Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Apostasy: A Critique of "Rome Sweet Home" by Scott Hahn

It is rare for me to be completely revolted when reading a book, especially a book on some aspect of theology, even theology that I disagree with. However, this book, the tale of the journey of a Presbyterian minister and his wife to conversion to Roman Catholicism, outraged me, with its appeals to sentiment, ignorance, and strawman arguments. Especially considering that it was written by a clergyman, someone that I would expect to write on a certain moral level. I definitely didn't find that level maintained in this book. In fact, two Bible verses come to mind to express my reaction. The first is Acts 20:30, "From among your own selves, will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them." The other is I John 2:19, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us." This book is a tale of bald-faced apostasy, with justifications that only the ignorant could swallow.

Let me begin with the most-deceptive elements. Scott Hahn begins by describing himself as a hardcore Calvinist in seminary. What he doesn't explain is why he chose to go to Gordon-Conwell Seminary, which is evangelical, but not Reformed. However, the answer becomes evident, even if unspoken. On page 31, Hahn informs us that he had come to "discover" that Saint Paul did not teach the doctrine of sola fide (justification by faith alone). Any Protestant reading that should be struck dumb, because we immediately think of such Pauline references as Romans 4:5, "To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness." Then Hahn adds his assertion that sola fide isn't taught anywhere in Scripture, claiming James 2:24 as his support. The reason I make such a point of this is to demonstrate that Hahn had abandoned Protestantism long before his official conversion.

We see the reason for this when Hahn mentions that he had become involved with Norman Shepherd, who was forced to leave Westminster Seminary for undermining the biblical view of justification. Hahn even mentions Shepherd's heresy trial, demonstrating that he was well-aware that those views were outside the pale of Reformed doctrine. Shepherd was the father of the Federal Vision movement, which has disrupted Reformed churches with an attempt to bring back this exact Catholic doctrine of justification. Hahn went to his first pulpit with these views, at a Federal Vision church, but does not say that he informed his presbytery of his views, a deceptive act. While there, he also began to teach at a tiny seminary, i.e., in spite of the "major seminary" claim of one article promoting him. Again, we see that this "Presbyterian" minister was never really Presbyterian.

In addition to his justification heresy, Hahn began the ministry with erroneous views on the sacraments. He complains, p. 49, about the Protestant doctrine of the Lord's Supper - or Eucharist, as he prefers to say - that it is a mere symbol. This is repeated on page 56. Unfortunately for him, that is not the Protestant view, at least among Lutherans, who hold to consubstantiation, or the Reformed, who hold to a spiritual, noncorporeal Real Presence. As the Westminster Confession of Faith XXIX:7 says, "Worthy receivers outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death; the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses." Which solution would be worse: that Hahn was ignorant of this doctrine? or that he was knowingly railing against a doctrinal strawman?

One of the endorsements on the back cover of the book says, "This book is inspiring and exciting for any reader desirous of rediscovering, from a scripture base, the reasons why the Catholic Church believes, teaches, and practices its doctrines." But this is exactly what the book doesn't do.We read statements such as, "I had fallen head over heels in love with the Lord in the Eucharist" (p. 88), and "I felt the Lord unleash his power through his mother" (p. 89). This is sentiment, not biblical exegesis. He also mentions direct revelations "from the Lord" on pages 114 and 115. Voices in the head are, again, not biblical exegesis.

This book, as well as other publications from Hahn, are promoted by (some, not all) the Catholic Church in an effort to convert Protestants. You can see them at his website, linked at the top, as well as here. This is what plays into the Acts 20:30 reference above; Hahn hasn't just committed apostasy himself, with his family, he wants to convince the rest of us evangelicals to follow him! God's warning to us is found in Deuteronomy 7:4, "[He] would turn away your sons from following Me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and He would destroy you quickly." And God's warning to Hahn is found in Deuteronomy 13:5, "That prophet shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God."

