December 13, 2017

Jason Stellman: I Fought the Church and the Church Won

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Communion of the Apostles, Fra Angelico

Note from CM: This week we are featuring stories of friends who found their way into the Roman Catholic church. The post-evangelical journey takes many different forms, and this is one of them. Michael Spencer himself experienced this in his family when his wife Denise converted to Catholicism, and you will find many articles in the archives (one of which we’ll run this week) recording his reactions. This week will also feature some of our own writers talking about how Catholicism has provided a spiritual home for them.

To complement these stories, for artwork we will feature the stunning San Marco Frescos of Fra Angelico (c. 1395 – February 18, 1455).

Today, we welcome Jason Stellman. We mentioned his story and the dust it has raised in Reformed circles on Saturday Ramblings the other day. I was so impressed by what I read of Jason that I asked his permission to share his journey with the IM community. This particular post was also featured on Called to Communion, a website that is devoted to telling the stories and sharing the thoughts of people who “arrived in the Catholic Church in diverse ways but through a similar path involving spiritual formation within the Reformed tradition of confessional Protestantism.”

Jason blogs at Creed Code Cult.

StellmanI Fought the Church and the Church Won
by Jason Stellman

Part of me has wished for a while now that I was born early enough to have been a fan of The Clash back in the Seventies. The first song I ever heard by them (several years after its release) was their cover of Sonny Curtis’s hit, the chorus of which goes, “I fought the law, and the law won.” Despite being a fairly law-abiding guy, I can relate to being on the losing side of a battle, only mine was not against the law, but against the Church.

As many of you know, I recently resigned from my pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church in America (you can read my resignation letter here, as well as some clarifying posts here and here). My stated reasons for stepping down were that I could no longer in good conscience uphold my ordination vow that as a PCA minister I sincerely accept the Westminster Confession and Catechisms as containing the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture. More specifically, I no longer see the Reformed doctrines of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide as faithfully reflecting what the Bible teaches, which is why I will, Lord willing, be received into full communion with the Catholic Church sometime in the next several months.

The purpose of this piece is not to unpack those claims in detail (there will be plenty of time for that in the future), but rather to provide a little more insight into the process that led up to my resignation, as well as to respond briefly to those who have sought to analyze me and the supposed internal psychological factors that must have led to my making such a drastic decision.

St. Dominic, Mocking of Christ (detail), Fra Angelico

St. Dominic, Mocking of Christ (detail), Fra Angelico

The Lure of Rome?

One of the things I found especially curious (slash bemusing, slash maddening) while reading the diagnoses of my volunteer analysts was the fact that my being drawn to, or lured by, Rome was simply assumed, and that the only real question was what, exactly, was it that ultimately did it. Was it some positive aspect of Catholicism that appealed to me, or was it a nagging drawback of Protestantism that finally proved to be the deal-breaker?

Now, I realize that I went into a period of radio silence during the weeks following my resignation (one that was not exactly self-imposed, but that has turned out to be a blessing), and that this created something of a vacuum that invited speculation on the part of some. But now that I am no longer “off the grid,” I would like to clear something up once and for all:

Catholicism never held any allure for me, nor do I find it particularly alluring now.

Now to be honest there has always been an attraction of a “Wouldn’t-it-be-nice” or “stained-glass-windows-are-rad” variety, but when it came to an actual positive drawing to Rome or a negative driving away from Geneva, there has never been any such thing. In fact, since much of my theological output has been part of the public domain for so long (especially in the form of my preaching, teaching, and writing), this claim of mine can actually be proven. If anyone cares to go back and listen to or read what I was talking about right up until the day I was confronted with the claims of the Catholic Church as they relate to those of Protestantism, the inquirer will easily discover that I was about as staunchly confessional an Old School Presbyterian as anyone would want to meet. There was not even the slightest hint of discontent with my ecclesiastical identity, not a trace of longing for greater certitude, nor a smidgen of regret that my soteriology didn’t have enough works in it.

I will raise the pot even more: I wrote a book whose entire purpose was to demonstrate, in the highest and most attractive terms possible, how ironically boastworthy all the supposed disadvantages of amillennial Protestantism are. Messiness? Lack of infallible certitude? The need for faith over sight? Check, check, and check.

Further still, so far from longing for a type of kinder, gentler Catholicism that I could disguise in Reformed garb, I was the prosecutor in a doctrinal trial against a fellow minister in my presbytery for espousing views that I, and many others, considered dangerously close to being Catholic. No, there was never any desire to place human works anywhere but where the Reformed confessions say they belong: in the category of sanctification and never justification.

In a word, I was as happy and comfortable in my confessional Presbyterian skin as anyone, and the trust I had earned from many well-known and respected Reformed theologians, as well as having graduated with honors from one of the most confessionally staunch and academically rigorous Reformed seminaries in the nation, should be sufficient to dispel any notions that I never really understood Reformed theology in the first place or that I was always a Catholic in Protestant clothing.

Deposition from the Cross (detail), Fra Angelico

Deposition from the Cross (detail), Fra Angelico

Driven, Not Drawn

One of the things that made fighting against the claims of the Catholic Church so frustrating was that there was no single, knock-down-drag-out argument to refute; neither was there an isolated passage of Scripture or silver-bullet issue of theology to deal with. If it had been simply a matter of answering one specific challenge that came from a single direction, the battle would have been much easier to win. But as it happened, there were two distinct issues that were coming under attack (Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide), and the attacks were coming from multiple directions: the biblical, the historical, and, in the case of Sola Scriptura, the philosophical as well.

In the case of Sola Scriptura, I, as a self-described Reformed non-evangelical, considered the distinction between Solo- and Sola Scriptura as absolutely essential to my own spiritual identity. It was the evangelicals who were the heirs of Anabaptism, not the Reformed; it was the evangelicals who espoused “no creed but Christ,” not the Reformed; it was the evangelicals who interpreted the Bible in isolation from history and tradition, not the Reformed. Therefore as one can imagine, when I was confronted with Catholic claims that called this crucial distinction into question, it was a sucker-punch of epic proportions. Needless to say, my confessional brethren and I did not appreciate our ancestral city of Geneva being confused with Saddleback.

But the more I read and wrestled, the more I began to see that Geneva was not being “confused with” Saddleback at all; the two were just different sides of the same coin (or to be more precise with the metaphor, they were sister-cities in the same Protestant county). Readers of this site have no need for the arguments to be rehearsed here, so suffice it to say that, philosophically speaking, it became clear to me that Sola Scriptura could not provide a way to speak meaningfully about the necessary distinction between orthodoxy and heresy (or even between essentials and non-essentials); neither could it justify the 27-book New Testament canon, create the unity that that canon demands, or provide the means of avoiding the schism that that canon condemns.

Historically speaking, the idea that the written Word of God is formally sufficient for all things related to faith and practice, such that anyone of normal intelligence and reasonably good intentions could read it and deduce from it what is necessary for orthodoxy and orthopraxy, is not a position that I see reflected in the writings of the early Church fathers. While there are plenty of statements in their writings that speak in glowing terms about the qualitative uniqueness of Scripture, those statements, for them, do not do away with the need for Scripture to be interpreted by the Church in a binding and authoritative way when necessary.

This discovery in the church fathers is unsurprising if the same position can be found in the New Testament itself, which I now believe it can. To cite but one example, the Church in her earliest days was confronted with a question that Jesus had not addressed with any specificity or directness, namely, the question of Gentile inclusion in the family of God. In order to answer this question, the apostles and elders of the Church gathered together in council to hear all sides and reach a verdict. What is especially interesting about Luke’s account of the Jerusalem Council is the role that Scripture played, as well as the nature of the verdict rendered. Concerning the former, James’s citation of Amos is curious in that the passage in the prophet seems to have little to do with the matter at hand, and yet James cites Amos’s words about the tent of David being rebuilt to demonstrate that full Gentile membership in the Church fulfills that prophecy. Moreover, Scripture functioned for the Bishop of Jerusalem not as the judge that settled the dispute, but rather as a witness that testified to what settled it, namely, the judgment of the apostles and elders. Rather than saying, “We agree with Scripture,” he says in effect, “Scripture agrees with us” (v. 15, 19). And finally, when the decision is ultimately reached, it is understood by the apostles and elders not as an optional and fallible position with which the faithful may safely disagree if they remain biblically unconvinced, but rather as an authoritative and binding pronouncement that was bound in heaven even as it was on earth (v. 28). Despite some superficial similarities, no existing Protestant denomination with an operating norm of Sola Scriptura can replicate the dynamic, or claim the authority of the Jerusalem Council (or of Nicaea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon for that matter). The fact that the Bible’s own example of how Church courts operate was hamstrung by Protestantism’s view of biblical authority was something I began to find disturbingly ironic.

Moving on to Sola Fide, I found myself wrestling with this issue from both a historical and biblical perspective as well, and this is what ultimately proved to be the coup de grâce for me as a Protestant. As long as I believed that Catholicism mucked up the gospel so severely, its arguments about authority remained merely annoying, like a stone in my shoe that I would eventually get used to (after all, better to be unauthoritatively right about justification than authoritatively wrong about it). But when I began to dig into the issue more deeply and seek to understand Rome on its own terms, I began to experience what some have referred to as a “paradigm crisis.” A severe one.

As a Protestant minister, I had always operated under the assumption that the fullest treatment of the gospel, and of justification in particular, came from the apostle Paul, and that the rest of what the New Testament had to say on these issues should be filtered through him. But as I began to investigate again things that I had thought were long-settled for me, I began to discover just how problematic that hermeneutical approach really was. If justification by faith alone was indeed “the article on which the church stands or falls,” as Reformed theology claimed, then wouldn’t we expect it to have been taught by Jesus himself, somewhere? Moreover, wouldn’t John have taught it, too? And Peter, and James? Shoot, wouldn’t Paul himself have taught the imputation of alien righteousness somewhere outside of just two of his thirteen epistles?

Having realized that I was using a few select (and hermeneutically debatable) passages from Romans and Galatians as the filter through which I understood everything else the New Testament had to say about salvation, I began to conclude that such an approach was as arbitrary as it was irresponsible. I then sought to identify a paradigm, or simple statement of the gospel, that provided more explanatory value than Sola Fide did. As I hope to unpack in more detail eventually, I have come to understand the gospel in terms of the New Covenant gift of the Spirit, procured through the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, who causes fruit to be borne in our lives by reproducing the image of the Son in the adopted children of the Father. If love of God and neighbor fulfills the law, and if the fruit of the Spirit is love, having been shed abroad by the Spirit in our hearts, then it seems to follow that the promise of the gospel is equivalent with the promise of the New Covenant that God’s law will no longer be external to the believer, but will be written upon his mind and heart, such that its righteous demands are fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. And again unsurprisingly, when I turned to the early Church fathers, and especially Augustine, it was this very understanding of the gospel that I encountered over and over again.

