Why Aren’t You A Catholic?
Dr. Beckwith narrates a conversation he had with his niece. She asked him why he was not a Roman Catholic. His response was,
I proceeded to tell my little niece that I had great respect for the pope and that I have learned much from the Church’s great thinkers, including Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II. I also told her that I agree with most everything that the Catholic Church teaches on matters concerning God and Jesus, but I disagreed with it on other things having to do with the authority of the Church and the nature of communion and some of the other sacraments. (RTR 74-75)
While this answer was being given to a young person, and hence would not be as full as might be given in another context, the fact is that the reply is telling all the same. I have often been asked the same question in various venues, and my response is, Lord willing, consistent. “Because Roman Catholicism has a gospel that does not give peace, because it fundamentally violates the Scriptural teaching on how one is made right with God. Rome has a false gospel that cannot save, hence, I have no reason to abandon the peace I have with God through Christ’s perfect atonement for the treadmill of Rome’s sacramental system of salvation.” One would think that anyone who has purposefully crossed the Tiber because they have encountered the gospel and been changed thereby would have a similar response. Beckwith’s reply is a tepid statement of taste, a general “we are very much the same, but I have a few disagreements on these side issues” type of thing that while reflecting a lot of modern evangelicalism is likewise far removed from the heartfelt motivations of the Reformation.
Having given this response, Beckwith then asked the question cited above. It likewise reflects that he was still very much in the middle of the Tiber River, for the person who has embraced the gospel of grace has not only landed his boat on the far side, but has torn the boat apart to use the wood as a pulpit from which to proclaim freedom in Christ to those trapped on the other shore. But Beckwith can speak of “permanently” abandoning Rome as something he could not yet actually justify! Surely this kind of statement demonstrates the thesis at hand, as no person who has found peace in the gospel of grace in contrast to Rome’s sacramentalism will forget to mention that as the primary reason he or she does not submit to Rome’s claims of authority.
Later, when Beckwith was asked the same question after a lecture at Boston College by Laura Garcia, herself a convert to Catholicism from “evangelicalism,” Beckwith’s response once again finds its source in the Tiber River itself. His answer says nothing of the gospel. Likewise, it says nothing of sola scriptura. It is a distinctly non-Reformed answer, one that showed no heart-felt commitment to the Reformation. (RTR 76-77) Once again, I am very much aware of the fact that there are many today in non-Catholic churches that would answer as Beckwith did. My point is that they, too, are paddling around in the river, without a solid foundation upon which to stand. The Reformation isn’t over for the person who cares to think deeply about what matters from a biblical perspective. I see no reason to believe that Frank Beckwith would have ever agreed with me on this point.
(Continued in Part III)