Saturday, January 12, 2008

Charity And Ecumenicity

Bryan Cross, of PrincipiumUnitatis, asks 12 questions to challenge Protestants, here. These questions relate to authority, which he believes to be the "fundamental, meta-level source of all the divisions between Christians" (I happen to agree). No Protestant has yet attempted to answer these questions on his blog, though several have answered on a Protestant blog (where comments are not allowed, frustratingly), the Board's Head Tavern.

I've been wrestling with questions of authority for some time, and it's been a painful and frustrating experience. I've written often on authority, for example here, where I asked two similar questions (and no fellow Protestants attempted to answer these questions either). I've had the opportunity on at least five occasions to privately ask three different solidly Reformed pastors to answer these questions. To the man, they were unable to try. This is quite the soft underbelly of Protestantism, and I am saddened to see Christians come apart at the seams at the mere suggestion that our (Protestant) basis for authority is deficient.

One such unhemmed believer says that none of these questions on authority matter. This is a shame, and a major concession all in one. This brother rhetorically asks whether anyone has been saved by canon formation, by interpretations of scripture, by decrees of councils, etc. He ends, "Calvinism taught us that we are all worms. Ever see a worm? Worms don’t have a head. You pull a worm apart, you get more worms. That’s my model for how the church works."

If canon is irrelevant because no one was saved by its determination, then Luther's desired exclusion of James, or the Codex Sinaiticus' inclusion of the Shepherd of Hermas would have be equally valid. Which texts to be included in the Bible can be irrelevant to salvation only if the Bible itself is irrelevant to salvation (a concession I refuse to make).

The model of the church being composed of severed, multiplying worms could not be more sad. Christ prayer to the Father in John 17:20-21 (which I believe was properly included in the canon, though I'm not sure what the basis of my belief is, since no one can tell me) for "those who will believe in me through [the Apostles'] word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me." No, the world will not believe that God the Father sent God the Son if we are severed worms lacking unity. Indeed, none would believe that the Son is "God", coequal to the Father, without the work of councils, and prayerful efforts at ecclesial consensus.

So let us please consider the Faith handed down to us carefully, and, with charity and openness, discuss those which divide use. We are called to unity, after all. Perhaps being open to comments of reply when we post our views would be a good starting point.


Thos said...

Josh S at Boars Head Tavern says (and again, I would comment there, but they post their thoughts without accepting comments),

"....Rome claims several things, among them being that its sacramental system literally and completely eradicates original sin and infuses people with incredible degrees of intrinsic holiness that Protestants simply do not have access to. It claims that its doctrine and practices are intrinsically capable of and necessary for producing holiness, genuine holiness that is so good that it actually merits eternal life from God.

"And in my book, and in Phillip’s, the life and history of the Roman communion militates against this claim.

"...If you’re going to claim that you’re better than everyone else, you’d better actually be better than everyone else and not hide behind some cowardly objection of, “Well, who are you to judge my faith? You’re not perfect either!”"

Since my heart is aimed at seeing careful, accurate dialogue, there is much in this statement that needs comment.

1) "sacramental system literally and completely eradicates original sin" - The Catholics gave us the doctrine of Original Sin, developed in the 4th Century, and not plain from Scripture (ask an Orthodox Christian). So I consider that they may deserve deferrence in other doctrinal developments on how to account for its debt. They do not believe that their sacramental system eradicates the original sinful nature (if they did, they would be claiming that each believer returns to Adam's pre-fall state of grace). They believe that Baptism regenerates the original sinner, so that he is no longer under the guilt of his original sin, but is still, and until his death, inflicted with a "concupisicent" nature. The Reformed, on the other hand, believes that by true faith alone, he is secured to achieve his predestined election, such that not only will his original sin be forgiven, but also that the remaining effects of original sin cannot be so great as to cause him to walk away from the church (or, in catholicy terms, to commit mortal sin). So, the Catholics see the sacraments as really conveying grace, and really affecting our state before God, and the Reformers see Faith, without outward acts, as ultimately completely eradicating original sin (though we are left in a state of sin/grace until our death).

2) "incredible degrees of intrinsic holiness" I'd appreciate if any of my Catholic readers can correct this comment. I think his use of the word "degree" is incorrect. I think the Catholic teaching is that the grace transmitted with the sacraments, when accompanied by faith and works of sacrifice, builds a believer up to holiness. I think there are examples of Catholics who have had an incredible degree of holiness, Mother Theresa for example. But I've not heard a teaching that the sacraments or the Catholic Church are supposed to make people Superheroes of holiness. I think the Catholic explanation of sin recognizes that that isn't true. Also, they have a more active appreciation of the devil and supernatural temptation's effect on the believer, even one receiving the sacramanets, as part of their fundamentally different view on perseverence. In other words, they need strong cups of Grace regularly in accord with their belief that they have to work to persevere to the end in a tempting world.

