Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Why I Don't Believe In The Rapture

"The Rapture" by an unknown artist.
As I write this it is the third week of Advent, and during this time in the Catholic Church's liturgical calendar we remember not only the first coming of our Lord, but we also look forward to his second coming.  Consequently the readings for this time period are interesting; jumping back and forth between the story of the nativity and apocalyptic prophecies.  I still believe in the Second Coming of Christ of course as is required of Catholic faith.  And I believe in the Scriptures that say we shall all be caught up together the meet him in the air on that day.  That day is the Second Coming, also called the Parousia, the last day and Judgement Day.  It will be the end of human history as we know it.  There will be no second chances, no interval time to rethink things, that will just be "it."  I believe this can happen at any time, and I look forward to it, because when it does happen, I know that we will forever be with the Lord.  What I no longer believe in is this event called the "Rapture" which is all together different from the Parousia.  

It is also during this time of year that I am most reminded of my days as an Evangelical Christian (1990 through 1997) in which I was fed a regular diet of end-times apocalyptic teaching.  Like many Evangelicals I subscribed to John Nelson Darby's doctrine of Dispensationalism.  In fact that was the official doctrine of the non-denominational "affiliation" I regularly attended.

Dispensationalism, and the Rapture doctrine, are complex beliefs about the end-times which are subscribed to by many Baptists, Pentecostals and Evangelicals.  As a former Evangelical, I eagerly awaited the much anticipated "Rapture" in which I expected that just as the Antichrist was ready to come to power, Jesus Christ would secretly swoop down from heaven, snatching up all is true believers (which I believed to be mostly Evangelicals of course) leaving behind nothing but their empty clothes, moving cars without drivers, and aircraft without pilots plunging to earth.  The true believers in Jesus would then enjoy a seven-year party in heaven, while everyone else who was "left behind" would endure hell on earth under the reign of Antichrist.  After this seven-year period, Jesus would return to earth (a second time) with all of the true believers, to smite the Antichrist and those who followed him, setting up his millennial Kingdom which would last 1,000 years.  Beyond that things get kind of sketchy.  Apparently a thousand years later, Jesus goes away again, only to return a third time, to smite the devil himself and judge the world.  This is Dispensationalism, or at least one particular version of it, though all versions have the common theme of multiple "second comings" of Christ (at least two, but sometimes three).  My experience with the teaching of my Evangelical affiliation was particularly focused on the Rapture in the near future, with the pastors often fixating on recent events in the news as "signs" pointing to its imminent arrival any day.  I remember the days leading up to the first Gulf War were particularly tense, as our pastor assured us that this could be it.  Well, needless to say, the Gulf War came and went without a Rapture, and we were a bit disappointed.  Not to worry though.  With the passing of the Gulf War, the stage had now been "set" (according to our pastors) for the imminent Rapture to happen any time.

I subscribed to this line of thinking until about 1996.  By 1997 I as starting to have serious doubts.  By 1998 my conversion to Catholicism was well under way as my wife and I began our journey on the Canterbury trail (Anglicanism) that would eventually lead us to the Roman road (Catholicism).  As a Catholic I now subscribe to the historic teachings of Christianity, and I no longer believe in the Rapture or the Dispensational doctrines of John Nelson Darby.  It was a hard transition to make but a good one.  My wife and I are no longer worried about the horrifying prospect of being "left behind" in the Rapture, nor do we worry about living in the "end times" any more.  As Catholics, we know we are living in the "end times."  It's been the "end times" since the days of Jesus Christ.  Are we closer to "the end?"  Well sure!  But who knows how much closer, and I am certainly not going to worry about it any more.  Jesus Christ will return for his one-time "second coming" when he's good and ready.  There will be no "second-second coming" and no "third coming."  The so-called "Rapture" that I once anticipated is really the Parousia, and that is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ at the end of time and the final judgement.  As a Catholic, my end-time beliefs have been radically simplified, and after dealing with the tangled doctrinal nightmare that is Dispensationalism, I find that absolutely liberating!

There are a few essential things that everyone needs to know about Dispensationalism and the Rapture doctrine....

First, Dispensationalism and the Rapture doctrine were invented in the 1830s by a Anglican priest, named John Nelson Darby, who helped to form the Plymouth Brethren.  His eccentric end-times teachings on Dispensationalism and the Rapture were later popularised by one of his disciples, a lawyer named Cyrus I. Scofield, who published the "Scofield reference Bible" with Darby's study notes printed into the margins.  Scofield's Bible was wildly popular among non-liturgical, conservative Protestants.  Through the use of this Bible, Darby's obscure and eccentric beliefs about the end-times became commonplace within modern non-liturgical, conservative Protestants (Baptists, Pentecostals & Evangelicals).  By the 1970s, an Evangelical writer named Hal Lindsay wrote a book entitled "The Late Great Planet Earth" exploiting Darby's teachings and tying them to current events in the news.   Lindsay's book was a best seller, and there have been scores of immitations since then, some of the latest being the "Left Behind" fictional novel series written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.  More books have also been written by the popular American televangelist John Hagee and similar Evangelical television personalities.  End-times prophecy books sell!  There is plenty of money to be made in them.  The more sensational the better!

Second, Dispensationalism and the Rapture doctrine have no Biblical support, outside of a very narrow interpretation, and no historical support prior to the 1830s.  These are relatively new doctrines that are foreign to Catholicism and completely unnecessary for Protestantism.  In fact, Protestantism got along just fine for 300 years without them, and many Protestant churches still have nothing to do with them.  A number of Baptist churches have rejected them, and some Evangelical churches are uncommitted to them.  So one doesn't need to believe in Dispensationalism, or the Rapture, in order to be a good Baptist, Pentecostal or Evangelical ("Born-Again Christian").

Third, Dispensationalism promotes an identity crisis within Christianity, while the Rapture doctrine is based on the unbiblical idea that God has formulated an "escape plan" for Christians to avoid persecution.

Regarding this third point, let's deal with Dispensationalism first.  Dispensationalism teaches that God deals with humanity differently at different periods of history -- Dispensations.  Depending on what school of Dispensationalism one follows, there are anywhere from 3 to 7 periods (or Dispensations) in world history.  What is of primary significance to us now is the current Dispensation of "the Church Age" (or the "Age of Grace") and the previous Dispensation of the "Age of Israel" (or the "Age of the Law").  It is believed by Dispensationalists that the "Age of Israel," or the "Age of the Law," was suspended upon Christ's sacrifice on the cross, and a temporary Dispensation called the Church Age (or the "Age of Grace") has been TEMPORARILY inserted to bring in the Gentiles.  After the Church Dispensation (Age of Grace) comes to an close at the Rapture, the world (according to Dispensationalists) will revert back to the Age of Israel (Age of Law) temporarily and that will be the final seven years of history before the Second Coming of Christ, which ushers in the final Dispensation called the "Kingdom Age" or Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ.  Now the problem with this teaching is that it's completely unbiblical on many levels, and it promotes an identity crisis among Christians.  You see, Dispensationalism teaches that Israel and the Church are two separate and distinct entities.  The Bible says otherwise.

Rather than writing a book here trying to dissect all of the complex theological problems in Dispensationalism, I'll just cut right down to the heart of the matter.  The Bible makes no distinction between Israel and the Church.  In fact, the Bible specifically says that Israel is the Church and vice versa.  To the Dispensationalist this Biblical concept is an anathema.  They call it "Replacement Theology," and they say it smacks of anti-Semitism.  In fact, some Dispensationalists even blame the Catholic Church of teaching anti-Semitism by holding to this Biblical view.  Now they can call it whatever they like, but if believing what the Bible says makes one an anti-Semite, then why believe anything the Bible says at all?  Of course this is just a conditioned emotional response on their part.  They've heard the line preached so many times, it's only natural for them to jump to that conclusion.  There is nothing anti-Semitic about believing what the Scriptures actually say concerning the relationship between Israel and the Church.  The Bible doesn't hate Jews.  The Bible was written by Jews!  This is especially true of the New Testament.  So all of this hysteria about "Replacement Theology" and anti-Semitism is much to do about nothing.

Now with that said, let's look at what the Scriptures actually say about the relationship between Israel and the Church.

Jesus said the Kingdom of God is NOW, not some distant future thing.  To those who would listen Jesus said: "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." -- Matthew 4:17

To the priests, scribes and elders of Israel, Jesus said: "Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it." -- Matthew 21:43

To his disciples, Jesus said: "Do not fear, little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." -- Luke 12:32

The following are just some Scripture references that back this point.  They are certainly not all of the Scripture passages that can be found, but rather a good cross section of them.  The Bible plainly teaches that the Church is Israel....

