"Love! Do you know the meaning of the word?" 'How should I not?' said the Lady, 'I am in love...in Love Himself.'
~C.S. Lewis
The Great Divorce

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Calvinistic Predestination and How the Blessed Sacrament Disproves It

For those who are unaware, there is a doctrine held by some that God in his infinite Wisdom chose out from humanity a certain number for whom Christ's ransom on the cross would be effective. Those inside this group are called the elect. Those who are outside of this are called the reprobate.

It sounds harsh for a loving God to consign a set number of people to Hell, but this view does have the merits of doing everything possible to uphold the sovereignty of God over all matters. It is also true that there are numerous passages particularly from Romans 8 and 9, Ephesians 1, and other places which would give creedence to this view. Also, before I continue, I wish to note that I believe many, if not all Calvinists, to be believers. However, the Eucharist is what I propose to be the nail in this doctrine's coffin.

In Matthew and Mark's account of the Last Supper, as Jesus gives the Bread and Wine he states that this is his Body and Blood which has been shed for many. Only "for many"? This might lend creedence to the Calvinist belief. But Scripture must be balanced with Scripture. In Luke's account, specifically Luke 22:19-20, Jesus makes the explicit claim this is my Body and my Blood which is given/shed "for you." Furthermore, in John's great Eucharistic discourse recorded in chapter 6, Jesus says "the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." (6:51) Unless of course you eat and drink the sacramental Bread and Wine with faith, the Sacrament will not effect life in the recipient. However, that is not the point to be made here. Judas Iscariot took the Bread and Wine in Luke's account, and even though John 6 does not take place in the Upper Room I think it is safe to say that what Jesus said on that mountain held true when he shared the Last Supper with his Apostles. "I give you, Judas, my Flesh and Blood, my Body has been broken for you." Yet, the Scripture and Universal Tradition bear out that Judas was not a believer. Yet, the meal which represents to us and effects in us the redemption of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was offered to him. It does not make any sense to debate whether or not Judas could have changed his mind at the last minute or anything like that. He didn't. But I think Jesus is clear that the Bread and Wine, Himself, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, are offered to even the most wretched-including those who will not repent of their sins.

In the end, when we view the passages regarding predestination in Scripture, I think it would be helpful for us to have the basic understanding that there are things we simply cannot know. It is is better that way. Could I end up being wrong about this? It certainly could be. I doubt it considering what I've cited above. I also doubt that I'm wrong about Calvinism because of Peter's address in his first general Epistle. In verse two he says that all the believers to whom he writes are "elect according to the foreknowledge of God." Again, we want to be careful with this statement because we do not want to fall into the trap that God reacts to what man does. But we should use this verse and the verses pertaining to the Institution of the Eucharist to temper what might appear in other places to be a demonstration that God elects people almost haphazardly. Instead of focusing in on these questions, let us rejoice in the humility of God the Son, who we remember this time of year came as a poor, weak, baby that he might give his life for us and for those who will never care. And may we in return give ourselves fully in gratitude for the "bread which has come down from heaven, and is given for the life of the world."

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Neglected Verse

Many hymnals are missing verses to great hymns. One of those songs is the almost universally sung (in the English world) Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. For this Carol, three verses are typically listed. All three are poetically, theologically, and devotionally great. However, the fourth verse really nails down two huge themes of Scripture: the coming of the Seed of the Woman (promised in Genesis 3:15) and Jesus Christ as that Seed, the Second Adam.
Here are the words:

Come, Desire of Nations, come
Fix in us thy humble home.
Rise the Woman's conq'ring Seed
Bruise in us the serpent's head.
Adam's likeness now efface,
Stamp thine image in its place.
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King.

