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Re: Reformed-Baptist Perspective
Below are two e-mails from the same person commenting on my article Reformed-Baptist Perspective, along with my replies. In the first exchange, the e-mailers comments are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My comments are in red. The same headings used in the article are reprinted here.
>Hi Gary, thanks for the newsletter. It's great.
I also need to thank the Lord and you for having such a wonderful web site. Your articles about the Trinity are among the very best I've ever seen. Other subjects are equally interesting .<
Thank you for the kind remarks.
>Being a Catholic, I have some different views from the Reform or Baptist position, but being a not-too-orthodox Catholic, I find that they are not altogether contradictory.<
"not-too-orthodox Catholic?" This should prove interesting.
>I tend to agree with Luther here, some Traditions are not directly supported by the Scriptures, but it is safe to retain them, because they are also not directly contradicted.
Specifically, I find the various Catholic doctrines about Virgin Mary to be quite sense-less, from a practical Christian point of view, for example, how can Mary's sexual life after the birth of the Lord might affect my Christianity today? The RCC [Roman Catholic Church] should stop pushing that hard such useless dogma.<
That is exactly my point when I state, "And I agree with Calvin that traditions without Scriptural support must not become church "laws" that must be followed. Our liberty in Christ should never be compromised (Gal 5;1,13; Col 2:20-23; 1Tim 4:1-5)."
I hope to write more specifically about Catholicism in the near future. I just purchased the new "Catholic Catechism" to aid in my research and to document Catholic teachings.
In regards to Mary, my biggest problem is not so much that I disagree with Catholic teachings like the Assumption and Immaculate Conception; but that these teachings have been declared official "dogmas" of the Catholic Church. IMO, doctrines that are not explicitly taught or even implicitly implied in Scriptures should never become an official teaching of a church. For more on my views in this regard see "Judge Not ...."
>You failed to explain here, but it by this you mean that God is Holy and man is sinful by nature, I agree.<
That is what I was trying to say; but apparently not as clearly as I had hoped! In addition, it is because God is holy and we are sinful that it is only by His grace (unmerited favor) that we can be saved.
>Well, yes, Jesus bought ourselves for God with His blood and we are saved if we believe that, but works are also necessary. Your faith moved you with overwhelming force to start the DTL ministry, or am I wrong? True and Live faith, as James stated so clearly, always translate to works. Works alone are, at best useless, at worst an abomination, also faith alone.<
Works are "necessary" yes; but necessary for what is the question. Works are necessary as a demonstration that someone is saved; but they are not necessary to be saved. So yes, my faith led me to start DTL; but I do not in any way feel my salvation is dependant on my doing this ministry.
As for James, he writes, "What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?" (2:14; NASB). I quote this verse from the New American Standard Bible as it brings out a point of the Greek text that most other versions miss.
Notice the word "that" in the last sentence. This is a translation of the Greek definitive article, generally translated as "the." But in this context, it is an article of previous reference.
To paraphrase greatly, James is saying, "Can the kind of faith that I just mentioned, the kind of faith that does not produce good works, can that kind of faith save him?" The answer is, of course, no.
In other words, works are the RESULT of a true faith. Or, as Luther put it, "Faith alone saves; but the faith that saves is not alone."
Or to use more technical terms, the Reformed faith recognizes that there is a distinction between justification and sanctification. We are first justified from our sins; our justification then leads to sanctification.
Justification is a one-time, once-for-all event; whereas sanctification is a process that continues until glorification. In Catholicism justification and sanctification are commingled and these distinctions blurred.
For more on my views on salvation see the articles listed at Forgiveness and Salvation.
Sovereignty of God:
>Yes and no, I mean, God has the Sovereignty over all, but normally, He lets the humans to use our freedom. But certainly our freewill is not absolute, God can bypass it. From personal experience God bypasses it very scarcely, and rarely without our being willing to let Him.<
The book No Place for Sovereignty that I review on my Web site discusses the subject of "freewill" in depth. Check out the book, or at least my review, for more on this subject: No Place for Sovereignty.
Also, please see my Scripture Study on The Sovereignty of God found in my Scripture Workbook.
1. The supreme authority of the Bible:
>Yes, of course.<
Interesting comment for a Catholic. Official Catholic teaching is that the Bible is not "supreme" but only equal to "tradition" which includes the decisions of "Ecumenical Councils" and "ex cathedra" pronouncements of the pope.
2. Preaching and evangelism:
3. Believers baptism:
>Here I don't agree,<
Actually, I wouldnt expect a Catholic, even a "not-too-orthodox Catholic" to agree with believers baptism.
>While Peter was preaching in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10) the Holy Spirit descended over all of the people gathered there, v. 44: "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word."
There is no reason to suppose that there were no children there. Or, for that matter, anywhere else where the apostles preached. Acts 10:47 "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?"<
To paraphrase you, "There is no reason to suppose that there WERE children there."
