Friday, April 30, 2010

April 30, 2010 Response to Pastor Witmer, Lighthouse Baptist Church

For any interested readers, Tobe Witmer, pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church in Newark, DE has briefly responded to my essay on his Bread of Life Sermon.  I encourage everyone to read my essay and his response, which can be found in the comments underneath.

First and foremost, I would like to thank Pastor Witmer for considering my commentary on his sermon.  As I have said elsewhere on this blog, achieving Christian unity will only occur if Christians talk to one another with respect, openness, love, and a Christ-like, zealous desire for the perfect unity that Jesus once prayed for (John 17) and St. Paul commanded.  We can not ignore differences, because to do so is to ignore the author of division, Satan himself.  We can not pretend differences do not exist, because to do so is to ignore a reality that is contrary to the Gospel.  And we can not accept differences ("I believe what I believe, you believe what you believe."), because such a philosophy is directly contrary to the mind of God (see John 17).

But we can pray for unity, we can join our hearts with Christ's, and we can be obedient to Christ and submit our wills to him, so that if he is calling us to change our beliefs, we will exhibit the humble "obedience of faith" (see Romans 1) and follow Him where He calls us.  Thy will, Lord, not mine be done!

And we can talk!  How rarely Christians who disagree about fundamental doctrines actually sit down and consider what each other really believes! 

When I read Pastor's response, a paragraph from a G.K. Chesterton's essay "Where All Roads Lead" came to mind.  The paragraph can be read here, and it begins with the words "Now, I have noted first this common consciousness..."

The basic idea on which Chesterton so eloquently remarks is that "new" ideas grow old quickly, but the truth stays ever-young.  Pastor Witmer's response speaks of an idea (a particular flavor of Christianity) that is 500 years old.  I am trying to share a Christianity with Pastor Witmer that is 2,000 years young.  One beautiful thing about Catholicism is that it grows fresher and more vibrant with every stale complaint made against it.  And how many times have we Catholics heard the same criticism summed up with the words "faith alone?"  Yet, does Pastor Witmer's response really answer or engage the teachings of that ancient church that I shared in my essay?  Pastor Witmer cited the context of his message as a reason he did not address all the verses of John 6 pertinent to his topic, but are we to believe that he would have interpreted "the Bread of Life" spoken of in John 6 any differently had he dwelt longer past v. 51?

In the near future, I will revisit my essay and Pastor Witmer's response and try to draw out what seem to be the areas of explicit agreement, the areas of hidden agreement (areas that Pastor Witmer thinks contradict the principle of salvation by grace alone), and areas of real disagreement.  I believe I will be able to show that there are some very real agreements between Baptists and Catholics that seem, through the lens of what Baptists are usually taught about Catholicism, to be areas of profound disagreement.

The question for our hearts always remains:  are we ready to rejoice in these unities and dissolve the false divisions that we have allowed Satan to sow in Christ's mystical body?

Are we ready to open our minds and hearts to really understand what each other believe, or will we remain content to live with the straw men of our long-standing prejudices?

Again, I thank Pastor Witmer for showing a willingness to respond and begin a conversation, and I invite Pastor Witmer to respond to some of the very real arguments I made in my own essay for the Real Presence of Jesus Christ - Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity - in the most Holy Eucharist.  I especially invite Pastor Witmer to address my remarks regarding the dichotomies on which his interpretation of John 6 seems to rest.

May the Holy Spirit blow anew on Christians and bring about perfect unity, true doctrine, and a vibrant faith!

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