Thursday, June 30, 2011

Response to Fairwinds Baptist Church Morning Sermon June 26, 2011

I really enjoyed listening this morning to Pastor Carlo's sermon that he gave this past Sunday (June 26th) at Fairwinds Baptist Church (Bear, DE).  As in the vast majority of Baptist sermons that I listen to, Pastor Carlo preaches loudly and clearly truths that both Baptist and Catholics firmly believe in.  So, I ask the reader to take this response first as an affirmation of many of the things Pastor Carlo spoke about on Sunday.  Indeed, nothing is impossible for God, creator of heaven and earth.

It is in this framework, however, that I would like to make a connection by way of extending the very theological framework of God's omnipotence that Pastor Carlo discusses.

Notice how Pastor Carlo summarizes the expression of God's omnipotence in Genesis 1:

In Genesis 1, God's Word is seen as efficacious.  That is, God's Word literally brings into existence that which it speaks.  In Genesis, God quite truly spoke the universe into existence.  Quite humbling, eh?  Can you or I say "let there be light" and have light itself come into being?

Knowing that God's Word is efficacious and that for God, nothing is impossible, I wonder then why Pastor Carlo believes the following words, spoken at the moment of institution of the New Covenant were not efficacious:

"Take and eat.  This is my body."

Of course, these are the words spoken by God at the Last Supper.  Just like God spoke the universe into existence, he spoke bread and wine into his body, blood, soul, and divinity.


As Pastor Carlo rightly notes: nothing is impossible with God!

Further still, our God is a God who keeps his promises.  Jesus's bread-of-life discourse in John 6 hinges on an unspoken promise: that He will make provision to provide his body and blood to Christians for them to consume.  In the Eucharist, Jesus keeps His promise and demonstrates his absolute power over all creation.  In the Eucharist, Jesus takes the form of bread and wine to remain present with us, to commune with us, and to abide with us.

Despite the fact that many Christians today believe that Jesus was only speaking symbolically in John 6 when he said "my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink," the students of the apostles themselves and their successors believed without question that Jesus was speaking literally.  St. Ignatius of Antioch, who studied with St. John himself and was appointed to pastor the Church in Antioch after Peter left for Rome, is strong and unequivocal in his affirmation of Jesus's real presence in the Holy Eucharist:
"They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again" (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 110 AD).
St. Ignatius makes draws the same link that Jesus does in John 6 between the bread of life and the flesh that will suffer on the cross.  Their point: it is the same flesh!

Jesus's real presence in the Eucharist was such a deeply accepted aspect of the early church's faith that it became the basis for arguing for and demonstrating Jesus's own resurrection, which must have occurred to allow Christians to partake of his glorified body and blood, hidden as they were under the appearance of bread and wine.

If anyone doubts that Jesus is capable of turning bread and wine into His body and blood, just consider the many Eucharistic miracles that have occurred through the ages.  Throughout Christian history, there exist many instances in which the bread and wine of communion not only took on the divine substance of Christ but also the accidents of his body.  These miracles can be studied more closely here.

To recap:  I strongly affirm Pastor Carlo's message that the Word of God is alive and efficacious, and that God keeps his promises.

Christians have no better example of that than in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, which become the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.***

Will you come and receive Him?


***Please note: not just anyone can pick up bread and wine and perform this miracle.  Only Jesus, through the ministry of His priests who act in the person of Christ, can consecrate the bread and wine.  This miracle occurs every day in every Catholic Church in the Mass.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Eucharistic Flash Mob!

I LOVE it!  How AWESOME to see our Lord in the public square, with faithful Catholics kneeling in adoration!

This video is worth watching in its entirety.  Not only is it inspiring to hear the monk proclaim Jesus's presence in every book of the Bible, but the end of the message, which proclaims Jesus's triumph over, well, everything, is as inspiring as the reaction of those kneeling in adoration!

