Monthly Archives: March 2016

Little Sisters of the Poor speak clearly to the HHS Mandate question

Health and Human Services claims it “accommodated” our religious beliefs and offered us an “opt-out.”

I wish that were true. In fact, the government has candidly told the Supreme Court that we “don’t get an exemption” at all. Rather, what Health and Human Services is calling an “opt-out” is really an “opt-in” — a permission slip where we authorize the use of our religious health plan to offer services that violate our beliefs and waive our protections under federal civil rights laws. That’s why they need our signature.

The government says this isn’t a problem because it will pay for the services that violate our religious beliefs. But for us this is not a money question; it is a moral question about what we offer in our plan. It’s similar to high schools that have removed soda machines from their property because they don’t think soda is good for children. It doesn’t matter that the soda companies will pay for the machines. And the school’s decision doesn’t prevent children from getting soda elsewhere. The school simply doesn’t want to be responsible for providing something it believes is bad for its students. It is the same with us.

We follow Catholic teaching that abortion and contraception are wrong, but it is very important to understand that this case is not about women’s access to contraception. The administration already exempts many secular corporations like Exxon Mobil and Visa from having to provide the services we are objecting to, because those companies never updated their plans and are “grandfathered.” Add in the exempted plans for military families, the uninsured and cities like New York, and about a third of all Americans don’t have plans covered by this mandate.

We recognize that not everyone agrees with us, and that the government will make laws and provide services we don’t support. But in a free and diverse society, the American government should not force its citizens to act in violation of their religious beliefs, especially when there are so many exemptions already, and much more effective ways to meet the government’s stated goals.

(source: Obamacare’s Birth-Control ‘Exemption’ Still Tramples on Rights – The New York Times)

Progress is for the deluded, Creation is for the meek

Chesterton manages at once the proper relation of “God so loved the world” to “if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” and a refutation of the perverse doctrine and myth of Progress:

What is right with the world is the world. In fact, nearly everything else is wrong with it. This is that great truth in the tremendous tale of Creation, a truth that our people must remember or perish. It is at the beginning that things are good, and not (as the more pallid progressives say) only at the end. The primordial things — existence, energy, fruition — are good so far as they go. You cannot have evil life, though you can have notorious evil livers. Manhood and womanhood are good things, though men and women are often perfectly pestilent. You can use poppies to drug people, or birch trees to beat them, stone to make an idol, or corn to make a corner; but it remains true that, in the abstract, before you have done anything, each of these four things is in strict truth a glory, a beneficent speciality and variety. We do praise the Lord that there are birch trees growing amongst the rocks and poppies amongst the corn; we do praise the Lord, even if we do not believe in Him. We do admire and applaud the project of a world, just as if we had been called to council in the primal darkness and seen the first starry plan of the skies. We are, as a matter of fact, far more certain that this life of ours is a magnificent and amazing enterprise than we are that it will succeed.

(source: What is Right With the World)

Emetic

A good read, reasoned and impassioned:

I know I’m being glib and jocular as I criticize Bill and other friends. That’s basically how I argue. But let me be clear (as Obama likes to say too often): I hate this. I hate it. I hate attacking people I respect. I hate hearing from former fans who say they’re ashamed to have ever admired me or my writing. I hate being unable to meet fellow conservatives half-way. One of the things I love about conservatism is that we argue about our principles; as I’ve written 8 billion times — more or less — we debate our dogma. I love our principled disagreements. But I honestly and sincerely don’t see this as a mere principled disagreement. I see this as an argument about whether or not we should set fire to some principles in a foolish desire to get on the right side of some “movement.” I have never been more depressed about the state of American politics or the health of the conservative movement. I hate the idea that political disagreements will poison friendships — in no small part because as a conservative I think friendship should be immune to politics. I certainly hate having to tell my wife that my political views may negatively affect our income. But I truly fear that this is an existential crisis for the conservative movement I’ve known my whole life. And all I can do is say what I believe. If Donald Trump is elected president, I sincerely and passionately hope I will be proven wrong about all of this. But I just as sincerely and passionately believe I won’t be.

(source: Donald Trump’s Media Supporters — Principles Don’t Matter for Them)

Bad idea, oddly defensive…. (part 3)

I continue to read through the quasi-creedal document, with attached affirmations and denials, issued by R. C. Sproul’s personal publishing brand Ligonier, and proposed for global rollout with a clear view to adoption as “a common confession around which believers from different churches can rally for mission together,” that is, “not a replacement for the church’s historic creeds and confessions but a supplement that articulates their collective teaching.”  With that disclaimer, it is hard to argue that the statement, which is generally quite orthodox when it is making affirmations about Christology proper, is wrongheaded; I would just argue that it is manifestly inferior to the Nicene Creed, and therefore likely to dilute rather than clarify the doctrine of Christ where it is adopted.

