A boarding pier and shores dotted with waste in front of Castel Sant’ Angelo at the entrance of “Ships of Rome”, the tourist service on the city’s Tiber. Photo: AFP Tourist cruises along Rome’s Tiber River have stopped for the first time since they began a decade ago because the waterway is too dirty.
Christianity is about redemption. Protestants base their knowledge of redemption on the scriptures alone. The Roman Catholic and other Christian movements base their knowledge of redemption on both scripture and tradition. For the Protestant, only the scriptures are God-breathed, whereas for Roman Catholics, revelation is progressive (John Henry Newman). In this article, I examine James White’s response to Jason Reed’s “conversion to Rome” in his podcast “The dividing line, October 17, 2013).”
“I responded, says White, to the “conversion testimony” (note how it is a story of conversion not to Christ, but to a system of religion) by former Southern Evangelical Seminary professor Jason Reed today. This is a very important discussion, and it is one I hope will be helpful to those watching the developments at SES in regards to a wave of apostasy to Rome. Very important lessons about how it is not enough to be “non-Catholic” but instead how one must have a passionate, positive commitment to the very heart of the gospel to truly understand the depth of Rome’s errors. I truly believe Reed’s testimony illustrates to the fullest the need for Christians to understand the true necessity of such truths as sola scriptura, sola gratia, and sola fide. Clearly, Reed never had any commitment, or, it seems, by his own testimony, meaningful knowledge, of these truths.”
The following is my transcript of relevant excerpts from White’s Dividing Line podcast. White airs parts of Reed and responds. My interspersed comments and clarifications appear within brackets and in italics.
Reed – if Jesus said it, it’s enough.
White – Yes it is enough, no question about it.
Reed begins his summary statement – “Why did I become a Christian? Because I believe in the scriptures; I believe in the Bible.”
White – So you believe in the scriptures, you believe in the bible, that is why you became a Roman Catholic. You believe what it says in Romans 5, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” So you can look back on your justification. Except that Rome teaches that you can lose your justification, and hence peace with God, and you keep getting rejustified in the sacramental process, right? So, is that what you believe? And when it talks about Peter; it says he is our fellow elder and not the head of the church, right? So you believe the Bible. And that’s why you don’t believe those parts of the bible [where it says these things]?
(“How, asks William Symington (1975 -1862) can man he justified with God? This is the most important, by far, of all the questions that can ever awaken human inquiry.” Contrast the Roman Catholic system of justification described by White above with what Symington calls the “Catholic” (the body of true believers) system.”
“The Catholic system, so called because it seems to have been held by the great body of Christians since the days of the apostle’s, is founded on the principle that God is just as well as merciful. It maintains that the pardon of sin is procured by the work of Christ, by which be gave satisfaction to the justice of God on behalf of those to be redeemed. This is what is commonly known by the doctrine of atonement, deemed, in every age of the church, of such transcendent importance as to deserve the most complete and patient discussion.” William Symington, “On the atonement and intercession of Jesus Christ” – free ebook).
Reed – And I believe the church gave us the scripture.
White – The scripture predated the church, right? [Are you talking about] the Old Testament church? But the Old Testament church didn’t have the books that you accepted as canon. I thought God gave the scriptures to the church, Christ speaking to his bride. That’s the problem with Rome; Rome cannot have a dialogue with Christ [within the Bible] because Christ’s voice has now been subsumed under an authority, which is only a monologue. That is why you cannot ever have true Reformation within Roman Catholicism.
Reed – They have the teaching authority. Jesus Christ gave the Catholic church the authority to combat error.
White – Combat error? What if then [it is] she promulgates the error, who corrects her?
Reed – And I believe that Jesus taught us to believe in the eucharist.
(Aquinas used the Aristotelian terms of “accidents” and “substance” to explain the most important of Catholic doctrines, the “real presence”, which is called transubstantiation. In transubstantiation, the substance of bread and the wine changes into the substance of the body and Spirit of Christ. Although the senses can only detect the “accidents” (taste, texture, smell, sight), the communicant – claims the dogma – is eating the actual flesh and blood of the living Christ sitting at the right hand of the Father. The Catechism of the Council of Trent expands this belief by stating: “In this sacrament are contained not only the true body of Christ, and all the constituents of a true body, such as bones and sinews, but also Christ whole and entire”. Christ whole and entire is contained not only in the body but also in the blood).
White – Jesus actually taught us to follow his disciples who taught the sacrifice once for all finished, not to be re-presented.
Reed – To eat his flesh and drink his blood. There is so much I am leaving out. The Catholic church simply has no rivals. They’ve got the greatest thinkers…the Summa Theologica [Thomas Aquinas]. the greatest music, they’ve got a great culture, beauty, devotion, worship. They (Protestants) have nothing that competes. That’s why I am here [telling why he converted – as White would say – to “Rome.”
