If you take some time to read through these letters, I think you will see that Pastor Witmer hasn't entirely understood some of the basic points that I was making. For instance, in his sermon, Pastor Witmer claimed that he tried to convince me to "trust Christ alone for my salvation." This is an amazing claim, since I told Pastor Witmer over and over in these letters that I trust Christ alone for my salvation. As I tried to point out to him, we are united in trusting Christ alone. Where we differ is in the means Christ alone uses to save us. Christ uses the apostles, the Bible, prayer, Sunday worship to bring us into salvation. But none of things are an addition to Christ alone; rather, all of these things flow from and lead back to Christ alone. They are all the very actions of Christ for our salvation. It just so happens that there are other things Christ uses to save us that Pastor Witmer denies, especially the Sacraments. But just because Pastor Witmer denies that Jesus uses sacraments is no reason to claim that we don't trust in Christ alone, just like it would be wrong for me to accuse Pastor Witmer of adding to Christ alone by insisting his congregants pray and read the Bible. In any case, use your mouse to scan through these emails. I have highlighted in yellow the thirteen places (stretching my first to my last emails) that I told Pastor Witmer that I trust in Christ alone for my salvation. Yet - he implied that trusting Christ alone was a new idea for me.
I will present the emails that I sent to Pastor Witmer in chronological order with only minor revisions. I will not add or delete content. Most revisions will be to add Bible references to the quotes that I already put in the letters (for the reader's convenience), or to add references/links to the Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC].
May 3, 2010
Dear Pastor Witmer,
Thank you very much for your comment on my blog
(readywithareason.blogspot.com), and I invite you to take a look at an
initial comment I made in response.
More importantly, I write today simply to introduce myself at a more
personal level. I meant to do this a while back, but my life is
really quite busy with a new job in the area, a new child at home, and
all the other excitement life brings. That being said, I was shocked
when I realized that it had been almost a year since I posted my
comments on your Bread of Life sermon. Wow - where does the time go?
Anyway, like I said, I'm new to the area. My wife and I are both
musicians and recently left Ann Arbor, MI after completing our
doctorates. We are both faithful Catholics in love with Jesus and
passionate for the faith once left with the saints. As you can read
elsewhere on my blog, my wife is a convert to the Catholic church from
the Baptist faith, and it was the research that I did on Christian
denominations in general and Baptists in particular that motivated me
to begin working seriously toward Christian unity. I have great
respect for my non-Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ who, like
yourself, are doing everything you can to serve God and win souls to
Christ. At the same time, I have seen first hand how Christian
disunity has scandalized the world, making it difficult for many non-
believers to accept truth from preachers who don't agree even on
I believe that for true, complete Christian unity to be achieved,
there must be first and foremost a Christ-like desire for such unity
in the hearts of every party at the table. Beyond that, and with the
help of the Holy Spirit, and with a spirit of forgiveness for past
sins on the parts of our Catholic and Protestant ancestors, there then
needs to be a frank, open, honest discussion of what each other's
beliefs are so that we can avoid allowing divisions to remain that are
based on centuries-old prejudices that are simply not true. Rooting
out these divisions is a way that Protestants and Catholics can come
together to do spiritual battle against the author of all division.
Finally, I believe that all of the above needs to happen at the ground
level. While it is very easy to sit back and watch Pope Benedict XVI
foster new areas of unity with the Orthodox, and most recently with
conservative Anglicans, I think an enormous amount of work remains to
be done. That is why I actively seek to open up dialogue and
engagement with Baptist pastors in my immediate area. I realize that
Catholics and Baptists have a few more differences to overcome than
Pope Benedict has with the Anglicans knocking at his door, but
trusting completely in God's mercy and grace, I am confident that
unity can be fostered.
So there you have it! I hope this email finds you well, and I hope to
meet you someday. (I live right down the street from LBC, and you
would be welcome to come over for dinner whenever you like.) Until we
meet, may the peace of our risen Savior be with you and your family.
May 5, 2010
Dear Pastor Tobe,
Thanks for your response, which was generous both in content and tone. I appreciate your candor in sharing with me your views of the Catholic Church, and please know that I will not be offended by anything you say in regard to the Catholic Church. Likewise, I pray that you will take my words in the spirit of love in which I speak them. Jesus loves each of us more than we could ever love each other, and Jesus wants the truth for us (which is ultimately himself) more than either of us could want it for ourselves. Through years of apologetics, I have learned that the truth not shared in love has no power to convert minds and souls. May the Holy Spirit protect both of us and let our dialogue (however long it lasts), even when frank and direct, be a model of charity.
I thank you for inviting me to consider your sermons on Romans. I love St. Paul's letter to the Romans and have read it many times. Do you, by chance, have an electronic copy of notes or transcripts of your sermons? If you have electronic copies of your notes, they would help me immensely as I study your sermons. No pressure: I understand that these documents might not have been written for others' consumption.
As you know, the Catholic Church does not accept the doctrines of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide. The Catholic Church does defend the authority of Scripture, and the Catholic Church does believe we are justified by faith. Although Paul says throughout Romans that we are saved by faith apart from the works of the Law, by which he meant works of the Torah that certain Jews were performing to "earn" heaven (which can not be done, since grace is a free gift), no where does Paul make the blanket statement that we are saved by faith alone. In fact, faith in Romans is connected in the first and last instance with obedience. Elsewhere in Galatians, Paul speaks of a faith working through love (Gal 5:6). And of course, there is the passage in James that connects faith and works--not works of the law but works of charity that are wrought by God's grace through the life of the believer. But then, these are God's works, not ours. These works are works that are due 100% to God's grace working through our lives. There is no way I can boast of the works that God works through me, and it is through this grace that I continue to be justified, that is, to grow as a child of God. For a Catholic, to be justified is to be made a member of a family and to grow as a member of that family. Justification is not a one time event but a process that continues until we take our dying breath. After initial justification by faith (and only by faith, as the Council of Trent taught), God continues to justify us by the faith and good works that he produces in the life of the believer.
The issue of authority is, perhaps, a more important starting point, and one in which we share an important area of agreement. We both believe in the authority of Sacred Scripture; we believe the Bible is God-breathed and inerrant at a time when many are chipping away at both of these characteristics.
The problem faced by Christians today who still believe, like you and I, in the divine inspiration of Sacred Scripture is how we interpret the Bible. Whose interpretation of Scripture is authoritative? If we step back a second from our short exchange thus far and imagine that I had emailed the Methodist or Anglican or Presbyterian pastor down the street rather than the Baptist pastor, they each would have tried to convince me that their interpretation of the Bible is correct, yet they each would disagree with each other on important doctrines related to salvation, etc. In that light, I think the problem may be not so much that my Catholic faith opposes Scripture; rather, I think that my Catholic faith opposes your interpretation of Scripture.
The implicit suggestion in your email to me is that your interpretation of Scripture is authoritative, and thus it is my doctrines that contradict Scripture. But from a Catholic perspective, it is our interpretation of scripture which is authoritative, and thus it is certain Baptist doctrines that contradict Scripture.
We probably both think that our doctrines agree with our interpretation of Scripture. Indeed, as Joseph Ratzinger once pointed out, “Dogma is by definition nothing other than an interpretation of Scripture.” (see http://ericsammons.com/blog/2010/04/27/dogma-is-by-definition-nothing-other-than-an-interpretation-of-scripture/)
The question is, why should I change from believing my interpretation of Scripture to your interpretation of Scripture? By what authority do you claim to have an interpretation of Scripture to which I should submit my mind and will with the obedience of faith?
You see, the Scripture doesn't plainly interpret itself. If it did, we wouldn't have thousands upon thousands of conflicting interpretations and denominations resulting in a shattered Christianity. Even those denominations that claim the name "Baptist" represent a diversity of positions regarding (really important) things like free will, eternal security, etc. Yet each one claims to have the correct interpretation of Scripture. On top of that, each pastor is praying for the Holy Spirit to guide them. Yet, truth is not determined by address or by the day of the week. If a Christian truth is true on Monday, it is true on Tuesday. If it is true at one church, it is true across the street at another, even if the pastor across the street happens to be preaching something contradictory to it.
The question returns: when I arrive at the intersection of Old Baltimore and Otts Chapel, how do I know I am receiving the truth? Please know that I ask this with all honesty. I think it is the most important question we could begin with, so long as we both openly and honestly seek the truth above all else.
If your answer is "the Bible," then I would heartily agree with you. But the Bible needs an interpreter, does it not? If everyone could just pick up the Bible and know immediately what it all meant through the direct instruction of the Holy Spirit, then why does anyone go to seminary?
What good is an authoritative text without an authoritative interpreter? How do we even know that the books in the Bible are the correct ones? (According to R.C. Sproul, we can't. All we have is a "fallible collection of infallible books." This is not very assuring to Catholic ears!)
Sorry to be long-winded here. I'm really simply repeating a single question in a variety of wordings.
Much of what I believe as a Catholic is found either explicitly or implicitly in the pages of Scripture (assuming those pages are properly interpreted). One thing I believe as a Catholic that is NOT found in Scripture is the table of contents of Scripture itself. For this, I have to believe that the Holy Spirit worked through a council of Catholic Bishops back in the fourth century. The table of contents of the Bible is what Catholics would call an authoritative Sacred Tradition. Sacred Tradition also is the storehouse of the Church's understanding of Scripture. Sacred Tradition is the hermeneutical framework within which Catholics arrive at the correct meaning of Scripture. You mentioned that words like "Jesus," "Redemption," "Christ," etc. are meaningless outside the context of the Biblical Gospel. What Catholics mean by "Sacred Tradition," you seem to mean by "Biblical Gospel." The "Biblical Gospel" is the framework within which the words of Scripture (like "Redemption," etc.) become meaningful. But remember, these same words could take on a different meaning for someone who had replaced the Biblical Gospel with an unBiblical one. Once again, we get back to the question: how do I know that your Baptist Tradition is the Biblical Gospel and not Catholic Tradition?
I've probably asked too many questions already in this email, but if you will indulge me: What books of Catholic apologetics have you studied?
And to end on a note of unity: Catholics and Baptists firmly agree that salvation is through grace alone and through Christ alone. I know that some people deny that Catholics believe these two things, but I'd ask you to consider the chorus of converts to the Catholic faith in the last 20 years alone who now understand that much of what they learned about the Catholic Church in schools such as Jimmy Swaggert Bible College and your own BJU is simply false. Many of these converts (hundreds and hundreds of them, in fact) were dedicated Christian pastors like yourself who never would have dreamed of entering the Catholic Church. Yet, when they stopped focusing on what the thought was the Catholic Church and began to really learn about the Catholic Church, they realized that the prejudices they had been taught were simply not true. They had been "protesting" a straw man.
I hope that, out of Christian charity, you would consider for a moment the possibility that you, too, have been taught things about the Catholic Church by people who oppose her that are not true. While I know it is difficult to conceive how fundamentalists and Catholics could ever by unified, do you not also wonder how non-Catholics could ever be unified? After all, once you step outside the Catholic Church, you enter a sea of conflicting Biblical interpretations about every possible doctrine.
Yet, Jesus himself prayed fervently the night before he died for unity. Whatever Jesus thought of the social movement that has been called "Evangelicals and Catholics Together," we can be quite certain he wanted Evangelicals and Catholics to be together. All doctrinal differences aside, we might ask: what was he thinking? How did Jesus expect this unity to look? Is this unity really possible? How did Jesus ever think that billions and billions of people throughout space and time could ever remain in complete unity around the truths that, like God, will never change?
Did ecclesial unity exist in the early church? If so, what did it look like and how was it maintained? What were the doctrines around which the church was unified? (Have you studied the writings of the apostles' students and their successors?)
Thanks for your time in reading this, and may the Holy Spirit bless you and your family. Jesus Christ is risen indeed!
Grace and peace,
May 6, 2010
Hi Pastor Tobe,
I am truly thankful for your thoughtful response. Please see my comments in line with your text.
At the bottom, I'll provide a summary of what questions still remain unanswered.
I believe all these things. However, I also believe what the Holy Spirit inspired St. Peter to write "[Paul's] letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction" (2 Peter 3:16). Stepping back a level from everything you have told me, why should I trust that you are not ignorant and unstable, when I know myself to be very ignorant and unstable? When I pick up the Bible that was written between 2-4 or so thousand years ago in a language and culture that could not be more different from my own, I am deeply aware of how ignorant I am of the very knowledge and context required to interpret it. I feel in great company with the Eunuch in Acts who cried out "how can I [understand the Scriptures] unless someone explains it to me?" (Acts 8:31). Did Philip only say that the Eunuch only needs to pray for the Holy Spirit's guidance and the meaning of the Scriptures would be made "readily available"? No - Philip provided the Eunuch the authoritative interpretation of the Scriptures the Eunuch was reading. Did Peter say that because Paul was hard to understand, we each needed to pray for the private instruction of the Holy Spirit? No - Peter warned against this very thing, saying that scripture was not of private interpretation.
Your argument from Proverbs 1:20 equates "Wisdom" with the "Meaning of the Scriptures." I indeed believe that "Wisdom" is readily available: it has been taught from the mountaintops for two centuries by the apostles and their successors united with the chair of St. Peter. Your argument actually backfires: if I pick up the yellow pages, Wisdom (the correct interpretation of the Bible) is NOT clear and readily available. To which denomination do I turn? Your argument seems to presume that someone who picks up the yellow pages will somehow know to come to Lighthouse Baptist Church if they want Wisdom (the true meaning of the Scriptures) and not the folly of natural man. So here we come back to the question of my last email: how am I to know that your interpretation of the Bible is the right one? By what authority do you claim that your interpretation is right and mine is wrong? How do you know that Baptist Tradition is correct and Catholic Tradition incorrect?
Do you deny that many conflicting interpretations exist between Christians? I didn't cite the many, varied interpretations as a theoretical construct but as a plain fact proved by the yellow pages. A strawman is a premise of an argument that does not correspond to reality. But the thousands of different Biblical interpretations I cite do in fact exist in reality.
But the question still stands: how do I know which/whose interpretations ARE of God verses those that are (interpretive) traditions of men? Even among those who believe in Sola Fide and who earnestly and honestly plead with the Holy Spirit to guide them to a Godly understanding of Scripture come to wildly different conclusions about fundamental Biblical doctrines.
Do you think that Protestant pastors who come to different interpretations than you do not have the Holy Spirit working in them? Are they secretly committed to natural man rather than God? On the other hand, do you claim to be an infallible interpreter of the Holy Writ? If so, how do you know? If not, how do you know that you are not offering me a fallible interpretation on any one of the points you are making?
You don't have to buy it. But my question is: why should *I* buy *your* interpretation of the Bible when the Catholic interpretation, in the words of so many converts to the Catholic faith, "makes the Bible come alive"? If "faith comes by hearing," to whom should I bend my ear? There are thousands of competing voices, all claiming to have the correct interpretation. Why should I trust the graduates of BJU over Gordon Conwell or any other Bible school?
And I certainly do compare Scripture with Scripture. Scripture invites us to read it that way: inter-textually. Paul is constantly calling to mind passages from the Old Testament, and he expects his readers to think of the entire context of an OT passage even if only a single verse has been cited. Yet, the NT writers, and Jesus himself, cite non-Scriptural authorities that they expect their listeners to be not only aware of but also obedient to. Case and point: the chair of Moses (Matt. 23:2-3). Jesus assumes that his Jewish audience knows what this is and understands that they must be obedient to the Pharisees who occupy it (even if these brood of vipers are not walking the talk). Yet, the "chair of Moses" is no where to be found in the Old Testament. To understand these verses, we are invited not only to read Scripture in light of Scripture but also in light of OT Traditions that were clearly authoritative.
Regarding ancient decisions and edicts, do you not also provide decisions to your congregation about what the Bible means? Are yours correct because they are newer? Remember: everyone reads Scripture through the eye-glasses of their own tradition. Pink glasses make the world appear pink. Blue glasses, blue. Baptist glasses, I can imagine, make the Bible seem like a very Baptist book. Indeed, the Bible becomes a very Catholic book when read through Catholic glasses. Those ancient edicts? They are simply the Catholic glasses. It turns out the Catholic glasses have been around a while--2,000 years in fact--and they have never changed. When Peter was crucified, another bishop stepped in an took his place. His name was Linus. (After Linus came Cletus and then Clement, who wrote that famous letter to the Corinthians that some people in the early church revered as Scripture; turns out, those Corinthians still didn't have their act together after Paul's letters/visits. By the way, what authority did a bishop way over in Rome--Clement--think he had over a church so far away?) Since Jesus founded a church that would never pass away, I would think that this catholicity-in-time would be a good thing, and that the new doctrines to appear on the scene 1500 years later would be the ones we should be suspicious of.
Here, we seem to have a false dichotomy between process and a single act. A process could easily be thought of either as a coherent progression of individual acts, or, perhaps more deeply, as the unfolding of a single act in time. Both of these positions dissolve the either/or mentality that underlies the way you framed my position on justification. I believe that we are initially justified at one point in time, but that this point of time when God both declares and makes us righteous by his action also marks the beginning of a process through which we grow as children of God, as sons and daughters of the Father.
Sorry, if justification is a process, then you would expect NOT ONLY past tense BUT ALSO the present AND future tenses as well (once again, it is not an either/or). And this is precisely what we see in the NT, which repeatedly uses the aorist tense in matters relating to salvation and justification. Case and point: the justification of Abraham. Abraham is Exhibit A when NT writers are describing justification. Yet, the NT writers point out that Abraham was justified at least three different times: Gen. 12, 15, and 22. (See Jimmy Akin's article "The Justifications of Abraham")
We believe that what God declares actually causes a change in being. God's words are efficacious. They bring about what they say; they speak realities into existence. (How AWESOME is that?!) When God declares us righteous, his very word makes us righteous. Also, our initial justification, as the Council of Trent taught, can only be by faith. But as St. Paul teaches in Galations, our faith is a faith working in love. Our faith is a charitable faith from which works of faith wrought by God's grace flow. These good works, as James teaches, also justify us. Faith, without these works, is dead. Thus, according to James, we are not justified by faith alone. And who does James point to as an example? Abraham, the same model of justification given in Romans and Hebrews.
God makes us righteous. At justification, we become children of God, partakers of the divine nature. Far more than a legal decree, God's grace regenerates us, washes us, makes us pure. So long as we do not choose to completely cut ourselves off from him, his grace continues to flow through our lives producing good fruit.
If you define "faith" such that it includes "charity," then I have no problem with the expression "faith alone." We agree that salvation is through Christ alone.
