I Fought the Church, and the Church Won

Sep 23rd, 2012 | By | Category: Featured Articles

This is a guest post by Jason Stellman. Jason was born and raised in Orange County, CA, and served as a missionary with Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa in Uganda (’91-’92) and in Hungary (’94-’00). After becoming Reformed and being subsequently “dismissed” from ministry with Calvary, he went to Westminster Seminary California where he received an M.Div. in 2004. After graduation he was ordained by the Pacific Northwest Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America and called to plant Exile Presbyterian Church in the Seattle area, where he served from 2004 until resigning in the Spring of 2012. He is the author of Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet (Reformation Trust, 2009), and The Destiny of the Species (forthcoming from Wipf and Stock Publications). In 2011 he served as the prosecutor in the trial of Peter Leithart in the Pacific Northwest Presbytery of the PCA. He currently resides in the Seattle area with his wife and three children. He was received into full communion with the Catholic Church on September 23, 2012.


Jason Stellman

Part of me has wished for a while now that I was born early enough to have been a fan of The Clash back in the Seventies. The first song I ever heard by them (several years after its release) was their cover of Sonny Curtis’s hit, the chorus of which goes, “I fought the law, and the law won.” Despite being a fairly law-abiding guy, I can relate to being on the losing side of a battle, only mine was not against the law, but against the Church.

As many of you know, I recently resigned from my pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church in America (you can read my resignation letter here, as well as some clarifying posts here and here). My stated reasons for stepping down were that I could no longer in good conscience uphold my ordination vow that as a PCA minister I sincerely accept the Westminster Confession and Catechisms as containing the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture. More specifically, I no longer see the Reformed doctrines of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide as faithfully reflecting what the Bible teaches, which is why I will, Lord willing, be received into full communion with the Catholic Church sometime in the next several months.

The purpose of this piece is not to unpack those claims in detail (there will be plenty of time for that in the future), but rather to provide a little more insight into the process that led up to my resignation, as well as to respond briefly to those who have sought to analyze me and the supposed internal psychological factors that must have led to my making such a drastic decision.

The Lure of Rome?

One of the things I found especially curious (slash bemusing, slash maddening) while reading the diagnoses of my volunteer analysts was the fact that my being drawn to, or lured by, Rome was simply assumed, and that the only real question was what, exactly, was it that ultimately did it. Was it some positive aspect of Catholicism that appealed to me, or was it a nagging drawback of Protestantism that finally proved to be the deal-breaker?

Now, I realize that I went into a period of radio silence during the weeks following my resignation (one that was not exactly self-imposed, but that has turned out to be a blessing), and that this created something of a vacuum that invited speculation on the part of some. But now that I am no longer “off the grid,” I would like to clear something up once and for all:

Catholicism never held any allure for me, nor do I find it particularly alluring now.

Now to be honest there has always been an attraction of a “Wouldn’t-it-be-nice” or “stained-glass-windows-are-rad” variety, but when it came to an actual positive drawing to Rome or a negative driving away from Geneva, there has never been any such thing. In fact, since much of my theological output has been part of the public domain for so long (especially in the form of my preaching, teaching, and writing), this claim of mine can actually be proven. If anyone cares to go back and listen to or read what I was talking about right up until the day I was confronted with the claims of the Catholic Church as they relate to those of Protestantism, the inquirer will easily discover that I was about as staunchly confessional an Old School Presbyterian as anyone would want to meet. There was not even the slightest hint of discontent with my ecclesiastical identity, not a trace of longing for greater certitude, nor a smidgen of regret that my soteriology didn’t have enough works in it.

I will raise the pot even more: I wrote a book whose entire purpose was to demonstrate, in the highest and most attractive terms possible, how ironically boastworthy all the supposed disadvantages of amillennial Protestantism are. Messiness? Lack of infallible certitude? The need for faith over sight? Check, check, and check.

Further still, so far from longing for a type of kinder, gentler Catholicism that I could disguise in Reformed garb, I was the prosecutor in a doctrinal trial against a fellow minister in my presbytery for espousing views that I, and many others, considered dangerously close to being Catholic. No, there was never any desire to place human works anywhere but where the Reformed confessions say they belong: in the category of sanctification and never justification.

In a word, I was as happy and comfortable in my confessional Presbyterian skin as anyone, and the trust I had earned from many well-known and respected Reformed theologians, as well as having graduated with honors from one of the most confessionally staunch and academically rigorous Reformed seminaries in the nation, should be sufficient to dispel any notions that I never really understood Reformed theology in the first place or that I was always a Catholic in Protestant clothing.

Driven, Not Drawn

One of the things that made fighting against the claims of the Catholic Church so frustrating was that there was no single, knock-down-drag-out argument to refute; neither was there an isolated passage of Scripture or silver-bullet issue of theology to deal with. If it had been simply a matter of answering one specific challenge that came from a single direction, the battle would have been much easier to win. But as it happened, there were two distinct issues that were coming under attack (Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide), and the attacks were coming from multiple directions: the biblical, the historical, and, in the case of Sola Scriptura, the philosophical as well.

In the case of Sola Scriptura, I, as a self-described Reformed non-evangelical, considered the distinction between Solo- and Sola Scriptura as absolutely essential to my own spiritual identity. It was the evangelicals who were the heirs of Anabaptism, not the Reformed; it was the evangelicals who espoused “no creed but Christ,” not the Reformed; it was the evangelicals who interpreted the Bible in isolation from history and tradition, not the Reformed. Therefore as one can imagine, when I was confronted with Catholic claims that called this crucial distinction into question, it was a sucker-punch of epic proportions. Needless to say, my confessional brethren and I did not appreciate our ancestral city of Geneva being confused with Saddleback.

But the more I read and wrestled, the more I began to see that Geneva was not being “confused with” Saddleback at all; the two were just different sides of the same coin (or to be more precise with the metaphor, they were sister-cities in the same Protestant county). Readers of this site have no need for the arguments to be rehearsed here, so suffice it to say that, philosophically speaking, it became clear to me that Sola Scriptura could not provide a way to speak meaningfully about the necessary distinction between orthodoxy and heresy (or even between essentials and non-essentials); neither could it justify the 27-book New Testament canon, create the unity that that canon demands, or provide the means of avoiding the schism that that canon condemns.

Historically speaking, the idea that the written Word of God is formally sufficient for all things related to faith and practice, such that anyone of normal intelligence and reasonably good intentions could read it and deduce from it what is necessary for orthodoxy and orthopraxy, is not a position that I see reflected in the writings of the early Church fathers. While there are plenty of statements in their writings that speak in glowing terms about the qualitative uniqueness of Scripture, those statements, for them, do not do away with the need for Scripture to be interpreted by the Church in a binding and authoritative way when necessary.

This discovery in the church fathers is unsurprising if the same position can be found in the New Testament itself, which I now believe it can. To cite but one example, the Church in her earliest days was confronted with a question that Jesus had not addressed with any specificity or directness, namely, the question of Gentile inclusion in the family of God. In order to answer this question, the apostles and elders of the Church gathered together in council to hear all sides and reach a verdict. What is especially interesting about Luke’s account of the Jerusalem Council is the role that Scripture played, as well as the nature of the verdict rendered. Concerning the former, James’s citation of Amos is curious in that the passage in the prophet seems to have little to do with the matter at hand, and yet James cites Amos’s words about the tent of David being rebuilt to demonstrate that full Gentile membership in the Church fulfills that prophecy. Moreover, Scripture functioned for the Bishop of Jerusalem not as the judge that settled the dispute, but rather as a witness that testified to what settled it, namely, the judgment of the apostles and elders. Rather than saying, “We agree with Scripture,” he says in effect, “Scripture agrees with us” (v. 15, 19). And finally, when the decision is ultimately reached, it is understood by the apostles and elders not as an optional and fallible position with which the faithful may safely disagree if they remain biblically unconvinced, but rather as an authoritative and binding pronouncement that was bound in heaven even as it was on earth (v. 28). Despite some superficial similarities, no existing Protestant denomination with an operating norm of Sola Scriptura can replicate the dynamic, or claim the authority of the Jerusalem Council (or of Nicaea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon for that matter). The fact that the Bible’s own example of how Church courts operate was hamstrung by Protestantism’s view of biblical authority was something I began to find disturbingly ironic.

Moving on to Sola Fide, I found myself wrestling with this issue from both a historical and biblical perspective as well, and this is what ultimately proved to be the coup de grâce for me as a Protestant. As long as I believed that Catholicism mucked up the gospel so severely, its arguments about authority remained merely annoying, like a stone in my shoe that I would eventually get used to (after all, better to be unauthoritatively right about justification than authoritatively wrong about it). But when I began to dig into the issue more deeply and seek to understand Rome on its own terms, I began to experience what some have referred to as a “paradigm crisis.” A severe one.

As a Protestant minister, I had always operated under the assumption that the fullest treatment of the gospel, and of justification in particular, came from the apostle Paul, and that the rest of what the New Testament had to say on these issues should be filtered through him. But as I began to investigate again things that I had thought were long-settled for me, I began to discover just how problematic that hermeneutical approach really was. If justification by faith alone was indeed “the article on which the church stands or falls,” as Reformed theology claimed, then wouldn’t we expect it to have been taught by Jesus himself, somewhere? Moreover, wouldn’t John have taught it, too? And Peter, and James? Shoot, wouldn’t Paul himself have taught the imputation of alien righteousness somewhere outside of just two of his thirteen epistles?

Having realized that I was using a few select (and hermeneutically debatable) passages from Romans and Galatians as the filter through which I understood everything else the New Testament had to say about salvation, I began to conclude that such an approach was as arbitrary as it was irresponsible. I then sought to identify a paradigm, or simple statement of the gospel, that provided more explanatory value than Sola Fide did. As I hope to unpack in more detail eventually, I have come to understand the gospel in terms of the New Covenant gift of the Spirit, procured through the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, who causes fruit to be borne in our lives by reproducing the image of the Son in the adopted children of the Father. If love of God and neighbor fulfills the law, and if the fruit of the Spirit is love, having been shed abroad by the Spirit in our hearts, then it seems to follow that the promise of the gospel is equivalent with the promise of the New Covenant that God’s law will no longer be external to the believer, but will be written upon his mind and heart, such that its righteous demands are fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. And again unsurprisingly, when I turned to the early Church fathers, and especially Augustine, it was this very understanding of the gospel that I encountered over and over again.

Conclusion

While the case for the Catholic Church may not be immediately obvious or easily winnable, the fact remains that Rome’s claims are philosophically compelling, historically plausible, and biblically persuasive. Yet despite the claims of most Reformed believers who, when wrestling with the issue of people like me leaving Geneva for the supposedly-greener pastures of Rome, insist that such a move betrays a “quest for illegitimate religious certainty,” the fact is that if it is a sense of personal and psychological certitude that one is searching for, Catholicism will more than likely disappoint. Ironically enough, Protestantism provides more certitude for the seeker than Catholicism does, since the ultimate basis for the truthfulness of its claims is one’s agreement with one’s self and one’s own interpretation of Scripture. But if what you are searching for is not subjective certitude but the Church that Jesus founded, the Catholic Church’s case for being that Church, when harkened to with charity, humility, and faith seeking understanding, is as compelling as it is disruptive.

And make no mistake, the Catholic Church is disruptive. It is audacious and confrontational, sucker-punching and line-in-the-sand drawing. Like the Lion Aslan from C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, it is not a tame Church, and will make no promise not to devour and discomfit its subjects as they partake of its life-giving water, causing them to constantly bend the knee and cede their worldly wisdom to the foolishness of the cross. In the words of Aslan to Jill, who expressed fear about letting down her guard to drink from the water by which he stood, “There are no other streams.” Or the words of Peter to Jesus when asked if the Twelve would forsake Him because of His difficult and demanding message, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

The Catholic Church, wistfully alluring? Hardly. Tidy and tame? Not by a long shot, for once discovered it demands that the seeker relinquish the one thing above all others that offers him confidence, namely, his own autonomy. In fact, submitting oneself to the authority of the Catholic Church is the most harrowing experience a person will ever endure, which is why the suggestion that converts from Geneva to Rome are simply opting for a feel-good, fairy-tale romance betraying an “over-realized eschatology” and desire to skip blissfully down the yellow-brick road to heaven, utterly trivializes the entire ordeal.

In a word, I fought the Church, and the Church won. And what it did was beat me, but it didn’t draw me, entice me, or lure me by playing upon some deep, latent psychosis or desire on my part for something Protestantism just couldn’t provide. Catholicism went from being so obviously ridiculous that it wasn’t even worth bothering to oppose, to being something whose claims were so audacious that I couldn’t help opposing them. But what it never was, was attractive, and in many ways it still isn’t.

But what Catholicism is, I have come to discover, is true.

(Update: See also “How the Church Won: An Interview with Jason Stellman” – eds.)

Tags: , ,

645 comments
Leave a comment »

  1. Those commenting here for the first time should read our comment guidelines, which will be strictly enforced.

  2. Ditto. Well said. Thank you. KB

  3. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Jason!

  4. Welcome home. You are being prayed for by people you don’t even know. You will not be sorry you swam the Tiber.

  5. Jason,

    Thank you for these thoughts. They resonate so well with my own experience. I was a reluctant convert in many ways also – there was no allure for me either – only a strange, somewhat terrifying uncomfortableness. Yet, like yourself, I had come to see the truth of Catholicism. And when that happened, there was no turning back.

    It is a great joy to see you here at CTC. God is good and merciful and full of patience towards us, isn’t He? I have kept you in my prayers these past 4 years….

    Praised be Jesus Christ now and forever!
    -Carol

  6. Welcome Home Jason!

  7. Welcome home, Jason. The good news about the Catholic Church is that she’s like a big family. Of course that’s also the bad news, but you seem to know that well, as I have since I returned to the Catholic Church as a kicking-and-screaming college student. And that is why I’m confident you’re home for good, as I am.

    Best,
    Mike

  8. Thank you and welcome home. I really enjoyed your conclusion. Well done!

  9. Welcome Home Jason! Yes the Church is very untidy, unruly and sometimes downright scary! But it is the barq of Peter launched by Christ himself. Hang on tight, welcome aboard!
    Russ
    (aka some heretic you used to know)

  10. Jason,

    I have been following your story and want you to know that there are many of us who are greatly moved by your courage and sacrifice. I am more than thrilled to see this post.

    You and your family are in my family’s prayers. I have no doubt God will bless you for your faithfulness in ways you would never imagine.

    Welcome home!

    Dave

  11. It seems to me this verse is pretty key to your argument: http://bible.cc/acts/15-28.htm

    “Necessary” in what sense? In the sense that if you do not submit to this you are in certainly in danger of excluding yourself (or you automatically exclude yourself?) from the Church and Christ? Really? That seems unlikely to me. Or is it more about being respectful of those with Jewish sensibilities so the unity of faith that already had been given and existed between Jewish and Gentile Christians did not get strained (leading first to schism, *then* heresy)? If it was the first option, when were these commands rescinded? To my knowledge, we don’t say all of them must be followed now (or does Rome)? Didn’t Paul say that we could eat food sacrificed to idols but we dare not do so if it means harming a brother who was weak in faith? Where in verse 28 does it say this was an: “authoritative and binding pronouncement that was bound in heaven even as it was on earth”? I understand words like that as regards God’s pastors granting forgiveness or withholding forgiveness based on their evaluation of whether or not a person is penitent, but not in this context.

    Jason – I’m curious as to whether or not you considered Confessional Lutheranism (Chemnitz’s view of Sola Scriptura is quite different, and Lutherans do not absolutely insist that the 27 NT books are all of the same authority: for more see “round 1″ referenced here: http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/update-on-my-humble-contributions-to-honest-ecumenical-dialogue/ ) and if not why not?

    +Nathan

  12. Jason,

    Welcome home! You and your family are in my prayers (as they were for some time now).

    Pax Christi,

    Brent

  13. Jason,

    (one more comment)

    Your story reminded me of Peter Kreeft’s words (I was in the audience when he said this) in reply to the question, “Why did you become Catholic?”

    A: “It’s true”

  14. […] an article over at Called to Communion by Jason Stellman which points out the crucial significance of the Jerusalem […]

  15. Jason,

    Welcome.

    Re: Wistfully alluring. As a “lifer,” I know there have been times when I have been wistful for a church which perhaps has better singing and preaching, or which didn’t take such a literal position on John 20:23, or which didn’t make me part of or complicit with the events or views of less progressive eras, or, as a divorced man, took a more, well, “flexible” position about remarrage after divorce.

    But, hey, truth is truth. If the Catholic Church is the church founded by Christ, and if Christ was God, then it seems that nothing else matters.

    For cradle Catholics, the choice is easy. In contrast, in light of your great sacrifice, I am infinitely amazed at the courage and fortitude of people like you, who join the Catholic Church as an act of the will, in obedience to their reason and faith.

    Good luck to you and your family.

  16. Excellent to hear! I just joined the Church on Pentecost from an evangelical background. Nice to hear of other people working very hard to not become Catholic before finally giving in.

  17. Welcome home, Jason. I am also a convert of over 20 years now. I know the you do not find the Church alluring. I predict that after you begin to receive the Eucharist, the True Presence of the Jesus Christ Himself, you will feel an incredible allure. The more you learn about all things Catholic the more alluring it becomes. Enjoy your journey and God bless.

  18. “But what it never was, was attractive, and in many ways it still isn’t.”

    Yes, I remember thinking the–exact–same thing immediately before and after my sudden, terrifying, and deep conviction to leave Protestantism for the Church.

    Thankfully, I came to love everything about Catholicism, and I now cannot imagine being anywhere else. I think you, too, will come to rejoice in the beauty of everything about the Church, especially the little things–the Rosary, the statues, the incense, Latin, the sacraments.

    I rejoice with you!

    All with Peter to Jesus through Mary!

  19. Welcome to the Church, Jason. I love being Catholic and pray that you will love it as well. Thank you for sharing your journey here.

    Blessings to you and your family!

  20. Hi Jason,

    What you said about the harrowing experience of submitting to the Catholic Church is no exaggeration! Yet John Paul II says that she imposes nothing and that she only proposes. She’s more pushy than winsome that’s for sure! To think, that of all the churches in Christendom of which to choose from you ( and me too) had to go and choose the most unlikely:)
    I told my husband that all of Protestantism has come from the Roman Catholic Church and that “She is our mother…..our great big mother.” My sweet but completely teed-off husband responded, “She’s a Big Mother, alright!” I couldn’t help but stop and laugh when he came back with that! Since most of our conversations have become arguments and crying, it’s good when it is punctuated with laughs even if it is at my expense.
    Welcome home!

    Susan

  21. Welcome Home, Jason! I hope to see you on The Journey Home someday. :) My husband & I were received into full communion at Easter Vigil 2011, and I think his journey was a lot like yours.

  22. Jason,

    I enjoyed reading your story– thank you for sharing.

    You’re exactly right that the Catholic Church, like her Head, is “not a tame lion”. But I believe you will find that, like the stable in The Last Battle, it is bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside. Or, to use the analogy Pope Benedict used when he preached at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, it is like stained glass windows that appear dark and lifeless from the outside but are bright and luminous inside.

    The only good reason to become a Catholic is because you believe the claims of the Catholic Church are true. However, I hope that some of the things which you currently feel you have to accept with gritted teeth will become things you fall in love with (this happened to me with the liturgy).

    I was very saddened reading through the comments on the post announcing your resignation on your own blog. To those commenters who disagree with Jason’s decision, I would say this (not that I have any standing or authority, but here it is anyway): It’s perfectly fine to disagree and to argue forcefully the reasons for your disagreement. And I perfectly understand the feelings of shock, betrayal, anger, confusion, and frustration that could result from learning that someone you had previously admired and respected has, in your view, abandoned the gospel. But you do not support your argument and you disrespect the name of Christ which you claim to defend when you engage in name-calling and make baseless attacks against anyone’s honesty and integrity. (This goes for everyone on whatever side, including myself.)

  23. […] Stellman Has Officially Gone to Rome I Fought the Church, and the Church Won – Called to Communion Rev. Benjamin P. Glaser, M. Div, ARP Pastor, Ellisville Presbyterian Church (Independent) […]

  24. Jason, I loved reading your story. I converted 21 years ago but not for any of the reasons you did…you actually knew what the heck you were talking about and I didnt have a clue. Theologically I’m a simpleton, but God spoke to my heart in terms I could understand.

    Even though I can’t explain complex theology, when I am in need, I know that at 915 at St Marys Church downtown, the host will be elevated and Jesus will enter the room. If I dont know anything else, I know that and it is enough to get me through some really hard stuff and a tough vocation.

    Thank you for being able to describe my religion better than I can. Welcome home !!

  25. Jason,

    Welcome to the Catholic Church, brother!! I can relate to your account of your journey in a visceral way. For all of the years that I was a Protestant, I had absolutely no dissatisfaction with *being* a Protestant (other than in the fact that, in the *last* of those years, increasingly, I reached the conclusion that certain of its claims were not true or even tenable).

    Particularly, when I moved from broadly evangelical, Arminian beliefs to an acceptance of the five points of Calvinism, as a “Calvinistic Baptist,” I was convinced that God had led me to the most “Biblically faithful Christianity” that could be found. Within perhaps two months, I had resigned from my post as a deacon in my (non-Calvinistic) Baptist church and had found a strongly Calvinistic church. I was more than happy. I was elated.

    The sermons there were so exegetically careful *and* deeply stirring– from within a “Reformed Baptist” framework, of course, of which the main preaching pastor was convinced and *very* exegetically persuasive . To this day, I have never heard a better preacher, in many ways, than him (though I obviously disagree with him now, in certain important ways, as a Catholic). I’ll put it this way– well-known PCA pastors were happy to “guest preach” at *this* particular Baptist church and, to say the least, that is *not* always the case between Presbyterians and Baptists!

    The community there was very warm and tight-knit– still, to this day, the most strongly evangelistic (in the greater city), and the most deeply mutually supportive community (within the church) that I have ever encountered in *any* church. Even if it had not been so, I would have been happy to stay, because of the preaching, but the community was, indeed, amazing.

    A geographical move eventually took me from this church and to another, similar church in another state. Still, I was completely happy being a Protestant and, particularly, a “Calvinistic Baptist” Protestant, as I continued to believe that that thinking most clearly reflected the soteriological and ecclesial teaching of the Bible. I became deeply involved in the church, happily volunteering many hours a week and beginning in training, with our on-staff Biblical Counselor (of the “CCEF” kind), to eventually become a Biblical Counselor myself. I had no intentions, not even a thought, of leaving Protestantism. The 5 Solas (with Christ at the center of each of them) were the very air that I breathed.

    I have written all of the above, Jason (and others here), simply to say that I know how it feels, brother. In light of all of the above, it was an upsetting, and even angering, time for me when I began to notice serious Scriptural problems with Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura. I had already begun to discover that the thinking of so many early Church Fathers did not resemble Reformational Protestantism in distinctive ways, but when I began to see that the teaching of *the Bible* posed significant problems for the same– I can barely describe how it felt. It was like waking up in a sort of nightmare.

    Eventually, I did find a joy, of sorts, in discovering the truth(s) of the Catholic Church (as a “revert” to her)– but it was a joy amidst much pain and sorrow. It was not the joy of “smells and bells” or supposed “unwarranted epistemic certainty.” It was the joy of Truth. (For anyone who wishes to equate my discovery of the Catholic Church with my earlier exegetical move from Arminianism to Calvinism, please see these articles:

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/11/solo-scriptura-sola-scriptura-and-the-question-of-interpretive-authority/

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/05/the-tu-quoque/

    Jason, I write this to you, brother to brother, man to man– you may well already be experiencing this yourself; I don’t know– coming (back, for me) to the Catholic Church has been deeply joyful and deeply painful. Having been back, now, for almost two years, being in the Church continues to be joyful and painful. I simply could not return to Protestantism now, any more than I could become a Muslim. (To be clear, I am *not* equating Protestant Christianity with Islam!) Catholicism is historical Christianity. If I were not now a Catholic, I would likely be an agnostic, or perhaps, even, an atheist.

    Yet, emotionally speaking (purely emotionally), there are days, in my sinfulness, when I wish that God had simply left me alone (so to speak) in my Calvinist Protestantism. By returning to the Catholic Church, I have lost so many friendships that it increasingly seems will never be restored, this side of eternity. My career life has taken a deep blow from which it still has not recovered in any externally noticeable way at all. (I am unemployed at 39, living alone, and surviving through disability benefits.) I do battle (spiritual warfare) with temptations toward despair now regularly– not for theological reasons, but because of the ongoing social and economic consequences of my Catholic “reversion.”

    I had to do it though. It was, and is, a matter of Truth– of following Truth back to the one place to which I never thought I would return– the Catholic Church. The fact(s) that Christ founded her, that He is Really Present there, in the Eucharist, and that the Holy Spirit guides her, in official teaching of faith and morals– these truths give me deep joy, even amidst the suffering, and the conviction that I will, that I must, live and die as a Catholic. It’s a matter of sober, hard, and wonderful Truth.

    God bless you and be with you, Jason. I am praying for you.

  26. P.S. I love The Clash (have for almost 25 years)! :-)

  27. Thanks so much for your encouraging words, everyone!

    Nathan,

    “Necessary” in what sense? In the sense that if you do not submit to this you are in certainly in danger of excluding yourself (or you automatically exclude yourself?) from the Church and Christ? Really? That seems unlikely to me. Or is it more about being respectful of those with Jewish sensibilities so the unity of faith that already had been given and existed between Jewish and Gentile Christians did not get strained (leading first to schism, *then* heresy)?

    I will let the actual Catholics here weigh in on the technical distinction between dogmas and disciplines.

    I do think the context of Acts 15 indicates that one of the primary concerns was sensitivity to Jewish believers, which is why James points out that “from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues” (v. 21).

    Jason – I’m curious as to whether or not you considered Confessional Lutheranism … and if not why not?

    No, I did not consider Lutheranism, since it seems to me to fall prey to the same objections I have to Presbyterianism. We’re talking about big, paradigmatic issues here rather than mere differences over details. If Geneva and Saddleback exist in the same county, then Wittenberg is right next door.

  28. Well said. I read your blog post about your resignation from the PCA pastorate and tried at the time to comment. I wasn’t sure where you were headed, but prayed for you then, and continue to now. My own journey to the Catholic Church, though not identical to yours by any means, included some of the same realizations. May all Protestants wrestle with the same truths, and may we all finally achieve unity. Welcome home.

  29. I noticed at the bottom of the church website Jason is still listed as the pastor.

  30. Thank you very much! So lovely to have you! Make yourself right at Home.

  31. Jason:

    Is there some place where you have written about your move from Calvary Chapel to the Reformed Church?

    I am very interested in what you found lacking to make that move from evangelicalism.

    God bless you for your courage and obedience.

    Thanks so much, brother.

    Dabn

  32. Jason,
    Let me add a big welcome home to all the others.
    Like you, I came to the Church because her claims are true (19 years ago). I was also extremely hesitant, but I have never regretted it. I do thank God continually for the riches of grace he poured out in my life. All these years later, the amazing aspect of the Church is the depth of the riches that are there to explore. Enjoy !
    God bless.

  33. Welcome home, Jason. I know the journey can be long and difficult, but the end result is sweet and the sacramental life revives the soul.

  34. Excellent piece. I came into the Church a hard core Evangelical two years ago and still kneel and stare at the Real Presence and wonder at it all.

  35. Welcome home!! God bless you!

  36. Dan,

    I wrote the following piece many years ago:

    http://calvarychapel.pbworks.com/w/page/13146593/CC-Anti-Calvinists

  37. Welcome Home, Bienvenido a Casa… you are in our prayers!!!

  38. Welcome, Jason and family. The only thing really TRUE about the the Church is that She is full of sinners. I am amazed at your intelligence, and enjoyed reading your article.

    Christopher Lake, I am praying for you.

  39. Jason, as a fellow traveler for many years on the highways and byways of Reformedville, it is so very good to be able to join in the “Welcome Home” chorus! God bless you as you continue this great journey!

  40. I just want to send you a warm, catholic Welcome from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Thanks for dividing this with us. So, let’s walk together, with Him.
    Ney V.

  41. Thanks for that link, Jason. How do you now understand Rom 3:11?

    Thanks

    Dan

  42. By “welcome home” do you mean that a man in Christ but not submitted to the Bishop of Rome is not home?! It is very hard not to read that as supremely sectarian.

  43. Tim, (re: #42)

    Keep in mind that for anyone who doesn’t believe Christ founded a visible Church, any claim to the effect that Christ founded a visible Church, and it is this Church right here (pointing), is going to seem sectarian. But in such a case, that definition of ‘sectarian’ begs the question, by presupposing ‘invisible church ecclesiology,’ whereas Catholics believe Christ founded a visible Church and that essential visible unity is one of her four marks. That’s why for St. Optatus and St. Augustine, the Donatists were in schism from the Church. In that respect the Donatists weren’t home. (See “St. Optatus on Schism and the Bishop of Rome.”) So persons who treat any claim to being the Church Christ founded as ‘sectarian’ only show that theirs is not a visible church ecclesiology, and that they have no conception of schism from that does not reduce to heresy (see “Michael Horton on Schism as Heresy“).

    I discuss the charge of ‘sectarianism’ in more detail in “Ecclesial Unity and Outdoing Christ.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  44. Jason, it’s my honor to welcome you home. I’m a recent convert myself and it feels good to finally be a part of the welcoming committee!

    I could relate with much of your story because I grappled with many of the same issues myself. I too was a “kicking and screaming” convert. Some people are shocked to learn that anti-Catholicism exists as it does today, but one needs only to read the comments on your resignation post for evidence. Though I had less to lose than you did, I found my conversion to be a real cross to bear. It was absolutely worth it. You will never regret this.

    I am praying for you as you enter full communion with the Church. Keep writing, if only for yourself. You’ll always remember this!

  45. […] I Fought the Church, and the Church Won by Jason Stellman […]

  46. To God be the glory. I’m awed, moved. And very humbled that I need to live my faith more and more and much better each time. Welcome HOME Jason to the One, True, Holy and Apostolic Church.

  47. Just tuned in. I will read this tomorrow when I can absorbed your interesting journey home. This leads into my question. Have you ever been on the Journey Home Program with Marcus Grodi on EWTN? One of my favorite programs is The Journey Home because converts are some of the most inspiring catholics and I always learn more and get more excited about my faith when I hear the journey home stories. God bless

  48. Lots of love and many prayers sent to you from the folks of St. Brendan Parish. Mexico, MO. Peace!

  49. Thank you for sharing your story. I am moved by it. It is tremendously encouraging, and real– it’s important that people know that coming to the faith happens for different people in different ways. For some, it is in consolations and joy, for others, it comes with loss and pain (or somewhere in the middle). But the courage to say yes to truth, no matter how it comes, is itself a grace from God. Welcome home, indeed! God bless you on this new journey! –from a”cradle” Catholic wife of another convert.

  50. Welcome Home Jason! I am a revert to the Church! I pray that with time your love and passion for being a Catholic will increase :) I, too, read a lot of the comments where your resignation letter was posted, and it broke my heart to see so many hurtful comments! Your story and courage is very inspiring and I will be praying for you and your family! Again, welcome home to the beautiful Church that Christ founded.

  51. As a new convert, welcome home! I’ve been praying for you since I read about your resignation from PCA earlier this year. It’s good here, you’ll like it!

  52. I’m a Roman Catholic. And everything that Jason and Scott Hahn discovered about Catholic dogmas and doctrines – after striving for years to discredit it – is the reason why I will never convert to other religion. Protestant theologians, past and present, are striving to study and discover theological truths that Catholic Church fathers have already long uncovered and more than sufficiently explained. The fact that this is so is solid proof of how Jesus has faithfully guided – and continues to guide – His Church and protects it from all subtle – and not so subtle – attacks from the evil one. When I compare the theology of the best Protestant minds with that of the Church Fathers – sadly, they (Protestant theology) always pale in comparison.

    Holy Trinity, One God, praise Your Holy Name FOREVER!

  53. The Lord has done wonderful things for you. Thank you for generously sharing your experiences with others. I give thanks to the Lord with you for all that He has done and will keep doing in and through you. God bless.

  54. Mr. Stellman I am happy you have found your “Truth”. I do not know if you remember me I posted at PP a few times, usually emotional rants that Michael in his kindness put up with. I hope you and your family have great peace and joy.

  55. Welcome Jason. My wife and I converted in 2008 after fighting the truth for a while. We went through RCIA for 2 years! We are now home; welcome home.

  56. Welcome Home Brother!

  57. I am always amazed to hear about conversions from people who have a financial interest in not converting. As a former Protestant pastor, your livelihood is gone and your education is now of no help to you in obtaining work at a Presbyterian ministry. When my wife and I converted, we had no such financial constraints, but I know it would have been much more difficult if we had. I pray you find the peace, joy, and grace of Christ offered to us in the sacraments.

  58. […] his controversial departure from the Presbyterian Church of America to the Roman Catholic Church in “I Fought the Church, and the Church Won”–a guest post for the blog Called to Communion. He says that Catholicism was not alluring to […]

  59. Welcome home, Jason!

  60. Welcome home, Jason!

    The Devil always makes it seem like we’re going to lose everything when we submit ourselves to Jesus’ authority through the Church. But then, after we do so, God finds ways of paying us back one hundred fold. Hang in there and don’t give up, because God does not punish us for following Him. You will be so joyful after your first confession and your first communion, because joy comes from gratitude and you will be more grateful than you can imagine. I know there is some suffering heading your way, but just remember that life is short and eternity is long. This is a happy time, and I am so happy for you.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  61. Wonderfully expressed. The best I can do when asked why I’m Catholic by my Protestant friends is say “The Catholic Church is the hardest to belong to, but it’s the only True Church.”

  62. Jason,

    Former PCA greetings to you bro.
    In 2010, you asked me to share what my PCA session said concerning my conversion to Catholicism. I perhaps now know why you were interested! I wish I had been more open with you at that time.

    I relate to your making the move because of truth. It certainly can’t be for the awful Gather hymnal (Wow I never realized how awesome people can sing in the PCA) or the scandalous Catholic politicians. In many ways, the PCA is a more “homey” place than the Catholic Church. But it is the homeyness of a club or something. Like if I got together to trim bonsai trees with a group of people every week, I would feel really at home with them, and other “non-bonsai” people would just not get it. This kind of “church based on agreement over doctrine” naturally produces this club atmosphere. But the Catholic Church is not homey, it is home in a different way, and ultimately (for me) in a supremely satisfying way. As a Calvinist, when I submitted to a doctrine I disagreed with, I did it with my eyes peeled for a better situation. Now as a Catholic, I am learning what the obedience of faith is. To conform my mind to that of the Catholic Church’s two millenia of saints is humbling and frustrating sometimes, but it brings an expansive freedom I had never thought possible. I can truly rest now.

    Welcome home Jason, come on in! Father is in his easy chair and is eager to forgive you when you ask, and Mother has bread in the oven for you.

    Peace,

    David Meyer

  63. Oh, and Jason, you seriously need to get on the horn with Marcus Grodi. I would love to see your story on the Journey Home. And that show reaches an audience that may not read blogs.

  64. Welcome Home Brother Jason and Family. The Catholic Church is full of Sinners who later became Saints from the time of the Apostles and until now, but indeed it is true and beautiful.

  65. Hi David (re#63)

    You know my situation through email( thank you for all the encouragement), but I don’t think you know that I am currently in RCIA ;) This journey is very very tough, so I take comfort from the testimonies of others that I too will be able to say that it was all worth it. You’re right that the CC isn’t homey; I’m fighting a ton of incredulity because of my Protestant sensibilities, but at the same time being certain that it is The Truth. You come to realize that because Catholicism is everything that it, in truth, is, there ain’t no way Protestantism can be a credible alternative. It’s hard to explain, but one can sense the way likeness highlights disparity, and you’re like, “Wait, Protestants borrowed that.” As much as our separated Brethren desire our return they just can’t see that it is impossible to go any place else, and that the situation really is, as Jason said above, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

    Susan

  66. Jason – welcome to the Catholic Church. As a former Methodist my story of conversion is much simpler – I wanted my future family to belong to one denomination and I chose the Catholic Church since I knew my wife could not leave the Catholic Church because of her parents. (My father was the son of a Methodist minister and my mother a non-practicing Catholic – at the time my father had been dead a few years). I made the decision for unity in the family. Little did I know that calling to family unification was a silent calling by God to my future ordination as a Catholic Deacon. As a Catholic it took me about 11 years before I actually embraced the Church completely – my stumbling stone was Mary – a conversion story that finally got me to fully embrace Catholicism – I have never regretted my conversion. May God Almighty continue to bless you on your journey!
    Deacon Dale

  67. Welcome Home! We came at the ages of 70 and 76 – after years of loving the Lord and serving him – but always longing for worship – then we found it – and it was that funny Church we never wanted to go to! Never been happier since finding TRUTH!

  68. Welcome home, from a Catholic brother in Sacramento.

  69. Welcome home, Jason.

  70. Thanks for the welcomes, everyone!

    Hey David,

    In 2010, you asked me to share what my PCA session said concerning my conversion to Catholicism. I perhaps now know why you were interested! I wish I had been more open with you at that time.

    Man, I had completely forgotten about that. I can totally relate to your being a bit defensive about it you were at the time, though. When I currently experience even honest questions, I can easily react as though I am bracing for an attack, even if one is not forthcoming. A couple weeks ago TurrentinFan asked me a pretty simple question over email, and I about bit his head off!

    I relate to your making the move because of truth…. In many ways, the PCA is a more “homey” place than the Catholic Church. But it is the homeyness of a club or something…. This kind of “church based on agreement over doctrine” naturally produces this club atmosphere.

    That’s similar to what I was referring to when I wrote about Presbyterianism offering more subjective certitude than Catholicism does. After all, if other converts are like me, then they’d admit that their subjective amen-level agreement with everything the CC says is much lower than it was when they joined whatever their former church was. When I joined the PCA, I agreed 100% with everything it taught, whereas as now there is a LOT more faith-seeking-understanding at work.

    But like you say, because of the Church’s divine authority, my eyes are no longer peeled for a better option.

    I can truly rest now.

    Yeah, there have been several instances over the past few months where I have felt a deep-seated relief that (1) the wheel already exists, and that (2) I don’t need to lead the charge to reinvent it. The trust in ecclesiastical leadership that an apostolic church makes possible allows one to sit back and receive the grace of the sacraments without constantly having to wonder whether they’ve got a bunch of stuff wrong that I am accountable to fix or expose.

  71. to a fellow convert (but I was only 12ish)- welcome!

  72. Former Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, convert to Catholic Church Jan ’06 wishing you and your family a warm Welcome Home, Jason. My final Protestant charge was a large Presbyterian boomer styled church. All told, 18 years as Protestant pastor at the point of our conversion. I can relate then to much in your own story.

    Our experience on ‘coming home’ is that it has been very, very difficult, much harder *after* converting, financially and in nearly every way so I cannot pretend roses. However, though the cost has been truly great so has been the gain in terms of treasures stored up in heaven and had I to do it again I would remain compelled by the Holy Spirit to make the same decision. God bless you.

  73. Jason, I came into the Catholic Church on September 23rd, 2007!! (5 years ago!) It has been very hard (jumping into a brand new culture) but also very rewarding. No going back!

  74. Jason,

    I was looking for the difference between this piece and your earlier published one, and I see that, as of yesterday, you are now in full communion with the Church! Congratulations, brother!

    Offering some thoughts here that may be helpful for you: take your time in getting used to everyday life as a Catholic. It definitely involves some serious adjustments, especially coming from Reformed Protestantism. Even after having been back in the Church now for over two years, I continue to adjust to certain things. For example, I am coming, more and more, to understand and appreciate the Catholic veneration of Mary, but deep *participation* in it still feels a bit “alien” to me. I do affirm all that the Church officially teaches about her role in our redemption (a non-salvific role, strictly speaking, as compared to Christ Himself, though without her, we would have never *had* Christ by Whom we are saved!). However, many of the Marian *practices* still involve some moments of theological vertigo for me, for lack of a better way to put it, simply because I was taught, for so many years, to not involve Mary in my devotional life as a Christian *at all*.

    If you are struggling to adjust in similar ways, yourself (whether about Marian belief and practice, or about any other aspect of the Church), don’t beat yourself up about it. It takes different people different amounts of time to get Catholicism into their bloodstream. For some people, the adjustments are very easy and natural; for others, they can be more difficult. Speaking honestly, I am in the latter group– though I should also say that I can no more imagine *not* being Catholic now, than I could imagine embracing Islam!

    Blessed John Henry Newman is right when he says that if Christianity is historical, then Catholicism *is* Christianity. The only *possibly* historically reasonable alternative, in my view, is Eastern Orthodoxy. Not that the faith of serious Protestants is altogether ahistorical, of course– they do hold to much of historic Christianity, including, thanks be to God, the most crucial claims of Christ about who He is. However, by apostolic standards, serious Protestants are also missing crucial parts of historic Christianity, such as apostolic succession and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

    Jason, if you discern a serious conviction to put your “Catholic conversion story” out there even more (such as on “The Journey Home”), then, by all means, I encourage you to do so. It could help many people in various stages of thinking about the Church.

    However, please *do not* allow yourself to feel pressured into telling more of your story, publicly, than you are actually comfortable with doing. In recent months, I have decided that I simply need more time, being back in the Church after almost fifteen years of being away, before I will be ready to put more of my story out there, in a very public way, for thousands, or even millions, of people to read/hear/watch. This decision does not involve doubts about what the Church teaches at all in any way. It has to do with a knowledge of my own weaknesses, as a sinful human being, and an awareness that, at this stage, even *beginning* to go on the “Catholic convert testimony circuit” would be harmful for me.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad that you have written (some of) your story for us here. If you sense a calling to do more in that vein (soon, I mean), it could be great and very helpful. Just don’t feel pressured to do so, and again, if it takes some time for you to get the Catholic “hang of things,” in daily life, don’t feel bad about it. Welcome home, brother. It’s good to have you as a fellow member of the Church that Christ founded!

  75. Jason,

    Wonderful post, again. In comment 65 you note:

    “After all, if other converts are like me, then they’d admit that their subjective amen-level agreement with everything the CC says is much lower than it was when they joined whatever their former church was. When I joined the PCA, I agreed 100% with everything it taught, whereas as now there is a LOT more faith-seeking-understanding at work.”

    This is a very true comment. I’ve been a Catholic 15 years now and there are aspects of the Church’s teaching that: a) I didn’t understand or fully get when I came in that became clearer as time went on (an example being the Church’s teaching on contraception, which I took on faith upon entry, but now believe, understand, and wholeheartedly find intellectually persuasive); b) I wasn’t even aware of at the time, but now find it impossible to live without (I think of a number of aspects of what is going on in the liturgy); c) I still find difficult to understand (yes, free will and predestination are still puzzles to me, though many of my Thomist friends have tried to enlighten me to no end:)); and d) that are no doubt not even on my radar yet, but which I’m excited to think I may discover.

    Like you, I’m glad I don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

  76. Jason, Peace to you brother. Sometimes i wish i hadn’t been born and raised in the Church so i could have a great story like yours. But that wish would be dumb. Anyway, i will keep you in my prayers and ask you to keep our Pope in your prayers. I think you will come to see what that man has on his shoulders….

  77. God bless you, and welcome home!

    Pax Christi,
    Tele

  78. How small that is, with which we wrestle,
    What wrestles with us, how immense;
    Were we to let ourselves, the way things do,
    Be conquered thus by the great storm-
    We would become far-reaching and nameless.
    What we triumph over is the small,
    And the success itself makes us small.
    The eternal and unexampled
    Will not be bent by us.
    This is the Angel, who appeared
    To the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
    When his opponent’s sinews
    In that contest stretch like metal,
    He feels them under his fingers
    Like strings making deep melodies.

    Whomever this Angel overcame
    (who so often declined the fight)
    He walks erect and justified
    And great from that hard hand
    Which, as if sculpting, nestled round him.
    Winning does not tempt him.
    His growth is this: to be
    Deeply defeated by the ever-greater One.

    – Excerpt from Ranier Maria Rilke, “The Man Watching,” translated by Edward Snow in The Book of Images. New York: North Point Press, 1994.

  79. Susan (#65)

    Just an encouragement regarding RCIA. RCIA can be wonderful (or so I am told) – or utterly awful. I remember our own experience, my wife’s and mine and our children’s. Internet friends, when they knew we were going to become Catholics (this was late 1994 or early 1995), hearing from us of some of the RCIA details we had heard of, told us we should not go through with it. Find an orthodox priest to instruct us privately. I decided not to go that way. I had had 25 years, I said, of being a Protestant, of doing it my way. I thought it a bad idea to enter the Church on my own terms only. I said we will just go through RCIA in our own pretty blah local semi-rural parish, put up with whatever they presented, and not worry about it. I am very happy we did.

    Our RCIA class was dominated by us – and we had read our way into the Church, so were able to discount the rubbish. There was only one other person in the group (my family were five). She was received into the Church – and promptly stopped attending Mass.

    We were sponsors for another convert (someone who had been in our Reformed church) in another parish, a couple of years later. That RCIA was considerably worse than ours. At one point we were all to join hands, close our eyes, and (the leader’s words) “feel the love flow from left to right around the circle; now feel the love flow from right to left around the circle.” At one point we were all supposed to talk about our image of God. I felt a little uncomfortable, but when it came to my turn, I said that I didn’t really have an ‘image’ of God – but that I would know Him when I saw Him by the holes in His hands and feet. “Oh, no,” another catechist said, “that’s Jesus; we’re talking about God.” The same lady said, when it came to her turn, that she sometimes felt that God was “like a big teddy bear.”

    Sigh.

    And yet, that same woman is very devout. In a parish without kneelers, and where many don’t kneel for the Consecration – she does.

    So … the Church is an enormous mixed bag. That woman’s heart is right, I think; her head is full of cottonwool.

    Welcome to the family – Jason AND Susan :-)

    jj

  80. Another big Welcome from a fellow convert! Thank you for having the courage to share your story. I’ll be celebrating 2 years as a Catholic in Nov., but I still find such encouragement in a good conversion story! Blessings to you and your family!

  81. You should feel comfortable there (Roman Catholicism).

    The theologies of most Evangelical churches and the Catholic Church are pretty close…’a lot of God and a little bit of me’. We always say of them (the Evangelicals) that “they are Rome without the vestments”.

    In any event, I hope you have found what you have been looking for.

  82. Susan,

    Echoing John’s comment #79, I fervently hope and pray that you are in an RCIA class that accurately reflects the teaching of the Catholic Church. As much as certain aspects of Catholicism may rub against the grain of your Protestant sensibilities (and I can certainly understand that), it is all the more important that you get a correct understanding of what the Church teaches *now*, so as to save you from possible confusion and grief later.

    I now believe that my own RCIA experience, back in the mid-90s, helped to plant the seeds for my eventually leaving the Church for, first, nihilism, and then, later, anti-Catholic Protestantism. In retrospect, I don’t think that I would have ever left the Church in the first place, if the content of my RCIA class had accurately reflected the content of the Catechism (in substance, I mean, not necessarily in presentation).

    God bless you and be with you on this journey, my sister in Christ! I can’t wait to welcome you home to the Catholic Church!

  83. Steve (re:#81),

    As a Reformed Protestant, Jason did not share the theology of (in your words) “most Evangelical churches.” He was a PCA minister. The Presbyterian Church in America, as a denomination, is Reformed and confessional– decidedly unlike most broadly evangelical communities, at least in America.

    For myself, I was a “Reformed Baptist” whose ecclesial background included adherence to “The New Hampshire Confession of Faith” and the joyful signing of a “church membership covenant,” both of which which I took seriously– but neither of which, as a Protestant, I believed to have anything at all to do with my justification before God.

    I know that you believe to be the theology of Rome to be “a lot of God and a little of me.” However, the historical fact is, Martin Luther came to his beliefs on justification by faith alone and imputed righteousness through his *individual interpretation* of the Bible, as opposed to what Biblical exegetes in the Church had taught for 1, 500 years– which, to my “Catholic revert” ears, definitely sounds like “a little of God and much more of Martin Luther.”

    I’ve been on both sides of the Tiber, and only the Catholic Church has an authoritative teaching safeguard against stumbling into “Biblically-based” heresy. I know well that my Protestant brothers and sisters claim the Holy Spirit (and careful exegesis, comparing Scripture with Scripture) to *be* this safeguard for them, in their reading of the Bible– but the 500-year history of denominational disagreement and fragmentation in Protestantism would seem to argue otherwise.

  84. Sorry for the typos in #83, Steve and everyone! Rushing here, so as to get to my graduate reading for the evening! :-)

  85. JJ :) !!
    So far, I’ve heard comments that make my internal Scottish Covenanter twitch a bit and then my beloved Protestant formularies come to mind, but I have no place to deliver them, so I feel a let down. For sanity, I sometimes just repeat “The Jesus Prayer”, and I keep reminding myself: “What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever! This belongs to all of Christendom, as does everything the CC teaches. It’s just that I need lots of reprogramming ;)

    Sheesh, I became Reformed because of the nutty stuff that was going on in the late ‘90’s! I listened to Hank Hanegraff on The Bible Answer Man program here in Southern CA., and was on the lookout for a “healthy well-balanced church” and I really desired everything that was orthodox, since that was a word that was thrown around a lot by biblical apologists. I knew that whatever it was, it wasn’t “bubbling out my belly” or animal imitations, but I still didn’t know how to find an orthodox church so my point of reference became the Calvary Chapel nondenomination that my favorite apologists kept recommending.
    But then, over time as a Protestant, I found myself with no spirituality. I began to miss that same so-called subjectivism in worship that I had derided. I alsmost wanted to hear “Lord light the fire again” for the umpteenth time. I tried to find it in the puritans. I wondered where I could get meaty theology and philosophy, beautiful music, and a sense of crossing a “sacred threshold” (as R.C. Sproul called it). The EO and the Catholics both had mystics, and since I am a spiritual being, it made sense that there should be some mysticism. Right now I don’t know what orthodox mysticism is but I am sure that Rome has a balanced approach.
    I feel fortunate that my Priest is a new Anglican Personal Ordinariate who was once a member of the PCA. I have to remind him of my Calvinistic tendencies as we are working through Evangelium. I am in good company and Lord willing, will be received around Christmas. This is will be the most exciting Christ-Mas for me; I always wanted to sneak into a CC to see a Christmas Eve Mass. Look forward to having the most beautiful nativity in my home! It’s all coming together and it all makes perfect sense.

    Many blessing, my friend,
    Susan

  86. Christopher, my dear brother, thank you for the months of prayer and always saying the most helpful things. This is Jason’s moment certainly, but we are coming in because of the work of people at this site whether they are a member of the project or adding their own questions or perspectives. I especially benefit from your being a Calvinist at one time, and your honesty about the things you struggle to accept. You have the gift of encouragment and you are such a clear communicator. Blessings to you always!

    Aside: I see from other blogs that people recognize that Protestant ministers are losing their vocations by becoming Catholic, and that is a huge loss. We all are giving up something that may never be regained or replaced in an equivalent way. But, as far as Jason is concerned, I think he will have a career in writing.

    S.D.G.

    Susan

  87. Christopher (#82)

    FWIW I would think it would be a rare RCIA programme that would give much in the way of actual teaching. Almost the best one could hope for, I would think, would be no heresy and – perhaps of great importance – directing you to resources for growth as a Catholic once you have been received.

    If I am right – I may well be wrong – but if I am right, I think the reason is inherent in the RCIA procedure itself. The amount of time available is limited. It is a group thing, and must in its nature be aimed at a rather lowish level. And much of its function seems to me helping people to become members of a group, rather than actual knowledge transfer. In a way, I think that’s right.

    Once upon a time, when there were more priests, and if you had a fairly well-educated priest – by no means certain, I suspect – individual instruction could be tailored to the needs of the convert. I think such fortunate situations must be rare now.

    But on the other hand the availability of materials for the person who is a reader is very good – including such resources as Called to Communion itself and other Catholic blogs. So there are pluses and minuses. But I think that in general one may be disappointed by expecting an RCIA programme to produce well-formed Catholic minds.

    jj

  88. Welcome home to the one, the only, the original! As blogger Happy Catholic says, I’m not always happy, but I’m always happy to be Catholic.

  89. Susan (re#86),

    I’m happy to be of encouragement to you, sister! You’re very welcome!

    I agree with you that Jason might well have a long career in writing! He published one book as a Reformed Protestant, and I’d love to see many more from him (if God wills) as a Catholic!

    Please pray for me in career discernment. As a happy Calvinist Protestant, after years of struggle in the job market, largely related to issues involved with my physical disability, my career life seemed like it was *finally* starting to come together (I was training, under an elder, to become a Protestant nouthetic “Biblical Counselor”)… *just* when I began to be convicted to re-investigate Catholicism. Honestly, I was angry with God, on and off, for months about the timing of this conviction. I was wrong in that anger, but it was what it was.

    Those who are prone to psychoanalysis might say that I was actually trying to sabotage myself economically– but I know better. It was God who led me back to the Catholic Church and away from Protestantism and a career in Protestant counseling ministry. I never would have chosen for myself my current *economic* place in life, if the matter had not been one of following Truth, wherever the visible evidence of Scripture and church history led me.

  90. JJ (re:#87),

    In reference to RCIA, you wrote:

    Almost the best one could hope for, I would think, would be no heresy and – perhaps of great importance – directing you to resources for growth as a Catholic once you have been received.

    I think it is very possible for the RCIA process to be one in which all people taking the classes are instructed clearly (not at the level of a graduate theology seminar, to be sure, but clearly!) on what they must believe and do to be faithful Catholic Christians. I did not receive this clear instruction. Some of what I was told was, indeed, heretical.

    Unfortunately, I was also coming into the Catholic Church from a background of, partially, cultural, largely doctrine-empty, Southern Protestantism, and, much more, Godless hedonism. I was not the best equipped, to say the least, to “deal with” my particular RCIA process.

    In retrospect, I should have just stuck with the Catechism and ignored (or studied to refute) the very poor RCIA materials, and what I was hearing in and out of the classes. However, at the time, I was young, somewhat naive, still influenced by culturally Protestant ways of thinking, and confused by the discordant voices in the Church.

    If only… but God has brought me back home to the Church, with a much more firm grounding in the faith now, so I cannot allow myself to pine too much for what I *wish* would have been the case those many years ago. Thanks be to God that He has brought our brother Jason home too!

  91. Jason, welcome home. My wife and I came into the church at Easter after a lifetime as protestants (including a stint in the PCA). Praise God for you conversion and keep writing!

    Peace,
    JDD

  92. Dear Jason, Laudate Dominum!

    Your Guardian Angel must have been doing hand-stands when you received the Blessed Sacrament for the first time, Deo Gratias!

    The Church is the Spotless Bride of Christ, but we her children can often be unruly, disobedient and downright ornery. Please bear with us and call us to account with loving fraternal correction.

    Welcome to you and your family. God bless you :-)

  93. John and Christopher,

    It’s possible to be in the right church( ok well there is only one right church. the rest are heterodoxys) and have some things confused……this much I am realizing. Here’s the beef Protestants have with Catholics; i.e. after this long they can’t even get their New Members Course together. But if you realize that even in a Protestant church people have been members for years and still have not studied Reformed doctrine or they don’t read their bibles personally, you can see that there might always be something doctrinally mixed-up. Is it damning? I don’t think Protestants think their members believe anything that is heresy, until they start examining the tradition that is prior to the Reformation that is.
    No matter how much one knows there is always more to learn. Some people neglect learning regardless the ecclesial body. The thing is, this is excusable in a Reformed church, as long as you profess “the gospel”. If you join this body you eventually learn the nomenclature and you will adapt, knowing what is group speak and what isn’t. Catholicism seems to have the same thing. There are little grandmas lighting candles to get their loved ones out of purgatory, but they are doing this because Catholicism teaches it, not because they are scripturally ignorant, though they might be. If we assume that the Church is wrong we will find the practitioners wrong, but if She is right, her members don’t have to be scholars.

    After saying that, I hope that I am getting everything that is Orthodox and nothing that is heresy from my RCIA class. My priest also handed me a copy of the Catholic Catechism, so I really have no excuse when I am in error except that I am lazy or I haven’t read that part yet;) But, I am now onboard the Barque of St. Peter and allowing some epistemic uncertainty is par for the course, right? I see through a glass dimly, but there is a day coming……..!!

    Christopher, you are great with souls. I will pray for wisdom and direction.

    Susan

  94. Susan (#93

    My priest also handed me a copy of the Catholic Catechism…

    You give thanks for that priest!

    jj

  95. Thank you so much for sharing your story Jason. As a 43-year-old cradle Catholic I am always amazed at how much those who have come from outside the Catholic faith have been able to teach me about my faith and to help strengthen my faith. No longer taking things for granted when seeing it through the eyes of someone new to the faith. Thank you and God bless, Mike

  96. Congratulations!!! Welcome home!!! As a revert, submitting to the Church was hard, though, ridiculously rewarding; so beautiful. It is submitting to the Will of God, being obedient to Him, which is why it’s so beautiful. As a MA student in Theology, I invite you to Franciscan U. of Steubenville. Here, you will see life lived fully in the Spirit. Please consider coming. Praise God!!!

  97. Dear Jason, your story was beautiful, but needed a soundtrack. Here it is:
    http://archive.org/details/IFoughtTheChurchAndTheChurchWon
    Sometimes you just got to laugh. Welcome home!

  98. I reread Mr. Stellman’s story possibly for the 5th time, because I am still in the thick of it and my pain is very raw, but he does make a very compelling case.
    All detractors, know deep down that the things he wrestled with are the same things they too wrestle with or should do so.

    “Moving on to Sola Fide, I found myself wrestling with this issue from both a historical and biblical perspective as well, and this is what ultimately proved to be the coup de grâce for me as a Protestant. As long as I believed that Catholicism mucked up the gospel so severely, its arguments about authority remained merely annoying, like a stone in my shoe that I would eventually get used to (after all, better to be unauthoritatively right about justification than authoritatively wrong about it). But when I began to dig into the issue more deeply and seek to understand Rome on its own terms, I began to experience what some have referred to as a “paradigm crisis.” A severe one.

    As a Protestant minister, I had always operated under the assumption that the fullest treatment of the gospel, and of justification in particular, came from the apostle Paul, and that the rest of what the New Testament had to say on these issues should be filtered through him. But as I began to investigate again things that I had thought were long-settled for me, I began to discover just how problematic that hermeneutical approach really was. If justification by faith alone was indeed “the article on which the church stands or falls,” as Reformed theology claimed, then wouldn’t we expect it to have been taught by Jesus himself, somewhere? Moreover, wouldn’t John have taught it, too? And Peter, and James? Shoot, wouldn’t Paul himself have taught the imputation of alien righteousness somewhere outside of just two of his thirteen epistles?’

    I did the same examination( almost) and was forced towards Rome. I hope that no one takes this lightly.

    God bless him for his courage. The pain is immense.

    ~Susan

  99. Great article!
    And welcome to the church! :)

  100. Dear Jason,

    The ancient Syrian Church welcomes you, even amid tears. We love you, and we lift up our hands in a sacrifice of praise – todah, eucharistia – thanking our kind Lord for drawing you, like a weaned child, closer to home, closer to his Eucharistic heart. May all our separated brethren be given the grace to see what you see and to eat what you eat. Change our hearts, Lord, humble us Catholics, and teach us to fear God alone.

    – brother David-Marie
    Community of Mar Yakub al Muqata, (St James the Mutilated)
    Qara, Syria

  101. Jason,

    I know I’ve already commented and maybe said as much, but welcome home! Now in full communion with each other, I am filled with great joy. I will continue to keep you and your family in my prayers. Being in full communion with the Church Christ founded is not the end of a journey but just the beginning.

    Pax Christi

  102. […] I’m so excited about this news! […]

  103. Christopher @#83,

    The Bible is God’s Word to us. Martin Luther was in search of a gracious God. He found the demanding God of Catholicism. The gracious God was there, too, but the way the Catholic Church was handling the Christian faith was from a ‘law’ perspective, or ‘what we do’.

    The Roman Church had gone WAY off the rails during Luther’s time. Selling indulgences to get people and their families right with God. That is certainly not biblical. Luther did not desire to start anything new, just to get centered on Christ again. But they (the powers that be, in the Church) were making lots of money doing it their way and they threw Luther out.

    A lot of God and a little bit of me, is still the default religion of most of Christianity and it clearly compromises the pure gospel, and sets people on a path of ‘what they do’, to become right with God. Why then the cross?

    Luther just rediscovered Paul and was parroting Paul from the Scriptures. He wasn’t making anything up on his own accord.

    This is a very good and interesting mp3 audio (class) on just this topic:

    http://theoldadam.com/2012/02/21/here-it-is-the-question-that-percipitated-the-reformation/

    And how it was that Luther went from a law scheme in reading Scripture (‘what we do’)…to a grace scheme (‘what Christ has done, s doing).

    Even if you don’t agree with it, it will give you a much better understanding of why we believe what we do regarding the faith.

    Thanks.

  104. […] who recently swam the Tiber (at great cost to himself and his family). I regard him as a hero.Anyway, he has finally been able to begin to tell his story. A good, good man and I hope we welcome him and help him and his family as they struggle to adjust […]

  105. Dear Jason,
    I shared some of my own conversion experience in a comment to an article on line and was rewarded with an accusation of having presented a rant against evangelicalism with a demand for an apology and disclosure of my full name so that I could be publicly shamed by the other person. So, in case no one has done so, I want to thank you for your “rant”; it is so clearly stated and parallels what so many of us life-long evangelicals have experienced. Suddenly our blindness was cured. God Bless

  106. Jason,

    Thank you for sharing your conversion story. I can relate to your intellectual/spiritual appraisal of Protestantism. Allow me to suggest that the Catholicism which won your heart and mind may not be the same that you hear and see in a typical Seattle archdiocese parish. I recommend Romano Amerio’s book “Iota Unum: A Study of the Changes in the Catholic Church in the XXth Century” and Fr. Cekada’s book “Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI.” (Fr. Cekada has video overviews of each chapter on Youtube). Shorter articles that ask and answer some of these tough questions can be found at http://www.traditonalmass.org.

    Your fellow Catholic in the Northwest,

    David M.

  107. Welcome aboard the Barque of Peter, Jason!

    I was raised in a mix of Methodism and Evangelicalism…swam the Tiber twenty years ago this coming Easter, and finally feel I am starting to get the hang of it.

    May you grow steadily in the Faith…and may us fellow Catholics not drive you too crazy (some of us have a knack for it!).

  108. Myself a convert to Catholicism, welcome. Pax.

  109. Jason,

    You use the analogy of reinventing the wheel. In The Everlasting Man, G.K. Chesterton said “There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back.” In Protestantism’s separation from Rome, the subsequent dismissal of 1500 years of Sacred Tradition resulted in this journey out and away from the Church. Reinventing the wheel is part of the return journey. Only that lacking authority, it has only resulted in further division, not unity.

    However, I do think in many cases, God is using the journey of many of our separated brethren to prepare them for greater service in His Church. Your passion and skills to articulate your faith are a great gift, a grace from God that is to be used and co-operated with. I pray you continue to spread the Word and help make the Church a place that is more alluring. The Truth shall set you free, but no one ever said that the Truth doesn’t sometime hurt. Welcome Home!!

  110. Let me add my voice to the welcome and tears of gratitude to those from all over the world–now leave the door open for my daughter to follow…she wandered off. I always told her to ask God to place her where she belongs. (what did I do wrong???)

    Its in Your hands Lord….

  111. Brother Jason —

    First of all, welcome Home from a fellow convert also from the PCA.

    Your journey, like all journeys of all converts, is quite amazing. It is heartening to see the Lord’s hand at work in this century, drawing so many good and balanced Protestants into the fullness of the truth. I can certainly appreciate your journey, as I was probably much more a diehard anti-Catholic than you appear to have been, although I would imagine that you had better theological reason than I had. I was just an ignorant bigot who had been fed on Chick tracts and Lorraine Boettner.

    I found the covenant of God a compelling reason to consider Catholic soteriology and eclessiology. It also explained for me a number of very sticky wickets which Protestants find hard to hurdle, such as our Lady’s Queenship and where that is found in Scripture. It’s a covenant matter, and with the covenant in hand, I find I am able to give decent apologia for the hope that lies with in me as a member of our Lord’s Catholic Church.

    Good to have you home with us! May the Lord bless you and make of you a fine warrior in the cause of truth and one who can win others to the fullness of the Truth.

    Your brother in Christ,

    Ed Hara

  112. Dear Jason,

    I join with everyone in the great chorus of “Welcome Home!”

    How fascinating that each journey is different and some are very different indeed. I, for instance, was dramatically drawn to the Church after reading the works of Tolkien and Chesterton and after an awakening of love for traditional liturgical music (from Bach, Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Palestrina and others). But I firmly refused to join her because I believed she was in error regarding her doctrines on authority and justification.

    So discovering the veracity of the Church’s teachings on authority (once that issue is resolved, everything else falls into place) was like getting to marry the girl I always secretly loved.

    And I think that sooner or later most people who come into the Church see it that way, too. Frustrations with human imperfections are there (the state of how the liturgy is celebrated is presently abysmal…thanks be to God there is one parish reasonably close where we get the Novus Ordo celebrated reverently, faithfully, and in Latin), but there simply is no substitute for the Bride of Christ, the very Kingdom of God on Earth.

    The modern world has unexamined assumptions about how things should be. That is responsible for so much of Protestantism’s disdain for Catholicism. Once those assumptions are questioned they begin to fade, and the glorious beauty of the Church becomes clearer and clearer. It is of the Church which Chesterton spoke when he called it “bright at the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners.”

    Blessings and Peace to you,

    Philip

  113. Steve (re:#103),

    I will listen to your MP3 and consider its content. I should say, though, that four years ago, I could have basically written your reply to me, word-for-word, because you actually presented the basic Protestant interpretation of Scripture and church history that I used to hold myself.

