Category Archives: Protestantism

Not yet perfected in unity: Church divisions in the U.S.

I am wondering how divided the Church is, or at least how divided Protestantism is today. I am reposting this from June 28, 2012. At that time I was on my way to becoming Catholic, and Church disunity was one of the primary reasons for my abandoning Protestantism. But do people even care much anymore about denominations? Are not the majority of Christians today mostly just choosing a kind of buffet-style evangelicalism? Even a lot of Catholics seem to essentially be merely post-modern pop-evangelicals in their faith and merely post-conciliar Catholics in there actions. And yet, perhaps this means we are even more divided than ever with each individual representing their own, personal denomination.

This was originally posted in June 2012.

“The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:22-23, NASB)

I continue to be astounded by the number of Protestant church divisions in this country alone (not including divisions elsewhere). For most of my life I’ve only had vague notions of these divisions, and never considered them as serious. I have also lived mostly with the view that they can be ignored (because I believed they are someone else’s problem) and all I need is faith and the Bible. Now I am inclined to see these divisions as having informed my thinking more than I realized, as deeply troubling, as a testament to the questionable “fruit” of the Reformation, and I want to seek resolution for my own faith and life.

The following set of images gives a high-level overview of some of the more obvious divisions we find within Protestant/Reformed churches in this country. I understand there are many more divisions than listed here, but I think this is enough to choke on for now.

American Christian branches
to European founded churches

Click on the first image to begin the slide show:

These images came from a slid deck I found on a Catholic apologetics web site.

The copyright for the slides are held by:
Peterson, Susan Lynn (1999).
Timeline Charts of the Western Church.
Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI

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Filed under Authority, Church History, Curious, Kingdom of God, Links, Protestantism, Religion, Tradition, World View

Baptism references

A recent discussion prompted me to think again of some posts I did on baptism. My friend was emphatically saying something like we all know baptism isn’t necessary, etc, etc. I know very well how deep that thinking goes for many Protestants, and the context of the discussion wasn’t good for challenging assumptions, so I just let it be, but I know now that baptism is necessary. I also believe that God works with people where they are, and that one’s conscience is fundamental, so I’m not particularly worried. Still, it’s good to refresh one’s memory from Holy Scripture and be ready for possible future discussions.

This post was originally publish April 26, 2011.

Sermon of St. John the Baptist, Pieter Bruegel the Elder 1566

The following citations come from the English Standard Version (ESV) translation. The purpose of this list, for me at least, is to gather in one place as many of the scriptural references on baptism as I can so that I might begin to understand the place and meaning of baptism in the life of faith. If I have missed any biblical references, whether directly mentioning baptism or whether pointing to baptism metaphorically or symbolically, please let me know.

John baptizes:
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:1-2)

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:4-5)

And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Luke 3:3)

Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:5-6)

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7)

He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. (Luke 3:7-8a)

John points to Jesus:
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

“I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8)

As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Luke 3:15-16)

They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:25-27)

Jesus gets baptized:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11)

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)

“I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:33-34)

Jesus baptizes:
After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison). (John 3:22-24)

Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” (John 3:25-26)

The nature of John’s baptism?
“The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?'” (Matthew 21:25)

“Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” (Mark 11:30)

He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” (Luke 20:3-4)

Jesus’ teaching on (or related to) baptism:
Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized . . .” (Mark 10:38-39)

“I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.) (Luke 7:28-30)

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:49-51)

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:15-16)

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5)

Baptism in the first generation church:
“. . . beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1:22)

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:37-40)

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41)

But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. (Acts 8:12-13)

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 8:14-16)

And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:36-39)

So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. (Acts 9:17-19)

“. . . you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed” (Acts 10:37)

“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 10:47-48a)

“And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'” (Acts 11:16)

“Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.” (Acts 13:24)

The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” (Acts 16:14b-15a)

Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. (Acts 18:8)

He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. (Acts 18:25)

And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. (Acts 19:3-6)

And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name. (Acts 22:16)

Paul on baptism:
By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:2-4)

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:13-17)

For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4a)

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)

Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? (1 Corinthians 15:29)

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27)

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11-12)

Peter on baptism:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (1 Peter 3:18-22)

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Timeline of the Catholic Church

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There are a number of Church history timelines out there if you want to find them. They all support one argument or another. Of the ones I’ve found (via Google image searching) most seem designed to demonstrate how the more or less connected Eastern Orthodox churches are somehow, truly, the one, consistently intact, non-apostate church, by showing that both the Catholic Church and all the Protestant churches are apostate deviations from Eastern Orthodoxy. I don’t find these timelines or arguments very convincing (though I flirted with becoming Eastern Orthodox before entering the Catholic Church).

