Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"I was never told that about Catholicism..."

The most important part in apologetics is not what we know or how much we know, but how we use what we know. I mean, it's good to know a lot and to be fully armoured, so to speak, but all that knowledge is good for nothing if you don't know how to defend the faith in a respectful manner.


Yesterday afternoon I sent out an email to my colleagues to join me in prayer every morning for the next nine working days to pray a novena to St. Jude (patron saint of desperate causes) for other colleagues of ours whose infant child has a brain tumour that even after two attempts to remove fully, remains and things are looking rather grim. We've done a few small things to help support our colleagues during this difficult time (e.g. prepared a gift hamper and so forth), so I thought the very least we can do as a school community is offer our prayers.


Anyway, I received an email from another colleague this morning, and, well, here's what they had to say (I've omitted their name to protect identities):





It's important to note that this colleague of mine comes from a non-Catholic Christian background.


Here's how I responded to them:





... And how my colleague responded to this. I have to admit I was expecting the worst:



THEY WERE UNCOMFORTABLE WITH IT (PRAYING TO SAINTS) BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T UNDERSTAND IT!!!!!!


Fulton J. Sheen once said, "There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church."


There's perception, and then there's reality.


* * * * *
In the end I was glad I was able to help clarify the matter for this workmate of mine, and I fully understood what they meant when they said that people can get defensive about their faith. I believe people get defensive about their faith when they're asked questions about it because it may be that they do not fully understand their own faith and therefore do not know how to defend it.


Peter tells us in his first epistle:


“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” – 1 Peter 3:15


The most important part of that verse if scripture to me personally, is not the “be prepared” part, but Peter’s instruction to do so “with gentleness and respect”.


We don’t soften hearts by hardening our own.

Friday, November 13, 2009

"Total Depravity of Man"?



Total Depravity, short for "Total Depravity of Man" is the 'T' in John Calvin's (i.e. Calvinism) "TULIP" doctrine of faith and living. In brief and as I understand it, the doctrine of Total Depravity dictates than all men (sic.) born into the world are enslaved to sin and are unable to choose or follow God (i.e. Jesus Christ) to accept salvation as it is freely offered. How does a person become "saved" then if they are unable to accept salvation (twhich is offered freely) and choose to follow in the footsteps of Christ? What ever happened to free will?


What you'll read in this blog entry is a discussion I had on an online forum with a notable Youtube "personality", a Calvinist. For the sake of his own privacy, let's call him "Saul". What I present to Saul in this discussion is a simple scenario outlining how the doctrine of Total Depravity is flawed and is simply unworkable. Before you read on, refamiliarise yourself with the definition of Total Depravity provided in the opening paragraph of this entry; knowledge of what the Calvinists believe is key to pointing out the flaws in their doctrine when lined up with what Catholics and other mainstream Christians believe about salvation and free will.


And now, the discussion...


Saul: Before salvation, he/she is dead in his/her trespasses and sins and is incapable of doing any good or choosing anything outside the realm of sin.


Me: Let's apply that logic to the following scenario: A sinner comes to Christ. By coming to accept Christ they are "saved", but how can they do this while "being dead in their trespasses" and "incapable of doing any good or choosing anything outside beyond the realm of sin"? Coming to Christ is "good fruit" (a WORK requiring FAITH), but by your logic this is impossible because the person is "dead in their trespasses" and incapable of good. You've actually made it impossible for a sinner to be saved.


If before salvation a man/woman is "incapable of doing any good or choosing anything outside beyond the realm of sin", then by this logic they are in a state of PERPETUAL sin, unable to break the chain! Sin is an offense against God; sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus which achieves our salvation. Accepting Christ as Lord lies within complete and utter obedience to Jesus and God. How does one "incapable of doing anything beyond the realm of sin" then become saved?


Saul: I've made it impossible for the sinner to "come to Christ" on his own or "with Christ." Christ must completely resurrect the sinner from the dead; give him a new heart so He we freely love God in return because He first loved him.


Me: Yes, but this requires complete obedience and submission to Christ, which, by the explanation you provided earlier, is impossible due to the nature and pure definition of what sin is. You've either explained it poorly or you're wrong, so please just answer this question for me: How does one "incapable of doing anything beyond the realm of sin" then saved if coming to Christ means rendering yourself in obedience and submission to Him (i.e. repenting FROM sin)?


Saul: Obedience and submission to Christ is only what a believer does, obviously. I see no problem with what I presented earlier dealing with man's inability to do anything beyond the realm of sin. What is key to understanding all this is the heart. Does the heart desire God or His ways. No, unless God has performed a miracle or regeneration upon his heart. Only from this point and on will the regenerated sinner progressively obey and submit to Christ with his new heart of flesh.


