“Just another guy with a blog.  No big whoop.”

October 26, 2009

A Protestant Minister's Unusual Sermon on Reformation Sunday

A few years ago, I slipped into the back of a large Methodist church in my area to hear a sermon delivered by the pastor. It had been advertised for several days on the marquee on the lawn in front of the handsome neo-Gothic stone edifice. I really wanted to hear what he had to say that particular Sunday.

Why that particular Sunday? Well, the occasion of his sermon was what Protestants celebrate as "Reformation Sunday," in remembrance of the sad, tragic rebellion against the Catholic Church. Of course, that's
my take on what Reformation Sunday symbolizes. The pastor, whose sermon I heard that day, had a view much different from mine. For him, it was the celebration of a glorious "triumph" of "the gospel" over "Rome."

As you might imagine, those 30 minutes I spent standing in the back of that church packed with sincere, devout Protestants, were not enjoyable, but they certainly were instructive. That sermon recalled to my mind so many things that so many Protestants badly misunderstand when assessing what really happened in the early 16th century as Martin Luther and crew launched their rebellion against the Ancient Faith, historic Christianity, the Catholic Church; the three being one and the same thing.
When the pastor's fiery sermon concluded and the service continued, I slipped back outside, glum at the thought that so many sincere — though sincerely misguided — Protestants were "celebrating" such a catastrophic event in the history of the Church, but I was also grateful for that minister's powerful reminder of why the problem of the Reformation is such a problem. Why it should never have played out as it did. Why it was (and remains), in fact, a profound tragedy to be mourned and lamented, not a "victory" to be jubilated.
All of that was brought to my mind today as I read a different sermon delivered years ago by another Protestant minister: Duke Divinity School professor, Stanley Hauerwas, who preached a startling message on the same subject — Reformation Sunday — but he came at it from a very different perspective:
I must begin by telling you that I do not like to preach on Reformation Sunday. Actually I have to put it more strongly than that. I do not like Reformation Sunday, period. I do not understand why it is part of the church year. Reformation Sunday does not name a happy event for the Church Catholic; on the contrary, it names failure. Of course, the church rightly names failure, or at least horror, as part of our church year. We do, after all, go through crucifixion as part of Holy Week. Certainly if the Reformation is to be narrated rightly, it is to be narrated as part of those dark days.
Reformation names the disunity in which we currently stand. We who remain in the Protestant tradition want to say that Reformation was a success. But when we make Reformation a success, it only ends up killing us. After all, the very name ‘Protestantism’ is meant to denote a reform movement of protest within the Church Catholic. When Protestantism becomes an end in itself, which it certainly has through the mainstream denominations in America, it becomes anathema. If we no longer have broken hearts at the church’s division, then we cannot help but unfaithfully celebrate Reformation Sunday.
For example, note what the Reformation has done for our reading texts like that which we hear from Luke this morning. We Protestants automatically assume that the Pharisees are the Catholics. They are the self-righteous people who have made Christianity a form of legalistic religion, thereby destroying the free grace of the Gospel. We Protestants are the tax collectors, knowing that we are sinners and that our lives depend upon God’s free grace. And therefore we are better than the Catholics because we know they are sinners. What an odd irony that the Reformation made such readings possible. As Protestants we now take pride in the acknowledgment of our sinfulness in order to distinguish ourselves from Catholics who allegedly believe in works-righteousness.
Unfortunately, the Catholics are right. Christian salvation consists in works. To be saved is to be made holy. To be saved requires our being made part of a people separated from the world so that we can be united in spite of — or perhaps better, because of — the world’s fragmentation and divisions. Unity, after all, is what God has given us through Christ’s death and resurrection. For in that death and resurrection we have been made part of God’s salvation for the world so that the world may know it has been freed from the powers that would compel us to kill one another in the name of false loyalties. All that is about the works necessary to save us.
For example, I often point out that at least Catholics have the magisterial office of the Bishop of Rome to remind them that disunity is a sin. You should not overlook the significance that in several important documents of late, John Paul II has confessed the Catholic sin for the Reformation. Where are the Protestants capable of doing likewise? We Protestants feel no sin for the disunity of the Reformation. We would not know how to confess our sin for the continuing disunity of the Reformation. We would not know how to do that because we have no experience of unity.
The magisterial office — we Protestants often forget — is not a matter of constraining or limiting diversity in the name of unity. The office of the Bishop of Rome is to ensure that when Christians move . . . (continue reading)

2 Timothy 3:14-17 and the Protestant Slogan of "Sola Scriptura"

I was honored to appear awhile back on the “Deep in Scripture” radio show, hosted by my good friend Marcus Grodi, a former Presbyterian minister and convert to the Catholic Church. We spent the hour discussing aspects of one of my favorite Scripture passages: 2 Timothy 3:14-17.

This biblical text is routinely misunderstood and woefully misused by today's Protestant pop apologists in their attempt to vindicate the notion of sola scriptura, so it's especially worth studying in context and with regard for its powerful role in refuting typical Protestant confusions regarding the authority of Scripture.

Obviously, there is far more that can and must be said about this passage — far more than Marcus and I had time to get to during our discussion in the space of just one hour — but, hopefully, this will give you a general outline of the issues at stake.

