Brandon's Notepad

January 21, 2017

Scottish Cathedral Permits Koranic Recitation


News broke last week about a cathedral in Scotland that permitted the recitation of a Surah from al Qur’an during the evening Epiphany service. To be clear, this was the Episcopal (i.e. Anglican) Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, not the Presbyterian (i.e. Church of Scotland) Glasgow Cathedral. I soon found some still photos and then the video on YouTube (the highest-quality copy of which has since been removed). In them a young Muslim woman stands at a lectern shaped like an eagle as she sings in Arabic. Just beyond her sit a priest and the chancel choir in the transept of a beautiful old church. The sacred vessels are prepared and the rood screen adorned with strands of twinkling electric Christmas lights.

At first, I took this to mean that the Gospel reading (at what Catholics and many Anglicans would call a “Mass”) had been replaced with the Koranic account of the Annunciation and Nativity of Jesus, which is found in the nineteenth Surah (chapter) titled Maryam (Mary). This would, of course, undermine the very purpose of attending the Service, which is to hear the Word of God, receive some practical instruction in the faith based on those readings (the sermon), give thanks to God for his salvific work through his Son (the Eucharist), and then be sent out into the world to proclaim the good news to others. The Gospel message rests at the core of this mission. It is unthinkable to supplant the very basis of a Christian’s work with a non-Christian text.

Thankfully, this was not the case. True, the recitation was made during the Eucharistic service at Epiphany, but according to Provost Kelvin Holdsworth’s blog, the Eucharistic service carried on as usual: the expression of the community’s faith in Christ, the recitation of the Nicene Creed, and the proclamation of Christ’s divinity in the Eucharistic prayers. According to Holdsworth, the purpose for allowing the recitation was not to incorporate a teaching or form of worship from another religion into their own, but to make the Muslims who were visiting for that specific celebration to feel welcome and comfortable in the church. “Frankly, we think it is a good thing that Muslims are coming to church and hearing us proclaim the Gospel of Christ.” he writes. “No-one pretends that Muslims and Christians believe the same things. We know that Muslims don’t believe in the divinity of Christ – that’s a known and accepted fact. It isn’t surprising. […] We don’t do syncretism, we do hospitality.” Besides extending hospitality, the recitation also seems to have created opportunities for open dialogue between the Muslim and Christian congregants. Holdsworth adds that the recitation of selections from al Qur’an during Christian worship services is rare, but not unheard of, noting that it had been done a few years earlier in the very same Cathedral in the presence of the Bishop during a Lessons and Carols service without nearly the same amount of publicity or backlash.

And there certainly has been backlash. This service, “regarded locally as a good event” according to Holdsworth, was subsequently reported to the general online audience in a very negative way, giving rise to many hateful responses, including serious threats against the safety of the clergy and people of Saint Mary’s Cathedral. Considering that these responses were described by Holdsworth as Islamophobic, it can only be assumed that the majority of them came from Christians angered by the Cathedral’s actions. Indeed, highly-critical opinions of this event are not difficult to find on YouTube and other sites, and Christians seem to be the ones complaining about it. It seems quite ironic that those most concerned about Muslim violence against Christians would resort to threats of violence themselves. This can hardly be considered an appropriate Christian response.

One of the chief complaints that I have seen is that the Surah that was recited that Epiphany evening is particularly anti-Christian…which is actually a fairly accurate claim. Surah 19 begins with the annunciation stories of Zechariah and Mary, similar to what is found in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, followed by some mention of Old Testament Prophets, and then a foretelling of Paradise for the righteous and the judgement and punishment in which all non-believers are condemned to a fiery eternity. One of the worst things the unbelievers proclaim about God is that he had begotten a son, because having children is something that creatures do and it is not fitting for God to have a son. Well, that’s exactly what Christians do proclaim, isn’t it? I don’t know Arabic, so I couldn’t tell for myself which verses marked the beginning and the end of the recitation, but so far I have found several blogs claim that it ended with verse 36, which is at the end of the Marian narrative. Verse 35 is the first of two that state that God should not have a son (the other being verse 92) and was therefore included.

