Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pitting Jesus Against His Bride (Pt. II)

Yesterday, I began my response to David Mathis’ critique of the Catholic Church (which he writes as if he’s Jesus).  In that post, I answered his criticisms of Mary and the Saints, the Eucharist, and the papacy.  Today, I will address the remaining three topics: sola Scriptura, priestly celibacy, and justification.

Sola Scriptura

Jan Braet von Überfeld,
Portrait of a young woman with Bible (1866)
At the end of the section on the papacy, discussed yesterday, Mathis’ fake Jesus raised an argument for sola Scriptura:
“At my word, it was the apostles’ spoken and written words that served as the early church’s final authority — and when the apostles had passed, it was their preserved writings that have carried my voice as the church’s final authority these two thousand years, not the accumulated traditions of the church.”
What’s amusing is that Mathis doesn’t cite any Scripture for this, and can’t, because sola Scriptura isn’t found in the Bible. It’s why he’s left making up sayings of Jesus to defend Protestant doctrines and traditions.  In fact, Scripture says that we’re to hold fast to Scripture and Tradition (2 Thessalonians 2:15), and doesn’t have an expiration date of “until the Apostles have passed,” or “until you don’t feel like it anymore.”

Mathis has two more paragraphs after this attempting to defend sola Scriptura, but not one of the passages he cites to actually supports his position.  Like most defenses of sola Scriptura, Mathis is guilty of an invalid A to A simple conversion.  Put simply, proving that “all cats are mammals” doesn’t prove that “all mammals are cats.” Likewise, proving that “All the Scriptures are the word of God” doesn’t prove that “all the word of God is Scripture.” Otherwise, the (true) statement, “all four Gospels are the word of God,” would prove that the word of God consisted only of the Gospels, an obviously-false conclusion.

Logical fallacies aside, Mathis manages to show only that the Scriptures speak about God, Jesus is the Word of God, and Jesus is the final revelation of God.  Ironically, the passages he’s citing to are the Catholic response to sola Scriptura: that the ultimate revelation isn’t Scripture but Christ, Who alone is the Word in the truest sense. It’s only by virtue of a circular argument that Mathis thinks this proves Scripture alone is correct.

Once again, Mathis’ arguments against the Church (in this case, the Church’s undeniable role in establishing the canon of Scripture) are rooted in the idea that Christ and His Bride must be at odds: “In my new-covenant marriage with my bride, the Groom speaks the authoritative final word, not the Bride.” Compare Mathis’ fake Christ, whose authority is so easily threatened by His empowered Bride, with the real Christ, who pours Himself out completely for His Bride, and for her sake, not to show that He’s the Boss (Ephesians 5:25-27).  The real Christ is not only unafraid to empower His Bride, but actively empowers Her (Luke 9:1; Luke 10:19) and sends His Holy Spirit to do the same (Acts 1:8), power which remains with us (2 Tim. 1:7; Col. 1:29).

Priestly Celibacy

Adamo Tadolini, St. Paul (1838)
On some level, it looks like Mathis realizes that his argument here is weak. His first argument is:
But I say to you, I appreciate that you’re listening to 1 Corinthians 7, but what about the other things I have to say through my inspired spokesmen?
That’s the opening critique? That we’re not ignoring 1 Cor. 7 for the sake of other passages of Scripture? In the end, Mathis’ Jesus says that the Catholic Church excludes married men “from your priesthood, except upon special exception.” Unfortunately, Mathis’ Jesus doesn’t know very much about the Catholic Church. Only the Latin Rite prohibits married priests. The other Rites don’t requires any “special exception.”

Of course, in generally requiring celibacy, the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church is actually less strict than St. Paul appears to be.  In his instructions to Timothy in regards to the Order of Widows, he refers to the possibility of younger widows marrying, and notes that this would be a violation of “their first pledge” (1 Tim. 5:11-12).  That “first pledge” appears to be a vow of celibacy of some kind, Paul speaks as thought it’s mandatory for anyone to be enrolled in the Order of Widows, to the extent that someone who can’t live up to the pledge simply can’t be enrolled. The only difference between what Paul required then and what the Latin Rite requires now appears to be that the Latin Rite is more flexible.

Justification

On justification, Mathis writes:
It is true that you get involved in your ongoing holiness as my righteousness is imparted to you after you have been fully accepted (Romans 6:12–14). But don’t jump the gun by thinking you could ever muster holiness enough to earn your acceptance with the thrice-holy God. It is not the godly that my Father justifies, but the ungodly (Romans 4:6).
As far as I can tell, he’s actually defined what the Catholic Church teaches on justification. As St. Thomas Aquinas explained in the Summa,“it belongs to grace to operate in man by justifying him from sin, and to co-operate with man that his work may be rightly done.” Nothing we do can bring about our initial justification. God has to begin every good act with what’s called operative grace. But grace doesn’t overwhelm our free will: it liberates it, enabling us to do the good that God wants us to do. At this point, God and man cooperate: or as Mathis put it, “you get involved in your ongoing holiness.” So Mathis is answering some Pelagian stereotype of Catholicism, while supporting the actual teaching of the Catholic Church.

Conclusion

Paris Bordone,
Christ as 'The Light of the World'
The fact that pastors like John Piper and David Mathis are as woefully ignorant about the Catholic Church as they are is a two-sided coin. On the one hand, as a fellow Christian, this is an embarrassment. This is the age of the Internet, yet they seem to have no interest in checking their facts or making sure that the claims that they’re making are actually true. It’s both intellectually lazy and morally caviler, and these men are steering souls astray.