If that were my only concern, I would just say, “Bad idea–why not reaffirm the Nicene Creed with a nice commentary?”  The statement, however, does not limit itself to Christology; it swerves out of its way to press incoherent and, in at least one case, frankly heretical negations and disjunctions into its teaching, ramming Presbyterian soteriology into the Christology shared by all the faithful.  In so doing, this statement risks denying the Gospel itself, and in any case teaches a spiritually harmful view of Jesus’ work that is a real danger to souls.  There are good reasons that ecumenical councils have condemned some of these tenets that a few Protestants insist on making the sine qua non of their teaching, even though almost all practical Christians have long since realized that certain features of God’s work overflow the bounds of such calculations.

It is important to notice that there is no reason one needs to see this as an immediate either/or, because it is definitely possible to be an American conservative evangelical Protestant who is quite faithful and doctrinally well-formed, and still avoid the extremes into which this statement swerves in its effort to avoid agreeing with the Church to whom Jesus entrusted the Gospel, a Church whose dissenters have yet joined in affirming the Nicene Creed and a common Baptism in the Triune Name.  We recognize the difference between Christian communities and the likes of the Latter Day Saints or Jehovah’s Witnesses precisely in this, that they have pursued various heresies apart from the Nicene faith, the faith of Christ and the Apostles, of the New Testament and the Fathers.

When we understand ourselves in this connectedness–this solidarity which mourns our separation and seeks to discover the unity of the faith in the Scriptures and the confession of all the faithful, including especially those milestones laid down by the Apostles and the fathers of the early church, who marked the boundaries where others had strayed–we are in a good position to understand our differences and remain faithful to Christ.  When anyone attempts to make common cause with heretics in order to avoid any risk of admitting solidarity with the Church herself, that is, with the Catholic faith, however, there is almost no boundary to the evils that can result.  Over the years, many have found themselves piling heresy on heresy in the effort to defeat the continuity of the faith, but their efforts never survive a quick survey of the history of Christian doctrine–or a test of spiritual fruit.

A result of Ligonier’s effort to use the affirmations and denials to press their Christology into the service of an arch Protestantism–both in the sense of treating solidarity with the Catholic faith as something to be avoided, even at cost of incoherence, and in the sense of insisting that one specific element of personal salvation is not only necessary, but necessarily demands the negation of all other elements–is that the affirmations and denials are often quite mismatched, and that Presbyterian particularities and anti-Catholic assertions sometimes eclipse any connected account of Christology.  Article 18 is a good example of this lack of connection and perspective:

It would be facile to discuss how particularly Presbyterian the expression “session” is, and therefore how oddly it fits an effort to make common cause among various confessional groups.  Nonetheless, as is so often the case, there is little enough to disagree with in the affirmation; shift the nuances of the vocabulary a bit, and this could be a Catholic or a Baptist statement.  The denials, however, are once again a swerve into anti-Catholicism, and in this case are best characterized as just “oddly defensive.”

Why, I ask, should it be thought necessary to mention this at all in a statement on Christology?  After all, it does not follow directly from solidarity with the Catholic faith in its robust defense and development of the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, the key elements of Christology proper, that one should recognize or not the authority of the Bishop of Rome, the servus servorum dei.  Surely, many of us do recognize in the Biblical teaching of Apostolic authority and succession, and of the authority of Sacred Tradition, and of the primacy of Peter among the Apostolic College, the foundation on which the Nicene Creed and other outgrowths of the Spirit’s work in the Church are built.  But those who have been taught to regard highly certain elements of that foundation, and certain rooms in that building, and as it were forbidden by their teachers to enter others, are not therefore automatically excluded from the whole!  But this is the divisive and defensive nature of the Ligonier statement:  Having affirmed the Catholic faith with regard to Christ, it then swerves into an unnecessary and useless effort to deny the solidarity with the Church that its authors have just affirmed.

In so doing, the authors repeat the error in the serpent’s dialogue with Eve, in which the command not to eat the fruit of one tree passes through the misleading question “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” and comes out garbled as “but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it.’”  Posed a misleading question by the confusions and deceptions still lively from the past, these authors overstate their effort to correct it, leading to fresh errors and indicating vulnerability to deception.

It’s no part of my current project to defend at length the idea that the Bishop of Rome is the “vicar of Christ,” but suffice to say that such a role can only be conceived by those who believe that Jesus ordained the Apostles, and Peter first among them, to make such decisions.  If you understand this denial to mean that the Bishop of Rome cannot be what the Church has understood him to be since St. Peter’s last days in that city, then you prove too much–for the Apostles themselves, through whom the New Testament was given and among whom the Church was born, clearly spoke in the Lord’s name and claimed that their tradition was the tradition of Christ, and that deviation from that tradition was self-destructive.

