It ain’t easy believing. Being a Christian can be a challenge enough for most of us who realize that we are not perfect and were not completely perfected by our altar-call conversion or adult confirmation in the Faith. We’re all screwed up on some level and God knows each of us all too well. His Grace allows us to fulfill the Christian destiny we are intended to realize through the commission and fulfillment of our lives. The necessary fulfillment of our natural destiny exists regardless of our sickly natures and the desire to live by the example of worldly leaders or materialism.

What makes it difficult to believe in today’s Christianity, as a whole, is the division, denominationalism, and radically varying interpretations of even basic Scripture. See generally, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible_translations . Frankly, it seems that just the ongoing debate about ‘Faith Alone’ versus ‘Sanctification through Works’ is enough to get Traditionalists and Contemporary Evangelicals into a fight which arrogantly ignores the desperate pleas of those hungry for an undivided relationship with Christ. To put it bluntly, the blood-spray caused by Church infighting has unfortunately clouded the vision of those observers possessing a heartfelt desire for an immediate relationship with Christ.

In many ways, this repulsive division among denominations or individual churches is comparable to the story of the bleeding woman set forth in Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-34, and as described below where the Good News says:

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” [Luke 8:41-48].

As the fight between Traditionalists and Contemporary Evangelicals rages on, individuals, families and married couples are left to struggle amongst themselves as to where they fit into the picture.

Metaphorically, we are all left trying to touch the healing robe of Christ, while those in charge are trying to aggressively maintain crowd control. Christ is perfectly willing to heal any of us by individual touch, but it certainly does seem that the Church leadership is far more concerned about their Jesus being able to move through the crowd uninterrupted. Indeed, church leaders seem to feel that Christ is only fit to speak from their pulpit and no other. They seem to completely forget that He preached from the Temple, on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, on the Mount, and gave the ultimate sermon by his Crucifixion. There was no cathedral, there was no chapel, and there was no temple per se’.

Indeed, the story of the bleeding woman aptly describes Catholic believers, such as me, who are deemed to be out of the Church fold because I love and married a non-Catholic. I am considered to be out of necessary unity with the Church, and unable to touch the robe of Christ through the Eucharist, and the division has admittedly hurt my marital relationship at times. In fact, I cannot even demonstrate the power of the Eucharistic purpose because of the inability to participate in the Communion of the Church so that I might be able to be a good example to my family and to have reason to explain the deep and moving conversion of the heart realized through the altar-call that takes place at every Eucharistic Mass.

For those who immediately think that I ought to completely abandon the Catholic Church, I respectfully suggest that this particular call ignores our Church forefathers’ long history of Faith and practice (as consistently traced back to the Didache), it may be ignoring the literal translation of the Holy Act of the Last Supper, it fails to recognize the value of the Mass (as an all-senses experience of the Glory of Christ), and it fails to acknowledge the identity of a unified Church hierarchy as clearly set forth in Titus and elsewhere in the New Testament. Unfortunately, I think Evangelicals are apt to quickly forget that there was, and remains, an unbroken line of apostolic succession and a method of truth verification, which can be traced to Christ and his Apostles.

All too many American church-leaders have come forward, especially in the last 200 years, who maintain no respect for Church history, a lineage of theological analysis and truth, nor a respect for the basic practices of our Faith as described by the earliest Christians themselves. For some nondenominational pastors, if some portion or a personal interpretation of the Bible seems compelling to them, that’s good enough for the Flock. The sum Truth of the Gospels is vested in no man alone, whether he be the shepherd or the sheep.

Moreover, the ability to trace the internal and practical truth of the Good News exists regardless of the various mistakes made by the organized and human-led Church in the course of Man’s history. The fact that a human-led organization makes mistakes should be no shock to anyone. Along these same lines, critics of Christianity are always ready to point out that there are hypocrites in the Church (i.e., leaders who speak against a sin and commit it themselves). Make no mistake about it! The Message can be true and the messenger false.

Nevertheless, I fundamentally know that Christ would not have denied me his presence and healing on an individual level. If the Church’s leadership constitutes the Vicar of Christ on the Earth, why would it stop anyone from touching the healing power of Christ? If the Church be the body of its believers, how can it stop itself from touching Christ? Just like the disciples, it does not seem that the [c]hurch has the ability to stop a member of the crowd reaching out to Christ on an unmediated and direct level.

