Skip to comments.Why Scripture and the Facts of History Compel Me to Remain a Committed Evangelical Protestant
Posted on 05/10/2013 7:36:49 PM PDT by boatbums
Ive read with interest Francis (Frank) Beckwiths book, Return to Rome, because like him, I was baptized and raised Roman Catholic, attending parochial schools through my primary grades and a preparatory school run by a Benedictine monastery throughout my high school years. And, like Dr. Beckwith, in my teens I turned away from the Roman Catholic Church and Christianity altogether but was converted in my early twenties and began attending a Protestant Evangelical church. And for the past thirty seven years I have been a committed Evangelical Protestant. I was also quite interested in reading Dr. Beckwiths book because he had been President of the Evangelical Theological Society at the time of his decision to revert to the Church of Rome and I was intrigued to learn the reasons that had formed his decision. After reading his book it became clear to me that Beckwiths decision to return to Rome was based on his conviction that the Protestant Evangelical church is deficient on two important points. He is convinced that the Roman Catholic Church can claim historical validation for being the one true church established by Christ and that the Evangelical church is therefore a schismatic movement. He believes the Roman Church is the ultimate authority established by Jesus and that her teachings are therefore authoritative. He says:
Unless I capriciously cherry-picked the Catholic tradition, I could not justifiably accept the Early Churchs recognition and fixation of the canon of scriptureand its correct determination and promulgation of the central doctrines of God and Christ (at Nicea and Chalcedon)while rejecting the Churchs sacramental life as awell as its findings about its own apostolic nature and authority. I was boxed into a corner, with the only exit being a door to a confessional. At this point, I thought, if I reject the Catholic Church, there is good reason for me to believe I am rejecting the Church that Christ himself established. Thats not a risk I was willing to take It occurred to me that the burden was on me, and not on the Catholic Church, to show why I should remain in the schism with the Church in which my parents baptized me, even as I could think of no incorrigible reason to remain in the schism.1
And secondly, and more importantly, he believes the Protestant Evangelical faith is deficient biblically with respect to its overall teaching on the gospel, justification and salvation. It is the subject of justification and salvation that Beckwith devotes most of his attention to in his book. He says:
it is the Reformation notion of imputed righteousness that, ironically, puts the Reformers partially in the Pelagian camp. This is because the Reformers and Pelagians agree that Gods infused grace is not necessary for justification For me, all things considered, the Catholic view has more explanatory power than the Protestant view. This is why it made sense to me that the Early Church Fathers were so Catholic in their teachings. They held to a view that, I believe, does the best job of accounting for all the New Testaments passages on justification and sanctification.2
And so, being convinced that the distinctive Roman Catholic dogmas can be historically validated and that Romes salvation teachings are fully consistent with Scripture, Beckwith has issued a challenge to Evangelicals to give serious consideration to the claims of Rome and reconsider their commitment to their Protestant faith and the legitimacy of the Reformation and to follow him into the embrace of Roman Catholicism:
Thus, there is a heavy burden on the part of Reformed writers to show that the ascendancy in the sixteenth century of a Reformation thinking that had no ecclesiastical predecessors may be attributed to a return to the true understanding of Christianity.3
Dr. Beckwith quotes approvingly from Carl Trueman, Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, from his review of Noll and Nystroms book, Is the Reformation Over? Frank personally italicizes his comments for emphasis, as a clear challenge to Evangelicals:
When I finished reading the book, I have to confess that I agreed with the authors, in that it does indeed seem that the Reformation is over for large tracts of evangelicalism; yet the authors themselves do not draw the obvious conclusion from their own arguments. Every year I tell my Reformation history class that Roman Catholicism is, at least in the West, the default position. Rome has a better claim to historical continuity and institutional unity than any Protestant denomination, let alone the strange hybrid that is evangelicalism; in the light of these facts, therefore, we need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic; not being a Catholic should, in others words, be a positive act of will and commitment, something we need to get out of bed determined to do each and every day. It would seem, however, that if Noll and Nystrom are correct, many who call themselves evangelical really lack any good reason for such an act of will; and the obvious conclusion, therefore, should be that they do the decent thing and rejoin the Roman Catholic Church (emphasis added).4
And then in these comments, by implication, he is challenging evangelicals to consider that they have no legitimate reasons to remain in what he calls schism with the Church of Rome:
Professor Truemans reasoning would serve as a catalyst for reorienting my sense of whether the Catholic Church or I had the burden in justifying the schism in which I had remained for over thirty years I could think of no incorrigible reason to remain in the schism.5
