Way of the Master? A Letter of Response.
Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. You have asked that we listen to your radio presentation wherein you play a sermon by John MacArthur and then offer our own input. I am not a scholar and my ignorance knows no bounds, but out of respect and love for all the body of Christ, Protestant and Catholic, I must respond. I will not hide the fact that while some good points were made by Brother MacArthur, he missed the point. In fact in thinking as he does he continues to miss the point. To start with it would be deceptive of me to not inform you of my position. I am not a Roman Catholic. I do not think I will ever become Roman Catholic. However, I consider myself an Evangelical Catholic, known in America as Lutheran (Missouri Synod). I differ in my own understanding of elements of the church than Blessed Saint Luther did in some areas, but unlike Brother MacArthur, I choose to look at all of Luther's work before I caricature his words concerning Roman Catholics. I also believe that we should share the Gospel with everyone, and to say that a group is condemned because of how we understand (or in his case misunderstand) the beliefs of a denomination places us above Christ and gives us the power to condemn men and women. Such idolatry of the self was committed in your radio broadcast where the question of whether a person can be a "carnal Christian" and still be a Christian was applied to Ted Haggard. What he did was inexcusable by human standards, but if God were to keep a record of all our wrongdoings, "Lord who could stand (Psalm 130:3)?"
I believe that the Holy Scriptures are the true Word of God, without error and given to mankind by the power of the Holy Spirit guiding His church in ancient times. I believe that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, for the sake of Christ alone, and that we do not choose to accept Christ, he chooses us. Christ died for all mankind and as a result God's plan for salvation includes everyone, but not everyone will be saved because they reject the atoning sacrifice of Christ, freely given for all. I believe that to call Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist ordinances rather than sacraments is tantamount to works righteousness and resurrects the heresy of Nestorianism and to a lesser extent, Gnosticism. These blessed sacraments together with Holy Absolution and the Word of God are the Means of Grace that God strengthens our faith with. I believe that God created the universe 6-10 thousand years ago, but that allegorical understandings of Genesis are not to be denied as valid, only that all be accepted as one historical event (allegorical and literal). I believe effective minstry cannot occur without the preaching of the Law and the Gospel, the law convicts us, curbs our behavior, shows us who we are as sinners, and guides us to right behavior while the Gospel saves us.
My list of I believes can go on for quite a while. But tantamount to my beliefs are several points raised in Brother MacArthur's sermon: The denial of the sacraments which he seems to indicate are only in the Roman Catholic Church, the idea that the Roman Curia has been corrupt since its inception, and the idea that the Blessed Virgin Mary is "just a person as you or I" and that she does not hear our prayers.
On the sacraments: What constitutes a sacrament is different between all the churches that have them. The Roman Catholic Church has seven, the Lutheran church has two/three. The other denominations who accept sacraments are the Anglican, some Methodists, and the Eastern Orthodox to the best of my knowledge. Brother MacArthur made the claim that Catholics practice sacramental worship.........all those with sacramental theology worship sacramentally, but we don't worship the objects! He claims Rome practice calls for the "uselessness of infant baptism." The early church disagrees, as does Scripture itself! While a caveat exists with regard to the Eucharist, no such warning is present for Baptism....none. Christ tells his apostles during the Great Commission, "make disciples of ALL nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son (+), and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19)." Scripture tells us that salvation is for all! We believe that all the promises of God are given to a person at their baptism, regardless of their beliefs, as long as it is done in the name of the tri-une God. We also recognize that the Holy Spirit descended on Christ like a dove at his own baptism (Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3, John 1). Notice also what St. Peter tells the crowd at Pentecost: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself (Acts 2:38-39)." Being baptized gives one the gift of the Holy Spirit! It is also for your children and for ALL who are far off! But you might argue, infants can't repent.....how do you know? An infant can repent or feel faith if the Lord moves it in them.....how else are infants saved? If the infant is a child of a believer, he should be baptized because he is the child whom St. Peter is speaking. "Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these (Matthew 19:14)."
