An OPC Pastor Enters the Catholic Church

Feb 7th, 2012 | By Deacon Jason Stewart | Category: Featured Articles


Please welcome our first of two newly added authors at Called To Communion, Jason Stewart. Jason was an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) before he and his wife Cindy entered into full communion with the Catholic Church in January of 2011. He earned his Master of Divinity from Mid-America Reformed Seminary (Dyer, IN) in 2005, and subsequently served for 5 1/2 years as pastor of Trinity OPC in eastern Pennsylvania. Jason and Cindy live in Rockford, IL, and have four children. He is currently completing a two year course of study with the Diocese of Rockford’s Diaconal Program. Jason wrote the following narrative about his conversion. We are blessed to have him aboard. (Our other new addition, Fred Noltie, will be properly introduced shortly!) Update: Jason tells his story on The Journey Home here. -Eds.

I hope to tell my story simply, because it is genuinely uncomplicated. Complex, yes. Multi-layered, sure. Who’s journey in the Christian faith isn’t? But I do promise to keep the telling of it simple by concentrating on the main catalysts that gave my wife Cindy and me the courage to approach the doors of the Catholic Church and with confidence begin to knock.


Jason and Cindy Stewart, after entering the Catholic Church

With that said, let me start this introduction by beginning at the ending. Cindy and I became Catholic because we came to see that the Catholic Church is the Church established by Jesus Christ. That is the reason. In truth, this reason should be the basic motivation for anyone seeking full communion with or remaining within the Catholic Church. All the thousands of otherwise good and important reasons for being Catholic pale in comparison with this fundamental truth of her divine origin. You see, if she is that City whose founder and builder is God, then we must live within her walls. Now I realize what I’ve written to this point does not satisfy the many, many questions — and objections — Protestant Christians may have in reading a story like mine. Most certainly not. But staying true to my promise not to complicate things, I’ve begun with the ending so as to make plain the reason from the beginning.

Because this is a “conversion” piece you have the advantage of knowing that we didn’t always accept this profound claim about the divine origin of the Catholic Church. And therein lies the curiosity of our story. I was a Presbyterian minister and pastor in a conservative denomination. My theology was solidly Reformed, having been educated at a reputable Reformed institution known both for its orthodoxy and pastoral emphasis. As a pastor I was committed in my ministry to classical Reformed belief and practice. Even now I remain grateful for the Reformed faith, as you’ll see. So the question naturally is, what happened? What instigated our study of Catholicism? What moved us to have a change of heart about the Catholic faith?

Our decision to leave Presbyterianism for the Catholic Church surprised many. We can sympathize given that in the past we’d have been incredulous if told we’d be Catholic one day. And yet looking back now from our vantage point we can trace the trajectory that led us to full communion with the Catholic Church, and it’s a trajectory that progressed naturally and imperceptibly over time – a growing appreciation for the necessity and role of the visible Church; a deepening understanding of the sacramental nature of the Christian faith; the apostolic quality intrinsic to Church authority; the unique function of the Minister of the Gospel in the liturgy and life of the Church; the inescapable dynamic of tradition within the Christian Faith; and an increasing awareness of the implications of the adjectives “one” and “catholic” as used by the Nicene Creed to identify the Church of Jesus Christ. Each of these areas of faith track back from where we are now as Catholics to where we were when Reformed. They prepared the way for us to give serious consideration to the Catholic faith when the time came.

It would be helpful here for me to begin listing the main catalysts that prompted us to engage the claims of the Catholic Church. After noting them, I’ll present each one on its own in order to explain how it contributed to effect our change of heart concerning Catholicism.

1. The positive principles of the Protestant Reformation.
2. The writings of the Church Fathers.
3. The nature of Church authority.

Having these three areas of study laid out before us, let me emphasize here the importance of the present website in prompting our journey toward the Catholic Church. Called To Communion was at first merely a pebble in my apparently well-tied Presbyterian church shoes. For the life of me I could not fathom how these men (most seminary trained) could leave the Reformed faith for Rome. A blend of curiosity, skepticism and concern (I knew one of the men personally) inclined me to try to understand what turned them Catholic. Over time CTC became for me a mountain that permitted no clearly designated detour around it to Geneva. Facing and answering these issues on a personal level were important to me as a pastor. I had to admit that the well-reasoned arguments from the contributors of the site were substantial enough that they could not be brushed off and ignored. So I began to investigate, assured that there were biblically, theologically, philosophically, historically satisfying Reformed answers to the challenges presented by CTC.

1. The positive principles of the Protestant Reformation.

Perhaps you’ve heard it said that the Protestant Reformation was a tragic necessity, something that needed to happen, painful as the consequences may have been. This was my view. My understanding was that the fundamental spirit of the solas of the Reformation were incompatible with the teachings of the Catholic Church. This incompatibility is what I believed compelled the Protestant reformers to dedicate all their energies to unburdening the Church of Jesus Christ from what they believed to be the weight of man-made, extra- or un-Scriptural traditions that had sapped the strength of apostolic Christianity to the point of near collapse. God’s glory and the true way of salvation had been effectively smothered in the Church by the theological inventions of Catholicism, so my thinking went.

As I began to dig down to the most foundational differences dividing Protestants and Catholic, the book The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism by Louis Bouyer was recommended to me. Bouyer was a Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism mid-last century. I was already familiar with him and appreciated his work and insights on Christian liturgy but had paid little attention to his discussions on Catholicism. What piqued my interest now was the peculiar thesis of this one book. Bouyer claimed that the Catholic Church is necessary for the full flowering of the principles of the Reformation. Put differently – Protestantism needs Catholicism in order to become all it aspires to be, which, of course, if true means the Protestant Reformation was completely unnecessary. Worse, it means that the Reformation was impossible from the outset because the reformers had unwittingly cut themselves off from the only source that could make their vision fruitful. To my Reformed and Presbyterian ears this sounded more than strange. Given my understanding of Catholic teaching, Bouyer’s idea was akin to saying a terminal illness is integral to the full flowering of bodily health. Or a fire is best fueled by depriving it of oxygen. Or the growth of a plant is impossible without rooting it in infertile soil. In my mind, Bouyer’s absurdity had to be explained, so I picked up the book and read.

What I discovered in reading the work was that the author’s claim was well founded. He demonstrates this repeatedly chapter by chapter. He enthusiastically affirms the positive principles of the Reformation showing the reader that, understood properly, each principle has its natural home in the Catholic faith. He then proceeds to critique the more negative aspects of Reformation doctrine (e.g. sola scriptura) contending that these negatives in the course of time undermined Protestantism’s positive principles, eventually giving birth to the reality known as Protestant Liberalism. Without question, I cannot do justice to the potency of Bouyer’s work in just a paragraph or two. A reflex for Reformed Christians reading this would be merely to dismiss the argument of Bouyer’s work as absurd. Recall that such was my initial reaction too, which is why I encourage you to read the book for yourself and take seriously the thesis present in its pages. Suffice it to say, he is persuasive in arguing that the positive principles of the Protestant Reformation are not antithetical to the Catholic Church but rather draw their strength and vitality from her existence.

The material found in The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism suggested a possibility I had never explored. What if the beauty of my Reformed faith was in fact the reflection of an original beauty? Could it be that I as a Protestant was seeing the Christian faith through a glass darkly? I had to find out.

2. The writings of the Church Fathers.

Another subject for study in engaging Catholicism was the Church Fathers. Catholics regularly make the claim that these leaders of the early Church are Catholic. I had a renewed interest to test this claim. My sense was that it would be easily disproved. After all, the reformers themselves had been avid students of the Fathers, quoting them in their theological works with ease and without contradiction over against Catholic teaching, right?

Going into this I had to admit that my familiarity with the actual works of the Fathers was limited. Thumbing curiously through a random volume from Schaff’s Patristics collection or culling a quote from Ignatius or Augustine or reading a history of early doctrine text for seminary coursework exhausted my contact with these ancient Christian authors. I had known for a long time that the Church Fathers did not share my Reformed theological vocabulary. But such was to be expected, I guessed. The Protestant Reformation with its precise theological formulations was many centuries away when these men wrote. So what (my thinking went) if Irenaeus or Justin or Augustine didn’t sound exactly like our Reformed creeds and catechisms? Yet now in examining their writings I began to sense that indeed there was something more profound at work than a mere difference in expression or emphasis. Was the Catholic claim right? Continued reading suggested that the actual theological substance of the Fathers was different. Certainly the Fathers didn’t seem at odds with the positive elements of the Reformation. But I noticed in my reading that they thought differently than did the reformers. Their approach to the Christian faith took another route. They seemed to cut an early theological path that when traced did not exactly connect to the one blazed by the reformers in the 16th century. I began to consider whether a person would naturally pick up the distinctive trail of the Protestant Reformation if one started with the writings of the early Church? The answer increasingly seemed to be no.

I knew the reformers had explicitly rejected much of what I was finding in the Church Fathers.

Page after page revealed a common faith during that early period in which bishops succeeded Apostles, baptismal waters regenerated, bread and wine transformed, penance was necessary and salutary, purgatorial fire cleansed, the Blessed Virgin was an active Mother to the faithful, departed saints prayed, Peter held the Keys, and the Eucharist was a sacrifice for the living and the dead. There appeared in their minds no awareness of or concern for the cardinal doctrines of the Reformation so painstakingly spelled out as essential to the gospel. Actually…the Fathers sounded Catholic.

This was unexpectedly unsettling for me because no external argument(s) in favor of a Catholic reading of the Fathers had been made in conjunction with my reading of them. The writings themselves served to give voice to the arguments. The words on the page became the witness or opponent (depending on one’s perspective). I began to ponder whether a person would naturally pick up the trail of the Catholic Church if one started with the writings of the early Church? The answer increasingly seemed to be yes.

At this point someone could object that the Church Fathers were not Catholic. My question would be, what then were they? Most certainly they did not share the peculiar faith of the Protestant Reformation. While it is possible to place a non-Catholic interpretation upon carefully selected sentences and paragraphs from the Fathers, a sustained reading makes such an interpretation impossible to maintain. In reading them one discovers that they appear to be natives of the Catholic Church. Wrenching them out of their natural Catholic context is detrimental to both the power of their witness and the proper understanding of the inquiring reader.

My suggestion here is to take up and read the Church Fathers. Read them in context. Read all of them. Allow them to define their terms. Take them at their word. Yes, this is a time investment. And it requires an open mind. But if you devote yourself to reading them, your perspective on the early Church will be forever changed and enriched. At the very least I’m hopeful you’ll come to acknowledge that these churchmen were Catholic. Better yet, you may become convinced that these Fathers are authentic witnesses to apostolic Christianity.

3. The question of Church authority.

As a Presbyterian I believed that Jesus personally appointed twelve men to the office of Apostle and sent them to proclaim the gospel (Mark 3:13-19). In giving them this office he endowed it with his own divine authority to guarantee that they would faithfully transmit his words and works to others (Matt. 28:18-20). The character of their authority is seen in any number of statements Jesus made concerning them:

“And he said to them….’The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me'” (Lk. 10:16).

“‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld'” (John 20:21-22).

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:17-18).

“Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18).

Clearly such a position runs contrary to the way so many Christians believe today: Men have no divine authority, right? And yet, Jesus tells them that he is received or rejected in direct proportion to whether his Apostles are received or rejected. No man can forgive sins, right? And yet, Jesus gives them his authority to forgive sins. No man’s decisions are binding on believers, right? And yet, Jesus tells them that their Apostolic decisions will accomplish God’s will and obligate believers in faith and practice.

With this divinely bestowed authority, the Apostles were called and equipped by God to be the leaders of Jesus’ Church. They were chosen by him to head up an identifiable, organized assembly/community of his followers. Given the character of their unique role in the Church, it was necessary to be in communion with the Apostles of Christ in order to be a Christian — submitting to them, worshiping under their governance, receiving their teaching, etc. (Acts 2:42; 1 John 1:1-3). Faith involved submitting to a living authority — the Apostles. These Apostles had received and submitted themselves to Jesus Christ and his teachings, and those who heard these Apostles received and submitted themselves to them and to their teachings. By receiving and submitting to the Apostles and their message the early believers were receiving and submitting to Christ and his message. To be in the Church one had to accept the living, teaching voice of the Apostles because they alone were the unique bearers of Jesus’ authority and message. An individual or group could not abandon this Church headed by the Apostles and establish its own a few blocks over. This was the nature of Church authority in the earliest period of apostolic Christianity.

So I believed, and still believe.

In light of my burgeoning study of Catholicism, I began to ponder with renewed interest this biblical portrait of Church authority and how it related to my present experience as a Presbyterian — What was the nature of Church authority today? How did it relate to the Apostles? What happened then when the Apostles died? Did the Church abruptly cease to have a living authority to guide her? Was there no longer a living teaching voice to which believers must listen? Revisiting these basic questions in light of the Catholic Church proved enlightening.

My answer to such things in the past had been that the Apostles committed and transmitted their authority in written form through the inspired documents of the New Testament. Everything necessary for salvation and the Christian life had been captured in their surviving letters and writings. Submission to the Apostles and their teachings was then measured by submission to the Bible and its teachings. Yes, as a Presbyterian I recognized there were leaders in the Church to whom obedience was due (Heb. 13:17) — being a pastor, I was one of them — but obedience to such leaders was dependent on whether or not they themselves were obeying the voice of the Apostles in the writings of the New Testament. Like the noble Bereans, each believer was to evaluate their leaders and their teachings by the Bible. To use the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, “The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.” This is known as the principle of sola scriptura.

Putting this doctrine through the theological, philosophical and historical paces in the hope it would bear up under close scrutiny was uncomfortable for me. My assumption had always been that it was unquestionably true. I had believed it since a child. Now I was going to give my best effort to examine the familiar teaching from an outside perspective in order to ask its basis.

Coming at the doctrine from a different point of view, I had to admit certain weaknesses in it that ultimately changed my thinking. Here’s what I saw. First, the Bible doesn’t teach the principle of sola scriptura. The Scriptures are an incomparable guide for the moral life of the Christian, but they nowhere claim to be a comprehensive source for doctrine, worship, and the government of the Church. Second, the Church Fathers don’t teach sola scriptura. The Fathers did not promote anything resembling a “Scripture alone” position but instead recognized the necessity and authority of the traditions handed down from the Apostles. Third, the “Bible-based” fragmentation of Protestantism argues against the soundness of sola scriptura. All claim to be following the Bible. All arrive at different understandings of what it teaches. With such variety what standard shall we use to determine who is correct? The Bible? Fourth, the fact that the individual Protestant’s private judgment remains the final authority in evaluating faith claims undermines the principle of sola scriptura. Each person chooses the church group that agrees with his interpretation of the Bible. If disagreements arise within the group, a person then stays or leaves based on whether his interpretation is embraced or rejected. If rejected, the individual searches for a new church group that is in agreement with his interpretation of the Bible. Thus the individual remains the final arbiter of what the Bible teaches. Fifth, the fact that the Apostolic letters and writings give no divinely inspired indication what books are to be included in the canon of the New Testament makes impossible the principle of sola scriptura. How can the Bible be the ultimate authority when its very content is uncertain? Catholics believe the divinely guided Church was necessary to define what books belong to the New Testament.

Now I haven’t walked you through the details of the arguments for these five conclusions, but I hope you follow the links to the articles on CTC that provide clear reasons for what I’ve suggested above.

In contrast to this “Scripture alone” position, the Catholic Church teaches that the Church, not the Bible, is the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). That by divine design it is the Church that upholds and protects the truth of the gospel throughout the centuries. The doctrine of Apostolic succession means that Bishops as successors of the Apostles are enabled by the Holy Spirit in their sacred office to preserve the Apostolic deposit of faith against every kind of error, distortion and corruption. Jesus promised to guide and instruct the ordained leaders of the Church (Jn 14:25; 16:13). The Holy Spirit’s guidance is Christ’s guarantee that the shepherds of his Church will never tamper with, pervert, or misunderstand the gospel. This is known formally as the Catholic doctrine of magisterial infallibility — the pope alone or the pope and the bishops in union with him are divinely protected from teaching error when they define matters pertaining to faith and morals.

As I studied this subject of Church authority, I began to see that the Catholic doctrine of Apostolic succession naturally connected to the biblical portrait of Church authority as it existed in the days of the Apostles. The Church wasn’t bereft of a living teaching authority when the Apostles died because these Apostles appointed qualified men to succeed them in the office of bishop, transmitting by succession a full share in the Apostolic authority so essential to the preservation and proclamation of the Apostolic deposit of faith. It became clear to me that the Bible and Church history confirm and corroborate this important teaching of the Catholic Church. Jesus gave us a Church with a book, not a book with a Church.

