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Monday, November 28, 2005

Blogland Pause

As you may have seen, I have not been blogging, commenting or answering email for several days. This will continue until Friday, when I finish my final exams. Thanks for your patience!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

From the DMZ to the Altar

As previously posted, Hammertime and Mrs. Hammer had already
met, and made a covenant about intimacy. So how did we get from the DMZ to the Altar?

We explored the important things in a relationship – specifically, our worldviews, our faith, and our perceptions of roles within a relationship and marriage. What I found was that Mrs. Hammer was solidly with me in those cases, but that we did not have many hobbies or interests in common. I like sports, she doesn’t. I like gangster and adventure movies, she likes comedies and chick-flicks. She likes Chinese Food, I hate it. We do, however, both like dogs and are allergic to cats, so we had that going for us!

I soon announced that since I was about to take mid-tour leave from Korea soon (in late June) and would already be in California to visit a friend, I would stop by and see her. As I found out later, when Mrs. Hammer read that note, she ran around her apartment screaming, and called all of her friends. I was excited too…for a while. As the date grew closer, I became less enthused. I don’t know if it was the oft-cited male commitment avoidance tendency (which I deny exists) or a general, intellectual concern about the challenges ahead compared to my relative security and contentment of the time. I was primarily concerned about the difficulty of maintaining a cross-ocean relationship and the difficulties of entering a half-family. Whatever it was, by the time my mid-tour leave arrived, I had decided that Mrs. Hammer and I could no longer continue. I resolved to make the trip, spend some time with her and her son, and let her know after the visit what I had decided.

I arrived on the BART train into Berkley and met them at the platform. Mrs. Hammer was beautiful, and her personality, as well as that of her son, Gaige, was fabulous. I recognized immediately that this single mom had done much better than most I ever met. We ate pizza, went to the Jelly Belly factory, and played video games. I got to meet her parents, her friends, and her neighbors. I even got to cook on her barbecue – which was an experience in itself.

Well, not the cooking part. I had met her neighbors, who were ladies over 60, in her garden-style apartment vicinity. They were outside on their patios while I was running the barbeque. Of course, I wanted to present myself in the best possible light, so I was using all of my charm and all of my BBQ skillz. After letting the meat cook for a while, I realized that it was time to turn it. So, I walked rapidly toward the balcony…straight into, and through, the sliding screen door! Crash! All cool points were immediately evaporated as Mrs. Hammer burst into laughter. The ladies downstairs quipped, “I hope that steak is ok!” Oof. Well, I at least showed I can laugh at myself.

I loved her parents, and they seemed to approve of me at the time. Conservatives are hard to find in the state of California, but they were. They were also a solid family, supportive, polite, and respectful of others. Thus, I had plenty of opportunities to evaluate the present and future situation. The result: I couldn’t find a single, solitary reason to bail on the relationship. I thought, “Surely I’ll see some personality trait or unhealthy connection that will give me the reason”, but I was wrong. I even confessed to Mrs. Hammer that I had planned to bail, but that she was simply too wonderful, and I was willing to do whatever it took on my part. Thankfully, she didn’t slap me silly!

Six months later I flew Mrs. Hammer into Korea for a visit. We set her up with her own room in our barracks (I had help from my buddy and his wife), but I first had her stay overnight in the hotel on the US base for an evening to get adjusted to the time change (11 hours). The next day we took a tour of Panmunjom and the DMZ. It was there, on the North Korean side of the border in the U.N. building, that I took a knee and asked her to marry me (I’d already gotten approval from her father). The Korean guards didn’t even flinch, although I am reasonably sure that it has never happened before or since! She accepted, and we enjoyed the rest of the tour, a trip to our Army base, and New Year’s Eve dinner on top of the Seoul tower, in the rotating restaurant! She also got to come to a Tae Kwon Do session in our local town and eat a few genuine Korean meals.

We completed a pre-marital counseling course called, “Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts”, which helped us to better understand each other. We highly recommend it! She handled the majority of the wedding planning. I merely requested to wear my mess uniform (which I purchased for that purpose later), and promised to show up on time, in the right clothes, reasonably sober. We settled on a Wedding expense budget of $1,500, with the exception of the honeymoon, which I would arrange for secretly. I even canceled my order for a BMW M3 that I had placed, losing my $2k down payment. I told everyone that I had given up my dream car for my dream woman.

We kept it under budget, and after 3 days meeting friends and family and finalizing details, we were married in her mother’s church. Our first kiss was when the preacher gave us permission – so we took two! It was truly wonderful to do things in a fashion that God and everyone else could approve of.

Our honeymoon was a surprise, as I simply would take Mrs. Hammer by the hand to the airport, through connections, to the rental car, and driving, until we arrived in “The Land of Love”, Caesar’s in the Poconos. Details will not be given, but it cost twice the price of the wedding, and was worth it.

