What does the Church stand for?

My experience is that many people are against the Catholic Church based on the version of the Church that they have in their mind.  So the arguments that many people come up with don’t really challenge the true teaching of the Catholic Church.  One issue that many protestant people have trouble with is the concept of purgatory.  Whilst I must declare that I don’t really believe in the purgatory that many Catholic’s claim to believe in, I did find a quote about the work of the then Cardinal Ratzingers very interesting:

“Building on 1 Corinthians 3, Ratzinger argued that the Lord Himself is the fire of judgement, which transforms us as he conforms us to his glorious, resurrected body. This happens not during a long drawn out process but in the moment of final judgement itself. By thus linking purgatory to Jesus Christ himself as the eschatological fire, Ratizinger detached the doctrine of purgatory from the concept of an intermediate state” Quoted from page 167 of Surprised by Hope by NT Wright.

NT Wright claims both Pope Benedict (Ratzinger) and Karl Rahner have moved Catholic Teaching on purgatory away from the understanding that many people criticise the Church for.  Which made me think about one very important rule for understanding the Catholic Church:

Just because a Catholic said something doesn’t make it Catholic Teaching.  This goes for all the liberal and conservative web pages, blogs, podcasts and books out in the market.  In fact just because something is popular doesn’t make it official church teaching.  If you really want to understand the truth about what the Catholic Church teaches don’t google it, go to the official teaching of the Church, starting at http://www.vatican.va.  If someone doesn’t agree with this then at least they disagree with the official teaching not some youtube version of church teaching.

The difference in Evangelical circles is that the opinions of current books, blogs and popular preachers has more weight in defining what the church stands for because there is no “official church teaching”.  For example the work of Tim Keller from Redeemer Church in New York is very popular amongst Evangelicals even though not all Evangelicals are Presbyterian.  The work of NT Wright, an Anglican is well regarded but not all Evangelical Anglicans agree with his arguments.  Mark Driscoll’s books and podcast are very popular yet not many people would list his views as normative for Evangelicals.   So in the cross denominational world of Evanglicals there are popular authors and preachers yet there is no official church teaching.

Whilst this may be a little off topic for this blog, I think this is very important at the moment as there is so much information spreading across the web about what Pope Francis will or won’t do.  Is he a liberal or conservative, evangelical, social justice advocate, liturgically simple or just a nice guy doing his best? As ministry leaders we have a responsibility to build unity in the Body of Christ, not to continue uninformed positions.  So as the ministry of Pope Francis unfolds please check your sources and try to build unity in the Body of Christ.

And I should declare that I know that I am not the source of official church teaching so I will apply the same advice to myself too.  Please leave a comment.

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3 reasons we love the Olympics

As the London 2012 Closing Ceremony is finishing off I am reminded that I don’t get up early for any other sporting event.  In fact most of the people I mix with either don’t talk about any sport or they only talk about football, except during the Olympic.  Over the weekend I had conversations with people about almost every Olympic sport, yes even rhythmic gymnastics and nobody talks about that ever.  So why is it that every four years we become sports fans and then crawl back into normal life for another four years?  Nobody will be getting up early to watch Sally Pearson in three weeks time to run at her next athletics meet.

Here are three reasons that people love the Olympics:

  1. We celebrate success – lets face it, we love people who are successful.  In Australia we like to cut the tall poppies down to size but deep down we celebrate that they were successful to begin with.  Perhaps it is our own desire for success that leads us to celebrate the success of others.  We love to cheer on someone who has trained so hard as they put in that last effort to try for Gold.  It seems that we love that someone who we don’t know, but is from our country, has been successful.
  2. We see the Olympics as pure – we love that the Olympians take an oath, we love that the athletes are encouraged to try their best, we know that sponsorship is removed from clothing and the officials do their best to eliminate drugs in the sport.  Whilst the games are not pure, we like to think they are.  The athletes take the same oath if they are million dollar professional or sacrificing everything just to compete.  This year several athletes got huge applause for giving it a go as they were from countries with only a few athletes and very little chance of making the finals.  Deep down we love the idea that the Olympics is seen to be sport stripped downed to its essence.
  3. We like the bigger story – we love that the Olympics is part of a bigger story that has happened over the decades.  The athletes in London 2012 took the same oath that athletes took after each World War.  The Olympics has been in boom times and in times of depression, the Games must go on.  Yet it is not just about the events because sport goes on every year.  It might be that there are people from 208 countries represented even if the government don’t see eye to eye on every issue.  It is the fact that we learn about the Olympics at school then past it onto our children and maybe inspire them to do something great with their life.  The Olympics becomes more than sport, it reminds us of the bigger global picture.

