Saturday, December 25, 1999

Christmas Letter 1999 - Mary Christ Mass

Stan & Pam Williams
Northville, MI

Merry Christmas 1999

Dear Friends and Relations,

(Pam writes.) Hi! We are still here. God has sustained us another year on planet earth! And it is our joy to live in the salvation of our God that is being celebrated at this time of year, and also to hear from you as to the blessings He has worked in your lives in the year of our Lord 1999.

January. By God's grace, Stan's love and care, and all of your prayers, I felt well enough after chemotherapy for lymphoma cancer to return to Clarenceville Middle School teaching Life Skills (drugs, sex, careers, first aid, health,… all the good stuff).

February. I completed my radiation treatments (Yeah!) and added more hours at work. Thank you to all for cards, books, visits, and prayers sent my way.

March. Stan and I traveled with my parents to Josh's final home basketball game in Annapolis. Go Navy! And many thanks to the Sponsor families who supported and nurtured Josh through the USNA.

April. Tom, my special brother, came to talk to my classes as part of people appreciation. He did such a good job and the kids loved him so much that he has already returned this year twice. Thanks, Tom!

May. The whole family joined us in Annapolis for Josh's graduation from the Naval Academy and his wedding three days later in the Naval Academy Chapel to his high school sweetheart, Christin Glovak.

June & July. Stan and I continued our five year search for an affordable sailboat with headroom. We had managed to do 90% of this shopping together. However, it was on one of Stan's solo business trips to San Diego in July that he spied the boat that was to end our shopping. He sealed the deal on the spot.

August. We became the long-awaited owners of a 41' sea-going ketch, which we affectionately named "Family Ties," hoping it would unite our family and friends with many fond hours on board. To bring "Family Ties" to a marina in Detroit, Stan had to dismantle and pack her in San Diego, in preparation for the trip across the states by truck to Detroit. Stan wrote an article about the whole process, complete with pictures, which was published in the January 2000 issue of "Cruising World Magazine." (Check it out!) Upon arrival in Detroit, we worked together to make her seaworthy again. My dad, brother, and even my mom helped with many of the readiness tasks. Thanks, everyone! Aunt Hope, Uncle Burt, and Tom braved an adventurous sail on the Detroit River, and, Trudy and Steve are waiting at the top of the reservation list for a sail next summer. At the end of the month, I started another year teaching the fun stuff.

September. April left her job at Childtime and started a full load of classes at Madonna University to complete a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education. She'll live at home until her graduation. Josh and Christin moved to Athens, GA, where Josh is attending Supply School for 6 months. His orders from there are not certain, but the Navy could send them anywhere in the world, including the possibility of ship duty (without Christin) for 6 months at a time.

October. Trudy hosted her annual Crises Pregnancy Information Center Banquet with ease, while husband, Steve, pulled all the loose ends together, including rescuing the main speaker from his late flight at Metro Airport, and whisking him to the banquet on time. This month we also learned that Aunt Hope had cancer which put her on almost the identical schedule of chemo and radiation that I had last year. (Please pray with us for her final chemo treatment on Tues.,Dec. 28, and her continued strength to fight the battle. She is strong, spiritually and physically, especially for a woman of 84, but the treatments take their toll, and prayer makes such a difference.)

November. We were all together for an early Thanksgiving at the Glovaks'. They have been our friends since before Josh and Christin were an item, but it is fun to be formally connected now. Besides, Christin's mom, Jan, loves to cook, and we all benefit from that special gift.

December. Stan finished a proposal for a PBS documentary on the Catholic-Protestant debate as well as a spec script for "Touched by an Angel." Both have been long-term projects of many prayerful hours, seemingly driven by divine motivation, so their completion comes with a sense of anticipation as to their use. Only God knows from here.

Now, here we are, thinking back on this past year, thanking God for his many mercies and blessings in this Christmas season and as we approach the arrival of the year 2000.

Did you realize that the reason we call it 2000 is because of Christmas, too? Without the Church that Christ established, we would not have the dating system we have today. It was the Church that based dating upon the coming to earth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, 2000 years ago–the most significant event in all of human history. Man is truly without excuse when he looks at this global acceptance of recording time–AD, anno Domini (the year of our Lord). God has spoken so emphatically to get our attention.

Things we've learned this year about Christmas.

(Pam.) The fact that Christmas is celebrated globally is another phenomenal way that God has commanded the attention of the whole world to the birth of His Son. Even if some people don't understand the real reason to celebrate, those who refuse to celebrate it do understand…it is written in its name, Christ's Mass, so there can be no mistake. The first of those two words is what most of the world has disregarded…Christ. For Christians, of course, Christ is the focus of worship. He is the Messiah–God birthed among us. He came to save us through his wholly divine and wholly human sacrifice. He redeems us from the devil, from man's sin in the Garden, and from our sin everyday. So important is this birthing of Jesus, Son of God, son of Mary, that the Church proclaimed a feast day for us to celebrate on December 25 of each year.

