Joshua Lim’s Story: A Westminster Seminary California Student becomes Catholic

May 27th, 2012 | By Joshua Lim | Category: Featured Articles

This a guest post by Joshua Lim. Joshua graduated this Spring from Westminster Seminary California, where he earned his MA in historical theology. He was born and raised in the PCUSA. He spent a few years in college as a Baptist before moving back to a confessional Reformed denomination (URCNA) prior to entering seminary. He was received into full communion with the Catholic Church this year on April 21st, the feast day of St. Anselm. He plans on continuing his studies in systematic theology.


Joshua Lim

It is hard to pinpoint any single factor that led to my conversion. Before coming to an actual decision point, I had never considered Catholicism to be an option for anyone in search of truth; even when I was most open to it, I would have sooner turned to agnosticism than to Rome. And yet, here I am, a Roman Catholic — and a happy one, at that.

In order to understand why I converted to Catholicism, it is perhaps best to begin with my move from broad evangelicalism to a more traditional expression of Protestantism. I was born and raised in the Presbyterian church. During high school, thanks to one devoted pastor, I began to study the Bible seriously and ended up leaving the Presbyterianism of my youth and becoming a Baptist. The Baptist church I subsequently joined was generally Calvinist and was composed of college students and young adults who were very fervent in their devotion to the Lord. The pastor and elders highly emphasized sola scriptura, community, holy living, revival, and missions. Doctrinally, there was no commitment to any traditional symbol of the Protestant faith, simply a brief ‘statement of faith’ as found on most conservative evangelical church websites. While theology was prized, there was, in my opinion, an anti-intellectual ethos, and the study of too much theology, which was often held in contrast to the Bible, was sometimes frowned upon. This stemmed, in part, from an identification between one’s interpretation of scripture (in this case, the pastor’s) with scripture’s ‘plain meaning.’ The sacraments, which were called ‘ordinances’ — the former term being far too Catholic — were celebrated three times a year and most of the sermons were typically centered around individual piety. Despite the relatively small size of the church, or perhaps because of it, there was a sense that, in many ways, we were the only truly biblical church. Every other church erred in some way or another, and even those who were seemingly close in  terms of doctrine and practice were never fully embraced — and this unspoken suspicion tended to be mutual.

Over time, I began to grow uncomfortable with the arbitrariness of such a small and isolated church structure (the pastor seemed to have as much authority as the pope); this, combined with my own Luther-like angst caused by the almost solely sanctification-driven sermons (as well as a youthful zeal on my part) ultimately pushed me toward the more traditional Reformed expression of Protestantism. By the end of my junior year in college, I had read through books like Calvin’s Institutes, Zacharius Ursinus’s Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, and even Herman Bavinck’s four-volume Reformed Dogmatics; I was also beginning to delve more deeply into Reformed covenant theology. Eventually, through the writings of Geerhardus Vos and Meredith Kline, I ended up rejecting Dispensationalism; further study led me to the writings of Michael Horton, who emphasized the centrality of the preached Word as well as the regular administration of the Sacraments (which were, in good Protestant form, two: baptism and communion). I came to greatly appreciate the sacraments as well as the liturgical form of worship in contrast to the often inconsistent and subjectivistic tendencies of the majority of evangelicalism. Moreover, my law-induced angst was alleviated by the gospel of free justification sola gratia et sola fide. Rather than being moved from fear of the law (proving that I truly was ‘truly elect,’ as it were), I was, at least conceptually, moved by gratitude out of my free justification to obey the Law with joy and freedom; I found a greater sense of the objectivity of Christ’s historical accomplishment on my behalf–something that I had not appreciated until I encountered the doctrine of justification in the Reformed confessions.

Yet, it was not very long until my Nietzschean drive for truth was left desiring something more. During my senior year of college, I somehow decided to read through Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. I was aware of Van Til’s severe criticisms of the innovative Swiss theologian, yet I found myself drawn to him as he was and in many ways continues to be the Reformed theologian of modernity. Barth’s version of Reformed Protestantism differed substantially from what I was accustomed to in the Reformed symbols. Though Barth vehemently denounced Catholicism, I still found a certain Catholic tendency, an ecumenical spirit, if you will, throughout his work. It was his writing that gradually opened me up to actually listen to opposing views; not in such a way that made me invulnerable to criticism–reading opposing views through my own lenses–but rather attempting to understand each view according to its own perspective and presuppositions. I also began to read the Bible in this way; rather than interpret the text in such a way so as to accommodate a certain notion of justification sola fide, I tried to understand how other traditions understood Scripture; and I often found these competing interpretations to be, in their own right, very compelling.

This, no doubt, left me highly dissatisfied with the Reformed confessionalism that I had come to love. The appeal to Protestant ‘tradition’ on the one hand, against the broad evangelicals, and to sola scriptura on the other, against Catholics, seemed to place confessional Reformed theology in a highly precarious position. In seminary, I would often hear invectives against the anabaptist impulse in much of Evangelicalism–what the anabaptists allegedly lacked was the tradition that Calvin and Luther as well as the many other Protestant Scholastics had never intended to let go of; what’s more, almost every problem with contemporary evangelicalism as well as modernity was genealogically traced back, never to the magisterial reformers, but those all-too-easy-to-blame, anabaptists. While I initially believed these narratives to be true, it became harder for me to see such distinctions as anything but an arbitrary defense mechanism. It seems almost impossible to deny that certain impulses within anabaptism sprang up from ideas latent in Luther’s own magisterial reformation.

Against this anabaptist problem, the proposed ‘Reformed’ solution was quite simple: the Reformed confessions had to be restored to their proper place. Yet, it was unclear how such a recovery could not immediately devolve into the in-fighting typical of Reformed denominations (indeed, it seems impossible to even get to the point where such a devolution could occur). At least on this point, it seems that Charles Finney had a degree of truth on his side: the confessions do seem to function, at least in practice, as something like a ‘paper pope.’ It is either this, or the confessions hold no authority at all. The via media, that Reformed churches and their confessions only have a ‘ministerial’ authority does not solve anything since it is unclear what this even means, as is only more evident in controversies in P&R denominations that ceaselessly result in more and more denomination splits. If the confessions do not have, at least in practice, the same authority as the Magisterium, it does not seem that they have any authority at all. The moment someone disagrees with the confession or a given interpretation of the confession on biblical grounds, they no longer need to submit themselves to that governing body. In other words, one can consistently use Luther’s “Here I stand” speech in order to avoid church discipline–and it would be hypocritical for any Protestant denomination to condemn one who appeals to his own conscience and Scripture. And that this has actually happened throughout history is not difficult to substantiate.

These irresolvable doubts led me to the slough of despond. On the one hand, I could not return to broad Evangelicalism because of its naive biblicism (condemned both by confessional Protestants as much as by Rome), but on the other hand, I could not remain a confessional Reformed Christian. Barth was of little help here. His constant criticism of all human knowledge, a consistent overflow of the Protestant notion of total depravity mixed with Kantian skepticism, led to a point where no one church or person could be trusted–for God is ever the Subject and can never be made into an ‘object’ that is controlled by man. Though Barth was undoubtedly reacting to the Protestant Liberalism of his time, his own christocentric solution only held things in abeyance without giving a permanent solution. Ultimately, by insisting so heavily on the event character of revelation, the focus on the actual content of revelation itself could only be blurred. As one Catholic theologian put it, Barth’s  “insistent cry of ‘Not I! Rather God!’ actually directs all eyes on itself instead of on God. Its cry for distance gives no room for distance.”1

Rather than turn to that dreaded Catholicism, the epitome, it seemed to me, of all that I had grown tired of in Protestantism, I was gradually led down a deeper path of agnosticism. Ludwig Feuerbach’s critique of religion, that it was simply man speaking in a loud voice seemed unavoidably true. It is not simply that Reformed Christianity is wrong and some other denomination is right, or even that all denominations are right; rather, if one small group of Christians could claim to have the truth to the exclusion of some or many others, and if this boiled down to an arbitrary construct of a man’s or a group of men’s imaginings (i.e., their interpretation of Scripture), then I could no longer believe that any Christian denomination had the truth. Moreover, I could only believe that this sort of arbitrary selection of dogma could only be what has occurred throughout the history of Christianity. In other words, the truth of Christ’s deity, of the Triune nature of God, the two natures of Christ, etc. were all only a matter of human debate (all of which were ultimately determined by different men vying for political and social power). In other words, the Liberal protestants were at least right about something, ‘orthodoxy’ has been and will forever be hopelessly arbitrary. To disagree with this and remain a ‘confessional’ Protestant is the greatest hypocrisy.

Needless to say, by the time I entered seminary, I was somewhat disillusioned by Protestantism as well as Christianity. I was hanging on by a thread and found myself constantly searching for reasons to pray or even believe that this version of Christianity was the version of Christianity. Though I was initially convinced that the Protestant Scholastics held the answer to modern Protestantism’s ails, I gradually realized that even with the revered Protestant Scholastics, a sense of arbitrary human invention, as much as it was despised, was still conspicuously present–simply saying that one holds God’s word over and against human invention doesn’t get rid of the very human aspect of asserting such a human belief and statement. Martin Luther and John Calvin went from looking like heroic men of God to men who were victims of their own delusion; though they believed themselves to be sent by God, it seemed that they were just two more men who were ‘reforming’ a church according to their own interpretations of Scripture formed by the philosophies and culture of their time. If all men are, as Luther and Calvin interpret Scripture to say, helplessly corrupt and depraved, how can I trust anyone? Why should I trust what Martin Luther says that the Bible teaches, or what John Calvin says the Bible teaches or any of the Reformed confessions, for that matter? Is it not the height of naiveté, even hypocrisy, to believe that everyone is totally depraved and yet continue to trust that any human interpretation of Scripture is somehow guaranteed by the Holy Spirit? Is it not more honest to say, with Nietzsche and Foucault, that all men are simply driven by a will to power? And if this is true, no human institution including the allegedly ‘ministerial’ denominations of Protestantism can be trusted because they are simply structures through which those having power can manipulate and control those who do not–indeed, this remains one of Protestantism’s perennial assaults on Rome.

The feeling of regret that many claim accompany those who decide to enter the Catholic Church (how Newman allegedly felt) is what I experienced after I had become Reformed. What is somewhat ironic is that with the disappointment following one’s journey into any Protestant denomination, one encounters those who appeal to the fact that the church is always in via, on the way, and therefore no matter what disappointments one encounters, one should remain faithful to Christ’s church. Yet, along with this admonition there is also the Protestant conviction that one should not remain in any church that does not have the marks of the true church: the preaching of the gospel and the proper administration of the sacraments. It was during this time, while I sought to remain faithful to my local Reformed church, that I encountered a measure of difficulty attempting to convince some close friends, who did not feel that they were receiving what they should have from this particular church, to remain in it. My Reformed belief in the relative importance of the visible church was in conflict with the Reformed emphasis on the importance of one’s individual conscience. Thus, while I wholeheartedly agree with the sense of importance attached to remaining accountable to a visible body, to feel this way as a Protestant seems to be entirely contradictory. Luther felt that it was necessary to separate from the Catholic Church, Zwingli from Luther, the Anabaptists from the Magisterial Reformed, the Calvinists from Arminians, and on and on–all on the conviction that I have the correct interpretation of Scripture: “Here I stand, so help me God.” In other words, I am able to understand and deal with imperfect Christians and an imperfect local body only from a Catholic perspective–where the objectivity of the Church is not dependent on the pastor’s ability to preach a sermon, but on the real presence of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Any sort of corruption one finds in the Catholic Church is found outside the Catholic Church as well. The question is whether the Church remains who she is no matter how those who constitute her visible body fail and err.

It is impossible to live in any sane manner with such suspicions and doubt as I had; and, admittedly, I have found few, save perhaps Luther, who suffered from such intense suspicion as I did. Yet, I did not have either Luther or Calvin’s confidence to trust my own interpretation of Scripture above that of the myriad of opposing interpretations. I knew as a matter of fact that if I had somehow encountered Methodism or Pentecostalism in a notable way prior to being ‘convinced’ of Reformed theology, I would have read the biblical text in a significantly different way, and would most certainly have been convinced of the veracity of that interpretation over the Reformed one. Simply attributing my ‘correct’ view to God’s grace seemed far too simple and easy, not to mention the fact that most groups, Calvinist or not, make this same appeal – “Lord, I thank Thee that I am not like them.”

So what could I do? My foot had almost slipped, I was on the brink of giving up on Christianity altogether. Even though I wanted to believe that it was all true, I simply could not bring myself to do so. Every time I attempted to pray to God, I could not help but feel somewhat embarrassed and ashamed for thinking that I would be heard. I tried to appreciate the gospel of justification; the fact that my salvation was not based on any of my own effort or works, but over time it became harder and harder to delineate between God declaring me righteous through the ministry of the Word each Sunday, versus me simply trying to convince myself psychologically that things were OK. When my professors or the minister would point to the benefit of the Lord’s Supper, it was hard to convince myself that it had any value since it was the visible Word, but nothing more or less than that. Yes, one is strengthened in faith by partaking of the Lord’s Supper–but it is not literally Christ’s body and blood, only sacramentally so, which is only further explained through vague terms such as ‘sacramental union,’ which no one actually seems to know the meaning of, only that it is neither Catholic nor Zwinglian. Issues such as this caused me to question the notion that confessional Reformed Protestantism was somehow more ‘traditional’ than broader evangelicals. If there was historical continuity with the early Church, for instance, it seemed to be purely superficial. Yes, the sacraments were celebrated, baptism was administered to children, but the reasons why they were celebrated or administered differed substantially from that of the early Church. In other words, even if there was seeming continuity with tradition, the reasons behind such a continuity were just as innovative and arbitrary as the rest of evangelicalism.

It was during this time of doubt that I came across a few Catholic theologians at a conference on Protestant and Catholic theology. These were not the first Catholics that I had met; prior to this encounter, I had dialogued with a rather intelligent Catholic (though he knew very little about Reformed Protestantism–which, at the time, enabled me to ignore his arguments) at a nearby coffee shop over a span of about two years. Moreover, there were constant online debates with Catholics on different blogs that I participated in. Yet, perhaps because of my realization of the shortcomings of Reformed theology, it was at this point that I tried to really understand Catholic theology from a Catholic perspective — as much as this was possible for someone who was raised to distrust Catholicism. Through something of a providential meeting, I was able to sit down and talk to Dominican friars; I posed questions regarding nature and grace, the ascension, the Creator-creature distinction, as well as historical questions (e.g., the Avignon papacy)–I basically brought up the key problems with Catholicism that I had learned about in seminary; much to my surprise, the Dominican friars answered my questions in a more than satisfactory manner and, as it became evident through the duration of the conference, presented a very compelling understanding of nature and grace and, concomitantly, theology and philosophy.

During the several months following this conversation, I kept in touch with these theologians and they provided answers to my numerous questions. For the next five months or so, I buried myself in books, Catholic and Protestant. I carefully read Peter Martyr Vermigli’s work on predestination and justification; Vermigli was an Augustinian friar prior to his conversion to the Protestant movement, and so his book represented something of a final vestige of hope. To my surprise, I came away from the book even more convinced of the truth of Catholicism. I read Heiko Oberman’s work on the medieval nominalism of Gabriel Biel and its immense influence on Luther’s theology. Through my study, I realized that much of my doubt and skepticism stemmed from certain philosophical assumptions that I had unwittingly adopted regarding knowledge of God and reality through Luther’s theologia crucis–and much of the philosophical issues that I had stemmed from my understanding of theology’s relation to philosophy. The inextricable link between philosophy and theology became evident to me. One cannot have a ‘pure theology,’ just as one cannot simply believe the Bible without simultaneously interpreting it; philosophy will always be there whether one acknowledges it or not–and those who claim to have no philosophy in distinction from their theology must necessarily elicit a certain sense of suspicion, much like the suspicion aroused by fundamentalists who claim simply to be reading the Bible.

It was during this time that I found a source of intellectual solace in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas. I had already been introduced to him a year before and had taken a class on him in seminary; at this point, I had already read through a quarter of his Summa Theologiae (through which I was disabused of the notion that Aquinas was doing ontotheology), but I was still somewhat suspicious of his view of grace and the Law. Nevertheless, I decided to give it another go and read the Summa Theologiae straight through. In St. Thomas I discovered a much more compelling reason to believe in God, and the Angelic Doctor’s careful delineation between what could be known by nature (e.g., God’s existence) and what could only be known through grace helped me to re-assess my now receding skepticism (which, going farther back than Kant, was ultimately grounded in Luther’s allergy to the deus nudus that all the Scholastics were allegedly trying to get an illicit glimpse of via philosophy). Along with Luther’s distinction between a theologia gloriae and a theologia crucis, went the notion of justification sola fide as well as the doctrine of sola scriptura. Only through nominalist philosophical lenses, it seemed to me, could justification be conceived of as something purely extrinsic (resulting in a view that the Christian was simul iustus et peccator). In other words, in the same way that Reformed theologians typically accuse the Church Fathers of being unduly influenced by Greek philosophy, I found that the Reformers were guilty of adopting, in an even more uncritical fashion, the philosophy of their time without any sense of open acknowledgement; on the contrary, they ignored their assumptions and identified their interpretation of the Bible with the Bible–against the ‘speculations’ of the medieval theologians.