    I, too, thought that Martin Luther was basically “parroting Paul.” I thought that Luther had rediscovered the Biblical Gospel of justification by faith alone, with the imputed righteousness of Christ counted to believers– the Gospel that had been “obscured” (and/negated) by “Romish doctrines.” I thought that the Catholic Church pointed us toward ourselves (and Mary) and away from Christ. I would have died for my Protestant convictions– which included believing that the Catholic Church anathematized the Gospel at the Council of Trent.

    I am now firmly convinced that I was *Biblically wrong* in these Protestant convictions. (I do still believe that Luther was right to protest against the selling of indulgences. The Pope himself agreed with Luther on this subject. It, however, was not the ultimate reason for the Reformation.)

    For some Biblical, exegetical reasons as to why I no longer believe that the Bible teaches Luther’s *interpretation* of St. Paul on justification, please see my reply to Hugh McCann here: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/09/does-the-bible-teach-sola-fide/#comment-37678

    For more Biblical exegesis that provides evidence against Luther’s understanding of the Biblical teaching on justification, see my reply to Andrew McCallum here: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/09/does-the-bible-teach-sola-fide/#comment-37753

    I understand the “law/Gospel paradigm” way of understanding Scripture, Steve. I was once convinced that this paradigm reflected the clear teaching of the Bible. However, continuing to study the Bible convinced me that I was wrong there. It didn’t help, either, that I found no early Church Fathers teaching anything which resembled Lutheran *or* Reformed thinking on justification– but if reading the Bible, itself, had not convinced me of the wrongness of justification by Sola Fide, I likely could never have even *begun* to take returning to the Catholic Church seriously as a live option.

  114. Christopher

    I don’t mean to take focus away from this thread but would you point me to a source that articulates the ultimate reasons for the Reformation?

    Jason

    I applaud your courage. I am on that same journey. I’m further along than when I began. Pray for me.

    Blessings,

    Dan

  115. What an amazing journey you’ve had. Welcome home.

  116. Welcome home, & thank you for your very frank testimony. I am a cradle Catholic, & reverted after a period of rebellion. One thing that helped me was the story of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman. When his friends pointed out he would lose everything: a great number of friends, a stellar public reputation, a prestigious Fellowship & pulpit at Oxford, and a substantial income (approaching 6 figures in today’s terms), he is said to have replied that it would be worth it for just one Communion. Difficult as it was, he was just beginning to pay the price: the failure of the Dublin university project, the Achilli trial, the Rambler, the abortive Oratory at Oxford, & friction & distrust from Catholics were still to follow. After all that, Charles Kingsley lambasts him, for which we should be thankful, as we certainly would not otherwise have his Apologia Pro Vita Sua, which you must read, in the unlikely event you haven’t. All this is to say you now have the Pearl of Great Price, but like the oyster from which it comes, it is an acquired taste.

    Either Jesus is Who He says He is, or He is the greatest liar or lunatic ever. It follows that the Eucharist is What He says It is (cf John 6) or the same 2 alternatives apply. You have (rightly) discerned that Calvin’s authority, however meritorious, does not exceed Peter’s.

  117. Jason:
    Thanks so much for your story. May God bless you and your family as you acclimate to the Church! I taught at Reformed Seminary in Jackson, MS from 1988 t0 1994 when I realized that, like you, in my conscience I could no longer subscribe to the PCA standards. 1 June 1996 I was confirmed and received into the Church that is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. I have never looked back. The Church is truly a treasury of spiritual, intellectual, and cultural riches. But most of all, it is true.

  118. Before I make a comment, I wanted to point out that David Meyer’s comment seems very insulting to Protestants, and baseless. I have found plenty of healthy, loving disagreement over significant theological issues in many protestant churches, with a unity found in the historic creeds. Regardless, this kind of belittling analogy does not seem like it belong on this kind of website.

    David’s comment was as follows . . .
    “In many ways, the PCA is a more “homey” place than the Catholic Church. But it is the homeyness of a club or something. Like if I got together to trim bonsai trees with a group of people every week, I would feel really at home with them, and other “non-bonsai” people would just not get it. This kind of “church based on agreement over doctrine” naturally produces this club atmosphere. But the Catholic Church is not homey, it is home in a different way, and ultimately (for me) in a supremely satisfying way.”

  119. Congratulations from the sower ministry! Saw your story on Scott Hahn’s facebook page! Congrats again!
    Mr. D Sower Catholic Evangelization Ministry!

  120. Jason,

    Thank you for your article. I am fascinated by your journey.

    You describe yourself in this post as having been as ” . . . staunchly confessional an Old School Presbyterian as anyone would want to meet.” As I have met several theologically trained ex-Protestants who have crossed the Tiber over the past few years, I have noticed that all of them tended, at some point, toward such a self-professed, “staunchly confessional” mindset. In the end, they criticized the Protestant church for craving too much theological certitude, for wanting to dot every theological “i” and cross every theological “t,” so to speak.

    On the other hand, I also converse with other theologically-trained still-Protestants on a regular basis. For those who seem to require less certitude, who are more gracious toward and understanding of Roman Catholic doctrine, and who are generally less disputatious (not that this word describes you), crossing the Tiber seems much less likely. They seem truly comfortable in their own skin, and apparently not because they have a false sense of theological certainty.

    I would be interested to hear your perspective in how to talk to these still-Protestants about our faith.

    David

  121. Dan (#114

    …a source that articulates the ultimate reasons for the Reformation?

    Karl Adam’s Roots of the Reformation is excellent.

    jj

  122. Edward,

    I found the covenant of God a compelling reason to consider Catholic soteriology and eclessiology.

    That’s interesting, especially because many Protestants read things like this (as well as Scott Hahn’s stuff) and dismiss it as being nothing more than Presbyterians importing their former theology into the Catholic faith.

    My response to this charge is to do a bit of spiritual judo and use the force of the objection to the advantage of the Catholic Church. If the CC is, as Chesterton says, the “trysting place for all the truths in the world,” then it would make perfect sense for a convert to find his former theology in his new ecclesial home, albeit now in its perfect fullness, and in the proper relation to all the other truths of the Catholic faith.

    So I agree, covenant theology was hugely instrumental in bringing me to Rome as well. Only now, the things I gleaned from Moo, Vos, Ridderbos, and Fee fit much more confortably alongside the things I read in Jesus, Paul, Peter, and James.

  123. David L,

    David Meyer’s comment seems very insulting to Protestants, and baseless. I have found plenty of healthy, loving disagreement over significant theological issues in many protestant churches, with a unity found in the historic creeds. Regardless, this kind of belittling analogy does not seem like it belong on this kind of website.

    I know David can defend himself, but I would just point out that it is not “baseless” to say that what unites Protestants is often an “us vs. them” mentality (the whole movement began as one of protest against the established church). I don’t know what denomination you are in, but from my experience, many of them are defined almost solely in terms of what they’re not, and what they stand against. In fact, the PCA is often looked upon with derision by those in the OPC or URC for being too broad and evangelical (it has a whopping 300,000 members, after all).

  124. David,

    You describe yourself in this post as having been as ” . . . staunchly confessional an Old School Presbyterian as anyone would want to meet.” As I have met several theologically trained ex-Protestants who have crossed the Tiber over the past few years, I have noticed that all of them tended, at some point, toward such a self-professed, “staunchly confessional” mindset.

    Verily I say to you, if any thinks he can have confidence in his former confessionalism, I more so!

    In the end, they criticized the Protestant church for craving too much theological certitude, for wanting to dot every theological “i” and cross every theological “t,” so to speak.

    Interesting. I find that this charge is the one usually leveled by Protestants against the Catholic Church, and people like me: we are on a “quest for illegitimate religious certainty.”

    On the other hand, I also converse with other theologically-trained still-Protestants on a regular basis. For those who seem to require less certitude, who are more gracious toward and understanding of Roman Catholic doctrine, and who are generally less disputatious (not that this word describes you), crossing the Tiber seems much less likely. They seem truly comfortable in their own skin, and apparently not because they have a false sense of theological certainty.

    I would be interested to hear your perspective in how to talk to these still-Protestants about our faith.

    Yes, I know many people like this (many of them, in fact, have insisted that my understanding of the gospel is perfectly consistent with the Westminster Standards!). When I speak to men like this I usually focus on the authority issue: “At the end of the day, even if the PCA and the CC were to agree completely on justification, it wouldn’t change the fact that according to the latter, the former is not a church, but is in schism from the Church.”

    Not to name names, but not a few of the Catholic-friendly Presbyterians like the ones you describe seem highly unlikely to become Catholic because (in my mind) they treasure too much their exegetical autonomy.

  125. […] I Fought the Church, and the Church Won – Jason Stellman, Called to Communion […]

  126. John suggested Karl Adam’s Roots of the Reformation is excellent.

    The Coming Home Network reprinted this. Visit
    https://store.chnetwork.org/

    and use the search tool.

  127. Thank you John & Kenneth.

    Dan

  128. David L.,

    I wanted to point out that David Meyer’s comment seems very insulting to Protestants, and baseless. I have found plenty of healthy, loving disagreement over significant theological issues in many protestant churches, with a unity found in the historic creeds.

    I sincerely don’t want to insult anyone, and I apologize if I have. I should have been clearer than I was that I was giving my personal experience from 23 years of being a Protestant of various stripe, and extrapolating from that experience, combined with that of many others, something I see as much more of a trend in Protestant communities than I have seen in Catholic parishes.
    And strangely, you seem to concede my point, or at least to understand it, by pointing out one type of “unity” experienced by Protestants:

    …healthy, loving disagreement over significant theological issues in many protestant churches, with a unity found in the historic creeds.

    For people like myself, this definition of unity has always been utterly maddening. For one thing, who ever said the “historic creeds” are to be the final measure of unity? What about the councils after those creeds? Why can we reject them? This is arbitrary.

    Also, disagreement over “significant theological issues” is not loving. Christ called Christians to be one as the Trinity is one. We must be of one faith. I believed this as a Reformed Christian as much as I do now, and as you can imagine, that drew me to be in a very small group of likeminded Protestants (the PCA). From my perspective, if I had to describe the feeling, I would describe it as a club feeling. But even surrounding yourself with like-minded Christians is not comforting ultimately, and the club gets more political, because my opinion of the true doctrine changed over time (as it always will). So enter a crisis on the scene when I had to then decide at what point I should leave the group to go somewhere more “true” to my newfound doctrine (Paedocommunion and baptismal regeneration in my case). So can you see how this situation was (for me) both a tight knit club and also very spiritually unsettling? When our fellowship is based on our agreement with each other and our agreement to ignore the points we disagree on, arbitrarily designating them as not important enough to break fellowship (who decides this?), then a huge tension grows (for many of us at least).
    Here is the tension:
    On the one hand, there is a “homey” unity of a small group who agree on what they (arbitrarily) determine are the most important doctrines, and whose agreement is often very much a lowest common denominator where even (as you mentioned) important doctrines are sacrificed for the sake of “unity”.

    On the other hand, as one grows in the spiritual life, learns more, reads more scripture and becomes convinced of different things and more specifically convinced of things, he will inevitably be disagreeing more and more with his co-religionists. Does he continue to go to a church he feels is not biblical? Does he submit to elders who are not teaching what he now sees as the truth presented in scripture? To a man, I was told by my Presbyterian brothers to just find a community I agreed with more. Huh? What about truth? What about being one like Jesus commanded us to be? And if I go somewhere else, won’t I just get tired of that too and move again? So the problem is more basic. I came to see the whole Protestant system as flawed to the core. I came to see biblically and historically that the Church needs to tell me what to believe, not the other way around. And any church that refuses to do that (PCA) or can’t do that (invalid authority) or both, is no true church. Now I am part of a Church which actually has unity of doctrine, can plausibly claim authority, authoritatively commands me in the name of Christ himself, and seeing as they comprise 52% of all Christians on the globe (over a b-b-billion souls), which is what I would expect the true church to look like after 2000 years, it makes sense to follow that Church rather than my best tries at exegesis and biblical interpretatin’. And I will follow this Church founded by Christ to my death.

    I hope that clarifies where I was coming from. Really more of a personal view of things drawing from years as a Protestant. It’s not for me to try to get philosophical or anything.

    Peace,

    David Meyer

  129. David L (re: #118),

    Regarding the contrast between the conceptions of Church as “catholic” and as “club,” see the quotation at “Club Church.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  130. Having received from Jason a nod of the head towards the covenant of God, which drew me in to the Catholic faith (albeit not to Rome, I am a Reuthenian Byzantine Catholic), I would like to mention a book that Scott Hanh and I talked about when I met him in 2003 at St. Joe’s in Mechanicsburg PA. It is THAT YOU MAY PROSPER — Dominion by Covenant by Ray Sutton.

    Scott said that he personally knew of two men who were drawn into the Catholic Faith by reading that book. I told him to add me to the list. I wonder if anyone else here is familiar with the work.

    A Biblical covenant is not a legal piece of paperwork. It is the relationship of two people who have given themselves without reserve to each other. The Calvinist definition in the Westminster Shorter Catechism is totally devoid of this intimacy. Listen to its language:

    Q: WHAT IS A COVENANT?
    A: AN AGREEMENT BETWEEN TWO OR MORE PERSONS.

    That’s it. Barren. There is nothing about love between two persons. There is nothing which indicates the action of one giving one’s self totally to the other. It is a legal contract and nothing more. And it is not a biblical covenant.

    Ezek. 16: 8 Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou becamest mine.

    There is the definition of covenant, according to the Bible. The analogy we are given in Scripture is marriage – the beauty of two people giving themselves completely to one another in love. They make vows to one another. We seldom hear marriage described as “the covenant of marriage” anymore. But that is exactly the picture.

    The children of this marriage covenant are born into a family covenant which has its own set of rules. These rules are set before them for their profit, and that the family might enjoy the best of family unity in love. It is the wise child (who is blessed with good parents, may I add) who does not rebel against the good, but in recognizing it, submits to it to receive the blessings of obedience. The covenant relationship of the parents produces life.

    Just as it is inevitable that the union of man and woman (think back before contraception made sterility in marriage seem normal) should produce life, so the covenant of love between the members of the Godhead had to produce life. Union produces life, and God, by the very nature of Who He is in covenant between the members of the Godhead, must create. By His very nature, God creates life. Life is the result of covenant union. This is why the Catholic Church is correctly pro-life. We reflect the life giving nature of our Trinitarian God in unity. For the Catholic Church to ever sanction death would be to commit spiritual harlotry of the worst sort, for the representation of God’s character would be deeply marred. It is the gods of paganism who are the deliverers of death.

    In the covenant of marriage the bride and groom, on the day of their union, make vows to each other with the understanding that there is a certain boundary, which if crossed, will break this covenant and render it null and void. Christ spoke of this boundary in Matthew:

    Mt 19:9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

    Why only for this sin did Christ say that the wife may be put away? Because in the covenant, man and wife are made one flesh, so much so that the product of their physical union is one child with the features of both. Scripture says that we become one flesh in the sexual act, therefore, when one has intimacies with another in adultery, he has broken the physical and very real seal of unity, the physical joining which is the outward sign of the inner covenant relationship. Being harsh and mean with one’s mate does not do this. It may make you miserable to live with, but it does not break that unity and violate covenant vows of fidelity. It does not destroy the physical particulars of marriage which so distinctly show what a covenant is: a union of two people in love so profound that they become intimately joined one to another, both in body and in spirit.

    This union is a shadow and type of the state of being between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit from eternity past. They are One, yet Three in One. We are given the bond of marriage as a pattern of the heavenly union of the Blessed Trinity. If you understand the positive good of marriage with its blessings and love, you can then transfer, in a very limited way, the truths you find there to the relationship the Godhead enjoys. This is why God said that it was not good that man be alone – because Adam alone was no pattern of the divine covenant relationship between the persons of the Trinity. As the one created to be king over creation, Adam needed a completeness in relationship which was a shadow and type of the relationship of the Godhead in covenant. I believe that one of the worst features of hell will be the solitude, the total separation from the joy which comes in knowing and being known by one whom you love and who loves you. It is the rare (and usually mentally unbalanced) person who is happy with no human contact at all. Even the monks did not go to the desert to seek complete solitude. No, they went out there to find a greater depth in loving God than they could experience in the hustle of the noisy world. It is solitude which seeks a more fulfilling unity. It was not solitude they sought, it was He Who is love.

    Absolutley shameless plug. The above quote is from my book THE DANCE OF ISAIAH: If what I have written is of any interest to anyone here, you may purchase a reasonably priced copy at Amazon.

    http://www.amazon.com/Dance-Isaiah-refutation-Calvinism-regarding/dp/0615556647/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1348668530&sr=1-3&keywords=Seamus+Patrick+OHara

  131. Thank you. Lovely conversion story. Lovely comments. I am comforted by the fact that Jesus wrote nothing, save what He traced with His finger on the sand before Him. I am comforted He meant for me to spend more time on my knees in adoration, confession, communion, serving my brother as living the faith lovingly invites.

  132. Dan (re:#114),

    Thanks for your question about resources concerning the Reformation. As you’ve seen above, John and David have given you some recommendations, and I know that they would not steer you in a wrong direction. In addition, I’m going to recommend some other resources, including one that may seem quite counter-intuitive.

    The Reformed apologist James White has a book entitled “The Roman Catholic Controversy” that I believe contains some of the strongest articulations of why Reformed Christians, historically, have objected to Catholic belief and practice– or, I should say, to *their Reformed understanding(s) of* Catholic belief and practice (which have not always been accurate).

    The reason that I recommend White’s book is that I think it could be very helpful for you, as a Catholic, to actually “get inside the head of” a strongly anti-Catholic Protestant and see the thought processes at work. When you read James White’s views, I believe it will be much easier for you to understand Reformed Protestantism and the Reformation as a whole. The Reformation was based, partially, on protests against things that actually were objectively wrong (such as the selling of indulgences in the medieval era), but it was based much more, ultimately, on Luther’s *misunderstandings of* Catholic teachings in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition– misunderstandings that have been passed down to many, many generations of Protestants. In “The Roman Catholic Controversy,” you will see many of these misunderstandings laid out by a Protestant apologist himself.

    However, at the same time that you read James White’s book, I also recommend that you read some strong Catholic resources which correct and refute his misunderstandings. To Martin Luther and other Reformers, the heart of the Reformation was the question of justification– meaning, how we sinful people can be “right with,” and in a right relationship with, a perfect, holy God. James White goes into this issue, from his Reformed understanding, in his book. *However*, so that White’s book will not damage your faith, I also recommend that you pick up a great, great book on the issue of justification by a Catholic apologist, James Akin. The book is “The Salvation Controversy.” It explains very well, from Scripture, why we Catholics believe what we do about faith needing agape (which *entails* works) in order for us to be justified before God. “The Salvation Controversy” is possibly the best response (other than the early Church Fathers’ and their exegesis of Scripture) to Protestant objections to Catholicism on justification.

    James White also has many objections to the Papacy and to Catholic belief and practice concerning Mary. In that light, as you read his book, I also recommend that you read “Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words,” by Rod Bennett, a former Protestant who became Catholic. This book has many, many passages from the early Church Fathers which show that the early Church was the Catholic Church and did not resemble Protestantism in crucial ways.

    Another very helpful book to refute White’s claims is “Born Catholic, Born Again Fundamentalist,” by David Currie, another Catholic convert from Protestantism. This book appeals almost entirely to Scripture to defend Catholic beliefs and to refute almost every possible Protestant objection to Catholicism. This book should be in every serious Catholic library (no exaggeration there!), particularly for Catholics who want to defend their faith, from Scripture, against Protestant objections.

    Finally, these books are written on a bit of a higher level than anything else that I’ve mentioned here, but in order to further understand (and refute) Protestant objections to Catholic Marian beliefs, I recommend “Daughter Zion: Meditations on the Church’s Marian Belief,” by Pope Benedict XVI (written while he was Cardinal Ratzinger) and “Mary: The Church at the Source,” co-written by Hans Urs von Balthasar and Cardinal Ratzinger.

    I hope that I haven’t overwhelmed you with too many resources here! If finances are tight for you at the moment (as they often are for me these days!), and you can’t afford to buy all of these books, I would recommend that you start with a simultaneous reading of “The Roman Catholic Controversy” (from the Protestant side) and “Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic” (from the Catholic side, which covers and refutes many of the objections in James White’s book). Then, move on to “The Salvation Controversy” and the other books.

    I hope this has been helpful! Thanks for the question, brother!

  133. P.S. to Dan: I meant to say “John Thayer Jensen” and “Kenneth Howell” at the beginning of my reply to you. Both of these men are very knowledgable about Catholicism and the Reformation, and I would definitely check out the resources that they recommended (and my recommendations too, of course, to the extent that you have the time and the finances!).

  134. All Catholics here,

    I humbly request your prayers, as I will be giving my “Catholic conversion/reversion story” tonight for my parish men’s group. My story is quite tumultuous, and revisiting some of my past (from childhood to the present day) will probably be difficult, especially in front of a group of men– men being socialized, as we are in the U.S. especially, to not talk much about painful personal things. I want to be a blessing to these men, to the glory of God, and in the service of Christ and His Church. Thank you for your prayers.

  135. Bless you, Mr. Stellman. Many things in your article resonate with me, and what you have mentioned about the issue of “autonomy” really strikes home to this particular ex-apostate “revert”. I was particularly struck by your comment about the Protestants that can never reconcile with the Catholic Church because they “treasure too much their exegetical autonomy”.

    Men who “treasure too much their exegetical autonomy” – it seems to me that this exactly describes Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Menno Simmons!

    I, as a self-described Reformed non-evangelical, considered the distinction between Solo- and Sola Scriptura as absolutely essential to my own spiritual identity. … Therefore as one can imagine, when I was confronted with Catholic claims that called this crucial distinction into question, it was a sucker-punch of epic proportions.

    Ouch! I know from experience that it hurts to see the truth that “when I submit, so long as I agree, the one to whom I submit is me.” All heretics and schismatics are willing to submit on the basis of “so long as I agree”. Even apostates “submit” on the basis of “so long as I agree”, and I speak from experience on that matter.

    If I really am the final temporal authority for determining what interpretations of the scriptures I will or won’t accept, then I am also the ultimate temporal authority for determining what I am conscious bound to accept as orthodox religious belief. But how can I claim that I am being “scriptural” if I claim that each individual Christian gets to decide for himself what constitutes orthodox religious belief? Where are the scriptures that teach that each individual Christian is endowed with an autonomous authority for determining what constitutes orthodox religious belief?

    … [the Catholic Church] demands that the seeker relinquish the one thing above all others that offers him confidence, namely, his own autonomy.

    Amen! It is a good thing to give up one’s autonomy – “whosoever would save his life shall lose it”.

    I find that this charge is the one usually leveled by Protestants against the Catholic Church, and people like me: we are on a “quest for illegitimate religious certainty.”

    Sheesh! When, exactly, does one cross the line and come to posses an illegitimate desire to know what constitutes orthodox Christian belief?

    Welcome home Mr. Stellman!

  136. Thank you Christopher for that detailed response. By way of introduction, I was raised Catholic, but left the church in my early twenties (after a conversion experience) for evangelicalism. It’s only in the last couple of years that I (inexplicably, in my mind) have felt myself being drawn back to Catholicism and have been reading more source material to investigate their claims this time than I did the first time around.

    I’m a regular reader at this site and have to say that I am very impressed by the patient and charitable way Catholics respond to their detractors. It speaks volumes to their faith.

    I already have two of David Currie’s books – “Born Catholic, Born Again Fundamentalist” and “Rapture”, both of which were excellent. I ordered Karl Adam’s “Roots of the Reformation” this morning from the Coming Home Network. I’m also reading through the Catechism. In time, I will also look at the other resources you recommended. I listen to Catholic Radio daily now and while I am still committed to serving the church we go to as a family, with each day I find more glaring inadequacies in their theology.

    I guess it’s only a matter of time :-)

    Dan

  137. Jason and Family, welcome home!
    My wife and I were received into full communion with the Church at Easter 2011. We came from the PCA and caused quite the stir when we left. The chink in my Reformed armor that grew and grew was the realization that so much of the Reformed world insisted on understanding Jesus in light of Paul instead of the other way around. It seems from your article that you had the same realization.

    My wife and I attend a Latin Mass parish and I don’t know if there is one in your area but I would highly recommend seeing the Extraordinary Form of the Mass if you get the chance; it is beautiful and timeless.

    Shalom,

    Aaron Goodrich

  138. Jason,

    I can see by the intensity of the discussion here, at some Reformed sites and your own blog that you are spending significant time responding to numerous comments and questions. Thanks ahead of time for addressing mine.

    I have spent many evenings over the past few years discussing these issues with my PCA elders and other friends. I had begun to question the principled means by which our tradition defines orthodoxy and schism. (Solo Scriptura had long since become philosophically implausible for me, and I have been grateful to be a part of a church tradition that emphasizes the importance of defining truth through the lens of the tradition and experience of a wider historical body of believers.) The nearly universal initial response to my questions has been the implausibility of the RCC’s claim to represent an historically consistent, monolithic magisterium capable faithfully and infallibly adjudicating the clear dividing line between heresy and orthodoxy. Given my lack of expertise, I am somewhat at the mercy of the experts on either side of the argument regarding the historical plausibility of the Roman claim. What strikes me is the starkly opposing conclusions arrived at when presumably evaluating the same data. You say the RCC’s authority claims are historically plausible. My pastor states (emphatically) the opposite. I certainly don’t have the time or capability to do the primary source work necessary to evaluate these opposing views.

    I would guess that at some point not too long ago you would have placed yourself in the “historically implausible” camp. Was there some specific line of historical study that changed your mind?

    Burton

  139. Christopher, will say prayers and will offer up our anxiety for you as we give our conversion story tonite to an rcia class . God bless

  140. Dan,

    I made a mistake on the name of David Currie’s book: it is titled “Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic.” I simply mixed up the order of the words “Fundamentalist” and “Catholic” in the title. The book is a very strongly Scriptural account of the author’s reasons for moving from being a seminary-educated evangelical Protestant to being Scripturally convinced of the claims and teachings of the Catholic Church.

  141. Burton,

    I have spent many evenings over the past few years discussing these issues with my PCA elders and other friends. I had begun to question the principled means by which our tradition defines orthodoxy and schism. (Solo Scriptura had long since become philosophically implausible for me, and I have been grateful to be a part of a church tradition that emphasizes the importance of defining truth through the lens of the tradition and experience of a wider historical body of believers.)

    Hey man, good to meet ya. I’ve seen you comment here quite a bit over the past while.

    I trust you have read Bryan’s and Neal’s demolition of the supposed distinction between Solo and Sola? I think it addresses your point above, as it shows that the position of someone like Mathison devolves into Solo in about three seconds’ time.

    The nearly universal initial response to my questions has been the implausibility of the RCC’s claim to represent an historically consistent, monolithic magisterium capable faithfully and infallibly adjudicating the clear dividing line between heresy and orthodoxy. Given my lack of expertise, I am somewhat at the mercy of the experts on either side of the argument regarding the historical plausibility of the Roman claim. What strikes me is the starkly opposing conclusions arrived at when presumably evaluating the same data. You say the RCC’s authority claims are historically plausible. My pastor states (emphatically) the opposite. I certainly don’t have the time or capability to do the primary source work necessary to evaluate these opposing views.

    I would guess that at some point not too long ago you would have placed yourself in the “historically implausible” camp. Was there some specific line of historical study that changed your mind?

    It’s easy for a Protestant to try to poke holes in the Catholic position (in fact, many have made an industry out of the attempt). But what I would encourage you to do is ask your pastor to make a positive case for Sola Scriptura arising in the context of the immediately post-apostolic church (the church with no universally-recognized canon). Would he admit that there came a moment immediately following the death of John in which the whole church suddenly realized that the way things had worked for the past 60 years (with the word of God consisting of both oral and written teaching) had ceased, despite the fact that the apostles nowhere gave any indication that such a thing would occur?

    My experience tells me that if you take away Mary and the pope, Reformed folks run out of stuff to complain about pretty quickly (which is why a few of them have suggested I just become Orthodox).

    So my point about Rome’s claims being “historically plausible” (those words were carefully chosen) was simply that a study of the history of the early church cannot prove Catholicism any more than it can prove Orthodoxy. At some point the empirical evidence’s ability to prove things ceases, and the need for humble faith comes into play. Are Rome’s historical claims scientifically demonstrable? Of course not. But philosophically the only two serious options are the CC and EO, and of those two, Rome is much more plausible, at least to me.

  142. Jason,

    As an evangelical in the process of discovering the Catholic Church, I want to thank you for sharing your story. Much of what you write rings true for me as well.

    I wonder if you could elaborate on the reasons that you believe the Catholic Church to have a more plausible claim to truth that the Eastern Orthodox. I agree with you that “the only two serious options are the CC and EO,” but like you I haven’t been able to find sufficient evidence to accept the claims of one over the other with any certitude. My journey toward Catholicism actually began with reading some EO sources. (I think that I was more open to them at the time because they were not Catholic.)

  143. Russ,

    Thanks so much for your prayers and offering up of your anxiety, brother! I wish that I had seen your comment earlier, before I left for the group, but I am praying “retroactively” for you that your presentation went well tonight! I know the anxiety, believe me!

    My talk seems to have gone well. There was much discussion afterwards– many good questions from the men, most of whom are cradle Catholics. I am so glad that the leader of this men’s group decided to do a series on the question of “Why I am Catholic?” in which cradle Catholic “reverts” and Catholic “converts” (from many different backgrounds, not only other Christian denominations/traditions) give their testimonies. I plan to attend every meeting in this series, if at all possible.

    Giving this talk tonight only made me more excited to tell people about Christ and the Church that He founded! In so many parts of America, it seems that the assumed “default mode” for Christianity is one or another form of Protestantism. I love my Protestant brothers and sisters, but with all respect to both them and their genuine love for Christ, the default mode for Christianity, from the evidence of Scripture and the early Church Fathers, is *not* Protestantism.

    In a country with such deep Protestant influences though, it can be hard for people to even begin to reconsider their deeply held beliefs and presuppositions about the Catholic Church supposedly holding to “unBiblical teachings and practices.” Catholics can definitely be led away from the Church by these ideas, as both of us were. I’m so thankful that you are out there, explaining and defending the faith. I aspire to do the same. Pax Christi, brother.

  144. Dan (re:#136),

    We seem to have a good bit in common! When I began to experience the conviction to re-examine my distinctively Protestant beliefs, that conviction was *very* unexpected. Honestly, I was terrified by it.

    With the words of my Protestant elders (and my Protestant interpretations of Scripture!) ringing in my ears, I was so afraid that I was being “led into heresy.” However, the Holy Spirit would not let me rest in my anti-Catholicism. I already deeply loved and trusted in Christ, but God wanted me to have the fullness of the Christian faith (that I had left behind in youthful ignorance). Much of it was already there, in Reformed Protestantism, but too much was also missing. In time, I realized that. My study of Scripture, the early Church Fathers, both Catholic *and* Reformed Protestant exegesis and apologetics, and the Catechism, finally led me back to *the* Church that I had so long Protested against as being “heretical” and “non-Christian”– the Catholic Church.

    Conceivably, I could have lied to myself about what the Lord had shown me through my many, many hours of study and prayer. I could have tried to convince myself that the Protestant beliefs and practices that I had held for so long actually *were* the beliefs and practices of the earliest Christians– including the men who were taught by Jesus, and their successors (and *their* successors, and so on). However, I would have *known* that I was lying to myself– and thus, I would have been disobeying God to remain a Protestant *in name*, when I was no longer a Protestant *in belief*.

    Bluntly, I had to return to the Catholic Church in order to still be able to call myself a Christian with any integrity and honesty. As I said to the men’s group tonight, if I had refused to obey my conviction (reached through much study and prayer) that the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ Himself founded, then I would have had to ask myself, at that point, “How can I claim to follow Christ *at all*, when I won’t follow Him *here*?”

    Brother, I know that the process of reading and study takes time. Keep reading and keep praying. I know that you are genuinely loving and serving Christ where you currently are, just as I was when I was a Protestant. If you do reach the same conviction about the Catholic Church that I did though, I encourage you to go to confession and return to the Church. It is worth any cost that you might have to pay. I have paid very dearly in more than one way, but I’ve gained so much more. I cannot imagine leaving all that I have (re)discovered in Christ and His Church. To be seriously, consciously Catholic (truly believing and living out the faith) is to have the deepest personal relationship with Christ. The Saints of the Church are living testimonies to this fact.

    God bless you, brother. I will pray for your discernment along this path. Pax Christi.

  145. Aaron,

    I wonder if you could elaborate on the reasons that you believe the Catholic Church to have a more plausible claim to truth that the Eastern Orthodox. I agree with you that “the only two serious options are the CC and EO,” but like you I haven’t been able to find sufficient evidence to accept the claims of one over the other with any certitude. My journey toward Catholicism actually began with reading some EO sources. (I think that I was more open to them at the time because they were not Catholic.)

    Well, like I said, I am not convinced that the biblical or historical evidence can prove, one over the other. That said, though, it does seem to me that without a visible head or tie-breaking vote, the ability to (1) determine orthodoxy, (2) maintain unity, or (3) call a council, become seriously undermined.

    A little thought experiment may help: Let’s say that, soon after the ascension, the apostles split 6 against 6 over some issue. Which side would you choose? Would it be Peter’s side, just to play it safe? OK, what if the split were 9-3, with Peter in the minority? Would you still choose his side (since Jesus did place him above the rest, in some sense)? If so, then it would seem you’re a Catholic in theory.

    In addition to this, it also seems to me that if Jesus did indeed found a visible church, it should act with the guts and audacity that the CC exhibits. I would expect that church to define dogmas, to tease out developments in already-held doctrines, and to call ecumenical councils whenever it sees fit to do so.

    While I have great respect for EO, it does seem suspended in a state of adolescence that it cannot, even by its own rules, escape.

  146. Amazing story of your conversion, so inspiring and with your permission would love to share it with other fellow Catholics.

  147. This story should be shared with non-Catholics as well. There must be many Christians out there asking questions, like Jason & myself. If they know someone else travelled this journey it may encourage them.
    God bless!

  148. Christopher,

    Thank you for your encouragement and your prayers.

    Dan

  149. Jason, welcome home! I’m also a recent convert to Catholicism from Protestantism (April 2012), and as such I deeply respect anyone who makes the treacherous journey to the Catholic Church, especially when it entails significant vocational and personal loss. May God continue to grant you his grace and peace as you continue to seek him and his truth.

  150. Jason,
    I am filled with great joy at hearing the news that you have come home to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I am a cradle Catholic revert and your story blew me away because you basically summed up (in a way that I never could) so many of the things that I went through and exactly the reasons I came back into the Catholic Church (after being away for over 30 years.) You have an incredible gift for writing Jason and I cannot put into words how profoundly your story has blessed me (and I am sure will continue to Bless so many others) Thank you for your incredible story, thank you for being truthful and honest. We are truly blessed to have you home Jason. I hope and pray that over the coming years we can be as much of blessing to you and your family as you are to us. Welcome Home, Peace in Christ.
    “They abstain from Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ” – Ignatius of Antioch – A.D. 110

  151. Jason,
    May God continue to bless you abundantly for your faithfulness to HIM and your humility on the journey to everlasting life. What an inspiring story! Thank you for sharing yourself with us. Welcome to a big, loving, imperfect, challenging, joy-filled family.

  152. Chuck,

    Thanks so much for all of your encouragement. I would actually like to expand this into a full-on book, and it’s nice to know I’d make at least one sale!

  153. Jason (re:#152),

    Make that two sales, if you expand your story into a book– and I strongly suspect that Chuck and I would be two of a good many readers/buyers, to the glory of Christ and His Church!

  154. Jason,
    Thanks for sharing your heart wrenching struggle. As someone who had the same fight over the last few year, your words could sound like my own. You might check out the book by Robert Hugh Benson, “Confessions of a Convert,” I felt like I was reading my our word there too. He was the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Anglican. Little bit of a struggle for him too. I and my family came into full communion with the Church last Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday. Blessings and peace to you in your continued journey with Christ.
    Thanks again,
    MichaelTX

  155. Jason, your story floored me. I returned to the Catholic Church in September 2009 after being a “cradle Catholic,” getting “saved”, and then 25 years between Calvary Chapel, Baptist, Evangelical Free, Assemblies of God, &c. and earning my bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry from an Assemblies of God university not far from Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa (where I used to go). I think what did it for me (besides the fact that my soon-to-be-wife-in-two-weeks is also Catholic was the fact that with all the spiritual disciplines and church fathers I was being made to read while in Bible college, I may as well have been “Catholic” without the Catholic doctrine or practice. So I jumped back in all the way.

  156. Bem vindo a Casa! Parabéns pelo testemunho! Que Deus abençoe a ti e a sua família!

  157. Jason,
    Could you write sometime about how your family (wife/kids) took the news and are adjusting?
    Thanks.

  158. I read Jason’s story from being an Arminian to a Calvinist, from Calvary Chapel to PCA (just google it – Calvary Chapel Wiki). That conversion story portrays the same (perhaps greater) emotional force/struggle as this story when he recounts another shift in belief from being Reformed to being Roman Catholic.

    Moves like this always costs emotional and financial problems. During the first move, Jason was asked to renounce his Calvinism (but he didn’t) and was stripped off of his missionary salary. He wrote, “my wife and I had no choice but to give all our things away, pack, and leave a week or so later (on our own dime).” But all these struggles was worth it since, “if our relationship (i.e. Calvary Chapel) had not been severed I would never have found my way to Westminster Seminary (where I received my M.Div.) or to the Presbyterian Church in America.”

    This conversion story is similar in many respects to the first. There’s a theological shift, a feeling of being persecuted because of the shift and a feeling that such shift is justified even if the worst was experienced because of the conversion.

    But, for me, I realized that conversion stories are really appealing. This is because shared experiences are powerful tools that gives affirmations to common decisions made. The ones who went out from an Arminian perspective (Calvarian) to a Calvinistic perspective can easily relate to Jason’s first conversation story and, in fact, made him a personal hero who stood up against a giant institution and its leaders even if it is detrimental to his family and career. When Jason converted to Romanism, those who have the same experience can relate so much that a minister (highly educated) chose to reject the sufficiency of Scripture and other solas then embrace the Pope as the vicar of Christ. But it is not only the Roman Catholics who can relate but also the Calvarians for they experienced a sense of vindication that the one they disfellowshiped a long time ago has gone to a religion that they thought to be an apostate! However, it also shows that conversion stories can not tell us what is true or false. It can satisfy some void for a moment but after the honeymoon period is over, conversion stories are just not enough.

  159. The Clash reference reminds us of other titles, too. See comments at @ Turretinfan’s blog, re: Mr Stellman.

    Steven Buehler @ 155: Very sad to read you. I was in Pope Chuck’s “church” for a season as a new convert. (Not the Costa Mesa Vatican, but another of the so. Cal franchise.) With the CCC (Calvary Chapel churches), the E-Free, and the Assemblies (goodness! you really went farther and farther away from the objective & textual into the subjective & experiential!), I do agree with you that the difference(s) between these and Rome are differences of degrees, not of kind.

    Sadly, Canterbury can serve in a like way, as well.

    MichaelTX @154: Thank you for the Benson info. Having been Anglican for a season, I can resonate with his wiki page which says: “His own piety began to tend toward the High Church variety…” Like your ex-Anglican hero Newman, he and many others move away from the Bible to the smells, the bells, and the other appealing traditions of men.

  160. Mr Stellman,

    Two sets of your statements are confusingly contradictory: (1) Catholicism never held any allure for me, nor do I find it particularly alluring now. Then, Now to be honest there has always been an attraction of a “Wouldn’t-it-be-nice” or “stained-glass-windows-are-rad” variety, but when it came to an actual positive drawing to Rome or a negative driving away from Geneva, there has never been any such thing.

    And, (2) Your final paragraph. See below.

    You still have yet to explain, then, Mr Stellman, why you crossed the Tiber. If the RCC is Christ’s true church, wherein resides the beauty of God’s holiness, why didn’t it draw, entice, or lure you? Are you being sincere? It never appealed to you, nor does so today?

    You claim it was merely “so obviously ridiculous” -“[not] even worth bothering to oppose”- with such “audacious claims,” that you “couldn’t help opposing them,” yet you poped.

    Honestly, it truly “never was attractive, and in many ways it still isn’t”?

    Your story is hard to believe. First, you contradict yourself, telling us there was no “allure” or “positive drawing,” but then saying there was an attraction.

    Then, you tell us how you became convinced of Rome’s views on the Bible and church authority as well as on justification. According to your piece, however, these were not at all appealing or attractive or positive to you.

    Are we to believe that Rome’s doctrines are merely audacious, unappealing, and ridiculous, and that is why you poped?

  161. @hugh
    You remind me of the parable:
    “To what will I compare this generation? It is like a child sitting in the marketplaces calling out to others, 17 ‘We played the flute for you and you didn’t dance. We sang a funeral song and you didn’t mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 Yet the Human One[c] came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved to be right by her works.”

    If A Catholic convert says they were drawn to the antiquity tradition, ancientness, esthetics etc you accuse them of “poping” for emotional, non-substantive reasons. If they admit they weren’t particulary drawn to the esthetics, but found the paradigm of the solas false and lacking, you accuse them of being contradictory. Let’s face it, there is no understanding for the one who stands with his ears plugged with his hands screaming like a three year old. Let him that has ears to hear……

  162. Joel @ 158 ~ Thank you so much for the link info on the Calvary Chapel dish.
    No surprises, but confirmatory to say the least.

  163. Mr McCann,
    WIth all due respect The reality is the man has just lost his job, I am sure some of his friends, and made many people he loves and respects very upset. He converted for Truth and nothing else. He also wrote the above article before his First Communion which I am sure changes things. He does answer much of this but you clearly do not want to hear the answer.

    When discussing these things the nasty comments like “Poped” are not rational.

    Truth is sometimes hard to her and I am glad this man accepted Christ’s call. There is always room for one more at the altar.

    Annie

  164. Joey Henry #158,

    conversion stories can not tell us what is true or false. It can satisfy some void for a moment but after the honeymoon period is over, conversion stories are just not enough.

    Where has anyone said conversion stories can tell us true from false? Where has anyone said they are enough? ? After all, it is a conversion story, not a conversion argument.

    And this site is absolutely loaded with non-conversion story, hard hitting theological arguments for the Catholic Church… with a few conversion stories here and there for a personal touch. If you expect to look at this article of Jason’s and point to it as an example of a failed argument for Catholicism, then you have set up a straw man. The articles on this site that led to his conversion (and mine) are what you should tackle. I suggest if you havent already, you read the article Jason linked to in his conversion story.
    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/11/solo-scriptura-sola-scriptura-and-the-question-of-interpretive-authority/
    If you have read Mathisons book, and you read this article, then you will have a much better idea of why we all find so much commiseration together regarding Protestantism, and joy for each other at our discovery of Christ’s Church.

    Peace,

    David Meyer

  165. @Joey,
    I am not sure what point you were trying to make regarding “conversion stories are not enough.”
    As David has already stated above, the conversion story doesn’t become a catechism. It is a starting line. They are like a “door prize”, and are the tool that will get many readers re-invigorated about their waning faith. It also breaks the implausibility paradigm that so strongly prevents cross-communion conversion.
    I was a staunch anti-Catholic 9 years ago, having left the faith as a 14 year old and heard hundreds of conversion stories in the ensuing 31 years, hearing testimonies on a regular basis of how God drew people from darkness to light etc. They were very encouraging. Now, fast-forward 30 years. When I heard stories that Protestant evangelical pastors were converting, I doubted it was true. (My implausibility paradigm kicked in) But then I watched the actual stories on the Journey Home (EWTN), read “Crossing the Tiber” by Steve Ray and others. I eventually came home into the arms of the Lord and His Church receiving His body and blood, real meat indeed, real drink.
    Did my journey end there? No, but it was the conversion stories that pried open a chink in my powerfully anti-Catholic suit of armor, which then allowed His Holy Spirit to do His work in my life.
    When we have a “conversion fest” over another Catholic convert, it is not to be triumphalistic, nor should we ever be that way, but it accomplishes two things. 1) It encourages the new convert and lets him know that despite his tremendous personal, financial and emotional losses, he has just crossed the threshold to new joys and a new perspective on eternal things, the stuff that matters in life. 2) It encourages all the rest of us who are at different places in our journey to heaven.
    When Saul of Tarsus, became a Christian, the early Church must have been overjoyed, (once they got over their initial suspicions) and it made them realize this Jesus of Nazareth is even more powerful after his death and resurrection, to work such wonders in peoples lives. That’s what a conversion story does, it allows us to marvel at the goodness of God and rejoice at his wondrous and mysterious power to change our hearts.

    Let us let Jason have his Way to Emmaus moment here (his eyes were opened in the breaking of the bread) without questioning his motives and attempting to devalue his experience.

  166. Immensely interesting, Jason. I am a former PCA ruling elder, recently gravitated to a conservative Episcopalian parish. Grew up Pentecostal, then later embraced Reformed theology in large measure, continuing to be in agreement with much of its content, certainly the high view of Scripture, covenant understanding, and Christocentric perspective. However, I agree that a soteriology focused too heavily on justification per se is anemic. While justification by faith is a critical and non-negotiable tenet in my view, we must remember that it is essentially answers only the forensic aspect of our acceptance before God via Christ’s substitutionary atonement. There is much more to the gospel as you point out, most notably the regenerative and transformational power of a new life in the Holy Spirit, the communion of the saints, and yes, the Church, the pillar and ground of truth. I must also remind myself that what Christ has brought to light through the gospel is “life and immortality”, not mere forgiveness.

    Perhaps my early Pentecostal exposure made me more keenly aware of the lack of divinely-given vitality sometimes found in Reformed and evangelical churches. In fairness, I would not fault Calvin for that deficit, since he laid great stress on the work of the holy spirit and its operations in the Church and in the living stones whom God has fashioned into the new temple, his habitation through the Spirit. That said, there are issues and imperfections in all churches. God grant that the Church would be triumphant and in essential unity with its Head, as distinct from the current state of health of churches and denominations. I have relatives who are Catholic. In recent years, I have found it easier to communicate with them around essential things, even while acknowledging differences that we continue to have. All the best to you in you journey.

  167. Michael (#161), If A Catholic convert says they were drawn to the antiquity tradition, ancientness, esthetics etc you accuse them of “poping” for emotional, non-substantive reasons. If they admit they weren’t particulary drawn to the esthetics, but found the paradigm of the solas false and lacking, you accuse them of being contradictory. Let’s face it, there is no understanding for the one who stands with his ears plugged with his hands screaming like a three year old. Let him that has ears to hear……

    As to your first accusation, that may be true in some cases, were there little or no substantive (read: doctrinal) reason for one’s crossing the Tiber. Secondly, if you reread my post to Jason, I am not charging him with contradiction because he found the solas lacking and then converted; I am accusing him of contradiction because he said two contradictory things: (a) That “Catholicism never held any allure for me, nor do I find it particularly alluring now.” But also, (b) Now to be honest there has always been an attraction of a “Wouldn’t-it-be-nice” or “stained-glass-windows-are-rad” variety”…

    Also, his piece generally is demeaning of the Roman Church, yet he found its arguments persuasive (i.e. alluring, attractive, enticing). Personally I find it very hard to believe that Stellman didn’t find your church’s theology alluring, attractive & enticing. Wistfulness & aesthetics don’t seem strong enough to sway him.

    P.S. Nice moniker!

  168. David,

    Where has anyone said conversion stories can tell us true from false? Where has anyone said they are enough?

    The author did not say that. I have not read all the comments and I would guess no one has said that. I did not said that too. Did I?

    After all, it is a conversion story, not a conversion argument.

    I know. :)

    The articles on this site that led to his conversion (and mine) are what you should tackle. I suggest if you havent already, you read the article Jason linked to in his conversion story.

    I have read several articles on this site including the one you linked. As you can see, I am not convinced.

    If you have read Mathisons book, and you read this article, then you will have a much better idea of why we all find so much commiseration together regarding Protestantism, and joy for each other at our discovery of Christ’s Church.

    I assure you Christ’s Church is not equivalent to Roman Catholicism. And I am also confident that there are purer churches of Christ than the one you embrace.

    Regards,
    Joey

  169. Annie, Bruce, David, Joey*, Russ, et. al.,

    Jason converted to Roman Catholicism. I note too his earlier decisions to join Calvary Chapel, and later become get ordained a Presbyterian.

    These are decisions of one’s free will (we have no reason to believe that coercion was involved – quite the opposite!): To join a religious society, seek office therein, etc.

    Jason converted to Roman Catholicism after being in the PCA and CCC; decisions of his free will.

    He was not converted to Christ, a decision not of man, but of God alone (there’s that word again!) ~ John 1:12f.

    * Sorry I misnamed you earlier.

  170. Russ,

    I was a staunch anti-Catholic 9 years ago, having left the faith as a 14 year old and heard hundreds of conversion stories in the ensuing 31 years, hearing testimonies on a regular basis of how God drew people from darkness to light etc. They were very encouraging.

    Anti-catholic huh? 9 years! That’s amazing… So how were you an anti-catholic?

    Now, fast-forward 30 years. When I heard stories that Protestant evangelical pastors were converting, I doubted it was true. (My implausibility paradigm kicked in)

    That’s the initial reaction of most layman who are unprepared: “Protestant evangelical pastors can’t cross over to Roman Catholicism!” I’m glad that you’ve discovered the myth most protestant layman does not know!

    But then I watched the actual stories on the Journey Home (EWTN), read “Crossing the Tiber” by Steve Ray and others.

    Oh I remember Scott Hahn, Gerry Matatics, Patrick Madrid and Steve Ray who were famous in the ’90s. Read their conversion stories too… Watched them too at EWTN! So you were actually shocked? I was not and I listened to their arguments attacking sola scriptura and sola fide foremost.

    I eventually came home into the arms of the Lord and His Church receiving His body and blood, real meat indeed, real drink.

    I don’t mean to offend you. But becoming a Roman Catholici is not equivalent to coming to the Lord and His Church. And that Eucharist (that your church gives you) which they claim to be the body and blood of Christ via transubstantiation through the mediation of priests being the unbloody sacrifice of Christ worshipped and adored as God which effect is easily reversed at the presence of mortal sins and perfects no one even if you eat again and again and again –> is NOT the real meat and drink that Christ offers.

    Regards,
    Joey

  171. Folks,

    Merely trading assertions (or what we call ‘table-pounding’) in no way advances ecumenical dialogue, and is not something we permit here. That’s something you can find in the comboxes of unmoderated sites. This is not that kind of site, by design. Assertions are easy, but they establish nothing, except that the speaker believes x. They are ecumenically unfruitful, and, if used as though they ‘settle’ a matter, are ecumenically unhelpful and even destructive. So, if you want to participate in the dialogue here, please refrain from merely exchanging contrary assertions. Comments that merely engage in table-pounding will be deleted, because that is not the dialectic we are seeking to establish and maintain here.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  172. Bruce @ 166,

    Having taught at an Anglican seminary and been in (then) ECUSA, I’d urge you to please study the early days & theology of Anglicanism. The 39 Articles point us to better (read: more biblical) theology than TEC has to offer, and the battles of Cranmer & Co. are not trivial. Issues such as justification, church authority, and the sacraments were no less vital to the English as they were to the continental Reformers. Sadly, the high church movement (training wheels Romeward) hijacked the English church.

    J.C. Ryle & Charles P. McIlvaine are also good guides.

    Yours,
    Hugh

  173. Mr Stellman: With no malice intended to my denominational friends, I suspect that your journey to Rome can be traced to your devotion to denominationalism, as evidenced in your leading role as a prosecutor (or is it persecutor) of a fellow believer, whose crime was to develop ideas contrary to the denominational bosses. Indeed, the RC Church is the ultimate denomination, holding all of non-RC communing Christendom in judgment as rebels. I think you will feel quite at home in Rome until you wake up one day and discover that “The Church” has been wrong all along. And then what will you do? (btw I do not consider Roman Catholics to be non-Christians, and I do not sympathize with Liethart’s ideas, and I do understand that the PCA had no choice but to try Liethart due to their need to maintain denominational integrity).

  174. Mr. Stellman,

    Welcome to the Church and thank you for sharing your story, it is remarkable. I hope that you do write a book, I would love to read more about what you read/studeied and how you dealt with the issues you encountered, in particular — the Eucharist, Baptism, Confession, and how your Calvinistic views on double predestination changed through this process.

    Best,

    Rodolfo

  175. Hi Hugh,

    You still have yet to explain, then, Mr Stellman, why you crossed the Tiber. If the RCC is Christ’s true church, wherein resides the beauty of God’s holiness, why didn’t it draw, entice, or lure you? Are you being sincere? It never appealed to you, nor does so today?

    Please call me Jason.

    The point I was trying to make was that the only attractive thing about Catholicism has become the fact that it is true. Before I discovered this, there was nothing about it that appealed to me. The reason I wanted to make this point was that it is very common for Reformed people to dismiss a move like the one I made by saying something like, “Well, you just longed for subjective certitude, so of course you went to Rome.” But in my case anyway, that diagnosis is demonstrably false.

    Honestly, it truly “never was attractive, and in many ways it still isn’t”?
    Your story is hard to believe. First, you contradict yourself, telling us there was no “allure” or “positive drawing,” but then saying there was an attraction.

    Then, you tell us how you became convinced of Rome’s views on the Bible and church authority as well as on justification. According to your piece, however, these were not at all appealing or attractive or positive to you.

    Are we to believe that Rome’s doctrines are merely audacious, unappealing, and ridiculous, and that is why you poped?

    There’s no reason to think I contradicted myself. I made it very clear that beyond a delight in nice big cathedrals, the CC did not attract me. What is so contradictory about that?

    The thing you seem to be missing is that I became convinced that Rome’s claims were not merely audacious and bold, but also true. That is why I “poped.” There is nothing attractive about big claims per se, but there is something attractive about true claims.

  176. Conversion stories are not typically about new arguments. What they involve is somebody seriously wrestling with all the arguments and finding them convincing. For me, the biggest surprise was that protestants who knew their bible well could find harmony between the bible and Catholic teaching. I had always assumed that Catholics who claimed to accept the bible and Catholic tradition were somehow defective. They did poor exegesis. They were ignorant of the key issues. Something was amiss. But none of those categories made sense for these guys. They were trained in the right places. They did address the right objections.

    First it was just Scott Hahn and you can always throw out one example as just weirdness. But as I discovered more and more converts the “Catholicism is just not biblical” stronghold broke down. So is it table pounding? The arguments are not new but the person delivering them is new. Logically that should not make a difference but we are people and not just logicians.

  177. Hi Bruce,

    I agree that a soteriology focused too heavily on justification per se is anemic. While justification by faith is a critical and non-negotiable tenet in my view, we must remember that it is essentially answers only the forensic aspect of our acceptance before God via Christ’s substitutionary atonement. There is much more to the gospel as you point out, most notably the regenerative and transformational power of a new life in the Holy Spirit, the communion of the saints, and yes, the Church, the pillar and ground of truth. I must also remind myself that what Christ has brought to light through the gospel is “life and immortality”, not mere forgiveness.

    Yes, I what I found to be true was that the insistence upon the extra nos imputation of alien righteousness is a strange bedfellow with an insistence upon the NC gift of the Spirit bringing about internal transformation. Yes, these two ideas can co-exist as they do in Reformed theology, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if the latter is true, the former is superfluous, and likewise, if the former is true, then the latter is dispensable.

    I just find the Catholic position to make so much more sense out of so much more of the biblical data.

  178. Thanks for your response, Jason. I would prefer to think of the two ideas as not so much co-existing but being not really two ideas but one. It serves no good purpose to create an artificial dichotomy where the underlying substantive work of Christ and the Holy Spirit is not in fact bifurcated as applied to the redeemed. In practice, the righteousness that comes from God to us by faith in Christ is both de facto and de jure as we are welcomed into a vital union with our Creator and Redeemer God. I will explore more closely the Catholic position, but I expect to find it compatible to a considerable degree with my on convictions on these matters.

  179. Jason,

    Thanks for the thoughtful replies. First, to Bruce you say in #174 that you “just find the Catholic position to make so much more sense out of so much more of the biblical data.” And does not the Church’s position include the necessary dogmatic assertions (received implicitly by you faithful) that she alone rightly makes sense of the biblical data, defines what is that Bible (including Apocrypha, not merely 66 books), and has the inherent authority to speak as authoritatively as the Holy Scriptures?

    Secondly, while we needn’t say yo merely or only or “just longed for subjective certitude,” but did and don’t you thus long at least a little? Was such certainty NO reason whatsoever for your conversion?

    Thirdly, and most importantly, you first said that Rome never was attractive, and in many ways it still isn’t.

    Now you say that, “the only attractive thing about Catholicism has become the fact that it is true. Before I discovered this, there was nothing about it that appealed to me.” And, “There’s no reason to think I contradicted myself. I made it very clear that beyond a delight in nice big cathedrals, the CC did not attract me. What is so contradictory about that?”

    Because “some [any] attraction” contradicts “no attraction.” You claimed both.

    You first wrote, Now to be honest there has always been an attraction of a “Wouldn’t-it-be-nice” or “stained-glass-windows-are-rad” variety… Thus, there WAS an attraction of sorts (the appeal of a “nice” situation & aesthetics), just not (initially) that Rome was true or the true Church?

    The thing you seem to be missing is that I became convinced that Rome’s claims were not merely audacious and bold, but also true. That is why I “poped.” There is nothing attractive about big claims per se, but there is something attractive about true claims.

    I understand that you came to believe that Rome is right.
    Thanks, Jason.

  180. Dear Jason and Bruce,

    “The gospel is not anemic.” Amen. It is God’s power to certain salvation for we who believe it.

    We can also agree with this: While justification by faith [alone] is a critical and non-negotiable tenet in my view, we must remember that it is essentially answers only the forensic aspect of our acceptance before God via Christ’s substitutionary atonement. But not the rest as it stands.

    @ Bruce: The regenerative and transformational power of a new life in the Holy Spirit is not the gospel.
    The communion of the saints, and yes, the Church, the pillar and ground of truth are not the gospel.
    What Christ has brought to light through the gospel is “life and immortality”, not mere forgiveness. These are not the gospel, for whatever the gospel “has brought to life” or effected (forgiveness, etc.) is not the gospel.

    @ Jason:

    As a Protestant minister, I had always operated under the assumption that the fullest treatment of the gospel, and of justification in particular, came from the apostle Paul, and that the rest of what the New Testament had to say on these issues should be filtered through him. But as I began to investigate again things that I had thought were long-settled for me, I began to discover just how problematic that hermeneutical approach really was. If justification by faith alone was indeed “the article on which the church stands or falls,” as Reformed theology claimed, then wouldn’t we expect it to have been taught by Jesus himself, somewhere?

    This red herring bifurcates Jason’s Bible’s red-letters and Paul’s no-less-inspired words. Invalid argument. There are many things Jesus didn’t address that he left to his Spirit-inspired apostle.

    Moreover, wouldn’t John have taught it, too? And Peter, and James? Shoot, wouldn’t Paul himself have taught the imputation of alien righteousness somewhere outside of just two of his thirteen epistles? Having realized that I was using a few select (and hermeneutically debatable) passages from Romans and Galatians as the filter through which I understood everything else the New Testament had to say about salvation, I began to conclude that such an approach was as arbitrary as it was irresponsible.

    Jason, as Turretinfan pointed out, two references from Paul are plenty.

    Neither are any of these the gospel: Sola Fide / the New Covenant gift of the Spirit, [nor its] reproducing the image of the Son in the adopted children of the Father.

    We may grant that

    the promise of the gospel is equivalent with the promise of the New Covenant that God’s law will no longer be external to the believer, but will be written upon his mind and heart, such that its righteous demands are fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. And again unsurprisingly, when I turned to the early Church fathers, and especially Augustine, it was this very understanding of the gospel that I encountered over and over again.

    These things are true. They are results of the work of the Holy Spirit in concert with or via his gospel, but this doesn’t differ from the Reformers and Protestantism until you confuse our living out (working out) the gospel with the gospel, as your new church does.

    The gospel is not sola fide. Nor is it anything done in us, through us, or by us. The gospel is external to us; something done for we who believe: Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and He was buried, and He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3f). That is the good news.

  181. Hugh (re:#169),

    Respectfully, as I have noted in the past, in relation to various comments that you have made on various threads here at CTC– assertions are simply *not* arguments.

    You *assert* that Jason was not “converted to Christ,” but rather, that he made “free will decisions” to join and be ordained by Calvary Chapel, and then, by the P.C.A.– as apparently *opposed to*, in your view, being truly “converted to Christ.” That is your assertion, Hugh. Where is your argument to support that assertion?

    As one who genuinely strives for productive discussion here, I ask you, in charity, to please read and seriously consider Bryan’s comment #171, if you haven’t already done so. Thank you, Hugh.

  182. @ Joey: you state:
    “And that Eucharist (that your church gives you)…. is NOT the real meat and drink that Christ offers.” Well, that is not what the Lord told us, “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”
    (ESV)

    Catholics have a historically doocumented and strong scriptural basis for this belief. The early church fathers have (almost) unanimously concluded that Christ’s words to his disciples were taken literally by the Christians when Christ took bread in his hands and said, “Take and Eat this is my body.” Later Saint Paul makes it evident that the early Christians were in danger of disrespecting the body and blood of Christ. If it was symbolic, what would be the point of his admonition to the Corinthians?
    Nevertheless, my words were not mere assertions but were the reiteration of a Catholic belief that has been with the Church since 33 AD. Denying this reality, ignores scripture, the Church fathers and the normative way that Christians worshiped for 1500 years. Even Luther in his early years fought bitterly against the other reformers who denied that the Eucharist was truly the body and blood of Christ:

    “Who, but the devil, has granted such license of wresting the words of the holy Scripture? Who ever read in the Scriptures, that my body is the same as the sign of my body? or, that is is the same as it signifies? What language in the world ever spoke so? It is only then the devil, that imposes upon us by these fanatical men. Not one of the Fathers of the Church, though so numerous, ever spoke as the Sacramentarians: not one of them ever said, It is only bread and wine; or, the body and blood of Christ is not there present.

    Surely, it is not credible, nor possible, since they often speak, and repeat their sentiments, that they should never (if they thought so) not so much as once, say, or let slip these words: It is bread only; or the body of Christ is not there, especially it being of great importance, that men should not be deceived. Certainly, in so many Fathers, and in so many writings, the negative might at least be found in one of them, had they thought the body and blood of Christ were not really present: but they are all of them unanimous.” (Martin Luther)

    So even Luther believed that the Eucharist was the body and blood of Christ and used the writings of the Church fathers to defend this belief.

  183. Chris,

    I am using the language people here and elsewhere use, that they convert [active, not passive] to particular expressions of Christianity or other religious societies. I am at a loss to understand your concern.

    Did not all you ex-Reformed folk at CTC choose to join your new church?

    Did not each exercise his/ her free will (sans external coercion) and choose to be received into the Roman Church?

  184. Hugh (#167)

    …substantive (read: doctrinal) reason for one’s crossing the Tiber…

    I think it is worth your understanding that, in one sense, there cannot be a doctrinal reason for becoming a Catholic. The reason is that the business of being a Catholic means recognising the Church that has the authority to define doctrine. If a person decides on separate grounds (Scripture or whatever) that doctrine X is true and then looks around for a Church that teaches that doctrine – even if he decides that the Catholic Church is that Church – he has not really understand what it means to be a Catholic. He has not found the Church he must agree with; he has found the Church that agrees with him. He is still a Protestant.

    Those of us who have become Catholics have believed that Jesus gave a truth-telling Teacher in the world – a Teacher, not a Teaching (which is the Scripture-alone approach). The Teaching is, to be sure, there, but we hear it from the Teacher.

    When I became a Catholic, the statement I made, in church, was “I believe and hold what the Church believes and teaches.” Note the assymetry: I hold; the Church teaches.

    Clearly you don’t agree that the Catholic Church is such a Teacher – nor, indeed, that there is such an infallible human Teacher in the world. But I just do think it worth your understanding what being a Catholic actually means. It is not based on doctrine. It is based on a Person – and His Body, the (Catholic) Church.

    jj

  185. I generally enjoy reading conversion stories, and I certainly enjoyed reading Jason’s story.

    Coming from a evangelical Pentecostal background I had a conversion story, and it was important to me. It was a placeholder in my life for what happened to me, and – noting the people I worshiped with then- it was also a badge that marked me as legitimate in that place at that time.

    It was the conversion to Catholicism that found a real change here and it was marked, as John Thayer noted above, with the fact that the Truth expressed by the Church is the deciding issue. I was no longer in charge. I was no longer telling God what should occur or telling Him the meaning of scripture, rather I was listening. He was doing the work in me that I could not do in myself. It was and is glorious.

    My conversion story is still important but not nearly so much as it was long ago. Rather it is being a son of the Church that is most important. That is God’s badge of my legitimacy.

    Welcome home Jason. I hope to hear the rest of the story as you are able.

    dt

  186. jj @ 184 ~ The reason [for becoming a Catholic] is that the business of being a Catholic means recognising the Church that has the authority to define doctrine. If a person decides on separate grounds (Scripture or whatever) that doctrine X is true and then looks around for a Church that teaches that doctrine – even if he decides that the Catholic Church is that Church – he has not really understand what it means to be a Catholic. He has not found the Church he must agree with; he has found the Church that agrees with him. He is still a Protestant.

    Amen & amen. Implicit faith is hugely important in recognizing Rome’s inherent & infallible authority.

    When I became a Catholic, the statement I made, in church, was “I believe and hold what the Church believes and teaches.” Note the assymetry: I hold; the Church teaches.

    Duly noted, sir. Thank you!

  187. Joel,

    Mr Stellman: With no malice intended to my denominational friends, I suspect that your journey to Rome can be traced to your devotion to denominationalism, as evidenced in your leading role as a prosecutor (or is it persecutor) of a fellow believer, whose crime was to develop ideas contrary to the denominational bosses.

    Please call me Jason.

    Why, if you’re truly not trying to be malicious, would you “suspect” me of lying about becoming Catholic because I am devoted to the truth rather than to denominationalism?

