Piper to the Pope

Here’s what John Piper would say if he had two minutes with the Pope.

35 Responses to Piper to the Pope

  1. Ron Dodson December 15, 2009 at 5:03 pm #

    Papal authority is my big one…most Christian denoms/sects/divisions save the Calvinist branch of Christianity are goofy on justification at some level. I’m fine with Rome having a Bishop that is a big deal, just not trying to be authoritative over me.

  2. Erick December 15, 2009 at 5:45 pm #

    Do protestants require the confession that the righteousness which is imputed has to be “Christ’s”? What if someone confessed that “righteousness” (right-standing with God) comes through only the cross? Is that equally heresy, even if all the essentials are maintained?

  3. Erick December 15, 2009 at 5:46 pm #

    essentials meaning that this “rightsous-standing” comes by faith alone and by Grace alone, immediately upon the excercise of faith and secures our eternal destiny.

  4. Mason Beecroft December 15, 2009 at 8:49 pm #

    I would be RC before I would be a Reformed Baptist. I would more easily submit to Pope Benedict than John Piper. Really? Was Luther excommunicated for this dramatic drivel? The spirit of Donatism is alive and well.
    +Mason

  5. Denny Burk December 15, 2009 at 10:30 pm #

    Donatism? Mason, do you think that Protestants and Catholics have finally come to agreement on the issues that were in dispute during the reformation? I have in mind justification by faith alone and sola scriptura.

  6. Mark December 16, 2009 at 3:29 am #

    If anyone thinks that the view of salvation as presented by the Roman Catholics and the evangelical Protestants are not that far off they really need to some serious theological reality check.

  7. judah December 16, 2009 at 9:14 am #

    Jesus spent so much of his time talking about imputed righteousness that I’m surprised the Pope and the entire Catholic Church missed it!

    It is as if Jesus simply called people to believe in him as Lord and called them to a life of holiness and worship.

    Not likely! He was all about getting various people (i.e., the woman at the well, his disciples, the Pharisees, etc.) to hold the same view of justification that Piper is going on about. He didn’t care how people lived, how they treated their neighbor, or if they loved others as they love themselves. Nope…it was all about justification as espoused by Piper.

    The absolute center of the Gospel, of the work of Jesus, and of my life is whatever Piper says about justification. Amen and glory be to Luther, Calvin, and Reformed Baptist ministers who love justification!

  8. Ron Dodson December 16, 2009 at 11:00 am #

    Judah,
    While you demonstrate a particularly keen sense of irony, and what you say is sort of funny, please acquiesce to the proposition that God has always used prophetic men to be a pain in the arse to the leaders/majority of His people. Are we saved by right understanding? No. However, SOMEONE has to be out there hammering the leaders who hold to a wrong understanding.

  9. russware December 16, 2009 at 11:50 am #

    Heresy:

    1 a : adherence to a religious opinion contrary to church dogma b : denial of a revealed truth by a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church c : an opinion or doctrine contrary to church dogma
    2 a : dissent or deviation from a dominant theory, opinion, or practice b : an opinion, doctrine, or practice contrary to the truth or to generally accepted beliefs or standards

    Clearly, heresy is in the eye (or theology) of the beholder.

  10. Daniel December 16, 2009 at 12:35 pm #

    I’m surprised that Piper put justification at the center–as the core issue between Protestants and Catholics. In some respects, the commentators seem more aware of the central dividing issue than Piper did in this clip:

    Authority.

    As Ron Dodson put it: he doesn’t mind a bishop in Rome, just one who claims to be “authoritative over me.”

    The question then becomes:

    Who does have final authority over the Christian believer?

    The savory tension in Piper’s clip is that Piper is, in a sense, his own Pope. Piper is the one who the Holy Spirit guides to lead Piper to the truth, not a successor of St. Peter.

    The clip could have been called:

    “Pope Piper to Pope Benedict”

    So then, Piper finds himself in the awkward position of having to undermine the authority of one of the most brilliant theologians alive today while somehow elevating his own authority to speak on justification. I wonder–would Piper would have been so bold talking to the predecessors to Pope Benedict XVI, all the way back to Clement, Cletus, Linus, and finally St. Peter himself?

    Ironically, much of what Piper ends up saying about justification is also believed by Catholics and taught in the Catechism.

    Catholics believe that we are saved through Jesus Christ alone through grace alone. From the beginning to the end of salvation, it is the grace of Christ merited for us on the cross. Nothing apart from God’s grace—whether faith or works–can get us into heaven.

    Further, Catholics believe that our initial justification is wrought by faith.

    Because of these similarities, Piper is forced to suddenly become quite technical. I doubt that many of his own congregants would follow the intricacies of thought that go into Piper’s understanding of justification.

    So, to focus the discussion a bit, I would ask Piper the following the questions:

    1. Do you believe justification is a one-time event? If so, why do New Testament writers, who all use Abraham as exhibit A when it comes to justification, refer to Abraham as being justified at three different points in his life?

    2. Where does the Bible teach that we are justified by faith alone?

    3. Where does the Bible teach that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, rather than infused in us whereby we become “partakers of the divine nature”?

    4. Of course, if our righteousness is merely the result of a legal decree by which we are accounted for as righteous such that our future sins do not affect our right standing before God, then it would seem that our eternal salvation is secure once we receive the gift of initial salvation. Yet, the Bible contains much evidence that our post-initial-justification sins (if they constitute a serious total rejection of God’s will and life) DO cause people to lose their salvation. Thus. St. Paul tells his followers to “work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” What, according to Piper, do we have to fear and tremble about once we are saved? Where does the Bible teach that once we are accounted for as righteous, we can not lose our salvation?

    5. Where in the early church—that community of people who received their faith from the apostles and read the language of Scripture in their native tongue read the Bible in the cultural context within which it was written—do you find anyone who understands justification like Piper does almost 2,000 years after the fact?

