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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sooner or later, you're going to have to face it: The irreconcilable dilemma between the central hermeneutical principle of the Reformation, Sola Scriptura--with all its true implications--and the earnest desire nonetheless to have visible ecclesiastical expressions as mediating institutions between the individual man and his God. The highest and best expression of Sola Scriptura, coming as it does with a great "respect" and hopefully awareness of the ancient history, leaves one as a renaissance man, perhaps, but it does not fundamentally change the arbiter of truth: the individual. He decides what the Holy Spirit says in the Scriptures, he decides which ecclesiastical decisions from the past were the right ones, he provisionally consents to the authority he lives under now. None of this is itself an argument for Catholicism as such. But if the bitter taste of that leads you to consider the paradigmatic alternative, thanks be to God. In any case, face up to it, and don't behave as though Catholic keyboard-jockeys with points to score just came up with it yesterday. [You are a Catholic keyboard-jockey with points to score.--ed.]

The idea that the Church of Jesus Christ is invisible fundamentally isn't a doctrine, in reality. It's an explanation for the plethora of visible ecclesial institutions that were already beginning to proliferate at the dawn of the Reformation. The question is this: "How is God keeping His promises, with all this division?" Because it was to His Church that he gave the surest promise, in Matthew 16:18. And so it was.

But that's why the relation between the doctrine of God and the visible community must be explored, and forthrightly considered, in light of Sola Scriptura. It would appear to anyone paying attention that Sola Scriptura enshrined the practice of ecclesial no-fault divorce. Consider the argument:

1. God promised to preserve the Church (Mt. 16:18).
2. God cannot lie.
3. There is little chance of a visible reunion of Christian communities.
4. Therefore His true Church must exist independent of all these.

And if one believes (4) to be true, you won't even work for (3). You'll say, "That's asking the wrong question," or "That's idolatrous" or mean, or something. But did anyone notice how, if the Church exists independently of all our visible expressions, it would be unreasonable to believe that any one dogmatic pronouncement from it could be true?

On the other hand, I could cling close to my community, earnestly believing that what it teaches is God's Word to me. But a challenge to this comfortable pride sounds like this: Why follow these men, and not those? Does not every Christian (even the ones who claim it in error) believe his leaders to be sent by God?

I looked for the hermeneutical magic bullet, as it were. If I earnestly believed that my interpretation of Scripture was the right one, I would hold it with little fuss, and simply pray that the disagreements would, by the mercy of God, lessen. But how arrogant this charming-sounding position actually is! It simply wasn't reasonable to believe that my use of this hermeneutical process and method was any more sanctified--and that is, correct--than anyone else's. Moreover, if we thought so little of our divisions and our doctrine as to be willing to learn the Bible, theology, and pastoral wisdom from those outside our community, again, what does that truly say about God's interaction with that community? We are fond of blathering on and on about how much we appreciate others and can learn from their theology. And I certainly love people, and theological conversations. But perhaps we can put a hold on the ecumenical love-fests to talk about what God has said, and how we know it. It is critically important. And we owe it to ourselves to define words as precisely as we can: "Church" "schism," "heresy," and so many others. I digress a bit here. But if there isn't one, a hermeneutical magic bullet, then we all really did slice up the Body of Christ on a maybe, just like the Catholic Church says we did. It does no good to say, "We're all sinners," because that is a very specific sin, not an invitation to offer a facile sigh on the condition of man after the Fall. We said, "The Catholic Church is wrong, and we can prove it from Scripture!" I submit that all we've proven is that the written words of Scripture were never meant to be used this way. The Bible is not our god, though it rings with God's unerring breath on every page.

When I knew that nearly everything that really mattered--that is, it wasn't debatable conjecture--about Jesus came from a time I knew nothing about, I pulled on the rope. Eventually, I discovered Peter and his successors holding it. It had always been so; it will be so until Christ returns.

