The Year, The Crucible, and the Journey Home – James Carter Dawkins

16996450_10102044371162540_6141505078630460951_n

THE YEAR

I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina and I grew up here. My parents are deaf and they met at the North Carolina School for the Deaf in Morganton, NC. I have one sister, Megan. When I was fourteen, my parents filed for divorce. This was a difficult time for me as a teenager. I was beginning to form my identity at the same time my family was falling apart. Of course, God’s providence was present and always is. My dad moved into an apartment and I went to live with him. We moved around to different apartments for a couple of years. Finally, we ended up in a town home in the Ballantyne area of South Charlotte. It was this year and the subsequent years that changed my life forever.

I began attending Harrison United Methodist Church. It was within walking distance from my new home. I attended by myself. I had no family at the church. My dad wanted to go often but there was no interpreter so he would have had to guess what was being taught. I wasn’t the best interpreter for difficult concepts. I quickly joined the youth group and began learning guitar. I led worship for years and traveled all over North Carolina sharing my original songs. Those years were powerful. I will never forget them. I call this period of my salvation “The Year” because there was never one point at which I came to faith but it was a gradual process over a specific year that I only came to realize years later. God’s providence is most clearly seen in hindsight.

I graduated from high school and began attending Central Piedmont Community College. My parents couldn’t afford college and I received a Pell Grant for each semester I attended. My years of general education were free for me. I was grateful. I knew that I wanted to study the Bible so I signed up for general education courses along with biblical courses. I attended Southern Evangelical Seminary part-time. The school was founded by Dr. Norman Geisler and Ross Rhoads. The contrast between my religious education at SES and CPCC was tremendous. God was teaching me that obtaining a religious education is not the same as studying religion. In a similar way, this principle would stay with me while in search of the Christian tradition that I felt most comfortable about.

THE CRUCIBLE

In the Spring of 2008 I began reading more than I ever have in my entire life. It wasn’t until I became a Christian that academics became important to me. Everything was intriguing! The Bible was the first book, that I can recall, that helped improve my grammar and reading ability. Years later, I came to the conclusion that I was fascinated by all subjects because, for the first time, I believed that all truth would lead me to God Almighty and they did, in one way or another. Before this, academics was an arrow pointing nowhere. I could learn about this or that but at the end of the day, it didn’t really change my life and many fundamental questions were never answered. Dr. Norman Geisler wrote about sixty percent of the books that were assigned each semester. He is an excellent Christian apologist. There is no doubt in my mind that he has brought many people to faith by challenging their doubts and objections. I learned much from his books and other important books throughout the semesters.

My first course at SES was An Introduction to the Book of Revelation with Dr. Barry Leventhal. Four views? There are different views of the Book of Revelation? I was dumbfounded. The correct view at SES, I slowly gathered, was based on some important presuppositions, but nonetheless, was Premillennial Dispensationalism. This was a specific eschatological view of the timetable concerning the last days and Christ’s return. It is simultaneously a view of God’s revelation throughout the Bible. This view taught that there was a seven-year period of tribulation after the church age and that Christ would rapture his church prior to the tribulation (or during the middle or end). Christ would return for the Battle of Armageddon and reign from Jerusalem’s Temple on earth for a thousand years.

I began to question how important eschatology was compared to the essentials of the Christian faith. I slowly became more concerned with unity concerning the primary teachings of Christianity and less concerned with secondary teachings. During my time at SES, I noticed that there wasn’t much liberty in non-essentials. It began to bother me. Dr. Leventhal was a fantastic professor and by the end of the course I better understood the Book of Revelation. However, years later I saw that my first course and my first experience within Christian theology at SES was entirely focused on a non-essential doctrine, namely, Premillennial Dispensationalism.