In some way the Olympics is more than just a sporting event.  The Stadium that was packed with spectators to watch the 10 heats of some athletics event this week will be empty next week.  It seems we can focus our attention at this time but we can’t live like that for ever.  We celebrate the high points because we don’t have to always live at that level.

 Without wanting to sound too much like I have the rose-coloured glasses on, I do realise that there are three reasons why people don’t watch the Olympics:

  1. They don’t like sport – not everyone likes sport, some people can’t even fake that they are an expert sports commentator for 16 days.
  2. They have other things to do – sometimes life is busy and we are just too busy to notice, good on those people who are working hard.
  3. They are reminded of their own lost dreams – it is sad to hear when people avoid the Olympics because it reminds them they haven’t achieved their dreams.  It isn’t always about sport either, some people just realise their life hasn’t turned out how they hoped.  It is saddest because they can’t celebrate the success of others.

That is my thoughts as the Olympics wraps up.  Whilst I may have appeared to be an expert on swimming, sailing, cycling or athletics for the past 16 days, I will return to being the novice I really am.  I won’t watch Sally in three weeks and I won’t care about diving, gymnastics, sailing or badminton any longer.  But I will take an interest in the success of others because if the Olympics has taught me anything it is that we must celebrate the success of others and not always focus on ourselves.

If you are wondering why this topic might appear on the Mark of Faith blog about faith, ministry and leaders look at the three reasons mentioned above.  We like our church to be successful, we like to see our theology as pure and we are part of God’s bigger story.

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Are there “Flashbacks” in the Bible?

Sometime when people want to be critical of the bible they point to passages in the bible that they call “errors”.  An issue that some critics raise are what they perceive as chronological errors.  Some critics look at stories that are out of chronological sequence as a proof that the bible is made up.  Yet if we look at modern day film making, we may have a clue to why some passages in the bible seem out of chronological order.

For example in Judges 1:1 we read that Joshua died, yet in Judges 2:6 we read that Joshua is still alive sending out the nations then dies again.  Did the author get it wrong? Is this a chronological error?  Is this a different Joshua?  In Genesis 10 we read that after the flood, people filled the earth yet in Genesis 11 all the people are back in the one place, is this right?

It seems that some people look at these literary tools as “errors” in the bible but when it happens in modern movies we all call these “flashbacks”.  Whilst I use this term here I have to be careful because the ancient writers didn’t use the term “flashbacks”.  However if you want to explain some literary tools of the bible in terms that young people might understand then you can suggest the parallel to flash backs in modern movies.

For example in the movie Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy we see one character go into an optometrist to get a new pair of glasses.  Whilst the scene is quiet boring and might seem unimportant, the film maker uses the two different set of eyewear to show different periods of time in flashbacks.  When the character is wearing the old set of glasses the audience knows it is a flashback without the date having to appear on the screen.

So flashback to the example in Judges, the author is reminding the reader that Joshua sent out the nations to fill Canaan because it explains the problems Israel faced in chapter 1 and the rest of the book.  So Judges 2:6-8 is like a mini flashback to remind the reader of an important point for interpreting the future chapters.

Likewise with the earlier reference to Genesis 10 and 11.  In Genesis 10 the author is showing what happened after the flood involving Noah and so finishes the narrative with the people filling all the earth, which would have taken some time.  In Genesis 11 the author has a flashback account to explain why the people dispersed rather than stay together in the one place.  This is not a chronological error in the bible, simply a literary tool that the author uses to tell compelling accounts of God and God’s people.

What other “flashbacks” can you see in the Bible?  Leave a comment.

Welcome to Mark of Faith

Welcome to my website.  There are a number of areas for you to check out

  1. Faith – some thoughts and ideas on Faith
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I hope that you enjoy your time here, come back often.

Mark McDonald