Faith Alone: The Impossible Proposition

Leave a comment

The Impossible Proposition

For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Matthew 16:27.

Nobody wants to hear that you can’t get into Heaven unless you do the right thing, but that’s how each of our life-stories will end. It doesn’t seem to me, anyway, that Heaven is a place where you get to watch from afar the long line of condemned non-believers whilst you stand fully confident in your own faith/salvation. By assuming that your faith alone justifies you, you can only believe that you somehow hold the keys to Heaven and Hell. Not even Christ can take your faith away from you, right?

Your works or lack thereof will become manifest when your time comes. Matthew 13:49-50; 1 Corinthians 8-17; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Peter 4:17-18; Jude 1:14-17; Revelation 20-21. Your deeds will follow you. Romans 2:1-16; Revelation 14:13.

Even if one assumed the absolute integrity of his or her faith, what is the harm in living out a life of works which is 100% consistent with your valued faith? This is sort of a modern-day Pascal’s Wager on morality.

The proposition that “faith alone” is wholly sufficient for entrance into Heaven is not only untenable, it is literally impossible. You don’t hold the keys to Heaven and Hell, no matter how hard you “believe.” Revelation 1:18, 20:13. Those who teach the concept of ‘justification by faith alone,’ without more explanation, are potentially misleading those who follow them. Matthew 24:4-24; 25:31-46. Without a doubt, works of selflessness, forgiveness, and charity are the essence of what it means to be a Christian. Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 6:37.

What can be said, however, is that we are not the only ones who believe in these basic characteristics of a holy or good person. The purposes of dying to self, charity, and love are not a Christian monopoly. As such, it is true that simply doing the acts does not justify us as Christians. That is ‘works for the sake of works’ is inadequate to justify nor sanctify the “Christian” as such.

Your works follow you into eternity and they will become the sole basis for your judgment — unless you think the Bible and its promises are a bunch of lies or just simply a self-help book of suggested living. John 10:32-38; Revelations 14:13, 20:11-15; 2 Corinthians 11:15; Ephesians 2:9-10; James 2:14-26; Titus 2:7, 3:8-14.

While Christ serves as our God-appointed defense attorney, there will be a final judgment of acquittal or one of condemnation. Confession of our crimes is a prerequisite to Divine Mercy. If one believes in “Biblical” Christianity, one would have to believe this as a matter of simple consistency. Revelation 20:11-15.

You must actually fear God, even if you think you are saved. Indeed, our fear is a necessary element of His loving Salvation Plan for us. Where should the fear come from? – In the potential loss of our salvation. Hebrews 10:26-31, 38. Nor is anything of this to say that we instantly become perfect through our acceptance of Christ into our lives. Some of us apparently need a longer purgation period than others (at least for me anyway).

Given the society and times we live in, it is perfectly foreseeable that alcohol, drugs, selfishness, vanity, lust, avarice, greed, sloth, pride, negative criticism of others, ignorance, and other sins would abound through no conscious fault of the sinner per se’. Some of our sins we bring to others, and sometimes we follow others into sin. 1 Timothy 5:24. The same goes for our good works. 5:25.

We are not in control of all of the influences which affect the strengths and weaknesses of who we were created to be. We often know, deep down, that we are screwed up. 1 John 3:20. Some sins are more serious than others. 1 John 5:16-17. Anybody who thinks that they are not screwed up has been lost on the whole point of the Divine Endeavor of Christ. 1 John 1:8.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, failing in works of mercy/forgiveness of others is definitely one of the more serious problems. Matthew 5:22-30; Mark 9:43-47; James 5:9. Our anger and our words are no lesser issues when it comes to condemning ourselves to Hell. Matthew 5:22, 12:36; James 3:6; Jude 1:15. Even, our ‘religion’ can be made vain by our failure to bridle our words. James 1:26.

Indeed, there are darker parts of each of our souls that we don’t even understand, but we do get to watch God shine beams of light into through His purgations of our being. Romans 8:1; Luke 16:15; John 3:19-21; Acts 26:18. We are each faced with unique challenges suited to our calling and, concomitantly, the gifts/talents which allow us to actively engaged in a necessary purgation of the flesh and soul toward the end of spending an eternity in Godly peace. 1 Thessalonians 5:23. We need to be aware of the painful fact that our soul and body can be destroyed. Matthew 10:28.

Nevertheless, the idea that we have to work, or should have worked, to get into Heaven seems even offensive to many. Be offended, but don’t do it in ignorance. I don’t know why anybody would be offended by the idea that being a Christian means that certain conduct is not only expected of us, but mandated at the potential cost of losing our relationship with God. “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins … The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hebrews 10:26-39. Read it for yourself.

You are not “set aside” because God thinks you are somehow special unto yourself or that his pleasure in you is somehow permanent because you think you were “saved.” The Christian life is a selfless life of humble sacrifice and devotion. If you find yourself in the middle of having a monologue/dialogue about how certain you are that you are saved, you ought to be concerned. Where’s the humility in that? This said, we are all his children and are subject equally to His discipline for violating His covenants. Hebrews 26-29, 36-39. Thankfully, we are also all equal in the story of salvation from our confession of sin as well. Romans 10:9-15.

You are set aside because you willingly submit yourself as a vessel of God’s forgiveness, love, and charity toward all mankind. Indeed, fervent charity “shall cover the multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8. However, you can also stop being used by God and choose a path of sin. Hebrews 10:26. Were it otherwise, we would deny the very freewill that allows for a conscious decision to accept or reject Christ in the first place. Romans 2:1-16; 1 Peter 4:17; 2 Peter 2:9.

When you reject your opus Dei, you reject the Holy Spirit endowed in you by your acceptance of Christ in your life. Matthew 12:31-32. Thus, the redemptive works are not yours. But in failing to do those assigned to you, you intentionally reject God’s purpose for you.

To be Christ-like means that you would selflessly do the works he commands of you just as He did for the Father. Likewise, if you do works of mercy only for your salvation, where is the charity in that? Others can only see Christ in us by the way we act (i.e., work). John 5:36, 10:37-38, 14:10-12; 15:24. To the extent that we suffer in life, we share in the Redemptive and Ultimate Suffering of Christ. In a very real sense, we can accept pain as a means of relating to Christ and living a small part of the incredible sacrifice He made for you and me.

In any event, we can’t be lukewarm about how we approach our duties on Earth lest we be spit out from the mouth of God. Revelation 3:15-16.

As of late, it seems that we only want to hear that we’ve been saved and if all goes well, we will do the right thing because we are Christians. The latter statement is true, but that’s just the point – you are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God had ordained that we should walk in them.”’‘ Ephesians 2:10. If one does not maintain a constant focus on works, we lose within us the very creative force which distinguishes us from other elements of the world.

Simply stated, a Christian needs to work on being a Christian. Titus 1:16. The failure to do so is a failure to seek sanctification and justification of our souls before the Heavenly Throne. Bad things will happen if you are remiss in your works. Revelation 20:11-15. Grace is the helpful stopgap between God, us, and our human failings at and before the time of death.

Do you need to ask for forgiveness more than once as a Christian? Does it matter? Do you need to confess of your sins (which have already been forgiven, according to contemporary Evangelical thought)? Confession is not a one-time deal at your altar-call or, if you are Catholic, at your confirmation. Romans 10:10.

There is simply no way to Biblically believe that believing that you’ve been saved is sufficient for entry into Heaven (i.e., “faith” alone). The Word clearly requires more of us and the number of Scriptures on this point is beyond overwhelming – and that’s just covering the New Testament.

While it may be easier to rest on the laurels of believing that my faith ‘tells me that I am saved and I don’t need to know any more,’ this is the functional equivalent of saying, ‘I know how to drive cars, because I believe in them.’ In reality, when we do bad stuff, we fall out of our Christianity altogether. 1 John 3:6-11 (we are not of God/Christ when we sin). Claiming the honor of Christianity means that we must stay honorable in all that we do and say. 1 John 3:4-10. Admitting/confessing that we are intentionally rejecting our inheritance is about the only way we can regain it. 1 John 1:9-2:1. Also see, Leviticus 5:5-6; Numbers 5:5-10 (sacramental confession).

It seems self evident that the need for “the law” as Paul describes in many letters, only came about as a result of the People of Israel’s failure to do the works that were commanded by God – they simply didn’t do what they were told to do and had to have the law imposed on them. See generally, Deuteronomy; Ezekiel 34:23; 37:24. With Paul, he saw the Redemptive Story of Christ as a liberation from the law as it is being defined Biblically. Romans 3:28 (“that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the LAW.). Compare, James 2:24 (“Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” [emphasis added]).

The New and Everlasting Covenant did not release anyone from the need to work toward the end of what it means to be Christian. It meant that an eternal font of Grace would be available, regardless of the violations of “law” committed by us. When negligence, omission, or simple(y) intentional human failing (i.e., venial sin) gets in the way of holiness, Christ will meet us between Earth and Heaven. We fall out of brotherhood with Christ when we fail to do the word which we hear. Luke 8:19-21.

A pastor of ours, Ike Riddle, used to say “covenant keepers always win and covenant breakers always lose.” Such is the story of the Bible. But, what does it mean to keep a covenant? It means you have to do something – we need to abide in our promises. Luke 22:20-30; Jeremiah 31:31-33:26. How we express our Christianity, the covenant, is by what is “seen and heard.” Acts 2:33; Matthew 5:17-19 (commandments still valid and enforceable by teaching and doing). Be humbly seen and heard in your covenant-keeping now and forever.

So then, where does the Bible say that our works matter to salvation or, even, that they are absolutely necessary to our sanctification before God? The following is about as simple as it gets.

This is not a matter of parsing out only select words/verses, but actually constitutes a continuing theme and stream of thought by the Author of the Bible. This list is taken from the King James Bible in an effort to appease those who might claim that the Bible is somehow coopted by a Catholic interpretation of its contents.

The continuing theme of necessary works for our salvation is found in the following:

Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Matthew 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

Matthew 11:2 Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples,

Matthew 11:21 Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.

Matthew 11:23 And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.

Matthew 13:58 And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.

Matthew 14:2 And said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.

