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Monthly Archives: September 2011

What is True Christianity(tm)? (part 1)

It keeps coming up in discussions with atheists that I say certain Christians are wrong about particulars of Christianity.  And they are.  If I’m right on certain things (which I think I am), then necessarily others who disagree with me are wrong.  Not a radical notion.

What do you suppose happens when I call a Christian’s particular doctrine into question?  I always get the same response from the atheist.  He sarcastically tells me that I believe I’m the only one who has found True Christianity™ and that I believe every other Christian will burn, just like every other Christian he has spoken to, because believers are all that arrogant.

I think that is more evidence of the shallow thinking of the atheist, not to mention their complete ignorance of theology.  Atheists, I’m going to make this as plain as I possibly can:  There is no such thing as True Christianity™! Read the rest of this entry

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Atheists Who Say I’m Mistaken Theologically, Consider This…

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

— 1 Corinthians 2:14

Clearest Example of the Unforgivable Sin

On this very blog, we have a clear example of the Unforgivable Sin.  In fact, the clearest ever offered here.  Alex said this:

It needs to be mentioned that the definition of nature is what science can measure and the reason we call your god’s being and doings supernatural is that when we measure, there is no god there, only natural explanations such as physics and chemistry. (source)

The Unforgivable Sin, from Mark 3:22-30 or Matthew 12:22-32, is the denial of the Spirit moving in our world.  It is through the movement of the Spirit that we can see evidence of God acting in our world.

So, a little context.  I deny the categories of natural and supernatural.  Alex is saying that when we measure the doings of God, we find no God, just natural movements.

The first problem is that our instruments aren’t going to measure or detect God, who exists outside of the time and space we know how to measure.  Instead, what we’re going to see are the effects that God creates, which are accomplished by the Holy Spirit.  This is the evidence of God.

Denying that what we have seen is the movement of the Spirit is the Unforgivable Sin.

For example, Alex looks at biochemistry.  The amazing complexity and well-oiled interactions of the various systems of our bodies, the ability of our bodies to obtain the raw ingredients our cells need to produce energy in the foods we eat and the drinks we consume all bear evident marks of design.  The well-defined stages of growth humans go through, the inherent curiosity to learn and flourish, shared ability to define morality, to know what is is not what ought to be; these are the hallmarks of a being who can impart these things to us.

Alex, however, looks a this design and says, “Nah, random mutation acted on by natural selection — not a personal, intelligent force — created this.”

And that, my friends, is the Unforgivable Sin in a nutshell.  The Pharisees saw the work of the Spirit in Christ as he drove out demons and cured disease, and they attributed it to Satan.  Alex sees the work of God in chemistry and biology and attributes it to chance and natural laws.  Both deny the Spirit’s efficacy, and both have severe eternal consequences.

Natural vs. Supernatural

I don’t believe in distinguishing “natural” and “supernatural.”  Sounds weird, I know.  But just think about it for a moment.

A “supernatural” explanation is a suspension of natural law and explanation.  For an explanation to be truly “supernatural,” it must defy all attempts to explain it inside the natural system, and must come from totally outside the natural system.  It must create a pure miracle, a suspension or violation of the natural order.

Here is why nothing is ever “supernatural:”

If I pick up a box and hold it over a table, that doesn’t violate the law of gravity by supernatural intervention.  By the same token, if God suspends that box, that doesn’t violate the law of gravity, but people have the need to label that “supernatural.” A box floating in midair seems to be a violation of the law of gravity, right?

But is it any different than the human holding the box?  The human creates a situation contrary to what we expect (the box falling to the ground) by normal and natural interactions of agents.

So I believe the same is the case for God holding the box.

Therefore, when God monkeys with nature, he isn’t “supernaturally intervening.”  He is making a change or interrupting the natural flow, but he isn’t rewriting the laws of physics when he does it.  It’s as natural as the human holding the box up in the air.

Natural and supernatural are actually points of view, simple as pie.  What exists in the encapsulated system of space and time that we occupy is “natural” to us, what exists outside of that is “supernatural” to us.  That makes us “supernatural” from God’s point of view.

Follow Up #1: What is Faith?

The series on why I’m not a Roman Catholic despite the temptation to return to the Church was extremely brief.  I oversimplified many issues, and I wanted to take a quick moment to hash out the ones that deserve further examination.  Let’s start with what my wise brother-in-law pointed out in a comment to part #1, which is that a lot of what I said hinges on defining faith.

