Could Protestants and Catholics Ever Reunite? (Continued)

Continuing from my last post, here are my responses to the other 4 reasons why Catholics and Protestants supposedly cannot at all reunite. I think type A unity, explained in the last post, is a minimum requirement to fulfill the commands of Scripture for a Church of one mind and one love, so I want to deal with as many of these obstacles as possible.

Reason #3: The Sufficiency of Christ’s Mediation

The next charge leveled against Rome is that they deny that Christ is the “one mediator between God and man” (1 Tim. 2:5):

By setting up Mary as Mediatrix and Co-Redemptrix with Christ, Rome explicitly denies the sufficiency of Christ’s mediation on His people’s behalf. As the Scripture says in 1 Tim. 2:5, there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. Thus neither Mary nor any other besides Jesus Christ can be a mediator between God and men. Rome also sets up saints as mediators, hence they pray to saints, that the saints might make appeals to God for them…Rome’s doctrine of the mediation of saints is nothing but a dressing up of pagan superstition with pseudo-Christian terminology.

The largest problem with this accusation is that Catholics quite explicitly deny that anyone else can be considered a mediator in the sense that Christ is called “Mediator.” But in truth, we all accept at least one thing that might loosely be called “mediation” from people besides Christ: prayer requests.

We Protestants all ask for other people to pray for us, and this is perfectly Biblical. Yet it is also possible to label prayer for others under the word “mediation.” This doesn’t endanger us, though, because we know that our prayers for each other are radically different from and inferior to Christ’s unique mediation. No problem here.

This is, however, more or less what Catholics are attempting to do in invoking the saints. Like other things I’ve mentioned, this is an oversimplification and not perfectly accurate, but shows the gist. In Catholic theology, what’s basically going on is asking people who are in heaven with Christ to pray for you, and since the prayer of a righteous man is very effective, the prayers of saints who are done with sin must be especially so. If we are going to have a problem with this Biblically, we can argue that it’s not possible to talk to dead Christians, but that’s a far less serious matter than challenging Christ’s sole role as Mediator.

Of course, the application of titles like Mediatrix and Co-Redemptrix to Mary bring their own host of problems, and these matters are actually a source of debate within Catholicism. Catholic theologians tend to be quite careful in elaborating what each of these do and do not mean, making sure that they do not impinge on Christ’s sufficent, once-for-all person and work. Are these terms problematic? Probably. Should they be abandoned? I tend to think so. But when they are specifically articulated so as to preserve the centrality of Christ, I don’t think they have to constitute heresy.

Reason #4: The Glory of God vs. Images

Another serious criticism:

The Second Commandment states,  Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thingthat is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments (Ex. 20:4-6). Thus, worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his Word, is forbidden and is equated with hating God…However, against the precepts of Scripture and the reason of a sane mind, Rome multiplies images of God and saints to be worshipped…To simply observe the gross idolatry and worship of images in Roman worship ought to make any biblically informed conscience cringe. All the justifications of images and the evasions futile; they are simply nullifying the precepts of God so that their traditions can be maintained (Mk. 7:9).

Basically, this criticism comes down to the Reformed view that any and all pictures of Jesus Christ, but especially, those which might be used in any worship context, are necessarily idolatrous. This view even includes, say, the painting of Jesus on your grandmother’s wall or the artwork in a children’s Bible.

The problem is, I don’t think the first part of this, that making images of Jesus is always idolatry, has a solid Biblical foundation. While it is true that the divine nature itself, the Godhead, cannot be imaged in any way, and that the person of the Father must never be imaged, the Son has taken a human body into His person and made it Himself. An image of the human body of Jesus Christ is not an image of the divine essence, even if it is an image of the Second Person of the Trinity. If Jesus had a body, then the body could be seen by men, and if it could be seen by men, it could imaged by them. Even a mental image in memory, say by the aging John while writing his Gospel, should be idolatry according the logic of this criticism.

It is not only Catholics who disagree with the Reformed on pictures of Jesus, but Lutherans, the Orthodox, and (de facto) most Baptists. The precise details vary between them, and it must be admitted that such images are given a possibly uncomfortable prominence in Catholicism, but the point remains that Christ alone is worshipped, and that the 2nd Commandment isn’t necessarily transgressed. This issue I definitely think precludes type C unity, and possibly B, but not A at all, in my opinion.

