Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Montagnards

Montagnard is a French word meaning something like "mountain people" and refers to the indigenous people of the Vietnamese central highlands. They were evangelized beginning in the 1950s and proved to be great allies to the Americans during the Vietnam War.

They are still actively persecuted by the Vietcong to this day. My friends arrived in Charlotte in 2002 after spending over a year in a refugee camp in Cambodia along with over 200 others. I worked with the Jarai tribe for about 2 years teaching them English and have just recently picked up the ball again and started working with them again primarily because a new wave of them have arrived (many of the new ones wives and childrens of my former students from whom they'd been seperated for years). I was extremely happy when I heard that their families (for the most part) had arrived.

Even though I cant count the number of evenings I spent teaching them English, I'm quite sure they taught me more than I ever taught them. And I've quickly forgotten most of it so I'm having to relearn about it. They taught me about simplicity and sincerity. They are never "too cool" to be happy to see you. They are hard working and honest. Everyone of them is a capable role model. Western culture has a lot of great ideals but we can learn from other cultures as well. (And this coming from a conservative).

My friends basically depended on welfare when they first came to this country (and they came by necessity not by choice). And I softened up a bit on being so harsh with people receiving government assistance when I saw people who really needed it and were doing their best to NOT need it. They are the hardest workers you'll ever meet. They weren't in need of assistance for long as they quickly found employment. My point is that it made me proud to be a citizen of a country that would help others like that. When Cambodia said they were closing the refugee camps, the Montagnards there had nowhere to go. No one would accept them. Finally, North & South Carolina agreed to. Most of them settled in Charlotte & Greensboro.

I know it's hard for me to post anything without finding something to complain about against the Evangelical church, but without pointing any fingers let me just say this and let you come up with your own conclusions: The only two organizations that lifted a finger to help the Montagnards when they came to Charlotte (the buckle on the Bible Belt) were HIAS (Hebrew Immigration Aid Society) and Catholic Social Services. Hats off to both of those especially HIAS.

Anyway, I am currently finishing up a (world's first) Jarai-English dictionary and very excited about nearing the completion. It should have been finished a long time ago but because of my procrastination it wasn't.

Here's a taste of what's happening to them right now under the Vietcong.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Sola Scriptura

Sola Scriptura is one of the silliest beliefs ever concocted by man in any field of study. I recognized this when I was about 15 or 16. (Sola Scriptura is the belief that the bible alone authoritatively speaks on issues of faith & morals). How is it that a 15 or 16 year old can recognize this gross error, while grown men with advanced theological degrees can embrace such a fantastically impossible concept?

Let’s start with the very basics. The number one reason why Sola Scriptura cannot possibly be true is that it is what is called a ‘self referential paradox’. Even if I were to write to you and say “what I’m writing is inspired by God” that wouldn’t make it so! Without 3rd party endorsement, on what authority could you accept the truth of my statement? On it’s own? After all, it says right there in plain English that it is inspired by God. Therefore it cannot be wrong...right? This logical fallacy is similar to what is happening with the bible in Protestant churches.

Protestants believe that the bible says “The bible is inspired” therefore it is. Let’s break this down and find out why this is quite possibly the stupidest thing anyone could ever say.

1. The bible doesn’t say that.
2. The bible didn’t exist at the time of the writing of the bible so we know for absolute certain that it didn’t say that and even if it said something similar it would be talking about something different than what we consider the bible.
3. Even if it did say that, remember above that it would need 3rd party endorsement to legitimize it’s authority. An entity cannot have authority (and certainly not devine authority) by merely claiming that it does.
4. Protestants reject the 7 books of the Apocrypha considered by the Church to be inspired.
5. Since we know that Catholic Church in various councils predominately the ones at Nicaea (325 AD), the council of Hippo (393 AD) and the third council of Carthage (397 AD) selected the books, the books themselves cannot have sole authority. (The bible doesn’t give the church authority; the church gives the bible authority. If it weren’t for the Catholic Church there would be no bible).

