Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Catholic Church is the Kingdom of Israel

Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter by Pietro Perugino (1481-82)

What if I told you that much of Protestant Christianity today is currently in the midst of an identity crisis? I say 'much of' because not all Protestants fall into this. There are still a few left who actually know who they are, but sadly, most Protestants today, particularly those living in the Bible Belt, have absolutely no clue. They're living in a state of spiritual amnesia, brought about by the errors of John Nelson Darby and his notes, found in the margins of the Schofield Reference Bible. The ecclesiology and eschatology of Darby and Schofield is called Dispensationalism. We could go into great lengths trying to describe it here, but I'll save that for another entry. Probably the best way we could summarise Dispensationalism is to say that it teaches a rupture between the Church and the Kingdom of Israel. Specifically, it teaches that the Kingdom of Israel is one thing, pertaining only to the Jewish people. While as the Church is something completely different, pertaining to those who follow Jesus Christ. According to Dispensationalism, the the Church is totally disconnected from the Kingdom of God, and has nothing to do with Israel.

Dispensationalism is the commonly accepted ecclesiology and eschatology in the United States of America. Most Protestants here subscribe to it in one way or another. This is not true for all Protestants, but most. In the years ahead, as Protestantism becomes more Evangelical in nature, it will also become more Dispensationalist too. It's odd that so many Christians who claim to follow the Bible Alone would subscribe to an ecclesiology and eschatology that is so incredibly unbiblical.

You see, Biblical ecclesiology and eschatology is all very simple really. It goes like this. Jesus is the King of Israel. There is no question about this. This is clearly established in all of the gospel narratives. In the 1st century AD, the reigning King Herod was illegitimate. He wasn't even Jewish! Let alone a descendant in the line of David! Pontius Pilate was just a Roman procurator. In addition to that, the Temple priesthood had been corrupted, and many of the priests serving in the Temple were actually Roman moles. The entire religious and governmental system of 1st century Judea had been corrupted by Roman occupation. What the Jews needed more than anything was a king, a real king, from the line of David, who could unite them and re-establish the Kingdom of Israel.

It is into this environment that Jesus of Nazareth came, heir to the throne of David, and high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Again, all of this is established Biblical narrative. Jesus of course teaches his apostles that the type of Kingdom he would soon set up would be entirely different from what they expected. He informs them that his Kingdom is not like all the other earthly kingdoms, and his reign will never end. He will rule forever, as the King of Israel, and this 'Israel of God' will extend far beyond the borders of the Holy Land. His Kingdom is not about borders, language and culture. Rather, his Kingdom will reign through the hearts of men. It will transcend borders, language and culture. No one will be able to contain it.

To illustrate, the pivotal moment comes in Matthew's gospel when Jesus issues his first royal decree as the new King of Israel...
Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 
-- Matthew 16:16-19 RSV-CE
Here in this passage, Jesus is acting like a King. He has spent a great deal of time talking about the Kingdom of God, now he is officially acting as the King of this Kingdom. Here he is establishing the Kingdom office of Prime Minister. The 'keys' you see, are an Old Testament sign of authority of the Davidic Kingdom...
In that day I will call my servant Eli′akim the son of Hilki′ah,  and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your girdle on him, and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.  And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. 
-- Isaiah 22:20-22 RSV-CE
The keys that Jesus gave to Peter are not literal of course. (Though in Old Testament times, they very well may have been.) Rather, they represent something. They represent an office of authority. Jesus, acting as the King of Israel, has just promised to give Simon Peter the office of Prime Minister in his coming Kingdom. Indeed, the Kingdom of God was already present, and at that time it subsisted entirely in Jesus Christ, but soon it would spread throughout the world, in an entity known as the Church. Now stop and think about this. What is Jesus actually doing here? He is living in a land with a 'king' already -- Herod. One region of that land is governed by a Roman procurator. The Roman occupation is propped up by cooperation from the Sanhedrin and the leadership in the Jewish Temple. This system of order is 100% dependent on the subjugation of all Jews in the region. They don't have to like it, but they do have to accept it. Yet, what did Jesus just do here? He has at length talked about HIS coming Kingdom, and now he is acting as a King. He is giving Simon Peter authority as his Prime Minister. What about the Temple leadership? What about the Sanhedrin? What about Herod? What about the Roman Procurator? Has Jesus of Nazareth just committed treason? In the eyes of many he had. He's holding himself out as the rightful King of his people. Now we know, as he will soon tell Pilate, that his Kingdom is not of this world, and is of no earthly threat to Caesar, Pilate or the Sanhedrin. But keep this in mind. By entrusting the 'keys' to the Kingdom to Simon Peter, Jesus is acting as a King, and he is effectively causing those who follow him to consider Caesar, Pilate and the Sanhedrin as defunct. They may rule by military might and social coercion, but their power is not of God, and only temporary. What Jesus is doing here is not actually 'treason' in the literal sense. But we could call it 'psychological treason' because what he is doing is setting up a parallel spiritual Kingdom, that is intended to exist alongside, and eventually outlast, the governance of Herod, Pilate and the Sanhedrin. He is vying for the loyalty of the Jewish commoners here, and that is why the Sanhedrin used Pilate to have him executed on the cross. He was a threat to the loyalty of the Jewish commoners, and the loyalty of the masses was something the Sanhedrin would not share.

Yet we know the story, don't we? The Sanhedrin used Pilate to have Jesus executed, and through that execution Jesus served as our High Priest, according to the order of Melchizedek, forgiving all of our sins, becoming our Passover Lamb, and sharing his body and blood with us, under the appearance of bread and wine. In this one act, he fulfilled the Law of Moses forever, rendering the Temple sacrifices forever redundant and unnecessary. In this one act, he rendered the power of the Temple leadership, and the Sanhedrin, obsolete. Then three days later, he rose from the dead, proving his credentials as the Son of God. The rightful heir to the throne of David, the rightful King of Israel, not only conquered death, but would now live forever. No more would the Kingdom of Israel ever need to worry about a successor to David's throne, or tracking the bloodlines. The King is alive and reigns forever! Now, all that matters is the office of Prime Minister, which is not based on bloodlines, but rather on being called by the King. This is the Petrine office, the one originally given to Simon Peter, and is today known as the papacy. Yes, the Catholic Church is the Kingdom of Israel.

The Bible makes no distinction between the Kingdom of Israel and the Church.  In fact, the Bible specifically says that Israel is the Church and vice versa.  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, and when we consider the office of Prime Minister, it is the Catholic Church in particular.  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.  The Kingdom of Israel is the Catholic 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), side-by-side, there is a seamless continuity between the Old Testament ecclesia and the 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 -- but has been energised by the sacramental grace of God.

Herein lies the problem with the Dispensational teaching of Darby and Schofield. It denies this fundamental truth by insisting that the Kingdom of God is separate from the Church. It makes Jesus Christ the 'King of the Jews' alone, and Gentile Christians a mere afterthought. The Church becomes an 'accident' if you will, brought on by the general refusal of Jewish leaders to accept Jesus Christ as their King. It's bizarre! Because if Jesus is the King of the Jews, than he is also the King of anyone who follows him, Jew or Gentile. If he's the King of Gentile followers, just as much as Jewish followers, than he's the King of this whole body of follows, regardless of their who they are (ethnically and culturally). If he's their King, than what we have here is a Kingdom. Do we not? I mean, what is a king with no kingdom? Historically speaking, the followers of Jesus Christ have always been known as the Church (ecclesia).

So the question that must be posed to every Dispensationalist is this; 'Is Jesus Christ your King?' If the answer is 'yes', than they have to admit that they are part of his Kingdom. Then the next question is this; 'What is Jesus' Kingdom called?' Here there are two correct answers. One is the Church. The other is Israel. Because they are one in the same.

