It’s not secret to anyone who has kept up with my blog that I have been on a faith journey for the last several years. Over the last two to three years, that journey has taken a noticeably catholic turn. There are two main reasons for this.
First, the Bible.
I take very seriously the Word of God. Everyone who knows me knows that, not only do I take God’s Word seriously, I love God’s Word. Reading, learning and studying God’s Word has been one of the great joys of my life to date. When I came to faith in Jesus, one of the first prayers I prayed was, “Lord, help me to love Your Word. Help me to hunger and thirst for Your Word. Give me a desire to know You in Your Word.”
Our gracious Father has granted that request. He has given me an ache in my soul that only His Word can fill. He has made me hunger and thirst after His Word. Man cannot live on bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. I live and breathe for God’s Word. I read it and study it and dissect it.
I love and read and study God’s Word because it is His revelation of Himself to us. Of course we have general revelation in God’s creation. And we have others ways by which we may see God. But God has given us His Word written down so that we may know Him and serve Him rightly.
The second main reason for this is my reading and studying of the Church Fathers. Now, before anyone gets all upset, I am not saying that the Fathers are inerrant. I am not saying that they are on par with revealed truth in God’s Word. However, what I am saying is that they speak to us who, in our modern context, think we’ve got this thing figured out and they say to us, usually with one voice, that there are things about the Christian faith that make most Protestants really nervous.
The Fathers tell us what the Church has always believed and how the Church has always practiced her faith. This is enormously helpful for us today. There is a deep desire among many younger Christians today to connect with the historic Church…and I am profoundly grateful for this desire. I applaud it and encourage it for all!
I encourage it even it makes you uncomfortable and perhaps even leads you to conclusions that sound…well, Catholic.
Let me give you an example from my own life and faith journey. As I said, it’s no secret that my journey has led me out of Protestantism and into a distinctly catholic position. But I struggle and question many of the dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. But I want to be intellectually and emotionally honest with myself and with you and maybe you need to ask yourself this same question.
Are my problems with the Catholic Church real problems with biblical reality or do I just not want them to be true?
Here’s my example. I have been wrestling with some things. One of them is all this dogma about Mary. For my Protestant friends...it’s okay for you to call her The Blessed Virgin. Scripture calls her blessed so it is quite alright for you too as well. But there are some things about the dogma of the Church that I’ve had a hard time wrapping my head around.
Like the perpetual virginity of Mary.
The first time I heard this I literally laughed out loud. I was like, “Right. You mean to tell me that Joseph was married to her and never had sex with her? Right.” Seems logical, right? So, here’s where it gets interesting for me. As I said, been studying and wrestling with all this a lot. So, how can it be possible that Mary was perpetually a virgin and surely no one actually believes this, right?
Actually lots of people in the early Church believed it and taught it. I will give just one example: St. John Chrysostom.
“And when he had taken her, “he knew her not, till she had brought forth her first-born Son.” He hath here used the word “till,” not that thou shouldest suspect that afterwards he did know her, but to inform thee that before the birth the Virgin was wholly untouched by man. But why then, it may be said, hath he used the word, “till”? Because it is usual in Scripture often to do this, and to use this expression without reference to limited times. For so with respect to the ark likewise, it is said, “The raven returned not till the earth was dried up.”6 And yet it did not return even after that time. And when discoursing also of God, the Scripture saith, “From age until age Thou art,” not as fixing limits in this case. And again when it is preaching the Gospel beforehand, and saying, “In his days shall righteousness flourish, and abundance of peace, till the moon be taken away,”8 it doth not set a limit to this fair part of creation. So then here likewise, it uses the word “till,” to make certain what was before the birth, but as to what follows, it leaves thee to make the inference. Thus, what it was necessary for thee to learn of Him, this He Himself hath said; that the Virgin was untouched by man until the birth; but that which both was seen to be a consequence of the former statement, and was acknowledged, this in its turn he leaves for thee to perceive; namely, that not even after this, she having so become a mother, and having been counted worthy of a new sort of travail, and a child-bearing so strange, could that righteous man ever have endured to know her. For if he had known her, and had kept her in the place of a wife, how is it that our Lord commits her, as unprotected, and having no one, to His disciple, and commands him to take her to his own home?”
