A Spirit-filled, born-again, conservative Christian
What I believe...
Christianity is true.
The unity of the church was shattered long ago. In our day the only unity is mystical. We are unified because we are members of the body of Christ. There was a time in the past in which there was a single unified institutional church but this was shattered when the leaders of this church stopped being holyand stopped believing and teaching the true faith passed-down from the apostles.
The Protestant Reformation did not fix the problem at all. They split from the Catholic Church — this was necessary. Then they changed doctrine and practice — this was useless. But they had bloody wars with the Catholics — this was unfortunate and led to the rejection of religion by many who noticed that religion caused so much bloodshed.
Certainly some Catholic doctrine and moral teaching is true (but it is stated in an idealized manner which doesn't always reflect reality — examples, (1) that bishops are the teachers and defenders of the faith, and (2) that Catholic teaching was passed downfrom the apostles.) This would indeed all be true if all bishops were holy and Spirit-filled but many were worldly and political.
Many churches have authority of governance, and members should obey for unity's sake — but none of these forms of authority or governance are absolute truths.
Two aspects of Catholic teaching ...
The following passage demonstrates that even someone who is committing a mortal sin (killing the Messiah) can be a prophet of God.
Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation. (John 11:50,51)
Certainly those who determined the foundational dogmas and moral teachings of the church were flawed humans as everyone is. But in the case of the high priest, the people at large should not have followed his disciplinary judgments (to kill Jesus) even though in this case his prophecy was true. This illustrates my point: that we are to believe the true foundational dogmas and moral teachings while at the same time we must judge whether or not to obey the commands of unrighteous leaders based on our sensibilities.
Things Jesus taught which are important to a spiritual life ...
Things Jesus taught about but (1) which don't define the spiritual life, or (2) which we should not do ...
Things Jesus didn't teach at all ...
General comments ...
A couple of verses used by Catholics to support the idea of a sacrament of Holy Orders ...
Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. (1 Timothy 4:14)
The claim is that the word "gift" is grace, the sacramental grace of Holy Orders. But this word is the same Greek word used for the other gifts of the Spirit.
Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. (Acts 6:6)
Just because a ritual is used doesn't mean that it is the ritual that confers the grace or power. Faith is required on the part of the recipient for any sacrament to be effective ...
Baptism is seen as connected with faith: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household" (Catechism of the Catholic Church). Justified by faith in Baptism (Catechism of the Catholic Church).
Just as a person without faith who is baptized does not receive salvation via baptism, so also a person who is ordained does not receive the grace of Holy Orders unless they are holy, orthodox believers who are committed disciples of Christ.
The doctrine of sacraments was not taught by the early church (but it was taught by the time of Augustine). Therefore, sacraments are not essential to the life of a Christian. However, I believe that the sacraments have great value for those Christians who know of them, who have faith in them, and who receive them in faith.
Comments about each sacrament ...
The early church taught (1) that sins are remitted during baptism, and (2) that a person is joined to the church, the body of Christ, by baptism. However the person must have faith. It is not necessary for a priest or even a Christian to administer the baptism as long as it is performed with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
I am amazed that most Protestant denominations (and non-denominational denominations) which practice baptism use the correct rite, even when they believe that baptism is merely a symbol.
The consideration of infant baptism did not occur until later, therefore it is not an essential of Christianity.
I once speculated that this was equivalent to the falling of the Holy Spirit described several times in the book of Acts. I now wonder whether it should be a sacrament at all. Perhaps the Charismatics have it right, that we can receive the Holy Spirit and be filled with His power and grace.
The early church included the rite of confirmation along with the rite of baptism.
Clearly this was taught by Jesus, and the early church believed it and practiced it. In order to be valid it must follow the general form of the early church (act of contrition, scripture reading, homily, confession of faith, prayers, Eucharist).
Clearly the early church believed that Christ's presence was in the elements of communion and that they remained for a period of time (the host was taken to people who could not attend mass.) In order to partake you needed to be in good standing with the Lord and free from mortal sin.
For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 11:29,30)
There was nothing like this in the early church. There was a general confession of sins as part of the mass. There was a lengthy public penance for apostates.
