Saturday, May 09, 2009

Veneration of Mary Debate - Thoughts on Reflection - Part 2

Not every point that Mr. Albrecht raised during the debate was as unusual as his "titular form" argument addressed in my previous comment (link). For example, Mr. Albrecht made at least some oblique reference to one typical argument that we hear from Roman Catholics: the argument that Jesus honored his mother consistent with Jewish law.

As a preliminary matter I'm always puzzled when people suggest that honoring one's parents is somehow distinctly Jewish. The fifth commandment, "Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee," (repeated and amplified at Deuteronomy 5:16 Honour thy father and thy mother, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.) is part of God's moral law: it is not just relevant to the Jews but to all humans. Indeed, Paul specifically repeats this law in Ephesians 6:2 ("Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;").

But yes, Jesus did honour his mother. This kind of honour, however, has nothing to do with religious veneration. Even if it could be said to be a form of veneration more broadly defined, familial honor (the honor due to one's parents) is distinct from religious veneration.

What is especially interesting is that Mr. Albrecht had claimed he was just going to repeat what the Bible has to say ("My goal is to simply see what the Bible says about the blessed virgin Mary, and to repeat it.") Nevertheless, within 20 seconds Mr. Albrecht is appealing to something that is only implicit from the text of Scripture.

Now, to be sure, Jesus did perfectly obey the moral law. Nevertheless, we don't actually have much Scriptural discussion of Jesus honoring his mother, aside from his making provision for her welfare (by requesting that John treat her as his mother) while Jesus was on the cross. Certainly, of course, it is not disputed that Jesus did honor her as a son should honor his mother, but this did not involve any "veneration" at least not in the sense relevant to a debate between Reformed Christians and Roman Catholics.

More to the point, the duty of honoring one's father and one's mother does not extend to religiously venerating them. Such is the error of the pagans. It is particularly famous among the Japanese who give religious veneration to their ancestors within the Shinto religion.

Instead, the duties of children to their parents are duties of love, respect, obedience, and (when appropriate) care. This is a moral duty, but it is not a religious duty. It is part of the general provision of the second table of the law, that we love our neighbours as ourselves. One's parents are a special case of that law of love, with heightened duties and more serious consequences for disobedience.

Of course, the bottom line is that Jesus did obey his mother and cared for her needs via his beloved disciple, John. On the other hand, that was not religious veneration. The idea of God incarnate giving religious veneration to a mere human like Mary would be a truly remarkable, if not absolutely shocking, claim to make.

Related to this claim was a claim of transference: Jesus honored his mother, therefore we should honor Mary, because she is also our mother. Albrecht phrases it this way: "We come to the question whether it is the Christian's duty to honor his mother, Mary."

However, Scripture does not call Mary our mother and does not suggest she is our mother. As I noted in the debate, the only thing described as the mother of us all is the heavenly Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26).

There are really two ways to attempt to justify this claim. One was used by Albrecht during the debate, and the other was not. The one used by Albrecht during the debate was an appeal to Jesus' dying comment to John "Behold thy mother."

However, as we brought out during the debate, this was a command that was made uniquely to John. John's reaction to this command by which he was essentially adopted as a son of Mary (or Mary was adopted as his mother, depending on how you look at it), is seen in the Scriptures: "And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home." (John 19:27)

John took care of Mary as though Mary were his own mother - but the command was uniquely to John. Notice that it does not say that "And from that hour all the disciples took turns having Mary over" but "And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home."

There is another argument out there, which is that we become united to Christ and therefore we have a mother-son (or at least something like a mother-in-law) relationship with Mary via our union with Christ. Of course, Scriptures nowhere suggest that Jesus' biological connections are to be attributed to us via our union with Him. Furthermore, Jesus' own appointment of John to be Mary's son seems to be substitutionary: i.e. as though Jesus was appointing John as Mary's son in place of Jesus.

Even if, however, through our union with Christ or even through the command to John, we were to treat Mary as though she were our own mother, we are not to give religious veneration to our parents, so it would not follow that we should give honor equivalent to veneration to Mary even if Mary were our mother.


