Blog

Short Response to James White and About the Pope’s Declaration

It was brought to my attention that James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries has devoted one of his “Dividing Line” broadcasts to these issues concerning Roman Catholics and Evangelicals here on the Parchment and Pen blog. Most of his comments are directed critically toward Dan Wallace and I. I cannot speak for Dan, but I thought that I would respond very briefly here.

First, I just want to say that theologically, as I have read through James’ material and listened to his broadcast, I line up very closely with him. I think where we part ways is in methodology. We at Reclaiming the Mind Ministries see more value in a irenic (peaceful) approach to theology and his is more of a polemic (confrontational) approach. As I said in my blog Advise to Christian Apologists last night, there is a definite place for polemics. I appreciate James’ passion even if I disagree with his methodology. We are both apologists, we just part ways when it comes to our methodology.

A couple of things in response (I can’t respond to everything as his program was over an hour long and full of criticism)

1. I am neither post-evangelical, post-modern, or emerging  (although he did not say emerging that I can remember, but it was implied). Although I see much value in what these groups are bringing to the table and agree with their concerns, I am a committed Evangelical and do not want to be identified with the abuses of their more radical representatives. (For more on this see our Theology Unplugged broadcast on the emerging church). James said at one point that we were parting ways with historic conservative Protestant Evangelicalism. I disagree. Look at our theology. Go through the courses in The Theology Program. You will see that this is far from the truth. I, myself, and Dan as well, are both Evangelical Calvinistic Protestants. I am not ashamed of this title and I don’t think Dan is either. Simply because we are not as anti-Catholic as James is and don’t interpret Catholicism in the way he does, does not mean that we are leaving our Evangelical heritage in any way. I don’t claim to know Creedal Catholicism as well as James, but I am not ignorant of the issues either. While I do find some egg on our face with regards to the Pope’s recent declaration (or redeclaration) of the illegitimacy of the Protestant churches, I still contend that Catholicism can be interpreted differently and the situation can progress. I have had much personal contact with Catholics who do interpret their documents differently than the hard liners. We do not have to cement our polemics in the context of the 16th century, especially if things are changing.

The Pope’s declaration yesterday, ironically, did demonstrate that what I had said about the progress and attitude of modern Catholic scholarship was true. This perceived disagreement and change in the Catholic church is the exact reason why the Pope felt it necessary to sign this document yesterday. He is more hard-line than John Paul II was and demonstrated this yesterday. I am not sure what this will do to the ethos of the situation or the tone of the conversation between irenic Catholics and Protestants, but it certainly has reiterated that the supreme bishop of Rome does not want progression in the way it was seeming to head. 

But James must recognize that semper reformanda does allow us to advance. As hard as it is to admit, the Reformers are not an infallible magisterial authority. They did encourage us to continue to progress. I just don’t think we should get upset when progress might possibly be taking place. Isn’t progression what we want? Do we really have to have the Pope stand on his balcony and say he was wrong as James suggested? I am just not sure about this. I think change is the goal, not a proclamation of defeat from an enemy. But this is the difference in our emphasis. I could be wrong and respect James’ opinion.

2. James justifies his approach to apologetics by referencing Paul’s polemical approach, primarily seen in the book of Galatians. I believe this is a somewhat misunderstanding on how we are to use Paul as our example for three primary reasons.

1. Paul was an Apostle who carried the authority of an Apostle. This included infallibility in certain areas. Both of these you and I don’t have. Therefore, we cannot approach these issues with the degree of certainty that Paul had. Even if we can have a high degree of certainty about certain passages and theological issues, this does not mean that we are infallible and authoritative as an Apostle.
2. Paul did not always handle things polemically. In other words, I would not make his descriptive encounters prescriptive with the way we should go about our apologetics, especially since he gives us prescriptive advice that should set our attitude and tone:

Colossians 4:2-6 2 ¶ Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; 3 praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; 4 that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. 5 ¶ Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.

Notice the purpose clause “so that.” If you do not speak with grace, Paul seems to suggest that you are not qualified to know how to respond to each situation. Grace gives us clarity of mind. It is not unlike Christ’s admonishment to remove the log from our own eye so that we will be able to see clearly enough to correct another (Matt. 7:5). The basic idea here is that without grace we cannot understand the issues. Emotions will rule and harsh polemics will be counter productive.

3. We also must recognize this: When Paul was polemical, from what I can tell, it was to those who were under his authority. In other words, it was pastoral. He did so with the Galatian and Corinthians precisely because he had expressed authority as their leader. Most of the people with whom apologists engage are not under their authority. Therefore, a better model is how Paul handled the Athenians on Mars Hill in Acts 17. It was gracious, understanding, and intent on building bridges. He could not approach them the same way he did the others. Therefore, we need to employ discernment and tact.

3. I also believe that bridges can be built one plank at a time. James seems to suggest that it is all or nothing. Either the bridge is immediately complete as one side concedes everything or nothing. As well, I think the building needs to come from both sides. Evangelicalism is not perfect and is not beyond correction and learning things from other traditions. We do have serious problems in our own ranks as well. I just would not stand with a torch burning every plank that is laid, one at a time. 

We live in a postmodern world where people are suspicious of all absolute truth claims. I just don’t think polemics and claims to absolute certainty about these issues is the way to go about it. I hope that we can use tact in our discussion and if bridges are being built one plank at a time.

For more on our methodology at RMM see Googling for Truth: The Importance of Irenic Theology in a Postmodern World.

29 Responses to “Short Response to James White and About the Pope’s Declaration”

  1. I am with you entirely on this one.

    And, just because the Pope says that we are illegitimate does not mean that we have to respond that Catholics are “illegitimate”. That just does not follow.

    As for irenic and polemic, I see it as a matter of choosing your battles. You will have more success with the essentials if you acknowledge your exact degree of uncertainty (and thus remain more accessible to dialogue) in the non-essentials.

  2. Something to consider, is that the Pope’s statement is more directed to insiders than to outsiders. That is, it is more about shoring up power to correct liberal abuses than about smacking Protestantism or the East.

  3. I haven’t seen or heard the Pope’s statement from yesterday. I think it is too bad that he called the Protestant churches illegitimate. :-(

    And I haven’t heard James White’s broadcast criticizing you and Dan, Michael, but from having read the three of you, I would definitely be in support of you and Dan.

    Joanie D.

  4. JOanieD,

    Maybe, but Protestants have been saying the same of Rome and of each other for a long time. So what?

  5. kelton graham July 11, 2007 at 6:25 pm

    M.Patton,

    You know, I use to think the same thing about James White being sort of a
    hostile debator until recently. In an effort to educate myself about
    the RCC; I decided to buy some of his debates. Now that I have listened
    to several of them I can see why he comes across that way. The truth of
    the matter is some of the Roman Catholic apologist are not very nice (and
    that is a nice way of putting it) towards him and some are sort of dirty fighters. Neither are some of the
    audiences members in the crowd. On the other hand I have seen some debates (like Pacwa
    comes to mind) where both he and James are calm and laid back.

    But the point is I can understand his tone because it is a heart felt issue.
    I heard Father Pacwa claim that he along with other priest were to be considered
    ‘another Christ.’ And when the priest announces the words of concecration the
    priest literally reach up into heaven and bring Christ down from his throne,
    and place him upon the alter to be offered up again.

    That to me is no where near the gospel message, and when I hear something
    like that it makes me wonder how can we ignore these differences when discussing
    these issues.

    And I would also like to point out that the Pope’s statments were nothing new.
    Rome has always felt that way.

    Pope Innocent III said no one outside the RCC was saved.
    Pope Pius IX said the same thing.
    The Council of Florence said that anyone living outside the RCC could not
    become participans in eternal life, but will depart into everlasting fire.

    So I would argue that this Pope is just being consistant.

  6. Thought I’d jump in here-

    Pursuit of truth and pursuit of unity seem to exist in tension. Pursue unity without truth and it risks leading to doctrinal error. Pursue truth without unity and it risks leading to repeated division into factions. I’m not sure we can ever completely resolve this tension, and the journey requires much wisdom. Michael, I appreciate how you are trying to keep both of these values in mind in this ministry.

    One thing that has helped me to live within this tension is to adopt an eschatological perspective – seeing truth and unity as part of the wider salvation blessings that are already inaugurated in Christ but await full consummation at His return.

    The “not yet” – one day all true children of God will experience full unity in the truth in God’s presence. Praise the Lord! But the “not yet” reminds me to be realistic in my desire for visible Christian unity today and humble in certain areas of interpretation of truth that are complex and not always clear.

    The “already” – in a very real sense those who are in Christ already experience truth and unity. Truth and unity matter in the present, meaning that I should be careful not to compromise in the truth but that I should also speak accurately and charitably about and to those with whom I disagree.

    In short, the “not yet” tempers my idealism in harmonizing truth and unity but the “already” keeps me from throwing up my hands in resignation. May we wisely continue to grow in our understanding of the truth and our expression of Christian unity.

  7. Perry, the lament come from the very argument of the last few posts. Postmodernism my have brought in many terrible things, but it has opened the door for humility. This lack of recognition from the Pope does not reflect the spirit of either Evangelical or Catholic scholarship. It is a move backward into the darker ages. And most of all, it lacks humility that is necessary for any further reformation.

