Sunday, March 16, 2014

Three Secrets to Three Days

Three Secrets to Three Days

Click above to access the presentation used by Spencer Allen for the April 11th talk in Marshall, Missouri.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Are You Saved?

Do you have assurance of your salvation?

In this continued examination of an anti-Catholic Bible study by a local author (click here for past essays ), we will examine the question of whether Christians can have eternal assurance of salvation.

Bart Larson's study makes a big deal of this point. In the introduction to his study, he includes several verses, pulled out of context, to support the idea of eternal assurance (I'll examine these below). However, despite the fact that Bart claims, both in his study and in e-mails, to present the "strongest" verses Catholics use to counter his claims, he includes none of these in the introduction alongside his verses. His defense of this in personal e-mail to me was that it was his introduction, which he could write as he chose.

Note below that I'll examine both sides of the argument.

Another huge problem Bart has with claiming assurance of eternal salvation is that he rejects the idea that any man can act infallibly (see last essay). So, in addition to the previous questions that I have posed to Bart, which he has not yet answered, here is another: How can he infallibly know that he has assurance of salvation? How can he be infallibly sure that he isn't the victim of self-deception? Many converts to Catholicism have come from groups which taught assurance of salvation, but where life-long members fell from the faith after years in which they (and those around them) were convinced of their own salvation.

In Bart's study, he expresses his deep regret and concern that poor, misled Catholics are riddled with guilt and fear, the result of their Catholic faith.

Bart admits that he is not an expert on Catholicism, yet he feels qualified to critique it in talks and in this booklet. He builds most of his understanding off of anecdotal encounters with poorly catechized Catholics. Jesus tells us that the way is narrow that leads to Heaven. One should expect that all faiths contain great numbers of people who do not take the study of their own faith and their relationship with Christ seriously, including Protestantism. Can you imagine the disrespect Bart would feel toward his faith if a similar study were created using encounters with the least well-formed of Evangelicalism?

Bart blames most of the guilt and fear and superstition that Catholics face on "half-truths" (p. 4). However, what Bart doesn't bother to mention is that Catholics have what is called "moral assurance of salvation". Moral assurance means that, because of Christ's atoning death on the cross (and only because of this), our sins are forgiven. However, we must be moved by the grace of God to ask forgiveness for these sins. Even Protestants agree that we must continue asking for forgiveness, as the Lord's prayer, which we have in common, teaches us to continue to petition the Father to "forgive us our sins". If a Catholic truly and properly repents of the sin, he can be assured he has eternal life. However, he cannot fall into a false confidence of believing that he will not reject God at some later time.

Bart rejects the idea that one can fall from salvation at any point after accepting Christ and being "born again". However, as Bart maintains that his study is about letting the Bible speak for itself, this isn't about what he believes, but what Scripture presents.
A true believer is one who is "standing secure", but Paul warns that he must guard against falling (1 Cor. 10:12).

A true believer is one who "stands fast through faith", but Paul warns that this individual can be cut off like the Jews (Romans 11:13-22).

A true believer is one who "receives the knowledge of truth" and "has been sanctified by the blood of the covenant", yet who the author of Hebrews explains can "sin deliberately" and "face an afury of fire" (10:26-31).
A true believer is one who "escapes the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ", but who Peter says can "become entangled in them again and face a worse fate than he who never knew the way or righteousness" (2 Peter 2:20-21).

Just to make sure that I'm not pulling a few select verses out of context, please read these verses and their context for yourself. And, to see that these are not isolated comments in Scripture, here is a link with pages of additional verses supporting loss of salvation:

So what of the verses that Bart presents? Let's take a look:

1 John 5:11-13 - Bart provides this verse as proof of eternal assurance. Actually, this verse only gives relative assurance. John just finished listing a number of signs that someone has a genuine faith. These include acts of love of neighbor and of God, as well as holding to orthodox teaching. He is telling us that someone who displays these things has eternal life, as opposed to someone who doesn't. John isn't writing at all about whether or not belief, itself, guaranteed salvation beyond all possibility of loss. To use this as proof of assurance is to do a terrible disservice to the message. However, Catholics would agree that someone who believes in Christ and follows his word has eternal life. However, Scripture is clear that this individual still retains the free will that allows him to later on toss that eternal life away. Bart can only pull his meaning out of this verse by reading it separated from the context of the verses cited above. In addition, he forgets that John often writes in a language of exaggeration. We see this in context just three verses later when John tells us that a true believer never sins. No Catholic or Protestant would make the claim that he never sins. However, Bart's study picks and chooses which verses to take literally and which to take figuratively.