Moreover, I realized that many of the positive impulses that I had discovered in Reformed theology were found in exceeding measure in the Catholic Church. Contrary to the claim that the Catholic Church (or Eastern Orthodoxy) represents something of an extreme to which people merely seeking unwarranted certainty go to (painting the Reformed church as something of a via media— a claim made by Anglicans and Methodists as well), I found that the Catholic Church tended to provide a much more balanced and consistent approach to Scripture as well as Tradition. Moreover, the problem of individualism pervasive in evangelical theology, or the vague community-centered ecclesiology of more emergent churches, there seemed to be the proper balance, not in Reformed theology which only seemed to combine the two resulting in a conglomeration of people who each considered themselves to be experts in theology in contrast to ‘broad evangelicals,’ but in the Catholic Church: plurality in unity. Far from the One sublimating the many, I found that the confession of One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church entailed a true sense of unity as well as a true sense of distinction between each member of the Church.

Moreover, I was surprised to find very little, if any, signal of that pride stemming from works-righteousness that Luther and the Reformers had warned against. Yes, these people believed that they had to cooperate with God’s grace, but this did not mean that Christ was somehow less necessary or that their works were somehow the cause of God’s grace. These were Christians who confessed at every celebration of the Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” Any sign of that Judaizing tendency of boasting before God was absent.

After spending several months meeting privately with a Norbertine Father, I was recently received into the Catholic Church. Throughout this journey I have come to appreciate and love the Catholic Church. As many Protestants warn, there are certain difficulties that the Catholic convert must necessarily face. The contemporary Catholic Church in America is far from perfect. Liturgically, there are, at least in Southern California, very few parishes that celebrate Mass the way Catholics should; there are numerous liberal Catholics who don’t submit to the Magisterium (to the delight of Protestants), the list seems endless. But none of this is actually new for the Church; things have always been so. These issues have not moved me from the conviction that the Catholic Church is the true Church; on the contrary, they have only increased my faith that this must be the true Church. If Christ could continue to work to build his Church with such a history of failings on the part of the laity, various priests, bishops, and even popes, surely this Church must be sustained by God himself; despite the passage of over two millennia, the Church continues to hold and to teach in substance what it has always held and taught. Unlike much of Protestantism which no longer believes what even the magisterial Reformers once held to be fundamental tenets of the faith (Trinity, inerrancy, etc.), the Catholic Church remains unmoved, not by virtue of her own strength, but by virtue of the grace of the Holy Spirit preserving the Church. Though I was initially turned off by the fact that most Catholics don’t know as much as I would like them to (ultimately, due to my own pride), yet I am constantly humbled by the devotion of seemingly simple Catholics whose love for the Lord and faith in his presence in the Eucharist manifest true child-like faith. On more than one occasion I have been moved by the idea that were Christ here today, these would be the people who would follow him without food or drink in order to hear his teaching and receive his flesh and blood without question or doubt. Though I once criticized these foolish sheep from a distance, I am glad finally to be considered one of them.

  1. Balthasar, The Theology of Karl Barth, p. 84. []

593 comments
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  1. Thank you, Joshua.

    About thirty years ago, after long discussions with some wonderful Dominicans and some also wonderful Evangelicals, in a time of great spiritual tumult, I arrived at the intuition that I could either be a Catholic or a nihilist and could be nothing in between — either everything mattered or nothing did.

    It was a very different path than you took, and given your vast reading of primary sources was a path that the Lord knew I was ill equipped for, but we both seem to have arrived in the same place and substantially for the same reasons.

    Welcome!

    Steve

  2. Dear Joshua,

    Thank you for your story! I am a baby Catholic revert (as of Easter this year!) and really connected with your journey- the appeal of the solid, intellectual Reformed tradition, the growing doubts and the flirtation with liberal Protestantism. But praise God for bringing so many of us Home!

    My favourite bit is when you said that, “I am able to understand and deal with imperfect Christians and an imperfect local body only from a Catholic perspective–where the objectivity of the Church is not dependent on the pastor’s ability to preach a sermon, but on the real presence of the Lord, Jesus Christ.”

    That’s something I needed to remember today when I want to despair over Catholic sermons – whether practically incomprehensible due to a thick accent or seriously impractical because we are neither taught nor exhorted to do *anything*. But I think I need to be praying for a less pridefully intellectual faith (which I totally have!) and a more child-like faith in my Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God, truly present in the Eucharist.

    Incidentally, does anyone have any good tips or links for dealing with the “post-conversion” stage?

    Thank you again Joshua for this reminder. May God bless you and keep you,

    Laura

  3. Dear Laura,

    That’s an interesting idea, to discuss ‘post-conversion.’ I suspect it would be a more subjective narrative than the description of the conversion [or reversion] itself. Still, it could be a worthwhile endeavor!

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  4. Joshua, I really enjoyed your story. I too could identify with much of it, especially what you said here: “If one small group of Christians could claim to have the truth to the exclusion of some or many others, and if this boiled down to an arbitrary construct of a man’s or a group of men’s imaginings (i.e., their interpretation of Scripture), then I could no longer believe that any Christian denomination had the truth.”

    My conversion process took years and finally reached full communion with the Church this past spring. For me, the issue of sola scriptura was what drove me home. In short: I came to reject it. This left me in serious despair and most certainly on the brink of agnosticism. It was very disorienting. Praise God for reeling us both back in!

  5. Dear Joshua,

    Thank you for this excellent retelling of your story, and welcome Home.

    Fred

  6. Steven, Laura, Christina, and Fred,

    Thank you all so much for of your encouraging words. It is so good to be home!

    Joshua

  7. What a journey you have already travelled! I hope you’ll keep us apprised of your future plans. Your ‘mustard seed’ faith makes mine seem like an underachieving speck in the wind. God is so good, when we are simply willing to accept truth.

  8. Joshua,

    I am so thankful God brought you to the Catholic Church. Great testimony.

    Ad gloriam ecclesiae!

  9. “Liturgically, there are, at least in Southern California, very few parishes that celebrate Mass the way Catholics should;”

    This really resonated with me. Even in my (at least by heritage) very Catholic city, where one is seldom more than a five-minute drive from a Catholic church, this is an issue. I’m profoundly grateful, of course, that I’m able to receive the Eucharist no matter where I receive It, but the liturgy really does matter. Have you ever assisted in the Extraordinary Form (ie, Latin) Mass or an Anglican-Use Mass? Both are very beautiful and reverent. Convent Masses and seminary Masses are sometimes open to the public too. Those might be worth a try. I guess as far as assisting in local parish Masses, all we can do is be as prayerful and reverent as we can be, and keep praying that every Catholic liturgy comes to reflect the awesome event that is happening therein!

    Well, welcome home, Joshua, and God bless you!

  10. Josh,
    Thanks for telling your story. Welcome home!

    Br. Raymond, OP

  11. Joshua, It is to bad your church experience (lousy) caused you to seek those things you felt missing in your life. My testimoney is the same but opposite. This or the catholic church is not your home. I am glad the Lord brought you to Christ first, other wise you would still be lost.

  12. Joanne, Joshua, et. al.

    I’m a convert as well (2009) and just moved from a great and faithful parish to a new community across the country where there are some serious problems: inviting lay people to say the words of consecration, confusing the Persons of the Holy Trinity with some modalist/functional/genderless/”progressive” replacements (ex. “Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier”), and various strange dictated hand gestures. While I share in your appreciation of the Mass as distinct from the personalities and shortcomings of any particular priests, I’m curious what the responsibility and the protocol is for the lay person in this circumstance. How can I help? I hesitate to bring my ecclesial consumerist past into the Catholic Church and just find a neighboring parish with priests faithful to the Church. I’d appreciate if someone could point me in the right direction. Thanks.

  13. Mr. Lim,

    I enjoyed your story and welcome to the Catholic Church! Could you explain the concept of simul iustus et peccator and how it is different from what Catholics believe? (or provide a resource?)

    Thanks

    RV

  14. Joshua,

    On another note, Joshua, can you share what role the Eastern Orthodox Church played in your journey, if at all? I see a common theme here for converts (of which I am one)…

    1) Growing dissatisfaction with the Protestant paradigm from philosophical, historical, and theological grounds.
    2) Seeing theological nihilism/liberalism/agnosticism or a historical (EO or RC) Church as the only consistent answers
    3) Choosing between RC or EO
    4) Writing your testimony for an RC or EO blog, depending on #3. ;)

    I understand this isn’t the focus on CTC, but it’s probably the most common question I get from my Reformed and Evangelical friends. Roughly, how did you work through #3?

  15. Thank you, everyone!

    Mike (re: #11),

    I’m actually quite thankful for my experiences within various Protestant communities precisely because they caused me to pursue the truth, ultimately leading me to the Catholic Church, which is Christ’s Church.

    Rodolfo (re: #13),

    I do think there is a way to understand simul iustus et peccator that is more consistent with Roman Catholic theology. The simul, in this case, would not be referring to the Christian’s being altogether righteous and sinner in one and the same way, I think this would be contradictory. Rather, the Christian often stumbles and falls and must continue to grow in grace and faith throughout this Christian life. In this sense, we are justified, but we also continue to wrestle and struggle with sin, gradually overcoming it through the grace of our Lord received through the sacraments. Does this answer your question? Hans Urs von Balthasar does discuss this at some length in his book on Barth, and I’m sure Johannes Adam Mohler discusses this somewhere in his monumental book, Symbolism. I imagine the Joint Declaration would also provide some insight, in this regard:

    Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification

    Eva Marie (re: #14),

    One of my former pastors converted to Eastern Orthodoxy and was excommunicated for it. I have an immense respect for the Eastern Orthodox tradition and have found, on my way to Rome, that the two traditions share a great deal (this is often overlooked by Protestants who seek an ally in the East). Due to this fact, I do not like to engage in polemics against the East. I would say that it is ultimately the Petrine office that did it for me. As St. Ambrose remarked: “Where Peter is, there is the Church.” Having said that, however, I do hope and pray for reconciliation between East and West.

    With regard to your troubles at your local parish, I would try contacting your bishop and letting him know of what’s going on. The great thing about the internet is that it’s not very difficult to find out what is and is not licit within the Liturgy. I have found Fr. Z’s blog to be a great practical help with these questions. It seems that your experience is, unfortunately, not uncommon. Others here will likely have better advice…

    Here’s a link to his blog:
    http://wdtprs.com/blog/

  16. Thank you for this, Mr. Lim. I identify with just about everything you have written here (though for me, not at the seminary level–just junior year of college) except for having come to rest my feet in the Catholic Church. I still have a monstrous doubt that Catholicism could actually be true, although there are beginning to be fewer and fewer things outside it and Nietzsche for me. Mostly, I fall into the radically skeptical division, but Thomas Aquinas does keep me attracted…and I still follow this site.

    Thanks again.
    Sarah

  17. Welcome home, Joshua. It seems that you had to dodge some hungry sharks while swimming the Tiber. Grace has brought you thus far. Rejoice!

    Best,
    Mike

  18. Sarah (re: #16):

    Have you read Ed Feser’s book on St. Thomas? That and The Last Superstition were quite helpful for me. They did not convince me of the verity of the Catholic faith (that’s not the stated intention of either of the books), but they provided a more or less stable philosophical ground upon which to think through my radical skepticism. If you haven’t already, I would strongly recommend both books.

    Michael (re: #17):

    Thank you! I’m looking forward to wading in calmer waters very soon…

  19. (re: #18):

    No, I haven’t read either of those books, but will look them up.

  20. I enjoyed your story Joshua. I am a new Catholic myself, baptized and confirmed this Easter. I come from a Mormon background, but I like to read about conversions from other religious traditions as well. I also enjoyed Feser’s The Last Superstition. Have you read anything by David Bentley Hart (Eastern Orthodox)? His book The Doors of the Sea on the problem of evil has some rather harsh words for Calvinism.

  21. “I hesitate to bring my ecclesial consumerist past into the Catholic Church and just find a neighboring parish with priests faithful to the Church”

    Joshua gave some good suggestions as to how to address this problem. Having said that, I’m a lifelong Catholic and I haven’t been in my territorial parish in years. Among other problems, the kneelers in the church were removed in the 1980s. While I understand your inclination to stay and try to improve things, I think it’s okay to go where the Mass is offered reverently. It’s also important (for me at least) to go where the church interior is as it should be, eg, tabernacle in the center of the altar.

    I’m wondering too, Eva Marie, do you wear a chapel veil? I started a few years ago. I was the only woman in the parish I was going to at the time who wore one. (And I would imagine in a parish such as the one you describe, YOU would be the only one wearing one!) Now a few women at that parish do. I felt extremely self-conscious at first, but I love wearing a chapel veil (I feel that it’s just more reverent in the presence of the Eucharist) and I think that when women do wear a veil, it reminds people that the Mass is an awesome mystery and the sanctuary of the church is a sacred place.

  22. Jason,

    So your skeptical and inquiring spirit has led you from Baptist to Reformed and now to Roman Catholic. But what is to stop you now from using the same methodology on Roman Catholicism itself and being forced to move onto something else? As I read the liberal and ultra-conservative types of Catholics I find that they have done just this. Have they not just taken the same sort of tactic that you took to get to your brand of Roman Catholicism and used it to get to a different version of Roman Catholicism, or to EO, or to something entirely different? What is the difference between your brand of skepticism and that of someone to the left or right of you along the what seems to me to be the very broad spectrum of Roman Catholic thought?

    I understand that for the time being you have found peace where you are at right now, but what would you say to someone else who let’s say has read the ECF’s and found that their skeptical and inquiring spirit has lead them away from what the current Magisterium holds to?

    If the confessions do not have, at least in practice, the same authority as the Magisterium, it does not seem that they have any authority at all. The moment someone disagrees with the confession or a given interpretation of the confession on biblical grounds, they no longer need to submit themselves to that governing body.

    OK, so the moment a Roman Catholic decides that he/she does not believe in papal infallibility or whatever other doctrine, they do something similar, don’t they? They declare that the current pope and cardinals are in error and outside of historic Christian teaching on the matter. So how has Trent, or any other specifically Roman Catholic statement of the faith, bound them if they feel free to reject it if they disagree, other than the fact that they in most cases don’t formally leave the RCC?

  23. Phil (re: #20):

    I have not read that book, but I have read The Beauty of the Infinite, as well as Atheist Delusions. He’s probably not the most tame critic of Calvinism… He is an interesting thinker.

  24. Phil (re: #20):

    By the way, congrats and welcome to the Church! From one new convert to another! :)

  25. I am so sad to hear this. My heart is truly grieved. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

  26. Andrew (re: #22):

    You write:

    OK, so the moment a Roman Catholic decides that he/she does not believe in papal infallibility or whatever other doctrine, they do something similar, don’t they? They declare that the current pope and cardinals are in error and outside of historic Christian teaching on the matter. So how has Trent, or any other specifically Roman Catholic statement of the faith, bound them if they feel free to reject it if they disagree, other than the fact that they in most cases don’t formally leave the RCC?

    A Roman Catholic has submitted to an external authority (i.e., the Church) as established by Christ. A Protestant, on the other hand, has submitted to his/her own interpretation of Scripture. The moment a Catholic disagrees with the Church, he goes against Christ’s own authority. Is he free to do this? Of course, but he will be going against his own identity as a Christian. The moment a Protestant decides that he doesn’t want to submit to a given church, he simply goes to a different church that agrees with his own interpretation of Scripture. He does not cease being a Protestant, because Protestantism is founded upon private judgment. In other words, a Protestant who refuses to submit to any external authority other than himself is a consistent Protestant. A Catholic who refuses to submit to the Church is not a Catholic, but a Protestant.

    If I decide that the Catholic Church is ‘not for me,’ and go elsewhere, I suppose that will simply reveal that I never actually stopped being a Protestant…

  27. Dear Eva Marie (#12),

    I agree with Josh’s response to your concern about liturgical abuses at your parish. You should inform your bishop, as he very likely does not know this is occurring. They have a lot on their plate, so would be blessed by receiving this information.

    You are not being a consumerist. I’ve spoken with a few priests about the issue of attending the parish in which your house is located. The advice I received was that my obligation was to my bishop, not to the nearest parish priest. (However, that parish priest has an obligation for the souls within his parish.) It is not a consumerist approach to pick a parish within your diocese that is healthy for your soul. Your obedience is to the bishop in any case.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  28. @ 15

    Thanks for sources and yes that does help answer my question.

  29. Andrew (#22)

    So your skeptical and inquiring spirit has led you from Baptist to Reformed and now to Roman Catholic. But what is to stop you now from using the same methodology on Roman Catholicism itself and being forced to move onto something else?

    Andrew – I wonder if, on reflexion, you mightn’t consider this a little unfair. I don’t see anything sceptical in Joshua’s story – enquiring may either be seeking to find out what is wrong with something, or to find out what is right and whether that led to something else.

    Eighteen and a half years ago, when I told my Reformed pastor that I had decided I must become a Catholic, he had the same reaction. I had, indeed, come from nothing at all, through Baptist beliefs, evangelical beliefs, Reformed (in his sense) beliefs, Reformed (in what would eventually become the Federal Vision sort of belief), and was now Catholic. In a few years, he said, he expected me to be a Muslim.

    It hasn’t happened and won’t. I am home now. You can tell when you are. I share many of the complaints about sloppy Catholicism that some of the traditionalists have. If there were an Extraordinary Form Mass in my community, I might attend it. There is not, in our small town. There is only the parish.

    But looking for the truth is the opposite of scepticism. The sceptic thinks he is looking for the truth; he is actually wanting to possess the truth – rather like Adam and Eve in the Garden.