    6. How will the model of authority and church structure assumed by Piper ever lead to the glorious perfect unity that Christ offered his Passion to achieve (John 17) and that St. Paul commanded? My evangelical work in Catholic apologetics is done to try to achieve unity of belief, worship, etc. with both my Catholic and non-Catholic brothers and sisters, whom I love with fond affection. Yet, we are divided in many respects. The Body of Christ which is meant to show the world that Jesus was sent by the Father (John 17) through its profound, visible unity has become deeply and visibly disunified. It falls on each of us to dialogue with each other and work together toward that unity which Christ desires for us. And so, trusting completely in His grace, I offer the above questions to keep this important dialogue alive.

  11. Daniel December 16, 2009 at 12:57 pm #

    The Pope’s (elegant, brilliant) response to Piper:

    http://www.zenit.org/article-24302?l=english

  12. Erick December 16, 2009 at 1:07 pm #

    The doctrine of justification or whatever meaning Paul expouses with his term “righteousness of God” holds the power of God unto salvation (1:17). Certaintly, when we read the gospels, the teachings of Jesus emphasis much more on doin the will of the Father so that one may obtain eternal life when the Son of Man returns. Jesus never spent anytime expousing imputed righteousness, specifically. But He did teach very boldly on the free and full forgiveness of sin, the merciful hand of God in accepting sinners, and the free gift of eternal life upon trusting in His name and work (john’s gospel prim).

    The main thrust that Paul wants to share in his letter to Rome/Gal (concerning righteousness/justification) is that adulterers, slanderers, fornicators, murderers, sexually immoral, liars , etc etc (whatever kind of sin) are not justified before God by any attempt to obey the Law of God. Rather, they are declared just (found with no cause for guilt) because Christ Jesus stepped into their place under the curse of the law and suffered death for them. The forgiveness of sin is really what Paul means by the imputation of righteousness (Rom 4:6-8).

    However, with regard to living holy lives of worship unto God the father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul is in line with Jesus. One only has to read Rom 12-15, Gal 5, 1 Cor 6:9-11, Eph, col, Phil, etc.

    There is utter importance to living holy lives. But justification remains at the heart of the gospel for it speaks the truth on how guilty human beings might be forgiven and accepted by God.

  13. David Vinzant December 16, 2009 at 1:12 pm #

    I challenge anyone to re-read Matthew 25:31-46 and tell me that Jesus would care for the theology of either Piper or the Pope.

  14. Matt Svoboda December 16, 2009 at 1:19 pm #

    David,

    Jesus does care for the theology of either Piper or the Pope…

    Why not read all of the Bible? How about you go read 1&2 Timothy and Titus and then try to convince yourself God doesnt care about theology.

    Also, What God are you talking about? Because without studying and learning theology you could think God was anyone/anything.

    People who dont see the importance of theology are ignorant, IMHO. Without a good understanding of the doctrine of God, the gospel, and the other essentials a person can not have any idea who they are worshipping..

    Go read John 4… Try to be a worshipper in spirit AND in truth.

  15. Mason Beecroft December 16, 2009 at 2:40 pm #

    Denny,
    I am sure we agree on the issue of forensic, imputed justification. To state the RC position on infused grace is a heresy, however, effectively condemns nearly all of Christendom throughout history.

    I preach imputed justification. I believe it. Justification is Christ’s work for us. Rome believes it as well, but has, I believe, a deficient view of how Christ works this in us. As such, we are not in communion with them. Yet, as Luther said, they still have the Gospel and Sacrament of the Altar. Christ is at work through His gifts, even if we disagree on the complete nature of that work.

    Locating all Christian truth in forensic justification does reek of Donatism, denying the efficacy of the Word in the RC Church because they hold to a different doctrinal formulation. Should I condemn Piper as a heretic for his Docetic/Gnostic views of the sacraments? I think the term heresy should be reserved for those who deny the biblical tradition of the Seven Councils that confesses the redemptive work of the Most Holy Trinity.

    Now Sola Scriptura is another issue altogether. I like to distinguish it from Nuda Scriptura, which is the error of most modern American Protestants. As a Lutheran, though, I am not a Protestant. 🙂

    Of course at the end of the day, I doubt Pope Benedict cares much about the opinion of an American Evangelical Celebrity.
    +Mason

  16. Erick December 16, 2009 at 2:45 pm #

    The difficulty with the whole matter of forensic justification as taught in the reformed tradition is that this justification by faith secures our eternal destiny following the final judgement. However other texts say this judgement will be based off works.

  17. Matt Svoboda December 16, 2009 at 2:58 pm #

    Erick,

    I think you need to study those texts better.

  18. Daniel December 16, 2009 at 3:51 pm #

    Matt,

    Perhaps you could help.

  19. Matt Svoboda December 16, 2009 at 5:08 pm #

    While I am not going to do a exegesis of all those passages right here on Denny blog, it is safe to say that NO TEXT says we are made right before God because of works that we do. We will be judged “according to our works” but not on the BASIS of our works. Big difference.

    We will give an account for all we have done, but no text even implies that our right standing before God is based on works that we have done.

  20. jeff miller December 16, 2009 at 5:27 pm #

    great post and comments!
    -Jeff

  21. Daniel December 16, 2009 at 6:25 pm #

    Hi Matt,
    I’m not sure exactly what difference you have in mind between “according to” and “based on.”

    As a Catholic, I believe that we are justified by faith and works. BUT (and here is the point that seems to be lost on most non-Catholic critics), those works are not “my works” so to speak. They are Christ’s works; they are Christ working through me. They are wrought start to finish, 100% by God’s grace. Thus, the idea of being judged according to our works fits perfectly with being judged by a life of faith. Both faith and works are not our own (our merely human faith is just as unworthy of salvation as our merely human works) but are the result of Christ working in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. The merit these faith and works earn are not my merits but the from beginning to end the merits of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection not only being imputed to me but being manifest in my very being, such that I become a partaker of Christ’s divine nature (so long as I suffer with him!).

    Our acts of faith and of charity both flow, as Pope Benedict XVI recently put it in a talk on justification, from being united with Christ.

    In all of this, I have a difficult time perceiving what the “big difference” is…the difference that makes it worth separating the mystical body of Christ into thousands of parts.