Now, I take such a challenge seriously. I have asked myself the same questions that Beckwith himself asked and over the years through the challenge of Roman Catholic apologists such as Karl Keating, Scott Hahn, Patrick Madrid and others, I have been motivated to study and research the pertinent doctrinal and historical issues related to Roman Catholicism and the Reformation covering the general subject of authority and salvation. I have sincerely sought to answer the question, Can the teachings and claims of the Roman Catholic Church be validated biblically and historically? Is this Church truly the one true Church established by Jesus Christ? That study has been going on now for more than twenty five years and I remain a committed Evangelical Protestant precisely because of the truth of Scripture and the facts of history. This study has resulted in the writing of several books on the gospel and particular historical issues related to the history of the development of doctrine and the writings of the Church fathers on subjects such as the authority of scripture, the canon, the papacy and the Marian dogmas. In this research I have been able to bring to light much information that had previously been unavailable in the English language in the writings of the church fathers. So I have approached the reading of Return to Rome with great interest indeed. After reading the book, I must say that my overall reaction was one of deep sadness and disappointment. Frank Beckwith is winsome, obviously very bright and seemingly very sincere. But his arguments historically and biblically in support of Rome and which form the basis of his decision to embrace that church are unconvincing. Historically, Beckwith demonstrates a superficial understanding of the church fathers. There are a great many historical facts that he is either ignorant of or has chosen to turn a blind eye to. Ignorance can forgiven to some degree because he himself admits that he had no training and very little exposure to the writings of the church fathers. He says he gave only about three months of study to their writings prior to his decision to revert to Rome. And from the references he gives in his book it would seem that this study was under the direction of Roman Catholic apologists who are well known for prooftexting the writings of the church fathers giving anachronistic meaning to their writings that was foreign to what they actually say. For example, Roman Catholic apologists see the term tradition in the writings of the fathers and immediately import a present day Roman Catholic understanding to the term that the church fathers did not embrace. Or they will read a church father extolling the person and position of the apostle of Peter and immediately jump to the conclusion that such appellations apply to the bishops of Rome in support of the dogma of the papacy when the fathers themselves never make such an association in their writings. This approach applies to numerous examples that Beckwith references in his book such as prayers to the dead, confession and the doctrine of the Real Presence. Beckwith titles the section on historical doctrine, I Hear the Ancient Footsteps, in which he seeks to defend distinctive Roman Catholic teachings historically. I can personally say, that after twenty five years of research, as opposed to three months, that I also hear ancient footsteps and they do not point in the direction of the present day Roman Catholic Church and its dogmatic teachings. The fact of the matter is, Rome has added dogmas to the ancient rule of faith that was supported by the unanimous consent of the fathers and which was grounded in the written Scriptures. Dogmas which can find no warrant either in Scripture or the tradition of the church, and which in some cases completely contradict the ancient tradition of the Church, and which the Roman Catholic Church declares are necessary for salvation. But the most serious problem with Dr. Beckwiths book and the one that caused me such disappointment is his caricature of the Reformed Evangelical faith in its teachings on salvation and secondly his assertions regarding the official teachings of Roman Catholicism on justification and salvation. He claims to have a thorough understanding of the teaching of the Reformed faith. He says:
To be sure, I was fully aware how Protestant theologians made their case, and I was capable of following their reasoning. But I no longer found their case convincing.6
Throughout his book Beckwith makes confident assertions about the salvation teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and he is convinced that these teachings are much more consistent, as was pointed out above, with Scripture than those of the Protestant Evangelical and Reformed faith. As a Reformed Evangelical and former Roman Catholic I have thoroughly read and studied all the official Roman Catholic documents on salvation including the Council of Trent, Vatican One, Vatican Two, The Catechism of the Catholic Church as well as papal decrees and official catechisms and the writings of Ludwig Ott. Having read Beckwiths book, I am appalled at the blatant misrepresentation of both the Reformed teaching as well the teaching of Roman Catholicism. His lack of knowledge on historical issues is forgivable, given his ignorance, but to misrepresent and caricature the Reformed faith and to misrepresent the salvation teachings of Rome is simply irresponsible and dishonest. In this presentation I want to deal with a number of historical issues related to doctrine and dogmas that Beckwith alludes to that impinge upon the subject of the authority and the nature of the church and then address in a summary fashion the issues related to the gospel and salvation for that subject will be taken up in much greater detail by others.
