If God So Loved the World, Why is The West So Special?

In his review of Ross Douthat’s new book, Rod Dreher makes his bracing claim:

any Christian or secular conservative who cares about the stability of Western civilization cannot be indifferent to the fate of the institution that, more than any other, created it. The Orthodox Church is alien to the West, and Protestantism has become far too fragmented and rootless to hold things together.

That is a big burden for Rome to bear. But it also represents a much bigger problem. For a church that ministers a gospel based on a person (and God) who never set foot in the West, your identification with the West may be the hugest (thanks Bernie!!) version of cultural Christianity eh-veh. (Imagine Mormonism without upstate New York and you have a speck of Rome’s burden.) I understand that many Protestants envy Rome’s cultural and historical footprint. Some even become Roman Catholic for the wide swath the communion appears to give.

But, non-Western lives matter too.

On the flip side, when you have your religious identity so bound up with a culture or civilization, you set yourself up for the kind of inevitable cultural adaptation that Protestant modernists created and embraced. You need to do this to keep up with the culture of which you are part since civilizations have never been one-way, top-down endeavors. Today it’s emperors, tomorrow it will be senates and republics. Today it’s Thomism, tomorrow its Kantianism. Today it’s Baroque, tomorrow it’s Bauhaus.

Even more of a problem: today it’s hell, tomorrow its annihilationism. So when Pope Francis flirts with denying the existence of hell, Michael Brendan Dougherty notices about today’s Vatican what fundamentalists used to observe about Protestant modernists:

Because, as I write on Maundy Thursday, his favorite Italian journalist, Eugenio Scalfari, is reporting his latest conversation with Francis. In his reconstruction of their conversation, Scalfari has the pope saying that souls who have not repented and therefore have not received God’s pardon simply scomparire — disappear, in English. In other words, there is no hell. The souls of the damned aren’t damned, they just are no more.

The Vatican promptly put out a statement that the interview is a reconstruction of their conversation, not a series of direct quotes. But the Vatican also pointedly issued no specific denial of any of the pope’s words. Amazing to say it, but that’s typical. In essence this constitutes an invitation to disbelieve whatever you want. Predictably, Catholic media who rely on the pope’s star power and the appearance of impeccability put out stories noting that the pope has often talked about hell in the past and that, by the way, Scalfari is an atheist and unreliable narrator. Frankly, I find the Vatican’s position revoltingly underhanded. It refuses to tell us whether the pope said these things, and encourages us to believe what we want. It incentivizes the pope’s defenders to defame Scalfari as a fraud and an underhanded atheist. What kind of game is this? It shouldn’t be hard to just tell the truth about this, yet it is.

This is the fifth interview the pope has done with Scalfari, and far from the first scandal to come out of it. It is impossible to believe that someone as earthy as Francis is still innocent of what’s happening here. Yes, he’s talked about hell as a reality before. But the whole intellectual culture of Catholic seminaries and formation is filled with doublespeak. Doctrines are proclaimed in creedal statements, and then their contents are emptied in theological essays, or given a completely opposite interpretation in “practical” application. I can’t possibly pretend any longer that Francis is immune from this culture of deception, including self-deception.

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68 thoughts on “If God So Loved the World, Why is The West So Special?

  1. How is this new for the RCC? I thought they’ve been sanctifying elements of culture for centuries. In which case, could it be that the 20th century liberals took their lead from Rome, and not vice versa?

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  2. “the whole intellectual culture of Catholic seminaries and formation is filled with doublespeak. Doctrines are proclaimed in creedal statements, and then their contents are emptied in theological essays, or given a completely opposite interpretation in “practical” application.”
    Rinse and Repeat

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  3. Francis is a disaster as pope. Despite her flaws, I admire the RCC greatly. But Francis is bringing out the worst aspects of the Church. A pope is bound by the Magisterium to believe and teach all Catholic dogma, including hell. If he does not, he should be excommunicated. I won’t hold my breath waiting for a careful examination of his views by the College of Cardinals.

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  4. shouldn’t be doing this:/

    Darryl-“That is a big burden for Rome to bear. But it also represents a much bigger problem. For a church that ministers a gospel based on a person (and God) who never set foot in the West, your identification with the West may be the hugest (thanks Bernie!!) version of cultural Christianity eh-veh. (Imagine Mormonism without upstate New York and you have a speck of Rome’s burden.) I understand that many Protestants envy Rome’s cultural and historical footprint. Some even become Roman Catholic for the wide swath the communion appears to give.”

    The book of Acts starts with the record of Jesus in Jerusalem being taken up, then with Peter (until Ch. 12, ) and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and new tongues( symbolizing the covenant opening more and more to all peoples ), then with Paul in Rome. So Jerusalem is connected to Rome.

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  5. Susan – Francis probably believes in hell (of sorts), but the problem is the doublespeak and obfuscation on the part of the Pope and the Vatican in general. Why not issue a statement strongly refuting the article and strongly affirming Francis’ belief in hell? Why the coyness?

    And linking to that article was a bad idea. There are so many theological problems there it is like red meat for Old Life commenters, starting with this gem: “The most extensive papal explanation of hell came in response to a 2015 question from a female scout who asked, ‘If God forgives everyone, why does hell exist?’ Francis acknowledged that this was a ‘good and difficult question.'”

    Oy vey….

