Critique of Ankerberg and Weldon’s Anti-Catholicism

Critique of Ankerberg and Weldon’s Anti-Catholicism February 16, 2016

. . . in their book, Protestants and Catholics: Do They Now Agree?

Yours Truly in April 1995, with my first two sons. It was Paul’s fourth birthday ,and Michael was almost two.
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(May 1995)

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Co-Author John Weldon wrote to me in a letter dated 19 May 1995:

I would be most interested in your analysis of our new book . . . If at all possible, . . . respond to me after you have carefully read it. I would be most interested to see, in light of your ten years as an evangelical, how you deal with the information . . . I would be happy to respond to any letter you send evaluating our new book. {pp. 1, 3-4}

I responded with the following critique (since revised somewhat for better readability), but unfortunately (though quite predictably, with anti-Catholics), Dr. Weldon never responded. The words cited from the book throughout will be in blue.

Sufficient Biblical Proof

I am a Socratic in my approach to knowledge, whether theological or any other type, and I won’t change my mind unless and until my present views are seriously challenged and overcome by – as Luther stated – “Scripture and plain reason.” This is precisely how I came to convert to Catholicism, after a solid year of study and intense discussion with informed Catholics (during which I mostly attacked their views). Until then, apart from questioning my motivations, knowledge or sincerity, how can you or anyone else be surprised at my conversion and staunch beliefs (I still do, however, retain great respect for evangelicalism)?

Yes, I am utterly and sincerely convinced that the Catholic Church’s views are immeasurably more biblical, historical, and reasonable than that of the many strains of Protestantism. Isn’t that amazing? Over and over you assert or imply in your book that Catholicism is either “unbiblical” or anti-biblical. Yet my writings are filled with scriptural evidences from beginning to end. I’m just as “sure” that these proofs are compelling as you are with yours. A lot depends on presuppositions, and all parties are inevitably biased and (usually unknowingly) guilty of eisegesis, as I think you would concede. But in the end, my “certainty” is a result of the cumulative effect of hundreds upon hundreds of Bible texts, facts of Church history, logical, moral, and analogical reasoning, even spiritual experience – all leading to the conclusion that Catholicism is true. I assure you this is what I believe with all my heart (I could always theoretically be dissuaded, of course).

The Motives of Converts

I think you would do well to seriously ponder the perspective of a convert like myself. I don’t think you really did that with Howard, Kreeft, Vitz and Hahn in your book:

In many cases like this we suspect that the real reasons are hidden and that the public telling may portray only a small part of the real story. {p. 207}

On what grounds do you make such a judgment, I wonder? These men (three of whom I’ve met) are all brilliant thinkers and human beings and deserve much more consideration than your generally trivialized portrayal of them, if I may be so blunt.

I might add in passing that if any converts have a “hidden” motivation it is the many backslidden Catholic priests who invariably (gee, I wonder why?) get married after they leave the Church. Why is it that scarcely any of them retain their celibacy, which was, of course, just as solemn a vow (and just as optional) as marriage vows? Forgive me if I question the sincerity and integrity of many of these “converts” who can’t even honor their word to God. It just so happens that the majority of Protestant “Reformers” exhibited this same curious tendency (Luther, Zwingli, Knox, Cranmer, Latimer, Oecolampadius). Zwingli later openly confessed ongoing, scandalous adultery as well, so even marriage didn’t solve his problem. Henry VIII, of course, led a whole country away from Catholicism due primarily to his uncontrollable lust and desire to commit adultery – hardly a commendable or “spiritual” reason for starting a religious revolt!

One seldom finds this sort of moral laxity among converts to Catholicism. The overall moral and intellectual quality of our converts is clearly of an entirely different order. It’s much more difficult – everything being equal – to give up contraception and observe periodic marital abstinence (as in my case) than to throw off one’s solemn vows and engage in the pleasures of marital bliss. In other words, my motivation, whatever you think it was, clearly wasn’t the indulgence of fleshly pleasure, at least. There is no purely human temptation to espouse a higher and stricter morality, other than the heartfelt spiritual belief that it is true and right. I think you get my point by now.
Please forgive my long introduction. I must get into some depth because these are complex issues, and Catholicism cannot be reduced to simple formulas and slogans (e.g., all the “solas”) as easily as Protestantism can. Truth is always nuanced and multi-faceted, it seems to me. First, I will make some general observations about your book:

Avoiding the Opponent’s Best Arguments and Apologetics

You simply don’t deal with the best Catholic arguments in the book. You repeat all the predictable Protestant proof texts and platitudes ad infinitum (Ephesians 2:8-9 is all over the place and “faith alone” is innumerable), and imply in so many words, “how could anyone who isn’t brain dead possibly deny all this overwhelming evidence?” Since you repeatedly state that Catholicism is so unbiblical and has no biblical basis, etc., and rarely give our side of things (yes, biblical proofs, believe it or not), what do you expect a theologically unsophisticated reader to conclude (or even the sophisticated, if unacquainted with Catholic reasoning and apologetics)? This is hardly fair or balanced.