I know these chapters are insistent on faith. I also know they are insistent on faith apart from the works of the law. What I find no where are the words "faith alone." Paul used the word "alone" ALL OVER the NT. If he NOT ONCE chose to apply it to faith, then why should I, especially when the Holy Spirit inspired James to preach that we are "not justified by faith alone"? On this point, it is my belief that fits the language of Scripture more closely. You might say that my belief misses the meaning of Scripture, but then you are stuck having to argue that your interpretation (that act by which we draw meaning from words) carries spiritual authority. How am I to know this, and why should I follow your interpretation as an authority when it flatly contradicts the words of Scripture itself?
The contention seems to be whether or not God justifies us on account of these works of His grace that flow from a life of faith. The above sentence doesn't really reflect with great precision the Catholic Church's view on justification. The expression "faith is worked out as justification" is a bit difficult to understand, and so I can't comfortably nod in agreement. Both faith and works are God's works, not man's. It is not man doing the working, and if it is, no matter how "wonderful" the works might appear to a human bystander, those works will not justify.
Who ever said that works that flow from God's grace that do justify are the same thing as "wonderful works"? I'm not talking about wonderful works in the eyes of man. I'm not talking about works of people who do not have Christ. For instance, Bill Gates could feed a million hungry children, but will not go to heaven unless he accepts Christ as his savior.
But it is Jesus who will judge those of us who DO have faith by whether or not WE fed hungry children (for example). Ironically, Matt. 7 states that it isn't saying "Lord, Lord" that gets one into heave, but doing God's will. In so far as the divine law is one expression of the will of God, God himself has told us that we must do this will to enter heaven. That is why, as St. Paul tells us, murderers, adulterers, etc., will not inherit the kingdom of God: they are not following God's will.
I never once said that I was trusting works for my salvation. My salvation is 100% through God's grace alone through Christ alone. That is the ancient, historic teaching of the Catholic Church. As Ephesians 2:8 points out, we are saved by grace, not by works. I trust Jesus for my salvation, and it is the Catholic Church that taught me to do so.
If your assistant pastor once thought he could impress God with his works, then he was not fully a Catholic, at least when it came to that area of his beliefs, and it is a good thing that someone was able to correct him on this point. I wouldn't recommend that you base your understanding of the Catholic Church on someone who so obviously did not understand the teachings of the church of which he was a member. Just like you would not want me to discount your Baptist faith because of the weak Baptists I have met in my life who don't know the Bible, don't follow or understand their faith, etc., I hope that you will not base your views of the Catholic Church on the weak members of the Catholic fold.
The problem with your argument above--that you have never known a Catholic who believes their works are of Grace--is that it self destructs the moment it hits my ears. After all, you know me! I invite you to listen to the conversion stories of fundamentalist Baptist pastors who have joined the Catholic Church. Not once do they speak of having to accept a new idea that we can trust our own works. The idea that we can trust our works to get to heaven is a lie, and Jesus rightly points this lie out in the verses you cite.
If the Catholic Church is what you say it is, then I will leave it. However, you need to show me in her official teachings where she says that I can trust in my own works for my salvation.
I think these verses also had significance for gentiles. After all, it was the Judaizers who were claiming that gentiles had to follow the works of the Law (for instance, by being circumcized) before they could become Christians. By this point, the Judaizers had lost touch with the fact that justification was through faith in the Old Testament (as it would be in the New), and not something that one could obligate God to dispense through following the Torah. The wages of sin is death, as Paul points out in Romans. No, our justification is a free gift of grace. It is only through God's grace that we can receive righteousness and live righteously. In your Romans sermons, you make a big point that it is impossible to follow the law. But through grace, it IS possible to live righteously, and when we sin, it is grace that washes us clean and helps us grow in holiness. But this righteously living is not our living, but God's living through us. We don't merit heaven by living holy lives; rather, it is God's grace that working through us on which we depend.
Amen! says the Catholic Church. You just quoted the Council of Trent, which specifically and explicitly rejected this very notion. We have found a significant agreement!
I love all the verses you have cited, especially Ephesians 2:8-9. We are saved by grace, plain and simple. Our faith does not save us, nor do our works. I can't faith my way to heaven just as I can't work my way to heaven. The phrase "saved by faith" may be read "saved through faith," which is the language used in Ephesians. As Ephesians correctly notes, we are saved by grace and not by works.
Titus also makes the Catholic distinction between 1) the "righteous" works performed apart from God (when we were "foolish, disobedient, deceived, etc.") that will never save us and 2) the grace of God through Christ, which is the only thing that can save us. We are justified by grace, Titus says. This is Catholic teaching through and through...just read the Catechism! (The links are on the right side-bar of my blog.)
I'm not really following you here. How do you know that Purity/Truth is more important than unity? The very purity, truth, self-donating love, consubstantiality, and unity of the Most Holy Trinity are all inextricably bound qualities of the Divine Being. How do you segregate off one of these qualities and call it less important? I would say that our heavenly home is the Trinity itself. When we become Christians, we become partakers of the divine nature and dwell in the Trinity through our unity with Christ, which St. Paul calls a great sacramentum, or mystery, in Ephesians 5. To think that members of this great mystery called the Bride of Christ would be irreconcilably divided over doctrines is antithetical to Paul's vision of the church and his constant command for complete unity. Paul's command for unity is matched by his command for obedience. But to whom should Christian's be obedient, such that through their obedience they can know the truth?
You are right that the unity of Christ's mystical body must include (but is not limited to) unity in Christ's doctrine. But if we are to arrive at these doctrines only through the words of Scripture, then whose interpretation of those words do we follow? The words simply do not speak for themselves. Words are collections of signs on a page that only becoming meaningful in a specific cultural context. When you read the word "Titumilty," you have no idea what it means because your interpretive lens (your knowledge of the English language) does not recognize this particular linguistic sign. When you read the Bible, you never really take in the words in a vacuum. Your reading of them can only happen by processing them through layer upon layer of interpretive frames. These frames include your knowledge of English, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, ancient Jewish culture, the early church fathers' writings, all your classes at Bible college, all the personal and emotional experiences you have had with the texts over the years as far back as your early childhood, and last but not least, the dozens of Bible commentaries that probably line your bookshelf. These frames constitute your interpretive Tradition. But is this interpretive Tradition a Tradition of God or a tradition of men?
And so we arrive at the question I posed over and over again in my last email: how do I know that your interpretation of Scripture is that of the Holy Spirit and not simply the result of all the unique experiences you have had over the years?
This verse is precisely why I remain a Catholic. My Catholic faith can be traced back all the way to the students of the apostles. When I read the writings of those people who learned their faith directly from the apostles or their successors (people like Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Clement, Tertullian, etc.), they sound Catholic, not Baptist. They believe in the Sacraments, Baptismal regeneration, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the authority of the bishops in union with the bishop of Rome, etc. The early church was Catholic, as Ignatius of Antioch called her before being martyred in the mouths of lions around 110 AD.
This doctrine entered the scene 1500 years too late for me to believe it. That is, unless you can show me where the Bible says we are justified by faith alone, or where this was the teaching of the early church.
...as do I. May the peace of our risen Savior be with you!
One of these days, I'll drop by and introduce myself. Are you often around the church office during the day?
In our risen Lord,
May 6, 2010
Hi Pastor Tobe,
Many thanks for sending these! When I comment on sermons, I usually end of dictating what was spoken. I'll probably do the same with your sermons, though these documents will help me keep my place more easily, and may even allow me to do a little cutting and pasting. Still, it is important for me to point out the minute/second markers of your sermons for my readers so that they can listen to you directly.
I'll certainly follow your wishes to cut out any personal references, jokes, etc. I'd even be happy to send my comments to you for inspection before I would make them available.
There were four files that did not come through correctly:
Dictionary of Salvation
Ungodly men go to heaven
Blessedness...being coated with Teflon
If you want, I'd be happy receiving the notes for these talks as well.
Grace and peace,
May 13, 2010
Hi Pastor Tobe,
Thanks so much for those files.
No, I don't have an official position with the Catholic Church apart from being a member of the Church as a lay person.
In our risen Savior,
May 13, 2010
Hi Pastor Tobe,
I stopped by to visit today, but unfortunately you were in a meeting. I would have called ahead, but I only knew I was driving by about 15-20 minutes before I did. (I decided to join my wife and kids for breakfast at Chick-fil-a. We should own stock in that place, we eat there so much!) I'll be sure to call ahead next time!
I left a few books with Jeff, who kindly greeted me at the door. I thought I'd leave them with you for reference, so that I could point you to a quote here or there.
The books are relevant to the discussion we've had to various degrees.
Most relevant, obviously, would be Mark Shea's book, which deals with the issue of authority, Scripture, and Tradition. Mark, like the other two authors, is a convert to the Catholic Church. Steve Ray and David Currie were both Baptists before converting, and as you can see from the title of Currie's book, he came from a similar type of Baptist church as your own.
Curries book is broader in scope, but consequently, it does not go very deep. The book is interesting though, in that it speaks to the fact that there are really very many issues that kept him out of the Catholic Church, but as he looked into every single issue, the Catholic Church was the one that seemed, to him, to speak the truth. I've often sensed in my own evangelization efforts that I may be talking about one issue, but in the back of the other person's mind, they're thinking, "while even if he is right on this issue, there are a dozen more that he is wrong about!" Currie's book makes the larger point that the Catholic Church was right on every issue he explored, and that he could not in good conscience remain a non-Catholic.
The section in Ray's book on the Eucharist is particularly relevant to the topic that began our conversation: the Eucharist, or the Lord's Supper. Ray studies the Biblical texts and the writings of the early church fathers who learned their faith from the lips of the apostles and their immediate successors. (It's like going to a Bible study with the protege of St. John himself! How awesome is that?) You might be interested to read through his conversion story as well.
I hope you are doing well. I've been listening to your Romans series, and I look forward to hearing more of your comments as you work through Romans 5-6.
May the peace of Christ be with you, your family, and your congregation. I know it is an exciting time at LBC with the building of a new sanctuary!
Grace and peace,
May 14, 2010
Hi Pastor Tobe,
I smiled when I read your email, because when I was thinking about your question and my response, I anticipated that you might mention something about the rarity of my breed. :)
My guess is that many Christians, no matter what their denominational affiliation, are not really that informed about the Bible, doctrine, etc. As a teacher, I must face the fact every day that God gave intellectual gifts in varying degrees to people. Thankfully, knowing the truth isn't about being smart, but being obedient. I don't even consider myself all that intelligent (having been schooled by some real geniuses). But I do think that I can hold my own when it comes to the Bible, doctrine, etc. I think this is a special gift from God, and one for which I am very thankful.
But there is something really interesting to be teased out of your comment:
On what basis do Christians imagine what other Christians are like?
I ask this, because at the end of the day, my impression is that we all just crawl back into our caves when we leave church, and Jesus/religion/faith doesn't come up that much until the following Sunday. That's a problem facing Catholics, and I'd be surprised if it wasn't a frustration you face as well. I can count on one hand the number of times any Christian (except JW's or Mormons, though their status is debatable) has ever come up to me out of the blue to evangelize me, and I'd still have fingers left over.
Keeping this in mind, my guess is that people of different denominations have fallen by default into remaining divided while knowing very little about the Christians they remain divided from. That is why I delight in every opportunity I get just to have time with other Christians. I think these opportunities provide a (Holy) wind of fresh air that can instantly clear away the stale images that Christians form about each other.
I must get back to work soon...more end-of semester exams to grade!
If you are ever interested in "listening in" on more Catholics like myself (and getting a better flavor of their knowledge of the Bible, etc.), I'd recommend checking out the forums at Catholic Answers.
Have a blessed day!
June 14, 2010
Hi Pastor Tobe,
God bless you!
I was just checking in to see how things were going. I always say a quick prayer for you every time I pass by LBC.
Have you had a chance to glance at any of the books I left for you? If you are donewith them, I'd be happy to drop by sometime to pick them up.
By the way, I listened to a rather light-hearted (and at times quite funny) conversion story of a Southern Baptist pastor to the Catholic Church. The story aired a week ago today on the Journey Home program (www.chnetwork.org). I've attached an mp3 to this email.
I look forward to hearing more from your series on Romans.
Peace be with you!
In our risen Savior,
June 14, 2010
Hi Pastor Tobe,
I didn't mean to interrupt your vacation with my email. Please accept my apologies!
Thank you very much for taking the time to share your thoughts in a candid and sincere fashion.
May your time with your family be relaxing. Perhaps we can reconnect when you return. You may hang on to the books as long as you like.
Peace be with you,
June 27, 2010
Hi Pastor Tobe,
In your sermon last Sunday, you claimed that "I took time to study this through again, because I knew this was true, and it is true that they, in the Mass, are saying that they are recrucifying Jesus Christ, that the atonement is being made again..."
Did you consult an official teaching document of the Catholic Church (Catechism, papal encyclical, church council, or even a reputable Catholic encyclopedia) when you studied this subject? Having made such a strong, direct attack on the Catholic faith, would you be willing to cite the source that confirmed what you already knew to be true? I have commented on this part of the sermon on my blog, where I have also publicly requested that you back up your comments with citations. Where, specifically, does the Catholic Church teach that we "recrucify" Christ?
Peace be with you,
June 27, 2010
Hi Pastor Tobe,
Thanks for your email, which in many respects was very encouraging.
Would you mind sharing more specifics about the source from in which you read this quote from the Council of Trent. (Book/article title, publisher, and page number would all be very helpful to me!) I'm interested in reading this quote in the same context in which you read it.
I hope you had a blessed Lord's Day!
In our risen Savior,
June 28, 2010
Hi Pastor Tobe,
Thanks for sending along those quotes, both of which I am very familiar.
While I want to assume good faith here, I have a sneaking suspicion (based on the format of the citation attached to the Trent quote you originally sent) that you either
1. read the Council of Trent quote within an anti-Catholic book or article, or
2. read only enough of the Catechism to find a quote to use as ammunition.
The most charitable option, and the one that I will assume, is that you read and carefully considered everything that Trent and/or the Catechism had to say about the Mass.
However, if number 1 is actually the truth, I would kindly ask that you tell me the book, publisher, and page number so that I can read the quote in context.
If number 2 is true, than I would kindly ask that you pray about whether this is how Christ would want us to learn about each other's faiths.
Assuming option 3, I can only say that you do not yet really understand the Catholic position, and that your presentation of the Catholic position fails to engage the rich context for the quotes from the Catechism that you have provided. This is why your quotes feel a bit like ammunition to me, since your interpretation of them seems unaware of their context. Further, your interpretation of Trent in the previous email actually inserts a word that the quote doesn't say. Trent confirms that the Mass is a sacrificial offering of Christ, but it never says that it is a "new offering," as you interject in your brief commentary on the passage. What Trent is saying is that the mode or "manner" of the offering is new, but the offering is one and the same as the offering that took place on calvary. By shifting the accent from "manner" to "time" (in your sermon, you contrasted the Mass to the sacrifice that took place "the first time"), you make it seem that the sacrifice of the Mass, because it is separated in time from calvary, is a new sacrifice.
If I have correctly understood you, then I would respond by sharing with you the mystical key that unlocks the Catholic position. First, we must acknowledge that while the sacrifice of calvary can certainly be located temporally within human history approximately 2,000 years ago, there is a mystical sense presented in Scripture in which Christ was sacrificed from the beginning of the world. It is only through the cross that anyone was ever saved, even anyone in the Old Testament. It should deeply move our hearts to think that Christ accepted the cross before God even brought Adam to life. All of the Old Testament, then, is like a divine pedagogy preparing God's people to receive Jesus Christ in the fullness of time. When Jesus walked the earth, through the mystery of the incarnation, that fullness of time actually pierced into human time and walked among us. However, all the things Christ accomplished were foreshadowed in the Old Testament, and in fact are eternal events. Thus, Jesus's sacrifice transcends human time. This is a mystical understanding of time that allows us to understand how in the Mass, the sacrifice we enter into is really the once for all ETERNITY sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the very same sacrifice being eternally offered to the father, as John witnesses in heaven in the Book of Revelation. (I think you recently wrote about this very topic on your blog :)
I think that if you read all of Hebrews, you will see that the entire book, including the quote from Chapter 10, makes sense in its entirety only read in the context of the ancient Christian faith. The ideas I've shared above is not new to me but can be found even in the writings of the early church fathers. One of the striking things about what Trent argues in their decree on the Mass is that the doctrines they proclaim are "ancient." Over and over again, they talk about protecting the ancient faith. (Just search for the word "ancient" within the document itself.) If in fact the early church disagreed with what the Catholic Church currently teaches, this should be easy enough to prove. We have 30 volumes of their writings, hundreds and hundreds of pages of which were written before the end of the second century.
Most of the above (and more) is also found at my blog, where I have begun responding to your June 20th sermon.
Here's the direct link to the entry: http://readywithareason.blogspot.com/2010/06/response-to-tobe-witmer-lighthouse.html
May the Peace of Christ be with you! Please pray for me, and I will do the same for you.
July 2, 2010
Hi Pastor Tobe,
A few quick things:
1. Thanks for the chat today, which I very much enjoyed. It was a real pleasure meeting you and getting to know you a bit in person.
2. I updated my blog entry. If the changes still lack in charity, please let me know.
3. I meant to ask: I'm having a hard time finding your sermon on the first verses of Romans 6. Can you point me in the right direction?
4. Wow - five kids (that I knew) and a Masters degree... I should be bringing you meals, not books!
July 3, 2010
Hi Pastor Tobe,
I'm not sure I follow your first sentence(s), but that's okay.
Thanks for sending the file!
I really don't consider myself much of anything except a Catholic. St. Therese of Lisieux has probably influenced me a ton more than St. Ignatius of Loyola (the founder of the Jesuits). I absolutely love St. Thomas Aquinas, who I read 3-4 days a week. (Have you ever heard the story about when a brother monk walked into the chapel to find "the dumb ox" levitating in front of the crucifix? The monk heard our Lord ask Thomas: "You have written well of me. What can I give you in return?" Thomas's reply? "Only more of you, Lord.") G.K. Chesterton is also at the top of my list of influences, along with Peter Kreeft, the only Catholic I know of to have been published by Intervaristy Press. (Kreeft, himself a former Protestant, says that true ecumenism involves Catholics learning to become more evangelical and Evangelicals learning to become Catholic.) The obvious influence for so many Catholics my age is our late Holy Father, John Paul II, who instituted "the new evangelization" within the Catholic Church that is lighting so many young Catholics like myself on fire for the faith...and drawing so many non-Catholics to this same faith. I have also been reading Joseph Ratzinger since one of my more profound conversion experiences my freshmen year of college, and was thrilled when he was chosen as the next successor of St. Peter. And while I am fortunate enough to have had two audiences with the man, I still can not claim to be an official representative or employee of the Catholic Church. I do know who to turn to, though, should I need a letter of recommendation.