Very few timelines I’ve seen are about the histories of Protestant churches from a Protestant perspective for obvious reasons — pick any one and they don’t go back very far, and are rife with so many splits as to make one’s head spin. See this previous post for examples. Rampant disunity and proneness to division makes the Protestant churches visually impossible to establish their continuity with the Apostles (and opens the door to questions most Protestants would like to imagine don’t actually exist or are not important). Better to avoid that embarrassing visual altogether. Anyway, Protestants put their emphasis on other things.

Yet, we get clearly from scripture that Jesus, with His apostles, founded a Church; that that Church is both mystical and visible, is marked by unity, is full of sacraments, and Hell will not prevail against it. Thus we should expect to find a clear line through history that we can call the Church. Given that all human beings are sinners, and that the Church is made up of sinners, then we should also expect an imperfect Church, prone to struggles, run through with sin, and teaming with problems — perhaps even its own periodic “dark ages” and times of great distress. But we should also see the work of the Holy Spirit, working on the hearts of the Church’s members, guiding the Church through the struggles, chastising it, correcting it, disciplining it, but keeping the thread of continuity always visible. If we are willing to entertain such an idea, it doesn’t take long to discover the Catholic Church is the best choice for being that church. All others, except to some degree the Eastern Orthodox churches, pale in comparison.

But it’s not all that easy to find a timeline of Church history from a Catholic perspective. Perhaps that’s because Catholics don’t feel they need to create such a thing.

However, here’s a decent one showing the continuity of the Catholic Church as compared to various Protestant divisions:

Timeline of Catholic Church
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If the visual of this timeline means anything, then we see the Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodists grouped on one side, and all the rest on the other — which implies more or less deviation from the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church — depending on which side one is on. Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodists — the diagram seems to say — are closer to the Catholic Church than those on the right. This is the traditional Catholic perspective, though it has changed in recent years as generally only Evangelicals, Baptists, and some Reformed maintained traditional moral positions (mainly on sexual, gender, and life issues) and the mainline churches have deviated substantially.

My own history began in one of those Baptist strands on the right. I knew nothing about anything of Church history, and especially Baptist history. If Blessed John Henry Newman is right, that to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant, then it’s no wonder Protestants (especially of the radical reformation) don’t want to know anything about their church histories — it’s too much of a threat to their way of life. I got the impression that our church had sprung directly from the pages of scripture, which allowed us to blithely disregard most all of Christian history from the death of St. John to the present day. Nearly everything I heard about the history of the Church could have been boiled down to a handful of repeated (and easily refuted) tropes about the Reformation and “those Catholics,” accepted with knowing nods, and never questioned. That was my experience. Of course, we never asked any knowledgeable Catholics about anything.

Now we live at a time when questions of doctrine and dogma, Church history and practice, and the deep divisions among the faithful are shrugged off as being uninteresting. So much of Christian experience seems to reflect our broader societies values (beliefs are only personal and must remain so, faith is private, and choosing a church is more like choosing a new favorite restaurant) that people can’t see any purpose in asking if there is such a thing as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

While growing up Protestant, naturally I was told church history was unimportant — only Jesus and the Bible were important. But if the Church is the bride of Christ, then history matters — like your own history. You are a continuity of God’s grace in your life, and so is the Church. What is particularly troubling with this timeline is that it shows that Christians have been practicing separating (one could say divorcing) from each other for a very long time. As they say, practice makes perfect. What has this done to our souls? How has this spirit invaded our culture at all levels?

We read in John chapter 17, Jesus prayed:

“And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”

“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one…”

Did Christ intend that they, and we, actually be one — implying visible as well as mystical unity? Can we really, over the long term, have the mystical and not the visible? Can we be divided in practice, in doctrine, in life, and still be okay that somewhere, somehow, we’re all unified in Christ? Like the hardness of heart Christ speaks of when he discusses divorce, is the Church in time and space, in hearts and in actions, an example to the world of the hardness of ours hearts? I think so. This is a profound problem.

Chrism-Mass-in-Westminster-Cathedral-procession-at-the-beginning

Chrism Mass in Westminster Cathedral, procession at the beginning.

