Posts Tagged With: Catholic Church

Authority: Who Has It and How Should It Be Handled? (Emergence Christianity Once More)

This should be my last post on my interactions with the Emergence Christianity conference a few weeks ago.  I keep thinking of everything I’d like to say, but can’t manage to get it in one entry.  So here is one more bite at the elephant.

I think Phyllis Tickle put her finger on one of the biggest issues in Christianity today: authority.  Authority matters have divided Christians since the first century.  Divisions over circumcision between Christians at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 is a good example.  Should the Gentiles be circumcised since the first century bible (the Old Testament) required it?  The Christian literalists thought this was a slam dunk (v. 5): the Bible requires all believers to be circumcised.  That’s it. Game over.  The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.  But Peter disagreed.  So did Paul and Barnabas.  All these guys used their personal experiences an argument.  At this point, a Bible literalist’s head will explode.  Personal experience should always bow to the Bible; and in the first century, that was the Old Testament.  What’s worse is the fact that James quoted Amos 9:11-12 (LXX) [and alluded to Isaiah 45:21] which have nothing to do with circumcision.  A Bible literalist, would have to say that James, Peter, Paul and Barnabas lose and the Pharisee Christian converts win.  But that’s not what happened.  Instead the church issued a statement freeing the Gentile converts from the circumcision requirement.  Consequently, I’m sure the circumcised Gentiles were pretty peeved.

Who had the authority to decide what God required and what he did not? The leaders of the church: apostles and the elders (15:22-23).

During the 1500s, corruption in the church went unchecked until the Protestant Reformation opposed the church’s authority.  The basis for their revolt was that the Roman Catholic church was contradicting the Bible, which should be man’s sole source of divine authority.  Thus, Sola Scriptura was one of the enduring battle cries of Protestants.  The printing press made it possible for more people to have the Bible and to see clearly what it required.  Now that people had the complete Bible translated in a their native language, they could hold the Church accountable to do what it required.  God wrote the Bible, so it is infallible; there can be no contradictions in it (if you think there are, you have either misunderstood or are rebelling against God).  If we all study the Bible correctly, we will see the one message that God wants to convey.  As Phyllis Tickle stated, the Protestants exchanged a physical Pope for a “Paper Pope.”

Who has the authority to decide what God required and what he did not?  Each and every Christian is a priest with that right  (1 Peter 2:9).

Centuries later, the Catholic church made their own rule about infallibility.  The rule of ex cathedra, the Pope’s infallible utterance, was dogmatized during Vatican I (1869-70) and reaffirmed at Vatican II (1962-65).

Who has the authority to decide what God required and what he did not?  The church leaders who are approved to interpret the text correctly, and infallible statements may come from the Pope via ex cathedra.

These days postmodernism has affected us all.  We acknowledge that there is more than one approach to truth because all our perspectives will always influence how we see and interpret information.  The Protestant idea of the Bible being the only source of divine truth is still a pleasant idea–it is comforting to know that something is in black and white–but the fact that there are thousands of protestant denominations in the world today is certainly not encouraging.  Many of these denominations evangelize by saying things like “Do you know for absolute certain that you will go to Heaven when you die?  I mean, do you know that you know that you know?  Is there any doubt in your mind?”  Well, considering the fact that there are 6 different Christian churches on this street alone, and that I have about 5 different English translations of the Bible on my shelf…there is at least a little doubt.  But I trust Christ and participate with him in worship.  I’m certain that is enough–relatively speaking.

Tickle mapped this framework out in her lectures and suggested that we are currently in a Wikipedia kind of Church age, where authority is really a matter of public discourse than determining who has the right to give us direction.  So Christianity becomes much more broad, we listen to those other Christ-followers who have different ideas, learning to love and respect their views even if we disagree.  Pledging allegiance to Christ and participating in worship is the center of gravity.  We must allow the latitude for others to disagree.  Let the Spirit of God work in that person and stop thinking that you will turn argue that person out of their “wrong thinking.”

Who has the authority to decide what God required and what he did not?  The church community via discourse.  Regularly engage in respectful dialogue and let authority take care of itself.

I found these ideas very intriguing and wonder where we will be in the next 10 years.

Categories: Emergence Christianity | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Diet of Pasta and the Diet of Worms

Pasta again!

Pasta again! (Photo credit: HatM)

What better place to discuss a break from Rome than in an Italian restaurant?  I connected with a couple of fellas at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and later we went to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant in Chicago.  It was one of those great evenings of conversation that theologues savor.  I knew one of the guys already, and the other was a newer acquaintance I hadn’t seen in a while.  We talked about the so-called ‘quests for the historical Jesus‘ all down the sidewalk until we decided on where to eat.  After sitting down and placing our order, we talked about the weather, food, and drink.  Then, the three of us got into a rather aggressive theological debate about Luther’s break from the Roman Catholic Church.

Can you see the picture?  Three of the most un-Italian guys you can think of raising a ruckus about the Roman Catholic Church in an Italian restaurant.  The thought still makes me chuckle.

Anyway, the food was good and the conversation stimulating.  The question we addressed was this: Was it right for Luther to create a new ecclesiastical body separate from that of Rome?  Why divide the church again?  Of course, I thought this was a no-brainer, and one fellah agreed to a point.  Luther was excommunicated.  What else could he have done?  But the other gentleman disagreed.  His argument went something like this (my responses follow each):

(1) Luther was a nut. –I have no disagreement there.  Luther was probably one of the smartest and strangest dudes in church history.  Some of his actions were comical, others were just downright macabre.  But it takes an eccentric personality to make the bold history-changing moves he did.