I studied in depth, philosophy, systematic theology, apologetics, history, hermeneutics, soteriology, and many other rigorous subjects. I remember when I was taught St. Thomas Aquinas’ metaphysical arguments from motion and contingency for the existence of God for the first time. As soon as it clicked (intellectually) I had never been more excited about anything academically in my entire life! Metaphysics gave me a greater understanding of the world around me. I began to cherish the works of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine of Hippo, Alasdair MacIntyre, Etienne Gilson, Peter Kreeft, C.S Lewis, and Mortimer J. Adler. I felt intellectually challenged but often times did not feel any closer to Christ. There was a liturgy missing. There was a rhythm and habit that was missing. My behavior didn’t change much. I began to question if apologetics really mattered as much as SES seemed to suggest. This played an important role in my search for the right ecclesiology. Apologetics, at this particular school, seemed to be directly associated with many non-essentials, such as, my education on eschatological views in conjunction with hermeneutics. There was no question that SES was impacting the culture for Christ, but temperance is a virtue that teaches us moderation. A human being, a Christian, needs more than intellectual development. We need discipline physically, mentally, and spiritually. We need our entire beings shaped by Christ, not only our intellects. Thomas Merton, a Roman Catholic Monk, writer, and theologian, once wrote, “Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.” I am reminded of what Jesus said to his disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19) Jesus seemed to capture the essence of discipleship. It was a balance of knowing and doing. It is a process and an adventure. This balance of knowing and doing played into my search for Christian formation, which eventually led me to the Roman Catholic Church. At the end of my undergraduate studies at SES I had enrolled into the Master of Arts in Philosophy degree program but I was already so drained and lost concerning God’s calling on my life that I withdrew from the school. I spent almost a year trying to figure out what was next.

I enrolled at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in the Fall of 2011 in order to discover new challenges and new perspectives on Christianity. Dr. Donald Fairbairn was my favorite professor. He is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity. Fairbairn ministered in Soviet Georgia for a year and then taught theology, New Testament, and apologetics at Donetsk Christian University in Ukraine from 1992-1996. He studied the differences and similarities between the West and the East in regards to history, philosophy, and Christian doctrine. In addition, Dr. Fairbairn is an expert on Patristic Theology. This course was one of the first courses I took with him. I later took a course with him on St. Augustine of Hippo. There were some differences between SES and Gordon-Conwell. SES focused heavily on systematic theology, classical apologetics, and a unique Evangelical Thomism, with a taste of other subjects. Gordon-Conwell focused on a wider range of subjects in depth. At Gordon-Conwell I was able to read the early church fathers in context without only grabbing certain quotes for an apologetic purpose. They also offered spiritual formation seminars each semester. We would gather with a diverse group of people and worship. Another advantage of attending Gordon-Conwell was the more present Reformed theology. This helped me clear up many misunderstandings but further confirm my anti-reformed theological position. I found that all Reformed doctrines had to begin with Scripture and end with Scripture. Scripture is the sole source of authority and teaching for Reformed theology. However, I thought that this was a problem because I had always wondered what role the church and tradition played. I was much more systematic in my thinking, always comparing natural theology to sacred theology. I always believed that wherever truth was discovered, God was the ultimate source. Aquinas’ views of natural and sacred theology helped shape my thinking. A person can begin with the natural world and discover many truths, especially about God (Theology Proper), but God had to reveal himself in order for us to discover sacred theology. These two branches of systematic theology were able to compliment one another in a most beautiful way. Reformed theology was one of the pillars that contributed to my conversion to Roman Catholicism.

THE JOURNEY HOME

I never thought I would ever end up converting to Roman Catholicism. The perspective that SES taught me, especially in regards to theology proper, was that Christian thought had its high point in the medieval period and began to crumble afterwards. This was a period of dialectic argumentation, syllogism, logic, and systematic theology. My views of Christian theology and church history slowly began to shift towards Roman Catholicism. Reformed theologians, and many other Protestants, usually hold an opposite view of church history. The medieval period of Christian theology was the root cause of why the Reformation had to take place. I still believe that Aquinas’ day was the high point for philosophy, especially in regards to Christian thought. Etienne Gilson wrote a book called The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy, this book brought Thomas Merton into the Roman Catholic Church. It enlightened him. Aquinas’ teaching on Divine Simplicity and Aseity are among some of the doctrines that helped me smoothly transition into Roman Catholicism. These ideas, for me, were revolutionary and lost within modern day Protestantism.