Matthew 16:27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.

Matthew 23:3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

Matthew 23:5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,

Mark 6:14 And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.

John 5:36 But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.

John 6:28 Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?

John 7:3 His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest.

John 9:3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

John 9:4 I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.

John 10:25 Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me.

John 10:32 Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?

John 10:37 If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.

John 14:10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.

John 14:11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.

John 14:12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

John 15:24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.

Acts 7:41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.

Acts 9:36 Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did.

Acts 15:18 Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.

Acts 26:20 But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.

Romans 3:27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.

Romans 4:2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.

Romans 4:6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,

Romans 9:11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)

Romans 9:32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;

Romans 11:6 And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.

Romans 13:3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

Romans 13:12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.

2 Corinth. 11:15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.

Galatians 2:16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Galatians 3:2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

Galatians 3:5 He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

Galatians 3:10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

Galatians 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,

Ephesians 2:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 5:11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.

Colossians 1:21 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled

1 Timothy 2:10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.

1 Timothy 5:10 Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.

1 Timothy 5:25 Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid.

1 Timothy 6:18 That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate;

2 Timothy 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,

2 Timothy 3:17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

2 Timothy 4:14 Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works:

Titus 1:16 They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.

Titus 2:7 In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity,

Titus 2:14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

Titus 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;

Titus 3:8 This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.

Titus 3:14 And let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful.

Hebrews 4:10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.

Hebrews 6:1 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,

Hebrews 9:14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:

James 2:14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?

James 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

James 2:18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

James 2:20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

James 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?

James 2:22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

James 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

James 2:25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

James 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

James 3:13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.

1 Peter 2:12 Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.

2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

1 John 3:8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.

1 John 3:12 Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.

Revelation 2:2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:

Revelation 2:5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

Revelation 2:9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.

Revelation 2:13 I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.

Revelation 2:19 I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.

Revelation 2:23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.

Revelation 2:26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:

Revelation 3:1 And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.

Revelation 3:2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.

Revelation 3:8 I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.

Revelation 3:15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

Revelation 9:20 And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk:

Revelation 14:13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.

Revelation 15:3 And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.

Revelation 18:6 Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double.

Revelation 20:12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

Revelation 20:13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

The end.

Advertisements

Heaven’s Happy Customers

Leave a comment

Heaven’s Happy Customers:

It’s often been said by me that I can’t know what heaven or hell are like, because I’ve never heard of anyone coming back as a happy or unhappy customer. Thought about that — Actually, the shopkeeper himself came back and gave quite a description. What he didn’t cover in specifics got covered by his friend John. Revelations, Chs. 4, 5, 21.

Definition of Self Employment:

Definition of self-employment: Everybody wants me to bake a cake but nobody wants to pay for the ingredients.

Let My Faith Be a Work of God

Leave a comment

Boticelli

Make no mistake about it, your works do matter to your salvation. Read the ‘red letters’ in your Bible. The works required of us are neither difficult, nor for public glory, nor for any other purpose than the fulfillment of your Divine Destiny as someone asking for the Eternal Grace of God. Empty faith alone will not suffice to meet the needs of your purpose in life. Faith, however, is the only thing that will sanctify your works as being His, and Grace alone will suffice to overcome your inadequacies as a flawed human. The Ultimate Price was paid so that this Grace might be extended to all of us.

Those who teach others to be complacent in the accomplishment of these necessary works, or requiring others to do the work required of us alone, will not do well in the kingdom of heaven. There are many mainline evangelical churches teaching that the only thing that matters to one’s salvation is that one do an altar-call and simply believe. The whole of the synoptic Gospels simply cannot be read this way. While it is true that several areas point out to the necessity of faith, the overall picture paints an image of responsibility to do or avoid certain human acts. I directly challenge any reader of this article – Prove to me otherwise by the Words of Christ Himself.

Indeed, many Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Catholics and other Christian denominational faiths begin just about any theological debate with a view toward determining whether the opposition truly believes in salvation by grace alone, salvation by works, or some hybrid theory. As with all theological debates about what it means to be a “Christian,” it seems that we all ought to take a look at the actual Words of Christ as a starting point. This particular piece focuses on the ‘red letters’ as found in the Book of Matthew. I cannot help but find that faith alone, without daily living proof of that faith (i.e., acts of and through Faith), will not suffice. Contrary to the position of a good number of mainline preachers, this is simply not “working your way to salvation.” Demonstrating and affirming one’s faith on a daily basis is the Opus Dei. Simply resting on one’s laurels is not what was preached by Christ, the very center of what it means to be Christian. If He thought that we didn’t need to do anything other than believe in him, why would he have spent so much time talking about what he wanted us to do on a daily basis? Is it not true that even Satan believes in the power of Christ and the salvation story? Why would Evil be so afraid of the Message unless there was an acknowledgment of the power of Christ?

I believe this article is timely given the 2009 death of the Kansas late-term abortionist, George Tiller. Many of us pro-lifers, whether we want to admit it or not, felt a refreshing sense of relief that he is no longer able to tear apart babies who would have otherwise survived outside of the womb, but for his act of dismembering them or vacuuming out their brains. By his own account, he may have taken as may as 60,000 infants’ lives.

Of course, for the Christian, the question becomes, “What if Dr. Tiller gave his life over to Christ in the last 30 seconds of life?” Moreover, there exists a serious theological question as to whether the murderer of Tiller blasphemed the Holy Spirit by taking the life of Tiller in a church. If Tiller’s potential plea for last-minute salvation failed, he went straight to Hell. Even if Tiller’s shooter, Scott Roeder, was a holy person till that moment, if blasphemy unto the Holy Spirit occurred, he’s done as well. The ‘red letters’ actually don’t leave much room for debate on these points. Obviously, if one thinks that the Words are just a form of philosophy, good advice, or just simply one view among many, there is no sense in even attempting to understand the clear choices put before us. The Good News is that we don’t need to personally worry about Tiller’s and Roeder’s issues since we have plenty to do ourselves to act upon our own Faith.

With these points in mind, a step-by-step analysis of Matthew reveals some interesting answers about whether we are required to engage in certain works before we may avoid the fires of Hell. Again, this is not a matter of “working for salvation,” but it is a matter of living up to our end of the New Covenant insomuch as we claim to believe and have faith. What exactly does it mean to “believe” or have “faith”? It certainly can’t be the existence of an idle faith. For me, the question is readily answered by even a cursory review of Jesus’ words. The Great Story of the Book of St. Matthew is set forth as follows.

First of all, we are told that we cannot live by material means alone. It is written that we must live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4, KJV). In this same vein, it also naturally follows that we should not participate in the temptation of God with the help of the Enemy (4:7). These commands are then concluded with the thought that we are to commit ourselves unto God through our service and worship to Him alone. (4:10). Oddly, the Scripture does not say that we are to make this commitment only by worship or belief alone. This can only be reasonably construed to mean that my faith is not sufficient for salvation, but that faith with works is. Our faith, however small, can grow into the greatest of works (even so much as moving a mountain) and we will need the Grace of God to be fully sanctified. (17:20; 19:23-24, 26; 21:21-22).

After Matthew recounts the time Christ spent in the desert with Satan, we are given a not so subtle description of why all of this matter. It is summed up by saying “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. […] Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (4:17, 19).

Well, what could “follow me” possibly mean? Using the words literally, as I expect most conservatives would want me to, one can only get the conclusion that “follow me” requires acts coupled with faith.

Moreover, what does it mean to “repent”? Fundamentally, it means you must do something. It can only mean that you carry out your life as though you were in acknowledgment of your sins. We all know that true repentance can only be shown by how we live our lives. The “why” of how we live our lives is not something we can ever answer sufficiently. When life is over, we will only find out why we lived our lives the way we did. We will then know what our Divine Purpose was. As we are later told in the Gospels, there will be plenty of folks knocking on the door, claiming His Name, and the door is simply not going to be answered. I think we are supposed to live by and through His Name and not merely stake a claim to it.

Nevertheless, Matthew leads us to the first big sermon in Chapters 5 through 7. Interestingly enough, these Chapters are not a big sermon on altar calls and faith standing alone. Moreover, it certainly is not a call to idle faith. The Words focus almost exclusively on the omissions and commissions to/of acts which lead to our place in Heaven, or, where in disregard of His Word, we end up with weeping, gnashing of teeth, or the fires of Hell. It is also interesting that these words are being directed at people who obviously came to listen to Jesus, already believed in what he was doing, and he had to have already known that he was going to Calvary. If he knew that he was going to Calvary to wash the entire slate for anyone who believed in him, he certainly spent a whole lot of arguably unnecessary time talking about what needed to be done by the believers and what they needed to avoid. If the words were only suggestions, I sincerely doubt that he would have followed up commands or prohibitions with words stating that either Heaven or Hell would follow, not purely by the decision to believe in Him, but by how these things were done.

This said, the followers were told that the “blessed” are those who are poor in spirit, meek, who mourn, who hunger and thirst after righteousness, who are pure in heart, who are merciful, who are peacemakers, who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and when one is reviled for His sake. (5:3-11). The result of which is made very clear. It is said , “Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven […]” (5:12). What could this possibly mean? If I do the things commanded, I will find great reward in Heaven. Each and every single one of the things mentioned requires that I do something. There is no way to be any of these things without a work of the conscience, often coupled with an overt act toward another human being. What makes a “saint” is not whether the person simply believed – it is founded in how he/she lived her life as a Christian.

By way of our contemporary reference point, there are cogent arguments to be made that neither Tiller, nor his killer, demonstrated any of these characteristics as they completed their final works in life. Whether or not their lives were an Opus Dei is not for us to decide per se. We can only use their examples as a way to define or redefine our own daily existence.

After giving a description of those who will be blessed and given comfort, Christ goes on to tell the multitudes that they need to be a “light of the world” and that we are to “[l]et your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works. [emphasis added].” (5:16). Now, obviously, given His prior words, our works cannot be done or committed in such a way that we are prideful, vain, or arrogant. Our works need to flow forth from a heartfelt desire to allow our lives to become the ultimate act of service unto our Maker and those that he created to live with and amongst us. If one sits idly in a silent faith, one certainly cannot be a light unto the world!

