Friday, June 08, 2012

An Open Letter to recent WSC grad Joshua Lim

When I entered WSC, I came to know that one of the TAs (Teaching Assistants) for Greek was a more senior student by the name of Joshua Lim. It happens that I did not require extra help with my Greek and so I did not attend any of the extra sessions conducted by the TAs, and thus I did not really speak with Joshua Lim. Fast forward to today, and Josh Lim has apostatized from the Christian faith, publicly defecting from the Gospel at the "Called to Communion Confusion" website.

Here then is my open letter to Josh Lim:


Dear Joshua,

I have read your recent “conversion” testimony on the Called to Communion blog. As a current MDiv student at WSC, I am saddened by your public denunciation of the Faith and your entry to Rome. While I do not much know you while you were in seminary, I hope you will reconsider this action of yours and turn to Christ alone for your salvation.

Epistemology and Authority

The main issue that you have raised up has been epistemology and authority. You have found Reformed confessionalism highly dissatisfying, and think that you have found epistemic certainty and authority in Rome. According to you, Reformed churches stand as a “via media” and you find that the idea that the confessions having “’ministerial’ authority does not solve anything at all.” In your search for certitude, you have struggled through reading the writings of Protestant scholastics and Roman authors and even Karl Barth, and have finally decided on Rome.

I want to challenge you on the very idea of certitude that you are seeking in the first place, which you think you have found in Rome. Humans are not God. The Scripture has made it very clear that faith is the assurance of things hope for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). Absolute certainty cannot be found this side of heaven. One can have certainty, but only a certainty that is grounded on faith in the Word of God and the person of Christ.

You have searched long for certainty, yet you have searched in all the wrong places. Ultimately, Christianity is a religion dependent upon the Holy Spirit and His illumination of the truths of God’s Word (2 Peter 1:19), the Word which is the final revelation to us (Heb. 1:1-2). Christianity in this sense is a pneumatic religion. The Reformed Confessions are NOT the basis for the Christian faith, but rather they are what we think are the teachings of Scriptures codified in a format addressing various loci of theology. When we say that the Confessions have a ministerial authority, we mean that they have authority which is derived from the absolute authority of Scripture. Inasmuch as what they teach is biblical, and we certainly do believe that what they teach is biblical, their teaching is true and authoritative.

Hermeneutics

You mentioned that one cannot have a “pure theology” and you are right. But if you have taken the Modern Mind class, you should have known that. All humans are situated. We are all time-bound and place-bound and culturally-bound. The question however is not whether we have a “pure theology” but whether our philosophies are derived from the Scriptures or they are not. Interpreting Scripture is like a spiral, wherein one’s philosophy informs one interpretation of Scripture, which then corrects one’s philosophy. That is why Scripture commands us to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2) which is effected by the reading and meditating on Scripture (Ps. 19:7-9; 119, 2 Tim. 3:15-17). Note that we are told to meditate on Scripture. Scripture is its own interpreter. Scripture is not an encyclopedia which one reads for mere information. Scripture is not a philosophy textbook either. To read Scripture is to immerse oneself not only in the words of Scripture, but the cultures mentioned in Scripture. The context of Scripture is not transcendental philosophical categories of thought, they are rather historical cultures — time-situated and particular. By filling our minds with Scripture through meditating on it, the Holy Spirit transforms our minds so that we know God’s truth, the truth of God which in seeming weakness is wiser than the philosophies of Man (1 Cor. 1: 18-24).

You have misconstrued the attacks against Biblicism if you think they are against the possibility of interpreting Scripture apart from the Reformed Confessions. The problem with Biblicism is NOT that they are trying to interpret the Scriptures. The problem is that everyone has a worldview which he brings to the task of reading and interpreting the Scriptures. The problem with Biblicism is that biblicists think they are merely interpreting the Bible when they are interpreting the Bible uncritically in accordance with their unspoken and unreflective presuppositions. Paraphrasing Dr. James White, the problem with biblicists is that those who think they have no traditions often have the most traditions, and their traditions color their interpretations. I myself have seen many people like that who claim to be only “interpreting the Bible.” The critique against Biblicism does not mean that the Scriptures are unclear if not interpreted apart from the Reformed Confessions. In fact, if one can find a truly unbiased, objective and sinless person and he goes off into the woods and read the Scriptures by himself, I would venture to say that person could derive the true truths of Scripture on his own. The problem is that there are no such persons around. That is why we read Scripture, and read Scripture in interaction with other theologians and the confessions, because the problem is not with Scripture, but the problem is with us the readers. Others help us to see our blind spots in our interpretations of Scripture, but they do not interpret Scripture for us.

You mentioned that you were given the impression that “what the Anabaptists allegedly lacked was the tradition that Calvin and Luther as well as many other Protestant scholastics had never intended to let go.” I’m sorry if this is the only thing you have gotten out of classes. The problem with the Anabaptists is that as biblicists, they were interpreting Scripture with their own colored lenses and thus not truly interpreting Scripture as Scripture ought to be interpreted. By abandoning interaction with the other theologians throughout church history, they ended up interpreting Scripture according to their own preconceived ideas which is certainly not what Scripture teaches. The radical impulse has always created such errant interpretations of Scripture, not because they were wrong as they did not have tradition, but because in rejecting interaction with tradition, they ended up distorting Scripture by unreflectively utilizing the most [contemporary] traditions in their interpretation.

