Protestants, Catholics, Communion–oh my! (Happy Corpus Christi!)


Today is a Christian Holy Day called “Corpus Christi” (Latin for “the body of Christ”). Today we meditate on the mystery of Communion/Eucharist/The Lord’s Supper.

I’ve mentioned some of my Communion views before and what I articulated is a synthesis and summary of the ideas of many theologians, both Protestant and Catholic. And so today, I want talk to all my fellow Protestant brothers and sisters out there.

In my opinion, the popular Evangelical idea of the Catholic view on the Eucharist is not really right or helpful (as is the popular conception of most of Catholic doctrine). Today I want to argue that Catholicism’s “Eucharist problem” is more historical and rhetorical than theological.

Some History

In the earliest decades and centuries of church history, people were able to simply maintain the simple doctrine that at Communion, they are receiving the true presence of Christ in the Bread and the Wine (source, albeit biased). In the middle ages, though, people starting asking themselves “Wait, what does that actually mean?” Differing answers started forming and a diversity of opinion about the Eucharist began taking place. The leaders of the Church tried to bring some commonality to this. In fact, the medieval Catholic church made a few “errant” teachers affirm these statements in 1078 and 1079:
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John Calvin on Stupid Eucharist Theology (Happy Corpus Christi)


communionbreadwine-2

Yesterday was the Christian Church Holiday of Corpus Christi, where we celebrate that Jesus actually meets us in the Bread and Wine of Communion. It’s not merely a symbol to make us think of certain doctrinal ideas, but there are very real spiritual things happening in those elements. I’ve written elsewhere about this in detail.

Today, however, I want to offer you a funny little rant John Calvin goes on in his Institutes of the Christian Religion. In it, he is responding to those that accused the Reformed tradition of making the Eucharist way too heady and rationalistic of an idea, sapping all beauty and mystery out of it. Here was Calvin’s response, encouraging us all to embrace the beauty and awe of Communion: Continue reading

What is a Sacrament? (Happy Corpus Christi!)


eucharist-bw-wafer

Today is the Church Holy Day called Corpus Christi (Wiki), Latin for “the Body of Christ”, in which the Church takes a few moments to reflect and meditate upon the gift that is the Lord’s Supper (or Eucharist, or Communion). In honor of this, I thought I’d share a recent essay I wrote articulating what I believe is happening in the Sacraments. Let me know what you think!

A sacrament is any material thing that God uses to communicate himself within Creation. Yes, this is quite the broad definition for “sacrament” (little “s”). Every single way that God has ever revealed himself in this world has always been in a mediated sense. God has never been revealed in his full “Godness”. It is always through a material means, and mostly clearly in Jesus Christ.

In this sense, I can accept things like marriage and confirmation as sacraments; but I can also see a good beer, TV show, conversation, or even suffering (like the Cross) as a sacrament. Any material means by which God communicates any part of who he is a sacrament.  It has also been quite freeing for me to see all of life as inherently sacramental.

In this sense, sacramentalism becomes a primary filter through which to understand and describe reality as it is and the nature of the Creator/Creation distinction. This collapses the old unhelpfully-gnostic “transcendence/imminence” dichotomies.
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Are Christian denominations good or bad?


luther-95theses-humor-memeI’m currently in a Church History class going through the Reformation period of Christianity. During the Reformation, Martin Luther’s partner in crime (literally) was Philipp Melanchthon. After Luther’s death, Melanchthon carried the torch as a leader of the movement spreading throughout the Medieval world. In the years following the start of the Reformation, there were several different strains of non-Catholic Christianity that popped up.

To withstand the Catholic majorities at the time, these non-Catholic groups started talking about what it would look like to unify under one banner. Believe it or not, even though all these movements were really young and were reacting to the same problems they saw in Catholicism, these groups had really big differences between them that were hard to overcome.

