Friday, August 04, 2006

More on My Summer Vacation

My post below about the Cornerstone Imaginarium has sparked some conversation in the comments box. I'm very happy to have you all over! Thanks for coming to visit.

One visitor took issue with some aspects of my post; here below is my response to his concerns.


[Marc in bold, me in regular font]

Hi Kathleen, I agree with your assessment about the t-shirt and the tattoos but that's where it ended for me. You described Universalists as Christians which either means you are not informed on their theology or lack there of, or you are completely lacking in the discernment area. Calling Universalists Christians is like using the term flaming snowflakes. They just don't go together. Universalists do not believe Jesus is the only way to salvation which is what the bible clearly teaches. I guess I would have to ask if you believe Jesus is the only way.

Your careful reading of my post is evident in noting that I was a little sloppy in my use of the term Universalist. All I was trying to say was that there were Christians of all stripes, i.e. from A to Z, at Cornerstone. Truth to tell, I was simply looking for a denomination name from the end of the alphabet to put in the sentence in question: “With every conceivable Christian expression from Anabaptists and Anglicans to Ukrainian Catholics and Universalists represented…” (I couldn’t think of any that started with Z, Y, X, W, or V.)

However, I will say this: I believe you might be mistaking me for saying that Unitarians are legitimately counted as Christians, which I do not think they are. Unitarians, as the name implies, don’t believe in the Trinity, and thus they deny that Jesus is God – and I completely agree, this disqualifies them from being considered a “Christian expression”. In the early 1960s, the Unitarians in this country merged with another group calling itself Universalist, and they go by the name Unitarian Universalist – so it’s easy to conflate the two terms.

Universalists actually hold a slightly different belief than strict Unitarians; they do allow that Jesus is the Son of God and the means by which salvation came to the whole world, but they believe that His sacrifice on the Cross bought salvation for everybody automatically, regardless of whether they ever appropriate it by faith. In other words, Universalists are the ones who ask, “How could a loving God ever send anyone to Hell?” and often deny Hell’s existence outright. In case you wondered, I am not a Universalist; I believe in Hell because the Scriptures and the Creeds teach that it exists. I do everything I can to avoid Hell and to steer others clear of it. Catholic teaching is not universalist; though some Catholic theologians have speculated that God’s mercy might be so powerful that Hell stands empty, as far as we know, there are many good arguments against that idea. For the definitive word on H-E-double-toothpicks, see here. It’s sometimes hard for me to believe that, however repentant I may be, some of my own sins won’t cause me to burn in Hell – it’s only Jesus’ precious Blood that I trust in to save me from such a fate, and Scriptures like John 10:27-28 encourage me. But I realize that the “Hell might be empty” idea comes out of a deep reverence for the power of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and the oceanic depths of His mercy, and I strive to believe in His power and mercy deeper in my soul each day. I also try to encourage others to do the same, because I don’t believe any of us will make it to the finish line unless we grasp through faith the grace we need to live our lives for Jesus. I don’t believe anyone’s going to just coast into Heaven.

You also stated that Thomas Merton in your words, "needs no defense from me". I take that to mean you support his teaching which was by the end of his life more influenced by Buddhism than the Jesus found in the bible.

To be honest, I have read very little Merton outside of pithy quotes that friends have sent me. I know there are some that say that Merton was more Buddhist than Catholic by the end of his life; I would respond with the following: 1) It’s quite possible that those making this conclusion were themselves much more interested in Buddhism than the orthodox Catholic faith, and thus interpreted his writings in a certain way to get him “on their side”, and 2) it’s possible that if he was influenced by Buddhism, it may have been for the good. (I realize this second statement may scandalize you further; I hope my explanation doesn’t make it even worse, but here goes.)

Catholic teaching holds that there is one Church which was founded by Jesus Christ (“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism…” Eph. 4:4-5). This Church finds its fullest expression in the Roman Catholic Church. Her organizational structure was ordained by Christ (“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Mt. 16:18-19), and God promises to show up in the Sacraments celebrated by her priests (“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and 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; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.’” Mt. 28:18-20). I do realize that Catholics interpret these Scriptures differently than Protestants; I’ve read many articles and essays deconstructing the Greek word petra/petros in Mt. 16, for example. Suffice to say that I believe the Catholic Church’s interpretation of these Scriptures on the authority of the magisterium, the Church’s teaching authority, which comes directly from the Apostles to whom Jesus spoke the above words.