Dr. Norman Geisler states that he finds the reasons for converting from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism are inadequate. He notes, “Catholics didn’t seem to live a transformed life. Catholics would swear and get drunk, there was nothing appealing about their behavior, and they seemed to live an unsaved life.” (Geisler, Norman L. Why I’m not a Roman Catholic. Copyright 1994. http://normangeisler.com/why-im-not-a-roman-catholic-mp3-audio-file/ He notes that he had every reason based on his upbringing and education to convert to Catholicism but he never did. On the contrary, Evangelicals seemed to love him and pray for him. They picked him up on a bus for a couple of years and brought him to the church for a bible study. He witnessed a body of professing Christians that were attempting to obey what Scripture taught. Catholics seemed to leave Christian teaching within church walls.

In a presentation to a local church, Geisler lists three main categories of reasons to convert to Catholicism: Aesthetical, Historical, and Philosophical:

  1. Aesthetical Beauty. Beauty is not a test for truth. If beauty is a test for truth then you could end up any religion. You could end up as a Buddhist.
  2. Historical-The Catholic Church is ancient. Age isn’t a test for truth. There are many religions such as Hinduism that are older than Christianity.
  3. Philosophical- Intellect is not a test for truth. Geisler comments, “That’s why I’m not Roman Catholic, I don’t have to sacrifice my mind and pledge blind allegiance to the Church (Catholic).” Geisler goes on, “Authority isn’t a reason for becoming Roman Catholic, it’s a good reason for becoming Muslim.” “I believe that the reasons that people are becoming Roman Catholic are not biblical reasons and they are not necessarily rational for becoming Catholic…My reasons for not converting are doctrinal.”Geisler then lists seven doctrinal reasons for not converting:
  1. Roman Catholics added books to the Bible. There are eleven books that were added centuries later at the Council of Trent in the early 16th century.
  2. Roman Catholics add works to faith for salvation. You have to live a life of good works and receive merit along with faith.
  3. Roman Catholics pray to saints and to mother Mary rather than Jesus.
  4. Roman Catholics believe in Purgatory. Very few people will go straight to heaven without paying for temporal sins. Even some popes will go through Purgatory before heaven. This is an insult to the cross of Christ. Why isn’t his death satisfactory?
  5. Roman Catholics add idols to worship. They practice idolatry. Bowing to the alter, they are worshipping the host rather than Christ himself.
  6. Roman Catholics believe in the infallibility of the Pope. There were heretical popes. St. Peter made mistakes on doctrine and St. Paul corrected him. At some points, they had more than one pope at a time. Each pope was excommunicating the other.
  7. Roman Catholics add uniformity to unity. We have unity, come back home. True believers have unity. Spiritual unity is what matters-concerning doctrine not simple uniformity. St. Augustine or someone other than him said, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things, charity.” If you take this formula and apply it to the Evangelical Church you have unity. The Catholics have institutionalized salvation. They have broken it into seven pieces. These are the seven sacraments.

Joshua Betancourt co-authored Is Rome the True Church? A Consideration of The Roman Catholic Claim with Dr. Norman Geisler. (Geisler, Norman L. Joshua M. Betancourt. Is Rome the True Church? A Consideration of the Roman Catholic Claim. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.) The book’s objective was to undermine the Roman Catholic Church’s claim of authority that was given to them by succession from Jesus, to Peter, to the later Apostles, to the present day pope and magisterium. A couple of years later, to Geisler’s surprise, Joshua converted to Roman Catholicism. Why? I’m confident that his research brought him to the point of conversion. I believe he concluded that there was no good reason not to convert and that Roman Catholicism circumvented doctrinal issues amongst Protestants, if it did not already address them in detail. Apostolic succession is a pillar of Roman Catholicism and it’s claim to authority but it isn’t the only issue to consider for conversion.

While I listened to Geisler’s lecture at a local church from a website, I began to realize that the categories and supporting doctrinal reasons listed above by Geisler are also reasons not to remain an Evangelical Christian. They are all reasons not to remain Protestant. It isn’t as if these categories only apply to Roman Catholic conversion. These categories could be used for conversion to many different religions (as Geisler points out). It is too ambiguous. I will grant Geisler the benefit of a doubt since he was in fact presenting to a body of Christians and not partaking in a formal debate. Nonetheless, Geisler’s reasons for abstaining from conversion to the Roman Catholic Church may be overcome.