WHAT IS THE NEW COVENANT?
The New Covenant Is With Israel:
- Jeremiah 31:31-33
The New Covenant Is With The Christians:
- Luke 22:20, 1 Corinthians 11:25, 2 Corinthians 3:6, Hebrews 8:6-10

WHO ARE THE CHILDREN OF GOD?
Israel Are The Children Of God:
- Exodus 4:22, Deuteronomy 14:1, Isaiah 1:2,4, Isaiah 1:2,4, Isaiah 63:8, Hosea 11:1
Disobedient Israel Are Not The Children Of God:
- Deuteronomy 32:5, John 8:39-44
Christians Are The Children Of God:
- John 1:12, John 11:52, Romans 8:14-16, 2 Corinthians 6:18, Galatians 3:26, Galatians 4:5-7, Philippians 2:15, 1 John 3:1

WHAT IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD?
Israel Is The Kingdom Of God:
- Exodus 19:6, 1 Chronicles 17:14, 1 Chronicles 28:5
Disobedient Israel Is Not The Kingdom Of God:
- Matthew 8:11-12, Matthew 21:43
Christians Are The Kingdom Of God:
- Romans 14:17, 1 Corinthians 4:20, Colossians 1:13, Colossians 4:11, Revelation 1:6

WHO ARE THE PRIESTS OF GOD?
The Israelites Are The Priests Of God:
- Exodus 19:6
Disobedient Israelites Are Not The Priests Of God:
- 1 Samuel 2:28-30, Lamentations 4:13-16, Ezekiel 44:10-13, Hosea 4:6, Malachi 2:2-9
The Christians Are The Priests Of God:
- 1 Peter 2:5-9, Revelation 1:6, Revelation 5:10

WHO ARE THE PEOPLE OF GOD?
The Israelites Are The People Of God:
- Exodus 6:7, Deuteronomy 27:9, 2 Samuel 7:23, Jeremiah 11:4
Disobedient Israelites Are Not The People Of God:
- Hosea 1:9, Jeremiah 5:10
The Christians Are The People Of God:
- Romans 9:25, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 4:12, Ephesians 5:3, 2 Thessalonians 1:10, Titus 2:14

WHAT IS THE VINEYARD OF GOD?
Israel Is The Vineyard Of God:
- Isaiah 5:3-7, Jeremiah 12:10
Christians Are The Vineyard Of God:
- Luke 20:16

WHO ARE THE CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM?
The Israelites Are The Children Of Abraham:
- 2 Chronicles 20:7, Psalms 105:6, Isaiah 41:8
Disobedient Israelites Are Not The Children Of Abraham:
- John 8:39, Romans 9:6-7, Galatians 4:25-30
The Christians Are The Children Of Abraham:
- Romans 4:11-16, Galatians 3:7, Galatians 3:29, Galatians 4:23-31

WHO IS THE WIFE (OR BRIDE) OF GOD?
Israel Is The Wife (Or Bride) Of God:
- Isaiah 54:5-6, Jeremiah 2:2, Ezekiel 16:32, Hosea 1:2
Disobedient Israelites Is Not The Wife (Or Bride) Of God:
- Jeremiah 3:8, Hosea 2:2
The Christians Are The Wife (Or Bride) Of God:
- 2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:31,32

WHAT IS JERUSALEM?
Jerusalem Is the City And Mother Of Israel:
- Psalms 149:2, Isaiah 12:6, Isaiah 49:18-22, Isaiah 51:18, Lamentations 4:2
Jerusalem Is The City And Mother Of Christians:
- Galatians 4:26, Hebrews 12:22

WHO ARE THE CHOSEN PEOPLE?
The Israelites Are The Chosen People:
- Deuteronomy 7:7, Deuteronomy 10:15, Deuteronomy 14:2, Isaiah 43:20,21
Disobedient Israelites Are Not The Chosen People:
- Deuteronomy 31:17, 2 Kings 17:20, 2 Chronicles 25:7, Psalms 78:59, Jeremiah 6:30, Jeremiah 7:29, Jeremiah 14:10
The Christians Are The Chosen People:
- Colossians 3:12, 1 Peter 2:9

WHO ARE THE CIRCUMCISED?
The Israelites Are The Circumcised:
- Genesis 17:10, Judges 15:18
Disobedient Israelites Are Not The Circumcised:
- Jeremiah 9:25,26, Romans 2:25,28, Philippians 3:2
The Christians Are The Circumcised:
- Romans 2:29, Philippians 3:3, Colossians 2:11

WHO ARE THE JEWS?
Israelites Are Jews
- Ezra 5:1, Jeremiah 34:8,9, Zechariah 8:22-23
Disobedient Israelites Are Not Jews:
- Romans 2:28, Revelation 2:9, Revelation 3:9
The Christians Are Jews:
- Romans 2:29

WHAT IS THE OLIVE TREE?
Israel Is The Olive Tree:
- Jeremiah 11:16, Hosea 14:6
The Christians Are The Olive Tree:
- Romans 11:24

WHO IS ISRAEL?
Israel is descended from Jacob:
Genesis 32:38, Genesis 35:10, Exodus 3:14, Judges 20:11
Disobedient Israelites Are Not Israel:
- Numbers 15:30-31, Deuteronomy 18:19, Acts 3:23, Romans 9:6
The Christians Are Israel:
- John 11:50-52, 1 Corinthians 10:1, Gal. 6:15-16, Ephesians 2:12-19

The overwhelming theme of Scripture plainly declares that the Church is Israel and Israel is the Church.  The separation between Jews and Gentiles has been torn down by Christ, and a New Covenant has been made to fulfil the Old Covenant.  Israel no longer pertains to a certain ethnic class of people living in a certain region of the world.  Israel has now been extended, under the reign of her King (Jesus Christ) to include the whole world, of every race and language, making them into the Kingdom of God (the Israel of God).  Under the Kingship of Jesus Christ, Israel has expanded from a tiny Roman province in the Middle East to a worldwide empire, reigning through the hearts of men in a way earthly kings and rulers can only envy.  There is no doubt about this for anyone who studies the plain teachings of the Scriptures.  Modern Israel is the Church.  In fact, the Greek word for "church" (ecclesia) is the exact same word used to describe the ancient kingdom of Israel in the Greek version of the Old Testament.  In reading a Greek Old Testament, and the New Testament (also originally written in Greek), there would be a seamless continuity between Old Testament ecclesia and New Testament ecclesia in regards to the concept of Israel and the Church.  They are one in the same.  They always have been.  The only difference now is that after the atonement by Jesus Christ, Gentiles are now allowed to enter the Church (Israel) without having to physically become Jews first by following the ritual commandments of the Mosaic Law.  Now, access to the Church (Israel) is instantaneous upon the sacrament of baptism, which comes from the Jewish tradition of mikvah - or a ceremonial bath.

It is absolutely critical that Christians understand WHO they are!  It is absolutely essential that Christians understand WHAT the Church is.  The Church is Israel.  Israel is the Church.  Christians are modern Israelites, and modern Israelites are Christians.  Call this "Replacement Theology" if you want, but I see no "replacement" at all.  What I see are the promises of God to the Jewish people fulfilled in Christ, and the Kingdom of God delivered to them (as promised) in a way more powerful and dynamic than they could have possibly ever imagined.  They wanted a little independent fiefdom to call their own.  Instead he gave them a global empire that would last throughout the ages!  They wanted the Gentiles to respect their religious understanding of God.  He made the Gentiles adopt it!  They wanted Yahweh's name honoured in their homeland.  He made it honoured throughout the world!  They gave him a crown of thorns and a cross.  He gave them citizenship in a global messianic Kingdom!  Replacement Theology?  Whatever!  I call it Fulfilment Theology!

This understanding is absolutely critical because it cuts to the fundamental error of Despensationalism.  You see Darby's Dispensational theology erroneously teaches that there are two (not one) people of God, and that the Church is separate from Israel.  According to Dispensationalists, Israel is for the Jews, and the Church is for the Gentiles.  Oh sure, some Jews are permitted into the Church, just as some Gentiles are permitted (by ritual conversion) into Jewish Israel, but the two entities are separate nonetheless.  Thus the Christian is now stuck in an identity crisis.  If he's not Israel, and not a member of the Kingdom, then what is he?  Many Dispensationalists are content to just call themselves "saved Gentiles" and acknowledge that God's "real covenant people" are the Jews.  They have no concept that they themselves have been grafted into Israel, nor are they aware that Israel exists in the hearts of Christian believers all around them.  Instead they focus is on the Jewish people alone as "Israel," and in particular the physical nation-state of Israel in the Middle East.  Because they define "Israel" as a political government in the Middle East, and due to the Scriptural command to bless Israel, these Christian Dispensationalists believe they must blindly support the political regime of the Israeli government in order to gain the blessing of God.  Failure to do this may result in God's curse (according to their understanding of the Scriptures), regardless of one's status in the separate entity of the Church.  In recent decades, this has been the source of "Christian Zionism,"  heavily promoted by American televangelists; such as John Hagee, Hal Lindsay and Jerry Falwell, just to name a few.

According to Dispensationalism, if there are two people of God, then there must be (at least) two future comings of Christ, one to receive each of his two people.  Thus enters the Rapture, or more specifically, the disconnect between the "rising up to meet the Lord" and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  That is, after all, the definition of the Rapture.  It's a separation of the "rising up to meet the Lord" from the Second Coming.  Different schools of thought place the Rapture at different times apart from the Second Coming.  Some place it seven years apart.  Some place it three and a half years.  The Rapture is Jesus' secret coming for his Church, while the Second Coming (really a "second-second coming" or "Third Coming" when you stop and think about it) is to rescue his nation-state of Israel from the Antichrist.

