Francis visiting church in crisis

This month’s National Geographic has an interesting cover article on pope Francis in anticipation of his visit to the United States in September. Francis is aware the American Catholic church is in deep crisis: ngm_august_2015_cvr-575x836

  • The latest numbers from PEW Research show the number of professing Catholics in the U.S. has dropped from 54 million in 2007 to 52 million in 2014.
  • The vast majority of Catholics do not participate in the sacraments. Only 24% attend mass weekly and only 12% go to confession at least once a year.
  • The number of priests continues to decline. There were 59 thousand priests in the U.S. in 1981 but only 38 thousand in 2014. More than 40% of today’s priests are over the age of 65. The decline in the number of churchgoers and the shortage of priests has resulted in the closing or consolidation of many parishes.
  • Catholic morale was rocked by the priest pedophelia scandal and cover-up.
  • Catholics continue to question official church policy regarding divorce, celibacy, contraceptives, ordination of women, and homosexuality.

Despite the hoopla surrounding his visit Francis is aware he’s visiting a church in deep turmoil. Also, as the National Geographic article points out, this pope is playing the part of reformer and has many of his more traditionalist leaders and membership on edge. He’s trying to keep the “boat afloat” but can he do it without changing the “infallible” doctrines of yesteryear?

I’m grateful to the Lord that I’m free of the chains of Catholic ritualism and legalism. My heart goes out to Catholics. May many discern the path to life through God’s grace by simple faith in Jesus Christ.

If you can get ahold of the NG print issue you’ll get to see the three-page photo foldout of a mass at the Vatican “high” altar. It’s an incredible shot but Christians will shudder at the contrast between Rome’s ostentatious splendor and the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ.

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/08/vatican/draper-text

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6 thoughts on “Francis visiting church in crisis

  1. Here’s another important number: One.

    As in the number of Churches that Jesus founded. It was Jesus who selected Judas to be among the Apostles. One Easter Sunday should it have been right to leave Peter bc Judas had been among them? Of course not. Jesus also said that at the end of days he will separate the weeds from the wheat.

    There are plenty of lapsed Baptists, lapsed evangelicals, lapsed Presbyterians, etc. The fact that people fall away doesn’t define truth.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Dave, Jesus founded His church and it grew exponentially throughout the Roman Empire despite (or rather, because of) severe persecution. Constantine’s Edict of Milan decriminalized Christian worship in 313 and Christianity became the official state religion in 380. As might be expected Christianity became increasingly institutionalized in its alliance with the empire. Replacing simple faith in Jesus Christ were ritual, ceremony, and religious legalism with many elements of Roman paganism entering into Christian worship and church polity. Genuine conversion to Jesus Christ morphed into ceremonial infant sprinkling. The church lost its way and became enraptured with political power, wealth, and authoritarian control. That’s not to say there were none who came to Christ in the years between the early church and the Reformation. I believe many Catholics accepted Christ (and still do), but it was in spite of their church, not because of it.

      Catholics proudly claim their church is the only church that can trace itself back to Jesus through its supposedly unbroken chain of Apostolic succession. But Catholics are so blinded by their allegiance to the Catholic brand they can’t see the forest for the trees. A wealthy, powerful, intolerant, monolithic, iron fisted organization wasn’t the church. The true church consisted of the humble individuals down through the ages – sometimes together, sometimes apart – inside and outside of Catholicism – who were touched by the Holy Spirit and accepted Christ as their Savior….many out of exasperation because they knew they couldn’t possibly climb the Catholic spiritual ladder to “state of grace” perfection.

      But Catholics seldom get it. To them it’s all about their worldly, fleshly, religious monolith. A genuine relationship with Christ has no place in it. The fruitful work of the Holy Spirit among the lowly, ragtag Evangelical heretics (now referred to as “Separated Brethren”) is jeered at. But it’s understandable why the church hierarchy resists the simple Gospel. When faith is in Christ alone there is absolutely no need for clerical intermediaries.

      “Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:25-28.

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  2. “Replacing simple faith in Jesus Christ were ritual, ceremony, and religious legalism with many elements of Roman paganism entering into Christian worship and church polity.”

    Here is what Justyn Martyr said is how Christians worshiped in about AD 150

    “And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do in remembrance of Me, Luke 22:19 this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone.

    Chapter 67. Weekly worship of the Christians

    And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.”

    Call me crazy, but that sounds a lot like the same Eucharist and Mass the Catholic Church has today. You see, Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. Have you ever see a fully grown mustard plant? Google pictures of it. It doesn’t look anything like the seed or sprout or even most other plants. It looks like an enormous bush, 7 or 8 feet tall, growing out sideways in ever direction. It’s more of a weed and actually considered an invasive species. It never stops growing and changing. The Church today is not supposed to look the same as before. It supposed to change, yet it always has the same essence. It was small, now its big, one day it will be small again but its essence is remains the same.

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    1. Hi again, Dave.

      “17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!

      23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

      27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

      33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. 34 Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.” – 1 Cor: 11: 17-34.

      Yes, the Lord’s Supper is a very important memorial. Paul agrees with JM here. We are to examine our consciences before partaking of the broken bread that symbolizes the broken body of our Savior. I am of the opinion that many Christians take the Lord’s Supper MUCH too casually. But to claim a literal interpretation of John 6 and the Last Supper verses is incorrect.

