Personally, I could not have asked for a better Christmas here at church. Our three services were in numerous ways, full of meaning. Moreover, we were able to celebrate Christmas as one big family. Even more, since we titled this a Skeptical Christmas, I was happy to meet and hear of skeptics joining our ranks through the Christmas weekend. Finally, we were able to serve nearly 400 people in our three services this weekend. As a point of comparison, this is a lot more than last year. We can be grateful to God.
Church needs to be a place of growth. John Wesley once said “The world is my parish.” His point was that the world is who he is called to serve. Therefore, having a “skeptical Christmas” can be seen as part of a larger evangelization project. It can also be seen as a larger project to challenge our thinking and develop our faith. Giving non-believers a chance to come and chat after the service or doing question and answer days, or even having messages tailored to get the mind thinking, are all beneficial for humanity in general.
Now…on to two quick corrections and then a word of thanks.
My morning message I did what is all too common among preachers, and that is a little ‘over reach.’ Many preachers over reach in their positions to make their case seem stronger. Frankly I do not like this, but for my more ‘point by point’ messages, rather than word for word, it can happen.
And, even though I try to avoid this, I made two missteps in my morning Christmas message. At one point I implied, although it was not my intent, that the Virgin Birth had documentation in all four Gospels. My point was a generic one about Gospel consistency in general, but since I was talking about the Virgin Birth, it seems like I was saying that all four Gospels are accurate on the Virgin Birth. This is clearly false. Matthew and Luke have the focus on the virginal conception, but Mark and John do not.
The second point that I should have been clear on, was when I was weighing in to Joseph being Jesus’ dad. At one point I used the word “never” to say that never was Joseph referred to as his father. My larger point was that sometimes Jesus is referred to as the child of Mary and not Joseph, which was an insult in those days. I never should have used the word “never” because clearly there are instances where Joseph is referred to as Jesus’ earthly father in the narratives. Albeit, in the context that he took Jesus as his son, not that this was his son by biology.
At some level, especially on a relaxed and enjoyable Christmas morning, these things are certainly not large matters, because my points, or where I was going with the message stays the same. If someone leaves with the point, which is likely the case, then communication was clear enough. However, my reason for writing about these two missteps, is that the Church needs to always be cautious on stating their case in too certain terms.
I have never had an issue with the slight differences in the Gospels, because I have understood the kinds of early documentation methods and rhetorical differences between the authors. But sometimes, people build their faith on the supposedly “absolute” certain pronouncements of a given preacher. Then, as someone gets older or they learn more and realize that there is some “give room” on interpretation, their faith ends up hurt at some level.
It is important for our churches to be places of intellectual honesty. Honesty matters both for the believer who is building their faith, but also for the non-believer who is examining the faith.
Now, let me take the time to thank everyone who was able to help out throughout the Christmas season. This includes those who were just able to come to the services or bring family and friends. This includes ushering, prepping and passing out candles. This includes all the wonderful music from our worship teams and instrumentalists and sound and video. Let’s not forget about all of the cleaning, decorating, drama writing and practicing, and office volunteering that went into this special weekend. We should not forget all of the set up and take down of chairs and more.
In a real way, this service has been being mentally planned for the last 12 months. In a practical way this service has been in the works the last two or so months. I just want to say thank you to everyone for being there, serving, and worshiping our great God on the day of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Merry Christmas and thanks for making this year’s services meaningful!
If we had to boil down the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism, a lot boils down to authority. Personally, I think the issues are much bigger than just this one issue, but I will say that a lot typically hangs on it.
The authors of the book did a creative job of pointing out a serious flaw in the Catholic armor. Perhaps however it is a flaw that Catholics are willing to accept. Catholic apologists typically challenge Protestants by saying that their ultimate authority structure is individualistic. Namely, each individual reader of the Bible gets to decide for themselves what to think about a given doctrine. Therefore, the Catholics main point is to say that Protestantism has millions of Popes. Each decides for themselves what is right.
The answer that should be given from Protestants, should examine the tools in the tool box that they have. The first thing to remember is the tools of learning and knowledge are much more expansive than just oneself. Namely, there are commentaries, church fathers and mothers, creeds, Pastors, lectionaries, and much more. Therefore, the enterprise is certainly more communal than “me my Bible and no one else.”