3) "If you’re going to claim that you’re better than everyone else, you’d better actually be better" I believe from the context Josh S means "better" in terms of holiness, which he doesn't see in the Catholics. Agreed. But this is of no avail if we consider that they have a totally different view of temptation and perseverance.

4) "not hide behind some cowardly objection of, “Well, who are you to judge my faith?" Assuming his post was a continuation of the dialouge responding to Bryan Cross's post, I don't recall seeing that objection. I strongly believe that Bryan would accept point-by-point to any judgments of Catholicism. In the mean time, this post, which effectively says to Catholics, "you're no better, because your claims about grace make no sense", does nothing to respond to the questions on authority.

If we are going to criticize one another in the body of Christ, I bleieve we must seriously be open to receive critical responses (e.g., comments on blogs) and even more, must take the time to respond to the points raised by our brothers. We cannot deflect dialogue.

Peace in Christ,

Devin Rose said...

Well said, thos.

No one has ever been converted by someone who denigrates their beliefs, but presenting arguments in a charitable and kind manner has led to the deeper conversion of many!

Devin Rose said...

I will respond to your comment referencing the young man who said the sacraments infuse people with "incredible degrees of intrinsic holiness that Protestants simply do not have access to".

Yes, we do believe that God gives us grace through the sacraments. In particular, we believe, as you know, that Christ becomes really present in the Eucharist and so we receive Christ's flesh and blood, soul and divinity into our own embodied souls.

As Christians, we would all agree that Christ is holy to an "incredible degree", and so if he truly gives himself to us such that, for a period of time, he is sacramentally dwelling inside of us, then yes, we are infused with incredible holiness because he is the source of all holiness!

Is this holiness "intrinsic"? I don't think it is in the way in which this person means it. This potential for true holiness is latent in every person, for Christ made them very, very good, and though sin has wounded us deeply, Christ has redeemed us and his redemption heals us, regenerating us so that we can truly become holy.

However, we have to accept God's grace and live according to the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us and who dwells in our embodied souls.

A good analogy that I have heard to how holy we can become is to picture us all having cups that God fills with water; this water represents his grace and love.

God will fill each of cups to the brim with water, giving us grace and love to our capacity for it. The awesome thing is, we can cooperate with God to increase the size and therefore the volume of our cup, so that we can receive even more of his love!

All of this being said, I would like to point out that the second point he makes that "Protestants don't have access" to this holiness is false.

God is not bound to the sacraments he instituted and can give grace to anyone at anytime, even though they have not received the sacraments.

The sacraments are the ordinary way that God gives us these particular graces, but he can give them to anyone in whatever "amounts" he chooses.

Certainly many Protestants have lived very holy lives and given themselves to Christ heroically, even though, by Catholic teaching, they only received the sacrament of baptism, for example.

So the "fullness of the means of salvation" are available in the Catholic Church, but we do not have a "corner on the salvation market", for the Church is the servant of the Truth, not its master.

Other Catholics who know the faith better may correct me, and if I am in error with the Church's teachings in my answers, I submit to their correction.

Blessings of Christ to you!

Thos said...


Thank you for contributing to the discussion, and especially for adding the point that your Catholic view is that grace can be received if God desires through other means than those normally instituted through your Church. I believe that this discussion is so important to have. I hope you are able to articulate the Protestant views as well. I was impressed by the ability of Tim (of God' Fearin' Fiddler) to do that, and realized that when we understand each other's views well enough to articulate and defend from their side, we're in the right position to come to a place of comity.

Peace in Christ,

Oso Famoso said...


The sad thing is that these Protestant brothers usually try to brush away the questions by painting Mr. Cross and others as intellectually deficient or something.

The guys at called his post "amatur hour" but didn't really offer any viable defense...

One guy responded that councils are only authoritative so long as they conform to who decided whether or not a council conformed to scripture?

Thos said...


Ugh, I wish you hadn't pointed me to reformedcatholicism. I found some very uncharitable remarks, with no one explaining how the text of the Bible makes for an sufficient shepherd. Much easier to attack, to tear down, then to discuss.

"Mr. Cross may be a particularly egregious example of the problems endemic to that group, but his lack of comprehension when it comes to historic, magisterial Protestant thinking infects the entire Catholic apologetics movement..."

Whatever Covenant Theological Seminary didn't see fit to explain (to "Mr. Cross") about "historic, magisterial Protestant thinking" probably isn't worth knowing. I've been exposed to such thinking all my life, and I don't see his failings the way these guys do. I don't see them answering simple questions on authority either. It's a delicate subject, but one we all should be able to address.

Peace in Christ,