Saturday, September 30, 2006

Calling Catholics to be Bible Christians -- OUCH!

By Paul Dion, STL

The other day I got an appeal letter in the mail. It came from a very prestigious Roman Catholic religious organization in the Midwest and it had the name of a universally reputed Ph.D in theology on it as the solicitor.

I thought that I would share my response to him with you. You may or may not agree. You are free to disagree and to comment back to me concerning this topic. I will respond to your comments. I am keeping his name confidential. I'm sure that you don't mind.

Here is my letter:

I just got the four page solicitation letter that was sent out to people over your signature, "Calling Catholics to be "Bible Christians". I am sending you a letter rather than a donation because I think that your choice of theme for your drive is unfortunate, and in fact borders on the theologically incorrect.

Catholics are not "Bible Christians" for a very solid reason. We believe that it is more correct to be "Church Christians" rather than "Bible Christians". We are convinced that it is an insult to God's method of communication to His creatures when humans restrict His method of communication to the written word. As far as we Catholics are concerned, this violates the very nature of humans who didn't capture the idea and the spoken word into visible symbols until very late in their existence.

Catholics reject "Sola Scriptura Christianity" because it is too narrow and tends to divide the community rather than unify it.

Catholics know their Bible. Catholics know that the lessons that they hear every Sunday at Mass come from the Bible. Catholics have some difficulty realizing that the lesson from the first reading and the lesson from the third reading are a Typical Match.

There are a lot of reasons for this. I don't suppose that I have to spill too much ink enumerating them for you, but one of the blind spots that Catholics have is that they think that the sacramental "paper chase" is more important than the understanding of developing a personal relationship with God. The other difficulty that we have in the Catholic Church is that the front line ministers prefer to take the easy road of applying Canon Law principles to pastoral situations rather than creating spiritually uplifting opportunities for the flock. Bible Christianity is not going to cure either one of those two cultural obstacles.

Catholics know their Bible. They know the contents. They know the stories. They don't know the verses. I am also willing to lay money on the line (yeah, we Catholics gamble too) that Catholics have a deeper appreciation for the stories of the Hebrew Bible than many Bible christians do. They don't know where to find them in the physical environment of the book, but they know where to situate them in the history of salvation. All Catholics know about Adam and Eve; Able and Cain, Abraham; Joseph and his brothers; Moses and Aaron; Noah, the Tower of Babel; Abraham and Isaac; and so on and so forth.

If you come forward to the Christian Bible, you will see that Catholics know the stories from there too. But our religion is a religion of community, not a religion of the personal conviction that faith in these verses of the Bible is my salvation. We don't believe that we have to cherry pick Bible verses to rest assured of our salvation. We believe that if we follow the law of love and the mandate of Matthew 25 and a few others, without knowing exactly where they are in the Bible, that we will get the green flag from St. Peter.

The stories contain the Truth. The stories contain the Tradition, who cares about the verses. Who cares where the zealous cry of, "Send me, I'll go!" comes from? Who cares where the question, "But you, who do you say that I am?" comes from? Who cares where the mandate, "Go, sell all that you have and distribute the proceeds to the poor, then follow me" comes from? As long as you know the story and as long as you practice the virtue, does it really matter whether you got it from the Bible or from the Tradition of the Church?

Are Bible Christians going to believe in the Assumption of Mary, Body and Soul to Heaven more than Church Christians? Are Bible Christians going to believe in the dogma of infallibility more than Church Christians? Are Bible Christians going to believe that Jesus Christ instituted the Sacraments more deeply than Church Christians will?

What are all these Bible Christians going to do when they find out that they know more specific verses to prove their case than the pastor does? Or are you planning to train the pastors first?

Go ahead, ask any pastor to give you the divisions of Genesis. I dare you to get any pastor to tell you how many authors are attributed to Isaiah? How many pastors know that Judith is considered to be apocryphal in some traditions? How many pastors know the approximate date of the arrival of the Hebrews into the Jordan River Valley? How many pastors know in how many locations the words, "In the Beginning" appear? How many pastors know the theology of John, 1? But they all know the STORY.

I therefore implore you, in this fraternal admonition, to rethink the wording of your appeal.

I am not the brightest shining light in the theological or scriptural firmament but I do know one thing, the language that you used to beg for my money sure succeeded in getting me to reach for my mouse rather than my wallet.
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