I had written:

Meanwhile, I sat in utter amazement as I read an article by Kevin Johnson on the “Reformed Catholicism” blog. It was another complete fulfillment of the citation I posted here a few days ago: “…such men that are for middle ways in points of doctrine have a greater kindness for that extreme they go half way to than for that which they go halfway from.”

Mr. Johnson replies:

There is nothing like personally attacking your opponent.

I reply:

I would direct folks to Johnson’s blog where he only recently hoped the anonymous blogger, who produced nothing but mockery of me, would get back to work, since his material was “hilarious.” I will gladly let the fair and honest minded person decide if in fact I am attacking Mr. Johnson with that quote, or, if my observations are, in fact, quite fair and true.

Johnson:

Why deal with the issue at hand when it is simply easier to cut your opponent off at the knees by attacking his integrity and character? Dr. White certainly has the means and the opportunity to respond with some substance about the particular issues at hand, but instead chooses to attack myself and others personally. Odd behavior for one who claims to have truth on his side.

I reply:

The new advocates of “Reformed Catholicism” are very long on complaining about being mistreated but very short on fairly handling material. This was the first paragraph, nothing more. To start complaining about lack of substance in the first paragraph is just a tad bit disingenuous, is it not?

Johnson:

But, for the record, Reformed Catholicism is not about meeting anyone halfway. Reformed Catholicism is about what the Reformation has always been about–a return to who we really are as Christians.

I reply:

Ah, but as I had pointed out, Mr. Johnson has not always believed in “Reformed Catholicism.” He once believed as I. In fact, he has been your standard Southern Baptist of the Arminian stripe, then a conservative Anglican, then back to Southern Baptist, then to a Calvinistic Southern Baptist, then to Presbyterianism. I assume he would see himself as now just a broader-minded, fully covenantally-oriented “Catholic” now. But the fact remains that while I am still right where I was, it is Mr. Johnson who has been quite the moving target over the past fifteen years or so, and hence the quotation is perfectly valid in the context in which it is being used: Mr. Johnson has, documentably, moved *away from* where I am to a point very, very far down the spectrum. Hence the propriety of the citation. Mr. Johnson has missed the point again.

Johnson:

That includes a return to the truth. But it also includes a return to our identity as catholic Christians. The assertion of Dr. White above is groundless simply because our position is a return to a fuller magisterial understanding of the Reformation, its contribution to history, and our identity as men and women who stand in line with a great cloud of witnesses over these two thousand years in the Church.

I reply:

That sounds wonderful, but, it has nothing to do with the citation I offered. Mr. Johnson is now “in the middle” between two opposing sides in a theological conflict (as the quote says); he has moved from one side to the middle, and I am not the only one who has known Mr. Johnson well in the past who believes the quote is accurate: that he is significantly more favorable to those on the other side than he is toward those with whom he once counted his allegiance. Now as to whether this hybrid religious system with an oxymoronic title is, in fact, relevant to our identity as “catholic Christians” is a completely different issue, one I was not even addressing. What does a “magisterial” understanding of the Reformation mean? Does Mr. Johnson believe Baptists should be given their third baptism? Banished? That was the “Magisterial” response to them. Or does “semper reformanda” allow us to both appreciate, and correct, their views of such things? And how about the Roman magisterium? What is its authority for Mr. Johnson? These are all interesting questions, but they are hardly relevant to the point I was making.

Johnson:

Our emphasis on catholic doctrine is a return to the spirit of the Reformation’s cry of ad fontes. Our focus upon the trinitarian, covenantal, and sacramental connection we have with those brothers who are in other communions is a focus that lifts up high the banner of semper reformanda.

I reply:

Really? What is the basis of semper reformanda? Allegedly ancient traditions, dogmas of men, or the inspired Word of God? The Galatian false teachers were seemingly “orthodox” in their theology in most areas, yet, were anathematized. Who does Mr. Johnson anathematize today? Evidently, the Mormons. But, the Mormons likewise practice baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And if we say, “Oh, but what they mean by that is not correct….” are we not “parsing” their profession of faith in the very way that “Reformed Catholics” find so disturbing when someone such as myself does it? And upon what binding authority, I ask, am I to believe that my unity is to be formed on the basis of “trinitarian baptism” in the first place? I thought the unity of the faith was found in the confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord that is brought forth from the common presence of the Holy Spirit in redeemed souls (1 Cor. 12:3)! Call me schismatic if you wish, but what fellowship can I have with one who believes they are justified by baptism, kept by sacramental faithfulness, forgiven partially by participation in the Mass, further forgiven through priestly absolutions, trusting in the merit of indulgences, headed to an indeterminate time in purgatory, and praying to Mary to seek her intercession and grace?

Johnson:

We say, with the Reformers and their catholic brothers before them, that a pure but historically invisible Church is not enough to fulfill the words of our Lord “that the gates of hell may not prevail against it”. And, it certainly isn’t what the Reformers envisioned for the role of the Church throughout history. No, the Reformers argued incessantly that their faith was catholic and that their Roman Catholic contemporaries indulged in a faith that had separated itself from the Gospel as well as allowing moral corruption and decay to run rampant in the Church.

I reply:

No argument here, but unless Mr. Johnson has forgotten what he once believed, no one back here in the place he left a few years ago would deny anything in that citation, at least in the context that would allow *all* that the Reformers said to be taken into consideration. But it is just in that phrase “separated itself from the Gospel” that we part company, for a faith that has not the gospel is not “Christian” in any meaningful sense.

Johnson:

If anything, Reformed Catholicism has a higher view of truth and doctrine than our self-styled “opponents” suppose simply because we place the appropriate emphasis for our day on the ‘pillar and ground of the truth’.

I reply:

In context, 1 Timothy 3:15 is about the local body. 🙂

Johnson:

A proper ecclesiology that recognizes the biblical binding nature of the teaching office of the Church, for example, will result in a higher view of the truth–a view that is not utterly disconnected from the life and practice of the saints.

I reply:

One of the main problems with this new breed of “Reformed Catholicism” is that it uses lots of buzz phrases and flowery words that, in the real “space time world,” mean nothing. I am reminded of the “ecclesiastical text” view that sounds so fine, but cannot answer a single textual question put to it. I deny “Reformed Catholicism” has a higher view of truth and I deny it can even produce a single, meaningful model of the “biblical binding nature of the teaching office of the Church” either. And at least some of us can point to published works in which we have defended a high, biblical ecclesiology in contexts other than Internet blogs.

Johnson:

For too long, Reformed theology has found its home in overly systematic abstract propositions and our churches have suffered immeasurably as a result.

I reply:

And midnight on the Elbe flyingly a green the road invicibly heightened.

Ipse dixits, repeated often enough, seem to become mantras of movements such as this. It is a hasty, overly broad, unfounded generalization to state this, yet, it is taken as axiomatic by “Reformed Catholics,” at least those who offer their views under that title.

Johnson:

Reformed Catholicism, on the other hand, is pastoral in nature in that it puts theology back in its place while returning to the Church the honor it is due.

I reply:

Again, very nice words, but what do they mean? How is halting between two positions “pastoral?” How is the confusion engendered by this movement of benefit to the people of God? I simply reject as utterly false the concept that Reformed churches as a rule, and the church to which I can speak directly in particular, are guilty of these accusations by “Reformed Catholics” (how odd for RC’s to say they are non-schismatic, yet, their basic presuppositions involve attacks upon others?). Merely making the accusations does not make them true. And to what does Johnson refer when he says he is honoring the “Church”? Again, that sounds wonderful, but what does it MEAN? I do not believe Christ’s Church is honored when the gospel is made a matter of taste while matters of tradition are made dogma. Is Rome the Church? Calvin denied it in the strongest of terms. Was he wrong?

Johnson:

This honor forces us to realize the inherent weaknesses in our own doctrinal positions, to humbly approach our disagreements with others while keeping in mind the testimony of the catholic Church, and to fully search out the truth of these matters.

I reply:

Again, sounds wonderful, but what does it mean? What does it mean to speak of “inherent weaknesses?” What is the “testimony of the catholic Church” and who gets to decide it? Does Johnson decide this for himself? His local assembly? The CRE? Interdenominational synods? We are not told.

Johnson:

This is in contrast to adopting a polemic that for the last five hundred years has been responsible for a divided Church, a polarization of the issues to the point of not properly representing those on the other side of the fence,

I reply:

That is the reason for a divided Church? How about abandoning sola scriptura, allowing the world to reign in the church, and pandering to traditions rather than God’s Word? And as for not properly representing those on the other side of the fence, goodness, I have come to the conclusion, reading the works of “Reformed Catholics,” that they themselves define what everyone else believes (surely that has been the case with me personally), so to even point out their misrepresentations is to be “schismatic”!

Johnson:

the fostering of an attitude which leaves out charity, and the over-emphasizing of the expression of certain doctrines that doesn’t accord either with the way the Bible speaks of them or the way the Church over the ages has spoken of them.

