Posted on Monday, July 30, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

I have been asked my opinion both on this blog and in other conversations about the recent announcement by Frank Beckwith.

Dr. Francis Beckwith’s conversion, better yet, reversion to Rome was very interesting to me. For those of you who don’t know, Francis Beckwith is a well-known scholar, professor, and president of the Evangelical Theological Society. He resigned his position as president of ETS a few months ago when he declared that he had become a communicant in the Roman Catholic Church, the religion of his childhood.

In the letter explaining his return to the Roman Church Dr. Beckwith writes:
“During the last week of March 2007, after much prayer, counsel and consideration, my wife and I decided to seek full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. My wife, a baptized Presbyterian, is going through the process of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). This will culminate with her receiving the sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation. For me, because I had received the sacraments of Baptism, Communion, and Confirmation all before the age of 14, I need only go to confession, request forgiveness for my sins, ask to be received back into the Church, and receive absolution.”

I am saddened by the language of Dr. Beckwith's letter. This goes to show that smart men can make large errors. How sad it is for a man who once affirmed Sola Scriptura to now embrace a religious system that rejects the sole sufficiency and unique authority of the Bible. What is also tragic is that he has rejected Jesus Christ as the one mediator between God and man and now seeks forgiveness of sins and “absolution” from the Roman Church.

Further on in his letter Beckwith writes:
“The past four months have moved quickly for me and my wife. As you probably know, my work in philosophy, ethics, and theology has always been Catholic friendly, but I would have never predicted that I would return to the Church, for there seemed to me too many theological and ecclesiastical issues that appeared insurmountable. However, in January, at the suggestion of a dear friend, I began reading the Early Church Fathers as well as some of the more sophisticated works on justification by Catholic authors. I became convinced that the Early Church is more Catholic than Protestant and that the Catholic view of justification, correctly understood, is biblically and historically defensible. Even though I also believe that the Reformed view is biblically and historically defensible, I think the Catholic view has more explanatory power to account for both all the biblical texts on justification as well as the church’s historical understanding of salvation prior to the Reformation all the way back to the ancient church of the first few centuries. Moreover, much of what I have taken for granted as a Protestant—e.g., the catholic creeds, the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, the Christian understanding of man, and the canon of Scripture—is the result of a Church that made judgments about these matters and on which non-Catholics, including Evangelicals, have declared and grounded their Christian orthodoxy in a world hostile to it. Given these considerations, I thought it wise for me to err on the side of the Church with historical and theological continuity with the first generations of Christians that followed Christ’s Apostles.”

Well, we could argue all day about whether or not Rome is a more faithful interpreter of the early church fathers. For now I will say that it is my conviction that the Protestant Reformers were far more faithful to the likes of Athanasius and Augustine than were leaders of the Roman Church during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. However, what is most important is that the Protestant Reformers were faithful to the Scriptures. As much as they respected Augustine, for instance, the Reformers would always side with Scripture over any man, or council, or tradition. This is one of the most, if not THE most important dividing line between Protestants and Catholics. If we cannot agree on the sole authority and sufficiency of Scripture then we can agree on little else. I am also astonished by his language that he has chosen “to err” on the side of Rome.

Dr. Beckwith posted some 300 email responses to his reversion on his webpage. One, from Dr. Dale Davis said:
Dr. Beckwith,
I find it very sad you've chosen to "err on the side of the Church with historical and theological continuity with the first generations of Christians" instead of staying with the Christians who are the most faithful to the very first generation of Christians, the authors of the New Testament.
The more I've studied the history of the Reformation, the more I am thankful for the work of the Reformers--rejected, excommunicated and utterly repudiated by your Church, if not burned alive.
May you influence the Church of the Bishop of Rome for the Gospel--and help reform that body.
Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gracia, Sola Fide, Soli Deo Gloria!

I am glad that Dr. Beckwith stepped down from his position with the ETS. With the blurring of lines these days it would not have shocked me if he and others saw no problem with a Roman Catholic leading an evangelical organization. Anyway, in that case at least, he did the right thing.