In your process of conversion, you claim that you “tried to understand how other traditions understood Scripture,” and that you “often found these competing interpretations to be, in their own right, very compelling.” While certainly understanding the other points of views are necessary to understand them, yet you have failed to question if the questions and answers that these other traditions bring to the text are themselves derived from the text of Scripture. As it was said, Scripture determines the context for our questions, and our questions and our answers. Scripture is not a philosopher’s handbook or an encyclopedia. Scripture answers the questions Scripture asks. It is absolutely irrelevant whether one can find an answer from Scripture for a question one has which is not asked by Scripture itself in any fashion. Likewise, you should NOT have read the Bible in such a manner, as if Scripture is an answer book for philosophical and theological questions.

I find it disturbing that your change in the way you read Scripture comes about by reading Karl Barth. To put it bluntly, Karl Barth is a heretic and certainly not Reformed, regardless of what he calls himself. First of all, our primary allegiance should not be to the “Reformed tradition” but rather to Scripture. Even if a Reformed minister or church should preach another gospel other than the one proclaimed by Paul (and Jesus), let him/ it be anathema (Gal. 1:8-9)! You should not be buying any argument by any Tom, Dick or Harry that calls himself Reformed in the first place. Regardless of whether Barth is Reformed, and certainly there is more than enough evidence to show that he is not, Barth’s writings should be first examined on the basis of whether his teachings conform to Scripture, and they don’t.[1]

Historical issues

You have accused the doctrine of Justification by Faith alone as being something that proceeds from nominalism. First of all, you have to prove that nominalism is necessarily bad. Secondly, you have to prove that a “nominalist” interpretation of Paul’s writing on Romans and Galatians is false exegetically, not merely philosophically. You have also claimed that Protestantism is untenable as to its authority claims, as the “Here I stand” mantra could be repeated over and over again, leading to the multitudes of denominations.

Here I would challenge you as to your settling on Rome. You claim that Sola Scriptura leads to a plurality of denominations. How is that any different from the mess in Rome? Is institutional unity despite wide divergence in doctrine preferable from an honest acknowledgment of differences and a parting of ways? I’m sure you have heard of the Old Catholics and the Sedevacantists, who respectively rejected Vatican I and Vatican II. Within the Roman communion, you yourself acknowledge the wide divergence present within it. Why then do you have one standard for Protestantism and another for Rome? Why do you give Rome a pass on the multitudes of beliefs within her while you critiqued Protestantism about her multitudes of Protestant denominations, many of which are not even Protestant?

I will continue along this line. Why Rome and not the Eastern Orthodox churches? Rome is only one see. Eastern Orthodoxy traditionally has 4 sees (Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria). Eastern Orthodoxy boasts “apostolic continuity” and even use the New Testament in Greek, unlike Rome which uses the translated Vulgate. Why did you “come home” to Rome, which split from the Eastern Orthodox churches in the Great Schism?

You claimed comfort in Rome as the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” But how can Rome even claim any of these adjectives? Rome is not one, unless you redefine “one” as being institutional, and even then you have to argue from Rome as the true church in discounting the Eastern Orthodox, Old Catholics and Sedevacantists. In other words, you are arguing in a circle. How is your choice of Rome not arbitrary? Rome is not holy, with all the scandals involving pedophile priests and now financial scandal in the Vatican itself. I don’t think I need to speak of the pornocracy around the 9th to 10th century, of popes having children out of wedlock. How is Rome “catholic” unless you begin with the definition that Rome is the true church? Why are those who separate from Rome considered schismatic and not the other way around? Eastern Orthodox considers Rome schismatic, and if we want to count real estate and bishoprics, certainly Eastern Orthodox wins hands down. Eastern Orthodox even has the holy city Jerusalem, while Rome has the pagan city of Rome. How can Rome be considered “catholic” when it defines itself by fidelity to a particular see and not the universal Christ? At least Eastern Orthodox has a better case for catholicity than Rome, so upon what basis do you choose Rome?

Church and Gospel

The Church is defined by the Gospel, not the other way around (Mt. 16:18). Churches which compromise the Gospel message will have Christ warring against them (Rev. 2:14-15, 19-23). Visible churches do apostatize from the faith, with Rome asserting that of the Eastern Orthodox and the Protestants. Therefore, there is no true “objectivity of the Church” apart from the presence of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is where the Gospel is present. In your testimony, you claimed that Luther felt that it was necessary to separate from the Catholic Church, Zwingli from Luther, the Anabaptists from the Magisterial Reformed, the Calvinists from Arminians, and on and on–all on the conviction that I have the correct interpretation of Scripture.

