Letter to Mr. Challies

This is hardly my most eloquent letter, but it was honest and I think that adds eloquence.  To wrap up the series of posts responding to Mr. Challies’ “Why I Am Not Roman Catholic”  I wanted to share the letter I wrote him.  Thank you for those who followed the series.

Dear Mr. Challies,

Praise the Lord for your love for Him and your desire to bring Him glory, honor, and praise.  I am no judge of your heart, but I believe there is evidence through your work that your heart and affections are for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  And I know it is because His love has come to possess you.  As He did for me, my co-author Adam, for Augustine, and so many of His saints through the ages, He has called, broken through our blindness and deafness.  Your passion for Him is indicative of this too.

I also want to commend the work your do on your website.  As is apparent by the content in this envelope, we have disagreements, but those should only be addressed by first saying, “Thank you for pursuing the furthering of the Gospel!”  Your conviction to spread the Gospel is so fundamental to the mission Christ has shared with us.  Thank you for embracing it.

It is our mutual love for the Gospel that has compelled Adam and me to write this response.  Do not let the Father of Lies convince you that there is an enemy where there is none.  He did this to our forefather Adam when Adam hid from God.  There may be differences in your understanding and expression of the Gospel with the Catholic Church, and yes, real and substantial differences.  But, She is not an enemy of the Gospel.  I believe in the power of the Gospel and encountered it, aka Him, in the Catholic Church.  I heard the call to discipleship as a Catholic returning to the Church.

I hope that our writings can help you see us as at least estranged siblings, instead of opponents of the Gospel.  Yes, there are theological and doctrinal differences, but Reformed theology is not the Gospel.  The Gospel is a proclamation of victory.  Through His incarnation, life, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Spirit, Christ has won!  The revolution of disobedience and sin has been overcome by our champion, the New Adam, the New Moses, and the New David.

In our writings, we do not intend to bring conflict against your person or character, only your arguments and statements.  Anywhere we have been guilty of attacking you, I ask that you forgive us.  We are men defending something and someone dear to us, but we are not immune to the way in which our words can cut differently than intended.

We pray for you and your ministry.  Please pray for us.

In Christ,

Spencer Hargadon

Appendix 3-Uncarnated Worship

Overcompensation is a huge problem for us.  As creatures in time and space we tend to overcorrect like a swaying ship, a swinging pendulum, or a husband in trouble.  This has happened with Protestantism’s view of worship.  In an attempt to avoid empty religiosity and outward false piety, some of Protestantism has taken an almost Gnostic approach to worship. There are those in Protestantism that reject most corporal, physical, or material means of worship.  This is an obstacle facing Catholics and Orthodox worshipping with Protestants because the two great historic Churches are so grounded in incarnational theology that the reduction of worship to merely songs and hand raising feels impoverished.  We want to worship like humans, not angels, for we are body and soul and profess the Incarnate Lord.  I believe this is also a source of the uneasiness Protestants feel regarding relics and Sacraments, especially the Mass.

Certainly we are called to worship God in Spirit and Truth (cf. John 4:20-24) and the interior disposition is essential for worship, “For it is loyalty that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6, cf. Matt. 9:13).  For without love of God and repentant hearts we are like the Pharisees, “like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth… on the outside [appearing] righteous, but inside … filled with hypocrisy and evildoing” (Matt. 23:27-28).

However, a spiritual interior disposition and vibrant material, sensory, corporal worship through ritual are not mutually exclusive.  We must not be like the Son who says he will go to the vineyard but does not (cf. Matt. 21:28-31).  Our worship needs to take form.  Throughout the Gospel’s Christ commends fasting as a physical accompaniment to prayer, almost a prayer of the body.   He also engages in very physical healings (cf. John 9:6), and we are told to anoint our sick (cf. James 5:14).  The laying on of hands is not only a ritual, but one that Paul tells Timothy to not do lightly (cf. 1 Tim. 5:22).  Jesus participated in Jewish ritual worship in the Gospels.  He “fell prostrate in prayer” (Matt. 26:39).

For the Catholic and Orthodox all of this finds its apex in the Eucharistic Liturgy.  It is in that communal prayer of the gathered church that we pray with our bodies through posture and lift our voices in song.  We find again the celebration of the Last Supper — the first Passover meal of the New Covenant (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-32).  We hear, echoed through eternity, Christ’s words of utmost bodily worship, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).  It is in the liturgy that we find the altar we seek reconciliation before approaching (cf. Matt. 5:23-24).  It is where we find the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy that from East to West a [Todah] sacrifice will be offered (cf. 1:11).  And, yes, it is where my greatest contribution is a sincere and repentant heart (Psalm 51:17).  In the liturgy we find ourselves devoted to what the early church was devoted to, “the teaching of the apostles, communal life, breaking of the bread, and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).  This is not something supplemental for us, it is the source and summit of our worship (CCC 1324).

See, invisibility does not grant immunity from emptiness.  Just as I can go through hollow motions at Mass someone can sing praise based off of self-serving fleeting emotions or raise their hands to fit in or draw attention.  Simultaneously, just as someone can let their guard down by singing “Amazing Grace” I can truly open my heart by feeling the corpus (body) on the crucifix. Our salvation came from the union of Creator with creation. We would do well to not confuse that with being saved from creation.

