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Monday, June 21, 2010



That Protestants speak of more sola's than simply "sola scriptura" should clue people into the fact that a reference to sola scriptura does not mean an individuated self-interpreting reader of the biblical text. It's a shame that people like Meyer tarnish the witness of fellow Protestants by misrepresenting the beliefs and practices of the Reformation churches.

I have nothing against folks becoming Roman Catholic if that's where their conscience leads, but the idea that Protestantism leads to the state of the believer being his or her own authority is just absurd. And for the life of me, I don't understand how Meyer's personal decision to move to Roman Catholicism is at all different from the "self submission" of the sort that would have led him to another Presbyterian session. Presumably he thinks that submission to the Magisterium is the right decision to make, and that it will extract his family from the vicious cycle of self-centered interpretation and authority. But he has still made the decision towards this communion, has he not? Does it suddenly not count as a "submission to self" if he moves away from his present congregation in this way rather than another direction?

As Meyer says, "If I only submit when I agree, the one to whom I submit is me." He seems to imply that this doesn't apply to a move to Rome, because he doesn't agree, or at least has difficulty agreeing with certain Roman Catholic teachings. But what he does agree with is the institutional authority structure of Rome... it's not as if he would have gone this route if there wasn't a compelling agreement upon which this new ecclesial bond was to be formed.

...or to flip things around: if the problem is that true submission to authority means one doesn't bolt at first disagreement with one's authorities, what is inadequate about a decision to remain under Presbyterian authority despite disagreements? Isn't Meyer's exit to Rome simply another example of leaving over personal disagreements? Isn't he the quintessential "Protestant" by doing so? Or to quote a venerable Catholic... Are you alone wise, David Meyer? And what is preventing him from leaving Rome over a doctrinal disagreement a few years down the road, other than his personal conviction (which apparently is a "submission to self") to remain in communion and submissive to Roman Catholic authority.

This whole letter is just bizarre, and I think it demonstrates some gaping blind spots. I do sincerely hope that David Meyer has found his home and will thrive where he is headed... as I said, it's not his conversion to Roman Catholicism or any loyalty to the Reformed churches that has animated my disagreement here. But I think he'd kidding himself if he thinks that Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy are immune to "submission to self", or that Protestantism lacks true authority simply because its ecclesiastical structures are distinct from other communions.


Evan is right if he intends to say that, in the final analysis, the decision to accept Rome’s teaching authority is an act of faith just as the decision to submit to the PCA’s teaching authority requires an act of faith, or the decision to trust one’s one interpretation apart from any other. I believe Mr. Meyer, in making that choice, believes he has solid grounds for doing so, more convincing grounds that those that made him a Presbyterian in the first place. I came from a devout and loving Baptist family and eventually made this choice (for Rome) also. No one can escape the personal responsibility for making a choice, and honesty and humility demand from each of us that we submit ourselves and the consequences of our choice to Christ who will pass judgment with mercy. As much as I love and respect my Christian brethren outside the bounds of visible communion with the successor to Peter, the conviction that Christ established a teaching authority and that this charism has been faithfully passed from generation to generation through the Roman Catholic Church has been an enormous blessing.


I'd agree with everything you've said, deepoctave, and I appreciate the charitable response to me. My only concern is that this sentiment of yours...

No one can escape the personal responsibility for making a choice, and honesty and humility demand from each of us that we submit ourselves and the consequences of our choice to Christ who will pass judgment with mercy. not clearly extended by Mr. Meyer to those of us who choose in faithful conscience to remain in the Reformation churches. I'm sure that he retains goodwill for his previous congregation, but what amounts to "personal responsibility" in the convert to Rome suddenly seems to become "submission to self" for the faithful disciple of Christ and His Church who remains a Protestant. I have no sense from his open letter... not simply given to the brothers and sisters of his parish with discretion but posted on the internet and relinked by numerous other converts from Protestantism (Francis, Carl, Mark)... that he sees our faith in Christ as anything but an illegitimate gesture to our own self-interested and false desires. This strikes me as something quite different than simply disagreeing with us, or than the "love and respect" that you've expressed towards us.

He is not merely arguing that the Roman Catholic Church is the true ecclesial institution in which the Church of Christ subsists. I would expect any convert to believe that, but he is not simply arguing that we are wrong. What he is saying is that my own submission as a Christian is "a faux submission". I simply can't reconcile this sort of conviction about Christian brethren with his initial statement to the effect that he is concerned for the unity of the Church. His concern, rather, seems primarily to be a soothing of his anxiety concerning the vicissitudes of human faith, doubt, and ignorance. And that is a worthy enough concern, I won't deny. But it isn't the same as the pursuit of true submission to authority (over against the supposedly false alternative that he thinks he is leaving behind).


deepoctave, you come close to it, but what Evan is missing is that this goes beyond simply a question of personal beliefs.