    God shines in our boxes, but he certainly shines outside these boxes as well. The Pope essentially said, “No, He really only shines in our box.”

  8. Greg, great comments. I think we have all been lured in and affected by the desire to have it all figured out. I look forward to some of the surprises that we all most certainly will find in the eschaton.

  9. Michael,

    Well much of Catholic scholarship is quite liberal. All Protestant heresies go home to Rome to die. Do you really want to give more weight to Catholic liberal theology? As to the spirit of “Evangelical” theology I don’t what that is.

    The pope said I think, to continue your analogy, here is the source of temporal shining and at its brightest and purest. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of beefs with Rome, but it is not like “evangelicals” have moved either but consistently claimed that Rome is not a true church. “Evangelicals” have in effect said, God only shines in our boxes. I don’t see a big difference frankly.

  10. Kelton,

    I certainly don’t think I would fair much better in those situations. I admire James for what he does and appreciate his commitment.

    It is very hard to have the coolness of James Bond when your life is dedicated to confronting others. Grace is even more difficult to give when you are not receiving it.

    I myself have spent much time on the Catholic Answers forums attempting to find some who can answer irenically. I hardly ever find it. You will notice on this thread I started, in comment #52, I lost my cool.

    But this was not simply because this person was a Catholic, but because they were an apologist with an agenda to win.

  11. Perry,

    I think you are missing the point of what I have been trying to propose (and I could be wrong). My proposal has been that within the ranks of Catholic and Evangelical scholarship, attitudes have begun to change over the last 15 years. Doors were beginning to be opened. This proclamation is a strong attempt to shut these doors.

    As to Catholic scholarship, I think you may be defining it differently than me. As well, the Catholics sometimes have a different understanding on what it means to be liberal than traditional Evangelicals. To a Trinitine Catholic, to be liberal, my mean that your are too evangelical.

    I put forth Peter Kreeft as a good example of one who had laid many planks of wood on this bridge that the Pope just set fire to again.

    I don’t know what the solution is, but arrogence has never been a good option.

  12. Michael,

    I get your drift, but I think a better way to think about it is this way. What you identified as change was located in the private opinions of specific theologians, which of themselves have never been representative of Rome’s official teaching.

    As for Kreeft, I have no doubt that he fully assents with gladness to the recent document and so I think he would interpret his own “bridges” different than you do and hence not burnt at all, bur rather fortified. Why don’t you ask him and see. I am sure he’d love to to a blog piece on it for you.

    And arrogance it is, if the claim is false, which is a rather big question to beg. Is it any less arrogant to claim that Rome and all of the Eastern Churches are not true churches? I mean it seems to me there is a big plank here in someone’s eye. Why don’t the Presbyterians admit that the baptists are true churches and vice versa with the Lutherans? Aren’t they supposed to have more in common after all? You’d think after 500 years and running they’d be able to get over their “arrogance” about what constitutes a true church. Everyone is “arrogant” by the very same standard, which is why I don’t see what the big deal is about.

  13. Here is a funny bit from Emo Phillips that I think is fitting in this discussion:

    I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said ‘Stop! don’t do it!’

    ‘Why shouldn’t I?’ he said.

    I said, ‘Well, there’s so much to live for!’

    He said, ‘Like what?’

    I said, ‘Well…are you religious or atheist?’

    He said, ‘Religious.’

    I said, ‘Me too!

    Are you Christian or Buddhist?’

    He said, ‘Christian.’

    I said, ‘Me too!

    Are you Catholic or Protestant?’

    He said, ‘Protestant.’

    I said, ‘Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?’

    He said, ‘Baptist!’

    I said, ‘Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?’

    He said, ‘Baptist Church of God!’

    I said, ‘Me too! Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you reformed Baptist Church of God?’

    He said, ‘Reformed Baptist Church of God!’

    I said, ‘Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?’

    He said, ‘Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915!’

    I said, ‘Die, heretic scum,’ and pushed him off.

  14. I agree that it would be a question begging scenario if the claim is true and interpreted in a way that issues forth exclusivity. But you know as well as I that as much as Catholicism wants to remain unified around authoritative proclamations, people will aways have to interpret the proclamations themselves, and there is not always agreement. What I want to know is how they are interpreting this in light of the last 15 years of fruitful dialogue? Will they bow their heads and say “We tried”? Will they reinterpret the declaration itself? Will they claim that this was not an ex-cathedra statement and is not binding? Will they leave the Church because they understand this to be hardline? All of this has yet to be answered, but the dynamics of the institution is in no way monolithic as is often supposed. I guess I just hope for the best.

    Obviously I have the same criticism in my own broad Protestant tradition. If anyone claims that they are the only true Church, this is just silly. It has no historical or biblical basis, only that of prideful traditionalism.

  15. I have to take issue with many statements in this post. In it you write:

    “Simply because we are not as anti-Catholic as James is and don’t interpret Catholicism in the way he does, does not mean that we are leaving our Evangelical heritage in any way.”

    Does this mean you are “pro-Catholic” or only slightly “pro-Catholic”? Are you “pro-Catholicism”? What does “anti-Catholic” mean anyway?

    If you are in some way “pro-Catholic”, how so? Do you accept the Marian dogmas (doctrines that must be believed for salvation, according to Roman Catholic teaching) or believe that the Council of Trent did not pronounce anathema on Protestantism (as a direct consequence of the beliefs and teachings of Martin Luther) and that all these 4 centuries of debate is all over a misunderstanding?

    It seems strange that while you decry the labels you feel Dr. White attributes to the writers of this blog that the term “anti-Catholic” so easily finds its way in here. Surely this is not a constructive comment, and in fact thoroughly reduces Dr. White’s commitment to Biblical Apologetics to mere fanaticism.

    Perhaps you should recognize and state that while Dr. White finds specific doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church to be contrary to that of Scripture, Dr. White is hardly “anti-Catholic” (as in individuals) and surely “anti-Roman Catholicism”.

    If you cannot understand the difference here, perhaps you’re not the right person to be discussing these matters. Here’s why I say this:

    You state: “I still contend that Catholicism can be interpreted differently and the situation can progress…”

    On what basis do you, a non-Roman Catholic, outside of the communion of Rome declare what is and isn’t the proper interpretation of Roman Catholicism? Since the Catholic Church doesn’t even give its own members such a right, surely you the lone ‘evangelical’ cannot declare truth in opposition to the centuries of Magisterial declaration.

    Also, how differently can one interpret “you must believe that ‘Mary was without original sin and actual sin, being filled with all grace and virtue, from conception unto her Assumption… to be saved'”? How differently can the Mass wherein Christ is “sacrificed again” (according to infallible Catholic teaching) be interpreted? These are not secondary issues, rather, these types of things strike at the heart of the Gospel.

    With Pope Benedict XVI reiterating (infallibly?!) that the Roman Catholic Church is the only one true church and the current Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia issuing plenary indulgences(!!!), it seems that Dr. White’s understanding of Catholicism is more relevant than what has been posted here.

    Again you write: “I have had much personal contact with Catholics who do interpret their documents differently than the hard liners.”

    Everyone personally knows Catholics who, while espousing Catholicism, do all sorts of things expressly taught to the contrary of their Church, this doesn’t mean that Roman Catholicism is in some process toward orthodoxy, in fact it simply underscores the failure of the Roman system. The only bright light here is that it provides the Protestant an opportunity to show their Catholic acquaintance the truth of freedom in Christ and a way out of Roman Catholicism.

    What individual Roman Catholics believe about specific doctrines within their system is unimportant given the authority structure of the church. You seem not to be aware that Rome teaches that individual believers cannot personally interpret Scripture, and that apart from infallible, authoritative, commentary from the Pope and/or Magisterium they cannot be truly sure what any specific verse of Scripture teaches. This point is central to this discussion and seems absent in the posts and replies here.

    Rome has ‘infallibly’ declared anathema on Biblical Christianity, Rome has ‘infallibly’ declared dogmas not found (nor even hinted of) in Scripture and placed her members under a system of merit whereby people can reduce or “eliminate completely…” “the punishment due to the sins of an individual” through human effort.

    You seem to understand this when you write: “But James must recognize that semper reformanda does allow us to advance. As hard as it is to admit, the Reformers are not an infallible magisterial authority.”

    An “infallible magisterial authority” is exactly what Rome claims to have, and it is is this authority that Rome declares Protestants must bow to in order to be part of “the one true church”. Contrary of the *feelings* of folks at this blog and elsewhere in modern “evangelicalism” seem to believe, the depth of the chasm between Biblical Christianity and Roman Catholicism has never been greater and it is imperative that believers express this in their apologetics.

    You also write: “I also believe that bridges can be built one plank at a time. James seems to suggest that it is all or nothing. Either the bridge is immediately complete as one side concedes everything or nothing. As well, I think the building needs to come from both sides.”

    What “bridge” are you looking to build? How can one “build a bridge one plank at a time” without the planks being cross beams for the crucifixion of truth? Paul made no bones about it, “…if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!”

    Finally a commenter stated: “I think it is too bad that he called the Protestant churches illegitimate.”

