Another Beckwith-like Apostasy to Rome?: A misrepresentation of my reversion to Catholicism

I recently came across this blog post at the site, Thoughts of Francis Turretin: “Another Beckwith-like Apostasy to Rome.” The author writes:

You may recall that some time ago, Francis Beckwith made waves by secretly rejoining the Roman communion, while continuing in his role as president of Evangelical Theological Society. Sadly, we can add to that another similar tale. Mr. Jason Stewart was an OPC pastor. According to a letter provided by his (now former) presbytery:

Whereas the date Mr. Stewart entered into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church (January 10, 2011) evidences a studied commitment to that church’s doctrine and practices while he remained a minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and

Whereas, in contravention of his ordination vows (FOG XXIII.8. (1-4)), Mr. Stewart did not disclose his change of convictions to his Presbytery until March 10, 2011, thus deceiving both the Presbytery, and the congregation of Trinity, Easton, and

Whereas Mr. Stewart has refused to be dissuaded from his course,

Therefore, in accordance with Book of Discipline V.2.b (1), Presbytery erased his name from its rolls, recorded the circumstances in its minutes, and communicated this action as a form of discipline (BOD V.2) to the congregation of Trinity, Easton with exhortation and encouragement toward a godly response to these events and to Mr. Stewart.

One wonders whether his new-found comrades at the Roman blog, Called to Communion, are aware of the facts of his conversion experience. In his account, he characterizes the events as: “Our decision to leave Presbyterianism for the Catholic Church surprised many.” I’ll say!

We will pray for repentance and restoration of Mr. Stewart (the erasure by Presbytery is de facto deposition and excommunication). Until that time, however, he ought to consider himself outside the visible and catholic church, and under threat of eternal judgment.

The reason for posting this point publicly, of course, is to draw attention to the issue of deception alleged by his former presbytery. I don’t expect that this will matter to the Called to Communion team, but it ought to matter to seekers of truth. It helps to demonstrate the principle announced by the apostle, that they went out from us, because they were not of us. It also helps to qualify the credentials that are being used to promote his “conversion story” (“OPC Pastor …”) – yes, he managed to infiltrate the presbytery – but his manner of departure shows the sort of person he was.

-TurretinFan

I can’t speak to the facts surrounding the case of Mr. Stewart, but it is not analogous to mine at all. First, days before I was received into the Catholic Church, I resigned my ordination with the United Evangelical Churches. (I relate this on page 63 of my book Return to Rome: Confessions of An Evangelical Catholic [Brazos Press, 2009]; oddly, the UEC’s “tenets of faith” are not inconsistent with Catholicism). So, I was not an ordained Protestant minister upon my reception into the Church. Second, upon being both received into the Catholic Church through the sacrament of reconciliation on April 28, 2007 and publicly during Mass the next day (April 29, 2007), I informed by mail the executive committee of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) of my decision.  In that letter I told the committee that I thought I could as a Catholic remain as President of ETS.

Because the ETS is an academic society and not an ecclesial communion, it has no ordained leadership. In fact, it’s doctrinal basis (“The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory”) is so minimal that it allows for a wide range of Christians as members who could not in good conscience be ministers in the churches of other members. So, for example, an ordained Presbyterian elder, an ordained Anglican priest, and an ordained Mennonite minister may all be members of ETS, but none can be clergy in the other’s church. Although TurretinFan is clearly correct in implying that no Catholic can in good conscience be an ordained Presbyterian minister, it is not clear that a Catholic can not in good conscience be a member of ETS. For this reason–given the ETS’ bare-bones doctrinal basis–I thought a reasonable argument could made for Catholic membership. But, as I note in Return to Rome as well as in my blog posts at the time (see here and here), I resigned both my presidency (on May 5, 2007, seven days after I was received into the Church) and my membership (on May 7, 2007) for prudential reasons. There is, of course, a strong argument to be made that Catholics can not to be members of ETS.  Nevertheless, it is an argument to which I respond in both Return to Rome (chapter 5) as well as an article I published in 2009 in the Josephinum Journal of Theology, “Evangelical and Catholic.”

I have no aversion to reading criticisms of my journey and arguments as to why I am wrong about ETS and Catholicism. But I will not let stand misleading depictions of my reversion and the issues that were at play at the time.

