Wednesday, January 11, 2017

What Does Baptism Do

What does baptism do?  We know through Scripture that baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ.   For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Cor 12:13)

Baptism brings us in communion with each other by becoming members of the One Body of Christ.

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

(Gal 3:27)

We are brought into the Body of Christ, the Church.

And he is the head of the body, the church (Col 1:18)


And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Eph 1:22-23)

Since we are baptized into the one body of Christ and we now know that Christ’s Body is the Church means that baptism brings us into the Church.  And this is why there is no salvation outside the Church because there is no salvation outside of Christ.

Baptism is the New Covenant fulfillment of the Old Covenant symbol of circumcision.  As the Hebrews circumcised those for entrance into God’s Covenant with Israel, so too does the New Covenant fulfillment of circumcision bring entrance into the New Covenant of God to His Church through baptism.

In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not administered by hand, by stripping off the carnal body, with the circumcision of Christ. You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God. (Col 2:11-12)

If eight-day old children could enter the Old Covenant through circumcision via the faith of their parents how much more so can infants become adopted children of God through the New Covenant circumcision, baptism?  The New Covenant is much more inclusive than the Old seeing as the New can include the gentiles as opposed to those of the line of Abraham.

We have seen that baptism fulfills the Old Covenant practice of circumcision (Col 2:11-12).  Baptism was prophesied by Ezekiel to bring graces through the sprinkling of water (Ez 36:25-27) and washes away sins (Ez 36:26; Acts 2:38). 

What else is baptism for?  Well, is baptism necessary for salvation?  The answer, very plainly is YES.  …eight in all, were saved through water.  This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.” (1 Pet 3:20-21).  Pretty simple.  As plain as it can get.  Jesus taught this also in the Gospel of John

Jesus answered and said to him, "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again." Nicodemus doesn’t understand and so Jesus repeats himself, He says "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.

One is born again through baptism, and that through baptism one can enter the kingdom of God, the Church…

And so we see that baptism brings Graces from God (Acts 2:38), washes away sins (Acts 2:38), we enter into a covenant with God through baptism (Col 2:11-12), we become Christians through baptism (1 Cor 12:13) by becoming members of the Church as through a door (Eph 4:4).  And baptism is instituted by Jesus Christ when He sent out the disciples to “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mat 28:19)

Please take the time to read what the Early Church believed about baptism and you’ll find a unanimous consensus on baptismal regeneration and the acceptance of infant baptism. 

God Bless

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Who did God Send to Teach His Followers

I've heard the verse on Romans 10 used a few times to explain that Protestant ministers are sent by God to preach the Gospel, verse 15 says: "How shall they preach unless they be sent?"

My question to those individuals is which Protestant ministers?  Lutherans, Calvinist, Amish, Anglicans, Methodist, Church of God, Church of Christ, Quakers, Episcopalian, Salvation Army, Adventis, Presbytarian, Shakers, Wesleyan, Brethren, Church of Nazarene, or one of hundreds of splinter denominations from these?

The splintering of so many different denominations believing differently on key salvific issues is an important factor in showing the most obvious problems of finding the one who is truly speaking God's Word (Issues like "what kind of faith saves? Is baptism necessary? Needed? Is baptism for infants? Must baptism be by immersion only? Can one lose salvation? How? Can it be gotten back? How? Is the Real Presence true? Are spiritual gifts like tongues and healing for today? For everyone? What about predestination? What about free will?). 

There seems to be two possible solutions to this dilemma, one is to be sent by extraordinary means and the other by ordinary means.  Let's look at the extraordinary means.  This method entails the individual to be sent by God personally.  Seeing as there is a definite possibility that many will be deceived into believing they were sent by God there must be a way to verify their 'pedigree' as  you can appreciate the difficulty in finding someone teaching God's Word amidst a sea of different ideologies and beliefs.  Indeed, we find many instances in the Bible where these individuals sent directly by God performing supernatural signs to prove they were speaking God's Word (Exo 8:16-19; 13:7-16; 1 King 18:36-39; 2 Kings 4:15-17; Acts 13:6-11; Acts 3:5…).  Most notably in John (3:2; 9:16; 11:47; 12:37), even Jesus admitted "Do not believe me, then, if I am not doing the things my Father wants me to do.  But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, you should at least believe my deeds, in order that you may know once and for all that the Father is in me and that I am in the Father." (John 10:37-38).

