Thank you very much. We have a lot to cover and I hope that you brought your Bibles tonight. Ruffle the pages a little bit so I can be assured that you did. What I would like to do in our time this evening is to focus upon how we as Catholic Christians should relate to the Scripture, and how we as Catholic Christians can help our non-Catholic brothers and sisters understand the Church’s teaching with regard to Scripture. That’s why the title of the talk is rather provocative: The Bible and the Church, Both or Neither. In titling the talk in that way, I’m throwing down the gauntlet. I’m challenging Catholics and non-Catholics to rethink some old practices and to perhaps break old habits.
Many non-Catholic believers are convinced that the Bible alone is not merely sufficient, but exclusive as an authority for our faith and for our practice as believers. There are many Catholic theologians in good standing with the Church who might contend for the material sufficiency of the Bible: that everything we need to believe and everything we need to do is somehow contained in Scripture, either explicitly or implicitly. So it isn’t just that the Protestants say, “The Bible is sufficient,” because many Catholic theologians can contend that as well. But the non-Catholic, the Bible Christians, the fundamentalist says, “The Bible alone is our sole and exclusive authority. It is the only form in which we find the word of God binding for believers today.” I want to challenge the non-Catholic brother or sister in Christ who is either here tonight or who will hear these words on tape or who will get into a conversation with you when you patiently and gently explain the Church’s position. I want to challenge them to reread Scripture and to discover that that position is anti-Scriptural and it runs contrary to many different passages that are found both in the Old and New Testaments.
I also have something in store for the Catholics as well. I want to throw down the gauntlet and challenge you to recognize the fact that it’s the Bible and the Church, both or neither. If you say, “Well, I’m close to the Church. I’ve got devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, I attend daily Mass, I go to frequent confession, but I don’t understand the Bible.” Then I want to suggest to you, that if you listen closely to the Church that you supposedly adhere to so closely, you’ll discover that there is something woefully deficient, seriously defective about your own relationship to the Church. Because one can’t say, “I have the Church, I don’t need the Bible,” or, “I have the Pope and the blessed Virgin Mary and the holy Eucharist I don’t really need to study Scripture.” If you’re saying that, then you’re saying it in a flagrant disobedience to what the popes throughout this century and many other ages have declared, have commanded, have suggested, taught, and invited lay people to do.
The External Splendor: Art and Architecture
Sometimes we see the Church in less than holy conditions. We see ourselves, we see other people, we see priests and sometimes we see bishops whose lifestyles are not up to the Gospel standard. Yet as Chesterton said, “The Catholic faith even when watered down can still boil the world to rags.” It’s true that the Catholic faith right now is still alive no matter what struggles we face, no matter what internal defections we’ve experienced. The Catholic Church is strong with divine power. This is manifest in so many ways; you can see the splendor of the Church.
Let me just take you through a few of the steps that I took in discovering the splendor of the Catholic Church. The first thing that struck me as an outsider, really as an antagonist, was, “Wow, look at their art and look at their architecture.” If you just judge from human standards apart from Scripture, apart from faith, you’ve got to admit as one author said, “The Catholic faith has the power to produce civilizations and not just denominations.” You look around and even if you hate icons, even if you despise statues and regard them as idols, nevertheless, oh can those Catholics erect fine statues!
Earlier this year in January, I had the privilege of attending a three day colloquium made up of non-Catholic religious leaders in the Vatican spearheaded by my father in-law, Dr. Jerry Kirk, and the Catholic leader Cardinal Bernardin. We were there meeting in the Vatican for three days to discuss the problem of hard-core pornography, and how since the Iron Curtain has fallen, hard-core porn has been flooding into the Eastern bloc countries at alarming rates wherever you look, wreaking havoc in the Church and throughout society. So we were to discuss the problem and perhaps develop some strategies to help the Church combat this and also to help leaders in the civic communities to use legal standards to combat this as well. At the end of these three days, we were to present the results of our proceedings to the Holy Father. Pope John Paul II gave us a very, very close hearing and was very warm and receptive. He gave to us not only the prepared speech, but several off-the-cuff remarks, both of which were published in L’Osservatore Romano.
But what stands out in my memory during that whole three or four day experience was the time that I spent with a lot of my non- Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ touring St. Peter’s or just walking around the Vatican or even taking a trip down the streets of Rome. It was interesting. There was one man in particular — I won’t mention his name — he’s very high up in a certain Southern Baptist convention. At the beginning of the week he was sharply antagonistic, especially when he found out that I was not only a Catholic but a convert from evangelical Bible Christianity. It didn’t help that my father in-law was the head of the group. He went after me, and I’m German enough to go right back after him. So we had a ball for about 3 1/2 hours the very first night. He made it clear to me that this was tantamount to apostasy. I began to watch his whole attitude change in the next two or three days. He made no bones about it. The Pope was pretentious; the Pope was really wrong in claiming to be the infallible Vicar of Christ. But as we toured through St. Peter’s together, you could hear his own hushed awe as he saw these gorgeous mosaics, the sculptures, the architecture. I kept chiding him with a certain gentle persistence. Where has Protestantism produced this sort of architecture, this sort of art? He admitted that there is nothing to compare.
