Turns out, these two gentlemen were from Lighthouse Baptist Church in Newark, DE, the same church that I have spent some time responding to on this blog.
The gentlemen invited me to come to their 9/11 memorial service. I thanked them for their kind invitation, and then mentioned that I was Catholic. I also mentioned that I am fairly active in sharing my faith, and I asked them if they would be interested in having a longer conversation than we would be able to have on the sidewalk. I explained that Jesus's high priestly prayer in John 17, in which Christ prayed that Christians would be one as Jesus and the Father were one, motivated me to reach out to Christians to overcome differences and work toward unity. Since Christian unity is predicated on a proper understanding of truth and authority, I asked a question that I thought could get a dialogue going: "what is the pillar and foundation of truth?" (For more on this, keep reading...) Needless to say, in a short conversation, over ten different topics were brought up--all areas of difference that separate us as Christians. Importantly, other topics were brought up in which we share important agreement.
As I was leaving the neighborhood, I decided to introduce myself to another group that was walking around going door-to-door. A similar conversation ensued, covering a different set of topics, many of which regarding significant areas of difference between Baptist and Catholic Christians.
Because of the brevity of both conversations, I took some time respond in more detail in a letter to one of the first gentlemen that I met. In this series of posts, I'll make available the letter that I wrote in response to the topics that were brought up. The first post will provide an introduction and a summary of the 22 topics. Then, 22 posts will follow that respond to each topic. Finally, a concluding post will summarize the major points and questions that I would like to leave with my Baptist brother.
Please join in praying for Christian unity and for the conversion to the fullness of the faith of all Christians!
Without further adieu, here is the introduction to my letter to the evangelists from Lighthouse Baptist Church:
I really enjoyed meeting you and [your friend] in the neighborhood on Saturday. As someone who has gone door-to-door myself (all over the country, in fact), I understand and share your enthusiasm for the Gospel message! I also have a deep respect for you and the members of your church, all of whom I consider to be my brothers and sisters and Christ, even though there remain sad divisions between us. We are still brothers and sisters through our common faith and baptism in Jesus Christ, and my heart swells with love at the idea that all of us Christians could be perfectly unified as a Christian family, just like Jesus prayed for us to be in John 17, and St. Paul continuously demanded. I have spoken in the past with Pastor Witmer, a man who I greatly respect, even though he doesn’t really understand the Catholic Church that well (from an objective perspective). He is a man who is passionate about Jesus Christ and who tries to follow Him as best as he can (at least as far as I can tell from my limited perspective). You all are VERY lucky to have such a pastor, but I know you know this alreadyJ. I listen to about two to three sermons of his every week on the website, and I would tell you that the vast majority of what he affirms is solid, Biblical truth…and truths that Catholics believe in. For the record, the Catholic Church teaches, and I believe, that there is only one way for anyone, ever in the history of humanity, to get to heaven, and that is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh, and he died for you and for me to pay the eternal punishment for our sins. As Pope John Paul II said in the first line of his first letter to the Catholic Church when he became Pope: “The redeemer of Man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history.” The Catholic Church also teaches and believes that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired Word of God and occupies a position of highest authority.
So, before offering a few thoughts on our conversation on Saturday, I wanted to make sure that you were aware of the common ground that we share. I would ask that you rejoice with me that we do share such important common ground, and in some respect, as important as the other topics covered in this letter are, all the topics we could ever cover must always grow out of the reality of who Jesus Christ is, and we can be thankful that we share a common love and obedience for our Savior. I hope that we can find a way to grow that love by continuing dialogue, and allow love to do what love does best: unite (us to God first, and us to one another second). If Jesus’s high priestly prayer, and one of the explicit intentions for which Jesus offered His passion and death on the cross, was for you and I as Christians to be unified, then as difficult as this process may be, we can trust that the angels in heaven rejoice when two Christians are united in the truth. Of course, the difficulties and frustrations we might experience in dialoguing about our real and important differences could never match the sacrifice that Jesus paid on the cross for the unity that he longs for us to achieve. (Many Christians seem to think that Jesus’s prayer in John 17 is naïve. How could he ever expect the members of his body to be unified?) So, let us first turn to Him in prayer: Jesus, through Your most precious Mercy, grant us the grace to mend the tears and schisms within Christianity, dissolve the misunderstandings, eliminate unfounded suspicions, forgive each other of the sinfulness of our Catholic and Baptist forefathers (and even ourselves), and to create an openness in our hearts for full reconciliation so that the Holy Spirit can blow in our respective communities in a mighty way to bring about conversion to the fullness of truth. Lord Jesus, we place ourselves and our divisions under your Blood, and we ask the infinite Mercy and Grace that you poured out for us by the Cross be applied to the divisions that separate us as your children. Grant us a fervent desire to be one and to receive the gift of unity that you prayed for the night before you died, and grant us the patience and humility to listen to each other with humility and treat each other with charity, in all things. We ask all this through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen!