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  6. Hi again, VV,
    Fom my point of view I just see people ( inside and outsidebthd church) voicing thier complainta about what the pope nearly said, or could have said better, or implied,etc.And I understand that they think it’s double-speak, and that it makes them upset and worried that the man sitting in the chair of St. Peter isn’t being faithful to the teachings of Jesus, but I’m not worried because God isn’t going to allow any doctrine that is already settled to be changed, nor allow any question still in dispute to be given a wrong decision. The visible Catholic Church that Jesus founded will not be destroyed. There won’t be any changes in doctrine. It’s as simple as that. So however poorly anyone, the Pope included, expressess those doctrines( and I agree that everyone should try to make it clear) it can’t affect the church’s existence or the truth bearing witness since all it’s held doctrines are true and not up for reinterpretation.
    I don’t deny that there are purposeful errors propogated by people who desire that the church make a change(” get with the times”, I’ve heard) because of some moral problem within themselves, but it’s impossible that the church could ever do that in it’s official capacity.
    When you get inside the church, it’s like watching a family arguement. Yeah, there are still protesters inside who want the family to progress and are unwittingly ( or maybe not)willing to sell the whole farm to do so. They’re heretics and need to be corrected. If they don’t allign themselves to the church’s teaching, then they need something stronger before they get a following of people who will go with them outside the church.

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  7. One more thing VV and then I’ll leave.

    I want to bring up something that I addressed to Darryl because I think it’s important to this whole conversation. He takes issue with the church being a visible entity whose main office exists in Rome Italy. Now, I know that scripture can be twisted to serve someone’s purpose, but since (1)there is such a place and since(2) it does have a long line of successors and since scriptures does make the point that it’s heirarchal( if you think that’s a wrong interpretation see 1 and 2), then it’s not far-fetched to believe that this church is the promised Messianic kingdom that Isaiah foretold. If it is that, and of course, I have faith that it is, then nothing is going to destroy it. That’s why I try to spend my time studying it’s doctrines and asking why it teaches this and not that, rather than listen to people worrying that the pope might not be Catholic:)

    Anyway, I’m super busy so had better go.

    Take care,
    Susan

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  8. Susan,

    The visible Catholic Church that Jesus founded will not be destroyed. There won’t be any changes in doctrine.

    But there have been changes in doctrine. Prior to V2, Protestants were all going to hell. Now, we’re not. That’s a pretty big change.

    Your statement is rank fideism.

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  9. VV,

    if you read further in that article the Pope says:

    “This is hell,” explained the pope. “It is telling God, ‘You take care of yourself because I’ll take care of myself.’ They don’t send you to hell, you go there because you choose to be there. Hell is wanting to be distant from God because I do not want God’s love. This is hell.”

    Not sure what’s wrong with that. I interpret the quote you pulled out as being a sensitive way to begin dialogue with someone looking for truth. Tim Keller discussed hell in this article, and it’s not too different to the Pope’s quote I have above.
    https://corechristianity.com/resource-library/articles/the-importance-of-hell

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  10. Dear Robert,

    “But there have been changes in doctrine. Prior to V2, Protestants were all going to hell. Now, we’re not. That’s a pretty big change.

    Your statement is rank fideism”

    If this were really a change, I’d have to agree that you are correct, but it’s much more nuanced than that and needs further explanation ( just like the answer to the girl’s question about hell).

    Protestants are baptized and so since there’s one church and one baptism Protestants are essentially protesting Catholics, or think of it as Catholics who never go to church:)
    So outside the church there is no salvation because the church is necessary in that she distributes sanctifying grace through the sacraments. If a person dies in sorry for their sins for love of God ( charity) they will go to Heaven. Show me that doctrine being changed.

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  11. PAH,

    “Not sure what’s wrong with that. I interpret the quote you pulled out as being a sensitive way to begin dialogue with someone looking for truth.”

    That was beautifully expressed. Yes, that’s it exactly. We have to be in real dialogue not engaged in sound bytes and gotchas.

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  12. PAH – I have no problem with Francis answering a question in a sensitive manner, which seems like a wise thing to do. Also, I agree with the Pope and Tim Keller: going to hell is the choice of the reprobate in the sense that they have chosen to reject Christ as savior. I’ve heard Keller and others (and it seems the Pope would agree) say that the door to hell is locked from within, and there is some truth to that. In that particular formulation the Last Judgment is God completely giving the non-elect over to their own self-centeredness without the common grace they experience now. In other words, it is total depravity unleashed to its fullest potential. I can buy this view of hell, so long as it is an active judgment of God that puts them in this state.

    My concerns with the quoted passage are these:

    1. My main objection is Francis failing to correct the premise of the question: that God forgives everyone. This is not orthodox in any of the major branches of Christianity. He could have easily answered the question by saying that God doesn’t forgive everyone, hence the need for hell. Or he could quoted the Catholic Catechism: “Jesus often speaks of ‘Gehenna’ of ‘the unquenchable fire’ reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost. Jesus solemnly proclaims that he ‘will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,’ and that he will pronounce the condemnation: ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!'”

    2. The article claims that this episode was Francis’ most detailed discussion of hell, which is also problematic in its superficiality. Jesus discussed hell more than any other topic in the Gospel of Matthew – can’t God’s representative on earth provide a more complete theological explanation?

    Susan – I believe the RCC is part of the Kingdom, but is not the Kingdom exclusively, nor can the Pope can claim supremacy over the Kingdom on earth. Peter never did, and he was the first Pope, right?

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  13. VV- Good Points, and it’s nice to meet someone with a positive view of Keller on Old Life. Francis likely has orthodox views of hell. The danger is that the next generation takes his ambiguity as liscence to push the boundaries further. It’s too early to say.