My one regret about our conversation was that I didn't want you to think that I brought up the 50 or so Baptist pastors' conversion stories as a kind of disheartening cheap shot. The point I was trying to get at (but got diverted from) is that while there will always remain a constant flow of converts in both directions, there is a marked difference in quality and content in the conversion stories. As someone who reads as many conversion stories OUT of the Catholic Church as I can get my hands on, I can attest to the fact that in general, converts away from Catholicism rarely have good things to say about her and are often not very well informed about the Catholic faith (of course, there are exceptions), whereas the converts to Catholicism consistently (and I presume honestly) have very good things to say about their non-Catholic backgrounds and are generally much more informed about their non-Catholic theologies...like we would expect non-Catholic pastors to be (of course, there are exceptions). I think the torrent of non-Catholic clergymen that have entered the Catholic Church ought not to be evaluated on the QUANTITY of their stories but on their QUALITY. Doing so actually means sitting down, reading or listening to their journeys, and openly and objectively comparing their thoughts, motivations, rhetoric, reasoning, etc. with that found in those stories of people leaving the Catholic Church. The Coming Home Network was formed by one former Protestant pastor, Marcus Grodi, to help others struggling on a similar path. He hosts a weekly program called "The Journey Home," of which approximately six hundred conversion stories (many from former pastors) can be listened to here.
Chesterton had this to say about the Catholic Church in his essay "The Catholic Church and Conversion:"
He has come too near to 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 towards 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. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair.
Once again, I enjoyed meeting you face-to-face, and I enjoyed the quasi-dialogue that resulted. Do let me know, if you get a chance, where I can find your sermon on the first verses of Romans 6. I'm intrigued... Eventually, I'll respond to a few of the comments that you made, but please know that overall, your remarks were filled with truths with which I agree - truths that are fundamental to both of our faiths.
You are in my prayers, my friend, and I ask that you continue to pray for me as well. If we are both heading toward the Lord, then we are both heading toward oneness and unity, which we know will be perfectly accomplished in heaven.
Yours in Christ,
July 4, 2010
Hi Pastor Tobe,
Four quick addendums:
1) Here is your fun image for the night. Are you familiar with it? What do you see here?
2) Here is something similar, this time using words:
"I never said you stole money."
How many possible meanings could the sentence above have?
3) The most significant parts of your "testimony" (for lack of a better word) in your office were the seemingly least significant words, and perhaps more than they, the things that were left entirely unsaid. I'll try to draw some of these out when I have a chance to respond.
4) I meant to draw out the underlying irony in the way I described my general experience of conversion stories:
The folks who leave the Catholic Church to become Protestant generally express many dislikes toward the Catholic Church....and leave.
The folks who leave Protestantism to join the Catholic Church generally express many likes toward Protestantism and even a number of dislikes toward the Catholic Church...yet still become Catholic.
That is what is truly shocking about their stories - not the fact that they became Catholic (people convert every which way all the time). Why these non-Catholics convert to the Catholic Church against their liking is truly remarkable - and worth exploring, in my opinion.
All the best,
July 4, 2010
Hi Pastor Tobe,
Actually, in the transcript you sent me, you wrote that you covered the first seven or so verses in a previous sermon. What sermon was that?
Have a blessed Lord's Day!
July 5, 2010
Hi Pastor Tobe,
Good morning! Just a few quick clarifications before I get back to work....
(See my responses in line.)
Yes, perspective is a good word for it. I would put it more in terms of an "interpretive context." For the blind men, their interpretation of the object was limited by their blindness. By relying on touch, they were unable to comprehend an object whose size was larger than they could wrap their arms around. Indeed, this story serves as a useful metaphor for ideas that can seem to big to wrap one's mind around. But, alas, I don't think that is the problem I am trying to get at with my other two illustrations.
The image of the duck/rabbit, aside from raising fascinating questions about how the mind sees and comprehends things (the mind can recognize both images, and can even understand the possibility of both images, but can not easily see both images at once!), does serve as a metaphor for a couple points I would like to make about Biblical interpretation. I'll offer just one right now: the image requires interpretation. It doesn't automatically communicate an idea into the mind of the beholder. Our minds must apply an interpretive context, which our minds do automatically, effortlessly (so long as the appropriate context is in place), and often without our even being aware of it. Our mind makes sense of the visual data by organizing it according to experiences that we have had with animals that look like ducks (or rabbits). The "fun" part about the image is the little spark we experience in our minds when suddenly we realize that there are two separate interpretive contexts or frameworks that make sense of the image. (As an artist, I revel in that spark!) When it comes to Biblical interpretation, our minds help us out in the same way. They take all the words on the page and interpret them according to the extremely dense web of ideas and experiences layered within our minds. That is why, without the guidance of an authoritative interpreter of the Bible, men and women will come to umpteen thousand different interpretations. Our experiences, interpretive contexts, and values are all so wildly different.
The main point: going by "the Bible alone" is nice in theory but impossible in practice. What all of us go by is the Bible interpreted in a variety of contexts. These interpretive contexts always kick in so that the words on the page (really just a bunch of funny symbols, or letters, words, etc. - and not even the ones used when the Bible was first written) become meaningful. The question then is: what is the interpretive context that unlocks the correct meaning of Scripture? Is it a duck, or is it a rabbit?
The other main point: I understand how the Bible looks like a duck to you because I understand your interpretive context. Do you understand how the Bible looks like a rabbit to me? In other words, do you know how I am going to answer the challenges you have set before me (for instance, regarding John 6:63)?
The other illustration was the sentence "I never said you stole money." I love how simple this sentence seems on the surface. Yet, apart from an interpretive context, there is really no way to be certain of its meaning. Think about how the meaning changes when you inflect any one of the six words -
I never said you stole money. (Someone else said must have said you did.)
I never said you stole money. (At no point in time did I make this statement.)
I never said you stole money. (I did think it, though.)
I never said you stole money. (I said someone else did.)
I never said you stole money. (I said you borrowed it.)
I never said you stole money. (You stole a car.)
Now, I know this is one sentence, divorced from any other sentences that would provide an interpretive context. The question, though, is this: do all the sentences of the Bible, taken together and in context of one another, REDUCE the number of interpretive options or MULTIPLY them? The experiment of "sola scriptura" has proven, historically, that men of good faith and keen intellect do come up with many different interpretations of Scripture, even though they all profess to be going by the Bible alone. (See above - no one really goes by the Bible alone.)
(Do you see that the idea of reading alone on a desert island is a contradiction in terms? If you were reading, then you were not alone - you carry all the baggage of those who taught you to read - and all the ideas that entered your head as you learned! If you truly were alone, like a caveman waking from a long slumber and stumbling onto a Bible, the Bible would be meaningless, because you wouldn't know how to read the words.)
I think the sentence "I never said you stole money" helps us explain why the Bible alone leads to many interpretations, without being forced to assume bad faith on the part of people who come to a different interpretation of the Bible than yourself. (In other words, people who disagree aren't just willfully choosing to follow the folly of man rather than the wisdom of God.) When we say the sentence "I never said you stole money" in the interpretive context that we hold in our minds, one word gets inflected, and it is impossible to even think (at that moment) about the words as meaning anything else.
The Biblical equivalent to emphasizing one word in the sentence is to emphasize certain verses of Scripture. If you were to say that verses A, B, C, D, and E were the most important verses of Scripture, and another pastor were to say that verses U, V, W, X, Y and Z were most important (no fair! He got one more verse!), then you are likely seeing the creation of two different interpretations of the Bible.
I call this the "equalizer effect" of interpretation. Think of a gigantic sound board at a recording studio. Biblical interpretation could be thought of in terms of "equalizing" the verses (and even books) of Scripture, so that some are really prominent in the ear of the listener, while others are kept very much to the background, or even muted out entirely. (I thought of this analogy when you emphasized in your first sermon on Romans how this book is the most important when it comes to understanding our salvation. Does Romans say that, or were you acting like an equalizer in the ears, minds, and hearts of your congregation?) A good example of a verse that is proclaimed loudly and clearly (both figuratively in the number of times it is mentioned and literally in the tone of voice and rhetorical emphasis given by preachers): "Unless one is born anothen, he cannot see kingdom of God." John 6:53 ("I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.") is a good example of a verse that is not proclaimed loudly and clearly (both figuratively in the fact that I can hardly find any sermons from any Baptist pastor on the last 1/3 of John 6 and literally in the fact that no Baptist pastor I've heard reads these words with the same force/tone as John 3:3 is proclaimed, and in fact, most Baptist pastors practically trip over themselves as they are reading to "clarify" what Jesus was "really" saying.) The irony in all this is that Jesus, if left to equalize his own sayings, actually makes the case in John 3:3 in just two verses (where he equates being born anothen with being born of "water and spirit") whereas he makes the point in John 6:53 six times and in six different ways. Where Jesus emphasizes the language of John 6, many pastors today, objectively speaking (by taking a broad, statistical view of what gets preached on and talked about), prefer to amplify John 3 and keep John 6 quiet.
This is the equalizer effect of interpretation. I never said you stole money.
The question, after all of the above is: how do I know that your equalization scheme and your interpretive context is the right one for understanding the Bible? As I put it in a previous email, how do I know that I find the right interpretation of Scripture when I arrive at the corner of Otts Chapel and Old Baltimore?
I'm glad you enjoyed John 6.
Could you explain more precisely what you mean in the second half of the second sentence (beginning at "and want to hit texts...")?
Sorry, but I'm not really following this sentence either. I have a feeling I know what you are trying to say, but I'd love to give you a chance to articulate it more precisely.
No, Jesus's meaning is very clear here, and always has been, even to the graduates of St. John the Apostle University. What is also clear is that your interpretation of Jesus's words reflects your interpretive tradition, which does not allow Jesus's words, even in v. 63, to mean what they so clearly do.
Jesus makes the following claims:
[First some context: it was Passover time, so think Lamb, sacrifice, alter, eating the Lamb, etc. This is the context John provides you at the beginning of John 6. Then, Jesus feeds the five thousand through a miracle involving bread. Then he refers to the miraculous bread from heaven, the manna in the desert. Jesus, the New Moses, has been preparing our hearts to receive miraculous bread from heaven centuries before the incarnation. Just like St. Paul says "the rock [in the desert] was Christ," we can probably presume that the manna was from Christ as well.]
Then, Jesus tells us that he is the bread come down from heaven. v. 33
v. 35 Again "I am the bread of life." I have come down from heaven. [This is shocking language, but the shock is nothing other than the miracle of the incarnation, in which a God took on flesh that he would give for the life of the world (v. 33).]
The crowd expresses shock at this claim, which is essentially a denial of the incarnation. Jesus tells them to stop grumbling. They must listen to the Father and learn to come to Jesus (v45). v. 47: I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life.
Pause: Jesus has made a claim that he has come down from heaven and taken on flesh for the life of the world. He is the bread from heaven, but the crowd just doesn't understand or can't believe it. He says that belief is gift that comes from being drawn by and listening to the Father. He who believes has everlasting life. And what are we to believe? Jesus returns right to where he was when the crowd had started grumbling:
48I am the bread of life.
49Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. [Jesus, the New Moses, now refers to the old manna. Jesus is the New Manna.]
50But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. [Eating the New Manna from heaven leads to life, not death. Questions that at this point remain open: what does Jesus mean by "eating"? Does he mean it literally or figuratively? What does he mean by bread? Is the bread really Jesus (and how could this be?), or is it only a symbol of Jesus?]
51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. [Hold your horses! This bread is living? What does he mean by that? Bread, like the old manna, doesn't live, and neither do the people who ate it. But Jesus says he is "living bread" that comes down from heaven.]
51 cont. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. [After Jesus has defined this bread as "living bread," he says that anyone who eats this living bread will live forever. Thus, eating the living bread is a means of receiving eternal life, or living forever. So, let us ask again, what is this "living bread?"]
51 cont. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." [Jesus says that the "living bread" that we must eat to receive "eternal life" is "my flesh." The word used here is "carx," which literally refers to the fleshly tissue of our muscles, etc. The flesh that Jesus refers to is his own flesh, which he verifies by saying that it is the flesh he will give for the life of the world. Christ didn't put a symbolic flesh on the Cross. And so the "living bread" that we must eat to receive "eternal life" is the same "flesh" that Jesus was to give on the Cross. We are to eat his body, Jesus claimed. And this is precisely how the Jews who had been following Christ understood him:]
52Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" [A good question, and one that would be answered at the one year anniversary of John 6 at the fulfillment of the Passover in the Upper room, where Jesus took bread and said "take and eat, this is my body" and later proceeded to offer that same flesh for the life of the world on Calvary as the Lamb of God. (You have to give some credit to the Jews here. They were asked to believe something that they couldn't see fulfilled. We don't have that excuse, knowing what Jesus instituted at the Lord's Supper. We have seen the Passover fulfilled, and we have heard Jesus's call to feed on his glorified body by consuming the "living bread" of the Eucharist. Ah, but I get ahead of myself. Let's pick back up with John 6:52.) The Jews have understood Jesus to be speaking literally (although we can presume that they were thinking about these words carnally, not yet fully understanding the reality of the incarnation and Christ's glorified post-resurrection body.) If Jesus was speaking symbolically, we would expect him to correct them, as he does whenever someone misunderstands. In this case, we get no such softening of the point, no backing away from the "poetic" language so that the bread is understood to be a symbol for accepting Christ spiritually. Rather, Jesus ups the ante:
53Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. [Jesus is now using even more shocking language. He is proceeding from one shock to another...and now to this!? Jesus could not have been speaking figuratively, because to speak figuratively about eating someone's flesh or drinking there blood already had a meaning in Jewish culture: this idiomatic expression meant to persecute, betray, or even murder. (See Micah 3:3, Psalm 27:2, Isaiah 9:20 and 49:26) Surely, the Jews must not have thought that Jesus was telling them that "unless you persecute, betray, and murder the Son of Man, you have no life in you." And as we saw, the Jews understood Jesus to be speaking literally. Jesus chose the most literal language possible for his flesh. And now, in v. 53, Jesus uses the most literal word for "eat": "trogon," which literally means to "gnaw or chew." Again, Jesus repeats himself again...]
54Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
55For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.
56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.
57Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever." 59He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. [Notice that Jesus brings back the idea of Jesus being the "bread come down from heaven." The miracle of Jesus coming down from heaven is the incarnation--the fact that Jesus took on flesh. Jesus is now eternally connected through the incarnation with physical reality. He forever has a body, which is now glorified in heaven. It is this incarnated bread of heaven--this incarnated body of Christ--that is extended to the body of the Christ, the Church, through the Eucharist. The Groom and the Bride are one, and it is through the one "living bread" that we become "one living body." This is a great mystical reality, as St. Paul describes it in Ephesians.]
Many Disciples Desert Jesus
60On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?"
[If the disciples misunderstood Jesus by interpreting his words literally, then why does Jesus not correct them? After all, if Jesus was just trying to tell them to "accept him as Lord and savior by faith alone in his grace alone" using flowery (or would that be "flour-y"...excuse the pun!) language, why does he not say so? Rather he seems, at first, to taunt them:
61Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? 62What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!
[It is difficult for us to hear Jesus's discourse in the mindset that the Jews did. We are so used to thinking of Jesus in spiritual terms as the eternal Son of the Father that forget the meaning of the incarnation - that Jesus took on and retains a human body. The Jews, however, were so used to thinking purely in carnal terms that they were not yet able to wrap their minds around the idea that Jesus was the eternal Son of the Father. Thus, Jesus connects the difficulty they are having understanding the words he has spoken with their failure to properly understand the nature of the incarnation. The mystery of the incarnation is a spiritual mystery, yes, but it is the mystery of Jesus becoming man, Jesus taking on flesh, and now, as Jesus teaches us here, Jesus taking on bread and wine. These are things that can only be perceived by listening to the Father, by receiving spiritual instruction, which is precisely what Jesus tells them:]
63The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit[e] and they are life.
[It is the Spirit that gives life. It is the Spirit that makes it possible to believe in faith in what Jesus had told them. The flesh counts for nothing. Thinking in terms of the flesh, without understanding the spiritual reality of the incarnation, got the Jews no where. The words Jesus spoke to them are spirit and they are life. And what were those words? "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."
Many non-Catholics point out v. 63 to deny the literal meaning of everything that Jesus had just said. The problem is, in context, it is clear that Jesus is saying he is talking about spiritual realities - but the spiritual reality he keeps returning to is the incarnation, which involves Jesus taking on the fleshy matter of a human body (that body born to Mary and Joseph, so they thought). The incarnation--along with all the things Jesus did with his body, including offering it to die on the cross--would have been powerless if the flesh truly counts for nothing. The incarnation teaches us that the flesh counts for everything when it is filled with the Spirit! That is why, without the spirit, the flesh counts for nothing. Without the Spirit, it is impossible to believe what Jesus has taught.
The words are spirit and life. The next thing non-Catholics try to do is to say that "Spirit" means "symbolic" or "figurative." The problem here, of course, is "Spirit" is never used in Scripture to mean either "symbolic" or "figurative." If by "the bread is my flesh," Jesus meant "the bread is a symbol of my flesh," he never says so. In fact, he says everything possible to eliminate this possibility, even identifying the bread with the flesh that he will give on the cross.
Sadly, it was at this point where some of Jesus's followers, and perhaps even Judas, lost faith:]
64Yet there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him."
66From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67"You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve.
68Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
70Then Jesus replied, "Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!" 71(He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)
Do you see how the argument above is based on a dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual? The scandal of the incarnation in the mind of man is that God obliterated the distance that we like to leave between these two. Jesus took on flesh. And now, Jesus takes on bread and wine for the sake of his Body, the Church.
There are two ways of asking the Lord something: the honest question (Lord, I really don't know, help me) and the more insidious Gen. 3/Matthew 4 question (Lord, I want to go my own way, but I'm going to play a game by "questioning" something you have already revealed to me).
I assume good intentions are your part in inviting me to ask a question "in honesty," but the question could never be separated from context. The fact is, Jesus established a church that has protected for two thousand years not only the words of John 6 (by putting them in a Bible in one of those councils you keep referring to) but their meaning, so that the when someone down the road asked "was Jesus speaking literally or figuratively," Jesus would be able to provide this Christian an authoritative answer. (Jesus knew full well that the Church would be divided without such an authority in place.)