  22. jeff miller December 17, 2009 at 2:41 am #

    Hello Daniel,
    Would you say that the mystical body of Christ joined, by loyalty, to Jesus in true and spiritual worship is “separated into parts” by the division of religious institutions which are only formed on human authority?
    With an appreciation for your thoughts,
    Jeff

  23. Daniel December 17, 2009 at 9:46 am #

    Hi Jeff,

    Great question, and I’ll answer it asap (end-of-semester grades are due tomorrow, and I must keep focused).

    Meanwhile, let me refer you to an essay I wrote addressing this very question:

    http://readywithareason.blogspot.com/2009/05/is-church-invisibly-united-new-thought.html

    The follow-up question I would ask you is simply:

    By what technology do you gauge the invisible, spiritual unity of the church when its real, visible members are divided in concrete ways?

  24. Daniel December 17, 2009 at 10:09 am #

    Sorry…My thumb accidentally hit the submit button.

    I was on my way to revise the question I asked…sorry.

    I was simply trying to ask on what basis you think of the invisible church as actually being unified?

    Peace be with you!

  25. Tom 1st December 17, 2009 at 12:10 pm #

    Daniel, thanks for the link. I was very helpful.

  26. Daniel December 17, 2009 at 1:31 pm #

    With (what I guess would be) the Pope’s answers:

    “Do you teach that we should rely entirely on the righteousness of Christ [yes]

    imputed [no…it is not only imputed but actually infused in us]

    to us by faith alone [so long as this is a faith that works in love (Gal. 5:6), a lively faith that continues and shows forth in charity and mercy]

    as the ground of God being 100% for us [huh? (with slight German accent)],

    after which necessary sanctification comes [sanctification is necessary at every stage, since “nothing unclean can enter heaven.” At the first moment of our salvation we are “washed, justified, and sanctified” (1 Cor. 6:11) in a single moment by an action of Christ on our souls.]?

    Do you teach that?” [With all due respect, what part of the above are you referring to? And by the way, most people refer to me as “your holiness,” but you may call me whatever you feel comfortable with.]

  27. jeff miller December 18, 2009 at 3:15 am #

    Daniel,
    I would say the basis for unity of all who are spiritually congregated around Jesus is Jesus himself. When Paul writes to Timothy and describes “the congregation of the living God” as the pillar and support of the truth, He is continuing to think of those truly united to God…the remnant of Israel, as opposed to the larger, but disloyal, body of people called Israel who nonetheless still congregated periodically at the temple in Jerusalem.

    The unity of those individuals marked by loyal acknowledgment of Jesus(not circumcision,who I should charitably assume to be spiritually congregated around Jesus, is expressed locally when disciples gather together on the basis of nothing more, and nothing less, than shared loyalty to Jesus. That singularity of distinction is difficult to achieve and that is why I think Jesus was praying for it in John 17.
    Thank you for your response,
    Jeff

  28. jeff miller December 18, 2009 at 3:17 am #

    (not circumcision)

  29. Daniel December 18, 2009 at 10:14 am #

    Thanks Jeff for your response. Can you define exactly what “shared loyalty to Jesus” covers? Does it cover all my beliefs or only some of them? Do I have to express this loyalty through adherence to the moral law of God, or can I choose freely to engage in serious sins such as murder, adultery, or even artificial contraception (which all Christian denominations considered an abomination on Biblical grounds until the Anglicans first caved in 1930)? Do Mormons have a shared loyalty to Jesus? Do JW’s? What exactly does shared loyalty to Jesus mean?

    One of the biggest things that many Catholics need to learn from Evangelicals is to rediscover Christ at the heart of everything they do, everything they are, and everything they were created to be. Many Catholics need to rediscover that at the heart of their religion needs to be complete loyalty to Jesus. Loyalty to Jesus needs to be at the heart of their loyalty to the Church, doctrine, the Mass, etc. The good news about Catholicism for Evangelicals is that Jesus *is* at the heart of every single aspect of our faith–though many Evangelicals have a difficult time seeing this. Here is where Evangelicals should listen closely to what their fellow brothers and sisters who have converted to Catholicism are saying: their relationship with Jesus has deepened in ways they could have never imagined! Jesus Christ is the number one reason to be a Catholic! And along with it, the Bible, too! Jesus is the one that told the leaders of the Church that he established “he who hears you hears me.” Right now, all Christians are hearing from this “church” (as many Protestants seem to conceive it) is a Jesus who believes many contradictory things at once.

    The biggest thing that Evangelicals need to learn from Catholics is that outside the context of this authoritative church that Jesus established and that Jesus expects us to be loyal to, they are going to have a hard time being loyal *in the way Jesus wants them to be loyal*. It’s one thing to interpret the Bible however I feel the Holy Spirit is leading me (whether about justification, baptism, contraception, or anything else) and then claim to be loyal to that (as an expression of being loyal to Jesus). It’s another thing to acknowledge that Jesus has chosen a visible authority body outside myself, protected that authority by the power of the Holy Spirit, and commanded every Christian to turn to that authority to receive the “faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

    So, to return to the basic question at the beginning of this comment: being loyal assumes a clear authority to be loyal to. Jesus Christ is the king of the universe. As a faithful Catholic, Jesus is my savior AND my lord. How does the lordship of Christ actually work in the life of Christians? Is it only mediated privately? Or, could it be that there exists a “spokesman” for Christ, a succession of stewards of the fulfilled, Davidic kingdom (see Isaiah 22) to whom the keys of the kingdom are passed?

    Also, I’m not sure you addressed the question from my previous post:

    How do you know that this “invisible” church really is unified? I agree that it is a nice idea, but I’m not sure how well it works as the first premise when the idea of an invisibly united church is the very idea that is up for grabs. After all, the very thing we are trying to define is what it means to be part of this church. What does it mean to be loyal to Jesus?

