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Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

Back in the age of dial-up, when regular people were just beginning to get on the internet, the first things I discovered were message boards. There were tons of them. And the ones I seemed to gravitate to the most were theology boards and ones devoted to debating Christianity with atheists and agnostics. Generally speaking those debates generated way more heat than light, but every now and then you’d have a conversation that went deeper, perhaps via email off the boards or in private messages. And more than once a more level-headed, non-angry atheist would say something about how they appreciated my approach and kindness (I wish more would have felt prompted to say that about me, but I sometimes struggled to keep my temper and sarcasm in check) and that they looked at me or others on the boards and wished they could believe.

That always seemed to be so odd to me. Someone who looks longingly at Christian faith and sees beauty and peace and something desirable, but can’t bring themselves to say they actually believe it. It seemed so sad. All I could do was pray for them and try to answer whatever questions I could and encourage them to keep an open mind on it. You can’t just make someone see something they don’t see. I can’t imagine not believing in God so sometimes it’s hard for me to really put myself in their shoes and feel what it would be like to really NOT believe…until now.

I’m starting to understand where they are coming from, but it’s not what you may be thinking. I’m still a believer. The world literally makes no sense to me without God in it. I can’t “unbelieve” such a thing any more than I could unbelieve that my wife and children exist. But I do wish that I could believe something. My friend is so certain and so at peace with his decision to become Catholic. He did his homework, read a ton and came to the conclusion that the Catholic church was the church Christ founded and that it’s the church we all should seek to be reunited to. I on the other hand have read far more and for a longer time than he did, but I’m still wandering in the wilderness. I admire so much about Catholicism and find much about it to be so attractive. I have similar admiration for other traditions such as Orthodoxy, traditional Anglicanism and Lutheranism too, but particularly on the latter two (in addition to traditionally minded Reformed churches) I still run into the question of authority. Who has the ultimate authority to decide between widely divergent interpretations on Scripture and Christian doctrine? It just seems that splintering over and over becomes inevitable no matter which tradition you choose, except Catholicism.

But though I look longingly across the Tiber at what seems to be a much more stable and solidly rooted faith, I find myself thinking, “I just wish I could believe…” And the wishes are about many things. Among them, I wish I could believe:

…that the Pope and Magisterium truly were infallible on matters of faith and interpreting Scripture.

…that the bread and wine in the Eucharist truly were the literal body and blood of Christ.

…that the Marian dogmas were true and that asking her and other saints for their intercession was truly effective rather than idolatrous.

…that I could agree with the Catholic Church fully on their stances regarding divorce and contraception.

…that if I chose to cross the Tiber, that I wouldn’t be sitting there 5-10 years from now unhappy again and wanting more out of church and the Christian life but now being completely befuddled as to where to go next.

I could go on and on I suppose but I guess what this really speaks to is that I’m so tired and weary. Nearly exhausted mentally and emotionally. I’m tired of being restless in my spirit and mind. I’m tired of not feeling like I can really jump in with both feet somewhere because of all these unsettled theological questions.  I’ve been through the emotionalism of my Pentecostal days, the intellectual high of Calvinism and Reformed theological study and the seemingly endless quest to be “culturally relevant” (which seems to be closely related to some vague notion of “hipness” sometimes).   Right now I’m just attending church but I don’t feel like I can really engage with my whole heart because I question everything.  I just feel like I’m in this state of suspension with no solid foothold anywhere, not because there aren’t several options purporting to be solid footholds, but because I’m in a crisis as to which one to trust.  I believe the Bible, but on the deep stuff, it’s increasingly unclear as to who is viewing and interpreting it properly. It’s wearing me out. I just want the truth. And I need a place to stand.

I just wish I believed…

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Here’s an interesting dilemma for Protestants. We argue against the infallibility of the Pope on the basis that no man can perfectly hear God and infallibly declare doctrine. There’s also some confusion about the difference between infallibility on matters of doctrine and personal sinlessness but we won’t dig too much into that.

Now, at the same time, we affirm the infallibility of a book…a book written by humans that we know were not sinless, that we believe nevertheless were able to produce infallible teaching as they were guided and enabled by the Holy Spirit.

The difference in these two views is only by a matter of degrees. One accepts infallible teaching and doctrine directly from a man who occupies a specific office and believes that the Holy Spirit enables him to speak infallibly on matters of faith and practice. The other simply accepts the same thing from a variety of men in written form. And on top of that, the one that believes in the infallibility of the Pope when speaking ex cathedra on matters of faith and practice affirms that such teaching still must not contradict anything in the Bible.

So my question is, if you can accept by faith that imperfect men could be infallibly guided by the Holy Spirit to produce an infallible Bible, why is the notion that the Holy Spirit could infallibly guide a Pope in the same manner such a non-starter?

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20,000 Popes vs. 1

One of my favorite reads in the blogosphere, Michael Spencer (aka The Internet Monk) posted this quote in a post about Catholicism:

“I would rather have 20,000 “little popes” with their Bibles, all believing they can err and be corrected by scripture, rather than one pope who cannot err or be corrected by scripture.”

What I can’t figure out is why this is better. How does this solve the problem? These 20,000 Protestant popes all believe they hold the correct view of Scripture already. They are mostly seeking to correct the other 19,999, not be corrected. This still leaves us with a conundrum, that thus far I’m unable to figure out, which is: whose interpretation of Scripture are we to follow?

I mean, I’m sure we all agree that Truth is knowable and that God intended for us to know what it was. So how does having 20,000 little popes help things? Perhaps a fellow Protestant could explain why this should be comforting to me.

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This won’t be a terribly long entry, but I just wanted to comment on an interesting exchange I had on a message board with someone of a more Reformed background. As I’m working through all this stuff in my head, I’m engaging Catholics and Protestants in some debate over various differences in doctrine between the camps, playing a little Devil’s Advocate to see if I can dig deeper than the stock apologetic responses each side tends to give.

So at one point in the discussion I ask how Reformed Guy knows that his interpretation of a particular passage is the correct one. His response was basically that the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses ask the same question and accuses me of saying that we can’t know anything that Scripture says since almost every passage in the Bible has more than one interpretation. This is an obvious red herring because I’m not talking about cults that come up with novel interpretations of Scripture or completely new doctrines that can’t be found in any writing of the earliest Christians. I’m talking about a passage that, for instance, Catholics take literally and Protestants interpret figuratively or vice versa. How do we know who is right?

Here’s the ironic part. He goes on to criticize my appeal to early Christian writings as a typical Roman Catholic apologetic tactic then tosses out this little barb at the end:

“It is clear that the Catholic church says they do not teach or practice idolatry, but it is equally clear that they do in fact teach and practice idolatry. Of course in the post-evangelical mindset, we forget history and adopt a post-modern approach to defining what it means to be a Christian.”

So help me out here: when interpreting Scripture we shouldn’t appeal to the writings of the earliest Christians, many of whom were contemporaries or direct disciples of the Apostles to help us understand how to interpret difficult passages because “that’s what Roman Catholics do”, but at the same time our problem in not interpreting Scripture correctly and understading what it means to be a Christian stems from forgetting history? Which is it? Do I look to Christian history as a guide and context for understanding the Bible or not? Or is it that only history before 90 A.D. and after 1517 is legitimate to appeal to as a guide for interpretation?

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