Ifprottruesmaller-202x300Catholic apologist, and former-atheist, Devin Rose is a conservative thinker, a clear writer and an extremely gracious Christ-like brother. He has written a recent book titled: If Catholicism Is True: The Reformation Meets Rome. (I have not yet read his book but I will attempt to do so.) Devin Rose has corresponded with me via Facebook in recent months and has recently read my book, Your Church Is Too Small. I respect him as a person, a brother and a man who I believe reviewed my work with a gentle spirit and a good faith argument. I want everyone who cares about this subject to read his review. I will offer a few salient comments below but do not plan to offer an extensive counter-review. I do not desire to enter into the combat zone of Catholic and evangelical apologetics. (There are hundreds, likely thousands, of blogs, tracts and books that do this in various ways and with various styles and approaches. I am not called to this polemical zone!) I'd love to have my Catholic readers respond, whether you agree with Devin or not. I'd also love for Protestants to respond so long as you are kind to Devin and fair in your comments about him and me. My guiding principles are found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and in Ephesians 4:1-7.

I am not suggesting that Devin does not share these same Pauline principles. I believe that he does. I just do not have a divine vocation to serve in the same space that he feels called to work within, namely one committed to the apologetical defense of various inter-church debates that, in my estimation, hinder missonal-ecumenism. My space is one of bridge building with people who have faith in Christ so that we can find new/old pathways that could lead to peace without compromise, in so far as this is possible! (I believe it is more possible than any of us can imagine because Christ loves all his people and prays for their "relational" oneness.)

Devin understands my arguments fairly well, at least at most points. Yet he misses some major points of mine at several critical junctures. Devin seems to believe that my ecumenism is rooted in the kind of effort that embraces a very low threshold of faith which threatens the real catholicity that I actually believe in and practice. Of course we do not agree on what catholicity actually "is" since he sees it as coterminous with the Roman Catholic Church and the magisterium. A friend has written (correctly I think) that "

[In] Rose's very good and engaging book review he seems to use apostolic succession as traditional Catholics do as a wedge for separation (unless you convert and come home to mother church) you are not truly catholic." I believe this is an accurate understanding of what you will see in Devin's review, but this is not because Devin has a bad spirit. He is defending the Catholic Church as he understands it. He is not alone in this understanding or this kind of defense. I prefer, however, to speak of apostolic traditions (East and West) as possessing core doctrines ("mere Christianity") that can unify the whole global church, not fully in terms of perfect union, but in terms of the mission of Christ's one kingdom. (This I believe is very clearly stated in my book!) My blogger friend further wrote that: "Rose [in this review] really shows his bias against Protestants when he says that even if Protestants agree with Catholics on the doctrine of apostolic succession, it doesn't matter since they don't possess it. Even if Protestants agree with Catholics, they are still wrong!" This is the rub for all evangelical ecumenists like me. Telling one side in this sadly divided state with a response that says "You are wrong and we are right" is not the type of ecumenism that will lead us to deeper (experienced and shared) Spirit-given relational unity. As gracious as Rose is in his style and person this kind of argument will not help foster what I envision. Disagree with my thesis if you will, and many readers of this blog will disagree, but I am not alone in this thesis. I believe it is both ancient and wise. Rose and I thus have a different vision of unity, at least in terms of the first steps that we should take in this process toward the greater fullness of how we can actually express our inherent unity because we are already one in Christ and share in common Christian baptism. 

DevinroseheadshotIn Rose's understanding the way to unity is simple and straightforward. I should come home to Rome! Yet in the practice of post-Vatican II ecumenism, and the teaching and practice of the last five popes, this is not what I see nor is it what I have experienced in my thousands of hours of conversation with Catholics. The lone exception to my experience usually comes from converts who have left Protestantism and seem to feel a deep need to do a kind of apologetics that shows why Rome is the "true church." Through this approach they conclude that everyone else is outside the true church though somehow we are all mysteriously inside that church in an incomplete way that keeps us, the "separated brothers," from the Table. But even here I have scores of Catholic friends who do not adopt Rose's view. These are not untaught or rebellious (liberal) Catholics. Conservative Catholic apologists take the supposed high ground by using the official teaching of the church on most matters but they seem to miss that there is a continued unfolding of what their church is also saying about unity with non-Catholics, especially since Vatican II. Having spent time inside the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity I speak from firsthand experience, not simply from books and documents. (I have read scores of these books and documents as well and find in these a rich treasury that calls us to new ecumenism!) Having read and discussed ecumenism in inter-church contexts, both in and outside of the United States, I have a perspective which clearly is not the same as Devin's. This doesn't make me better than Devin, just different in my viewpoint. 