Reasons #5 and #6: The Pope and Catholic Church as Antichrist and Whore of Babylon

So they charge:

The Scripture prophesies of a time of great apostasy from within the Christian Church, led by the Man of Sin (2 Thes. 2). This Man of Sin can be none other than the Pope of Rome.3 “Question: Who is the Antichrist?  Answer: With all Protestants we reply: the Pope of Rome. The papists deny this strongly.” (Wilhelmus à Brakel,The Christian’s Reasonable Service, Vol. 2, p. 44).

In the book of Revelation, the Church of Rome is called the Whore of Babylon, as the Jewish Church was often called a whore when she veered off into idolatry. The Church of Rome is the second of Beast of Revelation 13. Whereas the first Beast was the pagan Roman empire, the second is the Papal Roman empire.  And I beheld, another beast coming out of the earth, which had two horns like the Lamb, but he spake like the dragon. (Rev. 13:11, 1599 GNV)

To be blunt, this is just ridiculous fantasy. The Reformers fell prey to the great temptation in every age to identify the Antichrist and his kingdom with our own enemies, and the enemy of the Reformers was the Catholic Church under the Pope. There are no legitimate grounds for this entirely nonsensical assertion.

Honestly, I don’t feel the need to go into much depth on these two points. Let it suffice to say that the enemies of Revelation are mostly likely intended to be understood either as Rome (the empire) or Jerusalem. Both of those are possible, though Rome seems more so, and the position that the Roman Catholic Church is in view is obviously anachronistic eisegesis. Whatever happened to the sola Scriptura defended in the first point of the article?

Obviously, if this charge were true, all forms of unity with Catholicism would be unacceptable. But it’s not.

Conclusion

These six reasons for why Catholics and Protestants can never are mostly off-base. While many of them can be granted as reasons for ruling out type C unity, none of them are good reasons for preventing type A unity. With enough work in the future, with revisions and compromises in unswerving commitment to Scripture truth on both sides, improvements can be made, and certaintly greater unity within the whole Body of Christ is possible. Will Protestants and Catholics ever be one Church again? It’s impossible for now, and probably for a very long time to come, though in the distant future we should recall that with God all things are possible. But in the mean time, there room to work together and embrace each other as truly following our one Lord, Jesus Christ.

Could Protestants and Catholics Ever Reunite? (Continued)

Could Protestants and Catholics Ever Reunite?

From time to time, calls arise for cooperation between Protestants and Catholics. Some of those times the call is actually stronger. Some people argue that Catholics and Protestants should or must reunite and become one Church again. If nothing else, many would like to see some kind of full communion between Catholic and Protestant churches. Basically, there are three main possible courses of unity:

  1. Cooperation and deanathemization. The easiest level of unity would be simply for Catholic and Protestant churches and institutions to freely cooperate in ministry and to drop any charges of heresy against one another. Each would recognize the other as fully Christian and work together for the Gospel. Nonetheless, Protestant churches would remain Protestant in their own denominations and associations, and Catholic churches would remain a single Roman Catholic Church.
  2. Intercommunion. There exists between the Catholic and Orthodox churches something which is often called “intercommunion,” in which under the right circumstances a Catholic can participate in Orthodox sacraments and vice versa. This would be a major step for Protestants, and one which is incredibly unlikely for the majority of Protestant churches in the near future. In particular, denominations like Baptists which tend to strongly deny any form of Christ’s real presence in Communion would never be allowed without substantial revisions on both sides.
  3. Institutional unity. In this last possibility, certain Protestant churches and the Catholic Church would become one, unified Church, one single “denominational” body. This, of course, sounds like pure fantasy to most on both sides, and if it were ever to happen it would be in the very, very distant future.

So what I’d like to consider are the obstacles to these different kinds of unity. I am personally strongly in support of type A (though I have a slight for that someday before Christ returns type C may happen). There are obstacles to it, but they are not too many, and I believe they can be overcome. But some people would oppose all of these types. As an example, my attention was recently brought to this article on Purely Presbyterian: 6 Reasons Protestants and Roman Catholics Can Never Unite. The reasons given in this post would be accepted by many Protestants as a reason to not only reject any form of unity with the Catholic Church, even type A, but to condemn the majority of Catholicism as damnably heretical. My purpose in this post is to evaluate these 6 reasons and offer responses to each in relation to the types of unity I mentioned above.