Update: Jason Stewart responds in the combox:

As we entered the Catholic Church, we were concerned not to disturb the Presbyterian identity of Trinity OPC, nor upset the stability and peace of the members, nor proselytize as we exited, and, therefore, we did not make our decision public. We did not want our personal decision to instigate an ecclesiastical donnybrook as we departed the OPC. On a personal level, we were certainly willing to make public our reception into the Catholic Church, but not at the expense of the congregation of Trinity OPC. We tried to find the most charitable and peaceable balance we could between the welfare of the congregation and the spiritual welfare of our family. It is unfortunate that the presbytery has chosen to place the worst possible interpretation on our decision, labeling it deception. Such was not our intention in following the path we did. Until last night, I was unaware of the presbytery’s ruling as the presbytery had not formally communicated this information to me. All I knew was that they had honored my request for erasure as I happened to see the erasure published in the November issue of the New Horizons magazine (2011). I’ll end by stating that our eagerness to be received into the Church was owing to our not wanting to remain any longer in schism from the Church Jesus founded.

Just as I suspected, though I did not want to speculate in my original post. So, I am delighted that Jason has written this. It turns out that Jason, just like me, assessed his situation in light of a variety of factors, wanting both to enter the Church as soon as possible while not needlessly offending his Protestant friends. This is the behavior of a Christian and a gentleman.  This makes TurretinFan’s judgment of Jason all the more egregious and unChristian. It is, of course, not surprising that those who most vigorously deny that charity must accompany faith work tirelessly to ensure that their public lives do not betray that conviction.

  • Frank La Rocca

    Over on the Called to Communion website, Mr. Stewart says his tenure as pastor was completed at the end of 2010. There is no reason to doubt his account. He entered the Catholic Church after his time at Easton was done, in January 2011. He also says he did not immediately announce his reception into the Church so as to spare Easton any scandal. These strike me as sound pastoral decisions and the accusation of “deception” by TurretinFan as sour grapes. He should also apologize for his thinly veiled innuendo that the men at Called to Communion are not “seekers of truth.” Or is that TurretinFan has not been able to defend Protestantism in his many posts at the Called to Communion forums?

  • http://www.energeticprocession.wordpress.com Perry Robinson

    This is absurd. An oath to a body that has no real authority and professes contrary to divine teaching is lacks all binding authority. He is jsut begging the question as to whether it is a legitimate church and authority.

  • Bk

    Good for you and good for Jason! Blessed are those are persecuted for the sake of Jesus.

  • Jason Stewart

    As we entered the Catholic Church, we were concerned not to disturb the Presbyterian identity of Trinity OPC, nor upset the stability and peace of the members, nor proselytize as we exited, and, therefore, we did not make our decision public. We did not want our personal decision to instigate an ecclesiastical donnybrook as we departed the OPC. On a personal level, we were certainly willing to make public our reception into the Catholic Church, but not at the expense of the congregation of Trinity OPC. We tried to find the most charitable and peaceable balance we could between the welfare of the congregation and the spiritual welfare of our family. It is unfortunate that the presbytery has chosen to place the worst possible interpretation on our decision, labeling it deception. Such was not our intention in following the path we did. Until last night, I was unaware of the presbytery’s ruling as the presbytery had not formally communicated this information to me. All I knew was that they had honored my request for erasure as I happened to see the erasure published in the November issue of the New Horizons magazine (2011). I’ll end by stating that our eagerness to be received into the Church was owing to our not wanting to remain any longer in schism from the Church Jesus founded.

  • michael

    Mr. Beckwith,

    I do not know you and you do not know me. I would stand with TurrentinFan in his response and comparison between you and Mr. Steward.

    You are a sinner defining and justifying your actions, which in my view are equally deceitful.

    Your own words above betray you on this regard.

    What does it matter that just days before you swam across the Tiber you resigned your pastorate? What was going on all the time leading up to you converting where you were in your pastorate?

    You easily justify your actions before men. So be it. It is not men I would be concerned with.

    And this word generally applies to Mr. Steward as well seeing I see he has chosen to make his own comment in here, too.

    • francisbeckwith

      Michael:

      I wasn’t a pastor. I’ve never been a pastor. I was an ordained minister but held no position of authority in a congregation. My ETS post was not ministerial. It was an academic post, not unlike being president of the Modern Language Association. Please read what I wrote and not what you wish I had written.

      Writers ought to be clear, that’s for sure. But readers should read with care.

      What I think you don’t realize is that to become Catholic is not a matter of “changing one’s mind,” as if conversion were a mere cognitive act of will. Rather, conversion requires being received into the Church sacramentally. So, even though I had by mid-March 2007 decided to return to the Church, until I had stepped into the confessional and had been absolved of my sins, I was not Catholic. I was in reality in schism with the Church, my inner life nothwithstanding.

