Tag Archive for holy bible

Overcoming the World: Part 3–Living by the Spirit

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  There is no law against these things!  Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

 

I am a very task-oriented person.  I am all about the to-do lists.  I get pleasure when I check something off, and I get stressed when I get to the end of the day, and there’s still 12 more things on my list that I didn’t get to.

 

Because of this, I have a tendency to turn almost every facet of my life into a sort of mental to-do list.  Everything feels like a competition or a performance to me, in which I will emerge as either a winner or a loser.

 

Most of life really isn’t supposed to be that way, though.  I am learning that it’s actually OK to simply live life as it comes and to appreciate moments as they’re happening.  I am learning that it’s more important to start each day with gratitude than to finish it with a gold medal.

 

So what is it about us that we keep wanting to go back to the things that we know didn’t work the first time?  Are we just addicted to futility?  Or is this just part of the natural state of being human?

 

I think that the problem lies in our tendency to define ourselves by what we do or by what we fail to do.  If I win, then I am a winner, but if I lose, then I am a loser.  Nobody wants to be a loser though, so we do everything we can to win at life.  And if we find we can not win, then we start doing things that are truly ridiculous.

 

Some people try to downplay life’s natural consequences by attempting to eliminate the concept of winning and losing, a concept that I call the “participation trophy” mentality.  You’re a winner just for showing up!  And if you didn’t even show up, we’ll try to find an excuse for you, so that you won’t lose.  After all, you deserve to win!

 

Then there are the “glory days” people (I tend to fall into this category).  These are the people who used to be the best at something, but then they either went somewhere else where there were other people that were better, or maybe they just got old and weren’t as good as they used to be.  If a person like this is focused on the winning, and he isn’t winning anymore, bitterness takes over in a hurry.

 

A person in this kind of a rut can’t let go of the past, can’t be happy for anyone else who wins in the present, and is bleak about the future that he sees for himself filled with nothing but losing.  Because if you lose, then you’re a loser.  But you can’t be a loser, because you used to win.  But now other people are winning, and keeping you from the victory that is rightfully yours.  So if you can’t beat them, then you have to tear them down, so that you can be on top again.

 

Both of these misguided worldviews lead to the same error—trying to put everybody else on earth at the same level so that we can feel good about ourselves, either by having no distinction of greatness, or by declaring ourselves great by attrition.  Both of these philosophies fail, because they are both built on the foundation of defining our worth by what we do, rather than who we are.

 

God gave us a better way to live.  In the Bible, Paul calls it “living by the Spirit.”  This is a churchy way of saying “getting out of your own way and letting God do His work through you.”  Living by the Spirit isn’t about checking things off of a religious checklist.  It is more about being aware of God’s influence in our lives, and allowing ourselves to be led away from our own plans and deeper into His.

 

Notice in the verse at the beginning that it is the Holy Spirit that produces the fruit in our lives, not us.  We don’t overcome the world by accomplishing all nine of those things on our own.  Rather, when we yield to God’s leading in our lives, these fruits are the natural result of the change that He works within us.

 

 

(So what does that look like?  Come back for Part 4—Keeping in Step.)

 

 

 

 

 

DN=: Part 9–Brainwashing

Brainwashing (n.)

1: a forcible indoctrination to induce someone to give up basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas

2: persuasion by propaganda or salesmanship

 (Merriam Webster dictionary)

 

 Listen, dear friends, to God’s truth,
    bend your ears to what I tell you.
I’m chewing on the morsel of a proverb;
    I’ll let you in on the sweet old truths,
Stories we heard from our fathers,
    counsel we learned at our mother’s knee.
We’re not keeping this to ourselves,
    we’re passing it along to the next generation—
God’s fame and fortune,
    the marvelous things he has done.

 He planted a witness in Jacob,
    set his Word firmly in Israel,
Then commanded our parents
    to teach it to their children
So the next generation would know,
    and all the generations to come—
Know the truth and tell the stories
    so their children can trust in God,
Never forget the works of God
    but keep his commands to the letter.
Heaven forbid they should be like their parents,
    bullheaded and bad,
A fickle and faithless bunch
    who never stayed true to God.

(Psalm 78: 1-8 The Message)

 

 

When you see a child who behaves well in public, what is it you always say?  “The public school system sure has made a great citizen out of that boy?”  Or, “Our governmental programs have certainly taught this young lady how to be a good American?”