I reply:

Like Paul Owen’s statement about Baptist views stinking like a construction site porta-potty at a fancy wedding? Would that be one of the “let’s not worry about charity” statements? I have a hundred pages culled from “Reformed Catholics” just since March. And what might these doctrines be that the unnamed, “please don’t ask me to get specific in identifying this” “Church” has spoken of in a way differently than, say, I do? Sola scriptura, perhaps? Justification by grace through faith alone, maybe? The sovereignty of God in salvation?

I wonder if Johnson applies this standard consistently? I mean, it took over three centuries before the first treatise on the atonement was written. Does that mean that, at that point in history, “the church,” by not “speaking” to that issue fully, had indicated it was not central or vitally important, or clearly laid out in Scripture? I do wonder about these things, I truly do. 🙂

I had written:

…there is almost nothing on “the other side” that he can truly criticize with any passion, while there [is] almost nothing on this side he can keep himself from criticizing.

Johnson:

This assertion is truly ludicrous. Any casual read of my blog will indicate that this just isn’t the case. Missed completely by Dr. White’s critique is the current discussion on sola scriptura I’ve been having with Roman Catholics and others across my own and other various blogs. Positive comments towards others (even Baptists) in the Reformed community also exist on this blog but you wouldn’t know it by reading Dr. White’s statements.

I reply:

I simply direct you to Mr. Johnson’s blog itself. Read through it. See how many times “Reformed” churches are criticized for this or that, and how often he will speak to the idolatrous practices of Rome, such as prayers to saints and angels (does Mr. Johnson pray to Mary? I have asked before. It is a custom clearly approved by tradition and the “historic church” is it not? If not, why not?). Any statements about Mary should, of course, be balanced, if Mr. Johnson’s viewpoint is valid. But, where was the criticism of prayers to Mary such as the following?

O Mother of Perpetual Help, thou art the dispenser of all the goods which God grants to us miserable sinners, and for this reason he has made thee so powerful, so rich, and so bountiful, that thou mayest help us in our misery. Thou art the advocate of the most wretched and abandoned sinners who have recourse to thee. Come then, to my help, dearest Mother, for I recommend myself to thee. In thy hands I place my eternal salvation and to thee do I entrust my soul. Count me among thy most devoted servants; take me under thy protection, and it is enough for me. For, if thou protect me, dear Mother, I fear nothing; not from my sins, because thou wilt obtain for me the pardon of them; nor from the devils, because thou are more powerful than all hell together; nor even from Jesus, my Judge himself, because by one prayer from thee he will be appeased. But one thing I fear, that in the hour of temptation I may neglect to call on thee and thus perish miserably. Obtain for me, then, the pardon of my sins, love for Jesus, final perseverance, and the grace always to have recourse to thee, O Mother of Perpetual Help.

Wouldn’t it be part and parcel of a fair, balanced view to point out that Rome’s dogmatizing of the Immaculate Conception and the Bodily Assumption are frontal assaults on any meaningful concept of “tradition”? But all we hear is about how Reformed folks do not honor Mary as theotokos. I think my point is well taken.

I had written:

Case in point is his entry on Mary. He’s been reading a lot on Roman Marian beliefs of late, so it is easy to talk about how “bad” your former compatriots are on that issue. We are told that “generations of Reformed Christians have ignored her,” and that “Reformed churches today can’t even refer to the Blessed Mother as the Godbearer, the theotokos.”

Johnson replies:

Notice that there is no substantive argument presented here to rebut my claim. The fact is that generations of Reformed Christians have ignored Mary and many do have problems referring to Mary in the same way the historical Church has for two thousand years.

I reply:

One does not present a substantive argument in one’s thesis statement. That came right afterward. 🙂 Does “generations of Reformed Christians have ignored Mary” mean “they do not honor her as Rome honors her” or does it mean what I said in my 1998 book on the Marian issue:

There is much truth in the statement that Protestants fear Mary. But the reason is not too difficult to find. I believe the reason many Protestants do not talk about Mary, and are uncomfortable doing so, is in direct response and reaction to the overemphasis upon Mary in Roman Catholicism. To speak of “the Virgin Mary” strikes many a Protestant ear as “Catholic,” when in reality, it isn’t. We’ve allowed an error on one side of the issue to result in a corresponding error on the other—an unbiblical de-emphasis of Mary as a great example of faith and obedience. Truly, all generations should never fear to call her blessed—but she would dare not ask us to call her anything more than the Scriptures grant to her. (Mary–Another Redeemer? p. 19).

Further, what does it mean to state that the “church” has honored her in a particular manner for two thousand years? Does Johnson find some consistency in Marian devotion that is traceable over that period?

Johnson:

If theotokos is a “perfectly valid Christological term”, why not employ it?

I reply:

I’m published doing so, and that before Mr. Johnson had ever heard of the term “Reformed Catholic.” 🙂 See pp. 45-49 of the above cited work.

Johnson:

But, the very fact that Dr. White sees the term as a “Christological” term makes my point quite clearly. Theotokos described who Mary was, not Christ. The fact that the early Church used this title to defend orthodox Christology does not take away from the reality of the designation in describing Mary. There is still no reason to describe her as other than theotokos and the only reason we don’t has to do with how the Roman Catholic Church and others outside the Reformed world have used the term.

I reply:

Mr. Johnson’s church history is weak here. Theotokos IS a Christological term. Its origins are Christological. As I had written:

Anyone who reads the writings of the ancient Church knows that the term translated “Mother of God” is the Greek term theotokos. Literally the word means “God-bearer.” It became a title for Mary, so that you often find her simply being called Theotokos in devotional and theological writings. But where did the term come from?
Around the beginning of the fourth century, Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, used the term of Mary. It is no coincidence that it was the teaching of Alexander that prompted the most famous “heretic” of all time to begin his heresy: Arius, the great denier of the deity of Christ. Evidently at that time, even in its earliest uses, the term was meant to say something about Jesus, not something about Mary. That is, the term was Christological in force. It was focused on Christ, and was meant to safeguard the truth about His absolute deity.
The term really entered into the “orthodox” vocabulary through its usage at the Councils of Ephesus (A.D. 431) and more importantly, Chalcedon (A.D. 451). We can learn the most about how this term was originally understood by taking a moment to understand why it appears in the creed produced at Chalcedon.
The debate over the complete deity of Christ had lasted for many decades, continuing on well after the Council of Nicea had finished its work (A.D. 325), not coming to completion until the Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381. But once that great truth was properly safeguarded, other questions began to arise. One of those questions went like this: Granted that Jesus Christ is truly God in human flesh, how, then, are we to understand the relationship between the divine and the human in Christ? Was He really a man at all? Did His deity swallow up his humanity? Was there some mixture of the two? Or was Jesus two people, one divine, and one human, just sharing one body?
Sadly, the debate was undertaken in anything but a calm and respectful climate. More time was spent on political maneuvering than upon meaningful exegesis. But despite the rancor of the debate, the resulting understanding was very important, especially for our understanding of the term theotokos.
One of the principle participants in the debate over the nature of Christ was a man named Nestorius. Since Nestorius was eventually condemned as a heretic, we have some doubt as to whether we have a completely accurate (or fair) view of his beliefs, as they have come down to us primarily through the writings of his enemies. Basically, Nestorius objected to the use of the word theotokos. He quite rightly expressed concern that the word could be easily misunderstood. But most importantly, his denial of the propriety of theotokos led him to insist that Mary was the mother only of the human “element” of Christ, which resulted in a functional separation of the divine from the human in Christ. The basic danger of Nestorius’ position, then, was that it led to a Jesus who was two “persons,” with no real connection between the divine and the human.
Those who defended the use of theotokos did so by insisting that the Messiah was fully human and fully divine from the moment of conception, hence, the child who was born was not just a human child with a deity dwelling in him, but was the God-man, the Incarnate One. Chalcedon insisted that Jesus was one Person with two distinct natures, the divine and the human. The divine did not “swallow up” the human, nor was it “mixed” with the human to create something that was neither fully God nor fully man. Nor was Jesus schizophrenic, so that you had a human person, Jesus, and a second divine Person separate from him. One person, two natures.
What is vitally important is that the term God-bearer as it was used in the creed and as it was applied to Mary in these controversies said something about the nature of Christ, not the nature of Mary. “Mother of God” is a phrase that has proper theological meaning only in reference to Christ. Hence, any use of the term that is not simply saying “Jesus is fully God, one divine Person with two natures,” is using the term anachronistically, and cannot claim the authority of the early Church for such a usage.

Johnson:

We have simply failed to honor Mary as the mother of God (which the Bible clearly describes, as Calvin noted, in Luke 1:48) in accordance with the facts of the matter and in contradistinction to the historical Church.

I reply:

If Mr. Johnson would like to make a self-confession here, he has that freedom. But I resent his charging me and my brethren with his shortcomings. I have defended Mary’s true honor in public debate. I have addressed this subject to the best of my abilities so that the people of God might see Mary as she is in Scripture, not as she has been perverted in human tradition.

