Pastor Witmer's words are given in blue.
This response, let it be noted, is given on the Feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel.
Avoiding Heretics and Stablishing Saints to God’s Glory
Romans Series LBC 3/27/11 PM Romans 16:17-27
Read Romans 16:17-27
To save time, I’m using the text for the sermon posted by Pastor Witmer on the LBC website (lbcde.org). I’ll add in brackets the words he throws in extemporaneously in brackets. Here is a link to the sermon on YouTube, and here is a link to the PDF of the text.
TW: I would like to begin tonight by sharing with you something that may surprise you [but will form a good foundation for you of understanding the danger of what I’m about to preach]. A few years ago, a Catholic Apologist [I guess you would call him] began to email me and seek a friendship with me. He is a professor at the University of Delaware and has a Blog called “Ready with a Reason”. It started when He blogged against a Resurrection Message and I responded [and chided me publically on his blog for not preaching the whole context, though it was never the point to…and I responded.]
RR: For the record, here is the exact order of events:
On January 3, 2010, I posted a response on my blog to Pastor Witmer’s 2009 Easter message. In this message, Pastor Witmer gave an interpretation of the “Bread of Life” discourse from the Gospel of John (ch. 6). I argued that by ignoring the final verses of that chapter, he hadn’t considered all the evidence necessary to establish an interpretation of what Jesus meant by “the Bread of Life". It’s like claiming to offer an interpretation of Romeo and Juliet but only reading the first three acts. (English teachers: would you accept such an interpretation as legitimate and complete?) I think it is inaccurate to say that I wrote “against” his Resurrection message for at least two reasons. First, I think that the majority of his message, and especially the devotion to Christ that underlies it, is correct. Further, I think that the earlier verses of John 6, when taken out of context (by not considering the later verses), DO support the interpretation that Pastor Witmer was providing. I simply suggested in my blog that Pastor Witmer, in choosing to stop reading from John 6 just as its language began supporting a literal interpretation of the bread and wine of communion as Christ’s body and blood, was offering an interpretation that did not take into account everything Jesus, St. John, and the Holy Spirit through him had to say about the Bread of Life discourse. Second, I don’t write against Pastor Witmer. I write for him, because anytime you attempt to share the truth with someone out of love, you by definition are not acting “against him.” Pastor Witmer may say that I wrote against him, but this is just reflective of his perspective. Athiests probably think that Christians argue “against” them as well, but it is still a good thing when we try to convert them to Jesus. Likewise, when I try to share the fullness of the Gospel, once delivered to the saints (Jude 3) with Pastor Witmer, that is an act that is fundamentally for him. Even if what I am saying is wrong (though I don’t believe it is), it is still an act done out of love. Please know that in no way am I against Pastor Witmer in particular or Baptists in general. I view him (and them) as my separated brothers and sisters in the Lord, and there are many admirable things about their faiths that inspire me and encourage me in mine. Although I am against the idea that Jesus was only speaking symbolically in John 6, this does not mean I’m against the people who hold this idea. Hate the sin (the limited interpretation), love the sinner, right?
Note well: after writing this response, I did not contact Pastor Witmer. He was the one that first contacted me by posting a response on my blog.
April 26, 2010 (around one year ago, not three!): Pastor Witmer left a response on my blog post about his sermon.
From May to July of 2010, Pastor Witmer and I emailed back and forth. After July 15th, no emails were exchanged until March 11, 2011, and by the end of March, Pastor Witmer emailed me to say that he no longer desired to carry on our dialogue. He was “disengaging.”
TW: From there, he began very kindly to write to me and engage in theological discussions. He stopped by the church several times and dropped off books about Fundamental Pastors who had converted to Catholicism. He asked me to consider the Early Church Fathers who interpreted the gospel differently than I did. [These were second and third, excuse me, third and fourth generation believers after the apostles taught by the students of the apostles who preached much more of a works salvation than the preaching of the gospel that you hear.] I responded with Scripture and sound doctrine on every hand hoping to reach him with the truth of Scripture alone for Authority [It’s the old fight of…some of you know the term “Sola Scriptura,” which Martin Luther really took a huge stand on, that is only the Scriptures that can give us our doctrine. Not Church councils and not Church traditions, only the Scriptures] and Christ Alone for Salvation
RR: I am very thankful for the tone and authenticity of what Pastor Witmer is sharing, and I appreciate that he has communicated some of the facts of our exchange accurately.
However, he hasn’t communicated all of the facts, and some of his omissions are quite significant, as they can easily lead to some false impressions.
First, Pastor Witmer states that I shared books of conversion stories and suggestions to read the Early Church Fathers. But rather than tell you who the Early Church Fathers actually are (the students of the apostles), their names (Justin Martyr, Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, etc.), and why they were a significant part of our discussion, notice how he characterizes them: they are people “who interpreted the gospel differently than I did.” This statement certainly is true--and this should give one pause, since the students of the apostles understood the gospel different from Pastor Witmer, as Pastor Witmer himself claims. But also note that the statement reflects an underlying issue: that Pastor Witmer’s beliefs are the standard by which Christian beliefs are judged. In fact, most of Pastor Witmer’s interpretations of Scripture existed before he did; Pastor Witmer’s beliefs are part of an interpretive tradition known as “fundamentalist Baptist.” There is no need to define the early church fathers so personally (as people who disagree with me!). We are dealing with two interpretive traditions that overlap in many areas and disagree in others. Further, the two traditions have vastly different histories. The interpretative tradition of the Catholic Church go back to the Early Church Fathers (almost two thousand years ago). The traditions of fundamentalist Baptists are relatively quite young (between two and five centuries old, at most).
Further, Pastor Witmer makes a mistake in his sermon as he is reading these notes. He explains that the Early Church Fathers I encouraged him to read were “second and third”—which he immediately changes to “third and fourth”—generation believers after the apostles. The fact is, the Early Church Fathers that I pointed Pastor Witmer to were FIRST GENERATION believers after the apostles. Some of them, including Clement of Rome, are even mentioned in the New Testament (Philippians 4:3). These were not people separated by a hundred years from the apostles. Rather, these are the very “faithful witnesses” that the apostles themselves chose to pass along the gospel message. For instance, St. Ignatius of Antioch was chosen to lead the Church in Antioch after St. Peter left for Rome, where he was martyred. St. Ignatius was a student of St. John the apostle for well over a decade (some scholars say thirty years). All of this historical data creates a profoundly difficult problem for Pastor Witmer (and all Protestants): how did all the students of the apostles all across the Church fall into apostasy so quickly (within the first generation) and so uniformly (teaching the same false doctrines though they were hundreds of miles apart)? How did every single one of them, trained by St. Paul and the apostles for decades, all come away with the false teachings that the Church was hierarchical, that Traditions were authoritative, that the Eucharist was really and truly the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, that baptism saves us, etc., etc.? And, to repeat: how did this apostasy occur in such a consistent manner, such that all the apostates believed in near perfect uniformity, and such that they were all willing to die for the apostate faith that they had invented? And how could all of this have happened at the very beginning of the Church when the Holy Spirit was so active in building the Church? How could every single one of the apostles been so very naive to appoint heretics to the highest positions of authority within the Church? How could the apostles have failed so miserably and completely to appoint faithful witnesses? Pastor Witmer’s only response (he never responded to these questions in writing) seems to be to claim that they were third or fourth generation believers, and that the apostasy must have taken this long to occur. Yet, Pastor Witmer would have you believe that he, a 6,000th generation believer, somehow is to be trusted above the first generation believers that preached differently than he does. Pastor Witmer must know (since I told him over and over) that these believers were first generation believers after the apostles. I can't explain why he impulsively added that they were later than this, except that he knows he has no reasonable answers to the questions given above.