To those in Rome, your practices and your theology are correct in His Essence, but your failure to allow the meek and hurting to inherit the unmediated healing power of Christ is nearly a form of spiritual theft. Stop acting like crowd control officers. Christ himself has plenty of authority to allow his fans and followers to touch him and He demonstrated many times that He is also perfectly capable of deciding when to keep on going or whether to stop to help someone in pain. He didn’t stop and heal every person. Not only would this deny important parts of our God-given humanity, His conduct suggests that he knew there was a time and a place for everything and that not every person can or will set forth the legacy of His Truth.

With respect to the mixed-marriage issue referenced above, I am following the mandate of the Catechism at §§ 371-373 [duty to understand that man and woman are created with an inherent unity of purpose, that “God created man and woman together and willed for each other,” and, that they are to be united in transmitting life to their descendants].

In a society that is redefining the definition of the ‘natural family’ on a nearly daily basis, it seems that the Catholic Church ought to give some minimal thought to the idea that there are many Christian couples who aptly demonstrate the purposes of unity, marital sanctity, and holiness that God endowed in his creation of the male and female couple in the Garden of Eden. Should those committed marriages and families not be placed on a pedestal? Or, is it more important that the Church get its shot at nullifying the allegedly invalid marriage and getting the Church’s paperwork straight?

Instead, in this day, we are left with a Catholic Church who can barely define or restrict the sexuality or asexuality of many of its own priests, whose garments have been blood stained by the mortal sins of deliberate pederasty and pedophilia, and a confusing theology which denies men the very purpose set forth in the Catechism and the Bible itself. On the other hand, I’d like to believe that my years of faithful marriage to my wife, our daily work on the health of our marriage, and the four children we have been gifted with, are an apt demonstration of God’s Love as intended to be reflected through the unity of a family.

It is incredibly difficult to maintain family unity without spiritual unity. Once the family is destroyed in its spiritual unity, the natural consequence is a further destruction of society as a whole. The Church’s own failure to recognize the value of a faith marriage, even between those of different specific theologies, can be just as destructive as the division caused overtly by the Enemy.

One might say that spiritual division should not be caused by theological division, but it does seem that one’s theology will color one’s spirituality. Indeed, knowledge of the Bible can easily become a basis for liberation or an intellectual cause for rebellion. The rebellion comes from the flesh not wanting to accept the spirit as described in Scripture (regardless of the exact translation or version). I think most can agree that the basic message of Christianity is set out in the four Gospels.

More important, if the Church truly be the body of its believers, then the destruction caused by theological division and confusion leads to the very atrophy and potential death of the Church as a whole. It is not all that hard to believe that the rigidity of the debate between more than a hundred denominations in the United States alone could cause such havoc. Without a visible and unified Church in society, there can be no rational expectation that believers will be able to find solace in Her arms. The idea of a one holy and apostolic church was based on a solid understanding of human nature. At all times, humans must be led by something greater than themselves.

Those who followed Luther, and continue to do so today, have completely failed to recognize the value of this necessary posit toward true unity in faith. Allowing individuals to simply define themselves as “saved” without the knowledge of the Church’s history, developing philosophies, creeds of faith, and other essentials, is akin to allowing someone to practice surgery without any knowledge of medicine or the process of diagnosis. Again, being a Christian is not an easy task and Christ did not intend it to be so.

One need only review the Book of Matthew to quickly observe that a hefty number of mandated behaviors are described. In fact, He repeatedly describes acts or failures to act that could result in eternal damnation. Not once does he mention that a single altar-call serves as dispensation for the failure to abide in His direct commands. Nor should the Act at Calvary be readily confused or substituted by one’s own personal experience of an altar-call.

Not once does Christ say that all acts of Christian charity will be overlooked because one did not sign up with a particular denomination. The failure to act as a Christian will certainly lead to damnation. However, the commission or living out of different Christian acts by and between believers and others did not seem to be deemed relevant to salvation as defined by Christ himself. The Bible seems to acknowledge that we each have different gifts, talents, and modes of individual and collective worship, and spiritual celebration within our souls.