Authentic biblical faith has two prongs to it.  The first is right belief, or “orthodoxy.” [1]  Generally speaking, to call yourself a Christian you would have to adhere to the following minimalist set of beliefs:

  • Existence of God as a Trinity
  • Preeminence of Christ over his creation
  • Mankind fell into sin, and is now utterly enslaved to it
  • Death of Jesus making atonement for the sins of mankind
  • Resurrection of Jesus on the third day
  • Future return of Christ to judge the living and the dead

And the rest varies quite wildly, even the mechanics of the above vary somewhat (even if the generic belief is still the same).

You need more, because the devil believes that stuff too.  The second prong is right practice, or “orthopraxy.” [2]  Pure religion is to help others and stay separate from the rest of the world.

Again, it’s great if you save the world, either by donating money to causes, championing nonprofits, or rolling up your sleeves and building an orphanage.  The rich young ruler told Jesus he kept all the commands from childhood, and he wanted to know what else he lacked.  Jesus also told his disciples during the Sermon on the Mount that people who did a lot of great things will cry out for Jesus and he will tell them to depart into hell.  Doing good isn’t enough, either.

You need to bring the two prongs together.  Faith is neither one nor the other, but both together.  Salvation occurs solely by grace, but we respond to that grace in faith.  It’s not just believing.  It’s not just acting on a belief.  Mere belief and mere action are both condemned in Scripture.  Both belief and action are required; one separate from the other isn’t going to cut it.

Saving faith always and necessarily produces works, but the works alone will never create a saving faith.  Works apart from faith are merely some rote ceremony, performed without thought for the one whom the works are supposed to glorify.  Faith apart from the works is similarly dead.  What good is a belief until you act on it, after all?

J.P. Holding explains this in more detail here.

Therefore, a true saving faith is going to manifest itself in the life of the believer in a conspicuous way, through that believer’s works.  We see this in the changed lives of those who surrender to Christ. [3] Read the rest of this entry

Controversy: The Vox Day Quote

Updated to clean up some awkward phrasing (9/21/11 @ 8:30am EDT)

Alex has had some strong words to say regarding my recent posting of a Vox Day quote and labeling it as the best quote ever.

He said the quote was ignorant and stupid.  I told everyone that it was meant humorously and to please lighten up.  Then, he said posting the quote makes me look stupid:

Oh, I always have fun, however that shouldn’t justify stupidity. And it’s a bit scary that the quote is supposed to be awesome in a theistic perspective; you’re embracing unsubstantiated and stupid claims, said in a poor way, using words he doesn’t understand. And you think that is awesome? No, Cory, it makes you look stupid next to it, and hopefully that isn’t what you intended.

And then he tries to shame me into investigating why by bringing up my recent declaration that I seek truth.

But, I don’t think the quote is stupid or that it makes me look stupid.  I’m going to examine why that is, but first, I would like to whine.

Why do I have to justify everything I do to atheists?  None of them justify a single argument, even when I’ve asked.  All I ever seem to get is the whole burden-of-proof-is-on-me-the-theist talking point.  Fine.  But in a court case, the defense still presents an argument.  So man up and stop asserting stuff with no justification.

The reason I whined about that is because that is all Alex does.  Specifically, between two comments in that post, he asserts that the quote:

  • is a remarkably stupid example of argument from ignorance
  • demonstrates poor understanding of the concepts touched on
  • makes unsubstantiated assertions
  • misuses “esoteric”
  • states its point poorly

None of his own claims are substantiated, yet I’m about to expound on why I think this is a great quote.  Fine, let’s get this over with. Read the rest of this entry

Best Quote Ever

I am saying that they are wrong, they are reliably, verifiably, and factually incorrect. Richard Dawkins is wrong. Daniel C. Dennett is wrong. Christopher Hitchens is drunk, and he’s wrong. Michel Onfray is French, and he’s wrong. Sam Harris is so superlatively wrong that it will require the development of esoteric mathematics operating simultaneously in multiple dimensions to fully comprehend the orders of magnitude of his wrongness.

— Vox Day

Renewed Denial of the Roman Catholic Church, part 3: The Perpetual Virginity of Mary

Recently, in a conversation on Facebook, I confessed that much of Protestantism annoyed me.  Longtime readers will know that I believe in consistency — hermeneutics should be consistent, interpretations of passages should incorporate what has gone before, and your bar of acceptable proof should be even across all areas of your life.

Protestantism just isn’t consistent.  The first post in this series laid the groundwork for why I don’t think Protestantism is very consistent with regard to Sacred Tradition.  The previous post discussed the concept of high church, how Protestantism lacks it, and why it is biblical.  However, submission doesn’t mean surrendering one’s mental faculties.  For an application of that idea, we turn to the main issue I’ve always had with Catholicism, and a true biblical contradiction in its teaching: the Perpetual Virginity of Mary.

