Showing posts with label MacArthur - John. Show all posts
Showing posts with label MacArthur - John. Show all posts

Friday, April 12, 2013

Veneration of icons and graven images

In a 1980 sermon by Pastor John MacArthur, he stated:
Idolatry is worshiping the wrong god and worshiping the right God in the wrong way. ... I think idolatry is also worshiping symbols that may stand for God. Now we've all-been aware of what is known as the iconoclastic controversy from the word eikon in Greek which means "image." Throughout the history of the church, the church was in its early manifestation of Romanism wanting to put everything in statues and the Roman Church still does that. ... And you still have crucifixes and other images and saints and so forth that represent a certain kind of idolatry. And you say, "Well, we don't really worship the idols it's just that the representation is there." Yes, but the transition is so subtle.
MacArthur attempts to support his claim with two stories in Scripture. The first is when God commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent:
And the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live." So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Num. 21:8-9)
MacArthur does not believe this is an example condoning at least some use of a graven images. Rather, he believes all such imagery is forbidden because it could eventually degenerate into idolatry. As evidence, he cites another Biblical text:
And [Hezeki'ah] did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done. He removed the high places, and broke the pillars, and cut down the Ashe'rah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had burned incense to it; it was called Nehush'tan. (2 King 18:3-4)
Even though God commanded Moses to forge the bronze serpent (cf. Num. 21:8-9), MacArthur draws the following conclusion because of 2 King 18:3-4:
[Hezeki'ah] treated it with disdain get rid of that little brass thing that they were all worshiping. In other words, something started out as a symbol and it became an idol. And that is always a danger of an icon, that man will twist the symbol into an idol. So, whether you're talking about worshiping a false god or worshiping the true God in a wrong way, or worshiping God to a wrong image, it is all forbidden in Scripture.
Thus, according to MacArthur, because the people had eventually named and began worshipping the bronze serpent as a "god" in itself, therefore any use of a forged icon is forbidden or "idolatry" as he says above of Catholic crucifixes or images of saints.

However, let us confront the obvious. Did God or did not God command Moses to forge the bronze serpent in the first place? Num. 21:8 says God indeed commanded Moses to forge the serpent. But it seems the people who found healing when they gazed upon the serpent misunderstood from whence their healing came. The power was God's and it is God who deserved their worship. However, they apparently believed the healing power came from the bronze object itself.

Now just because the people eventually treated the serpent as a "god," it does not follow that all forms of graven images are forbidden. The conclusion would be tantamount to saying because a hospital patient failed to properly use the medicine given to him by the doctor, that therefore all medicine must be forbidden because there are some who abuse it. Thus it was not the forging of the image that was sinful, nor the gazing upon it for healing according to God's own command, but the sin was to worship the object as a god. MacArthur thus goes too far in saying any icon is de facto forbidden.

As well, there are other examples in Scripture regarding "graven images." In another example, God commands Moses to forge gold cherubim angels to flank the ark of the covenant:
And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark; and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. (Ex. 25:18-21)
Likewise, other areas of the temple bore carvings of cherubim angels:
Over against the threshold the temple was paneled with wood round about, from the floor up to the windows (now the windows were covered), to the space above the door, even to the inner room, and on the outside. And on all the walls round about in the inner room and the nave were carved likenesses of cherubim and palm trees, a palm tree between cherub and cherub. ... The nave and the holy place had each a double door. The doors had two leaves apiece, two swinging leaves for each door. And on the doors of the nave were carved cherubim and palm trees, such as were carved on the walls; and there was a canopy of wood in front of the vestibule outside. (Ezek. 41:16b-18a, 23-25)
The author of Hebrews (traditionally thought to be Paul), also describes the ark:
Behind the second curtain stood a tent called the Holy of Holies, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, which contained a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. (Heb. 9:3-5a)
See also (1 King 6:29-32, 1 King 8:6-72 Chron. 3:7-14)

In Catholic theology, it is Christ himself in the new covenant who is the image of the living God.
Basing itself on the mystery of the incarnate Word, the seventh ecumenical council at Nicaea (787) justified against the iconoclasts the veneration of icons - of Christ, but also of the Mother of God, the angels, and all the saints. By becoming incarnate, the Son of God introduced a new "economy" of images. (CCC#2131)
The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, "the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype," and "whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it." The honor paid to sacred images is a "respectful veneration," not the adoration due to God alone: Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is. (CCC#2132)
In Catholic apologetics, the analogy of the photograph of a loved one is often cited. Families keep pictures of loved ones, even those who are deceased, and they reflect or even venerate that person in their hearts without thinking that the photograph itself is a real person. Time and again, in magisterial texts on iconography, the Church is clear to reject the sin of those who worshipped the bronze serpent––that the object, the image, is not the target of focus.