    To the contrary, this is a time to celebrate, for the Pope has done us a great service, again underscoring the difference between us and them and providing us with the means to express these differences to Roman Catholics by providing them the truth of the Gospel. Benedict redrew the line in the sand, maybe you should actually take notice that Benedict isn’t more “hard-line than John Paul II” (the guy whose motto, “Totus Tuus” was a declaration of his devotion to Mary), rather he is exemplifying the beliefs of true Roman Catholicism as opposed to the cafeteria Catholics you mention.

  16. Vance,

    That joke ceased being funny a long time ago. Rome is not a denomination, it is, as C Hodge wrote :

    “Romanism is another gospel. It proposes a different method of salvation from that presented in the word of God.” Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Part III, Ch.XX, Remarks 5. 1871~2

  17. Hi Michael and all,

    While I do find some egg on our face with regards to the Pope’s recent declaration (or redeclaration) of the illegitimacy of the Protestant churches,

    No one should have any “egg” on their faces. Nothing has changed! I should note a few things, for clarification’s sake, too:

    1) This is not a declaration from the pope. It was from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: the same group that the pope used to be the head of himself. The pope agreed with it. Dominus Iesus (2000) was put out by the same group, and stated basically the same stuff. So this is nothing new.

    2) I don’t think “illegitimacy” is helpful or adequate. Why is it surprising that Catholics reiterate that Protestants lack apostolic succession and ordination? That has always been our position. We can only call the catholic Church “the Church” by the very nature of our ecclesiology; otherwise, our ecclesiology would be Protestant. So this is simply the reality of how the two camps approach the issue differently.

    3) The many positive things we think about Protestants (as in Vatican II) are also included in the statement. For example:

    “It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them.”

    “. . . there are “numerous elements of sanctification and of truth” which are found outside her structure,”

    “It follows that these separated churches and Communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church”.

    I would encourage everyone to read the document itself:

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html

    I still contend that Catholicism can be interpreted differently and the situation can progress.

    To be interpreted differently on this matter of ecclesiology, we would have to cease to be Catholic.

    I have had much personal contact with Catholics who do interpret their documents differently than the hard liners.

    I would suspect that they were liberals or inadvertently influenced by liberal Catholic thought, and insufficiently acquainted with Catholic teaching. The pope is not a “hard liner”. He is simply an orthodox Catholic who correct5ly understand Vatican II and ecumenism in a proper Catholic sense. Pope John Paul II was neither a “hard liner” nor more ecumenical than Pope Benedict XVI. They are both equally committed to catholic doctrine and dogma, Vatican II, and ecumenism (as I am myself).

    We do not have to cement our polemics in the context of the 16th century, especially if things are changing.

    I agree wholeheartedly with that. What is changing is a more tolerant and ecumenical attitude, but not doctrines, because they cannot change.

    I felt “ho hum” about the new statement since all it is, is a reiteration of Vatican II teaching (and correction of misapplications of same). No one who is familiar with Vatican II should be alarmed in the slightest degree. Of course, not everyone does have that familiarity, so they may think Catholic teaching is a certain thing and then when one of these clarifications come down, they think it is a radical change or a reactionary hardening, etc. (when it is not at all). The secular media is full of ridiculous characterizations of Catholic teachings (I’m not saying this feeling some may have, of disappointment in the statement, or confusion, is ridiculous; just making a related point).

    Ecumenism is not affected at all by this. I don’t understand why it would surprise or disturb any Protestant with a working knowledge of Catholic teaching, that we reiterate our belief that the Catholic Church is the one true Church and has the fullness of Christian teaching. That has always been our belief. All the progress in ecumenical relations over the last fifty years has taken place with that premise assumed on our part. We could no longer change in that respect than Protestants could suddenly discard their two pillars: sola Scriptura and sola fide. Ecumenism is the effort to learn about each other and to find common ground.

    Nothing has changed! I think some Protestants see various things in the Catholic Church that they like and they have this notion that Catholics are becoming more “Protestant” (when in fact, we are simply what we are and have always been, and some Protestants discover to their surprise that we weren’t as bad as they thought, and so they assume we are “changing” in that particular respect; I see quite a bit of humor in some of this, but it is within an affectionate feeling for my Protestant brothers and sisters — having been in their camp myself).

    Then they see something like this statement and they get disenchanted and think (I am being a bit tongue in cheek here) “Catholics are Catholics after all; drats! Just when I thought they were becoming more like us . . . “.

    What the Catholic Church has emphasized since Vatican II is quite significant, I think: other Christians have many graces and wonderful attributes, and even sacraments (baptism; marriage in many cases). We rejoice in them. We acknowledge that God is working in and through and with our Protestant brethren. See my paper:

    http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2007/03/how-catholics-view-protestants.html

    But we cannot change our ecclesiology or we would cease to be who we are. Our doctrine of the Church is not the “invisible church” notion. Protestants cannot expect us to adopt Protestant ecclesiology wholesale (in fact, Protestants have huge disagreements amongst themselves on ecclesiology and Church government, as most here would well know).

    That’s not going to happen! And it is unreasonable to expect this to happen, just as it would be if I were to expect Protestants to drop sola Scriptura tomorrow, so we could “do ecumenism,” and if you didn’t, and reiterated your belief in it, for me to feel that I had egg or mud on my face. It was an unrealistic expectation in the first place.

    The document reiterates Catholic teaching on ecclesiology and other Christians. There is nothing new here that wasn’t already in Vatican II but some people get upset if we repeat certain teachings. As Catholics, we will always believe that the Catholic Church is the same (institutional) Church that we believe was established by Jesus Christ and has been historically continuous since that time. That doesn’t mean that non-Catholics are excluded completely by this categorization. But we believe that the full apostolic teaching “subsists” in the Catholic Church.

    The Pope’s declaration yesterday, ironically, did demonstrate that what I had said about the progress and attitude of modern Catholic scholarship was true. This perceived disagreement and change in the Catholic church is the exact reason why the Pope felt it necessary to sign this document yesterday.

    Yes, because liberals who think ecumenism is about unprincipled compromise and “watering down” and doctrinal indifferentism rather than principled attempts at mutual understanding, have distorted things somewhat.

    He is more hard-line than John Paul II was and demonstrated this yesterday.

    Not in the slightest. Pope John Paul II accepted Dominus Iesus, which stated the same things. They are both ecumenical and orthodox. There is no need to dichotomize the two, as if to be authentically ecumenical is to somehow be less orthodox or less “hard line.”

    I am not sure what this will do to the ethos of the situation or the tone of the conversation between irenic Catholics and Protestants,

    It should do nothing whatsoever, for anyone who is familiar with Vatican II statements on ecumenism and recent encyclicals along the same line. They are all of a piece.

    but it certainly has reiterated that the supreme bishop of Rome does not want progression in the way it was seeming to head.

    Pope Benedict XVI is exceptionally ecumenical, just as his predecessor was. Nothing has changed in this regard at all.

    This lack of recognition from the Pope does not reflect the spirit of either Evangelical or Catholic scholarship. It is a move backward into the darker ages.

    If it is that, then so was Vatican II. So I think this is simply an instance of category confusion. You need to study a bit more the relationship between Catholic orthodoxy and Catholic ecumenism.

    And most of all, it lacks humility that is necessary for any further reformation.

    I don’t see how it is a lack of humility for a Christian to state what it is he believes. This is our ecclesiology. It is no more lacking humility for us to state this than it would be for a Protestant to reiterate his belief in sola Scriptura and sola fide.

    God shines in our boxes, but he certainly shines outside these boxes as well. The Pope essentially said, “No, He really only shines in our box.”

    I strongly disagree. If you look at the citations above from the document, it grants all sorts of graces and a place in salvation in Protestantism: far more than many Protestants grant Catholicism, where (for anti-Catholics like James White), for a Catholic to be saved, it must be in spite of Catholic teaching, never because of it. This criticism should be directed towards Protestant anti-Catholics, not orthodox Catholics like this pope and the last one.

    My proposal has been that within the ranks of Catholic and Evangelical scholarship, attitudes have begun to change over the last 15 years. Doors were beginning to be opened. This proclamation is a strong attempt to shut these doors.

    Again, not in the slightest. I don’t know what the magic number of “15 years” has to do with anything. Catholic ecumenism has been rapidly developing since World War II, and especially after Vatican II. There has been no reversal or change of policy.

    As to Catholic scholarship, I think you may be defining it differently than me.

    A great deal of it is liberal. I’ve written papers about some of these liberals, like Fr. Raymond Brown. If you saw the sort of things that the man denies, you wouldn’t cite him as “orthodox” at all.

    As well, the Catholics sometimes have a different understanding on what it means to be liberal than traditional Evangelicals. To a Trinitine Catholic, to be liberal, my mean that your are too evangelical.

    Big discussion. I have a whole web page about so-called “traditionalist” Catholicism, that gets many things wrong. The correct differential ought to be “orthodoxy.”

    I put forth Peter Kreeft as a good example of one who had laid many planks of wood on this bridge that the Pope just set fire to again.

    This is a false dichotomy. Peter Kreeft is an orthodox catholic and he is an ecumenical Catholic, just like Benedict, John Paul II, and apologists, like myself.