Psalm 103:11,12; Romans 4:7,8; 5:8; and I John 1:9. - These verses are used to show that all of our sins, past, present, and future are forgiven. The first, from the Old Testament, cannot refer to the life of a believer in Christ, who has not even been born, not to mention died for our sins, but the drafting of the psalms. The first set of verses from Romans simply tells us that, according to David, one whose sins are forgiven is blessed. Who would argue from that. The verse in chapter five reminds us that Christ died for our sins. No argument here. The verse from 1 John is key. Our sins are not automatically forgiven, or else Hell would be empty. Rather, our sins are forgiven "if we confess" them. Whether one believes in confession to a priest or straight to God, the act of receiving forgiveness is dependent upon our being moved to ask for it throughout our life. As Catholics, we understand that we do not turn into spiritual robots after being born again. Even the most devout of us can decide that we no longer regret our sins.
Romans 8:1 tells us that there is "no condemnation" for those who are in Jesus Christ. Bart assumes this is an eternal promise. However, he forgets that the Biblical writers often write in a language of completion, assuming the individual will finish his life in the current state. After all, if the state of being "not condemned" is irrevocable, then the same would have to be said of the state of condemnation given to he who is not a believer in John 3:18. Bart's logic tells us that anyone, Catholic or Protestant, who ever doubted God is condemned forever.

I John 4:16-18 is, according to Bart's booklet, proof that if we are currently in Christ, we can have confidence. But read the verses carefully. They tell us that being in Christ perfects our love so that we may be bold on judgment day - future tense. In other words, if we have that boldness now, we are premature in it. At any point that we chose to leave our relationship with Christ, that perfection of our love ends, and we do not have that boldness when judgment day actually comes.

Jude 1:24,25 tells us that God has the power to keep us from falling. Catholics agree wholeheartedly with this. There are those of us who are members of the elect, and we are guaranteed to see heaven through the infallible power of God. Bart, however, makes the mistake of believing that we can infallibly know if we are members of the elect. The Bible is very clear that there is such a thing as false assurance. Only God knows for sure whose name is written in the Book of Life. Even Paul was unwilling to declare himself as saved (1 Cor. 4:4). Paul wouldn't have made a very good Evangelical, according to Bart's booklet.

Bart will claim that he is presenting the Bible for you to make up your own mind. Why, then, doesn't he present any of the verses on losing salvation in his introduction? Why doesn't he explain the context of the verses he does provide? The answer - because, despite his claims that he is simply a servant to the Word of God, Bart is feeding you his interpretation. He wants you to believe Catholic teachings are contrary to Scripture, even if he has to hide some of Scripture from you to make that case.

For the next issue, here are two more questions for Bart. He will either not be able to answer them, or his answer will be inconsistent with the doctrines promoted by his Bible study:

What are some examples of things which are now dead, but which were not once alive?

According to Christian belief, does the body animate and empower the spirit, or does the spirit animate and empower the body?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

An Infallible Church?

What is your pillar and foundation for truth as a Christian?

This is a great question to ask the next time someone suggests that Christians should go by the Bible alone, and the answer, most likely, will be that the "Bible" is our pillar and foundation. However, the Bible itself says that the "Church" is the pillar and foundation for truth - 1 Tim. 3:15.

In this series, which focuses on a "Catholic" Bible study by author Bart Larson (scroll down for the last few essays), we have examined the premise of whether or not Christians are meant to go by the Bible alone. So far, these conclusions have been reached:

Scripture never explicitly says or even implies we are to go by the Bible alone.

Going by the Bible alone is a construct of the reformers, who came over one-and-a-half thousand years after Christ.
Early Christians didn't go by the Bible alone.

Scripture, in fact, tells us to go by the Bible AND the oral traditions of Christ and the apostles.

Even though Bart's study does not make the case for going by the Bible alone, it moves very quickly into the area of infallibility, trying to demonstrate, through various verses of Scripture, that there is no infallible Church. In this essay, we will first look at the verses he provides and then look at many he does not, which show that Christ indeed instituted an infallible Church.

First, a definition. Infallibility does not mean sinless. Many think that Catholics believe that the popes and bishops are incapable of sin, but this has never been the teaching, and history shows it isn't the case. Bart knows this - I've explained it to him several times, but he still uses his study to disprove infallibility based on the sinful nature of Peter, which is a dishonest tactic. Second, infallibility does not mean that the Pope is right in everything he writes or says. For instance, what the Pope writes in his personal journal or says in a Sunday homily is not protected by infallibility. Nor would he be infallible if he predicted the winner of the World Series or tried to identify the location of Jimmy Hoffa. Finally, infallibility does not mean that the Pope receives new revelation or that he is on God's special e-mail list. Many accuse Catholics of "adding" to revelation. However, when the Pope makes an infallible declaration, he is slave to the original deposit in Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

Infallibility, simply put, is the teaching that God will not let any mere man destroy his Church with heresy. It is a limitation upon the leaders of the Church, not a special power. When the Pope (or the bishops in unity with one another and the pope) officially proclaims a doctrine related to faith or morality, and when he intends for this teaching to be binding upon all the Christian faithful, he is protected from error. As you can see, infallibility has a pretty limited reach. It is about the teaching, not about the man. We'll examine the Scriptural, historical, and logical proofs for infallibility in a bit. Before then, let's look at the verses Bart's study uses to disprove it. This section begins with the heading: Did Jesus and the apostles teach that there would be an infallible church, along with infallible Christians?

• Matthew 7:15-20 - This verse warns that there will be false prophets. The Catholic Church agrees. However, the truth that there do exist false prophets doesn't specify who those prophets are. And it certainly doesn't demonstrate that there cannot be an infallible Church which is protected, by God, from the rot of false prophesy.

