Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts


Is the PCUSA My Church?

posted by Mark D. Roberts

Part 13 of series: The End of the Presbyterian Church USA? Revisited
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series
The recent focus of this blog series has been the biblical and theological issues associated with the ordination of sexually-active gays and lesbians. I have tried to explain what Presbyterians believe and why, and why our divisions over this issue are deep and intractable. Apart from some dramatic work of the Spirit, I do not expect the PCUSA ever to come to a place of agreement on the question of gay ordination (unless one side splits from the denomination, leaving only those who agree on the issue). Moreover, I do not expect folks on the different sides of the debate to give up the fight. The issue of gay ordination will continue to plague our denomination, to drag us down, to debilitate us, and to divide us until we come to some sort of institutional change that allows us to stop fighting . . . or until we kill off the PCUSA. Who was it that said something about a kingdom divided against itself . . . ?
For some, the scenario I have just sketched immediately suggests that individual churches should leave the PCUSA. For others, the solution involves a more coordinated and complicated division within the denomination. For others, the only answer will be a mass exodus by likeminded churches. And for others, we should remain “as is” institutionally, and keep on fighting as we have done for the last thirty years.
I am going to weigh in on these options. Some of my readers will be disappointed to learn that I will not advocate immediate departure from the PCUSA of churches, pastors, and individuals who disagree with recent pro-gay General Assembly actions. My commenters who have accused me inaction will, no doubt, have a field day once again. Others who have feared that my line of argumentation will lead me to advocate leaving the PCUSA will be relieved, perhaps. And those who, like me, are still seeking God’s direction in the matter, will find a fellow seeker. I hope I’ll offer something more than the blind leading the blind.
Those of us who oppose gay ordination as unbiblical face a variety of possible actions. As we evaluate our options, we must continue to let Scripture guide us. It would be sadly ironic if, after fighting for biblical truth concerning homosexuality, we abandoned biblical truth in our response to PCUSA practicalities. Some on my side of the issue, for example, seem to have forgotten the biblical call to speak the truth in love. It’s hard to find speaking the truth with bitterness and meanness is Scripture, even though some of my fellows do this very thing.
Moreover, before we decide how we’re going to relate to our denomination, we need to become clear on the theological character of denominations. If you listen to the rhetoric in this debate, you’ll often hear people on the conservative side say something like this:

“I am an evangelical, and proud of it. But I don’t want to be in a denomination of people who think just like I do. I need to be stretched and challenged by others who see things differently. I need to have [name of valued liberal Presbyterian] in my church!”

As an evangelical who attended Harvard Divinity School and who has taught at San Francisco Theological Seminary (a PCUSA seminary with plenty of liberal Christians in addition to evangelicals), I agree completely about the value of being challenged by Christians whose theology is different from my own. In some cases, I have things to learn from these folks. In other cases, respectful interaction with them helps me clarify my own views. So I agree with those who say “I need to have [name of valued liberal Presbyterian] in my church!”
But I don’t agree with what their statements implies. Their language suggests that the PCUSA is “my church.” It virtually equates our denomination with the church of Jesus Christ. And this, I’d suggest, is a biblical and theological mistake. As I read the Bible, it’s hard to find any support for the idea that a denomination is a church, much less the Church of Jesus Christ. It is either a collection of churches or a part of the one Church. But a denomination is not a church.
At least that’s true for Protestants. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox folk, though they eschew the denominational label, could at least defend the equation of their church with the Church. I don’t agree with this, obviously enough. But I respect it. I’m often amazed by how some Presbyterians argue for remaining in the PCUSA, without realizing that their arguments actually point to reunion with Rome.
So, if I were to decide at some point to leave the PCUSA, I would still have [name of valued liberal Presbyterian] in my church. Just like I have millions of Lutherans, Episcopalians, Catholics, Pentecostals, and Independents in “my church.” My church, after all, isn’t mine. It’s the church of Jesus Christ, in which all who confess him as Lord and Savior are members.
The PCUSA is not my church. It is my denomination. It’s been my denomination for forty years, ever since I joined the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood in 1968. In the last twenty years I’ve been a member of three presbyteries in the PCUSA: Pacific, Los Ranchos, and Mission. I have received many gifts from my denomination, and I hope I have contributed to it as well. (Photo: PCUSA logo)
In many ways, the PCUSA is more like my extended family than it is like my church. I’m thinking of my relatives, some of whom I dearly love, some of whom I rarely see, some of whom see life as I see it, and some of whom see and live their lives in very different ways from me. I’d hate to imagine what it would be like if my extended family and I tried to get together in some common cause. Our values are so diverse that I doubt we could focus on some common mission. My denomination, on the contrary, should find mission as a central aspect of its communion. I’ll have more to say about this in my next post.?



  • http://jkfhuskersearthlink.net J. Falconer

    Rev. Roberts, Thanks again of another contemplative issue & post! Many of us can relate to this post especially the last 2 paragraphs. We are super looking forward to your next post.. Have a nice day & week. Thanks Again & GOD BLESS

  • Paul

    Dr. Roberts, thanks again for a very thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I am particularly moved by your grounding in Christ and not a denomination. Thank you.
    I take your comment “…that their arguments actually point to reunion with Rome.”, to mean a devotion to what has been called sola ecclesia as opposed to sola scriptura. I don’t think you mean it leads to Roman theology, in general. Perhaps you can expand on that in your next post.
    Best wishes for your continued success!

  • Dan

    Dr. Roberts – once again I am left thinking deeper thoughts after reading one of your posts. My wife and I have been visiting a PC(USA) for the past three months after leaving our PCA church home of 7 years. There are issues we still need to reconcile with our own views before applying for membership in this new church home. However, your synopsis of this debate is giving me a bit of reassurance that I would not be crazy to join this family at this point in time.

  • HenryH

    You wrote: “It’s hard to find speaking the truth with bitterness and meanness is Scripture, even though some of my fellows do this very thing.”
    You might enjoy this post by John Mark Reynolds:
    http://www.scriptoriumdaily.com/2008/01/28/nasty-like-jesus-use-of-tough-rhetoric-in-christianity/
    As many here have done, I commend your gracious attitude and approach and think you for your work. We’re praying for you, for the PC(USA), and for the Church, all the while saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

  • KWK

    Mark,
    Much of the “future of the PC(USA)” conversation occurring on your blog (especially in the comments) seems to revolve around the question of what individual congregations are to do in response to the GA. Often, it is assumed that “evangelical congregations” will be discussing the possibility of leaving the denomination to the “liberal congregations”. However, this seems to treat congregations as monolithic entities with all members being of one accord. This is probably the case only in the more extreme situations; in reality, I’d guess that the membership of any given congregation is just as mixed in their responses to this issue as the larger denomination is.
    I’m hoping at some point you’ll discuss the dilemma faced by congregations that are split down the middle, as opposed to having a clear majority on one side or the other.
    Thanks for your continued efforts to bring some clarity and reasoned discussion to this potentially confusing and contentious issue.

  • http://lleemukhotmail.com Linda Lee

    Mark,
    I’ve been thnking about your blog all day. In directly you might be saying that it doesn’t matter what part (denomination) of the “body” (church) you belong to. It gives me some motivation to maybe look beyond this denomination that I’ve been a part of for over 50 years. I’ve been looking for the answer to the question “Should I go or stay”…. we are all part of the larger church, so why not let the churches leave who want to serve Christ in another part.
    You end by saying we should find mission as our central focus. My problem with this denomination is that I don’t quite agree with the
    “mission” of it’s leadership any more.
    It is harder to be “Passionate Spiritually”
    in this denimination.

