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Mark Shea Defends Mariolatry Regardless of the Facts

Posted by Mark Shea on Friday, Nov 2, 2012 5:18 PM (EST):
Luther, by the way, believed in the Immaculate Conception.
“It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary’s soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God’s gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin” – Martin Luther’s Sermon “On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God,” 1527.
“She is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin- something exceedingly great. For God’s grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil. – Martin Luther’s Little Prayer Book, 1522.
Instead of ignorantly and reflexively regurgitating whatever an American Evangelical might say after 20 minutes of glancing at the New Testament, consider the possibility that the Church doesn’t just make stuff up and actually has real grounds for considering this to be apostolic teaching.

Sorry Mark, the first quote has been debunked for quite a few years now. I originally took this bit of Luther propaganda apart in 2003. You can read a detailed explanation here. You can read about the second quote here.

And while we’re on the topic of Luther’s Mariology, back in 2007 you put out this blunder about Luther’s tomb supporting Luther’s belief in Mary’s assumption. I suggest sticking to defending your Romanism rather than exegeting Luther. That is, “instead of ignorantly and reflexively regurgitating” pop-apologetic Romanist propaganda about Luther posted on the Internet, why not do a little homework first?

CTC Asks: Where are the Miracles of the Reformers?

If the Reformers were really were sent by God, where are their miracles to prove it? This was the very question I came across while listening to a Called to Communion conversion story. In this story, a former Mid-America Reformed Seminary alumni recounted how he and his wife journeyed across the Tiber. This couple mentioned the importance of the book, The Catholic Controversy: St. Francis de Sales’ Defense of the Faith.

de Sales argues,

“No one should allege an extraordinary mission unless he prove it by miracles: for, I pray you, where should we be if this pretext of extraordinary mission was to be accepted without proof? Would it not be a cloak for all sorts of reveries? Arius, Marcion, Montanus, Messalius — could they not be received into this dignity of reformers, by swearing the same oath? Never was any one extraordinarily sent unless he brought this letter of credit from the divine Majesty.”

“How then shall those who in our age would allege an extraordinary mission excuse and relieve themselves of this proof of their mission? What privilege have they greater than an Apostolic, a Mosaic? What shall I say more. If our sovereign Master, consubstantial with the Father, having a mission so authentic that it comprises the communication of the same essence, if he himself, I say, who is the living source of all Ecclesiastical mission, has not chosen to dispense himself from this proof of miracles, what reason is there that these new ministers should be believed on their mere word?”

Even though I’ve been familiar with this argument for many years, this was the first time I had ever heard a Roman Catholic convert use it, and that it was a Reformed seminary-trained convert truly amazed me. In this brief mp3 clip from their interview, the interviewer, referencing de Sales, asks, “Where are their papers?” The wife in agreement states back, “Right, where are their miracles?” Then, a few minutes later, the new convert states, “Where are their papers? If God sent them, where are their miracles?”

1. I’m surprised this particular argument had so much weight for these recent Roman Catholic converts. Based on the criteria of miracle = “sent by God”, there are a fair amount of Pentecostal folks that are more than willing to claim they have the credentials required. It becomes even more complicated by the fact that non-Christian religions claim miracles as well.

2. It certainly is true that miracles accompanied many of those people in the Scripture that were given revelation from God. Miracles certainly proved the divine message of the Biblical authors. Keep in mind though, the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc.), were not receiving new revelation from God, nor did they claim they were. They weren’t adding books to the Bible. They were testifying to what was in the Bible. John Calvin states this very point: “In demanding miracles of us, they act dishonestly. For we are not forging some new gospel, but are retaining that very gospel whose truth all the miracles that Jesus Christ and his disciples ever wrought serve to confirm.”

3. If one takes the time to work through de Sales argument, you’ll notice he quotes a fair amount of Scripture. However, he assumes that what happened during enscripturation occurs after enscripturation. Calvin, on the other hand, argued that the miracles presented in the New Testament worked as seals of the Gospel. They were the signature of God confirming the revelation of Christ and the apostles. For Calvin, miracles had actually ceased at the end of the apostolic age. Both Calvin and Luther took seriously the Biblical warnings on the legitimate purpose and use of miracles.

