Monday, November 14, 2011

Guide Me Into All Truth

So I’ve been talking a lot about Catholic priests lately.
For me, the whole authority issue was really the deciding factor for my conversion.  For some people, they need to be convinced of the Eucharist or the Church’s teaching on justification or some other specific issue.  I needed to be convinced of the Church.  Is it really what it claims to be?  That is, does it really have authority from Christ himself?  If it did, then the burden of the proof was on me to align my beliefs on all of those other things with whatever the Church taught about them.  But I wasn’t so convinced the Church had that authority in the first place.

What authority does the Church claim, exactly?  She claims the authority to administer the Sacraments (more on those later), and the authority to teach, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the name of Christ.  To ask a question typical of Wheaton College students: is this biblical?

So, Catholics claim that Christ was given authority from God the Father, and that before leaving earth he passed on this authority to the Twelve Apostles, who then, before they died, passed the authority onto others so that now, 2000 years later, there are still people on this earth with the authority Christ gave to the original Apostles.  In Scripture, we read that Christ gave the Apostles the authority to forgive sins, to teach and baptize in his name, and to “bind and lose”.  He even went so far as to give Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” in Matthew 16:19.

Who knows what all that means.  

One thing that was crucial to me was to realize that these were actual events, things that Jesus said to actual people—and the people he chose to say them to were the Twelve Apostles that he had chosen.  I hadn’t realized that I had been bringing a specific way of Biblical interpretation to the text.  That is, I subconsciously (or consciously) read all of Jesus’ words as if they were spoken to me.  Matthew tells us in chapter 18 of his Gospel that Jesus told the disciples that “whatever (they) bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever (they) loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus told the Twelve Apostles that they had authority to forgive sins (John 20:22-23) and that the Holy Spirit would come to guide them into all truth.  I assumed—without warrant—that those words were spoken to me, too: All Christians have the authority to forgive or withhold forgiveness of sins; all Christians will be guided into all truth; all Christians have the authority to bind and loose.

There was really no valid reason for me to assume that.  I simply took it for granted.  And when I began to realize that most Christians, for most of time, did not take that for granted, I was stopped short.

What if Jesus really did give the Twelve Apostles a special authority to forgive or withhold forgiveness of sins, a special authority to make decisions that will be bound and loosed in heaven, a special promise of the Holy Spirit's role in guiding them to all truth?

I knew that I did not have the authority to withhold Christ’s forgiveness of sins.  I had no reason to believe that I was able to make decisions to bind and loose that would be echoed in heaven.  And the more I looked around, the more I became aware of the thousands and thousands of disagreements about the truth of the Gospel, and the more I doubted that the promise of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into “all truth” was really a promise given to all Christians.  At least, not the way I had originally interpreted it.  Either the Holy Spirit was a schizophrenic, or the promise of Christ to the Apostles actually meant something drastically different than I had believed.

I decided to err on the side of my misinterpretation of Scripture.


  1. I love to ask the following question to Evangelicals:

    "Why do we find a list of the 12 apostles in the gospels, not once but several times to boot? Why are some of them never mentioned elsewhere?"

  2. Lex organdi,

    lex credendi,

    Lex vivendi.

  3. Good point about 'said to me.' One of my first memories of Sunday School was being taught that when Jesus says to Simon, "you will be fishing for men" we were left with the clear implication he meant to include everyone as fishermen.Now, of course there is a sense in which this part of the baptismal priesthood of every Christian, but I remember being brought up with a check when I realized the "you" in the (Greek) text was singular.

  4. I started reading your blog to get a better understanding of students at Wheaton converting to the Catholic faith after being invited to -

    'Catholics and Evangelicals- How much common ground?'

    a discussion between
    Donald Senior/ Catholic Theological Union
    Richard Mouw / Fuller Theological Seminar
    was hosted by Wheaton's own Prof. Vincent Bacote

    Here are my notes:

    Donald Senior opened with what he thought the two had a lot in common:
    - the poor
    - the oppressed
    - Jesus
    - salvation
    - role of the Church
    - value of marriage

    Senior then stated - there are differences where we need to hear the other. A place for conviction to hold but not one of hostility.
    - the incarnation - the word becoming flesh / the flesh being able to reveal the Divine
    - the expression of the sacraments / forgiveness/ anointing for healing / of vocation
    - the sacramental / the physical element: wood- oil- architecture
    - a strong eschatology / view of the church
    - the figure of Mary
    - the hierarchy of offices

    Mouw followed with comments on the following:
    We must understand the common ground we share
    - 1- The grounding of surviving with the faith they immigrated with- marginalizing to survive
    - 2 - The evangelical ' hang in there until Jesus returns' mentality of the early 1900's
    i.e.evangelical on the wrong side of race, justice, oppression
    - 3 - Theological common ground
    - 4 - Global realities - the church is growing most in the Southern hemisphere

    We must respect the others right to see things differently. We ought not get hostile. We need to seek to understand.

    'Evangelical will try to withdraw on an issue or strive to conquer it'.

    'This will be the last European pope the Catholic church will have!'

    The Topic of the Students at Wheaton converting to Catholicism did come up.
    First with Dr. Bacote and myself before the meeting, the in response to a 'We're steak and you're breadcrumbs' discussion. And then again after the meeting between Dr. Bacote and myself.

    My conclusions:

    Conversion experiences are as different as the people having them. We welcomed the exploration.

    What is new is often very exciting and engaging.

    Discovering a fullness to ones faith can bring out passionate connections.

    It doesn't have to be OR, I can be AND.

    I saw parallels between student discovering the richness of ritual and sacrament and my growth in 'signs and wonders' while taking classes at Fuller with John Wimber.

    The story that kept playing out in my head was......

    I grew up the son of a Dutch immigrant in a small town in WA state that was striving to hold onto the tenants of it's Reformed faith while holding on to the values of the Dutch in this new land of opportunity. There was much that seemed to threaten both.

    The town, nearly a 50 years old when was born, had 32 churches [most some near off-shoot of Reformed faith] with a population of less than 3,000 citizens.
    As a kid, I was made aware that our church was the most theologically correct, most of the others were Okay [ Our in-laws went there] but there was one church we were forbidden to even think about.
    It wasn't until I was 18 and in college, just a few years from attending Fuller, that I realized that church was the only Catholic church in town.

    Frankly, my concern is not for the evangelical students exploring a more Catholic faith while at Wheaton. I'm not worried about them, their connection with God.
    What I am concerned about is their connection with their parents when they find out their son or daughter is converting.

    Many parents send their children to Wheaton to secure their faith with the faith of their fathers. And what if these parents are major donors. What will faculty and administration be able to say them.

    I left with the question of how to address the issues when the divide is ingrained and is hostile?