Monday, September 27, 2010

You Can Lose Your Salvation: An Exegesis of Luke 15



I asked my students in a lesson last week, "Can a Christian lose their salvation?" I took a show of hands and about half said 'yes', about a third were unsure and only one or two said 'no'. So we looked a three parables (Luke 15):

The parable of the lost sheep
The parable of the lost coin (drachma)
The parable of the prodigal son

These three parables have one in common: they all concern something that is "lost" and "found again". If something is lost, it once had to be "found" (i.e. in possession).

All three parables end the same way as well:

"Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." - Luke 15:7

"Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents." - Luke 15:10

"'It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'" - Luke 15:32

Jesus placed particular emphasis on the need for repentance (to acknowledge wrongdoings and seek forgiveness for reparation), but what these three parables have in common is this: they all involve lost things. If something is "lost", it was before "found" (i.e. in possession). But it's the wording of the final verse in the Parable of the Prodigal Son that's most poignant:

"... for your brother was dead, and is alive..."

Let's do some quick trivia...

1.) The wages of sin is?

Death (Romans 6:23)! Yes, you guessed it.

2.) God is God of the?

Living (Mark 12:27)! Yes, you're on fire!

Now, some logic play...

If we are unrepentant for sin(s), according to Romans 6:23, what's going to happen to us? Yeah, we're dead, that is we will go where there is no life, and if God is God of the living then those who are not in communion with Him (i.e. heavenly) are dead; a death of the soul not in the sense that the soul is "annihilated" like Jehovah's Witnesses believe, but where souls are "eternally lost" (CCC, par. 1034) and where souls are tormented by the eternal loss of God.

So why will there be so much rejoicing in Heaven when a sinner repents (Luke 15:7, 10)? Because it will be to God and the angels of Heaven as if the person was dead and has come back to life. Think of it this way: have you ever been worried sick about someone and been so relieved at hearing of their safety and good health? We are, as scripture tells us, surrounded by a "great cloud of witness" (Hebrews 12:1) and these are - apart from God - the angels and the saints in Heaven who hope and pray for us to share in the glory that we will experience with almighty God.

Why does the father in the parable of the prodigal son say about his son to the other, "your brother was dead"? At the beginning of the parable, the son goes to the father and asks for his share of the inheritance. Now any good lawyer will tell you that an heir will get their inheritance usually after their parent has died. Essentially, the son is telling the father, "You are dead to me; give me what is mine and I'll be on my way". So the son leaves his father and his father's house and goes off and squanders his inheritance; living as if his father was indeed dead and didn't exist (sounds familiar, doesn't it? Atheists, I'm looking at you!). It's not until the son hits rock-bottom he realises how good he had it and that he should try and make good with his father, not knowing if his father will even take him back let alone accept his apology! The father is waiting for him and when he sees his son he welcomes him with an embrace and of course forgives him, much to the discontent of the older brother.

Let's break the parable down:

- the father is God
- the father's house/home is heaven/salvation
- the son could be anyone one of us, but one that has sinned and turned away from God

The son starts out in his father's house - he is already saved - but he turns his back on his father and he makes a conscious decision in doing so. Now an Evangelical Christian might argue that if a person has lost their salvation then they weren't really saved to begin with... poppycock! If you're in the father's house, YOU'RE IN THE FATHER'S HOUSE! Nothing can take you away, but that does not necessarily mean that you can't go on ahead and walk out if you so choose to (yes, it all boils down to choice). If we were "assured" of our salvation, then the father in the parable would have stopped his son from leaving his house even after his son had implied, "You are dead to me" and sinned against him (Luke 15:21). By leaving his father, the son has to make a conscious decision to abandon his father and his house/home, something that would require a monumental amount of pride to accomplish, and by doing so the son as well says, "I don't need you".


Choice can go either of two ways: You choose to either in communion with God, or you choose to abandon Him. In the same way, you can choose to come to God through His son, Jesus Christ, and be saved (John 3:16-17) but if you sin (mortally; 1 John 5:17) you can destroy that communion with God. The son in the parable chose to destroy the communion he had with his father and destroy the relationship. Did this mean his father stopped loving him? No, not at all, and this did not mean that the father did not want his son to be with him in his house. We have to remember that only those who persevere until the end will be saved (Matthew 24:13) and that we cannot love God if we have sinned against Him; the son could not love his father because he was dead to him.


We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: "He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell." - Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1033


The son is welcomed back into his father's house only after he has humbled himself and repented for his wrongdoings; his father forgives him and celebrates his return to life (Luke 15:32).


*     *     *     *     *
What have we and what can we learn from Luke 15?


