MacArthur and the Principle of Charity

How do we read even our opponents? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

There’s a rule in debates of any kind that if there are at least two possible readings of a text and you have no good reason to prefer one to the other, you go with the one that puts your opponent in the best light. You would want him to do the same to you if he thought your statements were ambiguous. If you don’t understand a concept also, you should not put it in a way that is absolutely ludicrous.

So let’s look at something John MacArthur is claimed to have said. My friend who shared it is a Catholic and I have not known him to post false information so if this was never said, I will gladly rescind any comments about MacArthur, but the concept will still be the same because this is a common mistake. Anyway, it all begins with this picture.

I understand a lot of my fellow Protestants get antsy when they hear the phrase “Mother of God” and I will be discussing that concern later on, but no matter how much you might think Catholicism is false whether you just disagree with it or whether you think it’s the biggest cult on Earth, and I am indeed the former, let’s state something about what is meant by Mother of God. The fact is that no Catholic takes it to mean something along the lines of, “God did not exist and then Mary came along and Mary gave birth to God and God came into existence at that point.” Every Catholic knows that God in His divine essence was not born. God is eternal. They do know that a man named Jesus who is both God and man was born. That is what is meant.

Now that doesn’t mean you have to accept every bit of Mariology that comes from Catholics and Orthodox, but it does mean that you can accept this term when it is understood. If by Mother of God, one means that Mary gave birth to a person who is fully God and fully man and brought the incarnation into the world through her body, there is not a problem. Protestants agree that Mary was the one to do this and to this degree, she should indeed be honored even in Protestant circles. While I think Catholics and Orthodox have gone too far with Mary, I think the Protestant reaction has gone too far in the other direction.

Now let’s address something a Protestant friend said in the discussion. Catholics should say what they mean. When people hear Mother of God, they do tend to think something along the lines of God came into being through Mary. Why not let them just say what they mean then?

The problem here is that everyone does theological shorthand. Were you to go up to Protestant Evangelicals and ask “Is Jesus God?”, they would say yes. Now you go to someone like Greg Stafford, who is a Jehovah’s Witness who wrote a book defending them. He will take that and go this way.

Jesus is God.
God is a Trinity.
Jesus is a Trinity.

Obviously, no one accepts this, but Stafford will use it to show the Trinity is nonsense if you think Jesus is God. Some will look at this and say, “I know it’s wrong, but I don’t see where.” The problem is the first premise is theological shorthand. Evangelicals don’t go around stating the doctrine as “Jesus is the man in whom the fullness of the divine nature, the second person of the Trinity, dwells in bodily form.” No. We just speak of the deity of Christ and say Jesus is God hoping people will understand rather than use a long and clunky phrase every time.

Getting back to the picture itself, the reality is MacArthur should know enough about Catholicism to know this. I could grant some grace to Joe Protestant who doesn’t walk in highly theological circles and hears this phrase and reacts that way. On the other hand, how much better would our discussions be if we would go to our opponents over ideas like this and say “Do you really believe this? Explain this to me please.”

And again, if the citation is wrong and MacArthur never said this, fair enough. This can be changed. What is still the same is the point. We ought to read our opponents in the best possible light and if we don’t know something, try to understand before critiquing. How much better could our dialogues be if we did that?

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Why Can’t Protestants Be More Protestant?

Are we really people who take the Bible as our authority? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many times as a devout Protestant, I hear my fellow Protestants speaking in ways that trouble me. We often talk so much about what the Bible says to us and how it is our final authority in faith and practice. By the way, let’s make that clear, the Bible is not our only authority, but it is the one such that if anything contradicts Scripture, it is false, and any good Orthodox and Catholic would say the same thing. None of us want to believe anything that contradicts Scripture. Whether anyone does is another debate.

Yet when I get together with my fellow Protestants, I wonder about this. Often times, I hear talk about doing what you feel like God is leading you to do. It’s as if God is sitting up in Heaven trying to get your attention by giving you feelings in your heart. Question. Where in Scripture do you see anything like this described? Where do we see anyone being told to follow their feelings? If anything, we know too often that listening to your heart leads to trouble. As Jeremiah tells us, it’s deceptive above all.

Not only that, we would also need a guide as to which feelings are from God and which are not. I remember hearing Derwin Gray talking about talking to a Mormon once who said he knew God was speaking to him when he got goose bumps. Gray said, “If that’s the case, then when I’m watching Rocky 3, the Holy Spirit must be all over me.” It’s humorous, but you get the point. I also realize that we are not Mormons, but we do know Mormons are a fine example of what happens when you listen to strong feelings.