H/T: Barbara Curtis!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Response to Robert vanVeen on Baptism

The following is a response that I sent to Robert vanVeen, a member of Fairwinds Baptist Church (Bear, DE).  This letter responds to a comment that Robert left on my Aug. 2, 2009 post on baptism.

I am grateful for the time that Robert took to read and respond to my Catholic perspective on baby dedication.  May this interaction provide a springboard for further discussion and reflection on our Baptist and Catholic beliefs so that we, with the gracious assistance of the Holy Spirit, can open our minds and hearts to the unity Jesus so desires us Christians to have (see John 17).


Dec. 7, 2010

Dear Robert,

Peace be with you this Advent season!

Thanks so much for commenting on my blog post, and sorry for the delayed response.  I just saw the notification of your comment this evening.

I'm a bit tired this evening, given the late hour, so I'll be brief in my comments, though I would be happy to entertain any questions you would have for me about why I believe that to be a true Bible Christian is to be a Catholic Christian.

Regarding Baptism and my response to Pastor Carlo's comments, I would be interested to hear you engage more directly with the arguments that I put forth.  There is an irony in your first statement, since I engage what Pastor Carlo is saying, literally quoting him word for word, analyzing the structure of his comments, teasing out some of the underlying theology that supports the practice of baby dedication, and ultimately showing how aspects of this theology and practice are inconsistent with Scripture.  In this and other posts, I try to show how the Bible tells us quite a lot about Baptism that disagrees with Pastor Carlo's theology.

Here is your comment, with the rest of my responses appearing in line:

RV:  I do believe that you take alot of things out of context

DS:  Could you support that statement by naming some things?

RV: fit your arguments...

DS:  I wish I could claim them as my arguments.  They are really the arguments regarding Baptism that I learned from the students of the apostles and their successors.  Have you read the early church fathers, and do you know that the early church was Catholic, not only in its beliefs about Baptism but also the Eucharist (the Lord's Supper), church hierarchy, etc.?  Often when I talk to Protestants, there is not a clear sense of whose arguments they are putting forth.  I've met few Protestants (even pastors) who really understand the origin of many of the beliefs they preach about.

RV:  ...rather than using points that directly relate...

DS:  Relate to what?  (Clarification, please.)

RV: a manner that doesn't seem to be bending words, even ever so slightly.

DS:  Which words have I bent?  I would actually argue that it is Baptist theologians who bend words in the Bible to create their theology.  A classic example of this in regard to Baptism can be seen in the interpretation of 1 Peter 3:21 by most Baptist pastors I've heard.  1 Peter 3:21: "Baptism now saves you."  Please see my blog post on this verse.

RV:  And secondly, you do not seem to understand that there is an age of accountability.

DS:  I absolutely understand that there is an age of accountability.  Catholics who pass this age and choose to sin against God and neighbor must confess their sins to God.  But notice that the entire discussion hinges upon whether or not a person is automatically "saved" if they have not reached this age yet.  Romans 5 seems to indicate that we are born as children of Adam, which means we are born in a state of sin called original sin.  We are born as disgraced children of Adam and Eve and are incapable of living with the Father in Heaven if we are not "born from above" (John 3).  That is why Jesus says that "unless we are born again, we shall not inherit the kingdom of God."  We must be born again.  And, if you read the very next verses, Jesus makes it clear through a literary parallelism that to be born again means to be born of water and spirit.  And what is the context of this verse?  Baptism!  Jesus is baptized, and it is at Jesus's baptism that we see the descent of the Holy Spirit and the proclamation of Jesus's sonship.  Likewise, it is at our baptism that we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, who regenerates us, making us a new creation, and making us spiritual capable of living the beatific vision as members of Christ's mystical body.  And it is at our Baptism that God the Father claims us as his sons through Jesus Christ.  Baptism is a profound miracle that results from Christ's actions on our souls, and it is a required action that we be regenerated by Christ through the Holy Spirit.  It is Jesus who ties together water and spirit, just like it is God who created us as both physical and spiritual beings.  Jesus himself, in entering the water, made water a vehicle for communicating his Holy Spirit to those whom he calls.

