A Great Listen

I know that this podcast has been around for a while now (since July), but I do not often get to listen to podcasts on a regular basis. There were many important things there to which I want to draw our attention.

First up, and most importantly: theistic evolution. Our denomination already has an in thesi statement against theistic evolution (in the creation days study committee report). We also have judicially disciplined someone in the SJC for teaching theistic evolution. And yet, there are still officers in our denomination teaching theistic evolution. This is a complete travesty of vows to submit to the brothers. This is thumbing their nose at the PCA and saying, “come and get me.” This is also dishonesty, and as Rich Phillips pointed out, extremely divisive.

Second point: why is the PCA so divided? Phillips’s answer is that our Reformed heritage is not controlling our methodology. The PCA prides itself on doxological diversity, and almost brags about it as if it were a strength. It is rather a great weakness. Phillips points out that only a disfunctional family talks about unity all the time. A functional family talks about what they’re going to do next (the mission). Our GA talked about unity all the time. Why? Because we are incredibly disunified. And talking about it is not going to solve the problem. Neither is hand-wringing. Bringing our worship into line with the regulative principle would go a long way, however.

Third point: Why would we not want to try to make our worship as biblical as possible? This has great relevance to the intinction issue. People usually bring up red herring issues in this regard like wine versus grape juice, and leavened versus unleavened bread as something you would have to regulate if you were going to regulate intinction. However, are those not separate, distinct issues? The arguments for wine and grape juice are distinct from the arguments for intinction. Some thing for leavened and unleavened bread. The real issue is the regulative principle underlying everything else.

Fourth point: the PCA is a gospel denomination. If the GA can be persuaded that an issue has to do with the central issues of the gospel, then the denomination will vote in a landslide in favor of the gospel. Take the Insider Movement study committee report. Once the issues were clearly on the table, the PCA voted clearly for the gospel and for the Word of God. Same thing with the Federal Vision study committee report. This is both encouraging and discouraging. The encouraging thing is that we stand for the gospel. The discouraging thing is that if we don’t perceive that something is important to the gospel, then it doesn’t matter. This is not Reformed, but general evangelicalism.

Boettner’s Good Points

In an earlier thread, I promised I would say a few positive words about Loraine Boettner’s book Roman Catholicism. His book is flawed in many ways, and I have no intention of down-playing those faults by praising other aspects about the book. As with any theologian, it is our place to eat the meat and spit out the bones. These items are relatively unrelated to each other, except that they are concerned with Roman Catholicism. This is not an exhaustive list of good points, either.

He makes an interesting point that Roman Catholicism tends the thrive better in Protestant countries, where it has to stand in its own two feet, rather than in Roman Catholic countries, where it is the state church (p. 36). One could argue about why that is the case, of course, but it does seem to hold when one compares Spain and Portugal, on the one hand, with the United States, on the other.

In answering Roman Catholic apologists who accuse Protestantism of being so very divided, he argues that “the various Protestant denominations agree quite fully on practically all of the essentials of the faith” (p. 37). Then follows a list of doctrines on which Protestants agree. This unity of spirit undermines the denominational differences. Furthermore, Roman Catholicism is certainly not as united as its apologists would have us believe (p. 39). These days, one only has to point out the vast differences in the interpretation of the impact of Vatican II. There is definitely a liberal wing in the Roman Catholic church that is pushing for a more inclusivistic understanding of the Council (thus a disjunctive interpretation of the Council with what happened in the past), while just as many (including the current Pope) argue for relatively complete continuity between Vatican II and previous history. My, what a difference two words can make: “separated brethren!”

In arguing against the infallibility of Tradition, he argues exegetically from John 21:21-23, a remarkable instance of intra-apostolic tradition that was false (p. 78).

