Monday, May 30, 2005

Dialogue on Apostate Churches and Choosing Churches (with "BWL")

"BWL" attends a Lutheran church. These are his follow-up questions, in response to my paper (also replying to a Lutheran): Honor Thy Denominations Rather Than Thy Church Fathers? (Lutherans, Sola Scriptura, & the Fathers). His words will be in blue.


Thanks for your thoughtful reply. You are a pleasure to dialogue with.

I maintain, however, that at the end of the day Catholics also use "private judgement." The only way I could see that this would not be the case would be if Catholics would never, ever, ever under any condition dissent against their church.

As long as it remains faithful in those tenets to which we are absolutely bound (as it always has) then we do not and should not do so.

I don't subscribe to the view that Catholics are mindless robots of the pope,

Good. We aren't, anymore than any Christian is a "mindless robot" of the Bible or the Nicene Creed. Everyone believes certain things, and belief is not the same thing as "mindless following."
so I think this must be the case. To give you some examples, what would you do if hypothetically speaking the pope, along with all of the RC bishops in council declared any of the following:

1. Contraception is totally allowed for Catholics
2. "Gay marriages" are allowed for Catholics
3. The creed will be replaced by the statement "there is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet"

I would sadly conclude that I have been deceived about Catholicism as I understood it to be, and leave.

Now, of course I realize that the likelihood of any of these (esp. #3) is nil. But hypothetically speaking, what would you do?

I would immediately look for another Christian communion that held true to traditional Christianity. I would probably (I imagine) wind up back in a small, conservative non-denominational group, like what I was in for much of the 80s. I would have to ditch the (Catholic or Orthodox) notion of "one, true, institutional Church."

I know contraception is a big issue for you,

Yeah, it is, just as it was for the Church Fathers and folks like Luther and Calvin . . .

but I'm guessing you might be willing to submit to the church on it more than #2 or #3.

No. It's a very grave sin. I'm a pro-lifer and a Christian who obeys God; I don't play games with something as utterly serious and God-ordained as the transmission of life and the deepest purpose of sexuality.

But if you would dissent and even break with the church over any of these, then how have you abandoned "private judgement"?

Such a circumstance would be extraordinary. Thus far, it hasn't happened, and even you admit that the likelihood is "nil." Arguing about the remotest hypotheticals is far from abandoning or accepting private judgment. This isn't about reality at the moment. It's just a philosophical "game," so to speak. But I'm much more interested in following God in His true Church than in playing these mind games of "what if" and so forth. I answered honestly; I just don't think this proves what you think it proves regarding private judgment.

If you have abandoned it, would you say there is no reason you would ever leave the church? Even the ones above?

No; that's always been my position. I've always been willing to be convinced of other positions, too, just as I was when I converted to Catholicism. That's why I love dialogue so much. But in fact, I haven't seen anything in 15 years now that would make me doubt that the Catholic Church is what She says She is. So I am here because I believe it to be the fullest truth obtainable within Christianity.

If you Protestants think that about your own positions (I use the plural, because there are many, of course), then you ought to be willing to fully defend them, too, and also give them up if they are shown to be erroneous. But instead, I have the hardest time finding any Protestant who will look closely and honestly at these very important root-level considerations. That's why I admire you for making some attempt to do that.

Of course, you also have faith the church would never teach any of these things,

Exactly, and since it hasn't historically, I see no reason to believe that it will in the future, precisely because it has been uniquely protected by God against doing so.

but keep in mind this is all in the hypothetical.

Exactly . . .

I think Catholics are Catholics not so much because they submit to the magisterium, but because they agree with what it teaches in the first place.

Both are true.

If you hadn't become convinced of the RC teachings when you were looking into Catholicism on say contraception and divorce, would have you become Catholic?

No, because it was clear to me that this was what the Christian Church had always held, and that it was being compromised today by many if not most Christian groups. Generally speaking, I converted because I believed the Church was what She claimed to be. I had basically become convinced of the truth of everything that the Church teaches, but not exhaustively, and not in minute detail. I learned about why the Church holds what She does, right after my conversion, when I started writing, for the sake of explaining to my Protestant friends.

But the prior assumption in all this was that there was such a thing as "the historical Church, established by Christ," and that this was an identifiable entity, that could be shown to be such, by historical examination, in faith. If I had believed beforehand that no such institutional Church existed (as many Protestants do, on unbiblical, ahistorical grounds), then I wouldn't have considered converting. I could have just stayed where I was, and practiced my own brand of Christianity as I construed it. But I knew enough to know that Christianity is intrinsically historical and incarnational, so I couldn't simply do that. I knew too much and therefore had to keep searching till I found the one True Church, in the fullest sense of that term.

These things are ultimately matters of the history of the Church: the Body of Christ and the embodiment of Christian doctrine, not my choice or any individual's choice. If all Christians opposed contraception before 1930, then they did, and Christians must accept that as a hugely relevant factor. It's ludicrous to believe that no Christian understood the truth about contraception properly until the good ole Church of England in 1930, and later, the godly Sexual Revolution and its free sex message. . It's not just a matter of my opinion. I thought contraception was fine (didn't have the slightest concern about it) till I started to hear facts like that, and till I was confronted with the moral logic of a true pro-life position (as I was in the Rescue movement at the time, and wondered why Catholics opposed contraception); then I was forced to choose between my radically individualistic "choice" and the Mind of the Church, as expressed by its constant belief through the centuries.

Same questions go for converts to Lutheranism, Methodism, Baptists or whatever.


Perhaps the distinction is in applying "private judgement" i.e. that Protestants, especially those coming out of the radical Reformation (solo Scriptura types) are much more likely to use their private judgement and break with their church for the most silly reasons imaginable.

Yep. There have been splits among Amish-type groups over things like the use of buttons. I read that in Christianity Today.

As for interpeting the Scripture and the Fathers (yes, Protestants such as Chemnitz interpret the Fathers too, and both Protestants and Orthodox think the RC has departed from the Fathers), the same question applies to us all: why accept your interpretation?

Because it is consistent with the facts of history, of course. It accepts what the Fathers believed (as a matter of consensus, not absolute unanimity). I would argue that Protestant views (where they depart from Catholic ones) cannot establish their case historically, and that this is clearly, almost incontrovertibly the case.

I don't see why it doesn't apply to the Catholics just as well or how the Catholic answer is any better than the Lutheran one.

Simply put: because of our historical pedigree, and the overwhelming weight of historical argument. Now, are you prepared to answer all my questions that I asked individually or not? [in the paper referred to at the beginning] I've answered all of yours.

God bless,


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