    Please know that at the end of the day, I have enormous respect for the love of Jesus that evangelicals like yourself show. Please let me repeat that you are a model for all Catholics in this respect, and I consider you my brothers and sisters in Christ, even if some separation exists! As a Catholic, I literally beg my Evangelical brothers and sisters to return home to the Catholic Church so that they can help me reform it from within. (At the same time, speaking from the inside, please know that the Catholic Church is alive and well, even if your average Joe-six-pack Catholic that you meet on the street or at work doesn’t demonstrate this.)

  30. Daniel December 18, 2009 at 10:38 am #

    Hi Jeff,

    By the way, I was able to read a number of articles at your website. I appreciate your probing and engaging style, though I wonder if you might reach different conclusions if you considered more evidence. For instance, in regard to your article on Justin Martyr, you seem to imply that the idea of a sacrificial meal only entered with him. Have you considered Malachi’s prophecy that a “sacrifice, a pure offering” would be offered from the “rising of the sun to its setting” (Malachi 1:11-12)? What about that Jesus is called over and over in Hebrews a “priest forever in the order of Melchizidek”? Priests offer sacrifices, yet the sacrifice of Melchizidek was one of bread and wine. And then there is the ancient rabbinic saying that “in the coming Messianic age, all sacrifices will cease except the Todah.” What was the Todah? The sacrifice of Thanksgiving. And as you point out, Eucharist means “thanksgiving.” Ultimately, St. Paul even connects the two ideas, when he exhorts “Christ our passover has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us keep the feast.”

    What feast do you think he was referring to?

    The ancient understanding of Christians is that the Eucharist is a sacrifice–the only sacrifice that saves us–which is the sacrifice of Christ. Through the Eucharist, we participate in the final act of Christ’s sacrifice, which did not end at Calvary but is happening forever as Christ offers himself on the alter in heaven before the Father for our salvation. In the sacrifice of the Mass, we meet in the heavenly temple, the New Jerusalem, and participate in the once for all offering of Jesus to the Father. We commune with our savior, who is present to us in His fullness, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

    About circumcision, it would have been contrary to God’s teaching in the OT that circumcision did not constitute entrance into the covenant people of God.

    The difficult thing for the model of the Church that you seem to adhere to is that Jesus himself taught that the Church would contain wheat and chaff.

    The church is full of people that are not loyal to Christ, but these people are either partially or at times fully separated. Yet, Jesus defines the Church in a more outward, visible manner, such that it does contain unloyal sinners (like myself). Jesus says that when a brother sins against us, we can “take it to the church” (Matthew 18), a statement that doesn’t seem to make sense if the church is an invisible band of loyal subjects.

    May the peace of Christ be with you!

  31. Daniel December 18, 2009 at 12:15 pm #

    Jeff, you wrote:

    “The unity of those individuals marked by loyal acknowledgment of Jesus…is expressed locally when disciples gather together on the basis of nothing more, and nothing less, than shared loyalty to Jesus.”

    I find it difficult for this to be imagined, since every single church group I know gathers together on the basis of something more than shared loyalty to Jesus, whether it is common interpretations of the Bible, common ideas about how to worship, etc.

    This definition, then, seems too reductive to be practically applicable, UNLESS you are able to expand upon what “loyalty to Jesus” actually means. If you can’t, then why don’t Baptists, Methodist, Presbyterians, Calvanists, Adventists, etc. all just freely move around from week to week, since they all claim to share a loyalty to Jesus.

    Or do they? Who decides, and by what authority?

    You continue:

    “That singularity of distinction is difficult to achieve and that is why I think Jesus was praying for it in John 17.”

    When I read John 17, I don’t hear Christ pray that his followers are able to make the difficult distinction between those who are truly, invisibly, spiritually members of his body and those who are not.

    His prayer: “Let them be one as the Father and I are one.”

    Are the Jesus and the Father only one in their loyalty to one another? Do Jesus and the Father hold conflicting doctrines about virtually everything? Of course not! Their oneness is so profound that we consider it the deepest mystery of Christianity. Yet, it is a oneness that Christ desires, and St. Paul (and the Holy Spirit through him) demands of each follower of Christ. Are you saying that each true member of the body is united to the extent that Christ prayed for, even if they believe lots of things different from one another?

    Sorry, but I just don’t understand how you can reconcile the view of the church that you present with Christ’s prayer for the church in John 17….that is, unless you claim some authority to be able to draw the line at which doctrines are essential to being in the body and which are not.

    Finally, your response conceals an “either/or” mentality: either loyalty to Christ or circumcision/baptism (if I may assume you have baptism in mind).

    But again, this begs the question:

    Is baptism opposed to loyalty as requirements for entering Christ’s kingdom, or is rejecting baptism akin to being disloyal to Christ, who established the sacrament as the means for him to regenerate us?

    Catholics are not against being loyal to Christ, but we understand that loyalty includes being obedient to His saving plan for us, a plan that includes the sacraments.

    Grace and peace to you!

  32. jeff miller December 20, 2009 at 3:11 pm #

    Hello Daniel,
    Again I enjoy reading many of your thoughts, but there is too much material in your comment for me to reasonably nuance or qualify all at once. Let me just say I agree with your observation that in JOHN 17 Jesus did not pray that “his followers would be able to make the difficult distinction between those who are truly, invisibly, spiritually members of his body and those who are not”. Even though Jesus taught elsewhere that the inner nature of loyalty would be proven out in fruit. “You will know a tree by its fruit…” We can “know by fruit” in the context of a local congregation; which is also the place where we would humbly encourage one another on the humanly improbable path of loyalty. OK, so Jesus did not pray that we would be able to make perfect or final judgments about what is invisible in others. And, in another place He also taught his disciples that they should not hinder someone who is trying to do a good work in His name, even though they are not part of the disciples’ group (Luke 9:49). These are good points to keep in mind.

    Maybe I can bite off your first paragraph for a little chewing. Here is what you said:
    “Can you define exactly what ‘shared loyalty to Jesus’ covers? Does it cover all my beliefs or only some of them? Do I have to express this loyalty through adherence to the moral law of God, or can I choose freely to engage in serious sins such as murder, adultery, or even artificial contraception (which all Christian denominations considered an abomination on Biblical grounds until the Anglicans first caved in 1930)? Do Mormons have a shared loyalty to Jesus? Do JW’s? What exactly does shared loyalty to Jesus mean?”

