An Interesting Pickle: Accept Free Will and Become Catholic?

I did not grow up Calvinist. Though I knew of it, I never gave it much attention. From the beginning the whole thing sounded wrong. However, in college I had a sudden influx of friends who were either Calvinist or seriously considering it. Finding myself unexpectedly surrounded by Calvinists and conversing about it, I wondered if God was trying to tell me something so I began to look into that theology myself. To keep a long story short, after Biblical studies, ponderings, and many conversations, I decided to continue rejecting it.

As time went on I began noticing complications. I rejected Calvinism and attended non-Calvinist churches, yet the basic theology of “faith alone” was still there as well as a sense that one could not lose one’s salvation short of a complete 180° rejection. Sin in the life of the believer was often not seen as something that could cost a believer his soul. Sin was presented as hurting our “relationship” with Jesus but did not effect a loss of salvation. Sermons or Bible studies would come across any of the multiple Bible verses that demand the Christian to live a moral and righteous life and, almost without fail, preceding or succeeding the exposition of these verses would be a disclaimer saying something like, “Not that we are saved by our works, obviously, etc. etc. etc.”

Meanwhile, I was left pondering the relationship between faith and works. Works and righteousness are clearly commanded in the Bible. It seems Jesus strongly suggests works are necessary for salvation.[i] The Book of James is about practically nothing but works in the life of a Christian and straight up says we are “justified by works and not by faith alone.”[ii] The Apostle John says that there is sin that leads to death.[iii] Paul warns the Galatian Christians to live righteously or they will not inherit the kingdom of God.[iv] Baptism is clearly a requirement for salvation in the New Testament[v], which means something must be done—a “work” according to most Protestants.

With the recent considerations of Catholicism, it was initially frustrating—though now it is becoming amusing—how a Protestant apologist will say something like “One should reject Romanism because it does not follow Biblical teaching. True Biblical teaching is x, y, and z.” Meanwhile, x, y, and z is Calvinistic. Thus I am left pondering, “I myself have rejected these notions as unbiblical so I can’t hold Catholicism ‘unbiblical’ on these issues if they too reject them.” It puts me in a weird position.

As part of my attempts to learn all sides, I recently checked out from the library a DVD called “Amazing Grace: The History & Theology of Calvinism.” It interviewed some fairly famous Calvinist theologians and apologists about the history and doctrine of Calvinism. One thing I found interesting is their opinion on Arminianism, which is a version of Protestant theology that accepts free will. Take these examples:

R.C. Sproul said,

The Reformers felt that if they acquiesced to the protests—the Remonstrations—of the Arminians at that time, that in a very real way they would have been putting their feet back on a path to Rome. Now let me clarify that. I don’t think any of them believed that Arminianism was, or is today, Roman Catholicism. We’re talking about putting your feet on a path that goes in a certain direction.

D. James Kennedy said,

And if once you acknowledge free will, which Luther and all of the other Reformers denied, then you open the door for all of the various Roman Catholic heresies that came along as well as that one.

This analysis of the situation is reminiscent of a story told by Scott Hahn. While Hahn was still a Protestant attending seminary, a professor told the class that the entire Reformation hinged upon the doctrine of “faith alone” and quipped that if that doctrine were disproved he would be the first to knock on the doors of the Vatican for entry. Hahn said they would all laugh—“What rhetoric!”—but as his further studies in theology began to show that faith alone was not Biblical Hahn was drawn further into the Catholic Church.

It’s no wonder Calvinists are so militant in rejecting free will. Apparently to accept free will is to put one on a path leading to Rome. And since Catholicism is obviously wrong (duh!), free will must be rejected too, right? Playing the Roman card will probably have an effect on those determined not to be Catholic—“I don’t want to be Catholic so maybe I had better reject free will”—but it’s not going to help someone who has already rejected Calvinism and is considering Catholicism. In fact, it only confirms certain suspicions.

[i] For example, Matt. 7:21; Matt. 25:31-46

[ii] James 2:24

[iii] 1 John 5:16-17

[iv] Gal. 5:16-26

[v] For example, Mark 16:16; John 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21

Thoughts of Tears and Grief During Maudlin Moments

Do tears bring healing or do they stop up the wells of the soul? If the tears eventually dry up, does it mean healing has come or does it mean the heart has solidified? Does it mean we can feel again or does it mean we have stopped feeling? When weeping for those we care for ends, does it mean we care for them less? Is the callous and detached attitude of a Calvinist better than the warm and concerned outlook of a loved one? Detachment allows less pain. Should we desire less pain? Or is detachment a virtue?

God saves through water. Noah and his family were saved through the water. The Israelites fleeing Egypt were saved through the water. We are now saved through the water of baptism.

Are tears another form of salvation? Does healing come through the water of tears? If the eyes are the window of the soul, does water flowing from the eyes draw toxins from the soul like the water of sweat draws toxins from the skin? Or, like a dried up well, empty and offering no life, does the soul begin to die when there are no more tears to draw?

Must the soul cease caring in order for weeping to eventually end or is the soul able to care all the more when weeping eventually ends?