Now the Rapture is another teaching from John Nelson Darby in which Christ returns secretly to fetch his Church out of the world and make way for the resurgence of the modern State of Israel (Israeli government) as the primary people of God again.  What follows this Rapture, according to Dispensationalists, is a time period of "hell on earth"  in which the Antichrist attempts to deceive the State of Israel into believing that he is the promised Messiah.  Some say this period is seven years long, others say three and a half years long, as it all depends on what school of Dispensationalism one follows.  The theme is always the same though.  The Church gets Raptured and the State of Israel comes back into the forefront of history with the Antichrist leading it into destruction.  As for any poor sap "left behind" in the Rapture, he/she must spend the next three and a half to seven years dodging meteors, avoiding tsunamis, and riding out earthquakes, all while trying to figure out how to avoid the "mark of the beast" and the guillotine as punishment for not receiving it.  Dispensationalists teach that most people "left behind" will be tortured and become martyrs for Christ should they come to believe in him after the Rapture.  Of course, you can imagine what kind of terror this strikes into the hearts of children (and adults) at the prospect of being "left behind" in the Rapture.  To insure one's ticket to ride in the Rapture, one must be a "good Christian" according to the Protestant understanding of what that means.  Specifically, that means adhering to belief in salvation by "faith alone,"  having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and not following any of the "false teachings" of the Catholic Church (or any non-Protestant church for that matter).   In other words, one must be a good Protestant.  Now there are some Dispensationalists who believe that some Catholics might also be raptured, but only if they ignore most of the teachings of the Catholic Church.  In other words, being a bad Catholic will be rewarded with a Rapture ticket out of the Great Tribulation.  Good Catholics, who actually follow the teachings of the Catholic Church, obey the pope, worship the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, and pray to Mary and the Saints, will be "Left Behind" for sure.  This is why it is so important that Catholics not buy into this Dispensational Rapture nonsense.  Because if you believe in it, the only way to be taken in the Rapture is to deny your Catholic faith in one way or another.  If you doubt what I'm saying here, just ask any Dispensationalist the following questions.  "Can I pray to Mary and still be Raptured?" and "Can I worship the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist and still be Raptured?"  I guarantee the answer will always be "No!" 

Now the error of the Rapture comes from the error of Dispensationalism; the error that God has two covenant people instead of one.  That requires two separate "comings" to rescue each one in two totally different ways.  However, this error manifests itself in the common thinking that the Rapture is an escape route.  The idea is that God has finished the "Age of Grace," or the Church Age, and is ready to snatch his people out of the world before they have to endure the hardship of persecution under the Antichrist.  Most Dispensationalists look at the Rapture as if it were a "Dunkirk evacuation event."  This solidifies there thinking on the matter, because they rationalise that the Rapture must happen BEFORE the Great Tribulation.  After all, why would God Rapture (evacuate) his people AFTER the horrors of the Tribulation had already passed?  The very definition of an evacuation is to save people from imminent peril.  You don't evacuate people after the danger is over.  I've had many conversations with Dispensationalists who are convinced of this, and see the classical Christian understanding of the Parousia as hogwash.  The Rapture, they say, MUST come before the Great Tribulation and the rise of Antichrist, otherwise they believe it's worthless.  There is no sense in evacuating people from imminent peril when the peril has already come and gone.

The problem here, of course, is that they fail to understand what is meant by the Scriptural reference to the "rising up to meet the Lord."  The passage of Scripture Dispensationalist most often quote to back their position is as follows.  Let's examine both what it says and what it does not say...
"But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.  For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words." -- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
The passage is clearly about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, or the Parousia, and it even says so: "we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord."  The impression left on the reader here is the Second Coming of Christ, the Parousia, not some time before.  To interpret this as anything else is to impose one's preconceived notions onto the passage.  The passage tells us that when the Lord returns, the dead in Christ will rise first, then those believers still alive will rise together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord.  That's it.  That's all the passage says.  It says nothing about the timing of this event other than it happens at the "coming of the Lord," which presumably means the Second Coming at the end of history.

This rising up to meet the Lord, or "caught up" (Greek: "harpazo") as Saint Paul puts it, is a supernatural event that involves more than just leaping into the sky.  Another passage Dispensationalists often use to back their view of the Rapture is as follows.  Again, let's examine both what it says and does not say...
'Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”' -- 1 Corinthians 15:50-54
The passage again seems to imply a finality: "at the last trumpet." The implication is "the end."  This is it; no more trumpets heralding anything, but the "last trumpet."  In ancient Israel, religious feasts were marked by the blowing of trumpets from the Temple Mount.  Trumpets were also used to announce the coming of a king or great dignitary.  We still use them today in similar fashion with regard to royalty.  This passage specifically says this mystical event of transforming our human flesh and blood into immortal and glorified matter will come at the "last trumpet," not the second to last, nor the third to last, nor the tenth to last, but the "last trumpet."  If you can't see the finality in this phrase then there is nothing I can do to help you.  This is about as plain and obvious as it gets.

Many Dispensationalist, who staunchly believe in a pre-Tribulation "Rapture," will point to a passage in the Book of Revelation, which in their minds gives them a landmark as to the timing of the Rapture BEFORE what they believe to be the book's account of a future Great Tribulation...
'After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.”' -- Revelation 4:1
Because the "voice" in this passage is "like a trumpet" it is said that this is a reference to a pre-tribulation Rapture event.  Well, that's a nice thought, but it directly contradicts Scripture.  You see in 1st Corinthians 15:50-53 (cited above) it says that the transformation of our flesh occurs at the "last trumpet" and clearly when you read the Book of Revelation, this is not the last trumpet.  There are at least seven more trumpets following this one in chapters eight, nine, ten and eleven.  So this clearly cannot be a reference to the "last trumpet" which in turn means it cannot be a reference the future transformation of our flesh.  Thus it cannot be a reference to a pre-tribulation "Rapture."

Lastly, Dispensationalists will refer to gospel passages they believe refers to the Rapture.  Let's examine them carefully to determine what they say and do not say...
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.  But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark,  and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.  Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.  But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.  Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." -- Matthew 24:36-44
This is the famous "thief in the night" passage, wherein Jesus Christ himself foretells that a day will come when a large portion of the world's population will be taken out of this world, suddenly, and without notice.  This will leave behind another large portion of the world's population.  Thus the popular Dispensationalist phrase "left behind" is derived.  The Dispensationalist believes this is a direct reference to the Rapture, wherein Jesus will take away his followers, snatching them our of this world, like a thief in the night.  Yet let's look at this passage a little closer shall we?  Jesus compares this event to the flood of Noah's time.  When we put the "left behind" reference into the very context our Blessed Lord put it, it is Noah and his family who are left behind, while the rest of the word's inhabitants are swept away: "the flood came and took them all away."  Wait a minute!?!  When you put this passage into the context that our Blessed Lord himself put it, being "taken" doesn't necessarily sound like a good thing.  In fact, one would tend to think that perhaps being "left behind" is the more desirable position.  Fortunately we don't have to rely on just one gospel narrative to interpret this.  A similar narrative is found in another gospel.  Let's examine it...
'"And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.

“In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, in that night there will be two men in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left. Two women will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left.  Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left.”

And they answered and said to Him, “Where, Lord?

So He said to them, “Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”'
-- Luke 17:26-37
Here we have a parallel reference to the "left behind" passages of Matthew 24:36-44.  Again, Jesus draws parallels to Noah's flood.  Jesus tells his disciples that people will the taken away.  The difference is that in this narrative, the disciples specifically ask him "where" they will be taken.  Jesus' answer is dark and cryptic: "Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together."  Eagles are birds of pray, but the original Greek says "aetoi," which implies a scavenger bird, and is also translated as "vultures" and "buzzards."  Jesus is talking about carrion -- dead rotting flesh that the birds will feast on.  Jesus is saying that those who are "taken away," are taken into judgement!  While those who are "left behind" are in the more desirable position, having been spared.  

There is a school of thought that both of these passages do not refer to the actual Second Coming of Christ, but to his "coming" in judgement upon Jerusalem in 70 AD.  That could very well be the case.  However, even if these passages do refer to the Second Coming of Christ, being "taken away" is not something you want to happen to you.

You would be in a much better position to be "left behind" presumably for the transformation of our mortal flesh into immortality and the "rising up" (harpazo) to meet the Lord in the air.  This would be a more Biblically accurate interpretation of these passages in the context of the Second Coming of Christ (Parousia).  The "trumpet" sounds, the wicked are swept away in judgement, the dead in Christ are raised, and those who remain all go to meet the Lord in the air.  This brings me back to the whole "rising up" to meet the Lord in the air.  What is this?  Why do the resurrected and glorified saints in Christ do this?  What's the point?  It's obviously not an Dunkirk-style evacuation.  So what is it?  This "rising up" or "catching up" (Greek: "harpazo") on the Last Day of history, which is Christ's Second Coming, is not an evacuation.  It's a victory procession!  You see, in ancient times, when a conquering king would return home, the people of the city, in which he is to reign, would rush out to meet him and then escort him back into the city.  This happened once already with Jesus Christ, on the day we celebrate as Palm Sunday.  Jesus was riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, when the people of the city rushed out to greet him.  They laid their coats and palm branches on the road before him, signalling the entry of the great King into the city.  This is the image Saint Paul creates with his reference to the harpazo or "catching up" of all believers around the world at the time of Christ's Second Coming, who rush up (out of this world, even out of this universe) to greet him, and escort him down to a New Heaven and a New Earth, a place of final rest, eternal peace and everlasting joy.  This is the Catholic view of the Second Coming.  It is also the Orthodox view, and it is the historical view of many Protestant denominations.  This is what I believe now.