    You seem to be unfamiliar with what denominations are and how they function, so I’ll bypass your remarks about Leithart and just refer you to my blog if you are sincerely interested in that issue.

    Indeed, the RC Church is the ultimate denomination, holding all of non-RC communing Christendom in judgment as rebels. I think you will feel quite at home in Rome until you wake up one day and discover that “The Church” has been wrong all along. And then what will you do? (btw I do not consider Roman Catholics to be non-Christians, and I do not sympathize with Liethart’s ideas, and I do understand that the PCA had no choice but to try Liethart due to their need to maintain denominational integrity).

    If the phenomenon of denominations exists in order to distinguish one church from another (which I think it does), then whichever church existed first, before there were any others, cannot be a mere denomination. So if you think the Catholic Church is a mere denomination, then the burden is on you to show that it was at least the second church to emerge onto the Christian scene.

  188. You know, all of this back and forth about becoming Catholic is mind boggling to me. Criticism to people who become Catholic, the whys, hows, details, etc. I became a Catholic because I was searching for the truth after being in the ultra liberal, proudly progressive (pro-gay, anti-Israel, pro-abortion) “church” of the United Church of Christ. I did a lot of research, because I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again, although I grew up in a First Congregational Church (later UCC) and thought I was getting Biblical truth. How wrong I was. I was quite lost for a few years. I did not know where to turn. But through several events, including my son marrying a wonderful Catholic woman, in 2009, and visiting my daughter in Italy where she was studying Italian Renaissance, I, and my daughter eventually became Catholic in 2010. It’s very simple! We searched for the truth and found it in the Catholic Church! Every day we are grateful to be here. Thanks be to God!

  189. I have to note that most of us in our little, historic beautiful church did not know that the main church, United Church of Christ was as liberal, and progressive as we eventually found out. We were… in the dark so to speak.

  190. Jason, I do not suspect you of lying and I did not say that nor intend to say it. I said “suspect” because although I can’t prove it, I do SUSPECT that being part of denominational machinery affects one’s thinking.

    I know enough about denominations to know that they spend most of their time wrangling over every conceivable issue in the local assemblies that ought to be left to the congregation, and they bring defamation upon good men like RC Sproul Jr. and great theologians like Gordon Clark. The desire to exclude men of excellence extends to Baptists also, who though they claim to not be a denomination, so thoroughly ostracized the greatest baptist theologian of his day – AW Pink – that he couldn’t buy a pulpit much less receive a call to one.

    As for the which church was first philosophy, it’s preposterous to think in such terms. Your statement assumes that if one were able to prove an original title to the property, one would have authority over the second-comers. But only Christ Himself has title to the church, and no fallen human can claim any original or successive authority over the followers of Jesus. But if you really want a discussion about who’s on first, then I know a Greek Orthodox priest that can address the issue quite well. Perhaps you could explain to him the rational of changing language of “The Church” from Greek to Latin.

  191. Jason, please don’t take my directness as malice. My fundamental friends are often frustrated at my willingness to count Catholics as members of the family of Christ. I recently silenced a ranting fundamentalist who had declared that the RCC was evil “from its beginning” when I made him aware of the RCC’s role in clarifying the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and many other “fundamental” doctrines.

    For clarification, read it “As for the which-church-was-first philosophy”, and before you tell me about “obey them that have the rule over you”, you would have to justify my obedience to a man or men that is/are not my local bishop/pastor/elder.

  192. Hugh

    This red herring bifurcates Jason’s Bible’s red-letters and Paul’s no-less-inspired words. Invalid argument. There are many things Jesus didn’t address that he left to his Spirit-inspired apostle.

    So you admit that Jesus “didn’t address” the article on which the church stands or falls? And if you could show me where I indicated that Paul’s words are less-inspired than Jesus’, that would help me understand your point better.

    I wrote, “… the promise of the gospel is equivalent with the promise of the New Covenant that God’s law will no longer be external to the believer, but will be written upon his mind and heart, such that its righteous demands are fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. And again unsurprisingly, when I turned to the early Church fathers, and especially Augustine, it was this very understanding of the gospel that I encountered over and over again.” You responded:

    These things are true. They are results of the work of the Holy Spirit in concert with or via his gospel, but this doesn’t differ from the Reformers and Protestantism until you confuse our living out (working out) the gospel with the gospel, as your new church does.

    What I find confusing is where Paul says we are to work out our own salvation, for it is God who works in us. Shoot, I just can’t figure out where his work ends and mine begins. Or, I find it really confusing when Paul says that God’s grace toward him was not in vain since he worked harder than anyone, though it was not him working but God working through him. Or, when he says he was crucified with Christ but nonetheless lives, yet not him, but Christ within him, that’s pretty confusing, too. If Paul was a monergist he must have stayed up for nights on end worrying that he was constantly stealing God’s credit for everything by ascribing effort to himself! Well, at least it only took a millennium and a half for someone to sort it all out….

  193. Looking across the Church there are many stories of people crossing from Protestantism to Rome and to Eastern Orthodoxy.

    Conversely, there are many stories of traffic going the other way, at least from Catholicism to Protestantism especially to Pentecostalism, but also, I have to say, into Calvinism, ie the Reformed faith. As a minister in the Presbyterian Church of Australia I can report a number of ministerial colleagues who grew up Catholic but departed and in all the cases I know it was around the issue of salvation by grace alone through faith alone (itself the gift of God) in Christ alone.

    Calvin has a beautiful statement in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (Book 3, Chapter 11, Section 1)

    “Christ was given to us by God’s generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith. By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ’s blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ’s spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life.”

    Perhaps Catholics find this a beautiful statement as well.

    I write not to be contentious for in truth I love my sincere Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. We fight together in the culture wars and whilst theologically there are significant points in contention what we share in common is far greater than what we disagree on.

  194. David Palmer .
    What you said is true . I live in Finland and i know many ex Catholics which have left the Catholic Church , and now they are pentecostals or something else , so? If i tell you that none and i insist on the word (none ) , none of them had any idea whatsoever about the teachings of the Catholic Church , they have never read the Cathechism , they don`t read the bible , never read the Church Fathers , in fact never read anything . They were just infants in the Catholic faith , and the pentecostals and the other denominations just stole them from the church promesing them like the Donatists a long time ago , come to us and we will give you salvation .
    I will quote the words of ( 1 John 2:19 ) They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out , that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
    I am not asking you to believe the things i wrote , but please , whenever you have the chance to check , go and ask these ex Catholics and you can find out for yourself how much they knew and how much the know about the teachings of the Catholic Church .
    On the other hand , almost not one single person which converts to the Catholic faith and becomes Catholic is an ignorant of his or her faith , almost all of them are scholars and ex pastors and persons which have read a lot and searched a lot and still read a lot . And they came to the Catholic Church 1000000000000000000% convinced and knowing exactly what and why they are leaving their denominations and comming to the Church . GBU

  195. Hi Russ,

    I know we will agree to disagree. My words may offend you but that is not my intention.

    Transubstantiation as the dogmatic teaching of Romanism is not equivalent to the biblical teaching or the teachings of the early christians. The early christians believed in the real presence which can be interpreted in several manners including the spiritual presence of Christ during the meal. The earliest writing espousing the theory of transubstantion to account for the Real Presence is from the 9th century by Paschasius Radbertus, a catholic monk. But, it should be noted that Ratranmus, also a catholic monk vehemently opposed such formulation. This shows that transubstantiation is not a universal belief (even in Roman Catholicism) during that time.

    Of course, this thread is not about the Eucharist. So, I should stop now.

    Regards,
    Joey

  196. Joel,

    I was in a discussion with one of my elders (PCA) last week. The issue of Jason’s recent conversion came up. He described the move as unsurprising, given Jason’s supposed excessive adherence to tradition, as exemplified by his vehement defense of the Westminster Confession during the Leithart trial. Catholicism, then, is the ultimate “Tradition” to join and defend. This sounds very similar to your statement suspecting Jason of an overblown sense of denominationalism. This may or may not be true, but only a close spiritual confidant would be justified in raising the suspicion.

    Two thoughts. First, when I hear people “suspecting” an underlying motivation, it comes across as a means of avoiding actual debate over substance. This sort of thing does nothing to advance the ball down the field. Second, how do you avoid denominationalism? I assume you would call yourself “non-denominational”? As Tim Hawkins says, everyone knows that non-denominational means baptist-with-a-cool-website. We all draw lines in the sand by some means or another. Simply labeling your lines as “non-lines” doesn’t change their essence. I think the bigger issue is how and why those lines are drawn.

    Burton

  197. Hugh (re:#183),

    For Protestants, or other non-Catholic Christians, who become Catholic, “converting to Catholicism” is a term that is used as a form of shorthand. It’s not a case of *either* being “converted to Christ” *or* converting to Catholicism. (You appear to believe that that is the case, but it is not so.) Non-Catholic Christians become Catholic because they already have been converted to Christ, and they are joining the Church out of obedience to Him, because they believe the Catholic Church to be the Church that He founded.

    In your understanding, I would think that you belong to the denomination to which you belong, because you believe its teaching to most clearly reflect that of Scripture. You didn’t join that denomination, simply because of some externalities that you happened to like therein– or I would hope not. You *did* make a free choice to join, of course, but were you not also *compelled* to join, out of a sense that in doing so, you were joining the denomination that, in your understanding, teaches most clearly what Scriptures teaches?

    Non-Catholic Christians “convert” to Catholicism, again, because they already *have been* converted by Christ. I don’t want to presume to speak for Jason, but every serious Protestant I have ever known who has become Catholic has done so out of a conviction, after much serious, Christ-centered study and prayer, that the Church was founded by *Christ* and is guided and protected in her official teaching by the *Holy Spirit*. In that light, non-Catholic Christians become Catholic, ultimately, *because they love Christ*– period.

    That is certainly why I returned to the Catholic Church. I loved Christ as a Protestant. I loved Him so much that I finally chose to follow Him *out* of Protestantism, making very painful sacrifices along the way, losing almost an entire community of Protestant friends (of various ecclesial affiliations), losing a career, and losing, perhaps, the financial stability that might ever allow me to be married (I pray not, but that may be the case)– but not losing *Christ*, because He was/is the One whom I loved and cherished more than any of the things that I lost. That’s the reason I returned to the Catholic Church– because I already had been “converted by Christ,” and against all of my expectations, I was brought to the conclusion that in order to be truly faithful to Christ, I had to return to the Church.

  198. G’day David,

    My mum’s a Kiwi but lived in Sydney for many years (in Harbord, near “Freshie” and just north of Manly).

    You cite Calvin: “Christ was given to us by God’s generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith. By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ’s blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ’s spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life,” and then write:

    Perhaps Catholics find this a beautiful statement as well.

    I write not to be contentious for in truth I love my sincere Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. We fight together in the culture wars and whilst theologically there are significant points in contention what we share in common is far greater than what we disagree on.

    I do indeed, very much. One of the things I have found most interesting about becoming a Catholic is that the Church understands herself not as the opposite of everyone else, but rather, as the place where all good things can be found in their fullness and proper relation to one another. The Church is “the trysting place of all the truths in the world,” and this often means that a Catholic can appreciate the Protestant tradition much more freely and easily than a Protestant can the Catholic one (although it’s nice to see that, in your case, there seems to be a real desire to appreciate what we share rather than merely argue over where we differ!).

  199. Joey Henry –

    No, this article isn’t about the Eucharist, but there is a really good article by Tim Troutman you may have seen here at CtC that goes through the Early Fathers on the Eucharist. Perhaps it addresses some of your thoughts on the subject. You can find it here.

  200. Ok Joey; I will try to accept your comment at face value that you are not trying to be offensive but I find it disturbing that you use the term Romanism in your comments. Perhaps you are not aware but, “Romanism” is a pejorative term and one that most of us Catholics find very offensive. So in your future posts, I would strongly consider avoiding that term to not unwittingly be offensive. Ok? Is that fair to ask you refrain from the use of that term in the future knowing it is offensive to us and does nothing to help us to have fruitful discussion?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanism

    Regarding the Eucharist being the body and blood of Christ, please note that I didn’t use the term transubstantiation anywhere in my post. I purposely avoided the term to avoid the argument that transubstantiation didn’t exist in the early Church. The early Christians believed that when they worshiped at Mass, when the presbyter (priest) prayed over the bread and wine, Christ became present, not just in a symbolic and mystical way. Call it what you will. There was perhaps a few others in the history of Christendom before the reformation who didn’t accept this, (Berengarius of Tours in the 11th century) and they were denounced and corrected by the Church. The Church has never held that the bread and wine were symbols of the body and blood of Christ. Even Protestant theologians and Church historians acknowledge that the Eucharist was indeed real food and real drink, the real body and blood of Christ. As you can see above, Martin Luther fought vehemently against Zwingli and others who didn’t accept that Christ’s body and blood became present on the altar in Mass.

    Protestant historian Philip Schaff :

    “The Catholic church, both Greek and Latin, sees in the Eucharist not only a sacramentum, in which God communicates a grace to believers, but at the same time, and in fact mainly, a sacrificium, in which believers really offer to God that which is represented by the sensible elements. For this view also the church fathers laid the foundation, and it must be conceded they stand in general far more on the Greek and Roman Catholic than on the Protestant side of this question.

    (History of the Christian Church, volume 3, § 96. “The Sacrifice of the Eucharist”)

    “In summarizing the early Fathers’ teachings on Christ’s Real Presence, renowned Protestant historian of the early Church J. N. D. Kelly, writes: “Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood” (Early Christian Doctrines, 440).

    From the Church’s early days, the Fathers referred to Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Kelly writes: “Ignatius roundly declares that . . . [t]he bread is the flesh of Jesus, the cup his blood. Clearly he intends this realism to be taken strictly, for he makes it the basis of his argument against the Docetists’ denial of the reality of Christ’s body. . . . Irenaeus teaches that the bread and wine are really the Lord’s body and blood. His witness is, indeed, all the more impressive because he produces it quite incidentally while refuting the Gnostic and Docetic rejection of the Lord’s real humanity” (ibid., 197–98). ”

    This belief in the real presence (the actual body, blood, soul and divinity) of Christ in the Eucharist has been a stumbling block for many since the events of John 6. Christ knew this would be and many left him (Jn 6:66) that day. But I will throw my lot with the disciples who didn’t leave the Lord that day. “To whom should we go Lord, for you have the words of eternal life.”

  201. […] Read his resignation letter here. And his conversion story here. […]

  202. Chris (196), Now you’re stringing me out on THREE threads! Argh! Spinning the plates (but hopefully not the truth!) as quickly as I can!

    In short, you’re saying that “converting to” means joining the RCC or whatever. OK.

    NB ~ I did not convert to Presbyterianism or Anglicanism when I was under care in the former and later confirmed in the latter. But it seems it’s a semantic argument. (BTW: I did not join the Anglicans b/c I thought them more faithful exegetes than the Presbies.)

    It’s not a case of *either* being “converted to Christ” *or* converting to Catholicism. (You appear to believe that that is the case…) Jawohl! Spot on, man!

    Yours,
    Hugh

  203. Burton:

    Thank you for your admonition, and I can see that “suspect” was a poor choice of words, but this is mere semantics, is it not? But no more on that point – I will simply agree with you on that. But on the prosecution of Leithart, whether the prosecutor was obsessed with tradition or not, it was that demoninational polity and leadership that carried forth the trial. Ditto with RC Jr., though not tried by PCA, was subsequently denied membership in the PCA for disagreement over secondary issues. This not being the venue for an extended debate, and for myself not having the time for it anyway, I will leave the topic of denominationalism with a plea that you might see the hindrances to genuine fellowship and liberty in Christ inherent in the denominational system. And besides, you missed the opening I gave you when I mentioned the AW Pink situation, which did not even involve denominationalism at all !!! :)

    And you are right inasmuch as I would accept the label “non” or even “un” denominational, but “independent congregational” would be closer since I now embrace covenant infant baptism. Labels aside, we should be able to easily see the harm inflicted on the children of God throughout church history by denominational authorities. A parallel can be drawn to politics, where the same kind of abuse is dealt out by party bosses on individuals that don’t conform, and where people are polarized by the false dichotomy of “you’re either with us or against us”, or are given “the lesser of two evils”. Think about it. May God bless you, and pray for me. Thank you.

  204. David 193 & Jason 197:

    Huh? Give peace a chance? All you need is love?
    Calvin’s beautiful quote?
    David: A kinder, gentler Prot?
    & Jason: The large-hearted newbie Catholic?

    DP quotes Calvin: “Christ was given to us by God’s generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith. By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ’s blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ’s spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life”…

    It IS a good quote and it is Pauline, but antithetical to Rome’s theology: being reconciled to God through Christ’s blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father… Rome says, “Well, yeah, unless you mortally miff it at the last. And even for his ‘beloved children,’ there is serious Purgatory time awaiting each and every one of us.”

    DP continues: “whilst theologically there are significant points in contention what we share in common is far greater than what we disagree on.” Huh? Did you miss the Reformation, David? Luther’d be spinning in his grave; to say nothing of beautiful John Calvin and every Puritan. Come on, David. Are you merely being coy?

    JS saith: the Church understands herself not as the opposite of everyone else, but rather, as the place where all good things can be found in their fullness and proper relation to one another. The Church is “the trysting place of all the truths in the world,” and this often means that a Catholic can appreciate the Protestant tradition much more freely and easily than a Protestant can the Catholic one (although it’s nice to see that, in your case, there seems to be a real desire to appreciate what we share rather than merely argue over where we differ!).

    Platitudinous, Jason, and quote poetic, but both sides have historically seen our differences as fundamentally, radically opposed to each other. Justification by faith alone is good, godly, and biblical or it isn’t. Sola Scriptura is right or it is wrong, the truth or a lie.

    One way leads to life, the other to death. They can’t both be right “in their own way.” As Mark Knopfler sang, “Two men say they’re Jesus. One of them must be wrong.” Even the worldly poet understood the law of non-contradiction.

    Our two views on authority, the canon, justification, sanctification, etc. are not minor, nor should they be subsumed & put aside (David) under banners of cultural reclamation or even abortion’s eradication.

    Jason has left one system of theology that is diametrically opposed to his new church home. To diminish the eternally crucial differences of Rome & Geneva is to blow smoke, gentlemen, it is to belittle the theologians (“Fathers”) of both traditions who battled for their understandings of what is truth.

  205. Joey:
    You said that transubstantiation was not introduced until the 9th century by Ratramnus. Every knowledgeable Catholic knows that the term transubstantiation was not used by the earlier fathers. The synod fathers of Trent knew this fact better than most modern Catholics.

    The question is whether the early fathers taught a miraculous change in the bread and wine. The evidence from the church fathers, both East and West, is that they believed in 1) an essential equivalence of the sacramental species and the body of Christ and 2) this equivalence became about through a transformation because of the presence of the Spirit (epiclesis) and the words of Christ spoken by the priest (this is my body). If you would like references to these statements in the church fathers, I’d be glad to supply them. Transubstantiation is a genuine development of the teachings of the early church. And as the fathers of Trent said, it is an appropriate term to describe this miraculous change.

    One reason, among many, that I became a Catholic was that most Protestant versions of doctrinal history are flawed, some seriously flawed. If a Christian believes in and embraces doctrinal continuity, there can be no doubt that transubstantiation was a natural development of the ancient catholic teachings.

  206. Jason, you said @192:

    So you admit that Jesus “didn’t address” the article on which the church stands or falls? And if you could show me where I indicated that Paul’s words are less-inspired than Jesus’, that would help me understand your point better.

    Many things Jesus didn’t address. God need only say it once. It’s up to us to compare Scripture with Scripture to understand things of first importance, sometimes doctrines that Jesus did not elaborate upon. I’m accusing you of demeaning Paul when you say: “filtered through him,” and comparing what Paul said with Christ’s words, insinuating that the former carries more weight, canonically: “wouldn’t we expect it to have been taught by Jesus himself, somewhere?”

    I wrote, “… the promise of the gospel is equivalent with the promise of the New Covenant that God’s law will no longer be external to the believer, but will be written upon his mind and heart, such that its righteous demands are fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. And again unsurprisingly, when I turned to the early Church fathers, and especially Augustine, it was this very understanding of the gospel that I encountered over and over again.”

    You responded: These things are true. They are results of the work of the Holy Spirit in concert with or via his gospel, but this doesn’t differ from the Reformers and Protestantism until you confuse our living out (working out) the gospel with the gospel, as your new church does.

    What I find confusing is where Paul says we are to work out our own salvation, for it is God who works in us. Shoot, I just can’t figure out where his work ends and mine begins.

    Please keep re-reading Paul. Simply put: We do things for which God gets all the credit. God’s work never “ends,” as you put it.

    Eph. 2:10 ~ For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

    God doesn’t just ordain them, he carries them out through us: Phil. 1:6 ~ Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.

    And 2:12f ~ Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

    And, 1 Cor. 15:10 ~ But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

    Paul never boasts in or about his flesh (except sarcastically in 2 Cor., refuting the idiot super-apostles), instead he boasts ONLY in the Lord & his cross: Gal. 6:14 ~ But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

    And, 1 Cor. 1:31 ~ according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.

    …If Paul was a monergist he must have stayed up for nights on end worrying that he was constantly stealing God’s credit for everything by ascribing effort to himself!

    Probably not, because he was careful to constantly be giving God’s credit for everything by ascribing all ultimate effort to God alone. (There’s that word again!) The reason you don’t get it, Jason, is 1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:4; John 3:3, 5.

  207. S/b: “The Apostle Paul was careful to constantly be giving God credit for everything by ascribing all ultimate effort to God alone.”

    FWIW, Jason: I too went to WSC (then WSCAL), taking the MA in biblcal studies in 1999.
    So I had the “old guard” of Frame, Futato, Kline, and Strimple. As well Sts Johnson, Baugh, and Duguid.

    I too was first discipled in a Calvary Chapel (North Park Christian Fellowship, San Diego) and later came thru Bible study -no thanks to Chuck Smith- to the doctrines of grace.

    I was under care in the PCA with the South Coast Presbytery for a season before later going Anglican (for pragamtic reasons). I even taught at the APCK seminary a year (NT). That’s as high church as I will go!

    I hold firmly to the beliefs (las cinco solas de la Reforma, “Calvinism,” etc.) renounced by you all here @ CTC. I hope we can keep debating.

    And I was 16 when the Clash released their fantastic first album.

  208. I’ve had a little closer look at what Jason has written and wish to engage on several points in a good natured way without any adverse or mean spirited reflection on his decision to join the Catholic Church.

    By Saddleback I presume Jason means some run of the mill evangelical church (OK I know it has a big name Pastor, though his name escapes me). I don’t agree being Reformed equates simply to being evangelical. “Evangelical” is too wide a term, a bit of a bastard term really, these days.

    Being Reformed means at the very least commitment in my case to a confessional (Scots) heritage stretching back to 1560, that unapologetically draws deeply from the Reformational well of Calvinism that profoundly impacts all aspects of public and private life; a certain way of worship with “awe and reverence”; a certain framework for Church government based around eldership, the diaconate and church courts; covenant baptism of children and an understanding of the Lord’s Supper that goes beyond the mere remembrance of Calvary.

    Note however that Reformed understanding is not something that magically appeared in 1560, ex nihilo so to speak. Luther, Calvin and other Reformers were in constant, discriminating interaction with the Church Fathers. It was the anti Pelagian writing of St Augustine that opened Calvin’s eyes to understand that, given the corruption of the human will through original sin, the irresistible grace of God is essential for man’s redemption. ‘What hast thou which thou hast not received?’ says Augustine. Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion is a mature reflection of the doctrine taught in Holy Scripture that takes account, discriminating account, of the teaching of the Church Fathers.

    The British theologian, FF Bruce wrote in his early Church history text, The Spreading Flame, “It has often been remarked that the Biblical doctrine of divine grace, God’s unmerited favour shown to sinful humanity, so clearly (as we might think) expounded in the teaching of Christ and the writings of Paul, seems almost to go underground in the post-apostolic age, to reappear only with Augustine. Certainly the majority of Christian writers who flourished between the apostles and Augustine do not seem to have grasped what Paul was really getting at in his contention that God’s forgiveness and salvation are bestowed entirely as a free gift, by His unconditioned grace, to be received in the spirit in which they are given; and that Christian behaviour is rooted in a lifelong response of thanksgiving for the divine gift.”

    I note Jason’s contention that the Reformed hold to the idea “that the written Word of God is formally sufficient for all things related to faith and practice, such that anyone of normal intelligence and reasonably good intentions could read it and deduce from it what is necessary for orthodoxy and orthopraxy”. What this fails to take into account (and it is, more or less, a free rendition of Chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith) is that the WCF goes on to spell out in detail Biblical doctrine on all manner of topics, taking full account of systematic and historical theology, developed over 1500 years, of course separating the chaff from the wheat. We Reformed are fully signed up to the decisions of Nicea 325, Chalcedon 451, recite the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds.

    So it is simply wrong to say that the Reformed are unable to make the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy. BTW, the Church Fathers were never all of the same mind nor of a consistently Biblically anchored mind. Reading St Ignatius’ letters to the Ephesians, was The most depressing experience from my time at Theological College.

    There are a couple of other things in Jason’s article I find very strange.

    For instance, what does he mean that in becoming Catholic (having first left the Reformed faith) he gave up “his own autonomy”? Since when have the Reformed thought they had autonomy? No!, says Jesus, if we would follow him we must “deny ourselves take up our cross and follow him” – doesn’t sound like autonomy to me. Peter says something very similar in 1 Peter 2 v20f. 1 Cor 6:20 applies to all Jesus’ followers regardless of whether Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Orthodox.

    Also, I think a lot of what Jason has to say about the Gospel and the Spirit can be found in Calvin simply because in these matters, like Jason, Calvin mined Augustine.

    Apologies for such a long post. I did appreciate Jason sharing his reasons for joining Catholicism, he argues well. My suspicion is that he did not spend sufficient time with the Calvin.

  209. David, you said that you suspect that Jason didn’t spend sufficient time with (the) Calvin.
    Is there a certain amount of time you feel is necessary to master/understand/imbibe/ the doctrines of grace? From what I have already read of Jason Stellman’s writings here, and on his personal blog, I am impressed that he is a fairly quick study, and a pretty smart person and I seriously doubt that more time with Calvin would have prevented this defection from the reformed communion. He did have a master’s from a conservative reformed seminary , and apparently knew enough of Calvin to go up against Dr. Leithart.
    My concern is that if the best and the brightest of the reformed faith who converted to Catholicism didn’t fully understand it or study it enough, who then can really come to a full understanding and appreciation for the Doctrines of Grace? Would a person on the lower end of the guassian curve of the IQ scale be able to fully embrace the tenets of reformed theology?

  210. Hi Russ,

    Yes, it is possible to attend “a conservative reformed seminary” and not be well acquainted with Calvin. I have spent far more time with Calvin post Seminary than I ever did at seminary. I have mentioned Calvin since he belonged to the first generation of reformers who had to wrestle with why and upon what grounds they were breaking with Rome. Calvin showed considerable, discerning respect for the Church Fathers. If you check with the index McNeil Battles 2 vol translation and annotation of Calvin’s Institutes you will see what I mean.

    Yes, persons of a wide range of IQ can embrace the doctrines of grace, and not only embrace them but delight in them(!), and of course with varying degrees of insightfulness, ability to give voice and so on, much the same I imagine as Catholics with the doctrine of the mass or how it is that Jesus Christ can possess two natures in the one person.

  211. Hugh,

    Platitudinous, Jason, and quote poetic, but both sides have historically seen our differences as fundamentally, radically opposed to each other. Justification by faith alone is good, godly, and biblical or it isn’t. Sola Scriptura is right or it is wrong, the truth or a lie.

    One thing I have found since I’ve been looking through these new lenses is that the fullness of the Catholic faith (by which I mean its containing all truths in their full and proper relation) has an impact on most supposed dilemmas and either/ors. Chesterton said that a heresy is simply a truth plucked from its native soil and replanted somewhere else, usually in isolation. When this happens that truth may grow bigger than it should and actually eclipse other equally true ideas.

    I bring this up to say that your insistence that I oppose everything in Protestantism is a very Protestant thing to demand, since Protestantism is by its very nature negative and threatened. But the Catholic Church just isn’t necessarily like that. She is our Mother, not just another greedy sibling. So you’ll have to forgive me for not looking for something to fight about all the time. I’ve been fighting battles for many years, and lost most of them.

    So, sola fide is a perversion of something very true, as is sola scriptura. There’s a baby in that bathwater.

  212. Thank you for this, Jason: So, sola fide is a perversion of something very true, as is sola scriptura.

    *Sigh of relief here* That’s more like it!

  213. David,

    I don’t agree being Reformed equates simply to being evangelical. “Evangelical” is too wide a term, a bit of a bastard term really, these days.

    Being Reformed means at the very least commitment in my case to a confessional (Scots) heritage stretching back to 1560, that unapologetically draws deeply from the Reformational well of Calvinism….

    I am very aware of how the Reformed understand their distinctiveness from evangelicalism. When I collapse them it’s because I don’t think the distinctiveness the Reformed insist upon is anything more than an illusion. You can read Bryan’s and Neal’s article here on Solo vs. Sola if you’re interested in that topic.

    Note however that Reformed understanding is not something that magically appeared in 1560, ex nihilo so to speak. Luther, Calvin and other Reformers were in constant, discriminating interaction with the Church Fathers. It was the anti Pelagian writing of St Augustine that opened Calvin’s eyes to understand that, given the corruption of the human will through original sin, the irresistible grace of God is essential for man’s redemption. ‘What hast thou which thou hast not received?’ says Augustine. Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion is a mature reflection of the doctrine taught in Holy Scripture that takes account, discriminating account, of the teaching of the Church Fathers.

    Anyone can quote the fathers and say they were right when they agree with us and wrong when they don’t. But despite Calvin’s appreciation for certain things the fathers taught, he disagreed with them on just about every important point (the necessity of apostolic succession, the importance of the bishop of Rome, the nature of a council’s authority, justification by infusion of agape, etc.).

    The British theologian, FF Bruce wrote in his early Church history text, The Spreading Flame, “It has often been remarked that the Biblical doctrine of divine grace, God’s unmerited favour shown to sinful humanity, so clearly (as we might think) expounded in the teaching of Christ and the writings of Paul, seems almost to go underground in the post-apostolic age, to reappear only with Augustine. Certainly the majority of Christian writers who flourished between the apostles and Augustine do not seem to have grasped what Paul was really getting at in his contention that God’s forgiveness and salvation are bestowed entirely as a free gift, by His unconditioned grace, to be received in the spirit in which they are given; and that Christian behaviour is rooted in a lifelong response of thanksgiving for the divine gift.”

    Even if the implausible scenario were true that said that the entire church forgot what Jesus and Paul taught until Augustine came along, it wouldn’t help the Calvinist’s case at all, since Calvin disagreed with Augustine on all the areas where the Catholic Church agreed with him. The Catholic Church today is thoroughly Augustinian, whereas Calvinists are not.

    I note Jason’s contention that the Reformed hold to the idea “that the written Word of God is formally sufficient for all things related to faith and practice, such that anyone of normal intelligence and reasonably good intentions could read it and deduce from it what is necessary for orthodoxy and orthopraxy”. What this fails to take into account (and it is, more or less, a free rendition of Chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith) is that the WCF goes on to spell out in detail Biblical doctrine on all manner of topics, taking full account of systematic and historical theology, developed over 1500 years, of course separating the chaff from the wheat. We Reformed are fully signed up to the decisions of Nicea 325, Chalcedon 451, recite the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds.

    What I said is perfectly consistent with the need for confessions in Reformed churches.

    So it is simply wrong to say that the Reformed are unable to make the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy. BTW, the Church Fathers were never all of the same mind nor of a consistently Biblically anchored mind. Reading St Ignatius’ letters to the Ephesians, was The most depressing experience from my time at Theological College.

    The Reformed cannot make a principled distinction between heresy and orthodoxy because your final court of appeal is your own interpretation of Scripture. And when you appeal to a confession or catechism, its authority only extends as far as your agreement with it does. When a Lutheran cites Augsburg and a Presbyterian cites Westminster, the only way to adjudicate the dispute is to offer fallible opinions about which confession is more biblical.

    There are a couple of other things in Jason’s article I find very strange.

    For instance, what does he mean that in becoming Catholic (having first left the Reformed faith) he gave up “his own autonomy”? Since when have the Reformed thought they had autonomy? No!, says Jesus, if we would follow him we must “deny ourselves take up our cross and follow him” – doesn’t sound like autonomy to me. Peter says something very similar in 1 Peter 2 v20f. 1 Cor 6:20 applies to all Jesus’ followers regardless of whether Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Orthodox.

    By autonomy I was referring to my being the sole interpretive authority and determiner of what I had to believe. If the PCA asked me to embrace something I didn’t like, I could just switch to the OPC or URC.

    Also, I think a lot of what Jason has to say about the Gospel and the Spirit can be found in Calvin simply because in these matters, like Jason, Calvin mined Augustine.

    Apologies for such a long post. I did appreciate Jason sharing his reasons for joining Catholicism, he argues well. My suspicion is that he did not spend sufficient time with the Calvin.

    It’s not a matter of not having spent enough time with Calvin, it’s a matter of coming to reject his entire paradigm for soteriology and ecclesiology. These kinds of veiled insults (“You didn’t really understand Reformed theology in the first place”) are just ad hominems that avoid dealing with the real issues.

    Plus, if I didn’t understand Reformed theology, how come no one ever once accused me of that in seminary or in my pastoral ministry? Man, I sure had a lot of people fooled!

  214. Regarding this concept of not being able to fully comprehend Calvinism or not spending enough time studying it, (whenever a Calvinist comes home to Rome) here’s a few thoughts. The universality of Catholicism never ceases to amaze me compared to the faith of those who are able to fully understand and believe the Institutes of Religion. Catholicism is a faith that inspired St. Thomas Aquinas to fill countless volumes of books with his expositions and exegesis. Yet, the very same faith that a town fool with intellectual disabilities could completely imbibe and gain salvation for his soul.
    A recent comboxer on my blog said: “Your other notes of refutation on what Calvinists hold are typical misunderstandings of the position confessed.” I hear this same argument over and over from my reformed friends when I attempt to refute the tenets of Calvinism.
    My conclusion is this: If a faith system is so complex that relatively intelligent folks can’t understand it, perhaps it is not a good faith system, (or one that is exclusively for a small group of intellectual elites.) The way of salvation that Christ brought to the world was fairly simple. It had to be if Christ was willing “that no man should perish but all come to repentance.” Sacramental and simple. “Unless you eat my body and drink my blood, you have no life in you.” Many walked away from Him that day, but for 2000 years He offers Himself to us in under the appearance of simple wheat bread and wine. All it takes is a heart of faith. Not a lot of intellect is involved. Not too hard to understand.

    Down in adoration falling,
    Lo! the sacred Host we hail,
    Lo! o’er ancient forms departing
    Newer rites of grace prevail;
    Faith for all defects supplying,
    Where the feeble senses fail.
    Thomas Aquinas

  215. Music to this tired Prot’s ears: despite Calvin’s appreciation for certain things the fathers taught, he disagreed with them on just about every important point (the necessity of apostolic succession, the importance of the bishop of Rome, the nature of a council’s authority, justification by infusion of agape, etc.). . .

    Calvin disagreed with Augustine on all the areas where the Catholic Church agreed with him. The Catholic Church today is thoroughly Augustinian, whereas Calvinists are not.

    Thank you, Jason! {Turretinfan, are you reading these?!}

    It’s not a matter of not having spent enough time with Calvin, it’s a matter of coming to reject his entire paradigm for soteriology and ecclesiology.

    Amen! If only Protestants could see that Calvin was a failure as a Catholic!

  216. David, Jason, et. al.

    I rarely enter these conversations but the quote from FF Bruce struck me with new vigor for two reasons.

    The British theologian, FF Bruce wrote in his early Church history text, The Spreading Flame, “It has often been remarked that the Biblical doctrine of divine grace, God’s unmerited favour shown to sinful humanity, so clearly (as we might think) expounded in the teaching of Christ and the writings of Paul, seems almost to go underground in the post-apostolic age, to reappear only with Augustine. Certainly the majority of Christian writers who flourished between the apostles and Augustine do not seem to have grasped what Paul was really getting at in his contention that God’s forgiveness and salvation are bestowed entirely as a free gift, by His unconditioned grace, to be received in the spirit in which they are given; and that Christian behaviour is rooted in a lifelong response of thanksgiving for the divine gift.”

    1) This is a perfect expression of the hermeneutical differences between a Reformed (yes, I was one) and a Catholic reading of the Church Fathers. And these differences go back to Calvin himself. The Reformed, having arrived at what they are certain is the proper interpretation of Paul’s doctrine of grace, read the early Fathers’ language as a clear departure from pristine Pauline doctrine. Catholic interpreters, believing in the continuity of doctrine through time, read the Fathers’ language as a reflection and development of the biblical doctrine, including Paul’s.

    2) Let me share with you Clement of Rome’s (ca AD 96) insistence on grace in chapter 32:3,4 of his Letter to the Corinthians:

    All have been glorified and magnified, not through themselves, or their works, or their righteous practices that they accomplished, but through his will. (4) So we too, called through his will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves, or our wisdom, understanding, piety, or even works performed in holiness of heart, but through faith. Through this, the Almighty God has justified them all from eternity. To him be glory forever. Amen.

    Clement’s denial of justification by works is even stronger and wider than Paul’s. Is this what FF Bruce meant by the doctrines of grace going underground? To be honest, this quotation is not the full story but I have just finished a new translation and commentary on Clement and the Didache in which I devote a short chapter to comparing Paul, James, and Clement on Faith, Works, and Salvation.

    Paul was not misunderstood by the early Fathers.

  217. I’m a new to this website.

    My name is Erick Ybarra. I am eager to become Catholic. I was raised Catholic and then when I was an adult I became protestant evangelical. I am particularly seeking to look into the protestant teaching of justification versus the Catholics.

    Currently one of my road blocks to Catholicism is NOT sola scripture (i didn’t even believe this when I was protestant), the imputation of Christ’s righteousness ( i recognize this is not in the texts of justification), the eucharist (I recognize a real presence in the Eucharist as the Catholics define it), but particularly the doctrine of justification in the early church fathers.

    It is my understanding that Dave Anders in an inverview video with Catholic Answers and ETWN made the statement that no one ever taught the protestant doctrine of imputation. Well, I would like to argue this. For instance, St. John Chrysostom clearly taught the protestant doctrine. If you read his homilies on Romans, Galatians, and 2 Corinthians, it is very clear that justification is the cancellation of our guilt and the gift of being made righteous in a forensic sense.

    Out of the many statements, consider the one here from his homily on 2 Corinthians.

    2 Corinthians 5:21

    For Him who knew no sin He made to be sin on our account.

    ‘I say nothing of what has gone before, that you have outraged Him, Him that had done you no wrong, Him that had done you good, that He exacted not justice, that He is first to beseech, though first outraged; let none of these things be set down at present. Ought ye not in justice to be reconciled for this one thing only that He has done to you now?’ And what has He done? Him that knew no sin He made to be sin, for you. For had He achieved nothing but done only this, think how great a thing it were to give His Son for those that had outraged Him. But now He has both well achieved mighty things, and besides, has suffered Him that did no wrong to be punished for those who had done wrong. But he did not say this: but mentioned that which is far greater than this. What then is this? Him that knew no sin, he says, Him that was righteousness itself , He made sin, that is suffered as a sinner to be condemned, as one cursed to die. For cursed is he that hangs on a tree. Galatians 3:13 For to die thus was far greater than to die; and this he also elsewhere implying, says, Becoming obedient unto death, yea the death of the cross. Philippians 2:8 For this thing carried with it not only punishment, but also disgrace. Reflect therefore how great things He bestowed on you. For a great thing indeed it were for even a sinner to die for any one whatever; but when He who undergoes this both is righteous and dies for sinners; and not dies only, but even as one cursed; and not as cursed [dies] only, but thereby freely bestows upon us those great goods which we never looked for; (for he says, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him what words, what thought shall be adequate to realize these things? ‘For the righteous,’ says he, ‘He made a sinner; that He might make the sinners righteous.’ Yea rather, he said not even so, but what was greater far; for the word he employed is not the habit, but the quality itself. For he said not made [Him] a sinner, but sin; not, ‘Him that had not sinned’ only, but that had not even known sin; that we also might become, he did not say ‘righteous,’ but, righteousness, and, the righteousness of God. For this is [the righteousness] of God when we are justified not by works, (in which case it were necessary that not a spot even should be found,) but by grace, in which case all sin is done away. And this at the same time that it suffers us not to be lifted up, (seeing the whole is the free gift of God,) teaches us also the greatness of that which is given. For that which was before was a righteousness of the Law and of works, but this is the righteousness of God.

  218. I would love to continue this interchange, but have an intense week coming up with the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria meeting of which I am to be the Moderator.

    Warm Greetings to all, in Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”!

    David Palmer, both sinner and saint, to borrow Luther’s phrase

  219. Erick Ybarra .
    Hi , may i suggest that you read the council of Trent on justification , and also please check the new advent encyclopedia also on justification , because i humbly believe that you don`t know the difference between imputed and infused justification .
    Do you think that we Catholics do not believe that we are saved by grace? Because if i understood correctly what you were maybe trying to show us by quoting saint John Chrysostom was exactly that?
    The imputed righteousness of Luther and Calvin is that the mercy of God, who for the sake of the Redeemer’s merits lovingly offers to despairing man a righteousness (justitia) already complete in itself, namely the exterior righteousness of God or of Christ. With the “arm of faith” the sinner eagerly reaches out for this righteousness and puts it on as a cloak of grace, covering and concealing therewith his misery and his sins. Thus on the part of God, justification is, as the Formulary of Concord (1577) avows, a mere external pronouncement of justification, a forensic absolution from sin and its eternal punishments. This absolution is based on Christ’s holiness which God imputes to man’s faith. Cf. Solid. Declar. III de fide justif., sec. xi: “The term justification in this instance means the declaring just, the freeing from sin and the eternal punishment of sin in consideration of the justice of Christ imputed to faith by God.”

    What then is the part assigned to faith in justification? According to Luther (and Calvin also), the faith that justifies is not, as the Catholic Church teaches, a firm belief in God’s revealed truths and promises (fides theoretica, dogmatica), but is the infallible conviction (fides fiducialis, fiducia) that God for the sake of Christ will no longer impute to us our sins, but will consider and treat us, as if we were really just and holy, although in our inner selves we remain the same sinners as before. Cf. Solid. Declar. III, sec. 15: “Through the obedience of Christ by faith the just are so declared and reputed, although by reason of their corrupt nature they still are and remain, sinners as long as they bear this mortal body.” This so-called “fiduciary faith” is not a religious-moral preparation of the soul for sanctifying grace, nor a free act of cooperation on the part of the sinner; it is merely a means or spiritual instrument (instrumentum, organon leptikon) granted by God to assist the sinner in laying hold of the righteousness of God, thereby to cover his sins in a purely external manner as with a mantle. For this reason the Lutheran formularies of belief lay great stress on the doctrine that our entire righteousness does not intrinsically belong to us, but is something altogether exterior. Cf. Solid. Declar., sec. 48: “It is settled beyond question that our justice is to be sought wholly outside of ourselves and that it consists entirely in our Lord Jesus Christ.” The contrast between Protestant and Catholic doctrine here becomes very striking. For according to the teaching of the Catholic Church the righteousness and sanctity which justification confers, although given to us by God as efficient cause (causa efficiens) and merited by Christ as meritorious cause (causa meritoria), become an interior sanctifying quality or formal cause (causa formalis) in the soul itself, which it makes truly just and holy in the sight of God. In the Protestant system, however, remission of sin is no real forgiveness, no blotting out of guilt. Sin is merely cloaked and concealed by the imputed merits of Christ; God no longer imputes it, whilst in reality it continues under cover its miserable existence till the hour of death.
    As i said above , please check the council of Trent and also the new advent Encyclopedia . GBU

  220. Hi Erick,

    Thanks for writing. A few comments:

    1st – I think it is important to place Chrysostom’s comments in the context of the wider Greek tradition. With that in mind, have you read the article “Tradition I and Sola Fide” on this site? I would also recommend you look at J.N.D. Kelly’s book EARLY CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE. Kelly (who is a Chrysostom expert) clearly places him in line with the wider Greek tradition on soteriology.

    2nd – I’ve noticed a tendency in some Protestants (indeed, I once had the tendency) to treat any paraphrase or quotation from St. Paul as evidence of the Lutheran or Calvinist doctrine of justification. (I’m not saying you do this.) So that merely pointing out that some Father said, “We are justified by faith and not by works” is meant to imply some kind of proto-Protestantism. But, as I know you are aware, much more than this is necessary to establish the point at issue – namely, how did the Father in question understand the nature of justification, and what did it mean in the wider context of his soteriology? I am not alone in holding that, as to the nature of justification, Luther was utterly novel. I would direct you to the work by Protestant historian Allister McGrath Iustitia Dei.

    3rd – There is a pervasive tendency in many of the Fathers (Chrysostom included), and, indeed in Catholicism more broadly (especially in Thomas) to treat faith as superior to works not because faith acquires for us the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, but because infused faith working through love puts us immediately into contact with the supernatural and spiritual reality of God himself. I see this in Chrysostom’s Romans commentary, his Hebrews commentary, and elsewhere. This infusion of faith and agape not only brings forgiveness of sins, but their actual removal. I find this doctrine in the passage you cite above, but even more clearly in other passages of Chrysostom.

    Elseshere, Chrysostom makes it plain that he considers God’s saving action to consist in the actual removal of sin, and not just in its forgiveness. Consider his sermon to Catechumens on the effects of baptism:

    “And for what reason, says one, if the laver take away all our sins, is it called, not a laver of remission of sins, nor a laver of cleansing, but a laver of regeneration? Because it does not simply take away our sins, nor simply cleanse us from our faults, but so as if we were born again. For it creates and fashions us anew not forming us again out of earth, but creating us out of another element, namely, of the nature of water. For it does not simply wipe the vessel clean, but entirely remoulds it again. For that which is wiped clean, even if it be cleaned with care, has traces of its former condition, and bears the remains of its defilement, but that which falls into the new mould, and is renewed by means of the flames, laying aside all uncleanness, comes forth from the furnace, and sends forth the same brilliancy with things newly formed. As therefore any one who takes and recasts a golden statue which has been tarnished by time, smoke, dust, rust, restores it to us thoroughly cleansed and glistening: so too this nature of ours, rusted with the rust of sin, and having gathered much smoke from our faults, and having lost its beauty, which He had from the beginning bestowed upon it from himself, God has taken and cast anew, and throwing it into the waters as into a mould, and instead of fire sending forth the grace of the Spirit, then brings us forth with much brightness, renewed, and made afresh, to rival the beams of the sun, having crushed the old man, and having fashioned a new man, more brilliant than the former.”

    In the same sermon, furthermore, he says:

    “It is possible therefore for God not only to restore those who are made of clay, through the laver of regeneration, but to bring back again to their original state, on their careful repentance, those who have received the power of the Spirit, and have lapsed. But this is not the time for you to hear words about repentance, rather may the time never come for you to fall into the need of these remedies, but may you always remain in preservation of the beauty and the brightness which you are now about to receive, unsullied.”

    It is clear that Chrysostom sees the righteousness of the believer as something that can be lost, and for which penitential discipline is necessary to regain. I would counsel you to read his Sermon on 2 Cor. 5 all the way to the end, by the way, as this doctrine is present.

    With this context in mind, I just don’t see imputation at issue in the passage you cite from Chrysostom. Everything there is perfectly consistent with a Catholic reading of justification and salvation.

    What I would want to see in order to “make Chrysostom into a Protestant,” would be a clear statement of the simul iustus et peccator, the idea that we receive an alien righteousness merited by Christ, and that sin subsequent to faith does not jeopardize that state. I see none of those things in Chrysostom.

    Thanks again,

    David

  221. Thank you for the reply.

    I am not sure I would hesitate to read Chrysostom in any other way than how he best tries to get at the argument of Paul in Romans.

    He openly confesses that Romans 1-3 is Paul trying to demonstrate the moral failure on all sides of humanity to live in the righteousness that God requires from mankind. All have sinned and there is no one righteous. Because no one is righteous all stand condemned before God and thus worthy of the wrath of God (Romans 1:18,5:9).

    The law demands that fallen adamic creatures fulfill the righteous requirements it imposes in oder to be justified. However because of the weakness of the flesh, no man can be justified by the works of the law, particularly the ceremonious laws but of course no other moral law for he has already shown the moral failure of humanity to live up to Gods standard. The way of works is barred off, not because of cultural differences, but because all mankind are unified in their guilt and worthiness of condemnation.

    Thus what Paul is dealing with, and which Chrysostom also says, is the legal forensic consequences of sin. He us here making it clear the punitive punishment that sinners deserve he is not about to go into what cleans the inside of the sinner in Romans 3:21-4:25 but rather his is it that we escape the wrath of God?

    Thus we should not be surprised that Paul is not teaching how sinners are internallly renovated in Romans 3-5, but simply how it is that we can be freed from condemnation and the sentence of eternal hell. Therefore justification is that liberation from guilt and condemnation and the legal consequences for sin.

    Chrysostom clearly shows in his comment on Romans 5:18 that we ainherit the liability to death not for our own sin but because of Adams one sin. Not inherently within us, but done outsideof us.thus being made righteous is the same gift of being justified or seen as righteous because of what someone did outside of us.

    Now salvation is anninternal renovation indeed!but the language of justification is not used in terms of internal transformation but of the consequences of sin or righteousness.

    And Chrysostom taught that Abraham was justified by faith alone Becquerel he recognized that Abraham was adorned with good works at the time he was justified but was not justified by that but hy faith. If anything Chrysostom knows well the Hebrew understanding if faith since he goes into detail on Abraham’s faith

  222. Erick,
    Chrysostom on faith may be better suited to the “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide?” thread.
    (Or, better, “Did the Fathers Teach Sola Fide?”)
    BTW: Where does St Chrys say, “sola”?

  223. erick ybarra (221)–

    I am wondering if you understand the concept of justification from the Roman Catholic viewpoint. Chrysostom agrees with this view. The Catechism states:

    1987 The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us ‘the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ’ and through Baptism.’

    This states the twofold aspect of cleansing from sin and a communication of righteousness—note this is not a declaration of righteousness by imputation, but as the Catechism further states in 1992 :

    …It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy….

    When Chrysostom comments on Romans he is not referring to an imputation of righteousness but a making righteous:

    so doth God also love him, though deserving to suffer for countless sins, not in freeing him from punishment only, but even by making him righteous. [from Chryostom’s comments on Romans 4:3]

    Ver. 5. “To him that believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly.”

    For reflect how great a thing it is to be persuaded and have full confidence that God is able on a sudden not to free a man who has lived in impiety from punishment only, but even to make him just, and to count him worthy of those immortal honors.

    Ver. 7. “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven.”

    And he seems to be bringing a testimony beside his purpose. For it does not say, Blessed are they whose faith is reckoned for righteousness. But he does so on purpose, not through inadvertency, to show the greater superiority. For if he be blessed that by grace received forgiveness, much more is he that is made just, and that exhibits faith.

    at the end of his comments on chapter 4:

    For for this cause He both died and rose again, that He might make us righteous.

    from homily X Romans 5:16

    After that he shows that it was not that sin only 403that was done away by the grace, but all the rest too, and that it was not that the sins were done away only, but that righteousness was given.

    So he is referring to a person being made righteous–a communication of righteousness.

    Kim

  224. HI Erick,

    Chrysostom is clearly, as you suggest, concerned with the question of our status and guilt before God – vis-a-vis the law. And “justification” (whatever that is), which comes by faith, is the answer to that concern.

    But I have seen nothing in Chyrysostom to indicate the he understand justification in a Lutheran or Calvinist sense. And I’ve seen quite a lot to indicate that he did not see it this way.

    All I have seen in the biblical commentaries are repreated statements that justification comes through faith and not works. But I have nowhere seen Chrysostom explain this in Luthern/imputational terms. And there are passages in which Chrysostom says that justification and/or regeneration effects the removal of all actual sin. This is not at all Lutheran/Calvinist.

    Can you point to a passage that teaches that the state of justification can co-exist with actual, mortal sin?
    Or, that the justified receive an alien righteousness? I looked again at Chrysostom’s comments on Romans 5, as you suggest, but I’m not seeing it.

    Thanks,

    David

  225. Thanks for your responding.

    With regard to the teaching of justification, as a protestant, I have always had trouble with the doctrine. I think I may have mentioned this but I was raised Roman Catholic but I never knew anyone who really served our Lord Jesus Christ, sadly, whether they were not there or I was blind to them. However, as a protestant, I noticed many vibrant testimonies of self-denial for the glory of Christ Jesus, repentance, conversion, perseverance, etc,etc. I was immediately drawn in and I realized that I was a slave to sin and I needed freedom from sin. The protestant church I attended put a huge emphasis on doing works that are in keeping with repentance (Acts 26) so the an entrance into the kingdom of God would be granted to us abundantly (2 Peter 1).

    That being said, however, I kept hearing every now and then this emphasis on the imputation of “Christ’s righteousness” and I could never really get this out of any scriptural passages. After a couple of years, I realized that that is not what Paul has in mind. Rather, for Paul, the sacrifice of Jesus and the resurrection destroy everything about our adamic history and creates a new history in the Christic humanity. And through this transition from the old to the new creation, justification consisted of the “holiness” and “blamelessness” and “remission of sin” that we get by being “In Christ” through this redemptive creative transformation. Justification still remained for me to be essentially legal, the eradication of the penal consequences for the guilt of sin. I would not include the creative effects of sanctity in our daily lives of holiness in the structure of justification.

    However, I am now eager to see what Catholic believe. Some of the road blocks are of course the issue of the early fathers. I am praying that they will lead me to the Catholic conviction.

    In Chrysostom, hear the following comment on Romans 1:17

    Ver. 17. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed.

    “But he who has become just shall live, not for the present life only, but for that which is to come. And he hints not only this, but also another thing along with this, namely, the brightness and gloriousness of such a life. For since it is possible to be saved, yet not without shame (as many are saved of those, who by the royal humanity are released from punishment), that no one may suspect this upon hearing of safety, he adds also righteousness; and righteousness, not your own, but that of God; hinting also the abundance of it and the facility. For you do not achieve it by toilings and labors, but you receive it by a gift from above, contributing one thing only from your own store, believing. Then since his statement did not seem credible, if the adulterer and effeminate person, and robber of graves, and magician, is not only to be suddenly freed from punishment but to become just, and just too with the highest righteousness; he confirms his assertion from the Old Testament.”

    Chrysostom teaches that this gift of “righteousness” is alien by saying that it comes from God. This gift of righteousness is not worked and earned, as is stated “for you do not achieve it by toilings and labors, but you receive it by a gift from above”. This “righteousness” is not a base righteousness that we improve upon, as if we receive a miniature gift and then after that we turn it into a bigger gift, for Chrysosotom says that not only are we made just (understood in the gifted sense apart from works) but that the righteousness acquired is the “highest righteousness” rather than an initial righteous quality prior to works.

    The following is a quote from Romans 4:25

    Ver. 25. Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.

    “See how after mentioning the cause of His death, he makes the same cause likewise a demonstration of the resurrection. For why, he means, was He crucified? Not for any sin of His own. And this is plain from the Resurrection. For if He were a sinner, how should He have risen? But if He rose, it is quite plain that He was not a sinner. But if He was not a sinner, how came He to be crucified?— For others—and if for others, then surely he rose again. Now to prevent your saying, How, when liable for so great sins, came we to be justified? He points out One that blots out all sins, that both from Abraham’s faith, whereby he was justified, and from the Saviour’s Passion, whereby we were freed from our sins, he might confirm what he had said. And after mentioning His Death, he speaks also of His Resurrection. For the purpose of His dying was not that He might hold us liable to punishment and in condemnation, but that He might do good unto us. For for this cause He both died and rose again, that He might make us righteous.”

    Notice that Chrysostom has the idea of being freed from the legal consequences when he says “How, when liable for so great sins, came we to be justified?” – to be justified here is to be not liable to so great sins, no? And also listen to this “For the purpose of His dying was not that He might hold us liable to punishment in condemnation, but that he might do good unto us. For for this cause He both died and rose again, that He might make us righteous” – It is implied, in my opinion, that the phrase “make us righteous” refers to the opposite of being held liable to the punishment in condemnation.

    We know from Chrysostom’s writing on Romans 5:12 the sin of Adam and the righteousness of Christ create a typological parrallel. Adam’s sin brought guilt upon the world and the sacrifice of Jesus has brought justification of the world. Chrysostom on 2 Cor 5:21 does not believe “the righteousness of God” is not referring to the behavior or habit of being righteous, but the quality of being righteous. This is what he means when he says ‘make us righteous’.

  226. Hi Erick,

    Thanks for your exposition of Chrysostom’s homily. I think you are right that he has to be read on his own terms, and not through the lenses of later ecclesiastical history and dogmatic development.

    Here is another quote from an early father (Clement of Rome) on justification by faith:

    “They all therefore were glorified and magnified, not through themselves or their own works or the righteous doing which they wrought, but through His will. And so we, having been called through His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, whereby the Almighty God justified all men that have been from the beginning; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen. What then must we do, brethren? Must we idly abstain from doing good, and forsake love? May the Master never allow this to befall us at least; but let us hasten with instancy and zeal to accomplish every good work.” (1Clement 32:3-33:1)

  227. Erick,

    Here is a quotation from the apostolic fathers (The Epistle to Diognetus) on imputed righteousness:

    9:1 Having thus planned everything already in His mind with His Son, He permitted us during the former time to be borne along by disorderly impulses as we desired, led astray by pleasures and lusts, not at all because He took delight in our sins, but because He bore with us, not because He approved of the past season of iniquity, but because He was creating the present season of righteousness, that, being convicted in the past time by our own deeds as unworthy of life, we might now be made deserving by the goodness of God, and having made clear our inability to enter into the kingdom of God of ourselves, might be enabled by the ability of God.

    9:2 And when our iniquity had been fully accomplished, and it had been made perfectly manifest that punishment and death were expected as its recompense, and the season came which God had ordained, when henceforth He should manifest His goodness and power (O the exceeding great kindness and love of God), He hated us not, neither rejected us, nor bore us malice, but was long-suffering and patient, and in pity for us took upon Himself our sins, and Himself parted with His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy for the lawless, the guileless for the evil, – the just for the unjust, – the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal.

    9:3 For what else but His righteousness would have covered our sins?

    9:4 In whom was it possible for us lawless and ungodly men to have been justified, save only in the Son of God?

    9:5 O the sweet exchange, O the inscrutable creation, O the unexpected benefits; that the iniquity of many should be concealed in One Righteous Man, and the righteousness of One should justify many that are iniquitous!

    9:6 Having then in the former time demonstrated the inability of our nature to obtain life, and having now revealed a Saviour able to save even creatures which have no ability, He willed that for both reasons we should believe in His goodness and should regard Him as nurse, father, teacher, counsellor, physician, mind, light, honour, glory, strength and life.

  228. Hello Adam, (re: #226-227)

    Both St. Clement and the Epistle to Diognetus are fully compatible with Catholic soteriology. Regarding St. Clement’s understanding of justification by faith, see “St. Clement of Rome: Soteriology and Ecclesiology.” Regarding justification according to the Epistle of Diognetus, see “Ligon Duncan’s “Did the Fathers Know the Gospel?.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  229. Thanks, Bryan.

    I was pretty sure the RCC had a way to interpret the quotations so they would not contradict her official teaching. But Erick’s problem was this: “It is my understanding that Dave Anders in an interview video with Catholic Answers and ETWN made the statement that no one ever taught the protestant doctrine of imputation.” I simply wanted to demonstrate that some of the early fathers (and not just Chrysostom) did teach justification by faith and imputed righteousness.

    Years ago I found these sentences as I was reading through the apostolic fathers looking for evidence that very early on the post-apostolic church has turned to moralism and legalism. I was surprised how “Protestant” some of these fathers actually were in their soteriology.

    Anyway, let Erick make sense of the evidence for himself.

  230. Adam, (re: #229)

    You wrote:

    I simply wanted to demonstrate that some of the early fathers (and not just Chrysostom) did teach justification by faith and imputed righteousness.

    Of course the Church Fathers teach justification by faith and imputed righteousness. What they mean by those terms, however, is not what Protestants mean. What they mean is what Catholics have always meant by those terms. To read into them a Protestant conception of the terms is anachronistic and inaccurate.

    In the Fathers, the term ‘faith’ in “justification by faith” refers to living faith, i.e. faith informed by the virtue of agape. In that respect, their doctrine of justification of faith is incompatible with the Protestant notion of sola fide. That is why Pope Benedict can, while remaining true to Trent and Orange and the Tradition on justification, affirm justification by faith. See “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide?.” Moreover, the Church Fathers’ belief that justification is by faith has to be understood sacramentally, because universally they believed that regeneration and living faith come through the sacrament of baptism (see “The Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration.”)

    Regarding “imputed righteousness,” see the paragraph that begins “First, Catholics believe in imputation” in comment #140 in the “Imputation and Paradigms” thread. Yes the Church Fathers believed in imputed righteousness, as do Catholics. But they did not believe in extra nos imputation. So it would be misleading (not that you were intending to mislead) to point to affirmations in the Fathers of imputation of Christ’s righteousness as if those quotations support the extra nos conception of imputation, because that notion is unheard of in the Church Fathers.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  231. Erick (225),

    Perhaps this discussion should be over on the link Bryan gives [Ligon Duncan’s ‘Did the Fathers Know the Gospel?’]

    I just wanted to state, I do not see a contradiction in the statement you quoted from Chrysostom and what the catechism teaches here:

    1991 Justification is at the same time the acceptance of God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Righteousness (or “justice”) here means the rectitude of divine love. With justification, faith, hope, and charity are poured into our hearts, and obedience to the divine will is granted us.

    Kim

  232. Thank you all for your comments!

    I guess the question is whether what the fathers meant by terms such as justification by grace through faith or imputed righteousness.

    Let’s look at Catholic understanding of Justification. For the Catholic, God re-creates the human being so that instead of being internally sinful, the human being is now internally righteous. This does not mean that the person is going to be sinlessly perfect for the rest of their life. Rather God infuses a righteous nature, ontologically, inside the human being and on the basis of this internal transformation, God declares such a person righteous, for the infusing work of God has really made them righteous, on the inside.

    I want to prove that Chrysostom rejects this idea, explicitly. In other words, one must do much re-constructing of Chrysostom in order to plant a catholic compatibility. For read the below quote on his whole comment on 2 Corinthians 5:21. You will see, if you are willing, that he sees the gift of the “righteousness of God” given to “us” is not something that becomes part of us or that becomes something that we can practice in our lives. Rather, Chrysostom, rejecting the behavioral understanding of “righteousness” or the habitual understanding of “righteousness”, teaches that the quality itself of being righteous (a completed gift which comes from outside of us) comes to us as a quality that we own.

    For Him who knew no sin He made to be sin on our account.

    ‘I say nothing of what has gone before, that you have outraged Him, Him that had done you no wrong, Him that had done you good, that He exacted not justice, that He is first to beseech, though first outraged; let none of these things be set down at present. Ought ye not in justice to be reconciled for this one thing only that He has done to you now?’ And what has He done? Him that knew no sin He made to be sin, for you. For had He achieved nothing but done only this, think how great a thing it were to give His Son for those that had outraged Him. But now He has both well achieved mighty things, and besides, has suffered Him that did no wrong to be punished for those who had done wrong. But he did not say this: but mentioned that which is far greater than this. What then is this? Him that knew no sin, he says, Him that was righteousness itself , He made sin, that is suffered as a sinner to be condemned, as one cursed to die. For cursed is he that hangs on a tree. Galatians 3:13 For to die thus was far greater than to die; and this he also elsewhere implying, says, Becoming obedient unto death, yea the death of the cross. Philippians 2:8 For this thing carried with it not only punishment, but also disgrace. Reflect therefore how great things He bestowed on you. For a great thing indeed it were for even a sinner to die for any one whatever; but when He who undergoes this both is righteous and dies for sinners; and not dies only, but even as one cursed; and not as cursed [dies] only, but thereby freely bestows upon us those great goods which we never looked for; (for he says, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him what words, what thought shall be adequate to realize these things? ‘For the righteous,’ says he, ‘He made a sinner; that He might make the sinners righteous.’ Yea rather, he said not even so, but what was greater far; for the word he employed is not the habit, but the quality itself. For he said not made [Him] a sinner, but sin; not, ‘Him that had not sinned’ only, but that had not even known sin; that we also might become, he did not say ‘righteous,’ but, righteousness, and, the righteousness of God. For this is [the righteousness] of God when we are justified not by works, (in which case it were necessary that not a spot even should be found,) but by grace, in which case all sin is done away. And this at the same time that it suffers us not to be lifted up, (seeing the whole is the free gift of God,) teaches us also the greatness of that which is given. For that which was before was a righteousness of the Law and of works, but this is the righteousness of God.

    And this is the best way to understand it. For how was Christ made sin? Even if we understand this as a sin-offering, Paul was still saying that Christ was made sin, and he was risking the gentile greek reading of this verse. Either way, however, Christ was not made habitually a sinner or behaviorally a sinner NOT EVEN internally sinful, but the guilt of sin remained something outside of himself and yet it brings him to death because He stands in our place, do you see?

    In the same way, by gifting us with the righteousness of God, this is not to be understood as our becoming “habitually righteous” or “behaviorally righteous” but rather the quality of being righteous, something that remains outside of us and stay on us (Rom 3:22) in so far that we believe and continue to believe.

    Now the inevitable question comes to mind, is God only interested in reputing us or declaring us righteous and yet leaving us in our sin and deadness? Absolutely not! The same baptism which gives us the gift of the righteousness of God also brings in the internal cleansing so that we are truly HOLY!

    Yes, our good works are necessary and will be a means of our judgement in the end.