    If anyone claims that they are the only true Church, this is just silly. It has no historical or biblical basis, only that of prideful traditionalism.

    To the contrary, it is an explicitly biblical doctrine. The NT assumes throughout that there is only one Church (almost without argument). If you look at the Jerusalem Council, this is evident. Denominations are unheard-of. It isn’t the notion of “one true Church” that is unbiblical and novel, but rather, the idea of denominationalism and de facto doctrinal relativism and ecclesiological chaos.

    In fact, present-day Protestantism tends to take a relativistic view towards ecclesiology itself. But Luther and Calvin and Zwingli did not do this at all. They anathematized each other and claimed to be the fullness of truth or the best manifestation of “Church.” I’ve read some of my Lutheran friends who are still making the claim today. They think Lutheranism (Missouri Synod) best represents what they mean by “Church.”

    I look forward to some discussion on these matters. No one seemed to want to discuss my last two posts. They are just sitting there, without comment. I hope this one will be different.

    Thanks for allowing me to speak freely!

  18. Ditto what BHT said/warned.

    All-too-frequently White and many (but not all) online Reformed people are what someone has called “Truly Reformed.” They have an “Us and Them” mentality, you’re either 100% with them or you’re an Arminian or heretic, and they get to declare what is truth and what history says.

    They do not take a step backward, admit to being wrong, or allow for the possibility that other interpretations may be viable or at least tenable. I’m afraid you won’t find a lot of irenic – let alone reasonable – discussion once they have decided to draw the lines to place you outside of the camp.

    As they have now done.

    I think this is how they maintain their loyal following, i.e., by vilifying others and thus huddling their own in increasingly smaller and more narrow groups. And so Catholics have been declared heretical, Arminians are heretical, and the teachings of Chafer were declared heretical in the 1940s.

    What is especially ironic (if not irenic) to me is that, for all their professed reasoning and logic, they are emotionally driven. This is evident in their thinly veiled anger and outrage against other believers and the lost. They travel on the fringe pathways of paranoia and delusion.

    There are exceptions but, like Muslims following a terrorist bombing, they don’t criticize their own deviants and miscreants.

    That’s been my experience, at least, in however many years of trying to interact and be accepted in their cloisters of theological prison. I’ve quit trying. I can read their authors, profit from their teachings, but not follow in their troubled, emotional behavior.

  19. Thanks M. Burk,

    I appreciate what you have to say and you passion in saying it. Please forgive my statement “anti-Catholic” as I did mean “anti-Roman Catholic.” I know that James is not anti-Catholic. This is why he spends time the way he does, he loves those who need the Gospel.

    You said:
    “Does this mean you are “pro-Catholic” or only slightly “pro-Catholic”? Are you “pro-Catholicism”? What does “anti-Catholic” mean anyway?”

    I am no more pro-Catholic or anti-Catholic than I am pro-Arminian or anti-Arminian. There are certain tenants in each that I am against, but I am not willing to broadbrush the entire system. In other words, I think all systems have error. There are various degrees of error as well, but this does not make the entire system and all its parts flawed does it?

    You said:
    “If you are in some way “pro-Catholic”, how so?”

    They are great defenders of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the hypostatic union, the sinfulness of man, etc. I am pro-these vital doctrines which are a part of their system. I am anti-infallibility and very much against the idea of mortal sins which send you to hell even if you trust Christ. Missing mass without a valid excuse is very difficult for me. Therefore, I feel they truly lack the fullness of the Gospel. But I also believe that Arminian who believe you can lose your salvation lack its fullness. They carry a heavy burden that Christ already took.

    You said:
    “Do you accept the Marian dogmas (doctrines that must be believed for salvation, according to Roman Catholic teaching)”

    No, but they do interpret these things differently. But I think they would even agree that these things can be abused and misunderstood.

    You said:
    “Or believe that the Council of Trent did not pronounce anathema on Protestantism (as a direct consequence of the beliefs and teachings of Martin Luther) and that all these 4 centuries of debate is all over a misunderstanding?”

    I don’t want to tell them how to interpret their documents. This has been my point. If they want to interpret them in a certain way that makes them seem different than they were in the 16th century, why not let them? Are we the watch dog of their hermeneutics, requiring them to follow a strict historical-grammatical authorial intent interpretation?

    You said:
    “On what basis do you, a non-Roman Catholic, outside of the communion of Rome declare what is and isn’t the proper interpretation of Roman Catholicism? Since the Catholic Church doesn’t even give its own members such a right, surely you the lone ‘evangelical’ cannot declare truth in opposition to the centuries of Magisterial declaration.”

    I don’t at all. But the fact is that those within the Church differ on how to interpret their own documents. Do you think that Catholic are monolithic in the interpretation of their own doctrine? If so, I think you should begin to speak more broadly to their scholars.

    You said:
    “Also, how differently can one interpret “you must believe that ‘Mary was without original sin and actual sin, being filled with all grace and virtue, from conception unto her Assumption… to be saved’”? How differently can the Mass wherein Christ is “sacrificed again” (according to infallible Catholic teaching) be interpreted? These are not secondary issues, rather, these types of things strike at the heart of the Gospel.”

    I would disagree that these are necessarily destructive to the saving grace of the Gospel. I totally disagree with these doctrines. But at the same time, I am not trying to say that we are the same. I have just made the statements that on many things we are closer than we thought. Even so close as some intra-Protestant denominations.

    I could make the same argument about the Church of Christ’s view of baptismal regeneration or the Methodists view of the security of the believer. As well, I could look to the Pentecostals view of authority (being that they have prophets) and see the exact same issues that I have with the Pope. Do you see what I am saying? Why don’t Protestants see a parallel between these groups and Catholics and at least give Catholics the same grace they give to them?

    You said:
    “With Pope Benedict XVI reiterating (infallibly?!) that the Roman Catholic Church is the only one true church and the current Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia issuing plenary indulgences(!!!), it seems that Dr. White’s understanding of Catholicism is more relevant than what has been posted here.”

    The issue has never been about relevance or who is correct. It is about our approach, method, and attitude. This is where I part ways with James White.

    “Everyone personally knows Catholics who, while espousing Catholicism, do all sorts of things expressly taught to the contrary of their Church, this doesn’t mean that Roman Catholicism is in some process toward orthodoxy, in fact it simply underscores the failure of the Roman system. The only bright light here is that it provides the Protestant an opportunity to show their Catholic acquaintance the truth of freedom in Christ and a way out of Roman Catholicism.”

    No, these are Catholic apologists who disagree. There are hardliners, moderates, and liberals. All committed to Rome, but all interpret her differently.

    You said:
    “What individual Roman Catholics believe about specific doctrines within their system is unimportant given the authority structure of the church. You seem not to be aware that Rome teaches that individual believers cannot personally interpret Scripture, and that apart from infallible, authoritative, commentary from the Pope and/or Magisterium they cannot be truly sure what any specific verse of Scripture teaches. This point is central to this discussion and seems absent in the posts and replies here.”

    This is simply not true. All information requires interpretation. To some degree, you are interpreting my comments right now. Although in my mind they seem to make sense :) this does not mean that you are interpreting me correctly. Even the Pope’s statement yesterday is being interpreted differently by different people. All information, but its nature, must be interpreted.

    You said:
    “Rome has ‘infallibly’ declared anathema on Biblical Christianity”

    I agree. (Now I feel like I am starting to be forced to argue points that I don’t even fully agree with :) But here is the 1 million dollar question: What does anathema mean? Some Catholics will say it means you are going to hell (hardliners), some will say it means that you are outside the graces of the Church (moderates), some will say it has been revoked (more liberal).

    M Burke,

    Thanks for the time you have spent on this. It has been stimulating. Please understand that I respect you and Mr. White, I just disagree that your proposed methodology is biblical or productive. See my statements about how Paul dealt with these type of issues.

    God bless.

  20. Hey Dave,

    Thanks for taking the time to do this. I am sure that it is very helpful for many as we think through these difficult issues.

    Your comments are in bold and in quotes:

    “No one should have any “egg” on their faces. Nothing has changed!”

    I agree that nothing has changed in the dogmatics, but the direction and perception get altered and discouraged with hard-line statements are reiterated rather than softening in their articulation. VII softened many things from previous declarations. Of since I am not committed to papal or magisterial infallibility, I see this progress as change. But either way, this does seem to be a road block, detour, or a red light.

    “2) I don’t think “illegitimacy” is helpful or adequate. Why is it surprising that Catholics reiterate that Protestants lack apostolic succession and ordination? That has always been our position. We can only call the catholic Church “the Church” by the very nature of our ecclesiology; otherwise, our ecclesiology would be Protestant. So this is simply the reality of how the two camps approach the issue differently.”

    Yes, but again, I think the language and rhetoric is very harsh are seem dismissive of progress that has been made.

    “To be interpreted differently on this matter of ecclesiology, we would have to cease to be Catholic.”

    Again, this comes down to a difference in your terming it progression while I have no problem saying it is “interpreted differently.” Either way, the documents themselves need interpretation and clarification. I would be comfortable with Catholics saying, “You did not understand us? This is what we meant.” But this is not what is said here.