Me: But even a sinner can believe, and this is what faith allows us to do: to come to Christ and repent for our sins because we BELIEVE that He can deliver us from our sin. You said "[before salvation] one is incapable of doing anything beyond the realm of sin". Sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus. Coming (submission) to Christ is NOT diametrically opposed to the obedience of Him. The explanation you offered earlier does not permit this to occur.


Saul: Yes, a sinner can believe... only a regenerated sinner. A sinner is not just a reprobate. Don't get confused with that. God saves.


Me: A sinner can believe BEFORE they are "regenerated" by Christ, else how do they come to Him in the first place? They MUST believe in order to be saved; they must have faith, even as a sinner. But the explanation you offered earlier did not allow this: it made ALL sinners "reprobates" with no ability or capacity whatsoever to come to Christ in an ACT of faith. This begs the question: If Jesus came to save all/the lost (e.g. Luke 19:10), is there really such thing as a person beyond the hope of salvation?


Saul: There is no scripture support for the natural man believing in the true and living God 'before' he or she is regenerated by Christ. God grants faith (Phil. 1:29). God grants repentance (2 Tim. 2:24-26). So, it is God who works all these things for His glory to those He has adopted as sons in Christ since before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1-11). A reprobate, which is how we all start out (no one is born a Christian), does not bring himself to life.


Me: You haven't answered the question: If Jesus came to save all/the lost (Luke 19:10), is there really such thing as a person beyond the hope of salvation? Consider the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32): the son made a DECISION to leave his father's house and squander his inheritance. After realising what he had done, he decided to go back but was fearful his father would reject him (v21). His father waited for his return (v20). His father welcomed him back lovingly ("he was lost and is found").


Saul: Sorry I missed your final question at the end of your last response. I was busy clearing up the misconceptions that led to that question. Steve, an unelect will 'never' desire to "come back to God" or "seek the true and living God." It never happens. There are elect, who are not saved yet, who reject God over and over and over until God works a miracle of regeneration in their heart. God did not die for all humans. He died for all elect. Bible says He died for many (Matt. 26:28;Isaiah 53:12).


Me: Jesus died for an "elect"? Are you sure about that? Have you considered the following: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." - John 3:16


It doesn't say that "the few" or "the many" or "the elect" will have everlasting life, but "whosoever believeth" which means "ANYONE who believes". And then there 2 Corinthians 5:15, "And He [Christ] died for all...".


You actually did a poor job in clearing things up (or you actually didn't) because all you did was respond with double negatives. And you've done a pretty good job at dodging THIS question which you still have not answered:


If Jesus came to save all/the lost (Luke 19:10), is there really such thing as a person beyond the hope of salvation?


All the question requires is a 'yes' or 'no' response, and if you like you can justify that response.


P.S. Read:
1 Timothy 2:1-4
2 Peter 3:9
Ezekiel 33:11


Saul: I'm sorry if i wasn't clear or if i dodged your question. i'm not trying to dodge your questions. The reason i responded with a "limited" verse was to help you notice that your assumption of Jesus dieing for everyone who ever lived needs re-thinking. If one verses says that Jesus died for "many," then what does the "all" mean in Luke (among other verses)?


Me: My friend, I make no "assumption". Perhaps you need to be paying attention to Matthew 7:5 as well. ;-)


Saul: Whether you're trying to make an assumption or not, you beg the question assuming that "all" means everyone on planet Earth without exception.


Me: Nope, the only exception ("condition" if you will) is that they must accept Christ; render submission to Him, and anyone may do so as John 3:16 implies. So Saul, I'm still waiting for your answer:


If Jesus came to save all/the lost (Luke 19:10), is there really such thing as a person beyond the hope of salvation?


All the question requires is a 'yes' or 'no' response, and if you like you can justify that response.


Saul: You don't seem to understand that your question assumes something to not be true. Jesus did not die for "all of planet Earth." Jesus died for "all the elect." There is two assumptions there. Only one can be right. We determine which assumption is right by examining the whole of scripture.



John 3:16 is limited as well -- "those who believeth" are the "world" John 3:16 is referring to. No problem there at all.
 
Me: But ALL can exercise their free will TO believe (and vice versa): "whosoever believeth in Him...".


And please stop avoiding the question; a 'yes' or 'no' response will suffice:


If Jesus came to save all/the lost (Luke 19:10), is there really such thing as a person beyond the hope of salvation?


Saul: Not everyone believes in Him. So, your John 3:16 interpretation doesn't work. The "world" is only "those who believeth." It's limited. Also, you're avoided my correcting you on your question. "All" does not always mean "everyone on planet Earth." So, your question is a fallacy.


Me: Dodged that one Matrix-style!


No, not everyone believes in Him, but that can change now, can't it? I guess that's why there are people like us in the world to help bring the message of Christ to "the lost". It reminds me of what happened to Paul on the way to Damascus.


My question is a "fallacy" because you either cannot or will not answer it, which is a shame because I've heard so much about you, yet you disappoint me. Thus, I'm going to give you one final chance. You know what the question is; I've repeated it often enough now.
 