  233. Hi Erick,

    If I understand you correctly, you are concerned that Chrysostom seems to treat justification as a legal concept. To you, this seems Protestant. You wrote: “Notice that Chrysostom has the idea of being freed from the legal consequences.”

    Am I understanding you?

    In response, a few thoughts.

    First, why would a Catholic deny that justification resolves the legal difficulty that arises from sin? In fact, Catholics AFFIRM that justification resolves the legal difficulty arising from sin.
    In the Summa Theologica, II.1.113. Art. 1 – St. Thomas defines justification as Remission of Sins.
    “Therefore the remission of sins is justification.”

    The question between Protestants and Catholics is not over the legal consequences of sin, or the fact of their resolution, but rather over the manner of their resolution. In both paradigms, the just man is accounted righteous by God. The question is why? Is it because of the imputation of an alien righteousness, or the infusion of an actual righteousness in the form of sanctifying grace, and the rectitude of will that results.

    Nothing you have cited from Chrysostom implies the former, and there is much in Chrysostom that demands the latter.

    But, there may be something else troubling you.

    Keep in mind that when the Council of Trent uses the term Justification, it has in mind the concept as understood in the Latin Theological tradition – informed by St. Paul, St. James, and the history of the doctrine from Augustine forward. This necessarily implies broader soteriological concerns, that encompass the scope of the whole Bible, the church’s disciplinary and liturgical history, and the Patristic Rule of Faith. So, the Tridentine use of the term may be broader than St. Paul’s use of the term.

    Finally, I am still a bit perplexed by your dilemma. You seem to hold that God’s saving action transforms us interiorly, and, presumably, that we must “keep in step with the Spirit” to remain in that grace. You hold that justification effects our reconciliation with God. But you are troubled by Chrysostom’s commentaries, because they imply that justification has legal consequences, or that Chrysostom understands it in legal terms. Is this right?

    -David

  234. Erick, (re: #225)

    You wrote:

    Chrysostom teaches that this gift of “righteousness” is alien by saying that it comes from God. This gift of righteousness is not worked and earned, as is stated “for you do not achieve it by toilings and labors, but you receive it by a gift from above”.

    That’s exactly what Catholics believe as well. See the “Imputation and Paradigms” thread. The alternative is Pelagianism, that we are saved by a righteousness that comes from ourselves. But we have to be careful not to equivocate on the term ‘alien,’ by treating the claim that the Christian’s righteousness is ‘alien’ in the sense that it is a gift of God through Christ, as though it means that this righteousness remains outside the believer, and is not infused into him such that by this divine gift he instantly and truly becomes actually righteous. A denial of Pelagianism does not entail an extra nos imputation of an alien righteousness. One can deny Pelagianism and still affirm that this divine gift of righteousness is infused at baptism, and thus is not alien in the sense of remaining outside us.

    This “righteousness” is not a base righteousness that we improve upon, as if we receive a miniature gift and then after that we turn it into a bigger gift, for Chrysosotom says that not only are we made just (understood in the gifted sense apart from works) but that the righteousness acquired is the “highest righteousness” rather than an initial righteous quality prior to works.

    By “highest righteousness” he means divine righteousness, rather than human righteousness. He isn’t saying that we cannot grow in our participation in that divine righteousness, by growing in agape.

    Notice that Chrysostom has the idea of being freed from the legal consequences when he says “How, when liable for so great sins, came we to be justified?” – to be justified here is to be not liable to so great sins, no? And also listen to this “For the purpose of His dying was not that He might hold us liable to punishment in condemnation, but that he might do good unto us. For for this cause He both died and rose again, that He might make us righteous” – It is implied, in my opinion, that the phrase “make us righteous” refers to the opposite of being held liable to the punishment in condemnation.

    Through the sacrifice of Christ (see “Catholic and Reformed Conceptions of the Atonement“) not only are our sins forgiven , but we are also made righteous by the infusion of agape. (See the “Imputation and Paradigms” thread, and “St. Augustine on Law and Grace.”)

    We know from Chrysostom’s writing on Romans 5:12 the sin of Adam and the righteousness of Christ create a typological parrallel. Adam’s sin brought guilt upon the world and the sacrifice of Jesus has brought justification of the world. Chrysostom on 2 Cor 5:21 does not believe “the righteousness of God” is not referring to the behavior or habit of being righteous, but the quality of being righteous. This is what he means when he says ‘make us righteous’.

    That’s a bit too quick. Yes, “make us righteousness” refers to more than a habit, because an infused habit would not be sufficient for the forgiveness of sins. For those who have sinned, forgiveness of sin is necessary in order to have the quality of righteousness. But from what St. Chrysostom says elsewhere (including what David quoted above), “make us righteous” also includes the infusion of agape, by which the believer is disposed to love God in his behavior and keep His commands.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  235. Dear Bryan,

    I have read your article on 1 Clement. I think you are reading a historical document backwards. You are imposing later concepts on Clement that he was not even alluding to. I suggest that we should let Clement speak for himself.

    He says that we are “not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith”. He also says that this happens “in Christ Jesus.”

    Then he askes: “What then must we do, brethren? Must we idly abstain from doing good, and forsake love?” This question doesn’t make much sense to me if justification in itself is transformative. Why would he ask this if not for the same reason Paul raised a similar question in Romans 6 after his long argument in Romans 5. “Having been justified… by one man’s obedience… shall we remain in sin?”

    Let’s read Clement on his own terms, and maybe in the light of Paul (whose writings he was clearly familiar with), not in the light of Scholasticism, Trent, or Reformational theology.

    ***

    I have also read what you wrote on the quotation from The Epistle to Diognetus. (I wasn’t aware that Ligon Duncan found this quote, too.) Again, I had a strong sense that you are imposing foreign concepts on this passage. Let the author speak for himself.

    1) The author writes about people with “disorderly impulses… led astray by pleasures and lusts,” people who are “convicted.. by their own deeds,” and who are “unworthy of life.” These people (us) are clearly unable to enter the kingdom of God of themselves.

    2) God did not hate us, though, but “took upon himself our sins, and Himself parted with His own Son as a ransom for us.”

    3) According to the author, there is an exchange in how God in his loving goodness saves us. The holy died for the lawless, the guileless died for the evil, the just died for the unjust, the incorruptible died for the corruptible, and the immortal died for the mortal. “O the sweet exchange,” cries the author.

    4) The other side of the “sweet exchange” is His righteousness that “covers” our sins. It is not that he became righteous on the cross, on the contrary, he – the Righteous One – became “unjust” and “iniquitous” on the cross. It is therefore not simply that he died, but that the Righteous One died, that covers our sins. “For what else but His righteousness would have covered our sins?” “O the unexpected benefits; that the iniquity of many should be concealed in One Righteous Man, and the righteousness of One should justify many that are iniquitous!”

    5) Our righteousness is then the righteousness of Christ.

    5) What is needed so we can obtain this righteousness (the righteousness of Christ)? “Having then in the former time demonstrated the inability of our nature to obtain life, and having now revealed a Saviour able to save even creatures which have no ability, He willed that for both reasons we should believe in His goodness and should regard Him as nurse, father, teacher, counsellor, physician, mind, light, honour, glory, strength and life.” Believing and regarding. That’s all.

    Not even Luther could have explained more clearly what imputed righteousness via participation in Christ means.

  236. Erick (re: #232)

    You wrote:

    I want to prove that Chrysostom rejects this idea, explicitly. In other words, one must do much re-constructing of Chrysostom in order to plant a catholic compatibility. … Rather, Chrysostom, rejecting the behavioral understanding of “righteousness” or the habitual understanding of “righteousness”, teaches that the quality itself of being righteous (a completed gift which comes from outside of us) comes to us as a quality that we own.

    The problem with your argument is that what you appeal to (“the quality of being righteousness comes to us as a quality that we own”) as showing that St. Chrysostom’s position is incompatible with Catholic doctrine, is something that Catholic doctrine embraces. Your argument presupposes that the only way we can “own” a righteousness that comes from above is either by a behavioral disposition or by extra nos imputation. Since St. Chrysostom says “for the word he employed is not the habit, but the quality itself,” therefore you conclude that the righteousness we own must be by extra nos imputation. But that conclusion does not follow, because there is a third alternative (i.e. the Catholic alternative). The quality of righteousness is by the forgiveness of sins and the gift of infused agape, which is more than a behavioral habit; it is an infused participation in the righteousness of God. By the infusion of agape at baptism, the believer is instantly made righteous with the righteousness of God. Agape is not a natural or merely human habit; it is a supernatural gift, a share in God’s own Life.

    Either way, however, Christ was not made habitually a sinner or behaviorally a sinner NOT EVEN internally sinful, but the guilt of sin remained something outside of himself and yet it brings him to death because He stands in our place, do you see?

    In the same way, by gifting us with the righteousness of God, this is not to be understood as our becoming “habitually righteous” or “behaviorally righteous” but rather the quality of being righteous, something that remains outside of us and stay on us (Rom 3:22) in so far that we believe and continue to believe.

    Nothing St. Chrysostom says entails that the righteousness we receive “remains outside of us.” And what he says in many other places shows that for him, in baptism we died to sin, and no longer live in it, but live to righteousness. (See the St. Chrysostom section in “The Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration.”) In no place does he teach that the believer receives righteousness and yet goes on living in sin.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  237. Erick,

    I think I may have mentioned this but I was raised Roman Catholic but I never knew anyone who really served our Lord Jesus Christ, sadly, whether they were not there or I was blind to them. However, as a protestant, I noticed many vibrant testimonies of self-denial for the glory of Christ Jesus, repentance, conversion, perseverance, etc,etc. I was immediately drawn in and I realized that I was a slave to sin and I needed freedom from sin. The protestant church I attended put a huge emphasis on doing works that are in keeping with repentance (Acts 26) so the an entrance into the kingdom of God would be granted to us abundantly (2 Peter 1).

    The question boils down to whether we should choose a church based on faith or works. You see more people doing good works in the protestant church. It makes me sad to hear that but it is a common situation. Some of it might be perception. It raises the question of whether we are competent to judge churches. In the final analysis we are not but we do see things. They are hard to ignore.

    But what are we looking for in a church? Suppose, for example, the Mormon church in your neighborhood was full of people who seemed strong in their faith and did many wonderful works of love in the community. Would you become Mormon? I couldn’t because I don’t believe the central teachings are true. That is a grace I want to receive from the church, the grace of sound doctrine. Where can I get it?

    There are more graces that were not even on my radar as a protestant, the grace of true sacraments, the grace of unity with the greater body of Christ. These do not depend on any works the church might do.

    But when you talked about your “entrance into the kingdom of God” you based that on works. As a Catholic I would talk about that entrance in terms of sacraments. That is in terms of the grace received.

    Works need to happen. If they are really lacking then there is a real spiritual problem. The church is going to have real problems. How many New Testament churches had problems? All of them. How many times were Christians told not to be part of that church but to start another one? Never. We are sinners joining other sinners. The question is who has the authority to forgive us in the name of Christ, who has the authority to feed us with the body of Christ, who has the authority to teach us from the mind of Christ?

  238. Really appreciate the responses!

    For starters,

    I come from an independent church, however it claimed to be from the Conservative Baptist Association, and we considered ourselves reformed baptist, but we could have easily been mistaken for a high-holiness Wesleyan church. The pastor often went through the teaching of Jesus and rather overbearingly emphasized the need for the practice of heart holiness and God righteousness as a condition for entering the Kingdom of God whose judge is our Lord Jesus.

    I often hear “reformed” speakers who emphasize not our works or our repentance or are perserverance but rather this alien righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to us that makes us eternally righteous in God’s eyes and we have nothing to worry about. I am totally unfamiliar with this sort of lax teaching. Now these reformed teachers will claim that we are also sanctified and so our lives should, some say absolutely will, reflect the salvation that we have already received, as an evidence of receiving the righteousness of Christ. Some of you have read the teaching on the Pharisee and the Tax collector by Sproul Jr. I detest what he wrote. That is absolutely heart breaking that one would read that parable that way.

    So, that being said, I come from a school which taught very well the internal change that comes from the grace of God and which remains grace even as we co-operate our wills and obedience throughout our lives. Our church practiced church discipline on all and any who were not exhibiting holiness, those who chose to bring sin into the church, were excommunicated unless they repent and submit to the Bishop and elders in the penitential disciplines in order to be restored to full fellowship.

    But even in and throughout all of this, our church still believed in the imputed righteousness of God as an external imputation which is made to belong to us so that we might be seen just and righteous before God. However, because we were so committed to the teaching of Jesus and James, we also emphasized the absolute necessity of practicing the righteousness to which the grace of God enslaved us to through our baptism. We also believed that if someone failed to put to death the deeds of the flesh, they would be eternally damned.

    You can kind of recognize that I do not come from the average protestant church. Therefore this doctrine of imputation, in the reformed, sense is not something that has even posed my attention away from the immediate transformation that God creates in the heart of a person who is saved by baptism and also the disastrous consequences of those who did not continue to live in holiness and good works.

    I am here because I question the authority of protestants. My old church, as different and more faithful to scripture as it was, was self-started by a seminarian. The authority in excommunication is specifically what I began to question. And this has me now investigating the catholic historic church.
    That being said, I will respond accurately to some of your questions.

    I believe that the “‘remission of sin” is really behind the though of Romans 3-5; hence the emphasis on the sacrificial and propitious nature of Jesus’ death. If Paul was a modern day reformed presbyterian, he would have been mentioning the “righteousness of Jesus Christ” all over the place! However, Paul does not. Therefore I understand “righteousness” when it is spoken of as the gift which is given to us in our justification (Rom 3:24) as the quality that we possess (not internally but nevertheless it is ours) because of the blood-shedding of Jesus Christ (Rom 3:25). This righteousness of God replaces the guilt of our sin so that we are just in God’s eyes. Now, this gift is not the only thing that happens to the believer through baptism. Moreover, baptism is a creative work of God where he regenerates us and ushers us into the life of the Christic humanity, the human conditions of the 2nd Adam, which is righteous and holy living under the power of the Holy Spirit of God. Therefore, a practical example of the tax collector would be that he comes with a realization of his utter sinfulness and spiritual bankruptcy and he comes and gets on his knees and repents and turns with godly sorrow away from his evil deeds and commits now to practicing righteousness, like Zacheus. This man, at the moment of his faith and repentance (the actual godly change inside his heart) is imputed righteous in God’s eyes. He is in the clear with God. But this is only so because of his real faith in God. Something rare, even in Israel at the time of Jesus.

    When Chrysostom says that we receive the “quality” of righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21) seems to me to go contrary to Catholic teaching, especially when he emphatically says that is it not “righteousness” in the habitual sense. But we must recognize that the Catholic does understand this gift of righteousness to be that righteousness which is of the habitual nature, do you see ? If you read Augustine, you cannot but help to notice that he understands the gift of “God’s righteousness” to be equivalent to that “righteousness” which the blessed hunger and thirst for (Matthew 5), which is in no doubt the habit or behavioral sense. Augustine parallels the gift of the righteousness of God with the keeping of commandments without burden (1 John).

    Now what you might be thinking is that what “righteousness of God” here means is that initial grace of being really righteous on in the inside before any fruits of habit and behavior comes forth. But this is not really that different, you will note. Chrysostom cannot be referring to that initial sanctifying of the soul and will of man which is only to be followed by righteous behavior and will. I can’t seem to read this into Chrysostom on this point, or on any of his other points through Romans & Galatians. It seems he believes this “righteousness” is the quality of being righteous, that comes apart from works. Now you may be thinking “Of course! We do not work for our initial internal transformation!”, but Chrysostom says that this righteousness quality justifies us right there, apart from works contributing. Do you see if it was that our natures and wills became holy and sanctified in the rectitude of divine love, then this is not a quality of being righteous but the actual habit of righteousness. For to not hate your neighbor, to not covet, to not lust, to refrain from unrighteous anger, to not desire to steal, etc,etc is this not the habit of righteousness? Does the habit have to be physical movement? No, it can be in the mind and in the heart. And yet Chrysostom does not see this “righteousness” as a gift to be that, rather, it is a quality that is given to us nonetheless apart from works.

    Moreover, if you see the comment of Chrysostom on Abraham’s justification (Rom 4:1-3), you cannot but help that he teaches something quite different than say Robert Sungenis, Tim Staples, or Scott Hahn. Catholics would argue that faith and works were co-operative to justify Abraham from his initial departure from Ur all through unto the end of his life. However, Chrysostom notes that Abraham had works, and yet excludes them as contributory to his justification! And rather says it was on account of faith, apart from works! This is extremely telling to me, and it is rather disappointing. For I was following some of the Catholic apologists such as Sungenis on his understanding of justification. But rather, you see, I cannot but help to read some of these Fathers, not least Chrysostom, but also Clement of Rome and others, that justification is not understood in the way that it is defined in Trent. I am hoping to arrive at the place where I can see this, but it is just not now, apparently.

  239. Adam, (re: #235)

    In order to understand the Church Fathers accurately, it is important to understand them in the context of the Tradition in which they wrote, and which they were upholding, and which they bequeathed to their successors. To read each Father in a hermeneutical vacuum is an artificial abstraction that is not only impossible, because the reader unavoidably brings some interpretive framework, but also fails to include the fuller context, and thus leads to distorting the Fathers, typically to make them say what one wants them to say. (See “The Tradition and the Lexicon.”)

    So when St. Clement speaks of justification by faith, we should seek to understand what he means by that, by looking at the way the other Church Fathers understand justification by faith, and not attempting to make him say something that would go against what the other Fathers teach on the subject. For apologetical purposes, the Catholic need only show that it is possible that St. Clement held that justification is by living faith. The burden of proof that he did not is on the Protestant, for reasons I’ve provided in comment #18 in the “Some Thoughts Concerning Michael Horton’s …” thread, and in “Trueman and Prolegomena to “How would Protestants know when to return?”.” That is, the Protestant would have to demonstrate that St. Clement’s teaching (and that of the Epistle of Diognetus) are incompatible with Catholic doctrine. It is not enough, given the Protestant burden of proof, to show that one can interpret them in a Protestant way. Sufficient for my purposes (though I think I have done more) is showing merely that they can be understood in a Catholic way.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  240. “I bring this up to say that your insistence that I oppose everything in “Protestantism is a very Protestant thing to demand, since Protestantism is by its very nature negative and threatened. But the Catholic Church just isn’t necessarily like that. She is our Mother, not just another greedy sibling. So you’ll have to forgive me for not looking for something to fight about all the time. I’ve been fighting battles for many years, and lost most of them.”

    What a remarkable assertion. First, it seems like Jason should know that Protestantism doesn’t, in fact, oppose everything in Catholicism. There is plenty that Protestantism retained, and even catches a lot of flack from the Radical Reformation for not having reformed nearly enough. So how could it be a Protestant thing to demand absolute opposition from a Catholic to Protestantism? Second, no Protestant confession that I know of takes the sorts of pains something like Trent does to systematically anathematize various manner of doctrines with which it disagrees. Vatican 2 may be a kinder and gentler assessment of Protestants, but it seems to me there is ample material from which to draw the unfair conclusion that “Catholicism is by its very nature negative and threatened.”
    But third, the point to which Jason is responding is that there are substantial and essential disagreements both ides have with one another. His response makes it sound as if when Protestants acknowledge those differences they are betraying their ignoble streak of being negative and threatened, but Catholics can maintain their anathematizing disagreements and somehow walk away lovers instead of fighters. Like I said, remarkable.

  241. However, it is possible to uphold the truth of interpreting the Fathers within the wider tradition while at the same time forsaking what that particular father really did in fact say.

    What is it that really caused a rift between luther and the Catholic Church? Is it not the distinction between external imputation and internal infusion?

    If justification was an internal infusion, why does the word carry a forensic meaning everywhere else, but when it comes to soteriology were change the meaning? Consider 1 Corinthians 6:11 , Paul speaks about how that people who practice adultery, idolatry, etc , etc, and says “And such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were justified, but you were sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God”. He uses the word dikaioo here. But then just a few paragraphs before he uses the same word dikaioo in the following way

    4 Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court.[a] In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.
    (1 Corinthians 4:1-5)

    Notice how justified here cannot mean “to make righteous” at that point in time. Rather it is referring to the forensic declaration that Paul is freed from any cause for guilt or wrongdoing AFTER examining his life and ministry. Therefore, the forensic meaning is preferred, technically.

    Therefore, when it says that we are “justified by His grace through the blood of Jesus” (Rom 5:9), we should not understand this in any other way than that we are acquitted from God’s wrath and judgement by the sacrifice of Jesus, putting away our sin and guilt and the sentence of death, do you see?

  242. Erick (re: #238)

    You wrote:

    Now what you might be thinking is that what “righteousness of God” here means is that initial grace of being really righteous on in the inside before any fruits of habit and behavior comes forth.

    Yes. This is how baptized babies are righteous.

    Chrysostom cannot be referring to that initial sanctifying of the soul and will of man which is only to be followed by righteous behavior and will.

    That’s exactly what he is referring to.

    It seems he believes this “righteousness” is the quality of being righteous, that comes apart from works. Now you may be thinking “Of course! We do not work for our initial internal transformation!”,

    You read my mind. :-)

    but Chrysostom says that this righteousness quality justifies us right there, apart from works contributing.

    Right. Exactly. The baptized baby is justified by this infused righteousness, right there, apart from works contributing.

    Do you see if it was that our natures and wills became holy and sanctified in the rectitude of divine love, then this is not a quality of being righteous but the actual habit of righteousness.

    What’s you’re not getting, I think, is the Catholic distinction between natural righteousness, as acquired moral virtues, and supernatural righteousness, as infused agape. (On the distinction between the natural and supernatural orders, see “Nature, Grace, and Man’s Supernatural End: Feingold, Kline, and Clark.”) The baptized person has infused agape, and is therefore righteous, even though he or she simultaneously retains dispositions toward particular sins. Infused agape does not mean that the person is perfect in all his habits. (See “Imputation and Paradigms“.) It does mean that he loves God as Father, from the heart, by the Holy Spirit’s pouring out of this gift into his heart (Rom 5:5). This is how the believer can be truly righteous now, and yet be perfected still at death before entering heaven. Among other things, at death all remaining vices are removed.

    Moreover, if you see the comment of Chrysostom on Abraham’s justification (Rom 4:1-3), you cannot but help that he teaches something quite different than say Robert Sungenis, Tim Staples, or Scott Hahn. Catholics would argue that faith and works were co-operative to justify Abraham from his initial departure from Ur all through unto the end of his life. However, Chrysostom notes that Abraham had works, and yet excludes them as contributory to his justification! And rather says it was on account of faith, apart from works! This is extremely telling to me, and it is rather disappointing. For I was following some of the Catholic apologists such as Sungenis on his understanding of justification. But rather, you see, I cannot but help to read some of these Fathers, not least Chrysostom, but also Clement of Rome and others, that justification is not understood in the way that it is defined in Trent. I am hoping to arrive at the place where I can see this, but it is just not now, apparently.

    Let’s be careful, slow, and clear. What exactly, in St. Chrysostom’s statement regarding Abraham’s justification do you see as incompatible with Trent’s teaching? Please, if you would, provide the two allegedly incompatible claims, the claim from St. Chrysostom regarding Abraham’s justification, and the claim from Trent that is allegedly at odds with what St. Chrysostom says regarding Abraham’s justification.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  243. Bryan,

    If by Tradition you mean the tradition of the apostles (with which Clement was familiar with), than I agree. That is exactly what I was referring to when I brought Paul into the picture. 1 Clement was most likely written about the time 1 John was. Clement could not be influenced by the writings of Ignatius, Irenaeus, or Polycarp (not to mention Pope Benedict XVI), but he could read Paul, Peter, and John.

    If, however, by Tradition you mean the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church (with Trent, Vatican I-II, and Benedict XVI), then your assumption is just as absurd as saying that I cannot understand what you are telling me without first reading the books of the grandchildren of the second cousin of your grandson.

  244. Erick (re: #241)

    You wrote:

    If justification was an internal infusion, why does the word carry a forensic meaning everywhere else, but when it comes to soteriology were change the meaning?

    A forensic conception of justification is fully compatible with justification by infusion of agape.

    Notice how justified here (1 Cor 4:4) cannot mean “to make righteous” at that point in time. Rather it is referring to the forensic declaration that Paul is freed from any cause for guilt or wrongdoing AFTER examining his life and ministry. Therefore, the forensic meaning is preferred, technically.

    Here (in 1 Cor 4:4) St. Paul is saying that just because he is not aware of anything against himself (i.e. he is unaware of any unrepented or secret sin to which he clings), nevertheless, his conscience being clear does not justify him. It neither makes him righteous nor guarantees that he is presently righteous. That determination belongs to God alone, who knows our hearts perfectly, even better than we know them, and to whom alone it belongs to render Judgment on that Day concerning the truth of what is in our hearts. So it does not follow from what St. Paul says here (in 1 Cor 4:4) that justification here cannot mean “make righteous.”

    Therefore, when it says that we are “justified by His grace through the blood of Jesus” (Rom 5:9), we should not understand this in any other way than that we are acquitted from God’s wrath and judgement by the sacrifice of Jesus, putting away our sin and guilt and the sentence of death, do you see?

    Putting away our sin and guilt and the sentence of death is only part of our justification; we are made righteous by the gift of infused agape. Otherwise we would still be unrighteous, by the sin that remains in our heart.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  245. Adam (re: #243),

    It is not an either/or, i.e. the Tradition is either from the Apostles, or is that which is found in the Fathers who come after St. Clement. Your assumption that the identity and nature of the Tradition is located only in the writings of the Apostles, and not also in the post-Clementine Fathers, is an assumption that the Fathers themselves did not hold, and neither do I.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  246. Bryan, how on earth could Clement have something in mind that had not even existed then? You (Bryan Cross) can decide that you will not read Clement without regard to the Tradition of the RCC. It is a self-imposed hermeneutical grid, which, in my opinion, is seriously misleading. But you can make that decision. But how could poor Clement possibly write in light of that tradition? Or am I misunderstanding you?

  247. Adam (re: #246),

    You’ve misunderstood me; perhaps I wasn’t as clear as I should have been. I am not saying that St. Clement had something in mind that did not exist in his time. Rather, I do not assume that the Apostolic Tradition is located only in the writing of the Apostles, and not also in the writings of the second and third (and fourth) century Church Fathers. So it is not only the writings of the Apostles that provide the theological and hermeneutical context in which to understand St. Clement rightly, but also the writings of the Church Fathers who come after St. Clement, because their writings also reveal and clarify the Apostolic Tradition that was passed down by St. Clement and his generation of bishops. As the Apostles help us understand Jesus, so the Fathers who came after St. Clement can also help us understand rightly the meaning of his teaching, by providing clarification and explication concerning the faith as they had received it from St. Clement and the other bishops in communion with one another throughout the Church catholic.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  248. Thank you for clarifying Catholic belief. I appreciate that.

    I see now that what you mean by infused “love” (agape) is no habitual sinless perfect in both mind, body, and soul, but rather is that disposition in the nature of man to love. Unless I am wrong.

    However, a couple of sticks remain in the road for me. I hope and pray that you are as open minded as I am concerning this subject. It is probably advantageous to me now that I am not a part of any church (although I do have a Church I attend because of the fellowship I have with them) nor do I hold to a particular confession because I have nothing to gain or lose by my error or my preciseness. If the Catholic Church is correct, and not just correct, but infallibly correct, then I really want the comfort of knowing this as fact (though we know that is not necessary).
    However, someone who does have an allegiance to a theological system or truth that is stronger than the open mind of correction and repentance, then they are at a disadvantage in discussion, particularly this conversation.

    In other words, if you are willing to confess the fallibility of Trent and the Papacy if it is shown to be thus, and also if you are willing to prove that Trent and the Papacy are indeed infallible, then and only with these two ends will this discussion be an advantage to you.

    I say this because many I speak with are confident on the organizational structure of the historic Catholic church and it kind of supersedes any discussion on open questions concerning already dogmatized doctrines.

    Let’s take a look at justification by the remission of sin and the infusion of divine agape.

    If this were the doctrine taught by the apostles, then we should have it in their writings, no? Oh, I know this is not necessary. I’ve, for a long time, known that sola scriptura is not really a doctrine of the early church fathers. We really do not need the apostles to have written this in order for the fact to be thus true. This must be confessed. However, what is the likeliness that Paul would have left this out ? It is not very likely given the nature and frequency that he not only expounds on the subject, but also rejoices in it, makes conclusions from it, and uses it to establish spiritual fruits among people of mutual faith (Rom 1:11-15).

    For Paul, the gospel carried God’s very power to salvation for all those who are believing (Rom 1:16). This power, which brings people to salvation, is in other places called resurrection power (Col 1,3; Eph 1-2), the power to make alive from the dead, to join a human being to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that one might be a new man, no longer in the flesh enslaved to the passions of sins, but in the Spirit and in the 2nd Adam enslaved to righteousness and holiness.

    It is the very “righteousness of God” (Rom 1:17) that brings this power for believers, so that they may be brought to salvation.

    Well, what is this “righteousness of God”? It props up initiall in Rom 1:17 and then again in 3:21, and stuck in between, kind of like a hamburger, is Paul’s indictment of the entire human race enslaved to the powers of sin and death and universal guilt and rebellion against God. Paul’s quite adamant on teaching the impotency of human beings to be guilt free and justified and accepted in peace by the Creator who made them, for they that have not the law nevertheless are without excuse from sin, and those who do are breakers of the law and thus circumcision is no profit to them!

    No human being can be “justified” by the works of the law (Ceremonial primarily, but any moral law for the matter) for the law brings about the knowledge of sin, and the performance of transgressions (Gal 3:17-21).

    The law promised the possession of “righteousness” (Rom 10) for those who strictly adhered to it’s requirements and kept it’s commandments. This is the how righteousness is obtained.

    However, now in the gospel, a righteousness of God without law is unveiled and given freely without works (Rom 3:21-26)!!! How should we understand this “righteousness of God”? What is it’s definition?
    Well, if we can recognize the continuity of though in the midst of chapters 3-5, we must define this righteousness as the same righteousness that is in the typological discourse between Adam and Jesus, no? There is the sin of Adam and then there is the gift of righteousness from Jesus, right? Those who receive the abundance of the free gift of righteousness lead to justification! Yes, yes, we must see the equation in definition from this gift nature of “righteousness” within the chapters 3-5.

    However, there is no delination that this “righteousness” is the infusion of divine love. Now this does not make it untrue. But why would Paul focus almost exclusively on the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the platform from where this “righteousness” comes to mankind?

    Now, one might think, “well this fits quite well in the Pauline corpus, for it is precisley within the framework of the crucifixion and resurrection that our old way of life is put to death and the new way of living in love, hope, and faith come about through the resurrection !

    But you see, Paul does not connect these things. Nowhere do we see a direct soteriological connection between the “righteousness of God” which comes from the cross of Jesus and the loving behavior of Christians.

    Some of the plain statements fail to make this inclusion of the agape concept. for example:

    “He was delivered over on account of our transgressions and was raised for our justification” (Rom 4:25). It almost seems as though Paul finds justification, not as some vague application to the human being, but found in the event itself! In the event of Jesus’ resurrection, we find our justification.

    ALSO

    “Moreover now having been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Rom 5:9) – Justification and salvation from wrath are directly linked to the “blood”. So you have this acquittal from guilt and deliverance from judgement DIRECTLY connected to a blood sacrifice. This makes perfect sense, no? Ah yes, but where is the inclusion of our agape concept? Well, it is precisley within the act of repentance which is assumed to be there before sinners are reconciled, no? Of course, those who are justified have repented and are filled with love in their heart. But Paul never argues from this point to express the doctrine of justification, do you see?

    “If righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain” (Gal 2:20). It is astounding how much Paul sees the crucifixion as the place of our justification. But the Catholic will want to rejoice in this , but more so that the inclusion of the infusion of divine love is there. But do you see how unwarranted this inclusion is? Despite the protestant dogma that love must be in the heart of the sinner because of repentance and conversion, Paul does not hash together the crucifixion and our love when he speaks of this gift of “righteousness”, you will see. For if “righteousness” comes from the law, then CHRIST DIED, not that the Spirit is quenched because IT is the source of our infused agape, no, no, no, rather CHRIST DIED in vain. Do you see if it is the Spirit’s work to infuse the agape of God into our hearts that is the definition of this “righteousness”, then why focus exclusively on the integrity of the sacrifice of Christ Jesus?

  249. Also, although I am willing to concede very graciously to the teachings of the Catholic Church, there is something that I just cannot confess amongst it’s teachings.

    One is that the “love of God” in Rom 5:5 is not referring to our love and God’s love together. No, we must interpret this in the context and it is clearly the love of God and Jesus Christ.

    Lets take a quick look

    “Now hope does not fail us, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet maybe for a good man some would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:5-8).

    There simply cannot be put into here the idea of the infusion of divine love as the “righteousness” and “justification” of God. It is not grammatically there, it does not make sense in the context, and it is quite frankly interpreted the protestant way by almost all the church fathers minus Augustine.

    And even if this were speaking of an infusion of divine love, where still is the connection between it and the “righteousness of God?”

  250. Thanks, Bryan, for clarifying what you meant by the role of Tradition.

    There are two issues here. 1) What did Clement mean by his words? 2) How can we understand what he meant by his words? Let me say a few comments on both issues.

    1) I believe in authorial intention and communicative purpose. Given the time distance, Clement’s authorial intention and communicative purpose could not include such things as the teachings of Trent or Vatican I-II. It seems that you grant that, too. (How could you not?) But Clement’s authorial intention could (and probably did) include his attempt to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus and the apostolic tradition of Paul, Peter, James, and John.

    2) We all have prejudices and interpretative frameworks when we come to particular texts. One has to be a radical postmodernist, though, to believe that therefore we cannot understand the communicative purpose of the author and recognize his authorial intentions. You seem to have chosen another radical hermeneutical route, which I also find unwise and self-destructive. You seem to deliberately embrace an interpretative framework that will not let the text (nor the author) speak for itself. The danger is that you will always see in the text what you and your community wants to see in it. The other danger is that you and your community cannot therefore be normed by the apostolic tradition (nor the writings of the early fathers). Therefore, instead of preserving the apostolic tradition, you will be slowly drifting from it. And there is no way for you to even recognize it.

  251. Erick: You claim to deny sola scriptura, & the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and you “recognize a real presence in the Eucharist as the Catholics define it.” In a later post, you are “now eager to see what Catholic [sic] believe. Some of the road blocks are of course the issue of the early fathers. I am praying that they will lead me to the Catholic conviction.”

    Your prayer is probably soon to be answered. The jettisoning of Sola Scriptura is necessary (& I think foundational) to begin to embrace the other concepts that Stellman, Cross, Anders & their Church promote: the papal primacy, Marian super-dulia, the treasury of merit,* and other such are not derived from merely the 66 books of the Protestant Bible.

    As you keep bringing up Bible passages, there is hope, because you at least still find discrepancies between the biblical record and some of Roman Catholic theology.

    But if you truly embrace as authoritative extra-biblical revelation, then you are not a Protestant. You’re Roman Catholic, but for the name. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” said the bard of Avon.

    __________
    * I note that “Around 1230, the Dominican Hugh of St-Cher proposed the idea of a Treasure House of Merit (thesaurum satisfactionum Christi et Sanctorum).” {From the treasury’s Wiki page.}

  252. Steve,

    I wrote, “I bring this up to say that your insistence that I oppose everything in Protestantism is a very Protestant thing to demand, since Protestantism is by its very nature negative and threatened. But the Catholic Church just isn’t necessarily like that. She is our Mother, not just another greedy sibling. So you’ll have to forgive me for not looking for something to fight about all the time. I’ve been fighting battles for many years, and lost most of them.”

    And you responded:

    What a remarkable assertion. First, it seems like Jason should know that Protestantism doesn’t, in fact, oppose everything in Catholicism. There is plenty that Protestantism retained, and even catches a lot of flack from the Radical Reformation for not having reformed nearly enough. So how could it be a Protestant thing to demand absolute opposition from a Catholic to Protestantism?

    As an aside, I’m right here, Steve! You don’t need to speak about me in the third person as if I’m not in the room.

    I am well aware of the Anabaptist charge against the Reformation. My point was to say to another commenter—who was insisting that any attempt to seek common ground between Protestantism and the CC is a fool’s errand—that Catholics generally don’t see things always as either/or, but often as both/and. My point had nothing to do with what percentage of Catholic teaching or practice the Reformed retained or rejected.

    Second, no Protestant confession that I know of takes the sorts of pains something like Trent does to systematically anathematize various manner of doctrines with which it disagrees. Vatican 2 may be a kinder and gentler assessment of Protestants, but it seems to me there is ample material from which to draw the unfair conclusion that “Catholicism is by its very nature negative and threatened.”

    The fact that Trent took place 16 centuries after Paul wrote Romans should be enough to show that the Church is not trigger-happy. And beware of saying that Trent wasn’t necessary (from the Catholic’s standpoint) until the Reformation, since the Reformation’s whole case was built on the claim that their soteriology had been around since the beginning.

    But third, the point to which Jason is responding is that there are substantial and essential disagreements both ides have with one another. His response makes it sound as if when Protestants acknowledge those differences they are betraying their ignoble streak of being negative and threatened, but Catholics can maintain their anathematizing disagreements and somehow walk away lovers instead of fighters. Like I said, remarkable.

    Will someone tell Steve I’m sitting right here?

    Have you read my resignation letter and article? If so, then Shirley you know that I understand that there’re “substantial and essential disagreements” between our two sides (and that’s right, I just called you “Shirley”).

    My point was that if there is a point at which we part ways (Trent), then it makes sense to go back to a period before that departure and find common ground on which to move forward.

  253. The dialogue of Ádám & Bryan Cross (& Erick) reminds me that we each read St Chrys as we believe he should be read. Each through his own presuppositional lenses that indicate at least two things:

    (1) When church fathers are ambiguous and not saying quite what we’d like to see, we can easily read back into them our particular theology. And we cannot BUT read back into them our presuppositions, prejudices, etc. But when a father doesn’t quite say exactly what we’re looking for, we may try to stretch (or chop!) him to fit our Procrustean presupposition and doctrinal desires.

    (2) Because of sola scriptura, Prots and RCs read and use the fathers for very different reasons, as well.

    Given the Roman Church’s understanding of inspiration, canon, and authority, the Catholic scholar reads and receives the fathers’ writings as being as inspired as Writ. Further, he is able to read later works that help him go back and reread a father in the Roman dogmatic tradition. He can thus also utilize the fathers in argumentation differently than does the Protestant, since to the Catholic, the father is as authoritative as the Scriptures.

    The Protestant reads a father (or any teacher, pastor, theologian) not to hear the Holy Spirit speak through a post-apostolic witness, but simply to better understand the biblical record via exegesis. That father may at times sounds proto-Lutheran or crypto-Calvinist; while at other times, he sounds more like Max Lucado or Joyce Meyers. Sometimes he is spiritual; at other times, carnal. To the Prot, the papas can err.

  254. I want to go on record, Bryan S., that if it wasn’t me, I SHOULD have been “insisting that any attempt to seek common ground between Protestantism and the CC is a fool’s errand”! Well said.

    You also said, “if there is a point at which we part ways (Trent), then it makes sense to go back to a period before that departure and find common ground on which to move forward.”

    We parted way before Trent! And the only way “forward” on “common ground,” is for Protestants to repent of their rebellion and revolution and return to Mother Church, embracing what you and Cross & Co., have come to believe is the true expression ~not merely “fullest” (a weasal word; sure, it’s the fullest, but more importantly, it’s the only true Church!)~ of Christ’s kingdom on earth. The way forward is via submission to Roman authority, all her dogma, etc.

  255. Erick (249),

    I think Chrysostom deals with the aspect of the righteousness of God in his Homily 7 on Romans where he says,

    To declare His righteousness. What is declaring of righteousness? Like the declaring of His riches, not only for Him to be rich Himself, but also to make others rich, or of life, not only that He is Himself living, but also that He makes the dead to live; and of His power, not only that He is Himself powerful, but also that He makes the feeble powerful. So also is the declaring of His righteousness not only that He is Himself righteous, but that He does also make them that are filled with the putrefying sores (κατασαπέντας) of sin suddenly righteous. And it is to explain this, viz. what is declaring, that he has added, That He might be just, and the justifier of him which believes in Jesus. Doubt not then: for it is not of works, but of faith: and shun not the righteousness of God, for it is a blessing in two ways; because it is easy, and also open to all men.

    Here again he is referring to the aspect of making men righteous. I believe this is a direct correlation of God’s righteousness and man being actually made righteous which you seemed to be saying that Chrysostom did not refer to. (quote found here: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/210207.htm)

  256. Erick Ybarra, you write:

    … In other words, if you are willing to confess the fallibility of Trent and the Papacy if it is shown to be thus …

    If you want to begin the conversation by assuming that no man can teach infallibly under any conceivable circumstance in the post-apostolic age, then we must begin the conversation with the assumption that none of the Reformers infallibly taught their novel doctrines. From my point of view, the Protestant doctrine of extra nos imputation of alien righteousness is merely a novelty taught by Martin Luther, as is another doctrine taught by Martin Luther – the novelty of sola scriptura.

    I can reject the novelty of sola scriptura without having to accept the doctrine of Papal infallibility. I can do that, because I can reject the doctrine of sola scriptura on the grounds that this peculiar doctrine of Martin Luther is nowhere taught in the scriptures. My rejection of sola scriptura could be nothing more than my own personal opinion, an opinion that carries no more weight than the personal opinions of Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Taze Russell, or Ellen Gould White.

    I hope that you can see that, in principle, men can have a discussion about whether or not Luther’s novel doctrine of the extra nos imputation of alien righteousness is a merely a bad interpretation of St. Paul, without anyone having to assume, a priori, anything whatsoever about the Catholic Church’s teachings concerning the charismatic gift of infallibility.

    You write:

    I’ve, for a long time, known that sola scriptura is not really a doctrine of the early church fathers.

    Would you clarify something for me please? Do you personally believe in Luther’s doctrine of sola scriptura?

  257. Erick(248-249),

    So in my statement of 251 it shows he did believe that he makes us alive, gives us power, and makes us righteousness. I do not think then, that one can be made righteous apart from this infusing of love. It is not just a declaration of righteousness that is apart from an internal making a person righteous for this is spoken of in the context of actually giving us life and actually giving us power. Righteousness can not be defined apart from this love, I would think. [and 1 John would concur) .

    Kim

  258. Joel #203,

    I agree wholeheartedly that much damage has been done to the body of Christ through “denominationalism-gone-wild”, and I also agree that this isn’t the place to fully hash through it. More salient to this thread – do overly zealous Reformed types share a basic core defect with many who convert to Catholicism: desire for a system that fulfills a need for clear rules, straight lines, and the “all encompassing answer”, like Joseph Smith stumbling upon his golden tablets. I concede that this may be the case. However, I think you would agree that we can’t define a positive as the mere absence of a negative. In other words, if orthodoxy and heresy (or simply the Truth about God, man, and salvation) are definable, then there must exist some rational and principled and practical means of defining them. If denominationalism and Catholicism represent a rule-bound man-made error in this regard, then what are you proposing as the remedy? It can’t be the mere absence of their error, or you will find yourself floating in a soft doctrinal relativism, which inevitably leads to a hard post-modern relativism. How have you found the conceptual core of orthodoxy?

    Burton

  259. Adam (re: #250)

    You wrote:

    You seem to have chosen another radical hermeneutical route, which I also find unwise and self-destructive. You seem to deliberately embrace an interpretative framework that will not let the text (nor the author) speak for itself. The danger is that you will always see in the text what you and your community wants to see in it. The other danger is that you and your community cannot therefore be normed by the apostolic tradition (nor the writings of the early fathers). Therefore, instead of preserving the apostolic tradition, you will be slowly drifting from it. And there is no way for you to even recognize it.

    Those are serious accusations, but they are neither entailed nor justified by my uncontroversial claim that the writings of the post-Clementine Fathers can illuminate the meaning of otherwise ambiguous statements in St. Clement’s writings, on account of the living tradition that these Fathers received both from him and from those in communion with him. One would have to believe that the Church Fathers very quickly deviated from the Apostolic Tradition regarding justification, in order to maintain that what those bishops with whom St. Clement was in full communion, and their successors, have to say about justification can in principle give us no further insight into the meaning of St. Clement’s statements regarding justification. Such an hypothesis would undermine the very worth of St. Clement’s own testimony, and thus defeat itself.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  260. I have followed this exchange on St. Clement of Rome with great interest but my other responsibilities have prevented me from entering in. However, as the discussion has turned toward the direction of interpretative frameworks for Clement (and the Fathers in general), I’d like to offer an article which gives an interpretation of Clement’s view of the nature and structure of the Church. The article is a little over 5,000 words. Would you all be interested in it and if so, how do I submit it?

  261. Bryan @259,

    I didn’t hear Ádám implying “that the Church Fathers very quickly deviated from the Apostolic Tradition regarding justification,” but rather, that Clement –if read using post-Clementine Church writings to help “interpret” him– *could* be understood to be agreeing (or at least not disagreeing) with the Protestant view.

    That you read the fathers through later revelation of councils, popes, and other dogmatic formulae is not in dispute, right?

    My post #253 says what I’m thinking, and it’s not all that different than Ádám’s #250.

  262. Bryan (259),

    I’m not accusing you of anything. I simply argue that the hermeneutical principle that you apply to 1 Clement (and other church fathers) is flawed. In my opinion.

    I saw in your bio that you are working on your PhD in philosophy. Do you apply similar hermeneutical principles when you read Plato? Do you interpret Plato through the lenses of Aristotle and Plotinos? Do you interpret Aristotle through the lenses of Averrois and St. Thomas? Do you interpret St. Thomas through the lenses of Karl Rahner and Joseph Maréchal? Do you read Kierkegaard through the lenses of Sartre, Camus, and Heidegger? Do I have to interpret your words through the lenses of Jason Stellman and other recent converts to your faith (do I have to read them before I can know what your thoughts mean)? Naturally, it would be justified to do it the other way round (to interpret Aristotle in light of Plato, St. Thomas in light of Aristotle, etc.).

    It is interesting, of course, to analyze the historical progression of thoughts. And later interpreters can always give us helpful insights into the meaning of an earlier text. Sartre might have noticed something in Kierkegaard that I would have missed. Cajetan – or Luther – could have had an insight into Augustine – or Paul – that you and I might have easily missed. But later interpreters can also misunderstand an author. When Sartre developed Kierkegaard’s ideas, he also distorted them. Therefore, when Francis Schaeffer read Kierkegaard through the lenses of Sartre (or students who had been influenced by Sartre), he misunderstood Kierkegaard. (One can argue this point, but the principle is clear, I hope.)

    Isn’t it wiser to read history forward, as it actually moves? Traditions can and do develop that are contrary to the founders’ ideas. It is always safer to go back to the fountain. Ad fontes! All good scholars would do that, wouldn’t they?

  263. Bryan,

    A few more thoughts as a response to #259. I have not said that the early fathers quickly deviated from the apostolic tradition regarding justification by faith. As I said, that had been my assumption when I came to those text many years ago. But what I found there was not what I had expected. Some of those fathers sounded very much like Paul (the Lutheran Paul), and all of them sounded very much unlike the RCC today.

    And remember: Luther felt very much part of the apostolic tradition when he interpreted Paul. Calvin thought he was much closer to the fathers of the church than the pope and the magisterium. They lived in the apostolic tradition preserved by the fathers, and they loved those traditions. They knew that the apostolic tradition was not identical with the official teachings of the magisterium. They remembered that there was a time when Athanasius preserved the apostolic tradition contrary to the councils of the church.

    (If my tone is not always right, please, forgive me, and keep in mind that English is my second language. I cannot write as fine-tuned and nuanced in English as I would in Hungarian. I don’t want to hide behind this, but sometimes I might come across more harsh and blunt than I actually want to be. Sorry about this.)

  264. Burton (#138),

    I have just come across your question as I was reading through the comments from the beginning. Let me tell you what I was thinking, independently of your question, but related to it. I hope it will pass through moderation.

    I am shocked that so many evangelicals in America are attracted to Roman Catholicism. (In my Hungarian and European experience the flood is in the other direction.) To me the Roman Catholic claims are remarkably implausible, and the main reason is history. I live in the midst of a Catholic culture (strongly challenged and partly devastated by an atheist-Communist reaction). The ugly history of the Catholic church is well-known here, despite some really beautiful cathedrals (and some pretty ugly baroque-style ones), and some exceptionally exemplary Catholic individuals.

    I lived in America for a short time and have many American friends. I noticed an interesting difference between Europeans and Americans. It is our attitude to history.

    We, in Europe, live in the midst of history and have a very strong sense of the past. We are very much aware of our roots. In America you restart things all the time. You can give a carte blanche to almost anything, because you look ahead, not behind. I’m not saying this as a negative thing, just as an observation. I love you, guys. You are much more free than we are. But in a certain sense you can even restart Catholicism, without much regard for her past. You can come up with a cleaner, more ideal, neat, reformed Catholicism, and forget the past, believing in the meantime that you are respecting it, because you are quoting the fathers and the great thinkers of the Church. In Europe we cannot do that, because Catholic history is real to us.

    Every Hungarian kid knows how one of our more enlightened kings prohibited the Church to burn witches in the name of Jesus. The Holy Inquisition (one of the most powerful and feared institutions of the RCC, the predecessor of The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) was still at work (torturing and killing people) in Spain in the 1830s! The Catholic archbishop of the Netherlands has recently apologized after a state investigation proved without doubt that Catholic priests have molested and raped tens of thousands (!) of boys over the decades after WWII! The RCC in Ireland has lost (and is losing) huge proportions of her members for similar reasons. The same is true in Austria and Germany. We in Hungary know the RCC as a very powerful institution. She is currently using political powers to squeeze the life out of evangelical denominations, because the RCC is constantly losing members, and evangelicals are growing. Thankfully she cannot use the stakes, anymore. (The moderator might delete my comment for using such strong examples, but that would only prove my point.)

    My point here is not to offend Catholics. I have Catholic friends and I acknowledge that there are Catholic believers who are better Christians than I am. My point is this. Scholastic arguments and syllogisms over sola Scriptura and sola fide will not make the Catholic claims plausible for people like me, and the evangelicals in Europe. It is very hard for me to see the RCC as the true church of Jesus Christ. If she is, I’m not sure I want to be a Christian. To feel what I’m talking about, read any three pages of Peter de Rosa’s Vicars of Christ, Then and Now by Somerset Maugham, or watch the first two episodes of the film series The Borgias. They might not be accurate, but they tell you at least part of the truth that must be reckoned with.

    So yes, historical plausibility is a significant factor is this polemia. And I’m truly sad that a great missionary like Jason chose the other side. (Yes, I know, Jason, that you are sitting right here.) This is probably the only reason why I got into this discussion.

  265. Adam, (re: #262, 263)

    You wrote:

    I simply argue that the hermeneutical principle that you apply to 1 Clement (and other church fathers) is flawed.

    I have not yet seen that argument. I’ve only seen you assert that my claim that post-Clementine Fathers can illumine the meaning of St. Clement’s statements is flawed.

    Regarding your questions concerning philosophers, philosophers are not entrusted with preserving a message divinely revealed through an incarnate deity. Rather, philosophers are seeking to attain the truth about profound questions, and therefore may depart radically from a teacher if they believe he is mistaken. The Apostles and bishops, by contrast, have the task of preserving something already divinely given. So the relation of Apostles and bishops to their successors is in important and relevant ways unlike that of philosophers to their successors. In certain cases, however, a student of a philosopher does provide information that helps illumine the teacher’s writings. That’s surely the case with Plato and Aristotle. No Plato scholar today would be taken seriously who purposely ignored what Aristotle helps us understand about Plato.

    When you ask “Do I have to interpret your words through the lens of Jason Stellman …?” you show that you may have misinterpreted what I’m saying. I’m not stipulating that we have to use post-Clementine Fathers when interpreting St. Clement. Rather, I’m pointing out that the information provided in the post-Clementine Fathers about justification by faith helps us understand and rightly interpret what St. Clement meant when speaking of justification by faith, because we have very good reason (as explained in my previous comment) to believe that St. Clement shared the same faith we find in these other Fathers, since he was in full communion with them, and because there is no evidence that the early Church endured some inner turmoil or rupture regarding the doctrine of justification, which would be expected if, as some Reformed people claim, the Apostles had taught that this was the doctrine on which the Church stands or falls.

    That’s why your example of Schaeffer doesn’t rightly apply to this case. It would require that all over the whole world at some point in the second century, all Christians simultaneously and radically distorted the original Apostolic teaching concerning justification, such that there was no controversy or debate or breaking of communion, because everyone shifted at the same moment. Such a claim is preposterous, and cannot be accepted without evidence, for which there is none.

    Isn’t it wiser to read history forward, as it actually moves? Traditions can and do develop that are contrary to the founders’ ideas. It is always safer to go back to the fountain. Ad fontes! All good scholars would do that, wouldn’t they?

    This worry, I think, is what is driving you. But, fundamentally, what underlies that worry is a theological assumption that is not neutral, because you are treating the Church as if she were equivalent to some school of philosophy with respect to the absence of divine protection from falling into decay and falsehood. (See “Ecclesial Deism.”)

    Some of those fathers sounded very much like Paul (the Lutheran Paul), and all of them sounded very much unlike the RCC today.

    Which Fathers do you think taught a doctrine of justification contrary to that of the Catholic Church, and where in their writings do you think they did so?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  266. Bryan,

    My point is simple: don’t read two-thousand year’s doctrinal history into ancient texts. “To read into them a Catholic conception of the terms is anachronistic and inaccurate.” I only changed the word “Protestant” to “Catholic” in your scolding assertion. I guess, we should agree at this point. You might want to say that the Catholic conception is the default conception, so only Protestant conceptions cannot be read into those terms, but I don’t grant you that. Reason: #263.

    You ask: “Which Fathers do you think taught a doctrine of justification contrary to that of the Catholic Church, and where in their writings do you think they did so?” I noticed that this is your favorite trick, Bryan. I will not go there. All I’m saying is this: what Clement (#226) and the author of the Epistle to Diognetus (#227) say about justification are in harmony with the Protestant doctrine of imputed righteousness. I demonstrated in #235 why I think so.

  267. Adam, (#264),

    You wrote:

    We, in Europe, live in the midst of history and have a very strong sense of the past. We are very much aware of our roots. In America you restart things all the time. You can give a carte blanche to almost anything, because you look ahead, not behind. I’m not saying this as a negative thing, just as an observation. I love you, guys. You are much more free than we are. But in a certain sense you can even restart Catholicism, without much regard for her past.

    Perhaps we Catholic converts are not so ignorant of the sins of Catholic leaders as you imagine, not only sins committed in the centuries past, but even in our own lifetime. Perhaps we read about them in all their titillating and disgusting details, before we decided to become Catholic. Remember, we were Calvinists, not entirely unaware of our own depravity, and thus already inclined to think not only of fellow sinning Calvinists, but especially of sinning non-Calvinists, “there but for the grace of God go I.”

    Perhaps, however, our becoming Catholic is not on account of ignorance of the sins of Catholics. Perhaps we have looked even deeper into history, and come to understand and believe that Christ founded only one Church, and gave none of us authority to start our own sect, and call it Christ’s Church. Perhaps we’ve recognized that even the one to whom Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom denied Him three times, and another to whom He gave authority to forgive and retain sins betrayed Him to death. Perhaps in this deeper history we have learned from St. Ignatius of Antioch, and come to understand that we are to do nothing apart from the bishop. Perhaps we came to understand through our study of the Donatist schism in the fourth century that sins by Catholic leaders, no matter how horrendous and disgraceful, never justify the sin of schism from the Church, or dispense us from our obligation to remain in communion with the bishop, praying for him and seeking to build up the Church under his authority. St. Chrysostom, himself a bishop, reportedly said that the floor of hell is paved with the skulls of bishops. Perhaps that sensibility is part of the very Catholic faith deeper in history than the sins of the middle ages. Perhaps we recognize and expect that there will be, as our Lord promised, tares of great evil mixed in with the wheat. But, as orthodox Catholics such as St. Chrysostom have always known, that gives us no authority to form a schism from the Church, or as St. Irenaeus put it, “assemble in unauthorized meetings.” Two wrongs don’t make a right. Sins by bishops do not justify departing from the Church Christ founded, and starting our own sect. They are the occasion, as in the face of persecution or suffering or death, in which Christ calls us to take up our cross and die. Those who choose euthanasia in the face of suffering, or abortion in the case of an unwanted pregnancy, or apostasy in the case of persecution, or schism in the case of sinful bishops, are forsaking the cross, and disobeying our Lord.

    The attempt to ‘restart Catholicism’ is just what Protestantism is, and in the American spirit of independent entrepreneurship and disregard for tradition and history, denominationalism and independent sects proliferated into the thousands in the US in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and have now been exported from the US all over the world. The founders of these denominations and sects were typically well intended, but they were mere men, and the sects they founded are all destined to decline and fade into history. Many already have gone extinct. The Church Christ founded, however, has remained these two thousand years, and will endure until Christ returns. Maybe therefore our becoming Catholic is not because we are ignorant of the number and magnitude of sins Catholic leaders have committed; maybe it is because we have discovered that how we respond to such sins, whether by schism from the Church or fidelity to her, is part of the test Christ has placed before us in this life, and part of the cross to which we as Christians are called. The Church is Christ’s family, and there are sinners in this family, but that doesn’t justify leaving the family and starting a new one. When one member suffers, we all suffer, precisely because starting a new family is not an option.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  268. And, Ádám,

    Remember, too, that the RC position is that their Tradition is living and revelatory; that reading Clement or Chrysostom or any father in the light of later revelation is legitimate and even necessary.

    We all do it, actually. Rome has her ex cathedra papal pronouncements, councils, decrees, etc.
    Mormonism is viewed with suspicion because of their claims of latter day “apostolic revelations.”
    Islam is similarly suspect because of the prophet’s claim to Koranic inspiration.
    Jews look[ed] down on Christians because we say that the New Testament infallibly interprets the Old (which they see as complete).

    Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, and Evangelicals all claim final authority in sacred texts that interpret (or even supercede) the Old Testament. And in some cases, even supercede the New!

  269. Yes in that quote there isChrysostom describing his ability to make others alive and to make others powerful. But these are additions to what he is trying to say the verse means. So we are not to think that being made alive is being made just. And how else does he describe righteousness in other verses ofbromans? It is clear that what he defines is a gift of righteousness which we did not work for but is nonetheless given to us.see his comments on Romans 5. Righteousness is a quality one possess normally when they are internally righteous and do righteous things, but this righteousness as a gift is extraordinary. In that it is given to be possessed by those who did not work, do you see?

  270. Adam (#264),

    I relate to your concerns. There was a point in 2010 at which I found myself convinced of Catholicism on paper (theologically) but when I thought of all the history… I thought “how can I be a part of this train wreck?!… how could this be from Christ!”

    A few points:
    1. It is not as bad as it seems. I found that the majority of my concerns were unfounded. As just one example from your post: the sex abuse scandal. You single out the Catholic Church, yet this is a problem with humans not Catholics. Catholic clerics abuse at the same rate (or less in some studies) than the rest of humanity. And far less than public school teachers (in America). You can google this if you wish. The info is there.
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2010/04/07/mean-men.html
    Is it sick and sad? Yes. Is it a stain on the Church? Yes. Shameful? Yes. Excusable? No. But like I said, this is a human problem, and the fact that it is in the Church should be no more surprising than Peter denying Christ and refusing to eat with gentiles. People do evil things. Period. Always have always will.

    2. When did the Catholic Church ever claim it would not have horrible men as its leaders? Yes, there have been evil popes who give enough sleeze for a multiple episode Showime series. Ok… and?…
    What does this prove? You seem to think it proves Catholicism can’t be true. But that conclusion simply does not follow.
    The Catholic Church claims that it’s Magisterium will never teach error in faith or morals. When, as a Protestant I saw how evil Alexander VI (the Showtime pope) was, and looked for the inevitable evil doctrine that he must have promulgated as pope… well, there was none. I searched and searched and there was none. Evil man? Yes. Teacher of error? Nope. He was not any more a teacher of error than St. Peter himself, who failed at times, but never taught error, which is the extent of infallibility claimed by the Catholic Church.

    If Christianity needs impeccable men as it’s leaders in order to be true, then Christianity is not true, not merely Catholicism. Thou doth protest too much, methinks.

    Peace,

    David Meyer

  271. It has to be said, though, that a lot of that “dark” history is exaggerated if not outright fabricated. The burning of “witches,” for example, occurred only very rarely. But even if all those black myths were true, they would not at all get at the claims of the Catholic Church. Did the grievous sins of Israel (and her kings) make them any less God’s Chosen People?

  272. Bryan (#264),

    Fair enough. It is your choice. I could not make that same choice in good conscience. Especially in light of Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 2-3, where he clearly cannot envisage a situation when the character of Christian leaders totally contradict the faith that they propagate (like most of the popes, cardinals, and bishops of RC history). I love Ignatius, but the apostle Paul is a higher authority to me than Ignatius (especially in your somewhat stretched interpretation).

    If the RCC is a Mother, many people wished they were orphans. In torturing chambers, for example, as the representatives of this “mother” were tearing off their tongues or breaking their legs, arms, and backbones. Or making them confess something they never did, so they could have the grace of dying on the gallows instead of being burnt at the stake. This is not how a loving mother treats her children. I’m happy to have a Father in heaven to love me, a Savior to hide me, a Spirit to guide me, an apostolic foundation to build on, and a congregation of saints who daily help me grow in the faith once for all given to us.

    By believing in the gospel I am united to millions and millions of saints around the world (and throughout history), irrespective of the denominational background of these people. The gospel unites us more deeply than any institutional powers could. It is difficult to accept this for those who think that their denomination is the One, True, and Apostolic Church. But that attitude is the real schism. I’m sorry. Rome obviously has a hard time accepting the fact that she is only one of the denominations. But Rome has been a denomination for a thousand years (at least), since she separated from the Eastern bishops. I’m sure you have an answer to that, probably you have written an article on this somewhere, but the Orthodox have arguments, too, and so do the Copts, the Armenian Orthodox, and so do other Oriental Orthodox as well. And so do Protestants, who prioritize the teaching of the apostles over institutional continuity.

    BTW, it is good to know what you really think of non-Catholics, and how you imagine the outcome of ecumenical dialogue. Thanks for being honest.

  273. Dear Hugh,

    “Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, and Evangelicals all claim final authority in sacred texts that interpret (or even supercede) the Old Testament. And in some cases, even supercede the New!”

    Evangelicals…?

  274. Dear David and Brian,

    When I read arguments like yours I am deeply puzzled. How come you cannot see the shouting contradiction between Rome’s high claims and her obvious failure to live up to those claims?

    I don’t care if she killed tens of thousands of so-called witches (and Jews, and Protestants, and real heretics), or only thousands. I don’t care if hundreds of thousands were molested by priests, or tens of thousands, or only thousands. It is no excuse that these are human sins. Of course they are! But where is the Holy Spirit? And can you see how destructive all this is when it is coupled with the authority that the officers of the RCC are invested with? I would have a problem belonging to a Protestant denomination if her leaders were so frequently and so deeply corrupt. (Don’t compare these to the sins of poor Peter. The comparison simply won’t stand closer scrutiny.) But when a denomination like this wants me to believe in HER and whole-heartedly trust HER (more than the Scriptures!), than I am really puzzled.

    The system is rotten, not just her members. The core of the problem is, I think, the self-claims of Rome themselves, which prevent real change.

  275. “like most of the popes, cardinals, and bishops of RC history” MOST? Really?
    “In torturing chambers, for example, as the representatives of this “mother” were tearing off their tongues or breaking their legs, arms, and backbones. Or making them confess something they never did, so they could have the grace of dying on the gallows instead of being burnt at the stake.”

    After all this excellent ecumenical discussion, it erodes into a page out of a Chick tract or a book by Lorraine Bottner. So disappointing.
    My wife says you can should never judge a religion by looking at the lives of those who don’t practice it.
    Should Lutherans bail, because their founder wrote a book called “Jews and their Lies” and advocating anabaptists to be drowned for their heresy? Should reformed folks abandon Geneva because their founder burned Servetus at the stake? Should Anglicans jump ship because of the Catholics drawn and quartered and burned at the stake and hung from the gallows during the reign of the Elizabethans by the good Protestant folk?

  276. Adam:

    “Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, and Evangelicals all claim final authority in sacred texts that interpret (or even supercede) the Old Testament. And in some cases, even supercede the New!”

    Evangelicals…?

    Yes – we claim that the New Testament supercedes and fulfills the Old. To an orthodox Jew, that sounds like what Muslims & Mormons & Rome sound like to us, with their revelations superceding and fufilling the Bible.

  277. Adam,

    Especially in light of Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 2-3, where he clearly cannot envisage a situation when the character of Christian leaders totally contradict the faith that they propagate (like most of the popes, cardinals, and bishops of RC history).

    Most?

    I think this particular strand of the conversation has run its course. I’ll leave you with the following from Thomas Howard:

    Rome’s opulence, her political machinations down through the centuries, her tyrannies and hauteur and self-assertiveness, not to mention the Dionysian romp in the Vatican in the Renaissance, what with Borgia popes and catamites and so forth: all of that is bad – very bad. The Catholic Church knows that. Dante, of course, had half of the popes head down in fiery pits in hell. Chaucer, contemporary with the Lollard Wyclif, but himself a loyal Catholic, is merciless – scathing even – in his portraiture of filthy and cynical clergy. St. Thomas More and Erasmus, contemporary with Luther and Calvin, were at least as vitriolic in their condemnation of Roman evils as were the Reformers . . . [But] Israel was not less Israel when she was being wicked . . . The Church is in the same position in its identity as people of God. We have Judas Iscariot, as it were, and Ananias and Sapphira, and other unsavory types amongst us, but we have no warrant to set up shop outside the camp, so to speak . . . Evangelicals, in their just horror at rampant evils in Catholic history, . . . unwittingly place themselves somewhat with the Donatists of the fourth century, who wanted to hive off because of certain evils which they felt were widespread in the Church. Augustine and others held the view that you can’t go that far. You can’t set up shop independently of the lineage of bishops . . . As far as the ancient, orthodox Church was concerned, nobody could split off . . . The problems of the Roman Catholic Church (sin, worldliness, ignorance) are, precisely, the problems of the Church. St. Paul never got out of Corinth before he had all of the above problems. Multiply that small company of Christians by 2000 years and hundreds of millions, and you have what the Catholic Church has to cope with. Furthermore, remember that the poor Catholics aren’t the only ones who have to cope. Anyone who has ever tried to start himself a church has run slap into it all, with a vengeance . . . Worldliness, second-generation apathy, ossification, infidelity, loss of vision, loss of zeal, loss of discipline, jiggery-pokery, heresy – it’s all there.

