  And each new generation, joined together within her as one body, builds upon the insights into God's word granted to the previous generation.  The Church is reading and living out the Bible in its worship and devotions at a very deep level - so deep I would dare to say, that both individuals and communities coming to the Bible as "newbies" (and who isn't a "newby" compared to a 2,000 year old?) often mistakenly label as "unbiblical," what they simply have yet to see.  I'll give you a simple example:  asking the saints in heaven to join us in praying for needs.

A person may object, "The Bible never says that we should ask saints to pray for us."  Really?  Paul asked the saints in Rome, Ephesus, and Thessalonica to pray for him, "I appeal to you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf"  (Rom 15:30; Eph 6:18-19; 1 Thess 5:25).

"But Shane, Paul was asking the saints on earth to pray for him - not the saints in heaven!" Granted, but I quote those verses to establish the biblical principle that we Christians pray for one another, and our doing so in no way mitigates Jesus' role as the "one mediator between God and man" (see 1 Tim 2:1-5).  We pray for one another as members of Christ, as cells of His Mystical Body, the Church. And here is where the Church's deep reflection upon Scripture recalls an important truth:  the Bible teaches that the Church exists not just on earth, but in heaven.

When you and I pray, as members of Jesus, we "approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).  But as we draw near we discover that it is crowded around God's throne; our Heavenly Father is surrounded by the kids who have already come home to him!  The Bible says that we "come to Mount Zion ... the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumberable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven ... to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant" (Heb 12:22-24).  And in the Book of Revelation, when the Apostle John was invited to come up to God's throne, what did he see the saints and angel's doing?  Offering to God the prayers of his saints back on earth!
At once I was in the Spirit, and lo, there a throne stood in heaven with one seated on the throne! ... Round the throne were twenty-four thrones and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders (Rev 4:2,4)… each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints (Rev 5:8) … And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God (Rev 8:3-4).
We may be surprised by this, but John surely wasn't.  He knew his Old Testament.  (Sadly, the Books of the Maccabees were dropped from Protestant publications of the Old Testament in the 1500's, but they were very much a part of the OT used by the Apostles - the Septuagint.)  John knew how Judas Maccabeus,

... cheered [his soldiers] by relating a dream, a sort of vision, which was worthy of belief. What he saw was this: Onias, [the deceased] high priest, a noble and good man, of modest bearing and gentle manner, one who spoke fittingly and had been trained from childhood in all that belongs to excellence, was praying with outstretched hands for the whole body of the Jews. Then likewise a man appeared, distinguished by his grey hair and dignity, and of marvelous majesty and authority. And Onias spoke, saying, “This is a man who loves the brethren and prays much for the people and the holy city, Jeremiah, the prophet of God” (2 Maccabees 15:11-14)
Lets go back to the Apostle Paul.  Look at what he says:
I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family, in heaven and on earth derives its name (Ephesians 3:14, NIV).

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ ... If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together (1 Cor 12:12-13; 25-26).
So lets re-cap:
  • God's Family - Christ's Body, His Church - stretches from earth to heaven.
  • The members in heaven, through Christ, offer the prayers of those on earth
  • As members of Christ's Body we can request prayer from one another
The Catholic belief sounds biblical to me.  It may not be "surface" biblical the way a statement such as "When you are requesting prayers from one another, don't forget about your brothers and sisters in heaven" would be; but it is deeply, profoundly biblical to one who has meditated upon the Bible at great length and allowed these seemingly disparate truths to coalesce.  And this is what we Christians are meant to do!  There is no one biblical passage that states, "There is one God in three Divine Persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;" and yet every Christian believes it.  Why?  Because that is the Christian Faith as proclaimed by Christ's Church.  It is not drawn from a "proof text" in the New Testament, but it is a statement that nonetheless is confirmed by the witness of numerous, individual, coalescing statements in Scripture.  

The Church's mission is to proclaim the fullness of Christ's teaching, not simply what appears plainly on the surface of Scripture - "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt 28:19-20).  As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, "brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter" (2 Thess 2:15).  This is why the Bible calls the Church the "pillar and foundation of truth."

2 Timothy 3:16-17, which as I noted above, is often wrongly used to claim that the Bible claims to be a Christian's sole source of belief, actually witnesses to what we've been discussing. Lets look at it in context, with the verses that precede and follow.  (Remember, the Bible wasn't divided into chapters and verses until over a millenia later):

[Timothy,] … evil men and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from your childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and teaching (2 Timothy 3:13 – 4:2).

Paul was writing to Timothy, his “son in faith,” who had been validly ordained as one of the Church’s early bishops/presbyters (see 1Tim 4:14).  It is personal correspondence, an older shepherd to a younger, on how to care for God’s flock.  What does Timothy need, to do that effectively?  Both Apostolic Tradition and Scripture are extolled in the passage, as you can see by the underlined portions - Tradition (“what you have learned and believed”) and the Old Testament Scriptures (the “sacred writings” that Timothy had known since “childhood.”)  There is no setting up of the Bible as the sole source of Christian belief –the “Bible” Timothy was directed toward was missing the New Testament!  (Timothy was literally holding one of its earliest pieces.)  Did that mean Timothy was lacking in the Word of God?  No, it came to him through the Church – through Paul and the other Apostles.

I believe that 2 Timothy 3:16-17, read in context, was Paul’s instruction on how to be an effective preacher and shepherd. Look at the portions above in bold, the repetition of the concepts.  Timothy was to exercise the Church’s mission of being Christ’s established “pillar and foundation of truth” in the world.  And he was to ordain others to ensure that Christ's missionary mandate was continued: "what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others" (2 Tim 2:2).

That is how God's truth, and how Scripture itself, has come down to us today.  If Jesus had meant for each of us, in each new generation, to discern Christianity for ourselves from a book - even an inspired one - then He would have:
  • sat down to write that book instead of founding a Church
  • caused the Church to settle the New Testament canon prior to the late 300's
  • infused the ability to read Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek into our souls when we were baptized instead of making us dependent on translators
  • caused the printing press to have been invented before the 1500's, and
  • caused literacy rates to rise throughout the general population prior to the 1800's
The Church's life and worship give flesh to Scripture's treasures. They take us deeper into Scripture than any one of us living today could reach on his or her own. Catholic belief - unbiblical?  Nothing could be farther from the truth!  The Catholic Faith provides God's people with a context in which they can comprehend the Bible even more deeply.  And that's one of the main reasons I spend so much time writing and sharing the things I do!

So Catholics, GET READING! 


1 comment:

  1. I feel terribly blessed, I give thanks all the prayer warriors within the my prayer ministry for praying on behalf of me.They helped Maine to beat my family quarrels and issues.They also given to me a catholic book who help me lot..