mercredi 9 mai 2018

Catholic and Protestant: Similar Belief, different Practices on Eternal Life

Image result for Catholic & ProtestantOn my Facebook page I had put this short note as I was tagging a Youtube Video by Father John Hollowell paraphrasing Pope Benedict XVI, "We work for Christian unity by continuously define what we believe to other people and hopefully that will start a dialogue". A good friend on mine reacted that this was indeed the right way to bridge the ever expanding divide between Christian brothers from both the Catholic Church and those of the different Protestant denominations. He also made a remark that I have heard many times, "It is hard to find among lay Catholics, clear and sound explanations of their practices".

This morning on a Church WhatApp group I am part of, someone presented a similar point but in a very interesting anecdotes that I took liberty to reproduce it on my blog. I hope you enjoy this dialogue.
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I was a Catholic once....

"I was a Catholic once,” said the lady a few yards from me in the parking lot. “Now I’m a Christian and you can be one as well.” She preceded to hand a tract to a gentleman standing next to the opened trunk of his car. I couldn’t help it.

“Excuse me,” I said to the lady “but could I too have a tract?” The lady's face beamed. “Are you saved?,” she asked. “Of course I am; I’m a believing Catholic,” I retorted. She looked at me as if I had bad breath or something. She continued, “I was just telling this gentleman that I too was a Catholic - a Catholic for thirty-some years in fact. Now I've found Christ and I’m trying to tell everyone I know about salvation through Christ.”

“Wow, that’s really something! May I ask why you left the Church?” I could tell that, by asking this question, my new acquaintance was getting excited. After all, she had probably been snubbed by dozens of people and now she has someone that she can “witness” to Christ. I didn’t mind much either, but I tried not to show it.

"You see,” she said, “I was born Catholic. I attended Mass every week, received the Sacraments and graduated from a Catholic school. Not once did I ever hear the gospel proclaimed. Not once! It was after the birth of my first child that a good friend of mine shared ‘the gospel’ with me and I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior and became a Christian. Now I belong to a ‘Bible-believing’ church and I’m sharing the gospel with whomever will listen.”

This shocked me. “You mean you belonged to the Catholic Church for over forty years and you never heard the gospel?,” I said. She was getting more excited. “Yes, I never once heard the gospel of salvation preached or taught or even mentioned in the Church. If you don’t preach the gospel, excuse my bluntness, but you're simply not Christian.” I scratched my head and said, “that’s strange. I’ve been a Catholic all my life and I bet I hear the gospel ever week at Church.” Her smile quickly faded into a look of curiosity. “Maybe, I’m missing something,” I continued. “Tell me what you mean by ‘the gospel?’”

The lady reached back into her purse to pull out a little tract and said, “This tracts explains the simple gospel of salvation. It can be broken down into four easy steps.

“First, we acknowledge that we are all sinners in need of God’s forgiveness.
Secondly, we recognize that only God can save us.
The third step is that Jesus Christ died on the Cross for our sins and to bring us to God.
And the fourth and final step is that each individual accepts Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior to be saved.”

I thought for a couple of seconds and said, “If I could demonstrate to you that Catholics hear “the gospel” every Sunday, would you agree to take a closer look at the Catholic Church?” Now, she knew she had me over a barrel. “Prove it,” she said.

I excused myself for a second and ran to my car to grab a Missal. “Since you have attended Mass nearly all your life, you probably remember these prayers.” I flipped open to the beginning prayers of the Mass and proceeded to show her how Catholics hear, pray and live the gospel message every Sunday.

The first step in my new found friend’s tract stated that we are all sinners in need of God’s forgiveness. After the Greeting, the Mass continues to what is known as the Penitential Rite. I read loud the text to her while she followed reading silently.
“I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault. In my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.”
I mentioned that it is here in this section that each Catholic states publicly that he or she is individually a sinner - not merely in a general sense - but specifically in thoughts, words and deeds. You can’t get much more complete than that. I continued reading,
“and I ask Blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and to you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.”
The priest reaffirms this confession of sin by praying, “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.” And the whole congregation says “Amen,” that is, “I believe.” The priest continues. “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy,”
and finishes by saying; "Lord show us your mercy and love. And grant us your salvation.”

I looked at her and said, “You see, we Catholics start every Mass with a public declaration of our own personal sinfulness and look to God for forgiveness.” She responded, “But Catholics don’t believe that God alone can save them. They believe Mary and the saints will save them.” I shook my head in disagreement. “No, we don’t. Remember what we had just read in the Mass. Catholic ask Mary, the angels, the saints and the whole congregation to pray to God for mercy on their behalf - just like I would ask you to pray for me to God. Does that mean that I look to you to ‘save’ me? No, of course I don’t believe that. I’m just asking for your help. Besides the ‘Gloria’ of the Mass proves that Catholics look to God alone to save us.”