Posted on Friday, July 27, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

I agree with Bernard Goldberg who named Paris Hilton’s parents among the people who are ruining America. His point is that the impact of parents upon their children is beyond calculation. Where were they when young Paris needed to learn that life was about more than money and Gucci and parties? It makes one wonder how parents who had the means to raise their daughter with the best advantages could produce, and continue to finance a young woman who is so inconsequential and narcissistic. Nevertheless, the continuing media saga that is Paris Hilton can give us a moment to ponder our lives and what kind of legacy we are leaving to the world.

The following is a letter to the editor in this month’s National Review magazine:

“If [Paris] does slide alone into the dark night like Willy Loman, it is worth remembering that all but a few of us will find our rest in relative obscurity, without a Nobel prize or world-changing company to our name. It isn’t how Paris will die, but how she can afford to be “utterly pointless” during her life, that so fascinates us. In a broader sense, because she represents a cultural evolution affecting a growing portion of America, she is very instructive.
“The affluence of American society has shifted more and more people away from a ‘work is life, life is work’ ethos. Some choose pointlessness: drugs, liquor, and sex. Others adopt ‘religions,’ be they health and dieting, global warming, Darfur, etc. Some, out of boredom, contrive crazy adventures full of risk. Is this all there is to life, we ask?
“At the heart of it all remains our uncertainty about meaning in life. Are there things that possess meaning and purpose external to our assigning them meaning and purpose? In other words, are there things assigned meaning and order by God?
“In an age when Americans are rightfully fascinated by Paris Hilton – though they may not know why – the meaning of meaning is obscure. It is the frustrating yet beautiful question we all must ask and hope to answer. I am inclined more often than not to believe that only God could have created a being who asks such questions.”

Posted on Wednesday, July 25, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

On Albert Mohler's radio program Dr. Russel Moore has a very helpful discussion with David Powlison on the topic of depression (The Darkness of Depression).

Posted on Wednesday, July 25, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

"Old Truth" has an interesting post (Bait And Switch "Festival Evangelism") on some of our not so modern approaches to evangelism. What we are seeing is the sad but enduring legacy of Charles Finney's pelagianism.

Posted on Wednesday, July 25, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Recently, Pope Benedict XVI approved the release of a statement that has caused a minor stir among watchful Protestants and even some Catholics. The statement declares that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church. To be precise the Vatican’s wording asserts that the Church of Rome is the only form in which the Church of Christ subsists, which is simply a more cautious way of saying that the only true church is the one whose leadership resides in the Vatican.

I am not calling attention to this because I am angry. Actually, it bothers me not one whit because it comes as no surprise. This is the position that Rome has always held. I and all my Protestant brethren were officially consigned to hell long ago by Popes and Councils of the Catholic Church. Now, in recent years the Church of Rome has moderated its language in an effort to be ecumenical. It even seems to hold forth that non-Catholics can actually be Christians. Unfortunately, they believe that sincere believers in all religions will be welcomed into heaven. The problem is that Rome has never officially repudiated all the anathemas declared in years past against Protestants. For instance, according to official Catholic teaching I am bound for hell because I deny such doctrines as transubstantiation and papal authority. What is more, I am also hell bound because I administer the Lord’s Supper and am not an ordained priest in the Catholic Church. I could go on and on.

Rome is in a bit of a Catch 22, however. It cannot repudiate the declarations and anathemas from the Council of Trent, for instance, because of its doctrine of revelation. Revelation is the theological word for how God makes himself and his truth known. In the Roman system, Popes and Councils hold equal authority as Scripture. And, as a practical matter, when Popes and Councils have differed from Scripture (and they often have) guess which source of authority is subordinated? (That was a rhetorical question. I assume you know that it is the Scriptures which get the shaft in such situations.) Anyway, if Rome were to say that Trent was wrong or is no longer relevant then what would that do to their entire doctrine of revelation? It would fall like the proverbial house of cards. “If Trent was wrong then what else was wrong? Perhaps our position on Mary is wrong. Perhaps our doctrine of purgatory is wrong.” You can imagine how confusing that could be. I will deal further with Rome’s opposition to Sola Scriptura in a future article.