RV:  An infant, unable to understand the difference between right and wrong will without a doubt enter into Heaven if they died (heaven forbid) at their young age.

DS:  How do you know this?  This strikes me as a very presumptuous statement when God's Holy Word states that Adam's sin brought condemnation to all.  (Romans 5).  Your sentence makes it sound like it is only the individual sins of a person after reaching the age of accountability that could bring condemnation on their soul.

RV:  The child has to reach that understanding before they can be baptised,

DS:  Where is that in the Bible?  Old Testament children didn't have to reach this age before being allowed into the covenant family at circumcision.  The Bible shows that Baptism fulfills circumcision, which was offered on the eighth day of life.  The early church had arguments about infant baptism, but the argument wasn't whether to baptize infants or not.  The argument was:  why wait eight days?  How strong was the early church's belief in infant baptism, that this practice existed for centuries without every being questioned by a single Christian anywhere.

RV:  ...and not just sprinkled with water, but rather "burried", and "raised again" in Christ's likeness, fully submerged in water.

DS:  I'll leave aside the whole sprinkling vs. immersion debate for now.  Here, you are repeating the same false dichotomy that Pastor Carlo gets hung up on (baptism with water vs. being buried with Christ).  Please see my blog post to him that I linked to above (especially the latter half).  For Catholics, we are buried with Christ precisely when we are baptized, whether by sprinkling or immersion.  St. Paul himself says that we were "buried with Christ in baptism."  St. Paul locates being buried with Christ precisely at the moment that we are baptized.  In fact, according to St. Paul, it is through baptism that we are buried with him.  Baptist theology would tell me that I was buried with Christ when I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior, and that absolutely nothing spiritual happens when I'm baptized, since this is only a symbol of what has already happened.  Not according to St. Paul!  Go back and read the Scriptures on this point again.  What is Paul really saying?  Are we buried with Christ in baptism, or are we buried with Christ before baptism, and baptism doesn't save us.  (Also reread 1 Peter 3:21 here.)

RV:  The dedication of a child unto God is an act of offering your child up to God so that they might grow up wanting to serve Him and follow His will. Since that child is free to choose wheather or not they want to follow God when they reach their age of accountability, which is different for each child, the parents are prayed for as well, so that they might have the knowledge and understanding to raise their child in the way of the Lord, not the way of the world.

DS:  All this is very good to do, and we do it as Catholics as well.  I dedicate my children to God constantly, but this is fundamentally a different thing from when God regenerates my child.  I can dedicate my baby.  Only God can regenerate my baby, which he does through the Sacrament of Baptism.

RV:  Baptising an infant is pointless since the child can not understand the choice to follow God or not.

DS:  And here, we get to the crux of the issue.  Do you see how your theology of baptism is ultimately dependent on man's works, man's abilities, man's agency, man's "choice to follow God," etc.?  For Catholics, our salvation is dependent entirely on God's action.  God can regenerate a person even if that person is not yet able to consciously choose God for themselves.  Go back and read all of those parables where people call out to Jesus for healing for someone who is not present or able to ask for themselves.  Does Jesus say: "no, the person must ask me personally before I will heal them physically or spiritually"?  Of course not!  Rather, he often says, "no where in Israel have I seen such great faith."  So, do you think that when I bring my children, born dead in original sin, to Jesus to be regenerated, trusting completely in his infinite grace and mercy, that he will say: "no, I'm going to let your children grow in a state of sin until they can personally ask me to save them"?

RV:  Dedicating a child unto God is an act of faith, it says, "here, Lord, take my child and mold him (or her) into the way you would have him (or her) be." Since the parents are responsible for the child and the child will learn from them, it only makes sense that the pastor would pray over them too while dedicating the child.

