It’s fairly common knowledge among Christians that we don’t know for sure who wrote the book of Hebrews in the Bible. The Church knows it to be inspired Scripture, despite the lack of certainty regarding its author.
Well, I’ve been reading an interesting book on Church history called Roots of the Faith, by Mike Aquilina, and he directed my attention to an interesting section in the writings of a Church historian named Eusebius, who lived in the late 200’s through the early 300’s. Since I happen to have Eusebius’ Church History on my shelf, I looked that particular section up for myself because it sounded intriguing.
Here, Eusebius is describing the writings of Clement of Alexandria, who was born circa 150, and Clement seemed to be quite confident in his knowledge of who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews:
“He says that the Epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, and that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language; but that Luke translated it carefully and published it for the Greeks, and hence the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts. But he says that the words, Paul the Apostle, were probably not prefixed, because, in sending it to the Hebrews, who were prejudiced and suspicious of him, he wisely did not wish to repel them at the very beginning by giving his name.”
–Eusebius, Church History, 6.14.2-3
So he’s saying that Paul wrote Hebrews, but left out his usual greeting for good reasons. The writing somewhat resembles Luke, because Luke translated it into the Greek.
“Farther on he says: ‘But now, as the blessed presbyter said, since the Lord being the apostle of the Almighty, was sent to the Hebrews, Paul, as sent to the Gentiles, on account of his modesty did not subscribe himself an apostle of the Hebrews, through respect for the Lord, and because being a herald and apostle of the Gentiles he wrote to the Hebrews out of his superabundance.’” (6.14.4)
So even though Paul’s primary mission was to the Gentiles, his “superabundance” overflowed to the Hebrews as well, and the Church has been blessed to this day with the Epistle to the Hebrews apparently as a result of Paul going above and beyond the call of duty (so to speak). I understand that there are other sources from the early Church which also offer insight into the subject of Hebrews’ authorship, but Eusebius is the one I came across and I just thought it was really interesting.
Unrelated to the authorship of Hebrews but included in the same chapter, Eusebius refers to Clement’s writings regarding Mark’s Gospel:
“As Peter had preached the Word publically at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it.”
–Eusebius, Church History, 6.14.6
Understandably, Protestants try to find ways to demonstrate that the authority of the Catholic Church is illegitimate or that Catholic doctrines are somehow corrupt. The more Catholics they find who can’t refute an argument, the more effective that argument appears to be. Even after arguments have been refuted by knowledgeable Catholics, Protestants often keep using them. With a bit of homework, Catholics can prepare themselves to address persistent misconceptions.
A classic Protestant argument has popped up on my radar from three different sources lately, so I think it might be good to address it in a public way, in order to help my fellow Catholics.
The argument goes something like this: “Did you know that the Catholic version of the Ten Commandments is different? They re-arranged the numbers, taking out the second commandment and splitting the tenth commandment into two! Of course we can see past the scheme of these sneaky Catholics… by removing God’s clear commandment against making graven images, they can get away with worshiping their statues!”
Before we go any further, I need to clarify a few things. First of all, Catholics are strictly prohibited from worshiping/adoring anyone or anything other than God (this is serious stuff). Secondly, the definition of “worship” can be a debate in itself, and if it comes down to a Protestant insisting that a Catholic person is worshiping something involuntarily… well that dog just ain’t gonna hunt. Thirdly, although the “ten commandments” are referred to in Exodus 34:28, nowhere in the Bible are they assigned numbers. The numbering of the commandments is an extra-biblical matter settled (for Christians) by Church authority.
Right off the bat we can see that the Protestants are appealing to tradition in the way they number the commandments. But, setting that aside, let’s proceed…
There are two places in the Old Testament where we see the Commandments listed. First, let’s take a look at Exodus 20:3-17
3 you shall have no other gods before me.
4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13 You shall not murder.
14 You shall not commit adultery.
15 You shall not steal.
16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Protestants claim that verse 3 should be kept separate from 4-6, and that dividing verse 17 into separate references against coveting your neighbor’s wife and possessions is a stretch by Catholics in order to fill out the number of commandments to ten. However, let’s pause for a moment and consider a slightly awkward question…
Why are Protestants so determined to number wives in the same category as possessions, when Catholics are pointing out that it’s not necessary?
But it gets stickier from there. The case can biblically be made that verses 4-6 are a further clarification of the larger point made in verse 3, which is to not worship anything other than God (note also how verses 9-11 further clarify verse 8 regarding the Sabbath). There is good reason to not interpret words like “graven image” or “likeness” (depending on your translation) literalistically, because God instructed the people to make images, as seen in Exodus 25:18, Numbers 21:8-9, and 1 Kings 6:23-28. Finally, a blanket rejection of statues and images puts many Protestants in a tight spot, if their households contain photographs of loved ones or little statues in Nativity scenes during the Christmas season, or if they appreciate statues of historical figures.