 

No, you say, “Their parents must have taught them well.”  If the parents are present, you might thank them directly for being such good parents.  Lord knows if the kids AREN’T behaving, it’s the parents you’re going to blame, right?

 

So if it is this obvious that everything a child is and does is shaped by the examples set by his or her parents, then why does our culture get so bent about Christian parents setting a Christian example for their kids?

 

I don’t want to get to deeply into the issue of homeschooling here, because I have no personal experience with it, either as a student or as a parent.  I’m just talking about the natural education every child receives from daily observation.

 

Education, of course, is a good thing.  If we never learned anything, then we wouldn’t know anything (duh).  And common sense, that is, the collective wisdom of all the I told you so’s from all the parents ever, tells us that the primary source of any child’s education is at home.

 

Face it; we’re all home-schooled, no matter what our diplomas say.

 

Our parents have us from day one, when we are completely empty glasses.  From them we learn to walk, talk, eat, pee and poo where we’re supposed to.  Sometimes they even teach us to read, write and count before we start school.

 

Most importantly our parents, and specifically our fathers, are the primary shapers of our value system, our moral compasses, our sense of right and wrong.

 

So is this education or brainwashing?

 

EDUCATION DN= BRAINWASHING

 

Look back up to the top at the dictionary definition of brainwashing.  It’s not just indoctrination, or even FORCED indoctrination; it is forced indoctrination designed to replace one way of thinking with another. 

 

Parents are teachers, not indoctrinators.  They are filling empty glasses.  A child does not yet have a way of thinking or a value system to replace.

 

Therefore nothing, let me say that once more for emphasis, NOTHING that a parent teaches his or her own children can possibly constitute brainwashing.  This includes the passing on of Christian faith, the bedrock upon which the family has been established generation after generation.

 

So if giving your own children a Christian education is akin to pouring the Water of Life into their empty glasses, then by contrast, cultural brainwashing is coercing an educated person of any age to pour out their water, smash their glass, and take a deep drink from this brand new glass of fruit juice.

 

What do you mean it tastes like Kool-Aid?

 

(For an alternate beverage choice, come back for Part 10: Affirmation)

 

DN=: Part 6–Judgment

 

Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.

 You didn’t think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.

 You’re not getting by with anything. Every refusal and avoidance of God adds fuel to the fire. The day is coming when it’s going to blaze hot and high, God’s fiery and righteous judgment. Make no mistake: In the end you get what’s coming to you—Real Life for those who work on God’s side, but to those who insist on getting their own way and take the path of least resistance, Fire!

 If you go against the grain, you get splinters, regardless of which neighborhood you’re from, what your parents taught you, what schools you attended. But if you embrace the way God does things, there are wonderful payoffs, again without regard to where you are from or how you were brought up. Being a Jew won’t give you an automatic stamp of approval. God pays no attention to what others say (or what you think) about you. He makes up his own mind.

 If you sin without knowing what you’re doing, God takes that into account. But if you sin knowing full well what you’re doing, that’s a different story entirely. Merely hearing God’s law is a waste of your time if you don’t do what he commands. Doing, not hearing, is what makes the difference with God.

Romans 2: 1-13 The Message

Sorry for the long quote there, but I wanted to point out two phrases in the very same passage: “Judgmental criticism” and “righteous judgment.”  Both phrases have forms of the word “judge” in them, but they are very different.

 

It should be clear from the context that righteous judgment belongs to God alone, for God alone is righteous by nature.  Because of His unattainable righteousness and holiness, He alone has the authority to judge in the sense of meting out justice for our sin.

 

As we have talked about in Part 3, righteous DN= self-righteous.  The only way that a person could attempt to judge another’s destiny would be from a position of self-righteousness.

 

But as we have also discussed, self-righteousness is unrighteousness.  How then can the unrighteous judge anyone?  Indeed, they have already been judged themselves, not only for the sins they themselves have committed, but by the greater sin of attempting to push God out of the Judgment Seat which is rightfully His.

 

This is the difference between judgment and being judgmental—it’s all about who is passing the judgment.  God is qualified and has the authority to judge sin.  We aren’t, and we don’t.

