Thursday, December 31, 2015

Fare Thee Well, 2015!





Wow, this year has been something for me!!! So many things have happened in 2015, both personal and public. I want to reflect on a few of them:

Two new nephews!

Okay, one of them was born late last December, but I didn't get to see either of them until this Thanksgiving. Both are adorable, and I love them to death. Now I have five nephews and one niece!!! They all live in Florida, and I live about fourteen hours away in Tennessee, so I don't get to see them nearly as often as I wish.

I became a Benedictine Monk!

This August I made my vows of Obedience, Stability, and Conversatio Morum ("conversion of manners" or "conversion of life"). I and my brothers at my parish pray and help our church with whatever is necessary for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.

I'm...almost done with my undergrad degree!

Okay, I was supposed to graduate this past spring, but work wouldn't allow me to. Unless there are any unforseen problems, I'm graduating the summer of 2016, finishing my degree by taking two classes overseas in the U.K.; of course, I'm VERY excited about that! I just hope I have the finances for it. Prayers would be appreciated!

I launched a new Facebook page!

Yes, this year I decided that I should have a Facebook page dedicated to theology from an Anglo-Catholic perspective, so I started the "Barely Protestant" page. I've made new friends with it, and have had interesting conversations. The page keeps track of how many people view my articles, memes, posts, etc., and I am humbled by just how many people have read what I have to say. My articles have been read in the thousands, now, and my posts have on more than a few occasions reached in the tens of thousands of viewing per week.

There have been some setbacks, as well. I had to quit my job because of how much it impeded my ability to do school, opting instead for another job that is more willing to work with my schedule, but at a significant wage cut. That's not been easy, but God has provided time after time for me, bringing in money at the very last second. He is faithful.

I also had some relationship problems, specifically with three people in my life. Thank God that one of them reached out to me this Christmas Eve to make amends. That relationship may take time to restore, but I am confident that he and I will work it out. Another relationship, related to that situation, is still on shaky ground; pray for that one, that we both do what is right. The third one I see not being resolved, as the other person involved refuses to reconcile.

These three hurdles have retaught me the importance of forgiveness, letting go of bitterness, and admitting my own faults. Do not let pride get in the way of your relationships.

I also had to deal, most importantly, with three close friends who attempted suicide.  Thankfully, all three are alive today, but for one I thought he was dead for two or three days. Those days were horrific.  It's taught me that I need to be there for my friends even more, and not brush aside any concerns I have about their well-being. Two of the three are doing better now; I've not heard from one of them for about three or four months, unfortunately.

I'm continuing my journey through the Christian life, making progress each day. Thanks to my Benedictine Vows, I'm becoming more accustomed to daily prayer. My prayer is to still become a priest, but I want to make sure that I finish my undergraduate degree; this has become my priority.

I plan on blogging a lot more, and possibly starting a Youtube channel (I technically already have: check it out). All in all, I plan on doing a lot more with this, as I find time to; thankfully, I only have two classes this spring, and the two classes overseas this summer. Some of the ideas I have are:

Reviews of books

Critiques of horrible viral videos ("Why Jesus is totes legit okay with, like, just having sex with whoever you want or whatevs"-type videos; or any Buzzfeed videos that even mention Christianity, for that matter.)

Explanations of certain points of theology (Sacramental theology, soteriology, eschatology, etc.)

Answering your questions!!!

I've done a horrible job of that this year; my apologies. I was supposed to do a few articles, one specifically on the belief of Annihilation (as opposed to eternal conscious torment). I plan on making a series of that one, as it will take a while to explain and a few angles from which to do. Anyways, that's what I'm planning on for the coming year.

Thanks for helping make my 2015 memorable!


















Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Why Christianity is Better than Islam

There are a great many reasons Christianity is better than Islam; a great many, indeed. From Jesus being a MUCH better example than Mohammed, to the Sacramental theology, to being more historically accurate, to being allowed to have beer-battered bacon, Christianity is simply better.

Do you know what I like best about Christianity right now? Verses like these:

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God."--Leviticus 19:33-34

Or Jesus' words about those in need:

"
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”--Matthew 25:41-46


Compare that to what the Qu'ran says: 

"And an announcement from God and his messenger, to the people (assembled) on the day of the great pilgrimage--that God and his messenger dissolve (treaty) obligations with the pagans. If, then, you repent, it were best for you (pagans); but if you turn away, you (should) know that you cannot frustrate God. And proclaim a grievous penalty to those who reject faith.

(But the treaties are) not dissolved with those pagans with whom you have entered into alliance and who have not subsequently failed you in anything, nor aided any one against you. So fulfill your engagements with them to the end of their term: for God loves the righteous. 

But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for God is oft-forgiving, most merciful.

If one amongst the pagans ask you for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of God; and then escort him to where he can be secure. This is because they are men without knowledge."--Surah 9:3-6

Also, verses 7-8 basically say you can't trust "pagans," and that "their hearts are averse from you; most of them are rebellious and wicked." 


I mean, well, at least if you are willing to convert you can be granted asylum.

Anyways, I'm so glad I live in a country where Christians sound more like they are following the passages in the Bible than they are following passages in the Qur'an.

Because I'll bet that if a bunch of Muslim refugees were fleeing the Middle East, we as Christians would welcome them the way the Levitical Law and Jesus told us to.

Right?

Of course, it would be reasonable to intern them, with food and shelter, simply to make sure that there are no criminals and terrorists and Bernie Sanders-supporters amongst the refugees. But we'd bring them in, because that's what the Old Testament and Jesus Himself commands. Doesn't mean we'd simply let them loose once they get here; that'd be cruel, anyway. 

But yes; I'm just glad that I live in a country that loves Jesus so much that we don't outright reject 10,000 refugees (to pick a random number) without a second thought.

Because if we did, I'd be concerned that we were becoming more like that second religion, not that first one.

I'd be concerned that our view is we only help others of our own Faith...like the Qur'an commands, not like Jesus commands.

Praise God that's not a problem now for us in the U.S. Praise God we'd take refugees of war in, keep an eye on them, but also care for them, and show them the Love of Christ. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Smartphone and the Prayerbook


The alarm infiltrates my mind, forcing my eyes to open.

I try to ignore its demands, but the better me wins and I rise out of bed.

Decisions.

A prayerbook. A rosary.

A smartphone. A PC.

Now is the moment to decide. Now determines my—

…with smartphone in hand, I proceed to the kitchen.

Tommy said this! Billy shared that! Sue posted this!

And my prayerbook and rosary lie unattended.

No worries; just a few moments more, and I can pray to my God.

In the shower my smartphone plays music for me while I think of my day ahead.

Such a wonderful device; it has everything I need in life.

And much, much more.