But the second word in Christmas is the one that many Christians have disregarded…Mass. The Mass is the liturgical service established by the Apostles and Early Church Fathers to worship Christ.
(Stan interrupts.) It's easy to confirm that the form of the Mass and its function, which Catholics celebrate daily, has not changed much in 1900 years. And that's good. What is said and done in the Mass is what the Apostles (through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) ask us to do. We had heard that the Mass had roots in the Jewish celebration of the Sabbath (Shabbat). But just yesterday we saw proof. Pam came across the Shabbat invocation in a Jewish publication. As Pam read it aloud goose bumps attacked our spines–the words were the same as those said during the invocation of The Celebration of the Eucharist in the Mass. By the way Shabbat means "a sweet taste of heaven" and the Mass has the same intention and direction.

(Back to Pam.) For me, Christmas has come to mean not only worshiping Christ, but worshiping Him in the Mass. The annual Christ's Mass (December 25 in the Western Church) is a special Mass that celebrates Christ's birth. But, the Mass is the central focus every day for Catholics of their devotion to Christ, because the central focus of the Mass is The Eucharist in which Christ is present.
(Pam.) Over the last two years we've realized how much criticism is directed toward Catholicism by Evangelicals. The amazing thing is that well educated Catholics don't return the favor even when Evangelicals make erroneous claims. Why aren't Catholics defensive or condemning toward other denominations? We think one reason is that Catholics have such great confidence in their doctrine due to the unique way it's been determined. It's unlike anything we've seen in any other Christian denomination.

(Stan writes.) The process by which Catholic doctrine is developed is an easy confidence builder. It starts by realizing that all Scripture must be interpreted. Sounds simple enough. But the key question is: Whose interpretation are you going to use? If there was an injury car accident and you were on the jury, whose testimony would you believe: those individuals who were present at the scene of the accident, or individuals who heard and read about the accident months later. While Protestant (Pt.) and Evangelical (Ev.) doctrine is based first on Catholic Doctrine, Protestants and Evangelicals have added and changed a plethora of doctrine based on the interpretations of their various church founders who lived hundreds and thousands years after the events. The Lutherans have Luther's interpretation, the Presbyterians look to the interpretations of John Calvin, and the Free Methodists use the interpretations of B.T. Roberts and his cohorts. But the Catholic Church is different. It's based resolutely on the interpretations of the Early Church Fathers (ECF)–the men who were taught by the Apostles. This foundation is known as Apostolic Tradition. Any new belief or practice that comes along, which is contrary to ECF interpretation is always rejected. In 1076, Pope Gregory VII wrote to another bishop what the church has believed from the beginning concerning the development of Catholic Doctrine:
"Your Prudence may learn with absolute certainty not from yourself but from the unanimous opinion of the holy fathers. Whenever we have rendered judgment in church affairs we have preserved and followed their decrees, not putting forth novelties or things of our own devising but carrying out in practice what they proclaimed through the Holy Spirit." (Gregory VI, Oct. 28, 1076 in a letter to Bishop Henry of LiƩge).
Christ knew there would be heretics and all manner of attractive people that would come along and point to the Scriptures and proclaim, "This is what the Bible means, not that…look, I can prove it to you with Scripture." In logic we call this "circular reasoning." It's a fallacy. So, Christ in his infinite wisdom, gives a select body of ordained individuals the Holy Spirit and a promise. Look at John 20:22-23 and the tight connection between the Holy Spirit and the promise of infallibility. "Jesus breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'" Without such an ordination that passes the infallible power of the Holy Spirit into the doctrine-making equation, you have heresy or spurious doctrine at best.

St. Paul makes it clear in two N.T. verses that the basis of truth is not just Scripture but also the interpretation rendered by the Church. In 2 Thess. 2:15 Paul writes, "So then brethren, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter." This says there are things taught by the Apostles and the ECF which were not written down, but were traditions, things passed on as truth.

The next question is, "What then is the pillar and bulwark (or protector) of the truth?" As an Evangelical-Protestant my first answer would have been "Christ!" But, Christ IS the truth, he's not the instrument that protects and interprets the truth. My second answer as an Evangelical-Protestant would have been "The Bible!" But the Bible says something different. St. Paul, in writing to Timothy says that the "pillar and bulwark of the truth" is the Church (1 Timothy 3:15).