The Vatican document on the church is quite brief. Its title is “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church.” It was released on June 29th by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Defense of the Faith. According to the statement the Roman Catholic Church is the only legitimate church because of apostolic succession. It reads in part, “This Church, constituted and organized in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him.” If you don’t already know, the Catholic Church believes that Peter was the very first Pope and so there has been an unbroken chain linking the Catholic Church directly to Jesus. Never mind those pesky historical inconveniences like the times when there were multiple popes leading a divided church or when there were decadent and unconverted popes.

Interestingly, the Catholic Church refers to the churches of Eastern Orthodoxy as “Churches” because they too claim apostolic succession. However, Protestant churches, or those churches born out of the years of reformation are the “red headed stepchildren” of the body of Christ and are referred to in the Vatican’s document as merely “ecclesial communities.”
“According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called ‘Churches’ in the proper sense.”

Again, this does not bother me in the slightest. Benedict XVI is a true theologian. He is a stalwart against liberalizing forces within the Catholic Church. Recently he has made controversial comments about Muslims and has advocated evangelizing Jews. These are not popular positions in our world. This recent statement on the church merely reminds Catholics and Protestants how important the issue is of Papal authority. I appreciate the fact that Rome is willing to reassert its historic position that any church which denies the authority of the Pope is no true church. It seems that Benedict understands what is at stake in this issue. I would be equally appreciative if my fellow Protestants understood the importance of this issue and were willing to assert that any church which bows to papal authority and infallibility is no true church.

I was watching EWTN, the global Catholic network, on Monday evening. (Incidentally, Catholic TV is much better than “evangelical” TV which is populated mostly by goofballs. Most of Catholic TV is filled with pretty stout teaching programs. They actually believe that doctrine is important). Anyway, Father William Stetson, Director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington D.C. was on to explain the Vatican’s document on the church. He was coy to say the least. His basic message was, “This statement on the church is a precise theological statement and the average person need not worry about it. Many Protestants will be saved because God will have pity on them for not being enlightened about such issues as the Mass and confession.” If you think I am exaggerating then go to EWTN’s website and check out the July 23rd “The World Over” program. Anyway, something tells me that Benedict XVI would not agree with Fr. Stetson that this it is not that big of a deal; that the average Catholic shouldn’t worry about it.

Many of our Protestant ancestors were mercilessly burned on wooden stakes until their fingertips and abdomens burst into the flames because they opposed papal authority and infallibility. We both dishonor their sacrifice and trivialize Scripture if we do not see this issue as one worth dividing over. Rome certainly sees it in those terms.

Dr. Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky wrote recently, “I actually appreciate the Pope’s concern. If he is right, we are endangering our souls and the souls of our church members. Of course, I am convinced that he is not right – not right on the papacy, not right on the sacraments, not right on the priesthood, not right on the Gospel, not right on the church.”

Posted on Tuesday, July 24, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Robert Murray McCheyne died when he was only 29 years old (1813-1831). His was a comparatively short life but what awesome things God was pleased to accomplish through this particularly weak vessel. The illnesses and frailty with which he struggled became the very means by which God filled him with such strength. He wrote, “I have been too anxious to do great things. The lust of praise has ever been my besetting sin; and what more befitting school could be found for me than that of suffering alone, away from the eye and ear of man?”

Supremely, McCheyne was a pastor. It could be said of him that he was a pastor among pastors. His skills as a biblical expositor were matched by the tender care he exhibited toward the flock entrusted to him by God. He understood the synthesis between the holiness of the pastor’s life and the blessedness of his ministry. One of his contemporaries wrote of him, “He gave out not merely living water, but living water drawn at the springs that he had himself drunk of; and is not this a true gospel ministry?” Almost two hundred years after his birth, McCheyne stands as an enduring example for pastors everywhere to follow.