    “I would suspect that they were liberals or inadvertently influenced by liberal Catholic thought, and insufficiently acquainted with Catholic teaching. The pope is not a “hard liner”. He is simply an orthodox Catholic who correct5ly understand Vatican II and ecumenism in a proper Catholic sense. Pope John Paul II was neither a “hard liner” nor more ecumenical than Pope Benedict XVI. They are both equally committed to catholic doctrine and dogma, Vatican II, and ecumenism (as I am myself).”

    Please don’t take this disrespectfully, but this is the conclusion that your system necessitates. In other words, you have to say that he is interpreting VII correctly because of his presupposed authority. You don’t really have a choice to do otherwise.

    “We do not have to cement our polemics in the context of the 16th century, especially if things are changing.

    I agree wholeheartedly with that. What is changing is a more tolerant and ecumenical attitude, but not doctrines, because they cannot change.”

    This is encouraging. Thanks.

    “Nothing has changed! I think some Protestants see various things in the Catholic Church that they like and they have this notion that Catholics are becoming more “Protestant” (when in fact, we are simply what we are and have always been, and some Protestants discover to their surprise that we weren’t as bad as they thought, and so they assume we are “changing” in that particular respect; I see quite a bit of humor in some of this, but it is within an affectionate feeling for my Protestant brothers and sisters — having been in their camp myself).”

    It is not so much that I am hoping that Catholics are becoming more Protestant per se, but that we have simply, do SOME degree, been talking past each other. I think that battle lines cause people to defend issues in a sincere yet imbalanced way. See my Advice to Christian Apologists.

    “What the Catholic Church has emphasized since Vatican II is quite significant, I think: other Christians have many graces and wonderful attributes, and even sacraments (baptism; marriage in many cases). We rejoice in them. We acknowledge that God is working in and through and with our Protestant brethren. See my paper:

    http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2007/03/how-catholics-view-protestants.html

    Thanks for this helpful resource.

    “But we cannot change our ecclesiology or we would cease to be who we are. Our doctrine of the Church is not the “invisible church” notion. Protestants cannot expect us to adopt Protestant ecclesiology wholesale (in fact, Protestants have huge disagreements amongst themselves on ecclesiology and Church government, as most here would well know).”

    I agree. I also think that this is one of the major things we have lost. I think we can both learn from each other concerning the church’s visibility and invisibility.

    “That’s not going to happen! And it is unreasonable to expect this to happen, just as it would be if I were to expect Protestants to drop sola Scriptura tomorrow, so we could “do ecumenism,” and if you didn’t, and reiterated your belief in it, for me to feel that I had egg or mud on my face. It was an unrealistic expectation in the first place.”

    Well, I do think the smoke from the reformation is clearing and we are redefining or better articulating sola Scriptura to mean more than the popular notion that the Scripture is our only source of authority, which is not true. Sola Scriptura means that the Scripture is our only infallible and final authority. Therefore, while we may not change, I think that our defining of the issues, on both sides, makes us closer than the early polemics suggest.

    “The Pope’s declaration yesterday, ironically, did demonstrate that what I had said about the progress and attitude of modern Catholic scholarship was true. This perceived disagreement and change in the Catholic church is the exact reason why the Pope felt it necessary to sign this document yesterday.

    Yes, because liberals who think ecumenism is about unprincipled compromise and “watering down” and doctrinal indifferentism rather than principled attempts at mutual understanding, have distorted things somewhat.”

    Yes, but there also seems to be disagreement among committed Catholics concerning the particulars of VII. Isn’t this true?

    “I am not sure what this will do to the ethos of the situation or the tone of the conversation between irenic Catholics and Protestants,

    It should do nothing whatsoever, for anyone who is familiar with Vatican II statements on ecumenism and recent encyclicals along the same line. They are all of a piece.”

    Come on . . . you have to say that Dave :) Again, your system does not allow otherwise. You do not have the option to critically question whether or not this is the case because of the presumptions of authority. But, fair enough . . . I hope that the next Pope softens the language as VII did.

    but it certainly has reiterated that the supreme bishop of Rome does not want progression in the way it was seeming to head.

    “And most of all, it lacks humility that is necessary for any further reformation.

    I don’t see how it is a lack of humility for a Christian to state what it is he believes. This is our ecclesiology. It is no more lacking humility for us to state this than it would be for a Protestant to reiterate his belief in sola Scriptura and sola fide.”

    Well, of course, this comes down to some fundamental disagreements about the nature of the Body of Christ. I do think that Peter Kreeft, in his recent MP3 on ecumenism displayed something much different. But, he is not the Pope :)

    “God shines in our boxes, but he certainly shines outside these boxes as well. The Pope essentially said, “No, He really only shines in our box.”

    I strongly disagree. If you look at the citations above from the document, it grants all sorts of graces and a place in salvation in Protestantism: far more than many Protestants grant Catholicism, where (for anti-Catholics like James White), for a Catholic to be saved, it must be in spite of Catholic teaching, never because of it. This criticism should be directed toward Protestant anti-Catholics, not orthodox Catholics like this pope and the last one.”

    Well, I would disagree as well. At least from our perspective, you must understand how offensive what he said was. Truly try to think about it. Again, I realize that it is nothing new, but the language was softening which was about as close “I’m sorry” as we were going to get. I, myself, am willing to take a softening of the language. But to say once again, we are not true churches backs us up quite a bit.

    “My proposal has been that within the ranks of Catholic and Evangelical scholarship, attitudes have begun to change over the last 15 years. Doors were beginning to be opened. This proclamation is a strong attempt to shut these doors.

    Again, not in the slightest. I don’t know what the magic number of “15 years” has to do with anything. Catholic ecumenism has been rapidly developing since World War II, and especially after Vatican II. There has been no reversal or change of policy.”

    It has to do with an ethos that is set in with many. Not so much when documents were signed or when people said I am sorry. But again, look at it from our perspective. The Pope seemed to close the door more publicly yesterday.

    “I look forward to some discussion on these matters. No one seemed to want to discuss my last two posts. They are just sitting there, without comment. I hope this one will be different.

    Thanks for allowing me to speak freely!”

    As well, I appreciate your spirit of compromise and willingness to change your view to better reflect those of the Evangelical church and concede to all that I believe :)

    Really, I do thank you for your time Dave. I pray that God blesses you and your ministry to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  21. To Dave Armstrong: very well-written and considered post you have written with helpful clarifications. Thank you.

    To M Burke: you said the Marian dogmas are required for Catholics to believe for salvation. Can you point me to where that is written please? The last I had heard, it wasn’t considered necessary but I could very well be wrong. Thanks!

    Joanie D.

  22. Hi Joanie,

    You write:
    “To M Burke: you said the Marian dogmas are required for Catholics to believe for salvation. Can you point me to where that is written please? The last I had heard, it wasn’t considered necessary but I could very well be wrong. Thanks!”

    There are four de fide Marian dogmas that must be assented to if one is to be a faithful Catholic.

    1)Mother of God
    2)Perpetual Virginity (which includes virgin inpartu, which means that Mary remained bodily intact during the birth of Christ)
    3)Immaculate Conception
    4)Bodily Assumption

    Number’s 3 & 4 were proclaimed ex cathedra (whereas the first two were by councils). You can read those proclaimations here:

    http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius09/p9ineff.htm

    http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius12/P12MUNIF.HTM

    What you might be thinking of in what you posted would be “Co-Redemptrix,” which has not been defined as a de fide dogma.

    You may find this site helpful to learning what Catholicism teaches concerning Mary:

    http://campus.udayton.edu/mary/aboutmary2.html

    I apologize for not being as thorough as I would like, as I am at work.

    Douglas Mabry
    (Gojira)

  23. Amen to M. Burke. I thought his comment was excellent.

    I am not a regular reader of this blog and have only read the last few posts here, but I felt the need to speak up about some of the themes here that sadden and confuse me.

    I am somewhat baffled as to why you would want to build some sort of ecumenical bridge to Roman Catholicism. Quite simply, the gospel of Rome is not the gospel of Christ, it is a false gospel. Any bridge that would be built should simply be a means to get people out of that false system.

    You state your beliefs are fairly in line with James White but that your methodologies are just different but that doesn’t seem true at all. It seems your message is quite different from James which concerns me. You all here seem somewhat surprised by the latest proclamation of the Pope which makes me wonder if you truly understand the teachings of Roman Catholicism (he said nothing new). Combined with the fact that you seem to want to find some common ground with a false church makes me hope that you truly don’t understand what the RCC is all about, otherwise I have to ask, whose next, the Mormons?

    I do not believe that unity is something we should be striving for in the way that seems to be promoted on this blog. Unity is something that should simply occur when people come to a knowledge of the true gospel of Christ. We should be striving to bring Catholics into a true communion with Christ rather than looking for some common ground that we can erroneously call communion. Light has no place with darkness.

    As a simple believer, it seems to me that you guys are over-analyzing this on a theological level. Debating what doctrines are essential or not, how many false doctrines can one believe before no longer being a Christian, etc. There is nothing wrong with those types of discussions but I think it misses what seems blatantly obvious to me.

