Voiced Thoughts

…whilst travelling along life’s road.

can catholics go to heaven?

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I’ve just finished writing and teaching a series on Biblical Growth for the young people who went away to my church’s youth club camp this summer. It’s the second year I’ve done a series between the end of camp and the beginning of the church and academic year. I’m a big believer in answering the questions that young people have rather than just bombarding them with answers and information that I think they should have. As such, I typically have a Questions Box (HT to the wonderful SU CSSM at Castlerock & Benone for that idea!) for the duration of the series into which the young people can place any question they wish. I’ll attempt to give them The answer or my answer on the last night. I encourage all types of questions from “Did Adam have a belly button?” to “Where do dinosaurs fit in?” and they are typically as diverse as that.

There’s always repetition from year to year, that’s a given in youth ministry, but one question always makes its way into the box. This question, in particular, really annoys me: “Can [Roman] Catholics go to heaven?”

Now, don’t misunderstand me: I love the fact that the young people are open enough to ask the question and I am humbled that they are open enough with me to ask the question. But the fact that the question is even asked just gets under my skin.

Obviously in my context I can see why they’re asking: 30 years of The Troubles; the media making synonyms out of Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist, and Catholic, Nationalist and Republican; the, frankly, less than Christlike witness of some leading local religious figures. Together these three factors, amongst others, contribute to a warped sense of Christianity, grace, salvation and the good news.

From my reading of the Protestant canon I cannot help but come to the conclusion that, yes, Catholics can go to heaven. Now an American reading this would wonder what all the fuss was about, perhaps even to an Italian, but to some in the Northern Irish church I writing heresy and I should be removed as a ruling elder and excommunicated posthaste.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… perhaps heresy is good once in a while… especially if it turns out to be true.

I am convinced that salvation is a work of God offered as a gift to mankind, by grace (cf. Eph 2:8,9; 5:3-14). It is God who does the saving because only He could do so, only He could redeem/pay the price. He does not wait until someone attends the “right” church fellowship, or believes the “right” doctrine (in the context of the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches). Far from it. It’s not in a man’s hands so that no man my boast when they receive the gift. Rather it is entirely God, which is precisely why we should be so thankful.

So, can Catholics go to heaven? Absolutely.


Written by Mark

August 19, 2009 at 11:06 pm

the dread I have of justice and holiness

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Why did the Holocaust happen? Why did that kid die? Why do criminals seem to be unstoppable? Hard, age-old questions of which we demand an answer.

I’m studying Lamentations at the minute, which is an old testament book detailing the writer’s, Jeremiah, response to the fall of Jerusalem (c. 586 B.C.) at the hands of the Babylonians. Lamentations is an easy book to read, reasonably simple to understand but a hard book to take in. Everything that is talked about sounds so horrid, so wrong.

Recently, the thing about the writing that I have found most staggering is that God permits it all. God permits the slaughter of young and old (2:21). God permits the starvation of children (2:12). God permits the cannibalism (2:20). God permits all this to happen to his chosen people. Many will use this as reason to give up on God, they might say he’s not worthy to follow for that. Some might be disbelieving that a good God can be behind such bad things.

I’m no prophet, but I do wonder… September 11th, the Tsunami, Bali bombings, the Troubles… might these be divine justice acted out? After all, none of us are innocent (Romans 3:23) so none of us should have anything to complain about. (Easy to say, I know…)

Thinking again about Lamentations, the writer reminds us that Jerusalem’s fall was a result of its sin. Sin. A little word with a lot of meaning, most of which has been watered down by “modern”, “progressive”, “21st Century” ideas. I wonder if we had more of a comprehension of just how bad, immoral and grotesque sin really is (in God’s eyes) – what it really means – if it would affect how we react to suffering when (and not if) it comes?

God’s justice and holiness are scary things for me, which makes me all the more desperate and thankful of God’s grace. “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.” (Hebrews 10:31)

Written by Mark

March 15, 2009 at 11:59 pm

heresy is good

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Sparked by remembering the Roman Catholic church’s original response to the alleged heresy of Galileo (see the recent BBC news story) I’ve been wondering if all heresy is wrong. Heresy, according my dictionary, is defined as opinion that is at odds with accepted Christian doctrine. What if said accepted Christian doctrine isn’t quite up to scratch? Think again of the old geocentric idea of the universe.