DS: Great question. That is why I love really engaging their stories and reading them.
DS: The question then is, do the converts seem to be crazy?
blah, blah, blah... (Sorry, but that's how I respond to the great accuser, even when he uses fellow Christians as a mouthpiece.) Plus, your failure to provide a starting line up of all the saints and all the wonderful things accomplished by the Catholic Church for society reveals a certain lack of balance. Don't get me wrong...there have always been and will always be Catholics (including priests, bishops, and popes) who do hideous, disgraceful, and scandalous things. I am one of them. I am a sinner saved by grace, just like yourself. Let us pray for the members of each of our Churches who are not living according to God's will.
If you are truly offended by any of the things on the above list, please research them carefully, studying all sides, and recording historical evidence. I think you may quickly find that not only are the situations to which you refer complex and multi-faceted, but that some of the accusations made are not even true. Further, if you provide your mind a more balanced diet by looking at the negatives and the positives, you may in for a surprise.
Jesus said that his Church would contain wheat and chaff. Is it right to tell Jesus, "I will be no part of a church containing chaff?"
Further, why punish yourself by remaining outside the visible boundaries of Jesus's church just because of the sins of some of her members?
Sadly, by leaving the visible boundaries of Jesus's church, some denominations have discarded the moral teachings that would otherwise have condemned their immoral behavior. For instance, take divorce and remarriage, abortion, or artificial contraception, all of which are condemned in Scripture. Even artificial contraception was opposed on Biblical grounds by every single non-Catholic denomination until 1930, when a crack in the dam (at the second Lambeth conference of the Anglicans) was formed. (They "asked" God if this sin might not really be sinful in some circumstances.)
So, even though you find Catholics falling, what you find in the Catholic Church is the only Church never to have let the moral code itself fall. And that, my friend, is very good news! We can know what to believe and how to act!
Okay...I have to get back to work. Also, I'm about to leave for a conference presentation and vacation, so this is probably the last lengthy response you'll get from me for a while. Good luck on your Masters work!
Oh, and I really am not in cahoots with the Jesuits. There are so few Jesuits around these days that I truly admire that they would be the last group I would see myself associating with.
For some of my music making (not piano playing, though), click here. I'm not on the most recent CD (the Brian Blum album). I play cello on the bottom three albums, and my wife plays oboe. I wrote many of the instrumental parts (except for the piano parts). My favorite two songs are the first two tracks of "Taken by Love," especially the first track "Our Hearts will Rise."
Also, I wanted to leave you with a few stories having to do with Jesus's real presence in the Eucharist.
The first was told to me by a lady who was instrumental in my conversion closer to Christ a while back. This lady was at the adoration chapel one day when two men wandered in off the street. These men explained that they were both of Russian communist lineage and were die-hard athiests. When they walked by the church, they saw a bright, piercing light pouring out from the adoration chapel. They felt drawn to come into the Church to see what this light was, and were able to meet Jesus for the first time - in his fullness!
A similar story that took place at my former parish in Michigan is told by Steve Ray (author of one of the books now sitting on your shelf), who attends that parish. Steve tells this story on his tape set on the Sacraments. One day at Mass, a person came rushing into the Church just after the consecration of the bread and wine. This person (a Methodist pastor, if I remember correctly) had been driving down down the road and saw the barn where Mass was occurring on fire, with flames leaping off the roof. Turns out, he ran into the building to warn anyone inside and found Mass was taking place.
One of my favorites has to do with that saintly nun, Mother Teresa, who developed a keen sensitivity to Jesus's presence in the Eucharist while adoring him with her sisters for the first few hours of every day. One day, a bishop was walking Mother through the cathedral church while there was some construction taking place. When she entered the church, Mother genuflected, something Catholics do when they enter the presence of the Eucharist, since Jesus, the King, is present. The bishop corrected Mother, pointing out to her that because of the construction, all the hosts had been removed from the tabernacle. Even the red flame next to the tabernacle was not burning. Mother's response? "But he's here." "No, we always remove the hosts from the tabernacle before allowing construction." "But he's here." The bishop and the nun walked the length of the church, up to the tabernacle, and peered inside. A single host had somehow fallen out of the ciborium and remained in the tabernacle. Jesus was there, just like Mother said.
Eventually, I'll have to share with you more about the Eucharistic miracles that have occurred over the centuries, but for now, I should sign off.
May the peace of Christ and the fire of the Holy Spirit be upon you and your family,
July 7, 2010
Hi Pastor Tobe,
No, I haven't heard of this person/group. Could you send me a link? Also, before you share any part of our exchange, it might be good to create a Word document of the emails, just so we can clarify exactly precisely what emails each of us agrees to make public. I've started one, but need to add our most recent exchanges to it. I'll send it to you this evening.
By the way...sorry for all the typos in that last email I sent to you. Also, I meant to reference one verse in regard to Jesus's meaning in John 6:63. That would be Matthew 16:17:
17And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. (KJV)
This is another place where Jesus refers to the incapability of the flesh (i.e. human reasoning, etc.) to understand (or reason its way to) the divine mysteries that Jesus is sharing. It is the Spirit and the Father who reveal divine truth through the coming of the Son, and through the Words of Life preached by that Son.
I believe there are other places in Scripture where "flesh" is used in a similar way. These places provide the necessary context for understanding Jesus's language in John 6:63.
Jesus can not be saying: "Eat my flesh and drink my blood...my flesh is worthless." We know that Christ's flesh is not worthless.
There are two fleshes that Jesus is referring to in John 6. "My flesh" which he commands us to eat, and "the flesh" which profits nothing in understanding the mystery Jesus had just shared. The disciples understood Jesus to be speaking literally, and he just let them walk away, something he never would have let them do had they merely misunderstood him.
In the Lamb,
July 8, 2010
Hi Pastor Tobe,
Peace be with you.
As promised, I'm attaching all of our correspondence so far as a PDF file.
By the way, I meant to ask - what makes you think that your correspondent is one of my readers?
I hope this email finds you well.
July 8, 2010
Hi there, Pastor Tobe,
No problem - I understand about being busy. I'll be leaving soon for a couple weeks myself, though I'll have limited internet access in case you have quick questions or comments.
Actually, I don't know anyone who I would recommend for guitar lessons. Sorry! (And, sorry that I forgot to answer your question before!) I'm pretty new to the area and do not know who teaches around here.
July 10, 2010
Hi Pastor Tobe,
Short on time, but I'll try to throw in a few comments in line...
Once again, I have to take issue with your insistence on "one time." Christ's offering is the only offering that has ever been sufficient to save mankind. But your understanding of the temporality of this offering is too narrow. The offering of Calvary is happening at this precise moment of human history as Christ offers himself before the throne of God in Heaven.
The Eucharist is Jesus, so yes. See John 6 "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life within you." Only Jesus is required for salvation, but not Jesus in a reductive sense. Everything the Catholic Church proposes for our belief and action is directly tied to Jesus. But the Catholic Church does not try to distill out of Christianity all of the things that Jesus taught the apostles (not all of which were written down, but all of which we are commanded to follow) regarding correct beliefs, worship, and morality.
What kind of faith is it that specifically denies a teaching of our Lord? That is not true faith. True faith is obedient faith. True faith isn't faith in whatever I think the Bible means. It is faith in what has been authoritatively proclaimed by Christ and those whom Christ has appointed as his representatives. This faith, mind you, is 100% in accordance with Scripture, though perhaps not with your private, fallible interpretation of Scripture.
Case and point: no where does the Bible say that faith alone can save man. The Bible says lots of things are necessary in addition to faith, including acts of charity. (These acts, let it be noted, are wrought 100% by God's grace working through the Christian.) The Bible says that of faith, hope, and love, the greatest is....love! But why would love be the greatest if we can do without it to get into heaven? The Eucharist is the sacrament of love between Christ and his Bride.
Where you try to separate the Eucharist from the resurrection, the early church actually connected the Eucharist with the resurrection. The Eucharist was the very presence of the resurrected Lord!
I think another problematic word that maybe needs to be discussed more is "sufficient."
After all, in Colossians, St. Paul speaks of something that is lacking in Christ's suffering.
St. Paul reveals the mystery to how we can speak of Christ's suffering as lacking: Christ's suffering will be lacking until his Bride has entered fully into it. By entering into Christ's suffering, St. Paul's own suffering gained something for Christ's body, the Church.
That being said, everything that is salvific for man is so in connection with or as an application of the sacrifice on Calvary. There is no saving grace that comes from anywhere else other than Jesus Christ.
The question is: HOW DOES THAT GRACE GET APPLIED TO THE SOUL?
You accuse the Catholic Church of adding the ritual of the Mass to connect with the grace of Calvary. But certainly, people have to do something to connect with this grace, do they not? Whatever that thing is, be it saying a prayer, making an alter call, etc., does that thing not add some "garb of religious ceremony" to Calvary?
Turns out, Jesus wants all of us to be added to Calvary, and only THEN will Calvary be complete. We humans bring with us all the richness of our religious ceremonies, since we recognize that through these rituals we participate in the one sacrificial act that has saved mankind, and we commune with the one God who holds the universe in existence by his word of power. These rituals are, on the one hand, man's response to the mind-blowing, spirit-filling awesomeness of these encounters with God. At the same time, the early Christians looked to the book of Revelation as a model for their "religious ceremony." The "garb" of revelation looked a bit like this: incense, "Holy Holy Holy," alters, angels, men in robes, the breaking open of the scrolls, a Lamb standing though slain, and a marriage banquet of the Lamb. That, my friend, is the Mass in heaven - it is heaven's liturgy! Our earth-bound religious ceremonies are an entering-in to this eternal worship of the people of God in heaven. After all, the Church is One - one not only in space and time on earth but one with every person who has ever died in the friendship of God. The Church's liturgy is actually a single liturgy that we all participate in together.
The early church fathers should not be read as a substitute for the NT. Only the OT and NT are the inspired, inerrant written Word of God.
The point is about interpretation: how did those who studied with the writers of the NT actually understand Christianity? Their understanding of Christianity, I would argue, was received from their teachers and passed on through the centuries to us today.
Remember: St. Paul probably wrote most of his books in a day or two. But he preached to the early churches for months and years at a time. They had hundreds of times more information from the apostles than we have access to through the Bible.
These fathers have what we could call a "unanimous consent:" not always an absolute consent, but close enough to it to where we can know with great certainty what the early church believed.
Only if you presuppose that the Eucharist is not Jesus.
Calvary was a “physical practice” for salvation. Also, the Catholic position harmonizes Scriptures better than any other interpretive tradition. But, don't take my word for it. Try on the interpretive glasses for yourself!
Why it's my favorite gospel! I'd love to!
The rest I'll have to answer at another time. Sorry!
Peace be with you!
July 11, 2010
Hi there, Pastor Tobe,
Peace be with you!
As usual, responses are in line...
Upon re-reading, I wish I would have stated my position using the exact phrasing of Scripture, which tends to use a passive verb construction: "no where does the the Bible say that man is saved by faith alone." As long as you read both statements as meaning the same thing, then I guess we're okay. The basic idea is that, normatively speaking, we are justified by faith and works. This does not mean that someone who converts on their deathbed will not be saved because they can not possible complete any good works (God would know from their heart that they would if they could). So, if we can agree that we are speaking in normative terms, we can move on...
It is not a cliché - the statement is a result of my searching the Scriptures to find out if what you say is true, and not coming up with any evidence. In fact, the one time that I find the words "faith alone"...well, I guess I shouldn't burden you with another cliché from Scripture.
Also, a straw-man argument (really, it is more of a style of argumentation that applies to the way many arguments come together) usually involves setting up something that doesn't correspond to reality, such as an understanding of a Church that doesn't really correspond to what that Church believes, so as to be able to more easily (but only apparently) knock it down.
My statement, in contrast, is one premise of a two-premise (with one supporting minor premise) syllogism. Syllogisms rely on a kind of propositional logic, so they don't usually fall under the type of argumentation that qualifies as a "straw man." Here is the syllogism:
Major premise (taken from Protestants): I only believe what the Bible teaches.
Minor premise: The Bible nowhere teaches that man is justified or saved by faith alone.
Extra supporting premise: The Bible specifically teaches that man is "not justified by faith alone."
Conclusion: I believe that man is not justified/saved by faith alone.
To refute this argument, you must take issue either with the terms, the premises, or the logic. I believe all three are sound.
Sorry, but the word "alone" IS there, in James! And James specifically says that a faith without works is a dead faith, a faith that can not save you. Then, he positively affirms that man is justified by (good) works. He points to Abraham as his model, just like Paul does. The NT cites Abraham as having been justified at least three separate times, supporting the Catholic position that justification is an ongoing process.
Further, Paul's argument about faith can not be disconnected from obedience (which he connects to faith in Romans) and works of charity (which he connects to faith in Galatians). Paul never once applied the word "alone" to faith. He understood faith to include these other two things. If you do as well, then our positions are actually very much in common. Even Pope Benedict said in a recent weekly audience that if by faith, we have in mind the works of love connected with and flowing through a life of faith, then a Christian can say we are saved by faith alone.
The problem comes when one tries to argue that faith alone, apart from living a life of love, can justify man.
Okay, so back to the argument...
I'm afraid we're not comparing apples with apples here, considering that the questions involved in interpreting Genesis 1 are quite different from those involved in understanding justification and the language of NT writers on this topic.
The argument you seem to be making is:
Major premise: The existence of many Bible verses that speak about a topic provide reason to interpret this topic in exclusive terms, even if these terms are not found in the verses themselves. Quantity of verses, in these cases, substitutes for the need to use the exclusive term.
Minor premise: "many passages say that man is saved by faith."
Conclusion: man is saved by faith alone
I don't deny your minor premise. I think the major premise is weak beyond repair.
Further, the major premise is an interpretive principle, so once again, you are trying to convince me of your interpretation of Scripture. To which I ask: are you an authoritative interpreter of the Bible? If you interpretation has no authority over me, than why are you so insistent about it, especially when the Holy Spirit has led me to a different interpretation?
Finally, the very act of pointing out one set of verses to the exclusion of another set is the very act of "equalizing" that I discussed in my last email.
I agree with every single passage of the Bible when properly interpreted. I do not find your interpretation to be the one that makes the most sense of the Bible as a whole.
In offering this verse, you are putting the focus and support behind your minor premise. BUT THAT IS THE PREMISE I AGREE WITH! To convince me, you need to convince me of your major (and unspoken) premise, which is your interpretive principle.
The Catholic Church agrees with your above sentence 100%. I've read Pope Benedict preaching the exact same thing!
This is where you misread James. James presupposes that there is such a thing as faith without works. But this faith is dead, in that it doesn't lead to salvation. But it is still real faith. A dead body is still a real body, just as dead faith is still real faith.
No, James never says that a "dead faith" is not faith at all. If you believe so, please point to the precise verse where James makes this statement. Is a dead body not a real body?
I never made this assumption, because in my experience, fundamentalists believe the opposite, and thus are much closer to Catholics than they realize.
In most cases, the point that keeps us divided is not the nature of faith. We both agree that this has to be a faith that proves itself in love as the Father works through us by his grace.
The question seems to be, does God reckon these good works, accomplished through us by his grace, as righteousness? Can we grow as children of God not just by believing in him but by allowing his grace to work through our lives?
Most Christians, caught off guard, would probably answer "yes" to the questions above without even realizing that it is a "no" answer on the part of a handful of theologians that is keeping Christianity so divided. The Catholic Church answers a strong "Yes!" Our faith is grounds for our justification, but so are the works that presuppose a life of faith and are a result of it. Works without faith=no justification.
That is why it is such a lie when people accuse the Catholic Church of preaching a gospel of works. The Catholic Church always says faith+works, because that is the very thing the Bible teaches and the apostles taught to the early church. Works separated from faith is just as dead as faith separated from works.
Preach it, brother! (Of course, this is the verse I quoted you in your parking lot...Jesus didn't just die on the cross for our sins, but also had to be raised.)
No mention of the Trinity either.
Look, you know as well as I that not every verse of Scripture addresses every truth a Christian must believe.
Here is the fact:
1) Some verses say we must believe to be saved.
2) Others say we must believe and be baptized to be saved.
3) Other verses say we must be baptized to be saved.
The Catholic Church says: "all of the above."
You seem to be telling me only option #1.
I'm going with all of the above unless you show me that you your interpretation of Scripture also accounts well for options #2 and #3.
Sorry, but there is no absence of other requirements.
I'm attaching a tract that I wrote that lists a few of them.
Yours in Christ,
July 11, 2010
Hello Pastor Tobe,
Peace be with you!
Five minutes, and then I'll cut myself off. (Must keep packing for a trip to Boston.)
A majority (I'm not sure if there is one) doesn't prove "alone."
If I said:
"I love cake.
I love cake.
I love cake.
I love cake."
Does this "prove" that I don't love pie?
"minor terms along with faith" Oh, so you DO see that other things are mentioned? Where in Scripture are these things called “minor” when they are added? Or, is this addition of "minor" a result of your interpretive tradition?
The early church did not understand baptism this way. Can you not see that you are having to do a dance to get "baptism" to mean something other than what it means all through the Bible? Jesus was "baptized." The apostles went out and "baptized." 3,000 people were "baptized." Believe and be "baptized" (as if they are two different things).
Paul himself used baptism to discuss that act of being immersed in water, which the church has always understood to be connected with spirit. Water and spirit are inseparable all throughout Scripture. I wrote a blog entry on this here.
There is so much more to say about baptism, but my time is almost up.
Please, by all means, show me an Early Church Father that explicitly denies any teaching of the Catholic Church.
There was no break. You can even see in Acts, the early church without discussion replaced Judas, saying (KJV): "let his bishopric another take." The church understood very well (from places like Matthew 16 and elsewhere) what the structure of Christ's kingdom would be. Thus, when you get to the early church, the hierarchical structure is just assumed. As early as Clement I of Rome (the third successor to occupy the bishopric of Peter), you see Clement claiming authority over Christians in a church outside of his immediate jurisdiction, when he writes that famous letter to those rascally Corinthians. Where are the shouts? Where is the outcry: "how dare this local pastor over in Rome try to claim authority over us!"
My dear friend - the early church was Catholic! St. John's own student was the first to call the worldwide church the Catholic Church, which St. Ignatius around 110 A.D., and he specifically said that this Church is found wherever the bishop is found. The church was held together by its pastors, who occupied offices that remained even after their occupant died. The successors of the apostles have provided a constant witness throughout history to Jesus's passion, death, and resurrection, because they are the successors of the witnesses who knew Christ personally.