Johnson:

This sort of failure on the part of the overall Reformed community has practical pastoral implications and it is part of the hypocrisy that those from other communions note quite quickly. We say we honor the truth but we don’t really act like it unless we are talking about the issues we care about.

I reply:

Again, I do not accept Kevin Johnson as the anointed representative of the “Reformed community,” and to bring the charge of hypocrisy in this general way *without at the same time* bringing the much clearer, more easily defined charge of idolatry to Rome’s doorstep, is the very essence of the quote I cited at the very beginning.

I had written:

But it is just as true that 99.99% of all usage of the term in the Roman communion today, and most particularly in the piety of the Roman Catholic faithful, has absolutely positively nothing to do with the original Christological significance of the term. What was historically a statement about Christ has been changed into an exalted title of a redeemed creature, Mary, with connotations utterly unbiblical and, yes, idolatrous. How many millions of times today has someone bowed and prayed, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death”? Somehow that part, however, being in the realm of the “half way to” of Johnson’s journey, does not receive mention.

Johnson:

Again, this sort of straw-man just isn’t the case.

The Roman Catholic Church has taken all sorts of terms and used them in ways different from the Reformers and others. That doesn’t invalidate their proper use.

I reply:

Umm, excuse me, but this is about as poor an argument as you could possibly mount. This is not a matter of taking a term and using it “differently” than the Reformers. The fact is that “Mother of God” is used in Roman piety, 99.9% of the time, in an anachronistic fashion as an exalted, and hence false, title of Mary. It is used throughout the prayers of Romanism in an idolatrous fashion. And it was used that way long before the Reformation. That was my point, and it stands, unless Mr. Johnson wants to defend the Roman meaning and use of the term.

Johnson:

Clearly, Dr. White would view the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification different than his own yet for some reason he hasn’t abandoned that term. Yet I doubt seriously that Dr. White feels that the error of Rome regarding justification is any less serious than what he perceives as the idolatry of Rome regarding Mary and the various terms employed by Roman Catholics.

I reply:

Apples and oranges. Dikaiow/dikaiosune is a biblical term; theotokos is not. I still seek to define my theology by that which is theopneustos, not by that which is not. Rome’s use of theotokos is idolatrous, for it gives to Mary what is to be reserved only for God. It promotes ungodly worship of a creature, not the honor of which the Scripture speaks.

Johnson:

Further, because of our covenantal connection with the historical Church it should be noted that these historical terms concerning Mary such as theotokos are terms that we, as members of Christ’s Church, own.

I reply:

A very good reason not to read the covenant in the way Mr. Johnson is reading it. Are we really being told that because of baptism properly performed in a particular fashion, that there is a “covenantal connection” that means all who are thereby baptized somehow “own” the traditional developments of the Roman system? My trinitarian baptism means I have to somehow honor the idolatrous teachings of Romanism? Can someone show me where the Apostles functioned on such a basis?

Johnson:

They are terms that belong to the Church and they are terms that should be used and used properly to teach the truths of the faith ‘once for all delivered to the saints’.

I reply:

We are to use non-inspired words that have been perverted into idolatrous shibboleths in teaching the faithful? This is what “Reformed Catholicism” teaches us? No thank you!

Johnson:

We shouldn’t be afraid to use them merely because some have abused them. Avoiding terms like theotokos only avoids the very connection we have with all those who have gone before us and it keeps us historically insulated from the very history and doctrine that will help the Reformed Church out of its current dire straits. Are we to think that the writer of Hebrews somehow didn’t value the testimony and contribution of the saints over history (Hebrews 12:1)?

I reply:

Again we have the “dire straits” of the Reformed and, seemingly, Rome’s wonderful orthodoxy? The only connection I have with anyone using “theotokos” is when I go to the Scriptures and defend the full humanity and deity of Christ and the Incarnation: when someone stands on that ground, today, or in the past, we share true communion. But I have no communion with someone who prays to Mary as the Mother of God. The difference, I would hope, is clear.

I had written:

But most amazing was this line, “Her role in guarding Christian orthodoxy concerning the nature of Christ as the theotokos is well known by students of Church history, but her role in the lives of every day Reformed folks is simply non-existent.” Mary had a role in guarding Christian orthodoxy? I would very, very much like to think that Johnson here has simply mis-stated himself, and that what he means is that the use of ‘theotokos’ was relevant to the definition of Christian orthodoxy regarding Christ at a point in time, but that is not the sense of his language. It almost sounds as if Johnson has gone a bit farther than half way and is granting to Mary activities and roles in divinely guiding events on earth.

Johnson:

What was Mary’s role in guarding Christian orthodoxy concerning the person and nature of Christ? She bore Christ–who was fully man and fully God. She was, in a sense, God’s mother and as such the historical and biblical fact of that matter quite simply helped to preserve the Church from error.

I reply:

How is the biblical fact of Christ’s nature relevant to asserting that *Mary* has had a “role” in guarding Christian orthodoxy? Mr. Johnson has been reading more than enough of Congar and others to know that Roman Catholics do, in fact, speak of Mary’s “role” in salvation, in dispensing grace, and in guarding the Church. The Pope speaks often of placing all the world in Mary’s hands. This is the voice of Rome. Does Johnson (rightly) reject such exaltation of a redeemed but fallen creature? Outside of this, this does not explain the use of “role.” That is like saying the baptism of John (a biblical and historical event) played a “role” in protecting orthodoxy. If this is his meaning, it is a very poor and possibly misleading way of expressing it.

Johnson:

Without the reality of Mary’s role as Christ’s mother, Athanasius and others would have had a harder time proving both the divinity and the humanity of Christ. We have got to get past the idea that defending orthodoxy means solely that we deal with abstract propositions. Mary defended Christian orthodoxy because she lived the Gospel and actually is the mother of God.

I reply:

What does this mean? Of course Mary is Christ’s mother; of course Christ was fully deity even at birth (the only relevance of the phrase “Mother of God”); what does this have to do with the shibboleth about “abstract propositions” or living the Gospel?

Johnson:

The “almost” insinuation of Dr. White that somehow I am saying that Mary is “divinely guiding events on earth” is clearly is quite beyond the bounds of normal dialogue and discourse as any reasonable man would admit.

I reply:

Excuse me? Mr. Johnson lists as the books he is reading on his blog men like Congar or Chesterton and he can then say that such a viewpoint is “beyond the bounds of normal dialogue”? It is the very voice of Rome to speak of Mary’s guidance of earthly events. Does he deny the “historic church” here? 🙂

I am out of time, but let me just reply to one more item:

I had written:

Johnson goes on to talk about the “testimony” of the ancient church, yet, if he was serious here, would he not have to train his rhetorical guns on Rome itself for creating dogma out of whole cloth, and ignoring history itself in defining her Marian dogmas?

Johnson:

No. To say one thing about something is not to say everything. I am one lone voice on the Internet speaking about issues that are these days rarely focused upon. That doesn’t deny the truth of other related issues and there are scores of “apologists” out there decrying the evils of idolatry regarding Mary–and there clearly are abuses.

I reply:

Does Mr. Johnson agree with these “apologists” (why the quotes?) that Rome’s dogmas on Mary, her exaltation of her to the status of the Queen of Heaven, and her prayers to her, are, in fact, idolatrous? What say ye, Mr. Johnson? Does the Pope engage in, and promote in others, the sin of idolatry in a formal, doctrinal, dogmatic fashion through his Marian teachings? And are we to believe that we are still joined in some “trinitarian, covenantal” fashion to Rome when she has added *to the gospel* these idolatrous exaltations of a Mary that never did, and does not today, exist?

Johnson:

My personal opinion is that it is best to focus on our own set of idolatries in the Reformed community prior to attacking others.

I reply:

It is idolatrous of the “Reformed community” not to use the term theotokos when discussing the nature of Christ? Well, of course, the Reformed community does. So, it is idolatrous to not use the non-biblical, incorrect usage of theotokos in devotion? Is that what is being said?

I had written:

But once again, we get only silence, for you do not train your guns on those you are seeking to befriend and with whom you are seeking to build unity based upon the “objectivity of the covenant.” Things like the gospel, the ultimate authority of Scripture, and even idolatry itself, cannot be allowed to undo that objective unity.

Johnson:

Again, we are not building an ecumenicity upon compromise. We build ecumenicity upon the legitimate covenantal, sacramental, and trinitarian connections we have with one another. That doesn’t mean we compromise in regards to doctrine.

How can it not mean that? Since this “covenantal, sacramental, and trinitarian” connection is non-doctrinal in nature (at least it does not take into consideration the gospel, and whether the person thusly connected even embraced the truth about God or Christ), how can any “ecumenicity” based upon it be anything other than an act of compromise? What kind of foundation can such a “connection” provide when it says the gospel and the Spirit is not that which unifies Christians in their common bond of faith?

Johnson:

Dr. White is attacking another sort of ecumenism. One that we have seen in the last century utterly fail simply because the Gospel was compromised by these individuals and they did not value the truth.

