Monday, October 07, 2013

Response to Jason Reed's Apostasy Story

Jason Reed recently joined Rome's communion. Because he's served as a seminary professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary, his apostasy to Rome's communion has made waves in certain circles. Mike Schulte was kind enough to post a 56 minute video that includes a recent talk given by Jason, in which he explains his move.

No summary of Reed's story will be fully fair to all its nuances, but it appears Reed never could explain why Roman Catholicism is contrary to Scripture and enjoyed Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica when introduced to it as seminary student. Thus, when he was surrounded by Roman Catholic professors, intellectual Roman Catholic peers in grad school, and Roman Catholic family, he found justifications for making a move to Rome.

In more detail (all time stamps are approximate):

0 - 4:30 The video starts with a montage of images purporting to be of Christ with a musical background
4:30 - 11:00 Introductions by others.
11:00 - 12:00 A prayer to Mary by a Roman Catholic priest.
Reed then begins his presentation, starting with an icebreaker about being nervous because God is just down the hall in the chapel. Reed talks about his Methodist upbringing, his profession of faith as a teen, his subsequent descent into hedonism in college, and his claimed conversion to Christianity in college. Reed subsequently went to seminary, where he fell in love with Aquinas and his Summa. After seminary, Reed says Norman Geisler encouraged him to go on for further education. Reed selected St. Louis University for graduate studies in philosophy, because of the presence of Eleonore Stump, a professor whose work on Aquinas' Summa is very well received. (this portion ends around 25:00)

Reed explains that in grad school he encountered educated Roman Catholics who (his words) "schooled him" when he got into theological debates with them. He also describes listening to EWTN and not having any rebuttal to a Roman Catholic priest's argument that Roman Catholics are Christians, because the confess that Jesus Christ is the son of God. Still, at this time Jason felt he couldn't be a Roman Catholic because he didn't agree with devotion to Mary, the papacy, and transubstantiation. (this portion ends around 28:30)

Here's our first chance to interact with Reed's comments and thought process. The definition of Christian as "anyone who confesses that Jesus is the Son of God" is problematic. The definition may be a useful sociological definition to distinguish "Christian" from "Muslim" or "Buddhist" etc. On the other hand, such a definition fails to distinguish authentic, apostolic Christianity (as defined by the Scriptures) from a variety of heretical views - not just those of the communion of Rome, but even those of more radical groups like Mormons.

Reed continues by describing how he returned to his seminary, this time to teach. However, when he was asked to instruct the students in how to defend the Evangelical faith, he could not. He states:
I could get to God's existence, objective morality, even Jesus Christ is the son of God, but when it came to doctrine, when it came to formulating doctrine, I didn't know how to do that.
He states that this led him to have "intellectual doubts," but that he was not considering Catholicism at that time. (this portion ends around 30:00)

It's a little difficult to respond to this kind of vague statement. Was Reed simply unaware of Sola Scriptura? Was he unaware that we formulate doctrines by reading and studying God's self-revelation in his Word? I suspect that what Reed is suggesting is that he had already begun to adopt the kind of radical skepticism/post-modernism we have seen from another St. Louis University philosophy student, Bryan Cross, who treats Scripture as though it cannot itself communicate doctrine clearly to us. This radical skepticism stands at odds with Scripture's own characterizations of itself as lamp to our feet and a light to our path, and as sufficient to thoroughly furnish the man of God.

Reed mentions that his wife began going "to church," and that when his in-laws came to town he and his wife joined them in going to mass to honor them. Reed mentions that he liked the mass, particularly in terms of its resemblance to one of the Lord of the Rings movies. He thought that the form of liturgy in which a priest is to the side was better than a form of liturgy in which the preacher stands at the center. Reed also liked that in the Roman church, the people ignored him, as opposed to in evangelical churches, where visitors got lots of attention. In general, Reed liked that idea that king is up front. (this section ends around 33:00)

In fact, though, bodily Jesus is absent from us. Of course, spiritually Jesus is with us, but there is a real bodily absence:
2 Corinthians 5:6
Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:

John 14:28
Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.
Jesus is not bodily present at the front of the room. He's bodily present in heaven.