Conclusion

Let me begin this conclusion by ending at the beginning: My wife Cindy and I entered into full communion with the Catholic Church because we came to see that this Church is the Church established by Jesus Christ. We came to this realization in large measure by spending time in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, reading other positive presentations of Catholic teaching, and speaking with flesh and blood Catholics in all walks of life and vocations. The many misconceptions we had about what Catholics believed were cleared away as we dug deeply into the teaching resources of the Catholic Church and talked with actual Catholics. We began to recognize that all the Church taught and claimed was verified and confirmed in the Bible, by history, and in the lives of the saints. Over time we came to understand that the Catholic Church represents the fullness of what Christ wanted to reveal to his people; that it possesses all the gifts that our Lord wanted us to have; and that the Church in its liturgy, its apostolic teaching, the Eucharist, the sacraments, and its saints, serves as the definitive place where God’s grace is on full offer. The reason being — it is the Church of Jesus Christ most fully and rightly ordered through time. Yes, unquestionably a profound claim. But it is the one made by the Catholic Church in all ages, and it is the claim we have come to accept.

This is your invitation to test and see. I assure you that there is no lack of evidences for her divine origin. Such are openly verifiable and abundant. One need only the willingness to discern them. Whatever my personal story may be, the proof of the Catholic Church’s divine origin resides in the realm of history. The evidences are public, out there for you to examine. You are not at the mercy of my personal judgments concerning this claim about the Catholic Church. Instead you are free to investigate the facts of the Church’s perduring existence, her miraculous life, her divine teachings, the abiding fruit of her mission in the world from the time of Christ even down to our present day. The clues are all there; they await you. You need only begin to pursue them.

Tags: Church Fathers, Conversion, Reformed Theology, Sola Scriptura, The Canon

440 comments
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  1. Jason,

    Welcome aboard! Thank you for your wonderful post. I too recommend, with a hearty endorsement, Father Bouyer’s work The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism.

  2. Mr. Stewart,

    Your article was very encouraging to me. I am also a former member of the OPC taking RCIA right now. May I ask how your congregation and session handled this news? Was it a gradual process or more of an abrupt move? Did you take any of your sheep with you when crossing Tiber?

  3. Welcome to the Catholic Church and welcome to CTC. Glad to have you with us on both counts.

  4. Jason,

    Thanks for a wonderful article. I particularly liked this paragraph about the Fathers:

    “Page after page revealed a common faith during that early period in which bishops succeeded Apostles, baptismal waters regenerated, bread and wine transformed, penance was necessary and salutary, purgatorial fire cleansed, the Blessed Virgin was an active Mother to the faithful, departed saints prayed, Peter held the Keys, and the Eucharist was a sacrifice for the living and the dead. There appeared in their minds no awareness of or concern for the cardinal doctrines of the Reformation so painstakingly spelled out as essential to the gospel. Actually…the Fathers sounded Catholic.”

    I remember my own encounter with the Fathers – especially Augustine – and coming to the same conclusion. At first, I just tried to qualify my Protestantism, and I conceived of nuanced theories to harmonize my Protestants dogma with what I was learning. Eventually, however, it occurred to me to ask, “Why is it so important to retain Protestantism, anyway?” At that point, I was almost as good as Catholic.

    -David

  5. Augustine wrote: “For among the things that are plainly laid down in Scripture are to be found all matters that concern faith and the manner of life” (On Christian Doctrine, book II, chapter 9).
    In a letter to Jerome, he wrote: “I have learned to yield this respect and honor only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error” (Letter 82 from Augustine to Jerome).
    In this article, the writer begins with the misconception that the Catholic Church is “that City whose founder and builder is God.” If Stewart held that understanding of Hebrews 11 while still a Presbyterian pastor, then how messed-up was the rest of his biblical theology? “That City” is the promised inheritance of those who are redeemed by the blood of Christ, “a single offering” by which he “has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). It is the promise which Peter said we are waiting for: “new heavens and a new earth” (2 Peter 3:13). God have mercy!

  6. Welcome, sir!

    I have a feeling we’d get along very well. Great story, well told.

  7. Andre,

    My time as pastor of Trinity came to a natural conclusion at the end of 2010 due to the financial dynamics of the congregation. This new phase in the local church’s life happened to coincide with our entrance into full communion with the Catholic Church. Because we were concerned not to disturb the Presbyterian identity of the congregation, we did not make our decision public.

    Blessings to you in your RCIA preparations!

    — Jason

  8. Dear Steve,

    Please adhere to decency and respect and the posting guidelines. If you would like, you could ask Jason your questions directly rather than referring to him in the third person. I have great confidence that he would answer and do so with respect. Thank you.

  9. Dear Tom,

    No disrespect intended.

    Thank you.

  10. Thank you for the fantastic witness to our Catholic faith. My favorite line was this:

    At this point someone could object that the Church Fathers were not Catholic. My question would be, what then were they?

  11. Steve (# 5),

    Keep in mind what I wrote about interpreting the Church Fathers:

    While it is possible to place a non-Catholic interpretation upon carefully selected sentences and paragraphs from the Fathers, a sustained reading makes such an interpretation impossible to maintain.

    Ss. Augustine and Jerome repeatedly strike the identifiable notes of Catholicism throughout their writings. Immersing oneself in the rhythm of their treatises, sermons, and letters helps to attune the ear to the complete melody, as it were.

    Also, perhaps you’ll agree that Revelation 21:1-4 suggests a resolution to the problem you posed regarding the nature and character of the biblical City.

    — Jason

  12. Jason,

    Thanks for sharing your story. I attend a PCA reformed church, but have been investigating the claims of the Catholic Church for several years. I have found both Protestant and Catholic apologetics sites guilty of Church Father proof texting. It is all too easy to go fishing for quotes that back up a given opinion, especially on the issue of whether of not the Bible is the sole infallible authority. It does take considerable time and effort to read the ECF’s in broad swaths, instead of tiny pre-digested snippets, but absolutely critical in understanding their beliefs. In my layman’s reading of some of these sources, I can certainly appreciate the very Catholic nature of many ECF writings, but the wider lense view of their beliefs about Scripture as the sole infallible authority eludes me. It seems that both the Protestant and Catholic arguments have some validity. Any resources you would recommend that show convincingly that the ECF’s believed in an infallible authority other than the Bible?

    -Burton

  13. Welcome, Jason and Cindy! A former OPC parishioner, I entered the Catholic Church in April of 2009. God bless you and your family!

  14. Welcome Home, Jason! Thank you for your willingness to follow Christ no matter what the cost.

    If I may respond to something Burton said:

    It seems that both the Protestant and Catholic arguments have some validity.

    I agree with you. I do not think we would have the denominations like we do if Protestants could not make “strong” (valid) arguments for their positions. But, I like to think of it by way of analogy:

    If my sister makes a strong argument that could be construed to support me being her brother but which could also be construed to support someone else being her brother (and not me), who is her brother? I am, of course. Why? Because I am her brother. We have the same parents.

    So, I asked myself where did my preacher come from? Really, where did he come from? I looked for his spiritual parents and found out that I had put my entire family on a ship that had departed Alabama some 60 years ago. So, I looked for an older ship. I stopped in the 16th century and tried to figure out if this is where it all began again. The Reformation claimed to be a spiritual/ecclesial “do over”, right?

    As Jason alluded, if the Reformation was unnecessary then the “re-do” was unnecessary. To go back to the analogy, if the “DNA test” was a fraud, it doesn’t matter how much I can make the other guy look like my sister’s brother. He isn’t. So if the Reformation is unnecessary, then stopping in the 16th century is unnecessary. The argument may be valid but it is not credible. To put it another way, if your question is about a minor premise, then once the Major premise is proved invalid, the conclusion can never follow.

    One cannot pretend to have another go at the Reformation. We are historical animals. So, either the Reformation was necessary or it was not. Hard Stop. If not, than either the Church Fathers were Catholic or the Catholic Church was a 4th century novelty and the anabaptist, pentecostal and sabbatarian sects are right. But those sects are wrong, and the ECF’s witness a robust Catholic theology, and moreover, assume a burgeoning ecclesiology that is thoroughgoing Catholic as well.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  15. The idea that one can find an extra-biblical, authoritative traditions in the ECF or even perhaps in some elements of the ancient church is irrelevant. The reformation was about making Christ the center once again of the Chistian tradition (worldview). The revelation of God to man, contained in Scripture presents itself as the final authority on all matters of faith and praxis. Any move beyond that idea is a dangerous one indeed. We find ourselves mixing with those who, by their traditions make void the very Word they protend to uphold just as the religious of Jesus’ day. I can take one look at the Pope, decked out in his gold, high and lifted up and I need to look no further. This generation seems to insist that we revisit every theological issue the church has settled since her existence. This is truly the generation of the uninformed.

  16. Great story, thanks for sharing and I look forward to reading future posts. My wife and I are in RCIA now and had previously attended a PCA church. My story tracks yours in many ways, including being amazed at Bouyer’s insightfulness and eventually squaring up to the fact that the church fathers are unmistakably Catholic, if not in their every turn of phrase (which those of us raised Protestnt read through Protestant lenses) then in the broad current of their thought, including their insistence on baptismal regeneration which (as the authors of this site have pointed out), because it cannot be squared with reformed soteriology, eventually convinced me of their Catholicity. And, like you, I came to realize that as a Protestant, I was the final arbiter of ‘what Christianity is,’ whether I decided each issue for myself or decided which pastor/teacher/scholar I would follow. I knew this could not be the way to find the faith of the apostles.

    Peace to you and your family.

  17. Jason,

    Speaking as a Protestant minister, the natural response to your story of conversion is sorrow that Scripture plays such a small role in it.

    You see, as a former Roman Catholic, it is the weakness of the church’s claim to be the faithful interpreter of Scripture — not in the abstract, but in the concrete, on a text by text basis — that leads me to question the claims of the church today. If I were led to become a Roman Catholic — given my current history, a highly unlikely proposition — I would hope and pray that it would be because I was convinced that what the “Spirit-inspired Church” said compelling conveyed the truth of what the very word of God said. After all, that is the claim of Rome, isn’t it? Not that the Scriptures are unimportant, but that what the Roman church says is relatively more important, indeed necessary, as an authoritative interpretation of the Word of God.

    Yet Scripture plays such a small role in your conversion story. I suspect you may backtrack now and say that no, Scripture was the key (maybe not). But either way, as it stands, Scripture plays a minor role in your story.

    So, I suppose my question is, Why does Scripture play such a small role in your conversion story (as written)? Note, this isn’t a matter of sola scriptura. It’s just a matter of Scriptura. Protestants and Rome both agree that Scripture contains the words of life. We both agree that it is the very word of God, God’s word in a way that no word of the church can ever be. So why does it play such a small role in your story?

    Regarding your second point, as a church historian (Ph.D. and all that) who has read a fair bit of the Fathers, complete works, in context, etc., it seems to me like you were asking the wrong question when you read them. I never expected to find in them the backward echo of the Reformation. Nor did I expect the backward echo of medieval Romanism. I didn’t find either. That would seem to be historically naive. I did find, however, a regard for the Scriptures, and a humility with respect to their own teaching, that could only result in them being the final arbiters of Scripture by a most curious combination. Of course the Reformers explicitly rejected much of what is found in the fathers. They accepted much of it as well. They recognized them as a mixed bag — why would we expect more of any human writings? — and to be surprised to find the contrary shows a lack of knowledge of the Reformation.

    Under your first section, “The positive principles of the Reformation,” you don’t identify a single positive principle of the Reformation. Why?

  18. Ed D,

    The idea that one can find an extra-biblical, authoritative traditions in the ECF or even perhaps in some elements of the ancient church is irrelevant. The reformation was about making Christ the center once again of the Chistian tradition (worldview).

    This is mere assertion and hand-waving. Moreover, if you could find what you admit is possible, then it could not be “irrelevant”.

    The revelation of God to man, contained in Scripture presents itself as the final authority on all matters of faith and praxis. Any move beyond that idea is a dangerous one indeed. We find ourselves mixing with those who, by their traditions make void the very Word they protend to uphold just as the religious of Jesus’ day.

    I believe sola scriptura is a tradition of men that makes the Word of God of none effect. The revelation that “presents itself as the final revelation” is the person of Jesus Christ. He personally founded a Church and personally left that Church His Spirit to both: remind them of what he said and lead them into all truth. To discuss sola scriptura in more detail, I recommend these four articles at CTC: Sola Scriptura: A Dialogue between Michael Horton and Bryan Cross, Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority, Is Sola Scriptura in the Bible? A Reply to R.C. Sproul Jr., or Sola Scriptura vs. the Magisterium: What did Jesus Teach?.

    I can take one look at the Pope, decked out in his gold, high and lifted up and I need to look no further. This generation seems to insist that we revisit every theological issue the church has settled since her existence. This is truly the generation of the uninformed.

    Let’s set aside that last sentence since it was an ad hominem. To show that someone is uninformed, you would need to show how what they are saying clearly ignores evidence. For example, it would be uninformed to come to a site like this and pretend that a litany of gentlemen with advanced degrees and who were the best and brightest in their Reformed circles are “uninformed”.

    I can sympathize with your (lack of) feelings for the Pope. I was totally there myself at one time in my life. In fact, I preached sermons where I told people that religion (like Catholicism) erects the veil of separation God came and “rent in two” through His Cross. Yet, now I do not believe this at all. Now, I see the Catholic Church as the only reasonable and appropriate effect of God having became flesh and dwelt among us. The pageantry, regalia, et. al. brings glory to God–especially if you take the time to study what all of the symbolism means and the rich history of faith and martyrdom it projects. Anti-Catholicism is another tradition of men, and the easy quid pro quo mind swap that can take place–Jew religious for Catholic religious–is a canard. Certainly the Catholic can lose sight of the fact of what “it all means” and in their mind become like the man who is outwardly religious only. However, that is not because of his religion but because of his condition. So, too, the Protestant may imagine his minister like a CEO of a company: the suite ensemble, crew cut, two children, picket fence, and leased volvo. I could then say, “See, I only have to look at your minister to see that your religion is just a mirror of the culture.” I admit this is a canard, but it is a canard like my (and your) judgement was of the Pope’s “gold on a high chair…” as being some affront to Christ. Nay. If the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth then every Christian who shows him love, shows him love in relationship to their love of Christ.

    That is why I love the Pope. I love him because of my love for Jesus. (Luke 10:16, Matt 10:14-15, John 5:43)

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  19. […] An Orthodox Presbyterian Enters the Catholic Church – Jason Stewart, Called to Cmmnn […]

  20. The doctrine of sola scriptura, contrary to your view, exists in Scripture no different than Christ’s authority. Jesus’ authority was granted to Him by His Father. In other words, He was not authoritative because some man testified to that fact. The same is true of Scripture. Scripture, being the very Word of the very God of all that is, has been, and ever shall be, our sole authority for faith and practice. Nothing can be added to that standard by man. Whatever man brings, he brings as a man. What God gave by His act of grace, He gave. The truth of praxis and doctrine is settled by appeal, not to some man-made institution, but by appeal to God’s truth, the truth that He has displayed to us in Scripture. Is Scripture not enough? Did God forget something? Did He leave something out? Do we not have the Spirit? Does the Pope possess a Spirit I do not possess? Are not all believers called into the one and same body of Christ and endowed with the same Spirit? Did not Peter err and require correction from another who possessed the same Spirit? Did not Paul point to the authority of God’s revelation to make the necessary correction? Without sola scriptura, man must rely solely on fallen man to establish a reliable tradition that transcends himself. Such an endeavor is not only impossible, it is foolish.

  21. Brian Lee,

    Yet Scripture plays such a small role in your conversion story. I suspect you may backtrack now and say that no, Scripture was the key (maybe not). But either way, as it stands, Scripture plays a minor role in your story.

    I won’t speak for Jason however I want to say that I’ve read many conversion stories over the years and seen a lot of Protestant reactions. A reoccurring theme in Protestant reactions is that the conversion story did not have enough X or did not have enough Y.

    I once posted my conversion story on another website and filled it with scriptural references. The complaint I received was, “Well, you only used your brain and did not say anything about the Holy Spirit and your heart…” Surely, had I written just about the Holy Spirit and my heart the complaint would have been, “Sheesh, you did not even use the bible!”

    So, not to be dismissive but it is interesting to me that we converts are sort of damned if we do and damned if we don’t when it comes to outlining our reasons for entering into the Catholic Church.

    Having said that, I can say that my first foray into a Catholic way of thinking started when I read the bible again as a first time father about six and half years ago. It was in reading Acts that I first sensed that there was a big problem with my ecclesiology.

