A Catholic Reflection on John Armstrong’s Your Church is Too Small

Mar 5th, 2012 | By | Category: Featured Articles

On Monday, March 26, ACT 3 and Wheaton College will be hosting “A Conversation on Unity in Christ’s Mission,” involving a dialogue in Edman Chapel between John Armstrong and Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago. The event will be streamed live from the Wheaton.edu website. In light of that forthcoming event, we invited Devin Rose to review Armstrong’s most recent book. Devin is well known to CTC readers. In July of 2010 he wrote a guest post for us titled “Faith and Reason in the Context of Conversion,” in which he recounted his conversion twelve years ago from atheism to faith in Christ. Devin is also the author of the recently published book If Protestantism is True: The Reformation Meets Rome (2011). He blogs at St. Joseph’s Vanguard. We’re grateful to Devin for his thoughtful review of Armstrong’s book. – Eds.

John Armstrong is a Protestant professor of evangelism at Wheaton College Graduate School, a former Baptist pastor for twenty-one years, and founder of ACT 3, an apostolate for helping Christians work toward unity. He has written articles for Modern Reformation, was the editor of Reformation and Revival Journal, and has previously authored, contributed to, and edited many books, including The Catholic Mystery: Understanding the Beliefs and Practices of Modern Catholicism (1999), Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Divides and Unites Us (1998), The Coming Evangelical Crisis (1997), and A View of Rome: A Guide to Understanding the Beliefs and Practices of Roman Catholics (1995).

His most recent book is titled Your Church is Too Small (Zondervan, 2010). In this book Armstrong shares how his own understanding of unity and the Christian Church changed over the years, and lays out how he believes we can achieve the unity that Christ prayed for in John 17.

Summary

The book is divided into three sections: past, present, and future. In the first section he explains how he abandoned the narrow sectarian conception of Protestant fundamentalism according to which his own denomination was the best, and others, even other conservative Protestant denominations, were seriously flawed. He came to embrace a broader conception of Christ’s Church, one that included so-called liberal Protestant communities as well as the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. He then discusses how the desire for unity grew within him and took shape as a “missional-ecumenism” (more on this below).

Armstrong draws a brief sketch of the Church during the time of the New Testament and how its unity was later “split” both by the Eastern Orthodox schism and the Protestant Reformation. This first section reaches its climax with his chapter discussing John 17, Jesus’ high priestly prayer for unity, which Armstrong interprets as a call to relational and co-operational unity between Christian groups. He concludes with a chapter revealing how he interprets the four marks of the Church included in the Nicene Creed.

The second section focuses on how we can restore unity in Christianity today. He explains the causes of disunity, especially sectarianism — which he defines as the belief that one’s own Church or denomination is the Church of Christ — and explores what the universal Church is and how local congregations and denominations relate to it. Armstrong lays out his idea that a “core orthodoxy” consisting of the Apostles’ Creed and decrees of the first ecumenical councils should be the basic criteria for Christian unity. He then spends a chapter on the meaning of the “Kingdom of God,” including a discourse on how Catholics “discovered” the right understanding of the Kingdom during the Second Vatican Council. He ends this section with an explanation of Tradition and its importance for rightly understanding divine revelation.

The third and final section contains Armstrong’s vision for the future work of unity through the missional-ecumenical movement. He warns against uniformity or trying to find “the ideal Church” and explains how Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox view the Church. The next chapter argues against the tendency to try to figure out who is a “real” Christian and who is not. Armstrong then describes how the Church must become missional, not only sending out missionaries to far off lands, but embodying and being the mission of Christ in every place that Christians live. The Church, he argues, should not focus on influencing politics or changing the culture but should instead be about living the Kingdom of God in the midst of society. Churches and ecclesial communities should join together in this mission, united by the core orthodoxy described earlier. He ends the book with a call to all Christians to work toward unity and realize its importance in their life.

What’s Great about the Book


John Armstrong

I deeply appreciated this book. Armstrong asks the questions on unity that need to be asked by every Christian, questions I had asked myself as a Protestant and continued asking as a Catholic.

First and foremost, he takes Christ’s prayer for unity seriously, rejecting interpretations of John 17 that seek to diminish the scope of Christ’s mandate. Many Protestant pastors he has listened to claim Jesus was praying for the unity of the invisible collection of all believers. Armstrong disagrees, writing, “to assume that the invisible church is the ‘one holy catholic and apostolic church’ of the Nicene Creed or that it is the answer to this prayer is a serious interpretive mistake.”1 Instead, Christ must mean a visible unity of some sort, a theme explored throughout the book.

While the book’s audience includes Christians from every Church and community, Armstrong writes especially for American Evangelical Protestants, a group that is generally uncomfortable with the notion of Tradition and which in some sections holds what Armstrong would call sectarian views of the Church. He writes: “In fact, I will show how your biblical faith is rooted in the living Christian tradition, a tradition found in all the classical historical expressions of the one faith.”2 He goes on to say:

True Christian faith is not found in personal religious feelings but in the historical and incarnational reality of a confessing church. Therefore, if we refuse to come to grips with our past, our future will not be distinctively Christian. The result will be new forms of man-made religion that embrace recycled heresies…. Building one’s faith and life on various passages in the Bible understood through private experience results in nothing less than a confusing cacophony of Christian noise…. Scripture alone, without human life and community consensus, is subject to every human whim and fancy.3

Catholics agree that the Bible must be read within the living Tradition of the Church and also that there is always a danger of recycling old heresies. But this kind of language has placed Armstrong on the wrong side of Evangelicals, some of whom have sundered their association with him, fearing that he is embracing error in his desire to cast a broad net for Christian unity.

Armstrong also sees the problem of letting the Bible alone resolve our differences. He writes:

Everyone interprets the Bible. This truth may be abundantly clear to you, but I have found that it is easily forgotten by “Biblecentered” Christians. Quoting the Bible rarely settles disagreements. By themselves, Bible verses fail to promote unity. Consider the fact that many cults will affirm the inerrancy and authority of the Bible, yet they interpret its meaning in ways that suit their own personal preference. In truth, we need to have a way of grasping the answer to a larger question: What is the essential message of the Holy Scriptures?

Answering this question takes us back to the Bible as our foundation of truth, but it also incorporates the faithful witness of the ancient church. We ask such questions as: What did the first Christians believe and why did they believe it? How did they hear the gospel? Before there was a completed Bible, how did the church understand and confess the living message of Christ? (Even when the church had the completed Scriptures, most Christians never had the opportunity to read them, much less study them.) How has the church heard the Scriptures down through the ages? Questions such as these lead us to a study of history, an area of study known as historical theology, covering the church’s understanding of the development of theology and its interpretation of the Scriptures over the past two thousand years. We never stand alone when we read and interpret the Bible. With a grasp of history and tradition, we are able to read the sacred Scriptures in communion with the “one holy catholic and apostolic church.”4

Armstrong’s insights here are key. We hear in them the same realization to which Keith Mathison came, namely, that someone has to interpret the Scriptures, and that the Church (whatever it is) must be intimately involved. Catholics also agree with him that we must study history and learn how the Church has interpreted the Bible throughout her existence.

Armstrong also points out that American congregationalism is foreign to the historic understanding of Christ’s Church. He writes, “During the first eighteen hundred years of Christian history almost no one understood the church as a myriad of independent and unrelated congregations and movements that interpreted the Bible as each saw fit.”5 Yet that is what we have in much of Protestantism, and Armstrong rightly sees the problem with it. It leads to the proliferation of denominational divisions, and makes achieving unity that much more difficult.

He explains that when he reached his forties, he came to doubt the concept of a purely invisible Church, and this spurred him on to engage with other Christians, ones outside his tribe, and to understand them better. He writes:

Today, my passion for the church has led me to monasteries and Methodists, to Anglicans and the Assemblies of God, and to a growing respect for Mennonites and Moravians. It took me, an evangelical and a Reformed Protestant, deeper into the words of Luther and Calvin, who left a profound mark on a large portion of the Christian church. To my great surprise, it propelled me back to the church fathers and the Christian past — a past that is both Roman Catholic and Orthodox. In Catholicism, I discovered a community so vast that it overwhelmed me in its richness, beauty, and diversity. Over time, I came to love this community, a community I had once feared so deeply.6

These are conciliatory words, and they don’t fall on deaf ears. Rare is it to hear such a compliment about the Catholic Church from a Protestant minister. One of the great strengths of Armstrong’s book is his irenic tone and desire to see the good in all Christian Churches and communities.

Armstrong ends the book with vignettes of Christians working together to do good things. This is how the missional-ecumenical paradigm is put into practice via relational and co-operational unity. What can real Christians — who belong to different ecclesial communities and Churches — do to unite together in a practical way? Armstrong gives one example where many Protestant churches collaborated together to put on a vacation Bible school program. Another example he offers is the Taize community and their inter-denominational services. Catholics can agree with Armstrong that we should work together with other Christians: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, standing up for the pro-life cause together, and so on. Our theological differences should not stop us from joining together to serve others in these ways, particularly in the corporal works of mercy.

In his book Armstrong is asking the questions that need to be asked and not shying away from the reality of disunity that exists in Christianity. By calling for a study of history, the inclusion of Tradition, and for an understanding of the Church as visible, Armstrong has taken significant steps toward the Catholic conception of how we must proceed to identify the Church and unify with her. In the next section I will examine where Armstrong stops short of Catholicism and instead takes a different path in the hopes of finding unity.

Where We Differ

John Armstrong is not a Catholic. He is a Protestant Christian and remains within the Protestant paradigm. Specifically, Armstrong resists the notion that there is presently “one, true Church,” or that God protects any one Church or community from error in its teachings. Because of this belief (or lack of belief), he sees Protestant denominations and the Catholic and Orthodox Churches as the three “great Traditions” of Christianity, none teaching the fullness of the truth or the truth without error, but all three holding to the “core orthodoxy” of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds and the first two ecumenical councils. Let’s examine his thoughts here more closely.

Unity

The first question to ask is: has the Church ever been unified? Armstrong seems to answer in the affirmative. He writes:

The New Testament sees unity as a reality to be protected…. [The Apostles] wisely recognized that while Christ should be at the center as Lord of the church, every effort must be made to preserve unity.7

According to Armstrong, unity in the early Church was “a reality to be protected” and something that must be preserved, which means that in his view the early Church was unified. This is an important starting point for dialogue with Catholics, since we also believe that the Church at this time was unified.

Armstrong then describes what he thinks happened to the Church’s unity:

By the medieval period, the visible church was tragically split into two huge and virtually unrelated branches — East and West (1054).8

However, in 1054, this unity was radically and tragically altered by the East/West split. Centuries later, the Protestant Reformation broke the Catholic Church’s unity in Europe.9

According to Armstrong, the unity of the visible Church was “altered,” “split,” and was broken. This is in effect the “branching” theory of Christianity put forth by many Protestants: the trunk of the tree, representing the unity of the Church, split into multiple different branches — Protestantism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy being the largest — but the trunk itself no longer exists. The unity has been divided, which means it is gone and now the Church is in disunity.10

But this theory raises the question: How does Armstrong make a principled distinction between a branch within the Church and a schism from the Church? Piecing together several different passages from his book, his answer seems to be that a schism occurs when someone or some group rejects “core orthodoxy,” defined by the consensus of the early Church in the writings of the Fathers and especially in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds.

First he associates core orthodoxy with the Apostles’ Creed, writing:

When core orthodoxy, as represented by the Apostles’ Creed, is not of primary importance, the result will always be a small view of the church.11

Then he asserts that the one Church is rooted in core orthodoxy:

I will make a case for how the one church of Jesus Christ, ministering out of its spiritual unity in Christ and rooted in core orthodoxy, can best serve Christ’s mission.12

Finally he cites the Reformers’ recognition that the “common faith,” or core orthodoxy of the Church is found in the “consensus of the early church fathers” and the “earliest ecumenical creeds.” He writes:

Even the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformers, especially magisterial men like Martin Luther and John Calvin, understood that there was an established historical foundation deeply rooted in the Scripture. The creeds and the doctrines taught by a consensus of the early church fathers were continually appealed to by all the great Protestant Reformers. For them, common faith was expressed in the earliest ecumenical creeds. The Reformers never encouraged people to pick through the Bible and concoct a better version of Christianity.13

The Nicene Creed was formulated at the first two ecumenical councils: Nicaea in the year 325 and Constantinople in 381. But taking only the first two councils and these two Creeds as the criteria for orthodoxy raises the following questions: Why do we stop with those? Why not also accept the third and fourth ecumenical councils? As it is, the Nestorians and Monophysites could affirm the first two councils. We would need a principled reason for making the decisions of these first two councils and no others the standard for orthodoxy.

Armstrong does not answer this question in his book, and so his basis for what constitutes core orthodoxy is ad hoc, at least as he has presented it in his book. This is a critical flaw in his thesis, and is the reason why I said above that he stopped short of going all the way down the road to Catholicism. Understandably, he wants to find common ground from which all Christians can work toward unity, realizing that doctrinal chaos can never be true unity. And so he chooses criteria that (rightly) begin with the founding of the Church by Christ and the sending of the Apostles and continue to the first two ecumenical councils and the Creeds. But why it should stop there requires a principled reason. Armstrong does not offer one, and of course an arbitrary stipulation by Armstrong cannot be the basis for a unity to be pursued by all Christians.

Catholics believe that the essential unity of the Church can never be lost. The unity can be (and has been) wounded by the schisms from the Church that have occurred over the centuries (CCC 817), but since the Church is Christ’s Mystical Body, her unity can never be destroyed. Ecumenism seeks to heal these wounds and so answer Christ’s prayer that we become perfectly one.

Armstrong implies that the Church’s unity, enjoyed in the first century of her existence, was definitively broken and lost at least twice: in the Orthodox-Catholic schism in AD 1054 and then again in the Protestant-Catholic schism in the sixteenth century.14 Interestingly, he does see the divisions between Christians, the schisms, as being something bad. But rather than see the solution as healing these schisms — something he implies is a practical impossibility — he thinks instead that we should accept the permanence of these “three traditions” and their equal legitimacy. But accepting them in this way undermines the notion that it was wrong for them to separate in the first place. Armstrong cannot have it both ways: either the separation was wrong, and we must work to heal the schism, or it was no true separation at all, just another valid “branching within” the Church.

Tradition

A related problem has to do with how we identify the Christian Tradition to which we all should look. Armstrong writes:

With a grasp of history and tradition, we are able to read the sacred Scriptures in communion with the “one holy catholic and apostolic church.” Studying how the historical church understood the Scriptures greatly helped me, but it wasn’t easy. I had to learn to humble myself and truly listen to other voices outside of my cultural and generational context. My teachers included Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians. If it helps, think about it this way: Are you the first person to ever read the Bible and attempt to understand its message? Of course not. People before you wrestled with these same writings and expressed what they understood in plain language. They confessed a “core orthodoxy.” They celebrated the “Great Tradition” — those elemental truths representing the theological consensus of the first thousand years of Christian history. Wisdom should lead us to listen to these early Christians before we try to work out some of the difficult issues we face today.15

This sounds good, but Armstrong does not provide a principled basis for distinguishing between what does and does not belong to “the theological consensus” during the first thousand years of Christianity. In addition, he has no principled reason for determining who is and is not among those forming this consensus in the first thousand years of the Church. The Armenians and Copts, for example, would take issue with important Catholic doctrines during the first thousand years of Christianity, the ones over which they broke in schism. Further, Apostolic Succession is certainly a part of that “Great Tradition,” but Armstrong and Protestants reject it.16 Baptismal regeneration was also assuredly part of that consensus, yet Protestants reject that doctrine as well. So picking and choosing is still going on, in an ad hoc way. And this ad hoc picking and choosing by Armstrong, in order to determine for all Christians which first millennial doctrines and practices are orthodox, and who does and does not belong to those among whom the consensus is to be found, amounts to an implicit exercise of [presumed] magisterial authority on his part.

The Church’s Oneness

Armstrong spends some time offering his interpretation of the four marks of the Church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Most relevant to the subject of unity is the first mark, namely, that the Church is one. He begins well when he says:

I have argued that the early church held an extremely high view of oneness and catholicity. We do not have to search far to understand why: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4 – 6)17

The Catholic Church strongly affirms this biblical oneness through the three visible bonds of communion:

1. Profession of one faith received from the Apostles
2. Common celebration of divine worship, especially of the sacraments;
3. Apostolic succession through the sacrament of Holy Orders, maintaining the fraternal concord of God’s family.18

But Armstrong’s vision of unity does not go this far. He affirms that the Church is found where “Word and sacrament” are celebrated.19 By ‘sacrament,’ he seems to mean only baptism and the Lord’s Supper. However in a recent blog comment, he says that he is persuaded that there are more than seven sacraments, and that washing of the feet is one of the additional sacraments. So it is unclear how many sacraments he thinks there are and how we know what the criteria are for determining what is a sacrament.

Regarding unity of faith, Catholics too believe that we profess the “one faith” received from the Apostles. But it is clear to everyone that there are major differences between Protestants and Catholics regarding what that one faith is. Armstrong attempts to solve this problem by appealing to the “core orthodoxy” of the creeds, claiming that “uniformity” of doctrinal belief is undesirable and contrary to legitimate diversity. But the Catholic way lies between the two extremes of absolute uniformity of belief and the absence of a shared faith. The bounds of the Church’s dogmas circumscribe the area of unity within which we can have legitimate diversity of theological beliefs. That’s not absolute uniformity, but neither is it agreement through lowest common denominator Christianity, where we find the minimal subset of beliefs about which we happen to agree, even if it be only the one doctrine that Jesus died to save us.

The problem again, for Armstrong, is that he has no non-arbitrary basis for determining that upon which we all must agree, and that about which we may disagree. Uniformity is not bad when it is uniformity in the one faith; in that case it is a beautiful thing. But there can be diversity in non-essentials and unity in essentials, only when there is a principled way of determining which is which.


“A Conversation on Unity”

Armstrong does not mention these three bonds of unity but instead interprets the “oneness” of the Church as meaning that the Church is a unique institution. He also emphasizes the diversity that should be found in the Church, something with which Catholics can agree, so long as it is within the bounds of the Church’s teachings. The difficulty here for Armstrong lies in reconciling his notion that the Church is “a unique institution” with his notion that the Church is presently divided into Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants. If it is divided, it is not a single institution, unless these divisions are branches. But as I have pointed out above, he has no non-arbitrary way of distinguishing between a branch within the Church, and a schism from the Church. That’s why if what he is referring to as “a unique institution” were in fact three (or more) institutions, and not one institution having these three as branches, nothing would be any different than it is right now. Without a principled basis for distinguishing between branches within and schisms from, one can falsely label as ‘one,’ many bodies that are not one institution, but are actually in schism from each other. Armstrong defines ‘schism’ as deviation from “core orthodoxy,”20 but by defining ‘schism’ as heresy (a conflation examined here), he loses the very concept of schism.

Finally, and significantly, Protestants have rejected Apostolic Succession, and even if they believed in it, they do not possess the sacrament of Holy Orders through Apostolic Succession. Hence from a Catholic point of view, Protestantism has completely discarded one of the bonds of visible unity. In this way the “core orthodoxy” with which Armstrong wants Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox to be content as the totality of what is essential to the faith, is, from a Catholic perspective, deficient not only with respect to doctrines that have been subsequently defined by the Church over the centuries of her development in opposition to heresy, but is deficient even as an attempt to capture what was essential to the Church of the fourth century, during which time the Nicene Creed was written. In this way, Armstrong’s ecumenism is a lowest-common denominator ecumenism. Catholics can affirm the common ground we share with Protestants as an ecumenical starting point, but not as an ecumenical ending point.

Enlisting Catholics in His Cause

Throughout the book, Armstrong quotes from the writings of several Catholics to bolster his conception of Church unity. Under the provocatively titled section “Vatican II: Catholics Discover the Kingdom,” Armstrong writes:

Prior to Vatican II, many Catholics saw the parables of Jesus as synonymous with the church. Cardinal Walter Kasper rejects this idea: “The church is only an effective and accomplished sacramental sign, not the reality of the kingdom of God itself.” Some Roman Catholics disagree with Cardinal Kasper and look with suspicion at anything outside the Catholic Church. The Catholic conflation of the church with the kingdom was clearly a reaction to Protestant interpretation. A Catholic archbishop [Rembert Weakland] notes that this view led some to conclude that “the ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom will come when all have converted to Catholicism.” But Vatican II opened a new door of Catholic understanding about the kingdom.”21

Cardinal Kasper’s statement is ambiguous and potentially misleading. Quoting Lumen Gentium from the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism states that:

‘To carry out the will of the Father Christ inaugurated the kingdom of heaven on earth.’ Now the Father’s will is ‘to raise up men to share in his own divine life.’ He does this by gathering men around his Son Jesus Christ. This gathering is the Church, ‘on earth the seed and beginning of that kingdom.’22

And we also read in Lumen Gentium that “The Church, or, in other words, the kingdom of Christ now present in mystery, grows visibly through the power of God in the world.”23 So the Church is the Kingdom in seed form, analogous to the acorn and the full-grown tree. A direct, organic connection exists between them, as between a baby and the adult he grows up to be. And since this Church, founded by Christ, subsists in the Catholic Church, insofar as Cardinal Kasper’s statement implies that the Church is not the present form of Christ’s Kingdom on earth, it is not just that “some Catholics” disagree with his statement, but rather that the Church herself does. Further, as this document from Vatican II demonstrates, the Council did not change Catholic doctrine and declare the Church and the Kingdom to be separate entities.24 Even so, Catholics do affirm that Protestants are our separated brothers and sisters in Christ and that the Holy Spirit dwells in them through baptism.

In addition to quoting Cardinal Kasper, Armstrong also appeals to Archbishop Weakland. Weakland is the disgraced former archbishop of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His statement that some kinds of Catholics believe that “the ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom will come when all have converted to Catholicism” is unhelpful and a red herring, because the important question is not what some Catholics believe, but what the Catholic Church teaches. The Catholic Church teaches that the fulfillment of the Passover in the Kingdom occurs in her celebration of the Eucharist (CCC 1403) and that the ultimate fulfillment of the Kingdom will occur when Christ returns in glory. So while Catholics certainly work toward the healing of the schisms and the full reunion of all Christians with the Catholic Church, this does not mean we think that the Kingdom’s “ultimate fulfillment” will be accomplished before Christ’s second coming.

Armstrong also quotes heavily from the writings of Catholic scholar and laicized priest Luke Timothy Johnson. The excerpts chosen seem at best ambiguous and at worst at odds with the Church’s teachings. For example, Luke Timothy Johnson wrote:

The church in every age must be measured by the standard of the apostolic age as witnessed not by the later tradition but by direct appeal to the writings of the New Testament. Placing the contemporary church against the one depicted in the Acts of the Apostles makes clear how much the prophetic witness of the church has been compromised by its many strategies of adaptation and survival over the centuries. This is the sense of the word employed by reformers like Martin Luther, who combated the excrescences of medieval Catholicism by appealing to the teaching and practice of the New Testament. Where in the New Testament do we find pope or cardinals? Where do we find mandatory celibacy? Where do we find indulgences, or even purgatory? Where do we find the office of the Inquisition? These are powerful questions. Equally needed is the prophetic call to a simpler and more radical “New Testament” lifestyle by Christians.25

Firstly, the Tradition of the Church is Apostolic in origin, a river of living water within the Church that, guided by the Holy Spirit, connects us to Christ its Source. So it is inaccurate to describe it as something “later” than the Apostolic age and then pit it against the sacred Scriptures of the New Testament. Scripture and Tradition complement each other and form the deposit of faith. While the Scriptures do hold a unique position within the Church, Johnson’s statements regarding Tradition advocate a position aligned with sola Scriptura Protestantism rather than with Catholicism.26

Secondly, Johnson’s claim that the prophetic witness of the Church today has been compromised is a denial of the Catholic doctrine of the indefectibility of the Church.27 It’s unclear what exactly he has in mind here, but we can infer it from his later statements of Luther’s protests against the papacy, indulgences, purgatory, and so on. The key point, however, is that a Catholic who rejects the belief that the office of the papacy is divinely established is not orthodox. Similarly, the doctrines of purgatory and indulgences have been dogmatically defined, and to reject them is to reject Catholic orthodoxy.28

Johnson claims to be a Catholic but he dissents from the Church’s defined doctrines, and insofar as he does that, his position is heretical. Though not quoted on these doctrines in Armstrong’s book, Johnson also dissents from the Church’s teaching on women’s ordination and same-sex issues. While I know that Armstrong does not endorse all of Johnson’s beliefs, it must be made clear that in these quotations Johnson is not presenting authentic Catholic teaching, but is instead presenting his dissenting opinion, as if it were a legitimate position within the bounds of Catholic orthodoxy. Armstrong and anyone else can discover this by reading the magisterial documents of the Church and learning her teachings, summarized helpfully in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The reality of the situation is not he-said, she-said, where one Catholic scholar’s opinion is pitted against that of another. Rather, here we have authentic Catholic doctrine versus the heterodox opinions of someone who openly dissents from the Church’s teachings.

Armstrong cites Johnson in an attempt to show that there is a stream of thought within Catholicism that is aligned with his understanding of the Church and unity. We see this in evidence when Armstrong discusses Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism. Armstrong writes:

Earlier the [second Vatican] council has said that other Christian communities should “return” to the Catholic Church. Later statements have suggested much the same, but many Catholics [e.g. Johnson] believe there is an element of tension between the council’s dogma about the church and its expressed desire for unity with non-Catholics. I believe the stronger voice, the one expressing desire for unity, will ultimately win.29

We can see then that Armstrong is relying on Catholic dissenters as though they add Catholic support to his ecclesiology and his ecumenical vision. This is problematic for at least two reasons. First, practically, it sets him up for failure and disappointment at the actual ecumenical dialogue table, when he is confronted with the fact that what these dissenters claim is not what the Catholic Church actually believes and teaches. Second, authentic ecumenical dialogue requires that each party construct its conception of the other’s position by way of its authorized persons or documents, not by relying on persons who claim to belong to that institution but openly dissent from its authoritative teachings.

The Catholic Church teaches that the Church of Christ subsists in her. There is no ambiguity there and no way for that teaching to change. The Catholic Church teaches that full unity between Protestants and Catholics is achieved ultimately only through Protestants entering into full communion with the Catholic Church. That might be through means that allow them to retain authentic aspects of their patrimony — see the Anglican Ordinariate for an example — but it cannot mean agreeing to a unity that violates or falls short of the three visible bonds of unity, compromises any Catholic dogmas, or makes apostolic succession optional. I do not think Armstrong realized that some of Johnson’s opinions are contrary to the Church’s teachings and that these opinions can never “win” out in the Catholic Church. Rather, I think Armstrong read ideas from a Catholic scholar that were sympathetic with his own and considered this to be an area of legitimate theological speculation that could eventually become the Church’s teaching.

Missional-Ecumenism

Armstrong sees missional-ecumenism as the path to the best unity we can have this side of heaven. Pastors, churches, and individual Christians can live in a missional-ecumenical way by working together to love Jesus and incarnate His love in their neighborhoods, overlooking their theological differences and focusing on the fact that we’re all Christ-followers.

For Armstrong, missional-ecumenism is not just about doing corporal works of mercy together, but about spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. This idea sounds good, but serious problems emerge immediately. To share the gospel requires that we understand what the gospel is, and is not. If we cannot agree on that, then we will not be able to share the gospel in unity. To take just one example, justification is an important part of the gospel, yet Catholics and Protestants do not agree on how one is justified before God. We also do not agree on which books comprise the Bible, whether the Bible is the sole infallible rule of faith, whether Apostolic Succession is a divine institution, the nature and number of the sacraments, and many other doctrines.

Armstrong wishes for Christians to take a mindset that does not allow these differences to stop collaboration in evangelizing, but their existence throws a large wrench into the missional-ecumenical scheme. The differences are in the very essence of what the gospel is, and how we are to be saved.

I have had direct experience evangelizing with a Protestant brother. Due to our serious theological differences, I found myself nuancing or outright correcting his statements toward an atheist friend. He likewise was frustrated by the claims I made with which he disagreed. While we both shot for a “mere Christianity” approach so as to present a united front to our non-believing colleague, the differences between our beliefs quickly became apparent.

The takeaway lesson is that Catholics and Protestants can and should work together in areas and ways that we can do so. But when we come to sharing the gospel, the differences between us cannot be hidden, and we must either adopt a lowest common denominator approach to evangelization to avoid these differences, which is problematic for the reason I showed above, or witness them ruin the whole missional-ecumenical scheme, insofar as that scheme involves shared doctrinal evangelism, beyond the corporal works of mercy. For Catholics, the gospel includes the visible Church Christ founded and submission to her teaching authority, along with the seven sacraments and the belief in sacred Tradition. For Catholics, the content of the gospel includes the content of the Creed, which requires believing in the Catholic Church. Hence, reducing the gospel to the bare bones of what we have in common with our Protestant brothers is simply not an option for Catholics. We cannot sell someone short of the full truth found in the Catholic Church. At the same time, Protestant evangelists would no doubt object to a Catholic they were with sharing the full Catholic gospel, since Protestants think much of it to be wrong, and vice versa. Armstrong desires “missional-ecumenism” to embrace the sharing of the gospel together, but as we see, accepting this idea is intrinsically problematic for Catholics.

Concluding Thoughts

I knew little about John Armstrong before reading his book. I had run across his blog a few times and knew he was keen on unity, but otherwise was unfamiliar with his work. As I read his book I felt like I was getting to know a kindred spirit. He believes God has called him to work toward Christian unity; I have felt the same calling, and it is rare to encounter another with a passion for it. In fact, his calling and journey fascinate me because they are so similar to my own, and as I read his book I felt like I was reading my own book, but from someone who has not quite been able to believe the Catholic Church’s claims.

Armstrong’s humility comes out as well throughout the book, as he shares stories of his encounters with other Christians. He isn’t afraid to admit his weaknesses and fears, which is incredibly refreshing. I actually hate to disagree with him, because it is apparent that he is a man who longs for the unity of Christ’s Church. But in spite of this desire, there are significant differences between us, and his vision for the solution, while helpful in several ways, cannot ultimately bring about the unity Christ desires and for which He prayed.