You might still be thinking that dividing verse 17 into two distinct commandments (and ones apparently out of order, for that matter) is a bit of a stretch. That’s fair enough, and it brings us to the other list in the Old Testament of the Ten Commandments: Deuteronomy 5:6-21. This list is just as legitimate as the one found in Exodus 20, by the way. I encourage you to read it for yourself, but for the sake of brevity I’ll just quote verse 21:
21 Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife.
Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Here we can see two distinctly different commandments… the ones Catholics know to be the 9th and the 10th.
This was not a comprehensive examination of the subject, but hopefully enough explanation to be helpful.
For a much better explanation:
I’ve already shared significant portions of my journey from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism in my posts Considering Catholicism, On the Road to Rome, and How Francis Chan Helped Me Become Catholic, however I also wanted to share a pivotal moment of my testimony that I haven’t shared on my blog before. By the time 2013 was winding down, I was facing some very real questions about my faith. Some questions had begun to nag me years before, such as why someone as intelligent as G.K. Chesterton could conclude that Rome was right. But others were more recent, such as how Catholics can point to Jesus’ clearly articulated words in John chapter six to explain Christ’s Body and Blood being present in the Eucharist (a.k.a. Communion or Lord’s Supper), while Evangelical Protestant explanations were falling short to say the least in saying our Lord’s words must surely be symbolic.
Facing the very real prospect of being convinced of the truth of Catholicism, but struggling with the unfamiliarity of it compared to my prior beliefs, I began looking for a way out of the spiritual conflict. Turns out, it’s easy to find a way out, especially when you’ve been raised in the fringe minority of Christianity that thrives in modern American culture. It’s easy to lose yourself in American culture whenever you get tired of theology (the study of God). I even found a song that I felt I could adopt as symbolizing my new determination to pursue only minimalist Christianity. “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd was how I felt and by determining to believe that God wanted nothing more from me than wholehearted simplicity, I decided to just read the Bible in a simple way, pray in a simple way, and serve others in a simple way, and Christianity didn’t need to be any more complicated than that. The admonitions of my relatives and friends seemed to echo the lyrics of the song:
“Boy, don’t you worry you’ll find yourself
Follow your heart and nothing else
And you can do this, oh baby, if you try
All that I want for you my son is to be satisfied
And be a simple kind of man
Oh, Be something you love and understand
Baby be a simple kind of man
Oh, won’t you do this for me son if you can?”
Trust me, if you drive down the road blasting songs like this with the windows down, it’s easy to forget about things like sacraments and ancient beliefs. But some things still rise above the noise:
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” -1 Cor. 10:16-17
I had a nagging suspicion that the little symbolic crackers that are passed out in Evangelical Protestant churches are not the body of Christ, even if I wished that it might be true, and if it wasn’t “a participation in the body of Christ”, was I even part of the body of Christ: His Church? Nonetheless, all of the Christians I grew up with and hung out with were all able to shrug it off as no big deal, and I was determined to do the same. Forget the Catholics and their evidence, they’re weird anyway! Perhaps the less I think about it, the better… Well, God had a patient way of working in my restless mind, and I should mention that even though I was growing weary of theology and wanted to live a simple life, I was also praying earnestly for God’s direction.
In the mean time, my wife and I decided to back away from Catholicism and we determined to make our Pentecostal church home work for us. We were sitting in a sparsely populated worship service at the Assemblies of God church one Sunday morning, and it was time for communion. I had been raised to take communion very seriously growing up, and I did, using it as a time of quiet reflection and bringing my sins before God. The pastor usually goes out of his way to remind everyone that it’s a symbol, even while hearkening back to Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. Even though I had been wrestling with the biblical, theological, and historical evidence put forth by the Catholics, I decided that I was just going to leave it in God’s hands and take my time figuring it all out… someday.
As we sat in what was nearly the center of the sanctuary waiting for the crackers and grape juice trays to make their way to us, it gradually dawned on me that the ushers had somehow missed us. I tried to think whether in all my years of attending Evangelical Protestant church services this had ever happened to me before… it never had as far as I could remember. How could they have missed us? I had determined that it would be fine to partake of this symbolic communion as I always had, but had God prevented it? A crazy thought… or was it? While the short communion time proceeded without me, I pondered the possibility that God was saying, “I am fine with you taking your time to work through the process of understanding the Catholic Church… but you know better than this.” My wife wasn’t as sure that God had intended to send a clear message, but she did find it strange at least that we were missed, especially since we had been wrestling with whether or not to continue the Evangelical Protestant version of communion in a symbolic way.