  • Ray

    I used to think that my duty was to stay engaged in this battle until my side prevailed, and the other side was “converted” to my way of thinking. I have changed my mind about that. There will be no winner in this battle.
    I believe we are locked in a theological impasse that cannot be resolved, no matter how badly we want things to work out. We are deeply divided over doctrinal issues that spring from vastly different world views. Try as we might, we will never be able to reconcile these differences.
    Over the course of this debate, I have come to greatly respect the other side, and I now understand much more about their positions on specific issues. And they are arguing with just as much integrity and passion as I am. I still believe they are wrong, but I no longer consider it my duty to “correct” them. I am not God, and I can’t pretend to be able to sort it all out.
    I pray that those who disagree with me have developed the same respect for my positions that I have developed for theirs. Although we can never agree on these things, we can always have fellowship together as brothers and sisters in Christ.
    Unfortunately, we cannot share denominational bonds. Some of the most important work that denominations do is to set apart and ordain ministers and officers to lead people in mission. If we disagree on ordination standards we have very little basis upon which to build a life together.
    Denominations are not sacred. Christian denominations are morally neutral. They exist to enable like-minded bodies of believers with similar belief sets, philosophies, religious practices and polity preferences to share resources in pursuit of a common mission. There is no biblical mandate for their existance, but neither is there a prohibition against them. They are HUMAN inventions born in religious freedom, in the search for truth and in the pursuit of mission. The strengths inherent in shared resources, unifying doctrinal beliefs and common fellowship are helpful as each constituency of believers seeks to identify and pursue its own unique mission in the world.
    Sometimes, however, denominational bonds become an impediment to mission as they yoke together people whose doctrinal differences overwhelm their capacity to work together on specific matters of theological significance, and the political apparatus of the denomination is unable to bridge the gap. Such is the case with the PC(USA) today.
    Given that, is there a way we can recognize our differences and work together toward two new, more functional denominations?
    Or does one side have to win?

  • Dennis Evans

    Mark,
    I think we inevitably suffer, in times of crisis, from the confusion of being a denomination. A denomination may very well be like a family, especially for those of us raised in one. But a denomination is a historical, theological, organizational construct, and not really a biblical one.
    If we are a “family”, what biblical image of the church would match this except Israel. But withdrawal from one’s family in Israel, even if the aim is to promote a new tribe is problematic.
    The only other image to match that of the picture of Israel is the faithful remnant, but the continuing faithfulness of any of the sequence of “remnants” of Israel, through history, also presents difficulties.
    Historically the founders of “denominations” have ended to take the great leap of calling the old arrangement “Babylon” and saying, “Come out of her.” This is largely the argument today.
    I think the biblical image that best regulates an entity whose definition is problematic, is the image of “neighbor”. The question we are called upon to answer, with this image, is: “Who is my neighbor?” We find ourselves tempted to “dis-neighbor” ourselves from certain people who are, or have become, unsatisfactory in that respect, in our view.
    A more general image is the one we are obliged to give to anyone. And that image is “Christ”. The standing instruction with this image is, “Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it to me.” Why should we treat any church family, especially the one closest to us (the one we are in), in any lesser way?
    I hate this debate, as I think we all do, and I hope, Mark, that you will be supported in your reflections by all our prayers for the healing of God’s people.

  • http://www.communionpres.org RevK

    Denominations are the great Protestant project… Allowing like minded churches to affiliate and accomplish something together that they could not do all by themselves. They are “apostolic” in nature, assuring that there is a common faith and practice “in all the churches.”
    Most Presbyterian denominations allow individual churches to leave with some sequential congregational votes — peace be with you! But the PCUSA will take a church to court if they want to leave.
    Who made this rule, and how is it reconciled with 1 Cor. 6?
    Sorry if I missed the presentation on this if covered.

  • smithson

    Below is a devotional from A.W Tozer (circa 1960). Very apropos don’t you think!
    The Church, The Major Decision:
    “There is a great decision that every denomination has to make sometime in the development of its history. Every church also has to make it either at its beginning or a little later–usually a little later. Eventually every board is faced with the decision and has to keep making it, not by one great decision made once for all, but by a series of little decisions adding up to one great big one. Every pastor has to face it and keep renewing his decision on his knees before God. Finally, every church member, every evangelist, every Christian has to make this decision. It is a matter of judgment upon that denomination, that church, that board, that pastor,that leader and upon their descendants and spiritual children.
    The question is this: Shall we modify the truth in doctrine or practice to gain more adherents? Or shall we preserve the truth in doctrine and practice and take the consequences?
    A commitment to preserving the truth and practice of the church is what separates me from a great many people who are perhaps far greater than I am in ability. This is my conviction, long held and deeply confirmed by a knowledge of the fact that modern gospel churches, almost without exception, have decided to modify the truth and practice a little in order to have more adherents and get along better. We’re under constant pressure to have more adherents, more members, more numbers. The emphasis today is on growth, bigness, size,and success.
    Lord God help me never to modify or compromise to achieve that, but to tenaciously hold fast to my core beliefs and priorities. Amen”
    A.W Tozer

  • David

    To KWK: Further to your question, I wonder how many people just don’t know, either because they haven’t really thought about it or because they are confused by the issues. And how many don’t care, they just want to be left alone so they can enjoy the music and fellowship with their friends in “their” church. And how many are easily led one way or the other by their pastor or others. And how many just wish everyone would stop arguing and get on with more important things. If we added all of these people together we might find the true majority of the church.

  • Jesse

    Regarding KWK’s comment, I’m not sure why it’s always assumed the conservative churches will be the ones to “leave.” I think you could make a good argument that had the conservative churches not done so years ago, we wouldn’t be in such a mess today. The following seems a good strategy to me:
    1) Let the presbyteries vote how they will as before. Usually this means the ordination standards will be upheld, although I guess there’s nothing that can be done about the AIs.
    2) Make necessary changes to allow the minority to leave with their property. A majority vote of a congregation determines its position…which in turn determines the property of presbyteries, synods, etc. and the institutions they sponsor.
    3) Property agreements should include the following: If property is ever sold by either of the two resulting denominations, the other denomination has first right of purchase, at (Fair Market Value at Time of Sale)-1/2(Fair Market Value at Time of Split). This is more than fair in recognizing the funds devoted by the two sides.
    While I don’t believe conservative churches should up and leave, it’s becoming clear that they must do something. Otherwise, today’s moderates will just be tomorrow’s conservatives, and we’ll continue along a path of poor stewardship – leaving our money and resources in the hands of those who would waste it on aggressive social engineering projects (for instance, on legal battles against churches who choose to leave – how wasteful! how absurd!).
    I like my plan best. That way the conservative churches will be able to get a deal on abandoned liberal church property in what, 40 years? Isn’t that the date the PC(USA) flatlines at its current rate of decline?