Calvin:

The Donatists of old overwhelmed the simplicity of the multitude with this battering-ram: that they were mighty in miracles. We, therefore, now answer our adversaries as Augustine then answered the Donatists: the Lord made us wary of these miracle workers when he predicted that false prophets with lying signs and prodigies would come to draw even the elect (if possible) into error [Matthew 24:24], And Paul warned that the reign of Antichrist would be “with all power, and signs and lying wonders” [2 Thessalonians 2:9]. But these miracles, they say, are done neither by idols, nor by magicians, nor by false prophets, but by the saints. As if we did not understand that to “disguise himself as an angel of light” [2 Corinthians 11:14] is the craft of Satan! The Egyptians of old worshiped Jeremiah, who was buried in their land, rendering to him sacrifices and divine honors. Did they not misuse the holy prophet of God for idolatrous purposes? And yet, they thought that the curing of snake bite was a just reward for such veneration of his tomb. What shall we say except that it has always been, and ever will be, a very just punishment of God to “send to those” who have not received the love of truth “a strong delusion to make them believe a lie” [2 Thessalonians 2:11]?

Luther (commenting on Matthew 7:22-23)

The chief interpretation here is that He is talking about false prophecies and miracles, as He speaks in Matthew 24:24: “False Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” In 2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10 St. Paul says that the Antichrist will come “with all sorts of pretended powers and signs and wonders and with all wicked deception for unrighteousness, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” So it is certain that false signs will happen in Christendom and that the false Christians will look upon them as true and genuine signs. This has really been happening in the papacy, though in Turkey, too, there are many such priests and special saints. You can read about this in the books and legends, especially in what the monks have written. They are all crawling with miracles, though they were really nothing but lies and rascalities. How they have made fools of the people nowadays with all those pilgrimages to the Grym Valley, to the Oak, or to Trier! I myself have seen some monks who were abominable rascals and reckless men, but who expelled the devil and played with him as if he were a child [LW 21:271].

4. It must be kept in mind that arguing the Reformers needed miracles to confirm their message assumes Roman Catholic presuppositions. Miracles are part of Roman collective piety. One need only recall the many times they claim Mary has visited the earth with messages (it get’s a little murky as to exactly where this sort of special revelation fits in the Roman Catholic scheme of things). Here are some sound words from Martin Luther:

You see, this is the way to beat back the papists, who come crowding around with their “customs, fathers, councils, and so many signs and miracles,” by which they try to substantiate their cause. Just give them a short answer: “All right, let us contrast the two. Here I have Christ?s Word; of this I am certain, and it has been powerfully substantiated throughout the world. You are showing me, by contrast, your teaching and your signs, which point me to rosaries, pilgrimages, the worship of saints, Masses, monkery, and other special and self-chosen works. There is nothing here about Christ, or about faith, Baptism, and the Sacrament, or about obedience and the good works which Christ teaches me to practice within my station, in my relations with my neighbor. Instead, there is the exact opposite. Hence these cannot be genuine signs, but both the teaching and the signs are the devil?s deception.” This way we could easily recognize and judge all false signs and say: “Let the signs come and go, I do not care, even if you raised the dead before my very eyes. All of this can deceive me, but the Word of God does not deceive me” [LW 21:274].

