James White is the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries and a visible and active opponent of the Catholic Church (perhaps the most influential and cleverest such opponent at present, though not invincible by any means). He is the author of several books against Catholic teaching, including The Fatal Flaw (1990) and The Roman Catholic Controversy (1996). He also does some good and useful work, such as countering silly claims that the King James Version of the Bible is the only valid one, and refuting various heretical cults such as Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. But like so many in his broad denominational outlook (he is a Reformed Baptist), he classifies the Catholic Church as a sub-Christian, essentially deceptive organization.
The following debate (scanned and uploaded with express permission from Mr. White - e-mail letter of 2 February 2000) came about in 1995 when I wrote a ("snail-mail") form letter to several counter-cult researchers, including White (it occurred almost a year before I went online). He responded and I replied twice. My final installment - a densely-argued tome of 36 single-spaced pages - was left completely unanswered, and remains so to this day. My challenge to James White to refute my reasoning there and elsewhere remains intact, and I would be absolutely delighted if he changes his mind as to my "unworthiness" to receive any reply from him.
This dialogue is one of the most in-depth and intense debates I have ever engaged in. Mr. White's words throughout shall be in blue. At one point (23 January 2002) I edited the letters to remove personal, off-subject, insulting, inflammatory, ad hominem-type remarks (and responses to same), on both sides. I confess to my part in this, and would answer differently in many places today. In fact, I later apologized to Mr. White on more than one occasion for uncharitable comments on my part (no such apology has ever come from him). But I have decided to restore the original debates, completely unedited, warts and all. I apologize for any offense caused to any readers due to inflammatory language.
Mr. White has curiously always refused to link to this debate on his website, even though he claims to have been victorious and chides his Catholic opponents when they are reluctant to make their debates available to the public.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
(with original lengths: all single-spaced pages)
1. My 2-page letter of 23 March 1995
2. Dr. White's 7-page letter of 6 April 1995
3. My 16-page letter of 22 April 1995
4. Dr. White's 17-page letter of 4 May 1995
5. My 36-page letter of 15 May 1995 [Part Two]
6. Dr. White's 1-page letter (fax) of 10 November 1995 [Part Two]
Alpha & Omega Ministries
Dear Mr. White,
I am a cult researcher (#248 in 1993 Directory of Cult Research Organizations, Tolbert & Pement) and Christian apologist, who converted to Catholicism in 1990 after ten years of committed evangelicalism (including five as a campus missionary). I am disturbed by the tendency among cult researchers and other leaders in Protestantism to regard the Catholic Church as "apostate" and/or non-Christian, since it supposedly denies the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is not worthy of men of your stature and theological training, and is also uncharitable, since it is slanderous and schismatic.
I'd be interested in dialoguing with you or anyone you might know (with perhaps more time on their hands) who would be willing to do so, about this matter and any or all of the theological issues which sadly divide us (enclosed is a list of my tracts and a few samples). I have been published in The Catholic Answer and This Rock, two of the leading Catholic apologetic journals, and will soon have a book out, The Credibility of Catholicism (possibly published by Ignatius Press), which is a defense of Catholicism from Scripture, the early Church, and reason, as well as a very extensive critigue and examination of the so-called "Reformation" (I prefer the objective term "Revolt").
Catholicism is not only Christian - it is far superior to Protestantism on biblical, historical, and rational grounds. Secondly, I would say that a position maintaining that Protestantism is Christian while Catholicism is not, is self-defeating, incoherent, and intellectually dishonest, if thought through properly (which is rarely the case). I never had this outlook as a Protestant for these very reasons.
Among the many insuperable difficulties of anti-Catholicism:
1) The Canon of the Bible was determined by the Catholic Church. Thus, "sola Scriptura" necessarily requires a Tradition and Catholic (conciliar and papal) Authority. Not to mention the preservation of Bible manuscripts by monks.
2) At what moment did Catholicism become apostate? At John's death? In 313? With Gregory the Great and the ascendancy of papal power? In the "Dark Ages" of c.800-1100? With the Inquisition or Crusades? Or at the Council of Trent? And how can anyone know for sure when?
3) 23,000 denominations and the scandalous organizational anarchy, schism, and theological relativism inherent therein virtually disproves Protestantism in and of itself.
4) Protestantism has only been around for 477 years!
5) If the Inquisition disproves Catholicism, then the Witch Hunts and killings of Anabaptists, the suppression of the Peasants' Revolt, and early Protestantism's horrendous record of intolerance (at least as bad as Catholicism's by any criterion) disproves Protestantism as well.
6) Protestantism inconsistently and dishonestly appeals to indisputably Catholic Church Fathers such as St. Auqustine (above all) St. John Chrysostom, St. Jerome, St. Ignatius, St. Irenaeus, St. Justin Martyr (also, later Catholics such as St. Francis, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Thomas a Kempis).
7) Likewise, it inconsistently appeals to Church Councils which it likes (generally the first four) and ignores the rest, on questionable theological and ecclesiological grounds. Development of doctrine is accepted to an extent, and then incoherently rejected. This is largely what made me a Catholic, after reading Newman's Development of Doctrine.
8) Funny how an "apostate" Church has uniquely preserved traditional Christian morality such as the indissolubility of marriage, gender roles, the prohibition of contraception, euthanasia, infanticide, abortion, etc., while Protestantism is compromising these with frightening rapidity.
"Sola fide" is not the gospel. If so, then there wasn't a gospel to speak of for 1500-odd years, since "sola fide" was a radically novel and unbiblical interpretation of justification and sanctification. The God I serve is greater than that - His hands weren't tied until Dr. Luther figured everything out! Related to this is the slanderous assertion that Catholics are Pelagian or semi-Pelagian and believe in salvation by works. Nothing could be further from the truth. We merely refuse to separate works from faith in a dichotomous relationship as Luther did (which is why he wanted to throw out James - so clear was its Catholic teaching). Catholicism condemned Pelagianism at the 2nd Council of Orange in 529 A.D., almost 1000 years before Luther. The very first Canon on Justification in the Council of Trent states:
- If anyone saith that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.
Many other biblical proofs for Catholicism are in my apologetic works, if you're interested. Thanks for your time.
Sincerely, your brother and co-laborer in Christ,
Dear Mr. Armstrong:
I am in receipt of your letter of March 23rd, which, it seems, was sent to a number of ministries listed in the Directory of Cult Research Organizations. I quote what seems to be the thesis statement of your letter:
- I am disturbed by the tendency among cult researchers and other leaders in Protestantism to regard the Catholic Church as "apostate" and/or non-Christian, since it supposedly denies the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is not worthy of men of your stature and theological training, and is also uncharitable, since it is slanderous and schismatic.
Personally, Dave, I find the Roman church's anathemas, contained in the dogmatic canons and decrees of the Council of Trent, as well as those of Vatican I, to be most uncharitable. What is worse, since they are in direct opposition to the truth, I find them to be most reprehensible as well, and much more accurately entitled "schismatic," since that term can only be meaningfully used with reference to a departure from the truth.
Before you dismiss my response as merely the ruminations of a fundamentalist "anti-Catholic," let me point out that I have studied the Roman position quite thoroughly. Indeed, I have engaged in seventeen public debates against Roman apologists such as Dr. Mitchell Pacwa, Dr. Robert Fastiggi, Gerry Matatics, and a friend of yours, Patrick Madrid (my copy of Surprised by Truth is even autographed!). I will be debating Robert Sungenis and Scott Butler at Boston College in a matter of weeks. I know the arguments of Catholic Answers quite well, I assure you.
Your story in Surprised by Truth is almost predictable, Dave, no offense intended. Your rejection of Roman theology was not based upon a knowledge of why, and hence was ripe for refutation. You admit you rejected the tenets of the Reformation when you say, "I had always rejected Luther's notions of absolute predestination and the total depravity of mankind." And your involvement in Operation Rescue simply gave you the opportunity of seeing that Roman Catholics can be real nice folks who really believe in the teachings of the Church in Rome. And the feeling of "brotherhood" created by standing against a common evil, joined with the simple fact that you were not truly a Protestant to begin with, is reason enough to explain your swimming the Tiber.
You wrote in your letter,
- Catholicism is not only Christian - it is far superior to Protestantism on biblical, historical, and rational grounds. Secondly, I would say that a position maintaining that Protestantism is Christian while Catholicism is not, is self-defeating, incoherent, and intellectually dishonest, if thought through properly (which is rarely the case). I never had this outlook as a Protestant for these very reasons.
As to being superior on "historical" grounds, I again have to beg to differ. I well know how easily Roman apologists cite patristic sources as if the early Fathers would have been subscribers to This Rock. However, I have found a woefully consistent practice of "anachronistic interpretation" in Roman apologetic works. I have found that normally the Roman apologist will find a phrase, say, having to do with Peter, and will read into that phrase the fully developed Roman concepts that, quite honestly, did not even exist at the time of the writing of that particular Father. What is worse, many such apologists are dependent almost completely upon what I call "quote books." For example, when I debated Gerry Matatics for more than three hours on the patristic evidence regarding the Papacy in Denver during the Papal visit, he did not have any original source materials with him. Instead, he was utilizing compilations, such as Jurgens. This often led him to grave errors. Indeed, one time he stood before the audience counting index entries in Jurgens and telling the audience that such-and-such number of early Fathers supported his position, and that on the basis of index entries in Jurgens! An amazing sight to behold, I assure you. Be that as it may, I believe it would be relatively easy to dispute such a broad statement as the one you made in your letter.
As to the use of the broad term "Christian" with reference to Roman Catholicism, such a term, due to its ambiguity in this situation, is less than useful. Faithful in preaching the apostolic message of the gospel? Certainly not, and that is the issue, Dave. If you feel a communion that replaces the grace of God with sacraments, mediators, and merit, can be properly called "Christian," then please go ahead and use the phrase. But please understand that if a person shares the perspective of the epistle to the churches of Galatia they will have to hold to a different understanding, and hence may not be as quick to use the term "Christian" of such a system.
You then listed a number of what you called "insuperable difficulties of anti-Catholicism." I would like to briefly comment on each one.
- 1) The Canon of the Bible was determined by the Catholic Church. Thus, "sola Scriptura" necessarily requires a Tradition and Catholic (conciliar and papal) Authority. Not to mention the preservation of Bible manuscripts by monks.
- 2) At what moment did Catholicism becomes apostate? At John's death? In 313? With Gregory the Great and the ascendancy of papal power? In the "Dark Ages" of c.800-1 100? With the Inquisition or Crusades? Or at the Council of Trent? And how can anyone know for sure when?
- 3) 23,000 denominations and the scandalous organizational anarchy, schism, and theological relativism inherent within virtually disproves Protestantism in and of itself.
- 4) Protestantism has only been around for 477 years!
In your fifth point you mention the Inquisition "disproving" Catholicism. The problem with your point is this, Dave: we Protestants don't claim infallibility. Rome does. There is a big difference. Please note the following comparison:
- IV LATERAN COUNCIL
Convicted heretics shall be handed over for due punishment to their secular superiors, or the latter's agents. . . . Catholics who assume the cross and devote themselves to the extermination of heretics shall enjoy the same indulgence and privilege as those who go to the Holy Land.
This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups of any human power, in such wise that in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs.
Your sixth point was little more than a statement that you feel Protestants "inconsistently and dishonestly appeal" to various of the early Fathers. Well, I feel that Roman Catholics "inconsistently and dishonestly appeal" to the very same Fathers. So? What do you do with citations such as the following?
Regarding the Papacy itself, and Matthew 16:18, Oscar Cullmann said: "He who proceeds without prejudice, on the basis of exegesis and only on this basis, cannot seriously conclude that Jesus here had in mind successors of Peter. . . . On exegetical grounds we must say that the passage does not contain a single word concerning successors of Peter . . . The intent of Jesus leaves us no possibility of understanding Matthew 16:17ff. in the sense of a succession determined by an episcopal see." (Peter, Disciple, Apostle, and Martyr (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953), 207, 236.)