An usher came up to us after the service and was genuinely apologetic for having missed us. He didn’t realize it until after he had passed us by. I happily informed him that it was no problem at all. Little did he know how much God may have used him in that moment.
The journey was still long after that point, but it did seem to be the final clincher in the subject of symbolic communion. And knowing what I know now, it would probably be a sin for me to do something that I know to be a symbolic reinvention of what God intended to be a Sacrament, without the defense of unknowing sincerity. I know that people can quickly and easily disregard this story as coincidental (and even bring up instances of being missed in communion themselves), but I see this as being just the sort of thing that God would use to speak to a specific person in a specific way, and in a way that cannot be used as proof for anyone else. In and of itself, it is hardly evidence of anything, but as it was a tipping point for me (on top of a pile of evidence and prayers for God’s guidance), it might be helpful to others in a similar situation.
In closing, I’ve noticed that if there is one subject that even the most biblically-minded Evangelical Protestants like to avoid, it’s the subject of the Eucharist. Once the biblical evidence is honestly examined, you need to do some very creative footwork to justify that communion is a symbolic “ordinance” rather than a sacrament. After ruling out the churches of our upbringing, we still had to choose between the options that remained. For awhile, we tried out the local Episcopal church, and we would have gladly gone to an Anglican church (at the time) if one was nearby. Also, the Eastern Orthodox have some substantial arguments… but we knew we could never innocently go back to where we were before.
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” -1 Cor. 11:27
From here, I recommend this post:
I would like to share my thoughts on Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited. I only recently discovered it and was privileged to listen to Jeremy Irons’ audiobook narration. Admittedly, it was my curiosity regarding Mr. Waugh’s Catholicism that led me to read it, but soon I was able to see why it is widely regarded as a classic. I found myself drawing comparisons at times between Evelyn Waugh’s style and that of Jane Austen or even Mark Twain. He has a way of helping you to picture stuffy old English culture while you’re chuckling at it, as well as helping you see the most cheerful side of life through his character development and dialog, which can easily be the boring part of novels. Also, I would dare say his ability to describe so much in so few words could give Jack London a run for his money.
First published in 1945, Brideshead Revisited is regarded as Evelyn Waugh’s magnum opus. He was able to draw from his experiences in the military and in college to paint such a bemused picture of those environments that he had me laughing out loud. Although the story begins during World War II, we are soon accompanying the main character Charles Ryder in his memories of his younger days growing up in 1920’s England. He describes meeting his good friend Sebastian and his encounters with Sebastian’s family, with the story centered around the family estate: Brideshead. The character development and dialog make for great discussion with other readers, and the subtle thematic depth makes me want to read it again. As the story progressed, I found myself being amused less often but appreciating Waugh’s descriptive abilities all the more. He had apparently intended a graceful transition from a humorous story into a more poignant one as the years of the story progressed into the 1930’s toward the war. By the time the end of the book comes along, the reader is emotionally and curiously prepared for the meaningful ending.
I should probably say a few words regarding the relationship between Charles and Sebastian toward the beginning of the book. In our modern American cultural context it is easy to draw conclusions, and at the very least the author does not seem to fear the possibility of our imaginations roaming a bit. However, before allowing speculation to ruin a great novel (or watching any Hollywood versions of it), it’s important to remember the Catholic stance on homosexuality that Waugh undoubtedly agreed with. Of course we are talking about characters who are not exactly on their best behavior, but if nothing is specified there’s hardly any sense in forcing the issue. I’ve decided to take a neutral stance on this debated aspect of the book, and allow Waugh’s bemused approach to writing become my approach to reading his work.
I am tempted to venture into the theological undertones (or overt messages, depending on who you are), but I will leave that alone for now and let the readers explore for themselves what Waugh might have been up to. Suffice it to say, as it is no secret, the overall theological message of the book is one of God’s grace and His pursuit of us all.
The story has a feel somewhat resembling Gone with the Wind or Legends of the Fall in its memory of an idyllic time and place followed by a slow but steady march into decay. Personally, I much prefer to learn the lessons of bad decisions through fiction rather than real life, so I don’t mind too much, as long as the story has quality and impact.
Although there are no characters that directly resemble myself or people I know, there are enough similarities on various levels to make the book particularly interesting to me at this season of my life. I think this is worth mentioning, just in case it might influence whether someone wants to read the book more or less because of it.
Catholic characters in the story are quite flawed (as Catholics tend to be), and Waugh’s treatment of many Catholic beliefs seems to amount to a literary shrugging of his shoulders… which makes me laugh. I can relate. But the aloof skepticism of agnostics can all-too-often give way to belief in the end.