I began reading the Missal emphasizing certain words to prove my point:
“Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth. Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory. Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us, you are seated at the right hand of the Father, receive our prayer. For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father."
Likewise, the doxology spoken just prior to communion reads,
“Through him, with him, in him; in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is your, almighty Father, for ever and ever.”
As I looked up, I could see the lady intently reading the page. She couldn’t believe that she had prayed these prayers for years and never noticed what it was saying. Yet, there it was in black and white. I continued with the third step - the acknowledgment that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and to bring us to God. The Profession of Faith reads,
“For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate.”
In the Eucharistic Prayer 1, the priest prays:
“Remember [Lord] all of us gather here before you. You know how firmly we believe in you and dedicate ourselves to you. . . We pray to you, our living and true God, for our well-being and redemption . . . Grant us your peace in this life, save us from final damnation, and count us among those you have chosen.”
The prayer ends with an appeal to God for salvation through Jesus Christ:
“May, these and all who sleep in Christ, find in your presence light, happiness and peace. For ourselves, too, we ask some share in the fellowship of your apostles and martyrs . . . Though we are sinners, we trust in your mercy and love. Do not consider what we truly deserve, but grant us your forgiveness. Through Christ our Lord you give us all these gifts. You fill them with life and goodness, you bless them and make them holy.”
Similarly the second Eucharistic Prayer proclaims,
“Dying you [Jesus] destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory. . . Have mercy on us all; make us worthy to share eternal life with Mary, the virgin Mother of God, with the apostles and with all the saints who have done your will throughout the ages.”
Likewise, Eucharistic Prayer 3 reads,
“All life, all holiness comes from you through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, by the working of the Holy Spirit . . . Father, calling to mind the death your Son endured for our salvation, his glorious resurrection and ascension into heaven, and ready to greet him when he comes again, we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice. Look with favour on our your Church’s offering, and see the Victim [Christ] whose death has reconciled us to yourself . . . May he make us an everlasting gift for you and enable us to share in the inheritance of your saints . . ."
Lastly, the fourth Eucharistic Prayer reads,
“Father, you so loved the world that in the fullness of time you sent your only Son to be our Savior . . . In fulfillment of your will he gave himself up to death; but by rising from the dead, he destroyed death and restored life.”

In this prayer, the congregation proclaims the mystery of faith:
“Lord, by your cross and resurrection, you have set us free. You are the Savior of the world.”
“You see, every week Catholics proclaim that Jesus died for them,” I said to the lady who was now searching for something to say. After a brief moment of silence, she shot a response back at me.
“What about accepting Jesus Christ and their personal Lord and Savior?” She retorted. “They may be saying all this stuff, but they don’t make a personal act of acceptance.” What she didn’t know was that I deliberately didn’t mention the last “step” of her “gospel.”

I explained that if Catholics don’t believe what they are praying, they ought not to be publicly proclaiming it. Since we can’t read the dispositions of other people’s hearts, we ought not to judge whether they truly believe what they are saying. Next, I pointed out the last step - where Catholics are accepting Jesus into their hearts. Right before communion the priest holds up the host (which is now the body, blood, soul and divinity of Our Lord under the appearances of bread and wine) and prays.
“This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.”
And the congregation responds,
“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
I looked straight into the lady’s eyes and said, “It is here that all those who are prepared to receive Jesus Christ walk up to the front of the church but they don’t just believing in Christ or merely asking Jesus into their hearts.” “They don’t?” She asked. “No,” I answered, “they receive that same Christ who died on the cross on Calvary into their mouth and into their stomachs - body, blood, soul and divinity - and become one with him in an unspeakable way. Now that's accepting Christ!” She didn’t have a response. I’m not sure that she had ever really thought about the Mass and Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist because she appeared to be both surprised and intrigued.

I gave her my phone number and invited her to a study group I was heading in the neighborhood which examined the Biblical foundation for Catholic doctrine. As we departed, I couldn’t help but wonder how many other people, like my new friend, left the Church thinking that it had nothing to say about salvation. Yet the richness of the liturgy of the Mass and even more so Christ’s real substantial presence in the Eucharist so outshines our separated brethren’s “low church” prayer services that there is no comparison!

Indeed, the mystery of the Mass goes far beyond the simple “sinner’s prayer.” What I wanted to demonstrate is that all the elements of what Protestants consider the “essentials” of human salvation are presented, in Technicolor, in the liturgy of the Mass and that to deny the charge that the Church is somehow neglecting to present “the gospel".

mercredi 28 février 2018

A Youtube Ecumenical Debate: Mary and Idols

Image result for misunderstandingI was reading an exchange between an anti-catholic gentleman and a catholic speaker, Robert Haddad. On his Youtube channel, the catholic speaker got challenged about his belief, and from there a courteous debate followed. I want to share only one theme that was debated among many. It made me chuckle and shake my head with amusement. The lesson of this debate is, "Never assume that someone doesn't know what he is talking about unless you know that for a fact". Please enjoy!

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The anti-Catholic gentleman:

Amazing to see you use Bible Scriptures to prove your beliefs. Well presented. Why don't you do the same thing for ALL your doctrines? Luke 11:27 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and blessed are the breasts that nursed You.” 28 But He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” 9 So then, this is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, And do not call anyone on earth your father, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Further. Like the Idol nailed to the cross that shared most of your presentation. Find me some SCRIPTURAL support for that as well. A lot of your doctrines have NO SCRIPTURE to stand on.