As I prayed that prayer, it struck me that I should also first apologize (to you and the other group that was walking around) for interrupting you sometimes as you were speaking. At times, we all kind of jumped in at once, and while I take this as a sign of our common enthusiasm for truth, I wanted to apologize for the times I let this enthusiasm turn into rudeness. Please forgive me.
Also, before saying anything at all, I first want to clarify the topics brought up when we met, just so that I can make sure that I understand what you were saying before offering a response. You can use these topics as a kind of roadmap or table of contents to the response offered below, but please, if I misunderstood your position in any way, please ignore the response and first clarify what you meant.
Finally, I should also note that I ran into a few other kind folks from LBC as I was driving out of the neighborhood. Since my memory is a bit fuzzy on which topics you brought up and which topics they brought up, I’m going to list them all below, separating them as best as I can between your group (#1) and theirs (#2). If you would be so kind, please give them my warm regards.
Finally, someone mentioned that I should go by the KJV, so most all the quotes below are taken from that version (unless I’m citing something from memory). (Doesn’t Pastor Witmer go by the NKJV, though?)
Group #1 Topics:
[Each topic will link to a future post in which I respond to that particular topic.]
1. Introduction (This post is the introduction.)
[Each topic will link to a future post in which I respond to that particular topic.]
1. Introduction (This post is the introduction.)
2. “The pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Tim. 3:15). I brought this topic up as a question: “what is the pillar and ground of the truth”? I loved your first answer: Jesus Christ. Indeed, Jesus Christ is the foundation and head of the Church, and He is most certainly the Way, the Truth, and the Life…but I think the question gets at how we gain access to that headship. Where do we turn for the truth? What’s the source? What is the pillar and ground of the truth? Your next answer was “The Bible.” I’d like to respond to this answer in more detail below.
3. "No Biblical basis for Catholic veneration of Mary" When speaking about Mary, you asked where in the Bible does it say we should venerate Mary? You also mentioned the fact that Mary herself “rejoices in God Her savior,” implying that she could not be immaculate as Catholics believe her to be. You then mentioned that she had to have sinned, as supported by the verse from Romans 3 that says “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Check that verse with the KJV, as I’m citing it from memory.) And then later, in Romans, Paul quotes the psalms again with the line “there is no one righteous, no, not one.” (Check with KJV again, if you would like.) So, you seem to be arguing from this evidence that Mary could not be deserving the veneration or titles that Catholics understand and honor her with.
4. "Salvation First, Then Baptism" About baptism, you mentioned that we must be saved first, and then baptized. The idea, if I understand correctly, is that nothing like baptism, church membership, religion, etc. can save us. I don’t think you articulated at that moment what does save us, so feel free to respond by saying (in positive terms) what does save us. (I imagine anything that you articulate in positive terms, Catholics agree with.)
5. "Religion Doesn't Save Us" In response to the idea that religion doesn’t save us, I pointed out that for Christians, our religion is a person: Jesus Christ. Ours is a religion not of a theory, an idea, a book, or a way of life…but of a person, and His name is Jesus. Thus, the true religion does save, because the true religion involves being a member of Jesus, loving Him, and being in a personal relationship with Him. I’ll say more about this below.
6. "What good is an infallible Bible without an infallible interpreter?” I asked you this, and I believe your response was: “good question.” Could you clarify whether or not either of you consider yourselves infallible interpreters of Scripture? If you are not, then why should I follow your fallible interpretation of Scripture over mine (or over a Church with a 2,000 year history that claims infallibility)? If you are infallible, how do you know…and how can I know that you are? Also, do you believe your pastor is infallible? If not, how do you know when to trust him…and when not to? And if you are the final judge of when or when not to trust him, then that makes you the highest human authority over yourself? Which leads back to: are you infallible? Why should I also make you the highest human authority over me (letting go of my interpretation of Scripture to follow yours)?
7. The Early Church Fathers. I brought up the fact that the students of the apostles, the earliest Christians in the first and second century of Christianity, were all thoroughly Catholic. I posed the question: why should I follow your interpretation of the Bible when it goes against the understanding of God’s Word of those people who learned Christianity from the very people that wrote the Bible? I asked if you both if you had ever studied their writings (which take up many volumes). You answered “no.”