I appreciate the author’s ability to share his theology through literature. Something that really struck me was Waugh’s ability to describe cares and temptations that people face every day in a way that would impress any secular literary critic, but then turn around and give an equally moving examination of the moral perspective. There was an interesting balance in this book between a seemingly casual writing style and substantive subjects. I was delighted one moment, and contemplative the next. To me, the book served as an illustration that Catholics are not ignorant of worldly concerns and desires, but aware of higher considerations. There is depth to this novel that will continue to maintain its relevance, and I look forward to re-reading it and recommending it to others in the years to come.
In my transition from Evangelical Protestant to (Roman) Catholic, there was an orderly process of understanding that allowed me to slowly release my grip on the presuppositions and perks of Protestantism. The three steps I’ve outlined below are the foundation upon which Catholic understanding was established in my mind and heart:
- Truth is not relative. In other words, Jesus’ death on the cross does not mean whatever we want it to mean. If you want real Christianity, you need to venture outside the realm of preference. Important: misunderstanding Christ and His Church does not equal condemnation. However, every Christian should want to pursue the most accurate version of Christianity possible. Christians should desire the fullness of the faith. It seems rather dangerous to cling to a minimalist understanding of Christ and trust that God will look mercifully upon a refusal to look deeper. For too many people, it is simply convenient that Catholicism looks wrong to them, and an honest examination of Catholic beliefs is not on their to-do list. If someone is stuck at step 1, and they believe Christianity can be defined according to their preferences, then an explanation of Catholic doctrines can be a frustrating exercise.
- History matters. The accumulated knowledge of Christians throughout the centuries far surpasses my own knowledge. As someone with a degree in history I can vouch for the value of reading primary source material. Basically… if you want to better understand America, read the writings of the Founding Fathers. If you want to better understand Christianity, read the writings of the early Church Fathers. If nothing else, they offer some of the best possible commentary on Scripture that you can find. I began to really ponder how orthodox (authentic) Christian beliefs could be preserved against heresies through the centuries. The fact that heresies can be fueled by a misunderstanding of Scripture should be disconcerting to Protestants (of course an acknowledgment that heresy is bad should be part of step 1). Find a Protestant who cares about history, and you’ve got someone who can learn… and can grasp the need for apostolic succession and the value of Sacred Tradition.
- The Protestant concept of “Sola Scriptura” (“Scripture Alone” as the doctrinal authority for Christians) simply doesn’t work… nor is it biblically defendable. This was the death blow to my Protestant assumptions. Unity in the Body of Christ is important (again, step 1 is necessary), and Sola Scriptura causes tragic division among Christians. Sola Scriptura is not defined or demanded in Scripture itself. Perhaps even more importantly, there is no definitive scriptural way of knowing which books should be in the Bible, thereby creating uncertainty within the confines of Sola Scriptura about the reliability of the Bible’s contents.
Backed by history, and guided by the Church, Catholics are able to rely on Scripture with confidence and accuracy.
As a Protestant, I wholeheartedly embraced the first two steps in regard to secular subjects, but Catholics demonstrated how the principles could (and should) be applied to my faith as well. Also, it isn’t that I clung to the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura in opposition to the evidence… it’s just that I didn’t know any better. Finally, I was able to see that personal interpretation of Scripture is unreliable, and I began to seek solid answers to some tough questions. Watch for others like me, and be able to point them to the Church.
After the basic steps were covered, I was able to seriously consider what is perhaps the most important question I faced in my conversion process: the question of doctrinal/spiritual authority.
I think most Protestants never imagine that Sola Scriptura is wrong, and that is why they talk as though they are defending the Bible against the “men” or “traditions” of the Catholic Church. In reality they are defending their personal interpretation of the Bible against the Church that God has placed on this earth to guide all Christians. I had to learn that the Scriptures were intended to be part of the Church’s guidance and not our excuse to protest the Church’s guidance.
Protestants say that they don’t put their trust in men, so therefore they don’t trust the Catholic Church. They claim to be putting their trust in the Bible instead.
What if I said that I don’t put my trust in books, so why should I trust the Bible?
Of course I would be told that the Bible is not just an ordinary book. It is the exception to the rule and trustworthy because it is from God and protected by God. This is true.
That’s basically the explanation of the Catholic Church. It’s not an ordinary bunch of men, or simply a human institution. The Catholic Church is the exception to the rule, and trustworthy because it is from God and protected by God. This is a bold claim I know, but I only wish to point out that trusting the Church is no more of a stretch than trusting the Bible.