* * * * *
Blogger's note: It's at this point I no longer hear back (i.e. get a response from "Saul"), but in one final attempt to entice a response, I put something else forward to him.
* * * * *
 
Me: Have a read of what one verse AFTER John 3:16 says:


"For God sent not his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him." - John 3:17


Interesting choice of words there: "the world".


Hmmm, "the world" = all? No, that would be too obvious. ;-)


... And I'm still waiting for your answer. ;-)


* * * * *
This discussion took place three months ago; I'm still waiting to hear back from "Saul".
* * * * *

What I learned from this discussion with this Calvinist, especially where apologetics is concerned, is that it's not about how much knowledge of scripture you have or how many scripture verses you know by heart, but rather it's about using what you already know effectively even if you don't know a great deal. When I had this discussion with "Saul", I didn't know much about the Calvinist "Total Depravity" doctrine or their doctrine of the "elect". What I did know, however, is that Christ Our Lord did was not sent to die for a clique or niche group of people, but for everyone so that we may be saved, and that all have the ability to give their heart, mind and soul to Him even if we are the worst of sinners.


It was while listening to a Catholic Answers Live podcast during the week that I heard the Catholic Church described in the most beautiful way, which so eloquently sums up the church that the Lord Jesus Christ established here on earth:


"The Catholic Church is a haven for saints and a refuge for sinners".


Christ has given us a place in which we may make our home in Him, so that we may strive and continue to live in holiness (Ephesians 2:10) and so that we may meet God wherever it is we are in life at that point in our lives, be we on the path to holiness already or far removed from it but willing to turn our lives around.


"The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." - 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV)


God could not be almighty, all loving and all forgiving if He sent his Son to save an "elect" only or if sinners are unable to do any work beyond the realm of sin. If this was the case, then you could argue that God intentionally set another "elect" up for failure and created flawed beings, i.e. could a perfect creator still be a "perfect creator" if what he creates is imperfect? Wouldn't this creator then be an imperfect creator?


God created us in His image and likeness so that we may freely choose to live as He desired us to live. Sin entered the world and corrupted our perfection, and it is sin that pushes us away from God.


"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." - 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)


That "way out" is Jesus Christ, and anyone may believe in Him if they so desire; no "ifs" no "buts".


"All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved." - Mark 13:13 (NIV)


Amen.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Yet another quick thought: The Catholic Church = "legalistic"?!?



One of my online acquaintances, a self-proclaimed "non-denominational Christian", recently confided in me and told me he could never ever be a Catholic because he thinks it (the Catholic Church) is too "legalistic".

Now, let me be honest: I thought it was a pretty weak excuse to use, but this, unfortunately, is one of the initial confronting barriers a non-Catholic will come across when even entertaining the idea of becoming a Catholic: all those rules; things you can and cannot do; abiding by "law". But the more I thought about this, wasn't Jesus himself "legalistic"? That is, if we define "legalistic" as the exhortation of others to obey and live by a set of rules or a rule of law, then anyone, especially Jesus could be seen as a "legalist". But this is not necessarily a bad thing. We know that laws are established to create boundaries and help guide our moral compasses, therefore serving our best interests and protecting our dignities. God gives us His law (natural and divine) so that we may be set straight and be best directed/guided to love and live in Him.

In Matthew 19:16-21 when Jesus said to the rich man, "If you want to enter life, obey the commandments" and "Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and 'love your neighbor as yourself" don't you think he was being "legalistic" here? He was of course instructing the man to obey the law of God. Now, you could argue that Jesus here was making an example of a person to "clinged" to his earthly possessions and this is what makes it hard for a "rich man" to merit eternal life, but Christ, of course, gives the man new instructions (laws) in order to merit eternal life:

"Jesus answered, 'If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'" - Matthew 19:21 (NIV)

Here are a few other instances where Christ instructs other to obey God's law; where he is also being "legalistic":


John 15:9-12; Matthew 22:35-40; Matthew 5:29-30; Matthew 5:38-39; Matthew 5:40-42; Matthew 6:1; Matthew 6:33; etc.

But what's the point here? If we didn't have "legalism", there wouldn't be an order of things; there would be a sacramental, spiritual, formative, and doctrinal anarchy. God is a god of order, not chaos, and we're instructed throughout scripture to conduct ourselves in a matter of order:

"But let all things be done decently, and according to order." - 1 Corinthians 14:40 (D-R)

If you're going to argue that the Church is "legalistic", then you also accuse Christ of being "legalistic", and yet you follow his law without complaint? Are Christ's instructions not also "law" (Matthew 5:17)?

Order brings unity, and this is precisely what Christ wanted for all:

"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you; but that you be perfect in the same mind, and in the same judgment." - 1 Corinthians 1:10 (D-R)

"That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." - John 17:21 (D-R)

Lawlessness separates; order unifies.

Amen.