Evidence, please? Is this description formed by reading the early church fathers? Or, is this how you imagine the early church based on what you read in the Bible? The Bible doesn't actually tell us too much about what these early church gatherings were like. Sure, they met in homes, but now our churches have become so big that we communally buy a house in which to worship.
Have you read Justin Martryr's First Apology? This letter to describes what the worship of the first century church looked like in great detail.
The Bible does tell us that the early church worshipped on the first day of the week, the Lord's Day, and that they celebrated the breaking of the bread every time that gathered for worship.
I count intellectual abilities as dung, because they are just as apt to lead me away from God as to God. The truth comes through being obedient to Christ's authority, not by being smart. I highly - HIGHLY - respect how obedient you are to how you read God's written Word, even if I think that you might be misreading it at times. Of course, we are both sinners, and we both need to rely completely on God's grace in our own lives.
That's just it - I don't see your theology as being that clear, because it finds itself in contradiction with Scripture. Out of love for you, and love for Jesus Christ who wants you and I to be perfectly unified, I am happy to continue sharing my faith with you so that any misunderstandings can be torn down, hurts forgiven, and love and truth amplified so that the world may believe (John 17).
Faith was never simple. Just ask Abraham, the NT model of faith.
Here is a touch of fuzziness. You are not defining what type of works you are speaking about. If it is works apart from faith, then I've said over and over that I agree with you. If it is works that come from faith, then I've said that these are works that are a result of God's grace, but through these works, we become more in communion with God. And being in communion with God is indeed grace inducing. You are putting far more emphasis on the works that Catholics do.
And here we get to a (possibly major) point of contention. Once man is saved, we are no longer depraved. By being made one with Christ, it is possible for God to produce works through us that are acceptable to God. God perfects the works that Christ works through us, even if our human weaknesses tarnish them a bit. They are still God's grace through and through, helping us grow as his children through these works of love.
All things are possible with God.
Again, more fuzziness. We both agree that unsaved man's works are worthless, meritless, and can NEVER be used to obligate God to grant eternal life.
[After a 1-2 sentence conclusion, Pastor Witmer suddenly threw in a jab about the immaculate conception and “Popish perfection.”]
Could you explain the above points a bit more, if you are really interested in pursuing them?
May the peace of Christ and the Holy Spirit be with you this Lord's Day!
July 11, 2010
Hi Pastor Tobe,
As a follow-up, I'd like to take back what I said about my intellect, since I do think that our intellects are gifts from God.
What I was getting at, though, is that natural reasoning does reveal something of God's glory, though without the gift of faith, is just as likely to be used to deny God's glory.
In so far as our intellects are guided by God's grace, faith and reason are able to fit together perfectly. Christian truths will never contradict reason (though some go far beyond it) or the truths of our universe revealed by science.
Grace and peace!
July 11, 2010
Hi Pastor Tobe,
The usual... :)
We know we are saved because we rely on Christ's promises - his oaths that he swears on behalf of his bride, the church.
The Latin word for oath is sacramentum.
We base our assurance on Christ's promises that if we are born [anothen] of water and spirit through baptism (John 3), and if we confess our sins, and if we commune with Him in the Eucharist (John 6), then we will share eternal life with him in heaven.
Catholics have a very strong assurance of salvation, so long as they are living faithfully as Catholics. The only thing Catholics (and non-Catholics, for that matter) don't have is an absolute assurance of salvation, since none of us know for sure that we will not, by our own free will, decide before we die that we want no share in God's kingdom and turn to a life of serious sin and die unrepentant. It could happen, and it does happen all the time. (The irony is that when people who believe in eternal security see one of their own die unrepentant, they conclude he must not have been saved to begin with!) That is why the Bible says that only those who persevere to the end will be saved (Matt. 24:13).
What Catholics (and non-Catholics as well) do have is a strong, rock-solid moral assurance of salvation. Christ will remain faithful to his covenantal promises so long as we don't reject the gift of salvation. Christ himself baptizes us with water and spirit, performing a miraculous recreation of the human soul that is more stupendous than the entire first act of creation of the universe! We know that all of us who were baptized were baptized into Christ's death and resurrection (Romans 6). (I'll have to address the whole transliteration/translation argument later.)
We know through faith that when we commune with Christ in the Eucharist, Jesus's body and blood, soul and divinity draw us deep into the commune of the Trinity. Jesus has made this promise to us in John 6, and we see this promise played out in the upper room when he offers the blood of the new covenant. (This is the only place that Jesus uses the word covenant in all of the gospels.)
Because faithful Catholics base their assurance on things that they can be sure of - things they experience that involve both matter and grace, there is never a question of whether or not they have been initially saved. Jesus makes it very clear when and how he is performing that recreation of their soul. We know very clearly when those moments of full communion are occurring with Jesus.
And, so long as we faithful Catholics confess our sins, we know that Christ is faithful and forgives us. We even hear him say it with our own ears! I have heard many times Jesus say to me, "I absolve you of your sins." Actually being able to hear Jesus's voice and to see his hands raised above our heads gives faithful Catholics a strong assurance of forgiveness.
Moreover, as Catholics, we have been told what sins are serious sins. The moral order has been made clear to us, so we know that things like abortion, artificial contraception, divorce and remarriage, etc. are all gravely sinful and can destroy our relationship with God should we willfully choose to engage in any of these activities. Without a clear moral guide, many non-Catholics can not really be sure if they are living in accord with God's will. There is no reason a faithful Catholic ought to persistently doubt whether they are in a state of grace or not.
All that being said, we are not ultimately the judge of our own souls. We let God be our judge. As St. Paul once said, we don't know of any sins held against us, but we do not judge ourselves. We work out our salvation, with St. Paul, in fear and trembling (Phil 2:12-13). We tremble not that God will renege on his promises but that we will. We run the race, keeping our eyes firmly fixed on the finish line, knowing that if we decide to quit the race anytime before the end, we have run in vain. We do not claim to have a more absolute assurance of salvation than even St. Paul claimed for himself; St. Paul said that he makes his body a slave to the gospel so that after he has preached to others, he will not be disqualified from the prize (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
Finally, it is important to note that salvation is used in Scripture with three different tenses: past, present, and future. Having been saved in the past is no guarantee that I am saved right now or that I will be ultimately saved in the future in heaven. I wrote about this issue a bit here.
Sorry...I did indeed take a shortcut by sending you the tract that I wrote on this issue. Did you read it? I comment plenty on eternal security in the tract.
Look closely at your sentence above. There are ambiguities. Are you speaking of an absolute or a moral assurance of salvation? Nobody has an absolute assurance of salvation apart from a special revelation of God to that individual person. Even St. Paul didn't presume that heaven was a done deal for him.
On the other hand, every single person in the world has a moral assurance of salvation so long as they accept Christ's promises through faith and baptism.
Many Catholics either: 1) don't know their faith well, 2) aren't interested in really "getting in to it," 3) aren't practicing their faith right now, or 4) don't understand how to share their faith with someone who comes from a different faith background. All four situations are sad to me, especially the first and third, which are usually related.
By the way, have you studied much of what is called "covenantal theology?" Also, are you familiar with the expression "the eighth day?"
Finally, if you would like to talk about eternal security, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts about John 15:2-6 and Romans 11:20-22.
Yours in Christ,
July 16, 2010
Hi Pastor Tobe,
Thanks for your email. We just went to the first of two family reunions today. I've gotten to spend time with some extended family members who I haven't seen in fifteen years! I was also able to visit my grandfather's grave for the first time today, which was very special, given how close we were.
Rather than respond in line, I'll simply note the following:
First, I added the qualifier "living faithfully as" Catholics (rather than just plain Catholics) to ward off any attempt to attack Catholic doctrine based on the way it is practiced/believed by people who don't know or practice their faith well. I wasn't trying to put emphasis on the verb "living" as something that we do, rather than something that Christ accomplished. If you are trying to cite that as evidence regarding who I trust for my salvation, then please know that you have misunderstood what I was saying with those words and please accept my apologies for not being clearer!
At the same time, you seem to have no response for the way Catholics see themselves as participating in Calvary. If I said that there was "something lacking in Christ's suffering," can you imagine what your response would be? When I point out that St. Paul explicitly made this very point, does your response change?
The Catholic position: Christ suffered and rose for our salvation. By one man's disobedience, death came to all. By one man's obedience life came to all. The Bible could not be clearer, and Catholics believe this point made in Romans 5 through and through. But for the Catholic, Christ suffering makes it possible for us to enter into his suffering as his Bride. Christ's righteousness draws us in so that we become righteous, not on account of our own good works, completed apart from faith and grace, but rather on account of the good works that Christ performs through us that are made possible by faith. Faith must be always be present, but faith is not most important. Love is - the love of Christ poured out on the Cross and then poured out on the earth throughout space and time through his mystical body, the Church. The Church is the bride of Christ, which means she is mystically one with Him, who is her head. Christ and the Church are more one than you are with your wife. Your oneness will dissolve when one of you perish, but Christ's oneness with his bride is forever. Christ draws his bride into his divine life, which means that, far from excusing us from living by the laws of God, we are finally empowered, by God's grace, to live them. Far from our sufferings being meaningless, when united with Christ's passion, they become grace-filled and spiritually efficacious for ourselves and others.
The fact of the matter is: you do not believe Christ's death and resurrection is sufficient either, if you are to honestly hold your system to the same standard you hold mine. If it was, then every single person would have been saved. After all, if Christ's death and resurrection can redeem the whole world, could it not also save the whole world so that everyone could go to heaven? "No!" both of us would agree. But then, what is the difference between someone who is saved and someone who is not? You would probably say that the person who is saved has faith. But having faith is really an act of the mind and will, both of which ascent to the existence of a personal, loving savior who offered his life on the cross for our salvation and who claims authority over our lives. You might also say that one "must confess with one's lips."
This act of mind, will, and lips is just that...an act.
And, it is an act that I could turn around and accuse you of adding to Calvary.
But, I would be wrong.
Because the question that is not getting addressed in all of this is: how does the grace of Calvary get applied to the souls of individual Christians? How many channels are there, and what is the nature of these channels?
We both agree that all grace is a free gift from God alone, and that our salvation is through Christ alone, won for us by his sacrifice on Calvary.
I think it simply isn't fair to tell Catholics that we are adding to Calvary by suggesting that there exist channels of this grace to our souls just because you don't believe in those channels. Actually, one would think that the more channels, the better, assuming these channels were instituted by Christ. I've been focusing on showing from Scripture and the early church that these channels (such as the Eucharist) are indeed powerful channels of divine grace that bring Jesus and his Bride into direct contact. In regard to the Eucharist, St. Paul himself notes that it is through this "one bread" that we are made "one body." It is only St. Paul who develops the idea (in Ephesians) of the Church being the "body." So, if we read Scripture in context of Scripture, there seems to be a relationship in Paul's mind between the Eucharist and the unity of the Church. The early church fathers (such as St. John's student Ignatius of Antioch) confirm this by tying the Eucharist together with the unity of Christians.
(Ignatius, by the way, was chosen to succeed St. Peter as the bishop of Antioch when St. Peter left for Rome.)
I'm not sure what you mean by "you need to add to that offering yourself..." I have nothing to add to Christ's offering but myself, in the sense that I need to be added to Christ to be saved. I must become a member of Christ. But this "adding" is something Christ does. Christ adds me to himself. Christ writes my name in the Lamb's Book of Life. Christ baptizes me and makes himself present to me in his fullness through the sacraments. It is Christ doing the working. All I have to do is show up, mind and body together, and say "Yes, Lord." Christ does the rest. But he does so in a way that is rich, wonderful, and beautiful. Christ pours his grace upon the earth in a manner more like a Symphony in C Major rather than a simple C Major chord, strummed over and over again. But the whole symphony is Christ's composition. And, is it ever beautiful!
You speak of "Biblical Salvation," and I keep reading "how Pastor Tobe interprets Biblical Salvation." The Bible needs to be interpreted, and I need to know why I should trust your interpretation over my own. Why should I trust your "equalization" of Scripture over any other denomination's? Why should I trust any new, novel interpretation of Scripture than the one that has been passed down from the beginning?
You ask me to come to an honest admission, yet I'm being honest! I trust Christ (and with him, the Holy Trinity) alone for my salvation. Living faithfully as a Catholic MEANS TRUSTING IN CHRIST ALONE! If I trust anything other than Christ, then I am not living faithfully as a Catholic. I can't help the fact that you have pitted faithful Catholics against trusting in Christ alone, but I can witness to you as a Catholic that this is simply a misconception. I would think that you would be GLAD to learn that is a misconception. Further, if you met Catholics who trust in something other than Christ alone, then I invite you to correct them by letting them know that they are not really a faithful Catholic in this regard.
In your case, I think that this wedge between being a "faithful Catholic" and trusting Christ alone is supported by a number of other wedges, such as that between "faith and works," "water and Spirit," "the Bread of Life and Jesus," etc. But all of these wedges are false dichotomies that don't actually exist in Scripture. Scripture joins faith and works, water and Spirit, and Jesus himself says "I am the Bread of Life...He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him." Many Protestant converts to the Catholic Church speak of a moment when they realized that the Bible treats many things as a both/and where Protestant theology tried to make them an "either/or." From a Catholic perspective, it is clear that you are seeing things as "either/or" rather than "both/and." That is why you are pitting "Calvary" against the channels that apply the grace of Calvary to the souls of Christians. But, I would think obviously, the grace and its channels can not be separated, or else this grace would save no one! (Thus, my argument that you are separating them only arbitrarily, keeping the channels that you agree with while counting those you don't agree with as "adding to the sufficiency of Calvary.")
Okay, on to your second paragraph, which I think I'll respond to in line to keep things more succinct...
To be clear, "perseverance" must be connected with our human experience of time. When the Bible speaks of "perseverance," it is connecting two time points: initial salvation and death/judgment. Those who persevere are both initially saved during their life and then finally saved at their particular judgement after they die. Those who do not persevere may have been initially saved during their life but then, for some reason, are not found in the Lamb's Book of Life when they face their individual, particular judgement when they die. None of this has to do with questioning the doctrine of salvation by grace. The central question is, once someone has been saved by grace, can they, by an act of their will, choose to reject saving grace in one way or another and ultimately choose hell?
Here, you are speaking about initial salvation. I would simply add: ...and baptism. (See my point about his in my previous email. See also the Scripture verses that say "faith and baptism.")
Agreed. Here, the focus is still on Initial Salvation.
Again, you skirt the issue of interpretation by saying "The Biblical understanding...." The Bible doesn't understand things. "Bible" means "books." It is a collection of words on a page that must be understood BY A PERSON who interprets it. You can speak about a Biblical meaning, but this meaning must come into being through an act of interpretation.
This issue of God's sovereignty in connection with the nature of our Free Will is a complicated one. I think a line is crossed, however, when one's theology inadequately fails to uphold both idea God's sovereignty and our free wills.
Yes, but we still can choose to reject the gifts and callings, even after we have received initial salvation.
Here, the Evangelicals who read Luke 8 in this way (not all of them do, as your statement implies) are offering a messy interpretation. There is nothing in the text that tries to distinguish one type of "planting" from another.
Some seeds are not planted.
Others are planted but do not yield fruit, because of the dryness of the soil or the thorns.
Others are planted and do yield fruit.
The difference in the text is not in the planting, but in the quality of the soil that tends to the seed after it has been planted.
Jesus himself points out in Luke 8:13 that those whose seed is planted in rock "receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away." Notice: "they believe." Jesus is accepting the fact that they have faith. But, they "fall away." Why? Because in the time of testing, their faith does not produce fruits, in this case (we might presume) the fruits of obedience and charity in the face of adversity.
Only people who are committed to an idea that it is impossible to have authentically "believed" and then to "fall away" find themselves doing a dance in Luke 8, as the Evangelicals you cite are doing. Do you see how they are moving the distinction away from the quality of the soil to the quality of the planting itself, thus the distinction between "genuine salvation" and (as implied) "non-genuine salvation"? The text itself, rather, seems to assume that both plantings are genuine. It is what happens after the plantings that determines whether or not the plant will be kept or pruned and thrown into the fire. This is the issue of perseverance. Only those who persevere will be saved. But the thing we are persevering in is NOT GOOD WORKS APART FROM GRACE. The thing we persevere in is being willfully connected with grace. And this grace continuously shows itself in our faith and in our works of love which this grace itself produces in our lives. It is 100% grace through and through.
The issue, by the way, of the assurance of salvation is that none of us have a crystal ball to look into the future to see if we fall away. These same Evangelicals who say "you can know today..." are just as quick 10 years from today to say "his faith must not have been genuine..." So, as I state on my blog, to know today that you have genuine faith must mean (according to the logic of these Evangelicals) that you know the future. Otherwise, you have no absolute assurance of salvation.
This supports the Catholic position even further. You have to persevere in producing good fruits and in doing the will of the Father to enter the kingdom of heaven (verse 21).
As for the other links, I'll have to check them out later.
Time for bed!
Grace and peace to you, my friend,
December 25, 2010
Dear Pastor Tobe,
I hope this email finds you well. I just wanted to write to assure you of my constant prayers and my wish for you and your family of a blessed and holy Christmas. May the peace of the infant Jesus dwell deep in your heart.
ps. Let me know if you are still looking for a guitar teacher. I have a recommendation for you.
March 11, 2010
Hi Pastor Witmer,
Thanks for reading my blog!
Please know that I have read dozens of articles against the Immaculate Conception.
Now, have you researched why people who believe in Mary's Immaculate Conception believe this doctrine, and the scriptural basis for it?
Remember: many pastors like yourself have converted to Catholicism and find the Immaculate Conception to be perfectly in line with Scripture. How could this be? What are they thinking?
I can assure you that nothing about the Immaculate Conception contradicts anything in the Bible. This is the only way that so many Bible Christians were able to join the Catholic Church in good faith. Your position forces you to assume bad faith (or sheer ignorance) on the part of these converts. Also, I'd rather see you argue against what the Church actually teaches than what you think the Church teaches.
Regarding the verses you quote, I believe that some (perhaps all) of these are being taken out of context. For instance, a common verse cited is Romans 3:10-12. But notice that Paul is citing Psalm 53, and in doing so, calls the entire psalm to the minds of his Jewish readers. Psalm 53 makes a clear distinction between those who are unrighteous and God's chosen people. Paul is not saying that saved people are unrighteous or wicked or children of the devil. Far from it! Paul is actually pointing out that to be part of God's family is not a result of the works of the law, but rather that we are justified (made into a child of God) through faith. The Law condemns, making those that depend on the Law part of the "there is none righteous" group. Jews or Gentiles that have faith in Christ are, through this same faith, made members of the other group, those who are made righteous by the blood of Christ.