The Catholic speaker,Robert Haddad, responded:

I am happy to provide what you ask for.

A. THE BLESSED MARY Firstly, to your first objection: The simple response one can give to this objection is that given by St Augustine of Hippo: the Virgin Mary was the only person who had both the privilege to bear and suckle the Christ-child and the distinction of hearing and keeping the word of God. Furthermore, if she had not persevered in keeping the word of God throughout her entire life she would not have been present at the foot of the Cross during the darkest hour or on Mt Olivet or in the Cenacle in the moments of final triumph and glory. With regard to the quote itself, the ex-Protestant Catholic apologist James Akin makes the following valuable point:
… the Greek word here translated ‘rather’ (menoun) does not have anything like the adversive force in Greek that ‘rather’ does in English. It is simply an emphatic particle normally rendered ‘and.’ Thus, if Bibles had italics for emphasis, the passage would be better translated: ‘He said, And blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’ He is not denying what she said, he is emphatically adding something to what she said. (Internet Question Box, 4/26/99).
In Phil. 3:7-8 the same word menoun again appears and is usually translated as “indeed,” with the meaning of “yes, and in addition to.” B. IDOLS

Regarding statues and images: Regarding the scriptural prohibition of images, the real purpose of the commandment is to steer the people of God away from idolatry, that is, the worship of any false god. Consider the following passages: “For they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods; then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire” (Deut. 7:4-5). “And the people of Israel did secretly against the Lord their God things that were not right. They built for themselves high places at all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city; they set up for themselves pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree; and there they burned incense on all the high places, as the nations did whom the Lord carried away before them. And they did wicked things, provoking the Lord to anger, and they served idols, of which the Lord had said to them, ‘You shall not do this’” (2 Kgs 17:9-12). God obviously abhors idolatry; however, in the same Scriptures we see the Jews making statues for legitimate religious purposes, and under God’s command: “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live” (Num. 21:8-9). When the bronze serpent was later adored by some Jews, rather than simply venerated, it was destroyed:“He [Hezekiah] removed the high places, and broke the pillars, and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had burned incense to it; it was called Nehushtan” (2 Kgs 18:4). In the construction of the Ark of the Covenant God gave the following instructions: “And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be turned toward the mercy seat” (Exod. 25:18-20). The Temple of Jerusalem was thoroughly decorated with statues of all kinds: “In the inner sanctuary he made two cherubim of olivewood, each ten cubits high” (1 Kgs 6:23).“The height of one cherub was ten cubits, and so was that of the other cherub. He put the cherubim in the innermost part of the house; and the wings of the cherubim were spread out so that a wing of one touched the one wall, and a wing of the other cherub touched the other wall; their other wings touched each other in the middle of the house” (1 Kgs 6:26-27). “… and on the panels that were set in the frames were lions, oxen, and cherubim. Upon the frames, both above and below the lions and oxen, there were wreaths of beveled work” (1 Kgs 7:29). “… for the altar of incense made of refined gold, and its weight; also his plan for the golden chariot of the cherubim that spread their wings and covered the ark of the covenant of the Lord” (1 Chron. 28:18). “In the most holy place he made two cherubim of wood and overlaid them with gold” (2 Chron. 3:10). “Under it were figures of gourds, for thirty cubits, compassing the sea round about; the gourds were in two rows, cast with it when it was cast. It stood upon twelve oxen, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south, and three facing east; the sea was set upon them, and all their hinder parts were inward” (2 Chron. 4:3-4).“It was formed of cherubim and palm trees, a palm tree between cherub and cherub. Every cherub had two faces” (Ezek. 41:17-18). The Temple with all these statues was built by Solomon. What is remarkable is that just after construction was begun God spoke to Solomon as follows: “Now the word of the Lord came to Solomon, ‘Concerning this house which you are building, if you will walk in my statutes and obey my ordinances and keep all my commandments and walk in them, then I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel.’” (1 Kgs 6:11-14). What does Solomon do in the light of God’s admonition to “walk in my statutes and obey my ordinances and keep all my commandments”? He carves statues for the house of the Lord, and to the Lord’s delight!: “When Solomon had finished building the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all that Solomon desired to build, the Lord appeared to Solomon a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon. And the Lord said to him, ‘I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before me; I have consecrated this house which you have built, and put my name there for ever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time’” (1 Kgs 9:1-3). The ancient Jewish practice in this regard was very strict, for they were prone to imitate the idolatry of the pagans around them. The early Christians, who lived in the age of the Incarnation, had no such difficulty. So the Catacombs are a treasury of paintings, gilded glasses, depicting scenes from the lives of Jesus, his Mother, the Apostles and other persons of the Old and New Testaments. The mind of the early Christians was clearly a Catholic mind. It follows that if the Commandments prohibited the making of all images whatsoever, Protestants ought to remove and destroy all their statues of political, military, artistic and sporting heroes, as well as all their pictures of relatives and friends. Common sense, though, tells us that such would be an absurd outcome. The homage given to the image refers to the prototype it represents. Pagans either adore the statue/image itself or the statue/image represents a being that has no existence. Regarding the crucifix, this is not an idol because it does not represent a false god but represents Jesus and what he did for us. Christians see in the Cross of Jesus the great love he had for us and with St Paul would say, “But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). Thus, we see the value of the Catholic practice of placing an image of Jesus upon crosses to form the image of the crucifix. It is a means by which we “preach Christ crucified” and show forth “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24).