By the way, none of this means that I am opposed to feelings. It means that I am saying feelings must be guided by Scripture and if Scripture doesn’t tell us to listen to our emotions and feelings as cues from God, then we should not do so. Many people look at guilt as such a judgment from God. Guilt can always be a good reason to self-examine, but we all know people who feel guilty for things when they have done no wrong, and we know people who have done wrong and feel no guilt. It’s not reliable.

You may feel like God doesn’t love you. That can tell you that there’s an emotional problem to work out for you, but that says nothing about God. God’s love for you is not dependent on your feelings. If you think it is, then your feelings are greater than God. I have said before if we could ever for the briefest moment of time grasp how much God truly loves us, we would never live our lives the same way. Maybe the reason we don’t have that made fully manifest here is because honestly, in our sinful natures, we cannot handle that.

What would happen if we all took the promises of Scripture more seriously? I realize that my Catholic and Orthodox friends add tradition to the list of something else infallible, but I know they would agree wholeheartedly with this. If we took Scripture more seriously, all of us, we would all be better off. That book contains some pretty incredible promises for all of us. We spend so much time looking at ourselves often that we overlook what Scripture says about the matter.

Let’s consider one example. I am a sensitive guy in many ways when it comes to the fear that I have committed some sin. Of course, we all do, but I know this is one area I am very neurotic in. Now there is no doubt we need to reflect on the gravity of sin, but it would be absolutely awful to see the gravity of sin and then also to miss the greatness of the grace and forgiveness given to each of us. That could actually be a sin in itself. It has a God who would rather judge us than to forgive and love us. (And even if He doesn’t forgive us, He still loves us.)

Maybe you’re like me and your past isn’t filled with heinous sins. Sometimes, we can hear testimonies of people who came from a sordid past and they sound so glorious in a way because they know what they are forgiven for very well. If you don’t have that, it’s hard to experience it the same way. It might seem easy for Paul to write about seeing as he was guilty of murdering Christians, or Peter since He denied the Lord three times, but what about someone like the disciple whom Jesus loved? Are there not plenty of people who are seen as righteous regularly in the Bible and yet celebrate their salvation and thus their forgiveness. We have a hymn in the church about grace that is greater than all our sin. Why do we often act like sin is greater than grace?

After all, any one sin can separate you from God forever. God does not have to forgive you. He doesn’t even have to provide a way of forgiveness. He could have let us all just go to Hell and He would have been justified in doing so. He owed us nothing. That He gave us even an offer is a sign of His grace. If anything, it should tell us God is more serious about our need for forgiveness than we are.

Consider then if you’re a Christian whatever you have done, you have been spared of that. Regardless of if you hold to some form of eternal conscious torment or to annihilationism, you have been spared. Even if you hold to Universalism, you can say that God did not have to do that. We are the ones who have done wrong against God and rejected Him and spat in His face and yet He offers us forgiveness and even still wants to be with us despite the wrongs that we have done against Him, and keep in mind we are to show that love to others as well.

It is something I need to think about as well. I think for instance if an employer wants to do a background check on me, go ahead. They won’t find anything. That’s true. Before the law, I’m a quite clean individual. God help me though if I had to give an answer to Him for any background check. Every careless word and deed and even intention of my heart examined? Instead, forgiveness is given for all of that.

That’s a promise we all have.

Protestants. Our feelings will often lead us astray. We don’t have any guarantee that God is speaking through feelings, dreams, circumstances, etc., but we do know He has spoken in Jesus and in Scripture. Let’s always treat those as our final authorities. There’s a lot of awesome truths in there that we still need to think about.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: The Liturgy Trap

What do I think of James Jordan’s book published by Athanasius Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As one a few years ago who started having to interact with the Orthodox Church, I have become curious about the divide between the Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox. I have a great respect for all three traditions, although my home is in Protestantism. Still, when I saw a book about the liturgy trap and evangelicals being drawn into Catholic and Orthodox churches because of the worship, I decided to see what was said.

I had a concern at the start hearing that the author was part of the Reformed tradition. I am thankful for my fellow Protestant Christians who are Reformed, but at the same time I realize too often they can take too hard a line on the issues. I was relieved to hear that Jordan does not write off Catholics and Orthodox as non-Christians even if he does disagree with their churches.