Around the late sixth century, Pope Gregory I explained the parallel between an image and a depiction of God by way of human language. The incident he describes resembles the story of the bronze serpent which the people imprudently worshipped as a god:
[I]t has come to our ears that your Fraternity, seeing certain adorers of images, broke and threw down these same images in Churches. And we commend you indeed for your zeal against anything made with hands being an object of adoration; but we signify to you that you ought not to have broken these images. (Pope Gregory I to Serenus, &c, ca. 590-604 A.D.)
Here you see a parallel to the reaction of King Hezeki'ah who destroyed the bronze serpent when he saw the people worshipping the object as a god. But Pope Gregory continues:
For pictorial representation is made use of in Churches for this reason; that such as are ignorant of letters may at least read by looking at the walls what they cannot read in books. Your Fraternity therefore should have both preserved the images and prohibited the people from adoration of them, to the end that both those who are ignorant of letters might have wherewith to gather a knowledge of the history, and that the people might by no means sin by adoration of a pictorial representation. 
Another translation of Pope Gregory's letter reads:
...pictorial representations which had been made for the edification of an unlearned people in order that, though ignorant of letters, they might by turning their eyes to the story itself learn what had been done...
You see here Pope Gregory comparing written depictions of truths of the faith to drawn depictions of truths of the faith. Certainly, that there were some in Pope Gregory's time who fell into idolatry of images demonstrates the ancient mentality and tendencies to treat a created object as itself a "god." With this, perhaps Pope Gregory led the Church into maturity and paved the way for another saint in the following century to develop and help fortify the proper use of iconography in religious life. Whereas the ancient people improperly worshipped the bronze serpent, the cherubim statues over the ark remained a valid communication of the holy dwelling place of God (cf. Gen. 3:24)

Certainly, many paintings in antiquity utilized symbols and colors to represent various teachings within Scripture, such as the idea of a dove for the Holy Spirit (e.g. Luke 3:22). An illiterate Christian could, in a sense, "read" the icon and learn of the faith by the truths it depicts. So too, can a literate Christian reflect on icons and the truths depicted therein, such as Mary holding the child Jesus, calling us to mind the truths of the incarnation. It is this sort of veneration of saintly images that can help us focus and recall the truths of the faith, applying them to our very lives.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke of this matter during a 2009 General Audience on seventh century saint John Damascene:
John Damascene was also among the first to distinguish...between worship (latreia), and veneration (proskynesis): the first can only be offered to God, spiritual above all else, the second, on the other hand, can make use of an image to address the one whom the image represents. Obviously the Saint can in no way be identified with the material of which the icon is composed
In the last sentence, the Pope makes the clarification that was MacArthur's concern regarding the object itself degenerating into personification. But what may be more worth examining is his emphasis on the difference between (latreia) and (proskynesis), with the first "only offered to God."

Let me take a brief detour to point out that sometimes older texts may use the English word "worship" even when a lesser sense than latreia is intended. For example, in the 1953 encyclical Fulgens Corona, Pope Pius XII wrote: "But let this holy city of Rome be the first to give the example, this city which from the earliest Christian era worshipped the heavenly mother, its patroness, with a special devotion." (Fulgens Corona, 34)

However, if we look earlier in the encyclical, the Pope clarifies this as distinct from the worship due to God alone:
Non-Catholics and reformers are therefore mistaken when because of this pretext they find fault with, or disapprove of, our devotion to the Virgin Mother of God, as if it took something from the worship due to God alone and to Jesus Christ. The contrary is true because any honor and veneration which we may give to our Heavenly Mother undoubtedly redounds to the glory of her Divine Son, not only because all graces and all gifts, even the highest, flow from Him as from their primary source, but also because "The glory of children are their fathers" (Prov. 17:6). (Fulgens Corona, 15) 
Catholics should be recognized for understanding God is the one deserving of "worship" in the sense of the first commandment. Those who impose the incorrect sense of the term "worship" on Catholic veneration of saints therefore commit the fallacy of equivocation. Saints can be revered (or "worshipped" depending on translation or alternate use of the term) in another sense because, as Pope Pius says above, they reflect the glory of God's grace. Veneration of saints is ultimately, in its final essence, praise for Christ.