Friday, May 08, 2009

Bellisario Providing Example of Mistakes to Avoid

How not to argue for Roman Catholicism - an example from Mr. Matthew Bellisario (link). Here are a few tips to avoid Mr. Bellisario's mistakes (with a video presentation of the 10 points below):

10) If you're going to cite statistics, don't cite statistics that actually show Roman Catholic sexual abuse at about twice the rate once one adjusts for the size of the population generating the abuse cases.

9) If you're going to argue that celibacy is not imposed on the priesthood, don't make your leading argument that no one is forced to be a priest.

8) Don't reveal your ignorance of Reformed churches by suggesting that their "clergy" are self-appointed.

7) Don't ignore common sense, which tells you that people who are forbidden the option of marriage are more likely to have their sexual desire burst forth in some inappropriate way.

6) If you're going to quote Paul's writings about celibacy, remember that he actually confirms what we already know from common sense, namely that not everyone has the gift of celibacy, and that the result of not marrying for such people is that they burn with lust.

5) If you are going to pick a fight with someone on the issue of clerical celibacy and sexual abuse, find one of the many folks who assert that there is a connection, rather than one who asserts that there may be.

4) If someone points out that one cause of sexual abuse is clerical celibacy, don't assume that this means that the critic thinks that marriage fixes all sexual deviancy.

3) If someone points out that one cause of sexual abuse is clerical celibacy, don't assume that this means that the critic thinks that it is celibacy itself (rather than an absence of the gift of celibacy) that causes this problem.

2) If you are going to bring up the issue of sexual deviance, don't forget that prohibiting marriage for priests is intuitively a way to statistically increase your chances of attracting closeted homosexuals.

1) Recognize that sexual abuse is a scandal, not something to be treated frivolously with cartoon clowns and empty-headed rhetoric. Take the matter seriously, it's a serious matter.


Veneration of Mary Debate - Thoughts on Reflection - Part 1

There were a few issues that arose during the Veneration of Mary Debate that I thought could use a little attention. Also, I see that Mr. Albrecht has posted some thoughts of his own regarding the debate (although I haven't yet listened to his thoughts ... I'll save that for a later segment).

One issue that arose during the debate was whether the term for "highly favoured" is in the "titular form." This issue came up only briefly in the debate. I would have liked to explore it a bit more, but it is clearly not central to the thesis. In other words, even if Albrecht's seemingly creative position were correct, it wouldn't really affect the fact that Scripture does not teach the veneration of Mary.

But why is Albrecht's position absurd? There is nothing especially "titular" about the word. The word is just a plain old perfect, passive participle.

There is nothing grammatically special about the term that makes it a title. I asked Mr. Albrecht during the debate whether he had considered the use of the term in Ephesians 1:6 and then asked him why he did not consider it a title there. This was not a question that I asked for my own information, but to determine whether this argument was Mr. Albrecht's own, or whether it had been fed to him from outside. His response seemed somewhat faltering, but perhaps it was just because the question caught him off guard.

The question could have lead him to several arguments in favor of it being a title in Luke 1:28. I'll address those below, before I turn to the reasons to reject such a conclusion.

The very first reason that the use in Ephesians 1:6 cannot be a title is that it is not a participle. It is an indicative verb. This is quite basic Greek grammar. I'm not sure whether the question rattled Mr. Albrecht or whether he simply didn't know why the term couldn't be a title in the only other instance it is used. One would think that if Mr. Albrecht came up with the "titular usage" argument he would at least understand that strongest reason for making that argument - and the fact that the verb is a participle is the strongest reason.

Had we gotten more of a clear answer from Mr. Albrecht in that regard, we could then have explored what I hinted at during the debate, namely that just because a participle is used doesn't mean that participle is being used as a title. I also hinted at some ways in which a title could not have been indicated, such using a capital letter (since Greek was all capitals at the time).

There is a secondary argument for it being a title, namely that it follows immediately after the word translated "Hail." This is perhaps an even better positive argument that the term is a title. The reason it is a better argument is that the term translated "Hail" can be used in connection with a greeting that includes a title. Thus, for example, we see the following greetings involving the word translated "Hail" plus a title:

Matthew 26:49 And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him.

