Saturday, 7 November 2009

Q & A Forum #1

And so it begins. Ask your questions, and I'll do my best to point you in the right direction for the answers.

Remember to follow the Rules when posting comments and asking questions.

Questions so far...
1) Can non-Christians be saved?
2) Do Christians still need to tithe?
3) What about similarities between Christ and pagan myths such as Horus or Mithras?
4) How exactly is one saved?

God bless, and have fun!
Gregory

18 comments:

Corrie - ann said...

My question is with respect to the seven lampposts which represent the seven churches. what does that mean, do different religeons or faiths fall under different lamp posts thus making faith the important component or do they reflect only pieces of faith that are Jesus followed.

I have met alot of really fantastic people who are very strong in their faith and though theirs is not the same as mine (ie muslim ) they are still genuinely good people. The idea that they will not go to heaven scares me. What hope is there for these people? Are they covered as one of the seven churches?

Gregory said...

Hello, Corrie-ann! Welcome to the new blog, and kudos for you for breaking the Q&A ice :D

To jump right into your question, which is, I suppose, two questions, I'll say first off that I do not believe that the seven lampstands in Revelation have much at all to do with the question of whether people can be saved who do not profess the Christian faith. That's why I said your question is really two questions, and I'll do my best to answer both.

First of all, the Lampstands in Revelation, discussed in the first chapter of Revelation, are identified by Jesus Himself in that chapter as representing the Seven Churches. So what are the seven churches? Not seven religions, but they are specifically those seven churches to whom a short letter is addressed in Revelation chapters 2-3: namely, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatyra, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. These seven churches were all basically parishes like we would have today, that fell into the diocese of Ephesus, of which St. John, who wrote Revelation, was the Bishop (though he was at the time exiled on the Island of Patmos). During the persecution under the Emperor Domitian, which was going on when John wrote, these letters, and Revelation as a whole, served to encourage these churches under John's pastoral care, to keep persevering in their faith in the face of fear, pain, and death. Now, obviously Revelation, being inspired by the Holy Spirit, does not apply solely to these seven churches, but to all of Christianity. Nevertheless, it was written at a specific time to a specific community, represented by the Lampstands.

If you're interested in more of my thoughts on Revelation, I led a Bible Study on it a few years back, and published my notes on another blog which I used to write. You can find my commentary here.

(cont'd)

Gregory said...

That being said, the fact that the Lampstands themselves do not refer to other religions does not itself answer the question of how God will judge those who have not personally accepted Christ as their Saviour.

The Church, following St. Paul's lead, admits the possibility of people who are not Christian to nevertheless receive God's mercy and salvation. In the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes in chapter 2 about how God will reward all people according to their deeds--for those who lived only for themselves and their pleasures, then the result is condemnation. But for those who through their good works aspired to immortality, the reward will indeed be eternal life (cf. Romans 2:6-7). Paul continues, telling us that those who do not know the Laws of God nevertheless have right and wrong written in their conscience, and the universe itself testifies to God's existence and majesty. Thus, all people are without excuse, and they will be judged on how well they responded to God's grace as they've received it, in obedience to their consciences. Thus, Scripture holds out the possibility for those who do not know the Christian faith to nevertheless still be saved.

I should say a few things about that, though. First of all, all those who will be saved without explicit faith in Jesus are not saved by some other way, but it is through the mercy and grace of Jesus that they are saved. Jesus is still the only saviour.

Secondly, this refers mainly to people who have never heard the Gospel so as to have understood and rejected it. Those who do not reject the Gospel may still be saved, even if for whatever reason they have not explicitly accepted it. Those who understand and reject the Gospel message, do so to their condemnation.

Third, you may have experienced, as I have, just how difficult it is to live according to what we know is right. If it is so difficult for we who have God's grace at work in us enabling us to obey, how much harder is it for those who are trying on their own effort to reply to the graces given by a God whom they do not know? As such, while it is possible for such people to be saved, and God will judge fairly each one, it is nevertheless infinitely easier for us who know Jesus, and can receive His grace directly, primarily through the Sacraments, to attain salvation.

