A Blustering Bigot Who Can’t String Together a Cogent Argument if His Life Depended On It

I sure do hope that charge in the comm box does not mean that I am incapable of putting together thoughts that will at least allow me to purchase food for the cats (down to one feline inside, but the cats in the hood have found our back door to be bounteous). Jason Stellman doesn’t appreciate my bringing up unpleasant parts of Roman Catholic history. He also thinks I misrepresent his position on the nature of the papacy.

On the former, I understand the discomfort of having to answer for historical events you may not have known about. But if you want to play fair while making a case for the superiority of Rome, then you need to do something with the less than desirable parts of Rome’s existence.

On the latter, I don’t think Jason’s position is all that complicated. The Jason-and-the-Caller line is that Protestantism cannot settle its diversity because it has no infallible or authoritative mechanism. In other words, Protestants don’t have a pope or magisterium. Got it. So Jason thinks he has overcome the dilemmas he faced while considering the relative claims of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism on Scripture and church authority.

But by siding with the papacy and the theory of an infallible successor to the apostles in the eternal city, Jason did not seem to see where that decision put him. On the one hand, he seems to want a papacy that only orders the confusion that afflicts Protestantism. He doesn’t apparently want a papacy whose authority will extend to these proportions — as the cohesive not only for the church but for all of European society and possibly the world:

4. And, since where religion has been removed from civil society, and the doctrine and authority of divine revelation repudiated, the genuine notion itself of justice and human right is darkened and lost, and the place of true justice and legitimate right is supplied by material force, thence it appears why it is that some, utterly neglecting and disregarding the surest principles of sound reason, dare to proclaim that “the people’s will, manifested by what is called public opinion or in some other way, constitutes a supreme law, free from all divine and human control; and that in the political order accomplished facts, from the very circumstance that they are accomplished, have the force of right.” But who, does not see and clearly perceive that human society, when set loose from the bonds of religion and true justice, can have, in truth, no other end than the purpose of obtaining and amassing wealth, and that (society under such circumstances) follows no other law in its actions, except the unchastened desire of ministering to its own pleasure and interests? For this reason, men of the kind pursue with bitter hatred the Religious Orders, although these have deserved extremely well of Christendom, civilization and literature, and cry out that the same have no legitimate reason for being permitted to exist; and thus (these evil men) applaud the calumnies of heretics. For, as Pius VI, Our Predecessor, taught most wisely, “the abolition of regulars is injurious to that state in which the Evangelical counsels are openly professed; it is injurious to a method of life praised in the Church as agreeable to Apostolic doctrine; it is injurious to the illustrious founders, themselves, whom we venerate on our altars, who did not establish these societies but by God’s inspiration.”5 And (these wretches) also impiously declare that permission should be refused to citizens and to the Church, “whereby they may openly give alms for the sake of Christian charity”; and that the law should be abrogated “whereby on certain fixed days servile works are prohibited because of God’s worship;” and on the most deceptive pretext that the said permission and law are opposed to the principles of the best public economy. Moreover, not content with removing religion from public society, they wish to banish it also from private families. For, teaching and professing the most fatal error of “Communism and Socialism,” they assert that “domestic society or the family derives the whole principle of its existence from the civil law alone; and, consequently, that on civil law alone depend all rights of parents over their children, and especially that of providing for education.” By which impious opinions and machinations these most deceitful men chiefly aim at this result, viz., that the salutary teaching and influence of the Catholic Church may be entirely banished from the instruction and education of youth, and that the tender and flexible minds of young men may be infected and depraved by every most pernicious error and vice. For all who have endeavored to throw into confusion things both sacred and secular, and to subvert the right order of society, and to abolish all rights, human and divine, have always (as we above hinted) devoted all their nefarious schemes, devices and efforts, to deceiving and depraving incautious youth and have placed all their hope in its corruption. For which reason they never cease by every wicked method to assail the clergy, both secular and regular, from whom (as the surest monuments of history conspicuously attest), so many great advantages have abundantly flowed to Christianity, civilization and literature, and to proclaim that “the clergy, as being hostile to the true and beneficial advance of science and civilization, should be removed from the whole charge and duty of instructing and educating youth.”

So, without a rightly ordered society in which the church stands at the head (and we know who stands at the head of the visible church), we have only ruin and turmoil.

That is why the church needs to continue to assert its authority:

8. Therefore, in this our letter, we again most lovingly address you, who, having been called unto a part of our solicitude, are to us, among our grievous distresses, the greatest solace, joy and consolation, because of the admirable religion and piety wherein you excel, and because of that marvellous love, fidelity, and dutifulness, whereby bound as you are to us. and to this Apostolic See in most harmonious affection, you strive strenuously and sedulously to fulfill your most weighty episcopal ministry. For from your signal pastoral zeal we expect that, taking up the sword of the spirit which is the word of God, and strengthened by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, you will, with redoubled care, each day more anxiously provide that the faithful entrusted to your charge “abstain from noxious verbiage, which Jesus Christ does not cultivate because it is not His Father’s plantation.”7 Never cease also to inculcate on the said faithful that all true felicity flows abundantly upon man from our august religion and its doctrine and practice; and that happy is the people whose God is their Lord.8 Teach that “kingdoms rest on the foundation of the Catholic Faith;9 and that nothing is so deadly, so hastening to a fall, so exposed to all danger, (as that which exists) if, believing this alone to be sufficient for us that we receive free will at our birth, we seek nothing further from the Lord; that is, if forgetting our Creator we abjure his power that we may display our freedom.”10 And again do not fail to teach “that the royal power was given not only for the governance of the world, but most of all for the protection of the Church;”11 and that there is nothing which can be of greater advantage and glory to Princes and Kings than if, as another most wise and courageous Predecessor of ours, St. Felix, instructed the Emperor Zeno, they “permit the Catholic Church to practise her laws, and allow no one to oppose her liberty. For it is certain that this mode of conduct is beneficial to their interests, viz., that where there is question concerning the causes of God, they study, according to His appointment, to subject the royal will to Christ’s Priests, not to raise it above theirs.”12

Jason may not realize it, but his church once thought that the health of Europe depended on the papacy’s authority. This was not simply a question of restoring the unity of the church in its teachings and practices (spiritual). This was the protection of Christendom (temporal). In other words, the papacy Jason backs is the one that followed for the better part of a millennium the Christ-the-transformer-of-culture model (not the exilic, pilgrim model he once advocated).