  22. Burton,

    Thanks for commenting. I applaud your willingness to investigate such monumental matters.

    Any resources you would recommend that show convincingly that the ECF’s believed in an infallible authority other than the Bible?

    Taking a step back (your wider lens, if you will), we know the rule of faith for the Apostolic Church was the living teaching authority of the Apostolic College. As I noted in my article, faith in those days involved submission to a living authority, alive in the world, able to speak to faith and morals at that very moment. No doubt the Old Testament Scriptures occupied a unique place and functioned in an indispensable way in the life of the infant Church, but it was the Apostolic preaching (there was no New Testament) that provided the norm for faith and defined the practices of the earliest believers. Protestants generally agree with this picture of Apostolic Christianity.

    Of course, this scene changes dramatically in the Protestant mind with the death of the last Apostle. From that moment on it is said that the Apostolic norm is found exclusively in the writings of the Apostles and their associates. Needless to say, the Catholic cannot locate any evidence in the Apostolic letters suggesting that Jesus (or his Apostles) intended for his teaching to be circumscribed in the pages of a book, no matter how important the book. One would think a statement from Jesus or the Apostles informing us of such a plan would be necessary if the Protestant is to adopt the idea of the Bible as the sole infallible authority in the life of the Church. But there is nothing of the kind. As invaluable as Sacred Scripture is as the inspired and inerrant written word of God, there is no Apostolic pedigree to the notion that the Scriptures are intended to operate as the sole rule of faith in the post-Apostolic Church.

    What we do find in the Apostolic writings is an unmistakable witness to the purposeful and intentional program of the handing on of the Apostolic deposit of faith from the Apostles to their successors. St. Paul instructs Timothy, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Here is biblical confirmation of the Catholic doctrine which holds that Jesus committed his teaching to living men who in turn handed it on to other appointed men. This is corroborated by the early Church Fathers in any number of places through their witness to Apostolic succession in their own day. It was a given of the Christian faith that Christ had entrusted his Apostles with his own authority, teaching, and mission and that they were to transmit this authority, teaching, and mission to other approved men. The result is that the Church would never lack the living voice of Christ, for his voice would be heard always in the successors of his Apostles.

    This is the ecclesial milieu of the early Fathers. This is the ecclesial milieu of the Bible. One must therefore gage their loftiest sentiments about Scripture (sentiments a Catholic would share, by the way) by the measure of the totality of their faith. Someone positing a competition between the authority of Scripture and the authority of the Church within the Fathers is foisting on them a crisis which loses its strength when it is remembered that their statements about the authority of the Bible are made from within the bosom of a stoutly framed doctrine of Apostolic succession.

    Does this help, Burton?

    — Jason

  23. […] friend Jason Stewart tells his very patristic conversion story. Check it out! 0 Comments No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this […]

  24. @Brian Lee (#17),

    Thanks for stopping by and offering your thoughts. To reveal my biases upfront, I’m one of those lifelong Protestants currently in RCIA and seriously contemplating Catholicism. I’m no theologian, of course, but I’ve done a fair bit of reading. All of which is to say that, in terms of expertise, you (and others on this site) have me beat by a mile and a yard. There was, nevertheless, one point you mentioned on which I’d like to offer my own observation.

    You wrote:

    Of course the Reformers explicitly rejected much of what is found in the fathers. They accepted much of it as well. They recognized them as a mixed bag — why would we expect more of any human writings? — and to be surprised to find the contrary shows a lack of knowledge of the Reformation.

    My own reading of the early Reformers (particularly Calvin & Luther) has indicated to me that they believed they were soundly within the Apostolic and Patristic tradition. As such (particularly in Luther’s case) they took great pains to argue that they (the Reformers) were the ones following the church fathers and that the RC church was the one who had wandered away. I assume you know this already. Which is why it was puzzling to read what you wrote earlier on in your comment:

    I never expected to find in [the Patristic sources] the backward echo of the Reformation. Nor did I expect the backward echo of medieval Romanism. I didn’t find either. That would seem to be historically naive.

    I find this odd since so VERY many scholars during the Reformation (Catholic or otherwise) were concerned to argue that their own views were, in fact, consistent with the Patristic tradition. Perhaps you didn’t read Patristic sources looking to find Catholicism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, etc, but pretty much all the parties involved were claiming for themselves the mantle of Patristic progeny. So since Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Bellarmine, More, and de Salles all seem to think that being within a Patristic tradition is a sine qua non for orthodoxy (to say nothing of orthopraxy), I don’t think it’s terribly surprising that a convert would at some point get around to reading Patristic sources and expecting to find some consistent theology therein which was continued in one (or more) major strands of Christianity. YAMV (Your anecdotes may vary), but I’ve sat through any number of Protestant sermons where the minister strives to prove that some particular doctrine or other in fact wasn’t a Lutheran/Calvinist/Baptist innovation but in fact has good solid grounding in the early church’s writings.

    So after a lifetime full of being told that the Patristic sources were consonant with (or contained “in seed form”) the various doctrines of Protestantism, I too have made my way around to actually reading their own writings. What I find there isn’t Protestantism “in seed form” but a rejection of “the seed form” of Protestantism and an acceptance of “the seed form” of modern Catholic/EO doctrines. Take an easy example (well, at least easy for me). Sure the Patristic sources appeal to scripture to support their views – as well they should! But when the chips are down (less metaphorically, when an ecumenical council is called to deal with some pressing heresy), they argue from scripture but follow it up by, in the end, subjecting their own interpretations of scripture to whatever the ecumenical council has decided is the correct interpretation of scripture. Those who don’t abide by the council’s decisions (who maintain their private interpretation of scripture over and against the contrary findings of an ecumenical council) are heretics. Interestingly, the only persons one finds defending their private interpretation against the findings of an ecumenical council are themselves the heretics.

    Comes now to the Reformation. There’s an ecumenical council and it proclaims, in essence, “Luther and Calvin, some of what you said is outside the boundries of orthodoxy”. What do Luther and Calvin (and their followers) do? They leave the church, proclaiming that it has fallen into error and they are here to save Christ’s followers from “that whorish supposed church”. Rhetoric aside, this is EXACTLY the same situation that has arisen plenty of times in church history: Call council, council deliberates, council decides, and all are obligated to submit to the council. Instead of doing so, we get WCF 31.4: “All synods or councils, since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both.” And, unsurprisingly, the way the councils are used as a “help in both” generally works out to be something like “Yeah, we’ll agree with them when they’re right…but when they got it wrong it’s okay to rebel and schism the church”. It’s that frame of mind I’ve found explicitly rejected in Patristic sources – not the needfulness of Scripture, but that when the chips are down we’re supposed to submit to the church’s interpretation of Scriptures over our own, EVEN WHEN WE THINK THEY’RE WRONG. Gee, where have I heard that before? (Matt. 18:17, anybody?)

    Anyways, that’s a long and rather verbose way of making the following point: I don’t think it’s illegitimate to search Patristic sources and expect to find the “seed form” (or whatever you want to call it) of Calvinism, Lutheranism, Zwinglianism, Catholicism, or Eastern Orthodoxy. The representatives of those groups explicitly encourage the view that their beliefs are consonant with Patristic sources. If, of course, I shouldn’t read Patristic sources expecting to find “seed forms” of Calvinism, Catholicism, etc, then several pastors giving more than a few sermons I’ve been blessed to sit through didn’t get that memo.

    I’m off to teach. Have yourself a good day! =)

    Sincerely,
    Benjamin Keil

  25. Sean,

    I’m not cherry picking here, as I made clear when I said that Scripture’s authority is the one tenet supposedly shared by Rome and the Reformation (speaking of Reformation principles). It’s mostly lacking in the flow of the narrative, and the texts cited are relevant but rather tired buttresses for church authority. Since Rome claims to believe in Scriptural authority (as interpreted by the magisterium) and the Reformation claims Scriptural authority (as interpreted by the church through the ages), it would expect it to be a common place from which to argue. However, it’s relative absence suggests that Scripture doesn’t play as large a role in the Roman system as they claim. So this isn’t just taking pot-shots.

    Further, the specific example you cite, the leading of the Holy Spirit, rather confirms my point. The Reformed confessions (to which Jason had subscribed his agreement in his ordination vows) tell us that the Holy Spirit guides us in and through Scripture. Indeed, the Spirit is not to be separated from the Scriptures he inspires. So talking about how Scripture led him to Rome would have been talking about how the Spirit had led him to Rome. Further, if he had bolstered his own understanding of Scripture by showing that it was an understanding shared by the saints through the ages, he could have made clear the Roman claim that Scripture is on their side in this debate.

    But that would have been difficult, because in my view, the Scriptures as read and understood by saints through the history of the church don’t support the essential claims of post-Tridentine Rome.

  26. Dear Ed,

    You dismiss the Church with, as Brent said rightly, a wave of the hand. Your comment, “This generation seems to insist that we revisit every theological issue the church has settled since her existence,” is very ironic. You are right and I would add that this generation, in so far as they are doing this, are following the principles of the very men that you think re-captured the Gospel. I would hope that you contemplate that and be more open to Jason’s story.

  27. Benjamin Keil (24):

    Two different questions, whether to say “The Fathers are Roman/Reformed” vs. “our Roman/Reformed view is consonant or in agreement with what we find in the broad emphases of the Fathers.” The first is anachronistic and naive (and is how Jason framed his discoveries). The second is a sound way of searching and weighing the evidence one finds in the fathers. And the second one, by the way, is fully in agreement with what I said. The fathers are a mixed bag. That’s why the Reformers reject what they say at many points (Rome, not so often), while presenting a case that their views of salvation and scripture and authority are consonant with what they generally taught.

    One might say that it was merely a rhetorical slip on Jason’s part, and that he actually meant the latter. I’m happy to grant that, but the flow of the argument as presented (and many others I’ve seen similarly structured) implies that the naivety and anachronism is actually inherent in the thinking.

    And of course, Luther and Calvin didn’t leave the church. They were excommunicated, and sought to continue worshiping the Lord faithfully in accord with the teaching of Scripture and the saints through the ages.

  28. Brian Lee,

    Thanks for the clarification. I get what you are saying.

    If you asked every Catholic convert in America why they converted you would probably get thousands of different reasons. Some would cite scripture more than others. Some would cite the fathers more. Some might cite other reasons. Jason chose to give his brief recounting in his way. I don’t think it’s fair to read into his brief essay that scripture did not play a role in his conversion or that in becoming Catholic he abandoned scripture or anything like that.

    You wrote:

    Further, if he had bolstered his own understanding of Scripture by showing that it was an understanding shared by the saints through the ages, he could have made clear the Roman claim that Scripture is on their side in this debate…But that would have been difficult, because in my view, the Scriptures as read and understood by saints through the history of the church don’t support the essential claims of post-Tridentine Rome.

    Which saints are you talking about?

    I believe this is what Jason said in his post when he wrote:

    Page after page revealed a common faith during that early period in which bishops succeeded Apostles, baptismal waters regenerated, bread and wine transformed, penance was necessary and salutary, purgatorial fire cleansed, the Blessed Virgin was an active Mother to the faithful, departed saints prayed, Peter held the Keys, and the Eucharist was a sacrifice for the living and the dead. There appeared in their minds no awareness of or concern for the cardinal doctrines of the Reformation so painstakingly spelled out as essential to the gospel. Actually…the Fathers sounded Catholic.

  29. Brian Lee –

    I, for one, am happy that Jason didn’t directly cite scripture in his conversion story. I’m very interested in these discussions and read a lot of debates between Catholics and Protestants. I have noticed that the more scripture is used, the more convoluted the issues become. That might sound surprising, but I am just giving you my observation. What usually winds up happening is that these debates devolve, rather rapidly, into a proof texting match. See the discussions in the Christian Unity thread with Henry, for an example of this type of discussion.

    By not citing scripture directly (It is clear to me that scripture is implied throughout his story) he saves us from that type of fruitless discussion and allows us to focus on the more foundational issue, which is the question of who has the last word on interpreting the text. While you might find the lack of scripture unconvincing, I guarantee you that not all Protestants to. There are many on this cite who have given up their attempts to perfectly exegete the Bible. When we look at the scripture alone we often find many different interpretations. The one I cite often on this website is John 20:21-23. Who did Jesus give the authority to forgive sins in his name? The scripture is unlcear, and this is an extremely important question that does effect each of our battles with sin. Are there men with this authority today? If there are, I’d like to find one and ask him to forgive my sins in his name.

    So whether or not Jason was deliberately leaving direct citations of scripture or not is beside the point, for me and others. It saves us a lot of breath and allows us to go straight after the more foundational issue of interpretive authority.

  30. Brian,

    I have only a brief moment to comment, and I’m doing so to assure you I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. Thank you for taking the time to read my story, and for being willing to offer criticisms from your point of view. This website exists to foster dialogue between Reformed and Catholic Christians, and if it is accomplishing this goal, then God be praised.

    Yet Scripture plays such a small role in your conversion story. I suspect you may backtrack now and say that no, Scripture was the key (maybe not). But either way, as it stands, Scripture plays a minor role in your story. So, I suppose my question is, Why does Scripture play such a small role in your conversion story (as written)?

    To reply to your question, yes, the Bible was extremely important in verifying, confirming, and corroborating for us the teachings of the Catholic Church. Try to imagine reading the Scriptures without having to constantly glance over your shoulder for fear someone is going to tamper with the textual idiosyncrasies of your group’s particular theological tradition. Our encounter with Catholicism helped us acknowledge that we needed to resign our posts as private guardians of the biblical text, for the simple reason that that job had already been filled a long, long time ago, and publicly (1 Tim. 3:15). This time it wasn’t for us the same old, same old of cobbling together bits and pieces of biblical text (with or without a larger church group) until something emerged we deemed personally worthy of belief. No, we finally began to realize that neither we, nor the most spiritually fit of our companions, packed the type of muscle required to bear the weight of so profound a thing as the Apostolic faith. You have to be divinely equipped for that sort of task.

    Because the Catholic Church follows the authority structure of Apostolic Christianity – Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium – each of these three formed the stable foundation on which we planted our spiritual feet as Catholics.

    I hope to comment again sooner rather than later, but in the meantime, I hope you’ll permit me a good natured poke – Shall I take your claim about the reformers worshiping faithfully with “the saints through the ages” as a rhetorical hiccup or as naive and anachronistic?

    Blessings,

    — Jason

  31. @Sean – #21:

    My experience also, I’m afraid. I must say, too, that since I became a Catholic, 16 years ago, I have come to know and to love Scripture – I was going to say ‘more,’ but it would be better to say something like ‘anew.’ I have been reading the Bible annually all my Christian life (I became a Christian in a Protestant context only at age 27), but since becoming a Catholic, it has been a new and far deeper book for me.

    jj

  32. Welcome home, Jason!

  33. Brian Lee,

    Would you be willing to address more directly Benjamin’s statements regarding the role of ecumenical councils, their authority, and how the individual Christian (one like me – without advanced degrees) can determine which teachings of which councils can be legitimately rejected as heretical and which are orthodox. Another way of asking it, how can I know that Luther was any different than Arius or Donatus?

    -Burton

  34. I can take one look at the Pope, decked out in his gold, high and lifted up and I need to look no further.

    Ed Dingess

    Truly. For because Catholics fully believe Jesus the Christ is their Lord and Savior, of course they would bedeck the vicar of Christ in finery fitting for an office so close to their King. And so they deck out that vicar, their Pope, in their gold…

    If Catholics didn’t believe in Jesus and trust in His words, then their church’s chief pastor would wear, oh, a business suit and be of the world.

  35. Dear Brian Lee,

    I cannot speak for Jason, but I can tell you truthfully that Scripture was the beginning and end of my conversion to the Catholic Faith. Like Jason, I was first challenged to rethink my interpretation of Scripture by the Church Fathers. I asked myself why I would privilege Calvin’s reading of Scripture over Augustine’s, for example. But the fathers were no final authority for me, as a Protestant. They merely raised questions. I then went back to the Scripture, to Protestant biblical study, to my linguistic tools, to re-examine what I had been taught as a Protestant. – And I found it lacking.

    I don’t think there is one distinctly Protestant doctrine that can be established on the basis of Scripture alone. This is the reason why I quit being Protestant, and it is a major reason I became Catholic (thought not the only reason).

    -David

  36. One more thing:

    You wrote: “And of course, Luther and Calvin didn’t leave the church.”

    I think you could try to make this argument with regards to Luther. (I’m not saying I would agree.) He was a priest, who tried to bring reformation (as he saw it) to the Church in Germany.