Now, over three years later, here we stand, bonded together in Christ and each other, stronger today than we were the day we were married. As cliché as it sounds, I do love her more every day, and never fail to be impressed with her faith, beauty, grace and love for others.

Would I be doing well if I had never met Mrs. Hammer? Sure. What makes it so awesome is this: I’m better for knowing her and being her husband.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Emergency Brake

I have turned off the comments to my last post on heresy in the Catholic church. I looked back at the progression of the conversation and saw that I was diagnosing symptoms as the problem, thus creating myriad points of discussion that not only would not be effective, but cast an air of "anti-Catholicism" to my position, which was never what I sought.

I allowed myself to become upset after reading the Council of Trent and Vatican I. You can see the tone change in my post from the beginning to the end. Emotional arguments are not a hallmark of my style, but I trod there despite that.

The heresy of the Catholic church is its position that the ecclesiatical leadership of the church is final and infallible in its decisions, even if they are contradictory to scripture and the tradition of the Ante-Nicene fathers. That is honestly the only position that is heretical, simply because it is the impetus for all of the other points of contention - purgatory, baptismal regeneration, prayer to saints, indulgences, penance, etc., all of which must rely upon the infallibility and final authority of ecclesiastical support. It trumps any debate about the issue at hand, and makes debate impossible. I doubt anyone that reads this blog would defend that position, so I suppose we can't debate the infallibility of the church here.

Team Hammer is not anti-Catholic. After all, how could we stand against the source of the greatest football program on God's green earth? We get a free pass anyway, as family members of Catholics - well, a free pass to purgatory, at least.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

"Disaffected Youths"

If you haven't read Mark Steyn's column, Wake Up, Europe, You've a War On Your Hands, you are missing out.

By the way, it isn't "disaffected youths" rioting. It is organized Muslim thugs. That wouldn't fly in Pike County, KY. There would be five dead thugs from gunfire the first night, and it would have ended there. Thank God for the 2nd Amendment!

Christian Carnival #95

Is up over at Eternal Revolution

It is large, in charge, and has quite a diverse selection.

If nothing else, check out "I Deserve to Be Happy", "Jesus on a Wardrobe", "Success", and "Amateur Apologetics".

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Catholic Church and Heresy

I actually had no desire to write this post. However, the subject came up, and I said I would – thus I must. It will be lengthy.

I grew up catholic, a parishioner at The Church of the Blessed Sacrament. I voluntarily left the Church at the age of 21, after my salvation through the grace of God. I left not because I thought the Catholic Church was evil or some nonsense, but simply because the truth that had set me free was never truly visible in my time in the Church. My view was, and remains, that so many things have been added to the good news of the kingdom of God that the good news is largely obscured.

On the other hand, I cringe when I see fundamentalist types call the Catholic Church the anti-Christ. I also can’t go along with Dr. Albert Mohler when he calls it a ‘false church’. It is impossible to separate my emotions from my logic on the subject, so I don’t’ bother trying.

However, what I can do is use the history of the church, scripture and tradition to describe the relationship between the church and heresy, and answer – is the Catholic Church heretical? I will address these areas:

1) Jesus Christ and the Trinity
2) Mary and the Saints
3) The Sacraments
4) Scripture and Tradition
5) Redemption

I will be as brief as possible for each one – some will only be a couple of sentences. Keep in mind the theological triage from two posts ago – heresy is only found in the first order issues.

1) Jesus Christ and the Trinity. (First Order)

The Catholic Church has held from its earliest days that Jesus Christ was the incarnate Son of God, fully human and fully God. While ecclesiastical synods were required to deal with the various doctrinal issues surrounding the deity and humanity of Christ, the church has remained true to its first principles. The doctrine of the Trinity, though longer in fully developing, has also been remarkable unchanged since the beginning of the church. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one, yet separately three. It is a doctrine that, once you mature, you realize you cannot comprehend. (Wouldn’t a God easily understood in every fashion be, well, not a God?) While full understanding is not required, scriptural evidence and the writings of the early fathers are available to establish the doctrine.

2) Mary and the Saints (Second Order). John over at the CPF put it thus: Catholics ask for Mary or the saints' intercession with the Lord for our prayers and needs; Catholics practice a devotion to Mary rather than a worship of Mary; we believe that she is the mother of God, and that the Lord can not refuse Mary's intercession on any prayer or request. We seek to model our lives in the mold and footsteps of the lives of the saints; the saints are excellent examples and models of living a Christian life. This modeling of a Christian lifestyle in the mold of a saint's behavior is akin to a child-aged athlete seeking to model their athletic talents after a professional sports star's athletic seek to 'learn from the best'.

