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Why I Am Not Roman Catholic
May 26, 2016

Last week I began a new series titled “Why I Am Not…” and in this series I am exploring some of the things I do not believe as a means to explaining what I do believe. In the last article I explained why I am not atheist and now want to explain why I am not Roman Catholic. The timing of this article is unplanned but rather appropriate. I publish today from Orlando, Florida where I am enjoying some time at Ligonier Ministries, the ministry founded many years ago by Dr. R.C. Sproul. In very important ways the answer to the question “Why am I not Roman Catholic?” is “R.C. Sproul.” But I am getting ahead of myself.

Though my parents were saved into Pentecostalism, they quickly found a home in the Presbyterian tradition and developed deep interests in both church history and Reformed theology. Each of them read extensively in these fields and eagerly taught me what they had learned. In church history they found the long saga of Rome’s battle against Protestants and pre-Protestants while in theology they found her distortion of the gospel. From my early days I was taught that Catholicism is a dangerous perversion of biblical truth and learned the traditional Protestant understanding that its pontiff is the antichrist, the great opponent of God’s people.

As I entered adulthood I felt a growing desire to examine the beliefs I had always assumed to see if I actually held to them independently from my parents. I looked for resources that could guide me and soon came across the works of R.C. Sproul which had largely been written in response to Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Sproul had determined that he would allow the Church to speak for herself through her catechism and official statements and that he would evaluate these through Scripture. He showed a deep, respectful understanding of Catholicism and built a compelling case in which he exposed her most serious problems. Books by James White complemented Sproul’s and under their guidance I came to see that Catholic doctrine really is opposed to Scripture and to the gospel. My convictions about the errors and dangers of Catholicism changed a little bit—I became far less convinced about the connection between pope and antichrist, for example—but overall were sharpened and deepened. I concluded that for a number of reasons I could never be Roman Catholic. Most prominent among them are these three:

I am not Roman Catholic because Rome denies the gospel. Rome has a gospel but not the gospel and, in reality, their gospel damns not saves because it explicitly denies that justification comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Rome accurately understands the Protestant position and unapologetically anathematizes it. To the work of Christ it adds the work of Mary. To the intercession of the Savior it adds the intercession of the saints. To the authority of the Bible it adds the authority of tradition. To the free gift of salvation it adds the necessity of human effort. In place of the finished work of Christ on the cross it demands the ongoing sacrifice of the mass. In place of the permanent imputation of Christ’s righteousness it substitutes the temporary infusion of works righteousness. In so many different ways it explicitly and unapologetically denies truth and promotes error. The Roman Catholic gospel is a false gospel.

I am not Roman Catholic because Rome is not the church. Rome claims to trace her lineage in an unbroken line that extends all the way back to the apostle Peter to whom Christ said, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” In this way she says that she is the church with the power and authority to demand the allegiance and bind the conscience of every Christian. I do not recognize such lineage and, therefore, do not recognize such authority. Her claims are unprovable and represent a distortion of the Bible’s claims about Christ’s church. To be Catholic I would first have to bend the knee to the pope as the successor to Peter and acknowledge the Church as the continuation of what Christ began through his disciples. I cannot, because the Roman Catholic Church is a false church.

I am not Roman Catholic because Catholic worship is idolatrous. Protestants commonly charge Catholicism with promoting worship of Mary or the saints. Under the tutelage of R.C. Sproul I came to understand that this charge requires nuance and is, to some degree, a matter of defining words such as “venerate.” And yet there is undeniably a seed of what I must acknowledge as idolatry. This was affirmed during a recent trip to Europe where in Germany and Austria I visited Catholic cathedrals and saw the veneration of bones, relics, and icons, and where I saw the Church advocating and promoting prayers to Mary and the saints. Here was Catholicism in its full bloom and it was as alarming as it was tragic. I saw people who have not known the joyous freedom of the gospel desperately extending worship to or through Mary and the saints. They did it all under the guidance of their Church. In many of its forms Roman Catholic worship is idolatrous.

I joyfully affirm, of course, that there are true believers within Catholicism and that what is true of Rome’s official doctrine is not necessarily true of all of her adherents. Yet the salvation of these brothers and sisters has come despite the teachings of the church, not through them. I appreciate the point Leonardo De Chirico highlights here:

What refers to the Catholic Church in its doctrinal and institutional configuration cannot necessarily be extended to all Catholics as individuals. The grace of God is at work in men and women who, though considering themselves Catholics, entrust themselves exclusively to the Lord, cultivate a personal relationship with Him, read the Bible and live as Christians. These people, however, must be encouraged to reflect on whether their faith is compatible or not with belonging to the Catholic Church. Moreover, they must be helped to critically think over what remains of their Catholic background in the light of Biblical teaching.