This thought is espoused by St. John Damascene:
[J]ust as we do not worship the material of which the Gospels are made, nor the material of the Cross, but that which these typify. For wherein does the cross, that typifies the Lord, differ from a cross that does not do so? It is just the same also in the case of the Mother of the Lord. For the honour which we give to her is referred to Him Who was made of her incarnate. (St. John Damascene, On the Orthodox Faith, 4.16.c)
Worthy of mention in all this are the biblical examples of relics, which themselves are created objects belonging to various saints. For example:
And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet. (2 King 13:21)
Acts 19:12 So that even there were brought from his (Paul's) body to the sick, handkerchiefs and aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the wicked spirits went out of them.
Although relics differ from icons in that they are possessions of or physical parts of a saint, these resemble icons in that a material object involved in the exercise of religion certainly is not blanketly forbidden.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Correcting John MacArthur on Catholicism and works

This past Wed. Jan. 25, one of John MacArthur's sermons titled "The Gospel Satisfies the Sinner’s Need" aired on the radio in two parts. Here is the first excerpt that caught my Catholic ear:
All religion, with the exception of the truth, follows one line. It is all a religious effort on the part of man to achieve a rightness with God. I call it the "Religion of Human Achievement." All of it. Doesn't matter what it is. Doesn't matter if it's the worship of Molak, which I was describing, the worship of Ba'al, the worship of Allah, it doesn't matter what it is. It doesn't matter if you're a Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, a Roman Catholic. If you are a Shintoist, a Buddhist, a Hindu, doesn't matter what it is, or some minor religion unknown to most people, they are all the same. They are all purveyors of the big lie that you can make yourself right with whatever god you think exists by your own efforts. There's only one kind of false religion, and that's it, it just comes under many, many labels. The suggestions are endless, but they all involve human effort and human achievement––following certain behaviors morally, and certain behaviors ceremonially, and certain behaviors religiously––you can make yourself right with God. (quote aired 1/25/12)
First, although this is not an apologetic for Eastern philosophies, it seems MacArthur speaks erroneously about their beliefs as well. For instance, regarding Buddhism, though there are different philosophies in Buddhism, Buddhanet states: "Do Buddhist believe in god? No, we do not." The Wikipedia entry on "God in Buddhism" begins with: "The non adherence to the notion of a omnipotent creator deity or a prime mover is seen by many as a key distinction between Buddhism and other religions." So without even delving into Catholicism, MacArthur's blanket, repeated mantra that "all religions," "doesn't matter what it is," advance a big lie about humans going through some motions to get "right with God" is a reckless, incorrect statement.

On his website, MacArthur gives evidence as to why he claims Catholics believe in a "make yourself right" method of justification. His article, The Doctrine of Saving Faith, part 2, reads:
The Council of Trent repeatedly repudiated the doctrine of justification by faith alone. In fact, the Council said, "Unless hope and love are added to faith, it never unites a man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body," session 6 chapter 7. You cannot be made right with God by faith alone. And the Catholic scheme, justification means God's grace is poured forth into the sinner's heart through the Sacraments, through various Masses and experiences like that, religious ceremonies, the person then receiving this grace mixes this grace with his own effort and his own works and becomes progressively more righteous. It is then the sinner's responsibility to preserve and increase that grace by various good works. You mix the works with the grace so that justification is not sola fide, by faith alone.
This is his explanation of Catholic teaching. He is wrong. Nowhere does the Council of Trent say anything about "mixing" one's "own" works with "grace." MacArthur injected these ideas into the text. (MacArthur in that article goes on to further criticize sacraments. See my prior treatment of MacArthur's misunderstanding of sacraments in the article: Sacrawhat? Misconceptions about Sacraments.)

The quote from Trent he is criticizing here is right out of 1 Corinthians 13, which states part: "[I]f I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." (v. 2) Shall MacArthur initiate a diatribe against St. Paul for daring to say love must be added to faith, just as the Council of Trent reiterated? Paul's chapter ends with: "So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (v. 13)

But let's go back to MacArthur's notion that if works of love justify along with faith, those works must be something a person does apart from grace. He assumes that is what Catholics think, even though Trent says no such thing. On this point, MacArthur exhibits a double standard. Here's why.

The second broadcast of MacArthur's sermon aired the following day, Jan. 26. In it, he stated:
Salvation comes by faith. Back again to Romans 4:5, He justifies the ungodly because his faith is credited as righteousness. That is an amazing and magnanimous gift, isn't it? For by grace are you saved through faith, Ephesians 2:8-9, that not of yourselves, even that is a gift of God. Simply by believing, by believing. Over in verse 20 of chapter 4, again, we're still talking about Abraham, verse 20 says with respect to the promise of God he didn't waver in unbelief, grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, being fully assured that what God had promised He was able to perform, therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. Do you understand this exchange? You give to God faith, He gives you His righteousness. That's why we say salvation is by faith alone. Sola fide. Faith alone. By believing. And even that believing is a gift of God.
First off, let me say, there's nothing I really disagree with in this excerpt, other than the notion of "credited" righteousness. But regarding faith, it is indeed a gift. For instance, CCC#162 reads: "Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man." No problem there.