Communion detail

Communion of the Apostles (detail)

Conclusion

While the case for the Catholic Church may not be immediately obvious or easily winnable, the fact remains that Rome’s claims are philosophically compelling, historically plausible, and biblically persuasive. Yet despite the claims of most Reformed believers who, when wrestling with the issue of people like me leaving Geneva for the supposedly-greener pastures of Rome, insist that such a move betrays a “quest for illegitimate religious certainty,” the fact is that if it is a sense of personal and psychological certitude that one is searching for, Catholicism will more than likely disappoint. Ironically enough, Protestantism provides more certitude for the seeker than Catholicism does, since the ultimate basis for the truthfulness of its claims is one’s agreement with one’s self and one’s own interpretation of Scripture. But if what you are searching for is not subjective certitude but the Church that Jesus founded, the Catholic Church’s case for being that Church, when harkened to with charity, humility, and faith seeking understanding, is as compelling as it is disruptive.

And make no mistake, the Catholic Church is disruptive. It is audacious and confrontational, sucker-punching and line-in-the-sand drawing. Like the Lion Aslan from C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, it is not a tame Church, and will make no promise not to devour and discomfit its subjects as they partake of its life-giving water, causing them to constantly bend the knee and cede their worldly wisdom to the foolishness of the cross. In the words of Aslan to Jill, who expressed fear about letting down her guard to drink from the water by which he stood, “There are no other streams.” Or the words of Peter to Jesus when asked if the Twelve would forsake Him because of His difficult and demanding message, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

The Catholic Church, wistfully alluring? Hardly. Tidy and tame? Not by a long shot, for once discovered it demands that the seeker relinquish the one thing above all others that offers him confidence, namely, his own autonomy. In fact, submitting oneself to the authority of the Catholic Church is the most harrowing experience a person will ever endure, which is why the suggestion that converts from Geneva to Rome are simply opting for a feel-good, fairy-tale romance betraying an “over-realized eschatology” and desire to skip blissfully down the yellow-brick road to heaven, utterly trivializes the entire ordeal.

In a word, I fought the Church, and the Church won. And what it did was beat me, but it didn’t draw me, entice me, or lure me by playing upon some deep, latent psychosis or desire on my part for something Protestantism just couldn’t provide. Catholicism went from being so obviously ridiculous that it wasn’t even worth bothering to oppose, to being something whose claims were so audacious that I couldn’t help opposing them. But what it never was, was attractive, and in many ways it still isn’t.

But what Catholicism is, I have come to discover, is true.

Comments

  1. “If justification by faith alone was indeed “the article on which the church stands or falls,” as Reformed theology claimed, then wouldn’t we expect it to have been taught by Jesus himself, somewhere?”

    As if when Paul wrote his epistles, Jesus was not involved.

    Why do you think Jesus chose Paul AFTER all the others?

    Peter didn’t really didn’t get it, before Paul. He was busy trying to make people Jews first, before they could become Christians.

    Re-read the Sermon on the Mount if you must have something directly out of the mouth of Jesus and see how it is that you are up to the task of what the law demands.

    Christ +, is really nothing new. The Reformed have it, too. The Catholics are just a bit more open about their additions to Christ, but when you boil it down, there is still some room left for the sinner to add on what he wills.

    Christ alone, is just too scary for so many.

    And that is understandable.

    • Steve…this isn’t helpful. You’ve seemed to have added “must comment first” or “correct” as your second half of “Jesus +”.

      Please…

      • I comment as soon as I read the post.

        Is there something wrong with that?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        All that means is he camps out on the website looking for a new post so he can have the first comment.

        • Because “Jesus + Correct the Post”. Gotta be sure the first thing people say is the “right” way of thinking. With a convenient link to the Thought Leader, if possible.

          That’s all I’m saying. It’s weary.

          • One of the biggest red flags I have when approaching a ministry or a church or a teacher is how many people following him/it say “I never heard truth until now”, “everyone else teaches wrong”, “I’ve finally found what’s right”.

            I get a huge vibe of that from “theoldadamdotcom”.

          • Should be “see” above, not “say”.

          • What we really need is a “Like” button that only God can click. That way we’ll really know who is right ; )

    • Kent Haley says:

      The problem is Paul never used the words “faith alone.” “Alone” is a reformation addition.

      • Christiane says:

        most people don’t realize that this is true

      • The problem is that people don’t realize (when we read what the Bible says about faith and works) that we ARE saved by faith…alone.

        • Except James. That nasty little bit won’t seem to go away.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Didn’t Luther try to remove James from the NT canon BECAUSE James conflicted with “Justification by FAITH Alone”?

          • “The epistle of straw.” He ended up including it (felt more compelled to submit to the church’s tradition) but placed at the back of his translation of the Bible, and refused to number it (as he did the other NT books) along with Revelation, and I think Jude and 2 Peter. I might not have that list quite right.

          • Maybe Luther only had 99 good ideas.

          • Yes, but don’t for a minute believe that carries any weight with Lutherans. We fully accept the book of James and easily harmonize ch.2 v.24 with sola fide.

          • Luther did accept the Book of James as part of the Bible. He did call it “an epistle of straw”. He did say that he didn’t see a lot of gospel in there…but that he would keep on looking.”

        • Randy Thompson says:

          You cannot separate faith and works. Faith is no faith at all if it does not motivate our actions and shape our lives. Works are faith made visible for the world to see. Jesus said, “By their fruit you shall know them. . . ” This applies here, I think. “Fruit” reveals the heart, and the heart is the home of faith. If no one is home, there can be no fruit to be seen. Galatians and James are two sides of the same coin, and you cannot make two separate coins of these letters, despite Luther.

          • It’s funny, but I often see the most works out of people with no faith. When the atheists and agnostics and the nones demonstrate better fruit of the spirit…what’s left?

          • Stuart B,
            It’s funny, but I actually see the exact opposite. Sure I know good people who are atheists and agnostics, but when it comes to actively being out in the world seeking to do charity and help others, the vast majority are people of faith.

          • Also, faith is not “faith that works can’t save.” That is justification by justification by faith. Faith is that “Jesus is Lord and God raised him from the dead.”

            Faith is not “I’m saved by grace, not by my works.” That is not faith.

            Faith, therefore, can and should go beyond the interior commitment that it makes. Those who approached Jesus for healing were commended for their faith. We’re not given much of a window into some “faith commitment” they made, but apparently but all Jesus needed was to see them approaching. He then commended their “faith.”

            I had a pastor once try to tell me that by commending the faith of the bleeding woman, he was trying to head off her “legalism.” Because she was in danger of believing that her approaching Jesus was a “work” by which she was saved. Instead of by “faith alone,” that infinitely fine parsing of interior of commitment away from anything exterior or behavioral.

            That pastor’s interpretation is just bogus. It’s just nowhere in the text. It also demeans the broken state, and the approach of, those who come to Jesus for help. “Faith alone,” whatever merit it has, does not help us by drawing a sharp dividing line between the interior disposition of the heart and the exterior work. That’s just a false distinction. The distinction is between the believer’s approach to Christ, and an approach to say, the local witch doctor. Or the tome of official dogma. It’s just not designed as an interior/exterior distinction.

    • Apparently Peter did get it though, first of all the apostles (Acts 10-11). He lapsed, and Paul had to correct him, but he got it.

      Jesus didn’t teach sola fide because he was dealing with the whole of the human condition, not atomizing one particular problem and then canonizing the particular “hammer” for it, and then defining every other problem in sight as a “nail,” to be pounded with his sola fide hammer. Like we tend to do. Note: Paul does not do this, but protestants do it with Paul.

      And this is why the preoccupation with calling everyone “works righteous” or “legalistic” anytime they do anything, or have any sort of moral/ethical demand, has lost its shine for me. It’s more or less the constant refrain from every corner of protestantism that I have ever encountered (Lutheran, charismatic, baptist, Reformed). It’s the stock criticism of everyone we disagree with, be they Roman Catholic, fundamentalist, atheist, or liberal.

      Everyone but me is “religious” where as I’ve discovered the secret of “authentic relationship.” And it’s sola fide, or magic personal spiritual experiences, or whatever.

      You’d think the problem of human sin has been boiled down to a matter of rule-following. Jesus just didn’t do this. That’s why so many protestants underweight his words and life (until the cross). Ever finer distinctions between what it means to be “saving yourself by your own effort” as opposed to “obeying from the heart, knowing that you’re saved by grace.” Jesus just didn’t do this, and that’s not good enough for a gospel that demands the centrality of sola fide.

      • “Everyone but me is “religious” where as I’ve discovered the secret of “authentic relationship.” And it’s sola fide, or magic personal spiritual experiences, or whatever.”

        Echoes of gnosticism.

      • Yes, sola vide is the reason why Protestants are uncomfortable with Jesus’ teaching. This I find very ironic and sad, it is believing in a doctrine about Christ without knowing or acknowledging Christ.

  2. It’s also instructive to look at what Catholic Fathers said (long before Luther and Calvin) about justification by faith alone:

    http://theoldadam.com/2011/06/24/long-before-luther/

    I learned something from those quotes.

    • Thanks for this, Steve

    • Every link you post is from the same source. It’s grown old. Same as people always having to refer back to Westminster Confessions or Luther or whomever in order for their to be some “thought leadership”.

      Why should I click that link? Why should I trust it as anything more than one man’s or one ministry’s views on a subject that are constantly being presented to me/us as ex cathedra?

      • Don’t read them, then.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Every link you post is from the same source. It’s grown old.

        Sola Scriptura?

        • Patrick Kyle says:

          HUG,

          Really? Steve was just showing that the ‘Tradition’ also teaches what the Scriptures do in regard to justification by faith.

      • Patrick Kyle says:

        His link is to a list of Patrsitic references showing that justification by faith was taught by the early church fathers. But why should I expect those who don’t listen to the Scriptures to listen to the tradition of the Church when it agrees with the Scriptures?

  3. “Yet despite the claims of most Reformed believers who, when wrestling with the issue of people like me leaving Geneva for the supposedly-greener pastures of Rome, insist that such a move betrays a “quest for illegitimate religious certainty,” the fact is that if it is a sense of personal and psychological certitude that one is searching for, Catholicism will more than likely disappoint. Ironically enough, Protestantism provides more certitude for the seeker than Catholicism does, since the ultimate basis for the truthfulness of its claims is one’s agreement with one’s self and one’s own interpretation of Scripture.”

    I think I get what you are trying to describe here. But I’d change or nuance the statement.

    Let us start with Protestantism. [A necessary aside: I think you and your detractors may really mean evangelicalism, or even Reformed Protestantism specifically, when you/they say “Protestant.” Your statement makes a lot less sense applied to, say, Anglicans or Quakers.] You state, “[Reformed?] Protestantism provides more certitude for the seeker . . . since the ultimate basis for the truthfulness of its claims is one’s agreement with one’s self and one’s own interpretation of Scripture.”

    This depends. [Reformed] Protestantism provides certainty to the seeker, when she is able to accept the presuppositions necessary to believing the text of Scripture conveys clear meaning, and that she is able to interpret it adequately and authoritatively for herself, without or against tradition. If the seeker begins to doubt one or more of the necessary presuppositions that undergird this outlook, then this certainty evaporates quickly. [Reformed] Protestant claims often foster a very high degree of certainty, that is carefully guarded, but once you knock it down, it’s really down.