mercredi 17 janvier 2018

Step Up Your Game with 2018

Image result for stepping up your gameHappy New Year 2018 to all the readers of Help Me Understand blog. Today marks the beginning of my first blog-post for the year 2018. I am feeling in a story-telling mood and that is exactly what I am going to do.  
'Why do you like reading books' my cousin Tony asked me exasperated once. He had tried unsuccessfully to bring me out of the bedroom where it seemed to him I had spent most of my holiday times in. The year was 1998, I had just started my fourth year of high-school. Though i wasn't able to answer him intelligently at the time on why my eyes clung to this particular book the whole holiday, I think I can do so now. I was reading my first troubling book, 'The Normal Christian Life' by Watchman Nee. He wrote differently from every other authors I had read at that time. His writing style was new to me. He could vividly describe a complex situation simply by appealing to casual words, no sophisticated words in his writing. He had a fine use of common words.   

Stacking books after books after it, my reading became intoxicating as I grew up, thanks to my parents' encouragement. Given that I had come to split my time between dialogues and debates with spiritual opponents, Brahnamists and Jehovah Witnesses, I had come to read a lot of their respective documentations. One of them which I came to like despite our opposite views on religion and Christian doctrines, was the Jehovah Witness book that dealt with youth, 'Les Jeunes s'interrogent.' It was the best resource out there I could find dealing with behavior and teenage lifestyle. The book was so accessible and less dogmatic which I think played in its favor unlike their Watch Tower editions. In one of its chapters, the authors encouraged teenagers to be careful about their reading habits and they made a remarkable comment that has stuck with me up to this day and I paraphrase it, 'Reading a book is like having a conversation with the author. And some authors are not worth having a conversation with.' This piece of advise has encouraged me to be selective in my readings and it has given me a different outlook on literature. Reading is an opportunity to be in conversation, so to speak, with an author. And boy, i have been in conversation with some minds that have totally changed me.

The year was 2007 and I was reading 'Dream and you will win the World' by Cesar Castellanos. I came to a chapter where the story of his wife is recounted. She was watching a particular TV program and on the program a lady practicing new age spirituality was the main guest. The new ager lady had many repulsive views to her taste. Adding insult-to-injury, she also revealed that she would be running as a presidential candidate in Columbia. By the end of the TV program, Castellanos wife found herself mumbling and lamenting to herself, 'How can this country change if we have people like this running our country?' and almost suddenly as she mentally uttered these words, she heard what she identified as the voice of the Holy Spirit challenging her with these mental counter-thoughts, 'Then why don't you run for presidency?'

She took it as a lesson realizing that you shouldn't just complain in life, sometime you have to act. She ran for presidency and lost the election in Columbia when there were only two remaining national candidates. Though she didn't reach the supreme position, she became influential and was able in many ways to influence public opinion with her perceived ethical views based on her Christian worldview.

This story really hit me like a load of bricks. As I was reading the book, incidentally at my campus was running a recruitment of student representatives. The position was widely advertised on campuses running for weeks. I didn't even think about it as I daily passed it on my way to or from school. Upon the book read, I was reminded that I had always complained that students at the University were doing drugs and other things that affected their academic performance. Sometime I did pray for it but that was all. Now things were different. I had been in "dialogue" with an author who would awaken my resolve into going the extra mile. I felt compelled to apply for this academic position. I became restless. My thoughts were agitated during day and night. Many objections came to my mind on why I should not go for it, chief of them: I was a foreign student, a foreigner! "Who will vote for me anyway?", I asked myself repeatedly. I wasn't even sure what would I do even if I became one of the elite student representative at the University in charge of five campus with close to 60,000 students. In brief, I was afraid and sweating fear.

Image result for stepping up your gameBeing unsuccessful to dissuade myself out it, I chose the path of least resistance - I embraced the challenge. Going one more time through the requirement listed, I decided to apply by faith. I was tired of complaining and running away each time I saw an opportunity to make a commitment to affect changes in my immediate surrounding. I had to make a decision that night in my room as I closed the book one last time. My choses were clear: Either I stop complaining at what happens in the Campus or I get involved and bring the little light I have as God's allows me. After some time in prayers, I finally decided to respond to the inner call. I went through the opening positions, and their requirements. I got confirmation that I was indeed eligible as Head Mentor_Student Representative candidate. I had only one problem, I wasn't known. A big issue since candidate would be voted. Mentor students from all campuses of our University (in Pretoria) would be present for the election. I proceeded anyway with my application. I chose a position that reflected best my immediate interest, Head Mentor_Student Representative in charge of Academic PortfolioI gave God one condition though before I submit my candidacy, 'please, you know I know no body, I would appreciate as a sign that you are in this affair that you allow that I be elected at 100%'. If you dream big, why stop with the election success? I was in for the kill. I wanted a Soviet score. 

