A number of years ago I wrote an article for an online journal. A few years later they removed this article, for unknown reasons, so I reposted it. As I read new converts to Rome glibly repeating the same shallow, circular arguments about sola scriptura, I am reminded of how important it is to think clearly on this topic, and how few do, on either side of the Tiber. So may I highly recommend this article to your reading? It isn’t short, but it isn’t overly long, either (less than 7500 words). Here is how it starts:
He looked like death warmed over. “I’ve done all I can do. I just don’t know what to say any longer.” He looked defeated, and tired.
I sighed and said nothing at first. I had been through this too many times to count, but it never got any easier, never got enjoyable. I settled a little more deeply into the chair in his office and took a deep breath.
“Roger,” I began, “I truly do not believe it is a matter of what you have, or have not, said. People who make this decision do it for many, many reasons, and only rarely do they do so for strictly theological ones. I am sure, if we could dig a little deeper, we would find many personal reasons that have nothing to do with formal theological issues.”
He nodded in response. “Of course, I know. But it is so tremendously difficult to see someone simply abandon the gospel and walk into the arms of heresy. You want to do something.”
“Believe me, I know” I replied. “But I learned a long time ago that you cannot force someone to hear you. You cannot force someone to think rationally, to obey truth, or to recognize error, if they have chosen not to do so. It is beyond your capacity. Nor can you judge your ministry of the Word on the basis of such an action by someone in your congregation. The Apostles faced this same situation, so surely it was not a matter of failure for them, nor for you.”
“I know all these things” he said with a heavy sigh. He paused, then said, “But it really doesn’t make me feel any better right now.”
I smiled, “I know. So, your suggestion that she talk to me was ignored? Let me guess….I’m too, let’s see, harsh? Unloving?”
“You guessed it” he chuckled. “Seems the double standard doesn’t bother her. Her new found mentors can write or say anything, but if anyone responds to their arguments, and in fact refutes them, well, they are unloving and unkind and unChristian. You name the excuse.”
“Been there, done that.” I leaned forward a bit. “Well, your next move is not enjoyable, but necessary.”
“I know. I can’t believe we have to discipline someone who grew up in our midst.”
“She has embraced deadly heresy, Roger. God’s people must be warned. And we can only hope the seriousness of the response will communicate to her the gravity of what she has done. Besides, I think you will want to spend some time going over the foundations of the faith from the pulpit once again, just to make sure everyone is clear on the basics.”
“Indeed.” He rose from his chair and stood in front of a large shelf filled with books. He pulled down a hefty volume and opened it. “I have always sought to be faithful in preaching the whole counsel of God. She heard it preached over and over again. I thought she loved the truth….” His voice trailed off.
I stood. “Elders are not given a supernatural ability to see into the hearts of their congregations. Nor are you expected to. You exhort, you warn, you encourage, you teach. And you trust in Christ’s promise to build His church, but in His way, in His time. You hope the best, especially for those who are under your ministry for years, but you know that longevity is not a sure sign of calling. And, of course, we don’t know how long this fascination with Rome will last. Sacramentalism cannot long satisfy the heart of the truly redeemed, and if she is, well, the honeymoon can’t last forever.”
“Yes, of course. Well, thank you for coming. I will keep you appraised of any developments in the situation.”
“Please do” I replied, and walked out of his office into the gathering dusk. As I fought through rush hour traffic I pondered yet another example of why it is so utterly vital to not only understand biblical sufficiency, but to be passionate about it, both in one’s own personal faith, and for those called to the eldership, in one’s proclamation and teaching. A fine Christian pastor and church would now face the difficult questions that always follow an act of theological apostasy: why? What are the real reasons? Did the church fail in some fashion? How do we now respond to this person? And for those who are former Roman Catholics themselves, the questions would be even more difficult to answer. Literally millions of people have left Rome, seeking something beyond the dead formalism of sacramentalism based upon man’s acts, man’s merits. So how could someone go the other direction, especially when they had known, or seemed to know, the truth?