Much more problematic for me, and for serious ecumenism to truly advance, is the practice of the Catholic Church with regard to baptism and eucharist. While the Catholic Church accepts my baptism they do not, in most contexts, commune me. Am I the only person who finds this stance in-congruent? Ecumenists, including many Catholic theologians who teach ecumenism inside the Vatican and on the faculty of Rome's famous Vatican universities, see this as a problem to be ultimately overcome in new ecumenical ways. (This may happen first with the Orthodox Church but then no one can say if they would reciprocate since they also exclude all other Christians from the Table!) My friend who writes in response to Devin Rose on my blog says, "What is amazing from an ecumenist's viewpoint [is] that one doctrine makes us one in Christ while the other keeps us separated." Sadly, this is my conclusion as well.  

Finally, Devin Rose does not seem to recognize some of the very official agreements that the Vatican has signed that are game changers in terms of using "old" arguments and recognizing "new" groundbreaking agreements that we now have at many levels. I think especially of The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999). There is no way around the fact that this is a document agreed to by both the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation. It is a major step toward the new unity I speak about. And there is no doubt that this agreement answers most of the much debated 16th century questions well. 

Catholics and Protestants continue to have real disagreements. On this Rose and I completely agree. It would have been best, however, if he had also underscored that I agree with this point rather than to write as if I did not see this as an ongoing problem. He lists several huge issues where we still disagree. He and I concur that we still disagree on these; e.g. the magisterium, the meaning of the Mass in terms of ontology, etc. Yet as my friend Chris wrote in his comments on Rose's review, "You would think none of this [the formal and significant agreements] has happened and everything is the same under the conditions of the 16th century break on this issue [justification] . . ."

For all who care about my work and love me as a brother I want you to have the opportunity to read this very fine man's review at the Called to Communion website. It can help us all, especially if we do not stop here but pursue, in genuine Christian love, a growing and deepening conversation about our differences and our agreements. The unity Rose prays for is, at least in spirit, the one I also pray for. We do not agree (yet) about how this will come about but we must never stop loving and listening. Rose shows he desires this path. We may not ever have the full union of all churches but we can strive prayerfully together for what I call missional-ecumenism. We cannot do this without one another. In this spirit I welcome Devin Rose's critical review of my book and encourage you to read it. 

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  1. Jason Kettinger March 12, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    Let the practice of Christian faith in a particular community dictate the questions people within it ask, and what actions to take. That’s harder than it looks. Do you worry that you yourself are trying to be the arbiter of a “core orthodoxy” that others do not and cannot share (because of convictions about visible unity, for example)?

  2. John H. Armstrong March 12, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    If I really thought that I was (personally) the arbiter of “core orthodoxy” by my own definitions then I would be very nervous. I do not think that I am. I think I am embracing a core of what catholics, East and West, believed in the undivided church. I am not about to become a “source” of unity but hope I can be a signpost. While I see unity in the earlier creeds and the Holy Scripture I have always acknowledged openly that others require more, or less, to establish catholicity. Since I am not committed to minimalism as a helpful path I would always be willing to admit that God will lead us in different ways on this matter.

  3. Renee Lin March 12, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    “Much more problematic for me, and for serious ecumenism to truly advance, is the practice of the Catholic Church with regard to baptism and eucharist. While the Catholic Church accepts my baptism they do not, in most contexts, commune me. Am I the only person who finds this stance incongruent?”
    It is true that the Catholic Church accepts Trinitarian baptisms. This stems from our adherence to Ephesians 4:5, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” As we all know, many Protestant groups do not accept a baptism which took place in a Catholic setting.
    The reason non-Catholics may not receive Holy Communion also stems from Scripture, 1 Corinthians 11:29:
    “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (NIV)
    The Catholic belief that Jesus is physically present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Holy Eucharist is at odds with the various Protestant interpretations of what “communion” actually entails. Since from a Catholic standpoint Protestants do not “recognize” the body of the Lord, to allow you to receive Holy Communion would be aiding you in eating and drinking judgment on yourself. This is hardly an incongruent stance; this is an act of loving concern for our separated brethren. While you may not agree with our understanding of Scripture, I think you can see that, from our point of view, to act otherwise would be to lead Protestants into sin.