Make no mistake: If you say, "God has placed me in Christ's body as it finds its expression within the Lutheran churches," you're making a huge assumption about the nature of the Church, not to mention, your authority to define it. My time of struggle and doubt was difficult, but it was not irrational. You might say that the other end of the rope I pulled on was tied around my waist in the form of Acts 4:12. The most important question any person can ever ask is, "Who is Jesus Christ?" And I knew that answer. I knew it to the depths of my soul. And like so many of us, I believe that the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith are the same Person. But I needed to find Jesus in history. I needed to ask the brethren what they knew, and how they knew it. Doing this, my second-most important question went from, "What is the Church?" to, "Where is the Church?"

You might be really offended that I would even consider the possibility (and subtly suggest for others) that a Bible-believing, passionate, committed Christian such as myself was not in the Church. But I had to. This murky concept could not be applied and recognized, for one thing. And I knew that it was Christ leading me to ask every single uncomfortable question. Which is easier to believe? That I, Jason Kettinger, had followed the wrong people and had the wrong definitions and believed the wrong things, or that God didn't speak in the Scriptures and in history, doesn't care what we believe really, and was lying to us in saying he wanted us to be one people?

My theological concepts and doctrines aren't God, either. If I have to cast aside faith alone, Calvinistic determinism, and even the conceit that the Holy Spirit will make the Scriptures plain to me in order to follow Jesus Christ, so be it. I'll save you some time: (maybe) The Catholic Church is the Church. Jesus and the fullness of what He gave to the Apostles is waiting for you there.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Pride, I'm convinced, is the worst of all vices. It keeps you from seeing the most obvious good things in the world. It keeps you from turning around in the spiritual life. To be brief about it, it keeps you from Love.

Most average people--who are not especially wicked--know when they've made a mistake, let's say a bad one. What happens next depends on pride. Pride is the opposite of strength; it is insecurity named theologically.

What drives you crazy with some people is, they're apologetic about the smallest offenses, and it really is a fault. And then they miss the heart of the matter. They miss something really big. And if one happens to experience this, you can taste the incomprehensibility of it all. Gnats, camels, the whole bit. And then you are astonished at the pride, again. To be frank, it doesn't mean you're "sensitive," it means you are a Pharisee.

I suppose it happens to all of us at one time or another. And I do need grace to be the sort of man who isn't defensive about things. But Love draws us out of ourselves; it disarms the one who readies for a fight. If only we could have heard the words of peace in time! If only we could speak them!

I only know for sure that Jesus said, "and he who comes to me, I will never drive away." When you are touched by Love, your deepest errors revealed become nothing. It is also written, "Perfect love drives out fear." Fear is pride's close cousin. And unless we are speaking of the fear of God, fear is no one's friend. In the informal "sacred tradition" that is all the pop songs I've heard, it is written, "Fear is the devil's only friend."

I guess I'm encouraging you all to say "I'm sorry" to someone you've hurt today. You never know how far a few words can go.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

It'd be pretty easy to go on a sanctimonious rant about this. But instead, maybe I'm just supposed to ask a question. What are we actually doing when we go to church? That is, what is its purpose? Is it possible that Jim and his commenters had the purpose wrong, and when what they thought was the purpose did not bear fruit, they drew the wrong conclusion?

And this is where my Catholicism falls out as a matter of course. It really isn't just cheerleading. We go to Mass to offer sacrifice. That is, our life in union with His. We owe God that. We owed him that even before the full revelation of his Son. But because nothing we could offer ourselves would be worthy, it must be in Christ. More than that, it must be Christ. And my life is the pittance, yet most necessary bilateral gift.

But alas, it is said, Christ died only once, and yet you call it sacrifice, even to say Christ is immolated on the altar. That is true. Yet what is this so close a relation? Is Calvary repeated, or is it something else? Suppose Christ Jesus was the one doing the offering; would the risen Lord deny Himself by offering himself in this way? No; it is the glory of Christ to offer himself to every person; it is his will that the Cross be brought near, to be much more than a memory.

Who cares if I get anything out of it? Perhaps the operative question is, "Did he get anything out of me?"