Finally, this uncertainty regarding the salvation of those who do not know Jesus should inspire us who do know Him to be faithful to His command to tell others about Him, so that they may come to know and believe that He is the Lord and Saviour, that they too may be able to live the fulness of the life of grace. For as I said, while it's possible to be saved without specifically receiving the Gospel, receiving it is the surest, safest, and guaranteed way to salvation.

I hope that helps to answer your question. If you want to follow up on what I've said, by all means, ask away! :)

God bless
Gregory

Sean said...

Tithing - According to the OT, (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:26; 2 Chronicles 31:5) there was no question of tithing and it's requirements.

In the NT, the closest thing I could find was (2 Corinthians 9:7). Doesn't seem to state that we "have" to give anymore, only if we want to, feel led to, etc.

What say you about this?

Gregory said...

Corrie-ann! Serves me right for replying before sleeping! I had meant to include citations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the definitive summation of Church teaching, in my response to your question. I'll remedy that now, and then go on to Sean's question on tithing.

Beginning at Paragraph 839, the Catechism discusses the Church's relationship with non-Christian religions, identifying specifically the Jews first, then the Muslims, and then all other non-Christians. Since you mentioned Muslims specifically in your question, I'll quote the Catechism, para. 841: The Church's relationship with the Muslims.
"The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day."

What's that mean? As I said above, God desires to save all people, including Muslims. Muslims, by their professed faith in the One God, are closer to that salvation than those who believe in many gods or no god. However, the Catechism does not, thereby, say that Muslims will be saved.

Paragraphs 846-848 talk about how Christ instituted the Church as a necessary vehicle for salvation, through His mediation, available to us through the sacraments, particularly in our baptism, as well as through faith. It reiterates that those who know that the Church was indeed founded as necessary for salvation, and reject this truth, cannot be saved.

However, 847 continues, letting us know that those who do not know that the Church is necessary for salvation, are not thereby incurring condemnation by rejecting the Church that they do not know. 848 balances these two ideas by admitting that God, in His own way, can lead such people to faith, yet He has called His Church to evangelise all people.

So that adds a bit of "officiality" to my comments above--they weren't just "Greg's thoughts", but a faithful reiteration of the Catholic Church's teaching.

Gregory said...

Sean!
Great qiestion. You actually made me have to go and look stuff up! :D

While many Christian traditions and denominations enforce a rule for tithing, in keeping with the Old Law, and specifically Malachi chapter 3, the Catholic Church does not have a specific amount set that we are obliged to give (tithe literally means to give a tenth--so the rule of "tithing" would be to give 10%).

That said, the Church does require that we give. According to the Church's Code of Canon Law, number 1262, "The faithful are to give support to the Church by responding to appeals and according to the norms issued by the conference of bishops." The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops hasn't made any direct specifications beyond what Canon Law states. Neither, it seems, has the United States Conference.

How much we give, then, well, that's up to us primarily. That we give, well, that's commanded in the Bible--as you yourself pointed out above.

Along with 2 Corinthians 9:7, St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 16:2 about the obligation to give--and he gives an amount: "On the first day of the week, each of you should put aside and reserve as much as each can spare; do not delay the collection till I arrive" (emphasis mine).

Giving, in the Catholic Church, has no one-size-fits-all answer. Not everyone can afford 10%. Many can afford a lot more! We are called to give what we can, and to give it generously.

Another part to your question has to do with what we are to give. Is it just money? Or does our time and service fall into the category of "giving" as well? I would suggest that giving of our time, visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, and the other things Jesus describes in Matthew 25 (the Corporal Works of Mercy), would certainly count toward our obligated giving.

That point leads to a third aspect of our required giving: To whom do we give? As a general guideline, most pastors that I've heard, read, or talked to, suggest giving half to the Church itself, to help pay for the parish's upkeep as well as the minister's (and other staff's) salary, as well as the work that the parish does. The other half can be divided among various charities or in direct acts of almsgiving and whatnot. The point is that our giving is done in order to help the Church complete its mission of serving the world and bringing to it the Love of Christ.