The Bible did not appear out of thin air. We trust that God equipped certain men to write the Scriptures, compile them, and preserve them through the centuries. Is it that much of a stretch to believe that God is using men to infallibly interpret the infallible Scriptures so that they were not written, compiled, and preserved only to be misunderstood? It has been necessary to protect orthodox Christianity against heresy since the beginning of the Church, sometimes with the necessity of calling a council.
Before you attempt to bypass the Catholic Church in your pursuit of God’s will, make sure that you are not attempting to bypass what God intends for you. A lifetime, even a long one, does not offer enough time for you to figure much out on your own. You and the Bible alone cannot get very deep. Real understanding comes from tapping into the accumulated centuries of the Catholic Church’s knowledge.
I don’t like to put my trust in men either. Therefore I hesitate to trust myself, or pastors that fulfill my own ideas of trustworthiness. I won’t put my trust in the writings of guys like Martin Luther, John Calvin, or Loraine Boettner. I also do not want to be part of a human institution like the Southern Baptist Convention. We all trust people to some extent. Make sure they’re qualified.
This short video goes a long way in explaining the central issue among Christians regarding Church authority.
Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love was basically a life-changing book for me. He challenged me in a powerful way to really live out the Christian life as though it is true (because we believe that it is, right?). Jesus really died for us, and this should be life-changing knowledge. If we are to truly follow Jesus, then eternity really matters more than enjoying this life. The all-powerful Creator loves us so much, and our love for Him and others should reflect this knowledge. But I read Crazy Love at a crazy time in my spiritual life, and as excited as I was to live the life that Francis described, he left me with more questions than answers. Eventually, further down the road, I found the answers in the Catholic Church.
Francis Chan motivated me in 3 overall ways that ultimately helped lead me to the Catholic Church (for which I am honestly grateful to him). I will briefly cover them in this post.
Christianity Takes Courage
“Jesus’s call to commitment is clear: He wants all or nothing. The thought of a person calling himself a ‘Christian’ without being a devoted follower of Christ is absurd.”-Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 85
Courage is an essential aspect of Christianity. Sacrificing, loving, and living with a reckless reliance upon God should be a normal aspect of life as a Christian. If you’re in your comfort zone, then you might not be on the right track. Obeying Christ in everything is not optional for Christians, even if it involves being poor so that others might have enough, or being ridiculed by people who don’t understand, or even giving your life for the faith.
Thanks in part to Francis Chan (and Dietrich Bonhoeffer), I really began to see how a true pursuit of the Christian life will naturally meet with opposition and hardship.
“He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” -Matthew 10:37-39
I wanted to take my motivation to live a real Christian life and use it to serve God with all my heart. But what would that look like? What sort of things should I be doing to live courageously for God every day? I had it in my mind that no cost was too great, but I wanted my service to be God’s will, and not just my own ideas… so I needed direction.
“Should you put your house on the market today and downsize? Maybe. Should you quit your job? Maybe. Or perhaps God wants you to work harder at your job and be His witness there. Does He want you to move to another city or another country? Maybe. Perhaps He wants you to stay put and open your eyes to the needs of your neighbors. Honestly, it’s hard enough for me to discern how to live my own life!” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 166
I began to get frustrated. How are Christians supposed to be living? Does anyone know?
“…I cannot say in this book, ‘Everyone is supposed to be a missionary’ or ‘You need to sell your car and start taking public transportation.’ What I can say is that you must learn to listen to and obey God, especially in a society where it’s easy and expected to do what is most comfortable.” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 168
I must learn to listen to God …how? Partially thanks to this book, I began to ponder what this really means. It didn’t help when I stepped back and began to see that there are thousands of denominations of Protestant churches with different ideas of what God is saying to us. I believe I did indeed learn how to listen to God enough for him to guide me to the Catholic Church, where people are not figuring out from scratch what it means to live a Christian life.
Take the Bible Seriously
Francis Chan had a great way of explaining how real Christians must study the Scriptures in a direct and painfully honest way, not allowing our preferences to explain the meaning. This means not skimming over verses that we don’t understand or don’t like. Courage must be applied when reading the Bible. I began to realize, however, that direction can not only be obtained from reading the Bible, but must also be obtained for reading the Bible.
Understanding and obeying instructions from the Bible is essential, but for the Protestant, this is subject to personal interpretation. Chan’s conclusion seems to be that the more extreme you are in your interpretation, the more likely you are to be correct.
Reading the Bible honestly is not enough. You must have it explained (Acts 8:30-31), or you will end up extremely frustrated (if you’re honest). The question is: who do you trust to explain it, especially when there are thousands of differing opinions? If you’re going out onto the mission field, you need to have concrete answers to people’s theological questions, not just your opinions about what you think the Bible means. I don’t assume that Francis Chan’s book was intended for deep theological instruction, but it would be nice to know that someone has straight answers.
