Is Catholicism Christian or Not? (vs. James White): Pt. 3

Is Catholicism Christian or Not? (vs. James White): Pt. 3 November 7, 2017

Part III: My 16-Page First Counter-Reply (22 April 1995)

Cover (555 x 838)

My book (2013, 395 pages; available for as low as $2.99).

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Complete Debate:

Part I: Introduction and My Initial Form Letter (23 March 1995)

Part II: Mr. White’s 7-Page Initial Reply (6 April 1995)

Part III: My 16-Page First Counter-Reply (22 April 1995)

Part IV: Mr. White’s 17-Page Second Counter-Reply (4 May 1995)

Part V: My 36-Page Second Counter-Reply (15 May 1995) and Mr. White’s One-Page “Reply” (10 November 1995)


22 April 1995

To: James White

Dear James,

I hope this letter finds you well. Thank you very much for your extensive reply (dated April 6, 1995) to my letter — the most in-depth response I’ve yet received from a Protestant after more than four years as a Catholic (not for lack of trying, believe me). Let me commend you on one of the many areas of agreement which we do indeed share — your work with regard to the King James Only crowd. Gail Riplinger is a true nut. I’m happy that you’ve taken on this serious error. Keep it up! Would that all of your “crusades” were so worthwhile and useful for the Body of Christ.

I agree with your first point about “uncharitability” and “schismatic” words and actions. Truth is often seen as uncharitable. We feel similarly about each other’s outlook. I claim your views possess this trait precisely because I believe them to be untrue. You return the favor. If indeed I’m a Christian, then your words about my beliefs violate several clear biblical injunctions, such as, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”

Thus we are inexorably brought back to square one: What is a Christian?, Is “sola fide” the gospel?, Is “sola scriptura” the eleventh commandment (“Thou shalt have no authority except Scripture”)?, Is sacramentalism idolatrous and Pelagian?, etc. One major distinction, however, should be duly noted. We Catholics — notwithstanding harsh Trent language — still officially regard Protestants as our “brothers in Christ,” whereas so many of you regard us as non-Christians. Thus, the issue of charity would seem to favor us, at least at first glance.

Thank you for your three books and newsletter. I always (sincerely) appreciate free reading materials. You showed great perception in perhaps realizing that I would never spend a dime on an anti-Catholic book, even at the used-book sales I like to frequent. One has only so much time and money, and edifying, intellectually sound and worthwhile pursuits are much-preferred (e.g., I don’t read cultic or Marxist literature except for strictly research purposes). I’ll read your stuff provided you’re willing to interact with my refutations. I can confidently defend all of my works and always welcome any critiques of them.

I’ll admit that you’re by far the most intelligent of the anti-Catholics, which is, however, not saying much (as you yourself admit in your comments on anti-Catholics on pp. 20-21 of Fatal Flaw, yet even so you paradoxically enlist that towering intellect brother Brewer for your Foreword!). At least you seek to achieve some modicum of objectivity by citing leqitimate sources, to your great (almost unique) credit. How you misinterpret and misunderstand and argue against these sources constitute your own logical “fatal flaw.” James Akin, in his critique of your book (“Fatally Flawed Thinking,” This Rock, July 1993, pp.7-13) points out several of the book’s many egregious errors, even in the basic understanding of Catholic positions (see, e.g., p.13).

Let me point out that I too have studied the Wittenberg and Genevan and Amsterdam and Tulsa and Downers Grove and Grand Rapids position(s) quite thoroughly; and have lived (some of) them wholeheartedly for ten years, half of which as an intensely-committed evangelist willing to endure great hardships and misunderstanding for the sake of Christ and His call on my life. So we’re even there, too. Again, I think I get the edge since I’ve actually been on both sides of the fence, whereas you haven’t (this isn’t to say that one cannot know a position from the outside — e.g., my Jehovah’s Witness research). I, too, have written a book (750 pages — possibly to be published by Ignatius Press) and tons of shorter apologetic materials.

You get the edge on debates. I’ve sought in vain to engage Protestants in both conversation and by letter, but no one has yet shown the willingness to continue after reading any of my in-depth critiques of Protestantism. Perhaps you’ll be the first. I would have relished just this opportunity when I was Protestant, so I’m truly perplexed at the weak knees of evangelicals. My perspective is constructively ecumenical, not destructively adversarial. Evangelicals are fairly decent at published self-criticism, but apparently not very willing to face biblical, historical and reasoned critiques from across the Tiber. This is most unfortunate and curious.

I know the arguments of anti-Catholicism quite well, I assure you (also those of ecumenical Protestant apologists). Your arguments in Fatal Flaw and your letter are almost predictable, no offense intended. Let me respond to the latter, if I may. You claim I didn’t have an adequate knowledge of “Roman” theology, hence I was open prey for clever, devious papists who easily reeled me in by means of Babylonish guile, because I had indeed already “rejected the tenets of the Reformation” and was “not truly a Protestant to begin with.” Boy, where to begin with such inanities!