But what about false teachers?  They too will perform miracles.  There's the problem, how can we discriminate between a true prophet and a false one?  How are you to decide that question?  The person who authenticates that prophet needs to be authenticated himself, and this authenticator needs to be authenticated as well all the way down the line.  So who can decide whether a prophet is true or false?  Well, the answer to that question is pretty straightforward:  It's those who are placed in the ordinary capacity as God's teachers.  To understand how this came to be, we need to look back at John 21:15-17

Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him: "Simon son of John, do you love me?" And a third time Peter answers Him: "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!" And for the third time Jesus says to him, "Feed my sheep."

"Feed my sheep."  These words are full of profound meaning.  All through His Passion and up to His Ascension, Jesus seems to be acutely concerned of the future of His fragile little flock. On the night of His betrayal we find Jesus "deeply troubled", He lifted His eyes to heaven and called out a great high-priestly prayer for this ragged band of working men: "While I was with them, I kept them in thy name…But now I am coming to thee…Sanctify them in the truth." (John 17:13a, 17)

Sanctify them in the truth.  Jesus has come to give humanity the words of truth given to Him by His Father.  But now that the Son is going back to the Father, how will the world know that He was ever here?  And that He really was sent by God?  How will His work be preserved and continued?  Would He commission His Apostles to write letters and collect them into a book, the Bible?  No.

"I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will find them a place to rest. I, the Sovereign LORD, have spoken.  "I will look for those that are lost, bring back those that wander off, bandage those that are hurt, and heal those that are sick … I will rescue my sheep and not let them be mistreated any more. I will judge each of my sheep and separate the good from the bad.  I will give them a king like my servant David to be their one shepherd, and he will take care of them. I, the LORD, will be their God, and a king like my servant David will be their ruler. I have spoken."  (Eze 34:15, 16, 22-24)  It was in this context that we find Jesus, the humble carpenter, saying :

"I am the good shepherd, who is willing to die for the sheep.  When the hired man, who is not a shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees a wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away; so the wolf snatches the sheep and scatters them.  … And I am willing to die for them.  There are other sheep which belong to me that are not in this sheep pen. I must bring them, too; they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock with one shepherd."  (John 10:14-16)

But what happens to the flock once the shepherd returns to the Father? "I did come from the Father, and I came into the world; and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father" (John 16:28).  As we wondered before, how will Christ's work be continued?  If God's sheep starved for truth at the hands of false religious teachers under the Old Covenant, will not His New Testament flock again be defenseless after the Shepherd ascends back "to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God" (John 20:17)

The answer, according to the testimony of the early Church, lies in these words, spoken of the Good Shepherd to Simon Peter, representative of a simple band of Galilean fishermen: "Feed my sheep."

And what about a few years down the road, when there were wolves in sheeps clothing preaching in Jesus' name a different Gospel?  In the years of Peter we find another shepherd tirelessly working among God's lost sheep.  Like Peter, his given name is Simon, Simon Magus, he is the founder of the ancient heresy called Gnosticism, Christianity's oldest and most obstinate rival.  Former disciple of Philip the evangelist, Simon apostatized to become the first person in recorded history to teach falsehood in the holy name of Jesus.  He was in fact, the original fulfillment of one of Christ's darkest warnings: "Be on your guard against false prophets; they come to you looking like sheep on the outside, but on the inside they are really like wild wolves.   You will know them by what they do." (Matt 7:15)

But what about the ordinary believers, how would they have reacted to a second set of "Christian" apostles preaching on their streets?  Would it have been obvious that there was a wolf under the sheepskin?  Yes.  Jesus had said that we would know them by their fruits – but what if the fruits themselves can be counterfeited?  Recall that Simon Magus had many "miracles" to his credit and a large number on converts as well.  The Apostle Paul seems to be addressing this very dilemma when he wrote: "false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Cor 11:15)

The predicament was very real, if the prospective shepherds all look like angels how are they to choose between them?  How on earth does a common Roman laymen in AD 50 – only just hearing of Jesus Himself for the first time – supposed to know which are the true disciples of Christ and which are the false?  Do not underestimate this problem, we may casually imagine that these early believers had only to pull out their pocket New Testament to send these dangerous pretenders packing, tails between their legs.  This was completely impossible; the Church had been preaching the gospel for at least 10 years before a single line of the New Testament was written.  She had been doing these things for over fifty years before the final line was completed.  And even then some may have been introduced to Matthew's Gospel and perhaps one or two letters from Paul – but even these would have been circulating as loose individual works; over 300 years would pass before they ever came to be bound together in one authoritative canon in a book we call our Holy Bible.