      You write: “What was going on all the time leading up to you converting where you were in your pastorate?” It’s all in my book, Return to Rome.

      Conversion is a complicated matter, not reducible to any formula. There are points, “aha” moments, at which one begins to see more clearly, but one is not quite sure where one will wind up at the end of the journey. In my case, the aha moments increased with such velocity and strength that I could not remain a Protestant any longer. But until I was received sacramentally into the Church, I was still in schism with the Church, despite my internal deliberations on the matter. For this reason, it would have been deceitful for me to have called myself a Catholic prior to going to confession, for to have done so would have implied the irrelevancy of the sacrament. And in that case, and ironically, I would have been behaving like a Protestant and not a Catholic.

      For the Catholic, words not only have meaning, but reality has meaning that cannot be altered by mere words. My conversion depends exclusively on “God’s grace” and not on the mere disposition of my will. The latter is Pelagian, and thus an ironic way to go for someone with your convictions.

    • http://laudemgloriae.blogspot.com Christine

      “You are a sinner…”

      As am I, and everyone I know on this earth. What are you, sir?

    • http://syr3op.blogspot.com Mr. Lou Pizzuti, OP

      Michael,
      A little judgmental, are we?

      Come now. How would you to define Mr. Beckwith’s actions as sinful? Because he does not choose to honor private Biblical interpretation, choosing rather to adhere to the faith delivered once for all? Because he actually chose to be intellectually honest?

      20 years ago, I was in much the same position, and I can assure you that my actions were much the same as both Mr. Beckwith and Mr. Stewart.

      Why would either resign a position until he was sure that he would actually make the move? And one is certainly not ready to make such a momentous move until the move is actually made.

  • Sean Patrick

    Mike.

    You announce that you don’t know Mr. Beckwith and then you label him a sinner.

    Just sayin.

    As to the person who goes by ‘TurretinFan’…here is a man who hides behind anonymity to an absurd degree that lobs very personal attacks at men that he does not know while knowing only a fraction of the story. How sad is that?

    SP

  • diane

    It is, of course, not surprising that those who most vigorously deny that charity must accompany faith work tirelessly to ensure that their public lives do not betray that conviction.

    Bwahahahaha!! Love it!!

    And yes, I have noticed the same thing. Some of the meanest people I’ve ever encountered have been “faith-plus-nothing-equals-salvation” folks. Sorry for being judgmental myself, lol. But I’ve been at the receiving end of said meanness, and the memory lingers. ;)

  • http://www.crossedthetiber.com Russ Rentler MD

    A most excellent response Dr. Beckwith. Conversions such as yours and Stewart’s will continue to confound the “elect”. Afterall, does this mean you lost your election? It is a theological conumdrum they can’t resolve and sadly leads to these types of post mortems of a persons spiritual journey which end up as baseless detraction. I still remember your combox after your announcement. How many times was the word apostate used?

  • michael

    Hi Sean,

    been awhile since the last time you and I exchanged thoughts.

    So, you betray Christ? So, you disregard Scripture?

    Just sayin’.

    Mr. Beckwith,

    again, your justification has a refined well flowing out of you but it does not wash away your sins in the matter.

    As the Scripture teaches: Pro 18:20 From the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach is satisfied; he is satisfied by the yield of his lips.
    Pro 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

    You say “I wasn’t a pastor. I’ve never been a pastor. I was an ordained minister but held no position of authority in a congregation.

    I now quite agree, “you held no position of authority”. Had you been of the Faithful Elect of God, you would have had been born into a position of authority, both in and out of any congregation of the Elect.

    Christ’s own are not of this world nor are we of this world system of religions, many, of which the Roman Catholic Church is of them.

    I will keep standing in the words I posted and you allowed to be put into the record hereon.

    Of the authority I speak of Christ is Head and as Head with this delegated authority Christ goes forth destroying all rule, authority and power not His; and be sure of this, this is the Truth as He is Truth:

    1Co 15:23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
    1Co 15:24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.

    • francisbeckwith

      Michael writes: “again, your justification has a refined well flowing out of you but it does not wash away your sins in the matter.” That’s because my justification was forensic. :-)

  • David Pell

    Defense mechanism. The troops have to rally and slander the converts in an attempt to detract from their witness to the rest of the Protestant world.

