Why would intelligent, successful people give up their careers, alienate their friends, and cause havoc in their families...to become Catholic? Indeed, why would anyone become Catholic?
As an evangelist and author who recently threw my own life into some turmoil by deciding to enter the Catholic Church, I've faced this question a lot lately. That is one reason I decided to make this documentary; it's part of my attempt to try to explain to those closest to me why I would do such a crazy thing.
Convinced isn't just about me, though. The film is built around interviews with some of the most articulate and compelling Catholic converts in our culture today, including Scott Hahn, Francis Beckwith, Taylor Marshall, Holly Ordway, Abby Johnson, Jeff Cavins, Devin Rose, Matthew Leonard, Mark Regnerus, Jason Stellman, John Bergsma, Christian Smith, Kevin Vost, David Currie, Richard Cole, and Kenneth Howell. It also contains special appearances by experts in the field of conversion such as Patrick Madrid and Donald Asci.
Ultimately, this is a story about finding truth, beauty, and fulfillment in an unexpected place, and then sacrificing to grab on to it. I think it will entertain and inspire you, and perhaps even give you a fresh perspective on an old faith.
I would also take issue with your characterization of what you think CynicalBear was saying.
I list this first just to get it out of the way. My take on CB's translation was that creditable Greek scholarship had arrived at that same translation. I offered no commentary on his approach to estin/estai because I was more interested that we had the beginnings of a working consensus in the overall conclusion that this "binding" and "loosing" was apostolic expression of a preexisting determination of God.
For example, consider what Peter does after his vision of the unclean animals made clean. In this we see the clear progression of how this process worked in the apostolic system. God had already determined to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles, but cultural and religious barriers still existed in the minds of the apostles. So God, through the vision, provided Peter with a clear view of what God wanted for the Gentiles. Yet if, for some unimaginable reason, Peter had refused the sense of the vision, and had not acted, then the Gospel would have been withheld from those for whom it was intended, bound when it should have been loosed. Happily, Peter did obey the vision. This was a doctrinal insight which no doubt was at the core of the Jerusalem Counsel's later decision regarding the "loosing" of the Gentile believers from the observation of the Mosaic law.
As for forgiveness as a function of binding and loosing, the undershepherds of Jesus are no more than messengers of the good news which, again, was already detemined by God, who already knows all of His sheep, where they are, what state they are in. And though it may not seem at times to be in the same class as apostolic revelation, yet it is one of the greatest of ministries of loosing, to guide sinners to repentance from sin and faith in Jesus through Gospel preaching, and by the same means to bind those unrepentant souls to a certain knowledge of their condemnation for refusal of the Gospel.
In summary of this point, the fact that God takes the initiative in the binding and loosing and implements this through fallible men does not require an office possessing the power of formal infallibility, any more that God acting through prophets good and bad under the Jewish magisterium assured them of some single, reliable organ of infallible divine truth, other than those Scriptures which came to be recognized as God-breathed. Rather, as we have seen, prophets and apostles gave their guidance to the faithful by obeying the leadership of God in direct revelation (which we do not imagine is the claim of Rome, and therefore does not pertain to them).
Nor are the ordinary elders of a local fellowship endowed with any formal infallibility, yet they too participate in the binding and loosing of church discipline, the physical and spiritual well-being of their flock, and the preachment of the Gospel as the keys that open or close the gates of heaven to lost sinners.
All who operate under the power of the Spirit have the authority God has granted them in their sphere of influence, according to the distribution of the gifts of the Spirit. But none are free to act without the support of divine revelation. The apostles had a unique, foundational ministry. We do not have people living today who have been face to face with Jesus, who were also uniquely called to be His apostles, and accompanied with supernatural attestation of their unique role. What we do have is the record of the foundation they laid, in the pages of God-breathed Scripture, and as Paul says, Scripture is sufficient to lead us to faith in Christ, and if used will produce a man (or woman) of God fully equipped in all areas of the Christian life.
In other words, inasmuch as the apostolic foundation produced an infallible and sufficient record of the rule of Christian faith, there is simply no need for an ongoing apostolic office, let alone an office with assured infallibility apart from direct revelation of that which has already been bound or loosed by God Himself. That phase of Christ building His ecclesia is complete. It remains to those offices still in effect, teaching, evangelizing, governance, and others, to carry forward that deposit of faith to each new generation, until the number of God's elect is complete, the ark closed by the hand of God, and the final judgment begins.
