the weblog of Alan Knox

An encouraging dialog between a Catholic and a Baptist

Posted by on Mar 16, 2009 in edification, gathering, spiritual gifts | 11 comments

A few weeks ago, Brian Britton contacted me on facebook. Brian and I attended elementary school together until the fourth grade when his family moved. When he saw my name on facebook, he remembered be because some of my teachers inadvertently called me “Alan Know”.

Brian is Catholic, so there are some fairly major differences in our theology. However, in spite of our differences, we’ve had some very encouraging dialogs. I asked him if I could post our last dialog, and he agreed (and even said he might follow the comments). So, this is a conversation that I had with Brian on facebook. I believe dialogs like this are very important, but I also think that many Christians have lost the ability to dialog, and choose to debate instead. I hope you find this as interesting and encouraging as I did.

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Brian: Have you read any of the second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum?

I was thinking about it when you were discussing macro-structure analysis when interpreting scripture.

And you teach Latin, too. Nice.

Pax Christi sit semper tecum.

Alan: I have read some of the documents from Vatican II. I’m not sure that I’ve read those particular documents.

What do you think about Catholic Churches who perform the mass in Latin?

Brian: Funny you should mention that. I actually attend a Tridentine Mass. I am part of the schola and we sing the Gregorian Chant propers (the chants proper to the Sunday being celebrated-usually verses of Psalms). Since Pope Benedict loosened the restrictions that were placed on that Mass, there have been some changes, specifically the readings of the Epistle and the Gospel are done in the vernacular. What do I think about it? I think it is a beautiful expression of worship to God. It is quiet, reverent and entirely focused on Christ. That’s not to say that the Mass in the vernacular is loud, irreverent and unfocused.

Alan: I asked because there are two Catholic Churches in our small town – one uses the vernacular, one only Latin.

Brian: I wonder if the church which uses only Latin is a chapel of the Society of St. Pius X. That’s the schismatic group whose 4 bishops recently had their excommunications lifted by Pope Benedict which resulted in all the media circus. The church I attend is not a part of that group.

Alan: I don’t know. I’ll check their sign when I drive by this afternoon.

Brian: So what are your thoughts on the Latin Mass, if you have any?

Alan: Well, since Paul indicates that only things that are “understandable” are edifying (1 Cor 14), I’m not sure how edifying Latin is to those who can’t understand it. What do you think?

Brian: Perhaps. It is not as though Latin is an unintelligible tongue, though. It can be effectively translated for the community as a whole. I tend to see what St. Paul is doing in 1 Cor 14 is correcting the Church at Corinth for their overemphasis of the gift of speaking in tongues over other gifts such as prophesy. That does not mean that I am opposed to the Mass being done in the vernacular, because I am not, and common sense says that being able to understand the words the priest is saying can be edifying, even if the prayers are meant for God alone. I suppose I look at it this way: the part of Mass that is essential for the congregation to know would be the readings of scripture and the sermon, and in the Tridentine Mass I attend those parts are in the vernacular. The prayers the priest says in Latin are really between him and God (i.e. as “priest” he is the mediator between the congregation and the Lord, which in the drama which is the liturgy makes him function in the person of Christ) and are not meant for the “building up” of the congregation in the way that proclaiming the scriptures is. Those who really want to know what the priest is saying when he offers his prayers usually carry a Missal with them which has the translations.

Alan: Yes, in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul specifically talks about tongues and prophecy. But, the difference in the two is that tongues is not directly edifying (because the tongues are not understandable), and prophecy is directly edifying (because the prophecy is understandable). I think we can apply these same principles to other types of activities when the church meets.

Also, in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul talks about doing things for God alone. He says those things are not for the meeting of the church. By the way, I’m not picking on the Latin or the vernacular mass. Protestant churches traditionally do things for God alone in their meetings. I think Paul was saying these things are not for the church meeting either.

Brian: The Mass is about Christ alone, and we benefit from being there for that very reason. The proclamation of the scriptures (i.e. prophesy) is for our benefit so that we may in turn return thanks, praise and most importantly adoration to the Lord who is the source of the desire to do so in the first place. I completely agree with everything that you have said.