To the Dispensationalist, this Biblical concept is an anathema.  They call it 'Replacement Theology,' or 'Supersessionism', 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, that being said, it comes time for a caveat. The Catholic Church has officially rejected all forms of Anti-Semitism as a matter of doctrine. The following paragraphs are taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church...
62 After the patriarchs, God formed Israel as his people by freeing them from slavery in Egypt. He established with them the covenant of Mount Sinai and, through Moses, gave them his law so that they would recognize him and serve him as the one living and true God, the provident Father and just judge, and so that they would look for the promised Savior. 
63 Israel is the priestly people of God, "called by the name of the LORD", and "the first to hear the word of God", the people of "elder brethren" in the faith of Abraham. 
147 The Old Testament is rich in witnesses to this faith. The Letter to the Hebrews proclaims its eulogy of the exemplary faith of the ancestors who "received divine approval". Yet "God had foreseen something better for us": the grace of believing in his Son Jesus, "the pioneer and perfecter of our faith" 
597 The historical complexity of Jesus' trial is apparent in the Gospel accounts. The personal sin of the participants (Judas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate) is known to God alone. Hence we cannot lay responsibility for the trial on the Jews in Jerusalem as a whole, despite the outcry of a manipulated crowd and the global reproaches contained in the apostles' calls to conversion after Pentecost. Jesus himself, in forgiving them on the cross, and Peter in following suit, both accept "the ignorance" of the Jews of Jerusalem and even of their leaders. Still less can we extend responsibility to other Jews of different times and places, based merely on the crowd's cry: "His blood be on us and on our children!", a formula for ratifying a judicial sentence. As the Church declared at the Second Vatican Council:
. . . [N]either all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his Passion. . . [T]he Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy Scripture. 
674 The glorious Messiah's coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by "all Israel", for "a hardening has come upon part of Israel" in their "unbelief" toward Jesus. St. Peter says to the Jews of Jerusalem after Pentecost: "Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old." St. Paul echoes him: "For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?" The "full inclusion" of the Jews in the Messiah's salvation, in the wake of "the full number of the Gentiles", will enable the People of God to achieve "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ", in which "God may be all in all". 
839 "Those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways."
The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People. When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People, "the first to hear the Word of God." The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God's revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews "belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ", "for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable." 
840 And when one considers the future, God's People of the Old Covenant and the new People of God tend towards similar goals: expectation of the coming (or the return) of the Messiah. But one awaits the return of the Messiah who died and rose from the dead and is recognized as Lord and Son of God; the other awaits the coming of a Messiah, whose features remain hidden till the end of time; and the latter waiting is accompanied by the drama of not knowing or of misunderstanding Christ Jesus.
The teaching of the Catholic Church is pretty clear here. The Jews are held in high regard, as they always have, being our 'elder brethren' in the faith of the God of Israel. All trace of Anti-Semitism is flatly rejected, as the Church claims that Jews cannot be collectively held responsible for the death of Christ, and I would personally add, that they cannot be collectively held responsible for the persecution of the early Church either. The Church goes on to say that the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable, and this is true. Once called by God, one cannot be 'uncalled'. Yet in all of this, the Church holds fast to her historical position. The Church is the fulfilment of the Kingdom of Israel which their ancestors sought. The Church looks forward to the day when 'all Israel will be saved' meaning that glorious time, known only to God, when the full number of Jews will be brought into the Church following the full number of Gentiles. The Catholic Church rejects 'Duel-Covenant Theology' which holds that Christians are saved by believing in Christ, and Jews are saved by adhering to the Law of Moses. This is where the adherents of Dispensationalism get confused. While most Evangelicals do call for Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah, their system of eschatology proposes a distinction between Jews who have done this early -- Hebrew Christians or Messianic Jews -- and those who will do so at the end of time. They see those who have done so early as being part of the Church, and those who will do so at the end of time as being part of the Kingdom. It's an unnecessary bifurcation that goes against Biblical teaching.

Herein lies the rub, because as a result of this aberrant teaching, we now have strong Zionist tendencies running through American Protestantism. If Christianity is Israel, and the Catholic Church is the fullness of Israel, than what are we to make of the new modern Republic of Israel in the Middle East? Dispensationalists claim this proves their point. 'You see!' they say, 'There is a clear separation between Israel and the Church.' What they've done here is play right into Zionist ideology, by claiming that the existence of the Republic of Israel automatically nullifies any claim the Church has on the name Israel. They claim the existence of the Republic of Israel is proof positive that this is God's will, and Christians must now accept that the Kingdom of God and the Church are two completely different and separate things.

This is an extraordinary oversimplification, and a bit ridiculous. The name 'Israel' is just a name. You could set aside a plot of land in the American Midwest, and call it Israel, then move a bunch of Jews there. Would that make it the Biblical Israel? No. It no more makes it the Biblical Israel than moving Jews back to their ancestral homeland and calling it by the same name. The Biblical Israel is a KINGDOM not a republic. So to Dispensationalists, we must ask; 'If the modern Nation of Israel is the Biblical Israel, than where is their king?' To be the Biblical nation of Israel, they must have a king, who is a documented descendant of David, and they must have a functioning Temple as well as an ordained priesthood. None of these things exist. Granted, it could be possible to rebuild the Temple, and train a new generation of priests who have some ancestral linkage to the sons of Aaron, and many Dispensationalists actively support that, but they still need a king! Remember, what the ancient 1st century Jews were looking forward to was a restored Kingdom of Israel, with a King, not a republic with an elected president. In fact, the modern Nation of Israel looks a lot more like ancient Rome (with a president and a senate) than ancient Israel (which was a theocratic kingdom). What we have in the Middle East today is not the Biblical Kingdom of Israel, not even by a stretch. It is rather a Republican form of government, based on Secularism and Western values. It has little to nothing in common with the ancient Kingdom of Israel, other than the fact that many of the Jews who live there have some level of genetic and religious connection to the Jews that lived there thousands of years ago. That's about it.

There is of course nothing wrong with Jews moving back to their ancestral homeland if that is what they want to do. There are of course some problems with the politics surrounding this, but that is a matter I'm not going to delve into here. However, having a concentration of Jews in a certain place, even their ancestral homeland, does not make for the fulfilment of prophecy regarding the Kingdom of God. There are more Jews living in the United States than in the Nation of Israel. Does that make America Israel too? There are more Jews living in New York City than in Jerusalem. Does that make New York City the capital of Israel? Of course not! Concentration of Jewish population means nothing. The location of that concentration means nothing. At least, this is not the case in a Biblical sense. If Jews want to move back to their ancestral homeland, that is their business. (Why? I don't know. Considering the level of violence there it seems crazy to me, but to each his own.) If Jews want to call that ancestral homeland 'Israel' than again, that is their business. Who am I to judge? But as a Christian, I should never make the terrible mistake of assuming that such actions are the equivalent of the Kingdom of Israel promised in the Old Testament. They are not. The Kingdom of Israel was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, who is the King of Israel, and anyone who follows him is part of that Kingdom.

It is absolutely critical that we Christians understand WHO we 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 Jesus 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 God gave them a global empire that would last throughout the ages!  They wanted the Gentiles to respect their religious understanding of God.  Instead 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. In turn, he offered them citizenship in a global messianic Kingdom!  Replacement Theology?  Whatever!  I call it Fulfilment Theology!

END.

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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 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

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Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Whore of Babylon

"The Tower of Babel" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1563

Babylon! It is the Biblical symbol of rebellion against God. The first account of Babylon comes from the Book of Genesis, where it is referred to by its ancient name 'Babel'...
Now the whole earth had one language and few words.  And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.  And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar.  Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”  And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built.  And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”  So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.  Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. -- Genesis 11:1-9 RSV-CE
The story is significant, because it highlights the initial rebellion against God that came after the flood of Noah. In Genesis 9 and 10, God commanded the sons of Noah to go fill the earth. The implication here is to scatter, go abroad, and repopulate the planet. However, these descendants of Noah decided to do the opposite. They found a fertile plain in Shinar and concentrated there, building a small city. Then they decided to build a tower as a sign of their power, so they would not be scattered about the earth. (See the rebellion? God says scatter, man says unite!) The story continues, in that God saw what they were doing, and decided that because humanity had only one language, it would allow them to easily rebel against his commands, and they would be able to easily organise and draw others into their rebellious thinking. So God miraculously confused their languages, making it impossible for them to understand each other. The result? They were forced to obey God's command, and each family when their own way, unable to understand other families. Thus they scattered.

Why did God do this? The common explanation is that the fallen nature of mankind is rebellious. God had just flooded the whole earth because of man's rebellion before and during the time of Noah. Having one common language after the flood simply made a repeat of that rebellion easier for mankind to accomplish. Thus God gave the original command to scatter and fill the earth, so as to separate humanity, and slow the rate of rebellion. Eventually, in time, languages would change on their own. However, some people rebelled, and decided to congregate into a city, using a tower to call all men back, thus bringing all people together under one language, one government and one civilisation. This of course, with man's fallen nature, would do the exact opposite of what God wanted, and allow the rapid descent back into social depravity. So God forced his will. Rather than allowing languages to grow apart naturally, as they would if people were scattered abroad on their own, he simply confused the language ahead of time, leaving people unable to communicate with each other. Thus they scattered naturally, each according to his dialect.

The lesson of Babel is about rebellion and how God deals with it. It's about man trying to play God, by using his ingenuity and ability to communicate in such a way as to usurp the will of God. Thus God has to step in and forcibly correct the situation. For this reason, in Hebrew literature, Babel (or Babylon) is always seen as a symbol of rebellion against God, and a nemesis to the people of God, who are trying to live according to God's will.