Hope that helps.
Gregory

Anonymous said...

How is Jesus different from any other number of ancient salvific figures such as Horus, or Mithra? The fact that their stories parallel Christ's almost exactly, and according to some scholars predate Christ by even thousands of years (e.g.,Horus/Iusus), should give us pause to reflect on the validity of Christianity, shouldn't it?

Christopher

Corrie - ann said...

Greg thank you for your insight, it makes sense.

Re: Seans question

As "we" are the church is it not than okay to hust tithe thorugh serving whether that be monetary or otherwise.For example if I am walking down the street and someone is in need I must help directly (as my "tithe") I know the impotance of caring for our teachers and the physical church, but a hungry soul is always going to win for me.

Gregory said...

Corrie-ann, I'm so glad I could help :) As to your comment to Sean's question, I totally agree. I still would say that we do need to support the church itself (especially since a good amount of what we give to the church should--and usually does--go to help the poor as well, and often in a more effective and all-inclusive manner than we can do on our own handing change to a beggar on the street.

However, we should always still be mindful of the beggar.

Gregory said...

Chris, thanks for leaving your name at the end of your post. I was about to freak out on "Anonymous" :p

As to your question, I'm afraid that I'll have to deal with it in more depth in a day or two. I'm quite tired and busy this weekend, pulling overtime on nights and whatnot, so I wouldn't be able to do you justice at the moment.

I will, however, offer some small thought by way of a teaser:

First of all, it seems a rather illogical argument to say that because there are parallels between one story and another, that the one story must be copied from the other. Seems like that's a form of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. As such, I don't automatically see that because ancient cultures had beliefs and stories about "salvific figures" that seem to have many parallels with the Christian Gospel, that the Christian Gospel is thereby called into question.

This is because, I believe, the need for salvation is a universal need. As much as man admits that the world, and he himself, is not all that it (and he) are meant to be, and as much as he admits that he himself is powerless to change that fact, he hopes in something higher to bring that salvation. If we assume the Judeo-Christian narrative of the common origin and fall of our race, we realise that not only is this need for redemption universal, but more, there was an ancient and prototypical promise of such a hero that would bring us that redemption. If, of course, this is the case, that such an ancient promise was given, then that promise would, it seems likely, have been handed down, more or less faithfully, through the centuries. Since this need and this promise are so ingrained in the human psyche, it's only natural that it would come out in our stories and myths, is it not? C.S. Lewis referred to this phenomenon as "strange dreams" that in themselves were preparation for the actual true story that God would unfold in the fulness of time. St. Paul, in the passage I mentioned above to Corrie-ann (Romans 1-2 and following) reminds us that while God gave His Law directly to the Jews, He did not leave the other nations without some knowledge of Him. That they would misinterpret or pervert this message into their pagan myths does not nullify the message itself, does it?

That, at any rate, is certainly one valid interpretation of the facts which you presented. On the other hand, you stated that "some scholars" claim that such myths and legends, with their alleged parallels to Christ, "predate Christ even by thousands of years". I suppose it's true that "some scholars" do so. It's equally true that "some other scholars" actually demonstrate that the myths in question did not take on the christological characteristics until after the time of Christ, and thus the argument has been forwarded that these myths actually borrowed from the Gospel, and not the other way around.

That is, while Horus and Isis, et al. were the gods of ancient Egypt, the ancient stories about them lacked these Christian parallels, until the revival of Egypt under Ptolemais in around AD 200. It was then that these stories were altered with the Gospel elements (inadvertently?) imbued into them, and it is these versions which were commonly passed down to us from antiquity, leading to the confusion regarding parallels.

Thus, there is another satisfactory answer to the question of parallels between Jesus and Horus, or Jesus and Mithra.

Gregory said...