But times are different (though John Paul II and Benedict XVI did a lot of speaking about Europe’s intellectual and moral crises). The papacy does not have the power it once had, whether because it lost is temporal power or simply owing to turf battles within the church. Nor does the church Jason picked have the clarity that it once did. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church is facing a crisis of authority (even if you’d never hear that from Jason and the Callers). Here is how one of the contributors to The Crisis of Authority in Catholic Modernity put it:

A second important difference from the Leonine church is evident in the [Second Vatican] council’s opening to the ecumenical and interfaith relations and with it the continued softening of the traditional belief that there is no salvation outside the church. If that doctrine suggested service to a jealous God, trimming it suggests an appropriate emerging sense of theological and historical humility. For Leo, it was fundamental that “those who refuse to enter the perfect society or leave it are separated forever from life eternal.” In the Decree on Ecumenism (1964), on the other hand, heretics and schismatics have become “separated brethren.” They “have a right to be called Christians and with good reason” to be “accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.” While all the elements necessary for salvation are said to “subsist” in their “fullness” in the Catholic Church, “which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic,” it is nevertheless true, according to Lumen Gentium, that “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines.” In other words, there is no sacred monopoly on holiness and truth, a teaching that Leo would have regarded as undermining the basic mission of the church. As Karl Rahner made the point, there has been a growing recognition that “many whom God has, the Church does not have; and many whom the Church has, God does not have.”

The transforming response to the new universalism is evident here as well. The late Avery Cardinal Dulles concluded a recent review of the development of church teaching on the question of who can be saved with these observations: “Catholics can be saved if they believe the Word of God as taught by the Church and if they obey the commandments. Other Christians can be saved if they submit their lives to Christ and join the community where they think he wills to be found. Jews can be saved if they look forward in hope to the Messiah and try to ascertain whether God’s promise has been fulfilled. Adherents of other religions can be saved if, with the help of grace, they sincerely seek God and strive to do his will. Even atheists can be saved if they worship God under some other name and place their lives at the service of truth and justice. God’s saving grace, channeled through Christ the one Mediator, leaves no one unassisted.” Theologically speaking, while Dulles holds that all grace is mediated through the one, triune God, he does not insist, as Leo felt he had to do, that is it mediated exclusively through the one true church. The post conciliar church reads history and culture differently from the way the Leonine church read them. (79-80)

And they tell us there is one holy catholic and apostolic paradigm.

So the problem, and I apologize for sounding condescending, is that Jason has bitten off more than he can chew by arguing for the superiority of Rome’s ecclesiology to Protestantism’s. If he wants a magisterium that can objectively and authoritatively settle disputes in the church, he is going to get a church that also condemns all aspects of modernity as 19th century popes did because those aspects of modern life were creating disputes within the church and hurting the souls of believers. If Jason wants a spirituality of the church papacy, he is not going to find it (until the recent post-Vatican II past) because the spiritual weight of the papacy was always at odds with creating space for the political apart from the faith (which is why it took until Vatican II for Rome to embrace religious freedom and separation of church and state). In other words, a papacy with the kind of clout that would reign in the faithful with denunciations of Americanism and Modernism was also a papacy intent on asserting or recovering its temporal power (because temporal power gave the church freedom to assert its spiritual authority).

But then when Jason finds out that he does have a spirituality of the church papacy in the post-Vatican II era, he gains a church where popes are still echoing their older temporal power through various “social teachings” while also following a theological proposal like Dulles’ where the church sounds like it would have trouble settling basic theological conflicts (which may explain why so many conservative Roman Catholics associate orthodoxy with a male priesthood and not using contraceptives). In other words, he now has a crisis of authority that makes dispute between Baptists and Presbyterians look like sandbox rivals fighting over a scoop.

So when Jason left Protestantism thinking he had left behind its problems, my sense is that he did not realize just how big the problems were in his new communion. Roman Catholicism’s crisis of authority — going all the way back to Gregory VII’s battles with Henry, through the Avignon papacy and conciliarism, to the nineteenth-century controversies over the Papal States and Rome’s standing among Europe’s ruling class, down to Vatican II and its effort to appropriate communio ecclesiology — is the ecclesiastical equivalent of the earthquakes that erupt from the movement of earth’s tectonic plates. Jason entered a conflict almost a millennium old. If he understood that, he might not be so quick in his assertions of superiority or his claims that his critics “don’t understand.”


64 thoughts on “A Blustering Bigot Who Can’t String Together a Cogent Argument if His Life Depended On It

  1. When I asked about treatment of the priest sex abuse scandal at CTC I was pointed to one — one — post by Jeremy Tate that barely mentioned the scandal at the end. This is certainly one of the biggest scandals to ever hit the Roman Catholic Church. I think this scant treatment supports Darryl’s point.


  2. You’re becoming a problem for the Callers. I expect them to start ignoring you like other inconvenient problems any day.

    Jason’s rebuttal posts directed at you are, ahem, not helping.


  3. Roman Catholicism’s crisis of authority… is the ecclesiastical equivalent of the earthquakes that erupt from the movement of earth’s tectonic plates. Jason entered a conflict almost a millennium old. If he understood that, he might not be so quick in his assertions of superiority or his claims that his critics “don’t understand.”