Later in Hebrew literature (Old Testament) we see how the ancient Kingdom of Israel interacted with the Babylonian Empire. Things didn't go well. Israel began paying tribute to Babylon, and was eventually conquered by Babylon, and everyone within the Kingdom was taken into Babylonian captivity as slaves for nearly 70 years (BC 605 - 538). Thus, once again, Babylon is seen as a nemesis to God's people and God's commandments. However, Babylon is also seen as serving a purpose, as an instrument of God's justice. You see, prior to the Babylonian captivity, The Hebrew people in Judah had fallen into sin and rebellion themselves. So the captivity was seen as a punishment for their sins and a corrective measure to the nation. The Hebrew people who had once been delivered from slavery in Egypt, were briefly delivered back into slavery in Babylon, as a reminder of what happens when they don't obey the laws of God.

Something else happened during that Babylonian captivity as well. The City of Babylon itself was conquered by the Persians. The Babylonian Empire fell and was absorbed into the Persian Empire. It was the Persians who freed the Hebrews in Babylon and sent them back to the promised land of Israel (BC 538 - 515). Because of this, a new dimension was added to the image of Babylon in Hebrew literature. Not only was Babylon a symbol of rebellion against God, but God could use it as an instrument of justice against his people when they were rebellious. Furthermore, if Babylon was just an instrument of God, it can be disposed of by God when it is no longer useful. Just as God scattered the inhabitants of the ancient City of Babel by confusing their language, so God just as easily caused the ancient Babylonian Empire to fall to the Persians once he was done with using them to chastise his own people in Israel. As an interesting footnote in history, the City of Babylon not only fell to the Persians, but again to the Greeks later on. After that it never recovered. The ancient City of Babylon has remained in ruins for thousands of years. Even an attempt by the dictator Saddam Hussein to rebuild Babylon, in the late 20th century as a tourist destination, failed miserably.

The next time we hear of Babylon again is in the New Testament, spoken of by a the Apostle John in visionary form, in a symbolic way, which draws heavily on the Hebrew understanding of what that ancient city symbolises...
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who is seated upon many waters with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns.  The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and bedecked with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication;  and on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of harlots and of earth’s abominations.”  And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her I marveled greatly.  But the angel said to me, “Why marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her.  The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is to ascend from the bottomless pit and go to perdition; and the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will marvel to behold the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.  This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven hills on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes he must remain only a little while.  As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to perdition.  And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast.  These are of one mind and give over their power and authority to the beast;  they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” And he said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the harlot is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.  And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the harlot; they will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and giving over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.  And the woman that you saw is the great city which has dominion over the kings of the earth.” 
-- Revelation 17:1-18 RSV-CE
Now, when we read this passage, we must remember the time period it was written in. It was written by the Apostle John (a Hebrew Christian), to other Christians (many of them Hebrews by birth), during the late 1st century. The time period of the text is between AD 60 to 100. Now, what was happening at this time? Up to this period in history (AD 33 - 67), Jewish Christians were being heavily persecuted primarily by Judaism. The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem had banned Christians from the Jerusalem Temple. They had been put out of the synagogues as well. Various Christian leaders in Jerusalem had been stoned. The Temple had sent emissaries to synagogues all over the ancient world to beware of Christians. Sometimes they were arrested, and taken back to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem for trial. While Christians had some problems with the Greek Pagans here and there, Pagans were not their primary persecutors during this time period. In fact, by this time, more Pagans were converting to Christianity than Jews. It was the Jewish leadership, primarily in Jerusalem, that presented the biggest problem for the early 1st century Christians. They caused great trouble for Christians living within Jerusalem, and even those living outside of Jerusalem. This is why the same man who wrote this above passage, the Apostle John, twice referred to the Jewish leadership as the 'Synagogue of Satan' earlier in the same book (Revelation 2:9; 3:9).

As another point of context, this same Jewish leadership, based out of Jerusalem, in the late 1st century, did something to the early Christian community that would change the course of history, and seal Jerusalem's fate as the chief persecutor of Christianity in ancient history. Jewish leaders from Jerusalem sent emissaries to Rome, and convinced Nero Caesar that Christians were not part of Judaism. You see, Jews had a special place of privilege within the ancient Roman Empire. Because of Jerusalem's willingness to cooperate with Rome, Jews were dispensed from the imperial duty of having to worship Caesar upon paying taxes. Unlike the Pagans, they were not required to throw a pinch of incense on the Pagan altar and say 'Caesar is Lord'. Rather, they were only obligated to pray for Caesar to the God of Israel. This is exactly what was done in Jerusalem, in the Temple itself, as sacrifices were made on Caesar's behalf, praying to God for his health, safety and wisdom. In exchange for this, Jews were exempt from the obligatory Caesar worship enforced throughout the entire Roman Empire. Christians were originally exempt from this too, because Rome considered Christianity to be a Jewish sect. However, once leaders from Jerusalem convinced Nero Caesar otherwise, Christians no longer fell under the protection of Jewish exemption. Rome now viewed them exactly the same as Pagans. Henceforth, they would be required to give worship to Caesar upon paying taxes, just like any other Pagan, and failure to do so could mean death. Thus, the final blow the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem dealt to Christians was to remove their Jewish exemption from Caesar worship, thus ensuring their persecution by the Roman Empire for the next 200+ years! In effect, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem got Pagan Rome to do their dirty work for them. What followed however, was their immediate destruction, as Zealots (Jewish Nationalists) attempted to expel the Roman occupation by force. This resulted in Rome crushing them, and the City of Jerusalem being burned to the ground as a result, Temple and all. Thus, the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem got Pagan Rome to persecute Christians, and immediately thereafter, God allowed Pagan Rome to destroy Jerusalem. This is the historical context the Book of Revelation was written in. Now, go back and re-read the passage above from Revelation 17.

Immediately, you should see the parallels. The 'Beast' described in this passage is the Pagan Roman Empire. There is no doubt about that. The seven heads refer to the seven hills of ancient Pagan Rome, and seven emperors of the Roman Empire leading up to that time period. However, the woman, who is described as a harlot (or whore), with the name 'Babylon the Great' written on her crown, is none other than Jerusalem. (Jerusalem is also built on seven hills, which is an interesting parallel I'm sure the ancient Jews were well acquainted with. Thus Rome and Jerusalem, two cities each built on seven hills, are intimately connected in this text.) You see Jerusalem, particularly the Temple leadership in Jerusalem, which was at that time the primary persecutor of the early Church, is the 'whore' or 'harlot' called 'Babylon' by the Apostle John. Why is this? He says this because Jerusalem has 'prostituted' or 'sold herself' over to Pagan Rome. She does Rome's bidding in the Holy Land, and in turn, Rome keeps the Temple leadership in power. Thus Jerusalem is now serving in the place of historical Babylon, persecuting the people of God (the Church), who will later be represented as the 'New Jerusalem' descending from heaven (Revelation 21). Also, Rome now does Jerusalem's bidding against the early Christians. So the prostitute (Jerusalem= Whore of Babylon) demands her price for her 'services', which was the blood of Christians. Jerusalem was the first to have Christians martyred, and so Saint John says that she (Jerusalem = Whore of Babylon) became 'drunk' on the blood of martyrs and saints. Then she prostituted herself by convincing Rome to do her dirty work for her. In the Old Testament, whenever Israel was unfaithful to God, the words 'prostitute' and 'harlotry' were used to describe her (Isaiah 1:21; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:1–11; Ezekiel 16:1–43; Ezekiel 23). So it is used again here in Revelation 17 in regards to Jerusalem. Jesus Christ himself assigned Jerusalem (and Jerusalem alone) as the city that murders God's prophets and saints (Matthew 23:34–37; Luke 11:47–51; Luke 13:33). While Rome had great political power over the world, it was Jerusalem that had regional power over Rome, because the Temple leadership in Jerusalem kept the peace in that volatile part of the world. It was a stretch of land that the Roman Empire needed to maintain control of the entire Mediterranean Sea. If Rome lost the Holy Land, the Empire would be split in two. So Jerusalem kept the peace, and its religious leaders did so religiously, as many kings in that region would come to the Temple and pay homage to the God of Israel.