Everybody knows, of course, that Catholics worship the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints, as well as statues and images. Believe it or not, I have no intention of denying this, because it happens to be true. If this surprises you, it may be because you haven’t thought much about the word ‘worship’. It comes from two old English words: ‘worth’ and ‘-ship’, or worth-ship if you like. It is both a verb and a noun, and it means giving to a person – or even to a thing – that worth or honour which is due. It is, for instance, the fidelity and love which is due from a man to his wife, and in this sense it is used in the marriage service. It is the obedience and filial devotion due from a son to his parents. It is the particular honour due to such a civic dignitary as ‘his worship the Mayor’. It is found in the reverence a man may have for his mother’s photograph, or in the feelings of a royalist standing before a statue of King Charles I.
Not only is it surprising to Scott that he would be up here sharing about the Catholic Church, it is also surprising to me that I would hear my husband present so eloquently and so beautifully his call from God to become Roman Catholic. When we dated, it was something that we disagreed on because he really didn’t believe that a thoughtful Christian could be Catholic. And I saw myself as rather balanced because I didn’t think we needed to trouble the Catholics. As long as they believed in Jesus, they where just fine where they were. I’m going to have a particular focus on sharing my part of the conversion story. I would really like to focus on what I would say is probably the toughest thing for Protestants, and that is the Blessed Virgin Mary. If any of you have Protestant family members or friends, or if any of you are still Protestant, probably you would say that Mary, Mary and Mary are your three toughest obstacles to being able to see the truth of the Catholic Faith. So I’d like to take this one particular thread that, in the fabric of this conversion story, was very knotted, and yet as I look back, I would say it is part of what makes one of the most beautiful patterns in this conversion.
Unlike Scott, I was raised in a very dynamic, Christ-centered evangelical family. My dad is a minister and my mom and dad love the Lord. They desired to establish a holy family when they got married, and they prayed for me from before I was born right up to today. They fed me the Word of God right along with my peas and potatoes. They bathed me in prayer as much as they gave me baths. They baptized me because they were convicted that they needed to impart their faith to me. I believed that God existed because I believed my parents, and they told me that God existed. They told me what Jesus had done. They told me I was His child, and yet I came to a point of decision that every single one of us has to make, which is, “Do I believe?” Because, it is true, they had mediated for a time, but now it was time for me to make a decision.
When I entered seventh grade, that was a time of raising questions. One particular weekend I had been involved in probably more sin that was external and I felt more guilty about it than I normally did, and so I was really ripe. I went to church and I heard the Gospel message. I realized that the sins I committed, those very sins were the sins that Jesus bore on that cross for me and that I needed forgiveness for them. I needed to say “Yes” to Jesus, to yielding my will to Him and giving my life to Him, and I wanted to. By the time they mentioned the idea of coming down to the altar, I was already flying down the stairs. I could not get up front fast enough. I said, “Yes, God, yes.” And I can tell you, there were dramatic changes from that moment on. I had a love for Scripture, a love to give my witness and testimony to others, and the Lord opened many doors in junior high and high school, and many ministries. I headed off to college with a lot of great ideas of what I thought God would do in my heart and in my life. Now growing up, I understood that Mary was Jesus’ mother. But in a typical Protestant home, Mary isn’t mentioned much more than any other person who’s been blessed. The idea of her being blessed was not really anything we saw having to do with her, but simply because Jesus came from her. I think maybe we didn’t talk about Mary much because it seemed liked Catholics talked so much about her. It was a way of sort of distancing us.
Two of the models that I would say were rather typical of my Catholic friends, I would describe as this: The first one is the “football player” model. Do you ever notice how whenever they interview the players or show the players after the game, what do they say when they get a chance to be on camera? “Hi, Mom!” You wouldn’t know that most of them have a father. You know, Mom is the only one who seems to get credit. And that’s how it struck me sometimes, that Catholics didn’t talk much about God the Father. I mean the whole image of, if you had to go to your father or mother, who would you rather go to? Or hiding behind Mommy’s skirts — that kind of thing. The other model I would describe with this little vignette. A man was painting a ceiling in a little chapel in Rome and he noticed an American woman walk in and he thought, “I’m going to have a little fun.” So from way up high he said, “This is Jesus.” There was no response, “This is Jesus.” Still no response, so he thought he’d do it a little louder, “This is Jesus.” She looked up and said, “Be quiet! I’m talking to your Mother.” Now, needless to say, had I talked to a number of you, you would have given me a faithful view of Mary, but this is the way my friends came across when I talked to them and they brought up Mary. I’m going to jump ahead.
Life is filled with unexpected surprises, and it’s a delight and a surprise for me to share how I came to see the Roman Catholic Church to be the family of God that He wants all of His children to share in. Fulton Sheen once said, and I paraphrase, that there are not 100 people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, although there might be millions of people who hate what they mistakenly believe the Catholic Church to be and to teach. And thankfully I discovered I fell into the second category. Because for years I opposed the Catholic Church, and I worked hard to get Catholics to leave the Church. But I came to see through a lot of study and considerable prayer that the Roman Catholic Church is based in Scripture.