The second answer that can be given to this is that each individual Catholic who has decided that Rome should decide for them, had to come to that conclusion by the same process that that any Protestant comes to their conclusions about any topic of theology. In other words, they had to reasonable look at the evidence. They had to listen to the voices of the past. They had to pray. They had to study all the relevant arguments.
There are few, if any, Catholic Converts that have converted merely on the argument from authority. Namely, “Rome said it, and that settles it.” Converts that I know have done so because they have internally struggled with where to stand on any given issue. When they came to see that they agreed with Rome, they then converted to Rome. Epistemology (how we know what we know), cannot (except perhaps in certain mystical experiences) bypass one’s reasoning.
The challenge to the Catholic with this second argument is, “Why a given Protestants processing about theological subjects is not good or allowed, when the Protestant who converted to Catholicism processed the issues in the same way.” In other words, if we follow the Catholic charge of individualism that is leveled at the Protestant, we can ask why was their own individualism of coming to Catholicism allowed? Why is reasoning for the Protestant to Protestantism bad, when the reasoning from the Protestant to Catholicism good, when both are using their individual reasoning processes?
At the end of the day, we are all in the same boat. We have to make decisions based upon desires, arguments, and evidence. Thus, I think the charge is defeated.
Catholic Apologists and faithful point out that they have a hierarchy that helps decide which interpretation is correct. And, given the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, they further point out that their interpretations on certain passages and doctrines are the right ones. Moreover, that somehow this then protects them from grave error. How should Protestants think along with our Catholic brothers and sisters on this one?
First, I think we should acknowledge that in and of itself there is nothing wrong with a body of Christians deciding what a given passage means. In other words, we should not fault them for making decisions on such matters. Protestant churches often do this as well. They get together, weigh the evidence, and make clear decisions for their churches as to where they stand on certain subject.
Second, we should also point out that the Roman Catholic Church has not really made all that many official ex-cathedra pronouncements. Therefore, even if Catholics can feel settled on some issues, they are not settled on all issues. Take for instance the subject of Evolution. The Catholic Church’s main point is that Christians are free to believe in it or not believe in it. Rather, they are to hold that God did it, whichever means he chose to use. Now, this is something I certainly agree with. However, it does not settle the issue whatsoever, and therefore Catholic faithful are still going to have to wrestle through all the evidence.
Third, I think we point out, once again, that there is much diversity of interpretation among Catholic leaders where the Pope has not spoken Ex Cathedra. Since there is much diversity on numerous issues, we should remember that Catholics still have to do the heavy lifting of Scripture interpretation, without the deciding vote of their Pope. For instance, in Romans 7 and who the “I” is. On Relevant Radio (Catholic Radio), I heard a Catholic Priest expound this passage as if we are all currently the “I” in Romans 7. Namely, that we are the one’s always tempted and always sinning and always regretting our sin. The problem is, historically in the church fathers (and in the Methodist Tradition), as well as with the understanding of ancient Rhetoric, this passage is talking not about the believer, but the unregenerate man, just prior to believing. Therefore, a Priest got this passage incorrect. How had being Catholic protected him from a slightly incorrect reading? To be sure, the Great Augustine as well as many Protestants like Luther, got this passage wrong as well. 😊
Fourth, each Protestant needs to be careful not to bias themselves automatically against something Rome says, just because it came from Rome. And Catholics need not bias themselves against Protestants just because it came from a Protestant. This is a fallacy, and there is much we can learn from our Catholic/Protestant brothers and sisters and their studies of Scripture. Much of the time in Catholic – Protestant discussions, we get so uptight that we just want to win. How about instead, we recognize the limits of each of our groups, and love each other while discussing the differences. Each of our groups, as persons, needs to be open to what Scripture says, not just any one of our positions on Scripture.
One of the regular challenges to Protestantism from Catholic Apologists and faithful, is that Protestantism is hopeless when it comes to Scripture interpretation. At some level, there is ‘some truth’ to this. I have seen through the years numerous protestants stand on a peripheral issue as if they are defending Christ himself. Moreover, I have seen some pretty strange interpretations over the years.
That being said, I think it is important to point out that Catholicism has to work with the same sets of tools, and even given the Papacy, where some things are decided, they still have to do the hard work of Scripture interpretation.
