The Fiddler on the Roof

Caraboska's Theoblog

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That the life of Jesus may be revealed in my body
Praise the Lord.

This is a response to the ongoing discussion here. My comment about complete abstinence was in response to the person who observed (rightly, furthermore) that the only 100% certain means of preventing pregnancy is total abstinence, basically indicated that if the risk is that high, then why would anyone want to expose their potential unborn child to any risk whatsoever, and finished with the thought that 6 weeks of abstinence was not too long.

As far as other solutions go, I personally see no difference in moral value between NFP and barrier methods (obviously abortifacient hormonal means are a different matter). There are, however, some people for whom NFP is going to be less effective or even unusable: people who are perimenopausal and therefore have extremely irregular periods, and people in whom ovulation is triggered by the physical stimulation inherent in sexual activity.

But I cite all of this only as thought provoking devices towards the point: what about tradition? I base my claim that Jesus taught that Scripture has to come first on such texts as the Sermon on the Mount, or Mark 7. There are others. I don't want to proof text here, so I'm not going to give more exact references. I come from circles where we were carefully instructed that we must in fact read all of the Bible before we try to come to a conclusion about what it teaches.

Notice who the New Testament writers are: either apostles (Matthew, John, Paul, Peter), or first degree associates of apostles or Jesus Himself (Mark, Luke, James, Jude). These people's letters were in circulation long before the New Testament was codified and compiled in its present form. The fact of the matter is that in Jesus' day and for at least a portion of the apostolic era, 'Scripture' meant the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). This is why Protestants only accept the books of the Tanakh as comprising the Old Testament.

The New Testament books, like the books of the Tanakh, did not exist in a vacuum. There were other books that did not make it into the canon. Protestants accept the same New Testament canon as Roman Catholics not because of tradition, but because while the New Testament books are demonstrably organically related to the Tanakh and in mutual agreement with each other, the other books in some way deviate from this standard - most commonly by introducing Gnostic elements. So that Protestants, likewise, exclude the other books from the canon.

The problem of different interpretations will continue to exist even if we allow for tradition - because there are all different traditions, and how do we know which one is correct? Well, John tells us very clearly in his first letter that we are the ones ultimately responsible for making a determination concerning the correctness of a given teaching. If we have the Holy Spirit and are true believers - both believing and living the commandments to love God with all our heart, soul and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves - then in principle we have all that is needed to make that discernment. Jesus Himself says that His sheep will know His voice.

I once read a commentary by a Roman Catholic priest which observed (rightly) that this places a huge responsibility on the individual to do their own studying of Scripture and verification of their beliefs. It is a responsibility which is taken deadly seriously in the circles I have traveled in over my life time. We are talking about people who come to church precisely in order to hear the hour-long sermon on one verse (the pastor took over 6 years to preach through the book of Romans) - which covers the material infinitely more thoroughly than it would be even in a seminary class.

We are talking about people who start their kids on Scripture memory at age 2. Who start looking for opportunities to lead their child to a personal decision to receive Jesus Christ at as young an age as possible. I've heard of it happening as young as age 3. And these kids' Sunday school teachers report that there is a clear difference in the way the children pray after as compared to before - the child now in an evident manner knows God. And when these kids grow up, few if any will ever commit immorality or get divorced. Few if any will turn away from the faith in which they were raised. At least 1 in 10 of them will be in full-time missionary service - and of those, half will serve in a foreign country.

And none of them will think that their own works or any ecclesiastical ritual contributes materially to their salvation, for they will all have been taught from little on up that salvation is by grace, so that no one may boast. They will understand that works are an effect of salvation, not a cause. And that thinking otherwise amounts to putting those works in a position meant to be occupied only by God.

And to me, that is the litmus test: does the person *truly* have only one God in their life? In all the microdetail? I recommend Anthony DeMello's 'The Way to Love'. He speaks much of 'attachment' - if you substitute in 'idolatry' or 'idol' (depending on the context), you'll get what I mean by the 'microdetail'.