    Calvin, however, is another story. He was never ordained in the Catholic Church. He was merely recruited to the Genevan Reformation by William Farel. He utterly rejected the idea that he needed any validation from the existing ecclesiological structure, and he frequently appealed to his own conscience and his own interior experience of “calling” to justify his ministry. As much as he loathed sectarianism in others, he favored it in his own case.

    Unless you want to presume a Protestant definition of Church, I don’t think you can make your case historically for Calvin not leaving the Church.

    -David

  37. Ed D,

    You wrote:

    “This generation seems to insist that we revisit every theological issue the church has settled since her existence.”

    A question: how do you think the Church settles theological issues?
    Do you, for example, think the mode of baptism is a settled issue? How about the Holy Trinity?
    How would you know if “the Church” (as you understand that term) got it right?
    When is it ok to revisit a theological issue?

    Thanks,

    David

  38. Brian Lee,

    Others have answered you much better than I can. But I wanted respond to this:

    “But that would have been difficult, because in my view, the Scriptures as read and understood by saints through the history of the church don’t support the essential claims of post-Tridentine Rome.”

    I remember thinking and saying the very same thing for years, or at least trying to convince myself of that claim. But it was precisely the scriptures that led me back to the Church that I left for Protestantism when I was still a boy. There were many verses that haunted me as seeming way to Catholic prima facie and upon examination for nearly 30 years (on and off).

    These texts typically were the ones in reference to baptism and Holy Communion and the role of faith and works. From John to Acts, to 1 & 2 Corinthians to James to 1 Peter there were all these verses that made no sense from a baptistic or Reformed perspective. The interpretations always seemed to be tortured and usually amounted to saying “this verse is not really saying what it seems to be saying” or we need to interpret the unclear in light of the clear.

    It was always in the back of my head and it was always exceedingly disturbing. I was not just a Protestant. I was a former Catholic who was “saved” out of Catholicism. But eventually something had to give and my journey took off when I started be honest with these texts. It was very painful at first but eventually it turned scripture into a beautiful, coherent tapestry that made more sense as a whole and that it ever had before. It no longer had to be jammed through an interpretive paradigm that I had to adopt. For it was dispensational then covenantal and then law/gospel over the course of those 30 years. Not to say that there is no truth to the latter two, but it is so much more.

    Bottom line is that scripture led me to the Catholic Church not away from it. And I did struggle greatly with Trent until I actually read it and not quotes from it (not to say that is what you have done). I found I could not use scripture to refute it because the council so thoroughly draws it’s theology from scripture.

    Of course the Fathers played a role too. But for me it ultimately was scripture that showed me that many protestant claims were simply unbiblical or insufficiently biblical and that many verses in the New Testament make no sense from any perspective other than a Catholic one.

    So I would encourage you to pray about it and try to look at scripture (and Trent) with fresh eyes, asking the Holy Spirit to lead you into all truth no matter where it leads.

  39. How about the existence of God? Let’s revisit that issue every year. The virgin birth? The resurrection? In fact, why don’t we install a practice requiring that we revisit every single theological issue, regardless of how basic it is, on an annual basis. Not often enough? How about every six months? The church does not settle the issue, per se. The church only settles an issue when she rightly interprets sacred Scripture. That is to say, when the church actually understands God’s communication the way God intends, then she has settled the issue.

    Nowhere did I say or even imply that every single theological issue has been settled. The mode of baptism remains open to debate. The holy trinity, on the other hand, does not! The nature of the end, with regard to details, remains open for debate. The existence of God, the inspiration of Scripture, the virgin birth, the resurrection, all on the other hand, are not open for debate. We Protestants refer to the reformation principle of the perspicuity of Scripture.

  40. Ed,

    I’m not sure if sarcasm is the best way to introduce yourself to a new group of people.

    But I think the most controversial line in your reply is this:

    The church only settles an issue when she rightly interprets sacred Scripture.

    Who are you – or who is anybody? – to determine when the Church rightly or wrongly interprets scripture?

  41. Ed,

    “The mode of baptism remains open to debate. The holy trinity, on the other hand, does not! The nature of the end, with regard to details, remains open for debate.”

    This statement is an example of the subjective authoritarianism of Protestantism that is inevitable, and which has been beautifully captured in the book that Jason mentioned (The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism by Father Bouyer, and I think it would be worth your time to read it, if only to get a sense of the Catholic position). On what basis, Ed, do you determine that one matter is settled and another is not? When I was a PCA minister I certainly thought that the mode of baptism was settled, when someone should be baptized was settled etc… I am sure most Presbyters in the Presbyterian world that I frequented (ARP, PCA, OPC) thought the same. Yet, you say it remains open for debate. How does one adjudicate such matters?

    As a Catholic I am able to recognize that a matter has been settled when the Magisterium of the Church, whether in its various forms, informs me and the faithful that the matter at hand has indeed been settled. I can say that this Magisterial authority from the outside may appear to be stifling but I can say that my experience has been that from the inside, as a Catholic, I find it very liberating and actually very vitalizing, especially as I serve the Church as a teacher of the faith to the faithful.

  42. This is a false disjunction. Either I accept the magisterium or skepticism? First, the Magisterium has no more of the Holy Spirit than the next Christian. Second, who is to say that your interpretation of the Magisterium is correct? You speak as if you are not in a boat, but your back is to the sea and you yell from your boat over to me that I am in a boat.

    The appeal is to Scripture, always to Scripture, and to Scripture alone. This is not to say that the mind of other’s who have grappled with a subject should be dismissed. It should not. The views of others should be considered, at least on matters that are not quite as clear. You must agree that some things are clearer than others in Scripture. Why do I need the Magisterium to interpret the resurrection for me? The gospel is clear. Who is in charge of interpreting the interpreters for me? At what point can I actually engage in the interpretive process? Am I free to interpret the priest’s sermon? Says who? A man? A fallen man? A man in need of the very same redemption I was in need of? Why THAT man? Says whom? If you are removed from the interpretive process and must fully submit to the magisterium, aren’t you violating the rules of interpretation by engaging in this discussion? Seriously, the best you can do is say that the Magisterium is right because they are right. You cannot appeal to Scripture in support of the Magistrium. Only the Magisterium can handle the text. Inevitably, a man said that Peter was God’s man. Peter never said that. The NT documents do not support it. The history of the NT Church does not support it. Yet, it is because a man said so. And his interpretation is the right one because, well, he said it is the right one.

    You have no biblical basis whatever for the authority of the Magistrium. Even Paul said follow me as I follow Christ. Paul’s words of warning to the Ephesian elders rings true: “from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things.” How is such a thing remotely possible in the RCC model? It isn’t. How dare anyone say that the Magistrium could possibly be wrong!

  43. @Ed Dingess:

    The appeal is to Scripture, always to Scripture, and to Scripture alone.

    Ed – this sounds good – but it does mean – does it not? – that there can be no such thing as visible church unity. Jesus must have been praying for something else in John 17, don’t you think – or else, perhaps, His prayer will be denied.

    During the 20 years I was in the (tiny) Reformed Churches of New Zealand – as a deacon for the last three years, before I became a Catholic – I saw two splits on doctrinal grounds. Appealing to Scripture, without a God-given referee – the Magisterium, in fact – must, surely, mean a Church shattered.

    jj

  44. John,
    I can think of no denomination with views as diverse as one sees in the RCC. Jesus was not praying for the unity of the Magisterium. He was praying for the unity of His church. In Rome one has a priest who holds to exclusivism in one region and in another region, one to inclusivism. One RC politician here in the states will oppose abortion and another defend it. One RC leader will embrace gay marriage while another condemns it. The truth is that the membership within the RCC is anything but unified in their worldview. In fact, one would probably be hard-pressed to find such disunity in any other single protestant denomination. The ciricles of disagreement within protestant denominations are typically much smaller than those in Romanism. The Magisterium seems powerless to effect any meaningful change. Rome has to restrict the dialogue to the abstract, because in reality, her people, for the most part, ignore her. They believe whatever they want and the Magisterium has as proven impotent in her ability to bring about any meaninful change. There is no unity in Rome outside abstract debates among priests, pastors, scholars, and teachers who love to draw lines in the sand and pretend they all speak with the same voice, all the while knowing they don’t even come close.

  45. @Ed Dingess:

    I can think of no denomination with views as diverse as one sees in the RCC.

    Ed – ok, granting this for the sake of argument – although the diversity you are talking about, if I understand you, is diversity within the Catholic Church – nevertheless, you do seem to be agreeing with me that Jesus did not mean to pray for institutional unity. Would that be correct? And do you agree that:

    The appeal is to Scripture, always to Scripture, and to Scripture alone.

    without a ‘referee’ necessarily means that institutional unity is impossible?

    I’m not really trying to make a point – just to find out if we do agree on this fundamental – or, rather, these two fundamental – points – Jesus did not intend to pray for institutional unity, and the appeal to Scripture, when the decision must be made only by the two appellants, means you cannot, in fact, have institutional unity.

    jj

  46. Ed,

    You said:

    The doctrine of sola scriptura, contrary to your view, exists in Scripture no different than Christ’s authority. Jesus’ authority was granted to Him by His Father. In other words, He was not authoritative because some man testified to that fact. The same is true of Scripture.

    No Catholic says that God’s Word found in Sacred Scripture derives it’s authority from the Church. However, the Church was given the authority by Christ to teach doctrine (and this authority was given before one word of the New Testament was written down), and one such doctrine is the canon of Scripture. In this way, the Church is responsible for saying that “this” not “that” is Scripture.

    Scripture, being the very Word of the very God of all that is, has been, and ever shall be, our sole authority for faith and practice.

    I agree with the first half of that statement, but the conclusion “sole authority of faith and practice” does not follow from the premise. Unfortunately, Scripture does not teach that. Scripture records that “the Church is the ground and pillar of truth” (1 Tim 3:15). Scripture also records that if you have a dispute, “go to the Church” (Matt 18:17).

    Whatever man brings, he brings as a man. What God gave by His act of grace, He gave. The truth of praxis and doctrine is settled by appeal, not to some man-made institution, but by appeal to God’s truth, the truth that He has displayed to us in Scripture.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “he brings as a man”. We agree that man should not appeal to a man-made institution. I don’t think anyone should appeal to a church founded by a mere man (e.g., Calvin, Luther, Smyth or Wesley). However, the Church Jesus founded is not “some man-made institution”–although it does consist of men. In Scripture, we are given a record of Jesus handing off his authority to His Apostles. What were his Apostles to imply from this act? That the kingdom would die upon their death? Do we have one word from Christ instructing them to “write down this Gospel so it might be the ‘sole rule of faith'”? No, not at all. Instead, they did what he did. They passed off their ministry to successors. That is why St. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:14:

    “But continue thou in those things which thou hast learned, and which have been committed to thee: knowing of whom thou hast learned them”

    Is Scripture not enough? Did God forget something? Did He leave something out?

    Why would you ask the first question? It is a false quandary. God did not forget anything. In fact, when I was a Protestant, the multitudinous teachers vying for the place of “purveyor of true Christianity” made it out as if God had, in fact, “forgotten something”. Why would my grandmother with a poor 6th grade education be doomed to be a heretic–tossed about by every wind of doctrine pumped through the television? God did provide, but she was estranged from that provision by no fault of her own. He provided a Church that teaches with His authority.

    Do we not have the Spirit? Does the Pope possess a Spirit I do not possess? Are not all believers called into the one and same body of Christ and endowed with the same Spirit?

    We have the same Spirit, but not the same gifts. “Some apostles, prophets…” (Eph 4:11)

    Did not Peter err and require correction from another who possessed the same Spirit? Did not Paul point to the authority of God’s revelation to make the necessary correction?

    No, he did not teach err. Did he possibly sin? Sure. (Impeccability is not a prerequisite for teaching right doctrine. See Matt 23, Rom 11:29) But, in order to correct St. Peter’s actions, St. Paul was directly implying St. Peter’s teaching at the Jerusalem council:

    “And the apostles and ancients assembled to consider of this matter. And when there had been much disputing, Peter, rising up, said to them: Men, brethren, you know, that in former days God made choice among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, who knoweth the hearts, gave testimony, giving unto them the Holy Ghost, as well as to us; And put no difference between us and them [Jew/Gentile], purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why tempt you God to put a yoke upon the necks of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we believe to be saved, in like manner as they also.” Acts 15:7-11

    Without sola scriptura, man must rely solely on fallen man to establish a reliable tradition that transcends himself. Such an endeavor is not only impossible, it is foolish.

    It is foolish to rely solely upon men (like you and me), unaided by grace and without authority given to them by Christ, to interpret the Scriptures and teach doctrine that is true. Such an endeavor has been now tried for 490 years, and it has been a foolish calamity. Instead, one should listen to the Church Jesus established, who is aided by grace, and given the Spirit to lead the bride of Christ into all truth–i.e., teach doctrine that is true. That is a Church to whom one should submit, not as a mere institution of man, but as a institution founded on and by the person of Jesus Christ.

    Peace in Christ,

    Brent

  47. Ed,

    I gather your comment in #42 was to me. I did not say that you either accept the Magisterium or skepticism but I do say you and Protestantism in general need to accept either the Magisterium or subjective authoritarianism. You may think, for example, that certain matters are open to debate, like the mode of baptism, when it should be administered, but others within Protestantism think those matters are not open to debate. Who decides this?

  48. Tom,
    You arrive at what remains open based on the exegetical evidence in Scripture itself. Let’s take baptism as an example. I do not think everything concerning baptism is open for debate. I think the “mode” of baptism should not be held as firmly as the requirement itself. The reason for this has to do with the meaning of BAPTIZO. Should we insist on plunge or dip or wash or immerge? Because of the possibility of error, I think it wrong to insist on a narrow mode for baptism to the condemnation or exlusion of other possibilities. The basis of my view is not my own personal preference as you can see. It is the result of a lack of exegetical evidence to establish a clear answer either way. On the other than, THAT baptism is necessary within the Christian community I think is a matter that is settled. Necessary for what? That is beyond the scope of this discussion. I think I made my point. Or at least I hope I made my point.

  49. Ed:

    One RC politician here in the states will oppose abortion and another defend it. One RC leader will embrace gay marriage while another condemns it. The truth is that the membership within the RCC is anything but unified in their worldview. In fact, one would probably be hard-pressed to find such disunity in any other single protestant denomination.

    I don’t understand why you, and other protestants, think this is a persuasive argument against the magisterium. No Catholic I know of will claim that heresy and dissent aren’t serious pastoral problems. There is heresy in the Church. There is dissent in the Church. But, this seems very different to the type of disunity in Protestantism in which nobody has any real authority over anybody else. Do you agree?

    who is to say that your interpretation of the Magisterium is correct?

    The magisterium. This is because the magisterium can re-state itself clearly. It is a living body, which is able to clarify itself. The Bible alone cannot do this.

    the Magisterium has no more of the Holy Spirit than the next Christian.

    If you’re talking about the sanctification that occurs in the spirit you are right. If you are talking about the charism of teaching error, then you are wrong. We are one body, made up of many parts. Not every part has the same function.

  50. Fr. Bryan:

    I am very displeased with the authority issue in Protestantism. Frankly, the state of the church in that respect is exceptionally disturbing. Moreover, I am quite displeased with the abandonment of the practice of excommunication within Protestantism. This has led to many ruinous behaviors within the church and left her impotent to rectify, what has become in many cases, exceedingly deplorable conditions.

    In addition, I am altogether dissatisfied with the state of proselytization that we have managed to reach within our congregations. The hyper-individualism of western culture has had devastating effects on the church.

    I do not wish to leave the impression that I think the RCC is the only entity with problems or even that her problems are always more acute than those within the PC. The problem of authority/standard within the PC is a legitimate one that seems insoluable to me at times. At present, the answer is God’s glory through the fight for truth and unity in that truth regardless of the apparent lack of progess we seem to witness to that end.

  51. Ed,

    I do not think you made your point because the question I asked you was simply: who decides what is open for debate, who determines what theological matters are not settled? Do you? Does a denominational body? The National Association of Evangelicals? You stated that we arrive at what is open based on the exegetical evidence of the Scripture. I would invite you to check out some excellent articles on our site that deal with this matter
    /2009/11/solo-scriptura-sola-scriptura-and-the-question-of-interpretive-authority/

  52. Dear Mr. Stewart,
    Welcome to persecution and prosecution. Becoming Catholic has put cross hairs on your back.
    The State will force you to kneel to it, then kill you.
    You would have lived a longer life had you stayed Protestant.
    (see —-> http://www.ncregister.com/blog/steven-greydanus/no-obama-compromise )

  53. @Ed Dingness:

    On the other than, THAT baptism is necessary within the Christian community I think is a matter that is settled.