    On Catholicism, you write, “if it is a sense of personal and psychological certitude that one is searching for, Catholicism will more than likely disappoint.” I’ve known many conservative Catholics who assert certitude and consider it a selling point for Catholicism. They marshal the authority of tradition and particular enclyclicals not too unlike a [Reformed] Protestant citing scripture. Notably, a vocal subset of these are evangelical converts to Catholicism, who are carrying dispositions about text reading from Protestantism into Catholicism. It is also my experience that evangelicals who convert to Catholicism have frequently figured out that their certainties are fragile inside the evangelical hermeneutic and are relying on an additional layer of authority in the form tradition and a magisterium to replace it. Same project, new sources.

    My observation has been that Catholicism does provide certainty to some people who are trying to find it in Scripture + tradition + authority – just as [Reformed] Protestantism provides to others on the basis of Scripture + me or Scripture + me + my favorite Confession/s. For others, certainty is elusive in one or both contexts. That has a lot to do with the person’s personality and beliefs about knowledge, history, and other topics. However, one difference between the reformed/Roman Catholic milieus is that Catholicism tolerates uncertainties much better; my experience is that many evangelical communities, including (especially?) Reformed ones, tend to view it with much greater suspicion. One KNOWS all or KNOWS nothing; one is IN or one is OUT. Catholicism is so much more focused on process and becoming that grey area is assumed to exist within knowledge and experience.

    • Regarding greater toleration of uncertainties: The institutions of Catholicism are also so much vaster and older and more sure of themselves, if one may put it that way, that there is more room for individuals to exist without calling down the censure of the big machinery, precisely because individuals rarely can pose a great threat to something so massive and ancient. But it hasn’t always been that way in Roman Catholicism, and on the occasions when an individual does call attention to themselves by public attention, that huge institution can be quite unyielding and intolerant, and methodical, in neutralizing the threat.

      One should also take into account that there is a built in institutional intolerance within Roman Catholicism that excludes many by definition. For instance, as a man married to a previously divorced wife, I’m excluded from participating in the sacramental life of Roman Catholicism. No religious police reside at the altar keeping me from taking Holy Communion, it’s true, but that’s mostly the result of the practical institutional impossibility of monitoring so many people, and the local laxness of clergy in enforcing the rules. But the rules are clearly stated in the documents and teaching of the RCC, and those of us who are conscientious in respecting the inner demands of a faith tradition, whether we share them or not [and there are many of us], recognize that we are not tolerated at that altar, and we are not welcome.

      • I think it odd that at the Lord’s supper that was given to the first were all sinners and one was going to deny Him three times and who knows what the others were all thinking and this was before the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s kindness to sinners, all sinners adulterers, drunkards, pious know it alls and greedy tax collectors just to name a few would put me in a quandary to why we would put such restrictions on our delivery of communion given that none of us are righteous enough to stand alone.

        Again I am not looking for rationalizations given and heard by me many times on the Catholic radio channel. I don’t even care to debate those points as there is no profit. Some of the dearest friends in my heart are Catholic and I so love them as I do across all the different lines.

        What surprises me in the quotes I read from the early church fathers posted by Steve is the lack of the word love and how it is relational to faith. He loved us first. I can’t see how the two can be separated. If He poured out His love isn’t it that led us to love and then faith. When we love and are faithful finally to some degree are not these working within our lives. Doesn’t this in the pouring out work not in others lives as it was meant to under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Everything for me boils down to love. It was love that makes the way and changes our hearts. How else could he write upon them.

        The hardest thing for me is to live to the eternal life now and stop looking at things like a man which sees only half. Paul in his radical way was always way out there for me and I always thought who could live like that the man is crazy. Now look what he’s done I am getting crazy too and how thankful I am for such a man.

        • “What surprises me in the quotes I read from the early church fathers posted by Steve is the lack of the word love and how it is relational to faith. He loved us first. I can’t see how the two can be separated.”

          Steve’s list of quotes are basically one or two sentence proof texts drawn from larger documents. You can be sure those documents do reflect on love.

          “If He poured out His love isn’t it that led us to love and then faith. When we love and are faithful finally to some degree are not these working within our lives. Doesn’t this in the pouring out work not in others lives as it was meant to under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Everything for me boils down to love. It was love that makes the way and changes our hearts. How else could he write upon them.”

          Whoa, well put!

      • Yes. When I wrote about uncertainties, I was narrowly commenting upon uncertainty within the experience of a professing Catholic. For example, I have a friend (catholic convert) who felt that her own doubts or skepticism could basically coexist with Catholic practice. She did not feel that way about evangelicalism, which she thought told her that doubt was a fundamental problem, and that wanted her to sign on the dotted line about all kinds of propositions she wouldn’t go along with. You can basically do the right things in Catholicism and nobody interrogates your interior, subjective experience that much. One thing I find to be about liturgical, sacramental traditions (in general) is along the same lines: I find it possible to separate faithful participation from my success at holding particular ideas my head or feeling in particular ways, at any given moment.

        If we change the topic to who is allowed at the table, disciplinary rules are not pliable (even if people circumvent them). Maybe the way to put this is that nobody is going to ask too many questions about your doubts about a rule; however, you have to follow the rule.

        I’ve never been quite sure what this means for intentional, informed dissent. On one hand, functionally catholicism is such a big ship that (when its not running an inquisition) it can tolerate any random person not towing the party line. As long as they are following the rules and practicing, everybody’s happy. All the hierarchy really needs to do is hand slap its errant leadership (Hans Kung comes to mind). On the other hand, there does seem to be a kind of obligation to try to be on board as much as one can be with what his taught. As a potential convert, who could always get to about 80 percent or 90 percent compliance, but not the remaining 10 percent (but who understands the ideas and the requirements fully), I’ve never been certain whether that would rend me morally innocent or clearly culpable. I know what the church teaches on X; I know all the arguments; I’m just not going along, and have no reason to think this will change soon (I’ve already spent inordinate amounts of time on the questions). So what role, conscience? The question has always made me cagey about conversion. I take obligations seriously, so I don’t take on obligations that I know ahead of time I won’t comply with.

        It is quite clear that what Catholic rules means for discipline. And this topic is within the ~10/20 percent where I am dissident. I have great reservation about the fact that certain rules seem to come at a great cost to people. All ideas and systems must be evaluated by who who pays the cost for them and what the price is – even if they don’t cut against one’s self. So even though I can easily pass disciplinary muster (except perhaps on birth control), when it comes to homosexuality or persons who are divorced/remarried, I feel I must consider my own case identical. My own ability to meet the requirements due merely to accidents of biography; also, I think something like solidarity is required of me. As I probably said at some point last week, if there is not room at the table for others, I must consider it apiece as there not being room for me. This is because I won’t admit to the difference – it is also because I feel ought to support there being space where others can exist, as well.

        • *Maybe the way to put this is that nobody is going to ask too many questions about your doubts; however, you have to follow the rules.

          *…apiece TO there not being room….

        • *One thing I find to be SALUTARY about liturgical, sacramental traditions (in general) is along the same lines…

          (Sorry, you can tell I wrote this in haste. Much worse than my usual proofreading fails!)

        • I agree with you evaluation of the lack of intrusion into one’s interior life, but I am not so sure that the motives are as benign of that it is even the best thing.

          I imagine that there is a certain level of almost political motivation going on sometimes. Candidate “x” doesn’t really even care if you understand his or her positions. They just want your vote. I think there is also something similar going on in a lot of churches. Surely there are other more nurturing and accepting motivations at play, but I do not doubt that something akin to my example id going on quite often.

          I also don’t know that leaving people to their own devices to the degree that some churches do is to everyone’s benefit. I would not advocate intruding into someone’s private thoughts, but even having an atmosphere where it was known that you and your thoughts were welcome would raise opportunities for mutual learning and discussion in general.

          The attitude in many places of holding the party line is quite unhealthy, but I don’t think either group is has a different view just a different approach. One group follows a sort of don’t ask don’t tell policy and the other asks, but slams dissent, which would likely happen in the first group if they were to tell.

  4. Faulty O-Ring says:

    This is bewildering. How on earth does one get from the premise that the 1st century Jerusalem church decided things through councils, to the conclusion that the modern Roman Catholic Church is the one true church? Why not Eastern Orthodoxy, or Oriental Orthodoxy? For that matter, the true church might be thought to have perished at Jerusalem, unless one can articulate some theory as to how authority proceeded from there to Rome (or Byzantium, or wherever). If church authority is local, for example, then in theory any group of Christians might organize their own council, and interpret scripture with the same creative exegetical spirit (and from there it is not a big leap to Mormonism or Pentecostalism, or any denomination that you like). If the idea is that there exists an unbroken continuity between Christ and his disciples on one hand, and the papacy on the other, then this is historically tedentious, and in any case fails to distinguish Catholic from Orthodox, or Anglican, conciliarism.

    • Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism make contending claims to the same apostolic authority. Standing before them, one is presented with a personal choice that’s quite protestant in character, since it boils down to which church one thinks, based on ones own personally and prayerfully developed criteria, has the more authentic claim. Unless one believes the claims of neither…

      • I dunno. I think Orthodoxy is much more keen to recognize the legitimacy of Rome as a church than vice versa. An over-reaching church, to be sure, but since Orthodoxy is comprised of various geographical churches, Rome was originally one of the group, and to them, may still be.

        • Rome already recognizes the Orthodox Communion as ” the Church,” but many Orthodox Communions question whether the Catholic Communion is “the Church.” The same document that states that Protestant groups are “ecclesial communities,” states that the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Communions are “the Church,” in an imperfect union. That document angers a lot of people, but it also makes it very clear that members of Protestant Communions are true Christians, our brothers and sisters in Christ, recipients of grace and that they are as likely as Catholics to enter heaven.

          The Catholic Church would agree that the Orthodox have 1) true apostolic authority, 2) a valid priesthood and lineage of bishops, and 3) a true Eucharist. If I remember correctly it is those three qualities that are required by the Catholic definition of “Church.”

          • Like Rick, I’ve always been under the impression that Rome wants to make up, but that Orthodoxy is unimpressed. They seem to want ecumenical meetings, and then come to the table with, “So, have you conceded yet to our excellent points? No? That’s OK, we’ll explain them again.”

            But as an outsider observer, no doubt I’m missing significant nuance. I’m curious to hear any contrary impressions.

  5. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    “If justification by faith alone was indeed “the article on which the church stands or falls,” as Reformed theology claimed, then wouldn’t we expect it to have been taught by Jesus himself, somewhere? Moreover, wouldn’t John have taught it, too? And Peter, and James? Shoot, wouldn’t Paul himself have taught the imputation of alien righteousness somewhere outside of just two of his thirteen epistles?”

    THIS. And the qausi-wars fought over achieving the ‘purest’ from of JBF… and then the boldness to accuse others of hair-splitting.