In these conversations, an aging Melanchthon used an old Greek philosophical phrase to suggest a way forward: Adiaphora. Greek for “indifferent things”, he used it to describe how he felt that some beliefs and practices could be considered adiaphora (non-essentials), and could be compromised on for the same of unity. He argued with his fellow Lutherans that some beliefs were more essential to Christianity than others and didn’t require so much division. The others around him, of course, disagreed.

This got me thinking about the trajectory this set for us today. We now feel perfectly free to think a whole host of different things and still call others Christians. And yet still, much of Christianity’s most bitter judgmentalism and cries of heresy, unfaithfulness, sin, and arrogance are directed towards other who are also trying to follow the God of Jesus best they can. This has caused rifts, schisms, splits, and divisions into a huge number of Church denominations. Is this healthy for us? What does Christian “unity” look like? Do we all need to look the same?
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Should Protestantism Still Be a Thing?


Roger-Smith-cc-rosary-bibleFor years now, I have described my place in the Christian family as a “Protesting Catholic“. I love Catholicism (by the way, Orthodoxy, I’m so sorry you are so frequently left out of these discussions–I’m as guilty of doing this as any). I love the entire Church family, in fact, and I can’t think of a tradition from which I have not benefited greatly from it nuancing, sharpening, refining, or deepening my theological thinking in some way. A friend posted this interview with Stanley Hauerwas, on his new book on the “end times”. It’s a brief interview with some nice quotes and sentiments from the elder public theologian, but this set of lines particularly caught my eye:

My suggestion [that Protestantism may be coming to an end] is meant to be a reminder that Protestantism is a reform movement. When it becomes an end in itself it becomes unintelligible to itself. Protestants who don’t long for Christian unity are not Protestant. There is also the ongoing problem that Catholics have responded to the Protestant critique in a way that the Protestant critique no longer makes much sense. Accordingly, the question is: why do we continue to be kept apart?

I wholeheartedly agree with Hauerwas about the heart of Protestantism and how it should long for unity and, eventually and hopefully, end. So why is Protestantism still a thing I embrace? Why am I not fleeing to Rome, to our Mother Church? Let me offer a few words. Continue reading

Meet Catherine of Siena, the Saint I Pray To.


st__catherine_of_siena_iconNote: this weekend, I wrote a post collecting all of my responses to people’s Protestant concerns with praying (or “talking”) to saints. Before you express your disagreement to this present post, I’d ask that you’d at least read some of that. Thanks.

Especially on Facebook, my previous post on praying to saints caused a lot of conversation, with maybe slightly more than half of people disagreeing (strongly) with my post, with the other half appreciating it. So before I begin this post today, I want to make something clear: I don’t like being that guy. This blog’s purpose is not to start flame wars or set off long disagreements among friends. I genuinely want to be helpful to people–even when that means challenging and stretching them, and even when they strongly disagree with me. One need not be convinced of a position to be helped by reading about it.

With that being said, let me tell you some of my experience with finding a saint to pray to (or, as my previous post said, maybe a better word is simply “talk”), and then let me tell you a little bit about her.

Throughout history, there seems to have been saints that have gone before us that God has given unique grace to in certain areas of life. Those saints that the Church knew of and was able to recognize ended up being declared “patron saints” of those things they seemed to have unique, almost unparalleled grace for.

And so, in times of need in a certain area, much of the Church throughout history has felt comfortable praying to those saints from times past that seemed to be especially graced for those kinds of situations.

So…here’s my funny story.
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Some Protestant Saint-Praying Clarifications & Responses


Wow. Last week’s post about praying to saints really brought out more passion in people than I thought it would. Both here on the blog and on Facebook, here were some clarifying comments I left. By the way, this was the best comment on that post that challenged my thinking. I hope this helps.

First, here is my final, quick summary clarification of my position and why Evangelicals need not be freaked out about all this. If you read nothing else on this post, let it be this:

I really wish there was a different and better word than “prayer” for this. I agree that what most of us Protestants think of when we think of prayer really should only be directed at God.

Further, I’m simply advocating for this to be one more optional means of grace a Christian can participate in, depending on how they are wired. This shouldn’t take away from anyone’s participation in union with Christ or praying to him anymore than Bible memorization, fasting, listening to sacred music, or reading a devotional book does.