To believe this doctrine, you have to totally subvert the meaning of Mark 6:3, when the crowd in Jesus’ hometown asks, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?”

The Catholic argument is that the word translated “brother” (αδελπηοσ) can be used for any close family member, since there wasn’t a Greek word for “cousins.”  Therefore, James, Joses, Judas, and Simon are actually Jesus’ cousins.  In fact, according to Strong’s, αδελπηοσ means “brother,”  “sister” or “fellow believer.”  However, we know from other New Testament passages that these folks are not fellow believers.

In fact, there is a Greek word meaning “cousin.”  It is ανεπσιοσ, and is used in Colossians 4:10 to describe Mark, cousin of Barnabas.  (The word actually refers to a niece or a nephew, and I’m at a loss to find out why it is universally translated “cousin.”)  Which means the Catholic argument normally presented for Jesus’ brothers being cousins holds no water whatsoever.

The January 1990 issue of This Rock magazine has an article by Father Mateo specifically stating that:

Kilmon obscures the state of the question by alleging a “premise that ‘brother’ in the New Testament, like its counterpart in the Old Testament really means ‘cousin’ or ‘kinsman.'” No one holds such a premise. Both Hebrew and Greek dictionaries report that there are words in both languages whose primary meaning conveys uterine brother/sisterhood, but that these words are also used in both languages with much wider meanings: half brother/half sister, wife, kinsman, fellow tribe member, and so on, but not, as a matter of fact, cousin. (emphasis added)

But Father Mateo has spoke too soon.  The Catholicism Answer Book (Sourcebooks, Inc: Naperville, IL, 2007), written by Catholic priests John Trigilio, Jr. and Kenneth Brighenti, does hold the very position that Father Mateo repudiates:

Scripture scholars have also delved into the question of brothers and sisters of Jesus.  It all centers around the Greek word adelphoi.  This word can be translated to mean brothers, cousins, or relatives, such as nephews and uncles.  Therefore, when we read in Matthew’s Gospel chapter 13:55 concerning the brothers of Jesus, it is ambiguous whether the word adelphos is refering to brothers, cousins, nephews, or uncles. (57, emphasis added)

Just a few pages prior, Trigilio and Brighenti make a similar point.  Ancient Hebrew (yes, they said Hebrew–remember that point) didn’t discern between close family (brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, and nephews), and thus the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus could have referred to other family members that didn’t have precise names (49).

The problem is that the New Testament was written in Greek, not Hebrew.  Greek is exceedingly more complex, and does have those distinctions.  The passages in question, read plainly, indicate family related by blood is under consideration.  One hardly mentions the mother of a person and then a few cousins without some sort of context key.  Nope, these are biological brothers and sisters, not close family or fellow Christians that are being discussed.  It is difficult to argue otherwise.

Sidebar: The 38,000 Denominations Argument

We interrupt this ongoing series on Catholicism to bring you a special bulletin, hopefully clarifying something I said in a previous post before some sarcastically impaired person tries to use it against me.

In this post, I stated:

Without submission to the church as a teacher, you have no other way to go other than to split into a separate body of believers with no further fellowship when a disagreement arises.  And there are 38,000 recognized denominations of Christianity proving my point!

Of course, this argument is frequently used by atheists to suggest that there is extreme disunity in Christianity.  It’s also used by Catholics to show the need for a central teaching authority.

Here, I was using it flippantly the same way as a Catholic, to highlight the need for a high church concept and for the body of believers to submit to their local church.  I don’t believe in “church shopping” if you don’t like where you currently attend.  And I hate the fact that people create new denominations on a whim, and sometimes over the most trivial points.

I have often argued that there is more unity in Christianity than disunity, with varying opinions on side issues or non-issues.  I’m not going back on that by making the statement I did, and was reminded this morning that the issue is much more complicated than just a few differences of opinion.  This video from JP Holding does an excellent (and humorous job) of showing the differences in the various denominations:

Denominations are most often formed to serve the unique needs of a specific geographic area.  For example, I’ve often talked about being a member of a Grace Brethren church.  The doctrine comes from the Schwarzenau Brethren (the “German Dunkers”), and was renamed “Grace Brethren” in the United States.  We have no doctrine that is distinct from the original denomination, just a different name for a different geographic region.

The Anglican Church in the United States is called the Episcopal Church.  Why?  Well, “Anglican” is the Church of England, and probably wouldn’t have been a popular name to go by after this tiny, little row called “the American Revolution.”  Perhaps you’ve heard of it.  Anti-English sentiment would have run high in the new republic, so they changed their name.

