Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Ecumenism: Real Catholic ecumenism in action!

The following is a dialog from a Catholic forum between me and a member of the "Church of Christ". His comments will be in green, mine in blue.

I think I know enough about Catholicism to maintain my reasonable position that they are wrong in many areas. I wouldn't call it a poor view; I'd call it a realistic view. You would not likely ever convince me, for instance, that "Veneration" of icons is OK, or that it's OK to ask a "Saint" to "intercede" for me. These, and many other Catholic doctrines are directly contradicted by plainly worded passages of scripture. No amount of appealing to church authority, which is all you could do, would convince me that these things are God's will. [Emphasis mine]

Can you explain what you find unbiblical about the intercession of saints? I'd really like to know.

Eph 2:18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

1 Tim 2:5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus

I have direct access to the Father through Jesus Christ. Why would I pray to a saint? To me, it smacks of pagan polytheism. You're going to war? Pray to Mars. Going sailing? Pray to Neptune.

Then why does Paul ask for others to pray and make intercessions, just a couple verses before that? 1 Tim 2:1-2 read "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way." If we can intercede for one another, that makes us co-mediators with Christ (even though our intercessions are ultimately directed through Christ to the Father). "Co-" here does not mean "equal", but "with", as in "communion": "co-union", union with.

It is in fact this co-mediation, this intercession, that is the primary ministry of the baptismal priesthood! Once we are baptized into the Body of Christ, we have that access to the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit, and we can offer our sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, as well as our prayers and petitions.

Have you never asked anyone else (I mean living here on earth) to pray for you? If you have, why did you do it? You have direct access to the Father through Jesus Christ, you don't need some sinner praying for you, do you?

So, if you have asked another person to pray for you, please explain why you did so. If you have not, well then, I don't have much else to say on the matter, since you and Jesus have this thing pretty well wrapped up.

All good points. I can't really argue against much of that. I was hesitant to actually use that first scripture, because there is a difference between mediating the covenant and interceding with prayer, so I was stretching a bit there.

Ok, so we can move on to the question of how asking a Christian on earth to pray for us is different from asking a Christian in heaven to pray for us.

I cannot point to a Biblical difference. Other than the fact that necromancy is considered pretty bad in the Old Testament. Except, that was using magic and divination to communicate with the dead, not prayer, so I guess even that objection doesn't hold much water.

Now, we must first ask, is there currently anyone in heaven? Surely there has to be the judgment first! But the Catholic understanding is that, at death, the soul goes where it shall remain for eternity (except for that moment when it is reunited with the resurrected body). Thus (purgatory aside) after death, and before the resurrection, there are souls in Heaven and souls in Hell.

I'm with you here.

Furthermore, if we are united to the Body of Christ (in baptism), and death cannot separate us from the love of God (cf. Rom. 8:35-39), then our membership in his Body does not diminish or cease when we die (so long as we die in his Body).

The Apostle tells us in 2 Cor. 5:8 that he "would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord". And again in Phil. 1:23, he writes that his "desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better." Now, generally speaking, this would imply that after death, although we are poetically "asleep", we -- that is, our souls -- are present with the Lord Jesus Christ in Heaven (hopefully!). This is attested to by 1 Thess. 4:14, where Paul writes that, when Jesus returns (from heaven to earth), he will bring with him (from where else but heaven?) those who have fallen asleep!

The only problem I have here is with the rest of that passage. Paul said it was more beneficial to them for him to remain. Don't you think that if he had "better" access to Jesus from heaven that he would have said something different?

I think it is safe to say that Paul's physical presence was more important to the Church (and the individual churches) at that time than his spiritual intercession. For Paul, being home with the Lord was best, but for the Church at that time, being alive and ministering to them physically was best.

Continuing the train of thought now... This is supported by Hebrews 11-12 as well as the book of Revelation. In Hebrews 12:1, we are told that we are "surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses". Now, it is true that "witness" (the Greek word μαρτύρων also means "martyr"!) here is understood as referring to their individual "witness" to the faithfulness of the Lord, but at the same -- given the example of a race and a prize, thus calling to mind the image of a stadium with spectators watching athletes compete -- it is referring to their present witness (that is, "spectating") of us. John describes seeing the prayers of the saints rising like incense before the altar in heaven (cf. Rev. 5:8, 8:3-4) and he reports hearing the souls of martyrs cry out from beneath the altar (cf. Rev. 6:9-11).

I see what you're saying, but find it questionable whether this actually supports intercession on the part of dead saints.

All this together -- only dealing with Scripture -- leads to the conclusion that there are souls in heaven who are not oblivious to what goes on here on earth... not because they are demigods (like the pagan pantheons) or by any power of their own, but simply by the grace and will of God.