    And I don’t think it is fair to accuse Joshua of scepticism.

    jj

  30. Honest question: How does a RC Christian reconcile the several places where RC teaching clearly contradicts Scripture? While I abhor the lack of unity between Rome and Protestantism (and within Protestantism between denominations), my conscience simply won’t permit me to submit to teaching that clearly contradicts Scripture. I feel forced to choose between the lesser of the two evils.

    Also, I don’t think the dichotomy referenced by Joshua L. above is legitimate. As a Protestant, I have not submitted merely to my own interpretation of Scripture and not to an external authority. I perceive myself as submitted to both, and certainly to the external authority of the church as it exercises its authority under the authority of Scripture. Sola Scriptura does not mean that we Protestants believe that Scripture is the only authority, but that it is the final authority. We all, Protestant and RC alike, appeal to Scripture, tradition and experience in the formation and practice of our theology.

    Thanks in advance for the help with my initial question.

  31. [Justin]

    Does your church teach we are justified by faith alone in clear contradiction to the New Testament?

    “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

    Everyone interprets Scripture so as to resolve any apparent tensions between various Bible verses. That’s why we have a teaching Church. Every heretic throughout the ages has appealed to Scripture and has argued that their version of the gospel was the only one consistent with it. I’m a former Mormon missionary and as crazy as it may seem, they truly believe that the Mormon gospel is the only one that can make sense of the Bible and that traditional Christianity contradicts scripture.

  32. Justin (re: #30):

    Is there a specific example you have in mind? I’m not aware of any RC teaching that contradicts Scripture.

    You write:

    As a Protestant, I have not submitted merely to my own interpretation of Scripture and not to an external authority. I perceive myself as submitted to both, and certainly to the external authority of the church as it exercises its authority under the authority of Scripture. Sola Scriptura does not mean that we Protestants believe that Scripture is the only authority, but that it is the final authority. We all, Protestant and RC alike, appeal to Scripture, tradition and experience in the formation and practice of our theology.

    The question is not what one perceives to be the case. Of course, from a Protestant’s perspective submission to one’s own interpretation of Scripture is submission to the Word of God. My main point is that the distinction between ‘only authority’ and ‘final authority’ is, in practice, purely nominal. If you disagree with your elders on a given interpretation of Scripture, and you are convinced that you are correct, you would not submit to that body. In this sense, for the Protestant, the church only has as authority if the individual is already in agreement with that particular body. It’s hard to see how this is real authority. If you’re ‘excommunicated’ from one church for ‘heresy’ you can simply go to another protestant body that doesn’t regard that teaching as heretical and remain a consistent, bible-believing Protestant.

    If I, as a Catholic, disagree with the Magisterium of the Church in interpreting a given passage of Scripture, I must submit to the Church since she was established on the foundation of the Apostles by Christ himself. In other words, there is here an authority that is not contingent upon my agreement, but is objectively Christ’s authority–whether I agree with it or not.

    I hope this is helpful…

  33. Justin (#30):

    Honest question: How does a RC Christian reconcile the several places where RC teaching clearly contradicts Scripture?

    As Catholics, we believed that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. So of course we’re not about to believe anything we see as contradicting Scripture. The difference between you and us is one of interpretation: As you interpret Scripture, Catholicism contradicts Scripture; as we interpret Scripture, Catholicism does not contradict Scripture. So the questions which should really be asked is: How would one tell whose interpretation is correct?

    As you survey the landscape of Protestantism, I’m sure you see countless denominations distinguishable from each other partly or wholly in terms of how differently they interpret Scripture. And in Protestantism, there is no overarching authority to determine which among those divergent interpretations is correct. So if you want to be a Protestant of some sort, you have to say either that your favored interpretation of Scripture is the most rational on scholarly grounds, or that the Holy Spirit has enlightened your and your church’s hearts more than others about the interpretation of Scripture. Either way, you will find plenty of Protestants, not just Catholics, who will disagree with you. Are you prepared to say that you and your set are smarter and/or holier than everybody who disagrees with you? I sure hope not.

    Catholics don’t have that problem. We believe that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, and that she teaches with his authority. Thus when teaching with her full authority, she is divinely preserved from error. We don’t have to imagine that we, or the bishops for that matter, are smarter or holier than others in order to justify our interpretation of Scripture. We just submit to the Church Christ founded.

    Best,
    Mike

  34. Justin,

    Thanks for posting. You wrote:

    How does a RC Christian reconcile the several places where RC teaching clearly contradicts Scripture?

    Of course, we Catholics deny that Catholic teaching contradicts scripture when scripture is rightly handled. But that returns us to the problem of interpretive authority. Still, could you spell out what perceived contradictions you have in mind?

    You also wrote:

    I perceive myself as submitted to both, and certainly to the external authority of the church as it exercises its authority under the authority of Scripture. Sola Scriptura does not mean that we Protestants believe that Scripture is the only authority, but that it is the final authority.

    Scripture is a text and does nothing all by itself. Its function as an authority of any sort, is always and everywhere carried out within the context of human reader(s)/interpreter(s). Hence, your statement imports a crucial hidden clause and can be recast as follows for the sake of clarity:

    I perceive myself as submitted to both, and certainly to the external authority of the church as it exercises its authority under the authority of Scripture [as interpreted by myself or some other person or set of persons]. Sola Scriptura does not mean that we Protestants believe that Scripture [as interpreted by myself or some other person or set of persons] is the only authority, but that it is the final authority.

    Now if the ultimate interpretive source is yourself, then it is clear that whatever “other” authority is recognized, it is subordinate to, and can be cast off, if you become sincerely convinced that your personal interpretation of scripture is in conflict with any secondary/subordinate authority source(s).

    This would seem to be the default Protestant position, wherein personal scriptural interpretation is enshrined as the ultimate arbiter of doctrinal truth or falsity, in keeping with Martin Luther’s famous:

    “Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

    If, on the other hand, the ultimate interpretive source is some other person or persons such that you would always submit your personal interpretive notions to the correction and discipline of said person or persons; then you are behaving in a very Catholic sort of way, and the question becomes this: “on what grounds do you accept the authority of said person or persons to override/correct your personal interpretive convictions”? Catholics are clear about those grounds.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  35. Justin (#30),

    I relate to your questions. I asked the exact ones a couple years ago before my conversion. You said:

    my conscience simply won’t permit me to submit to teaching that clearly contradicts Scripture.

    Good. You should never go against your conscience. And Catholic teaching does not require you to. However, it does ask you to make a distinction. It asks you to distinguish between a rightly formed concsience and a malformed one, or at least to admit the possibility of the two. I am sure you can think of examples of people whose conscience won’t permit them to do something you know to be the right thing.
    I think in fairness you must admit the possibility that your conscience is not properly formed when it comes to Catholicism.

    Honest question: How does a RC Christian reconcile the several places where RC teaching clearly contradicts Scripture?

    Let me reverse the question:

    “Honest question: How does a sola scriptura believing Christian reconcile the several places where his teaching clearly contradicts Scripture?”

    My guess is that you would answer something like “my teaching doesnt contradict scripture so I dont need to reconcile it.”

    And that is the answer of the Catholic as well. It is nearly self evident that the authority of who is doing the interpreting is the real issue. The Catholic sees you as doingthe interpreting. So what you simply see as “scripture” we see as “your interpretation of scripture”.

    So perhaps you would need to take your issues one by one and find the answer. This site is good for that. Lots of smart guys with what is most likely the best Catholic answer for any contradictions your conscience currently sees. Believe me, there are answers. And in fairness, you should hear the answer from a good source, and give the source the benefit of the doubt you would want for yourself, before you come to the broad conclusion that there are contradictions between scripture and Catholic teaching. I was a very anti-Catholic Reformed PCA Christian. Some of my concerns with Catholicism were valid, some were not. In the end, the valid ones ended up not disproving that the Catholic Church is what she says she is. A lady with a torn dress is still a lady.
    The key is attempting an understanding Catholic doctrine in the way that Catholics understand it, and avoiding straw men. As an example, when I was a Presbyterian I had been told dozens of times that the Catholics re-sacrificed Christ in the mass (RC Sproul says this constantly). But when I heard Catholics explain- in their own words- what they believed was happening in the mass, I felt more than a little cheated by the charachterization I had been led to accept. Whether the mass is true or false, I had been led to believe a straw man argument, which is not good for me or for RC.

    So I suggest you bring your concerns up one at a time on this site (perhaps in appropriate articles) and perhaps at least some of them could be cleared up.

    As for only/final authority, I totally get the distinction that is seen withing Reformed theology. But this article
    /2009/11/solo-scriptura-sola-scriptura-and-the-question-of-interpretive-authority/
    showed that it is not a principled distinction.

    P.S. I just saw the other responses from Joshua, Mike, and Ray, who beat me to the punch. Feel free to ignore my comment and respond to them. (they are the the guys that can give you the straight dope, authenticly Catholic answers).

    David Meyer

  36. Mara’ (re #25),

    You wrote:

    I am so sad to hear this. My heart is truly grieved.

    That can be a natural reaction to news like this. I don’t want to speak out of turn, but your comment reminded me of some things in my own experience, which I want to share.

    Philosopher (and fellow Catholic) Frank Beckwith once wrote about how certain views, although known and to some degree understood, for one reason or another are not a “live option” for a person. When someone we know adopts a view that is simply not a “live option” for us, we often experience pain, beyond the pain of a mere disagreement. Protestants sometimes feel this way when someone close to them, or somehow influential in their lives, converts to Catholicism. Not only do we not agree with their decision, the thing decided upon is reckoned to be fundamentally and even obviously contrary to the true and the good, such that it does not merit serious consideration, and we are pained that someone close to us could not only consider it, but “fall” for it.

    Nevertheless, the Catholic faith is peculiarly apt to appear on the Protestant’s horizon as a thing worth considering. Usually, though, it doesn’t appear all at once as a fully-wired, live option. What often happens is that Catholicism is somehow brought into orbit with one’s Protestant world; we become consciously aware of it, this awareness sometimes waxing, sometimes waning; annoying, infuriating, intriguing, disturbing. There are many ways to live with this awareness, and some fewer ways to account for the juxtaposition of Protestantism and the Catholic Church. But the relation is undeniable.

    When I told my family and friends about my decision to become Catholic, some of them expressed feelings similar to yours. In some cases, this was because the Catholic Church was beyond what they were willing to consider, in itself and on its own terms. I can only hope that my own witness, in the manifold senses of that term, can in some way help Catholicism to become a “live option” for them–something worth considering. There are so many factors at play in this transition, that I do not for a moment suppose that simply bringing the subject up often enough, or arguing for the conclusion eloquently and forcefully enough will suffice.

    Still, one of the purposes of this website, which now happily features Joshua’s article, is to serve as an open invitation to consider the claims of Catholicism, which involves, for much of our audience, sifting through those claims relative to the doctrinal position(s) of Protestantism, particularly Reformed Protestantism. This invitation extends to you, Mara’. We don’t want you to remain grieved over Joshua’s story. Even if the Catholic Church is not now a live option for you, she makes claims that are relevant to everyone who confesses that Jesus is Lord, and it would be well to reckon with those claims, and the arguments made in support of them.

    Andrew

  37. @Andrew Preslar

    I appreciate your words immensely. It resonates much with my experience over the last 6 months, especially the influx of differing emotions. Comments like yours and posts like Joshua’s are very encouraging to someone crossing the Tiber.

    I will also say (and have wanted to say many times) that arrogant, condescending remarks from the reformed crowd do themselves no favors to those considering Catholicism (not referring to any comments here in particular). Unfortunately, I have friends that are included in that group that now have no words for me at all because I didn’t heed their warning.

    Thanks again for your testimony.

  38. Joshua (re: 26),

    A Roman Catholic has submitted to an external authority (i.e., the Church) as established by Christ. A Protestant, on the other hand, has submitted to his/her own interpretation of Scripture.

    I just don’t see how that this is a fair assessment at all. From the Protestant standpoint you are begging the question. When you submit to your external authority you are submitting to your interpretation of what this authority ought to be.. But you are assuming your interpretation to be true, are you not? I look at the same historical data that you do and I come to a different conclusion. For instance, I don’t find anything either in the Scriptures nor in the early centuries of the Church that sounds anything like RCC ecclesiological beliefs at the time of the Reformation. And as I pointed out, many intelligent Catholics to the left and right of your look at the same historical data and come to very different conclusions than you have concerning the authority of Rome. Who is to say that you are right and they are wrong? It would seem that the same spirit of skepticism that got you to where you are now might serve you well again. Given your spirit of doubt and skepticism that caused you concern with conflicting Protestant interpretations of Scripture, why would you have no concerns with conflicting Catholic (and EO and other non-RCC) interpretations of the history of the Church?

    I don’t want to want to dismiss the testimony of your spiritual journey as insignificant. These stories are always valuable. But I just don’t see that you have given us anything substantively different in terms of how you arrived at Roman Catholicism when compared with stories from those of have left Roman Catholicism. It’s all boils down to personal interpretation. The only real question for me is the appropriate data that is to be interpreted and the methodology by which we do the interpreting.

  39. Welcome to the faith, Joshua. I know some of the Norbertines down in Southern Cal. What a great order.

  40. Andrew McCallum (re: #38)

    See “The Tu Quoque,” which addresses that objection in some detail.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  41. John (re: 29),

    Joshua talked about doubt and skepticism as leading to his crisis in faith before coming to Catholicism. I hope I’m not reading anything unnecessarily humanistic into what he is saying, I’m sure he will let me know if I am. And I don’t think some degree of skepticism as Joshua describes it is bad. There is an appropriate sort of skepticism towards our respective traditions. But as you allude to, it has to stop somewhere or we end up in paganism or atheism or goodness knows what else. My point concerns the appropriateness of such skepticism by the Roman Catholic when confronted by those within the Catholic tradition that have come to different interpretations of the same data.

  42. Andrew M, (re: #38)

    You wrote:

    And as I pointed out, many intelligent Catholics to the left and right of your look at the same historical data and come to very different conclusions than you have concerning the authority of Rome.

    Many “intelligent” people come to the conclusion that God does not exist, that Jesus was merely a good man, etc. And yet we (and you) believe that God does exist, that Jesus is God, etc. So, the fact that many intelligent people come to a different conclusion is in itself insufficient to justify skepticism about the existence of God, the deity of Christ, and likewise, about the Catholic Church being the Church Christ founded. Furthermore, many “intelligent” people become Catholic. But we do not determine truth on this question simply by counting noses; the question depends on other evidence.

    Who is to say that you are right and they are wrong?

    Those given the divine authority to speak for Christ and His Church, with His authority. Namely, the Magisterium of the Church Christ founded. What you’ve done here is ask a question that Catholics can answer, and that you cannot answer. And that only further supports the Catholic position. Protestants must never ask the “Who is to say” question, on pain of immediate self-refutation, by demonstrating the internal inadequacy of the Protestant paradigm vis-a-vis the Catholic paradigm.

    It would seem that the same spirit of skepticism that got you to where you are now might serve you well again.

    You didn’t want him to be skeptical when he agreed with you concerning Reformed theology prior to his conversion, but now that he disagrees with you, you want him to be skeptical. That seems to me to be not very subtle manipulation, of the Nietzchean sort. People who have evidence sufficient to justify skepticism concerning some matter do not need to exhort others with whom they disagree to skepticism about that matter; they need only present the evidence demonstrating that skepticism is due concerning the matter. Resorting to exhortation is typically a sign that the interlocutor lacks such evidence. And again, that only strengthens Joshua’s case.

    One reason to be skeptical of your position can be shown by your refusal to answer certain crucial questions that anyone considering the Catholic-Protestant question needs to answer. See my dialogue with you in comments #100-#158 of Jeremy Tate’s post “Reflections – Graduating Catholic from a Reformed Seminary.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  43. Andrew (re: #38):

    The skepticism that led me from the Protestant tradition arose from that Protestantism itself. In other words, I didn’t convert because I compared the two traditions and thought that Catholicism was relatively better than Protestantism. I didn’t leave Protestantism because of Catholic arguments or because I was attracted to the Catholic Church–I just found no way to know, as a Protestant, what the truth actually and authoritatively was.

    As a Catholic, and as someone who values philosophy as a preambula fidei, I value man’s ability to know general truths about God naturally. But this notion of philosophy and theology are, in my opinion, neither consistent with a Calvinist view of human depravity, nor Luther’s suspicions of a theologia gloriae per his Heidelberg Disputations. Obviously, a mere natural knowledge of God is insufficient in itself to save man, but I do think it enables one to more properly conceive of faith as a trust in that which is supernatural (which includes articles of faith such as the Trinity, or even the confession of one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church)–this demarcation is important to avoid skepticism.

    Now in terms of the interpretive dilemma that you pose, I would only say this: the Catholic must make the same decision as Jesus’s disciples when they were called to follow him. Did the disciples use their own private judgment in deciding to follow Christ? Of course they did. But once they submitted to Christ they let go of their own private judgment. When he told them that they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood, they did not leave him because of this hard teaching. So even if I grant that there is an element of private judgment involved in becoming Catholic, it’s still qualitatively different from the way in which private judgment is viewed in Protestantism, since any ‘hard teaching’ can be avoided by re-interpretation rather than submission.

