The One Teaching that Christ’s Disciples Couldn’t Stand









Did you know that only once does the Bible record Jesus’ disciples leaving Him over something He taught?

It wasn’t like there was a shortage of opportunities. Jesus didn’t respect the strict Sabbath restrictions of the day. He went around forgiving sins. He claimed that to disobey Him was to incur the wrath of God. He claimed, in fact, to be the God who had revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush. His behaviour was scandalous and His teachings contentious.

Yet none of these things made His disciples grumble, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” None of them led “many of his disciples to turn back and no longer walk with him.” None of them threatened His earthly ministry, including even the loyalty of the Twelve, like the claim, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53).

There’s a YouTube video I show my students, one that always has an impact on them. One girl even wrote afterwards in her journal that it left her “speechless.” It’s a talk called “The Hour that will Change your Life,” by Fr. Mike Schmitz, and it’s all about the intimacy Christ offers us – His body, blood, soul, and divinity – in the Eucharist.

In that talk, Fr. Mike looks closely at John 6, the passage in which Christ speaks at length about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Fr. Mike does a great job of explaining it, and it inspired me to pass the richness and truth of that passage on to you.

Protestant interpreters claim that Jesus is speaking metaphorically in John 6. After all, later in John’s gospel, the Lord says, “I am the vine,” “I am the gate,” and “I am the good shepherd,” and nobody disputes that He means those metaphorically. Protestants argue that the same goes for “I am the bread of life,” and, “This is my body.” What’s more, when Jesus says, “I am the bread of life,” He adds, “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (Jn.6:35 ESV). They conclude, then, that the eating and drinking of Christ’s flesh and blood are merely graphic pictures of coming to Jesus and believing in Him, of the faith that unites us with Christ.

This interpretation carries water, though, only by focusing on Christ’s words and ignoring what’s actually happening in the passage. The Apostle John doesn’t give us a monologue of Christ’s. He gives us a dialogue between Christ and the Jews, disciples, and Apostles who were His audience. Most importantly, John shows us how Christ’s audience interpreted His words, and how Jesus responded to that interpretation. And when we pay close attention to that interaction, it becomes clear that John 6 is no metaphor.
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The Protestant Mary-Worship Problem (feat. the Book of Praise)

I. Introduction

In the Catholic vs. Protestant blogosphere, you’ll find plenty of Protestant blogs in which the author quotes a Catholic prayer to Mary, or quotes a pope or saint writing about Mary, and says something like, “Man, if that isn’t idolatry, I don’t know what is.”

For example, in 1849, Pope Pius IX wrote in the encyclical Ubi Primum:

Great indeed is Our trust in Mary. The resplendent glory of her merits, far exceeding all the choirs of angels, elevates her to the very steps of the throne of God. Her foot has crushed the head of Satan. Set up between Christ and His Church, Mary, ever lovable and full of grace, always has delivered the Christian people from their greatest calamities and from the snares and assaults of all their enemies, ever rescuing them from ruin.[1]

I was certainly struck by things like this when I was looking into becoming Catholic. They were, for me, the number one hurdle, and in my experience, the strongest reactions I’ve encountered from Reformed people concerned what the Catholic Church says about Mary.

But the facts of Church history create a major problem for Protestants, one that even on its own was enough to convince me that it was my Reformed misgivings that were wrong, not the claims of the Catholic Church. It’s a problem that arises from taking what Scripture reveals about God’s contempt for idolatry and His love for the Church, and comparing that revelation with what has transpired in the history of the Church.

II. There’s no sin like idolatry

An accusation of idolatry is in many ways the ultimate accusation, since idolatry is the ultimate sin. In committing idolatry, you remove God as the center of your life and replace Him with something else. You break the first and greatest commandment, setting your soul in an unstable orbit around an object that will only lead you to crash and burn.

God gives no quarter to idolatry in the Bible. There are no “faithful idolaters” – a contradiction, seeing as idolatry is by definition unfaithfulness to God. The moment idolatry becomes part of His people’s religious life, God acts. He punishes Israel immediately for the golden calf; He sends enemy after enemy during the time of the judges; He takes the kingdom away from Solomon for worshipping the gods of his many wives. He sends a centuries-long parade of prophets to warn His people against becoming hardened in idolatry. He is never passive; He is never silent. He is at war with idolatry.

How much more must this be true of Christ and the Church, seeing as that relationship is the fulfillment of the relationship between God and Israel in the Old Testament? Christ promised that He would be with His Church always, to the end of the age. The New Testament speaks of Christ as being as inseparable from the Church as your head is inseparable from your body. When Christ confronts Saul on the Damascus road, He doesn’t ask Saul, “Why do you persecute my Church?” He asks, “Why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) That’s how closely Christ identifies with His Church. This is God and Israel, but magnified to heavenly proportions.