On page 162 of the same work Cullmann said: "We thus see that the exegesis that the Reformation gave . . . was not first invented for their struggle against the papacy; it rests upon an older patristic tradition.
Johann Joseph lgnaz von Dollinger, in his work The Pope and the Council (Boston: Roberts, 1869), 74, asserted:
- Of all the Fathers who interpret these passages in the Gospels (Matt 16:18, John 21:17), not a single one applies them to the Roman bishops as Peter's successors. How many Fathers have busied themselves with these texts, yet not one of them whose commentaries we posses -- Origen, Chrysostom, Hilary, Augustine, Cyril, Theodoret, and those whose interpretations are collected in catenas -- has dropped the faintest hint that the primacy of Rome is the consequence of the commission and promise to Peter! Not one of them has explained the rock or foundation on which Christ would build His Church of the office given to Peter to be transmitted to his successors, but they understood by it either Christ Himself, or Peter's confession of faith in Christ; often both together. Or else they thought Peter was the foundation equally with all the other Apostles, the twelve being together the foundation-stones of the church (Apoc. xxi.1 4). The Fathers could the less recognize in the power of the keys, and the power of binding and loosing, any special prerogative or lordship of the Roman bishop, inasmuch a -- what is obvious to any one at first sight -- they did not regard the power first given to Peter, and afterwards conferred on all the Apostles, as any thing peculiar to him, or hereditary in the line of Roman bishops, and they held the symbol of the keys as meaning just the same as the figurative expression of binding and loosing.
- The earlier exegetical history of Matt. 16:18-19, Luke 22:32, and John 21:15-17 was largely out of step with the primatial interpretation of these passages. . . . The mainstream of exegesis followed an agenda set by patristic precedent, especially Augustine, but also other Western Fathers. . . . The understanding of these Petrine texts by biblical exegetes in the mainstream of the tradition was universally non\-primatial before Innocent III . . . . It was the innovative exegetical argumentation of this imposing pope which began to change the picture. (St. Peter, Papal Primacy and the Exegetical Tradition 1151-1350). Found in Christopher Ryan, ed., The Religious Role of the Papacy: Ideals and Realities 1150-1300 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute, 1989), 42, 4.)
As to point number seven, I would direct you especially to my discussion of the "development of doctrine" in the enclosed book, Answers to Catholic Claims, pp.63-73. I would also like to ask if you have read Salmon's refutation of Newman in his work, The Infallibility of the Church?
Finally, do you really feel point number eight carries sufficient weight to establish anything?
You write that sola fide is not the gospel. Yet, it is the clear record of the NT that it is the gospel. Let's say you are right that there wasn't a gospel around for 1 500 some odd years for the sake of argument. Would this be sufficient reason for you to reject the NT witness to that gospel, Dave? You are, of course, not right to say that there was no gospel for those 1500 years. Even if you were to ignore Wycliffe and Hus, and all those murdered by Rome in the intervening centuries, what do you do with Clement of Rome?
- They all therefore were glorified and magnified, not through themselves or their own works or the righteous doing which they wrought, but through His will. And so we, having been called through His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, whereby the Almighty God justified all men that have been from the beginning; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen (Clement of Rome, 32)
- Canon 24: If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema.
Canon 32: If anyone says that the good works of the one justified are in such manner the gifts of God that they are not also the good merits of him justified; or that the one justified by the good works that he performs by the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit an increase of grace, eternal life, and in case he dies in grace, the attainment of eternal life itself and also an increase of glory, let him be anathema.
Canon 33: If anyone says that the Catholic doctrine of justification as set forth by the holy council in the present decree, derogates in some respect from the glory of God or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, and does not rather illustrate the truth of our faith and no less the glory of God and of Christ Jesus, let him be anathema.
- "Man, for his part, in order to arrive at full sanctification, must cooperate with the grace of the Holy Spirit through faith, hope, love of God and neighbor, and prayer; but he must also perform other 'works.' It is a universally accepted dogma of the Catholic Church that man, in union with the grace of the Holy Spirit must merit heaven by his good works. These works are meritorious only when they are performed in the state of grace and with a good intention." (Matthias Premm, Dogmatic Theology for the Laity, p.262).
"We have shown that according to the Holy Scripture the Christian can actually merit heaven for himself by his good works. But we must realize that these works have to be performed in the state of grace and with a good intention." (Ibid., p.263).
Just today my seventh book came out, The King James Only Controversy. I will be quite busy for some time due to the release of the book. However, I may be making an East Coast swing to do some debates with KJV Only advocates, and I am always willing to engage Roman apologists as well. Would you be willing to defend the statements you made in your letter in public debate, Dave? Your letterhead included the phrase "Catholic Apologist" (I note in a font very reminiscent of that used by Catholic Answers). If that is the case, might you be interested in engaging in some very practical apologetics? I would be happy to debate sola scriptura, the Papacy, justification by faith, the Marian doctrines, etc. Shall we discuss the possibility?
I am sending this letter to you along with the noted materials in the US Mail. However, I am also going to fax it to you so that you will receive it quickly. I am also sending a copy to Eric Pement, should anyone contact him regarding your mailing to the individuals in the cult directory. In fact, I would be more than happy to make this letter available to anyone who wishes to see a brief response to the claims you made in your letter.
I have added your name to our mailing list. Our next Pros Apologian will be a full-length rebuttal of Patrick Madrid's article, The White Man's Burden, replete with a defense of the doctrine of sola scriptura. That edition has already been written, and is simply in the proof-reading stage.
I am sure, Dave, that you are quite happy right now in the bosom of Rome. There is a wonderful feeling, I'm sure, that accompanies being told with infallible certainty what to believe. But I simply hope, Dave, as I hope for those who have embraced the same kind of authoritarian claims from the Prophet in Salt Lake City or the Governing Body in Brooklyn, that you will realize that your decision to embrace that allegedly infallible authority was in and of itself not infallible. You might well be wrong. Think about that my friend.
Justified by faith and hence at peace,
Recte Ambulamus ad Veritatem Evangelii
I hope this letter finds you well. Thank you very much for your extensive reply (dated April 6, 1995) to my letter -the most in-depth response I've yet received from a Protestant after more than four years as a Catholic (not for lack of trying, believe me). Let me commend you on one of the many areas of agreement which we do indeed share - your work with regard to the King James Only crowd. Gail Riplinger is a true nut. I'm happy that you've taken on this serious error. Keep it up! Would that all of your "crusades" were so worthwhile and useful for the Body of Christ.
I agree with your first point about "uncharitability" and "schismatic" words and actions. Truth is often seen as uncharitable. We feel similarly about each other's outlook. I claim your views possess this trait precisely because I believe them to be untrue. You return the favor. If indeed I'm a Christian, then your words about my beliefs violate several clear biblical injunctions, such as, "Thou shalt not bear false witness."
Thus we are inexorably brought back to square one: What is a Christian?, Is "sola fide" the gospel?, Is "sola scriptura" the eleventh commandment ("Thou shalt have no authority except Scripture")?, Is sacramentalism idolatrous and Pelagian?, etc. One major distinction, however, should be duly noted. We Catholics - notwithstanding harsh Trent language - still officially regard Protestants as our "brothers in Christ," whereas so many of you regard us as non-Christians. Thus, the issue of charity would seem to favor us, at least at first glance.
Thank you for your three books and newsletter. I always (sincerely) appreciate free reading materials. You showed great perception in perhaps realizing that I would never spend a dime on an anti-Catholic book, even at the used-book sales I like to frequent. One has only so much time and money, and edifying, intellectually-sound and worthwhile pursuits are much-preferred (e.g., I don't read cultic or Marxist literature except for strictly research purposes). I'll read your stuff provided you're willing to interact with my refutations. I can confidently defend all of my works and always welcome any critiques of them.
I'll admit that you're by far the most intelligent of the anti-Catholics, which is, however, not saying much (as you yourself admit in your comments on anti-Catholics on pp. 20-21 of Fatal Flaw, yet even so you paradoxically enlist that towering intellect brother Brewer for your Foreword!). At least you seek to achieve some modicum of objectivity by citing leqitimate sources, to your great (almost unique) credit. How you misinterpret and misunderstand and argue against these sources constitute your own logical "fatal flaw." James Akin, in his critique of your book ("Fatally Flawed Thinking," This Rock, July 1993, pp.7-13) points out several of the book's many egregious errors, even in the basic understanding of Catholic positions (see, e.g., p.13).
Let me point out that I too have studied the Wittenberg and Genevan and Amsterdam and Tulsa and Downers Grove and Grand Rapids position(s) quite thoroughly; and have lived (some of) them wholeheartedly for ten years, half of which as an intensely-committed evangelist willing to endure great hardships and misunderstanding for the sake of Christ and His call on my life. So we're even there, too. Again, I think I get the edge since I've actually been on both sides of the fence, whereas you haven't (this isn't to say that one cannot know a position from the outside - e.g., my Jehovah's Witness research). I, too, have written a book (750 pages - possibly to be published by Ignatius Press) and tons of shorter apologetic materials.
You get the edge on debates. I've sought in vain to engage Protestants in both conversation and by letter, but no one has yet shown the willingness to continue after reading any of my in-depth critiques of Protestantism. Perhaps you'll be the first. I would have relished just this opportunity when I was Protestant, so I'm truly perplexed at the weak knees of evangelicals. My perspective is constructively ecumenical, not destructively adversarial. Evangelicals are fairly decent at published self-criticism, but apparently not very willing to face biblical, historical and reasoned critiques from across the Tiber. This is most unfortunate and curious.
I know the arguments of anti-Catholicism quite well, I assure you (also those of ecumenical Protestant apologists). Your arguments in Fatal Flaw and your letter are almost predictable, no offense intended. Let me respond to the latter, if I may. You claim I didn't have an adequate knowledge of "Roman" theology, hence I was open prey for clever, devious papists who easily reeled me in by means of Babylonish guile, because I had indeed already "rejected the tenets of the Reformation" and was "not truly a Protestant to begin with." Boy, where to begin with such inanities!
First of all, your information as to the state of my knowledge of Catholicism prior to my conversion is far too inadequate to justify your wild speculations, based as they are on a twelve-page conversion story (the shortest in the book). What do you know about the extent of my studies, or how well-read I am, or who I've talked to? Next to nothing. I know it's necessary for you to come up with wishful and baseless theories, since it's unthinkable for you to accept the possibility of a thoughtful and genuine conversion to Catholicism based on Scripture, Church history and reason.
But this doesn't make said theories hold any water if they lack the appropriate facts and analysis. Your "reasoning" here is exactly analogous to that of outright atheists who "explain" away Protestant conversions, ignoring the sincere self-reports of people who have undergone "born-again salvation" (they think God a crutch, rather than infallibility). Having personally experienced both types of conversions, I need not denigrate either one by means of foolish speculation. I merely reinterpret the first theologically. You could do that, too, but instead you resort to unfounded, condescending scenarios of my alleged ignorant gullibility.
Secondly, you denigrate my being impressed with Catholics in Operation Rescue. Now, how is this any different from the observance of committed "born again" Protestants, talked about all the time in the "testimonies" of evangelical circles as a means of "getting people saved," of "being a good witness," "walking the walk," "letting your light shine," being "epistles read of men," etc.? There is no difference. It's silly for you to criticize this element in my odyssey when it is so much a part of your own evangelistic, conversionist theology and ethos, as you are surely aware.
As I stated in my book, I had never seen such commitment among Catholics. It is to be expected in order for one to believe in any way of life which claims to transform human beings. But this was only one fairly minor factor. The primary initial reasons for my change were the moral bankruptcy of Protestantism (e.g., contraception and divorce), its anti-historical essence (as shown in Newman's Development), and the absurdity and unbiblical nature of Luther's many novel fancies (gleaned from reading his own words).