• Acts 20:29-31 - Similar to the last verse, this verse warns that there will be grievous wolves sneaking among the flock, but fails to disprove an actual infallible Church.

• Romans 16:18 - This verse warns us to avoid those who cause division, but never specifies who they are. Bart would have more difficulty with this verse than Catholics, as he would have to explain the division caused by so many interpretations from a Bible only approach.

• Galatians 2:11-21 - With these verses, Bart includes the note: "Note the moral issues and who was involved." While infallibility has nothing to do with "moral issues", which Bart knows, he still tries to disprove it. He wants Catholics to tie infallibility to moral issues, but we have never claimed that any man is without sin except Christ. In this verse, Peter refuses to eat with Gentiles. He does not, however, teach this is okay. Does this destroy Peter's ability to act infallibly? Bart should hope not, or else the two epistles authored by Peter are fallible, which means Scripture contains error. So this leads to another question for Bart: How can Peter not be infallible in official teachings, yet still write infallibly?

• I Timothy 4:1-3 - More verses which warn against false prophets - see notes above.

• II Peter 2:1 - Another verse which warns against false prophets - see notes above.

• Revelation, chapters 2 and 3 - Bart includes this note: "Were all of the 7 churches infallible?" This passage has nothing to do with infallibility for a couple reasons. 1) The Catholic Church does not teach that individual churches are infallible. My local pastor can, by all means, be in error. Even local bishops can be in error. 2) These verses are talking about the local churches falling into sin and needing to repent. It is referring to moral conduct, not "official teachings".

• (For additional verses read: II Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 4:14; Titus 1:10,11; I John 4:1 and II John 1:7-9.) Bart throws these last few verses in, but they simply refer, again, to those who are false prophets and those who teach false doctrine. Catholics can agree, pointing out that these deceivers are those who stray from the official teachings of the infallible Church.

So, at this point, Bart has failed to disprove infallibility. To be fair, though, he has the herculean task of proving a negative. After all, he would be hard-pressed to find a verse that says, "There is no infallible Church." The burden of proof is upon us, as Catholics, to find the proof that such a Church exists. We'll examine this through Scripture, history, and logic.


Even though Bart claims that his study is fair and presents the strongest verses he is aware of to support Catholic teachings, he actually includes no such verses for infallibility. This isn't because he isn't aware of them, as he has referred to Matthew 16:16-19 in private e-mails, so this raises the question of why he doesn't share this passage and others with his readers.

Before reading the passage in Matthew 16, one should note that the original readers of this passage would have been very familiar with the Old Testament and would have recognized that Christ was creating an amazing parallel with Isaiah 22:22, which tell us that the Davidic king would appoint a prime minister, who had the authority to act on behalf of the king. To signify this appointment, the king would lay the "key of the house of David ... upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open."

In Matthew 16:18, Christ (who is the fulfillment of the Davidic king) gives Peter the keys to the kingdom and tells him that what he binds on earth is bound in Heaven and what he loosens on earth is loosed in Heaven.

This parallel couldn't be accidental (God doesn't do anything accidentally), and it shows us some important things:

• If Christ is the new "Davidic king", Peter is in the role of the "prime minister" who can act with his authority.
• Just as the key of the house of David was a transferable gift, the role of Peter can be transferred to others.

What makes this passage even more striking is that Jesus goes a step further and gives Peter a new name. Whenever God gives someone a new name, it is of great significance (e.g. Saul - Paul; Abram - Abraham). At that point, Peter's actual name was Simon, and Jesus renamed him Kepha, which is Aramaic for Rock. He then says that "upon this rock" he would build his Church. In other words, "Simon, you are rock and upon this rock I will build my Church." Of course, God is the rock of our salvation (Psalm 94:22), but Christ desired that, when he ascended into Heaven, we would have a visible leader through whom the Holy Spirit would act to keep the Church in check.

Christ spoke Aramaic, and there is evidence that Matthew might have originally been written in Aramaic or Hebrew (Hierapoles wrote, around 100-140 AD, that Matthew wrote in the Hebrew language), yet some still try to appeal to the Greek text to claim that Christ was referring to Peter as a small stone "Petros", and to the foundation of the Church as a rock "Petra". However, this doesn't reflect the original Aramaic, and it shows an ignorance of Greek grammar, which relied on word endings to show gender. Petra (rock) is a feminine noun, and since Simon was male, Kepha had to be translated as "Petros", which is simply the masculine form of the noun. Petros and Petra once upon a time referred to different types of rock, but this in a different type of Greek (Attick Greek). By the time of the New Testament, which was written in Koine Greek, they were synonyms. The two types of Greek are as different as Shakespeare's English is to ours.