DS:  I completely agree.  In the sacrament of Baptism, parents also have beautiful prayers prayed over them for these same reasons.  And, as you describe baby dedication being an act of faith, the Sacrament of Baptism is also an act of faith on the part of the parents and the entire faith community.  It is on account of this faith to raise the baptized infant in the Lord that Jesus lovingly looks upon the infant and regenerates their soul, all through His infinite power, grace, and mercy...even if that infant can do nothing but poop.  But then, salvation is not based at all on man's works.  What a more beautiful proof of this is there than infant baptism, since the baby can do absolutely nothing (even praying a sinner's prayer) to be saved?  Salvation is entirely God's work, not man's.  To make salvation dependent in the slightest way on something man does is to make salvation works based, at least in part.  It is a sad irony that it is the Catholics always being accused of salvation by works, when it is actually Protestant theology that, in practice, posits at least one necessary work on the part of the person being saved.

RV:  If you do not understand this, then you should try listening to a sermon sometime instead of tearing it apart. it would do you some good.

DS:  Indeed, Pastor Carlo's sermons have many good things in them, and I have listened to over 75% of the sermons he has preached for the last two years.  Those things about which he is right deserve to be shouted from the rooftops.  Jesus Christ is Lord.  He is the only way to Heaven.  We are all destined for Heaven and Hell.  All of these things are wonderfully good, wonderfully true, and wonderfully taught also by the Catholic Church.  Unfortunately, many people outside the Catholic Church don't really understand the Catholic Church's teachings, and these teachings get twisted by people who oppose her.  So, it is important that you read what Catholics have to say about Catholicism, not just what people who protest her have to say.  (How balanced and fair would that be?)  For as much as I admire and respect Pastor Carlo, he has a very twisted view of Catholicism, and unfortunately, his mistaken views of Catholicism color his teaching, especially when it comes to distinctly Catholic topics such as the regenerating effects of Baptism.

St. Paul tells us to "test everything, holding to what is good."  A lot of people tell me that it is not right to critique a pastor.  But St. Paul, in the Bible, actually encourages us to critique our pastors!  Test everything!  St. Paul even applauded the Bereans for testing him!  How else can I test Pastor Carlo's sermons (in order to find what is good and not good) other than to analyze them in light of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the early church that have been passed down to us in this day?  Does Pastor Carlo claim to be infallible?  If not, how does anyone at FBC know when to be obedient to his interpretations of the Bible if they don't also, to some degree, analyze what he is saying?

You might be interested to know that there is currently a tidal wave of people being surprised by the truth of the Catholic Church...former non-Catholics who once opposed the Catholic Church but, upon learning what she actually teaches, have found themselves joining her.  And these aren't just uneducated people who didn't really understand their Protestant background.  We're talking about well-respected, intelligent Protestant pastors, some of them at the very top of Evangelical circles, who give up their entire life because they found the Catholic Church to be the true Church that Jesus established.  For just one of hundreds upon hundreds of examples, take Francis Beckwith, the former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, who recently became a Roman Catholic.  I would be happy to share with you mp3 recordings of the conversion stories of Baptist pastors, many of whom had strong anti-Catholic roots, who are now Catholics.

In a nutshell, the reasons these converts provide are:
1.  The Bible made me do it.  (Tim Staples)
2.  The Catholic Church made the Bible come alive (Scott Hahn and Steve Ray)  (Hahn is a former Presbyterian)
3.  The Catholic Church is the Church found in the first centuries of Christianity.  (You can prove this to yourself by reading the 20 volumes of writings we have from the early church.  It is like going to a Bible study with the students of the apostles!)
4.  The Catholic Church, they found, contains the fullness of the truth and all the means of grace (especially the sacraments) that Jesus left to sustain the life of his Bride, the mystical body of Christ.
5.  Many more reasons...just listen to their stories!

Okay....I hope that helps you to see a bit better where I'm coming from.  I view you as a brother in Christ, but a separated brother.  Our separated state is neither of our faults, and the divisions within Christianity can only be overcome by Christians such as you and I communicating with each other regarding how our similarities and differences.  Let us pray that that we may one day be one as Christ an Father are one (John 17).