First of all, your information as to the state of my knowledge of Catholicism prior to my conversion is far too inadequate to justify your wild speculations, based as they are on a twelve-page conversion story (the shortest in the book). What do you know about the extent of my studies, or how well-read I am, or who I’ve talked to? Next to nothing. I know it’s necessary for you to come up with wishful and baseless theories, since it’s unthinkable for you to accept the possibility of a thoughtful and genuine conversion to Catholicism based on Scripture, Church history and reason.

But this doesn’t make said theories hold any water if they lack the appropriate facts and analysis. Your “reasoning” here is exactly analogous to that of outright atheists who “explain” away Protestant conversions, ignoring the sincere self-reports of people who have undergone “born-again salvation” (they think God a crutch, rather than infallibility). Having personally experienced both types of conversions, I need not denigrate either one by means of foolish speculation. I merely reinterpret the first theologically. You could do that, too, but instead you resort to unfounded, condescending scenarios of my alleged ignorant gullibility.

Secondly, you denigrate my being impressed with Catholics in Operation Rescue. Now, how is this any different from the observance of committed “born again” Protestants, talked about all the time in the “testimonies” of evangelical circles as a means of “getting people saved,” of “being a good witness,” “walking the walk,” “letting your light shine,” being “epistles read of men,” etc.? There is no difference. It’s silly for you to criticize this element in my odyssey when it is so much a part of your own evangelistic, conversionist theology and ethos, as you are surely aware.

As I stated in my book, I had never seen such commitment among Catholics. It is to be expected in order for one to believe in any way of life which claims to transform human beings. But this was only one fairly minor factor. The primary initial reasons for my change were the moral bankruptcy of Protestantism (e.g., contraception and divorce), its anti-historical essence (as shown in Newman’s Development), and the absurdity and unbiblical nature of Luther’s many novel fancies (gleaned from reading his own words).

The only possible way in which I could formerly be described as some sort of “Catholic” would be my longstanding beliefs in (like Wesley) progressive sanctification, and (like the best Protestant scholars such as Geisler, Colson, Lewis, and Pelikan) strong advocacy of both history and reason, elements largely frowned upon by Protestantism. But clearly you don’t accept my story at face value. Instead, like a true ideologue in the worst sense of that term, you grasp for straws in order to bolster your interpretation of what you would like to believe about my supposed journey from semi-Pelagianism to Pelagianism, rather than from dim to bright light, as I see it, or from skeletal, “mere” Bible Christianity to full-bodied, historical, incarnational Christianity grounded in Tradition and a real Church, not merely subjective whims and fancies, abstractions, and countless arrogant counter-charges and self-proclaimed “authorities.”

Thirdly, it’s news to me that belief in supralapsarian double predestination and total depravity (man is a worm on a dunghill) constitutes the quintessence of true Protestantism and hence, Christianity. This opens up a gargantuan can of worms both theologically and logically. Akin pointed out how (as I suspected) your Five-point Calvinism leads you to exclude from the Body anyone denying even limited atonement alone (p. 8). Then, he recounts (p. 9, note 12) how you tried to weasel your way out of the unavoidable implications of your own position by denying this. Which is it? Was I a Protestant or not, since I most certainly denounced “such things as the Mass, purgatory, and indulgences,” which you told James Akin were necessary for Christianhood?

I was in very good company as a Protestant: Melanchthon (whom Luther hailed as the greatest theologian that ever lived, and his Loci as second only to the Bible) rejected Luther’s denial of free will as early as 1527 in his Commentary on Colossians), and did not include this falsehood in the Augsburg Confession (1530), the authoritative Lutheran document approved by Dr. Luther himself. Strange, then, if he wasn’t a Christian. John Wesley is thought by most Christians to be among their number — at least as eligible as you, if I do say so. Likewise, Charles Finney, and C. S. Lewis, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Newman, Chesterton, Knox and Richard John Neuhaus before their conversions. I believe all of these men were Arminian.

Whole denominations, such as Methodists, Lutherans, the majority of Anglicans, Free Will Baptists, most pentecostals and many non-denominationalists are also out of the fold, by your definition. Even Keith Tolbert, a major cult researcher and now sole author of the Directory, is an Arminian (Assembly of God). So I guess he isn’t a Christian either, and is in danger of becoming a papist (which prospect would be quite surprising to him, I’m sure!). Why, then, don’t you write books about all these erring non-Christians too, since people will go to hell, according to you, by following their Pelagian doctrines just as us poor papists will? What’s good for the goose . . .

Spare me. No reputable pastor or evangelist openly presents Five-Point Calvinism as the gospel. Billy Graham (whom I greatly respect) tells me I merely need to give my life over to Christ to be saved. It’s ridiculous enough to present “sola fide” as the gospel (as Sproul, MacArthur and Ankerberg do), let alone TULIP, which excludes the great majority of Christians at all times through history. Besides clear scriptural counter-evidence, TULIP is false because, simply put, it transforms God into a demon-god who creates people solely for the reason of damning and torturing them for eternity, through no fault or choice of their own, and makes Him the author of evil.

