Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Marriage and Homosexuality: What Does the Church Say?

Everything the Church teaches about Marriage and the purpose of the conjugal act can be linked back to “man” (both male and female) as being God’s creation in His image and likeness, and to the means of the generation of human life:

"God is love and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in his own image… God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion" (FC 11).
"God created man in his own image . . . male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27); He blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and multiply"(Gen 1:28); "When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created" (Gen 5:1-2).
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2331, emphasis mine)

Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others (CCC 2332, emphasis mine).

Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way. The union of man and woman in marriage is a way of imitating in the flesh the Creator's generosity and fecundity: "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Gen 2:24). All human generations proceed from this union (cf. Gen 4:1-2, 25-26; 5:1). (CCC 2335, emphasis mine)

As the debate over the definition of Marriage (and whether same-sex-attracted persons have a “right to Marriage”) continues, it would be helpful to understand what the Church teaches about Marriage and what it understands in regards to homosexuality. A Catholic, or ANY Christian for that matter, can be quickly mislabeled as a bigot for not supporting a same-sex union, or for not supporting a re-definition of Marriage. To understand how the Christian position is not bigoted, it is helpful to know what that position is.

First and foremost, it must be noted that the Church is not “against” people with same-sex-attractions. The Church is “for” ALL people, regardless of our inclinations. The Church recognizes the suffering of people with these same-sex-attractions and calls all the Christian faithful to love our neighbors as we help each other find a more intimate relationship with Christ.

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained ( CCC 2357).

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition (CCC 2358, emphasis mine).

At the same time, the Church recognizes that God desires the salvation of ALL His children, and that we are called to live according to His commands. In choosing to disobey God, we reject His Authority over our lives, and reject Him as our Lord. There are a multitude of examples in Scriptures where Christians are called to guide one another from sin toward God [1]. Obeying God’s Word, the Church admonishes us:

Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity (cf. Gen 191-29; Rom 124-27; 1 Cor 6:10; 1 Tim 1:10), tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered" (CDF, Persona humana 8). They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved (CCC 2357, emphasis mine).

Instead of suffering sin upon our neighbor (Lv 19:17), we call him to the same vocation that EVERY Christian is called to: chastity.

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection (CCC 2359, emphasis mine).

All the baptized are called to chastity. The Christian has "put on Christ" (Gal 3:27), the model for all chastity. All Christ's faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life. At the moment of his Baptism, the Christian is pledged to lead his affective life in chastity (CCC 2348, emphasis mine).

"People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life…whether they are married or single" (CDF, Persona humana 11). Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence:
“There are three forms of the virtue of chastity: the first is that of spouses, the second that of widows, and the third that of virgins. We do not praise any one of them to the exclusion of the others. . . . This is what makes for the richness of the discipline of the Church” (St. Ambrose, De viduis 4,23:PL 16,255A)
(CCC 2349, emphasis mine).

The Church does not forbid Marriage, as the Church understands Marriage, for any person unless there is some impediment to Marriage (such as permanent, antecedent, and incurable impotence…not to be confused with infertility, or if one party is already Married, etc.). Every human person who is properly disposed to Marriage has the freedom to enter into Marriage, which is a lifelong, monogamous relationship with a person of the opposite sex.

What we do NOT have the freedom to do is redefine what Marriage *is* and expect God to change His own covenant sign. We do not have a right to engage in carnal activities and simultaneously expect God to recognize each and every carnal act as a “Marital” act. God created Marriage for a very specific purpose, with very specific ends and components.

Marriage is a life-long union, a commitment, between a man and a woman, which is ordered toward the generation and education of children. If a union between two persons is neither life-long (the two do not actually have a true commitment between them) nor ordered toward generation (meaning they don’t have the complementary sexual organs that could at least potentially generate life, even considering old age or natural loss of functionality), there is no true Marriage.

To understand more about this, we need to understand sexuality and conjugal love, and how these fit into Marriage.

Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament (CCC 2360, emphasis mine).

The spouses' union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple's spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family (CCC 2363, emphasis mine).

Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment. So the Church, which is "on the side of life" (FC 30), teaches that "it is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life" (HV 11). "This particular doctrine, expounded on numerous occasions by the Magisterium, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act" (HV 12; cf. Pius XI, encyclical, Casti connubii). (CCC 2366, emphasis mine)

Called to give life, spouses share in the creative power and fatherhood of God (cf. Eph 3:14; Mt 23:9). "Married couples should regard it as their proper mission to transmit human life and to educate their children; they should realize that they are thereby cooperating with the love of God the Creator and are, in a certain sense, its interpreters. They will fulfill this duty with a sense of human and Christian responsibility" (GS 50 § 2). (CCC 2367, emphasis mine)

This brings us back to Marriage.

