Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: genuine faith

A pure faith

Catholic originally meant a faith accessible to all people, in all countries, in all eras. Early in the Christian era, imperial pretensions developed in the church at Rome toward other churches in the empire.

That process sped up when Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313, granting religious freedom in the Roman empire. Again it was a gradual process, but by the next century the only freedom left was to be a member of the Roman Catholic Church.

Augustine of Hippo aided that process (he died in 430). He borrowed the determinism of Greek philosophy, Stoicism in particular, and interpreted it to mean that God has predestined certain people to salvation. Since only God knew the identity of those predestined to salvation, the church should compel all people within reach to become church members. The church ceased to be a company of the redeemed, but the body which ministered the grace of God to believers and unbelievers alike through the sacraments.

As soon as the Church of Rome began to deviate from being a company of the redeemed, there were churches who stood aside and would have no fellowship with that body which they deemed to be corrupt. People gave them many names, one that stuck for centuries was Cathar, meaning pure.

The Roman Catholic Church tried to wipe out the Cathars. Sometimes local officials acted as a buffer between the Cathars and the demands of the imperial church.

That changed in the 11th century when Gregory VII became pope (1073 – 1085). He believed that God had entrusted the church with embracing all of human society, giving it supreme authority over all human structures. He concentrated all church authority in Rome. He decreed that all priests and members of religious orders must be celibate. This was not mandatory before Gregory. He also reinforced the teaching that when a priest consecrated the bread and wine of the mass, they became the real body and blood of Jesus.

The church grew stronger and the empire weaker. Pope Gregory asserted his authority over the monarch of the Holy Roman empire. The church instituted the Inquisition and the Crusades to eliminate all dissent from the catholic church within the empire.
There is little information for earlier years, but the records of the Inquisition bring to light a network of churches in Languedoc, a region of southern France. We know these churches as Albigensians, from one of the larger towns in Languedoc, or more often as Cathars.

The Roman Catholic Church accused Cathars of non-Christian beliefs and practices. French historian Anne Brenon has researched the documents of the Inquisition. Rather than accept the accusations of the persecutors, she has looked for the responses made by the Cathars. The picture that emerges reveals a people living peacefully among catholics and others who did not share their faith. Until the Inquisition this posed no problems to anyone.

The Bible was the foundation of the Cathar faith; they rejected all other writings, including of the Roman Catholic church fathers. They claimed to be the true successors of the apostolic church, recognized only two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper and were remarkable for the purity of their lives. When the catholic church launched a crusade against them, they did not take up arms to defend themselves. However, the local authorities, who were often close friends, or even family members, attempted to prevent the massacre of the Cathars by armed combat. The Cathars of Languedoc had links to the Waldensians, and some fled to them for refuge from the persecution.

Anne Brenon has spent decades researching the Cathars. I am reading Cathares, le contre-enquête. Anne Brenon writes that she is an unbeliever, disillusioned with contemporary manifestations of what passes for Christianity. Yet the genuine faith of the Cathar people of many centuries ago touches and inspires her.

Cathares, la contre-enquête,  Anne Brenon and Jean-Philippe de Tonnac, © Éditions Albin Michel, 2011

Context for apologetics

Happy are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Happy are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12).

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers trials; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (James 1:2-4)

If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. (1 Peter 4:14).

But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;  But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: (1 Peter 3:14-15).

These verses describe the context in which we are apt to be called upon to give an answer (apologia) for the hope that is in us. It is when we encounter persecution, slander, reproaches and trials and we are able to maintain an attitude of peace, joy and happiness. That is sure to cause some questions. Perhaps they will not all be expressed, and some might even question our sanity, But if our attitude of happiness and joy is genuine and lasting it will bring questions.

Happiness that is put on as a mask will not have the same effect. The mask will eventually slip; in many cases it will be obvious from the beginning that it is phony. My wife and I attended the wedding of one of her friends, the preacher had a big grin pasted on his face through the whole proceedings. My wife finally leaned over and whispered, “I bet he would wear that same stupid grin if he were preaching a funeral service.”

Our happiness must be the genuine thing, a supernatural happiness that is the gift of the Holy Ghost, or we will have no answer to give. We are not apt to be questioned about our hope either if we do not have a genuine and living hope.

Thus the primary qualification for doing apologetics is to be a real Christian. And if we are a real Christian, we do not have to fear being asked a reason of the hope that is in us, with meekness and fear. Note those last words that the apostle adds. It is not up to us to convince someone by the force of our arguments; we only have to speak of that which we have received from God, with gentle assurance.

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