This is absolutely blasphemous and one of the most abominable lies from the pit of hell ever devised. That’s why I always rejected it, but this had no bearing on my former firm beliefs in “sola Scriptura” and “sola fide.” Those are the two true (albeit weak) pillars of Protestantism, as illustrated in the very rallying-cries of Luther and other “Reformers.” Who ever cried “Predestination to hell alone for the reprobate”?! I’ve always held that Calvinism was consistent, but unscriptural and wicked.

Because of the dreadful, ghastly teachings of Calvinism, men could not suffer it for long, so that, typically, error in turn bred even worse error. We see this clearly in the history of New England, where the Puritans evolved into Unitarians by 1800. Host of the founders of the cults, such as Russell, Eddy, Joseph Smith, and Wierwille, started out as Calvinists and found the teachings so revolting that they went to the other extreme and embraced Pelagianism and rejected the Trinity. Both the Lutherans and (most) Anglicans came to their senses and rejected Calvinism early on.

But another insuperable difficulty remains with this intolerable position of yours. Who are you to say whether I am a Christian or not? You’re just one little old cult researcher with a pulpit, a para-church ministry and a Master’s from Fuller — hardly in the same league with the many stalwart figures mentioned above. Are you a Magisterium of one? Are you your own pope (which, I argue, is pretty much true for every individual Protestant)? Why should I trust your word on this (and my eternal destiny) rather than that of Wesley, or C. S. Lewis, or the “great” Melanchthon, or a host of others, not to mention Augustine, Irenaeus, Athanasius, Ignatius, Aquinas and the massive structure of the Catholic Church, the Fathers, Christian Tradition, the Councils, etc.?

Thus you subtly set yourself up, for all intents and purposes, as the sort of Infallible Guide you chide me for embracing (“there is a wonderful feeling, I’m sure, that accompanies being told with infallible certainty what to believe”). Your whole enterprise presents a quite humorous (but tragi-comic) episode in self-delusion and blindness to the absurdity of one’s own position. Can’t you see it? Your argument collapses on your own head (but since it is a house of cards in the first place, I guess it won’t hurt too much!).

You say, “You might well be wrong.” Of course! What else is new? But the point is, I’m in a helluva lot better company (no pun intended) than you are. I’d much sooner place my trust in Catholicism (in terms of human authority -not meant to exclude Christ!) in all its glory than in the foul-mouthed, emotionally unstable and contradictory Luther and the calculating, self-righteous and ruthless Calvin, both of whose teachings are full of holes theologically, lacking precedent historically, and gravely deficient morally.

Everyone trusts in someone or something, whether it’s Tradition or Protestant “Reformation mythology” (“Luther lit a candle in the darkness…”) or Billy Graham or an infallible Bible (but which interpretation?) or Pastor Doe down the street or J. Vernon McGee, or whatever I feel the “Spirit” is telling me up in my attic, surrounded by the infallible, “perspicuous,” and trustworthy guidance of the Bible and James White books, which refute all others. The Protestant position is self-defeating, indeed full of “organizational anarchy, schism, and theological relativism,” as I write in my letter. Who could fail to see that? You yourself admit in your book that most evangelicals have gone astray (as if this is something unexpected!).

You make a silly remark about “how could you believe otherwise?” about the superiority of Catholic biblical support since I am not permitted to doubt this as a Catholic. The reply is simple. If I’m shown otherwise, then most certainly I will renounce Catholicism, just as I left evangelicalism for higher things. You assume I am shackled like a prisoner in a “Roman” dungeon for all eternity. But we believe in free will– you are the ones who deny that. You act like I accept the proposition that Catholicism is more biblical only because I am taught this from Mother Church, and not on the basis of actually considering the merits of each side.

In a sense this is true because the Catholic is not arrogant enough to assume that he is the arbiter and final judge of all truth given him from any source (see my arguments above about the inevitability of trusting something outside oneself). We submit to a Tradition which includes all the great Christian minds who have reflected upon that Deposit of Faith, received from Jesus and the Apostles and developed as a result of battle with heretics for nearly 2000 years. I am very proud to do this, and not in the least ashamed.

I did accept the authority of the Church initially because of clear superiority over the absurdity and historical implausibility of the Protestant a-historical, Docetic-like, “mystical” conception of the Church and its Tradition, and desperate reliance on “sola Scriptura,” an unbiblical, man-made, self-defeating, arbitrary tradition. But once I thoroughly familiarized myself with all the apologetic literature and biblical arguments for the Catholic distinctives I could find (in the 4-year course of writing my book), I became absolutely convinced that Catholicism is the most biblical position, as I stated in my letter.

I guess you’ll just have to read some of my book (with your consent, you might start with the “sola fide” and “sola Scriptura” chapters), to understand why I believe as I do, and feel fully justified intellectually and biblically in placing my trust in the Church for doctrines I may not yet totally understand as well as those which I do grasp (see Newman’s Grammar of Assent for the full treatment of Catholic intellectuality). My challenge to you is to refute my arguments therein and elsewhere.