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I have come to believe that once one cares at all about the continuity of the Church down through the ages, it then becomes clear all arrows point to the Catholic Church as the one founded by Christ. For all of its problems, and its crazy history, it remains. If one cannot imagine becoming Catholic, then it’s best to forget everything about Church history, grab one’s Bible, and just claim Jesus as Lord. Right? To many this sounds like a good plan, but that very perspective is at the heart of that crazy timeline of disunity, with Christians splitting from each other, with every man a pope, creating havoc among the faithful, and shaming Christ before the world. There is something profoundly broken and wrong-headed about the “me and Jesus” mindset as the foundation for being the Church. There is something profoundly broken and wrong-headed about betting on sola scriptura. The evidence is everywhere.

This timeline shows that Christians have grotesquely failed in unity. Given human nature, original sin, and the incessant work of the Devil, this is no surprise. I have written about this before, but I believe the spirit at the core of the Reformation was the spirit of disunity (shored up by theological arguments that sound a lot like excuses), and that spirit has thrived down the centuries until today, and has affected all of modern culture — we are a culture of divorce on all fronts (we are constantly separating ourselves from others, reveling in our disunity, fighting against those “idiots,” and finding ever new ways to stay apart). But Christians should know that in and through Christ all those distinctions fade, and our human excuses disappear. Non-denominationalism (not caring about denominations any more) has not solved this issue. Evangelicalism has not solved the issue — though it embodies some good things. Cool churches in school gyms have not solved the issue. Gathering “outside” mainstream Christian culture in some small, radical biblicism enclave has not solved the issue. Social media, and our ability to be “connected,” has not solved this issue. Unity in Christ is hard enough, why then seek it and flaunt it?

Because I know that at the individual level there are many, many Christians who passionately love Christ, I have hope for a coming unity once again. That unity will, and must, be both of the heart and visible; of faith and structure; of the mystical Church and the church down the street. May we humbly follow Christ and be “one” again.


Post Script: Most Christians, as far as I can tell, could not care less about these things. This is true for both Protestants and Catholics. There is a happy cluelessness, a shrug and a “who cares?” or “I don’t see how that matters” attitude. I care, in part, because I was Protestant and converted to Catholicism. I had to wrestle with a lot of issues and claims raised by both “sides.” I was drawn by the Holy Spirit to wrestle with these things. I learned that history matters. It can teach us a lot. We each hold many assumptions and presuppositions, and those all have a history to them. I believe these are critical issues because I believe that truth matters, scripture matters, and what & who one has faith in matters. I don’t want to hold dear verses like John 3:16 …reveling in the love of God and feeling great, and forget that the Church, which was established by Christ, is also the body of Christ and the bride of Christ — something visible, living, breathing, acting, unified, in the world, reflecting Christ, and connected year over year through tradition, scripture, and structure. We believe in Christ by being a part of His Body. Belief is not about feelings only, or even mostly. One has to choose.

I have to care, make wise judgements, and then choose. I cannot not care. I cannot not choose.

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A traditional Latin Mass in Paris

The following video is of a traditional Latin, or Tridentine, Mass in Paris (so you will hear both Latin and French). What the video does not say is that this is a Mass of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), taking place at their only Paris church, Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet. However (I say “however” because SSPX is nearly, but not quite, a schismatic church), I love this video for how it captures the sense of ordinary humanity attending a Mass, and of the beauty of the 1962, pre-Vatican II Latin Mass. I wish dearly such masses occurred in my home town.* I love the Latin, I love the solemnity — I believe our world today is craving solemnity and true worship. I would like to see more videos of this, or better quality from parishes that have actual canonical status in the Catholic Church.