Everything everyone on the comments has said they think should only be reserved for God, I absolutely agree with. I am certainly not suggesting we turn our affections, praise, adoration, or even our hearts towards those that have died. I just think we can talk to them, and they can intercede for us to God. I don’t think they talk back, that we experience their presence, or that they magically impart any more of God’s favor than asking a friend to pray with us would.

As Paul said, our outer selves are wasting away, while inwardly we’re being renewed day by day. Those that have died are, in a very real sense, just as “alive” as we are now, albeit absent from the body. All I think is (1) they can see and know what’s going on down here, and (2) they talk to God. If those two things are true, then I don’t see the inherent evil, harm, or soul-destroying error it might be to simply “talk” to those that have gone before–not “commune with”, “worship”, or any of the other dimensions of “Godward prayer”. Just sending up some prayer requests to the part of the Body of Christ that is absent from the body, but present with the Lord.

What’s the harm in that?
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Catholics Aren’t Crazy: On Praying to Saints (Happy All Saints’ Day!)


catherine-siena-saint-paul-necklaceThis is a post in an on-going series called Catholic Aren’t Crazy exploring misconceptions Protestants have about Catholicism and lessons we can learn from them.

UPDATE: I responded to some critiques and gave some clarifications.

UPDATE II: Here’s the story of the Saint I pray to, Catherine of Siena.

Yesterday was Halloween. That makes today All Saints’ Day (read more about the history of these holidays in yesterday’s post).

All Saint’s Day has taken on different meanings for different groups of Christians. What seems to stay consistent, though, is that it is a celebration of the victory attained by those faithful Christians who have died. They are no longer pilgrims, as we are, but are the triumphant ones, having finished their race well and been brought into their peace with God. We celebrate Christ’s effectual victory over sin and death and that this has been granted to those that have gone before us.

The hope and encouragement in this holiday is not simply that we “remember” these saints, or meditate on their example. Instead (and this is important), there has been a long-held belief in the Christian Church that we still have a mystical communion and relationship with those saints that have already died. When Christians throughout Church history (and the Bible) have referred to “The Church”, they don’t simply mean those still around today, but all the saints who have ever lived (even in the Old Testament!). We are all the Church.

So we can truly celebrate those that have gone before us because we are truly still connected to them in a very real and vibrant way.
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Martin Luther on Baptizing Babies


“You say you don’t baptize children because they don’t believe. Why do you preach the Word to adults who don’t believe, unless perhaps in the hope that they may believe? You do it on the strength of God’s command alone. For if you baptize me because I say I believe, then you baptize on account of me and in my name. Therefore, since you don’t know whether I believe or don’t believe, you do it only because of God’s command. It isn’t necessary to exclude children, since as a rule you baptize all, whether they believe or not. It would be a terrible thing if I were baptized on the strength of my confession.”

– Martin Luther (Table Talk No. 549) on paedobaptism

Just a friendly reminder that “Americanism” is a heresy. Even today. (Happy 4th!)


paul-young-america-flagI’m really not trying to ruin anyone’s party. I promise. But I just wanted to remind everyone that in 1899 Pope Leo XIII declared “Americanism” a heresy in the Catholic Church.

(I have provided this picture of this post’s author in order to help soothe any anger over this reminder.)

Basically, in the middle of the 19th-century, there was a huge influx of Catholics into America from Europe. Being so far away from the “home base” of European Catholicism, these Catholic leaders started “softening” Catholicism in order to make it more palatable to the new context they found themselves in.

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And….We All Have a New Pope! (Catholics Aren’t Crazy)


pope-funny-bigMere minutes ago, a new Pope emerged from the conclave in Rome after Pope Benedict’s surprising resignation several weeks ago. The new Pope is the cardinal formerly-known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

But now, he is Pope Francis.

Now, I am fully and securely a Protestant, as most of the readers of this blog are. But for those of us that find ourselves in that Protestant tradition, we often forget a little detail of that name: Protestant.