    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

    And Erik — in response to your question “Do we really need to be concerned with Jason and the Callers?”, I think the answer is yes, particularly because it is Roman Catholicism itself that has caused the greatest possible harm to the church, to the cause of Christ, in the history of the church. I think we need to understand Roman Catholicism the way that Paul understood Alexander the coppersmith:

    Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.

    It is for this kind of reason that we need to be concerned.


  4. The only reason that CTC is on anyone’s radar is that they’re former sideliners, dependent on a minuscule percentage of a minuscule communion for their relevance while also maligning them as minuscule, like a wrestling heel’s paradoxical relationship with ticketbuyers. Stellman is one Catholic layman among many, most of whom publish more thoughtful reflections on religion and life than adolescent denunciations of the sex scandals and Crusades as like so bad that someone should be castrated and what’s with all that money in the Vatican anyway.

    At his best, he serves his stepmother with the theological upbringing he received from another household, like a petulant student wielding his professors against his family while his parents pay his tuition. At his worst, he’s a GenX Erasmus who can’t write and doesn’t care. One’s time would be better with Catholic Digest, a far more influential publication as the preferred bathroom reading for thousands.


  5. TKO round five for Darryl Hart. Stellman’s on his backside, looking for his mouth-piece. Sad really, as Stellman was an effective voice for “Old Life” Presbyterianism.

    And yes, Dr Hart is a problem for CTC and Mr Stellman because of truth, and because as funny and witty as he liked to be(with lots of rhetorical rights and lefts) Darryl knows something about Rome’s claims; and Jason is ignorant of many of many of those claims and what they amount to. This was an “emotional” conversion to Rome and regardless of what Mr Stellman opines, a “rash” decision, (which is not limited to time-frame).

    Kudos to Darryl for lighting up CTC and Jason Stellman the way Ray Leonard used to do in the boxing ring. Just cause the man bolo punched and did the show-boat shuffle (sort of like Darryl Hart’s humours witticisms) never met Ray Leonard wasn’t dangerous – and to CTC and Stellman, so is D.G. Hart’s questioning of the papist claims.

    Great column Dr Hart!


  6. Dr. Hart,

    There is a contingent over at CCC (really one more than all else) that starts calling people anti-Catholic bigots when they don’t receive his arguments and point out how shot full of holes they are, how they are based on groundless unargued-for premises, and how the real problems they have with Protestants aren’t what they say the are but are grounded in old misunderstandings of Protestantism. It’s sad to see Jason joining that contingent now.

    The work you are doing here is excellent. The greatest antidote to Roman Catholicism (aside from Scripture) is a basic knowledge of the history of the papacy. You simply cannot reconcile modern views of the papacy with its historic view of itself. The greatest thing that Rome could do to salvage its intellectual credibility is to say “You know what guys, we were wrong when we taught on our temporal authority. I guess that means we really aren’t infallible. Maybe we can learn a thing or two from you Protestants on the nature of authority and even the gospel.”

    Sad to say, I’m not holding my breath. When you declare yourself infallible, you make yourself irreformable.


  7. DGH makes a compelling historical argument against the claims of Rome (and the supposed timelessness of those claims) in this series of posts. It doesn’t compute for CTC because it isn’t math or logic or circular… it’s historical, and moral. But it is compelling.

    Anyone else wonder if the good Dr. is considering distilling this argument into book form? It would be a good value for the church to have a nice concise volume — stripped of the personal barbs — to hand wavering brethren so their eyes could be open before they dip in the Tiber?

    Presumably, that is the audience for this post, as humanly speaking, apart from a work of God the Callers aren’t likely coming back. I would likewise gather the odds of Jason joining DGH’s communion are declining by the day. But others may benefit from these fireworks.


  8. Thanks, David, but I’m not sure the punch landed since I’m not sure Jason really thought this authority (or logic) thing through, and he shows no sign of wanting to consider it. But I can’t read Jason and the Callers and act as if 1,000 years of Vatican history have not happened.


  9. Brian Lee, if history is any guide, the good Dr. knows what he’s doing, and there is indeed a good book in the works. It’s been weird coming into these theological chat rooms at the same time this CTC phenomenon hit full swing with things like the Stellman saga, or the 1300+ comments on the papacy thread last year over at Lane’s blog. As for us chumps, we will keep reading all the doings out here, with interest. Regards, AB


  10. John – I think we need to understand Roman Catholicism the way that Paul understood Alexander the coppersmith

    Erik – Jason the Burger Flipper?

    When Jason did his post-conversion interview on CTC with Bryan Crossity he was asked what he would be doing for a living now that he was no longer a minister in one of the 30,000 Protestant sects. He replied that he didn’t know, he just hoped he wouldn’t have to resort to burger flipping.


  11. Brian – Anyone else wonder if the good Dr. is considering distilling this argument into book form?

    Erik – I’ve been thinking the same thing, especially the longer Jason keeps targeting D.G. in his posts. Not wise.


  12. Oh, I think the punch has landed. Take out the Jason reference for it’s irrelevance to the analysis, and this is worth the price of admission, up to and including the family planning opportunity;

    ………..But then when Jason finds out that he does have a spirituality of the church papacy in the post-Vatican II era, he gains a church where popes are still echoing their older temporal power through various “social teachings” while also following a theological proposal like Dulles’ where the church sounds like it would have trouble settling basic theological conflicts (which may explain why so many conservative Roman Catholics associate orthodoxy with a male priesthood and not using contraceptives). In other words, he now has a crisis of authority that makes dispute between Baptists and Presbyterians look like sandbox rivals fighting over a scoop.”