NOTE: I am no fan of the SSPX, but I think they have some valid concerns. This letter of caution sums up my feelings fairly well. I get the struggles some Catholics have with all the changes and turmoil in the Church since the roots of modernism and complacent sluggishness began rotting the core (heart? passions? justifications?) of the Church in the early parts of the last century, and then the winds of the radical 1960’s rushed through the Church, as they did through all of society. Some want to blame the Second Vatican Council, but I don’t believe it. The Church has suffered since the sixties, just as it has at many times in its history, and those times become the soil from which a better Church grows — it is the constant process of reformation that has gone on since St. Peter denied Christ, and the Corinthians were sowing disunity among themselves, and the Galatians were being foolish with their doctrine. We should welcome the past fifty+ years like we welcome suffering — not wishing it on anyone else, but willing to embrace it personally for its deeper value. (Keep in mind I say this being a Catholic less than three years.) I honestly think we might be on the verge of something like a new rebirth of the Church. We typically don’t know what we have lost until we have lost it. But it takes time, not as long as geologic time, but it can feel that way. Regardless, I am not a fan of the SSPX because I can smell Protestantism from a long ways away, having spent forty-seven years of my life in that world, and now am a Catholic happy to not be protesting anymore. Beware Catholics, don’t play with fire. I know that spirit of protest, and of pride, which is the real rot at the heart of the SSPX. Rebellion is not the same as true reformation. One is of pride, the other of humility. HOWEVER, I firmly believe there are many good Christians attending SPPX masses (for a variety of reasons), just as there are many good Christians in other Protestant churches. AND I pray for reconciliation. AND, given Pope Francis has granted SSPX priests the ability to licitly provide absolution during the Jubilee Year of Mercy one can probably hope even more confidently.

* Lately we have been attending a slightly more traditional Mass at the oldest (though not truly very old) parish in our town. Though in the Ordinary Form, and with the priest facing the people (with which I don’t have an issue), the Mass is very solemn, and we sing the Gloria in Latin, with a few other parts in Latin. There is also an organ for musical accompaniment, and at least one song is from the St. Michael Hymnal. I find myself nearly overcome with emotion at times.

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Apollos: Baptist Evangelist Converts to Catholic Church

Apollos

Apollos was one of the major figures in the early Church. Remember those ugly divisions in the church at Corinth that we discover in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where he says:

For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided?

Apollos was so influential and popular that some Christians were even claiming to be his followers in rivalry to those who followed Paul or Peter, and even to Christ (which is particularly strange). To stand alongside Peter and Paul in the early church is no small thing. Fortunately the issue was not with Apollos, but with the Corinthians. I find this interesting, but I want to focus on how Apollos got his start. We first hear about him in the Acts of the Apostles:

A Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, an eloquent speaker, arrived in Ephesus. He was an authority on the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord and, with ardent spirit, spoke and taught accurately about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way [of God] more accurately. And when he wanted to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. After his arrival he gave great assistance to those who had come to believe through grace. He vigorously refuted the Jews in public, establishing from the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.

We first find Apollos in Ephesus preaching the Gospel as he understood it. He came from Alexandria, which is in norther Egypt, a city founded around 331 BC by Alexander the Great. later the city came under Roman rule around 80 B.C.

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Eventually Apollos ended up in the city of Ephesus. Most likely he came there around 52-3 A.D. He was a powerful preacher, “an eloquent speaker”, “with ardent spirit”, and “vigorously refuted the Jews”. He probably preached in the allegorical style of Philo, an influential Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who had lived in Alexandria. Later Apollos traveled to Achaia, the northwestern region of the Peloponnese peninsula. This region was a major cultural and trading area, and included the city of Corinth.

Notice that when the apostles came upon Apollos he was already a convert of sorts. The Gospel was not an entirely new message. He was already preaching, spreading some good news, and “spoke and taught accurately about Jesus.” This must have been a startling and wonderful surprise for Priscilla and Aquila. And yet, notice that Apollos did not have the full picture yet. He “knew only the baptism of John,” which means he had some basics, and could call people to repentance, but he did not have the whole story. What exactly he did and did not know is not entirely clear, perhaps he did not know “that the Messiah is Jesus”, or more likely he did not know about Pentecost and the existence of the Church. Whatever it was, Priscilla and Aquila “explained to him the Way [of God] more accurately.”

My post title is meant to be a bit provocative, and certainly tongue-in-cheek, but one could say Apollos was an evangelist who preached baptism (“he knew only the baptism of John”). He heard the call to carry the word of God to others. He “was an authority on the scriptures” which meant he had a solid and powerful foundation. He “taught accurately about Jesus”, but Priscilla and Aquila recognized he did not have the full picture. He was gifted in speech and used his gift, but he did not have the fullness of faith until he was taught it, accepted it, and became a member of that group that was becoming known as Christians, the Church, the Body of Christ.