Now, I suspect you would respond by charging that my writings likewise present Catholic views one-sidedly and neglect the Protestant counterparts. But there are major differences:

A) I don’t claim that Protestants aren’t Christian, or that they deny the gospel, or that they have no conceivable biblical arguments, etc. And I often compliment and express respect for them, too. It seems to me that since you deny our Christian status, you have a much greater burden of proof and thus ought to refute our best polemics. You constantly insinuate that Catholics (with little or no qualification – so it includes me) are basically a bunch of biblically illiterate dolts and idiots (spiritually speaking) who can’t even get to the “kindergarten” of Christianity. If our view is as anemic as you believe, demolishing even our best defenses should be short work for you, right? Then your book would be infinitely more credible.

B) Protestants have many books elaborating their views, and Catholics (for various reasons) don’t have as many with their proofs. Thus I didn’t feel compelled to give all of your arguments, but rather, wanted to give the Catholic proofs, which are completely unknown to most people – kind of the same idea as Rush Limbaugh saying “I am equal time” (i.e., over against the overwhelmingly liberal media, academia, etc.). I would tell someone (like a good Socratic) to compare my proofs with yours and decide who has the better, more biblical and rational worldview. I’m fully confident mine would prevail, assuming such an inquirer was truly open-minded.

C) Our view is that many of your proof texts complement, rather than contradict ours. For example, all of Protestants’ alleged proofs for sola Scriptura prove only that Scripture is true, wonderful, fantastic, God’s Word, infallible, etc., which of course we entirely agree with, not that Scripture is ultimately opposed to Tradition and the Church – which we consider a false and unbiblical dichotomy.

The Inexplicable Absence of Church History and Church Fathers

Your stated opinions in many places render Church history altogether nonsensical and nearly irrelevant, as will be shown repeatedly below. As a non-sacramental, sola Scriptura evangelical, you neglect Church History and the Fathers almost entirely in your book. You say virtually nothing about the related concept of doctrinal development and the absolute necessity of understanding this if one is ever to remotely understand the doctrinal growth of Catholic Christianity (or even the mythical “proto-Protestantism” of c. 313?-1500) through the centuries (a key to my own conversion, after reading Newman).

In so doing, you unfortunately manifest the same mentality as Dave Hunt, who “debated” Karl Keating in the Detroit area on the historical proposition, “Was the Early Church Catholic?” without citing a single Church Father all night!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! When I pointed out the absurdity of this to him by mail, he retorted:

You missed the whole point of my debate – that I do not go to the church fathers to find out what the early church was like or what it should have been like, but I quoted the Bible. The Bible is what tells us about the early church . . . What’s the point of looking to the early church fathers? They could have departed from the truth as well! Our only sure knowledge of the early church was and should have been the scriptures. {personal letter of April 24, 1995}

Such a view is embarrassing, to say the least (with great restraint) and is self-refuting. Thus I will not waste my time “answering” it. Articulate Protestants tell me that sola Scriptura does not cancel out Tradition or Church History, yet with statements like this and the nonexistence of any substantial recourse to the history of Christianity before 1517 in your book (the ubiquitous Inquisition is mentioned, however), I become that much more hostile to sola Scriptura.

I see all around me the “fruit” it produces – Christians (not referring to you) who can’t see past their own nose and couldn’t care less about even the most brilliant Fathers such as St. Augustine (who is often inexplicably claimed by the rare history-minded Protestant as one of their own), or even the heritage of their own forerunners, the “Reformers,” quite often eschewing the very title “Protestant.” I must say I’ve never understood or comprehended the a-historical mindset, and I never possessed it as a Protestant. Since, as Newman says, “to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant,” I was destined to become a Catholic eventually.