(Besides Aquinas, there were other great “Doctors” and “Fathers” of the Church such as St Augustine and St Anselm. As my mother always used to say – in Yiddish – about a place she admired: “The greatest doctors go there (In Yiddish, “Die greste Dokteirim geit dottern”).
White – [repeating Reed] Roman Catholicism, it’s got worship, beauty, and the greatest thinkers. It’s got the Summa Theologica. Long before Thomas these words were penned:
1 Corinthians 1
“18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart. 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
“There were not many wise according to the flesh (worldly standards) sophos, yes, philosophy. Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” I just heard boasting. No rivals, big thinkers, big brains. “So no man may boast before God.” That is why verse 30 says by his doing, by him you are in Christ Jesus, who became our wisdom from God.
(Aquinas’ Summa Theologica/Theologiae covers almost the whole of Catholic theology. He stopped working on it the year before he died in 1274. Now, fellow Protestants, don’t give Protestantism a bad name by saying that Aquinas believed that all he had written was straw. He didn’t say that. This is what he said: “I cannot go on…. All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.” Actually, now that I think more about it, if it was relatively straw, the issue is relative to what? I would think something analogous to what Richard Ganz said about Isaiah’s sense of his radical corruption (“depravity”) when he encountered God’s glory – the Son of God’s glory. Here is Ganz:
The Reformers called this total depravity. I think perhaps it would be clearer to call it radical depravity. It doesn’t mean that we’re as rotten and corrupt as we could be. In fact, everyone in this world could be even more rotten and more corrupt – from the best person to the worst person. It simply means that every part of our being – our moral, our intellectual, our spiritual, our physical, our heart – everything we are, and everything we do has been touched by sin, perverted and corrupted, and thus we are ruined without the grace of God.
That is the way it is with people! They can look good on the outside, they can do good things, but when you encounter Christ, what you realize is, “I am ruined.” When the best person in the world encounters Christ, by FAITH he realizes, “I am ruined.”This is why, when Isaiah sees the sin in himself, he experiences being torn into pieces before God, and he cries out, “Woe is me” (Isaiah 6:5). You have to understand what Isaiah is saying! What he is doing is taking a curse upon himself, and he’s doing it with the most emphatic language that he can use. What he is saying literally is: “Damned me.” And he gives the reason why: “I have beheld God.” This is the holiest man in Israel, and he sees himself as cursed, separated from God, because of one encounter, one glimpse of the holiness and glory of God.” (Richard Ganz, “Why is sin so important?”).
Aquinas was the most brilliant philospher-theologian of his time, yet when he beheld the glory of God, all his sophos wisdom was not merely like straw, but was straw. (See Thomas Aquinas: Philosophy and Education in the Middle ages).
White continues – It is obvious that Mr Reed had not been introduced to the biblical truths of the reformation. He does not understand the issues of the Gospel. He did not understand the issues historically that separated Rome form all those churches who stood against her; who today no longer stand against her, because they are no longer convinced of what they believe. They have degraded in their commitment foremost the word of God.
I’ve heard considerably more compelling arguments than what I heard in Mr Reed’s testimony. If you are one of those let me talk to you directly. When I rise in the morning I don’t fear the wrath of God. Why? Because I never thought about it, because I take it for granted? No. I do not fear the wrath of God because I know what has been done in my behalf will avail before that holy God each and very day. And I don’t have to say, ‘I have to get to Jesus today. I need to go and get in the car where Jesus is and get some more grace, get a little more propitiation because you see I approached what supposed to be the sacrifice of Christ just the day before yesterday. And the priest said hoc est corpus meam, this is my body. But according to Rome I can do that 10 times, 100 times, 1000 times, 10000 times, 25000 times in my life and still die in fear. I could die in mortal sin, not avail myself of the sacramental forgiveness and still go to hell. Same sacrifice allegedly. So I have to get in the car and go and visit Jesus again because I am not perfected by his one sacrifice. I have to go stand in front of an alter christus, another Christ [a priest]. He has to sacramentally bring Christ down from heaven and render him present, body, blood, soul and divinity upon the Roman altar, and this is how I am to somehow improve my relationship with God.
The reason, continues White, why I could never become a Roman catholic is because I am absolutely dependent upon the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, the perfect righteousness of another. I have nothing else to give. I know God is holy and if I do not have the righteousness of Jesus Christ, nothing else will avail. But you see Rome cannot give me the righteousness of Jesus Christ; it has no finished sacrifice, it has no finished work. You see the whole argument, Mr Reed and those of you who are planning of going across the Tiber river, if you’ve never read it, let me introduce it to you. The whole argument of the book of Hebrews is that the one-time finished sacrifice of Jesus Christ, perfects those for whom it is made. That is therefore is nothing to go back to. And one of the main arguments that the writer [of Hebrews] uses is that in the repetitive sacrifice of the old covenant there is a reminder of sin. You see, the high priest when he would go into the holiest place with the warm bowl of blood would see that he had been there before, that the blood was still dried upon the place of mercy, and that was a reminder that this blood of a goat, a bull is not going ever to cleanse anybody.