Reason #1: The Sufficiency of Scripture

The article states this:

Rome denies the sufficiency of Scripture and supplants it with human tradition. The Scriptures are wholly sufficient for all things pertaining to life and godliness…The human innovations in Roman worship are more than can be listed here. From the use of images of God and saints, to the multitude of manmade ceremonies, rites, and holy days, to the most despicable and blasphemous Mass, in all these, the imaginations of men’s hearts and man’s traditions are observed, while God’s commandments are rejected. We are reminded of Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees in Mark 7:9, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.

This is, to be sure, a strong criticism. It is also, I believe, one that entirely precludes type C of unity. Catholics believe in an infallible, authoritative Holy Tradition which is not necessarily identical in content to the Scripture but contains other doctrines and practices which cannot be derived from Scripture (though some of them might find a verse or two of hint, perhaps). Moreover, they understand as authoritative 7 apocryphal books which Protestants do not regard as inspired. These differences make for a difference in the final authorities over doctrine and practice, and as such make strong forms of Catholic/Protestant unity impossible.

That said, I do not believe this ought to preclude type A of unity. That Scripture is holy, inspired, and authoritative is accepted by all churches and is taught by Scripture itself, but that there is no other, originally unwritten revelation from God through the Apostles is not stated in Scripture. Thus, ironically, adopting the principle of sola Scriptura seems to make it at best difficult to find grounds for condemning as heresy the belief in certain inspired traditions, since Scripture does not explicitly rule out that possibility. This doesn’t mean I’m suggesting that many or all of the Catholic traditions are true, only that they are not automatically signs of a heretical, apostate church.

The problem is, to oversimplify and use a loose analogy, in Catholicism it is almost like Holy Tradition is just another book of Scripture, just not one originally written down in the first century. Just as it is invalid to us for someone to say, “Well doctrine X isn’t in Mark, so it isn’t true!” if doctrine X is found in Ephesians, it would appear to Catholics invalid for us to say, “Doctrine Y isn’t in any of the books of the Bible, so it isn’t true!” if doctrine Y is found in Holy Tradition. Thus we deal with questions of canon and inspiration, complications which are enough to divide the churches as institutions to be sure (preventing type C unity), but are they enough to divide them as brothers? It’s hard for me to say “yes” to that without sufficient Biblical grounding, and so I am willing to support type A of unity even with this issue between Protestants and Catholics.

Reason #2: Salvation through Faith Alone

The criticism:

Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, glory be to God alone. The Scriptures everywhere so plainly attest to this, and yet Rome so arrogantly denies it…By placing its anathema on on the Biblical Gospel, Rome has placed itself under the anathema of God Almighty (Galatians 1:8, 9). Let all those who affirm this doctrine be blessed, but let Rome’s curse fall on her own head.

This is also a serious charge, but not one which I think holds up to scrutiny in the modern theological world. It is true that Catholics deny the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone, but a large part of the difference is due to different semantics and conceptual models. To Catholics, James 2:24 is essential to articulating properly a doctrine of justification, for it says, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Now, it is not hard to argue that Catholics misinterpret this verse, but it is also hard to see why a doctrine of justification so directly compatible with this verse at face value must be anathema.

Part of the key here involves realizing that Catholicism does not actually teach salvation by works rather than by grace. While they believe works are required for justification, what they mean by “justification” and “salvation” is not identical to Protestant usage. Both agree that salvation is all because of Jesus, that we can’t earn it, and that our own works are nothing but sin apart from the grace of God. Depending on which Catholic you ask, you may hear them say that salvation can be said to be by faith alone if we mean a faith which necessarily produces works, a position which is frequently said to be the true meaning of sola fide by many Protestants!

There are actually many possible routes to reconciliation between the two parties on justification. Promising leads include the theology of Thomas F. Torrance, a Scottish Reformed theologian whose works Incarnation and Atonementare loved and appreciated by both Protestants and Catholics, the works of N. T. Wright, an Anglican bishop who has made major efforts in reclaiming the original Jewish context of Paul’s doctrine of justification, and the Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. It is not hard to imagine, if you’re sufficiently familiar with these leads and their details, a future where Reformed, Catholic, Lutheran, and even Eastern Orthodox theologians can all mostly agree with one articulation of Paul’s major Gospel doctrine. If this is true, then many charges of heresy could be dropped, and the way could be opened for greater unity in type A.