Anti-Catholicism is a Minority Position Amongst Evangelical Protestant Scholars

I am encouraged that a large majority of evangelical Protestant scholars and leaders disagree with your incoherent (and uncharitable, since it is false) contention that Catholicism is not a Christian religion (most forcefully stated on pp. 73, 212, 218, 219, 221). I need not name them. You know who they are probably better than I do, since you are so concerned about the ECT statement. You even go so far as to deny that we “love and worship the same Lord” when you include John MacArthur’s Foreword (p. 11). Yet you often contradict yourself elsewhere when you explain that the two parties agree on many important areas (certainly including the nature of God – since you got your view lock, stock, and barrel from us – e.g., Athanasian Creed, Nicea, Chalcedon!), but since they supposedly disagree on the most important element, the “gospel,” Catholicism is thereby pagan. For instance, on p. 144 you write:

Most people [yourselves presumably included] realize that when Evangelicals and Catholics say that they accept Jesus Christ as Savior, that yes, for both Jesus is the Savior. But how a person receives Jesus’ salvation is not agreed upon . . .

Precisely! No argument here over the nature of Jesus. We can wrangle with the Mormons and JW’s over that one. But to say, as MacArthur does, and you implicitly, by including his Personal Word, that Catholicism has a different Jesus is outrageous, slanderous and preposterous – even worse than your oft-stated maxim that Catholicism denies the “gospel” (i.e., as you wrongly define it – see below). Perhaps you disagree with MacArthur (at least you do in your book elsewhere, I assume unconsciously). If so, then his ridiculous statement shouldn’t be in the book, much less at the place which is supposed to sum up the essence of your hypothesis. There is no excuse for this, and I can’t fathom how two Protestant apologists with doctorates in theology could possibly commit this mammoth faux pas.

Non Sequitur Title

Even your title is exceedingly curious. Of course we don’t “agree.” Who could deny that? But I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that Harvest House came up with this silly title. Nor does the ECT statement say that we agree in any remotely comprehensive fashion. Obviously, it was a “mere Christianity” type of effort – an attempt to acknowledge the affinities that we have, in minimalist language.

I think you greatly misunderstand the methods, function, goals and philosophy of theologically conservative ecumenists, since you are so violently opposed to the endeavor in the first place. I could have told you that Colson, Packer, Bright et al still believed in sola fide and sola Scriptura and all the other Protestant distinctives. Nothing in ECT implies otherwise. Did you really think they had changed their stripes? Do you have so little respect for your ecumenical evangelical comrades (perhaps less than I do myself) that you can accuse them with a straight face, of “betraying the gospel,” as Sproul said on your TV show?

It’s all so tragi-comic to an outside observer and former evangelical Protestant such as myself. Here someone is trying (God forbid!) to foster a little bit of unity without compromising distinctives, and people like Dave Hunt (whom you cite repeatedly as a trustworthy scholarly source) think the sky is falling down (“the most devastating blow against the gospel in at least 1,000 years”).

Now, on to particulars. I’ll try to be as brief as I can:

Protestant and Catholic Piety and Spirituality

Catholics are taught that a man cannot know his own heart. {p. 28}

Documentation, please? I suppose you are unfamiliar with works such as St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life, and Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, to name a few that come immediately to mind. I would venture to guess that the “Examination of Conscience” and other meditations taught by St. Ignatius lead to a far greater knowledge of one’s own “heart” than any Protestant works in the same vein. If you want to confuse “knowledge of the heart” with eternal security, then you can argue with all the Arminian denominations, and with St. Paul, St. Peter, and the writer of Hebrews, not me.

Protestant Diversity and Relativism Concerning Baptism / Double Standards

Protestantism sees both baptism and communion primarily as symbols and/or memorials of vital theological truths. {p. 70} 

The fact that Catholicism teaches baptism is an essential requirement for salvation underscores their system of works salvation . . . Nowhere in all the Bible can this teaching be demonstrated. {p. 75} 

To say that baptism is necessary for salvation is to undercut the basic biblical teaching of salvation by faith alone. {p. 76} 

The sacraments of Rome are proof that a system of salvation by merit is taught and therefore that the Catholic Church teaches another gospel (Galatians 1:8-9). {p. 87} 

If we can agree to disagree on something like this [baptismal regeneration] and still call Roman Catholics Christian, have we not abandoned the meaning of the words of Scripture? {p. 154}

[List of the “doctrine of salvation” – pp. 268-269] includes the following:

1. Depravity, 5. Atonement, 8. Regeneration, 10. Conversion, 13. Justification, 15. Sanctification, 16. Eternal Security, 17. Perseverance, 18. Election/Perseverance

[See also your laundry list on pp. 219-220]

The problem here is your inconsistency and tunnel vision. You pretend all Protestants are Calvinist Baptists, Presbyterians, or Reformed. As for the symbolic views of the Eucharist and Baptism, I ask, “which Protestants are you talking about?” Anglicans and Lutherans believe in the Real Presence. So now Luther, Melanchthon, Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard, C.S. Lewis and many of his friends are not Christians, according to your criteria of “orthodoxy”?