It was, adds White, pointing to something greater. The fact that it had to be repeated over and over again meant that it was imperfect and that is why there is only one sacrifice of Christ. It’s not re-presented so that you’re never perfected. It’s one time, singular, finished done. It is finished Jesus said. And what’s really really interesting is that when the writer to the Hebrews speaks of that repetitive sacrifice, there is a yearly anamnesis of sins, a reminder. A repetitive sacrifice, which is what you are limited to in Rome. The mass is an anamnesis of sin, because if you have to come back, you are not perfected. So all it does is remind you of the continuing presence of sin. But that word [anamnesis] is used elsewhere in the New Testament, and I’m so thankful that it is. Because that is the word that is used when Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” in anamnesis of me. Christians have a new covenant, and that covenant has a single perfecting sacrifice. And so you see I don’t have a reminder of my sins; I have a reminder of my sin bearer, and that is why I have peace with God. Now if that was not taught to you in seminary or in your churches, I’m sorry. But you can’t blame your seminary or your churches because you [don’t] possess the word of God.
I could never, says White, go to Rome because Rome has nothing to offer but a treadmill of penances, sacraments, and never being able to know have you done everything that’s necessary to attain justification. In the words of the Word of God, I have justification, not because of who I am, but because of who Jesus Christ is…if these words meant something to you, you could never go there, because anyone who has actually, truly bowed the knee to Jesus Christ and understands [their] absolute dependence upon him can never give that up, can never trade that in. I pray for Mr Reed. By his own testimony, he never understood what the issues where. I hope these words will be taken the the way they were intended. (This ends White’s impassioned plea).
In the last moments of his podcast White says that he doubts whether Reed had read writers such as William Whitaker. White probably has in mind Whitaker’s “A disputation on Holy Scripture: Against the Papists, especially Bellarmine” (1849) – free ebook). Here are a few excerpts from Whitaker:
1. Indeed, when I compare our side with the papists, I easily perceive the great truth of Christ’s saying, that ” the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.”
2. “We maintain that the mysteries of the faith should be concealed from no one, and allege, in proof, those words of Christ, ” What ye hear in the ear, that proclaim ye upon the house-tops.” Bellarmine, (Lib, iv. c. 12) has recourse to a strange and hitherto, I think, unheard of interpretation ;— that is, says he, if need so require. He gives the allegation no other reply whatever; and how proper and apposite an answer this is, I am content that others should determine….In the same way, when we maintain that the mysteries of the faith should be concealed from no one, and allege, in proof, those words of Christ, ” What ye hear in the ear, that proclaim ye upon the house-tops;” Bellarmine, (Lib, iv. c. 12) has recourse to a strange and hitherto, I think, unheard of interpretation ;— that is, says he, if need so require. He gives the allegation no other reply whatever; and how proper and apposite an answer this is, I am content that others should determine.”
3. “I perceive that the utility, or rather the necessity [of this discourse] , is threefold. In the first place, we have to treat not of the opinions of philosophers, which one may either be ignorant I perceive that the utility, or rather the necessity, is three-fold. In the first place, we have to treat not of the opinions of philosophers, which one may either be ignorant of, or refute with commendation,—not of the forms of the lawyers, in which one may err without damage,—not of the institutions of physicians, of the nature and cure of diseases, wherein only our bodily health is concerned,—not of any slight or trivial matters ; —but here the matter of our dispute is certain controversies of religion, and those of the last importance, in which whosoever errs is deceived to the eternal destruction of his soul. In a word, we have to speak of the sacred scriptures, of the nature of the church, of the sacraments, of righteousness, of Christ, of the fundamentals of the faith; all which are of that nature, that if one be shaken, nothing can remain sound in the whole fabric of religion. If what these men teach be true, we are in a miserable condition; we are involved in infinite errors of the grossest kind, and cannot possibly be saved. But if, as I am fully persuaded and convinced, it is they who are in error, they cannot deny that they are justly condemned if they still persist in their errors. For if one heresy be sufficient to entail destruction, what hope can be cherished for those who defend so many heresies with such obstinate pertinacity ? Therefore either they must perish, or we. It is impossible that we can both be safe, where our assertions and belief are so contradictory. Since this is so, it behooves us all to bestow great pains and diligence in acquiring a thorough knowledge of these matters, where error is attended with such perils. Besides, there is another reason which renders the handling of these controversies at the present time not only useful, but even necessary. The papists, who are our adversaries, have long since performed this task; they have done that which we are now only beginning to do. And although they can never get the better of us in argument, they have nevertheless got before us in time.”
What made Thomas Aquinas describe his writings as straw. The same reason why Paul “counted all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung/refuse, that I may win Christ” (Philippians 3:8). Christ’s substance is not concealed under the accidents of the senses but is found in mystical (deep spiritual) union with Him. Oh that I may be “found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:9-11).
Related post: (onedaringjew) My conversion to Roman Catholicism and why I left