    Temporal power=various ‘social teachings’
    Male priesthood and contraceptives=Orthodoxy


  13. Sean, it’s interesting that you bring up “social teaching” as “temporal power”. It would be interesting to track what the “social teaching” was, perhaps, before 1878. An eye-opener for me was in JPII’s Veritatis Splendor and the notion that Catholic Social Teaching has only been what it’s been “particularly in the last two centuries”. Prior to that, it was more like Kertzer’s The Popes Against the Jews and the story of Edgardo Mortara.


  14. I still am not sure what motivates Reformed groups accepting as valid the water of “the greatest threat” to truly gospel churches. Is it the fear of Donatism or the fest of discontinuity?

    But discontinuity already happened when Geneva began to insist on future infants being done publicly in church, and not privately (or post-mortem) by “godparents” or midwives. It seems this was not only about restricting administration to “ordained” males, but about a denial that water serves to remit original sin.

    William Naphy, Calvin and the Consolidation of the Genevan Reformation, 1994

    Karen Spierling, A Child’s Place in the Community: Reformed Infant Baptism in Sixteenth Century Geneva, 2001


  15. Dr. Darryl G Hart,

    You’re very busy I understand, but I was curious – will there be a historical book focused on Rome’s claims if time and providence allow?



  16. Brian, truth be told, I am at the beginning stages of a book on Roman Catholics and the American Right in the wake of JFK and Vatican 2, when conservative Roman Catholics no longer had to worry about Americanism as a heresy and could embrace with a big smooch full-fledged American exceptionalism.


  17. Dr. D.G. Hart

    By the way, I’m sure you’re correct about the state of Jason’s thinking. Still, it seems
    something has landed because a couple of his comments in the comm box seemed to betray a certain amount of unease. And, he sure has taken this personal! Him being, ahem, the butt of your jokes for a year. All that’s been done in a humourous manner is question the claims of Rome (and CTC and Stellman’s unqiue Catholic claims) by historical inquiry.

    And yet it was Jason Stellman himself who hit the celebratory circuit before making sure his hands and knuckles were taped properly; the one who made this a public “coming out party” and it seems funny he is surprised not everyone agrees with him about his new-found papal glases.

    They say in boxing (and its true) the punch that hurts you is the one you don’t see coming because it blind-sides you and knocks you into the middle of next week. Stellman is able pugilistic – but so good drawing and parrying are of no use. And we are getting intothe middle rounds where it begins to show whether a fighter has done his sparring and roadwork sufficiently to meet the challenge. The ropes are hot and Stellman’s gasping for breath, figurtively speaking.



  18. When was Jason Stellman watered “validly”? Which “baptism” has “efficacy”? Which “old school”?

    The decision of the 1845 Old School Presbyterian GA which the 1987 PCA report referenced:

    “No rite administered by one who is not himself a duly ordained minister of the true Church of God visible, can be regarded as an ordinance of Christ, whatever be the name by which it is called, whatever the form employed in its administration. The so-called priest of the Romish communion are not ministers of Christ, for they are commissioned as agents of the papal hierarchy, which is not a Church of Christ, but the Man of Sin, apostate from the truth, the enemy of righteousness and of God. She has long lain under the curse of God, who has called his people to come out from her, that they be not partakers of her plagues.

    “It is the unanimous opinion of all the Reformed churches, that the whole papal body, though once a branch of the visible church, has long since become utterly corrupt, and hopelessly apostate. … Unless we be prepared to admit, in direct contradiction to the standards of the Presbyterian Church, that baptism is not an ordinance established by Christ in his Church exclusively and that it may be administered by an agent of the Man of Sin, an emissary of the prince of darkness, and yet be valid as though administered by a duly commissioned steward of the mysteries of God.

    “The papal hierarchy …claims to be infallible; her dogmas she promulgates as the doctrines of heaven; and she pronounces her heaviest anathema against any and every man who questions her authority, and refuses to bow to her decisions. She thus perverts the truth of God; she rejects the doctrine of justification by faith; she substitutes human merit for the righteousness of Christ; and self-inflicted punishment for gospel repentance: She proclaims her so-called baptism, to be regeneration, and the reception of the consecrated wafer in the eucharist, to be the receiving of Christ himself, the source and fountain of grace, and with him all the grace he can impart.

    “Is this the truth? Is reliance on this system, true religion? Can, then, the papal body be a Church?.. Bound as he is by the authority of his church, – and that on pain of her heaviest malediction, – to understand the Scriptures only in the sense in which his church understands and explains them, a consistent papist cannot receive or hold the true religion, or the doctrines of grace. If he does, he must either renounce the papacy, or hypocritically conceal his true sentiments, or he must prepare to brave the thunders of her wrath. True religion and an intelligent adherence to papal Rome are utterly incompatible and impossible.

    “While some other churches may hesitate to carry out fully the principles of the Reformation, in wholly repudiating popish baptism, as well as the popish mass, we, as Presbyterians, feel bound to act on the principle laid down by our Assembly, so long ago as 1790, that, so long as a body is by us recognized as a true church, are her ordinances to be deemed valid, and no longer. In 1835 the Assembly declared the papacy to be apostate from Christ, and no true church. As we do not recognize her as a portion of the visible Church of Christ, we cannot, consistently, view her priesthood as other than usurpers of the sacred functions of the ministry, her ordinances as unscriptural, and her baptism as totally invalid.”


  19. John, you stuck around longer than I did, but, exactly.

    Darryl, aw shucks. Don’t tell my mom, I’m already a big enough disappointment on that score. Surprisingly enough this has actually been an affirmation to me of what was good about my time as an RC. Near the top of that list was the certain knowledge that we weren’t fundamentalists. Imagine my surprise and disappointment at learning of CtC.


  20. If you want to make sense of Rome, first try to make sense of David Lynch’s “Mulholland Dr.” (which I just watched). Once you’ve made sense of the film, making sense of Rome will be a breeze.