    Hmm… Neither the Quakers nor the members of the Salvation Army would agree with you. Are they not part of the Christian community? And, if not, why not?

    jj

  54. You do realize that as a PC I reject the view of apostolic succession. This being the case, your model does not solve the problem at all. It merely relocates it. Moreover, what do you think the Magisterium does when they are evaluating truth claims or dogma? I would hope they do what the PC does, exegesis. The difference is that the RCC proclaims as athoritative what actually could be group error. After all, the Magisterium is not above error. Even Peter erred, did he not? Councils have erred in the past and changed course, have they not? The infallibility question has been demonstated to be false throughout history. For Sola Scriptura, well, Scripture NEVER changes. The authority of Scripture has not been dimished. Error creeping into the church and sects springing up are to be expected since the holy apostles told us they would arise. My only issue is our unwillingness in the PC to deal with these heretics and immoral men by means of excommunication. We simply do not have the stomach for it. I do wonder if the RCC fairs any better than we in that respect.

  55. Hi Ed,

    Do you think Sola Scriptura is a revealed doctrine? Has God told us that the Church is to have no rule of faith apart from Scripture?

    Thanks,

    David

  56. Ed,

    Do you believe that, based on sound exegesis, the doctrine of sola scriptura is closed?

    -Burton

  57. Ed,
    Some members of the Catholic Church have many diverging opinions about some teachings of the Church. This does not mean however that the Church is not of one mind about them. For instance the teaching of the Church on abortion is quite clear and anyone who is in favour of abortion is against the teaching of the Church. Again the teaching on Gay Marriage is also quite clear and anyone for such a marriage is clearly going against the teachings of the Church.

    Rather than listen to the myriad of voices within the Church it would be far more worth your while to find out what the Church actually teaches through the Catechism of the Church. It contains all of the official teachings.

    Blessings
    NHU

  58. […] to these events and to Mr. Stewart.One wonders whether his new-found comrades at the Roman blog, Called to Communion, are aware of the facts of his conversion experience. In his account, he characterizes the events […]

  59. Brian Lee (# 17 & 27),

    Again, thank you for your interaction on this article.

    Reviewing your comments again tonight, I’m interested to ask whether or not the “mixed bag” category you’ve proposed is merely an ideological mechanism for preserving some semblance of continuity between the Fathers and the Reformers when it is advantageous for you as a Protestant, while at the same time providing you the wiggle-room to maneuver when faced with doctrines contained in these authors that are less agreeable to your theological program?

    “They are not Catholic nor Reformed; they are a mixed bag.”

    And off you run with the goodies while I’m left holding the bag containing the Catholic sounding bric-a brac of the Fathers you didn’t want. By denying them a Catholic identity, you seek to sever them from the Catholic Church in our day. By declaring them not reformed, you disavow an organic connection with these early Christian leaders so as to insulate yourself against the wholesale endorsement of their theology and practices.

    Let me suggest, however, that the identity of the Fathers is seen in the contours of their belief and practice. Surely we can identify a subject by observing that particular subject’s habitual characteristics. You know the old saw – If it looks like a Catholic, believes like a Catholic, and prays like a Catholic, then it probably is a Catholic.

    Blessings,

    — Jason

  60. Ed,

    I think it would be helpful if you read the linked article I provided. Many of your questions are answered there.

  61. All,

    Thank you for your many kind and thoughtful replies. No disrespect, but my current calling doesn’t leave me the liberty to engage all of the lines of argument here. My goal was to comment upon and reply to aspects of Jason’s narrative, and I regret I can’t do much more than a few brief replies.

    Primarily to Jason, who has taken the trouble to recount his story and reply:

    I’m glad Scripture played a role (30), but I must say I don’t recognize your characterization of a Protestant way of reading scripture (glancing over shoulder, private guardians of biblical text, cobbling together bits and pieces). A lot of Protestants (including many I would term “broadly evangelical”) have this kind of confused reading of the bible, but I have found the view and use of Scripture in the Reformed tradition to be far more nuanced, rich, and humble.

    I’ll take your poke. No hiccup, no intentional anachronism, and I don’t think it’s naive. As you know, the Reformation was of course a reformation of worship as well as doctrine, so clearly it represented a break with its immediate past. But it was Reformed on principles found in Scripture, primarily, but also reflecting the elements found in the worshiping church through the ages. It was also Reformed with the recognition that false worship and idolatry has been with the people of God since the giving of the covenant on Sinai, and so all practices in the church must be measured by the clear commands of Scripture. Again, I’m sure you’re familiar with the regulative principle of worship.

    Regarding the “mixed-bag” of the Fathers (58), they are men (many men, in fact). Of course they err, disagree, teach a mixture of things. At many points what they teach is in strong agreement with the Reformation (on salvation, faith, yes, authority). At many points it isn’t. It’s not about wiggle room, because I don’t have to “own” everything every one of them said. So your use of the concept of “Catholic identity” is admittedly a bit odd to me. I confess a holy, catholic, church in the creed, but not a Roman one. (Speaking of pokes, Roman catholic strikes me as an oxymoron, as a truly catholic church is not bound to a certain place or certain persons). I don’t deny the Fathers are members of the catholic church in that sense, any more or less than I am.

    Regarding the Sacraments (Dave, 38), I’m not a baptist, or a Zwinglian. I do think they both have serious problems with the text of Scripture. I don’t get squeamish as a Reformed Christian when I read of baptism saving us, or Christ being present in the bread and wine of the supper (though I do struggle to see the aristotelian construction of transubstantiation taught in the text, or the fathers).

    I’ll grant, David (36), that Calvin left the church… if fleeing for your life under threat of execution for the Protestant faith is “leaving.” He was not, as Luther was, ordained in the Roman church. So he didn’t leave the ordained Roman ministry. His calling (and departure, and re-calling) to Geneva was unusual, no doubt, not because of his own actions, but because the church in Geneva was still in a state of flux following its departure from Rome (which he did not lead, though he did defend). I think you’re flat wrong that “he utterly rejected the idea that he needed any validation.” Yes, he rejected that he needed a validation from Rome. No, his interior experience was not the justification for his ministry. But he did see his calling by the magistrates and church structure of Geneva (such as it was) to be a valid calling… as every Protestant in every Reformed land did in the sixteenth century.

    OF COURSE I want to presume a Protestant definition of the church, and you want to presume a Roman one. But the bottom line is that Calvin fled under threat of death (for the crime of teaching what, exactly?), and served the church of Christ where he found it, and where it found him, when it called him to service.

    Thank you for the interaction. I’ll be signing off, not meaning any disrespect. If anyone wants to contact me, you can click through to my website and do so by email.

  62. Jason and Cindy,

    Humbly welcome to the Catholic Church. Your courageous journey is inspiring and followed the path of the wise Bereans visited by Saint Paul. Being a cradle-Catholic I have come to appreciate that the “best” Catholics today are converts like both of you. God Bless. Aleks Klidzejs

  63. Jason,

    Forgive me for sharing half my conversion story here, but I trust that this is of some value to the discussion. Most commenters on this site have correctly pointed out the divisions within Protestant denominations on key issues such as soteriology, ecclesiology, baptism, the sacraments, .et al. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I haven’t seen a lot of commenters mention the factions just among Reformed denominations. That’s why we have OPC, PCA, reformed baptist, ARP(?), URC, RC-US, CREC, Conferderation-Rec etc. During my Reformed days, I never understood why they never merged and if they did, they could only be a force for good. The guiding principle behind starting a new denomination, according to the Reformed, is that if you are fully persuaded by scripture and the Holy Spirit that what you’ve been revealed is the Word of God, you are free to do so, provided that you do it peacefully and that you work it out with your current session (to whom you have previously submitted). To the Reformed mind, this process is “biblical” but to the Catholic mind, its scandalous because it’s just another justification for schism, which the epistle of Timothy warns against.

    At first, I paid no mind to the Reformed factions. I was told that the separation had more to do with regional/cultural/practical differences rather than theological. The existence of the North American Council (NAPARC) gave me a little assurance that unity was still important. In fact, my OPC’s session accepted all NAPARC members in the event of a pulpit supply. (They’ve even used Reformed Baptists and Anglicans to preach from time to time.) But where the NAPARC denominations seemed to really draw the line was between them and those of the Auburn Avenue camp. I understand that it hasn’t been deemed a “heresy” in most of these denominations and Peter Leithart was actually cleared of it. But had he been judged a heretic, it really would have been of no consequence since he’s already a pastor in a denomination that doesn’t see it as a heresy. I first heard of federal vision in 2006 from a very trusted friend who first introduced me to reformed theology. At the time I committed to membership in the OPC, and the leadership there basically said that it’s a “justification by works” movement. So I disregarded it, but around 2009-2010, I went straight to the federal vision sources-Shepherd, Leithart, Jordan, Wilson and was actually convinced of their arguments from Scripture and the confessions. I determined that they were more faithful to what John Calvin intended, and thus began my crisis. In private conversations with truly reformed, Westminster West types I’ve been told that FV was heresy. I wanted to reconcile it all. Could I embrace FV but still be a member of the OPC? I wanted to learn more about that than what I was being given every Sunday. I attended one CREC service and the pastor there had no scruples in preaching from early church fathers. They seemed to put more of an emphasis on a visible church structure and sacraments. You can see where this is going. Ultimately, that structure rested on sola scriptura.

    In my exit interview, federal vision, NPP, and NT Wright were suddenly my pastor’s best friends. He told me that he’d be comfortable if I worshipped with them but that he would worry for my soul if I joined the Catholic Church. When I heard that, I was even more comforted by my decisions. Because suspicion toward Rome seems to be the only thing uniting Protestants at this point. You’ve probably been to many a potluck where people will act as if embracing amillennialism is a matter of eternal consequence. But these Reformed Calvinist to Catholic conversions really puts things in their proper perspective.

  64. Andre Chouravong writes: The guiding principle behind starting a new denomination, according to the Reformed, is that if you are fully persuaded by scripture and the Holy Spirit that what you’ve been revealed is the Word of God, you are free to do so …

    The individual is free to start his own denomination as long as he is convinced that what he believes is “scriptural”. When push comes to shove, the individual’s private interpretation of the scriptures is the ultimate temporal authority for the individual. So how can there be any principled difference between solo scriptura and sola scriptura?

    Jason Stewart writes: Like the noble Bereans, each believer was to evaluate their leaders and their teachings by the Bible. To use the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, ”The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.” This is known as the principle of sola scriptura.

    If I understand correctly, the WCF states that“ all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined” by the individual believer. The individual believer is the ultimate arbiter (supreme judge) of whether or not the decrees of councils, etc, are “scriptural”. It seems to me, that the WCF is clearly teaching the doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience. Is that correct?

    Brian Lee writes: … the Reformers explicitly rejected much of what is found in the fathers. They accepted much of it as well. They recognized them as a mixed bag …

    The unstated premise here is that the Reformers, as individuals, had the authority to decide for themselves whether or not what the Early Church Father’s taught was “scriptural”. Again, the doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience is assumed from the very beginning.

    So how does this play out in real life? My personal religious beliefs must be “scriptural”. Who decides what is scriptural is, ultimately, me. I am free to cherry pick the Early Church Fathers to “prove” that what I believe is right. If the Early Church Fathers don’t agree with what I believe, that is only proof that what the Early Church Fathers believed was a “mixed bag”. Given these two principles, every single one of the thousands upon thousands of the sola scriptura confessing Protestant sects that exist today can justify what they believe. That these two principles result in thousands upon thousands of sects teaching contradictory doctrine should be of no surprise, except that the scriptures are supposed to be perspicuous.

    Brian Lee, what I find really interesting about your “mixed bag” statement is that it seems to me that you are openly admitting that the doctrines confessed by your particular Reformed sect are not reconcilable, in the whole, with what the Church Fathers taught. So why is anyone supposed to believe that the doctrines taught in your Reformed sect are any more “scriptural” than the doctrines taught in any other Protestant sect? Every Protestant sect can make the same claim – what we believe is scriptural, and here are the cherry picked quotes from the Early Church Fathers that prove it.

  65. Brian Lee (# 60),

    I understand you won’t be responding, but I’d like to offer one more comment on this matter. Thank you, again, for taking the time to share your thoughts.

    I’ll attempt to say this a little differently: your “mixed bag” category reminds me of the old German proverb – “Wash my fur, but don’t get me wet!” You desparately need at least some historical continuity with the Fathers in order to demonstrate that there is a pedigree for your Reformed beliefs, but the continuity must be carefully measured or else you’ll end up soaked with more of it than you’d wished. Declaring the Fathers a mixed bag is, as I see it, an abitrary intellectual device that helps you maintain control over the historical water supply, if you will.

    Do Catholics share this problem (“wash my fur, but don’t get me wet!”)? In contrast the Catholic Church allows the flood of ecclesiastical history to pour over its life without the least fear of becoming oversaturated. Why? The consensus of the Fathers in history is part and parcel of the Tradition of the Church. Not so for Protestantism as it must by its very nature (and for its very survival) take a defensive posture toward anything existing outside its peculiar interpretation(s) of the Bible.

    Regarding all the glancing, guarding and cobbling in relation to the Scriptures, I refer you to the following link:

    Click here to go to “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.”

    Blessings,

    — Jason

  66. Thanks for sharing that, Andre!

  67. Brian Lee,

    I’m disappointed that you have signed off from this site. Personal email is fine as far as it goes, but one of the benefits of posting on a forum such as this is that folks like me, stuck somewhere between these two worlds, can get a much clearer sense of the foundation of each argument. Iron sharpens iron and all that. My question regarding Luther vs Donatus/Arius etc is so central for me, because it gets to the heart of the “workable-ness” of Protestant concepts of ecclesial authority, heresy, and schism.

    Jason,

    Thank you for your long resonse to my question regarding source material from the ECF’s regarding infallible authorities. Perhaps I am asking for too much (sources from the ECF’s writings clearly showing that the authority of a visible magisterium was equal to, or at least not subordinate to, the authority of Scripture). The long lists of ECF quotes at Protestant web sites, usually consisting of the “lofty sentiments” about Scripture you were alluding to, certainly seem to suggest that the Scripture was viewed as the ultimate authority. I think you are saying that, given the clear role of apostolic succession and ecclesial authority in the early church, they simply could not have believed in Sola Scriptura as espoused by the reformers. However, if it could be demonstrated that the majority of the ECFs viewed Scripture in a way akin to the Reformers (the church has authority, but the Scripture trumps), AND if it could be demonstrated that this understanding was workable in dealing with schism and heresy, then any impetus I may have to convert would be considerably reduced.

    – Burton

  68. Brian Lee and Ed,

    (Brian first)

    though I do struggle to see the aristotelian construction of transubstantiation taught in the text, or the fathers

    The Church used Aristotelian language of reality to explain what she always believed. Your same logic might be turned on the Creed. Nonetheless, we might say that one could “see” homoousion in Scripture, like one could “see” transubstantiation in the language of Scripture and the ECF’s.

    No, his interior experience was not the justification for his ministry.

    But the “prophet” Guillaume Farel was certainly important to giving Calvin the “courage” to preach, was he not?

    Ed D,

    You do realize that as a PC I reject the view of apostolic succession.

    I understand that is what you believe. So as to foster dialog, I’m using your terms (Scripture) to show you that one can adduce AS but not sola scripture from Scripture. Your response is:

    1. I don’t believe that (I already knew that)
    2. “After all, the Magisterium is not above error. Even Peter erred, did he not?” (as stated, this is assertion and seems to ignore
    my previous comment
    where I show that St. Peter did not err in his teaching)
    3. “Councils have erred” (this is also an assertion as stated. Would you care to qualify?)
    4. “The infallibility question has been demonstated to be false throughout history.” (same note as #3)

    Let’s discuss this and not simply state our talking points like we are having a presidential debate. : )

    For Sola Scriptura, well, Scripture NEVER changes.

    We both agree Scripture NEVER changes (well, at least until the 16th century when some redaction was done to the Old Testament). In other words, one need not hold to “Sola Scriptura” in order to believe that Scripture never changes.

    Error creeping into the church and sects springing up are to be expected since the holy apostles told us they would arise.

    Yes. We agree. I say you are in a heretical sect right now. You say I am in one. How are we to decide which of us is in schism from who? Where is the Church? I know the Reformed answer: “Wherever the Scripture is proclaimed and Sacraments administered faithfully to Scripture.” Full stop. Who gets to decide what “faithfully” means? This definition of “Church” begs the question, and is just one more reasons “Why Protestantism has no “visible catholic Church”.

    My only issue is our unwillingness in the PC to deal with these heretics and immoral men by means of excommunication. We simply do not have the stomach for it. I do wonder if the RCC fairs any better than we in that respect.