Matthew 27:29 And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!

Mark 15:18 And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews!

John 19:3 And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands.

In each case, the word following "Hail" is a title of sorts: Master, King, or Rabbi. But, unlike the situation with Mary, the title is a noun, not a participle.

Furthermore, although this term for "Hail" is not used simply as a command to rejoice in the NT, it is used that way in the LXX. In Proverbs 24:19 and Hosea 9:1 the command is negative. In Joel 2:21, Zephaniah 3:14, Zechariah 9:9, and Lamentations 4:21 the command is positive.

So, there is an interesting preliminary question about whether the translation should be "Hail" "Greetings" or the like (as the KJV and many other translations including the Vulgate have it) or as "Rejoice!" (which is found in very few translations). A compromise would be "Cheers!" which makes it a greeting while preserving the literal sense of the word (although it is a little odd for an English-speaker as a greeting).

The context does suggest that the word is being used as a greeting (as in the other cases that it is used as a greeting in the New Testament), although the context does not contradict a usage as "Rejoice!" In fact, perhaps both are intended: as a greeting and as a command to rejoice.

The greeting or command to rejoice (or both) is followed in the text by the following items about Mary, which show why she should rejoice (which she does in verse 47, using a different Greek word for rejoice):

1) having been highly favored (perfect passive participle)
2) the Lord is with you (singular)
3) having been blessed (perfect passive participle)
4) you (nominative)
5) among women.

It's worth noting that items 3-5 are not found in the critical text. Nevertheless, items 3-5 highlight an additional item grammatically that supports the idea that the participle is serving as a title: in the second instance, "having been blessed" is accompanied by the nominative pronoun "you," which provides a subject for the participle; in the first instance, however, "having been highly favored" has no explicit nominative pronoun.

But here are some problems:

1) If the participle was supposed to serve as a title, one would expect an article to accompany the participle. As, for example, the titles in the examples above have an article. In fact, however, there is no article.

2) It is possible for the pronoun to be implied (it is already clear from the context and the fact that the participle is singular and feminine). In general when (as here) the participle is being used as an adjective it is not necessary for it to be accompanied by the pronoun. Thus, the absence of a nominative pronoun is not particularly problematic.

3) If the participle was supposed to be a title, we would expect ancient translations to reflect translation as a title. Likewise, if the traditional view were that the participle was a title, one would expect to see this reflected in the traditional translations. However, neither the ancient nor the traditional translations render it as a title, but instead attempt to literally translate its sense.

4) If the traditional view were that the participle was a title, one would expect that the "Ave Maria" would not have the noun "Maria" which is inserted in the prayer between "Ave" ("Hail") and "plena gratia" ("full of grace," the attempted - though mistaken - literal translation of the word in the Vulgate).

5) If the traditional view were that the participle was a title, we'd expect to see some evidence of this in the writings of the early to later medieval period, once veneration of Mary had taken widespread root. However, there does not appear to be any such evidence (I leave this a bit open, since there may be evidence of which I'm simply unaware - the same qualification applies to item 7, below).

6) If grammatically the participle were a title, we'd expect it to be translated with a capital letter and to be represented with a capital letter in critical Greek texts. Although, as noted above, the ancient texts would have been all capitals, the modern critical Greek texts employ capitals selectively, including for showing things like titles.

7) If grammatically the participle were a title, we'd expect to find evidence of this in at least a few Greek grammars and/or analytical lexicons. Such evidence, however, is absent.

That's the conclusion for now to my additional thoughts on the issue of the word for "having been highly favored" being in the "titular form," which we can clearly see it is not. I plan to have a few other comments about the debate, in due course.


Thursday, May 07, 2009

American Government Destroying Bibles

This is so sad (link).

Why Dr. White Dominated the Barker-White Debate


I have listened to the Barker-White debate of last Thursday twice (an mp3 of the debate can be obtained here). Many things could be said about the debate. I have a few quick thoughts on why Dr. White dominated the debate:

1) Dr. White presented a Biblical case.