Now consider the dichotomy. Saint John, the author of this Book of Revelation, refers to the Church as the 'bride' of Christ multiple times (Revelation 19:7; 21:2; 21:9; 22:17) and Jesus Christ as the bridegroom (Revelation 18:23). But to the old Jewish leadership in Jerusalem, he calls them the 'whore' or 'harlot'. The message is clear. By refusing to follow Jesus as the Messiah, and then going so far is to persecute his followers, the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem (at that time) prostituted themselves with Rome, and thus forfeited their place within the 'bride' of Christ. Jesus had come to be their Messianic King, and they in turn had him crucified saying: 'We have no king but Caesar.' (John 19:15). In the decades that followed, the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem acted accordingly, giving homage to Caesar, while conducting an empire-wide campaign in all the synagogues throughout the Mediterranean, to have those who call Jesus 'King' persecuted, and in some cases, executed. Then, their final blow, was to convince Nero Caesar himself that Christians were not a Jewish sect, and therefore should not get Jewish exemption from Caesar worship, which would ignite two centuries of Roman persecutions on the early Church. This was the situation near the end of the first century, when the Book of Revelation was written, and this is what the reference to the 'Whore of Babylon' is all about.

The word Babylon could be a direct reference to Jerusalem. Or it could be a direct reference to the city of Pagan Rome itself, since the personification we're dealing with here in Revelation 17 is the 'Whore of Babylon' which is a summary of the name written on her crown. We know she is a 'whore', but who is she the whore of? The answer is she is the whore of Babylon, meaning she serves Babylon, and is united with Babylon in an intimate and carnal way. If by 'Babylon', the Apostle John means Rome, than by 'whore' he again means Jerusalem. The use of a sexual personification is no accident here. By their actions, Rome and Jerusalem have become 'one flesh', acting in unison against the early Church. That is the key. All of these images deal with how things are perceived by the early Christians. The fact that both cities are built on seven hills, and this is cited as a key to understanding the whore's identity, again points toward some kind of 'union; between the leadership of the two cities. The personification of a 'whore' indicates this 'union' is intimate and carnal, probably based on the lust for power, which Saint John metaphorically equates to the lust for sex.

It should be noted here, lest anyone accuse me of anti-Semitism, that this interpretation of the text (which I believe to be the BEST interpretation possible) can only apply toward the Jewish Temple leadership of the late 1st century. This does not, in any way, apply to Jewish people in other parts of the world, or in later periods, or even today. It cannot. Furthermore, the man making this illustration (Saint John the Apostle) was himself a Jew, and he was making this criticism of some fellow Jews. This terminology of 'bride' and 'whore' are used by a Jew, in criticism of fellow Jews, in a purely Jewish context that can only apply to a specific place and time -- 1st century Judea. Any attempt to extrapolate this text beyond that historical context is an abuse of Scripture.

Yet, centuries later, that is exactly what many Gentile Christians have historically done. Initially, the texts referring to the 'synagogue of Satan' and the 'whore of Babylon' were used in reference to Jews in general. This is unfair, as that is not the context Saint John wrote in. Remember, John was himself a Jew, his Hebrew name being Yochanan, and he was speaking not of his fellow Jews around the world, but of a specific group of Jews who were ruling Judaism from Jerusalem at that time. Remember, those specific Jews, the leadership in Jerusalem, had declared that Christians are not Jews, not even Hebrew Christians, and had just convinced the Roman imperial government of the same. For years, the leadership in Jerusalem had convinced rabbis around the world to put Christians out of the synagogues -- or effectively excommunicate them from Judaism! Now, by the time of this writing, the leadership in Jerusalem had convinced Rome of the same -- Christians are not Jews. Saint John, himself a Jew, is rebuking them here in the Book of Revelation. He was effectively saying: 'Hey! We're not the fake Jews here. You are! You! the ones who are persecuting us. You're the fake Jews! You're the Synagogue of Satan! You are the whore of Babylon.' Indeed, considering the uncharitable action of the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem at that time, many modern Jews today would actually agree! There are many Jewish scholars today who see God's judgement upon ancient Jerusalem as punishment for failing to follow the precepts of the Torah, by persecuting ancient Christians in such a cruel and uncharitable way. Few, if any, Jews today would agree with the way the Jerusalem leadership in the 1st century treated early Christians. We all need to recognise this -- both Jews and Christians alike. So after twenty sad centuries, it's time to 'bury the hatchet' between Christians and Jews. The bishops of the Catholic Church called for this in 1965 with Nostra Aetate, and the world's leading Orthodox rabbis did the same in 2015 with the Orthodox Rabbinic Statement on Christianity.

In the Book of Revelation, a book that must be interpreted in historical context, Saint John is saying: 'We Christians are: the real Jerusalem, the spiritual Jerusalem, the New Jerusalem, the bride of the Messiah. While the old (1st century) Jerusalem in Judea is the whore of Babylon.'

'The Whore of Babylon' by Lucas Cranach in 1534
This was a coloured woodcut on Martin Luther's Bible
Notice the Whore on the Beast wears a papal crown.
Centuries later, another group of Gentiles began misapplying this Biblical text to the political-religious schism that developed between Protestantism and the Catholic Church. In this case, the 'Whore of Babylon' was compared to the Catholic Church, particularly the papacy, because the Vatican is situated across the Tiber River, just outside the ancient city of Rome. In this case we have a very gross misapplication of the text. The Beast (which is what represents Rome) is confused with the Whore of Babylon (which is supposed to represent Jerusalem). In the Biblical text cited above (Revelation 17) it is clear these are two distinct images. The Beast and the Whore are separate. The Woman (Whore or Harlot) rides atop the Beast. In other words, the Beast supports the Whore, while the Whore appears to control the Beast. This is a visual illustration of the 1st century relationship between Rome (the Beast) and Jerusalem (the Whore). They are not one in the same entity. They are separate. The Woman (Whore) is dependent upon the Beast for power, but later the Beast turns on her, and burns her with fire. This is, of course, the prophetic/historic telling of the tragic events that happened in AD 67 - 70, when Rome sacked Jerusalem and burned it to the ground. What we have in this later example of Scriptural abuse, by the Protestants, is a symbolic misapplication of the imagery used in Revelation 17 to back a political agenda in the 16th century. Martin Luther was the first to do this. He compared the Whore of Babylon to the papacy. Now any reasonable reading of the text, with any cursory understanding of the historical context in which it was written, will show that Martin Luther's misapplication here is clearly an abuse of Scripture. However, most German peasants in the 16th century couldn't even read, let alone know the historical context this passage of Scripture was written in. So what Luther successfully did was scare the hell out of people! By convincing the illiterate masses that the pope is the Antichrist, and the Vatican is the 'Whore of Babylon', he was able to get millions to follow him, and Protestants have been using this line of deceit ever since.

In the centuries that followed, even up to this very day, Protestant Fundamentalism is rife with books, booklets, tracts, Internet articles, and YouTube videos, about how the Catholic Church is the 'Whore of Babylon'. Again, all of this is Scriptural abuse. Any cursory knowledge of history easily reveals that. Today, elaborate conspiracy theories abound in the Protestant world, ranging from a 'Great Apostasy' with Emperor Constantine (which I covered here), to last-days fears about the 'New World Order' and the 'Illuminati'. Modern day Protestant Fundamentalists are convinced the Catholic Church is the 'Whore of Babylon' written of in the Book of Revelation, and they live accordingly, seeking to convert any Catholic they can, and constantly tell the world that; the pope is the Antichrist, he's hell-bent on taking over the world, and making everyone take the 'Mark of the Beast' or '666'. It's really sad, but this is the world many American Evangelicals live in.

Martin Luther is the father of this heresy and Scriptural abuse. His treatise 'The Babylonian Captivity', published in 1520, launched a love affair between the Protestants and the 'Whore of Babylon' that would last five centuries to this very day. It was written into the Westminster Confession in 1646. The premise was expounded upon by Alexander Hislop in 'The Two Babylons' (published in 1853). It is part of the foundational documents of the Seventh Day Adventists (The Great Controversy: Between Christ and Satan. The Ellen G. White Estate. p. 581.). It remains academic teaching within some Lutheran synods. The abuse continues to be expounded upon by modern Protestant Fundamentalist publications, such as 'Roman Catholicism' by Loraine Boettner (published in 1962), and 'A Woman Rides the Beast' by Dave Hunt (published in 1994), as well as a steady stream of Anti-Catholic tracts and comic books published by Chick Publications in Chino California. This is just scratching the surface.

The modern Scriptural abuse of Revelation 17, which identifies Catholicism to the Whore of Babylon, has been a stunningly successful tool of destruction. With it, Protestants throughout the centuries have literally been able to frighten people out of the Catholic Church, and kindle the flames of hatred toward Catholicism. It has kept countless of Protestants in their place, safe within the pews of their respective denominations, and squashed any serious consideration of the claims of the Catholic Church. It was, and remains, a master tool of deception and manipulation, that uses ignorance of history as a means to control the behaviour of Christians. The only way to render this heresy and abuse harmless is to educate the masses (especially Catholics) in how to properly interpret the Book of Revelation, especially Revelation 17.

END.