I am not Roman Catholic. I am not Roman Catholic because I was raised to understand that Catholic doctrine is opposed to Scripture. But even more, I am not Roman Catholic because through my own examinations I came to see that she denies the gospel of free grace, that she claims authority that is not her own, and that she promotes worship that detracts from the worship we all owe exclusively to our God.

May 26, 2016

Actively Serving Christ in Older Age

Here’s a challenge for all of us: “One of the characteristics that has always impressed me about highly committed servants of Jesus Christ is that they continue to actively serve Him to the very end of their lives. Long after others have retired from their vocations and various forms of Christian service, these deeply dedicated Christian servants continue right on actively ministering for the Lord in whatever ways they are able.”

An Air Assault from a Persistent Widow

This seems appropriate in light of the last link: “a lesser known part of the Henry legacy is the role of the persistent prayers of a widowed secretary in the converting work of God in Henry’s life.”

New Studies in Biblical Theology

Westminster Books is having a great sale on the excellent New Studies in Biblical Theology series which is edited by D.A. Carson.

To the Women Who Wish Their Husbands Were Spiritual Leaders

“I get it. You see who your husband COULD be. If only he prayed more. If only he led the family to go to church. If only he read his Bible daily. If only he was the spiritual leader that you know your family needs.”

What Should Christians Think about Cremation?

Richard Phillips takes a look at Christian views of cremation. “The assumption seems to be that cremation versus burial is a matter of complete indifference, a subject about which the Bible has little or nothing to say.” He disagrees.

This Day in 735. 1,281 years ago today, The Venerable Bede, “father of English history,” died. *

How A Gutenberg Press Works

This quirky individual demonstrates the Gutenberg press using a rare (or perhaps unique) working model. That simple machine changed the world!

Global Warming and ‘Climate Change’

Creation Ministries International takes a look at recent developments related to climate change science and offers guidelines for discernment.

Horton

Grace must raise the temptation to think we can sin as we please; if it does not, we have not understood the true extent of grace. —Derek Thomas

Why I do not use an ad blocker
May 25, 2016

Let’s just get it out there: Online advertising is a mess. We understand that it is a necessity, but we despair at how ugly it has become. Like you, I hate visiting a website and having to deal with flashing, flickering, or inappropriate banner ads designed to distract me from what I am attempting to watch or read. Even more than that, I hate autoplaying videos that interrupt and annoy, and I utterly loathe pop-under ads that open secretly and hide under my browser. I am not opposed to advertising. I generally don’t mind seeing appropriate and respectful advertisements that relate to my interests or to the site I am viewing. But for every useful ad, I have had to endure ten thousand awful ones. So have you, I’m sure.

There is an easy solution. Ad blockers are simple and popular browser plug-ins that remove all of those ads. They wipe the banners in the sidebar, they shut down the autoplaying videos before they even begin, they interrupt the pop-under ads. As they do all of this, they streamline the browsing experience, making it faster and better and far less annoying. They seem like a perfect solution. But I don’t use them. I can’t use them. Let me tell you why and explain how I think through the issue. As I do so, let me acknowledge that this is not an area of clear biblical command but an area of conscience in which different Christians looking at the same issue through the same Bible may come to differing conclusions.

I believe that when I visit a web site I am entering into an implicit agreement with the owner of that site  Their end of the agreement is to provide me with content that I do not have to pay for and my end of the agreement is to see ads. I receive information or entertainment while they receive advertising revenue. It’s a win-win. However, ad blockers interrupt this agreement by allowing me to receive my end of the bargain while keeping them from receiving theirs. This troubles me.

When I visit a web site I am causing the owner of that site to incur a cost. It may be very minor—a fraction of a cent, perhaps—but it is still a cost related to designing, programming, or hosting. Also, many writers write in order to receive financial remuneration for their work, not an unreasonable desire. When that site is supported by advertising, I consider it my duty, my side of the implicit agreement, to view the ads so the owner receives his support and his pay. In my mind this is only fair and right, an application of Jesus’s Golden Rule: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12). I won’t consume without providing. If I take I must also give.