Devin Rose

I hope that Armstrong will continue along the path that he has already begun, and continue to ask the questions that he has raised concerning the nature of the Church that Christ established and His prayer for our unity. And I pray others will read his book and ask those important questions as well.

Devin Rose is the author of If Protestantism is True: The Reformation Meets Rome (2011). He blogs at St. Joseph’s Vanguard.

UPDATE: John Armstrong has responded here.

  1. Armstrong, John H. (2010). Your Church Is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission Is Vital to the Future of the Church. Zondervan. Kindle Edition. p. 43. []
  2. Ibid. p. 14. []
  3. Ibid. pp. 18-19. []
  4. Ibid. pp. 80-31. []
  5. Ibid. p. 19. []
  6. Ibid. p. 32. []
  7. Ibid. p. 35. []
  8. Ibid. p. 36. []
  9. Ibid. p. 62. []
  10. See, for example, “Branches or Schisms?” []
  11. Ibid. p. 81. []
  12. Ibid. p. 81. []
  13. Ibid. pp. 19-20. []
  14. His definition of ‘sectarianism’ presupposes that no existing institution is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded, and therefore with respect to Catholicism and Orthodoxy, his definition of ‘sectarianism’ is a question-begging definition, as was shown here. []
  15. Ibid. p. 81. []
  16. See, for example, here. []
  17. Ibid. p. 77. []
  18. See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 815. []
  19. See p. 117 of Your Church is Too Small. []
  20. See also, for example, this comment, where he writes, “A schism from the Church is a break-away “church” that denies or opposes the creed and core of the faith found in Scripture.” []
  21. Ibid., pp. 117-118. []
  22. CCC 541. []
  23. Lumen Gentium, 3. []
  24. See also Dominus Iesus, 18-19, 21. []
  25. Quoted by Armstrong on pp. 71-72. []
  26. See Session 4 of the Council of Trent, Session 3 (2.5 and 3.8) of Vatican I, and Dei Verbum 9 and 10 from Vatican II. []
  27. The Catholic Church teaches the following: “Furthermore, the promises of the Lord that he would not abandon his Church (cf. Mt 16:18; 28:20) and that he would guide her by his Spirit (cf. Jn 16:13) mean, according to Catholic faith, that the unicity and the unity of the Church — like everything that belongs to the Church’s integrity — will never be lacking.” Dominus Iesus, 16. []
  28. See Session 25 of Trent. []
  29. Ibid. p. 120. []
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  1. Dr. Armstrong is a fine man and I very much appreciate his work and his love and respect for Christians outside his own tradition. Having met him many years ago at my former Presbyterian place of worship I can personally vouch for the fact that many of his former supporters have decided to be done with him because of his broad ecumenism. Ironically, during my conversion to the Catholic Church an article by Dr. Armstrong and subsequent email exchange with him was instrumental in helping me over an obstacle I had encountered along the way. He was very gracious and helpful and although he said he was not then able to follow me and others he knew to Rome, he spoke with great affection and admiration of the Catholic Church. His insights helped me to address my problem from a perspective other than my particular tradition’s peculiar hermeneutic and rather from a historic Catholic perspective. God used Dr. Armstrong in my conversion, and for this I am eternally grateful to him.

  2. Devin,

    John is a friend of mine, and I wanted to thank you for this gracious response to his book. I wonder what his response will be? He is himself so warm that when my desire to join the Catholic Church became acute, he was among the first I told. What pleases me greatly is that the question of ecclesiology and its inseperable linkage to orthodoxy is coming to the fore, and that the way forward is so very plain, even if it is painful.

  3. [...] close to my heart, for we both share the same desire for visible unity in Christ’s Church. Called to Communion has posted my review of his book Your Church is Too Small as a feature article. Here’s an excerpt where I quote from Armstrong: [...]

  4. “Finally, and significantly, Protestants have rejected Apostolic Succession, and even if they believed in it, they do not possess the sacrament of Holy Orders through Apostolic Succession. Hence from a Catholic point of view, Protestantism has completely discarded one of the bonds of visible unity.”

    Great article, Devin. This statement above wasn’t the main point, but I think it is key. I encourage Protestants to study Irenaeus (2nd c.) and to see how the early Church determined Gnosticism was not orthodoxy. Against Heresies is probably the first place to go. Though I did not understand the implications at the time I was a Protestant studying Irenaeus, I realized that Irenaeus defined orthodoxy primarily by apostolic succession–not primarily by doctrinal error–because without apololistic succession–a Church–there is no principled way of discerning between various doctrinal disagreements.

    Ryan

  5. Yes, we (Protestants) do reject Apostolic Succession. We believe that the requirement of having to have a particular set of fingertips touch a person before the gospel (or the Sacraments) can have any power to affect someone, goes against the gospel itself…and therefore becomes ‘another gospel’.

    We believe in the power of the Word alone. The preached Word was bringing people to faith long before there was a Bible and institutional church. We don’t discount the institutional church or tradition as long as they are there in support of the Word and not the other way around.

    If there ever was a place for proper blame to be attached to why there was a need for the Reformation, the Medici’s would be it. Their abuses are what sparked the anger of Luther and many others and their desire to get the train back onto the proper track.

    We also desire unity, but never at the price of the gospel.

    The church was going in different directions right from the start. (look at Paul’s letters)

    But Christ knows His Church. He knows His own people. And we believe that they can be found in all churches that proclaim His gospel for the forgiveness of sins, in some way or another…in spite of bad doctrine.

    That’s the centrist (minority) Lutheran view.

    Thanks.

  6. Steve – I am thinking of entering the ministry and starting a church. I choose not to affiliate with any other group or entity. Rather, I will believe and teach what I deem to be biblical truth. Since God’s word will guide me, I don’t intend to place myself or my ministry under the oversight or authority of anyone other than the Holy Spirit. Is this ok? Why or why not?

  7. Steve Martin writes: The preached Word was bringing people to faith long before there was a Bible and institutional church.

    Who, exactly, was preaching the Gospel before there was an institutional church? Please enlighten me!

    Christ commanded that his disciples to listen to “the church” or suffer the pain of excommunication (Matt 18:17). Obviously, there has to be an institutional church in existence before that commandment of Christ can ever be followed. The institutional church that Christ’s disciples must listen to is the institutional church that Jesus Christ personally founded. And that cannot be an “invisible” church, because it is impossible to listen to an invisible church, nor can an invisible church ever excommunicate anyone.

    Matthew’s Gospel is explicitly making the point that those who would be disciples of Christ must listen to the institutional church that Christ founded. To deny that a Christian must listen to the church that Christ personally founded, is to deny an important part of the Gospel.

    Steve Martin writes: We don’t discount the institutional church or tradition as long as they are there in support of the Word …

    Why should I believe that the Lutheran Church supports the Word, while the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches or even the Baptist Church around the corner from me does not “support the Word”? Who decided that Martin Luther’s personal interpretations of the scriptures were correct? Did the church that Jesus Christ personally founded make that determination? No! Martin Luther presumed that Martin Luther had the authority to declare that his personal interpretations of the scriptures were correct. But this is nothing more than Loner Rangerism, and there is nothing in the scriptures that supports Lone Rangerism.

    Luther’s personal church is built upon a foundation that has no basis in scriptures, Lone Rangerism, and that is why I see no reason listen to Luther’s personal church, nor to any other Protestant “church” that was founded by a Lone Ranger Christian.

    Armstrong also points out that American congregationalism is foreign to the historic understanding of Christ’s Church. He writes, “During the first eighteen hundred years of Christian history almost no one understood the church as a myriad of independent and unrelated congregations and movements that interpreted the Bible as each saw fit.” Yet that is what we have in much of Protestantism, and Armstrong rightly sees the problem with it.

    The Protestant paradigm is the principle that I am not conscience bound to listen to ANY church that disagrees with my personal interpretations of the scriptures. If I have made that a judgement that a particular church does not teach what is in accordance with my personal interpretations of the scriptures, then I don’t have to listen to that church. This principle of the primacy of the individual conscience, was laid down by Martin Luther, and the whole of the Reformation stands or falls on this principle. Without a principle of the primacy of the individual conscience, there can be no sola scriptura confessing Protestantism.

    John Armstrong rightly decries the doctrinal chaos found within Protestantism, but that doctrinal chaos is the result of protesters rejecting an important part of the Gospel; the part of the Gospel that teaches against the Lone Rangerism of Martin Luther, Mary Baker Eddy, Charles Taze Russell, Aimee Semple McPherson, John Calvin and every other Lone Ranger that broke away from a visible church to found their own personal Protestant sect.

  8. I found it impossible not to follow all the tributaries back to the source. I don’t understand how Dr. Armstrong can stop where he has.
    On this site I’ve read people say that everything that is positive about Protestantism has come from the Catholic Church, and I think if people will look they will see that this is so.
    If I asked a Reformed or Presbyterian why I should not become a Mormon, he probably will point to their denial of Trinitarianism, and they that have taken that “superstitious” doctrine of praying for the dead. To become a Mormon, they would say, would to be moving further from true Christianity and the proof of this is their denial of early church creeds. They may not like a person moving towards Rome but they would be “more ok” with it than one becoming a Mormon. They have reservations about Marian doctrine, but an astute reader of both Old and New Testaments could find Mary and develop Goddess worship and begin their own religion soley on a feministic reading. (I’ve read Anglican’s refer to the Holy Spirit as “she”) The Catholic Church is the only one that can officially keep worship of Mary from happening. Protestants ignore a doctrine from developing by eisegesis, but then the question comes as to why they read that way, and who’s to say that limiting like this is the way God intended us to read. I don’t know if this is because of wanting to preseve a more historical and literal reading. To read this way is still making a conscous choice to ignore a possible spiritual meaning and smells very modern. To me this is subjective picking and choosing and is exactly the reason why we have denominations and cults.
    Please clue me in if I am misunderstanding biblical exegesis.

    Thanks!
    Alica

  9. Friends, thanks for your feedback on the article. I, too, have had some great interactions with John Armstrong, in the brief time he and I have corresponded.

  10. Hi Alicia,

    You wrote:
    The Catholic Church is the only one that can officially keep worship of Mary from happening.

    Couldn’t someone exegeting from only scripture keep this from happening ?
    Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 1Cor 10:14
    Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. 1John 5:21

    Thanks,
    Eric

  11. I hope to meet more ecumenical partners like John Armstrong. All too often, Catholic-Protestant discussions consist of table pounding, hand waving, and people talking past each other just touting respective party lines.

  12. Eric (# 10),

    The remainder of the paragraph [in #8] from which you cherry-picked Alicia’s claim already responds to the question you asked her in rebuttal, by challenging the notion that ‘exegesis alone’ (without the Holy Spirit [whose oversight must be substantiated on some objective set of criteria]?) protects us from heterodoxy.

    In the grace of Christ,

    Chad

  13. Hi Eric,

    I am a Protestant and am having a difficult time with this doctrine, but the CC says that even it is Christocentric. After learning that, and because I have to admit that we have already gleaned so much from Catholicism I am trying to investigate. The thing is, the OT typology is definately there and the NT picks it up with great ease. Some OT types are very clear, or we have been fortunate to have a Philip ( Acts 8) open the scriptures and show them to us, while others are cloudy but may have just as much salvific importance. I don’t know how we can know for sure without a magesterium. This is my dilemma.
    Have you read this?
    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/12/mary-in-the-old-testament-one-example/

    Alicia

  14. Kevin B.,

    You need to place yourself under the authority of the Word. Others will be with you…and others who are Christ + (whatever)…will depart from you.

  15. Good review, Devin.

    Two things are evident to me: (1) Armstrong is headed in the right direction, and (2) He will continue in that direction just in case he comes up with the “principled” distinctions and reasons you call for.

    Best,
    Mike

  16. “Who, exactly, was preaching the Gospel before there was an institutional church? Please enlighten me!”

    Try St. Paul, and all of those who came to faith from what they heard out of his mouth.

    And what about all those who the disciples told Jesus about (so that he would stop them), and he (Jesus) said, let them go…if they are not against us, then they are for us.

    Oh yes, how about all those who came to faith by what Jesus said and did, as well. No institution…just the Living Word.

    Institutions can be good. But they can also cause harm if they lead people away from trusting in Christ alone…and to trusting in other things in addition to Christ.

  17. Steve –

    Your reply to my question about starting my own ministry/church, and whether I need to or ought to submit my own particular doctrines, and therefore my ministry, to some manner of authority and oversight:

    You need to place yourself under the authority of the Word. Others will be with you…and others who are Christ + (whatever)…will depart from you.

    I’m a little concerned that my ministry and message may be flawed, perhaps even dangerously, if I do not correctly understand the Word to which I must submit. By the way, I’m not sure that what you propose as sufficient is actually (or simply) what the Word teaches. Are you sure?

    Nevertheless, assuming your assertion that I need merely submit my ministry to the Word is true: To whom should I turn, if only voluntarily as needed, to gauge my own particular message and see if it measures up as right teaching and sound doctrine, since I will not be under the authority of any man or group of men in my ministry?

    Also, what does “Christ + (whatever)” mean? How will I recognize that dangerous concoction when I see it?

  18. Kevin,

    What makes me sure is that faith is created when the Word is preached, in law and gospel, and the Sacraments are administered in accordance with that gospel Word.

    Romans 1:16 tells us that the gospel is the power of God unto faith. This power has been at work in people for 2,000 years. I heard, and believed. And I know that I am not alone.

  19. Steve Martin,

    I have a friend who puts himself “under the authority of the Word,” in the sense of reading it, interpreting it, and applying it, according to his understanding and conscience (a la Luther, “Here I stand. I can do no other.”) He has earnestly prayed for God to lead him to the correct understanding of Scripture in all that he reads and studies from it. He meticulously tries to compare Scripture with Scripture, not taking passages out of context (according to his understanding of the context(s), as gleaned from his serious exegetical, theological, and historical study).

    On this basis, he has reached the conclusion, mainly through studying Scripture, that Scripture does not teach the Trinity– and that therefore, Protestants, the Orthodox, and Catholics are all Scripturally wrong, for holding to the doctrine of the Trinity.

    Given that my friend will not answer to any higher authority than the Word, as interpreted according to his best understanding (as preceded and followed by much prayer), and his conscience and Bible study resources, what do you think he should do?

    One possible Protestant answer could be that he should join a serious, Bible-believing, Bible-teaching church– but he believes that most of the eccelesiastical bodies who *claim* to believe and teach the Bible are riddled with paganism, in part because they hold to the divinity of Christ, within the framework of the Trinity.

    For every Scriptural passage to which I can point my friend, to argue for the Biblical soundness of the Trinity, he can point me (and has pointed me) to multitudes of passages which he believes to refute the doctrine.

    What is Protestantism’s ultimate answer to my friend?

  20. Chad,

    One good cherry is worth the picking. A response can be for the person or their writing, or both. This response was for her because I detected a “see-saw” effect in her words. I shortened the wood. Since you guard against cherry-picking, what are your thoughts about my response ?

    Thanks,
    Eric

  21. Alicia,

    Thanks for responding. As we seek to love and serve God with our minds, one abiding truth must be remembered. That is, Jesus promised those who seek will find, so never underestimate the power of prayer in these cases. I want to align my comments to topics related to Mr. Rose’s initial post. Protestants have gleaned much from the RCC and the RCC has returned in kind. Vatican II is full of the fruits of dialogue. This should continue. Glean what you will because as a Christian,

    So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God. 1Cor:3:21-23

    You see, some scripture doesn’t need a magesterium ( never excluding the one who inspired it )…

    And so the Apostle St. Paul not merely begs, but entreats and implores Christians to be all of the same mind, and to avoid difference of opinions: “I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms amongst you, and that you be perfect in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Cor. i., 10). Such passages certainly need no interpreter; they speak clearly enough for themselves. Besides, all who profess Christianity allow that there can be but one faith. – Pope Leo XIII, Unity of the Church

    Does anyone need any man or women to avoid idolatry and have assurance of the passages I wrote ?

    Regarding Mary, I think these are fair understandings of the OT-NT typology, but be careful with the links between Mary and the Ark. When the OT references “the Ark of the LORD”, and the NT references “the mother of my LORD”, are you prepared to say that the “I AM” revealed to Moses had a mother ? or when Jesus entered the true Holy Place to apply His blood on the mercy seat, was Mary the Ark in heaven for this ?

    Thanks,
    Eric

  22. Hi Christopher?

    Out of interest what Bible version is your friend using?

    Is he using principles of interpretation to exegete the text or more of a proof text method?

    How does he deal with a passage like John 1?

    Phil

  23. Steve –

    I asked how you can be sure that a minister must merely submit his doctrine…his truth, to the Word, rather than submit his doctrine to some entity that guards The Truth. You replied:

    What makes me sure is that faith is created when the Word is preached, in law and gospel, and the Sacraments are administered in accordance with that gospel Word.

    I’m still wondering where your “truth flows from me and the Word” assertion is actually found in the Word. Are you certain that you are not whipping up something here that is not taught in the Word, and perhaps even contrary to the Word?

    I am afraid that you have done just that, and if that is what you have done: if you have added something to the Word that is not there…wouldn’t that be equivalent to the dreaded “Jesus + (whatever)” warning you gave us earlier?

  24. Hello Steve Martin,

    You wrote that “faith is created when the Word is preached, in law and gospel, and the Sacraments are administered in accordance with that gospel Word.” Who determines what is the correct Gospel and what is the correct preaching of the Word? I know some Mormons who believe they have seen and heard and believed just as you say, how do we know who is right? I’m sure you will answer: the Bible, but who determines which books are part of the canon? Once that is settled, how can we know who has the right interpretation of the Bible? Don’t forget the Arians had their verses too, they were just inaccurate interpretations of those verses. Protestantism is the same, they have their verses, but they are not accurate interpretations of those verses.

    It is interesting that St. Irenaeus, the disciple of Polycarp who was the disciple of the Apostle John, answered the question: how can we know whose interpretation is correct, when fighting against the Gnostics who claimed to have the right understanding of Jesus, by appealing to Apostolic Succession. He wrote “It is necessary to obey the presbyters who are in the Church – those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the Apostles. For those presbyters, together with the succession of the bishops, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But we should hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever. For they are either heretics or perverse minds, or else they are schismatics who are puffed up and self-pleasing…. Therefore, it behooves us to keep aloof from all such persons and to adhere to those who, as I have already observed, hold the doctrine of the Apostles.” St. Irenaeus, “Against All Heresies,” c. 180 A.D.

    In other words, we can know who has the right interpretation of Scripture by pointing to the interpretation of those who can trace their succession back to the Apostles. It is true some Protestants have Apostolic Succession but Irenaeus was also quick to point out that they must also be in communion with the Bishop of Rome, as he wrote “For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church [the church in Rome], on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere”.

    Anything short of an appeal to Apostolic Succession results in a subjective interpretation in which case your opinion is no better than the opinion of the Gnostics and Arians who claimed to have the right understanding of the Gospel as well. Remember though, it is not your opinion that is the pillar and foundation of the truth but it is “the church of the living God” that is the “pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1 Tim. 3:15) Which church is that Steve? How do you know you are a part of that church? I’m not trying to be mean or anything, I would sincerely like to know.

  25. Eric,

    You write: Does anyone need any man or women to avoid idolatry and have assurance of the passages I wrote ?

    Apparently, the Corinthians did (1 Cor. 10:25). And so do we. There are people who think that watching sports is idolatry, even others who speak of ‘bibliolatry.’ I’m sure that there are sects who consider infant baptism itself to be idolatrous. And this is not to mention all of the polemic over forms of worship (I’ve heard some people call the use of instruments idolatrous). The case is hardly as simple as what you seem to be suggesting.

    You also write: Regarding Mary, I think these are fair understandings of the OT-NT typology, but be careful with the links between Mary and the Ark. When the OT references “the Ark of the LORD”, and the NT references “the mother of my LORD”, are you prepared to say that the “I AM” revealed to Moses had a mother ? or when Jesus entered the true Holy Place to apply His blood on the mercy seat, was Mary the Ark in heaven for this ?

    The “I AM” revealed to Moses does have a Mother in the second Person of the Trinity(John 8:58). Do you deny that Mary is the Mother of God? Also, Jesus entering the true Holy Place is not literal, but a fulfillment of the OT foreshadow, which I’m sure that you know. So your argument doesn’t quite follow. Moreover, I would argue that the apparent lack of danger with regard to the worship of Mary in Protestantism is due to a complete lack of Mary in Protestant theology period. I think Alicia’s point is that in Catholicism (and, I would add, Eastern Orthodoxy) due emphasis on Mary is present without it leading to an idolatrous worship of Mary.

  26. Folks,

    I am not adding to the Word. The Word is Christ and His law and gospel. In His person. In preaching and teaching about Himself. And in the Bible.

    This Word creates faith.

    We do theology to see what God is after. He is after faith.

    Here’s a little quote that I like:

    “All upright sacred books agree on one thing, that they all collectively preach and promote Christ. Likewise, the true criterion for criticizing all books is to see whether they promote Christ or not, since all scripture manifests Christ. Whatever does not teach Christ is not apostolic, even if Peter and Paul should teach it. On the other hand, whatever preaches Christ is apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate, and Herod should do it!” (LW 35:396)

    This is where we come down on ‘authority’.

    I’m not saying that you are wrong, or not Christians (as many Protestants do)…I am saying that this is how we do it…and that we believe it to be “a more excellent way”.

    Thanks. Off to the salt mine.

  27. Steve, you quoted Luther who wrote “All upright sacred books agree on one thing, that they all collectively preach and promote Christ”. Question: who determines what books are “sacred books” and who determines what is the correct way to “preach and promote Christ”?

  28. Steve –

    Unfortunately, you have added to the Word, in that you have ascribed to the Word, and to the individual pastor or teacher for that matter, something that the Word does not claim for itself and certainly not for the pastor/teacher. You have ascribed to the Word (Bible) and to the pastor/teacher autonomy. The Word, however, informs us differently, because the Church of the living God is identified as the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). The Word rests and resides in and is guarded by the Church, the body of Christ, from whom the Word cannot be stripped without being perverted and misrepresented.

    To whom, then, do I submit my understanding of the Truth. Where is this “Church of the living God”. Does Oral Roberts, or Benny Hinn, or R.C. Sproul, or Reverend Ike, or Martin Luther, or Jimmy Swaggart qualify as the authoritative representative of the Church of the Living God? I would like to know, because they each have their own version of the truth. Who is legitimate, and how do I know?

    Or do you still maintain that such a submission is merely a burdensome addition to the simple requirements of the Gospel ministry, as you have asserted?

    Jesus + (whatever) is an easy pit to fall into. I suggest that your position of Word/Truth/Pastor autonomy is an example of the very thing you warned against. The Church’s job is to guard against such distortions, so that mere assertions might not be believed individually, and even worse, promoted to others as Truth.

  29. Steve,

    I asked, “Who, exactly, was preaching the Gospel before there was an institutional church? Please enlighten me!”

    You replied:

    Try St. Paul, and all of those who came to faith from what they heard out of his mouth.

    When I read Matthew’s Gospel, I see that Jesus Christ personally founded his own church before the apostles ever preached the Gospel to the nations:

    And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
    Matthew 16:18

    When I read the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 1, I also see that the apostles “Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James” were gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem waiting to be “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” While they were waiting to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, Peter understood that the death of Judas Iscariot had left an office vacant within the church that Jesus Christ had personally instituted. The eleven apostles cast lots to choose Matthias to fill that vacant office within Christ’s church. (In the original KJV, the word “office” is translated as “bishoprick”.)

    The point that I am trying to make, is that it seems clear to me, that the scriptures teach that Jesus Christ created an institutional church with offices, and that the Apostles were well aware of that fact before they were baptized with the Holy Spirit. It was only after they were baptized with the Holy Spirit that they began to preach the Gospel. So I don’t really understand your reply to me. I asked you who was preaching the Gospel before there was an institutional church, and you replied St. Paul! I don’t understand how you can say that, because Peter, the apostles were part of an institutional church (the church founded by Jesus Christ), and they were preaching the Gospel before Paul ever began to preach the Gospel.

    If you would please, explain to me why you think that St. Paul was preaching the Gospel before there was an institutional church.

  30. Hi Joshua,

    Every creature of God, even a new creature of God in Christ, is potentially a help or hurt. Whenever a creature assists us a hospital or in the prayer closet, they are a great help to live well and avoid sin. Whenever a creature leads us into sin, including idolatry, or they become an object of worship, they are a great hurt. Idolatry is that kind of sin where glory unto God is exchanged for a creature. Because of this potential occasion of sin, we must draw near to God alone in His Word to avoid idolatry. By bringing in passages related to idols and conscience, you have made a difficult situation for yourself. Did any Catholics ever cross that veneration/adoration line to worship Mary ? If yes, then the Protestant conscience is justified in avoiding veneration of Mary due to the similar nature it shares with adoration of Mary. This is why the council of Elvira forbade image veneration, right ?

    If God granted me a face-to-face visit with Mary like Elizabeth, I would gladly address her as the mother of my Lord. The Mother of God phrase was formulated to defend Christ’s divinity/humanity against a heresy. Address to Mary with the “mother of God” will not be needed due to Mary’s orthodoxy.

    Mary is the NT Ark
    Christ is the NT High Priest
    The HP of the OT applied blood to the OT Mercy Seat on top of the OT Ark
    The HP of the NT applied His blood to the NT Mercy Seat on top of the NT Ark
    When did Christ apply the blood of top of Mary ?

    Thanks,
    Eric

  31. Philip (re:#22),

    My friend uses various translations of the Bible, such as the American Standard Version of 1901 and Young’s Literal Translation. (He does *not* use the Jehovah’s Witness “New World Translation,” which is no translation at all but a mangling of the Biblical texts.)

    You asked if he uses “principles of interpretation” in his exegesis or more of a “proof-text method.” I thought that my original comment answered that question; he meticulously compares Scripture with Scripture and tries very carefully to see and consider the context(s) of passages when exegeting them. He is not a “proof-texter.” (I say this about him, having come, myself, from a strong background of exegetical, verse-by-verse preaching, as a former Calvinist.)

    About John 1, he understands the opening verses of the first chapter in a way that he claims is more consistent with an “ancient, Jewish, Scriptural” understanding of the main concept therein (“the Word”) than with the “paganistic” pseudo-Christianity that he claims all but took over the established Church shortly after the deaths of Christ and the first apostles. My friend believes that Jesus *is* the Messiah, and the “Son of God,” in some sense, but he does not understand John 1 to literally say that Jesus is God Incarnate, because he understands many other passages of the Bible to say, categorically, that God *cannot* be, and/or become, a man– not even a 100% divine, 100% human God-man.

    Basically, my friend thinks that the Nicene Creed is largely a product of pagan influence on “true, Biblical” Christianity– which is to say, Christianity according to his interpretation of the Bible, which he believes is consistent with the very first, Jewish Christians’ Biblical understanding.

  32. Steve,

    With the many comments addressed to you, you might well have missed mine to you about my “non-Trinitarian” friend (#19). If you are able and have the time, I’d truly be interested in reading your answers to my questions. Thanks and God bless!

  33. Christopher, and others,

    I have been away from my computer all day. I just got back in, but my wife just got home and I need to spend some time with her. So I’ll check back a bit later tonight.

    Thanks for your graciousness.

    – Steve

  34. mateo,

    We believe that Christ Jesus has not built His Church upon any sinful man…but upon the confession that came out of the mouth of that sinful man (Peter)…that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

  35. Christopher Lake,

    Whole the Trinity is not mentioned by name in the Scriptures, it is quite clear to see in many places.

    What comes to mind right off the bat, is Jesus’ Baptism. And Jesus’ conversation with Niccodemus.

    It is there, your friend chooses not to see it. The gospel is there also, but a great many choose not to see that, as well…opting for some regime of law keeping, or a cooperative venture where it is a lot of God and a little bit of ‘me’.

    This is why it’s imporatnt to read the Scriptures through the lens of the gospel…and not the lens of the law (‘what we do’).

  36. Kevin,

    The Word alone is Christ Jesus Himself….handed over in preaching, teaching, and the Sacraments, which Christ Himself commanded us to do (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper)…and also handed over to us in Holy Scripture.

    We add nothing to that. Nothing at all.

  37. I am editing a class titled, ‘The Word Alone’ that my pastor gave last Sunday. Unfortunately the sound quality isn’t the best and it’s taking me some time to raise the levels and reduce other noises. I’m about half way finished with it.

    It goes along way to explaining our position of authority and where we derive it, and some of the reasons why the Reformation happened to begin with. It’s a pretty good class and when I have it finished and it is posted, I will provide a link for anyone that might want a better handle on what we believe and why we believe it…whether or not you agree with any of it, or not.

    Thanks, friends.

    – Steve

  38. Eric,

    Every creature of God, even a new creature of God in Christ, is potentially a help or hurt. Whenever a creature assists us a hospital or in the prayer closet, they are a great help to live well and avoid sin. Whenever a creature leads us into sin, including idolatry, or they become an object of worship, they are a great hurt. Idolatry is that kind of sin where glory unto God is exchanged for a creature. Because of this potential occasion of sin, we must draw near to God alone in His Word to avoid idolatry. By bringing in passages related to idols and conscience, you have made a difficult situation for yourself. Did any Catholics ever cross that veneration/adoration line to worship Mary ? If yes, then the Protestant conscience is justified in avoiding veneration of Mary due to the similar nature it shares with adoration of Mary. This is why the council of Elvira forbade image veneration, right ?

    I agree with some of this. But just because a little wine causes someone to stumble, that doesn’t make wine an idol in an absolute sense, does it? TV? Sports? Instruments? Based upon what you’re saying, it seems as if the passages you cited are solely directed toward one’s private experience/conscience. You’re saying that because some people may have worshipped Mary (something that is condemned by the Catholic Church, by the way), therefore the Catholic Church simply shouldn’t give her due veneration (“Generations shall call you blessed”)? Where does one draw the line? And whose interpretation of the Bible is final (particularly on an issue like infant Baptism or the mode/manner of the Lord’s Supper)? You seem to missing the more fundamental danger of elevating the individual interpreter (who is a creature!) above everything else.