 

EXERCISING JUDGMENT DN= BEING JUDGMENTAL

 

Although self-righteous, judgmental criticism is a problem for all people, the distinction between God’s judgment and man’s judgmentalism is relatively clear.

 

What is not as clear as it needs to be, however, is the difference between judgmentalism and exercising sound judgment.

 

My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion. Proverbs 3:21 NIV

 

One of the complications of the English language is words with multiple meanings.  “Judgment” is one of those.

 

God will sit in judgment of us all; therefore, we should not stand in judgment of one another.  Yet we are to preserve sound judgment?  How does that work?

 

It’s really not that difficult when you stop to think about it.  If your judgment is toward a person and stems from motives of criticism and self-righteousness, then you are being judgmental.  This is the bad one.

 

However, if your judgment is focused toward an action or situation, and is based upon wisdom, common sense or sound reasoning, then this is the good kind.

 

Where the problems arise, is when a spirit of offense prevents the person being judged from distinguishing between the two.

 

If someone attempts to shame you for your sin, make you feel like a bad person, tells you you’re going to Hell, calls you a name, places a group label on you, or blames you for something for which you are not directly responsible because of your association with that group, then that person is being judgmental, and your offense is justified.

 

If, however, the other person is attempting to help you correct your behavior respectfully, sharing from his or her own experience a bad result from their having done something similar, calling you by your own name, looking you in the eye, emphasizing the solution instead of the problem, but most importantly, is focusing on the behavior without attempting to analyze your motives or your character. . .then you need to work past the emotional reaction of offense and listen to what you are being told.

 

Chances are this person knows something you don’t.  And they are exercising sound judgment, without being judgmental, by telling you that.

 

(Coming up next, STORYTIME! Going to do something a little different for Part 7–Hatred.)

 

DN=: Part 5–Discrimination

 

 

Discernment is the divine enablement to distinguish between truth and error, good and evil, right and wrong.  A person with this gift can differentiate pure from impure motives, identify deception in others, determine authenticity of messages from God, recognize false teaching and sense the presence of evil.  (Paraphrased from “Network” by Bruce Bugbee and Don Cousins.)

 

In other words, discernment is God’s B.S. detector.

 

Have you ever known someone who saw something fake or sinister in a person’s character before anyone else did, and was later proven right?  Have you ever had a friend who told you what you were thinking when you couldn’t even explain it yourself?  This is discernment at work.

(Remember back at the beginning of this series when I talked about people talking in code?  I didn’t forget about that.  From here on out, we’re going to defuse political correctness one code-bomb at a time.)

 

Another word with a meaning similar to discernment, in the literal sense of having the ability to distinguish differences, is discrimination.

 

While discernment is a spiritual gift, given by God to whomever He chooses, discrimination is a natural skill that can be learned and developed by anybody through careful observation and judicious contemplation.

 

It would seem, then, that discrimination should actually be a positive thing, since being UN-able to recognize differences would be a sign of a lack of intelligence or observance.

 

Nevertheless, this word has gradually become associated with “bigotry,” even though those two words really aren’t connected.

 

 DISCRIMINATION DN= BIGOTRY

 

There’s a big difference between distinguishing the differences in people and treating people differently.  Paul wrote:

 

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. (Galatians 3:28 The Message)

 

And also:


[In this new creation all distinctions vanish.] There is no room for and there can be neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, [nor difference between nations whether alien] barbarians or Scythians [who are the most savage of all], nor slave or free man; but Christ is all and in all, everything and everywhere, to all men, without distinction of person]. (Colossians 3:11 Amplified)

 

In making these statements, Paul is instructing these early churches that although the Church is made up of all kinds of different people from different backgrounds, it is much more significant that Christ is our common ground.  Being the original Truthseeker, Paul discriminates by noting the differences, but does not show favoritism, because Christ does not show favoritism.

 

Looking at it this way, we can clearly see that bigotry is defined by emphasizing differences with the motive of boosting one’s own status over that of another based solely upon those differences.  Bigotry may START with discrimination, but it ends somewhere else entirely.

 

So how do you know when you’ve crossed the line?  In a word—labels.

 

Whenever you refer to another person with a label instead of their name, that’s a pretty clear sign that you are crossing over to the dark side of discrimination, because you are now seeing that person not as an individual, but as part of a subset of humanity, most likely one to which you do not belong yourself.

