Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I'm NOT a Jesuit!! Response to Pastor Tobe Witmer of Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) March 13, 2011

In his March 13, 2011 sermon, Pastor Tobe Witmer of Lighthouse Baptist Church asked for prayer for deliverance from "unbelievers," among which he grouped the Catholic Jesuit that emails and blogs against him trying to convert him to Catholicism. See for yourself (I've started the video a few seconds before to provide some context, though the full quote begins at 33:31 and ends around 33:50):

Now, perhaps, just perhaps, there is another Catholic out there who is a Jesuit who is emailing and blogging about Pastor Witmer.  A cursory search of the internet doesn't turn up any blogs that address Pastor Witmer other than my own, and Pastor Witmer has not mentioned any other Catholic contacts during our dialogues.

So, I have to assume he had me in mind.

There are a few things that I find both amusing and troubling in Pastor Witmer's statement.

First, the amusing point:  I am NOT a Jesuit.  I never have been.  If I were to join an religious order, it would not be the Jesuits! I am married.  I have a family.  I have no formal religious education apart from the Sunday school classes that I attended as a kid and the books and talks I have consumed.  I dare say that most of my religious training comes from simply being a Catholic, going to Mass faithfully (and really listening and participating when I am there), and reading the Catholic Catechism.

The troubling part is this: I have met personally with Pastor Witmer, and during our first meeting, Pastor Witmer asked me point blank who I had been trained by and who I worked for.  I told him the truth, just as I shared above.  He didn't believe me and pressed me again: "Are you telling me that you haven't taken any courses or formal training?"  He even asked me if I was a Jesuit!

And I answered him truthfully:  I am not a Jesuit, and I have not received formal training.  I'm not hired by the Catholic Church to attack Protestant pastors.

The even more troubling thing is that Pastor Witmer would label me an unbeliever.  Anyone who knows me knows that I love Jesus.  I have dedicated my life to Him.  Jesus is indeed my Lord and my Savior, and I trust Him for my salvation.  I have spent years of my life soaking in the Bible, which I believe is the only inspired, written Word of God that we have.

And yet, because I disagree with Pastor Witmer on what the Bible means, he has publicaly called me an unbeliever.  Because I have defended my beliefs from his attacks, I am an unbeliever.  Because I have questioned elements of his interpretations of Scripture, I am an unbeliever.  For him to claim that about me is indeed troubling.

Sorry Pastor Witmer, but not only am I a believer, but I'm also am not paid by the Catholic Church to go out and convert you.  My story in a nutshell is this:  My wife is a former Baptist, and through our many difficult conversations, I came to know a lot about Baptist beliefs.  My in-laws (her parents) are Baptists, and as they visited various Newark, DE churches looking for a home, I (as the spiritual leader of my household) decided to listen to the sermons of the pastors at the churches they were attending, if only so that I could be informed about the churches in case we should get into a discussion.

One day I was listening to Pastor Witmer's sermons, I heard Pastor Witmer attack the most sacred thing for Catholics, the Mass and the Eucharist.

Pastor Witmer claimed that Catholics re-crucify Christ in the Mass, which is simply incorrect.  I wrote a blog post defending my Catholic faith, in which I asked Pastor Witmer to justify his statement by presenting one Catholic document saying that we crucify Christ again in the Mass.  Of course, he couldn't do it, because the Catholic Church doesn't teach that.

So, on this occasion, and others before and after where Pastor Witmer wasn't sharing the truth of the Holy Scriptures with his congregation, I decided to stand up for the truth.

Because I stood up for the truth and defended my faith against Pastor Witmer's attacks, it is just a bit ironic that he is praying for deliverance from me.

Now, Pastor Witmer might wish that I would stop questioning him, but this desire would be hypocritical since he questions me just as much.  He has questioned me about the Eucharist, Mary, Tradition, and other aspects of my Catholic faith.  I have answered every one of his questions.  (Apparently, my ability to do so makes me a Jesuit.  Fallen away Catholics out there: did you know how to explain your faith from the Bible when it came under attack?)

Sorry, Pastor Witmer.  I'm not a Jesuit.  I'm a Catholic, a real Catholic (not just one in name only or a cultural Catholic), a faithful Catholic (not a cafeteria Catholic who picks and chooses the teachings I want to believe and follow), an informed Catholic (one who knows how to show where the Bible supports my faith), and, by God's grace, I long to be a holy Catholic.  (Here is where I depend on God's grace and the prayers of my fellow brothers and sisters.  It is one thing to know the truth, and another thing to live up to it day in and day out.)