You can listen to the entire show here.

In Case You're in Need of Some Snappy New Comeback Lines

This seems to be making the rounds of the Internet again, so I'll do my part:

1. Obviously you're unable to assimilate my stimulating concepts into your
blighted and simplistic world-view.
2. I don't know what your problem is, but I'll bet it's hard to pronounce.
3. Any connection between your reality and mine is purely coincidental.
4. I can see your point, but I still think you're full of it.
5. I like you. You remind me of me when I was young and stupid.
6. What am I? Flypaper for freaks?
7. I'm not being rude. You're just insignificant.
8. I'll give you a nice, shiny quarter if you'll go away.
9. I'm already visualizing the duct tape over your mouth.
10. I will always cherish the initial misconceptions I had about you.
11. It's a thankless job, but I've got a lot of Karma to burn off.
12. Yes, I am an agent of change, but my duties are largely ceremonial.
13. How about never? Is never good for you?
14. I'm really easy to get along with once you people learn to worship me.
15. You're starting to sound reasonable. It must be time to up my medication.
16. You're just jealous because the little voices talk to ME.
17. I'll try being nicer if you'll try being smarter.
18. I'm out of my mind, but feel free to leave a message.
19. I don't work here. I'm a consultant.
20. Who me? I just wander from room to room.

P.S. I very likely will have opportunities to use one or more of the above sometime tomorrow.

If You Like Puppies, You'll Like This Video

John Henry Newman on "What Is a Gentleman?"

After pondering Cardinal Newman's insightful sketch of the hallmarks of a true gentleman, I can only say, "we need more gentlemen!" Gentlemen of this caliber are in very short supply these days. Newman says:

“He makes light of favors while he does them, and seems to be receiving when he is conferring. He never speaks of himself except when compelled, never defends himself by a mere retort, he has no ears for slander or gossip, is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him, and interprets everything for the best. He is never mean or little in his disputes, never takes unfair advantage, never mistakes personalities or sharp sayings for arguments, or insinuates evil which he dare not say out.

“From a long-sighted prudence, he observes the maxim of the ancient sage, that we should ever conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend. He has too much good sense to be affronted at insults, he is too well employed to remember injuries, and too indolent to bear malice. He is patient, forbearing, and resigned on philosophical principles; he submits to pain, because it is inevitable, to bereavement, because it is irreparable, and to death, because it is his destiny.

“If he engages in controversy of any kind, his disciplined intellect preserves him from the blundering discourtesy of better, perhaps, but less educated minds; who, like blunt weapons, tear and hack instead of cutting clean, who mistake the point in argument, waste their strength on trifles, misconceive their adversary, and leave the question more involved than they find it. He may be right or wrong in his opinion, but he is too clearheaded to be unjust; he is as simple as he is forcible, and as brief as he is decisive.

“Nowhere shall we find greater candor, consideration, indulgence: he throws himself into the minds of his opponents, he accounts for their mistakes. He knows the weakness of human reason as well as its strength, its province and its limits. If he be an unbeliever, he will be too profound and large-minded to ridicule religion or to act against it; he is too wise to be a dogmatist or fanatic in his infidelity. He respects piety and devotion; he even supports institutions as venerable, beautiful, or useful, to which he does not assent; he honors the ministers of religion, and it contents him to decline its mysteries without assailing or denouncing them. . . .” (continue reading)

Some Will Ask: "Will Cardinal Peter Turkson Someday Become 'Peter the Roman'?"

Most everyone has heard of the controversial
Prophecies of Saint Malachy, which, it is said, were given by the 12th century Irish bishop. The prophecies are a series of brief and enigmatic statements in Latin pertaining to each of the future popes after Malachy's day, concluding with the final entry:

"In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will reign Peter the Roman, who will feed his flock amid many tribulations, after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and thedreadful Judge will judge the people. The End."
It's not my intention here to enter into the debate over whether these prophecies are authentic or not — there are arguments for and against their authenticity — but rather, I mention this issue in conjunction with the recent announcement that Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana (who is clearly not a Roman by birth) has been called to Rome to join the Vatican Curia. I am sure that this move will fuel discussion and speculation among those who will see in Cardinal Turkson's appointment something which may be connected with the Prophecies of Saint Malachy.

[Catholic journalist Robert Moynihan reports that] Cardinal Peter Turkson, 61, the Archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana, the eloquent “relator” or general secretary of this month’s Synod for Africa, will succeed Cardinal Renato Martino, 77, as the head of the Vatican’s Council for Justice and Peace, it was announced today.

This will make Turkson the highest-ranking African cardinal in the Church, and give him important experience in a curial position, at the heart of the Church.

(Here is a good article from Ghana Business News on the appointment and its significance: [1] http://ghanabusinessnews.com/2009/10/24/ghana’s-cardinal-turkson-gets-closer-to-becoming-first-black-pope)

The appointment was announced at 1 pm in the Vatican Press Office, in Turkson’s presence, at a Vatican Press Conference held to “wrap up” the Synod on Africa, by FatherFederico Lombardi, S.J., the Pope’s press spokesman… and Turkson looked surprised.