The election day came, we were at the main Campus of Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), a distant campus from Arcadia campus where I usually attended my classes. As expected, I saw probably 1 or 2 person that I knew among the participants coming for the votes. Not a good start, I needed more than 2 votes to be elected. Darkness started falling upon me. I kept hope rationalizing that this was just the beginning and were were still waiting for other voters to arrive fort the election.

By the time the election process begun, I looked again around me and noted with horror this time that all the rest of the voters were perfect strangers! The leader of the event, a psychologist/psychiatrist by academic training involved in student life, call the room in order and explained the electorate process. All candidates of different portfolios were invited to give a speech on who they were and to present their intellectual program, followed by votes from student mentors from different campus choosing who fit best the advertised position. Different positions, there were only 5 portfolios, were presented by the leader of the electorate commission. Candidates walked on the hot-spot to pitch their programs. And the votes were casted. Then came the turn of the portfolio on academics. I was shaking and almost cursing myself for being so vain and audacious as to think that I could even be a likely candidate. I had no faith at that time and in that room. I had lost my faith.  I forgot about the book I read, and if I remembered it, I would have cursed the author. I had a good life, a uneventful life but a peaceful life nevertheless until I read him. Why did I want to put myself in a position were failure was a possibility? Why did I do it? I regretted.

My name was called. I felt as pined on my chair. They called me twice and people started looking around. The one person who knew me looked at me as if to say, 'they are calling you!' Damn it, no where to hide. I stood up and walked to the stage swallowing my fear as much as I could. It seemed as a long walk. I ran mentally through my program speech that I had rehearsed the previous day and in the morning when my faith was still alive and incendiary. I gave my small presentation to the gazing audience, trying to find a friendly face I could focus on and administrate the totality of message. My presentation ended, people applauded respectfully. Then they called the other candidates for this same position on Academics. No one stood up. They insisted, no one was there. It looked like I was the 'Candidat unique'. I was voted at 100% with no abstention. The mentor group applauded their new student representative in charge of the academic portfolio. I smiled, barely realizing what was happening. I waived confidently, greeting them with a growing confidence. My faith at that time had completely returned! Did God really answered my prayers literally? I was mildly shaking my head as I was going to the new honorific chair prepared for the winner of this position.

The year 2007 to March 2009 was indisputably one of the best years of my student life and arguably my best intellectual years yet. I practiced faith as never before in my life. My wife sometimes asks me, 'what did they give you in South Africa? You always talk about it.' I always laugh. I can't stop thinking of my life then, for I have seen God walk with me in a new and unexpected way. Matter of fact, He has never stopped doing so even when I left South Africa to Rwanda, nevertheless what I had experienced there has left a mark in my mind. Probably because it was a formative year, a learning time, a time when I did many things for the first time. Maybe that is why it has marked me so much. I have lived other incredible moment of God's actions since then - sometime even more than what I lived in South Africa, but it is always difficult to compare the current moment when the marvelous is not new with when the marvelous is first experienced.

With this I end my story-telling, as I got on to vacate into my many pending project currently awaiting my attention. Be faithful and dare to believe and to try in this new year 2018. It won't cost you to try but it would cost you regrets if you do not try. To the immortal words of Pastor Rick Godwin from San Antonio, Texas: 
'Live full and die empty'
Have a blessed, prosperous and productive New Year 2018 in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

mercredi 13 décembre 2017

Still Fighting for the Word "One" Mediator?

Image result for one mediator between god and manSome section of the Christian Church gets savagely attacked because they seem to use the word, 'mediator' in an apparently loosed fashion which tend to give the impression that the text "one mediator between God and men" might not be taken seriously with all its strictness. The detractors readily point-out and correctly for that matter to what St. Paul said to his protégé,
"There is one God. There is also one mediator between God and human beings—a human, the Messiah Jesus." - 1 Timothy 2:5 ISV
You can't get a clearer text than that. And yet, overwhelming number of believers in the Church over the centuries have regarded this very same verse in a widely different interpretative framework. 

Here is two examples from this very same verse which are widely accepted within the orthodox Christian community (1 Timothy 2:5):

(a) "There is one God", meaning that God was indeed One but that His Oneness is Trinitarian (3 persons in one God) and not Unitarian.
(b) "a human, the Messiah Jesus", meaning that Jesus was indeed truly man. However, His humanity did not preclude that He was also more than just a man, more than a carpenter. He is equally one of the person of the trinitarian Godhead, meaning the Messiah is divine. This is known among theologians as the "hypostatic union" of Christ.

So the same Church pointed out and still points out that none of the points (a) and (b) above weakens the expressions, 'one God' or 'the Messiah is a man'. Since point (a) and (b) are true given other corroborative biblical texts, what about this third expression of the verse, "there is one mediator between God and Men"? Could it be that there could also be a wider interpretative framework within sacred Scriptures to understand it? This is what I will attempt to answer. However, before I do that I'd like to take you into a small voyage of discovery which is much overdue for this long awaited conversation.

I/ ONLY ONE TEACHER

Jesus warned His disciples when He said, "But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' because you have only one teacher, and all of you are brothers." - Matthews 23:8

To understand the prohibition, one has to understand what the word, Rabbi, means. The Strong Greek/Hebrew dictionary explain the word as such: "Rhabbi (of Hebrew origin) means, my master. An official title of honor: Master or Rabbi."