As for Baptism, Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ don’t regard it as symbolic, and all believe in Baptismal Regeneration and in the necessity of Baptism for salvation! This means, then, according to your above reasoning, that such groups (and persons such as John Wesley) must also be classed as teaching “Works Salvation,” “another gospel,” that they deny “faith alone,” are not “Christian,” and have “abandoned Scripture.” Surely the foolhardiness of this view is evident. Luther himself, the originator of sola fide, managed to simultaneously believe in the Real Presence, Adoration of the Host, Baptismal Regeneration, and even most of the Catholic Marian doctrines, including the Immaculate Conception This fact alone renders your contentions here absolutely absurd.

Why don’t you show the courage of your convictions and start booting the above groups and individuals, including Luther, your Founder, out of the Protestant faith? If Sacramentalism is un-Christian, where are the books claiming that Luther and Lutherans, Methodists, etc. are not Christian? Aren’t these people (by your logic) even worse than Catholics, since they pose as Protestants and should “know better”? Where is your righteous indignation over them? Protestants disagree about all nine of the aspects of Salvation listed above (from your list). You yourself even admit that Luther denied Eternal Security (p. 283 – his position being identical to the one I used to hold). So then, how can this belief be integral to the gospel (the denial of which makes one non-Christian)?

The “Unbiblical” Scandal of the Rosary?

But the Bible says not a word about recitation of the Rosary. This is another illustration of how Catholic tradition has undercut the authority of the Bible. {p. 97}

So what! Are you serious? The Bible doesn’t say a lot of things Protestants do now and accept as gospel truth. But I don’t see you complaining about that, or writing a Facts On . . . . booklet chronicling false Protestant accretions and traditions of men (the existence of which you recognize in your letter to me – p. 3). Sola Scriptura doesn’t require such an extreme “Bible-only” view, bordering on bibliolatry.

(Evangelical) Keith Green wrote a tract in 1981 in which he criticized elements that he thought were added to the gospel by Protestants, such as: the Altar call, sinner’s prayer, “1-2-3 steps to salvation” booklets (Campus Crusade), the “Poor Jesus” syndrome, bumper stickers, “Christian” slogans, and the “follow-up” program. I could add many more, e.g., mandatory tithing, fund-raising letters, “prayer cloths,” church buildings, public relations schemes, numerical church growth (over against individual spiritual growth), the biblical Canon, denominations, tongues for every believer, congregational government, “self-help” Christian psychology, the word “Trinity,” missionary and TV evangelist pleas for financial support, “accepting Jesus as your personal Savior,” sola Scriptura, and evangelistic tracts. I could go on to defend the Rosary itself (both its content and propriety) but that’s a whole ‘nother subject and I’m trying to be as brief as I can (I’d be glad to later if you want me to). Luther accepted it, so again, it can’t be all bad. Here I just want to show how absurd your above statement is.

Is Purgatory Biblical?

The Bible does not teach that in order to enter heaven, purgatorial suffering is necessary. {p. 108} 

The Scriptures commonly cited in defense of purgatory . . . can only be so appropriated under Catholic premises. {p. 109}

I’m asked to believe that all the great Christian theologians, saints, Fathers, Doctors, philosophers, etc. were all biblically-illiterate dolts for 1500 years until (and even after) Dr. Luther came on the scene?! Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Jerome, Ambrose, Athanasius, Leo the Great, Irenaeus, Cyprian, Chrysostom, St. Francis, Bonaventure, St. Francis de Sales, Bellarmine, Pascal (whom you quote), Descartes, Shakespeare, Dante, Chesterton, Newman . . . all these people were (in effect) idiots who accepted an utterly unbiblical tradition; they couldn’t arrive at the same apparent, “perspicuous” truth that someone with a mind like, say, Dave Hunt, can “know” in his third-grade Sunday school class. Yet C.S. Lewis (and many high-church Anglicans) could believe in it, and he was not overly-enamored with the Catholic Church. And he is loved by evangelicals who manage to ignore or overlook his non-evangelical views on many issues.

It’s one thing to make blanket statements about another’s position – yet another to refute it step-by-step with actual reasoning and exegetical analysis. I challenge you or any other Protestant to do that with any of my website papers (or books) in defense of Catholicism. If you can’t, then it seems obvious to me that you shouldn’t write books which insult and bear false witness about fellow Christians – yes, “brothers in Christ.” This matter is of the greatest seriousness on your part. Again, if you’re wrong, you’ll have an awful lot to account for on the Day of Judgment. I’m trying to spare you from that misery, so you ought to give my material (and that of other Catholic apologists) the utmost consideration for your own sake and that of all that you reach and teach (James 3:1).