Imagine if, after having heard the whole story from Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos had rejected them. What if he remained comfortable with the ministry he already had, with the knowledge he already had, with “only the baptism of John” such that he had no interest in the full message of Christ and the Way? What if he had no interest in entering the Church, in becoming a Christian? What if he had rejected the Church, claiming the visible, hierarchical Body of Christ was an invention? One thing for certain, we would very likely not know about him now, for his story would not have made it into scriptures. And if he had rejected them, he probably would have done so by marshaling all his knowledge of scripture, and with his gifts of speech, and fought them in debate. Perhaps he would have defended his “simpler” version of repentance and left the resurrection out of it. Perhaps he would have pointed out that the Christians were adding to the story, and they were including the gentiles in the covenant, and the apostles were claiming authority and handing down their authority to others. He might have rejected the Real Presence, saying the Eucharist is only a symbol. Although, given he was a first century Jew, he likely would have had a sacramental view of religion.

Obviously I’m making a comparison with Protestantism, and specifically with the Baptist version I grew up in. Catholics claim that Protestants are fellow believers, but that they have rejected the fullness of the faith. When faced with the richness of the Catholic faith, most Protestants balk. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is that few Protestants truly know what Catholicism is, largely because they see Catholicism through “lenses” that only distort what they see (though they would argue otherwise). Fortunately Apollos did not protest. Rather, he heard the full story of the Gospel, he believed, and he became a member of the Body of Christ. And then he played an important role in those critical early years of the Church.

Maybe the story of Apollos should be encouragement to Catholics to continue to reach out to their Protestant brethren and explain the Way in all its fullness. And certainly for all of us, the story of Apollos can challenge us to ask if we truly understand the fullness of the faith.

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“The Church is justified, not because her children do not sin, but because they do.”

A few thoughts on accepting the authority of the Church, regardless of its sinful members, as a means of coming to terms with the right place of Holy Scripture and Marian doctrine.

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Recently I added my two cents to a blog post where the poster posted part of a letter he had received from a Protestant reader of the poster’s books. This Protestant was struggling with the poster’s arguments for the Immaculate Conception (the Mother of Christ being born without sin) and the Assumption (the bodily taking up of the Virgin Mary into Heaven at the end of her earthly life). The Protestant, interestingly, is married to a Catholic and claims that he and his wife share most all orthodox Christian beliefs, but he cannot find clear scriptural teaching on either of these two Marian doctrines. I think I know his struggle, and I felt compelled to write the following:

Whether this is the issue for the reader or not, the question of Church authority played a big part in my dealing with Catholic teaching about Mary, and whether I would accept that teaching or not. So this is more of a personal response.

Having been in Protestantland for a few decades, and only just recently come into the Church, I can say I feel the reader’s pain. And the “show me where in the Bible” response just makes so much sense. But then I wrestled with the issue of authority and the Church won (I’m deeply happy to say). However, the Church “winning” is not to set the Church against the scriptures, rather it is to finally place the scriptures in their proper place, neither above nor below, but as part of the Church. And, though it is my responsibility to use the rationality God gave me as I seek the Truth, it is not my place to decide doctrine apart from the Church established by Christ and animated by the Spirit.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the best approach is to have an “I trust the Church, where else am I to go” attitude. This is not a blind, turn-off-my-brain approach, for it is also scriptural. Rather, it is about following Christ; it is about avoiding the “I refuse to believe unless I see it with my own eyes” attitude and, instead, to carefully and prayerfully trust. But that’s the issue isn’t it? The Church is full of sinners, has many troubling parts of its history (past and present), that to trust the Church seems like something only a fool would do – at least to someone on the outside looking in. I’ve been there.

Mistrusting the Church often arises from a “you shall know them by their fruits” perspective, and to some this clearly damns the Church. It takes a lot for a Protestant to accept the authority of Christ propagated through His Church, through the bishops and popes, and through all that sinful detritus that seems to clog the works. I find myself clinging to the words of Chesterton: “The Church is justified, not because her children do not sin, but because they do.” If we cannot accept that, then we will not accept the Church as the authority, binding and loosing, preserving and carrying forward the gospel as handed down and developed from the beginning.

But the authority of the Church is one of the great gifts of salvation history given to us. It is, in fact, a great relief. And if the Church has such authority then one should bow the knee to Christ by accepting what the Church declares as true in morals and doctrine – including its teaching on the Blessed Mother. Call me a fool, but I praise God for the Magisterium.