I read that and was like…wait…what?! Chrysostom goes on to talk about his “brethren” and I highly recommend you read it for yourself. By the way, Chrysostom was the man that many consider to be the father of the Orthodox Church and perhaps one of the greatest preachers that has ever lived.
But it wasn’t just the Fathers that believed and taught this. The hero of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, also maintained the same teaching. Luther said, “Christ our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary’s virginal womb…This was without the co-operation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that.” (Luther’s Works, Volume 22, 23.) By the way, Calvin and Zwingli also defended the perpetual virginity of Mary.
If you’re like me, you’re like, “Yeah but those dudes could be wrong.” Well, yes they could be. So let’s look at what the Bible has to say. Matthew 1 details Jesus’ birth for us and he says in verses 24 and 25,
“When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”
So right away, if you’re like me, you’ll say…See?! “He knew her not until…” implying that he “knew her” after the birth of Jesus. Problem with that is almost every commentator I read on this (including Calvin) says that phrase was put in there to prove that Jesus’ birth was not as a result of sexual relations with Joseph. But you may say, like me, “Yeah but the Bible says Jesus had brothers and sisters.”
Does it? Here’s the problem with that. The Hebrew and Aramaic languages don’t have separate words for “brother,” “cousin,” or any other near relative. The term “brother” was used for all kinds of relationships (1 Corinthians 15:6, Matt. 23:8, Acts 7:23 to name a few).
Still not buying it?
Okay, another compelling piece…When Jesus is hanging on the cross, where are his siblings? If He had siblings, why weren’t they there? You may say, “Well, because they didn’t believe in Him.” Okay but neither did the High Priest and he was there, as were the Roman soldiers and many others. Don’t you think that if your brother was being executed, you’d show up, especially if you didn’t believe in Him? I mean, this is your opportunity to be able to say, “See, Mom?! I told you He wasn’t the Messiah.”
But aside from that, the interesting part is that Jesus hands over care of His mother to St. John. Now if you’ve done any sort of study on the culture of the day and the Jewish tradition, Jesus, as the oldest son, would have been responsible for the care of His mother (we assume that Joseph was dead by this time). And if He couldn’t fulfill those obligations, one of His siblings (if He had any) would be required to. But He didn’t pass that on to a sibling, He passed that responsibility along to one of the Apostles. Why?
Okay…so here’s what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that I buy all this as of yet. What I am saying is…
What if it’s true? What if the teaching of the Church for the last couple thousand years is true? Does that in any way diminish who Jesus is, what He accomplished? Does it change anything for you, for me?
Pray for me as I seek wisdom and clarity on these things I struggle with. You may say, “What difference does it make?” If you’re Protestant, you already know the answer to that. It matters because, if the Church is right about that…what else are they right about?
Pray for me. Pray for yourself and seek God’s wisdom in His Word, His Church and those who have gone before. We do this for the glory of Christ and of His Church!
Soli Deo Gloria!
 John Chrysostom. (1888). Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople on the Gospel according to St. Matthew. In P. Schaff (Ed.), G. Prevost & M. B. Riddle (Trans.), Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew (Vol. 10, p. 33). New York: Christian Literature Company.
No longer protesting
If you’ve followed my blog or any of my social media platforms over the last few years or if you’ve spent much time around me during that time, you’ve probably noticed a difference.
I’m no longer protesting.
Here’s what I mean.
I grew up in a religious home. I grew up in a Protestant home. I grew up in a home that routinely criticized and even called into question the faith of people who were not Protestant, specifically those who were part of the Catholic Church. I want to be clear here. I’m not bashing my Protestant parents or relatives. I merely want to relate my experiences and perhaps it will resonate with you as well.
My “faith” meant almost nothing to me as a child and teenager. I didn’t understand most of what was talked about. I was “saved” at some point around the age of 8 because I said some prayer one Sunday morning, the “sinner’s prayer.” I have no memory of it but know I said it and made a “public profession of faith” and was baptized at some point soon thereafter.
It was not until many years later that I actually came to a saving faith in the person of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.
