Should Sunday Schools teach moral law or not?

Jesus. He’s a Friend of mine.

 

I always understood that one of the things we were supposed to be taught in Sunday School was the Moral Law: things like the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. How to do the right things God wants us to do, instead of behaving the way that the Devil likes.

But I’ve read that some people worry that doing that will teach the kids Works Righteousness— the idea you can earn your way to heaven by doing good deeds and avoiding evil ones, no Jesus or cross required.

Works Righteousness does not work. Not even if you are Catholic. Not even if you are the Blessed Virgin Mary. I mean, we Catholics pray ‘Hail Mary full of grace’ and not ‘Hail Mary who is full of good works and doesn’t need grace.’

But children need to be taught, and God leaves it up to us. He doesn’t send down angels to teach kids that stealing is wrong even if they really, really want something that belongs to someone else.

Many of us Christians have been raised in the faith and taught well about the Moral Law from such an early age we don’t even remember all of our instruction. We don’t really know how far astray a young human can go if not taught.

I remember reading on the news years ago of some young woman who was auctioning off her virginity online to help pay for her college tuition. She didn’t seem to have any sense that she was doing anything wrong, rather she thought she should be praised for being responsible and seeking out a higher education. My thought was not to blame her, but the people who raised her who should have taught her the Moral Law to a much greater degree than they did.

When I was a young kid in the Presbyterian Church, we had catechism classes where we were to memorize the statements of a catechism, where we learned about the Ten Commandments among other things. My mother had to memorize these things in her church as well.

People discount this as rote memory and therefore not worth doing, but it is something to hang on to. And there is no rule that learning something by rote memory excludes the possibility of the teacher instructing the pupils to understand what they are memorizing and learn to apply it.

These days the Sunday School instruction tends to be far weaker— in my mom’s church instead of having a Sunday School hour for all ages, the children are trotted out after that pastor gives them a children’s sermon. I wonder how much time they have to teach everything to the few children that come to that church.

I think that these days parents have to take responsibility for the religious education of their kids. You can buy an old-time catechism book related to your faith. Or just teach the kids to memorize appropriate Bible verses. Teaching Biblical moral rules doesn’t teach your kids they can be righteous enough on their own. Just trying to keep moral rules teaches us the opposite— that no matter how much we want to do what is right in God’s eyes, we just can’t do it on our own. We need the forgiveness that Jesus Christ bought for us at the cross.

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#Purgatory : Second Chance at Heaven?

Some of my Protestant/Evangelical have the odd idea that the Catholic Church teaches that Purgatory is a second chance at Heaven for people who failed to be ‘good enough’ for Heaven the first time around. Others, including nominal Christians (Christians-in-name-only) and secularists, adopt the idea of Purgatory as a path to Universalism, the idea that God is going to ‘save’ all people and eventually get them all to Heaven whether they want to go or not.

Universalism is a false belief within Christianity as we can see from the Great Commission in the Bible (Matthew 28:19.20):

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (KJV translation)

Now, why would Jesus give an urgent Great Commission if teaching and baptizing people made no difference, they would all go to Heaven in the end anyway?

This is what the Catholic Church actually teaches about Purgatory— it is for the Heaven-bound only! If you are ‘saved’, in friendship with God, regenerate, a real Christian when you die, you are eligible for Purgatory to get purified for Heaven. Jesus paid the ETERNAL price for our sins, so we don’t go to hell, but our souls may not be clean and pure enough for Heaven at the moment of our deaths.

This is why in the Catholic Church we call the people in Purgatory the ‘Holy Souls.’  They are Christian people who died with a little extra sin in their lives, who need to be prepared a bit before they are ready for the full glories of Heaven. It is not a second chance for damned souls.

C. S. Lewis, the beloved Christian author who was an Anglican, believed in something like Purgatory— we would be cleaned up and purified for Heaven. Most Protestants/Evangelicals do not. But all Christians believe in the Great Commission, or should— that we need to spread the Good News to everybody.

I feel it is a good idea for writers, particularly Christian writers, to have an accurate idea of what the Catholic Church really teaches if you are ever going to write Catholic characters that are believable to a Catholic audience. Don’t go to ex-Catholics who are now Evangelicals or extreme religious Liberals to find out what the Catholic Church teaches. Many of these people never did have a good religious education while they were Catholics.  There are good books that you can read that will help you understand Catholic beliefs and why Catholics think they are part of the Apostolic Tradition (the things Jesus taught the Apostles, that they passed on and often wrote down in the books that became the New Testament.)

If you are Catholic, you may be interested to know that the book cover that illustrates this post is of Thirty-Day Devotions for the Holy Souls by Susan Tassone, which is a nice devotional for those who are praying for the Holy Souls this November.

No #Christmas before #Advent

In the past couple of years, at the Family Dollar store in town, the week before Halloween they take the Halloween stuff down and replace it with Christmas stuff. I’ve already had alleged Christmas music— Jesus-free— imposed on me at a store when I went with my mom to pick up her prescriptions.

I’ve grown up with the fact that retailers are addicted to the Christmas season to make their profit for the year. My father, a Kresge and Kmart store manager, wasn’t around much during December until Christmas morning— he came home late on Christmas eve. At least he was retired by the time Kmart experimented with being open on Christmas day. (Remember, when you choose to shop on Thanksgiving or Christmas day, you are taking away those holidays from the families of employees and management.)

Constant Christmas causes stress, even though sentimental people may love months of Christmas music and Christmas movies on TV. It reminds people that they have to buy gifts and plan parties and events, send out Christmas cards, and so on. And what do retailers now want people to do with all that stress? Buy themselves new TVs, computers, and cars. People can always max out their credit cards and spend the rest of the year paying them off— and paying loads of interest which makes any Christmas ‘deals’ that actually were good deals to no effect.

And in all this retailer-induced madness, what happens if someone mentions the name of Jesus Christ? You’re a party pooper. Or, worse, you are a hater who is bigoted against Jewish people, Muslims and atheists. Which in the minds of the politically correct means you want those people to die and are probably willing to bring that about yourself. Yes, that means when you put up a sign on your lawn that asks ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ liberals are reading that as ‘I want to be like Hitler’ and they will whine to their friends about all the ‘haters’ in their town.

The church does not teach us to celebrate a Christmas buying fest with months of self-indulgence. The church teaches us to celebrate Christmas eve and Christmas day by going to church and worshiping. Before Christmas, we have the four Sundays of Advent to celebrate. It begins on Dec. 3rd this year.

Advent is not a good church season in which to buy yourself a new smartphone or car, or eat your favorite Christmas candy or cookies every day.  Originally Advent was considered a lot like Lent. You made sacrifices as a sign you were sorry about your sins. In the Eastern Church I believe Advent was called ‘Little Lent’.  What are YOU giving up for Advent?

Keeping Advent and Christmas in our culture is hard. Your workplace may demand that you participate in ‘Winter Holiday’ parties— Jesus-free Christmas celebrations. If you are a parent who is still letting your kids be raised by wolves— go to public school— they may be assigned to write Jesus-free Santa Claus letters. In our area the schools traditionally send these to the local paper to be printed in a special pre-Christmas edition so all the grandparents in the area can chuckle over all the kids ‘cute’ and usually greedy letters.

Of course the schools will never mention the truth about Santa Claus— that he is a mere nickname for an actual human person, Saint Nicholas, a fourth century bishop (senior pastor) whose feast day is December 6th. That is the traditional day for gifts from Saint Nicholas, usually, in the old days, mostly candy and an orange, which at that time were not everyday fare for kids but a special treat. My mother, born in 1927 to German immigrant parents, remembers celebrating St. Nicholas day, even though they were Protestants. It was a general celebration in Germany.

If you want to celebrate Advent and Christmas in a Christian way, you have to kind of step back from our culture. Stop watching so much secular TV when the rush of Christmas ads begin, even though that is earlier each year. I have a hard time giving up TV because I live alone and putting the TV on makes me feel less lonely. So I start changing the channel to EWTN, a commercial-free Catholic channel, most of the day. I used to sometimes watch the Shepherd’s Chapel channel, which is a commercial-free Protestant Bible study channel, but I don’t agree with all of the theology, especially not now that I’m Catholic, so I don’t watch as much.

If you have kids that are TV or internet addicts it may be next to impossible to get to detach from that bad influence without a major battle. But our culture has gotten so far off the track that people are complaining when someone asks for prayers in the wake of a natural, criminal or terrorist disaster. Because ‘prayers don’t help.’ That’s how the TV and internet are raising your kids. And that’s a year-long problem not just an internet one. But an Advent celebration might be a way to wean your kids away from these bad influences, and, most importantly, towards good ones. Like having days during Advent when the only television watched is EWTN and/or Shepherd’s Chapel.

HINT: in the Catholic celebration of Lent the sacrifices you are making usually have Sundays off, since Sunday is always a day of celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. So if you are avoiding buying and eating Christmas candy or cookies in pre-Advent and early Advent, you can allow yourself a little on the Sundays of Advent to make things more festive.

Will Sutherland Springs Church Shooting hero be forgotten? #2A

By now you’ve heard about the shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, TX. There were about 26 people killed and 20 wounded by a shooter who had been in trouble for domestic violence.

But the hero of the day was a person who lived near the church who, when he heard shooting, grabbed his ‘assault rifle’ (deer hunting gun, probably) and ran toward the shooting. He fired shots at the assailant and hit him, and the shooter drove away from the scene. One wonders how many more might have died except for this brave man’s heroism.

But of course the anti-Second Amendment crowd didn’t wait for the bodies to cool before they DEMANDED more anti-gun laws. Laws that would have made these church people even more defenseless. People in upper-class, big-city neighborhoods don’t understand this, but in rural and small-town America, the nearest police are often 20 or 30 minutes away. But as long as we have the 2nd Amendment intact, at least we can choose to protect ourselves and our neighbors.

One troubling thing I’ve heard was that the shooter was wearing body armor. Now, if someone is willing to shoot a lot of innocent people dead in church he will probably be willing to get guns, ammo and body armor illegally if he can’t get it legally. Murderers are just not that law-abiding that they would worry about illegal purchases.  But the hero who confronted the shooter was in greater danger than he knew. Thank God that this brave man was not shot or killed before he could get the shooter to flee away from his victims.

I would think that one way to honor the hero, besides NOT demonizing him and other gun owners by demonizing the gun owners grass-roots organization, the NRA, is for each of us to learn more about guns. The NRA may have gun safety classes in your area. The more of us who know how to protect ourselves with guns, the harder we make life for would-be criminals.

Infinite patience & sweetness with our readers

What relationship should a writer have with his readers? I remember once looking at author Stephen King’s web site. He was at the time expressing a lot of contempt for those people who had ‘hatefully’ voted for the Republican man who was at that time President of the US.  He didn’t seem to be aware that many of his readers did not agree with his politics, and so he was insulting people he should have been wanting to sell books to.

The other day I was reading a leaflet I got from the Legion of Mary, a Catholic organization I joined in my parish. It gives as a basic principle for people doing church work ‘Infinite patience and sweetness must be lavished on a priceless soul.’ I think that’s a good principle for writers, too. Each person that might (or might not) buy our books is an individual precious soul that God loves.  Each soul is far more precious than all of the books we might write in a lifetime. We shouldn’t see them as just fodder for our book salesmanship efforts.

What do those precious souls want? More important, what do they need? If we are Christians we would probably say they need Jesus in their lives. Is our writing a help to that goal or a hindrance? Is our work more than just cheesy fiction to pass a few hours, or is there something of spiritual value hidden in there?

An individual reader may not choose to buy YOUR book. But the way you interact with that precious soul may have an influence on his life, including his eternity. It is a sacred trust. And so therefore a Christian writer probably shouldn’t be putting people down for liking Star Wars more than Star Trek, or being a geek or not being a geek. They are precious souls and even if they are being annoying as heck right now— perhaps condemning your whole body of work because one of your novels contains the word ‘heck’— you in your interactions with that person can have a great effect.

My mother tends to have annoying friends, who call her at all hours even when she tells them not to call at certain times. They talk for a long time without giving my mother a chance to say anything. But they are emotionally damaged people who need someone who will just listen. They don’t have the social skills to be people other people WANT to talk to on the phone. So they need someone like my mom, who takes their calls anyway. It’s a gift of charity that she has.

The rest of us may not have these special spiritual gifts, but we may be called to be listeners anyway. I suppose if we could master a hard-sell approach to book marketing, we could turn these annoying or critical people into sales of our books. But that would be not treating them as individual people with precious souls. Unfortunately, our book sales have to come in second to the needs of real people.

The Devil’s in the Entertainment

The devil is in the entertainment. Sometimes literally, as in the television show ‘Lucifer’ where the devil, not Jesus Christ, is the son of God, and his ‘Dad’ is always being mean and spiteful.

Watching today’s devilish entertainment cannot help but corrupt us. On television, sexual gratification is something to be pursued, not delayed or denied. Even if the object of one’s sexual desires is married, of the same sex, or a Catholic priest.
On General Hospital recently, a Catholic priest who had not yet left the priesthood had sexual relations with Ava Jerome, a lady mob boss. Ava once had a sexual encounter with her worst enemy. In a crypt. At a funeral. The resulting baby was named Avery. Let’s hope Ava doesn’t give Avery a brother or sister in nine months!

Television was not always like that. In the early days television executives feared the power of angry Christian priests and pastors to turn Christian people away from this new form of entertainment. Television featured things like the Fulton J. Sheen television show, Life is Worth Living. There were wholesome entertainment shows for kids such as Romper Room and the Roy Rogers series. Even on Westerns featuring saloon girls there was no hint these girls were based on real-life Western prostitutes and madams.

Even by 1966 when Star Trek premiered, the liberal Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry could not show forth all of his extreme views on a show meant for general audiences. Roddenberry believed that in the future era where Star Trek was set, marriages would be temporary arrangements. But there was no hint of this in any of the series episodes, and married women were known by husband’s surnames.

Roddenberry wanted the Enterprise to have a chapel, in which Captain Kirk could conduct a wedding. But he wanted no chaplain. But again, the networks would not have allowed that situation to be made explicit. Both the networks and Roddenberry wanted Star Trek to be popular with a mass audience, even those audience members who were Christians.
That is one reason why there were so many Bible quotes on the Star Trek series. It was one thing even liberals like Gene Roddenberry knew how to do at the time.

But today’s televised entertainment has no place for Bible quotes or even for non-blasphemy. Christian characters are haters who usually turn out to be the real killer. Other ‘Christians’ support gay ‘marriage’, abortion ‘rights’ and casual sex, just like all good liberals do.

Christians are called to be in the world but not of the world. (John 17: 14-15) Since the world hates us, and the world is ruled by the Evil One, is there any reason to expect that the entertainment provided for the citizens of the Evil One’s kingdom is good enough for redeemed Christians?

There is the possibility of alternative entertainment. We may not be able to produce our own movies and television series. But we can entertain ourselves with books written by faithful Christians who share our values. This may not be as exciting as the latest action movie filled with expensive special effects and budget-level actors. But it’s possible to find books with Christian values that are exciting and action-packed. Perhaps Christian families should start having family reading hours to replace nights spent watching the worst of what is offered by television.

Broad-spectrum Christian fiction

For some people, Christian fiction means Evangelical Christian fiction— books from a handful of publishers representing an handful of flavors of Evangelical. “You can’t write Christian fiction, you’re Catholic!” is what you hear from the naysayers.

But Evangelical Christian fiction is not the sum total of Christian fiction. It arose, I think, because there were once a large number of Evangelical churches who condemned reading ‘worldly novels’ the way they condemned drinking alcohol, dancing and wearing make-up.

The problem is, Christians are readers. Protestant/Evangelical Christians are urged to have daily Bible reading habits. Catholics are often urged to do Lectio Divina — aka Bible reading— and to read Catholic religious books. So it’s natural that those Evangelicals who were taught that reading ‘worldly novels’ was wrong wanted some non-worldly fiction to read. You can’t read prayer books and sermons forever.

Evangelical Christian fiction has done well for itself. The ‘Left Behind’ series showed that even Evangelical fiction with strange theology most Christians didn’t know about (the Rapture theory) could become best-sellers, going far beyond the realm of Evangelical Rapture-believers. (Some Evangelicals don’t believe the Rapture theory.) I was a Norse Neopagan when I got hooked on the Left Behind books.

At one time most of the fiction produced in Western Civilization was written by Christians. Some of them, like Machiavelli, author of ‘The Prince’ may have been only nominal Christians— Christians in name only. Christian themes in fiction were normal and acceptable. Think of Jane Eyre, or Dracula. There was enough Christianity there that if they were first written today, most literary agents and publishers would demand the books be secularized to be published.

When I was in school at San Jose Christian School, our teacher Mrs. Stark had a group of novels at the back of the room that were very Protestant Christian fiction. One was set in Germany at the time of the Protestant Rebellion (“Reformation”) and the characters were all associated in some way with Martin Luther (founder of the Lutheran church.)

I have also read old Catholic novels from the 1950s, and I have read the books of Orson Scott Card, a man of the Latter-Day Saints church who managed to become a Hugo Award winning writer without hiding his faith. His ‘Lost Boys’ is a story featuring an LDS family who are living out their faith.

I think that Christian fiction readers and writers need to take a broader view of Christian fiction. Is it really better for an Evangelical Christian to read a secular book by an angry atheist than to read a Catholic author? We are all followers of Jesus Christ even if some of us have *wrong* theology.

Some people would say it’s OK to read Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical fiction, but they draw the line at Mormon. After all, that religion is in the book ‘Kingdom of the Cults.’ Well, is that how we are called to judge other Christ-followers— by whether their church is in the book ‘Kingdom of the Cults?’ As a Catholic I believe that the Mormon teachings include a lot of incorrect theology. But isn’t Mormon fiction a little closer to what we should be reading than fiction that calls Christians ‘haters’ and ‘unintelligent’, and promotes angry atheism?

Christians/Christ-followers of different kinds can work together to make Christian fiction a more viable and exciting genre. We can help authors sell their books and readers find new reading material. It’s better to work together that to break up into ever-smaller groups looking for only writers with perfect doctrines.

The image above is of Catholic author Karina Fabian’s sci-fi novel Discovery. I read it cover to cover and when I had come to the end, I liked it enough to immediately start again at the beginning and read it a second time. I very much recommend it to sci-fi fans.