"The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament" (CIC, can. 1055 § 1; cf. GS 48 § 1). (CCC 1601, emphasis mine)

Sacred Scripture begins with the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God and concludes with a vision of "the wedding-feast of the Lamb" (Rev 19:7, 9; cf. Gen 1:26-27). Scripture speaks throughout of marriage and its "mystery," its institution and the meaning God has given it, its origin and its end, its various realizations throughout the history of salvation, the difficulties arising from sin and its renewal "in the Lord" in the New Covenant of Christ and the Church (1 Cor 7:39; cf. Eph 5:31-32). (CCC 1602, emphasis mine)

"The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . . God himself is the author of marriage" (GS 48 § 1). The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries... "The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life" (GS 47 § 1). (CCC 1603)

For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love (cf. Gen 1:27; 1 Jn 4:8, 16). Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator's eyes. And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful… "And God blessed them, and God said to them: 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it'" (Gen 1:28; cf. 1:31). (CCC 1604, emphasis mine)

Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: "It is not good that the man should be alone" (Gen 2:18). The woman, "flesh of his flesh," his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God as a "helpmate"; she thus represents God from whom comes our help (cf. Gen 2:18-25). "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Gen 2:24). The Lord himself shows that this signifies an unbreakable union of their two lives by recalling what the plan of the Creator had been "in the beginning": "So they are no longer two, but one flesh" (Mt 19:6). (CCC 1605, emphasis mine)

The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak the nuptial bath (cf. Eph 5:26-27) which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist. Christian marriage in its turn becomes an efficacious sign, the sacrament of the covenant of Christ and the Church. Since it signifies and communicates grace, marriage between baptized persons is a true sacrament of the New Covenant (cf. DS 1800; CIC, Can. 1055 § 2). (CCC 1617, emphasis mine)

So there you have it. This is a decent glimpse into the Church's pro-person, pro-Marriage, pro-God teachings on homosexuality and Marriage, which are based on the Truth inscribed in the humanity of man and woman. For a more in-depth look, please click on the link (in my "Links" column) titled "Catechism of the Catholic Church, Keyword Searchable" and simply type in whatever word or phrase you want to explore.

[1]   Mt 7:5, Mt 18:15-17, 1 Cor 5:1-13, Gal 6:1-2, James 5:19, Lev 19:17, 2 Thess 3:14, Col 3:16, 1 Thess 5:14, etc… Correcting the Sinner is Not Being Judgmental

Sunday, May 11, 2014

One Church: Working Toward Unity in the Body of Christ

I once listened to a talk by John Martignoni of the Bible Christian Society called "One Church". If I had to pick a single message during my life where I really felt God was calling me to take a role in working to heal the divisions that have taken place in His Body, the Church (Eph 1:22-23), I would have to say that it spoke the loudest to me through that talk. I've listened to it several times, and I will post a link to it below, but here I am going to do my best to re-present it in writing*. From it, I want to share what I believe should be important to every Christian: unity in the Body of Christ.

In Jn 14:6, Christ tells us, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me". Jesus is telling us two important things here. 1) There is ONE truth. 2) The truth is a Person...Christ. We know this isn't the first time the Jews had heard something like this, because John writes, "Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (Jn 8:31-32). Notice the singular "word" and "truth" there? And it comes up again when Christ is questioned by Pilate: "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice" (Jn 18:37). What do we know from these Scripture passages? We know that Christ is the Truth, that Truth is important, that Truth makes us free, and that there is one Truth.

Great! So where do we find this Truth? What means did Christ leave us with to find Truth? Did He give us a group of fallible men making fallible interpretations of the Scriptures? Think for a moment about how many people claim to have THE Holy Spirit guided understanding of Scripture, and how many of them agree on every bit of Truth. Every week there are splits among various denominations/churches over some doctrine or another, to the tune of some 30,000-40,000 churches according to some sources. I'm sure these could be narrowed back down to just a few thousand unique beliefs, but is this the work of the Holy Spirit? Is the work of the Holy Spirit to lead people to differing Truths? Does the Holy Spirit work to cause division in Christ's Body, the Church?

No. This division is, at best, the work of the "unlearned" (KJV) or "ignorant" (NRSV)wresting Scripture "to their own destruction", Peter tells us in 2Pet 3:16. Peter is speaking of Paul's letters, as well as the OT Scriptures here. And if you can twist them to your own destruction, then it seems that it's pretty important to make sure you have the right understanding, right?