  • http://www.catholic.com Tom

    As a Catholic, it’s not always easy to relate immediately with the issues faced by some of my Protestant brothers and sisters. It takes some effort since we often approach our common faith from different points of reference and perhaps view it through a different set of lenses. I’m sure many Protestants could say the same about my faith.
    For instance, the distinction made in this post between church affiliation (i.e., denomination) and The Church (i.e., what Christ established). As Mark points out, for Catholics there is no distinction since we believe Christ established one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. We would reject the notion that this Church (singular) could at one and the same time teach different doctrines and operate under the guidance of distinct authoritative bodies (denominations), as we see is the case within Protestantism.
    For just as Mark hints at an end to the PCUSA (the theme of this 13 post series) over the doctrinal division that exists within the Presbyterian communion on the issue of homosexuality, neither can Christ’s Body — the Church — function where its individual members are divided and operate under their own interpretations of Sacred Scripture, apart from Sacred Tradition and the authority of those who succeeded the twelve.
    Who can believe that Christ intended his church to be speaking with 30,000 conflicting voices?
    Christianity has gone from the witness of Pentecost, where each heard the apostles speaking in their own tongue and with one voice, to a sort of modern-day Babylon where each speaks in a different tongue, verging on the point of chaos. Consider: does Christianity teach baptism is necessary for salvation? how is Christ present in the eucharist? do Christians believe once saved always saved? is divorce permissible? is contraception permissible? is abortion permissible? …are homosexual ordinations permissible?
    Ask any random sampling of self-proclaimed Christians — members of Christ’s Church — and you will get contradicting answers. Most would probably cite the Bible as supportive of their beliefs.
    This cannot be how it was intended when Our Blessed Lord spoke of building his Church.
    Where is Christ’s Church? As a Catholic, I have to side with Ambrose of Milan, an early church father:
    “It is to Peter that He says: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church’ (Matthew 16:18). Where Peter is, there is the Church. And where the Church, no death is there, but life eternal.” St. Ambrose of Milan, “Commentary on Twelve Psalms of David” c. 389 A.D

  • http://graceandlaw.blogspot.com Adel

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. But I have to disagree with one of your assumptions upon which your conclusion is founded. You are claiming that those who adhere to theological liberalism are in fact Christians. I would challenge you on that. Point for point on everything that you or I would consider essential for a Christian to believe is denied by the theological religion and system that is referred to as liberalism or progressivism.
    They deny the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ…they deny the substitutionary atonement of Jesus on the Cross, thus completely reinterpreting the sacraments…more often than not theological liberalism is more pan(en)theistic and agnostic than it is theistic…they deny the physical bodily return of Jesus Christ, etc…
    We are not talking about people who might hold more progressive social views (although they do), but rather leaders who deny core tenets of the Christian faith. Ultimately these problems cut much deeper than the issue of the day (homosexual acts), but rather undermines or completely oblitherates every essential belief of historic orthodox protestantism. And yet, we are all intimately linked together in this denominational structure.

  • http://www.catholic.com Tom

    Thank you, Abel, for making this papist feel welcome to comment. :)
    I can understand your disagreement with my premise that liberal Christians are in fact Christian. I guess it depends on how one defines a Christian. I think the fairest definition would have to be someone who tries to follow the teachings of Christ. (Remember, this is coming from someone who believes Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus! :-O )
    That doesn’t mean I think subscribers to a liberal theology are good Christians. I think quite the opposite. But more to the point (above that of how one defines a Christian), there are plenty of doctrinal disagreements among Evangelical protestants (presumably we would agree they are members of the church). Infant baptism, the necessity of baptism, the eucharist (symbolic or something more?), and the assurance of salvation to name just four. These are hardly non-trivial points of doctrine.
    Bring Orthodox/Catholic Christians into the picture and the list of disagreements expands further into the primacy/authority of Peter, the communion of saints, the role of Our Lord’s mother and so on.
    So even if we limit ourselves to the differences among “Christians” the problem I’m trying to highlight here does not go away. Namely, by what authority do we teach/believe these things?
    Allow me to preempt a bit here and say that I don’t think “the Bible” is a very good answer for at least three reasons: (1) The Bible makes no such claim of sufficiency, (2) in practice Sola Scriptura has yielded the very problem we’re now trying to solve and (3) the Bible actually warns Christians of the danger in being misled by a mistaken interpretation of this passage or that.
    “In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures.” -2 Peter 3:16
    Of the thousands of conflicting interpretations, each will say, ‘Surely this is the proper understanding,’ and yet reason tells us that at least all but one of them are, in the words of St. Peter, “distorted.”
    Are we so confident in our personal interpretation as to be sure it is not in fact a distortion of the true meaning; that it is not standing in the way, so to speak, between ourselves and Christ?
    So far as I can tell, the problem I’ve raised remains for serious Protestants. For Catholics (who reject Martin Luther’s doctrine of Sola Scriptura) there is no problem at all. We trust in the voice and authority of the Church which Paul describes as the “pillar and foundation of truth.” (1 Tim 3:15)

  • http://www.communionpres.org RevK

    Tom,
    Listen, Presbyterians share and cherish an historic, catholic and apostolic faith. I don’t understand this Rome-antic notion that the orthodox view of Christian history is the sole property of a single denominational expression of the holy catholic (universal) church. Your beautiful illustration of Peter’s Spirit inspired preaching is soon followed with complaints in the church regarding how to care for widows. The New Testament (and all of Israel’s history for that matter) is a documentation of God’s people being in continual conflict and disagreement with at least someone all the time (except for those prophetic passages of ‘lamb and wolf’…) — and yet a remnant is always preserved. But they are never preserved by a single office holder (save Christ, who is our prophet, priest, and King!) The glory of the true church is that we would be one because of Christ’s prayer and the Spirit’s power. To suggest otherwise would negate all of John 13-17 (Acts 1, and more) where Jesus said he would be leaving the world, but sending the paraclete — NOT an earthly individual to speak authoritatively to the church! (BTW, the RCC is not as monolithic as often portrayed, my apologies to Peter!)
    We are one when by the Word and Spirit, many lead and many follow by the Word and Spirit.
    I’d prefer at this point not to mention all the things which divide us (I’ll just pray for a more Presbyterian Pope =O)
    “Nevertheless, sacred doctrine makes use of these authorities as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that may properly be used, yet merely as probable. For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors. Hence Augustine says (Epis. ad Hieron. xix, 1): “Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical have I learned to hold in such honor as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them. But other authors I so read as not to deem everything in their works to be true, merely on account of their having so thought and written, whatever may have been their holiness and learning.” – Thomas Aquinas.

  • http://www.catholic.com Tom

    RevK,
    The reason I submit that the universal church is expressed by a single ‘denomination’ united in doctrine and belief is because Christ spoke of building *one* Church. Singular.
    Of his Church he said, “He who hears you, hears me. He who rejects you, rejects me.” (Lk 10:16)
    Question: Which church is he referencing? Is it when we hear the Presbyterian Church speaking that we can be sure we’re hearing Christ? And supposing I reject the Presbyterian Church as authoritative — say on the grounds of their acceptance of homosexual acts — am I rejecting Christ?
    Or again, take Matthew 18:15-17.
    “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”
    Tell the church? Which church shall we go to? It cannot be a vague conglomeration of ‘believers’ (split on doctrine) since there would be no clear answer to this question. Jesus said his Church would be “the light of the world.” He then noted that “a city set on a hill cannot be hid” (Mt 5:14). This means his Church is a visible organization — one that you could take your brother to if he sins against you. So which church is it?
    In your post you make the argument that Jesus would not have ‘an earthly individual’ speak authoritatively to the church. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, and Jude excepted, of course.
    I’m not making the case that the authority of the Pope supercedes the New Testament. I’m trying to point out the error of making rash statements in an attempt to discredit the authority of an ‘earthly individual’ with whom you disagree.
    You might respond that the Gospel writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit — and you would be right. But Catholics make a similar (but more limitted) claim about doctrinal pronouncements of Peter’s successor: he is protected by God against teaching error. This belief follows from Our Lord’s promise in John 16:13, “Yet when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” (To say nothing of the authority conferred in Matthew 16:18, or his parting words in John 21:15 and following, or the authority Peter clearly exercised in Acts 15.)
    Perhaps even more persuasive, listen to the astonishment we can hear in Christ’s voice in the passage I quoted from Matthew 18: “If he refuses to listen *even to the church*…”
    He confers authority on his church to govern, teach and sanctify. He gives the keys of the kingdom to Peter — a deeply symbolic act of transferring authority. All of which explains why Paul refers to *the church* as the “pillar and foundation of truth.” (1 Tim 3:15)
    And it only makes sense as the Church codified Sacred Scripture (around 387 A.D.) and not the other way round.
    You said, “We are one when by the Word and Spirit, many lead and many follow by the Word and Spirit.”
    I’m not sure I completely understand what you’re saying here, but it sounds like you are begging the question.
    The problem I’m trying highlight here is that someone who rejects “an earthly individual’s” authority to interpret Scripture or guide the Church necessarily declares *himself* that authority. What does it mean to “lead and…follow by the Word and Spirit”?
    In the end, it only means what RevK discerns the Word and the Spirit to mean. In our attempt to simply strip the pope of his mitre we find that we have placed it on our own head.
    This is the fruit of Sola Scriptura.