Amazingly, though the Church was called “Catholic” as early as the first century (by St. Ignatius himself, in fact) and believed in doctrines essential to the Catholic faith…PASTOR WITMER STILL CALLS THEM “BELIEVERS.” Yet, he calls me, a Catholic today that believes just like the Early Church Fathers did, an “unbeliever.” I would ask Pastor Witmer why he calls them “believers” and not “heretics,” like he calls me. I would also ask Pastor Witmer to produce a single shred of evidence that the doctrinal distinctives of his fundamentalist Baptist interpretive tradition existed in the first generation of believers schooled by the apostles. He can’t, because they don’t. (NB: I’m talking about distinctives, not things that Catholics and Baptists believe in common.)
Second, Pastor Witmer omits that I also shared Scripture with him (though he mentions this later, characterizing my references as “seemingly obvious Scripture”). Even further, he omits that THE MAIN THING I SHARED WITH HIM WAS SCRIPTURE. Yet, the rhetorical gesture he makes is: “He gave me conversion stories, Church councils, and tradition; I gave him Scripture.” But this is simply not true. I gave Pastor Witmer at least as much, if not more, Scripture than he gave to me. If Pastor Witmer would agree to allow you to read the letters that constitute our exchange, you would see that the Catholic position is deeply Scriptural, and really makes the Bible come alive in surprising ways.
Third, Pastor Witmer says that he gave Scriptures to convince me of the doctrine of Christ alone. What he omits is that I told him in multiple emails that I ALREADY BELIEVE IN CHRIST ALONE! Nothing other than Christ can save us. The Catholic Church has ALWAYS taught this. Pastor Witmer, bless him, has been lied to about Catholic teaching. And rather than work to begin dispelling these lies when he has been informed of them, he seems to be implying that he tried to reach me with a doctrine (Christ Alone) that I didn’t already believe. For the record: I believe in Christ Alone for salvation.
Now, before I go to the fourth point: I should point out the difference between Pastor Witmer’s understanding of “Christ alone” (as I understand him to believe) and the Catholic Church's. Pastor Witmer tends to view the word “alone” reductively, such that he pits Christ against a whole bunch of other things that Catholics associate with Christ. In other words, for Pastor Witmer, “Christ alone saves us,” is actually a way of denying that things like the Sacraments, the Church, righteous living, the Saints, etc. have anything to do with our salvation. Yet, if Pastor Witmer was consistent in viewing “Christ alone” in a reductive sense, he would have to say that even the Bible, prayer, Sunday church services, and evangelization have nothing to do with our salvation. Catholics understand the doctrine of “Christ alone” in an expansive sense, such that Christ alone saves us, but he uses things like the Bible, intercession of the saints, prayer, the sacraments, and the Church to do the saving. Put simply, Baptists and Catholics AGREE that it is Christ Alone that does the saving. We DISAGREE (in part) over HOW he does the saving. Does He save us simply by our own act of faith, by accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior (which the Catholic Church also says is necessary)? Or, does Jesus save us through faith, through Sacraments, through His mystical body, the Church, through the intercession of the saints and angels, and through all the other glorious extensions of his incarnational reality among us? For Catholics, none of these things are opposed to “Christ Alone.” Pastor Witmer’s apparent difficulty in reconciling these Catholic practices with “Christ Alone” is simply an objective measure of his misunderstanding of these practices. However, his misunderstanding of Catholicism provides no basis for claiming that we don’t believe in “Christ Alone,” when our own Catholic Catechism even teaches this doctrine!
And this brings us to the fourth point, which is that the Bible NO WHERE says that the Bible Alone is our only authority. Thus, the doctrine is self-refuting. Further, the Bible says all over the place that the Church has authority (Matthew 16 and 18), and that we are to follow the apostles that have been passed along orally (2 Thess. 2:15). Thus, the doctrine of the Bible Alone flatly contradicts Scripture. Further, it contradicts the very practice of the early church that you can study by reading the Early Church Fathers. The early church had bishops, and the bishop of Rome was universally recognized as having primacy among the bishops. This is why the fourth bishop of Rome, St. Clement, could write with authority to the Church in Corinth, which was still having problems long after St. Paul had written his two corrective letters to this congregation. He did this as the universal shepherd of the Church, an authority he rightly claimed by occupying the chair—the “bishopric” (KJV)—that Peter had once vacated when he was martyred. The bishops in the early church claimed authority by virtue of their chair—their “cathedra” (from which we get the word “cathedral”, the church containing the local bishop’s chair)—and we see this apostolic succession from the beginning in the book of Acts, where a successor was elected to occupy the “bishopric” vacated by Judas. Finally, I pointed out that the doctrine of the “Bible Alone” is simply unworkable. Going by the “Bible Alone” has led well-meaning and God-loving Christians into over 30,000 denominations—not the unity that Jesus prayed for and St. Paul commanded. Further, the “Bible Alone” theory is unworkable in practice. No one actually goes by the Bible alone, because the Bible needs to be interpreted. Pastor Witmer himself owns probably hundreds of commentaries, Bible Dictionaries, etc. and he has even spent six or more years earning degrees where he was taught a particular interpretive tradition. Even though Pastor Witmer would like me to believe that he goes by the Bible alone and I go by my tradition, I labored in many emails to get him to see that we both use an interpretive tradition. By mentioning the doctrine of “Bible Alone” without mentioning the lengthy discussion we had on this point is also a very serious omission.
TW: He surprised me. He was kind, not argumentative. He seemed to love Christ and said so. He praised the Lord and was gentle. He wasn’t shallow as most Catholics, but was deep in his understandings of “Why” Catholics believed such things and tied them into seemingly obvious Scripture.