A video by two ex-Catholic priests with a viewpoint opposed to Hahn's can be seen here

Monday, July 22, 2013

Does John 3:16 Imply a Universal Atonement?

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."

The doctrine of particular atonement, also known as definite or limited atonement, is one of the five doctrines of salvation commonly called the five points of Calvinism.  It is probably the most controversial of the five, which is why you'll even find those who call themselves "four-point Calvinists," as if the five doctrines don't stand or fall together. Arminians are most shrill in attacking the Calvinist understanding of the atonement. In essence, the Calvinist says that God the Father gave a number of particular individuals to God the Son to be redeemed and to be regenerated by God the Spirit. This group is explicitly named, not just any unspecified number. Refer to John 10:29 and 17:2.

In contrast, the Arminian (and the semi-Pelagian of any type) holds that Jesus died for every person in the world, without distinction. In every discussion on the issue I can remember, the Arminian participant always threw out the verse above, arrogantly, as if it ended the debate. They act like a man who steps on an ant; he doesn't pause to see whether not the ant is dead.

I, however, suggest that John 3:16 tells us nothing about the extent of the atonement. Let us consider what it actually says: "God so loved the world." Even if the Bible didn't explicitly state this, would it not be obvious? The world is His creation. He devoted great wisdom to its form and orderly operation. Of course He loves it! But let us consider an analogy. If I tell you that 70% of Americans are white, what race is John Smith (just to pick a name hypothetically)? You would have to say that you don't know, because what is true of the aggregate implies absolutely nothing about the particular.

In the same way, to say that God loves His creation in aggregate, in no way conflicts with, for example, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated," (Malachi 1:2-3 and Romans 9:13). The particular takes precedence over the general.

There are plenty of more-technical reasons to demonstrate that John 3:16 doesn't mean what the Arminian claims it means. However, this simple logical argument seems to me the most-straightforward way to deal with it. So, whatever you might think of the doctrine of particular atonement, I deny that you have the option of simply throwing out this verse as if it trumps every other consideration. If you want to see other arguments, simply click on the tag below, and you will see what else I have written on the issue.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Keeping the Lord's Day Holy

"The sacred observance of one day in seven is God's appointed means for the cultivation of piety: when piety vanishes, orthodoxy necessarily follows it in due time."

This quote is from the Lectures on Systematic Theology (the specific lecture is available in this pdf) of Robert Lewis Dabney, one of the two best-known theologians from the old Southern Presbyterian Church. In this passage, he was stating his opinion that a lack of Sabbath concern in European churches, including both Calvin and Luther personally, was the reason that the European mainland was, even in his time, a spiritual wasteland. I am sure that, if he lived in our day, he would suggest that the same disease is what has destroyed the Protestant churches, his own Presbyterian Church included, have faded into paganism, even in the English-speaking nations.

The view Dabney was defending can be found in the Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 116: "What is required in the fourth commandment? Answer: The fourth commandment requires of all men the sanctifying or keeping holy to God such set times as He has appointed in His Word, expressly one whole day in seven; which was the seventh from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, and the first day of the week ever since, and so to continue to the end of the world; which is the Christian sabbath, and in the New Testament called the Lord's day." (See also Questions 117-121). He held, and I also hold, that this view best summarizes the biblical teaching relevant to the Lord's Day, or Sabbath, for the Christian.

The opening biblical reference is Genesis 2:1-3: "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in creation." That is, the Sabbath arises from the creative acts of God at the beginning of history. Remember that; it is a crucial aspect of what I am advocating.

Next, it comes up in the IVth Commandment, in both Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15.

The objections to continuing Sabbath observance, even in its Christian first-day form, are twofold. The first is a general objection that the ceremonial law has been fulfilled in Christ, and is therefore no longer binding on the Christian. That principle is certainly correct. However, it is irrelevant here, because, as I mentioned above, the Sabbath is a creation ordinance, instituted thousands of years - at least- before the time of Moses. In addition, we have the New Testament concurring in Hebrews 4:9, "There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God." Thus, the Sabbath is found both before the ceremonial law was given and after it was abrogated in Christ. Therefore, it could not have been abolished with the ceremonies, such as the sacrifices and the Levitical priesthood.