To summarise:


- if something is lost, it had to be found/in possession initially;
- if something is lost, you have to realise it's lost;
- if you are lost, the first most instinctive thing to do is to call out or ask for help;
- there is only life if you are "found";
- it's better to be "found" than "lost";
- being found means being in God's friendship; and
- being lost means being apart from God


Making your way to God through Christ (John 14:6) is one thing, but every Christian must work to keep communion with God. Scripture is very, very clear on this matter:


"'Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." - Matthew 7:21 (RSV)


"Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off." - Romans 11:22 (ibid.)


"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;" - Philippians 2:12 (ibid.)


"For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries." - Hebrews 10:26-27


Stay close to God; stay close to Christ; stay close to the Church.


"[E]ternal fire was prepared for him who voluntarily departed from God and for all who, without repentance, persevere in apostasy" - St. Justin Martyr (fragment in Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:26 [A.D. 156]).


Amen.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Misuse of Numbers 23:19 to support a JW "doctrine"



Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, is fully divine (as well as being fully human), or that he is God incarnate (God "in the flesh"). To support this belief they - like any sincere apologist - turn to scripture for the answer; for the evidence. To support this claim turn to the Book of Numbers:


"God is not a man that he should tell lies, Neither a son of mankind that he should feel regret.
Has he himself said it and will he not do it, And has he spoken and will he not carry it out?" - Numbers 23:19 (NWT)


Jehovah's Witnesses will use this particular verse in order to support their belief that Jesus is not divine, i.e. is not God incarnate. The problem with using this verse to support this belief, however, is that the context does not support the claim; their focus is on the very first few words of the verse: "God is not a man".


The passage refers to Balak's hiring of Balam to curse the children of Israel. He said that God is not a man that He should lie, or the Son of Man that He should change His mind. God had spoken what He had spoken, and that was the end of the story. Balaam was told to bless the Israelites, and He did. Now that He had blessed them, and subsequently God had blessed them, there was no reversing the blessing.


The context of the verse addresses the very nature of God himself: He does not give false promises, does not lie, does not deceive, and should be trusted. The chapter tells us to render obedience to the Lord; this is the underlying message of Numbers 23:19.


Consider the wording of the verse as well: "God is not a man". "God is not a man" in the sense that man can be fickle or swayed by others. God is holy and trustworthy unlike "man". What Balaam was referring to is men's sinfulness, and their resultant fickleness. God is not like men because of their corruptibility. This does not preclude God from ever becoming a man, but only forbids that God should ever become like fallen men, being untrustworthy, lying, or failing to keep His word.


*     *     *     *     *


Read every verse of scripture in context, and remember: a text without a context is a pretext.


God bless.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Misuse of Acts 19:19-20 in the "justification" of Koran burnings



Before I get into the meaty part of this blog entry, I just want to make it very clear that I, in no way, condone the actions of radical Islamists and their destructive actions that took place in New York on September 11, 2001. What I also want to make clear is that I do not personally have a hatred or disdain for the Muslim religion or Muslims themselves. My sincere hope is that all of mankind, Muslims included, will one day turn to Christ and devote themselves to living as Christ instructed, in faith, hope, and charity.


You've probably heard by now that an Evangelical church in the United States of America plans to burn Korans this Saturday, September 11, to mark the ninth anniversary of the attacks on New York (World Trade Center) by Muslim extremists and as a sign of protest against said Muslim extremists.


Okay, here's the first problem: this church claims that the Koran burning is a sign of protest against radical Islamists, but the Koran belongs to the whole of Islam; to all Muslims. By burning the scriptures of a particular religion, you're going to end up offending the entirety of its people. Put the shoe on the other foot: if some protestor wanted to burn a Bible to send a message to, for example, Catholics specifically, guess what? They're going to end up offending all Christians since the Bible is the scripture of the Christian religion!


I'll touch on that issue a bit more later on in this blog entry, but what is at the heart of this entry is the misuse of scripture to justify the action of Koran burning. I've seen used by Christians verses from the Book of Acts to rationalise this action, specifically from Acts 19:


"And a number of those who practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all; and they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord grew and prevailed mightily." - Acts 19:19-20 (RSV)


In other translations of the Bible, the phrase "magic arts" is sometimes referred to as "the occult" or "black magic". Some Fundamentalists believe that Islam is an occultish religion and so the use of this verse from Acts 19 is, according to them, completely congruent with their view of Islam and why they want to burn copies of the Koran. Occultish or pagan religion or not, these Fundamentalists have read Acts 19:19-20 completely out of context and have twisted scripture (2 Peter 3:16) to "justify" their position and action.