Regarding Mary, of course Mary needed a savior! The Catholic Church teaches that Mary needed a savior just like you and I. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception simply teaches that Mary was saved in a unique way: she was saved before she fell into the snares of any original or personal sin. Who saved her in this special and unique way? God did. So, to whom goes the glory for the Immaculate Conception? God and God alone. And who is robbed of proper glory by denying the Immaculate Conception? Also, God and God alone. God saved me from using cocaine and from adultery. But he saved me by never letting me fall into these sins. This is a more perfect and glorious mode of salvation than if God had let me fall into these sins and then saved me from them. We will all one day be perfectly immaculate before God. Mary was simply saved from sin from the moment of her existence, in part as the first fruits of Christ's saving work and as a sign of hope to those of us still under the reign of sin, and in part as a fitting way for Christ, the New Adam, to honor and love his Mother, the New Eve, the New Ark of the Covenant, the Woman first spoken of in Gen. 3:15. In Gen. 3:15, we hear of this Woman in what is called the protoevangelium. God says that HE will place ENMITY (total or complete separation and opposition) between Satan and the Woman, between his seed (those who are unrighteous) and hers (those who are righteous in Christ). In Luke, Mary is named by the angel Gabriele as "kecharitomene." When someone is addressed with a new name in the Bible, this always says something about that person. "Kecharitomene" is a complex word meaning much more than just "full of grace," as St. Jerome first translated it in the Latin vulgate. The term also implies temporal fullness, such that Mary is full of grace from the beginning to the end. Luke points out at the beginning of his Gospel how Mary is the "ark of the Lord" (through a series of parallels with the OT ark in 1 Samuel). If the OT ark was touched, the person who defiled the ark was immediately struck dead. How much more would God protect the NT ark, his own mother Mary, from ever being defiled by the work of Satan?
God originally created man immaculately, and if it were not for Adam and Eve's sin, all of mankind would have been immaculately conceived. The Immaculate Conception of Mary is fitting in that she is the New Eve, and as the Church has taught since Her beginning, it was through Mary's obedience that the knot of sin and death could be untied by the coming of the New Adam.
There is so much to be said about Mary, but underneath all the ideas, scriptures, and doctrines is a woman. The Woman. And this Woman is your mother, given to you, me, and all the brothers and sisters of Christ to be our spiritual mother. This is a Woman I know and love deeply. As an imitator of Christ, I imitate Christ by loving the person he loved: his mother. I would ask you, Pastor Witmer: do you have a relationship with your Mother, Mary? Have you paused to simply say "I love you, Mom"? Christ wants us to have a loving relationship with Mary, and it is through his sole mediatorship that each member of Christ's mystical body can be in a loving, spiritual relationship with all the others, including his Mother. That is why we can profitably pray for one another. We can intercede for one another, and we do so because of Christ is the sole intercessor, and we are in Christ. Through Christ, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, of whom Mary is certainly a member, and she prays for us and points us toward her son. "Do whatever he tells you" is her simple command, one that has echoed through the centuries since the wedding feast at Cana. Mary is fully alive in Christ, and Mary loves us so much that she has even appeared to many of her children throughout the centuries. Each of these appearances has been (and continues to be) accompanied by many miracles. In Fatima, Portugal, Mary's appearance to three shepherd children was accompanied by the famous "miracle of the sun," witnessed by over 70,000 people. In Guadalupe, Mexico, Mary appeared to Juan Diego, to whom she gave a message for the bishop, instructing him to build a cathedral church. When Juan Diego delivered that message, a miraculous image of the blessed virgin was imprinted on Diego's tilma (a coat made of cactus fibers), and that coat remains intact to this day--over 500 years later, despite the fact that these coats usually disintegrate in fewer than 10 years, being made of organic material. In Lourdes, France, our Lady appeared to the young St. Bernadette. When St. Bernadette asked the woman to identify herself, she said, "I am the Immaculate Conception." Hundreds of people have been healed in the waters of the grotto where Mary first appeared.
Now, none of this is to say that Mary has any powers in and of herself. Never! What we see here is the very power of God manifest through someone who has completely submitted herself to God's will--someone who is truly a handmaid of the Lord. God is so powerful that he could do everything himself, but God so wonderfully invites us, his children, to help him administer salvation to the world. We are all mediators in the one mediator, precisely by being members of Christ's mystical body. We all participate in the sole redeeming work of Christ by ministering his redemption to those we meet. In short, we are all co-mediators and co-redeemers, but only by being a member of Christ's mystical body. We are all called to be little Marys, pointing the way to Christ. In pointing out that Mary is co-redemptrix, the Church is merely lifting up a model that Christ has given us to imitate. Further, Mary is given this title because she participated in redemption in a unique way. Through her yes to God, God became man and dwelt among us. Thus, the fullness of Grace, Jesus Christ, was made available to us, by God's grace and providential design, through Mary's fiat. Thus, Mary earns the title co-redemtrix (the -trix being the feminine ending), though we are all called to be co-redeemers in Christ, the sole redeemer. Not a single person is saved by Mary. But, we are all saved through Mary, and through your work as a pastor, and through my parents who raised me as a Christian. But Mary, you, and my parents don't detract from Christ's redemption. Rather, they are the very means through which Christ's redemptive work is communicated to me (through my parents), to your congregants (through your work as a pastor), and to the whole world (through Mary's fiat and motherhood of God). This is not idolatry. This is God's plan.
I'm sorry that you think the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was contrived by the Catholic Church. It was not. It is found in Scripture and has been passed down and reinforced by the Church's Sacred Tradition. Also, the Scriptures I have cited are far vaster than the first three chapters of Romans. I have cited Scriptures from Genesis, Psalms, 1 Samuel, Luke, John, and Romans. I could include Revelation by pointing out how John describes the ark in heaven: a woman crowned with 12 stars who gives birth to the Messiah. Who could this woman be? Who has the Church always understood her to be?
Wow. There remains so much to be shared. But I should probably get back to my labors, though one can hardly call listening to beautiful music "labor."
For more on the Mary, see this beautiful series by Mark Shea (author of the book on your shelf that I recommend you read first):
Speaking of music, did you ever find a guitar teacher?
March 11, 2011
Dear Pastor Witmer,
I hope you are doing well! I just wanted to wish you and your family a happy and holy Lent.
I thought of our discussions the other day as I was listening to the recent guest sermon "the Unchangeable High Priest." The refrain I had in my mind as I listened was how Catholic the teaching was, but that he just needed to take the thoughts one step further. For instance, when the Bible says that Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world, does this only mean that he "loved us from the beginning of the world"? (The pastor seemed to empty the phrase of its spiritual import.) Further, if Christ is our universal High Priest, is His priesthood universal in space and time, and if so, what is Jesus offering in all places and times, and how do we participate in that offering? Anyway, no response needed, but I did wonder if you were thinking more about what I shared with you during this guest sermon.
By the way, have you had a chance to read any of the books that I left with you? If not, no worries!
I hope your progress on your Masters degree is coming along well. I've been busy with work myself these last 7-8 months, but I've enjoyed visiting your website lately all the same.
May God bless you this Lenten season!
In the Savior,
March 12, 2011
Hi Pastor Witmer,
I forgot to respond to your first email. My apologies!
Just a couple quick points, before getting back to work...
First: CONGRATULATIONS! I know the feeling of finishing a degree well, and there is nothing quite like that exhilarating sense of being done. I know that you worked very hard to earn this degree, especially given your responsibilities as a minister and father. To God be all glory and thanksgiving for giving you the grace and strength to persevere to the end!
Second, just a quick comment on the early church fathers:
First, I'm glad that you've taken some time to really dig in to these writers, and I'm glad that you find them at odds with your understanding of salvation. Here, we are in agreement. However, the challenge before you is not to prove that all the early church fathers were card-carrying fundamentalist Baptists. The real challenge can be summed up in the following questions. (Each of these questions assumes that Jesus and the apostles taught your understanding of salvation.)
1. How did the apostles fail so miserably to appoint successors in positions of authority in the early church that would get the gospel message so wrong? How could the apostles have been so wrong and so naive? And how could the Holy Spirit, who had worked so powerfully through the apostles, have been somehow unable to prevent this catastrophe, one that would lead to the loss of the true faith for almost 1,500 years...and all this in spite of Jesus's promise that he would remain with the Church always and send the Holy Spirit to protect her?
2. How did the early church fathers get the gospel message so wrong but in the same way? (While there may be areas of disagreement, there is still an overwhelming "unanimous consent" around many doctrines.)
3. How did the successors of the apostles, many of whom studied with the apostles for decades, so easily and quickly and KNOWINGLY fall into dissent yet still joyfully endure martyrdom saying that they were bound by Christ to teach what the apostles had taught them?
4. If the early church really did fall that far and that fast, then how on earth do we trust all the doctrines that the early church formulated concerning things like the Trinity and even the books that were included in the Scriptures? After all, if there was an almost universal apostasy in the early church where students of the apostles decided not to pass on the apostles message, why should we trust that the books these same successors said should be in the Bible are the right books?
The reason I suggested you start by reading Mark Shea's book (By What Authority?) is because these are the very questions he addresses. Also, the book is the shortest and is an exceedingly good read. In it, Mark recounts how he dealt with these questions as an Evangelical Protestant Christian.
Remember - no one says that the early church father's writings are the same as Scripture. But these men do witness to the gospel message as preached by the apostles to the early church. Their writings are their testimony, and they stood by their testimony to their deaths. Given the evangelical emphasis (that we share) of witnessing to others, I'm glad that we are pausing to allow the students of the apostles witness to us. Now that we have received (and, I hope, continue to receive) their witness, we must, together, grapple with the challenging questions that I laid out above. Remember, we are in this pursuit of truth together, as brothers in the Lord!
Peace be with you, my friend!
March 12, 2011
Hi Pastor Witmer,
Wow...a lot here. Please see my responses in line in blue.
DS: Always do:) Please do likewise.
DS: Be careful. There is no contradiction between the idea of two things harmonizing yet being outside of one another. Secondly, the Catholic Church teaches about Mary both through Scripture (written tradition) and Tradition (oral tradition). St. Paul commanded that Christians follow both these sources of authority, and they do not contradict. Where in God's Word does it say that "There is no authority outside of the Bible?" God's Word comes to us in written and unwritten forms. Neither form can change and has never changed. Finally, to return to Mary, how can you say that my Maryology is taken outside Scripture when I've cited Scripture to support my beliefs? Did you miss when I cited Genesis? What does "enmity" mean? Did you miss when I cited Luke and 1 Samuel? How much more parallels should Luke have provided in pointing out that Mary was the New Ark? Did you miss when I discussed Gabriel's address to Mary as "kecharitomene"? What does this word mean to you? These lines of argument do not reflect Biblical eisegesis. I'm inviting you to grapple with Marian texts to see what they mean. Rather than engage, you simply accuse me of reading into the texts. How do you know until you engage the texts yourself?
No. I read that conclusion out of the fact that Mary is portrayed as the New Ark, the New Eve, and as "kecharitomene." But the Church is not based on the Bible alone. The Church also passes down the teachings of the Apostles in their fullness. None of these teachings contradict the Bible, but they do provide the right lens through which you can read the Bible. Unless you are ready to address the Scriptural basis for the New Ark, the New Eve, and have a different reading of "enmity" and "kecharitomene," then you haven't really engaged my arguments about Mary at all.
This is a flimsy charge if you are not willing/able to back it up with evidence that I'm doing so. Rather than cast grand accusations, I'd prefer that you engage the actual argument itself.
DS: I completely agree. The only authority the Catholic Church claims for itself is the authority of a mailman. They have been charged by God to faithfully deliver God's Word in its totality to every generation.
By limiting "God's Word," to the Bible, you have already claimed more authority for yourself than the Pope, since you have opened the envelope of God's word and rewritten part of the message. Indeed, this is a scary spiritual decision. Where in the Bible does it say that God's Word is only written?
Indeed. But how, oh how, can you ever imagine the apostle John as being gullible enough to appoint one of these grievous wolves to the highest position of authority in the church? And where is the outcry that occurred when these monumental changes in theology began spilling from the lips of these apostate teachers? If you stood up one Sunday and started preaching justification by faith and works, that the Eucharist is the very flesh and blood of our Savior, that Baptism saves, and that Mary loves us and wants to pray for us, can you imagine the scene of your church? Yet, the entire early church, led by the very people the apostles appointed, just easily slipped right off the cliff.
I think you need to spend some more time really soaking in the early church fathers. You so willingly paid lots of money to soak in the thoughts of your professors (who no doubt love the Lord and seek to follow him), but why not also try soaking in the thoughts of those very students of the apostles? Really listen to them and learn the way the think. Remember, they had the advantage 1) having the apostles as their teachers, 2) reading the scriptures in their original languages and 3) reading the Scriptures in the cultural context in which they were written.
Yet, you would still like me to trust your interpretation of Scripture of theirs? Absent any solid reason you can give me as to why, I'm afraid that I must remain Catholic.
Amen!!! I completely agree. But I don't buy that your understand of the Gospel is the gospel of Christ. You can assume that all day long, but you can't base a convincing argument on that premise. I don't buy it.
Yes on that last statement. But none of the early church fathers pit "pure grace" against baptism and the eucharist and good works. Baptism is an action of grace. The Eucharist is Jesus--pure grace--himself. Good works are the fruits of grace working through the believer. When God crowns our good works, he is crowning the work of himself through our lives, so no man can ever boast about good works. Good works are flat impossible apart from God working through us. This is the teaching of the Catholic Church today as it was when the church fathers were writing. Nothing has changed.
Yes - but Peter never once taught falsely. In fact, he failed to walk the talk. Have you ever done such a thing? I know I have...many times! But this is different from formal heresy.
I don't need to try. The Catichism teaches it. Simple as that.
But the gospel message is far more complex than salvation by grace alone. In other words, God's grace is not just an idea that lives in a vacuum. No - God's grace unfolds in human history in amazingly complex and wonderful ways. God's grace demands that we believe in everything God wants us to do and everything God wants us to believe. Every doctrine is a gift of grace. Every sacrament is the very action of grace. It is all grace. Grace alone, but not a grace that is alone. It is an active grace, not an idea. It is a person, not a concept. It is love, not a treatise. It is life-giving and family building, not a line drawn in the sand to separate Christians.
I agree. I trace the descendants by succession. So, in Rome, after Peter came Linus, Anacletus, Clement, and so on (beyond the reaches of my memory). When Peter left Antioch to join the persecuted Christians in Rome, he appointed St. Ignatius of Antioch, the first person to call the Church "Catholic" around the turn of the century (100 AD). St. Ignatius himself was a long time student of St. John and St. Polycarp (who was himself a student of St. John). Clement (the third successor after Peter) is likely the Clement named by St. Paul in his epistles. I know this is really new information, but these are the historical facts at the basis of my thinking. St. Paul said over and over to appoint men to continue preaching the gospel, and that is what all the apostles did. I think they did one heck of a good job. They chose people who would rather be eaten by lions than compromise the gospel.
I never said it offered proof of anything. I say they bear a overwhelmingly consistent witness to the early church's understanding of the God's Word. And I say that the people who did so are in a direct lineage of the apostles.
First, so few apostles actually put their message in the Bible. Why should we only be faithful to those who wrote something, especially when it is possible to know what all the others taught?
Secondly, where does the Bible say that the Word of God is only contained in the Bible? (If you can't answer that question, then not only are you following a non-Biblical premise, but you show that you are actually not following the Word of God that is found outside the Bible.)
Third, you seem entirely unable to recognize that there could possibly be a difference between what the Bible authors meant and what you interpret them to mean. The Bible has to be interpreted. You are simply asking me to buy your interpretation, but I do not. You'd like me to believe that you wear no fundamentalist glasses, but you have bookcases full of these glasses in your office. Why don't you see this? You say that if you lived on an island, you'd come to read the Bible the same way as if you never had a single book, a single teacher, a single sermon, a single tract. I say that people read the Bible on an island all the time and come to wildly different interpretations than you do. I know that this is the Achilles heal of your entire position, so I respect that you'd rather not address this point, but it is difficult to discuss the Bible if you can't acknowledge that you yourself may have a fallible interpretation of Scripture.
Fundamentalists may be independent of Catholic hierarchy, but not of hierarchy at all. You are your church's pastor, no? There are respected fundamentalist scholars who are more trustworthy than the disrespected ones, no?
I share the joy of being saved by grace alone with you. We are not arguing about grace alone. I believe that grace alone saves us. Nothing apart from God's grace can save us. If you expect me to believe that this is contrary to Catholic teaching, you'll have to show me. The fact that you expect me to take you at your word is really just an invitation to substitute one hierarchy (with the Pope at the top) for another (with you at the top).
Even better: wrestle with them.
I do. I also know that there are many Catholics who don't understand their faith well and are easy pickings for those evangelists who specifically target Catholics. I've never heard of a fundamentalist baptist who targets Presbyterians. Where is "Mission to Methodists"? At least you have some nice alliteration there! No, only the Catholics get targeted. It is sad that there was such a break-down in catechesis that these Catholics don't know how to defend their faith. Do you honestly believe that if these Catholics knew the Catholic faith and the Bible as well as I do (and frankly, I don't know it all that well myself) that they would be such easy pickings?
Secondly, remember that the Catholic Church's moral teachings are a lot harder to follow than those of most Protestant churches. Do you realize how many Protestants are actually living in mortal sin and are on a one-way track to hell, but are finding refuge in whatever Protestant church will shake their hand and assure them that they have nothing to fear, they aren't living in sin, and they have a one-way ticket to heaven?
"Darkness of RCC religion." You have no idea how wonderfully light it is. No idea at all. Read the saints. Read G.K. Chesterton. Visit Rome. Meet the Pope. Read the Pope's new book on Jesus (called by one respected Protestant scholar the best book on Jesus in many years). Any one of these things will shine a bright light on your dark suspicions about Catholicism.
Yes - I know people leave. And God only knows whether they left for good or bad reasons. I completely agree with Catholic convert and philosopher Peter Kreeft that "spirituality abhors a vacuum. If they aren't getting Jesus in a Catholic Church, they will move to a place that they do find Jesus." Not only do I not fault the people you have mentioned for doing so, if that was their motive and experience, I APPLAUD THEM. The fact is, there are some priests out there who have failed to show the love of Jesus to their congregations, and so these congregants rightly leave.
Now, this doesn't mean that these people were well informed about their faith. It also remains to be seen whether these people weren't offended by a priest and decided to leave. Ultimately, there choice to leave the Catholic Church is only something that God can judge.