Just a few more moments, and I can pray to my God.

The car is impatiently waiting for me to arrive, its engine sputtering while I gather all my books.

All but one book, that is.

Just a few more moments, and I can pray to my God.

In class, I focus intently upon ways to better the world and impress with my knowledge.
In class, I focus intently on the cute girl in front of me.
After class, I focus intently on the bitterness from past wrongs.
And justify each and every action done by me.
Of course she deserved those harsh words.
Of course he deserves my hatred.
Of course it is my right to do what is not right.
Why should I forgive? It is not like someone ever forgave me for my wrongs. No one died for me.

Just a few more minutes, while I pray to my god.

My god told me my body is imperfect. Lose weight.
Yes, dear lord.

My god told me I don’t have enough friends.
Yes, my master.

My god told me I’m pathetic for not having a girlfriend.
Yes, my savior.

Look, says my god; Gaze upon those friends of yours with perfect, happy lives. It is written in Social Media: thou shalt conform into the image of the Plastic. Thou shalt not allow any Creator to direct and lead you into what you were meant to be.

Not now, I’m reading from my god’s scriptures.

And god said let us be shallow. And god said let us be self-righteous. And god said let us be hateful and bigoted and selfish and greedy and arrogant and boastful and independent from all and deceptive and dependent upon all and cut down others and worship those who make us feel pathetic and be with those we lust after and lust after those we cannot be with and gossip and trust only ourselves and compare ourselves to all and judge all and make ourselves our own gods in our own images…images stitched together on the envy and bitterness we soak in each passing moment…

…without even realizing it.

...

The end of the day.
Life is horrible. I want to die.

Oh look. A razor.

It would be easy. How many friends have better bodies, better hair, better lives than your pathetic self? You’d be doing the world a favor. Just make sure the blood drains in the tub, so your roommates don’t have to clean the floor.

The razor in hand. My life in my hand.

Oh look. A book.

I remember that book from this morning. And what a pretty piece of jewelry. Cheap, but…there is something about it…
And the memories reinhabit the forefront of my consciousness.

Love.

Joy.

Peace.

My soul has long been suffering.

“Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.”

With every tear that falls from my face, every stain of my self-destruction is destroyed. The razor is clenched in my hand, blood dripping from a tiny cut. The only blood spilled from my body for these sins.

Irritated and red, my eyes look up to the crucifix on my wall.

No Blood was shed in bitterness that day. No Flesh demanded to be healed. All for Love. All for…me.


I close my prayerbook, and hold my rosary in my bloody hand. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Response to Baldie the Limey's Open Letter to Me: on the Eucharist

Baldie the Limey is a friend I have acquainted myself with over social media. He is Roman Catholic, and is looking at becoming a priest. I am Anglican, and also looking at becoming a priest. He recently published an open letter to me on his blog, asking me about my position concerning the Eucharist.

He's also into anime, which is totes legit. I don't think I've asked him yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's a fan of Blue Exorcist.

HE NEEDS TO SEE SUCH AMAZING ANIME AS THIS.

Now, on to the response...

Just to be clear, I am NOT a Sacramentarian. I do not believe that Christ is only "spiritually" (in the modern sense where "spiritual" means "non-physical") present in the Eucharist.

The bread and wine used in Communion, at the moment of Consecration, become the Body and Blood of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

It is really, truly the Body and Blood of Jesus.

It is not a mere memorial.

It is not merely a symbol of the Body and Blood.

I am a cannibal because at Mass I am truly eating the Flesh of my Saviour, Jesus Christ.

I say that because it seemed almost as if you thought I held a Sacramentarian view, although you never do actually claim that of me.

Now that that is cleared up, let us move on to my problems with Rome concerning the subject:

Unfortunately, as much as I love the Council of Trent, it did anathematize almost every position outside of Transubstantiation, including the closest one to my own:

"If any one saith, that, in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist, the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denieth that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood-the species Only of the bread and wine remaining-which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation; let him be anathema."
--Council of Trent Session XIII, Canon 2

Now, this one is often called "Consubstantiation", Do I hold to Consubstantiation? No, because I don't commit myself to Aristotelian metaphysics. However, I do hold to the fact that the Consecrated bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ every bit as much as they are the bread and wine. Think of the Hypostatic Union: 100% God and 100% man. 100% bread/wine and 100% Body/Blood.

I wonder: am I anathematized for not holding to Aristotelian metaphysics, according to Trent?

Am I anathematized for not holding to Transubstantiation, according to Trent?

Now, as I understand it, according to Aristotelian metaphysics, the accidents of an object are not the object itself; only the substance of an object is (please correct me if I am wrong, Baldie). If the Consecrated Bread and Wine are only in accidents still such, how does this not commit the heresy of Monophysitism?

If I held to Aristotelian metaphysics, I would likely be a proponent of Consubstantiation. Not being committed to it, I am an advocate of merely Real Presence. It is truly both Body and Blood and bread and wine. One of my favorite Anglicans, both a priest and a poet, once said:

"He was the Word that spake it:
He took the bread and break it;
And what that Word did make it,
I do believe and take it."
--John Donne


Another problem I have is that Trent is not an Ecumenical Council. How could it be, when the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox, as well as the Anglican Communion, did not weigh in on the matter? At the very most, we've only had seven Ecumenical Councils (all Ecumenical Councils pre-1054 Schism), but more realistically, we do need to understand that the Schism with the Oriental Orthodox needs to be reconciled as well. But let's just focus on the Great Schism for now at least.

Can an Ecumenical Council be had without the whole Church?

Does Rome decide if a Church Council is ecumenical?

Is Rome the decider of who is in and not in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church?

If Rome considers these branches to be without valid Apostolic Succession, why? Hopefully, Rome does not commit the Donatist heresy in its reasoning.

Either way, I think we can both agree with this quote from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Richard Hooker, on the subject of the Eucharist:

"This bread hath in it more than the substance which our eyes behold, this cup hallowed with solemn benediction availeth to the endless life and welfare both of soul and body; in that it serveth as well for a medicine to heal our infirmities and purge our sins, as for a sacrifice of thanksgiving; with touching it sanctifieth, it enlighteneth with belief, it truly conformeth us into the image of Jesus Christ. What these elements are in themselves it skilleth not; it is enough, that to me which take them they are the Body and Blood of Christ; His promise in witness hereof sufficeth; His Word He knoweth which way to accomplish; why should any cogitation possess the mind of a faithful communicant but this, 'O my God, Thou art true; O my soul, thou art happy!'".

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Few Thoughts on the Gay Marriage Thing

"Yay! All of you bigoted Christians just lost!!!! Screw you guys, love is always gonna win over hate and bigotry!"

"What's happened to my America? This country was founded by Christians, and now it's become a pagan nation!!!!"

Yeah...that's basically been my Facebook newsfeed the past few days, and I'm sure it's been yours as well. Between profile pics of rainbows raging against profile pics of crosses, I'm watching bombardments from both sides as the culture wars continue with a major victory for the pro-LGBT side.

First off, I want to lay some necessary points of fact down first, just so you know where I am coming from in writing this article, as well as this article's purpose:

1) This is not an article about whether or not the Supreme Court has the right to do what it did. I lean libertarian, so my position is a bit more nuanced than your average conservative Christian's.

2) I am a person who has actually studied the question of gay marriage and Christianity, and extensively. I have a number of books sitting on my shelf and lying within my Kindle on the subject, from multiple angles.

3) I am a person who actually tries to avoid this and related topics, for multiple reasons. It's too emotional for many people (and I'm not using that term in a derogatory way), and parts of it are incredibly complicated. I'm only writing an article now because I see such vitriol and hatred on many sides with this issue.

4) I'm not a person who enjoys doing some watered down, "I won't take sides on an issue, I just think we should love everyone" crap. Of course love, but for God's-sake state your position if you are going to talk or write about it! It's one of the most annoying things about this generation; how unwilling we are to actually say things of substance when we discuss these serious matters. I have a position, and if I'm going to write an article on it, I won't shy away from that position.

5) While marriage is something that has existed before the Church, in our Western context it is something that has historically been done by the Church, and the State has slowly overseen it in a more active way.

6) I am committed to searching for truth, no matter where it leads.

Now that that's all cleared up...

Calm Freakin' Down

First off, both sides need to stop with the absolutely horrendous hatred thrown at the others. Let's deal with that. And yes, I genuinely do mean both sides. I've disagreed with my LGBT friends and my conservative Christian friends on this issue, and have been attacked by both parties.

On the conservative Christian side, I've been accused of going to Hell for my position on the subject. I've seen conservative Christians treat gay people horribly, acting as though they were sub-human. Whether you consider homosexuality a sin or not, you should never consider that person sub-human. I know Christian friends who are and were so afraid to come out, because of how hateful many people have been towards this issue. It needs to stop. Seriously.

One person in particular comes to my mind who, rather than thinking he could approach his parents about this complicated issue, was so scared that he decided to hide it from them instead, supposing he could change himself. Whenever you hide something, that something only grows. He ended up going into activities that any responsible person, whether LGBT or straight, would find sexually dangerous and degrading to oneself and others. Is that what his parents and church community wanted? I doubt it.

Think that's bad, LGBT friends? I've had a gay man argue, rather viciously, against me for holding to my position, later friend me on Facebook, then in the middle of the night start posting claims that I was hitting on him and trying to seduce him and was a closet gay. All because I respectfully disagreed with him. I've seen people like Tony Campolo--Tony freakin' Campolo!!!!--accused of being a bigot. Seriously? SERIOUSLY?

Recently, Campolo came out in favor of gay marriage within the Church. Prior to that, he was fine with gay marriage, just not within the Church.

He was fine with gay marriage, he just didn't think the Church should perform gay marriages.

...that is a position that requires vitriolic hatred and screams of bigotry? Seriously?  This is the guy I'm talking about (and this is a video from years before he decided to approve of gay marriages within the Church):




Yes, ladies and gentlemen: that guy apparently deserves to be given the same derogatory names as the Westboro Baptists.

Congratulations: you've made the term "bigot" utterly useless. And ironically, your claims of bigotry only reveal that you yourself are one and have no idea what that word even means.


So both sides need to seriously calm down. There are rational voices on both sides, certainly.

And if you can't see rational, thoughtful people on the opposing side, the above paragraphs are about you.

Now, onto my position:

Concerning the State

I couldn't care less what the State does.

We Christians have a fundamental problem within the Church today, and that problem is this:

We think the secular government of the United States is our friend, our ally, our tool.

I'm sorry, but no. The federal government is not our ally. Take this very issue, for instance: why is marriage something to be licenced by the State? It's a Sacrament; our Sacrament. Yet we thought that we could get the approval of Caesar, and our greed for tax and other benefits pushed us to slowly allow marriage to be considered first and foremost a State-sanctioned institution, rather than a Sacrament of the Church.

You have no idea how many times I've spoken with Christians who treat marriage first and foremost as though the State is the one that decides how it works. I've even had family members joke after a wedding that the couple couldn't go to their honeymoon yet because they hadn't signed the certificate. Yes, it was a joke, but the joke is based upon the idea that the most fundamental fact concerning the marriage is that they have signed a piece of paper given to them by the State.

A marriage certified by the State should make as much sense to us as a Baptism certified by the State.

And thank God we've not tried to do with Baptism or the Eucharist what we've done with marriage. Can you imagine the State forcing the Church to recognize pagan baptisms? Or forcing the Roman Catholic Church to allow the Eucharist for everyone?

Let's treat this as a lesson in what happens when we go to bed with the State.

So bottom line: I literally couldn't care less what the State does. If they want to enact gay marriage, let them. Oh, it will reinforce bad culture within Christianity? Rome had worse. Rome had killing people for sport legalized. Somehow the Church magically survived. My bet is that the Spirit will protect and lead His Church.


Now for the Religious Part:

I have studied the subject with an open mind, reading books like Matthew Vines' "God and the Gay Christian" and Michael Brown's , "Can you Be Gay and Christian?". I've listened to lectures and debates and talks about the issues at hand, here.

I don't do so merely out of abstract boredom. I have a LOT of LGBT friends, many (but certainly not all) of whom are of the opinion that Christianity either is or should be in support of gay marriage. 

After my studies on this issue, I can't as a Christian support the Faith blessing same-sex unions. 

Why? Oh, I might write a detailed article on that in the future. But suffice it to say that no amount of "shellfish!" or "two cloths woven together!" exclamations are going to refute my position.

Because those are really, REALLY poor "
arguments".

(Yes, yes; the necessary "Lutheran Satire" video. Sue me.)

For now, just read Matthew 19:1-12.

Understand that Jesus is saying this. 

Is Jesus God in the Flesh? 

Could Jesus see into the hearts and minds of men and women? 

Then how could Jesus say something like this, knowing that there are people who are only attracted to the same sex hearing these words (whether at the moment they were spoken or later in the writings), if Jesus is fine with blessing same-sex unions with the Sacrament of marriage? 

Whatever your position on the matter, understand that the Levitical Code or even St. Paul's words on the subject are not the chief reasons for it being a union the Church cannot bless.

Because Jesus did speak on the nature of marriage, and He defined it as only a man and a woman for life. 

Now, whatever the State wants to do, I don't care. 

My concern is not the State. 

My concern is the Church. 

And so I couldn't care less that marriages are now blessed by the State. The State is not my religion. The State is not my Kingdom. The State is not my God. 

Same sex blessings done by the State? Sure. That's fine. 

Same sex blessings done by the Church? That is something that I cannot support Scripturally, theologically, or historically. 

And I've read and listened to the best arguments for the claim that Scripture supports same-sex marriage. They don't work, the arguments. They require such forced ambiguity of the text that I am amazed how some of the advocates can make such statements with confidence.

If you think that makes me a bigot, understand that what you are saying is that you cannot tolerate a position on this issue that is any different from your own.

Realize that, then look up the definition of "
bigot". 








Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I'm Not Religious, I Just Love (My Version of) Jesus

"It's not a religion; it's a relationship!" 

"Religion destroys!" 

"If only we'd get rid of all of these doctrines and learn to just love Jesus, we Christians could impact the world for Him!" 

"I just need me and my Bible, not any man-made (always said with a superior attitude) traditions!!!!"

Sigh...

...okay, I have a confession to make...

...

...I don't want to confess this, it's tough; give me a minute...

...I used to be one of those people.

Surprised? It gets worse: when Jefferson Bethke's  video, "Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus" came out, I ate it all up and loved it.

(Yes, I know that's not his video: I linked a better one.)

I was a Baptist/non-denominational (they're basically the same exact thing) back then.

Even one of my favorite theologians, Greg Boyd (although he and I are completely opposed in some very important points of doctrine, this being one of them), got in on the act:



For those of you who can't read his shirt, it says, "It's against my relationship to have a religion."

Sigh...yeah, this is not a good mindset. Pitting religion against Jesus, as if they are inherently opposed to each other, is just stupid.

"But wait! I like Jefferson Bethke's video! It's so hippity-hop happenin'! Why don't you like it? Isn't religion just evil? Shouldn't we all just love Jesus?" 

Oh yes, because it's either love Jesus or love His religion. You certainly can't do both. It's gotta be one or the other.

Or not.

Listen, if you want to redefine the word "religion" as, "stuff that is related to Jesus but is bad", then I'm sorry, but we can't dialogue here. As long as you insist upon using a definition  that was pulled out of some hippie-Christian's weed stash, you won't be able to read me saying anything other than, "Hypocrisy and scaring people into being good is a good thing."

So that brings up the question: what is religion? It's a good question, and to be honest, it's kind of tough. There are a bunch of academic definitions of religion, but I want to focus on a few things that even religion-haters would agree with me are part (though not always essential) of what we mean when we say the word "religion":

1) Institution--organized religion, as in, there is at least some of the following: a hierarchy, sacred writings, creeds, confessions, etc.

2) Structure--not just institutional structure, but structure in daily life. Rituals and a moral code. Those, ya know, evil lists of "do's and don't's"

3) Doctrine--what one is supposed to believe in order to be part of said religion.

Of course, there is much more we can add. However, these will suffice for the moment. I'm imagining that your average "I'm not religious, I'm spiritual" advocate will agree that these are part of religion. Not only that, she or he might point to these very things as the very problem with religion.

Well, this barely protestant Christian is going to demonstrate why those things are good, not bad. Keep in mind that this is an article that is speaking to the "I'm not religious, I'm spiritual" people who consider themselves followers of Jesus. Here we go:

Institution

Whether you are Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or even Southern Baptist, you have some form of this. You have a hierarchy in Apostolic Succession, in the Great Creeds, in a Confession, and/or in Scripture. Someone or something, in other words, has the right to say "you're wrong" when you spout something like, "I believe that God is a jelly-filled donut and we should baptize people into icing while singing ABBA songs! That's what Jesus would want!"

Of course, it doesn't have to be that silly.

It could be something like, "I believe Jesus totally affirms gay marriage, so we should celebrate it."

It could be something like, "God is going to have everyone eventually be part of new creation; no one is going to be damned".

It could be something like, "I think God hates everyone except for my little inner circle group!"

You see, the Institution is there for a reason. It is meant to guard us from something called "heresy". Without guard rails, you fall into heresy.

"Yeah, but those are so restricting and non-inclusive!"

...that's the point.

You have guard rails because you don't want to fall off the road.

"Are you saying I'm gonna go to Hell if I don't have all of the right beliefs?"

Why is that always the first concern? The only concern? No, being theologically wrong on something doesn't always constitute a one-way ticket to Hell. I don't know about you, but  I've always wanted to have the right beliefs because, I don't know, they're the right beliefs. What ever happened to making sure that what I believe is actually true? Do we want to believe lies?

"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life."

It seems like if what Jesus says here is true, then seeking truth is also seeking Him.

There is a reason for our Institutions: they protect us from heretical beliefs. Heretical beliefs are wrong beliefs. I'm not saying you're going to Hell for wrong beliefs; I am saying that you should be concerned about Truth.

What I see here is that many of these anti-religion people have a problem with authority; the desire to be the one who gets to make all of the decisions is what seems to be the heart of the issue.


Structure

Structure, dreaded structure. Yes, we hate structure sometimes, don't we? 

Except for those times where we like it. And you know what? Even when we don't like it, we need it. 

I put within structure the ideas of rituals and moral codes, because they both fit into it so well. Rituals such as Prayer, Baptism, and the Eucharist are essential to the Christian--dare I say "spiritual"?--life. Jesus kinda makes a big deal of them: of Prayer, Baptism, and the Eucharist

And if we are just "following Jesus", then that means we need to hold to what He taught about these things, too. 

As for that moral code, this is one of the things that many within the "I'm not religious, I'm spiritual" group get, well, not entirely right, but they are hitting something. 

Our two great commandments that sum up the Law are these: Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself. 

When the "I'm not religious, I'm spiritual" people talk about the importance of love, they are certainly on to something. Those of us who are religious have many times in the past forgotten about the importance of love. It is a fault of ours, a major one.

I know I've forgotten about love, in conversations with friends, in actions I take, in thoughts I think.

And it scares me how little I've loved in comparison to what Jesus has done. It nearly brings me to tears, even as I type this. What a hateful, unloving person I've been in my life. For those who have been hurt by me, I ask for forgiveness. In all sincerity. 


But that's the beautiful thing about religion; I know I've been forgiven. Without religion, when I was just "spiritual", I...well, I had no idea.

Was I forgiven?

Could I be forgiven? 


I mean, look what I did. What I said. God forgave me? Am I sure? It doesn't feel like it.


God, it doesn't feel like it. 

And this is the problem with an anti-religious spiritualism. It's focused on how one feels. And to tell you the truth, I have felt incredibly shitty and unforgiven even after asking God for forgiveness. 

I've been on my knees for hours, asking God to forgive me for the horrible things I've done. 

I've cried myself to sleep almost every night in my bed for days and even weeks at a time, because I had asked for forgiveness but did not feel like I was forgiven. 

You see, in my religion I do not merely rely upon my feelings for truth. I know I have been forgiven because of what my Church teaches. I know I am forgiven every Sunday at the least, by the absolution given by my priest. If I were to base it upon feelings, I would be in trouble. 

Praise God I don't base it in feelings. Praise God His Institutes protect me.

Doctrine


Everyone has doctrine. From Bill Nye the Science Guy to Lady Gaga to Barack Obama, we all have doctrinal beliefs. 

Yes, even Jefferson Bethke. 

First, the quintessential Lutheran Satire video on this.

Oh, and this one just for fun.

(Geez, you'd think that the Misouri-Synod is paying me for all of these or something. Sorry, I just really love these two Youtube channels. This Anglican loves Lutheranism. Well, most of it. Some of it's a little cray.)


Beliefs are what drive us. Take the anti-religious spiritual people: they believe that religion is destroying--or at the very least, in the way of--people's relationship with Christ. That belief is what drives them to hate religion.

Doctrine matters. What we believe matters.

If you believe that a child in the womb deserves full-human rights, you will have a specific view of abortion.

If you believe that the state and not the Church is the one that establishes marriage and grants the allowance to perform them, that will affect your views on the whole gay marriage issue.

Beliefs make a difference in our actions. It is unavoidable.

Now, can some doctrinal differences have no affect on us when it comes to actions?

I don't think so. I think that, at least on some level, every belief that we truly hold affects our actions.

Our actions flow from our thoughts and our hearts. Our hearts and our thoughts are shaped by our theology.

This is why the correct doctrine, the correct theology, is so important. Because we are creatures prone to both rejecting authority and creating God in our own image, we tend to abhor the idea that another person can tell us that we are doctrinally in error.

Every chink of theology that is wrong is a chink of our understanding of God that is wrong.

The God that we love and adore. The God that we worship.

There's a reason most of the New Atheists, those insufferable atheists who worship Richard Dawkins and are complete jerks, like this (the video is made by an atheist who hates New Atheists; it's got some naughty words in it, fyi),  mostly come from a theologically shallow background. I've met literally no New Atheist who has a deep knowledge of the Faith, whether former Presbyterian, Anglican, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Methodist, etc.

The ones who do reject the Faith, who know about it, have in my experience always been the atheists or agnostics who are much more tempered and reasonable. And I know very few of those.


My whole point is this: religion helps us by guarding us against the age-old desire of being God and telling Him what's up.

I'm sorry, but there are too many temptations for us when we internalize the Faith as something only experienced between us and...well, what we call "Jesus".

Because it's cute and all that we (and don't believe for a second I am not including myself in this) claim that our understanding of Jesus is accurate...but is it?

The same One Who fed the five thousand miraculously...also allows the five million to starve today.

The same One Who says we should not repay evil for evil...is coming back as a warrior on a horse, with a sword shooting out of His Mouth.

The same One Who died for us...also has many of us die for Him.

Those things don't make sense.

Do not delude yourself into thinking that you all by your lonesome can figure out the One Who formed the galaxies with His very Words. We need to try to understand Him together, with the wisdom of His people throughout the centuries. It is nothing but arrogance that makes us think we can do this all on our own.

Am I religious? Yes.

Am I spiritual? Not by a long shot. Lord, I have so much growing to do. I am a horrible person when I think about it.

I'm religious, and am trying to be spiritual. My religion has helped me so much in that.

I take it that if you're spiritual, but not religious, you've apparently arrived?

If so, congratulations on being perfect. If not, get in line with me and take the Eucharist. We both need God's Grace.



Sunday, May 17, 2015

Yes, I'm (Anglo) Catholic (Part 3: Liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer)

Whew! We've reached Part Three in my Super-Special-Awesome (bonus points if you caught the reference there...in America!) series on the beliefs that led me to the Anglo-Catholic tradition! Up now: the Liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer!!!

Now, I want you to first take note of something, because this is very, very important: out of the (now) three articles I've done (or in one case, am still doing) concerning the Anglo-Catholic Tradition, how many of them are utterly abstract beliefs that do not have any Real Presence (pardon the pun) in the physical world? The first was on the Eucharist, which has a physical manifestation; the second was concerning Baptism, which also has a physical manifestation; this third one is about our physical tool for prayer and worship (the Book of Common Prayer), and the Liturgy we practice from it, which is also very much a physical involvement. Not to say that purely abstract dogmas are unimportant--they most certainly are--but the focus here is on the physicality of the Christian Faith, as understood by historic Christianity.

Why?

Because the modern Western Church has almost entirely forgotten it.

Think about it: what does your average modern day American church believe?

Baptism? It doesn't actually do anything supernatural, but instead is merely a "profession of Faith" (funny how Scripture never calls it that). Oh, and NO BABIES. Because babies can't be Christians. And Jesus doesn't want us to bring babies to Him...or something...(Matthew 19:14...)...

The Eucharist? Meh, merely a memorial. It's not actually the Body and Blood of Jesus; we only take it once every 3-4 months because...it helps us remember Jesus' death or something. Mind you, not "remember" in the Scriptural way, where we are united with Christ through the Eucharist, but "remember" purely in the epistemological way. As in, "Oh, now I remember that Jesus died for me. Thanks, crackers and grape juice, for reminding me of that."

Prayer? Well, we kinda do this whole, "think nice things in our minds and that's our morning prayer" thing, often, don't we? C'mon, admit it: you do the whole, "Ugh, I don't want to get out of bed, so let me just think nice Jesus thoughts in my warm, cozy bed and that'll count." I mean, sure; it counts as prayer..ish. But this brings me to my point: a minimalist, anti-physical, Jefferson Bethke-type religion that tries like Hell to pretend it's not a religion but is "just about Jesus" permeates our modern understanding of Christianity in the West. When does the modern American church ever advocate for spoken prayer in private time? for literally getting on one's knees? for--Heaven forbid--reciting or even--Lord have mercy--singing our prayers? Why do we only embrace the types of prayers that involve the smallest amount of physical participation?

Why do we insist upon acting as though the only important part is the non-material part?

In other words, why does our spiritual journey almost never involve our body?

But that question is, perhaps, for another time.

For now, I wish to focus on the third (and maybe last for this series? not sure; we shall see!) thing that drew me to the Anglo-Catholic tradition: the importance of the Prayer Book and the Liturgy.


We All Practice a Liturgy


It's true.

Some of us practice this type of liturgy:





Some prefer this type of liturgy:




(Is there a difference between those two? Just kidding...ish.)



Some prefer this (can you tell I just discovered how to post videos on this blog?): 



Others prefer that: 


(...well, let's hope there are VERY few who prefer that abortion of a church service.)


...and finally, some REALLY prefer this: 



...for some God-forsaken reason.


Every single one of these services (or in a few cases, "services") uses a liturgy. Which makes us ask, "What is a liturgy?"


A liturgy is defined as the way in which a service is conducted for public worship. Merriam-Webster is a great go-to for definitions, in my estimation. A liturgy, in other words, is how we worship corporately.

If running around with snakes in your hands is what you do on Sundays, that's your liturgical practice.

If jamming to really bad pop-sounding music that may either be about Jesus or your girlfriend is what you do on Sundays, that's your liturgical practice.

If simply singing a bunch of old-boring hymns with all the enthusiasm of reading a list of an accountant's responsibilities at his job is your worship practice, it's your liturgical practice.

Simply put: we all practice liturgy.


Okay...and?

Well, the way we worship is the way we believe.

There's a great and ancient line about this: "Lex orandi lex credendi".

"The rule of prayer (worship) is the rule of belief."

What does that mean, exactly?

It means that our worship, the way we worship, affects our beliefs. Big time.

If you are part of a church that holds to the emotional part of worship as most important, if there's rarely a moment that music isn't being played outside of the actual sermon, if there is a lot of emotion expressed by not only the worship music performers but also the minister and even the crowd, then you are likely going to emphasize emotion or feelings over intellect in your Christian life.

If you are part of a church that may or may not have modern worship, but the sermon is the all-important part of the entire service, and the minister gives sermons that are intellectually deep and heavily into the Greek and Hebrew, then you likely are going to emphasize the intellect over emotion in your Christian life.

If you are part of a church that focuses on experience: the experience of the Sacraments, or the experience of healings or speaking in tongues, the use of prayer books to pray as a community, ministers with vestments and incense, recited responses, genuflections, or the veneration of icons and other such mystical things, then you are likely going to emphasize the experience over the intellect in your Christian life.

I want you to know that none of these is wrong: emotion, intellect, and experience are all three essential to the Christian Faith. We do a disservice to not only ourselves but to God when we lack one of these in worship. Our entire being should be involved in worship, not limited parts of ourselves.


 I would never, ever claim that the Anglican Communion is the only place where a balance of these can be found; however, the best place I have found such balance is in the Anglican Communion.



All Three in the Prayer Book

In the Liturgy found within the Book of Common Prayer, we have all three emphasized. We have the emotion. We have the intellect. We certainly have the experience.

1) Within the Book of Common Prayer, our emotion breaks out into communally confessing our sins, and lifting up our hearts at the fact of being forgiven. Our emotion is found in the Doxology, and throughout the entire service. Is it as pronounced as your average modern worship service? I don't know; while I'm not shouting out modern worship song lyrics, lifting my hands and closing my eyes while swaying, I am certainly emotionally impacted. I mean, I've never cried at a modern worship service. I have multiple times at my own Anglican Church. Try saying this prayer with fellow believers, and not getting emotional:

"We do not presume to come to this Thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in Thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy Table. But Thou art the same Lord, Whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the Flesh of Thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink His Blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by His Body, and our souls washed through His most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in Him, and He in us. Amen." 

2) The intellect is certainly there. We recite the Nicene Creed every Sunday service. In fact, it is because of that practice that I now have the Nicene Creed committed to memory. I didn't try to memorize it, it just happened that way. The Liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer is filled with intellectual depth; each section has meaning. A high church liturgy is one of the best ways to bring a child up in the Faith, because it's responsive and allows the child to fully participate in it.

3) Finally, the experience. Oh yes, it's definitely there. The use of icons, the genuflection, the communal prayer, the incense, the candles, all of it is experiential and has reason for being there. Of course, the most important part of the experience by far is the partaking of the Eucharist. Eucharistic theology is sadly missing from the modern American church.

Actually, most of number three is missing from the modern American church almost entirely. We have conflated "experience" with "emotion", and think that because we have a lot of emotion, we therefore have a lot of experience. They aren't the same.

Sadly, what is by far most lacking in the modern American church is Sacramental theology. We in the United States are too "rational" and "modern" to believe that, say, Baptism actually kills us (Romans 6) or that the Eucharist is really Jesus' Body and Blood (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). We like the phrase "it's only symbolic". It's comfortable.

Unfortunately, recall that idea of "lex orandi lex credendi"; it works both ways. Because we don't like "superstition", we get rid of (as much as possible) those icky beliefs and just have them as mere "symbols" that don't really do anything.

In effect, we try to strip them of their power.

I found plenty of emotion in some of the churches I have been a part of.

I found plenty of intellectual depth in some of the churches I have been a part of.

The Anglican Communion is one of the few places I've found a healthy balance of emotion, intellect, and experience.

Does your church have that healthy balance?







Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Yes, I'm (Anglo) Catholic (Part 2: Infant Baptism)

This is part two in my super-awesome explanation of the beliefs that led me to the Anglo-Catholic tradition, the beliefs I adopted when joining the Anglican Communion, and other things tangentially related. Up now: Infant Baptism!

It took me a while to believe that Infant Baptism was appropriate; not only appropriate, but right. Actually, I can't remember any particular moment when I was like, "Okay, I believe in Infant Baptism now." I kind of slowly and passively evolved to that position. And not only that, but I eventually came to the rather horrible conclusion that *GASP!* Baptism saves. Yup, that's right; we call that "Baptismal Regeneration". Let me give you some of the reasons that convinced me:

The Testimony of the Church Today

Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, The Anglican Communion, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians (among other Reformed Christians); there are relatively few doctrinal points these groups all share that aren't already shared among the rest of the denominations within orthodox Christianity (or as C.S. Lewis would call it, mere Christianity). Altogether, they make up the vast, vast majority of Christians in the world.

However, one thing they do all have in common is the validity of Infant Baptism. They don't all have the same reasons for practicing Infant Baptism (some, like many of the Reformed for example, don't believe in Baptismal Regeneration), but they do still all practice this (as we shall soon see) ancient Tradition. Let's look at the numbers of these groups:

(Note: I recognize that not absolutely every person in these groups would consider Infant Baptism to be a valid Baptism; as well, not every Christian outside of these numbers would discount Infant Baptism. I know a few Baptists and non-denoms, for example, who have no problem with Infant Baptism. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to personally interview every single Christian out there, so these numbers will have to do. Sorry. If it makes you feel better, you can take off 10% of the final number or something--a more than generous concession. Think of it as a tithe, I guess.)

Roman Catholicism is 1.1 billion strong, representing 50.1% of Christians in the world,

The Orthodox Churches of the East claim a little more than 260 million worldwide, giving them 11.9% of the Christian population (1.36 billion, or 62% of the Christian population thus far).

The Anglican Communion has almost 85 million (fine, fine: 84,867,840. Ya happy?), which accounts for 4% of the world's Christians (okay, OKAY! 3.88578335760007%). That makes up almost 66% of Christians so far.

Next up: Lutherans. They make up almost 78 million members, which is about 3.6%, adding it up to 69.6% total.

After that is the Presbyterian/Reformed. who boast about 56 million, or 2.6%. This would make the total 72.2% (Since there is a category for Baptists already in this study, it is assumed that the Reformed Baptists are in that group rather than this. However, feel free to not include these numbers in the total.).

Finally, there are the Methodists. They have a little over 27 million, or 1.3% of the worldwide Church (sidenote: the first Infant Baptism I saw was at a Methodist Church!). This finally (finally! I hate math!) brings us to the grand total of 73.5% of the world's Christians who are part of traditions that hold to Infant Baptism.

(Source: Pew Research Center: Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population, December 2011)

Wow; a total of 73.5% of Christians worldwide hold to Infant Baptism.

"But James!" I hear exclaimed. "That's the bandwagon fallacy! Just because it's popular doesn't mean it's right!" Did I say that? I'm sorry; when did I ever claim that that was my argument? Please calm down and let me finish. Yes. Thank you. Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Popularity of the Tradition.

Now, what does all of this data tell us? It tells us that this is a well, well established Tradition in the Church. There are a few assumptions that I take with my understanding of Christianity that make me favor Infant Baptism when I view these statistics:

-The Holy Spirit leads and guides His Church to more growth throughout the centuries.

-Baptism itself is an essential of the Faith (whether credo-baptist or paedo-baptist--hopefully I don't need to define those terms--this should ring true).

-The Holy Spirit will not allow the Church to universally/near universally misunderstand an essential of the Faith for its entire existence in a most fundamental way.

People may have problems with these three assumptions; that's a discussion for a later time. If these assumptions ring true, as I believe they do, then it certainly makes sense to conclude that Infant Baptism is a valid Baptism. But the fact that Infant Baptism is practiced by the vast majority of the Church is not an argument in and of itself. In fact, those assumptions don't need to even be held; you can skip over them for this part of the overall argument. Just remember those numbers at the end of this article.

"Well I don't care about what people today think; they're just using man's traditions. What does the Bible say?"

Hold your horses; I'm getting there, but not quite yet; next up...

The Testimony of Church History

Oh, where to start? There are so many Church Fathers who can be quoted on this one. I'll have to settle for just a few of the big ones: St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Cyprian of Carthage, and St. Irenaeus of Lyons (I'm working backwards through history for a reason). Keep in mind that multiple Church Fathers who lived in the first four centuries can be quoted as well; in fact, I'll name some: Origen, Tertullian (the only known Church Father who advised against it--it would be odd to argue against something that wasn't happening--nonetheless, he advocated that they shouldn't be Baptized until they were...three years old. Not exactly the "age of accountability" that people like to arbitrarily push), St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and possibly St. Hippolytus of Rome, depending on if a particular writing was in fact written by him.

St. Augustine of Hippo:

"And this is the firm tradition of the Universal Church, in the respect of the Baptism of Infants, who certainly are as yet unable, 'with the heart to believe unto righteousness, and with the mouth to make confession unto salvation' as the thief (on the cross next to Jesus) could do; nay, who even, by crying and moaning when the mystery is performed upon them, raise their voices in opposition to the mysterious words, and yet no Christian will say that they are Baptized to no purpose. (24) And if anyone seek for Divine Authority in this matter, though what is held by the whole Church, and that not as instituted by Councils, but as a matter of invariable custom, is rightly held to have been handed down by Apostolical Authority, still we can form a true conjecture of the value of the Sacrament of Baptism in the case of infants, from the parallel of circumcision...(here, a lengthy explanation of how Circumcision and Baptism parallel is given)...so infants, who are Baptized, the Sacrament of regeneration (say wha?!?!?) is given first, and if they maintain a Christian piety, conversion also in the heart will follow..."--On Baptism, Against the Donatists, Book IV, chapters 23-24 (written approximately A.D. 400)

(Note that this is only one of many quotes from St. Augustine on the same topic.)

St. Cyprian of Carthage:

"But in respect of the case of the infants, which you (Fidus) say ought not to be Baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be Baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man."--The Epistles of St. Cyprian of Carthage, Letter LVIII, 2 (written approximately A.D. 253)

(Well, apparently someone here thought that babies shouldn't be Baptized...until they were eight days old. Not exactly a refutation of Infant Baptism. Fidus was making the connection of Baptism and circumcision, just like St. Augustine. I'm thinking this may come up in one of my later arguments...)

St. Irenaeus of Lyons:

"Now this is what Faith does for us, as the elders, the disciples of the Apostles, have handed down to us. First of all, it has admonished us to remember that we have received Baptism for the remission of sins in the Name of God the Father, and in the Name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who became Incarnate and died and raised, and in the Holy Spirit of God; and that this Baptism is the seal of eternal life and is rebirth unto God, that we be no more children of mortal men, but of the eternal everlasting God; and that the eternal and everlasting One is God, and is above all creatures, and that all things whatsoever are subject to Him; and that what is subject to Him was all made by Him; so that God is not ruler and Lord of what is another's, but of His Own, and all things are God's; that God, therefore, is the Almighty, and all things whatsoever are from God."--The Demonstration of the Apostolic Teaching, (written approximately A.D. 180) 

"And again, giving to the Disciples the power of regeneration into God, He (Jesus) said to them, 'Go and teach all nations, Baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.'"--Against Heresis, Book III, 17:1 (written approximately A.D. 180) (italics added)

(The above quotes are meant to demonstrate that St. Irenaeus actually held to Baptismal Regeneration. In other words, Baptism is the beginning point of salvation. Note that, in the second of the above quotations, the phrase "regeneration into God" is synonymous with Baptism for the Bishop.)

"For He (Jesus) came to save all through means of Himself--all, I say, who through Him are born again to God--infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men."--Against Heresies, Book II, 22:4 (written approximately A.D. 180) (italics added)

(In this final quote from St. Irenaeus, it is shown that "infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men" are Baptized, as the phrase "born again to God" is used by him to mean Baptism. I can't think of another way in which infants would be "born again to God" for St. Irenaeus. Scholars widely agree that this is the first explicit, undeniable mention of Infant Baptism in the Early Church.)


What we've established is that the Early Church practiced Infant Baptism, as well as Baptismal Regeneration, at least explicitly since the 2nd century. What's more, few people argued against it. Even Tertullian merely argued that Baptizing later in life (at the ripe old age of three, which would still be considered Infant Baptism by most today...) was preferable, as it appears he believed one was lost if he sinned after Baptism.

Now, there's also another point, and this is incredibly important: St. Irenaeus was born into a Christian family. We know that he was for Infant Baptism. He very likely was born and raised in the town of Smyrna, where St. Polycarp was the Bishop at the time (the early 2nd century). In fact, as a youth St. Irenaeus knew St. Polycarp. According to St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, and St. Jerome, St. Polycarp was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist (the Disciple whom Jesus loved, the guy who wrote five books of the Bible; ever heard of him?).

St. Irenaeus gives no indication that Infant Baptism is a new practice, especially since he never tries to lay it out as an argument in and of itself. It's a passing reference, a sort of "off the cuff" mention. He takes it for granted, because he assumes the audience reading his writings already believe this. Because of this, it is entirely plausible that he himself was Baptized as an infant, as he was born into a Christian family. If so, then that likely was overseen by St. Polycarp, the same St. Polycarp who was taught and ordained as a Bishop by the Apostle John.

See what I'm getting at, here?

The Testimony of Scripture:

There are many passages that teach that Baptism is more than a mere memorial or symbol:

"How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been Baptized into Christ Jesus were Baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by Baptism
into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the Glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be unified with Him in a Resurrection like His..." (Romans 6:1b-5 ESVUK; actually, the passage keeps going and going about this; you should read the entire chapter!)

"He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit, Whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior so that being Justified through His Grace we might become heirs according to the hope of Eternal Life." (Titus 3:5-7 ESVUK)

"For as many of you as were Baptized into Christ have put on Christ." (Galatians 3:27 ESVUK)

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the Righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but being made alive in the spirit, in which He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Baptismwhich corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ," (1 Peter 3:18-21, ESVUK)

Baptism actually does something, according to not only these passages, but every passage that talks about what Baptism is for. At least according to these four, we are:

-Baptized into the death of Jesus
-Regenerated by Baptism
-Baptized into Christ Himself!
-Saved by Baptism (not by the mere water itself, but by the appeal to God)

"But James! Even if that is all the right interpretation, that last passage in 1 Peter can't be for infants! They can't make an appeal to God for a good conscience!"

Of course they can't. Which is why the parents are making the appeal.

"But James! The fierce individualism and anti-communal views of the West which rose up during the "Enlightenment" period that tried to elevate man to the status of God and daily tries to get rid of the supernatural is the lens in which we should look at the Scriptures, because looking anachronistically at Scripture is the best method of interpretation!"

Um...no it's not...

Look. Yes, the Scriptures do talk about the uniqueness of each person made in the Image of God. Yes, you are not just a number to God. However, the fierce autonomy so desired by many of us in the West is NOT what Scripture advocates. Community is incredibly important to St. Paul; that's why he's always talking about unity in Christ.

Furthermore, the ancient world, the world in which the Scriptures were written, actually held to this whole corporate-family unit thingy. The father made the decisions, and the family went along with the father. I mean, when Joshua said, "As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." he didn't stop to say, "Hey, guys: are you going to serve the LORD with me? Are you? How about you? And you? Oh, I can't ask you yet because you haven't reached the Age of Accountability." Same with the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:25-40); it's just simply assumed that, since he is becoming a Christian, the rest of his family will. That's NOT to say that repentance is not involved in salvation, or personal faith, but the mindset was far more family-oriented and respectful of parents (hm, sounds like a good Commandment...) than ours today.

Of course, our families are FAR more Godly and respectful today than in those days; psh, silly ancient people. ^_^

Speaking of the Old Testament...

"In Him also you were circumcised, with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in Baptism (there's that line, again!), in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, Who raised Him from the dead." (Colossians 2:11-12 ESVUK)

Here, St. Paul makes a clear connection between circumcision and Baptism. Circumcision marked the people of God in the Old Testament, and Baptism marks the people of God in the New. And who got circumcised in the Old Testament? Did the Israelites have an "age of accountability"?  Well, I guess you could say it was an eight-day waiting period...but that's hardly old enough to "make a decision for yourself", now, is it? So apparently, if Baptism is replacing circumcision then we have another reason to advocate for Infant Baptism! And let's not forget that whole "buried with Him in Baptism" thing!


Conclusion:

So what have we seen, here?

We've seen that:

-The vast majority of the Church today practices Infant Baptism, and believes that Baptism actually does something.
-The entire history of the Church demonstrates that Baptismal Regeneration and Infant Baptism have been believed and practiced since at least (explicitly, that is) the 2nd century, and that there is good evidence in believing that the disciple of St. John practiced Infant Baptism.
-The Scriptures teach that Baptism buries us with Christ, raises us with Christ, places us within Christ, saves us, and is the same thing as circumcision in the Old Testament, which was practiced on children.

If the vast majority of Christians today and in history practice and believe a certain thing, and you have to take passages like the ones quoted about "metaphorically" in order to deny that practice and that belief...I'm sorry, but that's not enough.

I mean if you want to, just take all of the passages above (and others!) about Baptism and read them. Just read them. Don't try to make them metaphors or anything; just ask, "What is St. _____ or Jesus trying to say in this text?" Let go of the de-supernaturalizing mentality of the present day. Don't try to argue one passage against the other, like saying, "Well, passage X says Y, so your literal interpretation CAN'T be right!" Really? You want to do that? Pit passages against each other, and not try to say, "How can both be true?" I mean, I'm not denying that metaphors happen in Scripture. But if Scripture constantly talks like Baptism actually does some very specific things, and the history of the Church demonstrates that that is the near universal (universal until the Reformation) interpretation, then...who are we to de-supernaturalize it? Because that's exactly what we are doing.

Yes, we are saved by grace through faith, and not of our own works. But is Baptism a work? A work of our own? I mean, if Scripture called it a work of our own, you might have an argument there. But...Scripture clearly exclaims that it is not a work of our own, Baptism: it's something supernatural. We have been Baptized into the death and Resurrection of Jesus.

Let that sink in.

Take all of Scripture as true, not just bits and pieces.

Have fun!

(All Early Church Father quotes, except for St. Irenaeus' "Demonstration of the Apostolic Teaching", are from The Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., and James Donaldson, LL.D., revised and arranged by A. Cleveland Coxe, D.D., and from The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D., both from Hendrickson Publishers. And I own them; they're totes awesome!)


(Also, you need to look at these YouTube videos. I may have a disagreement or two with my Lutheran brothers and sisters, but they get a lot of stuff right. Check them out!)

A defense of Baptism.

An awesome conversation between St. Paul and St. Mark on Baptism.

Another really good defense of Baptism.