And what does the Anglican Church have to say? Only a day or two after the Epiphany service made Internet headlines, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, a prominent figure within the Anglican Communion and expert on Christian-Muslim relations, publicly condemned the practice of reading al Qur’an during Christian worship services and even called for disciplinary action for those involved at St. Mary’s Cathedral. He plainly explains that the Surah in question promotes the nontrinitarian heresy of adoptionism, this is, the belief that Jesus was not a true son of God, but merely adopted. This heresy has been around since the Second Century. Nazir-Ali’s condemnation brings us full-circle, back the the mission of the Church and the original purpose of the Eucharistic service.

Finally, on January 13th, the Scottish Episcopal Church released a statement on the matter, first recognizing the importance of interfaith work and then pledging to explore ways to strengthen interfaith relations in the context of worship. Regarding the specific controversy at St. Mary’s, however, the Primus is leaving that up to Provost Holdsworth and the Cathedral’s faith community.

September 21, 2014

Crucifying Jesus All Over Again

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Have you ever been told that the Roman Catholic Church crucifies Christ over and over again with each celebration of the Mass? I really don’t mean to rant, but…

I’m tired of hearing other Christians preach that Catholics crucify Jesus ‘again’ in the celebration of the Mass. After all, it is plainly stated in the Bible that Jesus died on the cross once for all for the forgiveness of sins, and that no new sacrifice can be made. (Hebrews 6-10; yes, read it all) I think these other Christians would do well to read the first seven books of Leviticus, where they would learn that not all sacrifices decreed by God were for the atonement of sin. If the Mass (specifically, the Eucharist) was intended to be a sacrifice for atonement, then I would agree that the Church missed the mark somewhere along the way; however, the Mass is not a sacrifice for atonement at all, but one of thanksgiving. That is what the Greek word eucharsitia means. Atonement could only be made by Jesus, but we celebrate in the sacrificial feast at his command.

In reading these chapters, they might also learn that sacrifices are not simple affairs. A fellowship offering, for example, can include not only an animal sacrifice (Lev 3), but also an offering of loaves of bread (Lev 7:11-21). Two Jewish celebrations that together commemorate their liberation from slavery in Egypt, the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, fit this pattern. The Paschal Lamb must be eaten on the night of the sacrifice, but the feast is perpetuated for seven days through the consumption of bread prepared for this purpose. Likewise Jesus died on the cross to free mankind from the bondage of sin, and perpetuated for all time the feast at the last supper using a very special bread (c.f. John 6). It must be perpetuated for all time because it is the final atonement. Paul asks rhetorically, “is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ [and] is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16 NIV) Indeed, the sacrifice of Jesus is complete; therefore, let us keep the feast.

For anyone who has never encountered anti-Catholic rhetoric on a grand scale, please read The Mass Insults Jesus Christ. The author relies heavily on the same chapters from Hebrews that I reference above, though the verses have been taken out of context and contorted to “support” his thesis. Of all of the holes in his argument, I will expound upon one for the sake of illustration. Toward the bottom of the first large section, Hebrews 6:6 is quoted (I love how he makes sure the reader knows that the text is from the NAB, as though he caught Catholics contradicting their own Bible). This quote is then followed by his own analysis (emphasis retained):

Notice, in this last Scripture, St. Paul’s statement that repentance is impossible for anyone who is continually recrucifying Jesus Christ again and again! Jesus Christ died once and for all [eternally]. He is not to be recrucified again and again for any reason. As long as He is being so recrucified, it is impossible to come to repentance. Therefore, any person who continually practices the Mass cannot be saved as long as they continue!!

Read that same passage (which actually begins with verse 4, by the way) in the NIV translation (used heavily by Protestants) and you will find that it obviously means something totally different from what the author suggests. The falling away refers to apostasy. True repentance of sin is impossible for he who had once been filled with the Spirit and the fire of Christ but who has since rejected him altogether (e.g. became atheist or something other than Christian). In other words, it’s not possible to reignite that fire genuinely if it has been purposely put out once already. To try is to crucify Jesus again. And while I understand that the author considers Catholicism as a “falling away” from “true enlightenment”, his analysis of the text is just plain wrong. There is no mention of the Mass whatsoever (except perhaps the reference to tasting the heavenly gift in verse 4), nor is there any word indicating that the recrucifying is a “continual” process (yes, I checked the Greek to be sure). What’s more, the tone of finality in the passage doesn’t jive with the author’s notion that (reading between the lines here with tongue planted firmly in cheek), if those Catholics would just stop going to Mass, then maybe some of them could finally repent and be saved!