In Peter Kreeft’s book “Handbook of Christian Apologetics” he gives advice for how to interpret Scripture. Later on, he added some sections to this book and titled it “Handbook of Catholic Apologetics.” The near identical book shows that Catholic readers or Protestant readers have to follow the same rules in interpreting Scripture.
Among those rules is CONTEXT CONTEXT CONTEXT! In other words, we have to be careful not to cherry pick our favorite verses in order to back something up that we already think is true. We have to read the verse in the wider context of 1) What came before and after it. 2) What was the aim of the whole book. 3) How does it fit in with the whole canon. There are certainly more rules, but context is a large!
At the end of the day, whether Catholic or Protestant, we all have to read what the Bible says, and look at it in context. Perhaps we should start some Protestant / Catholic study groups….?
One of the ‘big points’ that Catholic Apologists make has to do with Protestants having no infallible table of contents to figure how which books are in the Bible. Catholic Apologists regularly make the point ‘how can Protestants hold to their principle of Sola Scriptura when trying to figure out which books were supposed to be in the Bible in the first place.’ The Catholic feels they have the upper hand here, because they think they can simply say, “Well the Catholic Church gave us the Bible.” What does a Protestant say?
In one way, the Catholic Apologists make a good point. For hard liner Fundamentalists who often act as if the Bible fell out of the sky as a finished product, there is simply no good way of grounding which books were supposed to be in the Bible. Their view of Scripture damages any reasonable inquiry into historical process. One just has to trust, or take it on faith.
My answer to the question about “Which books” are supposed to be in the Bible is several fold. But, it is important to remember, that for most of the history of the Christian church, ‘we’ have simply not been afraid of historical development. Therefore, I think the simple (and yet complex) answer about which books are to be in the Bible is what Charles Hodge said, “Internal and External Evidence.” Namely, that there is fair evidence internal to the Bible itself as well as external through Christian history, that bears witness to the decisions that the later church made concerning the Canon.
There are still two more answers that the Protestant can give here. The first, is that ‘we’ recognize the work of the church in the first four centuries to have recognized/determined which books were to be in the Canon. Protestants have this option, simply because the Reformation happened much later. Therefore, we share the same history as the Roman Catholic Church does, prior to 1500.
Moreover, ‘we’ can also say that ‘canon’ is something that is done by a ‘social group making a decision about what is final or official for them.’ So, to have a canon, one must have a body of people saying “yes” to certain books and “no” to other books. It is important to point out here, that “canon” is distinct from “inspiration.” The books of the Bible were “inspired” prior to any formal body saying ‘yes’ to them. But, to have a canon, a formal body/bodies, did need to confer the status of canon on them as they recognized them.
To the Catholic – The Catholic often gets off easy on this one as well. Like, they can just say “We know because the Catholic Church told us.” That really is not a strong answer of ‘how we know something’ because it actually employs the same kind of reasoning as the Fundamentalist. Namely, it has to be taken on trust/faith. The truth is, the Catholic Church has admitted through the centuries a historical process for recognition of the inspired books. The Hierarchy’s way of knowing, is actually quite similar to the Protestants. Namely, that we have to look into the internal and external evidence of what took place. The difference however has to do with where the Protestant and Catholic places the emphasis. Both groups can admit that God guided the leaders of the first 400 years to recognition of the Canon. The Catholic wants to place the lion’s share of weight on the “leaders of the early churches.” Namely, that Christ was still guiding his Church. Protestants can agree with this, but they wish to place the lions share of weight on the “Scriptures” which always spoke more clearly than other documents, and more clearly than later leaders.
The point that both the Catholic and Protestant need to avoid, and this is for the sake of non-believers, is thinking that having internal and external evidence is in fact a bad thing. We simply must have this, because without it our non-believing friends are not going to look seriously at our book being from the God that Catholics and Protestants both serve. Authoritative claims, at least in the west right now, are not that trustworthy without evidential backing. Moreover, if anyone looks into the actual documents of the early church fathers and the councils that speak of these events, they are going to have to weigh the evidence as they go. That is what makes us human.
Catholic? – There is one final point for us to consider, and this is something the Authors of the book “Roman but not Catholic” make many times through the book. Namely, it is anachronistic to read the later Roman Catholic Church into the early Catholic Church. One cannot just take their later interpretations and views as representative of the early church and views. Once again, “catholic” means according to the whole. And the Protestants can share in the “whole” without having to think the Roman Catholic Church is the sole heir of that whole, or even the best heir. For now, I will leave you to think about all that.