I'm indeed honored that Pastor Witmer would think that I understood the Bible and the Catholic faith well enough to be counted among what is considered one of the most intellectually astute religious orders.  Indeed, there are many Jesuits who represent some of the foremost Biblical scholars in the world.  Fr. Joseph Fessio (student of Pope Benedict XVI and founder of Ignatius Press) and Fr. Mitch Pacwa are two of my favorites.  (Listen to archives of Fr. Pacwa and crew's radio Q&A programs here.)  Dear reader, please understand that I don't even come close to the towering knowledge of Scripture that these two Jesuits have.  So, I humbly accept Pastor Witmer's honor of being grouped with these fine gentlemen and priests.

At the same time, I have to scratch my head.  If this is the second time where Pastor Witmer has made false and unsubstantiated claims from the pulpit, what else is he saying that is simply not true?  I told Pastor explicitly and truthfully that I am not a Jesuit a long time ago, yet he claimed that I was.

In 1 Thess. 5:21, St. Paul instructs us to "test everything, holding on to what is good."

Whether or not Pastor Witmer feels he is being attacked, I can not stop "testing everything."  I'm quite certain that Pastor Witmer doesn't give it a moments thought when he asks Catholics to test their faith so as to get them to deny it and become Baptist.  Yet, when I, a faithful Catholic, tests Pastor Witmer's faith (which I actually haven't done that much, since I've spent most of the time defending mine), Pastor Witmer asks for deliverance.  Hmm!

I would like to ask here that Pastor Witmer either back up his claim that I am a Jesuit with one single bit of evidence, or admit (to me in writing, so that I can post the update here) that he mis-spoke and that I am just a regular Catholic.  Why is this important?  Well, for starters, labels like "Jesuit" carry a seed of suspicion in the minds of people who don't know what Jesuits are.  Also, the term seems to set me apart from regular, run of the mill Catholics, which is actually what I really am.  In other words, it is easier to write me off as a member of an elite, intellectual fringe group (as he hopes you will imagine the Jesuits to be) than to admit that a regular Joe-six-pack Catholic like myself is able to defend his faith so well that Pastor Witmer seems stumped (at least that is my impression).  My point isn't to stump Pastor Witmer, and I'll be the first to say that I've learned and been inspired by many things in his sermons, which, incidentally, contain much truth.  The point is to love.  The point is to come together into unity and communion as brothers in the Lord.  The point is to lovingly work together toward reconciliation.  To do this, Pastor Witmer is going to have to first reconcile within himself that I'm not a Catholic doctrinal hit-man sent from Rome.  No, I'm just an average Catholic who knows his faith well, and who likes sharing it with others.  (I know it is not as exciting to say from the pulpit that you are praying for deliverance from a normal, average Catholic, though :)

UPDATE (April 4, 2011):

Pastor Witmer answered my request in a series of two emails.  In the first email he began (without address):
[jezh-oo-it, jez-oo-, jez-yoo-] Show IPA
1. a member of a Roman Catholic religious order (Society of Jesus) founded by Ignatius of Loyola in 1534.
2. ( often lowercase ) a crafty, intriguing, or equivocating person: so called in allusion to the methods ascribed to the order by its opponents.

I didn't use Jesuit in the sense of #1, but more in the sense of the idiom of #2. You are fanatical and crafty in your desire to somehow sway me and I assume others from the faith in Solo Christo that is salvation. The fact that you are Catholic only adds to the Jesuit characterization. Without going back to email for support - my memory serves that I asked you this and you never replied directly. I may be wrong, but I simply have always assumed you are a Jesuit "wanna be". No disrespect intended.
I replied to him that I didn't quite know what to report, since I hadn't considered that he was using the term "Jesuit" in a derogatory fashion.  (He had written the word into his sermon notes, which can be read by going to the Lighthouse Baptist Church website.) And for the record, I have never once tried to sway Pastor Carlo from the doctrine of Christ Alone.  Salvation is indeed through Christ alone.  The difference between Baptists and Catholics, as Pastor Witmer seems to misunderstand, is in how Christ does the saving!  We agree that we are saved by Christ alone.  Unfortunately, Pastor Witmer sees the sacraments as human works, when in fact they each flow from and extend to each and every one of us the work Christ accomplished on Calvary.  Thus, there is no opposition between the cross and the sacraments.  They are, in fact, one and the same work, applied throughout time. 