    {“Letter to my Brother: A Convert Defends Catholicism,” Crisis, December 1991, 23-24,26}

  278. russ,

    “MOST? Really?”

    Yes, I believe this is probably a fair statement. It is a recent experience that popes don’t have the secular power they used to have, and that authenticity questions have become more important. John XXIII and John Paul II have improved the image of the papacy significantly. In the last century Ignaz von Döllinger, H. Ch. Lea, and Peter de Rosa gave detailed accounts of the history of papacy. (Not at the level of Dave Hunt.)

    “Should Lutherans bail, because their founder wrote a book called “Jews and their Lies” and advocating anabaptists to be drowned for their heresy? Should reformed folks abandon Geneva because their founder burned Servetus at the stake? Should Anglicans jump ship because of the Catholics drawn and quartered and burned at the stake and hung from the gallows during the reign of the Elizabethans by the good Protestant folk?”

    Protestants don’t require faith in their institutions. Catholics do.

  279. “I think this particular strand of the conversation has run its course.”

    I agree.

  280. I think there’s a certain advantage to being a part of an “ism” rather than a part of a visible church with a visible history that stretches back more than a generation. In the former case, you can simply escape all the things done by Christians because, after all, it wasn’t my church that did, it was those guys over there. And what’s more, you can take credit for all the good things Christians have done.

    So Calvin’s predecessors wrote the Nicene Creed, but it was the Romanists who killed all those bad guys.

  281. Adam, it seems your anxiety is based on severely exaggerated and distorted accounts of history. In fact, it no longer “seems” that is the case – it is quite clearly the case after #272 in which you give a grotesquely inaccurate and caricatured picture of the Inquisition (probably the Spanish Inquisition). I am not making light of any real harm that was done, but I do object to the anti-Catholic narrative that such distortions support. That crosses the line into anti-Catholic bigotry.

  282. #279

    Yes, because “God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.'” (2 Timothy 2:19 ESV) We don’t need to associate with everyone who names the name of the Lord. On the contrary, “For people will be… having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” (2 Timothy 3:2, 5 ESV)”

    But it is not a question of who is to be praised for the Nicene Creed or the good things of “Christian” history. It is acknowledging the continuity of the apostolic tradition (the one preserved in the NT) and associating with those who held on to it. And disassociating from those who denied it (or its power). For the sake of God’s holy name and for the witness of the church.

  283. Adam,

    As a fellow evangelical, I share a deep visceral agreement with much of what you have said. I have numerous friends and family members across denominational lines (in my immediate family there are Presbyterians, Baptists, Anglicans, and Catholics) who love the Lord Jesus and trust Him for their salvation. I have a bond with them that seems to supersede any church affiliation. To me, this is one of the strongest positive arguments for Protestant ecclesiology. I also share a visceral reaction to what appears to be the very messy history of the Catholic Church. Does it strain the bounds of plausibility? I’m not sure, but I get what your saying. I do think that some similar instances within Protestant history cannot be ignored (Calvin’s Geneva, Salem witch trials, etc).

    But my initial question still remains unanswered. How we define Truth is important, because relationship with God through Jesus Christ cannot be separated from the Truth about God, man, and salvation. We would deny the invisible bond of unity to Mormons, because Mormons have wrong doctrine. It is not enough to explain how history proves that Catholicism is not what it claims to be. Can you also explain how Protestantism gets it right (on the issue of how Truth is distinguished from error)? Again, a positive argument is more than the absence of the negative.

    Burton

  284. “Protestants don’t require faith in their institutions. Catholics do.”
    Catholics require adherence/faith to the truth that has been passed on by Christ and the apostles. Yes, unworthy vessels of clay that are imperfect yet can share the incorruptible Truth. Our faith is not based on one person, one bishop, one pope, one pastor, but on the truth that Christ entrusted to His Church.

    “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

  285. Burton,

    (I hope this is relevant to this thread)

    I think it is worth noting that the scandalous behavior — human in every possible dimension of our frailty — is a positive argument for the Church. It is only by a supernatural work of God that she remains as she is, from the beginning, in spite of her members. I believe it was a 12th century saint who became Catholic because of how sinful catholics were in his village. He figured that if such a Church could last for 1,200 years, she must be imbued with power from on high.

    The Church is full of sinners because she is a hospital. She is full of saints, because the medicine works.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  286. The Church is a community of human beings who are still subject to sin, and so it is with humility that she offers herself as the meeting place with the living God. Her existence for two thousand years demonstrates the unceasing mercy and love of God in maintaining her in his grace as a faithful and repentant people. In a world of passing fads and transitory ambitions, she offers the substance of the wisdom of the Gospel and her growing understanding of it through two millennia. She offers the possibility of enriching the present moment with the gifts of a tradition rooted in God’s self-revelation and with the hope and meaning for human life that come from God himself. In a world torn by war and injustice, she celebrates the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the gift of himself made eternally present and effective, to make all peoples one with him as head of a reconciled and healed community. In a world of violence against human life, the Church mightily defends life by her works of justice and charity as well as by her advocacy for the protection of all human life.
    The Adult Catechism of the Catholic Church

  287. Sean (277) & Co.,

    With all due respect, this bit in Howard is terribly weak: you have what the Catholic Church has to cope with. Furthermore, remember that the poor Catholics aren’t the only ones who have to cope. Anyone who has ever tried to start himself a church has run slap into it all, with a vengeance . . . Worldliness, second-generation apathy, ossification, infidelity, loss of vision, loss of zeal, loss of discipline, jiggery-pokery, heresy – it’s all there.

    Are you implying that the sexual abuse scandals & cover-ups in Ireland, as well as the Church’s Medieval “re-education programs” are things with which the Church has had to “cope”? I certainly hope not.

    The issue with these, my Catholic friends (beyond the obvious horrors of child rape and torture), is the top-down scandal of it all. Had a few renegade baddies run wild, OK, wicked enough. But priests and bishops have colluded to hide the sin from higher-ups and from the civil authorities. {I live in northern California, where we’ve been hit with more than one scandal of bishops shielding pedophilic priests.}

    The claims of supernatural Holy Orders, the priesthood, the Mass, and the papacy, combined with your claim to be THE only true Church founded by our Lord Jesus Christ upon Pope Peter I, and that the gates of Hell would not –repeat not– prevail against said Church, are more than vitiated by the above-mentioned clergy-sanctioned scandals.

    Add to this the shocking, sinful cover-ups*, and the facade of infallibility and supremacy of Rome crumbles. At least, that’s how we outsiders see it.

    * Which, we add, the Irish government has had to step in and deal with because of Rome’s inability or (God forbid) unwillingness to police your own pedophilic priests.

  288. In a world of violence against human life, the Church mightily defends life by her works of justice and charity as well as by her advocacy for the protection of all human life.

    OK. But can she police her own, and protect vulnerable children, and/ or bring to justice the wicked when necessary? You’d think the Holy-Spirit-sanctioned Church could do that much.

  289. But the Protestant is faced with the difficult question of what “Church” was not overcome throughout the ages? Were they non-existant? The Waldensians? The Waldensians were Catholics, despite their unknowingly devotion to the sola’s later to be formulated, until they were corrected and agreed to the Protestants.

    Is the Church recovered with a bunch of holy and righteous men who can interpret scripture the best?

    I would say that we should not ignore the doctrines of the Catholic Church, but to be certainly aware of the unholiness in it. You cannot throw the baby out with the bath water.

    Consider today’s modern Anglo-Catholics who do not hold to many of the Roman Catholic doctrines, who are ashamed of the Church’s history, who do affirm the necessity of repentance and true faith and a corresponding life, who practice worship like St. John Chrysostom, and St Augustine, and St. Ignatius, and St. PolyCarp, as many other resources show from the earliest history of the Church.

    Did the Church , on all sides of the world, simultaneously go into heresy on the Eucharist? On Baptism? All the churches, all of which had no telecommunications with each other, going into identical error? It is very unlikely.

    That being said, I believe everyone who has truly departed from iniquity and served Christ with a pure heart are the ones who are saved.

  290. Dear Burton,

    I totally agree what you say. How did Athanasius discern which councils and which bishops were closer to the apostolic teaching? The RCC answer simply won’t work. The evangelical answer does. I believe part of the answer is 1 John 2:18-27 and 1 John 4:1-6. 1) Believing and obeying the scriptures (the Hebrew Bible + the teaching of Jesus preached by the apostles and preserved by the fathers) on the one hand, and 2) the anointing of the Spirit that confirms its truth over against error for individual believers, on the other hand.

    Here is my attempt to wrestle with the apostle John’s answer to the epistemological question you are asking: http://szabadosadam.hu/divinity/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Szabados-ThM-Thesis.pdf

    And remember: I’m talking about discerning between orthodoxy and heresy (the central issue of the gospel), not about every single question of the faith in which there is room for disagreement even within the apostolic tradition (cf. Rom 14).

  291. Here is a shorter version of part of my thesis: http://szabadosadam.hu/divinity/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/The-Anointing-of-the-Spirit-as-Personal-Knowledge.pdf

    This one lacks the exegetical arguments (developed in my thesis) and focuses on the epistemological question.

  292. Hugh,

    O.K. I thought you meant that we, Evangelicals, also have sacred texts even beyond the NT.

  293. Brian (#281),

    What you say sounds totally cynical to me. Never try to use that arguments when you speak to non-believers. It won’t work. I say this as a fellow-believer who is shocked how easily some Catholics pass over these issues thinking that if they can make those issues look somewhat less scandalous than they have solved the problem. They haven’t, the contradiction remains.

  294. Hugh,

    the difference though between Mormons/Muslims and Evangelicals is that we believe that Christ was God’s last word (Hebrews 1:1-2) and Paul Jesus’s last apostle (1Cor 15:8).

  295. russ (#286)

    You quote the Catechism: “In a world of violence against human life, the Church mightily defends life by her works of justice and charity as well as by her advocacy for the protection of all human life.”

    I will sound unloving and like a “Chick tract” again, but can you really maintain that in light of history?

  296. russ (#284),

    Don’t forget that there are also apostolic requirements for leadership in the church (1Tim 3:1-13 and Tit 1).

  297. Brent (#285),

    What you say is unwarranted sophistry to my ears.

  298. #287 from Hugh should have been moderated in my opinion. This kind of provocation is just totally out of line, particularly when it has been previously pointed out in this thread that the abuse is the same % across all religions and denominations.

    For a Christian to point at sinners in the Catholic Church and say “See! Theres a sinner! Those silly Catholics arent the Church like they claim!” and all the while sitting there and claiming you yourself are part of the Church despite your clergy’s sins is a level of reasoning that does not belong on CTC, and it is inflamitory Chick tract nonsense. This thread is really getting out of line.

  299. Jason,

    Welcome to the Roman Catholic Church. I’ve not read all the posts, and I have no idea where you are in your journey, but thought you should be aware of the possibility of ordination into the Roman Catholic priesthood. Obviously it’s not the only way to actively serve God in the Church, but for some, who are called to it, it offers an outlet beyond service as a member of the laity. I had thought that the Pastoral Provision, established primarily to deal with Anglicans wishing to become Catholic priests was the proper channel in which to begin such an inquiry, but after a bit of research, I suspect that beginning with your local bishop might be the best option. But you can find a bit of background here, if you’re interested http://www.catholicdoors.com/faq/qu143.htm.

    May God continue to bless you in your journey within the Catholic faith. Thank you for sharing some of the details of that journey here.

  300. Hugh.

    I don’t think you understand Howard’s point. The point is that the Church has to cope with sin. The church has to cope with tares amongst the wheat.

  301. Sean,

    In Jesus’s parable the field is not the church but the world. We don’t have to guess, the Lord himself interpreted it that way: “The field is the world” (Matthew 13:38).

  302. Thank you, Sean. I understand Howard’s point.

    But it stretches beyond incredulity if you’re going to argue that wicked men in the Church are to be protected and not disciplined. Jesus said, “The field is the world” in the analogy you reference, NOT the church (Matt. 13:38).

    Jesus gave clear instructions for discipline of sinning brethren (Matthew 18, etc.), and these have sadly been ignored by your priesthood and bishops.

    Please see my post #288. It isn’t rocket science to protect children from predatory priests. That your bishops have shielded the wicked speaks poorly to your claims of infallibility and divine sanction as the one true Church.

    Further, it is telling that you all defend her with such pleas as, “Oh well, let the tare-priests grow – we needn’t discipline them, since through ordination &/or consecration, the priesthood is a God-given channel of grace! It’s just something we all have to cope with.”

    Instead, Rome’s apologists would be better served by humbly admitting her sins, and not ascribing to the priesthood the outlandish claims it has arrogated to itself.

    Please, read any of the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy & Cloyne Reports; and weep. The Church that stands for the sanctity of unborn life (all good), needs to equally protect the born.

  303. Hugh # 289

    But it stretches beyond incredulity if you’re going to argue that wicked men in the Church are to be protected and not disciplined.

    I never argued that. In fact, nobody here has argued that. In fact, I’ve never seen or even heard of a Catholic arguing that.

  304. David (#298),

    When I read your comment, this is what I thought: “These guys want to show us a Potemkin village.” Do you really think it is an effective way of Catholic apologetics? Maybe it is. But it is not honest in my eyes. Please, do understand that these are REAL concerns and REAL obstacles. Don’t do what your bishops and archbishops did when finding out what was happening at the parishes.

  305. Adam (re: #266)

    You wrote:

    My point is simple: don’t read two-thousand year’s doctrinal history into ancient texts. “To read into them a Catholic conception of the terms is anachronistic and inaccurate.” I only changed the word “Protestant” to “Catholic” in your scolding assertion. I guess, we should agree at this point. You might want to say that the Catholic conception is the default conception, so only Protestant conceptions cannot be read into those terms, but I don’t grant you that. Reason: #263.

    I understand your point, and I have not proposed that in order to understand St. Clement on justification, we must read St. Thomas or Trent back into St. Clement. I have noted in passing that what St. Clement says on justification is fully compatible with and in continuity with, the teaching of St. Thomas and Trent. However, what I have claimed, and supported with argumentation so far unrefuted, is that the information provided in the post-Clementine Fathers about justification by faith helps us understand and rightly interpret what St. Clement meant when speaking of justification by faith. That’s quite different from reading the Protestant conception of sola fide back into St. Clement, for two reasons. First, Alister McGrath has shown that the Protestant notion of justification by “faith alone” was unknown from the time of St. Paul to the Reformation, calling it a “genuine theological novum.” According to McGrath, the Council of Trent “maintained the medieval tradition, stretching back to Augustine.” (Reformation Thought, 1993, p. 115) When an idea doesn’t show up for fourteen hundred years after St. Clement, it should not be read back into St. Clement. Second, the prevailing notion of justification throughout the Church Fathers is one in which a person is justified by being made righteous internally, which entails that justification must be by living faith. (For example, see the material on St. Augustine’s understanding of justification in “Did the Council of Trent Contradict the Second Council of Orange?“.) Since no one proposed the Protestant conception of justification for fourteen hundred years after St. Clement, and since all the evidence we have from the contemporaries and immediate successors of St. Clement concerning justification shows that they maintained that justification is by living faith, then allowing these contemporaries and successors to illuminate St. Clement’s meaning is altogether different from reading a Protestant conception of justification back into St. Clement.

    You might want to say that the Catholic conception is the default conception, so only Protestant conceptions cannot be read into those terms, but I don’t grant you that. Reason: #263.

    So, in #263 you wrote two paragraphs, but I will respond to the second one first:

    And remember: Luther felt very much part of the apostolic tradition when he interpreted Paul. Calvin thought he was much closer to the fathers of the church than the pope and the magisterium. They lived in the apostolic tradition preserved by the fathers, and they loved those traditions. They knew that the apostolic tradition was not identical with the official teachings of the magisterium. They remembered that there was a time when Athanasius preserved the apostolic tradition contrary to the councils of the church.

    I agree that Luther “felt” very much part of the apostolic tradition, and that Calvin “thought” he was much closer to the Fathers of the Church than the pope and magisterium. The problem with that criterion is that almost all heretics throughout Church history have believed themselves to be following the true apostolic message. None claim to be departing from the Apostles. So merely feeling and thinking that one is following the apostolic tradition is not a safe criterion. What Luther and Calvin did was elevate their own reason, in their judgments concerning the meaning of Scripture and the teaching of the Church Fathers, above that of the divinely established authorities in the Church. They, like Absalom and Korah in the Old Testament, thought they knew better than the leaders God had placed over them, and instead trusted in their own reasoning and understanding. But they were fallible, and had no divine authorization to rebel against their leaders. So Luther and Calvin thinking and feeling that they were closer to the apostolic tradition than was the Church at their time is not a good reason to believe anything one way or another about St. Clement’s understanding of justification.

    A few more thoughts as a response to #259. I have not said that the early fathers quickly deviated from the apostolic tradition regarding justification by faith. As I said, that had been my assumption when I came to those text many years ago. But what I found there was not what I had expected. Some of those fathers sounded very much like Paul (the Lutheran Paul), and all of them sounded very much unlike the RCC today.

    Let’s take a sample doctrine. All the Church Fathers believed in baptismal regeneration, as I showed here. Do you? If not, then either all the Fathers had already deviated from the Apostles’ teaching regarding regeneration, or you have departed from the Apostles’ teaching.

    Back to #266, where your concluding paragraph was as follows:

    You ask: “Which Fathers do you think taught a doctrine of justification contrary to that of the Catholic Church, and where in their writings do you think they did so?” I noticed that this is your favorite trick, Bryan. I will not go there. All I’m saying is this: what Clement (#226) and the author of the Epistle to Diognetus (#227) say about justification are in harmony with the Protestant doctrine of imputed righteousness. I demonstrated in #235 why I think so.

    It is not a “trick” (which in English has a negative connotation of dishonesty and deception) to ask someone to substantiate his assertion. If the only two patristic sources you can point to, in support of a Protestant conception of justification are St. Clement and the Epistle to Diognetus, then as I’ve shown in the St. Clement post and the Ligon Duncan post, not only is what they say fully compatible with Catholic soteriology, but there is good contextual reason for believing that the uniquely Protestant conception of justification is something with which they were entirely unfamiliar, because none of the other Church Fathers teach such a conception, and because St. Clement (and presumably the author of the Epistle to Diognetus) were in communion with these other Fathers, which wouldn’t be the case if anyone at the time had been taught from the Apostles that the [Protestant] conception of justification is the doctrine upon which the Church stands or falls.

    In #272 you wrote:

    Fair enough. It is your choice. I could not make that same choice in good conscience. Especially in light of Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 2-3, where he clearly cannot envisage a situation when the character of Christian leaders totally contradict the faith that they propagate (like most of the popes, cardinals, and bishops of RC history). I love Ignatius, but the apostle Paul is a higher authority to me than Ignatius (especially in your somewhat stretched interpretation).

    Of course Church leaders should have the moral character that manifests, and does not contradict, the faith. But in the Catholic paradigm, as St. Augustine makes very clear in the Donatist controversy, if a person who has already received Holy Orders sins, or shows his character to be less than upright, this does not ipso facto nullify his divinely given ecclesial authority, or give the sheep over whom he has charge a right to rebel against him. To use your interpretation of 2 Tim to justify such rebellion presupposes precisely what is in question, namely, that the individual’s interpretation of Scripture trumps that of the Church’s shepherds. That is, it presupposes a Protestant assumption when arguing against the Catholic paradigm.

    If the RCC is a Mother, many people wished they were orphans. In torturing chambers, for example, as the representatives of this “mother” were tearing off their tongues or breaking their legs, arms, and backbones. Or making them confess something they never did, so they could have the grace of dying on the gallows instead of being burnt at the stake. This is not how a loving mother treats her children. I’m happy to have a Father in heaven to love me, a Savior to hide me, a Spirit to guide me, an apostolic foundation to build on, and a congregation of saints who daily help me grow in the faith once for all given to us.

    Of course, as you said, that is not how a loving mother treats her children. Again, however, the sins of various Catholics (even Catholic leaders) do not change the identity of the Catholic Church as the Church Christ founded, or justify schism from her, or gathering in unauthorized assemblies. It is just another form of ecclesial consumerism that creates new sects (composed only of pure persons) whenever a prominent member of the Church sins grievously. This was the rigourist error of Tertullian and the Montanists, the Novatians, the Cathars, and the Puritans. The problem is not only that these ‘pure’ persons aren’t all pure, and so the sect-making must continually be repeated, in order to get away from those impure ones, but that we ourselves are not pure, and cannot get away from ourselves. We bring ourselves with us, wherever we go. Of course there must be discipline, and sometimes discipline is not meted out when it should be. But, again, when a Church leader fails to discipline, this does not justify forming a schism from the Church. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

    By believing in the gospel I am united to millions and millions of saints around the world (and throughout history), irrespective of the denominational background of these people. The gospel unites us more deeply than any institutional powers could.

    If that were true, there would be no need for denominational divisions between Protestants. Protestant denominations must continually divide, precisely because unity in ‘the gospel’ is insufficient for visible unity.

    It is difficult to accept this for those who think that their denomination is the One, True, and Apostolic Church.

    In other words, it is difficult for those who disagree with you to accept what you say. Well, I could say the same to you, namely, that it is difficult for those who prize their own interpretation of Scripture to accept the truth of the Catholic Church. But, you will see, I think, that such statements are question-begging and patronizing. That’s why it is better to focus on the truth or falsity of claims, rather than assert that the reason our interlocutor does not agree with us is because it is difficult for him.

    But that attitude is the real schism.

    The problem with that claim is that not a single Church Father defined ‘schism’ in this way. Instead, in the Church Fathers schism is defined in relation to the successor of St. Peter. See, for example, “St. Optatus on Schisms and the Bishop of Rome.” St. Augustine wrote, “There is nothing more grievous than the sacrilege of schism….there can be no just necessity for destroying the unity of the Church” (Contra Epistolam Parmeniani, lib. ii., cap. ii., n. 25). But if believers were fully united simply by believing the gospel, then there could be no such thing as schism. This indicates that your ecclesiology is faulty, because it has no conceptual space for ‘schism’ as distinct from heresy. In order for there to be ‘schism,’ as something distinct from heresy, the Church Christ founded must be visible. But your notion that visible divisions are irrelevant to unity posits a merely invisible Church, which is contrary to Scripture and the ecclesiology of the Church Fathers (see “Christ Founded a Visible Church.”)

    Rome obviously has a hard time accepting the fact that she is only one of the denominations. But Rome has been a denomination for a thousand years (at least), since she separated from the Eastern bishops. I’m sure you have an answer to that, probably you have written an article on this somewhere, but the Orthodox have arguments, too, and so do the Copts, the Armenian Orthodox, and so do other Oriental Orthodox as well. And so do Protestants, who prioritize the teaching of the apostles over institutional continuity.

    Indeed we do have arguments and evidence. See, for example, the link to the St. Optatus article just above. It would be premature to assert that the Catholic “attitude is the real schism” prior to engaging those arguments and that evidence. What “prioritize the teaching of the apostles” means, in practice, is prioritize one’s own interpretation of their writings over that of the shepherds whom those Apostles (and Christ, acting through them) authorized as their successors.

    BTW, it is good to know what you really think of non-Catholics, and how you imagine the outcome of ecumenical dialogue. Thanks for being honest.

    You should expect nothing less than honesty.

    In #274 you wrote:

    It is no excuse that these are human sins. Of course they are! But where is the Holy Spirit? And can you see how destructive all this is when it is coupled with the authority that the officers of the RCC are invested with? I would have a problem belonging to a Protestant denomination if her leaders were so frequently and so deeply corrupt. (Don’t compare these to the sins of poor Peter. The comparison simply won’t stand closer scrutiny.) But when a denomination like this wants me to believe in HER and whole-heartedly trust HER (more than the Scriptures!), than I am really puzzled.

    The Holy Spirit does not leave the Church when one of her members sin. Rather, when a member of the Church commits a mortal sin, that member separates himself from the supernatural Life of the Church, which Life is the Holy Spirit. Yes it is destructive when a Church leader abuses his authority, just as it is destructive when a parent abuses his child. But that doesn’t mean that he has no authority. It means that it is a weighty thing to be given spiritual authority in the Church, just as it is a weighty thing for a parent to be given charge of a child. The Catholic Church does not require that we believe her “more than the Scriptures;” that would be a straw man. Rather, the Bible belongs to the Church, and so it belongs to the Church, not to ourselves, to provide the authoritative determination of the meaning of Scripture and the Apostolic teaching. The problem arises when unauthorized persons place their own interpretation of Scripture above the interpretation provided by the Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  306. Bryan & Bryan & CTC: Thank you for letting me post challenges that are not meant to be rude or inflammatory, but thought-provoking, I hope.

    Sean & David Meyer*: Please reread and rethink the arguments. You say you have the only divinely ordained, inspired, and protected priesthood with supernatural abilities. Yet while the Holy Book is plain on disicpline, your bishops have repeatedly shielded really bad guys. Hmm…

    Sean, I agree that “nobody here has argued that” wicked men are to be protected, but your reference to the tares smacked of a cop-out. And these pious offerings don’t help:

    Brent said @285: …the scandalous behavior — human in every possible dimension of our frailty — is a positive argument for the Church. …The Church is full of sinners because she is a hospital. She is full of saints, because the medicine works.

    Russ wrote @286: “The Church is a community of human beings who are still subject to sin, and so it is with humility that she offers herself as the meeting place with the living God. Her existence for two thousand years demonstrates the unceasing mercy and love of God in maintaining her in his grace as a faithful and repentant people. … In a world of violence against human life, the Church mightily defends life by her works of justice and charity as well as by her advocacy for the protection of all human life.”

    We’re not talking about laity – we’re talking about your leaders, whom you say are ordained of God to be channels of grace, necessary to salvation as they administer the Mass. That’s why we’re beyond skeptical about your claims to being THE Church.

    * David, you wrote to Adam in #270: If Christianity needs impeccable men as it’s [sic] leaders in order to be true, then Christianity is not true, not merely Catholicism.
    Then, in #298 you claim, the abuse is the same % across all religions and denominations.

    Please read something of the reports I list in #302. Your house is in serious disarray, regardless of how wicked the Lutherans, Baptists, or Anglicans may be! And none of these can match the systematic abuse and cover-ups of Rome. But even if “the abuse is the same” in all churches, we never claim papal & sacred magisterial infallibility, or ecclesiastical supremacy, or anyone’s impeccability, as does Rome. Methinks the Church doth assume too much.

  307. David (#298), and no, the comparison will not stand. Tell me, which Protestant/Evangelical denomination was found guilty of molesting and raping children all over the world (in Germany, Belgium, Austria, Ireland, Holland, Hungary, America, Spain, and who knows which other countries)? The scandal is huge in Europe. Which denomination was found guilty of doing it in such a large scale as the RCC (as is well known, the archbishop in the Netherlands himself apologized after a state investigation had proved that tens of thousands – an unbelievably big number – of boys were molested and raped in the decades after WWII)? No David, this is a Catholic problem, which is not independent from the mistaken practice of celibacy. This is the same reason why it was very common for priests in the Middle Ages to have concubines, and why Rome was full of prostitutes, having special public houses for priests. (Cause for moderation?)

    But even if these were problems in other denominations, Protestants do not require faith in their ecclesiastical institutions. A Catholic priest, however, represents the One, Holy, Apostolic, Catholic Church to a parishioner. Which parishioner would question his authority? Isn’t the whole point of being a Catholic an unreserved submission to the authority of the Church? Is it a problem if we ask questions about the identity of the One that requires such an unreserved submission? Jesus proved his trustworthiness by healing, loving, doing miracles, and being sinless. There was no disharmony between his words and his deeds. Has the RCC earned such a trust? If you try to answer it not taking account of the story, you will simply sound dishonest.

  308. Hugh McCann, you wrote:

    Add to this the shocking, sinful cover-ups*, and the facade of infallibility and supremacy of Rome crumbles. At least, that’s how we outsiders see it.

    Hugh, your argument, it seems to me, rests upon an assertion that wicked men cannot infallibly define doctrine. The Catholic Church has never claimed that infallibility implies impeccability. The Catholic Church only claims that infallibility is a charismatic gift of the Holy Spirit that can be exercised by certain men under certain circumstances, and not that the men that exercise that particular charismatic gift must be, by necessity, holy men.

    Your argument that exercising the charismatic gift of infallibility implies the impeccability of the one exercising that charismatic gift, is basically the same argument that I see raised over and over again against certain Protestant faith healers and Protestant deliverance ministers. That is, Pastor “X” cannot be really exercising charismatic gifts because he is a greedy and sleazy man in his personal life. The prayers of Pastor “X” can’t possibly have led to a miracle of healing, Pastor “X” can’t possibly have cast out a demon in the name of Jesus, and Pastor “X” can’t possibly have given a prophecy, because, well, just look his ostentatious lifestyle and his marital infidelities. But this argument that sinful men cannot exercise the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit is false, and it is false, because Jesus himself teaches that it is false:

    “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.’
    Matthew 7:21-23

    In these verses, Jesus make it quite clear that evil men can exercise the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit – evil men can prophesy in the name of Jesus, evil men can cast out demons in the name of Jesus, and evil men work miracles (mighty deeds) in the name of Jesus. The Catholic Church asserts that teaching infallibility is done by men exercising a charism of the Holy Spirit:

    Catechism of the Catholic Church

    890 The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. The exercise of this charism takes several forms …

    To sum up my point, if one argues that evil men cannot exercise the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, one is arguing against Christ’s revealed word.

  309. Adam,

    You wrote:

    What you say is unwarranted sophistry to my ears.

    What you are saying is mere hand-waving (i.e., assertion) if you do not (1) establish that I have no warrant for my claim and (2) demonstrate how my arguments are sophistry. In order to do (1), you would need to demonstrate how the moral failures of the members of the Catholic Church does not constitute evidence that she should not have lasted as long as she had (compared to other human institutions), and that such existence as she enjoys can probably or even best be explained by Divine intervention. In order to do (2), you would need to demonstrate that my arguments are intended to be complex to the point of incomprehensibility, or suffer from a particular logical fallacy, which is the nature of sophistry.

    I would love to dialog with you regarding my comment, but at this point I’m not sure what you objection is.

    The best,

    Brent

  310. Dear Bryan,

    You wrote so many things that I don’t really know where to begin my response. This discussion has too many threads, I’m not sure we can keep them together. Let me reflect on some of the things you said, and forgive me for letting others fall on the ground. I’ll be extra-long, so I’ll send this response in separate chunks.

    1. HERMENEUTICAL APPROACH TO INTERPRETING CLEMENT. (I’m not shouting, just don’t know any other way to highlight words on this surface.) There is no disagreement between you and me that later writers can shed some light on Clement. However:

    a. The meaning of the passage is determined primarily by semantics, discourse analyses, literary context, and historical context. When we evaluate the historical context, Clement’s sources and Clement’s allegiance to the apostles must have priority over later thinkers of the church (with whom he might not even had any contact). We know Clement had a high respect for Paul, and he refers to his letters, so Pauline theological categories had probably shaped Clement’s thinking. (Just to let you know, and to avoid being vague: I generally agree with how Thomas Schreiner and Stephen Westerholm understand Paul’s teaching on justification by faith. My view is basically “Lutheran”.)

    b. But I have not read the Protestant concept of imputation back into Clement’s sentences. The concept is there in the passage. I’ve read your arguments, they are not convincing to me. Moreover, I believe it is you (yes, it is an assertion, just like yours) who reads a Catholic concept into those sentences. You openly acknowledge that you have the faith-based assumption (which is a hermeneutical decision) that there cannot be an essential discontinuity between Clement and Trent. This prevents you, it seems to me, from seeing what is there in the passage. I can say this the more boldly because when I first read Clement I had a similar assumption as yours, but then I was surprised by what I found there. See #235.

    (Continued.)

  311. 2. JUSTIFICATION IN THE EARLY CHURCH. Again, there is no disagreement between you and me that justification by faith as imputed righteousness was something different than what the medieval church proclaimed. Before reading Romans, Luther studied Petrus Lombardus and the Scholastics, and obviously didn’t find this (to him liberating) doctrine in their writings. However:

    a. I have found A. McGrath sometimes sloppy and unreliable in his historical-theological summaries. I would need more proof on what he claims.

    b. In my understanding, the quote from Clement and the quote from The Epistle to Diognetus (#227) clearly disprove (#235) McGrath’s claim. If Erick’s interpretation of St. Chrysostom’s sentences are correct, even that great preacher of Constantinople taught imputed righteousness. It is not a good argument to say that they could not teach imputed righteousness because no church fathers taught imputed righteousness. It would be a circular reasoning.

    c. My authority is the apostolic tradition. It is historically interesting what later teachers said on this subject, but what I’m really interested and care about is what Jesus and the apostles said on justification by faith. Paul said: „But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Gal 1:8) Again, we don’t have enough time and space here to discuss this, but in my understanding Paul in Galatians teaches that justification by faith only (without works, through union with Christ) is central to the gospel.

    d. I don’t trust followers of the apostles (and their followers) as much as I trust the original source. Listen to what Paul said: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Gal 1:6-9) Let is suffice to say this: it is possible that followers distort the original message. Very early on.

    (Continued.)

  312. 3. REBELLION, OBEDIENCE, OR WHO IS CLOSER TO THE APOSTLES? There is no disagreement between you and I that faithfulness to the apostolic tradition and obedience to our leaders is important. However:

    a. You trust that an institution preserves the right interpretation of the apostles. I don’t. Absolutely not. It is enough to see what happened to the Protestant churches in the 17th, 18th, 19th, or 20th century. Or today. You can see this as a proof for Catholicism, but it is not. The same things happened to the Roman church, the only difference is that you are not willing to acknowledge it. To me it is obvious. Yes, it is an assertion. We would have to spend too much time on proving (or refuting) this, and David Meyer will demand moderation in the meantime.

    b. If absolute obedience to the official church is the sine qua non of obedience to Christ, than Athanasius was disobedient to Christ. He was disfellowshipped. He was resisting councils. He was alone, fighting against his superiors in the church. Athanasius contra mundum. And yet, the truth was on his side, because he was on the apostle’s side.

    c. I try to obey Jesus with all my heart, trusting that his righteousness covers all my sins. I try to obey his apostles (the ones he personally chose) because he authorized them. They are the foundation of the church. I obey my leaders when I am a member of a church, and I make myself accountable when I am one of those leaders in a church. I don’t absolutely trust my leaders (I don’t think the NT requires that), nor do I expect such trust from others. I only give absolute trust to Jesus and the writings of the apostles.

    d. I strongly believe that the Holy Spirit teaches us, and gives us confidence in the truthfulness of the teachings of the apostles. When Luther and Calvin felt closer to the apostolic tradition than the leaders of the Roman church, it was therefore because the Holy Spirit taught them (1Jn 2:20 and 27!). They listened to Christ and his apostles (1Jn 4:1-6) more than to the leaders of the church, because they obeyed the command of Christ and the apostles to test the spirits whether they are from God. They also obeyed Jesus who said that we should “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” They heard Jesus’s words: “You will recognize them by their fruits.” (Mt 7:15-16)

    (Continued.)

  313. 4. BAPTISMAL REGENERATION. No, I don’t believe in it, nor do I think the apostles did, nor that all the early fathers did.

    a. Some years ago I did an in-depth study on baptismal anointing practises in the early church (http://szabadosadam.hu/divinity/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/BAPTISMAL-ANOINTING-final.pdf). The early church simply had no unanimous understanding of baptism. They didn’t even agree on the age of baptism (e.g. St. Basil was baptized when he was 18), but the most common practice was immersion of adult people. Yes. That is my conclusion.

    b. I don’t believe the apostolic church (the church of the NT) practiced infant baptism. Again, we could discuss this as even Protestants are divided on this issue. In the apostolic church it was unheard of (please, don’t expect me to prove this, either, there is simply not enough place here to do that) that a new life would begin without baptism. Baptism was the beginning of the new life of a disciple. It is therefore the pledge of regeneration. In my opinion problems arose when churches began to baptize infants, and when sacramentalism began to develop. Lots of assumption, I know.

    c. But even if I was wrong, and the early church universally practiced infant baptism and believed in baptismal regeneration, this practice and belief can still be wrong. Remember what Paul says: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.” But I don’t think this has happened universally in the post-apostolic church. Only later. And maybe not universally even then.

    (Continued.)

  314. 5. YOUR “TRICK”. Sorry, I didn’t want to accuse you of dishonesty or deception. I simply wanted to note that following how you debated under other threads I noticed how you typically argue. Your “trick” is a powerful methodology. You ask your opponent to prove that something he claims is contradicting something the RCC teaches. Then you invite him to a field where you are very good at. It is formal logic. You can beat people in the field of Aristotelian logic, though your opponents only feel frustrated and misunderstood afterward. You seem to be a great logician, better than I am, so I didn’t want to go there. I got the impression, too that you also have a hermetically sealed system in which practically nothing can prove to you that the RCC was wrong or that she ever changed her mind. I would have lost an argument and would have felt frustrated and misunderstood afterward. My claim was less than what you wanted me to prove, anyway.

    (Continued.)

  315. 6. UNITY. This is where I probably disagree with you the most.

    a. What is the Church? In the NT the Church (ekklesia) is not a worldwide institution, but the people of God. The new Israel. Those who are in Christ through personal faith. Everywhere and anywhere.

    b. The basic unit of the church in the NT is the local church. It would again take a long argument and a lot more space and time to explain why I believe this is the biblical position.

    c. My fellowship with other Christians of different denominations is real. We pray together. We enjoy fellowship in Christ together. We love and respect each other. We visit each other. Often born again (oh, yes, an evangelical shibboleth) Roman Catholics join us and have fellowship with us, too. We preach the gospel together. We sometimes have joint services. Sometimes even eat the Eucharist together (Roman Catholics sadly abstain from it, but sometimes they carry around the plates and the cups). But we live our Christian lives in our own home churches because we live far from each other or because we have different views on secondary issues (issues that are not central to the gospel). These people often have a strained relationship, though, with nominal or liberal or sectarian members of their own denominations, because belief in the gospel and life in the Spirit counts, not institutional identity. That is real Catholicism to me. Yes, there are fractions and church splits and broken brotherly relationships, too. But there is cross-denominational evangelical unity, as well.

    d. Schism is when someone separates himself from the apostolic tradition, the teachings of the apostles preserved in the Scriptures. This is how Irenaeus distinguished between Christians and heretics. The test was faithfulness to the apostolic tradition. This is how in the 4th century Athanasius distinguished between bishops and bishops. In his view Arian bishops were the schismatic ones (even their names betrayed them, he said!), in his view they were not even Christians. Were they members of the institutional church? Yes, of course. They led councils and made pronouncements on faith and practice! They were the institutional church for some decades. Were they schismatics? Yes, according to Athanasius, because they taught things that deviated from what the Scriptures had taught.

    (Continued.)

  316. 7. CHURCH LEADERS. I agree with you that leaders of the church should be respected and obeyed. However:

    a. The teachings of Jesus and the apostles is a greater authority to me than either you are or your ecclesiastical institution is. They (both Jesus and the apostles) clearly taught the importance of discipline in the local church. The local church. That is where it is possible, and that is where it was commanded. They also clearly taught on the need of separation in certain cases. 2 Timothy 2-3 is a clear example.

    b. Yes, you can and you must rebuke leaders who sin. This should be done respectfully, and when there are witnesses, so they would not be falsely accused (1Tim 5:19-20). But it has to be done. It is a foreign concept from the NT that the office can be separated from the character. After talking about the character of false teachers, Paul tells Timothy: “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness” (2 Tim 3:10). Teaching and conduct must not be separated if we follow the apostolic tradition. That is a sine qua non of apostolic Christianity, and of obeying Christ.

    Bryan, there is a time for all discussions to end. In the last few days I’ve devoted a lot of time to this dialogue, but I have many other obligations, too. You are welcome to respond to my thoughts, but that may be the end of it for me. It is your prerogative to say the last word as a host. Thank you (and CTC) for letting me share my thoughts. I might follow the discussion, but with less intensity.

    Blessings,
    Ádám

  317. Adam,

    I read your thesis. I am not formally trained in philosophy, so please bear with me as I try to boil your thesis down to its basic ideas.
    1. The pursuit of objective certainty is foolish, because knowledge is tied inextricably to the subjective, as evidenced by the “tacit knowledge” we all use as an interpretive framework
    2. Truth is known by receiving the “anointing”, a special case of tacit knowledge that comes by a personal encounter with God through Jesus – through knowing Him and being known by him.
    3. The orthodox understanding of the Apostles teaching can only be known by those who have this anointing, and the consistency of the Gospel message proclaimed by the anointed ones throughout history is evidence enough of the orthodoxy of their interpretation.
    4. Those who insist on standing outside the circle of this anointing (through personal encounter) will simply miss the Truth, and Him who is Truth, trapped in the prison of their need for objective certainty.

    Is this an accurate summary?

  318. Mateo 308 ~
    Hugh, your argument, it seems to me, rests upon an assertion that wicked men cannot infallibly define doctrine.
    >Nope. Didn’t say that. Sorry if it sounded that way.

    The Catholic Church has never claimed that infallibility implies impeccability. The Catholic Church only claims that infallibility is a charismatic gift of the Holy Spirit that can be exercised by certain men under certain circumstances, and not that the men that exercise that particular charismatic gift must be, by necessity, holy men.
    >Got it; thanks.

    Your argument that exercising the charismatic gift of infallibility implies the impeccability of the one exercising that charismatic gift…
    >Not what I said.

    >But rather, in claiming theological, political, moral, and ecclesiological supremacy over the whole earth,
    >Rome ought to be better at
    >(1) church discipline, and
    >(2) equipping you front-line apologists who refuse to humbly admit the grotesque gravity of Rome’s sin.

    …To sum up my point, if one argues that evil men cannot exercise the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit,
    one is arguing against Christ’s revealed word.

    >I never said they couldn’t. Go back and reread my posts. I am saying that your Church’s claim to ecclesiastical (nay, political) supremacy, along with a corner on sacramental and theological truth, an infallible pope, an impeccable Virgin, and a grace-mediating priesthood & bishopric had better (1) clean up its act, and (2) show a bit more humility.

    >None of you here concede a thing – you just bang on about how the church must “cope” with sinful men who are nonetheless God’s anointed mediators in the sacred Supper. Groan.

    >Oh, and …Matthew 7:21-23 – In these verses, Jesus make it quite clear that evil men can exercise the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit – evil men can prophesy in the name of Jesus, evil men can cast out demons in the name of Jesus, and evil men work miracles (mighty deeds) in the name of Jesus.
    >Mateo, Note that you are using the argument “that evil men can exercise the charismatic gifts.” So?
    >I wouldn’t use that in defending the bad priests and bishops. If it doesn’t prove too much, it implies too much! LOL. While defending the sacramental power of your mediatorial priests, you also unintentionally implicate them.

  319. Szabados Ádám, you ask:

    Tell me, which Protestant/Evangelical denomination was found guilty of molesting and raping children all over the world (in Germany, Belgium, Austria, Ireland, Holland, Hungary, America, Spain, and who knows which other countries)?

    What Protestant sect has a billion members and a presence found all over the world? None. If you insist about talking about child molestation, then the relevant question that must be asked is about the rate of child molestation found within Protestant denominations: Is that rate higher or lower than the rate found in the Catholic Church? And that is where David Meyer’s post #270 comes into play. That bare facts are this: the rate of child molestation from priests of the Catholic Church is actually less that the rate of child molestation found among Protestant pastors of all stripes. The reason for that is because Protestant pastors are typically married, and child molestation most often occurs within the family.

    That said, child molestation is a heinous sin, child molestation is never excusable, and it is wrong for child molestation to be covered up by the institutional church. I believe that we both agree about that. That said, I want to forcefully make this point: that unless a sect is actually teaching child molestation is morally permissible, the occurrence of child molestation within a church proves absolutely nothing about the doctrine preached by that church.

    As a Catholic, I cannot seriously advance any argument against the doctrines of faith and morals taught by the Presbyterian Church based on the data that I have about rate of child molestation among Presbyterian pastors. The fact that some Presbyterian pastors molest children proves one thing, and one thing only – that these Presbyterian pastors fail to live up to the moral doctrines that are officially taught by their own church. The moral failings of the Presbyterian pastors does not prove that any doctrine of faith and morals taught by the Presbyterian Church is wrong. And if I find within a Presbyterian church a cover-up of an occurrence of child molestation, that only proves that there are members within the Presbyterian church that are complicit in the sin of covering up. The truth about what I am saying here is a two-edge sword that cuts both ways – Protestants cannot advance similarly fallacious arguments against the doctrines of faith and morals officially taught by the Catholic Church because they are aware of incidences of child molestation from Catholic priests.

    To be sure, if the Catholic Church taught infallibility implies impeccability, then you would have an argument that you could make that rests upon the moral failures of the leaders of the Catholic Church. If the Catholic Church taught infallibility implies impeccability, then the moral failures of her bishops would bear upon the Catholic Church’s doctrines concerning infallibility. But the Catholic Church does not, and never has, taught that infallibility implies impeccability. See my post # 308.

  320. Dear Burton,

    Yes, I think you generally got my thesis. I’m not sure I would say the second part of your third point (especially the „evidence enough” phrase), and I’m not sure I would say that „knowledge is tied inextricably to the subjective” (your first point), because it can easily re-establishes in people’s minds the Cartesian dichotomy between subjective and objective, which John would not know of, and I would also ask others to engage with my wording of the thesis, not yours, but I definitely feel that you haven’t misunderstood me. By the way, thanks for reading the thesis!

    What my thesis boils down to is that anyone reading the Scriptures can come to a saving knowledge of God by the testimony of the Spirit, and with the same help know what the gospel is and what it is not. But it is the grace of God.

  321. Burton,

    I re-read your summary of my thesis again with a little more fresh mind (and after drinking a coffee). I would modify your summary by emphasizing that in my thesis the apostolic witness is open to everyone (everyone can read or hear the NT), therefore John’s teaching on the anointing is not a form of Gnosticism (which your summary might sound to those who haven’t read my thesis). What the anointing does is that it (He) testifies to our souls that the apostolic witness is the true one. In other words, there is a testimony of men (the apostolic witness to Jesus) and there is a testimony of God (the witness of the Spirit), and of the two the testimony of God is greater (1Jn 5:9). Ultimate assurance is existential, and is a gift (1Jn 3:24).

  322. Hugh,

    Your house is in serious disarray, regardless of how wicked the Lutherans, Baptists, or Anglicans may be!

    Pointing fingers at others sins just makes ones own sins more apparent. No one here denies there was/is a problem in our Church, what we deny is that it is unique to us, and we deny that it shows the Catholic authority claims to be false (which is your central point in even bringing it up). Nothing you have said removes other denominations (and religions) out from under the same dunce hat that you gleefully put on the Catholic Church.

    And none of these can match the systematic abuse and cover-ups of Rome.

    Wrong. The abuse and the cover ups are the same across all denominations and religions. The Catholic Church is *universal*, meaning it is global, in an extensive way unlike any Protestant denomination. Also over half of all Christians are Catholic. So please lets be fair and look at “per capita” or percentage (%) (as in X out of 100) when we compare. Different denominations have different hierarchy structures, and this must be factored in as well. Catholicism has an Episcopal structure (they have bishops), so to compare them you need to compare with Episcopal Protestants (which have the same % of abuse and cover-ups). But even if we compare them with Baptists, the percentage (%) is still the same for laity and leaders and cover-ups, the “buck” just doesnt get passed as far up the chain of command, because Baptists do not have bishops to pass it to, which arguably can lead to more cover-ups, not less, because it is potentially easier for a senior pastor who is the highest authority to maintain a cover-up than multiple clerics in a Episcopal setting. Read this link, and do even a simple google search if you want real facts instead of what seem to be your impressions or feelings:
    http://stopbaptistpredators.org/BaptistHideSeek.html

    But even if “the abuse is the same” in all churches, we never claim papal & sacred magisterial infallibility,…

    The Catholic Magisterium claims infallibility under certain circumstances. These circumstances are very tightly defined. One thing that is not claimed, which you seem to insist is being claimed, is impeccability of humans in the Church (laity or hierarchy).

    … or ecclesiastical supremacy, or anyone’s impeccability, as does Rome.

    False. This is just silly. Please show me anywhere any magisterial document ever claimed impeccability for any human besides Christ and The Blessed Virgin Mary. Why not give some actual evidence this time. You are the one claiming the Catholic Church “claims impeccability” for itself. Please show us where it claims this. Of course if you cant show it, please appologize.

    This will be my final post in this vein. If it is one post too many, which I believe it has been for a while, please delete it with my full support.

  323. David @322,

    The Baptist point is interesting. They certainly have their issues to address, too!

    You are Catholic, no? I am now asking that you pull the log out of your own eye, and work to reform and clean up the terrible shame in yourt Church in Ireland, the USA, and elsewhere.

    I was referring to your claim of Mary’s impeccability, that is all. I am aware that no one else there claims such, and I know there are conditions for papal and magisterial infallibility. Thank you.

    Please read the Irish reports.
    I am done, too.

  324. Adam,

    I will again appeal to your mercy. Statements like “Cartesian dichotomy between subjective and objective” don’t help me much. I teach medical students, and sometimes I find myself waxing eloquent with all of the technical jargon of my specialty, only to be met with a blank stare. In this circumstance, consider me the guy with the blank stare.

    My question is straightforward and practical. How do Protestants distinguish orthodoxy from heresy? I think your answer is: those who know the Lord and are known by Him know true doctrine. The opening statements of your thesis rightly recognize the apparent circularity of this argument. Your “fix” for this problem confuses me. If a Mormon or Word of Faith adherent comes to me proclaiming their gospel, and I attempt to correct them by explaining that they do not have the anointing of Truth that comes from knowing Jesus and being known, how do you suppose they would respond (Well, sir, actually I do know Jesus personally and I am known by Him, and it is YOU who lack the anointing, etc). How, exactly, have we escaped from a circular argument?

    Also, I have in the past several years gotten to know a few Roman Catholics personally. They certainly seem to love the Lord, to know Him and be known by Him. Should I assume that their relationship with the Lord is a sham, given the obvious error of their beliefs?

    This issue is critically important to me, as it is the issue that has led me to question the validity of my lifelong Protestant presuppositions. Any clarification you could provide to this layman would be much appreciated.

    Burton

  325. Mateo you said (and have echoed David),

    That said, I want to forcefully make this point: that unless a sect is actually teaching child molestation is morally permissible, the occurrence of child molestation within a church proves absolutely nothing about the doctrine preached by that church.

    If I understand the motives of credibility correctly, I think it has a lot to say about the doctrine preached by your church. If papal infallibility were not a de fide doctrine, you would be right. But the deplorable actions of bishops across the world must say something. At the very least it is contributing evidence when we discuss the motives of credibility for the Catholic church.

  326. Szabados Ádám, you write:

    What my thesis boils down to is that anyone reading the Scriptures can come to a saving knowledge of God by the testimony of the Spirit, and with the same help know what the gospel is and what it is not.

    So how do you explain the existence of thousand upon thousands of Protestant sects that teach conflicting and irreconcilable things about what the gospel actually is? If Joe Seeker comes to believe through God’s grace that the bible is the inerrant word of God, how does Joe Seeker determine which of these thousands upon thousands of Protestants sects is actually interpreting the word of God without error?

  327. Burton,

    I will keep it very simple then, and skip steps in the argumentation. I think what the apostle John says related to your question is basically the following two assertions:

    1) If you listen to us, apostles, you will be in the truth (cf. 1Jn 4:1-6). (This is what many would call an objective criterion.)

    2) The anointing (the Holy Spirit) teaches you (you, who are born of God) that it is us, apostles, who tell you the truth, and not others (cf. 1Jn 2:18-27). (This is what many would call a subjective criterion.)

    This implies that

    1) if we want to be in the truth we should study the writings of the apostles and believe only them, and

    2) we should trust that the Holy Spirit will help us understand and have confidence in what the apostles wrote.

    In other words:

    Protestants/evangelicals are faithful to the apostolic teaching when they believe in the essential clarity of the Scriptures, and the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, and therefore Protestants/evangelicals are faithful to the apostolic teaching when they encourage individuals to prayerfully read the Bible for themselves.

    Roman Catholics, however, are wrong when they insist that we need an infallible Magisterium to interpret the Bible for us. According to John “the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie – just as it has taught you, abide in him.” (1 John 2:27)

    What about the confidence of Mormons? They don’t listen to the apostles but add new revelations to the apostolic writings which are contrary to what the apostles say, so – according to Johannine criteria – they are under the influence of deceiving spirits (cf. 1Jn 4:1-6).

    What about the confidence of Roman Catholics? It is going to be strange to talk about the salvation of Catholics on their website, it is even harder to do it without sounding patronizing, but I don’t want to avoid your question. I’m not their judge but I think many Catholics do believe in a basic gospel message (something like 1Cor 15:1-4) and so it is the Holy Spirit indeed who testifies to their souls that the apostolic message is true. They know God and are known by Him. That happens partly despite (!) the deep confusing confusion of the Magisterium. God has many of His elect in this highly problematic denomination. Even Calvin admitted that.

    However, these believers are in constant danger, because, in my opinion, it is not the Holy Spirit but deceiving spirits who give them confidence about the authority of the Magisterium, the infallibility of the popes, the elevated role of Mary, the intercession of dead saints, the need for penance, the existence of purgatory, the treasury of merits, and such non-apostolic teachings and practices. They do not listen to the apostles carefully (giving up sola Scriptura is a good indicator), but let themselves be deceived by other authorities. In some cases the deception can be fatal. (Sorry, Catholics, I don’t mean to offend anyone, and I don’t write this lightly but with deep sadness.)

    Does this help, Burton? If you want to continue this conversation, let’s do this via email. My email address is szabados.adam@gmail.com. I’m not hiding anything, but I don’t want to start a new fire here. I cannot spend the coming weeks on this website.

  328. Jason,

    One of the points frequently brought up by those who convert from Protestantism to Rome is the “hardwired” disunity of Protestantism, hardwired because the Protestant paradigm supposedly doesn’t provide the mechanism for preventing schism or defining heresy in any meaningful sense. I understand this criticism, as it has been the driving force in my consideration of the claims of Christians outside of Protestantism. However, I wonder if the unity that can be found in what I will call “orthodox Protestantism” is too easily dismissed and discounted. As I mentioned to Adam, I come from a family that covers the spectrum of denominations. We are all faithful Christians, and we all acknowledge one another as such. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who suggested that orthodox Protestants and Catholics share more in common than orthodox Catholic with dissenting Catholic and the same within Protestantism. I admit that it is difficult to exactly define the locus of unity that does seem to exist, but from Pentecostalism to Anglicanism there exists a common bond in Jesus as Lord and Savior and the role of and inerrancy of Scripture. Did you experience this unity as a Protestant? If so, why did you conclude that the unity found in the Catholic Church was more valid (not sure if I’m articulating that very well).

    Burton

  329. Adam –

    In your response to Burton you said:

    However, these believers are in constant danger, because, in my opinion, it is not the Holy Spirit but deceiving spirits who give them confidence about the authority of the Magisterium, the infallibility of the popes, the elevated role of Mary, the intercession of dead saints, the need for penance, the existence of purgatory, the treasury of merits, and such non-apostolic teachings and practices. They do not listen to the apostles carefully (giving up sola Scriptura is a good indicator), but let themselves be deceived by other authorities. In some cases the deception can be fatal. (Sorry, Catholics, I don’t mean to offend anyone, and I don’t write this lightly but with deep sadness.)

    I appreciate your honesty and I’m not offended by your statement, but I am a bit annoyed by it, and the reason is that we try time and again to explain things like the “elevated” role of Mary, the need for penance, the existence of purgatory only to have everything we write dismissed based on protestant presuppositions. Everything you mention as being problematic has been dealt with on this website only to be dismissed. You mention that we “gave up” Sola Scriptura despite the fact that it has been demonstrated that we never believed in it (and, thus, it is impossible for us to give it up for you can’t give up something you never had). Bryan takes a lot of flack for saying, “Begging the question” a lot. If you, or anyone else, wants Bryan to stop saying this, I have some simple advic: stop begging the question! Stop dismissing Catholic claims by offering assertions. If we’re wrong, simply making assertions and dismissing our reasons for being Catholic isn’t helping us see the error of your ways.

    I’ve seen a lot of your posts here and on Jason’s website and what we keep waiting for, as Burton said earlier, is a positive argument for Protestantism. Show us that Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide fit into all of scripture, rather than just a few proof texts from Romans and Galatians. Demonstrate to us that the central doctrines listed above were common throughout the life of the Church – rather than showing up after 1500 years. We’ve been asking for it and nobody has provided one. Instead, everything we believe is assumed to be false and until that changes we won’t make any progress.

    I refer you to the Index of this website. All your objections you listed are covered in those articles.

  330. Adam,

    You wrote:

    When we evaluate the historical context, Clement’s sources and Clement’s allegiance to the apostles must have priority over later thinkers of the church (with whom he might not even had any contact).

    I see you asserting this, but you have provided no good argument (or any argument) demonstrating it. With regard to determining a writer’s meaning, why in principle must evidence that comes before a writer have higher “priority” than evidence that comes after that writer? The prioritization of the evidence should depend upon the degree to which the evidence sheds light on the point in question, not on some a priori stipulation regarding its location in time.

    But I have not read the Protestant concept of imputation back into Clement’s sentences. The concept is there in the passage. I’ve read your arguments, they are not convincing to me.

    Whether my arguments are convincing to you or not is irrelevant to their cogency. Here’s one problem for your position. As I showed regarding St. Clement in the St. Clement article, and regarding the Epistle to Diognetus in the Ligon Duncan article, what St. Clement says, and what is contained in the Epistle to Diognetus, are fully compatible with the teaching of the Council of Trent. Nor has that claim been refuted. No one has shown a single statement of St. Clement or in the Epistle to Diognetus to be incompatible with any teaching of Trent. And the same is true of St. Chrysostom’s writings. If, however, what St. Clement, the Epistle to Diognetus, or St. Chrysostom said concerning imputation was specifically Protestant, then because the Protestant conception of imputation is incompatible with Trent, therefore what St. Clement and the Epistle to Diognetus (and St. Chrysostom) say concerning imputation is not “there in the passage,” as you put it.

    But here’s a second problem for your position. If the Apostles taught a Protestant conception of imputation, then such a conception should be all throughout the writings of the Church Fathers. But the best you can do is appeal to two instances that are fully compatible with Trent. Let’s not miss the forest for the trees. The fact that even St. Clement and the Epistle to Diognetus are the best you can do in terms of finding a Protestant conception of imputation of righteousness in the Fathers, is damning to your case that the Apostles taught it, and taught that it was of the essence of the gospel. In order to avoid this problem, you’ll need to do what you will have to do regarding the universal patristic support of baptismal regeneration, i.e. posit some form of ecclesial deism and Mormon-style Restorationism at the time of the Reformation.

    It is not a good argument to say that they could not teach imputed righteousness because no church fathers taught imputed righteousness. It would be a circular reasoning.

    Agreed. Nor is it a good idea to refute a claim your interlocutor has not made.

    My authority is the apostolic tradition. It is historically interesting what later teachers said on this subject, but what I’m really interested and care about is what Jesus and the apostles said on justification by faith.

    Of course apostolic Tradition is authoritative for Catholics too. There are two relevant differences, however. One, in the Catholic tradition, the fullness of the apostolic deposit is not limited to the writings of the Apostles, but is contained also in the writings of the Church Fathers, who had received that deposit not just in Apostolic writings, but orally, face to face from the Apostles themselves. Second, the question of interpretation and interpretive authority cannot be ignored. The authoritative interpretation of the Apostles’ writings belongs to those bishops whom the Apostles authorized to succeed them in governing the Churches, and subsequently to the bishops whom they authorized to succeed them, and so on, down to the present day.

    Paul said: „But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Gal 1:8) Again, we don’t have enough time and space here to discuss this, but in my understanding Paul in Galatians teaches that justification by faith only (without works, through union with Christ) is central to the gospel.

    One mistake Protestants make quite frequently is treating “justification by faith only” as semantically equivalent to “justification not by works.” Then, since St. Paul teaches in his epistle to the Galatians that justification is by faith, and not by works of the Law, and since Canon 9 of the sixth session of Trent teaches that “If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, … let him be anathema” these Protestants conclude and pronounce that Trent anathematized the gospel. But justification by faith and not by works, is not equivalent to the Protestant notion of sola fide, in which the faith that is said to justify is not informed by the virtue of agape. So yes, justification by faith is central to the gospel, but that does not mean that the faith in view, by which we are justified is the Protestant conception of faith, according to which faith is not made living by agape, but agape only follows as a fruit or evidence of justifying faith. From a Catholic point of view, it is the Protestant teaching that has departed from the gospel taught by the Apostles.

    I don’t trust followers of the apostles (and their followers) as much as I trust the original source. Listen to what Paul said: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Gal 1:6-9) Let is suffice to say this: it is possible that followers distort the original message. Very early on.

    Starting your paragraph with “I don’t trust …” is an accurate revelation of the Protestant stance toward the Church Fathers, and toward the Church in general. Even though Protestants claim that sola scriptura does not reduce to what Mathison calls “solo scriptura,” nevertheless, for Protestants, it ultimately does not matter what the Church Fathers said. The tradition found in the Church Fathers has no authority for Protestants, even if it has some influence, because in the case of disagreement, the Protestant’s own interpretation of Scripture always trumps the patristic tradition, even if all the Church Fathers are in agreement on a doctrine as being from the Apostles, as in the case of baptismal regeneration. Rather, the Protestant approach to the Church Fathers is one of cherry-picking – if they said something that fits with one’s own interpretation of Scripture, then you quote it (as you did with St. Clement and the Epistle to Diognetus) in order to suggest that the Fathers knew about it, or were on your side. But whenever they say something that does not fit with your interpretation of Scripture, you dismiss it as contrary to Scripture, as you have to do in the case of the universal patristic witness regarding baptismal regeneration. In this way, the patristic testimony has no functional authority for Protestants, because “when I submit only when I agree, the one to whom I submit is me.” (See the article Neal and I wrote, titled “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.”) So even if you outwardly deny ecclesial deism, your stance of distrust toward the Church Fathers is functionally equivalent to ecclesial deism.

    The distrust is supported by the following mistaken line of reasoning: “we see in Scripture that certain Christians could and did distort the original message,” therefore the Church Fathers cannot be trusted. That conclusion does not follow from the premise. Individual Christians can fall into heresy, as can particular Churches. But the universal Church, and her magisterium (consisting of the pope and the bishops in communion with him), cannot fall into heresy, because that would constitute a prevailing of the gates of hell over the Church which is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim 3:15), to which Christ has promised to be with to the end of the age, and by His Spirit guide into all truth. See “The Indefectability of the Mystical Body.” Faith in Christ calls us to trust His Church, whom He authorized to teach and govern on His behalf until He returns. As Jesus said to His Apostles, “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” (Luke 10:16) This is the stance of faith of the believer toward the Apostles, and to their successors. To listen to them is to listen to Christ; to reject them is to reject Christ. In order for the Church Fathers to be counted as Church Fathers, they had to be recognized as orthodox by the Church. So the attitude of skepticism and distrust toward the Church Fathers, as rightful teachers of and witnesses to the Apostolic deposit, is based on a broader distrust of the whole Church that recognized and affirmed the authority and orthodoxy of these Fathers as faithful witnesses and expositors of the apostolic deposit. Again, that is functional ecclesial deism, which is functional solo scriptura-ism.

    You trust that an institution preserves the right interpretation of the apostles. I don’t. Absolutely not. It is enough to see what happened to the Protestant churches in the 17th, 18th, 19th, or 20th century. Or today. You can see this as a proof for Catholicism, but it is not. The same things happened to the Roman church, the only difference is that you are not willing to acknowledge it. To me it is obvious. Yes, it is an assertion. We would have to spend too much time on proving (or refuting) this, and David Meyer will demand moderation in the meantime.

    What happened to the Protestant denominations of the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries is what has happened, and must happen, to all sects founded by mere men. They fade away. But the holy Catholic Church Christ founded will continue to grew into the mountain that will fill the whole world (Daniel 2:35), because Christ built it on the rock (Petros) He established and infallibly prayed for, that his faith would fail not, and because the Church is Christ’s Body, and is therefore immortal, because He is immortal. To appeal to those Protestant sects is only to make my point. They couldn’t survive a few centuries; the Catholic Church, by contrast, is still around after two millennia, now numbering 1.2 billion, and growing at a rate of 34,000 persons per day.

    b. If absolute obedience to the official church is the sine qua non of obedience to Christ, than Athanasius was disobedient to Christ. He was disfellowshipped. He was resisting councils. He was alone, fighting against his superiors in the church. Athanasius contra mundum. And yet, the truth was on his side, because he was on the apostle’s side.