AUTHORITY & SOLA SCRIPTURA

St. Matthew’s gospel reads, “Because he (Jesus) taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” (Matthew 7:29) Jesus claimed authority and he also claimed his Father’s authority over heaven and earth. Authority matters and Roman Catholic’s claim it. Of course, this doesn’t mean they are correct but at least they are claiming it in effort to keep order and unity the Church. One of the biggest mistakes in the history of Christendom was removing the authority from the established Church to the Bible alone. All of Geisler’s seven doctrinal reasons for not converting to Roman Catholicism may be resolved once a person determines their position on religious authority. If the Bible isn’t the only authority for all Christian faith and practice then perhaps evaluating the Roman Catholic claim of ecclesiastical authority is worth the time. Authority is the very thing that began to dissipate for Protestants as the consequences of the Reformation began to unfold. Protestantism makes Scripture alone the supreme rule, but uses tradition and reason as a means in ascertaining its true sense. (Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, vol. 7, History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), 26.) After spending years in Protestant churches it seems that the “true sense” of Scripture is still being debated. This is an erroneous position. I began to lose faith in the Reformation principle Sola Scriptura. I see it as the primary principle that there is no unity amongst Protestants.

Without unity concerning doctrine and practice, heresy begins to creep into the church. For example, this is why there are Protestant churches that teach that abortion, homosexuality, and religious pluralism are acceptable beliefs and practices because God wants you to be happy! How do we resolve this? Who will have the final word? Protestants are pointing to Scripture as the final authority but at the same time disagreeing about what Scripture teaches. Protestants are their own authorities on all faith, practice, interpretation of Scripture and tradition. Therefore, there must be another source of authority alongside of Scripture that would bring unity. Did Jesus only leave us a written testimony from his disciples as a sole authority or did he also leave us the Church? Jesus left us the Church, which carried with it, the Scriptures.

Sola Scriptura is the pivotal debate within the debate on religious authority. Douglas Beaumont succinctly concludes, “Protestantism, in principle and in practice, cannot unify Christians. Sola Scriptura effectively makes unity in moral code, doctrinal creed, and liturgical practice impossible, for every appeal to Scripture is an appeal to an interpretation of Scripture, and men interpret the Scriptures in radically different ways.” (Beaumont, Douglas M. Evangelical Exodus: Evangelical Seminarians and their Paths to Rome. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2016. 249.)

Accepting the authority of the Roman Catholics and a long-standing tradition alongside of Scripture has provided me with a robust systematic Christian worldview. This brings true unity.

CANONICITY

Dr. Geisler argues, First, Roman Catholics added books to the Bible. He assumes that they have no right to add books to the Bible. Geisler has already determined that the biblical canon was closed indefinitely and that it was closed by possibly the 5th century at the latest. There have been many collections of Scripture (Old Testament) throughout the early centuries of Christianity. At no point in the early centuries of Christianity was the canon considered closed indefinitely. The church formed the canon through the centuries using specific criteria such as apostolicity and orthodoxy. However, even given some great criteria for discovering the canon, it was the Church that had to decide and or discern. The truth is, the Church both discovered and determined the biblical canon. It was the work of centuries of faithful Christians attempting to pass on the accurate teachings of Christ, his disciples, and apostles. Beaumont notes,

“The canon issue might have seemed settled after one and a half millennia, but with the Protestant Reformation came renewed discussion. The Reformers produced a new canon devoid of the Old Testament “apocryphal” books, and Martin Luther’s famous distaste for The Epistle of James (“a right strawy epistle”) and his questioning of the “disputed books” (“antilegomena”) is well known.” (Beaumont, 221)

The Council of Trent was the Roman Catholic Church’s response to many of the Reformers and their arguments. The council brought unity out of chaos. Authority, correctly understood and not limited to Scripture alone, brings ecclesiastical unity. This enables the church to authoritatively decide the biblical canon.