That’s what I’d like to share with you this morning. It begins with a conversion experience that I had in high school. I didn’t grow up in a strong Christian family. We didn’t go to church very often, and so I wasn’t very religious. What the Lord used in my life was an organization called Young Life, an outreach to unchurched high school kids, and a man named Jack in particular who befriended me and also shared with me the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It made a profound difference in my life.
Early in my high school years I made a commitment and I asked Jesus Christ into my heart; I asked Him to be my savior and Lord. I gave Him my sins and I received the gift of forgiveness and salvation. It made a world of difference for me. It cost me a lot of my friends, but the Lord in a sense more than made up for that by giving me real friends, friends in Christ.
Jack, who taught me to love the Lord, also taught me to read the Bible and not just to read it but to study it, and not just to study it, but to soak in it – to read it and to re-read it from beginning to end. By the time I was finishing high school, I had gone through the Bible two or three times in its entirety. And I had fallen in love with Sacred Scripture. As a result of that I’d become convinced of a couple things.
First, in addition to reading the Bible, Jack had shared with me from his own personal library the writings of Martin Luther, the writings of John Calvin, and I became a convinced Protestant Christian, not just a bible Christian, but somebody who was convinced that up until the 1500’s the Gospel had almost been lost amidst all the medieval superstition and all the pagan practices that the Catholic Church had adopted. And so this first conviction was to help my Catholic friends to see the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ, to show them the Bible, and to show them that in the Bible, you just accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and that’s all it takes. None of this claptrap: Not Mary, not the saints, not purgatory, not devotions, just asking Jesus to be Savior and Lord.
We’re going to be focusing on the very center of the faith this morning, and I feel so woefully inadequate because there is just so much to say about the Blessed Sacrament. It’s a sacrament and it’s a sacrifice in which Our Lord Jesus Christ not only establishes a covenant, but really, is the covenant. And the sacrament contains our Lord Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity; but it’s also an offering. So in the Eucharist Our Lord Jesus Christ body and blood, soul and divinity is offered to the Father continually in an unbloody manner. Then, finally, it’s not just contained. It’s not just offered but it’s received. All three of those elements are crucial to understanding how the Eucharist is both a sacrifice and a sacrament. And when it’s received, we call that Holy Communion. All three of those belong together. They are inseparable. They are critical.
Now we’ve got to say one thing right off the bat. We are talking about an unbloody sacrifice and we are talking about a sacrifice in which Christ’s death is represented. We are not talking about a bloody sacrifice where Christ is still bleeding. We are not talking about the fact that Christ is still dying on Calvary. He’s not dying. He’s been buried. He’s been raised. He’s ascended. He’s enthroned and there he is in glory. But as he is in glory, he is the Lamb of God, enthroned as the Pascal Lamb; and so all of this belongs together in a very deep and mysterious way and I for one do not pretend to think that I can encapsulate or summarize it all adequately.
Now let’s just also remind ourselves of another important theological doctrine. God is omnipresent. God is present everywhere; but Jesus Christ in His humanity, that is the flesh and the blood that He assumed for Himself from the Blessed Virgin Mary, that is only in heaven. That is spatially limited. In addition to its space, to its place in heaven however, we also say that through the miracle of the Mass and the Eucharist, Jesus Christ, not just in His divine nature, which is present everywhere; but in His human nature is present on the altars of the Church around the world as Mass is celebrated daily approximately 300,000 times each day.
In order to approach the veneration of saints from a Biblical perspective, I would like to begin our time in the New Testament Book of Hebrews. We can just keep a finger on Hebrews 11 and see what we really need there because we go through the Old Testament Hall of Fame rapidly. Hebrews 11, verse 1 begins, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, for by it the men of old received Divine approval, and by faith we understand that the world is created by the Word of God so that what is seen was made out of things that do not appear.”
Then he begins to pick off this list of great saints of the Old Testament family of God beginning with the first martyr, Abel, who offered an acceptable sacrifice. And then Enoch and then Noah and then Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Sarah. And then it goes on to talk about Abraham some more and Isaac and Jacob and all the sufferings they endured because their hope was ultimately not in the earthly Jerusalem but in the heavenly Jerusalem, not in the earthly Promised Land but in the heavenly Promised Land.
But notice that the writer of Hebrews is recounting all of this to inspire us to emulate their example. This is going to be one fundamental consideration as we understand the Biblical rationale for the veneration of the saints. Heroic examples inspire heroic virtue. But let’s take a look now at Hebrews 12, “Therefore,” in one of the most basic interpretive principles of Biblical studies that whenever you see that word, “therefore,” you ask yourself what it’s there for because it basically sums up everything before it and draws a very practical conclusion, especially so in the Book of Hebrews. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every way and sin which clings so closely and let us run with perseverance, the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin, you haven’t resisted yet to the point of shedding your blood. Have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons?”