    Some believe that the prohibition of images at the Council of Elvira was an administrative measure in order to prevent pagans from lapsing, given that they had only recently converted to the Catholic faith. But that doesn’t say whether having images themselves are idolatrous or not.

    If God granted me a face-to-face visit with Mary like Elizabeth, I would gladly address her as the mother of my Lord. The Mother of God phrase was formulated to defend Christ’s divinity/humanity against a heresy. Address to Mary with the “mother of God” will not be needed due to Mary’s orthodoxy.

    So Mary should be called Theotokos only in certain contexts?

    Mary is the NT Ark
    Christ is the NT High Priest
    The HP of the OT applied blood to the OT Mercy Seat on top of the OT Ark
    The HP of the NT applied His blood to the NT Mercy Seat on top of the NT Ark
    When did Christ apply the blood of top of Mary ?

    The purpose of typology is not literal fulfillment. That’s like seeking for something to correspond to the scales of the serpent in the Gen. 3 prophecy.

  39. Steve (re:#35),

    Thank you for your reply, my brother in Christ. As I stated in my earlier comment (#19), my friend has earnestly prayed to God for the discernment to read and understand the Scriptures rightly. I have talked with him for hours and have seen his honest desire to know all that the Bible teaches. By stating that my friend “chooses” not to see the Trinity, you appear to be making a statement about the condition of his heart before God (though I obviously could be wrong about that– and I hope that I am wrong).

    The fact that something is objectively there in Scripture (such as the Trinity) does not necessarily mean that it is *equally clear* to everyone– not even to everyone who truly *wants* to know if it is there.

    An honest question– do you think that you would you believe the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, if it had never been presented to you by any pastor or catechism instructor, and you had only (or mainly) read the Bible?

    From what I have seen, and from what I know, of my friend, he was open to finding the Trinity in Scripture. However, after serious Bible study, and comparing of many Scriptures, he claims that not only was he *not* persuaded that the Trinity is Biblical, but moreover, he doesn’t see how it could *possibly* be Biblical.

    I’m not saying that I agree with him, of course, as I’m a believing, practicing Catholic, but I don’t claim to know *exactly why* he doesn’t see the Trinity in Scripture. It may be partially because of statements from Jesus such as “The Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28) How perspicuous is *that*, regarding the Trinity?

    I am curious, as to why you are certain that my friend has “chosen” not to see the Trinity in Scripture. Isn’t it possible that he has read, studied, compared Scripture with Scripture, and in the end, the Biblical evidence for the Trinity simply hasn’t been as convincing to him as the evidence against it? (Again, I’m not saying that I agree with him. I am a firm believer in the orthodox, historic, Biblical doctrine of the Trinity.)

  40. Sorry for the typos in my above post– it’s very late.. or early!

  41. Devin,

    Great review, brother! I have an interesting, and in some ways, in retrospect, saddening, to me, “from-afar” history with John Armstrong. When I was a “Calvinistic Baptist,” I was quite wary of him– largely because of statements that I had read about him in a book by John MacArthur dealing with the “Emerging Church” movement in Protestantism.

    Also, in the ecclesial community that I was a member of at the time, Protestants with “ecumenical, Catholic-friendly” leanings, such as Mr. Armstrong, were viewed as potentially blurring the (Protestant, Reformed) Gospel. I regret to say that I did not have the best opinion of John Armstrong in those years.. but then, I also did not believe that most Catholics (or, at least, “serious, consistent” Catholics) were even Christians at the time (despite my being a former Catholic)!

    I have such a different view of John Armstrong now.. he is my brother in Christ (albeit separated, very much my brother), and I love him. I read his blog and see his warm, open, clear love for Jesus, and his willingness to embrace *all* Christians as his brothers and sisters.. and I am ashamed at my former self who did not even want to read any his material of the last several years. I was wrong. I am thankful that by God’s grace, I have come to see this brother’s very genuine heart for Christ and for Christian unity.

  42. I finished that class and have out it up at :

    http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/what-lutherans-mean-when-they-refer-to-the-word-alone/

    It’s on our understanding of the Word, alone.

    I don’t expect you to agree with much (maybe some), but you’ll have a better idea of where we are coming from.

    Thanks!

    (I’m up at 4am for work so that’s it for me for tonight – but I’m off early tomorrow so I will be back)

  43. Christopher

    Fair point about the comparison of Scripture with Scripture as a principle of interpretation. In my mind I was ascertaining the various passages which would speak about God as being one God and potentially unitarian rather than Trinitarian without properly exegeting the text within the context of the passage and book, taking into account the writer’s intention, eclecticism, original langauges etc. The comparison of Scripture with Scripture is only one of the indigenous principles of interpretation, so for example seeking to understand the use of a word in its original language and what it meant to the people of that time wouild be important.

    The “Logos” in John 1 for example clearly has its roots in the Hebrew “dabar” for instance, so John’s view of Christ as Logos in Greek is thoroughly consistent with the Old Testament concept of God’s word being sure and certain and inviolable etc; therefore, the Word itself embodied characteristics of God – “The Word was God” or “God was the Word” as it is in the Greek text, puts the emphasis on the identity of the Word as being of the Godhead – but being “with God” in the beginning – therefore, a distinct person – The Word then became flesh, therefore incarnate etc…(I realise that I am writing to the converted)…but the Gospel of John is full of Trinitarian theology as I am sure you are aware (what about Thomas’s confession?) Besides the John passage the Matthew and Luke accounts of the Incarnation make it quite clear in the name that Jesus was given – the Lord is Salvation – you also have the Colossians 1 passage and many more which speak clearly to the divine nature of Christ and in the OT Isaiah – Messiah would be Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God etc. With this evidence and your arguments, I am interested to know whether your friend thinks that the Bible is contradictory or does he believe (and you may have mentioned this) that some of the writings are late and therefore, tainted by “paganism?

    The Lord’s command to baptise in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit also seems to be pretty unequivocal, where the 3 persons are put on an equal footing in the administering of the sacrament. Personally I believe the case can be built from Genesis 3:15 onwards right through to Revelation but that is not for this post.

    In respect of the Nicene Creed and other creeds (including the Confession of Faith that I stand to), I have some sympathy with your friend, because we cannot escape the influence of Greek philosophy upon the development of theology in the church. As Protestants and Catholics, I believe that together we agree upon these early creeds and they did not prove to be a battleground for the Reformation, but the introduction of the Logos concept from Platonic philosophy blew open the whole discussion of God’s ontos that is very difficult to establish from a reading of the biblical text. The bible is far more concerned with the economic revelation of God rather than the ontological concept. In order to make ontological statements about God we have to make logical jumps and assumptions in trying to comprehend the incomprehensible. As the early church fathers showed in discussions on the ontoligcal trinity we seem to be treading the fine line between modalism on the one hand and tritheism on the other! Anyway I digress. I do hope and pray that your friend finds his way through this.

    You mentioned earlier that he was averse to attending a Bible-believing church because he believes that it is not teaching in consistency with his understanding of Scripture which is a shame because it would be good for him to have his view tested and his own exegesis of the Scripture text put under some pressure under the preaching of the Word and in discussion with men who would have studied these things.

  44. Steve,

    You wrote “The Word alone is Christ Jesus Himself….handed over in preaching, teaching, and the Sacraments, which Christ Himself commanded us to do (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper)…and also handed over to us in Holy Scripture.”

    Many groups with contradictory gospels claim to be simply handing over Jesus Himself and handing over what is simply in Holy Scripture. Who determines which group is right? Who determines what is Scripture and what is not part of the canon? I know I’ve asked this several times but you haven’t answered it yet and I think it is because you don’t have an answer so if that is the case I’ll leave you alone after this post.

  45. re the various statements on belief in a Triune God.

    Genesis 1:26. God said, “Let Us make man in Our own image, in the likeness of Ourselves”… One might suggest that the imperial “we” should be understood, but given the fact that Elohim, an Old Testament name for God, can be singular or plural, the Church’s definition of a triune God would seem to fit the facts of scripture, including Moses’ statement, “Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Deuteronomy 6:4

    That accommodates Jesus’ statements that He came to do the will of His Father, and that He is only doing what He sees His Father doing (John 6:37, John 5:19). Furthermore He promises to send us the Advocate, the Holy Spirit (John 15:26). Oneness in this regard is the fact that the will of God the Father is performed perfectly by the Son and the Holy Spirit. There is no contention in God, no envy or pride of place, no desire to supplant one another. This is not the Greek or Roman deities working to undermine one another. This is the wonderful collaboration of the Persons of God in creating and maintaining Their creation, and in redeeming those created beings made for eternal life that want to be redeemed.

    The descriptors of the Trinity are familial descriptions, Father and Son, implying that God is a Family. The nature of that Family is the divine nature, possessed completely by all those Persons without regard to Their being separate as Persons, avoiding the issue of multiple gods (polytheism).

    Jesus recognizes His authority as coming from God the Father. He in turn has authority, and recognizes it in others. Matthew 23:2-3 find Jesus recognizing the occupants of Moses’ seat and their authority to impose practices on Israel. His reference is to specific people. He is not referencing the Old Testament canon, be it Hebrew or Greek, He is referencing authority as practiced in Jerusalem over Jews by the Sanhedrin.

    He has prepared the apostles for authority when He has ascended, and gives them the authority to do so. In early Acts (chapter 4), Peter responds to the “rulers of the people, and elders” by making his case for Jesus. Peter, empowered by the Holy Spirit, has stepped up to the role given him by our Lord. Simon is now the Rock placed by Jesus to carry His work forward. Note that we are talking about a person, not a book.

    Jesus founded a Church on the apostles and their successors. He did not found a book or specify the documents that it would contain. That was the Church’s doing, and Peter’s successor ratified that decision.

    I am well past the “Bible as I am willing to understand it” phase of my life. Having now arrived here as a son of the Church Jesus founded, I find I understand that book much better than I previously did. To borrow a phrase, “the door will be opened,” and it has opened for me. However it required obedience on my part, not a demand that I be right or authoritative, because I am not the arbiter of truth, nor am I the authority. That authority belongs to our Lord and He exercises it through the Holy Spirit Who He gave to His Church to be exercised by Peter, the apostles, and their successors.

    As an aside I came to the Roman Church because I saw authority as represented by Peter, and in particular the authority to forgive me my sins. Real authority practiced by real people operating under Authority. That makes me a son, a servant and a witness which are the limits of my authority.

    Thank you Lord for your grace to me.

    Cordially,

    dt

  46. DT,

    Those are good texts. Couple of questions regarding some of what you said later and this is my ignorance coming through:
    Who was Peter’s successor? Where in Scripture will I find this because the rock passage talks about Peter as the rock on which Christ will build his church but Apostolic succession is nowhere mentioned there? Unlike most protestants who hold that the rock is the confession I actually consider that Christ is talking about Peter because the Hebrew/Aramaic word for Peter is the same not like the male petros/female petra for the Greek text and I assume Christ was speaking in Aramaic. And Peter’s leadership in the early days of the church is clear but not lasting. He quickly gives way to Paul in Scripture as the mission to the Gentiles unfolds.
    Historically it seems that the primacy of the Rome bishop was claimed on the basis that Peter and Paul died there and that Rome was the centre of the pagan Roman Empire. The doctrine of Apostolic succession seems to be a rather late and questionable development as do some of the men who have held that seat over the centuries!
    When there were 3 popes in the 15th century who was the real one?

    Just some questions that came to mind when I read yours and other texts. I am not trying to be deliberately contentious but in my studies I have not seen the biblical justification for the position.

    Phil

    [Evidence for apostolic succession has been presented here. And the papal situation in the fifteenth century has been discussed in comments #277 and #280, here. Let's keep the topic of discussion in this thread on Devin's post; taking the discussion into the question of the fifteenth century papacy would be off-topic for this post. -Eds.]

  47. Steve,

    I asked you to explain to me “why you think that St. Paul was preaching the Gospel before there was an institutional church.”

    You answered:

    We believe that Christ Jesus has not built His Church upon any sinful man…but upon the confession that came out of the mouth of that sinful man (Peter)…that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

    How does this answer my question?

    Was St. Paul preaching the Gospel before Jesus founded his church?

  48. Alicia

    You wrote:

    I found it impossible not to follow all the tributaries back to the source. I don’t understand how Dr. Armstrong can stop where he has.

    I think that you have hit the nail on the head. I would like to ask Dr. Armstrong to identify the point in history, where he believes that the church that Jesus Christ personally founded ceased to be the church that all Christians must listen to. It seems to me, that Devin Rose’s article naturally raises the question that you are asking:

    First and foremost, he [John Armstrong] takes Christ’s prayer for unity seriously, rejecting interpretations of John 17 that seek to diminish the scope of Christ’s mandate. Many Protestant pastors he has listened to claim Jesus was praying for the unity of the invisible collection of all believers. Armstrong disagrees, writing, “to assume that the invisible church is the ‘one holy catholic and apostolic church’ of the Nicene Creed or that it is the answer to this prayer is a serious interpretive mistake.”

    How can it NOT be a serious interpretive mistake to think that the church that Jesus Christ personally founded was an “invisible” church? Christ said that his church must be listened to, and those that refuse to listen to his church must be excommunicated. How do men and women listen to an invisible church? How can an invisible church ever excommunicate anyone?

    If it is a serious interpretive mistake to think that Christ founded an invisible church (and I don’t see how it can be anything other than a serious mistake), then I think that the Protestant that does not listen to the church that Christ personally founded needs to give some justification for why he or she does not listen to the church that Christ personally founded.

  49. Steve, you said:
    “We believe that Christ Jesus has not built His Church upon any sinful man…but upon the confession that came out of the mouth of that sinful man (Peter)…that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

    When interpreting Matthew 16:18, why not take into account Ephesians and Revelation? Both these attest that God builds not only on Christ, but also upon the foundation of the apostles.

    Ephesians 2:19-20:
    “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone”

    Rev: 21-14: “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”

  50. Steve Martin (#35):

    [The Trinity] is there, your friend chooses not to see it. (emphasis added

    The only possibility is that Christopher’s friend is wilfully refusing to see the Trinity? He cannot be honestly mistaken?

    When I told my Reformed friends I was going to become a Catholic, one reason being that I thought (and think) that I saw (and see :-)) the Catholic Church in Scripture, they said I was wilfully blind to the fact that I was wrong.

    I found that a bit hard. Since I was, at least, not consciously refusing to see in Scripture that the Catholic Church was not the Church Christ established, this ‘will’ business – this ‘choosing’ – had to be something below the conscious level. I found it rather difficult to understand how I could actually will something without being aware of it.

    Of course you may mean that Christopher Lake’s friend is quite consciously choosing not to see the Trinity in Scripture – in fact, that he is lying. Is your only evidence of this simply the fact that there can be no other explanation – that it is simply not possible to read Scripture and not see the Trinity?

    jj

  51. Philip,

    Thank you for your response.

    As a hint, when Israel wanted a king other than God, they got Saul, David, Solomon, et al. Those kings had chamberlains (eg, keepers of the keys who handled access to the king). Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews per both the wise men and Pontius Pilate’s warrant on the cross, has a kingdom, the Church. Jesus of Nazareth, our King, has a series of chamberlains (Peter’s successors) responsible to Him for His kingdom. (An aside, Isaiah 22 might be read and compared with Peter’s commission by Jesus.)

    Now, I actually can answer those considerations but would note that people who do it better, eg, more clearly, more concisely and with better background notes, have done it at C2C. Accordingly I will ask our hosts to identify the requisite posts for you and for anyone else who is interested. I won’t reinvent the wheel and you’ll get clear and well defined answers.

    Cordially,

    dt

  52. Philip (re:#43), and Donald (re:#45, as your comment is related to our discussion),

    Thank you for the ongoing conversation, my brothers. I have actually brought up, to my friend, many of the very same Biblically-based points that you respectively mention.

    Part of the difficulty in my talks with him is that he has such a deep love for the Old Testament, the Jewish people, and the very strict monothesism affirmed repeatedly therein (which we also definitely share, as Catholics and Protestants, respectively!), that whenever he encounters anything in Scripture which appears to have implications for saying that God is Trinitarian, he will compare such seemingly “Trinitarian” statements (in our understanding) to the statements of the OT on God being one, and not a man,– and my friend will then say things like this:

    “The Old Testament is very clear here. God is *one God*, period– not ‘one God in three Persons.’ Moreover, the Scriptures also clearly tell us that God is not a man. The doctrine of the Trinity even contradicts the clear teaching of Jesus, given that Jesus himself states that the Father is *greater* than him!”

    Philip and Donald, I have mentioned many of the same passages and concepts, to my friend, about which you go into detail in your comments. I have, at various times, even gone into similar detail with him on such passages. He almost always has an answer based on exegetical study– and while that given answer might not square with all of *my* exegetical research and convictions, it does make *some* sense, at least, from within his interpretive paradigm, and within the “Bible study tools” which he uses.

    I hate to link to non-Trinitarian material here, but the following link provides a good example of my friend’s sort of exegesis, and his conclusion(s), which he and others of similar beliefs describe as “Biblical Monotheism” (he did not write this particular material himself): http://www.godward.org/Biblical%20Monotheism/Incarnation.htm Philip, particularly, it might be helpful for you to read this piece, only so that you can see the exegetical thinking which I have attempted to deal with and answer from my friend.

    Such writings (at times– more so than this one) actually look at, and go into, the original Biblical languages. These authors of these writings obviously do not agree with our conclusions on the Trinity (nor we with theirs!), but these men and women are quite serious– even very scrupulous– in wanting to understand, interpret, and apply the Bible.

    I love and respect my Protestant brother, Steve Martin, but I do not, and cannot, accept his statement, in comment #35, that such people as my friend, and by implication, these other “Biblical Monotheists,” have *chosen* not to see the Trinity in Scripture.

    The hard fact is that their *interpretive paradigm* for the Bible won’t *allow* them to see the Trinity there– but they have honestly come to that interpretive paradigm *through serious Bible study itself*.. including study of the original languages. It is heartbreakin to see their predicament.

    Of course, I am a believing and practicing Catholic, so it’s not surprising that I would say this, but even very objectively speaking, it seems that my friend’s situation points out the need for a Church which has genuine apostolic succession and which, from that place, can *authoritatively* speak, teach, call Councils, compose creeds, make dogmatic statements, etc.

    Without being under such ecclesiastical authority, virtually anyone can build a case (even a case based on much exegetical study!) for what he/she claims is “true, Biblical Christianity. ” To my friend’s mind, based on his Biblical study, Protestants, Catholics, the Orthodox, and even most “Messianic Jews,” (who agree with him on most things, other than the Trinity) are all heretics.

    I would like to think that John Amstrong’s form of ecumenism can offer an objective, principled way out of the strongly “Sola Scriptura” (*not* solo, but sola) paradigm which has led my friend to his non-Trinitarianism. I know that John would never affirm my friend’s conclusions, nor many of the “Bible study” materials that he uses. However, I can’t see how John has an ultimate answer to him, other than to say something like “Keep praying, keep studying the Bible, use more varied commentaries, and consider the fact that for 2,000 years, almost all professing Christians have disagreed with you on the Trinity.” I have said almost all of those things to my friend myself, and they have not, seemingly, shaken his “Biblical monotheism,” regarding the Trinity being “pagan” and “heretical.”

  53. Joshua,

    Actually, Paul tells us that an idol is nothing in the absolute sense 1Cor.8:4 In principle, God drew the line when He created all things for His own glory at the beginning. In practice, He drew the line when he gave the Scripture to inform and judge men in their hearts, consciences and traditions. All interpretation begins and ends with God. What is most fundamental and elevated is captured in the following:

    In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart, a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths. In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor. – Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes

    There is a sign outside this secret core and sanctuary that says, “No authority, No magesterium, No creature may enter !” The only thing outside of it that has the same power is the codified natural law, God’s commandments.

    Elvira is an interesting case. It is an example where a legitimate adoration of Christ’s image, as your position holds, is not expedient for a Christian. The Protestant says to just stretch that out over time.

    You wrote: So Mary should be called Theotokos only in certain contexts?

    Yes! And only in very, very certain contexts. We would agree that an orthodox Christology existed, on account of the Scriptures, prior to this formula. When the danger of the heresy is contained, no more use is found for it. The use and dispensibility of a conciliar formula is a Protestant hallmark. You enshrine it.

    You wrote: The purpose of typology is not literal fulfillment. That’s like seeking for something to correspond to the scales of the serpent in the Gen. 3 prophecy.

    I think this is a fault line. Introducing Mary as the NT Ark causes a break in the typological fulfillment found in Christ. In the NT, Christ is the High Priest, blood of the covenant, His body is the curtain, the Holy of Holies is God incarnate, He is the mercy seat and the ARK of Covenant. Christ alone is the ARK. The well known Litany of the Blessed Virgin invokes Holy Mary for prayer as The ARK of the Covenant. To give this to Mary is to exchange the glory of God for a creature; This exchange is idolatry. I appeal to your conscience, in the Holy Spirit, as a witness.

    You wrote: Where does one draw the line? And whose interpretation of the Bible is final (particularly on an issue like infant Baptism or the mode/manner of the Lord’s Supper)?

    I am able to interpret under the Olpha and Omega. Reference the Westminister Confession of Faith as my confession on your desired topics. Let me end with Aquinas:

    And so, in the name of the divine Mercy, I have the confidence to embark upon the work of a wise man, even though this may surpass my powers, and I have set myself the task of making known, as far as my limited powers will allow, the truth that the Catholic faith professes, and of setting aside the errors that are opposed to it. To use the words of Hilary: ” I am aware that I owe this God as the chief duty of my life, that my every word and sense may speak of Him.” – Summa Contra Gentiles Bk 1, Ch 2, [2]

    Eric

  54. Eric,

    Is veneration of Mary and the Saints inherently wrong? Or is it only wrong because it pricks a few consciences?

  55. Steve Martin and JTJ,

    John already pointed it out, but I’ve been noticing something for a while and would like to use John’s comment #50 to point it out. He quotes that Steve says, “[The Trinity] is there, your friend chooses not to see it. The gospel is there also, but a great many choose not to see that, as well…opting for some regime of law keeping, or a cooperative venture where it is a lot of God and a little bit of ‘me’.”

    What I’ve noticed is that people who hold to Sola Scriptura are forced to defend their interpretation of scripture by attacking the faith of those who don’t share their view. It has been inferred by many non-Catholics who show up here (not saying Steve himself is guilty of this) that people who don’t interpret the Bible the way that they do “Aren’t saved” – aren’t children of God. It seems like this will always be how arguments are settled under Sola Scriptura. We attack the person’s faith – something close to the core of who they are.

    It has been argued here by many that Sola Scriptura is false because it is incapable of maintaining unity in the Church. But when I see comments like Steve’s, I can’t help but notice that it goes a little deeper far to often. Sola Scriptura (or perhaps, rather, the belief in the perspicuity of scripture) often *causes* disunity beyond a simple disagreement because such disagreements are often resolved by judging others faith and relationship with God or accusing them of deceit.

    Is this a fair assessment? Has anyone else noticed or experienced something similar? Are Catholics immune from this type of judgement? Less prone? Or am I just blinded by my love of the Church?

  56. Eric,

    Also, you write in response to my question: “So Mary should be called Theotokos only in certain contexts?”

    Yes! And only in very, very certain contexts. We would agree that an orthodox Christology existed, on account of the Scriptures, prior to this formula. When the danger of the heresy is contained, no more use is found for it. The use and dispensibility of a conciliar formula is a Protestant hallmark. You enshrine it.

    This seems almost Nestorian. Is Mary the Mother of God or not? The Council of Chalcedon certainly did not say that Mary was only the to be called the Mother of God ‘in very, very certain contexts.’

  57. I’ll pipe in from the side lines. Veneration of the saints is inherently wrong. Why? It goes against the Spirit and the spirit of Scripture, hence the spirit of believers. It entraps the consciences and hinders spiritual growth of believers who come under its sway. It causes ‘little ones’ to stumble. It takes away from the praise of God. It casts its shadow over the Word (living and written) in the minds of many.

    Frankly, it is unChristian.

    Matt

  58. Fr Bryan (#55):

    But when I see comments like Steve’s, I can’t help but notice that it goes a little deeper far to often. Sola Scriptura (or perhaps, rather, the belief in the perspicuity of scripture) often *causes* disunity beyond a simple disagreement because such disagreements are often resolved by judging others faith and relationship with God or accusing them of deceit.

    It is, of course, a common tack to take in arguing with someone to impugn the motives of the person on the other side – not unique to Protestantism, by any means. Yet I think a doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture must tend that way. If the Scriptures are, indeed, plain in their meaning – their meaning, in particular, on what I think are central matters (and that judgement of centrality is, of course, itself one of the things Scripture must be perspicuous about), and if one of those central matters is the belief that men may seek to suppress the knowledge of God that is in them, as St Paul tells us in Romans 1, then there must be a much greater temptation to impute bad faith to your opponent.

    And of course bad faith is never ruled out. Men have before now sought to avoid the claims of Christ for a number of reasons – their own lives would have to change, perhaps. I do not think Catholics are immune to this sort of accusation – but I would make it with great caution, and can imagine few circumstances in which I would expressly state it (as oppose to thinking it in my own mind).

    jj

  59. Matt –

    I’m assuming that is your first comment on CtC. Welcome, I guess.

    I think you’re wrong, and here is why. If we are to take it seriously that we live IN Christ, then it would seem as though His mother IS our mother. If so, she deserves to be honored out of obedience to the 4th commandment. Jesus is honoring her in heaven right now. He can’t NOT honor her because he is truly righteous and truly lives the commandments. Because we live in Christ, we must honor her as well.

    Blessings,

    Fr. Bryan

  60. Matt –

    Furthermore, I’d like to challenge your assertion that praise of a saint takes away from the praise of God. In fact, I believe that honoring a Saint gives glory to God because it is precisely the work of God in the life of the Saint that made them holy. When we honor Saints we are really celebrating that God’s grace works. We are celebrating and drawing attention to the work of God in the life of a person – a person who is like us.

    There is nothing more Christian than celebrating God’s work in the world. Thus, there is nothing unChristian about honoring saints. In fact, it seems like honoring saints is a very Christian thing to do.

    Fr. Bryan

  61. Matt (re:#57),

    In light of your comment, and in light of the *very* many writings of the early Church Fathers which we have.. is it truly your contention, then, that from at least 200 A.D. until the Reformation, the entire visible Church, and the members of it, were engaged in veneration of the Saints, why *they* believed to be indispensable to Christianity, but of which you believe.. well..

    It goes against the Spirit and the spirit of Scripture, hence the spirit of believers. It entraps the consciences and hinders spiritual growth of believers who come under its sway. It causes ‘little ones’ to stumble. It takes away from the praise of God. It casts its shadow over the Word (living and written) in the minds of many.

    Frankly, it is unChristian.

    ..? Is this your contention– that, for over 1,300 years, the visible Church was deeply mired in an essentially unChristian practice which the members of the Church, both clergy and laity, devoutly believed to be an *integral* part of Christian belief and practice?

    If you question or doubt my above statement– that veneration of the Saints is a part of early Christian belief and practice which dates back to *at least* 200 A.D.– I ask that you please read the many, many passages, from the early Church Fathers, on the prayerful intercession and merits of the Saints on our behalf , certain of which passages can found here: http://www.churchfathers.org/category/mary-and-the-saints/

  62. Michael (#44),

    We believe it is the Word itself, that has authority. And that Word is revealed to us in law…and gospel.

    And we believe that because (as I said earlier) faith is created in it’s hearing.

    If you take Christ and His gospel (the prism through which we read and interpret the Scriptures), then what are you left with? I would answer, ‘just religion’.

    So many who do improperly interpret the Scripture, are not left with life saving gospel…but only death giving law.

    Methinks, anywho.

  63. Sorry for my typos above… in a slight rush, and excited, about leaving soon to attend my first meeting of the men’s fellowship group at St. Bernadette’s! :-)

  64. mateo (#47),

    Of course St. Paul was preaching Christ crucified after Jesus was on the earth. But there was really no formal, institutional church at that time…not as we know it, anway. People came to faith and told others who came to faith. They baptized, they preached and taught. They met in people’s houses for the most part after they were no longer allowed in the synagogues.

    My point is that they came to faith as a result of hearing the Word, and not from a prescribed religious course that was given by a church.

  65. Fr. Bryan (#55),

    Your points are well taken. I know a great many who judge other’s salvation on the basis of whether someone is aligned with their particular doctrines…or not.

    I am with you. We don’t judge people’s faith, or salvation on the basis of their doctrinal beliefs. Good doctrine is important, but we are not saved by it, or we all might be in a bit of trouble. “We see through the glass dimly.” And Jesus himself reminded us not to judge others salvation. But we do have a right to criticize folks when they stray too far from the biblical faith which was given to us, and when they dilute the gospel and place the sinner back at the center…instead of Christ Jesus.

    Thanks, Father Bryan.

  66. Steve,

    I asked you if St. Paul was preaching the Gospel before Christ founded his church, and you responded with this comment:

    Of course St. Paul was preaching Christ crucified after Jesus was on the earth. But there was really no formal, institutional church at that time…not as we know it, anway.

    You contend that there was no institutional church in existence before St. Paul preached the Gospel. I don’t understand where you are getting this idea. When I read the Acts of the Apostles, I see that the church that Jesus Christ personally founded had offices within his church, which makes Christ’s church an institutional church. (See my post # 29 – the apostles appoint Matthias to fill an office within Christ’s church before they ever preached the Gospel to the world). Also, when I read the Acts of the Apostles, I see that Christ’s church is an institutional church that has within in it bishops, deacons and priests (presbyters). Did this institutional church meet in private homes when Christianity first began to spread? Sure, but that fact means nothing in regards to whether or not Christ’s church is an institutional church. The Ukrainian Catholics that met in the forest under Stalin’s persecution of the Catholic Church were still members of an institutional church, even though these Catholics had their church buildings taken away from them by Stalin.