This is how the Fundamentalist is thinking: they see people with a dubious religious (i.e. pagan) background burning their books (which we can assume contained writings pertaining to their "magical arts" or occultish practices) together in a fire and they draw a parallel between this and Muslims and the Koran. "Hey, we believe that Islam is especially dubious; we should burn their book because of what a handful of them did on September 11, 2001! We can do this because there's a precedent set for us in scripture!"


Acts 19 is not about burning books, at least this is not the underlying theme or message of that particular chapter. The Fundamentalist has cherry-picked these verses of scripture and used it/read it way, way out of context. Remember that rule of thumb? If you have a text without a context, then it's a pretext.


So why are those people who practised the "magic arts" burning their books? In order to gain the answer to this question, we have to read around verses 19 and 20. Fortunately, we don't have to go very far to find the answer, but let's look at what's happening before we come to verses 19 and 20:


"And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to pronounce the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, 'I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches'. Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, 'Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?' And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, mastered all of them, and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks; and fear fell upon them all; and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. Many also of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices." - Acts 19:11-18


St. Paul is in Ephesus and he's doing some amazing things; performing miracles. People are being healed even by the handkerchiefs and aprons that St. Paul was wearing were seen to have healing properties (by the grace of God, of course). News of this was travelling quickly: the name of the Lord was being proclaimed and many were witness to His power.


The last line - verse 18 - is particularly important because this provides the reader with a crystal clear indication of why books were being burned. For the sake of clarity of understanding, I'm going to repeat that verse:


"Many also of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices." - Acts 19:18


"Confessing and divulging their practices".


These people had just seen the power of Christ; they were compelled by it and wanted to convert! What does it mean to "convert"? It means "to change" or "to turn". These people were becoming Christians. To be a convert means to leave the old self behind and start anew; to become a new creation in Christ. So by confessing and divulging their practices they are admitting to wrongdoing and want to change much like we Catholics do when we partake in the Sacrament of Reconciliation: we confess our sins (wrongdoings), make an act of contrition, are absolved of our sins and make an act of penance to set things right. All this because we want to leave that old self behind and renew our relationship with God.


The new believers in Acts 19 now in the process of being converted want to leave their old selves behind. They do this by (yes, you guessed it) burning their books. They're not doing this as a sign of protest, no, but because they want to leave that part of their lives behind and make a fresh start. You might see a smoker do something similar when they're trying to quit smoking: they throw out their cigarettes, their lighter, etc. or what a dieter might do after they've lost a lot of weight: they might throw out a pair of old pants that are now way to big for them as if to say, "There's no way I'm ever going to be that big again". These new believers, by burning their "books of magic" are saying something similar: "I'm a Christian now; there's now way I'm going to let anything get between myself and Jesus. That old life: I'm leaving it all behind!"


Now knowing this, is it right for any Christian to those verses of Acts 19 to justify burning the Koran? The only way anyone could justify - and I'm not suggesting anyone should actually do this - burning the Koran in light of Acts 19 was if they were a convert from Islam to Christianity. Since these Evangelicals in Florida are not converting from Islam to Christianity (they're already Christian) and have divulged to us precisely why they're burning the Koran, they or any other Christian cannot use Acts 19 to justify this action (even if the context was different).


So is burning the Koran the best way to protest against radical Islamists and remember the lives of those who were lost on September 11, 2001? In short: no. Burning the Koran is an asinine and inane response to a problem and is about as effective as burning a flag or an effigy of a world leader, or breaking your toys on purpose so no one else can play with them. This act, burning the Koran, is an act of hatred, plain and simple. Can there be eternal life in the man (sic.) that fills their heart with hatred?


"We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." - 1 John 3:14-16


Violence begets violence; if you burn the Koran, they'll burn our Bible. If you act in anger, they'll react in anger. So what's the true Christian response? How should a true Christian respond? Are we forgetting the very words Christ himself gave us?


‎"'You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?'" - Matthew 5:43-46a (RSV)


Christ is telling us to reach out to our enemies in love; witness to them.


One of the greatest lessons I learned growing up and in reading the Gospels was that nothing gets under the skin of your enemy more when you respond to them in humility and love. The more they hate, the more you love. Hating them back is only going to give them another reason to hate you; the hate begets itself. Tell them: "Jesus loves you" (share Christ with them); preach to them (but do not condemn them) and help them to see the error of their ways, and above all: pray for them.


"'But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.'" - Luke 6:27-28


Amen.


* * * * *
Further reading:


Sharing the Gospel with Muslims - http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2003/0301fea5.asp


Islam, Peace, Violence (by Jimmy Akin) - http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2002/0210bt.asp

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Mortal and Venial Sin: What's the Difference?