Well, maybe you still have John 3:16 in mind (i.e., the penultimate “altar call” verse cited so often by contemporary Christians), and just don’t think that following the commands set forth in Chapter 5 are mandatory for entrance to heaven. I must ask you then, why does Matthew 5:19 go onto say that the failure to abide in “these” commandments will result in being called “the least in the kingdom of heaven”?

Maybe that’s not enough for you. It goes on to say, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. [emphasis added]. ” (5:20). I’m not the brightest guy in the world, but this does certainly seem unequivocal. Moreover, the “righteousness” being referred to follows directly from the beatitudes given to the crowd as instructions on what it means to follow Him. Nary a word is said about simply doing an altar-call and being relieved of further duty to actually do works that one is capable of within one’s own calling in life or given environment.

Now, how these acts are carried out by each of us can only depend on where we are in life. For example, a lawyer may be able to share his/her light in the courthouses. An invalid may only be able to share his/her light in a convalescent home. A mother may only be in a position to share her light with her husband and family. A mentally disabled person may share the light through something as simple as a smile. I don’t think that He said that our works must occur in any certain place. These works just must simply occur with the precedence of a pure, humble and willing heart. Again, the failure to abide by the commandments to fulfill his Law and Word, results in being called the least in heaven. The good news, at this early juncture in Matthew, is that one can conceivably still end up in heaven. However, as will be seen later in the Book, there are several things one can do to make sure that you have no chance at the proverbial entrance ticket.

After given the admonition that the failure to abide in specific commandments will lead us to becoming the least in heaven, Jesus goes on to give some specific instructions about what will actually get us near or into the fires of Hell. (5:22). The first one of these instructions being that simply calling a brother a fool is good enough to put us “in danger of hell fire.” This is followed by the command that we not come before God to place our gifts before His altar until and unless we have forgiven others of whatever perceived transgressions they may have committed against us. To the extent that we are called to lay our entire lives before the altar as a testimony unto Him and our fellow man, it does not seem to matter if we have not forgiven others. I think it is all too easy to say that one has done an altar-call, placed their lives at the altar, but yet completely forget to forgive others in that process. All too many of us do the altar-call, but don’t engage in the conscious act/work of forgiveness.

All too many of us forget that forgiveness is an act or work. Any “act” or “work” by a human requires that we direct our conscious will toward a given outcome and take the steps necessary to fulfill the intended outcome. Forgiving is not an idle act or just a belief. If I want to forgive someone, then I must first will it so and then commit myself to the act of completing the forgiveness by consciously letting go any desire to seek revenge, to carry the baggage of the other’s sin, or to otherwise ‘hold it against the person’ until they have somehow repented in my view. In fact, if there is any one consistent theme in the New Testament, it is that we are to engage in the work of forgiving others and in the work of accepting His Grace so that our works might be sanctified and our negligent omissions overlooked. (22:37-40). By the way, it is so often said that “it isn’t easy to forgive.” Actually, it is supposed to be easier than anything Christ did. (9:3-6).

Along these same lines, with regard to what it means to commit an “act,” Christ further admonishes His listeners to make sure that they not only avoid murder, adultery and other offenses, but that we avoid even the very intentional thoughts of these things. With respect to those thoughts that occur to us without apparent reason, we are instructed to remove them immediately and take an immediate view toward the end goal. In fact, we are specifically warned that if we do not commit the act of removing sinful thoughts and doings from our existence, that the whole “body should be cast into hell.” (5:27-32).

As though we didn’t have enough to do after actually listening to His words in Chapter 5: 3-32, Christ goes on to speak about what our words shall be unto others. We are told that we are to keep our words simple and that we are not to swear by anyone, anything, or even by our own veracity. (5:33-37).

Now as for Tiller’s murderer, Verses 38-44 are particularly compelling. This is where we are specifically told that the “eye for an eye” system of morality is done. We are now to “turn the other cheek.” In fact, we are even told to “love your enemies.” We are “bless them that curse you.” We are to “do good to them that hate you.” We are to “pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (5:39-47). In fact Verse 46 clearly suggests that there may be no “reward” for the failure to do these things that are commanded. Where in Verses 38-44 does it say anything to the effect that we are just to have faith and that we not fully commit to doing these things as Christians? Is prayer something other than an act of faith (i.e., a work)?

Chapter 5 ends by saying, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. [emphasis added].” (5:48). How would one be “perfect” unless one acted in a way which presented itself as a standard by which God will judge whether or not we have achieved what his Son commands? Obviously, what we do matters just as much as what we claim we believe. The strength or existence of any belief in Christ can only be ascertained by our conduct since it is the conduct that defines the concept of what it means to have “faith.” If one is not doing the acts which suggest the existence of actual faith, one cannot claim to have the faith.

Naturally, one would expect that this is all fine and dandy in theory. However, one is left to wonder about how it is that one is supposed to commit all of these acts unto our Maker, without violating the requirement that we not do them for our own glory, but unto the Glory of our Maker alone. This is answered in Chapter 6. We are told not to do our alms before Man, we are not to pray openly only for the purpose of being seen by others, we are not to make a big show out of our faith and sacrifices, and we are not to engage in vain repetition of prayers. (6:1-8, 16-17). None of this suggests that we cannot rejoice with each other in our salvation, our reasons for acting the way we do, or in the consolation that we have a good reason for doing good unto others. We can be a light unto the world without being blinding to others.

We are commanded, however, to pray in a way in a way that is in acknowledgment of the power of God, which respect His will for all of us (here and in heaven), that we receive the basic provisions of life, that we be forgiven as we forgive others, that we be given the help to avoid the sinful thoughts and actions that come, and that all glory be properly placed with Him and not us. (6:9-14). This is immediately followed up with the statement that, “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (6:15). Again, this sounds very unequivocal to me. If you don’t do this (i.e., forgive others), you will not be saved of your sins. How many Christians believe in Christ or the Story of Salvation, but do not forgive others? Do they deny the Truth of His words on forgiveness and the exchange of our forgiveness of others for our own forgiveness from the Father?

It is not enough that you simply have faith that so long as you believe in forgiveness, you will be forgiven. You must actually do it in order to receive your reward !!! As we engage in a life of forgiveness and service, we earn our due treasures. (12:35-37). Our eyes must constantly be focused on this purpose and be focused in such a way as to where others have no doubt as to what we are looking at. (6:20-23). Along these same lines, you probably should not spend to much time thinking about what those who are already acting a in a Christian way are doing. (9:13). Our Master will see to it that the requisite number of workers are put into the field of life without us doing anything other than what is required of us whilst we act through and by a Christian heart and soul. (9:37-38). If you attempt to have an influence on someone through your humble service, or words of preaching, and they want no part of it, don’t worry about it. (10:5-15). It is expected that you will be persecuted for doing what is right and you better be prepared to face your prosecutors with a glad and humble heart !!! (10:16-28).

While we are busy doing all of the things required of us, so that we might avoid the fires of hell, we are also commanded not to worry. (10:25-31). Well, how am I not going to worry? Obviously, we must, again, take a conscious direction toward ignoring worry, and act in a way that testifies to our full faith in Him alone. That is, we must actively pursue the conscious act of destroying all worry. This is no easy task. We must trust that He will take care of all of our needs and that he will pave the way for His glorification and that He will take of evil on His own. (6:24-34; 10:32-33).

Our ultimate trust in Him is, and must be, founded upon our spiritual and mental acts of conscience, purpose, and servitude. How easily we forget that we have control over our attitudes, philosophies, theology, and mindset. Freewill is not a matter of controlling external circumstances, which we cannot. Freewill is premised only in the notion that we can only change our attitude toward our circumstances, and, generally speaking, our circumstances will naturally change as our spiritual attitude does. (6:33-34).

Well, now the difficult part comes. Chapter 7 speaks to us on the topics of judgment of others, judgment of ourselves, hypocrisy, evilness, false prophecy, corruption, and the intent of our works. (7:1-23). In no way is it suggested that our works alone will save us. (7:16-23). Our works must be, as stated before, with a view toward glorification unto our Maker. They must be committed with a view toward spiritual, mental, and physical servitude unto something higher than ourselves. The works we commit may be good unto themselves and, in fact, may be very pleasing or admirable to others. However, this is completely irrelevant to the Christian. The Christian can have but one purpose in fulfilling his or her Divine Destiny. We must know why we do what we do before it can be given any credit worthy of Him. (7:22-23). Commit yourself to the act of building your house on a rock !!! (7:24-27).

It should also be noted that so many of us think in linear terms. We often think that our purpose is to serve God, family, friends, and business (in respective order). This is simply not true. You cannot put your family before your faith. That’s a serious work. (10:37).

We’ve got a lot of hard, but gladful, work before us. (10:34-42). “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Where is the “rest” coming from then? Does salvation remove the yoke from our necks? Easing the burden of life comes from the peace of acting through and in Him. Nowhere is it suggested that our works don’t matter or aren’t necessary. They will be made easy by our faith in Him, through Him and with Him. What makes life burdensome is when we falsely define what work is required and how it ought to be performed. It really isn’t that hard to feed the poor, to be merciful, to forgive, to make peace, or to preach the truth, when all is done from a humble heart directed at a Divine Purpose. Our purpose ought to emanate a natural and warm light unto the world. Our lives cannot be defined by our material possessions, even if we worked hard to get them. (19:29).

So aside from acting or failing to act, what can get us in real spiritual trouble? The answers are given in a fairly straightforward manner. Even a “believer” can get himself or herself to Hell. Remember, even Satan believes in the power of God – that’s why he fears God so much. It is said, “Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And, whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. [bold emphasis added].” (12:25-37). This is, again, an unequivocal statement that there are acts of speech which will be completely unforgiven, regardless of Calvary nor the reasons for Calvary. Not only do your physical acts need to be conducted in conformity with your faith, your speech must also be as well. These are matters of works/acts, and not simply matters of perceived “faith.” (12:35-37).

