Family Resemblance [3]

Well, alert reader “Kaffinator” gave us a head’s up in the meta of the last post, wondering if we can call Muslims and Jews “Liars” because, based on Acts 17, they are merely acting in ignorance. I responded to him there, but let me make something clear: this isn’t about calling Muslims or Jews “liars”. This is about whether we can call them family, and whether they can recognize the Father without recognizing the Son. And most importantly, if someone does do this, what have those people done explicitly to the Jews and Muslims if they say the Father can be recognized without recognizing the Son.

What we’re really concerned about, in the end, is the Catholic Catechism, particularly the passage which we have previously seen:
839 "Those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways."
The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People. When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People, "the first to hear the Word of God." The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God's revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews "belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ", "for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable."

840 and when one considers the future, God's People of the Old Covenant and the new People of God tend towards similar goals: expectation of the coming (or the return) of the Messiah. But one awaits the return of the Messiah who died and rose from the dead and is recognized as Lord and Son of God; the other awaits the coming of a Messiah, whose features remain hidden till the end of time; and the latter waiting is accompanied by the drama of not knowing or of misunderstanding Christ Jesus.
In these two paragraphs, something interesting happens: the admission that those who maintain the Jewish faith have not received the Gospel (they are “Those who have not yet received the Gospel”, yes?) is very quickly translated into those who have a viable understanding of the Messiah. Somehow, “the drama of not knowing or of misunderstanding Christ Jesus” is equated with the Christian hope of the return of the risen Christ as Lord – equated not as identical, but as “similar”, which this paragraph implies (let’s admit it doesn’t come out and say this explicitly) is enough to save them.

That’s interesting in light of 1 John 2’s explicit statements that the only way to know God and to have eternal life is to confess the Son. And what is certain is that Jews do not confess the Son but deny the Son.

I had a team of reasonable people review this essay before posting it, and while none of them are theologians, all of them are reliable people. The common concern they had about the first working draft was that my point about what has happened here is unclear, or esoteric. Let me make it as boldly as possible at this point.

What has not happened in this place is that the CCC has denied that Rome recognizes the savior: what has happened is that Rome has allowed that the Jews, who do not recognize the Messiah, these men do not deny the Father: they simply know Him in another way -- what they say is perhaps an older way, as it is the "Old Covenant" way.

That's the hinge of the problem here: it is not the confession, "I do not need Christ to know God" which is defaming John's letter: it is the confession, "You do not need Christ to know God," or "they do not need Christ to know God" that stands against what John wrote in his first letter.

The CCC continues:
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."
Now, think on that: The Koran explicitly denies that Jesus is the Son of God. Sura 4:157, 4:171, 5:74, 6:101 and 19:90 all explicitly deny the relationship of Jesus to the Father. But here the CCC says that because they make the claim that they worship the God of Abraham, they are included in the plan of salvation.

Consider it: the CCC is not affirming that Jesus Christ is not the Son of God. There’s no question that it does affirm that Jesus is the only Son of the Father. But what it promulgates here is the idea that God the Father can be seen apart from Christ, and in spite of openly denying Christ. When John says (as we reviewed last time), "No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also", John has provided a scriptural litmus test for how the Father can be known, and how the Father is actually known. And he classifies the statement that Jesus is not "Christ" a "lie".

Listen: the matter is not "is Jesus Christ for me?" The matter is whether Jesus is Christ for all men. If I have Jesus as Christ, and you have Moses as Christ, and this other guy has a man named Tom Cruise as Christ, and another fellow has a fellow named Mohammed as Christ, and I say to all of them, "those are all ways of coming to know the Father," I have lied to them. The only way to know the Father is by the Son -- and if you reject the Son, you have rejected the Father.

Anything else, says John, is a lie. There's no family resemblance between the Gospel and Islam; there's no family resemblance between modern Judaism and the Gospel. To say that these in some way reflect the truth about God in spite of their open rejection of Christ is a false hope, a false witness to the uniqueness of Jesus.

This is what fulfills the criteria Kaffinator was so generous to highlight for us. That is, John’s warning here is against those who deny that the Son proclaim a lie – and these paragraphs do exactly that to the Muslim and the Jew: these passages demonstrate a clear affirmation that those who deny Christ have a part in eternal life.