Nor does it appear that there was a complete and unequivocal forgiveness of all human sins at Calvary. Rather, it was made clear that certain sins could be “retained” by the Apostles, even after Christ left this Earth. What was made clear is that the Grace available upon voluntary remission of sins was all powerful, unlimited, and available for all of human history, until its Earthly end, moving forward from the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Onetime altar-call Christianity does not neatly fit into this oft-ignored dimension of Christ’s life after Calvary. His comment about retention of sins was made after the Crucifixion and His subsequent Resurrection. See, John 20:22-23. This comment is essentially unaltered as between the King James, New King James, New International Version, and New American Bible.

It appears to be very true that Grace and Salvation are available to those who cooperate in God’s Plan, but it says nowhere that the life of a Christian is defined only by an altar-call. Also, I must say that I am tired of hearing non-Catholics accusing Catholics of not giving in to the plan of Salvation. Do they really know what it means to be confirmed as an adult member of the Church? Do they not see the value of the humble acknowledgment that “I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the word and I shall be healed” before doing a full altar-call through acceptance of the Eucharist?

Moreover, on some level it is probably true that one or more of the denominations are mostly consistent with what the Bible requires of them with respect to fundamental beliefs. However, it also follows that unity in any Church body requires that the congregants maintain similar beliefs and define themselves as a group by the same. Humans, to some extent, really do act like herd animals.

The consistent use of the terms “shepherd” and “flock,” throughout all versions of the Bible, aptly demonstrates the fact that our Maker is all too aware of our herding tendencies. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a member of the flock. All too often, atheists and agnostics accuse Christians of being too easily led. This ignores the fact that we are all apt followers of just about anything pleasing to the body, senses, or self-image. This includes the unbridled adoration of Evolutionism, Nature, or Man itself by so many of Christianity’s accusers.

All the while, we Christians (i.e., the Church) are expected to maintain a number of key beliefs about Scripture and, in many cases, about a specific theological set of principles. The key areas of concerns are seeming as follows: a.) How one is to achieve salvation from the bondage of sin; b.) What sacraments if any are required as part of the faith; c.) The degree and extent to which a Church hierarchy ought to control the dissemination of Scripture and the management of the practices of the Faithful. These views have a direct and, often, negative impact on the credibility of the Church or any organized religion. Most unfortunately, these differences can destroy families, individual Faith, and even nations as a whole.

Every single Church has its own unique view of what Christians are expected to believe about the Church and Christ. Each also has its own view of who ought to be at the helm of the Church. In the past, I have regularly attended Calvary, Catholic, Quaker, Revivalist, Assemblies of God, Southern Baptist, Pentecostal, Contemporary Evangelical, home churches, and denominationally vague churches. I could not find a single one that was willing to accept that the others were ‘just as good’ in terms of theology and each church body presented with a pastor, priest or other leader who was presumed to have the correct view of the life of a Christian. Yet, not a one of these was willing to acknowledge they could be wrong about their colleagues. Respective unities among Catholics and Protestants seem only to be maintained for the purpose of disavowing the other.

Catholics, Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Conservatives, Reformists, and Liberals all have their own views of how we ought to think about our relationship with God and how we ought to practice the beliefs we maintain.

The Red Letters are not incredibly instructive as to what the Church actually might look like in the 21st Century nor any other time after the ‘veil was torn.’ Furthermore, I am convinced, after reading through the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Luther’s Freedom of a Christian, that there is simply no way that Luther intended to destroy the entire hierarchical and historical infrastructure of the Catholic Church nor did he intended on diluting the importance of Christian works to the point that all that matters is our “faith alone.” Asking that Catholics leave behind the importance of “works” is akin to asking a surgeon to give up his or her scalpel. Asking that Protestants give up the altar-call is akin to asking the same physician to give up his or her reason for being a healer in the first place. See, Matthew 9:12.

In sum, just following the Bible’s Red Letters requires that we fundamentally change our lives and that we work toward being Christ-like. For me, anyway, this is a difficult task because I am not always loving, do not always stand up for what is right (even in public or especially in private settings), and, while I like many people, I have not learned to love them as Christ loves His people. I think we all desire a Church that will help us better lead the life of a Christian and which can act as a vicar for Christ here on Earth. Most people are not born leaders and need to become part of a flock to be naturally effective in their practical exercise of Faith and religious education. However, the Church does not have four walls per se and it is, without a doubt, made up of each of us as believers who may or may not regularly attend a given Church. Who among us will lead the need for unity in Christ, while not ignoring His lineal and eternal history?

As for me, just let me touch His robe. I’m bleeding.

Advertisements