  21. Erik

    David Lynch is wonderful. Did you enjoy his other movies?


    Aren’t fundamentalists like bad pennies?
    Always around, somewhere?


  22. Darryl, I know you’re a historian and all, but you have strayed from that genre before. After your write your no doubt interesting work on Rome and the Right, perhaps a turn to polemics?

    I’m thinking of a straight up historical – polemical work. We have oodles of this in the 17th cent of course, but I’m afraid there’s scant contemporary work that lines up the problematic inconsistencies not only of the medieval church, but the church of the 19th – 21st centuries.

    Perhaps “Romanism: A History”


  23. David,

    This is the first thing of his that I have seen. I generally don’t do well with films that lack a coherent plot. This is why I think Paul Thomas Anderson is getting worse with every film he makes — literally. Hard Eight – Boogie Nights – Magnolia – Punch Drunk Love – There Will Be Blood – The Master – can be ranked from best to worst with only a flip-flop of the first two. I don’t need the plot to even be linear – I like Quentin Tarantino for the most part – but it has to not be overly obscure. Call me a simpleton.


  24. And Darryl says-

    RC’s believe the church doesn’t err. Protestants believe the church does and we revise teachings accordingly. When you guys change you say its “development.” That’s liberal. You know, a living, breathing, Constitution, that we can make say whatever we want it to say.

    And… But the real difference between OL and CCC is that I opine, you only tell the truth. You set the bar.


    Just watching from the left field bleachers…


  25. They have yet to make clear to reasonable minds why it is that they would attribute interpretative transparency to the texts produced by the church while attributing interpretative opacity to the text produced by the apostles.

    Prima facie – and for all their worries over the diversity of sinful misinterpretation among Protestants, their hermeneutic position seems like ecclesiolatry.


  26. From Jason’s blog:
    The Catholic puts his faith in a living Church whose authority he must submit to.

    I’ve not seen anything in the NT about having faith in the church. If Jason’s characterization of Roman Catholicism is accurate, it sounds like he believes a different gospel than the one delivered by Paul to the Galatians. “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” I guess if angels and apostles don’t get to tweak the gospel, the “Church” doesn’t get to either. So sad to see someone adopt a counterfeit gospel to satisfy a sophomoric philosophical quest. But then maybe he has misinterpreted the infallible magisterium…wouldn’t be the first time!


  27. sdb,

    Sadly, that’s apparently what it distills down to for the RC convert from reformed Protestantism… defending and contending for the RC Church rather than for the gospel…


  28. sdb – If Jason’s characterization of Roman Catholicism is accurate, it sounds like he believes a different gospel than the one delivered by Paul to the Galatians. “

    Erik – Correct me if I’m wrong, but in addition to buying into Rome, hasn’t Jason also attempted to argue with Lane Keister that Rome’s explanation of the gospel is also the most biblical? Maybe we need a post on the Audaciousness of Jason.

    It’s as if I leave the mother of my four children for a stripper and argue that not only is she sexier, she’s also a more wholesome mother. Uh-huh…


  29. Jack, believe it or not but that is precisely what Cross has said in at least one place (yes, he can do brevity when he tries), that it all comes down to ecclesia, as in bare, physical apostolic succession. s I say, fine, but so what? How does a straight line from Francis to Jesus cover a multitude of errors?


  30. Erik, I simply wish Jason and the Callers would avoid the Rome-is-superior-to-Protestantism polemic and simply say, I am an RC because I believe what the church teaches is true, even if I can’t explain all the ins and outs, or make it all fit.


  31. D.G. – “I am an RC because I believe what the church teaches is true”

    Erik – They can’t just say this lest they be accused of (1) private opinion, or (2) fideism. This is their caricature of what Protestants do. They have to ground their preference in time, space, and history. They say the evidence is neat & tidy. We say it is not. Game on.


  32. I simply wish Jason and the Callers would avoid the Rome-is-superior-to-Protestantism polemic and simply say, I am an RC because I believe what the church teaches is true, even if I can’t explain all the ins and outs, or make it all fit.

    I have said almost those exact words so many times I lost count. But anyway, carry on. . . .


  33. Jason – I have said almost those exact words so many times I lost count. But anyway, carry on. . . .

    Erik – Link to an article you’ve written on CTC in which you do this.

    We don’t get a lot of admission of things not fitting from Bryan. Mostly just him pointing out how our questions about how things might not fit are illogical.


  34. Jason, When you lost count did you forget this:

    Jesus founded a church that had no visible, laying-on-of-hands apostolic succession and no infallibility, but only an invisible succession of apostolic doctrine which was to be fallibly identified and understood.
    Now if there had been a visible episcopal succession that had been protected from error under certain conditions there would also be a way in principle to (1) locate God’s special revelation and (2) interpret its meaning, such that believers would have been able to render the assent of faith to the Church’s authoritative claims that (1) the New Testament consists of certain books and not others, and that (2) those books teach specific things about God and Christ, and not others. But since, as I said, that is not the kind of church Jesus founded, therefore we can only have highly educated guesses about those things.
    Meanwhile, within less than a century after St. Peter’s death, the believers everywhere had for some unknown reason jettisoned the core ecclesiastical principles that Jesus had established in his church and invented visible apostolic succession and infallibility to replace them, thus both unduly institutionalizing the church as well as making possible the distinction between divine revelation and human opinion in a principled way, thereby creating the possibility for a set canon as well as Trinitarian and Christological dogma.
    Protestants accept this set canon and label as “orthodox” the tenets that this Johnny-come-lately Catholic Church used its corrupt and overblown institutionalization to define.
    And yet, despite the fact that this somehow universally and uncontroversially accepted idea of apostolic succession and infallibility is precisely what created the context for a set canon and the idea of Trinitarian and Christological orthodoxy, those mechanisms were never intended by Jesus because, instead, Jesus originally desired to found a church in which such accomplishments would have been impossible.
    For my part, I can’t for the life of me see why the divine Son of God would found the kind of church that a bunch of sinful humans could so drastically improve within a couple generations. And moreover, I can’t figure out why, when visible apostolic succession is an option, Christians wouldn’t opt for it over the alternatives. And if the answer is that the historical record cannot prove apostolic succession, then now what I can’t understand is why these people are Christians at all.
    Again, it all comes down to openness of mind and heart. Miracles that are less plausible with less historical attestation will be embraced because they’re in the Bible, while apostolic succession will be dismissed, despite having greater historicity and greater plausibility. The reason for this rejection, I do not hesitate to suggest, is that dismissing apostolic succession leaves one the freedom to continue to be his own final interpretive judge on matters of faith and practice.
    What other reason is there for rejecting an ecclesiology that is so clearly superior, that makes the church so much better, and that makes dogma and canon possible? What can be so insidious about an ecclesiology that its detractors would prefer an alternative one in which God doesn’t want us to be certain that he is Triune after all?