I don't believe in the Rapture any more.  There is nothing to support it in Scripture and there is nothing to support it in history or the Tradition of the Church.  It's a fabrication.  It's a myth.  It was created by a rogue Anglican priest who couldn't even sell it to his own denomination.  He had to go out and create a new one.  It was the eccentric opinion of a man with very limited influence and appeal.  His views only became widespread when one of his followers incorporated his study notes into what eventually became a very popular reference Bible.  This eccentric view went viral in the latter half of the twentieth century when even more eccentric men wrote about it in the context of their own time, using daily news events to back their positions.   Eventually novels were printed and motion pictures were filmed, making the whole thing very profitable.  But is it true?  No.  I don't believe it any more, and you shouldn't either.  Christianity got along just fine, for 1,800 years, without the Rapture or Dispensationalism.  Your Christianity, and mine, will do just fine without them again.

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Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of the Roman Catholic faith as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is concise and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Evangelical Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!
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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Anglican Use Hook

The Anglican Use of the Roman Rite
Celebrated here at Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church
in San Antonio Texas
Now any good fisherman will tell you to never try to set the hook on the first sign of a bite. Let the fish swim with it for a few seconds, then give the line a good pull. This will get the hook in nice and deep, thus reducing the fish's chance of getting away. I converted to Catholicism in the Spring of 2000.  In fact I was received into the Church, with my wife Penny, on the Easter Vigil of that year.  Penny and I came from nominal Protestant homes, and as young adults we were Evangelical Fundamentalists.  Between 1994 through 1998 I began informal training for the ministry.  My goal was to become pastor for Calvary Chapel, a nondenominational affiliation with strong Fundamentalist, Dispensational, and Charismatic leanings.  However, between 1996 and 1998 something went terribly wrong from an Evangelical perspective.  I began studying two things far more intensely than Evangelicals are supposed to do.  I started digging into the Jewish roots of the Christian faith and the history of the early Church.  Apparently, this was something you're not supposed to do.

A superficial study of these things is required of course, and even encouraged, but one shouldn't spend too long delving into these topics if one wants to remain an Evangelical.  Not me!  I guess I'm a rebel.  Because I dove into these topics head first, and the deeper I got into them, the stronger my desire to learn more.  As a result I found my experience within Evangelicalism lacking, and I could no longer support doctrines that Calvary Chapel required to maintain affiliate status.  So rather than cause a problem within my local affiliate, Penny and I quietly left.  I had discovered that the early Christians, indeed the early Jewish Christians, were far more "catholic" than I was comfortable with.  So I decided we should explore these Catholic customs in a "good safe" Protestant environment.  Thus, Penny and I entered a local Episcopal (Anglican) church.

I'm not sure how to put this, but there are so many historically "Jewish" elements to catholic worship that I don't know where to begin.  Suffice it to say that catholic liturgy offers a seamless connection between ancient Jewish worship and present-day Christianity.  It was the connection I was looking for, but more than that, the beauty and solemnity offered in Anglican catholic worship was the hook. I have never seen this connection between the Jewish roots of Christianity more clearly played out than in the Anglican liturgy.

Now I'm not sure why this is exactly, but I have some theories.  I suspect the Church of England was mindful of this, in creating a liturgy that was universal (catholic), ancient and yet uniquely English.  A great deal of thought went into designing a liturgy that would connect with English-speaking people in a profound way.  The Anglican mass was essentially modeled on the old Roman Catholic Latin mass, now known as the "Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite," but it was modified to incorporate older forms of the Sarum Rite, and it was translated into a form of English that was well understood, but not common to the average street language used in England at the time.  Thus the language of the liturgy is both comprehended and sacred simultaneously.  It's hard to put one's finger on it, but there really is something there.  This was the linchpin, so to speak, the hook that pulled us into the Catholic Church.  Through the Anglican liturgy we were able to put nearly all reservations about the Roman Catholic Church aside.  Within two years time, from 1998 to 2000, we were in full communion with Rome.

The purpose of this short little essay is to simply point out that the Anglican liturgy is a valuable tool for bringing Protestants into the Catholic Church, not only for Anglicans, but for Evangelicals as well.  As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in his Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, and the notes that accompanied it, this liturgy is to be viewed as a gift to the Catholic Church, designed to enrich its heritage, and I believe it can do even more than that.  It can also be used as a great tool of evangelism for English-speaking Protestants of nearly all denominations.  I want to encourage Catholics to get familiar with it, and I want to encourage priests and bishops to promote it, whether through the ordinariate or through a diocesan structure.  The Anglican Use of the Roman Rite is the official Anglican Catholic liturgy approved by Rome.  It is a gift to the Catholic Church and it does bring in converts -- even Evangelicals! This may be hard to understand, but it does seem to be the case.  My wife and I are living proof.

------------------------------------------------------------------

Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of the Roman Catholic faith as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is approximately 100 print pages, and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Evangelical Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!  Order Your Copy Today

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Catholic Economics

Pope Leo XIII
Good practising Catholics in America are often confused and perplexed as to why the popes sometimes sound so "socialist" in some of they're papal encyclicals that address economics. Often such Catholics simply dismiss these words of the Holy Father, basically because they don't fit the standard American worldview.

These papal encyclicals on economics are:
  1. Rerum Novarum: On the Condition of Workers, Pope Leo XIII, 1891
  2. Quadragesimo Anno: On the Reconstruction of the Social Order, Pope Pius XI, 1931
  3. Mater et Magistra: Mother and Teacher, Pope John XIII, 1961
  4. Populorum Progressio: On the Development of People, Pope Paul VI, 1961
  5. Laborem Exercens: On Human Work, Pope John Paul II, 1981
  6. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis: On the Twentieth Anniversary of Populorum Progressio, Pope John Paul II, 1987
  7. Centesimus Annus: The Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, Pope John Paul II, 1987
  8. Caritas in Veritatae: Charity in Truth, Pope Benedict XVI, 2009
The American worldview on economics is black and white. Either something is socialist or capitalist, or else some combination (grey) of the two. America is seen as the champion of capitalism and therefore capitalism must be "good." Communist countries were our enemies during the Cold War, and they were socialist. Therefore socialism is "bad." Yet the papal encyclicals of the last 100 years seem to openly attack capitalism. Of course, if one only has a black and white worldview on economics, then any attack on capitalism is going to look rather "socialistic."  Good practising Catholic Americans, who go to mass, pray and live good lives, are usually very patriotic too. What seems like a papal assault on capitalist principles just doesn't compute in the minds of many such people. It borders on an assault on America! Are the popes socialists!?! Do they not regularly attack "Liberation Theology," a heresy of Christian socialism? Did not Pope John Paul II help bring down the socialist regimes behind the iron curtain? So what gives!?! Why do the popes attack socialism as some great evil, then turn around and attack capitalism, while sounding so "socialistically" in their papal encyclicals on economics? This doesn't make any sense from an overly simplified (black and white, with shades of grey) American perspective.

May I suggest that the reason why papal economics does not make sense to Americans is because many Americans have no point of reference to compare it to? Americans see economics two-dimensionally. That's how we've been taught to see it for over half a century now. On the one hand there is capitalism, while on the other hand there is socialism, and everything else must be something in between. That's the average American understanding of economics. Americans must pick a point on the Left-Right scale. Either go with the socialist Left side, or else the capitalist Right side, or find your place somewhere in the middle. So that's what most Americans do, including most Catholic Americans.

May I suggest to you now that this overly simplistic view of economics simply does not work in a Catholic worldview? May I suggest to you that there is a third dimension to economics (and hence politics as well) that is the dimension the popes are calling us to in their encyclicals? This third dimension is the dimension of morality and it is governed by two Christian principles -- Subsidiarity and Solidarity.

Solidarity is simply charity. It is charity expanded beyond the individual and the church into the realm of politics. That's probably the simple way of looking at it. In short, it is Christian charity playing out in the social order both through the private sector and through the public sector. It's how we, as a civilised and Christian people, work together to take care of the poor and weakest among us. For the Catholic, Solidarity is not an option. It is as necessary as charity itself. Yes, we Catholics are called upon to use all means available, including the tools of the state of necessary and appropriate, to help those in need.

Subsidiarity, on the other hand, is the counterbalance to Solidarity. It keeps Solidarity from running amok. Subsidiarity is the Christian principle that governments and economies should be decentralised. The government that governs best, is not the government that governs least, but rather the government that governs closest to home, wherein it has the most contact with the people it governs. In other words, the more centralised a government becomes, the less Christian it becomes. The most basic functions of government should always be at the lowest level of government. Hence the highest, and most important form of government is the traditional human family. Husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, make up the basic building block of government. That's why this institution must be supported at all cost. Beyond that, higher forms of government are to take a subsidiary role to the lower (and thereby smaller) forms. So city government should only step in and help the family on those things the family simply cannot do on its own. Beyond that, city government should butt out! Allowing family government to do what it needs to do. Likewise county government should coordinate to help cities, in a subsidiary role, basically just coordinating and assisting in those things the city cannot do for itself. Beyond that, the county government stands aside. The same goes for state government in how it relates to counties, and ultimately the federal government in how it relates to states. On a federal level, we have a different name for this in our American tradition. It's called "federalism." So even our nation's founding fathers recognised this principle in a simplistic form, applying it to the republic they created. But Subsidiarity goes beyond that and applies to economics as well, and this is where a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding happens among Catholic Americans.