    Steve, would you please clarify this for me: Did Jesus found a church that had within it the office of bishop?

    If Jesus did NOT personally found a church that had the office of bishop within his church, then who, exactly, instituted the office of bishop, and when did he do that? Also, was the office of bishop instituted before, or after, Paul began to preach the Gospel?

  67. Mr. Bryan,
    No, I’ve made other comments on the list, this not being the first. I just wanted to make an assertion. It was time to, for me. Anyway, it was a little direct, to be sure. :-)

    Anyway, we could spend so much time putting “the Church over the centuries” againts the Scripture, etc, discussing who interprets and who is the “proper authority” necessary, etc. I’ve just been around that track too many times for it to be fresh or necessary.

    Don’t get me wrong. It is good to respect and regard those who have come before us in the faith and have been lifted to high places in the Lord, but I do believe that Catholic practice goes over board. I believe that as we see our sin deeper and deeper, and see the grace of God overcoming it more and more, the attention simply goes more and more to His work, not our faith, merit, example or more. “To God be the glory…”

    Saints? Yes. Veneration? No. Rememberance? Certainly? Point? To show the grace (forgiveness, salvation, renewal, preservation) of God in their lives…

    If Mary could speak vocally and we could her her, I am sure she would be saying the same.

    Take care,
    Matt

  68. Steve (re:#65),

    You write to Fr. Bryan that you don’t judge peoples’ faith based on their doctrinal belief. However, isn’t that exactly what you did (perhaps unwittingly), regarding my “non-Trinitarian” friend, when you replied to me that he “chooses” not to see the Trinity in Scripture?

    Given all that I written here, and seen in my own life, of my friend’s serious Biblical study, and his evident desire to understand the Bible more and more, I have an exceedingly difficult time ascertaining that his not seeing the Trinity in Scripture was a “choice.” Don’t get me wrong– I do think that the Trinity is there in Scripture. However, my friend has studied the Bible quite rigorously, comparing Scripture with Scripture, taking contexts into consideration, and in the end, he has simply found the Biblical evidence “against” the Trinity to be more compelling than that for the Trinity.

    Again, I do firmly believe that the Trinity is in Scripture, but I’m not sure that it’s nearly as perspicuous as many Protestants maintain. I have mentioned this before, but as just one example, when Jesus states that “The Father is greater than I,” He doesn’t exactly help the case for Biblical perspicuity, if “perspicuity” of the Bible, regarding the Trinity, means that any literate person should be able to read and study the Bible, and find the Trinity stated so clearly there that it is unmistakable (for anyone who wishes to see it)…

    Steve, I asked you this in a previous comment, but I know that you’re a busy man, so I will ask again– if you had never heard the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity (such as laid out in, say, the Nicene Creed) taught/explained to you by any pastor or catechism instructor, do you truly think that you would have come to the orthodox Trinitarian doctrine through reading and studying of the Bible alone?

    The Protestant doctrine of the perspicuity of the Bible would seem to necessitate your answer to the above question being “yes”– but very honestly, speaking for myself here, if I had never heard the Trinity carefully presented and explained by any pastor and/or formal theologian, I’m not at all sure that I would have come to the orthodox understanding of it through reading and studying the Bible alone.

  69. Christopher (post 52)/DT (post 51)

    Thanks for your responses. The discussion has moved on at pace since then. I’ll trawl through the discussions when time allows DT to find the relevant posts. I am sure that they are numerous on this site.

    Chris, I have taken a look at that link (thanks for that) and I see why your friend is struggling. The person who wrote the site is guilty of making several assertions from a purely human perspective and not engaging seriously with the text. I do pray that your friend will find his way through this and that God will grant you wisdom in your dealings with him.

    Phil

  70. Joshua,

    I was giving you gold, even gold mined from your own catholic field, and now your looking for cooper. “pricks a few consciences” Are you serious ? A question related to idolatry is like a bazooka to the conscience !

    You wrote (#38): You’re saying that because some people may have worshipped Mary (something that is condemned by the Catholic Church, by the way), therefore the Catholic Church simply shouldn’t give her due veneration (“Generations shall call you blessed”)?

    Allow me to re-word your words. ” I oppose the worship of Mary” and ” Due veneration should be given to Mary ( Generations shall call you blessed ). I can get with this kind of biblical veneration. It is the same as biblical honor. If you are trying to introduce some veneration that looks like ARK idolatry, then the answer is a big NO. The spiritual communion shared by Mary and I reach Christ. The Holy Spirit unites us in our common interest. Mary would have visited me when she was carrying Jesus because there was no fear that I would prostrate myself like John before the Angel ! As elect and predestined children of God, Mary and I know the ARK.

    You wrote: This seems almost Nestorian. Is Mary the Mother of God or not? The Council of Chalcedon certainly did not say that Mary was only the to be called the Mother of God ‘in very, very certain contexts.

    Not being eloquent or a good writer seems to be the reasons you thought I would fall for this shrewd tactic. I clearly acknowledged Mary as the Mother of my Lord in accord with the biblical orthodoxy of the early church.
    You are trying to create one of my “very,very certain contexts” to see if I hold up to the test. You smell Nestorian in the lurking places, but my words have given no odor to assume danger. You pin the conciliar-formula-victory-badges on the uniform for others to give awe and honor ( for many in your fold love the praise of men). This soldier has folded the uniform and placed it away for safe keeping. JWitness are visiting my home this weekend having no awareness that the formula “Mother of God ” will be used at some point. All heresies mix at some point.

    Stand down ! Is Mary or Christ the NT ARK of the covenant ? I don’t try to create the contexts.

    Eric
    Eric

  71. Joshua,

    In the OT, the ark of the covenant was the box used to store the tablets of the law, Moses’ rod, and a few other holy artifacts. They are reminders of the Jews being led out of slavery in Egypt and of being given the Law.

    In the NT, the ark of the covenant is the woman bearing the holiest Person ever born to mankind in her womb. This Person is the fulfillment of God’s offer to the human race to be led out of the slavery of sin and death. He is the fulfillment of which the original Passover and flight from Egypt is a foreshadowing. He is the ultimate Reality, and His mother is noted for having a real place in all of this from Genesis on.

    Mary is a personal reminder of the offer made to us by God for our redemption. He came to us through her rejoinder, “Let it be done to me according to your word” which was fulfilled in her womb, which is the Ark of the New Covenant.

    Cordially,

    dt

  72. Eric,

    So veneration of Mary or the Saints is not inherently wrong, but worship of them is. Got it. We have no disagreement there. The reason for my question is that you suggested that the two passages you quoted from Scripture were enough to prevent idolatry. But it’s unclear how they do. Later you made reference to one’s conscience and natural law (which is no longer Scripture) to argue against the need for a Magisterium. But in either case you’ve failed to show in any way how Scripture makes the Magisterium unnecessary. For you, it seems, it’s not actually Scripture that prevents idolatry, but the conscience. And, as you admit, veneration of Mary and the Saints is actually not idolatry in any objective sense–even if it may abused or misconceived by others.

    Mary, who carried Jesus in her womb, is the fulfillment of the OT Ark of the Covenant, which contained the Decalogue. Just as David asked, “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?” So Elizabeth, upon Mary’s visitation asked, “Why is it granted that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” Both the Ark of the Covenant and the visitation occurred near the hill country of Judea (which is explicit in Luke). Just as David danced in celebration of the Ark’s (after it had been returned), so John the Baptist leaps in the womb of his mother in the presence of the Mother who carried Christ. When the Ark returned it remained in Obed-edom for three months, Mary remained with Elizabeth for three months. Afterward, the Ark is sent to Jerusalem, just as Mary goes to Jerusalem for the presentation. I have no hesitancy in affirming this because it is clearly in the BIble.

    I don’t see how such typology (which seems rather apparent and intentional in Luke) is cause for concern.

  73. Matt –

    The dictionary defines veneration as showing profound respect or reverence. So, when you say, “It is good to respect and regard those who have come before us in the faith and have been lifted to high places in the Lord,” it seems as though you are agreeing with the catholic practice.

    What do you understand veneration to mean? In your opinion, how much respect is too much respect? Who should decide when a line has been crossed?

    FrB

  74. Steve,

    In your comment #65 you wrote:

    We don’t judge people’s faith, or salvation on the basis of their doctrinal beliefs.

    I will agree with you that we are not to presume that we can judge the state of a living person’s soul as he or she stands before God. That kind of judgement requires a subjective judgement, and I agree that the scriptures forbid that kind of judgement. So whether or not a person is going to be condemned to hell is not something that I should even speculate about. Agreed about judging about salvation of the individual.

    But there is another type of judgement spoken about in scriptures, objective judgement, and that kind of judgement is commanded, not forbidden, by the scriptures. Christians are commanded by Christ to listen to His church or be excommunicated. If Christ’s church exercises her teaching authority to formally define a heresy, then all Christians are conscience bound to accept that definition of heresy. Christ’s church has the authority to define the objective standards for what constitutes the orthodox doctrines of faith and morals. As a Catholic, I believe that the Catholic Church is, in fact, the church that Christ personally founded. Therefore, I would say that a person who believes in the heresies of Once Saved, Always Saved, or sola scriptura has a defective faith that needs to be corrected by listening to Christ’s church. My objective judgement of another person’s faith is not forbidden to me, because I am commanded by the scriptures to not have fellowship with obstinate and unrepentant heretics that refuse to “listen to the church”.

    Steve, you may disagree with me that Once Saved, Always Saved, and sola scriptura are false doctrines, but when you do that, you are judging my faith to be defective on the basis of my doctrinal beliefs. Which leads us back to the question, who, ultimately, has the authority to decide what constitutes orthodox belief. This is a question of primacy. Do the scriptures teach the doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience or do the scriptures teach that I must listen to the church that Jesus Christ personally founded?

    The Westminster Confession of Faith teaches the doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience, and that the bible is perspicuous to the extent that even uneducated men and women can understand all the necessary doctrinal truths found in the scriptures. This has been discussed in the comboxes of the CTC Fred Noltie’s article Making My Way to the Catholic Church. In combox comment # 33, Fred Noltie summarizes the result of these WCF doctrines with these words:

    If a man believes that councils may err, and if he believes that they must be judged by appeal to Scripture, and if he believes that he is not conscience-bound to things which councils may teach if they have erred in them, and if he believes that he doesn’t have to be educated in order to discern necessary truths in the Bible…it’s pretty easy to see that he’s not exactly going out on a limb if he supposes that he can decide for himself whether some doctrinal statement or other is true or false. What else is he likely to do, since he can’t trust councils but he can (so he is told) learn everything from the Bible that he needs to learn, without even an education?

    If I truly believe that I can come to the correct belief of what constitutes orthodoxy by merely reading the scriptures, then why would I NOT believe that anyone who disagrees with my personal interpretations of the scriptures must be either a knave or a fool? It seems to me that Fr. Bryan has correctly identified something that is common among sola scriptura confessing Protestants when he writes in his comment # 55:

    What I’ve noticed is that people who hold to Sola Scriptura are forced to defend their interpretation of scripture by attacking the faith of those who don’t share their view. It has been inferred by many non-Catholics who show up here (not saying Steve himself is guilty of this) that people who don’t interpret the Bible the way that they do “Aren’t saved” – aren’t children of God. It seems like this will always be how arguments are settled under Sola Scriptura. We attack the person’s faith – something close to the core of who they are. … Sola Scriptura (or perhaps, rather, the belief in the perspicuity of scripture) often *causes* disunity beyond a simple disagreement because such disagreements are often resolved by judging others faith and relationship with God or accusing them of deceit.

    Fr. Bryan has identified the “knaves or fools” problem – if I sincerely believe that my personal interpretations of the “perspicuous” bible are without error on necessary matters, then anyone that disagrees with me on these necessary matters must be either a knave or a fool. That is, they disagree with me because they know that I am right, and they are just being evil by pretending to not to know the “perspicuous” truth, or they disagree with me because they are simply ignorant fools that are lacking in intelligence.

    The Catholic does not need to get caught up in this “knave or fool” syndrome. I see that there are thousands upon thousands of Protestant sects that teach contradictory doctrine, and because of this, I can only conclude that most Protestants believe at least some heresy. But I would never say that most Protestants are not sincere in their beliefs, nor would I claim that most Protestants are fools, since there is nothing in my experience with Protestants that would lead me to believe either of these things. For one thing, I do not believe that the bible is “perspicuous” about what constitutes orthodox doctrine, which is exactly why Christ instituted a teaching office within his church. Which once again, leads right back to the question of primacy – should I believe in the Protestant doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience, or should I believe that Christ’s church has a primacy of authority, and that I am conscience bound to listen to her when she solemnly exercises her authority when she interprets the scriptures.

    If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Matthew 18:17-18

  75. Philip (re:#69),

    You state that, in the article to which I linked in comment #52, the author is not “seriously engaging with the text.” I do fully agree with you (I think, that is– I’m *intuiting*, from what you write above, that this is what you see in the article) that the author is limiting God, by interpreting the Biblical texts from within a certain narrow range of human logic, *as* defined by the author.

    However, the simple fact is, the author believes that God cannot be both “one” and “one in three Persons.” He believes that God did not become man, in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, and that, apparently, the Son could not be co-eternal and co-equal with the Father. This is the author’s interpretive paradigm, and he can back it up with multitudes of Biblical passages. Just because we believe, with every fiber of our beings, that he is wrong on his convictions here, does that *necessarily* mean that he is not “seriously engaging with the Biblical texts”?

    As I mentioned in #52, also, that particular article does not engage with the original languages nearly as much as other writings in the non-Trinitarian, so-called “Biblical Monotheism” theological stream. Could it be possible that you are dismissing his exegesis, partially, because you might have always been taught, by those Biblical teachers whom you respect, that the Trinity is a core part of Christian orthodoxy? (As a Catholic, I would agree that it *is* a core part of Christian orthodoxy; I’m just posing a question for thought.)

    The so-called “Biblical Monotheism” field is nothing to easily dismiss. As with any heresy that is “backed up” by (at least at times) seemingly rigorous exegesis of many Biblical passages, it is dangerous and potentially seductive. Even apparently strong, orthodox Christians can be misled by the “Biblical” arguments therein. (I have been a witness to this, one could say, in horror.)

    If you are interested, at all, in seeing just how easily the Bible can be exegeted to “prove” non-Trinitarian claims, including via the original languages, please read through more of the articles here (forewarned is forearmed, in a sense): http://www.godward.org/Biblical%20Monotheism/biblical_monotheism%20index.htm

  76. Philip,

    I noticed, at the more extensive link that I just posted for you above in #75, there is an article dealing very specifically with the “non-Trinitarian” view of John 1. Earlier, you had asked about my friend’s view on the “Word” in John 1. I think that this article would represent his view. Here is the direct link to that piece of writing: http://www.godward.org/Biblical%20Monotheism/John%201,%20how,%20not%20who.htm

    Thank you very, very much for your prayers for my friend. I should have said that earlier, but I failed to do so, and I am sorry. Thank you deeply, brother.

  77. Joshua,

    Please bear with me. I think we are at a pivitol point in our ecumenical dialogue. Let’s make Mr. Rose and Mr. Armstrong happy.

    Here is the set: codified law (scripture)-natural law-conscience-idolatry
    If anyone needs a teacher ? I volunteer !

    My first lesson:

    1) 1Cor 8:4
    2) Rom. 14:14
    3) Rom. 14:23

    Who examines your conscience before confession ? Viewing the set as a whole stops the need for a magesterium. I think you are troubled with how to apply this set in real life. Alone with God and reading the scriptures are sufficient to judge your heart if you have sinned. You are open to God for His judgement about every single thing in creation, including yourself. His word works it by His Spirit. The examination should reveal if you or another creature has been raised to the level of God. If your conscience judges something as idolatry, then it is. This is universal and applicable to all. Imagine if all idolatry questions had to filter through an external teacher, no contact with that teacher will be grounds to excuse us if idolatry is committed. A strong conscience can draw from the scripures or all of creation to instruct or judge. 1Cor 3:21-23, 1Cor 2:14,15
    The entire set was present when I quoted scripture to Alicia.

    Your appeal to scripture for Mary as the Ark is not under attack. We should stay in scripture for resolution. I will show why we must be concerned about your conclusion. Please correct me if I am wrong, but don’t you hold that Mary and Christ are the Ark. Not either/or, but both/and ?

    God’s nature is good.
    Man’s nature is good.
    God and man are good.

    Mary is the NT Ark.
    Christ is the NT Ark.
    Mary and Christ are the NT Ark.

    Is the Ark here univocal -or- equivocal -or- analogical ? If univocal, then we have an perverted pantheism. If equivocal, then we may have a nominal relation without a real one ( remember Mary is to be the real anti-type to the OT Ark). If analogical, then tell me how you avoid pantheism or nominalism ?

    If it is either/or,

    When does Christ apply the blood on the top of Mary ? If she is the only ARK , then where was she when the NT High Priest made atonement in the NT Holy of Holies ?

    Thanks,
    Eric

  78. Eric,

    Who examines your conscience before confession ? Viewing the set as a whole stops the need for a magesterium. I think you are troubled with how to apply this set in real life. Alone with God and reading the scriptures are sufficient to judge your heart if you have sinned. You are open to God for His judgement about every single thing in creation, including yourself. His word works it by His Spirit. The examination should reveal if you or another creature has been raised to the level of God. If your conscience judges something as idolatry, then it is. This is universal and applicable to all. Imagine if all idolatry questions had to filter through an external teacher, no contact with that teacher will be grounds to excuse us if idolatry is committed. A strong conscience can draw from the scripures or all of creation to instruct or judge. 1Cor 3:21-23, 1Cor 2:14,15

    I examine my conscience before I go to Confession. I don’t contest that. But my conscience is not God. It is possible for what to have a poorly formed conscience so that things that are not sinful (e.g., eating meat sacrificed to idols) is regarded as sinful. In order to have a well-formed conscience, however, I need to go by more than what my conscience is already telling me. I need to submit to instruction. There are people who believe that dancing is a sin and would no doubt feel guilt if they danced. Does this mean that dancing is, by itself, a sin? By no means. Would that person be sinning if he/she willfully went dancing while thinking it was a sin? It is likely. But eventually one would hope that that person would learn the truth that dancing is not a sin. There are two issues here, it doesn’t simply boil down to what my conscience tells me, it also has to do with an objective standard. To reduce all sin simply to what one’s conscience testifies to would render all of Paul’s talk about ‘weaker brethren’ not only unnecessary but nonsensical.

    On top of that, I can be wrong about certain things. If I struggle with something like scrupulosity, I might think that every little thing I do is sin, even if certain things may not actually be. Who’s going to tell me to stop? My conscience? In this case, my conscience is precisely the problem! No, I need someone who is not me to tell me the gospel of forgiveness. Otherwise, the Christian life will amount to me talking to myself, trying to convince myself that I’m really forgiven. How is this different from psychological self-help?

    Those two passages from 1 Cor. don’t pertain to conscience but to a very particular instance of in-fighting within the Corinthian church. If you disagree, please expand on the said passages.

    No one here is saying that Mary = Jesus. It was not the Ark of the Covenant by itself, but insofar as it contained items central to the Old Covenant. The typology points to Mary as the Ark, containing Jesus Christ who is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant (‘the law came through Moses, grace and peace through Jesus Christ’). I don’t think that you’re purposely twisting what I and others have been saying about Mary, but I’m confused as to where you are getting the impression that Mary is being placed on the same level as Jesus Christ.

    J

  79. Joshua,

    I hope to cut through this and show the underline issue.

    My original verses:
    Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 1Cor 10:14
    Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. 1John 5:21

    Set: scripture-natural law-conscience-idolatry
    This is a closed system including the essential interior and exterior elements needed for any person to obey the above verses.

    Can you know if the adoration and worship of an image of Christ is idolatry based on the above set and the bible alone ? Do we need some other person to tell us this is or is not idolatry in advance ?

    Invocation:
    Holy Mary, Ark of the Covenant, pray for us.

    The contents of the OT Ark always stayed with the OT Ark. The contents of Mary have exited Mary. Why do you still call her the Ark ? The connection is broken.

    You wrote: Just as David asked, “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?” So Elizabeth, upon Mary’s visitation asked, “Why is it granted that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?”

    Jesus alone is the Ark. By calling her the Ark, you are in fact and in piety calling Mary something that belongs to the God-man alone. That is idolatry. All of the confusion goes away when you stop transposing Ark with Mother. The reason we have similar wording is because the ARK did come to Elizabeth in the womb of Mary.

    Jesus was in the belly of the earth.
    Jesus is the anti-type of the contents in the OT Ark.
    therefore, the earth is the Ark.

    Holy earth, ark of the covenant, pray for us. God forbid !

    Thanks,
    Eric

  80. Dear Mr. Bryan,
    You said that if I am in Christ, then his mother is my mother, his honoring of her is for me to do the same, etc. So, does that also apply to his apostles being my apostles? His authority being my authority? Is his human memory of walking through Jerusalem also my memory of walking through Jerusalem?

    Are his carpenter skills mine also, and his ability to speak Aramaic. Is this what it means to be “in him”?

    Of course not, sir.

    I am guessing you get the gist. To be sure, the Lord fulfilling all the commandments teaches me to do the same, according to my ability in my sector of life. That means from his example and leading, etc., of honoring his mother, I learn to honor my mother, who lives in Arizona. His mother is not my mother.

    Do we remember the biblical Mary as a woman honored to be chosen to conceive the Lord and raise him? Certainly. But this does not make her the “mediatrix of heavenly graces”, a receptacle of prayer and veneration, etc. A sense of proportion is most important in these matters.

    To be sure, she is mother of the Lord, according to His human nature. She did not generate His divine nature through the gestation period.

    She is not before all things. All things do not hold together through her and in her.

    We don’t want to give her God’s attributes (she is not in all places, hearing all prayers and requests, etc.). We are confusing a creature for the Creator.

    A simple reading through even the New Testament shows/demonstrates this. I believe that the confusion lies in the ‘centuries’ after the holy writ was written. Confusions will come, but so will grace upon grace…(thankfully for *all* of us).

    Purposing to be direct and gracious here (the tone does not always come through the online forum, so I want to clarify.) Sometimes I can be blunt. However, I don’t want to be edgy.

    Take care,
    Matt

  81. Eric,

    Perhaps it is due to my own dullness, but I am not quite sure what you are saying. Rather than ‘cut through to the underlying issue’ (a rather evasive technique, if you ask me), would you mind addressing the points that I laid out in my response?

  82. Eric, (re#79),

    Hi. I’ve been following the exchange between you and Joshua with interest and would like to ask for some clarification on this:

    Jesus alone is the Ark. By calling her the Ark, you are in fact and in piety calling Mary something that belongs to the God-man alone. That is idolatry. All of the confusion goes away when you stop transposing Ark with Mother. The reason we have similar wording is because the ARK did come to Elizabeth in the womb of Mary.

    I thought Jesus was the Word Incarnate, not a human being who “carries within him” the Second Person (the Word) of the Trinity, but a single being with two natures who truly and fully is the Second Person of the Trinity, as well as a wholly human man. How then can he be the Ark – a physically distinct container for the tablets of the Law – without compromising the hypostatic union?

    Also, regarding the Word “exiting” Mary, His Ark, there are at least three ways to challenge that, but I’ll mention just one: the tablets of the Law, when the Temple was destroyed, were separated from the Ark – does that mean it was never really the Ark of the Covenant?

    Peace and blessings to you, my separated brother –
    Frank

  83. Joshua,

    Forgive me for being evasive. Your responses were not to be avoided, instead I thought my communication was not clear enough. Later hours for me doesn’t help :)

    You wrote: In order to have a well-formed conscience, however, I need to go by more than what my conscience is already telling me.

    Bringing in a “well-formed” conscience has added an important and difficult new dimension. Because I’m arguing for something more restrictive. Other “exterior” sources are required for being well-formed. Due to the imperative nature of the case, pure-command and pure-obedience in and of us alone before God was my aim. The natural law commands to “do good, avoid” evil in this native state. The private realm before God is real and untouched.

    You wrote: On top of that, I can be wrong about certain things. If I struggle with something like scrupulosity, I might think that every little thing I do is sin, even if certain things may not actually be….How is this different from psychological self-help?

    The conscience and the psychological factor must be distinguished because the natural law is rooted in the conscience. Also, scrupulosity is caused by sin in my opinion. Refer to my set, I would tend to place scrupulosity on the “idolatry” side ( related to sin).

    To interpret silence is a very dangerous task. Some of my harder (at least hard in my mind) points on Mary are not being touched. All is not lost ! I will push on if you are willing ? To tell the truth, I’m really enjoying this exchange.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  84. Hi Frank,

    You wrote: I thought Jesus was the Word Incarnate, not a human being who “carries within him” the Second Person (the Word) of the Trinity, but a single being with two natures who truly and fully is the Second Person of the Trinity, as well as a wholly human man. How then can he be the Ark – a physically distinct container for the tablets of the Law – without compromising the hypostatic union?

    How the two natures relate to one another is a place for much discussion. The ” hypostatic union” phrase was designed to affirm the unity of the natures and show indisolubility. I also need clarification on the Ark/H.Union relation ? Not really sure what your asking.

    You win and I concede point #1 of 3. Looking forward to 2 and 3 !

    You wrote: does that mean it was never really the Ark of the Covenant?

    Yes with qualifications. The Ark and its contents are one unit. This wounds the integrity much like the expressions found in ecumenical ecclesiology. Existence is not destroyed but the ability to make typological connections is worsened. Explain a little more before I develop my counter-points.

    Thanks,
    Eric

    [The purpose of each combox here at CTC is to discuss the content of the article above that combox. Devin's article is not about the subject of Mary. The discussion of Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant belongs in the combox of "Mary in the Old Testament -- One Example." Thank you. -Eds.]

  85. Eric,

    Thanks for the clarification. Though, I think more clarification is in order.

    You write

    Bringing in a “well-formed” conscience has added an important and difficult new dimension. Because I’m arguing for something more restrictive. Other “exterior” sources are required for being well-formed. Due to the imperative nature of the case, pure-command and pure-obedience in and of us alone before God was my aim.

    But we’re not talking about ‘pure-command’ or ‘pure-obedience,’ the question at hand pertains to concrete issues–the issues that people typically have to deal with. In the case veneration of Mary and the saints. And since you’ve already allowed for a distinction between veneration and worship, the question is how one can come to know whether they are rightly protesting something as sin when it is actually not sin in any objective sense.

    I don’t see how anything you wrote actually poses a solution to the problem of a poorly formed conscience. Feel free to elaborate.

    The natural law commands to “do good, avoid” evil in this native state. The private realm before God is real and untouched.

    How does one know what is good? And just because the ‘private realm’ is ‘real and untouched’ doesn’t make its every decision right. You seem to be suggesting that because God gave us the power of private judgment therefore it must de facto be correct. But that isn’t the case (as evinced by people who think any form of dancing is a sin, to return to an example that is admittedly getting old).

    The conscience and the psychological factor must be distinguished because the natural law is rooted in the conscience.

    But how does the concrete person actually distinguish these two? Especially if I as an individual have priority over every external authority, how can I tell the difference between when my conscience is telling me something (and my conscience may still be entirely wrong on a given issue) or when it is God? I.e., how do I know that I’m not simply forgiving myself rather than God forgiving me? Natural law may be rooted in the conscience, but it is not identical to it.

    Also, scrupulosity is caused by sin in my opinion. Refer to my set, I would tend to place scrupulosity on the “idolatry” side ( related to sin).

    Saying that scrupulosity is caused by sin doesn’t actually solve the issue of conscience. If someone is afraid that everything they’re doing is sinful and you tell them that this is because of sin, how do they know to listen to you rather than their conscience? You’re just another external authority (like the Bible, like the Magisterium, etc.).

    To interpret silence is a very dangerous task. Some of my harder (at least hard in my mind) points on Mary are not being touched. All is not lost ! I will push on if you are willing ? To tell the truth, I’m really enjoying this exchange.

    I don’t know which ‘harder points’ that you’re referring to, but if you don’t mind, I’d like to figure out this issue of conscience first (since your argument against Mary began with an appeal to conscience). And perhaps, per the request of the editors, we can move the discussion of Mary to a different combox so that we’re not hopping back and forth between two different issues.

    j

  86. Eric (re: #84),

    I will reply over in the “Mary in the Old Testament – One Example” combox, as requested by the moderator.

    Frank

  87. to Christopher and all the respondents regarding Christopher’s non-trinitarian friend.

    It has been edifying for me to read this, and let it wind its way through my prayer and consideration. Similar things have occurred to me, and I found a point of reference in an unexpected place: GK Chesterton. In one of his books, he makes the statement about those who are willing to let God be God but are not willing to let men be men. In this case, I think he was responding to Calvinism’s TULIP definition which strips men of their reason by making it so darkened that it is useless.

    However, coming from evangelicalism, I found GK’s position about God being God not applying. If one does not believe Jesus when He makes statements about eating His Body and drinking His Blood, then God is not being allowed to be God. That made me remember Jesus’ statement in Matthew 6:4 about not being recognized in some quarters. At that point it occurred to me that there were people I have witnessed to who could not receive that witness from me, which is something I now have in common with our Lord. I do not know the why of this, but have seen it enough to know that it exists. That being the possible case, the best thing that we can possibly do for our friends is to give them to God, and as a Catholic, might I suggest that one might enlist His mother in this effort.

    In the Old Testament Solomon, who has succeeded his father David as king of Israel, greets his mother by bowing low, and having a chair/throne brought for her (1st Kings 2:19-20). This is the underpinning of the gebirah. It is the mother of the king who is the queen, which is quite different from a more recent innovation where the wife of the king occupies that position. The king’s mother has two functions involving the instruction of the king’s children, and carrying to her son the needs of his people.