“Now cent,” comes the reasonable objector, “you haven’t finished up here. The next 7 paragraphs expound deftly on the matter of ignorance rather than base rejection. You need to be fair about that these other paragraphs say before you can get this monkey here to dance.”

On the one hand, I think that objection looks past the ways the CCC expresses itself in the previous paragraphs – because it doesn’t say that “ignorant” Jew or the “confused” Muslim: it says “the Jews” and “the Muslims”. But I’d also say that objection is exactly right – the rest is crucial to whether or not what I have just said is true or false:
842 The Church's bond with non-Christian religions is in the first place the common origin and end of the human race:
All nations form but one community. This is so because all stem from the one stock which God created to people the entire earth, and also because all share a common destiny, namely God. His providence, evident goodness, and saving designs extend to all against the day when the elect are gathered together in the holy city. . .

843 The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as "a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life."
In this passage, the CCC says that all religions prepare men for God. That is, in Islam, Allah who never offers a savior is preparing men to receive God. In the underlying document to these brief paragraphs, (Nostrum Aetate) the notion of Buddhists attaining higher knowledge of their own accord or by a higher power is seen as a “holy truth”. It is a plain statement of Christless access to the Father, which John has already deemed a “lie”.

And that's the problem I want to big home here: the question is not whether the Roman Magisterium has simply affirmed something which is philosophical or extra-biblical: it is that they have affirmed something to men which is a lie that turns them away from the promise of everlasting life.
844 In their religious behavior, however, men also display the limits and errors that disfigure the image of God in them:
Very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings, and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and served the creature rather than the Creator. Or else, living and dying in this world without God, they are exposed to ultimate despair.
845 To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's Church. the Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. the Church is "the world reconciled." She is that bark which "in the full sail of the Lord's cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world." According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah's ark, which alone saves from the flood.
We are about to tip into the key affirmation of this passage, but before we do, think about this explanation which is leaned up against Romans 1 in order to prop it up. What is at stake here is whether men can have the Father, and accept the Father, unless they accept the Son. Yet here the Son is not mentioned as the Ultimate matter: the church is. That is: what gets substituted for the Son – that to deny the Son is to deny the Father – is the church as the ultimate expression of salvation.

In fact, that’s what they say in the very next part:
"Outside the Church there is no salvation"

846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:
Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.
Gosh! It’s not the denial of Christ which makes one not able to be saved: It’s the denial of the church which makes one not able to be saved. It’s not even subtle.

And think on that: the hope they are extending to all men here is that if they are Muslim, but they allow that the Roman church offers salvation, they are fine Muslims - they have a part in the plan of salvation. But if they are Muslims which deny that the Roman church offers anything to men, they are hell-bound -- can not be saved.
847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:
Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.
848 "Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”
What we come upon here is a complete inversion of what 1 John 2 affirmed: it is not that we come to the Church by confessing Christ: we come to Christ by confessing (as well as we can – some of us have the impediments of ignorance and innocence) the church.

What concerns me most about this, in spite of my protests when we started, is the implications to FV and the relationship FV says we ought to have toward the Catholics church based on the objective nature of baptism. See: it seems to me that the RCC here makes a pretty complicated denial of Christ in key respects – a denial of confessing Christ as necessary for the Jew and the Muslim, among others. And because FV is a highly-nuanced system of theology, they ought to be careful regarding the nuances of others which they overlook.

Foundational to the FV position of objective baptism is that the baptism administered has to be a baptism in the Trinitarian form -- and affirmation of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the Athanasian sense. But it seems that the Athanasian sense of who Christ is to all men is, in these passages, overturned -- He may be a good way, or the best way, but He is not the only way to the Father in the CCC. That's a serious charge, and a serious problem in the light of 1 John 2.

Doesn’t John’s definition of denying the identity of God point directly at this writing and say something about whether those who advance it are Trinitarians? Isn’t the inspired definition of acknowledging God’s identity here pointing us to a fraudulent teacher?

Listen: you don’t have to point me to the dozens of places where the Father, Son and Spirit are listed as co-equal in the Godhead in all the Vatican publications. The problem – and the challenge – is to justify the violation of the Trinitarian definition John gives us made by the CCC in these paragraphs.

Please: be with the Lord’s people in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day this weekend. You need it. It’s been a long week.