    I don’t think either of us would exclude people from the possibility of loyalty-to-Jesus because of the label murderer, or prostitute, or tax-gatherer. Of course we expect loyalty to work out in love so that these labels are rendered powerless in defining hearts and behaviors. In fact we do expect loyalty toward Jesus to produce an identity change not unlike the sort that disciples like Matthew-the-tax-gatherer and Simon-the-zealot underwent. Because of their backgrounds, we would expect them to mix like oil and water. But because of their new, and immediate, loyalty toward Jesus, we never even get a hint of controversy over their original, contradictory, perspectives.

    I would be suspicious of the idea that loyalty toward humanly derived institutions properly augments our loyalty to God, which is ours through loyalty to His Son, Jesus. One difficulty is in the different way most of us use “faith/belief” for “doctrines” when NT scriptures use the “pistos” word group for what is more personal: loyalty, loyal acknowledgment. So, what does shared loyalty to Jesus look like? It was very important that Jesus as the son of man be pure in heart in His loyalty to the Father, or as we might say, whole-hearted in His loyalty to the Father. As we study the Gospels, I think God purposefully presents to us Jesus, engaged and exerting himself in a human struggle to persevere in loyalty. Thank God for the victory and the example. The temptations, the announcement of John the Baptists death, and the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, all stand out to me. So maybe “shared loyalty to Jesus” looks like a struggle. This struggle proves to be a victorious struggle for a people who have one forerunner as their common hope and champion. Jesus is a forerunner who calls us to gather around Him, willing to receive all who He receives in the Spirit He has given us, as we get about the business of making disciples to Him.

    I think we would agree Jesus can and does determine what “loyalty to Him” covers. As we press into His teachings that fact will help cultivate humility and the pursuit of greater loyalty. If you are loyal to Jesus, you are patient toward others; if you are more loyal to Jesus, you are more patient with others, especially the “little ones”. We can look together at instances in the gospels where individuals “loyally acknowledged” Jesus and Jesus counted it as “great” loyalty. The Centurion in Matthew chapter 8, and the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15, are wonderful.

    The idea of mutual deficiency and mutual encouragement brings to my mind MATTHEW 18. Because you have mentioned it often let me just say that I have become convinced of a much more contextually-driven and Matthew-consistent reading, which is different from the newer and more standard “church-discipline” reading which I think I hear you appealing to. You seem to treat a snippet of this passage as if Jesus was speaking to His disciples of a universal ecclesial government authorized to carryout punitive discipline among all Christians. I would enjoy discussing this whole portion of Matthew over coffee to see if we could come to an agreeable persuasion, but I am in Oceanside…?
    Thanks again for the interaction,
    Jeff

  33. Daniel Stevens December 23, 2009 at 4:24 am #

    Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for your thoughts on what “loyalty to Christ” means. I’m responding in line with your text, mainly to ask for clarification:

    —–

    JM:
    Again I enjoy reading many of your thoughts, but there is too much material in your comment for me to reasonably nuance or qualify all at once.

    DBS:
    I know, and for that, I apologize. I’ll try to do some penance here by keeping my responses as succinct as possible. ☺ Also, with apologies to Denny, I just learned today of the guideline of posting first and last names!

    JM:
    Let me just say I agree with your observation that in JOHN 17 Jesus did not pray that “his followers would be able to make the difficult distinction between those who are truly, invisibly, spiritually members of his body and those who are not”.

    DBS:
    Hmm…I thought I was merely summarizing your observation from comment #27. Maybe I’m not understanding you so well on this point. My apologies!

    JM:
    Even though Jesus taught elsewhere that the inner nature of loyalty would be proven out in fruit.

    DBS:
    It is true that we can know a tree by its fruit, since this saying comes from our Lord. I wonder, however, if this statement could also mean that what is invisibly true tends to manifest itself visibly. If it does, then I have to return to (and reword) my original question: how can the (visible) fruits of disunity between Christians who are supposedly all loyal to the lordship of Christ flow from an invisible spiritual unity? How do we know that persons A, B, and C are invisibly unified if all the external markers suggest the opposite? Doesn’t the fruit of disunity bear witness to the interior state of disunity?

    JM:
    “You will know a tree by its fruit…” We can “know by fruit” in the context of a local congregation;

    DBS:
    Certainly, most individual congregations appear to have some degree of unifying cohesiveness (although experience proves even congregational unity can be fairly tenuous). But I’m not at all convinced that the unity Christ wants for all of his followers is realized only at the level of the congregation. The instant one zooms out and looks at the state of all Christians, one sees a picture quite different from the local pools of individuals who happen (for whatever reason) to believe roughly the same things. Thus, the “know by fruit” argument raises serious alarms about the interior state of Christian unity when it is applied globally.

    JM:
    …which is also the place where we would humbly encourage one another on the humanly improbable path of loyalty.

    DBS:
    I suppose, but I don’t see this kind of localized perspective in the NT. Jesus wants us to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in one baptism and teaching them all that he taught. Very early on, the Christian church was identified as being universal, or catholic (St. Ignatius of Antioch was the first to use the term, if I’m not mistaken). Should not the Christian church’s teachings also be universal, the same in every time and place?

    JM:
    OK, so Jesus did not pray that we would be able to make perfect or final judgments about what is invisible in others. And, in another place He also taught his disciples that they should not hinder someone who is trying to do a good work in His name, even though they are not part of the disciples’ group (Luke 9:49). These are good points to keep in mind.

    DBS:
    I agree. As St. Paul said, “test everything, holding on to what is good.” I think we have to be a bit slow, though, to accept every idea and doctrine as good, even if those who promote them are well-intentioned and love our Lord Jesus. Objectively speaking, it is *not* a good thing to teach false doctrine, and so we have to sort out what is truly good before we can encourage someone in it.