In Him who loved us first,



 What do you think?  Let's keep the conversation alive!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Response to Tobe Witmer of Lighthouse Baptist Church - February 13, 2011 - On "Liberty Issues"

This post is part of an ongoing set of responses to Tobe Witmer's (Lighthouse Baptist Church, Newark, DE) series on the book of Romans, which he preached on through the entire 2010 calendar year.

This post responds to the February 13, 2011 sermon on Romans 14, which concerned itself with the idea of "liberty issues," areas in which "good and Godly Christians" are free to disagree.  Because there are only a few points I'd like to make, I'll stick to quoting from Witmer's sermon notes, which can be downloaded here.  Links to the sermon video can be found by visiting LBC's site.

I'll put my quotes from Witmer's notes in blue.

Witmer begins by defining "liberty areas:"

“Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (v. 5) - that is a Passive
command to come to conclusions (fully persuaded) in Liberty areas based on the Word of God
for yourself, for your family. The command also means that you don’t come to conclusions in
Liberty areas for other families and people around you -- and so is the heart of this entire
argument that lasts to the end of the chapter.

According to Witmer, liberty areas are to be decided on by the individual for the individual, and one should not draw conclusions for other Christians.  Of course, the Bible does give advice about how to handle liberty areas so as not to give scandal to other Christians who are sensitive or who think differently about a certain "liberty."  Witmer comments on this instruction later, and he has good things to say.  I really appreciate the sensitivity he demonstrates toward other Christians in these areas.  However, I'd like to go through the sermon as it unfolds in the notes.  

Also, the focus of my comments will be on a different issue altogether:  who has the authority to define what areas are to be considered "liberty areas"?  After all, what good is a "liberty area" if there is not an authority to define what these areas are?  Indeed, without such an authority, the idea is actually a dangerous one, since it could allow a Christian who is living in sin to simply decide for himself that his sin is actually just a liberty area.

So, the (potentially life- and soul-jeopardizing) questions for Pastor Witmer will be:
1.  What are liberty areas?
2.  Who decides what those areas are?
3.  Is the decision of what constitutes a liberty area itself a liberty area?
4.  Where does the Bible establish principles for how to deal with modern moral "gray areas" (such as abortion and the question of when life begins, divorce and remarriage, artificial contraception, artificial insemination, tube babies, human torture, etc.)

If liberty areas are few and unimportant, then why spend two sermons talking about them?  However, I think, and I hope the reader will agree, that "liberty areas" is actually an area where wars are fought--wars about ideas--but wars that have life or death consequences all the same.

Witmer goes on:

By liberty issues - I don’t mean Fundamental doctrine of Scripture - I mean applications
or interpretations of different issues that good and Godly men see differently

This statement doesn't clarify much.  First, "doctrines" are interpretations of Scripture.  It is as if Witmer is saying: "I don't mean interpretations of Scripture.  I mean interpretations of Scripture."

You see, once one invokes "liberty issues," the conversation can not go much farther until one defines what those issues are.

The Church at Rome were a Motley Crew - a mixture of Jews and Gentiles (by the way, this
isn’t the Roman Catholic Heresy that emerged from the church - this is the real, true church) ---
this mixture of Jews and Gentiles produced some challenges of O.T. and N.T. practices - among
these were kinds of meat a Christian could eat (dietary laws), Sabbaths and special days - do
we still practice them? and Circumcision

So, we here get our first list of "issues."  Before that, though, Pastor Witmer reveals a bit of his lack of understanding of Church history.  Namely, he seems to think that the Church in Rome was different in its beliefs than the Roman Catholic Church today.  While those beliefs have certainly developed over time, none of them have changed.  For instance, the first-century Church in Rome when Paul was writing accepted the papacy, venerated the saints, and celebrated the Mass.  None of these "Catholic heresies" emerged centuries later when Constantine made the Catholic faith the official religion of the  Roman Empire.  The problem for Witmer is that any date he chooses to say that the "Roman Catholic Heresy" emerged, I can show him documentary evidence that the people in the early church before that date believed Catholic doctrine.