This is the primary reason that Dr. White dominated. Dr. White properly identified God as the God who has revealed himself in Scripture, the God who created the visible world (with a cellular energy transfer process as an example), and the God through whom alone knowledge is possible.

Dr. White did not rely on an evidentialist approach or a philosophically rationalist approach that tries to borrow a secular platform to argue for God's existence. In this, in my opinion, Dr. White was dramatically superior to many of those who have tried to argue from probabilities or from clever philosophical syllogisms.

2) Dr. White was Prepared

Dr. White had done his homework on Barker. In fact, those of us who had listened to the Dividing Line webcast for the past few weeks were not surprised by anything that Barker said in his opening speech, and there really wasn't much more that he said in other parts of his speech that were surprising.

This preparedness gave Dr. White a clear edge, since he was able to anticipate several of Barker's arguments in his own opening statement. Additionally, Dr. White was even able to anticipate Barker's follow-up questions during the cross-examination section.

Barker did not appear to be similarly prepared. Barker ended up having to waste time during the cross-examination section finding out preliminary facts about Dr. White, such as whether Dr. White accepts the hypothesis of evolution and whether God could be said to be behind the swine flu outbreak.

Likewise, because Barker was not familiar with Dr. White's background, he confused evidence of God with evidence for God. Dr. White noted evidence of God in the evidence, but did not try to prove the God of Scripture from the evidence.

3) Dr. White Avoided Landmines

Dr. White avoided ad hominem arguments, except where the matter was relevant. For example, Dr. White did not argue that atheists were statistically more immoral than theists, did not try to make the argument that being an atheist makes you a Stalin, or any similar argument. Instead, Dr. White wisely stuck to pointing out the fact that atheistic morality is simply an unwarranted borrowing by atheists from the Christian worldview.

Dr. White did, at one point, note that Barker's education to be a pastor was (to quote Barker's own words) little more than a "glorified Sunday school," but he did this only because it had become relevant in view of Barker's suggestion that as a preacher he had been unaware of the most notorious textual critical issue that exists in the Bible. Although Barker may not have known about it, it wasn't because Christians hide this issue, but only because Barker's familiarity with Christianity wasn't very deep. Dr. White was quick to point out that Barker is an exceptionally intelligent man (in the top few tenths of a percent of the population), and Dr. White made it clear that he was not arguing that Barker was lacking intelligence.

4) Dr. White Linked To Other Debates/Discussions

Dr. White provided a significant numbers of connections to other debates and discussions, both to debates that Barker had done and debates that Dr. White has done. These connections demonstrated the fact that Dr. White was aiming for consistency: not only in his own presentation, but in insisting that his opponent be consistent as well. These connections permitted Dr. White to focus on the important issues that had been raised in other contexts, even when Barker may not have raised them as clearly in this particular debate.


On the whole, I think Dr. White did a great job. Obviously, being a Christian and a member of his blogging team, I'm liable to bias. Nevertheless, I trust that the listener will agree with me and that has been the case with many of those with whom I have chatted about this debate. He presented the consistent message of the Bible and contrasted it with the inconsistent message of atheism.


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Avoiding Landmines in Roman Catholic Apologetics


One branch of Apologetics deals with responses to the challenges to the faith brought by Catholicism. Since one apologist for Catholicism has recently posted a list of unsound arguments that are sometimes used by those defending Catholicism, I thought I'd post a similar list that at least identifies some areas of caution for Reformed apologists addressing Rome.

1. Eschatological Identifications

Yes, it may well be that Rome should be identified with the Whore of Babylon and that the Pope is the Antichrist. Our doctrinal standards (at least those of us that hold to the same 17th century standards as they were drafted) do identify the Pope as the Antichrist, and there are good reasons for adopting this view.

Nevertheless, these arguments don't really deal with the central issue of the gospel itself. Any argument that the Pope is the Antichrist or that Rome is the Whore require one to address the issue of whether Pope preaches the gospel or not. If he does, then clearly he is not the Antichrist nor is Rome the Whore.

Furthermore, of course, outwardly at least John Paul II and the Benedict XVI (the two most prominent popes in the minds of folks these days) were relatively decent human beings. They were not like the late medieval popes. Therefore, people have a harder emotional time dealing with arguments that seem almost ad hominem (though, of course, the argument is about the office), when the popes are outwardly moral.