The issue of authority is an objective question, not only a subjective decision about whose authority to submit to.

Indeed, Sola Scriptura is not the only Sola of Protestantism but it is the centre-piece of the rejection of the authority of the Bishop of Rome and the hierarchy, the visible Catholic Church, precisely because there was a gap of authority now created.

Certainly in practice, as Evan suggests, most Protestants follow some leader or leaders, but ultimately, when pushed to the theological conclusion, all will cite Sola Scriptura as the ultimate authority for doctrine. That is why we Catholics will continually point out the large numbers of denominations, all variants of Scriptural interpretation, and all citing the Holy Spirit as their guide to that interpretation.

This is brought out in stark relief when we consider what I remember from childhood, and know still goes on today, and that is a little practice known as "church shopping" whereby a Protestant going to a new location will "shop around" for a church that "teaches the truth", or in other words, agrees with them. Believe me, growing up I heard a lot of the intramural arguments between Protestants, and what was the accusation? They are mis-interpreting Scripture. They were all firmly entrenched in Sola Scriptura, yet quite oblivious to the spectacle of fragmentation.

It always brings to mind that scene from Outlaw Jose Wales when the pinched, bigoted, self-righteous little old woman says to the general store clerk, "Personally, I don't think much of Hoosiers, neither,"

Despite all that it is not a logical loop or impossibility to begin with Sola Scriptura from a practical perspective and then conclude from that very same Scripture that the doctrine itself is wrong and that the Catholic interpretation of Scripture is the right one. Jesus did indeed start a Church and we have the Scripture and Apostolic witness to verify that.

And we have the abundant corroboration of the Fathers and history to know just what Church the "Acts" church was and still is. The claims to authority go far beyond whether or not I choose to submit for doctrinal reasons.

Indeed, that was the experience that I myself had as one discovering the authority of the Catholic Church. Most of the culture of the Church and much of the doctrine was alien to me. But I experienced a seismic shift, an earthquake under my feet when I discovered that the Church of the Apostles, the Church Jesus called his Church was not the church I was raised in and did not resemble it in many respects.

I then had to learn the doctrine and accept much of it on faith, trusting that the Holy Spirit would illuminate my mind in his good time (which he has done and is still doing). But prerequisite to this step of faith, holding the hand of the Lord and Savior I already knew, was the knowledge that objectively, outside of my personal faith, the Catholic Church had the right to its claim of authority.

Daniel Kuehn

LJ -
You're jumbling up the issues. Are you really suggesting that because you stay in one place following one hierarchy's self-proclaimed authority you aren't sticking with the institution "that agrees with you" every bit as much as Protestants?

I don't see the major concern with nuanced differences over doctrinal issues. It's not a concern that Christ seemed to be overly caught up in, so long as it didn't lead to the severing of the bonds of fellowship (which, if you ask most Protestants, it really doesn't - they feel able "shop around" as you smuggly put it precisely because they acknowledge the fidelity and sincerity of other Protestants).

Could you define what you mean by "objective"? As far as I can tell the only thing differentiating what you call "objective" from what Protestants believe is the fact that you are the one believing it...

... which strikes me as being the opposite of objective.

Francis Beckwith

There is a difference between choosing to be your own physician and choosing to trust someone who is really a physician. Both are "choices," to be sure, but they are at different levels of abstraction. If I choose to marry, I choose to be bound to another. If I choose to be promiscuous, I choose to be unbounded by anything except my own desires. Thus, it would wrong to describe both as merely "equally choices."


"they feel able "shop around" as you smuggly put it precisely because they acknowledge the fidelity and sincerity of other Protestants"

This point of Daniel's is rather important, I think. Often arguments about Protestant disunity perplex me. Even amidst rampant denominationalism, I can go to most any congregation on a given Sunday and receive communion on the basis of my shared baptism. I can't, however, do that if I enter into a Roman Catholic service. If recognition of legitimacy for sacramental sharing doesn't constitute visible unity, I haven't a clue what would.

Now, I agree with LJ that there are reasons why "church shopping" can be a serious problem, and in this sense I think that the hierarchical structures of the Roman Catholic Church can do a better job of countering damaging individualism than various Protestant structures. But "church shopping" in itself isn't a disregard for the unity of the Church by Protestants... quite the opposite, it is only possible because of an underlying ecumenical unity that has already been achieved to a large extent within the Reformation churches.

I'm also still utterly confused by how the "sola scriptura" principle is being wielded by LJ. Perhaps your personal experiences amongst Protestants were more heavily biblicist, but in general I don't think this sort of heavy handed scripturalism is what is meant by this particular Reformation sola.

To Francis, I find myself agreeing with everything you say, but not left with any convincing reason why this should be damning for Protestantism as a true ecclesial home. Daniel's point about the subjectivity of various appeals to objectivity here is relevant to your response. Other than that, I don't know what to say, because your response strikes me as being rather formal without offering much substance.