I was also pleased to hear that he points to a real problem in evangelical churches. Our worship is way too shallow. Much of our songs are really filled with emotional pablum with no theological depth to them whatsoever. The songs focus on the singer and how they feel for the most part. Few of our sermons have any real depth to them. When I would attend an Orthodox Church, one benefit I had is while I never got into the liturgy, when I heard the sermon, I at least knew I would hear something substantial even if I didn’t agree with it, which was the minority for the most part.

A number of Jordan’s criticisms though I found lacking. I found it difficult to tell what his position was on praying to saints although I know he disagreed. I did get the impression that he has no problem with the idea of the word worship properly understood. For instance, it used to be in some marriage ceremonies each spouse would say to the other, “With my body, I thee worship.”

I agreed with his point on tradition. When I hear someone say that they hold to Scripture and tradition, I think they hold to certain traditions. Catholics and Orthodox both say they hold to the apostolic tradition, and yet there is disagreement between the two of them. When I hear a tradition, I want to know who said it, when did it start, and how reliable is it? If I hear of a tradition and it first shows up a few centuries after Jesus, I am skeptical.

One such tradition dealt with is the idea of perpetual virginity. This is one tradition I definitely question as it looks highly convincing to me that Jesus had brothers and sisters and I have no reason to think of these as anything but natural brothers and sisters. I do not find convincing the story of Jesus at the cross giving His mother to the beloved disciple as a reason to question that Jesus had brothers and sisters. I think Protestants should give honor to Mary as the mother of our Lord and so on our end, I think we don’t show enough reverence.

Overall, I think Jordan does definitely hit on valid points, but I think he overdoes it to at times. What I would like to see, and I just checked and it still isn’t on there, is something like a Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox counterpoints book by Zondervan. I realize there is Robert Plummer’s Journeys of Faith, but I find that one too limiting in interaction as there is just one reply and I would like to see all the positions interacting.

I also wish something had been said about, you know, liturgy. I was hoping there would be some look at worship in church history. For a book with that title, one would think that would be an emphasis, but sadly, it wasn’t. I won’t deny for some, the liturgy is quite beautiful and I understand that. For me, it really didn’t resonate and I suspect I am not alone in that.

If you’re interested in the debate, this one is a good one to interact with still. I do appreciate that it was said that there are real Christians in other churches instead of all guns blazing. We need to be able to debate our disagreements, but still do so as brothers and sisters in Christ.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
Donate to my Patreon here.

Deeper Waters Podcast 4/18/2020

What’s coming up?

April is Autism Awareness Month. As an aspie married to an aspie, I am always doing something in April for this month. This month is no exception. Back in January, I was told about an interesting individual I should have on my show for this occasion.

While I am thoroughly Protestant, I have no problem associating with Catholics and Orthodox and hold strongly to a Mere Christianity. This week, I am having on a Catholic priest who very well understands the ins and outs of autism. This is because he himself is an autistic priest. His name is Matthew Schneider and he will be telling us about life as an autistic priest.

So who is he?

According to his bio (Taken from his blog on Patheos):

Jesus loves us. I love Jesus. My name is Fr Matthew P. Schneider, LC I’m a priest with the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi. I try to fulfill our mission of helping people know and experience Jesus, be transformed by him, and become his apostles.

I began working in youth ministry and wrote some of the material for the Conquest and Challenge Clubs but in recent years I have moved away from that. In relation to youth ministry, I wrote the only book on doing 1-on-1 spiritual mentoring with teenagers called Spiritually Mentoring Teenage Boys based on my experience (90% of it probably applies to teen girls too but I don’t have much experience there).

Slowly I’ve become one of the biggest Catholic voices on Twitter with over 50,000 followers.

I’m currently writing my doctoral thesis in Moral Theology through Regina Apostolorum in Rome. On the side, I write some articles for the Regnum Christi site (no byline), post inspirational stuff and Catholic commentary online (including this), help with sacraments at local parishes, and occasionally talk publicly on subjects I discuss here (use the contact form if you want this). I do this while living in the Legionary community in the Philadelphia metro area.

Along with my writing here, I have written for or appeared in at least 65 other media outlets.