In recognizing the gift of faith, MacArthur correctly does not confuse man's faith as man's effort. Even though a person exercises faith, and by it is justified, it is not man making a "human effort" of his "own" of faith, justifying "himself."

However, MacArthur does not afford the Catholic the same courtesy when it comes to man's works. He can see that faith is a gift of grace, but he fails to see that Catholics believe works are a gift of grace as well.

Above, we saw MacArthur quote from Trent 6.7 in his effort to claim Catholics believe they justify themselves with their "own" works "mixed" with "grace." But if he had only given pause a few paragraphs further, he could have avoided the error.
Jesus Christ Himself continually infuses his virtue into the said justified,-as the head into the members, and the vine into the branches,-and this virtue always precedes and accompanies and follows their good works, which without it could not in any wise be pleasing and meritorious before God . . . God forbid that a Christian should either trust or glory in himself, and not in the Lord, whose bounty towards all men is so great, that He will have the things which are His own gifts be their merits. (Trent 6.16)
This unravels MacArthur's claim that Catholics teach works are something alien to grace, something he describes as the "Doctrine of Human Achievement." Just as MacArthur correctly believes of faith, Catholics believe true good works1 are also Christ's "gifts." Trent actually gasps at the idea "that a Christian should either trust of glory in himself" even though MacArthur claims the Church teaches the opposite!

And so the teaching that Catholics believe in the power of their "human effort" to justify themselves is a fictional product of MacArthur's own design, not one of the Catholic Church.

Remember the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-28). (I'll focus on the Matthean account for the purpose of this post.) In the parable, the master gives varying measures of gifts to each of his three servants. In the parable, the gifts are talents, or degrees of money. The first two servants later return their talents to the master with a profit. The third servant, however, hid the master's talent in the ground, essentially squandering the master's gift.

Placing this parable in view of judgment, the first two servants are told, "enter into the joy of your master." (Matt. 14:21,23) The third servant is said to have been sent off where "men will weep and gnash their teeth," (Matt. 14:30) which, to Matthew, is a figure of hell. (Matt. 14:40-42)

In examining this parable, a figure of reality, what gift does man receive from God which he returns to God that affects his salvation? The clearest answer, I think, is grace (not to exclude other valid understandings of the talents in this text). Paul echoes the financial figure of grace when he says God gives "according to the riches of his grace." (Eph. 1:7) Paul also teaches that the measures of grace are not identical when he says we have "gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them." (Rom. 12:6) Grace fits with the figure of talents.

Cornelius Lapide, the 16th/17th century Catholic exegete wrote of the Parable of the Talents:
By talents understand all the gifts of God, without which we can do nothing. These gifts are, I say—1st Of grace, both making grateful, such as faith, hope, charity, virginity, and all the other virtues, as well as those of grace given gratis—such as the power of working miracles, the Apostolate, the Priesthood, the gift of tongues, prophecy, etc. (Lapide, Comment on Matthew 25)
And he goes on to acknowledge that the talents can also be seen as other gifts as well. (Notice also that Lapide, contradicting MacArthur's description of Catholicism, says "we can do nothing" without God's gifts.)

In recognizing these aspects of the parable, we see the Council of Trent's description of works. Trent says, "He will have the things which are His own gifts be their merits." That is exactly what happened in the parable. The talents were the master's investment in his own servants, who could not have utilized the talents without first receiving them. The third servant received the same gift, but failed to utilize it.

Another way to look at it is this. If we are members of Christ's body, it is not against Christ for his own bodily members to work. MacArthur doesn't understand man's work in this way. He only understands man's work as something disconnected with Christ, something man "mixes" with grace rather than the extension of grace, just as he believes correctly of man's faith. In criticizing the value of works done in Christ, MacArthur unwittingly denies the efficacy of grace!

1True good works of love and adherence to the New Covenant are not to be confused with the "works of the law" from the Old Covenant condemned by Paul: "For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law." (Rom. 3:28)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sacrawhat? Misconceptions about Sacraments

On the morning of Tuesday, February 1, 2011, I heard Pastor John MacArthur (whose misconceptions about Catholicism I have previously addressed) state the following during his radio-aired sermon titled "The Responsibilities of the Church: Preaching":
As you look back over the history of the Church, look back over the epochs that have thrown themselves as it were against the Church, a number of things come to mind immediately. First of all, let's start with the dangerous epochs at the time when Christianity became the religion of the Holy Roman Empire. So you have not long after that what is commonly known as the Dark Ages that runs from the time of the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire clear through to 1500. Over 1000 years of Dark Ages they're called. And the dominating danger to the Church at that time was sacramentalism. Sacramentalism. And that's the word that you will identify in your mind with this first epoch. Sacramentalism means that the Church was dominated by sacraments, by mechanisms, by external mechanical means--dominated by attempting to know God through some kind of automatic action. Whether it was lighting a candle or genuflecting or it was bowing down, whether it was going through beads, or whether it was inflicting some pain upon yourself physically, whatever it might have been, these were mechanical means supposedly to give people salvation. Sacramentalism was a severe danger to the Church. ... You attached yourself to the Church externally. ... [S]acramentalism came and stayed, and it's still with us.
There are several misconceptions in this discourse. And although MacArthur never uses the word "Catholic" in this particular sermon, he has argued against sacraments in Catholicism elsewhere in nearly identical language.1