The only possible way in which I could formerly be described as some sort of "Catholic" would be my longstanding beliefs in (like Wesley) progressive sanctification, and (like the best Protestant scholars such as Geisler, Colson, Lewis, and Pelikan) strong advocacy of both history and reason, elements largely frowned upon by Protestantism. But clearly you don't accept my story at face value. Instead, like a true ideologue in the worst sense of that term, you grasp for straws in order to bolster your interpretation of what you would like to believe about my supposed journey from semi-Pelagianism to Pelagianism, rather than from dim to bright light, as I see it, or from skeletal, "mere" Bible Christianity to full-bodied, historical, incarnational Christianity grounded in Tradition and a real Church, not merely subjective whims and fancies, abstractions, and countless arrogant counter-charges and self-proclaimed "authorities."
Thirdly, it's news to me that belief in supralapsarian double predestination and total depravity (man is a worm on a dunghill) constitutes the quintessence of true Protestantism and hence, Christianity. This opens up a gargantuan can of worms both theologically and logically. Akin pointed out how (as I suspected) your Five-point Calvinism leads you to exclude from the Body anyone denying even limited atonement alone (p.8). Then, he recounts (p.9, note 12) how you tried to weasel your way out of the unavoidable implications of your own position by denying this. Which is it? Was I a Protestant or not, since I most certainly denounced "such things as the Mass, purgatory, and indulgences," which you told James Akin were necessary for Christianhood?
I was in very good company as a Protestant: Melanchthon (whom Luther hailed as the greatest theologian that ever lived, and his Loci as second only to the Bible) rejected Luther's denial of free will as early as 1527 in his Commentary on Colossians), and did not include this falsehood in the Augsburg Confession (1530), the authoritative Lutheran document approved by Dr. Luther himself. Strange, then, if he wasn't a Christian. John Wesley is thought by most Christians to be among their number - at least as eligible as you, if I do say so. Likewise, Charles Finney, and C.S. Lewis, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Newman, Chesterton, Knox and Richard John Neuhaus before their conversions. I believe all of these men were Arminian.
Whole denominations, such as Methodists, Lutherans, the majority of Anglicans, Free Will Baptists, most pentecostals and many non-denominationalists are also out of the fold, by your definition. Even Keith Tolbert, a major cult researcher and now sole author of the Directory, is an Arminian (Assembly of God). So I guess he isn't a Christian either, and is in danger of becoming a papist (which prospect would be quite surprising to him, I'm sure!). Why, then, don't you write books about all these erring non-Christians too, since people will go to hell, according to you, by following their Pelagian doctrines just as us poor papists will? What's good for the goose . . .
Spare me. No reputable pastor or evangelist openly presents Five-Point Calvinism as the gospel. Billy Graham (whom I greatly respect) tells me I merely need to give my life over to Christ to be saved. It's ridiculous enough to present "sola fide" as the gospel (as Sproul, MacArthur and Ankerberg do), let alone TULIP, which excludes the great majority of Christians at all times through history. Besides clear scriptural counter-evidence, TULIP is false because, simply put, it transforms God into a demon-god who creates people solely for the reason of damning and torturing them for eternity, through no fault or choice of their own, and makes Him the author of evil.
This is absolutely blasphemous and one of the most abominable lies from the pit of hell ever devised. That's why I always rejected it, but this had no bearing on my former firm beliefs in "sola Scriptura" and "sola fide." Those are the two true (albeit weak) pillars of Protestantism, as illustrated in the very rallying-cries of Luther and other "Reformers." Who ever cried "Predestination to hell alone for the reprobate"?! I've always held that Calvinism was consistent, but unscriptural and wicked.
Because of the dreadful, ghastly teachings of Calvinism, men could not suffer it for long, so that, typically, error in turn bred even worse error. We see this clearly in the history of New England, where the Puritans evolved into Unitarians by 1800. Host of the founders of the cults, such as Russell, Eddy, Joseph Smith, and Wierwille, started out as Calvinists and found the teachings so revolting that they went to the other extreme and embraced Pelagianism and rejected the Trinity. Both the Lutherans and (most) Anglicans came to their senses and rejected Calvinism early on.
But another insuperable difficulty remains with this intolerable position of yours. Who are you to say whether I am a Christian or not? You're just one little old cult researcher with a pulpit, a para-church ministry and a Master's from Fuller - hardly in the same league with the many stalwart figures mentioned above. Are you a Magisterium of one? Are you your own pope (which, I argue, is pretty much true for every individual Protestant)? Why should I trust your word on this (and my eternal destiny) rather than that of Wesley, or C.S. Lewis, or the "great" Melanchthon, or a host of others, not to mention Augustine, Irenaeus, Athanasius, Ignatius, Aquinas and the massive structure of the Catholic Church, the Fathers, Christian Tradition, the Councils, etc.?
Thus you subtly set yourself up, for all intents and purposes, as the sort of Infallible Guide you chide me for embracing ("there is a wonderful feeling, I'm sure, that accompanies being told with infallible certainty what to believe"). Your whole enterprise presents a quite humorous (but tragi-comic) episode in self-delusion and blindness to the absurdity of one's own position. Can't you see it? Your argument collapses on your own head (but since it is a house of cards in the first place, I guess it won't hurt too much!).
You say, "You might well be wrong." Of course! What else is new? But the point is, I'm in a helluva lot better company (no pun intended) than you are. I'd much sooner place my trust in Catholicism (in terms of human authority -not meant to exclude Christ!) in all its glory than in the foul-mouthed, emotionally-unstable and contradictory Luther and the calculating, self-righteous and ruthless Calvin, both of whose teachings are full of holes theologically, lacking precedent historically, and gravely deficient morally.
Everyone trusts in someone or something, whether it's Tradition or Protestant "Reformation mythology" ("Luther lit a candle in the darkness...") or Billy Graham or an infallible Bible (but which interpretation?) or Pastor Doe down the street or J. Vernon McGee, or whatever I feel the "Spirit" is telling me up in my attic, surrounded by the infallible, "perspicuous," and trustworthy guidance of the Bible and James White books, which refute all others. The Protestant position is self-defeating, indeed full of "organizational anarchy, schism, and theological relativism," as I write in my letter. Who could fail to see that? You yourself admit in your book that most evangelicals have gone astray (as if this is something unexpected!).
You make a silly remark about "how could you believe otherwise?" about the superiority of Catholic biblical support since I am not permitted to doubt this as a Catholic. The reply is simple. If I'm shown otherwise, then most certainly I will renounce Catholicism, just as I left evangelicalism for higher things. You assume I am shackled like a prisoner in a "Roman" dungeon for all eternity. But we believe in free will - you are the ones who deny that. You act like I accept the proposition that Catholicism is more biblical only because I am taught this from Mother Church, and not on the basis of actually considering the merits of each side.
In a sense this is true because the Catholic is not arrogant enough to assume that he is the arbiter and final judge of all truth given him from any source (see my arguments above about the inevitability of trusting something outside oneself). We submit to a Tradition which includes all the great Christian minds who have reflected upon that Deposit of Faith, received from Jesus and the Apostles and developed as a result of battle with heretics for nearly 2000 years. I am very proud to do this, and not in the least ashamed.
I did accept the authority of the Church initially because of clear superiority over the absurdity and historical implausibility of the Protestant a-historical, Docetic-like, "mystical" conception of the Church and its Tradition, and desperate reliance on "sola Scriptura," an unbiblical, man-made, self-defeating, arbitrary tradition. But once I thoroughly familiarized myself with all the apologetic literature and biblical arguments for the Catholic distinctives I could find (in the 4-year course of writing my book), I became absolutely convinced that Catholicism is the most biblical position, as I stated in my letter.
I guess you'll just have to read some of my book (with your consent, you might start with the "sola fide" and "sola Scriptura" chapters), to understand why I believe as I do, and feel fully justified intellectually and biblically in placing my trust in the Church for doctrines I may not yet totally understand as well as those which I do grasp (see Newman's Grammar of Assent for the full treatment of Catholic intellectuality). My challenge to you is to refute my arguments therein and elsewhere.
Ever since I studied Socrates (from whom I derive my preferred method of discourse) in college in 1977 I have consistently sought to strongly believe in ideas, based on evidence, unless and until I am shown otherwise - and I am always willing to change my mind in such cases, as I have done on numerous occasions throughout my life (which is one reason I am a Catholic, pro-life, politically conservative, and against divorce and contraception - all views which I used to oppose). In this aspect I haven't changed a whit since "poping." How can you blame me for remaining Catholic when no Protestant has shown a willingness for over four years to show me how my apologetic arguments fail?
Where is the concern for my soul from these people, if indeed I'm on a terrible hellbound path, as many of them think (or at least drastically wrong on many points, if not "unsaved")? I'd be glad to encounter and confront any of these opposing views in continuing dialogue, if only I could find an evangelical who isn't, frankly, a "chicken." It looks like you might be that person. I'll have to wait for your response to see if this is the case. So, I am open-minded in every sense of the word. Are you willing to convert to Catholicism if shown that it is superior to Protestantism? If not, then it is you who have profoundly "blind faith" (or, stubborn pride), not me. As the saying goes, "a man convinced against his will, retains his original belief still."
As for recourse to the Fathers, there can be no doubt that Protestants (like their fathers Luther and Calvin) are selectively dishonest - no question whatsoever. I myself engaged in this same tactic when fighting for Protestantism in 1990. I tried to squeeze the Fathers into my own mold, for my own polemical purposes. This was devious, but it is done all the time by evangelicals, particularly in espousing St. Augustine as one of their own, which is patently ridiculous. Although what you describe as "anachronistic interpretation" among Catholic apologists happens, I'm sure, at times (all people being biased), usually the Protestant misunderstands the concept of development, in which any given doctrine is not required to be in place in its fullness in the first, second, or sometimes third and even fourth centuries.
Rather than trading horror stories of "patristic abuse," I would prefer to actually pick a topic and see what the Fathers indeed taught. I've compiled this evidence in all my theological chapters in my book, so I'm already prepared for such a debate. How about the Eucharist, or the authority of Bishops, for starters? I stand by Newman's statement, "to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant." In this sense I was predestined to become a Catholic, as I have always loved history (including Church history). As soon as I studied the Fathers, it was all over.
Your letter goes from bad to worse at the bottom of p.2. Now "sacraments . . . replace the grace of God"!!! How preposterous! What lunacy! You are again on the slippery slope of excluding almost all Christians who disagree with you from Christianity. Even your hero and mentor Calvin (Inst., IV, 14,1) defines a "sacrament" as, "a testimony of divine grace toward us," and cites St. Augustine in agreement: "a visible form of an invisible grace," which is, of course, the standard Catholic definition, known to any Catholic child with any catechetic instruction whatever. Luther, of course agrees. Even in his Babylonian Captivity, a critique of Catholic sacramentalism, he still upholds the Catholic view for baptism and the Eucharist, and in this case is much closer to my view than yours.
He regards baptism as a regenerative sacrament, in opposition to your typical Baptist anti-sacramental opinions:
- [Infant] Baptism is a washing away of sins . . . the sacrament of baptism, even with respect to its sign, is not a matter of the moment, but something permanent . . . We must therefore beware of those who have reduced the power of baptism to such small and slender dimensions . . .
(Three Treatises, Fortress, Philadelphia, pp.191-2).
Luther, of course, believed in the Real Presence as well (and even - egads - adoration of the Host - see, e.g., Table Talk, ed. Hazlitt, no. 363, p.207). Thus, according to you, Luther must be both a "works-salvationist" and an idolater (even Calvin called him "half-papist" for this very reason), not to mention his belief in the Immaculate Conception and other "unbiblical" Marian doctrines (see my enclosed article). One of Luther's two favorite works (along with, appropriately, Bondage of the Will) was his seminal Commentary on Galatians. Yet you would now have me to believe that the correct perspective on this book, contrary to Luther's, excludes the use of sacraments! Your theological landscape is indeed a strange one, full of mysterious and unexpected detours and astonishingly contradictory backwaters.
Do you mention these beliefs of Luther when you extoll him in Fatal Flaw, chapter 1, and leave the impression that he was opposed to the "Roman system" in toto? Of course not, because such straightforward honesty would be fatal to your case and would fail to rouse the anti-Catholic "ignorant armies of the night" (Luther is misused just as much as the Fathers are). This is "anachronistic interpretation" par excellence, and it happens all the time.