    In this thread it has been mentioned many times that the RCC “excommunicated” Luther, Calvin, et. al. You also mentioned the multitudinous views you perceive within RCC. However, what I note in your comment–and that type of comment in general–is that the person claiming “Look at all the RCC heretics!” can at the same time easily identify RCC orthodoxy well enough to know who is dissenting and who is not. In fact, they would probably also admit that the dissenters know they are dissenting. However, the same cannot be said in Protestantism. If one dissents in Protestantism, it is his right to dissent. Why? Because being a “faithful” Protestant means being true to your individual conscience, which means that you always reserve the right to dissent from any church, because any church can err. In turn, schism is impossible, church shopping makes sense, and the individual is the Supreme Court of faithfulness to God’s Word. You should be outraged that whomever you think is a heretic in the PC is not being excommunicated. You have an option: leave. If you leave, then you could join a different church that agrees with you. Then you would, on the Protestant view, be a part of the “true Church” which is “faithful to the Scriptures”.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  69. Ed (and others)

    In #49 I said the following:

    I don’t understand why you, and other protestants, think this is a persuasive argument against the magisterium. No Catholic I know of will claim that heresy and dissent aren’t serious pastoral problems. There is heresy in the Church. There is dissent in the Church. But, this seems very different to the type of disunity in Protestantism in which nobody has any real authority over anybody else. Do you agree?

    Let me clarify, since the distinction finally popped into my head (though I’m sure this distinction has been pointed out elsewhere on CtC). The difference between Catholic disunity and protestant disunity is this: Catholics know full well what the Church teaches and what the content of the faith is. A politician who supports abortion knows that he is dissenting, and if there is any confusion, the magisterium can clarify itself and make its teaching known more clearly. But the Catholic who dissents and the Catholic who does not dissent know full well what the Catholic Church actually teaches. There isn’t any confusion on the content of the faith itself.

    Protestants, on the other hand, do not know when they are dissenting because they interpret the Bible differently. A protestant who says, “I disagree with my pastor on “x” because I interpret the bible to say “y.” And, unfortunately, the Bible alone cannot resolve these conflicts because. In order for a protestant to dissent from the Bible they would have to know exactly what the Bible says and disagree with it anyway. They would have to say, “The Bible is wrong about “x,” just as Catholics say “The Church is wrong about “y.”

    Very few, if any, serious protestants would do that.

    That seems like a pretty obvious distinction between protestant and Catholic dissent. Does anyone disagree with this?

  70. Ed,

    Why Protestantism has no “visible Catholic Church” can be found here.

  71. Fr. Bryan,
    It just occurred to me that a defense of the abstract idea of protestantism is probably not the best way to approach this topic. Scripture clearly teaches that Christ is the head of His church. The idea of an individual man serving as head of the NT is entirely lacking in Scripture. There is no hint of this idea in the history of the first century church, nor is there any instruction indicating such a structure was in place. Moreover, there is no prohecy implying such will be the case in the future. As Head of His Church, Christ promised, through the act of regeneration to provide His church with the Holy Spirit who would aid and enlighten the minds of believers for the purpose of understanding His binding revelation which He gave us in the form of the apostolic traditon, a.k.a. Scripture, a.k.a. the Faith. I do not intend to diminish the offices and gifts that Christ also set within His church for the purpose of instructing the saints in any way. At the same time, those gifts do not provide for guarantees against error which is why we have the preserved record of revelation as our standard.

    Many protestant demoninations are structured with a presbyterian style and others are ruled by a plurality of elders. These denominations know what they believe. Almost all of them have a statement of faith. The PCA has a very sound statement, adhering to the Westminster Confession. I would venture to guess that these churches are just as faithful and many, more so, to their respective confession as the RCC.

    You method of setting the RCC up over against the PC implies there are only two entities involved in the debate. That is simply not the case. The RCC is merely one denomination among many. Just like all the demoninations, she is the immediate product of men, who are no less fallen than other men and who are no more gifted than other men. It is a fallacy to place all protestants in one bucket and attack them for not having one head to whom they must submit. Your approach of setting up two churches, the RCC on the one hand, and the PC, on the other is illegitimate now that I understand the gist of your argument. If your assumption were true, perhaps your criticism might be persuasive in so far as it concerns authority or the lack thereof in the PC. I have already expressed my displeasure with these circumstances.

    If a PCA clergy or a SBC clergy were to deny the virgin birth, there would be serious consequences. If the man refused to recant his position, he would eventually face severe discipline up to excommunication. Why? Because these bodies have settled the question of the virgin born Christ and to revisit the subject without grounds is illegitimate and represents a crisis of faith untennable for the clergy or even the believer to hold. The ground of the churches authority for excommunication is scripture alone. No one will appeal to a council or to tradition or even to a father. The appeal will be to Matthew or to Luke and that is sufficient.

  72. Burton writes: … if it could be demonstrated that the majority of the ECFs viewed Scripture in a way akin to the Reformers (the church has authority, but the Scripture trumps), AND if it could be demonstrated that this understanding was workable in dealing with schism and heresy, then any impetus I may have to convert would be considerably reduced.

    I think something needs to be clarified. The Catholic Church does not believe that the teaching authority of the living magisterium of Christ’s church is ABOVE the scriptures of Christ’s church. I don’t think any Early Church Father believed that either. Here is what the CCC says concerning this point:

    Catechism of the Catholic Church

    The Magisterium of the Church

    85 “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.” This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

    86“Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.”

    The CCC states that task of interpretation of the scriptures has been given to the “bishops in communion with the successor of Peter.” These men are not superior to the Word of God, but are, instead, the servants of the Word of God.

    The controversy sparked by the “magisterial Reformers” has nothing to do with the authority of scriptures. Both the Reformers and the Catholic Church recognize the unique authority of scriptures. The controversy sparked by the Reformers is a controversy about the interpretation of scriptures. And this controversy is all about primacy. The Reformers claimed that the individual trumped the church. The Reformation is based on a doctrine taught implicitly by the Reformers, the doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience. The Catholic Church has never taught such a doctrine of primacy; she has always taught the doctrine of Petrine primacy. CCC 85 quoted above is a succinct definition of the doctrine of Petrine primacy.

    The Reformers rejected the doctrine of Petrine primacy and they used the cover of sola scriptura to obfuscate their doctrine of primacy (the doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience). Luther came close to actually defining the doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience when he said:

    Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason — I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other — my conscience is captive to the Word of God. – Martin Luther

    Here, Luther brazenly rejects the “authority of popes and councils” unless they agree with Luther. Luther has placed his private interpretation of the scriptures as an authority above that of “popes and councils”. This is a supremely arrogant position to take. Nevertheless, the foundational doctrine of the reformation is laid out here by Luther, and that is the doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience. Given that the controversy of the reformation is really a controversy over the location of primacy, I cannot agree with you when you write this:

    … the majority of the ECFs viewed Scripture in a way akin to the Reformers (the church has authority, but the Scripture trumps)

    The original Reformers believed that their private interpretations of the scriptures trumped the official teachings of the church. I don’t think that you can find any ECF that confessed the Reformers’ doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience.

    Once the Reformers started dissenting with the official teachings of the church that they were members of, they eventually became the leaders of their own personal bible churches. Then the Reformers demanded that the members of their personal bible churches submit to their authority. But what kind of “authority” is that? If mateo founded his own personal bible church that was a breakaway faction of a Reformer’s personal bible church, what does that prove? That mateo is an authority that is correct in his personal interpretations of the scriptures? No, that would only prove one thing, that mateo has the arrogance to believe that his interpretations of scriptures trumps the interpretations given by that of a Reformer. It is precisely because the Early Church Fathers did NOT think that their opinions trumped the official teachings of the church, that the Early Church Fathers could affirm what Christ taught concerning excommunication:

    If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Matthew 18:17

    The Early Church Fathers were members of the church – the church that Christ personally founded. They understood that their personal interpretations of the scriptures did not trump the authority of the church. When Imperial Rome ceased her persecution of the church, the bishops of the church could hold Ecumenical Councils to settle disputes over interpretations of the scriptures. The bishops of Ecumenical Councils issued decrees of formal excommunication from the church for heretics. Where are the post Nicene Church Fathers that objected to what was going on here, namely, the practice of Ecumenical Councils issuing decrees of formal excommunication? The power to exercise the discipline of excommunication is a power that is invested by Christ with the church that he personally founded.

    Did the Early Church Fathers teach the Reformers’ doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience? I don’t see how they could, since that Protestant doctrine lays waste to Christ’s teaching found in Matthew 18:17. If I only have to listen to the church when she agrees with my personal interpretation of the scriptures, then I don’t have to listen to the church unless she agrees with me.

    “When I submit (so long as I agree), the one to whom I submit is me.”

  73. […] to change. The articles I have written here and here pretty much refute everything that is said in his conversion story. Still, let us go through this one by one, and show how these arguments against Sola Scriptura make […]

  74. Dear Burton,

    A few points that make distinguishing the authority of scripture from ecclesial authority in the ECF”s hard:

    (1) There’s an important sense in which scripture is above ecclesial authority in the Catholic system. Scripture, generally speaking, doesn’t change. But ecclesial authority is always in conversation with its time, and it seems to me that later formulations can clarify and reinterpret previous decrees in ways that would not necessarily have been obvious to their original authors.

    (2) The early church didn’t always distinguish between doctrine and discipline as clearly as we do today. This makes comparisons of scripture’s authority and ecclesial authority in their quotes difficult to place: are they comparing ecclesial authority on doctrine with the authority of scripture, or ecclesial authority on discipline with the authority of scripture?

    (3) The early church had great practical trouble in promulgating papal decrees as well as convening universal councils; it also had great practical trouble in “polling” all the bishops. So infallible ecclesial authority was not often made use of, and features little in ECF comparisons of scriptural authority with other types of authority.

    If someone were to ask me: which is a higher authority, scripture or a papal decree, I would definitely say scripture, and I am a Catholic. Scripture is inspired, after all, and I doubt most popes have written inspired documents. But since all appeals to scripture are appeals to interpretations of scripture, of course I follow God’s plan for who should interpret the scripture: not me alone, but me following the bishops in communion with the pope.

    And what that pope teaches can’t just be completely reversed by the next pope. As Pope Boniface said around 422AD: “For it has never been allowed to discuss again what has once been decided by the Apostolic See.”

    So in that sense, ecclesial authority has an irreformable dimension. But it is less irreformable than scripture itself.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  75. To answer mateo very briefly:
    It is quite easy and very convenient for you to sit here, today, in whatever luxury you do sit, and pass judgment on Luther accusing him of being arrogant. Luther’s revolt toward popes and councils coincided with his learning of Scripture. Moreover, if popes and councils were so accurate and so precise in how they interpreted Scripture, how do you account for the corruption that ran wild in the RCC of Luther’s day. The immorality within the church, with the clergy, and within the highest ranking orders stood in testimony against itself. It was obvious and history stands as its judge. Luther had no choice in the matter. Regeneration by God’s Spirit placed Him in the most unenviable position of scoundrel to the religious institution of his day. He would either suffer at the promptings and intense flames of the Spirit’s conviction as He brought Luther into greater light or he would suffer as a heretic, so deemed by the pope and church of his day. What would any of us know of Luther’s actual turmoil? He was not arrogant. He only wanted to maintain his sanity and the only way he could do so was to obey! And that obedience meant reformation at the most fundamental levels of the church.

  76. Burton,

    To sum up, there are two Facts which the ECFs had to reckon with: the Fact of scripture, and the Fact of the Church. They never, so far as I know, pitted one Fact against the other. They did not, for example, pit the Fact of scripture against the Fact that the Church is governed by Bishops, Priests and Deacons, or the Fact that some Bishops are more important than others. They didn’t view this constitution of the Church as an act of ecclesial authority so much as a Fact which had to be dealt with, just as the Fact of the existence of inspired texts had to be dealt with. These facts are not in competition, and in order to think in the Catholic paradigm one cannot try to place them in competition. They’re both givens, and the ECFs seem to have taken them as givens; and so do Catholics today.

    Now, any particular decree of the Church may be in competition with scripture, to a greater or lesser degree depending on how firmly the decree has been established. But that competition can’t lead us to the extreme point of abandoning the Fact of the Church and its apostolic succession. I am confident from my readings of the ECF’s that to them Scripture is a Fact no more or less essential than the basic constitution of the Church is, in its apostolic succession and priestly orders, and sacraments. The ECFs were not in the business of abandoning the Fact of apostolic succession in order to save the Fact of scripture.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  77. Ed Dingess writes: It is quite easy and very convenient for you to sit here, today, in whatever luxury you do sit, and pass judgment on Luther accusing him of being arrogant. Luther’s revolt toward popes and councils coincided with his learning of Scripture.

    Luther wasn’t arrogant? This is what Luther had to say about the sacred scriptures that he didn’t personally care for:

    Martin Luther on the inspired books of the Old Testament:

    ‘We have no wish either to see or hear Moses.’

    ‘Job . . . is merely the argument of a fable . . . ‘

    ‘Ecclesiastes ought to have been more complete. There is too much incoherent matter in it . . . Solomon did not, therefore, write this book . . .’

    ‘The book of Esther I toss into the Elbe. I am such an enemy to the book of Esther that I wish it did not exist, for it Judaizes too much and has in it a great deal of heathenish naughtiness . . . ‘

    ‘The history of Jonah is so monstrous that it is absolutely incredible.’

    Martin Luther on the inspiration of the synoptic Gospels:

    ‘St. John is the only sympathetic, the only true Gospel and should undoubtedly be preferred to the others. In like manner the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Paul are superior to the first three Gospels.’

    Martin Luther on the Epistle to the Hebrews:

    ‘It need not surprise one to find here bits of wood, hay, and straw.’

    Martin Luther on the Epistle of St. James:

    ‘an epistle of straw.’

    ‘I do not hold it to be his writing, and I cannot place it among the capital books.’

    Martin Luther on the Book of Revelation:

    ‘There are many things objectionable in this book,’

    ‘I feel an aversion to it, and to me this is a sufficient reason for rejecting it’ . . .

    Apparently Martin Luther’s understanding of the mind of God was so enlightened that he could examine the Epistle of James, and then declare that since this was “an epistle of straw”, that the Apostle James never wrote it. As for the Book of Revelation – ‘I feel an aversion to it, and to me this is a sufficient reason for rejecting it.’ To me, these aren’t exactly the words of a humble servant of the scriptures.

    Moreover, if popes and councils were so accurate and so precise in how they interpreted Scripture, how do you account for the corruption that ran wild in the RCC of Luther’s day. The immorality within the church, with the clergy, and within the highest ranking orders stood in testimony against itself. It was obvious and history stands as its judge. Luther had no choice in the matter.

    I am always astounded at this line of reasoning by Protestants. If Luther could identify leaders in the Catholic Church that were sinners (which is not anything I would dispute), that fact alone justifies jumping to the conclusion that the official teachings of the Catholic Church must be wrong. How does that make sense?

    Is it rational to claim that the Constitution of the United States should be discarded because of the Nixon Presidency? No. Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew had to resign to keep from going to jail. Nixon resigned from office when it was clear he was going to be impeached for his conspiracy in criminal activities during his presidency. The aids closest to Nixon served jail terms. Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, was found guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury. The fact that Nixon was a scoundrel, as were the men closet to him, does not prove that the Constitution of the United States is defective. Likewise, the fact that leaders in the Catholic Church during Luther’s time did not live up to the moral standards taught by the Catholic Church, does not justify jumping to the conclusion that the doctrines of morals and the doctrines of the faith officially taught by the Catholic Church were wrong. If anything, the fact that Luther believed that the leaders in the Catholic Church were not living up to the moral standards of the Catholic Church only proves one thing – that Luther agreed with the moral doctrines officially taught by the Catholic Church. How can one ever justify rejecting the doctrines of the faith that had been taught for over a thousand years because of the moral failings of current leaders? Luther’s rejection of the doctrines of the faith cannot be justified on those grounds!

  78. Aren’t the ecumenical councils proof enough that the ancient Christians didn’t believe in a doctrine of scripture akin to what the first Protestants taught? Mateo has already given the famous quote from Luther. He rejected popes and councils. His conscience was captive to the bible only. No one could tell him that he was wrong if his conscience was convinced. But until the 16th century I know of no one ever suggesting that an ecumenical council’s ruling on a dogmatic issue could be overturned. Even putting aside the issue of the role of the bishop of Rome, the very notion of holding a council to settle a theological dispute and then overturning it would have, I think, come across as simply absurd. They didn’t hold meetings like that to resolve important debates without believing that conciliar decisions had binding authority on all Christians. The only ones who did were the groups who entered into schism before the Protestants such as the Church of the East and the Miaphysites, but even then from what I’ve read of their literature it wasn’t the authority of councils ‘as councils’ they were calling into question, but the validity of the councils that ruled against their opinions, usually arguing that a later ecumenical council was wrong because it was contrary to the conclusions of an earlier ecumenical council. The idea that individual conscience and individual interpretation of scripture would trump the judgment of the visible apostolic Church was completely foreign to them.