The title, Desire of Nations, is taken from the infrequently read prophecy of Haggai, chapter two and verse seven. This verse speaks to the universal desire for a relationship with God, as well as God's desire that he have a relationship with people from all over the world. In order to do this the Seed of the Woman, Jesus, the one who would atone for Adam's sin had to be born. By his birth he begins his mission to crush the head of the serpent. Revelation 12:4 indicates that Satan, the dragon, was there at the beginning, at the Nativity, to make an attempt to thwart Christ, but was unsuccessful. This is a complete inversion from the "births" of Adam and Eve in the opening chapters of Genesis where it appears that they nearly immediately caved to Satan. Thus, the Second Adam comes and not only avoids the temptations of the devil but is able to "efface" the old man in each of us and restore his own image.
Thus, the verse ends with the prayer that Jesus reinstate us in his love. It is important to realize several points. First, the sin of the first Adam, with which we are born, is separation from God. Secondly, that only Christ could take the initiative to grant us access to God. Jesus by his grace and mercy can and will reinstate all people who desire it.
May it be the prayer of each of us this Christmas that the Christ child, who loved us so much that he came in humility as a baby, would reinstate us sinners in his divine love.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holy Family

This is the poem I wrote to commemorate the upcoming Christmas season.

Holy Mary, blessed Daughter of Eve,
the Virgin of Nazareth did conceive
A Son; becoming on Bethlehem's sod
Holy Mary, radiant Mother of God.

Holy Joseph, blessed Son of David,
Strong guardian of the Uncreated.
Watch'd and protected the Beloved One
Holy Joseph, the Father of God's Son.

Holy Jesus, blessed Brother of all
People who seek salvation from the Fall.
By thy Conception and Incarnation,
Holy Jesus, make us new creations.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration, Its Opponents, and Why They Are Wrong

The following is an excerpt from an article by the Reformed Protestant R.C. Sproul.

"The drafters of the document, Charles Colson, Robert George, and Timothy George, used deliberate language that is on par with the ecumenical language of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) movement that began in the 1990s. The Manhattan Declaration states, “Christians are heirs of a 2,000-year tradition of proclaiming God’s Word,” and it identifies “Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelicals” as “Christians.” The document calls Christians to unite in “the Gospel,” “the Gospel of costly grace,” and “the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness.” Moreover, the document says, “it is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season.”
Without question, biblical truth must be proclaimed and the gospel preached prophetically to our nation. But how could I sign something that confuses the gospel and obscures the very definition of who is and who is not a Christian? I have made this point again and again since the days of ECT. Though the framers of the Manhattan Declaration declaim any connection to ECT, it appears to me that the Manhattan Declaration is inescapably linked to that initiative, which I have strenuously resisted. More than that, this new document practically assumes the victory of ECT in using the term “the gospel” in reference to that which Roman Catholics are said to “proclaim” (Phil. 1:27).
The Roman Catholic Church has a long history of using studied ambiguity in order to win over opponents. Let me be unambiguous: Without a clear understanding of sola fide and the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, you do not have the gospel or gospel unity (1 Cor. 1:17; 2 Cor. 5:21). The ECT initiative repeatedly avowed that the signatories had a unity of faith in the gospel. This included Roman Catholic signers who affirm the canons and decrees of the sixteenth-century Council of Trent, which anathematizes sola fide. I believe there are true and sincere Christians within the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches. But these people are Christians in spite of their church’s official doctrinal positions."

Mr. Sproul, I would like to make two observations. First, as you well know, in reference to the doctrine of justification, the only place in all of Scripture that the words "faith alone" are used, they are, to quote a video I once saw, "proceeded by the words NOT BY." Indeed, what would God have had to say in order to make you believe this? To this very simple truth could be added that St. Paul only ever teaches that a "faith working by love" (Gal. 5:6) is one that justifies, and that we are to "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling." (Phil. 2:12) Never unaided by grace, of course. That would be impossible. But works are necessary to justification and salvation. At the very least, even if over half of the world's Christians are wrong on these interpretations of Justification, you could at least be more charitable in your understanding of their biblical origin.
Your reply to that statement is likely to be something along the lines of "it's not charitable to allow someone to persist in error." Fair enough. But given the that these teachings have the weight of the Church and Tradition, plus the Scriptural references cited above (and many others I have not cited), perhaps you need to revisit whether or not Sola Fide is the central doctrine of Scripture, or even a Christian doctrine at all.