All this, of course, assumes the allegation that there are indeed such exact parallels between Horus and Christ or Mithra and Christ--an allegation which I have not seen demonstrated convincingly.

One last point before I go, however. The challenge to Christianity presented by the claims of some scholars regarding these alleged parallels does not address the fact of the historical person of Jesus who historically lived, worked miracles, taught, and was crucified. It ignores the historical testimony of His followers, most of whom were persecuted, tortured, and killed for the claim that He rose again and proved Himself to be divine. It ignores the fact that simple men from a simple time could come up with a complex story that, if false, led to their deaths over nothing but a nice dream (at best) or a deliberate deception (at worst). It ignores the existence of an institution that survived all of that and continues to thrive, despite external attack and internal strife, and which continues to serve the world more effectively than any other institution on the planet (not to mention its supernatural longevity). Finally, these scholarly claims fail to account for the billions and billions of people who have claimed to have actually been in life-changing contact with the Christ in question.

Horus and Mithra, parallels included, have been demonstrated as fictions which no one today puts any actual spiritual faith in. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, has shown Himself real "through many infallible proofs" as the Gospel writer has it, proofs which persist to this day. In that analysis, there is simply no parallel between Christ and any other ancient myth.

As I said, I don't have the time or the energy to source my claims right now, but if you really want me to, I can redo the research and give you sources, probably Monday or Tuesday.

God bless
Gregory

Gregory said...

Thought I'd toss up a few sources for my comments regarding Jesus and Horus:

All About Horus
An Egyptian Copy of Christ?
Seems to be a Catholic site, so yeah, definitely biased. However, he includes a lot of source material, so it's still worth considering. The conclusion is that the claims of parallels between the Horus and Jesus stories are all essentially fabrications. The parallels that genuinely do exist are rather insignificant and fail to prove any real or definite connection.

Considering, on the other hand, every source that I've seen for the connection sites pretty much the same three sources (Gerald Massey, Acharya S., and Tom Harpur, the latter two both seeming to draw from the first), and the fact that none of the sources I can find actually provide the myth(s) of Horus for our inspection, combined with the fact that if one does take the time to read the actual Horus story, none of the parallels occur, it confuses me how anyone could take this alleged parallel seriously.

Legends of the Gods: The Egyptian Texts, edited with Translations, by E. A. Wallis Budge [1912] Primary source of the legend of Horus.

Tom Harpur's The Pagan Christ: A Critique A pretty thorough, well-sourced refutation of Tom Harpur's claims and his "scholarly" sources.

Mithra: Encyclopedia Mythica A brief article about Mithra. The "Sol Invictus" deal apparently didn't even start until 100 years after Christ's birth. While Christianity admittedly dates Christmas to coincide with this festival, in order to aid conversion through "baptising" the culture, this in itself hardly makes the case for Christ being a plagiarised Mithra. With regard to other so-called parallels, they again seem lacking and insignificant.

Catholic Encyclopedia: Mithraism deals with the similarities and differences between the two religions.

It does appear that I made a mistake above, regarding Ptolemais and Egyptian hellenisation. It was Ptolemy 1 who revived Egypt, in 305 BC (which lasted until the Romans took over in 31 BC. However, during this time, Egyptian culture spread into the Greek Empire (and later into the Roman) and Horus (among others) was adopted as an equivalent to Apollo. It was during this hellenisation that the alleged parallels between Horus and Jesus first emerged in Horus' story.

Anyway, the point still remains, as I mention above, that the copy-cat theory seems to be based upon a logical fallacy, which fails to account for the solid historical evidence for Jesus Christ.

Sean said...

SALVATION!

I have heard everything from:

1) You are saved by asking Jesus into your heart.

2) You never lose your salvation.

3) You can lose your salvation.

4) Just believing in jesus will get you saved.

5) belief alone is not enough.

What's the truth about salvation and how does one KNOW they are saved?

Gregory said...

Sean, the short answer to your question is that we are saved by God's grace, made available to us through the Incarnation, Obedience, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The slightly less short version is that this salvation depends upon our response to God's grace in our lives.