We are the mystical Body of Christ; does it matter if we are connected to each other on a purely human level? I suppose it is good to love our neighbors. In this way, we do concern ourselves with human relationships, in order that the spiritual purpose is served for all.
One thing that moves me very deeply is to remind people in my life that God loves them. Insanely. Fanatically. Unendingly. If only I could believe that myself! But it is true to say that God loves us more than we could possibly love ourselves. The Cross shows us this. For many of you, the Cross of Christ is about the total removal of sin and guilt, and to be sure, there is an element of satisfaction in it. But it is not primarily transactional; it is relational. I was in dialogue with a guy who agreed with me (without knowing it) that it was relational, and this was his reason for being Reformed and not Catholic. But would he understand how far the Reformed tradition has moved back toward the Council of Trent in its popular piety!

On the ground, "faith alone" is freighted with everything that "faith formed by love" means for a Catholic. Loving trust, that heart of living faith, is already assumed. People would reject extra nos imputation as preposterous if they thought for a second that it led to mere intellectual assent. But that isn't what they mean by it. "Faith alone" to a Protestant might as well be, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so". This is why denying faith alone sounds like a forsaking of the gospel. This is also why the historic Catholic position sounds like trusting in yourself. After loving Jesus and trusting Him alone, what more could be done? And what should be? Nothing. But that's the point: the pastoral theology, the practical theology of Reformed people is nothing short of the theology of the Council of Trent, minus the submission to Mother Church. Say what you want about R. Scott Clark; he's 1000% percent right about what Reformed theology historically is supposed to believe. But you have to ask yourself: Does Dr. Clark have a theology that you recognize, day to day? And if you have to answer "no," are you prepared to re-examine the whole separation, when it becomes clear that where God is leading you is agreement with the Catholic Church? And not just agreement with the Church today, but at the very moment of her highest infamy, in the Reformed view? I'm just asking.

That's what I realized I'd done to Mother Church and to myself: I'd taken the moments where God had touched my heart with his love, and mapped it onto the theology of the Reformers, as if they were the same thing. That God moves any of us with his love shocks no one. But how we got from that to believing any number of batty things (and that our communities and ministers rightly taught about that redemption accomplished, and had the authority to apply it) is a mystery to me, now.

All that is to say, historical continuity is the truest test of legitimacy. That claim of continuity rested uneasily in tension with the necessity of discontinuity to legitimize the rival ecclesial bodies founded at the Reformation. Heterodoxy is only slightly worse than orthodoxy established in an ad hoc fashion. Honesty demands a principled basis; if I should find that my "catholic" faith owes itself to a community I had forsaken, then I must conclude that I was wrong to forsake it. Indeed, the Church is itself the visible sign of salvation for all the Christian people. [Wow, high-falutin' today!--ed.]

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

...so, self-awareness and freedom of action are key problem areas in the Borg way of life. In fact, in a subsequent encounter with the Borg--named in the narrative re-telling of the mission logs as, "I, Borg"--the crew of the Enterprise realizes that a Borg who has become self-aware ought not to be used to destroy all Borg, aside from the questionable ethics of doing it in the absence of that awareness.

For one thing then, the Borg show us that our flesh--I mean the word literally, not spiritually--is not what makes us human. They regard purely artificial life-forms as inferior. But to disrespect and deny that basic self-determination, that individuation, is to deny something at the core of our being. (Different species in the Star Trek universe are simply a medium to talk about human cultural differences.)

Quite frankly, I don't see how theosis approaches this. If we take the sacramental life as a guide--because in it, we get partial realization and a preview of our eschatological selves--it doesn't even come close. I'm still me at every step. God is certainly changing me, and some of the mystical reflections could lend credence to the fear we are discussing. But I cannot think of any theological formulation or goal in the spiritual life that wants to obliterate the Creator-creature distinction.

Rather, being fully Catholic is like being on a winning baseball team, like the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Not everyone is Albert Pujols, or for this season, Carlos Beltran. Perhaps you are the spiritual and logistical equivalent of Nick Punto (a back-up middle infielder who typically played in the late innings as a defensive replacement). But your team needs you in any case. Punto and Pujols were not absorbed into The Great Cardinal or something. Every single person had a task; every one was indispensable. And those parts working together made them all better as individuals. This is why the asking prices of all the players on such teams go way up. But the goal is to be fully you. I will be me, no matter how much needs to change about me.

