Thursday, December 25, 2008

Bellisario and Rome vs. Paul the Apostle on Christian Liberty

In a previous post (link), I quoted the words of Holy Scripture penned by Paul the Apostle:

Romans 14:6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.

and I noted that I will be exercising my Christian liberty and not specially regarding December 25, 2008, even while Rome imposes on the consciences of its members, contrary to Scripture.

One of my readers brought to my attention a response that Mr. Matthew Bellisario provided against Paul's grant of Christian liberty (link to Bellisario's post).

Bellisario titles his post: "Why Protestantism is Theologically Dead! Christ is born! Glorify Him!" It's a strange title for a very strange post. Not only does his post not go on to establish any sort of theological deadness, his post makes lots of assertions without any supporting arguments.

As for "Christ is born! Glorify Him!" -- the declaration is true, and it is not only proper to glorify him, but mandatory. Nevertheless, Jesus nowhere asks us to glorify him by commemorating his birth. Jesus was more focused on us expressing our love for him, not through invented holy days, but through obedience to his commandments:

John 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.

Bellisario begins and ends his post with the same refrain. The reason is apparent to anyone familiar with "Byzantine Catholicism" (as in "Eastern Rite," not an insult). The refrain is the eastern equivalent to the "Joy to the world! The Lord is come!" found in the Roman liturgy. There's nothing particularly wrong with either refrain, and there is nothing particularly relevant either. The main reason to cite such a refrain in a post such as Bellisario's is as a rallying point to the liturgy of his church: an appeal to the emotions against reason and Scripture.

Bellisario continues his post: "I ran across a sad writing by A "reformed" Protestant today and once again I had to shake my head in disbelief." Sadly, Bellisario does not recognize the irony of his own profession of disbelief. It is, after all, the words of Scripture that Bellisario does not believe. Bellisario does not believe that to the Lord I will not be regarding the day, but that is what Scripture says.

Bellisario continues: "This un-identifiable person chose to use Sacred Scripture to skip out on worshiping our Lord and His incarnation." I don't give out my name or address, but it's not hard to identify me by my pen name, which is how most people identify me on the Internet. More importantly, however, note Bellisario's characterization of the matter: "use Sacred Scripture to skip out on worshiping our Lord and His incarnation." The idea of "skip[ping] out" implies a duty that doesn't exist. One wonders whether Bellisario would think it right to say that he "uses Sacred Scripture to skip out on going on pilgrimage to Mecca." Hopefully, he'd see how foolish a statement like that is. God does not command us to go on pilgrimage to Mecca or Rome, or to celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord does not ask us to remember his birth with a commemorative holiday or a special liturgy.

Bellisario again: "Without the wonderful incarnation of our Lord all of us would have no Easter, and therefore none of us would have an advocate with the Father to enter into eternal life." The incarnation is wonderful, and without it we would not have the cross, the resurrection, or the resurrection. We (Reformed Christians) commemorate the Resurrection every week, by meeting on the first day of the week, rather than the last day of the week, following the apostolic example.

Bellisario again: "This is another example of why Protestantism is Theologically Dead!" It's a triumphant assertion (I didn't add the exclamation point), but it hasn't been supported by any rationale.

Bellisario again: "This person chooses to act as a pagan, and yet uses Sacred Scripture to act as one." This is about as close as Bellisario comes to trying to back up his assertion. The argument is totally implicit: apparently in Bellisario's mind, not regarding the supposed day of Christ's birth is "act[ing] as a pagan." Yet Paul (in Scripture) unequivocally grants us the liberty to do just what I'm doing. Apparently if I don't take a sharpie and black out part of what Paul wrote, I'm "theologically dead" in Bellisario's eyes, and acting like a pagan.

Ironically, celebrating at the winter solstice is what looks a lot more like what the pagans did. Not celebrating is not acting like a pagan ... but Bellisario is blind to this sort of irony, as he muddles on:

Bellisario: "Here is what this person says on his blog. The hair stands up on my arms when I read it, because something like this can only be from the Devil." I've seen some remarkable appeals to authority from papists, but this appeal to arm-hair as a diviner of demonic origination is a new one. Bellisario's hairy arms may well have tingled, but my post was strictly a legitimate, apostolically approved, expression of the liberty that I have in Christ.

I had written:
As an exercise of my Christian liberty, I will not be celebrating Christ's birthday on December 25, 2008. I will not be attending a "mass" or any substitute thereof. I do not plan to set aside any business concerns that would interfere with such religious exercises.

Instead, by engaging in worldly employments and recreations, I will not treat that day as holy. This is my Christian liberty, as Paul explained:

Romans 14:6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.