As I wrote the day before yesterday, in an article entitled “The Next Pope?”, I sat next to Turkson at a special dinner for journalists Thursday evening.

Turkson knew that this appointment might be in the offing, as all the journalists asked him about it. It had been rumored for many months.

But when the decision was finally taken and communicated to Turkson, it was evidently communicated without any prior warning.

Turkson, when Lombardi announced the appointment, seemed almost overcome with emotion: a legitimate pride, but also a bit of shock.

For a moment, he was speechless. Then he smiled, expressed his gratitude to the Pope for the appointment, and fell silent again, at a loss for words. (continue reading)

Following the death of Pope John Paul II (of blessed memory) in 2005, many voices were raised in support for an African Pope, with Cardinal Francis Arinze's name being the most frequently mentioned. That obviously didn't happen in that conclave, but it's not a stretch to theorize that, given Africa's increasing importance in the Church and her growing prominence within the Roman Curia, the clamor for an African pope in the next conclave might well produce that desired result. Time will tell.

If nothing else, given that Cardinal Peter Turkson increasing prominence in the Catholic Church, coupled with his name being raised with increasing frequency by those who prognosticate about who will succeed Pope Benedict on the Chair of Peter, this announcement is at the very least an interesting development. Given the increasingly prevalent apocalyptic anxiety among many Catholics and Protestants, The fact that Cardinal Turkson's first name is Peter and he is being called to minister in Rome will very likely become a subject of intense interest in some quarters of the Church.

European Union Will Soon Outlaw Criticism of Islam and Homosexuality

I recently returned from two weeks in Spain. As I have done while on other visits to that country (where my father's side of the family has its roots), I made a point of asking Spaniards about their attitudes toward Muslims.

Without exception, the responses were always negative, often bitterly so, and usually based on their fear that Islam was rapidly reconquering the Iberian Peninsula through immigration and fertility. Huge numbers of Muslims emigrate to Spain each year, especially from Morocco. As is widely known, this emigration trend is happening throughout the European Union.

These Spaniards say they're worried that before too long, Islam will reassert itself as the dominating religious force, due to the vacuum which the Catholic Church, now moribund there, has left in the wake of its steadily receding presence and influence among the Spanish people. Spain is a veritable treasure house of Catholic cultural artifacts — churches, shrines, convents, castles, monasteries, martyrs' tombs — but the vitality of the Catholic Faith is very weak indeed among the largely Catholic population.

With that depressing information fresh in my mind, this headline caught my eye this morning. It plays straight into the angst I encountered among the Spaniards I spoke to just a few weeks ago. Lord have mercy on us.

(Courtesy of Robert Spencer's Jihad Watch)

European Union set to outlaw objections to Islamic practices

If all goes as planned, the 27 member states of the European Union will soon have a common hate crime legislation, which will turn disapproval for Islamic practices or homosexual lifestyles into crimes. Europe's Christian churches are trying to stop the plan of the European political establishment, but it is not clear if they will be successful.

Last April, the European Parliament approved the European Union's Equal Treatment Directive. A directive is the name given to an EU law. As directives overrule national legislation, they need the approval of the European Council of Ministers before coming into effect. Next month, the Council will decide on the directive, which places the 27 EU member states under a common anti-discrimination legislation. The directive's definition of discriminatory harassment is so broad that every objection to Muslim or homosexual practices will be considered unlawful.

On April 2, the European Parliament passed the "directive on implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation," 363 votes to 226. The directive applies to social protection and health care, social benefits, education and access to goods and services, including housing. American citizens and companies doing business in Europe are also required to adhere to it.

Originally intended to serve as an equal treatment directive for the disabled by prohibiting discrimination when accessing "goods and services, including housing," activist European politicians and governments had the directive's scope expanded to include discrimination on the basis of religion, age and sexual orientation.

Under the directive, harassment - defined as conduct "with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment" - is deemed a form of discrimination.

Harassment, as vaguely defined in the directive, allows an individual to accuse someone of discrimination merely for expressing something the individual allegedly perceives as creating an "offensive environment." The definition is so broad that anyone who feels intimidated or offended can easily bring legal action against those whom he feels are responsible. Moreover, the directive shifts the burden of proof onto the accused, who has to prove the negative, i.e. demonstrate that he or she did not create an environment which intimidated or offended the complainant. If the accused fails to do so, he or she can be sentenced to paying an unlimited amount of compensation for "harassment." [...]

The same phenomenon, a lack of interest on the part of European and also American public opinion, is apparent with regard to the semi-legal initiatives taken at the level of the United Nations. On October 2nd, the UN Human Rights Council approved a free speech resolution, co-sponsored by the US and Egypt, which criticizes "negative racial and religious stereotyping." American diplomats said the decision to co-sponsor the resolution was part of America's effort to "reach out to Muslim countries." The resolution passed unanimously, with the support of all Western nations. Though the resolution has no immediate effect in law, it provides Muslim extremists with moral ammunition the next time they feel that central tenets of Islam are being treated disrespectfully through the creation of what they perceive to be an 'offensive environment.'