Protestants often use verses such as:

'All Scripture is God breathed'

as evidence for Sola Scriptura. The problem with this kind of juvenile attempt at reasoning is that we don’t know what Scripture is!!! Of course, if the church had authority enough to declare what Scripture is (which Protestants unwittingly accept), then the bible is not the only source of authority. Hence, the Sola Scriptura heresy and logical fallacy is dispelled. Note one thing of course: Catholics agree that all Scripture is God breathed. The rejection of Sola Scriptura doesn’t mean that Catholics don’t believe that Scriptures have authority, but that they are not the only source of authority.

We needn’t go any further but to drive the point home I will. Well what is Scripture? When Paul and the other apostles said the word “Scripture”, what did they mean? Obviously the bible didn’t exist so the New Testament wasn’t around. What did they have? What did they use to quote from when quoting the Old Testament? We know that even Jesus Himself quoted from the Septuagint. What implication does that have? The Septuagint contained the 7 books of the Apocrypha which the Protestant church removed from the canon! I think it’s entirely reasonable to assume that in the same way that you and I may get a visual of the KJV Leather bible on the table when someone says “Scripture”, that they (the apostles & even Christ) got a visual of the Septuagint when someone said it or when they said it themselves.

It should also be noted that when the bishops gathered at Nicaea and later at Hippo & Carthage, one of the key criteria that they used to determine divine inspiration was of course, apostolic authority. That is, the authors needed to be either an apostle or the close disciple of one of the apostles to be considered a valid author of a New Testament book. This means that in the eyes of the bishops at Nicaea, the validity of the Scriptures rested on apostolic authority.

As I stated before, the realization of the logical fallacy of Sola Scriptura is the concept that initially drove me to seek truth. (I knew what I was being fed wasn’t truth as I’ve shown it couldn’t be). The problem is that my world was entirely Protestant and it was very frustrating to see that no one else would acknowledge this fallacy. It never ceased to amaze me while reading some great theologian or apologist how they would stumble around intellectually as soon as they came to this subject. The people who otherwise seemed very capable intellectually seemed like mental buffoons when they started talking about Sola Scriptura.

Now for a quick history lesson: Sola Scriptura was born in the bowels of worms. Well, specifically at the Diet of Worms in 1521 AD where Martin Luther was on trial. (It sure took a while for anyone to come up with such a silly idea. And it should be noted that Luther wanted to remove James from the canon so even his concept of Sola Scriptura wasn’t nearly as fanatical as contemporary Protestants’). He was on trial for his heretical teaching of Sola Fide (Faith alone) which we will discuss later. And Luther had to come up with an excuse for how he could rebel against the church. He said that it was on the authority of Scripture that he did so. Realize that up until this point, no one thought in those terms. I’m sure it sounded extremely ridiculous to those at the time who had no concept of the bible superceding the church’s authority. Luther may or may not have put a lot of thought into it before hand but afterward, he was stuck with it.

This leads us to the logical result of this heresy. Imagine if the United States had no courts and only a constitution. Would the constitution alone be enough to enforce the law? Would we know how the government should be run according to the framers? We’d have a good idea I’m sure but each man would be left to his own opinions. When it all boils down, Sola Scriptura is absolutely nothing more than ‘my opinion of the bible and my personal revelation is the only source of real truth’. This self centered way of looking at life has caused many to go astray.

From the very birth of this heresy at Worms, the church became fractured. Zwingli & Munzer split from Luther almost immediately, Calvin about 15 years later and so on and so on to the point where today we have by conservative estimates over 9,000 denominations. Some quote it as high as 38,000 depending on what you consider a denomination. Luther quickly saw this happening after he split from the church as evident in many statements he made and eventually started punishing even to the point of death those who disagreed with his own opinions of how the bible should be interpreted. (Reference: Ken Hensley, 'Luther The Rest of the Story')

What a breath of fresh air it was to enter the Catholic Church and realize that not only some Christians on the planet held a reasonable, adult view of the Scriptures but indeed… most Christians on the planet did (since most are Catholic). The very ironic thing about it all is this: while Protestants nearly worship the Bible as part of the Godhead (and some actually do because of their confusion of the Bible as the Word of God and Jesus being the Word made flesh) the Catholics seem to treat it with even more reverence. For example, I was very surprised to find that Catholics routinely omitted the last phrase of the Lord’s prayer:

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

I knew it wasn’t in the original text. Protestants know it isn’t. Yet they still recite it and they still print it in their bibles. Why would you treat what you considered the Word of God with such an irreverent attitude of casually adding and taking away? (Not to mention the removal of the Apocrypha as if the Protestant church had any authority to do so)