8. "Why Read the Early Church Fathers when I have the Bible?" About these same early church fathers, one of you asked if what they wrote is Scripture. I think the point you were making is that if it is not in the Bible, why read it? In other words, you seemed to see no reason to read the writings of the early church fathers as a source of information regarding what the Bible means. Basically, you believe that the Bible alone is the sole authority in the life of Christians. (Note well: I do not consider the writings of the early church to have the same authority as Scripture, because these writings are not Scripture. That doesn’t mean that they don’t stand as an authoritative witness to what the early church was like, what they believed, how it was structured, etc. More on this below.)
9. The Bible Alone and "Studying it Out" This gets us to the more general problem of Biblical interpretation. One of you mentioned that you learn truth from the Bible by “studying it out.”
10. Agreeing on the Essentials. In response to the idea that Christians come to different conclusions from Scripture, I think one of you mentioned that true Christians agree on the essentials, and that the minor disagreements are inconsequential, don’t matter, or something along those lines. (Please correct me if I have misunderstood you here.)
11. Unleavened vs. Leavened Bread. About the Mass, one of you asked if we used unleavened bread at the Mass. I can’t remember exactly the argument you were outlining, but I do remember one of you saying about the time Jesus broke bread with the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. If you could clarify the point you were making here, I’d appreciate it! I have some things to say in response below, but at this point, I’m unable to respond to the point you were making because I don’t understand it.
12. The Latin Mass. Also, one of you mentioned the Mass being in Latin, which I assume you think is negative because people could not understand the prayers, making the whole thing seem somewhat meaningless.
13. Do This in REMEMBRANCE of Me. Also about the Mass, one of you mentioned that transubstantiation can not be true based on the fact that Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me.”
The fact that we covered twelve topics in about as many minutes should tell both of us that there is a lot that needs to be discussed if you and I as Christians are going to work toward the reconciliation that God desires for us!
To add to that, here are the topics that came up as I was talking with people in group #2:
Group #2 Topics
14. The kind lady in the group told me that Baptism doesn’t save me. I pointed out that the Bible says “Baptism…now saves us” (1 Peter 3:21, KJV), to which she responded, “no it doesn’t.”
15. In the course of the conversation, one person mentioned that he believes that there are saved Catholics.
16. Another thing that was brought up is that, if we’re all saved, then that’s fine, and we don’t need to worry about differences here and there. (This point was kind of thrown in, and I’m not sure I have the point quoted exactly right. I think it is an extremely important point to think about, though, so I’m including it on the list.)
17. I brought up the fact that I have an iPod with many stories of Baptist pastors who have become Catholic. A person in the group mentioned that people go from/to every different denomination. I later mentioned that what is significant is not the fact that these Baptist pastors converted, but it is the reasons why they convert that need to be understood, especially since the process of conversion itself is one that involves so many difficulties (leaving the pastorate, losing friends/family, losing a job, etc.). Why are they doing this, especially when these men already know the Bible so well and are trying to follow Jesus and His Word even more closely by becoming Catholic?
18. The topic of the KJV of the Bible was brought up. It was implied that if I use a bad translation, then I’m going to reach wrong conclusions. (Like I said, I own the KJV, and I’m quoting from it extensively in this letter. I believe the KJV to be a fine translation, though I lament that it is missing the 7 books from its Old Testament that Martin Luther removed.)
19. I know that the early church fathers were an important topic with Group #2 as well.
20. One person mentioned the “Romans Road,” implying I think that Paul lays out a path to salvation that is different from the path to salvation preached by Catholics.
21. One person repeated the claim that Catholic “recrucify Christ in the Mass.” I said that we emphatically do not, and that I have searched for over a decade to find a single Catholic document that says that we do. (For the results of my research, read below.) The person who made this grievous accusation at the Catholic Church then asked, well what does the Catholic Church teach then? I told him I would really love to answer that question if he is really honest in his desire to hear the answer. He said “no” and began to walk away.
22. I also asked if the person who accused Catholics of “recrucifying Christ” could cite anyone or any documentation to support this accusation. I did not receive any.
23. I remarked that the answer is: no, we do not recrucify Christ. I then said: I would think you would be happy to learn this. Just imagine a reverse situation: what if someone had been telling me lies about Baptists, such as that Baptists are racists. If I finally met you today and told you that I had heard that Baptists are racist, and if you then told me that I had been misinformed and that you emphatically are not racist, that would be reason for me to by happy and relieved. To add briefly to my comments made in the neighborhood: It would also give me reason to not going around spreading an unsubstantiated lie about other Christians. Also, I would have to ask forgiveness harboring such a cruel suggestion in mind for so long without actually going and asking a Baptist if Baptists are racist. …Yet, falsely accusing Catholics of recrucifying Christ is far, far worse than accusing Baptists of being racist.
Okay...that's all for now. Over the next few weeks, I'll post the next 23 posts covering the different topics and a final summary.
May the peace of our risen Savior be with you!