I reply:

When my theology requires me to join hands with one who holds to a false gospel and call him “brother,” my theology has compromised the gospel.

Johnson:

And, we are condemning idolatry. But, we condemn idolatry everywhere we see it–not just in Rome. Any Roman Catholic will tell you there is idolatry in the Church, but try to get someone in the Reformed Church to tell you the same thing about our own communion.

I reply:

Excuse me, but when has the Magisterium of Rome denied her own infallibility so as to admit idolatry in her teachings? There is a huge difference between saying “there are idolators in our midst” and saying “Rome’s dogmas teach idolatry.”

Mr. Johnson replied shortly after I posted this response. The final paragraph of that reply reads:

Yes, Athanasius and other apologists defended their doctrines, but it was the ordinary reality of the simple salvation of the faithful in Jesus Christ seen quite clearly in lives like the Virgin Mary that had the greatest impact–the working of the Word in the life of the community of the faithful.

It is this kind of assertion that creates so much confusion in the minds of people today. Is this saying Athanasius “missed it” in investing so much time and energy in the defense of the deity of Christ? Was he in error to write books against the Arians, and even suffer himself to be removed from his see five times by force, all over some “propositional doctrine”? How much better it would seem to have been to just not worry about “parsing doctrine” but rather to remain with his people and demonstrate the “working of the Word in the life of the community of the faithful.” But doesn’t this illustrate what I said a number of times above? This kind of statement has the facade of spirituality, and is surely offered with sincere motives, but what good is it if its truth content is nil? The fact of the matter is, to separate out “doctrines” from “the working of the Word in the life of the community of the faithful” is the very docetic kind of theology that rC’s claim others are promoting. There is no separating the CONTENT of the Word, its doctrine, its teaching, from living it out in the community. That is why this debate is so important, for in essence what these rC’s who openly have moved *away from* a stance of vigorous, open, honest debate against the false gospel of Rome (or any other group that has fallen into the Galatian error) into the fluffy middle ground of endless mantras and pipe-smoking, wine-sipping ecumenical fraternity with Chesterton-wannabes are doing is denying the knowability of the substance of divine revelation and replacing it with a complex of traditionally-driven platitudes that place the key issues of the gospel on a lower plane of “negotiables.” They are seeking to create unity based upon something other than the gospel itself, and the result is quite simply hideous, for the union of what “Reformed” means (a passion for God’s sole glory, His inviolable truth, Christ’s supremacy as Lord of all things, and the purity of His gospel) and its polar opposite is unpleasant in the extreme.

And so with this as an apologia, I reply once again to Mr. Johnson:

James White replies:
Ah, but as I had pointed out, Mr. Johnson has not always believed in “Reformed Catholicism.”

Johnson:

No one said I did.

Correct. But let’s keep our eye on the ball. I had quoted the following statement:

“…such men that are for middle ways in points of doctrine have a greater kindness for that extreme they go half way to than for that which they go halfway from.” Traill, Justification Vindicated, 2

I had insisted that this quote is relevant to Mr. Johnson’s writings over the past months: that he is moving away from where he once was (and where I still am), and this explains the drumbeat of “the problems with the Reformed community” in his writings that does not find an equal and opposite “problems in the Catholic community” on the other side, just as the quote indicates. He shows a “greater kindness for that extreme” to which he is going than “for that which” he has gone halfway from. The more we discuss this, the more clearly applicable the quotation becomes. 🙂

James White continues:
He once believed as I. In fact, he has been your standard Southern Baptist of the Arminian stripe, then a conservative Anglican, then back to Southern Baptist, then to a Calvinistic Southern Baptist, then to Presbyterianism. I assume he would see himself as now just a broader-minded, fully covenantally-oriented “Catholic” now.

Johnson:

I wouldn’t characterize my own journey this way, but even Dr. White’s limited vocabulary has one word to explain this transformation: sanctification.

I reply:

I hope the reader will note this, as it is important, and further illustrates the propriety of my original comments. Moving *toward* Catholicism, however one defines that term in this context, is viewed, by this rC, as the result of sanctification. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that I have not been experiencing sanctification since I have not moved from where I am to where Mr. Johnson is. In talking to many of these folks who have moved off into other views I hear the same kind of thinking, “Well, yes, I’ve adopted different views, but that just means you are a crusty traditionalist and unwilling to examine and learn and grow.” Maybe so, but who stands in the closest proximity to truth will be determined in some other fashion outside of merely comparing experiences, to be sure.

Johnson:

Even Dr. White himself was once a “standard Southern Baptist of the Arminian stripe” and even used to be a member of a mega-church (he even used to sing solos in youth choir and go on youth crusades). But why does Dr. White even mention these things as if they were relevant to the actual issues at hand? I think we know the answer.

I reply:

1) For those interested, I never embraced Arminianism. My father was a graduate of Moody Bible Institute in the 1950s, and his Systematic Theology text, which I began looking at as a teenager, was written by a Presbyterian (P.B. Fitzwater as I recall). I had always embraced the perseverance of the saints and election; what I lacked was the technical terminology to see the consistency of the position. I recall very clearly walking alone around the grounds of the Southern Baptist Conference Center at Glorietta, New Mexico (a beautiful place) at age 16 pondering how to fit man’s responsibility with God’s election. And, I not only say solos in youth choir, I was youth choir president, and far more important, sang for two years in “Liberation,” the traveling youth group (we even had a band!); my wife-to-be also sang the second year in that group, and everywhere we sang I would give the countdown, in days, to our wedding. 🙂 2) Why did I bring it up? Mr. Johnson seems to have lost the context: remember the citation above? Mr. Johnson’s theological movements have been around a large portion of the theological map. Mine have not. It is relevant to the citation.

Johnson:

A lot of people have moved away from where you are, James. That doesn’t make either one of us right or wrong.

I reply:

Yes, that does seem to be the case these days. I’m glad truth is not a matter of polls and popularity, anyway. All it says is one of two things: either I’m stuck in tradition and hence appeal to tradition to defend my position, or, other folks seem discontent with the truths they once professed great passion for, and are looking for greener pastures. The only way to decide is to weigh the value, cogency, and consistency of the arguments offered by both sides.

Kevin writes:
That includes a return to the truth. But it also includes a return to our identity as catholic Christians. The assertion of Dr. White above is groundless simply because our position is a return to a fuller magisterial understanding of the Reformation, its contribution to history, and our identity as men and women who stand in line with a great cloud of witnesses over these two thousand years in the Church.

James White states:
I thought the unity of the faith was found in the confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord that is brought forth from the common presence of the Holy Spirit in redeemed souls (1 Cor. 12:3)!

Johnson:

The last time I checked, the Roman Catholic Church properly professes Christ as Lord regardless as to how they misunderstand salvation.

I reply:

Really? You can confess Christ as Lord properly while embracing and in fact dogmatically teaching a false gospel? Would it follow, then, that the Judaizers in Galatia “properly” confessed Christ as Lord? Again, I find this kind of statement useful for all those reading this exchange (and there are more than I thought, I might add in passing). For here we see one of the main areas where I reject rCism: I am not confessing Christ as Lord when I am at the same time denying His gospel, subjecting His Word to human tradition, and teaching others to pray to His mother in an idolatrous act of giving worship to a mere creature. To think otherwise is to engage in the same docetic division of truth and doctrine from confession and life that I noted above.

Johnson:

The requirement both for salvation and for membership in Christ’s Church is not a proper view of salvation–the requirement is believing in Christ (“Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”).

I reply:

More docetic redefinition of terms. What does it mean to believe in Christ? Why does Johnson reject Mormon confession of Christ as Lord and their trinitarian baptism? Because he parses their profession and, seemingly, if he is consistent, makes “a proper view of the godhead” a requirement for salvation. And it is just here the incoherence of this position is seen so clearly: just as you cannot say you are believing in Christ without properly knowing who Christ is (hence the necessity of the proclamation of truth for faith to exist) in the same way you cannot call “faith” that which violates the biblically defined concept of what faith is and what its object is. The same author who quoted that passage of Scripture Johnson cites spent chapters placing it in the proper context. We cannot ignore what he wrote for the sake of a unity based upon some allegedly objective external sign.

Johnson:

And, you are unable to judge the status of the Spirit in men’s hearts so I hardly think your standard is either relevant or realistic.

I reply:

And here we encounter the Federal Visionist complaint: “I can’t see the Spirit, some may fool me, therefore saying that the true bond of unity is the Spirit’s work of regeneration in the heart is not relevant or realistic.” Well, you know, I wonder why we think we will have some greater means of identifying the brotherhood than the Apostles had? Did not Paul work with those who eventually left him and returned to the world? Did his heart not break when that happened? Did not John tell us that those who go out from us were never truly of us to begin with? Such a statement flies in the face of rCism’s “objectivity,” for the reality is that the true basis of unity is, in fact, internal, Spirit-borne, and involves that common commitment to divine truth that the enemy of God cannot long abide. But for those who have experienced that unity and that fellowship, the “replacement” concept of an objective sign that is devoid of truth, devoid of the gospel, devoid of the Spirit, will have no attraction at all.