  44. @Phil, the justification passages are pretty neatly reconciled by Protestants by appealing to the differing pastoral concerns of Paul and James, respectively. Paul, addressing those who thought that justification was by works, emphasized that justification was in fact by faith alone; James, addressing those who thought that since one was justified by faith alone that good works were superfluous emphasized that one would not be (finally) justified w/o good works. Personally, I think that some of the Protestant-RC rancor over justification is semantics. I affirm that justification is by faith alone; I also affirm that w/o good works one cannot be saved – not b/c the good works are meritorious, but b/c the lack of good works confirms that the person wasn’t justified to begin with.

    @Joshua, some of the contradictions that come to mind would be clerical celibacy in light of 1 Timothy 4:1ff, 1 Cor. 9:5; the assertion that the Virgin Mary was sinless and should be worshiped/venerated, prayed to, etc.; praying to saints; purgatory; indulgences; Protestants (myself included) see no biblical substantiation for any of these. You wrote: “If you disagree with your elders on a given interpretation of Scripture, and you are convinced that you are correct, you would not submit to that body.” This is untrue depending on what we’re talking about – if it’s some non-essential matter, e.g., the supra-/infra-lapsarian debate, we can kindly disagree without parting ways. If it were over some essential matter, e.g., the deity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, or virtually anything stated in the Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed or Athanasian Creed, then, yes, I would leave. And no, you can’t just “jump ship” for another body of Protestant believers if you’re excommunicated. Even if another body admits you to its membership, the prior excommunication would stand whether recognized by the individual (or his new church) or not. Finally, just for the sake of my own understanding, it sounds like you’re saying that as a RC you have to agree with every last jot and tittle of RC dogma. Do I understand you correctly? If so, is Tom Brown (above) out of line to advise his sister to seek out a parish that is healthy for her soul, to the exclusion of those she deems “out of line” with what she thinks they should be doing at Mass?

    @Mike, I agree that within Protestantism there are widespread interpretations of Scripture. However, I think there’s sanity in the statement, “In the essentials, unity. In the non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.” While I differ with brothers and sisters from other denominations over non-essential matters, I still consider them brothers and sisters due to our agreement on the essentials (again, I’d define essentials as the truths spelled out in the historic creeds of the Church). I am not at all prepared to say that I’m smarter or holier than any of them. In fact, I’m certain that’s completely false. That said, for the sake of my own conscience I must align with the denomination whose teaching as a whole most closely corresponds to Scripture.

    @Ray, the grounds upon which I accept the authority of the elders in our denomination to override/correct my personal interpretive convictions is our common consent to the Confessional Standards to which we subscribe. I’ve also vowed to submit to the government and oversight of the Church. That said, I again get the impression that from your perspective any dissent on any issue (however peripheral) signifies either rebellion on my part or deficiency in the theological formulation of our denomination. Do I understand that correctly?

    @David, I gladly admit the possibility of a malformed conscience; given my affirmation of total depravity I try always to look at myself with suspicion. I have no interest in erecting straw men and am very interested in getting good answers from thoughtful RCs. I agree – a lady with a torn dress is still a lady. I just happen to see most Protestant churches as a part of the lady rather than as anathematized or, at best, estranged from the lady. Thank you for your advice about seeking answers to my questions individually as they arise. As time permits, I have interest in doing just that.

  45. If you were on the brink of agnosticism, and you joined the Catholic Church because it did a better job of convincing you, I wonder if your faith in Christ is purely on an intellectual level, and you are only looking for faith in religion itself. If you are looking to be convinced of God, I wonder if you have a saving faith that is based on the conviction of sin and a supernatural changing of the heart. If you became dissatisfied in the reformed church and you identified the congregation as The Church, then you have a wrong definition of what the Church is. The Church is comprised of individual born again believers of Jesus Christ. If Christ is in you and Christ is in me, then we are both a part of the Church, no matter our congregation or denomination. The “american church system” I believe is not what Jesus called the Church to be. The scriptures only referenced city Churches, meaning, everyone who is a born again follower of Jesus living in one city, would be called as the Church of that city, ie, the Church of Laodicea, the Church of Ephesus, etc. Jesus’ last prayer was that we would be one as He and the Father are one, so I don’t believe the denominations and the different congregations are the ideal Church system of the scriptures, shown in the book of Acts. But does that mean we should throw out the baby with the bathwater and reject one faulty religious system for another? From what I read, it seemed like you were searching for answers from man rather from God, and all you did was trade in one religion with another and are looking for an identity in man’s religion rather Jesus Christ alone.

  46. Hello Joshua,

    Do you remember me from the IustitiaAliena chats about a year and a half ago? With Peter, Inwoo, etc, all had a good time, even though we didn’t see eye to eye. You’ve made quite the turn around since then. Glad to see your story!

    (I’m not sure if my last comment went through, so I’ll try again with this.)

  47. Joshua L.
    You say:
    I just found no way to know, as a Protestant, what the truth actually and authoritatively was.

    Could you say that you don’t know as a liberal who reject the foundation as scripture, or as one who hold scripture as the foundation of doctrine?

    Would human depravity be a matter of morals rather than that depraved humans can’t get anything right? Could Barth be wrong on that?

    Would equating the following of Jesus with following Rome could be likewise reason by Mormons of the following of Jesus and the LDS church? Leave your mind at the door?

  48. James (re: #45):

    I joined the Catholic Church because I became convinced that if Christianity is true, then there must be a way to know and submit to its truth in a more than intellectual manner. In other words, there must be a historical and visible Church that is in substantial continuity with the Church from her inception at Pentecost, through the Early Church Fathers, through the Medieval and Reformation era, until today. Christ, after all, promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church. Therefore, it was incumbent upon me to submit myself to that Church, just as the disciples, once they found the messiah, submitted to him.

    You write:

    If you are looking to be convinced of God, I wonder if you have a saving faith that is based on the conviction of sin and a supernatural changing of the heart. If you became dissatisfied in the reformed church and you identified the congregation as The Church, then you have a wrong definition of what the Church is. The Church is comprised of individual born again believers of Jesus Christ. If Christ is in you and Christ is in me, then we are both a part of the Church, no matter our congregation or denomination.

    First, I know of other Protestants who are vehemently anti-Catholic who would disagree with what you write about the Church. Second, I believe that in order to be saved, I must have faith in Christ, not simply a conviction of sin or a ‘supernatural’ changing of the heart (indeed, I would not know how to be certain that my heart has really ‘changed’). I love Christ and so I joined the Catholic Church because it seems that being Catholic is the only consistent way to be a Christian. Moreover, I find it interesting that you question whether I am truly saved, and then proceed to say that the Church is comprised of those in whom Christ dwells. But here’s my problem: on what grounds should I accept your interpretation of the Bible? If even Protestants disagree with you, Protestants who I regard as committed to the gospel, why should I trust that your definition and understanding of the Church is right and everyone else is wrong?

    Jesus’ last prayer was that we would be one as He and the Father are one, so I don’t believe the denominations and the different congregations are the ideal Church system of the scriptures, shown in the book of Acts.

    Jesus prays for visible unity, and this is a unity based upon truth, “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” A purely invisible unity renders our Lord’s prayer senseless.

    Finally, you write:

    From what I read, it seemed like you were searching for answers from man rather from God, and all you did was trade in one religion with another and are looking for an identity in man’s religion rather Jesus Christ alone.

    You would have me betray Christ himself and entrust myself to your interpretation of Scripture. In this sense, what you demand that I do is no different from what you’re accusing the Catholic Church of doing. As I see it, it’s not the Catholic Church vs. the Bible, it’s your individual interpretation of the Bible vs. the Church that Christ has instituted.

  49. Peter (re: #47):

    You write:

    Could you say that you don’t know as a liberal who reject the foundation as scripture, or as one who hold scripture as the foundation of doctrine?

    If I understand your question correctly, I would say that as a Protestant who believed in inerrancy and infallibility, I could not know in any absolute manner what Scripture taught. Because a text always needs an interpretor and when biblical scholars are disagreeing about just about every single passage, especially the important ones, I did not know who to trust. Sure, I know Greek and Hebrew, but it takes more than an elementary knowledge of the languages to know who is right or wrong.

    Would human depravity be a matter of morals rather than that depraved humans can’t get anything right? Could Barth be wrong on that?

    Morality cannot be separated from the intellect, “they suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Leaving Barth out of the picture and just taking Calvin and Luther, I still don’t know how you can trust anyone especially them. Why are they exempt? Because they interpret Scripture correctly? According to whom? In other words, who gets to judge who is right and wrong when we are all fallen (both morally and intellectually).

    Would equating the following of Jesus with following Rome could be likewise reason by Mormons of the following of Jesus and the LDS church? Leave your mind at the door?

    It’s possible. I wouldn’t call it leaving one’s mind at the door, but if that’s what you want to call ‘leaving everything and following Christ,’ you’re free to do so. Mormons and the LDS, like Protestantism, arose much too late to make any legitimate claim to being the Church Christ instituted…

  50. Nick (re: #46):

    Thank you. I remember our discussions; things have certainly changed since then.

  51. “Therefore, it was incumbent upon me to submit myself to that Church, just as the disciples, once they found the messiah, submitted to him.”

    Why not do what the disciples did and submit directly to Jesus Christ himself? (i agree accountability and fellowship is important…BUT…) Jesus alone is the model Christian. He lived a life of the full gospel ministry and gave us power and authority to do the same and even greater works. Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus and not the traditions or the doctrines of men.

    “But here’s my problem: on what grounds should I accept your interpretation of the Bible? If even Protestants disagree with you, Protestants who I regard as committed to the gospel, why should I trust that your definition and understanding of the Church is right and everyone else is wrong?”

    I agree, herein lies the problem. Without looking to man and whether or not someone agrees or disagrees with me (because there will always be groups who agree and groups who disagree), lets just read the scriptures by itself and see what it says clearly.

    1 Cor 12-31. We as individuals make up the body of Christ.

    “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church.” Col 1, 17. Jesus Christ is the head of the body, the Church, which we are individual members of.

    “After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.” Eph 5, 30. The Church is the body of Christ consisting of members.

    “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” 1 Cor 3, 16. We are God’s temple and the holy spirit dwells in us.

    “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18, 20. Even the gathering of 2 or 3 is Christ among us, his Church.

    etc, etc. Men interprets the scriptures. But just reading it without the opinion of men, even myself, what do you take out of this?

    “Jesus prays for visible unity, and this is a unity based upon truth, “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” A purely invisible unity renders our Lord’s prayer senseless.”

    The truth is Jesus Christ. The truth is He came in the flesh, lived a perfect, sinless, obedient life, voluntarily went to the cross in our place, took upon himself the full wrath of God, died, was raised again in the flesh forever defeating death and Hades, and ascended to the right hand of God the father. Whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. If you genuinely believe in this and have put your faith in Jesus Christ, and I as well, no matter our stance in the secondary issues, you are my brother and we are of the same body. The same Church under the head of Jesus Christ.

    “You would have me betray Christ himself and entrust myself to your interpretation of Scripture. In this sense, what you demand that I do is no different from what you’re accusing the Catholic Church of doing. As I see it, it’s not the Catholic Church vs. the Bible, it’s your individual interpretation of the Bible vs. the Church that Christ has instituted.”

    No, absolutely not. All I want is for you to seek Jesus Christ through the scriptures and not seek above this the interpretations of men, myself or any man’s religion.

  52. James,

    I don’t mean to horn in on your conversation with Joshua (he says as he goes ahead and horns in), but your remarks remind me a great deal of myself when I was an evangelical. Specifically, I remember the consternation — even exasperation — with people who didn’t see things the way I did, and the way you do, because it all seemed so clear. The reason, I want to suggest to you, that it seems so clear is because you take the framework in which you think for granted to such a degree that it is virtually invisible as a framework. The components of this framework would include, based on what you’ve written thus far, (1) the truth of scripture, (2) the canon of scripture, (3) the “religion”-“relationship” dichotomy, (4) the insinuation that Jesus Christ being Truth somehow makes doctrine unimportant, (5) the logical order Christ–>believer–>church rather than Christ–>Church–>believer, (6) the identity of “essentials” vs. “non-essentials.” The list could go on and on — those are only examples that spring to mind. For now, I simply want to encourage you to spend some time examining — I mean really examining — the reasons and/or assumptions that lie behind each of those. I don’t tell you immediately to abandon your framework, but only to begin to identify it as a framework, and thence to interrogate its soundness.

    best,
    John

  53. James (re: #51):

    You write:

    All I want is for you to seek Jesus Christ through the scriptures and not seek above this the interpretations of men, myself or any man’s religion.

    I appreciate that you desire this and I have no doubt that you are being sincere. I also desire this for you and for everyone else–this is precisely why I joined the Catholic Church.

    God bless you.

  54. Justin,

    You ask, “How does a RC Christian reconcile the several places where RC teaching clearly contradicts Scripture? ”

    Let me propose some distinctions between four ideas:

    (1) What the Bible actually says
    (2) What some people think the Bible says
    (3) What the RCC actually teaches
    (4) What some people think the RCC teaches.

    Catholics would say that you are operating under #’s 2 and 4, while Joshua is operating under #1 and 3.

    Distinguishing between these four things makes all the difference in furthering these discussions.

  55. Justin (#44):

    You write:

    I agree that within Protestantism there are widespread interpretations of Scripture. However, I think there’s sanity in the statement, “In the essentials, unity. In the non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.” While I differ with brothers and sisters from other denominations over non-essential matters, I still consider them brothers and sisters due to our agreement on the essentials (again, I’d define essentials as the truths spelled out in the historic creeds of the Church). I am not at all prepared to say that I’m smarter or holier than any of them. In fact, I’m certain that’s completely false. That said, for the sake of my own conscience I must align with the denomination whose teaching as a whole most closely corresponds to Scripture.

    You deny that you’re any smarter or holier than any of your “brothers and sisters from other denominations.” You say you consider them brothers and sisters “due to our agreement on the essentials.” You then say: “I’d define essentials as the truths spelled out in the historic creeds of the Church.” Very well then: why should we accept that definition? Because it’s yours? What authority do you have? Lots of Protestants disagree with you about what “the essentials” are. If you’re no smarter or holier than they, why should we believe you instead of some of them?

    Perhaps you’re just appealing to the authority of “the Church” If so, I would ask: Which church? Yours? Why should we accept its authority? And if something more than yours, what is that “more”? And why should we accept your account of it, as distinct from, say, mine?

    You insist that you “must align with the denomination whose teaching as a whole most closely corresponds to Scripture.” But how would you know which teaching most closely corresponds to Scripture? By your own judgment? But if you deny you’re any smarter or holier than other Christians who disagree with, what makes your judgment more reliable than anybody else’s? It’s no good saying you submit your judgment to that of “the Church,” because you’ve already decided to identify the Church” as that body of people “whose teaching”–in your judgment–“most closely corresponds to Scripture.”

    Don’t you see the vicious circularity of your position?

    Best,
    Mike

  56. Dear Joshua,

    My favorite part was the end:

    yet I am constantly humbled by the devotion of seemingly simple Catholics whose love for the Lord and faith in his presence in the Eucharist manifest true child-like faith. On more than one occasion I have been moved by the idea that were Christ here today, these would be the people who would follow him without food or drink in order to hear his teaching and receive his flesh and blood without question or doubt. Though I once criticized these foolish sheep from a distance, I am glad finally to be considered one of them.

    It was simple Catholics who made me consider the claims of the Church in the first place. Blessed Mother Teresa did more to sustain me through doubt than any intellectual did, and I say that as someone who is grateful for receiving years of much undeserved help from intellectual Christians.

    Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

    Sometimes our confidence in our own human wisdom is precisely what is keeping us from God. What is weird is that in accepting Christ and his Church, we then turn around and grow in true wisdom, in a way that subsumes everything that was good and true about our old imperfect human arguments, without contradicting them, but perfecting what was missing in them. I have consistently found that if I want to think clearly, I need to pray and receive the sacraments and believe and trust in God. Apart from Him, there is no clear thought; one can scarcely call what remains thought at all. But with Him I can even be wise by human standards, and yet transcend them still.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  57. Andrew M (#38):

    Addressing Joshua, you wrote:

    …many intelligent Catholics to the left and right of your look at the same historical data and come to very different conclusions than you have concerning the authority of Rome. Who is to say that you are right and they are wrong?

    The answers that Joshua and Bryan have given you ought to suffice. But as I’m pretty sure that neither you nor the other Protestants here will see it that way, I want to augment them here.

    “Intelligent Catholics” who come to reject Rome’s claims to authority are materially heretical and thus, objectively speaking, no longer in full communion with the Church. That bishops or popes rarely rule formally to that effect in the case of particular individuals is unnecessary and, in many cases, would actually be counterproductive. But such Catholics have put themselves in the same position as Protestants, intellectually speaking, because the logic of their position is the same as that of Protestantism. They can no longer answer the question you’ve posed to Joshua, because they have rejected the one authority that could answer the question if they would but have it so.

    On the other hand, Catholics like Joshua, me, and the authors of this site needn’t be troubled by the question. For whether or not any particular individual’s reading of history suffices to convince him of the Catholic Magisterium’s claims for itself, the fact is that his acceptance of those claims gives him a principled way to distinguish his own opinions from divine revelation–and that fact is itself a good reason to accept those claims. Rejecting that way of making the distinction leaves one with only ad hoc and provisional ways of making it. In short, it leaves one only with human opinions, not divine authority. So IF there is a principled way of making the distinction in question, it’s the way that Catholics who are loyal to the Magisterium make it. And while that by itself does not prove the Magisterium’s claims for itself, it does indicate that some such claims are necessary if we are to transcend mere opinion.