Appendix 2 – Appeal to Tradition: the Trajectory of the Shots Fired over the Canon of Scripture

Catholics are comprehensive, interconnected, synthesizing people.  Well, at least the faith we profess is.  Unfortunately, many controversies between Catholics and Protestants are viewed in isolation, torn unnaturally from where they rightly fit.  It is like trying to determine if a single puzzle piece belongs without consulting the whole.  One area where this disconnect is most obvious is in regard to Scripture.  The debates over the Canon and Sola Scriptura lead to the need to appeal to an authority outside of Scripture.  There is no way for a Protestant to appeal exclusively to Scripture and maintain the current Protestant Canon, much less have grounds for rejecting the books of the Old Testament that they do.  So when you follow the trajectory is it really Sola Scriptura at all?

Recognizing this inevitability R.C. Sproul presents Dr. John Gerstner’s comparison of Catholic vs Protestant views regarding the canon.  Here is how it is presented:  “Roman Catholic view: The Bible is an infallible collection of infallible books.  Protestant view: The Bible is a fallible collection of infallible books.” [28] Sproul then argues for the Protestant position claiming it defends Scripture and protects it. It supposedly “guards against an infallible church” [29] (wouldn’t want one of those).  He articulates that “Church tradition and church creeds can err.” [30]  Unless the creed is Sola Scriptura, then of course it can’t be wrong.  “Individual interpreters of Scripture can err.  It is the Scriptures alone that are without error.” [31]  Assuming you have the right books.  Of course, as Scripture helps interpret Scripture, not having all the books would put someone at a disadvantage.  One might do something, like misinterpret Romans, when missing books.  R.C. Sproul would have to admit this is possible since he defends that he only has a fallible collection of infallible books.  To be fair, all of Christianity existed in a pseudo-Protestant position before the Reformation.  It would have been similar to “We have a reliable though unconfirmed list of infallible books.”  It was when the question of the list’s reliability moved from theory into practice with the reformers that the Church did what she does during times of controversy, made an ecumenical and infallible declaration to protect that which was received.  The infallible Church was coming to the aid of the infallible books which were being cast aside by fallible men. [32]


28. R.C. Sproul, “The Establishment of Scripture,” Ed. Don Kistler, Sola Scriptura 41.
29. Ibid, 41.
30. Ibid, 42.
31. Ibid, 42.
32. Gary Michuta’s Why Catholic Bible’s are Bigger offers an excellent historical survey covering the canon conversation.  He helps cover that Catholics also believe in the reception of the canon not the “creation” of it like Sproul wrote in the above article (Sproul, 49-50).

“It has thought it proper, moreover, to insert in this decree a list of the sacred books, lest a doubt might arise in the mind of someone as to which are the books received by this council” (Trent, Session 4, “Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures”).

To his credit, Sproul avoids accusing the Council of Trent of ‘adding’ books to the Bible.

Appendix 1 – A Practice Inconsistent with “Earning” Salvation: Infant Baptism

Catholics are often accused of teaching a works based Gospel in which one must earn God’s grace and love.  Yet, we take the least capable of earning anything (except maybe by their cuteness) and entrust them to the bountiful grace and mercy of God.  We do this because we know salvation comes from the grace bestowed upon us by the mysterious promises of God. Catholics even get the word for sacrament from this.  Sacramentum (oath) is one of the two Latin words that was used to translate the Greek word musterion.  The other latin word is mysterium, meaning mystery.  The sacraments are mystery and oath, a reality captured by the East calling them the mysteries and the West calling them the Sacraments. [27]

We do this in harmony with the early church:

St. Irenaeus (disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of St. John, you know the guy who wrote about being born again by water and spirit) – “Christ came to save all through Himself; all I say, who are born anew (or baptized) through Him – infants and little ones, boys and youths, and aged persons” (Lib. II. adr. Haer.).

Origen – “The Church received from the Apostles, to give baptism even to infants” (In Ep. ad Rom.).

An African Council in 253 attended by St. Cyprian in response to the question of whether to wait until at least the 8th day after birth to Baptize – “As to what regards the baptism of infants, … we all judged the mercy and grace of God should be denied to no human being from the moment of his birth.  If even to the greatest delinquents the remission of sins is granted, how much less should the infant be repelled, who, being recently born according to Adam, has contracted at his first birth the contagion of the ancient death” (Epis. ad Fidum).  (The above quotes were taken from James Cardinal Gibbons’ book Faith of Our Fathers (1917) pages 221-222.)

Next Post:
Appendix 2 – Appeal to Tradition: the Trajectory of the Shots Fired over the Canon of Scripture


27. https://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/sacraments_in_scripture.htm

Claim 3: Catholic Worship is Idolatrous (Part 2)

2.     Bones & Relics

The author shows little demonstration of Holy Scripture. Does the touch of Christ’ cloak not heal a woman (Mt. 9:20-22), St. Peter’s shadow not heal in Acts (Acts 5:14-16), the handkerchief and aprons of St. Paul heal diseases and drive out demons (Acts 19:11-12)? What about when the bones of Elisha brought a dead man to life (2 Kgs. 13:20-21)? The list of Scriptural proof goes on with many more sacramental objects, such as, Elijah’s mantle, Aaron’s staff, etc.