Pastor Witmer replied in a second email:
Not derogatory - "Jesuit = Zealot"  In that sense I speak of you.  You could actually take it as a complement.
So, I guess that's the end of that.  In the end, it really is a small mistake, and one for which I've forgiven Pastor Witmer.  My intention of dwelling on the mistake at all is not to seem petty.  (Indeed, there are far more important things that ought to keep our attention.)  The reason to focus on this for a bit is simply so that 1) the air of suspicion is cleared and 2) the truth may be made known.  It is important for the reader to understand that Pastor Witmer has been lied to about what the Catholic Church teaches, and who Catholics are.  While I am not accusing Pastor Witmer of intentionally being deceitful, I do hope to hold Pastor Witmer to a higher, more truthful, more well-documented standard when he speaks about Catholics and what we believe.  Only when Christians can speak honestly with each other in a spirit of love can we continue to move together, as Baptists and Catholics, toward the unity that Christ desires for us.

[end UPDATE]


I do pray for Pastor Witmer that he will one day see the Catholic Church for who she is: the Church Jesus Christ established 2,000 years ago to deliver the fullness of Christian truth and worship to every generation.

In the meantime, I invite all members of Lighthouse Baptist Church to follow St. Paul's advice and "test everything" (INCLUDING me!).  But as you test, think critically, and test your underlying assumptions.  You might begin by reading some of the blog posts from other Baptists and my resonses to them.  Or, you might begin asking yourself these questions...
  • For instance, are you sure that 1 Peter 3:21 means the exact opposite of what the words say?
  • Are you sure that Jesus didn't mean "baptism" when he told Nicodemus that we had to be "born [again] of water and spirit," especially when the entire context of this passage in John 3 is baptism?
  • Are you really taking Jesus at his word in the latter half of John 6?
  • Acts 2 shows us that the early Christians celebrated the "Lord's Supper" every time they met, and certainly every Sunday.  Why don't Baptist church's follow the Holy Spirit-inspired example laid out in the Bible and celebrate the Lord's Supper every week?
  • Read Matthew 16 in context of Isaiah 22.  What was Jesus telling Peter about the structure and succession of authority in the Church he was building?
  • Finally, where does the Bible say that the Bible alone is the final authority?  (The Bible says in Matt. 18 that the CHURCH is the final authority....but which church?  The Bible says the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth...but which church?  All the denominations disagree about many truths!)
  • Where does the Bible say that we are justified by faith alone?  (The only time "faith" and "alone" are put side by side in the Bible is where the Scriptures say that we "are NOT justified by faith alone."  It is no wonder Martin Luther wanted to remove the book of James from the New Testament!)
  • Where does the Bible say that Christians can't choose to reject and lose their salvation?  (I can give you 97 verses that deny the doctrine of Eternal Security.  Please see my tract on the subject as well.)
Finally, pause for a moment and ask God in prayer:  Is it really your desire, God, for Christians to be so separated and disunified?  We all seem to love you and search for the truth of the Bible, but we all come to so many different conclusions, and every new theology seems to mean more divisions within the Church.  (We Baptists even have a famous quip that we "multiply by dividing," such that we have independent Baptist, Southern Baptist, Freewill Baptists, Reformed Baptists, and on and on.)  How, oh Lord, did you intend for Christians to be able to stay perfectly united in truth and worship, like Jesus prayed for in John 17 and like St. Paul commanded?  What can I do to learn to interpret the Scriptures in the way they were meant to be read?

Lord, grant me the strength and resolve to follow your will wherever it might lead me, even if this is to a Church that I might not have dreamed of joining!  Don't let me change unless you want me to change, but if it is your will, Lord, open my mind and heart to the truth of the Bible so that I may come to know you more deeply and worship you in Spirit and Truth.  At the same time, help me to read the Bible in the context in which it was supposed to be written, which is the context of your covenant family of God.  Help me to read the Bible in the context of the Church that has been around from the beginning. 

Lord, I know that for Christians to be unified, much dialogue, frank conversations and forgiveness will have to take place so that we can learn what each other believes.  Grant me the grace to listen deeply and carefully to what others have to say, and let me rejoice when I find areas of unity.  Clear away any prejudices and false impressions that I have of any other Christian, be they Catholic or a member of any other denomination.  Rather, let me reach out to them in love and humility.  Let me not see them as an opponent but a brother in the Lord with whom I can journey with toward the truth.  Let me speak the truth when it needs to be spoken, but let me also listen, and let me speak and listen in love.