Johnson:

Baptism, of course, is the symbol of union with Christ and all men who are baptized whether as infants or as adults participate in His lordship and pronounce that very same profession that “Jesus is Lord”.

I reply:

So you say, but again, I do not see any baptism in the Scriptures that is disconnected from the gospel of Jesus Christ, experienced in faith, immersed in repentance, birthed in love for Christ. And when you can place this external sign in the context of a false gospel and still call it Christian, I simply refuse to follow you, for you cannot offer me the first meaningful biblical reason to follow you.

Kevin writes:
If anything, Reformed Catholicism has a higher view of truth and doctrine than our self-styled “opponents” suppose simply because we place the appropriate emphasis for our day on the ‘pillar and ground of the truth’.

James White replies:
In context, 1 Timothy 3:15 is about the local body. 🙂

Johnson:

Even if I grant this, so what? That doesn’t mean it can’t be applied to the whole Church by implication.

I reply:

I never said otherwise, but the fact remains that in context Paul was talking about the local assembly, and as one who believes a thoroughly biblical, semper reformanda based ecclesiology is important, I reject the idea that rCism is actually offering a *higher* viewpoint. I believe any departure from the biblical norm is a *lowering* of the standards.

Johnson:

Where else is salvation found on this earth but in the Church? What else does the Church as a whole do but proclaim the truth? What institution throughout the last two thousand years has preserved the Scriptures?

I reply:

If these statements were allowed to be consistently applied, one could never, ever call Rome “the church” as a result. Does Mr. Johnson follow his own logic to its final conclusion here?

Johnson:

But, it is your Baptist ecclesiology that forces you to see this verse as only applying to the local church. Calvin had no problem seeing it refer to the Church, not the local church as you claim (see his Commentary on the First Epistle to Timothy).

I reply:

That’s nice, I prefer the Scripture itself. As I wrote in Dangerous Airwaves a few years ago:

but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.

The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy and gives him instruction, as an elder in the church (probably at Ephesus), on the manner of conduct that should prevail in the fellowship of the church. Note that conduct is something that speaks to behavior within the visible church, the organized body with elders and deacons. The preceding context is all about elders and deacons and the everyday activity of the church as an organized body of believers. The description of the church as the church of the living God is first and foremost a description of the church as she exists in the local body of believers. This is a vital point.
Sound exegesis requires us to look closely at Paul’s words and the context in which they would have been understood by his child in the faith, Timothy. One vital point to keep in mind when reading Paul’s letters to Timothy is seen in the common source both used in their teaching and preaching: the Greek Septuagint (the LXX), the Greek translation of the Tanakh, the Old Testament. Both used the same source in their teaching and preaching, and therefore, when we find Paul using terms that come directly from the LXX, we should be quick to realize that Timothy, being a student of the Scriptures himself (2 Timothy 3:14-15) would likewise make the same connections. And what do we find when we look at the terms Paul uses in this passage?
The first thing we discover is that the terms Paul uses are echoed in the pages of the Old Testament Scriptures. He speaks of the church as the “household of God.” David had used the very same language long before. In 1 Chronicles 29:3 we read,

Moreover, in my delight in the house of my God, the treasure I have of gold and silver, I give to the house of my God, over and above all that I have already provided for the holy temple.

These words were spoken, of course, in the context of the temple of God that was to be built in Jerusalem. This temple became the focus of the worship of the one true God. In the same way the church is the place where the central focus is the worship of God through the reading of the Scriptures, prayer, and the singing of God’s praises. God is glorified and praised in His church, throughout the ages, as we will see in Paul’s exposition to the church at Ephesus.
In a similar way the phrase “the living God” would have evoked a number of images in Timothy’s mind, including these:

But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth quakes, And the nations cannot endure His indignation. (Jeremiah 10:10)

‘For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? (Deuteronomy 5:26)

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God? (Psalm 42:2)

My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD; My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. (Psalm 84:2)

Joshua said, “By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite. (Joshua 3:10)

Then David spoke to the men who were standing by him, saying, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26)

In each of these passages the phrase “the living God” contrasts the true God of Israel with the false idols of the surrounding nations. It contains an implicit assertion of monotheism and a denial of the existence of any true God outside of Yahweh (cf. Isaiah 43:10). The living God is greatly concerned about His worship and His glory (all idols are, by nature, unconcerned about such things, and those who control the worship of such abominations are the ones who are manipulating people to their own ends), and by drawing from this Old Testament terminology, Paul is continuing to emphasize the continuity between God’s revelation of old and this new work, that of the church.
He continues the motif by describing the church as the “pillar and foundation of the truth.” The word he chooses for “pillar” is used a number of times in the LXX. In Exodus 13:22, 14:19, and 33:9 the pillar of cloud/fire, representing God’s presence and protection, uses this term. And in 1 Kings 7:15 the bronze pillars in the Temple are described using the same word.
When we listen, then, with the full effect of the background of the Old Testament in place, to the description Paul gives of the church in 1 Timothy 3:15, we can hear it at the “volume” it would have carried in its original context. Remember, Paul is exhorting young Timothy in both his letters to him to stand strong in the service of Christ within the church. We are encouraged to give our best in the pursuit of the highest goals and the most exalted service, so Paul reminds Timothy of what he had surely already taught him in person. The church is the household of God, under His divine and sovereign rule. It is a divine institution, established at the command of God, sustained by His Spirit. And the church has a purpose as a result: it is the firm, unmoving ground upon which the truth can stand without fear of falling to the ground. The terms “pillar and foundation” speak to the strength of the church in providing a ground upon which the truth can be based. Surely for young Timothy this would be a great encouragement, but do not forget that for Paul this would be just as great a boon, for he was facing the end of his life, and could not but consider the future, filled with challenges and dangers, and pray for the continuing health of the young church. He had confessed to the Corinthians that there was upon him the “daily pressure of concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28), so surely that had not ended when he wrote to Timothy. And yet he knew the truth: the church would endure because it is not a merely human institution, it is divine in its very nature. God had decreed the church to function as the ground and support of the truth, holding forth the word of life and worshipping Him who is truth itself. This did not make the church the truth itself (indeed, Paul’s epistles, written to churches, almost always have corrective elements, demonstrating the constant need for reformation in the fellowship), but the intimate relationship between the true church and the truth itself is unmistakably taught in Scripture.

Johnson then quoted Calvin on the church’s authority, which, obviously, is ironic, since Calvin likewise rejected Rome as participating in that authority. My point was that rCism may speak much of the church, authority, magisterium, and the like, but rC’s can’t point you to SPECIFICS regarding the identity of this church, just as the ecclesiastical text theory cannot deal with any particular textual variant. Mr. Johnson may not see the relevance, but it is clear for others.

Kevin writes:
For too long, Reformed theology has found its home in overly systematic abstract propositions and our churches have suffered immeasurably as a result.

James replies:
It is a hasty, overly broad, unfounded generalization to state this, yet, it is taken as axiomatic by “Reformed Catholics,” at least those who offer their views under that title.

Johnson:

Hmmm…yeah…I guess no one ever in the Reformed Church has had problems with being really heavy into doctrine and really light on practice.

I reply:

Note the shift: The first statement is broad and general, as rCism always is; when challenged, now we look to *particular incidents* of failure. I know most of our readers can see that kind of false argumentation quickly, but some of those more heavily influenced by modern American “sound bite” thinking struggle to see it, hence I point it out.

Johnson:

This coming from the man who has problems seeing anyone who doesn’t explicitly endorse sola fide as his brother. Yeah…okay. Deny reality all you want…and whatever you do, don’t actually deal with what is said. Just dismiss it outright.

I reply:

Please note again the insistence of rC’s to define my faith without reference to the rather large volume of material in print under my name. Those who have read my blog can see the difference between making the explicit confession of sola fide the standard and responding to the *direct denial of sola fide.* Have I “dismissed outright” Mr. Johnson’s position, or have I demonstrated inconsistencies an identified those places where his argument is made up solely of his own ipse dixit? Let the reader decide.

Johnson:

I don’t even need to substantiate that one statement I make above since whole conferences have been dedicated to this pastoral problem among Reformed churches (just review the tapes from the last two or three Auburn Avenue Pastors’ Conferences–regardless as to what you think of their solutions, try to figure out what problem(s) they’re trying to combat in Reformed churches). Also, Lewis Schenck’s The Presybterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant addresses some of the roots of this problem.

I reply:

Argumentum ad populum. “They’ve had conferences, so, my original statement, universally broad as it was, can be defended by reference to individual instances!” Again, let the reader decide.

Kevin writes:
Reformed Catholicism, on the other hand, is pastoral in nature in that it puts theology back in its place while returning to the Church the honor it is due.

James White replies:
How is halting between two positions “pastoral?”

