Yesterday, I began my response to David Mathis’ critique of the Catholic Church (which he writes as if he’s Jesus). In that post, I answered his criticisms of Mary and the Saints, the Eucharist, and the papacy. Today, I will address the remaining three topics: sola Scriptura, priestly celibacy, and justification.
|Jan Braet von Überfeld,
Portrait of a young woman with Bible (1866)
At the end of the section on the papacy, discussed yesterday, Mathis’ fake Jesus raised an argument for sola Scriptura:
“At my word, it was the apostles’ spoken and written words that served as the early church’s final authority — and when the apostles had passed, it was their preserved writings that have carried my voice as the church’s final authority these two thousand years, not the accumulated traditions of the church.”
What’s amusing is that Mathis doesn’t cite any Scripture for this, and can’t, because sola Scriptura isn’t found in the Bible. It’s why he’s left making up sayings of Jesus to defend Protestant doctrines and traditions. In fact, Scripture says that we’re to hold fast to Scripture and Tradition (2 Thessalonians 2:15), and doesn’t have an expiration date of “until the Apostles have passed,” or “until you don’t feel like it anymore.”
Mathis has two more paragraphs after this attempting to defend sola Scriptura, but not one of the passages he cites to actually supports his position. Like most defenses of sola Scriptura, Mathis is guilty of an invalid A to A simple conversion. Put simply, proving that “all cats are mammals” doesn’t prove that “all mammals are cats.” Likewise, proving that “All the Scriptures are the word of God” doesn’t prove that “all the word of God is Scripture.” Otherwise, the (true) statement, “all four Gospels are the word of God,” would prove that the word of God consisted only of the Gospels, an obviously-false conclusion.
Logical fallacies aside, Mathis manages to show only that the Scriptures speak about God, Jesus is the Word of God, and Jesus is the final revelation of God. Ironically, the passages he’s citing to are the Catholic response to sola Scriptura: that the ultimate revelation isn’t Scripture but Christ, Who alone is the Word in the truest sense. It’s only by virtue of a circular argument that Mathis thinks this proves Scripture alone is correct.
Once again, Mathis’ arguments against the Church (in this case, the Church’s undeniable role in establishing the canon of Scripture) are rooted in the idea that Christ and His Bride must be at odds: “In my new-covenant marriage with my bride, the Groom speaks the authoritative final word, not the Bride.” Compare Mathis’ fake Christ, whose authority is so easily threatened by His empowered Bride, with the real Christ, who pours Himself out completely for His Bride, and for her sake, not to show that He’s the Boss (Ephesians 5:25-27). The real Christ is not only unafraid to empower His Bride, but actively empowers Her (Luke 9:1; Luke 10:19) and sends His Holy Spirit to do the same (Acts 1:8), power which remains with us (2 Tim. 1:7; Col. 1:29).
|Adamo Tadolini, St. Paul (1838)|
On some level, it looks like Mathis realizes that his argument here is weak. His first argument is:
But I say to you, I appreciate that you’re listening to 1 Corinthians 7, but what about the other things I have to say through my inspired spokesmen?
That’s the opening critique? That we’re not ignoring 1 Cor. 7 for the sake of other passages of Scripture? In the end, Mathis’ Jesus says that the Catholic Church excludes married men “from your priesthood, except upon special exception.” Unfortunately, Mathis’ Jesus doesn’t know very much about the Catholic Church. Only the Latin Rite prohibits married priests. The other Rites don’t requires any “special exception.”
Of course, in generally requiring celibacy, the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church is actually less strict than St. Paul appears to be. In his instructions to Timothy in regards to the Order of Widows, he refers to the possibility of younger widows marrying, and notes that this would be a violation of “their first pledge” (1 Tim. 5:11-12). That “first pledge” appears to be a vow of celibacy of some kind, Paul speaks as thought it’s mandatory for anyone to be enrolled in the Order of Widows, to the extent that someone who can’t live up to the pledge simply can’t be enrolled. The only difference between what Paul required then and what the Latin Rite requires now appears to be that the Latin Rite is more flexible.
On justification, Mathis writes:
It is true that you get involved in your ongoing holiness as my righteousness is imparted to you after you have been fully accepted (Romans 6:12–14). But don’t jump the gun by thinking you could ever muster holiness enough to earn your acceptance with the thrice-holy God. It is not the godly that my Father justifies, but the ungodly (Romans 4:6).
As far as I can tell, he’s actually defined what the Catholic Church teaches on justification. As St. Thomas Aquinas explained in the Summa,“it belongs to grace to operate in man by justifying him from sin, and to co-operate with man that his work may be rightly done.” Nothing we do can bring about our initial justification. God has to begin every good act with what’s called operative grace. But grace doesn’t overwhelm our free will: it liberates it, enabling us to do the good that God wants us to do. At this point, God and man cooperate: or as Mathis put it, “you get involved in your ongoing holiness.” So Mathis is answering some Pelagian stereotype of Catholicism, while supporting the actual teaching of the Catholic Church.
Christ as ‘The Light of the World’
The fact that pastors like John Piper and David Mathis are as woefully ignorant about the Catholic Church as they are is a two-sided coin. On the one hand, as a fellow Christian, this is an embarrassment. This is the age of the Internet, yet they seem to have no interest in checking their facts or making sure that the claims that they’re making are actually true. It’s both intellectually lazy and morally caviler, and these men are steering souls astray.
On the other hand, it always gives me a glimmer of hope. Even in writing an entire post to condemning the Catholic Church, Mathis came off as more ignorant than angry. And from their descriptions of Catholicism, it’s not clear to me that Mathis or Piper have ever met a Catholic, much less had a serious, open-minded discussion about theological differences.
My hope is that by exposing the falsehoods of Mathis, Piper, and a host of other Protestant theologians and apologists, they and their readers will be open to hearing the truth about Catholicism. God is more powerful than a mountain of ignorance.