Second, Roman Catholics add works to faith for salvation. Following closely behind Sola Scriptura is Sola Fide “Faith Alone” These Solas are radical departures from the history of Christendom. Salvation isn’t only a matter of faith in Christ. It is obedience to him through works and faith. Our behavior matters and it is the Church that helps sanctify us through worship and acts of service. We are slaves to Christ. We don’t only believe in Holy Communion but we partake of it by eating the bread and drinking the wine, the real and present body and blood of Christ. The Eucharist is a matter of life and death! St. James the Apostle writes,

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead…you see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”(James 2:14-17, 24 NRSV)

Protestants have stumbled over themselves trying different ways to interpret this verse and other supporting verses but have failed. The Roman Catholic Church doesn’t try to trivialize the passage by reading Sola Fide into it but rather allows their theology to be shaped systemically by many channels of wisdom, including tradition, and this does not only come from the Bible but from the foundation laid by the apostles and saints before us. The “Sola Reformation” began to read its new theological principles into Scripture because of disagreements with the current state of the church. Beaumont argues, “Thus, (Catholics) are justified by faith because faith is the beginning of justification, but justification is not by faith alone because dead faith does not justify; rather, justifying faith is faith animated by love (Rom 2:6-16; Jas 2:14-26).” (Beaumont, 277). After all, a Christian with this dead faith can lose their salvation. Jesus prayed, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 17:11-2) Judas followed Christ. Judas also left him. He abandoned him at the hour of greatest need.

Third, Roman Catholics pray to saints and to mother Mary rather than Jesus. I tend to see this as a Red Herring fallacy. This is the same debate as Geisler’s Fifth Objection listed below. It doesn’t address the real ideas or concerns that may require debate. Idol worship seems to be what this is concerned with. Catholics do not pray to Mary and other saints over praying to Jesus, as if the saints had more authority than the triune God himself. They pray to the saints as the communion of saints. What is wrong with asking St. Michael to defend you from evil? What is wrong with praying to St. Peter to ask for his faith? Catholics aren’t asking the saints to stand in the place of Christ himself. We follow the saints as they follow Christ. This is similar to the relationship of confessing sins to a priest. The priest is the earthly authority of Christ to us—similar to the high priest in Old Testament times. Joshua Betancourt, a former Evangelical, emphasizes the importance of the saints in the church,

“As an Evangelical, I and many other believers often defaulted to a ‘me and Jesus’ mentality and practiced a form of Christian individualism. The Catholic Church articulates the exact opposite- the remedy for individualism…It is in the Church, in the communion with the baptized, that the Christian fulfills his vocation…From the Church he receives the Word of God, the grace of the sacraments, the example of holiness…the spiritual direction and long history of the saints who have gone before him, and whom the liturgy celebrates in the rhythms of the sanctoral cycle, the feasts of the saints.” (Beaumont, 66)

Our society is crumbling from the scum of individualism! The economy is driven by products focused on individuals. This is why American culture is so broken. We have forgotten the family. The family is the first form of government and the foundation of government. If the family is broken, then the government is broken. We need accountability and the communion of saints helps us towards righteousness and holy living. It helps us believe and find comfort in that we are not alone as Christians but practice and celebrate these Christian mysteries with millions of saints around the world and throughout history. As Dr. Hahn notes, “The Mass—and I mean every single Mass—is heaven on earth.” (Scott Hahn, The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth. New York: Random House, 1999. 5. ) We are participating in the Lamb’s Supper!

Fourth, Roman Catholics believe in Purgatory. Purgatory doesn’t make sense to Protestants because of their view of salvation. The most popular view of atonement is known as Penal Substitution. Christ took our place on the cross. God is a Judge who pardons us. “It is forensic in nature. That is, justification is a legal exchange in which we get Christ’s righteousness while he gets our sins…” (Hahn, 60) Christ took our place. This sounds very appealing but it may be inaccurate. “The Protestant view sees a covenant as a contract, and exchange or goods, whereas the Catholic sees covenant as a kinship bond, an exchange of persons.” (Hahn, 61) If the Catholic view, the Satisfaction view of atonement, is true then Purgatory not only makes sense but reveals further, the holiness of God our Father and his justice. Beaumont notes,

“It also sounds odd to Protestants that one is expected to pay for their sins since Jesus already paid for them at the cross. What more is there to pay for? Of course, we’re dealing with an equivocation here. Jesus paid for the eternal consequences of sin (resulting in forgiveness), but that payment does not necessarily remove the temporal consequences of sin (resulting in perfection). This idea is found in the Bible: God forgave Adam and Eve, but they still suffered the consequences of the Fall. God forgave Moses, but did not let him enter the Promised Land. David was forgiven for murder, but lost his child.” (Douglas M. Beaumont. Explaining Purgatory to Protestants.