    If one sees Jesus as the remote and ultimate successor of David, per a promise made by God to David about his son occupying the throne of Israel, then one sees Jesus as the King of the Jews (our King). The juxtaposition of Mary as the queen (our queen) becomes much clearer.

    In the gospel at the wedding feast at Cana, Mary (as the mother of the king) brought her Son the consideration that the newly married couple had no wine. Her Son noted to her that it was not yet His time. Her response was full of grace in looking out for the well-being of His people, and she responded by faith in her Son when addressing the servants to “Do whatever He tells you.” His response to her request and her act of faith was to fulfill her request, and water became wine.

    The last thing I thought of was Alphonse Ratisbonne and the miraculous medal. I don’t know if your friend would consider carrying one, but Heaven knows what would happen if he were willing do so.

    In any case, it appears that your friend has settled on what he is willing to believe for whatever reason he is willing to hold that position.

    Mary, please pray for us who invoke your aid.

    Cordially,

    dt

  88. Matt,

    Regarding your point in #80 about Mary not being our mother but his mother – was Mary John’s mother? Was he her son? After all she did not give birth to him and his brother James. He did not have Jesus memories or carpentry skills. Yet Jesus said she was his mother. How can this be?

    While I understand your line of reasoning, if we were to actually follow it through we would have be in the immeasurably uncomfortable position of setting Jesus straight as well. Do you see the dilemma?

    Dave

  89. Eric, you make this point to Joshua L. :

    Bringing in a “well-formed” conscience has added an important and difficult new dimension.

    I would say that this is only a “difficult dimension” for the Protestants that have as a foundation of their faith a belief in the Protestant doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience. Catholics, of course, reject this Protestant doctrine, and their rejection of this Protestant doctrine is at the root of why Catholics will never find a unity with the Protestants that believe that their individual conscience is the ultimate authority for determining what constitutes orthodoxy (for that individual anyway).

    John Armstrong is proposing a unity among Christians that is to be achieved by all Christians recognizing the doctrines confessed in the Nicene Creed. I readily agree that the doctrines confessed in the Nicene Creed are inerrant and irreformable. But even if these particular doctrines of faith were accepted by every Protestant on the face of the earth, that would hardly bring about a consensus about what it means to be orthodox. And that is because to be orthodox, one must not only accept the correct doctrines of the faith, one must also accept correct doctrines of morals. The Nicene Creed does not explicitly address a single doctrine of morals. The Nicene Creed, does, however, confess a belief in the “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” The bishops that included this article of faith in the Nicene Creed did that because of their Catholic ecclesiology. To believe in the true church, is to accept the infallibly defined doctrines of morals that this church teaches are conscience binding upon all Christians. Which brings us right back to the question of primacy. Eric, should I believe in the Protestant doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience, or should I believe that Christ’s church has a primacy of authority in deciding what is, or is not, moral?

    Eric, it seems to me that Joshua L. is essentially asking you the same question:

    … if I as an individual have priority [primacy] over every external authority, how can I tell the difference between when my conscience is telling me something (and my conscience may still be entirely wrong on a given issue) or when it is God?

    Joshua L. has brought up one problem that you need to address, the problem of a person whose conscience is not well formed because it suffers the defect of scrupulosity. The scrupulous person sees sin where there is no sin.. A person suffering from OCD, might be so scrupulous that they live in constant terror of a wrathful and punishing God. Some people that suffer with extreme scrupulosity believe that their “bad thoughts” can kill people. Then there is the problem of people that suffer the defect of conscience of licentiousness. These people can sin and feel no guilt for their sin. The extreme example of licentiousness is the sociopath – the serial killer that feels no guilt for the crimes that they commit.

    Most people neither suffer from extreme scrupulosity, or from extreme licentiousness, but all people suffer to one degree or another with either scrupulosity or licentiousness. That is because man is fallen, and no one is born with a perfectly formed conscience. And this is why the Protestant doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience is so dangerous to the soul. If I have conscience that is need of formation (and all men do), but I also believe that “I as an individual have priority over every external authority”, then I will never willingly receive the correction that the true church is offering me because of my concupiscence.

  90. Matt (#80):

    You said that if I am in Christ, then his mother is my mother, his honoring of her is for me to do the same, etc. So, does that also apply to his apostles being my apostles? His authority being my authority? Is his human memory of walking through Jerusalem also my memory of walking through Jerusalem?

    Are his carpenter skills mine also, and his ability to speak Aramaic. Is this what it means to be “in him”?

    No, it doesn’t. And the fact that my brother’s mother is, therefore, my mother, does not mean that his children are my children, that his (to me amazing :-)) ability with fixing cars is my (in fact, non-existent) ability to fix cars, his PhD in Anthropology is my PhD in Anthropology, etc.

    I think you get the gist :-)

    God has adopted me as one of His children. As His child – albeit by adoption – I am really His child – and Jesus is my elder Brother – and His mother is my mother, again, by adoption.

    jj

  91. Eric (re:#83),

    I am compelled to comment (partially in order to ask you for clarification) on your words about scrupulosity here:

    The conscience and the psychological factor must be distinguished because the natural law is rooted in the conscience. Also, scrupulosity is caused by sin in my opinion. Refer to my set, I would tend to place scrupulosity on the “idolatry” side ( related to sin).

    I can agree that, in *some* sense, scrupulosity can be said to be “caused by sin,” insofar as the phenomenon of scrupulosity would not exist without the Fall of man. No anxiety, fear, or discomfort of *any* sort would exist without the Fall.

    If you are referring to scrupulosity being caused by *personal* sin though, how is that so? Scrupulosity involves an anxiety about possibly having fallen into sin itself! I strongly suspect that in many cases, scrupulosity is tied to a chemical, brain-based problem– although one should be careful not to make *utterly* broad, sweeping generalizations… which is what it seems like you have done in saying that “scrupulosity is caused by sin in my opinion.”

    For two reasons, this subject (scrupulosity) strikes close to home for me. The first reason is that, for most of the years that I was a Calvinist, I had a keen interest in the Reformed “Biblical Counseling”/nouthetic counseling” movement, and a strong sense that I had actually been called by God to *become* a “Biblical Counselor.” The second reason is that, for the last year or so (approximately) of my being a Calvinist, I was being trained by an elder to be a Biblical Counselor, and I saw the different, sometimes seemingly competing, streams of thought in a Reformed counseling movement based on “Sola Scriptura.”

    I say this with love and respect for you as a brother in Christ: *if* you are opining that scrupulosity is actually caused by personal sin (I’m not sure if you are, which is why I’m asking for clarification), such an idea seems particularly harsh, and even unwittingly cruel– in that, again, scrupulosity involves anxiety about possible sin itself.

    This is a serious issue with very serious implications for human beings who are made in the image of God. I have personal experience of the Reformed, “Biblical Counseling” world myself. I once wanted to be a formal counselor *in* that world.

    A Protestant, Reformed, largely “Bible alone” counseling movement, which even so, *still* has serious differences within its own ranks (such as, on the question of, is, say, schizophrenia basically a physical condition, or basically a result, or an expression, of personal sinfulness?) on how to think about and treat *real, personal* issues can do *real, personal* damage to people.

    Then again, the Biblical/nouthetic Counseling movement is really only a microcosm of the Reformed ecclesiastical and theological world itself, which has serious differences within itself– and similarly, those differences can cause real confusion, and sometimes, damage to people.

    This is certainly not to say that heterodox (and/or personally errant) priests and Bishops do not cause damage to people in the Catholic Church– not at all. Newspaper headlines, and sometimes, even our own painful experiences, as Catholics, show us that heterodox (and/or personally errant) clergy do *much, much* serious damage to real people… but in the Church, there is at least an authoritative, living, speaking, teaching voice, in the Magisterium, which can provide plumblines for doctrinal, theological belief and daily living and practice of the Christian Faith.

    Protestants claim to have such a voice– a voice that is authoritative, living, speaking, and teaching– via “Sola Scriptura,” through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who illuminates the Biblical texts as Protestants read and study them. Certainly, the Holy Spirit *does* illuminate the Biblical texts for believers. (Catholics do affirm this divine truth!) However, is Sola Scriptura, itself, an adequate paradigm, or more to the point, the proper, God-ordained paradigm, in which for that illumination to take place?

    If Sola Scriptura is the correct paradigm for Biblical interpretation, then what are we to make of the many different, competing, entire *theologies* and *ecclesiologies* within Protestantism, all based on Sola Scriptura– and then, what are we to make of the serious differences even *within* each competing theology and ecclesiology?

    I ask my Reformed (and non-Reformed) Protestant brothers and sisters– Is this truly what God intended with the Reformation, which supposedly “recovered the Gospel” from the Catholic Church, which had supposedly “lost” or “perverted” it?

    The very many, different, formal, yet all “Sola Scriptura,” Protestant theologies create an impression of chaos to the watching, non-Christian world. As much as I love my brother, John Armstrong, and his valid, good vision for Christian ecumenism, I cannot see how that vision will bring about the *deep, lasting, visible* Christian unity, for which he and I both long.

  92. Donald (re:#87),

    Thank you very, very much for your suggestions, regarding my non-Trinitarian friend. I am grateful for, and honestly, touched by, your suggestions. I will take them to heart, brother.

    Given that much your comment revolves around Mary and her intercession for my friend, I will let this be my only comment in this thread on that topic, as it could be (or become) off-topic. Mary does have *implications* for Christian unity though, in that the professing Christian world is so divided over her (and over many other subjects, sadly). More on Mary and non-Catholic Christians in a bit.

    Donald, about my “non-Trinitarian” friend, I regret to say that he basically sees the Catholic Church as the prime visible corrupter of what he considers to be “true, Biblical” Christianity. He believes that part of this “Catholic corruption” is actually seen in the defining and codifying the doctrine of the Trinity itself! To his mind, the Trinitarian doctrine is a result of pagan influence on early Christianity– and the Catholic Church is at fault for the doctrine.

    Ironically, he and I would both agree that without the Catholic Church, we would not have the codified, Nicean formulation of the Trinity. For that reason (and many others!), I thank God for the Church– while for the same reason (and many others), he believes the Church to be deeply heretical. For that reason, he would never even consider wearing a Miraculous Medal, nor would he seek Mary’s prayerful intercession for his Biblical study. However, just because he won’t doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t– and thanks to you, Donald, I *will* do so! :-) Thank you, brother!

    Now, back to Mary, non-Catholics, and the cause of Christian unity. The more that our separated Protestant (and Anglican!) brothers and sisters understand *why* the Church teaches what she does on Mary, the more that we can work toward, and achieve unity.

    The Catholic beliefs about Mary are actually Christological. Quoting the Catechism (#487 in full), “What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ.”

    Now, I can hear many of my Protestant brothers and sisters saying, “Come on! Quoting the Catechism, in its assertion that Marian beliefs are Christological, does not *make* them Christological!” This is true, as far as it goes.

    However, I can speak from both Biblical/theological study, and from daily, lived experience, here– from the Protestant *and* Catholic “sides” of this issue. Almost two years ago, I returned to the Catholic Church, after years as a committed Protestant who was utterly convinced that Marian beliefs and practices are idolatrous. I was wrong, very wrong.

    The more that I study of the Bible (*while* not ignoring or quickly dismissing Catholic Biblical exegesis, as I did when I was an anti-Catholic Protestant!), the more that I see the Catholic point(s) about Mary’s place in salvation history, and the more that I see the rightness of various titles ascribed to her in the Catholic Church (such as “Mary, Queen of Heaven”).

    However, one has to be truly, genuinely open to seeing Mariology in the Bible in order *to* see it there. If one has a decided predisposition to dismiss Catholic exegesis, and one brings that predisposition to one’s Biblical study, how likely is it that one will (short of a serious act of God’s grace!), see Mary there as Catholics do?

    Just before I returned to the Church (a few months prior to my formal return), I was *beginning* to see and understand the Christological point of Marian doctrine and practice in Catholicism. Just beginning. I cannot emphasize that sufficiently. I had not “arrived,” in any deep sense, at a firm understanding of why Marian doctrines are important to Christianity– but I know now, after 1. being back in the Church for some time, 2. studying Mariology, and 3. actually *living* Marian beliefs, that they are important to Christianity.

    It’s hard for me to believe, now, that I was ever able to virtually ignore Mary, as I did when I was a Protestant– but virtually ignore her I did, along with almost every other Protestant I knew. (It’s important to say, here, that I still have not “arrived,” in the sense of fully grasping the Christological depth of Marian belief and practice– because there is so much depth to be grasped and plumbed.)

    At this point, I want to urge any of my non-Catholic Christian brothers and sisters, reading here– if you are reaching a point of believing that the Catholic Church is what she claims to be (the Church Christ founded, with apostolic succession, continuing today, as His living, authoritative, visible, teaching Church), please do not allow a remaining lack of understanding about Mariology to keep you from becoming Catholic.

    I didn’t have Mary and her place in the Church (in both belief and practice) completely “figured out” before returning to the Church. However, I believed that either 1. the Catholic Church is actually what she claims to be, or 2. that even “mere Christianity” itself is possibly a farce, or “unknowable,” in terms whether it is objectively true or not. Being still persuaded of the truth of Christ’s claims about Himself, and Christ being the reality in my life that He is, I could not go in the second direction. Having studied both the Bible and the Church Fathers, and seeing (against my wishes at times!!) that they were/are “Catholic,” I had to move in the first direction– even while not yet having “figured out” all of Catholic Marian doctrines and practices.

    Now though, having been back in the Church for almost two years, I don’t regret a thing– other than that I did not return sooner. In God’s providence though, I came back when I could– when I believed that the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded (with continuing apostolic succession), and that He is still her Head today, and that she is still guided by the Holy Spirit– in all of her authoritative teachings, including those on Mary.

  93. JJ,
    I ‘think’ you will appreciate this. It is commonly known that Catholics refer to Protestants as “seperated brethren” (a la Vatican II, etc.). In turn, I have occassionally refered to Catholics as my “nephews and nieces.”

    Why’s that?…you may ask. :-)

    Well, I consider Mary to be a fellow sinner who was saved by our Lord. As a Christian, she is one of our fellow sisters who was redeemed by grace. We have the same Father, via adoption.

    Now, if she is our sister in the Lord, and Catholics are her sons…well…

    Then Catholics are my nephews and nieces.

    Just call me Uncle Matt.

    New name for Protestants…”Uncles” or “Aunts”. Now, you all have “fathers”, “mothers” and “uncles”.

    It is a family affair. ;-)

    Take care,
    Matt

  94. Dave,

    No, I don’t see the dilemmas. I understand that when the Lord was telling John and Mary, “Behold thy son, behold thy mother,” etc., he was not providing a quick proof-text for future Catholic traditions and spirituality before breathing his last.

    Rather, he was at that point instructing John *personally* to regard Mary as his surrogate mother and he was instructing Mary *personally* to see John as her surrogate son. After all, Christ was leaving his earthly incarnational ministry (save for the resurrection appearances, of course).

    John there was not a prototype for all Christians. The Lord was really telling him to “take care of her in my physical place as if she was your mother.” He was also telling that to Mary – “Regard John as your son.”

    I have a dear friend from childhood. To this day we both call his mother “Mom”, and we both call my mother “Mom”. It is very similar to this. My good friend will often look in on my Mom since I don’t live near her. I have also called his mom in a son-like capacity to see how she is doing, as if I was checking on my own mother.

    When Jesus was here in the flesh, he also lived and moved in these realities and dynamics. It was personal and real for Him. He told John, “Take care of my Mom as if she was yours, now. I won’t physically be around as I once was.”

    Regards,
    Matt

  95. Matt (re: #94),

    There are two problems with your development above. The first is that ‘John’ is never named in the passage you describe, and including John as a critical component in your exegesis, when the text does not, has shaped your exegesis at the very point on which Protestants and Catholics divide. It most likely is John who is being addressed, but the absence of his name in the narrative is exegetically–and thus theologically–significant. The literary absence of John’s name widens the hearing and reception of Jesus’ words when they are read. As Brevard Childs frequently emphasizes, such an omission of an historical detail is the author’s way of preventing the reader from constricting the reach of the event described by the text to its temporal context. By including the episode in his gospel account, and by narrating the episode in this way, the author communicates to the reader that it is not just John to whom Jesus’ words are relevantly addressed, but to ‘the disciple Jesus loves’. That is, the rightful recipient of Jesus’ message about the recalibration of familial bonds is not to be constrained to those present at the moment the event took place historically, but now goes forth to address any reader who qualifies as a ‘disciple Jesus loves’. If you are a disciple whom Jesus loves, then the message of John 19:26-27 extends to you in no less natural a way than Jesus’ admonition to pray thusly extends to you, even though in the world of the historical event, you were not present to be addressed by Jesus’ instructions about prayer. It would be special pleading to exclude yourself from Jesus’ act of recalibrating his family on the cross in John 19, but then to include yourself among those exhorted by Jesus’ instructions about prayer in Matthew 6.

    This brings us to the second problem. If you don’t agree with my Catholic interpretation of the function of Jesus’ words, who will decide which of our interpretations is correct, given the incompatibility of their content as well as the incompatibility of the applications they sponsor? I do not expect you to agree with my interpretation just because I say you should, and the exegesis I’ve presented here is more detailed than the exegesis you’ve presented above. So if I am to discard my Catholic interpretation for your Protestant one, it has to be on grounds other than your say so or your more replete exegetical treatment [since your treatment is less replete, by virtue of its interpolation and the inconsistency of its conclusion in relation to the reception of normative statements found elsewhere in the Scriptures]. So, on what grounds should I trade my interpretation for yours?

    In the grace of Christ,

    Chad

  96. Matt (re #94),

    If all of the Last Seven Words from the Cross pertained to equally personal or mundane matters, I would say you have a case.

    However, each of these pronouncements – the onlyrecorded words of Jesus at the climax of Salvation History – is of profound and far-reaching importance. It makes no sense that He would include such a mundane personal matter when none of the others is in the same category. This, even from only a common sense perspective, would suggest that something far more important is being said there than the simple words would otherwise mean.

    “I thirst” – was Jesus really only asking for a drink?

    Blessings,
    Frank

    (And, by the way, Catholics don’t, as a rule, proof-text except when in dialogue with Protestants, because that’s how best to reach them.)

  97. Joshua,

    I am surprised by this because I think my position is actually RC found in the Decrees on religious liberty and human dignity, supplemented by moral theology. I believed my original comment was a point of agreement for RC/Prots. It feels like I’m defending Rome against a RC. I gathered together my key points into one set. This set is to be applied in real life concrete cases. Repeating the use is life long and difficult, no doubt.
    Comment #77 Here is the set: codified law (scripture)-natural law-conscience -idolatry

    You wrote: The question is how one can come to know whether they are rightly protesting something as sin when it is actually not sin in any objective sense.

    You want the instrument, knowledge, moral certitude and objective criteria. I gave it to you in my closed set. Any should use it for this concern. Remember that one can reach the objectively good using my set prior to any other instruction, including doctrines apart from our topics. My use of the set yielded the Veneration/Worship distinction. Go to the set for the distinction and the application. If you have used the set and not reached your desire goal, then do over and aim for perfection. Faith in Christ’s words “seek and you will find”. It must reach Christ’s promise and faithfulness in the end.

    You wrote:
    #78: It is possible for what to have a poorly formed conscience so that things that are not sinful (e.g., eating meat sacrificed to idols) is regarded as sinful.
    #85: I don’t see how anything you wrote actually poses a solution to the problem of a poorly formed conscience. Feel free to elaborate.

    What problem ? My set can encompass these concerns you have. It covers the weak/ignorant – strong/knowing consciences. My set is taught by VII and one of your sources of revelation, the scripture. You seek a higher universal application by your magisterium to bind the consciences of the weak/ignorant, nay, all men.

    Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. 1Cor 8:13

    If your so-called lawful adoration of Christ’s image, biblical veneration of Mary, and meat eating causes a brother to stumble, then stop. That’s right, real service and love. The cessation of something objectively good until the weakness is gone. No one can bring this weakness to strength until that person gets it by using my set before God alone.

    Your wrote: How does one know what is good? And just because the ‘private realm’ is ‘real and untouched’ doesn’t make its every decision right. You seem to be suggesting that because God gave us the power of private judgment therefore it must de facto be correct. But that isn’t the case (as evinced by people who think any form of dancing is a sin, to return to an example that is admittedly getting old).

    Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil – Vatican II, Here is knowledge of the good.
    I don’t know about this private judgment, but I do know this biblical one:

    The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment. 1Cor 2:15

    I’m elect and spiritual, so do you wish to bring a charge against God’s elect ? This judgment is de facto correct. Dancing is sin to weak consciences, so stop and tell others to stop. Keep in mind that someone may actually remain in sin while using the set because of their will and God’s wrath/displeasure/ decrees. My set is the place of no escape because God is even revealed to the person through the sin.

    You asked: But how does the concrete person actually distinguish these two? Especially if I as an individual have priority over every external authority, how can I tell the difference between when my conscience is telling me something (and my conscience may still be entirely wrong on a given issue) or when it is God? I.e., how do I know that I’m not simply forgiving myself rather than God forgiving me?……If someone is afraid that everything they’re doing is sinful and you tell them that this is because of sin, how do they know to listen to you rather than their conscience?

    Q:
    #1- You are instructed to examine your conscience and not the psyche ? However you do that is my answer to your question of distinguishing.
    #2- Invite me to your examination for a closer look.
    #3- You can’t know. Rome prevents you from having assurance of ALL sins forgiven. The conscience and psyche don’t reach assurance.
    #4- I would not tell them that. I would tell them to keep, increase and abide in that fear because they do sin. By the time they listen to me, my set would have done the job. I would only hear by hearing praise to God.

    Take my set and supporting quotes to any Bishop, even a dissenting one, and ask them if I’m right.

    Thanks,
    Eric

    .

  98. To both Chad and Frank,
    Out of respect for the request of the moderator(s), we really have to move our discussions about Mary proper to the other thread about her.

    Commenting on exegetical differences in general I will say this. Chad, you ask me who will judge between our two interpretations? It will have to be God’s judgment via Scripture. This also will be done over and through time. I mean, ultimately, the Lord will judge all things.

    As far as more temporal ecclesiastical arbitration, of course you will point to the Magisterium, I will point to Christian practice of Sola Scripture and then strong biblical teachers over the years, centuries, etc. The evidences and weight thereof will be mustered and we will go from there.

    Here is a greater question. Who will judge between the Catholic Church and all other Christian believers and Churches? Who will judge between Calvin, Pope Benedict, the Council of Trent and the Council of Vatican II, and Billy Graham.

    To be sure there is only one ultimate Judge, and no one is beyond judgment under Him.

    Frank,
    I don’t believe all words from the cross have to be equally “spiritual” or “mundane”. Additionally, I would look first and foremost at Scripture to see if what you suggest is supported among them.

    From there, of course, you would have to invoke Catholic teaching and tradition to support your views.

    Matt

  99. Hi mateo,

    What is this primacy of the individual conscience ? Christ alone has the conscience with primacy. Individual in your eyes means the difference between one member of a group and another member, who as has external authority over all the other members. Because you think a collection of individual consciences is irrational matter needing a rational form, you are driven to find that form for unity. Stop picking a irrational-individual-conscience from the group of matter and lording them over others. Christ embodies the form and matter in this scheme. He’s our primacy. Thanks for providing a nice summary of the relevant points discussed in the original post. You do have a finger on it.

    You asked: Eric, should I believe in the Protestant doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience, or should I believe that Christ’s church has a primacy of authority in deciding what is, or is not, moral?

    Try my doctrine:
    CCC #1953 – The moral law finds its fullness and its unity in Christ. Jesus Christ is in person the way of perfection. He is the end of the law, for only he teaches and bestows the justice of God: “For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified.”

    He legislates what is or is not moral. See Comment# 77 for my closed set used in examination of your conscience before confession.

    You wrote: The scrupulous person sees sin where there is no sin.. A person suffering from OCD, might be so scrupulous that they live in constant terror of a wrathful and punishing God. Some people that suffer with extreme scrupulosity believe that their “bad thoughts” can kill people. Then there is the problem of people that suffer the defect of conscience of licentiousness. These people can sin and feel no guilt for their sin. The extreme example of licentiousness is the sociopath – the serial killer that feels no guilt for the crimes that they commit.

    Honestly, what could I, you, a priest, a bishop, a pope or a magisterial document bring to these situations. This is the real world of sin, even mysterious sins. Withholding from them the full and powerful reality of original and personal sins can not be acceptable. This is God’s world, in which he decreed the fall and subsequent sins, providentially held in His hand. If I appear to be cold and removed then you see me decreasing so that God may increase. My set leaves each and every person accountable to God for their particular judgments after expiration. Who’s invited to your particular judgment ?

    You wrote: If I have conscience that is need of formation (and all men do), but I also believe that “I as an individual have priority over every external authority”, then I will never willingly receive the correction that the true church is offering me because of my concupiscence

    Concupiscence and sin prevent us from receiving any correction. A conscience using my set can strengthen, Lord willing, over time and discern needs for correction. Rome loves to bind and correct.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  100. Eric,

    You write:

    I am surprised by this because I think my position is actually RC found in the Decrees on religious liberty and human dignity, supplemented by moral theology. I believed my original comment was a point of agreement for RC/Prots. It feels like I’m defending Rome against a RC. I gathered together my key points into one set. This set is to be applied in real life concrete cases. Repeating the use is life long and difficult, no doubt.

    You may feel that way, but it seems to me that you’re defending a Protestant version of private judgment which differs quite a bit from the Catholic understanding of conscience. No one is denying the fact that it is sin to go against one’s conscience. That’s not the point of contention. I’ve already said above that I don’t disagree on that point. The issue is whether one’s conscience is supreme; that is, whether it is the final arbiter of what is right and wrong. And what I am saying is that it is not. Why? Because the conscience can and does err.

    You keep appealing to your ‘closed set,’ but I do not see how this fixes anything since a given individual might interpret Scripture and natural law differently than another and therefore have fixed in his/her mind that this or that is a sin even if it may not be. Your appeals are merely empty assertions. And, as much as you might contest it, what you are saying with regard to the content of the Bible or natural law is not agreed upon by other Bible believing Protestants.

    You still haven’t answered how you solve the problem of an erring conscience (in case you think that you did answer this, please explain how your ‘closed set’ solves this, rather than asserting it again and again). The point of conceding to the weaker brother is ultimately to build them up. But if all sin is judged by each person’s conscience which is equal to an objective law, there’s no sense in which one is weaker than another. Moreover, there is a point and time when it is right to go against someone’s conscience, e.g., the case of the Judaizers who believed that circumcision was necessary (and I have no doubt that they felt it was the right in their conscience).

    You write:

    The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment. 1Cor 2:15

    What’s interesting about this passage is that Luther quoted this against the Catholic Church, and the Anabaptists quoted this against Luther. And I think every faction in a denomination split has probably made appeal to this verse against the other side. If you’re going to quote Bible passages, please explain how they actually answer my objections.

  101. Dear Matt (re #98):

    You wrote:

    Frank,
    I don’t believe all words from the cross have to be equally “spiritual” or “mundane”. Additionally, I would look first and foremost at Scripture to see if what you suggest is supported among them.

    From there, of course, you would have to invoke Catholic teaching and tradition to support your views.

    Is your point that it’s a matter of choosing your exegesis over “Catholic teaching and tradition” because “Catholic teaching and tradition” will naturally support the Catholic perspective, but yours is more objectively true?

    May I ask what authority you have such that I should trust your exegesis of the passage?

    Blessings,
    Frank

  102. Joshua,

    I thank you for this exchange in advance because it completes my journey. I leave you with the last word and God on this subject. The following is my best argument at the moment.

    You wrote: The issue is whether one’s conscience is supreme; that is, whether it is the final arbiter of what is right and wrong. And what I am saying is that it is not. Why? Because the conscience can and does err.

    Closed Set (a little different from your favorite) :
    1) Natural Law is created and rooted in the conscience by God. It can’t be uprooted.
    2) Written Law is the true, authoritative, and inspired word of God.
    3) Conscience is an interior private judgment possessed by every person.

    1) Natural Law can’t err.
    2) Written Law can’t err.
    3) Conscience does and can err.

    I’m the ginnie pig. I enter my prayer closet alone with my interior private conscience, natural law and written law. God alone sees all things. Starting with my closed set, my “I” examines my conscience under this light. After examination (please don’t ask when this is), “I” summons the conscience to rise up and make a judgment about itself and the entire pig. Conscience, what’s your judgment ? It says, “God is true and every man is a liar. ” I am a liar and a sinner who errs.”
    God, the conscience and the I are very pleased. I guess it’s time to confess.

    Wait ! Close that door ! Who are you ?

    The visitor says, ” I’m the exterior authoritative inerrant voice here to judge if the judgment rendered is true and certain without error. I am God-given.”

    Conscience pushes, ” I have made an inerrant judgment about this ginnie, so leave.”

    Dear friend, says the visitor, you do and can err. How do you know this is not judgment with error ?”

    Conscience: What you say is true and ready for confession. I was examined in light of God’s Law and could not bear it. All I saw was the sin inside. I came to KNOW this through reasoning under God’s Law. I identified the sin(s) and separated that which didn’t contradict it. Just like any judge, especially you.

    Visitor: I still don’t know HOW YOU KNOW WITHOUT ERROR because you admit to err.

    Conscience: I know it from the impossibility of the contrary. Visitor, if you wish to step up and contradict my judgment then proceed. I thought that if this was not my conclusion then scripture would be contradicted.

    Visitor: Where ?

    Conscience: I have to teach the inerrant ! 1John 1: 5-10 Can’t you see how an erring conscience can rise up to at least one inerrant judgment without you ? Have you not read Eric’s famous set. It’s well known among the ginnies.

    Visitor: I’m confounded.

    Conscience: Yes, you err and confess the truth. I love it.

    V: Not so fast. I’ve been around for two thousand years and have seen your kind. Luther, Anabaptists and Judaizers were my favorite. God was pleased with your judgment, I judge. What about that pig who did everything you did but judged saying, ” God is true and every man is a liar. I’m not a liar or sinner like other men. I err sometimes but not on this point.” This man erred as the final arbiter.

