Sunday, May 20, 2007

Email to a PCA Minister - Defending the Church

On my plane from Detroit to Nagoya, Japan a month or so ago, I had the pleasure of sitting beside a (retired) PCA minister and his wife who were on their way to do mission work in Japan. During our conversation, I remember the confused / surprised look on his face when I told him that I grew up PCA but had since converted to the Catholic Church. His expression said "Why on earth would you do that?!" I can't blame him, 2 years ago I would have had the same reaction.

We then had a lively discussion which (thankfully) passed the remaining 3 hours of the 13 hour flight quickly. We hit all the typical points of discussion. Even with such a long flight though, there's only so much ground you can cover. So I promised him an email to follow up and back up my claims. Here is that email:

Now as for our conversation, I promised you a response by email to back up my claims and here it is (again sorry for the delay). There are three main things that you said that I want to clearly demonstrate are entirely false:

1. 70% of Catholic Cardinals are in favor of making the virgin Mary part of the Trinity.
2. The early Church Fathers (by in large) did not believe in the Real Presence.
3. The Church's refusal to liberalize on the issue of contraception has caused many abortions.

1. You stated that this was originally posted in a Newsweek article. I don't know what the Newsweek article said but here's what I found while googling for it. (My own personal website mentioning this incident two weeks ago showed up in the top 10 on Google with the keywords "newsweek mary trinity" which should tell you right off the bat that the article was probably misunderstood). Of course, you and I both know that Newsweek is hardly a pro-Catholic source. Here is a previous post of mine responding to a clearly anti-Catholic article run in Newsweek around Christmas. But even coming from an anti-Catholic source, there is no possible way Newsweek would have reported something so preposterous. It would be like the New York Times reporting that orthodox Jews were going to start eating pork and praying to statues or that Islam was going to reduce Mohammed's status to "just a good guy". Its something so far off reality that even the National Enquirer wouldn't risk its credibility by posting something like that.

I found this link which I think can help clear up the confusion. The petition you were talking about was an international one signed by 4 million Catholics (perhaps even many cardinals and perhaps 70% of cardinals; the article doesn't say) to petition Pope JPII to grant Mary the official title of 'co-redemptrix'. Some critics of the petition argued that doing so would elevate her to divine status thus making the Trinity a quartet. Whether that's true or not is irrelevant. The Pope said plainly we're not going to do it.

Like I said, if that ever happens (her being elevated to the Trinity) I'll fly to Houston, buy you lunch and convert to the PCA or whatever the young conservative Protestant denomination is at the time. I can say this with confidence because I know beyond any doubt whatsoever, that this would never in a million years happen.

2. As for the Real Presence, this one is very easy. This message is already getting lengthy so I'll try to limit my quotes. In fact I'll just give one from St. Ignatius and give you plenty of links so you can research for yourself.

St. Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans (107 AD):

They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ,
The heresy of denying the real presence dates back to the early second century and probably earlier. It was a hard teaching then, it's a hard one now. But the Church has always taught this and the vast majority of Christianity still believes it. But don't just take my word for it, here's my post on St. Ignatius' writings concerning the Real Presence.

Here is a link with about 20 quotes from the 4 century and earlier that shows with no ambiguity the Fathers unanimously agreed on this. Here is one from Dave Armstrong where he reports on 9 different Protestant scholars who admit that the Early Church taught this doctrine. I could post more as there are tons - but I've given you enough to read already. The early Christians speak for themselves. Like I said - the early Church fathers are not unanimous on all subjects but there are 2 'controversial' ones that they are unanimous on. 1. The regenerative nature of and the necessity of baptism and 2. The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. You won't find any early Christian denying either of these two doctrines. The first prominent Christian that I know of who denied the Real Presence was Wycliffe some 1300 years after the founding of the Church. I don't know when Christians started denying the regenerative nature of Baptism.

It was this issue (the Real Presence) that made me realize how 'Catholic' (in the modern sense of the word) the Early Church was. I'm sure you're aware of the recent 'high profile' conversion of Dr. Beckwith (president of the Evangelical Theological Society) to the Catholic Church. Like him and almost all other conversions that I know of, it wasn't the writings of modern scholars or even apologists that won us over to the Church, but the writings of those Christians who laid the foundations for her.