    I doubt, of course, that such an argument would weigh any more with you now than it’s done in the past. It’s long been evident to me that you don’t think we can, as believers, transcend mere opinion. Progress will only have been made when you see why that is a fatal problem with your position.

    Best,
    Mike

  58. Justin (#30)

    How does a RC Christian reconcile the several places where RC teaching clearly contradicts Scripture?

    Justin, clearly the RC Christian doesn’t think there are any places where RC teaching clearly contradicts Scripture.

    There are, to be sure, places where Protestants think they understand Scripture and think they understand RC teaching and think there is a clear contradiction. Those three ‘thinks’ are the problem.

    jj

  59. Andrew (#41)
    It is true that Joshua talked about doubt and scepticism – but he understood those attitudes to be the Protestant attitudes he had acquired. I took your comment as rooting those attitudes in Joshua himself. I apologise if that was not what you meant. I took Joshua as having approached Catholicism precisely because he had rejected doubt and scepticism.

    I have often been accused of credulousness by my Protestant friends; never of doubt and scepticism :-)

    jj

  60. Justin,

    You wrote:

    That said, I again get the impression that from your perspective any dissent on any issue (however peripheral) signifies either rebellion on my part or deficiency in the theological formulation of our denomination. Do I understand that correctly?

    Nothing I wrote had anything to do with assessing whether you are rebellious or not, or whether your denomination’s theological formulation(s) are deficient. Further, whether or not a doctrine is “peripheral” is, itself, a fundamental doctrinal question. Nevertheless, to save time, simply restrict the consideration to some doctrine which you consider to be non-negotiable (perhaps the Reformed understanding of Justification??).

    Either your private interpretation of Scripture regarding the nature of such a doctrine trumps your commitment to your current ecclesial community – should they come to hold an incompatible view – or it does not. If so, then the gesture of respect or submission to your current ecclesial community (and/or its creedal formulation) is superficial and you remain the ultimate arbiter between orthodoxy and heterodoxy.

    If, OTOH, you would submit your own interpretive convictions regarding a central doctrinal matter to the correction of your ecclesial community, the question remains as to what grounds you have for investing them with such authority. Noting that the community itself appeals to a creedal symbol formulated in the past merely pushes the question back one step, but does not resolve it.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  61. Dear Fr. Bryan,

    Thank you! The Norbertines are quite wonderful.

    K. Doran,

    Amen! I used to think that Mother Teresa was going to hell because she believed in ‘work righteousness.’ This is actually what my bible study teachers told me growing up. But whenever I heard of her or saw her on TV, I could not believe it. Her life exudes true beauty and Christ-like love. It is truly humbling.

  62. Hi Justin.

    You wrote.,, Mike, I agree that within Protestantism there are widespread interpretations of Scripture. However, I think there’s sanity in the statement, “In the essentials, unity. In the non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.”

    Could you give me a list of what your denomination consider “essentials” and the “non – essentials”in the Christian faith. It should not be difficult for you if there is indeed a dividing line between essential and non-essential. Thank you.

    Blessings
    NHU

  63. […] /2012/05/joshua-lims-story-a-westminary-seminary-california-student-… […]

  64. @NHU, Here are the questions for admission to membership:
    1. Do you acknowledge yourselves to be sinners in the sight of
    God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save
    in His sovereign mercy?
    2. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God,
    and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon Him
    alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?
    3. Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon
    the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as
    becomes the followers of Christ?
    4. Do you promise to support the Church in its worship and
    work to the best of your ability?
    5. Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline
    of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?
    Affirmative answers to those questions would cover the barest essentials.

    @Mike, I disagree that there are Protestant Christians who would disagree on the essentials laid out, e.g., in the Apostles’ Creed. If they deny those basics they are not Christians. “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” (WCF I.X). This is why I can affirm the early creeds of the Church – they were patently in keeping with Scripture. Subsequently, the church added doctrines and decrees that were so contrary to Scripture that they drove not one or two, but whole hordes of Christians to protest and plead for reform in the face of the Church’s abuses. In a very real sense, I am submitted to the authority of the Church of which Christ is King and Head. I simply perceive the Protestant Church to be at least as much the Church as the RCC is.

  65. Joshua,

    Very well communicated piece. Thank you.
    You said: “If all men are, as Luther and Calvin interpret Scripture to say, helplessly corrupt and depraved, how can I trust anyone? Why should I trust what Martin Luther says that the Bible teaches, or what John Calvin says the Bible teaches or any of the Reformed confessions, for that matter? Is it not the height of naiveté, even hypocrisy, to believe that everyone is totally depraved and yet continue to trust that any human interpretation of Scripture is somehow guaranteed by the Holy Spirit? Is it not more honest to say, with Nietzsche and Foucault, that all men are simply driven by a will to power? And if this is true, no human institution including the allegedly ‘ministerial’ denominations of Protestantism can be trusted because they are simply structures through which those having power can manipulate and control those who do not.”
    This does leave a person despairing, doesn’t it? Ironically you had no other place to go yet it was the place where all the others had come from.

    I read Richard Neuhaus’s conversion story and he said that he woke up the day after being received into full communion with the Church and that he no longer wondered where he was supposed to be; he was home. He said that the language of “coming home” wasn’t really supposed to be used in order to convey a more eccumenical spirit, but that he couldn’t help feeling that he was finally, home.

    Blessings!

  66. Mike (re: 57)

    ….whether or not any particular individual’s reading of history suffices to convince him of the Catholic Magisterium’s claims for itself, the fact is that his acceptance of those claims gives him a principled way to distinguish his own opinions from divine revelation–and that fact is itself a good reason to accept those claims.

    I won’t argue that Catholicism has a sort of “ready-made answers in the back of the book” solution to theological debates. Judaism in Jesus’ time had the same sort of solution. The Pharisees could trace their spiritual succession to Abraham and since God was faithful to His covenant people it was argued the authority of the Sanhedrin was not to be questioned. There was a “principled distinction” that could be drawn based on the human authority that God had ordained. And in modern times I cannot argue with the Jehovah’s Witnesses that they have a sort of “principled distinction” as well. They have a human court of authority that they can appeal to in order to definitely determine truth from error. Would you say that the system of the Pharisees and the JW’s has an advantage because of this ability to appeal to a human court that can render definitive judgment for the faithful? I’m not try to equate Catholicism with the Pharisees or the JW’s, only to point out that your yearning for the principled distinction is only good if it’s a principled distinction that God has ordained.

    It seems to me that either God did ordain the kind of human certitude that you long for or He did not. If He did not then the fact that you feel that there is insufficient epistemological certainty is immaterial. I’ve pointed out in the past that the lack of the kind of certitude that you posit in the Magisterium does not make Christianity unworkable. It just means that you need to accept that God can and does work through a fallible Church. I would argue that God can and does work through the Scriptures to extend His Kingdom without any appeals to a infallible Magisterium. When Athanasius challenged the Arians of perverting God’s truth he told them that they had twisted the plain meaning of Scripture. Of course the Arians laughed at that statement. You might argue that Athanasius’ contention left no clear answer on the Trinity until Roman ecclesiology had developed to an extent to define the matter de fide. But this would ignore the fact that the Scriptures (mediated by the Church as this institution is defined in Scripture) has been used to convince countless millions of the truth of this doctrine. God is perfectly capable of converting the whole world to the truth of this and any other doctrine without any infallible human standard. You may feel on shaky epistemological ground without such an authority but it seems to me that this is a reflection of your expectations rather than any argument for a human authority as such is conceived by Rome. Either God intended for a system that you propose or He did not. And If God has used His Word to convince millions of people as to a given truth, these people’s God-given knowledge is not “opinion” just because there are some or many others who God has not revealed Himself to. You are constantly trying to look at the matter as if we humans must have tools at our disposal to make binding judgments on the beliefs of every human being on the planet, at least on de fide issues. But what if God never intended us to make such judgments (I would like to suggest that since there is not even a hint of an infallible Roman Magisterium in Scripture nor one practiced in the early centuries of Christianity that it’s at least a reasonable supposition). Athanasius was content to proclaim God’s Word and let God do His work without appealing to an infallible bishop or Church. And God did do His work. But what of the fact that many others read the same Scriptures and rejected the doctrine of the Trinity? Why should this lack of consensus necessarily cause us alarm if God’s truth is being proclaimed? Your “solution” is to propose an infallible human court to judge the world, right? But when and where did God ask His Church to do this?

    Joshua (re: 43),

    As a Catholic, and as someone who values philosophy as a preambula fidei, I value man’s ability to know general truths about God naturally. But this notion of philosophy and theology are, in my opinion, neither consistent with a Calvinist view of human depravity, nor Luther’s suspicions of a theologia gloriae per his Heidelberg Disputations. Obviously, a mere natural knowledge of God is insufficient in itself to save man, but I do think it enables one to more properly conceive of faith as a trust in that which is supernatural (which includes articles of faith such as the Trinity, or even the confession of one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church)–this demarcation is important to avoid skepticism.

    Philosophy has a necessary role I fully agree. I don’t think there is any problem with stating this and affirming a Calvinistic understanding of human nature. Not sure about your point on Luther. And I’m not sure what this natural knowledge of God will do more than what will be done in a human to whom God has revealed supernatural things. But I think that crass humanistic skepticism can be avoided in non-Christians via common grace and an understanding of natural verities.

    On hard sayings, we all of those to deal with – you are dealing with a Calvinist here!

  67. Joshua,

    Welcome home!

    The statement that struck me most was, “My Reformed belief in the relative importance of the visible church was in conflict with the Reformed emphasis on the importance of one’s individual conscience.” My mind quickly flashed to the moment in history you eluded to, Luther’s famous words at the Diet of Worms, “I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.” I couldn’t help but wonder how often Sacred Scriptures tell us our consciences are an authority in knowing the teachings of Christ? I don’t recall any…

    Though I am a cradle Catholic, I have had much reason to dwell on the division between Catholics and other Christians, and in that process I had to learn why it was I remained Catholic. Your thought process describes much of my own, and eloquently so. Thank you for sharing with us.

    God Bless!
    – Adrienne

  68. Joshua L.

    Thanks for making your points more clear. I think I understand your points better.

    Wouldn’t you say the same about your knowledge of the RCC teach as well. Even though you learned latin. How are you to know all the teaching of the RCC with “absolute manner”? I am to learn with the best of my ability the Bible, and you are to do so with the Bible and now you added all the decrees of the RCC.

    I think I was trying to say that the fallen state is true of everyone under sin, so I effects all of humanity. I would have to say that morally and intellectually are included under sin. So I would have to agree with you there. However, does that mean that human can’t get anything right? Does that mean that they can’t read? It seams to me that people are able to know the meaning of words, even though they may suppress it. On the other side. The Pope and all his people are humans too, are they not? As you put it, “Why are they exempt?” You may say that God granted them exemption, but how are you to know that that is true that they are exempt? You as an individual is casting your faith, without “absolute manner” of knowledge that they are exempt.

    You said ‘leaving everything and following Christ,’ as if that is following RCC. Do you really think that the RCC is the same as Jesus? Maybe you are confusing the RCC with Jesus just a little. That is offensive to anyone who is a worshiper of Jesus. Yes, I am saying that if you are a follower of Jesus, that should offend you.

    I don’t know if you know the LDS all that well, but I think they hold that Jesus came back to reinstitute their church thus Latter Day Saints. Protestantism, by terms is NEW, but it is the group that holds to the gospel. Considering it another way, the gospel was in eclipse fro hundreds of years, and when there where lights that shown, the RCC killed them, lastly God raised a Luther under the conviction of the Law, and searched scripture for peace with God, and RCC was not able to kill him, though they wanted to. At Trent the RCC broke off from the gospel of grace for a system of earning merits by the means of her. If we follow the gospel teaching from the Bible, and which church has it, then you are only left with the fact that RCC is a late comer as Trent was a response to the Reformation.

  69. Peter, I’m new here and may not be entirely caught up, but can you share any evidence of your claim that Christians with the true gospel were killed off by the Catholics, until Luther? When was the gospel lost? You seem to argue this is distinct from LDS, but it sounds a little too similar. Do you have more historical evidence to back your claims than the LDS?

  70. Peter (re: #68):

    After long arguments on Facebook, it seems we are arguing here as well… Hopefully communication will fare a little better than before.

    You write:

    I think I was trying to say that the fallen state is true of everyone under sin, so I effects all of humanity. I would have to say that morally and intellectually are included under sin. So I would have to agree with you there. However, does that mean that human can’t get anything right? Does that mean that they can’t read? It seams to me that people are able to know the meaning of words, even though they may suppress it. On the other side. The Pope and all his people are humans too, are they not? As you put it, “Why are they exempt?” You may say that God granted them exemption, but how are you to know that that is true that they are exempt? You as an individual is casting your faith, without “absolute manner” of knowledge that they are exempt.

    My point is that it is impossible to know the truth from a Calvinist perspective, since everyone is totally depraved. And yes, this includes the popes ‘and all his people,’ from a Calvinist’s perspective. I am not a Calvinist and so I don’t follow the manner of thinking that you describe. I think you fundamentally misunderstand my point. This is a problem that the Calvinist, who believes in total depravity, has, not the Catholic.

    You write:

    You said ‘leaving everything and following Christ,’ as if that is following RCC. Do you really think that the RCC is the same as Jesus? Maybe you are confusing the RCC with Jesus just a little. That is offensive to anyone who is a worshiper of Jesus. Yes, I am saying that if you are a follower of Jesus, that should offend you.

    I never said that the Catholic Church was identical to Jesus; only that following Christ entails following the Church he established, which is the Catholic Church. It would certainly offend me if someone told me to follow a church that was not founded upon Christ and the apostles under the guise of obeying Christ–this is what I was doing as a Protestant.

    You write:

    I don’t know if you know the LDS all that well, but I think they hold that Jesus came back to reinstitute their church thus Latter Day Saints. Protestantism, by terms is NEW, but it is the group that holds to the gospel. Considering it another way, the gospel was in eclipse fro hundreds of years, and when there where lights that shown, the RCC killed them, lastly God raised a Luther under the conviction of the Law, and searched scripture for peace with God, and RCC was not able to kill him, though they wanted to. At Trent the RCC broke off from the gospel of grace for a system of earning merits by the means of her. If we follow the gospel teaching from the Bible, and which church has it, then you are only left with the fact that RCC is a late comer as Trent was a response to the Reformation.

    How do you know Luther was raised by God himself? And on what grounds do you say that this or that is the gospel when so many others disagree with you? This narrative is extremely distorted and on your grounds, the rest of the Church Fathers were equally ‘late comers,’ even though the Reformers did not exist until 1500 years after the Church. I don’t grant that the Protestant notion of justification sola fide comes from the Bible, so your narrative simply does not convince me at all. I think a more historically compelling narrative is one in which the Church held to one thing (namely, not justification by faith alone), and when that teaching arose in Protestantism, it was rightfully condemned by the Church according to what she had taught since her inception. This is what happened at Nicaea and at Chalcedon, and this is what happened at Trent.

  71. Alicia,

    Thank you! Hopefully you’ll be on this side of the Tiber soon. :)

    Adrienne,

    Thank you for your kind words!

  72. […] overdue in calling to your attention Joshua Lim’s article at Called to Communion, in which he describes his conversion to the Catholic Church. I commend it […]

  73. Peter,

    Josh’s question is simple, yet important: “How do you know Luther was raised by God himself?” I would add, how do you know that Luther isn’t a false teacher? How do you distinguish between true and false teachers without recourse to yor own personal interpretation of scripture?

  74. #66 Andrew,
    You said:”It seems to me that either God did ordain the kind of human certitude that you long for or He did not. If He did not then the fact that you feel that there is insufficient epistemological certainty is immaterial. I’ve pointed out in the past that the lack of the kind of certitude that you posit in the Magisterium does not make Christianity unworkable. It just means that you need to accept that God can and does work through a fallible Church. I would argue that God can and does work through the Scriptures to extend His Kingdom without any appeals to a infallible Magisterium.”
    I do not agree that it is immaterial that a person should have epistemological certainty. I would ask if you have you followed this thought through? If you are a person who has come to hold( for whatever reason you have certainty in this regard) that it is important to receive the word and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, how do you choose which of the Protestant and Reformed denominations utilize these two means of grace most biblically? Is the body and blood “more real” in Lutheranism than in Calvinism? It may not make Christianity unworkable, but it would open the possibility that there was not even a need for distinctions among the Protestant denominations, and therefore, every disagreement that you might have with an opponent who holds an equally plausible opinion would become of no practical value. This would escalate the epistemological uncertainty, pushing one to the bounds of ecclesial agnosticism. I believe that Protestants cannot decry, “Big bad Institutional church at Rome”, and then inconstantly start their own institutions that constrain congregants into submission under their own formularies. I have no substantive way to discern whether or not I might be sitting in a Mormon church, if I didn’t attend a church that was positively catholic(in some apostolic way) in its doctrine and creeds.
    On the other hand, wouldn’t it be marvelous that God really did mean to institute a visible and continuing church on earth, so that we have another place to lay our faith? If you think this might be equivalent to putting our trust in a Jim Jones type of scenario, I admit the possibility does hang, but this would be the same for any organized religion, and so one would be forced again to either take their bible and read it for themselves without any community, which we know is not biblical, or to start their own sect which has been done and will continue to be done over and over again.