    C: Final arbiter ? Do you really know the ginnies ? Each man is the same, did the same and reached opposite conclusions. In ginnie land we call that the eschatological judgment. One is a sheep and the other is a goat. I think we both KNOW who the final arbiter is ? Or do we ? See you never.

    V: Truth-tellers are always left with assertions.

    We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2Cor.10:5

    Glory to God,
    Eric

  103. Eric, thank you for responding to my posts. You made several points that I would like for you clarify, points that I think are germane to a discussion about where Catholics and Protestants will ever find unity of belief in matters of morals.

    Eric, you asked me:

    What is this primacy of the individual conscience ?

    Let me try and clarify. Let us begin with a common starting point; let us say that we both agree that the scriptures found in the Protestant bible are inspired and inerrant. You interpret the inerrant scriptures one way, and I interpret the inerrant scriptures differently; and our interpretations are contradictory and irreconcilable. Note here that we are not arguing about whether or not the scriptures are inerrant, we are arguing over how we personally interpret the inerrant scriptures. Obviously, if our interpetations are contradictory and irreconcilable, then there are only three possibilities that can exist regarding the truthfulness of our interpretations: I am wrong, and you are right; you are wrong and I am right; or, we are both wrong. The question of primacy, as regards the interpretation of the inerrant scriptures, has to do with the ultimate (primary) temporal authority that we are willing to recognize that will settle our disagreement over interpretation.

    For the sola scriptura confessing Protestant, the final temporal authority for accepting or rejecting an interpretation of scriptures resides with the individual. The bottom line for the sola scriptura confessing Protestant is that he has to personally decide whether or not an interpretation is “scriptural”, and that decision is made on the basis of what his conscience directs him to believe. If a sola scriptura confessing Protestant thinks that what a particular church is teaching is “unscriptural”, then he or she always reserves the right to go church shopping until he or she finds a “scriptural” church. At the end of this process, it is the individual that has made the final decision about what is “scriptural” – he is the final temporal authority in matters of interpretation. True, he may take the opinions of scholars and pastors under consideration when discerning whether or not a point of doctrine is “scriptural”, but the final decision about what interpretation is, or is not, “scriptural” always resides with the individual. Hence, the Protestant doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience.

    The important thing to realize here is that there is absolutely nothing found in the Protestant Bible that supports the Protestant doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience.

    Christ alone has the conscience with primacy.

    Eric, I honestly have no idea what you mean when you say this. Please clarify!

    Individual in your eyes means the difference between one member of a group and another member, who as has external authority over all the other members.

    Again, I don’t understand what you are saying here, and I ask you to please clarify. An “individual” in my eyes, means exactly that, an individual, as opposed to a group of individuals.

    Because you think a collection of individual consciences is irrational matter needing a rational form …

    Again, I honestly have no idea what you trying to say here.

    Christ embodies the form and matter in this scheme. He’s our primacy.

    What scheme? How does Christ embody form and matter? What do you mean when you say Christ is our primacy?

    You asked: Eric, should I believe in the Protestant doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience, or should I believe that Christ’s church has a primacy of authority in deciding what is, or is not, moral?

    I asked you a question about Christ’s church, and you replied with this quote from the CCC:

    The moral law finds its fullness and its unity in Christ. Jesus Christ is in person the way of perfection. He is the end of the law, for only he teaches and bestows the justice of God: “For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified.”

    I, of course, totally agree with what you quoted from the CCC, but I also fail to see how this relates to the commandment of Christ found in your Protestant bible in the verses I quoted from Matthew chapter 18. In those verses, Christ is commanding all who would be his disciples to listen to his church. If they refuse to listen to his church, they are to be excommunicated. Your quote from the CCC is the Catholic Church affirming who Christ said that He is, as that is recorded in the Protestant Bible – Christ is the truth incarnate – “ I am the way, the truth …”. The Second Person of the Trinity (the Word) and the moral law are not two different things. The Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, is “the way and the truth”, and the way and the truth has become flesh and dwelt among us. That great mystery of the way and the truth becoming flesh and dwelling among us is exactly why the CCC teaches that the “moral law finds its fullness and its unity in Christ. Jesus Christ is in person the way of perfection.”

    Honestly, what could I, you, a priest, a bishop, a pope or a magisterial document bring to these situations [e.g. people suffering from the defects of conscience or either scrupulosity or licentiousness].

    Suppose a parent had a child that suffered from either scrupulosity or licentiousness. What would the normal parent do? Should the parent tell the child that his conscience reigns supreme in all matters pertaining to morality? Or should the parent try to form the child’s conscience so that the child is not troubled by either scrupulosity or licentiousness? Surely the latter is the correct thing for a parent to do. But what if the parent’s conscience needs formation? What then? Where do the scriptures teach that an adult needs only to listen to “the church” only when “the church” agrees with the adult?

    This is the real world of sin, even mysterious sins. Withholding from them the full and powerful reality of original and personal sins can not be acceptable.

    I am not sure what you are saying here. Children sin and parents need to correct their sinful behavior by helping them form their consciences. Adults sin too, but if the adult is deciding for himself what is, or is not, sinful, then the adult is also sinning by presuming to be the final authority in determining what is sinful.

    This is God’s world, in which he decreed the fall and subsequent sins …

    Here I do think that I understand you, and I totally disagree with what you saying. God does not even tempt us to sin; less yet does God ever will for us to sin! If Adam and Eve merely did what God willed for them to do, how could that be construed as being sinful? How can anyone ever sin by being obedient to God’s will? Adam and Eve sinned by being disobedient to God’s will – they were expressly told not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Man sins by being disobedient to God’s will. It is plain to me that the scriptures teach that Christ has commanded me to listen to his church, and to not listen to just any old church that some man or woman created in the last five-hundred years.

    Concupiscence and sin prevent us from receiving any correction.

    Of course – unless we are give the grace to overcome our concupiscence and rebelliousness. That is one reason why we need not only need a savior that that teaches without error, we also need to obey our savior when he does teach us. Since my savior has told me through the inerrant scriptures that I must listen to his church, and not just any old church, what possible reason could I give to him at my particular judgement for not listening to his church?

    A conscience using my set can strengthen, Lord willing, over time and discern needs for correction.

    But your set includes the scriptures, and the scriptures explicitly tell us that we must listen to Christ’s church or be excommunicated. My conscience should tell me that I must not make myself the supreme authority when it comes to interpreting the Bible. But what if my conscience doesn’t bother me when I don’t listen to Christ’s church? What if I hold my interpretation of scriptures at a higher level of authority that the interpretation given to me by Christ’s church? What then? Do you think that Christ is going to be impressed with my “obedience”, if my “obedience” amounts to nothing more than me church shopping among Protestant sects until I find a church that agrees with what I personally think is moral? What if I suffer from the defect of licentiousness, and I find a Protestant sect that preaches a lax morality? Will I be justified before God because I agreed with Protestant sect that preached loose morals and lived my entire life according to that moral standard?

    You mentioned the “real world”. Let us talk about the real world of Protestantism. If I want a sect of Protestantism that teaches that abortion is not a sin, I can easily find a Protestant sect that preaches that abortion is not a sin, even among the Calvinist sects. If I want a Protestant sect that teaches that the “colored” will never be among the elect, I can find a Protestant sect that panders to my racism. I can find a sect of Protestantism that agrees with just about anything that I believe about morality. And if I want to believe that once I am “saved”, that I can commit any sin conceivable with the full assurance that I will not be damned, I can find many, many, Protestant sects that will affirm that no moral behavior on my part is necessary for my salvation. Needless to say, as a Catholic, I find all these things to be unscriptural. Which leads us right back to the question of primacy. Should I believe in the Protestant doctrine of theprimacy of the individual conscience ? Or should I believe what the scriptures actually teach, that I am not the ultimate authority in matters of interpretation, and that I must listen to Christ’s church or be excommunicated from his church?

  104. Uncle Matt (#93)

    I ‘think’ you will appreciate this. It is commonly known that Catholics refer to Protestants as “seperated brethren” (a la Vatican II, etc.). In turn, I have occassionally refered to Catholics as my “nephews and nieces.”

    Why’s that?…you may ask. :-)

    Well, I consider Mary to be a fellow sinner who was saved by our Lord. As a Christian, she is one of our fellow sisters who was redeemed by grace. We have the same Father, via adoption.

    Quite nice :-) And, yes, of course, she is our sister – saved by Grace. Of course we Catholics believe she was saved at the point of conception – and never sinned thereafter. But the Church calls her Daughter of God the Father (therefore our sister), Mother of God the Son (so our mother), and spouse of God the Holy Spirit (therefore she is us – us as members of the Body of Christ).

    jj

  105. Eric (re#102)

    Charming tale. But also a little arrogant, and quite disingenuous. You can’t engage the argument, so you fictionalize it. Your end run around Joshua’s legitimate inquiry demonstrates you cannot support your “set” and its infallible power – which is what you claim for it.

    How do you know you have rightly understood the natural law? How do you know you have rightly understood the Scripture? You must be infallible.

    Understanding this first, that no prophecy of scripture is made by private interpretation. 2 Peter 1:20

    Frank

  106. Eric, you write:

    I enter my prayer closet alone with my interior private conscience, natural law and written law. God alone sees all things. Starting with my closed set, my “I” examines my conscience under this light. After examination (please don’t ask when this is), “I” summons the conscience to rise up and make a judgment about itself and the entire pig. Conscience, what’s your judgment ? It says, “God is true and every man is a liar. ” I am a liar and a sinner who errs.”

    The only reason that a man would ever enter this prayer closet is because the Holy Spirit has convicted him of his sinfulness. Otherwise, a man with a fallen nature will be quite content with living in his sin, since his concupiscence makes him prefer what is sinful to what is holy. But the Holy Spirit does convict of man of his sinfulness, even if his knowledge or morality is only informed by the natural law. If a man has an extra knowledge about morality because he has received divine revelation, (e.g.that it is sinful to covet), and he is not a state of grace, sin comes alive within him because of this new knowledge of morality. This new knowledge about morality wrought by divine revelation then brings him to a whole new level of rebelliousness against God.

    What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin. I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, wrought in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died; the very commandment which promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and by it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.

    Romans 7:7-12

    The Holy Spirit will convict a man of his sinfulness and lead him to conclude that he is wretched sinner alienated from God. The Holy Spirit will also lead him to the understanding that he is utterly powerless to change that reality out of his own effort. This convicted man will fully realize that that he is in desperate need of help to save him from his bondage to sin. (Here I speak from experience).

    We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
    Romans 7:11-25

    We both know who can deliver me from my bondage to sin and death – Jesus Christ. But if I come to believe that Jesus Christ can deliver me from my bondage to sin, and the Holy Spirit brings me to a new life in Christ, am I free to just keep on sinning? By no means!

    … the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. … the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you … brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.

    Romans 8

    Visitor, if you wish to step up and contradict my judgment then proceed.

    If the Holy Spirit convicted a man so that he came to conclusion that he was “a liar and a sinner who errs”, then my response to that man would be, “Welcome to the human race. I have good new for you, Jesus Christ has come to set you free from your bondage to sin.”

    Conscience: I have to teach the inerrant ! 1John 1: 5-10 Can’t you see how an erring conscience can rise up to at least one inerrant judgment without you ?

    No, I do not see how that is possible. It is the Holy Spirit that convicts of us sin, and leads us to a correct judgement about wretched sinfulness. It seems to me that what you are saying here is nothing more that the heresy of semi-Pelagianism, that is, man unaided by grace, can take the steps necessary for him to desire his salvation in Christ

    But none of this deals with this reality: that the moment we become Christians that we aren’t instantly transformed from persons who once struggled with defective consciences into great and holy saints with perfectly formed consciences. My experience testifies to that truth, as does the experience of every one that I know!

    Even as a Christian, (especially as a Christian!) I need to quit rebelling against God and allow Christ’s church form my conscience. If I don’t do that, I will continue to live with my scrupulosity and licentiousness.

    CCC 1785 In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path, we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord’s Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church.

  107. Hi Frank,

    I’m sorry that my way of engagement is not up to your standards. Fictionalize ? I said I was the ginnie pig. This tale was a description of what happened in my soul just before I left the Roman Catholic Church which is the true Church of Christ, or Church of Christ subsisting in the Catholic Church, or Christ’s Church present in other churches and ecclesial communities but not subsisting. Come to think of it, I don’t KNOW what I left. Call the Church to help. I just can’t KNOW if and what I left. Declare Joshua the winner and be done with it.
    Charming, a little arrogant and quite disingenuous……insults ? No, the guy is crazy because he exegetes himself out of passages of scripture.

    You wrote: How do you know you have rightly understood the natural law? How do you know you have rightly understood the Scripture? You must be infallible.

    Stop trying to get me to condemn myself. I confess to being elect and spiritual, so speak plainly and say I don’t KNOW God the way I claim. Do you KNOW if that will bring a charge against God’s elect ? Nice to see scripture quoted from a sinner. This sinner likes scripture too.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  108. Eric,

    In a previous comment, you responded to one of Joshua’s questions as follows:

    You can’t know. Rome prevents you from having assurance of ALL sins forgiven. The conscience and psyche don’t reach assurance.

    I will return to the matter of Catholicism and assurance of salvation in a moment, but first I want to indicate why I am referring to this claim in particular. You constantly refer to yourself as “elect” and “spiritual,” and these claims seem to be the basis for the epistemological position that you have been advancing in your conversations with Brent (in another thread) and now Joshua and others. Being convinced of one’s own election (and I assume that you mean election to final salvation, together with the gift of final perseverance, and not some other sense of election, such as being incorporated into the Church by baptism), in a properly defined sense of “conviction,” is not something that a Catholic has to do without, though those to whom it has been granted, either by way of faith through a private revelation, or by way of moral certitude through observing in himself the Signs of Predestination, typically do not deploy this assurance as a premise in theological arguments. The untoward nature of so doing can be perceived by imagining two “predestined” folks, on opposing sides of a dispute, each appealing to his own elect status as evidence that his position on the matter at hand is correct. It is easy to see why such an appeal has no weight at all in theological debate. It is like playing tennis without the lines; hence, your theological John McEnroe: “How dare you bring a charge against God’s elect!? That ball was clearly out!” And his theological opponent responds in the same manner.

    Going back to your comment on Catholicism and assurance: I don’t want to derail this thread, and I know that you have several irons in the fire, but I want to challenge at least the second part of the above quote by referring you to the post, St. Thomas Aquinas on Assurance of Salvation, and the subsequent comments, where I argue that Catholics can and do indeed “reach assurance,” in keeping with the teaching of the Catholic Church. I also want to challenge the first part of the above quote, that is, if you are including future sins under “all sins,” by referring you to the post, Reformed Imputation and the Lord’s Prayer.

    I think that this material on assurance is sufficiently related to your concerns in this thread to warrant your attention. If Catholics can indeed enjoy assurance of salvation, along with assurance that they are being guided not only externally by Sacred Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium, but also internally by the indwelling Holy Spirit, then your assertion of your own spirituality and election can be met at the level of subjectivity by Catholics (not to mention others who might disagree with you) who are, consistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church, assured of their own right standing with God. The fact that Catholics typically choose not to make such counter-arguments (basing our position instead on the objective criteria of God’s word as interpreted by the Church, along with reason) does not imply that we have no assurance of God’s grace leading us inwardly to apprehend the truth. It merely indicates our conviction that it is not good to play tennis without the lines.

    Whether or not you look at the posts to which I referred, please know that your claims to be elect and spiritual are entirely idle with respect to the question of the relationship between external authority and the conscience as regards knowledge of good and evil as well as the particular application of the same regarding the honor due to the Blessed Virgin Mary. (On a related note: You should know, as Taylor notes in his post, that “deep, filial love” for Mary is among the signs of predestination.) Those who reject your positions on these matters can, even if for good reason they do not, publicly claim assurance of salvation in the relevant sense (i.e., as accompanied by special subjective insight into the things of God), and so your claims are not unique, and not evidence for your position.

    The ball was clearly in.

    Andrew

  109. Eric (re#107):

    I just wanted to rattle your cage a little bit, but I do apologize for some of the harsher words. I failed in charity here, for sure.

    So you used to be a Catholic? That is a fascinating datum. And I think there maybe more than a little something lurking in your “I just can’t KNOW if and what I left.” If you were baptized a Catholic (in my understanding) you are still a Catholic unless you’ve been formally excommunicated.

    I also left the Catholic Church about 17 years ago and spent those years as a member (my wife was even an Elder) in a conservative, Christ – centered and Bible – centered Presbyterian church with a very distinguished Senior Pastor (he had been John Stott’s protégé for a number of years).

    I thought I had found the true Christian faith there. But after about 8-9 years I began to be troubled by a few things, most notably how each of us was expected to have ultimate personal responsibility for understanding and applying Scripture to our lives. Of course you consulted commentaries and took good notes on Sunday, but in the end it was up to me to make sense of all of it. So I applied myself very assiduously to reading, Bible study, and prayer. And when I came across a passage like the one Mateo quoted above (Rm. 7:11-25) I had an “aha!” moment. It was sin, not I, that was responsible for my inability to live a life as morally upright as I thought I should (no cheap grace here!) How to rid myself of the sin became a chief concern.

    Eventually my inability to reform myself became a source of frustration and despair. I must not be one of the elect, I thought, despite some strong signs to the contrary early in my conversion to Christ (a veritable “road to Damascus” experience of conversion right before becoming a Presbyterian).

    After spending a number of years mired in this spiritual bog, one day my Presbyterian Elder wife says to me, “I’m thinking of becoming a Catholic.” To cut to the chase, I began to try to see if I maybe had left the Catholic Church not because of its failings but because of my failure to understand who she was. Now equipped with the excellent Biblical background from my Presbyterian days, I began to see that all those passages that made no sense to me (“you are Peter and upon this rock…”, “he who does not eat my flesh and drink my blood has no life in him…”, “work out your salvation in fear and trembling…”) were opaque only so long as I resisted seeing in them the teaching of the Catholic Church. Once I let down that barrier, my mind “was opened to the Scriptures.”

    This insight was the prevenient grace given me by the Holy Spirit and with which I had to choose whether or not to cooperate. Within a couple of months I returned to the confessional after many years away, and I suddenly KNEW my sins were MY responsibility, and I KNEW I could be forgiven because Jesus said “whose sins you forgive are forgiven, whose sins you retain are retained.” The freedom of spirit I experienced after that confession was, I believe, my true conversion.
    And nourished now by the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, I found I had the ability to live according to the plain moral teachings of the Church and that I was not a prisoner to sin. THIS is the true freedom of the Gospel, Eric.

    I did not know the Catholic Church I left either. Now that I am back, I have the greatest spiritual peace and assurance I have ever enjoyed in my life. The entire Bible makes sense when understood within the Church personally founded by Jesus Christ. And I am relieved of the burden of having to be my own pope. I receive Grace through the Sacraments He instituted and within my grasp is the moral certainty that I will one day enjoy the Beatific Vision if I die in a state of friendship with God – the Church both teaches me that AND provides the means for me to attain that.

    Godspeed to you,
    Frank

  110. JJ (#104),
    I don’t think this one will be solved by anyone for a long time. Just to say…

    Anyway, I do understand Catholic formulations of Mary, but you say, “she *is* us” (?). Didn’t catch what you meant by that.

    Matt

  111. Eric:

    I just wanted to add something to Frank LaRocca’s excellent testimony.

    You wrote:

    This tale was a description of what happened in my soul just before I left the Roman Catholic Church which is the true Church of Christ, or Church of Christ subsisting in the Catholic Church, or Christ’s Church present in other churches and ecclesial communities but not subsisting. Come to think of it, I don’t KNOW what I left.

    What’s interesting in that paragraph is that you serve up three of the Church’s self-descriptions from her teaching as if they were too confusing, taken together, to teach people clearly. But in fact, each is not only true but also consistent with the others. That you don’t get that is simply a sign that, like Frank, you really didn’t know the Church you left. The irony is that your saying that was intended as sarcasm.

    Best,
    Mike

  112. Frank (#101),

    I don’t claim any authority save for that which all Christians have. We are Lords of none, servants of all, subject to none, slave to the Lord, called to be kings by His grace and doing. All according to the measure of faith, charity and good will the Lord has graced us with. But done by the Lord all the same.

    As such, I will tell you to test everything I tell you by the grace of the Lord, the Spirit in your measure, and of course the Scripture. Test, test, test, test me.

    Now, you know I am not a member of the Magisterium. They never consistently say to test them and test their authority. Not that I know of, anyway.

    Wow, even God allows Himself to be tested, looking at Scripture. He calls us to test His words and test the Spirit.

    I have no problem telling people to test what I tell them. Every Christian should.

    Does the Catholic church invite others to test it by any authority other than its own? Do Popes regularly invite Catholics and other to test what they say? And if what the Catholic church says is to be tested, by what would one test it?

    If so, do we test it by the written Word? Or reasoning?

    I am thinking that Catholic reasoning is supreme in these matters if any testing is to be done. Sounds like most people here decided that the Catholic Church was the correct church from their reasoning.

    Is reasoning the chief ‘test’ in these matters?

    Matt

  113. Matt (#110)

    Anyway, I do understand Catholic formulations of Mary, but you say, “she *is* us” (?). Didn’t catch what you meant by that.

    Sorry, only what you meant by putting her as a part of the Body of Christ – which is the Bride of Christ. She is, of course, spouse of the Holy Spirit in a unique sense – He begot the Lord Jesus on her. But in an analogical sense, Christ is begotten in us by the Holy Spirit in the new birth.

    Didn’t mean anything other than that.

    jj

  114. JJ,
    Thank you for the clarification.

    Matt

  115. mateo,

    You believe in the Church visable…and I the Church invisable. Only Christ knows who is sheep are. “The wheat and tares grow together”. We are not supposed to mess with them. Christ will rightly divide.

    We proclaim His gospel purely, and administer the Sacraments in accordance with that gospel…and where there are people who believe it…there is the Church.

    I know we won’t agree. But that’s the Lutheran take on it.

    Thanks, mateo.

    Been awfully busy. So forgive me if I haven’t had very time time to come back and read many of the comments.

  116. Eric,

    I could be wrong, given that I cannot see into others’ hearts, but I truly do not believe that anyone here is trying to get you to condemn yourself. However, the questions that are being asked of you are valid ones. How do you know that your interpretations of Scripture (which you understand to militate against distinctively Catholic teachings) are correct?

    For years, I thought the idea that I had to confess my sins to a priest was unBiblical and absurd. I didn’t think very often, or very deeply, about John 20:19-23 in those years. In retrospect, that seems significant.

    For years, I also thought that in the second chapter of James, when he writes of being justified by works, he only means providing *evidence* of one’s *already-permanent* justification and salvation. I was utterly convinced of that interpretation for years. In retrospect, it seems like eisegesis that I unwittingly engaged in to support an overall Protestant paradigm– of which I had become convinced through my own Biblical interpretation and the interpretations of my chosen Bible teachers (such as pastors/elders in my local ecclesial body).

    Some of my friends from my Protestant years seem to think that I have checked my “Biblical brain” at the door in returning to the Catholic Church. However, that is not the case. I *have* stopped believing that my own private Biblical interpretations (with the help of Bible teachers and commentaries) are *necessarily* the results of the Holy Spirit illuminating the texts for me. I have stopped believing that that is the proper, God-ordained paradigm for Biblical interpretation.

    I’ve stopped believing it, partially, because if the Holy Spirit was actually consistently illuminating the texts for me (as a Protestant), then He seemed to be very *inconsistent*– leading me, first, to a more “Arminian and free-church” understanding of Scripture, and then, to a strongly “Calvinist and confessional” one… and God is not inconsistent, that He should change His mind about what He means in Scripture.

    The Father is merciful to us with our changing opinions on Scripture and what it means. He sent us Christ, who died for us, rose from the dead, and founded a Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, so that we, with our interpretive skills and individual consciences, do not have to split off into multitudes of different denominations, each one based on Biblical exegesis (and eisegesis), via the claimed “illumination of the Holy Spirit.”

    If you think that the preceding statement about the Church is a bare assertion, with little to no evidence, consider, from 189 A.D., the following words of St. Irenaeus (in “Against Heresies,” 3:3:2):

    ““But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul—that church which has the tradition and the faith with which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world. And it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition.”

  117. Matt,
    Your post at #112 is excellent. I wonder how a Catholic would do this given what they have been taught.

  118. Hi Christopher (re #91),

    Thank you for sharing many intimate and detailed parts of your life. I suffer from scrupulosity, but it has improved greatly over the years. A priest told me that I had it then provided relief. This relief was light given through a piece of clay (the priest). Not his instruction, or the Church, but Christ’s. See comment #77 for my closed set used in examination of conscience before God alone. For clarification, original sin caused the conditions where anxiety, slavish fear and scruples are born and perpetuated. They are a punishment for sin and lead to sin. Without discussing many problems of body-soul relations, I do think that personal sin(s) cause the unique cases of scrupulosity in the soul (lower and higher parts of the soul aside) apart from the lower nature.

    You asked: If you are referring to scrupulosity being caused by *personal* sin though, how is that so?

    Pride, ignoring correction…seems possibly endless to me. The sin of incurred-monetary-debt-without-payment-over-time caused some of my scrupulosity. Repentance, with slow payment knocked that out. Before paying the debts, I would scruple over legitimate uses of even one dollar. Trust me, they are all very connected.

    You asked: Protestants claim to have such a voice– a voice that is authoritative, living, speaking, and teaching– via “Sola Scriptura,” through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who illuminates the Biblical texts as Protestants read and study them. Certainly, the Holy Spirit *does* illuminate the Biblical texts for believers. (Catholics do affirm this divine truth!) However, is Sola Scriptura, itself, an adequate paradigm, or more to the point, the proper, God-ordained paradigm, in which for that illumination to take place?

    Set: reader-student-scripture-illumination-Holy Spirit ( hereafter individual-scripture-God)

    By confessing this as a divine truth, the RC has no just cause to oppose its use outside of Rome. The set is a paradigm for operation. The RC and the Pope are locked under this for judgment. They can’t protest because God may illuminate an error found in Rome. To argue that Rome is inerrant is to disallow the possibility of judgment from God on their “inerrant” teachings.

    You asked: If Sola Scriptura is the correct paradigm for Biblical interpretation, then what are we to make of the many different, competing, entire *theologies* and *ecclesiologies* within Protestantism, all based on Sola Scriptura– and then, what are we to make of the serious differences even *within* each competing theology and ecclesiology?

    I would say that the RCC is a community of private individuals with an ultimate public individual. The community of private individuals have different competing *theologies* and *ecclesiologies* when they use the set. Rome elevates itself among the individuals and stops the set from being used against themselves. Their publicity is an exclusive privacy.

    You wrote: As much as I love my brother, John Armstrong, and his valid, good vision for Christian ecumenism, I cannot see how that vision will bring about the *deep, lasting, visible* Christian unity, for which he and I both long.

    It can’t bring that vision. Rome is the obstacle and it knows it .That’s one of the forces behind its ecumenical movement.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  119. Mateo (re: #103),

    Any issues about conscience are dealt with in comment #102 (or the entire thread with Joshua). #102 demonstrates that at least one inerrant judgment can be made by the erring conscience without the external judge. It shows that scripture could be interpreted inerrantly at least once. This one example stifles Rome’s final arbiter claims, unless I’m right about this being a RC teaching (beginning of comment # 97).

    The form-matter scheme has been applied, most especially in scholasticism, to anthropology, ecclesiolgy and sacramental theology. Many others can be named. The rational organizes the irrational into a unity. A group of believers has not the rational principle to organize and unify themselves. You need a formal principle to organize and unite. Who? You say Pope and I say Christ. Christ is a member of the group (body of Christ) and its formal-uniting-organizing principle (head of the Body).

    You wrote: I, of course, totally agree with what you quoted from the CCC, but I also fail to see how this relates to the commandment of Christ found in your Protestant bible in the verses I quoted from Matthew chapter 18. In those verses, Christ is commanding all who would be his disciples to listen to his church. If they refuse to listen to his church, they are to be excommunicated.

    First, locate the word Rome or Roman in these verses, then I’ll comment.

    *I wish to bypass anything related to scrupulosity and the conscience. Perhaps I will do it at a later time.*

    You asked: If Adam and Eve merely did what God willed for them to do, how could that be construed as being sinful? How can anyone ever sin by being obedient to God’s will? Adam and Eve sinned by being disobedient to God’s will – they were expressly told not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Man sins by being disobedient to God’s will.

    The will and pleasure of God is at the beginning and end of all that comes to pass. Disobedience to the revealed will depends on the secret will.

    WCF: Ch 6 Of the fall of man, of sin, and of the punishment thereof
    1. Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptation of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin, God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory

    You wrote: But your set includes the scriptures, and the scriptures explicitly tell us that we must listen to Christ’s church or be excommunicated.

    Find Rome and Roman and I’ll concede.

    You wrote: You mentioned the “real world”. Let us talk about the real world of Protestantism.

    The RC laity (possibly some religious) is a protestant group governed by the Episcopal order under a God title, Universal Bishop. Yes, your teacher is one voice teaching among other voices teaching. I did mention the “real world” and mysterious sin. Rome knows mysterious sins very well (2Thess. 3-12).

    Thanks,
    Eric

  120. Dear Matt (re #112):

    I would like to be clear on what you are asking. In order to do this I need to know what you mean by “test.”

    Could you point me to the Scripture you were thinking of when you mentioned “even God allows himself to be tested. He calls us to test His words and his Spirit”? Once we know what we’re talking about when can then see if the “testing” of the Magisterium or of the authority of the Church that you’re asking about is of the same kind.

    Does this seem like a valid way to proceed? I feel it’s important to know if we’re both using the same meaning of the word “test” if we are not to wind up talking past one another – so I can understand if the “testing” of the Church is of the same kind as the “testing” of God you mention in Scripture.

    Pax Tecum,
    Frank

  121. Mateo (re: # 106),

    Everybody should see this ! This is an excellent Trinitarian and scriptural response. God saw the examination and was pleased. The God I mentioned was the Trinitarian God.