Reed mentions that his wife told him she was going to start going to mass. He says that he did not have any theological objection to that. He says he couldn't tell you what evangelical theology is - he could just tell you the spectrum. He then offers a number of points on which he claims there is disagreement in Protestantism. Ironically, he picked some like "creation vs. evolution," on which there is diversity within the Roman communion. He says he remembers thinking, "There's no way to answer this." (this section ends around 35:00)

Let's start with the easy points:
1) The Bible does not guarantee that all of our questions will be answered.
2) Even if the Bible answers our questions, not every answer it gives is as clear as all the others. For example, it is very clear that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again from the dead. On the other hand, many other things are less clear.
3) The fact that something may be hard to figure out does not mean that "there's no way to answer this."
4) The fact that we may not be able to get universal consensus in this life about something does not mean "there's no way to answer this."
5) Sometimes the answer may be that we need to wait until heaven in order to find out the answer (and the Bible does not promise all our questions will be answered even then).
6) There is a tremendous amount of diversity within the Roman communion on a lot of issues, including some of the issues that Reed mentions, like evolution (already mentioned above).
7) The way to answer these questions is to go look for answers in God's revelation of himself - in His Word.

Reed continued (about 35:10): "The question I asked myself was, 'Given all of these differences, what is Christianity?' Didn't know."

The answer is that Christianity is defined by what Christ taught. Christ's teachings have been faithfully preserved for us and handed down to us in the New Testament Scriptures. Christianity is defined by the Gospel that Christ taught the apostles - the gospel that Paul preached. Anything else is another gospel.

Reed says that honest people were thinking to go "back to the ancient church." He said that this argument seemed persuasive to him. He said he thought that the Reformers of the 16th century were seeking to restore the church of "Augustine and all those individuals." But when Reed went back and looked, he did not find the doctrines that he had been taught, and he could not believe what he found. He says he almost felt that he had been lied to and deceived. He says that in the ancient church he found "apostolic succession" as un-debated thing, he found "baptism as how you enter into the church," "the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist" and "belief in a visible church." Thus, to him the ancient church "smells Catholic." (this section ends around 36:30)

Some responses:
1) The Reformers, especially Calvin, definitely did appreciate the work of Augustine and other patristic and medieval authors.
2) The Reformers, however, were trying to reform back to the teachings of Jesus and his apostles, as recorded in Scripture.
3) The idea that "apostolic succession" was an un-debated thing is just false. About a century after Christ's resurrection, Irenaeus debated the topic with the Gnostics (see the discussion here). Moreover, Augustine debated the topic with the Donatists hundreds of years after that.
4) Even pinning down what "apostolic succession" refers to, can be rather fluid. One thing is certain, the bishop of Rome has not always been appointed the way he is now, with the college of cardinals, etc.
5) Indeed, the idea of "apostolic succession" raises all sorts of questions, like the curious case of John XX (see link) or in general Rome's meaningless claim to have an "unbroken succession" (see link).
6) The idea of "baptism as how you enter the church" does not seem very controversial in its own right. It is a visible manifestation of a person's desire to have their sins forgiven through faith in Christ. What is odd about Tridentine Roman Catholicism, is that Trent teaches that Baptism actually infuses a person with faith (see this link). But where is that among the patristic authors? Reed, of course, does not tell his listeners.
7) Yes, there is some reference to "real presence" in the Eucharist - although when this is explained by people like Augustine, it is explained spiritually (see the discussion here). What is missing from the fathers before about the 9th or 10th century is the Roman Catholic distinctive doctrine of transubstantiation.
8) Yes, there is a visible church. That visible church is made up of numerous visible churches. What is missing from the early era is a papacy.
9) One cannot really argue with a person's sense of smell, but what smells "Catholic" to Reed smells quite non-Tridentine to me.

Reed continued: "And then, as I started reading the reformers, they're Catholic! Luther believed in the devotion to Mary. Calvin did not believe that you could just interpret the Bible any way you wanted. The faith that I had been given is basically 200 years old." (section ends around 36:50)

I will let James Swan, who is expert at tracking down Luther's views, tackle this comment about Luther and devotion to Mary. Suffice to say that Luther's views on lots of issues evolved and matured over time, particularly as he spent time considering them and comparing them to Scripture.

