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:
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.
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.
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.
Daniel H. Chew, M.Div student at WSC
 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