    “Protestantism provides more certitude for the seeker than Catholicism does, since the ultimate basis for the truthfulness of its claims is one’s agreement with one’s self and one’s own interpretation of Scripture.”

    Wow. I have never heard it stated so succinctly, so clearly.

    • Patrick Kyle says:

      “If justification by faith alone was indeed “the article on which the church stands or falls,” as Reformed theology claimed, then wouldn’t we expect it to have been taught by Jesus himself, somewhere? Moreover, wouldn’t John have taught it, too? And Peter, and James? Shoot, wouldn’t Paul himself have taught the imputation of alien righteousness somewhere outside of just two of his thirteen epistles?”

      Really? What about the Gospel of John? How many times in the Gospels does Jesus say ‘Your faith has saved you.’? More than a couple.

      ” Shoot, wouldn’t Paul himself have taught the imputation of alien righteousness somewhere outside of just two of his thirteen epistles?” Yeah he did. Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians. The author of Hebrews does too. I think that whole paragraph is very disingenuous. How many times does our Lord or His Apostle’s have to say something for it to be true? Stellman here sound like he’s doing theology by statistics. Something is ‘more’ true or binding the more times Jesus or the Apostle say it, and we can ignore or deny the stuff they say only a few times.

  6. Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

    What would happen if the problem of the “Two and A Half Churches” went completely away? Would that convince anybody here? The OO are very close to full communion with the EO, and the OO are almost as close to rapprochement with the RC as well.

    There is some uncertainty about the Chaldeans, who may or may not be Nestorians, but what would happen if the RC, the EO, and the OO got together and said “OK, we’ve settled our differences. Now, if you want to be a Christian, what excuse do you have for not being in communion with us?”

    • Oh, it would convince some, but it would not remove the underlying reality of the choice to be made, based on personally developed criteria, though it might occlude the presence of that choice.

    • And it would not undo the fact that, for all those previous centuries, that choice had to be made, either actively or passively.

    • flatrocker says:

      Absolutely diabolical and we’ll not stand for it!

      Now if we unite around the Reformed….well let’s grab a cup of coffee and talk.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      “Members of the Orthodox churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Polish National Catholic Church are urged to respect the discipline of their own churches. According to Roman Catholic discipline, the Code of Canon Law does not object to the reception of Communion by Christians of these churches” (canon 844 § 3).

      The two or thee ‘historical’ church tradition causes me little intellectual grief. It seem eminently human to me, nearly unavoidable given the histories. And outside of communities where religion+ethnicity have become political identity plays – mostly by dealing in the Historical Grievance card – the relationship is more formal and civil than the relationships between the myriad Protestant sects [and likely there will be four more Protestant sects created this week]. The history of the western east is burned by many Ancien-like, or even Uber-Ancien, regimes; the historical baggage inherited from those continues to burden both sides long after the relationship between Church and State is [formally?] sundered.

      Modern Catholic texts are very generous regarding the Orthodox Church[es]: “Both have valid holy orders and apostolic succession through the episcopacy, both celebrate the same sacraments, both believe almost exactly the same theology, and both proclaim the same faith in Christ … It is again becoming possible to envision a time when the two communions will be united and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, fulfill their duty in bringing about Christ’s solemn desire and command ‘that they may be one'” – http://www.catholic.com/tracts/eastern-orthodoxy

      It is wonderful to read, regarding filioque [Yawn!]: “Many today, both Orthodox and Catholics, believe this controversy was a tempest in a teapot” I can recall so much time in Evangelical circles discussing in agonizing tedium having a precise “understanding” [yeah…] of The Trinity. That is one doctrine that can only be described as being a hair-knot of split-ends – a marvelous topic for debate among bishops and theologians when they gather together, and best left that in that room.

    • Faulty O-Ring says:

      I don’t see what difference it would make. The Uniate phenomenon doesn’t much impress EO people. Several Protestant denominations have formed out of the merger of smaller ones.

    • Faulty O-Ring says:

      And as a factual matter, EO / OO intercommunion may happen (and already does to some extent in the ME), but EO / RC reconciliation is another matter altogether, mainly due to EO hatred and suspicion of RC. Even EO / OO reconciliation would not much affect ordinary church life. From the OO perspective, it is only natural that Greece or Russia should have their own churches and church traditions. The impetus to harmonize them is coming mainly from EO theologians, who see the existence of OO as hazardous for their conciliar theology, since it demonstrates more or less conclusively that the findings of the ecumenical councils were not really accepted “everywhere” or “by all.” These days OO (and the Church of the East) have far more pressing concerns than theology.

      Meanwhile, didn’t the American Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans (or one group of them), and…I want to say Presbyterians…agree on a formula for joint ordinations etc. that would lead to full intercommunion among the mainlines?

    • Josh in FW says:

      Mule,

      My reaction to the re-unification of RC, EO, & OO would be to visit the nearest parish priest and enroll as a catechumen.

    • And I will remain with the Christians who allow my wife and I to receive communion, even though she was married previously and divorced before I met her. I know that there will be many like us, however many of you go over to the new RC/EO/OO body.

      • As I mentioned at 10:08, some of us who would stay put with you. Even if the switch seemed easy for me personally, all in the body are part of one another. I would have difficulty moving to a more exclusionary tradition with the knowledge that I am going to a location some who now share pews with me cannot easily or reasonably follow.

        I can always be convinced to show love and even affirmation of a tradition or set of ideas – but repudiating ideas or leaving behind people, that is another matter.

      • @Robert re: Communion…..

        Not fussing at you at all, but it seems to me that you are saying that you don’t want to be (or return to being) Catholic NOT because you think it isn’t true, but because its firm stance on marriage would make you and your wife unhappy???

        • I don’t believe the Catholic teaching regarding divorce and re-marriage is true, and I think the untruth of that teaching has made many people unhappy.

          • Jonathan Brumley says:

            IMO, it’s so important that the Church requires Christians to keep their promises of “until death do us part”. Marriage and families need to be permanent for the good of the spouses and the good of the children. When this permanency is not lived up to, it causes great harm to everyone involved. If the Church doesn’t teach this, then who will? Sometimes it seems no one else is defending the promises of marriage except for the Catholic Church.

            Before I became Catholic, I had also divorced my first wife and subsequently married another person. When I began to discern becoming Catholic, I had to face this fact of my life and Christ’s teaching about remarriage and adultery. I needed to know that I wasn’t committing adultery with my new wife.

            When forced to examine my previous marriage, I found out some things about it. When I had gotten married, I didn’t understand the indissolubility of marriage. Many people I knew had been divorced, and while tragic, I just thought of it as something that happens, you have to move on. I also didn’t understand that marriage has a purpose in formation of family – and that means promising to be open to life. Never intending to have children, my former marriage was based on contraception. We also used vows that we made up. For all these reasons, my original marriage was never a Christian marriage. To undertake marriage, you have to understand what you are promising, and those promises have to be the promises of marriage.

            But now that I am Catholic, I have a much better understanding of what I am promising in my marriage. The Church requires me (and my wife) to keep those promises. I must love her like Christ loves His Church. No matter what she does wrong, I am to love her – permanently, until death.

            It’s a solemn promise, but understand that the Church only requires those who Christians who have really made this promise to keep it. If your wife never understood that she was making a solemn promise to be faithful until death – no matter what – then she has a good reason to petition for an annulment should your family ever discern the Catholic Church.

          • My wife was a conservative evangelical, attending a conservative evangelical college; her first husband was studying for the ministry in that same college. They both had extremely conservative Christian understandings of the nature of marriage and its lifelong nature. That didn’t prevent him from suing for divorce in less than a year of marriage, although, if he hadn’t, she would have.

            There was mental cruelty, there was porneia, as Christ called it. There was a history of severe child abuse on the one side, and domineering patriarchy on the other. There was suicidal rage. There was an aftermath of rejection of my wife on the part of various Christian churches, since she was considered damaged divorced goods, and several stints as an inmate in psychiatric hospitals, and years of loneliness and depression.

            There is little doubt in my mind that if the history was trotted out for a Church tribunal, and if we could afford the money and time that such a thing required, an annulment would be granted. But if you think I’d ever suggest to my wife that she should reopen those painful, traumatic times and memories before a tribunal of strangers, who would sit in judgement of whether her former marriage was a real one or not, and whether she had to right to live a life free from the hell she experienced, you are sorely and sadly mistaken. Only a cruel monster would do such a thing to a woman who barely escaped with her life and mental health from a situation that nearly killed her. I do not expect this, Christ does not expect this, and any church that does can go to hell as far as I’m concerned.

          • Jonathan Brumley says:

            Robert,

            My previous marriage and divorce was certainly the greatest hurt I’ve ever experience, but I don’t know if it compares with your wife’s experience. I’m sorry she endured so much, and I hope you will be able to help her heal from that.

            Also, don’t get me wrong, I’m not at all saying what you should do. Unless you’re discerning the Catholic Church, then you’re not at all in my situation.

            I only responded because I don’t think you should see the annulment process as a terrible, unjust, obstacle, if you ever were to be in the situation I was in. The annulment process was my first experience with the Catholic Church, and I found mercy, grace, and healing. Yes, it hurt to dig into that old wound; but my wound had not healed right. I wasn’t expecting that, but that’s what I discovered.

            Joathan

          • Jonathan, I regret the last words I wrote in my last sentence. I want no one to go to hell.

            But there are traumas that cannot be measured or weighed by any official church panel. My wife has experienced such traumas, and for her the annulment process would be a gauntlet of re-opened and unleashed memories and wounds so traumatic that I wonder whether she would survive. I don’t believe God expects that of her, or of anyone with similar experiences.

            Peace

    • Confessional Anglicanism and Lutheranism stand just as good a chance of uniting. “We’ll take your bishops if you can say ‘in, with, and under.'”

  7. “The Catholic Church, wistfully alluring? Hardly. Tidy and tame? Not by a long shot, for once discovered it demands that the seeker relinquish the one thing above all others that offers him confidence, namely, his own autonomy.”

    This, in my experience, is an illusion. If one truly possesses autonomy, one cannot relinquish it. In deciding that the RCC is the truest church, Jason, even against your many preferences and proclivities,you exercised your autonomy to the maximal degree; and you will have to exercise it repeatedly, throughout your life, when you decide, again and again, whether to remain Roman Catholic or not.

    And to be clear: Autonomy, in this context, means that you must and are able to make the decision, that no one beside yourself can or will make it for you (no matter how much they may of may not influence you), and that you can and may unmake the decisions you’ve made for as long as you live, and are of sound mind. If you check, you will find that your autonomy is still there, with you, it did not go over to anyone, or anything, else; neither did you relinquish it. Your decision has put you in the RCC, and your decision has the ability to take you out of it again. That’s the nature of autonomy. Even if external religious compulsion were brought to play, in your interiority, you still would possess that same seed of autonomy. The only thing you cannot relinquish is that very autonomy, although one day decrepitude and death will take it from you, without asking your leave.