Looking at the problem from that angle, for me, the problem with adherence to tradition is that people are giving over responsibility for a certain part of their lives which properly is to be held between them and God. They are setting that tradition up as an idol, allowing it to occupy a place that is meant to be occupied only by God. It may be comfortable to give up responsibility, but godly - it is not.

And likewise: if we read the Bible, compare what it says about things like the priesthood, confession, baptism, communion... with tradition, we can see that tradition leads us to 180-degree opposite conclusions. These are all items which impact on the doctrine of salvation, so they are really important. The difference between them is that tradition places a certain set of authority figures and a certain system of... control over the faithful.

Unfortunately, I don't think this is at all accidental. I see these authorities as setting themselves up as idols in people's lives, to the eternal peril of all concerned. And I am no idolater, so as long as I remain convinced that this is the case, I will in no wise have any part in this system.

It is a very lonely path I travel. I feel like I have less and less in common with the world as time goes on, that I am slowly being squeezed out of this world entirely. 'I always carry the death of Jesus around in my body, that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in my body.'  (II Cor. 4:10).

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Hi Caraboska, Catholic Wife here. :-)

I appreciate you taking the time to write out a lengthy response, but I'm afraid you've failed to answer my questions. I will state them again, to give you a chance to respond.

1. Did Jesus send his apostles out to *write* his teachings or to *preach* his teachings?

2. What did the early Christians do without New Testament?

3. If people interpret scripture without tradition and come to different conclusions (they do), how can they know who is right?

Now I add a few more:

4. What, or who, is the "pillar and bullwark of truth"?

5. Is there somewhere in the New Testament a warning against us being our own teachers on matters of doctrine? (Hint: yes. Can you find it?)

6. If we are supposed to read all of the Bible before coming to any conclusion, what did the mostly illiterate people of the last 2000 years do in order to nourish their faith?

I understand that you've been brought up to believe that looking to tradition (in the form of the universal--"Catholic"--church) for the guide on how to interpret scripture is a form of idolatry. I disagree with you, but please answer my questions so we can continue this discussion. Thank you! :-)

P.S. We can talk about the Old Testament in a different thread - for now we should stick to the New Testament for brevity's sake.

Oops, I'm sorry. Quick edit to question #5 above: it should read:

"Is there somewhere in the New Testament a warning against ceasing to *listen to* the truth?"

1. Jesus sent his apostles to preach His teachings. He did not specify whether that was to be done only by speaking, or also by writing. The fact of the matter is that they (especially Paul) did both.

2. As I have mentioned above: in the early Christian era, especially before the gospel went to the Gentiles, before the letters were written, 'the Scriptures' meant 'the Tanakh'. They referred to the Tanakh.

Once the letters were written, they were circulated among the churches - not only to the specific church to which they had been addressed. By the time Peter wrote his letters, the writings of Paul were considered to be Scripture (II Peter 3:14-18, esp. v. 16).

But other than that, the Scriptural evidence shows that they did exactly what God's people do to this day in places where the Bible is very hard to find because of legal restrictions in their country - they had access to spiritual gifts of various kinds, especially prophecy.

3. Neither our own knowledge nor tradition can be the basis. You rightly point out that people come to different conclusions. This is an issue with tradition as well - because there are different traditions, all of which claim to be normative, but which differ from each other.

Even 'apostolic succession' won't do the trick, because there are several churches whose teachers claim to be able to trace their succession directly back to the apostles: at very least the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran Churches.

Not to mention that Paul tells us that we are to measure even what is taught to us by the apostles themselves. If they themselves were ever to come with some other gospel, Paul tells us not to listen even to them (Galatians 1:8-9).

So as I have mentioned above, the only way is to do what Jesus said, namely obey His teaching (John 8:31-32), which is detailed in various places, e.g. Matthew 22:34-40; I John 2-3, esp. v. 3:23).

And we have Jesus' promise that if we do this, then we shall know the truth (John 8:32). We have His promise that 'I am the Good Shepherd and I know those who are Mine, and those who are Mine shall know Me... they shall hear My voice' (John 10:14-16).