The Tired and Outrageously False Charges of Pelagianism and a “Different Gospel”

How close one gets to Christianity isn’t the issue. The issue is, Does one accept the gospel or not? . . . That [Catholicism] teaches salvation by works proves that it is not a Christian religion.” {p. 219; cf. similar slanders on pp. 141, 183, 186, 188, 220}

More of the same falsehoods. How sad and unnecessary. Sola fide, I regretfully inform you again, is not the gospel. That’s why ECT entailed no compromise on “faith alone” on the Protestants’ part. I’ll cite Scripture as to the definition of “gospel.” Protestants, of all people – the ones who believe in sola Scriptura – ought to get their definition from the Bible, but in this case, you don’t, preferring Luther (i.e., a “tradition of men”) to Scripture itself. I’m no theologian, and am fully aware of my limitations, but it seems to me that the Bible is clear (“perspicuous”?) as to the content of the gospel. After all, we have a record of the apostles preaching it immediately after Pentecost. So we know very specifically what it is – apart from abstract analysis about the relationship of justification and sanctification, faith and works, God’s enabling grace and our cooperation, etc. Those things are helpful and important philosophical/theological theories as to how salvation is appropriated to us, but they are not the gospel itself.

St. Peter’s first sermon in the Upper Room (Acts 2:22-40) is certainly the gospel. In it he utters not a word about “faith alone.” When the hearers ask him (2:37) “what shall we do?,” Peter didn’t say, “All you need is faith.” Rather he told them to “Repent, and be baptized . . . for the remission of sins” (2:38). So right in the first instance of the gospel preached after Pentecost we find the apostle Peter descending into the slime pit of “unbiblical” sacramentalism and “works” – baptismal regeneration. How could he be so dim-witted and “Catholic,” and right after receiving the Holy Spirit at that? No wonder he was the first pope! He couldn’t even figure out grace. Or so you would have it.

St. Paul defines the gospel in Acts 13:16-41 as the resurrection of Jesus (32-33). Again in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 Paul says the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Right after Paul got “saved,” as you would say, what did he do? He got baptized, in order to “wash away” his sins, as he recounts in Acts 22:16. So now Paul, too, (who everyone “knows” was a Protestant) believes in baptismal regeneration and ceases to be a Christian, according to your logic on p. 154 and elsewhere. It’s easy for you to rationalize the passage away as merely symbolic, but nothing in the text and context suggests – let alone requires – this. Your symbolic view, is, I submit, an extrascriptural bias applied to the text in order to bolster your preconceived notions of “faith alone” and anti-sacramentalism.

Even Jesus couldn’t get the formula right. When the rich young ruler asked Him how to be saved (Luke 18:18-25), He didn’t say “just believe in Me with faith alone.” Rather, He commanded him to do a work, to sell all that he had. Can you imagine Billy Graham (whom I also greatly admire) telling someone that (or yourself)? Jesus even rewards according to “works” rather than an utter reliance on sola fide (Matthew 16:27). And He appears to tie salvation causally (conjunction “for” in v. 35) to works of charity, in the famous separation of the sheep and goats passage (Matthew 25:31-46). Now, I’m sure you’ll say that Protestants have reasonable alternate interpretations of all these passages. But the Catholic interpretations are just as valid prima facie, based on the plain language and exegesis (I think more so).

I think you are confusing the gospel with commentary and elaborate explanation of it. How justification and sanctification are precisely related to one another and the question of extrinsic vs. intrinsic justification are theological constructs, but not the gospel itself. They are supremely important, but, given the primacy of the Lord Jesus – His incarnation and atoning death and resurrection and ascension, and God’s undeserved grace in the theology of both Protestants and Catholics, I don’t see why we should separate on the basis of philosophical theology. Sure, I think you’re wrong on justification, but, consistent with my worldview, I can’t deem you “non-Christian” on that basis. Your view, though, requires you to renounce Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and all Arminian Protestants and others who have “Catholic” views on one thing or another, but you won’t face this. So, in addition to being dead wrong as to who is and isn’t a Christian, you are logically inconsistent and uncharitable (sorry!).