Also, people have tons of trouble with the fact that "anti" in "Antichrist" is a Greek root, not a Latin root, and means "substitute" or "vicar" not "opponent" as such. That, coupled with the general difficulty associated with divining the sense of prophecy caution against using the antichristian nature of the papacy (or similar eschatological issues) as a primary argument against Catholicism. It is something better left for situations where a belligerent Romanist insists on hashing it out.

2. Sexual Abuse Allegations

Yes, sexual abuse may be a real problem in Catholicism. It may even be the necessary and natural outworking of the celibate priesthood that Rome imposes. Nevertheless, again, it is not the central issue. There are occasionally good, Christian men who fall into sin. Recall David's terrible sin with Bathsheba.

There may even be a place for noting the widespread nature of the sexual abuse problem when Roman Catholics place the character of their bishopric into issue. Nevertheless, in general, the fact that there is sexual abuse in Catholicism is simply a reason not to make your son an altar boy or your daughter a nun, not a reason to repent and trust in Christ alone for salvation.

It's not a central issue, and it shouldn't be your primary argument against Catholicism. It should be something you should bring up with reluctance, and something that you should place in perspective.

3. Dates on Doctrines

Yes, doctrines within Roman Catholicism are not static and modern Catholicism's beliefs do not much resemble the beliefs taught in the Bible or believed in the early church. Nevertheless, be careful about trying to assign dates to particular doctrines.

For example, it is frequent to see on various websites a list of doctrines and dates. The dates are when the doctrine was supposedly invented. The idea is to press home to the Roman Catholic the fact that his church has made up a lot of stuff as it went along.

There are usually a few problems with these lists. Sometimes the lists are actually not what you think they are. For example, sometimes the lists are when the doctrines were defined not when they were innovated. That's an important difference. For example, in the case of transubstantiation, we may have a doctrine that is innovated in perhaps the 11th century and then defined in the 12th century (don't rely on those dates, please - they are very approximate and just intended to illustrate the general point).

A more dramatic example is the Apocrypha. The dogmatic definition that requires Roman Catholics to accept the Apocrypha comes from Trent in the 16th century, but one can find many older writers (perhaps even a millennium before) who seemingly accept the Apocrypha as inspired.

It's important to remember that a lot of things in Catholicism were the result of a gradual development over a long period of time. As such, pinning specific dates on doctrines is liable to error and can place one in an embarrassing position.

4. "The" Roman Catholic Position

Yes, there is sometimes a single Roman Catholic position on something. For example, in theory the canons of the council of Trent are "the" Roman Catholic position on Justification (and several other topics). Very often, however, there are a myriad of positions on a particular topic within Roman Catholicism. Despite all of their myths and propaganda regarding the need for unity, Roman Catholicism has an amazing amount of diversity of views on subjects that would cause denominational splits within typical "Protestant" denominations.

So be careful. Just because you yourself were a Roman Catholic doesn't guarantee that what you were taught is going to match what a Roman Catholic from Timbuktu was taught. Just because your friend who is a Roman Catholic said that Roman Catholics believe "x" doesn't make that the only view.

As a result, either deal with the declarations of the specific person you're talking to, or qualify your statements with references to sources. For example, if you want to address liberal Catholicism, identify who your source for "the Roman Catholic view" is. Likewise, if you want to go with the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" (a fairly official document) cite it as your source.

Be careful, recognizing that your Roman Catholic friend or acquaintance may be more or less familiar with his religion than you are. There are many times that I encounter Roman Catholics who either were badly catechized or simply not good learners, who have no idea what the official positions of Roman Catholicism (as expressed through the various available mechanisms) are. Other times you may discover that your friend is a canon lawyer who can explain the ins and outs of very arcane matters of church law that would be beyond the ken of the typical parish priest.

And if you got "the Roman Catholic Position" from one of Jack Chick's tracts, double-check it. Maybe he got it right, maybe he got it wrong, but quoting him as your source is not going to be very compelling for the Roman Catholic to whom you are speaking. Do a little more research and find a more detailed explanation of the issue.