Challies’ claim is strongly opposed to the testament of Scripture. Greater homework and honesty in research needs to be exercised. I understand the problem having formerly read the Scriptures from the lens of my Protestant tradition. “Blip verses” such as, “baptism… now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21) get ignored or swept under the rug with a shrug of the shoulders. Because they do not fit what pastor said. We resigned thoughtfulness in thinking the passage could not possibly mean what it said. As a former Baptist, when our young adults group read through 1 Peter, we unintentionally skipped conversation on the meaning of said verse. We were more interested in the “how do we apply this to our lives (in 21st century USA),” rather than asking “how did Christians in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. centuries interpret this Tradition of Holy Writ?” It was so much a part of the tradition of Protestant culture that we did not recognize our frequent biblical and intellectual dishonesty. A few significant select verses did not exist on the forefront of our consciouses like; Paul’s charge to participate in the Breaking of the Bread daily, James’ discourse on works completing Faith, and Jesus’ teaching that the Word of God is primarily Himself (not the Bible) and is freely given in the Eucharist (cf. Jn 1:1, 14; 6:56; Lk 22:19).

3.     Iconography – Graven Images

The Church venerates images in the same way Challies venerates pictures (a “graven image”) of his loved ones. Certainly, adherents to Protestantism keep photographs of family and friends on refrigerators and in their wallets, yet, are ever so slow to grasp this contradiction. Furthermore, do they not annually put out little “graven images” of the Nativity every Christ-mass (clearly, a Catholic holiday) season? Little figurines of the Holy Family are set up as a shrine to reflect the mystery of the Incarnation, however, Protestantism does not recognize this duplicity. Do Protestants pass by the famous Iwo Jima statues, or the Lincoln Memorial, and cry, “IDOLATRY!”? No.. Why? Because they rightly understand it is not idol worship to merely have a statue. It calls to mind the actions and glory of the ancestors and history we revere. Why not implement such art to draw hearts upward in prayer?

Shortly after quoting the commandment to have no graven images, the Protestant skips the “blip verse” commandment to build the statues of the cherubim. “…in the Old Testament, God ordained or permitted the making of images that pointed symbolically toward salvation by the incarnate Word: so it was with the bronze serpent, the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim”. [26]

The Image of God has been fully realized in the person of Jesus Christ; it is the pharisees who argue against Him. Why is it that Protestants find themselves at the logical conclusion, though haphazardly, with the pharisees, as if the Image of God is yet to be revealed? In fact, this is more reminiscent of Islam forbidding any images of their prophet.

If Protestantism desires to remain consistent on this point, they would do well to destroy all Nativity sets, this Billy Graham statue, dolls, figurines, photographs (on Facebook too!), and memorial sites. In fact, having a cell phone with a background picture of the Prince of Peace ought to be held culpable.

Next Post:
Appendix 1:
A Practice Inconsistent with “Earning” Salvation: Infant Baptism


26. CCC, 2130.

Claim 3: Catholic Worship is Idolatrous (Part 1)

1. Mary and Saint “Veneration”

Challies fails to define “To venerate” after stating it is nuanced.  It does not mean “idol worship” as he seems to presuppose, rather, a Google search would have aided him in finding the definition, “great respect; reverence”.

How is this different than having “great respect” for Great grandfather Arthur, who served in WWII. As his descendants we desire to emulate the virtue of his courage, valor, loyalty, and sacrifice displayed in a time of great hardship. We do not bow down to him in adoration nor do we offer sacrifice to him as a deity, yet, we do revere him and desire to model the virtue he embodied. This veneration does not diminish the respect we have for his fellow soldiers or superiors; rather, it demonstrates their excellent qualities as well. In a greater way than we ever could, Jesus, being perfect, obeyed the Ten Commandments to their fullness; thus, honoring His mother Mary. No Catholic venerates Mother Mary more than her Son, Jesus.

Catholics do not “pray to” (in the way Protestantism understands) the Holy Ones (saints), rather, we “humbly request” (definition of “to pray”) them to intercede for us. This is no different than asking a spouse, friend, brother, or mother to intercede for you. It does not differ because we have Eternal Life. To disagree is to side with the Sadducees; do we not serve the God of the living and not the dead? Our communion with them is not lessened when they enter into the fullness of life. They remain, in a greater way, part of the Vine. How dare we to cut them off simply because we cannot see them. Jesus, who is fully human, communed with the “saints,” Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration. If Catholics are guilty of “saint worship,” than the conclusive extension of said logic applies to Jesus.

In the same way, a person in Protestantism asks someone, who they readily identify with, to intercede for them, so do the faithful of the Church ask those Saints to intercede for us (cf. Hebrews 12:1 and 1 Tim. 2:1-3). We have great confidence in this because no unholy person may stand before the face of God (cf. Rev 21:27), and the prayers of the righteous availeth much (cf. James 5:16). Just as the Mother of God interceded on behalf of the people at the Wedding Feast of Cana (cf. John 2:1-4), so do we now recognize she intercedes for us at the Eternal Wedding Feast of the Lamb, along with all the other saints below the Altar (cf. 6:9-11). And she is always pointing toward her Son saying, “Do whatever He tells you” (cf. John 2:5).

The piece fails to adequately understand “worship”. The term is used by The Church in an ancient sense and was not simply developed 180 years ago in the United States with the advent of Fundamentalism. “…In common speech worship means adoration given to God alone. In this sense Catholics do not worship Mary or any of the other saints. But in older usage the term worship means not just adoration of God but the honor given to anyone deserving. It comes from the Old English weorthcipe, which means the condition of being worthy of honor, respect, or dignity. To worship in the older, larger sense is to ascribe honor, worth, or excellence to someone, whether a sage, a magistrate, or God. But there are different kinds of worship as there are different kinds of honor. The highest honor, and thus the highest worship, is given to God alone [sacrifice], while the honor or worship given to living men or to saints in heaven is of a different sort. Idolatry thus does not simply mean giving worship (in the old sense) to living men or to saints; it means giving them the kind reserved for God. …Consider how honor is given. We regularly give it to public officials. In the U.S. it is customary to address a judge as ‘Your Honor’. (It has been the British custom to address certain magistrates… as ‘Your Worship’…)”. [24]