Now, if you say, “I agree that there is nothing about the Person of Christ that makes it necessary to reject Apostolic Succession or Petrine Primacy, only I don’t happen to believe those teachings reflect His actions,” then I understand–and you should ask yourself, why is this in a Christology statement?  It is, of course, defensive; it is a way of avoiding the admission that to confess orthodox Christology is to express solidarity with the Catholic faith.

The same, then, goes for Article 21, which inserts a denial (in confused language) of the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist into an affirmation of Jesus’ role as Priest and Victim in the “once for all” sacrifice at Calvary, and His continuing priesthood:

It is hard to know what to do with this other than to point out the paucity and sterility of such a view, the needless reduction beneath what Scripture and Tradition alike teach us is the wholeness and fulness and richness of Christ’s work, by comparison to the Catholic faith–as, for example, expressed at Trent:

God, the Father of mercies, so ordaining, that another priest should rise, according to the order of Melchisedech, our Lord Jesus Christ, who might consummate, and lead to what is perfect, as many as were to be sanctified. He, therefore, our God and Lord, though He was about to offer Himself once on the altar of the cross unto God the Father, by means of his death, there to operate an eternal redemption; nevertheless, because that His priesthood was not to be extinguished by His death, in the last supper, on the night in which He was betrayed,–that He might leave, to His own beloved Spouse the Church, a visible sacrifice, such as the nature of man requires, whereby that bloody sacrifice, once to be accomplished on the cross, might be represented, and the memory thereof remain even unto the end of the world, and its salutary virtue be applied to the remission of those sins which we daily commit,–declaring Himself constituted a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech, He offered up to God the Father His own body and blood under the species of bread and wine; and, under the symbols of those same things, He delivered (His own body and blood) to be received by His apostles, whom He then constituted priests of the New Testament; and by those words, Do this in commemoration of me, He commanded them and their successors in the priesthood, to offer (them); even as the Catholic Church has always understood and taught.

(source: CT022)

Surely nothing must detract from the “once for all” nature of Christ’s sacrifice, but it is a hobbled understanding that avoids connecting so many Biblical dots (see here for more discussion), that makes so little of the unbroken tradition from the earliest days of the Church that understands the Eucharist as a direct and actual participation in that one sacrifice, a participation made possible by Christ’s continuing to be our High Priest and the Lamb of God, “slain from the foundation of the world,” who offers Body and Blood to us as food, as (unbloody) partaking by grace in the sacrificial meal shared by priest and penitent, so that for us this gift makes present here and now the fact–a fact more than empirically verified, not less–of our participation in that one bloody Sacrifice on Calvary.  In fact, our participation becomes so real that we can be called on to be partakers in the very sufferings of Christ, to be “living sacrifices” just as the one who “died for all” is alive and lives as the Lamb slain until the last “Consummatum est” is spoken.

So it is more than ever, I think, important that we adhere to our common Nicene heritage and to whatever we have received from Sacred Scripture and the Tradition within which is has been delivered to us, always seeking more and better light from our Father.  And it is abundantly clear to me that Sproul et al are a hindrance, at this point, in our efforts to do so.  Let us do better than this.

Bad idea, bad soteriology…. (part 2)

Again, as I read through the new quasi-creedal “Statement on Christology” from R. C. Sproul’s personal publishing brand Ligonier, I want to appreciate that in most respects its affirmations are basically correct.  Interestingly, in Article 13, it is part of the denial that happens to repeat something I quite agree is timely:  that “forgiven” does not mean “merely overlooked or passed over” in a conventional sense of “dismissed as unimportant,” though it is definitely the case that “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” and that He “passed over” some sins in some senses, and “dismissed” all sins in a juridical analogy sense.  Even the language of double imputation, here, is not wholly objectionable–everything depends on how we understand “imputed” to function within the whole economy of salvation.

Unfortunately, conventional Protestant and especially Presbyterian views are going to separate this element of Christ’s work from the rest, and that disjunction and the denials that support it are going to lead such theology farther and farther from the embrace of Christ:

Again, it is easy to agree that “merely overlooked” is an incorrect description of God’s response to sin.  But the other denial is badly structured:  It is simply the negation of the negation of the affirmation.  It gives us no sense of what positive statement is being denied.  What is important, though, is that there is a pretty obvious lacuna in the formula “imputed by faith.”  In what sense do we mean “faith”?  And what is the agency, and what the instrumentality, and how does that work out in terms of real causes, in the construction “by faith”?

Even in my Protestant days, I always found this construction unpersuasive except as one variant of the Biblical juridical or fiduciary analogy for God’s action of salvation–and the reason is the succession of non sequiturs and ad hoc quasi-dogmatic statements required to conjure in our minds a divine action “faith” which both functions as an infused habitual act of the individual agent intellect *and* can in no sense be called either “infused” or an “act” of that individual that might in any sense be called “work” or be considered “meritorious.”  The result is a “by faith” that can have no concrete content, and an “imputation” that must be isolated from any actual change in the person being saved.  When one considers “imputation” as accounting, pursuing the fiduciary analogy for salvation by faith, this amounts to God not giving credit on Christ’s account, but to His maintaining perpetually false books!