    You have a mistaken understanding of what happened in the fourth century. There were many other bishops, the pope included, who never endorsed Arianism. St. Athanasius was part of the magisterium of the Church, and remained always in communion with the pope. He was never excommunicated by the pope, and thus from the universal Church. The exiles he endured were at the hands of the emperor, who was directly being influenced by the Arian bishop, Eusebius of Nicomedia (not to be confused with Eusebius of Caesarea). The councils St. Athanasius opposed were only local councils called together by heretical eastern bishops, or by the emperor, not ecumenical councils. He remained true always to the authority of the ecumenical council at Nicea, which had papal ratification. St. Athanasius was present at the Council of Sardica in 343, which sent its conclusions to Pope Julius with the following letter:

    “What we have always believed, that we now experience; for experience proves and confirms what each has heard; true is that which the most blessed teacher of the Gentiles, Paul the Apostle, said of himself: ‘Do you seek a proof of Christ who speaketh in me?’ Though of a surety, since the Lord Christ dwelt in him it cannot be doubted but that the Holy Spirit spoke by his mouth, and was heard through the instrumentality of his body. And you likewise, beloved brother, though separated in body, were separated in body, were present in mind and agreement and will, and your excuse for absence was good and unavoidable, that the schismatic wolves might not steal and rob by stealth, nor the heretic dogs bark madly in the excitement of their wild fury, or even the crawling devil pour forth the poison of blasphemy. For this will seem to be most good and very proper, if to the head, that is to the See of Peter the Apostle, the bishops of the Lord shall refer from all provinces. Since therefore all that has been transacted and decided is contained in the documents, and can be truly and faithfully explained by word of mouth by our beloved brothers and fellow-priests, Archidamus and Philoxenus, and our dear son, the deacon Leo, it seems almost superfluous to write it here.”

    St. Athanasius always remained true to the Church’s visible head, that is, the See of Peter.

    Next you wrote:

    c. I try to obey Jesus with all my heart, trusting that his righteousness covers all my sins. I try to obey his apostles (the ones he personally chose) because he authorized them. They are the foundation of the church. I obey my leaders when I am a member of a church, and I make myself accountable when I am one of those leaders in a church. I don’t absolutely trust my leaders (I don’t think the NT requires that), nor do I expect such trust from others. I only give absolute trust to Jesus and the writings of the apostles.

    Here’s the problem. You picked those persons to be your ‘leaders’ because they most closely conform to your interpretation of Scripture. Any heretical group could (and does) the same. That’s not how Christ set up His Church. The Apostles appointed bishops as successors. They didn’t instruct people to choose and follow leaders who conformed to their [i.e. laypersons’] own interpretation of Scripture. To pick as one’s leader a person who agrees with one’s own interpretation, and ignore or disregard the bishop whom the Apostles established, is to reject the ecclesial authority Christ established. It is one more form of accumulating to oneself teachers to who each one’s ears, who speak and teach in conformity with one’s own interpretation. ( 2 Tim 4:3) That’s why the ‘leaders’ you follow now are not legitimate leaders, and have no actual ecclesial authority. This is revealed even in your stance toward them: you submit to them only when you agree with their interpretation. Otherwise, you don’t submit to them. And that’s no authority at all, but you call it ‘authority,’ because otherwise the nakedness of your “solo scriptura” position would be too self-evident, and you would have no way of hiding from your inability to “obey your leaders and submit to them” (Heb 13:17), as you have no way of distinguishing schism from heresy. (Notice how St. Athanasius and his fellow 90+ bishops at the Council of Sardica distinguish between schism and heresy. What does it say about your ecclesiology when they can distinguish between schism and heresy, but you cannot?)

    d. I strongly believe that the Holy Spirit teaches us, and gives us confidence in the truthfulness of the teachings of the apostles.

    Right. So did the Montantists. So does Benny Hinn.

    When Luther and Calvin felt closer to the apostolic tradition than the leaders of the Roman church, it was therefore because the Holy Spirit taught them (1Jn 2:20 and 27!).

    Your argument there goes like this: You believe that the Holy Spirit teaches us and gives us confidence in the truthfulness of the teachings of the apostles. When Luther and Calvin felt closer to the apostolic tradition than the leaders of the Roman church, it was therefore because the Holy Spirit taught them (1Jn 2:20 and 27!)

    You might see, I hope, that that conclusion does not follow from those premises. Just because someone believes that the Holy Spirit is leading him, teaching him and giving him confidence, it does not follow that he is in fact following the truth or following the Holy Spirit. Almost all the heretics in the history of the Church, and all the sects and cults even of our own time, claim to be following the Spirit. I myself was raised Pentecostal, and witnessed people doing and claiming so many wrong and foolish things (things you yourself would agree are wrong and foolish), on the basis of following the leading of the Spirit. Here’s one example:

    Believing that one is being led by the Spirit is not infallible, nor does it make one infallible, or guarantee the truth of one’s doctrine or practice. It is just another form of private judgment, as I argued in response to Richard Phillips in “Play Church.” The problem with your notion that confidence that you are being led by the Holy Spirit entails that you are in fact being led by the Holy Spirit, is that it implies that the Spirit, whom Christ calls the Spirit of Truth, is leading people in many, incompatible, even contradictory positions. But Truth cannot contradict Truth. Therefore the Holy Spirit cannot be leading people into contrary or contradictory positions. And therefore confidence that one is being led by the Spirit is no guarantee that one is being led by the Holy Spirit.

    You wrote:

    They listened to Christ and his apostles (1Jn 4:1-6) more than to the leaders of the church, because they obeyed the command of Christ and the apostles to test the spirits whether they are from God. They also obeyed Jesus who said that we should “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” They heard Jesus’s words: “You will recognize them by their fruits.” (Mt 7:15-16)

    They were the false prophets. All the false prophets claim to be following Christ when they rebel against the leaders Christ has appointed. They never claim not to be following Christ; otherwise they wouldn’t deceive the sheep. Of course we should beware of false prophets – those who climb in by another way, rather than entering the sheepfold by the door, which is ordination by the rightful authorities. St. Francis de Sales, the bishop of Geneva in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, in his book The Catholic Controversies, shows this very clearly. That’s how he brought 70,000 Catholics who had become Calvinists, back into the Catholic Church, by showing them that Calvin and the other Protestant leaders who had come in and persuaded them to separate themselves from the local bishop, were never divinely authorized, but usurped authority and presumed to teach in Christ’s name, but without His authorization.

    BAPTISMAL REGENERATION. No, I don’t believe in it, nor do I think the apostles did, nor that all the early fathers did.

    So, which Church Fathers denied baptismal regeneration? (The issue of infant or adult baptism is a red herring, in relation to the question of baptismal regeneration.)

    a. What is the Church? In the NT the Church (ekklesia) is not a worldwide institution, but the people of God. The new Israel. Those who are in Christ through personal faith. Everywhere and anywhere.

    Even the Westminster Confession of Faith has a less gnostic account of the Church than that, in its definition of the visible Church. If you are Reformed, then since in the Reformed system only the elect have “personal faith” in Christ, therefore, given your definition of the Church, the Church is only the set of the elect. Here’s one problem with your definition: it contradicts what you say about discipline. You are strongly in support of Church discipline, but if the Church is the set of the elect, there is no such thing as discipline, because no one who is elect can be put “out” of the Church, i.e. can be put out of the set of the elect. Moreover, the term “personal faith” is too vague and ambiguous to be of any use in determining where is the Church, and distinguishing what is the Church from what is not the Church. People holding all kinds of beliefs claim to have personal faith in Christ, people that you would deny are part of the Church. So, you have a criterion, and it is much more than merely holding “personal faith.”

    b. The basic unit of the church in the NT is the local church. It would again take a long argument and a lot more space and time to explain why I believe this is the biblical position.

    Sure, but the universal Church doesn’t come into existence by a sum of local churches. The universal Church (i.e. the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church) was birthed on Pentecost, and local churches were established subsequently as local instantiations of the universal Church.

    c. My fellowship with other Christians of different denominations is real. We pray together. We enjoy fellowship in Christ together. We love and respect each other. We visit each other. Often born again (oh, yes, an evangelical shibboleth) Roman Catholics join us and have fellowship with us, too. We preach the gospel together. We sometimes have joint services. Sometimes even eat the Eucharist together (Roman Catholics sadly abstain from it, but sometimes they carry around the plates and the cups). But we live our Christian lives in our own home churches because we live far from each other or because we have different views on secondary issues (issues that are not central to the gospel). These people often have a strained relationship, though, with nominal or liberal or sectarian members of their own denominations, because belief in the gospel and life in the Spirit counts, not institutional identity. That is real Catholicism to me. Yes, there are fractions and church splits and broken brotherly relationships, too. But there is cross-denominational evangelical unity, as well.

    I agree that there is common ground between evangelical denominations, both in content of faith, in a Trinitarian baptism, and in some fellowship of the Spirit (for those in a state of grace). But, even so, that’s a small portion of the unity Christ has established in His Church, and to which He calls us all (cf. John 17), so as to be a visible testimony that He came from the Father. That full Catholic unity is complete unity in the dogmas of the faith, complete agreement and mutual possession regarding the number and nature of the sacraments, and unity of government (i.e. not being in schism).

    d. Schism is when someone separates himself from the apostolic tradition, the teachings of the apostles preserved in the Scriptures. This is how Irenaeus distinguished between Christians and heretics.

    Notice that I asked you about schism, and you responded by giving a definition of heresy. Michael Horton makes the very same mistake, as I showed in “Michael Horton on Schism as Heresy.” So here’s a question. Can you name a single Church Father who defines ‘schism’ as heresy?

    The test was faithfulness to the apostolic tradition. This is how in the 4th century Athanasius distinguished between bishops and bishops. In his view Arian bishops were the schismatic ones (even their names betrayed them, he said!), in his view they were not even Christians.

    They were heretics when they rejected the homoouious after the Council of Nicea. They were not schismatics until they attempted some years later to excommunicate the pope, and in doing so excommunicated themselves from the pope, and from all the bishops (St. Athanasius included) who remained in communion with the pope. St. Athanasius clearly, in his writings, distinguished between heresy and schism (see above, for example).

    The teachings of Jesus and the apostles is a greater authority to me than either you are or your ecclesiastical institution is.

    Of course they’re greater in authority than me, as they are greater in authority than you. But your statement misses the distinction in the mode of authority had by each, which is why you’re pitting the authority of Scripture against the authority of the Church, as if the two are the same sort of authority, and are therefore in competition. In actuality, the authority of Scripture never competes with the authority of the Church, because the Scripture holds authority as the written word of God, and the Church holds teaching/interpretive authority regarding the meaning and interpretation of Scripture and the Tradition, because Scripture has been entrusted to the Church. See the Tertullian quotation in Section XII: “The Authority of the Magisterium in Relation to Scripture,” of my reply to Michael Horton last comment in our Modern Reformation interview.

    You wrote:

    They (both Jesus and the apostles) clearly taught the importance of discipline in the local church. The local church. That is where it is possible, and that is where it was commanded.

    Discipline in the local Church is meaningless unless all the local Churches are under the same government. Otherwise, the excommunicated person just goes to the next local Church, or starts his own (since, as you stated above, the Church is those who have a personal faith, and so long as he retains personal faith, then therefore he cannot be kicked out of the Church). Tom Brown and I addressed this in much more detail in “Christ Founded a Visible Church.”

    b It is a foreign concept from the NT that the office can be separated from the character.

    Even if that were the case, in the Catholic paradigm, the fullness of the apostolic tradition is not limited to the New Testament. So, the “where’s that in the Bible?” objection just begs the question by presupposing the Protestant paradigm. But Jesus Himself taught otherwise concerning authorities who sin, when He said:

    Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. (Mt. 23:1-3)

    According to Jesus, hypocrisy by ecclesial leaders does not vitiate authority.

    Bryan, there is a time for all discussions to end. In the last few days I’ve devoted a lot of time to this dialogue, but I have many other obligations, too. You are welcome to respond to my thoughts, but that may be the end of it for me. It is your prerogative to say the last word as a host. Thank you (and CTC) for letting me share my thoughts. I might follow the discussion, but with less intensity.

    You’re welcome. Thanks for your honest dialogue. I understand that your criticisms aren’t intended to be offensive or insulting, but are a passionate attempt to defend and support the truth as you see it. My criticisms also are offered in that same spirit, and in the hope of a reconciliation of Protestants and Catholics through just such an honest dialogue in pursuit of truth and unity in the truth.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  331. Fr. Bryan,

    Instead of providing you an argument here (I have provided an outline of an argument at Jason’s website, maybe you missed it), let me recommend Hermann Ridderbos: Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures, as a starter.

  332. Thank you, Bryan, for your reply. I am strongly tempted to answer you (I have a thousand thoughts why I think you are mistaken at many points, why I think you misunderstood Athanasius, why I think you misrepresented my arguments, etc. etc.), but I will keep my word, and let your comment be the last argument in our discussion. Thanks again for the interaction.

  333. Bryan (re:#330),

    I have been following the exchanges with Adam. It is common for roman catholics to highlight the inabilities of protestants to make positive arguments for the distinction between truth and non-truth. With this highlight, an attempt to bring the position into a subjective-isolated-skeptical place is found. The formal motive of faith is the authority of Prime truth revealing, and this is the beginning and end of roman catholic arguments.

    You wrote:
    You might see, I hope, that that conclusion does not follow from those premises. Just because someone believes that the Holy Spirit is leading him, teaching him and giving him confidence, it does not follow that he is in fact following the truth or following the Holy Spirit. Almost all the heretics in the history of the Church, and all the sects and cults even of our own time, claim to be following the Spirit. I myself was raised Pentecostal, and witnessed people doing and claiming so many wrong and foolish things (things you yourself would agree are wrong and foolish), on the basis of following the leading of the Spirit.

    Believing that one is being led by the Spirit is not infallible, nor does it make one infallible, or guarantee the truth of one’s doctrine or practice. It is just another form of private judgment, as I argued in respond to Richard Phillips in “Play Church.” The problem with your notion that confidence that you are being led by the Holy Spirit entails that you are in fact being led by the Holy Spirit, is that it implies that the Spirit, whom Christ calls the Spirit of Truth, is leading people in many, incompatible, even contradictory positions. But Truth cannot contradict Truth. Therefore the Holy Spirit cannot be leading people into contrary or contradictory positions. And therefore confidence that one is being led by the Spirit is no guarantee that one is being led by the Holy Spirit.

    Response:
    I want to know what role incompatible and contradictory positions play in the sovereign, providential work of the LORD of truth. How does the adoption of the roman catholic position guard the individual catholic from fear of the following:

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Kings%2022:14-23&version=NIV
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2%20thessalonians%202:1-12&version=NIV

    Why should Adam’s brand of confidence be a reason to think the Spirit of Truth leads people into contrary or contradictory positions ? Adam’s spirit is very similar to Micaiah. How can the individual roman catholic extricate himself from the possibility that the LORD, who has worked all things for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28), caused a lying spirit to enter his mouth, or delusion to believe a lie ?

    You have already admitted that individual christians and particular churches can fall into heresy. At some point in the stream of God’s authority through time the roman catholic most have full confidence that he has aligned with that authority. That confidence is in the form of a very, very subjective habit of faith.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  334. MY FINAL POST @ CTC ~
    Thank you Jason, for giving us fodder for discussion & for debating with me.
    Thank you, Chris Lake & others, for your provocative posts!
    Thank you Sean, Bryan, & the other moderators, for letting me post & for interacting with me.
    I am not schooled in philosophy, nor much history, nor much in your theology.
    I am vastly outmanned, and our divergent authorities make debate pretty nearly impossible.*
    May Christ give all of us more light! With that, I retire from the blog.
    I am happy to carry on discussions in emails.
    Sincerely Yours in Christ,
    Hugh McCann
    HUGHMC5 [at] HOTMAIL [dot] COM
    * Besides, this blog is not meant for strident arguments or straying off topic, and prone to such be I! And,
    This is to be a forum wherein unity is pursued in the context of humility, charity, respect and prayer.

  335. Adam (#327),

    Thanks for the clarification. It sounds as though it would be accurate to describe your position as Solo Scriptura (as opposed to Sola). Catholics and Protestants (and Mormons) would all agree that we must listen to the teaching of the apostles and that the Holy Spirit is necessary to correctly interpret their teachings, but from there you assert that following the apostles’ teachings means ONLY the individual reading the Scriptures (as you define them) and believing what they teach (as you interpret them). This still does not provide a means of determining which self-described Spirit-led believers have the orthodox interpretation and which have the false interpretation. The Word of Faith movement (a heretical cult by my assessment) is an excellent example of this problem. The issue of contraception is another. These are not peripheral spiritual concerns and may have truly eternal consequences for those who follow false teachings.

    Your thesis seems to boil down to Solo Scriptura, with Holy Spirit anointing as the criteria for true interpretation, but you haven’t explained how this thesis deals with the reality of competing claims to Spirit anointed Truth. Are you not still stuck in the circular argument: those who have the anointing have the Truth, and those who have the Truth have the anointing? I am perfectly capable of understanding a well constructed argument, just not the philosophical jargon that I think is often employed to shroud a lack of cogent and clear argumentation. I am not accusing you of that, but I believe that any complex lengthy philosophical argument should be explainable in clear, concise terms, or its veracity is questionable.

    Burton

  336. Eric (#333),

    Let me jump in and offer a very simplified thought. I am sure Bryan will be answering in far more nuanced detail.

    Why am I questioning my Protestantism and at least looking elsewhere? Because it seems to me that the Protestant Paradigm, ASSUMING IT IS TRUE, by its very nature is incapable of defining heresy versus orthodoxy in a way that is true for and recognizable by all Christians, while the Catholic paradigm, ASSUMING IT IS TRUE, by its very nature is capable of making this determination in a way that is true for all Christians. It’s not that Adam’s position couldn’t be true, its just that if it is, there is no way to know whether he or the Word-of-Faith movement or some other group has the true anointing. This is why I can’t escape the conclusion that some form of LIVING God-ordained authority must be necessary.

    Burton

  337. RefProt you wrote:

    If I understand the motives of credibility correctly, I think it has a lot to say about the doctrine preached by your church. If papal infallibility were not a de fide doctrine, you would be right. But the deplorable actions of bishops across the world must say something. At the very least it is contributing evidence when we discuss the motives of credibility for the Catholic church.

    My point was that “that unless a sect is actually teaching child molestation is morally permissible, the occurrence of child molestation within a church proves absolutely nothing about the doctrine preached by that church.” I made this point by first speaking about the child molestation by pastors and the subsequent cover-ups found in Protestant churches. The fact that some Protestant pastors molest children proves absolutely nothing about the truth or falsity of the doctrine taught by the pastor’s Protestant sect. The only thing that child molestation by a Protestant pastor proves is this: that the Protestant pastor failed to live up to the moral doctrine taught by his Protestant sect.

    RefProt, you don’t seem to object to what I said in the above paragraph. Nor have you objected to the data that shows roughly the same rate of child molestation by Protestant pastors as one finds among the ordained priests of the Catholic Church. If a Presbyterian pastor molests children, and that child molestation is covered up, no one will take me seriously if I advance an argument that the corrupt behavior of some Presbyterian pastors is proof that the doctrine taught by John Calvin is corrupt. Such an argument would be ludicrous. But for some reason that escapes me, you hold the Catholic Church to a different standard entirely. Evidence of child molestation and cover-ups within the Catholic Church is, for you, credible evidence that the officially taught doctrine of the Catholic Church is corrupt!

    The Catholic Church has never taught that papal infallibility implies papal impeccability. The Catholic Church is only claiming that if a pope (even a bad pope) exercises the charismatic gift of infallibility when formally defining doctrine, or exercises this charism when affirming the doctrine solemnly defined at an Ecumenical Council, said doctrine will have a guarantee from God to be inerrant. That Catholic Church’s teaching is that God guarantees that the dogmas officially taught by the church that Christ personally founded will never be in error. God offers no guarantee that the men who officially define the dogmas of His church are free from sin.

    To sum up, I don’t believe that a Presbyterian pastor’s moral failings provide credible evidence that John Calvin taught corrupt doctrine. Nor do I believe that a Catholic priest’s moral failings provide credible evidence that popes have solemnly defined corrupt doctrine ex cathedra. If I am wrong to believe these two things, I would like to know this: Why would a Presbyterian believe that a Presbyterian pastor’s moral failings does not provide credible evidence that John Calvin taught corrupt doctrine?

  338. It’s hard to leave…

    Burton,

    You say: “I believe that any complex lengthy philosophical argument should be explainable in clear, concise terms, or its veracity is questionable.”

    I thought I’ve done that in #327.

    You say: “you assert that following the apostles’ teachings means ONLY the individual reading the Scriptures”

    No, I don’t say that. I say that the anointing is given to individuals so they are capable to discern orthodoxy and heresy. I also say that being in the truth is not simply an objective certainty but an existential experience. I say these because the apostle John teaches them.

    But I’m not saying that “following the apostles’ teachings means ONLY the individual reading the Scriptures.” I agree with Polányi, to whom I refer in my thesis, that validation is not an individual enterprise. The more people see the same reality the more the case is validated. Moreover, living in community is essential to the Christian faith. We study the Scriptures together! But we study the Scriptures, not the catechisms and canons of the Roman Church.

  339. Burton (336),

    “It’s not that Adam’s position couldn’t be true, its just that if it is, there is no way to know whether he or the Word-of-Faith movement or some other group has the true anointing.”

    Yes, there is. Honest exegesis of the New Testament. At the end of the day you would have to exegete the canons of the Magisterium, as well. Isn’t it safer to build your faith on an exegesis of the apostolic writings only?

  340. Burton,

    Let me be even more simple than that. Here is a sentence from Paul that captures that which I have argued for from 1 John:

    “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”
    (2 Timothy 2:7 ESV)

    1) Studying the apostolic teaching (“Think over what I say”)
    2) and trusting that God will “give understanding in everything.”

    So when Benny Hinn says: “The Holy Ghost told me…” I would NOT challenge him by saying: “But the Holy Ghost told me something else”, but by inviting him to see what the Scriptures say.

  341. I overstated my point when I said: “The more people see the same reality the more the case is validated.” It sounds as if I meant that “the majority is always right.” I certainly don’t believe that. What I really wanted to say was that the reality which we claim to know is open for investigation. And we do it together as well as individually.

  342. Mateo,

    Thanks for your response. Let me attempt to provide a brief answer to this question,

    Why would a Presbyterian believe that a Presbyterian pastor’s moral failings does not provide credible evidence that John Calvin taught corrupt doctrine?

    I am attempting to connect some dots between this and other articles here at CtC (and I’d be more than willing to hear if I’ve understood correctly). The motives of credibility presented by the Roman Catholic Church to believe that she is indeed the Church that Christ founded are described as follows ,

    12. What is more, the Church herself by reason of her astonishing propagation, her outstanding holiness and her inexhaustible fertility in every kind of goodness, by her Catholic unity and her unconquerable stability, is a kind of great and perpetual motive of credibility and an incontrovertible evidence of her own divine mission.

    To read in context see here, http://www.ewtn.com/library/COUNCILS/V1.htm#4

    As a Protestant onlooker, the motives of credibility seem to fail on a number of levels. You will undoubtedly come back with the many good things the Catholic Church has done and I will acknowledge that they exist. The acts of parish priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes give me motives of incredibility for the Catholic Church.

    Child molestation is bad enough, but the cover up that ensued from the church hierarchy is stomach churning. Does this invalidate her doctrine of justification or Mary, or purgatory? No, I would not want to argue that. I think that applies to both Presbyterian ministers and Catholic priests.

    I think the Presbyterian ministers claim about his church though is less grandiose than Rome’s position. I’m supposed to look at Rome as a shining example of goodness and be drawn to believe her. What I have found in my experience and in news headlines is the exact opposite.

    So to answer your question, the sanctity of a theologian neither validates or invalidates their position(s). However, when you tell me to trust you because of all the great things you have done when I see the clear defilement that is underneath your nose, it causes me to question the foundation of your theology.

  343. Adam,

    As a follower of Polanyi (I subscribe to Tradition & Discovery), I am very confused by your thesis. The anointing as “tacit knowledge” seems to directly contradict what Polanyi thought about the very concept. What your thesis seems to do is to reduce the anointing to uncommunicable knowledge, as a mechanism for producing an hypothesis. Further, I am sure you would admit that Polanyi would not accept your thesis — but that is besides the point.

    Anyways, the irony is that Polanyi helped me to become Catholic. He helped me overcome the tu quoque argument that the Catholic is no better off than the Protestant when he discovers the Catholic Church (vs. a private interpretation of scripture). Why? Because Polanyi was committed to the idea of a “real world”, and that the subjective aspect of knowledge did not undermine the real nature of objects (in my case, I fought that object, and it won!). In fact, it was the only good explanation for inquiry. Instead, his concept of the subjective only explains the personal nature of knowledge. As I like to say, all knowledge is personal, not all knowledge is subjective.

    The “see what the Scriptures say” approach, assumes that you “see” what, in fact, they correctly say. Further, it assumes that you are in the correct community. If anything, Polanyi’s theory would be detrimental to the evangelical position, because it is precisely in community that one can learn the true nature of the object-in-reality. In this case, divorcing Sacred Scripture from Sacred Tradition would make the former unintelligible. So, replying to Benny Hinn as you have, you have not made your position more intelligible than his, only made yourself another Hinn yourself.

    I would encourage you to study Thomistic epistemology. Start with Thomas, himself, but Maritain is a good reading companion. What you will find is that Polanyi is a kind of precursor for modern man understanding scholastic thought. I think St. Thomas does a much better job accounting for the act of intellection as it relates to knowledge. Just as Polanyi is critical of the objectivist position, St. Thomas would find that position unintelligible. However, St. Thomas is not working within that tradition so he is not fraught with the limitations of trying to think outside of the objectivist paradigm.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  344. Brent,

    I remember Horton having us read Polanyi at Westminster, and I would find it interesting to revisit him as a Catholic. Could you (or anyone) point me to a book or article somewhere that brings his epistemological insights to bear on the Catholic question?

    Thanks.

  345. Brent,

    Have you read my thesis? I am fully aware of Polányi’s realism. It is crucial to my thesis as well. Please, don’t read me through Burton’s eyes. I am not advocating subjectivism.

    Polányi was Augustinian in his epistemology. The Johannine epistemological model I offer is also “Augustinian.” I am not a subjectivist. Polányi was a Catholic, though a doubting one. He carried the Anglican prayer book in his pocket. Following Polányi you can certainly argue for a Catholic position. As well as for a Protestant position.

    I have never claimed that Polányi would believe in my thesis. Here is a quote from my thesis: “I am aware of the difficulties of connecting an essentially secular (though not naturalistic!) model with an extraordinary phenomenon of grace (the work of the Holy Spirit). Polanyi clearly saw the potentials of his model for the self-understanding of Christianity, but he only vaguely referred to such application, and the kind of Christianity he envisaged was a sort of Christian mysticism, closer to the theology of Paul Tillich than to evangelicalism.” Here is another quote: “I do not think, however, that Polanyi (here or elsewhere) does full justice to the role of either the Holy Spirit or the historical, apostolic gospel, as frameworks for a true knowledge of God. My point here is simply that he sees the potentials of his model for the self-understanding of Christianity.”

    Polányi used his epistemological model to explain liturgical mysticism, and appreciated Paul Tillich’s theology. He never used his epistemological model to explain Roman Catholicism as a belief system. My thesis simply claims that there is a strong resemblence between John’s epistemology and Polányian epistemology. I argue that John can be explained and understood by Polányian categories.

    And here is a quote from my thesis to put an end to the unceasing misunderstanding in this discussion that I am advocating subjectivism: “The anointing does not ignore the particulars. It makes them part of the epistemic act. The anointing makes us see through the particulars and shows us their meaning. The details of the apostolic teaching about Christ can never be substituted with the anointing. A mystical experience or a ’divine light’ (e.g., the Quakers) is not enough if there is no teaching that it can rely on for the experiential knowledge of Christ. The anointing functions in a way that respects the particulars and their significance in themselves. But they are not in the focal awareness. The anointing internalizes the particulars and makes them part of the tacit knowledge that we are subsidiarily aware of. Getting to know the apostolic teaching is absolutely crucial for the right perception.”

    I said earlier (how come you missed my #339?) that I read the Scriptures in community not just individually. I read it together with the group of saints around me, I read it with the church tradition closest to me, I read it together with the Reformers, and with the entire church history. I try to read extensively from all ages of church history. If you come to Hungary, I can show you my book shelves. Besides Protestant authors you will see lots and lots of patristic as well as medieval writers. Your will find modern Catholic theologians there, too.

    I find it interesting, though, that the closer I get to the apostolic age the more the opinion of the Christian community resembles that of the simplicity of the evangelical Protestant tradition, and it resembles less and less that of the complex beliefs and extra-biblical practices of the Roman Catholic church. Just take the example of the attitude to Mary.

    I find it interesting, too, that the apostle John says nothing – absolutely nothing! – about the bishop of Rome when he talks about the criteria of discerning between heresy and orthodoxy. He talks about the apostolic teaching (1Jn 4:1-6) and the anointing of the Holy Spirit (1Jn 2:20,27). Don’t you find it curious?

    I will be at a conference next week (on evangelical global missions, with René Padilla and others), so I won’t be able to continue this dialogue. Thanks for everyone for challenging and sharpening me by your comments.

  346. Jason,

    Father Martin Moleski has written Personal Catholicism: The Theological Epistemologies of John Henry Newman and Michael Polanyi which does just what you seem to be asking.

    Polanyi’s use toward my own particular study of Catholicism came about while I was studying epistemology at the University of Dallas. His name came up while I was reading certain social epistemologists — reading a Zagzebski article, I think (I could be wrong). Anyways, Polanyi showed me the error of the objectivist position, but then never really took me all the way there. Blessed Newman helped. Jacques Maritain helped me the most — I’ve read everything he’s written on epistemology.

    I recommend The Study of Man by Polanyi. I think it more generally accessible and practical than Personal Knowledge — though the latter is fine reading (Study comes 6 years after Personal). I do know that Polanyi was baptized a Roman Catholic at 28.

    You can find many articles on Polanyi here (The Polanyi Society website). I did a search and it returned these results.

    I hope this helps.

    In Christ,

    Brent

  347. Refprot –

    Regarding this statement:

    I’m supposed to look at Rome as a shining example of goodness and be drawn to believe her. What I have found in my experience and in news headlines is the exact opposite.

    How would you respond to an Atheist who says something like, “I’m supposed to look at Christians as shining examples of goodness and be drawn to follow their way of life. What I have found in my experience and in news headlines is the exact opposite?”

  348. Adam,

    I looked at your thesis (through your link). I admit, though, that I probably missed a few of your comments in this thread. Nevertheless, I don’t see how your concept of “the anointing” locates theology outside of the subject. Of course, I understand that most serious protestants read books, live in communities, etc. It is just that those communities, books, et. al. are provisional, and their particular “anointing” drives the truck. Which is why sola reduces to solo; and the “anointing” in your scheme is — with regards to where the buck stops — the same place as Benny Hinn — your bosom. It does your position no health if that bosom takes into consideration particulars, lives in a community, and so on, if it always reserves the right to set aside some particular or leave some community.

    It would be unfair for me to continue, since you must go. I bid you good travel and profitable conference.

    In Christ,

    Brent

  349. Burton (re:#336),

    Make no mistake, I think the distinguishing-defining concerns offer a formidable challenge to anything labeled protestant. They should not be ignored and our responsibility before God is to test all things (1Thess. 5:21). What gets my attention is how there is an implicit confidence in our ability to think and speak meaningfully about scenarios beginning with ASSUMING IT IS TRUE, when TRUTH is the problem. Are you impressed by the fact that so much engagement with truth is occurring prior to considering secondary authority ? How many times have you questioned your ability to identify (knowing the nature of Protestantism or Catholicism) or infer (if this or that is true, then its identifiable nature must be this or that way) ? Did you ever pause and wonder why the necessary LIVING agent is called dust and vapor in the scriptures ? These things rarely escape my attention.

    I am convinced that “distinguish” and “define” are the most often used “D” words at CtC. Here is a sample from Thomas Aquinas.

    Summa Theologiae, On Faith, Q#4 Virtue of faith, Article 1:

    Whether this is a suitable DEFINITION of faith: “Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the argument of things that do not appear.”

    Response:
    Well, is it ? Aquinas had no problem dealing with the question without appealing to the living authority.

    BUT TO THE CONTRARY there suffices the authority of the Apostle.

    R: Was this Apostle alive at the time ?

    Still, if one considers rightly, everything from which faith can be DEFINED is touched on in the foregoing description, even if the words ARE NOT ordered in the form of a DEFINITION.

    R: Definition without the form of a definition ? Could any protestant get away with a statement like that ?

    If therefore someone wanted to reduce words of this kind to the form of a DEFINITION, it could be said that ” faith is a habit of mind, by which eternal life begins in us, making the understanding assent to what does not appear.” Faith is DISTINGUISHED by this from all other things that belong to the understanding.

    R: Look closely at the sequence:

    1. Apostle’s words sufficient for a definition.
    2. Definition may be present without the form of a definition.
    3. A form of definition is provided.
    4. Inserted understanding as part of this definition.
    5. The criteria for “distinguishing” is to use a word differently in the definition.

    Aquinas is a non-magisterial person who engages in theological reasoning without infallibility, recognizes divine authority, recognizes a sufficient definition of faith, provides a special form of a definition, and distinguishes faith from non-faith. Not even a hint of the LIVING authority.

    1. Fallible interpreter of Scripture.
    2. Fallible agent defining.
    3. Fallible agent distinguishing.

    From this sample, ask the RC authorities if he reached truth under these conditions. Did their authority or infallibility ever add anything to its truth ?

    Thanks,
    Eric

  350. Ádám, Brent, Burton:

    First of all Ádám I would like to thank you for your contributions here. I have followed this conversation with interest.

    Brent, I don’t have the time to weigh in at length but wanted to make a methodological comment. You say:

    Nevertheless, I don’t see how your concept of “the anointing” locates theology outside of the subject.

    But don’t you see, Ádám does not believe this is “his” concept but the apostle John’s? In which case he is not exactly at liberty to criticize it. So, methodologically, what you need to do is not argue about whether his criterion for determining truth and error is too subjective, but convince him exegetically that he is incorrect. Show that his reading of 1 John is wrong, and I believe you will make progress. After all, this whole charge of “bosom-burning,” made repeatedly on this site, is considerably weakened if the apostles Paul (cf 1 Cor 2) and John are exposed to the same critique.

    To say Protestants are in the same position as Mormons and other sects (here I am thinking of Burton’s comments) is just incredible to me. In addition to what has been said here, there is another criterion by which one can test claims to possess the Spirit: are the doctrinal claims in fact historically true? In the case of Mormons, the extreme historical implausibility belies their claim to be Spirit-filled. As Bryan said above, the Spirit cannot contradict the truth.

  351. Fr. Bryan (347),

    I would acknowledge that there is corruption and error in the church but that the remedy is found in the Gospel as it is contained in Scripture.

    If I am to look at the motives of credibility to determine if Rome is the Church that Christ founded the moral failings of Rome leave a serious black eye. We are not simply talking about an isolated event. The way the sexual abuse scandal was handled by Rome from top to bottom has been an absolute debacle and injustice. I’m not trying to implicate the many faithful and holy priests who will go unheard in Rome, but this type of institutional corruption is unsettling.

    We are talking about men who have taken advantage of minors, abused them sexually while the Church hierarchy turned a blind eye. I understand it was not everyone in the hierarchy, but the fact that there were a startling number of men who were offenders multiple times without any recourse to judgment on an ecclesiastical AND civil level is deplorable.

    We may be able to agree on these things. We can also agree that this does not invalidate a RC position on baptismal regeneration, justification by faith working through love, etc. Those issues need to be discussed in their own way and I’m not advocating that everything Rome teaches is wrong because of her moral failings. What I am suggesting is that Rome’s moral failings cast serious doubt as to whether or not it is the Church Christ founded based upon their own criteria (see Vatican 1, motives of credibility).

  352. Bryan 330

    You say,

    But justification by faith and not by works, is not equivalent to the Protestant notion of sola fide, in which the faith that is said to justify is not informed by the virtue of agape.

    This is a generalization about Protestantism that I’ve seen you make repeatedly, not only here on this thread but also in various articles (e.g. your recent article on St. Irenaeus). I would just caution that it is not an accurate generalization. To be sure, there are Protestants who believe this. But there are many who don’t. Jason believed this, and prosecuted Leithart, who didn’t. I grew up learning up that the only faith that justifies is a living faith and being taught such slogans as: “by faith alone, but faith is never alone.” The “faith” in sola fide was not a “bare faith” but a faith that was living and active and produced fruit.

  353. David (re: #352),

    Where does Leithart (or any other well-known Protestant) acknowledge that living faith is faith informed by the virtue of agape?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  354. Bryan 353,

    It’s clear in this post: http://www.leithart.com/2012/06/11/sola-fide-gateway-drugs/

    Leithart explicitly agrees with this summary: “The faith that justifies is a faith that works through love.”

  355. David (re: #354),

    Any Protestant can, without inconsistency, say that the faith that justifies is a faith that works through love. That’s because in affirming that statement he can mean what Reformed Christians often say: “we are justified by faith alone, but never by a faith that is alone.” But that latter statement just quoted is not compatible with the Catholic notion that the living faith that justifies is faith informed by the virtue of agape. And that’s because “not alone” is not the same as “informed by.” So what Leithart says there does not mean that he affirms that the living faith by which we are justified is faith informed by the virtue of agape. I responded in more detail to Leithart’s comments regarding justification in his “Sola Fide and Gateway Drugs” post in comment #171 of the “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide?” thread.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  356. Adam,

    I will try to be brief – you may already be at your conference. Thank you for continuing to engage at CtC.

    In response to my appeal for a more straightforward explanation about how your thesis escapes escapes circularity you pointed to your comments at #327. The heart of your argument is thus:

    This implies that

    1) if we want to be in the truth we should study the writings of the apostles and believe only them, and

    2) we should trust that the Holy Spirit will help us understand and have confidence in what the apostles wrote.

    In other words:

    Protestants/evangelicals are faithful to the apostolic teaching when they believe in the essential clarity of the Scriptures, and the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, and therefore Protestants/evangelicals are faithful to the apostolic teaching when they encourage individuals to prayerfully read the Bible for themselves.

    Am I wrong in drawing the conclusion that your thesis boils down to Solo Scriptura? If your test for knowing true doctrine from false doctrine is reading Scripture and trusting the Holy Spirit to lead you to the right interpretation, then you still are without a principled means of determining (yes, there’s that word) who is orthodox and who is heretical when serious disagreements arise, or even deciding which disagreement are serious and which are peripheral. It sounds as though you would then rely on exegesis (the reason you are orthodox and Benny Hinn is not?). But now the playing field has shifted. It is now no longer a matter of ONLY reading Scripture and trusting the leading of the Holy Spirit, but of doing both of these things and, when disagreements arise, trying to decide who is the better exegete. This seems entirely impracticable.

    Also, I think you make a large leap from: 1. follow the apostles’ teachings 2. trust the Holy Spirit
    to: 1. follow only the Apostles’ writings 2. trust the Holy Spirit to lead us to the truth about these writings

    Thanks again, Adam. I am trying to understand your argument and I apologize if I am oversimplifying.

    Burton

  357. Bryan 355,

    Well, Leithart seems to believe that the soteriology advocated by Stellman as a Presbyterian left him particularly vulnerable to Catholicism, because it so completely divorced works from faith as to make Catholicism simply seem more biblical. As he said,

    He [Jason] sees himself in conflict with the Reformed tradition only because he has been convinced that Reformed soteriology is only about what Jesus has done and not at all about what the Spirit does in us, only about justification now by faith and not about final justification according to works. He is out of accord with one specific version of Reformed theology that has convinced him and many others that it is Reformed theology. If Jason is right that he has to resign from the PCA to teach Galatians 5:6 and Romans 8:1-4 without apology, or to take Romans 2:1-10 as something more than a hypothetical, that bodes very ill for the future of the PCA. But I think Jason’s resignation says more about the particular brand of Reformed theology he was trained in and espouses than about the PCA as a whole. That thread of Reformed theology leaves people vulnerable to Catholic appeals. When they insist that faith works through love and emphasize the Spirit’s writing on the heart, Catholics sound more Pauline than some Reformed teachers because, well, because they are.

    Given this disagreement within Protestantism over the respective role of faith and works, I wonder whether it is safe to generalize about Protestant formulations of sola fide. As I said, there are some who would accept your generalization. But not all.

    It is of course advantageous to your debating position to focus on Protestants who advocate the strong version of sola fide (Clark et al). It enables you to draw the strongest possible contrast between Catholic and Reformed soteriologies. I would submit that, precisely because it is so clearly advantageous to your debating position to employ this generalization, you ought to be cautious about doing so.

  358. Eric (#349)

    I think your line of reasoning assumes that all knowledge about God, man and salvation can be attained through the intellect, or at least that my ability to identify and infer qualifies me (or anyone) to reliably know the Truth. For instance, can I, as a layman, identify or infer the meaning, number, and right practice of the sacraments? Can I identify reliably the truth about contraception? How about the gifts of prophesy and tongues? The role of works in salvation? The correct canon of Scripture?

    However, I think the type of knowledge required to know what type of authority is necessary to answer these questions is of a different species. Maybe the issue of general versus special revelation comes into play. I am no philosopher. Much truth can be attained though open logical inquiry, but I am certain that this important question of knowing orthodoxy versus heresy is at least in part outside of that realm.

    Burton

  359. David (#350),

    Allow me to clarify my “Mormon” comments. I initially understood Adam’s thesis to rest on the dual criteria of reading the Bible and trusting the anointing of the Holy Spirit to lead to the correct interpretation. This struck me as no different, from the standpoint of principled means, from the Mormon or Word of Faith criteria. Adam then added historical plausibility and correct exegesis to his list of criteria. I fully agree that historical implausibility convincingly undermines the Mormon’s claims.

    I am not so sure that exegesis of a few verses from John and Paul is the only salient issue in this discussion, although that certainly is important, and I haven’t seen any response from the Catholics here on that front. However, another helpful approach is to assume that Adam’s exegesis is correct and then ask if the resulting paradigm can, in any given circumstance where conflict arises, determine reliably and practicably which interpretation or teaching is orthodox and which is heretical. If the paradigm is flawed, then maybe the exegesis is flawed.

    Burton

  360. David (re: #357),

    You wrote:

    Given this disagreement within Protestantism over the respective role of faith and works, I wonder whether it is safe to generalize about Protestant formulations of sola fide.

    As soon as you can find a Protestant who believes that the living faith by which we are justified is faith informed by the virtue of agape, then I’ll have a reason to believe that it is not safe to say what I said in #330, namely, that the conception of justifying faith in the Protestant notion of sola fide is not faith informed by the virtue of agape.

    As I said, there are some who would accept your generalization. But not all.

    The question is not whether some persons would not “accept” my generalization, but whether any Protestants affirm that the living faith by which we are justified is faith informed by the virtue of agape. The problem with the claim that some Protestants believe that living faith is faith informed by the virtue of agape is that there is no evidence of even one case of a Protestant affirming this. What Leithart actually says, as I showed above, is fully compatible with it being false (for him) that the living faith by which we are justified is faith informed by the virtue of agape. So at this point there is just no evidence (presented here, at least) to support the claim that some Protestants affirm the Catholic notion of justifying faith as faith informed by agape.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  361. Bryan, 360.

    Ok. I can’t debate this at length, and I see when I look over some articles (such as the one you wrote on whether the Bible teaches sola fide) that many people have previously raised this with you.

    My only point is that Protestantism is not monolithic on soteriology. So, if you were to argue that Catholic soteriology is more biblical than that advanced by some in the PCA (e.g. folks on the Greenbaggins blog), I would probably agree. If you were to argue that Catholic soteriology is more biblical than Lutheran soteriology, I might not completely agree but could be convinced (since the Lutheran framework does not really allow for a meaningful concept of sanctification). But if you were to argue, say, that Catholic soteriology is more biblical than that advanced by Wright in his many writings or by some of the FV guys…well, I must admit, it would be harder to convince me.

    If you say, Catholic soteriology is more biblical than Protestant soteriology, I just ask: which Protestant soteriology?

  362. David (and Peter, if you’re lurking),

    David writes:

    Leithart seems to believe that the soteriology advocated by Stellman as a Presbyterian left him particularly vulnerable to Catholicism, because it so completely divorced works from faith as to make Catholicism simply seem more biblical.

    And he cites Leithart:

    He [Jason] sees himself in conflict with the Reformed tradition only because he has been convinced that Reformed soteriology is only about what Jesus has done and not at all about what the Spirit does in us….

    I think the first statement is correct as demonstrated by the second—Leithart had formed a diagnosis of me which said that I had no room in my soteriology for the Holy Spirit, and that once I realized the Trinity had three Persons in it, I freaked out and switches teams.

    The problem, though, is that this diagnosis is wrong, for many reasons. If you ask any of my professors at Westminster, or any of my fellow-classmates that I was friends with, they would tell you that there was no one at the seminary who insisted upon the ministry of the Spirit more than I did, or that the gift of the Spirit is what distinguished the Old and New covenants (and indeed, that this distinction is a more biblically relevant issue than the traditional Reformed position often recognized). In fact, I did a semester-long directed research project with VanDrunen called “A Theology of the Spirit” in which I argued this very case.

    So no, it’s not that I realized one day a couple years ago that the Holy Spirit needs more air time. I’ve been saying this for a decade now.

    The actual issue was the fact that I began to realize that the Reformed doctrine of imputation, in addition to being biblically attested to only in the most thin and sketchy sense, was rendered unnecessary once the New Covenant is truly understood. If the law of the Spirit frees us from the law of sin by internally inscribing the law, thus fulfilling in us the righteous requirement of the law (Rom. 8:1-4), then there is simply no need for the imputation of alien righteousness for the purpose of forensic acquittal in a law court.

    So I maintain my prior Reformed orthodoxy in that I was trying to keep justification distinct from sanctification (which Peter had a hard time doing). The problem was that Reformed theology, by insisting on extra nos imputation (which it does, regardless of what Peter says), makes the New Covenant an afterthought, while insisting on the spiritual dynamic of the New Covenant makes imputation unnecessary.

  363. Burton, 359:

    Exegesis of John and Paul is, as you say, not the only salient point. However it is absolutely necessary if the Catholic commenters here want to get any traction with Ádám.

    However, another helpful approach is to assume that Adam’s exegesis is correct and then ask if the resulting paradigm can, in any given circumstance where conflict arises, determine reliably and practicably which interpretation or teaching is orthodox and which is heretical. If the paradigm is flawed, then maybe the exegesis is flawed.

    If you assume the exegesis is correct but that the resulting paradigm is flawed, you would be saying that Scripture offers a flawed paradigm.

    It is true that Scripture offers a flawed paradigm for Catholicism. In the gospels and epistles there are many debates over the interpretation of scripture (Jesus vs. Pharisees, Sadducees; Paul vs. everyone). What is interesting is that everyone in the debates basically assumes sola scriptura, to put it somewhat anachronistically. (And, this is proved by the proliferation of Jewish sects at the time of Jesus: as Catholics love to point out, this principle of Protestantism is in some ways the undoing of its unity.) What we do not find, however, is anyone leveling the charge: that is just your private interpretation of Scripture. We do not find that Peter is the central interpretive authority, after all, Paul explicitly tells him off (Gal 2). Indeed there is very little to suggest, for example, that Paul’s opponents would have found his exegesis of Sarah and Hagar in Gal 4 convincing, and very little to suggest that Paul had any recourse to some central interpretive authority to clear things up.

    So, we have a flawed paradigm. Debates about truth are going to be interminably caught up in debates over interpretation. But this flawed paradigm is the paradigm that many Scriptural authors present and within which they write.

  364. Jason, 362,

    I think Leithart’s statement about the Spirit was probably over-generalized. He knew you believed in the Spirit, but didn’t think it functioned strongly enough in your soteriology–which you now realize, because your NC soteriology emphasizes the role of the Spirit.

    My point is not to weigh in on who is correct or not, but just to emphasize that Protestant soteriology is not monolithic. Protestants are internally divided on how sola fide relates to sanctification, works, etc. So, Bryan’s critiques of the “Protestant” position are often actually only effective critiques of a certain corner of the Protestant world, the corner you formerly occupied.

  365. David DeJong:

    You’ve been emphasizing that Protestant soteriology is not monolithic. I agree. Indeed, I’d go further. As best I can tell, Protestant belief is monolithic on very few points. Positively, Protestants believe that God exists, that the person and teaching of Jesus is from God, and that it is very important for our lives. Negatively, Protestants believe that no collective understanding of the sources and meaning of divine revelation should be understood to be divinely preserved from error. The positive beliefs are are uncontroversial here. What’s controversial is the negative one.

    That is why most of my theological efforts focus on the questions of authority and infallibility. I am not a Protestant because I believe, and have long argued, that if no collective understanding of the sources and meaning of divine revelation should be understood to be divinely preserved from error, then Christianity and religion in general devolve into merely human opinion. And that is incompatible with the very concept of a definitive divine revelation calling for our unqualified assent.

    Jason Stellman gets this. All the particular theological questions Protestants debate with him are just fodder for an endless, inconclusive seminar unless and until that fundamental question is met head-on.

    Best,
    Mike

  366. RefProt you wrote:

    The acts of parish priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes give me motives of incredibility for the Catholic Church.

    I think that statement needs to be qualified. The Catholic Church argues that the acts of charity manifested by the members of the Catholic Church gives one credible motives for believing that the Catholic Church is what she claims to be. The bad behavior of nominal Catholics creates a scandal that hinders the spreading of the Gospel.

    I think that the same thing can be said about any Protestant sect too. The acts of charity manifested by the members of a particular Protestant sect gives to Joe Seeker credible reason for believing that this particular Protestant sect might have something to offer that is worth investigating. The bad behavior of the members of that Protestant sect creates scandal, but a fair-minded man does not judge a religious tradition on the basis of the behavior of men and women that fail to live up to the moral doctrines taught by that religion.

    Joe Seeker, when looking for a religion to embrace, should look to the saints that have come out of that religious tradition, and not to the sinners that come out that tradition.

    Practically speaking, suppose Joe Seeker is investigating a particular Presbyterian sect and also the Catholic Church. Joe Seeker should let this Presbyterian sect define for itself who belongs on the list of the greatest saints that this Presbyterian sect has produced – the saints that are the brightest lights of this Presbyterian sect. Likewise, Joe Seeker should allow the Catholic Church to define for herself whom she considers to be her greatest saints. In considering motives of credibility, the Catholic Church would then ask Joe Seeker which religious tradition has produced the saints that have manifest greatest degree of heroic charity. The Catholic Church teaches that it is the heroic charity manifested by the members of a religious tradition that give a religious tradition its credibility.

    Joe Seeker can compare the top ten saints of the Presbyterian sect with the top ten saints of the Catholic Church, and then ask himself, which religious tradition has produced the saints that have manifested greatest degree of heroic charity? When Joe Seeker makes that comparison, he will have credible motive for choosing between the Presbyterian Church and the Catholic Church.

    RefProt you write:

    I think the Presbyterian ministers claim about his church though is less grandiose than Rome’s position. I’m supposed to look at Rome as a shining example of goodness and be drawn to believe her.

    Is Joe Seeker supposed to look at a Presbyterian church and see something that is not a shining example of Christianity? If that is so, then what credible reason does Joe seeker have for becoming a Presbyterian?

    RefProt you write:

    So to answer your question, the sanctity of a theologian neither validates or invalidates their position(s).

    I don’t wholly agree with that. The holiness manifested by a teacher does indeed give credibility to that teacher, especially when that teacher manifests heroic degrees of charity. So yes, selfless charity does validate, to some extent, the teachings of the one who is manifesting selfless charity. A man has more reason to give credence to the teachings of a Buddhist monk that manifests selfless compassion than he does for giving credence to the teachings a cruel Satanist that utterly lacks compassion.

    I think that in all cultures, most reasonable men believe that they should listen to the teachings of good men, and not to the teachings of wicked men. But can we base our rule of faith upon this human intuition alone? No, I don’t think we can, because Jesus explicitly taught that that bad men can exercise the charismatic gifts, and that all Christians are obliged to listen to His church or suffer the pain of excommunication. And that means that we need to know the objective criteria that determines who, exactly, is divinely authorized to define doctrine in the Church that Christ personally founded, and the criteria that determines when these authorized teachers have exercised the charismatic gift of infallibly. Which, in practice, means at least knowing who is authorized to define dogma at an Ecumenical Council, along with the criteria that establishes the validity of an Ecumenical Council. The Catholic Church can give Joe Seeker the criteria that determines who is authorized to define dogma at an Ecumenical Council. The Catholic Church can give Joe Seeker the criteria that establishes the validity of an Ecumenical Council before an Ecumenical Council is even convened. The Orthodox Churches cannot do that, (give the criteria that determines the validity of an Ecumenical Council before it is convened), and no Protestant sect can do that either. What is even worse, the Protestant sect, unlike the Orthodox Churches, cannot even give Joe Seeker the criteria that determines who is authorized to define dogma at an Ecumenical Council.

  367. Mike,

    That is why most of my theological efforts focus on the questions of authority and infallibility. I am not a Protestant because I believe, and have long argued, that if no collective understanding of the sources and meaning of divine revelation should be understood to be divinely preserved from error, then Christianity and religion in general devolve into merely human opinion.

    I don’t believe this follows. Protestants and Catholics agree that Jesus Christ is the final revelation of God Himself. Furthermore we agree that He sent his apostles to authoritatively proclaim the gospel. The apostolic tradition, in oral and later in written form (as it comes to fruition in the NT), is also therefore divine revelation. On all this we agree. Beyond this Catholics stipulate that there must be a divinely authorized interpreter, an infallible presently-existing human authority. Protestants reject this. But how does it then follow that, for Protestants, the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and in the apostolic tradition (the NT, which is the divinely authorized interpretation of the OT) reduces to human opinion? The fact that it is now subject to the vicissitudes of interpretation does not necessarily reduce the divine revelation itself to human opinion. It just means that critical judgment and discernment is called for when any interpreter steps forward claiming to clearly express God’s will.

    Your argument would seem to imply that if you were not Catholic you would not be Christian at all. Wow. That is an incredibly strong claim. I can assure you that I would far far sooner be Catholic than not Christian at all.

  368. David DeJong,

    You wrote:

    But don’t you see, Ádám does not believe this is “his” concept but the apostle John’s? In which case he is not exactly at liberty to criticize it.

    Of course he is. He is at liberty to criticize it the moment he realizes he is wrong about St. John. I don’t think any Protestant thinks the object of their theology is their own thought. As a former member of Mr. Hinn’s church (as a child), I can tell you that he thinks he is following the apostle’s teaching. I have a book on my shelf by T.L. Osborne that goes into great detail why the apostles and the New Testament teach that God wants to heal everyone. Do you agree? : )

    and then:

    So, methodologically, what you need to do is not argue about whether his criterion for determining truth and error is too subjective, but convince him exegetically that he is incorrect. Show that his reading of 1 John is wrong, and I believe you will make progress.

    This is a common argument for resolving all doctrinal problems within Protestantism, is it not? Enough exegesis will work it all out. I’m not against exegesis, and the Vatican library proves that Catholics are into it too, but I don’t think it will move the nuclear football one inch. It would make for great discussion though!

    and:

    After all, this whole charge of “bosom-burning,” made repeatedly on this site, is considerably weakened if the apostles Paul (cf 1 Cor 2) and John are exposed to the same critique.

    I think what is more interesting is to imagine being a 1st century Jew in Jerusalem, picking up your Old Testament scroll, praying, studying, and then being “led by the anointing” to disagree with the Apostles at the Jerusalem council — kind of like a good ol’ fashion church-split. I think it is also telling to see what students of St. John taught about resolving doctrinal disputes a la Sacred Tradition. Further, if the “anointing” means we truly don’t need a Teaching Authority, then why did the Apostles teach as they did? The road of eisegesis is paved with bad inferences, and one of the worst is to miss the forest for the trees. If you look too close at any passage, you are bound to find anything you want.

    Finally:

    In addition to what has been said here, there is another criterion by which one can test claims to possess the Spirit: are the doctrinal claims in fact historically true?

    Would you mind clarifying what you mean by “historically true”? It is “historically true” that Arius taught “x”. It is “historically true” that OJ’s glove did not fit his hand because it shrunk. So, I’m not sure what you mean by “historically true” and what that brings to bear on Christian dogma. Or, do you mean only to argue against the a-historical Mormon positions?

    Warmly in Christ,

    Brent

  369. Re: David #364

    In the gospels and epistles there are many debates over the interpretation of scripture (Jesus vs. Pharisees, Sadducees; Paul vs. everyone). What is interesting is that everyone in the debates basically assumes sola scriptura, to put it somewhat anachronistically.

    David, I would like to give one obvious example to the contrary and see what you think. Consider the Council of Jerusalem, in Acts 15. I can’t think of a more relevant or better documented example of how the Church worked, according to scripture.

    Look at the conclusion – the decision that the apostles sent to the churches. What authority is claimed in this proclamation? the letter begins with “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us …”. They don’t claim sola scriptura. The authoritative appeal is to the authority of the Holy Spirit and to their own authority. Notice what is lacking from the letter – any scriptural support for the decision of the council.

    But you say, what about James quoting from scripture in the minutes of the Council? How about you tell me, how James’s quote from the prophet Amos supports his conclusion in a way compatible with “sola scriptura”?

    (Amos prophesies (a) that the Gentiles will bear the name of the Lord. James concludes (b) that in the New Covenant , the ritual works of the Mosaic law are no longer required. How does (b) follow from (a)? It doesn’t. This is not sola scriptura – it is anything but.

    What’s the principled difference in James’ interpretation of scripture and what is done today when “progressive” Christians conclude that because God loves “the world”, that gay Christians shouldn’t be burdened with giving up their homosexual relations? James, likewise, refers to the “inclusiveness” of an obscure prophesy, and then uses that inclusiveness to support an unrelated conclusion that a critical ritual Jewish law is no longer required.

    The churches followed the conclusion of the council because “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us”. The early Church believed that the Holy Spirit was guiding and inspiring their teaching. The apostles believed they were guided and had the authority to reveal God’s promises and precepts to the world.

    Yes, there are many examples in scripture where scripture is used as the essential argument to non-believers. And scripture is used many times in support of a key argument made by Paul or Peter. But I would challenge you to find any example claiming that an individual’s interpretation of scripture is more authoritative than the teaching of the apostles or their successors (Timothy, Titus).

    We do not find that Peter is the central interpretive authority, after all, Paul explicitly tells him off (Gal 2).

    Paul criticized Peter’s hypocrisy, not his teaching. What Paul did is consistent with what the R.C. proposes – that popes are sinners just like the rest of us.

    It is useless to discuss the infallibility of Peter without discussing the infallibility of the Church. What does the Church teach? Who is the Church? Does the Church teach the Truth?

    What is essentially important to the Catholic faith is that the Holy Spirit has guided and is guiding the Church into all truth. The Church, when exercising its teaching authority, must be infallible. Why? Because ever since our Lord’s ascension, God has worked through the Church to pass on knowledge of His revelation and promises.

    Even if I never knew another Christian, somehow stumbled upon a Bible, and believed what I read, then it is still through the Church that I came to know Jesus Christ. For how would a man lay his hands on the Bible if the Church did not pass it on (directly or indirectly)? If I don’t understand what the Bible says, who do I ask? (Who tells the gospel to the eunuch when he doesn’t understand?). Why should I believe this book and not that one? Should I believe the gospel of Thomas, the Koran, or what?

    For if the Holy Spirit has not guided the Church in such a way as to protect God’s revelation, then what we believe is a mix of God’s revelation and human lies. If the letter to the Hebrews is not God-breathed, then it’s no good. If the letter of James is an “epistle of straw” (so claimed Luther), then we might as well throw it out. The possible lies could include the Bible’s table of contents, it could include the divinity of Christ. It could include the belief that Mary can be called “mother of God”. It could include a belief that Christ had two wills, one divine, and one human. It could include the belief that we cannot be saved without grace. It could include the belief that we are justified and regenerated in baptism. Every issue on which men have disagreed how to interpret scripture becomes simply man’s interpretation.

    Jesus Christ is God’s word and revelation to the world. The disciples knew Jesus because of his visible incarnation. But now, the Church is the body of Christ. The Church is the incarnate instrument through which God visibly proclaims His Word to the world.

    If you agree that the Church must be visible and infallible to proclaim a single true faith to the world, then we can talk about the pope. It’s no sense trash-talking the pope until until you believe that there is such a thing as a Church which visibly proclaims one true faith.

    The reason the bishop of Rome must be infallible is – if any pope has failed to discern truth from error and bound the Church to believe this error, then the Church has succumbed to error. History tells us how a council of the Church was known to be ecumenical. It was ecumenical because the bishop of Rome agreed with and publicly authorized the decisions of that council. The bishop of Rome agreed with the council of Nicaea, he agreed with Chalcedon, he did not agree with the “robber council” of Ephesus. If the bishop of Rome authorized the wrong councils, if any pope failed to teach the Truth (when his teaching was imposed upon the whole Church), then what we believe has fallen into error. Tracing back through history, various bishops of Antioch, Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Alexandria were heretics at one time or another (even the Eastern Orthodox will agree to this). Only the pope never used his teaching authority to endorse heresy. More than one heretical man was elected to bishop of Rome and upon election immediately changed their position to a one now conisdered orthodox.

    For the Church to be infallible, so must the pope. And the only way this can be true is if God has promised to Peter and his successors that their faith would never fail them in a way that would forever corrupt the Church.

    Hope this helps,
    Jonathan

  370. David,

    You state:

    If you assume the exegesis is correct but that the resulting paradigm is flawed, you would be saying that Scripture offers a flawed paradigm.

    I should have more clearly stated what I assumed to be my obvious intent: Does Adam’s interpretation of these verses allow for a paradigm that can, in any given circumstance where conflict arises, determine reliably and practicably which interpretation or teaching is orthodox and which is heretical?

    You then say:

    It is true that Scripture offers a flawed paradigm for Catholicism.

    Are you saying that the Catholic paradigm is flawed because it does not, in any given circumstance where conflict arises, determine reliably and practicably which interpretation or teaching is orthodox and which is heretical? Or are you saying that the Catholic paradigm is flawed because Scripture does not explicitly provide verses that support the idea of a living magisterial authority?

    Finally you say:

    So, we have a flawed paradigm. Debates about truth are going to be interminably caught up in debates over interpretation. But this flawed paradigm is the paradigm that many Scriptural authors present and within which they write.

    Are you saying that neither Catholics or Protestants have an interpretive paradigm that allows for clear definition of orthodoxy, but that the flawed Protestant paradigm is the one supported by Scripture, so its all we’ve got?

    I know I’m asking for a lot of clarification – thanks for your patience. I just want to sure we are comparing apples to apples.

    Burton

  371. David,

    I think Leithart’s statement about the Spirit was probably over-generalized. He knew you believed in the Spirit, but didn’t think it functioned strongly enough in your soteriology–which you now realize, because your NC soteriology emphasizes the role of the Spirit.

    I think you missed my point in my last response. I don’t “now realize” anything about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has functioned pretty much the same in my soteriology for a decade. What I realized was not the need for the Spirit, but that the Reformed view of imputation makes that need unneeded.

  372. Jason, 371:

    Ok, fair enough.

  373. Brent, 368:

    He is at liberty to criticize it the moment he realizes he is wrong about St. John.

    That is why I suggested you begin with trying to convince him that this is indeed the case.

    I can tell you that he thinks he is following the apostle’s teaching. I have a book on my shelf by T.L. Osborne that goes into great detail why the apostles and the New Testament teach that God wants to heal everyone. Do you agree? : )

    I would disagree, on exegetical grounds.

    I think what is more interesting is to imagine being a 1st century Jew in Jerusalem, picking up your Old Testament scroll, praying, studying, and then being “led by the anointing” to disagree with the Apostles at the Jerusalem council — kind of like a good ol’ fashion church-split.

    It is not legitimate to disagree with the Apostles, because they were the divinely authorized interpreters of the Scriptures (the OT). The apostles authoritatively proclaimed the gospel which was in conformity with the law and the prophets. The apostles set down their divinely authoritative interpretations in the writings of the NT. The NT functions in a hermeneutical relationship with the OT; it is the result of the apostles’ interpretive authority. It is not legitimate for the church today to assert that it has continuing ongoing interpretive authority equivalent to that exercised by the apostles; in effect, this would be to say that the NT is not closed but is still being written.

    So, I’m not sure what you mean by “historically true” and what that brings to bear on Christian dogma. Or, do you mean only to argue against the a-historical Mormon positions?

    Well, admittedly this criterion is more useful in detecting false prophets. If what they say manifestly lacks confirmation, they are false. Nevertheless I believe it is a useful positive criterion as well. History functions as an “objective” standard against which claims to truth can be measured. (I realize there are many problems with the brevity of this formulation; what I want to say is that Protestantism does not reduce to subjectivism, and we need to insist that history is not entirely subjective and can act as our teacher and corrector.)

  374. David (#367):

    Addressing me, you wrote:

    Protestants and Catholics agree that Jesus Christ is the final revelation of God Himself. Furthermore we agree that He sent his apostles to authoritatively proclaim the gospel. The apostolic tradition, in oral and later in written form (as it comes to fruition in the NT), is also therefore divine revelation. On all this we agree.

    That paragraph would be true if you had qualified ‘Protestants’ with ‘conservative’. But plenty of liberal Protestants would deny we can be sure that “Jesus Christ” is the final and definitive revelation of God Himself. Some deny his divinity altogether. Some entertain the possibility that other sources of revelation before or after Christ can give us knowledge of the divine that supplements what Christ said and did. Most liberal Protestants deny biblical inerrancy as well as apostolic succession, and thus reserve to themselves the right to determine what in “apostolic” teaching is permanently binding on believers. Some even deny that our salvation depends in any sense on what we believe.

    The point is not that one can’t make a good case that they are wrong, but that one cannot make a good case that they aren’t Protestant. For if, as Protestants agree, any believer or church could be wrong in what they take to be the proper identity and interpretation of the sources of divine revelation, then for all we know, conservative Protestants in general could be wrong and some liberal Protestants closer to the truth. Given the Protestant principle, the very nature of divine revelation is up for grabs. And if that’s the case, then we cannot identify and interpret any sources as altogether reliable conveyances of divine revelation at all.

