You don’t have to prove your faith. But you do need to accept gifts of the spirit when they fall into your lap

In response to a wonderful comment, I’ll go through point by point.

The most important point will be point #8:

I cannot but believe you are speaking facetiously when you claim that Christians need to have a few miracles under their belt to prove their faith.

The first part with which I disagree would be that Jesus approved of slavery: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).

First point: Jesus didn’t do anything to stop slavery. Jesus didn’t free slaves. Jesus didn’t encourage slave revolts. Jesus didn’t say, “Hey, you have fundamental human dignity and you shouldn’t allow people to keep you as a slave.”

The Confederate States of America had numerous Scripture scholars who went through the Bible and showed that slave-owning was Scripturally supported.

Even in the Old Testament, where slavery and laws governing slaves exist, an argument that God does not approve of slavery can be made from the fact that He freed his chosen people. If slavery were an acceptable condition of life, there would have been no reason to free them. Also, if God saw slavery as good, he would not have punished them by making them slaves of the Babylonians and Assyrians around the time of the prophets. That God does not even particularly approve of monarchy–the subjects of a monarch are the king’s slaves after all–is shown by how angry God becomes when the Israelites ask for a king in the Book of Samuel.

Second point: You can interpret the Old Testament to mean anything you like, because it’s vague and all translations rely heavily on unprovable assumptions.

The Old Testament claims that God commanded the Israelites to conquer Canaan. The book of Numbers gives them guidelines for warfare that are profoundly un-Christlike.

As for why God allows certain things He does not approve of, remember this passage from the Gospels:

They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?”

He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so….” (Matt. 19:7-8)

So, God does allow certain customs to remain because of people’s hardness of heart or lack of understanding. But once He enlightens them through the Holy Spirit, His followers more perfectly follow His will. After all, Christians were known to free slaves by purchasing them from their owners even as early as the time of the Roman Empire, and the general trend in Europe has been to abolish the institution with America finally catching up in 1865. The Church itself was always one of slavery’s fiercest opponents.

Third point: That’s great, but it undercuts the importance of Scripture. If Christians can receive moral intuitions from the Holy Spirit, those personal revelations might very well override the accepted meaning of Scripture.

When Christ speaks of our righteousness surpassing that of the Pharisees, He means that our righteous deeds must be done with charity.
They must not merely fulfill the letter of the law but also the spirit of the law.

Fourth point: You can’t really prove what Christ meant. At best you can give a justified explanation of what you THINK Christ meant.

The New Testament is not as vague as the Old, but it can still be interpreted to mean a lot of incompatible things.

And Jesus certainly has a morality with its roots in the Mosaic law. After all, when the rich young man asks what he might do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him to follow the Commandments (Luke 18:20).

Fifth point: if one is willing to assume that the Gospels were in fact inspired predominantly by the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit didn’t allow human errors or distortions to creep in, then your argument follows.

Jesus elucidates His morality throughout all of the Gospels. The morality of God does not change, though the progress of revelation often reveals this morality in more perfection as people have the strength and understanding to bear it.

Sixth point: Again, if revelation is ongoing, then Scripture is not very important.

As for whether one needs to die to enter the Kingdom of God, no, but this kingdom does not cease with death. The Kingdom of God is among us because God is in our hearts, and He wishes to reward us with life everlasting after our time on earth. Thus, all the saints looked forward to dying and being with Christ.

The glory Christians are supposed to seek is glory from God, not men. God glorifies those who follow His will, which consists in acting with charity and righteousness. Concerning the verse about being least in the Kingdom of Heaven, most Fathers of the Church say that this means not even to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, where each man and woman rules with Christ.

Seventh point: Okay, we have no disagreement there.

I cannot but believe you are speaking facetiously when you claim that Christians need to have a few miracles under their belt to prove their faith.
After all, what greater faith is there than to believe that God cares for one and that all things in a believer’s life, whether good or evil, will tend to his salvation?

Eighth point: You don’t necessarily NEED to prove your faith. Certainly you don’t need to prove it to me.

But this is not a facetious joke; this is the social expression of an ongoing spiritual crisis.

Christianity in the early days after the crucifixion was all about “the gifts of the Spirit.” The early Christians spoke in tongues, prophesied, and encountered so many spirits that they had to sort them out by asking whether the spirits in question believed that Jesus had come in the flesh. (1 John 4)

The initial behavior of Christians was very mystical and spirit-oriented. The later behavior of the vast majority of Christians lacked these gifts. The divide is so great that it seems like two different religions. By contrast, the Buddhists started out as people who meditated a lot, and they’re still meditating. They’ve probably distorted Buddha’s original message a lot, but at least they look fairly consistent.