 And so my conscience compels me to refrain from using an ad blocker because I feel the need to uphold my end of the bargain. If I come across a site whose ads are intolerable, I may exercise my right as a consumer and stop visiting the site, but I won’t block the ads. It’s only what I would want others to do for me—and, indeed, what I do want others to do for me.

As a site owner, I take it upon myself to filter advertisers so visitors only have to see ads displaying vetted, valuable products, services, or ministries, and I take it upon myself to filter the advertisements to ensure they are not obnoxious or intrusive. I publish one clearly-marked sponsored post each week and allow one small banner ad related to that sponsored post. This is my attempt to honor both readers and advertisers, to broker peace in a tricky battle.

My hope and my optimistic belief is that the era of the obnoxious banner ad, the pop-up or pop-under, and the auto-playing video is coming to an end. In fact, ironically, the rise of the ad blocker is making this likely by forcing advertisers to explore and innovate to restore the revenue they are losing as so many people shut out their ads. We will all be the happy beneficiaries. But for now, at least, I will continue to see the ads and to uphold my part in this bilateral agreement.

Image credit: Shutterstock

May 25, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include three volumes in Christian Focus’s excellent History Maker series of short, accessible biographies: Mary Slessor, John Calvin, and Adoniram Judson ($2.99 each). Also, Crossway will give you a free e-book copy of What’s Your Worldview? by James Anderson if you fill out a quick survey.

Devotional Theology

I like the sound of this series: “From the fallible, presumptuous words of Jesus Calling to the dangerous practice of contemplative prayer, eager Christian women everywhere are desperately seeking to know God better. However, the one thing we’re lacking is the one thing that’s sitting right under our noses—the Word of God; and further, a right understanding and application of it.”

Why Your Pastor Should Say “No More to Beth Moore”

Josh Buice highlights common (and important) concerns with Beth Moore. “Although concerns have been raised through the years, Beth Moore continues to be welcomed into the study groups within local churches where women read her books, study guides, and watch her videos with limited, if any, oversight from the pastoral staff.”

Reading Writers

Aaron Armstrong invited me to be a guest on his podcast to discuss the joys of reading. We also discuss how and where I read and I insult him for reading comic books, I mean graphic novels.

Children of the Heroin Crisis

Here is a sad look at grandparents who have been forced to raise their grandchildren because the parents have been consumed by the heroin crisis. “With the rise in heroin use, grandparents are increasingly raising their grandchildren because the parents are either dead, in jail, in rehab or otherwise incapable of taking care of their children.”

Submission Is a Mark of Maturity

This is true no matter who you are or who you are called to submit to: Maturity matters.

This Day in 1865. 151 years ago today, John Mott was born. Mott served with the Y.M.C.A. for 40 years and chaired the 1910 Edinburgh Missionary Conference. *

The Vanity of Conspiracy Theories and the Banality of Real Evil

I’ve linked in the past to Carl Trueman’s thoughts on conspiracy theories. In general, I agree with what he says (though here the term is not defined, something that would have been helpful).

Reboot Your Phone with Mindfulness

Even if you don’t buy into the wider philosophy behind this article, there is lots of good advice on setting up your phone in such a way that you reduce distraction and do away with many of your thoughtless or subconscious interactions with it.

Flashback: Can You Help Me Find a Good Church?

“It may be the email I get more than any other: Can you help me find a church?”

Horton

Never presume God will grant you apart from prayer what he has ordained to grant you only by means of prayer. —Sam Storms

Core Christianity
May 24, 2016

I love to learn the essentials, and once I have learned the essentials I love to return to them. As Christians we may and must learn more than the essentials, yet without ever outgrowing them, without ever losing our grounding in them. Every time I return to the essentials of the Christian faith I am challenged and redirected—challenged with the beauty and the substance of even the most basic Christian truths and redirected to greater conformity to them.

Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story is Michael Horton’s attempt to tackle the essentials, the basic beliefs that all Christians share. “The purpose of this book,” he says, “is to help you understand the reason for your hope as a Christian so that you can invite others into the conversation. This book is for those who are tired of being starring characters in their own life movie. You want to be written into God’s unfolding drama. But where do you start?” You can start with this book.