Continuing on with the theme of discernment, we must remember that we have to read the Word of God and understand how the earliest leaders, namely the Apostles were navigating views of the Christian faith that included “too much” or “too little.” Part of this can be seen in the two kinds of groups that they often encountered. Much of each of these groups tendencies are to be avoided in our own day.
Judaizers – This first group was constantly advocating for Christian converts to practice the Mosaic Law in a way that determined their identity. We might consider these the groups that added requirements to salvation that simply were not there. Even more so, that certain external badges (circumcision, food laws, etc) could somehow define people’s racial identity as superior. A quick read through Galatians sees these groups as the target. They are packaging their heritage, even racial heritage, and calling that salvation. There are groups that do this today. I am a bit hesitant to call out such examples, but let me say this. Any group, that makes Christian identity upon something other than Jesus Christ (and the Rule of Faith), is committing something similar to these groups. As Christians, our identity if found in Jesus Christ, the one who gave his life as a ransom for many.
The Gnostics – As the Church began to grow into the Gentile regions, the challenge became progressively more from Gnostic groups rather than the Judaizers (See 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus). In fact, these groups were a problem for the first several hundred years of the church, and there are some who still live with gnostic tendencies in the churches of today.
The Gnostics were groups that thought that special knowledge was required for salvation (usually whatever they deemed as special). They denied the goodness of the body. They had a heavy dualism between spirituality and physicality. There dualism was so heavy that in their view, many could do whatever they wanted with their bodies (sin) and it would not effect their spiritual lives.
Now, those who trust in Christ as the truly God-Man are not Gnostics by definition. But, there are still Christians who have more gnostic-like influence on their view of God and spirituality, at least more so than an authentic Christian spirituality. There are some who go around proclaiming their special knowledge. Or, that only spiritual things are to be our focus. It is these groups that have to search out a fuller view of what it meant for God to add flesh to his divinity. What does that divine unity mean to the value of every day earthly life and physical existence?
Paul was simply not letting these groups take root in the Christian communities. His own view of leadership in these letters is fairly high, and he outlaws these gnostic groups from taking over. In a sense, much of the history of the early church in the Bible, as well as the centuries afterward, was how to protect against false spiritualities. For us as Christians, spirituality is not so clouded. Moreover, it is not so spiritual.
What I mean by this is that Christianity is the most material religion. It is the most physical religion. Therefore, as Christians we are to enjoy the physical world. We are to see our bodies as vessels for God’s honor, rather than something that is evil and to be avoided. Moreover, the world we live in is good, even if fallen. Therefore, our interaction with it is truly a good thing to enjoy.
Anyway…a late night reflection on some of the challenges of the early church that we can use to navigate our own challenges today.
I received an email a while back asking this question. I am rephrasing it a little bit.
“In the Charismatic Church (and sometimes elsewhere), Christians sometimes interpret all bad events (weather, illnesses, etc.) as being from the Enemy/Devil/Demons and all good events (good parking spaces, good vibes etc) as being from the Lord. Is this really the right way about discerning events?”
Spiritual Causes are Difficult
The email went longer than this. Still, I think the author has put his/her finger on something important. Namely, that tracing spiritual causes is actually quite…well, difficult. I actually think that sometimes Christians can participate in fulfilling their own prophesies. What I mean is, since they are looking for it already, they will find it. Moreover, clarity is dim here on earth. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully…” Moreover, even if/when prophetic words are given we are not supposed to take them as being totally ‘clear’ in everything. For “we know in part and we prophesy in part” (1 Cor. 13:9).
Causation Versus Correlation
There is much difficulty in deciding if something caused something or if something is merely correlated. For instance, every time that I exercise outside, a red car drives by my house. What is the cause of such a thing? Is my exercise causing this, or some kind of cosmic power? Or rather, is it just a correlation. Perhaps, the neighbor with the red car and my time of exercising outside happen to coincide. Therefore, it makes perfect sense. We should be careful stacking up correlative events and calling them ‘caused by the Lord’ or ‘caused by the enemy.’ Sometimes odd series of events just happen, and they are neither the direct causation of the Lord or that of the enemy.