The Jews believe in intercession of the saints as well, if only partially. They believe the “Archangel Michael protects and prays for the people of Israel (Dn. 10:21, 12:1).” And, “In the second century before Christ, the deceased High Priest Onias was seen praying for ‘the whole body of the Jews with outstretched hands’ (2 Mac 12:15).” Furthermore, and quite astonishingly for those in Protestantism, “For centuries, Jews have made pilgrimages to the Tomb of Rachel, considered the third holiest shrine of Judaism. Faithful Jews… praying… knowing that God will answer prayers through the intercession of Mother Rachel” [25] because she is “weeping for her children” (Jer 31:15).

To maintain consistency, Challies should no longer pray for anyone or ask anyone to intercede for him. Of course, that would be absurd, but consistent.

If Challies would have read the catechism for himself he would have read, CCC 2113:

“Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc.”

Here is a link to understand The Intercession of the Saints. It is a biblical and historical understanding. Quotes from the earliest Christians attest to the validity of interceding/praying for one another.

St. Augustine of Hippo said,

“A Christian people celebrates together in religious solemnity the memorials of the martyrs, both to encourage their being imitated and so that it can share in their merits and be aided by their prayers” (Against Faustus the Manichean [A.D. 400]).

A Note:  This is also discussed in this post: Wait, What?!? You DO Worship Mary!?!

Next Post:
Claim: Catholic Worship is Idolatrous (Part 2)


24. Keating, Fundamentalism and Catholicism, pg. 259-60.
25. Taylor Marshall, The Crucified Rabbi, pg. 171.

Claim 2: The “Roman” Catholic Church is not the Church

A Note: It is one thing to engage with and argue against the evidence and claims of the Catholic Church.  That is a respectable position that opens the door for dialogue.  It is another thing entirely to label them unprovable without argumentation, especially as an easy historical case could be made that the burden of proof rest upon the one in protest.

1. Apostolic Succession

Challies quickly inserts his presumptions into his argumentation without offering any evidence. He begins with assumptions, argues with them, and concludes with them. At least he partially understands succession, “Rome claims to trace her lineage in an unbroken line that extends all the way back to the apostle Peter…” He continues, “I do not recognize such lineage and, therefore, do not recognize such authority. Her claims are unprovable and represent a distortion of the Bible’s claims about Christ’s church.” What Mr. Challies, the sola authority, is really saying is, “I disagree with her, therefore she isn’t the church,” exercising a disabled cognitive ascension in differentiating between a subjective and an objective truth. The logic looks akin to, “Since I can’t be convinced of Her claims they are obviously unprovable. If they were provable, I would have to admit I am wrong and She is right.  So, She is not the Church.  She actually is so much not the Church that She is a false Church, though, I can’t actually identify the true Church. Why? Because R.C. Sproul said so.”

He claims it to be “unprovable” without evidence. So let us provide him with some evidence. “If it is archaeological evidence he wants, he can turn to John Evangelist Walsh’s The Bones of St. Peter, which recounts in detail the excavations under the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. If he wants literary or historical proof, he can turn to a reference work such as Jurgen’s The Faith of the Early Fathers, which quotes sixteen passages from early Christian writers attesting to Peter’s being in Rome and dying there. In fact, we have more sources citing Peter’s presence in Rome than we have affirming Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon”. [18] And if it is proof of succession he desires, the names are listed in any encyclopedia. The second pope “was Linus, as a few moments’ research would have shown”. Challies “made no effort to look at even plainly secular sources (forget Catholic sources) in developing his critique”. [19]

Jurgen’s The Faith of the Early Fathers, even goes on to quote the Church Fathers in saying, “Peter established his See at Rome and made the Bishop of Rome his successor in the primacy” [20].

The authoritative role that Peter is given is evident when he receives the keys of the kingdom, after being promised by the Faithful God that the Church would be built upon him.  This is the fulfillment of the prophecies in Isaiah 22:20-23; “On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah I will clothe him with your robe, gird him with your sash, confer on him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. I will place the key* (Key: symbol of authority; cf. Mt 16:19; Rev 3:7) of the House of David on his shoulder; what he opens, no one will shut, what he shuts, no one will open. I will fix him as a peg in a firm place, a seat of honor for his ancestral house.”

These said servants, typologically point (foreshadow, as in “Adam is a type of Christ”) to Peter as steward of the kingdom. The servant is not the King Himself, but his Vicar.

Near the end of the second century, Irenaeus mentioned that Matthew wrote his Gospel, “while Peter and Paul were evangelizing in Rome and laying the foundation of the Church”.  He said the two departed from Rome, perhaps to attend the Council of Jerusalem, and he noted that Linus was named as Peter’s successor – that is, the second Pope – and that next in line were Anacletus (also known as Cletus) and then Clement of Rome. [21]

…Peter was first in authority among the Apostles. When they were named, Peter almost always headed the list (Mt. 10:1-4; Mk 3:16-19; Lk 6:14-16; Acts 1:13); sometimes it was only ‘Peter and his companions’ (Lk 9:32). Peter was the one who generally spoke for the apostles (Mt 18:21; Mk 8:29; Lk 12:41; Jn 6:69), and he figured in many of the most dramatic scenes (Mt 14:28-32; 17:24; Mk 10:28). On Pentecost it was he who first preached to the crowds (Acts 2:14-40), and he worked the first healing (Acts 3:6-7). And to Peter came the revelation that Gentiles were to be baptized (Acts 10:46-48). [22]

And sometime after Simon’s new name is given (name changing is certainly not a meaningless gesture in Jewish culture), is he not promised, “Whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19). “Here Peter was singled out for the authority that provides for the forgiveness of sins and the making of disciplinary rules”. [23] For where do we go when someone needs disciplined on account of licentiousness? Are they privately summoned before the Bible (which, by historical fact, was not in existence yet), or are they to be summoned before the authority of the Church (Mt 18:15-17)? It is not the Bible that is “the pillar and bulwark of the truth,” but the Church (1 Tim 3:15). Jesus did not institute or promise a book – but a Church.