But - but! - what we CAN judge are their reasons for leaving, at least the ones they share. I don't hope to impress you with the fact that a Protestant fundamentalist pastor would become Catholic. I hope to impress you with the reasons for this change. Likewise, I am more than happy to sit down with any of the people you have mentioned to hear and respond to the reasons they left. Ultimately, the goal is for all of us to reunite. We reunite by opening our minds and hearts to what we each believe, and to the reasons we believe it, and ultimately, through God's grace and in God's timing, by reconciling these reasons, and by forgiving each other for past wrong doing.
I believe you have misunderstood me. Like I said above, it is the reasons--and most especially the Biblical reasons--that I hope you find impressive, not the sheer fact that someone says they converted any which way. Neither of us will ever be impressed by the Biblical reasons someone presents for becoming Mormon. But, what you and I are presently discussing is the Biblical basis for Catholic teaching.
When I turn only to the Scriptures, I will be willfully turning away from the Scriptures that I know full well teach me to be obedient to the Church.
Thus, I can only invite you to stop being disobedient to the Scriptures yourself and submit yourself to the authority of Christ that he gives to his Church. "As the Father sent me, so I send you....He who hears you hears me. He who rejects you rejects me."
What I have a hard time finding is EVIDENCE. I am an evidence-based thinker. Also, I'm sorry to say, but I have not met that many educated Protestants. The few who are educated really disagree quite pointedly regarding this aspect of Christian history.
The Catholic Church has taught "grace alone" from the beginning. The Protestant reformation (and the break-away of the Anabaptists) did not occur over "grace alone." The breaks did occur over issues of authority, the nature of justification, and the role of the sacraments, as well as many other things, including simple in-fighting.
I have been studying the early church fathers since 1996, when I first learned about their writings. I don't claim they are absolutely united. But these generalizations are pretty much useless anyway. Where it gets interesting is when the questions become specific. What did each father teach about the Eucharist? About baptism? About infant baptism? About faith and good works? etc. etc. Both Protestant and Catholic scholars acknowledge a general agreement, and it is easily verifiable by careful reading of their writings, which, like I said, I have been doing for a while now.
Sorry. You seem to be dodging my questions with the "adding to salvation" theme. Take some more time to think them through.
That is completely up to you. From my perspective, you haven't really begun to engage. Feel free to take as much time as you need to work through the arguments I have presented. I learned long ago that conversions happen on the Holy Spirit's time, not my own. I happily back away. I will not contact you again for another six months.
I respect your decision, though I will continue to pray for you.
Again, I wish you would really engage to begin with, rather than simply respond to every argument with the same idea of "Grace alone, Christ alone." I completely agree with you that salvation is by grace alone through Christ alone. So does the Pope! (Read his book!) Let us rejoice in at least this area of unity!
I'm sorry you think that, given that I myself would willingly accept martyrdom rather than disobey the truth. I know that you must still draw this conclusion if you are not willing to face the fact that you might not know the truth yourself in certain areas.
Thanks be to God, I already am!
I long to see you not put a wedge between Christ and the countless graces he desires to pour out in your life through the sacraments that he established for your salvation.
Peace be with you my friend. May the next sixth months be filled with many graces and blessings for you and your congregation as you work on building a new sanctuary.
In Christ (really!),
May 12, 2011
Dear Pastor Witmer,
Indeed, the scourge and scandal of sin within the Catholic hierarchy is shameful. I'll be the first to tell you. (For that matter, every one of my own personal sins is scandalous and shameful, and if not for the grace of God, there is no telling what evil I myself could accomplish.)
I myself met a homosexual priest during my time in San Francisco, and one encounter that I had with him at the end of my first semester (he simply said "we'll miss you" in a look that made me extraordinarily uncomfortable) convinced me to stay miles away from that Church.
There is probably a lot about this situation that you do not fully understand, and so it is going to be difficult help you distinguish between how you imagine the situation and what the situation actually is. Remember that the media absolutely hates the Catholic Church, and so the media will take details and twist them in the way they get reported to make the situation seem worse than it is.
Now...the situation is frighteningly terrible, and it shows the work of Satan in our midst. But, Satan's work is further accomplished when Christians believe the twisted details given by the media. So, beware. I'd hate to see you falling into any of the evil one's traps.
Secondly, the new policies within the archdiocese involve the removal of priests who have been accused of wrong doing. This does not mean they are guilty of wrongdoing. Are you not aware that one of the consequences of some priests' shameful actions is that others have seen dollar signs and lodged false accusations? The new policies say that someone is removed just by being accused, far stricter than any organization that I know of. (If I walked into your church and falsely accused you of something, would you immediately resign? Of course not! In fact, in your case, there isn't anyone with authority above you to remove you just to be on the safe side. And if you were guilty, you wouldn't need a bishop to move you to another church. You'd just do it yourself, if in fact you were actually that malignant a character. I strongly assume that you are not.)
Also, it is important that you are aware of the dreadful situation in many seminaries about 40-60 years ago, where orthodoxy was shunned and liberal theologies promulgated. Because unorthodox seminary directors were allowed to occupy positions of authority, good priestly candidates (perhaps even like your friend) were shunned and weak candidates (perhaps even demonstrating sinful proclivities) were accepted. This was a disastrous situation for the Church, and one that resulted in priests that went on to commit acts that were often not pedophilia (involving pre-pubescent children) but were actually acts of homosexuality.
So, because the Church went through a period of being too lenient with homosexual men becoming priests, the rotten fruits of those decisions indeed came to pass, as they likely had to. Yes, that tree has born bad fruit.
The good news in this situation is that the Catholic Church is owning up to her mistakes. We now have a new generation of priests, inspired by Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who are committed to orthodoxy and the Church's teaching on sexuality. Thus, these new priests are rooting out the modernist views of sexuality that for a time invaded too many of our seminaries. These priests are on fire for Jesus and are helping usher in the new evangelization of the Catholic Church. The priestly scandal is one last ditch effort by Satan himself to spoil the new evangelization, but I can tell you, my friend, that the situation for Catholicism is getting better. Young Catholics like myself are growing in number, and we are fighting back against Satan and the forces of secularism.
Satan is our enemy in this battle.
Yet, because Satan won the battle in seminaries and some of the priests they produced, and in some very foolish decisions on the part of bishops, let me get this right...
Are you saying I should be suspicious of EVERY Catholic priest that stands at the alter on Sunday morning?
Do I need to remind you that the rates of abuse in the Catholic Church are on par with those in Protestant circles? In public schools? etc. etc.?
Do you apply this same suspicion to every school teacher, every doctor, every mailman, Protestant pastor, just because a few percent of them have committed evil?
The Catholic Church is getting flogged (rightly) because they hold the highest moral standards of any Christian organization. The Catholic scandal is so large precisely because of the high moral ground occupied by the Church. No one is scandalized when Planned Parenthood aborts a baby. But when a Catholic hospital aborts a baby, it hits the evening news! Thus, the size of the scandal is magnified because these acts violate church teaching.
Despite the fact that a small percentage of priests committed evil atrocities against the very flock they were supposed to protect, this still is a far cry away from a church actually saying that those atrocities are morally permissible.
Outside of Catholicism, the following moral atrocities are deemed morally acceptable: abortion, contraception, and divorce and remarriage, etc.
Beware, my dear friend. Satan has the churches that teaches these things right where he wants them. No change needed.
The Catholic Church is the only church that hasn't caved on a single one of these teachings, and Satan knows it, and he is mad as you know what about it. If you think for one second that I am spiritually safer outside the Catholic Church than in it, then you'll need to try to convince me that each of those moral atrocities are in fact morally acceptable. Otherwise, I'd rather stay in a church that teaches rightly, even though a small number of her members act wrongly, than a church that teaches wrongly, leading most of her members to act wrongly.
And yes, we have a lot of cafeteria Catholics in our midst that pick and choose which moral teachings they will follow. They, like you and I, will have to answer to God one day.
If you feel like joining Satan on the Catholic attack, go ahead, but you do so at your own spiritual risk.
I wouldn't recommend it, though.
I would recommend praying for us. I would recommend joining us in spiritual solidarity (since you know full well that Baptist pastors have done the same things...though just without the national media spotlight). I would recommend joining us Catholics at the abortion mills to pray. I would recommend studying the Scriptures on divorce and remarriage and on artificial contraception, which was deemed morally abominable by all Christians until 1930, when the Anglican Church (go figure) first caved in at their Lambeth Conference. Since 1930, every single Christian denomination has changed their teaching on contraception except one.
Finally, I would recommend listening to podcasts of Catholic priests. Try Christ the King Catholic Church's (Ann Arbor, MI) or Fr. John Riccardo's podcasts. These are not men who will cause you to think that they participate in some mysterious, evil subculture. I have met countless priests over the years, and I can tell you that the vast majority of them are like these priests, in love with Jesus and obedient to His teachings.
Remember: human beings fail. I fail every day. This doesn't mean that I am devoid of truth. I know that I fail precisely because in those moments I choose not to live according to the truth.
The Catholic Church is full of new creations, whether you choose to acknowledge them or not. Mixed in with the wheat, just like Jesus said there would be, are tares. You pointing out tares does little to change my mind about the Church. Jesus beat you to it. In fact, Jesus himself chose a tare for his original gang of 12. Sometimes I wonder if you would have rejected the apostles since 8% of them were clearly devoid of the truth.
How sad it is that many people will succumb to Satan's plan and never consider the truth of Catholicism! How sad it is that many people will focus only on the victories of Satan within the Church yet willingly ignore the much more splendorous victories of God's grace at work within the Church. These people never spend as much timing pondering in their hearts Catholic saints as they do Catholic scandals. How sad. The scandals are all too human, almost boringly so. (The devil is quite a bore, in fact, compared with anything God does through those who love him.)
I pray for these people to gain a sense of balance in their perspective.
Thanks for sharing your concern about this issue with me! Don't let Satan have the final victory here.
May 13, 2011
Dear Pastor Witmer,
Sorry to break my promise, but it occurred to me that I needed to provide a couple links/documentations in connection with my last email, as well as a small note of clarification.
First, regarding the evidence of good Catholic priests:
Christ the King Catholic Church was my home parish when I lived in Ann Arbor. Click here for their website, at which you can find links to their podcasts. Fr. Ed Fride, pastor of CTK, is a holy priest, not someone to be suspicious of. The entire parish, in fact, is one of the most on fire churches I've ever attended. This quality is captured by a wonderful story: One day a methodist minister was driving down the road near Christ the King when he saw flames of fire coming out the roof. He quickly pulled off the road and up to the church, only to find daily mass in progress right at the moment of the consecration of the Holy Eucharist. The Church was not literally on fire, but Jesus allowed this minister for a brief moment to see the Holy Spirit at work in the sacred liturgy. (This phenomenon is not unusual. My first church where I group up in Lakeland, FL recently instituted perpetual adoration of Jesus, where 24/7, worshippers spent time with Jesus in a Eucharistic adoration chapel. One day, two athiests were walking down the street when they saw a bright light pouring in streams out of the adoration chapel. Then entered the building where a close friend of mine witnessed to them and told them who Jesus was, and that he was present in that chapel.)
Fr. John Riccardo's church website is here. The site also contains links to his talks, which are all very good, very balanced, and very much Christ-centered.
But here is a priest who I forgot to mention, a priest who represents the upcoming generation of Catholic priests: Fr. Robert Barron of the Chicago Archdiocese has a wonderful ministry called Word on Fire. I'd encourage you to peruse his website. Before you leave, check out the trailer for his soon to be released Catholicism Project.
Fr. John Corapi is another great priest, whose work you can find online.
The vast majority of these men of whom you are so suspicious are good Christian men who have given up much in their lives to follow God's calling. They have taken vows of celibacy, which, besides for the important spiritual component, allows these men to be available 24/7 for their spiritual families. The long and the short of it, they have made sacrifices that speak of their love for God. They are humans and they each fail, but most priests are good and holy men, not the kind of person that you should be suspicious about. Further, the bad priests are, well, dying off. In your life time (may it be long), you will not see the types of abuse of previous decades that have come to light over the last ten years. (Of course, time will tell...)
Second, and most importantly, here is the Catholic Catechism teaching that we are saved by Grace alone through Christ alone:
On Justification by Grace alone through Christ alone (and remember: Baptism, as Catholics have always understood it, is a work Christ does on our souls): CCC 1987-2029.
I'd invite you to read these passages and simply send me a list of the paragraph numbers that you disagree with (and if you are inclined, why). As you read them, try to imagine you were listening to a Baptist pastor, and note the ones that numbers that you can't imagine a Baptist pastor ever saying. As you read, note the almost thematic contingency found in the statements: "By the grace of the Holy Spirit..." "In response to God's grace..." Paragraph 2007 reads like it is straight out of a Baptist tract!
My dear friend, the Catholic Church teaches plainly that nothing apart from God's grace made available to us only through His Son's passion, death, and resurrection can save mankind. Everything else about Catholicism flows from this fact. Catholicism is centered on Jesus, who reaches us through his Word and through the Sacraments. Both the Word and the Sacraments are the very action of God's Grace in our lives. Everything is Grace. Everything is a free gift. As Catholics, we say "I want it all!" Every gift. Every grace. Every beauty. Every possible way of expressing love. Every passion, so long as it points to and draws other closer to God.
And finally, a note of clarification:
When I said that "Satan has these churches right where he wants them," please know that I was referring specifically and only to the particular teachings of these churches on the more permissibility of the sins that I listed (abortion, birth control, divorce and remarriage, etc.). Even though many non-Catholic churches teach that certain sins are permissible, I entrust these Christians to the mercy of God that he will not hold them accountable in their state of ignorance regarding these moral teachings.
At the same time, for a Christian Church to teach that any of these sins is permissible is not a neutral state of affairs. It is not God's will for Christian churches to call evil good; it is Satan's.
Of course, the larger point stands: that it is worse when denominations teach that sin is okay (leading perhaps a majority of their members into sinful behaviors) than when the Catholic Church teaches that these same sins are not okay (whether or not some of her members abide by them).
Please know that I personally believe that much good work is done for the kingdom outside the Catholic Church. Grace alone is true whether it is taught inside or outside the Catholic Church, and it is always a good thing for truth to be proclaimed. That Christ is the only way to heaven needs to be proclaimed by as many people as possible! I greatly respect the zeal and work for the kingdom that you have dedicated your life to accomplish, and I trust that Christ can accomplish much for his kingdom through you.
The reason for the Catholic-Baptist dialogues I have is to find and celebrate as many areas of unity as possible while working to clarify and understand areas of difference. As long as the sad divisions within Christianity exist, Jesus's plan for evangelization laid out for us in John 17 will inevitably be foiled. To be truly evangelical means to first and foremost be committed to Christian unity. I look forward to working together with you when you are ready to continue our journey together.
March 17, 2011
Dear Pastor Witmer and Pastor Carlo,
Happy St. Patrick's Day!
Click here for more info on the great saint...
May 30, 2011
My latest blog post is titled "I'm not a Jesuit!"
ps. I make a few public requests lower in the post, one about whether you could offer any evidence that I'm a Jesuit and the other to allow me to make available our dialogue, so that people can judge for themselves whether I should be characterized as somehow "on the attack." Take some time and let me know what you think. If you are willing to share your side of the conversation, I would freely allow you to edit your remarks (both to correct small grammatical errors and to strengthen your arguments) if you would like.
pss. By the way, do you really believe, as you implied in your "stalker" sermon, that Catholics are evil and should rightly be grouped with athiests, Muslims, Satanists, and pagans?
May 31, 2011
Hi Pastor Witmer,
Wow. I didn't realize that you were using the term Jesuit as a derogatory term.
I'm not sure how you think I'm trying to sway you from "Christ alone" since I believe that doctrine myself. Truly, I'm baffled.
I'm sorry that you think I am blinded by false religion. I will continue to pray for you, my friend.
I have faith in Christ, and I trust Christ alone for my salvation. Unfortunately, you fail to distinguish that the difference between our belief systems is not about trusting in Christ alone for salvation, but in how Christ does the saving.
Apart from God's grace turning me into a new creation and working through me, I have absolutely ZERO righteousness before God. The only good works that I accomplish that are meritorious in God's eyes are the works that Christ accomplishes by His Grace through me. They are not my works, and thus I can not boast of them. If they were only my works, then they would be filthy rags, as you correctly say.
How do the above beliefs, exactly, make me an unbeliever? Further still:
I believe in God, the Father almighty creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord
I believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered and died for my sins, and rose for my justification.
I believe that Jesus sits now in heaven interceding for us at the right hand of the Father, and that he will one day return in glory to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
I believe that God holds the universe in existence by His very Word.
I believe that everything reflects the Glory of God and that all things work out according to His Divine Will.
Do these sound like the beliefs of an unbeliever?
Regarding former fundamentalist David Currie, I suggest that you give him a phone call. Why live life plagued with doubts and suspicions about another Christian? Just call him and chat for a while. I'm sure he'd be happy to answer any questions you have about his background and to give you some personal references. His book has led dozens of other fundamentalist preachers to realize that their understanding of Catholicism was simply a false delusion perpetuated by people who hate the Catholic Church.
My friend, I am sad for you that you labor under this same delusion. I'd recommend spending some more time with the first several chapters of Karl Keating's book, which documents the distortions and lies that anti-Catholics have promulgated so that kind people such as yourself would end up thinking of Catholics as evil. Your choice to believe these lies is ultimately between you and God, and we will all have to answer to God for the times that we bear false witness. The fact is, they are lies, demonstrably so, and they are lies that attack the very Bride of Christ. Don't you think it is spiritually safer to at least research whether or not the things you believe about Catholicism taught to you by people who hate the Catholic Church are actually true? Few Christian scholars of any denomination take the shallow attacks of professional anti-Catholics seriously.
(On this note, I finally realized why the names of Frank Eberhart and Wilma Sullivan sounded so familiar. They were both on the Catholicism: Crisis of Faith video that made the rounds about a decade or so ago. I own the video, by the way, though most of it is now available online...as are a number of refutations that once again expose the video as a combination of deceitful editing, lies, and poor scholarship. For you to know these two characters personally shows how steeped you must be in their anti-Catholic rhetoric.)