Calvin's view of Scripture should not have been a surprise to Reed. The Scriptures have to be interpreted according to what their author, God, intended. They cannot just be arbitrarily interpreted. Surely only the most post-modern "Protestants" think that Biblical interpretation can be totally arbitrary.

I'm not sure what exactly Reed viewed as being "200 years old." John Wesley, one of the founding Methodists, died a little over 200 years ago. Perhaps that is what Reed had in mind. But whether or not Methodism as a distinctive body is only 200 years old seems a little irrelevant.

Reed continues by stating that he still was not ready to become Roman Catholic. So, he continued teaching at SES part time. But when students asked about devotion to Mary, he would tell them, "Actually, Marian devotion is the historical norm - not worshiping Mary, but having personal devotion to her - is basically standard practice throughout most of the Christian world historically." He says that is what made him want to join Rome. (section ends around 38:30).

1) Devotion to Mary was not the historic norm before the council of Nicaea (A.D. 325). Devotion to Mary did come to be pretty widespread, but it was not the practice of the apostles or the earliest centuries of the churches.

2) Thomas Aquinas, Reed's hero, while he did not believe in the immaculate conception of Mary, did not shun to categorize devotion to Mary as one kind of worship, even while distinguishing it from that offered to God. Indeed, in the Summa, Thomas Aquinas writes:
Since, therefore, the Blessed Virgin is a mere rational creature, the worship of "latria" is not due to her, but only that of "dulia": but in a higher degree than to other creatures, inasmuch as she is the Mother of God. For this reason we say that not any kind of "dulia" is due to her, but "hyperdulia."
Summa, 3rd Part, Question 25, Article 5.

Next, Reed turns to John 6. He walks through the text, suggesting that he thinks the Father was drawing him at that time. Eventually he bursts out, "Jesus was not Protestant, because he says '... unless you eat the flesh ... and drink his blood, you have no life in you'." Reed points out that Jesus repeats this "eat my flesh" and "drink my blood" several times. Reed emphasizes that when the disciples object, he doesn't say "this is just a parable" or "this is just symbolic." Reed says that he felt like the passage was teaching "the Catholic understanding" and he was compelled to accept it, because Jesus is God. (section ends around 44:00)

Yes, Jesus does not say "this is a parable," But Jesus does say "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." (John 6:63) I'm not sure how much more clear Jesus could have been in saying that emphasis was spiritual, not carnal.

Reed continued by saying that he still had doubts about the whole Mary thing. Nevertheless, he felt like God was telling him that he would just have to drop his objections on that point, so he contacted a priest to join Rome. He's been with Rome for a year now. He said he's heard about bad priests, but he says they are rare. He has found lots of faithful, God-loving Roman Catholics. (section ends around 48:00)

There are plenty of sincere Roman Catholics - there even sincere priests. The bad priests are not the main reason to avoid Rome - the main reason to avoid Rome is that it has a false gospel.

Reed concludes by stating that his reason for joining Rome is that "I believe in the Scriptures, I believe in the Bible, and I believe that the Church gave us the Scripture, and that it has the teaching authority to preserve that Gospel - why Jesus died on the cross - Jesus Christ gave us this [Roman] Catholic church to combat error ... and I believe Jesus taught us to believe in the Eucharist - he taught us to believe to eat his flesh and drink his blood, and the church is it." And he went on to talk about how Rome is unrivaled in terms of thinkers, beauty, and so on. (sections ends at 49:45)

Reed's fundamental reasons for associating himself with Rome are wrong. Rome did not give us the Bible. Indeed, not even "the church" gave us the Bible. Rather, Scripture itself tells us:
2 Peter 1:20-21
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
God inspired men to write the Scriptures. It was not the church that inspired those men, nor were those men working on behalf of the church, but on behalf of the Holy Spirit himself.

Additionally, the Bible nowhere teaches us that Rome has any "teaching authority to preserve the gospel." While we do drink Christ's flesh and blood in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper (the Eucharist), we do so spiritually. It would be worthless for us to become flesh-eating zombies or blood-drinking vampires. What profits is the Word and Spirit.

The remainder of the video is just applause, song, and some closing remarks from the lady who was apparently in charge of the event.


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