For precisely this reason I was really shocked to learn about Luther's errors and considerable shortcomings as well as his many agreements with Catholicism. I had swallowed the myth, spoon-fed from Protestant legatees who in turn have taken in the fairy-tales with their mother's milk for 474 years (the Diet of Worms remains that to this day!). The truth is always more interesting, and particularly so in Luther's case.
Your treatment of the Canon of Scripture misses the point, which is that the Catholic Church, and "extrabiblical authority" was necessary for you guys to even have your Bible, let alone construct with tortured "logic" myths such as "perspicuity" and "sola Scriptura" from this book which you would never even have but for the Catholic Church, which, inexplicably, preserved it even though it supposedly destroys that same Church's belief system - evident to any "plowboy." My paper on "sola Scriptura" deals with this.
It's the oldest rhetorical trick in the book to simply dismiss an important question as irrelevant, when one can't answer it, as you did with my query as to when Catholicism became apostate. You say, "do we need to know? Of course not." Of course every anti-Catholic does need to know, in order for his "Church history," to the extent that he has any at all, to have any shred of plausibility. There must have been a Church all those years when all "true believers" waited with baited breath for Messiah-Luther to be born in Eisleben (no less improbable than Nazareth for such a momentous figure, I guess).
You have no case, pure and simple, since all the Catholic distinctives appeared early, at least in kernel form, as far as records reveal to us (already strikingly so in St. Ignatius and St. Clement). Anti-Catholics are so desperate for a quasi-history, that, e.g., Dave Hunt is ready to embrace the Cathari and Albigensians as brothers before he would ever think of accepting me!
Ken Samples writes in a recent Christian Research Journal (Spring 1993, p.37) that if Catholicism is a cult,
- then there was no authentic Christian church during most of the medieval period. Contrary to what some Protestants think, there was no independent, nondenominational, Bible-believing church on the corner (or in the caves) during most of the Middle Ages. Additionally, the schismatic groups who were around at the time were grossly heretical. So much for the gates of hell not prevailing against the church (Matt. 16:18).
Likewise, you scoff at my disdain for the indefensible existence of 23,000 denominations. You don't dare admit that this is a valid point against Protestantism (perhaps your "fatal flaw") because you would obviously then be in big trouble. Yet it certainly is without question (e.g., Jn 17:20-23, Rom 16:17, 1 Cor 1:10-13, Gal 5:19-21 and many other passages). Thus you are bound by the outrageous and scandalous situation of Protestant sectarianism, in clear opposition to Scripture. About all Protestants can do here is mutter incoherently about agreement on "central issues," which falsehood I deal with in my refutation of Geisler's defense of "sola Scriptura" (also enclosed), or else they can take the path of citing the existence of liberals within Catholicism.
This won't do either, for the simple reason that we have dogmas and Councils and papal encyclicals and infallible utterances which constitute our teaching - definite, observable, and documented for all to see, even the most wild-eyed liberals such as Kung and Curran and McBrien. It doesn't matter a hill of beans what these people say they or the Catholic Church believe. I could care less. I despised liberal Protestantism when I was among your number and I have even more contempt for Catholic liberalism, as it has far less excuse. Your side, of course, has neither any authority nor a sensible, workable method for determining truth in doctrine. In rare instances where someone is disciplined, they just go to another sect or start a new one (e.g., Swaggart). In Catholicism, on the other hand, a liberal like Kung can be (and was) authoritatively declared as no longer a Catholic theologian, and not to be trusted for correct doctrine. By the nature of the beast you guys can't do that. Hence my apt description of "anarchism" and "relativism." This is why your analogy is like comparing apples and oranges. It simply won't wash.
As for the Watchtower, it denies both the Bible and consistent Christian Tradition and many beliefs which even you and I share, such as the Trinity, bodily resurrection of Christ, the omnipresence and omniscience of God the Father and the fact that He is a Spirit (they think He has a body), etc. Obviously, there is no comparison. This is why their claim is invalid, along with their paltry 115-year existence, which is only 359 years less than the existence of your religion - both being grossly inadequate in terms of passing on the true apostolic Tradition (without Catholicism).
Since you brought up the cultic comparison, I will also note that both cults and Protestantism are man-centered, whereas Catholicism is Christ-centered. Even your names betray this: Lutherans, Calvinists, Wesleyans, whereas ours simply means "universal." Where our sub-groups bear the name of individuals (Franciscans, Thomists, Benedictines, etc.) this is clearly understood as a branch of the larger tree, not as mutually-exclusive (in important aspects) systems, as in Protestantism. Luther and Zwingli and their ilk start new religions. St. Francis and St. Ignatius Loyola merely start orders, always in obedience to the Catholic Church.
Your remark about the supposed recent origin of "modern Romanism" is yet another instance of the incomprehensibility of development to the Protestant dichotomizing, "either-or" mind (which Luther had already perfected to a tee). It's pointless to respond to it other than to refer you to my various tracts about development or to Newman's essential work on the subject.
You gleefully note the divergent views of Lateran IV and Vatican II on religious tolerance. Yes, there has been a change of opinion here, but unfortunately for you, the teachings involved are not religious dogmas of the faith, but rather, disciplinary measures. I detest as much as you corruptions in the Inquisition, the indefensible sacking of Constantinople in 1204, etc., indeed all persecution. This argument was my main one against Catholicism when I was still fighting against it.
The Church has learned from its errors, as have the Protestant sects, which have an even worse history of intolerance and persecution, since your crimes are greater and more inconsistent with your supposed "freedom of conscience" for all to follow God in whatever way is deemed best by the "individual with his Bible alone" (see my treatise and synopsis on this subject which will provide copious documentation, lest you doubt this). If all Christian groups who have persecuted are ruled out of the faith, then about all that is left are the Quakers, Mennonites, and Amish, and whoever else descended from the Anabaptists. You may count yourself among these, but your theological fathers are still Luther and Calvin, who are horribly stained with the blood of dissenters. Your Founders were guilty of abominable crimes, whereas no one in Catholicism (even popes) have a place as high and lofty as these Protestant Super-Popes, who dictated infallible revelations which had to be believed under pain of death (yes, literally).
So, as almost always, what you think is a knockout punch to your detested "Romanism" rebounds back to you with much more force, for the reasons just recounted. What I call the "reverse Inquisition" argument stands accepted Protestant mythology on this topic on its head and shocks the daylight out of evangelicals who are invariably ignorant of the history of their own group (which is par for the course). The documentation for my contentions is so compelling as to be denied only by someone with his head in the sand. The "out" here is to simply deny that one is a "Protestant." "I'm not one of them," you often hear, "I'm a Bible Christian." But this will not do, as it is intellectually-dishonest to a nauseating degree in its a-historical delusion, which is a trademark of classic Protestantism. You love to claim you're "one" when it comes to denominationalism, but not when it comes to the skeletons in your closet.
As for your lengthy attempted refutation of papal claims and their biblical justification, I refer you to my chapter on the papacy and infallibility, which runs 98 pages, single-spaced. Again, you ignore the factor of development, which is nowhere more apparent and necessary than in the understanding of the evolution of the papacy. Your three long quotes, which you obviously thought were so unanswerable, have little or no force against my position.
You blithely dismiss my points 7 and 8 with your by-now familiar hit-and-run tactic of glib avoidance when you have no answer. Your section in your Answers book on development has little to do with the specific question I raised - the inconsistent appeal to Councils. Funny, too, how I managed to find and read both Salmon and Dollinger's books when I was vigorously fighting infallibility in 1990. Now how could this be if I wasn't a Protestant and was already some sort of proto-Catholic mutation, according to your theory? Somehow I found the very books that you are enamored with. If you had communicated with me then, I think you would have found me quite a kindred (Protestant) spirit, with Salmon and good old Dollinger under each arm (Dollinger, by the way remained doctrinally Catholic in every sense except in accepting papal infallibility and in submitting to the Magisterium), even though I never denied that Catholicism was Christian.
For, in the anti-Catholic mentality, every co-belligerent against the great Beast and Whore is accepted as a brother almost without question (witness Dave Hunt and the Albigensians), much like your "feeling of 'brotherhood' created by standing against a common evil," which you posited as a reason for my conversion.
Salmon consistently misinterprets development to mean "evolution" in the sense of the essential change of doctrines, which of course it is not. He states,
- The old theory was that the teaching of the Church had never varied (p.33).
He doesn't, however (much like you), actually deal with Newman's brilliant analogical arguments, which comprise the heart of his classic work, since they are unanswerable from the Protestant perspective. I was honest enough (and granted enough light and grace) to accept this, and it was a crucial component in my conversion, as you correctly note. Salmon, on the other hand, is content to quixotically repeat over and over something which isn't even relevant, in a mere appearance of strength.
One brother of a friend of mine (the editor of the New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge), also made much of Salmon and early on waxed eloquently about his debating ability. When I gave him my "sola Scriptura" paper and informed him that I had not only read but would also devour Salmon for lunch, he promptly vanished, never to be heard from again, presumably crushed because his champion was not unanswerable. Oh well, such is life for a lonely Catholic apologist. I also tried for four long years to "recruit" Protestants into my ecumenical discussion group, but failed. Apparently the prospect of being refuted by Catholics, who aren't supposed to know anything of the Bible or the Christian life, is horrifying. But if we're so wrong, where was the evangelistic zeal to save our souls?
You pass off my point number 8 with a 14-word sentence. Yet it is absolutely crucial. How, indeed, could such an anti-Christian system be so dead-right about morality - far better than any particular Protestant sect and immeasurably superior to Protestantism as a whole, which is profoundly compromised, especially on sexual, marital and gender issues. The very fact that you don't regard this as of any "weight" merely confirms in my mind the Protestant tendency of unconcern for holiness and morality (also clearly observed in Luther's life and teachings - e.g., the bigamy of Philip of Hesse), one of the primary reasons for my abandoning it. Here again you are radically a-historical and anti-incarnational. I suppose your reason would be that my statement is not immediately scriptural, therefore, of no import for "Bible alone" followers. Or, as I suspect, because you don't know how to answer it. One or the other.
I'm delighted that you cite St. Clement of Rome on justification, as if he was a "faith alone" adherent. Nothing he says here is against Catholic teaching whatsoever, as proven by Trent's Canon I on Justification, which I cited, and the decrees of Second Orange. I included this very passage in my book when I dealt with justification. But I went on to quote from the next two sections as well, where St. Clement talks about good works ("the good worker receives the bread of his labor confidently" - 34,1). Later, in 58,2 he states that the ones who have "kept without regret the ordinances and commandments given by God" will be "enrolled and included among the number of those who are saved through Jesus Christ." So this is what I "do" with St. Clement, whose letter is just as easily interpreted as in harmony with Catholic teaching as Protestant (I think more so).
He merely reiterates the ("works-salvation"?) teachings of Jesus (Mt 5:20, 7:16-27, 25:31-46, Lk 18:18-25), which Protestants so downplay when they talk about justification, bypassing the Lord and immediately rushing to St. Paul, who is made out to be a proto-Luther figure. But St. Paul, like St. James' "epistle of straw," also stresses the organic connection between faith and works in our salvation, as in Catholicism (Rom 2:5-13, 1 Cor 3:8-9, Gal 5:6, 6:7-9, Eph 2:8-10, Phil 2:12-13, 3:10-14, 1 Thess 1:3,11, 1 Tim 6:18-19). Evangelicals, in their propensity for selective presentation of verses and neglect of context, conveniently ignore all these passages when talking about justification.
Your Canons 24, 32 and 33 from Trent and others, and comments about the "sufficiency of God's grace apart from man's works" prove nothing. These Canons are in harmony with the one I quoted and others in that same vein. When will you Protestants stop making your false dichotomies when there is no necessity to do so? This is so irritating because it's almost impossible to convince you that you are constantly doing it. You can believe in all your "solas" and contradictions if you so desire. But please understand that our view does not operate on those principles. So in Trent's Canons on justification, faith and works, God's preceding grace and man's cooperating action are not seen as contradictory, as you believe.