Resistance to the Catholic Church is definitely futile, when she brings all her "weapons" of credibility, sanctity, and testimony to bear. But when you get assimilated, you're not a drone; you come alive. I laugh when I think today of all the different choices I have to love someone in Christ. And to think that the joy of Heaven will be this multiplied infinitely! Bring on the theosis!

Monday, August 06, 2012

I have often humorously compared the Catholic Church to the Borg Collective. The similarities are slightly unnerving for a Protestant considering conversion. In recent days though, ideas have bubbled up that the Catholic/Orthodox idea of theosis destroys individuality. I think it would be good to contrast the Borg Collective with being a member of the Catholic Church, for instance, so that we can see how the Catholic Church is not like being assimilated into the Borg.

Let's recall who the Borg are, so that we can think about what it's like to be assimilated. The USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) under the command of Jean-Luc Picard, was thrown a great distance from the explored area of the galaxy by the flippantly malevolent super-being "Q," into system J-25, where they encountered a cubic Borg vessel of great power that killed several members of the crew, assimilated several others, and nearly destroyed the ship. Each Borg is tied into the collective mind; he or she hears all the thoughts and workings of all the others. When a Borg speaks, he says "we". Everything an individual thinks or does is subordinated to the common purpose. In fact, each Borg is named with a number as a reference point within a group; i.e. "Three of Five". Individual liberty, and even awareness have no meaning for the Borg. When the dangerously pesky Q returns the Enterprise to its own space, Starfleet realizes that they have perhaps 18 months to prepare for a Borg invasion of Federation space.

When the Borg do come, they completely annihilate a thriving colony on the outskirts of the Federation. The Enterprise pursues, and after several failed engagements, the Borg's true intent becomes clear: to kidnap Picard and use him to assimilate the entire Federation. They succeed, and they force Picard to act as the Borg spokesman in their takeover of the Federation. As such, they aptly name him "Locutus" (literally, "the one who will speak"). Admiral Hansen rallies as many Federation ships as possible at sector Wolf 359 to try to stop the cube's approach to Earth. 40 starships and at least 10,000 people are killed in the battle, including Admiral Hansen. A vast technological advantage, combined with the knowledge and experience of Starfleet's best tactician make the armada no match for the Borg. (Incidentally, Commander Benjamin Sisko, who lost his wife in the battle at Wolf 359, who would later take command of space station Deep Space Nine on orders relayed from Captain Picard, barely escapes alive with his young son, Jake.)

The Enterprise had been disabled after a previous attempt to destroy the Borg cube was thwarted. The former first officer of Picard and now captain of the Enterprise, William Riker, kidnaps Picard, and with the help of Lt. Commander Data, (the android) disrupts the Borg influence over Picard. Picard himself assists in a small way in formulating the plan that will eventually destroy the Borg cube.

The interconnectedness of the Borg, combined with the lack of individual liberty, is actually their weakness.

And I'll continue this reflection later...

Sunday, August 05, 2012

I spent most of the day with Bryan and Carol Cross (and Olivia and Laura). I admit I did most of the talking. [You always do most of the talking.--ed.] We spoke of discussions we recently had with the Reformed, where they might go, and the state of the Catholic Church. [Not good, at least here.--ed.] It's improving. I had missed Bryan so much, it was bound to be a blather-fest. My brain is random, too. We went from Jim Brickman's catalogue to liturgical music and back again with scarcely a pause.

I saw Fr. Barron's Catholicism series just chillin' on a bookshelf; I prevailed upon him to make a plan to get a gang together to watch it. So he did. We'll see when it goes down.

JK's Thought Of The Day: If Jesus was silent in the face of the most outrageous injustices against him, if he swallowed up our iniquity in the power of the all-embracing love of his sacrifice when he had every right to exact retribution, perhaps the petty slights against us are unworthy of our attention. (I thank the Lord's priest for that insight.)