But what of the Holy Eucharist? Brother MacArthur has made the claim of a twisted sacrament of the Mass wherein Christ is sacrificed again and again and again.......perhaps once, but no longer in the Roman Church! It does not "re-sacrifice" Christ, but renews THE sacrifice! Christ's sacrifice transcends time and space and forgives not just those who came after him, but also before! It was Moses's faith in the coming messiah which allowed his sins to be forgiven by that sacrifice! Now is a major point when I should point out the heresy that Protestantism carries with it, and which Brother MacArthur should have read more of Luther's work, not just pick and choose which ones he wishes to use. Nestorianism is the belief that the natures of Christ are separate from each other. This was denied by the third Ecumenical council, and thus we believe that Christ was true God and true man.....yet during Protestant communion, it is thought that Christ either is present in the crowd spiritually, or the whole meal is a symbol of rememberance with nothing spiritual happening. Neither is true! Christ is present both spiritually and bodily! Spiritually amidst the believers, and physically in the bread and wine (though Lutherans differ from Roman Catholics on what happens to the bread and wine when it becomes Christ's very body and blood). To have just the spiritual nature of Christ present and not the physical not only is a practice of Nestorianism, but also a practice of subtle Gnosticism wherin Christ's body, while in Heaven, is limited in its ability to come down to earth, and instead we experience only his Holy God nature. The fact remains that to deny the Real Presence is to deny the clear teaching of Christ himself! "This is my body, this is my blood!" It forgives our sins and renews our faith....just as Christ promised (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, 1 Cor. 11)!
On the Roman Curia: Is the papacy an antichrist. The question is not as simple as it once was. I would say possibly. I do not know enough about it, but I do know that the argument against unbroken Apostolic succession being false before the sixth century is nonsense, and if you don't accept it in the Roman church, ask of it from the Eastern churches who believe a similar idea. He claims that from ~400AD the Roman Church became evil.....I'd like to know what teachings he is talking about. Surely St. Peter was not the first Pope....in that he is right because the title hadn't been used yet. He also ignores that the title Pope is also applicable to the Bishop of Alexandria. Rome's claim of primacy was a human invention, but it was a primacy of honor, given to it because it had the most pure doctrine in the historical chruch. However, it was made a primacy of authority rather than honor by the Popes around the 9th century, and to some extent before. The adding of the filioque was the true start of lifting the Bishop of Rome over the other bishops of Christendom.
Brother MacArthur also argues that the Papacy is build upon a false priesthood. The Papacy is SUPPOSED to serve the whole church catholic, and any honor given to its priests, cardinals, and popes is out of respect, not necessity (at least it should be). Sadly, it has turned into a top down hierarchy rather than the down up one it was intended to be. I find it strange that if he is offended by being called "father' or a priest, then technically he denies the priesthood of all believers....which he clearly does not do, hence he should not be offended of the title itself.
Mary and the Saints: Does the blessed Virgin hear our prayers (prayers to saints and prayers to God are different, as praying to a saint is not the prayer of one who can truly help you apart from God, it is of one who can help you with the power and will of God. Prayer to God is something entirely different and if asking for the prayers of the saints if practiced correctly, all prayers eventually go to God the father, for the sake of the Son, and by the power of the Holy Spirit)? Only a person using modern methods of rationalism would say "no, she's dead" or "no, she is in the glory of God and nothing is better, hence she doesn't care." The idea of the saints hearing our asking for their intercession should not be required as Rome and the East does because it is not in Scripture EXPLICITLY (though it can be implied in many areas), but as such, if it is not a hinderance to the belief of someone who is spiritually mature, it should not be forbidden. As a matter of conscience I practice the Eastern Orthodox understanding of the communion of saints, and reject Rome's idea of merit (unless of course it is in reference to Christ's merit which is what saves us). I have come to the personal conclusion that the church of God is connected as a continuous branch from the one vine from the beginning to the end of time. Just as Scripture in numerous places says we are to pray for one another at all times and in all places, it is strangely silent that we should stop praying for those who are dead or that we stop praying when we are dead. Where is that in Scripture? Instead we have both the cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) and an explicit reference to the 24 elders who bow down and worship at the feet of the lamb and who hold a bowl filled with incense, which is the prayers of the saints (Revelation 5:8....the angels also do this in Revelation 8:3-5). It is interesting to note that the common Lutheran understanding is that the departed saints pray for us in Heaven, and they pray just as we do in the Lord's prayer, that he will come again to judge the living and the dead!