    You write:

    The fact that [the Bible] is now subject to the vicissitudes of interpretation does not necessarily reduce the divine revelation itself to human opinion. It just means that critical judgment and discernment is called for when any interpreter steps forward claiming to clearly express God’s will.

    That misses my point. If any exercise of “critical judgment and discernment” could be wrong, then there is no principled way to distinguish between exercises that are only human opinion and exercises that present what God intends that we believe.

    Finally, you write:

    Your argument would seem to imply that if you were not Catholic you would not be Christian at all. Wow. That is an incredibly strong claim. I can assure you that I would far far sooner be Catholic than not Christian at all.

    That doesn’t get my position quite right either. It is true that I cannot see myself being Christian and Protestant, but I could see myself being Christian and Orthodox. Both the Roman and the EO communions claim to be “the” Church founded by Christ and authorized by him to teach infallibly in his name. That’s the sort of claim I take seriously; I embrace the former over the latter because I find the former’s ecclesiology clearer and more consistent than the latter. I don’t envision that changing, even though I find myself attracted in many ways to Orthodoxy. But since my college days, I have simply been unable to take Protestantism seriously as an intellectual option.

    Best,
    Mike

  375. Jonathan, 369:

    I accept your interpretation of Acts 15, and the apostolic interpretive authority exercised there. See above, in my comment directed at Brent. I don’t think Acts 15 rules out sola scriptura, since we accept apostolic interpretive authority as it disclosed in the writings of the NT. Where we differ is in the question of whether this interpretive authority continued in the post-apostolic age (if you could show me that Timothy and Titus were infallible interpreters of scripture, you would have a strong case!).

    As far as Peter and Paul goes: I don’t think there was a “first among equals” in apostolic interpretive authority. I think they all exercised it. At times, they may have even disagreed in the sphere of its legitimate application, as the NT attests that the question of Gentile circumcision was hotly debated. But I believe they came to agreement in the end.

    For if the Holy Spirit has not guided the Church in such a way as to protect God’s revelation, then what we believe is a mix of God’s revelation and human lies.

    Well, I do believe the Holy has guided the church to protect God’s revelation. I don’t think however the church can presume upon this promise. I take the assertion of infallibility to be an illegitimate presumption; it goes beyond what God promises.

    As far as “ecumenical councils” go: they only exist in specific periods in the church’s history, which has to do with the church’s relation with political power. There is a reason the first ecumenical council was not until the fourth century, even though many debates raged in the centuries prior that would have justified calling such a council (Marcion, anyone? Gnosticism?). This notion that ecumenical councils (authoritative proclamation by the church) was the only way the church could discern truth from error is simply historically unfounded. Just consider the nature of the church’s response to three renegades–Marcion, Origen, and Arius–and you will see that the church has not always considered it necessary to have a central interpretive authority rule on matters of faith.

  376. Mike 374:

    That paragraph would be true if you had qualified ‘Protestants’ with ‘conservative’. But plenty of liberal Protestants would deny we can be sure that “Jesus Christ” is the final and definitive revelation of God Himself.

    Plenty of liberal Catholics would deny the same.

    For if, as Protestants agree, any believer or church could be wrong in what they take to be the proper identity and interpretation of the sources of divine revelation, then for all we know, conservative Protestants in general could be wrong and some liberal Protestants closer to the truth. Given the Protestant principle, the very nature of divine revelation is up for grabs. And if that’s the case, then we cannot identify and interpret any sources as altogether reliable conveyances of divine revelation at all.

    You use two terms: identity and interpretation. You seem to suggest that they are both “up for grabs.” I must confess I fail to see how the identity of divine revelation is up for grabs. I see how its interpretation is, but not its identity. Certainly there are Protestants who deny that Christ is the final revelation of God, as there are Catholics who do so. But that would not be a legitimate, officially endorsed position in any Protestant denomination.

    That misses my point. If any exercise of “critical judgment and discernment” could be wrong, then there is no principled way to distinguish between exercises that are only human opinion and exercises that present what God intends that we believe.

    I’m sorry I missed your point. Not intended. Is your point that the distinction between the sources and interpretation of divine revelation is artificial, so that, even if we had divine sources, if they were subject to “merely human” interpretation, we could not treat them as divine? Because if that’s your point, I reject it. We do have divine revelation. It is subject to the vicissitudes of interpretation. That does not mean it is not divine. I don’t see how that conclusion could possibly follow as a necessary consequence.

    Well, I knew as I typed that EO would probably be an option for you. I find it amazing that you say you could not be Christian and Protestant. If the Magisterium suddenly said: wait a second, contraception is OK, and you became disillusioned by their claim to be an authoritative infallible interpreter of revelation, you could not imagine that God has not in fact supplied such? That what he has given us are the Scriptures? That insisting that God gave more than these might be (I only say “might”) a case of being wiser than God?

  377. David #367

    Your argument would seem to imply that if you were not Catholic you would not be Christian at all. Wow. That is an incredibly strong claim. I can assure you that I would far far sooner be Catholic than not Christian at all.

    Thanks for your interaction here. I will just offer my unsolicited thoughts. I can’t say for certain, but as an educated and reasonable lay person if I were convinced that the Catholic Church is false, I’d probably cease to believe that the Bible or anything about Christianity beyond Christ can be trusted. I watch a couple of neighbors who are great people and probably smarter than I and certainly know the Bible and Greek and Hebrew far beyond my ability. Church splits, arguments with elders, forming new churches, searching the scriptures for responses and trying to ultimately find the truth on their own. They are absolutely sincere and committed and I admire their faith and conviction. I pray for them and ask them to pray for me. At the same time I am absolutely happy to not have to figure out the faith on my own.

  378. Burton, 370:

    Does Adam’s interpretation of these verses allow for a paradigm that can, in any given circumstance where conflict arises, determine reliably and practicably which interpretation or teaching is orthodox and which is heretical?

    I think so.

    Are you saying that the Catholic paradigm is flawed because it does not, in any given circumstance where conflict arises, determine reliably and practicably which interpretation or teaching is orthodox and which is heretical? Or are you saying that the Catholic paradigm is flawed because Scripture does not explicitly provide verses that support the idea of a living magisterial authority?

    I’m saying that, from the perspective of Catholicism, the paradigm within which many scriptural authors write is flawed, because there are many debates over the interpretation of Scripture, and no one ever plays the “that’s just private judgment” card (with the possible exception of 2 Pet 1:20-21, though interpretation of this verse, is [appropriately!] debated).

    Are you saying that neither Catholics or Protestants have an interpretive paradigm that allows for clear definition of orthodoxy, but that the flawed Protestant paradigm is the one supported by Scripture, so its all we’ve got?

    Well, no. I think elements in the Catholic and Protestant paradigms are both correct. I think the NT largely operates in the context of sola scriptura: there are many Jewish sects who differ over scripture interpretation; early Christianity is one such party and doesn’t really criticize this context; instead, it attempts to secures its interpretations of Scripture. But, I believe in the apostles’ interpretive authority; in fact, this is what secures for me the conviction that this is the particular Jewish sect that is divinely legitimated. So the NT moves from the background of sola scriptura to the establishment of interpretive authority. But, and this needs to be emphasized, this interpretive authority exists with respect to the OT scriptures. There is no parallel interpretive authority exercised by the church today over ALL the scriptures; rather, the NT is the written instantiation of the apostles’ interpretive authority. (As I said to Brent and Jonathan as well.)

  379. David (#376):

    I suggested that your characterization of Protestantism would be accurate only if you qualified it with ‘conservative’. To support that, I noted that “plenty of liberal Protestants would deny we can be sure that Jesus Christ is the final and definitive revelation of God Himself.” You replied: “Plenty of liberal Catholics would deny the same.” But that tu quoque doesn’t help your case.

    It should not have been, but apparently is, necessary for me to highlight the relevant difference. Nobody claims, because nobody can claim, divinely bestowed authority to speak for and to Protestants as such. Accordingly, your characterization of Protestantism is no more accurate normatively than it is empirically. But the pope and the bishops together do claim divinely bestowed authority to teach Catholics and speak for them as Catholics. So, while your point about liberal Catholics is true empirically, it is false normatively. With respect to divine revelation, Catholics can and do believe whatever their judgment dictates; whether that should be so or not, it is simply an empirical fact. But that is not what makes a Catholic a Catholic. What makes a Catholic a Catholic is that he believes, if only implicitly, whatever the Church teaches irreformably, with her full authority. If he conscientiously disbelieves something the Church so teaches, he is a bad Catholic by the only authoritative criteria there are for being Catholic, and many such people cease to consider themselves Catholic altogether. But if a Protestant conscientiously disbelieves something his church teaches, that does not make him a bad Protestant. He can and often does simply join another Protestant church that shares his beliefs. By thus following his own judgment, he is a good Protestant, not a bad one. So the fact that there are as many liberal Catholics as liberal Protestants does not put Catholicism and Protestantism on an epistemic par. Catholicism as such has authoritative norms for distinguishing orthodoxy from heresy; in Protestantism as such (as distinct from this-or-that Protestant church), there are no such norms. One church’s heretic is another church’s orthodox believer, and that’s that.

    Addressing me, you write:

    You use two terms: identity and interpretation. You seem to suggest that they are both “up for grabs.” I must confess I fail to see how the identity of divine revelation is up for grabs. I see how its interpretation is, but not its identity. Certainly there are Protestants who deny that Christ is the final revelation of God, as there are Catholics who do so. But that would not be a legitimate, officially endorsed position in any Protestant denomination.

    You have misunderstood me once again, though perhaps I was being unclear. When I say that the “identity” of divine revelation is up for grabs among Protestants, I mean this: By their own principles, Protestants cannot claim that what counts as Scripture and/or Tradition, and thus as media of divine revelation’s transmission, can be identified without error. Thus, e.g., even R.C. Sproul, a rock-ribbed conservative Protestant, holds that Protestants have “a fallible canon of infallible books.” That entails that Christians only identify the canon as such fallibly. But if that’s the case, then there’s no reason in principle why books cannot be added to or subtracted from the canon if our conscientious, prayerful judgment calls for that. Indeed, if no body of Christians is divinely protected from error, then one cannot consistently hold that the belief that “the canon,” whatever it is, is divinely inspired is itself without error. On Protestant principles, the belief that the canon is divinely inspired might be just as wrong as the belief that the canon should be thought to consist of just these books and no others. Thus the very identity of divine revelation is up for grabs, even when few choose to grab.

    You wrote:

    Well, I knew as I typed that EO would probably be an option for you. I find it amazing that you say you could not be Christian and Protestant. If the Magisterium suddenly said: wait a second, contraception is OK, and you became disillusioned by their claim to be an authoritative infallible interpreter of revelation, you could not imagine that God has not in fact supplied such? That what he has given us are the Scriptures? That insisting that God gave more than these might be (I only say “might”) a case of being wiser than God?

    If I lost faith in the Catholic Magisterium’s claims for itself–a possibility that is merely notional for me–I would become Orthodox, not Protestant. For philosophical reasons I’ve expounded at length elsewhere, if there is no living human authority which can rightly claim to be divinely protected from error when teaching under certain conditions, then we simply lack any principled means from distinguishing divine revelation from human opinion. What amazes me is that you seem to show no interest in why I believe that.

    You say we have “the Scriptures.” But absent the sort of authority I’ve just described, both what qualifies as “the Scriptures” and their degree of authority is revisable in principle, whereas God’s revealed truth cannot be, if it is to be identifiable as such at all. I do not say that because I believe myself “wiser than God,” nor does the Catholic Church. It is precisely because we are so much less wiser than God that we need, and he has given, a clear way to distinguish his truth from our provisional and often errroneous opinions.

    Best,
    Mike

  380. Refprot –

    You didn’t really answer my question aside from this statement: “I would acknowledge that there is corruption and error in the church but that the remedy is found in the Gospel as it is contained in Scripture.”

    It seems as though your defense is to move towards a Sol*o* Scriptura paradigm. But, correct me if I’m wrong, you don’t believe in Solo Scriptura. So let me repeat the question with a little bit of nuance: How would you answer an atheist who makes the same objection you make about the Catholic Church without devolving into Solo Scriptura.

  381. Re: David (#375)

    Thanks for the response.

    I find it paradoxical that you believe the Holy Spirit has guided the Church but at the same time you don’t believe the Church has infallibly transmitted God’s revelation. It seems to me that if the Church can and has made errors and required those errors to be believed by the whole Church, then such a Church cannot be a pillar and foundation of the Truth, nor is it being led by the Spirit “into all Truth”.

    I don’t think Acts 15 rules out sola scriptura, since we accept apostolic interpretive authority as it disclosed in the writings of the NT. Where we differ is in the question of whether this interpretive authority continued in the post-apostolic age (if you could show me that Timothy and Titus were infallible interpreters of scripture, you would have a strong case!).

    Since you agree that the apostles didn’t believe in sola scriptura, maybe you can show where the successors to the apostles believed in sola scriptura?

    Unfortunately, I can’t show that Timothy and Titus were infallible interpreters. It’s not necessary that they were, because neither of these men had jurisdiction over the whole Church in a way that what they taught would have sent the entire Church into error. But a case can be made (and has been made) that the successors to the apostles were recognized as having apostolic authority. As part of their role as “overseers” (bishops) of individual churches, they had the authority to interpret scripture according to the apostolic tradition passed down to them.

    In 2 Timothy 3, Paul contrasts Timothy, who has authority, with false teachers who have no authority. Timothy (1) has been fully taught Paul’s teaching, and (2) has an excellent knowledge of the scriptures. What qualified him to lead is the gift received in the laying on of hands, and what prepared him for this gift was his knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures and his knowledge and acceptance of the apostolic faith by which he could pass on the true faith, and as part of that faith, rightly interpret those same scriptures which he knew from his youth.

    I don’t know of any preserved writings of Timothy and Titus. But the recognition of apostolic authority can be seen in the response to the letters written by other successors to the apostles. We can see from history that the letters of Clement, Polycarp, Ignatius, and Irenaeus were accepted, not as canon, but nonetheless, as authoritative. The authority of these men was recognized because they were the leaders chosen by the apostles. And we can see the recognition in the continuity between their writings and what is taught today in the Church. The definition of schism as separation from the bishop, the real presence in the Eucharist, baptismal regeneration, etc. are clearly taught in these letters, and are still believed by the Church today even though Protestants would argue that these doctrines go beyond what is taught in scripture. Irenaeus recognized the four true gospels, and spoke out against the false ones. That what they taught was believed to be true shows in their recognition as saints, whereas if they had fallen into heresy (like Marcion), then they would not have been so recognized. If the teachings of these men had been innovations, or if the teachings were not recognized as authoritative, then we should be able to find in the churches some early controversy about these doctrines. But we don’t find such a controversy (unless you want to appeal to the gnostics, the docetists, the Montanists, or the Marcionists).

    If bishops were not recognized as having authority in the early Church, then we would have seen much more fracturing than the early heresies and schisms, something like we have seen since the Protestant reformation. But the early Church, compared to today’s explosion in denominations, was surprisingly unified in faith. As attested to in the early documents, a single apostolic faith was passed on and preserved from east to west through persecution after persecution. If baptismal regeneration or the authority of the bishop were heretical inventions, then it is very surprising that such inventions spread homogeneously through all the original churches founded by the apostles.

    Regarding an early primacy among bishops (before 450), have you read Adrian Fortescue’s book “The Early Papacy”? Who do you think had the authority to determine that Marcion was heretical, or that Tertullian and the Montanists were indeed in schism? Who did the early Church appeal to in cases of disagreement? Fortescue makes a pretty strong case from the surviving documents that the bishop of Rome, at least from the time of Clement, and onwards, was recognized as having jurisdictional authority over exactly these sorts of cases. I can’t make a better case than this book, so I’ll just leave it at that.

    Jonathan

  382. I have visited back to this page during a coffee break at the conference. Here are two reactions to the comments made by Mike, Jonathan, and Burton.

    I think some of your arguments and concerns are affected by two inherent problems: 1) epistemological perfectionism, and 2) an anthropological approach to epistemology.

    1) The problem of epistemological perfectionism instead of epistemological realism. In my opinion, this problem is inherent in strict Confessional Protetantism, as well, hence the relatively “easy” (cognitively) transition to Roman Catholicism. Not even Eastern Orthodoxy, with her autocephalous churches and her emphasis on apophatic knowledge, is good enough for such epistemological perfectionism. (At the end of the day I’m convinced Roman Catholicism isn’t satisfactory, either, but that is another question.)

    2) The problem of an anthropological approach to epistemology instead of a theological approach. In the Bible confidence in the truth (just as salvation) is theological. Confidence is a gift, the result of an epistemic act of God. God knows us in a saving way, and this is the cause of true knowledge of Him in us. Read Gal 4:9 (“But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God”) or Phil 3:19; 1Cor 13:12; Eph 1:9; 2Pt 1:3.

    The NT (and the whole Bible) doesn’t teach (or demonstrate) epistemological perfectionism, and has a theological approach to epistemology, not an anthropological one. The Triune God comes after us and makes us know Him. And then through His Spirit and Word leads us deeper and deeper into this knowledge and in confidence about this knowledge. This confidence is not a Cartesian certainty, for sure, but don’t look for such in Christianity. Nor in life.

  383. Adam (#382):

    There are fatal difficulties with your (1) and your (2) as criticisms of our reasons for being Catholic.

    Your (1) expresses the philosophical view that something called “epistemological perfectionism” (EP) is bad, and criticizes some of us for finding Catholicism persuasive by virtue of our adhering to EP. Instead, we are told in (2):

    The Triune God comes after us and makes us know Him. And then through His Spirit and Word leads us deeper and deeper into this knowledge and in confidence about this knowledge. This confidence is not a Cartesian certainty, for sure, but don’t look for such in Christianity. Nor in life.

    Trouble is, we Catholics would agree with what much of what you say, but we don’t think that poses a problem for us.

    Assuming that “Cartesian certainty” is what you’re referring to by ‘epistemological perfectionism’, we don’t claim Cartesian certainty. That sort of certainty arises from suspending belief in what is not a “clear and distinct” idea, and focusing on what emerges as clear and distinct after such a process of hyperbolic doubt. Instead, we hold that faith is a divine gift, not the result of rational demonstration. The best that reason can do is show that such faith is reasonable; it cannot make the propositions of faith certain in the way the cogito and other clear-and-distinct ideas are certain. The certainty of faith comes not from knowledge as Descartes conceived of it, but from the surrender of one’s own judgment to God in complete trust.

    That said, it must be pointed out that you’re using the term ‘knowledge’ rather ambiguously. You clearly imply that faith is a kind of knowledge; but in general, faith and knowledge as “propositional attitudes” (q.v.) are distinct from each other. For any proposition P, one believes that P by faith if one trusts an authority’s claim that P is true; one only “knows” that P if one can verify P for oneself by a reliable method that needn’t involve trusting such an authority. In the case of divine revelation, though, we cannot do the latter; we have only the former. So, to the extent that divine faith is knowledge, the “knowledge” consists not in a propositional attitude but in the object of that attitude, namely, what God has revealed. Accordingly, for any proposition P expressing divine revelation, we can and should have faith that P, and thus can indeed be certain that P; but the “knowledge” we thereby have consists not in the feeling of confidence or certitude we have about P–a feeling that can and does waver–but in P’s being true regardless of what reasons we may have for believing it. The knowledge here is the object of faith, namely P; it is not the state of mind by which we stand in relation to P.

    With that understood, Catholics can and should agree with the paragraph of yours I’ve quoted from (2). The disagreement here is about the means by which the Triune God leads us into revealed truth and the confidence of faith–not about whether he does so.

    Best,
    Mike

  384. David DeJong said:

    If the Magisterium suddenly said: wait a second, contraception is OK, and you became disillusioned by their claim to be an authoritative infallible interpreter of revelation…

    *If* that happened, then the Magisterium would be proved false. *If* the Magisterium had ever done that on a number of issues they would be proved false. But those *ifs* have never happened. And if i were a betting man, I would say that *if* after 2000 years of opportunity, the Catholic Church has never blundered by contradicting it’s irreformable teaching, then it is obviously under a miraculous interdict preventing it from doing so. That such an expected failure has not happened lends mega credibility to the trustworthiness of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

    And specifically regarding the contraception issue, the Catholic Church is the only Christian body left who teaches the truth on this crucial issue. Even E. Orthodoxy has failed to protect the faith on that issue. The Catholic Church is literally alone in her faithfulness on that issue. In my conversion process, this was very important motive of credibility in her favor, because as a PCA guy, I could expect the PCA or OPC to be wrong on the contraception issue (they were/are) and remain a Presbyterian, using my private judgment to form my belief and to reject the failure of my session, but for Catholics, if their Church is wrong on that issue, then the Church is totally invalid and evil by her own criteria. So not only do Catholics have the bigger claim, but they miraculously walk the talk. To me it is proof that God protects his Church. Even as a protestant, when I didn’t see it as divine protection, I thought it was extremely odd and unlikely that Catholicism held the line on contraception.
    So *If* the Magisterium suddenly contradicted its own irreformable teaching, then yeah, that would be fatal to its claims. The question is: How has such a huge bloated bureaucracy rife with scandals and the failings of men not done so after all these years?

  385. Jonathan,

    I find it paradoxical that you believe the Holy Spirit has guided the Church but at the same time you don’t believe the Church has infallibly transmitted God’s revelation. It seems to me that if the Church can and has made errors and required those errors to be believed by the whole Church, then such a Church cannot be a pillar and foundation of the Truth, nor is it being led by the Spirit “into all Truth”.

    This is not a paradox at all. The Holy Spirit is guiding the church into all truth. When the eschaton comes the church will certainly believe only the truth and the complete truth. However, right now the church is still liable to fall into error on occasion. The reason this is the case is because the Holy Spirit does not completely efface the human agency and contingency of the church.

    Think about the Scriptures. If we call them revelation from God, full of historical and other errors as they are, who are we to say that God must impart the charism of infallibility as part of his leading of the church? God is patient with the church, and, rather like a parent with a child, does not prevent her from making any mistakes at all but has a long-range plan that is aimed at her glorification. In any case I believe the history of the church–with crusades, indulgences, political machinations, and much more–is much more suggestive of this sort of view.

    But a case can be made (and has been made) that the successors to the apostles were recognized as having apostolic authority. As part of their role as “overseers” (bishops) of individual churches, they had the authority to interpret scripture according to the apostolic tradition passed down to them.

    I don’t deny this, nor should any Protestants. Protestants still have ministers, who exercise authority. It is a derivative authority and the church can never claim to still have apostolic authority–such a claim would be tantamount to saying the church can continue to write the New Testament today. We can’t. The NT is closed. The authority exercised in the church is lesser than that of the apostles.

    We can see from history that the letters of Clement, Polycarp, Ignatius, and Irenaeus were accepted, not as canon, but nonetheless, as authoritative. The authority of these men was recognized because they were the leaders chosen by the apostles.

    And I have no problem with this. Authoritative, but certainly not infallible.

    Thanks for the conversation.

  386. Mike,

    In 379, you said:

    For philosophical reasons I’ve expounded at length elsewhere, if there is no living human authority which can rightly claim to be divinely protected from error when teaching under certain conditions, then we simply lack any principled means from distinguishing divine revelation from human opinion. What amazes me is that you seem to show no interest in why I believe that.

    I don’t know how you decided that I am not interested in why you believe that. I am actually very interested in why you believe that.

    I was thinking about this last night and wondering if the conversation would be helped by considering other “revealed” religions, to keep the focus on the point at issue and not bring in all sorts of other Protestant/Catholic issues. Take Judaism. In Judaism, there is divine revelation, but there is no authoritative or infallible interpreter. So, Jewish practice is based on rabbinic law. And different rabbis would interpret the law differently, so that Jewish practice has never really been completely uniform. Given this situation, should Jews simply say “this ambiguity in interpretation is so vexing, we might as well not have divine revelation at all! Forego the next circumcision!” If Jews should say this, why has this not occurred to them? Have you realized a grave philosophical problem that strikes at the heart of their religion?

    For me, the claim that the problem of ambiguity in interpretation effectively reduces divine revelation to human opinion is interesting and novel. The only problem is, if it were true, more people would have thought so. The reason, however, why most people do not accept this claim is due to the fact that the postulation of an authorized interpreter is already logically subsequent to a belief in the existence of divine revelation. You wouldn’t stipulate that an interpreter is necessary if there were no revelation to interpret. The absence of an interpreter, then, cannot be used to say the very concept of divine revelation is impossible.

    I suppose from your perspective, if divine revelation is sealed in a box, the interpreter is the key. Without the key, there is no access to the box. Without the key, we therefore cannot claim to know at all what is really in the box and what is not. Is that fair?

    In response I would say, this is a view of divine revelation analogous to the Muslim view, in which it falls from heaven as a set of eternal and objective truths. Because I believe with the historic Christian church that divine revelation occurs in history, the very nature of revelation is different than, say, on the Muslim view. Revelation is incarnational; it occurs in specific cultures and times and places. This has the unavoidable consequence that divine revelation is bound up with the ambiguities of history. But, that was the way that God decided to come to us. He came as one of us, and that has profound implications for our view of what revelation is and how it is appropriated.

    Best,

    Dave

  387. David Meyer 384,

    Thanks for the comment. My scenario about contraception was just a hypothetical, and I can’t get into a further discussion about this right now. I will say that you are certainly correct in posing your concluding question; that is the question we all must answer. Protestants obviously answer it differently than Catholics…but this would take us too far afield.

    Dave

  388. Ex-Anglican J.N. Darby on Ex-Anglican J.H. Newman is apropos:

    The secret of the course of Dr. Newman’s mind is this — it is sensuous; and so is Romanism. He never possessed the truth, nor, in the process he describes, sought it: he had never found rest or peace in his own soul, nor sought it where it is to be found, according to the holiness of God. He sank into that system where the mind often finds quiet from restless search after repose, when wearied in judging for itself, but never peace with God.

    {I realize this will not be posted, but the apparatus to email CTC is not working. Jason: Come home from Rome!}

  389. David DeJong, you write:

    The Holy Spirit is guiding the church into all truth. When the eschaton comes the church will certainly believe only the truth and the complete truth.

    So, in the present age, the Holy Spirit is guiding the church into all truth but not the complete truth. I don’t understand what that is supposed to mean. Are you asserting that divine revelation is not closed, that Christians should expect more revelation from the Holy Spirit as we approach the end of the age?

    You say that the Holy Spirit is guiding “the church” into all truth, but as any disinterested observer can see, Protestantism is not one church, Protestantism consists of thousands upon thousands of divided sects that, as a whole, cannot agree on a single point of faith. Within Protestantism, even the doctrine of the Trinity is disputed, and if that doctrine can be disputed, any doctrine can be disputed. And it is, within Protestantism.

    Doctrinal chaos reigns within Protestantism, and that state of chaos cannot exist because of the Holy Spirit has led Protestantism into a state of mass confusion. It would be blasphemy of the worst kind to accuse the Holy Spirit of being the author of confusion! The doctrinal confusion within Protestantism has a source to be sure, but it isn’t the Holy Spirit.

    Since Protestantism exists as thousands upon thousands of divided sects teaching contradictory and irreconcilable doctrine, it logically follows that most individual Protestants sects are teaching heresy.

    David DeJong, how do you know that your Protestant sect is teaching only the truth? You say that “right now the church is still liable to fall into error on occasion.” So , how do you know with certainty that your Protestant sect is not teaching heresy?

  390. David (#385)

    It seems to me there is a really fundamental difference in philosophy between Catholics and Protestants that underlies this idea:

    The Holy Spirit is guiding the church into all truth. When the eschaton comes the church will certainly believe only the truth and the complete truth.

    The question is whether ‘the Church’ means ‘the collection of individuals who believe in Christ’ or whether it means some single substance that has a form of its own – that is not identical with the material (believers) which comprise it. I think the Catholic believes the latter; consciously or unconsciously, the Protestant (and, for the matter of that, most moderns, including many or most actual Catholics) is a nominalists and thinks that all things reduce to their members – and those members actually reduce to the members of the members.

    Thus it can only be at the eschaton when the church will believe all and only the truth, because only then will the church be identical with its members.

    For what it’s worth, it seems to me well to realise that by ‘the church’ we may mean different things – and thus much talk is talking past one another.

    jj

  391. JJ re 388

    I think that you are partly correct when you state that the Church is a single substance that has a form of its own. The Church is truly the sum of all its members, however the Church is also the institution born of Christ to teach all truth as related to God, to forgive all sins and to sanctify its members. I do not believe that the Church can be divorced from the institution any more than it can be divorced from its cohesive membership. The Church is required to be both.

    Blessings
    NHU

  392. Burton (re:# 358),

    You wrote:
    Much truth can be attained though open logical inquiry, but I am certain that this important question of knowing orthodoxy versus heresy is at least in part outside of that realm.

    Response:
    I affirm two realms.

    A. General Revelation, natural reason, logical inquiry, etc.
    B. Special Revelation, faith, authority, natural reason, logical inquiry, etc.

    Which realm makes you certain that the orthodoxy -vs- heresy question belongs to one realm (at least in part) ? Surely, the question of there being a realm-B is a question of authority. What authority gives you certainty that B exists ? Following Aquinas, I think it was based on Divine and Apostolic authority. Most importantly, he was defining the subjective virtue of faith (the God-given gift to believe) which gives him the ability to know realm-B in a saving way.

    Let’s put the layman in a tighter grip. Each of your questions are lower on the hierarchy of truths compared to knowing the truth of the virtue of faith. How can I, as a layman, identify and distinguish faith from non-faith ?

    1. Believe that Hebrews 11:1 is true based on the authority of the true God.
    2. Believe that faith is a gift given by God directly.
    3. Distinguish faith as “the understanding assenting to things that appear not” from “the understanding assenting to things that appear.”

    Naturally, someone may ask why I believe #1 and 2 are true. I believe they are true through the inspired scripture, or the word of God written. How do I know these belong to the canon of scripture ? Canon implies a whole unit and a whole unit includes parts. These parts are so integral and necessary for the whole that their absence would prevent me from knowing realm-B.

    All of this seems easy to affirm because these truths are so inter-dependent. Let’s ask a harder question: How can I distinguish rational “things that appear not” from irrational “things that appear not” ? Neither of us want to call faith irrational. The answer is in the way we reconcile both realms. The doctrines of creation and providence, supported by the clear scriptural proof-texts, give us the reconciliation. These doctrines ground sense perception, logical inquiry, general ideas about God and provide an environment for God to reveal His truth. At this point, the canon of scripture broadens to include those necessary parts, yielding a faith in accord with the rational. Validity of theological reasoning is affirmed also.

    Autocratic ideas permeate your approach to identifying realm-B, and they should. God condescended to reveal His will in this contingent world from a kind of “ground up” approach. He did it through thought communication (inspired) or some exterior verbal utterance. He entered and interacted with the world in a strikingly familiar and accommodating way. Why do so many find protestantism weak and beggarly ? The reason is teleological. Protestantism seems to prevent the group from uniting for common ends and reaching those ends safely. If you were called heavenward and supplied necessary means to obtain it, then you must be able to exclude all possibility of deception. Deception is the dangerous detour. Infallibility, in the catholic paradigm, seems to do the job. Think for a moment how so many reach heaven without the catholic paradigm. Why is that ? And who got them there ? For all of the impenetrable reasons roman catholicism gives to make its case, it still cannot give a specific roman catholic reason why many arrive without it. In fact, all of the saving operations of the Spirit of Truth, outside the visible confines of the catholic church, are protestant affirming.

    Returning to the word Christian (#336). Since Rome teaches that someone can be a Christian without the faith that gives eternal life, then I in no way desire to be united to them in their state. Rome goes to great lengths to show the immutable, constant, and uninterrupted authority of God through the infallible teaching office (presuming they have the virtue of faith). Preservation from error is a must. Can the same be said of the excellent, free, and beautiful love of God ? I find it strange how the understanding rests firmly on infallibility, but the will cannot promise itself certainty in perseverance. One more dead intellectualist image in the chamber of imagery (Ezek. 8:7-12).

    Thanks,
    Eric

  393. Nelson (#389)

    I think that you are partly correct when you state that the Church is a single substance that has a form of its own. The Church is truly the sum of all its members, however the Church is also the institution born of Christ to teach all truth as related to God, to forgive all sins and to sanctify its members. I do not believe that the Church can be divorced from the institution any more than it can be divorced from its cohesive membership. The Church is required to be both.

    Probably I am using the wrong language or something – I am no philosopher! But I think it is essential to understand that we believe the Church is more than the sum of its members. And nor do I think you can talk about the Church, on the one hand, and the institution on the other. It would be like talking about my body, which is more than a sum of its cells, on the one hand, and my anatomy, on the other. My anatomy is just how those cells are organised. But my body is an actual thing. It has not been reduced by the loss of my cells.

    And the point is that the Catholic believes that it can be true that the Church believes all and only the truth, even although some of its members do not. We don’t think we have to wait until the eschaton for it to be true that the Church believes all and only the truth. And I don’t think Protestants would agree – at least, when I was a Protestant, I would not have agreed.

    All I am saying is that in discussion between Catholics and Protestants, I think a lot of talking-past-one-another happens because the two sides don’t appreciate this about one another.

    jj

  394. Dave (#378)

    In response to my re-phrased question regarding the ability of Adam’s interpretation to produce a paradigm that can, in any given circumstance where conflict arises, determine reliably and practicably which interpretation or teaching is orthodox and which is heretical, you responded, “I think so”.

    Could you flesh that out? How exactly does that work? You may have been trying to explain that in your last paragraph, where you describe the NT as the “written instantiation of the Apostles’ interpretive authority”. Are you saying that as we read the NT under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, we have access to the interpretive authority of the Apostles and by this authority can, in any given circumstance where disagreement arises, can know which position is orthodox and which is not? If I am accurately understanding you, can you describe explicitly how that would work practically?

    Burton

  395. David (re: 386);
    I think your proposal of considering other “revealed” religions is an interesting one. I hope Mike takes you up on it.

    Do you think it’s also helpful to consider differences between Protestant traditions, even confessional Protestant traditions? Say an average lay Protestant Christian father (like myself) who honestly wants to follow the Apostles’ teaching on the essentials of the gospel is having a hard time with some things. He can’t determine if God wants his children baptized or not (and if so, what God does through it). He also isn’t sure whether he should teach his children that they can or cannot fall from grace. He looks to various confessional teachers and sees people who love Jesus and have dedicated their lives to studying the Scriptures in the original languages, studying church history and theology. He sees that these experts reach mutually exclusive opinions on these issues. He knows these are serious basic gospel questions (if the Lutherans and the Anglicans are right, not baptising a baby is a pretty big deal). He knows that some of these confessional traditions will not allow members of other traditions to take communion in their churches. He knows that all of these traditions acknowledge that their interpretations are fallible. If he goes with what seems right to him he knows he has no reason to have confidence in his opinion. Yet, he knows the Holy Spirit cannot lead men to contradictory positions. And he knows that as a Protestant he’s supposed to hold that the Scriptures are perspicuous on the essentials of the Gospel.

    Given all these things that this man sees and knows, I do not see how he can maintain that sola scriptura is the means God has chosen for conveying His divine truth (by sola scriptura, I mean studying the Scripture, prayer, listening to tradition, listening to the “church,” and having the Holy Spirit). If a paradigm cannot give clear direction to average Christian parents about the status of their children and what is to be done with their children, what good is it? What would you say in response to this man’s concerns?

    I think bringing this question down to the concrete realities that real families deal with is helpful for resolving it.

    Blessings,
    Mark

  396. Hugh (#388)

    The secret of the course of Dr. Newman’s mind is this — it is sensuous; and so is Romanism. He never possessed the truth, nor, in the process he describes, sought it: he had never found rest or peace in his own soul, nor sought it where it is to be found, according to the holiness of God. He sank into that system where the mind often finds quiet from restless search after repose, when wearied in judging for itself, but never peace with God.

    Gosh, this astonishes me. Newman’s writings were responsible for my own becoming a Catholic. I have read all his published works, both what he wrote as an Anglican and as a Catholic – quite a few of them multiple times – and am slowly working my way through our University library’s collection of all his letters (I am up to 1852 – got a way to go, since he died in 1890 :-)). My deepest and clearest impression from Newman’s writings – and, indeed, what he himself says – was that he never found peace with God until he became a Catholic – and never lost it thereafter. He has many, many statments to that effect in his writings. Was he lying? or what?

    jj

  397. Mike (#383),

    O.K., let’s assume for the sake of argument that you are right. What you have just proven is this: if every Protestant is a Benny Hinn, as Brent suggests, so are Catholics at the root level. Catholics put their faith (an an individual judgment) in the teachings of the RCC, believing that she is the infallible source of truth. This act – by its nature, though not in its content – is essentially the same as bowing before the authority of the Scriptures (and what you find there) as the infallible source of truth. In other words, you haven’t given Burton a real epistemological alternative.

    (As a side note, I think we have a strong warrant for putting our faith in the words of the apostles of Jesus Christ whose writings the fathers preserved. I don’t think we have a similarly strong warrant for putting our faith in the Roman Catholic church.)

    ***

    MarkS (#395),

    Very good question! I think the apostle Paul would deal with that question along the lines of Romans 14. Act according to your best judgment (v. 22), ask the Lord to give you more light, and love those brothers who disagree with you. The NT makes a distinction between 1) the message of the gospel (which Paul summarizes in 1Cor 15:1-4) and 2) other questions of the Christian faith. In the latter there is room for disagreement. Didn’t Paul himself said that “we know in part”? “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12) So it’s O.K. to disagree. It’s not O.K. to not love each other.

    ***

    There is something that has bothered me during this whole long discussion, and I kept forgetting to mention it. You Catholics want us to believe that your denomination is the default position of Christianity. Jason therefore was welcomed “home.” You believe that you are at Square One, so if we want to be (or belong to) a REAL church we should go back to Square One (i.e. join Rome). This is supposed to be a powerful argument. But I don’t think you are at Square One. Rome is at best at Square Two, Three, or Four, depending on how you rank the Roman Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, and the Oriental Orthodox churches (e.g. Copts). Square One is the apostolic tradition preserved in the NT. And therefore those are at Square One who prize the NT above their own ecclesiastical traditions, hold themselves to it, and let themselves be normed, and if necessary, reformed by it. The Reformers didn’t create a Square Five. They went back to Square One. In some sense they were the ones who went “home.” I have no desire to step at Square Two, Three, or Four. I want to be at Square One. This is why I am an evangelical.

  398. Being at this consultation on global missions I can’t help but see our discussion on this website as immensely parochial. I hear stories about thousands and thousands of churches being planted in India, Africa, Indonesia, China, and many other countries. I listen to stories from the Middle East about how the gospel spreads and affects people, just like in NT times. Many of these people have never even heard of the Roman Catholic church, but the apostolic gospel of Jesus Christ was preached to them and it transformed their lives. Congregations are formed all over the world through the power of the gospel. Just like in the beginning (Eph 3:6). People hear the central message of the Bible on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the promise of eternal life, faith in God, forgiveness of sins, self-control, reconciliation, and they are profoundly affected by this message. They are affected by it because the Holy Spirit testifies to their souls that it is true (1Thess 1:5).

    The Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit further the Kingdom through simple, evangelical witness. There is no need for a Giant Holy Bureaucracy. The majority of the church has long outgrown that, and has left it behind as a reptile throws its skin. God’s people is much bigger than the Roman Institution, and God’s Spirit blows wherever he wants. The Spirit cannot be shut into an Institution, however sacred it is viewed by many. This is not to say that the Spirit wouldn’t work in the RCC. Believe me, I also rejoice when Catholic missionaries – like the Dominican Vincent Donovan – report on such things. Donovan realized that the Masai don’t need a Thomistic cathedral, they need to hear the simple message of faith in Jesus, the Son of the Most High. His book Rediscovering Christianity is an excellent missiological work. So let us believe in the power of the gospel and the Holy Spirit, and not squeeze ourselves into perfectionistic epistemologies.

    What I have just said might sound terribly anti-intellectual. I hope I’ve proven in my comments above that I do care for the intellectual questions as well. But there is a world out there.

    End of my coffee break.

  399. John (390)

    For what it’s worth, it seems to me well to realise that by ‘the church’ we may mean different things – and thus much talk is talking past one another.

    I do think there are differences in what we mean by “church,” but I don’t think it’s the reason for our disagreement in this particular discussion. Both Catholics and Protestants would say that the church is a mixed body; there are hypocrites present among the true believers. In the sense you mention (as you say, “it will only be at the eschaton when the church will believe all and only the truth, because only then will the church be identical with its members”) I think Catholics and Protestants are in agreement. (That is, Catholics would acknowledge that only at the eschaton will all of their members believe the complete and only truth. This does not address the specific issue I was discussing with Jonathan, which is the claim to infallibility in the present age.)

    The question is, does the promise of the Spirit to guide the church into all truth carry with it a promise of infallibility? I would say no. In fact, I believe presuming on a promise of infallibility is actually detrimental to being guided into all truth. Why? Because if the church’s teaching is presumed to be infallible, there can be no critical analysis of it. You simply can’t debate that which is infallibly disclosed. But, the way the church comes to a knowledge of the truth is through the ordinary human processes of rational argumentation and debate. The church needs to–no, is called to–engage in critical self-reflection upon what she claims represents divine doctrine. That is the way the Spirit guides us into the truth.

    I think Adam put this well in comment 250 when he said (in a different context): “The other danger is that you and your community cannot therefore be normed by the apostolic tradition (nor the writings of the early fathers). Therefore, instead of preserving the apostolic tradition, you will be slowly drifting from it. And there is no way for you to even recognize it.”

    To me, this is a brilliant point. The presumption of infallibility prohibits the church from reading the church fathers and being corrected by them.

    Best,

    Dave

  400. Adam,

    re: 397

    It seems there is a rather anachronistic problem with the claim to be at “Square One”. What came first, the “apostolic tradition” or the Church (and no, I am not at this point assuming the “Roman” one)? All of the writings of the NT are by men who were already a part of the Church. Further, it is not possible to know what constitutes the canon of “apostolic tradition” apart from the testimony of the Church. Thus, while it may be possible for someone such as yourself to claim some difference between “Square One” and the subsequent ones you enumerated, it is incorrect (certainly historically) to claim to be at a “Square One” apart from the Church. “Square One” does not exist without members of the Church to write the inspired teaching or subsequent members to testify that those writings were in fact what they are (i.e. written by an apostle, etc.). Any of the subsequent “squares” you enumerate have a much stronger (historic) case for being the church founded by Christ through which inspiration was written down and preserved than any recent evangelical one. How do you answer someone who looks at the same “apostolic tradition” and comes to the conclusion that its consistent witness is to a Church that teaches with the same authority that astonished the Jews who heard Jesus teach?

    It is telling the answer you gave to mark regarding baptism. The effect of baptism and who it is administered to has been settled in the Church since no later than the second century, yet sadly, traditions arising out of the Reformation continue to cause divisions over it.

    In Him,
    Bill

  401. Mateo, 389:

    Are you asserting that divine revelation is not closed, that Christians should expect more revelation from the Holy Spirit as we approach the end of the age?

    No. I’m asserting the same thing Catholics believe about development of doctrine (except, without the presumption of infallibility, which means doctrine develops not in a straight line but more through “trial and error,” and I use that phrase loosely).

    You say that the Holy Spirit is guiding “the church” into all truth, but as any disinterested observer can see, Protestantism is not one church, Protestantism consists of thousands upon thousands of divided sects that, as a whole, cannot agree on a single point of faith. Within Protestantism, even the doctrine of the Trinity is disputed, and if that doctrine can be disputed, any doctrine can be disputed. And it is, within Protestantism.

    Doctrinal chaos reigns within Protestantism, and that state of chaos cannot exist because of the Holy Spirit has led Protestantism into a state of mass confusion. It would be blasphemy of the worst kind to accuse the Holy Spirit of being the author of confusion! The doctrinal confusion within Protestantism has a source to be sure, but it isn’t the Holy Spirit.

    True. I would say many Protestant denominations have been guided not by the Holy Spirit but by deceiving spirits.

    Since Protestantism exists as thousands upon thousands of divided sects teaching contradictory and irreconcilable doctrine, it logically follows that most individual Protestants sects are teaching heresy.

    Well, this is possibly the case, but most Protestant splits are not over what I would call “heresy.” Most are over matters like infant/adult baptism, women in office, etc. So it does not “logically” follow that most Protestant churches teach heresy. It is possible that most Protestant churches teach heresy, but to establish this you would have to conduct an exhaustive survey of Protestantism, and determine which percentage of denominations teaches heresy–which I suspect would keep you busy for a long time! :)

    David DeJong, how do you know that your Protestant sect is teaching only the truth? You say that “right now the church is still liable to fall into error on occasion.” So , how do you know with certainty that your Protestant sect is not teaching heresy?

    Look, I didn’t come on here and start commenting to answer all sorts of questions about Protestantism. I came merely to make a methodological observation to Brent (but, I understand, one can never just quickly engage and then leave). I would say I know my church (the CRC) is not teaching heresy, because of its conformity to the Word of God and the apostolic tradition. Let’s leave it at that lest we go down all sorts of rabbit trails.

  402. Burton 394:

    Are you saying that as we read the NT under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, we have access to the interpretive authority of the Apostles and by this authority can, in any given circumstance where disagreement arises, can know which position is orthodox and which is not? If I am accurately understanding you, can you describe explicitly how that would work practically?

    Yes, I am saying that. It should be noted that I do believe we today exercise any sort of “interpretive authority”; in fact, I think this notion is self-contradictory, for reasons I’ve explained elsewhere. But, we do have access to the interpretive authority exercised by the apostles through the writings of the NT.

    Practically, it works through engagement and debate. The Church has never been scared of debate. It is not afraid to put its claims it the public sphere and have them tested. From Justin’s Dialogue and Irenaeus’ engagement of the gnostics to the practice of medieval disputation (think of the very format of the Summa), the Church grows through critical self-reflection upon its doctrine. This is why Luther put forward theses for disputation, and why Eck debated them with him.

    I realize this is going to be unsatisfactory–obviously such debates have not led to universal agreement in the Church. Nevertheless when we examine these debates retrospectively we can see how the Spirit has been guiding the church–for example, on the issue of the deity of Christ. (But, I don’t want to get into a full-blown discussion of this topic right now. I hope this helps. It’s the best I can do–after all, I am a Protestant.) :)

  403. Mark, 395

    I think having concrete questions is excellent. These are great questions.

    Say an average lay Protestant Christian father (like myself) who honestly wants to follow the Apostles’ teaching on the essentials of the gospel is having a hard time with some things. He can’t determine if God wants his children baptized or not (and if so, what God does through it). He also isn’t sure whether he should teach his children that they can or cannot fall from grace. He looks to various confessional teachers and sees people who love Jesus and have dedicated their lives to studying the Scriptures in the original languages, studying church history and theology. He sees that these experts reach mutually exclusive opinions on these issues.

    First of all, I would indicate my agreement with what Szabados said. More Christians need to apply Romans 14 to disputed issues.

    Baptism is an interesting case. I grew up (and have always been a member of) denominations that believe and practice infant baptism. I learned a bunch of scriptural arguments (e.g., household baptisms in Acts) to defend the practice. Later, I realized that the scriptural evidence for infant baptism was weak, to say the least. Almost none of the texts brought in to support it have anything to do with it; it is a case of reading Scripture for what we want to see rather than what is there. But, I didn’t become Baptist. Even though I would acknowledge that the Baptists have the better of the historical argument (baptism almost certainly began as a rite administered to adults), I didn’t see why the rite of baptism needed to remain static through centuries. If infant baptism was a change that occurs in the course of the church’s tradition, that doesn’t mean I should necessarily reject that change. We should reject changes that are in opposition to the apostolic tradition.

    Study the matter. Pray over it. Read a lot about it. And go with your conscience. In this case, you can’t really go “wrong”: you will just be choosing different points in the history of the church on which to base your practice. I find the “primitivism” in some Baptist circles somewhat anachronistic, as if we can “go back” to the church of Jesus and the apostles. We can’t go back, nor should we want to: the promise of the Spirit is, after all, to further guide the church into truth. So that is why I accept infant baptism despite not being able to root it in sola scriptura.

    But, you need to come to your own decision, based on a careful study of scripture, history, and tradition. And I think you need to realize that God understands and is gracious. He understands that some of these questions are not clear; he is ok with our cultural embeddedness and limited vision. (After all, he let the patriarchs (!) practice polygamy–think about that and you will see that God understands that we have a hard time knowing the truth.)

    He knows these are serious basic gospel questions (if the Lutherans and the Anglicans are right, not baptising a baby is a pretty big deal). He knows that some of these confessional traditions will not allow members of other traditions to take communion in their churches.

    These are not “basic gospel questions.” The gospel is the announcement of Jesus Christ, crucified for our sins, raised from the dead. There are traditions that refuse communion on the basis of these secondary issues: that attitude is schismatic, treating these disputed issues as if they were “basic gospel questions.”

    He knows that all of these traditions acknowledge that their interpretations are fallible. If he goes with what seems right to him he knows he has no reason to have confidence in his opinion. Yet, he knows the Holy Spirit cannot lead men to contradictory positions. And he knows that as a Protestant he’s supposed to hold that the Scriptures are perspicuous on the essentials of the Gospel.

    Paul seems to acknowledge in Rom 14 that Christians who have the Holy Spirit can have sincere disagreements (“contradictory positions,” even), on secondary issues. The Holy Spirit does not completely efface our human agency and finititude. Sanctification is a process, and the Holy Spirit allows us to retain some errors along the way.

    The Scriptures certainly are perspicuous on the gospel: Jesus Christ was crucified for our sins and raised for our justification. I don’t think any interpreter could in good conscience deny that the NT teaches that.

    Given all these things that this man sees and knows, I do not see how he can maintain that sola scriptura is the means God has chosen for conveying His divine truth (by sola scriptura, I mean studying the Scripture, prayer, listening to tradition, listening to the “church,” and having the Holy Spirit). If a paradigm cannot give clear direction to average Christian parents about the status of their children and what is to be done with their children, what good is it? What would you say in response to this man’s concerns?

    I understand that its difficult to know the truth. I believe that the process of wrestling with it is one of the ways we are sanctified. I can’t tell you what the Catholic church can (that I have a “paradigm” that can give “clear direction” re: infant/adult baptism). So, we are left with scripture, history, tradition, and our conscience. And we must love those with whom we disagree, and we must trust that God is more gracious to us than we can imagine. Think about it: if fellow Christians can be gracious across denominational lines, and recognize the work of God and the Spirit despite variations in belief (and I do understand that some Christians are not gracious in these matters), how much more can God be gracious to us despite the fact that we cannot always see clearly? He knows us better than we know ourselves. That I think is something we all can take comfort in. So: study, pray, make your decision, and trust in God’s grace. That is all I can say.

    Blessings to you,

    Dave

  404. Mark (395),
    (And to David DeJong some too.)

    If a paradigm cannot give clear direction to average Christian parents about the status of their children and what is to be done with their children, what good is it? What would you say in response to this man’s concerns?

    Your concern is unanswerable in the Protestant IP. David Dejong does about the best job of articulating it that can be done. But as you may have noticed, your question is directed back at you, to your conscience, which according to your question in #395, you rightly realize could be on either side of many issues, considering the brilliant, godly men on either side of those issues. I had the same concern in my last 5 or so years as a Reformed husband and father of multiple catechism aged little ones. This might be TMI, but I remember crying from the weight of it at times. I wanted to teach my children the truth, not my opinions. And I felt a great weight on my shoulders about this, which felt like a millstone more often than not (if you take my meaning).

    David DeJong says:

    Study the matter. Pray over it. Read a lot about it. And go with your conscience. In this case, you can’t really go “wrong”

    Yes, he can go wrong. Very wrong. And his children could go to hell if he goes wrong. This is serious business, and Christ reserves his scariest language for false teachers. Would you make the above statement if he decided that his “conscience” couldn’t allow him to accept the Trinity? If yes, you are at least consistent. But I doubt you would say yes. You would tell him to re-form his conscience on the issue of the Trinity because he is “wrong” on that issue and is in danger of serious heresy. I realize your comment is heartfelt and well meant, and it is about the best answer possible from a conservative Protestant perspective. (Hey, this was my mindset for years, so I get it.) But the assumptions in it are breathtaking.

    First of all is your assumption that this is the method to determining truth in the Church. When has this ever been the case in scripture or history? Have you read the 7 letters of Ignatius (107AD)? He pounds away… again, and again, and again… about how the recipients of the letter need to follow their bishop as they follow Christ. That they should do nothing without the bishop. Should they follow their conscience? Yeah, if their conscience is telling them to obey their bishop! If their conscience is rightly formed, then yes follow it. But it is possible for our conscience to be badly formed. Which is why to set it up as the final arbiter is dangerous, not to mention totally unbiblical and against the Tradition.
    Another couple assumptions which I had were that whatever I disagreed on with Christians who were fairly near to my system (Reformed, Calvinistic) were issues that were not of too great importance. In practice, the mere fact of disagreement seemed to prove this to be the case. But when I thought about it, I really could point to no good reason why these issues should be considered less important. Should I consider by sibling who does not believe in baptism (baby OR adult) to be a Christian? How big a deal is this? Who desides how big a deal it is? Why did it seem to me the Trinity was of absolute importance but baptism or the Eucharist was not? If Christians must agree on the Trinity, with no deviation whatsoever on that point, why could they disagree on other points that seemed just as important to me? I had no answer which was not arbitrary, and no Protestant does. And here is the kicker:

    Who gets to determine which issues are important? Why them and not someone else who disagrees with them?

    Who gets to determine which issues to break fellowship over and to what degree to break fellowship Why them and not someone else who disagrees with them?

    When I heard the crickets chirping in response to these questions, I knew I was on the wrong side of the Tiber.

    The answer to my question kept coming back from my Protestant sources as one of two things:
    1. With all fingers pointing to me and my conscience as the final rule. My elders pointed there after reaching an impasse with me. Well if I am the one who decides these things, then I have no objective way of knowing if I am a heretic or not. It is as simple as that.
    2. Or worse, other Christians will ignore the problem and simply try to convince you of their conviction about an issue and/or its importance level, which just kicks the can down the road and ignores the problem.

    And again, the elephant in the room for me was this:
    who is to say issue X is not a big issue? It is easy to say baptism is not a big issue between Reformed and Baptist, and all the heads will nod around you, but for me what happened is I became convinced from scripture and tradition that baptism was a matter that made Baptists heretics of the worst sort, and that they needed to be resisted and excluded from the Christian community. When I would say this to my fellow Reformed brothers, they would then (ironically) start to wonder if I should obey my conscience on the issue. ;-) Usually they would end up simply trying to show me how I was wrong.

    All a Protestant has to do is ask himself “is it possible one of these disagreements is in fact of ultimate importance?” And if it were, how would I know? Could my conscience be telling me that the M.S. Lutherans are wrong on the Eucharist, when in fact I was wrong, and dangerously wrong, and teaching my children dangerously wrong doctrine? The answer to these questions must be “yes”! Yes it is possible for my conscience to lead me very astray. Once this was is admitted within my mind, I immediately knew I was no longer a Protestant.
    (At this point all the Reformed guys with degrees on their wall told me how all I needed was to read the bible and pray, and follow my conscience, and oh yeah: how I should believe what they believe, even though they all disagreed with each other)

    Here was my reasoning: If it is possible for my conscience to lead me to dangerously false doctrine, and if Christ has promised to lead His Church into truth, then the way of finding the true doctrine must not be through my own conscience. The way must be outside myself, from a Church who claims to speak for Christ with His full authority. From there the plausible options narrow to only two.

    Sorry for the long comment, but Mark, your #395 really hit home with me. That was the pebble in my shoe for years in the PCA.

  405. David,

    re: 399, 402 and 403

    I hope most [preferably all :) ] of the Catholics here would agree that the process by which the Holy Spirit guides the church into all truth is oftentimes messy. That part seems (to me at least) obvious from any reading of history on any point of doctrine.

    However, is it possible to settle an issue, such as baptismal regeneration, or the nature of the Trinity, or the nature of grace and how it is manifest in the world? Again, a study of the history of councils in the church seem to indicate it believed itself capable of making decisions that were binding and anathematizing incorrect teaching.

    Infallibility does not lead inexorably to a lack of critical thinking. It provides a sure foundation from which to move forward into what has not yet been fleshed out. For example, I myself find the Catholic church most prominently displaying a movement into a fuller understanding of truth. How? It continues to call ecumenical councils. It continues to define de fide dogmas that (for me at least) demonstrate the effects of the Incarnation in the world (for example, having settled the nature of the Trinity, the person of Christ, the nature of grace and how it is communicated, it has moved on to the effects of that grace in the definitions regarding the role of a mere creature, Mary, and by extension, all of humanity.)

    While I appreciate what you have posited as the “essentials”, and how it agrees with what Adam has posted in #398, I find that to be a very limited presentation of the gospel. For me, the gospel is not something just aimed at me and my sinfulness and need for a savior. It is so much more than that. It is an invitation to see God as Father and all of us as His family. It is not what Jesus on the cross did for me but what God as Father did in sending His Son for all of humanity. God is a communion of Persons; the family of God, in participating in the divine nature, is likewise a communion of persons.

    Lastly, I would be interested in hearing how it is you understand the early creeds and the articles on the church. How is it that the church is listed in both the Apostle’s and Nicene creeds? If a creed is a statement of FAITH (i.e. propositions for which there is something beyond mere intellectual assent required), how is it that the Church is listed? In what manner is the Church an object of faith?

    In Him,
    Bill

  406. David (#399)

    That is, Catholics would acknowledge that only at the eschaton will all of their members believe the complete and only truth. This does not address the specific issue I was discussing with Jonathan, which is the claim to infallibility in the present age.

    Certainly – but this illustrates what I mean about the difference in understanding of the church. At the eschaton, it may be, some – permaps many – of the members of the Catholic Church will not believe the truth – they will be in Hell.

    Do you see what I mean? ‘Members of the church’ for the Protestant tends to mean ‘those destined to salvation.’ It is nominalism – the whole is simply the sum of the parts.

    The claim to infallibility is not, of course, demonstrated by this view. I only meant that without this view of the church as an actual thing, infallibility cannot be a property of the church – because, as ONE thing, there is no such thing as ‘the church.’

    jj

  407. David (#386):

    You write:

    I was…wondering if the conversation would be helped by considering other “revealed” religions, to keep the focus on the point at issue and not bring in all sorts of other Protestant/Catholic issues. Take Judaism. In Judaism, there is divine revelation, but there is no authoritative or infallible interpreter. So, Jewish practice is based on rabbinic law. And different rabbis would interpret the law differently, so that Jewish practice has never really been completely uniform. Given this situation, should Jews simply say “this ambiguity in interpretation is so vexing, we might as well not have divine revelation at all! Forego the next circumcision!” If Jews should say this, why has this not occurred to them? Have you realized a grave philosophical problem that strikes at the heart of their religion?

    Assuming that Judaism lacks any infallible interpreter of the Law–an assumption some Christians and Jews would reject–I don’t regard that as a problem for my account of how divine revelation as such is to be identified and intepreted. Why not?

    I do not regard Judaism as a revealed religion distinct from Christianity, which started as a Jewish movement that the other Jews were wrong to expel. Rather, I consider Judaism a revealed religion only because I am a Christian; as such, I see Judaism as distinct from Christianity only in the sense that, as a matter of historical fact, the majority of the ethnic Jews who practice their religion do so with the false assumption that Christianity is not the authentic and final stage of their own religion’s development. But as a Christian, I recognize OT Judaism as a stage in revelation’s unfolding; revelation proper, from the standpoint of which Judaism is rightly seen as as stage, is the divine person, life, death, resurrection, teaching, and exegesis of Jesus Christ (which I’ll call the “Christ-event” for brevity). From a broadly Christian standpoint, OT Judaism points to the Christ-event and the Church and finds its fulfillment in them. But as is indicated by the reaction of most Jews to Jesus in his time, that isn’t clear just from the OT canon itself (whether one takes that canon to be Septuagint or Masoretic). Indeed, like many Jews today, I see the OT canon taken in isolation simply as an impressive library of religious thought and history, not as divine revelation strictly speaking. Though it does convey authentic divine revelation (unlike what Marcion and most Gnostics thought), it does so only proleptically, in light of the Christ-event handed on by the Church. So Judaism’s lack of an infallible identifier and interpreter of divine revelation–if indeed there is such a lack–does not pose a problem for my account of how divine revelation proper is to be identified and interpreted. Given that Judaism is but a stage of revelation proper, the meaning of whose content is neither complete nor evident on its face, there is no reason to assume that anybody in OT Judaism could or would infallibly identify and interpret revelation proper, even when they happened to get some of it right. My account of how revelation is to be identified and interpreted assumes that there is a complete and definitive revelation that will not be augmented and illumined by further revelation.

    Which brings me to the second objection you raise:

    For me, the claim that the problem of ambiguity in interpretation effectively reduces divine revelation to human opinion is interesting and novel. The only problem is, if it were true, more people would have thought so. The reason, however, why most people do not accept this claim is due to the fact that the postulation of an authorized interpreter is already logically subsequent to a belief in the existence of divine revelation. You wouldn’t stipulate that an interpreter is necessary if there were no revelation to interpret. The absence of an interpreter, then, cannot be used to say the very concept of divine revelation is impossible.

    Before I get to the basic error in that, I must point out that while my view may be “novel” to you, it is by no means novel in itself. It was essentially Blessed John Henry Newman’s view, and is all over his writings; in particular, I recommend his Faith and Private Judgment. And the distinction between divine faith and human opinion he invokes there goes back at leas t to St. Thomas Aquinas. On this point, St. Thomas was expressing the common view in the High Middle Ages. The reason most people don’t think that way anymore is precisely that, viewing the very idea of an infallible identifier and interpreter of divine revelation as either arrogance or superstition, they lack a necessary criterion for distinguishing divine revelation from human opinion, so that believing there is such a thing as divine revelation, they instinctively and uncritically take some of their own or others’ opinions about its identity and meaning to convey the thing itself. Such is the problem I run into with conservative Protestants constantly; as to liberal Protestants, most have simply given up on the project of distinguishing opinion, which merits only provisional assent, from divine faith, which entails unqualified assent. They find the whole project ridiculous when they consider and understand it at all. As a student of Protestantism, Newman understood these issues very well.

    But the basic problem with your objection is logical: It confuses the roles of supposition and assertion in what I’m claiming. My claim’s form, which it seems I did not make explicit enough for you in this setting, is roughly this: If there is a complete, definitive, and final divine revelation, such a revelation can only be reliably identified and interpreted for humans by a human agency which is divinely authorized in itself and protected from error under certain conditions. But such an assertion does nothing to show either that there is such a revelation or that it is infallibly identified and interpreted. What I’m asserting is the claim as a whole, not either of its parts taken in isolation from the other; for my claim has the logical form of a conditional statement. What you offer as an objection therefore misses the mark. While it’s true that we would not be motivated to identify and interpret divine revelation as such unless we believed there is such a thing, my claim stands whether or not there is such a thing, so that it does not require asserting that there is. It only requires supposing that there is, the supposition being the antecedent of a conditional statement.

    Finally, you write:

    I suppose from your perspective, if divine revelation is sealed in a box, the interpreter is the key. Without the key, there is no access to the box. Without the key, we therefore cannot claim to know at all what is really in the box and what is not. Is that fair?

    In response I would say, this is a view of divine revelation analogous to the Muslim view, in which it falls from heaven as a set of eternal and objective truths.

    Your “response” is inapposite because you have not fairly characterized the view I’m presenting–a view which, for reasons some of which I’ve already presented, is not just my own. I do not, for instance, believe that the Bible came direct from heaven in the sort of way Muslims believe the Koran did. I believe that divine revelation in its most fundamental aspect is a divine Person who entered history as a particular man. That man did not claim to say everything that needed to be said, but promised the Holy Spirit to lead the Church into all truth. But I also believe that the revelation in Jesus Christ is complete, definitive, and final, in the sense that it cannot be augmented in itself, but only in our understanding of it. That’s the concept of development of doctrine I accept. But if “the Church” lacks any living authority of the sort I uphold, then there is no way, even in principle, to distinguish authentic and binding developments of the fixed “deposit of faith” from developments which are only opinions revisable in principle by further evidence or reflection, and which in any case can bind nobody.

    Best,
    Mike

  408. Adam (#397):

    Your response to me in the above-cited comment is simply a version of the tu quoque objection (TQO) heard and rebutted often before at this site. Here are a few of those rebuttals. Please read them carefully before you reply.

    1. A few of CTC’s rebuttals of the TQO may be found in the following:
    Bryan Cross’s The Tu Quoque
    Section V of my article Mathison’s Reply to Cross and Judisch: A Largely Philosophical Critique
    Tim Troutman’s Infallibility and Epistemology

    Best,
    Mike

  409. Mike,

    I’ll retract my comparison to the Qu’ran. I am more interested in whether my analogy of the box and key, which you cited but to which you did not explicitly respond, is a fair and accurate analogy. To repeat: on your view, if divine revelation is sealed in a box, the interpreter is the key. Without the key, there is no access to the box. Without the key, we therefore cannot claim to know at all what is really in the box and what is not. Is that fair?

    I ask because you say my response was “inapposite” and I want to make sure I understand your view before preparing a longer response.

    Dave

  410. Adam said : “The Reformers didn’t create a Square Five. They went back to Square One. In some sense they were the ones who went “home.” I have no desire to step at Square Two, Three, or Four. I want to be at Square One. This is why I am an evangelical.”
    The only problem is that the evangelicals/reformers share little to none of the beliefs of the Christians who were historically/chronologically at square one. Baptismal regeneration, True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, (not a symbol), a hierarchical church structure, etc etc. On the Feast of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, read what he wrote about how the early church worshiped and believed. There is little to no resemblance to the beliefs of evangelicals of today. http://crossed-the-tiber.blogspot.com/2012/10/feast-of-saint-ignatius-of-antioch.html

  411. David (#409):

    Your analogy for my position would be fitting if I said, or implied, that the identity and meaning of divine revelation is altogether hidden from view without the right interpretive key. But that’s not what I said or implied. I hold that divine revelation is entirely public, but also that its content and meaning cannot be distinguished in principle from merely human thought and action without the right hermeneutical paradigm. In the Catholic schema, the distinctive component of the right HP is an infallible teaching authority that functions as the “sole authentic interpreter” of Scripture and Tradition (Dei Verbum §10).