Notice what Peter DIDN'T say. He didn't say "the evil" or "the wicked" or "the ungodly", or "those who don't pray to the Holy Spirit", or "the non-believers". He said the "unlearned/ignorant and unstable". How many people in the world can claim to NOT be unlearned or ignorant in the Scriptures? Did the well educated and worshipful Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:27-31 believe he was NOT ignorant or unstable? No. When asked if he understood what he was reading , he replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?”. I dare say that if we were not all ignorant of Scripture to some degree or another, we wouldn't need Doctorate programs to help pastors understand the Scriptures.

And what does Peter say of those who are twisting Scripture? He says they are now "lawless"...they don't accept any authority telling them what Paul's words REALY mean, they are going to define that for themselves. Sound familiar? And does Peter say that even those who are stable will automatically remain so? No. He warns them of the exact opposite. "Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability" (2Pet 3:14-17). He also warns us sternly "First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation" (2Pet 1:20).

Can we, who are ignorant and unstable (or even stable yet vulnerable, and still ignorant to some degree or another), really expect to read the Scriptures and always come to the correct doctrine or Truth? And if we think we can, then what justification do we give when our view is different from the next guy? If we both claim to have the Holy Spirit guided Truth, then who is to say which of us is right or wrong? And if it's okay for our beliefs to differ, and Truth can be whatever each of us thinks it is, then what does "truth" even mean anymore?

The fact is, nowhere does Scripture tell us that each of us as individuals will be infallible interpreters of the Word. Yet we know there must be one true understanding of the Word, because our One God has One Truth which makes us free. We know that Truth cannot contradict itself. We also know that Christ, the Truth, desires for us to remain ONE, and that differing understandings of Scripture have led, and continue to lead, to division in His Body, the Church. What we need is a guide, just like the eunuch in Acts 8:27-31. Having such a guide is Scriptural. But who is it? Where do we find this guide?

Scripture tells us, in 1Tim 3:15, who this guide is. "I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that,  if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1Tim 3:14-15). "The Church", Paul tells us, is the "pillar and bulwark of truth". He gave this message to the Corinthians as well when he wrote, "And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues" (1Cor 12:28). Where have apostles and prophets and all these deeds and gifts been appointed? In "the Church".

Great! So where do we find this Church? Is it in the Methodist church? Or what about the Presbyterian church? How about the Lutherans, Episcopalians, or Catholics or Pentecostals? The Disciples of Christ? Or what about the Doers of the Word? Do we go to the Orthodox ,or Baptist, or Southern Baptist churches? Church of Christ? How many others can we find in the average phone book? In the small town of Baytown, Texas there are more than 35 different denominations (not including the "non-denominational"), and within just those, there are well over 200 different churches. Search a larger area, like Houston, and you will find over 2,500. Are these all the same? Do they all profess the One Truth? Does it even matter if they are the same? Did Christ establish all of these?

Scripture tells us that Christ established one Church (Mt 16:18). "I will build my church"...singular...Christ tells Peter. Scripture also tells us that the Church is His Body (Eph 1:22-23), that He is the Head of the Body (Col 1:18), that there is but one Body (Eph 2:15-16) with one Spirit (Eph 4:4) and one flock with one Shepherd (Jn 10:16). So, we know there is only one Church established by Christ. So is it a visible Church? Or is it invisible? Or maybe it's both? Is it abstract or concrete, spiritual or physical, or can it be all of these at once?

While it seems the possibilities are endless, there are really only 3 possibilities:

1) Christ established more than one Church.
As we have seen already from Scripture, this is not true. Christ established one Church, and only one. And it is His Will that it remain as one, so that the world will know that God sent Christ (Jn 17: 20-23).   Christ established one, and only one Church.

2) Christ established a an abstract/invisible Church, which is the body of all believers in a spiritual sense. If this is true, then one of 2 things MUST be true:

A) Doctrine does not matter.
I doubt you would ever find any Christian that would flat out say that doctrine does not matter. But what we DO often hear are statements such as "we agree on the essential doctrines". This statement necessarily suggests that the points of disagreement are NON-essential doctrines. The problem with that line of thinking is that Scripture does not tell us that any doctrines are non-essential, or don't matter. In fact, Scripture says the exact opposite. "...[R]emain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach any different doctrine" (1Tim 1:3). Sounds like all doctrine is pretty important there. "Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons" (1Tim 4:1). So, we can depart from the faith by giving heed to the wrong doctrine...sounds pretty important.