And in closing, to any fallen-away Catholics, I pray that you will reconcile yourselves to the Church.  Some of you might have left because you did not know the faith well enough to defend it against the attacks of those who don't consider the Catholic Church to be Christian.  (If you left because you were failing to live up to one of the Church's moral teachings, perhaps about divorce and remarriage or artificial contraception, then I strongly urge you to repent!)  Please know that the Catholic faith does have the answer!  The Catholic faith is the true faith in which the fullness of Christ's truth subsists; the gates of hell have not prevailed against the Church that Jesus founded, just like He promised!  And that Church that Jesus promised to protect was built on the foundation of Peter and the apostles, who were given authority by Christ to proclaim the gospel to all nations throughout the remainder of human history.  These apostles appointed successors, and these successors appointed more successors, all the way down to the bishops that govern the Church today.  Every person who reads article has a bishop, if only you would submit yourselves to his authority, which is ultimately rooted in the authority of Christ himself.  "He who hears you, hears me," Christ told the first bishops of the church, a promise that follows the office right down to the bishops of today.  If you aren't sure whether this is true, ask yourself: were the early Christians supposed to be obedient to the bishop that was elected in the book of Acts to fill the "bishopric" (KJV) that Judas vacated?  If yes, then you believe in apostolic succession!  And you should!  The entire early church all around the globe, wherever churches were established, accepted the authority of the successors of the apostles without question.  This is a historical fact that is easily proven just by reading the writings of the early church.

My dear friend, I could write all day about the truth and holiness and beauty of the Catholic Church, all of which flows from Her being the Bride of Christ and sharing in his saving plan, but alas I must get back to the grind of my job.  Please don't take any of the above as an attack on my Baptist brothers and sisters in Christ.  Rather, I'm offering my hand and my ideas in hope that we might together work to fulfill Jesus's prayer for you and me: that we may be one (John 17).

This is going to take work and dialogue, but anyone who is committed to God's Holy Word should see this as a great opportunity to honor Christ, especially since He offered His passion and death to achieve this goal.

If a Pastor is not committed to working together to reach the truth (which begins by honestly trying to learn what each other believes and why), then I must question if he is really as submissive to the Word of God as he claims to be.  I trust that Pastor Witmer is submissive to God's Word in the Bible, and so I pray that he be as willing to discuss the Bible with a Catholic who knows his faith well (even if I'm not a Jesuit!) as he would be to discuss the Bible with a Catholic who is "easy pickings."

Please know that in my last communication with Pastor Witmer, I freely offered him six months to digest the materials and arguments that I gave to him.  In no way would it be fair to say that I am stalking him every day with emails and blog messages!  If Pastor Witmer will give me his permission, I'd be happy to post my emails to him (and even his responses) to this blog, so that everyone in his congregation can understand more precisely the nature of our exchange.

Also, here are the books that I have currently loaned to Pastor Witmer for him to wrestle with.  I would encourage each of my readers to pick up copies of these books as well (if you would like me to buy you a copy, just let me know).  I'll list them in the order in which I would recommend them:
  1. Steve Ray, Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historical Church (Google Books sample)
  2. Mark Shea, By What Authority: An Evangelical Discovers Sacred Tradition
    (Google Books sample...other books can be found by searching for the titles on Google books.)
  3. David Currie, Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic
  4. Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on "Romanism" by "Bible Christians" 
  5. I intend to loan him this book as well, which is written by a former Baptist pastor who concluded that the early Church of the apostles was Catholic:  Rod Bennett, Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words
If Pastor Witmer is willing, I'll be sharing more details of our conversations shortly...

Until then, may the grace and peace of Jesus Christ be with you!

    1 comment:

    WHW said...

    As a non-Catholic Christian, I apologize to the 'Catholic Jesuit' (whoever he might be) for Pastor Witmer's prayer for deliverance from him, and for his characterization of that person as an unbeliever. There has been passionate debate over serious theological issues in the Church almost since its founding; I'm sure it will continue. But we cannot let it descend to the level of personal accusation. Jesus commends the church at Ephesus for hating the practices of the Nicolaitans, not the Nicolaitans themselves (Rev. 2:6). I ask the 'Catholic Jesuit' to forgive us for judging where we have no right to judge ("Who are you to judge the servant of another? Before his own master he will stand or fall, and stand he will, for our God is able to make him stand." --Rom. 14:4).

    Assuming that 'Ready' is, in fact, the person referred to, and knowing him, I at first found the 'accusation' that he was a Jesuit amusing. But after thinking a moment, I can see how it came about. Steadfast loyalty, intellectual rigor, and ability and delight in apologetics are all characteristics of 'Ready' which I admire. To be truthful, I have more difficulty seeing him as a "run-of-the-mill" Catholic, or run-of-the-mill anything else: he's one of the most dedicated Christians I know, and if the Church -- or any congregation -- were full of people like him, this world would be a much better place.

    I cannot accept Catholic doctrine on several major points. Maybe that will change before I see Heaven; maybe it won't. But in the meantime, 'Ready' serves as a God-given, Christ-following, Spirit-led example to me, and I thank God for him.