Thursday, June 28, 2007


Chris Hilliard comments here and here in response to some things I said about dividing Christ's body, the Church.

I think we can all agree that Christ built his Church. He is explicit that he has done so. We can see this in Saint Matthew's gospel,1 when Jesus says, "I will build my Church." There are numerous places in Scripture where the Church is called Christ's Body and that we are members of that Body.2 I also think it is clear that there can only be one Body. Christ does not have two bodies, but one. The Church, which was given Christ's authority, in a unique way to Peter3 and in a more general way to the apostles united with Peter4 , cannot teach two opposing things and call them both truth.

Following this, one thing simply cannot exist which Mr. Hilliard seems to claim does. When division happens over a truth of the faith, both groups cannot claim to be the Church proclaiming the truth. Christ promised that what was bound on earth by Peter and the apostles (and their successors)5 would be bound in heaven. God will not call something true which is false. One group has separated themselves from God's given authority and therefore the truth.

That is why division is ugly, a scandal, and sinful. That is why our Lord prayed for the unity of his followers.6 It is why he says that the result of that unity is, so that the world may know that the Father has sent Jesus and loves them. Disunity causes a fractured witness of Christ which results in the world not knowing that the Father sent Jesus which blinds them to his love. That seems like a pretty strong indictment against division to me.

Here are the Scripture verses (his comments in parenthesis) Mr. Hilliard uses in support of his statement that division is necessary,
If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother (reconciliation and unity, God's ideal and design). 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you (in other words, separate/divide, which is not the ideal but is necessary).
Matt 18:15-17 (HCSB)

And if anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter (and is unified with us in this, God's design and ideal), take note of that person; don’t associate with him (separate, not the ideal but the God commanded necessity), so that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet don’t treat him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. 2 Thess 3:14-15 (HCSB)
If the logical results of the triage system Mr. Hilliard espoused in his blog entry were the above I would have no problem with it. However, the logical result of the triage system is for real divisions to happen. Not the Church excommunicating an individual in the hopes of his repentance. Not an individual shunning somone so that his shame will bring him to repentance. With the triage system, you do not get those results. You get two people or groups who divide to spread their 'truth' to others and whose witness about the other person is, 'I don't think he is right about this, but since no one can really know for sure about this stuff he doesn't need to repent. After all it's a second tier doctrine so he is going to heaven.'

I am going to suspend the fact that I (and the Church) do not believe Mr. Hilliard's community has the apostolic authority to render these judgments for the sake of going through his argument. (I do not mean that as a cheap shot, I am sure there are things he does not believe that the Catholic Church claims and I would not expect him to pretend that he does.) What you get is a scenario like this: 'Chris and I go to the same church. I don't agree with Chris about doctrine X. Since our church agrees with his interpretation, I should listen to the church. However, I believe this is a second tier doctrine even though they think it is a first tier doctrine. Since I disagree with my church on something they believe is necessary for salvation, I should go over to this other church (or start my own for that matter) where the truth (according to me) is taught.'

This is just one of many scenarios that could result from the system. I do not want to belabor the point by giving you seventy more, but the chaos that results from this system would make it all too easy. There are two major flaws with this system. One is the premise that there are things that can not be compromised (2nd tier), yet we can all still be one Body if we disagree about them. Let me put it as simply as I can. I believe X is true. You believe Y is true, which says X is false. This doctrine is so important to us that we divide. How can either one of us claim to proclaim the Gospel if we divide the Body of Christ? There are really only two possibilities. One of us is wrong or this thing we disagree about is trivial. Which is it? If it is the first then I can not in good conscience say that your group is the Church and we are also the Church while you preach a lie as truth. If it is the second, you are my brother in Christ and we should not be divided. Two people proclaiming two opposing 'truths' cannot claim to be one in Body.