Of course, Article 13 would be just fine if by “imputed” we mean “credited,” and if we understand the divine justice to be displayed in that imputation because Christ’s surpassing merit and His blameless suffering are part and parcel of His determination that “when he appears, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”  In fact, we know that this is just how St. Paul describes the unity of these divine causes of salvation.  Unfortunately, in the effort to be good Presbyterians, Sproul and his cohort proceed to restate a major soteriological heresy as though it were part of Christology–may God protect them!

Article 14 is the one that clearly departs from the “faith once for all delivered” about Christ and moves into territory that is dangerous for souls:

OK, skipping over all the well-rehearsed arguments on the subject of whether “justification by faith” or “justification by faith alone” is the message of the Scriptures, a matter in which practical Christians agree more than the wrong sort of doctrinaire thinkers will admit, let’s look first at the logic of the affirmation.  It is a mess.  Again we have the negation, or disjunction, “alone” used under a correlative structure of “to deny” in an affirmation (the second clause).  Again, in the first clause, we have “alone” distributed to two terms in two different ways, and doubled with “apart from” in a way that seems to suggest that the presence of these things is somehow inimical to the others–that only in the affirmative rejection of “personal merit or works” can one have the affirmative presence of justifying faith.

These redoubled negations and disjunctions, which make the affirmation/denial structure incoherent and inadequate as a base for further teachings, are necessary because the plain affirmations would agree with Catholic doctrine, and the authors find themselves both compelled to do so and at a loss for any intellectually honest or rationally coherent way to do so.  These are serious problems, because the Church would be quite happy to countenance my teaching something clearer and more forceful, such as “We are justified by an act of God conditioned on the person and work of Christ, a work apprehended by faith which is infused by the Holy Spirit, faith the content and object of which is the person and work of Jesus Christ, faith which is always by its very character an obedience and an acknowledgement of truth, faith which is always coordinate with hope and ordered toward charity; and without this faith, as habitual act, content, object, and obedience, none can be saved.

In fact, you can find all of that in the Council of Trent, without bothering to look for anything more modern or “ecumenically sensitive” than that!  Here, in fact, are the first several of what many consider an infamous series of anathemas (formal declarations of conditions that separate one from communion) from Trent’s decree on justification.  You should notice that they fence off both “works salvation” and false understandings of “faith” in order to defend the understanding of salvation by grace through faith handed down from Christ and His Apostles:

  • If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.
  • If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly, and to merit eternal life, as if, by free will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty; let him be anathema.
  • If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.
  • If any one saith, that man’s free will moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it cannot refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive; let him be anathema.
  • [Skipping a few at a time from here on down.]
  • If any one saith, that all works done before Justification, in whatsoever way they be done, are truly sins, or merit the hatred of God; or that the more earnestly one strives to dispose himself for grace, the more grievously he sins: let him be anathema.
  • If any one saith, that the fear of hell,-whereby, by grieving for our sins, we flee unto the mercy of God, or refrain from sinning,-is a sin, or makes sinners worse; let him be anathema.
  • If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.
  • If any one saith, that men are just without the justice of Christ, whereby He merited for us to be justified; or that it is by that justice itself that they are formally just; let him be anathema.
  • If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.
  • If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.
  • If any one saith, that it is necessary for every one, for the obtaining the remission of sins, that he believe for certain, and without any wavering arising from his own infirmity and disposition, that his sins are forgiven him; let him be anathema.
  • If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema.
  • If any one saith, that the grace of Justification is only attained to by those who are predestined unto life; but that all others who are called, are called indeed, but receive not grace, as being, by the divine power, predestined unto evil; let him be anathema.
  • If any one saith, that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to keep; let him be anathema.

One should always be very careful, too, about reading the canons of councils without due attention to the forms they were reading and hearing of the specific affirmations they reject, and their explanations of that background.  Here’s a wonderful selection from the decree on justification:

Whereas all men had lost their innocence in the prevarication of Adam…they were so far the servants of sin, and under the power of the devil and of death, that not the Gentiles only by the force of nature, but not even the Jews by the very letter itself of the law of Moses, were able to be liberated, or to arise, therefrom; although free will, attenuated as it was in its powers, and bent down, was by no means extinguished in them.[…]
Whence it came to pass, that the heavenly Father…sent unto men, Jesus Christ, His own Son…that He might both redeem the Jews who were under the Law, and that the Gentiles, who followed not after justice, might attain to justice, and that all men might receive the adoption of sons. Him God hath proposed as a propitiator, through faith in his blood, for our sins, and not for our sins only, but also for those of the whole world.[…]
But, though He died for all, yet do not all receive the benefit of His death, but those only unto whom the merit of His passion is communicated. For as in truth men, if they were not born propagated of the seed of Adam, would not be born unjust,…so, if they were not born again in Christ, they never would be justified; seeing that, in that new birth, there is bestowed upon them, through the merit of His passion, the grace whereby they are made just. For this benefit the apostle exhorts us, evermore to give thanks to the Father, who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light, and hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love, in whom we have redemption, and remission of sins.[…]
By which words, a description of the Justification of the impious is indicated,–as being a translation, from that state wherein man is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace, and of the adoption of the sons of God, through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Saviour. And this translation, since the promulgation of the Gospel, cannot be effected, without the laver of regeneration, or the desire thereof, as it is written; unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.[…]
The Synod furthermore declares, that in adults, the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God, through Jesus Christ, that is to say, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace: in such sort that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, neither is man himself utterly without doing anything while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch as he is also able to reject it; yet is he not able, by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in His sight. Whence, when it is said in the sacred writings: Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you, we are admonished of our liberty; and when we answer; Convert us, O Lord, to thee, and we shall be converted, we confess that we are prevented by the grace of God.

(source: CT06)

And the Council wisely addresses the many-layered causation that is always at work when we speak of a divine action that embraces Creation and Redemption and also each of the circumstances, down to the innermost thoughts, of every one of us:

Of this Justification the causes are these: the final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting; while the efficient cause is a merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing, and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance; but the meritorious cause is His most beloved only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, merited Justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father; the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which (faith) no man was ever justified; lastly, the alone formal cause is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as He wills, and according to each one’s proper disposition and co-operation. For, although no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet is this done in the said justification of the impious, when by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth, by the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of those that are justified, and is inherent therein: whence, man, through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these (gifts) infused at once, faith, hope, and charity. For faith, unless hope and charity be added thereto, neither unites man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body. For which reason it is most truly said, that Faith without works is dead and profitless; and, In Christ Jesus neither circumcision, availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by charity. This faith, Catechumens beg of the Church–agreeably to a tradition of the apostles–previously to the sacrament of Baptism; when they beg for the faith which bestows life everlasting, which, without hope and charity, faith cannot bestow: whence also do they immediately hear that word of Christ; If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Wherefore, when receiving true and Christian justice, they are bidden, immediately on being born again, to preserve it pure and spotless, as the first robe given them through Jesus Christ in lieu of that which Adam, by his disobedience, lost for himself and for us, that so they may bear it before the judgment-seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, and may have life everlasting.

(source: CT06, emphasis added)

But to say that such an all-embracing work of Jesus Christ is only actually effective when it carries with it a habitual exclusion of any effectual conversion, any grace which changes us and makes faith and hope and love part of us, is ludicrous; and what else can this constant and incoherent repetition of an “alone” and “apart from” that excludes portions of the promise of Christ be?  To assert this “alone” and “apart from” in this radical and irrational manner is to deny the Gospel its goodness, the work of Christ its real fruit, to reject any real sense that “fruits worthy of repentance” are a real thing, that “walk worthy” is not a delusion but a serious matter of prayer and effort for all the saints.  I do not want to say that this statement is trying to “deny the Gospel,” but it is hard to avoid saying so–better, perhaps, to point out that its errors can be relied on to scorch and wither the fruits of the Gospel, the fecund realities of the life-giving Creator’s work of Redemption, and to render the believer’s life arid and sterile.

Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.  In any case, it is important to note that this is where the statement lapses into rank heresy, clearly condemned by a ratified ecumenical council, and that it is in no way spiritually safe to follow where its authors, in their blindness, are leading.

It may also be worth noting that this is in no way a statement of Christology; it is a bit of soteriology gratuitously inserted to divide the faithful, for the authors of this statement know well that there are no orthodox Christian foundations of Christology properly so called that are not well comprehended in the Catholic tradition and the ecumenical councils, so that to clarify Christology is to express solidarity with the Church herself, that is, the Catholic faith.  It is profoundly sad, and profoundly dangerous to souls, that some find it impossible to do so.

So, this is a bad idea….

For reasons not wholly obvious to me–possibly because I have not been caught up in the swirl of American conservative evangelical Protestant theological debate for a while, now–the parachurch teaching arm of R. C. Sproul’s personal ministry, Ligonier, has released a “Statement on Christology” that they are promoting far and wide.  Unlike, say, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, this does not seem to be the result of a convergence of many teachers from various places on the evangelical spectrum, working hard to be as ecumenical (that is, as whole-church) as possible for evangelicals.  This is a branded product of one particular ministry, which is being advertised post hoc as of and for the whole church.  As a Catholic, of course, I disagree that Ligonier represents a church, let alone the Church that Jesus Christ founded, and that is by His promise and the Holy Spirit’s effectual work an indefectable historical Bride and Body of Christ, in one-flesh union with Him; but even as an evangelical I would have taken note that Ligonier is not actually even a particular communion, but a publishing brand.  The statement is formatted to echo various evangelical ecumenical efforts, and nods to the ancient creeds, but it is an inadequate expression whose adoption would dilute, rather than concentrate, the knowledge of Christ among the Christian faithful.