5. Martyrologies

Yes, everyone that is involved in apologetics with Roman Catholicism should obtain and carefully read Foxe's Book of Martyrs (link) and there may be other similarly edifying histories. However, again, the fact that Rome has slain Christians is not the primary argument against Rome. The Reformers themselves executed folks for religious crimes (such as blasphemy) and so did those Jews who followed the Mosaic law.

The question largely is whether Rome teaches the gospel or not. If Rome does, then many of those whom she persecuted in the middle ages were not Christians. More importantly, perhaps, Rome's inquisition did not target only Christians but also blasphemers, witches, Muslims, and Jews. The fact that Christians were persecuted by Rome is not in itself a primary argument for someone to become a Christian since Rome also persecuted witches.

6. Arguments You Don't Understand

There are lots of good, Scriptural arguments against Roman Catholicism. If you don't understand them, though, you have no business using them. I'll list a few:

a) "One Mediator"

If you cannot answer the objection that Christians ask each other to pray for another, you shouldn't be using the "One Mediator" argument. The argument itself is perfectly fine, and it is clear that Catholicism is against Scripture on this matter. You, however, need to carefully understand what it means to be a mediator as well as how the Roman Catholic appeals to Mary, Angels, and the Saints violate the Scriptures.

b) "Call No Man Father"

If you cannot answer the objection that Christians call their birth fathers "father," you shouldn't be using the "Call No Man Father" argument. The argument itself is a perfectly fine one against the use of the title "Father" for every priest, but only if you understand the relationship between the injunction and the Roman Catholic usage of the term "Father" as a title.

c) "Petra not Petros"

If you cannot answer the objection that the Aramaic would not have any distinction between the two terms, you shouldn't be using the "Petra not Petros" argument. The argument itself is an acceptable argument, particularly if it is reinforced with more direct grammatical arguments (for example, Petra not se). Furthermore, the objection from a speculative Aramaic source (whether from a claim that conversation was in Aramaic, or from a claim that the evangelic text was originally written in that tongue) can be easily identified as nothing more than baseless speculation. However, one has to be aware of the typical counter-arguments and why those counter-arguments miss the point.

7. Scriptures You Don't Understand

This is perhaps a variation on (6). The point here is that you need to know the Scriptures yourself before you can instruct someone else. You need to be familiar with the Word of God if you want to lead someone else to Christ by it.

I don't say this to discourage young or immature believers, but to encourage you to grow in faith and in the knowledge of the Lord. The Bible describes the Christian apologist as being armed for battle with the "whole armour of God." In that armour, the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God.

If you were going to go to battle these days, you'd hit the target range and make sure you could hit the target from at least point-blank range. In the days of swords, you'd want to hone your skills whether with stylized sports like fencing or with more practical and direct martial training.

The same is true of the spiritual warfare that we fight. Christian apologists against every false gospel must be prepared and thoroughly.

8. Falsehood

Be scrupulously honest. Not all our opponents are honest opponents. Still, we are called to be truthful in all our dealings. The fact that the other side is not (or we think they are not) does not justify untruthful or inaccurate claims from us.

9. Arrogance

Avoid arrogance. If you make a mistake, don't be afraid to admit that you erred and to correct your mistake. This will, of course, damage the patina of perfection that you had going for you, but it is the better course of action.

I'm not saying you have to grovel, but simply admit your mistakes and move on. Learn from the experience, and remember that you are merely a human being who can and does err. Maybe your honesty will win over your opponent, maybe it will lead him to mock you. You cannot control that, but you can maintain your own integrity by correcting your mistakes.

10. Church History

The history of Christianity is not simple. Roman Catholicism certainly sometimes tries to portray it as simple. Sometimes apologists who deal with Roman Catholics try to portray it in simple but opposite terms. Don't fall into that error.

I'm not suggesting we cannot argue from church history. Rather, I am suggesting that one should approach church history with caution, as well as with a mind that church history is not our rule of faith: scripture is.