But is the mere act of separation shows a church to be subjective? The Roman Church separated from the Eastern Orthodox Church in the Great Schism. How does that not disqualify the Roman church as being subjective? Does a mere assertion of objectivity or continuity qualifies a certain church as being objective? Rome is not even consistent with herself. Read for yourself the differences between the strict ecclesiastical exclusivism taught in the Council of Florence with the inclusivism promoted in Vatican II. How does such an inconsistency help buttress the romantic view of having one church that has always remained the same (semper eadem) throughout the ages?

Given that individual churches can apostatize, why is Rome exempt from the possibility of apostasy? Unless one argues a priori from the infallibility of Rome, petitio principii, there is no way one can show that Rome is objectively the Church.

Your quest for certainty sought the wrong thing. Christ has never promised that any particular church will not fall away. Christ only promised that the Church as a whole will not fall altogether (Mt. 16:18), and this Church is defined by the Gospel. Your quest for certainty should be to seek the true Gospel of Christ, not the external forms of religious unanimity. Where the Gospel is rightly believed and preached, there is the true Church where Christ is. The Gospel is transcendentally true, not based upon one’s own interpretations. Paul was not speaking of a subjective Gospel when he pronounced anathemas against the Judaizers and all who would pervert the Gospel (Gal. 1:8-9), for a subjective Gospel that has as many interpretations as there are people can never be perverted!

And here we come to the crux of the issue: your eternal state. The fact of the matter is that Rome’s gospel is a false gospel, and whoever knowingly submits to Rome partakes in her evil beliefs and deeds. Rome denies the Gospel in the sixth session of the Council of Trent, pronouncing her anathemas against biblical Christianity, as it was pronounced:

If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema (Canon IX, 6th Session of Council of Trent)

Or another one:

If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema (Canon XII, 6th Session of Council of Trent)

It matters little whether you think that there is any “signal of that pride stemming from work-righteousness.” What matters is what the Scriptures say about the matter. Paul is very explicit in his epistle:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith (Gal. 3:1-5)

I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. (Gal. 5:3-4)

Regardless of the psychology of practicing Roman Catholics, the Scriptures are very clear that adding works to Christ’s work is an abomination to God and a repudiation of the Gospel, and earns one an eternity in hell, cut off from God and from salvation, devoted to destruction (which is what the term ἀνάθεμα, from the Septuagint usage of the Hebrew חרם means). It matters little whether Roman Catholics feel pride (or not feel pride) in their working towards their justification. Scripture is clear that Rome’s curse upon the Gospel means that Rome is accursed by God as preaching another gospel.

Ultimately, your quest for certainty is a failure. As many critiques you have of Protestantism is just as applicable or even more applicable to Rome. By not starting out with Scripture and to renew your mind according to Scripture, you are basing your knowledge and ultimately your salvation upon the philosophies of Man.

Josh, I hereby call upon you to return to Scripture for your knowledge, and to return to the Gospel for your salvation. It is not too late to return to the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). As it is written,

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. …

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

(Heb. 4:1-2, 6-7)

Repent, Josh, and turn to Christ alone for your salvation. Repent of your illegitimate quest for absolute certainty, and for institutional oneness, and turn to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Respectfully,

Daniel H. Chew, M.Div student at WSC


References:

[1] On Barth, see for example Gordon H. Clark, Karl Barth’s Theological Method (Unicoi, TN: 1963, 1997) and Cornelius Van Till, Christianity and Barthianism (Phillisburg, NJ: P&R, 2004). Barth denies Sola Scriptura and redefines many Reformed doctrines like election, reprobation etc, so it is astonishing that Barth could be even considered as being Reformed

42 comments:

Charlie J. Ray said...

Daniel, I agree that the "Called to Communion" website is heretical. But one has to wonder why Jason Stellman and Joshua Lim have been so easily persuaded that the Reformed faith is not dogmatic, authoritative, and final. Could it be that the theological methods being taught at WSC are defective because of Michael Horton's eclectic and analogical theology? I'm sure the other professors are as weak as Horton, particularly R. Scott Clark. It seems to me that the only cure for this sort of apostasy is solid propositional, univocal adherence to Scripture as THE Word of God.

I've been dealing with this sort of error via the Anglo-Catholic/Tractarian error for quite some time now. It's truly disappointing that Mike Horton let David Virtue off the hook when Virtue was pushing "conservative" Tractarianism and the Anglican Church in North America. The ACNA is no better than the Federal Vision!


Sincerely in Christ,

Charlie

PuritanReformed said...

@Charlie:

not everything must be linked to the Clark-Van Til controversy.

If you have issues with the professors, please take it up with them personally.

Charlie J. Ray said...

I think it does actually have everything to do with the Clark/Van Til controversy. Horton's systematic theology reads like liberal theology in the opening chapters. His theses that it is not the very words of Scripture that matter but rather God's "acts" in history" is a direct attack on the doctrine of Scripture. Van Til's theology is essentially an Evangelical form of neo-orthodoxy. Frankly, I'm not surprised that Lim's reading of Barth led him to semi-pelagianism since Barth openly said that he sided with the Remonstrandts and not the Reformed view.

I'm disappointed that more Reformed theologians do not speak the truth in regards to Arminianism, neo-orthodoxy and other damnable heresies.

Yes, I now believe that Arminianism is as heretical as Rome.