The saints are not taught to be worshipped, but rather revered. Unfortunately, prayer to the saints is also taught in CCD, and it is wholly unnecessary. What keeps this difference in doctrine from being a first order issue is its scope – prayer to the saints is never invoked as a method of salvation, but is instead a method of intercession. The church, for reasons I have yet to come across in my church history class, ignores the clear statement of the First Epistle to Timothy, Chapter 2: For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. 1 Tim 2:5 (KJV)

There is no scriptural authority that states that Mary has any greater “pull” with God than any other saint, living or dead. Furthermore, there is no scriptural authority that compels us to pray to any saint who has gone before us. As the current belief holds, the saint prayed to does have to go through Christ for the prayer to be answered, and thus a level of deity is not placed upon the saints. While I would hold that this practice is in error, was not in evidence in the first two centuries of the church, and I cannot justify, it does not attack the central doctrines of Christianity, and thus is not heretical.

Oddly enough, the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431 was held due a concern that Mary was being held in too high regard by Nestorius, a leader in the church, who argued against certain language in the Statement of Faith. Nestorius was right in his concern, bur wrong in his theology. Unfortunately, his defeat may have been the beginning of the Mariology we see today.

3) The Sacraments (First, Second and Third Order)

There are seven sacraments: Baptism, Confession, Eucharist, Confirmation, Holy Orders, Matrimony, and Last Rites. Matrimony and Holy Orders should not cause any issues. Confirmation is not necessary for salvation, but is declared to bestow some spiritual gifts upon the recipient. As there is scriptural precedent for the Holy Spirit being given through a ritual, this practice is not counter to scripture. It is essentially non-scriptural, however, in that we assume far more to connect this rite to an act of the apostles.

Baptism, Confession, the Eucharist and Last Rites have scriptural precedent and present scriptural challenges. St. James exhorts us to confess our faults to one another, yet it is nowhere described as a requirement to communion or prerequisite for any action, physical or spiritual. We are told that confession and repentance are required, yet this is a confession and repentance to God, not to man. Thus, a ritual places another separation between God and man, just as ‘Mary and the saints’ do. The practice of confession and penance is not seen until established as a church doctrine by St. Ambrose in the late fourth century. While Church textbooks attempt to identify the doctrine in earlier writings by St. Cyprian (mid-third century) and Tertullian (late second century), one could only find that doctrine there if it was assumed beforehand.

The Eucharist echoes Christ’s words that “This is my body…this is my blood.” The doctrine of transubstantiation is mystical, odd, and altogether unnecessary. However, if we stay true to the scriptures we cannot say that declaring that the host becomes the body and blood of Christ is difficult to refute – thus I do not! Last Rites are an echo of St. James again: Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: 15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. James 5:14-15 (KJV) . While we may put justified emphasis upon the requirement for repentance and faith for ultimate salvation, the scripture is clear – we can pray for those who are among us for the forgiveness of their sins. I am not sure if the Catholic Church performs last rites on non-Catholics, but I doubt it. This would seem to meet scriptural precedent.

Baptism present our first identified heresy. Catholic statements about the effects of baptism (example) are exquisite examples of taking verses, and actually, only parts of verses, out of context to justify a position. There is no place where baptism is considered to be an act which results in forgiveness of sin in the Scriptures. Read those quoted verses in Acts in their entirety, and you will see. Repentance, faith, grace and the power of God can are considered as critical to salvation – but baptism is not. What baptism must be is a requirement to demonstrate one’s faith, not the act of remission of sin itself. Thus, by claiming that a physical act by one man toward another confers salvation, the Catholic Church embraces heresy. We know that by the time of Augustine that this heresy had fully taken hold in the church, but cannot determine exactly why - except to note that practices outlive ideas, and the practice of baptism continued in places and times when the doctrine was changing. This doctrine ignores the thief on the cross, who had faith, but no baptism, and was redeemed (Lk 23:40-43). Baptism is important – but has neither scriptural authority nor the authority of the doctrine of the early church (before 250 AD).

4) Scripture and Tradition (First and Second Order).

The problem with Tradition is that the term has changed meaning. In Irenaeus’ writings, (early 100’s) he uses tradition to mean the doctrines held by the church since its inception, as evidenced by the unbroken line of bishops who, being selected by the body of their respective congregations, held to those doctrines. What it has become to mean is the doctrines that have been held by the church since some random time in the past (random because the doctrines differ in their time of inception) and currently declared to be authoritative by the non-elected bishops who are in power. In the early church, tradition was evident because one could not become a bishop unless they held to the beliefs of their fathers. Now, bishops declare to us what the doctrines are. While I do not imply that the leaders of the Catholic church are willy-nilly making up doctrines, I do specify that doctrines have been added and changed in opposition to scripture and the early church fathers. Furthermore, the tradition of the fathers was never one which trumped scripture, merely one which accompanied it and explained it. It there was a conflict, scripture prevailed. That is no longer the case, as the Church leaders tell us what prevails.

