Archive for the ‘Roman Catholicism’ Category

The necessity of reforming the churchThe necessity of reforming the church by John Calvin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a good little read, which has the advantage of being very concise and direct. It was written to Emperor Charles V on the eve of the Diet of Speyer (1544). This tract was written as an apologia for the Reformation. What was going on in the sixteenth century that made reformation necessary? I think Calvin lays out a case that it was quite necessary, and that the only course of action open to the Christian who loved the church of Jesus Christ was to support the Reformation.

What will be most surprising about this work is how heavily some issues factor into Calvin’s reasoning. You might expect him to focus on sola scriptura or sola fide. These issues simply do not get much attention. Instead, Calvin focuses on the abuses in worship, prayer, and the Sacraments. This, I think, should be quite instructive for us. Too often, we place a great stress on theological purity, but scarcely think about purity in the corporate action of the church. We should have done the one without leaving the other undone. Let us serve our Lord by pressing forward toward excellence in all areas of life.

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Mr. Jason Stellman

I’ve been pretty busy lately. What’s more, I intend to be pretty busy for the rest of the week. I don’t mean that I’m any busier than anyone else. What I do mean is that my blogging has been slow, and that there will be more time to interact with Mr. Stellman’s claims in time.

Even so, this post from Jason Stellman was brought to my attention. I thought it warranted some attention. To be sure, there will be many more publications to come from Mr. Stellman. He will do his best to undermine sola scriptura et sola fide… let God be true and every man a liar.

One thing that Mr. Stellman wants to make clear is that he was REFORMED before his move to Rome. This is, or course, part of the polemic. Protestant Christian, rest assured that Jason Stellman KNOWS your position better than you do. HE WAS TOTALLY REFORMED. (more…)

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A new acquaintance of mine (I hope we become friends, but it’s too early to call him a friend) has made some comments on this blog with reference to my claim that Jason Stellman has denied the Gospel as he has rejected the doctrine of justification by faith alone. This very acquaintance, Russ Rentler, has posted an article at his blog on the Gospel and if Stellman has denied it. Have a read.

Russ (if I may call him that) appeals to 1 Corinthians 15 to define the Gospel. Let me honestly congratulate him for this. He’s a man looking to God’s own Word for guidance. That’s very Protestant of him. As a Roman Catholic I should think he would be more consistent to appeal to the Magisterium, who will give him the *correct* interpretation of Scripture and Tradition. How, Russ, what makes you think that you can understand the Bible correctly? (more…)

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I was rappin’ with one particular Roman Catholic feller a few months ago. He was gloating that his church was catholic (universal), and thus was called Catholic. He said his church was in every country and every city around the world. Then he asked how “catholic” my church was. He asked how extensive it was. There are a few things that come to my mind as I recall that conversation.

First, for a Roman Catholic, he was being very, VERY generous in calling my church (the Bible Presbyterian Church) a church. It’s quite evident that he wasn’t particularly well acquainted with his own tradition’s terminology at this point. The Roman Catholic church has never admitted that Protestant churches are churches. In fact, those who hold classical Protestant positions (e.g., justification by faith alone) are called accursed of God (anathema). The most favorable terminology used of Protestants was by the 2nd Vatican Council, wherein we were called “separated brethren.” So, individually, we might be separated brethren, but our churches are NOT churches, for there is only one Church, the one headed on earth by the Bishop of Rome. That is the catholicity of the Roman Catholic church. Doesn’t take 20/20 vision to see that the universality of the Roman communion is quite limited (and, therefore, not catholic). That truth is quite evident in the most common name of the communion: the Roman Catholic church – a name more oxymoronic than “turbo diesel.”

The fundamental reality, here, is that the name “Catholic” doesn’t make the Roman Catholic church catholic. The Orthodox church is no more orthodox (at all points) than the Roman Catholic church is catholic. Neither are the Protestant churches unceasingly protesting.

The point is that the unity of the church is to be sought in her risen and reigning Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. “And he [the Father] put all things under his [Jesus’] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-3). Again, “the husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the church, and he is the Savior of the body” (Eph. 5:23). There is ONE head to the ONE body. That head is simply not on earth; he is in heaven, reigning at the right hand of his Father. The unity of the body is found in her spiritual relation to her head (and in him, to each other), not in some organizational affiliation or other. Thus, there are many churches (even as the body has many members), but one Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. That Church is catholic and orthodox (in her Head), and has, at opportune times, protested.

I, therefore, consider myself a Protestant who is both catholic and orthodox.

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With a view to make us more familiar with our people, this is a glance at the second century. These stories are your stories.


