Once again we have been given further evidence of the damage done by embracing inherent contradiction (aka “reformed Catholicism,” which is neither) in one of the most amazing articles I’ve cast eyes upon in…days. Kevin Johnson, who has lately been keeping himself at the top of Phil Johnson’s blog spotting escapades by arguing about coffee and alcohol, attempted a broad-minded, “I really like this Marian stuff but I’m not a Roman Catholic, really” response to Jason Engwer of NTRMin. And in the process we have been given example after example of what happens when you embrace a system that is inherently self-contradictory. Just a few quotations:
But these early documents do not invalidate the Roman Catholic opinion on the matter-whether Mary was a perpetual virgin, sinless, or whether she was assumed.
The Roman Catholic opinion? OPINION? Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the field knows these are not opinions they are dogmas. De fide definitions of the faith itself, unquestionable, undeniable. That would be like referring to the “Reformed Baptist opinion on election” as if it was something we could chat about over a cup of coffee but it really did not define the faith of Reformed Baptists. I would think a Roman Catholic would find such fuzzy ecumenical redefinition of the de fide elements of his faith as mere “opinion” less than useful as well. It is the hallmark of the ecumenist to reduce such issues to “opinions.”
And, anyone who studies the fathers knows well that the Marian doctrines in question did develop naturally and almost without resistance over the next thousand years after the Apostles passed from the scene-so much so that Mary made her way into the creeds and the early councils of the Church.
“Developed naturally”? What is that supposed to mean? Developed, to be sure. But development is a term capable of numerous meanings. You can have godly, biblical development, where Scripture is the guide that keeps that development from wandering into error. And then you have that kind of development that denies Scriptural correction, which becomes evolution, perversion, and the result, a mutation, not a “natural development” from biblical truth. But since Mr. Johnson seems to be claiming to be one who “studies the fathers” then he well knows that the modern face of Marian theology would have been utterly unknown to the earliest centuries, and that they would have found the teaching of such things as dogmatic, de fide beliefs simply incredible.
Johnson goes on to once again dredge up the “Reformers didn’t reject the perpetual virginity of Mary” argument–would he admit, we hope, that if they were consistent with their own position, they would likewise have decried, with the loudest possible voice, the elevation of the Immaculate Conception and the Bodily Assumption to the status of dogmas, and would likewise identify the current push to have the Fifth Marian Dogma defined as utter idolatry? The modern Roman view of Mary has changed substantially since the Reformation–and always for the worse. Schaff was correct, and that long before the elevation of the Assumption to dogmatic status:
After the middle of the fourth century it overstepped the wholesome Biblical limit, and transformed the mother of the Lord into a mother of God, the humble handmaid of the Lord into a queen of heaven, the highly favored into a dispenser of favors, the blessed among women into an intercessor above all women, nay, we may almost say, the redeemed daughter of fallen Adam, who is nowhere in Holy Scriptures excepted from the universal sinfulness, into a sinlessly holy co-redeemer. . . . Thus the veneration of Mary gradually degenerated into the worship of Mary; and this took so deep hold upon the popular religious life in the Middle Age, that, in spite of all scholastic distinctions between latria, and dulia, and hyperdulia, Mariolatry practically prevailed over the worship of Christ. . . . The Romish devotions scarcely utter a Pater Noster without an Ave Maria,and turn even more frequently and naturally to the compassionate, tenderhearted mother for her intercessions, than to the eternal Son of God, thinking that in this indirect way the desired gift is more sure to be obtained. To this day the worship of Mary is one of the principal points of separation between Graeco-Roman Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism. It is one of the strongest expressions of the fundamental Romish error of unduly exalting the human factors or instruments of redemption, and obstructing, or rendering needless, the immediate access of believers to Christ, by thrusting in subordinate mediators. Nor can we but agree with nearly all unbiased historians in regarding the worship of Mary as an echo of ancient heathenism. It brings plainly to mind the worship of Ceres, of Isaia, and of other ancient mothers of the gods; as the worship of saints and angels recalls the hero-worship of Greece and Rome. (Philip Shaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume III, pages 410-411.)
Johnson continues with this quip:
[Yes…yes…I can hear the Reformed Baptists snicker in the background, “Yeah yeah see we told you it’s not true doctrine otherwise we’d see it in the early fathers”…but really, who cares about their opinion since they would reject the doctrine even if we found huge explicit support for it in the earliest days of the fathers?…AS IF they held any value to the fathers in the first place!]
I have documented Mr. Johnson’s “extend all possible grace to those in the direction you are traveling, but spit on those who are where you know in your heart you once were” method of ecumenism in the past. Here is another example. As a Reformed Baptist, I do hold to sola scriptura. I do believe if something is going to be a dogmatic assertion, it must be taught in Scripture. Such was once normative in non-Roman Catholic circles. It still is for Reformed Baptists. But Mr. Johnson knows better when he says Reformed Baptists see no ‘value’ in early Christian writers. First, in the context of the Marian dogmas and Rome, it is Rome who often claims her beliefs are “apostolic” in origin, hence, when you have century after century go by in utter silence of what Rome has, in modern times, said is dogmatic Christian truth, the relevance and importance if obvious to all but the most jaded observers. Secondly, Mr. Johnson was once a student at a school where I taught…church history. He knows Reformed Baptists can appreciate the writings of Christians from the past without investing in them some kind of “traditional authority” that turns their viewpoints into a “lens” through which divine truth must pass before it can be truly understood or acted upon. But it is so easy to heap this kind of rhetoric on those who have remained consistent in their beliefs while you have swerved radically in all sorts of different directions.
Finally, Johnson opines,
We forget too that Athanasius and other greats of the Christian faith clearly involved themselves in commemorating Mary and honoring her beyond what certain fundamentalist types deem as acceptable orthopraxy.
Mr. Johnson may forget such things—I surely do not. Is it his position that one must accept everything someone believes to appreciate their lives or their testimony to the grace of God? Does Mr. Johnson believe everything Athanasius believed? If not, what standard does he use to evaluate even the great bishop of Alexandria? I use Scripture, that unchanging plumb-line of truth. Given Mr. Johnson’s movement from this church to that, this viewpoint to that viewpoint, what is his standard? Or does the question reveal its own answer?