Sincerely in Christ,

Charlie

PuritanReformed said...

@Charlie:

you do not understand Van Til, or Horton.

Ed Dingess said...

To suggest that only Calvinists are genuinely saved by claiming that Arminianism is heretical is more than just an extreme view. It is unnecessarily divisive and runs the risk of profound arrogance. And I am reformed from top to bottom. Your comment is really quite disturbing.

PuritanReformed said...

Just to be clear, my position is that Arminians can be saved, but Arminianism is heresy (i.e. Dordt's position).

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

I hope that Joshua Lim engages Daniel Chew on this thread about the content of this open letter.

PuritanReformed said...

@TUAD:

I sent a copy to him personally. He just said thanks and told me my points are answered in the com box. I then looked through it and wrote a response, which he acknowledges but did not interact with.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Oh. I just posted a link to this post on the Called to Communion thread about Joshua Lim.

I hope he interacts with you here on this post or the follow-up post.

David Meyer said...

“Absolute certainty cannot be found this side of heaven.”
And,
“Repent of your illegitimate quest for absolute certainty…”

Perhaps unintentionally, but this is a straw man. Nowhere did he say he was looking for “absolute certainty”. I won’t speak for Joshua, but as for me, having heard this criticism many times, I will say it misses the mark. If you care about Josh’s soul, which you obviously do having written this letter, it would be good to better understand his position and avoid what will appear as a straw man to him and other Catholics.
Here is what I mean. We Catholic converts aren’t looking for absolute certainty. We are just looking for a way to tell the difference between our opinions of what revelation is saying, and what it is actually saying. That’s pretty much it. No absolute certainty there. The pope could still be the antichrist in this scenario! We find that in the Reformed paradigm, there exists no such distinction, and… none is even claimed! In the Reformed paradigm, whether it is our opinion of what revelation is saying or our elders, all claimants to the proper interpretation of divine revelation claim their interpretation is authentic-yet-fallible. In such a system, there is no way to finally choose between the claimants because none claims to trump the other.
But the difference remains that the Catholic Magisterium (and the other apostolic Churches) at least claim (yes, claim) to be supernaturally protected from error (obviously only in specific circumstances). If in our fallible study of revelation we come to believe this to be a necessary role of the Church, and we come to believe sola Scriptura to be unbiblical (irony of ironies), then our conscience is bound… God help us, we can do no other… we must go to Rome or Constantinople. Fallible choice? Yes. But there is at least a principled way for us to distinguish between what our mind is thinking and what revelation is saying. As just one example let me throw contraception out there. I don’t have to make up my own doctrine on that issue anymore. The Magisterium has definitively spoken on it.
Hope this distinction I am trying to make helps move the conversation forward.

Peace,

David Meyer

David Meyer said...

You said:
"You claim that Sola Scriptura leads to a plurality of denominations. How is that any different from the mess in Rome? Is institutional unity despite wide divergence in doctrine preferable from an honest acknowledgment of differences and a parting of ways? I’m sure you have heard of the Old Catholics and the Sedevacantists, who respectively rejected Vatican I and Vatican II."

This question is easier to answer than perhaps you think. Let me ask a question, and think of how easy and quick it is for you to answer the question:

Are Old Catholics and Sedevacantists in communion with the bishop of Rome?

"institutional unity despite wide divergence in doctrine..."

Another couple easy questions may help your understanding here. Nancy Pelosi is a Catholic. She believes abortion and gay marriage are good and should be legal. Is her view one among many valid views within the Catholic Church, or is her view contrary to her Churches defined teaching?

Andrew O'Brien said...

The author would do well to remove the Called to Confusion "Joke." It isn't funny or helpful.

Addition to David Meyer's comment, it is worth pointing out that the "mess" in Catholicism looks much different from the "mess" in Protestantism. Catholics who hold positions contrary to the Church (on things like abortion, gay marriage, or anything else) know full well that their belief is not the teaching of the Church. They don't argue, "The Church teaches that gay marriage is ok," they say, "I want the Church's teaching to change."

The protestant "mess" on the other hand is different. "Heretics" really believe their teachings are orthodox. They really believe that what they teach is what the Bible teaches. Arminians and Reformed both believe that they are correct.

Can you see the distinction?

Matthew Schultz said...

Andrew O'Brien said:

The author would do well to remove the Called to Confusion "Joke." It isn't funny or helpful.

It's useful for emphasizing the failure of Roman Catholicism to provide any sort of superior "certainty" to Protestantism on theological controversies. People who move to Rome still have to exercise their private judgment throughout the initial move, and they still have to exercise their private judgment when interpreting the official documents of Rome (including identifying just what qualifies as "official"). The functional difference between being a Protestant and a Catholic on epistemological certainty is nill.

For example, how do you know the current Pope isn't an anti-Pope? The same type/kind of reasoning and evidence you'd give to answer this question is of the same nature as that which I would give to say that my current interpretation of the Bible is better and/or truer (or some such thing) than someone else's, or that my version of Christianity is "better" (as it were) than a competing version of Christianity.