Johnson:

You have mischaracterized our view and tried to frame it in a way in which we have not construed it. Why don’t you allow us to state our own position?

I reply:

What is the mischaracterization? Is it not a halting between two positions, even when Mr. Johnson identifies his move as one of “sanctification”? What makes it “pastoral”? How does one define pastoral in a biblical sense?

Johnson:

Reformed Catholics are Reformed and fully confessional. I go to a church that is faithful to the original Westminster Confession of Faith. You seem to leave that out of your equation. We are returning to a theology and ecclesiology that is much more in line with the magisterial Reformers and just because you don’t agree with it doesn’t mean you have license to misconstrue it.

I reply:

That’s nice, but again, the mere assertion of it does not mean it is true, does it? How did we get from the bland assertion that rCism is “pastoral” to this point?

< snip irrelevancies >

Johnson:

Paul himself had respect for the High Priest of the Jews (Acts 23:1-5), yet I dare say we do not accord what we would view as similar figures in the historical Church even an ounce of the same respect.

I reply:

Connecting Caiaphas to “similar figures in the historical Church” is a fascinating concept. Might we refer to the Pope here, for example?

< more “let the reader decide stuff skipped >

Johnson:

This of course adequately and tactfully handles the claim of Roman Catholicism concerning prayers to Mary and other saints or any other action by men that would detract from the proper and exclusive worship of God.

I reply:

That’s great….so, is there agreement then, that, no matter how tactfully one might wish to put it, the tradition, long held in “Christendom,” that not only allows, but promotes, and identifies as godly, prayers to Mary and saints, is not only in error, but detracts from the singular glory of God, and is utterly reprehensible?

James White writes:
(does Mr. Johnson pray to Mary? I have asked before. It is a custom clearly approved by tradition and the “historic church” is it not? If not, why not?).

Johnson:

I’m not going to answer a question like that. I already have clearly answered it.

I reply:

I missed the part where we are given a clear, usable, consistent standard by which to reject this historical tradition found in ancient Christendom and (rightly, I surely believe) to be rejected on the basis of comparison with inspired writ, and any other such tradition, such as, say, alleging that trinitarian baptism creates Christian unity? Or Marian doctrines? Etc.? I missed that, and would very much like to see Mr. Johnson produce this clear, usable standard.

Johnson:

Besides, I’m not sure that you’ve ever demonstrated that just because someone mistakenly prays to Mary that they are an idolator. Athanasius prayed to Mary, are you going to call him an idolator?

I reply:

Mistakenly? How does one judge this? Yes, if that is the case, it was idolatrous, wouldn’t Mr. Johnson agree? Ambrose’s long paeans of praise to Mary are definitely deleterious to the glory of Christ, are they not? The question is, now that that is clearly established, does the person today who rejects that offered light sin in a greater fashion than the one doing those things in ignorance in the past?

Johnson:

This section of your reply more than any other just amazed me. At one point you claim we shouldn’t use the term theotokos because of the misuse it receives in Roman Catholicism and at another point you defend your own use of the term as it relates to Christology. Which is it?

I reply:

My position has been in clear black and white print (not on a blog, in a book) for years, and I cited it and quoted from it. The term, as a Christological term, accurately describes the truth that Jesus Christ was the God-man at His birth, hence denying formulated Nestorianism. But the developed, pietistic usage of the term, which has lost all sight of the Christological context of its origin, and turned it into a statement about Mary herself, so as to exalt her and make her the object of prayers, is utterly inconsistent with godliness and Spirit-borne piety. How is this unclear?

Johnson:

Also, here I’m reading on Mary a lot according to you and for that reason you are perfectly legitimate in taking my statements in the worst possible sense as if I’m already Roman Catholic–yet on the other hand you want to maintain how ignorant I truly am of Mary’s role and the accompanying vocabulary throughout the history of the Church.

I reply:

He who puts his thoughts out in the context of blasting all of Reformed life and practice should not be surprised to be challenged. 🙂 Mr. Johnson may wish to curb his enthusiasm for rCism and stop lumping everyone into a big pile and blasting them with the rC Mantra Gun in the future: it is hard to defend universals such as those that fill his statements (as documented before).

Johnson:

See, you merely agree with me and you don’t even know it. I don’t even know why you bothered to argue against what I said regarding the fact that the Reformed Church simply ignores Mary because of the “overemphasis upon Mary in Roman Catholicism”.

Thank you very much, next time I am just going to quote you.

I reply:

Great. However, to do so, you will either 1) have to stop shooting all of the “Reformed community” in the head with your overly general and vague accusation, or 2) dismiss me from that community, since I’m the one who wrote those words. 🙂

James White writes:
Further, what does it mean to state that the “church” has honored her in a particular manner for two thousand years? Does Johnson find some consistency in Marian devotion that is traceable over that period?

Johnson:

What does Luke 1:48 mean? Even you in your own book have called her “blessed”. Why don’t you flesh it out for us?

I reply:

I’d suggest that book to Mr. Johnson’s reading. 🙂

Johnson:

I find it interesting that you quote yourself to substantiate your understanding of this point. Most scholars do that only sparingly and then generally only to avoid rehashing something that they have already clearly established elsewhere. Your method however is to point me to what you have written whether it establishes what you are saying or not.

I reply:

The cited portion contains relevant historical information to the Christological controversy that gave the term its creedal (as opposed to pietistic) meaning; and, since I have made that same distinction as to when it is proper to use the term (in Christological definition) and when it is not (in pietistic exaltation of Mary as a creature to the status of the Mother of God), what better way of establishing the basis of my point?

Johnson:

The passage you referred me to does not deal with the scholarly literature on this subject in any sense and was written for laymen.

I reply:

Ah, let’s not let the laymen in on our conversation! That’s no fun! 🙂

Johnson:

It doesn’t have supporting documentation other than the most basic of Christian sources (Kelly, for example) and frankly fails to demonstrate your point. I would have preferred a more bulletproof refutation from you (would that you could provide it) but instead I am left to deal with the general statements of a book which clearly does not deal with the requisite issues at hand concerning the title of theotokos and its use in history by the Church.

I reply:

When you write your first book, Mr. Johnson, I will have a basis upon which to evaluate your less-than-subtle ad-hominem. 🙂 Till then, let’s get to the meat of the matter….

Kevin writes:
But, the very fact that Dr. White sees the term as a “Christological” term makes my point quite clearly. Theotokos described who Mary was, not Christ. The fact that the early Church used this title to defend orthodox Christology does not take away from the reality of the designation in describing Mary. There is still no reason to describe her as other than theotokos and the only reason we don’t has to do with how the Roman Catholic Church and others outside the Reformed world have used the term.

James White replies:
Mr. Johnson’s church history is weak here. Theotokos IS a Christological term. Its origins are Christological. As I had written…

Johnson:

Well, as I state above, quoting yourself doesn’t justify your position. Maybe you can demonstrate your position, but thus far you haven’t.

On the contrary, there are scholars that disagree with what you have written–that somehow theotokos is only a Christological term and says nothing substantial about Mary.

I reply:

Mr. Johnson does not seem to grasp the difference between the meaning of a term in Christological definition and a very different usage in pietism. Even a layman can actually understand that a term can bear one meaning in one context, and another meaning in a another. His fevered efforts to show himself scholarly by citing sources only proves that the distinction I have offered still misses his thinking. I am well aware of the fact that Ambrose, for example, uses the term in a pietistic context, *and I have consistently rejected such a usage, going all the way back to when I began teaching church history in 1991 while Mr. Johnson was a student at the school where I was teaching.* The fact remains that, if Johnson were to have any consistency in his position, his own self-professed adherence to the WCF would likewise force him to hold to the very same distinction I have enunciated between the pietistic usage of the title and the creedal one. So all the posted verbiage from Pelikan or anyone else is little more than a display on Johnson’s part, for I had read those works long before he was even aware of them. The fact remains that nothing he cites addresses what I said, which he requotes:

After all that, we read from the book by James White:

What is vitally important is that the term God-bearer as it was used in the creed and as it was applied to Mary in these controversies said something about the nature of Christ, not the nature of Mary. “Mother of God” is a phrase that has proper theological meaning only in reference to Christ. Hence, any use of the term that is not simply saying “Jesus is fully God, one divine Person with two natures,” is using the term anachronistically, and cannot claim the authority of the early Church for such a usage.

Now, is Johnson ready to DENY that the “proper theological meaning only in reference to Christ”? Is he going to say it is consistent with the WCF to join Ambrose in his paeans of praise to Mary as the Mother of God? We simply seek some level of consistency here, and finding it in rCism is a difficult task indeed.

Kevin writes:
We have simply failed to honor Mary as the mother of God (which the Bible clearly describes, as Calvin noted, in Luke 1:48) in accordance with the facts of the matter and in contradistinction to the historical Church.

James replies:
If Mr. Johnson would like to make a self-confession here, he has that freedom. But I resent his charging me and my brethren with his shortcomings. I have defended Mary’s true honor in public debate. I have addressed this subject to the best of my abilities so that the people of God might see Mary as she is in Scripture, not as she has been perverted in human tradition.