When Christians go for so long without miracles, I’ve got to wonder what’s up. Perhaps the allocation of miracles has remained consistent for 2000 years, and the miracles were only frequent in 35 A.D. because there were so few Christians, but now that there are billions of Christians, the same pool of miracles gets spread out over a wider area!

In a parable, God even chastises a certain group of people who work miracles but do evil:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’

And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt. 7:21-23)

Ninth point: Clearly, it’s better to refrain from miracles if you can only work mischief with them. However, I think you’re misreading the passage. The miracle-workers who get rebuked don’t seem to have done evil as such – at least not the obvious kind of evil that people can notice easily. They appeared to be doing everything right, but for some inscrutable reason known only to God, they deviated from God’s will, and provoked Jesus to reject them.

This post has gotten too long, and I still haven’t gotten deeply into the Old Testament problems, but at least I have managed to write a basic reaction. I’ll write more later.

One thought on “You don’t have to prove your faith. But you do need to accept gifts of the spirit when they fall into your lap

  1. The thing about revelation is that it must always be gradual. Human beings hate change and are very subject to misunderstanding. Imagine if God had revealed that He was a Trinity to the Israelites at the very beginning. The Israelites might have said to themselves: “Hey, we worship a plurality of gods just like everyone else!” (Muslims accuse Christians of the same thing nowadays.) Instead, God, through steady revelation, made the Hebrews move from first the understanding that He was the God of the Hebrews, then that He was better than the other gods, next that He was the only true God of all people, then that He had a sole begotten Son, then that there was a Holy Spirit which was His Spirit, and lastly that He was Three Persons in one God–Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This process took from 2000 BC (Abraham) to its full clarification in 325 AD (the Council of Nicea). And even then, the Arian heretics contested the doctrine for a long time afterwards! To have revealed the full nature of God to the Hebrews while they still wandered the desert would have been too much for them to handle.

    In the same way, God began intimating to the Hebrews that He did not like slavery by first freeing them from the yoke and then requiring them to free their own slaves on the year of the Jubilee. Then, Jesus often spoke of sin and slavery in the same breath and represented freedom as a goal of living a moral life:

    Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36).

    St. Paul elucidated on this theme of freedom in his own epistles. Then, it was only a matter of time for Christians to understand that if spiritual slavery was abhorrent, then neither should one man own another. And so, slavery was eradicated in northern Europe by the 12th century, with many other European countries following during the Renaissance, and its total abolishment in the Christian world by the 19th. The theologians of the South who argued for the institution or “divine institution of slavery” as they called it were trying to make us revert to the deficient understanding of bygone ages and ignoring many of the truths discovered since.

    But, the important thing to note in developments on revelation is that these new understandings are rooted in revelation and nothing which revelation contradicts explicitly can be invented as a new article of doctrine. And so, Scripture has no passages claiming that God desires the institution of slavery to exist, but many which intimate that God wishes men to be free. On the other hand, a doctrine which cannot be implemented, despite the efforts of many erroneous theologians or well-meaning persons, is for homosexuality to be legitimized. Revelation has always condemned it, and the New Testament has not reversed the condemnation–unlike in the case of the prohibition of certain foods.

    As for why I understand that charity is what makes one’s works more righteous than those of the Pharisees, that I learned from a book written by a Trappist monk. But, I would suspect that he based it on St. Paul’s famous passage concerning the necessity of charity (1 Corinthians 13) and the fact that the Pharisees were very legalistic. They did everything right according to the letter of the law, but so that their good deeds might feed their own self-importance (Luke 11:42). Also, God is love, so one would expect that acts done for the sake of love please Him more than those done out of fear of punishment or the desire to make oneself look good.

    Oh, concerning the passage where God rebukes the miracle-workers, it is preceded by the passage on how a good tree is known by its fruit. So, I assume that all these miracles of theirs were done for the sake of their own aggrandizement–just like the Pharisees. And we know that those who do things to be praised by men will not receive a reward from God (Matt. 6:1). These miracle workers must have abstained from good works or done all of them for their own sake rather than for the sake of other people or God and so lacked the spirit of charity–especially when even someone who gives a cup of cold water to someone will not lose his reward (Matt. 10:42).

    Just a curious note on miracles: whenever someone is beatified or canonized, the Church recognizes that miracles have occurred in response to someone’s prayers–usually medical miracles. Then, there are great miracles like the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima and smaller spiritual miracles (the conversion of great sinners, for example) which few take notice of. So, miracles are still happening, though not everyone can be Padre Pio.

    Thanks for your post! You made great points.


Comments Might Work, But We Won't Know Until You Try

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.