Lane Keister at Green Baggins recently wrote an “An Examination of Roman Catholicism”.
His “format is first the Roman Catholic teaching, then the Reformed teaching, then the Scriptural teaching.”
As a former Calvinist and graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), I read Lane’s post with great interest. I hope he doesn’t mind if I respond to his points.
First he looks at the different doctrines of Scripture and authority held by Catholics on one hand and Calvinist/Reformed Christians on the other. Lane Keister writes:
I. On Scripture: while Scripture is inspired by God, tradition and the pope have equal authority. See 891 of the Catechism.
Scripture alone is the infallible rule of faith and practice. See BC, article 7, WCF 1.
2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 John 5:9
Here Lane fuses the terms “infallible” and “inspired”. The Catholic Church does not teach the Pope or Councils are “inspired” but we do believe that the Popes and Councils are “infallible” when declaring matters touching faith and morals. If Lane is going to challenge the Church, he needs to present things a bit more clearly.
Moreover, the three verses that he cites for the “Reformed position” say nothing of “Scripture alone”. They just don’t. This is because the Bible itself never teaches that the Bible alone is the sole authority–how could it, the canon was not proclaimed until A.D. 382 (See “The Catholic Challenge to Protestants: Is Esther is the Canon of Scripture”).
Next Lane focuses on the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of our Lord:
II. On Mary: She is Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix (Cat. 969). She continues to intercede for us in heaven.
Jesus is our one and only High Priest. We need no other Mediatrix save Christ. (BC 21, HC 18, WCF 8, LC 36)
Phil. 3:1-9, 1 Cor. 2:1-2, Heb. 7:26-8:6, 9:11-14, 9:25-10:14
Mary is a pretty difficult topic for non-Catholics to understand. I may be wrong, but Lane seems to misunderstand the term “mediatrix”. I can’t blame him. This doctrine centers on whether any saint in Heaven can or will pray for anyone on earth. If the answer is affirmative, then all the saints are advocates since they pray for us in and through Christ. They gain their duty of prayer from their baptismal dignity and their general priestly status as Christians, which does not cease at death. It also entails that the saints in heaven are “helpers”. They are advocates and helpers in the relative sense and not absolutely. Only God is an “advocate” and “helper” in the absolute sense.
The same applies to the other two terms listed: benefactors and mediators. The Catholic Church does not teach that Peter, Paul, or Mary can sidestep Christ and intercede directly to the Father. All the prayers of the saints are made in and through Christ. Mary in particular is the holiest of all the saints and is also the natural mother of the Messiah. Thus, (in a relative sense) she is an advocate, helper, benefactress, and mediatrix. Again, she is not a mediatrix absolutely (like Christ), she is one relatively.
It is essential to Catholicism that Christ is the sole mediator between God and men. Mary is not a parallel route. Her mediation is strictly “sub-mediation”. She can’t go to the Father without going through Christ. As she says in John’s Gospel: “Do whatever He tells you to do.”
Next Lane focuses on the topic of justification:
III. On justification: happens at baptism (1987, 1992), involves sanctification (1989, 1995), can be lost (1446).
Justification happens at time-point of faith, does not involve sanctification, and cannot be lost (BC 22-24, HC 60, WCF 11, LC 70-73)
1 Peter 3:21, Romans 3-4, 8
His depiction of Catholic justification isn’t quite correct – justification does not just “happen at baptism”. Justification is in fact repeatable. For example, Abraham was justified in Gen 12, Gen 15, and Gen 17. The same sort of thing happens for Catholic Christians. It doesn’t just happen at baptism – though it usually begins there as Saint Paul teaches:
“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11).
Note how Saint Paul refutes two positions stated by Lane. Firstly, for Saint Paul justification is associated with “washing”, i.e. baptism. Second, justification is connected to sanctification. Saint Paul even places “sanctification” before “justification”. And can justification be lost? Yes. Saint Augustine teaches this because Saint Paul teaches that it is possible to have “fallen away from grace” (Gal 5:4).
Lane’s fourth point addresses baptismal regeneration:
IV. Baptism regenerates (1213). Baptism is a sign and seal of salvation, not salvation itself (BC 34, WCF 28). We are saved by the thing signified (Christ’s blood), not by the sign itself. 1 Peter 3:21, Colossians 2:11-13
Here I would simply ask Lane: Can it be that Christ’s divinely instituted sacrament be a seal of salvation and yet not transform its recipient? Would Christ administer “sacraments in vain”. It smacks of Pelagianism of the worst sort. This is why St. Augustine was an ardent defender of baptismal regeneration. It is at the root of a robust doctrine of grace. The New Testament only mentions being “born again” or “regeneration” twice in reference to individuals. The first is found in John 3:5 which connects regeneration to the waters of baptism. The other is Titus 3:5 where Saint Paul speaks of “the washing of regeneration” – yet another baptismal passage. Thus, if we were to go by “Scripture alone” the balance falls toward a baptismal interpretation of the term “regeneration”. Moreover, every single Church Father believed in baptismal regeneration.
Next, Lane turns to the subject of the Eucharist:
V. The Lord’s Supper: transubstantiation (1373-1378), which results in the worship of the bread and wine.
The Lord is present spiritually only (HC 78-80, WCF 29)
Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22ff., Luke 22:19ff, 1 Cor. 11:24ff.
Here is where I think Lane has the weakest argument. I mean, seriously you’re citing the words of institution to prove that Christ is “present spiritually only”?
If Christ says, “my body is true food and blood is true drink” (Jn 6:55), then you better believe Him. If on the night before He died for you, He institute a sacrament and said that it is His body and blood, then you better believe Him. If all of the Church Fathers devotedly beheld the mystery and took care not only of the Eucharist, but also the vessels that touched the Eucharist, then think again. We are walking on sacred ground.
The more I read, the more I am convinced that the Reformation was essentially a controversy about the Eucharist. If you can undermine the Catholic Church’s doctrine of the Eucharist, you successfully undermine her doctrine of salvation, priesthood, celibacy, saints, sacraments, etc. It becomes a different religion.
Lastly, Lane turns to that ecumenical pinata of Purgatory:
VI. Purgatory: further purification might be needed after death (1030-1032)
Only two places for souls separated from the body (WCF 32.1)
Luke 23:39-43, 1 Cor. 3:10-15
Saint Paul teaches Purgatory and for this reason the Catholic Church believes in Purgatory. In 1 Cor 3:15, Paul describes how some people after death can and will be saved “as through fire”. So ask yourself this: After I die, is it possible for me to be saved and yet also pass through fire? If I do pass through fire, what is it? Hell?
If it is not the fires of Hell, it must be something else. Saint Paul’s Greek word for “fire” in 1 Cor 3:15 is puros. As you can probably see, this is the basis for our word for Purgatory. Catholics would agree with Protestants that Heaven and Hell are the only two final destinations. Purgatory isn’t a destination – it’s a preparation for Heaven.
Another classic text for Purgatory is Mt 5:26, but I’ll save that for another day.
I hope that Lane and other Protestants see that Catholic Christianity is rather sophisticated and most of all, biblical. The true Bible Christians are the Catholics. We’ve been reading, studying, and translating the Bible for 1,500 years more than the Protestants.
I look forward to Lane Keister’s repsonse over at Green Baggins blog.