What to my wondering eyes appears on my computer screen a few months back but a big advertisement from something called “Paula White Ministries”. It had that sort of “Oprah” vibe to it that many non-denominational “women’s ministries” do. Unlike the martial vibe one gets from male-run Evangelical outfits that are about “Fighting for the Truth!” and “Making an Impact on This Generation for Jesus Christ!” Oprahfied non-denom women’s ministries tend to make you think of The View or “Cawfee Tawk” or Susan Powter—plus Jesus.
So what’s Paula all about? Well, in her email, she was inadvertently illustrating that Catholic teaching is a boomerang. When you throw some of it away, it tends to come back and hit you in the head from unexpected angles. Permit me to explain.
Ms. White was calling the faithful of her 23,000 strong “Without Walls Church” to celebrate “The Day of Atonement” by "Honoring God’s Sacred Covenant". That would be “Yom Kippur”. That’s right, a Protestant minister is urging her flock to place themselves under the Law of Moses. How does this happen?
As non-denomism becomes more and more restless with the simple bromides of pop Evangelical culture and starts probing into the remote past before the founding of Calvary Chapel, what often arises is a misbegotten attempt to delve into the past by leaping over 2000 years of development of Sacred Tradition. No small number of Evangelicals have the notion that to graft something in Hebrew or Latin into a worship service is to magically be “rooted in history”. Indeed, there has been, for a growing number of non-denom Christians, a fascination with things like the "Jewish roots" movement, which often attempts to re-create the New Testament church through the lens of present-day Jewish life and culture.
Now there is much that is praiseworthy about that. Properly understood, Christianity has not only the right but the responsibility to locate itself squarely in the stream of revelation that begins with Abraham and flows through the Old Testament. It was the heretic Marcion who fancied that Jesus was just kidding when he said he had not come to abolish but fulfill the law and the prophets. The New Testament not only must not be, but cannot be understood apart from the revelation to Israel. But the whole point is (or should be) that this stream of revelation flows into the New Testament and finds its fulfillment in Christ and in the Church he established and guides through history. When that fulfillment occurs, the Church is rightly bidden to turn from the shadow to the reality just as the traveler who seeks to see Seattle is bidden to go to Seattle and not park his car at the road sign reading “Seattle – 50 miles”, build a house, and devote his life to the road sign. As Jesus said to his mistaken contemporaries, “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me” (John 5:39). The Old Testament matters because it is the preparation for Christ. But apart from him, it cannot save. So on the one hand, the Old Testament retains permanent validity for the Church as the inspired word of God which refers us to Christ. But on the other hand, whole letters like Romans, Galatians and Hebrews are written reminding Christians they are not bound by Jewish ceremonial law once the Christ it foreshadows brings the salvation it could only prefigure.
Now, nobody was more alive to this fact than the Protestant Reformers. It was precisely these New Testament texts that formed the basis for lots of Protestant charges of “salvation by works” against the Catholic Church. Protestantism begins with the radical claim to be the authentic force in the world for salvation by grace apart from works of the Law.
And yet now we see the spectacle of quintessentially American Protestant "ministries" urging upon their faithful the celebration of Yom Kippur. And what is more, in a star turn that has caused scientists in Wittenberg to clock the corpse of Martin Luther at more than 2000 RPM, Ms. White tells us:
God's holiest day, the Day of Atonement, is your set time to see 7 specific blessings released in your life:
1. Double Portion (Joel 2:23)
2. Financial Promises (Joel 2:24)
3. Restoration (Joel 2:25)
4. Special Miracles (Joel 2:26)
5. A Divine Presence (Joel 2:27)
6. Blessings for Your Sons and Daughters (Joel 2:28)
7. Deliverance to Whoever Calls on His Name (Joel 2:32)
8. On the Day of Atonement, no one appeared before God empty-handed: "Every man shall give as he is able…" (Deuteronomy 16:16-17).
Don't miss your appointment with God on the Day of Atonement. Stand before the Lord with your very best atonement offering.
Oh, and when you give $60 or more, you get Paula's special Day of Atonement resource package. She even signs her name with a darling little picture of a heart.
Now, I have no problem, as a Catholic, with respecting Jewish celebrations of Yom Kippur. My prayer, of course, is that Jewish folk will see the reality toward which Yom Kippur points: namely the atonement accomplished by Jesus on the cross. However, till that happens, it is better that Jews remain faithful to the light they have than that they become faithless to the covenant. The old covenant can be transcended in Christ but it must not be broken by sin.
But it is loony for Christians–and especially Protestant Christians whose whole raison d'etre is "salvation by grace apart from works of the law"–to now be putting themselves under the Law of Moses again. As Paul hammers home again and again, those who are in Christ are no longer bound by the works of the law. It is one of the great ironies of history that it falls to Catholics to have to remind non-denom Protestants that the Bible says this.