Johnson:

Frankly, speaking of oxymorons, I don’t consider Reformed Baptists as Reformed anyway so I really wasn’t talking about you or your “brethren”. Let us be clear–Calvin wouldn’t have thought Reformed Baptists as Reformed either.

I reply:

Well, there you go! All Johnson has actually been criticizing are….who, Presbyterians? No, not Southern Presbyterians, so, he must mean others. Well, great, there you go! I guess that means we non-Reformed Reformed Baptists are not guilty of having not honored Mary properly. Whew, I’m glad we cleared that up!

Johnson:

I was speaking in general of the Reformed community at large. What you have done with Mary in any proper sense is frankly irrelevant to this part of the discussion so I don’t understand why you are so upset when I didn’t even address you in the first place.

I reply:

Again, great to know we have handled Mary properly, since we are not Reformed anyway! Of course, seriously, my concern is over the confusion engendered by such articles as Johnson’s, and the damage they do to the apologetic effort, but that was established a long time ago to the reader who has been following all of this.

Kevin writes:
Clearly, Dr. White would view the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification different than his own yet for some reason he hasn’t abandoned that term. Yet I doubt seriously that Dr. White feels that the error of Rome regarding justification is any less serious than what he perceives as the idolatry of Rome regarding Mary and the various terms employed by Roman Catholics.

James White replies:
Apples and oranges. Dikaiow/dikaiosune is a biblical term; theotokos is not. I still seek to define my theology by that which is theopneustos, not by that which is not. Rome’s use of theotokos is idolatrous, for it gives to Mary what is to be reserved only for God. It promotes ungodly worship of a creature, not the honor of which the Scripture speaks.

Johnson:

It’s not apples and oranges and besides…

I reply:

Ipse dixit. I pointed out the category difference, it is ignored.

Johnson:

“Dikaiow/dikaiosune” is the theopneustos term, not the English term “justification” or its Latin equivalent. And, even still, you know full well that many biblical concepts are phrased in non-biblical words that have been used as well as abused over the years.

I reply:

I will take that to mean there is no rational response to my established point that Johnson’s argument was in error. 🙂

James White replies:
A very good reason not to read the covenant in the way Mr. Johnson is reading it. Are we really being told that because of baptism properly performed in a particular fashion, that there is a “covenantal connection” that means all who are thereby baptized somehow “own” the traditional developments of the Roman system? My trinitarian baptism means I have to somehow honor the idolatrous teachings of Romanism? Can someone show me where the Apostles functioned on such a basis?

Johnson:

No. I am saying we have a heritage in terms of our Christianity. And, that heritage is a heritage we should own, not disown. You never saw the Apostles of the New Testament disparaging their heritage to the point where they did not consider their historical fathers as a part of the people of Israel. In fact, the New Testament tells us that even the disobedient ones were a part of the providential salvation of God for us in that they serve as examples of how not to “work out our salvation”. So, even the great evils of the Kings of Israel for example become for us a thing of inestimable value. Likewise, in later centuries in the Church, those corruptions and doctrinal errors which resulted from the activity of the historical Church are still examples for us to profit from and to the extent that we can use them to reach others, to improve our own inadequacies, and to walk humbly before our God we should do so with all our might.

I reply:

So, rCism says we should look to certain Popes, for example, like we look to Ahab as a glaring example of unbelieving, God-hating idolatry to be avoided? Is that what I’m hearing here? If so, I guess we agree! 🙂 But I do wonder, however, if that wouldn’t mean the Apostles would have been friendly to the phrase “Reformed Unbelieving Pharisaism”?

James White replies:
What does this mean? Of course Mary is Christ’s mother; of course Christ was fully deity even at birth (the only relevance of the phrase “Mother of God”); what does this have to do with the shibboleth about “abstract propositions” or living the Gospel?

Johnson:

What does this mean? The Christian faith is about the reality of Christ. It is not about the proper doctrine of Christ. It is not about the proper doctrine of salvation. It is about the reality of the Second Person of the Godhead coming down to us through the theotokos, Mary, to be the God-man Jesus Christ.

I reply:

OK, if the reader has started getting a little fuzzy brained, time to refocus. Read that citation again. Think for just a moment about what it means to say the Christian faith is about the reality of Christ, but, it is not about the proper doctrine of Christ. Could someone, please, without using pious platitudes that communicate nothing at all tell me what the “reality” of Christ is without the truth of Christ? This sounds like Christian Science to me. How does one experience the reality of Christ without the truth of Christ and without the gospel of Christ? Can someone point me to the inspired Word where this docetic distinction between the teaching of Christ and His gospel is made secondary and irrelevant while the “reality” of Christ is maintained? Never mind, I know. Nothing can possibly be offered. The utter disconnection between stating “it is not about the proper doctrine of Christ” (tell Athanasius that one) and then stating “to be the God-man Jesus Christ” is hard to handle. How on earth does one know Jesus is the God-man without the proper doctrine of Christ? I don’t know, but evidently, this kind of division is inherent to at least Mr. Johnson’s version of rCism.

Johnson:

It is about His Lordship, it is about her service and sacrifice. All of these things speak to concrete realities and it is these realities that defended the orthodox doctrine of Christ so that millions afterward would not just understand the greatest story ever told but that they would live out the reality of that story in their own lives.

I reply:

Great. And the truth of the Lordship of Christ is communicated to us in Scripture by….DOCTRINE. What is so hard about that? Anyone who has a problem with that needs to re-read 1 and 2 Timothy a few times.

James>>>

About Francis de Sales:

Around 3PM this afternoon or so I added a brief comment on Francis de Sales, a man proclaimed a “saint” by the Roman Church, and in fact elevated to the lofty position of “Universal Doctor of the Church.” Within about three hours Mr. Johnson responded on his website. It is a very zealous response, very much filled with emotion and commitment to his newfound viewpoints. But I also think it provides, for the one who wishes to see the result of turning baptism into the “objective sign of the covenant” (so that Christian unity is based upon it) the clearest warning I have yet observed as to the result of this movement.

I had noted that de Sales wrote a series of tracts which were put together in his work The Catholic Controversy. This work remains in print today. It is an extended anti-Reformed polemic, from which modern defenders of Rome’s teachings often draw. The subjects are those that have defined the battleground for centuries, summed up by saying de Sales denies the solas of the Reformation with every fiber of his being. He denies the sufficiency and clarity of Scripture, promotes Papal ultimacy, and, as a result, promotes all of the central soteriological errors of Rome, including such errors as purgatory. The majority of the text comprises a historical argument for the supremacy of the Roman magisterium, and one will be disappointed if one searches for meaningful biblical argumentation against Reformed theology regarding the supremacy of grace, predestination, the perfection of the atonement, etc.

I did not mention, but will add here, that de Sales had experienced “despair” in his studies under the Jesuits regarding the doctrine of predestination. It is surely significant to me that he was freed from his confusion about the subject while kneeling before an image of Mary, resulting in his consecration to the Virgin. For the person who holds to the Bible as the God-breathed revelation that defines Christian truth, someone who is “freed” from a biblical doctrine while engaged in an act of idolatry is not someone one would wish to emulate or promote.

I note these things for a simple reason: de Sales was no ecumenist. He saw that there was no middle ground, no “reformed Catholicism” to look to. He sought not to create a synthesis with Reformed theology; he hated Reformed theology, and he exercised every fiber of his mind and soul toward its destruction and banishment from the areas where he could accomplish such an end. If one believes the gospel as expressed by Reformed theology is, in fact, the most biblically consistent, divinely powerful summary of God’s self-glorification in Jesus Christ, Francis de Sales openly, fervently sought to destroy the very object of your passion, the hope of your soul. He was, without question, an enemy of the gospel of Jesus Christ, just as much as an Arius, or a Pelagius, or a Judge Rutherford, or a Joseph Smith or a Victor Paul Wierwille.

I noted the quotation Mr. Johnson includes under his Chesterton citation, “”We must recapture Christianity…we must recapture Geneva.” We need to realize what this meant for de Sales: this was not “We must work hard to create an historical synthesis in Geneva, and examine our traditions, and make adjustments, and create a wonderful Christian culture.” No, for de Sales, this meant the gospel that frees from the tyranny of Rome must be banished, destroyed, wiped from the minds of those who had embraced it, and the old system of works righteousness, of indulgences and merit and purgatory and relics and priestly absolutions, had to be forced back upon the inhabitants. This was de Sales’ “Christianity,” and it was what he wanted to bring back to Geneva. We are talking here about nothing less than the utter overthrow of the Reformation in Geneva, the destruction of the life’s work of John Calvin. And this is the citation Kevin Johnson places on his blog.