RR: I would suggest that the reason I “seemed” to love Christ is because I DO love Christ. I would never deny or even question Pastor Witmer’s love of Christ, and I hope that he can acknowledge that my love of Christ is genuine. When Pastor Witmer grouped me with “unbelievers” in an earlier sermon, I emailed him and gave him a detailed description of my faith. I asked him: “Do these sound like the beliefs of an unbeliever?” He never responded. The problem for Pastor Witmer is that he takes a rather extreme position on Catholics, and so he is literally rendered speechless when speaking with a Catholic whose faith in Christ as Lord is just as vibrant as his own. I think that things would go much better if we simply acknowledged our mutual love for Jesus, and then continued working to understand our differences so that these differences can be overcome. I think we are together making progress, but this progress will be impeded if either of us carry biases against each other that are simply vacuous and baseless. Pastor Witmer loves Jesus. So do I. Now, let’s work to strive together in love toward our Savior, who once prayed that we would be one as He and the Father are one. (John 17).
Also, while it is true that some Catholics don’t know Scripture as well as they should (and I include myself in this group, by the way), it is also true that Catholics often understand Scripture differently than fundamentalists. Fundamentalists are very good at memorizing and citing a number of texts to support this doctrine or that. Some fundamentalists know a lot of Scripture; others know just enough to make it seem like they know a lot of Scripture. (There are some Baptist pastors that seem to cite 25-30 verses over and over in every sermon, though this is enough to make some people think that they know the Bible backward and forward.) Admittedly, most Catholics can’t give you many chapter and verse quotations. However, even the greatest dunce of a Catholic (and of these there are only a small percentage) can tell you by heart the story of the Prodigal Son, the story of Good Samaritan, and why Jesus died for us on the Cross. Further, faithful Catholics who really listen during Mass are treated to a host of connections between the Old Testament and the Gospels, and so they carry a more nuanced understanding of the Bible, often without realizing it. When approached by a fundamentalist who treats the Bible as a collection of proof-texts for their favorite doctrines, most Catholics will likely clam up, giving the impression that they don’t know the Bible well. I think that in reality, Catholics know the Bible at least as well as most fundamentalist Protestants…they just know it differently. As a side note, I would mention that most Protestants I speak with clam up when I start challenging their beliefs (though I’m usually quite hesitant to do so, since I think it is more productive simply to explain my own). I wouldn’t say that these Protestants are shallow. I would say that they, like the Catholics Pastor Witmer cites, are simply not prepared to discuss Scripture with someone who believes differently than they do. This itself is not ideal, but it is a far cry from being “shallow.” Again, I think that a little charity and humility is in order here and would go a long way.
TW: He admitted Catholic faults and grieved in the hypocrisy of His church. I was not prepared for this.
RR: “Hypocrisy of his church” is again a bit of an oversimplification; it doesn’t nearly capture the subtlety and nuance of the views that I shared with Pastor Witmer, and as a result, it makes it seem like I told him that I think my Church is hypocritical in general.
Now, in one sense, every member of the Church on earth is hypocritical in general, because all sin is hypocrisy, and everyone in the church from the Pope down sins. (However, note well that that the Church also includes those members who are now in heaven, and they no longer sin. Thus, it is a theologically inaccurate to imply that the entire Church is hypocritical. I’m not saying that Pastor Witmer thinks or said this, but I’d like to ward off any reader from thinking it.)
On the other hand, in regard to the priestly scandal that Pastor Witmer brought up in one of his emails, I responded by noting that the scandal was not any more widespread than in non-Catholic denominations. Thus, it could also be stated that I grieve the hypocrisy found in fundamentalist Baptist communities. Though the sins of Baptist pastors might not attract the media spotlight like the sins of Catholic priests, those sins still exist. That is why faithful Baptist and Catholic must join together in solidarity and pray for one another that Satan be removed from both of our midsts. Let us support each other in love, not attack each other.
The final point I made is that the reason the hypocrisy is so large is because the Church holds the highest moral standards, and thus it is scandalous when a handful of priests do not live up to these standards. Thus, one reason the scandal is so great is precisely because the Catholic Church has been so successful fighting cultural pressures to accept homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, artificial contraception, and other sexual sins that some non-Catholic denominations claim are morally permissible. Sadly, it may be that while the Catholic Church teaches rightly (though a few of her members do not follow these teachings), some non-Catholic denominations teach wrongly (leading many of her members to commit sins).
In short: I really wish that if Pastor Witmer was going to cite my responses to him, that he would cite them in their fullness. I told Pastor Witmer that I would not release the details of our conversations, but now that he is citing our conversations publicly, I will make my side of our correspondence available so that the truth of its contents will be available for all to know.
TW: It was in reading the Early Church Fathers at his request that I first began to notice that I gave an inch on questioning whether there could be truth to what my Catholic Apologist had said in so many
It is very encouraging to me that Pastor Witmer revealed this to you, his congregation. Like him, hundreds of Protestant Pastors have discovered the Early Church Fathers and were honest enough to recognize that what they taught is quite different from their Protestant understanding of the Bible. There is good reason to listen to these Early Church Fathers: they “witness” to the teachings of the apostles, who were their teachers! Some of them sat at the feet of the apostles for decades, and these same fathers of the early church would later be martyred for spreading the faith that had been passed on to them. Further, some of these early church fathers were appointed to the highest positions in the church by the apostles themselves. For instance, Ignatius of Antioch was appointed bishop of Antioch most likely by Peter himself, who was bishop of Antioch before he left to help the Church in Rome (where he was martyred). St. Clement of Rome is most likely the Clement mentioned as a follower of Paul. As we all know well, Paul and the apostles constantly talked about appointing faithful witnesses to guide the church. Well: THE EARLY CHURCH FATHERS ARE THOSE FAITHFUL WITNESSES. The problem is that Pastor Witmer quickly began to see that the Gospel they preached is not the gospel that he preaches. They preached that baptism saves us. They preached that the Eucharist really was the body and blood of Christ. Yet, not only does Pastor Witmer—following his interpretive tradition—NOT teach these things, but his theology doesn’t even allow these things to be possible. Yet, wherever the early church grew, these teachings were spread on the very authority that they had been taught be the apostles.
Do you see how he might rightly begin to think that there might be some truth to what I was saying? This is the critical point I’m trying to make: IT IS TRUE NOT BECAUSE I SAY IT, BUT BECAUSE IT IS GOES BACK TO THE APOSTLES. Likewise, Pastor Witmer also has been raised in a particular interpretive tradition. It just so happens that some aspects (certainly not all) do NOT go back to the apostles; they are interpretive traditions of men that arose many centuries later. All of this is simply historical fact. The doctrine of eternal security, for instance, is like an infant compared to the old doctrines passed down from the apostles; it was born relatively recently. (And remember: “doctrines” are simply the Church’s interpretation of Scripture. Everyone has doctrines, because everyone interprets the Bible.)
TW: If I had continued to listen to Him, I may have been either greatly scarred, or shipwrecked concerning my Doctrine and my Ministry.