The solution is quite simple.  When confronted with two conflicting stories, all one needed to do was find the "…man [that] was with Jesus of Nazareth" (Mat 26:71).  He had simply to ask to traditional question:  Which men had been with Jesus?  That fact alone, once truly established, banished all doubt. 

Jesus Christ appointed twelve apostles to teach His doctrines and exercise His authority once He ascended into heaven (Matt 28:16-20).  He gave them specific authority to speak and teach what He taught (Eph 2:19-20, 1 Thess 4:2, 2 Pet 3:2), and He warned all of His followers of the consequences of private teaching outside of the Church (Matt 18:16-17, 1 Cor 5:5, 1 Tim 2:20, 2 Pet 1:20-21).  Most importantly, however, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to guide the Apostles in the truth (John 14:16-17), which would distinguish them from the false prophets who would later introduce false doctrines and heresies (2 Pet 2:1).  This is the reason why St Paul described the Church as the 'pillar and foundation of truth' (1 Tim 3:15), and not the bible which can be twisted by the untaught and unstable (2 Pet 3:16).  The only way that any group can claim to have the truth is if they teach what the Apostles taught, either written or oral (2 Thess 2:15).

But this begs the question: what happens after the original Apostles die?  Is the Church not to continue the way Jesus established it in its hierarchical structure?  If Jesus' words were not meant eternally and were to be understood simply in His time, then the authority of the Apostles which Christ instituted would have died with the last Apostle.  This would leave the Church without leadership and in total confusion when serious doctrinal questions and problems occurred, which, inevitably, they did.  (No point in relying on Scripture since many of the heretics used Scripture to defend their positions.)  The other option, the much more likely and divinely consistent one, is that the Apostles would choose successors, passing on to them what they learned from the Lord, and in turn giving them not only the authority to teach but also the divine promise to correctly interpret God's written and inspired word.  We know that this is the way it was done from the beginning by reading some of the Early Church Fathers. 

God Bless

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Why do Apologetics?

Q:     Nothing personal, but I’m really not a big fan of what you do.  All of this apologetics stuff just seems to be filled with so much conflict and tension. How does that evangelize anyone?   Whatever happened to St. Francis’ way of evangelization, “Preach the Gospel always and, when necessary, use words.” 
A:    Well, first of all, and I know this may be difficult for some to read, but St. Francis actually never said that, at least, not that anyone has been able to find in anything his early biographers wrote about him.  Secondly, if you read about St. Francis, he actually used a whole lot of words in his evangelization efforts.  One story in particular, about his meeting with the Sultan of Egypt during one of the Crusades, would probably stun a lot of folks as to how “in your face” he was with the Sultan.

       Anyway, to your point about apologetics being filled with conflict and tension, before I tell you why I disagree with what you’re saying, I want to first address what I believe is a larger societal issue that seems to underlie your contention.  It seems, in my humble opinion, that just about the only mortal sin a person can commit in our society today, is to tell someone else they are wrong about something.  

       We can’t tell the adulterer that he is wrong, so let’s have no-fault divorce.  We can’t tell anyone abortion is wrong, so let’s just respect everyone’s privacy.  We can’t tell homosexuals that same-sex relations are wrong, so let’s just live and let live.  Again, telling someone they are wrong is just about the only sin one can commit in today’s society.  So, in such an environment, debate becomes inherently wrong.  Argument, in the classical sense of the word, becomes inherently wrong.  Disagreeing with someone on issues of faith and morals becomes inherently wrong.

       Thus, engaging in apologetics seems to be inherently wrong under such a prevailing societal attitude.  To tell those who disagree with Catholic teaching they are wrong, becomes a sin, of sorts.  It is viewed as being filled with “conflict and tension,” and as being unnecessarily adversarial.  But, it just isn’t so.  