There are certain general statements that can be made about church history. As with most ares of history, however, there are numerous complexities. This is illustrated by several points:

a) Diversity Amongst the Church Fathers

On a lot of topics there was immense diversity both among the early Christian writers in general and even among those that are viewed as "church fathers." If you say, "No one ever believed 'x'" - you may quickly find yourself facing some obscure quotation from a "saint" that you never heard of before.

b) Development of Individual Fathers

Like all Christians should, many of the church fathers grew in their knowledge of God throughout their life. Accordingly, one sees some fathers (Augustine is a notable example) retracting explicitly or implicitly positions that they had held earlier in life.

As with many of us, the battles they faced inform and alter their perspective. We are much more cautious talking about the atonement in view of the Remonstrant controversy now than the Reformers were before then. The same is true of the caution that various major controversies provoked during church history.

c) Paucity of Data

There is a scarcity of patristic data, even though the works of the Greek and Latin fathers can fill almost 400 volumes in Migne's patrology. Many fathers have left only a few works behind. Other fathers have left many works behind, but have also been subjected to forgery by pseudonymous urchins, which have attempted to promote their own works under the name of a more famous writer.

Furthermore, even where the works are genuine there is often suspicion or even proof that the works have been subject to interpolation by later authors. Ignatius' works are famous in this regard, but others are not immune from this problem.

Oftentimes as well, there is a gigantic gap in the textual transmission of these early Christian writers with the earliest copy of a given work sometimes being a full millennium after the death of the author. These gaps in the transmission make tracking down the original text much more difficult.

Finally, of course, there are numerous writers whose works have been lost for a variety of reasons. For example, works that spoke out against the idolatry of icons were intentionally destroyed in the 8th century. Likewise, most of Nestorius' works have been similar lost. We also see Jerome's opponents on a variety of topics represented only in the extant works of Jerome, with their own works being lost in time.

11. False Ecumenism

For whatever reason, some folks seem to think that they will be in a better position to witness to Roman Catholics if they tell the Roman Catholics that they accept them as Christian brethren. This is just bad thinking.

If you think Roman Catholics are your Christian brethren, why are you witnessing to them? Why are you bringing them the gospel if you think they already have it? I understand that such an ecumenical statement may help lower defenses, but it really is inconsistent with your evangelical purpose.

After all, the only folks that need a physician are those who are sick. If you go around telling people that they are well, they're not going to be offended by you, but they're also not going to seek a doctor.

That's not to say that everyone who is currently affiliated with the Roman Catholic church is consequently unsaved. After all, as I've noted above, there is great diversity within Catholicism, and it is possible for those within Catholicism to read the Scripture and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

That gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, however, is not the message of Catholicism. It should not, therefore, be one's default position that those within Catholicism have the gospel, and it is foolish (on our part) and dangerous (to their souls) for us to treat Roman Catholic apologists as though they were our brethren: in defending the gospel of Rome against the gospel of Christ they are giving strong contrary evidence of grace in their heart.

A friend of mine put it this way, with which I agree:
Our regard, generally speaking, of the lost condition of Romanists is (contrary to their complaints) a judgment of charity, because it exhibits a concern for their never-dying souls, and should always be kept in mind in dealing with them. This regard for their lost condition is not because we bear them animosity, but because we care for their souls.


We must be ready always to give an answer (to every man that asks us) a reason of the hope that is in us. We must do so with meekness and fear, having a good conscience. We must arm ourselves with truth, with righteousness, with the gospel of peace, with the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit: the Word of God.

We must always pray, both for the salvation of the lost and for strength in the battle for ourselves. Pray also for us, brethren, who are actively engaged in boldly proclaiming the gospel to those who need to hear it. If Paul needed prayer to boldly proclaim the gospel, we certainly need it as well.


Monday, May 04, 2009

Response to Challenge to Calvinists

Jamsco at The Responsible Puppet has a challenge for Calvinists: "Show me any passage in the bible [sic] that says that God allowed or permitted something to happen." (source)


Two immediately come to mind.

Job 1: God permitted Satan to variously hurt Job in his possessions, servants, and children but without touching Job himself.

Job 2: God permitted Satan to hurt Job so long as Satan did not take Job's life.