You see when Subsidiarity is applied to economics in the same way Solidarity is applied, it completely changes the two-dimensional face of the capitalist-socialist worldview. Now a third dimension is added, and it all centres around the ownership of property.

You see both capitalism and socialism have something in common. That thing they have in common is centralisation. They both want to centralise the economy.

When it comes to socialism it's obvious. Centralisation takes effect when a central (national or federal) government takes ownership of property. There is soft socialism; wherein large industry, or just certain types if industry, are owned by the central government. Then there is hard socialism (communism); wherein all property, including housing and clothing are taken over and owned by the government. By in large, the world has rejected hard socialism (communism), except in some places like China, North Korea and Cuba. Also by a large majority, the world has embraced soft socialism, wherein the central government takes control of some forms of property relating to certain industries. Western Europe is a good example where this is playing out.  In all cases what we are talking about here is centralised ownership of property, and a top-down big government administration of such property. This is a violation of the natural order. It's unnatural and its immoral. Though it is often done in the name of Solidarity, it is a blatant violation of the counter principle of Subsidiarity.

Likewise, capitalism has a similar problem. Again, capitalism in its most pure form, free of all government restrictions and regulations, tends to create monopolies, or at the very least oligopolies. Now to understand this, any business is really nothing more than a form of government. A governor, or businessman, simply applies certain rules to his activity to govern his business. If he does well by those rules, he turns a profit and becomes successful. When this happens on a small scale it is considered "good" and rightfully so, because it is good. This is how people take care of themselves and provide jobs for others. However, in an unrestricted and unregulated market, what usually happens is one businessman is usually better (more shrewd) than another, and as a result he wipes out his competition. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, especially when it happens on a small scale, but when it happens on a large scale, it starts to become a real problem. As more shrewd businesses (or corporations) gradually wipe out less shrewd businesses (other corporations) there comes a point wherein only one business, or a small number of businesses, control all of the property dealing with that particular market. As this comes about, the prospect of new businesses starting up in that market becomes impossible, as they will immediately be shut-down or gobbled-up by the large monopolies and oligopolies. Thus owning your own business in this market becomes impossible, and in order to work in that field, one has no other option but to work for somebody else - one of the big businesses controlling it. This in time creates a servile class of "workers" verses a dominant class of "employers." The employers own all the business property, while the workers simply use it to help the employers make profit. In the 19th century a similar phenomenon was widespread in American agriculture called "tenet farming," but in the Middle Ages they called it something else -- serfdom. So hopefully you can begin to see the problem here. Capitalism, in its most pure form, unrestricted and unregulated, creates an economy wherein the majority of productive property is owned and controlled by just a handful of people -- corporate plutocrats. In this sense, it is similar (not identical but similar) to socialism, in which the majority of productive property is owned and controlled by just a handful of people -- government bureaucrats. Under both systems, a small handful of people gain ownership and control of the majority of productive property.  The only thing that is different is "which group" of people do you want in charge? Corporate plutocrats or government bureaucrats?  History tells us that, when given a choice, most people will choose government bureaucrats over corporate plutocrats 60% of the time.  Why this choice?  Because it is often presumed (quite incorrectly) that at least with a government bureaucrat, there are elections to be held accountable to.  In other words, the people choose the empty promise of more popular control.

In the early part of the last century (1900 - 1930) Americans experienced the full force of corporate plutocracy, and in an attempt to counter the serfdom this created, along with wild swings in the economy (rapid growth followed by big recessions), Americans turned to an extremely soft form of government bureaucracies. In other words, in their limited two-dimensional view of economics, 20th-century Americans, with the help of many Catholic voters, slid the scale away from the capitalist Right and toward the socialist Left.  This first began under the Franklin Roosevelt administration and continued all the way through the Barack H. Obama administration. What Americans ended up with was something "right of centre." America became an economy that was still capitalist, but just a little socialist too. Of course this did nothing to solve the problem of property ownership. All they did was transfer some property from the hands of corporate plutocrats into the hands of government bureaucrats. The general working population got nothing out of this other than new masters. The new masters were a little better than the old, sort of, because after all you can vote to have a say in a government bureaucracy, whereas in a corporate plutocracy the people have no say at all. Still the government becomes a master nonetheless, and we have still done nothing to address the problem of property ownership.

So enters the popes into this discussion on economics. The underlying themes of the papal encyclicals dealing with social justice and economics is the twofold principle of Solidarity counterbalanced with Subsidiarity. The popes argue for widespread property ownership, in effect decentralising the economy along with the government. Productive property, where you work, not just where you live, should be owned and operated by the people who work there. This starts with small business, wherein the sole proprietor (owner) is also the main employee, doing the work and making a living at doing it. Of course, not all businesses are small. Some are a little bigger, having as few as half a dozen, to as many as a couple hundred, employees. Again, if one man owns this, it's fine, because that one man will likely work side-by-side with his employees and have a hands-on understanding of them and their needs. However, when businesses get extremely large, often incorporating to insure long-term survival, they run the risk of becoming part of an oligopoly, or even worse, becoming a monopoly. When this happens, their existence becomes counter-productive to the common good of society and often times an obstruction not only to Subsidiarity but to Solidarity as well. Here the popes call for reason and sanity. Business is made for man, not the other way around. When we reach a point when business starts to utilise people as if they were nothing more than "cogs in a machine," we know something has gone terribly wrong. Herein alternatives to big business are called for.

One common and popular form of alternative to big business is the workers cooperative, wherein the workers share in joint ownership of the business. This gives the workers a stake in the productive property they use every day as workers. "That's not just a drill press I'm working on," for example "that's literally MY drill press, and my coworkers' drill press. We own the thing!" Such workers also own the factory or warehouse they're working in, along with the salaries they earn and the pensions they provide. It's a way of giving back to the common man a piece of productive property that he could never previously acquire on his own.

There are many implications to this way of thinking, but what we are talking about here is decentralisation of the economy and returning ownership back to individual people. This is what is called an "ownership economy" and the message of the popes to us over the last 100+ years is that widespread distribution of productive property is the best, and most sure, way of combating real poverty and social injustice. Back in the early days the name "Distributism" was used by some to describe this way of three-dimensional economic thinking. Today the word "Communitarian" is bantered around as the polar opposite of communism. Wherein society is structured around joint ownership among individual workers rather than the centralised state. In a way, this thinking, whatever you wish to call it, is the opposite of both capitalism and socialism. Because both capitalism and socialism concentrate property into the hands of a few, while this papal way of thinking, puts property back into the hands of the common man, regardless of what you want to call it, if you choose to call it anything at all. Some people just call it the "free market," while others call it the "fair market."

Along with an economy based on Subsidiarity, come many other things that deal with Solidarity. Workers who are co-owners will likely organise in such a way that takes care of each other and their families, such as medical insurance pans and pension plans, etc. These can likely be extended to larger communities, such as cities, counties and states, but administered on the local level instead of a centralised national level. Of course, churches would likely play a key role in this process, as they most especially serve as a large means through which social interaction occurs.

The reason why papal encyclicals on economics seem so foreign to the capitalist mind in America is because they are. They are simultaneously just as foreign to the socialist mind. That however, never stops the capitalist from calling the pope a "socialist" and a socialist from accusing the same pope of pandering to "capitalism." There seems to be a common error in this two-dimensional economic thinking, that if one doesn't align on one side, he must be on the other. Yet the popes align with neither.

Catholic Americans, no matter how devout as Christians and patriotic as Americans, must put down their preconceived notions of how economics works, and stop trying to plug the pope into that flawed understanding. The popes are not socialists. The popes are not capitalists either. The popes see economics in three-dimensions, and we would do well to learn how to do the same.

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Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of the Roman Catholic faith as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is approximately 100 print pages, and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Evangelical Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!  Order Your Copy Today

Monday, September 24, 2012

Converting Protestants - A Secret Method

A Eucharistic Procession in Springfield Missouri
Feast of Corpus Christi 2012
Seeking photo credit please.
I have a secret.  I know how to get more Protestants into the Catholic Church.  Would you like to know?  It's guaranteed to work with shocking effectiveness.  You'll get more Protestant converts to the Catholic Church than you know what to do with.  They'll come in small numbers at first, just a trickle really, but that will slowly grow into a torrent.  You won't know what to do with them all.  You'll probably have to build bigger parishes or add on to existing ones.  From these converts you will find the most faithful and passionate Catholics in your whole diocese.  You'll even get an increase in vocations, as Protestant ministers will convert too, many of whom will seek ordination to the priesthood under the terms of the Pastoral Provision that allows for married priests.  Did I peak your interest?  Well, sit down and read because I'm not just going to come out and tell you.  No.  Now that I have your attention, you'll have to read through my article.