Most of the church traditions do not contradict scripture or interfere with the gospel. However, placing the directive of men, no matter how holy or learned they may be, ahead of scriptures is heretical and inherently Gnostic. Thus, heresy was developed out of a manner of discourse which heretofore prevented heresy. It is not the only case.

5) Redemption. (First Order)

The Catholic Church does not claim that redemption comes from any other than Christ Jesus. Salvation is also described as an act which begins and ends with God through Christ.

Unfortunately, and most heretical, is the assertion that one only comes to that salvation through Christ by being Catholic. Despite the corruption and debauchery engaged in by the Catholic Church leaders in past years, despite the abhorrent practices such as the sale of indulgences and convening of Crusades, the Catholic Church still maintains that its leadership is infallible. All men are fallible, and all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. To claim that we must be subject to a specific group of men to be in Christ is honestly the worst heresy of all.

I encourage readers to reference New Advent. It is an exhaustive encyclopedia of things Catholic, from a Catholic perspective. They have a lot of great articles on the saints and the development of various doctrines. They also do not hold back. Consider their opinion of Protestants (non-Catholics).

An honest assessment:

The [first] objective [or formal] principle proclaims the canonical Scriptures, especially the New Testament to be the only infallible source and rule of faith and practice, and asserts the right of private interpretation of the same, in distinction from the Roman Catholic view, which declares the Bible and tradition to be co-ordinate sources and rule of faith, and makes tradition, especially the decrees of popes and councils, the only legitimate and infallible interpreter of the Bible. In its extreme form Chillingworth expressed this principle of the Reformation in the well-known formula, "The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, is the religion of Protestants." Protestantism, however, by no means despises or rejects church authority as such, but only subordinates it to, and measures its value by, the Bible, and believes in a progressive interpretation of the Bible through the expanding and deepening consciousness of Christendom. Hence, besides having its own symbols or standards of public doctrine, it retained all the articles of the ancient creeds and a large amount of disciplinary and ritual tradition, and rejected only those doctrines and ceremonies for which no clear warrant was found in the Bible and which seemed to contradict its letter or spirit.

The subjective principle of the Reformation is justification by faith alone, or, rather, by free grace through faith operative in good works. It has reference to the personal appropriation of the Christian salvation, and aims to give all glory to Christ, by declaring that the sinner is justified before God (i.e. is acquitted of guilt, and declared righteous) solely on the ground of the all-sufficient merits of Christ as apprehended by a living faith, in opposition to the theory — then prevalent, and substantially sanctioned by the Council of Trent — which makes faith and good works co-ordinate sources of justification, laying the chief stress upon works. Protestantism does not depreciate good works; but it denies their value as sources or conditions of justification, and insists on them as the necessary fruits of faith, and evidence of justification.

Is followed by a brutal attack:

The open Bible and the open mind on its interpretation are rather a lure to entice the masses, by flattering their pride and deceiving their ignorance, than a workable principle of faith… How many Christians are made by the tons of Testaments distributed by missionaries to the heathen? What religion could even a well-schooled man extract from the Bible if he had nought but his brain and his book to guide him?... Present-day Protestantism, therefore, may be compared with Gnosticism, Manichæism, the Renaissance, eighteenth-century Philosophism, in so far as these were virulent attacks on Christianity, aiming at nothing less than its destruction. It has achieved important victories in a kind of civil war between orthodoxy and unbelief within the Protestant pale; it is no mean enemy at the gate of the Catholic Church… The ideas on which the Reformers built their system of justification, except perhaps fiduciary faith, were by no means really original. They had been conceived long before either by heretics of the earlier centuries or by isolated Catholic theologians and had been quietly scattered as the seed of future heresies. … Catholicism numbers some 270 millions of adherents, all professing the same Faith, using the same sacraments, living under the same discipline; Protestantism claims roundly 100 millions of Christians, products of the Gospel and the fancies of a hundred reformers, people constantly bewailing their "unhappy divisions" and vainly crying for a union which is only possible under that very central authority, protestation against which is their only common denominator.”

You’ll find, alongside the lives of the saints we should emulate, numerous red herring arguments against Protestantism and salvation by grace.

The Catholic church was the bastion against heresy for nearly 300 years. When it changed the authority of tradition from something that was evident in the unbroken doctrines of the bishops to something that came from the mouths of the bishops, regardless of prior doctrine, and that their doctrines would be infallible, the church became the heresy it fought for so long – replacing a reliance upon scripture as primary authority with a “knowledge” that only the priestly class could teach us.

Where are the heretics? They are among us. Pray for them.