  4. Chris Criminger March 12, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    Hi John and all,
    Wow, I tried to find some book reviews by Protestants and all I could find were Catholic ones. I know there is so much stuff on the internet but it does make me wonder if Protestants are reading Catholic apologetic books like Devin Rose’s book? This just challenges me to pick up my own copy of his book.
    I wanted to make a few more comments about Rose’s book review and then I am finished. One is there are at least three main viewpoints I run into among Catholics.
    1. There are what some call the fundamentalist Catholics who disagree with aspects of Vatican 2 nor have problems even critiquing and disagreeing with current popes. They believe salvation is only in the Roman Catholic church and all other churches are psuedo churches filled with heresy. I will say this group is theologically consistent to me because they don’t buy into the dichotomy between true christians in false churches or christians linked to the head (Christ) but not to the body of Christ (the church). They take their beliefs out to their logical conclusions. Most of us would not agree with them but there is an inner logic and consistency to their beliefs.
    2. The only true or fullness of God church is the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of the magisterium. Protestants and other Christians may be separated brethren through trinitarian baptism but they are missing the full unity and oneness of the Roman Catholic Church. This is the more mainline view that Devin Rose goes with. I will say that catholicity and institutional oneness are important factors from my view point even though they may not be as important to others.
    Of course, the Eastern Orthodox Church says the same thing and Romans Catholics may feel like some of us Protestants do when it comes to ecumenical talks and extending the right hand of fellowship, the answer is no, unless you join our group (generally speaking, Catholics accept EO’s to participate in communion/eucharist but EO’s typically reject the Catholic’s offer).
    3. There are ecumenical and more Vatican 2 minded Catholics who believe the Catholic church has not gone far enough in extending its catholicity and ecumenical blessings. Some have even participated in eucharist gatherings with Protestants like the late Henri Nouwen.
    Lastly, I don’t want to go into a public debate on these issues either but I will say I believe Devin Rose scores some big points on the apostolic succession and baptismal regeneration issues of the early church heritage. Actually, the early church condemend the view that baptism was just a symbol of an inward reality. They connected it with salvation and I think Protestants and Evangelicals have not looked at this thoroughly enough. In regards to apostolic succession, the early church’s goal was to show the catholicity of the church (contra the heretical groups who destroyed catholicity and promoted schism).
    Again, I doubt most protestants have understood or have seriously grappled with the issue of how damaging schism really is to the witness of the church today? And I just wish apostolic succession would once again be used as a symbol for catholcity and unity rather than an apologetic weapon to show who is in and who is out of the church. The EO church is good at playing this card as well.
    When it comes to catholicity, apostolic succession, and the eucharist, I am reminded something I strongly concur with N. T. Wright on what he said concerning justification. The dcotrine of justification has not just been a divisive doctrine in dispute between protestants and catholics, but especially between protestants and other protestants!
    Wright says that the doctrine of justification properly understood is a great ecumenical doctrine. But Protestants have used it as a weapon to say who is in and who is out when it comes to salvation. This is not the Pauline doctrine that Paul preached. “One is not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith. One is justified by faith by believing in Jesus.” Wright continues, “It cannot be right that the very doctrine which declares that all who believe in Jesus belong at the same table (Gal.2) should be used as a way of saying that some, who define the doctrine of justification differently, belong at a different table (What Saint Paul Really Said, pp.158-159)

  5. John H. Armstrong March 12, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    Renee, you read a lot into “recognize” the body when millions of non-Catholics agree it is the body and blood of Christ! It is loving to “fence” me from the Table because I am not agreeing with every word of Catholic teaching on the eucharist? I actually do not think you have represented the real reason the RCC excludes me and, by the way, there are contexts in which I can and have been invited to commune. Go figure.