Secondly, this excerpt:
"At least one of the document’s framers, Mr. Colson, sees the Manhattan Declaration as a way to revitalize the church in America. In his commentary on November 25, Mr. Colson said the Manhattan Declaration is “a form of catechism for the foundational truths of the faith.” He suggests that the Manhattan Declaration is an antidote to “biblical and doctrinal ignorance” within the church. However, true reformation and revival within the church and the winning of our culture to Christ will come only through the power of the Holy Spirit and our clear, bold proclamation of the biblical gospel, not through joint ecumenical statements that equivocate on the most precious truths given to us."

That last statement is something with which I would strongly disagree. There are several reasons for this. First, Jesus prayed "that they may all be one...that the world may believe." (John 17) The gospel is more effective when there is unity. To say otherwise is to argue with Jesus. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, is the idea that the three issuses tackled by the Manhattan Declaration (Sanctity of life, Marriage, and Religous liberty) are not integral to the gospel. While I am not an expert in anyway on the third, the first two of these issues I would like to briefly address. First, true love cannot take place outside the boundaries set by the Moral law, the ten commandments. For the summary of the law is to love God and love your neighbor. Since it is only faith that which works by love that can justify the sinner, dealing with what is perhaps the most gruesome manifestation of love's opposite, hatred, is indeed at the heart of the gospel.
Secondly, Mr. Sproul, even if you refuse to consider marriage a sacrament, you must admit that marriage is the grandest of the figures of redemption. Each man and woman that marries is participating in the love of Christ (the Bridegroom) and his Church (the Bride). The paradigm that is set up from the creation of Male and Female in the garden of Eden is that marriage is supposed to result in the creation of life. The marriage of Christ to his Church is a life-giving one. He sacrifices himself, and in death, gives us his life. Homosexuality, and all other forms of sexual infidelity, cannot function in the same way. Christian teaching on marriage is not simply meant as a set of rules to destroy the fun of pagans. It is protection of the fact, that our marriages are themselves the sign of God's life-giving love. Teaching against homosexuality is not something that is limited to a few select passages from Levitical law or St. Paul. It is the understanding that our view of redemption is, or at least should be, predicated on the figure of marriage: a groom who gives up and puts before his own interests that of his bride, who in return gives her whole self to him "for the life of the world." Indeed, defending marriage is not ancillary to the gospel, but is central to it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


"Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." (Ez. 37:9)

As I sit at my table watching the developing blizzard conditions here in Northern Maryland, I am struck not only by the snow, but the quite strong winds which seem to change direction every few minutes. The wind calls to mind many famous passages from Scripture, particularly the account of Pentecost and Jesus' discourse with Nicodemus.

But I was thinking also this morning about the above passage from the prophecy of Ezekiel. In many ancient languages, indeed in several modern ones, the words for Wind, Breath, and Spirit are the same. Ruach (Hebrew), Pneuma (Greek), and Anima (Latin). Thus when it is written "say to the wind" it would be every bit as accurate to translate the Hebrew, "say to the Spirit." As we confess in the Creed, "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and GIVER OF LIFE," this should be a passage of Scripture which comes to mind. The prophet is set down in a valley of dry bones and the Lord asks him if the bones can live again. Ezekiel calls to the Wind and it comes down and brings new life to the bones. A few verses further down these bones are identified as the "whole house of Israel." But the miracle and beauty of this passage are not limited to the geographic bounds of Israel. The afore quoted verse which speaks of the Spirit coming from the four winds, indicates that the life this Spirit gives is for everyone in the world. If you live in the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast today, let the snow remind you of the purity with which we are infused because of Christ. But also let the wind remind you of the Holy Spirit's operation in applying Jesus Christ's grace to our hearts and making us alive. Call to mind the sheer power of this operation to create life where there wasn't any. After all, it is also at this time of year that we remember the power of the Holy Ghost overshadowing the noble Virgin and creating in her the humanity of God's only-begotten Son.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Blog Name