Simply put, though Christ is the cornerstone of our Church, he established Peter as the foundation for the earthly institution. While Bart's study fails to present any verses to support this, there are more than can be covered in this essay. Catholic Answers does a good job of summarizing the primacy of Peter in the tract, "Peter and the Papacy":

There is ample evidence in the New Testament that Peter was first in authority among the apostles. Whenever they were named, Peter headed the list (Matt. 10:1-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, Acts 1:13); sometimes the apostles were referred to as "Peter and those who were with him" (Luke 9:32). Peter was the one who generally spoke for the apostles (Matt. 18:21, Mark 8:29, Luke 12:41, John 6:68-69), and he figured in many of the most dramatic scenes (Matt. 14:28-32, Matt. 17:24-27, Mark 10:23-28). On Pentecost it was Peter who first preached to the crowds (Acts 2:14-40), and he worked the first healing in the Church age (Acts 3:6-7). It is Peter's faith that will strengthen his brethren (Luke 22:32) and Peter is given Christ's flock to shepherd (John 21:17). An angel was sent to announce the resurrection to Peter (Mark 16:7), and the risen Christ first appeared to Peter (Luke 24:34). He headed the meeting that elected Matthias to replace Judas (Acts 1:13-26), and he received the first converts (Acts 2:41). He inflicted the first punishment (Acts 5:1-11), and excommunicated the first heretic (Acts 8:18-23). He led the first council in Jerusalem (Acts 15), and announced the first dogmatic decision (Acts 15:7-11). It was to Peter that the revelation came that Gentiles were to be baptized and accepted as Christians (Acts 10:46-48).

In addition to this, the early Church is full of writings recognizing the primacy of Peter and their successors. Catholic interpretation of Scripture is consistent with those in the first centuries. The interpretation that Bart's study leads one to believe (by leaving out key verses), is not. Here are a couple examples of such writings:

Clement of Alexandria wrote: "[T]he blessed Peter, the chosen, the preeminent, the first among the disciples, for whom alone with himself the Savior paid the tribute [Matt. 17:27], quickly gasped and understood their meaning. And what does he say? 'Behold, we have left all and have followed you' [Matt. 19:27; Mark 10:28]" (Who Is the Rich Man That Is Saved? 21:3-5 [A.D. 200]).

Cyprian of Carthage wrote: "The Lord says to Peter: 'I say to you,' he says, 'that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.' . . . On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra], and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was [i.e., apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all [the apostles] are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?" (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4; 1st edition [A.D. 251]).
However, even if Peter is the leader of the apostles, and therefore, the Church, does this mean that the Church is infallible? We should both hope this is so and conclude this is so based on the following point:

• Scripture tells us that it is the Church, not the Bible alone, which is our "pillar and foundation of truth" (1 Tim. 3:15). How can a Church be the pillar and foundation of truth if capable of error?

• While Christ is our "shepherd" (Ez 34:15, Jn 10:16, 1 Pet 2:25), he transfers this title to Peter, as well, by telling him to feed his sheep in John 21:15-17. This doesn't replace Christ as the good shepherd, but emphasizes Peter's earthly role while Christ is in Heaven.

• In Luke 22:31-32, Jesus prays that, while the faith of others will fail, Peters would not, so that he could strengthen them. This further illustrates Jesus' desire that, after his ascension, we would have a visible and present leader to be our anchor to truth.

• In Luke 10:16, Christ gives the amazing declaration that whoever listens to the leaders of his Church listens to him, and whoever rejects them rejects him. How could this be if the leaders of the Church teach error? This would mean Christ teaches error. Likewise, how could this be if, as is the case in Protestantism today, several "true" Churches teach contradictory doctrine? Does this mean that Christ contradicts himself?

• During the first couple hundred years in the Church, that nature of Christ's divinity and the nature of the Trinity were debated until officially defined by the Catholic Church. These teachings were vague enough in Scripture that our limited minds struggled with them. Thus, if the Church is not infallible in defining them, doesn't this mean we might be wrong in our interpretation of Christ's divinity and the nature of the Trinity?

• During the first couple hundred years, the table of contents for the Bible were debated. Christians were in disagreement as to which books were inspired and which were not. The Catholic Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, officially defined the list of inspired books. If the Church could not act infallibly in this, then can we be sure that we have the correct list of books in the Bible? Many Protestant scholars realize this and have started referring to the Bible as a "fallible collection of infallible books." The implications of this statement are striking, as it is an admission that error could exist in our collection of 27 New Testament books (not to mention the Old Testament). If we lack that security, how can we be confident of anything the New Testament tells us if we have no firm confidence in the collection of books that exists there?

This last point recalls our question in the last essay, which Bart has not yet answered, which is how we know the book of Hebrews is inspired if we have no infallible Church? Actually, we could ask that of most books in the New Testament. Many point to 2 Tim. 3:16, which tells us that all Scripture is inspired, but there are two problems here:

1) Even if all Scripture is inspired (which it is), we can only know which books are Scripture in the first place after a source of authority tells us. If we remove the infallible Church, we have removed that source of authority. It is easy to say a book is inspired after we know it is Scripture (thanks to the Catholic Church), but put yourself in the mindset of a first century Christian, who is debating whether Hebrews should be included in the New Testament to begin with and it isn't so easy.

2) There is a problem when we rely on the text inside of a source to verify the inspiration of that same source. Scripture claims inspiration for itself. So do the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and the writings of many cult leaders. I could even include this line in my essay: everything Spencer types is inspired by God. It would be circular logic to conclude my essay is inspired because I typed it, and because that line is in my essay, it must be true, and if it is true, my essay is inspired ... This logic is similar to a man trying to lift himself into the air.