Since Protestants and Catholics both agree that salvation comes as a result of Christ’s atoning work on our behalf and is ultimately His work of grace, and that good works ought to be present in every Christian’s life, they can agree in the ECT statement and concur on the essentials of the gospel. Haggling over the place or existence of man’s free will and cooperation with God (which is an inter-Protestant squabble as well) should not eclipse the fact that both parties accept the gospel of the risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You’ve collapsed what you think is the gospel down to a mythical singular “Protestant” definition of it, which is in reality the Presbyterian/Reformed/Baptist view – typical of the denominational tunnel vision of Protestants. Each denomination thinks it represents the truest, best, most pure brand of Protestantism, and hence, Christianity. Tsk, tsk.

The So-Called “Apocrypha”

The Apocrypha . . . had already been rejected as false by Jesus Christ, the apostles, and the church for 15 centuries. {p. 145}

This is an outright falsehood. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (2nd ed., edited by F. L Cross & E.A. Livingstone, Oxford University Press, 1983), a well-respected non-Catholic source, states:

Down to the 4th century, the Church generally accepted all the Books of the Septuagint as canonical. Greek and Latin writers alike (e.g., Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian) cite both classes of Books without distinction . . . With few exceptions [St. Jerome and St. Hilary] . . . Western writers (esp. Augustine) continued to consider all as equally canonical . . . At the Reformation, Protestant leaders, ignoring the traditional acceptance of all the Books of the Septuagint in the early Church . . . refused the status of inspired Scripture [to the “Apocrypha”] . . . {pp. 70-71}

As for the Apostles and Jesus, everyone agrees that they used and cited the Septuagint, which contained the “Apocrypha.” The earliest Greek manuscripts contain these books interspersed with (not separate from) the others, proving they were part of the early Christian Bible. The Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397) listed them as canonical, along with the other 39 books which Protestants accept. Who are Protestants to decide 1100 years later that these Councils erred on some books but not others? The only reason you have the Bible you do is because you inconsistently accept the authority of these Councils as to the Canon (except for the “Apocrypha”).

The late Protestant rejection of these books is largely based on inadequate and arbitrary grounds: the clear teaching in some of prayers for the dead and the intercession of saints and angels, which had been unbroken Christian (and Jewish) Tradition. This is the same rationale that caused Luther nearly to toss out James and other books, based on his personal aversion to their (Catholic) teachings. Thus, Protestants have “subtracted” from the Bible, rather than Catholics “adding” to it. Yours is the radical and novel innovation (i.e., corruption) not ours. The practice of separating the Apocryphal books from the others dates back no further than 1520, according to The New English Bible (Oxford, 1976, “Introduction to the Apocrypha,” p.iii). And, of course, the original KJV contained it, too. So, again, you are refuted entirely from Protestant sources and the indisputable facts of Church history.

A Glaring Lack of Understanding

We do understand Roman Catholic convictions. {p. 149}

I’m afraid not, based on how I’ve answered you in this letter and exposed numerous factual, theological and logical errors on your part. I’ll grant that you basically can state our positions with a modicum of objectivity, but understand them? No way! Not fully – or else you could never classify us as non-Christian, which is a self-defeating position for any Protestant to take, based – among other things – on your obvious derivation from us. A stream cannot rise above its source. I challenge you, on the other hand, to show me anywhere where I’ve misunderstood your position (or even that of the many Protestants who disagree with several of your dogmatic positions).

Were the Apostles Proto-Protestants?

Certainly, the apostles never taught the doctrines unique to Roman Catholic theology, whether or not some in the Church’s history have. {p. 198}

Obviously, we feel that the apostles did teach our doctrines (some in kernel form – according to the notion of development). Of course, the next “generation,” the Fathers, were Catholic, too, and undeniably so, most noticably with regard to such doctrines as the Real Presence, sacramental Baptism, Bishops, and Apostolic Succession (which mitigates against sola Scriptura). If you disagree, then I think it is your Christian and intellectual duty to show us (me, anyway) how we are wrong, by dealing with our best biblical arguments (you can ignore history if you like, but you can’t totally avoid reason and Scripture).

The Ubiquitous Objection: Priestly Celibacy

Consider the priestly ban on marriage and Rome’s ‘imposing an unnatural burden upon her clergy that very few could bear.’ {p. 215}