As I mentioned in my answer to Corrie-ann's question above, "In the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes in chapter 2 about how God will reward all people according to their deeds--for those who lived only for themselves and their pleasures, then the result is condemnation. But for those who through their good works aspired to immortality, the reward will indeed be eternal life (cf. Romans 2:6-7). Paul continues, telling us that those who do not know the Laws of God nevertheless have right and wrong written in their conscience, and the universe itself testifies to God's existence and majesty. Thus, all people are without excuse, and they will be judged on how well they responded to God's grace as they've received it, in obedience to their consciences. Thus, Scripture holds out the possibility for those who do not know the Christian faith to nevertheless still be saved."

For those of us to whom the message of the Gospel has come explicitly, however, our salvation is dependent upon our response to the Gospel. We are to accept it in faith, and that faith is to be acted upon through loving obedience to God's Commands. When we are living in obedience to God's Will, having been inducted into that state through baptism (by which we are born again--John 3:5, Titus 3:5, 1 Peter 3:20-21), as long as we remain in a state of grace, we can be sure of our salvation. That is, our certainty is a "moral certainty". As long as I'm doing my part, I can be sure God will never arbitrarily reject me, and I'm sure that nothing else can ever force me out of His hand.

However, contrary to those who claim that we can never lose our salvation, or that we can be 100% sure that we are absolutely saved, the Bible makes it very clear that if we do not continue to abide in God's grace, we will be cut off (cf. John 15:1-10, esp. v.6; 1 John 5:16-17; Hebrews 6:4-6). That is, through the commission of Mortal Sin (sin that is a serious matter, committed with full understanding that it is seriously wrong, and to which we have freely consented), we in effect are saying that we reject God's salvation, and thereby kill the life of grace in our soul. If we persist in this state of sin, we will not be saved, despite entering into God's family through baptism.

Since there is only one baptism for the forgiveness of sins (cf. Ephesians 4:5), when we have fallen into serious sin, we cannot be rebaptised. Instead, Christ has given us a way to reestablish our covenant with Him, through Confession, in which He has given His priests the authority to remit sins (John 20:23).

Among other things that Christ commanded with regard to salvation, was to partake of His flesh and blood, saying that those who eat His flesh and drink His blood have eternal life, while those who do not, have no life in them (John 6:51-58). Through the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we go even further than "asking Jesus into our hearts", but actually receive Him, body, blood, soul, and divinity, into our very mouths, stomachs, bodies, and souls. His very life of grace energises our lives that we may become more and more like Him--more and more perfect and holy, and thus, abiding in Him may be made worthy of eternal life in Heaven.

That, in a nutshell, is how we are saved.

Clear as mud? :)

Anonymous said...

Who did St. Thomas think that Muslims worship? (Please cite your sources, as normal.)

Anonnunimust B.

Gregory said...

Hey Anonnunimust B.

Interesting question. I assume by it that you want to know whether St. Thomas would have thought that Allah and the Christian God were the same (but worshipped differently), or if he thought that the differences in belief about our respective Gods indicated that we worship two different Gods. In other words, does Thomas hold that Muslims worship a false God or a true God falsely?

If I've misunderstood your question, please let me know.

In the meantime, I'll candidly tell you up front that I have absolutely no idea :)

That said, I'll do my best to find out and get back to you soon!

God bless, and welcome to the blog!
Gregory

Gregory said...

Anonnunimust B.
your question regarding St. Thomas' beliefs about Allah has proved to be quite the complicated one. So far as I can tell, St. Thomas never clearly stated what he officially thought.

However, there are certain things in his writings that give us a bit of an indication.

In St. Thomas' arguments for God's existence as outlined in his Summa Theoligica (Book 1, Question 2, Article 3) known as the "5 Ways", he concludes each of his arguments for God's existence with the phrase, "and this everyone understands to be God," or an equivalent.