There was nothing like this in the early church although there is clear biblical teaching about it ...
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. (James 5:14,15)
There was ordination in the early church but there was no concept of the sacrament of holy orders or of apostolic succession. Presumably only those who were ordained could ordain others. Based on that rule, therefore, apostolic succession is the logical result. But when "bad" bishops are ordained or "bad" bishops ordain others, apostolic succession becomes corrupt and useless.
I suppose you could make the claim that ordinations are invalid unless the person ordaining the other has an unbroken chain of ordination traceable back to the apostles. The Catholic Church claims to have this but I doubt the truth of it since many bishops were ordained by secular rulers.
As a result of this I think that valid ordination exists outside the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. If the purpose of ordination is to allow for valid sacraments, only those churches which believe and practice sacraments require such a thing. See the section above on Holy Orders for more on this topic.
The sacrament of marriage does not require an ordained priest. In fact, it does not require anybody except the bride and groom, the husband and wife. The Church and the State interfere with this but it is because they impose laws and rules upon those who wish to be married.
In the history of the church many other sacraments have been suggested. Therefore, the Catholic idea that there are only seven sacraments is arbitrary.
Some non-Catholic churches have sacraments (Anglican, Episcopalian, Lutheran, etc). I believe their sacraments are valid within the limits of their teaching and faith in these sacraments. Examples of this ...
I discuss my views about the sacraments here ...
Related article: Doctrines of Church Fathers
I believe the Eucharist is valid for all who believe in it when practiced in the context of a church service of a Christian community believing and teaching it to be truly a sacrament such as the Anglican, Episcopalian, and Lutheran churches.
I believe that Catholics who don't believe that the bread and wine become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ Himself do not receive Him when partaking of the elements.
What happens when the host is desecrated, for example, if it is tossed into a sewer? I believe that Christ can inhabit or vacate the articles of communion at will. Therefore, he inhabits the host in the presence of a believer and he vacates the host in the presence of a non-believer. I believe that those in mortal sin or those who do not believe that Christ is present do not truly receive Christ when partaking of communion. They are judged by God not for consuming the elements, but for their lack of faith and their practice of mortal sin.
Related article: Eucharist
I believe the Orthodox Churches have a sensible and historically supportable view of the papacy.
Yes, there is a pope and he is the spokesman for the Church to the world. I've noticed that what he says gets more news coverage than any other Christian leader. He truly is the spokesman for the Church.
The pope should spend more time cleaning up the abuses in the Catholic Church and less time with politics in the world stage.
Related article: Doctrines of Church Fathers
God honors things we do in faith. The leaders of the church can proclaim things and God will honor them.
See related article: Binding and Loosing
When I was a Catholic I simply could not follow this verse...
Not forsaking [neglecting] the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another. (Hebrews 10:25)
Even though I faithfully attend mass every week there is no opportunity to interact with anyone, no opportunity to exhort others or to be exhorted myself.
Regarding Saints: Each group has their own. I was surprised to learn the Orthodox Church had different Saints than the Catholic Church. Protestants don't call them Saints.
Various rites and rituals are fine unless performed without the Holy Spirit or if it is thought that we are saved by them. This includes icons, images, statues, relics, sacred objects, sacred myths and stories — all of these are OK.
Regarding the Holy Fire of the Orthodox Church: The miraculous fire that only appears for the Orthodox. That is because it is their tradition. There is no point for Catholics to wish they had the Holy Fire — it is not for them. God honors our traditions.
Regarding Martyrs: I personally don't see why the early Christians couldn't offer a pinch of incense. It was obvious that no one really thought that the emperor was — it was merely a way of showing loyalty to the state.
Regarding Apparitions: I believe they are valid.
Regarding Contraception: I believe that contraception is not inherently sinful but that there are no good methods available — all have side-effects such as mutilation of the body (surgical), health risks (the pill, IUD's), and extreme inconvenience. (Read more: A World Without Contraception).
Abortion is extremely immoral. But I do not believe it should be illegal.