The second and more important problem is there is no one with apostolic authority (which is from Christ himself) to make judgments about what is the truth. In fact, except for the fact that the system assumes someone has the authority to decide what teaching goes in what tier, it is designed around the fact that no one has the authority to tell people what the truth is. Its whole purpose is that. It sets out to make it easier for those who do not have an authority to easily separate what is important and what is not. I think I have shown it comes up short. Like I said before, this gets down to authority and that is a different, but related topic. Maybe that topic might be breached in a separate entry, but for now I will leave it at that.

All Scripture quotations taken from the RSV 2nd Catholic Edition, unless otherwise noted.


[1] Matthew 16:18 ^
[2] 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:4-5; Ephesians 4:1-4, 15-16; etc. ^
[3] Matthew 16:19 ^
[4] Matthew 18:18 ^
[5] 2 Timothy 2:1-2 ^
[6] John 17:20-23 ^

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"Bought With A Price"

Bishop Paul S. Loverde of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia has written a pastoral letter (PDF) on pornography. Pornography is a scourge on this nation and a virtually ignored one at that. God bless Bishop Loverde for his witness to the dignity of the human person. Please take a few minutes and read this timely letter.

Some quotes:

"This plague stalks the souls of men, women and children, ravages the bonds of marriage and victimizes the most innocent among us. It obscures and destroys people’s ability to see one another as unique and beautiful expressions of God’s creation, instead darkening their vision, causing them to view others as objects to be used and manipulated. It has been excused as an outlet for free expression, supported as a business venture, and condoned as just another form of entertainment. It is not widely recognized as a threat to life and happiness. It is not often treated as a destructive addiction. It changes the way men and women treat one another in sometimes dramatic but often subtle ways. And it is not going away."

"Yet this plague extends far beyond the boundaries of church or school. The victims of this plague are countless. Today, perhaps more so than at any time previously, man finds his gift of sight and therefore his vision of God distorted by the evil of pornography."

"In a culture that sees pornography as a mere private weakness or even as a legitimate pleasure to be protected by law, we must repeat here the Catholic Church’s constant teaching. In simple terms, the Catechism of the Catholic Church condemns pornography as a grave offense (CCC 2354)."

"There cannot be a “temperate” use of pornography, just as there cannot be a “temperate” use of hatred or racism. To pose such a possibility is to accept giving in to evil one step at a time. Any seeming relief will be fleeting and the long-range consequences will make future resistance even more difficult, possibly escalating into an addiction."

"We stand at a threshold – either we can continue to allow this plague to spread with fewer and fewer checks, or we can take concrete steps to uproot it in our lives, our families, our neighborhoods and our culture.

We are a people called to share in the pure and noble vision of God and His creation. We are also a people whose future glory has been bought with the precious sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must never forget the high cost of this purchase."

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Why the Church refuses the Eucharist to non-Catholics

A cousin of mine recently called to tell me about a conversation he had with a non-Catholic friend about this topic. Things did not go as well as he would have liked, even though he has a decent handle on the reasons. This was probably one of the questions that I was asked the most when I was working with the RCIA program at Saint Brigid. It usually went something like, "Why can’t non-Catholics1 receive communion in the Catholic Church? Do Catholics think they are better than everyone else?" As Catholics we need to step back and realize that these are reasonable questions. Most people who ask you this have no idea what the Church teaches that communion is. It is important to remember that the Catholic Church always has good reasons for what she does. She is not in the business of being mean or haughty. Her reasons are always biblically and logically sound.

Sometimes when you are confronted with a question like this it catches you off guard. Especially when it is accompanied with a comment about how this teaching of the Church seems stupid or mean. It is important to always say a quick prayer for the person and for yourself. That God would open their heart to the truth and that you will be given the grace to tell it to them in charity.