  75. Hi Justin,

    Your # 64. As a Catholic I could answer in the affirmative to all 5 questions you asked but it still would not tell me what the essential and the non essential beliefs of Christianity are. What you have stated is only part of the truth as stated in the Catholic Church.

    1) I acknowledge myself a sinner and have no hope of salvation save through God’s mercy.

    2) I rely on Jesus Christ as my saviour

    3) I rely on the Holy Spirit to affect a change in my life to become more Christ like.

    4) I promise to be a support to the Church in Her worship and work with Her to the best of my God given ability.

    5) I promise to submit myself to the AUTHORITY of government of the Church and Her discipline

    As you can see these are the precepts of the Catholic Church and taken from Her own teachings. ( see the Catechism of the Catholic Church) but you still have not given me a list of what you believe is essential or non- essential. If you truly believe the 5 points that you have given me, why are you not a Catholic? If the so called “reformers” had submitted themselves to the AUTHORITY of the Church in the first place there would be no Protestants and we would not be having this discussion. The truths of Protestantism are the truths they kept from the Church at the time of the so called reformation.

    Why would I submit to part of the truth when I can have it all?

    Blessings

    NHU

  76. […] the Church on the Feast of Pentecost. He presents his story anonymously here. The other is of a Joshua Lim, who graduated this Spring with an MA in historical theology from Westminster Theological Seminary […]

  77. Eva Marie

    I thought it was common knowledge that was martyrdom of John Huss, before Luther. The Lollards, and Waldensians suffered under the hands of Rome. There are numbers as hight as 150 million people killed by Rome. They where trying to kill Luther as well, but he was protected by Fredric the Wise. W. E. H. Lecky says:

    “That the Church of Rome has shed more innocent blood than any other institution that has ever existed among mankind, will be questioned by no Protestant who has a competent knowledge of history. The memorials, indeed, of many of her persecutions are now so scanty, that it is impossible to form a complete conception of the multitude of her victims, and it is quite certain that no power of imagination can adequately realize their sufferings.” — “History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe,” Vol. II, p. 32. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1910.

  78. Congratulations Joshua and welcome home. I thank God for the way he continues to bring men of good will into communion with the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church instituted by Christ.

    Let me share a few thoughts here.

    “Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another. . . . [it holds that] Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy.” Blessed John Henry Newman 1879. (Convert to the Catholic faith from Anglicanism)

    The reformation gave every individual the right to make “it” (the bible) say whatever struck their fancy. Evidence for this is found in the fact that the Lord’s Supper was always considered the actual body and blood of Christ from the Last Supper onwards, yet the reformers said that this long held truth was not Truth. How can a 1500 year old belief suddenly be discovered to be wrong? If protestants believe this then they believe that the Church was mistaken right out of the gate, which bodes poorly for the belief that Christ would give us his Holy Spirit to lead us into all Truth.

  79. Joshua,

    Welcome home!

    Peter #77,

    Besides resting upon a secondary and shaky history of the Spanish Inquisition, Lecky’s work (you can follow the link to his actual book online) (A) presumes to ascribe a “murder toll” approaching almost half of the world’s population in the 15th century and (B) equates the Church for civil governments because of the obvious influence of the Church in Western society at large. (To use a contrary example: Just because Protestantism influenced American government does not mean that Protestantism is responsible for American foreign policy). That being the case, (A) represents a gross exaggeration, and (B) represents a gross misunderstanding.

    For anyone interested, you can find a Catholic response to this canard and a list of resources here. Since this list does not include anything by the late, great, Warren Carroll, I would be remiss to exclude his The Glory of Christendom, 1100-1517: A History of Christendom (vol. 3).

    To somehow tie this into the thread at hand, I will say that it was the smoke screen of canards, misnomers, and half-truths about the Church that became for me a “motive of credibility” for entering Her. As I read Blessed Newman, I remember being arrested with the thought of how the early Church (first 5 centuries), in a similar fashion, struggled with the canards, misnomers, and half-truths about her beliefs, practices and history that littered society.

    The similarities are more than just coincidence.

  80. Peter,

    I am a protestant and not Catholic, BUT you either have to believe all Catholics are going to hell or some are going to wind up in heaven. If they are all going to hell, blast away brother, but if there is a chance that any are going to Heaven than we have an obligation to consider that maybe they are part of the Bride of Christ whcih Jesus died for and longs to see pure and spotless. We should consider that Jesus is longing to return for a pure spotless Bride and should ask what we can do to bring that about. Is pure and spotless the splintered mess we see? If not, how can we work to bring about reunification?

    We can not have a pure spotless Bride without reunification.
    We can not get to reunification without forgiveness.
    For that matter, you can’t get to heaven without forgiving anyway.
    Dredging up how many of who killed who 3 centuries ago isn’t going to get us anywhere.

  81. Alicia said in #74: I do not agree that it is immaterial that a person should have epistemological certainty.

    Alicia,

    I may not have stated it very well, but what I was trying to say is that sometimes we want more certainty than what God has granted us. I remember a friend of mine joking once that it would be nice if God would just leave a message on her answering machine telling her what to do with her life. That would be great, I would have to admit. But then we human beings just don’t get that kind of certainty, at least not in this lifetime. So how much certainty are we supposed to have in God’s plan? That’s a question that Catholics and Protestants and EO answer somewhat differently. I was suggesting to Michael that it may be the case that Catholics are expecting more certainty in terms of some questions than what God has promised. I’m firstly making the case that a human authority that binds all Christian congregations together and speaks finally and decisively on de fide matters was unknown in the teaching of the Scriptures and the writings of the earliest centuries of Christianity. And yet Christians still managed to work in God’s kingdom without such notions. One EO scholar once said that in the first few centuries of Christianity biblical exegesis was probably the only theological method in use, and the authority of Scriptures reigned supreme. There was no appeal to an infallible Magisterium and yet nobody worried about insufficient certainty. And then secondly related to this first point, I am arguing that the lack of the kind of de fide and equivalent levels of certainty that were defined by the Scholastics does not relegate theological debate to matters of mere opinion. To pull that previously mentioned example, the lack of an appeal to an infallible Magisterium did not reduce the Trinitarian and the Arian positions to irresolvable opinions, although I suppose someone witnessing these debates might have incorrectly come to that conclusion.

    I understand that this problem of a perceived shaky epistemological foundation is part of why a good many Protestants begin to look to Catholicism. The vast majority of Reformed folks who think through these issues of authority, revelation, etc don’t experience such intellectual crises, but there are those minority like Joshua who do. The reason why they do when so many don’t really intrigues me.

  82. Josh

    You write:
    After long arguments on Facebook, it seems we are arguing here as well… Hopefully communication will fare a little better than before.

    I thought this forum maybe more useful for you, and the kind of place you rather talk in. But as you know, I rather talk in person. People get a little abusive on the keyboard. Though, I will sound a little strong in my comment here, because I am not talking about some impersonal subject, but the confusion that is resulting in apostasy and I am concern from the heart. I really mean that. I would just not waist my time, if I don’t care.

    You write:
    This is a problem that the Calvinist, who believes in total depravity, has, not the Catholic.

    Oh, so Catholics reject the depravity of humanity–that sin affects every aspect of a person? Doesn’t Rome hold to the sinfulness of humans and fallen in sin from birth? What does the Bible Teach on the matter? Romans 8:7-8 says, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” You claim that sin, inhibits humans of being able to understand the Bible, but where is that in the Bible? If that was the case, How was Jesus able to hold the Jewish leaders accountable to the OT? They did not know the Bible as they SHOULD, but the point is Jesus expected them to know the scripture. Was Jesus wrong to expect them to know the scriptures?

    Jesus say, “have you not read… ” expecting that they should have known from the reading of the OT. Matthew 22:31; Mark 12:26

    If Jesus was right in saying that they should have known the teachings of the Bible, and should have known Jesus in searching scripture. Was Jesus wrong in expecting them do known scripture?

    The Bible is words on a page. If you are able to respond to my comment here, then you are able to read text, and are able to know what the author is saying to you. You ability to write back in response is proof that your claim that sin inhibits our ability to know the teachings of the Bible to be false.

    Maybe Barth was wrong?

    You write:
    I never said that the Catholic Church was identical to Jesus; only that following Christ entails following the Church he established, which is the Catholic Church. It would certainly offend me if someone told me to follow a church that was not founded upon Christ and the apostles under the guise of obeying Christ–this is what I was doing as a Protestant.

    I would submit to you that you are doing that by going into Rome that does not have the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus did not die so as to make an institution in Rome where people can work for grace and still die without being perfected, but He died so as to save, redeem a people for himself, and make his save people into a church body. It was not a institution that the Lord died for, but His elect people. He died so as to save by his own blood, he secures their salvation. Jesus is able to give peace with God to repentant sinners. Which is not had by the meriting system of Rome; die impure and suffering in purgatory.

    A follower of the Roman system of merit can’t say with Paul in Romans 5:5 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, WE HAVE peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace IN WHICH WE NOW STAND.” Peace, true peace with God, that does not fluctuate in war, but to be justified through faith, we stand in this peace as a continued relationship in Jesus. The RCC’s system of merits is nowhere found in Romans, and the word of God says that we have peace with God, having been justified through faith. It is not meriting grace, by RCC’s sacraments. A person is said declare by God to be justified through faith alone, not by works of men, but by the work of Jesus.

    You write:
    How do you know Luther was raised by God himself? And on what grounds do you say that this or that is the gospel when so many others disagree with you? This narrative is extremely distorted and on your grounds, the rest of the Church Fathers were equally ‘late comers,’ even though the Reformers did not exist until 1500 years after the Church. I don’t grant that the Protestant notion of justification sola fide comes from the Bible, so your narrative simply does not convince me at all. I think a more historically compelling narrative is one in which the Church held to one thing (namely, not justification by faith alone), and when that teaching arose in Protestantism, it was rightfully condemned by the Church according to what she had taught since her inception. This is what happened at Nicaea and at Chalcedon, and this is what happened at Trent.

    You really think Rome taught Marian Dogmas since the time of Jesus? You really think that Rome has one set of universal Dogmas that is the same current all the way back to Peter? That is Roman myth, not history. Just look at the political infighting now. And all those years when the office of the papacy was bought and sold. Your view of history comes across a little simplistic. Had you questions on this, I am sure Scott Clark can help you out.

    Galatians 2:16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

    A person is justified through faith in Jesus, apart from human works. Rome condemned the Grace of God for not including works. Rome condemned the gospel because it reduced Rome’s power to manipulate the people with sales of indulgence.

    Well, Luther was not killed by Rome, and his recovery of the Gospel from the Scripture–the Gospel changed the world. But he was a tool in the Lord’s hand, I care not for the worship of men and to propped men up. As was Wycliffe, and Huss, in their days, thought the latter Rome killed, and the former they mutilate and scattered his bones. I don’t find many who disagree with me on the issue of the gospel, but for the cults and others false churches. The Gospel, Josh, the Gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus alone, not by means of popes and sacraments of men, but faith in Jesus alone gives the believing sinner peace with God. The baptist, reform or not agrees with that. The Protestants all agree with the Gospel. That is why they are Evangelicals. If the Gospel is preached in the church, that is a true church. Rome does not have the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It has a man made system of working for grace–what a distortion to the very word grace. It is an insult to the grace of God. You are mistaken to think in terms of “the Protestant notion”. I care not for Luther, or for Popes as you do. I care for the gospel of Jesus. I hold to the gospel because it is the only hope for humanity on the finish substitutionary atoning death of Jesus that does and will in fact save those Jesus died for. It is MY only hope. You are mistaken at the very heart of your study you are to find Jesus in the scriptures, if I maybe frank with you, I keep hearing you say according to this or that view. You maybe able to repeat their views, but even as you have said you have lost the text of the Bible. Wasn’t seminary education to teach you the text of scripture, rather than teach you paradigms of men’s opinion? Since you lost the scriptures themselves, you lost the heart of what you were studying. It is in scripture that you should find Jesus, and yet with all so many opinions of men, you lost the ability to know the Bible. That is so pitiful. If one can’t read the text of the Bible, how is one to see Jesus in the text? So pitiful in deed. All you are left with is the opinions of men. Even as Jesus said to the Pharisees: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” Go to Jesus. Jesus alone is salvation for the guilty sinner. Jesus saves. Not foolish Roman systems of meriting grace–what an insult to Christ who saves perfectly by his blood. Not to popes, for we are not to have any earthly man as our spiritual father Matthew 23:9, People of God, your father is in Heaven.

  83. Jeremiah,

    Does Rome preach the gospel?

  84. Joshua:

    I enjoyed greatly your account and will pray for you on your journey to Christ (it is just beginning). The Lord has given you a great gift (I marveled at how deeply you’ve considered these mysteries and at the acuity of your reasoning — you would make a natural Dominican!) and I will pray for your continued growth in the spirit.

    May God bless you and may you be a great blessing to His Church.

  85. Andrew (#66):

    Addressing me, you wrote:

    Would you say that the system of the Pharisees and the JW’s has an advantage because of this ability to appeal to a human court that can render definitive judgment for the faithful? I’m not try to equate Catholicism with the Pharisees or the JW’s, only to point out that your yearning for the principled distinction is only good if it’s a principled distinction that God has ordained.

    Having and deploying a “principled distinction” between divine revelation and human opinion is a necessary condition, not a sufficient condition, for actually preserving and transmitting divine revelation as distinct from human opinion. So, while I don’t believe such a distinction was as clear in the Pharisees, or is as clear with the JWs, as you suggest, they do have something necessary which your church most assuredly does not. The question for the uncommitted rational inquirer is what else is necessary, so that all that’s necessary adds up to what’s sufficient. I have made that case elsewhere, and Joshua adumbrates some of it in his post. Your objections do not address it.

    It seems to me that either God did ordain the kind of human certitude that you long for or He did not. If He did not then the fact that you feel that there is insufficient epistemological certainty is immaterial. I’ve pointed out in the past that the lack of the kind of certitude that you posit in the Magisterium does not make Christianity unworkable. It just means that you need to accept that God can and does work through a fallible Church.

    That misstates the issue just as thoroughly as you have done for years. I do not “long for human certitude” in matters of faith; I do not expect or seek human certitude even in most matters of knowledge; for in this vale of tears, people can and do know many things about which they fail to experience a feeling of certitude. So it comes as no surprise to me that deploying Catholicism’s “principled distinction” between divine revelation and human opinion does not give one “human certitude” that everything the Church teaches is true; it merely affords us a principled way to distinguish the object of the unreserved assent of faith from the object of a provisional assent of opinion. Your theological epistemology so obscures that distinction as to render it inapplicable. But making the Catholic’s unreserved assent of faith is a choice that depends more on grace than on human reason, which latter only supplies arguments that are plausible without compelling assent. So the degree of subjective certitude one has about that object of faith will vary with one’s experience, understanding, and temptations.

    If God has used His Word to convince millions of people as to a given truth, these people’s God-given knowledge is not “opinion” just because there are some or many others who God has not revealed Himself to….Why should this lack of consensus necessarily cause us alarm if God’s truth is being proclaimed? Your “solution” is to propose an infallible human court to judge the world, right? But when and where did God ask His Church to do this?

    It utterly astounds me that, after several years, you have yet to appreciate the force of Newman’s elementary point: “No revelation is given, unless there be some authority to decide what it is that is given.” Thus, treating “Scripture” as “the Word of God” is at most a plausible opinion, unless the body of people who wrote, used, collected, and certified those writings as the Word of God had divine authority to do so. That latter question is the one needing to be answered first, which is why I proceed as I do, and precisely why it would be idle at best to seek proof in Scripture by itself that the Catholic Church is that church. On the Catholic account summarized in Dei Verbum §10, Scripture, Tradition, and the teaching authority of the Church stand or fall together; the first two give the third its rationale, and the last is the authentic interpreter of the first two. Accordingly, to make the kind of inferential move your question invites would totally beg the question.

    Come to think of it, that’s exactly what you’ve been doing pretty much since Day One….

    Best,
    Mike

  86. Peter,

    Sorry to butt in, but I just want to make one point. You wrote to Joshua in #82:

    The Bible is words on a page. If you are able to respond to my comment here, then you are able to read text, and are able to know what the author is saying to you. You ability to write back in response is proof that your claim that sin inhibits our ability to know the teachings of the Bible to be false.

    You are comparing a monologue to a dialog. They couldnt be more different. Just because we can read text does not mean we automatically know what the author is saying. Otherwise why the differences in interpretation of scripture? And the proof you give is actually proof against your argument. You describe Joshuas “writing back” in response as proof that he understands. Actually what is happening is the process of dialog, where he and you can write back and forth until both sides are 100% understood. The ability (and necessity) of “writing back” and forth in order to clarify positions and come to undestanding prove that more than a monologue is necessary between you two, and it also shows that more than just writing is necessary for the Church. A living interpreter will always be necessary. The sheer amount of differnet interpretations among Protestants should also be enough to convince us that more than the monologue of scripture is necessary for us to understand what it is saying.

    Acts 8:30-31
    Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

    Bryan Cross explains this quite well in another place on this site:

    if you ask me to clarify something I have said, and then you still need further clarification, you can ask for it, and, because I can hear you and understand you and have memory and communicative ability, I can provide it. And if you need still more clarification you can ask me for it, and I can provide it. So long as I remain alive and conscious and capable of communication, I can provide interpretive self-clarification. That’s what I mean when I say that persons have unlimited potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification. We can get to the point where you say, “Are you saying x?” And I can reply, “Yes”. And that point, with respect to that question, the hermeneutical spiral comes to an end.