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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 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

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Catholicism for Protestants

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Beyond the Anglican Communion

Flag of the Anglican Communion, with Greek "The truth will set you free" quote.
CANTERBURY, England — The Anglican Communion stands on the verge of formal schism this week, as its leaders began meeting Monday to discuss the issue of homosexuality and other matters in Canterbury, England. 
The five-day meeting, called by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, is seen as a last-ditch attempt to keep the ecclesial community together following a long-running dispute over homosexuality and deeper differences over how Anglicans should interact with today’s largely secular, post-Christian society... 
read more...
So the end is near. It's really been going on for a long time. It's sort of like watching a train wreck in slow-motion. I am indebted to Anglicanism. It was the catalyst that secured my conversion to Catholicism. I simply would not be Catholic today without it. I'll tell you what I would be. I would be Lutheran, like my forefathers before me. That is that. But Anglicanism gave me a bridge to Catholicism, and for that I am grateful.

I am also grateful for the love of liturgy that Anglicanism gave me, as well as an appreciation for my English heritage, language and culture. I am an Anglophile, who is Anglophone, living in the Anglosphere, and I have Anglicanism to thank for that. There is something worthwhile in being proud of our English heritage, and we would all do well to rediscover that.

Recently, I wrote a column for Forward in Christ Magazine. It's a traditional Anglican publication for Forward in Faith North America -- a network of conservative Anglicans seeking to preserve traditional Christian orthodoxy on moral issues. It's a very handsome print publication, actually. It has an aesthetically pleasing layout, with beautiful artwork, and very good articles. My kudos to the publisher. I consider it an honour to be a contributor to such a fine publication. I encourage all of my readers to check it out. Even if you're not Anglican, you'll appreciate the thoughtful commentary therein. The column is called The Gift of Unity, and it's about how the Catholic Church, through the Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans, has given both the Catholic world and the Anglican world a gift of perpetual unity through a new liturgy called Divine Worship: The Missal. It is quite possibly the greatest Anglican-style liturgy ever published in modern times, and it was introduced to the world by Rome. You see, the Catholic Church has expressed great interest in preserving our English Christian heritage, and the great contributions made to liturgy by the Anglican Patrimony. This missal, once made more widely known, will inevitably find its way into Anglican churches here and there, particularly those of the more traditional style. There may come a day, in the not-too-distant future, when traditional Anglicans, and Catholics within the Ordinariates, will be using the exact same liturgy. This brings us closer together, and opens the door even further toward full ecclesiastical reconciliation.

I think the greatest legacy our English heritage gives us today is a new one. It is the legacy of the prodigal son. England was once the most Catholic country in the world, forced away from the mother Church (Rome) by the acts of a royal madman bent on sexual license. Five-hundred years of schism have brought English Protestantism (Anglicanism) to this point, on the cusp of ruin. Yet in spite of this, there is a small faction of Anglicans who have returned home to Rome, and in doing so, they have secured their Anglocatholic heritage for the ages in the Personal Ordinariates. I am blessed beyond measure to count myself among them.

Let us pray the inevitable breakup of the Anglican Communion serves as the final shock needed to jolt Anglicans into waking up from their slumber, and realising that the only way to preserve their Anglican heritage is to return home to Rome. We in the Ordinariates are waiting and praying for them.

END.

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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 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

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Catholicism for Protestants

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Understanding the Book of Revelation

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov. Painted in 1887

The Book of Revelation is sadly, and unnecessarily, shrouded in mystery and fear. Within its pages contain images that are frightening to many people, and who can blame them? It reads like somebody on a bad trip of LSD. The book has also been the tool of abuse, used by many religious leaders and cults alike, each applying their own personal interpretation which have led to even more confusion.

Where do we begin? How do we begin to interpret this mysterious book in any kind of a sensible way? What I hope to do here is outline some very sensible principles one can use to interpret the Book of Revelation.

First, we must understand that the Book of Revelation is intended to be symbolic. From beginning to end, the chapters and verses therein are not meant to be taken literally. This is a type of writing called apocalyptic literature, and it was extremely popular among Hebrew authors ranging from the second century BC to AD. The writing style uses imagery taken from the Hebrew prophets, and extrapolates them into entire books written in symbolic form. Each element or image is designed to symbolise something else, namely, a higher truth. The author of the Book of Revelation, presumably Saint John the Apostle, tells us in the beginning of the text that he had the initial vision while he was exiled on the Island of Patmos. He may have written it down much later, but he clearly tells us he was on Patmos when he initially saw these things. Patmos was a penal colony of the Roman Empire. John was sent there because he was a leader in the early Church. Roman authorities had attempted to execute him by boiling him in oil. Miraculously, he survived! So they sent him to Patmos, where I'm sure they thought he would eventually die. Again, he did not, and during that time in exile, or sometime thereafter, he penned the Book of Revelation. Possibly being under Roman guard however, or even if just under Roman observation, he had to be careful what he wrote. If he made his meaning too obvious, it would likely be censored. So John relied on a popular Hebrew method of writing -- Apocalypses -- which means 'revealing', or 'revelation', or a 'lifting of a veil', and hides its message within symbols and allegory. What's important to understand about this is that such literature is meant to be taken symbolically from beginning to end. It is a misreading at best, or an abuse at worst, to skip back and forth between a figurative and literal interpretation of the text. This is what many of our Protestant brethren have done throughout the centuries. Even some of our Catholic brethren have done this from time to time. When reading the Book of Revelation, you must remember to stay in symbolic mode. You can't take anything literally. Everything has to be taken to mean something else. The trick is knowing how to unravel it.

Second, to unravel the symbolic meaning of the Book of Revelation, you have got to know two things. One, you've got to know the history of the time period. So a good study of 1st century history is a good place to start. You'll need to know what was going on in two places -- Rome and Jerusalem. Dust off those history books, take a trip to the library, or surf some credible history websites on the Internet. You've got to know some things about the 1st century Roman Empire, and how important the Holy Land was to that regime. You've got to have a cursory understanding of the caesars of Rome; namely who they were and what they did.  You also need to study the politics between Rome and Jerusalem at that time. Some of this is touched upon in the New Testament gospels, but some reputable history books on 1st century Jerusalem would be extremely helpful as well. Two, you've got to understand Jewish symbolism, and about the only way to do that is to read the Old Testament, particularly the books of the prophets Daniel and Ezekiel. Though a reading of the other prophets, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah would be helpful as well. You need to understand how they spoke, and imagery they used. It's all connected you see. Saint John, the Apostle, was a Jew, and he was writing the Book of Revelation using a Jewish technique. You must become familiar with that if you want to understand it.

Third, you must resist the temptation to think that the entire Book of Revelation is about events in the future. This is a critical error that people have been making for centuries, and Protestants are particularly notorious for it. This is because many Protestant denominations, indeed Protestantism itself, was founded on a mostly futurist reading (or misreading) of the Book of Revelation.

Fourth, you must resist the temptation to think that the entire Book of Revelation is historical. Indeed, most of it is (at least from our perspective in the 21st century), but some of it is not. Some of it really does pertain to the end of the world. The trick is knowing the difference.

So with those four principles in place, let me give you a couple points of reference that can help a lot. Thankfully, the Catholic Church has defined one very clear point of reference in the Book of Revelation, and from that one clear point of reference, we can begin unlocking the time frames of the book. That one point of reference the Church has defined for us is the portion of the book often referred to as the Millennium...
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years were ended. After that he must be loosed for a little while. 
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom judgment was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him a thousand years. 
And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be loosed from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations which are at the four corners of the earth, that is, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city; but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. 
-- Revelation 20:1-10 RSV-CE
These passages come near the end of the Book of Revelation, and they describe a thousand-year period of time in which 'the dragon' (meaning the devil) is bound, and souls of the martyrs of Jesus reign with Christ. This is a very important part of the book. The Protestants have, for the most part and with few exception, interpreted these passages about the Millennium to be a literal future event. Even some Catholic scholars of ages past had a similar interpretation. However, the Church had never taught about it authoritatively until recently, and this is what she says...
The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism. 
-- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 676
Here the Catholic Church teaches us that (1) the messianic hope of a perfect world, or near-perfect world, can never be realised within history before the last judgement, and (2) the Church rejects all forms of 'millenarianism', meaning any teaching that advocates a literal 1000-year period of future messianic hope before the last judgement. The Catechism goes on to condemn as perverse any attempted man-made version of this. This is extremely important for us as Catholics, because it specifically prohibits any literal interpretation of the 1000-year Millennium in Revelation 20:1-10. That Catechism prohibition is perfectly consistent with the scholarly interpretation of the text using the above four principles of unravelling Jewish apocalyptic literature. So based on that we can ascertain that the 1000-year Millennium, described in Revelation 20:1-10 is NOT a future event, and should not be taken literally. If it's not a literal time period in the future, than what is it?