But you might say, isn't "talking to the dead" a sin? Yes it is, but the departed saints are not dead, but alive in Christ, their savior (Matthew 22:32, Mark 12:27, Luke 20:38)! But you might say they cannot hear our prayers because we are the church militant, they are the church triumphant, and they are not on earth.. Yes, they are the church triumphant and we are the church militant. They are also not on earth. But God's Holy Spirit is with all of us and that is what connects us to one another in a "communion of saints." Christ's body is not broken by death, and those who are glorified in Heaven are privy to whatever the Holy Spirit wants them to be privy to, in this case, they are our friends and our brothers and sisters. Indeed, they pray for us better than those who are still within a sinful body here on earth pray for us! But you might say "it isn't necessary." No, but God's name is holy whether you say the Lord's prayer or not (to borrow from Luther), when you pray it, you pray it becomes holy for and among you. Similarly, to remember the saints departed is to bring them closer to us in that communion of saints and the tree of the church with Christ as the main vine (or the church as the whole bride and Christ as the husband). They pray for you regardless of whether you ask them or not.
What is so special about Mary though? I've been asked by frequent listeners to WOTMR why "Mother of Christ" is inappropriate when I correct them. She is the mother of God, because Jesus was God made flesh, and to call her mother of God indicates that she gave birth to a man who was also God. Also, to call her Christ bearer implies that she only gave birth to his humanness, but this separates the two natures of Christ (Protestantism commits again the heresy of Nestorius). She is ever virgin by means of tradition, but also because of some of the language she uses during the Annunciation which she does not get punished for, when Zechariah uses the same words and is punished by silence until the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:34 and Luke 1:18). The understanding was that he was punished and she was not because he doubted, and she did not, indicating that even though she was going to be married, she meant to remain a virgin. What about the "Immaculate conception?" Doesn't this make her not human? Well, it depends on what you mean. Even in the Catholic understanding (if proper), she is made sinless from her conception to her assumption because she said yes to Christ using her as a vessel to be born. Indeed, she calls him her savior, and this is what allows her to remain immaculate. Ask yourself this question as well, understanding sin as you do, wouldn't she need to remain sinless until the full term of her pregnancy, otherwise Jesus would have been nurtured by a sinful womb? Mary's assumption is based upon the understanding that because she held such a pivotal role in the church, she was taken up into heaven just as Enoch and Elijah. Tradition has it that three days after her dormition (death) her tomb was empty. What about co-redemptrix? This is not a good teaching and could pose damning, however, thankfully Pope Benedict XVI, unlike his predecessor is much more conservative theologically and said that this will not become dogmatic while under his Pontificate. What about Mary as Co-mediatrix? This is based upon an understanding that she is the mother of Jesus, and hence because of her unique bond with her son, she helps as a co-mediator to the Father. I do not know what to make of this teaching, though I do not see it as inevitably damning. Mary is the mother of the church? Yes....she is both the earthly mother of God the Son, whose "body" is the church, and if Christ is the new Adam...there must be a new Eve. Hence, Mary is the mother of all the living as the mother of the church. In all things, even the decision of naming her Theotokos rather than Christotokos, the decision was made for CHRIST'S sake. Similarly, the Popes give the church into the hands of Mary because she is the mother of the church and she helps nurture the church while her son is the savior of the church with the Father as father of the church and the Holy Spirit as guide (I do not agree per se with that understanding, I'm just saying what they believe). If Brother MacArthur continues to call these things ludicrous, then I will ask him to explain how the concept of a triune God is not ridiculous......it is ridiculous to our logic and rationale, but that does not make it untrue!