  6. Renee Lin March 12, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    John, have you read Bl. John Paul II’s “Ecclesia de Eucharistia”? It is a beautiful treatise on the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist, and may answer some of your questions as to why communion cannot be shared. An excerpt:
    “Our longing for the goal of unity prompts us to turn to the Eucharist, which is the supreme sacrament of the unity of the People of God, in as much as it is the apt expression and the unsurpassable source of that unity. In the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice the Church prays that God, the Father of mercies, will grant his children the fullness of the Holy Spirit so that they may become one body and one spirit in Christ. In raising this prayer to the Father of lights, from whom comes every good endowment and every perfect gift (cf. Jas 1:17), the Church believes that she will be heard, for she prays in union with Christ her Head and Spouse, who takes up this plea of his Bride and joins it to that of his own redemptive sacrifice.
    Precisely because the Church’s unity, which the Eucharist brings about through the Lord’s sacrifice and by communion in his body and blood, absolutely requires full communion in the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments and ecclesiastical governance, it is not possible to celebrate together the same Eucharistic liturgy until those bonds are fully re-established. Any such concelebration would not be a valid means, and might well prove instead to be an obstacle, to the attainment of full communion, by weakening the sense of how far we remain from this goal and by introducing or exacerbating ambiguities with regard to one or another truth of the faith. The path towards full unity can only be undertaken in truth. In this area, the prohibitions of Church law leave no room for uncertainty, in fidelity to the moral norm laid down by the Second Vatican Council.
    I would like nonetheless to reaffirm what I said in my Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint after having acknowledged the impossibility of Eucharistic sharing: “And yet we do have a burning desire to join in celebrating the one Eucharist of the Lord, and this desire itself is already a common prayer of praise, a single supplication. Together we speak to the Father and increasingly we do so ‘with one heart’”.
    In Christ’s peace,

  7. John H. Armstrong March 12, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    How do you explain Cardinal Ratzinger giving the eucharist to Brother Roger at John Paul II’s funeral Mass? It was done and in fact he was the first person communed on that occasion. It can be seen on the video if you watch. Brother Roger, like me, was a Reformed minister and never joined the Catholic Church contrary to various rumors and stories. Perhaps the practice reveals things not seen in theological statements on their own? I am yet to hear an adequate explanation of this observable fact. I’d be interested if you have one.

  8. Bryan Cross March 12, 2012 at 10:56 pm

    That summer (2005) the Vatican explained that giving the Eucharist to Brother Roger had been a mistake. Here’s the CNA article.
    Instead of trying to make Catholic theology out of a one-time incident that the Holy See subsequently and explicitly refers to as a mistake, it is more accurate and more charitable to allow the Church’s documents to be your standard for what Catholic doctrine is. You would not want Catholics to build RCA doctrine on one incident by a leading RCA figure, an incident that the RCA subsequently admitted to being a mistake. A rule of charity in ecumenical dialogue is that you allow your interlocutor to define his own position, rather than trying to construe it and shape in the way you want it to be, or where you want it to go.
    In the peace of Christ,
    – Bryan

  9. John Graney March 13, 2012 at 1:20 am

    Isn’t your ecclesiology a bit unecumenical? Both Catholics and Orthodox agree that there is one, true Church, and Protestants have historically held an ecclesiology high enough to say at least that the Catholic Church is a false Church. It seems to me that any formulation of core Christian orthodoxy has to have a very high ecclesiology, or else be unecumenical.
    A Greek Melkite Catholic

  10. Chris Criminger March 13, 2012 at 7:40 am

    Hi Renee,
    The Eastern Orthodox Church is not in full unity with their Roman Catholic brothers and sisters but still function as separate entities and do not acknowledge the authority of the magisterium. Yet they can partake of the eucharist. Again, if someone wants to make the argument that they believe the same things concerning the eucharist, then there are some protestants (certainly a minority) who believe the same things about the eucharist but are still denied eucharist communion. Obviously there is more to these issues than just doctrine.
    The inconsistencies go on and on. I believe John Paul 2 had the eucharist with a Protestant/s on a few occasions? There are Catholic priests and Bishops (I realize going against the official teachings of the church at this time) who partake of the eaucharist with Protestants. I partake of the eucharist with Catholics almost every year at Emmaeus gatherings and events. It’s at least the one time for me where true ecumenicalism is practiced and not just spoken about.
    I have a Catholic friend who partakes of the eucharist with Protestants in Emmaeus gatherings. I asked him how does he reconcile that with his Catholic faith? He said, “Chris, sometimes one has to choose being a good christian over being a good Catholic.” I’m sure many Catholics would respond that my friend is not being either a good Christian or a good Catholic. The only thing I can say is even Jesus broke with tradition at times. For Catholics who feel they are in-between a rock and a hard place on this issue (and most are not), all I can say is I repsect both who live by their conscience and convictions either way.
    After looking at many of the tragic divisions of the church over history, I will say I may even respect more those Christians who stay within ecclesial traditions when everyone else is jumping ship or do not opt for the what looks like schism (for example, Martin Luther and Erasmus both wanted reform but Erasmus did not leave the church in order to do it). Leaders like Martin Luther get praised lavishedly or denounced harshly but I appreciate those unsong heroes like Erasmus who tried to do things within the context of the church.

