Friday, November 18, 2011

Why Mark Galli Isn't Converting (Yet!)

Mark Galli wrote an interesting article on CT about whether evangelicals should become Catholic:
On a recent trip to Durham, North Carolina, I was asked, "What do you make of all the evangelicals converting to Roman Catholicism?" What immediately came to mind was two recent and well-known conversions of evangelical scholars: Christian Smith, sociologist at Notre Dame, and Francis Beckwith, who at one time was president of the Evangelical Theological Society. Other well-known conversions to Catholicism in my generation—by men whose writings have been important in my intellectual growth—include the late Richard John Neuhaus and Robert Wilken (not from evangelicalism as such, but from Lutheranism).
These are not minds to trifle with! We're talking about men who were and are at the top of their intellectual games, in sociology, theology, and church history. And none of their motives are to be questioned. When it comes to momentous conversions, we usually don't know our own deepest motives. These are often discovered only long after the fact, or maybe never (at least not until we find ourselves in the presence of our Lord—Ah, so that's what I was doing!).
What I can comment on is the tug of Catholicism on the evangelical heart. Because it is a tug that I must admit has pulled at me and many close friends. But there are tugs and there are tugs. Some tugs come from the Holy Spirit, and these naturally are not to be criticized! But other tugs deserve a little scrutiny.
I find this so refreshing. So many times you see protestants psycho-analyzing Catholic converts. Saying they were not real protestants. Questioning their honesty and/or intelligence.  He does not go there. He can only comment on his own heart. That is all he tries to do.

On the other hand he leaves the reasons these men have given for their conversion behind as well. You don't want to question the man but you want to respond to the argument. He does neither. He just gives his own reasons for not becoming Catholic.
The Holy Spirit set the pattern for what church would be like at the day of Pentecost. And it looked like this: Massive confusion. So much confusion that when onlookers tried to describe it, they called it a drunken party (Acts 2:13). 
He starts his defense with a very strange reading of the Pentecost account. There is a leap he makes that if the Holy Spirit is in all men and women that somehow a magisterium is not needed. I don't think that is stated and I don't think that is obvious. In fact, the opposite is implied. Peter stands up and calms the crowd and exercises his teaching office. So confusion is OK but not only confusion. There is a time for clarity.
Reading through Acts and the New Testament letters, we see a radical leveling in the early church; all manner of people were speaking in the name of God. We find arguments about whose baptism counted, what Jewish laws needed to be obeyed, whether the Second Coming was still coming, whether to participate in civil religion, and so on. Paul and Peter and John used their authority as apostles to try to settle disputes, though they mostly argued from Scripture or the teachings of Jesus. But even after they spoke or wrote, the church had to go through a period of discernment to determine what the Holy Spirit was, in fact, teaching the church.
This is just nonsense. There is no radical leveling of the church. The apostles are in charge. When they are challenged that is seen as a challenge to God. Did they argue from scripture? Sure. But not just as one opinion among many. What about the "teachings of Jesus?" That is called tradition. Sacred Tradition is just the teachings of Jesus given to the church and protected by the Holy Spirit. Protestants tend to think that if it comes from Jesus it does not count as tradition. It does not count as a tradition of men. But Sacred Tradition is the opposite. It only counts if it comes from Jesus. That is the very definition of it.
Many matters took decades, if not generations, to settle out—including the matter of which writings were to be included in the canon to help settle these matters! In other words, there was no magisterium in the early church, but only Christians who lived and argued together at the prodding of the Holy Spirit. Yes, there were bishops and councils who attempted to settle disputes that arose, but many of those bishops were simply wrong on key points, and many of the councils had to be reversed by another council. The full sweep of church history suggests that the Holy Spirit has, in fact, led us into all truth through no other way than men and women, slave and free, Jew and Gentile wrestling with one another about whatever issue is at hand until, in the Spirit's good time, a consensus emerges.
There was no magisterium but there were bishops and councils? Who called those councils? The Bishop of Rome. Was he just another Christian with a bible to be argued with? How did they arrive at answers? Yes there were a lot of arguments but when they got to a place of unity and put an issue behind them how did they do that? What was the thing that worked? It was the councils and the pope. Without their authority issues like the trinity and the cannon of scripture simply would never have been settled. He says "in the Spirit's good time, a consensus emerges" but it never emerges in a way that would be possible within protestantism.

He says "many of the councils had to be reversed by another council." I am not sure what he means. There are councils and then there are ecumenical councils. If he means smaller councils and individual bishops needed to be corrected by ecumenical councils and the pope then he is right. But that does not describe chaos. That describes hierarchy. No ecumenical council recognized by the pope has ever been reversed. If he is claiming that is not true he should give an example.
We mustn't forget that for a couple of hundred years, most Christians were not Trinitarians in the way we understand the Trinity today, but the Holy Spirit slowly led the church into a fully Trinitarian faith. At one time, Arianism was the majority option in the church, and yet the Holy Spirit led the church to reject that heresy and reaffirm the full divinity of Christ.
Again I have to ask how? How did we get from a place where most Christians were not Trinitarians to a fully Trinitarian faith? The Holy Spirit? Sure. What means did the Holy Spirit use? Sometimes you can say wait for the Holy Spirit but the Holy Spirit might be waiting for you to stop sinning. In this case it is the sin of schism.
At another time, huge segments of the church were bound to the chains of works righteousness before the Holy Spirit ignited the Reformation. And on it goes. 
The Holy Spirit wanted a reformation but that is not what happened. The so-called reformers actually left the church rather than reforming it. The church was reformed a bit later. It was needed. But the reformation removed protestants from some of the basic tools the Holy Spirit uses to lead and purify and unify the church. The sacraments and the magisterium.
When we're in the middle of one of these intractable issues, the church will seem like it is going to collapse under the weight of confusion and disagreement. But it hasn't so far, and we're assured it never will. The common critique of evangelicalism is that "the center will not hold." Bah. Humbug. Of course the center will hold, because at the center is not a doctrine, nor some human authority figure, nor a complete and inerrant statement of faith. There is only the Center, Jesus Christ. We don't need a magisterium. We already have a Lord, who told us that not even the gates of Hades (whose landlord loves to sows confusion in the church!) will prevail against the church.
The truth is the center will not hold. The center is not Jesus. That is just arrogant to say Jesus must be at the center of my faith community because it is mine.I am saying that as someone who held exactly that arrogant position for a long time. Jesus says I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail. You can't just build any church and apply the same promises to it. It is Jesus' church that the promises apply to. This strange beast known as the American evangelical movement is not it. Can it withstand the onslaught of modernism? I don't think so. The storm is coming and only the house built on the rock will stand.

We need to realize that it is not the Holy Spirit or the magisterium. It is both. Jesus said the Holy Spirit would lead them into all truth but He made that promise to the disciples not to the crowds. Those disciples became apostles and those apostles ordained bishops but the promise is still there.The Holy Spirit frequently works through the magisterium to make truth clear. He can't teach us definitive truth unless we can know objectively one voice that is His. The hard part for me was accepting that such a voice might not be evangelical at all.

1 comment:

  1. Great analysis, Randy. All of the critiques I had floating in my head while reading the article you perfectly laid out.