Since her birth, the Catholic Church has understood herself to have been created by Jesus Christ – brought into being through His wounded side, like Eve from Adam – and thus regards herself as the one, holy, catholic (i.e. universal, worldwide) Church. We constantly point to Christ as the Author of our salvation; we believe Acts 4:12 which says, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." We also believe I Tim. 3:15, which describes “the household of God” as “the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” This, by the way, is foundational to the idea that the Church and her traditions are sources of truth as well as Scripture; the Bible says that the truth is found in the Church.

However, Catholics recognize that other Christian groups, other religions, and many human cultural expressions have a hold on portions or fragments of that truth that is fully expressed and accessible through the Catholic Church. For example, Buddhism is a pagan religion that has grasped the concept of needing to examine and distance oneself from one’s fleshly desires. This knowledge is not salvific in itself, but it can point someone in the right direction towards Christ, i.e. help a person who’s having trouble managing desires that are contrary to God’s will. It’s possible that Merton encountered this idea in a Buddhist context, but Christ used it to bring him closer to Him. Again, I don’t know for sure, but this might be a plausible explanation. I’d encourage you to do your own research to see whether I’m right or wrong about Merton.

You also seem to believe in the appearances of Mary which in the end puts peoples eyes on Mary instead of where they belong, on Jesus. This is what I believe the bible is talking about when it talks about lying signs and wonders. With all this and more which I don't have time to comment on now, I am really surprised JPUSA has had you as a speaker.

Actually, I don’t have a huge devotion to Mary; I do pray the rosary now and then (which, by the way, is a method of prayer by which one focuses on events in the life of Jesus and seeks to “imitate what they contain, and obtain what they promise”). As far as those incidents that have been approved by the Church, e.g. the appearance of the Virgin Mary to St. Juan Diego at the bottom of Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City in 1531 that resulted in her picture (now known as the icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe) on his cloak – I have learned a great deal about Jesus and His love from the Mexican folks at my parish who love Mary. The reason for this is that Mary always points to her Son – this, in fact, is one of the criteria taken into account when the Vatican evaluates reports of Marian apparitions. Remember the wedding at Cana – after her conversation with Jesus about the wine, she tells the servants (as she continually tells each one of us): “Do whatever He tells you.” I don’t find Mary and the saints distracting any more than I find my presently earth-dwelling Christian friends to be distracting – I trust that they’re trying to show me Christ, and I appreciate their encouragement on my walk.

I am sorry but I didn't want to leave it at that. I hope that you would prayerfully consider the things you are beleiving and teaching and test them in light of God's unchanging authoritative word. I guess there's one last thing I would want to comment on. In the beginning of your post you described Dwayna as a fundamentalist and put her in the company of Charles Spurgeon, D.L. Moody, A.W. Tozer, Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin. Those are people that most evangelicals including myself would hold in very high esteem. I thought your description of a fundamentalist was fairly accurate in going back to it's origin in the early 20th century but there is an obvious stigma attached to the term these days which I'm sure you are aware of so I am a bit curious as to your motives in using that term. When most people use the term, they associate it with ignorant, backwoods hicks who like to test God with snakes and believe the King James version of the bible is the only legit. translation. I should note that Jonathan Edwards was attending Harvard at the age of 13 and Charles Spurgeon is widely known as the prince of preachers. I could go on about these men but I think the most important link is that they all had an esteem for Christ and an unfailing trust in His word. If that's the company you put Dwayna in, you can include me as well.

I suppose you’re right about the term fundamentalist. I am aware of the negative connotations of the word and used it despite that; I’m sorry for not taking the higher road and using another label. I thought that my description of the movement might help cradle Catholics and other folks unfamiliar with it to understand where the word comes from, so it wouldn’t be just an epithet thrown at Dwayna and her friends, but I guess that in my decision to use the word, I didn’t quite overcome my own personal negative feelings at my own friends (Lint Hatcher, John Morehead) being vilified on those comment threads over on Slice of Laodicea. Your point is well taken; I myself don’t much appreciate being called a “Romist”, “papist”, or “among the ranks of lost souls deceived by the Whore of Babylon”, so I’m happy to use whatever name you’d like me to use in order to ensure a civil and respectful tone to our conversation. Actually, I haven’t heard from Dwayna, so I don’t know if she was in fact offended by being described as a fundamentalist, if that makes any difference.

Re: Spurgeon et al.: I don’t doubt in the least that these men were smart - all smarter than me, in fact. However, it’s my understanding that they all held to very strict Calvinist theological structures and interpretations of Scripture which contradict the teaching of the Catholic Church, which is why I disagree with them and with the vision of humanity and culture as seen through their lens. I don’t doubt that they all loved Jesus and believed in the Bible, but in my view, they came to erroneous conclusions about the nature of man and of God’s grace. For example, I believe that man is born with the stain of original sin, but not in total depravity. This difference has huge implications for how we as Christians engage the cultures of the world, including our own. I can go into this further at a later date, if you like.

