Tag Archive for religion

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


Doubt: Part 10–Faith Without Deeds

 

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?   Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.  (James 2:14-19, 26 NIV)

 

Even though I believed in God on that day in 1989, I had programmed myself for too long to be independent.  It was all I knew how to do.  The feeling of God’s peace, love, warmth and comfort only lasted a minute that day.  Obviously, I have never forgotten it, but a seed planted takes time to grow, longer if you don’t water it.  I didn’t.

 

Instead, I pushed forward, finished college, and entered the work force.  Full steam ahead, stick to the script.  Living the American Dream by golly!

 

Except my American Dream was a nightmare.  After failing at my first three jobs, I tried to start my own business instead, because obviously, the problem was them not me.

 

Then an interesting thing happened.

 

 

Many of my business contacts were Christians.  Not the robotic, going-through-the-motions churchgoers that I had observed growing up—these people lived differently, and they were like that all the time.

 

They reminded me that I really needed my Daddy, the one that my second-grade Sunday school teacher had tried so clumsily to tell me about.  Except this time, it felt genuine.

 

I heard miraculous testimonies and saw people living lives that I could not explain, except by one thing—remembering that October afternoon at the cemetery.  I had already been forced to acknowledge that God was real, but this was something new.

 

God was Abba, my Daddy, and he actually cared about me.  He wanted to protect me from harm, and he wanted me to lead my family.  And my spiritual maturity took a big leap forward.  But this is still not the happy ending.

 

You see, at this point I am in my mid-20s physically, but still a child spiritually.  I am cracking a Bible for the first time.  The only thing I know about salvation is that it’s Jesus’ job.  I am going to church with my family now, and have us all baptized into the same religion, but I am still running the program of everything-depends-on-me.  I know there is a God and I know that He cares, and I am grateful for this, but I have still not acknowledged my dependence.

 

Sometimes when we won’t let go of our pride, God will use circumstances to knock us down to the point where the only place to look and move is upward.

 

Eight years later, my marriage failed.  I was going to church every week and was active in music ministry, but it was still just religion.

 

And all religion is is a churched-up way of repeating the same old pattern of trying to meet our own needs through our own efforts.

 

Sure, we wrap it all up in God-speak, but Jesus already called our bluff 2,000 years ago when He said to the Pharisees:

 “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are but rules taught by men.’”  Mark 7:6-7, (quoting Isaiah 29:13) NIV

 

(To be concluded in Part 11–The Death of Doubt)

 

Intolerance: Part 5–The Narrow Path

So what does it mean when a Christian says, “Jesus is Lord?”

 

A pastor friend of mine defines “Lord” as “one having power and authority to whom obedience is due.”  It would follow, then, that to acknowledge Jesus as the Lord of one’s life would be simply recognizing Him for who He is and giving Him what is His.

 

Acknowledging this lordship comes with a price, though. 

 

Following Jesus requires sacrifice.  It means no longer following the world with its cultures and customs.  It means going against the grain of society, just as Jesus did.  It means demonstrating integrity by making a choice and sticking with it.

 

Jesus’ brother James warned that a man who doubts “should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does (James 1: 7-8 NIV).” 

 

In the face of such admonition, a Christian understands that to follow Jesus, it must be all or nothing. 

 

As a result, the maturing process of a Christian involves gradually stripping away anything from one’s life that hinders spiritual progress and growth.  Our path becomes narrower, and our focus more intense as we press on toward our ultimate goal.

 

This focusing, unfortunately, can easily result in a misperception by those outside the church. 

 

Because they are not walking the same path, they do not understand that it is necessary for Christians to be “narrow-minded” in order to stay on the narrow path that God has laid out for them.  The more focused a Christian is on that narrow path, the less significant anything NOT on that path becomes. 

 

Some misinterpret this as a lack of concern for others.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. 

 

Note that James also wrote, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27 NIV).” 

 

In other words, having a righteous intolerance for sin not only allows for being loving and tolerant of people, it requires it!

             

 

What Christians are intolerant of is the suggestion that there is any other way to God besides Jesus.  The reason for this is that God himself is intolerant of any rivalry or unfaithfulness from His people. 

 

 

Taken in this context, the assertion that Christians are narrow-minded is technically accurate, but not in a negative way.  It is simply the natural consequence of acknowledging Jesus as the Lord of our lives, submitting to His authority and following His leading along the proverbial “straight and narrow path.”

 

 

As long as the church recognizes Jesus as Lord, remaining in submission to our jealous God, then we also remain justified in being intolerant of any rival ideology that our culture would nominate to remove God from His rightful place in our lives.

 

 

Division: Part 1–The Great Commission

 

 

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:18-20a NIV)

 

 

This is the last thing that Jesus said before leaving earth.  This commandment is known as the Great Commission.

This commandment gives Christians a simple blueprint of what the universal Church is supposed to be doing until Jesus returns.

I don’t see anything in those instructions about division, do you?

I see “go and make disciples,” that is “followers.”

 

I see “all nations,” which means that following Christ is a greater priority than differences in cultural background.

 

I see “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus is reminding us that it is the Holy Trinity that we are following, not a captivating church leader.

 

I also see “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” “Everything” means EVERYTHING, not just the parts that make you comfortable, fit your political agenda or don’t require you to give something up. This commandment leaves no room for doctrinal division, as the Church has clearly been commanded to simply teach obedience to that which Jesus has already taught.

 

With this commandment, Jesus did away with all of the legalistic rules that the Pharisees had appended to God’s law to maintain power and control over the Jews.

Furthermore, with the divine authority that only He could have as the risen Son of God, he brought the world the only teachings that we would ever need to effectively follow Him back to God the Father, by the power and leading of the promised Holy Spirit.

 

In other words, the Great Commission formally put an end to religion.

 

Except that religion didn’t go away like it was supposed to.

 

(What happened?  Come back for Part 2–Denominations)