Saturday, July 20, 2013

"Need ASAP help on Luther Info"

"Need ASAP help on Luther Info" is the title of a discussion I recently came across on the Catholic Answers Non-Christian Religions forum. A participant asked for "an unbiased, historically accurate web-site account of the Reformation." I was pleasantly surprised to find the following two responses:
"I think James Swan does a good job as far as the historical Luther goes."
"He's certainly a great resource for rooting out unfair catholic biases and myths about Luther. But I'd not remotely call him unbiased. He's polite and tries to be fair, but he's as biased against the catholic viewpoint on Luther issues as the catholic apologists he critiques.
In the end, there ARE no unbiased humans. It's part of being fallen. If you read Swan's stuff, be sure to read some catholic stuff to offset his bias. Belloc's "How the Reformation Happened" is far from 'unbiased' but still does a great job of revealing some the big picture cultural issues that made Luther and Calvin's peculiar ideas resonate when they would otherwise probably have been ignored by most of history. Belloc is at least as biased as Swan. Perhaps less polite, but about the same amount of hubris!"
It's certainly true that each of us has "bias." The way though that I would put is that each of us has a worldview as the result of our presuppositions. It's the template we use to make sense of the world. It's my contention that Roman Catholic presuppositions that inform a Roman Catholic worldview do not make sense of the basic facts of reality.

This is why, for instance, when a Roman Catholic says something like, "Luther added a word to Romans 3:28 and invented sola fide" my response to this charge has been so popular. There I demonstrated that the basic historical facts as interpreted popularly by Roman Catholicism don't describe reality accurately.  On another level than the basic historical facts, one comes face to face with an even deeper question: a Roman Catholic may say Luther simply was an innovator and invented sola fide to soothe his delicate conscience. But, who is the real innovator? Luther said it was Rome that had added unbiblical elements to the Christian faith. If one accepts Rome's development of doctrine, one has a ready explanation for Rome's alleged innovations. Then we're off discussing whether Rome's version of development corresponds to reality. Ultimately, it will come down to the issue of authority: a Roman Catholic begins with a presupposition that Rome is the true church (and has the power of infallibility), and a Protestant denies this. Bias? No, it's basic presuppositions and worldview at play.

Addendum 7/21/13
My reign of terror over at Catholic Answers continues:
As to the mention of Mr. Swan - he is perhaps one of the more charitable bloggers that has problems with Catholic theology. He does visit here from time to time as well. However, I would caution accepting anything he says about Luther too, based on some of what I have read of his--what comes to mind is an encounter on Luther and Purgatory he, I, CatholicDude, and some others had a while back (see posts 29 and following; my major post is 54). Swan posts as Tertum Quid. That being said, I've found some useful source material from his blog now and then anyway.

If I recall that "encounter", I was basically expected to do all the work and research in order for others to comment and critique. I stand by the bulk of my comments, particularly #68 and #69, and #74. The discussion reiterated to me a valuable lesson- that, if a fruitful historical discussion is to happen in a forum like Catholic Answers, one person should not be expected to do hours of research for everyone else.

See also my blog post here.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Kirsten Powers testimony and interview

Kirsten Powers interview and testimony is worth listening to.  We all need to pray for her and her growth.  I just saw this this morning at Denny Burk's blog.  The way she describes her conversion sounds like what Reformed folks call "irresistible grace" - but God also used the process of her hearing the gospel and processing the content and theology for over a year; and talking about questions with people.  God uses means.

Vatican Offers Indulgence to Pope's Twitter followers?

One would hope this is a scam: Vatican offers indulgence to Pope's Twitter followers. I haven't found this story on Zenit yet, so I'm somewhat skeptical.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Luther-related Links

Here are a few tidbits I found interesting this week:

1) Over on the Catholic Answers Non-Catholic Religions forum appeared, Is That True About Martin Luther?  It's some of the usual stuff. One of my links was offered in response by a Pentecostal participant.  What interested me though was a Lutheran going by the name "Evangelical Catholic" stated, "I am aware of Luther going through self-mutilation as a way to express penance but I believe that was the norm during the 1500's for religious." I inquired about the "self-mutilation" aspect, and was directed to do my own Google search.  My response can be found here, and then this counter-response from Evangelical Catholic  can be found here.