"We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming" (Eph 4:14), and "He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it" (Titus 1:9). These can't be clearer in the fact that doctrine is matters. And nowhere do we see that any part of any doctrine isn't essential.

B) Doctrine matters, but it is okay to have conflicting doctrines.
This is another area where "we agree on the essentials" comes to play, yet in this line of thinking we have not taken that statement to its logical conclusion. Instead, we stop somewhere in the middle and just say that it's okay to have conflicting doctrines as long as "we agree on the essentials". But again, where is this list of essential vs. non-essential doctrines? Who gets to decide what is/isn't essential? Christ tells us, “It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Mt 4:4). "Every word", Christ tells us. We live by EVERY Word. "For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven..." (Mt 5:18-19). Not a letter, not a stroke, not an iota, as some translations put it, will pass away. And whoever breaks "the least", and teaches others likewise, will be least. What part of that would make us think it's okay to have conflicting doctrines...those which might be "non-essential"?

 In Jn 14:26 we read that, "the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you". He will teach EVERYTHING and remind of ALL that Christ said to the Apostles. "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth" (Jn 16:13). ALL truth, Christ says. Does any of that sound like there is a non-essential part of the Word? God, speaking through His prophet Malachi, says, "For I the Lord do not change" (Mal 3:6). Can any part of God's Word be contradictory within His Church is His Word does not change? Can part of it be essential vs. non-essential? No, it's ALL essential, unchanging, non-contradictory, one Truth that will make us free (Jn 8:32).

Back, then, to option #2 in which Christ established an invisible Church. Scripture tells us that the Church cannot be invisible. In Jn 17:20-23 we read, "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me". The unity Christ is speaking of must be visible, so that the world may believe. The world doesn't believe what it doesn't see. Is the world seeing a unity in an invisible church right now? No. At best, it sees continual division, each and every week a new church breaking off from another church that broke off from some other church over some doctrine or another. Our unity must be visible for the world to believe.

Christ also says of His Church that "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven" (Mt 5: 14-16). Christ is telling us we are visible, "built on a hill" for all to see and a lamp on the lampstand to give a light (something visible) to all. This is the sign of a visible Church, not an invisible one. 

We see again in Mt 18: 15-17 that we should be able to find the Church especially in cases of unsettled disputes. "If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" (Mt 18:17). If the Church is invisible how would we go to "tell it to the church"? And when we do go and tell it to the Church, what if we get conflicting messages and differing opinions about which person is right or wrong? If there is no visible Church, then who decides what is or isn't true or moral? Who speaks for the Church of 1Tim 3:15? There must be a visible aspect of the Church.

This leaves us with the third, and only Scripturally supported option.

3) Christ established one visible (with invisible aspects as well) Church, united in one spirit, within which doctrine matters, there cannot be any conflicting doctrine, and it must contain the fullness of Truth revealed by God, and all others, at best, have only partial truths.
"And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Eph 1:22-23).
"Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul..." (Acts 4:32).
"Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose" (1Cor 1:10).
"Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel" (Phil 1:27).
"The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (Jn 17:22-23).
If we are to be perfectly and completely one as Christ and His Father are One, can we disagree on any doctrines? Can there be any "non-essentials" which enable us to say that we at least agree on the "essentials"? The Scriptures could not be any more clear: One Church, visible (AND invisible...not "either/or"), with the fullness of Truth where all doctrine is important and there can be no contradictions, which has apostles, prophets, bishops, deacons, and teachers: this is the Church which Scripture shows us was established by Christ.

Great! So which Church is this? Well, this Church should at the very least claim to be 2,000 years old, hold the fullness of Truth, and to be infallible in matters of faith and morals. Otherwise it cannot be the Church which Christ established because Christ established a Church 2,000 years ago, with the fullness of revealed Truth, and He guaranteed it would be led to ALL Truth by His Holy Spirit.  In other words, Christ's Church cannot teach error in matters of faith and morals because it speaks with the very voice of Christ (Lk 10:16).  If your Church does not at least claim these things for itself, I hope you will prayerfully consider my Church, the Catholic Church, which not only claims all these and more, but can back up those claims when put under scrutiny.

*Though I tried to maintain the integrity of the original talk, I was unable to include some talking points due to the length or this article.
For more information on the Bible Christian Society and the "One Church" talk (among several other free resources offered) which was the source for this article: Bible Christian Society

For even more Scriptural examples of what Christ's Church looked like, and should look like today: Which Church is THE Church in the Bible? and How Did the Early Christians Worship?

Many thanks to John Martignoni for his evangelistic work in meeting all Christians where they the Scriptures.