Time Can Change Perspective
I had a professor that warned us all about ‘finding a devil in every doorknob and every crack in the sidewalk.’ Moreover, the difficulty of judging the spiritual causes of anything are even more difficult when examined in light of time. At one juncture of life one may attribute something to the enemy, but later on, with perspective, it might be clearer to 1) Attribute it to the way of nature or regular life or 2) to the way of God.
The major difficulty of a heavy Charismatic approach, is the individualism that it breeds. Namely, that it is always ‘me vs. the enemy’ and the ‘God is for me and my ways.’ What about the other guy or girl than oneself? Is God not for her/him as well? I think that the biggest corrective to false discernment, or discerning falsely, is to be part of a scripture bound, truth seeking community that has Christ as the King. Paul himself says to check every prophetic word by having all others discerning its accuracy (1 Corinthians 14:29).
Lily Pad on the Pond
Moreover, there has to be ways of checking our own small communities of faith as well. Each church can be a little like a lily pad on a big pond. They each have their own mechanism’s for discerning internally to themselves, which at times can be good and at times can be bad. Each lily pad may be able to act swiftly and make quick decisions, but it is important to be in step with the broad church as well as the ancient church (which can take more time). One of things that I do personally is to hang out with someone/s that is in a different Christian tradition than the one I currently serve in. Why? Because, any group can become an echo chamber. Any group can begin to become lazy in thinking through the various dreams, visions, words, and encounters that are had. And, then they simply reaffirm each other in everything and nothing goes against that particular grain. Sometimes, we need someone to look more objectively at what is going on and tell us what is really happening. Moreover, and this is widely witnessed throughout church history, that groups that separate from the greater whole end up having lackluster discernment. Let’s not forget there are other pads on the pond.
I recently talked about the problem of “contingent/group Christianity” on this last Sunday morning. The point for all of us to remember that one small group or contingent should keep in step with the whole local church. Moreover, the whole local church has to find ways of relating to the large sphere of Christian thinking. I consider true believers to be part of the “CATHOLIC” church. Namely, the universal church.
In my view, discernment can take time. Even if our instincts or nudges are leading us in the right direction, we should be careful of speaking infallibly on the subject.
Be Careful Being TOO Spiritual
Every Christian relates differently to ‘spirituality.’ However, I do think it behooves us all to be careful of being too spiritual. The reason why, is that we can be easily manipulated. One of the issues that non-believers sometimes have of Christians, is that they are gullible. Back during the time of C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, seemingly this was not as much of a problem. Chesterton and others could challenge the non-believers that it was the believers who were less gullible. This was so since their “religion” was a settled religion. Namely, the revelation had come, and there were then clearly some ‘spiritual things’ that are out of bounds of goodness and truth. Therefore, at least from their estimation Christians were not easily gullible people.
The hesitancy of interpreting everything in a spiritual way, is that the greatest story, or most illustrious vision, can easily capture our imagination and we think it ‘surely’ from God. The Apostle Paul cautions the Christians in his letter to the Colossians by saying “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind” (Colossians 2:18).
Frankly, if one is always looking for a burning bush experience, they can be more easily manipulated by others.
Don’t Quench the Spirit
This category is difficult. On the one hand we want to avoid false spirituality or manipulation and those who make things up and on the other we do not want to avoid the work of God. I find 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to be pretty helpful here. It tells us to “Give thanks in all circumstances.” Namely, whether things are bad or whether things are good (from at least our perspective) we should give thanks. Therefore, the check of being open to the work of the Holy Spirit is one that does not lead astray, but grounds one in thanksgiving to God, regardless of the circumstance.
The Difficulty of the Presidency
There is a little dilemma regarding the last two presidency’s and discernment. The strong conservative-prophetic groups prophesied that then Donald Trump would win. Since, there have been all sorts of other prophecies about what he will do. Since he did win the presidency, some conservative Christian groups point out that this is God’s man for God’s time. These groups sometimes go on about how Trump is a good Christian, even if a baby one.
When President Barak Obama was going against Mitt Romney, several groups had apparently prophesied that Obama would win. These were more liberal and yet charismatic groups. Once Obama won, these groups declared that Obama was God’s man for the job, just like Trump is now God’s man for the job from the conservative perspective. These groups went on about Obama’s Christianity and the good that he would do for the nation.