Since my conversion and re-birth, I have walked a bit of a winding road. It has taken me through seminary (at a Baptist seminary), church planting, leaving the Baptist practice and becoming Reformed (Presbyterian), re-planting a church (tried to), completing the ordination process in the Anglican Church of North America to where I am today.
What has led me here is what I’d like to talk briefly about before launching into a series of posts about the beliefs and practices of the Church catholic.
I came out of Baptist seminary knowing beyond a doubt that I was not Baptist. It was a bit ironic to me that my professors encouraged us to love and read and study the Bible. But when I began to do the very thing my Baptist professors encouraged me to do, it led me away from the Baptist practice. There were things in the Scriptures that my Baptist friends simply could not answer for me or, if they did, I found their answers to be unsatisfying or explained away.
I’ll give you an example; actually I’ll give you two. The first was baptism. Baptists, of course, believe that baptism is only for those who have made a “public profession” of faith in Jesus. Nothing wrong with making a public profession of faith and being baptized but that didn’t seem to square (at least in my mind and reading) with most of the accounts of baptisms of converts in the book of Acts. Those accounts almost all involved household baptisms. Hmm….that seemed odd to me that members of the family of a professing Christian should be baptized without making a “public profession of faith” in Jesus. So as I dug deeper, I found myself in previously uncharted waters. I was developing what I believe is a more robust and biblical view of covenants and how those play out in the life of God’s people. Thus I became “reformed.”
The second example was the offices of the Church. I began an in-depth study of 1 Timothy in preparation for a sermon series I was going to preach at our church in Nashville (I was the lead pastor of a re-planting effort). As I began my exegetical work, I was a bit surprised to find that Paul uses three distinct Greek words for offices of the Church. He used the word ‘episkopos’ which is best translated ‘bishop’ or ‘overseer.’ He also used the word ‘presbuteros’ which is best translated ‘elder.’ And he used the word ‘diakonos’ which is best translated ‘deacon.’ I found that to be shocking to my formerly Baptist sensibilities. You mean Paul was advocating for three offices, not two?!
That led me to doing some study on the early Church. I thought, ‘Okay, these terms have been hotly contested for many years now. So, how did the earliest leaders of the Church after the Apostles take the meaning of these words?’ I was supremely surprised to find that they all, and I mean all, took it as three offices; bishop, presbyter and deacon. That was jarring for me.
You have to understand…actually, if you’re Protestant, you probably do understand. I was taught from a very young age that anything that looked or smelled or sounded remotely Catholic was evil. Not just, ‘Hey, this is how they do but we do it differently and that’s okay.’ No, I was taught that anything connected to Catholicism was evil.
This discovery about the practice of the early Church shook me to my core. I could not reconcile what I had been taught with either what the Bible said or with the practice of the Church. I didn’t know what to do. So I made a decision that has forever changed my life and the practice of the faith that has been handed down to us.
I went back to the beginning.
I wanted to know what else I had always been taught was contrary to the teaching of the early Church. I had to know how deep it went for me. So I went back to the beginning. I began to study the early Church and her writings. I began to read what we call the Fathers; mostly the Fathers of the early Church, i.e. the first 6 centuries of the Church. What I found shocked me and shook me.
I want to encourage my Protestant friends. Some of you have found modern Protestantism to be lacking in some things. I mean, when churches are dressing people up in movie costumes and having concerts that they call “worship” we’ve drifted a wee bit from a biblical practice so I get it. I want my discouraged Protestant friends to know that there are deeper wells out there. The wisdom of the Church in her reverent worship practices is out there for you. The water is warm.
I want to encourage my catholic friends, both Roman and otherwise. Some of you may not know why you do some of the things you do in worship or what it means or where it came from. You may not understand exactly what’s happening with all the symbolism and ritual. I want my catholic friends to know that those same deep wells are for you also. Go back and read and study as to why we do the things we do. Test what you do and say and believe in the teachings as they have been handed down from the beginning.
My prayer is that we may all be one again.
I fear we may not see that day until our Lord returns.
But we can all strive for it; for His glory and our good.
Soli Deo Gloria!