In arguing against Peter being the first Pope, he notes that Peter consistently refused to accept homage from men (see Acts 10: 25-26, 1 Peter 5, cf. Boettner, p. 113). No doubt the Roman Catholic will bring up the sophistic distinction between worship and service at this point. But there is no indication in Acts that the man was doing anything other than bowing down (the meaning of “proskuneo” can mean “worship” but can also refer merely to bowing the knee), which is something the Roman Catholic acknowledges can be part of service. This is something Peter refused to accept, contrary to the Popes.

In dealing with the infallibility of the Pope, Boettner makes a very important point, which includes the very nuance that most Roman Catholic apologists believe Protestants overlook: “Infallibility is not claimed for statements addressed to particular segments or groups within the church which may relate more or less to local conditions. And the pronouncements must have to do with matters pertaining to ‘faith and morals.’ In actual practice, however, the term ‘faith and morals’ is broad enough and elastic enough to cover almost any and every phase of religious and civil life. Practically every public issue can be looked upon as having some bearing on faith or morals or both. The Vatican takes full advantage of this, and the result is that within the Roman Church almost any statement issued by the pope is assumed to be authoritative” (pp. 235-236). I would add to this that whenever the Protestant points out heretical popes or problematic positions taken by the pope, the Roman Catholic is very quick to point out this supposed limitation in infallibility: “only in faith or morals when spoken ex cathedra.” However, when the Roman Church quotes previous popes, they quote them as being part of the infallible tradition. Is there a tertium quid, where the pope is “mostly” infallible in everything he says, but with the loophole that if he says something heretical, there is a deniability factor? This is one very frustrating thing for Protestants, because the Roman Catholic always has an answer. Whether it is a consistent answer is a whole ‘nother ballgame. Which papal bulls are infallible and which aren’t? In Denzinger, for instance, many papal pronouncements are used as the sources for Catholic dogma. Are they infallible? Papal bulls present a particular problem, because some of them are obviously intended to be infallible pronouncements. However, there are many papal bulls which are not viewed as infallible, even by Roman Catholics, though, when originally given, were given as supposedly fixed decrees. So, how does one decide which bulls are infallible and which are not? “Faith and morals,” as Boettner notes, is hardly a reliable guide, since the phrase is so elastic in meaning. This is a very serious problem for Roman Catholics, because the Roman Catholic church is so vague on when exactly the pope is infallible in concrete instances, and when he is not.

Not all sources Boettner quotes are bad, either. The sermon from Dr. C.D. Cole, quoted on pp. 257-258 is very eloquent: “The basic and fatal error of Romanism is the denial of the sufficiency of Christ as Saviour. It denies the efficacy of His sacrifice on the cross. Romanism has a Christ, but He is not sufficient as a Saviour. What he did on Calvary must be repeated (in the mass) and supplemented (through works of penance), and this makes priestcraft and sacramentarianism necessary. Romanism is a complicated system of salvation by works. It has salvation to sell, but not on Isaiah’s terms-without money and without price (Is. 55:1). It offers salvation on the installment plan, and then sees to it that the poor sinner is always behind in his payments, so that when he dies there is a large balance unpaid, and he must continue payments by sufferings in purgatory, or until the debt is paid by prayers, alms and sufferings of his living relatives and friends. The whole system and plan calls for merit and money, from the cradle to the grave, and even beyond. Surely the wisdom that drew such a plan of salvation is not from above, but is earthly and sensual.” Certainly pulling no punches, but gets to the point. I especially like the rhetoric about the “installment plan.”

On page 258, Boettner makes a great point about saints: “And it is to be observed further that the distinguishing mark of a saint is not, as in the Roman Church, what one has done for God, but what God has done for him.”

On whether Roman Catholics worship images, he argues: “Roman Catholics tell us that they do not pray to the image, or idol, but to the spirit that is represented by it. But that is the answer given by idol worshippers the world over when they are asked why they pray to their idols” (p. 280). I might add to this the further point that the Israelites believed that they were worshiping God through the golden calf, not some false god (see in particular Exodus 32:4). They believed that this was the form of the God who brought them out of Egypt.