You act like merely adding up numbers of decrees with which you disagree, over against mine, with which you may agree, somehow proves that the Church is Pelagian (which it has always condemned) rather than Christian. This is not reasonable. It isn't even your methodology with Scripture. Neither the Virgin Birth nor Original Sin are mentioned very often there, yet they are firmly believed by all evangelicals. Why? Because they are true, and harmonize with the rest of Scripture. Likewise with the Immaculate Conception, yet you rail against it by virtue of its implicit presence in Scripture. In order to overcome the "dichotomous tendency of Protestant thought," I highly recommend Louis Bouyer's The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, which also has an excellent treatment of the absolute preeminence of God's preceding and enabling grace in Catholic soteriology, over against your misguided assertions here.
Since you brought up the Fathers, how about St. Ignatius, writing about 14 years after St. Clement:
- May none of you be found a deserter [so much for Calvinism] . . . Let your works be as your deposited withholdings, so that you may receive the back-pay which has accrued to you
(Letter to Polycarp, 6,2).
You also mention Wycliffe and Hus as purveyors of the "gospel," certainly the favorite "proto-Protestants" of the Middle Ages, second and third only to St. Augustine in this regard, who is Luther and Calvin's favorite "Protestant." As usual, there seems to be little effort to actually study the opinions of these fellow "anti-Catholics." They are seized upon because of their rebellious beliefs. Indeed Wycliffe comes about as close as you will get, but according to the learned Protestant historian Latourette in his A History of Christianity, vol. 1, (p.664), Wycliffe believed in a type of Real Presence (remanence) in the Eucharist (his view was similar to Luther's), seven sacraments (although he denied the necessity of confirmation), and purgatory. These views are more than enough to exclude him from "Christianity" and the "gospel," as defined by you, but no matter - you inconsistently cite him anyway because his legend is a revered Protestant tradition - all anti-Catholics must be canonized and venerated as saints in Protestantism.
You might say, "heck, nine out of ten correct beliefs ain't bad," but this misses the point. If even your best examples of "Protestants" in the B.L. so-called "dark ages" era of history ("Before Luther") fail to meet the "gospel" criterion, then what becomes of your overall case for non-Catholic Christian continuity for 1500 years? I don't think you're ready to espouse Eastern Orthodoxy as the answer to your dilemma! Your a-historical view clearly fails miserably, for extreme lack of evidence, which comes as no surprise to anyone acquainted with this period of Church history. Hus, too - generally regarded as less radical than Wycliffe - believed in sacramental baptism and Transubstantiation, and held, according to Protestant Roland Bainton (Christendom, vol. 1, p.239) that "the sacraments at the hands of the unworthy are nevertheless valid and efficacious" (Catholicism's ex opere operato), so he's outside "orthodoxy" as defined by . . . you. You keep cutting off the limb you're sitting on by your extreme judgments as to who is and isn't a Christian, making many of your own positions utterly contradictory, if not downright nonsensical.
Why would you send your reply to my letter to Eric Pement? Don't you think that my arguments can easily be overcome by your cult research comrades? Why would they need your reply if my arguments are often so insubstantial as to merit one or two-sentence "refutations," as you believe? I take this as a (probably unintended) compliment - thank you. In fact, it may help my cause, since if they mention your "rebuttal," I could then send them this (otherwise I wouldn't have).
Finally, I am delighted and (I think) honored that you are eager and "happy" to debate me in public. I love debate, but much prefer informal, conversational Socratic dialogue or written point-counterpoint exchanges to the mutual monologues and often antagonistic and disrespectful affairs which pass for "public debates." I am not particularly skilled as an orator and lecturer, nor do I have the requisite desire to participate in that type of forum. That said, I would not want to publicly represent the Church to which I give my allegiance, but would rather defer to someone with more abilities for formal debate than I possess, so that we are best represented.
I am pleased to report, however, that my friend Gary Michuta, another apologist who started our group called "Thy Faith," which puts out a magazine called Hands On Apologetics (similar to This Rock), immediately and enthusiastically accepted this challenge when I inquired about it yesterday. His phone number and fax are the same as my fax number: [deleted], and he can be reached at the following address: [deleted]. He eagerly awaits your reply.
I must, regretfully, inform you of another reason for my declining: the widespread intellectual dishonesty, evasiveness, and uncharitability of anti-Catholic debaters. Akin in his article on your book starts out by recalling how you have refused to shake hands with your Catholic opponents, or even pray the Lord's Prayer with them. This is contemptible, petty behavior. Madrid's article "The White Man's Burden" concurs, by citing your rude treatment of him and of Dr. Art Sippo, whom apparently you no longer wish to debate, having been "beaten," according to Pat's account, anyway. Like Dave Hunt, who recently "debated" Karl Keating in my area and evaded in cowardly and embarrassing fashion the topic ("Was the Early Church Catholic") all night (not even quoting a single Church Father, to my recollection!), you refused, by and large, to attempt to prove "sola Scriptura" from the Bible, which was your topic of debate.
I find these incidents intellectually offensive and insulting to the debate opponent, the audience, and a decent sense of "fair play." Likewise, even in video presentations such as James McCarthy's Catholicism: Crisis of Faith, dishonest and unethical tactics were used (see Keating's article in This Rock, May 1993, pp.8-17), particularly with regard to the reprehensible treatment of Fr. Richard Chilson. I also heard Keith Fournier recount on the radio very poor treatment he received at the hands of disingenuous anti-Catholics, who more or less preyed upon his good will and trapped him by inviting him to a talk which turned into a "debate" and inquisition against him (I can't remember who these people were, but my point is still valid).
Four strikes and you're out. I will not subject myself to this kind of asinine behavior and disrespect, which is an insult to the whole idea of fair, open-minded debate. If your case is so superior to ours, then "put up or shut up." The fact that these unsavory tactics regularly occur convinces me all the more that you have no argument and are reduced to empty rhetoric and ad hominem attacks, etc. (much like liberal politicians today).
Lest you think I'm trying to evade you, however, I am perfectly willing, able, ready, and eager to engage you in debate on any topic you so desire either by letter or in your newsletter (if the latter, I would require prior editorial consent, due to the unscrupulous tactics recounted above). I would demand equal space in your newsletter, so that the fair inquirer could make up his own mind. You've observed my debating abilities in this letter and other writings I've given you, so I think you'll agree that timidity and fear are not my reasons for declining public oratorical debate.
Your newsletter is just as "public," and probably reaches even more people than a one-night debate would. Your next reply is crucial and will likely set the tone for the future course of your dealings with me. I hope that (at long last) you are the Protestant who will dare to actually confront my arguments, especially my numerous critiques of Protestantism. If you aren't, I will start thinking that such a person does not exist. So, I eagerly anticipate your reply, and (I hope) request for whatever of my papers you would most like to debate. I've much enjoyed writing this.
Yours, sincerely, in Christ & His Church,
Dear Mr. Armstrong:
Over the years I have attempted to establish "standards" to guide me in how I should invest my very limited time. Working, as I do, with Mormons, JWs, and now Roman Catholics and even KJV Only folks, I have to attempt to be balanced. It is not an easy task. Normally, I will admit, your letter's tone would be sufficient for it to be dismissed. I have learned to recognize sophistry when I see it, and as I grow and mature, I have learned to ignore such argumentation as falling under Paul's prohibition of 1 Timothy 2:23. The number of simple misrepresentations, and gross caricatures, of my letter to you and the position I espouse was enough to do almost irreparable damage to your credibility and keep me from investing any of my limited time in responding to you. However, it almost seemed to me that you were hoping that would be the result of your arrogant letter, so I guess part of my reply to you is based upon a desire to deny you that very accomplishment.
Allow me to take a moment to concentrate, in one paragraph, just some of the kind, helpful, truly "Socratic" comments you included in your letter: "Would that all of your 'crusades' were so worthwhile and useful for the Body of Christ"; "Is 'sola scriptura' the eleventh commandment"; "that towering intellect brother Brewer"; "Boy, where to begin with such inanities!"; "your wild speculations"; "wishful and baseless theories"; "you resort to unfounded, condescending scenarios of my alleged ignorant gullibility"; "like a true idealogue in the worst sense of the term, you grasp for straws"; "You're just one little old cult researcher with a pulpit, a para-church ministry and a Master's from Fuller"; "Your whole enterprise presents a quite humorous (but tragic-comic) episode in self-delusion and blindness to the absurdity of one's own position"; "I'm in a helluva lot better company than you are"; "You make a silly remark"; "Your letter goes from bad to worse"; "How preposterous! What lunacy!" "Messiah-Luther"; "You have no case, pure and simple"; "You gleefully note"; and so on.
Do you find the use of bluster and bombast helpful, Mr. Armstrong? Does it aid your case? Or is it a cover for an inability to honestly face the issues? You lamented the unwillingness of "Protestants" to correspond wth you. Seemingly you have decided that this is because you are so great, so intelligent, so well-informed and so well-read that there is none who can even begin to respond to your arguments. Might I suggest to you, Mr. Armstrong, that it might be because some of us have standards with reference to the behavior of those with whom we correspond? I will not debate Vinney "85% of those who hear me think I'm a lunatic" Lewis, either, and there's a reason for that: he is not worthy of being noticed on that level. Seemingly you have taken at least some of your cues from Mr. Lewis, though, of course, you seem to disagree with him (and these days, Gerry Matatics) on the issue of the "separated brethren." Anyway, if you wish to get people to engage in extended conversation, Dave, try not insulting them and misrepresenting them in every other paragraph.
I mentioned above the many misrepresentations in your letter. Let me enumerate some of them for you. First, you wasted a large number of key-strokes beginning at the top of page 4. First, it didn't seem to occur to you to consider the possibility that James Akin and Patrick Madrid are fallible folks with an agenda. I have fully responded to James Akin's article (and to Patrick's blast as well), and pointed out the errors he made with reference to both my position and my actions in the past (more on that later). You are in error, as he was in error, to say that I exclude people from the kingdom on the basis of their acceptance or rejection of limited atonement.
Such is a caricature, and is unworthy of anyone who wishes to be taken seriously as an apologist. It is a misrepresentation, and if you continue to use it, you only convict yourself of dishonesty. Then you make the incredible leap (hoping no one notices the shift in terminology, perhaps?) from the term "Protestant" to the term "Christian" for the rest of this page, and on the basis of this dishonest shifting of terms, attack me on all sorts of issues, none of which are even worthy of response. This kind of argument is a mere wasting of time and effort, Mr. Armstrong. Those who have something meaningful to say don't waste their time on such things.
The exact same kind of silliness is to be found on page 7, where you write in the best style of Gail Riplinger, "Your letter goes from bad to worse at the bottom of p.2. Now 'sacraments... replace the grace of God'!!! How preposterous! What lunacy!" And I might add, "What dishonesty on your part!" Did you think I don't keep copies of my letters, Mr. Armstrong? I've gotten used to finding out what Mrs. Riplinger deletes with those ellipses, so did you think I would not look at what I originally wrote to see why you had to edit my words? As we both know, I wrote the following:
- "Faithful in preaching the apostolic message of the gospel? Certainly not, and that is the issue, Dave. If you feel a communion that replaces the grace of God with sacraments, mediators, and merit, can be properly called 'Christian,' then please go ahead and use the phrase. But please understand that if a person shares the perspective of the epistle to the churches of Galatia they will have to hold to a different understanding, and hence may not be as quick to use the term 'Christian' of such a person."
Finally, I mentioned the arrogance that marked your letter. I will note examples as I provide responses to your points, but one sentence that stuck in my mind came toward the end of your letter, from page 12:
- One brother of a friend of mine (the editor of the New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge), also made much of Salmon and early on waxed eloquently about his debating ability. When I gave him my "sola Scriptura" paper and informed him that I had not only read but would also devour Salmon for lunch, he promptly vanished, never to be heard from again, presumably crushed because his champion was not unanswerable. Oh well, such is life for a lonely Catholic apologist. I also tried for four long years to "recruit" Protestants into my ecumenical discussion group, but failed. Apparently the prospect of being refuted by Catholics, who aren't supposed to know anything of the Bible or the Christian life, is horrifying.