Now we’re in the realm of insipid and shallow rhetoric. In bringing this up (inevitable in every anti-Catholic work), you reveal that you accept one of the fundamental tenets of the sexual revolution: that sexual abstinence is well-nigh impossible and unnatural. With such “reasoning” we might as well hand out condoms to all teenagers over 13 and let them fornicate with our blessing since they supposedly can’t do otherwise (thereby reducing them to mere beasts, devoid of God’s image and strengthening power)! Luther and virtually all of the early Protestant leaders felt the same way.
Yet Scripture clearly teaches something different (Matt 19:12, 1 Cor 7:7-9,20,25-28,32-38), and it seems that, more and more, Catholics are the only Christians who agree with Scripture on this point, rather than the prevailing winds of cultural and moral decadence. It must be stated forcefully that no one is forced to be celibate. Every priest who feels called to the Catholic Western or Latin Rites (the Eastern Rites of Catholicism allow marriage) ought to simultaneously feel called by God to celibacy, according to the teaching of the above scriptures. If not, let them go to the Orthodox or Episcopalians or any other Protestant denomination. This is as silly as a man whining that he can’t join the army because he can’t stand constantly being with 30 other men. Numerous other analogies could be given. Every institution has the right to create whatever rules and regulations it deems necessary for its purposes.

Who Were the “True Christians” with “Correct Doctrinal Belief” in the Middle Ages?

What makes a religion Christian is both a) a fundamental body of correct doctrinal belief that true Christians have always believed in without compromise, and b) religious practices and life-style among its members that conform to biblical standards. {p. 218}

Please give me the definitive (infallible?) list of your “correct doctrinal beliefs” and then I can see what Protestants will be eliminated from Christianity for not adhering to it. And where are these “true Christians” who have always believed this “Protestant Orthodoxy”? You will have one heaven of a time seeking to establish this through history, since it “just ain’t so.” Geisler and MacKenzie state that:

Between the time of the apostle Paul and the Reformation . . . scarcely anyone taught imputed righteousness (or forensic justification).

{Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1995, p. 502}

Likewise, Kenneth Samples (following the views of Walter Martin), in an article on whether Catholicism is Christian, writes that if Catholicism and Orthodoxy are considered as “non-Christian,” then:

There was no authentic Christian church during most of the medieval period . . . There was no independent, nondenominational, Bible-believing church on the corner (or in the caves) during most of the Middle Ages. Additionally, the schismatic groups who were around at the time were grossly heretical. So much for the gates of hell not prevailing against the church (Matt 16:18).

{Christian Research Journal, Spring 1993, p. 37)

This is your dilemma – finding the Protestant “church” throughout history. This has always been a Protestant “Achilles’ Heel.”

As for “biblical lifestyles,” evangelicals are in rough shape. Apart from all kinds of compromises with worldly, modernistic norms, there is increasing sexual sin, such as a rising divorce rate and widespread fornication. I’m not the only one saying this. There is plenty of healthy self-examination going on right now within evangelicalism on this score. For one compelling example, what about contraception? Without doubt, this was considered a grave sin by all Christians until 1930, when the Anglicans adopted it for “hard cases” (where have we heard that rhetoric before?). Luther and Calvin and all the Protestant Founders condemned it unequivocally, even as murder. So who upholds this previously unanimously-held Christian moral position today? Catholics. We’re more in line with Luther and Calvin than you are.

If you want to adopt the same sort of progressive, relativistic morality as the humanists and liberals, go ahead. As for me and my house, we will follow unanimous Christian Tradition and continue to hold that contraception is a grave sin. It has a clear and unarguable philosophical and sociological link to the rise of fornication and promiscuity and abortion. One sin always leads to others. So much for the supposed moral superiority of evangelicals.

Those Wicked, Bible-Hating Popes

All the popes have ever done is to uphold Catholic doctrines that deny what the Bible teaches . . . Catholic tradition also denies what the Bible teaches . . . All this teaching authority has done historically is to pervert what the Bible teaches. {p. 220}

Here we enter the realm of farce and sheer silliness. You refute this yourself elsewhere, so I don’t have to waste my time doing it. On p. 255, you even applaud Pope St. Leo the Great (whom, you blithely inform us, “was not a pope,” contrary to most church historians) for his marvelous work “on the side of orthodoxy” in crafting “one of the classic creeds of Christendom” (that of the Two Natures of Christ which Protestants accept). Then you mention Pope St. Gregory the Great, who “may be considered the first pope” (thank you for small favors). Since he was a pope, then “all” he could do would be to “deny what the Bible teaches” (hence Christianity itself). Yet you contradict yourself in spectacular fashion when you turn around and say “he sent so many missionaries to England that the country was converted to Christianity”! This is a classic example of the historical schizophrenia of many Protestants. Nothing further needs to be said. This ought to make you blush with embarrassment.

Marian Doctrines (and Martin Luther)

By your reasoning (or more accurately, lack thereof) on p. 221, the Catholic Marian doctrines make whoever holds them non-Christian. After citing Catholic Marian beliefs, and other Catholic “distinctives,” you assert:

There are so many ways in which Catholicism is not biblical that it is logically impossible to classify it as a Christian religion.