  • I have written pieces appearing in the National Catholic Register, America, Crux, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, Aleteia, ZENIT, ChurchPOP, Catholic.net, Ignitium Today, Regnum Christi Live, CatholicismUSA, and Shalom Tidings.
  • My pieces have been featured on New Advent, The National Catholic Register, BigPulpit.com, The Catholic Herald, and Spirit Daily.
  • I have been interviewed on/in the EWTN Nightly News, Catholic News Agency, The Son Rise Morning Show, Crux, Morning Air on Relevant Radio, The Catholic Channel on SiriusXM, EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, EWTN Noticias, The Catholic Herald, Elite Daily, and Kresta in the Afternoon.
  • I or my work has appeared in stories by Catholic News Agency, Crux, the Associated Press, the Huffington Post, Christianity Today, Slate, The Philippine Daily Inquirer, CNN Español, The Washington Post, Elite Daily, BuzzFeed, The Christian Science Monitor, NBC 4 (New York), RT, “On Religion” (syndicated column), LifeNews.com, The Washington Times, CBS News, The Hill, and The Guardian.
  • These lesser-known sources also had me or my work featured in some way: CatholicPhilly.com, March for Life, Grandin Media, UPolitics, The Troubadour (Franciscan University), World Religion News, The Family Research Council, ClevelandPeople.Com, International Badass Activists, Christian Daily, AsumeTech, CathNews USA, The Assyrian International News Agency, Aspie Catholic, The Brown Pelican Society, Macoco TV CHANNEL, Regnum Christi, The Diocese of Madison this week on Relevant Radio, Radio Maria, Iowa Catholic Radio, Sacred Heart Radio, EpicPew, and Upworthy.

So we will have a show with two aspies in ministry, one a Protestant and one a Catholic, talking together about what it’s like. We’ll discuss Matthew’s story and how he got to where he is and what challenged and even blessings there are in being an autistic priest. I hope you’ll be joining us.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Primal Loss

What do I think about Leila Miller’s book published by LCB Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The kids will be alright if the parents split. Right? I mean, the experts all told us it was for the best for the children. If the parents are happy, the children will be happy. Right?

Those children are now speaking and they are not happy. They are speaking about the damage that the divorce caused them. These are people who even if they have gone on to have functional lives, still carry the scars of divorce with them even into their own marriages and other relationships.

Now let’s be clear on something. This does not mean that divorce is never a sad necessity sometimes or the unforgivable sin. I believe that if there is a marriage where both people want to work for the good of the marriage, then they can work for it and reach it. This can include even in the case of an actual affair. There could still be times of separation that are needed, however, such as in the case of physical or sexual abuse.

Leila has seventy correspondents she has talked to about this matter. Each of them are asked about eight specific topics. They are left anonymous although details about each can be found in the back. No names are given.

The following are the eight topics.

1. Effects of the divorce.
2. Feelings as child vs adult.
3. View of marriage.
4. Are children resilient?
5. Speak to your parents then and now.
6. What society should know.
7. The role of faith in healing.
8. To those facing divorce.

After this, she has stories of hope of people who overcame divorce in their own marriages and are now happily married. Then, she has a section on what the Catholic Church teaches on divorce. The former section contains several short stories and the latter section is just a few pages.

The stories in the book of what the children went through are gripping and painful to read. They need to be read though. They need to be heard. These are people being raw and candid and not writing to impress. They’re not normally going on and on about themselves or being overdramatic. They are expressing the pain they have as a result of the divorce. They are urging people to work on their own marriages.

There are some further steps I would like to see from a book like this.

First off, I understand this is by a Catholic writer reaching Catholics, but I would like to see this work broadened beyond that. I would like to see Protestants and Orthodox included as well as other religions and even secularists. Is the role of divorce in the lives of these other people the same? Will an atheist be hurt by the divorce of their parents?

I also think this will be good for people outside of the Catholic tradition who read the book. Divorce hits all people groups and all people groups need some help with it. I would like to know what people in my Protestant tradition would say to these questions as well as what other people would say in other faiths or no faiths?

Sometimes, I also thought the large number was good, but it could also be good to have a book that would have fewer correspondents, but those would be far more extensive. Perhaps a sit-down style of interview such as could be found in a Lee Strobel book on the topic.

I would also like to know what encouragement would be given to couples who don’t have children and are considering divorce. If the reason given is the kids will be damaged, what happens if kids aren’t involved? What reason is given then?