Paul confirms this in his letter to the Romans, saying, 'Therefore I admonish you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a holy living sacrifice pleasing to God - your reasonable act of worship. Do not be conformed to this world or age, but rather be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you discern what is God's will - good, pleasing and perfect.' (Romans 12:1-2)

And again: 'Do not lie to each other, having taken off the old humanity with its practices and having put on the new which is being renewed into knowledge in the image of its Creator' (Colossians 3:9-10).

Even good works, even ecclesiastical rituals and teachings - doctrine - can become idols in the perverse heart, as it is written: 'All is clean to those who are clean; to the corrupted and faithless, nothing is clean, for both their mind and their conscience has been corrupted.' (Titus 1:15)

The point is that there are no shortcuts. We must live what we learn, starting with the most important: to love God with *all* our heart, soul and strength. Apart from situations where our knowledge is simply limited, so that in the end we would find that both apparently opposing viewpoints turn out to be correct, when there are differences of opinion, it nearly always turns out that one or both of the parties is holding onto some subtle idol.

4. This is no doubt a reference to Matthew 16:18. I'm going to give a 'spoiler' here and inform everyone that Paul tells us plainly what that rock is on which the Church is to be built: 'By the grace of God given to me as a wise architect, I laid a foundation, but another builds upon it. But let every one watch how he builds. For none can lay any other foundation except that which has been laid, namely Jesus Christ.'

And this is in keeping with the original language of Matthew 16:18 - Simon bar-Yonah acquires the new name of Petros, meaning a stone (a little rock). And then Jesus says that on this... *petra* (large, solid rock) He will build the Church. Notice that this follows immediately upon Peter's confession of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. And Jesus indicates that he could never have reached that conclusion without a revelation from the Father in Heaven.

So, the foundation is:

a. Christ Himself

b. His Messiahship

c. His status as Son of God

d. Supernatural revelation from God the Father

e. Confession of same by those in the Church.

Those who understand the matter in this way also understand the bit about the keys that appears after this to apply not just to Peter, but to all true believers; and that likewise, the Great Commission (see Matthew 28) applies to all true believers; and that the status of priesthood in the Church likewise applies to all true believers (see I Peter 2).

5. Well, I have already cited verses that indicate we are supposed to adhere to the original message brought by the apostles, and not even listen to the apostles themselves if they should subsequently bring some other message. There is a verse in II Peter (1:20-21): 'Above all, knowing that no prophecy of Scripture came about by one's own interpretation; for prophecy has never at any time been subject to the will of man, bu rather carried along by the Holy Spirit, men spoke from God.'

6. They in principle did the same thing underground churches do now: they relied on spiritual gifts. But actually, what ended up happening is that churches catered to their illiteracy, giving them pictures instead of teaching them to read - so that they can then set themselves up as authorities and keep these people's faith under their control.

Ever wondered why the Jews teach their kids Hebrew starting at age 3, the Muslims teach their kids Arabic starting at age 3, but the Christians DON'T teach their kids Greek and Hebrew starting at age 3? Ever wondered why the original languages aren't used in the Church? It has its roots in this kind of historical background.

And the fact that this attitude persists to this day, that people take a dim view of 'lay persons' who 'presume' to learn the original languages so they can read the Bible for themselves instead of sitting like little sheep in church and blindly believing everything the pastor tells them - probably doesn't help. I've even encountered this among Protestants (may God forgive them).

7. Where did you get the idea that I was brought up in any sort of church environment? The fact of the matter is that I am a Christian by choice. I converted as a teenager.

And I admit to being sick and tired of the suspicion that I encounter from people who identify as Christians, but can't deal with the independent minded attitude requisite to change one's belief system and lifestyle - over the opposition of one's family. They have no place for me. This very issue has VERY recently cost me yet another opportunity to be married (click 'm' in my tag cloud to get the details).

My family, on the other hand, has no place for someone who doesn't believe in evolution. When I visit my family, I - an Ivy League alumna no less - have to listen to my own parents calling me intellectually defective at the dinner table I am reminded all too often is no longer mine.

I hope you will forgive a bit of crabbiness on my part on this point. I am only human, and I have just plain had enough.

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