    You know, divide and dismiss.

    You’re still channeling your inner Protestant.


  35. Re: “faith in a living” church, I read one CtCer who claimed he was saved by “an institution.”


  36. Stellman (in Dual Citizens) was so concerned to praise the ancient sacramental view of church that he made some careless accusations against “Gnostics” and “pietists”. Jason wrote: “While adults coming out of pagan backgrounds may indeed experience a seismic shift in loyalties, this is the exception rather than the rule. The Christian faith, normally speaking, is passed on from parents to children by means of infant baptism.”

    Of course I am a sectarian who turns everything into a discussion about water. The truly Reformed are those who just keep doing water their way without need for anymore discussion, even if there are many different ways to defend infant rituals, and even if many of them contradict each other

    Of course the reason some Reformed clergy do end up talking about older sacramental models is that so many of those who pay their salaries still have what Stillman would call a pietist model of crisis conversion, and do not believe in covenant succession.

    This is why some “ancient sacramental” folk spend so much time quoting Calvin and Nevin to their own congregations. Stellman made his case for the priority of ecclesiology in chapter 7 (“reformed piety”).

    I do not agree that “God never deals with us as individuals” (p 9) I do not agree that, when we hear Christ preached, we then hear Christ preaching. (p 13) Or that we hear an official “minister” absolving our sins, that we hear Christ forgiving our sins. Who is hearing?

    Are the non-elect not hearing, because they don’t care about their sins? If so, then does it it come back again to the Holy Spirit creating faith in the hearers? But if the absolution is objective, are the non-elect correct to think that “the minister” is telling them that their sins are forgiven? Is it “pietism” to warn people that the New Testament is written only to Christians?

    It’s ironic that Stillman thinks that there should be no death penalty for breaking Sabbath for non-Christians. He doesn’t seem to make the same distinction for those participating in the cultus. To avoid “pietism”, he must officially act as if everybody observing the sacrament is an exile from the world and a Christian. Otherwise he would have to speak to the church as if the church were the world, and then he would have to think more about water passing on salvation to pagans and about the supper being converting for those halfway in. Even if there is no faith, is there no blessing? (see p 14 of Dual Citizens)

    In Daul Citizens, Stellman shifted places on the evangelical bus. He changed ecclesiologies, not gospels. He used to be a Calvary Chapel “minister” but then he moved up to a more elite and well informed “Ancient Sacramental” seat. Stellman gives no indication that his gospel had changed, but assumed that he had been a Christian all long. But now he wanted to persuade other people of some “Reformed” propositions so that we would be less “Gnostic” and individualistic. Thus the gnosis that defeats the older gnosis. Thus also my question about which water Jason got which is now “valid” from which we should expect to see “efficacy”.


  37. In his essay, NT Wright avoids the difficult questions (was Adam’s guilt imputed to us humans?), and continues to caricatures his “non-ecumenical” critics. Wright is comfortable in discarding justification based only on Christ’s finished work because Wright has confidence in the water of “the church” to make Christians by the Holy Spirit’s regeneration. Thus his disdain for individual soteriology in favor of “ecclesiology”. Thus his claim that justification is only about “covenant membership”.

    I quote from Wright on p 260: “This declaration, this vindication, occurs twice. It occurs in the future, as we have seen, on the basis of the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit, that is, it occurs, on the basis of ‘works’ in Paul’s redefined sense…Just as the final justification will consist not in words so much as in an event, namely the resurrection of the person, so the present justification consists not so much in words but in an event, the event in which one dies with the Messiah and rises to new life with him. In other words, baptism. I was delighted to rediscover…that not only Chrysostom and Augustine but also Luther would here have agreed with me.”

    I am still very hopeful that Jason Stellman is not yet at the place in his life which NT Wright has come to —a place where he can only keep rediscovering the many ways in which he is right. Some of us “non-ecumenical” critics still insist that the water regeneration of Luther and Augustine (and NT Wright Anglicans) is in competition with the biblical good news about justification in Christ. And from the looks of it, Jason is not an ecumenical Romanist….


  38. sorry, the NT Wright essay in question is “New Perspectives on Paul” in
    Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges Bruce McCormack, editor, (Baker, 2006)


  39. JJS – The reason for this rejection, I do not hesitate to suggest, is that dismissing apostolic succession leaves one the freedom to continue to be his own final interpretive judge on matters of faith and practice.

    What other reason is there for rejecting an ecclesiology that is so clearly superior, that makes the church so much better, and that makes dogma and canon possible? What can be so insidious about an ecclesiology that its detractors would prefer an alternative one in which God doesn’t want us to be certain that he is Triune after all?

    Erik –

    So clearly superior?

    That makes the church so much better?

    Not exactly a statement full of circumspection.