3. Finally, when you said that the PCA & OPC are going to eventually liberalize I agreed with you. That is the nature of man-made institutions. Which is why it is so utterly phenomenal and inconceivable that the Catholic Church has lasted this long without liberalizing (unless the Holy Spirit was protecting her from doing so). That was another selling point for me. If the Reformers were right and the visible Church had become corrupted, then it must have been a man made institution. But if so, how did it last for 2000 years and maintain not some but all of her teachings? There is no doctrine that the Church ever taught that she now rejects.

Now contraception is not a new issue as you know, and up until 1930 every single Christian denomination prohibited its use. Quote:
Prior to the 1930s all Christian denominations were united in their firm rejection of contraceptives. The Lambeth Conference of the Church of England (1930) marks the first departure from this unanimous prohibition, by advocating the use of artificial contraception when abstinence was deemed impracticable. The Federal Council of Churches (1931) equally adopted a policy of conservative advocation for artificial birth control methods. Most major Protestant traditions followed suit, and by 1961, the National Council of Churches declared a liberal policy on contraceptive use, subject to mutual consent between couples.(1)
Now maybe all the Christians were wrong until 1930 and the Catholic Church is just the only one too stubborn to admit it. I dont want to get into the details of discussing it but here are three short videos from Father Tom Euteneuer on the subject which are very good in my opinion. One, Two & Three. And here is Kimberly Hahn's mp3 on the subject which I'm sure is great though I haven't heard it. Finally, here is an apologetic article with a number of quotes from the Church fathers. So I'll leave you to listen and read that material and decide for yourself.

But let me address the logical fallacy of the argument that the Church, by failing to liberalize on this issue has caused many abortions. The problem is this, if someone is going to be obedient behind closed doors, why would they be disobedient in public on a much graver issue? Or to be more direct, why would someone obey the Church and refuse to wear a condom but then if she got pregnant would turn around and murder her child? It simply doesn't make sense. Anyone who is willing and prepared to hire someone to murder the living child inside her is certainly not going to be above using contraception. (The fact that many contraceptives are, in fact, abortive is another discussion). Furthermore, the videos from Father Euteneuer above also address the false idea that prohibition of contraception increases abortion. One of the key stats quoted in the above videos on that subject is the fact that some 60+% of abortions are performed on women because of contraception failure.

Contraception and its permission breeds an attitude of selfishness and promiscuity which inevitably lead to more abortion certainly not less. The videos do a much better job than I could on the subject so I hope you'll take the time to view them.

In conclusion, I don't expect to convince you to change your mind on any of the topics we discussed. But as a Catholic, it is simply my duty to respond to these allegations against my mother (the Church) which are entirely false. I do not in any way intend to question your integrity or sincerity so forgive any thing I said which is too blunt. I know that you love our Lord Jesus Christ and are serving Him with sincerity of heart. We are brothers in Christ though not in full communion and I look forward to the day where all Christians who have been redeemed by Christ will share one banquet table in heaven.

God bless.


Tiber Jumper said...

That was a beautiful letter done in a spirit of humility. It's so important to confront the misconceptions as you did so nicely.
great job. Sadly the RRA syndrome also effects their visual reception as well. :)

Johnny Vino said...

I used to find the "co-redemptrix" issue a little disconcerting - and there's no denying that many you meet champion that title are a little kooky and prone to believe in other extra-magisterial type things. I've since realized its a matter of perspective and language. The "co-" in this instance simply means cooperator, and its hard to dispute that Mary cooperated in a special way in the salvation of man. And while the orthodox apprehension within us rightly cringes at the whiff of honor-turned-adoration, it is perhaps that resistance which confuses the pronouncement that is being sought theologically.

And is "co-redeemer" unsound theologically ehen viewed as a product of perfect humility? It's hard to argue against it from a scriptural or magisterial basis. Paul himself posited a radical doctorine of cooperation that requires the active participation of each individual in their own salvation in a way that goes well beyond sola fide.

Colossians 1
24: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,

It would seem to me that that verse should've posed real problems to the theological offshoots spawned by Luther and Calvin, but oh well... we all tend to read what justifies our own preset beliefs.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

TJ - thanks!

Johnny - excellent points as usual. I totally agree that the word 'co' is often misunderstood to mean 'equal with' when in reality it doesn't mean that at all.

Gretchen said...

Excellent post. I'm going to take some time out later today to read this carefully and listen to the links, etc. Wonderful post!

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Thanks Gretchen! I haven't heard back from the minister so I don't know if he read it or not. It's good to know that even if he didn't read it that at least it's doing someone some good.