“Pray. Then read the Bible for yourself. Put this book down and pick up your Bible. My prayer for you is that you’ll understand the Scriptures not as I see them, but as God intends them. I do not want true believers to doubt their salvation as they read this book. In the midst of our failed attempts at loving Jesus, His grace covers us.” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 87
How do we know we’re true believers? What does that mean?
One of Francis Chan’s motivating verses became the biggest example of my frustration:
“So then, none of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” –Luke 14:33 (NASB)
I have long believed that truth is not relative. I knew that it was up to me to discover what Jesus meant, and that I did not have the liberty to decide for myself what He meant. I wanted to be a real disciple even if everyone else was making excuses not to be, but what did Jesus mean when He said things like He did in that verse? How was I to understand it? Did anyone have definitive explanations?
I found that we don’t need a fresh look at the Bible. We need an infallible interpretation of the Bible. Otherwise we’re all walking around following our hearts like Disney princesses… or going crazy trying to find the actual truth and never being sure if we’ve found it.
I came to the conclusion at the end of it all that the only thing that really makes sense is if God placed something exactly like the Catholic Church on the earth to be the infallible interpreter of Scripture for the whole world. Otherwise it’s basically just relativism, and I didn’t want to live a life of courage and sacrifice for a Christianity of my own making. If God fits into a box of my assumptions and preferences, then chances are I’m not serving the real God.
“Not being able to understand God is frustrating, but it is ridiculous for us to think we have the right to limit God to something we are capable of comprehending.” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 33
We Have Work to Do
We’re here to love God and love other people. This means serving God on His terms, not our own, and serving others even at the expense of our own preferences and prosperity.
“So we can follow our own course while still calling ourselves followers of Christ? So we can join the Marines, so to speak, without having to do all the work?” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 85
“Lukewarm people say they love Jesus, and He is, indeed, a part of their lives. But only a part. They give Him a section of their time, their money, and their thoughts, but He isn’t allowed to control their lives.” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg 72
I knew that I wanted to offer my God-given strengths and abilities as part of the Body of Christ, His Church. I wanted to do whatever I could to help. But I was running into a similar problem that Francis Chan did…
“But I think we all feel deeply, even if we haven’t voiced it, that the church in many ways is not doing well.” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 22
“…I quickly found that the American church is a difficult place to fit in if you want to live out New Testament Christianity.” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 68
Thanks in part to Francis Chan, I could see that an Americanized Christianity was not original or likely to be correct, and fitting in too much can be an indicator that I wasn’t living the faith authentically. Yet I wanted to be giving my all as part of the Church. This was a quandary. All of the acceptable Protestant options that I tried seemed so inadequate if I wanted to be part of a biblical culture and a more ancient mindset.
I knew from experience that being on fire to make the necessary changes to a flawed system does not turn out well. Ideally, it would be better to find the system that isn’t flawed. And I was even open to the possibility that what might appear as flaws to me might actually be my own flawed criteria. Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church (Matt. 16:18), so I knew the Church still exists, but I also knew that it could not simply be a general unity of agreement between Christians about basic doctrines, because I could see so many disagreements even on fundamental issues. I also was not content to sit back and announce that my preferred interpretation of Scripture and Christian beliefs is right while everyone else’s is wrong, thereby insisting that my location is the location of the Church, like many people seem willing to do.
Biblically, Christians must be part of the Body of Christ, His Church. But what does His Church look like? Around the time I read this book, I had a couple of experiences where I could see plainly that the Evangelical Protestant concept of Church authority is hollow. Without universal authority in spiritual matters, how can you be the Church in possession of the Truth? The instruction we see in Matthew 18:17 to “…tell it to the Church…” seems to require a singular, authoritative Church, but where could this Church be found? Jesus prayed earnestly for His followers as recorded in John 17: 20-23: “…that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know…”
Francis Chan was onto something, but he was only scratching the surface of a much bigger picture. Christians must be part of a globally united Church that possesses the authority and unity of Truth. Then they can effectively reach the world with the message of God’s crazy love.
The Catholic (“universal”) Church has been there all this time (going on 2,000 years). Many of us have just preferred to ignore it so that we can do our own thing. But what if Christians really had courage and a commitment to truth like Francis Chan is encouraging us to have? Then it’s no longer about doing our own thing, is it?
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.
