Thursday, August 07, 2008

Do Catholics Also Use Private Judgment?

Over at De Regnis Duobus again, I've been having a pretty interesting conversation with Oso from "You Are Cephas" and a few Protestants.

The charge boils down to this: Catholics accuse Protestants of exercising private judgment (or in their words having "categories of discernment") and therefore are guilty of being "biblicists" but Catholics are "guilty" of the same thing since they obviously have their own categories of discernment or private judgment.

Well it's true, before entering the Catholic Church I had to decide whether it was true or not. I have a friend who was briefly entertaining the idea of converting and she said she wasn't fully convinced of the arguments of Rome. I said, "then I wouldn't convert". Sure, I would never have converted if I wasn't convinced on some level of Rome's truth.

But the charge we make against Protestants isn't that they are exercising private judgment or that they have categories of discernment in the Scriptures. If a Church contradicts Scripture, sure it's not the true Church. That's a no brainer.

God gave us brains and intends for us to use them. He also gave us language and intends for us to understand through it. So if the Scriptures say "A" and a given community says "Not A" then if I am to trust the Scriptures I must deny that particular community (or at least say they're wrong on that point). Language has to mean something. We can wiggle our way out of things by being creative. We Christians are adept at this especially given our doctrine of Scriptural inerrancy in light of certain facts like all four gospels say something different was written above Christ's head on the cross. Suddenly we have to clarify what we mean by "inerrancy". Next we will gladly "sit still" for textual exegesis of difficult passages like Jesus not knowing the hour of the coming Kingdom or Him saying "the Father is greater than I" in order to preserve our particular version of the doctrine of the Trinity. So we're used to all that (whether Catholic or Protestant) and then the question becomes just how long are we willing to sit still and what damage are we prepared to allow to various texts in interests of ideologies or particular doctrines.

Because in the end, words have to mean something or else why use them? So the Catholic can say: If the Scripture doesn't mean "you are not saved by faith alone" when it says "you are not saved by faith alone" then how can I know you mean "I believe in faith alone" when you say "I believe in faith alone"? There must be a line crossed somewhere at which point too violent a manipulation of language neuters language itself.

The Protestant may also charge the Catholic: well then if "all have sinned" doesn't mean "all have sinned" then how can I know what you mean when you say "Mary did not sin"? And the respective debates begin.

We can all agree that if any community contradicts the Scripture then it cannot be the Church of Christ since both the Church & the Scripture by their nature, belong to Christ. What we cannot agree on is the method by which to determine which community (if any) can still claim to be the exact one founded by Christ. First we have to ask, should there even be such a thing? If so, how would we know it?

In my mind the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the Catholic Church being that Church. In fact, I consider it incontestable that if there is such a Church, there's only one valid application for the job: the Catholic Church. Supposing one thought, as the pastor I have been interacting with does, that such a thing does not exist (not in the way Rome claims anyhow). That the true "visible" Church is something other than a specific institution, and even if we disagreed with her reasonings, how probable is it that one community and only one community has a credible application for such an unfathomable claim? She might not be right, but by any reasonable estimation it's at least conceivable that she is. In itself, that is incredible. It is incredible that she exists at all after 2,000 years much less than she can make a strong claim to be organically the same as when she was founded.

But what happens when someone does not agree? What happens when someone examines the evidence and says "the Catholic Church is not the Church founded by Christ" and that same person thinks that some branch of Protestantism proposes a valid Christianity? What do we say to them? The same thing we say to a Muslim or a Jew who is utterly unconvinced of Christ's divinity. If men could stand in Christ's very presence and hear His words and not only disbelieve Him but then crucify Him, how much easier is it for men to remain unconvinced by a Church filled with sinners? It was, after all, sin within the Church which led to the Protestant "Reformation" and it is sin that keeps us divided.

So as long as sin persists in this world competent men will remain unconvinced of various truths for various reasons. It may be me who is convinced of something false and because of my own sinful nature I am unable to see that I am in error. But I cannot revert to Protestantism! It would be a sin against my conscience because I am utterly convinced of Catholicism. Similarly, for a Protestant who was not convinced of the Catholic claim to convert would be a sin against their conscience. That doesn't mean that they have to believe and understand every single doctrine before converting or that they have to come to an intellectual mastery of all dogmas, it means that if they think the Catholic Church is a false Church then to join it would be a sin.

So if you're not convinced of the Church, don't join it. But be reasonable about her, something this potent and ancient must have some force behind it. I don't know of any reasonable middle ground between whore of Babylon and Church of Christ anymore than I know of middle ground between Jesus being God and being a blasphemer.


Tiber Jumper said...

It comes down to CS Lewis and Peter Kreeft's famous trilogy: Lord, Lunatic or Liar. The Catholic Church too is either what it says it is, the Church Jesus started,, or is false and is a heresy: There is no in between.

Rene'e said...

If I were to hear you speak this post in a public forum, I would give you a standing ovation.

Wow....what a powerful statement of truth.

This is a public forum, so consider me to be giving you a standing ovation.

Well said. Very, well said.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Aww shucks. Thanks Rene'e.

Andrew Preslar said...

Great post. Well said. Pip pip. I mean ... that is the thing exactly.

Ashley Weis said...

Wow, and I was currently at the (inbetween) stage... Now your telling me I gotta go back to thinking it is Heretical? :D Ok, so maybe that's not the point!

Tim, you make a very good point, and one that keeps me standing still (at least in this matter) for the time being. I have yet to be fully convinced, although the thought is regularly and sometimes far to much on my brain. I thank you that you show exactly why I cannot like my friend Tiber... make the swim at this time.

Now, you know that I tip my hat to you Tim... you are good at what you do... now, I need to wade my way outta here... it's getting deep :D JK!

Love ya man!


George Weis said...

There I go again... Now I look like I'm a girl too :D