       First and foremost, apologetics is about seeking the truth.  Jesus said, “Know the truth and the truth shall make you free,” (John 8:32).  Apologetics is not about argument for argument’s sake, but about discovering truth.  In order to help my separated brethren in Christ discover the truth that the Eucharist is indeed the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, and not merely a symbol, I have to engage in apologetics.  

       Second, and closely related to the above, apologetics is about love.  If I truly love those who are not Catholic - whether they be Baptist, Evangelical, Presbyterian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, or even atheist - would I not want to do everything...everything! my power to bring them to Jesus Christ in the Sacraments, and, particularly, to bring them to Him in the Eucharist?

        I mean, if I really and truly believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, and that a Catholic can receive Him at any given Mass, then why would I not want to do all that I could to bring everyone into the Catholic Church so as to receive Him?  Why would I not want to share the truth with them?  Can I truly be said to love someone if I am unwilling to step out of my comfort zone to share the truths of the Catholic Faith with them?  

       Now, do discussions about faith and morals sometimes involve conflict and tension?  Absolutely.  But, does searching for truth sometimes involve conflict and tension?  Does loving others sometimes involve conflict and tension?  Indeed they do.

       So, apologetics, just like any search for truth and anything that involves love, sometimes involves conflict and tension.  But, do you want to know what can cause more conflict and tension than a Catholic who is versed in apologetics conferring with a non-Catholic on some issue of faith or morals?  A Catholic who is not versed in apologetics conferring with a non-Catholic on some issue of faith or morals.  

       I would be willing to bet that the percentage of Protestant churches in Birmingham that do not have at least one former Catholic in them is very, very low.  There are, in fact, some very large Protestant churches in Birmingham that are made up of 20%, 30%, and even as much as 50% former Catholics.

       Why?  Because those former Catholics were never taught how to defend their faith, so they had no answer when someone came up to them and asked them, “Are you saved?”  Or, “Have you been born again?”  Or, “Why do you Catholics call your priests ‘father’ when the Bible says ‘Call no man father?”’  Or, “Why do you Catholics say Mary was ever virgin when the Bible says Jesus had brothers and sisters?”  

       Any one of those - or dozens of other - leading questions have started many a Catholic down the path that leads straight out of the Catholic Church.  Why?  Because they were defenseless.  They didn’t know apologetics.  And do you know the kind of conflict and tension that is caused in Catholic families when a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a mother or father leaves the Faith?  And, even worse, the tension and conflict caused when these former Catholics come to a Thanksgiving or Christmas gathering of the family and sometimes talk about how Catholics are not “saved” and constantly question the faith of their family members?  

       So, not only can apologetics bring non-Catholics, and fallen-away Catholics, closer to, and even into, the faith, but it can help keep Catholics in the faith and help them to deepen their understanding and love of that faith, while enabling them to defend that faith.  Conflict and tension?  Sometimes.  But is love worth the risk?  Is bringing people to Jesus Christ in the Eucharist worth the risk?  

       I’ll close with a story about something that happened to me a few years ago.  My family and I had just moved to a new parish.  A few weeks after being there, a young lady came up to me and said, “Do you remember me?”  I told her she looked familiar, but that I couldn’t place where I knew her from.  She said, “You spoke at a Theology on Tap meeting a few years ago and I was the one who hit you with a whole bunch of questions.”  Immediately I remembered the exchange I’d had with her.  She continued, “I was Baptist at the time and I was really mad at you that night, and so I started doing a lot of research so that I could prove you wrong.”  

       In other words, my apologetics talk had caused a lot of conflict and tension.  And then she told me where that research born of conflict and tension led an RCIA program and, a few months later, into the Church.  She now receives Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  

       So, yes, what I did caused conflict and tension.  Should I not, then, have given the talk?  Was it somehow wrong, then, to speak about the truths of the Catholic Faith in an unapologetic manner and thus upset one or more of my listeners?  Was that counterproductive to evangelization?  Well, I’ll just let the young lady who now receives Christ in the Eucharist answer those questions...     

       Here’s the thing, if we are afraid of speaking the truths of the Faith - of proclaiming them, explaining them, and defending them - because of some overblown fear of offending someone, then we will never truly be like Christ.  He spoke the truth - in season and out.  He offended people.  He afflicted people.  He was crucified for it.  And He did it all out of love. 

God Bless