A quick resource, Peter the Rock, by a former Southern Baptist, who found his way Home to Jesus’ Church.  For a thorough examination of the Papacy, see Stephen Ray’s book, Upon this Rock (I’ll buy it for you, amlewis937@gmail.com).

Jesus came to establish One Church, One Body, and One Bride, not 30,000+ denominations; He is not a polygamist. To remove the institution of the visible organic Body from the Head, for an invisible body (bodies aren’t invisible) or “Churchless Christianity,” is to participate in the beheading of Jesus. This is not so in the Catholic Church. We are not a people of a book, like the Muslims. We are a people of a Person.  A Person whose body is the Church and whose word is repeated through the ages by that Church in the Holy Writ and Sacred Tradition. The Bible did not slide down a rainbow; it was authoritatively canonized nearly 400 years after Jesus established the Church and gifted to us by the Church councils who themselves received it as custodians, not masters. Which leads us to ask, who was the authority during this time? Sola scriptura, by mere logic, reason, and historical data, holds no weight.

Challies reasons as if, The Lord poured out His Spirit, which will lead us into all truth, at Pentecost, then, He waited 1500 years to bless His “underground Church” with the supreme mediators Luther and Calvin.

Challies maintains he adheres to Protestantism because of R.C. Sproul; I converted to the R.C. Church because of Jesus’ faithful calling, promises, and New Covenant. Challies Christianity is traced to R.C. Sproul, mine, for two millennia back to the Patristic Fathers, The Apostles, and Jesus.

The article does eventually get around to quoting someone (without citation), yet, the subjectivism in no way supports his claim. The quote by, Leonardo De Chirico, places salvation emphasis on “personal relationship with Jesus (nowhere in the Scriptures or Tradition) and reading the Bible (excluding the illiterate and the first 400 years of Christians). This man accepts the New Testament written, compiled, closed, and given to him by the authority of the Church, yet, ironically uses his subjective interpretation of the Bible to reject the Church; how does he not view this as a contradiction of objective truth? The quote further demonstrates Evangelicalism’ inability to define what in fact is an objective Christian.

Next Post:
Claim: Catholic Worship is Idolatrous (Part 1)


18. Keating, pg 91-92.
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid, pg. 203.
22. Ibid, pg. 205.
23. Ibid, pg. 207.

Claim 1: Catholicism Denies the Gospel (Part 4)

9. Permanent Imputation vs Temporary Infusion

I have limited knowledge of how imputation differs across the various Protestant sects, especially when coupled or divorced from regeneration.   So I want to avoid the mischaracterizations I’m responding to now. I do know that Catholicism rejects the God of band-aid solutions for the God whose word never returns to Him void.  He is the God of Mercy not self deceit.  This reality is expressed in Catholicism’s belief in both imputation and infusion.  Catholicism does not reject imputation entirely, we reject the idea of mere imputation.  We place our faith in the paradoxical God who is three and one; the savior who is God and Man, eternal and mortal; the Scriptures that are of human and divine origin, the Church that is human institution and mystical body.  So yes, we accept the paradoxical view that we are righteous sinners, or as a friend put it, “I am a loved sinner, in that order.” White describes it well and the interpretive key is childhood – restoration to the covenant family:

In short, justification in the Catholic view is the gift of divine sonship, lost in original sin, and regained in Christ. Justification understood in this way involves both the imputation of sonship and the infusion of Christ’s grace. These two aspects are inseparable, for as God imputes family standing to the sinner, the sinner does in fact become a member of the family; sonship is no legal fiction. God effectuates what He declares. Hence, when God declares the sinner righteous, it is more than a mere legal declaration. It is a creative and transformative action whereby God takes someone and breathes into Him that Spirit of sonship which cries, “Abba!” “Father!” Gratuitous, therefore, means more than the receipt of divine favor. What God imparts in the gift of grace is Himself, nothing less, and this life-giving divine gift is a metaphysical, ontological communication of Christ’s sonship. This internal renovation is essential. For individuals are both imputed with Adam’s guilt and infused with his corrupt nature; they are declared sinful, and at the same time, they really are sinful. Hence, justified persons are both imputed with Christ’s righteousness and infused with His life; they are declared righteous because, in virtue of Christ’s indwelling life and holiness, they really are righteous. The remission of sins is possible because the grace of Christ is infused into the person, making him a child of God. By virtue of this new filial relationship, the individual is no longer subject to the wrath of God. God’s judgment then, is directed towards a child in the second Adam, and not a rebel criminal in the first Adam. This helps explain why justified persons need not be perfect themselves; they are justified by virtue of their new relationship to God as sons. The judgment is taking place then with regard to Christ’s grace alive in the individual, at whatever degree of growth; the indwelling grace of Christ justifies sinners. (White, Sola Gratia, Solo Christo, 4-5)