2) Over on Steadfast Lutherans, a pastor announced the closing of his church. While that post warrants reading, what fascinated me were comments left by a person who claims he has tried to become a Lutheran to no avail. He states in a follow-up comment, "Lutheranism is just like a secret society." If you are a Lutheran reader here, go visit these comments.

3) Cyber-Brethren announced the latest volume of Luther's Works is available, but only in a Kindle format. I don't plan on getting the Kindle version, because I haven't found the Kindle software to be useful for anything but casual reading. I typically get the actual books, and then, after a long period, a Logos version usually appears. The Logos version is much easier to navigate and utilize, and I will purchase that.

The volume is a critical version of Luther's Church Postils. This looks to be very useful. Luther's sermons have been used very polemically by his detractors, and most of those detractors have no idea that a lot of times, the sermons are transcriptions of what Luther said, not something Luther actually wrote. With the Church Postil, there were different versions based on different transcriptions. This volume claims, "The new translation we are releasing is based on the best and final edition of the Church Postils that Luther was involved in producing, knew of, and endorsed."

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Jimmy Akin: Are most Catholics in America going to hell?

From the private interpretation of one of Rome's apologists:

How Many People Go To Hell?
We can’t really know this.
Different figures in Church history have had different viewpoints on the question, and the Church itself does not have a teaching on the matter.
Some passages of Scripture seem to have a pessimistic tone but others seem to have an optimistic tone. We also should be careful in taking the pessimistic ones and applying them directly to our own age, because they were written in and about an age in which the world was swallowed in pagan darkness and the knowledge of the true God and his Son was severely limited compared to today. For its part, the Church teaches the real possibility of dying in mortal sin and of eternal damnation, but it does not teach how many people experience this in practice.


Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Jimmy Akin Dates the Book of Revelation, Without the Help of the Magisterium

Roman apologist Jimmy Akin has an article on the dating of the book of Revelation, dating it before 70 A.D. Dating Revelation previous to 70 A.D. is all the rage these days, particularly with the rise of preterism.  It would be very interesting to call Catholic Answers and ask Mr. Akin which Protestant sources he read to arrive at this view.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Using Zombie Movies for Apologetics

No, I have not seen World War Z, though there's probably a good chance I will at some point (the notion of Brad Pitt in a zombie movie is intriguing). A good friend of mine has two teenage boys that were telling me about this upcoming movie for last few months.  They went to see it at... a drive in theater (I actually saw the first Star Wars movie this way). Anyway, here were a couple of quick comments I thought I might share with these young guys. They probably have been stated much more eloquently with much greater thought by someone else, I'm sure. Feel free to riff (not "rip") of any of these, and add your own:

1) The mass of humanity is the living dead, the spiritually dead, and at every moment defy their creator. Like the driven anger(?) of the zombies, the hatred towards a Holy God is so strong the spiritually dead would kill this Holy God if they could.

2) The idea of "living dead" could be used as an example of an innate human belief in immortality and a cheap imitation of the final and holy resurrection of the dead.

3) The living dead, feed off the living, in the same way many live people typically suck the life out of other people. In other words, a zombie represents human selfishness to a superlative degree.

4) Zombie movies represent an innate fear within humanity. We are wired in such a way that we know we're eternal (at least in the future direction), but a strong fear is losing our "selves" or our individuality. For those worldviews that believe that matter is eternal and the soul is not (humanism, atheism), zombie movies are like, their worst nightmare- that their bodies live on while their souls (or personality, consciousness, etc.) do not. Matter is eternal... while consciousness is not?

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Uncertainty of the Certainty of Sainthood

From Catholic Answers:

Hi. I know that canonization is infallible, but I have read that the existence of some of these Saints, especially those of the early Christian church, are doubted historically. I've also read that there were instances where some saints were removed precisely because their very existence was doubted historically. Isn't this at odds with the infallibility of the canonization process?

Answer (from  a staff apologist at Catholic Answer):

First of all, when the question arises concerning the infallibility of canonization, it usually centers on the action of a pope officially declaring someone to be a saint. There is debate among theologians as to whether or not papal infallibility extends to this, but according to the Catholic Encyclopedia most theologians believe that it does (for more information, please visit this link and scroll down to the heading, "Papal Infallibility and Canonization").