Misconception #1: Sacraments are "external means" that involve "automatic action" involving only "external" attachment to the Church.

MacArthur believes sacraments involve only external actions that have some "automatic" result. This is not the case. All seven sacraments in the Catholic Church are signal of interior realities as well.

Consider the Catholic concept of how Jesus Incarnate was sacramental according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
CCC#515 His humanity appeared as "sacrament", that is, the sign and instrument, of his divinity and of the salvation he brings: what was visible in his earthly life leads to the invisible mystery of his divine sonship and redemptive mission.
Notice the terms describing sacrament: sign, instrument, visible, invisible. Just as Christ's physical death lead to the outpouring of grace, so too do His sacraments. Look how the Church views the sacrament of marriage:
CCC#1617 Christian marriage in its turn becomes an efficacious sign, the sacrament of the covenant of Christ and the Church.
The point in quoting these two paragraphs is to show that the definition of a sacrament goes beyond the external. Remember, MacArthur argued that Catholics believe the way to attach to the Church is simply externally. But Catholics do not believe this. It is possible MacArthur is unaware of what a sacrament is. Openness to Christ is mandatory for the sacraments to have effect. They are not merely mechanical as MacArthur asserted that Catholics believe.
If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law do not contain the grace which they signify; or, that they do not confer that grace on those who do not place an obstacle thereunto...let him be anathema. (Council of Trent, 7.VI)

The sacraments always give grace if we receive them with the right dispositions. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. (I Corinthians 11:27) (Baltimore Catechism #309)
He who knowingly receives a sacrament of the living in mortal sin commits a mortal sin of sacrilege, because he treats a sacred thing with grave irreverence. (Baltimore Catechism #312)
To receive the salvific remedy of the sacrament of penance, a member of the Christian faithful must be disposed in such a way that, rejecting sins committed and having a purpose of amendment, the person is turned back to God. (Code of Canon Law, #987)
You see the sacraments are not "automatic" as MacArthur claimed Catholics believe. According to Catholic teaching, a skeptic who received the waters of baptism would not receive the graces bestowed in baptism because he posited an obstacle. The recipient resisted what the sacrament conferred. Necessarily, interior conversion must accompany the recipient,2 whether it be during baptism, confession, reception of the Eucharist, etc...

There are a number of Catholic resources that defend the reality that sacraments really confer grace. A few examples from Scripture include the teaching that in baptism we die and rise with Christ (Rom. 6:4), are saved by baptism (1 Pet. 3:21), and that baptism results in the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 3:28). Partakers in the Eucharist are given life (John 6:47-68), and participate in Christ's sacrifice as well as commune with other members of the Church (1 Cor. 10:16-17). Etc... Sacraments are not substitutes for salvation by Christ. They are rather instruments established by Christ for us to receive His grace. No one can truthfully say Catholics believe salvation is through sacraments instead of Christ.

Christ Himself juxtaposed outward signs with inward realities so that we would believe in that which we could not see. The story of the paralytic is an example of this. Jesus healed the paralytic and asked the crowd, "Which is easier, to say stand up and rise or that your sins are forgiven"? (Luke 5:17-26). What Jesus was demonstrating, is that what He showed visibly was the same thing that happened spiritually. The onlookers therefore were prompted to have faith in what they could not see (that the man's sins were healed) because of what they could see with their eyes (that the man was physically healed). So too, the sacraments bear a visible and invisible character,3 not just something external as MacArthur incorrectly understands.

Misconception #2: Sacraments came to the Church only after "Christianity became the religion of the Holy Roman Empire."

It is unclear when precisely MacArthur believes this to have taken place. He does state that by 1500, sacraments had been in the Church for "over 1,000 years." That places the beginning at least prior to 500. For the purpose of this post, I am going to give all benefit of the doubt to MacArthur and say he believes sacraments began in 311/313 with the Edict of Tolerance and Edict of Milan by Roman emperors Galerius and Constantine. Although these imperial decrees did not yet make Christianity the official religion of the state, they did make Christianity legal to practice. (It is often said the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 was the beginning of Christianity as the official state religion of Rome).