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  14. PAH – agree about Keller and the Pope. It’s amazing the amount of flak Keller takes on Old Life, yet when asked what Scriptural or Confessional tenets he has violated, the response is crickets other than maybe an isolated RPW violation.

    sdb – I’ll grant that Silicon Valley is the center of the tech world – I have never claimed otherwise. But the “cultural” centers are not DC and Silicon Valley; far from it in the case of SV, and very, very, very far from it in the case of DC. NYC is the cultural, economic, and political capital of the world, and nowhere else really comes close in any category (other than *maybe* London economically). NY is also the media capital of the world, which is a huge driver of culture. All those Tweets and Facebook posts are driven by ideas and events mostly derived from NYC – SV is simply a purveyor of NYC media and culture, not an originator. Tyler may have some interesting discussions with other quasi-intellectuals in the DC area, but no one is really paying attention outside the Beltway. DC has a sort of proximate legal power in that they can pass laws, but the real lords of the land reside in Manhattan. Just ask Curt.

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  15. Susan – I could agree with much of what the article you linked says if by “Church” the author means the universal invisible Church; I agree that it seems hard to reconcile accepting Christ as King and yet rejecting His Kingdom, and this has been the Reformed sentiment from Calvin onward. But I’m pretty sure the author means the institutional Roman Catholic Church when he refers to Church, which means that every non-Catholic here on Old Life is damned because we have knowingly rejected the RCC as the one true church, even though we have repented and have placed our faith in Christ for salvation and have embraced the universal Church.

    We all agree that ordinarily people must hear the Gospel preached through the Church, and then respond to the Word in faith to receive forgiveness for our sins. We also agree that the Church provides means of grace through Word and Sacrament. In all those ways we agree that the Church is the mother of our salvation. Where we disagree is the way the RCC has designated herself as the exclusive Church. This has not been true from the apostolic era, or even the earliest days of the patriarchal system. There is no Scriptural or even early Traditional precedent for the RCC being the one true church to the exclusion of all others. This is what the article claims, and this is where we do not find common ground. I am far more ecumenical in my acceptance of the RCC and EOC than most other Protestants, Reformed and otherwise. I consider professing Christians in the RCC to be brothers in Christ – not sure they believe the same about me.

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  16. Read your link susan. Susan says from link” the Church teaches the possibility of salvation for people who do not have what we call a formal relationship with the Church, i.e., they are not on the registry at a local Catholic parish, yet they do indeed have a salvific relationship with the Church. If this is so, and it is, according to Scripture, then it stands to reason that in the same way, one can have a salvific relationship with the Church without knowing the truth that the Church is the fullness of Christ on this earth (see also the case of Cornelius the centurion in Acts 10:1-4, 34-35).”

    Acts 10 42 And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. 43 Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM RECEIVES FORGIVENESS OF SINS”44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. 45 All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, 47 “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who HAVE RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT just as we did, can he?” 48 And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.

    Susan, see caps (mine) above –
    We are saved if we believe and receive Jesus (John 1:12; 1 John 1:23) and He has given us His Spirit (1 John 4:13, Romans 8:9b); and this is GOD’s work (John 1:13)

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  17. Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: Susan – I could agree with much of what the article you linked says if by “Church” the author means the universal invisible Church; I agree that it seems hard to reconcile accepting Christ as King and yet rejecting His Kingdom

    RCC ought substitute CHRIST for Church in much of what they say in general
    ps. The church is not the kingdom

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  18. Ali – “RCC ought to substitute CHRIST for Church in much of what they say in general. ps. the church is not the kingdom”

    This is not the Reformed view. From WCF 25.2: “The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”

    Calvin equated leaving the Church with apostasy and called it spiritually “fatal” for a Christian to do so. In case you still aren’t convinced, here’s John MacArthur:

    “His kingdom in its present form over His redeemed people on earth is the church. When you read in the Bible about the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God in terms of this world it is the church; the church is that kingdom.”

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  19. hanks vv. I’m going to study this more
    http://letusreason.org/Biblexp255.htm

    Is the Kingdom the Church?

    The Kingdom is not the church! The Church and the Kingdom are not the same. There are several distinctions between the church and the Kingdom. The terms “church” and “kingdom” are never used interchangeably in Scripture.
    Of the 114 occurrences of the word “church” (Gr. “Ekklesia”), it is never used with the Kingdom (ibid.). Ekklessia means the assembly of saints, the people are the church.

    While it is clear that the apostles preached the Kingdom of God (Acts 8:12; 19:8; 28:23), one cannot substitute the church for the Kingdom in those passages, which is what they would have to do if the kingdom was the church. However, there is a relationship. The church is made up of those who are born anew and submit to Christ’s rulership in their lives and thereby accept the offer of His Kingdom.

    2 Peter 1:10-11 “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Here Peter explains that we still will enter this kingdom by growing in the characteristics of faith.

    Jesus taught the people to seek the kingdom of God first and all his righteousness – We are to seek Christ, his nature and ways, He is our righteousness.