    Here is where the first issue that I’d like to throw in to the pot could enter. So far, we’ve talked about authority and unity. But I’d like to add the issue of certainty. I’d suggest that Christ wants us to have the “assurance of truth,” the certainty that the truths we believe are actually true, and not just a highly nuanced untruth created by man. How can we be certain that what we believe is true? How can we be certain that our interpretation of the Bible does not contradict what God intended to share with humanity by breathing the Words of Scripture?

    I think this is a question that many people are afraid to ask. Have you wrestled with it? Over at my blog, one of the most honest statements made by a non-Catholic was: “Being very sure of very few doctrinal essentials is the hallmark of the non-denominationalism that [Al] Kresta experienced, and that I agree with.”

    JM:
    Maybe I can bite off your first paragraph for a little chewing. Here is what you said:
    “Can you define exactly what ‘shared loyalty to Jesus’ covers? Does it cover all my beliefs or only some of them? Do I have to express this loyalty through adherence to the moral law of God, or can I choose freely to engage in serious sins such as murder, adultery, or even artificial contraception (which all Christian denominations considered an abomination on Biblical grounds until the Anglicans first caved in 1930)? Do Mormons have a shared loyalty to Jesus? Do JW’s? What exactly does shared loyalty to Jesus mean?”
    I don’t think either of us would exclude people from the possibility of loyalty-to-Jesus because of the label murderer, or prostitute, or tax-gatherer.

    DBS:
    I’m not sure if I agree, since I’m not sure I understand exactly what you are saying here. Anyone is a candidate for being a disciple of Jesus. So long as they have faith in Him, repent of their sins, and turn from their sins, and follow Jesus (trusting in Him as Lord and Savior, taking up their cross, etc.), they can be counted as a loyal disciple of Jesus. But are you saying that a person who continually murders, fornicates, etc. could be thought of as being loyal to Jesus, especially if this person does not desire to turn from these behaviors? Does it make a difference whether the murderer, fornicator, etc. had previously experienced the grace of initial justification?

    JM:
    Of course we expect loyalty to work out in love so that these labels are rendered powerless in defining hearts and behaviors.

    DBS:
    I don’t really understand what you are getting at here. “Murderer” seems more than a label, since we aren’t condemned to hell for a label. Rather, these words ultimately point to an evil disposition and a lack of grace in the soul of the person who commits the sins (although the Catholic Church, in her wisdom, recognizes the possibility of varying degrees of culpability). I don’t think human labels are spiritually powerful or defining. It is the behaviors themselves that literally cut us off from God’s life-giving and life-sustaining grace. Through these sins, we say a clear, resounding “no!” to God’s will and a “yes” to our own, and by this very action, embrace hell over heaven. There are sins that lead to death, as James teaches us. There are prodigal sons who leave their father’s house, and who can only become alive again through repentance.

    JM:
    In fact we do expect loyalty toward Jesus to produce an identity change not unlike the sort that disciples like Matthew-the-tax-gatherer and Simon-the-zealot underwent.

    DBS:
    Would you say there are consequences for a “saved” person who *doesn’t* leave behind their sins? Also, what do you mean by “identity?”

    JM:
    Because of their backgrounds, we would expect them to mix like oil and water. But because of their new, and immediate, loyalty toward Jesus, we never even get a hint of controversy over their original, contradictory, perspectives.

    DBS:
    Once again, you use the phrase “we would/do expect.” I hear this type of expression used a lot from the Baptist pastors whose Sunday-morning sermons I hear. The issue here seems to be that of post-initial-salvation sins. I hear over an over that a saved person’s life “should” turn, yet we all agree that all of us still sin. Even the just man sins seven times a day! So, how do we deal with post-I.S. sins? I was listening to Francis Beckwith’s interview of EWTN’s “Journey Home” program today, and he said this issue is a major stumbling block for many Protestants. I wonder if you could clarify your position on this topic, and perhaps clarify what you mean by “expect.” Are there any consequences if this expectation is not realized? What can we know about a person for whom this is the case?

    At this point, we move on to the second part of your response. So far, I don’t think you have really addressed what “loyalty to Jesus” covers. What does “loyalty to Jesus” entail? I’m not sure as of yet, based on what you’ve told me so far. And since “loyalty to Jesus” was your measuring stick for defining the true church, I am not yet sure of the standard by which you conceive of the church. I may very well be misunderstanding you on any number of points, so I accept responsibility that this may be my problem, not yours.

    JM:
    I would be suspicious of the idea that loyalty toward humanly derived institutions properly augments our loyalty to God, which is ours through loyalty to His Son, Jesus.

    DBS:
    I gather you are suspicious. But it remains to be seen whether you are correctly suspicious or not. Many non-Christians are incorrectly suspicious of allowing a “man” who lived 2,000 years ago to have authority over our lives today. Of course, many non-Christians are not willing to consider the miracles that point to the divine nature of Jesus, and I can only imagine what Jesus’s contemporaries must have thought when this carpenter with dusty feet and calloused fingers suddenly began claiming that he was God. Yet, from a Catholic perspective, many non-Catholics I know similarly see the Catholic Church only as a human institution and are not willing to allow the countless documented miracles that point to her divine character to focus their view of her.

    Of course, I’m not ready to concede that my loyalty to the Magisterium is in any way opposed to my loyalty to Christ. I would contend that one can not be fully loyal to Christ until one is loyal to them who Christ sends in His name and with His authority. “He who hears you, hears me. He who rejects you, rejects me, and the one who sent me.” That is very strong language, and unless one can be absolutely certain (there is the issue of certainty again!) that Jesus’s words DO NOT apply to any Christian or any authoritative office past the men to whom those words were spoken in that immediate context, then we might want to back up and spend a bit more time on this point.

    JM:
    One difficulty is in the different way most of us use “faith/belief” for “doctrines” when NT scriptures use the “pistos” word group for what is more personal: loyalty, loyal acknowledgment.