Dr John James

This is a first, for me, at least, to see a defense of Protestanism that insists that submission to the authority of Rome is, practically speaking, the same as submission to the authority of Geneva. I think even Calvin would take issue with that.


...I suppose it depends on what you mean by "practically speaking" and "the same". Certainly I'm not saying that Geneva and Rome claim the same sorts of things about their institutional function or their interpretive authority... if you can find where I've said something like that, I'd be happy to retract it, but I don't think you're going to have much luck. Why did you read me as saying this?

I think that submission to either a Protestant or a Roman Catholic ecclesial home is "the same" insofar as one cannot offer a very compelling reason why submission to the former is a "faux submission" while submission to the latter is uniquely genuine as a subjective decision to submit oneself. The point of similarity that I drew was a subjective one of the conscience of the believer, not an equation of what are in fact widely divergent institutional structures. And Meyer directly made this argument for the dissimilarity of the subjective status of Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians, which is why I took this point to be more relevant than discussing the ecclesial structures of Rome v. Geneva. As I said, I'm perfectly happy for someone convinced of the unique legitimacy of the Roman Catholic Church to convert accordingly; I think that they should, in fact. I don't dispute Meyer's personal decision to go to Rome (although I certainly could draw up some such argument, insofar as I am personally unconvinced by his decision). What I'm disputing is the way that he misrepresents the Protestant situation w.r.t. the individual believer's relationship to the Church.

Daniel Kuehn

Dr. John James -
I wasn't defending Protestantism so much as disabusing this particular convert of some of his notions about Catholicism and where he ultimately derives the authority for what he says. What Calvin would think of it is really no concern for me.

I've recently written a blog post on this issue. You can read it here:

I hope the post is easy enough to engage - normally I do more social and economic commentary.


Daniel Kuehn, perhaps I should clarify.

By "objectively speaking" I mean just this. I do not need to be a Christian, Catholic or Protestant to follow the doctrinal and ecclesial history from Jesus through to Benedict XVI. Anyone can do that.

As with many Protestants (Carl Olson goes into some depth on this in a more recent post regarding the comments of Carolyn Arends) I had a large gap in my historical knowledge between St. Paul and Luther.

Just the doctrinal and ecclesial continuity in and of itself, I am saying, gives massive weight to the Catholic claim of authenticity and authority; I would say conclusive weight. Now that opinion, while mine assuredly, can be easily arrived at outside of faith in Christ, by an atheist, an agnostic, a Hindu, etc.

Then, if you objectively examine the split, the protest if you will, and in particular the doctrinal changes brought by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, et. al., you will discover that integral and essential to that split was the rejection of the doctrinal authority of Rome. It is equally obvious that such a rejection required another source of authority to support the other "sola's" that Evan is so concerned to include in the discussion. That doctrine, Sola Scripture, to my mind became the linch-pin of the Reformation, and the source of the exponential doctrinal fragmentation since.

In my humble opinion, while Sola Fide is perhaps given the central place as the doctrine of Luther that answered for him the abuses he saw with respect to indulgences and the understanding of merit in Catholic teaching, practically speaking, the actual split was not possible without Sola Scriptura.

Still outside of the faith, it is possible for an observer to notice that both the Catholic Church and most Protestant groups will cite the Holy Spirit; as protector of doctrine for the Catholic, or as illuminator of Scripture for the Protestant. In other words, the Holy Spirit is essential to authority in both cases. And that is where the objective observer must question either the Holy Spirit or those among the Protestants who claim him as their guide to doctrine.

If the Holy Spirit is who both Catholics and Protestants say that he is, ie., God, the third person of the Holy Trinity, he is either playing tricks on Protestants or their doctrinal differences have nothing to do with God and everything to do with themselves.

On the other side of it, if the Holy Spirit is their guarantor as the Catholics claim he is, then we would expect to see exactly what we do see, doctrinal continuity from Jesus to Benedict XVI.

Now, in my own case, much of this progression of thought and study of history happened over a period of a year or so and in the end it was not sufficient to bring me formally into the Catholic Church. I was in no church at the time, having rejected the church of my upbringing some thirty years prior. It was a re-conversion experience back to Jesus Christ himself that gave the formal entry into the Church sufficient urgency for me to do so.

Now I'm no intellectual, but if we sit down and discuss the events of, say, the Norman invasion of England, or Bonaparte's return from Elba, I don't think it's a matter of faith to agree or disagree on those things. It's really a matter of historical evidence is it not?

Likewise, based on the historical evidence, Scriptural and extra-Scriptural, it is abundantly clear that the Church of the Apostles was not what any given Protestant ecclesial communion is today or at any time since the protest began.

Thus far then, this particular convert is still not "disabused," but perhaps I have misunderstood you, Daniel Kuehn.

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