Well, having spent nearly three pages on materials that should not have even been included in a letter such as yours, I turn to responding to the actual assertions made therein. You noted that, "If indeed I'm a Christian, then your words about my beliefs violate several clear biblical injunctions, such as, 'Thou shalt not bear false witness.' " No, that would only be true if what I said about Roman theology was in fact untrue, and you did not even begin to demonstrate that anything I said was inaccurate on that account.
Next you noted, "We Catholics - notwithstanding harsh Trent language - still officially regard Protestants as our 'brothers in Christ,' whereas so many of you regard us as non-Christians." Yes, I'm sure the Council of Constance considered Jan Hus a "brother in Christ" as they burned him at the stake, Dave. And I'm sure the Waldensians of the Piedmont Valley were quite comforted by the fact that they were being raped and slaughtered by "brothers in Christ." I am reminded of a radio program I did on WEZE with Gerry Matatics, formerly of Catholic Answers (and now, seemingly, accusing them of dishonesty and libel). He called back after the program just to make sure that I understood that since I am anathema, that means that I do not have eternal life and should I die today, I would go to hell. He can quote dogmatic works just like you can, Dave. That's the nature of conflicting teachings in the supposedly infallible Magisterium. You can ignore such contradictions if you like, Dave, but that won't make them go away.
I found your next comment most fascinating: "You showed great perception in perhaps realizing that I would never spend a dime on an anti-Catholic book, even at the used-book sales I like to frequent." Really? May I respectfully suggest you remove the term "apologist" from your letterhead, then, for it is simply not possible for a person to be a serious apologist who would harbor such an attitude. I have spent literally thousands of dollars on books that attacked my faith -- I have a very respectable Roman Catholic library, a huge LDS library, shelves of Watchtower publications, books from Prometheus, even the Soncino Talmud! How in the world are you to defend your faith if you do not take the time to invest in acquiring the works of those who would refute you? You noted reading Salmon. How did you do that, if by not obtaining the book? If you borrow from a library, you are limited to how much use you can make of the book. I'm sorry, but such an attitude is very strange coming from one who claims to be an apologist.
I suppose I should take your next comment as a compliment: "I'll admit that you're by far the most intelligent of the anti-Catholics, which is, however, not saying much (as you yourself admit in your comments on anti-Catholicism on pp.20-21 of Fatal Flaw, yet even so you paradoxically enlist that towering intellect brother Brewer for your Foreword!)." Just a few things: 1) I'm a Protestant apologist, not an anti-Catholic. When you start calling yourself an anti-Protestant, I'll allow you to get away with calling me an anti-Catholic. 2) Bart Brewer may not measure up to your standards of a "towering intellect," but I'll take his humility, dedication to Christ, and simple kindness over your attitude any day, Mr. Armstrong.
You noted, "Again, I think I get the edge since I've actually been on both sides of the fence, whereas you haven't." Why do you find this to be an advantage, Mr. Armstrong? Gerry Matatics has often made much of the same concept, yet, I have to wonder why someone would think that way. Obviously, from my perspective, you are, to use the proper term, an apostate. To make one's apostasy a badge of honor, and to say that this gives you an "edge," bewilders me. Scripture says a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways, and we are warned about those who are blown about by every wind of doctrine. I noted the many, many churches that someone like Bob Sungenis was in prior to his move to Rome (Gerry Matatics, too, moved through a number of different positions, just as he has in Roman Catholicism since his conversion), and I just have to point out that such instability is not an edge, but a distinct disadvantage, wouldn't you say?
You referenced your book a number of times in your letter, even using it as reference source and saying things like, "See my chapters on such and such." Yet, as you wrote, it may be published by Ignatius Press (though getting a 750 page book published is pretty unlikely these days -- that's a pretty hefty book and would be most costly). How, may I ask, can I make reference to a book that is yet to be published and is not available to me?
In regards to your use of the phrase, "constructively ecumenical," what do you mean? One Roman apologist (who asked to be "off the record") confided to me just recently that "ecumenical dialogue is a joke. The only reason we are talking to you is to bring you back to Rome, nothing else." I think he has a good basis in history for such a statement, don't you?
Next I encountered another example of misrepresentation. You wrote the following: "You claim I didn't have an adequate knowledge of 'Roman' theology, hence I was open prey for clever, devious papists who easily reeled me in by means of Babylonish guile, because I had indeed already 'rejected the tenets of the Reformation' and was 'not truly a Protestant to begin with.' Boy, where to begin with such inanities!" Indeed, where does one begin? How you got that perspective from the two sentences I actually wrote in my letter is difficult to figure out. Here's what I wrote:
- Your story in Surprised by Truth is almost predictable, Dave, no offense intended. Your rejection of Roman theology was not based upon a knowledge of why, and hence was ripe for refutation. You admit you rejected the tenets of the Reformation when you say, "I had always rejected Luther's notions of absolute predestination and the total depravity of mankind."
Now, am I to conclude, Dave, that I should not take what Roman apologists say at face value? I mean, you did write the article in Surprised by Truth, right? And if you did, could you be so kind as to show me where in that article you give the slightest evidence of being familiar with, say, Calvin's discussions on sola scriptura or sola fide? You mentioned such biggies as Charles Colson and Hal Lindsey, but where did you give me even the slightest indication that you were, in fact, fully aware of why Roman theology was to be rejected? Where did you tell us that you had read, say, the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, or maybe Hardon's works? If it is in your article, Dave, I must have missed it. Could you cite the page numbers to me that would give me any reason to retract what I said above? I'd appreciate it.
You asked me, "What do you know about the extent of my studies, or how well-read I am, or who I've talked to? Next to nothing." Indeed. Do forgive me for taking your own conversion story as being reflective of your actual experience. I'll try to remember not to take such writings at face value in the future. They must be meant only to lead people to consider Roman Catholicism, not to tell the truth about your background or experience.
As to the idea that a person would convert to Rome based upon Scripture, Church history and reason, such a conversion will take place only when a person makes the final epistemological leap in submitting to (I might say "succumbing to") the absolute claims of Rome. Once that decision is made, the rest falls into place naturally enough. And since you gave me no reason to believe that you had ever encountered the claims of Rome in any meaningful way prior to your conversion, I can only repeat what I said before: you were ripe for conversion. I guess I should modify that a little: the Watchtower makes the same kind of final epistemological claim upon its adherents, so you had encountered it, just not dressed in the liturgy and history of Rome.
Next we find you saying, "Secondly, you denigrate my being impressed with Catholics in Operation Rescue." Really? Well, let's see if I denigrated anything at all:
- "And your involvement in Operation Rescue simply gave you the opportunity of seeing that Roman Catholics can be real nice folks who really believe in the teachings of the Church in Rome. And the feeling of 'brotherhood' created by standing against a common evil, joined with the simple fact that you were not truly a Protestant to begin with, is reason enough to explain your swimming the Tiber."
In regards to desiring in-depth, give and take correspondence, I simply point out that the constant use of bombastic language is hardly commensurate with such a desire. Note your words at the bottom of page 3, wherein you liken my faith to "merely subjective whims and fancies, abstractions, and countless arrogant counter-charges and self-proclaimed 'authorities.' " Personally, I'd see such a sentence being applicable to the modern state of Roman apologetics in the U.S. today, but that's another issue.
Next you wrote, "Thirdly, it's news to me that belief in supralapsarian double predestination and total depravity (man is a worm on a dunghill) constitutes the quintessence of true Protestantism and hence, Christianity." Of course, what I had said was that since you rejected predestination and total depravity, you were not a true Protestant (speaking in the historical sense -- you connected Luther with the beliefs, as you will recall), and I stand by the statement. Surely you recall Luther's admission to Erasmus that he, above all of Luther's other foes, had focused upon the real issue, that being the concept of "free will" versus the bondage of the will, and that, of course, brings up both predestination and total depravity. Luther was not systematic enough to get into debates about supralapsarianism or infralapsarianism -- such is not the issue.
If you always denied that man's will is bound to sin and that God has predestined a people unto himself, you may have been attending a Protestant church and may have been in the majority of what is called Protestantism today, but the fact remains that as to the Reformation and the heritage thereof, you were a traitor, more at home in Rome's semi-Pelagianism than in Paul's Augustinianism (to create a wonderfully anachronistic phrase that speaks volumes). Not that you were alone: the majority of "Protestantism" today is treading water in the Tiber on that issue. Of course, I said all of that (possibly not with the same colorful terminology) in The Fatal Flaw. And as I mentioned, you are simply wrong to say I exclude those who reject limited atonement from the Christian faith.
Just a quick note: "Spare me. No reputable pastor or evangelist openly presents Five-Point Calvinism as the gospel." You are kidding, right? Well, given the twisted, contorted, Jack Chickian-Gail Riplingeresque view of the Reformed position you present in this very paragraph (page 4, at the bottom), maybe you aren't. I shouldn't expect you to know the historical realities of people like Jonathan Edwards, or Charles Haddon Spurgeon, or Whitefield, but you even mentioned Sproul, who, of course, is Reformed. You probably didn't read much of Gerstner as a "Protestant," nor would I expect you to know such names as Albert Martin. Well, anyway, I'll have to tell my pastor that you believe he is not reputable. I'm certain he will be most disappointed. :-)
I would like to quote your words regarding the Reformed position:
- Besides clear scriptural counter-evidence, TULIP is false because, simply put, it transforms God into a demon-god who creates people solely for the reason of damning and torturing them for eternity, through no fault or choice of their own, and makes Him the author of evil. This is absolutely blasphemous and one of the most abominable lies from the pit of hell ever devised.
Again, as a historian, I find your comments about Puritanism "evolving" into Unitarianism quite humorous (you did mean that to be a joke, right?). As a student of Jonathan Edwards I must say I would be one of the few folks who would get such a joke. I can tell this is a joke because of your statement that Joseph Smith began as a "Calvinist." Again, your research couldn't be that bad, so I must take this as a joke, too, though a not overly amusing one.
You then noted, "You're just one little old cult researcher with a pulpit, a para-church ministry and a Master's degree from Fuller - hardly in the same league with the many stalwart figures mentioned above." I have no idea which stalwart figures you might be referring to, but it makes no difference. A few corrections: I'm not really that old, and I don't have a pulpit. Other than that, yup, you are very much on the money. Just one little fellow out here enjoying God's blessings and being used by Him to help people see through false claims, whether those claims come from Salt Lake City, Brooklyn, Gail Riplinger, or yes, Rome itself. Of course, you, too, are just one little fellow, a novice convert to Romanism, eyes bright with the zeal of a convert, but far too young in your journey with Rome to even begin to have the whole story. I simply have to say, "So?"
Now, you managed, sadly, to miss the point of nearly every objection I raised (and, I note in passing, you skipped entire sections of my letter in your response, too). In your rush to characterize my ministry as "a quite humorous (but tragic-comic) episode in self-delusion and blindness to the absurdity of one's own position," and to claim just about all the early Fathers as your own, and join yourself with "the massive structure of the Catholic Church, the Fathers, Christian Tradition, the Councils, etc." (p.5), you missed the weight of my objection. When I pointed out that "you might be wrong," you responded, "Of course. What else is new? But the point is, I'm in a helluva lot better company (no pun intended) than you are." I'm sure you wish that to be the case, Dave, but again, how do you know you are in company with, say, Athanasius or Ignatius or lrenaeus? In the final analysis, is it not because Rome tells you so?
Oh, I know, I read the rest of your letter (even your vented hatred of Luther and Calvin) -- I know you claim to be able to analyze Rome's claims, yet, you also admitted that, "in a sense" I am right in stating that you cannot really question Rome's pronouncements. As you said, "In a sense it is true because the Catholic is not arrogant enough to assume that he is the arbiter and final judge of all truth given him from any source." Does that mean, Dave, that you are not responsible before God for what you believe? That once you sign over the title-deed to your mind to someone else (teaching magisterium, Prophet, Governing Body, whatever) you can no longer be held responsible for the truth? I wonder why the Pharisees didn't point that out to the Lord when He held them directly responsible for God's revelation to them?