At this point, it is also probably worth noting that the common denominator amongst all of the parables in Matthew is that they all involve forms of hard work (i.e., building, sowing seeds, buying and selling, toiling in a field, repayment of debts, working the vineyard, preparing for a wedding, grinding at the mill, serving the man of the house, spending our money/goods wisely). Moreover, the parables seem to end with the result that someone is rewarded for doing the right thing, or, in the alternative, ends up burning, weeping, gnashing their teeth, and/or being cast out into the darkness. (13:3-9, 18-23, 25-43, 44-50; 18:23-35; 20:1-16; 21:27-40; 22:2-14; 24:40-41; 24:43-51; 25:1-30).

In Matthew 15 we are again reminded that it is our words that can defile us. (15:8-11, 18-20). The problem with words is that they are most often outright intentional or certainly a byproduct of the will of the heart. When we engage in unholy speech-acts, we defile ourselves, regardless of whatever we may somehow believe. It is not the beliefs that we hold which most see or hear, it is the words and actions that accompany our day-to-day interactions with others. Our words are works of Faith.

Following the above sayings, instructions, and admonitions, Jesus then, after being asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”, responds with a rather lengthy discourse in Chapter 18 on what it means to be a believer. (18:1-2). The analysis is deep and again speaks to the conduct which will separate the sheep from the goats. (18:3-35). Indeed, we are reminded that our faith should be as that of a child – innocent, pure, and unaffected. Again, we are also given a dire description of what happens to those who mislead his “little ones.”

In fact, misleading a child results in the notion that one would be better off being drowned in the sea than to have interfered with the faith of a child. (18:3-7). Well, how does one mislead a child? Obviously, one can only mislead another through setting a bad example through conduct or speech or by directly doing wrong unto the “little one” (i.e., through our works). It is even stated that his “little ones” have direct representatives before the “face of my Father.” (18:10). For me, anyway, there is plenty to think about with respect to our contemporary culture of consistently misleading children by direct interference with their innocence and pure faith. Are not many children being misled from the Truth by parents who proclaim the Truth of Christ? Indeed, many church organizations are ostensibly dedicated to destroying the faith of children and supplanting it with secular values or no values at all.

With respect to disputes between Christians, Matthew 18:15-17 gives us a form of conduct by which they are to be resolved. We are to work it out amongst ourselves. If that does not work, then we are to work it out as a private situation within the Church. In the event this does not work, we are simply to separate ourselves from the problem. Each one of these steps takes work and has very little to do with inactive faith. In fact, with respect to forgiveness, we are immediately told that our forgiveness must not be once, or seven times, but seventy times seven. (18:21-23). That’s some serious work for anyone.

As to the conduct of our sexual lives, the call to certain conduct continues again in Matthew 19, where we are reminded that man and woman are made for each other and it was so from the beginning. We are reminded that we have the responsibility to cleave to our wives and to become one with them. The Scripture, in this area, is very clear and unequivocal. A direct command not to interfere with the relationship is also made and divorce is viewed as a form of direct judgment. Remarrying is adultery, save the cause of fornication by the wife. The new husband of the cheater is, by his conduct, deemed an adulterer as well in this instance. How does he become an adulterer, you ask? — By his works. (19:4-9).

Interestingly, it is accepted by Jesus that not all will marry and, since being in the womb, were not meant to be married. (19:12). To some extent, Christ was aware of the arguments that might be made against those who don’t marry (i.e., accusations, gossip, questions as to their sexuality). He did not condemn these people, but reminded us of the purpose given to them by Him and not us. (Id.).

Next, comes the Greatest Commandments, which are:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. [emphasis added].” (22:37-40).

This is the summa theologica. Who amongst us thinks that love is simply a matter of faith? I don’t know about any of you, but I know that love requires hard work, intentional and humble sacrifice of self, and an undying need to acknowledge that we cannot control the object of our love nor the source of the Greatest Love. While my faith has helped me love when I thought I had none left, I have always had to meet God halfway with my private dedication, servitude, and willingness to will my mind, soul and body to do the right things to strengthen my love of others and even of self.

After setting forth the Great Commandments, Christ then goes on to point out that we should not merely expect others to do the works required of us. Rather, we must do honor to the value of works of servitude by serving others ourselves. Moreover, we are again our works cannot be for show or for the purpose of building more impressive churches. (23:2-39). As though one could be surprised, we again find a very negative result for those who do not pay heed to these admonishments. Indeed, should we abide in our institutionalized and personal religious hypocrisy, our house shall be left unto us “desolate.” (23:38).

Even in the face of persecution, deliverance of our bodies for earthly punishment, hatred, deception, and iniquity, we “shall endure unto the end.” (24:4-13). Well, what does “endure” mean? It can only mean that, along with faith, we do what is required to get to the end of what life means for us in even a hostile culture. We are to act toward the end of being a faithful “servant.” (24:43-51).

After reminding us of the end game, the pragmatic lessons of Matthew essentially wraps up with the following summation:

And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (25:31-46).

And so it is that the Great Story told in Matthew ends with a clear how-to guide as to what acts will show our faith and those omissions which place ourselves in jeopardy of eternal damnation. Where in this final admonition does it say that our mere faith, our mere knocking on the door, our mere religious affiliation, or our mere belief in God, gets us into Heaven? It simply doesn’t. What we are left with is a clear command that we must do certain things and the failure to do them will result in something eternally bad.

Unless someone is going to claim that these Words cannot be taken at face value, they are unequivocal. Our works matter and they are essential to the goal of reaching the end as a good and faithful servant. Do not be so blind as to lead another to complacency by asking them to buy off on the idea of ‘salvation by faith alone’ with nary a living proof that the faith has a foundation in daily life. To do so would be to mislead one of His “little ones.”

For those of us who already know these truths, we are further instructed to teach all others to likewise abide, by our conduct, in observing His commandments. (28:20). As for me and my house, permissum meus fides exsisto a Opus Dei. That is, may my faith be an acceptable work of God unto Him.

Hearing the Call, Defend Something Greater than Yourself

Leave a comment

When asked to write an article on religious liberties, I originally thought to give an update on First Amendment jurisprudence and maybe to throw in a couple of quips about the direction the courts have taken on religious freedom. Instead, I find myself struck by the awe of our professional calling under the Constitution. I think about the current state of our moral and financial economies as a nation. Moreover, I think of the political philosophy of Eric Voegelin and his view of what it means to seek the higher order in life and the law.

The solemn oath we have taken as officers of the Court is a serious oath to defend the Constitution and all that it stands for. In my view, the Constitution came from and stands for something much greater than ourselves. Indeed, when we think only of ourselves, that’s about all we get. We must always be willing to think of and be willing to defend something greater than ourselves.

The need to defend free speech, religious freedom, and the right to assemble has never been more critical. We live in a society where values have become relativistic, where morality is centered on individual ‘needs,’ and where economic viability is the test for one’s societal worth. Sadly, the First Amendment often finds itself protected only by those who have a certain political view of what it means and the regular absence of a counter-position is misread as victory or consensus. We also forget that relativism is but a subtle form of anarchy. Yet, fortunately, the objectivity of the Constitution provides a societal solace not found in many other parts of the world.

Moreover, much of the ‘defense’ of the First Amendment has resulted in the conclusion that anything of divinity has no place in public discourse. Religion, faith, and a sense of wanting to restore order have been morphed into a negative, if even reviled, position in contemporary jurisprudence. It should not be so. We all ought to self-examine the purpose of being legal professionals and must strive to zealously defend the First Amendment as though the very progress of humanity depended on our advocacy. Indeed, we can only progress when we seek a higher order beyond our present lot in life. But for the idea of something greater and outside than ourselves, we would have no need or desire for progress as humans. We often forget that the difference between human evolution and natural evolution is that human evolution is generally self-directed. You must know that we can define the parameters of a bright and recovering future. We as lawyers can help define the justice necessary for America’s recovery.

In the case of the American justice system, our higher order is reflected in the language of the Constitution. In this vein, the trier-of-fact’s pull toward the higher order can only be had through a tension existing between the conduct that gave rise to the litigation and the law which applies when a given state of events is proved. Each side has a story to tell, both sides are presented and, from the tension between the sides, comes “justice.” The concept of a living justice is a purely noetic experience. Equally, justice must always be reflective of a higher calling toward Reason.

Reason, in the classical sense, is not to be taken as referring to `reason as mere logic or logical constructs’. Instead, “Reason” is a human experiential event, an ever-present “constituent of humanity,” and a “source of order in the psyche of man.” With an air of sincere hope, Eric Voegelin saw Man as being able to actually experience and articulate divinity. This experience, is one that comes from the illumination and presencing of both: a.) the disorder which constitutes man’s limited spatio-temporal material existence, and; b.) that which causes man to be a questioning being containing the divine within him. Please do not confuse the term “divine” with purely theological connotations. Think of it as more of the essence of what makes Man different than a common animal.

Voegelin’s representation of Reason is used here as a paradigm for the workings of a Constitutional jurisprudence. In this vein, all of us called to the profession of law must defend the cornerstone of our higher order, which is the First Amendment. It must also be known that when we fail to defend it, we deny human progress, we deny the opportunity for diversity of thought, and we kill the very spirit of our system of justice.

Historically, it must be acknowledged that the development of the Constitution could not have been anything but a manifestation of America’s pull toward the Divine and was reflective of the experience of Reason. The Constitution was not meant to be a mere recital of ideas and concepts that might prove useful in the governance of human affairs in the eighteenth century and beyond.

Presently, it seems that America is in a pull toward the passions of socio-economic existence and we have voluntarily lost sight of the divinity in us. Our present pull toward the darker elements of American humanity amounts to an outright rejection of the Divinity which inspired the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

In my view, the inspiration for the Constitution was an identifiable experience of reality and the “cognitively luminous force” which allowed resistance against the tyranny and disorder of English rule and allowed the founding of a vibrant new democracy. By reflection on the experience that gave rise to the articulations set forth in the Constitution, Americans came to have a guiding force by which they could direct the higher voice of Reason through their unique cultural experiences. This force was a force within them and a force that defined/created them.

Voegelin’s notion of Reason is founded on the essential claim that `experiences create concepts.’ In the case of the Constitution, the American experience of the 18th century created powerful political concepts. The human experience of the time, however, was only a medium through which the Constitution could come to be a representation of the higher order giving rise to its possibility as a living documentation of human contact with higher/divine order.

