The Sign of the Cross

I found this blog recently through a series of other blogs’ links written by a man who I think has been an Evangelical pastor and is considering the Catholic Church.

He posted recently about a meeting he had at a coffee shop with a fellow Evangelical pastor and a very interesting exchange when confronted with (what is today considered) a large family coming into the coffee shop, and then, surprise, them making the sign of the Cross.

It reminded me of two instances in my life when I was in a similar place to this pastor: I was an Evangelical, going to a Southern Baptist Convention church, but I had started thinking about all the different Christian denominations and beliefs and how Jesus did not want us to believe things that aren’t true.

The first instance was hearing the pastor at my church give us a sermon where he was asked by a hospitalized church member to come and pray over him and anoint him with oil, as it says in the book of James, chapter 5:

“He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.”

My pastor said: “Sure enough, I looked it up, and it’s right there in the Bible just like he said, so, I didn’t really know what to do, but I went to the hospital and took some oil with me, and then, well, I poped him!” (This “poped him” statement was made with the pastor making the gesture of the sign of the Cross over the hospitalized man.)

Raucous, sustained laughter and applause from my dear old Baptist congregation followed. I would have found it funny, too, if I had not begun to consider that the Catholic Church may well be what it claimed to be and therefore that the Pope really was the direct successor of St. Peter, given authority by Christ and to whom He gave the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.

What is interesting about this event? Well, this church claims to believe in the Bible alone as the sole source of revelation and rule of their faith, sola scriptura, but, my pastor had never done what St. James said he should do before, that is, pray over a sick parishioner and anoint them with oil; in fact, my pastor knew that this was something that only the Catholics did, perhaps even knew that this was one of the seven sacraments of the Church.

So he did what the Catholic Church does and has done for 2,000 years: He made the sign of the Cross on him with the oil and prayed over him.

The second instance occurred around this same time as I was becoming more convinced of the Catholic Church’s claims. I was living with three Evangelical friends in an apartment (during college). I was bold enough to make the sign of the Cross after our prayer together before eating my meal. One of my friends kind of snorted and asked: “What was that thing?” as he parodied the sign of the Cross.

I explained to him what it was, a calling to mind of Christ’s crucifixion and death for our salvation, something Christians had been doing throughout the centuries even from the apostolic times, but which our church had excised a few hundred years ago. He looked at me funny and made a comment about how it looked strange to him.

I loved my dear friend and understood that this was something foreign to him. It was the same thing for my pastor. I made many attempts to explain my exploration of Christianity with them and to invite them to join me in simply exploring it, learning about our faith and its history, but they were not able to at that point in their lives.

Two of them have now graduated from Evangelical seminaries and one of them is leading a Baptist congregation in Houston. We no longer communicate with each other, sadly. But I look forward to seeing them again in Heaven one day, when all of our differences will be corrected and we will be united fully as brothers in our Lord’s family.

How Can I, Unless Someone Instructs Me?

Those were the words of the Ethiopian eunuch to Philip in Acts, chapter 8 of the Bible.

The eunuch was reading from the prophet Isaiah, and the Holy Spirit prompted Philip to ask him if he understood what he was reading. “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” was his honest answer.

This Sunday’s Gospel reading is the revelatory passage in Luke where the Sadducees attempt to prove to Jesus that men will never be resurrected from the dead. Jesus tells them something different, and in Luke 20:34 explains that when we die and meet God in Heaven, we will be like the angels, neither married nor given in marriage.

How does Jesus back up this statement? Well, the fact is that He doesn’t need to because He is God and has been given full authority from the Father, but nonetheless, he knows the Sadducees relied on the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, so He met them on their level and gave them evidence from the Pentateuch.

What evidence? Jesus reminded them of Exodus chapter 3, where Moses meets God in the form of a burning bush (that paradoxically is not consumed by the fire). The Sadducees have no doubt heard this passage hundreds of times in their lives, so which part did Jesus quote? This one: “I am the God of your father,” he continued, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.”

Jesus explains it this way: “That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called ‘Lord’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

The point I want to make in this post, and how this second example with Jesus relates to the first one with Philip and the eunuch, is that we as Christians need to have the Scriptures opened up to us and explained to us–we cannot simply read it ourselves and figure out the fullness of the Truth that Jesus has revealed.

Why not? Well, look at the passage Jesus quoted. If Jesus had not used that passage directly to explain that people do not die in God’s eyes when their bodies die but rather they live forever (ultimately either in Heaven with God or in Hell with themselves), I cannot imagine that passage being used as a proof text for the truth of the resurrection of the dead. By itself, the connection from the passage to Jesus’ conclusion is too obscure.

However, Jesus tells us the truth about life, death, and the resurrection by using this passage like so:

  1. God said he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, men who have all been “dead” for hundreds of years
  2. God is not the God of dead people, but living people
  3. Therefore Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must still be alive

We can then deduce the following easily: Because we know that these men are dead in the sense we normally use it, that is, their hearts do not beat anymore and they are buried in the ground somewhere, they must be alive in a different way with God right now. Their spirits must be with God and thus they are still alive.

Further, we know from revelation, including this passage, that one day God will reunite their spirits with their bodies, but their bodies will be glorified, resurrection bodies, the seed of which was their earthly bodies.

Because Jesus uses this passage to explain the truth of the resurrection, we can see how the passage does support his claim, but by ourselves we could not have figured that out. It makes me wonder, how many other passages are there in the Old (and New) Testament that are hiding gems of brilliant, revealed truth?

It calls to mind the disciples on the road to Emmaus after Christ’s own resurrection: “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he [Jesus] interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures.” (Luke 24).

He lovingly rebuked the disciples just prior to this passage about how slow they were to believe all that the prophets spoke.

Only God could reveal all of these truths to us, and thankfully He has, bit by bit over the centuries. Attacks have come against Him and the Truth in every age, and yet, even when things looked most dire, for example, when in His Church there were many bishops following the Arian heresy, the Holy Spirit has prevailed, guiding His Church into all truth (John 16), as Jesus promised he would.