Ever since I studied Socrates (from whom I derive my preferred method of discourse) in college in 1977 I have consistently sought to strongly believe in ideas, based on evidence, unless and until I am shown otherwise — and I am always willing to change my mind in such cases, as I have done on numerous occasions throughout my life (which is one reason I am a Catholic, pro-life, politically conservative, and against divorce and contraception — all views which I used to oppose). In this aspect I haven’t changed a whit since “poping.” How can you blame me for remaining Catholic when no Protestant has shown a willingness for over four years to show me how my apologetic arguments fail?

Where is the concern for my soul from these people, if indeed I’m on a terrible hellbound path, as many of them think (or at least drastically wrong on many points, if not “unsaved”)? I’d be glad to encounter and confront any of these opposing views in continuing dialogue, if only I could find an evangelical who isn’t, frankly, a “chicken.” It looks like you might be that person. I’ll have to wait for your response to see if this is the case. So, I am open-minded in every sense of the word. Are you willing to convert to Catholicism if shown that it is superior to Protestantism? If not, then it is you who have profoundly “blind faith” (or, stubborn pride), not me. As the saying goes, “a man convinced against his will, retains his original belief still.”

As for recourse to the Fathers, there can be no doubt that Protestants (like their fathers Luther and Calvin) are selectively dishonest — no question whatsoever. I myself engaged in this same tactic when fighting for Protestantism in 1990. I tried to squeeze the Fathers into my own mold, for my own polemical purposes. This was devious, but it is done all the time by evangelicals, particularly in espousing St. Augustine as one of their own, which is patently ridiculous. Although what you describe as “anachronistic interpretation” among Catholic apologists happens, I’m sure, at times (all people being biased), usually the Protestant misunderstands the concept of development, in which any given doctrine is not required to be in place in its fullness in the first, second, or sometimes third and even fourth centuries.

Rather than trading horror stories of “patristic abuse,” I would prefer to actually pick a topic and see what the Fathers indeed taught. I’ve compiled this evidence in all my theological chapters in my book, so I’m already prepared for such a debate. How about the Eucharist, or the authority of Bishops, for starters? I stand by Newman’s statement, “to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” In this sense I was predestined to become a Catholic, as I have always loved history (including Church history). As soon as I studied the Fathers, it was all over.

Your letter goes from bad to worse at the bottom of p.2. Now “sacraments . . . replace the grace of God”!!! How preposterous! What lunacy! You are again on the slippery slope of excluding almost all Christians who disagree with you from Christianity. Even your hero and mentor Calvin (Inst., IV, 14,1) defines a “sacrament” as, “a testimony of divine grace toward us,” and cites St. Augustine in agreement: “a visible form of an invisible grace,” which is, of course, the standard Catholic definition, known to any Catholic child with any catechetic instruction whatever. Luther, of course agrees. Even in his Babylonian Captivity, a critique of Catholic sacramentalism, he still upholds the Catholic view for baptism and the Eucharist, and in this case is much closer to my view than yours.

He regards baptism as a regenerative sacrament, in opposition to your typical Baptist anti-sacramental opinions:

“[Infant] Baptism is a washing away of sins . . . the sacrament of baptism, even with respect to its sign, is not a matter of the moment, but something permanent . . . We must therefore beware of those who have reduced the power of baptism to such small and slender dimensions . . .” (Three Treatises, Fortress, Philadelphia, pp.191-2).

For Luther, baptism not only does not “replace the grace of God,” it imparts it sacramentally in a most real and profound way, even to an infant, and “washes away sins,” as Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians (the last two in a somewhat lesser, symbolic, but still sacramental sense) believe. Again, why don’t you write books condemning all these folks (including your two primary Founders) for “adding to the completed work of Christ on the Cross,” etc.?

Luther, of course, believed in the Real Presence as well (and even — egads — adoration of the Host — see, e.g., Table Talk, ed. Hazlitt, no. 363, p.207). Thus, according to you, Luther must be both a “works-salvationist” and an idolater (even Calvin called him “half-papist” for this very reason), not to mention his belief in the Immaculate Conception and other “unbiblical” Marian doctrines (see my enclosed article). One of Luther’s two favorite works (along with, appropriately, Bondage of the Will) was his seminal Commentary on Galatians. Yet you would now have me to believe that the correct perspective on this book, contrary to Luther’s, excludes the use of sacraments! Your theological landscape is indeed a strange one, full of mysterious and unexpected detours and astonishingly contradictory backwaters.

Do you mention these beliefs of Luther when you extoll him in Fatal Flaw, chapter 1, and leave the impression that he was opposed to the “Roman system” in toto? Of course not, because such straightforward honesty would be fatal to your case and would fail to rouse the anti-Catholic “ignorant armies of the night” (Luther is misused just as much as the Fathers are). This is “anachronistic interpretation” par excellence, and it happens all the time.

For precisely this reason I was really shocked to learn about Luther’s errors and considerable shortcomings as well as his many agreements with Catholicism. I had swallowed the myth, spoon-fed from Protestant legatees who in turn have taken in the fairy-tales with their mother’s milk for 474 years (the Diet of Worms remains that to this day!). The truth is always more interesting, and particularly so in Luther’s case.