    Justification (being saved) is a transaction that occurs between a person and God. If a person has been truly saved (in God’s eyes) that person now has the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I do not believe for a minute that the Holy Spirit would sit around at mass and listen to all the false beliefs that belittle the grace of God for very long. A saved person will eventually leave the Roman Catholic Church.

    Now, I am not saying that every Roman Catholic is not saved – I think some are, but they are saved despite the false teachings of the RCC and I would expect them to eventually leave. When you are truly in Christ, the teachings of the RCC will make you very uncomfortable. The majority of former RC/now Protestants know exactly what I mean.

    I would stop focusing on individuals Catholics and focus on the Catholic Church. Is it a false church or not. If it is, then there can be no common ground and it must be opposed. Free its members from the bondage of slavery using the gospel of Christ and leave the false system to its own devices.

    I apologize if I have painted anyone here with a broad brush. This topic is very important to me as this is bigger than just Roman Catholicism but stricks at the heart of the gospel. It is sad for me to think that the Pope seems more consistent and firm in his false beliefs than we collectively as Protestants are in the one and only gospel of grace. Hopefully that is not the case.

  24. I wanted to add a few things to the debate.

    First, I wanted to post a link to a live discussion about the Pope’s decree on Christianity Today. It is interesting to see the comments in context to what we have been saying: http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctliveblog/archives/2007/07/the_reformation_1.html

    Second, I wanted to point out http://www.getreligion.org ‘s post on this same news story: http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2538#comments

    I thought they where interesting to view in the context of our ongoing discussion. God Bless.

  25. “There are various degrees of error as well, but this does not make the entire system and all its parts flawed does it?”

    Can we say the same of any group that names Christ? How much cyanide can be poured into pure water until it’s deadly? It is one thing to recognize the historic orthodoxy within Catholic theology, but to laud it in lieu of condemning error is hardly useful. When one examines the errors of Rome, are the errors merely of degree or are they more damaging to the Gospel? The Reformers certainly thought the errors of Rome were such that it was necessary to part company, what has changed? When the current Pontif and Magisterium reiterate infallibly that Rome is the only true church (along with all her dogmas) it is clear that this is not merely a question of “degree of error”. A poster at this very blog declared Rome to be a “cult”. Do we “build bridges” to cults or do we seek to save their members through apologetics coupled with evangelism?

    “They are great defenders of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the hypostatic union, the sinfulness of man, etc. I am pro-these vital doctrines which are a part of their system.”

    But these are not distinctive of Roman Catholicism; historic Protestantism (as opposed to Arminianism) has also upheld these beliefs. These beliefs of historic Christianity are not resultant from the ritual system of Roman Catholicism but are in spite of it and contrary to it. You can be “pro” these doctrines but you must recognize and denounce the deadly error that is within Rome. Again, the dogmas of the Mass etc are not merely “matters of degree.”

    “I am anti-infallibility and very much against the idea of mortal sins which send you to hell even if you trust Christ. Missing mass without a valid excuse is very difficult for me.”

    But these doctrines have now been infallibly declared as dogma, they’re irrevocably enshrined within the genius of the Romans Catholic system. As the recent declaration makes evident, it really is an all or nothing proposition. I think a previous poster makes the case even better than I, “You need to study a bit more the relationship between Catholic orthodoxy and Catholic ecumenism.”

    “Therefore, I feel they truly lack the fullness of the Gospel.”

    This seems to indicate that they’re just a little off… is that really what you’re saying?

    “But I also believe that Arminian who believe you can lose your salvation lack its fullness. They carry a heavy burden that Christ already took.”

    Indeed, but such true Arminians are a rare breed and generally have other soteriological issues as well that almost certainly place them outside what would be considered orthodox. Most “Arminians” today are so because of both their own ignorance and the ignorance of their leadership and not because they’ve sat down and really examined the issues.

    “You said:
    “Do you accept the Marian dogmas (doctrines that must be believed for salvation, according to Roman Catholic teaching)”
    No, but they do interpret these things differently. But I think they would even agree that these things can be abused and misunderstood.

    How does one who presents the historic (and dare I say “infallible”) understanding of something “abuse” it whereas someone who constantly redefines it is somehow presenting truth?

    There are volumes of writings on these issues, its not as if these are single statements that remain mysterious and open to definition! We can know for certain (and I highly recommend that all those who strive to involve themselves in apologetics study) what Roman Catholics actually believe. It certainly seems though, in this day and age, that the question of what “is” is has become central.

    You said:
    “Or believe that the Council of Trent did not pronounce anathema on Protestantism (as a direct consequence of the beliefs and teachings of Martin Luther) and that all these 4 centuries of debate is all over a misunderstanding?”
    I don’t want to tell them how to interpret their documents. This has been my point. If they want to interpret them in a certain way that makes them seem different than they were in the 16th century, why not let them? Are we the watch dog of their hermeneutics, requiring them to follow a strict historical-grammatical authorial intent interpretation?

    Words do have meanings, meanings can be understood from context and grammar… or have we (they?) gone so far to obfuscate things so as to make it impossible to understand what they believe?

    Again, it is not as if these dogmas exist in a vacuum of single statements and declarations. With folks like Dave Armstrong around reminding us what has been said before, one needn’t claim ignorance to what they believe. It is also the apologists job to hold people accountable to the claims of their various systems, words have meanings and really cannot be redefined daily. I realize this is part of a larger debate over words and meanings, but we cannot allow Madonna theology (the singer, not the mother of God) to allow some form of agreement where none truly exists. Words having meanings, contra Madonna, and those meanings are evident in what has been written, otherwise the job of the apologist is an impossible one and we should go find something useful to do with our times like mumble incoherently in a corner.

    You said:
    “On what basis do you, a non-Roman Catholic, outside of the communion of Rome declare what is and isn’t the proper interpretation of Roman Catholicism? Since the Catholic Church doesn’t even give its own members such a right, surely you the lone ‘evangelical’ cannot declare truth in opposition to the centuries of Magisterial declaration.”

    I don’t at all. But the fact is that those within the Church differ on how to interpret their own documents. Do you think that Catholic are monolithic in the interpretation of their own doctrine? If so, I think you should begin to speak more broadly to their scholars.

    Again, this seems very naïve, Rome doesn’t allow individual communicants the right to interpret doctrine or Scripture, but what the Magisterium has historically determined is how things are to be understood and those determinations are available for reading. The claim of monolithic belief is the very claim of Roman Catholicism!

    Individual Roman Catholics will often squirm on certain difficult issues, but their squirming does not change what Rome has infallibly declared nor does it give them authority to change Roman dogma.

    There are folks who still believe the Earth is flat… does we really need to have a debate on the meaning of “flat” to recognize the error in their belief? Surely there aren’t “levels of flatness” that can be argued?!

    You said:
    “Also, how differently can one interpret “you must believe that ‘Mary was without original sin and actual sin, being filled with all grace and virtue, from conception unto her Assumption… to be saved’”? How differently can the Mass wherein Christ is “sacrificed again” (according to infallible Catholic teaching) be interpreted? These are not secondary issues, rather, these types of things strike at the heart of the Gospel.”

    I would disagree that these are necessarily destructive to the saving grace of the Gospel. I totally disagree with these doctrines. But at the same time, I am not trying to say that we are the same. I have just made the statements that on many things we are closer than we thought. Even so close as some intra-Protestant denominations.

    Wow, just… wow. The requirement of a continual, bloodless sacrifice of Christ that expiates the sins of those who partake of it and provides relief from time in purgatory is not “destructive to the saving grace of the Gospel”? The requirement for salvation that one believe that the human mother of Christ was free from sin throughout her life and was assumed into heaven isn’t “destructive to the saving grace of the Gospel”? If by this you mean that God can save men and women in spite of apostasy (and thus bring them into fuller understanding of the truth), I agree, if however you mean that the Roman Catholic system of merit, purgation and contra-Biblical dogma is simply another saving form of the Gospel, I totally disagree.

    I could make the same argument about the Church of Christ’s view of baptismal regeneration or the Methodists view of the security of the believer. As well, I could look to the Pentecostals view of authority (being that they have prophets) and see the exact same issues that I have with the Pope. Do you see what I am saying? Why don’t Protestants see a parallel between these groups and Catholics and at least give Catholics the same grace they give to them?

    If by the “Church of Christ” you indicate the various Campbellite groups, then you miss the fact that their view of baptism (not even baptismal regeneration) is tied to their failure to recognize the fallenness of man. What the Church of Christ believes about human effort and sin places them squarely within the historic church’s condemnation of Pelagianism. If that isn’t apparent to you, perhaps you shouldn’t use this as an example. I’ve spoken with Church of Christ members and teachers, I’ve debated their apologists… if you think the Church of Christ and Pentecostals are simply a little off, then we have a much larger disagreement, for not only would I, but they themselves don’t consider themselves “Protestant”.

    ou said:
    “With Pope Benedict XVI reiterating (infallibly?!) that the Roman Catholic Church is the only one true church and the current Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia issuing plenary indulgences(!!!), it seems that Dr. White’s understanding of Catholicism is more relevant than what has been posted here.”
    The issue has never been about relevance or who is correct. It is about our approach, method, and attitude. This is where I part ways with James White.