Monday, July 01, 2013

Church and State Government in Calvin's Geneva

Most of us probably only have a vague idea of the political structure of  Geneva during the time of Calvin. I recently acquired two extremely helpful book from which the following summary has been taken. All references below are to the first book:

Robert M. Kingdon, Adultery and Divorce in Calvin's Geneva (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1995)

Robert Kingdon (General Editor), Registers of the Consistory of Geneva in the Time of Calvin Volume 1: 1542-1544 (Grand Rapids:William B. Eerdmans Publishing company, 1996)

1. Calvin arrives in Geneva 1536, only a few months after Geneva formally adopts the Protestant Reformation. Calvin is hired as a public lecturer.

2. Calvin (along with Farel) is dismissed by the city government of Geneva in 1538.

3. 1541: Calvin is invited back to Geneva (Farel is not) to superintend the further reformation of the local church. Calvin drafts "a set of ecclesiastical ordinances that created a constitution for the Reformed church of the city state" (p.11). This includes the creation of an order of ministers called "the elders" who share with pastors "responsibility for controlling the behavior of Genevans" (p.11). This body was the Consistory, and begins meeting shortly thereafter the ecclesiastical ordinances were adopted by the Genevan government.

4. Geneva at this time is governed by a hierarchy of councils:

     a) The General Council (of all citizens and bourgeois men, at least twenty years old, with substantial property or honorable professions). This council met once a year to elect the members of the other councils and standing committees.

     b) The Council of Two Hundred: This council met on special occasions for important matters. Its duties include occasional appeals for pardon from convictions by the small Council.

     c) The Council of Sixty: dealt with problems in relation to other governments.

     d) The Small Council: consists of twenty five people who met every day, serving as an executive committee. There were four chosen every year to serve as presiding officers of this council (called "syndics").

5. A number of yearly elected standing committees reported to the small Council. Two of these committees had partially religious functions. The Board of Procurators of the general Hospital supervised the administration of charity (Calvin referred to these members as "deacons"), the other was the Consistory created by Calvin.

6. The presiding officer of the Consistory was one of the four presiding officers from the small Council.

7. The Consistory members (other than the presiding officer) sat on two benches:

     a) The Company of Pastors:  Between ten and twelve Pastors on the city payroll that were assigned to parishes; Calvin was the permanent moderator, and sat at the head of the bench.

     b) The commissioners or "elders" (usually twelve) chosen once a year by election of the General Council from those names recommended by the outgoing Small Council. The elders were paid a small sum of money.  

     1) The elders were chosen "so that two always represented the Small Council, four represented the Council of Sixty, and six represented the Council of Two Hundred. The different areas of Geneva were also supposed to be considered in the choice of elders, so each area of Geneva was fairly represented.

     2) Two officers were employed by the Consistory: a secretary and a summoner who brought people to the Consistory.

8. The Consistory met one a week on Thursday for three to four hours. It cross-examined local residents who had been summoned before it (not open to the general public). It includes the response of the accused and the Consistory's judgment, and what should be done. Certain cases were only allowed to be heard, but without a final decision being made (marital issues, divorce, etc.). In such instances, a report of the case was forwarded to the Small Council.

9. The syndic was technically was always the one in charge of the Consistory. "In point of fact, however, John Calvin often dominated the proceedings. He was always scrupulous about acknowledging that he was but one of a number of members of a collegiate body and that all decisions reached were collective, not his personal decisions.  For a variety of reasons, however, the other members of the Consistory, and the members of the governing Small Council when considering appeals from the Consistory, tended to defer to Calvin" (p. 17).

10. The powers of the Consistory were limited, normally only concluding cases by administering "remonstrances" or "admonitions" "ritualized scoldings formulated by one of its members, most commonly one of the ministers, often Calvin himself" (p. 18).

11. The Consistory also had the power to excommunicate or bar someone from quarterly communion. Excommunication was highly controversial because Roman Catholic courts had used it to punish people who failed to pay taxes or failed to fulfill business obligations. Many Genevans feared it would be used as a method to gain "social control over the community by a group of newcomers, mostly from France..." (p.18-19). Excommunication was a feared social penalty because it could ostracize a person from family, friends, and business associates.

12. The Consistory hearing cases of those accused of acts involving crimes or a violation of the law referred such cases to the Small Council.