 

Once you have identified the difference and affixed a label to it, the emphasis of that difference comes naturally.  From there, it’s a very short walk to bigotry, simply because our human nature is to justify ourselves, and the easiest way to do that is to lower our view of others.  Labels just streamline that process.

 

So how does discernment fit into this?

 

From the definitions we have already discussed, discernment is essentially God-level discrimination.  But since we have already seen that God sees all of His followers as equal in Christ, then it should be obvious that the purpose of discernment is not to enable bigotry by labeling humans and dividing them into groups.

 

Discernment is not about judging character or outward appearances, but rather motives and the behavior that arises from them.  Which leads me to my next DN=.

 

(After vacation, I will return with Part 6–Judgment)

 

DN=: Part 4–Holy

Another troublesome churchy word is “holy.”  Like “righteous,” the word “holy” also has some unnecessary baggage attached to it.  What I mean is that just as some people see the word “righteous” and think “self-righteous,” some people see the word “holy” and think “holier-than-thou.”

 

If you’re not familiar with the term, “holier-than-thou” is used to describe the attitude of a Christian condescending to non-Christians based solely on church affiliation or some other man-made construct (such as denominations) apart from the grace of God.

 

Naturally, this attitude is very off-putting.

 

HOLY DN= HOLIER-THAN-THOU

 

The word “holy” simply means “set apart for God’s purpose.”  It can refer to a day, a place, a nation or an individual.  Mostly, however, it refers to God Himself.  As Isaiah wrote:

 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

(Isaiah 55: 8-9 NIV)

God is holy, or set apart, simply because He’s God, and we’re not.  When people put their faith in Jesus Christ, trust in His saving work on the cross to make them righteous, and make Him the Lord of their lives, then they also become holy.  They are still human beings, but now they have been set apart from the rest of the world to do God’s work.

 

It is critical to understand the progression here.  God makes us righteous through JESUS’ work, not ours.  In the same way, God makes us holy only when we realize that we AREN’T made righteous by the good that we do.

 

If a person claims to have faith in Jesus, but still lives as he did before being saved, then how has that person been set apart?

 

He hasn’t.

 

Christians are SUPPOSED to stand out.  We are SUPPOSED to be different from everybody else.  Otherwise, what would be the point of being one?

 

The irony of holiness is that just as we were set free in order to become servants, we were also set apart to become unified—not to the world, but to each other.  As Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus about Jesus:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.  But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.  (Ephesians 4: 11-16 NRSV)

 

When Paul refers to “saints” in this context, he is referring to all believers, not people (such as himself) who are referred to with a St. in front of their name.  The “work of ministry” for which said saints are being equipped is the service to which we are called upon having been made free.  Still with me so far?

 

In addition to the teaching, preaching and shepherding gifts Paul mentions above, there are many other spiritual gifts that believers receive when they are made holy.  I’m not going to go into all of them here, but in light of the sudden aggressive turn our culture is taking lately, I feel it necessary to expound upon one of them—discernment.

 

(And I will do that in Part 5–Discrimination)

 

DN=: Part 3–Righteousness

One of the pitfalls of using churchy jargon is the proclivity for misunderstanding of these terms by those outside the church.  (For more on this topic, check out the Saved series.)  One of those commonly misunderstood words is “righteous.”

 

To be “righteous” is to have “right standing” with God.  This is not a status that can be achieved through human effort.  As Solomon pointed out, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV).”

 

This concept is explained further in Romans 3:

 

What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.  As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
 All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”

 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.There is no difference between Jew and Gentile,  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.  (Romans 3:9-12, 19-26 NIV)

The passage above contains the word “justify” a couple of times.  Justificiation is the act of being made righteous by one who has the authority to do so.

 

In other words, since there is nothing we can do to make ourselves righteous, God makes us righteous through faith in Jesus.

 

When we were slaves to sin, we were lawbreakers and were therefore under the penalty of the law.  That penalty is death.  Jesus paid that penalty for us in order to pay our debt to God.  This is the “redemption” spoken of in the passage above.

 

The danger for Christians, having been made righteous by faith, is to forget that we had nothing to do with being forgiven.  Sure, we made the choice to follow Christ, but we are forgiven because HE says so, not because WE say so.

 

If we become too accustomed to our view from the mountaintop, and forget how we got there (by God throwing us down a rope, not by our climbing), it is all too tempting for us to look down on the people still “down in the valley.”