The subject of authority is foundational to an understanding of Roman Catholicism and directly impinges on the issues of the gospel and salvation in two ways. Firstly, in that the authority claims of Rome, which involve the teachings on the papacy, scripture and tradition and the canon, have been elevated to the level of dogma by Rome. What this means is that these teachings embody essential doctrines which define the meaning of saving faith. That is, unless a person fully submits to and embraces them he does not possess saving faith and he cannot be justified. Vatican I, for example, states that it is necessary for salvation that men and women not only believe all that is revealed in scripture but also everything which is defined and proposed by the Church as having been divinely revealed. To reject anything taught by the Roman Church is to reject saving faith and to forfeit justification and eternal life:
Further, all those things are to be believed with divine and Catholic faith which are contained in the Word of God, written or handed down, and which the Church, either by a solemn judgment, or by her ordinary and universal magisterium, proposes for belief as having been divinely revealed. And since, without faith, it is impossible to please God, and to attain to the fellowship of his children, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will any one obtain eternal life unless he shall have persevered in faith unto the end.7
Roman Catholic theologian, Ludwig Ott, explains the relationship of Dogmas defined by the Church and faith in these words:
By dogma in the strict sense is understood a truth immediately (formally) revealed by God which has been proposed by the Teaching Authority of the Church to be believed as such...All those things are to be believed by divine and Catholic faith which are contained in the Word of God written or handed down and which are proposed for our belief by the Church either in a solemn definition or in its ordinary and universal authoritative teaching. (Vatican I). Two factors or elements may be distinguished in the concept of dogma:
A) An immediate Divine Revelation of the particular Dogma...i.e., the Dogma must be immediately revealed by God either explicitly (explicite) or inclusively (implicite), and therefore be contained in the sources of Revelation (Holy Writ or Tradition) B) The Promulgation of the Dogma by the Teaching Authority of the Church (propositio Ecclesiae). This implies, not merely the promulgation of the Truth, but also the obligation on the part of the Faithful of believing the Truth. This promulgation by the Church may be either in an extraordinary manner through a solemn decision of faith made by the Pope or a General Council (Iudicium solemns) or through the ordinary and general teaching power of the Church (Magisterium ordinarium et universale). The latter may be found easily in the catechisms issued by the Bishops.
Dogma in its strict signification is the object of both Divine Faith (Fides Divina) and Catholic Faith (Fides Catholica); it is the object of the Divine Faith...by reason of its Divine Revelation; it is the object of Catholic Faith...on account of its infallible doctrinal definition by the Church. If a baptised person deliberately denies or doubts a dogma properly so-called, he is guilty of the sin of heresy (Codex Iuris Canonici 1325, Par. 2), and automatically becomes subject to the punishment of excommunication (Codex Iuris Canonici 2314, Par. I). As far as the content of justifying faith is concerned, the so-called fiducial faith does not suffice. What is demanded is theological or dogmatic faith (confessional faith) which consists in the firm acceptance of the Divine truths of Revelation, on the authority of God Revealing...According to the testimony of Holy Writ, faith and indeed dogmatic faith, is the indispensable prerequisite for the achieving of eternal salvation (emphasis added).8
This kind of teaching should give great pause to anyone considering conversion to Roman Catholicism. This Church is claiming the authority to bind mens souls eternally by the promulgation of doctrines such as he Assumption of Mary that have neither scriptural nor traditional support based solely on her own supposed authority. Certainly there are many, many Roman Catholics who though they have never been formally excommunicated are nonetheless informally in that state since they do doubt and even deny certain dogmas and are thereby guilty of heresy. Secondly, the authority claims of Rome impinge on the issues of the gospel and salvation because she claims to be an infallible interpreter of Scripture as the one true church established by Christ and therefore whatever she authoritatively decrees is infallible. Thus, whatever Rome teaches regarding the gospel and salvation is infallible, divine truth.
Ultimate Authority and Historical Claims to Be the One True Church Beckwith states that he is convinced that the Church of Rome is the one true church established by Jesus Christ. This, of course, is the claim of the Roman Church herself. And that claim is set forth by both allusions to and expositions of Scripture and by appeals to historical practice and the writings of the church fathers. The question is, Do the Scriptures, the facts of history and the writings of the church fathers support the Roman Catholic claims for authority in her teachings of papal rule and infallibility and her claims to the one true church? The papal teachings which are foundational for Roman Catholic authority were given dogmatic definition by the First Vatican Council in 1870 where that Council asserted its claims for papal primacy and papal infallibility. This was the first instance of the teaching of papal infallibility being dogmatically defined but the teaching of papal primacy was dogmatized many centuries previous to Vatican I in 1302 by Pope Boniface VIII in his Bull, Unam Sanctam. So with regard to papal primacy and rule Vatican I is simply reaffirming a dogma that had been decreed by the bishop of Rome some five hundred and eighty years previous. Unam Sanctam states:
And this body he called one body, that is, the Church, because of the single bridegroom, the unity of the faith, the sacraments, and the love of the Church. She is that seamless shirt of the Lord which was not rent but was allotted by the casting of lots. Therefore, this one and single Church has one head and not two headsfor had she two heads, she would be a monsterthat is, Christ and Christs vicar, Peter and Peters successor. For the Lord said unto Peter, Feed my sheep. My, he said, speaking generally and not particularly, these and those, by which it is to be understood that all the sheep are committed unto him. So, when the Greeks and others say that they were not committed to the care of Peter and his successors, they must confess that they are not of Christs sheep, even as the Lord says in John, There is one fold and one shepherd Furthermore, that every human creature is subject to the Roman pontiff,this we declare, say, define, and pronounce to be altogether necessary to salvation.9
Vatican I set forth its teachings on the basis of the exposition of three major passages of Scripture related to the apostle Peter, Matthew 16:18-19, John 21:15-17 and Luke 22:32. It also reconfirmed the teachings of the Council of Trent in the 16th century and the principle defined by Trent of authoritative interpretation and the unanimous consent of the fathers. This principle states that the Roman Church alone has the authority to interepret Scripture and that it is illegitimate to interpret Scripture that contradicts what it calls the unanimous consent of the fathers. Trent states:
Furthermore, to check unbridled spirits, it decrees that no one relying on his own judgment shall, in matters of faith and morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, distorting the Holy Scriptures in accordance with his own conceptions, presume to interpret them contrary to that sense which holy mother Church, to whom it belongs to judge their true sense and interpretation, has held and holds, or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers, even though such interpretations should never at any time be published.10
Of the three passages of Scripture used to support Roman Catholic ecclesiology, the most important is Matthew 16:16-19:
And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said to him, Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven
The basic Roman interpretation of this passage is that the rock refers to Peter leading to the conclusion that the Church of Christ is built upon him personally. The keys represent his authority to rule the church and to define truth. And since it says that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church that she will be infallible in what she teaches and proclaims. Additionally, it is stated that in this passage Christ is establishing successors to Peter in the bishops of Rome who were given authority to rule the Church universal until He returns. Vatican One states that very the very beginning of the establishment of the Church this doctrine was understood and believed including Vatican Ones exegesis of the Petrine passages. But neither biblically nor historically in the practice of the church or in the patristic interpretation of the rock of Matthew 16:18 does one find an affirmation of these teachings. Vatican I is in fact guilty of contradicting the very principle it reconfirmed from the Council of Trent of never interpreting Scripture in any way contrary to the unanimous consent of the fathers. We will examine the biblical arguments and then the historical.
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Wrong. The Fathers' interpretation is exactly the same as the interpretation today. The Bishop of Rome is an equal amongst the senior Bishops. The first among equals definition is yet to be determined in negotiations inside the Church.
LOL. This clown only cited Matthew 16 in all his verbosity, and that supports Catholicism.
I am a born again Christian and I have never been, nor will I ever be a Catholic. I am assured in scripture that I will be with my Savior, Jesus Christ, in heaven.
Some people define themselves and their faith by their opposition to the Catholic Church. Cute, but no, thanks.
Except that is not what Vatican I said nor is it what the early theologians believed. From the Vatican I documents:
“Unless you eat by Body and drink my Blood you will not have life everlasting.” This is the Eucharist — words of Jesus.
Are you a Catholic and do you receive the transubtantiated bread and wine as the Body and Blood of Christ?
You obviously failed to read any more from the link I provided. There are MANY scripture passages used. Perhaps if you had done so before rushing to call the author a “clown”, you might not look so clownish yourself?
I am as well, praise the Lord. Though I was born into the Roman Catholic Church, God opened my eyes and heart to the truth of the Gospel of the grace of God and I received His gift of eternal life.
Evangelical Christians do believe in the Eucharist, just not transubstantiation. Usually if an evangelical Christian says they believe in and take communion.
That's not how I define my faith.
Funny, but I don't recall the same from you to the Catholics that post nearly daily threads that are in opposition to the non-Catholic Christians here. Why is that?
“I am as well, praise the Lord. Though I was born into the Roman Catholic Church, God opened my eyes and heart to the truth of the Gospel of the grace of God and I received His gift of eternal life.”
Do you think that ONLY Catholics have the right interpretation of that passage of Scripture? Are you aware that the early church understood Jesus' words to mean a "by faith" receiving of Him and that "eating his flesh and drinking his blood" meant they had believed in Him? This article examines the writings of Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian of Carthage, Irenaeus of Lyons, Justin Martyr, Ignatius, and a contribution from Origen in order to show that the ancient church never believed, taught or even conceived any doctrine like the real presence dogma:
What's the punch line, so we can all laugh? And no, I don't recall seeing any threads here started by Roman Catholics in opposition to the Protestants, though obviously they do respond to threads such as this one defending their church. But RCs don't seem to be interested in the Protestants as the latter are interested in proving the RCs wrong and the tools of the devil.
And no, no one expects those who define themselves in oppostion to the RC to admit it, even as it is obvious (as in this thread) that they do so.
Finally, explain to us, if you will, how "God opened my eyes". I assume it was God himself and not a man, and not a reading of something or other written by man. Thanks.
Jesus said to them again, Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
Do you accept any of the New Testament writings as God-breathed sacred Scripture?
Did Jesus eat the Father's body?