I consider this an extremely strong piece of evidence in favor of the Catholic Church. On one hand we have the protestants believing something utterly ridiculous and absurd that cannot possibly be true (Sola Scriptura) and on the other hand, we have the Catholic church affirming a 2,000 year old truth that hasn’t changed: Scripture along with Apostolic Authority and church tradition is a three legged stool which God uses to reveal His Word to His people. These three are in agreement and do not contradict each other. Because of the church, the bible has authority and I can now accept it without question.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

History Channel

I recently watched an anti-Christian video on how Christianity supposedly borrowed everything that distinguishes it from Judaism from pagan sun god worship. The author never made any significant references but did several times mention "all of this can be verified by looking in any encyclopedia". First of all, when a scholar sets out to do research he doesnt go to Britannica. He goes to original documents. Encyclopedias are written by biased people and especially in regards to Christianity, many of them have anti-Christian bias and would love nothing more than to prove Christianity is nothing more than a copy of other religions. This is just an example and Im not by any means claiming that Encyclopedia information is regularly incorrect. Just that you should keep in mind that just because you read something from an otherwise accepted source, doesnt mean it's infallibly true!

I was reminded of this issue when Doc Rampage posted on the topic of the inaccuracy of the History Channel.

Once I saw a special on a battle in the middle ages where the English were said to have defeated the French on account of their infamous longbow men. (I believe this was the history channel but it may have been another) At any rate, the show attempted to disprove the 'legend' that the archers were the key to the victory.

First item of evidence: a solitary well decorated spur found in the battlefield. They interviewed several medievil experts who confirmed "whoever owned this spur was extremely rich and would have had the best armor available" then the next expert said "the best armor available at the time would have been such and such" So they took that armor and applied "myth buster" like tests to it. First, could the arrow of a long bow pierce it? Result = No. So now they have ruled out the Long Bow theory. Next they wanted to see if maybe, the armor was so heavy and the conditions muddy because it had just rained and maybe they fell down & couldnt get up because of the mud.

So they dug down to the depth of dirt that would have been the top soil at the time and took it into a lab. Then they used a machine to spray water on it immitating rain. (It was sort of ridiculous to use a machine any way instead of a spray bottle or something) but the conclusion: this dirt turned to mud when wet. Wow. How much do these researches get paid?

The premises were totally bogus anyway! Just because you find one spur, that doesnt mean that every single soldier had one of those!!! Everyone knows that the majority of men in medievil armies were peasants.

At any rate, I don't care whether the English long bow men saved the day or not. I'm just pointing out poor & misleading research by the History Channel.

St. John Chrysostom II

Continuing my first post on Chrysostom, I am commenting on his second homily of Matthew. Its almost spooky how practical his homily is even to a contemporary audience. He says:

For, tell me, who of you that stand here, if he were required, could repeat one Psalm, or any other portion of the divine Scriptures? There is not one. And it is not this only that is the grievous thing, but that while ye are become so backward with respect to things spiritual, yet in regard of what belongs to Satan ye are more vehement than fire. Thus should any one be minded to ask of you songs of devils and impure effeminate melodies, he will find many that know these perfectly, and repeat them with much pleasure.

Wow! How appropriate for us.

There is nothing new under the sun.

And how applicable is it for us? How many of us know the lyrics to 1,000 secular songs but not one Psalm? How many of us can recite word for word the script of a perverse movie that we have watched a hundred times yet we cannot recite the Nicene Creed? This was written around 400 AD. Nothing is new, the same issues then are the same issues that affect us today. We will see this in further examples as I post more on his writings.

For if thou wouldest learn how great is the profit of the Scriptures, examine thyself, what thou becomest by hearing Psalms, and what by listening to a song of Satan; and how thou art disposed when staying in a Church, and how when sitting in a theatre; and thou wilt see that great is the difference between this soul and that, although both be one. Therefore Paul said, “Evil communications corrupt good manners.”For this cause we have need continually of those songs, which serve as charms from the Spirit.

Incompetence of Gospel Critics

My mother recently read the book "Christ the Lord" by Anne Rice and asked me to read the author's notes at the end which described the author's story. Anne Rice was originally a Roman Catholic who left the church, married an atheist and spent most of her life until 1998 in liberal circles. After returning to the church she began researching to write this book (a fictional novel of Christ as a young boy).