Over time, the two churches have grown apart.  Episcopal Churches, for example, celebrate homosexuality and bless gay marriages, ordain openly gay clergy and elect openly gay bishops, as well as allowing female pastors.  None of that is condoned by the head of the Anglican Community, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  He has, in fact, threatened to expel the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Community over these issues.

Despite the row, at the end of the day, the Episcopal Church is still part of the Anglican Church, just called a different name for a different region.

Geographic region is really the key to understanding denominations.  Sometimes, it’s just easier to form a denomination than to answer to a larger authority who might not understand exactly what a particular church needs.

I just wanted to make it clear that I’m using the argument flippantly.  I meant it as a humorous underscore to my point that people aren’t going to understand the Bible unaided, and that the Bible cannot be our sole authority.  We need teachers to show us how to read the Bible.  I’m not trying to suggest that 38,000 denominations is equivalent to 38,000 completely different and contradictory views of Christianity.

Renewed Denial of the Roman Catholic Church, part 2: The Centrality of the Church

Recently, in a conversation on Facebook, I confessed that much of Protestantism annoyed me.  Longtime readers will know that I believe in consistency — hermeneutics should be consistent, interpretations of passages should incorporate what has gone before, and your bar of acceptable proof should be even across all areas of your life.

Protestantism just isn’t consistent.  And my previous post laid the groundwork for why I don’t think Protestantism is very consistent with regard to Sacred Tradition.  In this post, I’m going to discuss the concept of high church, how Protestantism lacks it, and why it is biblical.

The Bible is clear, as any Catholic will tell you, that we should hold to a high church concept.  That means the church should be visible, evident, and hold the power of discipline over its members.  If my church excommunicates someone because he is an unrepentant adulterer, then the church down the street should not welcome him with open arms.

Also, the church should be there to interpret Scripture’s teachings for us.  Peter tells us that no teaching comes in a vacuum (2 Pet 1:20).  In Acts, Phillip is shown to interpret Scripture for a man; indeed, the man recognizes that he needs someone to interpret Scriptures for him (8:29-30)!

It is the visible and powerful church, therefore, that should help us understand the teachings.

Combining the lack of centralized teaching and the invisibility of the church, you can easily see the problem of Protestantism.  If Susie doesn’t like what the United Methodist Church is saying, then she can go to my Grace Brethren church.  If she doesn’t like Pastor Steve’s next sermon (she will love Nate’s music — I mean, who wouldn’t?), then she can move on to the local Episcopal church down the block.  Ultimately, if Susie doesn’t like any of the Protestant denominations, then she’s free to start her own denomination.  There are thousands; what’s one more?

Bottom line: this isn’t the church that Christ promised us in Scripture.  This isn’t the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15).

Here, it was extremely tempting to rejoin the Catholic Church.  That would require some humility; after all, I would have to submit to some dogma that I don’t like.  But, that is what the high church concept is all about.  I expect my beliefs to be challenged, and I expect God to change me in order to conform to the image of his Son (Rom 8:29-30).

But, at the end of the day, I just can’t do it.  I really tried.  But I can’t believe submission means that I have to leave my mental faculties at the door, and believe things that I know simply cannot be true.  There’s a difference between submission and cultic mind control.  After all, the Bible tells us to test everything and hold on to what is good (1 The 5:21) — a passage written to the individual.

For example, the Bible says that my wife is to submit to me as spiritual head of household, as if to Christ.  Now, if I tell her the sky is green, does she then have to submit to me as her husband, even though she can evidently see that is not the case?  According to Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians (5:21), no.  Testing my statement, it isn’t good and she therefore isn’t under an obligation to submit.  In marriage, Jesus gave us the out of a spouse creating serious disunity (Mt 19:1-9; note that “sexual immorality” isn’t the best translation of v. 9 — the Greek word doesn’t imply adultery, but rather putting asunder or dividing).

So, if the teacher isn’t “rightly dividing the word of truth,” I should think we aren’t under any obligation to submit (2 Tim 2:15).  This is the standstill of Catholic vs. Protestant.

On one hand, the Catholic says that the Protestant is still the final arbiter of what Scripture says (private judgment or interpretation), even if he’s holding a high church concept.  To some degree, this is correct.  But, these same Catholics don’t realize that they themselves have engaged in private judgment as well.  They have made the private judgment to submit to the teachings of the Magisterium.

On the other hand, Protestants have made the private judgment not to follow the teachings of the Magisterium.  Some of us have investigated some troubling claims and found that they are not as well-supported as the Magisterium would have us believe.

In the next post, I will disseminate one such unsupported doctrine, the Perpetual Virginity of Mary.  I will show that it is unbiblical and illogical, and this is why I simply can’t submit to it.  Ultimately, it was my investigation of this doctrine that affirms me as a Protestant.