Still, this is a book that needs to be read. We need to hear about the effects divorce has on a culture. No. The kids are not alright.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/23/2019

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Most any joke today about a Catholic priest is fair game. After all, everyone knows that they’re all secretly pedophiles. Never is this kind of joke made about the public school system, but with Catholic priests, all bets are off. Hasn’t there been a cover-up? Isn’t the Catholic Church defending these priests?

For those of us who are Protestant, it could be tempting to see this as a matter that the Catholics need to deal with, but we do as well. After all, this is used as an argument against Christianity in general as well. Second, it could be a case that if we don’t stand up for truth now, who is going to stand up when our opponents come after us?

Speaking of truth, if we’re talking about different relationships, maybe the priests should be out of that position if they can’t help it, but maybe homosexuals can’t help the way they feel as well. What if as the joke song says about it, that homosexuality is in your DNA and you’re just born that way? Does that mean that it’s okay if you’re gay?

These are important issues today. The second one definitely hits home to a lot of us. If someone has a genetic basis for homosexuality or even a disposition to it, is that something that we can blame them for? Are we not going against their nature?

To deal with these issues, I am bringing on a guest who has looked at both of them seriously. He is a Catholic himself and we will discuss how he handles the claims about the church that he belongs to. We will also discuss homosexuality and how we should discuss the question of if homosexuals are born that way. My guest’s name is Paul Sullins.

So who is he?

Paul Sullins SociologyTaken – 10/15/08 – 1:20:58 PMphoto by Ed PfuellerSullins_Paul_003.JPG

According to his bio:

The Rev. D. Paul Sullins is Research Professor of Sociology and Director of the Leo Initiative for Catholic Social Research at the Catholic University of America and Senior Research Associate at the Ruth Institute.  He has written four books and over 150 journal articles, book chapters and research reports on issues of faith and culture.  He recently published  “Is Catholic Clergy Sex Abuse related to Homosexual Priests?” (National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, Winter 2019); “Danish-like regulations may improve post-abortion mental health risk” (JAMA Psychiatry, January 1, 2019),” “Invisible Victims: Delayed Onset Depression among Adults with Same-Sex Parents (Depression and Research Treatment, Sept 2016)”, “Abortion, Substance Abuse and Mental Health in Early Adulthood: Thirteen Year Longitudinal Evidence from the United States”, available via Pubmed or at http://ssrn.com/author=2097328, Keeping the Vow: the Untold Story of Married Catholic Priests (Oxford University Press, 2015), and co-edited (with Pierpaolo Donati of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences) The Conjugal Family: An Irreplaceable Resource for Society (LEV Press, Rome: 2015).  Fr. Sullins is also the Director of the Summer Institute of Catholic Social Thought; a member of the board of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists (SCSS), the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM), and the Natural Family Journal; a Fellow of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI); Associate Pastor of the Church of Saint Mark the Evangelist, Hyattsville, Maryland; and (not least) a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Columbus.  Formerly Episcopalian, Fr. Sullins is a married Catholic priest with an inter-racial family of three children, two adopted.

I hope you’ll be looking forward to this episode. We are working quickly on getting new episodes up. Please also leave a positive review for the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Do Protestants Have A Problem With Works?

Is works salvation really a major issue today? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday at a Bible Study at the Orthodox Church my wife attends, we were going through Revelation 14 and I heard the priest get to the verse about those who die in the Lord for they will rest and their works will follow them. He remarked that Protestants have a problem with this verse. For me, I was sitting right there as the Protestant in the room and thinking, “I don’t have a problem with it.” I don’t know how we could get statistics on how many Protestants might have a problem with it, but I figured it could be something interesting to write on.

I think those of us who are Protestants have rightly emphasized salvation by grace through faith. It cannot be earned. It is a gift. It is not wages that are given out because we are good boys and girls.

So when I see this verse in Revelation, I think it means the work that the person has done immediately is done. They themselves will work no more, but the effects of what they have done will live on. Why would that be a problem?

If we go back to the Reformation, I am convinced the Protestants had the better arguments, but their exegesis was still not the best overall. Now I think there’s more evidence that what is being discussed in Galatians is not if salvation is by works or if it is by grace. It is instead being discussed what is the identity marker of if one is a Christian? Is it keeping the Law, i.e. circumcision, or is it faith in Christ?

If we’re Protestants, we shouldn’t balk when we hear works being talked about. Works are great and wonderful things. Picture a man who goes to an altar one day next to a woman he loves and says, “I do.” Then he goes back home to his parents and stays there. He never interacts with his wife or has sex with her or provides for her or anything, but he insists that he is married. We would all seriously question that one.