It is therefore unmistakable that Jesus Christ taught that there is only one Teacher for His disciples and hence no one should call himself a teacher among themselves. You can't get a clearer text than this. Jesus Christ was to be regarded as the only Teacher among the believers.

And yet ...

We read in the New Testament Bible these astonishing texts in light of Jesus admonishment above,
 "And God set some in the church, firstly, apostles; secondly, prophets; thirdly, teachers, then works of power, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, kinds of languages." - 1 Corinthians 12:28  
"That is why God says, "When he went up to the highest place he led captives into captivity and gave gifts to people ... And it is he who gifted some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, and still others to be pastors and teachers," - Ephesians 4:8, 11 
"And in Antioch some among the existing church were prophets and teachers. (such as Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, the foster-brother of Herod the tetrarch) and Saul." - Act 13:1  
Clearly, despite the fact that there is only one Teacher (Rabbi) as written in Matthew, the New Testament Bible also equally affirmed that, (i) God set some believers to be teachers (1Co12:28), (ii) Jesus gifted some believers to be teachers (Eph4:11) and (iii) the Holy Spirit spoke to teachers in the Church of Antioch (Act13:1). How can we explain this obvious departure of the scripture teaching about there being "only one Teacher"? We can explain this when we remember that in the Gospel, the Lord Jesus Christ is bringing a teaching that was in departure from what other teachers of his time were teaching. In one such occasion, the common people noticed the difference of teachings and reacted,
"The people were utterly amazed at his teaching, because he was teaching them like one with authority and not like their scribes." - Mark 1:22  
Jesus teaching was different from what other Rabbi/teachers of the time taught. Therefore acknowledging that one was a teacher also meant that the teacher brought his own set of teachings. For this reason, Jesus prohibited that there should be any other head teacher/Rabbi among His disciples for none had the right to bring a different set of teaching than what He, himself brought. Hence to say that there is "only one Teacher" also implied that there was only 'one particular faith being taught' which was different from other faiths or doctrines/teachings other teachers were teaching at the time. St. Paul recognized as much,
"There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism" - Ephesians 4:5   
To ensure that His teaching, doctrines and faith remained, the Lord Jesus informed His disciples that He will be sending His Holy Spirit so as to preserve one teachings under One Teacher. His Spirit will not teach them anything outside of what He taught them. Hence, the Spirit of Truth preserved Jesus as the supreme teacher with only one school of thought.
"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything that I have told you." - John 14:26   
"Yet when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own accord, but will speak whatever he hears and will declare to you the things that are to come." John 16:13  
The first reason the Lord Jesus was so adamant about there being no other Teacher/Rabbi among His disciples, was to deter the temptation to teach new and different things in the Church from what He had taught, and in so doing removing the possibilities of having competing teachings within the Church as if there were more than one Rabbi/head Teacher within the Church. The second reason was to ascertain that His teaching prevails within the Church because of the divine origin of His teaching. Jesus had received what He was teaching from God the Father Himself.
"because I have not spoken on my own authority. Instead, the Father who sent me has himself commanded me what to say and how to speak. And I know that what He commands brings eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me." - John 12:49-50 
In this sense, even though in the Church we have teachers, these teachers are not head Teachers/Rabbi in the sense of bringing a new line of teaching, a new set of doctrines or a new spiritual paradigm. No! Believers who are called teachers are only called so as an extension of Jesus own teaching ministry. They bring no new faith, nor no new doctrines. They only repeat and teach what the Lord Jesus had taught and commended and nothing else. Nothing different from what He taught. We therefore see that it is not new teaching being produced within the Church but rather it is the same teaching from the only head Teacher the Church knows, namely Jesus Christ. All we do as small teachers is to pass on what He had already taught.
"Dear friends, although I was eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I found it necessary to write to you and urge you to continue your vigorous defense of the faith that was passed down to the saints once and for all." - Jude 1:3
In this sense, we understand that there is only one Teacher/Rabbi, Jesus Christ, and all of us who are commissioned to teach are called to pass down what the Lord has taught once and for all. We aren't Rabbi bring our own new teachings or different gospels. Understood in that sense, we understand that there is no conflict between the statement, "only one Teacher" talking about Jesus Christ and the statements, "God set teachers", talking about believers who simply carry out the only teaching of the only Teacher that matters, namely the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, the New Testament speaks of only one Rabbi (head Teacher) and only one teachings which has to be carried out by small teachers under that the leadership of the Head Teacher. Let's remember the last word of Jesus Christ, the only one true Teacher of the Church,
"Teach them to obey everything that I have told you to do. You can be sure that I will be with you always. I will continue with you until the end of time." - Matthew 28:20  
II/ ONE SHEPHERD (ONE PASTOR) 

Image result for shepherdJesus Christ made sure that there would be no confusion about who is the Shepherd and who are the sheep. He said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep ... I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, ... I have other sheep that don't belong to this fold. I must lead these also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock and one shepherd." - John 10:11,14,16

The English word, "Shepherd" in the Greek New Testament comes from the word, "Poimēn" which is translated by the Strong Greek/Hebrew Dictionary as: Pastor.