    “kingdom” is the word is Basileia in Greek, which denotes “sovereignty, royal power, and dominion. It further denotes the territory or people over whom a King rules.” (From Vine’s Expository Dictionary, p. 344) Thus, “kingdom” is a designation both of power and the form of government as well as, especially in the later writers, the territory and the rule – the Kingship and the Kingdom. Hence, the basic meaning of kingdom involves three things – a ruler, a people who are ruled, and a territory over which they are ruled. (Moody Handbook of Theology p. 352)

    We enter the spiritual kingdom through Christ by the new birth, a spiritual birth. The Kingdom is God’s rule, which brings into subjection those held captive in the Kingdom of Satan. Christ delivers them from darkness into light. But there is a literal future Kingdom to come. There is a spiritual aspect to the Kingdom now, which is God’s rule in the heart of every believer. This is an invisible spiritual kingdom. Jesus explains in many places that the kingdom will come to earth, when He comes back He will physically be present to rule, it will one day be physical. And will affect everyone on earth, not just the church, or the saints. It is a literal kingdom, a messianic rulership from Jesus that can ONLY commence from His Second Coming. He will be physically present to rule from the land of Israel for 1,000 years and the saints will co-reign with Him. This is the “true kingdom of God” on earth that we are to be patiently waiting for. The kingdom that He told us to pray to come. the literal kingdom is eschatological – it comes at the end of the age. At this time, Christ will come with all of His glory and set up His governmental rule over the earth. There is no literal kingdom without a king being present.

    Mark 9:1 is used to prove the Kingdom has already commenced, but a closer look at the whole passage shows Christ revealing His glory to His closest disciples, showing what it will be like in the future by Moses and Elijah appearing. Peter volunteers to build tabernacles for them, making the mistake of believing that the Kingdom had permanently arrived. Jesus corrects Peter and shows him that it is not the time for the Kingdom to be set up.

    Luke 17:20-21, in this passage Jesus is stating that the Kingdom is within you (meaning in there midst among you). It was the Pharisees that asked the question of when the Kingdom would come. Surely Jesus is not saying the Kingdom is within them! He Himself is the Kingdom, and wherever the King is present, there is the Kingdom. Jesus then describes the future event of how quickly the Kingdom will come. It does not come with observation, pointing to His second advent and judgment.

    As far as a literal kingdom for today is concerned, Paul spoke of this Kingdom in a future tense (1 Cor. 6:9; 15:50; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5). 2 Peter 1:10-11 also speaks of the Kingdom in a future tense.

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  20. @ Ali

    Two verses to consider: Col 1.13, which places a difference between those in the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of Christ; and Matt 8.12, in which “the sons of the kingdom” turn out not to belong to Christ.

    This is in addition to the many teachings that begin with “the kingdom of God/heaven is like…”

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  21. Ali,VV

    In Acts the church, the Messianic was established as a fulfillment of prophecy. It was heirarchal at that point, with Peter leading the way. He had denied Jesus before out of fear of the Jews, but after he received the Holy Spirit he stood up among all those Jews and bravely told them that the man who they put to death was the one Israel had been expecting. Many Jews were added to the church that day because of Peter’s preaching. After that they gathered for Eucharistic celebration( breaking bread). Then it is this same church that is sent out to the ends of the Earth with the same message to repent, be baptized, and live in this same liturgical community. So if someone, say a year later, would have taken up the OT scriptures and gone away from this community saying that they had the scriptures and believed in Jesus and didn’t need that community in order to be saved, they would be in error by leaving the one established by Jesus, the chief cornerstone and built on the foundation of Peter who was given the keys to bind and to loose, and would not be a part of “the church” any longer. This is true at any point in history IF a visible, liturgical, heirarchal community called “the church” was established.

    VV,

    If you don’t believe that the RCC is the one that started in Jerusalem then you must be have invincible ignorance and so won’t be damned.

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  22. Also Ali,

    In Acts,what did Peter tell the Jews about Israel’s King David? What is denoted by mentioning King David? There was no restoration of Israel.

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  23. Susan – couple of points.

    1. I don’t think you understand the RCC’s official teaching. According to the Council of Trent, those who hold certain Protestant beliefs are anathematized, and that includes most of us on Old Life (and some Catholics, it should be noted). My rejection of the institutional RCC as the exclusive Church is not done in ignorance, and thus I cannot be subject to the “extraordinary” means of salvation noted in the article. As I said earlier, I believe the RCC is a part of the Kingdom, but cannot claim to be the Kingdom exclusively. So according to the RCC’s teaching I have rejected the one true church and cannot be saved. I’m far more accepting of the RCC than the RCC is of me, even if Vatican II considers me an “imperfect brother.”

    2. The main problem with the RCC’s claim to exclusivity – at least to me – is that it emphasizes temporal institution over the Gospel as the foundation of the Church. The RCC believes the succession of popes is more important – or at least as important – in defining the Church than the truth of the Gospel. Protestants believe the Church is defined by those who place their faith in Christ in accordance with the Gospel, while Catholics believe the Church is defined by apostolic succession. The RCC believes rejection of the institutional RCC is synonymous with rejection of the Gospel. This is not at all Scriptural – take it from Jesus Himself in Luke 9:49-50.

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  24. VV,

    What you are doing is putting the scriptures above the church, but the only reason you have a NT is because the church defined which writings were to be in the Canon.
    You also believe that the potestant gospel is the gospel of the apostles, but in believing that Luther and Calvin were correct you chose a new visible heirachy that is not in continuity with the church as it was established in which case it is also not in continuity with the kingdom promised to Israel ( being the visible kingdom of the Messiah that started with the Jews and adds in the gentile people).

    You assume that the church doesn’t know and preach the gospel that justifies sinners, but you are wrong. So in you’re false assumption you are still in ignorance of the truth in which case, you are not rejecting the church, rather only your idea of what she is.