      “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” – John 6:51

      Jesus is clearly speaking symbolically here. Consuming the Catholic communion “host” doesn’t give eternal life. There’ve been billions of Catholics who have consumed billions of communion wafers over the centuries who had absolutely no relationship with Christ. Literally eating bread wafers doesn’t give anyone eternal life. No, Dave, the message is that Christ is SPIRITUAL sustenance to all who accept Him in Spirit. Once again, like Nicodemus, Catholics focus on the physical instead of the spiritual.

      Same thing with the woman at the well in John 4. Jesus didn’t become water! Jesus doesn’t give physical water!

      http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/1846/the-celebration-of-the-lords-supper-part-1
      http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/1847/the-celebration-of-the-lords-supper-part-2

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  3. Again, Justyn says, “For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”

    He doesn’t leave room a symbolic interpretation. Notice he says, “likewise have we been taught” this was the common teaching of the Church in the first century.

    Further, St. Paul tell us in the letter to the Thessalonians , “2:15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.”

    Context is key. In the first part of the chapter Paul tells us that a false, “letter purporting to be from us” is being circulated. Paul challenges them, saying, “5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this?” In other words, the Thessalonians should be able to spot this forgery because it is inconsistent with what Paul had previously taught them.

    And that is the key to understanding verse 15! Paul is telling the Thessalonians to interpret his letters in light of what he has previously taught them. He is saying if I previously taught you X you will not get a new letter from him that teaches something different from X. Thus, TRADITION is our guide in how to interpret scripture. If there are two possible interpretations of a verse of scripture and you want to know which is the correct one Paul says that to do so you have to interpret it the way He first taught it.

    So how do we know the correct way to interpret John 6? Because the traditional interpretation is the correct one. Fortunately, Justyn Martyr recorded it for us (along with several other early Church fathers). Notice also that he says this is done every Sunday, so it is not just “a very important memorial” it was how worship was practiced.

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    1. From http://turretinfan.blogspot.com/2007/03/justin-martyr-discussing-sacrament-of.html

      “Justin Martyr
      Discussing the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper
      From Justin’s First Apology

      An Internet poster with the handle Agomemnon quoted Justin Martyr thus:

      “We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus” (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]).

      Justin Martyr has been quoted to attempt to support the Roman Catholic doctrines of transubstantiation and the “real absence” of the bread and contents of the cup.

      In this case, the translation itself – while it may not be optimal – is not the issue. Schaff similarly translates Chapter 66 of the First Apology:

      And this food is called among us ******* (Greek font is not working) [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them,which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.

      The bull whose horns need to be grabbed here is the comparison: “in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”

      The Roman Catholics read this comparison as suggesting the doctrine of transubstantiation.

      However, let’s look at the comparison:

      “in like manner as Jesus … had flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise … the food which is blessed … is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”

      This is a repetition of the same metaphor used in Scripture – it is not a transsubstantial explanation.

      But some Roman Catholics may insist that we make the comparison not between the flesh and blood of Christ being compared with elements but rather:

      “in like manner as Jesus … having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood … so likewise … the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word … is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”

      This is not the comparison that is being made. We can deduce this several ways. One way we can deduce it is from considering that if this is the intended comparison then (primarily) the first verb should be parallel in its conjugation to the second verb and (secondarily) the prepositional phrase should have the same or a similar object. In other words, the sentence would be worded:

      “just as Jesus was made flesh by the Word of God, even so the food is made flesh by the word of God in the blessing.”

      If Justin was trying to say that with what he said, he chose an exceptionally clumsy way to do so.

      One way we can deduce that Justin was not clumisly trying to describe a Roman Catholic concept can be seen from the immediate context and the extended context.

      In the immediate context, Justin begins by saying that the “food” is called “Eucharistia” [the Eucharist] and that consumption of the food is restricted to those who have professed faith and been baptized, because the food is not treated as “common food” but as the flesh and blood of Christ.

      Justin’s point is to distinguish this food from ordinary food, much like the shewbread was distinguishable from ordinary bread. Justin claims that this distinction is based on the teachings of the Apostles: the written teachings recorded in the gospels.

      For the extended context, we should also read the 65th Chapter of Justin Martyr’s Apology (“Administration of the sacraments”):

      But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, ring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to ******* (Hebrew font is not working) [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.

      Notice how even after the presiding brother has consecrated the bread and water/wine, what the deacons bring to the people is still called “bread and wine mixed with water.”

      A few less sophisticated Roman Catholic apologists will seize on the phrase: “from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished.” But this phrase, in context, proves exactly the opposite of what they wish to claim. For Justin is speaking of the digestive process whereby the bread and wine nourish us as food nourishes us. But the nourishment that the body and blood of Christ provide is not physical nourishment, but spiritual nourishment. Thus, Justin explains that the practice was to restrict this symbol to those who are – to outward appearances – already feeding by faith on Christ: i.e. those who believed and were baptized.

      The bottom line is that Justin Martyr describes the consecration of the bread and drink to serve and be regarded as the body and blood of Christ: not to have a change of substance into the physical body and blood of Christ. Likewise PVI’s doctrine of “real absence” is entirely absent from Justin’s knowledge.

      Praise and Glory be to Him Who has sat down at the right hand of the Father!”

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