The other objection is more specific. It is based on Colossians 2:16, "Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day." But that interpretation is only possible if you ignore the next verse, "These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ." This brings us back to the exact point I made in the paragraph above. Paul is encouraging the Colossian believers not to be shaken by the criticisms of the Jews, or of Judaizers in the Church, who advocated the continuing devotion to the Jewish ceremonies, e.g., the festivals and seventh-day Sabbath attendance at synagogue or the Temple. In other words, he is not referring to the Sabbath principle here, but rather to the now-superseded Jewish Sabbath. Otherwise, Paul's companion Luke would have been remiss in recording that the Christians met on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7).  And Paul himself would have erred in encouraging the believers to take up an offering in their meetings on that day (I Corinthians 16:2). So, the general reading of Sabbath in Colossians 2:16 would make it contradict these two verses, and especially Hebrews 4:9 (quoted above). The narrow reading, i.e., that it is reference specifically to the Jewish Sabbath, must therefore be the correct interpretation.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Apocrypha and the Catholic Doctrine of Scripture

"If it is well-composed and to the point, that is just what I wanted. If it is worthless and mediocre, that is all I could manage."
- II Maccabees 15:38, New Jerusalem Bible

This verse is the penultimate verse of the apocryphal Second Book of Maccabees. Along with First Maccabees, this book is an accepted part of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox canons of the Old Testament. The Eastern Orthodox also accept Third and Fourth Maccabees. These books describe the historical period between the prophecies of Malachi and the Gospel of Matthew.

All of these books are found in the Septuagint, the pre-Christian Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures. However, all four are excluded from the so-called Palestinian canon, the basis of both the modern Jewish and Protestant canons. The Orthodox accept all four simply on the grounds that they consider the Septuagint to be the authoritative basis for their Old Testament. And, it must be acknowledged, the manuscripts that survive of the Septuagint are far older than the oldest Hebrew manuscripts. The Church of Rome, on the other hand, pleads the actions of certain church councils (not any of the universal Ecumenical Councils), especially of the Third Council of Carthage, a provincial council that met in 397, and ratified by the Sixth Council of Carthage in 419. However, Rome rejects the Synod of Laodicea, 365, which excluded the Books of Maccabees. In addition, they claim the authority of Augustine, who accepted the books, but reject the opinion of Jerome who excluded them from his canon, i.e., the Vulgate Bible.

My point in mentioning these councils and church Fathers is that the Church of Rome cherry-picks its authorities. Since the Council of Trent "infallibly" determined to include the books, the Roman Church is forced by its own claims to profess only those authorities that agree with that decree.

The problem for the Catholic (and Orthodox) view is that it is contradicted by the very text that they are claiming as canonical. Look at the quote at the top of this page. The writer of Second Maccabees is worried that his book will be found to be mediocre! Would he have that fear if he were inspired, as, for example, Paul was? Rome claims that he was merely mistaken, unaware of his inspiration, because, they claim, the Scriptures aren't infallible in matters of science or history, i.e., "objective" facts. A-hah! Here we have the crux of the issue: in order to maintain its own infallibility, Rome is perfectly willing to cast away the infallibility of God! This is the reason the Reformers pointed their fingers at the papacy with the cry of "Antichrist"!

In contrast, Jesus, speaking to His heavenly Father, trustingly confessed, "Your word is truth" (John 17:17). That is the authority that I accept. As the Psalmist says (Psalm 119:160), "The sum of Your word is truth." Since no pope has ever died for my sins or risen from the dead, I will choose the words of Jesus over the words of Rome. I am secure in the trust that those words will never change.