As for Petrine primacy, I am glad we agree that the capacity for binding and loosing fails to secure anything unique for Peter, being owned by all apostles equally.
By the way, do you think the individual thoughts and pronouncements of Judas Iscariot on matters of faith and morals were infallible?)
Moot. We don't have any record of what he taught. But we do know that Jesus made this promise:
Mat 19:28 And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Judas was doubtless among the twelve addressed, just as he was in Matthew 16. Does Judas get a throne? Or did both statements look forward to a faithful apostle not yet seated? Or is there some other solution?
In any event, I did peruse that link you provided. It had some very useful condensed expression of the Roman Catholic doctrines of infallibility which, after review, appear more erroneous than they did at the first. First of all the author cites a number of assumptions which are necessary to it's conclusions. But assumptions they are, and much in doubt:
- that Christ founded His Church as a visible and perfect society;
- that He intended it to be absolutely universal and imposed upon all men a solemn obligation actually to belong to it, unless inculpable ignorance should excuse them;
- that He wished this Church to be one, with a visible corporate unity of faith, government, and worship; and that
- in order to secure this threefold unity, He bestowed on the Apostles and their legitimate successors in the hierarchy and on them exclusively the plenitude of teaching, governing, and liturgical powers with which He wished this Church to be endowed.
So let's go over these assumptions one at a time:
1. "Christ founded His Church as a visible and perfect society"
First, we note that this assumption is really a composite of other, more basic assumptions. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus says He will build His ... what? Church? The Greek term is ecclesia, which has a range of usage that can be examined in the Old Testament through the Greek lens of the Septuagint. In Psalm 89:5, for example, we read:
(Psa 89:5) And the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O LORD: thy faithfulness also in the congregation [ecclesia] of the saints.
This passage describes the worship of God, whether He is praised by the heavens, or by the ecclesia of the holy ones. In this ecclesia there is no one who is not holy, or who does not praise God for His faithfulness. This is sometimes called the invisible or spiritual church. But it is not designated as such by Scripture, but by theologians trying hard to make fine distinctions necessary to their objectives. But in Scripture we see further evidence that ecclesia is something not exactly conformable to such easy categorization. For example:
(Act 8:3) As for Saul, he made havock of the church [ecclesia], entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.
Here we see that Paul's attack upon the ecclesia is not an attack on a particular meeting house, but an attack on the earliest believers wherever he could find them. So the ecclesia does correspond to the concept of an assembly, but it is not necessary for it to be physically assembled in any particular place for it to be real. Rather it is a class of persons with certain spiritual qualities. This is later confirmed to Paul by Jesus Himself in a most profound way:
(Act 9:3) And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: (9:4) And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? (9:5) And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
In which we see that the ecclesia of Acts 8:3 is directly identified with Jesus personally.
(A brief sidebar here. Isn't this amazing? When the world persecutes us, they are poking the Lion of Judah, and it will not go well for them. In our baptism we declare our identification with Him, and He takes that identification seriously. So should we. By identifying with Him in the watery grave of baptism, we rise in newness of life, adorned with the beauty of His holiness, though we don't deserve it. His grace truly is amazing, is it not?)
Thus the ecclesia of which Christ is speaking cannot reasonably be reduced to oversimple categories of "visible" or "invisible," for polemical purposes. The true ecclesia is the assembly of those made holy by identification with God's crucified and risen Messiah. Certainly it has physical manifestation. Paul knew where to find those believers living in their private homes. A believer's life, and his or her fellowship with other believers, is always going to make a mark in the visible world. We are that "city on a hill" that "cannot be hid," so we let our light shine before men, that our heavenly Father may be glorified. But this is not our work, but the work of God working in us to do His good pleasure. Philippians 2:13.
But what about the tares? Yes, we know there are tares, and one of the more vexing aspect of a tare is that as a young plant it so closely resembles the wheat. The differences become more obvious as the plant matures. Nevertheless, we know that even the angels of Heaven cannot easily tell the two apart, and the ultimate separation is reserved until the day of final judgment. And this corresponds well to the problem of the so-called visible versus invisible ecclesia. The invisible IS visible in manifestation of the working of God in redeemed lives, sound doctrine, and love for our brothers and sisters in Christ, which is the sole visible sign Christ gave by which the world would know that we belonged to Him, our love for each other. It is by that love we who believe make the true ecclesia of Christ, the one He is building, visible to the watching world.