If you are a Christian, then along the way you ought to show the signs that you are a Christian. If you are not producing any fruit at all, we have reason to doubt your Christianity. This shouldn’t be a problem. It’s abundant in Scripture. Christ says He who abides in Him will produce much fruit. Ephesians 2:8-9 is followed by a verse saying that we are saved by grace through faith and the very next verse talks about the works that we do. While James 2 is often misunderstood, it is certainly right in the emphasis on how important works are and I would argue that James is talking about justification before men and not before God.

While I do think the comment yesterday might have been exaggerated, we who are Protestants do not need to shy away from doing good works and we need sermons on the importance of doing good works. Again, none of this is so that we can be Christians. We do good works because we are Christians and we have a job to do. We are to do the Great Commission.

It still is a tragedy to me today that there are three branches of Christianity today and I do look forward to the unity of all three one day. Still, we should all agree on the importance of doing good works. If a tree doesn’t produce any fruit, we can rightly speculate that the tree is dead. If we do not produce any fruit in our Christian walk, people can rightly speculate that our faith is dead.

Again, I don’t know how many Protestants really do have a problem with the passage, but we shouldn’t. We should be greatly emphasizing the importance of doing good works. Those start with loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Steven Anderson on Mount Athos

What do I think of Steven Anderson’s views on Orthodoxy? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

For those who don’t know yet, I am a thoroughly convinced Protestant. I have a wife who is interested in Eastern Orthodoxy and that did get me looking into issues of Catholicism and Orthodoxy. It really was something I never wanted to get into since I am one who tries to be ecumenical. Now I do have a greater understanding of both positions and still disagree, but I don’t want people speaking wrongly against my brothers and sisters on the way.

For those who don’t know, Steven Anderson is this crazy pastor who thinks that we should kill all the homosexuals or that they should kill themselves. This is not to say that I think homosexuality is fine. I think Scripture is clear on the wrongness of homosexual practice. It’s also clear to me that we’re not in an Israelite theocracy based on the Old Testament Law.

I also find it interesting that the video we’ll be looking at has a description that says the real way to get to Heaven. It’s a shame that Pastor Anderson thinks that the whole point of Christianity is to get to Heaven. That is part of it, but the goal of the gospel is to bring honor to God and has an impact for this life and not just the next one.

In this video, Pastor Anderson says that he is told that he needs to look into Mount Athos. Some of you might not know that for Orthodox people, Mount Athos is one of the most holy sites out there. I don’t claim to fully understand that, but I know when I’m at the Orthodox Church and hear Mount Athos mentioned, it’s a really big deal.

The first thing he talks about is the idea of vain repetition. I understand the concern with saying the Jesus Prayer over and over and I do agree that some people could get into this being a rote thing that they do without any real motivation behind it, but the constant repetition does not equal vain repetition. Jesus condemns a certain kind of repetition, but He does not condemn all of it.

The Jesus Prayer in my understanding is meant to change the person praying more than be a constant plea for mercy. It’s meant to make them think about who Jesus is. It’s up to the person to determine if they’re being vain in their repetition or not.

Next he mentions praying to Mary. Now I do disagree with this practice, but at the same time, I’m not ready to say everyone who has done such is being thrown into hell or is outside of the body. I would find it hard to condemn Christians across the centuries who have been doing this since whenever it started, and any Orthodox person who wants to convince me it started early had better bring some really good historical evidence to the table.

The same will be said with praying to the saints. While I disagree with this, I am not one who thinks that there were no true Christians after the apostles died until Martin Luther showed up again. I actually think most Catholics while disagreeing with Luther would agree that the Catholic Church needed some reformation and change in it and there were corrupt practices going on. Any material about practices like this then I will not say further on but just point back to these sections.

He also says something about the drinking of alcohol. He is right that the Bible condemns drunkenness, but it does not follow that it condemns alcohol, any more than the Bible condemning gluttony means that it condemns eating. The Bible condemns extramarital sex, but it thoroughly commends it between husband and wife in marital union. Jesus did not turn the water into grape juice at Cana.

I want to say at this point also that I do not say this as one who drinks alcohol. My wife has come to accept that I am willing to change my diet in many areas, but I just never want to drink alcohol. If you can control it, I have no problem with you drinking it, but I will abstain.