  40. “What other reason is there for rejecting an ecclesiology that is so clearly superior, that makes the church so much better…

    What are the standards one uses to determine the relative superiority of one ecclesiastical model versus another?
    1) The RCC laity aren’t more theologically literate than evangelical laity.
    2) The RC church in the US certainly isn’t healthier than the evangelical one – it is hemorrhaging nonimmigrant members as fast as the mainline.
    3) Which structure results in more effective shepherding of God’s people? Many RC apologists continue to insist that the sex abuse scandal is about a few bad apples doing terrible things. But this misses the real scandal: that these people (and their enablers) continue to be protected because of the belief in clericalism caused by your faulty ecclesiology. It is this clericalism that results in known sex offenders being shuttled off to third world countries to run orphanages. Why? Gotta protect the priesthood at all costs. Where there are kids there are going to be predators and irresponsible adults – it happens in schools and churches of all stripes. It is the clerical mindset that makes the abuse scandal such a big deal – it illustrates the utter contempt your hierarchy holds you in. These aren’t shepherds who give a whit for their flock. They are wolves who have nothing but contempt for you – from to bottom.

    and that makes dogma and canon possible? What can be so insidious about an ecclesiology that its detractors would prefer an alternative one in which God doesn’t want us to be certain that he is Triune after all?”

    Is this the same moral certainty that led Neuhaus to denounce Maciel’s accusers (maybe they were begging the questions?). It is curious that the NT commends the people for testing the apostles (I guess what you call private judgement).

    Is it true that protestants are less certain about the trinity than RCs? I don’t see it (and the polls don’t bear that out). But setting aside the question of whether the RC ecclesiastical model actually makes her followers more certain of this or that (or even makes certainty possible), let’s ask if it is necessary.

    There was a canon before Christianity. What council met to decide this canon? Who was the pope that called this council? Who provided the infallible interpretation of the texts? Did Jews really get along without any dogma? Why didn’t they splinter into thousands of shards without their pope? Of course they didn’t see what they needed to see, but that required a special revelation – a special revelation that once delivered needed to be passed on and preserved. Your ecclesiastical community has decided to add to it (which is bad enough, but something every generation is susceptible to) and contradict significant parts of that revelation – your belief that one should put one’s faith in the church is an unfortunate example.


  41. [Mark McC,] When was Jason Stellman watered “validly”? Which “baptism” has “efficacy”? Which “old school”? The decision of the 1845 Old School Presbyterian GA which the 1987 PCA report referenced…

    MmC, I think the 1845 report is (IMO sadly) irrelevant, as Hodge intervened after the report and before The Vote, and changed the tide on the issue of Popey baptism. Here’s a debate you can listen to if you’re interested.


  42. thanks, charles

    Accepting Rome’s water is not the only thing Hodge was wrong about, but at least Hodge did not accept Calvin’s reading of the Supper.

    So the answer is that Hodge the representative stands in for “old school” on those occasions in which we agree with him against the old school majority?

    All I am doing is asking: which old school? There always tend to be school older than the “old school” we want to use as our standard (most of the time). Why not say that Hodge (with Princeton) was a hybrid of both old and new schools? In this instance, Hodge agree with Calvin. And of course Calvin is “old school” (except when he’s not, like when he’s Constantinian)? As the Ten commandments are “the moral law”, except for the little parts which aren’t….


    In 1987 the PCA majority report of the Ad Hoc committee appointed to study the validity of certain baptisms determined that Roman Catholic baptism was indeed invalid, and thus no true baptism at all. This report was prepared by Frank M. Barker, Jr., Carl W. Bogue, Jr., George W. Knight, III, Chairman, and Paul G. Settle so it represented a fairly wide diversity of views within the PCA. They noted that the American Presbyterians in their GAs of 1790 and 1835 had determined that the Roman Catholic Church (hereafter RCC) was an apostate organization, and therefore no part of the true church. The almost unanimous opinion of the Old School GA of 1845 was also that being no part of the true church, the RCC could not administer a valid baptism.

    mark: Some churches want you to get different water to join them. But which churches say that you need to change gospels (thus repenting of the old false idol god)?


  43. Jack, I agree with Machen’s distinction between the state as intolerant and therefore tolerant and churches as voluntary associations and therefore intolerant. But Christendom ( those with an Augustinian view of the church, both Romanist and Reformed) has tended to reject any idea of the “voluntary” as being Pelagian. Why should we wait for the “free will” of infants or of their parents?

    from Swann’s WSJ review of “Calvinism”.
    Mr. Hart writes, “was the capacity of ecclesiastical figures to create structures independent of the state for overseeing and determining religious affairs.” In the 1570s, as the Dutch freed themselves from Spanish domination, citizenship was effectively separated from church membership; church attendance became voluntary, giving ecclesiastical authorities much greater latitude in instructing their flocks. Yet even in the Netherlands there were church-state entanglements for another 200 years.”

    There is a big difference between insisting that failure of parents to bring infants to the water (of the one church with clergy financed by the state) is a crime and one church (one voluntary organization) denying membership to those who commit the great sin of denying the efficacy of water to their covenant children.

    But of course the Constantinian assumptions of religion in America have tended to be more subtle—flags in the worship center, a preference for “natural” law as opposed to the commandments of Jesus Christ, denominational chaplains for those who kill for the state and/or economy, etc…


  44. Hi Mark,
    Are you conflating categories, historical periods or realms? Reformed teaching doesn’t support a Christendom view. Old history. The rejection of a Pelagian view has to do with free will between sinful man and a holy God. No voluntary ability and will on the part of sinful man can move him away from his sin toward God. Between man and man there can be voluntary actions and/or coerced actions.