So throughout the centuries (from 70 A.D. to the present) whenever Scriptures seem ambiguous in the face of potential heretical teachings, the Church looks to how the ECF interpreted the Word of God. It was based on this Apostolic Tradition that the Church knew when to clarify a doctrine or when to reject a belief as heresy. Without Apostolic Tradition founders of new denominations (from Lutheran onward) were forced to use some other basis of interpretation. With no standard or fundamental interpretive basis, thousands of denominations sprang up, just the sort of thing Christ was trying to stop by giving Peter the keys to the kingdom in John 20.

(Pam.) I love the way I was raised. My parents were the absolute best and still are to this day. They were the first to teach me about Jesus. So, when I heard the salvation message about Christ's crucifixion and resurrection told in a flannel-graph at a Bible Club in my public school at age 8, I accepted His sacrifice for me and became a Christian. Two years later my family switched from the Baptist Church to the Free Methodist Church, and that is where Stan and I met with a similar understanding of the Scriptures.

(Stan & Pam.) From this upbringing, we thought we knew the Bible inside and out and were living the Gospel message in our lives. Then we met up with the Full Gospel people of Bethesda Missionary Temple, later the Assemblies of God, and after that the Missionary Alliance that was soon to become independent Restoration Fellowship. There were also times when we attended Lutheran, Vineyard, Presbyterian, Episcopal, independent seeker and the late-comer Charismatic-Orthodox churches. Each time we thought we had found the fullness of the Christian message or at least something that suited our taste.

(Pam.) But it was not until Stan wanted to investigate the Catholic Church that what "we believed" became secondary to what might actually be "true and right." Stan's learning about Catholicism forced me to look at things we had been indoctrinated against. To my surprise, we discovered a fullness and historic authenticity that was beyond what any Evangelical church had been able to teach us. Why? Because of Protestant's rejection of Apostolic Tradition and just about all church history from 70 A.D. to 1517 A.D..

I also began to understand the authority that Christ gave to the Church through the Apostles. As Rosalynn Moss, a converted Jew, turned Evangelical, turned Catholic says, "If God gave us the Word of God, wouldn't He also have given us a way to understand [interpret] it?" Her remark was in response to all the different interpretations you find in Protestantism as evidenced by the 22,000 plus denominations. It didn't make sense to her (nor to Stan). But, if you believe that God did give us an authoritative way to interpret His Word, then you would have to accept that authority, wouldn't you? Well, I have come to believe that Christ gave that authority to the Church through Peter and the Apostles, with one head (the Pope, succeeded from Peter) and a Magisterium (the Bishops succeeded from the Apostles)! It's in the Bible that way. Yet, Protestants have chosen their own traditions by which to interpret these passages.

(Stan.) How many of our Protestant-Evangelical friends have questioned the teachings, laws, or practices of the churches they've attended? The solution, like us, was to pickup and look elsewhere, as if our own minds and tastes were infallible judges of what was right. Pam and I would argue about something in a particular church that one of us liked and the other thought was wrong. Who's to say? What's the standard? The Bible? We both pulled out Scriptures that suited us. We still disagreed. Was this the unity Christ prayed for in the Garden before he died? I doubted it. I've met numerous men and women (including relatives) who have left a church because they didn't think the doctrine was right and started a church of their own.

(Pam.) Here is the bottom line, Stan and I have come to accept that the authority Christ gave to the Apostles to establish His Church is still there today in the "one holy catholic and apostolic Church," (Nicene Creed), and we joined the Catholic Church (separately over the past 2 years). We just want you to know that we have had heavenly things opened up to us, including the Communion of Saints, Mary, the Eucharist, Sacraments, the Mass, all that Christ put there for us to experience as His people in His Body! And, to us, this is the fullness of the Gospel we have longed for! That is what has made this such an exciting year for us. And, during Christmas, with the plethora of images depicting Mary and the baby Jesus about all we see are three of the important elements of the church given to us by God: Mary, Christ, and the Mass.

So, Mary ChristMass.

We welcome questions and/or comments and look forward to what the next year will bring.

May God bless you all!

In His love,
Pam (and Stan) Williams

P.S. (Stan) What we're learned this year needs a preface, but the preface is ending up here as a postscript. Pam and I are not taken easily to hearsay. When people tell us things that seem different from our experience or culture we naturally doubt it. For someone in authority to direct or command our thoughts or actions, we naturally take offense. You're probably the same way. We're skeptical people. We prefer to do our own research, which we continue to do. Therefore, in that context, what we have shared with you seems trustworthy. We believe that if we don't tell you these things we will be held accountable at the judgement. If we are wrong about some of these things our Christian brothers and sisters are responsible for correcting us with evidence and reason. And likewise, if they don't they will be held accountable. So, we invite you to research and reason with us, but don't cast these things off lightly. Our salvation and the salvation of the world hangs in the balance.