RR: This is also a very honest admission, and I admire Pastor Witmer for bravely sharing this with you, his congregation. At the same time, isn't it interesting that Pastor Witmer has been trying to evangelize Catholics for years, and that in previous sermons he has suggested that he is familiar with Catholic teaching--yet, once he actually entered into a conversation with a Catholic who knows how to support his faith from Scripture and history, that Pastor Witmer claims his faith could have been shipwrecked? It makes me wonder if Pastor Witmer actually knew the Catholic faith as well as he has on occasion claimed. Yet, if he didn't really know the strength of the Catholic position until recently, how can he be so sure that it is not in fact the true faith and is heretical? Even more concerning is that Pastor Witmer was apparently caught off guard by reading the writings of the early church! This is amazing, since Pastor Witmer claims often that his Baptist faith is the faith of the early church. Yet, the evidence points to the contrary. For him to be surprised at the writings of the early church seems to indicate that he had not spent much time with them. But if this is the case, on what basis does Pastor Witmer believe that his fundamentalist beliefs are the same as those of the early church?
Pastor Witmer's concern that finding truth in the Catholic arguments could have scarred his ministry actually raises questions for his congregation. I would ask each member of LBC: do you support your pastor? If your pastor was to come to you and tell you that he has made some amazing discoveries about what the Early Church believed, how they worshiped Christ, and how Jesus interacts with his Bride, and that he had good reason to think that these things were taught with great consistency by the apostles to their students, would you be open to hearing what he had to say? Would you think that he was enhancing and strengthening his ministry by tapping more deeply into the apostles’ interpretations of Scripture (vs. those he learned at Bob Jones), or would you say he was shipwrecking it? If Pastor Witmer was reasonable enough and dedicated enough to the truth that he would share the truth with you no matter what the cost, do you think this would scar his ministry, or do you think it would heal it by removing teachings that, in fact, are not true and contradict the apostolic teachings?
Congregation: are you open to the truths that Pastor Witmer is finding, or is Pastor Witmer only authoritative in your eyes if he is towing the line, upholding the fundamentalist Baptist status quo?
I know it is a very difficult thing both for Pastor Witmer, but also for the congregation, to think that maybe all this time they have been misled by an interpretive tradition that is not the correct one.
My heart goes out to Pastor Witmer and his congregation on this point, and I want to insure him and you all that I will be interceding for you constantly before the throne of grace, so that you may be comforted and strengthened by the Holy Spirit to seek the truth, who is Jesus himself, above all else. I know that for many people, being “Baptist” is a deeply engrained part of your identity, and so that it is difficult to consider not identifying yourselves as Baptists. Here is what I would suggest: say that no matter what, you will always be “Baptists” through in through: you will be kind, you will love the Bible, you will meet for chicken dinners, you will fellowship with each other, you will bring you evangelistic enthusiasm to all whom you meet, including your long lost relatives in the Catholic faith, who often could use a good dose of this same enthusiasm. At the same time, there is no reason that claiming a “Baptist” identity means that you have to hold on to doctrines that are not apostolic. Rather, you improve your very Baptist identity by embracing the apostles’ teaching in its fullness. The best way to honor your beloved Baptist heritage is to honor its good and true first principles, which include a search for the truth. Just because some Baptist ancestors mistakenly turned away from this truth centuries back does not mean that the Baptist visionaries of today can’t return to their roots. And, historically speaking, the roots of Baptists are in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Just as much as many Catholics need the Baptist enthusiasm for evangelism, Baptists need the truth and authority of the Catholic faith (which includes the Bible, the family book), that same truth that has been taught since the beginning. Baptists need the authority of the apostles, passed down through the bishops to the present day, so that we have a foundation for unity, right belief, and right practice. The only way the Church will ever be fully unified is for non-Catholics to return home to the Catholic Church. I can tell you that the main inspiration that I’ve had to evangelize has come from two sources: the Popes and Bishops (who continuously preach the need for evangelization) and Baptist pastors! I myself proudly claim to be quite Baptist—but also deeply Catholic—in my own desire to evangelize. I see no reason that Baptists and Catholics can’t embrace each other and our backgrounds, and in a spirit of love and forgiveness, become perfectly reconciled in the truth.
TW: It was only when I went back to the Scripture and read it liberally that the fresh air of God’s Doctrinal Truth filled my Spiritual lungs again and my mind was cleared and confident
RR: I’m not sure what reading the Scripture “liberally” means, though I guess that means he read a lot of Scripture. In any case, this statement once again is founded on a false opposition. The issue isn’t “The Early Church Fathers” vs. “Scripture.” The issue is: the Doctrines/Interpretations/Traditions of the Early Church vs. the Doctrines/Interpretations/Traditions of fundamentalist Baptists. Pastor Witmer has already acknowledged that these two things are not in agreement on a number of significant points.
Notice, he says that his lungs were filled with the fresh air of “doctrinal truth.” But doctrines, remember, are simply interpretations of Scripture. Essentially, once you get past the poetry of this sentence, Pastor Witmer is essentially saying that HIS INTERPRETATION of Scripture is “fresh air” that can make the mind clear and confident, while the EARLY CHURCH’S INTERPRETATION (learned from the apostles) is…what? He doesn’t say what the Early Church Fathers did to his mind. Are we to presume that they were like “muddy waters” that made his mind “befuddled and lacking confidence”?
Keep in mind that if you have lived with one way of viewing the Bible your whole life, then anything different is going to “feel” murky and strange. And certainly, if Pastor Witmer realizes that his interpretations are at odds with those taught by the apostles, I would suggest that it is RIGHT and FITTING that he start to lose confidence in these newer, novel interpretations. In fact, this is a sign that his mind is working well! After all, if you were to witness a game of telephone and the last message was different than the first, who is logically more likely to have the correct message (the correct interpretation of the Bible)? Yes! - the person at the source. Well, the early church fathers were the closest Christian preachers to the source of revelation, Jesus and the apostles. They learned God’s Word directly from the apostles and their immediate successors. They are an authentic witness to the glorious truths of the true Christian faith, once left with the saints (Jude 3). The truth of God’s word is eternal; it never changes. The only way to escape the truth passed on by the apostles is to read the Bible “liberally” using the novel traditions of men that entered the scene relatively recently.
Unfortunately, it may be that Pastor Witmer’s mind was cleared…cleared of this very truth passed on by the apostles to their students, those teachings that Paul commanded the Church to follow. In any case, Pastor Witmer’s statement presumes that the fundamentalist Baptist interpretations of Scripture are correct, but this is the very question that remains unanswered. How could they be correct when they disagree so starkly with the faith of the early church, a faith that has dutifully been passed down unchanged throughout the centuries by the Catholic Church?
Sometimes, confidence is a good thing. Ironically, I think Pastor Witmer’s statement betrays a lack of confidence. After all, it was his own mind that understood that the arguments laid out above make sense; I did not think those thoughts for him. His mind saw that the Catholic faith is ultimately quite reasonable. It makes sense that the students of the apostles got their message--their interpretation of Scripture--right. To have thought this, and then to ignore the evidence and its logical conclusion, makes me think that he is not so confident after all.