The first thing that the non-Catholic needs to understand is what, or more correctly stated, who the Eucharist is. The Catholic Church teaches that at the words of consecration, the bread and wine become the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only the appearances of the bread and wine remain. Biblically the Church receives this truth from a few places. In the Gospel of Saint John our Lord states it as plain as it can be stated, “For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”2 And again at the Last Supper he holds up what appear to be the bread and the wine and says, “This is my body…This is my blood.”3

Receiving communion brings you into union with Christ. The Church is Christ’s body and disunity with his body is a very serious situation. It is his Church, he built her and sustains her as the head. Saint Paul tells us, “The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”4 Those who have left Christ’s body or have never entered it cannot receive communion, because they are not in unity with his body.

A Catholic, who did not understand why the Church would refuse non-Catholics, once said when a group was discussing this topic, “The Church is not a fraternity.” I suppose he meant that the Church is not some exclusivist club. In one sense he is correct. The Church is catholic, which means she is universal. She is available to all men, of all races, in all times. In another sense he is dead wrong. The Church being available to all does not mean all avail of her. This means she must, as far as possible, make sure her Lord is not profaned and to those who come forward to receive, that they are not heaping judgment upon themselves. This is not some silly ritual, it can even be a matter of life or death.

Saint Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, puts it this way, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”5 Anyone who comes forward in an unworthy manner profanes the body and blood of the Lord. This is serious business, especially to anyone who calls Christ their Lord. The Catholic Church teaches that you must be a baptized Christian and in a state of sanctifying grace to receive communion. This is the very basic minimum requirement. This would be coming forward in a worthy manner. For those who, after examining their conscience find they are in a state of mortal sin, communion, in all but the rarest of cases (i.e. danger of death with perfect contrition, etc.), is not possible.6 For those who are not baptized it is simply forbidden.

Saint Paul continues, “For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.”7 Those who come forward to receive who do not believe that they are receiving Jesus are eating and drinking judgment upon themselves. What is this judgment? “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”8 Saint Paul is speaking with the greatest urgency. Sickness and death can be the result of this. Not only physical, but spiritual also; as you have denied your Lord’s presence while still receiving him. I do not think there is any way to overstate the gravity of the situation as Saint Paul presents it to us. Doing this can cause your death. If nothing else moves someone, for those who take Scripture seriously, this is quite the wake-up call.

As you can see the Church has very good reasons for not allowing non-Catholics to receive. If we think about the reasons given above for a moment, it does not seem like such a bad thing to limit people who the Church knows (i.e. non-Catholics) do not fulfill these obligations from receiving the Eucharist. Another Catholic in the same previously mentioned discussion group said, “It isn't like all the Catholics are fulfilling the obligations either.” While that may be true, the difference is that from all outward appearances Catholics do fulfill these obligations. Non-Catholics, generally, either do not believe that the Body and Blood are really present, or do not confess their sins to a validly ordained priest (i.e. someone who has the authority to forgive sin.) They therefore can be kept from the Eucharist on those facts alone. The Church trusts her own members to obey these obligations and since to be Catholic they must believe in transubstantiation and are required to confess mortal sin, she must trust them.9

All Scripture quotations taken from the RSV 2nd Catholic Edition.


[1] Non-Catholics except those stated in CIC 844 §3- “Catholic ministers administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick licitly to members of Eastern Churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church if they seek such on their own accord and are properly disposed. This is also valid for members of other Churches which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition in regard to the sacraments as these Eastern Churches.” ^
[2] John 6:55 (Please read the whole discourse to see how emphatically our Lord stresses the truth of the matter - John 6:22-71) ^
[3] Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-20, and 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 ^
[4] 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 ^
[5] 1 Corinthians 11:27-28 ^
[6] CIC 916 - “A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to…receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible.” ^
[7] 1 Corinthians 11:29 ^
[8] 1 Corinthians 11:30 ^
[9] There are exceptions of course, as listed in CIC 915 - "Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion." ^

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The significance of the hierarchy of truths

The basic message of this blog entry is that there is truth, but some of it is not essential or even significant. Now I am not sure if the author, Chris Hilliard, Pastor of Newell Baptist Church, realizes that is the road he has gone down, but it certainly seems to be where he has landed.