Addition to David Meyer's comment, it is worth pointing out that the "mess" in Catholicism looks much different from the "mess" in Protestantism. Catholics who hold positions contrary to the Church (on things like abortion, gay marriage, or anything else) know full well that their belief is not the teaching of the Church. They don't argue, "The Church teaches that gay marriage is ok," they say, "I want the Church's teaching to change."

People are all over the map on their motivations. It's difficult to paint with such a broad brush. I don't see how you can discern this with such ease.

The protestant "mess" on the other hand is different. "Heretics" really believe their teachings are orthodox. They really believe that what they teach is what the Bible teaches. Arminians and Reformed both believe that they are correct.

Sometimes there are frank admissions on the part of Protestants that their beliefs are generated from the dictates of reason, philosophy, justice, etc. Like Catholicism, it's a mixed bag.

Speaking of unhelpful, do you think it's fair to be tendentious in your characterization of the motives behind disagreement in Catholicism with disagreement in Protestantism? Of course if you stack the deck in such a prejudicial manner, the outcome is going to be approaching "Rome gives certainty, Protestantism is a total mess."

Can you see the distinction?

A better question is whether you can justify the inferences that uphold your distinction. That seems difficult to do.

PuritanReformed said...

Hi David,

he did not say he was looking for "absolute certainty," but he critique Protestantism for not giving him it.

Yes, the Roman Magisterium claimed to be supernaturally protected from error when the Pope pronounce something ex cathedra. But that does not solve anything. First of all, is a *mere* claim all that is needed to give some sort of perceived "objectivity"? Then anyone can claim that sort of infallibility. Far better is it that elders and pastors realize their fallibility than make that type of claim which cannot be proved.

Secondly, no one can prove if the pronouncements of a certain pope is actually ex cathedra until at least years after his death (cf the case of Pope Honorious). Also the Avignon Papacy should be enough to deal a death blow to the fact that ex cathedra pronouncements can be recognized as such when they are first promulgated. In other words, in practice such "objectivity" is not found in Rome as it depends on whether the next Pope validates or repudiates the pronouncements of his predecessors.

You mentioned contraception. How about we the issue of evolution? How is it that the Roman Catholic Church has changed its mind from saying that evolution is wrong to saying it is acceptable?

David Meyer said...

Matthew,

"...the failure of Roman Catholicism to provide any sort of superior "certainty" to Protestantism on theological controversies."

When you use your own definition of certaintly, then it's a slam dunk for you. But when you look at the facts on the ground... which is lots and lots of highly trained and intelligent (unlike me) Reformed guys coming over the Tiber for just this reason... and every single one of them is telling you that your characterization of the kind of "certainty" they want is a straw man, perhaps you should try harder to see the distinction we are making, and if we are wrong, to help us understand how. Cus we aint getting it.
Like I said, we might be wrong. The pope might be the antichrist. We may be fools. But if that is the case then we would still be misunderstood fools. Because when you describe the epistemological situation, a thousand hands go up and say "no, no, that's not it at all!"
If you truly want to help guys like the CTCers, and me, and Jason S, and on and on the list goes, you should try to articulate our position better. Instead your criticism keeps looking like a straw man. And whether right or wrong, that just doesnt help the discussion when one side cant get past that.

"The functional difference between being a Protestant and a Catholic on epistemological certainty is nill."

It seems the definition of certainty you are using, and which the author of the post used, aproaches the mathmatical. I think by your definition we might all start to question if we are even alive right now or if the sky is blue. After all, it might not be...

Again, this is not what we are saying. We are pointing out a distinction between the two paradigms where one can internally (from within the paradigm... whether it is right or wrong) distinguish ones own interpretation/identification of authentic revelation from the actual authentic revelation. The Reformed system, right or wrong, has no non ad hoc way to make the distinction. The Catholic system, right or wrong, has an internally consistent way to make it. So if one has become convinced in the their conscience (in the manner of Luther) that the sources of revelation point to a Church who binds consciences, then to look at the distinction as I laid out here is crucial.
This distinction is not in itself a reason to accept the Catholic paradigm, because of course others claim to have a magisterium. But it is a reason to reject the Reformed paradigm, as many of your highly trained co-religionists have done and are doing.

"For example, how do you know the current Pope isn't an anti-Pope?"

This question shows you are taking th eepistemology to a level that isnt even on our (Catholic/Orthodox converts) radar. You are focusing on basic epistemology. How do we know the resurrection happened, or that the Civil War happened, or that Obama is President? By your measure we dont know these things I guess. Or we can use the motives of credibility and reason to come to a conclusion about them.
We can fail in that conclusion.
But we converts are not claiming otherwise. Yes, our choice of Rome is based on fallible reasoning just like your choice of Reformed theology.
But this is not the certainty we are looking for, so again I think you are missing the point. And if not, then you might want to try harder to put it in a way that we can understand it, because your message is not getting across.

Peace,

David Meyer

PuritanReformed said...

@David:

>Are Old Catholics and Sedevacantists in communion with the bishop of Rome?

No. But they claim that the current pope is actually an anti-Pope, similar to what happened in the Avignon Papacy. During the Avignon Papacy, was the rightful pope in Rome, or Avignon?