The Constitution, as an instrument of communication, is an accounting of the transcendent experience that the Founders had. It was/is account of that which they believed to be “God-given” or divinely-given. The Constitution contains reflections of the metaxy between Man and the Divine which existed long before the American Revolution and which could not have prevented the split between America and Great Britain. The enactment of the Constitution certainly did not serve to completely disenfranchise men from their passions, enslavement of other human beings, or the need for a physical revolution.

The force that allows the human psyche to resist disorder is called the ever present, but oft hidden, “Nous.” Each of us has Nous within us we participate in the Nous of our times. Nous is reflective of a movement toward higher order. However, as suggested above, the noetic movement toward higher order is countered by a natural human pull toward our primitive passions and the matter which makes for our finite human existence in time and space. According to Voegelin, this creates a tension (i.e., metaxy) between the passions and higher order. As such, we are in a state of existential unrest and do damage to ourselves by failing to recognize the divinity in our human purpose.

Humbly, however, we are to recognize that Man is not self-created nor is Man a self-sufficient being which carries within him/her the ultimate meaning of the universe. Rather, humanity is left with questions about the “ultimate ground” of reality. Our experience is taken to be from the position of being an interrogator of reality. Our ability to articulate perceived answers to our own interrogatories becomes our greatest and most respectable endeavor. This work is most reflective of that which makes us what we are. This ability to articulate with regard to the `process of questioning’ allows us to hint at, reflect on and share with others our experience of the “ultimate ground” for our existence, which again, is in us and which created us.

It is our questioning that is, in of itself, reflective of our pull toward that which created us. We know not why we question; Yet, we do know that we are compelled to question. The First Amendment provides a guaranty that we might be able to engage in higher Reason even when we fail to desire the sanctity of our freedoms. By defending that which serves as the force behind our inherent desire to question, we are thinking about the arche’ of our humanity. A necessary mode of tension is created between the higher order and our struggle to attain it.

When in good health, our modes of tension can take the forms of hope, faith, love and trust. This includes faith, hope and trust in our fellow man, whether he be Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Atheist, or simply questioning. Moreover, the theophanic events of hoping and believing are not dependent on race, creed, religion, ethnicity, or gender. Justice is the mode of tension in the Noetic-Constitutional experience.

The initial appeal to our divine nature in the development of the Constitution of the United States finds itself in the following language from the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The phrase “self evident” detectably takes on a sense of having truths and knowledge of the divine arise from within ourselves and yet also directly arises from that which allows us to be or that which created the ability for us to see these truths as self evident.

In fact, the serious disorder of the age was reflected in America’s claims about the conduct of Great Britain. In point, America claimed that Great Britain was acting against the public good, engaging in invasions of rights, obstructing the administration of justice, plundering and ravaging, burning towns, destroying lives, completing works of “death, desolation and tyranny,” and being “deaf to the voice of justice.”

Assuming these things to be true, with a view toward our own times, it certainly appears that early America did not continue to remain in the apeironic depths of its then extant position in the continuum of human time and space. There were no more house burnings, trials by Church and State, or obvious acts of tyranny following the divine encounter of America. Nor was She limited by any belief that man cannot aspire to the divine.

This Nous of the eighteenth century was again manifest in the language of the Constitution itself. To wit, the following was stated and ratified on September 17, 1787:

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish the Constitution of the United States of America.”

The Constitution would then become that “supreme law of the land.” The articulations contained therein would now become the `persuasive force’ that would, in Voegelin’s terms, illuminate America’s existence for its citizens and the world as a whole. The Constitution was now an articulated unit of meaning having arisen from the metaxy of man’s human experience and that which caused him to believe that there was a higher order outside of his epistemological footing of the time. Justice would now take place at a new and ongoing politico-metaxy existing at the junction of the Constitution and the conduct of our daily human affairs.

On December 15, 1791, the United States further exhibited its tension toward the ground of its existence by ratifying the Bill of Rights. Among these fundamental rights, and first mentioned, was the right to free speech. This particular right is an ultimate reflection of the experiential phenomena described by Voegelin in that it secured the right of persons to “articulate” their experiences as questioning human beings. Again, we must remember Voegelin’s claim that our movements toward the divine ground can only be had through articulation of our experiences. The First Amendment affirms man’s questioning nature and so he becomes temporarily vindicated from the disorder and tyranny that began to stifle his questioning existence. America’s pursuit of that which was claimed to be “God-given” would then be further vindicated by enactment of the remaining nine Amendments to the Constitution.

Assuredly it seems that the right to be secure in our persons and property, the right to trial by a group of our peers and the separation of Church and State bolster our ability to seek the ultimate ground of our existence on an individual level.

Nonetheless, Voegelin, in his discussion of the Greek experience of Reason, warns us that humans can find themselves distanced from the Nous and Reason when these things are viewed as something wholly abstract and distanced from the realm of the direct human experience of consciously facing off with reality. We begin to develop certain psychopathology when we lose our openness and desire to pursue the divine. Modern America is exhibiting near terminal pathology relative to the Constitution as higher order given by the divine within us. This is a pathology that is manifest by a disrespect for the value of human life, political party agendas (outside a beneficial conservative/liberal politico-metaxy), and the fears of a society governed by fiscal economies.

As mentioned above, Reason comes about through an interactive experience wherein man and his arche are mutual participants at the metaxy between them. The mutuality of the experience makes for healthy existence. When we focus away from the ground, we become philosophically ill.

That which created us is taken to be as much a part of our existence as the human experience of existence itself and thus plays a central role in our healthy consciousness. Undeniably, it seems that consciousness comes into being, that complete consciousness is the prerequisite to experience and that experience of reality is the medium by which we come to acknowledge our consciousness.

We must also realize that we cannot simply reason ourselves out of the horrors of our time. It must be recognized that “reason” (with a small “r”) is only a tool by which we can come to interpret the material world around us. It does nothing to bring our attention to that which allows or which created our “reason” in the first place. Focuses on “reason” are only focuses on human interpretation of the world and not on that which is in the world per se’.

Thus, it seems that a philosophical ascent to that which is the higher cause or source is much more in line with the ultimate goal of experiencing mankind as something more than mere matter clashing with other matter in the world of conscious reality. The philosophical ascent is the one that soars on the wings of the tension between that which caused us to be and that which we are. All the while, we must maintain an openness to that which compels us to be questioning beings. “Reason,” as an epochal historical event, is to be taken in an ontological sense and is a process happening in the whole of reality and, when recognized, assists us in rising above the disorder of our material conduct.

Matter, in a sense, becomes a constant: Our interactive and questioning nature, when acknowledged, activated and defended, allows for variables and choices beyond what merely “is.”

Our human be-ing becomes a state of interactive questioning, in the sense of “What might be, besides that which is before me?”, Thus, we are moved forward in our be-ing. The First Amendment promotes this process. A passive view of reality would not allow us our individuality or perceived acknowledgment of God-given rights or the Divine or Reason. Denial of the right to question denies our fundamental humanity. Further, the process of questioning is the very eventing of the human consciousness and defines our humanity.

When we solely focus on the mere “matter” of experience or the tools which are used to interpret the matter, we are at most existing at an experiential standstill. A focus on logic, mere sense data, language, passions and scientific method calls us only into the present and past. Questioning is a bridge to the future. Our willingness to defend all questioning provides the necessary materials for this bridge. Although the material necessary to effectuate and answer is within the world, the questioning comes first and is a humanly conscious event beyond the realm of matter.

Again, the Constitution provides an articulation of the structure of government and the relationship of the People to Government. The Constitution wasn’t meant to be temporary and, quite properly I believe, we have not treated it as such. The Constitution is a reflection of what America should be. Unfortunately, it is not necessarily a reflection of who Americans are today.

In order to have a truly free society, there must be a mutual participation between us and the spirit of the Constitution. We must recognize the divine nature of others. When officers of court or everyday citizens reject the divine order reflected in them, we become ill as Constitutionally created, inspired, and driven citizens. Notwithstanding, we should not remain in offense of another’s rejection of Constitutionality, but must seek the production of faith, hope, love and respect by placing ourselves back into a state of unrest at the metaxy of our daily conduct and the Constitution.

There are such things as justice, love and equity in the world by virtue of our interactive role in the whole of reality. We come recognize that there are such things because we engage in conduct and interaction that is substituted by words like “justice.” It is in the experiences of life that we find justice and, as a lawyers, the Constitution reaffirms our daily purpose. Listen to the call of your profession and defend something higher than yourselves.

Permissum Meus Fides Exsisto a Opus Dei

2 Comments

OpusDei [Downloadable .pdf version for easier reading].

Make no mistake about it, your works do matter to your salvation. Read the ‘red letters’ in your Bible. The works required of you are neither difficult, nor for public glory, nor for any other purpose than the fulfillment of your Divine Destiny as someone asking for the Eternal Grace of God. Empty faith alone will not suffice to meet the needs of your purpose in life. Faith, however, is the only thing that will sanctify your works and Grace alone will suffice to overcome your inadequacies as a flawed human. The Ultimate Price was paid so that this Grace might be extended to all of us.

Those who teach others to be complacent in the accomplishment of these necessary works, or requiring others to do the work required of us alone, will not do well in the kingdom of heaven. I directly challenge any reader of this article – Prove to me otherwise by the Words of Christ Himself.

Many Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Catholics and other Christian denominational faiths begin just about any theological debate with a view toward determining whether the opposition truly believes in salvation by grace alone, salvation by works, or some hybrid theory. As with all theological debates about what it means to be a “Christian,” it seems that we all ought to take a look at the actual Words of Christ as a starting point. This particular piece focuses on the ‘red letters’ as found in the Book of Matthew. I cannot help but find that faith alone, without daily living proof of that faith, will not suffice.

I believe this article is timely given the death of the Kansas late-term abortionist, George Tiller. Many of us pro-lifers, whether we want to admit it or not, felt a refreshing sense of relief that he is no longer able to tear apart babies who would have otherwise survived outside of the womb, but for his act of dismembering them or vacuuming out their brains. By his own account, he may have taken as may as 60,000 infants’ lives.