Mr. Hilliard references a system of theological triage that he uses to divide up God's truth into categories of: essentials to be considered Christian (1st tier), non-salvific doctrines that should not be compromised (2nd tier), and things everyone agrees we just are not sure about (3rd tier).

There are some basic problems with this system. The first is the fractured nature of the communities (and therefore fractured witness to Christ - see John 17:20-23) that this type of thinking causes. Specifically by the second tier truths. Things that everyone agrees are important, because each group considers them clearly revealed in God's Word. So important that these Christians are no longer in communion with each other if they disagree about them. Our Lord and Saint Paul had a few things to say about divisions and lack of unity. They were not positive things.

You do not divide the Body of Christ. It is as plain as that. Christ has one body, even though it has many parts. As Saint Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:12, "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ." And in Ephesians 4:1-4, "I therefore...beg you to walk...with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit..." Saint Paul warns about those who cause divisions in Romans 16:17, "I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them."

The first thing anyone who casts themselves off of the body must know is that they will perish. Again Saint Paul says, "If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?...If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body." (1 Corinthians 12:17, 19, 20) Without the body, the parts lose their meaning and ability to function as Christ intended.

I have no suggestions for those in Protestant communities on how to resolve this issue amongst themselves except to take a good hard look at what their forefathers did by casting themselves off of the body in protest. If nothing else it should be plain to all that formally separating themselves from Christ's Church has only guaranteed that error is being taught as truth. Every time a group splits from another over a 1st or 2nd tier issue, only one of them can have the truth (they both could be wrong of course, but let us give the benefit of the doubt). If the original group had the truth then the new group has left over something that they were wrong about. Not only were they wrong, but it is now incorporated into their teaching as truth. Multiply that by every denomination you find in just your local phone book and you can see how quickly error is disseminated. Even if the new group is the one leaving the error it quickly becomes impossible for one group to recover all of the truth. That is why humans apart from the protection of God can not undertake such an enterprise as spreading the Good News within the fullness of Truth. That is why Christ took it upon himself to build his Church and promised to always be with her. (Matthew 16:18 & 28:19-20)

The Catholic Church proclaims a hierarchy of truths. An article from Catholic Faith magazine gives a good overview of the hierarchy of truths. In the article Cardinal Schönborn, the general editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is quoted from the Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 42, "the 'hierarchy of truth' does not mean ‘a principle of subtraction,’ as if faith could be reduced to some ‘essentials’ whereas the ‘rest’ is left free or even dismissed as not significant. The ‘hierarchy of truth . . . is a principle of organic structure.’ It should not be confused with the degrees of certainty; it simply means that the different truths of faith are ‘organized’ around a center." Simply put everything that God has revealed to us through his Son, Jesus Christ, is important. Just because I am personally less certain about something does not make it less truthful or significant. It certainly does not mean that I no longer have to believe it.

For the sake of argument, let us assume that the three tier system was how things should be done. Another underlying problem quickly becomes apparent. Who gets to decide what truth goes in what tier. Mr. Hilliard readily admits this, by some examples of what would go in which tier, at the end of his entry,
Personally, I believe we have allowed some 3rd tier doctrines to come into the argument and confuse us. Is baptism by immersion a 1st tier, 2nd tier, or 3rd tier? Is it necessary for salvation? No. Is it clear in Scripture? Yes. Thus it’s second tier. Is being a continuationist/cessationist a 1st tier doctrine? Is it necessary for salvation? No. Is it a second tier issue? Is it absolutely clear in Scripture? Debated, in my opinion. Thus, it’s a 3rd tier doctrine.
By his own reckoning his first example of baptism should be 3rd tier because someone (for instance a Catholic) finds the proposition that baptism is not necessary for salvation incorrect (i.e. debatable). He proceeds to say that being a continuationist/cessationist is debatable as to whether it is clear in Scripture. He then qualifies that statement with 'in my opinion.' Because he has decided that it is debatable it is third tier. As you can see most things quickly degenerate into 3rd tier (and by definition inconsequential) truths. It makes you wonder where this system of 'theological triage' would be rated amongst its own tiers...