I was teaching my Year 11s today about the difference between Mortal Sin and Venial Sin and I thought it would be appropriate and fitting to highlight that enemies of the Catholic Church (e.g. some non-Catholic Christian groups; Fundamentalists) accuse the Catholic Church of "inventing" the meaning behind Mortal Sin and that pertaining to Venial Sin. If a Fundamentalist ever says this to you, point them to scripture, specifically:


"All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal." - 1 John 5:17 (RSV)


The "wrongdoing" spoken about here is a term used collectively to describe acts or behaviours that are contrary to God, others and ourselves. These wrongdoings are all sinful, that is, they damage the relationship between God, others and the harmony within ourselves. But how does the Church define "sin"?


"Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as 'an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.'" - Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), par. 1849


The second half of 1 John 5:17 indicates that there are two types of sin:


1.) Sins that are mortal; and
2.) Sins that are not mortal.


Obviously we refer to the type of sins that are "mortal" as "Mortal Sins" and the type of sins that are not mortal as "Venial Sins".


So what's a Mortal Sin?


Mortal Sin separates us from God; it destroys the relationship between man and our heavenly Father. Mortal Sin "destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him" (CCC, par. 1855). If a Mortal Sin is committed, the sinner must repent and make reparation of this wrongdoing and restore their relationship with God by the Sacrament of Reconciliation (CCC, par. 1856).


And what about Venial Sin?


The word "venial" is another way of saying "excusable" or "minor"; they are sins that will not separate you from God or destroy the relationship, but may cause some harm to it. Venial Sin "allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it" (CCC, par. 1855).


"One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent". - CCC, par. 1862


When is a sin a "mortal" sin?


In order for a sin to be mortal, it must meet three conditions:


1.) Mortal sin is a sin of grave matter
2.) Mortal sin is committed with full knowledge of the sinner
3.) Mortal sin is committed with deliberate consent of the sinner


This means that mortal sins cannot be done "accidentally". This means that mortal sins are "premeditated" by the sinner and thus are truly a rejection of God’s law and love.


What's "grave matter"?


The Church defines "grave matter" this way:


"Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: 'Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother.' The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger." - CCC, par. 1858


What about "full knowledge" and "deliberate consent"?


"Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin." - CCC, par. 1859


"Full knowledge" can be summarised this way: You already know/you're already aware it's a [mortal] sin. "Deliberate consent" can be summarised this way: You choose to follow throw with the act fully aware of it's sinful nature/character and have the freedom (be it social, physical, intellectual, or psychological) to do so.


* * * * *


It all comes down to this: we need to be able to recognise sin (in all its forms) in order to avoid it. This is easier said than done. Fortunately, however, we've been given some pretty good advice as we find in scripture:


"Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy'". - 1 Peter 1:13-16


"If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin." - John 15:22


"He who says 'I know him [the Lord]' but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked." - 1 John 2:4-6


Growth in holiness is to stay close to the Sacraments and in doing so staying close to Christ. Arm yourself with a knowledge of the scriptures and the teachings of the Church. Pray constantly.


"Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects." - James 5:16


Do not despair if you do sin - all is not lost - but rather rejoice in the fact that the Lord Jesus has died for your sins and your heavenly Father desires all his children to be with him (1 Timothy 2:3-4). Repent for your sin and do not sin again (John 8:11).


Keep the faith and persevere until the end (Matthew 24:13).


Amen.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Stephen Hawking: Nothing from Nothing?!? Are you Kidding me?!?


So Stephen Hawking says that it's possible for something to be created from nothing: "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist."


Mr. Hawking appears to be making two statements in this message. Either:


a) Gravity apparently is a "nothing" and not a "something"; or
b) Gravity has a will and acts upon this to create (be it spontaneously or other).


There are three problems with these:


1) Nothing creates nothing, only a something creates a something else;
2) In order to create a something, another something must be added to an already existed something and those something needs to be moved together by a force (a first mover);
3) Gravity - according to Hawking's logic - is sentient and therefore can think, plan, act, etc.


Even a scientific layman like me can point out the flaw(s) his Hawking's argument.


I'm sorry, I don't care how smart this guy [apparently] is; he has lost all credibility with such a hyper-fanciful statement.


* * * * *
Further reading:


You Can't Make Something From Nothing! - http://thespiritmagnus.blogspot.com/2009/07/you-cant-make-something-from-nothing.html


Thomistic Philosophy Page - http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/5ways.html


Creation out of Nothing - http://www.catholic.com/library/Creation_Out_of_Nothing.asp


Five Ways or Five Proofs? - http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2006/0601uan.asp