Is owning a particular piece of real estate the main criterion for determining who is and who is not the righful claimnant to the papal throne?


>Nancy Pelosi is a Catholic. She believes abortion and gay marriage are good and should be legal. Is her view one among many valid views within the Catholic Church, or is her view contrary to her Churches defined teaching?

Seeing that Rome did not discipline her for holding such views, and Rome did not discipline the liberal clergy within her that holds such views too, why is her view not to be considered one among many valid views?

This also is no help against the Protestant notion of authority. The Bible is explicitly clear that homosexuality is an abomination. So the views of "Christian" gay activists are not valid views for Christians to hold on to.

The fact is that the Bible does teach various doctrines clearly. Just because anyone claims to be Protestant yet contradicts its teachings is no different from Pelosi who claims to be Roman Catholic yet disagrees with RC teachings.

David Meyer said...

"How is it that the Roman Catholic Church has changed its mind from saying that evolution is wrong to saying it is acceptable?"

Well you would need to show me where the magisterium taught that was wrong. You cant do that. Believe me I tried. Certain possible beliefs like polygenesis are not allowed for Catholics to believe, that has been defined and was condemned definitively. Avignon. ugh. Bit off topic perhaps?

Matthew Schultz said...

David,

Before I spend time interacting, given our past interactions, I need to know what I said that shows I have in mind the definition of certainty you think I have in mind.

PuritanReformed said...

@Andrew:

I'm sure you know the case of the Jansenists, who have managed to claim that their belief is in line with the teaching of the Roman Catholic church for a long time.

The fact of the matter is that there are many different teachings that are tolerated within Roman Catholicism. Rome only deals with certain pressing issues. As long as one does not disagree with those few flash points, one is allowed to believe almost anything one wants to believe in.

Let's take the case of the salvation of those who have not heard the Gospel. Which is the Roman view on such a basic issue as this? Are both inclusivism, ecclesio-exclusivism, and everything in between acceptable within the Roman Catholic camp?

Or how about Molina's idea of Middle Knowledge? Has Rome rules whether it is orthodox or not?

Rome's idea of defining what heresy is and what heresy is not by her pronouncements sound more like a person who draws a circle around the area where his arrow hits so that he alwas hits the bull's eye. So how can one compare Rome's dealings with error compared to Protestantism's dealing with error, since both have a different definition of what constitutes error?

David Meyer said...

"Seeing that Rome did not discipline her for holding such views, and Rome did not discipline the liberal clergy within her that holds such views too, why is her view not to be considered one among many valid views?"

Worst reasoning ever.

Abuse does not destroy proper use. If I were smarter I would use the Latin phrase but I forget it. You know what the Catholic teaching is. And she HAS been disciplined to some degree, admittedly not publicly enough.
By your reasoning here, anytime an authority does not excercise discipline, that shows the dissenter to have a legitimate view. Huh?
I was never excommunicated from the PCA, does that mean the PCA sees Catholicism as a valid viewpoit? No. It says nothing about what the PCA officially believes about Catholicism.

Peace,

David Meyer

PuritanReformed said...

@David:

are you claiming that Rome has historically held that evolution was acceptable? Back at the time when Rome tried Galileo for heresy?

PuritanReformed said...

@David:

indeed, abuse does not invalidate proper use. But the question is whether her views are considered valid within Roman Catholicism.

You hold to the position that those who are not in communion with Rome (i.e. Old Catholics and Sedevacantists) are not valid alternatives to current Roman Catholicism. Therefore, your definition of what consitutes validity is determined by communion with Rome. Since that is your criteria, the fact that Pelosi continues to be in communion with Rome must mean that her views are valid within Roman Catholicism.

Unlike you, Protestantism does not hold that the validity of one's view is determined by whether one is in communion with a particular church or denomination.

Matthew Schultz said...

David said:

Worst reasoning ever.

Abuse does not destroy proper use. If I were smarter I would use the Latin phrase but I forget it. You know what the Catholic teaching is. And she HAS been disciplined to some degree, admittedly not publicly enough.
By your reasoning here, anytime an authority does not excercise discipline, that shows the dissenter to have a legitimate view. Huh?
I was never excommunicated from the PCA, does that mean the PCA sees Catholicism as a valid viewpoit? No. It says nothing about what the PCA officially believes about Catholicism.


You speak of misrepresentations. This is a misrepresentation of his comment. You also commit a fallacy in your comparison.

Nanci Pelosi is one of the most powerful and influential women in the Western World. All institutions of integrity deal with high-profile cases swiftly and justly. Additionally, Pelosi in his comment served as representative of a broader swath of liberal Catholics--a faction, as it were, in Catholicism. So your comparison to yourself as an example of institutional discipline is insufficient along both terms of quantity and quality, you being one person of no influence, and Pelosi and those like her holding enormous influence and being many in number; your approach here might well be described as "worst reasoning ever." (If I end this comment with "Peace," will that soften the blow?)

Andrew O'Brien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew O'Brien said...