    DBS:
    Just like I see no opposition between loyalty to Jesus and loyalty to the bishops who have succeeded the apostles, I also see no opposition between faith in relation to doctrines versus faith in relation to the person, Christ Jesus. First, let me agree with you that our faith is ultimately a relationship with Jesus Christ. I couldn’t agree with you more that if our faith is just an assent to a bullet-point list of propositions, it doesn’t rise to the notion of faith that we find in the NT. Even one of the most brilliant theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas, considered his almost-complete theological masterpiece to be worth nothing compared to the mystical experience of our Lord he had. (You know the story: his brother monk came in to the chapel to hear a conversation between Aquinas and Jesus, yet Aquinas was not to be seen…until the monk looked up. Levitating in front of the crucifix was the huge ox of a saint. Jesus told Aquinas, “You have written well of me. What can I give you in return?” to which Aquinas replied, “Only more of you, Lord.”)

    Yet, rather than posit a dichotomy between doctrines and the person of Christ, I would suggest an a fortiori argument: If Jesus, who claimed “I am the Truth,” is who he says He is, how much more important, and personal, and beautiful, and magnificent, and coherent, and symphonic our doctrines should be! I am a music theorist by profession, and I think (from the perspective of someone for whom musical beauty points to the divine) that it is significant that many converts to the Catholic Church join the famous theologian Hans von Balthasar in proclaiming the truth of the Catholic faith to be a symphonic splendor. The music of the Catholic faith resounds the glory of He who is the Truth. How much more damaging, then, is the discord of a Christianity that can’t figure out the truth with any certainty?

    Put negatively, it may very well be that non-Catholics feel a gap between faith in doctrines and faith in Christ because they know with radiant clarity about the person of Christ but they know with muddled uncertainty about the truth of Christ.

    JM:
    So, what does shared loyalty to Jesus look like? It was very important that Jesus as the son of man be pure in heart in His loyalty to the Father, or as we might say, whole-hearted in His loyalty to the Father.

    DBS:
    I completely agree. This loyalty only begins to get at the profoundest of all mysteries: that our God is a family of three persons—a family of creative, life-giving love that has existed for all eternity—and a family that desires to draw us into its very unity and life! The mind staggers…

    JM:
    As we study the Gospels, I think God purposefully presents to us Jesus, engaged and exerting himself in a human struggle to persevere in loyalty. Thank God for the victory and the example. The temptations, the announcement of John the Baptists death, and the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, all stand out to me. So maybe “shared loyalty to Jesus” looks like a struggle. This struggle proves to be a victorious struggle for a people who have one forerunner as their common hope and champion. Jesus is a forerunner who calls us to gather around Him, willing to receive all who He receives in the Spirit He has given us, as we get about the business of making disciples to Him.

    DBS:
    What you have written here is quite beautiful indeed. I share your perspective that Jesus provides us a model for how we are to be loyal to both Him and the Father. We are to become like little-Christs, imitators of Jesus, in all that we say and do.

    Yet, I’m not sure if this truth that you have pointed out really clarifies your position for me (not that you are at all required to pursue getting through my often thick skull!)

    Here’s why:

    I think the “struggle” you point to demonstrates that Jesus had a human nature. I think the fact that he didn’t give in to Satan’s temptations or disobey the Father’s will (which was simultaneously his own divine will) demonstrates his loyalty to the Father. Because of our own human natures, loyalty might be a struggle, but whether it is a struggle or not, the loyalty has to do with the decision/belief/behavior we are struggling over, not the struggle itself.

    Certainly, Jesus demonstrated how to be loyal by his own acts of loyalty to the Father’s will. But this fact just intensifies our dilemma, doesn’t it? We still haven’t defined what being loyal to Jesus means? How does Jesus’s authority as Lord of our lives get mediated to us? How do we know for sure what the Truth who is Christ?

    The problem for us is that we stand on the precipice and we *don’t* know with certainty which way God would have us go. We pray in the Garden of Gethsemane *without* really knowing if we are following God’s will. Granted, there are some times when God’s will is not clear. But when it comes to universal, unchanging, eternal truths about God himself…truths that were supposedly delivered once for all to the saints (Jude 3)…I really believe that we Christians have access to those truths! Do you?

    So then, how do we know what God’s will for us is in regard to what we believe? How can we know that we aren’t mistaking our will for God’s?

    JM:
    I think we would agree Jesus can and does determine what “loyalty to Him” covers.

    DBS:
    Yes, but I have no idea how you know what “loyalty to Him” covers.

    JM:
    As we press into His teachings that fact will help cultivate humility and the pursuit of greater loyalty.

    DBS:
    But how do you even know what you are pursuing? How do we even know whether we are humbly following God or humbly following a human tradition (especially in the way we interpret the Bible)?

    JM:
    If you are loyal to Jesus, you are patient toward others; if you are more loyal to Jesus, you are more patient with others, especially the “little ones”.

    DBS:
    I completely agree. But we would probably agree that being patient is not the only mark of a person who is “loyal to Jesus”? What about issues like women’s ordination and homosexual “marriage.” Another recent discussion on this very blog shows that there are people who (we presume) honestly think they are being loyal to Jesus, yet come down on very different sides of a (seemingly multi-sided) fence.

    I ask these questions not because I like heady-debate (which I don’t think really gets us that closer to Jesus or even to one another…though let me say that if I didn’t live on the opposite side of the country from you, I feel certain that we’d enjoy having that cup of coffee…), but because these are very real, and very important issues that lurk beneath the surface of many Christians, and that continue to divide Christ’s mystical body.

    Or do they? If what one believes about homosexual “marriage” is not essential to being “loyal to Christ,” then is the real problem that people just let their tempers get out of control too easily, when they should really simply be thanking God that He has given us so much latitude regarding what we believe?

    JM:
    We can look together at instances in the gospels where individuals “loyally acknowledged” Jesus and Jesus counted it as “great” loyalty. The Centurion in Matthew chapter 8, and the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15, are wonderful.

    DBS:
    Ah…I love those stories; they are wonderful!

    JM:
    The idea of mutual deficiency and mutual encouragement brings to my mind MATTHEW 18. Because you have mentioned it often let me just say that I have become convinced of a much more contextually-driven and Matthew-consistent reading, which is different from the newer and more standard “church-discipline” reading which I think I hear you appealing to.