He then goes on to a monk carving a crucifix and says it is the making of idols even though we are told to not make any graven images. To begin with, if images are the problem, then what is going on behind Pastor Anderson in his own church video with watching a service live? Would we really say the problem with the image is that it is graven instead of that it is an image?

The first person to be explicitly said to be filled with the Holy Spirit in the Bible is a man named Bezalel. Who was he? An artist. He made images that he was ordered by God to make. Now it could be that the Bible contradicts itself in such an obvious way, or else the prohibition is not against images, but rather against the use of images to worship.

This is a point the Iconophiles brought up against the iconoclasts in the debates about the use of icons. At the same time, I want to be aware that yes, some people could treat icons and relics as if they were magic charms which is just as bad. The misuse of an object does not point to a lack of a proper use.

He also says that the Bible says it’s a shame for a man to have long hair and every priest and monk on Mount Athos has that. Samson also had it as that was part of the Nazarite vow. What is going on in 1 Corinthians is Paul is addressing practices of the day. How men and women wore their hair said something to their culture then. Were I to visit Anderson’s church, would he want me to greet his wife with a holy kiss? That’s what Scripture tells me I am to do.

Pastor Anderson said that Jesus said to beware of the ones who go around in long clothing. Jesus was speaking more of the tassels on the garments and those were used to show a special kind of holiness. In other words, Jesus was against wearing clothes for the purpose of showing off your holiness. It’s not as if Jesus would have no problem with the scribes and Pharisees if they suddenly switched to shorts and T-shirts.

He also has a statement about the prohibition of calling people Father. Now at this time, I also do not call priests in the church by the name of Father. At the same time, I recognize there are some ridiculous extremes that can be taken, such as the video my wife and I saw once about the man who called his parents by their names instead of Mom and Dad even to avoid breaking the commandment of Christ.

He also looks at collections of skulls and femurs and other bones they have and says that the Bible says to bury the dead out of sight and to not touch dead bodies. It’s really a shame a pastor has such a poor understanding of Israelite Law and its relation to Gentiles today in light of the new covenant. My understanding is that these are gathered to remind the people of the resurrection that is coming.

There’s a part here where in what is apparently an aside he says that the monks are dressed like warlocks. I am sure in movies and TV shows and video games warlocks dress in these robes, but I am also sure that in real life, they could dress just like everyone else for the most part. As I say this, it is still morning and I am wearing my Legend of Zelda robe. I suppose Pastor Anderson is convinced I’m a heathen then.

He also says that the Bible says that all those who hate me love death. He doesn’t say who says this, but it is Wisdom in the book of Proverbs. This is said about the skull collecting, but does that equal a love of death? Does someone who grows up wanting to be a mortician then hate Jesus? This is not done to worship the dead but to honor the dead.

He then goes and says there is no monastery or monk in the Bible. True. There’s also no such thing as a pulpit or a pew in the Bible as well. I wonder if Pastor Anderson’s church has a parking lot and heating and air system in it since those aren’t in the Bible. His services are recorded, even though the Bible says nothing about that. If he wants to go the argument from silence route, I expect him to be consistent.

Finally, in criticism, he says that Orthodoxy is closer to Eastern practices and he gives Buddhism as an example. The thing is, he’s right and also wrong. I don’t think it’s like Buddhism, but it is closer to Eastern practices. What else is closer to that is the culture of the Bible itself. Pastor Anderson probably knows nothing about the eastern dynamics of honor and shame and agonistic societies. The Bible is itself not a Western book. It is a Middle Eastern one.

He encourages people to come to the real Jesus and the real gospel. I encourage that, but I have many friends who are Orthodox and Catholic. We disagree on many things, but there is something we don’t disagree on. We agree on who Jesus is.

I am sure Pastor Anderson’s motivations for this are noble, but his criticisms are way off the mark. I encourage healthy dialogue between Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox on our differences, but let’s make sure they are informed criticisms. I also encourage that we try to recognize that others are Christians as well. Not all Catholics and Orthodox and Protestants are Christians, of course, but for the most part, the doctrines all agree on the centrality of Christ and His work in salvation.

Let’s try to focus first on what we agree on. Alright?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What I Value About The Three Branches

Are there things to learn from every branch of Christianity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When my wife started looking into Eastern Orthodoxy to convert, I wasn’t that happy. Reactionary at first, yeah, but over time, I have modified my viewpoint on this some. Now I am still a thoroughly convinced Protestant. At the same time, I have learned areas about my tradition I appreciate more and areas in other traditions that need to be emphasized better in my own Protestant tradition.