  • Kurt Norlin

    Not that this proves anything, but I was interested to learn, recently, the origin of the saying “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It was the response of Lord Acton, a committed Roman Catholic, to the recently-formalized doctrine of Papal infallibility (1870).

  • http://www.catholic.com Tom

    And, in spite of his reservations, he regarded “communion with Rome as dearer than life”.
    Not that it proves anything. ;)

  • http://www.communionpres.org RevK

    Dearest Tom,
    …and the fruit of the Roman Catholic Church is Protestant Reformations!
    Although the Greek word, ekklesia, is singular, it is defined as an “assembly (a grouping of people, ‘plural’).”
    To answer your question: I think we both know that Christ’s church is made up of the flock he shepherds, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (Jn. 10:27,28) However, I also know that some sheep need more attention from the shepherd! (Luke 15:1-7)
    The Presbyterian church is not THE authority, Christ is. The Presbyterian confession makes it clear that not every church lives up to the standards of the shepherd, “…Particular churches, which are members of this catholic church, are more or less pure to the extent to which the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, the ordinances are administered, and public worship is performed more or less purely in them.” (WCF 25.4)
    I agree with you that it is valid to reject the authority of a church on the grounds of their acceptance of homosexual acts, just as we should reject any church for not permitting their pastor’s to marry.
    I also heartily recommend Dr. Roberts’ series on the church: http://www.markdroberts.com/htmfiles/resources/whatisachurch.htm
    I appreciate your wonderful references to the Scriptures and that you are, “… not making the case that the authority of the Pope supercedes the New Testament.” But to expound on these selected passages at length, I think, is beyond the privilege of this blog. We just have different approaches to interpretation, and find different traditions by which to support them. I prefer the analogy of faith, you may prefer another tradition.
    I DO AGREE strongly that there should be some ecclesiastical conversation between various churches. If an individual seeks membership in our fellowship because he disagrees with his former church’s exercise of Matthew 18 upon him, it is my duty as a churchman to uphold the proper protocols of church discipline. This makes us “the church.” (Although more importantly would be our shared evangelism of, service to, and prayer for the communities in which we reside.)
    I’ll plainly state again, I believe in an historic and apostolic faith. I do not reject all “human authority” to arrive at my convictions. In concert, I reference many voices possessing wisdom, experience, and education beyond my own. This is the whole point of the council of Acts 15! Peter wasn’t the only one with input there! An assembly of authorities arrived at a “Spirit inspired decision” based upon an apostolic interpretation of the word in light of the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
    However, you have certainly identified a blatant reality. Every Christian, to some degree, is an “(insert your name here) Christian.” This happens in every church. I know that not every parishioner of my church holds the same eschatological framework I do, or has the same convictions about smoking and drinking, or will vote as I do… this can go on and on… However, we DO have the 10 commandments and we do have the ancient creeds that keep us together in the church (Obviously, there is some fine tuning to get to our tradition that sets us apart as a Presbyterian church; but I’m overdoing it here…)
    I heard a broadcast of a priest making an incredible presentation while debating a protestant pastor. At the end of the debate, I was in greater agreement with that priest than I was with the pastor. I actually found that priest’s email address to send him an encouraging note, only to find that he was forced to resign. Why? I think he was too controversial for the RCC. He was an “(insert your name here) RC;” just as I am a “RevK Presbyterian.” I admit that! But a I’m a Christian (first) who is happy to be in conversation with a priest and a blogging Presbyterian who each belong to churches that I would never join – But I pray for peace between us (Lk. 10:6).
    Last point on the word and Spirit: If an unregenerate man was all alone on a desert island, and a Bible washed ashore; what kind of Christian would he become? Could he become a justified believer, all alone, simply by the word and the Spirit? Could this man be saved without any knowledge of church history, church tradition, canon law, or access to the ‘sacraments?’
    MY Christian conviction says, “YES.” He could be a Christian even though he was not an (insert your denomination here)! And all alone on that island, he would be a member of the Church!

  • http://www.catholic.com Tom

    “…and the fruit of the Roman Catholic Church is Protestant Reformations!”
    Hmm. I suppose the argument could be made… :) Not sure what that says about the RCC, or about Protestants for that matter.
    “Although the Greek word, ekklesia, is singular, it is defined as an “assembly (a grouping of people, ‘plural’).””
    Well, sure. I’m not making the case that the Church should be comprised of only one individual. I’m saying that the ekklesia should be one in doctrine and understanding. Christendom today is most certainly not, largely as a result of the belief that Scripture alone is sufficient for teaching, guiding and understanding. (A belief, ironically, not found in the pages of the Bible; a man-made belief/tradition, if you will.)
    “I think we both know that Christ’s church is made up of the flock he shepherds, ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them…’”
    Right. But the Shepherd is no longer walking among us. He is still the Shepherd; he is still the High Priest and head of his body, the Church. But he is in Heaven. And knowing full well he was not going to be walking among us forever as a man-God he promised not to “leave us orphans” (Jn 14:18-19). Just before ascending to Heaven he has the intimate, departing conversation with Peter and says:
    “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” (Jesus) said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (Jn 21:15-17)
    Tending the Shepherd’s sheep was Simon-Peter’s charge. That’s why Catholics look to Peter, and refer to him as, the Vicar of Christ. Peter is not the Christ. But he acts in the place of Christ here on earth. And he does so not because he seeks “absolute power” — he does so because that is precisely what Christ has asked of him…three times.
    “I agree with you that it is valid to reject the authority of a church on the grounds of their acceptance of homosexual acts, just as we should reject any church for not permitting their pastor’s to marry.”
    Ah. I guess both of our churches are out then. ;)
    I can easily find scripture verses condemning homosexual behavior. Can you tell me where I can find similar verses condemning the evil of a celibate priesthood?
    [As an aside, celibacy is a discipline (not a doctrine) in the Catholic Church. Since it is only a discipline, it could conceivably change at any time. However, as Christ chose a life of celibacy it seemed fitting to the Church that those who share in his priesthood ought to do likewise as they seek to conform their lives ever more closely to that of the one, High Priest. There are prudential reasons as well, of course. A celibate priest can direct his undivided attention to his parishoners; a married priest will have two families to care and attend to: his wife/kids and the spiritual family God has entrusted to his care. And of course there's the financial aspect.]
    “I appreciate your wonderful references to the Scriptures and that you are, “… not making the case that the authority of the Pope supercedes the New Testament.””
    Thanks!
    “But to expound on these selected passages at length, I think, is beyond the privilege of this blog.”
    I think you’re right. I hope I haven’t been too much of a pesky gnat (or worse!) for Mark. :(
    “This is the whole point of the council of Acts 15! Peter wasn’t the only one with input there!”
    No, but he was the one who authoritatively made the decision. No one questioned his authority, and this authority was widely accepted in the early Church until the schism with the Orthodox (who, after 1,000 years of bitterness in very recent years have been growing much closer to reunion Rome) and the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.
    “If an unregenerate man was all alone on a desert island, and a Bible washed ashore; what kind of Christian would he become?”
    I have no idea. He might interpret Scripture as a Fundamentalist would, or perhaps as a liberal Christian might, or as a Catholic, or he might find it unconvincing altogether. I really don’t know. There’s a good chance he would have something like the response of the Ethiopian eunuch reading Isaiah in his chariot:
    “Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” (Acts 8:30-31)
    “Could [the man on an island] become a justified believer, all alone, simply by the word and the Spirit? Could this man be saved without any knowledge of church history, church tradition, canon law, or access to the ’sacraments?’”
    The Catholic Church teaches that, “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience — those too may achieve eternal salvation.”