I know you are not picking on the Latin or vernacular Mass.

Alan: What do you think the term “edification” means in 1 Corinthians 14, and why is it so important to the church?

Brian: Building up. What I believe St. Paul is getting at here is merely a continuation of the theme of 1 Cor 13, the idea of love (charity) (or in Latin caritas, Greek ἀγάπη). I think it is telling that he says in verse 4 “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.” Speaking in a tongue builds oneself up, it seeks its own good, whereas prophesy builds up the church, i.e. it seeks the benefit of the other. To me this is reminiscent of 1 Cor 13:5, specifically love (in the beautiful language of the KJV) “seeketh not her own.” In this fashion, the one who prophesies acts in charity as Christ, always seeking the benefit of the beloved rather than himself.

Alan: Right, and 1 Cor 13-14 follow 1 Cor 12 speaking about spiritual gifts and the necessity of all the gifts in the church – even the most seemingly insignificant “gift” is actually necessary and important.

So, why do you think so few are allowed to exercise their gifts in order to edify the church when the church meets?

Brian: Do we really want to have the tower of Babel all over again? If everyone is exercising their gifts it would be chaotic.

Alan: Paul didn’t seem to think it would lead to the tower of Babel. Of course there should be order, and 2 or 3 exercising each gift when the church meets. Was Paul wrong to allow 2 or 3 tongues speakers and 2 or 3 prophets? Was he wrong to tell the prophet speaking to be silent if another stands to speak while the first is speaking? Could we be wrong in silencing most of the church?

Brian: I would tend to doubt that St. Paul was wrong. :-) However, if everyone is exercising their gifts en masse, how does that edify the Church? I don’t think most of the Church is silenced. I suppose it also depends on the type of meeting and how the gifts are able to build up the church, since St. Paul has instructed that all gifts must be used for the building up of the body.

Alan: 1 Cor. 14:26, Paul says, “Whenever you come together…” It sounds to me as if he expected the following instructions to apply to any time the church met together. He doesn’t give one set of instructions for some church meetings and other instructions for other meetings.

Brian: No, but he also expected order and not confusion.

That is what I was getting at.

Alan: Yes, exactly. And, Paul’s idea of order and not confusion included 2 or 3 people speaking in tongues (if there was interpretation) and 2 or 3 people prophesying plus other judging the prophecy. Paul doesn’t tell us specifically how many should bring a hymn, or an instruction, but he does list those in 1 Cor. 14:26. I would assume he would apply the same rule (2 or 3 people, with interpretation if not directly understandable and edifying). This is Paul’s definition of order.

Brian: Because interpretation lifts tongues to the level of intelligibility and thus enables them to have the same effect as prophesy.

Alan: Yes, exactly. So, do you agree that 2 or 3 utilizing each of the gifts one at a time as long as it is intelligible (or with interpretation) is Paul’s definition of order?

Brian: Sure. Are you implying that the Latin Mass does not fit the criterion?

Alan: I only know the Mass (Latin or vernacular) from a distance, so I’m not a good judge. However, I don’t think most “Protestant” church meetings fit Paul’s criterion.

Brian: That’s interesting. Could you elaborate more about how Protestant church meetings do not?

Alan: The instructions that Paul gave in 1 Cor 12-14 are to the church. So, anyone should have the opportunity to bring a hymn, instruction, prophecy, tongue (with interpretation). Of course, these should fall under his principles of orderliness (2 or 3, one at a time), love (more important than the gifts themselves), and edification (the purpose of the exercising the gifts).

In most Protestant church meetings, the leaders decide who will speak and who will not speak. Those who are not leaders are generally required to sit, listen, and sing along, and are not given the opportunity, much less the encouragement, to use the gifts that God has given them to edify the church in love in an orderly manner.

Brian: So, how do you think that could be be accomplished? I mean, the Mass is highly ritualized after centuries of its celebration. We have lay leaders who read from the scriptures, but this is according to the lectionary which divides the biblical readings over a 3 year period, so it is assigned to them by the church. And people who sing obviously contribute that gift to the assembly by being in the choir, and young boys (and in some cases) girls contribute by serving at the altar and assisting the priest. But I am not sure that those are the gifts that you have in mind.