Regarding homosexuality: Homosexual acts are sinful unless in the context of a lifelong, committed relationship (the same is true for any sexual acts).
Regarding marriage: No matter what laws society may make regarding people living together and getting special legal arrangements, there is a kind of unique relationship between one man and one woman — this can be called Christian marriage. (I hesitate to call it sacramental marriage because the Catholic Church imposes additional rules on sacramental marriage, some of which lead to weird results.)
Regarding sexual sins: I believe sexual activity outside of marriage is a mortal sin with the following exceptions: (1) masturbation without mental images or pornography, and (2) homosexual activity in the context of a lifelong, committed relationship.
No one should assist in any way with euthanasia.
Embryonic stem cell research is a mortal sin, not because it kills embryos but because of the implications for society if this became the norm (where would the embryos come from — from poor women?)
The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God.
When I was a Catholic, I followed the disciplinary aspects of the Catholic Church as best as I could in good conscience.
I believe that Mary was conceived sinless.
I believe that Jesus had no blood brothers because Mary was a virgin for her whole life.
I have no issue with Catholic orders — it seems like a good way to have many sub-groups in unity to the Catholic Church.
Regarding binding and loosing: The Catholic Church teaches that there are two meanings of this phrase...
Certainly church leaders have the power and authority to exclude individuals from active communion in their community. I challenge the assumption that the Catholic Church is the "true church." For example, just because Martin Luther was excommunicated by the Catholic Church doesn't mean he went to hell — I consider him to be a great man of God.
I believe that the Catholic doctrine of indulgences and the Treasury of Merit are valid doctrinal developments.
Regarding the keys of Peter. The Catholic Church teaches that the pope is the head of the church based on the keys given to Peter by Jesus.
Jesus entrusted a specific authority to Peter. . . . The "power of the keys" designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: "Feed my sheep." The power to "bind and loose" connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom. (553)
There have been many popes throughout history who did not "feed the sheep" at all. Certainly these popes did not possess the "power of the keys". Why would the Holy Spirit assist these popes in destroying the church?
Note the power to "bind and loose" given to the pope and bishops. But how can corrupt, unholy, and unbelieving bishops correctly determine true doctrine? I believe that these claims only apply to holy, orthodox, devout bishops. When the church started appointing bishops who did not have these qualities, the powers of "binding and loosing" were invalidated. Certainly the sacraments don't work for people without faith or who have unrepentant sin in their lives. This same applies to bishops.
I believe the doctrine of the Eucharist. There is strong support for it in the New Testament and the practice of the early church. After mass they would take the host (Christ in the form of bread) to those who couldn't attend. What possible use would this have unless they believed that Jesus was present?
I always wondered whether an unbelieving priest or a priest living in mortal sin could confect the Eucharist. Because of this I avoid going to mass in parishes unless I suspect the priest is orthodox. But the nagging question remains — how can I know for sure the beliefs and intentions of the priest?
The Catholic Church attempts to solve this by teaching that there are two necessary factors for a valid Eucharist: (1) valid orders, and (2) proper external form in celebrating the rite.
Since Jesus instituted the Eucharist and since he expects us to worship him in the Eucharist it is important that we know for sure that he is truly present, otherwise we would be guilty of idolatry.
I believe that Lutheran and Anglican/Episcopalian communion is valid. But they believe that the presence of Christ in the elements of bread and wine only last during the service; they don't believe that the host can be put aside and later adored as Christ fully present (there are exceptions to this).
I believe that Jesus honors our faith and that he often limits his blessings to those things our faith will allow. The full Catholic/Orthodox doctrine of the Eucharist is available for all, but most churches reject certain aspects of this — and this limits Christ's blessing.
The model I present for Protestants (which I call the Apostolic Reformation of the Church)has similarities to that of the Anglican Church. They look to the church fathers to determine doctrines and practices and adopt those as true Christianity. I do the same but I add the stipulation that we must reject teachings from corrupt, spiritually lukewarm, unbelieving, unorthodox bishops. In addition my model acknowledges that church councils and the papacy had a role until the great schism of 1054 A.D.