So, if we take God’s hatred of idolatry as revealed in the Old Testament, and Christ’s closeness to and love for the Church as revealed in the New, we can easily imagine how intolerant Christ would be of idolatry in His Church. I’m not talking so much about personal sins of idolatry, which will always be present in the Church. I’m talking about institutional idolatry, where idolatry is actively practiced and promoted by those in charge, such that the whole organism is infected by it.

Clearly, Christ would never be passive or silent in the face of such wickedness, a wickedness tantamount to His Body choosing a different Head. Clearly, He would act just as He acted against the idolatry that corrupted His Old Testament people. Scripture leads us to conclude nothing less.

And yet veneration of Mary was not some later medieval corruption that worked its way into the Church. We find it in full bloom already in the era of the Church Fathers. And most importantly, we don’t see anything like we’d expect to see if it were actually idolatry.

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Strange Distractions from the Gospel

Do the outward rituals of the Catholic faith lead away from the heart, away from faith in Christ – or toward Him?

Arenda recently wrote a post outlining some of the changes in our lives in becoming Catholic. The changes she lists are the sorts of things that many Protestants find not only to be strange, but to be so many distractions from the gospel. To them, Catholicism appears to be a system of outward rituals and rules that lead away from what really matters: the heart.

I was camping this past summer with some Protestant friends. Historically, Catholics were called by the Church to abstain from meat on Fridays in remembrance of Christ giving His flesh on a Friday for the salvation of the world. However, in the modern era, the Church has allowed Catholics to substitute the abstinence from meat with a sacrifice of a different sort. As a result, while many Catholics today continue to abstain from meat on Fridays, others choose to deny themselves in a different way.

Normally, I abstain from meat on Fridays. But on this camping trip, one of my friends was making dinner that Friday; and because that dinner included meat, I chose instead to abstain from drinking beer that day so that I could eat the dinner. When my friends wondered why I wasn’t having beer, and I told them why, one responded, “Ah, so you found a loophole in the system.”

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How Life is Different Now that We’re Catholic

On her blog, Arenda describes some of the practices and changes in thinking that characterize our lives now that we’re Catholic:

The Upcast Eye

We went home for Thanksgiving a few weeks ago, and during our stay I was telling my sister about Leo’s newfound fondness for making a joyful noise: “Father Louie came over to bless our home, and while we were eating dinner afterwards, Leo was cheerfully hollering at the top of his lungs! Jeremy and I both looked at each other, laughed, and said, ‘Hmm, I think taking him to Mass is going to get a lot more interesting in the coming months!'”

‘Bless our home.’ It’s still a little surprising when we bring up Catholic practices with our family, and my sister gently asked me later if it’s been strange to incorporate Catholic practices into our day-to-day life. And it has been, at times, because they’re acquiredpractices, rather than ones we’ve grown up with. I’ve been thinking a lot about those day-to-day ways in which our lives are…

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I’ve Changed My Mind

Reformed apologist Luis Dizon recounts how he has changed his mind and is converting to Catholicism:

Three things happened on October 31st:
  • On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the castle church door in Wittenberg, initiating the Protestant Reformation.
  • On October 31st, 2007, I was induced by a friend of a relative to “accept Christ,” thus marking the beginning of my eleven year journey into Evangelical Protestantism (you can read all about that story here)
  • And now, on October 31st 2018, that journey has reached its end. Today, I am announcing that I am returning to my original childhood faith, which is Catholicism.
All right, now that that’s out, I’m sure many of you reading this right now are surprised. If you met me anytime during the last eleven years, you would know me as someone with a knack for doing Christian apologetics, since I’ve written many articles, given many presentations, and even participated in three Christian-Muslim debates. You would…

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Going Deeper with Jesus in the Catholic Church

Protestant converts to Catholicism come from all different walks of life. You certainly don’t need a seminary degree to examine the Catholic Church and to be convinced that she is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church that Jesus established two thousand years ago.

Take the example of Barbara Vance, a grandmother who became Catholic at 67, after decades of being a faithful Baptist. You can read her account here: “Going Deeper with Jesus in the Catholic Church.

Indeed, that title sums up the simple act of faith at the heart of becoming Catholic. A person becomes Catholic because they are convinced that to follow the Catholic Church is to follow Jesus Christ – and that’s a conclusion you can draw no matter where you are in life.

Radiation Piercing to the Root

I recall a former Canadian Reformed pastor of mine who described prayer as a radiation treatment for the cancer of sin. Whenever I recall that metaphor, it motivates me to pray. I thought I would share with you one particular prayer that targets the very root of the spiritual cancer in our souls – pride. It was pride that drove Adam and Eve to eat from the tree, and it is pride that in so many countless ways conspires to keep us from a deeper and more fervent fellowship with Christ.

Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed – Isaiah 53:5

You know it’s working if it’s a difficult prayer to pray:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, deliver me, Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.