God took the young Robert to pastor a once large parish in Dundee Scotland. The church’s name was St. Peters and its glory days were long over. It was not the kind of church a young pastor whose reputation as a great preacher was already being established would want to go. A young man like McCheyne would want to go to Glasgow or Edinburgh but not the blue collar town of Dundee! Shunning his pride, Robert followed his Lord’s leading.

McCheyne’s preaching, which was always a careful exposition of Scripture, was marked by reverence and sobriety. A man who heard him preach frequently wrote, “Before he opened his lips, as he came along the passage, there was something about him that sorely affected me.” One of his biographers writes, “It is difficult to convey to those who never knew him a correct idea of the sweetness and holy unction of his preaching…His rule was to set before his hearers a body of truth first – and there always was a vast amount of Bible truth in his discourses – and then urge home the application.”

The Lord was pleased to bless St. Peter's Dundee with a fresh wind of revival. The once nearly empty church was now filled to overflowing. They were blessed to see many notorious sinners come to faith in Christ. Knowledge of God in the Scriptures became a growing joy for the people of the parish. It was a work of God that spread through large parts of Scotland. Robert approached the whole period with humility and faithfulness. He depended not on emotional experiences or manipulation but rather leaned all the more on those ordinary means by which God works to bless His people.

In the final two years of his life his sinking health did not seem to interrupt his activity for the Lord. He labored until the ravages of weakness overcame him. He died as a pastor, a preacher, and a missionary. His loss was sorely felt among his beloved flock in Dundee. “His people were that evening met together in the church, and such a scene of sorrow has not often been witnessed in Scotland. It was like the weeping for King Josiah. Hundreds were there; the lower part of the church was full; and none among them seemed able to contain their sorrow. Every heart seemed bursting with grief, so that the weeping and the cries could be heard afar off. The Lord had most severely wounded the people whom He had before so peculiarly favored; and now, by this awful stroke of His hand, was fixing deeper in their souls all that His servant had spoken in the days of his peculiar ministry.”

I commend to your reading Memoir and Remains of R.M. McCheyne, the most widely read biography of the pastor from Dundee, written by his friend Andrew Bonar. It has sold hundreds of thousands of copies since its publication in 1844. Charles Spurgeon wrote of it, “This is one of the best and most profitable volumes ever published. The memoir of such a man ought to be in the hands of every Christian, and certainly every preacher of the Gospel.”

“Oh, then, that I might lie low in the dust, – the lower the better, – that Jesus’ righteousness and Jesus’ strength alone be admired!”
- R.M.M.

Posted on Monday, July 23, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Michael Spencer over at "internet monk" wrote this very timely and insiteful article (internetmonk.com » Blog Archive » Message to Tom Ascol: Write the Book). It is a plea for Tom Ascol, an SBC pastor in Florida and president of Founders Ministries, to write a book calling pastors and churches to return to the centrality of the Gospel. Check it out!

Posted on Monday, July 23, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

In the May 2006 issue of Christianity Today Mark Dever wrote this excellent article (Nothing But the Blood Christianity Today A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction) on the substitutionary atonement of Christ's work on the cross. Dever is the pastor of Capital Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. Through his writing, preaching, and ministry of church health (9 Marks Ministries) Dever has become highly influential among younger pastors. This is a good thing. Dr. Dever is a model of the pastor / theologian. His book "Nine Marks of a Healthy Church" ought to be required reading for all Christians. In his article for Christianity Today Dever reminds us of how important it is to guard the biblical doctrine of Christ's penal substiution on behalf of sinners. It is all the more important as this doctrine which resides at the heart of the Gospel is under attack within evangelical circles.