I am going to dig around and see if I can find anything discussing this in the Church Fathers. Sometimes that can help to see how the early church interpreted things.

Alan: I think the real question is, “Is that the kind of gifts and service that Paul was talking about?”

Protestants have their “lay gifts” as well – ushering, taking up the offering, greeters, etc.

Brian: Perhaps that is where hierarchical structure may come into play. I understand that the very concept of hierarchy is repugnant to the sensibilities of many a Protestant (:-)), but the idea is that one must have their consciences formed in the faith if you are going to bear witness to it, otherwise you would have just anyone speaking as though their voices carried a weight of authority. How would you judge?

Alan: Yes, I understand that the church relies on hierarchical structure. The same is true for Protestant churches, whether the hierarchy ends at the local church (free church) or a denominational structure. But, the question that I’ve never been able to answer (and no one has been able to answer adequately for me) is this: “When the Corinthians were having so many problems, why did he not refer them to their hierarchical leaders?” The same question could be asked about the Galatians, or those in Thessalonika.

Brian: This would have been so early in the history of the Church (St. Paul’s letters were early!) that perhaps those kind of questions had not even been addressed by those folks and they had to be referred to St. Paul or perhaps one of the other apostles. St. Peter’s letters are instructional as well, as are the letters to the Hebrews, of St. James, and all of St. John’s.

Alan: Yes, they are all instructional. But, the church did have leaders. When Paul went on his second missionary journey, he helped appoint/recognize elders in all the churches. He left Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete for a short time to appoint/recognize leaders. The author of Hebrews recognizes leaders among the churches that he writes to. James also speaks of elders in the churches. Yet, in spite of these church leaders, very little instruction was given specifically to the leaders, even when it comes to doctrinal matters. Instead, the instructions were give to the church at large. For example, in Corinth, the church was responsible for learning from Paul’s letter and correcting the problems of division, communion, their church meeting, etc. – this was not the responsibility of the leaders/elders, but the church.

Brian: I think that is where we must consider the question, did the canon of scripture contain the entirety of what was handed on to the early church? It is probable that St. Paul formed many of these leaders himself, much like he himself was formed in the faith by the twelve, and likewise, St. Timothy and St. Titus did as well. This would make sense when considering that St. Paul admonished the church at Thessalonika to “hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” Or to the church at Philippi, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.” And to the church at Corinth, “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.” All of these statements would imply a core faith which was given to the churches prior to these letters being written. If I am not mistaken, the instructional letters written to the early church were meant to be corrective rather than catechetical, although correction in matters of faith and doctrine would be catechetical as well.

Alan: I agree with what you said, except that Paul specifically said that he was not taught by the Twelve (in Galatians, I think). I agree that there was a core faith that was taught both by the apostles and by others. I think this core was eventually labeled the Regula Fidei. I think Ignatius simply called it “The Gospel”.

So, when churches started straying from this core – as in Corinth or Galatia – why did Paul not call for the leaders/elders/priests/whatever to straighten everyone out?

Brian: You are right. He immediately went to Arabia, but then went to Jerusalem to render a visit to St. Peter and St. James. Regardless, St. Paul did not learn the faith in a vacuum. It was revealed to him, probably by the Lord Jesus in large part when he was blinded on the road to Damascus.

Perhaps the leaders were part of the problem, and this required correction from a person higher in authority. These are difficult but excellent questions that I am not sure we will ever be able to get straight answers to.

But I see similar practices at work in the Catholic Church today. If a priest (which is simply an early English corruption of the term presbyter) has a question regarding practice or doctrine, he usually petitions his bishop for the answer, not the priest in charge of his deanery. And believe me, there are times when the bishop has to call the priest on the carpet to correct an error. This is happening now in Australia and also has happened recently in St. Louis where you have renegade priests who are teaching heretical viewpoints. Then you have papal encyclicals and apostolic letters which are meant to address the church on matters of faith and discipline. One example that comes to mind is Pope John Paul II (of blessed memory)’s Ordinatio sacerdotalis whereby he stated, “Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” Now, when a pope uses that sort of terminology, he is saying this is an infallible doctrine revealed to the church by God which cannot be altered by man.