The text therefore point out that there is truly one Pastor or Shepherd who is Jesus Christ. Other texts also speak of Jesus as THE Shepherd and not as A shepherd. His uniqueness as Shepherd is continuously emphasized in the New Testament Bible. This also is linked to another word synonymous for shepherds/ pastors which is overseers.
"For you were as sheep going astray, but now you are turned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." - 1 Peter 2:25 
You can't get a clearer text than this, one shepherd/ one Pastor. No room for maneuvering to make Jesus Christ one of the Shepherd. He did not leave that option open to us. One flock of sheep and one Pastor, that's it!

And yet ...

Believers are also called Pastors (shepherds, overseers) in the same New Testament. Here is an example,
"And truly He gave some to be apostles, and some to be prophets, and some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers," - Ephesians 4:11   
If we understood the biblical logic used above about the only 'One Teacher', then we will have no trouble understanding the logic of 'One Pastor' in this section. The teaching remains that there is no competing authorities for the sheep, for the pastorate represents authority and leadership. For the believers, there can never be two or more competing spiritual leadership. It is either Jesus Christ leadership or Mammon authority. 
"No one can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." - Matthew 6:24   
It is either Jesus Christ authority under which we submit or it is demonic authority.
"You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot dine with the Lord and dine with demons" - 1 Corinthians 10:21  
It is either Jesus Christ spiritual leadership we are under or it is the World. It is either Jesus teaching authority or it is human understanding we have submitted to. 
"Demas loved this world too much. That is why he left me. ..." - 2 Timothy 4:10   
"Stop loving the world and the things that are in the world. If anyone persists in loving the world, the Father's love is not in him." - 1 John 2:15   
The contrast could continue ad nauseam. The message is clear. There is no competing with God nor His Son, Jesus Christ. Either Jesus Christ shepherd us or someone else shepherd us and hence showing that we might not be of Jesus' sheep. The language is as clearly cut as the one were read about Jesus Christ being the only Teacher. Since there is no middle way, this gets quite perplexing since the New Testament recognizes the presence of other Pastors or Overseers? The answer to this is given to us by St. Peter in his epistle,
"I exhort the elders who are among you, I being also an elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed. Feed the flock of God among you, taking the oversight ... over those allotted to you by God, and when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you shall receive a never-fading crown of glory." - 1 Peter 5:1-3, 5
Jesus Christ who is the One Shepherd of John 10 has established other 'sheep', the elder sheep to be precise, to oversee and feed the flock of God on His behalf. The text still point out that the flock is still called the 'flock of God' recognizing that the sheep did not leave Him to belong to another Shepherd. God is still their Shepherd, only this time He is providing His Shepherding through other vessels (i.e the Elders). This means that the Elders' authority are supposed to be the natural extension of Jesus Christ own authority and nothing else. We see this particular understanding among the Believers in the Galatia Church,
"My sickness was a burden to you, but you did not stop showing me respect or make me leave. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel from God. You accepted me as if I were Jesus Christ himself!" - Galatians 4:14  
This demonstrates that believers understood that they have no other Chief Shepherd but the Lord Jesus Christ. And when God sent believers with the gifts of being Pastors toward the Christian believers, the Believers did not looked at the human vessels as being a different or another spiritual Authority, but they saw Jesus Christ Himself through them, for believers have no other Chief Shepherd. All Christian Elders (Priests) we may have as pastors, are simply believers chosen by God to extend His own Pastorate in favor of the believers by protecting them from wolves, by feeding them and caring for them as Jesus Christ Himself would have done (even dying for the sheep).

Jesus Christ will remain uniquely qualified as the Shepherd of believers just like He remains the only Teacher and source of spiritual teachings and doctrines.
"Now may the God of peace (who brought again our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant)" - Hebrew 13:20  
III/ ONLY ONE HOLY ONE 

We have the same biblical logic being expressed here as above, "Lord, who won't fear and praise your name? For you alone are holy, and all the nations will come and worship you because your judgments have been revealed."- Revelation 15:4
"There is no one holy like the LORD, indeed there is no one besides you, there is no rock like our God." - 1 Samuel 2:2  
You can't make this verse more clearer than it has been formulated. God alone is holy. No one is Holy like the Lord. You read this in the Old Testament, you read this also in the New Testament.

And yet ...

The New Testament Bible speaks of Saints numerous times. The word, "Saint" means "Holy". The Greek word translated as saints in the Scripture is the word, "Hagios" which means both Holy and Saint.
"Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren that are with me salute you." - Philippians 4:21   
The scripture also makes references to God's calling to believers as being holiness. It goes so far as to request believers to become holy just as God Himself is Holy.
"but according to the Holy One who has called you, you also become holy in all conduct, because it is written, Ye shall be holy; for I am holy." - 1 Peter 1:15-16
The tension between God being the only one Holy and believers being also Holy is easily resolved once we realize that the same logic applies as it was used earlier with the "only one Teacher" and the "only one Shepherd". Just like believers who received the gift of teaching or the gift of pastorate, Holiness is also given to believers as an extension of God's own Holiness. It is not a different holiness. In the New Testament teaching, The Holy God is Spirit (John 4:24). Since He alone is Holy, God has made believers part of Himself. And by doing so, His Holiness becomes our Holiness by our union with Him. There is not Holiness outside of God, for only God is Holy. 
"And such were some of you: but ye were washed, but ye were sanctified, but ye were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God ... But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit." - 1 Corinthians 6:11,17  
St. Paul is simply clarifying the fact that our sanctification (the process to make us Holy) is done in the Spirit of God. And since by believing Jesus teachings, we join ourselves with the Lord, we become therefore 'one spirit' with the Lord. And since the Spirit of the Lord is Holy, we therefore become Holy as well as part of our union with a Holy God and not apart from God. Hence it can truly be said that only God is Holy, and all form of Holiness believers might display doesn't contradict that statement but simply recognizes the mechanism God used to make us partake on His own Holiness.