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Succession, Unity, and the Visible Church

A lot of this is speculation, and may say more about me than anything else. Anyway…

Apostolic succession maze
I saw the above comic a while back on FB. As expected there were a few hundred comments arguing back and forth about apostolic succession. Some saying it’s true, some saying it’s not, and some just disagreeing with the particular take on apostolic succession presented in the comic. As we expect, some of the comments got rather heated and caustic (to put it mildly). Christians love forsaking Christ in the combox. Anyway, I find the comic rather funny, but more than that, I find it both true and pointing to something I’ve been thinking about for some time: namely that both Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches represent The Church established by Christ, and Protestant and evangelical and non-denominational churches do not. (I’ll concede that, perhaps, not many Christians think of themselves as Protestant anymore. They’re probably not really “protesting” the Catholic Church, though they may still uncritically hold many anti-Catholic prejudices.)

First: Here’s the idea that’s been in my mind lately – Saying Protestant churches do not represent the Church established by Christ is not to say that individual Protestants are not Christians (or, for that matter, saying individual Catholics are), or that the gospel is not preached from their pulpits, or that the Holy Spirit is not active in their lives, but it is meant to point us to that critical scene when Jesus met Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus and accused him of persecuting Him because Saul was persecuting the Church, that we should then ask if that Church is still visibly with us today. I say yes it is visible, but that visible Church is not the Protestant churches accepting (or embracing) the spirit of division and denying apostolic succession.

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We might think as an analogy of the story in Acts when Priscilla and Aquila met Apollos, who only knew the baptism of John, and they taught him the whole gospel. If Apollos had rejected the whole gospel and stuck only with the baptism of John, he would be lost even though he still had some crucial piece of the truth – though God, of course, could choose to save him. In a similar way, Protestants who claim to know only Christ crucified, and then reject Christ’s visible Church, put themselves on thin ice. Further, Protestantism is as fragmented and dis-unified a group as could be. Remember, when Paul writes to the Corinthians that he knew “nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified”, that he was arguing their disunity demonstrated they didn’t really know “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Paul was both pointing to Christ and defending the unity of the visible Church. They go together. Why not obey Christ fully within the Church?

The question one could pose is, what are you really protesting? What are you clinging to that is more important than following Christ and His apostles in their prayers and pleading for unity? Parsing theological nuances is interesting, wrangling over theories of atonement is somewhat important, but we must make sure we don’t fall into the trap that says: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is faith.” Faith alone leads inevitably to division. Love leads to unity. Faith is important, critical, required, but love trumps faith. Faith is not the greatest, love is the greatest. Unity is the result of love.

So back to the cartoon – and this is my real reason for writing this post – The Catholic Church views both Orthodox and Catholic together being the true, apostolic Church, though in schism and thus not without insignificant theological and practical differences that must be resolved. I may be selfish in this idea because I have friends who are Eastern Orthodox, and I was once at that doorstep contemplating giving my life to that confession, thus I want to see unity there. I know there is not unity as there should be, but perhaps hope, the other theological virtue, along with love, will have its day.

But it naturally follows then that the Protestant churches, being non-apostolic, yea even apostate, churches are in grave rebellion to the true Church established by Christ and maintained by the Holy Spirit. As implied above, this is not to say that individual Protestant Christians are not destined for the Kingdom of God, nor is it to say that all Orthodox and Catholic Christians are destined for the Kingdom of God. That is up to God alone. But if my intuition is right, why would one want to remain in an apostate Protestant church in outright rebellion against the historical, apostolic Church? Especially if one’s rebellion was really just handed down for generations and has lost much (or all) of its meaning? (Like either fervently or lazily maintaining a family feud for no reason other than that’s just what one is supposed to do.) Or especially if one is a non-denominational evangelical merely because in college one had a crisis of faith and found that the good vibes, warm handshakes, and upbeat music at a roommate’s church made one feel like something real was happening there (and there probably was).

I know many will answer with the predicted Protestant laundry list of arguments, but really, there are excellent, biblically grounded, Catholic answers to all of them – and if there are, even if the arguments end in a kind of tie, stop arguing and just join up. Bow the knee to Christ, who gave you the Church. One enters the Church not because of an argument, but because of Christ. Therefore one should not stay outside the church because of an argument. Come be with Christ, fellowship in His Church, partake of His body and blood in the Eucharist (Jesus Christ, and him crucified), embrace the communion of saints, do not harden your hearts.