26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
1 Cor. 10:16-17
16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
1 Cor. 11:23-30
23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. 30 For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
“I never dreamed that the Roman religion was true; but I knew that its accusers, for some reason or other, were curiously inaccurate.” –G.K. Chesterton, The Catholic Church and Conversion
I would like to share a bit of my journey with those who are interested. A year ago, I was frustrated because I knew that Christianity must be something real, courageous, and deep, but as much as I wanted to experience real Christianity and be an effective servant of God, the mission seemed vague. Christians who were naturally passionate seemed to be experiencing something special, so I tried to be more extroverted, but this was unnatural for me. Why would God create me with a mostly introverted personality, and then require me to adopt a different personality in order to properly serve Him? Plus, there were too many theological questions unanswered for me to be truly effective as a Christian witness. I wanted to get the tough questions answered for myself before facing them from unbelievers. Christianity is too important to risk getting it wrong and leading others astray.
I was also discovering many so-called Christians whose doctrines I knew must be wrong, but because they pointed to the Bible while explaining their beliefs it became an argument over interpretational opinion. Who can effectively demonstrate that the Calvinists are wrong? The Arminians have been trying for centuries, but does anybody really care about what the Arminians have to say? Who’s to say the Swedenborgians are further off-track than the Lutherans, if they’re both pointing to the Bible as their doctrinal authority? After 2,000 years it didn’t seem right that Christianity should involve so much uncertainty. Is God fine with our personal interpretations, or did He put structure in place?
“And therefore they [Protestants] would maintain that the Church is invisible and unperceivable. I consider that this is the extreme of absurdity and that immediately beyond this abide frenzy and madness… in all Scripture it will never be found that the Church is taken for an invisible assembly.” –St. Francis de Sales, ca. 1595, in his Defense of the Faith
I assumed the Bible was the Christian’s handbook for life, and that it is really all we need. But try applying verses like Luke 14:33 without interpretational help. People have opinions about Scripture, but who’s qualified to have the final word? Amidst all the questions and frustration, I was blessed to discover the early Church fathers, and their relevance, and their writings, which had basically been hidden from me before. I began to notice how people who appealed to the history and traditions of Christianity had explanations of Scripture that were far better than those that came from modern attempts at using the Bible alone.
“The Scriptures are given for our salvation, but not the Scriptures alone; traditions also have their place. Birds have a right wing to fly with; is the left wing therefore of no use? The one does not move without the other… the Scripture then is the Gospel, but it is not the whole Gospel, for traditions form the other part… the Apostles have taught by writing and by tradition, and the whole is the Gospel.” –St. Francis de Sales, ca. 1595, in his Defense of the Faith
So it became a search for authentic, historical Christianity. This opened up a whole new world of understanding and research, but I was still left with two big frustrations: who settles matters of doctrinal dispute, and how are Christians supposed to live today? Although obviously aware of the Roman Catholic Church (who isn’t?), I hesitated to consider it because their doctrines seemed so weird, and had the apparent “baggage” of things like Marian theology and purgatory. Basically Catholicism wasn’t Protestant enough for my tastes. I’ve since come to realize that it is Protestantism that is peculiar when examined from a historical perspective.
Protestant theology (which is the lens through which I viewed the Bible, even while avoiding the title of “Protestant”) is inherently a protest against Catholic doctrines. It was created that way on purpose about 500 years ago, and perpetuated to this day by the allure of doctrinal freedom. Protesting the Catholic Church is just about the only thing that really unites Protestants. But I digress.
I was desperate enough for answers that I decided I may as well check out Catholic Mass. It seemed weird, and I was uncomfortable. But encountering the first century Church would be weird too, and who ever said Christianity was supposed to be comfortable? So those factors shouldn’t count. The question was, is this legitimate? Or more specifically, is this the Church? The last few months have been an investigation into answering that question. There have been ups and downs, hardships and joy, but the end of the tunnel seems to be in sight. At this point I would guess there’s about a 95% chance that I will be joining the Catholic Church. If there are no more misconceptions about the Church left for me to protest, there’s little sense in remaining a Protestant. I still have months to wait, but in the mean time the evidence has been pouring in to support the Church’s legitimacy, while Protestantism only gets weaker in comparison.
“Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the succession of bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre-eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.” –Irenaeus, early Church father, ca. 180 A.D. in his famous work Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 3, para. 2 (italics added)
Many of Protestantism’s best theological arguments were demolished over 400 years ago by St. Francis de Sales. Stereotypical reactions from concerned Protestant relatives were playfully mocked almost a century ago by G.K. Chesterton. Deep biblical concepts pondered from Protestant pulpits are often found to be elementary within Catholicism. It’s funny to note how hard it is to understand Scripture when you impose the rule of Sola Scriptura on yourself.
What’s not so funny, however, is the refusal I see among Protestants to test their faith.
What if your perception of certain Bible verses is not a contract that legally binds God to save you? What good is a feeling of relationship with Him if you are not obeying the instructions and people He put in place for you to obey? What if it turns out in the end that Truth wasn’t a democracy and you weren’t part of Christ’s Church? What projects, hobbies, recreational activities, or TV shows could possibly be more important than figuring this stuff out?!