5. Here’s an ironic point. Here is the Bull of Canonization of St. Francis de Sales (Rerum Omnium Perturbationem) Encyclical of Pope Pius XI, Promulgated on January 26, 1923. Guess who, according to the Roman Catholic Church, was sent by God? Why, it was none other than Francis de Sales:

The solemn commemoration last year of the third centenary of the canonization of five great saints–Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier, Philip Neri, Teresa of Jesus, and Isidore the Farmer– helped greatly, Venerable Brothers, toward reawakening among the faithful a love for the Christian life. We are now happily called upon to celebrate the Third Centenary of the entrance into heaven of another great saint, one who was remarkable not only for the sublime holiness of life which he achieved but also for the wisdom with which he directed souls in the ways of sanctity. This saint was no less a person than Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva and Doctor of the Universal Church. Like those brilliant examples of Christian perfection and wisdom to whom We have just referred, he seemed to have been sent especially by God to contend against the heresies begotten by the Reformation. It is in these heresies that we discover the beginnings of that apostasy of mankind from the Church, the sad and disastrous effects of which are deplored, even to the present hour, by every fair mind. What is more, it appears that Francis de Sales was given to the Church by God for a very special mission.

Now if you’re thinking what I’m thinking, you’re wondering exactly what miracle accompanied de Sales to prove he was especially sent by God for his special mission. If you skim through the Bull of Canonization, you’ll find all sorts of tidbits about his life and ministry, but nothing all that extraordinary like healing a leper or raising the dead. In other words, there weren’t any extraordinary miracles that prove he was sent especially by God for a very special mission. He sort of did things like… the early Reformers (he wrote books, ministered, and talked to people, sometimes at great peril). Remember, de Sales says, “no one should allege an extraordinary mission unless he prove it by miracles.” Pope Pius XI says, “[De Sales] seemed to have been sent especially by God to contend against the heresies begotten by the Reformation…it appears that Francis de Sales was given to the Church by God for a very special mission.” So, where are the miracles that proved the extraordinary mission of de Sales? It’s gets even a bit more complicated when certain current Roman apologists claim to be “called by God to do apologetics” or they hold seminars acting like prophets trying to warn Rome of her many sins. I can’t help but wonder if any miracles are forthcoming from Rome’s new apologists. Never underestimate the double standards of Roman Catholic apologetics.

6. Here’s one I can’t pass up pointing out, simply because it’s humorous. Following a Roman Catholic paradigm, Luther vindicated himself and his work from the grave. For the Roman convert looking for the miracles of the Reformers, there is actually a tradition of Luther’s post-life miracles. See this article by Robert Scribner, Incombustible Luther: The Image of the Reformer in Early Modern Germany. Scribner documents the way that many turned Luther into a saint after his death. Stories circulated that paintings of Luther refused to burn. You see, Luther’s special saint-like miracle was his incombustibility. He could not be burned as a heretic while alive, nor could he be burned when dead.

The Council of Jerusalem and Enscripturation

I subscribe to a number of Roman Catholic e-letters. One such e-letter is John Martignoni’s Apologetics for the Masses. In a recent issue, Mr. Martignoni  presents an argument in regard to the Council of Jerusalem as a proof for Roman Catholcism:

“One last thing to note here when talking about the Council of Jerusalem. I need to highlight the fact that the Council of Jerusalem did not operate on the principle of Sola Scriptura – the Bible alone as the sole authority in matters Christian. If it had operated on that principle, then the only Scripture they had at the time – the Old Testament- would have clearly pointed them to a different decision than the one they made, because the Old Testament is very clear that it was necessary for a man to be circumcised in order for him to be in covenant with God (Genesis 17:9-14). So, if they had gone by the Scripture alone, then the decision would had to have favored the position of the Judaizers. The only conclusion one can draw, then, is that Sola Scriptura was not part of the theological environment that the Council of Jerusalem, and the early Church, operated within.”

There are two basic errors in Mr. Martignoni’s paragraph, and once exposed render his “the only conclusion one can draw” an argument that has no merit against sola scriptura.

1. Mr. Martignoni asserts that sola scriptura amounts to “the Bible alone as the sole authority in matters Christian.” This is an error. The doctrine of sola scriptura holds the Scriptures are the sole infallible authority for the church and the sole infallible rule of faith. Protestants affirm church authority, but deny infallible church authority. Protestants affirm the necessity of a ruling office in the Church, because the Scriptures teach it (1 Tim. 3). Protestants affirm the necessity of a teaching ministry in the Church, because the Scriptures teach it (Eph. 4:11-16).