I don’t say this be harsh, because I for one think that Pastor Witmer is very intelligent and that he has every reason to be confident in his mind. What I lament is that Pastor Witmer might ignore the very truths his mind has pointed him to. To clear one’s mind of truth is to clear it of Christ himself, who is the truth. To clear one's mind of the Early Church Fathers is to clear it of the teachings of the apostles, to whom the Holy Spirit was given to guide the Early Church into the fullness of truth.
TW: It was then that I broke all ties with the “angel of light” and realized there is tremendous danger in simply listening to Doctrine Contrary to the Bible.
RR: Again, I appreciate the rhetorical flourish of this sentence, though it is really impossible to break ties with me. We live in the same community. We visit the same restaurants. We read the same Bible (well, almost the same). We pray to the same God. We are united (whether you acknowledge it or not) by virtue of being baptized into Christ’s mystical body.
One of the saddest components of fundamentalism (vs. evangelicalism) is the notion of “separation,” especially since Christ prayed that we may be one. He offered his passion that this prayer for unity may be fulfilled. I am simply responding to Christ’s prayer by reaching out to a separated brother in the Lord to say “let’s talk about that which divides us.” I will continue to pray that Pastor Witmer responds to our Lord’s prayer in John 17 and that he be filled by the Holy Spirit with a strong desire for Christian unity, not separation. At the same time, I pray that Pastor Witmer will be consistent, and that he will not evangelize Catholics, a process that would surely involve listening to them. (I think it is somewhat telling that Pastor Witmer would likely evangelize a thousand weak Catholics who don't know how to respond to his challenges, but he will no longer engage a Catholic who actually knows how to support the historic Catholic faith from the Bible!)
Notice that Pastor Witmer’s statement continues to confuse the Bible with its interpretation. “Doctrine” is simply the Church’s understanding of the Bible. What Pastor Witmer then is really worried about is listening to interpretations of the Bible that are contrary to his interpretation of the Bible. But, how does he know his interpretation is the right one? He just assumes it.
Now, I find it rather hard to believe that in all of Pastor Witmer’s training, he didn’t take some time to study the belief systems of Christian groups that he disagrees with. After all, if he hadn’t previously studied Catholicism, for instance, how could he have claimed that he already “knew” that we “recrucify Christ in the Mass” (which we emphatically do not)? Has Pastor Witmer not been trained to understand how Jehovah’s Witnesses think, so that he can better evangelize them when they come a knockin’? No, I think that Pastor Witmer’s warning really means listening to doctrines that actually make sense, as my arguments apparently did.
Perhaps the emphasis in Pastor Witmer’s statement ought to be placed on “simply,” as in one should not simply “listen” to Catholicism. I suppose, on the one hand, that he is right. After all, speaking of the Catholic Church, the brilliant English writer and Catholic convert G.K. Chesterton once wrote:
“He has come too near the truth, and has forgotten that truth is a magnet, with the powers of attraction and repulsion….The moment men cease to pull against [the Catholic Church] they feel a tug toward it. The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it.” (The Catholic Church and Conversion; emphasis mine)On the other hand, I think that Pastor Witmer did more than simply listen. I think he really wrestled with the arguments for Catholicism, and I think he discovered something in this process. I think he discovered that there exists a Truth beyond the interpretive traditions with which he was raised.
In the end, it is that Truth (and the reasons, history, and most importantly, Bible verses that support it) that Pastor Witmer will never be able to shake, even if he breaks all ties with me. Once one has considered the early history of Christianity, it is virtually impossible to go on pretending that the Church of the apostles is remotely similar to the fundamentalist Baptist faith. Once one has considered the rich depth that Catholic theology provides in its interpretation of Scripture, one can never again be satisfied with shallow interpretations. That is, unless one chooses to ignore the truth with an act of the will. It is precisely because this is possible that I will continue interceding for Pastor Witmer before the throne of grace. At the same time, I trust that Pastor Witmer is a man of God, and I humbly ask him to pray for me as well. We are on the road to heaven together, and even if there remains division between us, I’m confident that as we both march toward Christ, that he will send his Holy Spirit to bend our hearts and minds more closely to the fullness of Truth and to his Divine Will in all things.
TW: That truth is how Romans Ends - There are 3 divisions here - Avoiding Heretics, Hellos from
Friends, and Stablishing Saints for God’s Glory -- We end this incredible book tonight with a
Commandment and a Prayer 1. Notice Please: You are commanded to Avoid False Teachers (Heretics) v.17,18 God says that you are to first “Mark them” -- that means to focus on them (take aim) at
them and consider them - Who are the False teachers around me? **Notice, they can be identified by causing “divisions among believers” and offenses (that is a snare/trap) (something to get stuck in) “Contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned” --------------------------Wait a minute? does this mean avoid anyone who teaches a different doctrine than you were reared in? (reared a Jehovah witness, etc.) -- No - it means the Apostles doctrine that they were teaching and that is clearly given to us in the Epistles (letters) of the New Testament and foreshadowed by our Old Testament. · Anyone who is dividing Christians or causing them to stumble or being pulled away by some “spin” of interpretation that is not plain or something that is not taught out in the New Testament is a false teacher that must be “Marked” -- “identify him and note that man!” -- get him in your sights for the purpose of avoiding him.
RR: There is a profound irony that Pastor Witmer follows his discussion of our exchange with a discussion of these final verses from Romans.
Notice that St. Paul commands that Christians “avoid false teachers.” How does he define these false teachers? They are those who teach “contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned.” Remember: doctrine is the Church’s understanding of God’s Word, especially that found in Sacred Scripture. But when St. Paul wrote this, most of the books of the Bible had not yet even been written! This means that St. Paul could not have meant that the doctrines they had learned were only the ones “written in the Bible.” No, St. Paul is commanding them to stick close to the oral traditions that he had passed on to them. The students of St. Paul, such as Clement of Rome, provide us a witness or testimony to what those traditions were, and they include the Eucharist, the papacy, and many other Catholic distinctives.
So, Romans is telling us to avoid anyone who would pull us away from these Catholic traditions. Ironically, that is what Pastor Witmer is trying to do to me, a Catholic! It is Pastor Witmer who has stumbled (not intentionally) over new teachings, new interpretations or “spins” on the Bible that were not thought of by Christians until only a century or two ago. By going by the “Bible Alone,” Pastor Witmer is part of a larger system that has led to the division of a large part of Christianity. Outside the Catholic Church, there are literally thousands of competing denominations, all that claim, like Pastor Witmer, to have the correct interpretation of Scripture.