Getting back to the list of "challenges," we have the dietary laws, Sabbaths and special days, and circumcision.
As Witmer rightly goes on to say, even though we are not bound by the Jewish dietary laws, the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday worship), and circumcision, each of these areas made for a somewhat rough transition for Jewish Christians who were leaving their ingrained customs behind for their new faith.

Precisely because it was such a hard transition, we see the need for someone to define "liberty areas" with authority.  We see this happen in regard to circumcision at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15.  The early church was being split by the question of whether gentile converts first needed to be circumcised before they could enter the faith.  

At a deeper level, the question was: is circumcision a "liberty issue."  One side said "No! It is not a liberty issue! Gentiles MUST be circumcised."  The other side said "Yes! It is a liberty issue.  We can choose for ourselves whether or not we want to be circumcised."

Once again, can you see how liberty issues involve not just the issue itself, but who gets to decide?  That is why, without an outside authority, liberty issues divide churches.  Just think: if the apostles hadn't held a council at Jerusalem to make an authoritative decision, the early church could have divided into schism over (what one side would call) a liberty area.
However, "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" that Gentiles did NOT need to be circumcised (Acts 15).  With this ruling, both sides were convinced that the area was a liberty issue.

In contrast, within Protestantism, "liberty issues" remain bones of contention that serve to divide Christians into more and more denominations.
There are many such “liberty” issues that good and godly believers differ on that are not
clearly spelled out Doctrine. Unfortunately, some Fundamental Christians have gotten very
ugly and militant on these “rabbit trail issues” and have judged other Christians and elevated
these issues to the level of Doctrine. Are liberty issues are no longer so much Sabbaths,
circumcision, and dietary laws --- but are things like women wearing pants, attending the
Theater, the Version debate, certain Music, etc.) - We need to apply the truths here to our own
“doubtful disputations” in Fundamentalism that are not clear Doctrine and good and Godly
men see differently than we may see it.

Here, Pastor moves away from the examples of circumcision, etc. to the modern "liberty areas:" women wearing pants, attending the theatre, the Version debate, certain Music, etc.

He also invokes "clear doctrine," though that is really the heart of the debate, no?  After all, something being "clear" is a bit subjective, since doctrines (and liberty areas) that are clear to one Christian are not clear to another.
Who has the authority to decide?

And what about areas like (non-excessive) drinking of alcohol?  Many good and Godly Christians see no problem with drinking a glass of wine.  Is this a liberty area, or would Witmer say these Christians are sinning?  I personally know many Baptists who enjoy a single glass of wine and feel the need to make a joke about "not telling my pastor."  Is drinking in moderation a sin?  
And if so (or not so), where does the Bible clearly say one way or another?  If a "liberty area" is an area involving an "application" like Witmer said earlier, then surely the subject of having a beer would be a liberty issue, since one must apply Biblical ideas to making a ruling.

As you read Witmer's sermon, you see how easy it is to get caught up in the problem of "liberty issues" without: (1) actually defining clearly what those areas are and (2) showing that you have the authority to define the area as being a "liberty area."
So, when Pastor Witmer goes on to harp on the "don't despise, don't judge" verses, it is fundamentally unclear in what areas we are to apply this advice.  Again, the danger is that end up not judging enough!  The danger is that we allow a brother in the Lord who is falling into sin to continue in that sin because we say to ourselves that it must, for that person, be a liberty area.  "Don't judge," right?

I'm going to skip a bit, but you should be getting the drift.  Please be sure to read all the sermon notes, linked to above. 

Now remember, this isn’t a man living in sin, it is a man that sees and practices a minor issue
of the Christian life differently than you do. - He hasn’t ignored Scripture or twisted Scripture,
he understands it and applies it differently than you.

This is good Christian teaching, but useless unless we know how to judge whether an issue is a liberty area or not.  After all, Pastor Witmer refuses, for instance, to admit that my interpretations of Scripture are valid just because they are different from his in certain areas.  How do we know those areas are NOT liberty areas, but other areas are, if Witmer doesn't define them?  And, who made Pastor Witmer the authority for defining the areas of Scripture that I'm not allowed to interpret for myself?