Now Challies emphasizes the ‘temporary’ for some reason.  My guess is he believes the common Protestant stereotypes that Catholics live in a perpetual state of fear of Hell or that we think we have to earn God’s love.  While Catholics, along with the witness of Scripture, take seriously that: some sins are deadly (1 John 5:16), without fruit we can be taken away (John 15:20), we can be removed after being grafted (Rom. 11:17-24), we can be disqualified after preaching (1 Cor. 9:24-27), we can twist the Scripture to our own destruction (2 Peter 3:16), we can be among the goats on His left (Matt. 25:41-46),  or we can be told that we aren’t known (Matt. 7:21-23) we don’t see those as threats to consume us with fear.  For though these are possible after enlightenment and the tasting of heavenly gifts, we are strongly encouraged and anchored by our God who cannot lie (cf. Heb. 6).  See how Trent articulates that reality:

For God does not command impossibilities, …(St. Augustine, De Natura et Gratia, c. 43 (50))  His commandments are not heavy,(cf. 1 John 5:3) and his yoke is sweet and burden light.(Matt. 11:30)  For they who are the sons of God love Christ, but they who love Him, keep His commandments, as He Himself testifies;(John 14:23) which, indeed, with the divine help they can do.… For God does not forsake those who have been once justified by His grace, unless He be first forsaken by them.  Wherefore, no one ought to flatter himself with faith alone, thinking that by faith alone he is made an heir and will obtain the inheritance, even though he suffer not with Christ, that he may be also glorified with him.(Rom. 8:17)  … the same Apostle admonishes those justified, saying: Know you not that they who run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run that you may obtain. I therefore so run, not as at an uncertainty; I so fight, not as one beating the air, but I chastise my body and bring it into subjection; lest perhaps when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.(cf. 1 Cor. 9:24, 26)  So also the prince of the Apostles, Peter: Labor the more, that by good works you may make sure your calling and election. For doing these things, you shall not sin at any time. (cf. 2 Pet. 1:10)

Following this last scripture passage cited by Trent, I believe it wise to present one of the most succinct scriptural articulations of Catholic Soteriology:

His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power: Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love. If these are yours and increase in abundance, they will keep you from being idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Anyone who lacks them is blind and shortsighted, forgetful of the cleansing of his past sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more eager to make your call and election firm, for, in doing so, you will never stumble. For, in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you. (2 Peter 1:3-11)

If one wants to claim that Catholic Soteriology is unbiblical 2 Peter must be struck from the Bible first.

Wrap up: The principle problem with this Litany of ‘Additions’ is that they aren’t additions at all.  Instead they are recognitions of how God chose to work.  Catholicism is not guilty of piling junk upon the Gospel.  Protestantism has instead cut away from the Gospel.  It took the glorious Gospel of the transcendent I Am and reduced it to the courtroom proclamation of a self-deceiving, seemingly insecure God.

Justification, in the Catholic sense, is the restoration of that sonship through the second Adam, Jesus Christ; sinners are reborn through baptism as sons of God. In this process, justification is purely gratuitous. The Holy Spirit works in the sinner, effectuating in him an orientation towards faith and good works. Through baptism, he is imputed standing in God’s family and infused with Christ’s grace. Justification then, involves both the legal remission and the actual removal of sin. The forgiveness of sins is possible precisely because the justified person stands in a new relationship to God as a son. Because the grace of Christ is in him, original sin is blotted out, actual sins are remitted, and grace is continually imparted to overcome concupiscence. The justified person continually seeks to obtain “sanctifying grace” through the sacraments (which in the case of adults, are useless without real faith) and by doing good works. In this sense, individuals are justified by works as well as faith, but always by grace alone and Christ alone. Justification is a process, therefore, whereby higher standing is progressively conferred upon children growing up. (White, Sola Gratia, Solo Christo, 8).

What is the Catholic Gospel you ask?

Jesus Christ is the Gospel.  He is the good news.  He is the Messiah.  The incarnate Word of God who has entered into solidarity with us so He may draw us into communion with Himself and, through Him, all those He loves.

His body is the Gospel.  For by His body in the womb of Mary He bridged the divide between divinity and humanity.  In His body that wandered around the Jordan He overcame our temptations of the flesh, the world, and the Devil.  By the sacrifice of His body He ransomed us from exile, bringing us — as our goel (kinsman redeemer) — back into the family, paying for us a price we could not pay.   As the true older brother who reflects the Father He restored an inheritance that we lost (cf. Luke 15:11-32).  Through the resurrection of His body He overcame our otherwise insurmountable enemy – death — and transformed the dead end of mortality into the door to eternity.  In His body, the Church, He guides us on our pilgrimage from Egypt to the Promised Land – the Heavenly Jerusalem.  And by His body He nourishes us, sustains, and feeds us, providing our “food for the way” (cf. 1 Kings 19:7).

The heart of the Gospel is that the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.  And while we were still sinners He died for us, entering into death to defeat it.  It is because he first had this love for us that we can love.  Love has loved us and freed us to love.  That is good news.

Next Post:
Claim 2: The “Roman” Catholic Church is not the Church

Claim 1: Catholicism Denies the Gospel (Part 3)

4. + the Work of Mary?

If I praised St. Paul for his prolific letter writing, tireless fight against the Judaizers, unquenchable desire to spread the Gospel, and legacy of church planting by saying “I don’t know where the Gospel would be without Paul” no one would bat an eye.