If anybody needs to be marked, then, it is Pastor Witmer. Yet, I would advocate a much gentler approach, given the historical situation and cultural context in which we now find ourselves. I acknowledge that Pastor Witmer isn’t responsible for the many divisions separating Christians today, and given the advancement in communication, there is little doubt what Pastor Witmer believes. Pastor Witmer isn’t claiming to be Catholic or represent apostolic teachings like the early heretics did, and so there is little reason to try to “mark him.” He has already marked himself by claiming a denominational title that separates him from the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
Rather than "mark and avoid" Pastor Witmer, I find it more productive to reach out to him, to listen to what he has to say, and to respond with love and compassion as I share the truth of the Catholic faith with him.
Once again, I’m not sure if Pastor Witmer actually walks the talk he is giving here. After all, I doubt that Pastor Witmer would actually avoid talking to all Catholics. Most likely, he is here suggesting that one avoid talking to Catholics that actually know their faith well and know how to defend it. Yes; those are the dangerous ones!
TW:**Now, we need to think about this because even within Fundamentalism there are differences,
preferences, differences of methods, and even what we would consider minor doctrinal
differences. ------ the idea of “doctrine” here cannot be these things where good and Godly men
differ -- They are not Romans 14/15 liberties, they are not perspectives on minor doctrinal
RR: This seems reasonable enough, but only on the surface. Indeed, even within the Catholic Church, there are areas where differences of opinion are allowed. The problem comes with actually defining what differences are allowed and which are not. Notice that Pastor Witmer doesn’t actually give any directives here. In fact, any line that would distinguish essential from non-essential doctrines would itself have to be considered an essential doctrine. Yet, lots of Christian groups disagree on at least the placement of that line, which would mean they are disagreeing on at least one essential doctrine. (By the way, the line separating essential from non-essential doctrines is not given in Scripture, and thus constitutes yet another non-Biblical tradition of Baptists that Pastor Witmer believes is authoritative.)
You see: it is very hard to escape the slippery slope of relativism, even as a fundamentalist. What good are fundamentals if “minor” doctrinal differences are allowed? What type of unity is it that includes any doctrinal differences? The differences discussed in Romans 14/15 in fact are not doctrinal differences at all. When it comes to doctrine, St. Paul constantly commanded that the Church remain unified. Doctrines are Truth; the Truth can not be divided. Doctrinal differences are never acceptable within the Mystical Body of Christ.
TW: **These contrary doctrines that they are teaching are the twisting of orthodox,
Fundamental doctrines of the Word that divide believers from good churches, that cause
Christians to stumble and entrap them in some “new or rabbit trail doctrine” that doesn’t take
the clear Verses to mean the clear Verses; or adds something; or overemphasizes one doctrine
and makes it the focus of worship or practice. -- I will get specific in a moment; but these
teachers (they need not hold a title, they may just be wolves in a church) - these use good words
and fair speeches to deceive the hearts of the “simple/innocent” v.18
RR: Again, Pastor Witmer is presuming that his interpretation of Scripture is the standard by which all others are to be judged. So deep is this assumption that he doesn’t even verbalize the standard by which doctrines can be judged to be “contrary”--his own. He then warns against doctrines that are “new,” yet it is his doctrines (his “interpretations of Scripture”), not those of the Catholic Church, that are historically new. Further, he again makes it seem like he believes the clear versus of Scripture, but this is not so when the Bible says “Baptism…now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21) and “my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink” (John 6). Here, he denies the clear verses of Scripture. No – the problem isn’t Catholicism vs. the Bible. The problem is the Catholic interpretation vs. the Baptist interpretation. Like so many fundamentalist pastors have found, the Catholic interpretation is the stronger one, and the historically orthodox one, and so they have done the only honest thing they could do: they converted to the Catholic Church.
Then, Pastor Witmer says that people “add” things to the Bible. Yet, Pastor Witmer himself adds things to the Bible. For instance, Pastor Witmer likely believes that polygamy is wrong. Yet, the New Testament no where denies the common (contemporary) practice of polygamy; it even says that pastors should be husbands of only one wife (implying that others might rightly have more than one wife). Is Pastor Witmer “adding” something to the Bible? No, he is simply upholding an authoritative Christian Tradition passed down from the apostles but not written in Scripture. Another thing that is not contained in the Bible is a list of books that the Bible contains. The Bible was compiled by Catholic bishops in the fourth century, and these Bishops decided what books to include and not include based on the apostolic Tradition that they believed. Pastor Witmer believes this Bible is authoritative, but he has no Bible verse that tells us which books actually comprise the Old and New Testaments. Rather, the table of contents of the Bible is itself an authoritative Sacred Tradition. On the other hand, there are doctrines that Pastor Witmer believes that are not found in the Bible. For instance, he believes (following one of the traditions of men found in Protestantism) that we are justified by “faith alone.” Yet, the Bible, in James, specifically says that we are “justified by works and not by faith alone.” Here, Pastor Witmer is denying a clear verse of Scripture and choosing a tradition of men promulgated by a one-man church council named Martin Luther.
Next, Pastor Witmer condemns the focus on a single doctrine that becomes the focus of worship and practice. He never says what doctrine he has in mind, but let’s presume that he is speaking about the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist, which is the center of worship for Catholics. Now, I understand that Pastor Witmer denies what the Eucharist has always been understood by Christians to be (Jesus himself). But, the fact that we believe the Eucharist to be Jesus is a good thing, for it signals that Catholics put Jesus at the center of their worship. When you look at Pastor Witmer’s services, who seems to be at the center? While I acknowledge that the attempt is also to put Jesus at the center, what we get is Jesus as filtered by a 30-60 minute sermon by Pastor Witmer. Liturgically, Pastor Witmer is at the center of worship. In the Mass, Jesus is at the center of worship. Even when it comes to the Bible, straight reading from the Bible constitutes 20-25% of the Catholic Mass. In most Baptist services, straight reading from the Bible usually only makes up only 2-5% of the service. (These numbers are the result of research by David Currie, a fundamentalist Pastor who converted to Catholicism.) I have been to dozens of Baptist services, and I can attest that as a Catholic, I hear substantially more of the Bible on Sunday morning at Mass than I ever did at a Baptist church. Based on this liturgical evidence, I’d suggest that Catholic worship is focused on the Word, both in Scripture and Sacrament, and that Baptist services are focused on the pastor’s private, fallible interpretation of the Word.
TW: **They prey on the new believers, kind folks, simple folks who are very trusting, who
think no evil, who are gullible because of their great open love -- beware, beware all you who
want to trust everyone -- you cannot trust some who speak “truth” to you.
RR: One reason I have focused my evangelization efforts on Baptist pastors is precisely to avoid this accusation. I’d rather discuss Scripture with pastors who are well trained and know the Bible well. It is usually the weak Catholics who don’t know their faith or the Bible well that are easy pickings for fundamentalist apologists.
Once again, I think Pastor Witmer is using inflammatory language when he says that non-fundamentalists “prey” on fundamentalists. As a Catholic, I pray for you. I don’t prey on you. :) Pastor Witmer’s language seems intent on stigmatizing anyone who doesn’t believe as he does.