Read and be blessed!

todd

Posted on Monday, July 23, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

I am a Protestant. There is no getting around it. And since “evangelical” has lost all meaning in the church today I find myself turning once again to that word birthed in the religious and political turmoil of the 16th century: Protestant. The Protestant Reformation was a movement of protest. It was a protest against the moral squalor and theological error that had come to characterize the Roman Catholic Church. The selling of indulgences to finance the new and extravagant St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, widespread immorality and biblical illiteracy among the highest levels of Church leadership, and of course the tragic departures from biblical doctrine were the sparks that ignited the fires of reformation.

From those early years of reformation was birthed the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Baptist denominations. It led to the founding of new institutions of higher learning, new political movements, fresh missionary zeal, and the colonizing of the New World. There were also an untold number of martyrs offered in the fires of the Roman Church. From England to France to Italy Protestant “heretics” were burned to death. The roots of resentment ran deep and the divide seemed insurmountable.

In recent years however there has been renewed interest among certain evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders to forge a new unity between the long divided churches. At the forefront of this movement is a group called Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). Its leaders are serious heavyweights like Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship and Richard John Neuhaus a former Lutheran turned Roman Catholic priest. I respect both of these men a great deal. In fact, I am an enthusiastic reader of First Things, the magazine edited by Fr. Neuhaus. The purpose of ECT is to achieve as much unity as possible between Catholics and Protestants. They seek to maximize the emphasis on those points in which the two groups agree while not denying where differences persist. Their goals are, in my mind, noble. I support efforts to bridge whatever gaps are “bridgeable.” However, I believe the efforts to bring a deep and lasting unity between Protestants and the Roman Church are naïve.

Don’t misunderstand. I love unity. More importantly, our Lord loves the unity of His people and even prayed for it. “The glory that You have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one…” (John 17:22). The implications of this prayer extend far beyond local congregations. The unity of the church universal is a lasting concern of our Lord. In the Apostle’s Creed we rightly confess our belief in “one holy catholic church.” Evangelicals not raised in a confessional church are often made squeamish by those words. But the little “c” catholic in the creed is not a reference to Rome. “Catholic” means universal. To say that one believes in the one holy catholic church is to affirm that God has filled His world with worshipping communities of Christ-followers. It is to affirm that the church extends far beyond our own little local body of believers. This is a source of encouragement. God will not be without a witness. He will spread His church to the utter most parts of the world. For this reason, Christians are happy to recognize true churches wherever it pleases the Lord to raise them. It also grieves Christians when the church universal becomes divided.

The divide between Roman Catholics and evangelicals is lasting testimony to man’s fallen state. The proliferation of denominations among Protestants is almost mind boggling. In fact, Rome points to the number of different denominations as proof that the Protestant Reformation yielded nothing but division within Christ’s body. However, sentimental notions of unity should not keep thoughtful Christians from asking whether the existing divisions represent necessary doctrinal fences or are merely pointless quarrels. The fact is, doctrine divides at least as often as it unites. Even in the Roman Church there are deep divisions and various factions. There are liberal Catholics, charismatic Catholics, feminist Catholics, fundamentalist Catholics, “Vatican II” Catholics, and those Catholics that insist that the Latin Mass is the only legitimate mass. So for all Rome’s boasting in their unity, theirs is a house divided.

Please understand that I am not “anti-Catholic.” I have no doubt that there are many sincere Christians in the Roman Church. I also believe that we can and should cooperate with one another as much as possible. However, to do so without also acknowledging why we differ is to deny that such vital issues as the sole sufficiency and authority of Scripture, Justification by faith alone, and the imputed righteousness of Christ are not important.

Posted on Wednesday, July 18, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

N.R. Needham, a wonderful church historian has written a very fine book called The Triumph of Grace: Augustine's Writings on Salvation. Follow this link (Link: Augustine on the New Life in Christ) to a chapter from that book that deals specifically with God's grace in the conversion of sinners. The church today needs to rise above its Pelagian leanings and reassert a robust, God-centered theology of salvation. Take your time and read Needham's chapter carefully. You will be blessed by high thoughts of God's extraordinary grace.

todd