Now that the subject of authority has been explored, the next essay will look at the teachings on salvation in Bart's essay, and specifically the question: Do you have eternal assurance of salvation?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The $1000 Answer?

Bart hasn't provided an answer for the $1000 question, and says he isn't interested in the theatrics of it.

That's fine. He can turn down the $1000, but question still remains - where does the Bible teach us to go by the Bible alone?

If you haven't read the last two essays, Bart Larson is a local author who has published (online and in print) a Bible study for Catholics which is set up to steer individuals from the faith (scroll down for the first two essays). To be fair, Bart is doing this because he genuinely wants to see others go to Heaven and disagrees with Catholicism. He is "anti-Catholic" in the sense that he rejects anything distinctly Catholic, but not because he hates Catholic individuals, themselves. He would just rather they be Protestant. I, personally, don't have a problem with this. We should be in the business of guiding people who we believe to be in grave error.

Think about it - if you knew someone was driving very fast toward a fallen bridge, and you knew the safer path, wouldn't it be your responsibility to warn them? If a beggar encountered another beggar, wouldn't he have a moral duty to tell him where he found some food?

Many today treat faith as if different belief systems are like political parties. What is true for you isn't necessarily true for me. We avoid discussions of faith because doctrine has become, in many minds, nothing more than one's opinion - one church's best guess against that of another. There is such a thing as objective truth, however. Either God exists or he doesn't. Either Jesus is God or he isn't. Either Purgatory is real or it isn't. Either we are supposed to go by the Bible alone or we aren't.
In the above statements, one or the other must be true, which means the other must be false. The next question is whether one can actually prove that his belief is truth and not the other guys.

This series, however, focuses on Bart's very flawed and dishonest attempt to do this - a Bible study that claims to be neutral in its presentation of Scripture, but is anything but. This essay is the last one showing that the very foundation of Bart's beliefs is flawed. Beginning next week, we'll look at specific doctrines he either believes or rejects and show the errors in his reasoning and defense.

I once had an individual tell me that he "speaks where the Bible speaks and is silent where the Bible is silent."

Since that rule, itself, is never taught in the Bible, by going by the Bible alone (sola-Scriptura), he is, actually, speaking where the Bible is silent, as is Bart's study by teaching you to learn Christianity by isolated Bible verses that Bart has personally selected.

At the end of this study, I have yet another $1000 question for Bart. Whether or not he wants to claim the money, the questions I am asking are central to defending his particular type of Christianity, one which rejects the Sacred Tradition of Christ and the authority of the Church that Christ established. Bart claims that he his study stands as its own defense. Fair enough. Let's see if Bart's Bible study contains even one verse that tells us we are to go by the Bible alone, or even one verse that tells us to reject the Sacred Traditions passed on by Christ and the apostles.

• Acts 17:11 - This passage is the story of the "noble-minded" Bereans. This is a favorite of Bible-only proponents because they assume the Bereans were praised in the book of Acts for using the Bible as the final authority. Actually, it is exactly the opposite. It is interesting that Bart's study suggests one start reading at verse 11 because, just before this, we see that the Thessalonians went by the Bible alone and rejected Paul's word when he reasoned with them from Scriptures. Acts tells us that the Bereans were noble-minded because they "received" Paul's word with readiness of mind. This was Paul's oral word. Yes, they checked their Old Testaments because Paul surely referred to prophesies and genealogies, but surely Bart isn't suggesting that they were noble-minded for having the Old Testament be the final authority over Paul, who authored about one-third of the New Testament? Either way, Catholics agree with the idea that traditions should be in agreement with Scripture (all Catholic traditions are), but also that Scripture must be in agreement with Sacred Tradition. Just as fake traditions (such as those of the Judiazers) are inconsistent with the New Testament teachings, many false "Scriptures" were rejected in the first centuries when checked by noble-minded Christians against the oral traditions they received from Christ and the apostles.

• II Timothy 3:14-17 - This is the classic prooftext for supporting a "Bible alone" approach. Problem one: As seen when looking at it closely, this verse only tells us that Scripture is "useful" for "doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. Useful, not sufficient. Gas is useful to get me to St. Louis, but it isn't sufficient. Problem two: Paul indicates in line 15, Paul is primarily referring Timothy to the Scriptures he had known as a child - the Old Testament. Even though the passage would eventually apply to the New Testament, too, since it was the Old Testament that Paul was referring to primarily, does Bart believe that the Old Testament is sufficient for a relationship with Christ? Problem three: Eph. 4:11-12 tells us that Christ "gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." Bart often writes about the law of non-contradiction. If, according to this passage from Ephesians, teachers are provided to perfect the saints, how could God have intended for us to go by the Bible alone?

• Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Isaiah 50:4; 55:6-11; Psalm 1:1-3; Psalm 19:7-11; Psalm 119:9-16, 105; John 17:8-17; Hebrews 4:11-14; I John 2:5; II Timothy 2:15; 3:14-17; I Peter 1:25-2:3 - Bart's study tries to present several verses that emphasize the sufficiency of Scripture alone. Most of these verses (Hebrews 4:12 Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Isaiah 50:4; 55:6-11; Psalm 1:1-3; Psalm 19:7-11; Psalm 119:9-16, 105; John 17:8-17; I John 2:5; II Timothy 2:15; 3:14-17; I Peter 1:25-2:3; II Peter 1:3; II Pet. 3:17,18 ) are talking about God's "word" or God's "law". I've learned from this study and from e-mail correspondence that, whenever Bart sees these words, he assumes they are referring to Scripture. However, as we've already seen, God's word and law are preached orally, not just written down (see 1 Thes. 2:13 as one of many examples). Read these verses for yourself - do any of them indicate they are talking just about Scripture? If not, one has to ask why Bart's study included them as if they did? I can't assume the author's motivation, but there only seem to be two possibilities - he either is so biased toward his interpretation that he doesn't understand the difference or he understands the difference, but hopes his readers do not.

• I Cor. 4:6 - this verses warns "not to think of men above that which is written". However, Bart's study doesn't mention that "what is written" doesn't refer to Scripture, as it isn't even brought up in the context, which is salvation. One probable interpretation is that we are not to attempt to judge one another and suppose we can go above what God might have written in the Book of Life. Since I do not have access to the Book of Life, it is not my place to cast judgment on your salvation.

• Jude 1:3; II Peter 1:19-21; Revelation 22:18,19; Acts 20:27-31; Galatians 1:6-9; II Peter 2:1 - Bart's study presents these verses as arguments that someone shouldn't "change, delete, or alter Scripture." Amen! First, read these verses and see how many actually refer specifically to Scripture, as opposed to God's complete revelation, which was given orally and written. Almost none do; however, pretending that each one does refer to Scripture, Catholics have never deleted, added to, or altered Scripture. This is an example of where Bart misunderstands Catholicism. The Oral Traditions are in harmony with Scripture and present the same teachings, as we'll see in later essays. The pope doesn't receive "new revelation", as Bart once accused in an e-mail. We are subject to the same teachings that were given once, for all, to the saints (Jude 1:3). However, as long as Bart is on the subject of deleting and changing Scripture, it would be a good time for him to talk about Martin Luther, who he upholds as a hero of Biblical Christianity. Not only did Luther want to remove the book of James, calling it an "epistle of straw" (because he didn't like how it contradicted his faith-alone belief), Luther also added the word "alone" to his German translation of a passage about faith. Finally, Bart uses a version of the Bible which has seven books removed from what Christians had used for hundreds of years before the Reformation. The Catholic Old Testament is based on the Old Testament that Christ and the apostles used. Never let it be said that a Catholic has tampered with the contents of what was delivered to the saints!

Bart's study goes on to claim that Scripture demonstrates there will never be an infallible Church. We'll take a look at his support for this, along with many verses that he left out of his study. In the meantime, consider this $1000 question - If there is no infallible Church, how can we know, for sure, that the book of Hebrews is inspired? Try to work the answer out for yourself. It is more than about the book of Hebrews and actually has implications for most of the Bible and for the Bible alone approach that Bart's study encourages.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The $1000 Question

Apologetics From Scratch is offering Bart Larson a quick and easy $1000, payable to him or the charity or religious group of his choice. Actually, this offer is made to anyone interested in tackling it.

Bart claims to be a sola-Scriptura Christian, which means he goes by the Bible alone. The challenge, therefore, is to identify even one place in all of Scripture where the Bible tells us to go by the Bible alone.

Bart Larson is a local anti-Catholic author who plans on distributing his "Catholic Bible Study" in print and electronically in the area. This study attacks the Catholic faith using many logical fallacies and selective quotations, ignoring much of what Scripture has to say about these teachings. These newsletters are an attempt, not just to show the errors in Bart's study, but to help equip you to do the same if you encounter attacks on your faith. The first essay in this series is published at my personal blog (click here). Over the next several weekly newsletters, I will be showing that Bart's understanding of Christianity is not solidly Biblical. This time, though, I will demonstrate that the very foundation for his beliefs is contrary to the same Scripture he claims to follow.

Bart believes that God's revelation is contained in the Bible alone for us today. Catholics believe it is contained in the Bible and the oral teachings of Christ and the apostles, which have been preserved through the generations by the Holy Spirit.

Why do we believe this? Because the Bible tells us this is the case. In addition to telling us that the Bible is inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16), which we all agree, Scripture tells us these things:

• Christ never wrote anything down that we have today. If he intended a "Bible only" Church, wouldn't this have been a priority?
• Christ never commanded his apostles to write everything down.
• We don't have writings from most of the apostles.
• According to the apostles Peter, the writings of Paul are difficult to understand, especially for the unlearned, who might distort it to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:15-16). Bart's study is encouraging otherwise "unlearned" individuals to read these very letters without proper guidance.
• Consistent with Peter's warnings about Paul's letters, Scripture shows us that other parts of the Bible are difficult to understand without some external explanation (Acts 8:30-35).
• Even the authors of Scripture acknowledge that there were many things that they chose not to write down, but which were very important for the followers of Christ (2 John 12; 2 John 13).
• Paul tells us that this is because we are to go by the teachings that are written, but also the ones passed on by word of mouth (2 Thes. 2:15).
• There are false traditions, just as there are false Scriptures. The false traditions that Scripture refers to are based on the teachings of the heretic group the Judiazers (Matt. 15:1-3).
• However, just like Scripture, Christian oral traditions are also the "Word of God" (1 Thes. 2:13).
• Just like Scripture, these Christian oral traditions are entrusted by the Spirit (2 Tim. 1:14).
• Just like Scripture, these are meant to be passed on and taught to others through the generations (2 Tim. 2:2).
• Scripture even tells us to "shun" those who reject these traditions (2 Thes. 3:6). Bart's study is teaching you to reject these traditions.
It isn't that Scripture is less than perfect. Rather, we are, but God instituted a Church that prevents our own sinful and prideful minds from distorting his word.

In addition, Scripture was never written to be a systematic catechism of what Christians are to believe. If it were, the central mystery of Christianity - the Trinity - would be more clearly spelled out, but it took Christians a few hundred years to fully define the Trinity. The New Testament made up of the gospels, which record the life and teachings of Christ; The Acts of the Apostles, which record the work of the apostles after Christ ascended; several epistles, which are by and large written to communities that already received instruction in the faith; and Revelation, which gives John's vision of Heaven. From these writings, everything that Christians believe is contained clearly (such as when 1 Peter 3:21 tells us that baptism saves us) or implied (such as the Trinity and Purgatory).

Sacred traditions do not add to Scripture, but connect the dots more perfectly and accurately than a Scripture alone approach.
In an upcoming newsletter, we will see how these oral traditions can be accessed. However, given the limit of space in each issue, I want to focus on Bart's belief that a sincere Christian needs nothing but Scripture, and from there, his own intellect and the Holy Spirit will guide him to truth.

Problem one: Whose interpretation do we go by?

If Bart were to get into an argument with a Church of Christ preacher, they would disagree on many things, such as the nature of baptism and whether man can fall from salvation.

Both would claim to go by Scripture alone as their final authority.

Both would provide ample verses from Scripture to disprove the other.

Both would claim the other is taking the verses out of context.

Both would claim the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Both would claim a knowledge of Biblical times that tells him what the verses really mean.

Both would leave, still disagreeing.

This same thing would happen if he got into an argument with a Pentecostal, a Lutheran, and even such fringe groups as the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Christ prayed for unity in John 17. Paul reiterated this in (1 Cor. 1:10). Going by the Bible alone brings disunity and is offensive to Christ.

Problem two: Any verse about Scripture that Bart can point to is usually referring to the Old Testament.

This doesn't mean that the New Testament isn't valuable, too. It means that, even if Bart found a verse that showed that Scripture alone is sufficient (which he can't), it would only prove that the Old Testament was already sufficient and that there was no need of anything further.

Problem three: First century Christians couldn't go by the Bible alone because most of the New Testament wasn't written down until late in that century.

For the record, Bart would agree that Christians couldn't go by the Bible alone at this point. He would say all the verses I quoted about oral teachings were meant to apply to these Christians, but that they didn't apply anymore after the New Testament was finished. Question: Where did Bart get this information? Where does the Bible or any other source say that oral traditions are only important until the completion of the New Testament?

Problem four: Even after all of the New Testament was written, the various books were often written to specific communities, which means that Christians still didn't have a complete New Testament.

After a while, these books were passed around from community to community, but even then we have a problem because of Problem five.

Problem five: Even after the books of the New Testament were passed around, nobody could agree until the 4th century as to which books were Scripture and which were not.

Until that time, early Christian writings show that some thought books like 2nd and 3rd John, Hebrews, and Revelation were not Scripture and others thought that other early Christian writings such as some works called The Didache, The Shepherd, and the letters of Clement were.

Problem six: It was through the Church that the Holy Spirit finally defined which books were Scripture.

Scripture didn't come with a table of contents. Rather, the authoritative Church of that time declared (with the Holy Spirit's guidance) which books were inspired and which weren't. Among a few reasons, these decisions were made based on which books tradition saw as inspired and which books agreed with the oral teachings.
In the early centuries, we didn't have Bible-based churches, but the birth of a Church-based New Testament.

Problem seven: Even after the New Testament was compiled, Bibles were copied by hand and were too expensive for individuals to own.

Adjusting for modern currency and values, a Bible at that time would have cost a couple hundred thousand dollars. Where would individuals like you, me or Bart have gotten our own copy. In addition, because books weren't widespread, most people were illiterate anyway. It wasn't until the invention of the printing press that individuals started to get their own Bibles and to learn to read in large numbers. This means that, until Johannes Gutenberg, Christianity as Bart imagines it was only for the rich and well-educated. It means that, if Christianity exists as Bart imagines it, Jesus Christ failed in his goal to start a religion that would be accessible to all generations. God, himself, failed in this, but the guy who invented the printing press succeeded.