  • http://www.crossedthetiber.com Russ Rentler MD

    Jesus said; “you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.”. That there is the authority as established by God. Dr. Beckwith, Jason Stewart and millions of souls for 2000 years have willingly obeyed Christ’s call to return to His Church. they could do no other…

  • http://strikingroot.blogspot.com Benjamin Keil

    Dr. Beckwith,

    “TurretinFan” has posted a followup comment in his own article which clarifies the analogy he intends to draw. (I wish I could link to the comment directly but I can’t find a way to do so. It’s the 3rd comment from the top, though). “TurretinFan” writes: “It’s sad to see that Beckwith himself shows such inability to grasp the parallel: each man converted slyly, failing to tell those who he had a moral obligation to tell.” Apparently, then, “TurretinFan” intends to criticize both your conversions on grounds that you failed to inform the relevant persons at (what he takes to be) the right time. So far as I can tell s/he offers no argumentation to demonstrate that you behaved incorrectly (nor does s/he even try to argue that the ETS member statement is incompatible with Catholicism such that notifying anybody was necessary). Thus insofar as I am concerned it’s just a bad analogy. At best.

    Yours Most Sincerely,
    ~Benjamin

    • http://francisbeckwith.com Francis J. Beckwith

      It is indeed a strange response, Benjamin. I didn’t convert slyly. I was publicly received at 11 am Mass on April 29, 2007, the day after I was officially received back into the Church while receiving the sacrament of reconciliation. In fact, it was so public that a Baylor student present at Mass blogged about it!

      TurretinFan, of course, treats “conversion” as an entirely cognitive enterprise, one not requiring sacramental grace. I address that in the comments above in my response to michael. Go here.

      My internal deliberations, of course, were private, as they should be. They involved both Catholic and Protestant friends, including my wife, who entered the Church soon after I did.

      Given my unique set of circumstances–I was ordained by a body whose statement of faith is consistent with Catholicism, I was on the faculty of a Baptist school with many Catholic faculty members, I was the head of an academic society whose doctrinal basis can be read as Catholic friendly, and I was a member of a liturgical Baptist Church that had no doctrinal test for membership–there was no magisterial authority to which I had to answer in order to proceed. But when I finally chose to convert, I resigned my ordination and told the ETS executive committee the next day.

      Again, TurretinFan’s complaint is very strange.

  • http://www.merechristianradio.com Orthodoxdj

    This is par for the reformed folks course. Yes, not all reformed folks are that way, but where there’s smoke there’s fire. Can you bear the wrath of Todd Friel???!!!

  • Inge

    I used to be Atheist. Then I was baptised in a Reformed (Presbyterian) Church at age 21. At age 30 I became a Catholic, and I recognise a lot from both the post and the reactions in the combox.

    One remark I got is something I will never forget. I was a member of a Presbyterian church in Europe (it’s called ‘Reformed’ here), they have the Heidelberg Catechism. When I announced I would become a Catholic, I heard that I would remove myself away from Presbyterianism. They would have understood if I would have become… wait for it… Pentecostal.

    Most of my Presbyterian friends still don’t understand why I became an apostate despite being so religious and a Papist (their words). I think the reason of vicious remarks like that is that they have certain ideas about the Catholic Church and Catholics and it scares them when reality turns out to be very different from their caricatures. The viciousness is fear in reality.

    • Inge

      To be clear: I don’t think crossing the Tiber was a conversion for me. Becoming a Christian after being baptised was. Becoming a Catholic was the only thing I could do after seeing all the evidence (Scripture, Church Fathers, inconsistencies in reformed teachings).

  • http://www.crossedthetiber.com russ rentler, md

    It is truly ironic that the faith system that denies the existence of purpose of a magisterium is now criticizing Catholic converts for not submitting to their own “magisterium. IS this not obvious?

  • http://jmibullfrog.wordpress.com Jeremiah

    This kind of confrontational attitude must be a Presbyterian thing. Just days before my reception into the Antiochian Eastern Orthodox Church, I was told by the new pastor of the PCUSA church I had formerly been a member of, that I was being unfaithful to the church, and my wife (because she has not converted with me). He called my integrity into question, and accused me of “sniffing around” in betrayal of the congregation. He also said I was betraying my cultural tradition, seeing as Orthodoxy was nothing more than a denomination full of ethnic ghettos.
    Unbelievably arrogant and presumptuous! I simply told him I was no longer going to be a member, that I was going to be baptized into the Church. He said that I had no right to become Orthodox, and he’d say so to my priest. I gave him his number, and let my priest explain how a schismatic group has no authority over the Church. He was very kind in his presentation, but firm in his conviction.
    There seems to be an inherent and willful ignorance of Church history when Protestants see people going back to the ancient Apostolic Churches.

  • Sean Patrick

    Mike/Michael/Nata:

    You wrote:

    “Hi Sean,
    been awhile since the last time you and I exchanged thoughts.
    So, you betray Christ? So, you disregard Scripture?
    Just sayin’.”