  • Matt Ferguson

    I believe Adel (post #14) is on target in challenging the assumption that progressives are Christians. I am sure some hold to essential beliefs but many progressives I know and read do not.
    I think another weakness in what you (Mark) have written so far is a failure to address what will happen when the progressives are able to require of all that which they now only seek permission to do. Again, history and simply following the progressive line of reasoning means it will come to that.

  • Constantine

    Tom,
    It is unusual to see so many refuted Catholic apologetic arguments in so few posts. Just for the edification of our readers we should probably lay them to rest:
    You wrote: “We would reject the notion that this Church (singular) could at one and the same time teach different doctrines and operate under the guidance of distinct authoritative bodies.”
    The false assumption here is that Rome does not. One need only compare the “Catholicism” of Boston College, for example, with that of San Francisco to see the very wide divergence in the Roman camp. The history of the Roman church is replete with doctrinal diversity. Think of Bernard of Clairvaux’s rejection of the Immaculate Conception, Augustine’s very protestant view of the Eucharist. And different authoritative bodies? You may wish to review the history of your church. For centuries, there were multiple popes and sometimes more than one in Rome. The Council of Constance assumed supreme authority over the church by excommunicating a pope or two and then “anointing” another only later to have the pope “anathematize” those who would appeal to a council over a pope. (Talk about a contradiction!) Today the Sedevacantists Catholics are on the rise, the Polish Catholic church is growing outside the bounds of Rome and yes, and we even have our own “American” pope. Not to mention the vast majority of Romanists disagree with the Pope on issues like contraception. And there are groups of bishops that openly defy Rome. So your view of Roman theology, history and unity is naïve if you don’t mind my saying so.
    You wrote: “Who can believe that Christ intended his church to be speaking with 30,000 conflicting voices?”
    Where did you get your number, Tom? (I bet you don’t know.) Some Roman apologists use 33,000, others 25,000 and they usually don’t know, either. This has been thoroughly researched and here’s the scoop:
    “…the Roman Catholic apologist can take little comfort in the fact that he has only sixteen denominations while Protestantism has twenty-one; and he can take even less comfort in the fact that while Evangelicalism has no divisional breakdown, Roman Catholicism has at least four major divisions.” (30,000 Denominations? Dr. Eric Svendsen http://www.ntrmin.org/30000denominations.htm
    . By the way, Tom, what do you think Jesus meant when He said, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” Luke 12:51?
    And, of course, if you take Matthew 16:18 so literally, you must also believe Matthew 16:23, right? So the “rock” of 16:18 is the same “Satan” of 16:23. The great irony of Roman apologists with regard to Matthew 16:18 is that not even Peter believed it. Acts 10:26 shows how Peter refused any reverence to his person. (Imagine the bishop of Rome doing that same thing!) And in his letters he refers to himself as a “fellow elder” 1 Peter 5:1. Acts 8:14 shows that the other Apostles had no special regard for Peter because they sent him out as one of their own. And of course, Paul publicly rebukes Peter for his apostasy in Galatians 2. You would agree, it’s hard to imagine anyone publicly rebuking a “pope” today. And modern Catholic theologians admit there was no “pope” for 500-900 years after Christ, depending upon your sources. They also show that a board of elders governed the first century Roman church! (Sounds Presbyterian to me!)
    You wrote: “the Bible actually warns Christians of the danger in being misled by a mistaken interpretation of this passage or that.”
    Well you seem pretty sure of your interpretations, Tom. Has the Magesterium infallibly defined these or are they your “private interpretations”? How can you be sure?
    And then you misinterpret 1 Peter 3:15-16. What is Peter saying here, Tom? Is he saying because some “ignorant” people might mistake the message that we should throw out the Bible? No. He is saying that Paul writes with the “wisdom of God” and that he does so “in all his letters”. Of course, Peter recognizes that only “ignorant and unstable” people won’t get it. That’s why Paul tells Timothy to entrust the doctrine to “reliable men who will be qualified to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2). There was no doubt in either of their minds that one could know the truth. And Jesus Himself affirmed this when He says, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32.) So any misinterpretation is left to the ignorant and unstable, not to those to whom the Holy Spirit imparts knowledge.
    And, of course, you miss the point of John 21. Here is where Jesus “restores” Peter. Peter was in grave danger of being out of the will of God for his cursing Jesus. Jesus is here bringing him back into the fold, not making him Supreme Pontiff. Consider the exchange. Jesus asks Peter three times “Do you (agape) me?” And Peter answers three times, “You know Lord, that I (fileo) you.” Because Peter could not possibly rise to the level of agape love in view of his “satanic” past, our Lord Jesus came down to meet him. This is hardly the coronation Mass for the first pope! But is a wonderful pastoral example from Jesus.
    This is all proof of what the Catholic historian and theologian, Dr. Garry Wills maintains, in his book, “Why I Am A Catholic”:
    Catholic Professors, thus fettered (by the forced interpretations of the Roman church) became a laughingstock in the world of Biblical scholarship.” P. 202
    Tom, I’d encourage you to keep studying. Jesus promised that you – not a church – can know the truth. As to your arguments, we’ve heard them all before – and refuted them. I would invite you to repent and explore the goodness of God’s word. Because it is His, it is infallible and true.
    “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Romans 15:4
    Peace.

  • http://www.communionpres.org RevK

    Tom,
    Sorry for the late reply. Days leading up to weekends get busy.
    I appreciate your willingness to dialogue and the tenor of your emoticons =0). But as I have read your latest post, I scratch my head and think, “Why doesn’t he see what I see in the same passages?”
    When I read “…I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.” I see that ‘coming’ in “…another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth…he…will be in you.” (Jn. 14.16-18); but you come up with Peter (?)
    When I read the decision of Acts 15, I read about many voices contributing to their resolution. Their written declaration states, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15.28); but you claim it is all Peter (?)
    When the topic of celibacy comes up, it is now a “discipline?” A discipline, that if violated in the RCC, will get a priest defrocked; but 1 Cor. 9.5 states that Peter was married (see also Mt. 8, Mk 1, & 1 Tim. 4.3)
    And certainly Peter needed some catechesis from the Apostle Paul in Galatians 2.
    I’m not a ‘Peter-phobe.’ He is a tremendous apostle of the church. But in all sincerity, I have problems with where the RCC goes resolve my questions. It usually isn’t a discussion of Greek syntax, historical context, or textual analysis — it’s usually another tradition of scholarship to which I cannot apply the standard tools of hermeneutics – coupled with the mantra, “You wouldn’t even have a Bible if it wasn’t for us!” (We wouldn’t have Fatima either!)
    I agree that we each have a tradition of interpreting the scriptures. My tradition rests upon the standard rules of hermeneutics (a bit lengthy to unfold here) and a consortium of voices who have best articulated the teachings of Scripture (Augustine, Calvin, the Westminster Divines, etc.)
    I say “best articulated” because I would argue that those who do not embrace this stream of tradition are simply WRONG on so many details of the faith — but not necessarily “fatally.”
    Example: I am persuaded by scripture, and the theology derived from it, that women should not be ordained as Elders. And yet, Dr. Roberts has written a great, scripture oriented defense of this practice (http://markdroberts.com/?p=536). Our debate is founded upon passages primarily. Since there are theological consequences related to this debate, we find ourselves in different Presbyterian denominations. I think my denomination (which is older) will outlast his because of our continual and hard fought commitment to a tradition that is finally founded upon a conviction related to the texts of Scripture. That may sound a bit arrogant; but in saying this, I know that what we do share in common is far more profound than a particular “brand” of church. It’s a shared commitment to the complete reign of Christ as Savior and Lord in His church, no matter what the stripe!
    Finally, that last quotation… Is that the official DOCTRINE of the RCC? If so, it is clearly not Augustinian!
    Grace and Peace,