    Books do not have unlimited potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification. And because books don’t have that, they cannot function as interpretive adjudicator when there are competing interpretations facing the Church: each side can appeal to the book to support its own position, and without a magisterium, the disagreement can be a perpetual deadlock or impasse. But a living magisterium can not only adjudicate an interpretive dispute, it can also provide clarification regarding previous statements or judgments it has made. That is why having a living magisterium does not leave us in the same epistemic quandary that we would be in if we had only a book and no interpretive authority.

    This is what has made it possible within the history of the Catholic Church for theological disputes to be resolved. The reason the Church is not still wrestling with Arianism and Nestorianism and Monophysitism, etc. is precisely because she could speak definitively and authoritatively in condemning them. But the Bible alone could not do that. Because the Bible does not explicitly address those questions, persons on both sides could and did appeal to the Bible to defend their interpretation. And so a living personal divinely authorized voice was necessary in order to provide the authoritative interpretive decision in those cases.

    Peace to you,

    David Meyer

  87. Justin (#64):

    You wrote:

    I disagree that there are Protestant Christians who would disagree on the essentials laid out, e.g., in the Apostles’ Creed. If they deny those basics they are not Christians. “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” (WCF I.X). This is why I can affirm the early creeds of the Church – they were patently in keeping with Scripture. Subsequently, the church added doctrines and decrees that were so contrary to Scripture that they drove not one or two, but whole hordes of Christians to protest and plead for reform in the face of the Church’s abuses. In a very real sense, I am submitted to the authority of the Church of which Christ is King and Head. I simply perceive the Protestant Church to be at least as much the Church as the RCC is.

    In that one paragraph, there are so many problems that I hardly know where to begin. So here I’ll just confine myself to an observation and a suggestion. The observation is that there is no such thing as “the Protestant Church.” There are countless Protestant churches, precisely because Protestants cannot agree among themselves about what is necessary and sufficient for “table fellowship.” You seem to identify “the Church of which Christ is King and Head” as the one “patently” adhering to Scripture. Hence my suggestion: please read an article I wrote last year for this site which address that very question, among others.

    Best,
    Mike

  88. Andrew (re: #81):

    You write:

    . . . sometimes we want more certainty than what God has granted us. I remember a friend of mine joking once that it would be nice if God would just leave a message on her answering machine telling her what to do with her life. That would be great, I would have to admit. But then we human beings just don’t get that kind of certainty, at least not in this lifetime. So how much certainty are we supposed to have in God’s plan?

    If we’re called to follow Christ, should we be in any doubt that it is Christ himself who calls us? I understand that you believe that Scripture is clear on issues necessary for faith and morals, but when Christian biblical scholars (conservative ones, mind you) are disagreeing about fundamental aspects of the gospel, how does one know who to trust? It seems to me that we, as Christians, were never meant to guess what Christ himself commanded us, even if we might doubt ourselves. The uncertainty or room for error, if present, should not come from the side of Christ’s calling; but when Scripture can be interpreted by Luther and Calvin, and then by folks like Leithart and Wilson (men who claim to be following Calvin), or by eminent scholars like N.T. Wright, it becomes very difficult for someone to know what Christ is saying (or what ‘St. Paul really said’).

  89. Andrew,

    To follow Joshua’s response to your #81, I will add, that surely there is a significant difference between what God is calling to a particular person to in order to live out the universal call to holiness, whether they should marry, enter religious life, seek holy orders, or consecrated virginity, and then what kind of work they should seek to help them live that vocation, and what is publicly revealed by Christ and His Church that is common to all the faithful. When you say that Catholics are expecting more certainty than what God has promised, if by that you mean “what is God calling me, Tom, to do with my life to serve Him?” then there is no disagreement between us. But you mean this, so it seems to me, to refer to the Church that Christ established. Has not Christ promised Peter that He will build His Church and the gates of hell would not prevail? Has He not promised that the Holy Spirit would guide Peter and all the Apostles into all truth? Did not that same Christ promise the Apostles that whose sins they retain are retained and whose sins they remit are remitted? Has not the Apostle Paul said that the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth? Those appear to me and to Catholics who think with the mind of the Church to be promises God has made to us and promises that God will keep.

  90. Peter,

    You said, “Well, Luther was not killed by Rome, and his recovery of the Gospel from the Scripture–the Gospel changed the world. But he was a tool in the Lord’s hand, I care not for the worship of men and to propped men up.”

    I’m dying to know: How do you judge Luther to be a tool in the Lord’s hand or just another heretic preaching a false gospel? What is your principled way to distinguish between orthodox preachers and heretical preachers? Is it to refer to your own personal interpretation of scripture?

  91. #81 Andrew

    Thank you for responding,
    “You said: I understand that this problem of a perceived shaky epistemological foundation is part of why a good many Protestants begin to look to Catholicism. The vast majority of Reformed folks who think through these issues of authority, revelation, etc don’t experience such intellectual crises, but there are those minority like Joshua who do. The reason why they do when so many don’t really intrigues me.”

    I mean no disrespect but the epistemological crisis experienced by Protestants who are now at Rome or heading that way, is not something that you are able to observe safely behind glass; you are in the same boat and it has a hole in it, only you don’t feel the water at your feet yet. Again, I would ask you to look around you and see the plethora of choices and then ask yourself why it is that you are in the denomination that you are in. You might be able to refuse broader evangelical “bible churches” though they say that they adhere solo scriptura( by the way, do you believe that they are only using the bible?) For one reason or another you might dismiss Baptists; maybe they are too fundamental. Now, try to choose among the Protestant and Reformed, and ask yourself how it is that you are making your choice. Calvinists’ and Lutherans may agree on parts of soteriology but not all. Maybe you are comfortable with the lack of certainty of whether or not we can lose our salvation or whether or not we can contribute to our final salvation (sanctification), but you really must ask yourself when the sun rises on Sunday morning, “which church should I go to today”, and if you don’t see yourself putting this question to yourself, maybe you should try it;) For, within your schema, you do have a choice, and if the church you are in begins to assert itself as your rightful authority when you decide that you like another better, ask yourself if this is acceptable to you, and on what grounds.
    To get this really driven home, see Michael Liccione’s article, that he linked you to.

    ~Alicia

  92. Joshua,

    I really like your article and your combox comments. Welcome home, brother!

    I was struck by this from your article:

    If all men are, as Luther and Calvin interpret Scripture to say, helplessly corrupt and depraved, how can I trust anyone? Why should I trust what Martin Luther says that the Bible teaches, or what John Calvin says the Bible teaches or any of the Reformed confessions, for that matter? Is it not the height of naiveté, even hypocrisy, to believe that everyone is totally depraved and yet continue to trust that any human interpretation of Scripture is somehow guaranteed by the Holy Spirit?

    It seems to me that you answered your own question in the above in your response to Peter in post # 70:

    My point is that it is impossible to know the truth from a Calvinist perspective, since everyone is totally depraved. And yes, this includes the popes ‘and all his people,’ from a Calvinist’s perspective.

    The way I see the difference in the Catholic perspective and the Calvinist perspective is not really about whether or not men are sinful, it is, rather, about whether or not sinful men can exercise the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit.

    The Catholic Church believes that there is a particular charismatic gift of the Holy Spirit that, when exercised, allows men to teach about what has been handed down in the deposit of faith in such a way that what is being taught has a guarantee from God of being without error. The man (or men) exercising this charism of the Spirit do not have to be sinless men before this particular charismatic gift can be exercised. Which makes perfect sense to me, since Christ explicitly teaches that sinful men can exercise charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit (`Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ Matt 7:22)

    It seems to me, that in contrast to the Catholic perspective, the Calvinist perspective denies that the charismatic gift of infallibility even exists. But if that charismatic gift does not exist, then this question that you ask needs an honest answer from the Calvinist:

    Is it not the height of naiveté, even hypocrisy, to believe that everyone is totally depraved and yet continue to trust that any human interpretation of Scripture is somehow guaranteed by the Holy Spirit?

  93. Peter,

    #83.

    The greek word for gospel is “kerygma”. While there are a lot of nuances to the word, the easy translation of this word is that it is a declaration made by a conquering king to his new subjects informing them of the change of jurisdiction etc. It generally was a requirement of total and immediate submission. As St. Paul noted to the Galatian heretics there are true as well as false gospels. I am assuming that your question is more appropriately stated as “Does Rome preach the True Gospel”?

    Since you are a Protestant, and I am a Protestant, we don’t have a standard to which we can appeal in regards to “what is the True Gospel?” except maybe to the original languages (as best as we understand them). I am going to go out on a limb and guess before this post you had no idea that when St. Paul and the other original Apostles co-opted the word Kerygma they were using a political/military word that had little to no prior use as a religious word. I’m also going to go out on a limb and guess that your use of the word gospel is limited to the idea that Jesus saved you from your sins and you didn’t have to do anything to get the salvation except believe.

    But here is the break down in our communication. Did you have to say a prayer? Did your prayer have to take a certain form? Did you have to raise your hand in at an altar call? Did you have to walk down the aisle to the altar? Your faith did certainly demand some action didn’t it?

    Now according to the original usage of the word Kerygma, faith doesn’t just require one action at the kick off, you are a conquered city. The King demands your faithful, daily, obedience.

    Now I know hosts of Christians, Roman and Protestant alike who have NO CONCEPT of this at all. The Protestant said the sinners prayer and the RCC was baptized as an infant and that was that. Generally for the Protestant it is because they were preached a “Gospel” that said “pray this prayer and you get to go to heaven in 50 or 60 years when you die….” The nominal RCC believer was generally very poorly catechized for a multitude of reasons.

    The long and the short of it, is that I don’t really know what “Gospel” you have received. As to whether or not Rome preaches the “Kerygma” that St. Paul preached…..I actually don’t know, but I think what I’ve seen so far seems more similar to that than what I generally hear in Protestant circles….

    I personally kind of think that if we were actually preaching the Kerygma of St. Paul, more of us would be winding up like St. Paul wound up.

  94. Hi Joshua,

    I think we exchanged here some time ago, or maybe not. You made a passing reference to Van Til against Barth. If you knew Van Til’s critique of roman catholicism, then how did you overcome it ?

    Thanks,
    Eric

  95. Hi Eric,

    I can’t recall any notable critique that Van Til made of Roman Catholicism. All that comes to mind right now is his accusation of classical forms of apologetics as being ‘Roman Catholic’ in their methodology. If you can provide a basic sketch of Van Til’s critique, I’d be happy to respond.

  96. Eric (re: #94):

    I would also add, if presuppositional apologetics is your sort of thing, you might be interested in Marc Ayers’s conversion story.

    Here.

  97. Thanks, Mateo!

  98. Joshua (#95)

    I can’t recall any notable critique that Van Til made of Roman Catholicism. All that comes to mind right now is his accusation of classical forms of apologetics as being ‘Roman Catholic’ in their methodology. If you can provide a basic sketch of Van Til’s critique, I’d be happy to respond.

    Somewhere at home I have my falling-to-bits copy of Van Til’s “Syllabus: Introduction to Systematic Theology” – which became my Bible (ironic, isn’t it?) when I was first becoming Reformed, from having been evangelical, from having been Baptist. In it he has a long section on Etienne Gilson, at least. At the time I was a new Christian and just learning my way around. I read it again during the year and a bit that I was struggling with whether to become a Catholic – which – thank God! – I did, 18 years ago. I’ll try to dig it out and have a look at it to summarise what he says for you, if you are interested.

    jj

  99. Mike (#85),

    It utterly astounds me that, after several years, you have yet to appreciate the force of Newman’s elementary point: “No revelation is given, unless there be some authority to decide what it is that is given.” Thus, treating “Scripture” as “the Word of God” is at most a plausible opinion, unless the body of people who wrote, used, collected, and certified those writings as the Word of God had divine authority to do so.

    Yes, well I’m not sure how many times I have tried to show you that I agree with this kind of statement. As I’ve have stated repeatedly, Scriptures are never interpreted outside of the authority that is explicitly stipulated in Scriptures and then subsequently practiced by those following the Apostolic era. But at this point in time there was no Pope or Roman Magisterium of College of Cardinals or anything that is part of RCC understanding of that body which ought to do the interpreting. Maybe there is something to the Catholic argument that the development/evolution of such a body has its roots in the history of early Christianity, but it’s hardly fair to assume this to be the case. As a number of recent Protestant works on the authority of Scripture point out, the genesis of the debate begins by examining the usage of Scripture by the earliest theologians of the Church. And this is long before there is anything close to a Roman Magisterium doing any interpreting. Anyway, when we talk about sola scriptura, the “sola” of the sola is not indicative of an absence of some group of people doing the interpreting.

    And this leads back to the part of my last answer in #66 to you which you did not address but I think you should. I asked you about a case where a group of theologians has been convinced by Scripture and the Holy of the truth of a given doctrine (I used the Trinity and Athanasius). The other side reads the same Scripture but is not convinced. If we say that both groups are just holding “opinions” then we are saying that the group who has been convinced by Scripture and the Holy Spirit holds to a mere “opinion.” Are you OK with saying that? Catholics often ask the sort of question that Joshua asks me in #88. They want to know how we resolve doctrinal disputes without the infallible human interpreter. And the answer is that we don’t believe that it is any ecclesiastical organization’s job to resolve the issue. The assumption of the Roman Catholic is that there must some sort of ecclesiastical body which resolves these global disputes. But this is just an assumption and as pointed out, not one that is shared by theologians of the early centuries of Christianity. My example here was Athanasius who appealed to the clear meaning of Scripture when refuting the Arians but left it at that. Athanasius was correct, the Arians were perverting the clear meaning of Scripture and his argument has convinced many millions of theologians, pastors, and lay people up to and through the present time. The point here is that Athanasius was not trying to use the ecclesiastical judgment of a hierarchical Roman Church to separate truth from error. Like so many theologians before him he pounded home what he knew to be the truths of Scripture and let God do the work of bringing people to the truth. So we Reformed are following suit in this regards.

    Probably the most important point that I have tried to make through all of our discussions is that your argument about distinguishing revelation from mere opinion is bound up in Roman Catholic presupposition about the role of the Church in resolving theological matters (again note my paragraph above). And it’s not an assumption we are willing to grant, so I don’t see that it’s helpful for you to carry on about revelation/opinion as if the assumption about the role of the Church underlying the contention is a proven fact. But, if you are correct about the all encompassing reach of the ecclesiastical judgment of the RCC then your point about separating revelation from opinion may have merit.

  100. Joshua (#88),

    I understand that you believe that Scripture is clear on issues necessary for faith and morals, but when Christian biblical scholars (conservative ones, mind you) are disagreeing about fundamental aspects of the gospel, how does one know who to trust?

    Joshua,

    I think I would start with Ignatius’ command to obey one’s bishop and go to him for counsel. A bishop at this point in time was truly an overseer in the biblical concept of the term – he was a pastor that had chief oversight over the congregants of one church. Now the question is what happens when two bishops disagree. In Ignatius’ time they would no doubt have met to try to resolve the matter. If the two could not resolved it they might have gone to a larger group of bishops for resolution. This kind of thing happened in the Reformation churches and still does today. The result is I think a system of thought which protects those truths fundamental to the gospel. A good case study is the unity of the Reformed confessions in the 17th century.

    But getting back to your specific question, like as Ignatius advised, if there is some question of who a layperson should trust he should start with his pastor for such counsel.

    Tom (#89),

    Yes, I agree that God has promised all those things. Where I think we disagree is the specifics of how these promises are kept, specifically in what kind of ecclesiastical structure God uses to keep His promise. To take one of your examples, when Paul speaks of the “pillar and ground of the truth” he has just finished a treatise on what the local church ought to look like. Paul is saying that the local congregation is where God keeps these promises. It is the local congregation where the Scriptures are read and preached so it is this local congregation which is the pillar and ground of truth.

    Alicia (91),

    I mean no disrespect but the epistemological crisis experienced by Protestants who are now at Rome or heading that way, is not something that you are able to observe safely behind glass; ..

    I see that my last statement to you sounded rather like I was viewing the debate with a certain abstraction. I agree with you that we cannot just view such debates from a safe distance, so as to speak. I agree with Bryan Cross that we Protestants need a good reason why we are not Catholic (I think I’m stating him correctly here). I grew up with certain assumptions about religion that, like all of us, I need to examine.

    On the other hand there is a certain intellectual interest I have with the reasons for why people convert to Catholicism. There are a number of reasons that people list for converting but there is often a shared list of intellectual struggles and traits with these converts. What can I say, it just intrigues me….

  101. Joshua, welcome home to the Catholic Church! I would have commented here much earlier but have been without a working computer for a while. There is a good bit in your story which resonates with my own experience, both as a (former) Protestant, and as a (in my case, returning) Catholic.

    As Alicia writes in #81, the epistemological difficulties within Protestantism, period, (to say nothing of the different branches *within* Protestantism) are very real. When these difficulties are faced, for some people, they play a role in leading to agnosticism or atheism. For others, they help to lead to the Catholic Church or to Eastern Orthodoxy.

    Obviously, many people do happily remain Protestants, even with the attendant epistemological difficulties. In any event, I wish that more of our Protestant brothers and sisters could see that the epistemological issues are only *one part* (an important part, to be sure) of an overall tapestry which leads many thoughtful non-Catholics to become Catholic.