    • I think Jason is trying to describe a process that the Reformed dialect he’s been speaking doesn’t have words for. I trust the Holy Spirit is present in the process and will direct him over time to be able to express what he needs to in words we all understand. I agree with others who don’t understand the choice of RC over Orthodox, but I haven’t received the call to leave evangelicalism yet so I won’t discuss it further.

  8. Jason, Denise Spencer, Jeff Dunn I’m glad you found a home within RCC. I spent half my life in RCC and the other half in Protestantism. I think you are making RCC into your own image with the Aslan lion. I wish it were so but reality it’s not. Only 10% of (according to surveys). RCC attendees believe in Transubstantiation and Natural family planning. The beer tents and obsessive Bingo tents growing up let alone the constant fundraising raffles in the parish hall. The disconnect from the Official teaching and practice is too large for me at this time. I enjoy Spiritual Direction from a nun that lives in a convent of sisters that would follow Marcus Borg or Shelby Spong over any Pope. Women and married priest movement is a force to be reckoned with I think they will gain more traction now with a more liberal Pope. When I talk to RCC priests about rejoining the church they say “follow your heart” “do what feels right” No Aslan there…All familys look good on the outside but when you scratch under the surface they all have their issues. Untimely you do have to follow your heart and trust the Holy Spirit.

    • Living in a very Catholic area of NY, this is my major issue with the RCC. Not that my own evangelical and mainline backgrounds haven’t had real, serious failures to disciple and teach but it is amazing how poor a job the RCC does around here. Not that they don’t preach the Gospel as much or more than us Protestants but I have met many, many Catholics who have gone through the whole deal and seem to have no clue what their church teaches, what the Bible says, or that Protestants are, in fact, Christians.

      The attitude that “the ordained are the church and have done enough religion for the rest of us” is very strong in the RCC around here.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        “many Catholics who have gone through the whole deal and seem to have no clue what their church teaches”

        And find me a cultural group of any significant size where this is not true?

        Goodness, I can introduce who to transit advocates – how more esoteric a group can I find? – of whom this is true. They have no idea what they are talking about beyond a few bullet points. I can introduce you to political “Conservatives” whose arguments would cause Mr. Buckley to writhe in intellectual agony.

        This is the tiresome deary and universal status of humanity.

        If someone doesn’t care, they don’t care…. because they don’t care – thus they won’t know [regardless of topic]. That’s on them.

        • I am happy to admit and truly hope that the RCC does a better job of discipling and instructing Catholics in other parts of the country. I am sure that mainline and evangelical churches in other parts of the country do, sometimes, abysmal jobs of discipleship and instruction. But, here, in my area of NY, the RCC culture is that priests and the religious orders are the church and they take care of everything for the rest of us, including having basic knowledge about the faith and living in a way that is not close to 100% culturally conditioned. The culture in mainline and evangelical churches, here, in my area of NY, is not like that.

          I don’t mean to be critical of individual Catholics or of Jason, whose call to the RCC I do not doubt. However, saying “the RCC is the church Jesus founded,” as if Jesus planted a church in Rome, makes no sense and is totally unconvincing to me and many other Protestants who see the RCC calling Catholics to come to Mass more often but not to follow Jesus in their lives.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      “The beer tents and obsessive Bingo tents growing up let alone the constant fundraising raffles in the parish hal”

      Fund-raising though neighborhood and community events – that is terrible. And fund raising by [arguably] the world’s largest humanitarian aid organization. I suppose it would be a cleaner choice to be institutionally irrelevant.

      More Protestants should consider having Bingo nights.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Bingo Nights are cleaner than high-pressure and threats to TITHE! TITHE! TITHE!

        (Remember Grinning Ed Young and his “hold up your checkbooks”? About “Give Me Your Routing and Account Numbers”? And “If You’re Holding Out, Our Security Cameras are Good Enough that We’ll Know Who You Are”?)

        • Are you supposed to tithe on Bingo winnings? Are Bingo losses “tax deductible”?

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > Bingo Nights are cleaner than high-pressure and threats to TITHE! TITHE! TITHE!

          And clearly much more effective.

          With the positive side effect that they cause people to gather together, creating the opportunity to get to know one another.

          • hmm… living in a heavily Catholic part of PA back when, i knew a fair number of Catholics who deplored bingo nights, because they were, in many cases, a barely legal form of casino gambling that attracted many compulsive gamblers. also, the commercialism, and, in some cases, hordes of buses of people coming for bingo night at a couple of parishes… not good, in their view.

            many parishes refused to do bingo nights, while others advertised them in out of state newspapers.

  9. Christiane says:

    The Church has had MANY ‘reformers’ . . . St. Francis of Assisi was one. The concept of ‘reform’ is not alien to the Catholic faith. For our sake and for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are not within the Catholic communion, we Catholics need to LISTEN respectfully and learn from their traditions what insights they have to share with us. We may agree in some areas and disagree in others.
    But let us at least make an effort to UNDERSTAND what is meaningful and dear to one another. I have spent about four years ‘visiting’ on Southern Baptist blogs because my grandmother, of blessed memory, was a Southern Baptist and I wanted to find out initially if that denomination was anything like Westboro Baptist Church. Thankfully, I was assured they were not. But I chose to go TO THEM, to hear and read what THEY thought and learn directly from them. This time and experience was invaluable to me and helped open my eyes to the truth that there are in that ‘other’ denomination, many people of good will who are profoundly humble and committed to Our Lord’s service.

    I wouldn’t have known that, if I hadn’t tried to learn from THEM about them.

    So if folks want to know their brothers and sisters and cousins and family who are not within their own communion, talk to them directly, listen to them . . . avoid the ‘usual’ route of those who will ‘tell you’ everything and ‘save you time’ . . . the MacArthurs, the James Whites, the Jack Chicks . . .

    My journey has been rewarding. I am Catholic to the backbone. But my Christian Family is larger now.

  10. Good conversation Robert F and Adam,
    I’m no fan of Evangelicalism with its Gnosticism and pastor cult. The RCC saints leave me speechless…Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Francis of Assisi, John of the Cross, Thomas Merton, Flannery O’Connor and the Little Flower.

  11. Robert The Chalcedonian says:

    Re: the human condition of absolute autonomy with respect to the claims of the Apostolic churches.

    Yes, it’s true. We’re all boutique Christians in some manner and form in the 21st century western world, but this has been a very recent development. I often wondered how ancient Christianity managed to convert entire nations when revival Christianity was having such a hard time converting entire families, until I understood that the nature of the 9th centuriy conversions were along the lines of – “Well, the Jarl says we’re no longer to worship Thor. We have to worship this new-fangled Christus. That’s alright by me, but the Jarl isn’t always going to be snooping around to see what we do out in the fields, is he?” Now, unless you had enough resources to manage on your own without the help of the community, it was unwise to stand against them in matters of religion.

    Indeed, the religious freedom we enjoy today is primarily a function of how unimportant we consider religion to be as a provider of common goals and values. This, as CM pointed out is a function of secularization, which cannot be resisted unless you want to align either with he Amish or the Taliban. I do think, however, that it needs to be recognized and repented of. After all, as my first priest pointed out, what you believe is a function more of who you believe than it is of anything else. The pilgrimage to heaven is a communal journey, he said, but anybody who goes to Hell gets there on his own.

    • Yes, that Dragon of Secularism makes cowards of us all! Lord have Mercy It’s related to Nihilism and Moral Therapeutic Deism. The Powers and Principalities marginalize God onto the Cross

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        That sounds like the start of a kook rant. And the lack of a period at the end makes it seem more so — like it got cut off by The Conspiracy in mid-stride.

    • “This [religious freedom], as CM pointed out is a function of secularization, which cannot be resisted unless you want to align either with he Amish or the Taliban. I do think, however, that it needs to be recognized and repented of.”

      I’m curious: if the problem is systemic – “welcome to zietgeist, take a seat!” – how does one repent of it? It is not as though any one person caused it, and if there was, that person is no one at the table today.

      “After all, as my first priest pointed out, what you believe is a function more of who you believe than it is of anything else. The pilgrimage to heaven is a communal journey, he said, but anybody who goes to Hell gets there on his own.”

      Being a prisoner of the zeitgeist, in which religious freedom enjoyed at least in the west, and pluralism is simply a social and religious fact, I find I am left believing (or at least appreciating) voices from multiple communities. So the “communal journey” I see around me squares uncomfortably with the notion that one particular tradition or sect should be able to make overly exclusive claims. Generally, it seems one can claim a particular tradition (Rome? Constantinople? Somewhere else?) to occupy the center of the universe – but its hard to find the outer boundaries of the thing on a map. It all gets fuzzy at the edges, and then, “Beyond here are dragons.” Nobody really is ever too sure about the dragons, though. People go out in the borderlands, and come back with exotic treasures, that fascinate and terrify.

      • There’s nothing, and nobody, to repent. This is a piece of piety that is a holdover from too many days spent in the evangelical/pentecostal trenches. It must get annoying to some cradle Orthodox and Catholics when these shell-shocked front-liners of the culture wars come into their midst with the religious equivalent of PTSD, and start fighting ghosts that they’ve brought with them to their new address.

    • Who referred to “absolute autonomy”, RTC?

      Autonomy is a conditioned quality that relies on context to be actualized, but whether or not it’s actualized it still exists, and even when it’s maximized it’s limited in scope and effect. That is, just like it’s first cousin freedom, autonomy relies on boundaries and contours to give it the options it chooses for and against.

      At its most elementary level, in the seat of human subjectivity, autonomy is the ability to say “No”, even when this “No” remains unspoken because social reality does not allow it to be spoken. But this “No” does not exist merely for itself; rather, it is uttered so that a space may open up for living in the spaciousness of being, so that a true “Yes” may become real, and meaningful, rather than merely formal and empty.

      “.. let it be with me according to your word…”

      • RTC, your Jarl-resister possessed as much autonomy as you and I do, in the seat of his subjectivity, and the words you put in his mouth prove it; what he lacked was the options we have for living into the space opened up by his interior “No”. That’s why he has to hide his “No”, and his autonomy; but it still existed for him. There is nothing to repent about the situation we find ourselves in; its a gift of freedom, and of being allowed to live out in the open, and it comes from God.

  12. Marcus Felde says:

    Should be titled, “I fought the Roman Catholic Church, and the Roman Catholic Church Won.” To confuse “the church” with “The Roman Catholic Church” is a serious problem. Say whatever else you will about the issues, the Roman Catholic Church is a denomination, not the “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church” of the creeds. We will be sorting out out theological issues until Christ returns, but meanwhile we are one church–which the writer neither left nor joined when he made this move.

    • flatrocker says:

      Can’t help but think of John 19:21 – So the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews’; but that He said, ‘I am King of the Jews.”‘

      …as Pilate had unknowingly stated the truth and the truth remain unchanged – even by Pilate.

      • So are you saying that you belong to the one and only True Church, and its address is in Rome? How would that mean anything other than that, in your view, the rest of us are just playing at being Church? How far is this from questioning our salvation?