In this case, the number 1000 is important. We see in other places, within the Book of Revelation, the repeating pattern of cubing numbers. For example; in the next chapter, the measurements of a great city (also symbolic) are cubed. It stands to reason here that the number 1000 is quite obviously the cubing of the number 10, or 10x10x10 = 1000. In Hebrew literature, the number 10 is symbolic of the Gentile nations, while the number 3 is symbolic of God. Three being the number of the Trinity, we can ascertain that the symbolic message here is simply this. God will reign among the Gentiles for a very long period of time.

Such an interpretation is consistent both with the Catechism's mandate to avoid millenarianism, and the scholarly principles of interpreting the entire book consistently in a symbolic way. Keep in mind here that most Protestants succumb to the temptation to flip out of symbolic mode, and interpret these passages literally, then flip back into symbolic mode again for the passages that follow. It happens quite a bit, and most of Protestant eschatology is dependent on this inconsistency.

Now that we know this passage in Revelation 20:1-10 is to be taken symbolically, and that it is likely talking about the reign of Jesus Christ through his Church in a symbolic way, we can ascertain that anything written before this passage is talking about history, and the consummation of Hebrew Old Testament eschatology in the Person of Jesus Christ and the formation of his Kingdom Church. That which is written after Revelation 20:1-10 is a symbolic representation of those things that occur in the future at the end of time. Revelation 20:1-10 is a symbolic representation of the Church Age, this time period we live in right now. Obviously, it is not a literal 1000 years. The Church has been in existence for nearly 2000 years now. The number is symbolic of 10 cubed, or God reigning among the Gentile nations for a long period of time.

Once we understand that everything before Revelation 20:1-10 is basically historical, consummating the period of the Old Covenant with the Gospel, and that everything after Revelation 20:1-10 is a symbolic account of the future, we now have a definite point of reference to help us understand the entire book.

The other point of reference is Revelation 13. The entire chapter is a symbolic representation of the Roman Empire during the 1st century, and the number 666 (or 616 depending on the Bible translation) is a symbolic reference to Nero Caesar. You see, each letter of the ancient Hebrew alphabet had a numerical value attached to it, just like the ancient Greek and Roman alphabets. When you spell the name Nero Caesar in Hebrew, the numerical value of those letters adds up to 666. Nero Caesar was the emperor of Rome when the Book of Revelation was likely written.

Between, these two points of reference, you should be able to begin deciphering the Book of Revelation accurately, if you use the four principles I reference above. In my next instalment, I'll discuss the significance of the Whore of Babylon in the Book of Revelation.

END.

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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 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

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Sunday, January 03, 2016

The Great Apostasy

"Apocalypse" by Ludwig Ferdinand Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1831

The Great Apostasy is a topic that covers both apologetics and eschatology. So it's of great interest to all Christians. At the same time however, there is also a great deal of misunderstanding about it.

Allow me to cover the apologetic side of this topic first. There is a common theme that runs through all Western non-Catholic groups. This includes Protestantism (both traditional and evangelical), as well as Mormonism, the Jehovah's Witnesses (Watchtower), Seventh Day Adventists, and various other groups. The common theme they can all agree on, at least to some degree, is that the message of Christianity, taught by Jesus and his apostles, was lost sometime in the centuries that followed, and that each group is, in its own way, attempting to restore the original gospel. In many circles, this is called 'The Great Apostasy' or 'a great apostasy' or just 'apostasy'. While these groups range far and wide on their theology and practise, the one thing they can all agree on is their opposition to the Catholic Church, and their conspiratorial belief that the Catholic Church is solely responsible for 'corrupting' the 'authentic and pure' Christian faith.

The traditional Protestants first came up with this idea under Martin Luther, who proposed that the papacy corrupted authentic Christianity during the Middle Ages, and that he (Martin Luther) had come to restore it. Various other Protestant fathers jumped on this bandwagon, each claiming to restore something closer to 'authentic' Christianity.

During 19th century America, it was only natural for this movement to take on a life of its own. Modern Evangelicalism started to take shape, and with that, the 'apostasy' theories took on new life. This time, the date of the so-called apostasy was pinned down to AD 313, with the signing of the Edict of Milan (or the Edict of Toleration), in which Christianity would be tolerated within the Roman Empire and eventually become the established religion. Now, for the first time, Evangelical Protestants could pin down the so-called 'apostasy' of the Roman Catholic Church to a specific year. Immediately, tracts began to appear, naming Emperor Constantine as the source of this apostasy, alleging that he became the 'first pope' and mixed Paganism with Christianity, to create what we know today as Roman Catholicism. Some of these tracts were very elaborate, and the most elaborate were compiled into a book called 'Two Babylons' published by Alexander Hislop in 1853. Hislop, a minister in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, proposed the idea that Catholics actually worship the pope as God, and that this practise could be traced back to an ancient Babylonian cult. I've read this book thoroughly. It is rife with historical inaccuracies, fictional archaeology, and outright lies concerning Catholic doctrine and practise. Most notably, when Hislop cites a source in his footnotes, he almost always cites himself. The book is notorious anti-Catholic propaganda, which any reasonably educated person can see through in a matter of minutes. However, the average Protestant. sitting in the pew, is usually ignorant of Church history, Catholic theology and academic methods. So it proved to be a standard source text for future anti-Catholic literature.

Also during the 19th century, the idea of a Catholic 'great apostasy' become so entrenched in American Protestantism that some new American-made religions used it as their foundation. The first example of this was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormonism) founded by Joseph Smith in 1830. This religion has two main denominations; the larger being the LDS Church based out of Salt Lake City Utah, and the smaller being the 'Community of Christ' based out of Independence Missouri. The larger is non-Trinitarian, which quantifies it as a separate religion apart from Protestantism entirely. The smaller is Trinitarian, which puts it back into a quasi-Protestant denomination of sorts. Mormonism, particularly the larger LDS group, holds that a 'great apostasy' occurred shortly after the death of the last apostle, in about AD 100. After that, Christianity was corrupted, particularly by the Catholic Church, until it was restored by Joseph Smith in 1830. While this may seem strange to most Protestants, it is actually a natural progression of the idea of Catholic 'apostasy'. If we hold that 'true Christianity' was lost because of the Catholic Church, than the only thing left to decide is 'when' that allegedly happened. Protestants and Mormons just disagree on the date. Protestants (particularly Evangelicals) hold to the notion that it happened in AD 313. While as Mormons just take it back a little further, and believe it happened in AD 100.

Then we have the Jehovah's Witnesses, otherwise known as the Watchtower Bible And Tract Society, founded in 1879 America. Jehovah's Witnesses are non-Trinitarian and follow a modified version of the Arian heresy, condemned at the Council of Nicea in AD 325. So they cannot be classified as Protestants. It would be accurate to describe Jehovah's Witnesses as revived Arianism. Again, they cling to the idea that a great apostasy occurred, wherein the 'true and authentic' Christian faith was lost, but they take it back even further than the Mormons, asserting that it began even before the death of the last apostle (prior to AD 100). Some Jehovah's Witnesses have even said this great apostasy started immediately following the death of Christ.

There are other groups as well, such as the Seventh Day Adventists, again founded in 19th century America (in 1863). This is a quasi-Protestant denomination because in spite of its unusual beliefs compared to most Protestant denominations, it is still Trinitarian. Like traditional Protestants from the 16th century, they hold that the great apostasy took place in the early Middle Ages. They specifically pin down the date to AD 538, when they claim the papacy came to power after the fall of the Roman Empire.

Modern Evangelicalism gets regular 'booster shots' of this type of thinking with the advent of modern anti-Catholic publications, such as; '50 Years In The Church of Rome' by Charles Chiniquy (1885), 'Roman Catholicism' by Loraine Boettner (1962), 'The Vatican's Holocaust' by Avro Manhattan (1986), 'A Woman Rides the Beast' by Dave Hunt (1994), and 'Hitler's Pope' by John Cornwell (1999). This is supplemented by a steady diet of cartoon propaganda tracts circulated by Jack T. Chick Publications in Chino California, as well as a plethora of anti-Catholic websites and YouTube channels. There appears to be a linkage between anti-Catholicism, the great apostasy, and fixation on the End Times Apocalypse. It is particularly virulent within the Protestant 'Messianic Jewish Movement' and those Evangelicals who identify themselves as 'Messianic Jews'.