Of course, for the Christian, the question becomes, “What if Dr. Tiller gave his life over to Christ in the last 30 seconds of life?” Moreover, there exists a serious theological question as to whether the murderer of Tiller blasphemed the Holy Spirit by taking the life of Tiller in a church. If Tiller’s potential plea for last-minute salvation failed, he went straight to Hell. Even if Tiller’s shooter, Scott Roeder, was a holy person till that moment, if blasphemy unto the Holy Spirit occurred, he’s done as well. The ‘red letters’ actually don’t leave much room for debate on these points. Obviously, if one thinks that the Words are just a form of philosophy, good advice, or just simply one view among many, there is no sense in even attempting to understand the clear choices put before us. The Good News is that we don’t need to personally worry about Tiller’s and Roeder’s issues since we have plenty to do ourselves to act upon our own Faith.

With these points in mind, a step-by-step analysis of Matthew reveals some interesting answers about whether we are required to engage in certain works before we may avoid the fires of Hell. For me, the question is readily answered by even a cursory review of Jesus’ words. The Great Story of the Book of St. Matthew is set forth as follows.

First of all, we are told that we cannot live by material means alone. It is written that we must live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4, KJV). In this same vein, it also naturally follows that we should not participate in the temptation of God with the help of the Enemy (4:7). These commands are then concluded with the thought that we are to commit ourselves unto God through our service and worship to Him alone. (4:10). Oddly, the Scripture does not say that we are to make this commitment only by worship or belief alone. This can only be reasonably construed to mean that my faith is not sufficient for salvation, but that faith with works is. Our faith, however small, can grow into the greatest of works (even so much as moving a mountain) and we will need the Grace of God to be fully sanctified. (17:20; 19:23-24, 26; 21:21-22).

After Matthew recounts the time Christ spent in the desert with Satan, we are given a not so subtle description of why all of this matter. It is summed up by saying “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. […] Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (4:17, 19).

Well, what could “follow me” possibly mean? Using the words literally, as I expect most conservatives would want me to, one can only get the conclusion that “follow me” requires acts coupled with faith.

Moreover, what does it mean to “repent”? It can only mean that you live life as though you were in acknowledgment of your sins. We all know that true repentance can only be shown by how we live our lives. The “why” of how we live our lives is not something we can ever answer sufficiently. When life is over, we will only find out why we lived our lives the way we did. As we are later told, there will be plenty of folks knocking on the door, claiming His Name, and the door is simply not going to be answered.

Nevertheless, Matthew leads us to the first big sermon in Chapters 5 through 7. Interestingly enough, these Chapters are not a big sermon on altar calls and faith standing alone. They focus almost exclusively on the omissions and commissions to/of acts which lead to our place in Heaven, or, where in disregard of His Word, we end up with weeping, gnashing of teeth, or the fires of Hell. It is also interesting that these words are being directed at people who obviously came to listen to Jesus, already believed in what he was doing, and he had to have already known that he was going to Calvary. If he knew that he was going to Calvary to wash the entire slate for anyone who believed in him, he certainly spent a whole lot of arguably unnecessary time talking about what needed to be done by the believers and what they needed to avoid. If the words were only suggestions, I sincerely doubt that he would have followed up commands or prohibitions with words stating that either Heaven or Hell would follow, not purely by the decision to believe in Him, but by how these things were done.

This said, the followers were told that the “blessed” are those who are poor in spirit, meek, who mourn, who hunger and thirst after righteousness, who are pure in heart, who are merciful, who are peacemakers, who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and when one is reviled for His sake. (5:3-11). The result of which is made very clear. It is said , “Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven […]” (5:12). What could this possibly mean? If I do the things commanded, I will find great reward in Heaven. Each and every single one of the things mentioned requires that I do something. There is no way to be any of these things without a work of the conscience, often coupled with an overt act toward another human being. By way of our contemporary reference point, there are cogent arguments to be made that neither Tiller, nor his killer, demonstrated any of these characteristics as they completed their final works in life. Whether or not their lives were an Opus Dei is not for us to decide per se. We can only use their examples as a way to define or redefine our own daily existence.

After giving a description of those who will be blessed and given comfort, Christ goes on to tell the multitudes that they need to be a “light of the world” and that we are to “[l]et your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works. [emphasis added].” (5:16). Now, obviously, given His prior words, our works cannot be done or committed in such a way that we are prideful, vain, or arrogant. Our works need to flow forth from a heartfelt desire to allow our lives to become the ultimate act of service unto our Maker and those that he created to live with and amongst us.

Well, maybe you still have John 3:16 in mind (i.e., the penultimate “altar call” verse cited so often by contemporary Christians), and just don’t think that following the commands set forth in Chapter 5 are mandatory for entrance to heaven. I must ask you then, why does Matthew 5:19 go onto say that the failure to abide in “these” commandments will result in being called “the least in the kingdom of heaven”? Maybe that’s not enough for you. It goes on to say, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. [emphasis added]. ” (5:20). I’m not the brightest guy in the world, but this does certainly seem unequivocal. Moreover, the “righteousness” being referred to follows directly from the beatitudes given to the crowd as instructions on what it means to follow Him. Nary a word is said about simply doing an altar-call and being relieved of further duty to actually do works that one is capable of within one’s own calling in life or given environment.

Now, how these acts are carried out by each of us can only depend on where we are in life. For example, a lawyer may be able to share his/her light in the courthouses. An invalid may only be able to share his/her light in a convalescent home. A mother may only be in a position to share her light with her husband and family. I don’t think that He said that our works must occur in any certain place. These works just must simply occur with the precedence of a pure, humble and willing heart. Again, the failure to abide by the commandments to fulfill his Law and Word, results in being called the least in heaven. The good news, at this early juncture in Matthew, is that one can conceivably still end up in heaven. However, as will be seen later in the Book, there are several things one can do to make sure that you have no chance at the proverbial entrance ticket.

After given the admonition that the failure to abide in specific commandments will lead us to becoming the least in heaven, Jesus goes on to give some specific instructions about what will actually get us near or into the fires of Hell. (5:22). The first one of these instructions being that simply calling a brother a fool is good enough to put us “in danger of hell fire.” This is followed by the command that we not come before God to place our gifts before His altar until and unless we have forgiven others of whatever perceived transgressions they may have committed against us. To the extent that we are called to lay our entire lives before the altar as a testimony unto Him and our fellow man, it does not seem to matter if we have not forgiven others. I think it is all too easy to say that one has done an altar-call, placed their lives at the altar, but yet completely forget to forgive others in that process. All too many of us do the altar-call, but don’t engage in the conscious act/work of forgiveness.

All too many of us forget that forgiveness is an act or work. Any “act” or “work” by a human requires that we direct our conscious will toward a given outcome and take the steps necessary to fulfill the intended outcome. If, for example, I want to forgive someone, then I must first will it so and then commit myself to the act of completing the forgiveness by consciously letting go any desire to seek revenge, to carry the baggage of the other’s sin, or to otherwise ‘hold it against the person’ until they have somehow repented in my view. In fact, if there is any one consistent theme in the New Testament, it is that we are to engage in the work of forgiving others and in the work of accepting His Grace so that our works might be sanctified and our negligent omissions overlooked. (22:37-40). By the way, it is so often said that “it isn’t easy to forgive.” Actually, it is supposed to be easier than anything Christ did. (9:3-6).

Along these same lines, with regard to what it means to commit an “act,” Christ further admonishes His listeners to make sure that they not only avoid murder, adultery and other offenses, but that we avoid even the very intentional thoughts of these things. With respect to those thoughts that occur to us without apparent reason, we are instructed to remove them immediately and take an immediate view toward the end goal. In fact, we are specifically warned that if we do not commit the act of removing sinful thoughts and doings from our existence, that the whole “body should be cast into hell.” (5:27-32).

As though we didn’t have enough to do after actually listening to His words in Chapter 5: 3-32, Christ goes on to speak about what our words shall be unto others. We are told that we are to keep our words simple and that we are not to swear by anyone, anything, or even by our own veracity. (5:33-37).

Now as for Tiller’s murderer, Verses 38-44 are particularly compelling. This is where we are specifically told that the “eye for an eye” system of morality is done. We are now to “turn the other cheek.” In fact, we are even told to “love your enemies.” We are “bless them that curse you.” We are to “do good to them that hate you.” We are to “pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (5:39-47). In fact Verse 46 clearly suggests that there may be no “reward” for the failure to do these things that are commanded. Where in Verses 38-44 does it say anything to the effect that we are just to have faith and that we not fully commit to doing these things as Christians? Is prayer something other than an act of faith (i.e., a work)?

Chapter 5 ends by saying, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. [emphasis added].” (5:48). How would one be “perfect” unless one acted in a way which presented itself as a standard by which God will judge whether or not we have achieved what his Son commands? Obviously, what we do matters just as much as what we claim we believe. The strength or existence of any belief in Christ can only be ascertained by our conduct since it is the conduct that defines the concept of what it means to have “faith.” If one is not doing the acts which suggest the existence of actual faith, one cannot claim to have the faith.

Naturally, one would expect that this is all fine and dandy in theory. However, one is left to wonder about how it is that one is supposed to commit all of these acts unto our Maker, without violating the requirement that we not do them for our own glory, but unto the Glory of our Maker alone. This is answered in Chapter 6. We are told not to do our alms before Man, we are not to pray openly only for the purpose of being seen by others, we are not to make a big show out of our faith and sacrifices, and we are not to engage in vain repetition of prayers. (6:1-8, 16-17). None of this suggests that we cannot rejoice with each other in our salvation, our reasons for acting the way we do, or in the consolation that we have a good reason for doing good unto others. We can be a light unto the world without being blinding to others.

We are commanded, however, to pray in a way in a way that is in acknowledgment of the power of God, which respect His will for all of us (here and in heaven), that we receive the basic provisions of life, that we be forgiven as we forgive others, that we be given the help to avoid the sinful thoughts and actions that come, and that all glory be properly placed with Him and not us. (6:9-14). This is immediately followed up with the statement that, “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (6:15). Again, this sounds very unequivocal to me. If you don’t do this (i.e., forgive others), you will not be saved of your sins.