Your treatment of the Canon of Scripture misses the point, which is that the Catholic Church, and “extrabiblical authority” was necessary for you guys to even have your Bible, let alone construct with tortured “logic” myths such as “perspicuity” and “sola Scriptura” from this book which you would never even have but for the Catholic Church, which, inexplicably, preserved it even though it supposedly destroys that same Church’s belief system– evident to any “plowboy.” My paper on “sola Scriptura” deals with this.

It’s the oldest rhetorical trick in the book to simply dismiss an important question as irrelevant, when one can’t answer it, as you did with my query as to when Catholicism became apostate. You say, “do we need to know? Of course not.” Of course every anti-Catholic does need to know, in order for his “Church history,” to the extent that he has any at all, to have any shred of plausibility. There must have been a Church all those years when all “true believers” waited with baited breath for Messiah-Luther to be born in Eisleben (no less improbable than Nazareth for such a momentous figure, I guess).

You have no case, pure and simple, since all the Catholic distinctives appeared early, at least in kernel form, as far as records reveal to us (already strikingly so in St. Ignatius and St. Clement). Anti-Catholics are so desperate for a quasi-history, that, e.g., Dave Hunt is ready to embrace the Cathari and Albigensians as brothers before he would ever think of accepting me!

Ken Samples writes in a recent Christian Research Journal (Spring 1993, p.37) that if Catholicism is a cult,

“…then there was no authentic Christian church during most of the medieval period. Contrary to what some Protestants think, 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).”

I couldn’t agree more. For you to blithely ignore this massive crack in the facade of your anti-Catholicism (it’s no problem for ecumenical Protestants, as I once was) with, in effect, a smirk and wave of the hand is, at best, quixotic, and at worst, intellectually dishonest. The burden of proof for this remains with you, and so my challenge still awaits a reply, rather than an evasive dismissal.

Likewise, you scoff at my disdain for the indefensible existence of 23,000 denominations. You don’t dare admit that this is a valid point against Protestantism (perhaps your “fatal flaw”) because you would obviously then be in big trouble. Yet it certainly is without question (e.g., Jn 17:20-23, Rom 16:17, 1 Cor 1:10-13, Gal 5:19-21 and many other passages). Thus you are bound by the outrageous and scandalous situation of Protestant sectarianism, in clear opposition to Scripture. About all Protestants can do here is mutter incoherently about agreement on “central issues,” which falsehood I deal with in my refutation of Geisler’s defense of “sola Scriptura” (also enclosed), or else they can take the path of citing the existence of liberals within Catholicism.

This won’t do either, for the simple reason that we have dogmas and Councils and papal encyclicals and infallible utterances which constitute our teaching — definite, observable, and documented for all to see, even the most wild-eyed liberals such as Kung and Curran and McBrien. It doesn’t matter a hill of beans what these people say they or the Catholic Church believe. I could care less. I despised liberal Protestantism when I was among your number and I have even more contempt for Catholic liberalism, as it has far less excuse. Your side, of course, has neither any authority nor a sensible, workable method for determining truth in doctrine. In rare instances where someone is disciplined, they just go to another sect or start a new one (e.g., Swaggart). In Catholicism, on the other hand, a liberal like Kung can be (and was) authoritatively declared as no longer a Catholic theologian, and not to be trusted for correct doctrine. By the nature of the beast you guys can’t do that. Hence my apt description of “anarchism” and “relativism.” This is why your analogy is like comparing apples and oranges. It simply won’t wash.

As for the Watchtower, it denies both the Bible and consistent Christian Tradition and many beliefs which even you and I share, such as the Trinity, bodily resurrection of Christ, the omnipresence and omniscience of God the Father and the fact that He is a Spirit (they think He has a body), etc. Obviously, there is no comparison. This is why their claim is invalid, along with their paltry 115-year existence, which is only 359 years less than the existence of your religion — both being grossly inadequate in terms of passing on the true apostolic Tradition (without Catholicism).

Since you brought up the cultic comparison, I will also note that both cults and Protestantism are man-centered, whereas Catholicism is Christ-centered. Even your names betray this: Lutherans, Calvinists, Wesleyans, whereas ours simply means “universal.” Where our sub-groups bear the name of individuals (Franciscans, Thomists, Benedictines, etc.) this is clearly understood as a branch of the larger tree, not as mutually-exclusive (in important aspects) systems, as in Protestantism. Luther and Zwingli and their ilk start new religions. St. Francis and St. Ignatius Loyola merely start orders, always in obedience to the Catholic Church.

Your remark about the supposed recent origin of “modern Romanism” is yet another instance of the incomprehensibility of development to the Protestant dichotomizing, “either-or” mind (which Luther had already perfected to a tee). It’s pointless to respond to it other than to refer you to my various tracts about development or to Newman’s essential work on the subject.