Well, we can't question Rome, of course, for Rome has all authority. Instead, we must repeat what we've been taught, sort of like our mantra: "We submit to a Tradition [make sure to capitalize this term.] which includes all the great Christian minds who have reflected upon that Deposit of Faith, [not only capitalize these terms, but make sure to ignore all those Fathers who directly contradicted Roman dogmas and teachings], received from Jesus and the Apostles [but never engage in public debate to defend that statement!] and developed as a result of battle with heretics for nearly 2000 years [but don't bother to tell anyone why the term Roman Catholic, aside from being an oxymoron (how can something be limited-Roman-and "universal"?), is not something that the early Fathers ever thought of using to describe themselves]." Then say that you are very proud to repeat this statement of faith. I hope you are not too offended if I say, Dave, that I see precious little difference between that kind of statement and the "testimonies" of the Mormon missionaries who speak with such enthusiasm and honesty about their trust in Joseph Smith and the living Prophet and the Book of Mormon.
I'm glad you realize that your decision to embrace Roman authority is a fallible one. That means that every time you assert Roman infallibility you will be honest and say, "I think Rome is infallible, but I'm not really certain of that." Most Roman apologists don't come right out and say things like that. They seem to want their audience to think that you really can have absolute and infallible certainty about Roman authority.
It's sort of hard for me to believe, Dave, that the following paragraph is really reflective of your conversion process:
- "I did accept the authority of the Church initially because of clear superiority over the absurdity and historical implausibility of the Protestant a-historical, Docetic-like, 'mystical' conception of the Church as its Tradition, and desperate reliance on 'sola scriptura,' an unbiblical, man-made, self-defeating, arbitrary tradition."
Be that as it may, I again have to note that your high words sound, well, a bit "tinny," in light of your unwillingness to defend those statements in public debate. It is easy to hide behind a word-processor, Dave. You can always blow smoke in written debates -- of course, you can do the same in formal debates, too, but without as much ease, that's for certain. It surely struck me as strange that you would talk about Protestant apologists as "chickens," yet you end your letter by referring me to someone I've never heard of before to defend your position. You say, "My challenge to you is to refute my arguments therein and elsewhere." Again you challenge me to respond to an unpublished book that I've never seen. How am I supposed to do that, Dave? I mean, I have no idea which of the various Roman Catholic views of "tradition" you espouse. Matatics takes one view, Madrid another. There are all sorts of different takes on the topic. You seem really enamored with Newman, so is that your view? How am I supposed to know?
You asserted that Protestant use of the Fathers is "selectively dishonest -- no question whatsoever." I do hope you don't mind my being very Protestant and questioning your pontification (pun fully intended). How about some examples, drawn, logically, from my own writings, my own debates? Surely you have listened to these debates, right? You said that you had engaged in this activity yourself in 1990. How so? Where did you do this? Did you put any of this in writing? You said evangelicals do this all the time. Such as? Who? I don't know too many evangelicals who bother to cite patristic sources to begin with, do you? Might I suggest that if you'd like to impress this upon me, you might wish to paint with a little finer brush? I've heard these arguments before, as I think you'd admit.
You said that usually the Protestant misunderstands the concept of development. Well, before Newman came up with it, I guess we had good reason, wouldn't you say? But, does that mean that those Roman Catholics I know who don't like Newman are actually Protestants, too? I'm kidding of course, but those who hang their case on Newman and the development hypothesis are liable for all sorts of problems, your eating of Salmon for lunch notwithstanding. Might it actually be that the Protestant fully understands development but rightly rejects it? I addressed development and Newman in my book (written before I engaged in all the debates I've done since then), and personally, I don't think your brief dismissal was, well, worthwhile. And as for Newman's statement, "to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant," I would say, "to be deep in Newman is to cease to be an historically consistent Roman Catholic." I can only shake my head as I look at Newman's collapse on papal infallibility and chuckle at his "deep in history" comment. He knew better.
Next we have this paragraph:
- Your treatment of the Canon of Scripture misses the point, which is that the Catholic Church, and "extrabiblical authority" was necessary for you guys to even have your Bible, let alone construct with tortured "logic" myths such as "perspicuity" and "sola Scriptura" from this book which you would never even have but for the Catholic church, which, inexplicably, preserved it even though it supposedly destroys that same Church's belief system - evident to any "plowboy." My paper on "sola Scriptura" deals with this.
Next we read, "It's the oldest rhetorical trick in the book to simply dismiss an important question as irrelevant, when one can't answer it, as you did with my query as to when Catholicism became apostate." No, the oldest rhetorical trick in the book is to ignore the central parts of your opponent's arguments while accusing him of doing the same thing (that's the important part). Your question remains irrelevant. First, it is an improper question, since it is based upon the identification of Roman Catholicism with the earlier Catholic Church, and, as anyone knows, that is an improper identification. Secondly, it assumes something that is not true: that apostasy always takes place in a single act or definition of doctrine, and such is not always the case. Personally, I believe that there were believers within what even called itself Roman Catholicism for a long time -- in fact (are you sitting down?), there still are, by God's grace. So again, your question was irrelevant, and my brief response was based upon a recognition of that irrelevance.
Next you commented, "Likewise, you scoff at my disdain for the indefensible existence of 23,000 denominations. You don't dare admit that this is a valid point against Protestantism because you would obviously then be in big trouble." Do you really think, Dave, that I have not encountered this argument before? I mean, do you think that you are the only Roman apologist brilliant enough to come up with the ol', "Well, look at all the disagreements among Protestants, that proves sola scriptura doesn't work!" argument? You truly do flatter yourself. But to show you that you are not the first on the block with your arguments (and that your arguments are not particularly compelling), I provide you with the text of a post from America Online written in response to James Akin and his use of the very same argument:
James Akin of Catholic Answers wrote:
On one point I certainly agree with Mr. Akin: Catholic apologists often DO use this argument. But is it a valid argument? Let's examine it.
First, and very briefly, it seems to me to be an inconsistent argument: that is, it refutes the position of the one using it. It presupposes the idea that if (in the case of Protestantism) the Scriptures are meant to be the sole infallible rule of faith for the Church, then it must follow that the Scriptures will produce an external, visible unity of doctrine on all fronts. As Patrick Madrid put it, Presbyterians and Baptists would not be in disagreement about infant baptism if the Bible were able to function as the sole rule of faith for the Church. I say this is an inconsistent argument because the solution offered to us by Rome--namely, the teaching Magisterium of the Roman Church, replete with oral tradition and papal infallibility--has not brought about the desired unity amongst Roman Catholics. I have personally spoken with and corresponded with Roman Catholics - - individuals actively involved in their parishes, regular attendees at Mass, etc., who have held to a WIDE range of beliefs on a WIDE range of topics. One need only read the pages of This Rock magazine to know that you have conflicts with traditionalists over every conceivable topic, from the Latin Mass to modernism in Rome. I've been witness to debates between Catholics on canon laws and excommunications and Father Feeney and other items that rival any debates I've seen amongst Protestants. And I haven't even gotten to the liberals in the Roman fold! Obviously I don't need to do that, as the point is made. If sola Scriptura is disproven by the resultant disagreements amongst people outside of Rome, then Roman claims regarding the Magisterium are equally disproven by the very same argument.
But my main reason for adressing the common argument made by Roman apologists is that it reveals something important about Rome's view of man himself. Dr. Cornelius Van Til often commented on the errors of Rome regarding their view of man, and how these errors impacted every aspect of their theology, and he was quite right. We see an illustration right here. Rome's semi-Pelagianism (I am talking to a Roman Catholic right now in another venue who makes Pelagius look like a raving Calvinist) leads her to overlook what seems to me to be avery fundamental issue. Let me give you an illustration: Let's say James Akin writes the PERFECT textbook on logic. It is completely perspicuous: it is fully illustrated, completely consistent, and it provides answers to all the tough questions in plain, understandable terminology. It covers all the bases. Now, would it follow, then, that every person who consulted this textbook would agree with every other person who consulted this textbook on matters of logic? Well, of course not. Some folks might just read one chapter, and not the rest. Others might read too quickly. and not really listen to Mr. Akin's fine explanations. Others might have read other less-well-written textbooks, and they might importy their understandings into Mr. Akin's words, resulting in misunderstandings. Most often, people might just lack the mental capacity to follow all the arguments, no matter how well they are expressed, and end up clueless about the entire subject, despite having read the entire work.
Now the question I have to ask is this: is there something wrong with Mr. Akin's textbook if it does not produce complete unanimity on questions logical? Is the problem in the textbook or in the people using the textbook? In the real world it is often a combination of both: a lack of clarity on the part of the textbook and a problem in understanding on the part of the reader. But if the perfect textbook existed, would it result in absolute unanimity of opinion? No, because any textbook must be read, interpreted, and understood.
Let's say the Bible is perspicuous, in the sense that Westminster said, that is, that "those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation. are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them." Does it follow, then, that there must be a unanimity of opinion on, say, infant baptism? Does the above even say that there will be a unanimity of opinion on the very items that "are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation"? No, obviously, it does not. And why? Because people -- sinful people, people with agendas, people who want to find something in the Bible that isn't really there--people approach Scripture, and no matter how perfect Scripture is, people remain people.
Now, Roman apologists may well way, "See, you've proven our point. You need an infallible interpreter to tell you what the Bible says because you are a sinful person, and hence you need a sinless, perfect guide to tell you what to believe!" Aside from the fact that such a concept itself is absent from Scripture, and is in fact countermanded by Scripture (did not the Lord Jesus hold men accountable for what GOD said to THEM in SCRIPTURE?), we need to observe that Rome is not solving the problem of fallible people. Once Rome "speaks" the fallible person must still interpret the supposed infallible interpretation. The element of error remains, no matter how much Rome might wish to think it has been removed. Indeed, beyond the problem of interpreting the infallible interpreter, you still have the fallible decision of following Rome's absolute authority rather than, say, Brooklyn's, or Salt Lake's, or Mecca 's, or whoever's - That remains a fal1ible decision, and hence the longing for that "infallible fuzzy" that comes from turning your responsibilities over to an "infallible guide" remains as unfulfilled as ever.
Finally, the argument put forth (plainly seen in the arguments used by Karl Keating in Catholicism and Fundamentalism) is even more pernicious, in that it attacks the sufficiency of Scripture itself. We are seemingly told that the Holy Spirit did such a poor job in producing Scripture that while the Psalmist thought it was a lamp to his feet and a light to his path, he (the Psalmist) was in fact quite deluded, and was treading very dangerously. Instead of the glorious words of God spoken of in Psalm 119, we are told that such basic truths as the nature of God, including the deity of Christ or the personality of the Holy Spirit, cannot be derived solely from Scripture, but require external witnesses. And why are we told this? Well, it is alleged that arguments can be made against these doctrines on the basis of Scripture passages. Of course, one could argue against ANYTHING if one is willing to sacrifice context, language, consistency, etc. But are we really to believe the Bible is so self-contradictory and unclear that we cannot arrive at the truth through a whole-hearted effort at honestly examining the biblical evidence? That seems to be what those across the Tiber are trying to tell us. But it is obvious that just because the Scriptures can be misused it does not follow that they are insufficient to lead one to the truth. Such is a flawed argument (no matter how often it is repeated). The real reason Rome tells us the Bible is insufficient is so that we can be convinced to abandon the God-given standard of Scripture while embracing Rome's ultimate authority.
I never saw a response from Mr. Akin to that post, either, but I could have missed it, too. I'd be interested in a meaningful (i.e., not bombastic, not filled with line after line of meaningless epithets) response from you to this post.
- "This won't do either, for the simple reason that we have dogmas and Councils and papal encyclicals and infallible utterances which constitute our teaching - definite, observable, and documented for all to see, even the most wild-eyed liberals such as Kung and Curran and McBrien. It doesn't matter a hill of beans what these people say they or the Catholic Church believe. I could care less."