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  25. Susan,

    What you are doing is putting the scriptures above the church, but the only reason you have a NT is because the church defined which writings were to be in the Canon.

    Wrong. The Old Testament was “defined” long before there was a bishop of Rome, and the church spoke of “receiving” the canon, not “defining” it.

    You also believe that the potestant gospel is the gospel of the apostles, but in believing that Luther and Calvin were correct you chose a new visible heirachy that is not in continuity with the church as it was established in which case it is also not in continuity with the kingdom promised to Israel ( being the visible kingdom of the Messiah that started with the Jews and adds in the gentile people).

    You are assuming what you must prove, which is that the Roman notion of Apostolic succession is what Christ established. It can’t be done from the New Testament, and even modern RC historians with the imprimatur of your church admit that there was no monoepiscopal bishop in Rome until, at earliest, the end of the second century.

    You assume that the church doesn’t know and preach the gospel that justifies sinners, but you are wrong. So in you’re false assumption you are still in ignorance of the truth in which case, you are not rejecting the church, rather only your idea of what she is.</i.

    I can't speak for VV, but based on Trent, I affirm wholeheartedly that the Roman church does not preach the gospel that justifies sinners and that the Roman hierarchy resembles in no way, shape, or form the church that Christ founded. I affirm that the papacy is a manifestation, in fact, of antichrist. According to Trent, I'm going to hell. According to Francis, I can take the Eucharist. See the disconnect?

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  26. Susan, God makes it very very simple. If He has saved you, you are in the body of Christ. Period. Forever. By His grace and mercy.

    1 Peter 2:10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.

    2 Corinthians 1:21 Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, 22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.

    Ephesians 1:13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

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  27. Susan – in addition to what Robert says about the OT canon, the criteria used for verifying the NT canon hurts your case. Remember, one of the criteria is that the author had to have been an apostolic contemporary (or an actual apostle) and the book needed direct apostolic approval. By your logic, a book written much later could also be included in the NT canon, yet the early church decided specifically against allowing post-apostolic books into the canon. If post-apostolic books cannot be Scripture, then why can post-apostolic oral tradition be part of Sacred Tradition? I agree that there was a Sacred Tradition of sorts from the creation account to the apostolic era, but there is no evidence that it should continue after the apostles died.

    Where I disagree with Robert is that I believe that – at its very core – the Catholic Church teaches salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. There are many errors heaped on top of this core belief and it’s easy for lay Catholics to lose their way, but at the end of the day the RCC teaches a flawed but fundamentally true Gospel. What the RCC needs – and frankly what all churches need – is a de novo re-evaluation of all their beliefs based on Scripture. I realize Vatican II sort of did this, but the Church needs to re-evaluate dogma as well. This will never happen because they have boxed themselves in with their claim to infallibly on certain truths – can’t re-evaluate those without admitting fallibility. As I’ve said on here repeatedly, the RCC’s claim to Magisterial infallibility is my biggest problem with Catholic theology.

    Robert – I think Francis’ comments on Protestants taking the Eucharist was another one of those Pope Francis trademark “misunderstandings.” They later walked back that comment, which I think only applied to Lutherans anyway.

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  28. Robert, Ali, VV,

    I’m just going to comment quickly and leave.

    Robert, I thought about this a lot, and the way I concluded that since Luther did not receive his version of the gospel from his teachers and he admits to finding it our for himself, that it’s not safe to leave the tradition in exchange for something new. Peter says that Paul is difficult to understand, and Luther did not understand. Being that it was novel, his gospel is “another”.
    He went too far and had a wrong idea about our original state, hence nature and grace and law and gospel.
    Also, the Pharasies had the scriptures and sometimes they twisted them or they didn’t see the promised Messiah and his coming reign in them. The old testament church had scripture and tradition too, and they had priests and a heirachy. In other words they were a people before they had any scripture. Revelation happened over time, but it started with a people and it’s fulfillment proceeded from those same people. You can’t jettison this and start a new thing. Jesus was born under the law( meaning coming from the Jews and for the Jews, not as in opposition to the moral law, like one doesn’t have to keep it since we are under grace). Grace enables us to do what no one can do and that is the double command to love.
    Ali,
    I don’t deny any scripture that.you added. Scripture testifes to Jesus and his church.

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  29. Susan,

    In other words they were a people before they had any scripture.

    No. God spoke first. Divine revelation precedes being made a people.

    God said “Let us make man in our image” and THEN there was Adam
    God spoke to Abram and told him to leave UR and THEN there was his family as the forefathers of faith
    God spoke to Moses and then the people came to Sinai and were made a nation.

    God may use the people to inscripturate the revelation, but the revelation always comes first.

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  30. Susan,

    I concluded that since Luther did not receive his version of the gospel from his teachers and he admits to finding it our for himself

    That’s a vast oversimplification. In fact, Luther said that he understood that the righteousness of Romans 1:16–17 refers to the righteousness God gives us because of his reading of Augustine.

    The Reformers repeatedly cited the church fathers and said they found the gospel in them.

    You need to study church history beyond what Bryan Cross says.

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  31. VV,

    the Catholic Church teaches salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

    I beleve that also and so did the Reformers. The problem is that the RCC doesn’t teach salvation by grace ALONE through faith ALONE in Jesus Christ ALONE. That little word ALONE makes all the difference. See the book of Galatians.

    If Rome teaches the gospel at its core, than the Reformation was a colossal mistake.

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  32. “because of his reading of Augustine…The Reformers repeatedly cited the church fathers and said they found the gospel in them.”