From this, we can make an assumption that St. Thomas would hold that anyone who believes in a Supreme Being, by natural theology must believe in God, as such. That is, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Pagan Greek Philosophers, etc. would all be held, by this understanding, to be speaking of that One God.

Furthermore, Aquinas frequently refers to Islamic philosophers when he is talking about the reasonable basis for belief in God, yet St. Thomas never gives a hint that he thinks that the "God" they are talking about is somehow different than the "God" he is talking about.

Of course, the trickiness comes in when we recognise that all these groups of people have widely different understandings of that One God.

When it comes to Muslim beliefs about God, St. Thomas does level criticism of their beliefs. According to this article, the author claims that St. Thomas thinks the Muslim notion of the absolute interposition of God (Allah) in the chain of causality goes too far. Specifically, he writes,

"In De Potentia, St. Thomas Aquinas contrasts the Muslim view of physical causality with the Christian one, pointing out that Muslims believe that Allah interposes himself at every point in the chain of causality, while Christians believe that natural objects can act under their own power. Contemporary writers, such as Fr. Stanley Jaki, have argued that this Muslim misconception of natural causality is the primary reason science developed in Christian Europe but remained stunted in Muslim societies (the claims of current public-school textbooks and PBS propaganda specials notwithstanding).

I hyperlinked the document of St. Thomas that the author refers to. However, I'm not sure specifically where St. Thomas makes the contrast between Allah and God, since he never specifically mentions Allah. More probably, the Muslim viewpoint is likely reflected without direct attribution in the various objections preceeding Thomas' arguments. I'll let you peruse this work at your leisure.

Gregory said...

Finally, in Summa Contra Gentiles, St. Thomas devotes some space to criticising the Islamic religion and its founding (and founder). He writes, in Book 1, Chapter 6, contrasting the faith of Christianity with that of Islam according to the testament of miracles:

[3] This wonderful conversion of the world to the Christian faith is the clearest witness of the signs given in the past; so that it is not necessary that they should be further repeated, since they appear most clearly in their effect. For it would be truly more wonderful than all signs if the world had been led by simple and humble men to believe such lofty truths, to accomplish such difficult actions, and to have such high hopes. Yet it is also a fact that, even in our own time, God does not cease to work miracles through His saints for the confirmation of the faith.

[4] On the other hand, those who founded sects committed to erroneous doctrines proceeded in a way that is opposite to this, The point is clear in the case of Muhammad. He seduced the people by promises of carnal pleasure to which the concupiscence of the flesh goads us. His teaching also contained precepts that were in conformity with his promises, and he gave free rein to carnal pleasure. In all this, as is not unexpected, he was obeyed by carnal men. As for proofs of the truth of his doctrine, he brought forward only such as could be grasped by the natural ability of anyone with a very modest wisdom. Indeed, the truths that he taught he mingled with many fables and with doctrines of the greatest falsity. He did not bring forth any signs produced in a supernatural way, which alone fittingly gives witness to divine inspiration; for a visible action that can be only divine reveals an invisibly inspired teacher of truth. On the contrary, Muhammad said that he was sent in the power of his arms--which are signs not lacking even to robbers and tyrants. What is more, no wise men, men trained in things divine and human, believed in him from the beginning. Those who believed in him were brutal men and desert wanderers, utterly ignorant of all divine teaching, through whose numbers Muhammad forced others to become his followers by the violence of his arms. Nor do divine pronouncements on the part of preceding prophets offer him any witness. On the contrary, he perverts almost all the testimonies of the Old and New Testaments by making them into fabrications of his own, as can be. seen by anyone who examines his law. It was, therefore, a shrewd decision on his part to forbid his followers to read the Old and New Testaments, lest these books convict him of falsity. It is thus clear that those who place any faith in his words believe foolishly. (Articles 3 and 4.)

However, he seems to voice no specific objection to "Allah" as such, but only to the Muslims' erroneous beliefs about Him. I hope that is helpful.

I'll reproduce this in the new Q&A Forum as well.