I forgive you for the small mistake of labeling me a Jesuit and for grouping my religion in with unbelievers. If you truly wish to reword either of these mistakes, you have ample opportunity in future sermons or on your blog to do so. (I'm not sure what to report on my blog, since I hadn't considered that you were using the term in a derogatory fashion. Yet, this implies that the word was intentional, something you meant to say...not a slip up during your first or second sermon of the day.) Ultimately, I just wish you would treat me for who I am, a regular Catholic who understands his faith and is in love with Jesus. Jesus is a person, not a doctrine, you know, and he is a person that is as much a part of my life as my wife is. Jesus has worked many miracles in my life, and I have a deeply personal relationship with him, as do many Catholics that I know. ("If you only knew," I keep murmuring to myself...) Please know that I will continue to intercede for you before the throne of grace.
In the Savior,
April 1, 2011
Hello Pastor Witmer,
Your last email was derogatory. "a crafty, intriguing, or equivocating person: so called in allusion to the methods ascribed to the order by its opponents." Then you called me "fanatical and crafty."
Are you now denying that you meant to call me these things? (FYI, I have already forgiven you for these remarks, my brother.)
I think that we are both zealous about our faiths; that's one reason I am so fond of dialoguing with you (not against you)!
This statement is confused and illogical. Why can't you see that?
It is confused because it fails to distinguish between our work (human efforts) and Christ's work (sacraments). It is illogical because it claims that "adding Christ's work to Christ's work is adding human merit to the atonement."
The sacraments are Christ's work. It is Christ who baptizes. It is Christ who meets us in the Eucharist. These are Christ's works.
When the early church fathers reflected on the moment when the soldier pierced the side of Jesus on the cross and blood and water flowed out, they saw that as richly meaningful for the life of the Church. They saw in the blood and water the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. Just like Adam's bride was born from his side, the Bride of Christ, the Church, is born from Christ's side on the Cross. We are buried and raised with Christ through Baptism (Romans 5). Unless we are born again of water and spirit, we can not enter the kingdom of God. (John 3). But Jesus is also our Paschal Lamb, and we enter into his Passover sacrifice by communing with the Lamb through the Eucharist (1 Cor. 11). We will be communing with him in this same marriage supper of the Lamb for all eternity. The Mass is entering into the very liturgy of heaven that we see played out in the book of Revelation. And Jesus commanded the Church to "do this as a memorial offering of his sacrifice." The early church, every time they met, celebrated the Eucharist, the breaking of bread. Just read Acts 2 or Justin Martyr. Jesus clearly told his disciples that "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you." Jesus could not have been more clear! And the early church, including those students of the very Gospel author that penned those words, took Jesus at his word, literally.
I can't tell you how sorry I am for you that you were raised and schooled in a faith that rejects these saving truths. But I trust that you love Jesus, and I pray for you every day that you, by the power of the Holy Spirit, will open your mind and heart to these awesome truths. The Eucharist is not only Jesus's work, it is Jesus himself in his fullness. Jesus loves you so incredibly much, and he desires for you to meet Him in the breaking of the bread, just like the disciples did on the road to Emmaus. It is He! It is Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! Behold the Lamb!
This is true in once sense. We don't do anything to be saved. Only Jesus can save us by his work.
But, obedience plays a role. Paul's first and last mention of faith in Romans speaks of "the obedience of faith." Faith is an act of obedience to God. So, when we are initially justified by faith, this presumes that it is an obedient faith. But you are correct, we aren't saved by our faith or by our obedience. We are saved by grace alone. Faith opens the door for the grace to come into our souls and save us.
This sentence is true.
This sentence is not true. There are many people who God saves by his grace but who later reject the gift of God's salvation through sin and unbelief and are cut off. (See Romans 11:22) Did you read my latest blog post?
Okay. I'll pick them up. Thank you for the kind gift of Barrett's book. I look forward to reading it.
Just out of curiosity, which books did you read that I dropped off?
Please know that nothing I will ever say about you on my blog comes close to the damning words you have said from the pulpit about my faith. I consider you a brother in the Lord, and I happily support many of the things you have to say. At the same time, I think that you are sincerely mistaken in your knowledge and judgement about Catholicism, and given the way Catholics are targeted for conversion by fundamentalists in general, I do hope you understand if I try to show people that fundamentalist Christianity is not Biblical or Historical Christianity.
To share the truth with someone is not to be against them. It is an act of love that is for them. I will continue, in love, to share the truth with everyone who I can reach.
Amen, brother! Oh, how I too love these verses of Scripture!
Yours in Christ,
April 21, 2011
A happy and holy Triduum and Easter to you, your family, and loved ones! As you know, it was on this Holy Thursday night that Jesus prayed that his disciples would be one as He and the Father are one. He prayed this unity would be so visible that the world may see it and know that Jesus was sent by the Father. Let us join our hearts in prayer this evening with Jesus's High Priestly Prayer in John 17. Lord, let us be one!
On this night when Jesus prayed the first Mass, instituting at once the sacraments of the Eucharist and of Holy Orders (His ministerial priesthood), Jesus began his paschal sacrifice in the most perfect manner: by voluntarily laying down his life for his bride, the Church. And so, it was through His one bread--that Bread of Life that is truly His body, blood, soul, and divinity--that we, His Bride, became and continue to be one Body. As St. Paul says in Ephesians, the oneness of Christ and his bride is a great mystery, for which the Latin word is sacramentum. The great sacramental mystery of Christ and the Church finds its consummation every time we "do this" as a memorial of his sacrificial offering--an offering that began in the upper room, followed through to Calvary, and finds it completion in the eternal offering of the Son (the "Lamb standing as though slain" from Rev. 5:6) before the Father. These three components constitute a single sacrificial offering, and it is the eternal offering of the sacrifice--an offering that occurs in the ever-present "now" that is the eternal life of God--that Christians enter into through the Mass, where we commune with the divine spouse of our souls.
But, you don't have to take my word for it! Those first preachers of the early church who learned the Christian faith at the feet of the apostles firmly believed that the Eucharist was really Jesus. It is He, the Lamb of God! Christ our passover has been sacrificed, says St. Paul; let us keep the feast! As we see in Acts 2, the breaking of bread was central to the liturgical life of the early Church. They celebrated it every week! As we see on the road to Emmaus in Luke, Jesus revealed himself to his disciples in the breaking of the bread. It was in this sacramental act that they recognized Him, even though their hearts burned within them as He explained the Scriptures. Yet, it was in the breaking of bread that they recognized him. These disciples in Luke mirror the experience of the entire early Church. (Indeed, no one seriously challenged the teaching of the Church on Jesus's Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist for almost 1,500 years!) For instance, St. Ignatius of Antioch, a long-time disciple of the apostle John, once preached that "they abstain from the Eucharist because they do not confess the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes." (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1 [A.D. 110]) Many other early writers echo this same belief--and they do so less than a century after the death of the apostles. Jesus himself tells us in John 6 that the bread he will give is his flesh, the same flesh that will suffer for the life of the world. I know, my dear brothers in Christ, that this is a hard teaching. Jesus's listeners said the same thing! Yet, Jesus did not back away from his literal language and explain that he was speaking symbolically. Rather, in John 6, Jesus intensifies the language to the point that those following Him turned away. The problem for them, and for us, is that we can only believe Jesus's teaching by faith and by the Spirit. Our fleshly minds can not help us when it comes to the divine mystery of the Holy Eucharist, no more than our fleshly understanding could have perceived two thousand years ago that this Jew with dirty feet and calloused hands was God incarnate. No microscope looking at Jesus would have discerned that he was God, just like no microscope trained on the Eucharistic bread and wine will reveal the divine presence. But Jesus said, "take and eat; this is my body." Just as God spoke the world into existence, Jesus's word speaks bread and wine into his body and blood. Only the appearance remains (though in the case of hundreds of Eucharistic miracles throughout history, even the appearance has changed). On this Holy Thursday night, let us together beg the Lord for more faith, more grace, and more of the Holy Spirit so that we may recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Let us subject ourselves to the apostolic teaching, faithfully passed down from Jesus to John to Ignatius and Polycarp and Justin Martyr and all the faithful witnesses who have delivered the message undefiled and unchanged to Christians down through the centuries. Our faith is Catholic--universal in all times and places. As one of my favorite Italian pastors likes to quote (from Malachi 3:6): "I am the Lord; I change not!"
I leave you with two links that I hope you take the time to consider. The first is a link to my blog, which contains a moving video of a father's surprise return from Iraq, and his daughter's reaction to his visit. Daddies out there--you can't watch this without misting up! There is a lesson of love to be learned from this video that relates to Jesus in the Eucharist.
But far better is Benedict XVI's Holy Thursday homily. I pray that you will take some time to read it, if not during the busy Easter weekend, then sometime soon. And of course, if you have any questions/concerns about anything he says in it, well...you know to whom you can turn!
Lord Jesus, we praise you, we bless you, and we thank you, for by your very cross you have redeemed the world! Make us one, Lord, so that we, by your grace, may convert the world to you!
In the Savior,
[Pastor Tobe responded to my previous email with the following:
Here is my response:]
April 22, 2011
Sorry, the short answer only seemed too appropriate.
I should expound (briefly):
Salvation is through Christ alone, but not in the reductive sense that you seem to understand it. Christ saves us using many different instruments, all of which can be thought of as an extension of Christ's incarnational presence in the world. For instance, "Christ alone" doesn't mean that Christians should throw their Bibles away. Also, to say "Christ alone," but then to reject the Bride of Christ with whom he is one (Ephesians 5) is ultimately to reject Christ himself. The Eucharist is Christ. To reject the Eucharist is to reject Christ. My entire email was centered on Christ alone, so the response of "Christ alone" is, well, a great interpretation of my email, I guess.
On the second point:
• Sola Scriptura is unbiblical. No where does the Bible teach it. In fact, the Bible teaches the opposite.
• Sola Scriptura is unhistorical. The Church has never taught it. Only those heretics throughout history who wanted to change the truth claim Sola Scriptura so that they can reject the living Tradition of the family of God, which is the pillar and foundation of truth. See 1 Tim. 3:15.
• Sola Scriptura is unworkable. For the first 400 years of the Church, there was no canonized New Testament, and there were even books that the early Christians disagreed about. Further, until relatively recently, most people could not read anyway. And besides, until the invention of the printing press (Gutenburg, by the way, was a Catholic, and the first thing he printed was the Bible) there was no way that each and every Christian could sit down (on an island, if you will) and come to a fundamentalist Baptist interpretation of Scripture.
• Sola Scriptura is unthinkable. No one reads the Bible outside of some interpretive tradition. No one approaches the Bible alone in practice. It has never been done, because it is not even possible to do so. I have a blog post about this. The question is: what makes you so sure that your Baptist tradition is the right one? And, why are you so hesitant to admit that you have a tradition? Did you read Mark Shea's book that I loaned to you?
There is a great scene in Jurassic Park where the operators of the island are boasting about their highly complex security system. Periodically, their sensors scan the island and report back that they have found all the dinosaurs. But as the visitors begin to think that something has gone wrong (and the operators claim that this is impossible), one of the children asks a simple question: have you asked the computers to scan for more?
Sure enough, the computers had only been searching for the dinosaurs they had been programmed to search for. They did not report that the dinosaurs had been multiplying!
My friend, you also approach the Bible (as we all do, to some degree) with certain preconceived expectations of what it says. I recommend that you too search for more...
Another great movie that I recommend is Twelve Angry Men, which is the story of twelve jurors, eleven of whom are convinced that the boy on trial committed murder, and none of whom are willing (at first) to consider that they have judged the facts incorrectly. As the twelfth juror begins to raise questions, test personal biases, and consider possibilities that hadn't occurred to the others, one by one, the other jurors each come around. It is a fascinating study in how we humans struggle (emotionally, logically, psychologically, etc.) to finally come around to the truth.
But if you haven't time for either movie, simply turn to the book of Proverbs: "The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him." (18:17)
May your Good Friday be filled with many spiritual blessings.
Lord Jesus, we praise you, we bless you, and we thank you, for by your very cross you have redeemed the world.
In the savior,
April 26, 2011
Dear Pastor Witmer,
First off, thank you very much for giving me a copy of Michael Barrett's book. I've been consuming not only that book but some of his others as well (and even some of his sermons from sermonaudio.com). When time permits, I'll begin providing a Catholic response on my blog, though I'd say straight away that the Catholic Church agrees completely with many of his key points (Grace alone, Christ alone, justified by faith, etc.). Before I tackle responding to his book, however, I'd like to finish up a response to that T4G talk you asked me to listen to (though I think you are already starting to see some of the gaping holes in it).
Anyway, I was just working on a response to your "avoiding heretics" sermon when I realized that today marks the one-year anniversary of the day you first contacted me by commenting on my blog.
Of course, the 8-month hiatus that we took from July 15 to March 11 means that technically we have only been in dialogue for four months (not a few years).
If I may, can I ask you a quick yes or no question? (Wait! That wasn't the question! Here it is:)
Would you say that I should trust any Bible teacher who practices infant baptism? (I ask because Michael Barrett practices infant baptism in his church.)
Yours in Christ,
[Pastor Witmer referred me to this website, which summarizes the debate on infant baptism between Baptists and Presbyterians.]
April 27, 2011
You didn't answer my question.
Grace and peace,
April 27, 2011
Dear Pastor Witmer,
I only asked the question I did because I was surprised that you would recommend a book by someone who practices infant baptism. I thought believer's baptism was one of the fundamentals dividing sound Biblical interpreters from unsound ones. I guess not. Can you at least answer me this: is it safe to assume that you believe that the practice of infant baptism is a Romans 14/15 liberty, a non-essential practice that doesn't damage the basic theological system that Barrett presents in Complete in Him? If you choose not to answer, I'll assume the answer is yes (since you gave me the book).
By the way, what is with the website you gave to me? Have you actually read its convoluted language? If this is the best Sola Scriptura can produce, then what a joke... It is no wonder that so many Protestants are realizing that Protestant theology is nothing but shifting sands. On top of that, there was hardly any Scripture quoted!! The Catechism of the Catholic Church cites way more Scripture than that document did. This document just proves that outside the Catholic Church, the truth and right practice is anyone's best guess. After all, "We do not undervalue baptism, but we do not want needless division either. We would not wish to be so exclusively Presbyterian that we could find no place for a C. H. Spurgeon just because he strongly adhered to believer’s baptism. Nor would we wish to be so Baptistic that we would exclude a Robert Murray McCheyne just because he held strongly to baptism for the infant children of believers." C'mon... I can't believe that anyone would be doctrinally satisfied by this kind of theological pussyfooting. You'd rather I buy that over and against the clear, rock-solid teaching of the Early Church Fathers?
Yes, in light of Titus, perhaps I should have avoided talking to you long ago. However, it is out of love for you and your congregants that I have labored so arduously to share the orthodox, Christian faith with you.
Please know that I forgive you for the misrepresentations of my Catholic faith that you continue to give from the pulpit. I will pray for you, as you will one day have to give an account before God for every word you have spoken.
For a man who warns so often against taking the Bible out of context, I grieve for you that you take the Bible out of its historical context, which is the teachings of the apostles...all of them. No where does the Bible limit these authoritative teachings to the Bible alone, as you so casually suggested (without a Bible reference) at the end of your final sermon from Romans. No! St. Paul commands in 2 Thess. 2:15 that we obey everything he taught, whether he taught it by word of mouth or by letter. Now that you have read the evidence of what Paul and the apostles taught their students, you have to decide before God whether you will choose to further explore the truth (a truth that seems to have been withheld from you even by your own professors of Church history) or repress it with lies, spurious justifications, and vacuous reasoning.
The fact is, the early church was Catholic, all the way from the first generation students of the apostles. The first generation Christian Church celebrated the Mass (did you read Justin Martyr's Apologies?). The first generation Church believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. (I know you read St. Ignatius of Antioch.) The first generation Church had a hierarchical structure of bishops that recognized the primacy of the bishop of Rome (did you read Clement of Rome?). The first generation Church believed in Apostolic Succession. No where in the early church did the first Christians teach justification by faith alone. No where in the early church do you find any of the distinctives of Baptist fundamentalism. You and I both know that if you would have found any evidence to the contrary, you would have sent it to me already.
So, all the shouting about "heretics" and "marking" etc. etc. rings just about as hollow as the historical foundations of your Biblical interpretations, founded as they are on traditions of men that were invented about 1,800 years too late to be considered orthodox.
Every time you look at the word "heretic" in Scripture, remember that those first Christian pastors and students of the apostles who first read those Scriptures would have applied that label to you. If you woke up one morning and somehow found yourself in Ephesus, or Antioch, or Rome, or Jerusalem around 100 A.D., you would have not a wee bit of explaining to do. The condemnation of your theology by the apostles and their successors would have been swift and decisive. Continue to read their writings, study the way they think, and you, like hundreds if not thousands of other Protestant Pastors, will see that your home is in the Catholic Church, the household of God, the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim. 3:15).
My friend, I humbly invite you, before it is too late, to open your mind and heart to the truth. I'm here for you as a brother in the Lord. Nothing is more important than following the truth, and I pray that your family and congregation support you in your pursuit of it.
In the Savior,
April 27, 2011
How could the controversy even arise if the Bible's teachings are crystal clear to men of God? On this website, the only thing both sides seem to be united on is their rejection of Catholicism!
Now, would you please let me know if you think this issue is essential (a fundamental) or unessential? I'm not trying to "engage" you. I just want to know what you think.
Yours in Christ,
April 27, 2011
Dear Pastor Witmer,
"Search the Scripture" is apparently useless advice, at least regarding infant baptism. The Baptists and Presbyterians have been searching the Scriptures for 400 years and still disagree.
Who has the authority to decide who interprets the Scriptures rightly? Or (and this is the question you refuse to answer), is the issue of the proper recipient of baptism an unessential doctrine? Is Michael Barrett ignoring the direction of the Holy Spirit on this interpretation (and if so, in what other areas might he be in error)? Or, does the Holy Spirit simply not care what one believes and has decided not to guide true Christians into unity on this question?
You know as well as I do the reason you are not making a move in this theological chess game.
However, it gives me no pleasure to win. Rather, it grieves the heart of God, who died on the Cross for us to be saved in Him and unified in Him and Who sent His Holy Spirit to guide us (including the early church) into all truth, that you would settle for four-hundred years of division on what you and I both know is a deeply important issue than admit that Sola Scriptura, at least on this question, has failed.
April 27, 2011
By the way, is it not clear to you that I know the words on the pages of Scripture fairly well?
I know it seems beyond comprehension that someone might interpret them differently than you do, but this is really a separate issue, isn't it?
Grace and peace,
April 27, 2011
Dear Pastor Witmer,
As you wish. As you well know, you and Pastor Carlo are in complete control of your time.
I've enjoyed our dialogue greatly, and will continue working hard to share the truth with every member of LBC.
Yours in Christ,
April 27, 2011
God bless you.