My grandfather (on my mothers side) died last week. At the funeral was, of course, my entire extended family. The youngest person there was my cousins daughter, Kelly. Shes six years old and in the first grade. In other words, in my entire "clan" there are no infants or pre-schoolers.
So it is more than possible for a group of people; even an entire extended family, to be gathered together without there being any young children there.
>We Catholics do view the Baptism as the equivalent of the Jew circumcision, this is, the symbol of belonging, and we fully welcome our children as full members of the church.
There has been some progress in this respect. For example, My confirmation was 25 years ago when I was only a few months old, a little time after my baptism. Today, infant confirmation is not allowed and it is encouraged to be done in the teen or pre-teen age.
Children are allowed to partake the Body of Christ only when they are able to understand what are they doing. This can be done as early as the age of seven, but normally occurs between the 8 and 10 years of age.<
I read a book titled So you want to be a Christian?" by, I believe it was, J.I. Packer a few years ago. In the book, he makes the proposition that there is not really that much of a difference between Baptist churches and pedobaptist churches (i.e. churches that baptize infants; "pedo" comes from the Greek word for child).
His reasoning was that in Baptist churches people are dedicated as infants; then latter in life they are baptized. Meanwhile, in pedobaptist churches, people are baptized as infants, then later in life they are confirmed. Thus, in his mind, "Baptist dedication = pedobaptist baptism" and "Baptist baptism = pedobaptist confirmation."
Theres something to be said for this comparison; but I dont agree with it entirely. There are similarities; but also differences. This is especially so in the Catholic church which believes in baptismal regeneration.
I will simply say this, if a person believes that he is saved simply because he was baptized (whenever that was) then I strongly disagree. I also would strongly disagree with the claim that one HAS to be baptized to be saved and with baptismal regeneration.
4. Local church autonomy [Congregationalism]:
>Peter, Paul and the apostles had authority over the local church government, your view is not fully supported by the NT, much less by the OT.<
Yes, but what happened after the apostles died? That is the important question. Did they establish an apostolic succession, with a hierarchical, top-down, government, that had authority over all the churches, and that was headed by one infallible leader?
Or did each individual church operate under the authority of the writings that the apostles left behind without regard to any outside authority?
Or was there a mutual inter-co-operation between churches with each church providing doctrinal and ethical oversight to one another?
A full "Scripture Study" along with a study of early church history would be needed to answer these questions. Maybe someday. In the meantime, I will say I would completely disagree with the first view. My view, as indicated in the article, is a combination of the latter two.
5. Separation of Church and state:
>Thank you again.
Thank you for your comments also.
In this second exchange, my comments to which the e-mailer is responding to are in purple and enclosed in double "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. His responses are in black and enclosed in single "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My replies to his responses are in red.
>>"not-too-orthodox Catholic?" This should prove interesting.<<
>My beliefs indeed are controversial, specially when I propose them to orthodox Roman Catholics (I personally don't know any "Orthodox Catholics", this is, from the Orthodox Catholic Church(es)).
Here in Guadalajara, though, is located a Jesuit Center of Philosophy and Sciences and my heterodox views pale compared to some things they do. Religious research is absolutely not for beginners.<
It is probably best to get grounded in ones own faith first before investigating other viewpoints. This is why I list "The Essentials of the Faith" first on the Subject Index and Scripture Studies pages.
>>I hope to write more specifically about Catholicism in the near future. I just purchased the new "Catholic Catechism" to aid in my research and to document Catholic teachings.<<
>I look forward to reading your articles.<
When I get then posted they will be listed on Catholicism, a new Subject Index page.
>>In regards to Mary, my biggest problem is not so much that I disagree with Catholic teachings like the Assumption and Immaculate Conception; but that these teachings have been declared official "dogmas" that all Catholics HAVE to believe or they are declared to be in sin.<<
>Well, there are basically three dogmas about Mary, her immaculate conception (IC), her perpetual virginity (PV) and her assumption (A). While I find all three possible, and personally have no trouble in believing them in the light of the Bible, I have some points to argue:
First, IC is reasonable, but too complicated, my experience is that God acts in simple, straightforward, ways and retroactively applying Christ's merits to save Mary in the very moment of her conception sounds pretty strange. Even more, Paul (or was it Heb.?) states that God sent his Son born of a woman *under the law*. It seems to me that the only reason that Paul had for the very existence of the law is sin, so if Mary was under the law, it was because she was also subject to our common human sinfulness, but then again, RCC states that Mary was saved by Christ, only that salvation was "applied" to her from the beginning. Understandable, believable, but weird, I mean, What for?
About PV, I've always said that it is none of our business the sexual life (or absence of it) of Mary after the birth of Jesus. As for Mary having other children, it seems implied when the gospels talk about brothers and sisters of Jesus, but it seems that the term used does not necessarily mean carnal siblings. At the very best, this entire subject is pointless.