I cannot disagree, however, that there has been some confusing teaching and speculation about Christology, especially in those corners where “no creed but Christ” has led to a shrinking of doctrinal clarity to the point where recognizing Mary as “Mother of God” sounds “too Catholic” for many a Biblicist, on the one hand–and no speculation is too heterodox to project on the Scriptures to too many eager innovators, on the other.  (Mary’s role as theotokos is, of course, a settled matter of Christian doctrine and a mark of those who understand Jesus as the Christ attested in Scripture and received in faith by the Church.)  Sproul explains his reasons for rolling out this statement as follows:

Confusion abounds regarding Christology—the doctrine of Christ—both in the West and around the world. As the church continues to grow, it is imperative that believers are taught the truths of Scripture as summarized in such documents as the Nicene Creed, the Definition of Chalcedon, and the Westminster Confession of Faith. Such confessions provide guidelines to help the church develop a more biblical and consistent theology, and we believe the Ligonier Statement on Christology is a tool that can be used to renew the church’s understanding of its historic Christological position. It can also be used as a rallying point around which believers from different churches can come together for evangelism and discipleship. Our goal is not to replace any historic confessions but to draw together their Christological insights in a helpful, summary form so that believers can know what the church has historically taught. That teaching has continuing relevance in our own era.

(source: Announcing the Ligonier Statement on Christology)

I hasten to credit them for being specific that they do not intend their statement “to replace any historic confessions,” but I think one need only read the statement itself to see how inadequately it accomplishes its goal “to draw together their Christological insights”:

We confess the mystery and wonder of God made flesh and rejoice in our great salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.

With the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Son created all things, sustains all things, and makes all things new. Truly God, He became truly man, two natures in one person.

He was born of the Virgin Mary and lived among us. Crucified, dead, and buried, He rose on the third day, ascended to heaven, and will come again in glory and judgement.

For us, He kept the Law, atoned for sin, and satisfied God’s wrath. He took our filthy rags and gave us His righteous robe.

He is our Prophet, Priest, and King, building His church, interceding for us, and reigning over all things.

Jesus Christ is Lord; we praise His holy Name forever. Amen.

(source: The Ligonier Statement on Christology)

By “inadequate,” I do not mean false or heretical.  No, the short creed-like statement itself, if a little anemic, is sound enough.  It reads like a “contemporvant” reworking of the Apostle’s Creed, with bits of Isaiah and a Presbyterian flavor.  The statement wanders from Christology proper into a typically Protestant emphasis on the means of personal salvation in Christ.  Yet, even in these areas where it wanders from Christology into soteriology, the statement, like the actual Creeds of the Church, does reflect a Catholic understanding of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.  To demonstrate this, I’ve supplied links to the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirming each of the following points:

  • He kept the Law (CCC 577ff)
  • atoned for sin (CCC 615-16)
  • satisfied God’s wrath (CCC 613-17)
  • took our filthy rags, gave us His righteous robe (CCC 615)
  • Prophet, Priest, and King (CCC 436 hence 783)
  • building His church (CCC 551-53, 787-89, 756)
  • interceding for us (CCC 662)
  • reigning over all things.(CCC 664, 541ff esp. 550)
  • Jesus Christ is Lord (CCC 446ff)

In its brevity the statement, despite its allusions to the WCF, differs strikingly from that document.  The WCF, of course, is not a creed but a lengthy replacement for the Anglican 39 Articles; and whatever the excellencies of the WCF may be, had as its major purpose consolidating the arguments in favor of heresy and schism, arguments which by their very nature cannot form a basis for unity in the faith.  The statement’s own high degree of concord with the historic faith of the whole Church is, of course, a sign of high hope for the enduring degree of union that all Christians share by baptism in the Triune Name; but it is, ironically, thin precisely in its language of Christology proper.  Compare its language to the Nicene Creed itself:

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Amen.

(source: What We Believe)

This creedal language, richly related to the narrative language of the Gospels and the theological discourse of Athanasius and other saintly contenders for the “faith once for all delivered to the saints,” of which the Church is the custodian, is far superior to the comparatively aseptic and disconnected language of the Ligonier statement.  Even though that statement does not disagree with the Creed, it accomplishes nothing on par with “God from God, Light from Light, true God from True God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father” in locating the Son of God thoroughly within the Trinity and in relation to the Creation; its “through him all things were made” makes him not just an agreeing will, but a particular metaphysical agent in Creation, like the language of John 1 (in which the Logos both “was God” and “was with God”).