2. Mr. Martignoni states, “I need to highlight the fact that the Council of Jerusalem did not operate on the principle of Sola Scriptura.” The doctrine of sola scriptura though does not put forth the notion that the Council of Jerusalem “operated on the principle of sola scriptura.”  Sola Scriptura applies to the normal means God has conveyed His truth to the church after Scripture had been completed. Note the following comment from Dr. White:

“One will search high and low for any reference in any standard Protestant confession of faith that says, “There has never been a time when God’s Word was proclaimed and transmitted orally.” You will never find anyone saying, ‘During times of enscripturation- that is, when new revelation was being given- sola scriptura was operational.’ Protestants do not assert that sola scriptura is a valid concept during times of revelation. How could it be, since the rule of faith to which it points was at that very time coming into being? One must have an existing rule of faith to say it is ‘sufficient.’ It is a canard to point to times of revelation and say, “See, sola scriptura doesn’t work there!” Of course it doesn’t. Who said it did?”

And in another article, Dr. White states:

“Roman Catholics and Protestants historically have agreed on the reality that special revelation itself has ceased. We agree that new Scripture is not being written. Since this is so, logically, that means we agree there was a time, a miraculous and special time, often referred to as that period of ‘enscripturation,’ when that process was taking place, so that the Scriptures themselves were coming into existence under the providential direction of God Himself, for His purposes. Roman Catholic apologists often make reference to these periods when the Word of God was orally preached, such as in the ministry of Isaiah, as evidence of the falsehood of sola scriptura. And yet, given that they agree we no longer live in that context, is it not obvious and clear that the question of what is in fact an infallible authority today differs from asking the same question during periods of enscripturation? What true use is there to say ‘Isaiah said more than what we have in the book of Isaiah’ when 1) no one today is speaking on that level of inspiration and 2) Rome, which claims access to, and authority over, “tradition” has never given us a single word Isaiah said that is not itself found in Scripture?”

Mr. Martignoni is aware of this sort of response, as one on his older newsletters demonstrates. There he states about periods of enscripturation:

“First, how did the early Christians know the period of  ‘enscripturation’ was over? Who told them? What authority said to the early Christians, ‘The period of enscripturation is now over; therefore, the era of Sola Scriptura has started?’ When exactly was the period of enscripturation over, and how do we know? Does the Bible tell us, or would that be something that Sola Scriptura believers know from…tradition?”

Mr. Martignoni asks a question for an authority source he believes has no authority, that is, Protestant sources. So, even if I were to provide Protestant answers, such answers would fall on deaf ears. A better solution, one that I normally wouldn’t use, is quoting a source he should at least have a little respect for. While there are some Roman Catholic theologians that believe in continuing special revelation, generally speaking, most agree special revelation ceased with the death of the last apostle. Perhaps Mr. Martignoni would respect the opinion of Roman Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott. In Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, he states, “The clear teaching of Holy Writ and Tradition is that after Christ, and the Apostles who proclaimed the message of Christ, no further Revelation will be made” [Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, ed. James Canon Bastible (Rockford: Tan, reprinted 1974), p.7].

As to knowing something from “tradition”, Protestants don’t deny tradition, they deny an extra-biblical source of infallible content Roman Catholics refer to as “Tradition.” Knowing that the apostles died is nothing more than engaging in a historical inquiry. In a sense, all ancient history (whether Christian history or not) is an excursion into researching tradition. That is, we know facts of history because those facts were passed down to the present through various means. The church need not be infallible for such to take place. I would assume Mr. Martignoni is not saying that the church today can’t know the apostles died without infallible Tradition saying they did. Martignoni appears to believe Roman Catholics own church history and tradition, and so every historical tidbit is the property of Rome. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ, I claim (for better or worse) that the past 2000 years of church history is the history of my church. I have no problem getting a fact from history that says how the apostles died.