You see I am a Protestant convert to the Catholic Church myself, and not just any type of Protestant, but three types to be exact.  I was raised as a nominal Baptist.  As a young adult I became a passionate Evangelical, and a staunch Fundamentalist one at that.  It was here I was instructed on how to be an anti-Catholic, that the Church of Rome was really the "Whore of Babylon" written of in the Apocalypse, and the Roman Catholic Church was a counterfeit Christian "cult."  I was part of the fastest growing Evangelical movement in the United States during the 1990s -- Calvary Chapel.  I even studied to become a pastor in this movement, and nearly gained a pastoral role at my local affiliate before turning it down to pursue a more traditional form of Protestantism.  You see my pastoral studies of Church history and the Jewish roots of the Christian faith led me to understand that the early Christians were much more "catholic" than I was comfortable with.  So I decided to study and experience these "catholic" practises in a good safe Protestant environment.  That's why my wife and I joined a local Episcopal Church.  We spent some time as Episcopalians, learning how to genuflect and make the sign of the cross.  We learnt the meaning of liturgy and that church "services" were really supposed to be an act of worship that is a sacrifice, not just a fellowship for mutual edification.  In time however, we had difficulty accepting the liberal practises of the national province (female priests and acceptance of homosexuality).  My wife also wanted to be part of a larger church that was in communion with a larger number of Christians.  I agreed with her on this, and so, on the Easter Vigil of 2000, Penny and I were received into the Catholic Church.

Our story is not so unique really.  Lot's of Evangelicals become Catholic, and a good portion of those who find the Roman Road do so by following the Canterbury Trail, just as Penny and I did.  It's because our story is not so unique that I happen to know the secret of winning Protestant converts to the Catholic Church.  It's not hard really.  Any Catholic can do it with virtually no practise, no drills, no study and no experimentation.  In other words, it's really no problem.  Curious?  Stay with me.

Ever since the Second Vatican Council there has been this notion among Catholics (both clergy and laity) that in order to attract more Protestants to the Catholic Church we need to be more like them. We need to make our churches look more Protestant, get rid of excessive icons, and make them more "trendy" or "modern" in appearance.  There is been this notion that if we dispense of traditional Catholic music and bring in more protestant-style hymns and praise music, we will attract the Protestants.  Likewise, it has been assumed that if we scale down the mass, get rid of the incense and bells, reduce the chanting, and dispense of many of our time-honoured customs, we will certainly get the Protestants' attention.  Whatever we do, of course, we should never upset the public with fiery homilies that touch on controversial issues.  Or so it was believed, that Protestants desire a more "touchy-feely" kind of worship and message.  Like the Protestants, many Catholics began to focus on the mass as more of a "fellowship service" aimed at mutual edification and community.  Some parishes also introduced rock music into the mass for the younger generation along with all sorts of goofy innovations.  Now to be clear, the Second Vatican Council never called for these things.  In fact, I think it's safe to say the bishops of that council never even imagined them.  This was more of a trend that occurred after the council, and was not necessarily sponsored by the council.  I think it was something that just sort of happened on its own.  Perhaps we could say that people were just caught up in the spirit and emotion of the times, rather than faithfully administering what the conciliar fathers had in mind.

Well, if you're a Catholic who has bought into any of these things, sit down (if your aren't already) because I'm about to burst your bubble.  Here it is.  Brace yourself.  

Protestants do it better.  That's right, Protestants do it better.  When it comes to acting like Protestants, the Protestants do it better.  They have always done it better, and guess what?  They always will do it better.  You, as a Catholic, will never even hold a candle to them.  Their traditional hymns are better.  Their contemporary prayer and praise music is better.  Their pop and rock bands are better.  Their Protestant-style music always has been better than our imitation of it, and it always will be.  It really should be when you think about it.  After all, they invented it.  When it comes to worship, that is a central part of it.  They generally don't focus on the solemn contemplative nature of worship.  Their focus is primarily on community and fellowship, coupled with praise to the Lord, so naturally that genre of music is going to sound better in their churches, not ours, because for them it's much more natural to their understanding of what church is about.  We, as Catholics, can try to imitate them if we want, but we'll never be as good as they are in that area.  The truth is, if all I ever wanted to do was go to church solely for contemporary praise and worship music, I would head down to the local Evangelical mega-church on the other side of town.  I certainly wouldn't go to a Catholic church!  In the 1970s it was nuns singing "Kumbaya."  Yuck!  While today it's praise bands singing the latest from Michael W. Smith, and that's not a whole lot better.  The acoustics are usually bad in Catholic parishes, with all that marble and wooden pews, while Evangelical churches are designed more like sound stages with padded chairs, thick carpeting, track lighting and insulated walls.  When it comes to putting on that kind of environment, the Evangelicals have got us beat, and they always will.  Face it.  Nobody can be as good at Evangelicalism as the Evangelicals themselves. Why would I want to go to a knock off at a local Catholic church? When I could go to the very people who invented that genre of worship thirty to forty years ago?  Duh!  Sorry, but this is how I see it.  If I ever desire to go back to church just for the contemporary worship music and feeling of community, I'll let you know, because my "goodbye" letter of self-excommunication will be lying on my bishop's desk, and I will be sitting in the soft comfortable chair of an Evangelical mega-church while clapping loudly, raising my hands in the air, and singing at the top of my voice, just as I did twenty years ago.  I left that behind for a reason.  Think about it.  I'm not saying that there is something wrong with that style of worship.  On the contrary, I'm saying that if I (as a former Evangelical) wanted that, I would go back to where it is offered best.

Here is another bubble to burst.  Sorry, but the truth is painful sometimes.  When it comes to teaching like Protestants, again, the Protestants do it better.  They have always done it better, and guess what?  They always will do it better.  You, as a Catholic, will never even hold a candle to them.  You want a feeling of "inclusiveness?"  You want a theology that doesn't offend?  Hey, the Protestants literally invented that stuff!  You can go into thousands of Protestant churches today, both traditional and evangelical, and there you may find an assortment of different teachings to fit your personal beliefs.  In one church, you may find a woman standing behind the pulpit as the head pastor of the congregation.  She's the boss, and she's running the whole show.  Some of these churches are fairly "conservative" and some are fairly "progressive."  In fact, you've got a whole range to choose from all across the moral and social spectrum, ranging from left to right, in virtually any city of any relatively large size.  If all I ever wanted was a church I could go to for the purpose of finding an institution that fits my own theological ideals, and not be "offended" by something that disagrees, then I have a whole range to choose from.  I could return to my ancestral Lutheran heritage if that's all I wanted.  Heck! I could even find a couple of Baptist churches in my area who cater to that mentality.  If I like traditional catholic-style worship, without all that commitment to Catholic doctrine, I could just go back to The Episcopal Church.  The point I'm trying to make here is that if adhering to the full and complete teaching of the Catholic Church were not a priority for me, then I have an assortment of other churches to choose from, most of which will cater to exactly what I want.  I could just as easily, and in some cases more conveniently, go to one of those churches instead.  I've always found it amazing that most so-called "Cafeteria Catholics" never do this.  They would, after all, be more honest with themselves if they did.  Why stick with a religion you don't believe in any more?  Anyway, this isn't about them.  It's about me and why I became Catholic in the first place.   The truth is, if I wanted a church that didn't morally challenge me on all levels, even on areas I feel uncomfortable with, then once again my "goodbye" letter of self-excommunication would be laying on my bishop's desk, and I would be comfortably sitting in the chair (or pew) of any number of Protestant churches to my liking.  I left that kind of "freedom" behind for a reason too.  Again, think about it.  I'm not attacking or criticising Protestant churches here.  On the contrary, I'm saying that if I (as a former Evangelical) wanted that, I would go back to where it is offered best.

If I wanted to be more "protestant" in my worship and doctrine, I could easily go back to any Protestant church, and believe me when I say they would welcome me with open arms.  Oh the tales I could tell them, of how "Catholicism failed me" and so forth.  They would just eat it up.  Of course I have no desire to do that, because you see, I love Catholicism.  I love everything about being a Catholic.  I love Catholic worship.  I love Catholic teaching, even the hard stuff I find difficult to put into practise.  I am thankful to be part of a Church that leads me into sacrificial worship and challenges me morally.  By failing some of the moral teachings of the Church, I know God is challenging me.  By going to confession for these sins, I know God is reforming me, and rebuilding me the way HE wants me to be (not the way I want to be, or the way the world says I should be, but the way GOD wants me to be).  By approaching our Eucharistic Lord in the sacrifice of the mass, I know I am having direct physical contact with the Lord, and that it's not just about having a local community get together with good prayer and praise music.  You see, I really dig Catholicism for Catholicism's sake, and that my friends is the secret to winning more Protestant converts, or converts of any type really.  Just be more Catholic!  