Matthew -

"It's useful for emphasizing the failure of Roman Catholicism to provide any sort of superior "certainty" to Protestantism on theological controversies. People who move to Rome still have to exercise their private judgment throughout the initial move, and they still have to exercise their private judgment when interpreting the official documents of Rome (including identifying just what qualifies as "official"). The functional difference between being a Protestant and a Catholic on epistemological certainty is nill."

I agree. Catholics don't have absolute certainty outside of their own paradigm. I might be erring in my judgement to remain Catholic. It is within our system - our paradigm - that we do have certainty. Protestantism does not have any certainty within its own paradigm. A true system of belief wouldn't have such glaring inconsistency. Protestantism's uncertainty is built in. Catholicism's uncertainty is not.

So there most definitely is a functional difference between the two.

Matthew Schultz said...

Andrew said:

I agree. Catholics don't have absolute certainty outside of their own paradigm. I might be erring in my judgement to remain Catholic. It is within our system - our paradigm - that we do have certainty. Protestantism does not have any certainty within its own paradigm. A true system of belief wouldn't have such glaring inconsistency. Protestantism's uncertainty is built in. Catholicism's certainty is not.

So there most definitely is a functional difference between the two.


I'm not sure what you mean by this. You'll have to give some concrete examples of the functional difference, and spend more time elucidating the "built-in" (intrinsic?) qualities of each community with respect to "certainty."

(That, of course, does not entail that it is correct, but that would be another step in the positive case for Catholicism.)

Andrew O'Brien said...

Matthew Schultz said:

"For example, how do you know the current Pope isn't an anti-Pope? The same type/kind of reasoning and evidence you'd give to answer this question is of the same nature as that which I would give to say that my current interpretation of the Bible is better and/or truer (or some such thing) than someone else's, or that my version of Christianity is "better" (as it were) than a competing version of Christianity."

I could make a mistake upon who the current Pope is. Others have in history, the great schism being an example.

If (IF - not saying there is at this point) there was one Church that could not err, the devil would only be able to create competing churches to confuse individuals trying to determine which Church was the right Church. The only thing he could do is create schisms so that we are confused as to which Church is correct.

If Protestantism is true, then God himself is responsible for the confusion.

"Speaking of unhelpful, do you think it's fair to be tendentious in your characterization of the motives behind disagreement in Catholicism with disagreement in Protestantism? Of course if you stack the deck in such a prejudicial manner, the outcome is going to be approaching "Rome gives certainty, Protestantism is a total mess.""

I think pointing out the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism is completely helpful.

PuritanReformed said...

@Andrew:

where in Scripture did God ever promise that there would only be one visible church so that there would be "no confusion"? If God did not promise such a thing, how can you blame Him on this?

Andrew O'Brien said...

Daniel -

You know all the proof texts I'll use. Matthew 16:18, etc. I admit that the evidence from the Bible alone isn't completely clear. There are other things that the verse could mean.

But why should I, a Catholic, be forced to assume that I need to use the Bible alone to prove my point? I'm not going to do that. It would basically be trying to prove my point by assuming a priori that I am wrong.

If we are going to examine this we are going to have to evaluate Catholicism or Protestantism (Or orthodoxy or whatever) on its own terms.

Let's start with Protestantism, which teaches Sola Scriptura. Why should I believe this doctrine? Am I to just assume it is true?

Andrew O'Brien said...

Matthew -

Here is my best attempt. For the sake of this discussion I am going to assume that we can agree on a couple points. If we don't, let me know and I'll do my best to reformulate in a way we can both agree. The points are this... 1) We define rule of faith as that which has the final say on doctrinal disputes. 2) A Catholic believes the Church is the rule of faith. 3) A protestant believes that the Bible alone is the rule of faith (this doens't mean there aren't other authorities. It just means that the Bible is the final say in resolving doctrinal disputes).

Now lets look at scenearios within each paradigm. First the protestant...

Two ministers of different Churches get together. One believes X and the other believes notX. Both cite the rule of faith to prove their point. Neither changes their view.

Two Catholic Bishops get together. One believes Y and the other belives notY. Both have reason to believe that they are interpreting the rule of faith properly and cite it to prove their point. So, the rule of faith specifies itself and defines which bishop is correct. The bishops reconcile.

The point is not that disagreements don't occur in Catholicism. The point is that the Bible alone as the rule of faith is incapable of settling disputes, whereas the Church as the rule of faith is able to do so.

Thus, there are very big difference between the two paradigms.

Do you believe that the Bible alone is sufficient for a rule of faith? If so, how do you explain the doctrinal disagreements among people who use it as their rule of faith?

PuritanReformed said...

@Andrew:

you admitted that you prove it by evaluating it on its own terms. So therefore you should also evaluate Protestantism on its own terms, right?

So if Scripture teaches Sola Scriptura, then you must admit that Protestantism is true?

So check out 1 Cor. 4:6 and 2 Tim. 3:16-17.

PuritanReformed said...

@Andrew:

Two Catholic bishops get together. One is an inclusivist and appeals to Vatican II. The other is an ecclesio-exclusivist, and appeals to Florence. Neither change their point of view.