On the other hand, it always gives me a glimmer of hope. Even in writing an entire post to condemning the Catholic Church, Mathis came off as more ignorant than angry. And from their descriptions of Catholicism, it’s not clear to me that Mathis or Piper have ever met a Catholic, much less had a serious, open-minded discussion about theological differences.

My hope is that by exposing the falsehoods of Mathis, Piper, and a host of other Protestant theologians and apologists, they and their readers will be open to hearing the truth about Catholicism. God is more powerful than a mountain of ignorance.

6 comments:

  1. I enjoyed this pair of articles, and I think you address most of Mathis' issues with Catholicism very effectively. But I didn't follow your argument about priestly celibacy. If I'm understanding you correctly, in 1 Timothy 5 Paul is making reference to what we would today call an order of women religious, and we are assuming (I think fairly) that similar reasoning would also apply to a male order. So far so good.

    What I don't get is how that directly bears on the priesthood. What is the scriptural reasoning for (usually, within the Latin Rite) requiring that priests (same as "presbyters" or "pastors" or "main leaders in the local church"?) be celibate?

    Sorry if I'm just being dense, or if I'm confused about Church offices. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good question. My thoughts:

      1) Mathis’ Jesus condemns the (Latin) Catholic norm of clerical celibacy seem to be reasons to condemn the (Pauline) Order of Widows. There’s no principled reason, as far as I can tell, to say that religious celibacy is okay (and even good), while clerical celibacy is to be condemned.

      2) If I had to guess Mathis’ response here, it might be to invoke 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6, in which St. Paul permits a presbyter to have one wife. But these passages are barring the divorced and remarried from the presbytery. It’s possible (there’s an exegetical dispute) that Paul is barring presbyters from remarrying even upon the death of their wife, but that is less clear.

      What is certainly clear is that Paul’s not requiring presbyters to be married (as Mathis acknowledges), since both he and Jesus were celibates (as Mathis also acknowledges). Paul also isn’t trying to create a perpetual right to married clergy: you’d have to twist his words around quite severely to arrive at that outcome (since he’s speaking in the language of requirements, not of rights). I suspect that Mathis would agree with this: Paul is limiting the bounds of the presbytery, not expanding them.

      3) So then the question becomes a narrow one: can the Church require something beyond what Scripture requires? And the answer to this is obviously yes.

      Protestants and Catholics alike look for specific things in the men that they invite to serve in a pastoral function. Nothing in Scripture says (for example) that you need a college diploma or to be able to speak English, but the American churches rightly require these things anyway.

      I.X.,

      Joe

      P.S. I saw on your own blog that you like Bach and are drawing closer towards Catholicism, and thought I’d share this with you: the story behind Pope Benedict’s favorite Bach cantata (along with the piece itself).

      Delete
    2. Thanks Joe, makes more sense now. And thanks also for the links! I love that cantata, and enjoyed reading the article. "Greatest apologetic" indeed.

      Delete
  2. Gosh, you'd think Mathis would counter with another blog post or something... Time to make sure the readers of dG see this!

    ReplyDelete
  3. As a person born and raised in the Methodist church, I can too clearly see how David Mathis thinks that he is using forms of sound argument. From statements made in passing to theological teaching, statements about Catholic doctrine, practice, and culture are flippantly repeated from person to person, generation after generation. There is utterly no question from anyone regarding the veracity of the statements. As part of the Protestant culture, they are assumed as true as the sun comes up every morning. To add insult to injury, those converting from Catholicism to Protestantism often do not know or understand the doctrine they previously believed, adding even greater confusion to the mix. Add that together with a grand dose of misquoting others and what many Protestants believe about Catholicism would make volumes of stories on the level of some of the grandest fairytales.

    I converted to Catholicism through prayer. That prayer was not for me but to be a benefit for another who had chosen to convert; to take the brunt of any argument or challenge to their conversion while they were still new, vulnerable, and learning the depths of their new-found belief. In the midst of that it was painfully obvious the Catholic Church was to be my home. The word painful is appropriate. I ducked, looked up, and exclaimed in complete shock, "you are sending me into the Lion's Den?" That is the culmination of the fear and misinformation flowing freely through some congregations, and working within various missions and ministries, I have been involved with a well rounded number. Attending that first Mass bordered on a feeling of terror. Attending those first catechism classes were filled with trepidation. But those who have received a few knocks in the head know it is always best to obey Him without bulking, so went I did. Thank God. Imagine the heartache throughout catechism classes as layer upon layer of biblical and theological truth unfolds, with the complete realization that when looking in the mirror, one of those helping to widen the schism and spread misinformation is staring right back.

    With patients, we can all turn back the tide of that schism. We can love our neighbours; not by arguing with them, but helping them to see the reality of our beliefs. I think your two blogs on the subject of Mathis' arguments are exactly what we need under such circumstance. Asking parishioners to invite friends and non-catholic family to social events and even Mass would be a great starting point. Teaching parishioners to explain to their non-Catholic friends that they are welcome to receive a blessing from the Priest or Deacon during communion, but that out of RESPECT for both non-Catholics who have not agreed to the religious tenets of the Eucharist and RESPECT for the Catholics who hold those tenets very seriously, the Eucharist is for Catholics who have formally agreed to those tenets.

    Thank you for such great articles, and for such an informative blog site! With all humility and love we should be engaging our brothers and sisters in Christ to more conversation and more direct experience within the Church. Only then can we help them to see the fantasy from the reality. The rest is between them and God.

    ReplyDelete