    DBS:
    While I’m interested in your interpretation, it remains to be seen which reading is the newest. I would cite Acts 15 as an early example of a number of people “bringing to the church” an issue that could not be resolved among themselves.

    JM:
    You seem to treat a snippet of this passage as if Jesus was speaking to His disciples of a universal ecclesial government authorized to carryout punitive discipline among all Christians.

    DBS:
    While I do believe Jesus created a universal ecclesial authority, this belief is not based on this passage alone. Naturally, passages like Matt. 16 carry a prominent role in supporting this belief. Also, the very life of the early church witnesses to this authoritative institution that Christ founded and promised to protect and guide by the Holy Spirit into all truth…a truth of which we can certain!

    JM:
    I would enjoy discussing this whole portion of Matthew over coffee to see if we could come to an agreeable persuasion, but I am in Oceanside…?

    DBS:
    I only know of one Oceanside, and it is in my favorite state (CA), one that is not close to my home in Delaware.

    JM:
    Thanks again for the interaction,
    Jeff

    DBS:
    I’m humbled that you’d take the time to respond which such thoughtfulness and gentleness. Thank you for sharing your perspective with me!

    Grace and Peace to you this Advent Season. Let us pray with one heart for the coming of Our Lord in glory!

  34. Daniel Stevens December 23, 2009 at 4:33 am #

    ps.

    I forgot to mention the second issue (besides certainty):

    Obedience.

    How does one learn true obedience when the final mediator of God’s authority is ultimately the very mind/soul/will of the person who is supposed to be learning obedience?

    How do writers on the concurrent discussion about homosexual “marriage” become obedient to God’s will if they believe they already are being obedient.

    St. Paul connects his discussion of faith in the book of Romans to obedience by tying the two together the first and last times he mentions “faith.” It would seem that obedience *is* a struggle. Do current models of authority that do not rely on authoritative ecclesial bodies engender the obedient submission of the wills of most followers to the will and truth of God? (Of course, it would seem that this question can’t really be answered without producing a standard for how we know what that will and truth of God are.)

  35. Jeff Miller December 24, 2009 at 10:39 pm #

    Hello Daniel Stevens,
    I like the things we agree on and I enjoy our mutual appreciation for several passages of scripture.

    I hope the thoughts below actually sound like thoughts:
    On Obedience-
    If we can receive the concept of loyalty carried by the Greek word “pistos” then the “obedience of loyalty” is what Paul was seeking to bring about among the Gentiles as He testifies in his epistle to the Romans. One thing I pick up on from studying the Gospels is how Jesus is much better than others at discerning “faith” or “loyalty” toward Him. Think of all the times that Pharisees, or even the disciples, were mistaken about various individuals who acted in loyalty and loyal acknowledgment to Jesus.
    Loyalty to Jesus is something Jesus is aware of even when we might question it. Though loyalty is an obedience from the heart, it has an outward expression. As Paul says, with the heart man “loyally acknowledges” resulting in legitimacy and with mouth he confesses resulting in salvation. Jesus in Matthew recognizes both “small loyalty” and “great loyalty”. I can be loyal to a commander, for instance, without successfully carrying out his orders. But, with great loyalty to a commander, we would certainly expect to see a great effort to carry out his commands. I can be loyal to a person before I know everything about them. If, as I learn more about them, I become disloyal, then my lack of perseverance brings the nature of my supposed loyalty under suspicion. I can be loyal to Jesus personally even though I do not completely understand His Messiahship. But if, as I hear him more on His way of Messiahship, and I become offended with him and become disloyal…well then, what of my personal loyalty? If, as I hear him and see him live, and teach, this Jesus-way of triumph, this Jesus-way of rescue and victory, this Jesus-way of healing Israel and bringing the Kingdom of God…then go on to abandon Him, or then go on to only use his name as a label while rejecting His gospel, I have proven myself disloyal.
    I do not want to be the judge of others who use the name of Jesus, but Jesus’ words (which I endeavor to announce) will judge Israel. And if judgment begins with the household of faith what will be the outcome of the wicked? I have great hope that our judge is merciful, but how can a man say he loves God when he hates his brother?

    On Unity-
    What did Jesus do to unite Israel? Did he take over the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem and cause all factions to submit to one institution? Did he eradicate the possibility of multiple authority claims among the Jews? What would a system for coercing all who will not embrace non-coercion look like? Or has Jesus given us some other kind of unity which is to be sustained among us, as the remnant people of God?

    On Certainty-
    God does not want Israel to say that His word to them is too difficult a thing to be known by them.
    “For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it (Deu 30:11-14).”

    Paul applies this same principle to the authoritative teachings of Christ (the Gospel) in the New Covenant in Romans 10:6-8. It would seem that God presupposes men are responsible to hear his voice even when it comes through prophets who are among many false prophets. Jesus said if any one is willing to do the will of God he will know the [Jesus’] teaching whether it is from God or not. He also said you do not receive my word because you are not of God. And the reason men do not come to the light is because they love darkness.

    Daniel I am sure that if you wrote the next two statements you would do better at framing the specifics, but is the general structure correct for a Roman Catholic and a Non-Roman Catholic?

    IF I, as one who loyally acknowledges Jesus Christ am supposed to submit myself to a magisterium which, to the best of my ability to discern, teaches their evolving gospel as if it where authoritative, and I do not, THEN my loyalty to Jesus is suspect, and at best it may be a “small loyalty”.

    On the other hand, IF you, as one who loyally acknowledges Jesus Christ are supposed to exalt Jesus Christ as the only proper object of loyalty among men (Matt 23:8-10). And preach His gospel without obscuring it with the teachings of men (Mark 7:6-13), and you do not, THEN, could it be that your loyalty is suspect, or perhaps a “small loyalty”.

    Either way, neither of us should despair of loyalty to Jesus. After all Jesus charged His disciples of small loyalty several times. Their loyalty was in need of increase. Mine certainly is as well. And I sense you would confess the same of yourself. We must remember the promise “The one who believes (loyally acknowledges) the Lord Jesus will not be disappointed.”

    Your fellow servant,
    Jeff Miller

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