The dilemma posed to both of these groups, is how could they both be right about the Christianity of their respective person? From a Conservative-Prophetic viewpoint, Obama was a horrible leader and did much harm and was against God. From a Liberal-Prophetic viewpoint, Trump is a horrible leader and is doing much harm and is against God. Who is right? I will leave you to the dilemma. But, one caution to all who have read this far. If you find yourself in one camp or another, don’t allow yourself an easy answer on this one.
At the end of the day, we do not have to get lost in this. We can instead, go the voting booth and live our lives in a way where we are trying to do good, regardless of the prophecies that have come one way or another. We should not let those things control us either way.
The Difficulty of Scripture
Another thought here is that if one already has a spiritual viewpoint in mind, it is easy to find Scripture to back themselves up. This is a classic case of reading into Scripture what you already think rather than reading out of Scripture what it is saying and adjusting yourself accordingly. Even discernment with Scripture can take some time. The great Apostle Peter even notices this with some who read Paul’s letters. He says, “…Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16). Therefore even people who took Paul’s sacred letters and found what they wanted in them to back up their unstable viewpoints!
The End Times is a great example where many Christians have needed better discernment (at least in America in the last 50 years or so). There has been so much publishing on the end times and very little holiness. Holiness, Hope, and Readiness (See 1 Thessalonians 5 for these three themes) are what Jesus’ second coming is supposed to instill in the body of believers. Now, endless speculations swirl! It is a little unfortunate for this as well. The authors of those numerous End Times books should have known better. Either way, when a person’s compass is a little off, it can make their conclusions off as well. Scripture is again, and spiritual happenings are again, to be read in the community of faith both living as well as that of the ancient church.
In closing my thoughts for today I end with some great words from 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
“19 Do not quench the Spirit; 20 do not despise prophetic utterances. 21 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil.
In Chapter 2, titled “Tradition and Traditions” Collins writes well to critique both the Protestant and Catholic sides of this discussion. I highly recommend this chapter. My own view, is something similar to the authors and therefore will expound my own view below, although their way of explaining it is a bit different.
I myself think there are three kinds of tradition.
TRADITION 1 – This is the tradition of the Apostles themselves. Sometimes people consider Scripture as that which arose and can be considered this, since it comes to us as Apostolic Teaching. I myself regard the RULE of FAITH which was the ‘passed on’ teaching of the Apostles from one generation to the next as legitimate and therefore Sacred Tradition. The Rule of Faith was then more formally put down in Creeds. It is Tradition 1 that we, even as Evangelicals find sacred. Although Roman Catholics place some of their teachings, such as the Assumption of Mary and the Immaculate Conception of Mary into this arena of Sacred Tradition, I think it better to place it under category 2, since it was never included in the Rule of Faith and never included in a Creed. It is therefore the stuff of Church History, not the stuff of that which was handed on from the Apostles. There certainly can be debate about the subject matters though, and I think Catholics and Protestants should openly discuss why they believe what they believe and ‘let the best view win.’
TRADITION 2 – I consider this form of tradition to be mostly anything that has taken place throughout church history. Some of it is more beneficial than other portions of it. Since Catholics have what Evangelicals consider to be ‘extra teachings,’ it is here where I think the debate about legitimacy really begins. My reason for separating the “tradition” concept this way, is that once something is considered “Sacred Tradition” or a true deposit of God’s teaching, we cannot just add to that deposit. We cannot call it “passed on from the apostles” unless we can know that it was in fact passed on from them. Any group has to be careful adding to that rule of faith and considering it on part with the actual rule. This includes Evangelical additions in their respective bodies. Notice, the Rule of Faith excludes a belief that the earth is young or old. The question then is always whether a Tradition 2 or viewpoint of some kind, can be lifted up to the status of Sacred Truth for all Christians. Protestants think that Catholics have added several and Catholics think that Protestants do not have enough. Some Protestants even go so far as to quote Jesus in Mark 7:1-10, for making the Word of God void by their tradition. Catholics are quick to quote back, 2 Thessalonians 2:15 “Therefore brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.”
TRADITION 3 – I consider tradition 3 to be regular practices by which individual churches may have chosen to do one thing or another. It might be having a pot-luck on special days. It might be hugging newcomers. These are always changeable, and the means for their debate are usually different than the means for Tradition 1 and 2.