  • Jack Sharpe

    Tom said: “I guess it depends on how one defines a Christian. I think the fairest definition would have to be someone who tries to follow the teachings of Christ.”
    I prefer one of Paul’s formulations. Confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in the power that raised him from the dead. I do not doubt that many liberals are trying to follow the teachings of Christ as they see it. But some have the content wrong. To be a Christian one must acknowledge Jesus as Lord (and all the theological content that entails including about his death) as well as believing in the power that raised him from the dead – hard to skirt a belief in the resurrection here. In the context of the NT, to say that I am a Christian, but don’t believe in the atoning sacrifice or the Resurrection is nonsense language.

  • http://www.catholic.com Tom

    Constantine,
    “The false assumption here is that Rome does not [teach different doctrines]. One need only compare the “Catholicism” of Boston College, for example, with that of San Francisco to see the very wide divergence in the Roman camp.”
    ??
    I don’t follow. If you are pointing out the fact that in the Catholic Church there are plenty of dissenters from Catholic teaching, you’ll find no argument with me. Sad to say Nancy Pelosi ‘Catholics’ are a dime a dozen. But Pelosi, Kennedy and Kerry have between the three of them zero authority in the Church. Same goes for the rest of the laity, myself included. Now it is also true that there are members of the clergy who push the envelope, if not openly dissent from, Church teaching (cf. Notre Dame’s Fr. McBrien).
    But the relevant point here Constantine is that the McBriens and Pelosis in the Church are dissenting from something. That something is the clear teaching of the Catholic Church, proclaimed with one voice, and held as true by all the faithful.
    “The history of the Roman church is replete with doctrinal diversity.”
    Not true.
    “Think of Bernard of Clairvaux’s rejection of the Immaculate Conception”
    Bernard of Clairvaux died in 1153. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was defined by the Church some 700 years later on December 8, 1854. Up until this point, Catholics were free to believe in it or not without being accused of heresy; a freedom which was reiterated by the Council of Trent in the 1500’s.
    “Augustine’s very protestant view of the Eucharist.”
    Acting alone Augustine (or, for that matter, any of the Church fathers) has never enjoyed the full authority of the Church. He has had a profound influence on Catholic theology, yes; but we do not hesitate to admit some parts of his theology were flawed. (This is quite understandable as he was never an infallible theologian.)
    Having said all that – what exactly is it about his view of the Eucharist that is so Protestant?
    Here are three quotes I found from Augustine on the Eucharist:
    “Christ was carried in his own hands when, referring to his own body, he said, ‘This is my body’ [Matt. 26:26]. For he carried that body in his hands” (Explanations of the Psalms 33:1:10 [A.D. 405]).
    “I promised you [new Christians], who have now been baptized, a sermon in which I would explain the sacrament of the Lord’s Table. . . . That bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ” (Sermons 227 [A.D. 411]).
    “What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction” (ibid., 272).
    …It all sounds very *Catholic* – not Protestant – to me.
    “And different authoritative bodies? You may wish to review the history of your church.”
    I’m listening.
    “For centuries, there were multiple popes and sometimes more than one in Rome.”
    Well, let’s be clear (especially in light of your opening line about setting the record straight). There have been times in the past where multiple men were CLAIMING to be pope (sometimes referred to as “anti-popes”), but the Catholic Church has never had more than one pope alive at a given time. And the times when more than one made the claim did not last “for centuries”. They usually lasted for no longer than the lifetime of those wrongly claiming to be pope; typically 20 or 30 years.
    I think Wikipedia does a fair job of presenting it. You can trace the lineage back to Peter at this link, with the names in red being “anti-popes”.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_popes_%28graphical%29
    “The Council of Constance assumed supreme authority over the church by excommunicating a pope or two and then “anointing” another only later to have the pope “anathematize” those who would appeal to a council over a pope. (Talk about a contradiction!)”
    There have been confusing times in the Church’s history. Admittedly, the history of the papacy isn’t all good. But I think it is only further evidence that if the papacy and the succession of the Apostles were of merely human origin and not divinely established and preserved by the Triune God, they would have collapsed centuries ago under the weight of human weakness. The dark chapters are simply the proof that the Catholic Church is Christ’s Church, not the pope’s Church.
    “Today the Sedevacantists Catholics are on the rise”
    Actually, with Pope Benedict in the chair, I think they may be on the decline. But never mind that. The issue is separate and distinct from the question of the Church’s authority, for sedevacantists – like all heretics – have no authority at all.
    “the Polish Catholic church is growing outside the bounds of Rome and yes, and we even have our own “American” pope.”
    Again, these are as much a “different authoritative body of the Catholic Church” as the Presbyterian Church or the Assemblies of God are. By the way, the Polish Catholic Church (as distinct from the Catholic Church in Poland) has a membership of 23,000. And who has ever heard of the American pope?? I’m sure there is some American making the claim; but then again some folks say they’ve seen Elvis, and others have been abducted by aliens.
    “Not to mention the vast majority of Romanists disagree with the Pope on issues like contraception.”
    Ah hah! The C word. Now we get to the heart of the matter. It is true that the majority of Catholics practice contraception, despite the Church’s clear teaching to the contrary. But as G.K. Chesterton once observed, “Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.” Once again, Catholics who knowingly disobey the Church’s moral teaching pose no threat to the authority of the Church; only to their eternal salvation.
    Oh, and Constantine – for the sake of charity, I’d really prefer you use the term “Catholic” in place of “Romanist.” It’s not that I have an issue with the word so much as I have an issue with a Protestant using it as something of a slur against Catholics. Especially when we’re trying to have a sincere and friendly discussion/debate about serious issues.
    “And there are groups of bishops that openly defy Rome.”
    There have been in the past, for instance when Humanae Vitae hit the wires. But I’m not aware of any today (doesn’t mean there aren’t…I’m just not aware). Regardless, a bishop or group of bishops who defy the Holy Father and the bishops in union with him on matters of doctrine will have much to answer for. It was not without reason that St. John Chrysostom, writing around the year 400 said “The floor of hell is paved with the skulls of bishops!”
    “So your view of Roman theology, history and unity is naïve if you don’t mind my saying so.”
    There’s that “Roman” jab again. But thanks for the history lesson – you really have a knack for teaching and explaining things in a way that doesn’t come across in the least bit insulting.
    “Where did you get your number, Tom? (I bet you don’t know.)”
    I’ve heard numbers upwards of 25,000 from various sources. Wikipedia puts it this way, “The actual number of distinct denominations is hard to calculate, but has been estimated to be over thirty thousand.” And according to the World Christian Encyclopedia (2nd edition, 2001) “there are over 33,000 denominations in 238 countries” and every year there is a net increase of around 270 to 300 denominations.
    Out of curiosity, what number do you go by? 19?
    “Some Roman apologists use 33,000, others 25,000 and they usually don’t know, either.”
    After about 1,000 or so I would think it can get hard to keep track. Not sure why this discrepancy is such a hang-up for you, especially since the numbers continue to go up, not down. In a few years 25,000 turns into 26,000 and so on.
    “…the Roman Catholic apologist can take little comfort in the fact that he has only sixteen denominations”
    There are no denominations within Catholicism. There are about 27 different rites, but we are one in faith and in doctrine. We are all united under Benedict XVI; we differ only in the outward form of how we celebrate the sacraments, most notably the Mass. This is nothing like the divisions that exist within Protestantism.
    You can read about the various rites in the Catholic Church here:
    http://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/catholic_rites_and_churches.htm
    “By the way, Tom, what do you think Jesus meant when He said, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” Luke 12:51?”
    I don’t think he meant he wanted to establish a Church divided on doctrine.
    “And, of course, if you take Matthew 16:18 so literally, you must also believe Matthew 16:23, right? So the “rock” of 16:18 is the same “Satan” of 16:23.”
    No, I don’t take Matthew 16 so literally that I think Christ turned Simon into a literal stone or rock. I do think he changed Simon’s name to Peter, and that changing his name was as significant – if not more so – than the other times in Scripture when God changes a person’s name (cf., Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Eliakim to Joakim). In Simon-Peter’s case it was the only time the new name chosen by God had a prior meaning; the meaning of “Petros” is “Rock.” If you were to turn to a friend and say, “From now on your name is Asparagus,” people would wonder: Why Asparagus? What is the meaning of it? What does it signify?
    In the same way, Christ changing Simon’s name to Rock was not a meaningless gesture. Especially when viewed in conjunction with his promise to give Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven, the power to bind and loose, the pleading in John 21 to “feed my sheep,” and Our Lord’s words in Luke 22, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again [after the denials], strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32). It was Peter who Christ prayed would have faith that would not fail and that would be a guide for the others; and his prayer, being perfectly efficacious, was sure to be fulfilled.
    “Acts 10:26 shows how Peter refused any reverence to his person. (Imagine the bishop of Rome doing that same thing!)”
    A couple of things. First, let us listen to the words of the verse, starting with 25 (King James Version):
    And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.
    It says he “worshipped him,” in which case it would be proper to stand him up as Peter did. No creature is worthy of worship. But we can reverence a person who holds a high office; for instance, a king, or a president, or a judge. There was no wrong or evil when in centuries past people would genuflect before a king or queen – it was an act of reverence. There is no wrong in standing for the entrance/departure of a judge (“All rise!”), or in calling him “Your Honor.” It would be wrong to worship; it is not wrong to reverence or honor another human being, especially when one is showing reverence primarily to the office held. In the same way, it is not wrong for a Catholic (or non-Catholic) to genuflect upon greeting the successor of St. Peter.
    Secondly, it may well be true that Peter did not even realize the gravity of his own commission from Christ; of all that had been entrusted to him, of what it meant to be the visible head of Christ’s Church. And being a humble man (like our current pope) he insisted the man rise and not pay him any homage or reverence.
    “You would agree, it’s hard to imagine anyone publicly rebuking a “pope” today.”
    Actually, no I wouldn’t agree with that. If the pope were to commit some public sin, it would be right and just to rebuke him, as St. Paul did.
    “And modern Catholic theologians admit there was no “pope” for 500-900 years after Christ, depending upon your sources. They also show that a board of elders governed the first century Roman church!”
    ????
    This is simply not true, and is yet another reason to not listen to “modern Catholic theologians.”
    Pope Clement I:
    “Through countryside and city [the apostles] preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty, for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier. . . . Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry” (Letter to the Corinthians 42:4–5, 44:1–3 [A.D. 80]).
    Irenaeus:
    “The blessed apostles [Peter and Paul], having founded and built up the church [of Rome] . . . handed over the office of the episcopate to Linus” (Against Heresies 3:3:3 [A.D. 189]).
    “It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about” (Against Heresies 3:3:1 [A.D. 189]).
    Augustine:
    “[T]here are many other things which most properly can keep me in [the Catholic Church’s] bosom. The unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here. Her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests, from the very see of the apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after his resurrection, gave the charge of feeding his sheep [John 21:15–17], up to the present episcopate, keeps me here. And last, the very name Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called ‘Catholic,’ when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house” (Against the Letter of Mani Called “The Foundation” 4:5 [A.D. 397]).
    “Well you seem pretty sure of your interpretations, Tom. Has the Magesterium infallibly defined these or are they your “private interpretations”?”
    No, they are not my private interpretations. And yes, I am pretty sure of them because I know that they are not derived or dependent upon my own feeble understanding. They come to me by the same authority that defined what is and is not Scripture in the first place. Odd that you – a non-Catholic – would trust the Catholic Church in giving you a list of inspired Scriptures, but not in interpreting specific passages which the “ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction.”
    This post is way to long already so I’m afraid I’m going to have to stop here.