    You wrote: If the Holy Spirit convicted a man so that he came to conclusion that he was “a liar and a sinner who errs”, then my response to that man would be, “Welcome to the human race. I have good new for you, Jesus Christ has come to set you free from your bondage to sin.”

    You agree with the Visitor when he said, “God was pleased with your judgment, I judge. (comment #102)

    You wrote: No, I do not see how that is possible. It is the Holy Spirit that convicts of us sin, and leads us to a correct judgement about wretched sinfulness. It seems to me that what you are saying here is nothing more that the heresy of semi-Pelagianism, that is, man unaided by grace, can take the steps necessary for him to desire his salvation in Christ

    Your answering Naturalism’s ghosts. The argument is “the impossibility of the contrary”. Conscience had to agree with 1John 1:5-10 because the contrary to these verses is impossible in reality.

    I accept a distinction between conscience and formed conscience just like the CCC.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  122. Eric, you wrote:

    Any issues about conscience are dealt with in comment #102 (or the entire thread with Joshua). #102 demonstrates that at least one inerrant judgment can be made by the erring conscience without the external judge.

    As far as I can see, you have failed to make your argument, because your “closed set” leaves out the most important element in a man’s conversion – the person of the Holy Spirit. Surely, as a Christian, you believe that a sinful man is not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the “external judge” that convicts a man of his sinfulness, and without the Holy Spirit, fallen man will never come to the realization that he is wretched sinner who is unable to save himself. It matters not if the fallen man has, or has not a bible – without the Holy Spirit convicting him of his sinfulness, he will never reach out to his Savior.

    From what I can understand of what you are saying, you are preaching the heresy of semi-Pelagianism.

    Disobedience to the revealed will depends on the secret will.

    WCF: Ch 6 Of the fall of man, of sin, and of the punishment thereof
    1. Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptation of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin, God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory

    What you quoted is nothing more than a Calvinist interpretation of the scriptures. Which is something that I reject, because to me, it is a false interpretation of the scriptures. I don’t want to derail this thread for why I see this as a false interpretation of scriptures. I want to stick to the main point that I have been making – that under the Protestant principle of the primacy of the individual conscience, there is no way that we can ever resolve whether or not the Calvinists are interpreting scripture correctly. In the Protestant world, those who believe in this peculiar interpretation of scriptures become Calvinists, and those who disagree with this interpretation of scriptures become something else, perhaps Southern Baptists. But in the end, there is no way to settle once and for all this dispute within Protestantism, precisely because Protestantism is an unstable edifice built upon a foundation of sand (the principle of primacy of the individual conscience).

    You wrote: I, of course, totally agree with what you quoted from the CCC, but I also fail to see how this relates to the commandment of Christ found in your Protestant bible in the verses I quoted from Matthew chapter 18. In those verses, Christ is commanding all who would be his disciples to listen to his church. If they refuse to listen to his church, they are to be excommunicated.

    First, locate the word Rome or Roman in these verses, then I’ll comment.

    You expect me to add to the scriptures before you will address my point? I will never do this! The scriptures in a Protestant bible clearly say that we must listen to “the church” or be excommunicated, and “the church” that we must listen to is the church that Jesus Christ personally founded. My point here is that no Protestant even bothers trying to listen to the church that Jesus Christ personally founded.

    From my point of view, Protestants just blithely ignore altogether the scriptures commanding the disciples of Christ to listen to the church that he personally founded. Now I happen to believe that “the church” that Jesus Christ founded is the Catholic Church, which is what all the original Reformers believed too – since the original protesters began their “Reformation” by trying to reform “the church”. If the church that the protesters were trying to reform was not the church that Jesus Christ personally founded, then why in the world were they trying to reform a church that was, presumably, founded by a heretic?

    Steve Martin, you write:

    You believe in the Church visable…and I the Church invisable.

    Do you really believe that the Lutheran Church that you belong to is invisible? Your Lutheran Church claims that it has the power to excommunicate heretics, which is something that only a visible church can do.

    My point is that only a visible church can excommunicate a heretic, and that the power to excommunicate heretics is a power that Jesus Christ gave to the visible church that he personally founded. The Lutheran Church is not the visible church founded by Jesus Christ; it is a visible church founded by a mere man, Martin Luther. Which is precisely why I see no scriptural reason to listen to the Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Second Day Adventist Church, the Church of Christ, Scientist, or any other visible church founded by some mere man or woman in the last five-hundred years.

  123. Pam, thank you. I think this opens up a lot. Even the voices in Scripture that claim (and did) speak with God-given authority had powerful signs and wonders from God to authenticate their claims to speaking in his name.

    Moses; the heavens and earth shook when God spoke to him. Look what God did through him when leading Israel out of Egypt. Exodus is a powerful book showing this. Look at Elijah; the power of God surrounded him. Same thing with other prophets and their abilities to predict the future or do powerful things in God’s authenticating power.

    Look at the apostles in the book of Acts. Crippled people were healed. The dead were given life. Miracles happened through real apostles to show they were endorsed from God himself.

    Even the Lord did authenticating signs and powerful miracles to authenticate his claims. All kinds of things fill the pages of the four Gospel accounts, things that show authenticating power resided in him. He was from God, to be sure.

    I don’t see this going on from the Magisterium.

    Matt

  124. Frank (#120),

    I am thinking generally about 1 John 4:1. Also Gideon asking the Lord to do certain things. I think about the Lord speaking in Malachi about testing him (in the context of tithing, etc).

    Don’t have time to look it up, but the apostle Paul somewhere says, “Test what I am saying.”

    The Lord even says,

    “Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” John 10:37-38

    There is a strong implication of “test me” in that passage in John.

    How about, “O taste and see that the Lord is good”, from the Psalms.

    This all is generally to what I was referring.

    Matt

  125. Christopher (re: #116),

    You wrote: I could be wrong, given that I cannot see into others’ hearts, but I truly do not believe that anyone here is trying to get you to condemn yourself. However, the questions that are being asked of you are valid ones. How do you know that your interpretations of Scripture (which you understand to militate against distinctively Catholic teachings) are correct?

    Read comment #102. It’s not true to conclude I must be infallible. If I (or anyone) concludes they are infallible, then speaks it is self-condemned. The questions are very valid. Narrow down one distinctively catholic teaching to chew on, please.

    You wrote: If you think that the preceding statement about the Church is a bare assertion, with little to no evidence, consider, from 189 A.D., the following words of St. Irenaeus (in “Against Heresies,” 3:3:2):

    Was Irenaeus infallible or these statements clearly drawn from an infallible source ? Which source ? If he was fallible, then why do trust him and not me ? Are you willing in advance to question the factuality of your quote ?

    Thanks,
    Eric

  126. Mateo (re:#122),

    If I am understanding Eric’s “closed set” correctly, he is assuming that the person in the set *already has* the indwelling Holy Spirit.

    In a strongly Calvinist paradigm, such as the one Eric holds, a sinful person can’t even really *understand* the Scriptures, in a spiritual sense, and be convicted by them of personal sin, without the Holy Spirit, (or, at least, without a monergistic act of regeneration by God, immediately followed by faith in Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the new believer).

  127. Mateo (re #122),

    More naturalist ghosts. The examination of conscience was for God. God the Holy Spirit to be exact. If I added the Holy Spirit to my set would that change my conclusion ? If you add Rome to my set it would still be semi-pelagian based on what your saying. God the Holy Spirit was presupposed from the start to be operating in the supernatural and natural order in my story.

    Comment #102 –
    C: Final arbiter ? Do you really know the ginnies ? Each man is the same, did the same and reached opposite conclusions. In ginnie land we call that the eschatological judgment. One is a sheep and the other is a goat. I think we both KNOW who the final arbiter is ? Or do we ? See you never.

    I’m wondering if there is not something to this ? Please deal with my argument from “the impossibility of the contrary”.

    Do you actually disagree with the very words of the WCF sections given ? Doesn’t Rome teach this ?

    You wrote: You expect me to add to the scriptures before you will address my point? I will never do this!

    Thank you. LOCATE Rome or Roman in the verses is to ADD it to the verses. Now that Rome is on a level biblical playing field with me, why Rome and not another kind of catholic church ?

    Thanks,
    Eric

  128. Mike (re#111),

    You decided to enter with bare assertion and insult. Sarcasm implies harshness. I wish to imitate Frank who acknowledged his harshness in responding to my comment. Knowledge is something very important in these recent exchanges. Frank detected no sarcasm (to the best of my knowledge), but you do. Someone must have an ability to know whether or not they can identify the true church. Most of these arguments we have witnessed against knowledge are an attempt to lead a person into skepticism unless they have your teaching office. I was arguing and not being sarcastic.

    You asserted: But in fact, each is not only true but also consistent with the others.

    Of course, they are consistent because Rome TEACHES they are. Try denying this. First, they will instruct you to study and pray. If you persist, then they will admonish and want dialogue. Persist more, then they will assert and cut off. This has nothing to do with “consistent”. We have already seen how I can’t interpret scripture alone, so what makes you think I’ll see this ? Can I get you to agree that consistent implies logical-consistent ? For something to consist it must be grounded in a logical-subsistent.

    Quote:
    The distinction between subsistit and est does: however, imply the drama of the schism of the Church: although the Church is only one, and does really exist, there is being that is derived from the being of the Church. Because sin is a contradiction, THIS DISTINCTION BETWEEN SUBSISTIT AND EST IS, IN THE END, SOMETHING THAT CANNOT BE ENTIRELY EXPLAINED LOGICALLY. – Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, Ignatius, pg. 148

    If entirely, then how not logically ? A paradox (sin as a contradiction) is right in the middle of Christ’s Church. I submit that the paradox vanishes when Rome removes its universal status.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  129. Eric (re:#77 and #118),

    In #77, you write, describing your “closed set”:

    Here is the set: codified law (scripture)-natural law-conscience-idolatry

    Then, building from that “foundation,” you write:

    Who examines your conscience before confession ? Viewing the set as a whole stops the need for a magesterium. I think you are troubled with how to apply this set in real life. Alone with God and reading the scriptures are sufficient to judge your heart if you have sinned. You are open to God for His judgement about every single thing in creation, including yourself. His word works it by His Spirit. The examination should reveal if you or another creature has been raised to the level of God. If your conscience judges something as idolatry, then it is. This is universal and applicable to all.

    Even assuming that the indwelling Holy Spirit is at work in the person in the “closed set,” this set is still radically inadequate. In fact, it is an example of Solo (*not* even Sola!) Scriptura of the most radical kind. You, the Holy Spirit, your Bible, and your prayer closet, and that’s all you need for personal conviction of sin– but even in the Reformed world *alone* (not to mention Protestantism as a whole!), one can see that this is simply not the case.

    Here is an example. Steve Hays, one of the contributors at Triablogue (a Calvinist blog), has argued, based on what he believes to be principles of Sola Scriptura, that masturbation is not inherently sinful. http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2004/07/too-hot-to-handle-2.html

    Steve, “alone” with the Scriptures (and perhaps some commentaries), and his conscience, finds masturbation not to be inherently sinful. Droves of Reformed exegetes disagree with him– but his conscience, working from Sola Scriptura, does not find masturbation to be sexual idolatry. By the criteria of your “closed set,” it cannot truly be said that he is wrong. Is this problematic to you?

    Another example from the Calvinist world– many Reformed theologians, such as John Murray, find divorce and remarriage to be “Biblically allowable,” under certain conditions. However, a few years ago, the very well-known “Reformed Baptist” pastor and author, John Piper, declared that he has come to believe, from the Bible, that remarriage is *never* Biblically allowable.

    Is remarriage a sin or not? In your closed set, neither man (John Murray or John Piper) can legitimately told that he is wrong, because the Scriptures, and their consciences, have told them their conclusions are right– despite each man coming to a very different conclusion on the sinfulness, or not, of remarriage.

    About your comment #118, your personal scrupulosity *may* have been caused by personal sin, but that in no way means that *all* scrupulosity in *anyone’s and everyone’s* Christian life is caused by personal sin.

    Your paradigm seems to be (wittingly or unwittingly) that of radical Biblical subjectivism with the appearance of objectivity– *when* it is the individual believer, “illuminated by the Holy Spirit,” with the Scriptures, in his/her prayer closet. In 189 A.D., St. Irenaeus described a way, which God provided, out of that sort of radical Biblical subjectivism– a way which existed in Irenaeus’s time, and which still exists in ours:

    “But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul—that church which has the tradition and the faith with which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world. And it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition.”

    (from “Against Heresies,” 3:3:2)

  130. Frank La Rocca, you asked for this clarification from Matt:

    I would like to be clear on what you are asking. In order to do this I need to know what you mean by “test.”

    I want to know the same thing! What we need is test for is the accuracy of various interpretations of inerrant scriptures. The Calvinist interpretation, vs. the Lutheran interpretation vs. the Southern Baptist interpretation, vs. the Catholic interpretation, etc, ect, ad infinitum.

    Having worked in the pharmaceutical industry, I understand the importance of testing, and testing is meaningless unless one has a standard to compare the test against. For example, I might want to test the weight of a pill. For that test to be meaningful and accepted by the FDA, I have to measure the weight of that pill on weight scale, but it can’t be just any old weight scale, it has to be a calibrated scale that has been certified for its accuracy. To be certified as accurate, the readout of the scale has to give accurate measurement against the calibration weights that the company typically owns. These calibration weights also have to be periodically tested, to make sure that they are accurate. The weight standards that calibrate the weight standards, have to be measured against other weight standards that are certified to be accurate. But there is no infinite regress, because ultimately there is one block of matter against which all weight calibrations standards are traceable.

    To make an analogy with ultimate calibration standards, the “bible alone” Protestants are trying to make the argument that the Protestant Bible is the only “calibration standard”. The Protestant bible alone has a guarantee by God to be without error. But we are NOT arguing about whether or not the Protestant bible is inerrant or “out of calibration”, we are arguing about whether or not particular interpretations of the Protestant bible are known to be accurate.

    Protestants cannot never resolve their disputes about their interpretations of the inerrant scriptures, because they have no standard for deciding whether or not a particular interpretation is accurate. In the world of sola scriptura confessing Protestantism, the weight scale that determines the accuracy of a particular the interpretation of scriptures is each individual Protestant’s private interpretation of scripture. Which means that the Protestants are measuring the accuracy of their scriptural interpretations on scales that are known to be unreliable. The evidence of that unreliability is the undeniable fact that sola scriptura confessing Protestants are fragmented into tens of thousands of sects that teach contradictory interpretations of the Protestant bible!

    Matt, you write:

    I am thinking generally about 1 John 4:1. Also Gideon asking the Lord to do certain things. I think about the Lord speaking in Malachi about testing him (in the context of tithing, etc).

    Don’t have time to look it up, but the apostle Paul somewhere says, “Test what I am saying.”

    I can’t find any verses from St. Paul where he recommends to those to whom he is preaching the Gospel that they are to “test” the veracity of Gospel itself by examining the mighty works that have been attributed to St.Paul’s intercession in the name of the Lord. Why would Paul ever preach such a thing? The Lord himself said that there are men who will do mighty works in the name of the Lord that, in the end, they will be judged as evildoers:

    Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, `I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’

    Matt 7:21-23

    Jesus says that evildoers can prophesy, cast out demons, and work miracles in the name of the Lord. Surely, if evildoers can do these things, then men and women that aren’t evil, but merely misguided in their doctrine, can do these things too. Just because a Christian Scientist lady prays for a healing miracle in the name of the Lord, and that miracle is granted by the Lord because of her sincere prayers, that does not mean that we should all become Christian Scientists.

    Your reference to 1 John 4:1 says this:

    Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

    The false prophets that John is speaking about here are the Docetist heretics that are denying that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. That can be known by reading the verses that directly follow 1John 4:1:

    By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already.

    DOCETISM. A heretical system of thought dating from apostolic times, which held that Christ only seemed to be a man, to be born, have lived, suffered, and risen from the dead. All the evidence indicates that Docetism was combined with some form of Gnosticism and, later on, Manichaeism. In the strict sense it was less a heresy denying a Christian doctrine than a false philosophy, claiming that there was an irreconcilable antagonism between matter and spirit, and for this reason it was thought impossible that God, who is pure spirit, would become incarnate in a material body.

    Ref: Modern Catholic Dictionary

    http://www.therealpresence.org/cgi-bin/getdefinition.pl

    Matt, you write:

    Pam, thank you. I think this opens up a lot. Even the voices in Scripture that claim (and did) speak with God-given authority had powerful signs and wonders from God to authenticate their claims to speaking in his name.

    In what Protestant denomination do we find God never answering the prayers of those who ask for miracles “in his name”? I learned much from Southern Baptists who met together on Wednesday night to pray for miracles in the name of Jesus. And I witnessed those prayers answered, sometimes in the most amazing ways. That said, I am sure that I can find the same thing happening in Protestant churches of all stripes. Yet, these various Protestant sects preach contradictory interpretations of the Protestant Bible. So how does your “test” ever let anyone resolve a doctrinal dispute among the tens of thousands of Protestant sects?

  131. Eric, you write:

    The examination of conscience was for God.

    But who is illuminating the conscience of the person that is convicted of sin? If I examine my conscience by my own lights, will I ever see the truth? I think not!

    The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?
    Jerimiah 17:9

    If I added the Holy Spirit to my set would that change my conclusion ?

    Of course it would! If a man has a bible, and he does not have the illumination of the Holy Spirit, he can’t even understand what the bible is saying on the spiritual level. The bible is spiritually useless to the man who lacks the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

    The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
    1 Cor. 2:14

    If you add Rome to my set it would still be semi-pelagian based on what your saying.

    I honestly don’t understand what you are saying here. Please clarify!

    Do you actually disagree with the very words of the WCF sections given ? Doesn’t Rome teach this ?

    Yes, I disagree words of the WCF, and no the Catholic Church does not teach that God was pleased that Adam and Eve were disobedient to his expressed will – which is how I interpret the words of the WCF that say, “This their sin, God was pleased …”. I will admit that perhaps I am misinterpreting what the WCF is trying to say. But I really don’t want to get into a discussion about this, since it will take us way off topic.

    … your teacher is one voice teaching among other voices teaching

    Which doesn’t mean that my teacher isn’t the church that was personally founded by Jesus Christ. I have reason to believe that it is, but I don’t expect you to believe that this is true just because I say so. But you seem to believe that you don’t even have an obligation to search out and find the church that Jesus Christ has personally founded, and even less yet, that if you found that church, that you would be obliged to listen to what she teaches or suffer excommunication. Which mystifies me, because the Protestant bible that is part of your “closed set” explicitly tells you to listen to the church that Jesus Christ personally founded! So how do you justify not listening to the church that Jesus Christ personally founded?

  132. Matt (re #124),

    From what I gather, you are looking for (possibly miraculous) signs of authentic teaching and for evidence that Magisterial teaching has been subject to challenge and “proven” itself true? Am I correct that this is what you’re asking?

    Also, would you tell me what you would say to someone who heard Jesus speak the words of John 10:37-38 and had seen the works Jesus refers to and then did not believe Him or His works?

    Blessings,
    Frank

  133. Matt (re#124/132)

    Also, could you describe in a little detail the way in which I could “test” the Magisterium? I mean, how exactly would I go about doing this, what actions would I take to conduct the test, and what measure would I use to determine whether the test had been “passed,” so to speak?

    Thanks,
    Frank

  134. Frank (re# 109),

    Protestants secretly have their own saints. Thinking about passing your name for nomination. I became a Christian at 10yrs old in a family Baptist Church. Years later, Rome made its offer to me for full communion. Close to four years later, I accepted and entered in. Reading everything I can get my hands on including; aquinas, catechism, councils and other church documents. Had my home enthroned to the sacred heart of jesus and immaculate heart of mary. Daily examination of conscience and frequent confession were part of the journey. Rosaries and other forms of prayer and piety make the list.
    The most troubled points were: reconciling Vatican II teaching with past church teaching, the way Rome has handled the SSPX, the fact that Sedevacantism is not officially condemned and church members consider them schismatics without authoritative decision, how modernism and neo-modernism has infected the bishops. To put it simply, the grass is greener on the other side. Friend, you have moral certainty of one day enjoying the Beatific Vision IF you die in a state of friendship with God. I have a theological certainty, based on the promises of God, that I’m a friend of God and will die there. That IF is no good news to me. The gospel is Christ alone.
    Let us meet again in some exchanges.

    Godspeed,
    Eric

  135. Mateo and Christopher,

    My time has expired. Thanks for the exchanges. Many valid and good questions remain and just can’t be covered. I think comment #102 remains unchallenged and needs someone to give it a stronger attack. Feel free to respond to it.

    Mike,
    Please respond to comment #111 at least once. One response gets a draw and no response gives me victory.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  136. Eric,

    Sounds like you were a full-bore Traditionalist Catholic (I would say I am). Did you attend an Extraordinary Form Mass, too (I do)?

    I am troubled by many of the the things you mention as well. But my very being is anchored in the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Eucharist. It is very hard for me to understand how anyone who truly believed in that could ever leave the Church over what are ultimately temporal failures and weaknesses. And so, your departure pains my heart – truly.

    I will pray for you, and look forward to another exchange, perhaps.

    Frank

  137. Eric (re:#134 and #135),

    Thanks for the conversation, brother. You mention having a “theological certainty based on the promised of God.” That certainty, and at least some of those “promises,” as you understand them, result from your Calvinist interpretation of the Protestant canon of the Bible. These conversations are not about “winning,” “losing,” or calling it a “draw.” They are about God’s objective truth (written and otherwise), how we know it, and eternal salvation. Well over a billion Christians, world-wide, disagree with your Calvinist interpretations and conclusions. For 1,500 years, the Catholic, and then, also, the Orthodox Churches did not teach your distinctive Calvinistic interpretations of Scripture. You didn’t answer a single question or challenge that I issued to you in #129. Given that you are now bowing out of this conversation, I hope that you will at least think about those questions and challenges away from this site. God’s best to you, brother.

  138. Frank,

    I am generally looking for ways in which one could test the Magisterium. By what greater authority could that be done? What standard of truth? Just what is the ‘gold standard’ that backs them up.

    Yes, some powerful miraculous acts would be good. For such great claims as the Roman Catholic Magisterium have, it would only be fitting and make sense. Moses was endorsed by power from above, as were the prophets, apostles and even the Lord during his earthly ministry.

    (I am not speaking about false signs and wonders, either. I am speaking about real, true and authenticating signs and wonders.)

    I don’t really want to keep mincing definitions and defining this or that beyond what is simply stated. It is not necessary. I am looking for the things I just mentioned above. It is direct and simple.

    In a nutshell: What is the greater truth or standard by which to judge the claims of the Roman Catholic Church? Also, where are the powerful signs and wonders which show and demonstrate that the Roman Catholic Magisterium is speaking with the same authority as Moses, the Prophets, the Apostles and even the Lord?

    Matt

  139. Eric (re: #135),

    If you are actually under the impression that it follows from someone’s decision not to respond that you have notched some kind of “victory,” or that it follows from a person’s single response to your single post that what you are apparently viewing as a “match” has ended in a “draw,” then may I suggest familiarizing yourself with this post, and with this one, and finally with this one.

    In the grace of Christ,

    Chad

  140. Dear Matt (re# 138):
    You wrote:

    In a nutshell: What is the greater truth or standard by which to judge the claims of the Roman Catholic Church? Also, where are the powerful signs and wonders which show and demonstrate that the Roman Catholic Magisterium is speaking with the same authority as Moses, the Prophets, the Apostles and even the Lord?

    Miracles: 1) all exorcisms (which, please note, are only performed by Catholics); 2) transubstantion at the Mass; 3) Marian intercessions (best known): Lepanto, Lourdes, Fatima; 4) Eucharistic: Lanciano, plus about another 50 here .

    Going farther back in time: all the miracles attributed to the Apostles, who are the original members of the Magisterium, and the conversion, against all odds, over the next few centuries of the peoples of the Roman Empire by the successors to those Apostles, the early Church Fathers, which was accomplished before the Canon of Scripture had been definitively declared, and before those peoples, in any event, had access to those scarce written copies of what was eventually determined to be the Canon of Scripture. In other words, no sola Scripturaconversions, these people were converted by the teachings of the Bishops of the ancient world – members of the Magisterium and successors to the Apostles.

    Now, Matt, before I continue, I do need you to tell me how – if a I cite a “gold standard” – the testing would be done. Would it go something like this: a teaching of the Magisterium, let’s say something from Trent on justification, is to be “tested” and that teaching is put side by side with the “gold standard” and compared with it?

    Would that be an example of what you’re asking? If yes, then who would it be that is doing the comparison of the two things – the teaching and the “gold standard” – and making the judgement about the outcome of the test?

    Please respond separately (if you plan to) the question of miracles so that we can focus the discussion on these items (miracles, “gold standard”) in separate comments since they entail quite different issues.

    Blessings,
    Frank

  141. Frank (#136),

    One could say that I, too, am a “traditionalist Catholic,” in that I believe affirm all that the Catholic Church officially, authoritatively teaches as true– and in that I believe that the liturgy should be done with the utmost reverence in form and matter, which I do not necessarily believe *requires* the Extraordinary Form Mass (unlike some of my fellow traditionalists, although I do believe that it should be much more widely available, for those who wish to attend it).

    At bottom though, the characteristic that should define a truly “traditionalist” Catholic is a trust that ultimately, through the Magisterium, God has chosen our present Pope (and John Paul II, and all of the Popes preceding him), and that, though some of the past Popes have, indeed, done very lamentable things, they have not not officially, publicly, taught or affirmed heresy.

    It is this latter trust (a trust in the Holy Spirit to protect the Papacy from publicly teaching heresy) that*some* (by no means all!) self-described “traditionalist Catholics” seem to lack. I think of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who, in 1988, described “Rome” as having “spiritual AIDS” (at a time in which AIDS was all but a certain death sentence). http://www.culturewars.com/CultureWars/Archives/Fidelity_archives/SSPX1.htm

    Such statements do not show a trust in the Holy Spirit’s guidance and protection of the Papacy from heresy. Especially for Catholics who have this trust (which is, in itself, “traditionalist”), we can study the documents of Vatican II, and Vatican I, and preceding councils, and past and present papal encyclicals, knowing that, authoritatively, on matters of faith and morals, they teach what Catholicism holds, which means, at least, *not* the affirmation of heresy.

    It seems as though Eric had a serious struggle, as a Catholic, with a basic trust in the Holy Spirit to protect the Papacy from publicly teaching heresy. This trust should be a distinguishing mark of a traditionalist Catholic, rather than a tendency to interpret past Church documents *for oneself*, and then to hold up *one’s own* interpretation of those documents as the standard against which to measure more recent Church documents (which is a tendency that I sense Eric had as a Catholic, given some of his self-described struggles in his comment #135).

  142. Dear Christopher, (re #141),

    Well said, and I agree with you.

    I think Eric’s attempts to resolve his questions and issues were made using a Protestant rather than a Catholic paradigm, and hence resolved in the same way: schism. I hope he sees the light and returns to full communion with the Catholic Church. He is now in my prayers daily.

    Frank

  143. Matt,

    Sorry for the misspelling of transubstantiation. And how could I have forgotten Our Lady of Guadalupe – responsible for the conversion of millions within just a few years in the Western Hemisphere.

    Best,
    Frank

  144. I should clarify that, in linking to the article about Marcel Lefebrve and the SSPX at culturewars.com, I did *not* mean to imply that all of the articles at that site are in accordance with Church teaching. (I discern a troubling anti-Semitism in some of the articles, and books for sale, there. The Catholic Faith is not anti-Semitic.)

  145. Matt, you ask:

    I am generally looking for ways in which one could test the Magisterium. By what greater authority could that be done?

    What temporal authority is greater than “the church”? The Protestant bible explicitly tells us that there is no greater temporal authority! A disciple of Christ does not test “the church”; a disciple of Christ listens to the church that Jesus Christ personally founded, or he is excommunicated from her. See Matt 18:15-19. If anyone believes that the Protestant bible is really inerrant, he or she must also accept this inerrant truth expressed in the scriptures – listen to “the church” or be excommunicated. The church that Jesus Christ personally founded has the final say on all disputes over doctrines of faith and morals.

    I grant that one may not believe that the Catholic Church is what she claims to be – the church that was personally founded by Jesus Christ, the church that all disciples of Christ must listen to upon pain of excommunication. That is a legitimate question to ask, and question worthy of discussion. But a stiff-necked and obstinate refusal to listen to “the church” cannot be scripturally justified under any circumstances, so there is absolutely no point in asking for scriptural “tests” that justify not listening to the church that Jesus Christ personally founded!

  146. Frank (re:#142),

    I am praying for Eric as well– and thank you of the reminder to do so through your example. God bless you, brother. It can be all too easy (for me at times) to engage in very serious conversations on blogs (even matters touching eternal salvation!), while forgetting to simply pray, both for myself, in the engaging itself, and for the eternal good of the other person. Thank you again for the positive reminder.

    I hope and pray that Eric reads your words and considers them. I, too, converted to Catholicism, back in 1996 (although, unlike him, I came out of a largely Godless personal background), and similarly to Eric, I discern that, in retrospect, I did not truly, fully adopt the Catholic paradigm of trust in the Holy Spirit to protect the Papacy from heresy. Ironically, my doubts about the objective truth of the Catholic faith came, partially, from contact with priests who did not seem to whole-heartedly embrace official Catholic teaching itself. What an irony indeed…! However, again, in retrospect, I allowed my troubling contact with those priests to lead to doubts in my mind about some of the very Church teachings which they seemed to oppose (an opposition, which, at first, troubled me very much)! These doubts led me, ultimately, ironically, to Calvinist (and quite anti-Catholic) Protestantism, where I spent several years serving God, but misunderstanding a good bit of His teaching in the Bible, and dismissing most Catholics and Orthodox as “non-Christians lost in works-righteousness.”