Protestants don't convert to Catholicism to be more protestant.  They don't convert because they kinda-wanta-sorta be Catholic.  No!  They convert because they want to BE Catholic, totally Catholic, and fully Catholic in every way.  I'm not talking about the fiancĂ©es of Catholics who are converting for marriage sake.  (Though they could be just as passionate about becoming Catholic too, and many of them are!)  I'm talking about regular Protestants who convert to Catholicism on their own, or as a couple, because they have simply found an interest in the Catholic Church.  I guarantee it wasn't the contemporary worship and feel-good homilies that attracted them.  That I promise you.  No, it was a more traditional-style of Catholic worship that caught their attention, and it was the staunch moral theology of the Catholic Church that challenged them in a way that was refreshing.  This is what draws Protestants, and anybody really, into the Catholic Church, this and nothing else!  Once they get interested, then they learn about the sacraments and sacramentals.  That's secondary to them.  It comes later, as they enter the Church through the RCIA process or some other method.  That isn't what draws them in at first.  The initial draw (the "hook" so to speak) that brings in more converts is so simple really.  Just be more Catholic.  Bring back the traditional style of worship, the Gregorian chants, the old hymns, the sung liturgy, the incense and bells, and by all means, bring back the Eucharistic processions, adorations, and public vespers. Pastors, challenge your flock to LIVE the faith and teach it fully from behind the pulpit -- especially the parts that are difficult to keep.  Ladies, by all means, wear head coverings again, like they used to not so long ago.  Ladies, you have no idea how much a simple hat, veil or mantilla can affect a Protestant (both male and female) who has read the scripture in 1st. Corinthians 11 dozens of times but never understood its meaning.  You have the opportunity to give Protestants a visual testimony that the scriptures are living and breathing within the Catholic Church.  Men, start dressing up for mass again, and for heaven's sake, wear a scapular or bring a rosary with you.  Don't you know that all of these are visible signs that help Protestants see there is something different about you?  Don't you know these things give testimony to a visible faith with material manifestations.  This is something many Protestants are missing in their Protestant churches, some of which put an over-emphasis on spiritualising the Christian faith.  When you show them visible manifestations of the Christian faith, this peaks their curiosity, and it gets them to start questioning things.  I'm not just talking about questions concerning Catholicism, but also questions concerning their own Protestantism.  

Protestants don't seek modernity in Catholic worship.  I guarantee, if that's what they want, they will remain Protestants, and there is nothing you can say or do to attract them.  The ONLY Protestants that will ever seek out the Catholic Church are those who are looking for an anchor to the past.  They want something that is solid and unchanged.  They want a connection to their ancient Christian ancestry.  They want to worship the way their ancestors worshipped, and they want to be morally challenged in a world that is morally fluid.  People seek modernity in shopping malls, automobiles and the workplace.  Where they don't want modernity is in religion.  The only people who want modernity in religion also want modernity in doctrine, and to provide that is to cease to be Catholic.

In truth, the biggest change the Catholic Church ever needed to make, to draw in more Protestants, and converts of all types, was already made over forty years ago.  That was the change of the liturgy from Latin to vernacular languages.  If that's all the Catholic Church ever did, and nothing more, it would have been enough.  Because you see, most Protestants are big on understanding what is going on.  As a tenet of Protestant idealism, worship should be fully understood and in the language of the people.  As beautiful as Latin is, and it is beautiful, its use should be limited in ordinary circumstances.  If for no other reason, just so the people can understand.  However, that doesn't mean we should scrap Latin all together.  Far from it.  It should be used sparingly in vernacular masses, so as to maintain heritage and mystery, while it should also be used exclusively in celebrations of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (Tridentine Mass), so as to maintain a solid connection to the Church's past.  This is part of what Pope Benedict XVI refers to as the "hermeneutic of continuity."  Unfortunately, there was an attempt in the 1970s through 2000 to reach out to Protestants by adopting some of their ways, and I am sad to report that is a major "turn off" to most of them.  They watch our contemporary masses, with our contemporary pop music, and they say to themselves: "Well, that's nice, but I can get the same thing much better in my local Protestant church."  However, show them a high mass, with all of the chants, smells and bells of that ol' time religion, and I guarantee you that most Protestant guests sitting in your pews are not going to say to themselves that they can get the same thing in their Protestant churches.  

You see, the thing about the old Catholic traditions is that they're infectious.  Once people get a taste of them, they tend to come back for more.  This is why many Protestant churches historically would attack Catholic doctrines and tell wild tales (usually exaggerated or blatantly untrue) to scare their congregations away from Catholicism.  Today we call this a type of Protestant Fundamentalism, and it's popular in many Evangelical churches (not all, but many).  The pastors of these churches, many of them former Catholics themselves, know all too well that if you expose an Evangelical to ancient Catholic tradition, with homilies that challenge their moral sensibilities, there is a good chance that Evangelical may come back for more.   So they have to scare their congregations away from that by calling the Catholic Church the "Mystery Whore of Babylon" from the Apocalypse, a "cult," and the pope the "Antichrist."  They're not stupid.  They know this is the only way to keep many in their congregation from going back to Rome, and they employ this method frequently, especially if they are former Catholics themselves.  There will always be room for apologetics in dealing with these lies, but that is something that can be best left to the apologists.  On the other hand, the Anglicans figured this out early on, and simply adopted their own liturgy and rituals that mirrored Catholicism, knowing full well this was historically needed to keep people within their fold.  In the end, it actually led some Anglicans back to Rome.

As for you, the average Catholic sitting in the pews, the answer is simple.  Do you want to be an Evangelist?  Do you want to help bring Protestants back into the Catholic Church?  Do you want more converts, regardless of where they come from?  Then just be Catholic!  Encourage your priest to bring back the old customs and apply them to the new mass. Encourage him to challenge you from behind the pulpit by teaching the Catholic faith in its fullness -- even the difficult parts.  If you're a woman, dress modestly and wear a veil (or hat) of some kind to mass.  If you're a man, put on some slacks and a nice shirt and scapular, crucifix or carry a rosary.  Learn the catechism and teach your children the same.  Kneel for communion and receive on the tongue, if you are physically able, as this is the normal way Catholics receive communion all over the world and at all papal masses.  Take your Catholic Christian faith seriously, and start living according to its teachings.  For I promise, no Protestant was ever attracted to Catholicism by the testimony of a "Cafeteria Catholic" or one who didn't practise the faith seriously.

If Catholics will simply rediscover our tradition, and live according to who we really are, then I promise you, more Protestants (and converts of all stripes) will come into the Catholic Church.  By that I mean not just a little more, but a lot more, and you might be surprised just how many.

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Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

BOOKS BY THIS BLOGGER...
A Catholic Guide
to the Last Days
Catholicism for
Protestants


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Did Jesus Have A Wife?

Photo of Coptic papyrus allegedly reporting a wife of Jesus Christ.
Public Domain in USA -- Wiki Commons
(New York Times) - A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of Scripture: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife ...’ ”

The faded papyrus fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side, in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, “she will be able to be my disciple.”

The finding was made public in Rome on Tuesday at the International Congress of Coptic Studies by Karen L. King, a historian who has published several books about new Gospel discoveries and is the first woman to hold the nation’s oldest endowed chair, the Hollis professor of divinity...

read the full story
A scrap of papyrus dating from the fourth century contains a very interesting inscription.  It contains the words "my wife" in reference to a saying from Jesus.  It also mentions the phrase "she will be able to be my disciple," giving rise to much speculation in the academic world about the possibility of some early Christian traditions that account for Jesus being married and having a female disciple/apostle.  Surely, this will give ammunition for many in the world to attack the traditions of historic Christianity and especially the Catholic Church.

Okay, now before anyone hyperventilates, let me start by saying this is much to do about nothing.  First of all, we are not just talking about an obscure piece of papyrus here, dated about 200 years after the time of Christ, but we are talking about an obscure SCRAP of papyrus here, dated about 200 years after Christ.  It's just a smaller piece of a much bigger document that is cut off mid-sentence.  The text says: "Jesus said to them 'My wife...'"  To which I must ask; my wife... what?  That could mean anything.  Is he talking about a woman he's allegedly married to?  Or is he talking about something completely different.  What if the full sentence reads; "Jesus said to them 'My wife... shall be the Church.'"  That would be more in line with historic Church tradition, which consistently referred to the Church as the "bride of Christ," but we don't know.  We can't know, because we don't have the rest of the text.  All we have is this scrap which is cut off mid-sentence.  To formulate any kind of a conclusion from this, especially a conclusion that contradicts the settled tradition of the early Church period, and the historic tradition of all Christianity, would be highly presumptuous to say the least.  It is after all, a scrap of papyrus, not a full document, and it does come from an obscure source in ancient Christian history (southern Egypt), which we cannot know the full context.  So to make any kind of a big issue out of this is rather foolish.  It is a curiosity and nothing more.

Second, we in the twenty-first century are quick to assume the "Jesus" in this text is Jesus of Nazareth that is mentioned in the gospels.  It could be.  However, it doesn't have to be.  The name Jesus was actually fairly popular in that part of the world during that time.  The actual Hebrew name for Jesus is "Yashua," which is probably the name used by his disciples when he walked with them, and also by his mother when she called him for dinner.  If translated directly from Hebrew to English "Yashua" becomes "Joshua," a common name in many languages today.  There were probably dozens of Jewish rabbis with that name during the time period of the early Church.  This is why names from that time period were specified by location, such as "Jesus of Nazareth" and "Joseph of Arimathea" for example.  There were lots of men by the names Jesus and Joseph during that time, and surnames were not a common feature back then, so location was often used to clarify.  Was the Jesus in this papyrus the same "Jesus of Nazareth" we know from the gospels.  Maybe, but none of us can say for sure.  The scrap of text does not specify.