    How is it somehow more honorable to close our eyes to what has been said and defined and join in some some fuzzy ecumneical love fest than to stand for what we believe and expect others to do the same?

    What do you mean “approach, method and attitude”? It seems that it isn’t about approach, method or attitude but actual content. You seem to differ with Dr. White on many aspects of what Rome believes and yet claim that you’re some how doing Roman Catholics a favor by “not defining” what they believe.

    It is evident from what you’ve said here that you disagree with Dr. White, and apparently other posters at this very blog, that Rome is a cult and that its members require the Gospel for salvation. You decry Dr. White’s method as “anti-catholic” and yet claim to give advice on humility while showing that you neither understand nor seem willing to examine Roman Catholicism on the basis that you’re afraid of falsely defining what they believe. I’m not talking about who is right or wrong, rather who’s viewpoint is more relevant to what Roman Catholics actually believe and the proper response one should have toward them.

    Given Dave Armstrong’s reply on this post, it remains evident that the content of Dr. White’s apologetic not only correct, but it provides the Protestant believer with the proper method and point of contact. We’re not to build a bridge to “cults”, rather we’re to expose the fallacy of their foundation and “with gentleness and reverence” lead them to the truth. But today we seem to have mistaken “gentleness and reverence” with ignorance and false humility. Strangely enough, on this point, I firmly agree with Dave Armstrong!

    “Everyone personally knows Catholics who, while espousing Catholicism, do all sorts of things expressly taught to the contrary of their Church, this doesn’t mean that Roman Catholicism is in some process toward orthodoxy, in fact it simply underscores the failure of the Roman system. The only bright light here is that it provides the Protestant an opportunity to show their Catholic acquaintance the truth of freedom in Christ and a way out of Roman Catholicism.”

    No, these are Catholic apologists who disagree. There are hardliners, moderates, and liberals. All committed to Rome, but all interpret her differently.

    Of course! When the going gets tough, Catholics punt! ;)

    I’ve heard Catholic apologists say all manner of things when confronted by the facts of what the Early Church Fathers have said, or what their Magisterium has declared, but what remains is what is written. If nothing else, the fact that so many Roman Catholics interpret Roman doctrine so differently is not a sign of potential positive movement in Rome’s doctrine, rather it is the sign of an internally flawed system… but varying opinions (again by INDIVIDUAL CATHOLICS who have NO AUTHORITY to make decisions on such matters) have no bearing on the official beliefs of Rome. This is why the official proclamations and documents are so important, for no matter how much like nailing-jello-to-the-wall-squirmy Roman Catholic apologists are, the official documents determine what Rome believes, and reminding said Catholics of such is the good apologist’s job. This is why I’m thankful for such pronouncements from Rome as have recently been issued, they clarify Rome’s true stance against the shifting views of individual Roman Catholics.

    Again, keep in mind that the claim of an infallible interpreter and authority is one of the central arguments used by Roman apologists and evangelists in wooing evangelicals to Rome. If, as you seem to think, Roman Catholic doctrine is malleable by the beliefs and views of individual liberal scholars and the occasional e-pologist, then we should actually see such changes occurring, instead (in this 400+ year debate), as recently as 1950 we have Rome creating ever more infallible gaps between Rome and Protestantism.

    You said:
    “What individual Roman Catholics believe about specific doctrines within their system is unimportant given the authority structure of the church. You seem not to be aware that Rome teaches that individual believers cannot personally interpret Scripture, and that apart from infallible, authoritative, commentary from the Pope and/or Magisterium they cannot be truly sure what any specific verse of Scripture teaches. This point is central to this discussion and seems absent in the posts and replies here.”

    This is simply not true. All information requires interpretation. To some degree, you are interpreting my comments right now. Although in my mind they seem to make sense this does not mean that you are interpreting me correctly. Even the Pope’s statement yesterday is being interpreted differently by different people. All information, but its nature, must be interpreted.

    Oh for goodness sake. Let Madonna and her ilk have the “words have no meaning” bologna and be done with it. Words do have meanings and their meanings are not alterable by the views of individuals later. Just because Roman Catholics attempt to reframe the meanings of doctrines and dogmas defined in the past, they do so only to attempt to appeal to the sensibilities of modern thinking, and this hardly helps the Protestant evangelist but simply liberalizes the discussion and further distances any discussion of “truth”.

    You said:
    “Rome has ‘infallibly’ declared anathema on Biblical Christianity”

    I agree. (Now I feel like I am starting to be forced to argue points that I don’t even fully agree with But here is the 1 million dollar question: What does anathema mean? Some Catholics will say it means you are going to hell (hardliners), some will say it means that you are outside the graces of the Church (moderates), some will say it has been revoked (more liberal).

    This is silly, and indicates to me that there really is no point discussing further as it is evident that every word will be examined and redefined again and again. This constant Clintonesque redefinition is pointless and really does nothing to serve either side. Be honest about what you believe, and what has historically been believed or don’t bother. I say this to Protestants and Catholics alike. Let your yes be yes and no be no…

    The fact that some wish to minimize the language only serves to show either how ignorant they are of history or that they’re not serious about what they believe in the first place and are perhaps the last people we should be talking to. The fact that you’re willing to engage in such discussion speaks volumes.

    Micah Burke

  26. To M Burke: you said the Marian dogmas are required for Catholics to believe for salvation. Can you point me to where that is written please? The last I had heard, it wasn’t considered necessary but I could very well be wrong. Thanks!

    Since we’re discussing definitions here…

    “…according to a long-standing usage a dogma is now understood to be a truth appertaining to faith or morals, revealed by God, transmitted from the Apostles in the Scriptures or by tradition, and proposed by the Church for the acceptance of the faithful. It might be described briefly as a revealed truth defined by the Church — but private revelations do not constitute dogmas, and some theologians confine the word defined to doctrines solemnly defined by the pope or by a general council, while a revealed truth becomes a dogma even when proposed by the Church through her ordinary magisterium or teaching office. A dogma therefore implies a twofold relation: to Divine revelation and to the authoritative teaching of the Church.”

    The Marian dogmas are thus considered ” truth appertaining to faith or morals, revealed by God, transmitted from the Apostles in the Scriptures or by tradition, and proposed by the Church for the acceptance of the faithful.”

    “We give, and we shall continue to give, the humblest and deepest thanks to Jesus Christ, our Lord, because through his singular grace he has granted to us, unworthy though we be, to decree and offer this honor and glory and praise to his most holy Mother. All our hope do we repose in the most Blessed Virgin — in the all fair and immaculate one who has crushed the poisonous head of the most cruel serpent and brought salvation to the world… And since she has been appointed by God to be the Queen of heaven and earth, and is exalted above all the choirs of angels and saints, and even stands at the right hand of her only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, she presents our petitions in a most efficacious manner. What she asks, she obtains. Her pleas can never be unheard.” – Pius IX

    Oh, but what does it matter! Modern Catholics say all sorts of things! ;)

  27. Thanks for taking the time to do this. I am sure that it is very helpful for many as we think through these difficult issues.

    You’re welcome.

    I agree that nothing has changed in the dogmatics, but the direction and perception get altered and discouraged with hard-line statements are reiterated rather than softening in their articulation. VII softened many things from previous declarations. Of since I am not committed to papal or magisterial infallibility, I see this progress as change. But either way, this does seem to be a road block, detour, or a red light.

    James White was exactly right in this respect: absolutely nothing has changed (not even in questions of tone and approach), and whoever thinks it has is simply unacquainted with the relevant catholic documents. It’s much ado about nothing. The so-called “spirit of Vatican II” is pure Catholic liberalism. One must read the document itself. Go to the sources; just as I do when I critique Protestantism.

    Yes, but again, I think the language and rhetoric is very harsh are seem dismissive of progress that has been made.

    It’s amazing to me that the positive aspects in the statement are passed right over, as are infinitely worse “potshots” in Protestant documents that are literally lying about Catholic beliefs and practices. For example, somewhere in the Lutheran confessions (it’s documented in one of my papers) the Catholic mass is directly equated with worship of Baal. We all know how often various Protestant confessions use antichrist to describe the pope or the Catholic system of theology. And you’re concerned about our tone in simply asserting our ecclesiology as it has always been and always will be?

    ME: “To be interpreted differently on this matter of ecclesiology, we would have to cease to be Catholic.”

    Again, this comes down to a difference in your terming it progression while I have no problem saying it is “interpreted differently.” Either way, the documents themselves need interpretation and clarification. I would be comfortable with Catholics saying, “You did not understand us? This is what we meant.” But this is not what is said here.

    If indeed it is nothing new at all (as I contend and as James White does from an opposed theological perspective), then it follows that for you to require us to drop this sort of language in order to come to the table and do ecumenism with Protestants and to be loved and respected and regarded with great respect and affection as good tolerant postmodernists, we would have to (quite simply) adopt some variant of Protestant ecclesiology and ditch our historic understanding of same.

    This is, of course, extremely intolerant and unreasonable on your part to in effect demand such a thing. We’re not allowed to hold our view, in other words, without being subjected to Protestant accusations of our supposed triumphalism, arrogance, and intolerance and something akin to “anti-Protestantism.”