    Not sure what your questions and points regarding infant baptism mean. But I do know you reject it as biblical. Where is it a “crime” today to not baptized children? Aren’t voluntary associations (churches) by definition allowed, even required if they are to exist, to have rules of membership that by definition are intolerant, i.e. exclusive? Isn’t it a whole other argument as to whether truth or rightness undergirds a particular intolerance?


  45. I agree that most current Reformed teaching doesn’t support a Christendom view. But of course the “federal vision” is accepted in the PCA, which is a larger Reformed association than your own. But it’s a problem to say “old history” when –in many old cases–you are appealing to “old history”. Which is why I like to keep asking— which “old school”? DGH has been pretty clear—“old school” without the Constantinianism, “old school” with the confessional changes.

    But one place this gets tricky is Roman Catholic baptism. Calvin of course accepted it, not repenting of his own. Hodge accepted it, and there is an “old school” which accepts it (but without the Constantinianism, now you have to have one parent, it has to be in church not in the home etc). But then there are these other old schools that don’t accept Roman baptism, arguing that if Rome’s not a true church, then it can’t have true sacraments. This is still a question, and it’s not about Donatism (are the clergy sincere or really a Christian?)

    I agree with you, Jack, that the Pelagian view is about soteriology and not about if one waits for infants to confess with water. But, as you must know, we baptists constantly get accused of Pelagianism, simply because we do not presume to know if the Lord will call our children. But I think you would agree with me that the subjects of baptism question is not really about that. It would be like me accusing you of “free will” thinking if you don’t arrange marriages for your children!

    Of course you can find any number of baptists who are practically Pelagian, but we can also locate in history various “reformed” statements about baptism which condition efficacy on the response of the member of “the covenant”.

    I hope you understand, Jack, that I very much agree with Machen that churches are indeed “voluntary associations”, and because of that, they are free to have their own intolerant rules. I agree with that, but my point was that such “voluntaryism” is impossible to maintain if one has an “old school” Constantinian paradigm. This is why Machen sounds so refreshingly different from many other Reformed “transformationists” (many of whom are not “federal visionists”) Some of them think Machen is simply too “American” when it comes to the question of religious liberty.

    Jack: Isn’t it a whole other argument as to whether truth or rightness undergirds a particular intolerance?

    mark: Amen. And a very well phrased question! Yes, voluntary churches should have “intolerances”. Call these laws. The best way to avoid confusion of law and gospel is to be clear about what “the law” is. We need to avoid “cheap law” that does not condemn the sinner who is not justified before the law. And as you say, we can agree about that, even when we do not agree about the content of that law—is Jesus merely explaining the Ten Commandments or is Jesus Himself is giving us new law.

    PCA pastor Leithart (Against Christianity, p 75) explains why old school Reformers (Calvin, Luther) were wrong to stress differences between old and new covenant worship

    “First, the Reformers had a spiritualizing reading of redemptive history. We still see this today. Listen to Terry Johnson: ‘When Jesus removed the special status of Jerusalem
    as the place where God was to be worshipped, he abolished all the material forms that constituted the typological OT system.'( p 157, in With Reverence and Awe, ed Hart and Muether).”

    “Second, Israel’s prophets inveighed against empty formalism, and some conclude that from this that the prophets condemned ritual as such.”

    “Third, the Reformers taught that the Word has priority over the Sacraments. Salvation comes by hearing the Word with faith, not by mechanical adherence to the sacramental system of the church. Sacraments are an appendix to the faith.”

    “Finally, privatization. Religion is a matter of ideology, ideas and belief. Public rituals can be faked, and so those who tie religion to public rituals tempt us to be hypocrites.”


  46. C.N Willborn: John Calvin resisted the urging of the Anabaptists that he, having been baptized by the Roman Catholics, should be (re)baptized (Institutes 4.15.16-18)… The effect that this situation had upon him can be seen in his insisting that Paul did not really baptize the disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus and in his insisting that the baptism of John the Baptist is Christian baptism.”

    Willborn: “Most American Presbyterians confessionally uphold the principle of the spirituality of the church, deny Constantinianism, and do not acknowledge that the Civil Magistrate has the power to prosecute for heresy, maintain the order of the church, call synods and so forth. They changed their version of the WCF to reflect that belief. ”

    Willborn: “This change better reflects the true teaching of the Bible. The 1648 version of the Westminster Standards reflected not the teaching of the bible regarding the civil magistrate, but the lingering presence of Constantinianism within the church of Christ. So too, I believe that the overwhelming decision of the 1845 Old School GA better reflects the true teaching of the bible regarding Roman Catholic baptism.”



  47. Mark, Leithart’s FV is accepted only in one presbytery in the PCA. Indeed, a confusing and sad saga that is still unfolding. So let’s not represent his teachings as now being acceptable Reformed Presbyterianism. As far as his FV goes it is not orthodox reformed doctrine. Old history does have a habit of repeating itself now and then. Yet still the reformed confessions and catechisms refute FV, so I see no value in engaging Leithart, especially in this thread. You need to go visit Lane at Green Baggins!


  48. MMc, you’re quoting my pastor there. I’ve heard the validity question framed in terms of pre- and post-Trent, meaning that Rome really and finally lost the gospel at that point.


  49. interesting ,charles, so what do you as a congregation do with Romanist baptisms? Which “old school” do you follow, and does this mean “taking an exception” to the majority practice?

    jack, I guess I might stop talking about Leithart when “Reformed” folks stop talking about “sister aimee” when they attempt to speak about what baptists believe. I thought at least four presbyteries in the PCA accepted the FV. I know that the most recent GA did nothing to stop it.

    But of course you are correct that this thread is not about Leithart. It’s about Jason Stellman. When did he ever change gospels? When did he already receive valid water?


  50. Sister Amiee? Seriously? The only time I’ve heard her name brought up was an entire sermon about her given by W. Robert Godfrey. And being that he has a soft spot for her, it was all positive!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.