  11. Chris Criminger March 13, 2012 at 7:58 am

    Hi John,
    This is a good point and from my perspective, ecclesiology is one of the greatest doctrines that needs to be revitalized within the protestant church. There is a higher ecclesiology among a few liturgical churches but overall, protestants have much to learn from both Catholics and Orthodox on ecclesiology!
    I will say there is a kind of disconnect for me with my Eastern Orthodox friends. On the one hand, they have this beautiful self-critical theology that says they are sinners in need of grace. On the other hand, they have what comes off many times to others as a kind of triumphalism that says our church is the only true church and all other churches are false one (including the Roman Catholic Church). So here is a high ecclesiology that appears to be unecumenical. If protestants are told that if you want true unity, join the Catholic church. Catholics are told that if you want true unity, join the Eastern Orthodox church. If Catholics are saddened that they are offering the right hand of fellowship to the Orthodox and being rejected, all I can say is that is how some of us protestants feel when we offer the right hand of fellowship to Catholics and feel the same thing. And if we really think other people’s churches are “false churches” (something John Armstrong and myself do not believe) then I don’t know how this is supposed to be true ecumenicalism much less how ecumenical relations will ever advance?

  12. Chad Steiner March 13, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    An Eastern Orthodox Christian who accepts the seat offered at the eucharistic table in the Catholic Church would, ipso facto, be acknowledging and submitting to the authority of the magisterium. This act of submission takes place when the server says, ‘The Body of Christ,’ and the individual communicant replies, ‘Amen’, just prior to receiving the eucharist in the hand or on the tongue. The illocution of ‘Amen’ is submission to the authority of the one who has declared that what the communicant now consumes is in fact the body and blood of Christ.
    The same would be true for anyone who receives the body and blood of our Lord in the Catholic Church, including Protestants. The reason Protestants are discouraged from receiving communion, while the Orthodox are not, is because in their present state, as baptized Christians who have not received the sacrament of reconciliation [and who therefore may be in a state of mortal sin] or of confirmation [and who are thus not a part of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church], the act of receiving the body and blood of our Lord cannot be a sign of ecclesial unity for Protestants, and may well be a means of lethal judgment, as Renee rightly explains. But the Orthodox presumably have received the sacraments of reconciliation and confirmation, and therefore have nothing remaining between themselves and full communion except to acknowledge the authority of the supreme pontiff, whose authority is invoked when the host is consecrated and declared to be the body and blood of our Lord for the communicant.
    In short, there is only the ‘Amen’ required of the Orthodox, but the sacraments of reconciliation, confirmation, and then the ‘Amen’, required of Protestants. However, both cases–though different–are fully compatible, and fully consistent, with the requirement that one must be in full communion with the episcopal successor of the one to whom Christ gave the keys of the kingdom in order to receive the eucharist.
    In the grace of Christ,

  13. Chad Steiner March 13, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    If one does not bow down and worship it, then one does not really believe it is actually the body and blood of Christ.
    But if we should substantiate your claim that ‘millions of non-Catholics agree it is the body and blood of Christ’, the very next question is not, ‘Why are they barred from receiving communion?’, but ‘Why have they delayed receiving communion?’, because they are not barred from receiving communion. They are encouraged–if indeed they do believe the Church’s teaching–to act in accordance with their belief and receive the sacraments of reconciliation and confirmation so that they may receive communion immediately. If they do not, then the real question is whether they do in fact believe it is the body and blood of our Lord.
    In the grace of Christ,

  14. Devin Rose March 13, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    Hi John,
    Thanks for this response. To do it justice, I am going to work on a reply, which will most likely be another blog post itself on my blog or Called to Communion.
    May Christ unite us!

  15. Bruce Newman March 13, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    John, I appreciate being able to read this charitable interaction between you and Devin. As a still fairly new Catholic I’m simply watching and trying to learn something.