She explains that she started out with and spent a great amount of time reading scholarly works from critics of the gospels. She describes how incompetent and unconvincing their works were. Of the 'scholarly' works coming from the liberal circles who seek to marginalize the gospels and therefore Christianity she writes:


I discovered in this field some of the worst and most biased scholarship I'd ever read.

My sentiments exactly. I've done quite a bit of reading myself on this very topic. In fact, I've said it before and I'll say it again, when I feel like I need reassurance of my faith, I read the works of the critics.

She goes on to point out another very interesting thought that I haven't heard many people talk about. The fact that a startling number (not all) of these critics are so transparently full of contempt for Christ that it is almost a testimony to the falsity of their work. She points out that even scholars of a historical villain or criminal rarely if ever show any sort of disdain for their subject. In fact many times, they may very well provide excuses for why he did the things he did! It is clear in many of these cases that they have a deep personal bias and dislike for Christ.

I have seen this myself while reading and have wondered about the very same things. How could a man who lived 2000 years ago beckon everyone to either love him or hate him? It is clear how some could hate a current political figure or even one in recent history. But while a scholar may not have liked even Hitler for example, it seems intuitive to me that most historical works on him would be much closer to impartiality than those written of Christ by His critics. At least the 'jeers' and 'outright contempt' would be much move cleverly hidden.

None of this is of course proof of His divinity or even authenticity. But it sure does make me raise an eyebrow and it should make you raise one too.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Reverence During Worship

One thing that stood out to me right away upon joining the Catholic Church was the reverence for the worship of our Lord. Mass was a time of worship in which everyone participated in and there was an overall sense of respect and seriousness about the activities we were about to participate in. Specifically, the Eucharist is engaged with extreme reverence as opposed to a much more casual approach in the Protestant church. (This could be said of several things but the Eucharist in particular stood out to me).

Even when I was a Protestant, long before I considered becoming Catholic, I was offended each time they offered grape juice instead of wine and pre-cut crackers instead of broken bread. I thought, ‘how dare we use elements other than what Christ commanded. Are we better than Christ? Are we too holy to drink wine whereas Christ wasn’t?’ Of course, it turns out that this isn’t a new heresy.

If any bishop or presbyter offer any other things at the altar, besides that which the Lord ordained for the sacrifice, as honey, or milk, or strong-made drink instead of wine or birds, or any living things, or vegetables, besides that which is ordained, let him be deposed.1

If we’re going to be sacrilegious and use what ever our preference is, why not have milk and cookies for the Eucharist? Of course to a Protestant there is no real physical importance of the Sacrament. Remember everything is purely symbolic. They believe the only things of real eternal value are internal. So in this light, I see no reason that we couldn’t use whatever we wanted. Say chips & soda, tofu & tea or pie & chocolate milk.

What does the Catholic Church believe? Is it important what is used at the Eucharist? Catholics take it seriously so yes it is very important what we use.

For valid and licit consecration vinum de vite, i.e. the pure juice of the grape naturally and properly fermented, is to be used.2

And of course, the breaking of the bread, which symbolizes the breaking of Christ’s body has been eliminated from many Protestant churches as well. This is to mention nothing of the denial of the real presence. I will post on that later.

References:

1 - Apostolic Canons III - Translated by Henry R. Percival in 1899

2 -
www.newadvent.org/cathen/01358a.htm

Friday, May 26, 2006

Saint John Chrysostom I

In my parrish, there is a mural on the wall in the secondary building that shows two monks talking to each other and one says "I would rather have St. John Chrysostom's commentary on Matthew than all the riches of Paris". I am now reading those commentaries (or homilies) and I can see how he would say such a thing! I highly encourage everyone to read it.

Of the harmony between the genealogy of Matthew & Luke he says:

But if there were any hostility in their statements, neither would the sects, who maintain the contrary part, have received all, but only so much as seemed to harmonize with themselves; nor would those, which have parted off a portion, be utterly refuted by that portion; so that the very fragments cannot be hid, but declare aloud their connexion with the whole body.