Though I'm sure I don't agree with Dwayna on everything, I'm pretty sure we agree on the essentials of the faith and I am very concerned that you don't hold those essentials in as high esteem. I like what Walter Martin once said in describing the essentials (fundamentals of the faith). The essentials are the line of demarcation between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the cults. I guess each of us have to ask which kingdom we're walking in. Pretty big question if you ask me. Thanks and God bless, Marc

You seem to be wondering whether I’m in the Kingdom of God, or if I really care. Let me assure you, I do care quite a bit. The question we should look at first, though, is: How is a person saved? How do you get into the boat that sails to the other side, to the Kingdom of Light? Catholics answer this question with the following Scripture: "Baptism, which corresponds to [the Flood in Noah’s time], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (I Pet. 3:21). This does not mean that all people who receive a Christian baptism (in water and in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) have a free ticket to heaven; by no means. Baptism is the beginning of the process of being saved. In the New Testament, various Greek verb tenses are used to describe salvation (“you have been saved” [Eph. 2:8], “us who are being saved” [I Cor. 1:18], “we shall be saved” [Acts 15:11]) – that’s past, present, and future. What Protestants regard as a two-step process (first justification, then sanctification), Catholics regard as one single path (e.g., “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” [Phil. 2:12]). Baptism is the start of the journey, but you’ve got to persevere in faith in order to get there – sort of a combination of the Baptist “once saved, always saved” idea and the necessity for the “perseverance of the saints”.

Thus, since Catholics don’t see a line in the sand between “saved” and “not saved”, but regard folks as being at various stages in the process, we’re reluctant to judge whether a person is going to end up in heaven or hell. We consider it our responsibility to point people in the right direction and encourage people toward whatever light of truth they have or can grasp, and we trust the Holy Spirit will bring other people and ideas along to keep them going forward. It’s the Holy Spirit that converts and changes people’s hearts, after all.

Below is a concise statement of what I believe to be the essentials of the faith, and I honestly believe it with my whole heart:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died, and was buried;
He descended into hell.
On the third day He rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
And is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy catholic Church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting. Amen.

This statement, by the way, is called the Apostle’s Creed, the oldest creed that church historians know of (it was written sometime before A.D. 100), and it serves as the foundation of all orthodox Catholic and Christian theology. I offer it here in hopes that it will challenge you, and anyone else reading, to ask: Do I have any “lines of demarcation” of my own with regard to the truth about Christ and His Church? How can I progress to deeper faith in Him?

God’s blessing be yours, Marc. Thanks for the chance to chat.


Marc Hamer said...

Hi Kathleen,
Thanks for the response and for doing it in such a kind and patient manner. That seems to be a rare thing these days.
I don't have a lot of time to respond completely to your post but I have a couple of questions.
How did you come to being a Catholic from a Baptist background? I was raised a Catholic and though I beleive there are some true beleivers in the Catholic church, I have always wondered why they would stay. I would veiw myself as a Catholic in the true sense of the word (universal church)but I beleive there is a distinction between that and the institution known as the Catholic church. I beleive the institution known as the Cathoic church departed from the faith a long time ago. I think this is the case though with many denominations but I also beleive there is a remnant from just about all the denominations that make up the real church. I don't have time this morning to unravel this completely but I was just curious how you came to your Catholic faith. By the way, my family and I are attending a Baptist church here in Scotland. I would never label myself as a Baptist though, I'm not into subtitles.

Thanks again for your response, I'll respond more later.


KathleenLundquist said...

Hi, Marc - my conversion story can be found on Steve Ray's website, Go to Stories, then Conversion Stories, and then scroll down to "Kathie's Story...Letter Protestant Friend". (I'd direct you to my website, but the link is broken.)

Peace of Christ, Kathleen

Anonymous said...

Ah Unitarian-Universalists...

Did you know the Pope's had the president of the UUA to come and visit?

Did you know that that JPII and now Benedict support the WCRP, a Unitarian Universalist founded "interfaith" organization?

Did you know that one of the last prayer's for Assisi sounds JUST like the Alice Bailey/ Lucis Trust inspired one world religion "Great Invocation"?
The Theosophical UUs LOVE IT.


Short exhortation by the Holy Father:

Violence never again!
War never again!
Terrorism never again!
In God's name,
may all religions bring upon earth
justice and peace,
forgiveness, life and love!

How UNIVERSALIST can you get?

KathleenLundquist said...

Wilma, I've responded to your comment in a new post; see above.

Anonymous said...

I answered you above on the first entry, I do not know why it is reading 0 comments still after 3 days. Go ahead and click it, my response is there.