About A, well, it is very tied to IC, If Mary was free from sin from her conception, then also from the sequels of sin, hence from death, so she need not die. If we accept IC, then A seems very logical, but there are problems with IC as I stated before.<
I basically agree with what you have to say here. BTW, it is in Gal 4:4 that Paul writes, "But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law."
>>Or to use more technical terms, the Reformed faith recognizes that there is a distinction between justification and sanctification. We are first justified from our sins; our justification then leads to sanctification. Whereas in Catholicism, these two are commingled.<<
>I am not sure whether Catholicism teaches this, but it is impossible from a very practical point of view. Simply believing in Christ does not make ourselves immune to our sinful nature, so justification, being the very act on which we are forgiven by God is different from sanctification which is a lifetime process.<
Perhaps some definitions will help to clarify matters:
Justification. In the doctrine of salvation, the declaration that the human has been restored to a state of righteousness in Gods sight.
Sanctification. The divine act of making the believer actually holy, that is, bringing the persons moral condition into conformity with the legal status established in justification.
Glorification. The final step in the process of salvation; it involves completion of sanctification and removal of spiritual defects (from Millard J. Erickson. Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology, pp. 90, 147, 64).
So in justification we are "declared" ("reckoned" - "imputed" - "accounted") righteous by faith in Christ apart from works. It is a "legal" declaration, like a judge declaring someone "not guilty." It is at this point that a person is "saved" from future damnation, even though sin still remains in a practical sense (Rom 4:1-8; 7:24-25).
In sanctification, God takes the person whom He has already declared righteous and molds that person into the image of His Son. The remaining sin is slowly, but steadily, purged from the person over his lifetime (Rom 8:29).
Glorification, then is the final step in making us truly righteous. Sin is finally and totally eliminated. This does not happen until death (Rom 8:30).
Lastly, I do believe that the Catholic Church teaches we are saved by the good works that the Holy Spirit does within us. And this would be a commingling of justification and sanctification. But it will take some research to fully document this. Again, I need time to do such research.
>>Interesting comment for a Catholic. Official Catholic teaching is that the Bible is not "supreme" but only equal to "tradition" which generally includes the decisions of "Ecumenical Councils" and "ex cathedra" pronouncements of the pope.<<
>Ecumenical Councils can not state new dogma, decisions taken in Ecumenical Councils are often pastoral guidelines, not dogmatic constitutions. When there are some dogmatic constitutions, they are regarded as doctrines, derived from the historic repository, but at the very foundation of all those is the Bible. A dogma that contradicts our interpretation of the Bible will never pass.
The same goes for "Ex Cathedra" pronouncements, these ones being even more scarce and restricted than the Ecumenical Councils.
So even as Catholics understand that God stills guides His people through the Church (Tradition and Ex-Cathedra), we also believes that the Bible is the one true written Word of God, supreme authority in any doctrinal issue.<
It depends what you mean by "new dogmas." To me, "new" is anything not explicitly affirmed in the Bible. But if by "new" you mean the idea is not invented at the council itself, then that would be true.
For instance, the first six councils dealt mainly with the Person and nature of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. They were just affirming what the NT and Post-Apostolic Church (i.e. the Church of the second and third centuries) had taught. Although, the councils did use language that is not found in the Bible, the decisions were basically Biblical.
For this reason most Protestant churches accept the affirmations of these councils. Protestants do not consider the documents they produced to be inpsired in the sense that the Bible is. So we disagree with some of the statements (like the declaration that Mary is "The Mother of God").
In any case, the seventh council (Nicea II in 787 AD) declared that the veneration of icons was appropriate. Now, the idea of the use of icons in church services was not "new" in the sense that people had been using them for some time.
However, there is no indication whatsoever that icons were venerated by believers in the NT. So the practice was most definitely "new" in the sense that it was not based on Apostolic practice. I doubt it that it was a Post-Apostolic practice either. The veneration of icons probably began sometime after Nicea I (in 325 AD).
The same could be said for many other practices and doctrines affirmed in the councils following Nicea II, right up to Vatican II. Doctrines and practices not in the NT, nor even in the Post-Apostolic Church, but which began sometime afterwards, are declared true and/ or appropriate.
So Protestant churches reject the decisions of these latter councils. The various teachings asserted in these councils and the Protestant reasons for rejecting them are the kinds of things I hope to address articles sometime in future, God willing.
Lastly, it was with an "ex cathedra" pronouncement that, "In 1951 Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of the Blessed Mother of God a doctrine of faith" (Robert C. Broderick, M.A. "The Catholic Concise Encyclopedia." Catechetical Guide Educational society, 1956).