The theme of a great apostasy is a recurring one in most, if not all, Western non-Catholic Christian movements. For some, it is essential in their theology and the foundational tenets of their organisations. For others, it is just a widely held belief. But it is telling, isn't it? That in order to keep their people away from Catholicism they have, for hundreds of years, been telling stories about a mythical Catholic 'apostasy' that supposedly happened sometime in the ancient past, during a time period most of their people know little to nothing about. It's a great propaganda tool, and it's served them well. It is the one thing that they all share in common: Protestants, Evangelicals, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Fundamentalists, and so-called 'Messianic Jews'. They are all in bed together on this one, and they all agree with one voice, that 'authentic' Christianity was lost in the ancient past, and Roman Catholicism is to blame. They only disagree on the time 'authentic' Christianity was lost, who is called to restore it, and how it should be restored.

When I here this plethora of witnesses, against the Roman Catholic Church, I am reminded of a certain trial, that happened in the dead of night, in which a certain man was accused of one thing, but his accusers couldn't agree on the time, date and events, or even what he specifically did. They could only agree on one thing -- that he was guilty and deserving of death. That man, of course, is none other than Jesus Christ. Those who accused him of blasphemy where his own people, his own countrymen, who followed the same religion as he. So it is with the Catholic Church, accused by her own people of apostasy. All of them claim to be following the teachings of Christ, but none of them can agree on exactly what the Catholic Church supposedly did, or when she did it. Rather, they just all agree that the Catholic Church is guilty of 'apostasy' and should be dismantled.

A 19th century Anglican convert to Catholicism by the name of John Henry Newman once said: 'Knowledge of history is the end of Protestantism.'  I can personally attest that he is right, but I'll take it a step further and say that 'Knowledge of history is the end of all religions, except Catholicism.'

Gasp!

Yes, I really did just say that. Much to the shock and horror of multiculturalism and political correctness, I really do believe this, and I have 25 years of historical studies to back me up. I started out as an Evangelical with a strong affinity toward Messianic Judaism, but my study of history put an end to that rather quickly. Then I became an Anglican, and more study of history moved me into the Catholic Church. My only other rational options were atheism or scientific deism. I say that because once you know history, all of the propaganda becomes obvious. There is no historical evidence of a 'great apostasy' within Christianity. It doesn't exist folks. It never happened. All of the so-called 'Pagan corruptions', that were allegedly placed into Christianity by Constantine during the 4th century, were well documented as being widely believed by Christians in the 3rd century, 2nd century and even the 1st century. The faith that Christians died for in the Roman circuses and Colosseum was a faith wherein Christians prayed to Mary, believed the Eucharist was the literal Body of Christ, followed the pope, and called themselves 'Catholic'. Sorry, those are just the historical facts, and these can be easily backed up with original source documentation, dating back to the time period, written by the very people who died for their faith. So the Protestants are wrong about the supposed 'apostasy'. History proves them wrong and history cannot be changed. It can only be ignored, which is exactly what most of these groups do.

Now we are left with the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. The Mormons assert the apostasy happened in AD 100, after the death of the last apostle. While as Jehovah's Witnesses say it began even decades before that. So if they're right, what are we to believe then? Jesus came, lived, died, resurrected, sent forth his apostles to proclaim the good news, and then they all failed. Everything was lost within a generation. The End.

All of those people who lived from that time period forward were living a lie, until the 19th century, when 'enlightened Americans' were the only ones 'worthy enough' to restore the truth. Seriously? We're supposed to believe that? Sorry, but any rationale person who knows history can smell this as propaganda. What is being preached here is not a restoration of the teachings of Christ, but rather an Americanised revision of them. It doesn't jive with history any more than the Protestant and Evangelical version does. So I'm left with the following proposal. If I am to be a Protestant, Evangelical, Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, Seventh Day Adventist, Messianic Jew, or any other fundamentalist type of Christian, than I must forget about history. I must dispose of it entirely, because 'it's all wrong', and instead listen to my religious organisation exclusively for 'what really happened'. The same goes for Islam, which asserts its own version of a great apostasy following the life of Jesus. As for Judaism, they at least acknowledge history far more than anyone else, but again, I would be left with the prospect that God abandoned Israel for nearly 2,000 years, ignored his promises, and the best we can hope for is a man-made fulfilment through militant Zionism. That's not very attractive to me.

Does this make any sense at all? If we call ourselves Christians, than it only stands to reason that we would follow the teachings of Christ. Right? But what did Jesus actually say about this stuff? Here we have this promise from Jesus Christ himself...
'Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.' -- Matthew 16:16-18 NRSV-ACE
It's that last phrase I want to draw attention to here. Jesus said about his Church: 'the gates of Hades will not prevail against it'. What does that mean? The word 'Hades' is a reference to death. It's translated in other Bible versions as: Hell, Sheol, the Netherworld, etc. It means death. What Jesus is saying here is that his Church will never die out. It will always exist, in some way or another, in continuity and be easily identified. He quantifies how this will happen in the next passage...
'I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.' 
-- Matthew 16:19 NRSV-ACE
When he said 'you' in this passage, the Greek is second-person singular. It is never plural. The Douay-Rheims Version (DRV), like the King James Version (KJV), both use Sacred English, which does a much better job picking up on the Greek second-person singular pronouns...
And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven. -- Matthew 16:19 DRV 
And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. -- Matthew 16:19 KJV
The words 'thee' and 'thou' are proper English grammar. They're not 'ancient' or 'archaic'. Actually, they're necessary. Modern English fails miserably in this regard, because it's replaced them both with 'you', thanks to the influence of class wars in England centuries ago, and the pervasive use of bad grammar. That being said, these older translations pick up on Jesus' words clearly here. Jesus is talking to one person in the second-person singular sense. He is speaking specifically to Peter.

So Jesus is specifically talking to Peter here, and Peter alone. When he says 'whatever you bind' and 'whatever you loose' he is talking to Peter. He's not talking to me, or you, the reader of the text, or to the rest of his apostles. He's talking to Peter, and by extension, anyone who would later assume Peter's office as chief of the apostles. Jesus told Peter that his Church would never die out, and the gospel would never fade away, because he is founding his Church on Peter and his Petrine office. He alone has the 'keys of authority' to 'bind and loose' doctrine, teaching and practise. He alone becomes the chief of the apostles. He alone becomes Christ's right-hand-man. He alone is the King's prime minister. He alone is the Vicar of Christ. This concentration of final authority into Peter and his office, is what will preserve the Church, and insure that the 'gates of Hades' or 'death' will never prevail against it.

To say that the early Church underwent a great apostasy, and the true and authentic faith was lost, is heresy! It is a blatant denial of the words of Jesus Christ himself. It is to take the very words of our Blessed Saviour, and throw them right back into his face, saying 'You're wrong Jesus!' To say that the gospel of the early Church was lost is to deny the Bible and contradict the Scriptures. It doesn't matter when you say it was lost. You could say it was lost in the Middle Ages, the 4th century, the death of the last apostle, or before, and it doesn't matter. If you say it, you've just denied the promise of Christ.

It doesn't stop there however, let's take a look at some other Bible passages that promise a perpetual and ongoing Church after the coming of Christ...
'For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.' -- Isaiah 9:6-7 RSV-CE
Focus in on the second to last passage of Isaiah here: 'He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore'. So the prophecy states that once Christ comes, his kingdom will not cease. There will be no great apostasy that brings and end to the gospel, or puts the Church in eclipse, hidden from the world, needing to be 'restored' by some later 'reformer' or 'prophet'. Once Christ comes, his gospel, Church and Kingdom is established, and it does not end. It just goes forward, expanding, growing, and if it retreats in some places, it only expands in others.
'And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall this kingdom be left to another people. It shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand for ever.' - Daniel 2:44 RSV-CE
Again, the Old Testament prophecy in Daniel states that once the Messiah (Jesus Christ) comes to set up his Kingdom (the Church), it will be perpetual. It will not go into eclipse and be hidden from the world. Nobody will take it over. Daniel says this again later...
'To him was given dominion and glory and kingship,that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away,and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.' -- Daniel 7:14 RSV-CE
The last sentence states it again. Christ's dominion is everlasting, it won't pass away, and his kingship shall never be destroyed. If there was an apostasy in the early days of the Church, than all of these Old Testament promises and prophecies are false. We can only conclude one of two things. (1) The prophecies haven't been fulfilled yet, which means Jesus is NOT the Messiah, and this is the position held by Judaism. Or (2) all of the prophecies are bunk, and we have no reason to believe any of it, and this is the position held by non-Christians and non-Jews alike.