It was also posited by Brother MacArthur that the more liturgical and mystical, the more heretical (he used the term Apostate). If Brother MacArthur ever bothered to actually look or listen to a Divine Service/Mass, he would note that almost all of it is taken from Scripture! Peruse the new Lutheran Service Book from Concordia Publishing House and you will see that in the Divine Service, and in almost all of the liturgical settings, very little is not from Scripture DIRECTLY, and contrary to many Protestant churches, Scripture is read DIRECTLY and in context in an Old Testament, Epistle, and New Testament reading, not as snippets during a sermon, sometimes which could be taken out of context, but could go so fast you wouldn't notice it. We use PRACTICALLY THE SAME service the Roman Catholics use (including the lectionary)! The sermon is not a fifty minute Bible Study on a parable of Jesus or something (that's for Sunday School), but a preaching of the application of Law and Gospel from the scriptures read for the day or for the feast/fast time of the church year. Or as my DCE said from church, "The church calender is Christ centered and prevents having a five week sermon series on the parables in Matthew." Finally, to the charge that more mysticism equals more apostates, I say that if you can use reason to understand theology, you are using fallible human tools to understand God, for mysticism simply means mysterious, and in many cases WE SIMPLY DO NOT KNOW nor are we meant to know everything about God.
It is amazing how Brother MacArthur never turns the lens back on Protestants. In Protestantism we find a heresy of Nestorianism, subtle though it may be. We find a limiting of the benefit of Holy Baptism from infants even though Christ said let the little children come unto him. We find a denial of all things misunderstood which leads to condemnations and splintering of the body of Christ's church. We find a denial of the Holy Spirit to unite the church throughout time and to continue to guide us in our faith and practices by a refutation of ALL traditions of the church as man-made and not from God. We find fruit in the form of martyring Catholics (just as they martyred you) the burning of witches, and the sexual immoralty high up in some churches. We find a similar movement towards works righteousness by declaring the gifts of the sacraments as ordinances rather than gifts (where Roman Catholics require those gifts). We find doctrinal ignorance in some churches (just as in many churches of Roman Catholicism, but not all). We find a concept of "false converts" and "carnal Christians" in which no true Christian would commit a sin of addiction and all this with a concept of "assurance of salvation?" This is no different from the "mortal sins" of Catholicism and the fearing of never being sure of your salvation! We find greed and avarice in some churches, even higher up (as in the Roman church). We find a legalistic nature in following the commands of Christ that rivals the most legalistic of Popes. We see a use of human rationality to interpret Scripture even though God's Word contains things we are not meant to know rationally (the Roman church does this as well, particularly as their Magesterium does). We see a God of anger and judgement and rarely do we see God's mercy and grace in all its glory (as in the Roman church). We see a non-denominational or denominational church body(ies) that declare you a sinner and not fit to enter God's kingdom because they view your theology or Scriptural interpretation as heretical and cannot actually judge your heart as God can (ditto for the Roman church). The list can continue, but I believe I have gotten my point across. In this Brother MacArthur forgot the plank in his own eye when he reached to remove the speck from his neighbors.
I pray that the Gospel message reach not just non-Christians, but Christians as well, Roman Catholic and Protestant. All who profess Jesus as lord and believe he rose from the dead have forgiveness of sins. If we needed to get the doctrine right to be forgiven, then we are all in deep trouble. Thankfully it is Christ who saves, not our doctrine (correct or incorrect) that condemn us, but sin. I pray for the church catholic (universal) to repent of wrongdoings, and to come together as one body of Christ who the devil and the world seek to separate and dominate. I pray that prayer which gives comfort and points to the message of the Gospel, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
Christopher Heren, SSP