My first blog on this site was about my URL, enchantingrelish. It can be seen here. http://enchantingrelish.blogspot.com/2008/12/my-first-blog.html

But I also wanted to take a moment to explain the name of my humble blog, "Power of Paradox". It actually is a phrase I have lifted from a song by Michael Card called God's Own Fool. It has the following lines:

So surrender the hunger to say you must know.
Have the courage to say I believe.
For the power of paradox opens your eyes,
And blinds those who say they can see.

There are certain things that I and other Christians can see and understand which seem like utter foolishness to unbelievers. Many thought Jesus Christ himself was mad. Why should they think any more of his followers? Without denying that there are mysteries (The Most Holy Trinity, the Eucharist) I wish I understood, their is a liberation in saying I simply believe them. Without denying the place and authority of Reason, we can affirm doctrines which seem unreasonable to those whose eyes have not been opened by belief. Or said more simply, Seeing is not Believing; Believing is Seeing.

Friday, December 4, 2009

C.S Lewis the Poet

Well known as an apologist, literary critic, and author, few know that C.S. Lewis was also a poet. I recently came upon a work of his (printed below) that I had never seen. It seems to me an excellent reflection on Rom. 8:26b: "but the Spirit itself maketh intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered."


Master, they say that when I seem
To be in speech with you,
Since you make no replies, it's all a dream
-One talker aping two.

They are half right, but not as they
Imagine; rather, I
Seek in myself the things I mean to say,
And lo! the wells are dry.

Then, seeing me empty, you forsake
The Listener's role, and through
My dead lips breathe and into utterance wake
The thoughts I never knew.

And thus you neither need reply
Nor can; thus, while we seem
Two talking, thou art One forever, and I
No dreamer, but thy dream.

The Problem of Cell Phones

I was tempted to title this post "The Problem of Evil: Cell Phones", but I restrained myself. Recently, I have become extremely irritated by the ways they interfere in human affairs. When I say human affairs, I do not mean that as an overstatement of the problem. However, cell phones are destroying humanity. Why is it that at a church service people should have to be asked to turn them off? Why is it that a concert hall must print an announcement reminding people to turn of cell phones and pagers? (side note: does anybody still use a pager?)

The more important question I wish to ask and have answered, is why do so many people act like they have no interest in being wherever they are? If I was at dinner with someone having a conversation, would it not seem odd if I never made eye contact? There is something about the physical (not sexual mind you) relationships we have. Contact with other persons has no substitute. Why then, when you are with other people in a situation where you are supposed to be interacting with them, would you resort to calling someone on your cell phone?

I understand a couple of situations. Perhaps, you are genuinely somewhere you would rather not be. I am not talking about that situation. Emergencies are another obvious exception and I'm sure there are others of which I cannot think at the moment.

But my basic point is this, cell phones cause constant interruptions which are enabled by people who find whatever they are doing less interesting than what might be on their cellular device. I find this disruption hurtful. But more than that, it rips apart the fabric of human connection by inserting an invisible other to rupture conversation. Of course, much like guns in the gun control debate, it is not the cell phone at issue, but the people who use and abuse them.

Again, I'm not condemning people who are on their phone frequently. Some of my friends work on the road, they would be alone otherwise. The cell phone for them is a great invention. The phone has also helped me out of several tight situations. I am grateful for that. But in trying to connect more people in more places with each other, what we have actually succeeded in doing is isolating ourselves from the communities in which we find ourselves.

I simply cannot imagine Jesus whipping out a cell phone while ministering to the sick. He would not have sent a text message to someone while the woman taken in adultery was brought to him. Be a friend to the people around you. Talk to them. Make your calls when you are in private or at least excuse yourself from the group if you are going to take or make one.