Having quoted my words (and those of Scripture that I myself quoted), Bellisario continues: "He then goes on to accuse the Catholic Church as being legalistic in telling people that Christmas is a Holy day of obligation!" Except for the fact that he erroneously refers to his church as "the Catholic Church" (a popular, but inaccurate title for it), his claim is correct. I do so accuse Rome of violating Romans 14:6 by trying to make Christmas an obligatory holy day. But does Bellisario have any answer beyond bodily functions?

Bellisario states: "This is comical since this is anything but legalism if one really understands what is happening at Mass and what our Lord has done, and continues to do for us." This, of course, doesn't answer the issue of legalism. It wouldn't answer it if the issue were what transpires during the Mass, or what Christ has done or continues to do, because it doesn't explain, it just asserts. The issue, however, in this instance is not the idolatry of the Mass, the perfection of Christ's once-for-all sacrifice, or the unique mediatorial role of Christ. Those are all important issues, but they are not the issues presented here. What is presented here is the alleged creation of an instance of a judgment of "mortal sin" for failing to observe a holiday that Scripture specifically grants Christians the liberty not to observe.

Let's get more specific. The "Catechism of the Catholic Church," explains:
1861 Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.

Notice that the alleged result of the commission of a "mortal sin" is, to paraphrase, a loss of salvation. It is remediable, but if it is not remedied, it can land a previously "ok" person in hell. Thus, we may loosely say that the holy days of obligation are imposed on the conscience of members of Catholicism as a condition of salvation. That's legalism: the creation of conditions for salvation.

Bellisario, perhaps because his arms were still bothering him, or because he is so busying wagging his head in disbelief, does not seem to be aware of the issues of legalism associated with holy days of obligation, and does not have an answer beyond assertion.

Bellisario continued: "There are many who twist the Sacred Scriptures to their destruction and he is another one." In this particular instance, Bellisario's condemnation is ironic. The accusation of twisting Scripture to one's destruction comes from Scripture, but in this instance Scripture condemns Bellisario.

Maybe it was a bit unfair, but I quoted only the most relevant portion of what Paul said. Perhaps I should have given Bellisario warning to avoid doing exactly what he did. Paul wrote, in context:
Romans 14:3-13
3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. 4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. 5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. 6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. 7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. 8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. 10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. 12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. 13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.
(emphases added)

Notice how Paul specifically orders Christians not to judge their brethren in regard to these things. Yet, Mr. Bellisario seeks to judge and throws out accusations of Christian liberty being of demonic origin and my own statements being twisting of Scripture. Furthermore, he judges me and those who would join me in exercising our God-given liberty as "skip[ping] out" on worship. Mr. Bellisario truly seems to be one step short of explicitly saying, "Paul was wrong - Christians must celebrate Christmas." I have assumed here that Bellisario considers what he calls "Protestants" to be "separated brethren" as they are identified in post-Vatican-II Catholicism. Given his hostile tone, one could draw a different conclusion, but I'll pass on such speculation at this time.

Bellisario continued: "I have actually witnessed "Protestants" using Sacred Scripture to excuse abortion! Yes folks thats [sic] right. This person who will not identify himself then closes by trying to persuade others from not going to honor our Lord on Christmas as well!" The first sentence (and possibly the second, though it is not clear whether it supposed to provide emphasis to the first or third sentence) is not relevant to this post at all. Intentional abortion of unborn children is murder - and there is no escaping that conclusion. It may be that "Protestants" have misused Scripture to try to justify it ... but the abuse of Scripture is nothing unique to "Protestants," as we have seen from Bellisario's own abuse of 2 Peter 3:16. Moving on to the third sentence, Bellisario's reference to the fact that I don't say what my name is doesn't really have anything to do with the post. I don't rely on my name or credentials, but on Scripture. It is Scripture (not me) who gives liberty, while Rome and Bellisario attempt to impose bondage.

The final part of Bellisario's sentence, and the only really salient part of the section, demonstrates that Bellisario has missed Paul's point. It is not necessary to observe holy days to honor the Lord on December 25. We can, and should, honor the Lord both when we choose to observe such days, and when we choose not to observe such days. Neither is inherently dishonoring to God, which is why Paul says what he says.

Bellisario continues: "Who else but Satan would want to draw people away from the infant of Christ?" Christ was an infant, but he is not an infant any longer. One might suppose that Satan would take delight in the worship of Rome, in which Jesus is treated like a perpetual infant, while his mother is exalted to the practical level of a goddess. If I could have nickel for every blog that has used the expression "Mary Christmas" in the last week or so ... and while some of those may have been honest misspellings, quite a few were not. Satan may delight in the idolatry of the Mass, and in the false hope that Rome gives those who attend to the observance of man-made holy days. But that is not the point.