Perhaps it’s melodramatic of me to say I’ve been wondering if all heresy is wrong; it might be better to say I’ve been wondering if things I’ve been taught are correct. I belong to a Presbyterian church because I agree in the ideals of its form of governance – a democratic theocracy, where God alone is head and everyone has an equal say in the minutia. However, in PCI (the Presbyterian Church in Ireland) there is some baggage – for example, the Westminster Confession of the Faith and the Code, amongst others. I’ve recently been wondering if everything in those books is still worthy of application in today’s world.

For example, the Code talks about all things in a church service being under the control of the minister (a.k.a. the teaching elder). Another example: the sacrament of Communion (a.k.a. the Lord’s Supper) can only be conducted by a minister. The WCF says that baptism can only be administered “by a minister of the Gospel, lawfully called thereunto” [Ch. XXVIII para. II].

My question is are those things still worthy of application… because I do not think they are biblical. They are codified rules of man put together to help ensure proper practice and safeguard against ignorance. But I contend that they were written at a particular time into a particular context, which is not necessarily applicable anymore. (The whole idea of codifying the divine seems wrong to me… God is bigger than any book… but that’s a thought for another day.)

Why does the church forbid (I think that’s the right word) a member – nay, an ordained elder – from conducting the Lord’s Supper as part of a home group meeting? I know the pat-answer, but I ask is that answer biblical. Are we not all called to be priests? Members of a holy nation?

Is there not a conflict of interest where ministers adhere and push a Code that safeguards their power and authority over things? It seems, to me, to be un-Presbyterian; it looks a little more like the episcopalian model of church governance.

Our church is currently in a vacancy so my opportunity to discuss this with a minister is limited, but when we get a new minister I think I’ll raise this and start pushing against the grain. Not quite a modern day Galileo, but it’s a start…

Written by Mark

December 23, 2008 at 10:30 pm

Posted in Church, Heresies

pure: a meditation for youth workers

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My Desire

I desire to be used by God: to be used powerfully and to great effect.

I desire to be used by God: to help find many who are now lost.

I desire to be used by God: to love because I was first loved.

I desire to be used by God, but am I willing to pay the cost?

2 Timothy 2:20-21 (NLT):

In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.

If God came over for dinner I’d most likely not be cooking… I’d hire some fancy chef. But I’d definitely be using the fancy dishes, the heavy cutlery, the clean glasses, because he is the King of kings and the Lord of lords… because he is worthy. The same is true in our day-to-day living: God will only use worthy utensils. Worthy utensils are men and women who are pure and clean.

It is up to me to keep myself pure and clean: v21, “if you keep yourself pure”. If I am not being used by God because of impurity, I have only myself to blame.

Orthodoxy compels orthopraxy. That is, correct belief compels correct action. “Everything in moderation” is not a biblical principle: there are correct actions and incorrect actions. We must heed what Paul says in v22:

Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.

Now, few of us live in a monastery or a convent, so each of us must daily work out how to realise these commands in the mess of real life. It isn’t easy, it’s not blank-and-white, but it is essential if we want God to use us to save souls and nurture those young in the faith.

We youth workers have been given a high and holy calling. We are part of a long line of teachers of the Truth that goes back millennia. We must ensure that the line doesn’t end with us; we must see our role as teaching future teachers. And not just by cramming doctrine, principles and truth into their heads. We must also show them how to apply all this stuff. We must live it out before them.

There are always going to be some who don’t listen or are disruptive or scoff, but read on from v24:

A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.

That is our goal: that, through us, God would change the heart of every young person in our care so that they know the truth and believe it. But more than that… that they would be transformed in every area of their life.

Psalm 15 is a favourite of many, and it’s interesting that it talks so much about how life is lived.

Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord?
Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?
Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right,
speaking the truth from sincere hearts.
Those who refuse to gossip
or harm their neighbors
or speak evil of their friends.
Those who despise flagrant sinners,
and honor the faithful followers of the Lord,
and keep their promises even when it hurts.
Those who lend money without charging interest,
and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent.
Such people will stand firm forever.