(2) Why didn’t Luther use proper channels to seek reform? — I’m no church historian, but I thought he tried.  Furthermore, when you’re being excommunicated from the church, that pretty much stops your in-house efforts.

(3) If Luther sought to create a comparable church (a true church), then why did he make it look so very different from the Roman Catholic Church?  The protestant churches were different from Rome on virtually every level.–I think the coming of modernism and individual thought had something to do with that.  In Rome, you’d be struggling to change pre-established tradition.  The Protestants had a clean slate to start over with no traditions to stop them.  The decisions they made reflect Luther’s words at the Diet of Worms: the new doctrines were based on reason and Scripture instead of traditions.  Obviously, that would make the church look much different.

No one won our little Diet of Pasta that evening.  But it was a stimulating conversation nonetheless.

Categories: History, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Why I’m not Worshipping the Devil this Halloween

When I was younger, one of the first haunted houses I attended for Halloween was actually a part of my local Baptist church building in my small rural hometown.   It was pretty hokey.  One of the church members was dressed up like a ghoul and led us from room to room.  One room was nearly pitch black, but the walls were covered from top to bottom  with aluminum foil.  Some fellah dressed in a kind of foil suit was standing in the corner.  We could barely see him as he walked and tapped us on the shoulder, on the arm, on the top of the head.  I think I freaked more people out because I was wearing glow-in-the-dark make up on my face.  So there was an invisible fellah poking us, and my head was levitating in the middle of the room.  Freaky joy for all the kiddos there.   Another darkened room had a line of several bowls on a single table.  My group was told that the bowls contained various organs harvested from human bodies.  What bodies?  Who the heck knows?  But it was cool when we felt inside the bowls and imagined that the raw chicken, pig, and cow parts from the local Piggly Wiggly were human remains.  The rest of the rooms were also a mix of cool and lame–the stuff that makes great Halloween memories.

Now I do serious Christian theology stuff and so have nothing to do with that evil Halloween nonsense.

Whatever.  I love Halloween.  Does this somehow violate my relationship with Christ?  Nah.

I suppose as a guy who is devoted to Christ, the Church, and Christian theology, I should give you a long explanation of the roots of Halloween, how it came from an ancient pagan celebration called Samhain (pronounced sah-win) which involved sacrifices, and it’s likely some were human sacrifice.  I can also tell you about how the Catholic church took the momentum of that celebration and created All Saints Day, a day when we can think about the heroes of the church who have died.  And how unlike the other Christianized pagan celebrations (Easter and Christmas), All Saints Day never really took off in the community at large.  Halloween really isn’t seen as a Christian holiday by anyone.  But that doesn’t mean that Christians must avoid it like the plague.

Sadly, some people think that the holiday is nothing but the celebration of evil, the devil, and pagan mysticism.  Maybe it  used to be, but that’s not what it is these days–at least not in the places I’ve seen it celebrated.  It doesn’t matter what it used to be, what it is now is what matters.  Now it is a time when people watch scary movies, dress up in costumes, go door-to-door looking for candy, and carve faces in pumpkins.  Now Halloween is a time of seasonal fun.  I don’t know anyone who takes the pagan rituals of Halloween seriously.  I’m sure they are out there, but that’s not what Halloween represents to me or to the people of the community.

When I carve a face in a pumpkin, I have no intentions of scaring away evil spirits.  My faith in Christ does that.  When I give candy to the kids that come to my door, it is because I love making kids happy and not because I’m afraid they will put a supernatural curse on my house.  When I watch a scary movie with friends it’s not because I’m eager to glorify death and the devil; it’s because scary stories are thrilling and entertaining.

To be sure, some people go too far.  Participation in pagan religious ceremonies for fun enters into the realm of spiritual exercise.  If someone tries to engage the spiritual world through pagan religious practices, that definitely goes against basic Judeo-Christian principles and biblical mandates.  So I think that participating in a séance or using a Ouija board to communicate with the dead is out of line for the Christian.  If the Christian trusts Christ to meet all his spiritual needs and then pursues spiritual needs though different avenues, that is spiritual adultery.

But as for the pumpkins, the cartoonish pictures of ghosts and witches, and the trick-or-treating, I’m happy to participate in those things mainly because they are cultural and not religious phenomenon.  It’s the same reason I decorate eggs on Easter (originally a pagan practice) or decorate a tree at Christmas (another pagan practice).  These are cultural things that don’t violate my fidelity to Christ and the Church.

For the past several years I have told people my plans for Halloween in a tongue-in-cheek manner.  I tell them I have a long list of things to do.  Put up the decorations outside and inside the house.  Buy chocolate for trick-or-treaters (quality stuff, not that cheap stuff in black and orange wrappers). Go to Halloween parties.  Help out at my Church’s harvest celebrations.  And, of course, worship the Devil.  But even though I have good intentions of worshiping the Devil each Halloween, I never ever get around to it.  Since I obviously don’t consider it important, I won’t even add it to my list this year.

Of course, that was never on my list, but hopefully you’ll understand my point.

Categories: Practical, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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