“Roman But Not Catholic” is a great book. I love Catholics and I think that they are Christians. For they confess the main beliefs of the faith every single Sunday (The Apostles Creed).
Some people may wonder why then was a book like this one written. For the most part, the book was written as a ministry to those who are processing if they should become Roman Catholics or stay Evangelical. One of the authors (Walls), had been on the receiving end of many arguments and discussions to try to convert him to the Roman Catholic Church.Some of these by the greatest thinkers from the Roman side.
As a Pastor, I have noticed this as well. I have friends and family that have been on both sides of this discussion and I have been part of hundreds of hours of discussions on the topics with those who are thinking about the issues. I can say that a book like this is needed. Moreover, many of the evangelicals who have become Roman Catholic, are apt to share their testimony’s and bring more evangelicals with them.
In many ways, Wall’s sees some of these conversions as premature. Namely, they witnessed the dysfunctional things in evangelicalism and decided that Rome had greener grass. Walls makes the point that very often they have been given the strength of Roman Catholic teaching and shown the weaknesses of Evangelical teaching. He sees this as unfortunate. This book is at least in part, the answer to both scholarly and popular level teaching from Catholic Apologists. That at the end of the day, not all intellectual Protestants who are deep in church history will convert to Rome.
I must say that I do appreciate the back and forth discussion between Catholics and Evangelicals. That in a sense, minus half-baked approaches from either side, conversations on the details of Biblical teaching or that of Church history, are helpful for us all. Having to have better answers for why we believe what we believe, is helpful for Roman Catholics and Evangelicals alike. And, in many ways the more we discuss the more we see how close in the family we all are.
Walls and Collins point however, is that whether you are reading a popular Catholic thinker or listening to Relevant Radio, or spending time with your Catholic friends, they are getting off easy by engaging ill-prepared Evangelicals. This book seeks to answer the greatest challenges from the Roman Catholic side, and put a few of its own on the table for Catholics to consider. For me, I think that Roman Catholics and Evangelicals are part of the great Catholic faith, namely that of the body of Christ. Catholic of course, means universal or according to the whole. So for me, these discussions are intramural.
If you are engaging in dialogue and debate with your Catholic friends, remember to treat them with love and respect. They are people, Christians, and children of God that Christ gave his life for. So enjoy each other, and let the discussions begin. Moreover, be prepared to listen and learn from them too, they have much to teach us.
The authors (Collins and Walls) point out, that even though this book is mostly on the differences between Catholics and Protestants, the truth is that there are monumental similarities in the essentials of the faith. The major difference however, is that the Roman Catholic Church adds a few extra ‘essentials’ that have not typically been viewed as essential, either in the Bible or in the earliest centuries after the apostles. In part, this is the hint at the meaning of the title, “Roman But Not Catholic.” The word catholic means “universal” or “according to the whole.” Perhaps in Roman Catholicism, there are pieces that are not all that catholic after all. That the Roman Catholic Church is just one tradition that is part of the actual catholic church.
What C.S. Lewis called “Mere Christianity” is something we all hold in common. Largely, we could term this Creedal Christianity, or even the church of the first 500 years. The main or essential teachings were first laid out in “rules of faith” and became official Creeds through the centuries. These are what we hold in common!
That means that the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is held in common by both Catholics and Protestants. Moreover, the Incarnation of Christ, namely that God the Son added flesh to His divinity. Even more, the Trinity, that there is one God, three persons, and each person is fully God, is all held in common among all Historically Biblical Christians.These wide contours of the faith are often what I and others have called the essentials.
It is for this reason, that Roman Catholics believe in the Essentials of The Faith, that they are to be considered Christians. There are certain Protestant groups that constantly try to paint the picture that Catholics are not Christians. This cannot be affirmed from the standpoint of their beliefs. Even if they have added more beliefs to the essential beliefs, the bedrock beliefs are present in the one Savior Jesus Christ.
The authors point out that the book is largely on what might not be accurate or is questionable in Roman Catholicism and how, because of the accretions over the centuries, that these accretions make them a little less than truly catholic (universal). That being said, what unites us is certainly more than what divides us. Again and again we can call each other back to the Creed, which is the correct development of beliefs as is found in the Bible.
Chapter 1 on unity is done. Chapter 2 is on Tradition in both Protestant and Catholic understandings.