Alan: Again, I think the church (Catholic and Protestant and probably Orthodox, but I’m not as familiar with that one) has set up a hierarchy to take care of these kinds of problems and to control what happens when the church meets. However, once again, I do not see this in Scripture. I think these structures may harm the church as much as (if not more than) they help.

You’re right, Paul did not learn about Christ in a vacuum. He learned from the risen Christ himself. It seems that he encouraged other believers to learn from the risen Christ as well… with more mature believers there to help, but not to control. I believe that we can learn from the risen Christ today. Even an immature believer is indwelled by the Holy Spirit and can be used by God to teach, encourage, prophesy, etc. In fact, if Paul is correct in 1 Cor 12, then the gifts of that immature believer is just as important (if not more important) than the more noticeable gifts of mature believers.

Unfortunately, the church has silenced all believers, except for those in official positions.

Imagine for a moment that in the middle of your next Mass, someone walks toward the priest and says that the Spirit has given him something to say. What would happen? I can tell you that in most church meetings that I’ve been part of, that person would be considered out of order. But, in 1 Cor 14, Paul says that is perfectly in order.

Brian: Well, it would depend on what kind of Mass you were at, believe it or not. I don’t think it would be completely out of the ordinary for someone to walk up to the priest in a charismatic Mass and do just that. But, you are right. Typically the Mass is very ritualized and everything has its place and time, and while I don’t think a priest would stop someone from doing such a thing, he may tell him that it would be more appropriate after Mass, and furthermore, it may cause some disquieted feelings amongst the congregation. But, I appreciate and respect what you are saying, and as a matter of fact, I will bring it up with my pastor and with my bishop and see what their take on it is. I think it does have merit.


11 Comments

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  1. 3-16-2009

    It’s nice you fellas could get together and talk, did you tape the conversation? It has been a long day in the garden and I’m a catholic girl who loves her roots, went through some time being a Baptist/Pentecostal (don’t ask) and now I am a freakaziod house church person if I must carry a label. So I think that you guys talkin’ stuff out is great. But wasn’t the problem with Babel and the tower that they built trying to reach heaven the fact that they all spoke the exact same language? Maybe if you heard Mass in Latin once in a while it would shake you up. Like God did to the Babel folks and dispersed them. Multiple languages was God’s solution to the present problem back then.

  2. 3-16-2009

    That last sentence is awkward, how about: God used multiple languages to solve a problem back then. Never mind that is funny too. I’m quitting

  3. 3-16-2009

    I am encouraged. I can tell that he already had a relationship with you and respected your walk with the Lord prior to the conversation. This is awesome. thank you for sharing. can you update us after he has shared with his bishop.. follow up?

  4. 3-16-2009

    Lanny, by the tower of Babel remark, I was referring to the confusion which ensued after God multiplied the languages of those building the tower. In other words, if everyone is using their gifts in a disordered and confusing manner, that will not work to edify the church.

    Scott, I talked with my priest and he essentially said what I did in the last post. I am waiting to discuss it with my bishop.

  5. 3-16-2009

    Alan, very interesting conversation and in fact is reminiscent of some of the lines of questioning you have applied to Protestant traditions. It can be easy to turn a dialogue into a debate as you say, with the goal not being edification and conversation but of proving someone else wrong: “You are wrong and here is why”. This is an important conversation to have given that repetition and ritual replacing fellowship in even more entrenched with a millennia of tradition in the Roman church.

  6. 3-16-2009

    Arthur,

    Ritual and repetition have not replaced fellowship in the Roman Church. All churches have their rituals and repetition. It is human nature to do these things; it is even in our DNA. However, the Mass is the chief way in which Catholics worship, but it is not the only way.