So going with the earliest date of 311, we take a look earlier to see if what MacArthur suggested was true. Did the Church only become sacramental after 311? For learned Catholics, the answer seems obvious: of course not. To those unfamiliar with the writings of the earliest Christians, the following may prove enlightening.
A.D. 75
Epistle of Barnabas - Concerning [baptism], indeed, it is written that the Israelites should not receive baptism that leads to the remission of sins... [W]e descend into the water full of sins and defilement, but come up bearing fruit in our heart...

A.D. 80
Shepherd of Hermas - And I said, "I heard, sir, some teachers say that there is no other repentance than what takes place when we descended into the water and received remission of our former sins." He said to me, "That was sound doctrine you heard; for that is really the case."

A.D. 110
Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Romans, 7 - I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.

A.D. 151
Justin Martyr, First Apology, 61 - Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, Unless you be born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66 - And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, Luke 22:19 this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone.

A.D. 181
Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus, 2.16 - On the fifth day the living creatures which proceed from the waters were produced, through which also is revealed the manifold wisdom of God in these things; for who could count their multitude and very various kinds? Moreover, the things proceeding from the waters were blessed by God, that this also might be a sign of men’s being destined to receive repentance and remission of sins, through the water and laver of regeneration,—as many as come to the truth, and are born again, and receive blessing from God.

A.D. 203
Tertullian, On Baptism, 7 - After this, when we have issued from the font, we are thoroughly anointed with a blessed unction,— (a practice derived) from the old discipline, wherein on entering the priesthood, men were wont to be anointed with oil from a horn, ever since Aaron was anointed by Moses. Whence Aaron is called Christ, from the chrism, which is the unction; which, when made spiritual, furnished an appropriate name to the Lord, because He was anointed with the Spirit by God the Father; as written in the Acts: For truly they were gathered together in this city against Your Holy Son whom You have anointed. Thus, too, in our case, the unction runs carnally, (i.e. on the body,) but profits spiritually; in the same way as the act of baptism itself too is carnal, in that we are plunged in water, but the effect spiritual, in that we are freed from sins.

A.D. 246
Cyprian of Carthage, Letters 1.3-4 [A] man quickened to a new life in the layer of saving water should be able to put off what he had previously been. ... [B]y the help of the water of new birth, the stain of former years had been washed away, and a light from above, serene and pure, had been infused into my reconciled heart—after that, by the agency of the Spirit breathed from heaven, a second birth had restored me to a new man.
These are merely samples from an abundance of early Christian texts demonstrating the prominent belief in the reality of sacraments. MacArthur's claim that sacraments were a later corruption of Christianity is simply false.

Misconception #3 - Lighting a candle, genuflecting, bowing down, going through beads, and "inflicting some pain upon yourself" are sacraments.

To state the obvious: none of these are sacraments.

Nor are any of these things contrary to the Christian faith. Even Scripture has examples of bowing or kneeling in prayer. Inflicting "pain," if done prudently such as in the form of fasting, which is also Biblical, facilitates our own life of living in Christian obedience and charity. Candles mirror the lampstands of the book of Revelation. Going through beads (if MacArthur is referring to the Rosary or other prayer meditations) accompanies prayer and can help us meditate on holy words in the tradition of Scripture like Psalm 136. In this third misconception, MacArthur again neglects to recognize or acknowledge the interior disposition accompanying the outward action, and so he falls into error.

1MacArthur stated in his sermon A Biblical Response to the Catholic-Evangelical Accord: "[T]he primary reason why people in the Catholic system are not Christians is because the system becomes a surrogate Christ and salvation is a mechanical thing by being attached to the Church. And you're attached to the Church by means of rituals and sacraments and ceremonies and all of that. ... And pray for these people that are involved in this. I find it very difficult. I know them personally, of course, and find it extremely difficult to understand how they can be drawn into this. Love your Catholic friends, love them enough to recognize that they probably don't know Jesus Christ. Don't attack them unkindly, but point out the issue is not external, it's internal." And by rejecting sacraments, MacArthur as well rejects the Orthodox Church which also has an ancient pedigree.