Third and finally, we have to look at the historic teaching of the Church, because admittedly, nobody in the modern world would even know about Jesus, were it not for the Church faithfully passing down its message about him.  Yes, that's right, I said it.  Were it not for the Church, and its faithful mission of spreading the gospel, a papyrus text like this one would be rather meaningless to us.  "Some guy named  'Jesus' is talking about a wife," we would say.  "Big deal! Who is Jesus anyway?"  So let's give a little credit where credit is due.  The only reason why we know about Jesus, and why he is so important to our Western civilisation, is because of the faithful mission of the Church, preaching him to us for centuries.  So this is where accepted Christian tradition comes in.  Many non-Catholic Christians (Evangelicals, Baptist, Pentecostals, or just Protestants in general) will immediately appeal to Scripture for the answer.  As well they should, because after all, the Scriptures do tell us a lot about Jesus of Nazareth.  Therein the pages of the Gospels, the Book of Acts, and all the Epistles, they will find no mention of Jesus ever getting married or having a wife.  In fact, the message would seem to be quite clear.  Jesus was celibate.  To the conspiracist however, that's not good enough.  To the devotees of Dan Brown's fictional novels (The Di Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, etc.) the Bible may be "corrupted" by a wicked Catholic hierarchy bent on keeping such "scandalous" information secret from the general public.  Of course, such nonsense makes for great literary fiction, and nobody can deny that Mr. Brown is a great entertainer, but is he really an "Indiana Jones" who has cracked open the greatest conspiracy of all time?  My hat goes off to Mr. Brown, as he has managed to excite the imagination of millions with his novels -- novels that he himself admits are fiction.

So what it really comes down to is this.  There are two gospels in the modern world today.  There is the historical gospel given to us by the ancient Church.  Then there is the conspiratorial gospel given to us by modern fictional novelists.  I have yet to discover the redeeming part of believing the later, as it mentions nothing about saving souls or improving the quality of human life.  It is, in the end, just a conspiracy theory.  If that is what one wants to base one's beliefs on, then who am I to deny them that belief.  I just think it's a rather empty belief when you really stop and think about it.  Let's assume it's all true, just to play devil's advocate, so now what?  If it's all true, where do we go from here?  Nobody seems to have a very good answer to that question.  Thankfully, it's not true, and to seriously entertain such a thought is rather silly when you really stop to think about it.

Our Protestant brethren have only Scripture to rely on, and in defending their beliefs against such conspiracies, that will only get them so far.  The Bible, after all, is a Catholic book.  It was compiled by Catholics in the fourth century, organised and canonised by Catholics in the fourth century, and ultimately published and distributed by Catholics in every century since.  As a Catholic, I find it comforting to know just how much Catholicism has really contributed to the religion of the Protestants.  That being said, the Bible is a book of Tradition.  It's not a complete compendium of the Tradition of the Apostles, but rather a fairly large cross section of it.  It was compiled, canonised and published in the fourth century for one reason and one reason only.  That was to combat the heresy of the Arians.

You see, as early as the first century, the apostles wrote of doctrinal dangers presented to the early Church.  The two biggest heresies that faced the apostles in the first century were both among the Greeks and the Jews.  The Jews put forward the heresy of the Judaizers, which was later called the Ebionite Heresy.  This was the notion that Christians must follow the law of Moses, effectively becoming good Jews before they could be rightfully called Christians.  The Greeks put forward the heresy of Gnosticism, which eventually led to many different forms of heresy throughout the centuries, one of which was the Arian Heresy.  The point here is that the early Church was immediately confronted not only with physical persecution from the Jewish and Pagan world, but it was also confronted with various corruptions and counterfeit gospels within the Church itself.  These the apostles strongly condemned.  They embraced the persecution, but they condemned the heresy.  It's important to understand that.  This is how the term "Catholic" came into being in the late first century to early second century, so as to distinguish between those Christians who rightly accepted the "whole" gospel of Jesus Christ taught by the apostles, verses those who cherry picked the teachings of the apostles to come up with their own heretical version of the gospel.  The Arians were a Gnostic sect who denied the divinity of Jesus and compiled their own version of the Bible to back it up.  In response to this, the "Catholic" Christians, meaning those who strictly followed the teachings of the apostles by accepting the "whole" gospel, were forced to compile their own Bible in return.  This later became the Bible we use today.  Thus, it was the Tradition of the apostles, faithfully kept by the Catholic Christians, that gave us the Bible we have today.  Where are the Arians today?  Where are the Ebionites today?  They're gone.  Oh sure, you can find modern little splinter groups today who are desperately trying to resurrect their teachings, but the lessons of history tell us they will suffer the same fate as those who went before them -- that is obscurity followed by extinction.  There is a reason why the Catholic gospel is the only one that has survived and flourished into the modern era.  It's because it's true!  Even the Protestants admit that, by using the very same Bible the Catholics published (minus some Old Testament books they removed for not tickling their fancy).  My point here is that Christianity is not just a religion of the book.  I would reverse it by saying the Book is the product of the religion.  Christianity is a religion of Tradition -- Apostolic Tradition to be specific.  It is the Tradition that gave us the Bible, and it is the Tradition that made Christianity the religion of Western civilisation.  There were many competing traditions shortly after the time of Jesus, and Jesus knew this would happen, which is why he gave us Apostles with authority to recount the events of his life and teach his word.  The Gnostics didn't have this.  Their religion was man-made, created not from the Apostles, but from men who did not know Jesus, and were simply trying to imitate the Apostolic message.  Lots of books were published under the spurious traditions of these men.  That's why the successors of the apostles took nearly a century to painstakingly go through all of them, and determine which were from their Apostolic masters and which were not.  This question was settled 1,645 years ago, when in AD 367 St. Athanasius of Alexandria Egypt gave us the list of 27 books we now hold as New Testament Scripture today, in their present order, Matthew through Revelation.  Of the hundreds of manuscripts circulating about Jesus at the time, many from Gnostic and Ebionite sources, it was these 27 books the early Catholic Church decided to be indisputable and part of the Apostolic Tradition.  Other books they classified as "orthodox" but not inspired.  While some they classified as "heterodox" meaning "heresy."  All of this was based on the Tradition of the apostles, handed down and faithfully kept by their successors, in writing, word of mouth, prayer and liturgy.  We can either accept it, or we can reject it, but if we reject it, we are left with nothing but a mountain of conflicting conspiracy theories, that serve no purpose other than to sell fictional novels.

After all is said and done, the question that must be asked in all of this is "why?"  Again, let's play devil's advocate.  If indeed Jesus Christ was married, "why" pray tell, would his followers try to hide it?  I mean seriously, what was their reason?  There is certainly nothing wrong with marriage.  The Church teaches that it is a sacrament of God!   Matrimony is a holy institution, according to the Catholic Church, on par with the holy orders of priests.  Celibacy is not mandated of all Catholic priests either.  Exceptions are given in the Western rite of the Catholic Church, and married priests are somewhat the norm in the Eastern rites.  So it's not like sex within marriage is seen as some kind of dirty thing, because it's clearly not.  The Church actually blesses it.  The Church likewise has no problem admitting that Saint Peter, the first pope, was a married man.  So what's the problem?  If Jesus was married, why not just say so?  Why hide it?  This is the question we must seriously ask ourselves.  Outside of ridiculous conspiracy theories there is no answer.  If Jesus were married, the Church would simply tell us so.  That doesn't necessarily mean he would have had any children, but if he did, again the Church would tell us so.  Such information would have been very hard to suppress in the early Church.  I dare say, it would have been impossible to hide.  The volume of ancient literature that would contain mention of this would be insurmountable.  If such a conspiracy to hide it actually happened (and again who knows why?) it would have resulted in schism within the early Church, and indeed those hiding the truth of his offspring would have eventually died out.  There is no logical reason to believe such nonsense, unless of course you just like conspiracy theories, and care nothing about Christianity in the first place.

It's time to take a closer look at those who promote such conspiracy theories.  No, I'm not talking about the good historian like Professor Karen King of Harvard who is just doing her job.  Nor am I talking about the fictional novelist Dan Brown who is just making a living as a writer.  I'm talking about those who advocate and promote these conspiracy theories as if they were fact.  Let's face it, there are a lot of people in the world today who want the Catholic Church (and all of Christianity really) to radically change its ways.  They want female ordination of priests and bishops.  They want a more feminine Church that redefines the roles of men and women, and likewise redefines the role of marriage as well.  Such conspiracy theories work to the advantage of those who would like to promote these things, and this, more than anything else, explains the hysteria that surrounds discoveries of incomplete texts on papyrus and suspicious inscriptions on ossuaries.  By themselves, these are just curiosities, that leave us with more questions than answers.  When put into a broader conspiracy theory however, they become powerful weapons to use against the credibility of the Catholic Church and historic Christianity.  We should keep in mind the motivations of those who would use them as such.

UPDATE (21 September 2012): Harvard University questions authenticity of "Jesus wife" papyrus - read more

UPDATE (27 September 2012): After further investigation, Vatican declared the "Jesus wife" papyrus a fraud - read more

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Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of the Roman Catholic faith as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is approximately 100 print pages, and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Evangelical Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!  Order Your Copy Today