It is not enough that you simply have faith that so long as you believe in forgiveness, you will be forgiven. You must actually do it in order to receive your reward !!! As we engage in a life of forgiveness and service, we earn our due treasures. (12:35-37). Our eyes must constantly be focused on this purpose and be focused in such a way as to where others have no doubt as to what we are looking at. (6:20-23). Along these same lines, you probably should not spend to much time thinking about what those who are already acting a in a Christian way are doing. (9:13). Our Master will see to it that the requisite number of workers are put into the field of life without us doing anything other than what is required of us whilst we act through and by a Christian heart and soul. (9:37-38). If you attempt to have an influence on someone through your humble service, or words of preaching, and they want no part of it, don’t worry about it. (10:5-15). It is expected that you will be persecuted for doing what is right and you better be prepared to face your prosecutors with a glad and humble heart !!! (10:16-28).

While we are busy doing all of the things required of us, so that we might avoid the fires of hell, we are also commanded not to worry. (10:25-31). Well, how am I not going to worry? Obviously, we must, again, take a conscious direction toward ignoring worry, and act in a way that testifies to our full faith in Him alone. That is, we must actively pursue the conscious act of destroying all worry. This is no easy task. We must trust that He will take care of all of our needs and that he will pave the way for His glorification and that He will take care of evil on His own. (6:24-34; 10:32-33).

Our ultimate trust in Him is, and must be, founded upon our spiritual and mental acts of conscience, purpose, and servitude. How easily we forget that we have control over our attitudes, philosophies, theology, and mindset. Freewill is not a matter of controlling external circumstances, which we cannot. Freewill is premised only in the notion that we can only change our attitude toward our circumstances, and, generally speaking, our circumstances will naturally change as our spiritual attitude does. (6:33-34).

Well, now the difficult part comes. Chapter 7 speaks to us on the topics of judgment of others, judgment of ourselves, hypocrisy, evilness, false prophecy, corruption, and the intent of our works. (7:1-23). In no way is it suggested that our works alone will save us. (7:16-23). Our works must be, as stated before, with a view toward glorification unto our Maker. They must be committed with a view toward spiritual, mental, and physical servitude unto something higher than ourselves. The works we commit may be good unto themselves and, in fact, may be very pleasing or admirable to others. However, this is completely irrelevant to the Christian. The Christian can have but one purpose in fulfilling his or her Divine Destiny. We must know why we do what we do before it can be given any credit worthy of Him. (7:22-23). Commit yourself to the act of building your house on a rock !!! (7:24-27).

It should also be noted that so many of us think in linear terms. We often think that our purpose is to serve God, family, friends, and business (in respective order). This is simply not true. You cannot put your family before your faith. That’s a serious work. (10:37).

We’ve got a lot of hard, but gladful, work before us. (10:34-42). “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Where is the “rest” coming from then? It comes from the peace of acting through and in him. Nowhere is it suggested that our works don’t matter or aren’t necessary. They will be made easy by our faith in Him, through Him and with Him. What makes life burdensome is when we falsely define what work is required and how it ought to be performed. It really isn’t that hard to feed the poor, to be merciful, to forgive, to make peace, or to preach the truth, when all is done from a humble heart directed at a Divine Purpose. Our purpose ought to emanate a natural and warm light unto the world. Our lives cannot be defined by our material possessions, even if we worked hard to get them. (19:29).

So aside from acting or failing to act, what can get us in real spiritual trouble? The answers are given in a fairly straightforward manner. Even a “believer” can get himself or herself to Hell. Remember, even Satan believes in the power of God – that’s why he fears God so much. It is said, “Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And, whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. [bold emphasis added].” (12:25-37). This is, again, an unequivocal statement that there are acts of speech which will be completely unforgiven, regardless of Calvary nor the reasons for Calvary. Not only do your physical acts need to be conducted in conformity with your faith, your speech must also be as well. These are matters of works/acts, and not simply matters of perceived “faith.” (12:35-37).

At this point, it is also probably worth noting that the common denominator amongst all of the parables in Matthew is that they all involve forms of hard work (i.e., building, sowing seeds, buying and selling, toiling in a field, repayment of debts, working the vineyard, preparing for a wedding, grinding at the mill, serving the man of the house, spending our money/goods wisely). Moreover, the parables seem to end with the result that someone is rewarded for doing the right thing, or, in the alternative, ends up burning, weeping, gnashing their teeth, and/or being cast out into the darkness. (13:3-9, 18-23, 25-43, 44-50; 18:23-35; 20:1-16; 21:27-40; 22:2-14; 24:40-41; 24:43-51; 25:1-30).

In Matthew 15 we are again reminded that it is our words that can defile us. (15:8-11, 18-20). The problem with words is that they are most often outright intentional or certainly a byproduct of the will of the heart. When we engage in unholy speech-acts, we defile ourselves, regardless of whatever we may somehow believe. It is not the beliefs that we hold which most see or hear, it is the words and actions that accompany our day-to-day interactions with others. Our words are works of faith.

Following the above sayings, instructions, and admonitions, Jesus then, after being asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”, responds with a rather lengthy discourse in Chapter 18 on what it means to be a believer. (18:1-2). The analysis is deep and again speaks to the conduct which will separate the sheep from the goats. (18:3-35). Indeed, we are reminded that our faith should be as that of a child – innocent, pure, and unaffected. Again, we are also given a dire description of what happens to those who mislead his “little ones.”

In fact, misleading a child results in the notion that one would be better off being drowned in the sea than to have interfered with the faith of a child. (18:3-7). Well, how does one mislead a child? Obviously, one can only mislead another through setting a bad example through conduct or speech or by directly doing wrong unto the “little one” (i.e., through our works). It is even stated that his “little ones” have direct representatives before the “face of my Father.” (18:10). For me, anyway, there is plenty to think about with respect to our contemporary culture of consistently misleading children by direct interference with their innocence and pure faith. Indeed, many an organization is fully dedicated to destroying the faith of children and supplanting it with secular values or no values at all.

With respect to disputes between Christians, Matthew 18:15-17 gives us a form of conduct by which they are to be resolved. We are to work it out amongst ourselves. If that does not work, then we are to work it out as a private situation within the Church. In the event this does not work, we are simply to separate ourselves from the problem. Each one of these steps takes work and has very little to do with inactive faith. In fact, with respect to forgiveness, we are immediately told that our forgiveness must not be once, or seven times, but seventy times seven. (18:21-23). That’s some serious work for anyone.

As to the conduct of our sexual lives, the call to certain conduct continues again in Matthew 19, where we are reminded that man and woman are made for each other and it was so from the beginning. We are reminded that we have the responsibility to cleave to our wives and to become one with them. The Scripture, in this area, is very clear and unequivocal. A direct command not to interfere with the relationship is also made and divorce is viewed as a form of direct judgment. Remarrying is adultery, save the cause of fornication by the wife. The new husband of the cheater is, by his conduct, deemed an adulterer as well in this instance. How does he become an adulterer, you ask? By his works. (19:4-9).

Interestingly, it is accepted by Jesus that not all will marry and, since being in the womb, were not meant to be married. (19:12). To some extent, Christ was aware of the arguments that might be made against those who don’t marry (i.e., accusations, gossip, questions as to their sexuality). He did not condemn these people, but reminded us of the purpose given to them by Him and not us. (Id.).

Next, comes the Greatest Commandments, which are:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. [emphasis added].” (22:37-40).

This is the summa theologica. Who amongst us thinks that love is simply a matter of faith? I don’t know about any of you, but I know that love requires hard work, intentional and humble sacrifice of self, and an undying need to acknowledge that we cannot control the object of our love nor the source of the Greatest Love. While my faith has helped me love when I thought I had none left, I have always had to meet God halfway with my private dedication, servitude, and willingness to will my mind, soul and body to do the right things to strengthen my love of others and even of self.

After setting forth the Great Commandments, Christ then goes on to point out that we should not merely expect others to do the works required of us. Rather, we must do honor to the value of works of servitude by serving others ourselves. Moreover, we are again our works cannot be for show or for the purpose of building more impressive churches. (23:2-39). As though one could be surprised, we again find a very negative result for those who do not pay heed to these admonishments. Indeed, should we abide in our institutionalized and personal religious hypocrisy, our house shall be left unto us “desolate.” (23:38).

Even in the face of persecution, deliverance of our bodies for earthly punishment, hatred, deception, and iniquity, we “shall endure unto the end.” (24:4-13). Well, what does “endure” mean? It can only mean that, along with faith, we do what is required to get to the end of what life means for us in even a hostile culture. We are to act toward the end of being a faithful “servant.” (24:43-51).

After reminding us of the end game, the pragmatic lessons of Matthew essentially wraps up with the following summation:

And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (25:31-46).

And so it is that the Great Story told in Matthew ends with a clear how-to guide as to what acts will show our faith and those omissions which place ourselves in jeopardy of eternal damnation. Where in this final admonition does it say that our mere faith, our mere knocking on the door, our mere religious affiliation, or our mere belief in God, gets us into Heaven? It simply doesn’t. What we are left with is a clear command that we must do certain things and the failure to do them will result in something eternally bad.

Unless someone is going to claim that these Words cannot be taken at face value, they are unequivocal. Our works matter and they are essential to the goal of reaching the end as a good and faithful servant. Do not be so blind as to lead another to complacency by asking them to buy off on the idea of ‘salvation by faith alone’ with nary a living proof that the faith has a foundation in daily life. To do so would be to mislead one of His “little ones.”

For those of us who already know these truths, we are further instructed to teach all others to likewise abide, by our conduct, in observing His commandments. (28:20). As for me and my house, permissum meus fides exsisto a Opus Dei. That is, may my faith be an acceptable work of God unto Him.

It Ain’t Easy Believing: Just Let Me Touch His Cloak

4 Comments

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.

A Personal Testimony

1 Comment

Philosophy begins with the experience of human existence. Seemingly, the best impetus for philosophy comes from the horror of human existence and the victories that come from defeating the horror. The ‘good life’ comes from learning how to avoid the horrors and just accepting that life is for living.