2This is even the case with the baptism of infants: "The fact that infants cannot yet profess personal faith does not prevent the Church from conferring this sacrament on them, since in reality it is in her own faith that she baptizes them. ... [T]he child who is baptized believes not on its own account, by a personal act, but through others, 'through the Church's faith communicated to it.'" (Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Infant Baptism, 1980, #14)

3The 19th-20th century Catholic priest and theology and philosophy professor Rev. Daniel Kennedy described a Catholic perspective on the visible and invisible dimensions of sacraments:
  • Taking the word "sacrament" in its broadest sense, as the sign of something sacred and hidden (the Greek word is "mystery"), we can say that the whole world is a vast sacramental system, in that material things are unto men the signs of things spiritual and sacred, even of the Divinity. "The heavens show forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands" (Psalm 18:2). The invisible things of him [i.e. God], from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity" (Romans 1:20).
  • The redemption of man was not accomplished in an invisible manner. God renewed, through the Patriarchs and the Prophets, the promise of salvation made to the first man; external symbols were used to express faith in the promised Redeemer: "all these things happened to them [the Israelites] in figure" (1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 10:1). "So we also, when we were children, were serving under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman" (Galatians 4:3-4). The Incarnation took place because God dealt with men in the manner that was best suited to their nature.
  • The Church established by the Saviour was to be a visible organization (see CHURCH: The Visibility of the Church): consequently it should have external ceremonies and symbols of things sacred.
  • The principal reason for a sacramental system is found in man. It is the nature of man, writes St. Thomas (III:61:1), to be led by things corporeal and sense-perceptible to things spiritual and intelligible; now Divine Providence provides for everything in accordance with its nature (secundum modum suae conditionis); therefore it is fitting that Divine Wisdom should provide means of salvation for men in the form of certain corporeal and sensible signs which are called sacraments. (For other reasons see Catech. Conc. Trid., II, n.14.)

Friday, July 9, 2010

John MacArthur errs on Catholicism & the Word

Pastor John MacArthur is an evangelical pastor at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA and President of The Master's College in Santa Clarita. He is the author of over 150 books, perhaps best known for his MacArthur Study Bible. He is the son of Jack MacArthur, and the fifth successive pastor in his family. He holds two honorary doctorates, one from Talbot Theological Seminary and one from Grace Graduate School.

I often listen to his radio show
Grace to You in the morning. Often he will offer some decent exegesis and advance good ideals less-common in some Christian preaching like mortification or the need to avoid sexual sin. He has even argued for Peter as the chief apostle. But when it comes to Catholicism, John MacArthur consistently misses the mark and proves himself unable to accurately portray basic Catholic teaching.

His website features a summary article called
Is Roman Catholicism Biblical?, adapted from his book Reckless Faith.

The article begins:
"Is Roman Catholicism simply another facet of the body of Christ that should be brought into union with its Protestant counterpart?"

To give you a flavor for how he approaches the Catholic Church, consider the following MacArthur quote which aired on
The Way of the Master Radio on November 9, 2006:
In the long war on the truth, the most formidable, relentless, and deceptive enemy has been Roman Catholicism. It is an apostate, corrupt, heretical, false Christianity. It is a front for the kingdom of Satan.
One would be hard-pressed to generate harsher language, no? He considers Catholicism the #1 enemy of Christianity. But John MacArthur does not understand Catholic theology. And I'd like to demonstrate that now. The following is a quotation from one of his sermons (aired 8/31/09) on Grace to You:
We certainly have much to thank Martin Luther for, but infant baptism isn't one of the things. Luther's Catechism says this, quote, baptism worketh forgiveness of sins delivers from death and the devil and gives everlasting salvation to all who believe as the Word of the promise of God declare. Well the baby can't believe. That's where Luther jumped in and said, well, surrogate faith on the part of his parents is rendered in his behalf. So baptized babies will be saved. The Lutheran Augsberg Confession says, quote of baptism, Lutherans teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that by baptism the grace of God is offered and that children are to be baptized who by baptism being offered to God are received into God's favor. This view is held by Anglicans, Episcopalians, some Reformed groups. The Roman Catholic Church essentially teaches the same thing, that the removal of sin depends on the sacrament of infant baptism. Without infant baptism, without baptism, no child can be saved. Council of Trent, 1563, based the salvation of infants on Roman Catholic baptism. In 1951, Pius XII taught that, quote, "No other way besides baptism is seen as imparting the life of Christ to little children." The new Catholic Catechism says, "By Christian baptism, one enters into the Kingdom of God, and into the Spirit of the saving work of Christ." So the answer of the sacramentalists is the baptized babies are saved, and the unbaptized babies aren't. Well, this would make salvation not an act of grace but an act of works! That is no credit to the grace of God!
What is perhaps most interesting about this quotation is how exactly it matches page 46 of Ronald Nash's 1999 book "When a Baby Dies." The exact same quotes from Luther's Catechism, the Augsberg Confession, Anglicans & Episcopalians, Council of Trent, Pius XII, and the "Catechism" are on that page, in the same order MacArthur listed them. Unfortunately, not going to a Catholic source resulted in MacArthur erring in saying Catholics teach unbaptized babies are not saved. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC#1261, specifically speaks of the hope and trust in the mercy of God to welcome unbaptized babies into His arms.