    Then you should have no problem finding the gospel in the RCC as well.

    Calvin: “Even the sentiment of Augustine, or at least his mode of expressing it, cannot be entirely approved of. For although he is admirable in stripping man of all merit of righteousness, and transferring the whole praise of it to God, he classes the grace by which we are regenerated to newness of life under the head of sanctification. Scripture, when it treats of justification by faith, leads us in a very different direction. Turning away our view from our own works, it bids us look only to the mercy of God, and the perfection of Christ.”
    “It is not unknown to me, that Augustine gives a different explanation; for he thinks that the righteousness of God is the grace of regeneration; and this grace he allows to be free, because God renews us, when unworthy, by his Spirit; and from this he excludes the works of the law, that is, those works, by which men of themselves endeavour, without renovation, to render God indebted to them…. But that the Apostle includes all works without exception, even those which the Lord produces in his own people, is evident from the context.”

    “That little word ALONE makes all the difference. See the book of Galatians.”

    Benedict: “For this reason Luther’s phrase: “faith alone” is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St Paul speaks of faith that works through love…. Paul knows that in the twofold love of God and neighbour the whole of the Law is present and carried out. Thus in communion with Christ, in a faith that creates charity, the entire Law is fulfilled. We become just by entering into communion with Christ who is Love…. And thus justice is decided in charity. Thus, at the end of this Gospel we can almost say: love alone, charity alone. But there is no contradiction between this Gospel and St Paul. It is the same vision, according to which communion with Christ, faith in Christ, creates charity. And charity is the fulfilment of communion with Christ. Thus, we are just by being united with him and in no other way.”

    “Alone” doesn’t entail imputation.

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  33. Susan, “I’m not worried because God isn’t going to allow any doctrine that is already settled to be changed, nor allow any question still in dispute to be given a wrong decision. The visible Catholic Church that Jesus founded will not be destroyed.”

    I’m not worried either. Protestants have the Word and the Spirit. You’ve got a pope with lots of baggage.

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  34. VV, Keller is indifferent about Presbyterianism. That’s why he works to plant Baptist and Pentecostal churches.

    To borrow an argument from Machen, why would Democrats help get Republicans elected if they were committed to the Democratic Party’s platform?

    Keller doesn’t deny. He doesn’t care about Presbyterianism. I should regard that as a plus?

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  35. “Also, the Pharasies had the scriptures and sometimes they twisted them or they didn’t see the promised Messiah and his coming reign in them. The old testament church had scripture and tradition too, and they had priests and a heirachy. In other words they were a people before they had any scripture. Revelation happened over time, but it started with a people and it’s fulfillment proceeded from those same people. You can’t jettison this and start a new thing. Jesus was born under the law( meaning coming from the Jews and for the Jews, not as in opposition to the moral law, like one doesn’t have to keep it since we are under grace). Grace enables us to do what no one can do and that is the double command to love.”

    I agree that Israel was a people before the OT canon was completed. I also agree that they had scripture, tradition, and an authoritative hierarchy to which the people were commanded to submit (by Jesus in the NT). That being said, the scope of scripture was disputed by the hierarchy and their canon wasn’t institutionally settled until after Christ’s resurrection. Furhter, it was clear that their traditions and heirarchy were fallible and that scripture was the standard to which Jesus appealed to correct these errors (it is written). When he instructed the couple on the road to Emmaus, he taught them the scriptures. The apostles also appealed to the centrality of scripture for deciding doctrine – again, those scriptures were not codified into an official canon for another 1500yrs!

    The scriptures were not delivered by the church, rather the church was the means by which the Holy Spirit communicated God’s word to us. They are authoritative because they are God’s word, not because of who was the repository. The fact that God chose to speak through an ass did not make the ass infallible. The fact that God chose to entrust his oracles to Israel did not make Israel infallible. Neither does the fact that the Bible was preserved by the Catholic Church for a millennium entail that the institution led by the pope is infallible or authortiative.

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  36. Robert says: The problem is that the RCC doesn’t teach salvation by grace ALONE through faith ALONE in Jesus Christ ALONE. That little word ALONE makes all the difference. See the book of Galatians.If Rome teaches the gospel at its core, than the Reformation was a colossal mistake.

    amen

    Susan’s link says Without the grace that comes from the sacraments, one is at a decided disadvantage to get to heaven.
    Susan’s link says The Council of Trent declared that either the actual sacraments or a “desire thereof” is sufficient to take away sins. If any one saith that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation, but superfluous; and that, without them, or without the desire thereof, men obtain of God, through faith alone, the grace of justification;-though all (the sacraments) are not indeed necessary for every individual; let him be anathema.

    The concept of the seven sacraments as “conferring sanctifying grace” is completely unbiblical. The saving grace that is granted at the moment of genuine faith is the only saving grace God’s Word calls on us to receive. This grace is received by faith, not by observing rituals. [eg faith, not faith PLUS baptism, is the means through which one receives salvation.] (got?s)

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  37. Robert – Catholics would certainly say that salvation is through grace alone and in Christ alone – I’ve never heard a Catholic say salvation is granted apart from Christ. Faith is the real point of contention, though I think Pope Benedict comes close to bridging the gap in the quote CVD provided. The problem is most Catholics think “intellectual assent” when they hear Protestants say “faith alone,” and don’t realize that faith is resting in Christ for salvation rather than simply “agreeing” with the Gospel. They also think (often correctly) that many Protestants believe “praying a prayer” or having momentary faith is their ticket to heaven. They reject this form of spurious “faith,” as do I. In addition, for Catholics faith is inseparable from obedience to the Church in the form of the Sacraments. For a true Catholic it is simply unfathomable to say you have faith and yet not go to Confession and Mass. So Benedict may say faith must be animated by charity, but that charity involves participating in the Sacraments, through which grace is conferred. And that’s the real problem: Catholics may have a fundamentally true Gospel, but that Gospel is mediated through the Church. That mediation is where the real problems arise.