This is what Catholics call Venial sin. Purgatory is the means of perfection for any with venial sin that may remain. After all, God is holy; it makes sense that he would require this in his presence. If you have been to a public swimming pool, they usually require guests to take a quick shower, regardless of your hygiene, before entering the pool. As weak as it might be in comparison to God’s holiness, this is a good analogy to help a person better understand Purgatory. The Catechism notes, “The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire.” (CCC, 1031. 1 Cor. 3:15, 1 Pet. 1:7) Purgatory may be a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church but isn’t really the heart and soul of Roman Catholicism any more than Evangelical views of Eschatology are to the heart and soul of Evangelicalism.

Fifth, Roman Catholics add idols to worship. Catholics do not worship idols any more than Protestants worship their bibles, interpretations, presentations, worship bands, youth ministers, church buildings-including carpets and furniture, and celebrity pastors. I’ve spent time in Protestant churches that seemed to be more concerned with the cleanliness of their carpets than whether it was a safe and fun atmosphere for children to play, where musical instruments were more valuable than the worship itself, where mission trips were more about aggrandizement than service to the body of Christ. These were conclusions based on my personal experiences within the Protestant church and shouldn’t reflect the character of all Protestant churches. Protestants can be accused of idol worship just as much as Roman Catholics. However, Catholics do not worship idols. Catholics utilize tools that point us to higher things. The Sign of the Cross, for example, requires our hand to move from our head, to our hearts, and our shoulders from left to right. This may signify three things, to know God, to love God, and to serve God. The Rosary is yet another tool that helps construct meditation on the lives of Jesus and Mary. It helps bring shape to our prayer, similarly to many Protestant books that teach Christians how to pray well. For example, the Book of Common Prayer, Prayer by Richard J. Foster, or Moving Mountains by John Eldredge. If you have ever been to a Christian Book Store, you may see many items being sold that may look like idol worship. The Catechism says, “Superstition is a departure from the worship that we give to the true God. It is manifested in idolatry, as well as in various forms of divination and magic and the veneration of sacred images is based on the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God. It is not contrary to the first commandment.” (CCC, 2138, 2141.)

Sixth, Roman Catholics believe in the infallibility of the Pope. Papal infallibility is no more strange than the authority and infallibility of the biblical prophets. They were mouthpieces of God. We trusted their words and we wrote them down. God preserved his truth over the centuries. Early Christians also believed the miracles recorded after Jesus’ ascension. Christ has continued to reveal himself to the Church. I have found, more often than naught, that Evangelicals are skeptical of any miracles or supernatural revelation outside of Scripture. Has Christ not revealed himself through his Church at all for thousands of years? Why are Evangelical Christians flirting with naturalism except when it comes to Scripture? What about the coveted popular Christian authors like John MacArthur. Some Evangelicals or Fundamentalists will even go as far as to adopt these popular authors’ interpretations as their own. However, out of all of Geisler’s doctrinal reasons for abstaining from Roman Catholicism, this objection, I can understand above all. It’s a lot of trust placed into an office and or person. However, I think it is clear, throughout Church history that we have done an excellent job of preserving the faith. The Catholic Catechism explains, “In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility. By a “supernatural sense of faith” the People of God, under the guidance of the Church’s living Magisterium, “unfailingly adheres to this faith.” And “The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ.” And “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office. Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.” (CCC, 889, 890, 891, 892.) The Roman Catholic church has wonderful safeguards in place to avoid error and preserve truth. Henry Denzinger’s The Sources of Catholic Dogma, the Magisterium, the Pope, the bishops, and the church fathers, help to keep the current legislative and governing body of the Church strong and healthy. For Catholics, cross-referencing isn’t taken lightly. It is crucial. It is the systematic approach and patience of the Church that preserves truth from error. If necessary, there must be a final word or position on a particular matter, of course, if necessary. Beaumont writes:

“Although this infallibility can and has been exercised through various means, there seems to remain a need for a single, infallible, apostolic office behind it all to provide an objective standard when necessary. Specific predictions and promises made to Peter, as well as the subsequent history of his successors, point to the office of the Bishop of Rome as the best fit for the “last line” of infallible doctrinal defense. Thus can the Church’s infallibility be grounded both in theory and practice.” (Douglas M. Beaumont. Why Christianity Requires An Infallible Authority 