  • http://www.catholic.com Tom

    “Sorry for the late reply.”
    No problem – I think yesterday was the first time I had a chance to check back on our discussion since I last posted.
    “as I have read your latest post, I scratch my head and think, “Why doesn’t he see what I see in the same passages?””
    I thought I was the only one! ?
    “When I read “…I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.” I see that ‘coming’ in “…another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth…he…will be in you.” (Jn. 14.16-18); but you come up with Peter (?)”
    No, I read it the same way you do (another Helper = the Holy Spirit), but I also look at who Our Lord is talking to, who the ‘Spirit of truth’ is helping: his apostles. In verse 26 he reiterates “The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name–he will teach YOU everything and remind YOU of all that I told you.” (emphases mine, of course)
    I read in John a promise from Christ to always be with his apostles, guiding them “into all truth.” This seems to me the most reasonable understanding of the passage for all of the reasons mentioned in previous posts.
    “When I read the decision of Acts 15, I read about many voices contributing to their resolution. Their written declaration states, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15.28); but you claim it is all Peter (?)”
    I don’t claim it is “all Peter.” I realize that there was a debate with apostles and disciples taking different positions on the question of circumcision. But at the same time it is clear that Peter was the one who made the decision. “After much debate had taken place, Peter got up and said to them…” (Acts 15:7) Catholics view Acts 15 as the very first Church council – the Council of Jerusalem. Every Council since then has looked much the same (debate/discussion of theological matters, followed by a decision from Peter’s successor and the bishops in union with him).
    We should also note that not only does this passage support the primacy of Peter, but it undercuts a belief in Sola Scriptura. Observe that were the apostles to use Scripture Alone as their guide, they would have to conclude the Gentiles converting to Christianity should be circumcised. This is what was commanded according to the law of Moses – a law that Christ explicitly did not do away with. But Peter and the apostles were not relying on Scripture Alone. In addition to the Old Testament they had the three years spent in company with Christ, and they had the guidance of the Spirit of Truth promised them in John 14.
    “When the topic of celibacy comes up, it is now a “discipline?””
    It has always been a discipline.
    “A discipline, that if violated in the RCC, will get a priest defrocked”
    Well, sure. As a priest you take a vow of chastity. Going back on your promise before God is not a trivial thing.
    “1 Cor. 9.5 states that Peter was married (see also Mt. 8, Mk 1, & 1 Tim. 4.3)”
    Catholics don’t deny that Peter was married. It’s likely that many of the apostles and first successors were. Celibacy is a discipline in the Western Church that has developed over time (Eastern Rite priests are permitted to marry). Even today, though, exceptions are made. For example, there are married Latin-Rite priests who are converts from Lutheranism and Episcopalianism.
    As these variations and exceptions indicate, priestly celibacy is not an unchangeable dogma but a disciplinary rule. The fact that Peter was married is no more contrary to the Catholic faith than the fact that the pastor of the nearest Maronite Catholic church is married.
    It’s also worth mentioning that even Paul makes a case for preferring celibacy to marriage: “Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. . . those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. . . . The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband” (1 Cor. 7:27-34).
    Paul’s conclusion: He who marries “does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better” (7:38).
    Most Catholics marry, and all Catholics are taught to venerate marriage as a holy institution—a sacrament, an action of God upon our souls; one of the holiest things we encounter in this life.
    In fact, it is precisely the holiness of marriage that makes celibacy precious; for only what is good and holy in itself can be given up for God as a sacrifice. Just as fasting presupposes the goodness of food, celibacy presupposes the goodness of marriage. To despise celibacy, therefore, is to undermine marriage itself—as the early Fathers pointed out.
    Celibacy is also a life-affirming institution. In the Old Testament, where celibacy was almost unknown, the childless were often despised by others and themselves; only through children, it was felt, did one acquire value. By renouncing marriage, the celibate affirms the intrinsic value of each human life in itself, regardless of offspring.
    Finally, celibacy is an eschatological sign to the Church, a living-out in the present of the universal celibacy of heaven: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matt. 22:30).
    “in all sincerity, I have problems with where the RCC goes resolve my questions. It usually isn’t a discussion of Greek syntax, historical context, or textual analysis”
    Really? That’s precisely what I’ve found the Catholic Church offers me in defense of its teachings: a discussion of the original Greek, historical context and textual analysis. To expand on the historical context a bit, the Church also points to the early Christian church – a Church which was thoroughly Catholic in belief and practice.
    “You wouldn’t even have a Bible if it wasn’t for us!” (We wouldn’t have Fatima either!)”
    Well, my post is once again getting way too long and I’m not going to be able to justly defend the objection made here. However, set aside Fatima and Lourdes for just a second; can we agree that it was the Catholic Church which gave us the Bible?
    Because what it looks like you’re doing RevK, is using some belief of Catholics (in this case, an apparition of Mary) that seems totally absurd – blasphemous? — to you, as a way to dismiss everything else out of hand. “Well, *clearly* they’re off their rocker on this point, so they can’t possibly be right on the other points.” Whereas, I think if you were to take a serious look at the various pieces, one by one – perhaps starting with the compilation of scripture – and an honest inquiry into what Catholics believe about Mary and why, it would not be quite so easy to just write us off as nutso-Mary-worshippers.
    “Finally, that last quotation… Is that the official DOCTRINE of the RCC? If so, it is clearly not Augustinian!”
    Yes, that is an official doctrine of Catholicism. You can find it in paragraph 847 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. As I mentioned to Constantine, Augustine was not infallible.