The point is that Bellisario's argument is not with me at all, but with Paul. If Bellisario is right, what could Paul's comment about people acceptably not regarding days mean? One can just see a Judaizer now, spouting this same nonsense (slightly modified), saying "Who else but Satan would want to draw people away from God's redemption of Israel by not dwelling in a booth one week a year (Lev. 22:42-43)?" And at least the Judaizer would be pointing to a feast of indisputable divine origin! Bellisario is lauding an ancient human tradition, whose practice in the 1st and 2nd centuries is unrecorded (that I know of - and poorly recorded if it is recorded at all). But both Bellisario and the Judaizer are wrong, because it is not Satanic to fail to observe the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus - just as it is not Satanic to fail to dwell in a booth one week out of the year in the New Testament era.

Bellisario continued: "Who hated the incarnation of Our Lord and Savior enough to insult Him by not going to honor His incarnation?" A better question is: who hates the Lord Jesus so much that he refuses to listen to the Words of Scripture and the commands of Jesus' apostle? Bellisario's challenge to the doctrines of Paul is problematic, not my exercise of Christian liberty. Christ has not asked us to honor his incarnation with a holy day, and Christ is not insulted when we work on December 25 (assuming, for the moment, that it does not fall on the Lord's Day, which is the case this year).

Bellisario's entire argument (if we may even call it an argument) rests on his unstated premise that there is something more holy about regarding the day than about not regarding the day. In this, his argument is not with me, but with the Apostle Paul.

Bellisario continued: "It is unbelievable, and once again proves what you get with Scripture Alone and every Tom Dick and Harry constructing their own man-made religion from it." On the contrary, Bellisario's argument against Scripture is exactly the sort of thing one would expect from a person who refuses to let Scripture judge their church. His position is one of Sola Ecclesia. He is blind to the fact that it is "Christmas," which is innovated, and he is unable to engage the text of Scripture that gives Christians liberty not to observe such holy days. Hopefully this post will help him see that both the dogmas and discipline of his church need to be evaluated by Scripture, to see whether they are the true gospel or another gospel.

Bellisario wrote: "I think I will go twice this Christmas to Mass and the Divine Liturgy to honor my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on this Holy Day of His birth." If the Mass were not full of idolatry (which is a separate subject), this would not necessarily be objectionable. There is nothing problematic about spending the entire day going to service of worship after service of worship. There is nothing inherently wrong with celebrating Christ's nativity on December 25.

Bellisario wrote: "As for the pagans who wish to reject Our Lord's birth because of their hatred for the real Gospel, let them be anathema, since they have already committed spiritual suicide." The real Gospel is that taught in Scripture. The real Gospel is the gospel preached by Paul. The real Gospel does not call us to celebrate Christ's birth with an annual feast day, or with mandatory services of worship. The real Gospel does not teach the category of mortal sin (as distinct from venial sins) and does not teach that man's salvation depends on obedience to the law (or to man-made regulations). Paul, a preacher of the true gospel, wrote:

Colossians 2:16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

To the message Paul gave (in two epistles, no less), we (the Reformed) are obedient.

On the other hand, we also reject Bellisario's misrepresentation of our position. We do not reject the Lord's birth. We affirm the reality of the miracle of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. We affirm the marvel of the incarnation. Bellisario seems to be confusing the obligation to celebrate the birth with the birth itself. Or perhaps he is just ranting, who knows.

All that remains of the post by Bellisario is a link and a repetition of the refrain from the eastern liturgy. Bellisario never backs up his harsh claims against Reformed Christianity, fails to interact with Paul's explanation of why we Christians have this liberty that Rome (and Bellisario) seeks to deny, and manages to misrepresent the Reformed position, while dragging in irrelevant material.

Hopefully, this response will serve to illuminate both the weakness of the Roman position and the weakness of the tactics used to defend the indefensible.

Let us Glorify the Born, Humbled, Executed, Risen, and Exalted Savior!


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ok, what next, Bellisario?

I am not sure what next will be next?

I am sure that you thoroughly dealt with it though and still I am not convinced it will be soon in coming that Bellisario will see.

God causes us to see. My only sense of God was from the RCC until one day, while yet blind, I could see.

I didn't know I was blind, mind you. I knew it after I could see, I was blind.

TF: "....There is nothing inherently wrong with celebrating Christ's nativity on December 25."

Nat: There equally is nothing wrong with the circumcision of Timothy but I have to say, I don't read any history of it happening after he was cut! Hmmmm?

I could equally rise up and go for it, Christmas mass, if the purpose was equal to the purpose for cutting Tim!

But, seeing there is no such purpose, there is nothing wrong with cutting Tim but something wrong with Christmas mass.


I think the irony is clear with regards to Satan.

Satan, if he cannot get you to be his or your rebel, will at least help you become morally sound in the faith about men by men.

Satan's doom is sure.

The RCC's doom is not clear yet. It is my prediction that in the next few years, the ugliness of Rome will become clear and Bellisario, hopefully by then, will see clearly?

I hope I am around to know that fact?