My Brother and I both love the Lord - however, He takes his family to see clean Movies and I do
not because I feel like that is a bad testimony, association, support of Hollywood, etc. - He says I do
the same thing when I rent from a Redbox. We disagree and the Lord receives us both.

First, it must be said that both Pastor Witmer and his brother are being model Christians in their concerns.   More Catholics (including myself at times) need to follow Pastor Witmer's advice here.  Admittedly, making wise decisions about how to interact (or not interact) with the secular world is difficult.  On the one hand, we all have to do it to some degree, and so Pastor Witmer and his brother are so much arguing about a difference but a degree of interaction.  I applaud and am inspired by both of their faithfulness to the Lord in attempting to make Godly decisions in this area!

Remember the fundamental point: without a list of "liberty areas," it is very difficult to apply the points above, and even possible to apply them wrongly to areas that are not "liberty areas" out of fear of being judgmental.

All the above anecdote adds to our list is one more area: whether or not go to the movies, and in what venue is it appropriate to see a clean movie.

Most Christians probably already know that they at least should attempt to make wise decisions on fronts like this.

The problem is that Christians deeply disagree over other liberty issues (artificial contraception, in-vitro fertilization, etc.) that have pretty significant consequences.  The issue of "liberty area" has consequences that extend much farther than a movie venue.  Further, the issues that Paul was facing in Romans were much larger in scope and significance than the movie/women's pants/version issues that Witmer is talking about.

Notice that so far, the most critical questions haven't really been addressed:

1.  What are liberty areas?
2.  Who decides what those areas are?
3.  Is the decision of what constitutes a liberty area itself a liberty area?
4.  Where does the Bible establish principles for how to deal with modern moral "gray areas" (such as abortion and the question of when life begins, divorce and remarriage, artificial contraception, artificial insemination, tube babies, human torture, etc.)

This is Huge for Christian practice in the Church -- it is the liberty that we all have as priests
to our God to interpret and apply Scripture for ourselves. Not to discount Pastors, not to
discount clear Doctrine -- but everyman is a priest to study and apply the Scripture. It is
commanded for every believer to determine by seriously considering Scripture to determine
how he will practice these liberty issues.

And here, we finally get to the issue of authority.  But notice that Witmer's "answer" really doesn't answer anything!  He cites the principle of the "priesthood of all believers" to back up the right that every Christian has to decide for him or herself how to "practice these liberty areas."  In other words, Pastor Witmer's answer addresses question No. 2 above.  But the problem is, he hasn't addressed question no. 1, which comes first!

Do we, given our status as priests, also have the right to determine and interpret the Bible for ourselves when it comes to what these liberty issues are, and what fundamental Bible doctrines are?

Furthermore, it gets even more complicated, since the Bible clearly speaks of church authorities of Bishop, Priest, and Deacon.  The Greek word for the second term is actually presbyteros, which Catholics contract into the anglicized word "priest."  But this office of priest is distinct from the role of the layman in the Bible, even though lay Christians also have a priestly role in the NT church.  Still, this role is different from the authority structure found in the Holy Orders of the ministerial priesthood layed out by the NT as bishop, presbyteros, and deacon.

We see in the NT that it was primarily the bishops (the apostles were the first bishops, and when they died, someone else filled their "bishopric"; see Acts 1) who authoritatively interpreted God's Word which they had received in the fullness and person of Christ.  We see this play out in Acts 15 at the Council of Jerusalem, discussed earlier.

Unfortunately, because Witmer rejects the existence of such an authoritative body today to define what are and are not liberty areas, he struggles to give a satisfying explanation of how we answer question no. 1: how we determine authoritatively what these areas are.