To Be Continued

At this point this post is already too long, so I will address the final four objections to Catholic-Protestant unity in a second post. Even so, I think these two objections are the most important, and I hope what I have said in response to them can be useful in bringing further unity to the Body of Christ.

Could Protestants and Catholics Ever Reunite?

Don’t Vote Trump, And If You Do, At Least Frown

I’m #NeverTrump all the way. I will not vote for that man. But I realize many people feel compelled to, even if they don’t like him. Hillary Clinton is, after all, a frightening possibility if you care about things like abortion or religious liberty. If you really feel like Trump’s the lesser evil here, and you think your vote is actually a worthwhile and useful tool, then I won’t stand in the way of your conscience. (And before I say anything else, I should point out that I’m also #NeverHillary and I’m not thrilled with #GaryJohnson2016.)

That said, I would like to offer some considerations for your conscience to digest before casting a vote for Trump. If nothing else, I want to point out that a vote for Trump cannot be, for anyone who cares anything about Christianity, an enthusiastic vote. Compromise with Trump is one thing, but positive support for him is entirely unacceptable.

So, why do I think that Christians should refuse to vote for Trump? A handful of reasons.

  • Trump was pro-choice about 30 seconds ago. Is it really a coincidence that a sexually promiscuous man, people like whom benefit from abortion, only started saying he’s pro-life when he sought the nomination of a predominantly pro-life party? I find that awfully suspicious. It seems more likely that he’s just saying what his target voters want on this issue. If that’s true, we shouldn’t expect much help from him on abortion. More importantly, if that’s true, a vote for Trump is a vote for someone who actually doesn’t mind abortion, which is horrendous. After all, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:14).
  • Trump builds wealth for himself  by exploiting people with sin and vice. It’s no secret that Trump gets lots of money from casinos and strip clubs. These are institutions that Christians tend to oppose, and for good reason. Casinos take advantage of people’s greed and weakness, and of what they know about human behavior, to ruin them financially for profit. Gambling institutions break down families and drive people into bankruptcy. Yes, the people who suffer must take responsibility, but so must the businesses who know these effects and use them to get rich, anyway. The same goes for strip clubs, except instead of ruining people financially they ruin them morally and sexually. Can Christians really say, “I think a man who pays young girls to take off their clothes and parade themselves before lustful men should run the country?” Yet Trump owns and runs both of these kinds of businesses for but one reason (there really is no other reason for these businesses): the love of money, which is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10). If Trump will use these kinds of corrupt, immoral, vile, and antichrist methods to acquire money, what might he do for money with the power of the Presidency?
  • Trump is anti-family. Trump, we should recall, is a serial adulterer who has divorced two women so far to marry mistresses. We as Christians believe that stable, traditional families are the bedrock of civil society and were always intended to consist of lifelong faithfulness (Gen. 19:4-6). The benefits of marriages like this are numerous and well-documented. The damage done to society by the breakdown of these marriages is also extensive and well-known. Yet Trump contributes to this very breakdown, putting at the helm of our country someone who actively participates in one of the most destructive forces known to human society. Imagine, my conservative friends, if Trump was married to man. How many of you would vote for him then? Is repeated adultery, divorce, remarriage, and inappropriate sexual comments and conduct any better? To willingly endorse Trump is to give up all right to claim to care about “family values” or traditional marriage. Moreover, if this man cannot be trusted to even keep the most important vows of his life and be faithful to his wives he’s claimed to love, how can he be trusted to keep the oath of office and be faithful to the American people?
  • Trump is, well, morally bankrupt. It’s no secret that Trump has no virtues of any kind, or any redeeming moral qualities. Besides his sexual promiscuity and willingness to break sacred vows mentioned above, he is also cruel, arrogant, selfish, greedy, proud, a compulsive liar (far more than Clinton, who is dishonest enough), sexist, intentionally incendiary, and disrespectful to all people. Maybe charges of racism and xenophobia are exaggerated and misguided (or maybe they’re not), but it hardly matters when he treats all people poorly either way. Every time he has a chance, he proves these traits over and over. He speaks of people he doesn’t like in a way that I would spank my children for. The comments he makes about women are frequently either perverted or painfully demeaning. He bullies and attempts to silence people who disagree with or criticize him. He also uses corrupt, underhanded business practices to enrich himself at the expense of others, as mentioned above. And the disrespect he has shown to veterans and their families is entirely unacceptable.