You gleefully note the divergent views of Lateran IV and Vatican II on religious tolerance. Yes, there has been a change of opinion here, but unfortunately for you, the teachings involved are not religious dogmas of the faith, but rather, disciplinary measures. I detest as much as you corruptions in the Inquisition, the indefensible sacking of Constantinople in 1204, etc., indeed all persecution. This argument was my main one against Catholicism when I was still fighting against it.

The Church has learned from its errors, as have the Protestant sects, which have an even worse history of intolerance and persecution, since your crimes are greater and more inconsistent with your supposed “freedom of conscience” for all to follow God in whatever way is deemed best by the “individual with his Bible alone” (see my treatise and synopsis on this subject which will provide copious documentation, lest you doubt this). If all Christian groups who have persecuted are ruled out of the faith, then about all that is left are the Quakers, Mennonites, and Amish, and whoever else descended from the Anabaptists. You may count yourself among these, but your theological fathers are still Luther and Calvin, who are horribly stained with the blood of dissenters. Your Founders were guilty of abominable crimes, whereas no one in Catholicism (even popes) have a place as high and lofty as these Protestant Super-Popes, who dictated infallible revelations which had to be believed under pain of death (yes, literally).

So, as almost always, what you think is a knockout punch to your detested “Romanism” rebounds back to you with much more force, for the reasons just recounted. What I call the “reverse Inquisition” argument stands accepted Protestant mythology on this topic on its head and shocks the daylight out of evangelicals who are invariably ignorant of the history of their own group (which is par for the course). The documentation for my contentions is so compelling as to be denied only by someone with his head in the sand. The “out” here is to simply deny that one is a “Protestant.” “I’m not one of them,” you often hear, “I’m a Bible Christian.” But this will not do, as it is intellectually-dishonest to a nauseating degree in its a-historical delusion, which is a trademark of classic Protestantism. You love to claim you’re “one” when it comes to denominationalism, but not when it comes to the skeletons in your closet.

As for your lengthy attempted refutation of papal claims and their biblical justification, I refer you to my chapter on the papacy and infallibility, which runs 98 pages, single-spaced. Again, you ignore the factor of development, which is nowhere more apparent and necessary than in the understanding of the evolution of the papacy. Your three long quotes, which you obviously thought were so unanswerable, have little or no force against my position.

You blithely dismiss my points 7 and 8 with your by-now familiar hit-and-run tactic of glib avoidance when you have no answer. Your section in your Answers book on development has little to do with the specific question I raised — the inconsistent appeal to Councils. Funny, too, how I managed to find and read both Salmon and Dollinger’s books when I was vigorously fighting infallibility in 1990. Now how could this be if I wasn’t a Protestant and was already some sort of proto-Catholic mutation, according to your theory? Somehow I found the very books that you are enamored with. If you had communicated with me then, I think you would have found me quite a kindred (Protestant) spirit, with Salmon and good old Dollinger under each arm (Dollinger, by the way remained doctrinally Catholic in every sense except in accepting papal infallibility and in submitting to the Magisterium), even though I never denied that Catholicism was Christian.

For, in the anti-Catholic mentality, every co-belligerent against the great Beast and Whore is accepted as a brother almost without question (witness Dave Hunt and the Albigensians), much like your “feeling of ‘brotherhood’ created by standing against a common evil,” which you posited as a reason for my conversion.

Salmon consistently misinterprets development to mean “evolution” in the sense of the essential change of doctrines, which of course it is not. He states,

“The old theory was that the teaching of the Church had never varied…” (p.33).

I got news for Salmon and you — it still is the teaching, i.e., the essence never changes, but the subjective understanding and binding authority can. Development was clearly taught at least as far back as St. Augustine and St. Vincent of Lerins. In the latter’s work, the concept is found in the same context as his famous statement (which Salmon loves to cite): “everywhere and always the same,” thus proving that the two concepts are harmonious and complementary — another difficult concept for the Protestant to grasp — not contradictory, as Salmon seeks to prove, with great rhetorical flourish and straw-man triumphalism.

He doesn’t, however (much like you), actually deal with Newman’s brilliant analogical arguments, which comprise the heart of his classic work, since they are unanswerable from the Protestant perspective. I was honest enough (and granted enough light and grace) to accept this, and it was a crucial component in my conversion, as you correctly note. Salmon, on the other hand, is content to quixotically repeat over and over something which isn’t even relevant, in a mere appearance of strength.

One brother of a friend of mine (the editor of the New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge), also made much of Salmon and early on waxed eloquently about his debating ability. When I gave him my “sola Scriptura” paper and informed him that I had not only read but would also devour Salmon for lunch, he promptly vanished, never to be heard from again, presumably crushed because his champion was not unanswerable. Oh well, such is life for a lonely Catholic apologist. I also tried for four long years to “recruit” Protestants into my ecumenical discussion group, but failed. Apparently the prospect of being refuted by Catholics, who aren’t supposed to know anything of the Bible or the Christian life, is horrifying. But if we’re so wrong, where was the evangelistic zeal to save our souls?