    Divine revelation’s publicity entails that its identity and meaning are available for all to apprehend, should they freely accept the gift of faith. In that sense and to that degree, divine revelation is perspicuous. But it is only partly so, because its identity and meaning as divine revelation can only be apprehended sufficiently by the gift of faith; and on my account, the gift of faith entails implicitly trusting the secondary authorities that God has given us as media of his revelation’s transmission: Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium, “which are so linked that none can stand without the others.”

    Since you seem to be having considerable difficulty understanding me quite generally, I hope I’ve clarified something.

    Best,
    Mike

  412. Bill 405,

    However, is it possible to settle an issue, such as baptismal regeneration, or the nature of the Trinity, or the nature of grace and how it is manifest in the world? Again, a study of the history of councils in the church seem to indicate it believed itself capable of making decisions that were binding and anathematizing incorrect teaching.

    I believe that when the church is gathered by means of the college of bishops it can make authoritative pronouncements and censure heresy. Only, I don’t think it is necessarily infallible in doing so—consider the many “illegitimate” councils throughout history. The authority of the church is always derivative; the touchstone of truth remains the apostolic tradition and fidelity to it.

    Infallibility does not lead inexorably to a lack of critical thinking.

    This is true, but it does not actively promote it either. In general I would say the church is very restrained in its designation of teachings as infallible, precisely because it wants to encourage critical engagement (e.g., with papal encyclicals).

    Lastly, I would be interested in hearing how it is you understand the early creeds and the articles on the church. How is it that the church is listed in both the Apostle’s and Nicene creeds? If a creed is a statement of FAITH (i.e. propositions for which there is something beyond mere intellectual assent required), how is it that the Church is listed? In what manner is the Church an object of faith?

    I would confess, “I believe one holy catholic and apostolic church.” The church is ONE: that is to say, Christ only has one bride, or, to change the NT metaphor, one body. As Paul says, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-6). What this means is that all those who are united to Christ by faith share the bond of the Spirit and are members of Christ’s church. So, I do have communion with the bishop of Rome, though unfortunately this communion is not visibly expressed.

    I do not believe the church is “invisible” as many Protestants do. Rather I believe the church is visible; it only exists in concrete local bodies. But I do not believe this visible church can be tied to a single organizational structure, as Catholics do.

    The church is an object of FAITH. I “believe” the church. This is extremely important. It is important precisely because our unity is not visible. Nevertheless, by faith we confess that Christ has one church and is gathering this church from all times and all places.

    Blessings,

    Dave

  413. Mike 407,

    Your account detailing your view of Judaism, while very interesting and deserving of some scrutiny in its own right, quite obviously does not answer the question I raised. I was hoping to deal with Judaism phenomenologically, as a religion that makes a claim to be based on divine revelation (regardless of what our assent to or dissent from those claims might be). I am entirely interested in the philosophical point. Would an Orthodox Jew, who realizes the problem that he lacks an infallible interpreter, be justified in abandoning the practice of circumcision solely on those philosophical grounds?

    Your analysis of Judaism, though not responding to the point I was hoping to discuss, does raise further issues. For example, you say:

    Given that Judaism is but a stage of revelation proper, the meaning of whose content is neither complete nor evident on its face, there is no reason to assume that anybody in OT Judaism could or would infallibly identify and interpret revelation proper, even when they happened to get some of it right.

    This raises enormous problems. If a philosophically astute Israelite made this observation before the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, he would have a plausible argument that God’s punishment of Israel and their subsequent exile was completely unjust. After all, God gave the law, but did not also give an infallible interpreter. Therefore, God punished his people even though they could not be sure as to what was the nature and meaning of divine revelation. This makes God unjust. The fact that God rectified the situation in the new covenant, by supplying both revelation and interpreter, does not help his justice in dealing with Old Covenant Israel.

    My claim’s form, which it seems I did not make explicit enough for you in this setting, is roughly this: If there is a complete, definitive, and final divine revelation, such a revelation can only be reliably identified and interpreted for humans by a human agency which is divinely authorized in itself and protected from error under certain conditions.

    In my view, the human agency that is divinely authorized and protected from error is the agency of the apostles. Their writings are found in the NT. Your claim, it seems, is stronger than this: this human agency also needs to be ongoing (which is not explicit in this formulation).

    I believe that divine revelation in its most fundamental aspect is a divine Person who entered history as a particular man. That man did not claim to say everything that needed to be said, but promised the Holy Spirit to lead the Church into all truth. But I also believe that the revelation in Jesus Christ is complete, definitive, and final, in the sense that it cannot be augmented in itself, but only in our understanding of it. That’s the concept of development of doctrine I accept. But if “the Church” lacks any living authority of the sort I uphold, then there is no way, even in principle, to distinguish authentic and binding developments of the fixed “deposit of faith” from developments which are only opinions revisable in principle by further evidence or reflection, and which in any case can bind nobody.

    Your view is that the church is the guardian of Christ. My view is that Christ guards the church.

    Best,

    Dave

  414. Mike,

    A follow-up, since I am keenly aware that my concluding statement was too general to be useful.

    In 411, you said,

    I hold that divine revelation is entirely public, but also that its content and meaning cannot be distinguished in principle from merely human thought and action without the right hermeneutical paradigm. In the Catholic schema, the distinctive component of the right HP is an infallible teaching authority that functions as the “sole authentic interpreter” of Scripture and Tradition (Dei Verbum §10).

    I agree with this, except in Protestantism the distinctive component of the right HP is the possession of the Spirit. The apostles also function as the authentic interpreters of Scripture.

    Divine revelation’s publicity entails that its identity and meaning are available for all to apprehend, should they freely accept the gift of faith. In that sense and to that degree, divine revelation is perspicuous. But it is only partly so, because its identity and meaning as divine revelation can only be apprehended sufficiently by the gift of faith; and on my account, the gift of faith entails implicitly trusting the secondary authorities that God has given us as media of his revelation’s transmission: Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium, “which are so linked that none can stand without the others.”

    Again, I agree with this, for the most part. Our difference is in the nature of the secondary authorities, and the relative degree of their authority.

    Dave

  415. Hi Adam,

    re: 312/345

    In posts 312 and 345 you mentioned 1 Jn 2:20,27. I note the comma there, meaning (for me) those verses only. I have a “bible church” friend who understands this in a way very similar to what I understand you to imply. However, those verses are in a context and what comes between verse 20 and verse 27 tells strongly against the position you seem to draw from them in isolation. How does a person today “let what you heard from the beginning abide in you” (v24)? The Catholic answer to this question is: by being in communion with the Church, which has proclaimed from the beginning and continues to proclaim “what was heard in the beginning”. Again, I am not advocating that this MUST be the [Roman] Catholic Church, but it does narrow the field of choices considerably. You are welcome to choose to believe that verses 20 and 27 mean that the Holy Spirit operates in some manner such that each person receives it individually but that I think does violence to the whole context of this passage as well as to other parts of written revelation as well (e.g. “Seek first the Kingdom of God”, “..the Church, the pillar and foundation of the truth..”, etc).

    In Him,
    Bill

  416. Adam (re: 397 & 398);
    Thank you for your response to my questions. I’m also glad to hear your report of the wonderful things going on around the world with missions. Indeed the Lord uses imperfect people and institutions to accomplish His purposes. But, something strikes me as ironic. I ask a question about baptism and you happen to be at a missions conf. The Great Commission, of course, includes the command to baptize. I find difficulty in the notion we should accept the sola scriptura paradigm when (as I read your position) it acknowledges we’re supposed to baptize, but can’t answer who baptism is for and what it does. While the gospel, strictly speaking, may be the message, missions is about how the gospel is applied to individuals, communities, etc. This includes baptism (at least according to some really smart and holy sola scriptura adherents). The very first gospel message preached by Peter included the call to be baptized. Paul also baptized. I think we should hold that the new converts were taught who the baptism was for and what it accomplished. Yet, sola scriptura requires us to have less confidence on this issue today than the first Christians had. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s a huge problem for the sola paradigm.

    I think about your testimony to the Spirit’s work around the world. I rejoice that it’s happening. But, I also think about my Mormon friends who can tell you the same kind of stories and will also attribute it to the Spirit: lives being changed, churches planted, etc. I can question their history, but they can also challenge the history of the formation of the canon, why Luther and Calvin should be trusted, etc. I can argue that their views contradict Scripture. They come back with the challenge that there is lack of agreement on fundamental issues within Evangelical Protestantism like the nature of baptism, eternal security, and so on so why should they trust my interpretation that their views are against the Bible. I can tell them about the Spirit’s work in my life and others. They claim the same thing. This is a gigantic problem, regardless of whether or not Catholicism is on the table as an option. It seems to me it comes down to comparing motives of credibility. Lack of clarity and consistency on the basics of how the gospel is applied, no clear principle of who counts as a “brother” that I should be ok disagreeing with (as you say), where the dividing line is between damnable heresy and acceptable difference, are huge strikes against the MOC’s of sola scriptura.
    Blessings,
    Mark

  417. David,

    re: 413

    Not to speak out of turn or on Mike’s behalf, but your comment “Your view is that the church is the guardian of Christ. My view is that Christ guards the church. ” strikes exactly at what (for me) was wrought in the Reformation: an either / or approach. It is not either Christ guards the Church or the Church guards Christ. It is both/and precisely because of the Incarnation. That is the ongoing, fundamental challenge presented in history by Christianity. I think that is part of why Paul could say in Eph 5 that the union of Christ and His Church is a “great mystery”. The Catholic faith presents that mystery as an ongoing stumbling block to the world.

    In Him,
    Bill

  418. David Meyer 404,

    I can’t deal with everything you raised (this has been taking a bit too much of my time this week, my normal policy is not to comment on blogs precisely because it easily cuts into time), but I do think its important for me to acknowledge your concerns.

    And again, the elephant in the room for me was this:
    who is to say issue X is not a big issue? It is easy to say baptism is not a big issue between Reformed and Baptist, and all the heads will nod around you, but for me what happened is I became convinced from scripture and tradition that baptism was a matter that made Baptists heretics of the worst sort, and that they needed to be resisted and excluded from the Christian community. When I would say this to my fellow Reformed brothers, they would then (ironically) start to wonder if I should obey my conscience on the issue. ;-) Usually they would end up simply trying to show me how I was wrong.

    All a Protestant has to do is ask himself “is it possible one of these disagreements is in fact of ultimate importance?” And if it were, how would I know? Could my conscience be telling me that the M.S. Lutherans are wrong on the Eucharist, when in fact I was wrong, and dangerously wrong, and teaching my children dangerously wrong doctrine? The answer to these questions must be “yes”! Yes it is possible for my conscience to lead me very astray. Once this was is admitted within my mind, I immediately knew I was no longer a Protestant.

    The theme of your comment is this: you were scared that you might teach your children heresy, and that they could even be damned on account of this. You even rebuke me for saying Mark cannot really go “wrong” in the case of infant/adult baptism and say:

    Yes, he can go wrong. Very wrong. And his children could go to hell if he goes wrong.

    To me this is hugely problematic. But the biggest problem here is not certainty or lack thereof, the biggest problem is your doctrine of God. There is no justification, whatsoever, for speculating that God might damn someone because of their position on baptism. It’s just completely out of step with the character of God as he is revealed to us in Jesus Christ. It’s out of step with the cross. It’s completely out of step with scripture.

    Now, I know you all believe in God’s grace, but when I read comments like yours, I do wonder. From beginning to end the rhetoric of the comment is driven by anxiety and threats. And when you cite my counsel to Mark, you lay all the emphasis on my references to conscience, and not on my references to God’s grace.

    Here was my reasoning: If it is possible for my conscience to lead me to dangerously false doctrine, and if Christ has promised to lead His Church into truth, then the way of finding the true doctrine must not be through my own conscience. The way must be outside myself, from a Church who claims to speak for Christ with His full authority. From there the plausible options narrow to only two.

    I too believe that revelation comes from outside ourselves. Though I ascribe importance to conscience, it is not in the sense you portray it here. I only mean that we cannot violate our conscience. Actually, Paul prohibits this (Rom 14:23). I don’t mean that our conscience is the ultimate arbiter of revelatory claims. Revelation does come from outside of us, and we must submit to it, and allow our conscience to be shaped by it.

    Look: you’ve found a church in which your conscience can be at peace, and I’m genuinely happy for you. You also have to live with the consequences, which is that you (via your church) possess the infallible truth on debatable matters such as infant/adult baptism or contraception. I’m a little more cautious: when I see the errors that God allows people to maintain in the Scriptures, even while having a close relationship with them, it causes me to suspend judgment. I’m less certain that the will of God can be definitively known for all matters; rather, what God calls us to is wisdom and discernment.

    Blessings,

    Dave

  419. Bill 417,

    I agree that my concluding statement in 413 was not an accurate characterization. Sometimes attempts at pithy formulations do more harm than good.

    Dave

  420. Dave (#413 and #414):

    You wrote:

    Your account detailing your view of Judaism, while very interesting and deserving of some scrutiny in its own right, quite obviously does not answer the question I raised. I was hoping to deal with Judaism phenomenologically, as a religion that makes a claim to be based on divine revelation (regardless of what our assent to or dissent from those claims might be). I am entirely interested in the philosophical point. Would an Orthodox Jew, who realizes the problem that he lacks an infallible interpreter, be justified in abandoning the practice of circumcision solely on those philosophical grounds?

    Given that I don’t believe that Judaism is “revealed religion in its own right,” I can only see the supposition you want me to entertain as, well, false. Nonetheless, on my own view of the matter, I’d say an Orthodox Jew would not be justified in abandoning the practice of circumcision. Given the content of that stage of divine revelation to which he does assent, it would be self-inconsistent of him to exempt himself from any precept of the Law, even though his view of what makes the Law binding is erroneous. There’s no reason to believe that poses a problem either for my general thesis about revelation or my particular view of Judaism.

    I had written:

    Given that Judaism is but a stage of revelation proper, the meaning of whose content is neither complete nor evident on its face, there is no reason to assume that anybody in OT Judaism could or would infallibly identify and interpret revelation proper, even when they happened to get some of it right.

    And you replied:

    If a philosophically astute Israelite made this observation before the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, he would have a plausible argument that God’s punishment of Israel and their subsequent exile was completely unjust. After all, God gave the law, but did not also give an infallible interpreter. Therefore, God punished his people even though they could not be sure as to what was the nature and meaning of divine revelation. This makes God unjust. The fact that God rectified the situation in the new covenant, by supplying both revelation and interpreter, does not help his justice in dealing with Old Covenant Israel.

    Even if your supposition here were true, your conclusion would not be justified. Given the limited information Israelites did have from God, the view that he was punishing them for disobeying the Law was at least a plausible explanation of the sacking of Jerusalem, even though they could not have been certain of that explanation on the ground that it was given by human authority they recognized as infallible. Indeed, they rightly came to believe that explanation because, given what we hold from the standpoint of revelation proper, it follows that God had inspired them to do soeven though, at the time, they could not be certain that God had inspired it.

    But in any case, your supposition is false. A “philosophically astute Israelite” could not have the “observation” you cite because he had no grounds for holding that revelation proper had not yet come to its fullness. He was working only with what he had. So there’s no reason to believe that God was unjust on the ground that such an Israelite’s explanation of the sacking of Jerusalem could not have been given by citing an authority that infallibly transmits revelation in its fullness.

    You wrote:

    In my view, the human agency that is divinely authorized and protected from error is the agency of the apostles. Their writings are found in the NT. Your claim, it seems, is stronger than this: this human agency also needs to be ongoing (which is not explicit in this formulation).

    Of course it is also my view as a Catholic that “the human agency that is divinely authorized and protected from error is the agency of the apostles.” The difference between us is that Catholics (and Orthodox) hold that the relevant sort of apostolic agency is inherited by the bishops, the successors of the Apostles, as a body, and is thus “ongoing.” You’re right to point out that I did not make that explicit. That’s because I saw no need at the time to make it so. But I see that there is such a need now.

    I would argue that, if the infallible teaching authority of the Apostles is not inherited by their successors the bishops, and thus is not ongoing, then there’s no reason to believe that the bishops’ certification of certain writings as authentically “apostolic,” and thus as canonical, is anything more than a reasonably well-supported opinion. In that case, the contents as well as the interpretation of the Bible are open to revision in principle, and with them the belief in biblical inerrancy generally. For the most part, liberal Protestants get that. Conservative Protestants, for the most part, do not. But given the Protestant principle, they ought to.

    To distinguish a Protestant HP from the Catholic, you wrote:

    … in Protestantism the distinctive component of the right HP is the possession of the Spirit. The apostles also function as the authentic interpreters of Scripture.

    That is not entirely accurate. In the Catholic schema, the Church as a whole infallibly professes the deposit of faith, and so a fortiori, those members of the Church who are divinely authorized to teach and speak for the Church as a whole share in that infallibility. That is seen as, because it can only be, a gift of the Spirit, which entails what you call “the possession of the Spirit.” And of course the Catholic Church sees the Apostles as “authentic interpreters of Scripture,” especially those parts of Scripture written by them or by others under their authority and names. What’s “distinctive” about Protestantism, therefore, is only a negative point: its denial that the bishops as a body have inherited the infallible interpretive authority of the Apostles.

    Finally, you wrote:

    Our difference is in the nature of the secondary authorities, and the relative degree of their authority.

    That is quite right. I made the same point in a CTC article I wrote last year: Mathison’s Reply to Cross and Judisch: A Largely Philosophical Critique. I commend that article to your study.

    Best,
    Mike

  421. Adam and David,

    Thank you for your continued engagement on this thread. The discussion has helped to bring some things into sharper focus for me as I attempt to navigate these rough waters.

    The question I have been asking in different ways and places (here, Reformed websites, my elders and friends) is what is the positive case for the Protestant paradigm? How do we as evangelical/Reformed define orthodoxy when disagreement(heresy) arises? Summarizing the many answers I’ve gotten: engage with other believers, pray, seek the Scriptures, and then follow the leading of God as best you can, trying to fulfill the demands of love and grace and truth. God will lead and never forsake those who truly seek Him. There is a subtext to these answers: no, we can’t always know for certain who has the truth and who is heretical in a given circumstance, but God will lead us to agreement on the “conceptual core” of saving Truth.

    So, are the Catholics and strict Confessionalists guilty of desiring an unhealthy certainty at the expense of the leading of the Spirit of Truth? Or are Protestants guilty of rebellion from a God-given authority that has led them to an inability to define the Truth?

    I am at a loss, or at least I am ambivalent, about how to approach this. I think the Protestant argument is largely empirical. Adam’s thoughts regarding the worldwide communion of conservative Protestants who share basic core beliefs exemplifies this. As I mentioned earlier to Jason, I don’t think this empirical evidence should be too quickly waved off by Catholic apologists. Perhaps this evidence does point to a real Spirit-led unity that is achieved in spite of the lack of principled means to distinguish orthodoxy from heresy and define it in a way that is binding. I see tangible evidence of this unity amongst my many friends of various denominations.

    Like MarkS, I am deeply troubled by what appears to be a real spiritual danger inherent to the Protestant paradigm. For me, this was brought into stark relief when my wife and I tried to discern the truth regarding contraception. I have since become convinced (largely by historical study and the writings of John Paul II) that contraception is a spiritual poison that Protestants have swallowed wholesale, and with no apparent means of determining whether it is morally acceptable or intrinsically evil. We now have pastors like Mark Driscoll extolling the virtue of sodomy within marriage and masturbation. Driscoll is highly respected by many in the evangelical community. He is leading his flock into objective evil. How can the Protestant paradigm deal with this? Would God leave His flock so vulnerable? False teachers will always be among us, but what if there is no way to identify them as such?

    Burton

  422. Hi Mike (re:#411),

    Thanks for your critical presentation of these points. They do help sort out the real problems between catholics and protestants. Putting aside all adulation, I want to raise a problem with tradition and the “sole authentic interpreter”.

    You wrote:
    I hold that divine revelation is entirely public, but also that its content and meaning cannot be distinguished in principle from merely human thought and action without the right hermeneutical paradigm.

    Response:
    I have no problem wth the public nature of revelation, but the next part can only be true if content (identity) itself doesn’t function as a definition. In this case, I’m assuming that content and definition are essentially the same. If content does function as a definition, then it already includes its principle of distinguishability. Just compare and contrast the definition with things not included in the definition !

    There is a principled way to identify and distinguish revelation from human opinion within the protestant paradigm. Starting with clear scripture (Heb.11:1) is the way. Is Heb.11:1 a suitable definition of the gift of faith ? Aquinas thought it was based on Apostolic authority through this very passage. Another protestant affirming part is how this is recognizable without infallibility. Consequently, we have a clear demonstration on how to identify, define and distinguish one revealed truth from human opinion. Moreover, Heb.11:1 is a definition of the gift of faith required to apprehend sufficiently, even if partly, revelation’s identity and meaning. God’s infusion of this gift in the protestant will complete my demonstration.

    I’m willing to admit limitations, however, only one example is required to counter the exclusive “sole” feature in your paradigm.

    Some objections answered:

    O: What authority does the protestant have to say it is a definition ?
    A: The Divine prerogative to define the Divine.

    O: You can’t presuppose Heb.11:1 is scripture without proving its canonicity.
    A: You can when using a protestant paradigm.

    O: Content that is non-definitional remains unidentified.
    A. With the “sole” out of the way, maybe prot. & catholics can work closer together.

    O: What is the principled way to identify non-definitional content ?
    A: I don’t know, yet :) I do know that the catholic paradigm is allowing the protestant to know one revealed truth without it.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  423. #421 Hello Burton,

    You said: “The question I have been asking in different ways and places (here, Reformed websites, my elders and friends) is what is the positive case for the Protestant paradigm? How do we as evangelical/Reformed define orthodoxy when disagreement(heresy) arises? Summarizing the many answers I’ve gotten: engage with other believers, pray, seek the Scriptures, and then follow the leading of God as best you can, trying to fulfill the demands of love and grace and truth. God will lead and never forsake those who truly seek Him. There is a subtext to these answers: no, we can’t always know for certain who has the truth and who is heretical in a given circumstance, but God will lead us to agreement on the “conceptual core” of saving Truth. ”

    Exactly! These were the same answers, I got too. It’s enough to make you crazy isn’t it? Keep trudging:)

    ~Susan

  424. Mike 420,

    Thanks for this conversation. It’s been helpful for me. I do believe our positions are closer than initially seemed to be the case.

    I would argue that, if the infallible teaching authority of the Apostles is not inherited by their successors the bishops, and thus is not ongoing, then there’s no reason to believe that the bishops’ certification of certain writings as authentically “apostolic,” and thus as canonical, is anything more than a reasonably well-supported opinion. In that case, the contents as well as the interpretation of the Bible are open to revision in principle, and with them the belief in biblical inerrancy generally. For the most part, liberal Protestants get that. Conservative Protestants, for the most part, do not. But given the Protestant principle, they ought to.

    You’re right about this, except for one aspect. What you have not considered possible is the Protestant principle of the canon’s self-attestation. Now, in a certain sense, I understand this principle seems weak. But, if it can be reasonably demonstrated via exegesis that certain parts of the canon have a hermeneutical or canonical function (as, in fact, the great Catholic biblical scholar Joseph Blenkinsopp has argued), so that the canon itself contains statements that determine its normative shape, then the canon is not entirely arbitrary.

    What’s “distinctive” about Protestantism, therefore, is only a negative point: its denial that the bishops as a body have inherited the infallible interpretive authority of the Apostles.

    Again, this is correct. For me, the alternative would involve the inescapable and unacceptable corollary that the NT would not be a closed part of the canonical corpus. Because the apostles’ interpretive authority was infallible, the documents they wrote (either themselves or through their immediate disciples, “under their authority and name,” as you nicely put it) are received as infallible. If this infallible interpretive authority was passed on, documents written by those having such authority would have to be incorporated into the NT. So, the closure of the NT is my historical argument against this position. That closure seems to represent a clear acknowledgement that the authority exercised by the church is not equal to that of the apostles.

    Best,

    Dave

  425. David D,

    re: 419.

    I hope my prior post on your comment did not sound like I do not think you or those within the Protestant traditions do not appreciate the nature of the Incarnation or the challenge it presents. I did not intend that at all. It is not my place to judge and if my words conveyed such to you or any non-Catholic who read them, please forgive me. I admire those who stand on the faith they have received, regardless of the tradition.

    That said, my personal experience in Protestant traditions always left me feeling like something was missing. Slogans of standing on principles that begin with “alone” did not resonate with the corporate nature of the christian community I saw in the New Testament or history subsequent to the apostles (The book “Spirit and Forms of Protestantism” captures these sentiments for me rather clearly) as it seemed to stand on a divisive principle. I do appreciate those traditions which continue to stand in union with orthodox Christian teaching and it amazes me at times how they have persisted as long as they have which I take as a sign of God’s ongoing presence in some form. However, again, it always seemed (to me) that such was like “the crumbs from the table” when “a banquet has been prepared.”

    For me, the Catholic tradition has always and continues to put forth the most complete and consistent portrayal of the Incarnation as an ongoing reality in history. It is that audacity which draws me; it is that presence to which I can assent when invited to “Come and see”.

    In Him,
    Bill

  426. Bill, 425,

    I certainly did not take not any offense at your comment; no apology is necessary.

    The thing about the incarnation for me is that it guarantees the sort of accusation will be made that is in fact made, i.e., how can one distinguish divine revelation from human opinion? What amazes me the more I contemplate the incarnation is Christ’s willing involvement in the utter ambiguity of human history–and what that involvement says about how far God was willing to go to save us. Power made perfect in weakness indeed.

    Blessings,

    Dave

  427. Dave #424,

    I sure don’t want to interrupt your interesting dialogue with Mike, nor do I want to pile on. However, I must comment on something you wrote:

    But, if it can be reasonably demonstrated via exegesis that certain parts of the canon have a hermeneutical or canonical function (as, in fact, the great Catholic biblical scholar Joseph Blenkinsopp has argued), so that the canon itself contains statements that determine its normative shape, then the canon is not entirely arbitrary.

    It seems to me you recognize the potential weakness of this response when you use the phrase “not entirely arbitrary”. Regardless, I think the approach you suggest is worthless with respect to the work you think it might accomplish.

    Firstly, there is a glaring circularity problem lurking in the proposition: “the canon itself contains statements that determine its normative shape . . .”. Without prior knowledge of precisely which writings constitute the canon, one does not even know where to look for statements which might determine its [the canon’s] normative shape. The proposition presupposes knowledge of the very thing which the strategy claims to achieve. That is the general problem inherent in any notion of canonical textual-internal “self-attestation” of the sort you seem to be advancing. One could, or course, try to avoid the circularity problem by beginning with the 66 books which comprise the Protestant bible as if they were not inspired, but rather, mere historically reliable documents; and then on that basis alone search within those writings for parts / passages / statements which make either implicit or explicit reference to other works as being inspired (and therefore worthy of canonical recognition). But I am sure you see that such an approach remains utterly arbitrary; for there is no principled reason – on the assumption that the 66 books are merely historically reliable – to choose only these 66 historically reliable books as the historically reliable sources from which one should seek to draw up the normative shape of that codex of works which is uniquely inspired by God; for of course many books meet the criterion of historical reliability..

    Secondly, even if we ignore the primary circularity problem [which no one should], what you are proposing cannot be done, even given some principled reason for limiting a search for normative canon-content within the 66 books. It never has been done, not by Joseph Blenkinsopp, not by anyone. The number of passages which make any explicit reference to other biblical writing either by name or by quotation do not even come close to achieving the table of contents of the Protestant bible, especially the NT. The number of passages which make implicit references to other writing also fail to come close to that goal; and besides, when the issue is “parts” or “statements” where an implicit reference is claimed, there are interpretive assumptions being brought to the analysis. Moreover, (and this is central), hardly any biblical writings identify their author, and even though it is possible to make probabilistic guesses that this or that set of writings was written by the same person based on internal literary analysis; the identification of just who that common writer was in any case is almost always ultimately drawn from post-apostolic documentary evidence – (i.e. tradition).

    And this situation not only shows the ultimate dependence of our knowledge of what constitutes the canon (especially the NT) upon the veracity of the post-apostolic tradition, it raises the further question as to how and whom has the authority to assess and weigh that post-apostolic tradition in such a way as to make a canonical determination which any Christian ought to see as binding upon himself. Of course, you know the Catholic response to that problem – ongoing apostolic authority exercised in ecumenical councils, etc. The best (and most honest) Protestant response to that problem that I am aware of is RC Sproul’s “fallible collection of infallible books”; a notion which is quite problematic because fallibility with respect to some property allegedly inherent in a collection books [in this case the property of inspiration] can entail not only that some inspired works were left out so that at least what we have is entirely inspired; it can also mean that some non-inspired books were erroneously included in the canon leaving us with the real possibility that generations of Christians have taken the words of men as the words of God. This is why – on Sproul’s account – an honest Protestant pastor should politely end his Sunday pulpit readings with “thus saith the Lord – I think”.

    Finally, There is a very great difference in arguing that “certain parts of the canon have a hermeneutical or canonical function”, and arguing that the entire delimited codex of the canon can be derived solely from parts and pieces of the canon {which again circularly presupposes knowledge of the canon). It is one thing, after already possessing a principled means for determining the canon’s shape (a means which any Catholic scholar already has in hand – i.e. Magisterial determination), to return to that already-authoritative set of works and go about showing how parts and passages within those writings mutually support one another and lend internal credence to an authoritative Magisterial canonical decision already made. It is quite another, and entirely circular, to suppose that one can get the canon from the canon.

    To be honest, the primary Protestant “self-attestation” paradigm that I am most familiar with does not involve the sort of part/statement strategy you seem to be proposing, but rather the notion of Spirit-illumination, whereby the Spirit simply testifies to the biblical reader that what they are reading is in some sense inspired. Though entirely subjective and fideistic, such a program at least avoids patent circularity.

    Pax,

    Ray

  428. Dave (#424):

    I agree that our discussion is making progress. I am gratified by that. But if the issues are narrowing down to the ones you now raise, you have some mighty serious difficulties to face.

    Addressing me, you wrote:

    What you have not considered possible is the Protestant principle of the canon’s self-attestation. Now, in a certain sense, I understand this principle seems weak. But, if it can be reasonably demonstrated via exegesis that certain parts of the canon have a hermeneutical or canonical function (as, in fact, the great Catholic biblical scholar Joseph Blenkinsopp has argued), so that the canon itself contains statements that determine its normative shape, then the canon is not entirely arbitrary.

    Catholics can well agree that Scripture interprets Scripture. And it is a principle of Catholic biblical hermeneutics is that the canon as a whole shapes, as well as being shaped by, the interpretation of its parts. Yet that is a far cry from the sort of “self-attestation” conservative Protestants need for an HP superior to the Catholic, in which latter “Scripture, Tradition, and the teaching authority of the Church are so linked” as media of divine revelation’s transmission that “none can stand without the others.”

    Although it is true that the canon can and should be interpreted as an internally intelligible whole, doing that does nothing to determine the choice of HP for the purpose. On a whole range of issues, Protestants disagree not only with the Catholic Church but among themselves about which parts of Scripture are to be taken as hermeneutically basic, i.e. as the parts in terms of which disputes about interpreting the others are to be resolved. Luther’s soteriological “canon within the canon” comes to mind, but the same holds for the root issue of interpretive authority itself. If the canon on its own sufficed to establish the needed hermeneutical hierarchy, we would have every reason to expect that adherents of sola scriptura would have come up with it after four centuries. Instead, they are more fissiparous than ever. I realize that many conservative Protestants have not tired of reaching for the hermeneutical pie in the sky they long for. But the most reasonable conclusion from the realities of history and logic is that the canon itself does not suffice to rationally “demonstrate” what belongs in the canon–any more than it tells us how the parts and the whole of it are supposed to interpret each other–and that both Tradition and the teaching authority of the Church herself are also needed. That is how the Fathers generally proceeded.

    You suggest, of course, that the needed interpretive keys can be “reasonably demonstrated” to reside within the canon, so that “the canon itself contains statements that determine its normative shape.” But as I argued in my article, reasonable demonstration is not enough for the conservative Protestant’s purpose, which is to show that Scripture alone suffices to inerrantly reveal the norms by which both the makeup and the interpretation of the canon are to be determined. Scripture alone could suffice for that only if one HP could be established as the uniquely reasonable one. But that cannot be established. More than one HP is at least rationally plausible, and none are rationally unassailable.

    You agree with me that what’s distinctive about Protestantism is its denial that the interpretive authority of the Apostles has been inherited by their successors, the bishops as a body. To justify that denial, you argue:

    If [the Apostles’] infallible interpretive authority was passed on, documents written by those having such authority would have to be incorporated into the NT. So, the closure of the NT is my historical argument against this position. That closure seems to represent a clear acknowledgement that the authority exercised by the church is not equal to that of the apostles.

    But the very first premise in that argument is false. We agree that what the Apostles and their authorized writers wrote is divinely inspired and that what’s divinely inspired is infallibly asserted; but the converse does not hold. On the Catholic HP, inspiration entails infallibility but infallibility does not entail inspiration; thus, the Catholic Church does not teach that when she teaches infallibly she is divinely inspired, as though post-apostolic magisterial documents belonged in the canon. Rather, on the Catholic HP, God ensures that what the Church teaches with her full authority conveys the same deposit of faith that the Apostles etc. had received from Christ and conveyed in their truly inspired writings. If such magisterial teaching were also claimed to be inspired, it would indeed follow that divine revelation, and therefore the canon, is ongoing not once-for-all. But the Church has always denied that.

    So the Catholic Church does acknowledge that the apostolic writings comprising the NT–and the canon as a whole, for that matter–have a kind of authority that subsequent magisterial documents lack. That is why Scripture, not the Magisterium, is taken to be norma normans. But if both are infallible, then both have the same degree of authority, in the sense that both call for the assent of divine faith.

    Best,
    Mike

  429. Dave:

    Oops, I see that Ray posted his reply to your latest as I was finishing mine. He does a better job than I of showing what’s wrong with your first major point.

    Best,
    Mike

  430. Eric (#422):

    To the extent I understand your comment at all, I don’t see how it advances the discussion. All parties here agree that the Letter to the Hebrews’ “definition” of faith is normative, but that does nothing to even address the basic questions at issue: What is the nature of the secondary authorities that present divine revelation for the assent of faith, and how are they related to each other?

    Best,
    Mike

  431. David (re: #399)

    You wrote:

    The question is, does the promise of the Spirit to guide the church into all truth carry with it a promise of infallibility? I would say no. In fact, I believe presuming on a promise of infallibility is actually detrimental to being guided into all truth. Why? Because if the church’s teaching is presumed to be infallible, there can be no critical analysis of it. You simply can’t debate that which is infallibly disclosed. But, the way the church comes to a knowledge of the truth is through the ordinary human processes of rational argumentation and debate. The church needs to–no, is called to–engage in critical self-reflection upon what she claims represents divine doctrine. That is the way the Spirit guides us into the truth.

    Neal and I addressed this objection in 2009, in “V. B. Sola Ecclesia: The Church is Autonomous, a Law unto Itself, and Unaccountable,” beginning with the paragraph that starts “Mathison indicates that it is not teaching and interpretive authority per se, that (in his view) entails Magisterial autonomy. It is primarily the doctrine of Magisterial infallibility.”

    In #402, you wrote:

    I realize this is going to be unsatisfactory–obviously such debates have not led to universal agreement in the Church. Nevertheless when we examine these debates retrospectively we can see how the Spirit has been guiding the church–for example, on the issue of the deity of Christ.

    So said the Arians, and so say the Jehovah’s Witnesses of today. All you’re doing is picking as ‘Church’ those who come out agreeing with your interpretation of Scripture. So in this way, your “Spirit guides the Church” criterion is ad hoc and self-serving. What it amounts to is the assertion that the Spirit guides you, an assertion any heretic could make. This is precisely the problem I pointed out with Christianity Today‘s senior managing editor Mark Galli’s position last year. That’s why when in #403 you treat the question of infant baptism as adiaphora, you are presupposing, on the basis of Trent’s non-conformity to your own interpretation of Scripture, that the Spirit was not guiding the Church when the Church promulgated the thirteenth canon on baptism from the Seventh Session of the Council of Trent.

    In #412 you wrote:

    I believe that when the church is gathered by means of the college of bishops it can make authoritative pronouncements and censure heresy. Only, I don’t think it is necessarily infallible in doing so—consider the many “illegitimate” councils throughout history. The authority of the church is always derivative; the touchstone of truth remains the apostolic tradition and fidelity to it.

    Your position entails that when they conform to your interpretation of Scripture, they’re ‘authoritative,’ and when they don’t, they’re not. The problem with such a position is that if this were merely an illusion of authority, it would look exactly the same. You say you believe the bishops can make “authoritative pronouncements,” but by treating their pronouncements as entirely optional, you show this to be mere semantics. Not only that, but in #402 you claim that the notion of “interpretive authority” is “self-contradictory.” But if the bishops are to make authoritative pronouncements regarding Scripture and Tradition, and orthodoxy and heresy, the kind of authority they must have is at least interpretive authority. So on the one hand you claim that the bishops have authority to make such pronouncements; but on the other hand, the only kind of authority they can have you claim to be self-contradictory. This makes your position (on this point) incoherent.

    In #412 you wrote:

    Rather I believe the church is visible; it only exists in concrete local bodies.

    If in Protestantism there were no visible catholic Church, but only an invisible catholic Church existing in “concrete local bodies,” everything would look exactly as it does. Hence your “I believe the church is visible” claim reduces to mere semantics, because your ecclesiology is in essence identical to that in which the catholic Church is invisible, but exists in visible local bodies. See “Why Protestantism has no visible catholic Church.”

    The church is an object of FAITH. I “believe” the church. This is extremely important. It is important precisely because our unity is not visible.

    Here you seem to imply that the Church cannot be an object of faith for Catholics, because Catholics believe that the Church’s unity is not only spiritual, but also visible. That would be like claiming that Jesus could not be an object of faith for the Apostles because they believed His unity was not only spiritual, but also visible. The argument for ecclesial docetism cannot be prevented from applying to Christ Himself, and so refutes itself for those who affirm that Christ came in the flesh.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  432. Dave (#399):

    As we were having a separate conversation, I had overlooked the above-referenced comment until Bryan just replied to it. But now that I think about about it, the last part of your comment, which cites the commenter “Szabados Adam,” raises the most fundamental issue between Catholics and conservative Protestants. My purpose here is to show how.

    You wrote:

    I think Adam put this well in comment 250 when he said (in a different context): “The other danger is that you and your community cannot therefore be normed by the apostolic tradition (nor the writings of the early fathers). Therefore, instead of preserving the apostolic tradition, you will be slowly drifting from it. And there is no way for you to even recognize it.”

    To me, this is a brilliant point. The presumption of infallibility prohibits the church from reading the church fathers and being corrected by them.

    A criticism like that begs the most basic questions at issue. For the reasons Bryan gives here, and I gave in my article, it assumes that both the content and the normativity of “apostolic tradition” can be reliably identified and understood in a way that, from an epistemic standpoint, dispenses in principle with post-apostolic ecclesial authority. If that assumption were correct, then it is knowledgeable believers as such who must decide on the orthodoxy of something called “the Church,” not the other way around; whereas on the Catholic HP, it’s the other way round. But epistemologically speaking, the basic question is precisely by what criteria the uncommitted inquirer is to choose between those two HPs. The argument you and Adam give is that the conservative-Protestant HP is better because, on the Catholic HP, the presumption of ecclesial infallibility precludes any reliable way of checking the Church’s fidelity to apostolic tradition. But the sort of check you think necessary is precisely that which is assumed necessary by the (conservative-) Protestant HP. Thus your argument begs the question, by assuming a particular answer to the basic question at issue.

    Look at this from the opposite direction. From the Catholic standpoint, the Church’s being divinely protected from error under certain conditions is the very means by which the Church’s fidelity to apostolic tradition is assured. The worry you and Adam raise about that is only valid if the Church could always be wrong when she teaches authoritatively. In other words, the Catholic doctrine of ecclesial infallibility is dangerous if it is false. But only “if.” It simply begs the question, therefore, to offer a criticism of the Church which already assumes that said doctrine is false.

    The rock-bottom issue here is epistemological. Thus, the conservative-Protestant HP makes perfect sense if you assume that the content and normativity of the apostolic tradition, as the secondary object of the assent of faith, can be “known” in the sort of way scientific facts can be known–i.e., by a reliable method which can dispense in principle with reliance on a living authority, even though the majority of people rely on such an authority in practice, because they happen to lack the time, talent, or opportunity to apply such a method for themselves. But not even most conservative Protestants actually make such an assumption. Most take for granted, like you, that “the possession of the Spirit” is also indispensable. But if that’s the case, then a science-like method of study does not suffice to do the job. So the question becomes how the uncommitted inquirer is to determine when something called “the Church” possesses the Spirit for the purpose of identifying and interpreting what is assumed to be the normative apostolic tradition. If the Church could always be wrong in how she does that, then said question can only be answered by opinions. And as I have long argued, that is not enough to present anything for the assent of divine faith, as distinct from opinion.

    Best,
    Mike

  433. Ádám,

    One reason I’ve closely followed your comments on this thread is that my wife’s father, who passed away the year our family became Catholic (2006), was the son of two Hungarian immigrants, who as teenagers came to the US in the second decade of the twentieth century. My father-in-law was raised in a home in which Hungarian was the spoken language, and his father only learned to speak broken English. They eventually settled in the area of St. Louis, Missouri, where there was a community of Hungarian-speaking immigrants. These were mostly Catholic, and worshipped at St. Stephen of Hungary church. After the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, there was another wave of Hungarian immigrants to St. Louis, and when St. Stephen parish closed in 1957, the Hungarian community continued to worship at St. Mary of Victories in downtown St. Louis, where masses are still said in Hungarian. (See a more detailed description of the interior of the church here.) But my wife’s grandparents, though they had been raised Catholic, did not attend mass, or take my father-in-law to mass during his childhood. My wife’s grandfather claimed that the priest in his parish in Hungary had shown favoritism toward the wealthy, and this bothered him so much that he never again went to mass when he came to the US, nor did my father-in-law. When my wife became Catholic in 2006, she was returning to the faith of her great-grandparents, recovering that heritage that had been lost on account of the scandalous example of a priest approximately one hundred years earlier. Though it was a joyous occasion, she lamented that she had been deprived of the Eucharist her entire life. Better a millstone tied around the neck, as Christ said, than to cause someone to stumble. But that Hungarian priest’s sin did not change the identity of the Catholic Church. Rather, my wife’s grandparents, by separating themselves from the faith, hurt themselves and deprived their children and grandchildren of the sacraments and formation in the Church.

    Regarding your appeal to sins by various Catholics, as an argument that the Catholic Church cannot be the Church Christ founded, I have posted an outline and audio of a lecture by Catholic theologian Lawrence Feingold (titled “The Holiness of the Church“) addressing precisely this question. There are scandals in the news right now involving the sinful behavior of certain evangelical Protestant leaders in the US (I won’t mention them specifically), and in my opinion, it would be egregiously opportunistic to appeal to those scandals as evidence of the error of Protestantism, because there is no evidence that such behavior is intrinsically linked to Protestant doctrine, or naturally follows from affirming Protestant doctrine. In the Catholic case, instead of merely focusing on the sins of certain Catholics in certain periods of time, we need to step back and look at the whole history of the Catholic Church, and look at the moral character of those Catholics who devote themselves fully to the Church’s doctrinal and moral teachings, to prayer and the sacraments. What do those persons look like? That’s the relevant question. The answer? They look like the figures recounted in Butler’s twelve volume Lives of the Saints (here’s the link to Volume 1) — much different from those Catholics who cause scandal by their public and grievous sins.

    I hope to say something in the near future about your reply to Burton’s question in #283.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  434. Ádám

    In #283 Burton asked an important question he’s been asking here (at CTC) for quite some time now. He asked:

    Can you also explain how Protestantism gets it right (on the issue of how Truth is distinguished from error)?

    In reply, you pointed him in #290 and #291 to your one hundred and seventy-nine page master’s thesis and a thirteen-page summary of your thesis (I’ve read both), and followed up with clarifying comments in #320, #321, #327, #338, #339, #340, #341, and #382.

    Your masters thesis is arguing that the anointing of the Holy Spirit internally confirms that the apostolic testimony is true. But that’s not exactly the question Burton is asking. He is not asking how one knows that the apostolic testimony is true. He is asking (a) how one can know that one’s determination of what is orthodox and what is heretical, based on one’s own interpretation of Scripture, is true, and (b) how one can know that this way of distinguishing orthodoxy from heresy is the correct way of distinguishing orthodoxy from heresy.

    So in #320 you write:

    What my thesis boils down to is that anyone reading the Scriptures can come to a saving knowledge of God by the testimony of the Spirit, and with the same help know what the gospel is and what it is not.

    Presumably by “know what the gospel is and what it is not,” you are also meaning “be able to distinguish accurately and completely orthodoxy from heresy.”

    In #327, your answer glosses the distinction between the writings of the Apostles, and one’s own interpretation of those writings, as if the anointing ensures that in matters of orthodoxy and heresy, there can be no difference between the meaning of their writing, and one’s own determination of the writing’s meaning.

    The major problem with this claim is that it runs contrary to five hundred years of empirical evidence. Protestant history is a history of fragmentation upon fragmentation, dividing not over what was believed to be secondary issues by those separating, but over what was believed to be orthodoxy/heresy. People do not break communion over issues they themselves believe to be secondary (adiaphora or indifferent). You could claim that in each such case someone was failing to engage in honest exegesis, but it seems to me that such a claim would be ad hoc. There is no good reason to believe that in each case of Protestant fragmentation, one or both sides were being dishonest in their exegesis of Scripture. The evidence is to the contrary. Likewise, you could claim that in each case of Protestant fragmentation one or both sides did not have the anointing. But again, that would be ad hoc. Moreover, honest exegesis in the present is not bringing denominations back together. Given all the exegetical work published in academic journals and books over the last few centuries, which Protestant denominations have reconciled because of it? None if any. And again it would be ad hoc to claim that they are not doing so only because of dishonesty or exegetical ignorance. Do we see all Protestant New Testament scholars moving toward one denomination’s theological position, over the past 500 years? No. All this shows that personal interpretation of Scripture is not a reliable way of distinguishing fully and accurately between orthodoxy and heresy.

    A working assumption in your argument is that the divinely ordained way to know accurately and fully what is the Apostolic tradition is “honest exegesis.” This assumption entails that where there is disagreement in theological matters, one or all parties are either not doing exegesis well, or not doing it honestly. That working assumption characterizes a paradigm, namely, the Protestant paradigm. But disagreements between Protestants and those (e.g. Catholics, Orthodox) who do not hold that working assumption cannot be resolved by way of that working assumption, without begging the question, i.e. presupposing what is in question between them. What is required, in order to resolve such disagreements, is not the presumption of one paradigm as a criterion for evaluating the other, but a two-fold comparison of the respective paradigms: one comparison by way of the standards internal to one of the paradigms, and another comparison by way of the standards internal to the other paradigm.

    So I don’t see that Burton’s (a) and (b) have been answered. It seems to me that Burton is right, that your position does reduce to “solo scriptura,” which Mathison (a Reformed Protestant) scathingly critiques, in a way Neal and I have summarized in “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.”

    I think this raises a third question. In #314 you wrote:

    I got the impression, too that you also have a hermetically sealed system in which practically nothing can prove to you that the RCC was wrong or that she ever changed her mind.

    You imply that the unfalsifiability of a “hermetically sealed system” is to be avoided. So here’s question (c): How many more centuries of Protestant fragmentation would it take to falsify the thesis that “honest exegesis” is sufficient to distinguish accurately and fully orthodoxy from heresy? Or more simply, what, exactly, would it take to falsify the “honest exegesis is sufficient to distinguish accurately and fully orthodoxy from heresy” thesis?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  435. Bryan, 431.

    One of the issues you mention is that of “interpretive authority.” Here I copy and paste a few paragraphs I wrote elsewhere on the issue:

    What is “interpretive authority”? (The whole debate between Cross & Judisch and Mathison could use some clarification on this question; though, for obvious reasons, I haven’t read it all, and so it may have actually come up at some point.) There is one sense in which I believe the phrase can be taken as a straightforward oxymoron: accurate interpretation is always in itself an act of submission. This is the case no matter what text one is reading, whether it is the Bible or Moby Dick: to accurately interpret a text is to submit oneself to the text, to carefully attempt to discern and restate what that text is saying, to avoid at all costs the imposition of a foreign paradigm, in short, to let the author be a completely authoritative voice.

    But, if interpretation is submission, what can “interpretive authority” be? “Submissive authority”? The tension is clear. Indeed, “interpretive authority” as a coherent concept can only be held by one who claims to be the Author of the text in question: Herman Melville could have clarified aspects of the interpretation of Moby Dick in an authoritative way, a way that is inadmissible for later literary critics. Later critics only obtain “interpretive authority” to the degree that their interpretations are recognized and applauded as accurate distillations of Melville’s work. They can indeed become “epistemic authorities” in their field but this authority is always open to question; there will always be a new generation of critics to scrutinize and correct their work.

    Jesus discloses to the church the meaning of the Scriptures (OT) not only as reader and interpreter but also as Author. He therefore has an infallible interpretive authority, one which he bequeathed to his Apostles, on which basis the writings of the NT (the Apostolic deposit) are also considered authoritative and infallible. In particular, the writings of the NT are the infallible authoritative interpretation of the OT; as Augustine recognized, there is a hermeneutical relationship between the testaments.

    Now, the key point of disagreement for us is this: has this infallible interpretive authority, which Jesus has, which he gave to the Apostles, which has been set forth in the NT, the apostolic testimony–has this been given to the Church as an ongoing, permanent, gift? Catholics say yes; Protestants say no. From a Protestant perspective, we are not authors of Scripture, as the apostles were, and it is simply impossible for the Church to exercise the “interpretive authority” that is the prerogative of the Author alone. We are all “critics,” critics in the best sense, critics who attempt to discern and restate and submit in their interpretations to the God who is at work in Scripture and in the Church.

  436. I have a question as a Catholic layman, student of history. How are some of you so sure that Martin Luther and Calvin had access to even a modicum of the writings of the early Church Fathers? Was there even a full or even partial compendium of the works in one place!? The libraries in Geneva and Wittenberg must have been limited in the extreme? I have been told by a prominent Catholic convert and theologian, that neither of them could ever have asserted their positions, if they had had access to these early texts. He also pointed out that both had an inferior academic background, even for their day. Rather humorously he said that they wouldn’t have passed his basic Theology 101 course…. Some of you make it sound like they were resourcing the Internet?

  437. David (re: #435),

    You wrote:

    There is one sense in which I believe the phrase [“interpretive authority”] can be taken as a straightforward oxymoron: accurate interpretation is always in itself an act of submission.

    That’s not the sense of the term as we used it in our article. If you really want to know what we mean by the term ‘interpretive authority,’ you could just ask. You don’t have to propose a “straightforward oxymoron” as “one sense in which you believe the phrase can be taken.”

    Indeed, “interpretive authority” as a coherent concept can only be held by one who claims to be the Author of the text in question …. From a Protestant perspective, we are not authors of Scripture, as the apostles were, and it is simply impossible for the Church to exercise the “interpretive authority” that is the prerogative of the Author alone.

    If Christ can do the greater, He can do the lesser. If He can so move men that the words they freely write are God’s very own words, then a fortiori He can imbue certain men with a charism of truth regarding the content of the Tradition, and authorize those men to speak as His representatives regarding the deposit of faith. In that way someone other than the Author of Scripture can hold interpretive authority, and it is not “impossible” for the magisterium of the Church to exercise interpretive authority.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  438. Bryan,

    If your wife came to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church (unlike her parents and grandparents), that is cause for rejoicing.

    “Fully and accurately” – these are not my words. I’m not sure I would ever use such words for a reality that includes historical facts, dynamic Kingdom-power, personal knowledge, and partial understanding. I talk about strong confidence as a gift of God. See my #382.

    The spiritual bond among evangelicals that transcends denominations, countries, and ages (despite visible fragmentation) is a strong evidence to me that the Holy Spirit does indeed lead us to an understanding of the gospel when we submit to the story of the apostles. Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Tertullian, Ireneaus, Athanasius, St. Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzos, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, St. John of the Cross, Pierre Waldo, John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, Martin Luther, Martin Bucer, Jean Calvin, Dévai Biró Mátyás, John Owen, John Bunyan, Apáczai Csere János, Philip Jacob Spener, Nicholaus von Zinzendorf, George Whitefield, John Wesley, Blaise Pascal, G. Tersteegen, Charles Spurgeon, Soren Kierkegaard, Szabó Aladár, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Kiss Ferenc, John Sung, John Stott, C. S. Lewis, Henri Nouwen, Tim Keller, John Piper, Ajith Fernando, K. Rajendran, Ravi Zacharias, John Lennox, etc., etc., etc. got the same gospel with different emphases. Despite the historical, geographical, and denominational differences, I have strong bonds with them. None of them had full and accurate knowledge of orthodoxy (nor did any of the apostles – cf. 1Cor 13:9-10), but they all had true, substantial, and saving knowledge of it. Do not underestimate the Holy Spirit or the self-authenticating power of the word of God!

    I can’t really devote much more time to this website.

    Blessings from the land of your ancestors,
    Ádám

  439. Bill (#415),

    I was aware of the context of 1 John 2:20 and 27 when I wrote my thesis. The most obvious reference of “let what you heard from the beginning abide in you” (v24) is the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. See 1:1-3. John is talking about the witness of those who have heard, seen, and touched Jesus. He is not talking about Benedict XVI.

  440. Bryan, Burton,

    I would also like to know the following from you, since you are a philosophy professor. I am asking this perhaps to better grasp your questions to Adam.

    (a) how one can know that one’s determination of what is orthodox and what is heretical, based on one’s interpretation that the Roman Pontiff has the true infallible interpretation to determine what is true or false, is true, and

    (b) how one can know that this way of distinguishing orthodoxy from heresy is the correct way of distinguishing orthodoxy from heresy.

    Note that I have read your tu quoque argument (esp Q4). You said in particular that you escaped the tu quoque argument because: “What makes a Protestant confession to be without authority is that it is a product of merely human minds, minds without divine authorization, as they sought to interpret and explain the Scriptures.” But how do you know this? How do you know that: “The Catholic Church, by contrast, is not the product of men-lacking-divine authorization.” Furthermore, you said you rely the “help of the Holy Spirit… [one] discovers this divinely founded entity bearing divine authority, and at that point submits to it.” How do you know it’s the Holy Spirit who led you into believing that what you discovered has divine authority? How do you know that whom you submit to are the real infallible interpreters of Scripture without banking on your own fallible judgments of the facts available to you?

    Secondly, you said, that “One does not rightly become a Catholic on the ground that one happens to believe at present all the doctrines that the Church teaches. That approach is a form of rationalism, not fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding). One rightly becomes a Catholic by an act of faith in which one believes all that the Catholic Church teaches, even if not fully understanding it, on the ground of the apostolic authority of the Church’s magisterium.” –> So am I correct that you are also a fideist? Faith is disconnected with reason so that even if there is lack of evidence (not fully understanding) one is compelled to believe because of one’s perception of authority on about a Church’s Teaching Authority? If rational analysis is not sufficient, where do you bank your certainty?

    So I would like to see your answer on the questions above.

    Here’s an interesting question also:

    (c): How many more centuries of Protestant fragmentation would it take to falsify the thesis that “honest exegesis” is sufficient to distinguish accurately and fully orthodoxy from heresy?

    If “honest exegesis” of God’s Word is not sufficient, what is sufficient then? Let’s say you would answer that an “Infallible Magisterium” is needed… But, if this Magisterium exist, why can’t there be unified doctrine still among Christians? If you say that not everyone submits to this Magisterium, then it bears noting that not all submits to the authority of Scripture. Fragmentation is a necessary consequence of the law of non-contradiction. The presence of fragmentation does not invalidate the sufficiency of “honest exegesis” of the teachings of Scripture to show truth from error. The problem is in the heart of the people not the sufficiency of the God’s Word to proclaim truth to those who honestly seek it.

    Regards,
    Joey

  441. Worth repeating:

    In the Catholic case, instead of merely focusing on the sins of certain Catholics in certain periods of time, we need to step back and look at the whole history of the Catholic Church, and look at the moral character of those Catholics who devote themselves fully to the Church’s doctrinal and moral teachings, to prayer and the sacraments. What do those persons look like? That’s the relevant question. The answer? They look like the figures recounted in Butler’s twelve volume Lives of the Saints.

  442. Szabados Ádám,

    Your description of evangelical unity, I describe as the unity of redaction. The smaller the message, the easier it is to experience “unity”. Atheists experience this. No matter where they go, wherever someone doubts the existence of God — transcending cultures, epochs, and arguments — atheists feel “together” or “on the same team”. This can be applied to any text for that matter. If one need to agree only on a mere this or that interpretation, then it is easy to imagine a large consensus. However, this con-sensus, this shared understanding, should not be confused with communion. The former is a natural effect, the latter a supernatural one.

    As I have noted elsewhere on this thread, the existence of the Catholic Church as such as she is, despite her human weaknesses, speaks to a Supernatural Cause. There is simply no other explanation that can account for her. The sects, however, do not and have not survived this way. Theirs is not a people, but an idea, and so like all ideas re-emerges in every generation to those who might build themselves their own church. First the Arians, then the Anabaptists. And so it goes on…

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  443. Adam.

    You wrote:

    The spiritual bond among evangelicals that transcends denominations, countries, and ages (despite visible fragmentation) is a strong evidence to me that the Holy Spirit does indeed lead us . . .

    May I ask what you mean by “spiritual bond”? I am sure you can understand how a phrase like that can be seen as an evasion whereby real theological contradictions are covered or glossed by use of a nebulous phrase “spiritual bond”. What is the propositional content of that bond?

    Perhaps you meant to lend further clarifiction or definition to that phrase when you wrote:

    . . the Holy Spirit does indeed lead us to an understanding of the gospel when we submit to the story of the apostles.

    So are you saying that denominations, evangelicals, etc. accross both geography and time actually agree on the propositional content [as opposed to a vague “spiritual bond”] of what constitutes “the gospel” and/or “the story of the apostles”? I don’t mean to be contentious, but the facts of the last 500 years simply negate such a supposition. The primary reason that there is visible fragmentation and denominations, etc. (which you acknowledge exists) is because of past and present disagreements with respect to the propositional content of “the gospel” and the “story of the apostles”.

    Further, I would politely suggest that if you think the deification soteriology of the Cappadocian Fathers (Basil, Gregory and Gregory) would be recognized by Karl Barth as the same gospel or “story of the apostles”, or again, if you think that the soteriology of John Calvin and St. John of the Cross is compatible, then you and I are living in two different theological (and for that matter propositional) universes.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  444. Something else for all of us to keep in mind as we discuss unity: Whatever else it may be, and whatever warm feelings may accompany it, biblically speaking there is no unity that is not sacramental in nature and expression.

    Paul urged the Corinthians to peace since they all partake of the same loaf, and he tells the Galatians that as many as are baptized are one in Christ.

    This means that I, Jason, am not in communion with anyone with whom I cannot share the sacrament of Communion, and further, Baptists are not in communion with anyone whose children they would rebaptize upon profession of faith.

    A good illustration is teh popular radio program The White Horse Inn: Mike Horton is only in communion with Kim Riddlebarger (they’re both URC), but the LCMS Rod Rosenbladt would not serve communion to any of his three co-hosts, and the Baptist Ken Jones would rebaptize all their children if they wanted to join his church.

    So yeah, I think it’s easy for Protestants to hide behind a feeling of unity that is completely gnostic in nature and thereby escape the charge of schism.

  445. Hello, Jason. Might I quibble with one part of your last statement (#444)? I have not been following the back-and-forth of this conversation, so forgive me if my quibble is impertinent or redundant. You wrote:

    “This means that I, Jason, am not in communion with anyone with whom I cannot share the sacrament of Communion . . .”

    Would the following emendation be acceptable to you? If not, why not?

    “This means that I, Jason, am not in full communion with anyone with whom I cannot share the sacrament of Communion . . .”

    I have CCC #817-822 and Lumen Gentium 8 in mind here.

    ad maiorem Dei gloriam,
    Paul

  446. Joey Henry (#440):

    Not to obviate Bryan’s reply, but since I too am a philosophy teacher and have previously written on the matters you raise, I want to address your comment here in my own way.

    Your questions (a) and (b) begin with phrase “How do you know?”, and you raise several followup questions of the same form. (I shall leave aside your question (c), since others are addressing the substance of it.) But it is at that very starting point, I believe, that you err. I say that in light of something else you write.

    Bryan had written, correctly:

    One rightly becomes a Catholic by an act of faith in which one believes all that the Catholic Church teaches, even if not fully understanding it, on the ground of the apostolic authority of the Church’s magisterium.

    To that, you respond:

    So am I correct that you are also a fideist? Faith is disconnected with reason so that even if there is lack of evidence (not fully understanding) one is compelled to believe because of one’s perception of authority on about a Church’s Teaching Authority? If rational analysis is not sufficient, where do you bank your certainty?

    You speak as though fideism were the only alternative to rationalism. But as Bryan, I, and Ray Stamper have written before, that is not the case from the standpoint of either logic or Catholicism. Logically, it is possible for faith in an authority (religious or otherwise) to be reasonable, in the sense that one has good reasons for deciding to trust the authority, without such reasons being demonstrative, in the sense that they prove the authority’s claims to the exclusion of alternatives. Thus, having reason enough to make one’s decision reasonable does not entail that one’s decision is the only possible one a reasonable person could make. Indeed, that is the situation we ought to expect when faced with some authority’s claims to be transmitting divine revelation. Unlike science, the theology of “revealed” religion contains no reliable, generally agreed-upon method for testing claims to transmit divinely revealed truth; hence, it is not possible in theology, as it is in science, to dispense with authority by applying such a method for oneself. So the most reason can do in the sort of matter we’re debating is show that one paradigm of authority is more reasonable than its competitors.

    Like many Protestants, you seem inclined to object here that “reason” on the sort of account we’re giving is thin gruel, because it cannot yield “certainty,” whereas “knowledge” of divinely revealed truth must involve certainty. But that is to overlook two distinctions: that between faith and knowledge as “propositional attitudes,” and that between prior and subsequent certainty.

    Knowledge as a propositional attitude may be defined thus: A person X knows that proposition P is true just in case X has successfully applied a reliable, generally agreed-on method for verifying P. Faith as a propositional attitude may be defined thus: X has faith that P is true just in case he takes somebody else’s word that P is true, without X’s himself having applied the sort of method described. To be sure, most of us don’t “know” many scientific facts by that definition; instead, we put our faith in the authority of scientists whom we have good reason to believe have successfully applied the appropriate method. That’s an example of human faith. But as I’ve said, what makes science yield knowledge rather than faith is that anybody could successfully apply the appropriate method for themselves, given the time, talent, and opportunity. In science, human faith is thus dispensable in principle, even though non-scientists usually rely on it in practice.

    Theology does not yield knowledge as a propositional attitude, however, even though the content of divinely revealed truth is knowledge in the sense that God is its author. That’s because the propositional attitude of divine faith–the kind of assent needed in revealed matters–cannot dispense, even in principle, with trusting some secondary human authority or ensemble thereof as authorized by God to transmit his revelation to us, so that by trusting such secondary human authority or ensemble thereof, one trusts God as the primary authority. Hence theology cannot, even in principle, yield the kind of certainty one can have about the truth of many propositions in the formal and natural sciences. The certainty of scientific knowledge, when we have it, derives from the proven reliability, and thus certainty, of the method establishing it. Thus, the certainty of how we come to know scientific facts in general is prior to our knowing any of them in particular.

    Nevertheless, the assent of divine faith yields a kind of certainty once the assent is truly made, so that the certainty involved is subsequent, not prior, to the assent. There are analogies to that in human experience. E.g., spouses who love each other trust each other to be faithful because they have promised, as an act of love, to be faithful. The trust or faith here is subsequent to the act of faith spouses put in each other by love. Of course that’s only an analogy, because people are imperfect and often cease loving each other or fail to love each other as much as they should. But certainty is surely what’s involved in the sort of trust we put in God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived, by making the assent of divine faith. We make that assent in part, though necessarily, by trusting some secondary authority or ensemble thereof to be transmitting divine revelation to us. Once we have made the assent, our faith is no longer a matter of provisional opinion for us, but is total and unqualified. To the extent it becomes provisional, it is lost.

    Catholics and conservative Protestants agree on this, at least once it’s made clear. Catholics in general would also agree that conservative Protestants can have divine faith to a degree, by implicitly trusting that secondary authority which is known as the Bible. But the fundamental issue between Catholicism and Protestantism may be posed by two questions: Just what is the ensemble of secondary authorities that we must trust in order to make the assent of divine faith in God, the primary authority? And how are those authorities related to each other? We both include the Bible, but disagree about all the other candidates.

    Now I’ve already addressed those questions in this thread as well as in many other places. I believe I’ve shown that the Catholic paradigm is more reasonable, but this is not the place to rehash my argument. My purpose in posing the questions anew here is to highlight the fact that, for reasons I’ve already given in this comment, one cannot settle such questions as one would settle scientific questions, as if we could have the sort of certainty in theology we can have in science. Divine faith is not knowledge as a propositional attitude, and theology cannot dispense with divine faith even in principle. Accordingly, when the question is what paradigm of secondary authority to adopt, the most one can and should aim for is to show that one such paradigm is more reasonable than its competitor(s). The reasons one might adduce as evidence that one paradigm is more reasonable than the other(s) cannot,