Seventh, Roman Catholics add uniformity to unity. Catholics have not institutionalized salvation anymore than Protestantism. They have simply organized their theology better. Catholics have systematic theology that is severely lacking in Protestant churches today. As time passed, many Protestant traditions began to move away from liturgy, creeds, confessions, sacraments (special occasions only and not every Sunday) and systematic theology. There is a massive amount of Non-Denominational Protestant churches today that have none of the previously mentioned things within their services. However, they do have loud music and great presentations followed by an hour long sermon. During these long sermons, many Christians are, in many churches I’ve attended, in their chairs sifting through the Scriptures, questioning the interpretations of their pastor. Is that what unity looks like? Every man for himself? I worked in a Korean church for a year as their youth pastor. Koreans, in large, follow the Reformed or Presbyterian movement of Protestantism. This particular church didn’t really abide by this denomination’s theology or ecclesiology. After a church member questioned the interpretation of a passage of Scripture one Sunday, half of the church split to start their own church. This was saddening to me. Was it this easy? A church member can disagree and in a matter of days has the authority to start their own church? This is absurd. Where is the unity that Geisler is speaking of here? Scripture? We have already seen that Scripture can unite the church in many common ways but it cannot be the only authority for uniformity. Uniformity isn’t a bad thing.

Roman Catholics have unity concerning social justice. I was amazed at the Catechism’s consistent teaching on abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, war, sexuality, marriage, and many other social moral ideas. Catholics have not only uniformity but also unity in their teaching. I was proud to call the mother church my own. Catholics are heavily involved in politics and society, arguing their views of morality. This uniformity brings unity and unity brings with it strength. This simply does not exist in the Protestant churches. As I mentioned earlier, depending on the church, you may not have any uniformity or unity at all.

ROMAN CATHOLIC FORMATION: LIFE IN CHRIST

I needed discipline. I needed Christian formation. It was the Roman Catholic Church that could give it to me. The liturgy, the Mass, the communion of saints, tradition, veneration, the Rosary, philosophy, and penance are among some important aspects that helped transform my life as a disciple, father, husband, and a professional. Another SES student put it this way, “As an Evangelical, I found myself sometimes defeated, deflated, and discouraged. When I asked my professors and pastors how to grow in holiness, I was told just to pray, read my Bible, memorize Scripture, and seek fellowship…I still felt empty at times. I would ask myself, ‘Is this the sum of the Christian life?’” (Beaumont, 61-62) I found myself feeling the same way and asking the same questions. Penance forced me to be held accountable for my actions. If the priest represents Christ’s authority for the sake of the Church then confessing my sins to the priest ensures that I am being disciplined to live a holy life. It is so much harder to confess my sins to a priest than to myself in the confines of my bedroom. Sometimes I would ask myself whether anyone was listening. I felt weak and prone to fall into my sinful habits over and over again. Evangelicals often argue, “Why should I confess my sins to another sinner? They don’t have the power to forgive.” They do if Christ gave the Church the authority. The same SES student writes, “Evangelicals are known for encouraging other believers, ‘to be more like Jesus’, but the only way to do this is to partake of the divine nature (becoming more like God) through the sacraments, by which we receive the very life of God into our souls (2 Pet 1:8).” (Beaumont, 62) I needed more than Scripture, I needed the communion of saints, and I needed the life giving sacraments. I needed an infallible authority. I have to agree with Beaumont, “Catholicism filled in so many holes I always had to step around in Evangelicalism and offered more of everything I already had and appreciated as an Evangelical. From it’s robust biblical interpretation to its respect for human nature and its consistent moral teachings…” (Beaumont, 44)

My family and I are happy and cannot wait to participate at the Mass for the first time this Easter of 2017 at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church in Fort Mill, SC. We strongly believe that if we remain faithful to the Church and Scripture that we will have the ability to continue living righteously. We believe that the Roman Catholic Church will help us live more fruitful lives as disciples of Christ.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi: miserere nobis. Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi: miserere nobis. Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi: dona nobis pacem. GLORIA PATRI, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Advertisements