However, I can’t do anything like that with Mary.  I could never utter “Without Mary there is no Incarnation.” I don’t dare bring up that if we all bore Christ into the world, proceeded with haste to be with others, cared for children in danger, sought out the lost, pondered the actions of God in our heart, meekly interceded on behalf of those who may not be aware of their need yet, stood by those suffering, and gathered with the Church in prayer (aka if we were more Marian) then Christianity would be richer and more vibrant.  Saying any of that will likely mean I am accused of being a gospel denying, apostate, idolater.  Now you may say, “I don’t have a problem with what you said, except when you make Mary necessary for salvation.”  That raises a great question.  Was Mary necessary for God to achieve our salvation?  No.  Did God, by choosing to take flesh through Mary, give her a necessary role in our salvation?  Unequivocally, yes.  It’s a lot like the Cross.  Read this Socratic Dialogue [15] if you are confused.

5. + Prayer?

Many Protestants will be quick to point out that the Bible calls us all saints.  Which is true, which makes their denial of the intercession of the saints strange.  Denying the intercession of the saints as a violation of Christ’s mediation is to deny that any of us can pray on each other’s behalf.  However, interceding on behalf of one another, even loving someone to express God’s love for him/her (you could call that mediation) does not violate Christ’s singular role as the mediator of the New Covenant between heaven and earth, God and humanity.  Catholics are no different from Protestants in believing that we can and should pray for one another.  However, we differ because Catholics believe that those standing face-to-face with the Lord and Lover of Souls can pray for us.  They pray in and through Christ.  Their prayer like mine or yours, not Christ’s unique mediation from the altar of the cross.  And once again, the Protestant obsession with only/sola statements butts up against the Trinity as it is very clear in Scripture that the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf (cf. Rom. 8:26-27).  I bring this up because the Protestant proof text against a Catholic understanding of the intercession of the saints is 1 Tim. 2:5, in which Paul specifically emphasizes Christ’s incarnation, His humanity, as the linchpin of His unique mediation.  The point being, that the common Protestant apologetic regarding this passage proves too much as it was not the Spirit that became incarnate.

6. + Tradition?

Did you know the reformed theology that seems to have saved the Gospel from the shackles of Catholicism is a tradition?  Did you know the Table of Contents in the front of your Bible is a tradition?  Did you know the Bible is in fact written tradition?  And in written tradition we find the command to observe all that was passed down by letter and word of mouth. [16] Weird…

“[Christ] is himself both the mediator and the sum total of Revelation” (Dei Verbum, 2).

7. + Response?

Why does free gift equal no response in reformed theology but nowhere else in God’s universe?  My life is a free gift… guess I don’t need to breathe.  In all seriousness, Catholic theology talks about response, Challies though decides to articulate it as effort possibly to emphasize his accusation of a works doctrine.  More about this in # 9.  (Read Bonhoeffer’s chapter in The Cost of Discipleship on “Single-Minded Obedience” to really see an honest wrestling with the need for response from a very faith-filled Protestant Christian) [17].

8. + The Mass?

The Mass is not added to the Cross. It is the door to the Cross.  Check out The Lamb’s Supper, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, The Mass of the Early Christians, or The Fourth CupSeriously, I’ll buy it for you.  (Here is my email: hargadsl@gmail.com)

Next Post:
Claim 1: Catholicism Denies the Gospel (Part 4)


15. http://mattfradd.com/why-the-virgin-mary-is-necessary-for-our-salvation-a-socratic-dialogue/
16. What do Catholic’s believe about the transmission of that “faith that was once for all handed down (traditio) to the holy ones” (Jude 1:3)?  Find out in Dei Verbum (On Divine Revelation) from Vatican II.
17. “Single-Minded Obedience,” 79-85.

Claim 1: Catholicism Denies the Gospel (Part 2)

A Note: The Council of Trent will be referenced frequently over the next few posts.  It is the most relevant Council for this conversation as it is the Council that responded to the Reformation and is cited by Challies in several articles.  If you are unfamiliar with Trent, Bishop Robert Barron offers an excellent introduction to the Council of Trent (length – 12:53).

1. Do Catholics deny Grace alone?

Nope! [8]  Here is the Council of Trent:

We are therefore said to be justified gratuitously [as gift/by grace], because none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification… Canon 1. If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or through the teaching of the law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema [9] [or known as a false teacher]. (Council of Trent Session 6, Chapter VIII and Canon 1 [10]).

This is the Catechism, “Our justification comes from the grace of God” (CCC 1996 [11]).  Here is James Cardinal Gibbons from 1917, “Without Divine grace we can neither conceive, nor accomplish anything for the sanctification of our souls” (Faith of Our Fathers, 218). While this is certainly Grace alone, that does not mean Challies and the Church agree on how they view grace [12].