        But that note of triumphalism is so often the subtext of comments and posts made by new Roman Catholics, that it’s pointless to even remark it.

  13. This from a Methodist.

    The churches in Greece and Asia Minor were founded by Paul before the one in Rome, and even if Peter founded the one in Rome and had “the keys of the kingdom,” the head of the Council of Jerusalem was James, not Peter. So much for the supposed primacy of the church of Rome.

    In the controversy over adding filioque to the Nicene Creed that led to the Great Schism of 1054, the Greeks would seem to have the better argument, understanding the difference between sending (pempo) and proceeding from (ekporeuomai) in John 15:26 since it was in their own language.

    I found St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s take on the “novel doctrine” of the Immaculate Conception in the 12th century whom Fr. Ernesto quoted in his blog last week rather eye-opening.

    The New Testament says “There is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” but the RCC calls the Virgin Mary “the co-mediatrix of all grace.”

    Might may win, but might does not make right.

  14. Perhaps if I was a Calvinists, the “driven not drawn” argument might be appealing. Since, I’m not, I find the impersonal, fatalistic, “logical” nature of the argument troubling. The problem with downplaying free will is a perceive lack of personal responsibility, i.e. the “facts” made me do it. You can take the Calvinist out of Calvinism, but you can’t take Calvinism out of the Calvinist?

  15. @Christiane, I agree completely. It shouldn’t be about “winning.” And I wasn’t trying to score points. I was stating some historical facts. I trust you understand.

  16. Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

    Although I understand this article on an intellectual level, I have a hard time understanding it from an experiential/existential perspective. Having spent time in PCA churches and around Reformed of various stripes, I have a few observations.
    1) Most of these denoms function in an authoritative way – in fact, the response to Stellman’s “defection” is a good example of this. Most Protestant denoms don’t actually believe in the autonomy of the individual believer esp. in matters of doctrine.
    2) Sola Scriptura is just a word game in most cases. Why otherwise must one subscribe to the Westminster Confession? Think about it.
    3) I have yet to meet a Calvinist who actually believes in Sola Fide. This includes Baptists as well as Presbys. They talk about Sola Fide, but behave as if your works are so closely connected to your spiritual state, that the distinction becomes purely academic. For example, Piper has gone on the record saying that preaching against homosexuality is such a big deal because this sin will send you to hell. Mortal sin anyone?

    All that to say that I find many Protestant positions – especially in the Reformed tradition – to be essentially academic. I guess I don’t see how this change is so very drastic.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      For example, Piper has gone on the record saying that preaching against homosexuality is such a big deal because this sin will send you to hell. Mortal sin anyone?

      Only if you’re ROMISH(TM).

      KYLE: But, Dad, Isn’t that Fascism?
      KYLE’S DAD: No it isn’t son. Because we don’t call it “Fascism”. Do you understand?
      KYLE: Do you?

      And to Evangelicals, Homosexuality(TM) is THE Unpardonable Super-Sin, the ultimate Other.

      • Christiane says:

        the harshness towards homosexuality is noted in the fundamentalist-evangelical world, and is used by right-wing politicians (or they have tried to use it),
        but I have wondered if the homophobia combined with the need of those who practice hyper-patriarchy including repression of girls and women . . . that combination says something to me about who are insecure in their own manhood, not of men who are able to stand on their own as men.

        Do I have ANY reason to be thinking this? I’m not sure, but it comes to mind when I see how pitifully strident some of the ‘mighty male’ fundamentalists are in the NEED to express a hatred of a human condition that may not be personal ‘choice’, and also their NEED to build whole theologies around the superiority of the males and the insignificance of their womenfolk . . . do these behaviors not make these fundamentalists seem more insecure in their manhood by their need to trumpet these extremes as a big part of their own ‘Manhood’ identity?

        ? others’ thoughts would be appreciated

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I have long thought that any Male Supremacist culture is going to be pulled in two opposite directions about male homosexuality.

          They would be pulled in that direction by their own denigration of women; when women are nothing more than domestic animals and sex objects, how else can a Man have sex with another PERSON? As one ancient culture put it, “Women for breeding stock, Men for love, Boys for pleasure.” Bromance with Benefits.

          Yet they would also be repulsed by it — because (in the words of prison gang rape) “It Makes a Woman out of a Man”. Remember the joke definition of “Homophobia”? The fear that another man will do to you what you do to a woman? Because nothing is more Un-Manly than being used like a Woman. Especially if it is also Taboo according to their holy books.

          And these two opposing pulls will always be inseperable, because they are both corollaries of Male Supremacy and the suppression of women. Add Hypermasculinity and things get real ugly real fast.

    • 2) Sola Scriptura is just a word game in most cases. Why otherwise must one subscribe to the Westminster Confession? Think about it.

      Quote of the Day.

    • Devastating critique.

    • I think your points here are good ones.

      On this point: “I guess I don’t see how this change is so very drastic.”

      I know this will sound illogical at first, but bear with me: I think the change feels drastic to Jason because so little has changed in his conception of authority.

      This is what I mean: In some Reformed circles, you have a sola fide doctrine paired with a very close reading of the Westminster Confession, recommended and enforced by the Presbyterian leadership. Very specific claims, very strong lines of authority, lots policing of what orthodoxy is (and isn’t). The entire story of Who We Are is set in the story about the Reformation, with Catholic claims and theology as the great Other. These ideas are important because Reformed identity is often important, and it’s based in intellectual commitments to a greater degree than a lot of other Protestant traditions.

      So, as far as I can tell from the story, Jason’s cruising along, and then he takes a look at Catholic claims. Big problem: he can’t just write them off. And to him, this is a monumental problem, because the Reformed pundit’s theological universe is divided up into two pieces: Side A and Side B, both imagined has sharing similarly strong and directly competing truth claims. You gotta be on a side. So, Jason winds up “flipping” into the other camp – which is total about-face in his picture of the theological and ecclesiastical world. (Further confirmation that it’s an about-face: the response of the home church and Presbyterian leadership is so frenzied: they think he’s totally sold out, and I can only conclude his decision is basically an affront, therefore requires some concerted return-fire.) But Jason’s ideas about Scripture, tradition, and authority actually haven’t changed a great deal. In fact, one reason he flips so easily from Reformed to RCC without noticing or dawdling too much in alternatives may be because he is sensitive to claims that are formulated in this “strong” way and that appeal to authority.

      Jason, this isn’t a criticism of you or your story. It’s just an observation of the interior logic of the story that I think I hear you trying to tell. I’m fascinated that you feel “driven” to convert but not “pulled” to convert. And I wonder if, actually, you might be pulled, by the idea that the RCC is “not a tame lion” and is commanding your response and loyalty–that is, it’s living up to your Presbyterian ideals! – and the way you imagine competing theologies to be in the arena, so to speak. In war, you can’t be tempted or wooed, that is for traitors; but you can to be overpowered, and you can be convinced.

      I admit I do wonder one thing: If you feel that you are telling a story about being compelled because you must respond to critics who will claim that you were somehow “tempted” and therefore can be shrugged off. I wonder if, in 10 years, you will be able to see and speak more clearly about what you did find interesting or admirable.

    • 1. Yup
      2. Yup
      3. Yup

      Three yups and an amen.

    • Dr. Fundystan, I recommend you choose a narrower paint brush–or finer pen, whichever. In response to your three points…

      1. I’m not a Presbyterian, so I can’t speak to what goes on in their inner circles. In my association there is wide latitude of freedom with regards non-essential matters of the Christian faith. For instance, I’m one of only a handful of Reformed pastors in my association out of several hundred. We have disagreements among ourselves, but no one has asked me to to leave or reproved me for it. I would imagine that we are not alone in this respect.

      2. Those of us who teach Sola Scriptura also believe in the Ecumenical Creeds and other Reformed Confessions. We do not claim them to be authoritative but rather accurate summaries of that which is authoritative. That’s all.

      3. “I have yet to meet a Calvinist who actually believes in Sola Fide.” Please look me up next time you’re in the Albuquerque, NM area. The fact that we believe that we were “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2.10) doesn’t mean we don’t also believe that “by grace you have been saved through faith…not as a result of works.” (Ephesians 2.8-9)

      • “In my association there is wide latitude of freedom with regards non-essential matters of the Christian faith. ”

        This rings true. I am not familiar enough with the Reformed / Presbyterian world to know precisely who is who, but in my experience there is an older Reformed tradition that is moderate and even tolerant, and a more fiery, take-no-prisoners wing.

      • Patrick Kyle says:

        “2. Those of us who teach Sola Scriptura also believe in the Ecumenical Creeds and other Reformed Confessions. We do not claim them to be authoritative but rather accurate summaries of that which is authoritative. That’s all.”

        There is the devastating critique of Fundystan’s point #2.

        • Except that, in practical terms, the summaries become the “truth” — without the benefit of having been divinely inspired. To question them in any fashion becomes the standard of faithfulness.

          In my opinion, as well, the creeds stand apart from the later confessions. The creeds are primarily narrative summaries of the story of scripture and redemption, not statements of propositional truth. It is the story, not the various propositional interpretations, that grounds the truth.

          • “The creeds are primarily narrative summaries of the story of scripture and redemption, not statements of propositional truth.”

            Not the Athanasian Creed, which is one of the ecumenical creeds, in the West, at least; it’s about as narrative as a philosophy lesson, full of propositional assertions.

          • Patrick Kyle says:

            Churches need a handy summary of the Scriptures to catechize and to be able to ordain people for the Pastoral office who hold the same view on things. Of course if you are paid church worker, Confessional subscription becomes a little more important. Churches want to know the people they are paying are teaching and preaching the correct doctrine, hence we demand our ministers subscribe first and foremost to the Scriptures and to the Confessions as a correct summary of them.. The Confessions are a shorthand way of vetting them. So what? Our doctrines do not spring from the confessions, they come from the Scriptures.

        • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

          We do not claim them to be authoritative but rather accurate summaries of that which is authoritative.
          Yes, this is what we call a word game.

          • Patrick kyle says:

            Fundy,

            There is a chasm of difference between our Confessions as summaries of the Scriptures, and the wholesale additions of doctrines like the Sacrifice of the Mass, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, Mary as co-redemptrix, the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome , Papal Infallibility, etc.etc. You speak as though those two things are equal, but they are not. Just throw them together and accuse the heirs of the Reformation of playing word games. With the Confessions, there is a basis in Scripture, and every plank and doctrine must arise and have solid support from the Scriptures. Appeals are made on the basis of the Scripture.

            Not so the pronouncements of the Magisterium and the Popes. Much of it appears to be made up, or the ‘baptizing’ of pious superstition into the church, the accretion building up over the ages.

            Your charge of ‘word games’ is just so much ‘crafty’ rhetoric. You are comparing apples with oranges. The next thing you know you will accuse people of not really being ‘sola scriptura’ because they use hymnals… Whatever…

          • Very good point about the extra-biblical accretions of Catholic doctrine, which far outstrip anything found in the more sober Reformations confessions, and make only the most tangential attempt to appeal to the testimony of the scriptures, unlike the more sober Reformation confessions.