Catholics can agree with Bart on several points:
• The Bible is inspired by God.
• The Bible is without error in theological and moral matters.
• The Bible is an authority for all Christians.
• Everything a Christian believes must be in harmony with the Bible, as long as the Bible is read properly.
• Catholics could do a much better job of reading their Bibles.
• So could Protestants.
However, his belief that we should go by the Bible alone is a tradition of man, started over 1500 years after Christ by the reformers. Catholics, however, go by what Christians have done since the days of the apostles.
In the next issue, and I'll show you the verses Bart uses in his study to try to show the Bible should be our only authority. You'll see how truly empty these verses are. Rather, the Bible is full of verses telling us that revelation is recorded in both written and oral form. Logic and history further discredit his foundation.

Perhaps, though, there is a conclusive verse that Bart didn't include. If so, $1000 awaits him or anyone else who can produce it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Test All Things

Bart Larson is a Christian apologist and the author of a booklet called Perfected in Love: A Bible Study for Catholics.

I met Bart several years ago as he served in his role as a hospice minister. My grandpa was dying, and while he slept in another room, Bart and I got acquainted in the living room. He gave me some stories and other writings he often hands out to his hospice patients. These writings, themselves, were rather benign with regard to doctrine - mostly aimed at comforting the very sick with the promise of God's love.

However, when I later visited the website listed at the bottom of his writings, what I found was one of the most offensive anti-Catholic works I had seen before. Since then, the study has gone through major revisions over the years, as Bart and I have discussed it and I've pointed out many errors. In that time it has been pulled from the website. However, he has informed me that he is posting it again, despite the fact that it is still fundamentally flawed and highly offensive.

Once it is posted again, I invite you to read it yourself at Bart's website:

Note that I have no problem with you reading Bart's study or visiting his site. I have that much confidence in the solid truth of Catholicism, which you will see defended in these e-newsletters. I've even invited Bart to write a letter of response to my critiques, and I will publish his letter at the end of my series, allowing Bart time to revise according to the content of my essays.

Bart, however, is apparently not interested in letting visitors to his website hear the arguments that I am presenting. He extends no courtesy of inviting his readers to visit the AFS website through a link in his study and isn't willing to let me write a response to be added to his study. He has also refused several offers to debate some of the core doctrines he brings up.

While Bart insists that I should be focusing on what unites us, rather than what divides us, his study does not follow this guideline. It is systematically set up to attack most of the teachings of the Catholic faith, and I will simply be refuting that.

I will sometimes refer to Bart or his work as anti-Catholic. This is an accurate term. He does not hate Catholic individuals, but he openly attacks the teachings, practices, and leaders of the faith. He is, therefore, anti (against) anything distinctly Catholic.

This would be fair enough - if Bart had solid arguments against these teachings. Instead his study relies on a number of sleight-of-hand tricks to make you think that he has refuted much of Catholicism. We will examine the biggest of these in the next issue. Until then, here are some things to watch for:

• Bart claims his study is letting the Bible speak for itself, but he only gives you the verses he wants you to see and leaves out many that present a problem for him. When I pressed him to explain why he did this regarding verses on eternal security at the beginning, he explained that this was because it was his booklet and he could write his introduction how he wanted. Not much of a defense. In other places, I am convinced that Bart doesn't even know the verses or reasoning that Catholics use, and it is irresponsible for him to dismiss these teachings without researching this.

• Bart claims that his study is just a pure list of Bible verses and that he is reserving editorial comment. However, editorial comment is sprinkled throughout, and at one point he even refers the reader to a Hollywood movie (not a documentary) to make his points. Apparently, deep down, Bart doesn't believe that the Bible is as self-interpretive as he claims in the introduction.

• Bart will often "beg the question" - making a statement based on an unproven assumption. An example would be if he asked, "Does the Bible teach that we should worship anyone except God?" This is begging the question because the assumption is that the Catholic Church teaches that others can be worshipped, which it doesn't. Worship is for God alone.

• Bart will pull verses out of context. While his introduction tells you to study the "context" by reading the verses immediately above and below a certain verse, Bart doesn't mention that context is much larger than a set of five or six verses. Often he pulls verses and interprets them in a way that is contrary to the entire rest of the book in which they appear, as well as other books. He shows you just enough to put doubt in your head.

• Shotgun approach - Bart will throw so many verses and arguments into his writings that he hopes someone can never respond to all of them. He purposely overwhelms his readers.

• Straw man - Bart will attack the weakest argument for a belief, claiming victory. He does this especially in his section on the authority of the Pope.

• Bart admits he is not an expert on Catholicim, and our conversations over the years have shown many, many errors in his understanding of what Catholics believe. These errors are still grossly present, but Bart feels qualified to publish this study anyway and to give talks about Catholicism to Protestant groups.

Finally, as will be seen in next week's issue, Bart reads the Bible in a way contrary to how Christ and the Bible itself says Scripture should be read. He reads it in a way that, according to Scripture, leads to error and rejection of the full truth of Christ. Bart has declined to debate this issue and says his study stands for itself on how the Bible should be read. Therefore, in the next issue, we will see what his study says about reading Scripture, and then we'll see what Scripture has to say about itself by including all the verses and context that Bart left out.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Graven Images

Here is my experiment with the movie making website "Xtranormal".