    I have no idea what you are talking about.

    Sean

  • http://www.crossedthetiber.com russ rentler, md

    Sean;
    those are code words for “You don’t interpret the Scripture the correct way, which is my way”

  • http://www.calledtocommunion.com Bryan Cross

    At his post TF writes,

    We will pray for repentance and restoration of Mr. Stewart (the erasure by Presbytery is de facto deposition and excommunication). Until that time, however, he ought to consider himself outside the visible and catholic church, and under threat of eternal judgment.

    In mentioning “the visible and catholic church,” TF unintentionally invites us to consider just what this alleged entity is, in his Reformed ecclesiology. He cannot provide a principled and objective basis for determining its boundaries such that he remains within it, and Jason now lies outside of it. That’s why he cannot list all the denominations / bodies that belong to it. So he is merely stipulating, without any authority, that his interpretation of Scripture determines the boundaries of the visible and catholic Church. When we unpack his ecclesial semantics we find him to be saying merely that Jason is no longer a member of the set of persons who believe in the solas. But there is no entity formed by this set, only a mental construct shared by those persons who on the basis of their own interpretation of Scripture define ‘visible church’ as composed of all those who affirm the gospel, and define ‘gospel’ as the solas. But, if TF can define the “visible and catholic Church” on the basis of his own interpretation of Scripture (or confessions picked out by their agreement with his own interpretation of Scripture), then so could Jason, ‘right back at you.’ So all the excommunication-from-the-visible-catholic-church language reduces to “you are no longer one of the persons who shares the interpretation of Scripture which I and those who agree with me hold,” which, of course, we already knew. In that way the excommunication language is evacuated of any force or authority or substantive meaning.

    But given that fact, the continued use of that language changes its genre; it is reduced to a kind of semantical farce. It gives TF’s somber Becket-like language about Jason being excommunicated from the “visible and catholic church” a sort of comedic dissonance, such as when the Emperor parades down the crowded street with all the formality except without wearing any clothes, or the limbless Black Knight continues to threaten with bellicose language. It belittles and exposes as pathetic the condition of the one who attempts to use such threatening disciplinarian language without seeing what everyone else sees, namely, that because of his denial of Holy Orders, ‘excommunication’ is necessarily reduced to “you disagree with my interpretation and that of those who agree with me.” So the use of the ad baculum in that condition is like one child threatening his sibling that he will take away his allowance. It turns into humor for all the observers, at the threatening child’s expense.

  • Sean Patrick

    I supposedwe ought not expect further reply from the man who calls himself ‘Turretin Fan.’ You see, one of his friends (Mike/Michael/Nata) has identified him as God’s annointed so this excuses him from explaining himself or apologizing.

    “The Servant of the Lord doesn’t need to strive with men. Who cares about personal reputations as your request implies? Is your request from the Lord or from your own personal opinion?

    TF has demonstrated here and at other blogs the ability to be courageous for the Lord and courageous on the Lord’s Terms, not his or other men.

    The warning I shall give to you also as to those who think it is at TF’s expense Francis Beckwith might expend, is this, “do not touch the Lord’s anointed”. When you do, you have touched the Lord Himself and the Lord has told me He is currently on a war path going about destroying every rule, power and authority not His own.”

    • http://francisbeckwith.com Francis Beckwith

      I think he meant, “do not touch the Lord’s annoying.” :-)

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/pgepps pgepps

    Sigh. I think all of us who have been in the borderlands, here, know how hard these calls can be to make. I had to write some agonizingly careful emails near the beginning of my investigation into the claims of the Catholic Church–the part that went beyond just thinking through church history or theology in general terms, that is. I congratulate Jason and his wife on their journey Home ( http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2012/02/an-opc-pastor-enters-the-catholic-church/comment-page-2/#comment-26902 ), and hope they feel as newly united with all their brothers and sisters in Christ ( http://turretinfan.blogspot.com/2012/02/another-beckwith-like-apostasy-to-rome.html#comment-435670014 ), who He will care for “until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love” ( http://old.usccb.org/nab/bible/ephesians/ephesians4.htm ).

  • Steve

    It saddens me that my Protestant brothers in Christ display such ungodly vitriol, directed against others who are on this journey following our Savior. Makes me wonder if I want to remain in the sort of faith that produces such wrath from those in the OPC, since Mr “TurretinFan” seems to think he speaks with their authority.

    “Woe is me, for I am ruined!
    Because I am a man of unclean lips,
    And I live among a people of unclean lips;


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