Ok, that's a good point. That was actually one of my objections: that souls in heaven are not omnipresent or aware of what goes on on earth.

Now, there is a customary rebuttal to this conclusion from Scripture, in Ecclesiastes 9:5: "For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward; but the memory of them is lost." But that cannot possibly be taken literally, because it would contradict so much other Scripture: Samuel's spirit conversing with Saul, the presence of Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration of Jesus, and the parable Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus. If taken literally, it denies that there is any reward after death (which we know is entirely untrue). It also denies that there is any memory of them. This verse cannot be taken at its literal face value, out of its context.

I agree with you here. The dead in Christ are aware, as far as I can tell from the scriptures.

The final stumbling block is the misunderstanding of the verb "to pray". When a non-Catholic hears that Catholics pray to Mary (or saints, or angels, etc.) they immediately assume two things a) they are not praying (or even acknowledging) Jesus Christ, and b) they are worshiping the saint or angel. Neither of these things is true.

First, the verb "to pray" means "to ask, beseech, entreat". To pray [to] anyone means to ask something of them; it has nothing to do with worship. Catholics worship God alone!

I'll agree with you that prayer, or asking for prayer rather, does not equal worship.

Second, every Catholic knows to begin and end his prayers "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit". We know that we only have access to God -- and to those who are close to Him in Heaven -- through His only-begotten Son, our Lord. And so to pray to a saint is never to ask them anything and attempt to circumvent Jesus (or any Person of the Holy Trinity), but to ask them to assist us in our prayers by praying for us as well. Nothing a saint in heaven does is by his own power, only by the grace of God.

"The prayer of the righteous man is powerful and effective." Saints = righteous. Got it.

So, that's a Scriptural argument in support of the Catholic practice of praying to those whom the Church has acknowledged, through revelation from God, as saints. It's part of what the Church means when it professes belief in "the communion of saints".

Fairly convincing argument.

I guess my point is that you needn't feel beholden to pray to saints and ask for their intercession, but in avoiding communion with them, you're avoiding the perfected members of the Body of Christ. I know Catholics who don't regularly (if at all) pray to the Saints (apart from saying the Confiteor during Mass), even though Eucharistic Prayer III affirms that "we rely for help" on the "constant intercession" of the saints. This doesn't make them bad Catholics -- perhaps ignorant, but not malicious -- it just means they're missing out on part of the benefits of belonging to the Body of Christ.

Ok, I'll officially remove "Intercession of the Saints" from my list of gripes against the Catholic church.

Not to make an example of this or you, but what just happened here -- this questioning of a Catholic belief or practice, followed by the civil discussion and defense of it, and your resulting change of mind concerning the practice -- is what the Catholic Church means to do when it speaks of ecumenism. Not to sound arrogant, but the Catholic Church is quite convinced that what it believes about the Mary, sin, Holy Communion, the intercession of saints, and the Pope (to name a few) is actually God's revealed truth to His Church, and the ecumenical movement is about proposing and explaining the Catholic faith in a way that -- without diminishing it, denying it, or ignoring it -- is acceptable to non-Catholic Christians.

I'm glad you have reconsidered the validity of the intercession of saints. I'm not going to press you any further now, but I do encourage you to reappraise your other "gripes against the Catholic Church". Have a good day, and may God bless you with His many graces.

Well, that's part of the reason I'm here. I am interested in the Truth, whatever it may be.


Tim A. Troutman said...

Nice dialog. Mine usually end up with me using some four letter words and leaving abruptly.

Patricia Burns said...

The Lord God Almighty is King of saints (Re.15:3 below).

The church (1 Cor.10:32 below), the living body of Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, are saints of the most High (1 Cor.1:2, Re.8:3-4 below).

Re.15:3 And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints (Re.8:3-4, 1 Cor.1:2 below).

1 Cor.10:32 Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God.

1 Cor.1:2 Unto the church of God (1 Cor.10:32 above) which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both their's and our's:

Re.8:3 And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer [it] with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.

Re.8:4 And the smoke of the incense, [which came] with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.

Patricia (ndbpsa ©) Bible Prophecy on the Web
Author of the self-study aid, The Book of Revelation Explained © 1982

Anonymous said...

As a non-Catholic, that is by far the most civil and convincing argument I've ever heard concerning this practice. Thank you for patiently working through the objections instead of getting defensive because we "just don't get it". As an aside, I love your blog ... I am learning so much!

japhy said...

anonymous, I'm glad to have been able to share this with you. I hope you continue to read my blog and learn. The more I learn, the more I'll blog, too! :)