  16. Michael March 13, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Let me address the issue concerning how Devin proposes true reconciliation can happen between protestants and Catholics. You mention that Devin suggests submission to the magisterium and the admittance that ‘we are wrong.’ is what it would take.
    The Catholic Church has always been expressed using family terms. For instance, God if Father, the Church is mother (Mary being the icon of this). And we are God’s children. So let me ask you, if the apostles left shepherds over the Church who would continue a spiritual parenting role, then is it not more plausible that the ‘children’ of the Church after becoming wayward, would find the only course home would be to acknowledge to their parents that “I was wrong and you were right”???
    I am myself have been Catholic for only one year and it was not ONLY those people label as fundamentalist Catholics who were former protestants who called me home. I saw it in the Church’s very writing, particularly Vatican II that was a call to conversion. Most protestants only read parts of those documents that they like and proof text the portions giving them an ‘out’ from their own responsiblity to seek reconciliation.
    For me, it was the growing inconsistencies I saw in the reformers writings and also their hypocrisy in railing against their bishops while they themselves turned around and did eggregious acts.
    The Catholic Church, including its Popes and bishops have acknowledged that their was great wrongs done by SOME in the Church, but that the teaching of the Church handed on from the apostled remains incorruptible. Christ promised that the Church would be guided in all Truth.
    I also think of Paul, who while being a zealous Jew who initially persecuted the Church became one of the most ardent apostles to bring people into the Body of Christ. That would be my response to those who quickly dismiss protestant converts who are most zealous to lead people into the Catholic Church. A great example of this is Scott Hahn, who was strongly opposed to the Catholic Church until the weight of the history and theology struck him down and now he is a great evangelisitic voice in the Church.
    I believe that taking the Roman’s road and submitting to the elders that Christ has appointed and perpetuated is the only path to true unity. Protestants have protested themselves into more and more division, establishing their own elders outside the succession of bishops that have maintained unity within the Catholic Church.
    This is not to say Christ does not work through protestant groups, just as Christ worked through his rebellious and stiff-necked people Israel that consistently “killed their prophets and priests”. Why should we think that protestants have not simply followed this same inclination of our human nature?
    I think this is a plausible theory. An argument that this rebellion is somehow different or acceptable to God to me seems kind of laughable knowing the tendancy of people in relation to the people that God places over them as shepherds. Just a thought.

  17. Greg Metzger March 15, 2012 at 8:34 am

    I have posted some thoughts on this discussion at one of my blog sites:

  18. John H. Armstrong March 15, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Thank you Greg. I actually do agree re: the need to approach communion/eucharist with much more care. To try and force this is mistake. I have long accepted the fact that I cannot commune in a Roman Catholic Church and do not unless invited, which also has happened. I long to see us at the Table but there are many things we can and should do even before we get to a common Table. You have helped my readers understand my spirit and concerns well.

  19. CD-Host March 17, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    Chris in response to your question about whether Protestants are reading Catholic apologetics, my impression is by and large they aren’t.
    First off there is the problem that most religious traditions don’t read each other’s apologetics. People just don’t work hard to familiarize themselves with the counter arguments presented against their faith tradition, and even those that do focus generally focus on one niche. So for example a Lutheran might understand Jehovah Witnesses critiques or Reformed critiques or Catholic critiques but rarely all 3.
    Second the Catholic apologetics that are popular, essentially the Cardinal Newman apologetic, assume a form of Protestantism which is the minority in the United States. A form of Protestantism which emerged in the magisterial Reformation and is pre the American revival movements with their focus on individual salvation. Most Protestants today, have a ecclesiology far more dominated with ideas from John Wesly and Charles Finney than from Luther and Calvin. British apologetics, which are aimed at pre-revival Christianity don’t work well for most Americans.
    Third, most Catholic apologetics don’t actual address the issues that led to the reformation. Most Protestants who understand the reformation believe the Reformers did the right thing. They reject the authoritarian morality that the church has the kind of authority that Catholic apologetics assert it has. While the original Reformers themselves were inconsistent on their low church theology, the Protestant masses are not. Protestant by and large are tremendously ecumenical in their approach and see churches functionally. Catholic apologetics fail to make a strong positive case for their assertions about a unique true church.

  20. chris criminger March 17, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    Hi CD-Host,
    I really liked Greg’s words but I can see a depth of historical wisdom in yours that are often lacking in some of these discussions. Have you ever considered writing on some of these issues to fill in the gaps that I think you perceptively see?

  21. CD-Host CD-Host March 17, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    Hi Chris. Thank you for the complement! Well if you click on my link my blog has quite a few articles that address history. I don’t know your denomination / interest so I’m not sure what to link off to. What is your areas of interest?

  22. Michael March 19, 2012 at 8:59 am

    “Devin Rose is a conservative thinker, a clear writer and an extremely gracious Christ-like brother. He has written a recent book titled: If Catholicism Is True: The Reformation Meets Rome. (I have not yet read his book but I will attempt to do so.)…”
    Maybe start with the title?