But the so-called "visible" church is a melting pot of wheats and tares, all lumped together, those who affiliate with the body of Christ but are not born into it by the new birth. These come alongside the children of God, sing their songs, listen to their sermons, make friends among them, but can't ever truly connect with the spiritual life of the family of God. This is the realm of "visible" churches, yet the tares are mostly invisible, we frequently cannot tell who they are just by looking. So we conduct our public assemblies together, and have regional and national and global associations.
But these associations are not the ecclesia with which Christ was concerned when He promised to build it. God does superintend the affairs of the world as much as the church. But they are not His own family. The ecclesia that is His can only be composed of those who are His by spiritual new birth, the assembly of those made righteous by identification with Him. He knows His sheep.
But to the goats He says, "I never knew you." They THOUGHT they were His church, but they were not His ecclesia. They were not heirs to the promise to be built, or to prevail against the gates of Hell. They were tares, interlopers who in the end will come to an ill end. They have no guarantee that they will survive as a visible institution. In Revelation the glorified Jesus threatens to remove the candlestick, the insignia of His presence by the Spirit, of various assemblies, if that local fellowship falls short of it's mission, falling into sin, or apathy or compromise with the world, forsaking its first love, Jesus. No "visible" church is safe from this prospect, but if they become corrupt, they put their candlestick at risk. God is not mocked.
Therefore, as to this assumption, no, we do not accept that any visible society of believers has any guarantee of continuity, let alone perfection. The ecclesia is spiritual, and should all visible associations fail, every one of them, God can raise up from the very stones sons and daughters of faithful Abraham. He will not be defeated, but will build the ecclesia that truly belongs to Him, those who worship Him in spirit and in truth.
2. "He intended it to be absolutely universal and imposed upon all men a solemn obligation actually to belong to it, unless inculpable ignorance should excuse them;"
This is false on its face. The ecclesia are the sheep of God. If God intended everyone to be His sheep, we would have to become universalists, and abandon any concept of perdition. Some might prefer that, and there are times, seriously, when I wish it could be so. But Scripture does not teach this. So we see in Paul that there are vessels of mercy, and vessels of destruction:
(Rom 9:20) Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?(9:21) Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?(9:22) What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:( 9:23) And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,(9:24) Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
But this does not mean that the demands of God's righteousness are in any way diminished. The condemnation of the wicked is their own wickedness. All who willfully refuse to repent are still held guilty before God for the righteousness of God revealed in the Gospel. But they are not in that state because God failed to establish a universal extent to His ecclesia. As Jesus said:
(Joh 6:37) All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.
So we see that God by His own good pleasure determines righteously the true extent of His ecclesia. Thus we have neither temporal nor spiritual power to compel anyone into the ecclesia of Christ. We are not God. God sets those limits as He sees fit, just as he sets the boundaries of the oceans with the shores, or the sky being separate from the earth below:
Job 38:4-11 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. (5) Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? (6) Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; (7) When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (8) Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb? (9) When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it, (10) And brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors, (11) And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?3. "He wished this Church to be one, with a visible corporate unity of faith, government, and worship; ...."
We cannot argue that Jesus sought with prayer and counsel that His ecclesia would be one. But as shown above, the idea that this oneness should be corporeal, even when spiritually corrupt, is at odds with the explicit teaching of Christ, that our unity should be spiritual, a bond of unbreakable love, even when the world for seasons shatters our corporeal assemblies, as Paul did the ecclesia before his own conversion. Is it desirable to have all who are truly the sheep of Jesus share identical confessions of faith on every point of doctrine, or join in complete integration of all governance and practice of worship into a single visible body? Possibly, but it has never been accomplished by anyone. Not even Rome at the peak of it's "visible" power was able to use the arm of temporal flesh as a substitute for the work of the eternal Holy Spirit of God. Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world." He knew what a temptation that would be. Thank God in every age there have been those who understood this and passed it on to us. As Paul says:
1 Corinthians 2:3-5 And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. (4) And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: (5) That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.4. "in order to secure this threefold unity, He bestowed on the Apostles and their legitimate successors in the hierarchy and on them exclusively the plenitude of teaching, governing, and liturgical powers with which He wished this Church to be endowed."
Again, this requires the prior assumption of a visible hierarchy, potentially devoid of any spiritual qualification, as your author effectively concedes. Else who would be "their legitimate successors in the hierarchy?," if the hierarchy could be broken by spiritual disqualification? I was aghast at how your author equivocated on this, impliedly justifying an unbroken stream of corruption so long as the technicalities of succession were satisfied. How can this in any way be the ecclesia that belongs to Jesus, if the supposed succession is peopled with dead souls whom He will not acknowledge on that final day, but will fall instead into the abyss of the unknown?