    So I scratch my head when Protestants sometimes bring forward quotes in praise of scripture as if that somehow negates everything else we know about the ethos of the ancient Christians and their view of the Church. The strong view of the Church safeguards the strong view of scripture by giving us ordinary Christians the satisfaction of knowing that we simply drink in the truth that God wants us to have. Like the Ethiopian eunuch, we don’t just pick up a bible and magically know what it means. We need someone to explain it to us. For me, it was asking the question of “who is supposed to explain it to me?” that really made a difference in how I approached the claims of the Catholic Church.

  79. Does the pope say to you?
    μιμηταί μου γίνεσθε καθὼς κἀγὼ Χριστοῦ. For this is what the holy apostle Paul said. And this is what Luther proclaimed. Popes are men with sinful nature just like the rest of us. They have committed tragic errs of theological and moral judgment. Councils likewise, make up of fallen men, are quite subject to immoral living and theological scandal. History testifies to the facts of both. Paul said imitate me just as I imitate Christ. Are there popes we could never say this about? Since he is the vicar of Christ, every pope should be Christ’s example. There seems no room in your dogma to the contrary. Which pope should we imitate? Leo and his lust for materialism so out of control he oppressed the very poor to whom Christ commanded us to do good? Perhaps Urban, whose position so went to his head that he sat in the seat of God himself, claiming the power to remit sins for those who would engage in the holy fight against the Muslims. What did Christ think about waging war? Maybe we should look to Alexander IV? He bought the papcy and I am sure he was not the only one to do so. This man murdered for wealth and is said to have fathered seven illegitmate children.

    The political environment of the papacy in the RCC is no different from that which goes on in the world. Lu. 22:24-30 comes to mind. This environment along with its ramifications are clearly seen in the Papal interrugnum in 1294. The division among the bishops was remarkably disturbing. So much for Jesus’ prayer for unity.

    Luther stood against the evils of indulgences and various other abhorent teachings of the church because their could not be found in Scripture. His argument was simple: God has not turned Scripture over to men so that they may add and remove whatever pleases them as their set up their kingdoms and use the very Scripture that is supposed to set men free, to oppress them and bring them into bondage.

    It is a fact that Popes have erred morally and doctrinally. That they have set up kingdoms and turned the papacy into nothing more than a power seat. These men have contradicted the very Word of God they are charged to unhold and proclaim. When confronted with Scripture, they resorted to clever interpretations designed to defend their behavior and increase their lot. Peter tells us that those who pervert the teachings of Scripture, to include Paul, do so to their own destruction.

  80. If there is corruption in the police organizations of a country would it be legitimate to throw out the criminal code of the country because some police officers steal, murder, assault other people etc. Or would the proper thing be to get rid of those who are criminals and clean up the mess?

    If there is corruption of some of the members of the Church would it serve the purpose to get rid of the Church or to either reform those members or excommunicate them? Or should we just re-write the whole Christian faith to suit ourselves?

    I for one cannot understand the mentality of throwing out the baby with the dirty bathwater. Where does Scripture say to do that? If there was corruption within the Church ( and I’m not denying that some members were corrupt) should they not have corrected the problem from within rather than throw out the whole Christian Church?

    Now I just know some one is going to say it was so corrupted that it couldn’t be reformed and corrected, but history tells us a different story. Corruption and rancour within the Church was always handled by Councils and excommunications from her very beginning even until the 16th century. In fact the Church reformed herself during and after the council of Trent. So it was not an impossibility.

    Meanwhile Protestantism is never reformed they just keep throwing out the baby with the water and start brand new. Again and again. What, 10,000 or more times now? Does anyone think it will ever stop? Scripture was never meant to be for private interpretation lest anyone should boast. Though I know of very few instances where in Civil Law they throw out the whole of the political system for some corruption within it or throw out a baby with the bath water so to speak, it seems to be the thing to do with the Christian faith. It makes entirely no sense and never did.

    Blessings
    NHU

  81. Ed,

    “You(r) method of setting the RCC up over against the PC implies there are only two entities involved in the debate.”

    Actually Ed I rather like this and in fact I have used it myself. Now we will most certainly disagree as to its implications. In order to make your case, you have to claim that the Church is one denomination among many, which, of course, the Church does not recognize herself that way. But let us leave that to the side for a moment. As you have rightly suggested, there is no such thing as Protestantism, just as there is no such even as Presbyterianism (the list could go on and on) as if we this thing known as Protestantism or Presbyterianism spoke with one voice on matters of faith and morals. For example, when I was a Presbyterian minister I had to define what kind of Presbyterian minister (PCA). Now my question for you, Ed, is this? Do you think Jesus intended this fracturedness?

  82. Dear Ed,

    Thank you for sharing 1 Corinthians 11: 1 in greek. Verse 2 is also important:

    “Now I praise you that ye remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you.”

    Notice, St. Paul’s admonition is to follow his actions as he follows Christ. So too we should follow our pastors with such caution, the chief servant of whom is the Pope. He is the pastor of pastors. Yet setting their actions aside, we have been directly instructed by our Lord (1) to receive them in their office and also (2) to hear their words (teaching); Matthew 10:14-15.

    The problem I see in your analysis is that you will grant that the Scriptures were written by “fallen men”–even St. Peter himself (who denied Christ thrice!). Yet, you trust that God preserved them from error and inspired them to write the very Word of God. Incredible faith, and a faith you and I share! So, simply because someone is “fallen” or “sinful” does not exclude them from being used by God in marvelous ways. As a Catholic, I am amazed out how God has used the Magisterium (teaching office) of His Holy Church to teach without error for 2,000 years–an act, though, inferior to the grace given to the writers of Scripture. In spite of Her human frailty, God continually leads his Church “into all truth”. For anyone who threatened the integrity of this ministry from within, their mouths were shut. In other words, Pope’s and bishops simply did not teach. Why? Because this is not the Church built by the mere effort of men. She is not a denomination–a manifestation of imagination. She is a Church built and being built by Christ, himself.

    So much for Jesus’ prayer for unity.

    But, here She is. Her mere existence is a sign of contradiction. After all that you describe, all the turmoil, the Catholic Church is still here–full of saints and scoundrels and everyone in between (like me!). Over just the last century, she has more than doubled. This certainly does not look like a Church on the decline. What about all those churches that bare the name of their human founders? They are truly on the decline. Not because God does not care for their members, but because God did not found those churches.

    Peter tells us that those who pervert the teachings of Scripture, to include Paul, do so to their own destruction.

    And he still does today. He left us The Chair of St. Peter, the singular cathedra by which the Church, united to Her One head Jesus Christ, gains her visible unity–a gift given to Her by Our Lord. “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build…”.

    Christ has built and is building his Church! Alleluia!

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  83. By the way, please forgive my many typos!

  84. Thank you for a very touching article. I shared it with an evangelical friend of mine who asked me this question: If the Catholic church is the church established by Christ, how do you account for the errors and excesses that led to the Reformation? He is not debating whether schism was the answer to the problems of the time. He just wants to know how you reconcile serious problems with the promise that Christ would protect the Church from error.

    Now perhaps those were just ‘perceived ‘ errors and excesses but I was unable to answer him so I’m asking you.

    Thanks,

    Dan

  85. Tom,
    Do I think Jesus “intended” this fracturedness? “Intend” is quite a nuanced theological term. On the one hand I affirm God’s sovereignty. On the other hand I affirm responsibility. Legitimate division within the Legitimate church is clearly sinful and in violation of Christ’s command.

    Jesus prays for and commands unity. Therefore, division is sinful. However, what qualifies as unity? A baptist and presbyterian may agree on many core doctrines and disagree on mode of baptism and eschatology. Moreover, they may affirm the testimony of one another as legitimately Christian. They may extend to one another all the benefits afforded to brethren in the community. Are they divided?

    That the Church does not actually see herself as one body spread through multiple denominations is an affirmation that requires justification. As a reformed baptist I affirm that there are legitimate believers in numerous denominations. At the same time, I would argue that not every Christian denomination is in fact a legitmate Christian church. There are entire organizations that espouse pernicious teachings that are so profoundly wicked, they demand wholesale rejection by the true Christian community.

  86. […] Church. I recommend “Into the Half-Way House: The Story of an Episcopal Priest,” “An OPC Pastor Enters the Catholic Church,” and “Ecclesial Unity and Outdoing Christ: A Dilemma for the Ecumenism of […]

  87. Ed, I am curious: you refer to the PC. Is this short for ‘Protestant Church?’ If so is this church ‘one’ such that it satisfies the mark of the church (one, holy, catholic, apostolic)? Here’s why I ask, in #71 you said

    The RCC is merely one denomination among many.

    But for 1500 years it was the only so-called denomination (which actually makes the term ‘denomination’ meaningless to use in connection with it). So how do you explain the fact that for 1500 years the ‘oneness’ of the Church meant one thing (ie-visible, no ‘denominations’ etc…), but since the Reformation you would be forced to argue that now the ‘oneness’ of the Church means something almost entirely different (invisible, sectarian)?

    Also, I think your strategy of using the moral failings of some members of the Catholic Church (even at the highest levels), at some points in history, is being wasted on us here at C2C. Most of us were Protestants for way too long to think that those things are missing from protestant churches. You have cited several examples of such behavior from Catholics and Popes; do you really think it fruitful for us to start throwing out past and present protestants and pastors who were/are involved in sometimes gross sin? I hope not, for the list would be just as extensive…

    Shalom,

    Aaron Goodrich

  88. Mr. Stewart,

    I want you to know it is never too late to reconsider your decision. I left an OPC church for Rome and it has been a confusing and painful eight years. Please consider the possiblity that God is chastising you for sins as he did me. Search your heart in light of the Commandments. Remember that punishment for sin can fall to your subsequent generations. Fear the Lord and walk humbly before Him.

    In Christ,
    Eric

  89. Concerning the police analogy, I think this better lends itself to my position. I do not deny the Church authority that is rightfully hers. She has the power to bind and to loose. However, the rock of her authority is Scripture. She is to police her children as well as her dogma. I admit that all demoninations fail at this, some more so than others. The lack of discipline and excommunication within most communities have served to fan the flames of skepticism and contributed to a disdain for the Church and her seemingly double-standards. This is our own fault. We must do better and soon. There is a part of me that confesses that the PC has created so many problems and given rise to so many errors that I sometimes cannot help but lament its existence. It is during these times I am reminded of the same problems that confronted the holy apostles as well as the Jewish prophets. In fact, it seems that there has always been this crisis of deception that the Church has had to battle throughout the ages.

  90. Brent,
    How would you as a Catholic falsify your statement-“As a Catholic, I am amazed out how God has used the Magisterium (teaching office) of His Holy Church to teach without error for 2,000 years–”? What would be necessary to show that your church has erred?

  91. Aaron,
    PC does refer to the protestant churches. As for you question regarding the RCC being the only one for 1500 years, there is a simple answer: burn those who disagree with you. I realize this may sound harsh, but nevertheless, history tells us it is true. Moreover, you may want to check your facts. The Roman Church was not the only one in existence for 1500 years. Check your sources. There has always existed, outside of the RCC, communities of believers that rejected the numerous pagan influences, immorality, and doctrinal error that would eventually characterize much of Romanism.

    The RCC is as much a product of Roman emperialism as it is a religious institution. Over one period of time, hundreds of thousands were murdered for heresy. John Huss and William Tyndale among them. I suppose that if one were forced to hide in order to worship, that the only visible church would be the one with the stake and wood. I do not mean to indict current RCC for past error. So please do not think I am accusing the Church today of these things. I am simply offering an explanation for why there “appeared to be” only one church for so long. Unity is not so difficult to accomplish when you can burn and imprison your detractors. I am guessing this is not the kind of unity even Jesus was praying for.

  92. Jason, as someone who was received into full communion with the Catholic Church at Easter 2011, let me join the chorus of rejoicing for the Spirit’s work in your life. I’ve just been reading Bouyer: in fact he is to the left of my computer as I sit in my office at OSU writing this. I can’t help being amazed by how often he has explained *exactly* why I became Catholic, not in defiance to, but in accord with, exactly those principles of Christianity that I grew up with as a Fundamentalist Independent Baptist, with years of conservative-evangelical and Reformed education and interaction on my way to a Religion & Literature Studies PhD and a professorate at a conservative evangelical Bible college. The errors and faulty assumptions which led to destructive antinomies at the heart of my earnest, conservative Protestant (even radically dissenting) tradition (with its anti-traditional mindset) were not the truths I could defend from Scripture, but the truths I had to explain away, or avoid, in Scripture. I kept expecting to encounter similar points of self-defeat, or difficulties it would take decades to “work through” (as it had taken me nearly twenty years to “work through” my understandings of the hard points in Protestant doctrinal development from my Fundamentalist starting-points). I did not find any; from the moment I first came into the presence of the Eucharist, and answered “Yes” to the question “Is God here in some way He is not elsewhere?” there was less than a year of hard but blessed learning, through the Season of Purification and Enlightenment, through the Scrutinies, through Confession of Faith, to Confirmation, to Communion. What blessedness! Welcome Home.

  93. Ed

    How so does the police analogy lend itself to your position? Where is the Church Authority that you rightly claim as hers? You say the authority is the Bible. The rock upon which the Church is built. However the Church existed long before the NT was even written. The Apostles at no time required the members of her to submit to the written rock, they were to submit to the Church. But if you are solid in your understanding that the written “rock” of the Church is the “true” authority, which interpretation should we choose as the ultimate one? It still seems to me that you have thrown out the baby with the bath water.

    You stated in another answer that Baptist and Presbyterian may disagree on mode ( and reason) of baptism but they are still Christian in spirit but it seems to me that baptism is not a lesser teaching of the Church but a very important one. That being the case who has the authority to judge what is right and true in even this so called lesser teaching? Baptist, Presbyterian or Lutheran? There may be various denominations that espouse pernicious teachings and who would they be? I think however they would not consider that to be the case but may even consider your denomination to be the one at fault.

    You see that is the problem. Without a standard of authority that is a LIVING standard no one can judge what is the truth. Sure I will agree that the Holy Scriptures speak the truth, but who’s authority is the correct one and how do you know that? The various PC churches all claim the truth of Scripture and private interpretation. Does it really come down to eany meany miny moe?

    Blessings
    NHU

  94. Ed,
    You wrote:

    “As for you question regarding the RCC being the only one for 1500 years, there is a simple answer: burn those who disagree with you.”

    This comment suggests that the only reason a more Protestant-looking church didn’t evolve for 1500 years was the presence of Roman and/or imperialist persecution of “Biblical” Christians.

    I wonder if you know about the history of the Coptic, Ethiopian, Syrian, Malabar (Indian), Persian, Chaldean, Greek, Maronite , and Slavic Churches? None of these looks anything remotely like Protestantism and all have been -to varying degrees – independent of Roman and/or imperial influence.

    If your thesis were correct, why did a Lutheran or Calvinist reading of Scripture not evolve in any of these cultures? And please don’t say its because they didn’t read the Bible. That would be very naive of you.

    Far from being the obvious reading of Scripture, Protestantism is something that only emerged in the medieval west, in answer to specifically Catholic questions about the nature of the sacraments, worship, and an Augustinian understanding of grace. In other words, No catholic church – No emergence of Protestantism.

    Doesn’t this militate against your thesis?

    -David

  95. Ed,

    I admit I am out of my league in this discussion, but I will interject anyway in that I do not see an attitude of humble submission in your arguments.

    Catholics are called to submit to all Catholic teaching regardless of whether he or she understands the reasons behind it or even whether he or she agrees with it. For instance, a Catholic who truly feels in his or her heart and by Scripture study that artificial birth control is not a sin, must STILL submit to the Church’s teachings. In Protestantism, this same person, having felt they found adequate Scriptural support, could free themselves from submission on the issue. In Protestantism, one justifies his or her position instead of submitting to another position. THIS causes disunity.

    If you are not willing to submit to another authority, especially when you feel it could be wrong on certain issues, then you are operating on a kind of arrogance. We are ALL so sinful that none of us can expect to naturally agree with all of Christ’s teachings, NOR can any single one of us know all of His teachings from our independent studies.