You pass off my point number 8 with a 14-word sentence. Yet it is absolutely crucial. How, indeed, could such an anti-Christian system be so dead-right about morality– far better than any particular Protestant sect and immeasurably superior to Protestantism as a whole, which is profoundly compromised, especially on sexual, marital and gender issues. The very fact that you don’t regard this as of any “weight” merely confirms in my mind the Protestant tendency of unconcern for holiness and morality (also clearly observed in Luther’s life and teachings — e.g., the bigamy of Philip of Hesse), one of the primary reasons for my abandoning it. Here again you are radically a-historical and anti-incarnational. I suppose your reason would be that my statement is not immediately scriptural, therefore, of no import for “Bible alone” followers. Or, as I suspect, because you don’t know how to answer it. One or the other.

I’m delighted that you cite St. Clement of Rome on justification, as if he was a “faith alone” adherent. Nothing he says here is against Catholic teaching whatsoever, as proven by Trent’s Canon I on Justification, which I cited, and the decrees of Second Orange. I included this very passage in my book when I dealt with justification. But I went on to quote from the next two sections as well, where St. Clement talks about good works (“the good worker receives the bread of his labor confidently”– 34,1). Later, in 58,2 he states that the ones who have “kept without regret the ordinances and commandments given by God” will be “enrolled and included among the number of those who are saved through Jesus Christ.” So this is what I “do” with St. Clement, whose letter is just as easily interpreted as in harmony with Catholic teaching as Protestant (I think more so).

He merely reiterates the (“works-salvation”?) teachings of Jesus (Mt 5:20, 7:16-27, 25:31-46, Lk 18:18-25), which Protestants so downplay when they talk about justification, bypassing the Lord and immediately rushing to St. Paul, who is made out to be a proto-Luther figure. But St. Paul, like St. James’ “epistle of straw,” also stresses the organic connection between faith and works in our salvation, as in Catholicism (Rom 2:5-13, 1 Cor 3:8-9, Gal 5:6, 6:7-9, Eph 2:8-10, Phil 2:12-13, 3:10-14, 1 Thess 1:3,11, 1 Tim 6:18-19). Evangelicals, in their propensity for selective presentation of verses and neglect of context, conveniently ignore all these passages when talking about justification.

Your Canons 24, 32 and 33 from Trent and others, and comments about the “sufficiency of God’s grace apart from man’s works” prove nothing. These Canons are in harmony with the one I quoted and others in that same vein. When will you Protestants stop making your false dichotomies when there is no necessity to do so? This is so irritating because it’s almost impossible to convince you that you are constantly doing it. You can believe in all your “solas” and contradictions if you so desire. But please understand that our view does not operate on those principles. So in Trent’s Canons on justification, faith and works, God’s preceding grace and man’s cooperating action are not seen as contradictory, as you believe.

You act like merely adding up numbers of decrees with which you disagree, over against mine, with which you may agree, somehow proves that the Church is Pelagian (which it has always condemned) rather than Christian. This is not reasonable. It isn’t even your methodology with Scripture. Neither the Virgin Birth nor Original Sin are mentioned very often there, yet they are firmly believed by all evangelicals. Why? Because they are true, and harmonize with the rest of Scripture. Likewise with the Immaculate Conception, yet you rail against it by virtue of its implicit presence in Scripture. In order to overcome the “dichotomous tendency of Protestant thought,” I highly recommend Louis Bouyer’s The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, which also has an excellent treatment of the absolute preeminence of God’s preceding and enabling grace in Catholic soteriology, over against your misguided assertions here.

Since you brought up the Fathers, how about St. Ignatius, writing about 14 years after St. Clement:

“May none of you be found a deserter [so much for Calvinism] . . . Let your works be as your deposited withholdings, so that you may receive the back-pay which has accrued to you.” (Letter to Polycarp, 6,2).

Gee, I used to think that Catholics only learned to talk like that in the corrupt era of Tetzel and Eck, with all the drivel about the “treasury of merits” and all, so irrefutably demolished in Luther’s Feces. If Clement and Ignatius were heretics and Arminians, then the Church was already off the rails within a generation of John’s death! How quickly do things collapse! What a shame! And this is how the Protestant attempt to co-opt the Fathers always ends up — an entirely futile and fruitless endeavor.

You also mention Wycliffe and Hus as purveyors of the “gospel,” certainly the favorite “proto-Protestants” of the Middle Ages, second and third only to St. Augustine in this regard, who is Luther and Calvin’s favorite “Protestant.” As usual, there seems to be little effort to actually study the opinions of these fellow “anti-Catholics.” They are seized upon because of their rebellious beliefs. Indeed Wycliffe comes about as close as you will get, but according to the learned Protestant historian Latourette in his A History of Christianity, vol. 1, (p.664), Wycliffe believed in a type of Real Presence (remanence) in the Eucharist (his view was similar to Luther’s), seven sacraments (although he denied the necessity of confirmation), and purgatory. These views are more than enough to exclude him from “Christianity” and the “gospel,” as defined by you, but no matter– you inconsistently cite him anyway because his legend is a revered Protestant tradition– all anti-Catholics must be canonized and venerated as saints in Protestantism.

