You May Remember the Reformation

What to my wondering eyes appears on my computer screen today but a big advertisement from something called "Paula White Ministries." It has that sort of Oprah vibe to it that many non-denominational women’s ministries do. Unlike the martial sense one gets from male-run Evangelical outfits that are about "Fighting for the Truth!" and "Making an Impact on This Generation for Jesus Christ!," Oprah-fied non-denominational 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, at present, she is 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.
Let me explain.
Ms. White is 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-denominationalism 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 jump in by leaping over 2,000 years of development of Sacred Tradition. No small number of Evangelicals has 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-denominational 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 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" (Jn 5:39).

Running Back to the Law?

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 that 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.{mospagebreak}
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 2,000 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:
  • Double Portion (Joel 2:23)
  • Financial Promises (Joel 2:24)
  • Restoration (Joel 2:25)
  • Special Miracles (Joel 2:26)
  • A Divine Presence (Joel 2:27)
  • Blessings for Your Sons and Daughters (Joel 2:28)
  • Deliverance to Whoever Calls on His Name (Joel 2:32)
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.
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: 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’être is "salvation by grace apart from works of the law" — to now be putting themselves under the Law of Moses. 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.

Mark P. Shea is the senior editor of and a columnist for

Mark P. Shea


Mark P. Shea is the author of Mary, Mother of the Son and other works. He was a senior editor at Catholic Exchange and is a former columnist for Crisis Magazine.

  • John

    Just because someone celebrate a Jewish festival does not mean that they are putting themselves under the law of Moses. It is only wrong if one is told that they are sinning if they do not celebrate the festival. Which brings to mind Lent. If one does not fast during Lent or on Fridays, are they sinning? If they are sinning, are they sinning against God or against the church. Didn’t Jesus free us from such observances?