I was born on May 15, 1969. From what I can tell, life didn’t start off all that well for me. According to my parents’ divorce papers, I was left to lie in my own human waste often enough to cause any social worker at least some real concern. Of course, my mother cannot be much to blame in this matter since she suffered from retinitis pigmentosa, and has suffered from a host of mental problems all of her life.

Her own mother apparently committed suicide on a Christmas Eve, and her father died in an alcoholic stupor some years later. In fact, I suspect that it was an uprising of my mother’s mental disabilities that crushed the marriage of my parents. For better or worse, I was only a few months old when all of this occurred. As an aside, my father was a disabled World War II veteran and suffered from various emotional and physical disabilities as well. At his core, though, he was a very decent human being.

From speaking with my mother, I know I was born into the Catholic Faith and was baptized as such. Much of my childhood memory up to the age of six or seven is clouded at best and probably not relevant to any conversion that I may now tell you of.

What I know for sure is that I did attend Catholic school for first grade and went through the sacramental process offered through one’s First Communion. Although I do remember having severe pneumonia at the time, I was aware of the importance of my First Communion and the idea that Christ could be offered to man and child — so long as they stood willing to confess of their sins and at least make a good faith attempt to come before God in as pure a state as humanity could ever offer. Religion, for many, is a passive experience brought about by adherence to culture and tradition. Rarely is thought given to the idea that Man is capable of a direct and intimate connection with his Maker.

This said, about the same year as my First Communion, I distinctly recall having had a profound conversion experience. Specifically, I remember dreaming, in the grossest of detail, that I had been condemned to hell. The intense flames arose all around me and I could feel the heat as strongly and clearly as I can hear my own voice. The self awareness of my dire and decrepit human state was overwhelming. I woke up in a profuse sweat and immediately was compelled to bring myself to my knees and pray harder than I had ever prayed even to date.

As I prepare this testimony, I still wish that I could find the desire to pray with as much intensity as the child that I once was. Sincere prayer is hard to come by even though answers and blessings from God abound in our existence. As the great revivalist, Charles Finney, suggested, many people don’t remember what they prayedfor five minutes later. This may be, in part, why there is such a lack of gratitude amongst humanity’s members. If we actually remembered our prayers, we would be all too aware of the answers that come pouring out of the Divine Grace and Providence of our Maker.

In any event, I remained faithful to my commitment to the Church and was happy to be an altar boy and regularly served at the early morning mass on weekdays before school. Oddly enough, I was even ready and willing to serve at Mass during vacations and other off-times. As I recall, during my years in elementary school, I had formulated the belief that I would become a priest when I grew up. I sincerely had hoped that I would be groomed for St. Michael’s Seminary in Trabuco Canyon, California. However, this never came to fruition because of the many problems that would surface later.

As a pre-adolescent child and aside from a few incidents of extreme violence against me by my mother, I remained fairly free of her mental problems and related iniquities. We survived on welfare income of about $700-800 a month as I recall. My mother, much to her credit, was able to somehow purchase a 900-square-foot or so three-bedroom house in Santa Ana and managed to provide for my brother and me until I was about 13 years old. She had no family here in California. I was lucky enough to have my father. My brother was not so fortunate as to have a father figure in his life.

In any event, I am often taken aback by many of my past students’ and clients’ complaints about how they can’t do certain things. Call it a chip on my shoulder, but it does seem odd that a delusional and blind woman could manage to purchase a house by herself, raise two children and somehow manage a household. All the while, we see so many able-bodied humans complaining about what they supposedly can’t do. ‘Can’ and ‘cannot’ are matters of attitude toward life. If Man has free will, it exists only at this level of being able to change our attitude toward what we cannot change. As indicated in the Prologue, it seems to me that our purpose in life is to fulfill a God-given destiny and the only thing that matters is our attitude toward meeting the charge of Divine Predestination.

In any event, my brother is three years younger than me. Once I turned about 12 or 13, things became extremely bad. As for myself, I had begun a pattern of drinking during the summer between eighth and ninth grades. I even managed to overdose from alcohol before I reached the ninth grade. Other than a two-week restriction, the overdose incident didn’t get a whole lot of mention and I doubt that my parents ever talked to each other about the event.

My parents maintained a hostile relationship for so long as I can remember. It’s odd that they should have spent so much time berating each other when I was busy boozing it up and enjoying my entry into the world of drugs. I supposed that what happened a decade before between them was much more important than the reality that their 12-year-old son was becoming a drug addict and alcoholic.

The whole drug thing began shortly after becoming a high school freshman. One of the guys in the neighborhood introduced me to “Al,” who worked at the local Jack-in-the-Box. Al introduced me to pot for my first time and I can’t remember it being all that great in and of itself. I think that the violation of my parents’ ostensible trust and my moral upbringing was much more of a high than the drug itself. That said, I ended up dropping out of high school by the time I reached the halfway point in my first year. My attendance, even up to that point, was sporadic at best. I did join in the Academic Decathlon Team, water polo team and swim team, though. That was about the only appearance of normalcy at that time.

By the time spring semester of my freshman year rolled around, I was already tattooed. I paid my girlfriend’s brother a joint for a tattoo of a skull over a cross. By this time, I had already had sex with his 12 or 13-year-old sister and I had managed to get myself well into a strong pattern of drug and alcohol abuse. I would later have a tattoo artist add flames to the skull and cross to further demonstrate my hatred for all that represented my Christian upbringing.

I can only imagine that my youthful hatred for Christianity arose from the fact that many of my mother’s acute episodes with mental illness revolved around religious themes. She would regularly engage in violence, swear, and commit crimes in the name of God and justify her own abuse of my brother and me by claiming that God told her to ‘beat’ us as an act of love. As her mental illness took on even darker tones, she would literally attempt to cast out evil spirits from various household items including the washing machine and my father’s car. Her claimed stigmata was no less disturbing.

As a child, one can well imagine that the surfacing of a mother’s severe mental problems is not an easy burden to carry. My brother was too young to understand what was going on and probably too innocent to understand the harm that was being caused to the family. It therefore became my responsibility to call 911 and to have my mother committed to a mental facility on occasion.

I can assure you that it is no easy task to call the police and emergency services knowing that they will come out with a gurney and forcefully strap your mother down before your own eyes. You cannot even imagine the fear that was struck in myself and in my brother’s eyes as this all went down time and again.
While the police and others left my brother and me to the care of neighbors or others on occasion, we both eventually ended up being placed in what was known as the Orangewood home for abused children. Can’t say I lasted long. I chose to escape and ended up at a friend’s house. My brother, abandoned by me and the system, ended up in a foster home and eventually was returned to my mother somehow.

It is probably noteworthy to this story that I was arrested some three or four times between the ages of 14 and 16. The charges ranged from possession of narcotics, grand theft, burglary, trespass and other various violations of law. I ended up serving only about two or three months in juvenile hall. In terms of the burglary, I should probably mention that it was my own father that I robbed. Indeed, I encouraged my friends to rob him as well. Needless to say, moral aptitude was not an adolescent specialty of mine.

In terms of my drug use, I regularly used cocaine, marijuana, LSD, and crystal methedrine. I also partook of PCP, mescaline, belladonna, and other drugs as they would be offered through the course of my youth. I even shot up once. I didn’t particularly like the experience of shooting up only because the high came much too quickly. Otherwise, I suppose I could have easily ended up strung out on heroin.

During this time, I enjoyed going to punk shows, hanging out with friends and their drugged out parents, I sported a bleached white mohawk haircut, lived with bikers, got into many fights and just generally looked for trouble wherever we might find each other. I even managed to get shot at during this time and had narrowly escaped a severe jail sentence after being involved in a rather large drug bust in Santa Ana.

On other battle fronts, a friend’s mom died of a heroin overdose and a good friend of mine died of the same cause at age 16 or 17. Fortunately, all of the survivors are doing okay now and are Brothers and Sisters in Faith.

In terms of spiritual events, I attempted to attend church two or three times during this intense period of strife. Once, I thought I was saved at a church in Costa Mesa. Didn’t last long. At another time, I attempted to attend a Catholic service in Garden Grove, but some person passed out in the entryway and the church members were concerned about getting her out of the way so services could begin on time. I suppose praying for one’s soul and health is secondary to punctuality in certain minds of the time. For me, this was but one more turn-off to the whole of Christianity. In fact, this little event managed to keep me away from any church until I was in my mid-twenties.

Once I turned almost 16, I was placed at the Wallace Community Day School in Santa Ana. This was a school designed for children like myself who simply couldn’t handle the normalcy of a regular high school. Here we were allowed to work at our own pace. I excelled in this setting and decided that I would take the California High School Proficiency Exam. I took the test at about age 16 and began attending Santa Ana College later. I received decent grades in most of my classes. Even so, I continued in my self-created courses in drug addiction and alcoholism.

I did well as a philosophy major and had plenty of opportunity to think about theology, ethics and philosophy in general. I was particularly caught up in the debate about determinism. If God knew everything, then it had to be that I had, so to speak, a sticker on my back that says “heaven” or “hell” and I just can’t see it — but, God can see the label and wills it so.

More important to my concerns, if all is predetermined, I can’t be responsible for all of the horrible things I’ve done in life since it was, in theory, already known that I would do them. Under this analysis, accountability and mercy make absolutely no sense. Nevertheless, its 15 years later and I still haven’t got all the answers to the ‘question of determinism.’ Glimpses of what appears to be truth are but a nanosecond flash in the darkest caverns of my intellect.

Before completing my studies at the college, I finally stopped smoking pot. It made me feel stupid and out of control so I gave it up ‘cold-turkey’ one day. I may have revisited pot once or twice thereafter. However, I still enjoyed speed and cocaine for a short while thereafter. I quit these substances cold-turkey one day as well. I can see no self-caused reason for my sudden inclinations to quit drugs. Divine Mercy and Intervention are the only possible explanations for my decision to turn away from drugs.

I now know that my futile attempts at human mercy and compassion pale before God’s ultimate understanding and mercy in my own life. Such are the beginnings of a philosophy on life. I am happily married with four children and just trying to take life one day and one person at a time. Life is for living.