August 4, 2014

Eucharistic Theologies In Luke & John

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I happened upon the Wikipedia article for Eucharistic theology one day and read the explanations of the opposing views regarding the Lord’s Supper. The Words of Institution came to mind and I pondered how it can be that different Christian sects disagree so vehemently on the word “is” (as in “this is my body”). I thought it would be interesting to see how the text of Luke 22:19 might change to better support these various theologies, especially since so many people rely on a strict literalistic interpretation of Scripture. I later decided to look at John 6:59 as well.

The Original Language

Here are the words from Luke 22:19 on which the Words of Institution are derived:

And taking bread, he gave thanks, and brake; and gave to them, saying: This is my body, which is given for you. Do this for a commemoration of me. -Luke 22:19 (Douay Rheims)

The words of Jesus in John 6:59 are from what Catholics call the Eucharistic discourse:

This is the bread that came down from heaven. […] He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever. -John 6:59 (Douay Rheims)

I chose the Douay Rheims translation, because I preferred the phrase “for a commemoration” over the more common “in memory of”. It is closer to the Latin “hoc facite in meam commemorationem” (“do this as a memorial to me”), which sounds far more ceremonial. It’s like declaring an annual parade in someone’s honor as opposed to merely paying respects in an occasional graveside visit. Some folks use “in memory of” to downplay the importance of the Mass, so I thought it best to dispense of this issue immediately by using the traditional language.

Interpretive Modifications

Now, let’s modify the language in these two verses to better express the nuances of each of the Eucharistic Theologies. In the first verse, I’ve added the noun “bread” in brackets, as we must assume that the antecedent to which the demonstrative “this” refers is the bread that he broke.

Transubstantiation. This is the belief that the bread transforms into the real presence of Jesus. The substance changes, but not the form.

…This [bread] has become my body…
This has become the bread that came down from heaven.

The modified language shifts the focus to emphasize that a change has occurred, but it does not alter the fundamental reality that the bread (whatever it once was) is (now) the Body of Christ. One may choose “became” (past indicative) over “has become” (perfect indicative), but the result is the same.

Consubstantiation. This is the belief that the real presence of Jesus comes down into the bread, but that the bread itself does not change in substance or in form. It simply continues to be bread.

…This [bread] is with my body…
This is the bread that is with my body that came down from heaven.

In both verses, the body is no longer the object of a “to be” verb as in the original text, but the object of a preposition.

Sacramental Union. Similar to consubstantiation, this belief asserts that the bread, while retaining its form, enters into union with the body of Jesus, who is present at the meal. The union is predicated on the action of consuming the bread, but not on the faith of the person consuming it.

…This [bread] is united with my body…
This is the bread that is united with my body that came down from heaven.

The verb has been changed altogether.

Objective Reality. Generally speaking, those who hold this view believe that the bread is transformed, but that the transformation is a mystery that need be neither understood nor scrutinized.

…This [bread] is now my body, just don’t ask me how
This is now the bread that came down from heaven…and I said, don’t ask.

These modifications imply that there was a change without explicitly saying so.

Pneumatic (Mystical) Presence. According to this view, the presence of Jesus’ body is real in the same way it is real in sacramental union, but only for those who have faith.

…This [bread] is united with my body if you choose to believe it is when you eat it
This is the bread that is united with my body that came down from heaven, but only if you eat and believe.

This places not one, but two conditions on the real presence, neither of which are even implied in the “is” of the original text.

Memorialism. This is not a belief in the real presence of Jesus’ body. The original text is considered to be pure metaphor.

…This [bread] is a symbol of my body…
This is a symbol of me, who came down from heaven.

The reference to bread in the second verse (as an object of the “to be” verb) has to be removed to make this view fit the text.

Suspension. Some believe that the Lord’s Supper was a one-time-only event, that the instruction to do this was directed only at the disciples at the table. Those who hold this view do not believe that Jesus was instituting a commemoration or memorial at all. What Jesus did that night at supper could be reflected in any of the above, or could remain a complete mystery. The Wikipedia article is silent on the meaning of “is” in this case, so we cannot modify the language in our verses for this one.


All of the theologies examined above (save the last one perhaps) can be clarified by modifying the words of Luke and John; however, only transubstantiation requires no qualification. Its meaning can rest solely on the “is” found in the Scriptures.

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