Therefore, without question, Martin Luther must be tossed onto your dung heap of false religions and religionists, since he held to most of these beliefs. How could our differences be “insurmountable” when Super-Pope Luther himself held important aspects of both sides in his own theology and person?

More Factual Error

At Vatican II the bodily assumption of Mary was contested. {p. 260}

I don’t think so. Since this was defined as dogma in 1950, it was no longer technically or “legally” possible to dispute it within Catholicism at a Council. Perhaps you are referring to the question as to whether she died or not before her Assumption, which hasn’t been defined as dogma.

Have Only Catholics Been Intolerant?

Hasn’t Rome persecuted Evangelicals throughout history, while Evangelical sins in this regard have been almost nonexistent by comparison? {p. 262} 

During and since the Reformation, Rome has openly persecuted Christians . . . It is a sad commentary on Catholicism . . . that throughout history hundreds of thousands of Protestants died at the hands of Catholics. {p. 265}

Since no one ever hears about the myriad instances of Protestant atrocities and intolerance, what do you expect them to think? They believe (as I used to) the myth of Protestant tolerance, religious freedom, sweetness and light, superior righteousness, etc. (which you perpetuate). But this isn’t quite fair, is it? Once they see the other side of the story, their perspective changes greatly. For it’s far worse for a group which claims to uphold individual freedom of conscience and of private judgment, to persecute not only Catholics, but also their fellow revolutionaries.

Calvin’s Geneva (the “city on a hill”) and good old England were perhaps the worst places to be during the post-“Reformation” period, if you happened to disagree with Calvin or Henry VIII respectively. Nor was it very pleasant or safe to be a Jew, Anabaptist, or peasant (in 1525) in Luther’s Germany, or a “witch” (whether alleged or real) in any Protestant country, or anything but an Anglican or Puritan in old Virginny and Massachusetts, or an Irishman anywhere in the British Isles (they killed almost every priest in Ireland), or St. Thomas More (who opposed divorce) anywhere within range of Henry’s henchmen. Selective indignation, whether political or religious, has always been severely irksome to me. If past persecution disqualifies a religious body from Christianity, then the only Christians left are the Mennonites, Quakers and the Amish, and I don’t think you’re any of those, so we’re both infidels, I guess. I neither defend nor admire the Inquisition or Crusades, but at the same time I point out little-known Protestant shortcomings. Truth is always stranger than fiction.

A Different Trinity and Holy Spirit????

On pp. 267-8 you again enter the fairyland of surreal absurdity and Orwellian doublespeak by asserting that the Catholic Church has “to one degree or another . . . distorted these key theological doctrines.”

Among the listed doctrines are the Godhead and the Trinity and the Holy Spirit. Please inform me as to how Catholics have “distorted” the above doctrines, if you could, as I don’t have the slightest clue whatsoever. Also, please tell me how Protestants differ from our perspective on these topics (after all, you say you could “write an entire text on each one” chronicling our errors). All I can come up with is strong Protestant Nestorian tendencies in Christology and Copeland and Hagin’s errors (Jesus needs to be “born again”). Other than that I’m baffled. If you can’t elaborate on this, you owe Catholics a public apology, and you should also revise your book. While you’re at it, you might want to consider taking out all the statements that I believe I’ve shown (directly or by logical extension) to be falsehoods.

Conclusion and Friendly Challenge to My Protestant Brothers

That’s about it for now, then. I’d also be happy to deal with any other particulars in your book you might want to ask me about. And I’m very curious to see what Dr. Ankerberg thinks of all this, too. I would like to request that he at least read this letter. If so, I’d love to know his one- or two-sentence verdict on my effort.

As with the other anti-Catholic (and a few ecumenical) Protestants, I challenge you, too, to an amiable debate in your newsletter (if you have one) or perhaps pamphlet in a point-counterpoint format, like the IVP “Four Views On . . .” series, which I love. Let the readers decide for themselves, after seeing the best shot that we both can put up. I have no fear or qualms whatsoever. Do you? If my case is so bad, then why not let me be a “fool for Christ”?

Sincerely, looking forward with anticipation to your reply,

Dave Armstrong

P.S. I hope you’re not offended by my vigorous critiques of arguments. I assure you I have nothing personal against you.

[as I noted above, Dr. Weldon did not reply to my critique, nor have I ever heard from him since – more than six and-a-half years, as of this later note] 

[2-16-10: and now it is over twenty years with no response, even though Dr. Weldon had written, “I would be happy to respond to any letter you send evaluating our new book.”]

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