    The Reformers did what was right based on what they knew at the time, and based on the cultural/political/spiritual milieu of the 15-17th centuries. If they knew what Protestantism would become and how much the RCC would change, I’m not sure they would have advocated a full break. Maybe they would have, but it would be an entirely different thought process today.

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  38. DGH – you sound like Susan and the other Catholics: there is no means of salvation apart from the Presbyterian church. I’ll revisit the post on Kathy Keller, but I don’t remember seeing anything worth a comment.

    sdb – your last paragraph is right on – well said.

    Ali – “The saving grace that is granted at the moment of genuine faith is the only saving grace God’s Word calls on us to receive. This grace is received by faith, not by observing rituals. [eg faith, not faith PLUS baptism, is the means through which one receives salvation.] (got?s)”

    Once again, this is not the Reformed position. There is real spiritual efficacy in the Sacraments: they are a “means of grace,” after all. If you divorce the spiritual aspect from the Sacraments then they are, by definition, no longer Sacraments – only rites and rituals.

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  39. VV,

    The problem is that Trent doesn’t teach justification by faith alone and that Benedict’s faith formed by love is a not faith that bears fruit in love. The love is actually justifying. That’s the Galatian heresy in different guise.

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  40. VV,

    The Reformers, in fact, would probably be more distressed at the Rome of today for:

    1. Being mealy mouthed about everything
    2. Embracing salvific universalism
    3. Adding even more doctrines that you have to believe and things to do in order to be justified

    Rome hasn’t gotten better; it’s gotten worse.

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  41. Ali

    Were these your words?
    “There is real spiritual efficacy in the Sacraments: they are a “means of grace,” after all. If you divorce the spiritual aspect from the Sacraments then they are, by definition, no longer Sacraments – only rites and rituals”

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  42. @vv thanks. I doubt most Catholics would say they were saved by grace through faith. Like most Protestants they would either say they will be saved because they are trying to be a good person or they would say God saves everyone. Then there was the friend of mine who was a very confused Catholic who didn’t believe in God but still attended mass on holy days of obligation. He liked to claim that because he was born catholic, it didn’t matter what he believed. All I could think was his poor priest…

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  43. Susan – those were my words.

    sdb – yeah, I agree. Neither of those things are correct according to Catholic theology, and they also aren’t correct according to Protestant theology. It just shows that Catholics are as poorly catechized as Protestants. I have several Jewish friends who are just like your confused Catholic friend – zero faith or even atheists who nonetheless follow Jewish dietary laws (selectively) and observe some of the basic Jewish customs and traditions. None of that makes sense to me at all.

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  44. @ VV:

    Note also that “through faith” gets an asterisk: In Catholic theology, Baptism is the sacrament of faith, so that baptism justifies when received by faith.

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  45. Jeff – true, but they also say Baptism is efficacious even if a person earnestly intends to be Baptized, but for whatever reason is unable to do so. They also accept any Trinitarian form of Baptism, and do not re-baptize Protestant converts. It all starts to sounds very Reformed when they start adding in all the exceptions and nuances.

    Robert – I agree with #1, but I’m not as sure about #2 and #3. The official Catholic teaching is not universalism, even if some lay Catholics believe it. The official doctrine is that non-Christians can be saved apart from hearing the Word, but only in extreme circumstances and only through the work of the Holy Spirit. This is essentially the Reformed position, though Catholics are more detailed and more speculative. I’m also not sure what doctrines they have added in terms of receiving justification – what do you have in mind?

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  46. VV,

    The official doctrine is that non-Christians can be saved apart from hearing the Word, but only in extreme circumstances and only through the work of the Holy Spirit. This is essentially the Reformed position, though Catholics are more detailed and more speculative.

    Actually, the official doctrine is that everyone who is saved is saved by Christ through the ministry of the church but their conception of the availability of grace is so broad that you don’t have to know Christ or the church to be saved. The Reformed tradition doesn’t know of anyone being saved apart from conscious faith in Christ. You can be saved apart from the preaching of the Word simply by reading the Bible, for example. You can be saved as an illiterate person on your deathbed when someone tells you of Jesus. But there’s no “grace is really available to everyone in creation as long as they do not resist it, and you’re good even if you never hear the name of Christ.” The positions are radically different.

    Technically, it’s more fair to call Roman Catholic beliefs regarding the salvation of non Roman Catholics as inclusivistic, but for all practical purposes, it amounts to universalism. You have lots of RC theologians who are willing to say that hell will be empty.

    I’m also not sure what doctrines they have added in terms of receiving justification – what do you have in mind?

    When you join the RCC, you have to confess “I believe all that the Holy Roman Catholic Church Teaches,” or something to that effect. That means everything that has been declared de fide dogma is necessary to believe to maintain your justification. You can’t, for example, deny the assumption of Mary and accept the rest of the package and still be justified. Since Trent, dogmas such as papal infallibility, the assumption of Mary, and the immaculate conception have been made de fide dogma. You have to believe those, or at the very least not consciously deny them, in order to remain justified.