 

Basically, if you ever find yourself looking down on someone else from a position that you have not earned, you have crossed the line to self-righteousness.

 

RIGHTEOUSNESS DN= SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS

 

For Christians, self-righteousness comes from the mistaken idea that we are somehow better than other human beings are because of our relationship with Jesus.  For a non-Christian, self-righteousness occurs when one must put another down in order to elevate oneself.

 

Since true righteousness comes from faith in Jesus alone, a person without that faith would have no means of being made righteous.  Since no one can earn the favor of God by good deeds, anyone who boasts in those deeds would be self-righteous as well.

 

Simply put, self-righteousness is unrighteousness.

 

(For more clarification of church jargon, come back for Part 4–Holy)

 

Breaking Catholic: Part 9–Spirit and Truth

 

God is Spirit, and those who worship God must be led by the Spirit to worship him according to the truth.  (John 4:24 CEV)

I distinctly remember the occasion when a lady joining the Catholic church met our bishop for the first time.  This particular bishop was one of the most down-to earth bishops I had ever met, yet this lady still said after meeting him, “I have never felt so holy.”  Just because he was a bishop, she regarded him as being above regular humans.

 

But what example does this set?  Even if a bishop, when addressing God, calls himself “your lowly servant” (as this particular bishop was known to do), he still has the fancy robe, wears a mitre (the tall pointy crown-thing) and sits on the big fancy chair, which looks rather like a throne.  He is royalty because he is perceived as royalty, regardless of what comes out of his mouth.

 

By contrast, consider Jesus, the King of Kings, God in human flesh.

 

The Greatest became the least, born in a manger in the home of a carpenter, living as a peasant instead of as a king, and suffering the most horrible and humiliating death imaginable—execution by crucifixion:

 

The soldiers assigned to the governor took Jesus into the governor’s palace and got the entire brigade together for some fun.  They stripped him and dressed him in a red toga.  They plaited a crown from branches of a thorn bush and set it on his head.  They put a stick in his right hand for a scepter.  Then they knelt before him in mocking reverence: “Bravo, King of the Jews!” they said.  “Bravo!”  Then they spit on him and hit him on the head with the stick.  When they had had their fun, they took off the toga and put his own clothes back on him.  Then they proceeded out to the crucifixion.  (Matthew 27:27-31 The Message)

The soldiers brought Jesus to Golgotha, meaning “Skull Hill.”  They offered him a mild painkiller (wine mixed with myrrh), but he wouldn’t take it.  And they nailed him to the cross.  They divided up his clothes and threw dice to see who would get them.  (Mark 15:22-24 The Message)

 

 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.  (Luke 23:44-46 NIV)

 

So the soldiers went and broke the legs of the first man and then of the other man who had been crucified with Jesus.  But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they did not break his legs.  One of the soldiers, however, plunged his spear into Jesus’ side, and at once blood and water poured out. (John 19:32-34 GNT)

 

To save our souls from sin, the Creator of the universe sent his One and Only son to be flogged, beaten, publicly humiliated and finally killed, naked, on a cross.

 

The Catholic church, on the other hand, claims that “the work of our redemption is accomplished”[1] only when we attend their masses, go through their rituals, receive their sacraments and submit to their man-made laws and traditions, else we be excommunicated, as the Jews in Jesus’ day were put out of the synagogue for not conforming to the legalism of the Pharisees.

 

Nevertheless, Paul was clear when he wrote to the early church at Ephesus:

 

For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through [your] faith.  And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God;

 Not because of works [not the fulfillment of the Law’s demands], lest any man should boast.  [It is not the result of what anyone can possibly do, so no one can pride himself in it or take glory to himself.] (Ephesians 2:8-9 Amplified)

 

Although the Scriptures were written thousands of years ago, they are still fresh today in the lives of every believer.  Through the power and illumination of the Holy Spirit, God’s Truth leaps off the page to convict us individually of our sin and lead us on the straight and narrow path of our sanctification, that is, our journey of being gradually transformed into the image of Christ.

 

Indeed, many people in the Catholic church are on this journey.  However, if they are, it is likely in spite of the Catholic church’s teachings, not because of them.