Martignoni then states: “Furthermore, where in the Bible does it tell us that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura will become ‘operational’ after the period of enscripturation is over?” This sort of question arises from a false presentation of sola scriptura. The question that should be asked is “where is God’s voice?” The Protestant answers: the Scriptures are God’s voice. The Bible tells us it’s God’s voice:  II Timothy 3:16-17 states, “All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction, for training in righteousness, in order that the man of God might be complete, fully equipped for every good work.” The burden of proof lies on Roman Catholics like Mr. Martignoni who claim God’s infallible voice is somewhere else besides the Scriptures.

Assurance of Salvation, Roman Catholicism, and Calvinism

A favorite argument of modern-day garden-variety Arminians is that unless the atonement is unlimited, one cannot have assurance of salvation. The argument goes that if Christ has only died for the elect, you, Mr. Calvinist really cannot know if in fact Christ has died for you particularly. That is, how do you know if you’re actually one of elect? On the other hand, if the atonement is unlimited, then you can know that Christ has died for you because Christ has died for everyone, therefore you have assurance of your salvation if you accept Christ as your personal Lord and savior.

You may have already figured out the problem with this sort of argument by the words in italics. The issue of certainty of assurance has not been solved with an unlimited atonement. How do you know if you really truly accepted Christ as your personal Lord and savior? This plays out in a number of non-Reformed churches that practice altar calls at the end of their services. Having been raised with this aspect of an Arminian liturgy, I can recall that indeed, one can’t help but avoid internally re-asking whether or not Jesus was truly accepted into the heart during the altar call. The better the speaker at giving the altar call, the more probable such internal doubts would surface. It wasn’t uncommon to see people go forward “to get saved” more than once.

I recently came across a Roman Catholic arguing that Calvinists can’t have assurance of salvation. In fact, one should never be surprised when modern-day Arminians and Roman Catholics make the same sort of argument. Here’s the difference though: many of today’s non-Reformed folks think that an unlimited atonement secures the assurance of salvation. Roman Catholicism though likewise believes in an unlimited atonement but explicitly rejects the assurance of salvation. The Council of Trent states: “If any one saith, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance unto the end,-unless he have learned this by special revelation; let him be anathema.” Rome’s theologians have no problem considering such a statement a fundamental of Roman Catholic dogma. Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof points out that such uncertainty is necessary for the Roman system:

“[T]he Roman Catholic church makes the forgiveness of sins dependent, not on an immediate divine act of pardon once for all, but on the sacrament of penance that must be repeated after every mortal sin, and on the absolution of the priest. With every new deadly sin the state of grace is lost. It can only be restored by the sacrament of penance, and is lost again whenever a new mortal sin is committed. But this is not the only thing that makes assurance impossible. The confessional itself is hedged about with all kinds of uncertainties. The orders of the functioning priest may not be genuine, and this would make his absolution ineffectual. His intention may be at fault, and this would introduce another element of uncertainty. Then, too, the confessor may be ambiguous, equivocal, or indeterminate. He may overlook some of his sins and fail to mention them to the priest, in which case they would not be forgiven. It is no wonder therefore that, according to the church at Rome, the assurance of salvation is quite out of the question. But the Roman Catholic church even goes a step farther: it regards personal assurance as undesirable. The real reason for this is, in all probability, that the church greatly profits by keeping the souls of the faithful in constant suspense. It reaps a rich harvest through the sacrament of penance. Of course, it does not assign this as a reason for its teaching on this point. It claims to consider it wholesome and beneficial for the Christian to entertain honest doubts in the high matters of justification and final salvation. Such doubts keep him from an overweening confidence in himself, minister to true humility of character, and serve as a more salutary restraint on the evil passions than joy and peace in believing could ever be. Mohler, one of the greatest Roman Catholic scholars of the previous century said: ‘I think that, in the neighborhood of any man, who would declare himself under all circumstances assured of his salvation, I should feel very uncomfortable, and should probably have difficulty to put away the thought, that something like diabolical influence was here at play.'” [Berkhoff, L. The Assurance of Faith  (Grand Rapids:  WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939), p. 21].

