What about the snakes? Worldliness part 2

Dear reader, This is part 2 of a series regarding what it means to be worldly. You can read part 1 here.
A discussion with my mother inspired me to write this post. The discussion began when I had made a comment regarding my 7th-grade religious education class. I had admitted my shock upon discovering that the whole class disagreed with the Church’s stance that marriage is between a man and women. My mom claimed that the kids were acting compassionately so of course, they would disagree. I expressed that I believe that if they continue to follow Christ and continue to be members of the Church, they need to understand and accept the Church’s teachings. My mom argued that one can follow Jesus and not accept everything the Church teaches. However, I pointed out that even Jesus defends the traditional notion of marriage in Mark 10:6-9,

But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [and be joined to his wife], and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.

I argued that even if you explain away what the Old Testament says about marriage or the writings of Paul, you cannot be a follower of Jesus and ignore what he says about marriage. My mom replies, “didn’t Jesus say that we should handle snakes and not die, we don’t follow that.” I must admit I was stumped.

 
Before I begin, I want to stress that Jesus Christ loves you more than you can possibly comprehend or understand. However, because he loves us, Jesus does not want to abandon us nor leave us in our sinful state. He desires very much to elevate you and set you apart from everyone else. Jesus is not a cotton candy individual content with whatever, but instead is a person willing to flip tables and whip the money changers. He changes us so that we can speak the truth in love.  However, one may ask, what is the truth?
Most people agree that Jesus did not abandon us. People disagree, however, on what he left us with. Some people argue that the scriptures provide sufficient authority to determine what is true. This viewpoint cites 2 Timothy 3:16 as evidence,

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Let us for one second apply common sense to this passage. What scripture is Paul talking about? It cannot be the New Testament because at the time of writing that did not exist. It can be the Old Testament; however, that would mean that we cannot use this passage as justification for a reliance on the Bible as a whole for teaching, refutation, correction, or training. We need the full context. 2 Timothy 3:14-15 says,

But you, remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it, and that from infancy you have known [the] sacred scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Timothy is able to be faithful because he knows the people he learned it from; one does not realize the truth from scripture alone rather one receives it from others. Tradition describes the idea of this passing down knowledge. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 describes tradition,

Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.

Paul seems to indicate that the early Christians did not write everything down.
Ok, so at this point, I have hopefully established that one finds truth in both scripture and tradition. However, who’s tradition should we be following? I will show that one should follow the traditions of the Catholic church.
Jesus gave authority to the Apostles especially Peter to establish a church.

And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19)

I am not going to argue whether or not Jesus established his Church on Peter’s revelation regarding Jesus Christ as Lord or Peter himself. I, instead, would like to focus on the part where Jesus gives Peter the keys to the kingdom. According to this passage, whoever has the keys has the power to bind or loosen. This power refers to the ability to define the tradition that should be followed. Acts 15 displays this authority in action. The early Church had to wrestle with whether the Church should force Gentile believers to adhere to Jewish dietary customs and circumcision. The council met and decided the doctrine that Gentiles would follow. The Church made this decision before the canon of scripture had been established.  The Church would repeat the pattern found in Acts 15. The Council of Nicaea occurred in 325 AD to discuss among other things the nature and relationship of Jesus Christ to God the Father. During this Council, The Church developed the doctrine of the Trinity. The Council of Nicaea would also provide a definitive list of books that would encompass the Bible. At 325 Ad, the Catholic church was the only church in existence. I would rather trust the authority of an institution 300 years after Jesus rather than trusting one individual, who’s decision occurred 1600 years after Jesus.
However, one may accept all of this and still object that The Catholic Chruch has become corrupt and that the Church’s doctrine has changed, hence it’s teaching are no longer reliable. People, who make this objection, fail to understand the difference between dogma, doctrine, and discipline.
Dogma is doctrine that has been explicitly defined by the church; an example would be a creed. One can find a list of all dogma here
Doctrine is all the Church’s teachings in matters of faith and morals
Discipline is rules of the Church to establish order.
Doctrines cannot be changed but can evolve. For example, a doctrine of the Church is that God created the world. Whether the church teaches that the Creation account is literal or Theistic Evolution is acceptable, the core fundamental truth that God created us does not change, but our understanding of how God created does change.
An example of a teaching that evolved from doctrine to Dogma is Transubstantiation or the belief that the bread becomes the Body of Christ. In 70 AD The Church wrote a document called the Didache. Here’s what it says about the Eucharist,

As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains, but was brought together and became one, so let thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom, for thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.”
5. But let none eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptised in the Lord’s Name. For concerning this also did the Lord say, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs.”

Hence, as early as 40 years after Jesus (Jesus died around 33 AD), we see the notion that the Eucharist table should be closed and that it is holy. Furthermore, we see the idea that the Church should celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday

On the Lord’s Day of the Lord come together, break bread and hold Eucharist, after confessing your transgressions that your offering may be pure

The Church’s understanding of the Eucharist would remain unchallenged until 1088 AD. The early church fathers all believed in the real presence of Christ. In 155 AD, Justin Martyr wrote,

And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.

I am using the Eucharist as an example of how over time the Church can clarify a doctrine to the point, where it becomes Dogma.
Disciplines relate to practices of the Church that are not related to the teaching of the Apostles. These include things like the language of the Mass or whether a priest can be married. Vatican II changed a lot of disciplines of the Catholic church, but it did not change any doctrine.
In conclusion, the Bible did not develop in isolation. In order to properly understand it, you need to understand the tradition. In other words, you need the authority of the Catholic church.

What about the snakes.

So now that I have established and defended the Catholic church’s authority over biblical interpretation, we can see what the Church says about snake handling. The passage is Mark 16:14-18

[But] later, as the eleven were at table, he appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised. He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents [with their hands], and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

According to Catholic commentary on Holy Scripture,

The promise [of miraculous signs] is made to the community of the faithful rather than to each individual believer. In the early days of the Church, possibly because a greater need for extraordinary signs in order to move a sceptical and hostile world to which the Gospel and Church was still new, some of these manifestations of miraculous power were more frequent than in later times. But Christ’s promise is not limited to a particular period. In every age miracles have given proof that Christ abides with the Church.

If you read my blog on Baptism of the Holy Spirit then you may recall that the Church has never advocated for a cessation of miracles, but the Church cautiously endorses them. However, we are to be mindful not to put our God to the test. We should never seek out miracles, for the sake of miracles. Those, who go out of their way to handle snakes do exactly that. Is there evidence that early church fathers survived snake bites? Yes, even in the Bible. Acts 28:3-6 describes an instance where a person survived a snake bite,

Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire when a viper, escaping from the heat, fastened on his hand. When the natives saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “This man must certainly be a murderer; though he escaped the sea, Justice has not let him remain alive.” But he shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no harm. They were expecting him to swell up or suddenly to fall down dead but, after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.

If you want to be a follower of Christ, then you cannot reject any of Christ’s claims. One such claim was to give the Apostles the power to bind and loosen. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, The Catholic Church has taken on this responsibility. The Catholic Church has been consistent in its doctrine. The choice is yours; will you choose to follow Christ and the Church Christ founded, or continue to follow the interpretations of man and the world?

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One Comment

  1. So basically, handling of snakes is an example of a miracle and you should not go looking for miracles….they just happen if you are faithful. I get that. Good job explaining this. I enjoyed reading this post. Thanks.

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