  7. 3-16-2009

    Brian, certainly all church organizations have elements of ritual and repetition and some of it is necessary. But setting up these rituals as the primary, and in the eyes of many sufficient, expression of worship makes people spiritually lazy and the prevalence of it doesn’t make it right. If you are Roman Catholic, you go to Mass and take the Eucharist. If you are Protestant you go to Sunday school and then the “worship service”. Thus you have fulfilled your religious requirement for the week. That may not be the way it should be nor is it the way it is recorded in Scripture, but it is the way it works out for many Protestants and Roman Catholics alike.

    Anyway, this post is supposed to be about open and fruitful dialogue so I will leave it at that.

  8. 3-16-2009

    Arthur,

    You are absolutely right about those in both Catholic and Protestant traditions who are what I call “bare minimum” Catholics or even “cafeteria” Catholics. However, that falls far short of what either churches desires for their communicants. But we can never forget that the church is a place of charity, and those obligations which the church puts on her communicants (to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy days or to attend Sunday School and services) is intended for their own good. It is not meant to be a burden, and if you don’t get them there at least once a week, then how will you ever reach them?

    Now, I don’t think it is enough for a Christian to merely do the bare minimum. Our name itself (Christian) means “little Christ.” When you contemplate that for any length of time, it is quite apparent that the Lord himself was not a bare minimum kind of person, and if we are to be imitators of Christ, then we must give our all. Can we do it? Absolutely! BUT (and this is a big but) only through grace can this be accomplished, we can not do it alone. The problem is that we all fall short, and I more often than most.

    I will also add that the rituals which Catholics perform are so very familiar that they have become a great comfort for most of us, and in my case (and many other Catholics) they are simply an outward expression of a very active interior prayer life, so while on the surface they may appear repetitious, in reality they are not.

  9. 3-16-2009

    Hmmm I see, I stand corrected. Perhaps, and I realize it was just a conversation, if you had both said something like “the aftermath of the tower of Babel” then I could have understood better for I’m not a scholar, but I do enjoy reading here.

    Oh and I see by the punctuation smile that I was incorrect in assuming the dialog was verbal. Ahhh.

    Now that I am well rested I have made it to the end and man is my brain swimming with so many thoughts and feelings. I’m glad that the constructs of man, no matter what they are, are not so insurmountable that God cannot get passed them and to the individual within this vast Body of His that desires Him alone and entirely. However, I would still say the scripture warns those who allow sin in by them (Luke 17:-2, Matt 18:6, Mark 9:42) and warns teachers that they will be under greater scrutiny (James 3:1). I do believe that a leader’s fear (a sin itself perhaps?) of losing control can possible allow in the potential of sin. But like I said I’m no Bible scholar. But Brian, I’ve been an enthusiastic participant in both worlds in more than one parish and congregation, funny if I had to go back at all, I would go all the way back to the church of my childhood, well as far back as fourth grade perhaps. It could be that it is because of the comfort of childhood and where I first met Christ and understood what I could about God from which was built much. But then that could have come from the nuns at school and not just Mass on Sunday.

    What was very hard was being in a “Pentecostal” church having had the Holy Spirit give me something to say, I spoke to the Pastor at the break for excusing children from church, that I indeed had something for the church. He asked what it was, asked me to wait and he would signal me up. The end of service came and I had not received “the signal”. He came up to me afterward and told me he had not “felt” the prompting to call on me would I please be patient, he may call me the following Sunday. Well it was two weeks later and fit very nicely into a well orchestrated performance which included well chosen music and additional prepared testimonies. This being just one of the many oddities my husband found there.

    So yes, I would prefer meeting with people that know and understand, up front, with no apologies, that they operate with man constructed controls to keep check on man constructed chaos. If I had to.

  10. 3-16-2009

    Lanny, I liked your last post, specifically about the Spirit leading you to speak. What I thought most interesting was that your preacher discerned the Spirit’s motives as well, and in the end what the Spirit revealed to you was revealed to the church in God’s time, and the church was indeed edified. I think that is a wonderful and beautiful modern illustration of what St. Paul was saying to the church at Corinth. Thank you for sharing that.

  11. 3-16-2009

    Brian,

    Thank you for interacting with my readers in the comments here. I can tell that my readers have found you as gracious, thoughtful, and interested in Scripture as I’ve found when talking with you.

    -Alan