I think the following will also show that he often does not give due attention to Catholic sources before he speaks on behalf of Catholic teaching.

In his article
Is Roman Catholicism Biblical?, MacArthur asserts:
In Roman Catholicism, "the Word of God" encompasses not only the Bible, but also the Apocrypha, the Magisterium (the Church's authority to teach and interpret divine truth), the Pope's ex cathedra pronouncements, and an indefinite body of church tradition, some formalized in canon law and some not yet committed to writing. Whereas evangelical Protestants believe the Bible is the ultimate test of all truth, Roman Catholics believe the Church determines what is true and what is not. In effect, this makes the Church a higher authority than Scripture.
So is it true the Catholic Church considers all these things "the Word of God"? No. MacArthur is incorrect.

The ecumenical council of Vatican II produced a document called "Dei Verbum" (Latin for "Word of God"). Paragraph 10 clearly states:
"Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church."

Let's examine the error of some of his other claims. By "Apocrypha," MacArthur is referring to the Deuterocanonical texts of the Old Testaments which do not appear in Protestant Bibles (these books are Sirach, Wisdom, 1 and 2 Maccabbees, Judith, Tobit, Baruch, and parts of Esther and Daniel). In the first several centuries following the actual writing of the New Testament, the Catholic Church discerned by the Spirit what books constituted authentic Scripture. MacArthur, who does not accept that the Catholic Church by apostolic succession bears this guarantee of discerning such things, necessarily assigns that authority to other men that compiled the "Protestant Bible."

He said Catholics include the "Magisterium" as part of "the Word of God." This does not make sense. CCC#100 states:
"The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church..." The Magisterium is composed of the Pope and the bishops in union with him. The Magisterium is not "the Word of God" but rather the interpretive body which Catholics believe has the authoritative guidance of the Holy Spirit when interpreting the Word.

Depending on what he means by "church tradition," MacArthur is correct that a teaching on faith or morals (which would include Papal ex cathedra statements) not explicit in Scripture may come to us by the Spirit via Sacred Tradition. In Catholicism, the term "tradition" is used in a couple ways (see the
CCC for examples). Some Tradition is considered part of the Word of God as it is derived from the deposit of faith. Some tradition is not considered part of the Word, and outside the class of faith or morals. These would be disciplinary or customary practices like what colors the priest wears during what seasons, the Western discipline of celibacy for priests, what songs are sung during the Liturgy, etc. These would not be considered part of divine revelation which Dei Verbum calls "the Word of God." Such practices may change or be reversed in different cultures and eras.

MacArthur is also mistaken to think "canon law" is considered by Catholics part of the divinely revealed "Word of God." The Code of Canon Law is a legislative guide for various norms practiced in the Church. In remarks promulgating the 1983 Code of Canon Law
(Sacrae Disciplinae Leges), Pope John Paul II said, "it appears sufficiently clear that the Code is in no way intended as a substitute for faith, grace and the charisms in the life of the Church and of the faithful." There may be mentions of matters of faith or morals in Canon Law, but these are not derived from Canon Law, rather Canon Law may mention them.

Aside from his misperceptions on what the Catholic Church considers "the Word of God," MacArthur violates his own criticism. First, he sets forth the rule that "the Bible is the ultimate test of all truth" which nowhere is asserted within the Bible. Second, he criticizes the existence of an interpreting Magisterium while simultaneously appointing himself, de facto, a superior interpreter to the Magisterium. The idea that the Bible is the ultimate test necessarily depends on a human or humans correctly interpreting it by the power of the Holy Spirit.

MacArthur criticizes:
The Church not only infallibly determines the proper interpretation of Scripture, but also supplements Scripture with additional traditions and teaching. That combination of Church tradition plus the Church's interpretation of Scripture is what constitutes the binding rule of faith and practice for Catholics. The fact is, the Church sets itself above Holy Scripture in rank of authority.
The last sentence, which he also claimed earlier, is where MacArthur errs. It is also where he diffuses his own ability to interpret Scripture. Think about it. The Catholic Church considers Herself to have the Spirit-given authority to interpret Scripture. When MacArthur denies any of the Church's interpretations and sets forth the "correct" interpretation, he is placing himself above the Catholic Church, who he says places Herself above Scripture! In other words, it is nonsense to say one is "above Holy Scripture in rank of authority" just because one is interpreting it!

It is also apparent MacArthur is unaware of the Church's understanding of Her relation to Scripture, which is stated in
Dei Verbum:
[The Magisterium] is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed. (Dei Verbum, 10b)
Just as MacArthur believes of himself, the Catholic Church believes She is subject to what God says to us via Scripture. The Church cannot "create" a Tradition that contradicts Scripture, regardless of whether John MacArthur might insist the Church has done so.