  23. Michael March 19, 2012 at 10:38 am

    As a convert from “the outside” where most people consider this kind of debate a meaningless in-fight between equally bad deluded/lying/stupid people…
    It’s very striking how far from the level of direct experience such discussions can get very quickly, even if they are fascinating (I followed the link here from CtC).
    As a newly-baptised convert at the age of 21, I struggled with the fact that the Bible was a “black box” in Protestant discussion (bear in mind I had grown up with zero Christian baggage, so it seemed a little ridiculous to view the Bible this way).
    As a Catholic a few years later it seemed clear that Catholicism is just contemporary Christianity; the various Protestantisms are older forms of it that are certainly mostly still Christian, but are struggling to catch up with the Church by their own efforts (or borrowing consciously or otherwise from it).
    The Church too has its “black box” – the Eucharist – but this is acknowledged to be so, and is certainly the same scandal as the Apostles and first Christians faced, from the point of view of actual experience…

  24. Christopher Lake March 19, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Hello, John, my dear brother in Christ! It’s good to be able to interact with you here. Thank you for providing this conversation.
    I appreciate and share your heart for ecumenical dialogue. As you know, of course, at least since Vatican II, the Church has been strongly, vocally committed to such dialogue with our Orthodox and Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ. As part of this dialogue, the Church seeks to find every possible area of agreement with others in the seeking of unity. She has much agreement with Protestants. This has become more and more clear, especially over the last two centuries. In the 1800s, movements toward ecumenism can already be seen in Papal writings. Since Vatican II, ecumenism has been consciously pursued by the Church.
    As a part of this process, it is crucially important for our Protestant Christian brothers and sisters to understand ecumenism from within the mind of the Catholic Church. John, it definitely seems like you have been trying to do this, given your thousands of hours of conversation with Catholics on the issue. We very much appreciate you taking this time, brother.
    One *indispensable* part of ecumenical dialogue, for non-Catholic Christians, *must be* knowing what the Catholic Church says about herself in her own official, authoritative documents, such as the Catechism.
    In her very name, the Church claims that she is “Catholic.” Does she mean what Protestants sometimes mean when they describe themselves as “catholic”– having in common a “core orthodoxy” of certain doctrinal beliefs and practices? We should look at what the Catechism says about “catholicity,” as the Church means it:
    What does “catholic” mean?
    830 The word “catholic” means “universal,” in the sense of “according to the totality” or “in keeping with the whole.” The Church is catholic in a double sense:
    First, the Church is catholic because Christ is present in her. “Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church.”307 In her subsists the fullness of Christ’s body united with its head; this implies that she receives from him “the fullness of the means of salvation”308 which he has willed: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession. The Church was, in this fundamental sense, catholic on the day of Pentecost309 and will always be so until the day of the Parousia.
    831 Secondly, the Church is catholic because she has been sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race:310
    All men are called to belong to the new People of God. This People, therefore, while remaining one and only one, is to be spread throughout the whole world and to all ages in order that the design of God’s will may be fulfilled: he made human nature one in the beginning and has decreed that all his children who were scattered should be finally gathered together as one. . . . The character of universality which adorns the People of God is a gift from the Lord himself whereby the Catholic Church ceaselessly and efficaciously seeks for the return of all humanity and all its goods, under Christ the Head in the unity of his Spirit.311
    Each particular Church is “catholic”
    832 “The Church of Christ is really present in all legitimately organized local groups of the faithful, which, in so far as they are united to their pastors, are also quite appropriately called Churches in the New Testament. . . . In them the faithful are gathered together through the preaching of the Gospel of Christ, and the mystery of the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. . . . In these communities, though they may often be small and poor, or existing in the diaspora, Christ is present, through whose power and influence the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church is constituted.”312
    833 The phrase “particular Church,” which is first of all the diocese (or eparchy), refers to a community of the Christian faithful in communion of faith and sacraments with their bishop ordained in apostolic succession.313 These particular Churches “are constituted after the model of the universal Church; it is in these and formed out of them that the one and unique Catholic Church exists.”314
    834 Particular Churches are fully catholic through their communion with one of them, the Church of Rome “which presides in charity.”315 “For with this church, by reason of its pre-eminence, the whole Church, that is the faithful everywhere, must necessarily be in accord.”316 Indeed, “from the incarnate Word’s descent to us, all Christian churches everywhere have held and hold the great Church that is here [at Rome] to be their only basis and foundation since, according to the Savior’s promise, the gates of hell have never prevailed against her.”317