Similarly, Francis Turretin states,

“It is not, however, for nothing that the Romanists so fiercely strive for the retention of their hesitation and doubt. They understand that the whole business of popish traffic rests upon this once being established… the taxes, vows, pilgrimages, fraternities, supererogatory works, purgatory, sale of indulgences, trafficking of the Mass and other base merchandise of the popish kingdom immediately fall. For he who would be certain of his own salvation would betake himself neither to the patronage of the saints, nor to the merits of the martyrs, nor to the absolution of priests (which is the executioner of the Roman tyrant) [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology vol. 2 (New Jersey: P and R Publishing, 1994), p. 617].

Roman Catholic are always bringing up certainty, as if by being a member of the Roman Church, one of the benefits is certainty. That is, by being a Roman Catholic you can (allegedly) know with certainty which books are supposed to be in the Bible, you can know with certainty which is the church Jesus Christ established, you can know what the Bible says and means with certainty. But ironically, on a very basic (and important) fundamental human issue, you can’t have certainty of your salvation. Go figure.  Here’s how a Roman Catholic recently explained the uncertainty of assurance to me:

“Infallible Assurance is a myth, and once you stop and ask yourself how you know you are elect rather than simply thinking you’re elect, you’ll have no concrete basis to answer the question. So the Catholic position is right to say nobody has infallible Assurance.”

If you read this statement carefully, you’ll notice, like the Arminian argument above,  it ultimately is an inconsistent argument. This Roman Catholic claims to know “nobody has infallible assurance.” In other words, this particular Roman Catholic is claiming infallibility himself. He’s claiming he can infallibly know that no one can know. How does he know that? Perhaps he’ll say the Magisterium tells him, in which case we’ll push him back one more step: how does he know the Magisterium knows? Perhaps he’ll say because Christ established the Roman Church. But how does he ultimately know this? Perhaps he’ll say Matthew 16:18. If he  finally arrives at quoting Scripture to prove his point, he’s not being a consistent Roman Catholic. Aren’t we the ones who say that Scripture assures us of our salvation?
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CTC Conversion Stories

There’s always a difficulty in responding to someone’s story, because it’s just that: a story. That is, Joshua Lim has related his experience and interpretation of a particular series of personal events: his personal understanding of the Christian faith and the way this personal understanding led him to a subjective decision to enter the Roman Catholic Church (his Called to Communion entry is entitled, Joshua Lim’s Story: A Westminster Seminary California Student becomes Catholic). That being said, I offer the following critique of the account of Joshua’s Lim’s experience. I’ve taken the time with this CTC entry because  Mr. Lim was a member of the same denomination I belong to (URCNA).

The Use of the Story 
CTC often uses the “story” as the vehicle to entice you to look across the Tiber. The first thing therefore anyone reading a CTC entry must keep in mind is to always be on guard for emotional manipulation through the use of a story. There’s not much difference in the methodology used in a late night television infomercial and that being put forth through the repeated testimonials of CTC conversion stories. Like infomercials, conversion stories are all about selling you something. They purport to have something you need that you probably are not even aware that you need.  If you’re Reformed like I am, the CTC conversion stories are directed toward you: you and I are the intended audience. The blog entries they put forth attempt to cause dissonance and dissatisfaction for where you are now and show you where you ought to be.  If the story presented hits the target, they consider you smart enough to realize you currently don’t really have what you really need: the “fullness” of the truth owned by Romanism. [Elsewhere I’ve described Roman Catholic conversion stories as examples of the theology of glory].