If you are familiar with Horton’s work, you know that he so often frames Christian truth around four Ds: drama, doctrine, doxology, and discipleship. While the central focus of this book is the second D, it relies upon all of them. Drama refers to the “unfolding drama that runs from creation and the fall to exodus and redemption all the way to the new creation.” Drama yields doctrine, the facts, the “stable nouns” of the Christian faith. Doctrine rooted in the drama “fills us with thankful hearts—doxology, meaning ‘praise’.” This is our heartfelt, worshipful response to who God is and what he has done. And finally, “doxology yields the fruit of love and good works—discipleship. We are turned outside of ourselves, looking up to God in faith and out to our neighbors in love.”

If we are Christians “we need to know the story and its meaning for us. We need to internalize it, responding appropriately to the God who acts. And then we need to be increasingly conformed to the central character as we live as his free people in service to others. In other words we need to engage in theology, which is the story of God.” He explains that “biblical doctrine is not just a head trip. It is an unfolding story in which God invites us to play the part that he created for us from before the foundation of the world (Eph 2:10). Far from a distraction, to know what you believe and why lies at the heart of your Christian experience, worship, and everyday living.”

No wonder, then, that this book focuses on doctrine. It is, in its own way, a simple and user-friendly systematic theology, an exploration of the doctrine revealed in the Bible. Beginning with “Jesus Is God,” Horton advances to “God Is Three Persons,” “God Is Great and Good,” and “God Speaks.” He continues to “God Made the World but We’ve Made a Mess of It,” “God Made a Promise,” “Joy to the World!,” “Jesus Is Lord,” and then finally to “What Are We Waiting For?” and “In the Meantime: Callings.” If you are familiar with the standard categorizations of Christian doctrine you will recognize these headings as simple ways of advancing through sublime and substantial truths.

In every chapter Horton looks at doctrine but then carefully places it within the grand drama unfolding around us and points to its implications on doxology and discipleship. This ensures that doctrine never lives on its own, that it never remains abstract, but that it always points to God’s purposes and to its necessary implications in our hearts, minds, and lives. It is a powerful, stirring progression.

Core Christianity immediately takes its place as one of my favorite introductions to the Christian faith. It is one I will recommend often and distribute widely. Scot McKnight observes that it is fit for today’s generation in much the way John Stott’s Basic Christianity was fit for his generation. I couldn’t agree more.

I want to offer three situations in which Core Christianity may prove especially helpful. First, mature Christians can read it as a refresher on the essential truths of the faith. They will want to read it as well to see those core truths placed carefully within the context of drama and working themselves out in doxology and discipleship. They may even want to use it as a springboard to Horton’s more substantial works Pilgrim Theology and The Christian Faith. Second, new believers can read it as a means of becoming grounded in the faith, as an early exploration into the infinitely deep content of Christianity. Finally, small groups, discipleship groups, or one-on-one groups can read it together as a means of mutual edification and encouragement. In every case I am convinced it will prove its value.

May 24, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include Jesus, the Only Way to God by John Piper ($0.99); Strengthen My Spirit by C.H. Spurgeon ($2.99); The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today by Wayne Grudem ($2.99); ‘Til We Meet Again by Ray Whipps ($3.99).

In the past I’ve told you about the Circle device for protecting your family. Yesterday they announced their Android app as well as the launch of Circle Go which extends Circle functionality to devices used outside your home.

The Hidden Hours of Ministry

I’m looking forward to this series about the hidden hours of ministry. “The hidden hours lay the foundation for what happens publicly. The clamour of pastoral and teaching ministry can make it tempting to hold to public priorities, while neglecting more private responsibilities.”

Ben Zobrist Is Reinventing Himself

You’ll probably need to be a baseball fan to enjoy this one.

The Backside Blessings of Blogging

“Like the businessman whose only measure of success is the bottom line or the pastor who only looks at how many people are in his church’s pews, bloggers can also be one-dimensional in gauging the importance of their work.” Barry York looks at some of the hidden blessings of blogging.

Art Before Commerce

If you enjoyed Calvin and Hobbes (as I do and as my children do) you’ll also enjoy this video about what made his comics so successful. (Note: There’s one bad word in there.)

10 Issues in Theological Papers

Andy Naselli points out 10 issues he frequently marks when grading theological papers.

This Day in 1738. 278 years ago today, John Wesley felt his “heart strangely warmed” and trusted in Christ. *

Is Meek Weak?

You will probably benefit from reading this article about meekness. I know I did… 

The 35 Kinds of Animal

“Every animal on Earth belongs to one of about 35 groups called ‘phyla’. Some are familiar, but others are profoundly strange.”