The last place Mary is specifically mentioned in Scripture is in Acts 1:14. There, she is alive and well, still on earth, and simply praying with the rest of the 120. So the dogma of her "Assumption" is most definitely "new" in regards to the Bible. Exactly when the idea originated would require some research.
>>So it is more than possible for a group of people; even an entire extended family, to be gathered together without there being any young children there.<<
>That may be true for small- to mid-sized family groups, but not for entire communities. Fact is that we have children full of love and peace, praying to God as their father (my 1 year old daughter, for instance) and actively serving the kingdom of God. Those are the very signs of the Holy Spirit acting in them.<
I would agree that an entire community would include infants, which is why I do not agree with mass baptisms of communities. The 3000 baptized on Pentecost ware not a community per se. They were, " devout men, from every nation under heaven" who had traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast.
The text further says about them:
And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, "Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? "And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?" (Acts 2:5-8).
They were baptized after they cried out, "Men and brethren what shall we do?" (Acts 2:36). The above activities are descriptive of adults, or at least older children; but not young children or infants.
In Acts 10, Cornelius household "heard the word" and then the disciples "heard them speak with tongues and magnify God." Infants cannot "hear the word" or "magnify God" with understanding of what they are hearing and doing.
I realize that it must be heart-warming for a parent to see your young child fold her hands in prayer. But I would doubt that she really understands what she is doing. She is more likely imitating and following the instructions of her parents.
Giving her such godly example and instruction is great! And one reason for infant dedication in Baptist churches is for the parents to dedicate themselves to give such godly example and upbringing to their children. But the children are not baptized until it can be determined that they do in fact understand for themselves what it is all about.
Again, see my Scripture Study Questions on Baptism for on my position in this regard.
>>I will simply say this, if a person believes that he is saved simply because he was baptized (whenever that was) then I strongly disagree. I also would strongly disagree with the claim that one HAS to be baptized to be saved and with baptismal regeneration.<<
>I agree with you here, If someone believes that you are saved simply by or only if you are baptized, it is wrong. Again, special case are children under the so-called age of accountability. Precisely today I posted my views on that to the CHRISTIA list, I'll copy them here for you:
I think this whole argument about the age of accountability is pointless, since we are saved by Grace of God, I mean, What is it to you if God chooses to save all children? What is it to you if He doesn't?
I believe that al human, regardless of age, are separated by nature from the Grace of God and in absolute need of salvation, but Salvation is of the Lord, the Lord Saved us, Jesus Christ died on the cross, so that we don't have to suffer death. The infinite merits of the atonement in the cross can be applied for salvation of anyone and everyone if it is God's will.
So what's the point? The Bible says that if we are able and reject salvation we'll be forever lost, the Bible also says that if we are able and accept salvation in Jesus by faith and repent, we'll be saved forever. The Bible stops here. Anything else are man-made delusions.
I basically agree with your comments here.
>>Yes, but what happened after the apostles died? That is the important question. Did they establish an apostolic succession, with a hierarchical, top-down, government, that had authority over all the churches, and that was headed by one infallible leader?<<
>The Hierarchy for the local church is even in the Bible (Deacons, Presbyters and Episkopos), the fact that there were Councils all over Christian history points that we should be united and this requires institution and institutions require leadership. Whether or not this leader needs to be infallible is beyond the scope of this discussion, don't you think?<
In the Bible, the terms "presbyters" (or "elders" - Gr. presbuteroi) and "overseers" (or "bishops"- Gr. episkopos), along with the term "pastor" (or "shepherd" - Gr. poimenas) are used interchangeably. "Deacons" would then be a separate office. See Acts 20:17,28; Eph 4:11; Phil 1:1; 1Tim 3:1,2,8f; Titus 1:5,7; 1Pet 5:1f.
I hope to do a "Scripture Study" commenting on these and related verses sometime in the future.
As for councils, the first Church council was in Acts 15 (c. 50 AD). But this one stands "unique" from all later councils as it was the only one in which the apostles attended.
The next council was not until 325 AD. Thats about 275 years later. After Nicea, there are "Councils all over Christian history" - but the Post-Apostolic Church did not see a need for them. They appealed to the writings the apostles left behind and the "Rule of Faith" to maintain their unity.
As indicated above, after the first six councils, they began to deviate from discussions on essential doctrines specifically addressed in the Bible and instead, tried to settle disputes over doctrines and practices that arose after Apostolic and Post-Apostolic times. See my article Essentials of "the Faith" for more on the unity of the early Church.
Lastly, I recently read a book that addresses matters such as these titled: Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up: A New Look at todays Evangelical Church in the Light of Early Christianity, by David W. Berot (Scroll Publishing Co., 1989). The book was sent to me by one of the subscribers to my newsletter.
I dont agree with everything in the book. It is written from an Anabaptist viewpoint. But I did find it rather interesting. You might find it worth checking out.
>Thank you for your very interesting letter.
And thank you for yours.
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