For the record, I DO NOT WANT Pastor Witmer or any of my readers to trust me. DO NOT TRUST ME!! Rather, test me. Question me. Challenge me. Test the historicity and veracity of my claims. Study whether what I am saying can be found in the Bible. Study the writings of the Early Church. DO NOT TAKE MY WORD FOR IT!
But – BUT! – do likewise to Pastor Witmer and every other Bible teacher. Test their interpretations of the Bible, and the standards they use to judge whether interpretations are orthodox or unorthodox. Do not take Pastor Witmer’s interpretation of the Bible as infallible, when even he has never claimed to be an infallible interpreter of Scripture.
By now, the reader should see the shaky premise on which Pastor Witmer’s sermon is built: he is admonishing his listeners to avoid heretics without defining how they can know that his interpretation of Scripture is not heretical. How do we know not to avoid Pastor Witmer? For the sake of brevity, I’m going to begin skipping to a few remaining points to offer a response, and then close with a bit of historical context that turns the tables on this sermon.
TW: ----I return to v.17 -- The best way to spy these wolves out is to know the doctrine of Scripture
1st hand and identify them as “dividers and offenders” of the saints. If we don’t have them here
at LBC, we will get them, so “Mark them” lest they get a foothold.
------the Bank teller feels the counterfeit easily because she always handles the genuine article
RR: This is a case and point of what I said above. A counterfeit only feels like a counterfeit once one has held the genuine article. Yet, what if the fundamentalist Baptist tradition is itself a counterfeit? How will anyone know if they have not actually considered—or “felt”—the real thing? Pastor Witmer’s analogy basically presumes that the banker knows ahead of time which money is real and which is fake. But!- Pastor Witmer has not provided a basis for knowing that his interpretations of Scripture are the right ones and those of the apostles’ students are the wrong ones. Compared with the writings of the Early Church, it is the new doctrines of fundamentalism that feel counterfeit.
TW: ------God says v.17b “Avoid them” -- it says what it means - don’t listen to them, don’t think
through their “different doctrine”, don’t watch them on TV, don’t go to their house, don’t listen
to their sermons, don’t read their books ----- AVOID THEM ---- It doesn’t say become well
versed in their heresy for knowledge sake ---- no, that’s dangerous ---- Avoid them --- notice
God wants you to be (v. 19b” - wise to that which is good, and simple (ignorant) concerning
evil.” --- This isn’t speaking of sin, but of evil false doctrine.
-----(read v. 17-19 together) ---- see that -- Your job, even my job isn’t to be Experts on the
cults, denominations, false religions of the world ----be ignorant of them ----- we are to be very,
very wise concerning the genuine article which is very “good”.
RR: There is some wisdom to what Pastor Witmer is saying, since someone weak in their faith is going to be easily swayed. However, it is a good thing if someone can be swayed to the truth. Personally, I enjoy the challenge of reaching people with the fullness of the Gospel who are firmly rooted in a distortion of the Gospel.
Ultimately, I think that Christians need to be deeply aware of why the believe the way they do AND why others believe the things that they do. It is very difficult to convert someone if you have no idea why they believe the things they do.
Further, St. Paul himself, if we are to follow his example, was very well read in non-Christian philosophies (such as Epimenides), so much so that he was able to quote them in the New Testament in order to reach pagans for Christ.
TW:-----You say “If we don’t study them, we can’t witness to people in those cults -- that is
nonsense --- familiarize yourself with main doctrines -- but Master the Pure Gospel that is able
to save them ---- I don’t need to understand their heresy to win them to the truth. -- I may
shipwreck myself if I don’t avoid those false doctrines.
RR: I think it is true that it is difficult to witness well if you don’t understand the doctrines of people in other faiths. If you understand their doctrines, you are able to understand why they believe the way they do, and you can then show them where the errors in their beliefs lie.
On the other hand, Pastor Witmer has shown over and over again that he does not understand Catholic doctrine. How convincing do you think it is when Pastor has tried to convert me from a Church that he himself does not understand?
Just imagine: what if I tried to convince you, a Baptist, to leave the Baptist faith because Baptists believe that suicide is acceptable? Not only would I fail to convince you, but I would reveal how ignorant I was of what it means to be a Baptist.
Unfortunately, Pastor Witmer has tried to convince me to leave a “system of works,” even though Catholics believe and teach that we are saved by Grace Alone. He has tried to convince me to leave the Eucharist for “Christ Alone,” though he fails to understand that the Eucharist IS Christ.
This is why Pastor Witmer will continue to struggle to convert real, faithful, informed Catholics to his belief system. It also explains why he doesn’t want his congregants to even try. As thousands of Protestant converts to Catholicism have discovered, the Catholic Church is not what many non-Catholics think her to be. Hundreds of Protestant ministers from every denomination--many of whom could never have imagined joining the Catholic Church for the very same reasons that Pastor Witmer gives--are now Catholics because they discovered the truth of the Catholic faith. They discovered that the Catholic faith is the only faith perfectly consistent with the Bible. They discovered that many of the things they once believed about the Catholic Church are lies. As a brother, I warn my Protestant readers that many of you likely believe lies about the Catholic Church, and Satan is very pleased about this fact. Though it may not be your fault for having bought these lies, now that you have been made aware of them, it is to your spiritual benefit to take responsibility for your beliefs and actually study the Catholic faith so these lies can be dispelled.
TW: Who should we Mark and Avoid in our generation?
1. Mark the religions that mix works with the gospel -- The Church of Christ that adds
baptism, the Catholics that add church tradition, the Seventh Day Adventists that add the law
and extra prophetic revelation, of course the Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, some charismatic’s
that add the filling of the Spirit as a second work of Grace.
RR: Hmmm…I thought Baptists practiced Baptism. One of the sad ironies is that Baptists engage in “works” and then attack others for it. It is even more ironic that Baptists say these works have no effect on salvation, rendering them empty and powerless. (For Baptists, they simply act as signs, pointing to the fact that salvation has already occurred.) Yet, Catholics believe that baptism is the very tool that God uses to save us! Thus, for Catholics, Baptism is God’s work, not our own. Yet, to say that we are saved by God’s work is hardly mixing works with the Gospel. God’s works are part of the Gospel!! Catholics believe that God's works through the Sacraments are the very extension of Christ's work on the cross into our lives. The Sacraments do not add to the cross; they apply the grace of the Cross to our lives. They do not add to salvation; they apply it. That is why the Bible is considered a sacramental. The Bible does not add to salvation; it helps us come into contact with it! The same goes for all the sacraments. By placing a false dichotomy between the Sacraments and salvation, Pastor Witmer is blocking his congregants from embracing some of the chief means that Jesus established to administer his grace to our lives.