        • The Chalcedonian Creed, also numbered among the Ecumenical Creeds, also reads like a philosophy lesson, and is chock full of propositional assertions. Not much narrative there, and yet the early Church considered it to be as authoritative as the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds.

    • Yup. About the faith/works thing, R. C. Sproul also teaches that you find your assurance in your love for God, which, as Jesus said, is the fulfillment of the law. So if our good works don’t save us, they prove we’re saved, so we’d damned well better have them anyways. The Calvinist academic distinction indeed.

  17. Going over this post, I wanted to compare it to Michael Spencer’s “Yo Ho Ho A Papist’s Life for Me?” post, but it seems to have disappeared from the archives. Is it still out there somewhere?

  18. Thanks for sharing your faith journey, Jason. I find it endlessly fascinating to read people’s stories about how they found God and Jesus and how they continue to follow Him. It’s hard to argue with a person’s testimony. It is what it is, and it is what they experienced. I’ll be curious to see how your future faith journey goes, as I think going to a church setting that “never was…attractive, and in many ways it still isn’t” could present issues further down the road. I wish you well.

    Also, I’m not sure I agree with your conclusion, or at least suggest that the conclusion is no different than what you state about Protestant churches. You said this, “But what Catholicism is, I have come to discover, is true.” In actuality, that’s probably more opinion than fact. From my perspective, Catholicism contains ELEMENTS of truth, but isn’t fully “truth.” There’s a lot of baggage and garbage that comes with the truth that’s wrapped inside Catholicism. (my opinion) That’s no different than any other church, really…but should be at least recognized as such.

    Peace and God’s grace be upon you!

  19. i resonate with this post as i’m seeing a thread in various circles of evangelical/protestantism these days in relation to Scripture. for me, it all started with Peter Enns book, then i read the blog posts of Fr. Freeman on the Orthodox view of Scripture.

    is there something afoot here? something important? a pushback against private readings of the Bible that have become dangerous, oppressive, and to a large degree, unbiblical. i’m desperately searching for an ecclesiology within the evangelical movement of which i’m a part that honors Scripture but also realizes the church must contextualize and interpret Scripture together. still working through all this. it’s a sort of nervous excitement to be an evangelical and question the authority of Scripture as Truth.

    does any of that make any sense?!

    • Makes sense to me. That’s why I personally believe it’s important to have a healthy mix of church-interpreted stuff, pastor-interpreted stuff, group-interpreted stuff, and personally-interpreted stuff. If I rely too heavily on my pastor’s interpretation, I might be swayed by his opinions rather than what truth might be. If I let the church dictate “truth,” then I’m potentially being swayed by an organization which might have an agenda other than what’s important for the body (aka maintaining power, keeping the coffers filled). Likewise, I can’t interpret everything for myself, for I’m swayed by my own beliefs, experiences and opinions.

      I was facilitating an adult Sunday school class yesterday in the book of Jude. Jude’s clear message to me is, “We must always be on guard for leaders and teachers who go astray.” I believe that means we must NOT follow only one authority, and that we must be active in our own interpretation and discernment, and that we must be active within our faith community over issues of interpretation and discernment, and if we sense something that’s not quite right, we can go to others within our church community to see if it’s an issue that needs to be raised to a higher level.

    • I bristle at the suggestion that personal reading of scripture is the problem. Personal reading without proper exegesis and without reference to trustworthy commentaries, the church fathers, et al: perhaps. With freedom comes responsibility. If returning to Rome is an effort to abandon personal responsibility in the guise of surrendering personal freedom, woe to Rome.

      • +1

        I am capable of thought. There is nothing more dangerous than abandoning the responsibility.

        • Not that I think anyone is suggesting not thinking as an option – but in the face of ecclesiastical confusion there is sometimes a bit rhetorical posturing against independent judgment, and a bit of romanticism about submission, that goes too far. The temper for this is, I think, a lively conversation between individuals and communities where both are enriched.

          Chad, you said, “i’m desperately searching for an ecclesiology within the evangelical movement of which i’m a part that honors Scripture but also realizes the church must contextualize and interpret Scripture together.” This resonates. In all honesty, I’m not sure there is only one location for it – it helps if a church has a tradition and knows it has one – and can reflect on what that means.

          I jumped to the Protestant mainline (ELCA, although I’ve spent time in the Episcopal Church and in Methodist congregations) – which may be more free-wheeling than you are used to.. It does know it has an ecclesiastical heritage, however.

  20. I have a friend named Bob. He killed someone many years ago. He got ten years as it was not consider murder in the sense that he would have got life. After he got in state prison he tried to hang himself but the rope broke so to speak. A man named Father C ( going forth as FC) came and visited him. Bobby got to know Christ in state prison. He had run from him before but running wasn’t an option now. Bobby lived the Christian life in prison and helped anyone he could for real. I know because I talked to others who were there with him. Gifts were always left on his bunk. FC took him under his wing and keeps tabs on him to this day.

    Bobby got out of prison and started running a recovery house slash halfway house slash I”ll help you house. The county calls him when they have someone no one else will take. Truly some of the hardest cases. Bobby starts the process of loving on them. Doesn’t try to shove anything down their throats just tries to love on them. He holds them responsible and tries to move them to be responsible parts of the community. Quite the difficult job with alot of hard times in the way of sadness when one is lost.

    Every time I think of Bobby the love of Christ overwhelms me and I am so grateful that I know him. I remember eating breakfast with him and he said but Bill I’ve killed someone and I have to go to heaven with that. I said do you really think you will be standing there alone. I don’t think so. I am on the board but my time is so that I told him if someone else would do then I would be okay with that. He said no, every time I see your name I feel good inside and I know what he means.

    Paul lived his life eternally and Bobby is just trying to love people the way Christ does. Bobby doesn’t understand why Luther didn’t work within the church to bring about change. I really don’t think it bothers him that much. I’m just trying to love people too. FC was/is an alcoholic like Bobby and I. FC has indirectly influenced my life with the love of Christ through Bobby. That’s how it works. I’m not Catholic but I am surely loved by Jesus. You know how I know ask Bobby.

    • w:

      Your personal anecdotes/testimonies/stories here are some the most refreshing and spiritually-uplifting things I’ve read on IMonk, including both the articles and the comments.

      Thanks!

      • +1.

      • +1

      • very much agreed!

        w, your friend might not realize that the RCC excommunicated Luther. He truly did want to reform the RCC from within, but there was a point where that simply didn’t work anymore. In reality, most Lutheran churches today are far more Catholic than they are anything else, but with some notable (though hard to understand from the outside, I think) differences in theology and in the views of sacraments. (fwiw, I am Lutheran, born and raised.)

    • +1

    • You should’ve seen the puddles in my eyes when I wrote this and how often they occur when I think about this kind of love. All you people on here and I mean all of you are really cool and you help me. Just thought you should know.

  21. I am curious, will there be a future post with testimonies of folks who swam the Tiber in the direction of Geneva and away from Rome?

    • Randy Thompson says:

      That would be interesting.

      • Joseph (the original) says:

        at my home group meeting the other nite, over 80% of those that shared their faith journey story were former Catholics, or lapsed Catholics, for those that are still baptismal certificate card carrying members of the RCC…

        one of those was a former teacher (Christian Brothers) that simply grew disillusioned with the daily ritual required by his vow of obedience. and he also felt more and more hypocritical teaching along the lines of RCC doctrinal conclusions that he could no longer agree with…

        one observation though: it was during their RCC upbringing that a foundation of theological perspectives became the springboard of seeking out a deeper relationship with Jesus.

        of the 80% sharing their story, not one of them was anti-Catholic or feeling their upbringing was bad, malicious, deliberately deceitful, etc. I think they felt like I do that it was a stepping stone, or a rudimentary stage, toward a more fulfilling worship and faith expression. it takes a former Catholic to truly understand the reasons such a move away from that tradition resonates with so many…

        • Similar experiences and sentiments here in New Mexico where Hispanics, most of whom are Roman Catholics–or were, at one time–are the majority ethnic group.

    • I’d be interested. But I wonder if that happens as often- it seems to me that people who defect from Rome usually end up not in Reformed traditions, but in a generic evangelicalism that seeks to divorce itself from Tradition. Most Reformed, at lead of the Presby flavor, seems too rooted in a historic tradition for these people. It feels too much like a “Magisterium.” Just my experience though.

      I had a guy from one of these rootless evangelical churches try to tell me that Lutheranism was a religion of “salvation by works” just like Catholicism, because they didn’t get rid of the liturgy. Liturgy of any kind, for this guy, was a soteriological statement. I don’t think that’s uncommon.

      • It happened to me and it has happened to many other, and we also have a good story to tell. And like the guy you mentioned, I first wound up in rootless evangelicalism but over the years through study and reflection wound up Reformed.

    • That’s the only kind of testimonies anyone heard throughout the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. I grew up in a large Calvary Chapel where the majority of the adult population was “ex-Catholic”. They got decades to themselves to share their testimonies. It fed the triumphalist evangelical meta-narrative of the time… regardless of your feelings about Rome, I think hearing these testimonies provides a much-needed counterbalance.

      • I have no ill feelings towards Rome; disagreements, to be sure, but no animosity. My own son swam the Tiber east, and we share a great love for Christ and for each other. I am also thankful to Rome for teaching me about the Holy Trinity (and more), getting me out of Cuba, and a great classical Jesuit education. I hope this helps you understand my “feelings about Rome.”

        Regardless of the countless testimonies of ex-Catholics in the past, we all need to hear all sides of this issue. And in fact I was referring specifically to former Roman Catholics who are now Reformed, not just Protestant and Evangelical.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “I used to be Catholic, but now I’m CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
        — common testimony of the time, often preceding an anti-Catholic rant

        • “Please make sure to use at least three of the following phrases in your rant:
          a) Whore of Babylon
          b) Antichrist
          c) the sinner’s prayer
          d) the end times
          e) Mary worship
          f) praying to statues
          g) I’m not religious anymore, I just love the Lord”

        • I still hear it regularly.

          • I still hear it, too, CM, and I ask them to stop saying such things against our RC and EO brothers & sisters. My son, who is Byzantine Catholic and often attends mass at a Roman Catholic church, hears similar things from RC folks against Protestants. His wife was told by a Roman Catholic parish worker that Byzantine Catholics aren’t “real” Catholics even though Our Lady of Perpetual Help Byzantine Catholic Church in Albuquerque, NM is listed among the bona fide Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Go figure!

            My point is…can we be fair here? Can we just agree that the natural tendency in us is to be tribal and shout “hooray for our side!” and “to Hades with you!”? And can we agree that cutting out the negative rhetoric against one another will go a long way to showing the world that we are His disciples?

            Methinks there’s much insecurity and cognitive dissonance going on here.