 

Again, as I said at the beginning, nothing in this series was meant to offend.  I have simply told my own story and presented a few facts to explain it.  Everyone’s story and perspective are different.

 

But Truth, as well as being eternal, is universal.  This means that the Truth behind what I say will apply to anyone who reads these words regardless of their background.  Be you Catholic, Protestant, atheist or any other ideology, I pray that you have found something here that has led you back toward the Father.

 

Amen.



[1] http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html#_ftnref1

 

Breaking Catholic: Part 7–Saints

 

 saint n.

1. (Christianity / Ecclesiastical Terms) a person who after death is formally recognized by a Christian Church, esp the Roman Catholic Church, as having attained, through holy deeds or behaviour, a specially exalted place in heaven and the right to veneration

2. a person of exceptional holiness or goodness

3. (Christian Religious Writings / Bible) (plural) Bible the collective body of those who are righteous in God’s sight

vb.

(Christianity / Ecclesiastical Terms) (tr) to canonize; recognize formally as a saint

[from Old French, from Latin sanctus holy, from sanc?re to hallow][1]

 

The Bible refers to any believer in Jesus Christ as a “saint.”

 

But to be a “Saint,” you have to have the stamp of approval of a specific group of 123 religious leaders of the Catholic church, now known as the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, through the process called canonization,[2] which generally goes like this.

 

First, a Postulator investigates the candidate’s life at their local diocese, the district under the care of a bishop, at least five years after the candidate’s death (lately, Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II have gotten the fast track, however).  At this stage, candidates are referred to as “Servants of God.”

 

The formal argument for sainthood, called the prositio, contains the Servant of God’s life story (informatio) and documents and testimonies (summarium).  After the prositio is approved, the Pope bestows the title of “Venerable.”

 

A Martyr can go directly from here to Blessed, a process known as beatification.  For others, a miracle is required, either performed by the candidate during his or her lifetime, or through posthumous intercession.

 

In the past, this “apostolic phase” involved the Postulator pleading the case again, while a Promoter General of the Faith, also known as the Devil’s Advocate (hence the term), would provide the argument against canonization.  The role of the Devil’s Advocate was done away with in 1983 when Pope Paul VI streamlined the canonization process.[3]

 

For canonization, a second miracle is required.  The most common miracles cited are medical in nature.  Other alleged supernatural events, such as visitations from the Virgin Mary, stigmata, levitation, bilocation, etc. are frowned upon by the papacy, as they are considered easy to fake.[4]

 

The canonization process is lengthy, expensive and convoluted.  In some cases, it can even take centuries.  In his book Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn’t, and Why, Kenneth L. Woodward estimates that Mother Katharine Drexel’s 36-year cause for canonization cost over $1 million.

 

All this to say that a great deal of time, effort and money go into the expedition of declaring someone to be officially in heaven and “entitled to public veneration and capable of interceding for people on earth.”

 

“So what’s the problem?” you may ask.

 

The problem is that none of this is necessary.  As it is written:

 

Only, as before the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; when we do not know what prayer to offer, to pray as we ought, the Spirit himself intercedes for us, with groans beyond all utterance:  and God, who can read our hearts, knows well what the Spirit’s intent is; for indeed it is according to the mind of God that he makes intercession for the saints. (Romans 8:26-27 Knox)

And also:

 

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:33-34 ESV)

In other words, your prayers to God the Father are carried by God the Holy Spirit directly to Jesus (God the Son), who intercedes DIRECTLY WITH HIS FATHER!  No gatekeeper, no secretary, no calling ahead for an appointment.  Straight into the Throne Room with no red tape!

 

So naturally, this raises the question: If all believers in Christ have a direct hotline to the living God, then why do Catholics insist on praying to dead people?  God wouldn’t even hear a prayer that was offered to someone else, would he?

 

Actually, the evidence would seem to indicate otherwise.  Here is one example to which I can personally testify.

 

A devout Catholic couple in the area where I live had been married, and childless, for seven years.  The wife was told that she was barren.  Rather than accept that fate, she and her husband prayed fervently to St. Gerard, the patron saint of unborn children, to intercede.  Fourteen kids later, one might say that their prayers were very effective indeed.

 

This would seem to imply that a prayer offered in sincere faith, the best way one knows how to pray, is honored by God.  Therefore, who am I to tell a Catholic praying to a saint that they’re “doing it wrong”?