Notice that Pastor Witmer, in his spoken comments, refers to "Baptism" as "throwing some water on us." This is a flat denial of the Christian faith, since the Bible never equates Baptism with "only water." Rather, the Bible time and again attaches "water and Spirit" together. Jesus says we must be "born [again] of water and spirit." When Jesus is baptized, the Holy Spirit, in the figure of the dove, appears and the Father proclaims "behold my Son." The same thing happens when Christians are baptized in "water and Spirit." The Holy Spirit regenerates the soul and God declares us (and thus makes us) into His beloved children. We are not saved by taking a shower. We are saved by our regenerating encounter with the Holy Spirit that "hovers over the waters" (as in Genesis) from which arises each "new creation in Christ." Thus, Peter can boldly claim that "Baptism...now saves us" (1 Peter 3:21) and St. Paul can boldly claim that we are "buried with Christ in baptism" (Romans 6). The apostles and the Early Church, just like the Catholic Church today, understands in organic continuity that these verses clearly teach Baptismal regeneration, a doctrine that Pastor Witmer denies.
Further, it was St. Paul that commanded that we follow Church Tradition, whether passed along by mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). And when we read the book of Acts, we see that the early Church itself held councils, and that Christians were bound by the authority of these councils (Acts 15). Pastor Witmer himself binds his congregants to the authority exercised by the Councils that decided on the books of the New Testament (held in 393 and 397 A.D.). Yet, he here claims that we added Church Tradition and Church Councils...even though they are found in Scripture!
Of course, Pastor Witmer agree that Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses have “added” to and distorted Christianity. However, the standard we use is different. I use the apostolic teachings passed down from the apostles. Pastor Witmer uses the new interpretations of Scripture that we call “fundamentalist Baptist.” The conclusion is right, though the way he reaches this conclusion is not secure.
TW:-------------- Where do these “Contrary Doctrine” people come from? What stirs them up to hurt
believers and the church ----- read v. 20. It is Satan’s crafty mission to cause divisions and
offences to the clear doctrine of Scripture ---v. 20 is a wonderful promise --The God of perfect
peace will bruise that Evil, no good attacker of the Brethren under our feet shortly --- What a
day that will be! What a promise! That is how the Battle ends!
** Those of contrary doctrine can ensnare your Christian life -- but what can stabilize it?
Establish it? ---- that is found in the closing words of the prayer of this book -- after v. 21-24
gives some Salutes from Paul’s companions in Corinth ---
Read v. 25-27 -- This is a Praise and prayer to God that teaches us what will Stablish our
Christian lives: God will give the power to “stablish us” (make us stable)
1. Through the Apostles Gospel and preaching - “according to my gospel, and the
preaching of Jesus Christ......” --- That gospel and preaching is what we call the New Testament
----And the second thing that is God’s power to stablish us - 2. v.26b “and by the scriptures of
the prophets .......... - that is the Old Testament of the Prophets
****Folks -- The Power to stablish your Christian life does not lie in some new popular
preacher writing books about fairs speeches and good words --- the power to stabilize the
Christian life of the Housewife and the Executive is the Old and New Testaments of Scripture
And this Great book of Salvation Doctrine ends where it should -- draw the line from v. 25
“Now unto Him.......clear down to the finishing of that statement .....v. 27b “be glory”
Now unto Him (God only wise) be glory through Jesus Christ for ever Amen. --- That friend is
the goal of the Salvation Gospel of 16 chapters, the goal of your life, the meaning of life.
RR: And here we reach the end of the sermon.
Notice one thing: how are we stabilized in the faith? By following the teaching of the apostles.
Yet – Pastor Witmer immediately limits this teaching to the New Testament, despite the fact that the apostles taught many things not contained in the New Testament. For instance, St. Paul taught in Ephesus for three years, yet the book of Ephesians can be read in a matter of 30 minutes. Are we to think that everything important that he had to say to the Church in Ephesus can be fit in a book that small? In other places, the writers of the Epistles say that there are many more important things to share that they will pass on when they arrive. What were those things? The Bible tells us that everything Christ said and did could not be contained by all the books in the world. Are we to presume that the only important things for us can be found in the New Testament? If the New Testament was to be the only source of authority for Christians, why did so few of the apostles write anything down at all?
The answer is because the Church is not a Church of the Book. It is a living, breathing, authoritative Church founded on the apostles, and these apostles appointed faithful witnesses. These witnesses appointed successors, and these successors form an unbroken line back to Jesus, who founded the Church. These witnesses pass along the saving truth that Jesus suffered, died, and rose for our salvation. They protect and safeguard the fullness of revelation, who is Jesus Christ himself.
Ironically, we can know quite clearly what the apostles taught beyond that which is written. (And remember: St. Paul commanded us to faithfully maintain the traditions, whether they were written or oral.) We can start by looking at the writings of the Early Church. Yet, this foundation of the apostles’ teaching is the very foundation that Pastor Witmer rejects.
The teachings of the Early Church Fathers are not the “fair speech” of someone to arrive on the Christian scene almost 1,800 years late (like those who invented fundamentalism). These are the teachings of Jesus Christ, passed on by His apostles to the Church throughout the generations. These truths are unchanging (Malachi 3:6; Jude 3), and these truths demand the obedient response of all who claim Christ as savior.
After I finished writing this, I went back to the sermon and listened to the whole thing. In this sermon, Pastor Witmer adds a lot not found in his notes, and so unfortunately, there remains a great deal more to respond to.
Let me for now simply make the following observations:
1. Truth is not conveyed by shouting. A falsehood shouted at a congregation does not turn it into truth.
2. Pastor Witmer can say “mark him” a thousand times, yet, this signifies nothing other than that Pastor Witmer disagrees with the Catholic Church.
3. From a historical perspective, it is Pastor Witmer that St. Paul is saying should be marked. It is Pastor Witmer who has departed from the sound doctrinal truths passed down by the apostles. Pastor Witmer has rejected the teachings of the apostles, which include more than the Bible since some of them are only passed down orally, though none of which contradict the Bible.
4. Pastor Witmer’s teachings plainly and squarely contradict the Bible on a number of points (Baptism, the Eucharist, Sacred Traditions, the authority of the Church, the unity of the Church, the nature of Justification, the role of good works in Salvation, the ability for a saved person to reject their own salvation, and on and on).
I recommend listening to Pastor Witmer’s sermon and asking yourself one simple question:
How do I know that it is not Pastor Witmer who deserves to be marked?
What if it is Pastor Witmer who preaches interpretations of Scripture never intended by the authors of Scripture?
What if it is Pastor Witmer who is rejecting Jesus by rejecting the Sacraments that are so clearly spoken of in Scripture and by the students of the apostles?
What if it is Pastor Witmer who is twisting Scripture to his and your destruction (2 Peter 3:16)?
How would you know?
How do you know?
How do you know your interpretations of Scripture are correct and not the result of an interpretive tradition of men?
Ask these question of Pastor Witmer, because he seems unwilling to ask them of himself.