There are many of these within Christianity -- You are not to ignore these disputed issues,
but rather search Scriptural verses, N.T. doctrine, and principle and make the call for yourself
asking the guidance of God to lead you --- You cannot rest on what my family does in these
issues -- When good and Godly men see an issue differently -- you must consider it and be fully
persuaded in your own mind!  (Witmer's highlighting)

So here we come to the nub of it: you should ask God to guide you.
Well, yes.  That is generally true for everything we do in life, especially in liberty issues where either decision is morally acceptable.

But the real problem is: what are those liberty issues.

After all, abortion is not a liberty issue.  But what if someone in Witmer's congregation thought that it was a liberty issue???  That person might interpret the words above to mean: "don't listen to your family (who is telling her not to get an abortion).  Rather, pray to God, and be fully persuaded in your own mind that getting the abortion is what God wants you to do."

Do you see how "liberty areas" are really a matter of life and death if question no. 1 has not been addressed?

Things remain a bit fuzzy in that Witmer continues talking about early church quandries without addressing modern day problems:

God further explains how He accepts believers who differ in these issues -- He says in v. 6
(read) -- God says -- The believer who sets the Sabbath or special Jewish holy day aside does it
or “regards it” - practices the honoring of that day “unto the Lord”, and the Believer who does
not regard it -- He also honors the Lord by choosing not to honor that day.

Well, once again, things are a bit more complicated.  After all, the Jewish Sabbath has actually been fulfilled in the "Lord's Day," Sunday, the first day of the week and the new day of Creation in Christ.  It is this day that the early church faithfully met, and Christians are commanded to keep the Sabbath, an eternal law written in the Ten Commandments.  The only change is from Saturday to Sunday.  We now rest at the beginning of our labors, not at the end!  A Christian actually does NOT have the liberty of choosing not to honor God on this day!  Yet, Witmer's text above makes it seem like because Saturday worship is no longer required, that Sabbath worship has also been entirely discarded.
Notice how Witmer wraps things up:
Pastor Kosher was the young Youth Pastor at the High School I attended. He came to
me and another friend one day and asked us if we thought the Holy Spirit would tell two
people conflicting things. ----- He was struggling with the Bible truth here that two Christians
could practice different things in their Christian lives and both of them be honoring the Lord.
Again, without knowing whether the issue was a liberty issue or not, it is impossible for this story to be meaningful.  If the issue was about eating meat or being a vegetarian, then it is perfectly acceptable for the Holy Spirit to move people in one direction or the other, since both options are fine.  However, what if the issue was on abortion?  Would the Holy Spirit move someone to save their baby and move someone else to kill it?
Witmer summarizes (with my comments in brackets):
1. Clear Doctrine in Scripture is not a matter of liberty [But who defines clear doctrine authoritatively, and to whom is it "clear"?].
2. There are issues/applications of our Christian life similar to these that we will see differently [Christains are so divided that everything is an issue that is seen differently.  Who decides which differences are permissible and which are heresy?]
3. Each believer must look at Scripture seeking God’s discernment to make decisions for
himself in these areas of liberty. He must be fully persuaded of what He should do and do it [But where can I find a full list of these liberty areas?  Is the list forever complete, or do new options in life automatically get added to the libery (or non-liberty) list?]
4. We must not judge another believer who comes do a different conclusion. He is God’s
servant who God receives and is supporting.  [Is this only true for liberty areas?  If it is generally true, then why does Witmer contstantly judge Catholics to be heretics?  Why can't he at least take the loving approach and say that we simply interpret the Bible differently than he does?]
5. - back where we started [Yes, indeed.] - We are to fellowship willingly with each other even if we disagree,
but we are not to doubtfully and hurtfully quarrel about these things - they are Minor issues
compared to Clear Doctrine, preaching the gospel, and edifying believers. 
While I appreciate Witmer's attempt to address this critical issue for believers, it become clear rather quickly that "liberty areas" is a concept that highlights the need for an authority to define what those issues in fact are.
At the same time, it is critical that Pastor Witmer be able to explain by what authority he decides what areas are liberty areas and which are not, lest his listeners fall into the trap of thinking that anything they may decide to do or believe could be justified by falling under the umbrella of "liberty."