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When Christ first came to Saul of Tarsus He did not say, “Why are you persecuting My Church.” Rather, He said, “Why are you persecuting Me?” And yet, was not Saul persecuting Christians, was he not persecuting the Church? Had not Christ left the world? Paul was looking for real people, real Christians, looking for the places they worshiped, looking for the visible Church. He was not looking for Jesus. There is a direct connection between the visible, apostolic Church and Christ Himself. Therefore, if one rejects (not the same as criticizing or judging) the visible, apostolic Church one is rejecting Christ. Perhaps many who call themselves Christians are in greater jeopardy than they realize, like all those who say they love Jesus and hate religion. It may well be that those who make such declarations have unknowingly declared their love of an imaginary Jesus and have rejected the real Jesus.  Of course I can’t know anyone’s heart or what God will ultimately will for anyone, but I figure it’s at least worth examining oneself and the reasons for one’s choices in this regard.

In summary, I say do not remain outside the Church Christ Himself established because of weak arguments, tradition, laziness, what someone else told you, mere prejudice, what others might think of you, fear of the unknown, fear of being uncomfortable, or worst of all, pride. Perhaps pride and ignorance are the two main reasons why many Protestants remain Protestants. That’s the way it was for me.

As I see it, Orthodox Christians and Catholic Christians need to make a strenuous effort toward reconciliation, which I believe is already happening. And that Protestants need to repent of their rebellion and bow their knees to Christ’s authority (as do we all) which was and is promulgated through His apostles and their successors. I say this not to point fingers at individuals, but to speak in broad terms. We all need to bow the knee, but Protestantism, as an historical phenomenon, is a “tradition of men,” and is based on rejecting the Church established by Christ himself and maintained by the Holy Spirit, all in the name of self-determined Biblical interpretation. In other words, Protestantism arose not as a reformation, but as a rebellion; as a wrong response to very real problems. Protestants would have you believe the issues are theological, I know because I was one for more than 40 years, but in fact the issues are spiritual and of the heart. I would guess that most Protestants don’t know this, not consciously at least, and that there is something to “ignorance is bliss.” In fact, and this is the way I thought for most of my life, most Protestants couldn’t care less if a church is “apostolic”, not because they really don’t care, but because they don’t know they should care.

I have to come clean: I came into the Catholic Church in September of 2013. I’m a newbie Catholic, and naturally I have a tendency toward “Catholic good, Protestant bad” ways of thinking. I don’t want to be that way, but I did make a decision for Catholicism after years of careful study, prayer, and seeking the wisdom of others. Mostly, though, I made my decision in response to a call from the Holy Spirit.

The thing is, having been a Protestant for more than 40 years, and having wrestled with Protestant theology versus Catholic & Orthodox theology, I know the Protestant arguments rather well. I know the “laundry list” of Protestant reasons why they can’t be Catholic, and frankly, I know they don’t hold up. This is not to say I am much of a theologian, or Church historian, or even a good Christian, but I can say that the two biggest reasons Protestants remain Protestants are pride and ignorance. Ignorance of what Catholics really teach and, ironically, ignorance of what Scripture really says. Pride is that refusal to bow the knee to the authority of the apostles by insisting that oneself (or one’s pastor) be the final authority of truth. Sola Scriptura fails right at the point it is supposed to succeed because it finally comes down to interpretation – who is right, who wins, who has the authority to guard doctrine? Every man a pope as the saying goes. One of the fruits of Protestantism is rampant disunity, including a spirit of disunity that is worn as a badge of authentic faith.

The disunity between Orthodox and Catholic Christians is deeply troubling, and probably not unlike the grave disunity in the newly formed churches St. Paul addresses in his letters (I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Christ). And one could argue it’s due to ignorance and pride as well. What I see is that Catholics and Orthodox tend to be troubled by their disunity, though many may not yet see a solution. But the outright explosion of massive and inherent disunity among Protestants is deeply frightening. More than that, it speaks to something gravely wrong-headed and wrong-hearted at the center of Protestantism – a spirit of division based on personal interpretation of Holy Scripture (not unlike a consumerist “market economy” version of Christianity). In other words, the disunity between Orthodox and Catholic is a rending of a garment, a tear that is unnatural and needs to be repaired. The disunity at the heart of Protestantism is its reason for existence, not a result so much as the starting point, and that calls for repentance.

Commit oneself to unity, the kind of unity for which both Christ and the Apostles prayed. Repent each day. Remember that love is greater than faith. Pray continually. Embrace the Sacraments. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Commit to holiness. Be a saint.

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