The story relates more than facts to be scrutinized for truth. It places you and the facts in the realm of emotion. Perhaps the particular experience described also strikes a cord in your own experience. For Mr. Lim’s story, did any of his questions about epistemology resonate within you? For instance, can you, my Reformed friend, recall when you were in your non-Reformed church like Mr. Lim and came across  “an anti-intellectual ethos, and the study of too much theology, which was often held in contrast to the Bible, was sometimes frowned upon“? I sure can. Can you, like Mr. Lim,  recall coming into contact with deep Reformed systematic theology like Calvin, Berkhof and Bavinck for the first time? I sure can. Then, having such deep theological tomes at your fingertips, have you ever wondered why, as Mr. Lim recounts, “Luther felt that it was necessary to separate from the Catholic Church, Zwingli from Luther, the Anabaptists from the Magisterial Reformed, the Calvinists from Arminians, and on and on- all on the conviction that I have the correct interpretation of Scripture“? If you’ve scratched your head “yes” then the story is probably manipulating you. These sorts of recollections of experiences are attempting to provoke you to question the validity of your own experience. The more times you can empathize with a CTC story, the more you’re being manipulated.  If you haven’t had the same experience as that being presented, why not? Is it because your experience wasn’t as real as the account in front of you? Don’t you want something real?

Called to Communion describes one of their goals  in this way: “Our aim is to effect reconciliation and reunion between Catholics and Protestants, particularly those of the Reformed tradition.” This isn’t fully accomplished by allowing Reformed Protestants to remain where they are, but rather exhorting and enticing them to move to the alleged full level of the true faith found in Roman Catholicism. CTC states, “We do not view ourselves as having left our Reformed faith behind, but rather as having found its fullness in the Catholic Church.” Lim though describes his experience in his first sentence as “a conversion.” He then explicitly states, “I converted to Catholicism.” The very first definition of “convert” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary happens to be “to bring over from one belief, view, or party to another.”

CTC plays loose and fast with these terms and ideas.  Their obvious goal is for one to accept a different paradigm of authority, Biblical interpretation, and  most importantly, a different Gospel. This isn’t simply taking the allegedly simple rudiments of Reformed theology and sprinkling them with magic Roman dust so as to watch it flourish into a full faith. It’s rather the abandoning of one set of beliefs for another. It is as Mr. Lim describes “a conversion.” The goal of Lim’s story therefore, communion with Rome, must be scrutinized. If a website is actively attempting to persuade Reformed Christians to abandon their beliefs, their tactics and manipulative methods must be exposed.

 Which Church is the True Church?
Advocates of Roman Catholicism subjectively claim theirs is the true church. How ironic that Mr. Lim begins by describing one of his early ventures into Protestantism :

“Despite the relatively small size of the church, or perhaps because of it, there was a sense that, in many ways, we were the only truly biblical church. Every other church erred in some way or another, and even those who were seemingly close in terms of doctrine and practice were never fully embraced – and this unspoken suspicion tended to be mutual.”

The irony of course is this is the exact position Mr. Lim now willingly embraces. He is now a member of church that claims to be the exclusive church set up by Jesus Christ. Nothing has really changed between where he once found himself to where he is now. The only difference perhaps, is that Rome is explicit that she is in fact the true church, whereas whichever group he was formerly a member of only hinted at this (according to him, in a “sense”). He says also that “Over time, I began to grow uncomfortable with the arbitrariness of such a small and isolated church structure (the pastor seemed to have as much authority as the pope).” Another irony surfaces. Previously that a minister had interpretive authority was troubling. Now he’s willingly embraced an authority that explicitly claims a particular man can speak infallibly.

Who Speaks For Rome?
As far as I can tell from Mr. Lim’s account, his conversion was not the result of sifting through the infallible documents produced by the Roman Catholic Church. Rather, he used means by which to interpret Roman Catholicism:

1. “…a few Catholic theologians at a conference on Protestant and Catholic theology.”
2. “…a rather intelligent Catholic (though he knew very little about Reformed Protestantism- which, at the time, enabled me to ignore his arguments) at a nearby coffee shop over a span of about two years.”
3. “…constant online debates with Catholics on different blogs that I participated in.”
4. “…I was able to sit down and talk to Dominican friars…”
5. “… I buried myself in books, Catholic and Protestant.”
6. “…I found a source of intellectual solace in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas.”
7. “After spending several months meeting privately with a Norbertine Father, I was recently received into the Catholic Church.”