Two Catholic bishops get together. One is an evolutionist who is influenced by Teilhard de Chardin. The other is a creationist. Since the Magisterium has not ruled definitively on the issue, neither change their point of view.

So "the Church" as the rule of faith is similarly impotent to settle disputes.

PuritanReformed said...

@Andrew:

most "Protestants" who are heretics do not adhere to the Scriptures alone as the rule of faith. I'm surprised that you didn't know that.

Andrew O'Brien said...

D -

My last couple of posts for the day. Its your blog... you deserve the last word.

"you admitted that you prove it by evaluating it on its own terms. So therefore you should also evaluate Protestantism on its own terms, right?"

Yes.

2 Tim 3:16-17 does not teach Sola Scriptura. It does not say ONLY scripture is profitable for teaching, etc. Certainly Catholics use the Bible in the way that St. Paul teaches Timothy to use it.

1Cor4:6 also does not teach Sola Scriptura because in other places, Paul goes beyond the scriptures and explains that the apostles oral preaching is on Par with the written word of God.

2Thess 2:15 says, "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, EITHER BY WORD OF MOUTH or by letter." If Paul believed in Sola Scriptura he would not have said that to the Thessalonians.

Either way, neither of these verses are clear and can lead to a wide interpretation.

Andrew O'Brien said...

"Most "Protestants" who are heretics do not adhere to the Scriptures alone as the rule of faith. I'm surprised that you didn't know that."

Sorry for slinging the term Protestant around like that. I did so for simplicity's sake. I hope you understand.

But who are you to determine who a heretic is and who isn't?

Andrew O'Brien said...

"Two Catholic bishops get together. One is an inclusivist and appeals to Vatican II. The other is an ecclesio-exclusivist, and appeals to Florence. Neither change their point of view.

Two Catholic bishops get together. One is an evolutionist who is influenced by Teilhard de Chardin. The other is a creationist. Since the Magisterium has not ruled definitively on the issue, neither change their point of view."

Because the Church hasn't weighed in on a given issue doesn't mean it never will.

You continue (with my emphasis): So "the Church" as the rule of faith is SIMILARLY IMPOTENT to settle disputes."

Is this an admission that the scripture alone is "impotent" to settle disputes? So if a Catholic were to show that the Church is capable of settling disputes would that help the case for Catholicism?

PuritanReformed said...

@Andrew:

2 Tim. 3:16-17 - Remember you agreed that Protestantism is to be evaluated according to its own criteria. So presupposing Sola Scriptura, if only the Scriptures are said to be θεοπνευστος and αρτιος for every good work, and nothing else is described in that way, then Scripture only is θεοπνευστος and αρτιος for every good work

1 Cor. 4:6 - That is not exegesis. You are saying that 1 Cor. 4:6 does not say what it says because in other contexts Paul speaks of oral teaching etc. You are to exegete the verses in context.

2 Thess 2:15 - Saying that Paul delivered his teachings by oral preaching does not mean that these oral preaching is different from what is written down in Scripture. Everyone who teaches something has de facto created a "tradition" or body of his teaching, a "canon" if you will. Noting in verse 5 that Paul wrote that he has spoken these things to the Thessalonians which he is now writing in his letter, we can surmise that what Paul teaches has the same content as the NT Scriptures.

PuritanReformed said...

@Andrew:

The Scriptures determine whether one is a heretic or not. The main point however is that many of the heretics, like the Liberals for example, reject Sola Scriptura. How you can blame Sola Scripture for that is beyond me.

PuritanReformed said...

@Andrew:

in the same way as you claim that those who reject the authority of Rome cannot be used as proof of Rome's error, you should not claim that those who reject Sola Scriptura are proof of the problems with Sola Scriptura.

PuritanReformed said...

@Andrew:

good luck hoping that Rome will settle any issue in a direction you think it should do so, anytime soon.

Scripture alone is impotent to force people to agree. Scripture does not strike a person dead the moment a person disagrees with its teaching. But Scripture is sufficient to establish the truths it teaches.

Rome can settle disputes easily especially since historically it has the power of the sword. Unlike Rome, we cannot now execute heretics, although early on we did.

Matthew Schultz said...

Andrew said:

1) We define rule of faith as that which has the final say on doctrinal disputes.

What do you mean by "final say"?

Matthew Schultz said...

David said:

which is lots and lots of highly trained and intelligent (unlike me) Reformed guys coming over the Tiber for just this reason

"Lots and lots"? "Highly trained and intelligent"? What do these characteristics have to do with the quality of reasoning given?

We also know that hardly anyone converts to Catholicism these days. The overwhelming trend is to leave Catholicism.

While I can't comment on their alleged intelligence, the idea that their training is an asset or qualification of some meaningful sort turns on the assumption that their training was of a high quality. Given the state of Reformed seminaries, and even higher education more broadly, in this country, that is an assumption that can no longer be taken for granted.

It is not terribly significant in our day and age for someone (or some small set of individuals) with some degree(s) or other "intellectual" accolades to endorse something. I say that as someone who nearly converted to Catholicism, graduated from a so-called "prestigious" university and is currently finishing a Masters degree at a Reformed seminary.