So what do I see in my Protestantism that I emphasize? First off, I am convinced the history is largely on our side since I see many beliefs in the Catholic and Orthodox churches that I don’t think can be traced back to the apostles. When I want to know what is reliable, I look at the history and I find the New Testament measures up well. For other traditions, it’s a case by case basis. No one ever believes all traditions. Traditions contradict one another. Only select traditions are believed.

Second, I really do think that the Protestants are known as people of the book and we are the ones that do some of the most in-depth research in Scripture. As my wife and I had lunch with an Orthodox couple one day they did say that we Protestants know our Bibles. If someone in the Catholic and Orthodox tradition agrees with this, the good news is our findings are available to all. Anyone can partake and accept them.

Catholics I think have an edge on moral philosophy. Again, this is something that is open to all, but I am thankful they are on our side with pro-life causes and defending marriage. I don’t agree with everything on this end still, but I do think some of the best comes from them.

For the Orthodox, my wife and I meet with the priest on a regular basis every two weeks go get regular counsel. I find this to be helpful because if there is something I really like that Allie is getting, it is some ancient wisdom. Too many people in my tradition seem to cut ourselves off from the past as if we are the only people the Holy Spirit has ever led into truth. We’re not.

I do think also there is a proper emphasis on worship. This is not to say that I agree with much that goes on in the worship services, such as prayers to the saints and to Mary, but I do realize the heart of it all. Even though I don’t agree with much of what I see, I do see a desire to take matters seriously and I have a great respect for that.

So while I am still a thoroughly convinced Protestant, I do think my perspective has been enriched by this journey. I have a good friend online who is a Catholic priest and I get along just fine with the priest at the Orthodox Church. (And both have also let me know that they affirm the virgin birth, which I do affirm.) I sometimes wonder how we can be more ecumenical, but I think I see it when I get together to talk with my friends of a different persuasion. When we get to eternity, I don’t think it’d be proper to say we’ll all be Protestants, Catholics, or Orthodox.

We’ll all be Christians.

Maybe we should just emphasize that right now.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Meal Jesus Gave Us

What do I think of N.T. Wright’s book published by Westminster John Knox Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

N.T. Wright has always been a favorite writer of mine and when I found for sale on Kindle a book he wrote on the Lord’s Supper, I had to get it. This has been an object of study for me lately. I do tend to hold to more of a symbolic remembrance view. My ultimate position is that it doesn’t matter for discipleship which view it is. Jesus said to come to the table and that’s it.

Wright begins his book by going back in time to the Exodus and the Passover meal there. From there, we go to about 200 B.C. where a Jewish family is celebrating and acting as if they were there for the Exodus. This is then tied into the Lord’s Supper.

We then go into much more of the history. I do wish some more had been said about the Church Fathers, but Wright mainly wants to focus on the meaning of the meal. For him, the meaning of the meal is to remind us of what Jesus did and to tie all of time together as it were. We take a past event, the crucifixion of Jesus followed by His resurrection, and then we look forward to His future return and our resurrection, and we celebrate both of those in the present moment.

We also come to celebrate our unity together as a body. We are all Christians and we are all thinking about Jesus and what He did for us. We are all becoming aware of our sins and how we need to live better for the cause of Christ and how He is the Lord of us. We are thinking about just as Israel was delivered from slavery under Pharaoh, so it is that we are delivered from slavery under sin.

When he does look at the Reformation, he does get to the debate between Luther and Zwingli and he brings out some interesting facts, such as the young scholar standing in the background of their discussion who knew Aramaic and knew both of them were getting it wrong. Had something happened that Luther and Zwingli could have worked together, history could have turned out very differently. Alas, it did not.

One final point he brings out is one that I have come to appreciate more and more. The table ought not to be a place of exclusion. It’s my conclusion that the only requirement for coming to the table should be that you are a Christian. The table is a place of unity and we should recognize our unity. If you are going to spend eternity with someone and are going to be at the wedding supper of the lamb with them, shouldn’t you be willing to come to the table with them?

Wright’s book is a good and short read as most of the chapters you can read in ten minutes. Wright writes in such a way that draws you in and really gets you thinking about the meal and yet he has a profound depth to him. I highly recommend this for those wanting to understand the Lord’s Supper.

In Christ,
Nick Peters