    For myself, I certainly did not return to the Catholic Church *only* for a sense of certainty (on many important Biblical/theological matters) which finally eluded me in Protestantism. However, the question must be faced– for the Protestant, on what basis, other than the principle of the primacy of the individual conscience in interpreting Scripture, can he or she have certainty, as a Christian, on issues such as justification and salvation (and whether they can be lost or not), baptism (infants or believers only?), the existence and nature of Hell, the matter of gender in ordained ministry, and any number of other issues? Has God left us to our own interpretive skills (assuming that we are highly literate, which most people, worldwide, are not) to figure out all of these issues?

    Having been a serious, conservative Protestant, I know that many serious, conservative Protestants, in various denominations, claim to resolve the above questions via Bibical study according to “sound hermeneutical principles” with the “illumination of the Holy Spirit.” However, after 500 years, the disagreements on these very important issues simply continue, even among (though obviously not *only* among) serious, conservative Protestants. Is such a situation really what God intends for His followers? Within the “Sola Scriptura” framework of Protestantism, how can this situation truly be resolved?

  102. If I may add to the conversation regarding epistemic “certainty”. This question of certainty was germane to my own spiritual journey. Albeit, I did not dip my toe in the Tiber because of it, but I certainly did begin to question the basic framework of my ecclesial home which eventually led me to Rome.

    I want to only mention that in epistemology there are distinguishable features of “knowing”. For any type of knowledge we have, we can recognize and distinguish (1) the knower, (2) the thing known and (3) the method by which we know a thing. On 1 and 2, we agree with our Protestant friends. I make this point because often questions of epistemology in Catholic and Protestant dialog quickly devolve into conversations about “total depravity” or “the nature of revelation”. I’m willing to grant the one who holds to “total depravity” that, in fact, they know stuff despite their theological commitment to a position that seems to undermine the possibility of any kind of certainty with regards to the function of their fallen cognitive faculty. That is besides the point, because I can move that fact to the bottom and top of the fraction for both of us and redact it out.

    We also agree that the deposit of faith comes to us from God, and thus is a supernatural object of knowledge. Therefore, we agree fundamentally as to the nature of the knower and the nature of the thing known. However, we disagree fundamentally on the methodology by which we know the thing. This, I think, is the onus of Mike’s article linked above, and the reason the Protestant should click over to it, read it, and wrestle with it; keeping in mind the distinct epistemological contention he raises.

    In short, the distinction between opinion and dogma, which outside of theology just means opinion or fact, should shed light on what is at stake. In fact, as Joshua and others have indicated, the credibility of Christianity is at stake. Think about it. It would appear that for all species of knowledge accessible to the human faculty, there is a principled method by which humans can agree, if used, will result in certain knowledge (e.g., observation, historical study, abstraction, etc. — and in theology, dogma). “Certain” here meaning not the removal of all doubt (for we are irrationally prone to it), but rather meaning a certain trust in the credibility of a method that produces results worthy of assent. The ball drops. George Washing is the first president. A=A. Then comes theology.

    The Catholic position does not thrust upon theology something external to itself. It is not as Andrew M has alluded wanting for more than God would have us have. It is, in fact, simply asking of theology what is requisite itself for attaining something more than just opinion, and since theology is a supernatural object, it is fitting that it would require a supernatural methodology (of courses aided by natural processes). This just means we are being human as God has made us. If God did not want us to have certainty regarding theology, then he would have created us without rational minds. If we did not have rational minds, then we would be fine if the ball drops and doesn’t drop, that there is no rational principle in the world or in the mind of God, and that it doesn’t matter what baptism really does as long as you believe something (an approach to the world more resembling Islam than Christianity). To hold to this principle, the principle of what I will call “theological nihilism”, flavored with a positivism imbued by an evangelical vigor, is to act less than human. It is to look at the image of God in you and to reject it in favor, ironically, of your own opinion. This, of course, is the sin of Adam: to become less than human by becoming the autonomous man. The primacy of the individual conscience bit Adam in his soul, for between the fruit and his mouth was a decision that he knew better — that somehow his latest interpretation of the commandment was more enlightened than his previous interpretation.

    The Church, the ground and pillar of truth, is the principled method by which we can distinguish between opinion and fact. I can “tell it to the church” (Matthew 18:17), and get an answer that if I reject, I become as a tax collector or pagan. That is the “difference”.

  103. Andrew (re: #100):

    If Luther & co. had followed this advice, there would not have been a Reformation.

    Moreover, without the guarantee of infallibility, how would someone submitting to a bishop know that his or her bishop is right? Especially if bishops are in disagreement with one another. . . Personally, this is exactly the problem that drove me from Protestantism. To submit to my pastor rather than another pastor simply because he is my pastor is so Catholic, yet there is missing that justification for submitting to my pastor — namely, apostolic succession and the promise of the Holy Spirit.

    I’m wondering if you would give this same response to JWs or Mormons…

  104. @Joshua L.

    You said: “To submit to my pastor rather than another pastor simply because he is my pastor is so Catholic, yet there is missing that justification for submitting to my pastor — namely, apostolic succession and the promise of the Holy Spirit.”

    First of all, amen.

    Second of all, have you listened to Dr. James White’s recent critique of your story? I don’t usually pay him much mind as I find his demeanor towards Catholics to be too hostile for my liking (and this was even as a Protestant). However, I couldn’t resist tuning in to the Dividing Line to hear his thoughts on your story. It was the usual tirade: petty ridicule (“Called To Confusion, har har…!”) followed by rabbit-trail distractions every forty seconds and all culminating with this thesis: The Catholic Church is not the answer because it’s just another “group of men’s imaginings” (and a heretical one at that). Of course, White does not assent that the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Christ so the disconnect is understandable. Your further thoughts in post #103 answer White’s objection nicely.

    Earlier in the show, White made the comment that the folks at “Called to Confusion” (a gentleman and a scholar!) rarely win converts to the faith with Catholic doctrine. He’s certainly wrong about that! This site is a fantastic representation of Catholic teaching and played a large role in my return to the Church this past Easter. Keep on defending the faith.

  105. Alicia, re 91

    I think I am in a position to address at least a bit of what you were noting regarding Protestants who do become Catholic, and Protestants who don’t.

    If Luther tells us that we are like dung and that grace is like snow, then per Luther we are sinful dung wrapped in the snow of grace. That always sounded like the “whitewashed tombs” Jesus mentioned, clean on the outside but full of filth on the inside. However Jesus said, “Be perfect!” Perfect what? Perfect dung?

    Calvin tells us, using TULIP, that we are totally depraved. Fallen human reason is not to be trusted. (Then, as noted above, there are people who trust Calvin, who by his own words is totally depraved. That seems a conundrum of its own.) Yet Jesus is saying, “Be perfect!” How can one be perfect if one is bereft of reason?

    If one uses a checklist, comparing what Jesus said and what the various Protestant communions were saying, one would find oneself at odds with Jesus on a regular basis. For instance, I was saying (in common with virtually every Protestant I knew) that I could go directly to God for forgiveness. Jesus was telling the apostles, “Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them. Whose sins you retain, they are retained.” Seems like I was contradicting our Lord; or from another perspective, He was contradicting me and had even anticipated my position by answering it long before I came around.

    It finally occurred to me that if I was correcting Him, something was terribly wrong. He had given a job to His apostles involving the forgiveness or retention of sin, and I had denied Him the right to do so.

    After a while there were so many of these, that I had to wonder what was wrong with me. I was saying one thing, and Jesus or the apostles were saying something else. Those things were at loggerheads with each other. Who did I trust? Who was saving whom?

    Those are the questions that can be asked, or ignored, or paved over. Who do I trust? Who is saving whom? If it is Jesus Who is saving me, it seemed to me that He was giving me a free gift, that had conditions. Baptism seemed to me to be a condition. Confessing my sins where He indicated was a condition. Forgiving my enemies so that I might be forgiven seemed such a condition. Responding to grace with action (feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc) seemed such a condition. Learning to love as He loves me seems such a condition. Eating His Body and drinking His Blood (cognizant of the new Passover) seemed to me to be such a condition.

    I wanted to be obedient to Him because I discovered that I trusted Him. I did not have to know why something was the way it was, I merely had to be obedient. Jesus noted that He only did the things He saw His Father doing. He noted that He had come to do His Father’s will. He was my example and I wanted to do, however poorly, what He wanted me to do.

    He founded a Church. He founded the Church on His apostles. He created the Church to last until His return. He gave the Church the authority to forgive sins. He gave the Church the authority to confect Him in the new Passover which must be eaten. He gave the Church the authority to determine which books would be included in a canon. He gave the Church the authority to make decisions, inspired by the Holy Spirit Who would lead the Church to all truth.

    I cannot speak for everyone who arrives at this junction, this crossroads. I don’t know if the questions occur for them. I don’t know how they would answer them. I have a keen appreciation for the cost that some people bear up under. There are marriage and family considerations. There is still the need to make a living. Marriage and family are very important. Making a living is very important. Count the cost it is written.

    How much is Jesus worth? Is He worthy of trust? Does that trust lead to obedience?

    Cordially,

    dt

  106. Andrew,

    #100 “Yes, I agree that God has promised all those things. Where I think we disagree is the specifics of how these promises are kept, specifically in what kind of ecclesiastical structure God uses to keep His promise.”

    Given that you agree that God has promised these things (of which I included the power and authority to forgive or retain the sins of people), in what ecclesiastical structure do we see this power and authority to forgive or retain sins manifested today? I can say with utter certainty that as a Presbyterian minister I was not giving faculties in my ordination to carry out this authority promised by God.

  107. this is exactly the problem that drove me from Protestantism. To submit to my pastor rather than another pastor simply because he is my pastor is so Catholic, yet there is missing that justification for submitting to my pastor — namely, apostolic succession and the promise of the Holy Spirit.

    Double amen. When I swam the Tiber, my co-religionists in the PCA brought this one out time and again. They would remind me of my membership vows and the authority of the elders. My simple response was “what if I were a Mormon right now? would you still want me to obey my elders?” The answer is of course that they would want me to disobey them. Shared agreement on interpretation of revelation was then revealed to me as the true the ground of their authority. Take away that shared agreement, and nothing is left that would make me submit to them. It just becomes a disagreement at that point. Paedocommunion or Federal Vision? Merely disagreements. If I dont like these elders I can submit to ones more to my liking who have my prefered interpretation. The thing that made me sweat was the thought:

    “what if I become a heretic?” or worse: “what if I am a heretic?”

    How would I even know if I were a heretic as long as my submission to my elders is based on a shared opinion and not an authority that transcends shared opinion? I could easily just be self-deceived into submitting to heretics then.

    What it comes down to is authority and who has the legit authority. I dont care what they believe or if I agree with them. I want them to make me conform to the true faith because they have the authority from Christ to do so. But that is something they never claimed nor could they prove if they tried. The Reformed session began to look more and more like a mirror of my own opinions at that point, rather than body speaking for Christ. Scary.

  108. Andrew (#99):

    You wrote:

    Yes, well I’m not sure how many times I have tried to show you that I agree with this kind of statement. As I’ve have stated repeatedly, Scriptures are never interpreted outside of the authority that is explicitly stipulated in Scriptures and then subsequently practiced by those following the Apostolic era. But at this point in time there was no Pope or Roman Magisterium of College of Cardinals or anything that is part of RCC understanding of that body which ought to do the interpreting. Maybe there is something to the Catholic argument that the development/evolution of such a body has its roots in the history of early Christianity, but it’s hardly fair to assume this to be the case.

    First of all, I’m not sure how many times I’ve tried to show you what it means to speak of “divine authority,” prescinding altogether from any specific eccesiology one might or might not extract from the early sources by study. If somebody were to say: “When I teach that P is divinely revealed, I speak with divine authority, but of course I could be wrong to say that P is divinely revealed,” they would be talking utter, indeed laughable nonsense. To claim to teach with divine authority is to claim, at the very least implicitly, to be divinely protected from error when one so teaches. So the fact that many don’t see the developed Catholic doctrine of the Magisterium (CDM) in the early sources is irrelevant. For that matter, if CDM is true, then that doctrine itself cannot simply be inferred from said sources independently of the Magisterium. So far in this dialogue, all I’ve done is unpack the very concept of divine authority, apart from the question which body of people happens to exercise it.

    Secondly, when you say that it’s “hardly fair to assume” that CDM’s development “has its roots in the history of early Christianity,” your criticism trades on an ambiguity. As a professing Catholic, of course I believe what you say is unfair for me to assume; after all, that’s part of what it means to be Catholic. But it would be unfair to accuse me of unfairness just for being a believing, professing Catholic. What you really want to say is that it’s unfair for me to treat said assumption as a given amidst a discussion with people who do not share it. Now that’s not so much being unfair as begging the question, and I agree it’s wrong to beg the question when there’s a question to be begged. Yet for the reason I just gave in the previous paragraph, I make no such move. And I’ve said as much repeatedly over the years. It’s sad how, after all these years, you still can’t seem to take that in.

    I asked you about a case where a group of theologians has been convinced by Scripture and the Holy of the truth of a given doctrine (I used the Trinity and Athanasius). The other side reads the same Scripture but is not convinced. If we say that both groups are just holding “opinions” then we are saying that the group who has been convinced by Scripture and the Holy Spirit holds to a mere “opinion.” Are you OK with saying that?

    Of course I’m not OK with saying that, which is why I didn’t say it. The churchmen who formulated and upheld Nicene orthodoxy in the 4th century were preserving, transmitting, and clarifying divine revelation, not human opinion. We agree on that. What disagree about is how to answer the question how they and others know that it’s divine revelation rather than human opinion.

    Here’s your answer:

    The assumption of the Roman Catholic is that there must some sort of ecclesiastical body which resolves these global disputes. But this is just an assumption and as pointed out, not one that is shared by theologians of the early centuries of Christianity. My example here was Athanasius who appealed to the clear meaning of Scripture when refuting the Arians but left it at that. Athanasius was correct, the Arians were perverting the clear meaning of Scripture and his argument has convinced many millions of theologians, pastors, and lay people up to and through the present time. The point here is that Athanasius was not trying to use the ecclesiastical judgment of a hierarchical Roman Church to separate truth from error. Like so many theologians before him he pounded home what he knew to be the truths of Scripture and let God do the work of bringing people to the truth. So we Reformed are following suit in this regards.

    Since I’ve already rebutted your claim that the Catholic position is “just an assumption,” I’ll leave that bit aside and attend to what you say on your own account. What you’re really arguing is that Nicene orthodoxy is the “clear meaning” of Scripture, so that coming to know it as divine revelation rather than human opinion does not require a referee to adjudicate among competing interpretations of Scripture. That in fact is what’s argued by every Reformed Christian I’ve ever discussed the matter with. And I have always replied that the characteristic premises of such an argument are not only false, but demonstrably false.

    For one thing, if Scripture were perspicuous in the way such an argument requires, then one could account for major interpretive disagreement only by ascribing illiteracy, ill will, or both to everybody who dissents after rational consideration. If that’s how St. Athanasius explained away the Arians, or if that’s how St. Gregory of Nazianzus explained away the Pneumatomachi–and I’m not convinced they did–then those fathers of the Church were simply wrong. And you know it—for I have more than once seen you deny that heresy can only be accounted for in such an uncharitable manner. If people of similar intelligence and virtue can sincerely disagree about how to interpret Scripture on a matter of central importance, then Scripture is not perspicuous in the way your argument requires–even granted that Scripture somehow contains what Nicene orthodoxy finds in it.

    For another, your argument premises a thesis needing defense in its own right: i.e., that the early Church treated Scripture not only as perspicuous but also as having epistemic authority independent of that of the hierarchy of the Church. Now that’s only an opinion, and thus it’s ill-suited to function as a premise in the sort of argument you need. What you need are facts, not just opinions. But your opinion is implausible as a matter of logic, not just as a matter of history or doctrine. If the early Church did not understand herself to have infallible authority on matters of faith and morals generally, then she allowed that she could have been wrong in how she selected and certified certain writing as divinely inspired. Accordingly, she would have understood the Bible to be only a provisional human anthology, not an absolutely trustworthy conveyor of divine revelation. But the evidence you yourself present clearly indicates otherwise.

    Probably the most important point that I have tried to make through all of our discussions is that your argument about distinguishing revelation from mere opinion is bound up in Roman Catholic presupposition about the role of the Church in resolving theological matters (again note my paragraph above). And it’s not an assumption we are willing to grant,

    If that’s your most important point, then what I’ve said in this comment alone is enough to rebut it. I’m disappointed that I’ve had to do that over and over again through the years. But others will see what you don’t.

    Best,
    Mike

  109. #107 David

    You said: “what if I become a heretic?” or worse: “what if I am a heretic?”

    How would I even know if I were a heretic as long as my submission to my elders is based on a shared opinion and not an authority that transcends shared opinion? I could easily just be self-deceived into submitting to heretics then.”

    This made me laugh, thanks. I feel that same insanity currently. I have posed that same question to my pastor and my family, “How can I be sure that we’re not all Mormons?”! They don’t get the question, and it is so frustrating!
    My laughter is refreshing, I have done so much crying. Actually I have laughed in hysterics when a vicious argument happened in my home over the idea of me becoming Catholic. I feel like I am in the Twilight Zone, and am the only one that can see the monster on the wing of the plane;)
    Another thing, that has arisen in my thoughts is why would God allow me to be deceived in Protestantism, and how can I be sure that the RCC is a safe step? I know I can’t remain where I am, though some don’t get this epistemic crisis. Hit it’s like a ton of bricks and then you feel like you need to run, not walk to the nearest parish!