    In Catholicism, we submit to what we are taught (not what our studies yield us), and teach what we are taught (not what what our studies yield us). Thus those persons who assemble the Magisterium are in fact, NOT teaching what they yielded in their own studies, but they are instead bound to only teach what it is they were taught.

    This systems is directly Scriptural. Scripture teaches us to submit to one another. Christ taught us in Matthew to submit to the teachings of others, even if their behavior was hypocritical. Paul teaches us that He, as a teacher, has become a father to us in Christ, and he also reminds us to obey or fathers and mothers in the Lord, as the commandment says! Paul warns of false teachers, but NEVER does he instruct to test teachers by their Scripture adherence, instead we are to take comfort in who they learned their knowledge from (apostolic succession). Furthermore, despite the existence of false teachers, Paul (nor Christ, nor anyone else in Scripture) gives the idea that there will never be trustworthy teachers throughout the Church age (such that one must lean on Scripture alone).

    Scripture alone is the result of man not willing to submit to someone else’s teachings, it is the result of man not willing to admit he could be wrong.

    Peace be with you,
    Adrienne

  96. Adrienne

    Thank you for your well-articulated post. The idea of the necessity of submission to an authority with which I may or may not agree is one of the most compelling arguments for a visible authoritative magisterium. On issues like contraception, the frequent Protestant answer of “pray about it and listen to the Spirit’s leading” seems woefully inadequate, especially given our frequent incapacity to distinguish the Spirit’s leading from our own sin driven desires. Married Christian couples are far from immune to the clouding influence of sin on this issue in particular. I say all this as a Protestant who has recently woken up to the reality of the deeply sinful nature of contraception, and just starting to grasp what true chastity within marriage looks like.

    -Burton

  97. Eric,

    I’m so sorry that your years in the Catholic Church have been difficult. Have you had an opportunity to talk with a spiritual director about your confusion and pain? Have you had any other Catholics to lean on and depend on? Being Catholic is supposed to be a joyful experience, though not without the cross of course. I have prayed for you.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  98. Burton,

    God bless you for plumbing the riches of the Church’s teachings on human sexuality. (in my experience) As a former Protestant, it at first appears as pure beauty, then becomes a heavy cross, but soon you realize that the cross is in fact the purpose of your marriage. After which, you come to experience the pure joy of his grace that pours into your life by being free, total fruitful and faithful in your marriage.

    I will keep you in my prayers.

    God love you,

    Brent

    (not meaning to hijack this thread, but wanted to encourage Burton)

  99. …. and while I’m at it and have a few more moments….

    Ed, you asked what determines unity. Well, Jesus gave us the answer and displayed the answer to that question quite clearly.

    In John 17 He prays that we would be unified in our words such that the world would believe. Furthermore, He prays that we would be one like the Holy Trinity is one. The unity described here is far greater than the least common denominator category of “essentials” given by Protestants justifying their unity with one another in words.

    Now let us look to Christ and the Father as an example of oneness. Christ always attributed His words and works to obedience to His Father. Granted, this is natural because of the nature of the Trinity, but Jesus, being God, never had to display this kind of overt obedience, He could have instead claimed His own authority, as He did indeed have it. Yet, He lead us by the example of submission. Jesus is equal to God, and just as you pointed out, all humans are equal (while you were arguing that no man had the ability to interpret Scripture better than another man). Jesus showed us humble, loyal, unwavering submission amongst equals.

    Burton, thanks for your reply to my comment! It is indeed quite revolutionary to recognize the flaws in the contraceptive mentality. Chastity in marriage is such a beautiful, freeing and redeeming teaching. I love that the Church is adamant that God made me perfectly the way I am, female, fertility and all.

    God Bless!
    Adrienne

  100. I thank God for all the learned persons who have contributed above. Each has displayed a deep knowledge of our shared history and journey of faith. It is clear that the areas where we fail to overlap are principally caused by the tradition in which we were formed, being a lens through which we navigate our journey.
    Jason Stewart’s journey seem to have been inspired by his thirst for knowledge and understanding, and a real thirst for the richest source of empowerment for his already strong faith, to be truly formed by what formed the whole body of Christ, His Church.
    As a cradle Catholic, lapsed and then re-born as a Spirit filled convinced and convicted member of that same church, I did not need to delve into the Early Church fathers, my journey was empowered by Word and Sacrament, and reinforced by contemporary writers and preachers.
    As I began to study in my limited way, I was filled with enthousiasm as it became clearer that I was part of an unbroken tradition of Word and Sacrament, and that, if I learned and followed the teaching of the Church and obeyed the Commandments then I would seek God’s will for me and embrace it.
    From much of my reading of recent years, it would appear that there are many very well educated and Spirit filled people within the wider church whose studies into the early writings of the Church Fathers are made because the Holy Spirit has led them to thirst for a water that more profoundly quenches that thirst.
    Most will have no doubt found through their studies that the path that they are following is rooted and faithful to the life and teaching of the early church, but many, from John Henry Newman, through Scott Hahn and now Jason are finding that their roots begin to grow in a direction they could not have foreseen and that they organically become Catholic. They are not uprooted, their roots just soak up the nourishment that has been there for 2000 years but that they were denied because of the Reformation.
    Every community of faith that tries to follow Jesus will possess gifts and graces, but the continued fracturing of the body of Christ can never have been justified, each fracture will have had understandable reasons and most undertaken with commendable spirit, but the body was again damaged.
    I doubt that Martin Luther, with the benefit of 500 years of hindsight would be happy with the fruits of his labour. He might, on the other hand draw some comfort that what he started is now perhaps showing signs of turning full circle.
    I will pray for all you good people experience even more completely than you do now, the true peace and joy of being a still imperfect follower of Christ. Keep running the race.

    In Christ
    Bill Kane

  101. AT,
    Doesn’t the conscience of the Catholic hold ultimate authority what they should do?

  102. Adrienne,
    Isn’t it ironic that a Roman Catholic would be telling me that sola scriptura is the product of a man not willing to admit he could be wrong. Actually, sola scriptura is the very product of admitting that a man was wrong. Did not Luther have to begin to admit that much of what he had been taught and accepted without questions could be wrong? Of course he did. Otherwise we would have no reformation. The very fact that we had a reformation is proof that these men came to realize that were wrong!

  103. Eric,

    I echo K. Doran’s prayers.

  104. Ed,

    Thank you for taking the time to reply.

    I asserted that Sola Scriptura is the result of man not admitting he himself could be wrong. In the example of Luther you gave (and the birth of Sola Scriptura) Luther was asserting that someone ELSE was wrong, not himself.

    Peace be with you,
    Adrienne

  105. Dear Ed, (re#100)
    You wrote:

    Isn’t it ironic that a Roman Catholic would be telling me that sola scriptura is the product of a man not willing to admit he could be wrong. Actually, sola scriptura is the very product of admitting that a man was wrong. Did not Luther have to begin to admit that much of what he had been taught and accepted without questions could be wrong? Of course he did. Otherwise we would have no reformation. The very fact that we had a reformation is proof that these men came to realize that were wrong!

    . You win today’s prize for circular reasoning. In essence you just argued, “the Reformation happened because the Church was wrong. How do we know it was wrong? Because the Reformation happened!”

    Pax Christi,
    Frank

  106. K.Doran and Tom,

    Thanks for your concern and prayer. Apart from the sacrament of confession, I have never really had anyone to give me direction or a shoulder for leaning. I never sought out others face-to-face because my confusion and pain stem from doctrine and practices in the Roman church. I reasoned that the direction and advice of other RC would lead back to these central issues. The root of my problems reach deeper than my own inner struggles and subjectivity. The reason for my post was to offer a plea to one who has not “ossified” in Romanism, though I do believe the ossified can be saved by grace. I would extend this same plea to you for the glory of God in Christ and ask that you search your hearts in light of God’s commands. It was on account of
    pride and covetousness that brought me to this idolatrous system. Chastisements from the Lord and grace for a happy return. Thanks for your responses.

    In Christ,
    Eric

  107. Eric,

    You said: “I never sought out others face-to-face because my confusion and pain stem from doctrine and practices in the Roman church. I reasoned that the direction and advice of other RC would lead back to these central issues. The reason for my post was to offer a plea to one who has not “ossified” in Romanism, . . I would extend this same plea to you for the glory of God in Christ and ask that you search your hearts in light of God’s commands.”

    You can’t really get to know a way of life until you live it openly and in free communication with others. Why don’t you change your mind and seek out others face-to-face? That’s how we learn and grow.

    Thanks for care for my soul. You should know that God has helped me infinitely in the Catholic Church. He’s taught me the existence of objective truth, the boundaries and goals of objective morality, and he has opened up for me a life of joy. For example, like many others, I would never have known that contraception was evil had it not been for the counter-intuitive advice of the church. But now that I know, my whole life has been improved by that knowledge. The Catholic church is preparing me for everlasting life. Why would I reject joy, peace, truth, love, and salvation?

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  108. Being a complete novice when it comes to contributing to a learned discussion such as this, it draws me to pray and reflect on what I read and what is written on my heart.

    Jesus commanded the church to ” go teach all nations”, not to write a textbook from which everything could be learned. If the church had set out to write a textbook, I imagine it would look different to the Bible; the Old Testament might be a given (or not), but the New Testament would most assuredly not look like it does.

    The New Testament is a collection of those writings selected from the much larger available collection of writings to be the most appropriate to support what the church actually taught. There was no syllabus, no developed table of contents, no rewriting or sub-editing. The blood and faith of the early Martyrs was as important a teaching tool as the oral tradition which was written and collated after much of that blood was shed.

    Luther was drawn to challenge initially some of the practices of the church, and it is correct to say that some of those pratices had strayed from the true teachings of the church. The analogy of the Nixon administration and the USA constitution is very much to the point. From my limited understanding Luther sought to edit the established canon of scripture by deletions, but he did not revisit those writings not selected by the early church to suggest their inclusion. I am sure that if I am wrong in this, you will all write to tell me so.

    All of the great teaching institutions, universities and the like, retain their teaching role, they do not merely provide library books and say ” just read these and you will come to know everything”. ” All scripture can be used for teaching” does not amount to all teaching can only be found in scripture. The church is “the pillar and the ground of truth” founded by Christ on the rock of Peter, and sustained by the unbroken succession of the papacy.

    The fact that certain individuals in that unbroke succession fell short of their calling never caused the church to lose her bearings since Jesus said that He would be with us for all time and that the gates of hell would not prevail against us.

    I hope that in contributing here, I develop further in faith and that you will all praye for me

    In Christ

    Bill Kane

  109. K.Doran,

    We are not too far from one another. Your willingness to ascribe to God infinite help in the Catholic Church is most pleasing to Him and serves as the foundation for joy, peace, truth, love and salvation. Please understand my willingness to confess a Catholic Church, both visible and invisible, that was founded by Christ our Lord. No ordinary possibility of salvation is found outside this Church because Christ dwells in it by His Spirit and lavishes us with manifold gifts. But the moment you crossed that threshold of hope, a stumbling block of error caused you to trip. That block of error is Romanism’s teaching on contraception ( but not limited to this ).
    It opposes artificial contraception while introducing “NFP” as a natural and licit alternative. Embedded deeply within NFP is a human act to oppose (contra) the fruit of conception.

    This “way of life” delivered to me in the RCC had so many perplexing twists and turns. I can’t do it justice on these short exchanges.

    Eric

  110. Hi Frank,
    Thanks for the award. I feel honored. All reasoning is circular because humans are finite. You begin with Scripture in order to end with Scripture. The RCC begins with the Magisterium in order to end with the Magisterium. Actually, my reasoning is not a vicious circle. The only way for Luther to spark the reformation from the begining was to realize his beliefs were wrong. He did not realize his beliefs were wrong because of some reformation. The cause of the reformation was the realization that the visible church had wondered far from Scripture and was sorely in need of reform. An arrogant man would have rejected any notion that the views which he grew up with and held dear to his heart his whole life were actually wrong. Instead, Luther, realizing the truth after studying Scripture for himself, merely applied what the sacred writings taught to his own church. And they would have killed him for it if they could have found him. Is this how we are to disagree with one another? The answer is not do as the Bereans did! No, the answer in the RCC at that time was to wood and fire. You will submit or we will kill you. There is no defense for practices such as these in any church.

    Luther called the debate over his 95 theses out of a love and concern for truth. He wanted dialogue. Repeatedly, the RCC refused to engage and only issued threats and warnings and finally the papal bull. Reform exists to correct wrong. If arrogance prevailed, reform would never exist because wrong would never be acknowledged.

  111. I would urge all of you to read a wonderful little book called “A.D. 381”, by Charles Freeman. It gives a wonderful in depth account of the history of the time between early Christianity and the Roman church.

    One conclusion you will clearly see is that while the early church fathers were certainly catholic and united in one faith, even with the diverse views of the churches around Christendom, they were certainly not Roman. There were no basilicas, big fancy hats and robes, no imperialistic view that “one church” meant that “one” church ruled them all.

    The gathering of bishops and apostles was done throughout Christendom, and Rome was never the center of anything for most of the first 400 years of Christian life together. Once the Roman finances and prestige began to become a factor in Christianity, there were now rivals and politics and imperialism deeply affected by Rome infiltrating the church. One Roman official had himself appointed bishop of one church to quell controversies over the Nicene creed. The author quotes one historian who said at one point there were 100 murders for every bishopric which became open.

    The church fathers were never a part of “Roman” catholicism. As a matter of fact each church was named after its own province, such as the church in Corinth, or the church in Ephesus. There was never a Roman church in Ephesus. The ideal of one ruling church over the others is an imperialistic idea from the bowels of Rome herself. Augustine was the Bishop of Hippo in Africa, not Rome. This is where the error begins of which the Reformation is an ongoing dialogue.

    I do agree that there is much to be desired on both sides of the dialogue. However, a truly catholic faith would be one in which the Protestant Church and the Roman Church could sit down and recognize each other as legitimate churches of Christ. This is the heart and soul of catholicism as the early church fathers believed and practiced.

    I do agree with the viewpoint that the Protestant church in trying to rid itself of Roman Catholicism, ironically took an imperialistic view of sola sciptura. While getting rid of a few Roman trappings , she ended up keeping the worst one, imperialism. However, pointing out that the church fathers did not have sola scriptura is not really an arguable point. They did not have printing presses back then and the bible was not fully composed. They did value at their core what was to later become the scriptures.

    I do see some longing in people to find the one true church and come back to mother church, or fathers of the church. However, the mass is largely medieval rites of Italian origin under Roman culture. The hierarchy of the early church was grossly distorted under Roman influence. This is hardly the stuff of “true” gospel. I mean if you like medieval rites and Roman organizational structures, then you are in heaven, but to imagine that the early church fathers worshiped this way is quite erroneous.

  112. Rev. Robert Jones,

    Who is the “Protestant Church”? In other words, if “the Protestant Church and the Roman Church could sit down and recognize each other as legitimate churches of Christ”, who would sit down for the “Protestant Church”?

    In advance, thanks for the clarification.

    Your separated brother in Christ,

    Brent

  113. A.T.

    You seem to have missed my point completely. Luther was not raised a reformer. Luther was a devout Catholic of the Augustinian order. Before he could EVER arrive a the correctness of sola scriptura, he had to begin with the idea that HE was wrong. Therefore, it was not necessarily an act of arrogance, although it was an act of rebellion, but not from the start. Not all rebellion is wrong. To rebel from false teaching is proper and moral and every Christian has a duty to it. Jesus Himself, when He preached repentance to the Jews was commanding them to rebel from their beloved Judaism and embrace their Messiah. The apostles were threatened to stop preaching this new doctrine and then beaten. Their response was a question: is it not better to obey God rather than man? Luther learned from Scripture that many of the practices and views of the RCC were simply eroneous. He was especially disturbed by the selling of indulgences and the abuse that the church was inflicting on the poor. It was montrous. He simply asked for an open debate around the practice, naively assuming a certain level of integrity in the Church of his day. Luther assumed that because he wanted to obey the plain teachings of Scripture, everyone else did as well. He could not have been more gullible at the start. It did not take him long to lose his innocence. The Church saw to that.

    I hope I have made my point a little less ambiguous.

  114. Rev. Robert Jones:

    I appreciate your comments. Thank you for the book referral.

  115. You gotta be kidding me, reverend. Do you know who wrote AD 381? Do you know what else he wrote? “The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason.” The man is a pseudo-historian who cannot be relied on very much except to shape history after his left-leaning, anti-religious biases.

    Please tell me you read other books to get a second opinion. Take a look at the Recommended Books link here on this site if not.

  116. Rev. Robert additional comment:

    It is worth mentioning that Freeman’s observations certainly help