The Ligonier statement’s sparse creedal language seems intended to gain assent from widely different evangelical Christians while avoiding the harsh particularity of agreeing on specific propositions about metaphysics in an anti-metaphysical era.  By avoiding this, however, the statement falls short of both a “statement of faith” and a “creed” in their purposes; it does not represent, as nearly as possible, a determination of the whole Church about what has definitely been learned from Christ’s teaching and the whole of the Scriptures.

It’s when the statement moves past the creedal setting and into the affirmations and denials, though, that things get really interesting.  Such “affirmations and denials” are, of course, a common feature of such documents.  Stating a positive truth and indicating clearly what positive error it excludes, when done properly, creates a logical “box” for meaning.  So, for example, to state that the Son of God is “consubstantial with the Father,” and to anathematize any who propose that Jesus is a creature of the Father, makes the rejection of Arianism and the embrace of the unicity and simplicity of the Triune God a solid basis for developing clear teaching about divine and human nature, and the purposes and extent of the Incarnation.  In this statement, however, Ligonier frequently fails to structure the denials as properly orthogonal to the affirmations.  It is hardly alone in this, but it is nonetheless a flaw.  It is especially awkward that several denials appear to be gratuitous assertions not conditioned upon a particular affirmation.

Let me take a few examples.  Of course, nobody will be surprised that several of my examples also specifically deal with matters in which WCF adherents, or in a vague way most Protestants, are still downstream from certain errors that arose in the course of various heresies and schisms with which Europe became rife during the Reformation.

In the first case, I get to point to one in which all the words are, taken as plainly as possible, correct:


Now, I think the language “the historical Jesus” and “in His humanity” are poor choices for an affirmation, because it is hard to read them except as qualifiers, as making distinctions, that would limit the meaning of the clause.  Yes, “the historical Jesus” indicates that we are not merely referring to a “kerygmatic Christ” who was proclaimed by faith in response to a divine revelation that may or may not have been strictly *about* the “historical Jesus.”  Insofar as that is the intent of the phrase, it is well done.  And yes, “in His humanity” is likely intended to prevent any confusion between “Jesus…was conceived” and “Jesus…began to exist.”  But the net effect is still to suggest an interpretive distance between the Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, and “the historical Jesus…conceived…of the Virgin Mary.”  It is not a good writing choice for a formal statement on Christology (a context in which the Schweitzer/Bultmann sort of language about Jesus, the “historical” versus “kerygmatic,” really has no place at all).  I would suggest, without having carefully edited this together with the exact wording of previous statements, something like the following instead:  “The eternally begotten Son of God was, by the power of the Holy Spirit, miraculously conceived of the substance and born of the Virgin Mary[, so that the man Christ Jesus was truly God and also truly human].”

In addition to this, I suspect that the denial is intended to be aimed at both certain Protestant misunderstandings of the Virgin Birth (the view that the Virgin Birth was necessary so that Jesus could be sinless is not at all uncommon in the circles I grew up in) and also the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin.  Of course, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception does not at all say that Jesus could only be sinless if Mary was first sinless.  (Here, go read the dogmatic definition for yourself!)  Who does say that?  Ill-informed Protestant apologists who are confused about the history of teaching on the Incarnation, determined to put the Church in the wrong without regard for constructive affirmation of durable truth, and who often use with regard to the Virgin Birth logic they reject with regard to the Immaculate Conception, when they are wrong on both counts!  To its credit, the Ligonier statement does not actually fall into this trap; but as I have reason to believe this confusion will begin to swirl at the evangelical/Catholic boundary again, I want to be abundantly clear about what the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception really means.

It always surprises me when I find myself using a Scripture in the course of explaining Christian, that is to say Catholic, doctrine–only to have someone use that same Scripture as though it opposed the Church’s clear teaching!  This happens when the Ligonier statement seems to be attempting to fence off any proper understanding of the Church’s character on earth:

First, this is a key example of the failure to make the denials orthogonal to the affirmations.  The three part denial appears to respond to three different senses in which “sole mediator” could be applied to Jesus.  Contra “other incarnations,” Jesus would be seen as the one and only human who is also God; contra “[other] human mediators of redemption,” Jesus would be seen as the one and only human in that role (which requires definition not here given); to get the sense required to set this over against “means of salvation apart from [Jesus],” we would have to equate the terms “sole mediator” and “means of salvation.”

We also have a duplication of sense, probably masking an equivocation, at “Christ alone.”  The implicit negations or disjunctions in “alone” and “apart” and “sole” do not make for clarity in a situation where the denial of a positive error should correlate clearly with the affirmation of a positive teaching.  If we go for the clearest and most sensible reading possible, “Christ alone is the sole mediator between God and men in the sense of ‘means of salvation'” is the effective sense yielded by the affirmation and the third denial.  If the “alone” is not merely nugatory, that is, if it is meant to have an additional affirmative thrust, then it must mean “Christ, affirmatively excluding all others.”  But this will hardly do, because it is senseless–it is not conceivable–to affirmatively exclude “everything other than” Christ, that is, more things than we can possibly be aware of; it is spiritually harmful to labor under the need to constantly separate this “means of salvation” Jesus from the Jesus of teaching, healing, understanding, etc.  It is profoundly opposed to the embrace of Christ to attempt to affirmatively exclude all “means” except Christ Himself from Christ’s all-embracing work of salvation:

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen.