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  47. Robert,

    “Justified by love or justified by faith?”

    Trent: “man, through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these (gifts) infused at once, faith, hope, and charity. For faith, unless hope and charity be added thereto, neither unites man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body.”
    Justified by faith formed by love. If that’s antithetical to the gospel, the Reformers must not have found the gospel in Augustine.

    “Trent doesn’t teach justification by faith alone”

    It doesn’t teach the Protestant conception of faith alone, thus no imputation.

    “Benedict’s faith formed by love is a not faith that bears fruit in love. The love is actually justifying.”

    From Benedict above: “It is the same vision, according to which communion with Christ, faith in Christ, creates charity.”

    And elsewhere: “This faith is communion with Christ, which the Lord gives to us, and thus becomes life, becomes conformity with him. Or to use different words faith, if it is true, if it is real, becomes love, becomes charity, is expressed in charity. A faith without charity, without this fruit, would not be true faith. It would be a dead faith. Thus, in our last Catechesis, we discovered two levels: that of the insignificance of our actions and of our deeds to achieve salvation, and that of “justification” through faith which produces the fruit of the Spirit…
    there is the action of the Holy Spirit who nourishes Christian life, inspiring “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”. These are the fruits of the Spirit that blossom from faith…
    Justified through the gift of faith in Christ, we are called to live in the love of Christ for neighbour, because it is on this criterion that we shall be judged at the end of our lives”

    Trent: “On the fruit of Justification… 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”

    Love without faith doesn’t justify. Faith without love does not justify.

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  48. CVD,

    Does love justify? Does God see your love for him in your heart and on that basis accept you as righteous?

    Or to put it another way, is your love your righteousness or is Christ your righteousness?

    Like

  49. Susan says: Ali

    and Susan too, it’s sorrowful that worry about whether one has “church” ‘formal’ ‘salvific’ relationship
    (when one DOES have it by virtue of God saving him) diverts from all the Lord hopes for His body members, eg.-

    1 Corinthians 12: But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for THE COMMON GOOD.
    1 Corinthians 12: 2bthat the members may have the same CARE FOR ONE ANOTHER.
    Romans 12:6a Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to EXERCISE THEM ACCORDINGLY
    Ephesians 4: 12 b for the work of service, to the BUILDING UP of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
    Ephesians 4:15b we are to GROW UP IN ALL ASPECTS INTO HIM who is the head, even Christ,
    Ephesians 4:16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, CAUSES THE GROWTH of the body for the BUILDING UP of itself in love.

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  50. Robert – fair points, especially about submitting to “new” Church dogma. I thought Catholic theology held that someone who had never heard the Gospel could be saved by divine revelation that brought them to Christ, but that there was no true salvation apart from Christ. I could be wrong about that. This is effectively the Reformed position, in that God can bring anyone to knowledge of Christ by any means He chooses, but normally it is through hearing the Word.

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  51. vv, you’ve heard of Machen, right? He was sort of amped about Presbyterianism. You’ve heard about a book on Machen associated with Old Life.

    Adjust your expectations.

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  52. James Young, “It doesn’t teach the Protestant conception of faith alone, thus no imputation.”

    That’s why you wind up in purgatory (if you’re really really good in a grace-infused way, of course).

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  53. VV,

    I thought Catholic theology held that someone who had never heard the Gospel could be saved by divine revelation that brought them to Christ, but that there was no true salvation apart from Christ. I could be wrong about that.

    Probably the best way to put the official RC position is that everyone who is saved is saved by Christ, but lots of saved people don’t know that until they get to heaven. The basic idea is to respond to the revelation or light you have. If you’re a Muslim, you are saved by being a good and faithful Muslim, but you don’t have to believe that Christ is the Son of God. It is enough to believe he is a prophet as long as you are invincibly ignorant of who he really is.

    No doubt what you said is compatible with Roman Catholicism (and with Reformed thinking for that matter). But the Reformed would say that conscious faith in Christ is still necessary whereas modern Roman Catholicism says it is not. Some people might get a revelation of who Christ is, and some might not, but both can be saved in Romanism.

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  54. Robert – thanks. I doubt Catholics would say a Muslim can be saved by being a “good Muslim.” My interpretation of their view is that it is speculation as to how God saves outside the “ordinary” means of hearing the Word. I don’t necessarily agree with them, but they seem to be saying God can *possibly* save anyone at any time whether or not they’ve heard the Gospel.

    DGH – you know Machen far better than I do, but I seriously doubt he would say a person has to be a Presbyterian to be saved. Quote? Reference?

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  55. VV- Is the issue whether one must be a Presbyterian to be saved (obviously no), or whether is is appropriate for one to promote churches with different doctrinal views?

    The second is hard to answer. In one sense, why would someone even consider promoting churches that are not able to fully feed the flock with correct doctrine and practice? Conversely, no two people will ever agree with each other entirely, so churches, by their very nature, must have a certain amount of flexibility on doctrine and practice.

    This is a very hard line to draw. Don’t know where Keller was on this continuum when he supported non Presbyterian church plants, but I hope he was wise about it.

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  56. VV, are you kidding? Just because some Christians are in error (which Presbyterians concede they may be) doesn’t mean they aren’t saved.

    Try reading the Confession (instead of Keller’s books):

    5. The purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated, as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan.

    Pure churches are mixed. Some churches are more faithful (think Reformed) than others. You really go through life with the calculation of black or white?

    Like

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