It means, literally, “the protesting ones”. We are “protest-ant” about many of the practices and teachings of the Catholic Church. But to “protest” something does not necessarily mean you are no longer a part of it.

This is why I describe myself, denominationally, as a “Protesting Catholic”. (Okay, I stole that from Austin Ricketts.)

And you should to.
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Advent & Mary: Ordained as Prophetess, Priestess, & Queen


Tanner-the-anunciation-mary

This Advent, we’re seeing how this season affects parts of our lives we usually don’t associate with it. Follow the series here. This post is also filed in the series “Catholics Aren’t Crazy” and “Women Leading Stuff in Churches“.

If a woman is revered by the church for giving the faithful their savior, then surely women are good enough for leadership roles in the church to save it. –Vishwanath Ayengar

I ran across that quote in some letters to the editor of Newsweek a couple of years back in response to a cover story arguing that if women were ordained as priests in the Catholic Church, there wouldn’t have been any sex abuse scandal. I don’t know if that’s true, but the quote is insightful and (hopefully) thought-provoking.

I can hear conservatives now: Well, God used a donkey to speak! He used Caiaphas the high priest to unknowingly prophesy about Jesus before sentencing him to death! He used Judas to bring about Christ’s crucifixion and therefore our salvation! It doesn’t mean that they were fit to be ordained pastors!

Yeah, yeah, I get it. This post isn’t necessarily meant as a “proof” or “defense” of women’s place in ministry (though it’s a part of my on-going series on the topic). I just want to revel a bit in some divine mystery. Can we all just put our swords down and marvel?
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Nietzsche, the Cross, & the Weight of the World | Lent {8}


If every second of our lives recurs an infinite number of times, we are nailed to eternity as Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross.  It is a terrifying prospect. In the world of eternal return the weight of unbearable responsibility lies heavy on every move we make. That is why Nietzsche called the idea of eternal return the “heaviest of burdens”. If eternal return is the heaviest of burdens, then our lives can stand out against it in all their splendid lightness.

But is heaviness truly deplorable and lightness splendid?

…. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to earth, the more real and truthful they become.

Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.

What then shall we choose ? Weight or lightness?

— Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
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Catholics Aren’t Crazy: Paul Ryan & the 2013 House Budget


Yesterday, House Republicans unveiled their own 2013 budget to counter President Obama’s proposed budget.

Now, neither of these have (or will) become law. These annual budgets are merely proposals and are often political statements of priority. Both the President and the House write their budgets, not realistically, but extremely, hoping that once negotiation begins, they’ll walk away with more of what they want.

But still, like I said, these proposals are expressions of priority and direction to which a party will try and “bend” the nation’s spending. The House Budget Committee Chairman, Paul Ryan, said as much when he unveiled the plan (upon which he bears the final word), calling it “a choice between two futures” (others called it “careless”).

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Catholics Aren’t Crazy: an Advent & Communion Theological P.S. (for those who care) | Advent {7a}


After my previous post on how Communion is no more a “symbol” than Advent itself, I can already hear some people right now thinking: “Wait. Isn’t this the Catholic idea of communion?” (As if that would be the worst thing.) I’ve mentioned some of my Communion views before in this ongoing series, and what I articulated is a synthesis and summary of the ideas of many theologians, both Protestant and Catholic. The pop idea of the Catholic view on the Eucharist is not really right or helpful (as is the pop conception of most of Catholic doctrine). Catholicism’s “Eucharist problem” is more historical and rhetorical than theological.

In the earliest decades and centuries of church history, people were able to simply maintain the simple doctrine that at Communion, they are receiving the true presence of Christ in the Bread and the Wine (source, albeit biased). In the middle ages, though, people starting asking themselves “Wait, what does that actually mean?” Differing answers started forming and a diversity of opinion about the Eucharist began taking place. The leaders of the Church tried to bring some commonality to this. In fact, the medieval Catholic church made a few “errant” teachers affirm these statements in 1078 and 1079:
Continue reading