 

No, my problem isn’t with the praying.  My problem is the superciliousness of the church leaders in their authoritative exaltation of people to sainthood in the first place.

 

Now I suppose you could argue that it’s better to be judgmental in a positive sense, by officially declaring them to be in heaven, than the alternative—condemning them to hell.  However, in either case, you can’t avoid the reality that judgment of ANY soul’s eternal destiny and reward, or lack thereof, belongs to God alone.

 

What arrogance to think that a group of human beings is qualified to judge what rank people have in heaven and what rights and special abilities they have when no one, besides Jesus Himself, ever came down from heaven!

 

But I suppose it makes sense that a group that has declared itself “infallible[5]” would consider itself worthy to judge such matters.  It appears the Pope, the Bishops, the General Council and all the Magisterium didn’t get the memo that nobody’s perfect.

 

But back to the saints.  I find it spellbindingly ironic that the “infallible” church does not actually consider those it canonizes to be infallible.

 

Just “good enough,” I guess.

 

(So how good is “good enough?”  Stick around for Part 8–Good Works)

 

[1] Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

[2] http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/csaints/documents/rc_con_csaints_pro_20051996_en.html

[3] http://werewolf.co.nz/2010/10/saving-a-nation-of-sinners/

[4] http://www.slate.com/articles/life/faithbased/2010/06/the_vatican_loves_a_good_story.single.html

[5] Vatican II explained the doctrine of infallibility as follows: “Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly. This is so, even when they are dispersed around the world, provided that while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves and with Peter’s successor, and while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively. This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church. Their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith” (Lumen Gentium 25).

Breaking Catholic: Part 4–First Hand

 

 

I received a Bible, probably at about age 9 or so, in Catholic Sunday School, or CCD as we called it.  (This has now been changed to PSR, most likely because “Parish School of Religion” is much easier for a grade-schooler to say than “Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.”)  By then, it was already too late for me.  But it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.  The Bible was something we carried to CCD, not something we actually used.

 

Without studying the Bible first hand, you don’t really know anything about the real Jesus, his inner circle of disciples, and how they gave birth to what is now known as Christianity.  It wasn’t until I actually started to read the Bible that I realized that most of what I thought I knew about had been shaped not by the Church, but by popular culture.  What faith I had was based not on the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but on that of Cecil B. Demille and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

 

As our pastors at Cherry Hills say, “You can’t be deeply influenced by something you don’t know.”  The significance is that you can’t live out Jesus’ teachings without having read them yourself.  And even reading about the teachings isn’t enough, because that’s just head knowledge.

 

But the Catholic Church doesn’t even allow for the head knowledge!  If you can’t even go that far, then you are NEVER going to get to the place where head knowledge becomes heart-changing, life altering Truth.

 

And here is where Catholicism begins to break down completely.  Catholics, historically, have not been encouraged to read the Bible.  According to Monsignor Daniel Kutys:

Until the twentieth Century, it was only Protestants who actively embraced Scripture study.  That changed after 1943 when Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu.  This not only allowed Catholics to study Scripture, it encouraged them to do so.[i] 

 

Although the pope issued this encyclical 70 years ago, there has not been much trickle-down to the laity (i.e. the folks in the pews).  According to a 2012 survey commissioned by the Bible Society, in partnership with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, 57% of churchgoing Catholics don’t read the Bible week-by-week outside of a Church setting.[ii]

 

Since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s (known as Vatican II), the Catholic church has been on a mechanical three-year cycle of readings, called the Lectionary, in which they tell their followers that at the end of the three-year cycle, they will have covered all of scripture.  Therefore, a faithful Catholic who attends mass every Sunday is under the impression that after three years, they have had the entire Bible read to them.

 

This is dangerously false.  According to the Catholic Lectionary Website, only 27.5 % of the verses in the Bible are covered by the Lectionary.  And that’s if you go to mass EVERY DAY!  If you’re only meeting your minimum obligation of every Sunday and Feast day, that figure drops to 12.7%.

 

Understand, this is only since Vatican II, when the Magisterium began openly encouraging Bible study.  Before that, when the mass was in Latin and only had two readings instead of three, the figures are even more shocking.  Only 4.7% of the Bible was covered.  Forty-five of the 73 books in the Catholic Bible were ignored completely, including all of the Historical and Wisdom books of the Old Testament and the book of Revelation.  [iii]

 

But even if the Bible were being covered completely in the 3-year span, it wouldn’t matter to the congregation, because how is the Bible going to sink in if you’re having it read TO you?