IV/ ONE MEDIATOR

This is the text that launched this whole discussion, "There is one God. There is also one mediator between God and human beings—a human, the Messiah Jesus." - 1 Timothy 2:5

The English word, "Mediator" comes from the Greek word, "Mesitēs" which is translated from the Strong's Greek/Hebrew Dictionary as: "a go between, which means, a) an internunciator: someone who speaks on behalf of someone else, or (b) a reconciler: someone who tries to bring peace (intercessor): - a mediator."

Clearly the text says unambiguously that Jesus Christ is the one mediator/ internunciator / reconciler / intercessor between men and God. You can't make this text more emphatic than it has already been made.
"Therefore, because [Jesus] always lives to intercede for them, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him. We need such a high priest—one who is holy, innocent, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens."- Hebrews 7:25-26  
"Who is the one to condemn? It is the Messiah Jesus who is interceding on our behalf. He died, and more importantly, has been raised and is seated at the right hand of God." - Romans 8:34  
Summary: Jesus Christ is the one mediator between men and God (1Tim2:5), the intercessor between God and them [the human race] (Heb7:25) and the one interceding before God on our behalf [the believers] (Rom8:34).

And yet ...

Believers in the same chapter in which Jesus is presented as the only mediator are also requested to be mediators by offering intercessions to all men which as we saw above from the Greek definition is a synonym of mediation.
"First of all, then, I exhort that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men," - 1 Timothy 2:1  
So how is Jesus mediation and intercession different from human intercession? What type of Mediation Jesus did that made Him uniquely qualified that excludes all other form of mediation? If we can't answer this, we then have a conflict between these two biblical statements, namely Jesus is the one mediator between God and men and Believers are also called to make intercessions/mediation for all men before God. Let's remember that intercession, reconciler and internunciator are synonymous with mediation (Mesitēs) in the Strong Greek/Hebrew Dictionary.

Put simply, Jesus Christ mediation is unique for it is a mediation made at the cost of His own life. It is a mediation of a new covenant between Men and God. It is a mediation that reconcile a lost humanity with a loving God.
"and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel." - Hebrew 12:24  
"And for this cause He is the Mediator of the new covenant, so that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, those who are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance." - Hebrews 9:15  
There is no new covenant outside of the covenant established by the blood of Jesus Christ. Hence, there can never be another Mediator, or another reconciler (someone who bring reconciliation) between God and Men. Only Jesus Christ uniquely qualifies. And that is where we find the open doors for the believers to express his intercessions and mediation (reconciler) in favor of all men.
"All of this comes from God, who has reconciled us to himself through the Messiah and has given us the ministry of reconciliation," - 2 Corinthians 5:18 
"for through the Messiah, God was reconciling the world to himself by not counting their sins against them. He has committed his message of reconciliation to us." - 2 Corinthians 5:19   
This is how we have become ourselves small mediators. The mediation is not done under our own authority for we have no authority to reconcile the World with God. Our experience of mediation, intercession, reconciliation that we perform is a logical extension of Jesus Christ own Mediation. Believers as part of the mystic body of Christ are a natural extension of Jesus Christ own Mediation to a broken world.

Coming back to my initial contention, when believers of a certain Christian community says that so and so is a mediator or a mediatrix, it is not in defiance of the 'One Mediator between God and Man' but it is an acknowledgement that Christ Mediation is shared with Believers to bring about the reconciliation between God and Man through the blood of the New Covenant, the Blood of Jesus Christ.

V/ FINAL REMINDER: DIVINE TRANSFER 

The lessons to be drawn from this study; namely (a) the only Teacher, (b) The only Shepherd/Pastor, (c) The only one to be Holy and (d) the One Mediator; is that God so loved the World that He gave His Only begotten Son to change unrepentant men into sanctified believers capable of experiencing the divine attributes according to God's calling for them and according to the measure of faith given to each believers. Thus, what was only known to be of God become also experienced by extension to believers. Only Christ is the teacher, the shepherd, the mediator and because we are united to Him, we received divine gifts to also teach, shepherd and mediate in His name and not apart of His name and authority. There is a transference of divine nature to believers which allows God's Kingdom to advance in fulfilling God's agenda on earth through mere and blessed humans.
"Through these He has given us His precious and wonderful promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, seeing that you have escaped the corruption that is in the world caused by evil desires." - 2 Peter 1:4