If one looks over this list of means, it becomes rather obvious that they do not speak with one perfect voice as to the content and understanding of Roman Catholicism. These are interpreters of Rome.  In the final analysis, the result of this mixture is Mr. Lim’s interpretations of these interpreters. At one point in his story he decries individualism which is said to be “pervasive in evangelical theology.” Here though, the very means by which Mr. Lim arrived in Rome were the individual and subjective opinions of fallible sources, as interpreted by… Joshua Lim.

Roman Catholic Anarchy Isn’t Anarchy Because I say It Isn’t
The most curious offering from Mr. Lim’s story is his admission that “The contemporary Catholic Church in America is far from perfect.” He states:

“Liturgically, there are, at least in Southern California, very few parishes that celebrate Mass the way Catholics should; there are numerous liberal Catholics who don’t submit to the Magisterium (to the delight of Protestants), the list seems endless.”

As I read through Mr. Lim’s description of the problems in contemporary Roman Catholicism, I couldn’t help but wonder if this last section was provoked by a realization that his reasons for leaving a Protestant church similarly plague the Roman church. I like to boil everything down and see what’s left. Here’s what I see once the flame is turned off: There’s a big group of people that trust Rome as their ultimate infallible authority. On the other hand, there’s another group who believe that the Bible is the only infallible authority. What Mr. Lim wants me to believe is that it’s quite alright if Roman Catholics misinterpret or spin their magisterium how one wants to, but it’s not quite alright if a Protestant misinterprets or spins the Bible how one wants to.

Remember, if the argument you’re using works just as well against your own position, it’s best not to use that argument. Over on my own blog, I have my own occasional feature called, Blueprint for Anarchy. What I’ve been doing is simply keeping track of all the times I come across Rome’s zealous defenders disagreeing with each other, or pointing out the lack of clarity within Roman Catholicism as well as the confusion produced by the magisterium. That some people misinterpret or twist the Bible is not the fault of the Bible, hence not a proof against sola scriptura. In the same way, that I may possibly configure my computer incorrectly is not the fault of the owner’s manual that comes with it. The misuse of a sufficient source does not negate the clarity of that sufficient source.

Note the blatant double standard of Mr. Lim on problems within the Roman church:

“These issues have not moved me from the conviction that the Catholic Church is the true Church; on the contrary, they have only increased my faith that this must be the true Church. If Christ could continue to work to build his Church with such a history of failings on the part of the laity, various priests, bishops, and even popes, surely this Church must be sustained by God himself; despite the passage of over two millennia, the Church continues to hold and to teach in substance what it has always held and taught.”

I’m tempted to launch into the story of Athanasius as he stood alone against the church of his day. Rather, it suffices to ask one simple question: Why can I not say the same thing from a Protestant paradigm? Why can I not say that I have a conviction in God’s providence over the world and the church, that despite a history of sinful people, beginning with Adam and Eve, God calls and sanctifies His people in every generation, and he does so without the means of an infallible magisterium, but simply by having his infallible word available?

Conclusion
A conversion story is just that: a story. For every Joshua Lim, there’s someone “converting” to “something” somewhere out in the world. There’s people that find the “fullness” of the truth in Orthodoxy as opposed to Romanism. There are people who become Muslims. There are people who become Mormons. They may even have compelling stories. They may even be former Roman Catholics. One of the ironies about conversion stories are those folks that continue having them. Take the ex-poster child for Catholic Answers, Gerry Matatics. He certainly loved to tell his story. Simply go back and listen to his debates with Dr. White. He’d tell that story every chance he could get. He’d even stay late into the night to tell it again and again. Now, go ask Karl Keating why Mr. Matatics is no longer endorsed by Catholic Answers. Similarly, how do I know that some of the current CTC stars aren’t going to keep having a new conversion story?  As Reformed people,  if you want an infallible conversion account, you won’t find such an item on the CTC blog, you’ll find it in the pages of sacred Scripture.