 

Actually, that is possible in certain situations.  For example, back in the Middle Ages, when most people were illiterate, the only way they could obtain knowledge from the Bible or any other book was to have someone read it to them.  Indeed the worldwide literacy rate today is not much above 40%, with the exceptions of course being in developed nations such as our own.

 

If you were one of those people who could not read, then you would be ready to receive whatever was read to you, because you would know it was the only way you were going to learn.  Your receptiveness would be even more acute if you were prepared specifically to hear what was in the Bible.

 

But this is overwhelmingly not the case in 21st-century America.  I don’t know ANY Catholic who goes to church to hear what is in the Bible (there may be some, but I haven’t met them).  They go because it’s what you do on Sunday (or Saturday night).  It is all part of the tradition (more on this in Part 6).

 

Bible study simply isn’t part of the Catholic culture.  It never has been.

 

The Word of God is proclaimed during the mass, but the people in the pews don’t have their own Bibles to follow along.  At best, there might be a worship aid in the pew.

 

Without the opportunity or active encouragement to be in the Word first hand, Catholics disconnect from the readings.  They are just waiting to hear “This is the word of the Lord,” so they can wake up and robotically respond “Thanks be to God.”

 

How rare is the priest who actually TEACHES practical application of the Bible readings in their homily (a commentary that is the ancient predecessor of the modern-day “sermon”).

 

(I did meet one priest that got it though.  For a more uplifting story, come back for Part 5—Confession)



[i] http://www.usccb.org/bible/understanding-the-bible/study-materials/articles/changes-in-catholic-attitudes-toward-bible-readings.cfm

[ii] http://www.catholic-ew.org.uk/Home/News-Releases/2012/Catholic-Bible-Engagement

[iii] http://catholic-resources.org/Lectionary/Statistics.htm


Breaking Catholic–Part 2:The Word

 

 

Catholics do, of course, know about Jesus.  They know who He is, how He died, and that He rose again, which are key elements in the Gospel.  But do they know Him?

 

I can only speak for myself here, so I will do that.  I did not know Jesus when I was a Catholic, either as a child, or later as an adult.

 

God the Father is revealed through the Son, the Son is revealed through the Word, and the Word is revealed through the Holy Spirit.

 

The Catholic church does indeed reveal the Father through the Son.  Jesus as the Son of God is taught.  There is no doubt in my mind that any Catholic with a brainwave knows who Jesus is.  Therefore, they know of the Father.

 

But do they know the Father?  The Father is revealed through the Son, who is revealed through the Word.  The only way you can know what is in the Word is to be in the Word yourself.

 

God’s work from His creation to our redemption is recorded in the Bible, which was written by men under the inspiration (literally, “God-breath”) and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  As Paul said:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV)

 

So the Bible is God’s book about God’s plan to redeem God’s creation written under God’s inspiration by God’s people of old for God’s people throughout the ages, even unto this present age.  Understanding this, is it any wonder that the Bible cannot be understood without God’s guidance?

 

In my adult Catholic life, I decided that I was going to read the Bible cover to cover, as though it were a novel.  I had received a very nice bound Bible from my aunt at my confirmation nearly 15 years before, which had never been out of the box.

 

So one day I decided that I was going to read it front to back to see what was in it.  It was a King James Version (I’ll pause here to wait for the Baptists to stop laughing at the concept of a Catholic trying to get through Leviticus in the KJV—if you’ve tried that, you know where I’m coming from).

 

No matter what the translation, it’s a good bet that if you’ve ever tried to read the Bible like that, you probably made it about 1/3 of the way through.  If you did manage to get through the Pentatuech (the first five books), then you probably got bogged down somewhere in Chronicles and gave up.

 

Obviously, the Bible wasn’t meant to be read this way.  Even in a modern-day, prose-like paraphrase such as Eugene Peterson’s The Message, you’re still going to struggle with the “thick parts” near the beginning.  Unless you’re an architect, you’re probably not going to find much life application in the pages describing all the dimensions and details of the tabernacle or the temple.

 

(For an easier method, come back for Part 3: Holy Spirit)