    How subtle doubt and deception can be– even, or perhaps especially, in our own hearts… which points, all the more, for the need for a visible Church authority, protected by the Holy Spirit from publicly teaching heresy. Individual priests and Bishops may not always hold to the objective, historic Catholic faith, but I have learned that to focus too strongly on those individual cases is the road to either a kind of embattled, but not very warm, “ultra-traditionalist Catholicism,” (constantly finding wrong in fellow Catholics, clergy and laity), or to actual Protestantism (as seems to be Eric’s situation, sadly), or even, to atheism.

    Let us pray that our dear, separated brother, Eric does not find himself in the latter, very terrible place. I write that in utmost sincerity and with grave seriousness. After I left the Catholic Church, but before I came a conscious Protestant, I was basically an atheistic nihilist for a few years (I’m almost 39 and have “been around” a good bit). Those were such dark years… almost impenetrably so, if not ultimately for God’s grace. Let us pray that our brother, Eric, returns to the fullness of the Christian faith in the Catholic Church.

  147. About my above comment (re:#146), it’s a good thing that typos aren’t sins! Mea culpa…

  148. How does one learn The Church’s official and true teaching? I understand that Von Balshasar teaches that there is family drama within the Holy Trinity. I don’t know enough and perhaps I should have kept silent here, but this idea would mean that there is disharmony of some sort. People write books and have mistaken ideas in both Catholicism and Protestantism, and if I asked my pastor if I should read Benny Hinn, he would discourage me because Hinn’s ideas are heretical. If I asked Joseph Ratzinger if I should read Baltshasar, he would say that I should read him as much as I can. How does one practice discernment?
    Chewing the cud and I am getting more lost.
    Please help.

  149. Alicia (#148):

    How does one learn The Church’s official and true teaching?

    The great thing about the Catholic Church is that, far from being an intellectual dictatorship, there is room for enormous amount of speculations, both on the part of theologians and just of ordinary blokes.

    The annoying thing about the Catholic Church is … see above :-)

    I think as a Protestant, I did have the idea that in the Catholic Church you had to ‘check your brains at the door.’ I have found it the most fecund source of thinking ever – I felt much more constrained as a Protestant.

    And this is possible in the Church precisely because the Church has been given the charism of teaching truth.

    I don’t know about Balthasar’s thing about family (Scott Hahn, I believe, has some of the same speculations), but I have heard that he sometimes seems to teach a kind of universalism – all will be saved. Those who know his work well may correct me, I don’t know.

    But let’s suppose that he taught that all men will certainly be saved – and suppose there arose a kind of flap about this, which was disturbing the Church’s peace. What would happen?

    Don’t know, but I think that the Church would reiterate that, though the Church does not know whether any man will be lost – even Judas – and the Church does know that some are saved – the saints – that the Church does not have the power to say that none will be lost – and, if necessary (don’t know why it would be), would say that Catholics are required not to assert that none will be lost.

    But in reality, unless there were some important reason, I don’t think the Church would do or say anything.

    The Catholic Church is able to be a bit more relaxed about these things, because she has the confidence that God will guide her when needed.

    Which doesn’t answer your question :-)

    Read the Catechism. It is a superb place, not only to begin, but to keep on. I have a little programme of reading it through once a year, like Bible. There is so much there that you can’t absorb once through. And it has references to vast amounts of other stuff.

    And … I think that, starting with trustworthy stuff like the Catechism, and living as a Catholic – by far the most important thing – you do begin to develop an instinct for what is loopy and what not.

    For – I tell you a secret – there is plenty of loopiness in the Church – not the Church itself, mind, but … well, the Kingdom of God is like a great tree in whose branches every sort of bird makes its nest.

    jj

  150. Alicia, you ask:

    How does one learn The Church’s official and true teaching?

    Official teaching implies that there is an office within the church that has the authority to exercise the power of a teaching office. One would learn the official teachings of a church by listening to those within a church that hold that office. For example, to learn the official doctrines of the Mormon church, one could always ask the Prophet of Salt Lake City what those doctrines are, since he is the man that holds the office in the Mormon church that can formally define official Mormon doctrine. But I assume that you are not looking listen to “a church”, you are interested in listening to “the church” – the church that Jesus Christ personally founded. Because Jesus Christ promised that the powers of death will never prevail against the church that he personally founded, that means that his church must still be around so that you can listen to her. And that establishes an age criteria for “the church” – she must have a two-thousand year old history. This age criteria alone eliminates every Protestant “church” from consideration. The only real options one would have, given the age criteria, are the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, or the Catholic Church.

    Suppose one is unable to read (as is the case for the majority of Christians that have ever lived). One could then listen to “the church” by finding those who have the authority within the church to officially define dogma. And since all the Christian churches that have a two-thousand year old history also believe that only bishops can officially define dogma, one would want to listen to what the bishops teach. One thing that bishops teach in Christian churches with a two-thousand year old history, is that dogmas solemnly defined at valid Ecumenical Councils are conscience binding upon all Christians. Learning the dogmas officially defined at valid Ecumenical Councils is a good place to begin, in my opinion, because that is starting with the basics.

    I understand that Von Balshasar teaches that there is family drama within the Holy Trinity.

    Hans Urs von Balthasar is a theologian, not a bishop, so he is not vested with any sort of teaching authority that can bind the consciences of Christians to his theological speculations. Even if the current Pope expressed an opinion that could be construed as being favorable towards a theological speculation coming from Hans Urs von Balthasar, that, in itself, is not an act of the pope speaking ex cathedra. Pope John Paul II never formally defined a dogma ex cathedra, and I would be very surprised if Pope Benedict XVI ever defines a dogma ex cathedra. Which means what? It means that a Catholic is free to believe, or disbelieve, the theological speculations of Hans Urs von Balthasar on all matters where the church has not officially exercised her teaching authority.

  151. John (re:#149) and Alicia (re:#148), respectively,

    Hans Urs Von Balthasar did not believe in (and therefore, of course, does not teach in any of his writings, that I know of) universal salvation. In one book, “Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?,” he does teach that we should pray, and even hope, that all people may be saved. Now, one must note here that the Catholic Church has never definitively *declared* any individual person to be in Hell. That is not a Catholic tendency, in terms of official teaching. The Church does teach, through Scripture and Tradition, that there is only one way of salvation, and that is through Jesus Christ, Our Lord, and through His Church, the Catholic Church.

    However, the Church also teaches that due to “invincible ignorance,” a person may not consciously know, and have faith in, Christ and/or His Church, and yet it *may*– may– be possible for that person to be saved. *If* such a person is saved though–if– then he (or she) is saved by Christ, and through a “relation” of sorts to the Church (in that the invincibly ignorant person, who might be saved, would actually *want* to know Christ and His Church, if he or she could).

    These are a lot of “if’s,” though, when it comes to eternal salvation. Given this fact, one could say that there is much better, and more certain, a hope of salvation, in actually being a *believing, practicing member* of the Catholic Church that Christ founded, if at all possible.

    Our trust, our faith, as Catholics, is still in Christ alone. We live out that faith, however, not through interpreting the Bible as we privately understand it, and then, living our lives as such, but rather, through believing and living out the apostolic deposit of faith, which has has been handed down by, and in, the Catholic Church.

    Back to the direct issue of Catholic teaching and salvation. There are actual Catholic prayers which involve our praying that God would “have mercy on us and on the whole world” (the Divine Mercy Chaplet) and/or that Jesus would “take all souls to Heaven” (from the Vatican-approved apparition of Our Lady of Fatima). However, from my study of historical Catholic thinking, these are prayers prayed out of a *hope* for people– one could say a bent of the heart toward mercy– *not* at all a *theological certainty* stemming from Catholic teaching in either Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition (which are not contradictory but complementary).

    Some Catholics believe that Von Balthasar’s aforementioned book on salvation is deeply problematic. Perhaps, even, some of the authors of this blog! (I think that actually is the case.) I, myself, do think that there are exegetical problems with the book. As one example, from Jesus’s statement about Judas (that it would have been better for him, if he had never been born), it seems quite likely that he, at least, is in Hell. One may think of other cases of human beings who, from all that *we* could see and know, seem very likely to be in Hell… Stalin, Hitler, Mao Tse-tung, and others.

    However, despite my and others’ exegetical disagreements, at times, with Von Balthasar, he is a prodigious theologian, admired and loved, *overall* (though not always in every particular theological instance!) by many in the Church, including Pope John Paul II, and our current Pope, Benedict XVI.

    Personally, I think that Von Balthasar’s heart for mercy probably overcame his exegetical sense in parts of “Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?” I am aware that some other traditionalist Catholics (I am one too!) have a much less friendly view of that book in particular, and of his work in general. (As John Thayer Jensen mentioned, the Church is definitely a big tent!) However, given that both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI (no theological slouches themselves!) have expressed a high regard for Von Balthasar’s *overall* work, I am hesitant to quickly dismiss it. So much for the Church being a theological dictatorship! :-)

  152. Also, Alicia (re:#148),

    John gives very good counsel. To learn the official teaching of the Church, the best place to start, and continue, is to read the official “Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition” (a few translation mistakes were corrected, I believe, from the 1st edition).

    While researching the Church’s teaching, I was also greatly helped by watching the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), a very informative Catholic cable channel. EWTN seeks to always be faithful to official Catholic teaching. If you are not able to watch the channel on television, all of its programming streams live, in real time, at their website. http://www.ewtn.com/

  153. John and Christopher,

    Thank you for your help. So exegesis isn’t a science, eh? How far does theology reach before it becomes problematic? I thought the deposit of faith had bounderies and was more like the US Constitution and could only be ammended.

    Is there a thread on here that discusses salvation? If I understand correctly sanctifying grace was given to every human person without difference in an act of fairness, but unless all people hear the gospel of Christ, their sanctiyfing, “first start” won’t do them any good. I feel like I’ve come full circle to divine election. Am I thinking this wrongly?

  154. Christopher (#150 and #151)

    Thanks for that. I admit I don’t really know much of what Balthasar teaches, only the scuttlebutt that one hears. My point, of course, is that it really seems to me a marvellous thing that in the Church – precisely because of the safety of being fenced by the guarantees of God that, when push comes to shove, the Church – not this or that individual teacher, but the Church – cannot lead you astray – because of this, there is enormous freedom within the Church for this sort of discussion and speculation. I felt far more constrained as a Protestant – perhaps in part because if I thought I was in serious disagreement with my pastors, I would have to find another congregation.

    So – as Christopher says – get it from the horse’s mouth. Read the Catechism. And then, when you feel confident about a topic, go ahead and discuss – argue, even – with others – but you don’t have to worry. God will take care of His Church. If you always are prepared to listen to her – and when you must know something, the Church will tell you – then you are ok.

    This was, sadly, Eric’s problem. He was a “Protestant Catholic” – at least it sounds like that. He became a Catholic because, I would say, he saw that the Church was right on this or that point – points which he believed he knew the answers to on other grounds – i.e., the Church agreed with him.

    To me, being a Catholic means coming to understand that the Catholic Church is a truth-telling thing. So I agree with it. And when I am puzzled, either, as may be, I haven’t understood what the Church really teaches, or else … I am wrong! And I can then try to understand.

    jj

  155. John (re:#152),

    Amen on all counts!

  156. Mateo (#150)

    Official teaching implies that there is an office within the church that has the authority to exercise the power of a teaching office. One would learn the official teachings of a church by listening to those within a church that hold that office. For example, to learn the official doctrines of the Mormon church, one could always ask the Prophet of Salt Lake City what those doctrines are, since he is the man that holds the office in the Mormon church that can formally define official Mormon doctrine. But I assume that you are not looking listen to “a church”, you are interested in listening to “the church”.

    I think this is so important. There is often much misunderstanding here. I think someone earlier in this, or another, post was wanting a list of all the infallibly-defined doctrines. The Catholic Church doesn’t work like that. It is the Body of Christ. It does teach – but even the Pope, as teacher, is not teaching in his own person – nor even, personally, as the mouthpiece of Christ. He is the sign of unity of the Church, the Body of Christ. He does, indeed, teach, when he teaches all Christians, as the mouthpiece of Christ – but he does so as the place where the Church has its authoritative utterance.

    And what the Church teaches is almost identical with what the Church is. It is the Church that is infallible, not, in his own person, the Pope, or the councils, or whatever. This is the meaning of the doctrine of the consensus fidelium – the ‘mind of the faithful.’ That itself can sound like a majority vote. It is not. When, in 1854, the Pope defined the Immaculate Conception, he consciously sought the mind of the Church.

    It is all a bit frustratingly huge sometimes. Taking any specific doctrine by itself – even fundamentals like the Trinity – still, to understand them, you need to read different people and their take on it.

    The word ‘organic’ is often over-done – but it certainly applies here. The Church ministers not merely to your mind – to the set of doctrines that you intellectually take on board – but to you – which includes things deeper than the discursive intellect, as well as things that are not intellectual at all – emotion, your own body (so that Lent involves some physical denials as well) – the whole Church for the whole person.

    jj

  157. Alicia #152

    I thought the deposit of faith had bounderies and was more like the US Constitution and could only be ammended.

    The deposit of faith cannot be amended. It is Christ Himself. Boundaries? I wouldn’t quite put it that way. Any actual dogma has boundaries – e.g. you may say that the Trinity is three, but not that it is three gods; that God is One but not that He is one Person – and so forth. But the Deposit of Faith is what Christ left us – and that is Himself.

    Regarding grace, grace is available to all – sufficient for salvation – but sanctifying grace comes through the Sacraments. That is why they it is called sanctifying. To be sure, the grace of, say, Baptism can come without physical baptism. Men can be saved without being baptised if they cannot be baptised, or have no way of knowing they ought to be. But sanctifying grace comes from the Sacraments.

    Mateo, Frank, Christopher – am I on the right track here?

    jj

  158. Alicia (re:#153),

    You’re certainly welcome, and I’m glad to be of help. Exegesis is definitely a science, and the apostolic deposit of faith does have boundaries. The Catholic Church has handed down, and she guards, the apostolic deposit of faith. (I admit to being unsure of what I or John could have written to make you unsure of the Catholic Church’s positions on exegesis and the deposit of faith; perhaps I missed something.)

    No one is saved apart from God’s grace and mercy through Christ alone. For the invincibly ignorant person who *might* (not will, but might) be saved, God would show that person mercy, due to His knowing that if that particular person *truly knew and understood* Christ and His Church, he or she would want to trust in Christ alone and become a member of His Church. There is no conflict between this teaching from the Church, and the Church’s *other, written* teaching, in Scripture, that the only way to the Father is through Christ. Christ is still the sole Savior of any invincibly ignorant person who *may, possibly* be saved.

    Part of your difficulty in understanding Catholic teaching on salvation could be that you are possibly (I’m not sure) viewing the Bible’s teaching on salvation through Calvinist lenses. The Catechism *and* Scripture, together– Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, though a good bit of the Catechism, itself, comes from Scripture, either directly or indirectly– could be a big help in seeing salvation through non-Calvinist, non-Protestant lenses.

  159. Christopher and Alicia (Christopher’s #158)

    I admit to being unsure of what I or John could have written to make you unsure of the Catholic Church’s positions on exegesis and the deposit of faith

    I wonder, Alicia, if what you are looking for is a method that would let you examine a passage of Scripture and know what it means. If so, I myself think that this is not quite the way I would approach it. The depths of meaning in understanding a particular passage of Scripture are … well, perhaps ‘unfathomable’ is a trite word for it, but that’s pretty much it.

    The Church’s dogmas – which is what I think you mean by the ‘deposit of faith’ – are formulaic expressions of the faith itself. They involve Scriptural exegesis – but are not simply the results of Bible study. The Church’s formal teachings are not simply a matter of theologians studying the Bible. The Church believes that Jesus Christ gave Himself to her in the beginning. That giving involved seeing Him, talking with Him, being led by His Spirit – and, of course as of enormous importance – producing the writings that are Scripture and then studying those writings. I am not in any slightest sense denigrating Scripture study. But whereas as a Protestant I thought one found out the truths by studying Scripture and seeing what the passages meant – well, that is not how the Catholic Church works.

    jj

  160. Frank and Mateo,
    Sorry, I currently don’t have time to pursue this in detail. To be sure, I don’t hold to a Roman Catholic paradigm and don’t believe that the Scriptures shows the endorsement of the Magisterium (yes, even they are tested by the written Word, contrary to popular belief). However, I don’t want to merely go back and forth superficially with this, realizing that to explore this in detail would take so very long (nothing wrong with that, just can’t do it right now).

    Appreciate you both taking time to answer. I encourage you both to stay as faithful to God and Scripture as you can.

    Peace out,
    Matt

  161. Matt,

    Sorry you won’t have time to stay with the discussion. I do want to leave you with one point that I would have made about the testing of the Magisterium:

    “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay on you no greater burden than these necessary things” Acts 15:28.

    Anything taught by the Magisterium is first tested by the Holy Spirit, as this first of all recorded Conciliar decisions makes clear. This is the only test that matters and the only one deemed proper in Scripture. Whether it’s a Council or a Pope you should understand that they are but the means by which the Holy Spirit speaks to the Church on questions of doctrine and dogma. To believe that and submit yourself to it is an act of faith in Jesus Christ Himself (Mt. 16: 18, Mt. 18:15-18). The Bible never teaches that the Holy Spirit speaks with this conscience-binding authority to the individual believer (2 Peter 1:20), yet Protestants hold to the doctrine of the primacy of individual conscience despite no Biblical warrant.

    Come back sometime, and blessings to you as you seek the Lord.

    Frank

  162. Alicia,

    I encourage you to read, if you haven’t already, Verbum Domini, which is Pope Benedict’s “apostolic exhortation” to “the bishops, clergy, consecrated persons and the lay faithful on the word of God in the life and mission of the Church.”

    Additionally, and complementary to Verbum Domini, the International Theological Commission, which is composed of a small group of Catholic theologians from around the world, just released the following document: Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles, and Criteria. This should also be helpful in your quest to understand how Catholics receive, interpret, and proclaim divine revelation.

    There are several books that are helpful for understanding how the deposit of faith (the revelation given once and for all) is received, transmitted, and authoritatively interpreted in the Catholic Church from the time of the Apostles. I particularly recommend The Meaning of Tradition, by Yves Congar, and Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith, by Avery Cardinal Dulles.

    It can be difficult to get one’s bearings when first attempting to think from within “the Catholic paradigm,” but it is possible to do so, with prayer, patience, and some diligence. Know that others are praying with and for you on this journey. And remember, Sacred Scripture itself is a fathomless and inexhaustible well of divine wisdom. Catholic theological reflection on Scripture, proceeding over the course of two thousand years, among all kinds and conditions of men and women, is not surprisingly vast and diverse. Don’t expect all of the treasures to yield themselves up at once, nor all of the tensions to be immediately resolved. Look upon this as a banquet to be enjoyed, and not simply a mass of material to be mastered.

    The Church is alive, and visible, and continues to speak with authority. Unresolved theological questions and tensions admit of a definitive resolution, in God’s good time, by the means that he has appointed. Many such questions and disputes have already been definitively settled by the Catholic Church, in ecumencial councils, by papal teaching, and by the universal witness of holy tradition, whereby the right interpretation of the doctrinal content of Sacred Scripture is made known to the faithful.

    Reading the Bible as a Catholic is a wonderful experience. The Sacred text, engaged by the individual in good faith, does all the things that Protestants rightly expect it to do, but it is not called upon to do the things that they wrongly expect from it. In this way, the word of God is liberated from the bondage of private interpretation, and the interpreter is liberated from the bondage of being perpetually uncertain about the essential doctrinal content of Sacred Scripture, or else implausibly basing his doctrinal certainty upon his own interpretive ability (i.e., as regards the meaning of Sacred Scripture considered as a whole), either directly (Solo Scriptura) or indirectly (Sola Scriptura).

    Andrew

  163. Alica,

    You had asked about salvation:

    Is there a thread on here that discusses salvation? If I understand correctly sanctifying grace was given to every human person without difference in an act of fairness, but unless all people hear the gospel of Christ, their sanctiyfing, “first start” won’t do them any good. I feel like I’ve come full circle to divine election. Am I thinking this wrongly?

    There are several posts here that address salvation. You can find some of them in the Index, under the sub-heading, Salvation. For starters, I recommend Bryan’s post, A Reply from a Romery Person, in which he lays out a basic difference of perspective between Protestants and Catholics on salvation. This includes the distinction made in Catholic theology between actual grace (given to everyone) and sanctifying grace (which is not given to everyone).

    Hope that helps.

    Andrew

  164. Alicia,

    In addition to the “starting post” which Andrew recommends (from Bryan) in #163, you will also probably find “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide,” to be helpful, regarding the Catholic position on salvation. http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/09/does-the-bible-teach-sola-fide/

    In my experience, committed adult Protestants, especially consciously Reformed Protestants, believe so strongly that the Bible teaches “justification by faith alone” that they often simply dismiss (and/or present a caricature of) the Catholic position on justification. In the interest of both accuracy and charity, during my time in the Church as a Catholic “revert,” I have also seen that committed adult Catholics can often dismiss, and/or present a caricature of, the historic Protestant position(s) on justification.

    About two and a half years ago now, while still a Protestant, I decided to consciously take off my “Protestant and five-point Calvinist lenses,” within which I had read Scripture for years, and to try to take a fresh look at the Bible, not attempting to fit it into any specific Protestant paradigm, yet not assuming a distinctively Catholic or Orthodox paradigm.

    This was, very honestly, a terrifying experience for me. I had believed for so long that the Biblical texts objectively validated Protestant, and specifically Calvinist, claims, to the extent that if I came to believe otherwise, I simply would not know what to do.

    However, due partially to my increasing discomfort with the way certain Biblical passages seemed to be “shoehorned,” in Protestant exegesis, into Protestant and/or Calvinist paradigms, I knew that I had to take off those lenses, as a “refreshing” exercise, to help me see the Bible in a hopefully less “biased” way. (Not that one can read the Bible utterly without “lenses” of *any* sort, but I was honestly attempting to be less biased to Protestant and Calvinist claims.)

    Without making this comment into a treatise on Biblical passages and exegesis of them, I found that when I took off my Protestant, “justification by faith alone” lenses (which I had been convinced were the right ones by Protestant preaching and exegesis)… I was shocked and somewhat shattered. Taken as a whole, I saw that the Bible could easily be understood to teach *either* the Catholic *or* the historic Protestant postion(s) on justification.

    I discerned that, even in doing careful exegesis, the Bible could easily be understood to affirm (on justification) the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent, or Martin Luther, or John Calvin (Luther and Calvin fundamentally agree on justification but differ on some details)!

    Both the Catholic position and the Protestant position(s) on justification seemed to have very strong Biblical support– when not read through (adopted, cherished) Protestant lenses. I was shocked, because I had been taught, and had thought for years, based on my own Biblical reading and study, that the Bible was quite perspicuous on justification– with the objective Biblical verdict *not* being friendly to the Catholic view!

    However, the more that I read of the Bible, from outside of my long-adopted, long-cherished Protestant perspective, I saw that the Catholic view of justification was *at least* as Biblically supportable as *any* “historic Protestant position” on the issue.

    Again, I was shattered. I was so, partially because I simply did not know where to go at that point, being a member of a Reformed-leaning, “non-denominational” eccesial community, yet also not being convinced of important Catholic or Orthodox claims). However, in a way, I also felt somehow “lighter,” as though I no longer had to defend a view of justification (a Protestant/”Reformed Baptist” one) with which I had become increasingly uneasy, due to the Biblical data itself…!

    Alicia, I don’t where you currently stand, on this most crucial of issues. Protestants and Catholics both believe that it touches on matters of eternal salvation. In recent years, the Catholic Church has declared that she has significant agreement with a carefully articulated Lutheran view of justification. See the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification”: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_31101999_cath-luth-joint-declaration_en.html

    However, even within the most carefully articulated Protestant view of justification, there are still differences with *the* Catholic view (which one can find articulated in the Catechism, and which, I believe, is strongly supported by the Biblical data, which makes sense, given the formal origin of the NT canon in the Catholic Church!).

    Many Protestants still believe that the Catholic-Protestant differences on justification are great enough to continue in declaring that “The Catholic Church does not teach the Gospel.” Many other Protestants disagree and now embrace Catholics as brothers and sisters in Christ.

    For years, I was a strongly anti-Catholic, and “five-point Calvinist,” Protestant. When I returned to the Catholic Church in 2010, I had a heavy burden for all of the Catholic people whom I had (quite unwittingly, thinking that I understood Catholicism at the time!) labeled as “lost non-Christians, in need of the Gospel.” I still feel that burden, not in the sense of the remaining guilt of sin, but in that I want so much to help my Protestant brothers and sisters to see that Catholics *do* love and trust in Christ alone, and that we *do* care about what the Bible teaches. (We trust in “Christ alone,” but we do not hold to “justication by faith alone,” as there is copious Biblical data contradicting the latter.)

    As another former Calvinist, and Catholic convert, Peter Kreeft, writes (paraphrasing), how dare we Catholics love the Bible less than our Protestant brothers and sisters– it’s our own Book (given that we would likely not have the formally recognized NT canon without the Church Councils of the 4th century which codified it)! One good piece of evidence that Catholics love the Bible is my brother in Christ, Bryan Cross’s, aforementioned article, “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide?” http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/09/does-the-bible-teach-sola-fide/ (link posted again here for those who have actually read through to the end of this comment and are, thus, too tired to scroll up and search for the link again!) :-)

  165. You all are very kind taking this amount of time with me. God bless you for your patience.
    I have done that very experiment Christopher( taking off my Reformed glasses) and I was/am terrified.
    A very dear young man is encouraging me to at least hang out at my local parish to be near the sacraments. By faith, I need to dip in this water very soon or I will die. God help me, I cannot deny my conscience.
    Please pray for me, I’m coming apart.

  166. Alicia,

    I just prayed for you and will keep praying. God bless you, sister. I was terrified too. I came apart too. Don’t lose hope. God’s objective truth (written and otherwise) *is knowable*. We are *not* left to our own interpretive skills and Biblical commentaries to try to sort out all the exegetical questions. God has not left us in such a place.

    In 189 A.D. (just a *bit* more than 100 years after the deaths of the first apostles), St. Irenaeus described such chaos and the way out of it, for his time and ours, in his five-volume classic work, “Against Heresies”:

    “But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul—that church which has the tradition and the faith with which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world. And it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition.”

    St. Irenaeus’s “Against Heresies” is available, in full, for free, online, at Christian Classics Ethereal Library. If you want to peruse it, just go to this page and scroll down to the “Irenaeus” heading (“Against Heresies” is found right below that heading): http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.toc.html

  167. Alicia (#165) – you know where I was for those ten months September, 1993-July, 1994, because I have told you off-list. I know, also, something of your home situation, and that it is more difficult than mine was. I pray daily for you.

    I say again – in my broken-record fashion – that to know and understand the Catholic Church is more than simply knowing and understanding a set of doctrines. If Jesus intended His Church to be His Body – and He did! – then it must be more than a collection of individuals who agree on these teachings. It is not less than that, but it doesn’t stop there.

    I was horrified, some forty years ago, when, as a brand-new Christian, I first heard that the Catholic Church considered itself to be the continuation of the Incarnation. But when I was in the throes of the agony you are now in, I came to realise that I was only talking about Latin vs English – Latin caro ‘flesh’ and English ‘body.’

    Which means that your young friend was right. You need not only to know Catholicism; you need to know Catholics. Have you read any of the books of conversion stories? Have you listened to Scott Hahn’s conversion story, or his wife’s? Listening to conversion stories can be a good thing. There are a number downloadable for free on this site.

    Praying for you.

    jj

  168. Alicia,

    I am praying for you, also. It can be very frightening to experience such a radical realignment of all you once thought true. Even though I was a cradle Catholic, I spent 17 years in Calvinist circles and when the Holy Spirit moved me to come back to the Catholic Church, at one point area the end of the process I became so unnerved I had to take a cold shower just to regain control over my emotions.

    And then I went into the Confessional for the first time in 42 years. When I emerged I was 5 minutes old. Praise Jesus Christ in His Church that I, a Prodigal Son, was welcomed back with love and forgiveness, and now live a sacramental life as an adopted Son of God in the Church personally founded by our Savior.

    Peace be unto you,
    Frank

  169. Alicia,

    Once again, John has good counsel– at this point, it does seem that you would greatly benefit from experiencing some of the *embodied reality* of Catholic life and worship.

    Go into a Catholic parish, if you do, though, aware of this fact, which can be tough, at first, for a Reformed person– Catholic parishes are not places in which every single person is a Biblical/theological scholar, or even a lay Bible reader (in personal time). The Pope does strongly encourage Catholics to read the Bible, but not every Catholic is either aware of this encouragement or is heeding it. With that said, many Catholics *do* read and study the Bible, and the Mass is full of Scripture. For a thoughtful, Bible-loving person who is willing to watch, listen, and give the Mass an honest, open-minded chance, it shows itself to be a deeply *Biblical and Christological* experience.

    Also, in my personal view, from my own experience (in terms of differences between Reformed communities and Catholic parishes), Reformed communities tend to have a more *uniformly high* level of formal education among their members. This can explain some of the *generally* greater amount of serious *personal* Bible study among members of Reformed communities. There is also the fact that the Protestant paradigm itself is *incumbent* upon personal Bible study.

    I certainly mean *no* denigration at all to Catholic parishes with the above statements. Again, the Pope does encourage Catholics to prayerfully read and study the Bible, and many of us actually do so. However, nowhere does Scripture tell us that the Church should be composed mainly of highly educated, very literate people, of a certain economic background, who are able to seriously study the Biblical texts, going into the original languages, aided by various different commentaries. The idea that Christians should *all* be serious, highly literate exegetes is, in my experience, a Protestant idea. The Kingdom of God is not only for Bible students. In Catholic parishes, by contrast, it is truly “here comes everyone!”– and thanks be to God for it. In fact, to me, it is actually a living sign, among very many signs, that the Catholic Church is actually the Church that Christ founded.

    John mentioned the helpfulness of Catholic conversion stories. I second his recommendation with another link that has been very helpful to me: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/seriessearchprog.asp?seriesID=-6892289

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