    835 “Let us be very careful not to conceive of the universal Church as the simple sum, or . . . the more or less anomalous federation of essentially different particular churches. In the mind of the Lord the Church is universal by vocation and mission, but when she put down her roots in a variety of cultural, social, and human terrains, she takes on different external expressions and appearances in each part of the world.”318 The rich variety of ecclesiastical disciplines, liturgical rites, and theological and spiritual heritages proper to the local churches “unified in a common effort, shows all the more resplendently the catholicity of the undivided Church.”319
    Who belongs to the Catholic Church?
    836 “All men are called to this catholic unity of the People of God. . . . And to it, in different ways, belong or are ordered: the Catholic faithful, others who believe in Christ, and finally all mankind, called by God’s grace to salvation.”320
    837 “Fully incorporated into the society of the Church are those who, possessing the Spirit of Christ, accept all the means of salvation given to the Church together with her entire organization, and who – by the bonds constituted by the profession of faith, the sacraments, ecclesiastical government, and communion – are joined in the visible structure of the Church of Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not however persevere in charity is not saved. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but ‘in body’ not ‘in heart.'”321
    838 “The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter.”322 Those “who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.”323 With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound “that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist.”324
    Now, in the above section, #838, the Church mentions that Protestants “who have been properly baptized are put in a certain, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.” In that sense, there is an important unity which already exists.
    Earlier, in #830, we see what the Church means by “catholic,” including “correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession.”
    The Catechism understand this “apostolic succession” to have come from Christ Himself, who ordained the first apostles. It is in that light that the Catholic Church describes herself as thus, also in #830: “The Church was, in this fundamental sense, catholic on the day of Pentecost309 and will always be so until the day of the Parousia.”
    She is “catholic”– “universal”–, precisely because she is the Church to which every single person on earth either *already belongs, or is ordered, and thus, called to belong*. The Church makes this clear, here, from the Catechism:
    836. All men are called to this catholic unity of the People of God. . . . And to it, in different ways, belong or are ordered: the Catholic faithful, others who believe in Christ, and finally all mankind, called by God’s grace to salvation.
    John, I’m sure that you have heard the Vatican II phrase “separated brothers and sisters.” The phrase mainly refers, in different ways, to the Orthodox and to Protestants (and to Anglicans, as many of them don’t consider or understand themselves to be “Protestants”). Our Protestant brothers and sisters do have a certain, though imperfect, communion with the Church. However, you are still separated from us in important ways. The Church understands “catholicity” to include the fullness of the Christian faith and life. This fullness includes apostolic succession and the sacramental life of the Church. Protestants have an imperfect (real but imperfect) communion with the Catholic (universal) Church, but they are not yet *fully united* with her.
    What will be necessary for that full unity to occur? In the Church’s own mind, from her own documents (*not* simply those of Catholic apologists), for full Christian unity, Protestants will have to ultimately return to the Church which has apostolic succession and “unity under the successor of Peter.” This is clear from the Catechism:
    838 “The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter.”322
    “Joined” is very good– it is precious, even, beautiful. It speaks of our unity through our baptisms and our faith in Christ. “Joined” is not full unity though, and for Protestants to have full unity with Catholics, our dear, separated brothers and sisters must know what the Church means, by both “catholic” and “catholicity.” John, I don’t know what you have been told about these matters in your conversations with Catholics. I hope, in love for you, as a brother, that at least some of those conversations, included serious examinations of what the Church says on these matters, from her own, official, authoritative documents.
    The Catechism passages, quoted above, can be found at the Vatican website, which has the entire Catechism online. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM I highly encourage all Protestants who are committed to ecumenical dialogue with Catholics to seriously study it. Individual Catholics may state that the Church believes any number of things “since Vatican II.” This is so much the case that conversations with individual Catholics *about* Vatican II can, at times, be admittedly confusing! However, the Catechism provides helpful, *authoritative clarification* on such matters.

  25. David April 22, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    Christ is Risen!
    Dr. Armstrong – Thank you for your witness of Christ. I for one deeply appreciate it.
    Like Chuck Colson (R.I.P.) you are providing real leadership and authentic ecumenism in a world which desperately needs it.
    Have you every encountered anyone in Communion and Liberation (a Pontifically recognized ecclesial movement/lay movement like Focolare) in your dialog with Catholics?
    your friend,

  26. John H. Armstrong April 22, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    Thank you for this encouraging word David. I am not aware of Communion and Liberation but will become so via this link. Thank you for it and for reading my blog. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ refresh us all as we seek after the Savior who purchased out redemption by his blood.

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