In summary then, any attempt to build out a doctrine of infallibility grounded on a visible church rather than the spiritual ecclesia Jesus promised to build is necessarily doomed to failure. Whatever Jesus promised to Peter and the apostles, it most certainly does NOT imply any form of infallibility that can be "managed" by a "corporate hierarchy" of unconverted souls. No, the ecclesia to which the promises are given is the assembly of all those made righteous by the blood of God's lamb. "Visible" organizations serve their purpose, but are no more than temporary housing, disposable when they fail. It's what's inside that counts. The living ecclesia of Christ will always find new housing, and they will always find each other.
Moving on from the faulty assumptions ...
Furthermore, and even more problematic, is the article's reliance on a purported fact about Peter that isn't true. Speaking of infallibility, your author says that infallibility, as a "personal and incommunicable charisma," "was promised directly to Peter," but it wasn't. As we have already seen, whatever you make of the binding and loosing, it was not personal to Peter, but corporate to the apostles. One can make the further argument that because the apostles represented, at that point in time, the entire ecclesia, that said gift might devolve to the entire ecclesia as it expanded after Pentecost, and was NOT necessarily limited to the twelve, as no principle of exclusion was stated.
However, assuming for the sake of argument the gift was exclusive to the apostolic class, and not to the ecclesia as a whole, one must engage in selective transmission of only parts of the gift, because the apostolic binding and loosing encompassed all apostolic expressions of the divine will, including not only the body of doctrine, disciplinary actions, and such things as are easy for dead souls to mimic, but encompassed as well miracles displaying the power of God as authentication of the apostolic ministry. But if an office of such power existed, and was to be perpetual in all its manifestations for generations to come, one would think the whole set of powers would continue, and not just those that do not require visible displays of supernatural divine backing. Certainly no such claim was made for the Jewish magisterium, but then again neither did they have any claim to infallibility on demand.
Peter and the Rock ...
The usual defense of last resort for the unique role of Petrine authority is Matthew 16:18, Peter and the Rock, and you and I both know that verse is so hotly contested as to be an extremely questionable basis to establish said Petrine office. We can go over the essential outlines of the recurrent argument for this if you like, but in the interest of getting past that infinite loop I would direct your attention to a book called Peter and the Rock, by Chrys C. Caragounis, which is a very detailed survey and analysis of the linguistic possibilities in Matthew 16:18. The upshot is, regardless of the little stone/big stone argument, which Caragounis relegates to a minor role in the debate, the fact remains that a real distinction in terms was used, not simply as a gender matching issue, but because the writer wished to direct the reader to two different referents, Petros "you Peter," and Petra "this Rock."
I know that typically there is a retreat here to the hypothetical Aramaic, in which it is speculated that a Kepha/Kepha wordplay underlies Petros/Petra, in an attempt to preserve the referents being the same. Carigounis shows convincingly that while the substitution of Kepha for Petros is probably correct, substituting Kepha for Petra is not only totally uncertain, but there are arguments from the Syriac that they understood the Greek as making the referents to be different. The arguments are fairly complex. I have the book, and as I said, if you want to explore that, that's fine. I only wish to avoid wasting time going over the standard things that have already been argued to death with no clear resolution, which again, as I said before, makes a poor basis for a doctrine so critical to the Roman schema.
Final thoughts ...
As for the KJV, I think you make too much of my comments. I wish we still had English pronouns that mapped easily to the Greek. We don't. English has changed. As for capturing the nuances of future passive perfect, I am not a KJV Onlyist. That translation serves the ordinary uses of a good translation admirably. But it's not perfect. As others here have ably pointed out, we probably have a higher degree of "original language literacy," and the tools to accompany it, than we've ever had before. The bar is set high and getting higher. We now expect good translations to more fully reflect the subtleties of the original.
We do this without impugning the stellar accomplishments of the KJV translators, because even they, in their introductory text, assumed that those coming later would improve upon their work. We have, and will continue to do so, as God gives us the respite of leisure to work on such things. But I am sure these fine points are mostly unimportant to the martyrs now dying for Christ in large numbers overseas. If and when it is our turn, and if and when I face my certain demise at the hands of some persecutor of Christ, I expect my mind will run to those passages of strength and comfort I learned as a child from my KJV, and I will not be worrying too much on missed nuances.