Mr. Hilliard concludes,

If the BFM is simply a confession of 1st tier doctrines, then I believe we should be held accountable to them. If the BFM is a confession of 1st and 2nd tier doctrines we must ask whether or not we should be held accountable to it as well. If 2nd tier doctrines are as I defined them, I could possibly see the merit in saying yes. But, the problem with the BFM is that it contains what I believe are 1st, 2nd, and possibly even 3rd tier doctrines. Plus, I believe many are beginning to confuse 2nd and 3rd tier doctrines. And as long as the possibility lies that 3rd tier doctrines are currently a part of the BFM or might be in the future, we must not let the BFM become a “creed”.
So we have the logical result of this system, the removing or de-emphasizing of truth in order to rally around the 'essentials'. Who gets to decide what those 'essentials' are is pretty much left up for grabs. As the previously referenced article points out, "Sometimes a person does not see that the denial of one truth leads to the denial of another." It is pretty scary to see how quickly some truths are abandoned when we abandon the truth that Christ protects his Bride.

UPDATE - 6/28/07: See Division post for continuation of conversation.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

My sin is not as bad as yours

I remember, a few years back during my Protestant days, being told that comparing my sins to those of someone else was pretty stupid. First of all, looking down on someone else because his sins are greater in number or kind is not conducive to having my sins be smaller in number or kind. The fact of my comparison kind of hurts the scale I was just using. Second, and more important, God is holy and when I sin I am not. That would be what you would call the real scale. Granted I am not a Protestant anymore, but as a Catholic, I must say, it still seems like common sense.

I am sure we can all agree that sin makes us stupid, but should we really be trying to win that contest? A Catholic apologist, whom I usually deeply respect, seems to be continuing his free-fall into the trap of comparison sinning. He seems to think that because others are even bigger jerks than he is that his (relatively) smaller lack of charity is a-ok. He seems to think that because being sarcastic or clever sometimes is helpful in getting a point across that it therefore should be used with reckless abandon. This isn't about him, but it is another reminder that what we are all called to is love. If you need a primer, see the thirteenth chapter of Saint Paul's first letter to the Corinthians and then look at a crucifix and recall that our Lord told us to love our enemies.

I know I am not the only one who fails in this area, but sometimes seeing it in others whom I respect is a wake up call. The line about reading 1 Corinthians 13 as a primer is not an attempt at facetiousness. Saint Paul wants us to know very specific things about love. Some are things we often forget or just flat out ignore. Love is kind. Love is not boastful. Love is not arrogant or rude. Love is not irritable. Love does not rejoice at wrong. Love bears all things.

Saint Peter tells us to always "be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls [us] to account for the hope that is in [us]." It is the mantra of the apologist and it should be of every Christian. Yet how many of us heed the following words, "yet do it with gentleness and reverence." How many of us point to our opponents behavior as justification for how we act when we should "keep [our] conscience clear, so that, when [we] are abused, those who revile [our] good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." Christ didn't call us to win by whatever means, he called us to love. "For it is better to suffer for doing right, if that should be God's will, than for doing wrong." Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him.

It is easier to be a jerk in the hopes of being clever than to love your opponent. Unfortunately for those of us who choose the clever path, having been a jerk does not show up on the prerequisite list for heaven.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Coke Commercial

Carl Olson over at the Ignatius Press blog wants us to watch a Coke commercial:

Catholic Coke Commercial?
Most of us have seen far too many titillating, suggestive commercials for soda, beer, cars, clothes, burgers, and just about everything else. Here's a commercial from Europe that starts out in the usual fashion (girl, guy, beach, etc.), but ends with a, um, blessed little twist.
Excellent use of condensation.
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