    But if that is so, of what purpose is ecumenism at all? If one party requires the other to adopt certain of its beliefs in order to sit down and talk and try to mutually understand at all, then this is the very furthest thing from ecumenism: it is coercion and the very essence of religious intolerance.

    ME: “I would suspect that they were liberals or inadvertently influenced by liberal Catholic thought, and insufficiently acquainted with Catholic teaching. The pope is not a “hard liner”. He is simply an orthodox Catholic who correctly understand Vatican II and ecumenism in a proper Catholic sense. Pope John Paul II was neither a “hard liner” nor more ecumenical than Pope Benedict XVI. They are both equally committed to Catholic doctrine and dogma, Vatican II, and ecumenism (as I am myself).”

    Please don’t take this disrespectfully, but this is the conclusion that your system necessitates.

    Exactly! Then why don’t you accept it as such, instead of futilely trying to redefine Catholic teaching according to Protestant (and to some extent, postmodernist) presuppositions?

    In other words, you have to say that he is interpreting VII correctly because of his presupposed authority. You don’t really have a choice to do otherwise.

    I wasn’t arguing about the papacy and its prerogatives here; rather, I was strongly disagreeing with your characterizations of the two popes, as if they are different. They are not at all.

    It is not so much that I am hoping that Catholics are becoming more Protestant per se,

    I think it is the logical conclusion of some of your statements, as I believe I have demonstrated. I think if you pknder what I am saying and think more about some stuff you have said, you might see my point and even agree with it.

    but that we have simply, do SOME degree, been talking past each other. I think that battle lines cause people to defend issues in a sincere yet imbalanced way. See my Advice to Christian Apologists.

    Absolutely. It happens all the time.

    Well, I do think the smoke from the reformation is clearing and we are redefining or better articulating sola Scriptura to mean more than the popular notion that the Scripture is our only source of authority, which is not true. Sola Scriptura means that the Scripture is our only infallible and final authority. Therefore, while we may not change, I think that our defining of the issues, on both sides, makes us closer than the early polemics suggest.

    Yep; I agree 100% Many many Catholics do not properly understand what sola Scriptura means (i.e., as explicated by its most able defenders). Likewise, many Protestants don’t have a clue as to how Catholics relate Bible, Tradition, and Church.

    Yes, but there also seems to be disagreement among committed Catholics concerning the particulars of VII. Isn’t this true?

    Not all that much among orthodox Catholics, that I have seen. Most significant disagreement would be between orthodox and liberal, dissenting Catholics (just as Protestants have their never-ending internal struggles with liberals in their ranks: we’re both infected with this problem (as was the early Church).

    “I am not sure what this will do to the ethos of the situation or the tone of the conversation between irenic Catholics and Protestants,

    ME: It should do nothing whatsoever, for anyone who is familiar with Vatican II statements on ecumenism and recent encyclicals along the same line. They are all of a piece.”

    Come on . . . you have to say that Dave :)

    It is irrelevant what I “have” to say. This is simply an assertion of fact: so obvious that even James White and myself agree about this: he utterly opposing the teachings and I fully accepting them, but both understanding what exactly the teachings are, under consideration.

    Again, your system does not allow otherwise.

    In this case, the facts of the matter, as plainly seen in the documents, do not allow otherwise.

    You do not have the option to critically question whether or not this is the case because of the presumptions of authority.

    That’s absolutely irrelevant to the point at hand. One can state facts of a particular matter even if he comnpletely disagrees with theology that is tied in with the facts (hence, James white states the Catholic ecclesiological teaching under scrutiny here accurately, while not believing it. I have done the same, and I happen to believe it. But my belief in the theology has nothing to do whether the fact of the teaching is true or not.

    But, fair enough . . . I hope that the next Pope softens the language as VII did.

    Vatican II states exactly the same. Where do you think the description “ecclesial communities” was famously used? If this is what is ticking so many Protestants off, then, like I said, they need to be angry at Vatican II as well. For example, Decree on Ecumenism, 3:

    “For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help towards salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained.”

    This doesn’t mean that no Protestant can be saved, however, because in the immediately preceding paragraph, it was stated that Protestants “have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation.”

    That’s OUR view. But even you yourself, in contrast, on James White’s Dividing Line tonight, said that Catholics can only be saved despite the teaching of their own communion (which is classic anti-Catholic rhetoric).

    but it certainly has reiterated that the supreme bishop of Rome does not want progression in the way it was seeming to head.

    Nope; I couldn’t disagree more, and have already explained why, at length.

    Well, of course, this comes down to some fundamental disagreements about the nature of the Body of Christ.

    Of course it does; that is the whole point, and is why it is absurd for you to be disappointed simply because we disagree with you. You already knew that we did that!

    I do think that Peter Kreeft, in his recent MP3 on ecumenism displayed something much different. But, he is not the Pope :)

    That’s right, and since he is not the pope, he doesn’t have the concern of guiding and leading a Church and being extremely careful with language. He is an apologist (like myself) who tries his best to speak in terms that Protestants can relate to. Vatican II urged all Catholics to do this. It’s one reason I am a Catholic myself, because a friend of mine took that approach to me when I was a Protestant and it bore fruit.

    Well, I would disagree as well. At least from our perspective, you must understand how offensive what he said was.

    Are you saying that you were previously unacquainted with the Catholic doctrine of “one true Church” as applied to itself (In find that hard to believe)? If you knew about it, there would be no grounds whatsoever for “offense.” I am truly baffled why this would offend anyone who already knew the teaching. I’m not offended by a Protestant asserting sola fide or sola Scriptura. I expect that just as I would for a dog to bark or a chicken to lay eggs. Being “offended” is irrelevant. It’s simply the reality of what is.

    Truly try to think about it.

    I don’t need to because I’ve dealt with these issues for 26 years as an apologist and 17 as a Catholic apologist. It doesn’t make any sense to me. If you as a Protestant are so concerned about tolerance and unity as much as possible, then you should attack mentalities of anti-Catholics like James White, who divide and polemicize and do little good at all when dealing with Catholicism (whereas he does a lot of good and helpful work in other areas) rather than object to us saying what we have always said.

    Again, I realize that it is nothing new, but the language was softening which was about as close “I’m sorry” as we were going to get.

    Huh? You expected us to say we were sorry for beliving that the Catholic Church is the Church? Nuh-uh. That is not going to happen, I can assure you. And there was not the slightest indication that it would happen in any Catholic official document. If you disagree, then you can easily produce an example of what you are saying.

    I, myself, am willing to take a softening of the language. But to say once again, we are not true churches backs us up quite a bit.

    Join the crowd. I get sick and tired of James White and his anti-Catholic cronies telling me I’ll go to hell if I accept Catholic teachings, that I am a Pelagian and idolater and apostate, who is in an evil system and an antichrist church: the whore of Babylon; that my own ministry is deliberately leading people top hell and the devil, and all the worthless rotgut that Calvin and Luther and lots of other folks have said about my Church for 500 years. If you are offended by this statement of Catholic ecclesiology, you wouldn’t last a day — not one — listening to all the crap I hear on literally a daily basis.

    It has to do with an ethos that is set in with many. Not so much when documents were signed or when people said I am sorry. But again, look at it from our perspective. The Pope seemed to close the door more publicly yesterday.

    I’m sorry; such an appraisal cannot possibly be familiar with the trajectory of authentic Catholic ecumenism over the time period you refer to.

    I appreciate your spirit of compromise and willingness to change your view to better reflect those of the Evangelical church and concede to all that I believe :)

    Not sure what all this means, but thanks, I guess! (scratching my head). :-)

    Really, I do thank you for your time Dave. I pray that God blesses you and your ministry to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Thank you; and I hope and pray the same for your own ministry, especially in those broad areas where we would completely agree as Christians.

    I hope you have not been offended by my frankness and directness. It’s just me. I can’t hem and haw and tiptoe around issues. I must face them head-on. Some people don’t care for my style for that very reason. But I can only be me, and we all have our personalities and styles and can hardly avoid them. Not all will like any given style, as you well know, I’m sure, in your own apologetic endeavors.

  28. There is no doubt about the divisions within Roman Catholicism as well. And people from all sides claim to be interpreting “infallible dogma” correctly. Everyone will be held accountable for their private fallible interpretation of infallible revelation, whether they call themselves Protestant or Catholic.

    There is a fear in leaving the magisterium, for it leaves one feeling vulnerable and thinking how can they possible grasp the truth when there are so many divisions among those who are not Roman Catholic. But in reality, there is great unity among Protestants about the gospel, of those who actually hold to the Bible as their ultimate authority. This idea that if one is incorrect about a lesser-emphasised topic in Scripture, then they will surely be incorrect about the more essential doctrines, is not true. For the most part, the Bible is clear on so much and Protestants find themselves in agreement about these things. The solution to disagreement is not an infallible interpreter, but humility and love, and time. And perhaps all sides shouldn’t emphasise things as necessary that the Bible doesn’t.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Boar’s Head Tavern » - July 11, 2007

    […] went after Michael Patton and the Theology Unplugged blog for- surprise- being soft on the RCC. Patton responds. My advice, Michael: This too shall pass, but while its going on, it can get rough. Posted by: […]

Leave a Reply