2. Do Catholics deny Christ alone?

No!  Though I think it is important to affirm that we are saved by the Triune Godhead.  We should avoid excluding the Father and the Holy Spirit.  But I’ll let Trent speak on that:

The causes of this justification are:
– the final cause is the glory of God and of Christ and life everlasting;
– the efficient cause is the merciful God who washes and sanctifies[cf. 1 Cor. 6:11] gratuitously, signing and anointing with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance,[Eph. 1:13f]
the meritorious cause is His most beloved only begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies,[Rom. 5:10] for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us,[Eph. 2:4] …
For though no one can be just except he to whom the merits of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet this takes place in that justification of the sinner, when by the merit of the most holy passion, the charity of God is poured forth by the Holy Ghost in the hearts[Rom. 5:5] of those who are justified and inheres in them; whence man through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives in that justification, together with the remission of sins, all these infused at the same time, namely, faith, hope and charity. (Council of Trent Session 6, Chapter VII)

3. Do Catholics deny Faith Alone?

This particular claim gets into the unfortunate tendency to create a false dichotomy.  “The issue is naively boiled down to justification by faith, on the one hand (evangelicalism), versus justification by works, on the other hand (Roman Catholicism). This crass caricature has little basis in reality, and hampers the cause for theological truth and Christian unity” (White, Sola Gratia, Solo Christo, 2).  Challies gives the impression that Catholics don’t adamantly believe that faith is essential to salvation. As disciples of Truth we need to avoid such mischaracterizations.
Can a Catholic ever say “Faith Alone/Sola Fide”? Yes.
However, Challies seems to want you to believe that any understanding of faith alone has been anathematized by the Council of Trent, likely because that is what R.C. Sproul had him understand. Here is the ruling in question:

Canon 9 – If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema (Council of Trent Session 6) [If you’ve never read the eight Canons prior to this one, Trent is very clear that the action of the will is “moved and aroused by God” (Canon 4) through the “the predisposing inspiration of the Holy Ghost” (Canon 3).  Heck just read all of Session 6 already.]

Seems pretty cut and dry right?  If you accept that particular articulation of faith alone, then yes, it is.  But it seems that even at the time of Trent there must have been consideration that there is an acceptable definition of faith alone, otherwise why clarify the specific meaning they are anathematizing?  This isn’t coming from me.  This is coming from Pope Benedict XVI:

Being just simply means being with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Further observances are no longer necessary. For this reason Luther’s phrase: “faith alone” is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St Paul speaks of faith that works through love (cf. Gal 5: 6 & 14). (Saint Paul: “The Doctrine of Justification: from Works to Faith” [13])

Also, check out the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification [14].
But one might say, Catholics still add works and sacraments, meaning we now earn our justification.  First, the Catholic would argue that we don’t add anything, merely recognize the way Jesus set it up and the Apostles handed it down.  Second, that only sounds like earning our salvation to the ears of one who has made faith synonymous with grace.  Faith is a fruit of grace, but that is not all God’s grace is capable of.  Here is how Cardinal Henry Newman expresses it:

It seems, then, that whereas Faith on our part fitly corresponds, or is the correlative, as it is called, to grace on God’s part, Sacraments are but the manifestation of grace, and good works are but the manifestation of faith; so that whether we say we are justified by faith, or by works or by Sacraments, all these but mean this one doctrine, that we are justified by grace, which is given through Sacraments, impetrated by faith, manifested in works. (Newman, Lectures on Justification, p. 303)

Not to mention we are all in agreement that the supernatural gift of Faith that saves us apart from works of the Law is a gift.  But it isn’t any less of a response or more of gift because it is invisible as opposed to grace initiated works which are visible.  God who is Spirit took on flesh.  Do we really think He does not want our Faith to become incarnate as well?

Finally, as has been my practice thus far, I’ll let Trent speak for itself:

For faith, unless hope and charity be added to it, neither unites man perfectly with Christ nor makes him a living member of His body.  For which reason it is most truly said that faith without works is dead (James 2:17,20) and of no profit, and in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but faith that worketh by charity (Gal. 5:6, 6:15). … But when the Apostle says that man is justified by faith and freely (Rom. 3:24, 5:1), these words are to be understood in that sense in which the uninterrupted unanimity of the Catholic Church has held and expressed them, namely, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6) and to come to the fellowship of His sons; and we are therefore said to be justified gratuitously, because none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification. (Council of Trent Session 6, Chapter VII and VIII)

It is telling that St. Paul does not say “faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is faith because it justifies you alone” or “If I have not faith I am nothing”.  Instead we see in Scripture that we are “justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:28), “we are saved in hope” (Rom. 8:24), and “the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).  We are warned that “if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2), and if we do not have love for our brother that we can see, while claiming love for God who we can’t see, then we are liars (cf. 1 John 4:20).  This is why James says “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26) and Paul says that we must have “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6).

Next Post:
Claim 1: Catholicism Denies the Gospel (Part 3)


8. http://www.thesacredpage.com/2011/03/catholic-teaching-salvation-by-gods.html
9. “When the councils pronounced holders of a doctrine anathema, it marked a formal excommunication from the Church: nothing more and nothing less” (“Let him be Anathema”: Not what many Protestants think it means. http://lonelypilgrim.com/2013/06/03/let-him-be-anathema-not-what-many-protestants-think-it-means/)  See also, What Catholics Really Believe: 52 Answers to Common Misconceptions About the Catholic Faith by Karl Keating – “[Misconception #5] The Catholic Church sends people to hell by excommunicating them.  [Keating’s response] It doesn’t.  Only God can condemn anyone to hell.  That isn’t within the Church’s power, and no Catholic ever claimed it was” (17).  Interestingly, Challies’ list of “False Teachers” on his site is essentially him saying, “let them be anathema.”
10. http://www.ewtn.com/library/councils/trent6.htm
11. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c3a2.htm
12. http://jimmyakin.com/library/justification-by-grace-alone
13. http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/audiences/2008/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20081119.html
Interestingly,  Challies never makes comment of it on his site.  I searched the whole thing for references he made to “the forgettable Benedict,” as he called him, and a Pope affirming a legitimate articulation of faith alone must have missed the list of noteworthy items.
14. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_31101999_
cath-luth-joint-declaration_en.html