So, now I finish where I started… only this time I must answer the question…

My Desire

I desire to be used by God: to be used powerfully and to great effect.

I desire to be used by God: to help find many who are now lost.

I desire to be used by God: to love because I was first loved.

I desire to be used by God, but am I willing to pay the cost?


Written by Mark

October 28, 2008 at 11:41 pm

where’s jesus?

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I’ve been thinking today about the Jesus of the gospels and the church and how everything relates to the community I live in. I think something’s missing from the church, or maybe there’s too much getting in the way.

Reading Luke 8:40-48 and Matthew 9:18-22 has sparked all this off. Here was a woman who was suffering from “a hemorrhage for twelve years” [8:43 NLT], who was marginalised from people and the so-called religious (because she was deemed unclean), who had probably gone through more emotional and physical grief than I can imagine… and who was desperate to get to Jesus, to feel him… no, not even, just grace a touch of his robe.

She needed no invitation. The masses of people crowding round Jesus [c.f. 8:45] blocking him from view, even from reach, did not deter her. The judging glares, cold and stiff shoulders, and callous remarks from those she had to squeeze past to get to Jesus did not dampen her desperation, her utter desperation to get near to Jesus… to reach out and just touch him.

To me, that is such a powerful scene (and damning indictment of my own failing to show Jesus as he is through my own life). I believe that the marginalised in my community are desperate for Jesus, though they might cover it up with a stoicism and/or aversion typical of Northen Irish culture. I believe these precious, dear, created-in-the-image-of-God people long for compassion, friendship, welcome, healing and more… and they lament day and daily that they don’t have it.

How have we so badly savaged the body of Jesus – the church – that it is unrecognisable to those who are crying out for a glimpse of him? Or how have we dressed it up that it is unrecognisable to those who yearn to reach out and touch him and feel his warmth, but not the nice stuff we’ve wrapped around him?

Written by Mark

October 20, 2008 at 11:53 pm

size doesn’t matter

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I’m not long home from my small group. It was excellent tonight! We were studying through Philemon and discussing the theme of inclusiveness in Christian community. We discussed at great length how we thought we did, as a Christian community, at including people and accepting them where they’re at. We then spent about twenty minutes in prayer, which felt so… so *real*… so in touch with the Spirit… at one point the group spontaneously broke into a prophetic song. It was awesome. It was humbling. It was obvious God was in our midst.

I love my small group. I miss it when we don’t meet over the summer break. (Why on earth do we need a break from such refreshing and energising things?!) I’ve been a member of a small group for many years now and I truly believe that they are essential for a healthy church. The intimacy, the accountability, the partnership, the advice, the encouragement, the fun and the genuine concern for health, well-being and spiritual state are all found in my small group. There is just no way that I can conceive of that this sort of pastoring/mentoring/discipleship/shepherding/all those things can be done adequately or even at all in a big church meeting – it’s too impersonal.

More people need to get into these small groups and experience all this. I’m on a mission!

Written by Mark

October 15, 2008 at 11:19 pm

Posted in Church, Personal

protestant nationalism

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I don’t often post about the Orange Order because it is a topic I get very angry about very quickly. However, reading a recent BBC news article has really annoyed me. It highlights a major issue with the Orange Order’s raison d’être. Reverend Stephen Dickinson is quoted in the article as saying, “This [referring to Orange Order demonstrations/marching] is about Protestantism, this is about Britishness.”

Why, oh why, do they so link Protestantism with Britishness?! One is not related to the other in any way. Furthermore it is very dangerous for the church to be (apparently) of a certain political persuasion. This idea is regrettably perpetuated in the media, which refer to Protestants generally as the unionist/loyalist community and Roman Catholics generally as the nationalist/republican community.

What a load of crap! I am a Protestant, yes, but I am not so ignorant or simple-minded as to have my politcal views entrenched in this archaic tribalism. Does the Orange Order believe Protestant Nationalism to be an oxymoron or (dare I suggest it?) even heresy?!

Written by Mark

July 17, 2008 at 9:16 pm