“…it must not be said that sins are forgiven or have been forgiven to anyone who boasts of his confidence and certainty of the remission of his sins, resting on that alone, though among heretics and schismatics this vain and ungodly confidence may be and in our troubled times indeed is found and preached with untiring fury against the Catholic Church.” -Council of Trent, Session Six, 1547
It is a scary thing to discover that your theology is dangerously wrong. But in honestly confronting it, I was ultimately rewarded with the joy of finding the Christianity I had always hoped was real. The “gates of hell” did not prevail against the Church after all. How could I have assumed that the Church was in error for more than 1,000 years awaiting Protestant reformers? How absurd!
“Was he not lifted up on the Cross? Did He not suffer? And how then having drawn to himself the Church, should he let it escape so utterly from him? how should he let go this prize which had cost him so dear? Had the prince of the world, the devil, been driven out with the stick of the cross for a time of 300 or 400 years, to return and reign a thousand years? Would you make so absolutely vain the might of the cross? …he who trusts to the infallibility of the Church trusts to no lie, unless that is a lie which is written: the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. We place our trust then in the Holy Word, which promises perpetuity to the Church.” –St. Francis de Sales, ca. 1595, in his Defense of the Faith
I can tell you from personal experience that if you truly want to see, God will open your eyes. The answers are out there. Satan wants you to be too distracted or complacent to find them. You must seek the Truth out of your own free will. Are you assuming that God will forcibly turn you around if you’re on the wrong track? Some action is required on our part, despite what the Calvinists might tell you.
Heresies have been all-too common since the beginning of the Church, many based largely upon misunderstandings of Scripture. How do you know you’re not a heretic? I could not leave this question unanswered in my own mind.
Questions that had piled higher and higher regarding my Christian faith have been getting answered en masse by the Catholic Church. They were answered specifically and thoroughly long before I even knew to ask them. I feel like I’m the last one to arrive at the party. Better late than never. The flow of information has become almost overwhelming. It’s like trying to drink water from a fire hose. And Protestants get annoyed when an answer to a question can’t be conveniently placed in a drinking glass for them! Have we gotten so used to Facebook and thirty-second commercials that our attention spans are entirely shot? I have a newly discovered world to share with you, but you must be willing to understand and invest the time to understand it.
The bad part for me is that even though I can already see that Catholic theology is far more substantive than Protestant theology, I can’t explain it as well as it should be explained. The good news is that the wealth of information I’ve been uncovering is available to anyone who wants to learn. Since discovering the many Catholic resources that are out there, I’ve been hungrily devouring theological books as if I had been spiritually starving for the previous 30 years of my life. Things click in my mind that were mysteries before, and I want so badly to share the good news with others, but things are not so simple. I think people are understandably nervous that I might be on to something and they would rather not consider how their own faith might be affected. Christians, pursue and defend the Truth with courage!
If you think you’re too busy living a Christian life to figure out what Christianity really is, I challenge you to challenge yourself. If your loyalty to the Protestant “Reformers” runs too deep, or your own legacy is too dear, I feel sorry for you. If discomfort is too high of a price for you to pay, then I ask you to remember the martyrs, as Catholics are good at doing. Really study the history. Really study the Scriptures. Acknowledge that Christianity involves traditions either way, but does yours come from men or from God through the Apostles?
To those of you who care enough to be reading this, I am happy to announce my intention to join the Roman Catholic Church. As a Christian, what choice do I have but to obey Christ and be part of His Church? Chesterton may as well have been referring to me when he said, “There drops from him the holy armour of his invincible ignorance…” And I’m glad to be rid of it. Even though I can hardly wait, it may not be until Easter 2015 that I can officially be confirmed into the Church, after completing months of weekly classes. But there’s a lot of learning to do and wonderful people to meet in the interim, and it may take awhile for relatives and friends to adjust. Who knows, maybe some would like to learn more also and be at the Church on the big day!
I may be more hesitant in the coming months to write out my “ruminations” for the world to see, because even though Catholicism is pretty much the only thing I want to write about these days, the subject is better explained by people far more qualified than myself. It turns out that Christianity is deep! Many of my previous blog posts seem uninformed to me now, and my respect for the Church makes me want to be careful, at least until I can communicate effectively enough.
Please pray for me and my family as we go down this road, and I hope that God blesses all of us who seek His Truth rather than just our preferences.
“We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong.” –G.K. Chesterton, The Catholic Church and Conversion
I’m excited to see that I can know how to live, and it’s wonderful to find out that doctrinal disputes have actually been settled for a long time.
If you appreciated this post, you might also like to read these: