Monday, Aug 20, 2018

Monday, Aug 20, 2018

The Briefing

August 20, 2018

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Monday, August 20, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The theological issues lurking under the headlines in the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal

The scandal over Priestly child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in the state of Pennsylvania continues to expand. Tomorrow will mark just one week after the release of that historic report from a Grand Jury there in Pennsylvania. Indicating, after the course of an extensive investigation, that at least one thousand children–and it is believed thousands more–were abused by at least 300 priests over the course of about 70 years.

Yet, one of the most devastating parts of that report was the documentation of the complicity of several of the bishops of the church in covering for those priests, even in the face of indisputable evidence of the sexual abuse of children and teenagers. But even as the scandal continues to spread into ever more headlines, there is one major dimension of this story that has received scant attention.

It’s a theological dimension, a very important dimension that should be of interest, especially to evangelicals. It’s a dimension that hasn’t been much discussed at all, but it does come out. If you see it in the headlines and then follow it in the story. For example, David Gambacorda, reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, released a major article in which he documents the case of the Reverend George Zervos.

He was identified as a friendly young priest who took a teenage boy to meet with three other priests. Then, the priests together had the boy undress. They then created their own child pornography. The boy, now an adult, gave testimony to the grand jury that is some of the most chilling you can find in the massive documentation.

But the most interesting turn theologically, is where we are told that even as all four of the Priests were eventually relieved of their Priestly responsibilities, it did not end their priesthood according to the Sacrament of Orders of the Roman Catholic Church. Listen to how this comes out in the article. As Gambacorda reports, “In 1987, the Diocese in Pittsburgh was contacted by the family of a boy who claimed he had been inappropriately touched by the priest.” That is George Zervos. “Then Bishop, Anthony J. Bevilacqua, refrained from taking action, but when another abuse complaint arrived a year later Zervos was sent for an evaluation. Still, he served at other parishes in the state until 1994 when he was placed on leave for what were described as personal reasons, as additional allegations swirled.”

Gambacorda then says, “Zervos was returned to active ministry by Bevilacqua’s successor, Bishop Donald Whirl, who is now the Cardinal Arch Bishop of Washington, D.C. But, we are told, Zervos was benched again after yet another victim told the Diocese that he had performed a sex act on him when he was 15.” An attorney for the diocese in Pittsburgh said, “Today, we would have handled the Zervos case much differently.”

Gambacorda then tells us that after being placed on leave for a second time, Zervos was moved to Florida, and then fled to Cuba. In the Spring of 2001 in Havana, on a property he reportedly shared with another person,” Gambacorda tells us, “Zervos was found strangled at age 47.” Here’s where the story gets most important. “In a statement released Thursday, Cardinal Arch Bishop Whirl lamented clergy abuse as a terrible tragedy and argued that he acted with diligence and concern for sex abuse victims when he was a bishop.”

“But,” said Gambacorda, “he had struck a different tone in 2001 when he presided over Zervos’ funeral in Pennsylvania.” According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Whirl, described how Zervos was a kind man and had preached a message of salvation through faith in Jesus. “A priest is a priest. Once he is ordained, he’s a priest forever.”

Now if you catch what’s being said here, you will notice that the major controversy concerning Cardinal Whirl is whether or not he must resign as the arch bishop of Washington, D.C. and as a Cardinal. There’s a growing moral momentum that he must and growing demands that he will. But as we are looking at this story, the most interesting line that leaps out at us from church history, is the line that the arch bishop, then a bishop, spoke at the funeral of this priest in 2001. As he said, “A priest is a priest. Once he is ordained, he’s a priest forever.”

Now, that is deeply rooted in Roman Catholic theology and canon law. It is reflected right now in the catechism of the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church defines the priesthood in just this way. It defines ordination as the Sacrament of Orders and explicitly states that once a man receives the Sacrament of Orders, he is a priest forever. At no point can he be anything other than a priest if his ordination was valid.

This is very similar to the logic, by the way, of the Roman Catholic Church, which doesn’t recognize divorce but does recognize annulments. Because it says, “A marriage cannot be dissolved ever unless it was illegitimate in the beginning, which means it never existed and thus it is merely annulled.” What you’re looking at here, and this is what’s so haunting, in words that were spoken at the funeral of a Priest who had been strangled after all these documented cases of child sex abuse.

It was at that funeral that the man who is now the Cardinal Arch Bishop of the Catholic Church in Washington D.C., repeated the words, “A priest is a priest. Once he is ordained, he’s a priest forever.” Notice what then Bishop Whirl was saying. He was saying that this man, after all the documented abuse of children and after all clerical responsibility had been removed from him, was still a priest. Once you understand that aspect of Catholic teaching, you also have to go further and understand there are two big issues behind that statement.

One is the Catholic understanding of the priesthood and the other is the Catholic understanding of the sacraments. The Catholic understanding of the priesthood is that the priesthood emerges out of the bishop, out of the ministry of the bishop. In continuity and in succession going all the way back, they claim, to Peter. Going all the way back to Mathew, chapter 16, but they then argue for the priesthood.

For the priesthood as being defined in the Old Testament in continuity with the New Testament with Jesus Christ as he’s described in Hebrews as a priest forever. According to the order of Melchizedek being the example for human priests. Furthermore, it is claimed that these priests have a sacrificial ministry, in which by the administration of the mass and the administration of the entire sacramental system, the -priests actually have authority from Christ himself in the name of the Roman Catholic Church to forgive sins. Effectively, to hold Heaven and Hell. That is eternal judgment in their own hands and at their own dispensation.

But here’s where we also must understand the literal nature of the Catholic belief in the sacraments. Of course, they claim seven sacraments. What do we mean by that? We mean that the Roman Catholic Church officially teaches that once a man is ordained, there is a fundamental change that cannot ever be reversed. That is a change from one state into another, from the lay state into the clerical state. Being transformed from a mere baptized Christian into a priest according to the order of Christ.

Part II

Who is your priest? Where is your priest? How a debate from the Reformation continues to define today’s news

But in order to understand all this, we have to go back to the 16th Century and to the Reformation. We have to go back to Martin Luther and John Calvin and understand that when the Reformation took place in the 16th century, one of the reasons the Reformation took the shape that it did was in answer to the entire Roman Catholic understanding of the priesthood and the Roman Catholic theology of the sacraments. In particular, the sacrament of orders, or the Roman Catholic teaching concerning ordination.

At the most basic level, both Luther and Calvin and beyond them, the radical reformers went even further arguing that the priesthood is not given to a class or a hierarchy within the Church. Furthermore, there is no continuation of a priesthood beyond Christ other than the eternal truth that Jesus Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King, is our eternal High Priest. The reformers insisted upon the fact that Christ, in his sacrificial ministry on the cross, was the last sacrifice, thus we do not believe in the mass as a repeated sacrifice, and that Christ is the only priest we ever need.

Now, the reformers went beyond that because of the teaching of the New Testament and said that in one sense, not in a sacrificial sense, but in a communal congregational sense, every single Christian is a priest. The priesthood is the congregation now, in the sense that we minister to each other and for each other. But it is not an atoning sacrificial priesthood. It is not an mediatorial priesthood.

It is merely a priesthood of encouragement in the Word, and it is a priesthood that is rooted in the congregation in the church fulfilling its ministry, including church discipline and everything empowered to the church. There is not hierarchy thus, within the church, as understand in the reformation. There is certainly no priestly class, there is not priestly ordination, there is no fundamental change in an individual who is lay at one point and then a minister in another point.

In the midst of the battle for the Reformation, Luther said this, “Of the sacrament,” meaning the sacrament of ordination, “the Church of Christ knows nothing. It is an invention of the church of the pope. Not only is there nowhere any promise of grace attached to it, but there’s not a single word said about it in the whole New Testament.” Luther went on to say that the Roman Catholic sacrament of ordination or orders “makes no one a priest or minister in the eye of God.”

The reformers and Reformation based churches, going all the way down to the present, understand that there are those within the church called to a particular teaching ministry. There is teaching office, but it is not a priestly office. Furthermore, it is not an office conferred by a bishop with some claim of continuity all the way back to Peter, claimed to be the first pope.

Rather, it is a responsibility, a gift, and a calling that is biblically defined and biblically qualified that is conferred on the basis of the congregations authority. In so far and for as so long as the congregation deems it fitting and right for an individual to continue in that teaching office.

On anther occasion, Luther expressed the issue this way; “This is the way to distinguish between the office of preaching or the ministry and the general priesthood of all baptized Christians. The preaching office,” said Luther, “is no more than a public service, which happens to be conferred.” Luther put an emphasis on the word “conferred.” “Upon someone by the entire congregation, all the members of which are priests. But after we have become Christians through faith, then each one,” he means every Christian, “according to his calling in position, obtains the right and the power of teaching and confessing before other this word which we have obtained from him,” meaning Christ.

In agreement, John Calvin in Geneva argued that there is no priesthood beyond the priesthood that comes to every believing Christian by virtue of being a Christian. That is a non-sacrificial, non-atoning priesthood. There is no claim of any human being being a mediator. It is Jesus Christ who is our soul and sufficient Mediator.

Furthermore, both Luther and Calvin along with the other reformers, agreed that it is preaching that stands the center of the ministry that Christ gave to his church. The teaching office is essentially a preaching office. It is not a mediatorial office, it is not a sacramental office. In the Catholic sense, it is certainly not a priestly office.

Now compare that to the catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, which states at paragraph 1583, “It is true that someone validly ordained, can for a just reason, be discharged from the obligations and functions linked to ordination or can be forbidden to exercise them. But he cannot become a layman again in the strict sense. Because,” and again I’m reading directly from the current catechism, “the character imprinted by ordination is forever. The vocation and mission received on the day of his ordination mark him permanently.”

Furthermore, Canon 290, of the current canon law of the Roman Catholic Church states, “Once validly received, sacred ordination never becomes invalid.” Those cited sections of the catechism and the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church, consistent with centuries of claims by Roman Catholicism, explain how at the funeral of a man who was documented to have been a serial child sexual abuser–how the current Arch Bishop of Washington, D.C., Donald Whirl, then a Bishop, could say again–at the man’s funeral, “A priest is a priest. Once he is ordained, he is a priest forever.”

There are, no doubt, many contributing factors to this exploding scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. A scandal that will continue to expand by every estimation. It will not be limited to the six dioceses in Pennsylvania covered by this Grand Jury report. Nor for that matter, will it be limited to Pennsylvania. We already have the situation where the scandal has reached the Cardinal Arch Bishop of Washington, D.C.

But our attention in this case is drawn to the statements made by that bishop, now Cardinal Arch Bishop, years ago at the funeral of a man he still recognized as a priest. All of this reminds us, sadly enough, that when theology has consequences, sometimes those consequences can be horrifying indeed.

Part III

When a name isn’t just a name: Why the Mormon Church’s announcement of a name change is actually about a theological assertion

But next, as we’re talking about the fact that theology matters and it always matters, we turn not to the Roman Catholic Church, but rather to the Mormons. But, as we shall see, we’re not supposed to use that word anymore. More importantly, Mormons aren’t supposed to call themselves Mormons anymore. There’s a back story and in the pages of the New York Times yesterday, Julia Jacob’s reports, “The word Mormon is out, says the President of the Utah based church. But the proper term for what to call the faith and it’s followers is a mouthful.”

“In an announcement,” she says, “on Thursday, President Russell M. Nelson, insisted that Mormons and non-Mormons alike stick to the term, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Mr. Nelson, age 93, said that the policy change came to him in a revelation from God and that members of the Church must work to adjust their vernacular.” As President Nelson said, “The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name he has revealed for his church.”

Jacob summarizes the issue well when she tells us the church’s updated style guide specifies that ‘Mormon Church,’ ‘Mormons,’ and ‘Mormonism’ are no longer acceptable. “No,” she says, “you should not use the abbreviation, ‘LDS’ either.” The only exceptions, according the new style guide, include the Book of Mormon. Which, after all, explains why people call the Mormons, ‘Mormon.’ There are certain other uses of the word ‘Mormon’ that will continue, such as in references to the Mormon Trail. But that’s partly because that historic route is commemorated by the government, not just by the Latter-day Saints or by Mormons. We’re not supposed to say either of those any longer.

As Jacob says, “The abrupt shift was left largely unexplained by the church, who’s spokesman declined to elaborate on the rationale behind the new policy. But church leaders have promoted the idea for decades.” Indeed, this has been an issue of ongoing conversation. The Mormons did not want to be called the Mormons, even though they refer to the book they claim is the successor to the Bible as the Book of Mormon. That book being absolutely central to their ideological and theological identity.

But the Mormons became known as Mormons largely because of the Book of Mormon and over time the Mormons accepted being called Mormon. So much so, that until this past week, if you asked Mormons if there was any offense in calling Mormons or the Mormon Church Mormon or Mormonism in referring to the religion, you were told no. But all that changed and here’s where the theology matters so much.

First of all, on who’s authority was this change announced? The authority of the president of the church. Here’s what’s so theologically crucial. Mormon theology is based upon the understanding that at the top of the hierarchy of the church, is a president who is understood to be a living prophet who continues to receive authoritative prophecy from God. That is why president Nelson expressed this new teaching this way: “The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name he has revealed for his Church.”

Notice all the claims to revelation there. Patrick Mason, who’s the head of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University said quite correctly, “The wording of this statement is stronger than anything we’ve seen in the past. This came not from his own intuition or his own sense of things. Rather, we should say it is claimed, from inspiration from Heaven. That’s about as strong language as he can use.”

Indeed the Mormon president is claiming that God himself has ordered that Mormons shall not refer to their movement as Mormonism, nor to their church as Mormon, nor to themselves as Mormons. Rather, they are to use the name that it is claimed was revealed by God to Joseph Smith back in the founding era. That is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But here we should also note that quite conveniently, Joseph Smith claimed to receive this revelation when there were questions about what that church that he was establishing should be called.

In the book known as The Doctrine and Convenance, which is a part of the overall structure of the scripture claimed by Mormonism. In section 115 at number three, I read, “And also unto my faithful servants who have the high counsel of my church in Zion, for thus it shall be called and unto all the elders and people of my church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints scattered abroad in all the world. For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.”

As Alison Chew, reporting for the Washington Post, summarizes, “With eight words, eleven syllables, and one hyphen, the full name of the Mormon Church is quite the mouthful.” Again, referring to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Eight words, eleven syllables, one hyphen.

There is an acknowledgement, even amongst many insiders, that this isn’t going to work. That there will not be a cessation of references to Mormonism and to Mormons. Rather, when you look at how deeply embedded it is, you also see Brigham Young University, that is the central educational institution of the Church, has professors who teach Mormon studies.

The Church made the official announcement on Twitter under the official name, Mormon Newsroom. In which they tweeted, President Russell, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has made the following statement regarding the name of the church. As someone responded immediately, “No more using the word Mormons, reports Mormon Newsroom.”

Now just as an historical fact, many religious groups are not known by the name they might chose for themselves. For example, I’m a Baptist. Baptists did not at first name themselves Baptists. Rather, they were referred to by others as Baptists. Usually, as a matter of argument, by the way, because of the centrality of believers baptism by emersion to the Baptist. But the name Baptist stuck and by the time the First Baptist Association is formed, it pretty much names itself as Baptist and rather consistently so thereafter.

Methodist did not intend to name themselves Methodist, but they were called Methodist because of their methodical system of devotion going back to John Wesley. You can pretty much figure out how Lutherans got their name. Presbyterians gained their name as reference to their presbyterian form of Church Government. The unit being a presbytery. Then, of course, Episcopalians in the Untied States were known as Anglicans in the Church of England until the Revolution made that rather untenable. They named themselves Episcopal in order to define themselves according to the Episcopas or the Bishop, according to their own Church Government.

But the bottom line in just the actual way language works is that once a group is known as by some kind of name, such as the Mormons have been known now for so long. Since their central text that they claim as authority is known as the Book of Mormon, it’s very unlikely that Mormons will be known as anything other than Mormons regardless of what the Mormon President says, even when he says don’t use the word “Mormon.”

“Mormon,” by the way, refers to a central character in Mormon history. It is claimed that in the fourth century after Christ, he lived in the United States as a member of the tribe known as Nefites. He was given the responsibility to be the primary compiler through whom revelation was made of what became known as the Book of Mormon. A project that was continued by his son known as Maroni.

But even as the big issue in the media is about the name, the bigger issue is about the claim to revelation made by the Mormon president. That’s what’s really of theological significance and, of course, the larger issue behind why the Mormon president would indicate this insistence upon that long name. Eight words, eleven syllables, and one hyphen. Why would it be so important to the Mormons to be known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints?

Well this is the biggest of all theological issues. It is because the official teaching of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, popularly known as the Mormons, is that their Church is the restoration of the true Church. Which had disappeared on earth between the time of the disciples, properly the Apostles, all the way until Joseph Smith in the United States in the 19th Century.

The central claim of Mormonism, amongst many claims of Mormonism, is that The Church of Jesus Christ had disappeared until the Lord had restored the priesthood and the church in what became known, not by accident, as it was claimed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Notice the definite article, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

In that name, there is a clear claim to identity with Jesus Christ, but a clear claim of discontinuity and absolute distance from the church from the time of the Apostles until Joseph Smith. That explains why the Mormon church denies such central and essential Christian doctrines as the doctrine of the Trinity. Or for that matter, the doctrine of justification by faith, salvation by grace alone.

Put in that context, you understand that the Mormons are saying that all other churches, all other Christian churches are not real churches. But rather, a representations of churches that have lost the gospel and have lost their tie to Christ. Rather, they say, the priesthood as they define it was absent during all those centuries until it was re-established, restored in the ministry of Joseph Smith and those who established the church in the 19th Century.

That explains why a name is a name, but a name is always more than a name. And, why there is far more than the question of nomenclature when the president of the Mormon church says that Mormons shall no longer be known as Mormons. But rather, externally and internally, they should be referred to as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. That’s not just a name, it’s a claim. It’s a truth claim and evangelical Christians had better understand it clearly.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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