Mr. Johnson’s defense expresses, with a clarity I could never hope to provide in my own words, the end result of the concept of trying to wed the God-centeredness of grace as expressed in the gospel of Jesus Christ with the man-centeredness of the idea of baptism as the “objective sign” of the covenant. When Christian unity based upon the work of the Spirit in creating in the heart a burning passion for the purity (yes, purity, now a dirty word in some circles, which only proves that for many lurking in the rC movement, the real goal is to conclude that we simply cannot know the gospel with sufficient clarity to worry about its purity) of the gospel is replaced with an external ritual (properly done, of course), the resultant system simply cannot make room for the gospel any longer. The biblical gospel is too big, too powerful, to be shoved in the little corner left for it by rCism.

Mr. Johnson wrote:

For those overly committed to modernism and all of its glories, this exercise may be somewhat difficult–especially if you are predisposed to a position that is contrary to a more historical and objective view of the Church of Christ and the covenantal terms of her membership.

I reject and refute the false assertion that believing in objective truth, Scriptural sufficiency, Scriptural perspecuity, and the simple fact that God has spoken plainly, is “modernism.” I believe in defining the church biblically, first and foremost, and I do believe in the covenantal terms of her membership: I just think that covenant as revealed in Hebrews 8 is perfect, complete, and whole, and is not entered into by means of baptism, but by means of the sovereign grace of God.

Mr. Johnson wrote:

Francis de Sales was a Roman Catholic bishop in Geneva during the Reformation and one of the key figures of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. He was indeed responsible for turning many men away from Calvinism and back to the Roman Catholic Church. Strange words to appear on a web site dedicated to blogging about the Reformed faith, at least if you view such words only in one way–one particularly wooden and modern way.

The “wooden and modern way.” Keep in mind once again we are talking about a man who was an avowed enemy of the very substance and heart of the gospel. It would be like someone who invests their heart and soul in evangelizing Jehovah’s Witnesses placing a citation of Arius on their blog page without any indication that it is meant to be taken in a negative fashion.

Mr. Johnson writes:

For, Francis de Sales is a part of our heritage. By virtue of his baptism he is to be considered a member of the New Covenant of Christ.

There we go, in a nutshell. Hence, by virtue of his baptism, every Pope of the Pornocracy, every grand Inquisitor, every murdering Crusader, becomes “part of our heritage.” Every false teacher, every false brother, becomes a part of our heritage. Despite the fact that Hebrews tells us that those in the New Covenant are redeemed and forgiven (not just Hebrews 8, but Hebrews 10 as well), once we embrace the “Federal Vision” and make baptism the “objective sign,” we are left with this perspective: the very enemies of the cross become our Fathers in the Faith, and Francis de Sales takes his place as well. I utterly, unequivocally, reject this idea as without the slightest element of biblical basis.

Mr. Johnson continues:

Yes, he led men astray and out of the Reformed Faith back into Roman Catholicism. But, how is this different from men today in our own churches that unnecessarily lord over others with their authority as elders,

How is it different? Unless Mr. Johnson is talking about false teachers, it is very different. de Sales was promoting a false gospel in direct contradiction to the truth, and that knowingly. If Mr. Johnson has a problem with an elder in a church, there are mechanisms in place to deal with such a situation, but there is obviously no comparison to a Roman Catholic prelate whose mission was to contradict and attack the gospel of Jesus Christ. (And I note in passing the confirmation, once again, of what I have said so often: when you have a clear, compelling example of a Roman Catholic attack upon the gospel, the response is to turn the gun upon….Reformed communions. How very, very odd).

Mr. Johnson continues:

that elevate justification by faith alone as an artificial standard regarding fidelity to the gospel,

How very sad these words are to anyone who knows that without that truth one has kicked open the door to the entire flood of God-dishonoring systems that have plagued God’s people for ages. For some odd reason, Paul thought it so central he discussed it at the very head of his explanation of what God has done in Jesus Christ. Oh yes, the enemy has thrown everything including the kitchen sink at that truth in every generation, and surely today’s blogosphere would provide enough denials of that vital truth to clog the heartiest of Internet connections, but God’s truth has never been determined by popularity votes, thanks be. rCism has elevated “trinitarian baptism” to a point where it is not only artificial, it is simply wrong, for it leads to the denigration of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to a negotiable, an “artificial standard.” God protect us! And pause to consider for just a moment that this is said in the context of paralleling it with de Sales attack upon the gospel itself! Amazing beyond words.

Johnson continues:

that idolize abstract doctrine higher than any wooden idol ever had,

Who knows what this is supposed to mean? Perhaps it refers to those who make the Trinity definitional, so as to exclude Mormonism’s trinitarian baptism? Those who “idolize” the truth of the Son as an eternal person so as to say those who deny the Incarnation are anti-Christs (1 John 2:19ff)? Possibly Paul himself, who said that if you allowed yourself to take that first step down the road of works-righteousness that Christ would be of no benefit to you (Gal. 5:2-4)? It is hard to say, for rC’s repeat as a mantra, without providing any compelling or meaningful substantiation, this constant allegation of “abstract doctrine.”

Johnson continues:

that refuse to treat their brothers with simple Christian charity,

Remember, this is being said in comparison with de Sales’ attack upon the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Johnson:

that feel free to joke about what they consider as potential apostasy of their brothers in Christ, and that condemn men as heretics without any effort towards proper ecclesiastical governance?

Obviously Mr. Johnson has “issues” he is referring to here, but staying on course, remember this is all being offered as a parallel to de Sales’ attacks upon the gospel!

Johnson:

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not going to Rome. I don’t personally agree with the theology of Francis de Sales, or his activity of calling men back into the Roman Catholic Church, but I do agree that as one of the fathers of our faith he knew that taking back Geneva for what he considered to be the true faith is something we should consider in our own day. Not a return to Roman Catholicism, but a return to a Reformed Faith that is what it should be–catholic and obedient. Yes, SEMPER REFORMANDA!

And once again we are left in the odd semi-twilight world of rCism where words just do not seem to carry much in the way of meaning. Notice that Reformed elders engage in idolatry, but Johnson “doesn’t personally agree” with de Sales’ theology or activities. I get the distinct feeling there is a lot more passion in Johnson’s dislike of the alleged “idolization” of “abstract doctrines” than in de Sales’ wholesale assault upon the gospel of Christ. But, despite de Sales’ activities, he is “one of our fathers in the faith.” No, Mr. Johnson, he may be one of YOUR “fathers” in the faith, but just as the Judaizers were not my fathers in the faith, Francis de Sales is not, either. There is every reason to believe Joseph Smith was properly baptized as a Methodist at one point: does that make him my “father in the faith?” Of course not! Here we see what happens when baptism is made the definition of “the faith” and the gospel is not only minimized, but is in fact denied any ability to function as definitional of the Christian faith! What an incredible sight to behold! And so we are told that the reason for the citation is that we must “retake” Geneva for a “Reformed faith that is what it should be–catholic and obedient.” What does that mean? No one knows. Catholic as de Sales would have interpreted that word? Evidently not. Obedient? To what? We are not told.

Johnson then goes off on a tangent about criticizing Reformed churches (fine: doing so by positively citing an enemy of the gospel and making him one of our “fathers” in the faith is the issue).

Johnson:

Sometimes that means I’ll quote someone completely for my own purposes, such as Francis de Sales (whose work on the devout life is fascinating, by the way)–we should own the vast resources of the catholic Church over the centuries. Francis de Sales is part of our heritage and no matter how regenerate one feels the Church should be or is it is simply not in accordance with the facts to think that somehow he wasn’t a part of Christianity over the last two thousand years, just as Ahab was still an Israelite and King of Israel.

And once again we see the result of confusing the true unity of believers, which is based upon the truth of the gospel made alive by the Spirit of God, with a false unity based upon a misunderstanding of the nature of the New Covenant and the role of baptism. On this level every false teacher we could look at down through the centuries who labored hard in the service of that falsehood is worthy of citation today as “part of our heritage.” Goodness, do we not have sufficient *believing* examples we can cite without going to these?

Johnson:

I quote Francis de Sales because we need men of his spirit that–regardless of their confessional heritage or denominational stripe–are quite dedicated to turning the world upside down for Jesus Christ our Lord and ‘the one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’.

A man who was “freed” from the biblical doctrine of predestination in a visionary, idolatrous moment before an idol and who gave his life to the enslavement of men’s souls to empty religion is to be emulated? So we are to point to the hard-working heretic? This is the vision of rCism? Note again the purposeful exclusion of the gospel of grace from any defining role in what is, in fact, Christ’s truth, and Christ’s church.

Many years ago Mr. Johnson was part of a group of us who passed out tracts to those attending the LDS Easter Pageant in Mesa, Arizona. He may well remember the very, very zealous LDS missionaries who would do everything in their power to remove our tracts from the hands of those who had taken them. I wonder now if Mr. Johnson would call us to admire their zeal? Here were men who believed they were doing God’s will, believed they were doing what was right, yet, they were removing a Christian witness from the hands of many who desperately needed to hear that truth. How do those men differ from de Sales? If the only reason is, “Well, they were not baptized by properly ordained ministers,” doesn’t that say everything that needs to be said about rCism?

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