You say you have infallible utterances, but again, I have yet to find a simple way of finding out exactly which utterances are infallible. I have found lots of folks who want to say that Christ's Vicar has spoken infallibly an average of once a millennium, but there are all sorts of other folks who would say there are many more infallible pronouncements, though they don't infallibly known how many infallible pronouncements there are, which makes the whole infallibility issue a real mess at times. I'm sure wild-eyed liberals think of you as a wild-eyed conservative, what's even worse, the traditionalists probably think of you as a wild-eyed liberal! Ah, but I must remember: Rome is united in all things. Just ask Patrick Madrid and Gerry Matatics. Everyone is one big, happy family. No disagreements, no confusion as to what is, and what is not, infallible teaching. How truly wonderful.
Of course, all of that just points out that having an "infallible interpreter" solves nothing. Once you have an infallible interpretation, you then need an infallible interpretation of the infallible interpretation. You've simply moved your epistemological problem back a step, nothing more.
I have to mention that your "I could care less" reminds me of a comment Gerry Matatics made on a radio station in Denver less than two years ago now while he and I were discussing various things. Someone asked about some Roman Catholic writers who were not quite as conservative as Gerry and in response he said, "Well, I call folks who believe like that Protestants." Hey, that's very convenient. "We are all unified as Roman Catholics -- and if you don't agree with me, you aren't a Roman Catholic." I like how that works, don't you?
You made a statement on page 10 that made me wonder. With reference to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society you said that they deny God's omnipresence, deny that He is a Spirit, and say that He has a physical body. Really? Could you give me some references to Watchtower sources where they say this? I know the Mormons do all those things, but it's news to me that the Witnesses do that, too.
You wrote, "I will note that both cults and Protestantism are man-centered, whereas Catholicism is Christ-centered." Really? The church that allows its followers to venerate saints and Mary, instructs them to do penances lest they suffer in purgatory, directs them to priests and intermediaries, preaches indulgences, "re-presents" the sacrifice of Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice over and over again, and makes a man the Vicar of Christ on earth is "Christ-centered," while the church that cries "Christ alone," that speaks of the sufficiency of both His work and His Word, that proclaims that He alone is worthy of worship, veneration, service (latria, dulia, etc.), and says that one can have true and lasting peace with God solely through Him, is man-centered? Well, if you say so, Dave. Personally, I don't find a particle of truth in your statement.
I see a rather glaring double-standard in your sentence, "It's pointless to respond to it other than to refer you to my various tracts about development or to Newman's essential work on the subject." To which I have to respond, "Newman I know, but who is this Armstrong fellow?" :-)
I can only guess that you have a hidden TV camera in my office, Dave, because all through your letter you noted my mental state when making various comments. For example, on page 10 you write that I "gleefully note the divergent views of Lateran IV and Vatican II on religious tolerance." Gleefully, Dave? And how do you know how gleeful I might be? Be that as it may, yes, these two councils disagreed on this topic. And, of course, because you have to, you say, "the teachings involved here are not religious dogmas of the faith, but rather disciplinary measures." Really? How is that? Who told you that? You aren't engaging in "private interpretation" and providing me with a "magisterium of one" are you, Dave? Where has Rome officially said this? I'd like to see this infallible pronouncement.
What is more, where does Vatican II say, "This discussion of religious tolerance has nothing to do with faith and morals, this is a disciplinary thing"? And you utterly ignored the entire point of my argument at this point, Dave, by saying, "So, as almost always, what you think is a knockout punch to your detested 'Romanism' rebounds back to you with much more force, for the reasons just recounted." That was, quite simply, Dave, a very lame reply. Since this section seemed to fall right out of my letter to you, let me try it again and see if you are up to providing a meaningful response:
In your fifth point you mention the Inquisition "disproving" Catholicism. The problem with your point is this, Dave: we Protestants don't claim infallibility. Rome does. There is a big difference. Please note the following comparison:
- IV LATERAN COUNCIL
Convicted heretics shall be handed over for due punishment to their secular superiors, or the latter's agents. . . . Catholics who assume the cross and devote themselves to the extermination of heretics shall enjoy the same indulgence and privilege as those who go to the Holy Land.
This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups of any human power, in such wise that in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs.
Now, Dave, why didn't you deal with what I wrote to you? Where is your discussion of the difference between an organization that claims infallibility and Protestants who admit their fallibility? And where do you deal with the offering of indulgences for the extermination of heretics, and the fact that the granting of indulgences involves the use of the keys? And do you really want to say that statements like this are irrelevant to faith and morals? Personally I think most folks can see through this, don't you? I mean, you say your church is infallible with reference to faith and morals, so when faced with evidence to the contrary you simply define those errors as having nothing to do with "faith and morals." Where can I find an infallible definition of faith and morals, Dave? It must be a pretty narrow definition, wouldn't you agree? There must not be a whole lot in the field of "faith and morals" if killing people who are "heretics" (defining who is and who is not a heretic has nothing to do with faith and morals, Dave?) and gaining indulgences for so doing is simply a "disciplinary" thing.
I was left overwhelmed yet once again by,
- "As for your lengthy attempted refutation of papal claims and their biblical justification, I refer you to my chapter on the papacy and infallibility, which runs 98 pages, single-spaced."
You see, Patrick Madrid boasted about his being able to "bury me" under 50+ pages of quotations from the Fathers on sola scriptura, and Scott Butler crows about his 91 citations from Chrysostom proving Petrine primacy, and you have your 98 single-spaced pages on the papacy and infallibility. Well, that surely finishes the debate! I mean, 98 pages! I mentioned that to a friend of mine and his response truly amused me: "Tell him to shrink his font so that you can fit more than a few words on each page and go from there." Really, Dave, think about it. If I said, "I have 196 pages of material in small print with condensed spacing that proves the papacy to be in error," would you be overly impressed? I mean, I would have twice the material you do! Wouldn't that end the debate? No, of course not. I know JW's who have "hundreds of pages documenting the Trinity is a pagan invention," too, but I have not stopped adoring the Trinity on the basis of such high-powered testimony.
You dismissed von Dollinger with a mere wave of the magical developmental wand, Dave. Your words were, "Your three long quotes, which you obviously thought were so unanswerable, have little or no force against my position." All I can say is, you might be wise to avoid publicly debating that issue if that is all you can come up with.
In light of the above it was rather hypocritical of you to then write, "You blithely dismiss my points 7 and 8 with your by-now familiar hit-and-run tactic of glib avoidance when you have no answer." Well, I'll let you think I have no answer, if you like, Dave. That's to my advantage.
Just a few more items. With reference to various moral issues you wrote, "The very fact that you don't regard this as of any 'weight' merely confirms in my mind the Protestant tendency of unconcern for holiness and morality. . . ." Having studied the lives of various of your popes, Dave, and having observed the huge mass of nominal Catholicism all around me here in the U.S., I can only remind you of the old adage about throwing stones while living in glass houses. I guess you probably didn't read Packer's A Quest for Godliness.
If you are going to engage in patristic debate, Dave, I would suggest sticking to contextual citations. You attempted to get around my citation of Clement's epistle by citation of 58.2. Unfortunately for your position, I'm one of those few Protestant apologists who happens to have a pretty good patristic library, a good grasp of Greek, and enough experience as a professor of church history to make me dangerous. The entire sentence is:
[seven lines of Greek text which didn't scan]
To which I add my own hearty "amen" indeed. But why did this supposed Pope of Rome (of course, he was probably just the scribe for the body of elders that existed in Rome at the time) use such terminology as "the elect" like that, Dave? Perhaps he wasn't nearly as opposed to that concept as you are, maybe?
You then dismissed the central canons from Trent with yet another wave of the hand, saying they "prove nothing." Really? They prove nothing? Of what good are they then, Dave? Are they just a waste of paper or do they have some meaning? The rest of your paragraph only indicated to me that you are not very clear on the issues revolving around justification, grace, and the like. I'm tempted to say, "See my debate against Dr. Mitchell Pacwa on justification" but that wouldn't be nice. :-)
You then turned to Ignatius for a quotation, and again, demonstrated that context for the Roman apologist is an inconvenient problem. "Let none of you be found a deserter" to which you add, "so much for Calvinism." Huh? Would you mind explaining the connection here, Dave? I mean, please show me how the context here has the slightest to do with anything like the Reformed faith. Show me where Ignatius, in writing to Polycarp, refers to the bishop of Rome as the center of the Church, and that we are not to desert him. Good luck, as there was no single bishop of Rome at the time, which may explain why Ignatius doesn't ever refer to the bishop of Rome while writing to the Romans. If your 98 pages of material on the papacy partakes of the same kind of "here's a sentence I like, who cares if the context is relevant or not" type of citation, well, it would probably not be worth the effort of going through it, wouldn't you agree?
There is more I'd like to get to, but I've put far too much time into this already. Let me close with three items. First, I am going to import into this letter my reply to Akin's article that you don't seem to have seen. Then I will import some of the written "debate" between myself and Robert Sungenis on 2 Timothy 3:16-17. I simply don't have time to rewrite all of this for your benefit, and, given the use of the patristic sources I just went through, I have to wonder about the benefits of such an effort in the first place. You will note these posts are not exactly ancient history, as they were written fairly recently. I will attach these as sort of an "addendum" following the close of this letter, though they will be consecutively numbered along with the letter. I will close with your blanket accusations against Protestant apologists. You wrote,
- I must, regretfully, inform you of another reason for my declining: the widespread intellectual dishonesty, evasiveness, and uncharitability of anti-Catholic debaters. Akin in his article on your book starts out by recalling how you have refused to shake hands with your Catholic opponents, or even pray the Lord's prayer with them. This is contemptible, petty behavior. Madrid's article "The White Man's Burden" concurs, by citing your rude treatment of him and of Dr. Art Sippo . . .
Next, with reference to the Lord's Prayer, that is quite true. However, if you put it in context, you might find it far less problematic. The incident took place at Boston College, April, 1993. It was at the end of the second of two debates against Gerry Matatics. The first debate had been on justification, and we had both made it quite clear that the other's position was anathema in our opinion. The second debate was on the Apocrypha. At the very end of the debate, during audience questions, a man got up and said, "I think these debates tend toward disunity. I'd like us all to stand and say the Lord's Prayer together." I explained that I could not do that for a number of reasons. First, we didn't have the unity such a prayer would pretend we had; secondly, the night before we had both agreed that the other was preaching a false gospel, and you can't sweep that under the rug with a prayer; and finally, prayer is an act of worship, and must be undertaken in spirit and truth, and this was not the context for that. Matatics, having already moved into a very traditional perspective, simply said, "If you want to know what I think about it, ask me afterwards." The moderator led in the prayer, and I, and most of the Protestants I knew of in the room, remained seated.
As to Madrid's accusations, they are groundless. I did not mistreat him in any way. He did not offer me his hand after the debate, so he says. I thought we had shaken hands, but he says we didn't. Fine, the only reason was because, as he admits, we were both surrounded as soon as the debate was over. There was nothing more to it than that. As to your assertion that I refused to attempt to prove sola scriptura from the Bible, that is simply untrue as well. If you are relying solely on Madrid's article, you should at least get the tape and show some level of honesty in your comments. Anyone who listens to the tape or reads the transcript finds a world of difference between Patrick's almost fantasy-like recollection and the reality of what took place.
In light of this, your reasons for declining a public debate are left rather hollow. Perhaps you will reconsider your refusal? I have no idea who Gary Michuta is, what his position is, what he's written, what his background is, or anything else. You wrote to the folks in the cult directory. You have the stationery that says "Catholic Apologist." You claim to eat Protestant apologists for lunch. I think you need to defend your position in a scholarly manner.
Sola scriptura, sola fide, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria,
Recte Ambulamus ad Veritatem Evangelii
Uploaded from the 1995 snail-mail debates by Dave Armstrong on 4 February 2000,
with express permission from James White.