Ignatius of Antioch


I. Roman persecution in the second century – sporadic and mostly provincial. Christianity still an illegal religion (religio illicita) according to Rome. Pliny the Younger (the governor of Bithynia) and Emperor Trajan famously corresponded regarding the growing problem of Christianity ca. AD 111-113. Pliny wrote that both torture and capital punishment were applied to Christians, but that if they would “curse Christ,” that would prove their loyalty to the Emperor. Trajan replied that Christians should be examined, but not sought out. If someone were accused of being a Christian, they should be brought before the court and, if the accusation proved to be true, executed. Such was the policy of Rome.

II. The Apostolic Fathers (ca. 100-150) are certainly worth knowing. All these men reported to have had personal contact with apostles. They were not Apostles, but were the first generation after them. Their writings were informal, simple statements of Christian piety, but not theological or philosophical. There is a marked and evident change from the authoritative, theological, ethical writings of the Apostles to the simple, informal writings of the Apostolic Fathers. Here are some of their names and dates:  Clement of Rome, (d. ca. 100); Papias (ca. 60-140); Ignatius (d. 110); Polycarp (ca. 70-156). You had better know these on test day. Their writings have been categorized into three groups: 1) Epistles – e.g., I Clement & the Letters of Ignatius; 2) Apocalyptical – Shepherd of Hermas & writings of Papias (clearly premillennial); and 3) Catechetical – Didache­ (the “Teaching” of the Twelve). The writings of the Apostolic Fathers are quite accessible in the first volume of the Ante-Nicene Fathers Set (don’t buy just those 10 volumes, buy the whole 38-vol set used somewhere. Or, just read it all online for free.

III. The development of the Bishop as a distinct office from that of the Elder – in NT, “bishop” and “elder” are synonymous. I have made a case for that over here. The Bishopric or Episcopate (the rule of the Bishop) developed in two ways: 1) over the elders of a single congregation, and 2) over a regional group of churches, like in a large city. The Episcopate developed late in first century – probably based on organizational needs, partially due to persecution. The Roman Catholic church CANNOT show that the Episcopate is extant in the NT. Their entire hierarchical system began to develop after the NT.

IV. The growth of heresies – The heresies of the early church had some roots in first century, an incubation period in second, and a loathsome flowering in the third and fourth. A couple worth knowing:

-Gnosticism – Salvation is imparted via a special knowledge (gnosis – hence, the name); physical/matter is essentially evil (thus, denial of the Incarnation called Docetism); and other goofy things, too, like Demiurges.

-Montanism (after Montanus [fl. ca. 150]) – opposed worldliness; acetic and ecstatic tendencies; opposed by the catholic church; the most famous proponent of Montanism was Tertullian (160-220).


St. Irenaeus of Lyons


V. The Apologists – These Christian scholars combated external opposition to Christianity. First, against the Jews. Their defense was formidable, as they appealed to the same authoritative text as the Jews, the Old Testament. They argued for much continuity from the OT to the NT (especially moral continuity). They argued that the OT points to the NT, specifically that the OT predicts the suffering of Messiah. Against the accusation that the divinity of Jesus contradicts the unity of God and is blasphemous, they argued that the OT speaks of God in the plural and that theophanies are sometimes in three, and that the Messianic Psalms ascribe divinity to Messiah. The Apologists also wrote against Paganism (or the ancient but waning religions practices throughout the Roman Empire) and defended Christianity against charges of novelty, claiming that Moses and much of the OT were older than most of Paganism. Finally, they attacked Paganism, accusing it of being unworthy, contradictory, and absurd. There’s a good deal more to be said about these fellers, but this post is getting too long. See you next century.

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The Bad Boys of Protestatism

The Sixteenth-Century Reformation pivoted on two points. The first point was about authority. What is the final authority on which we rest to know what God would have us believe about him and to know what God requires us to do? Please note the italics on FINAL. Also, please note the CAPS on final… okay, I’ll stop now. The Protestants held to church authority and to the authority of tradition, but held that the final court of appeal for both church authority and tradition was the Scripture alone – hence, the famous Reformation slogan sola scriptura. The Roman Catholics rejected the principle of sola scriptura not because they supposed the Bible was uninspired or full of errors. Not at all. The Roman Catholic view of what the Bible is is very similar to the historic Protestant view (indeed, the historic Christian view – inspired and inerrant). It is the Roman Catholic view of how the Bible functions that is significantly different. According to Rome, the Bible is one deposit of divine revelation. Church tradition is another source of revelation. In the Bible, we have the written apostolic traditions and teachings. Additionally, in the traditions of the church, we have the unwritten traditions and teachings. These two sources, in Roman Catholic thought, together form the fullness of divine revelation. Thus, the final appeal of a Protestant is to the Bible alone, but the final appeal of a Roman Catholic is to the written and/or unwritten tradition: the Bible and tradition. Okay, that’s the first pivot point of the Reformation, and the second flows directly from it.