Then in the New Testament we have this promise from the Archangel Gabriel...
'He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.' -- Luke 1:32-33 RSV-CE
So now we have an archangel himself promising there will be no end to his Kingdom (the Church). Then we must look to the parables Jesus himself gave regarding his Kingdom (Church). Just so there is no confusion here, the word 'kingdom' appears 122 times in the New Testament; 99 of those times comes from the gospels, and 90 of those times from the mouth of Jesus. All are in reference to the Church in some way. In recent times, within the last 200 years, some non-Catholic groups have attempted to separate the Kingdom from the Church, but it should be noted that all of these groups also subscribe to the 'great apostasy' theory in one way or another. The Kingdom of God is the Church. It begins with Jesus, and subsists fully in him. It is extended to all those who are in Christ, and reigns through the hearts of men. This is the Kingdom. It is not a physical location, but rather a body of people.

First of all, before anything else, Jesus promised that his Church would have both good and bad people within it, and that it would remain this way until the end of time...
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’ 
-- Matthew 13:24-30 RSV-CE
Is this not the history of the Catholic Church told in advance? Just like the ancient Kingdom of Israel in the Old Testament, it is filled with good people and bad. However, it never ceases to be Israel, and so the Kingdom of Christ's Church never ceases to be his Church or his Kingdom. It is never eclipsed, in spite of the bad people. It is never hidden from the world. It is always present and obvious -- the good, the bad, the ugly, warts and all. Jesus promises that all of this will be sorted out at the end of time, but his Kingdom will not be hidden. There is no 'great apostasy' that eclipses the Church or the 'true' Christian faith.

This is important, because proponents of the Catholic 'great apostasy' theory, of all different stripes, rely heavily on historic citations of corruption within the Catholic Church. They propose that because the Catholic Church has had moments of corruption, both by individuals and groups, it must not be the true Church of Christ. The premise is that Christ's Church must always be clean, pristine and downright near perfect. Many people fall for this. This is especially the case in North America, which was heavily influenced by Protestant Puritanism early in its colonial period. Thus, various religious movements in early North America began as 'reformation' movements, with the idea of restoring the pure and pristine Church that they surmise must likewise be 'true'. Of course, that also means the true Church must have been lost in ages past. Thus we are back to the 'great apostasy' theory again. All of this runs on the false notion that the true Church of Christ must be clean, pristine and near perfect. That folks is heresy. Jesus said it himself, as I cited above. The good seed and the bad seed will grow in his Church together. Yes, together! In the very Church established by Jesus Christ himself, because he said so! Remember, even among the original 12 apostles, Jesus chose a traitor -- Judas Iscariot. Jesus knew that Judas was no good. He knew what he would do, that he would eventually betray him, and that he was stealing from the collections. Yet Jesus allowed Judas to walk among the twelve, and within his very inner circle. If this isn't an object lesson for us, I don't know what is. Jesus did this to remind all of us, throughout the ages, that his Church would never be immune from corruption. At least not until his Second Coming, at the end of time, when all will be judged. It doesn't stop there, however, Jesus went on to describe how his Church would proceed after he died, rose and ascended into heaven...
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’ He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’ -- Matthew 13:31-33 RSV-CE
Here in these two short parables, Jesus explained how it would be with the Kingdom (Church) after his departure. In the first parable he says that the Kingdom would grow like a mustard seed, into a large bush, that even the birds would make their nests in. In another parable, Jesus described the birds in a derogatory way, thus again implying that his Church would provide a nest for corruption too. Then in the next parable he explained that the Kingdom is like baking bread. You add the yeast to the flour and then it grows. Yeast, again in the Jewish understanding, often represents sin or corruption. While these two references could just be anecdotal, there is always the possibility that Jesus was being quite deliberate with them too. The point here is that the Church never retreats. It never goes into hiding. It never gets smaller, without immediately getting bigger again as a result of trial. It is never eclipsed. There is no great apostasy that causes the Church to go into some sort of remission, only to emerge centuries later thanks to the work of some 'reformer' or 'prophet'. Rather, it always moves forward. It always grows. It always gets bigger and more well known.

The parable of the mustard seed is repeated in the Gospel of Mark, but immediately preceding it, Jesus tells probably the most simple parable of all regarding the progression of the Church after his departure...
He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’ -- Mark 4:26-29 RSV-CE
It just doesn't get any simpler than that. Jesus, by his own words, used this parable to just say it like history tells it. The Kingdom of God (The Church) will simply grow. It will not grow and then retreat. It will not grow, retreat, wait a long time, then grow again. It will simply just grow. When we look over the panorama of churches across the American landscape, indeed even the global landscape, there is only one Church that fits this description. That is the Catholic Church.

Protestant churches claim that true, pure and authentic Christianity was lost during the Middle Ages, and that it needed to be 'restored' by the Reformation of the 16th century. This defies the words of Christ describing how his Church would just grow. Protestant Fundamentalist churches take it further, claiming a great apostasy happened in the early 4th century, under Constantine the Great, which resulted in the 'true church' going into hiding for over 1,000 years, only to re-emerge during the Protestant Reformation. Again, this directly defies the words of Christ about how his Church would just grow. Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses both do the same thing, claiming a great apostasy happened with the death of the last apostle, or even before! Not be be restored again until these recent times. Again, both deny the plain teaching of Christ that his Kingdom (Church) would just grow. The Seventh Day Adventists do the same, claiming that a great apostasy happened in the 6th century. That Roman Catholicism (particularly the papacy) is to blame, and the true gospel was not restored until the 19th century when their church was founded. What this really comes down to is how seriously do we take the words of Christ? Are his parables and prophecies real? Or was Jesus just rambling nonsense? If you take the position that the 'great apostasy' has already happened, than you're ignoring what Christ clearly taught. How can one do this and still call himself a Christian?

Yes, without the Catholic Church I could no longer be Christian. Only Catholicism encourages me to study history, science, logic, and the Scriptures, even if these are critical of the Catholic Church and its leaders at times. Only Catholicism allows me to fully use the mind God gave me. Never does Catholicism tell me to check my brain at the door on this issue or that. The logical truth is this. If the Protestants, Evangelicals, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Seventh Day Adventists are right; if there really was a great apostasy, and the true faith was lost, only to be restored somehow in these latter days, than I am forced to logically conclude that Jesus, the apostles, the prophets and even the Archangel Gabriel, were all mistaken. They were wrong. If that is the case, than I am forced to doubt Christianity entirely, as so many people do today, and join the ranks of non-Christians. What I'm trying to convey here is that the Great Apostasy theory (regardless of what time-frame you put it in) puts a tremendous amount of strain upon all the claims of Christianity itself. The entire religion folds if we hold this 'great apostasy' in history to be true. You see, Scripture, history and reason mandate something. They mandate that either the claims of the Catholic Church are true, and Christianity really has grown and flourished under the Catholic Church's care, or else the whole Christian religion is a farce. That is a logical truth that most non-Catholics cannot handle. So they ignore it. And who can blame them really. To face it would be very uncomfortable.

So now that I've addressed the apologetic side of this topic, I'll move into the eschatology side of it. The Scriptures do prophesy that there will be a Great Apostasy at the end of time, but let's be specific here. It happens at the end of time, not in the period directly following Christ. It happens in a time we have not seen yet. However, nowhere in Scripture does it indicate that this Great Apostasy will be accompanied by a total loss of the gospel, the faith and the Church. Rather, the Scriptures indicate there will always be a remnant. They will not be eclipsed. People will always know who they are. About that time of Great Apostasy, the Apostle Paul tells us...
'Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.' -- 2nd Thessalonians 2:3-4 RSV-CE
Here the prophecy is very specific. In this translation, Saint Paul refers to the Great Apostasy as the 'rebellion' and he specifically links it to the coming of the 'lawless one'. This is the Antichrist. The prophesied Great Apostasy and the coming Antichrist go hand-in-hand. Later in Scripture, Antichrist is very specifically described as one who denies that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah (Christ), and denies the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. The following are the only times in Scripture when the word Antichrist is used...
'Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour.' -- 1st John 2:18 RSV-CE
'Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.' -- 1st John 2:22 RSV-CE
'and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world.' -- 1st John 4:3 RSV-CE
'Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist!' -- 2nd John 1:7 RSV-CE
Based on these we can surmise that the Antichrist may even go so far as to deny the very existence of Jesus of Nazareth. He in turn proclaims himself to be the Messiah, and God come in the flesh. Nowhere does this prophecy say the Church will be lost. Nowhere does this prophecy say the 'true and authentic' faith will disappear. Nowhere does it say the Church will be eclipsed (hidden) and unable to find. It just says that a 'rebellion' or 'apostasy' or 'falling away' will come. Many in the world will believe this man and abandon Christianity completely. He won't try to imitate Christianity, or come up with a counterfeit version of it. There is no subtlety in the Antichrist. Rather, based upon his description, he simply will try to obliterate Christianity completely, and the Scriptures tell us he will fail. The Church will be preserved in spite of him. Then the end will come. Obviously, this hasn't happened yet.

END.

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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 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR...
Catholicism for Protestants

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