You see that Christians have been using this defense from very early on (around the end of the fourth century). If these men were deceiving or making up a story, their written accounts would match perfectly. The (usually) subtle differences indicate authenticity. Again on the genealogy he writes:

And wherefore Luke hath made mention of other names, and not only not all of them the same, but also many more of them, while Matthew hath both fewer and different, though he too hath ended with Joseph, with whom Luke likewise concluded.

And later:

Now that the Virgin was of the race of David is indeed from these things evident; but wherefore he gave not her genealogy, but Joseph’s, requires explanation.

When I read this I thought to myself, where are these preachers today?! Evangelical preachers will say "Matthew is the genealogy of Joseph & Luke is of Mary" as the reason why they differ. That is completely untrue and basically a lazy attempt to avoid the issue. Both Matthew and Luke specifically say that the lineage is through Joseph. We know that Luke was capable of writing the word Mary because sure enough.. several verses later there it is!

It was refreshing to me to see that the early church fathers such as Chrysostom were highly intelligent and unafraid to tackle tough issues in order to more fully appreciate the truth. It is my experience that most people are afraid of truth. But through faith in Christ we can boldly seek truth having no fear since truth itself is on our side. I encourage you to read St. John Chrysostom's homilies if not some other early church father writing.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Revealed Truth

God has revealed himself to man by gradually communicating his own mystery in deeds and in words.

- Catholic Catechism

I began thinking about this truth and remembered reading it in the Catechism. I think it’s interesting that God has chosen to reveal Himself gradually and not all at once. This is another great mystery of Catholicism.

I think it’s mysterious and worth thinking about how the early Israelites had a lower ‘level of revealed truth’ than we do today. Yet at the same time, they had in fullness the amount of truth God willed for them to have and certainly enough for their own justification. As the author of Hebrews says:

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves – Hebrews 10:1

Yet the Psalms say:

The law of the LORD is perfect – Psalms 19:7

And how do we make ends meet? Of course by what Jesus said:

I have come to fulfill the Law. – Matthew 5:17

And yet even still there was more to be ‘revealed’ as the fullness of truth had not yet been realized. Christ promised that the Helper would come and He did at Pentecost. Though even at Pentecost it would not be completed. St. John Chrysostom wrote that the Apostles:

"did not come down from the mountain carrying, like Moses, tablets of stone in their hands; but they came down carrying the Holy Spirit in their hearts... having become by his grace a living law, a living book”

- In Matthaeum, Hom. I,1: PG 57,15

And so sets the stage for the rest of Christendom and the glory of the Roman Catholic Church (& to the Roman See which St. John Chrysostom remained very loyal to) and the perpetual guiding of the Holy Spirit. So much of the beauty of Christianity is well understood through the gradual revelation of God through His mysteries.

Penance

"Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright."
- Proverbs 14:9

I'm sure there are many ways to read this but as a new Catholic this verse struck me as speaking to people like Jack Chick who are anti-everything Catholic. They mock at the idea of penance. As a former Protestant, it was very ingrained in my head the idea that 'nothing on Earth except inner beliefs and feelings can have any eternal value'. This is in stark contrast to the Catholic Church that external signs etc.. (like Baptism) can and do have very real consequences in the afterlife. I will come back to this particular issue later some day as I feel it's important. However for now, I just wanted to point out this verse as an Old Testament passage pointing to the future rite of penance.

Furthermore, penance makes a lot of sense out of God's attribute of justice while taking nothing away from His mercy.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Arriving At Conclusions

For a number of reasons, before discussing matters of importance it should first be discussed how individuals ought to arrive at conclusions. I would think this shouldn’t be necessary to even mention but in order to refute a number of prominent ideas on how (Christians especially) ought to make decisions, I felt I should explain my opinions.

It seems almost chivalrous this day in age to discredit reason & logic. People speak of these as if there were some great catastrophe of robot-like thinkers employing only logic and reason towards every aspect of life. Don’t get me wrong, none of these slanderous thoughts or statements towards logic are well pronounced… that is, they might very well go unnoticed (as you probably don’t know what I’m talking about even now). I will give examples later but the danger I see is this: as we continuously look at logic & reason as faulty or incomplete methods for arriving at conclusions (which we ought to in some extreme cases), we begin to allow other methods (such as emotion) to play parts in decisions where they have no business.