The second pivot point is the doctrine of justification. Martin Luther’s reputed to have said that this doctrine is the one on which the church stands or falls. Whether he actually said that or not, I think that his teaching and life testify that he thought it true. So, what’s the deal with justification? Why is it so important and can someone please explain to me (in simple terms) how Rome and Protestantism differ on it? I’m here for you, baby. I got yer back. I’ll do for you, but in reverse order. First, I’ll (in simple terms) explain the difference. Second, I’ll appeal to a couple biblical texts on which the Protestant doctrine is founded. Finally, I’ll say a couple of words (few but profound) as to why this doctrine is so important. So, go get a beer or glass of wine (maybe even have a backup round on deck), get comfy, and let’s see if we can’t make some sense out of this.

Roman Catholicism maintains that justification is “the transforming of the sinner from the state of unrighteousness to the state of holiness and sonship of God.” For the RCC, justification is actual transformation of a sinner into a state of holiness. Justification is a process, which, according to the Council of Trent, involves “sanctification and renovation of the interior man.” So, for Rome, justification is a process by which God works in sinners to make them holy, which necessarily includes both the inner disposition of a person as well as his works or actions which flow from that disposition.

>Protestants have historically held to what is articulated by the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A #33 (slightly modernized by Captain Studly, here):

What is justification? Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone.

Let’s unpack that briefly: Justification is an act (as opposed to a process). It’s an act that consists of two things: 1) A complete pardon of sins, and 2) a divine accepting of us as righteous in his sight. These two things can be stated even more succinctly: 1) not guilty before God, and 2) counted completely righteous before God. Neither God’s pardon nor his accepting us as righteous are based upon our own righteousness, but upon Jesus Christ’s perfect righteousness. His perfect righteousness is “imputed” or accounted to us. Imputation is opposed to an actual impartation or infusion of righteousness into the person. Thus, in the Protestant view of justification there’s no process of actually making the sinner holy. The Protestant doctrine of salvation certainly includes personal righteousness and eventual perfection in righteousness. Salvation certainly includes good works and living a converted life before God and man. While those things are included in the broader doctrine of salvation, they are necessarily excluded from the narrow and specific consideration of justification. Finally, this wonderful blessing of pardon and imputed righteousness is received by the sinner though faith alone. So, again, relative to justification specifically, the Protestant view excludes all human works and efforts.

Okay, if you were able to make it though that, then the question comes down to which one of these views is true. I’d suggest you pick up a Bible and read Romans 3-4 and Galatians 2-3 for starters. Here’s a taste:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” Rom. 4:1-8


We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law,because by works of the law no one will be justified. Gal. 2:15-16

So, we know that Protestants and Catholics are still divided over these issues. These debates are at least five hundred years old, but are they still relevant? I say they are absolutely relevant and still wildly important. How we relate to God and how we view ourselves are tied in very tightly to our view of justification. If justification is a process that includes our works, then it has us looking (at least in part) to ourselves and our own efforts to attain it. If justification is a simple act of God, then it has us look to Christ completely; it has us seeking our “forgiveness and righteousness before God” in Christ alone, and not in our own actions at all. Simply, the Roman Catholic teaching mixes up Christ and ourselves in justification. The Protestant teaching sets up Christ as quite distinct from us. His righteousness isn’t infused into us, it is simply counted to us, and that through faith alone. We trust Christ and, in him, we’re justified. It’s that simple. More aspects of salvation flow from justification, which Rome also includes under the rubric of justification. Protestants, following the biblical language, keep these other aspects distinct from justification, but affirm that they always come with justification. To the point, we know that justification is not according to our works or efforts, but that it’s a simple divine pardon and an accepting of us as righteous before God. God’s declaring a sinner to be righteous is in his grace alone, based upon Christ alone, and is received by faith alone. Hence a few other Reformation slogans: sola gratia, solus Christus, et sola fide.

Soli Deo gloria

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I’m pleased to pass along a short article on the early church at Rome from John Bugay at Beggars All. Pastor Lane Keister mentioned this over at Green Baggins, which I appreciate. Thanks, Pastor. Here’s Bugay’s summary statement:

I believe that every Christian who cares about the historical nature of his faith ought to be extremely grateful for the detailed picture of early Christian worship in the city of Rome, through a network of house churches, [secretive to evade persecution], without the leadership of single leader or publicly known bishop, naming only Christ as their Shepherd.

Give ‘er a read. It will help you see that the Roman Catholic claims of an early bishopric of Peter are suspect at very best. Bugay also comments that the early churches in Rome were patterned closely on the inherited synagogue model, which is something akin to what I’ve argued as well. Go and check it out… good stuff.

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