          • CalvinCuban, a couple of thoughts…

            First, I am not surprised to hear of the rude comment made to your son’s wife by an RC parish worker: the treatment of Byzantines by the Latins has been brutal and cruel for a very long time. Give the life of St. Alexis Toth a read sometime (that sainthood comes from the EO, though he began life as a Byzantine Catholic…). It’s a very sad state of affairs. On behalf of my fellow Latins, I am deeply sorry and ashamed.

            Second, I don’t think there’s anything tribal or unfair in Jason’s story getting posted here. This site has long been about wandering in the post-evangelical wilderness… fair to say Jason is “post-evangelical”, and that this post isn’t about a “to Hades with you” attitude? I’m sure that for every website willing to give Jason a sympathetic hearing, there are 10 that would much prefer an ex-Catholic-turned-Calvinist story.

          • I wasn’t thinking of Jason’s story at all. Actually, it reflects my own son’s story and I’m good with that.

            Also as a follow-up to your apology for the way some RC folks treat BC folks (thank you for that, BTW), my son tells me that some EO folks (he tried that before he and his RC wife chose BC) consider BC folks to be traitors. Jesus wept.

            And it doesn’t justify anything nor promote fairness to tally up which web sites favor which tradition; being one sided is being one sided however you present it.

            And FWIW this is the only Christian web site I frequent on a daily basis. I figured that I can learn more from critics than from yes-men.

            My main point in all this is that one should be able to state their case w/o using the perceived errors and weaknesses of others as the premise for their argument (e.g., “the reason I’m right is because you’re wrong, and you’re wrong because…). Rather, a premise should always be based on the Truth, then argue from there.

    • Faulty O-Ring says:

      I see people swimming in all directions, and passing one another as they cross the Bosporus, the Ganges, or what have you.

      • I’m really enjoying this mental picture! Something like the scene in Alice in Wonderland when all the creatures and Alice are swimming around aimlessly in the lake of tears she cried when she was large.

      • flatrocker says:

        Maybe we should just grab an innertube and a cooler of cold ones and just float for a while.
        I hear the cloud formations are really something.

        • The journey is the destination? 🙂

          • ” The months and days are the travelers of eternity. The years that come and go are also voyagers. Those who float away their lives on ships or who grow old leading horses are forever journeying, and their homes are wherever their travels take them. Many of the men of old died on the road, and I too for years past have been stirred by the sight of a solitary cloud drifting with the wind to ceaseless thoughts of roaming.”

            From, “The Narrow Road to the Deep North”

      • “I see people swimming in all directions, and passing one another as they cross the Bosporus, the Ganges, or what have you.”

        Okay, Walt Whitman.

        • Faulty O-Ring says:

          Is there something like this in Whitman?

          I couldn’t think of a suitable body of water in Arabia, while the ones in Israel (the Jordan, the Sea of Galilee) would be unsuitable as symbols of Judaism. New Agers could be said to have swum the Bermuda Triangle!

  22. Randy Thompson says:

    Rome or Geneva. Pick your tradition.

    And that’s finally the real issue. Practically speaking, there is no such thing as “Sola Scriptura.” It’s an academic construct. It sounds impressive and, well, authoritative. But like the proverbial nude emperor, it has no clothes. And, the Scripture needs clothes, and those clothes are tradition.

    All Christians read the Bible from the perspective of one tradition or another. We can’t avoid doing that. So, it’s important that we take tradition seriously. To ignore tradition or deny it is to end up confusing your particular tradition with The Truth. To have and to honor a tradition is to take your theological and ecclesiastical commitments seriously, but to do so with the awareness that other traditions may not see everything the same way you do. To engage with these other traditions from within one’s own is to grow spiritual and theologically. Folks that confuse their tradition with The Truth end up digging themselves in deeper and deeper into the same rut they were in to begin with. Many years ago, before his death in 1984, Bishop Stephen Neil commented on meeting some Plymouth Brethren Christians he knew from his university days in the 1920’s. He noted that they hadn’t changed in 60 years; they were still saying the exact same things they said in the 20’s. There was no change or growth.

    The more you deny tradition, the more deeply sunk in a rut you are, and the more nasty you are toward people trying to get out of it.

    • Tongue in cheek…I choose Babylon.

    • Randy I was dwelling on tradition all day. It seems we here are following traditions that go the whole way back. Seems there must of been a lot of discussions back then also. I was being nice. I always thought my greatest tradition was that I wanted no traditions. I being raised Methodist never really wanted to follow any methods. Guess that became my method though. You just can’t get away from it. The biggest and best tradition of all time is this love that says He will never quit on me and wants to spend eternity with me and tells me He can make me well and wants me to have everything He has and wants me to share with everyone else despite my own limitations. My tradition is I say thank you my King and I love you so very, very much.

  23. My dad was fond of quoting a Native American proverb: “keep me away from the philosophy that doesn’t grow corn.” I think what he meant was something along the lines of what Jesus said about a good tree bearing good fruits, and a bad tree bearing bad fruits.

    As someone who left the Calvinist world and became a Roman Catholic a little over two years ago, I’m deeply sympathetic to the commenters above who talk about the major disconnect between Catholic theology and Catholic practice. The reality of life in the vast majority of Catholic parishes in the U.S. is that they are rotary clubs, only somewhat less exciting. Certainly not filled with people seeking a Jesus-shaped Christian life, and certainly not filled people who give a rodent’s behind about what the Catholic Church teaches about much of anything. L

    As a guy trying to raise 3 kids to love Jesus, I’m not sure I’m going to remain Catholic. To riff off of dad’s line, I can’t find any corn here. I realize now that my conversion was largely intellectual: I read a stack of Pope Benedict/Ratzinger books and fell in love (and I do still love the man and his theology). I found great personal solace in Catholic devotions such as the Sacred Heart and the Rosary. But I didn’t account for what life as a Catholic is actually like. I didn’t anticipate the corn crop failure…

    • Thanks for this perspective, Ryan. I was a little bit cranky when I wrote my above posts. If I could write them again, I would say that I’m sad. Sad because the RCC does have a lot of good things going on theologically as well as practically. But so few of my Catholic friends seem to understand the joy and peace that Jesus offers.

    • Patrick Kyle says:

      +1
      Great proverb… thanks for sharing.

    • Ryan, I think this is true regardless of what denomination or church (or whatever) one converts to. There’s the period of time that’s akin to the throes of first love (romantic), and then there’s dealing with day-to-day realities.

      I hope you find a place where you feel at peace, but I fear none of the churches in this world are going to be exactly what you hope (or what I hope). Because they’re all full of human beings, y’know?

      • I hope you find a place where you feel at peace, but I fear none of the churches in this world are going to be exactly what you hope (or what I hope). Because they’re all full of human beings, y’know?

        +1 and that’s what makes it real and sometimes hard but always worth it. Did I say sometimes really hard. Really, really hard and then comes that worth it part. Just saying.

      • I really do understand this. And I don’t expect there to be a perfect church anywhere other than Heaven. I’ve got an idealist bent, yet I really don’t think I’m unsympathetic to human frailty. But… I dunno, it’s hard to imagine raising my kids in parishes that flat-out ignore their Church’s teachings, and that really have nothing in the way of Jesus-centered spirituality or discipleship. And if that’s all I can find in the Catholic world… what’s a young dad supposed to do?

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > I think this is true regardless of what denomination or church (or whatever) one converts to.

        +1

        It was certainly true in Evangelicalism. You could very accurately describe that church, especially the mega-church, as a Club. Particularly if you were middle to upper-middle class, it was the Correct Club to be a member of.

        This is always true and any group of significant size, especially if membership is generally ‘inherited’. That aspect of things does not bother me anymore.

        The overt cultural class-ism of the mega-church is a much more insidious thing than general apathy. Humans are disposed towards apathy.

    • I recently went on an overnight retreat at a Maronite monastery with a pastor friend of mine who has been going for years. The monks are intrigued by him because he’s the only Protestant minister who visits regulalry, and has a deep respect for the mystical tradition. He’s befriended many of the brothers, and talks regularly with them about Catholic spirituality. When he asks about the disconnect between Catholic teaching and local practice, the monks state that the spirituality is all in the seminaries and monasteries — they have lots of trouble passing it on to the laity.

      Just one local perspective.

    • “The reality of life in the vast majority of Catholic parishes in the U.S. is that they are rotary clubs, only somewhat less exciting. Certainly not filled with people seeking a Jesus-shaped Christian life, and certainly not filled people who give a rodent’s behind about what the Catholic Church teaches about much of anything.”

      That last part describes exactly the Roman Catholic family, and extended family, that I grew up in. When, in my twenties, I tried for a time to really find a way into the the life of the Church, never really having really felt like an insider before despite growing up in the RCC, I was viewed with mildly derisive amusement by my culturally Catholic family, who couldn’t, as you say, give a rodent’s behind.

      I’m sorry for your disillusionment, Ryan. You will be in my prayers.

  24. David Cornwell says:

    Modern Protestantism is fragmented, flaky, and fickle.

    • And so is Roman Catholicism underneath the surface. The difference is they have a pope who speaks on behalf of all Roman Catholics and we Protestants don’t.

      • Yep. We have several heads, they have one. All are human: flawed, flaky and fickle.

      • David Cornwell says:

        I’m in no position to criticize the RCC, however being something of a Protestant with many years of observation, study, and soaking it up, I have that critical ability. The Protestant Church is a mess with new spinoffs happening each and every day. This is the reason I remain a mainliner. At least we have some ground of tradition to stand on, as shaky as it may be. If I were a young man, at this point in history, I would be studying all of my options, with the RCC being one of the distinct possibilities. However I would also consider Orthodox and Anglican traditions, leaning toward the later. Some of my straying friends have headed off in that direction

  25. OldProphet says:

    Hmmmm……42 posts on Sunday about a sick friend (I don’t know Jeff). He is facing a huge challenge and who knows what uncertainty Not much talk at all. But put up a topic of faith vs works and everyone is Katie bar the decks. Is the theoretical more important than real life? 92 posts already and its not even noon where I live. Of course, it was Sunday yesterday and we were in church. Just wonderin.

    • I wouldn’t read too much into it. Not much controversy in prayers for sick friends.

      • OldProphet says:

        Well, my grandpa used to say to me,”most often, when all is said and done, a lot got said and little got done”. I know that this sounds religious but my prayer s are to storm the gates of Heaven to ask God for Jeffs’ healing. God does heal today. All we can do is ask for His mercy. For nothing is impossible with God

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        This. In the face of suffering words are noise.

  26. I heard about this from the flip side. I hope Jason finds peace, I was deeply disturbed by how some people reacted. But what can you expect with Fundamentalism 2.0

  27. What many here probably don’t know is that Stellman led the trial against Federal Visionist Peter Leithart. I’m curious what was the interaction between those events and this one…

  28. Alan Hawkins says:

    Jason,

    Thanks for a great read. This alone … “I have come to understand the gospel in terms of the New Covenant gift of the Spirit, procured through the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, who causes fruit to be borne in our lives by reproducing the image of the Son in the adopted children of the Father.”

    You will do well as the Father does this in with and through you…

    Grace and Peace