You might say, “heck, nine out of ten correct beliefs ain’t bad,” but this misses the point. If even your best examples of “Protestants” in the B.L. so-called “dark ages” era of history (“Before Luther”) fail to meet the “gospel” criterion, then what becomes of your overall case for non-Catholic Christian continuity for 1500 years? I don’t think you’re ready to espouse Eastern Orthodoxy as the answer to your dilemma! Your a-historical view clearly fails miserably, for extreme lack of evidence, which comes as no surprise to anyone acquainted with this period of Church history. Hus, too — generally regarded as less radical than Wycliffe — believed in sacramental baptism and Transubstantiation, and held, according to Protestant Roland Bainton (Christendom, vol. 1, p.239) that “the sacraments at the hands of the unworthy are nevertheless valid and efficacious” (Catholicism’s ex opere operato), so he’s outside “orthodoxy” as defined by . . . you. You keep cutting off the limb you’re sitting on by your extreme judgments as to who is and isn’t a Christian, making many of your own positions utterly contradictory, if not downright nonsensical.

Why would you send your reply to my letter to Eric Pement? Don’t you think that my arguments can easily be overcome by your cult research comrades? Why would they need your reply if my arguments are often so insubstantial as to merit one or two-sentence “refutations,” as you believe? I take this as a (probably unintended) compliment — thank you. In fact, it may help my cause, since if they mention your “rebuttal,” I could then send them this (otherwise I wouldn’t have).

Finally, I am delighted and (I think) honored that you are eager and “happy” to debate me in public. I love debate, but much prefer informal, conversational Socratic dialogue or written point-counterpoint exchanges to the mutual monologues and often antagonistic and disrespectful affairs which pass for “public debates.” I am not particularly skilled as an orator and lecturer, nor do I have the requisite desire to participate in that type of forum. That said, I would not want to publicly represent the Church to which I give my allegiance, but would rather defer to someone with more abilities for formal debate than I possess, so that we are best represented.

I am pleased to report, however, that my friend Gary Michuta, another apologist who started our group called “Thy Faith,” which puts out a magazine called Hands On Apologetics (similar to This Rock), immediately and enthusiastically accepted this challenge when I inquired about it yesterday. His phone number and fax are the same as my fax number: [deleted], and he can be reached at the following address: [deleted]. He eagerly awaits your reply.

I must, regretfully, inform you of another reason for my declining: the widespread intellectual dishonesty, evasiveness, and uncharitability of anti-Catholic debaters. Akin in his article on your book starts out by recalling how you have refused to shake hands with your Catholic opponents, or even pray the Lord’s Prayer with them. This is contemptible, petty behavior. Madrid’s article “The White Man’s Burden” concurs, by citing your rude treatment of him and of Dr. Art Sippo, whom apparently you no longer wish to debate, having been “beaten,” according to Pat’s account, anyway. Like Dave Hunt, who recently “debated” Karl Keating in my area and evaded in cowardly and embarrassing fashion the topic (“Was the Early Church Catholic”) all night (not even quoting a single Church Father, to my recollection!), you refused, by and large, to attempt to prove “sola Scriptura” from the Bible, which was your topic of debate.

I find these incidents intellectually offensive and insulting to the debate opponent, the audience, and a decent sense of “fair play.” Likewise, even in video presentations such as James McCarthy’s Catholicism: Crisis of Faith, dishonest and unethical tactics were used (see Keating’s article in This Rock, May 1993, pp.8-17), particularly with regard to the reprehensible treatment of Fr. Richard Chilson. I also heard Keith Fournier recount on the radio very poor treatment he received at the hands of disingenuous anti-Catholics, who more or less preyed upon his good will and trapped him by inviting him to a talk which turned into a “debate” and inquisition against him (I can’t remember who these people were, but my point is still valid).

Four strikes and you’re out. I will not subject myself to this kind of asinine behavior and disrespect, which is an insult to the whole idea of fair, open-minded debate. If your case is so superior to ours, then “put up or shut up.” The fact that these unsavory tactics regularly occur convinces me all the more that you have no argument and are reduced to empty rhetoric and ad hominem attacks, etc. (much like liberal politicians today).

Lest you think I’m trying to evade you, however, I am perfectly willing, able, ready, and eager to engage you in debate on any topic you so desire either by letter or in your newsletter (if the latter, I would require prior editorial consent, due to the unscrupulous tactics recounted above). I would demand equal space in your newsletter, so that the fair inquirer could make up his own mind. You’ve observed my debating abilities in this letter and other writings I’ve given you, so I think you’ll agree that timidity and fear are not my reasons for declining public oratorical debate.

Your newsletter is just as “public,” and probably reaches even more people than a one-night debate would. Your next reply is crucial and will likely set the tone for the future course of your dealings with me. I hope that (at long last) you are the Protestant who will dare to actually confront my arguments, especially my numerous critiques of Protestantism. If you aren’t, I will start thinking that such a person does not exist. So, I eagerly anticipate your reply, and (I hope) request for whatever of my papers you would most like to debate. I’ve much enjoyed writing this.

Yours, sincerely, in Christ & His Church,

Dave Armstrong


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