(source: Romans 11:36 RSV-CE)

The work of Jesus Christ includes all things, reconciling them to Himself; as the “one mediator between God and men.”  But Jesus Himself appointed messengers and ministers, and even the Westminster Confession recognizes that it is possible for these to speak with divine authority even in matters of salvation.

It is senseless to say that the Incarnation was essential to our salvation, that Jesus Christ founded the Church and taught us the Gospel and gave specific instructions and promises, but that nothing and no one involved is a “mediator” or “means of salvation” in any sense of the term.  Plainly, it is necessary to make a distinction between the utterly unique sense in which Jesus Christ is the “sole mediator” and an analogous sense in which others, too, mediate between Jesus Christ and each of us in His work of salvation.  Simply put, God’s use of lesser mediatiors does not in any way impair Christ’s unutterably unique role as the “one mediator between God and men.”  Nobody makes more of the unique work of God in the Incarnation than the true Church that Jesus founded!  The idea that one must affirmatively reject what God has given to lead us to Christ and to incorporate us into His life, in order to rely on Christ *rather than any means Christ might choose to employ*, is too incoherent to be held seriously upon examination.  We may safely reject any serious application of this formula.

Reading charitably, then, we are left with an effective affirmation and denial pair whose denial would be better rewritten thus:  “We deny that any other human has been or ever will be God Incarnate, or that any mediator apart from Christ could reconcile God and man.

I will continue with more later, but I trust you are getting the drift.  The creedal statement is mostly orthodox and sound, and so are most of the affirmations, but the denials stumble a lot, and occasionally conjure errors that may not exist in their efforts to hedge out Catholic views.

Later, we’ll look at some actually serious soteriological errors smuggled into this “Christology,” but for now–it’s just unnecessary, and probably unwise, that this statement should be issued at this form at this time.

Never forget what it’s really about

There is no reason we should want to tolerate the slaughter of innocents just because it’s regulated to protect some of those involved (by ensuring the clean and efficient slaughter of others).  But there really is a reason to press for laws which insist that the killing of babies not actually be more dangerous than real life-saving care, especially that it not be sold as “safe, legal, and rare” only to actually be less safe than going to the ER with a serious illness.  

One reason is that it will actually shut down clinics that profit from the slaughter of children.  That’s a really good reason, and nobody should disclaim it.

But there’s another reason, and that reason has everything to do with the astonishingly, even irrationally, vehement opposition of so many allies of the slaughter industry to even the most common sense medical reforms:

Those who slaughter the innocent for a living, and the profiteers and ideologues that organize them, promote them, and build an industry on the body parts of babies, do not want regular health care personnel anywhere near the process.

Nurses, you see, tend to become unreliable when they are actually required to participate in murder.  Real doctors do, too.

If you’re wondering why…

Fr. Longenecker nails it:

Why are Americans tumbling headlong into the worship of a lying, lecherous, crooked Tiberius on the one hand and a scheming, ambitious, corrupt and lying Livia on the other?

Because sin has made us stupid. Sin blinds us. Why? Because first we start lying to ourselves. We justify our sins. We say they don’t matter. We say they aren’t really sins. When we lie to ourselves we believe our own lies and then we will very easily believe the lies of others. Donald Trump and the Clintons have been caught out in lie after lie, but we don’t mind because we lie all the time. We have chosen what we want to believe according to what is comfortable and not according to what is true. Therefore when someone comes along and tells us a lie that makes us comfortable for a moment, or makes us feel strong or makes us feel superior we swallow it hook, line and sinker.

For fifty years Americans have indulged in sexual immorality, abortion, war, murder, graft, corruption, abuse of the poor, sodomy, child abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction….and the list could go on. For the most part we’ve turned a blind eye. We’ve excused ourselves and excused others in the name of a weak kind of tolerance. Consequently, as a nation we are blind and stupid because sin makes you stupid.

(source: Sin Makes You Stupid…and Violent)

Timely Reminder

However, in this context, it is easier to understand why the United Nations gave its first ever population award to the Chinese minister for population planning in 1983. Such was the social hysteria of the time that the forcible violation of women’s bodies in pursuit of government policy won a United Nations award. It is a good reminder that international politics is not always well thought out, nor is the dignity of individuals always a key concern for international entities run by individuals with agendas. This approach continues in many international aid policies today.

(source: Review of Mei Fong’s ‘One Child’)