Dr. White has already blogged Francis Beckwith’s comments on the term “Roman Catholic” (link to Dr. White’s comments). Dr. White’s comments were great, succinct, and to the point. I figured there was nothing left for me to blog about on this subject. However, subsequently I came across a very different response to Beckwith’s comments and consequently I drafted the following response to a blogger who goes by the nick, “John Z.”
John Z at The Boar’s Head Tavern writes:
[Francis] Beckwith seems to think that his particularly vocal Protestant apologist detractors are using the prefix “Roman” as a pejorative instead of being merely descriptive. This is probably true to a certain extent, because I’m sure many of them have no use for the word “catholic” themselves.
I certainly can’t speak for all of Beckwith’s detractors, but many of us take being catholic (in the true sense of the term) seriously. For us, to be “catholic” means to have the universal (that’s what “catholic” means) faith. It means to believe in the gospel. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church. Rome is not a part of that church. The Roman church is not a catholic church because it has anathematized the gospel. The way of salvation that Rome teaches will not lead one to heaven, but to hell. It is, therefore, misdescriptive to call the church of the pope, “the catholic church.”
John Z continued:
I have no problem if Beckwith and other Roman Catholics want to identify themselves as just simply “Catholic.” The terminology has evolved in such a way that it’s the first thing people think of when they hear the word. However, in the comment box, people are gently pushing back, reminding him that the creed talks about the “holy catholic church” and that there are plenty of Protestants (myself included) that are perfectly comfortable using the term for themselves in the sense that it means in that context. In this sense the “Roman” prefix would not be a pejorative but would rather be descriptive of what sort of “catholic” you are talking about.
There seems to be something of a dichotomy here. We don’t use the term “Roman” to specify which sort of “catholic” a person is, but to indicate that the term “catholic” is not being used in its ordinary sense, but as part of a sectarian designation.
There are other ways we can designate members of that sect: “Romanist” and “papist” are two that have been in common use among the Reformed churches for centuries. Both of those terms are descriptive labels relating to the ecclesiology of Rome (“papist” referring to being an adherent to the papacy, and “Romanist” referring to being an adherent of the bishop of Rome). When folks like Beckwith complain that there are many rites of Roman Catholicism and that the Latin rite is just one of those rites, it encourages folks like me to use the term “papist” to avoid any confusion over the fact that I don’t mean “Latin rite” by the term “Roman.”
Of course, the term “papist” tends to ruffle the feathers of Roman Catholics worse than any other descriptive term, so we sometimes try to minimize needless (even if it is unjustified) offense by using the term “Roman Catholic” or “Romanist” instead of “papist.”
After a brief quotation from Beckwith (which we’ll address last) John Z concludes:
Beckwith is my brother in Christ (internet apologists send in the attack dogs!), but I think this is kind of an immature response. In my opinion, he ought to be pleased that more and more Protestants are seeing the necessity to call themselves “catholic” with all it entails (first and foremost that we don’t think that centuries went by without any true church).
Francis Beckwith is an apostate evangelical. We have no good reason to think that he has saving faith in Jesus Christ. Folks who view Beckwith as their “brother in Christ” seem to have either a different notion of the gospel itself (which I am inclined to suspect is the majority of the cases), a very different notion of who should be called a brother in Christ (perhaps some of the Federal Vision folks would fit in here), or perhaps a different experience with Beckwith (after all, just because someone is a member of an apostate church does not guarantee that the person themselves is a full adherent to their church’s teachings).
I doubt many folks would be willing to call Bart Ehrman, another and more famous apostate evangelical, their “brother in Christ.” But if you claim to be an evangelical Christian, why would you accept one apostate and not the other? Do you think that the legalism of Rome saves? Do you think that adherence to the Roman pontiff is a true way to the Father?
I realize that John Z may be a very kindhearted person who does not like to judge someone. Yet there are some times when judgment is necessary and appropriate:
1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
Furthermore, I think John Z must be a bit naive. Why would Beckwith be pleased that those he must view as “heretics” (though perhaps Beckwith does not view them as Trent did) want to consider themselves “catholic”? We who view Rome as a proponent of heresy are not happy that Rome is attempting to call herself “catholic” – why would Rome be happy to have heretics apply that label to themselves? But John Z does not view Rome as heretical, so it is not so obvious to him. Hopefully, he recognizes that Mormonism is heretical. If so, is he happy when Mormons refer to themselves as Christians? I would hope not.
But it is worse than simply being a misdescription or simply a matter of Beckwith being grousy over a term that he should be happy for evangelicals to appropriate. Here is the final piece of John Z’s comment including his blockquotation of Beckwith:
Beckwith concedes this point but doesn’t seem to take it too seriously, finally saying:
I guess it should not surprise me that a Protestant would not only protest against the Catholic Church but also the Catholic Church’s use of the word Catholic. He’s not pleased with just leaving our church and having his own church; he wants to take our name and give us a new one. So much for the “priesthood of all believers.” 🙂
Does Francis Beckwith really think we consider him a believer? We don’t. Surely Beckwith is aware of this.
But worse than that, notice that Beckwith claims that “catholic” is “our name.” He’s not only using a term that’s misdescriptive of his sect, but trying to claim exclusive use of the term for his sect. Rome and her pontiff try to claim universal dominion over Christianity. That is, after all, one of the reasons that the Reformers identified the office of Roman pontiff with the man of sin:
2 Thessalonians 2:3-4
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
Even Arminius understood this:
It is demonstrable by the most evident arguments that the name of Antichrist and of The Adversary of God belongs to him. For the apostle ascribes the second of these epithets to him when he calls him “the man of sin, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” (2 Thess. ii. 3-8.) It was he who should arise out of the ruins of the Roman empire, and should occupy its vacant digaity. These expressions, we assert, must be understood, and can be understood, solely respecting the Roman pontiff. But the name of “The Antichrist” belongs to him pre-eminently, whether the particle anti signifies opposition, or the substitution of one thing for another; not indeed such a substitution as is lawfully and legitimately made by Him who has the power of placing things in subordination, but it signifies one by which any man is substituted, either by himself or by another person through force and fraud. For he is both a rival to Christ, and his adversary, when he boasts of himself as the spouse, the head, and the foundation of the church, endowed with plenitude of power; and yet he professes himself to be the vicegerent of Christ, and to perform his functions on earth, for the sake of his own private advantage, but to the manifest injury of the church of Christ. He has, however, considered it necessary to employ the name of Christ as a pretext, that under this sacred name he may obtain that reverence for himself among Christians, which he would be unable to procure if he were openly to profess himself to be either the Christ, or the adversary of Christ.
– Arminius, Disputation 21, Section 12
These days, however, folks have lost sight of what matters – of the importance of affirming sola fide against the legalism of Rome. Arminius was wrong to treat faith as he did – and his errors were serious errors. Dordt was right, but Arminius looks positively orthodox against the backdrop of the broad landscape of contemporary evangelicalism and especially the “ecumenical” segments thereof.