    As conservative Christians, we have frequently made the character of our political leaders an important issue. Bill Clinton was rightly criticized for his sexual immorality (something Trump is familiar with) as President, and Christians lamented his reelection for, among other reasons, that very reason. He is not the only one to have been subject to this criticism, and rightly so. Character counts. Christians should hopefully realize this more than anyone, for “when the wicked rule, people groan” (Prov. 29:2). As Samuel Adams said, “Nothing is more essential to the establishment of manners in a State than that all persons employed in places of power and trust be men of unexceptionable character.” Noah Webster agreed: “When you become entitled to exercise the right of voting for public officers, let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers, ‘just men who will rule in the fear of God.'”
  • Trump is spiritually bankrupt. To be sure, I don’t think we are obligated to vote only for Christians, much less spiritually mature ones. Nonetheless, I think politicians should be held at least somewhat accountable to the faith which they claim to adhere to. This is, to be sure, a problem for many politicians, and I wouldn’t usually consider it a make-or-break issue on its own. Nonetheless, Trump shows even the worst of the worst here. Trump has repeatedly shown himself to be as fake and nominal in his “Christian” faith as possible. His character mentioned above, plus his casinos and strip clubs mentioned also, prove that beyond a doubt. So do many of his statements from his own mouth about his faith, such as saying early in the race that he had never asked God for forgiveness, and later that he doesn’t plan on having to ask God for much forgiveness. His answer to “Who do you say that Jesus is?” is as shallow and worthless as any cheesy, MTD platitudes. His statements about his relationship with God and the Church reveal a complete lack of interest and involvement, and every time he mentions religion he does it in an obviously self-serving way. Trump is a blasphemer through and through, pure and simple. An honest atheist would take my vote a million years before Trump.
  • Finally, he can’t save America. Even if America is in as precarious a situation as most Trump-supporters imagine, which seems highly unlikely, there isn’t any actual evidence or reason to believe that Trump has any ability to improve the situation, or that any of his policies would be sufficiently better than Hillary Clinton’s to warrant him as a “lesser evil” vote. His brash, unpredictable nature makes for disastrous possibilities in foreign policy, an area which can save or kill thousands or even millions of human lives. His experience in business has hardly anything in common with the Presidential office, no matter what people ignorantly say to the effect that the “government is basically like a big business.” He has no self-control or self-restraint, which will only make our enemies hate us more and our allies like us less. He has a history of bullying and punishing people who criticize him, an awful tendency for the leader of the executive branch of the United States of America. If Congress doesn’t cooperate with him, which is quite likely, he will almost certainly be prone to continue and expand the practice of abusing power through executive orders. His use of torture will only add more blood to the hands of a nation already drenched in the blood of the aborted (speaking of whom, he will likely do nothing to help them, either). The comments he’s made about US borrowing are economically dangerous, to put it lightly, and he has had to be told repeatedly why he can’t just bust out the nukes. He is dangerous, probably moreso than Hillary Clinton (and that’s saying something).

So there is is. This is my own contribution to the #NeverTrump position in Christianity, and I hold to it firmly. If you still feel the need to vote Trump, if your conscious forces your hand, then do so. But at least don’t smile about it. An enthusiastic vote for Trump, I believe with all my heart, is blatant sin, for all of the reasons listed above. To take pleasure in Donald Trump’s run for President is to take pleasure in an abomination before God. Let us never do such a thing. Our kingdom is not of this world, and it will last under the reign of Christ for all eternity, long after America is just one empire among many in boring history textbooks. The stakes are never as high as they seem in the politics of this age, but the stakes for our souls remain always paramount. Trust in God, not men, much less men like Donald Trump. To burn a pinch of incense to Caesar was always wrong, but so would it have been to join the barbarians who took Rome down.

Don’t Vote Trump, And If You Do, At Least Frown