Flashback: The Man I Am

“So there I was, traveling at 100 kilometers per hour, in the passing lane of a 6-lane highway, and I couldn’t see a thing. I had my 2 daughters with me, so I told them to pray while I tried to get over to the shoulder…”

Horton

Unity which is obtained by the sacrifice of truth is worth nothing. It is not the unity which pleases God. —J.C. Ryle

3 Priorities for Christian Parents
May 23, 2016

What’s a parent to do? We know that God tells us to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord—we get that. But what does that actually look like? How can we flesh out that simple framework?

I was recently reading through 1 Thessalonians and once again came to one of my favorite passages. In this letter Paul is addressing specific concerns raised by the congregation in Thessalonica. It seems that one of the matters they wanted him to address involved the simple question of Christian living: How do we live lives that are pleasing to God? How can we know that God is pleased with us? The most significant part of Paul’s response to the question comes in chapter 4.

It struck me as I read it: Isn’t this the question we ask for our children? How can they live lives that are pleasing to God? Isn’t that the dream and desire of every Christian parent, that their children will live lives that thrill God? In this section of his letter Paul provides three priorities. The priorities Paul offers to this first-century Christian church can be helpful to twenty-first century Christian parents.

The Importance of Sexual Purity

The first priority Paul highlights is the priority of sexual knowledge and purity—knowledge of God’s purposes in sexuality and dedication to obedience. He says, “This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” (3-4), and goes on to describe the importance of sexual self-control. Here he is clearly following up on earlier teaching where he told them about God’s purpose and plan in sexuality. He ties their holiness directly to their purity, making it clear that the only kind of life that honors God is a life of abstaining from sin and pursuing holy expressions of sexuality. These were no doubt important instructions to recent converts living in a licentious society that permitted and celebrated many forms of depravity. He even warns that there will be immediate and perhaps even eternal consequences to sin (6) and reminds them that they are indwelled by the Holy Spirit who gives them an internal warning against such deeds (8). “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (7).

Similarly, parents bear the responsibility of teaching and training their children to understand the importance of sexual purity and, before that, the sheer goodness of human sexuality. They must both discipline and instruct, teaching what God requires and being prepared to correct their children when they go against such instructions. In an age of moral revolution and terrible sexual confusion, no concerned parent can neglect to arm their children with a sound knowledge of God’s perspective on sexuality.

The Priority of the Local Church

After Paul speaks of the importance of sexual purity he advances to the priority of the local church as the Christian’s mission field for love. “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more…” (9-10). These believers were a picture of Christian love, expressing love within their local assembly that then overflowed into acts of love to the wider Christian community. And yet Paul knew that where love isn’t growing it is declining. He knew that love never ends because there is no end to the possible deeds of love. And so he encouraged them to continue to make love a priority—beginning right there in the local church.

Here we can learn the importance of teaching our children to prioritize the local church, and teaching our children to see the church not only as a place of worship, but a place of love—a place to express love to other Christians. Do your children know that the local church is absolutely foundational to God’s plan for us, for them? Do they know that we are not merely consumers of worship but dispensers of love? (It’s encouraging to note that this church listened to him—see 2 Thessalonians 1:3.)

The Dignity of Hard Work

Having told the church of the priorities of sexual purity and local church fellowship, Paul tells them “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you” (11). This is a call to believe in the dignity of labor and, on that basis, to work hard. In a church that apparently struggled with laziness and meddling (see also 5:14, and 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15), Paul commanded that they be content to be unknown and unnoticed except for their hard work. This work had value in providing evidence of their profession of faith (“so that you may walk properly before outsiders”) and as a further expression of love to other Christians (“and be dependent on no one”). Through their hard work they would display the power of the gospel and be able to avoid lazy dependence upon the church.

Our children need to know that God created us to work and that there is dignity in all labor. Paul himself, though a pastor and scholar, an elite and intellectual, was unashamed to work with his own hands, to provide for his own needs. Paul knew this: Sin grows in the soil of idleness and a refusal to work displays a willingness to sin. He would undoubtedly agree with Spurgeon who said, “Idle people tempt the devil to tempt them.” Much of our children’s sin, especially as they grow older, can be traced to idleness, to long and lazy evenings, to an unwillingness to dedicate themselves to hard work.

We need to teach our children far more than these three things, of course, but Paul’s instruction to the church in Thessalonica, his answer to “How do we live lives that are pleasing to God?” give us a great place to begin, a set of priorities applicable to every parent. Parenting is more than this, to be sure, but it must not be less.