  • Gene

    It does seem like we’re getting a bit off topic here. But I would like to remind everyone that the history of the churches now known as “Orthodox” and “Roman Catholic,” (and all those in communion with those churches) is also the same history of all Protestant churches up until the reformation. In my view, we’re all from the same family tree, whether we study and appreciate our history or not. But then I’ve never known of a family where everyone got along all the time and never had any disagreements. (Or where there weren’t a few unsavory characters!) Peace, brothers.

  • Observer

    I was led to this page via MDR’s appearance on the Hewitt program last week.
    As I observe American protestant denominations, it is amazing that matters of faith are left to a majority vote, and in some cases, votes and re-votes. (Shouldn’t some questions, once decided, remain decided?) Coupled with that is an American tendency to make tenets of Christian faith conform to political beliefs. Astonishingly, faith yields to politics, not vice versa.
    This political force seems particularly corrupting. Rather than start a new denomination with new values, it expropriates the existing institution and force those who prefer to retain traditional values to leave.

  • http://www.catholic.com Tom

    “As I observe American protestant denominations, it is amazing that matters of faith are left to a majority vote, and in some cases, votes and re-votes.”
    Well said, Observer.
    I am reminded of a quote from Pope Benedict XVI that I think we can all agree with: ‘Truth is not determined by a majority vote.’

  • Constantine

    Tom,
    Sorry for the delay.
    First, referring to your church as “Roman” is not a jab. Interestingly enough, one of your priests has rightly commented that the term “Roman Catholic” is an oxymoron. Your church is not truly “catholic” because it does not contain all true believers. So a church that is based in Rome, owes its allegiance to the Bishop of Rome is, well, Roman. It’s odd that the Greeks or Russians don’t have an issue with being called “Greek” or “Russian” but the Romans do.
    You rightly cite the date for the infallible dogma of the Immaculate Conception. But Vatican I precludes you from analyzing it the way you do. While you may prefer the “Newman-esque” development approach, Vatican I proclaims,
    The Catholic Church, directed by the Holy Spirit of God, is the pillar and base of truth and has ever held as divinely revealed and as contained in the deposit of heavenly revelation this doctrine concerning the original innocence of the august Virgin — a doctrine which is so perfectly in harmony with her wonderful sanctity and preeminent dignity as Mother of God — and thus has never ceased to explain, to teach and to foster this doctrine age after age in many ways and by solemn acts. Ineffabilis Deus, 1854 (Emphasis mine).
    The point of mentioning Bernard is not to have you pronounce him a heretic, but instead to show that a church “Father” did not “ever hold” or “never ceased” to proclaim this “truth”. In other words, there is a mistake in the infallibility.
    Now you may want to point out that Bernard was not a member of the “Magisterium”, and you would be quite right. But he is considered a “father” of the church and his thought is therefore, given extra weight. Or we can talk about how not one, but two popes condemned the dogma of the Bodily Assumption declared infallible by the same pope. (I would refer you to the work of William Webster for the details.) And for further contradictions is “doctrine” we can talk about the oaths the popes were required to take denouncing Honorius – until the Magisterium realized that “eating one of its own” would undermine papal infallibility. So that practice was stopped. Other examples of doctrinal inconsistencies would include the celibacy of priests, “confession” before and after the Fourth Lateran Council, etc.
    Regarding the issue of the date of the first pope, I hope you don’t mind that I dismiss your dismissal. While you may disagree with sources, the facts are what they are. I offer a few for your consideration.
    1. First Century, Clement of Rome in his Epistle to the Corinthians, states that Roman church is governed by a “multiplicity of elders”.
    2. End of the 2nd century, Bishop Victor of Rome tries to excommunicate most of Asia Minor. Irenaeus leads the charge to override this action.
    3. Middle of the third century, 7th Council of Carthage, Cyprian states, “None of us sets ourselves up as a “bishop of bishops”.
    4. Bishop Stephen ( d. 257) tries to exclude many for “heretical baptism”. The bishops of Alexandria and Caesarea join Cyprian to block this.
    5. The emperor Constantine (d. 337) bore the title “Pontifex Maximus” and had a monopoly of power over church matters.
    6. “Even Augustine, the great contemporary of bishops Damasus, Siricius, Innocent and Boniface, who was truly a friend of Rome, knows nothing of a Petrine primacy of jurisdiction.” Hans Kueng, “Christianity: Essence, History and Future” 2006.
    So it is seen that for at least the first five centuries, there was nothing resembling a modern papacy in Rome. We’ll dedicate another post to explore the papacy, its abuses and power dependencies.
    Your interpretation of Matthew 16:18 is quite modern. A survey was done of the church Fathers by the “Catholic” theologian Launoy. Regarding the “rock” of Matthew 16:18, he found the following: 8 Fathers believed the “rock” to be the Apostles; 16 believed it was Christ, Himself; 17 believed it was Peter (although none of these held to any idea of “succession”; and 44 Fathers believed that the “rock” was Peter’s confession. (The Roman Catholic Controversy, James R. White 1996)
    “So that the mere fact that Fathers differed in opinion as to what was meant by “this rock,” and that occasionally the same Father wavered in his opinion on this subject, proves that none of them regarded this text as one establishing a perpetual constitution for the Christian Church.” Salmon, “The Infallibility of the Church” as quoted in White.
    More needs to be said about a “few bad men” and the history of the papacy but we can save that for next time.
    Peace.

Previous Posts

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Thank you for visiting Mark D. Roberts. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

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