We beg God for an end. Is that really best? But who can stand agony for long? Why does God feel silent? Shouldn’t He be, though? Isn’t it His fault? Or is it mine? Who even knows anymore. Is impassiveness the only respite? Does joy truly come with the morning? How many mornings must first pass?

To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears…,

And why do such maudlin thoughts make one feel a fool?

Is “Rome” the Antichrist?

Joe Heschmeyer, on his blog Shameless Popery, had a very interesting post about the Roman Church.  Below is the second section that dealt with whether Rome is the Anti-Christ, a popular claim among many non-Catholics.  I hope he doesn’t mind me “re-posting” his work.

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II. Is “Rome” the Antichrist?

We’ve just seen Saint Jerome claim that those who break from the pope are siding with division and the Antichrist rather than unity and Christ. But what to make of the Reformation, in which Martin Luther taught that the pope was the Antichrist? Should that view be taken seriously?

While it’s no longer a common belief within Protestantism, this view was once widespread. It’s still held by some Protestants: for example, Michele Bachmann found herself in the midst of a mini-scandal when it was revealed that her denomination, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, still claims this, and you can also find it within some Evangelical and Fundamentalist circles.

Near the heart of this claim is a bit of very important exegesis. As GotQuestions points out, the theory that the pope is the Antichrist turns largely on Revelation 17:9:

The speculation about the Pope possibly being the Antichrist revolves primarily around Revelation 17:9. Describing the evil end-times system symbolized by a woman riding a beast, Revelation 17:9 declares, “This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits.” In ancient times, the city of Rome was known as “the city on seven hills” because there are seven prominent hills that surround the city. So, the thinking goes, we can know that it is somehow connected with Rome. So, if the evil end-times system is somehow associated with Rome – it does not take much thought to see a potential connection with the Roman Catholic Church, which is centered in Rome. Numerous passages in the Bible describe an “Antichrist” who will lead the anti-Christ movement in the end times (Daniel 9:27; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; Revelation 13:5-8). So, if the end-times evil world system is centered in Rome and led by an individual – the Pope is a likely candidate.

While GotQuestions finds it “hard to believe that Pope Francis I is the Antichrist,” evangelicals like Dave Hunt (author of the aptly-named A Woman Rides the Beastwant to believe. Hunt goes from (a) saying that Revelation 17:9 proves that “Babylon” is Rome, to (b) concluding that Vatican City is Mystery Babylon (and the pope is the Antichrist):

Furthermore, she is a city built on seven hills. That specification eliminates ancient Babylon. Only one city has for more than 2000 years been known as the city on seven hills. That city is Rome. The Catholic Encyclopedia states: “It is within the city of Rome, called the city of seven hills, that the entire area of Vatican State proper is now confined.”1

There are, of course, other cities, such as Rio de Janeiro, that were also built on seven hills. Therefore, John provides at least seven more characteristics to limit the identification to Rome alone. We will examine each one in detail in subsequent chapters. However, as a preview of where we are going, we will list them now and discuss each one briefly. As we shall see, there is only one city on the earth which, in both historical and contemporary perspectives, passes every test John gives, including its identification as Mystery Babylon. That city is Rome, and more specifically, Vatican City.

Hunt is making a huge jump here: going from the Book of Revelation’s apparent condemnation of Imperial Rome, to saying that this “more specifically” means Vatican City… even though Vatican City (1) didn’t exist at the time Revelation was written, (2) isn’t the same city… or country, and (3) isn’t built on seven hills.

Hunt tries to bridge this gap by quoting a Catholic Encyclopedia entry for “Rome” saying that Vatican City exists within the ancient city of seven hills. It’s an incredibly convenient quotation, so much so that I looked it up, and found that it was entirely made up. Go read the encyclopedia entry for yourself: it’s available online. Here’s where he says it’s supposed to be.

Besides the fact that Hunt’s evidence is forged, there’s a deeper problem: it’s obviously false. You don’t need to take my word, or Hunt’s, or the Catholic Encyclopedia. You can just look at a map:

Seven_Hills_of_Rome

This map shows the seven hills of ancient Rome: Aventine, Caelian, Capitoline, Esquiline, Palatine, Quirinal, and Viminal. The city’s ancient limits, the Roman Walls, are shown in red. Outside of the ancient city, across the Tiber, is Vatican Hill. It’s not one of the seven hills.

For Hunt to make his “Rome = Antichrist” exegesis work, he has to add an eighth hill, and then say that this is the hill that Rev. 17:9 really means. In light of this, his statement that Revelation 17:9’s city of seven hills refers to “Rome, and more specifically, Vatican City” would be like me saying that “the Fab Four” refers to the Beatles, and “more specifically,” Mick Jagger. This is why he needs to rely on made-up evidence, because the actual evidence discredits his exegesis.

At the heart of this, and many of the “papal Antichrist” claims, there’s a categorical error. “Rome” is used to describe at least six distinct entities: the local Diocese of Rome (the cathedral of which is St. John Lateran’s, outside of the Vatican), the Latin Church (the Western half of the Catholic Church, as distinct from Eastern Catholicism), the Roman Catholic Church, Vatican City / the Holy See (technically a separate country from Italy), the City of Rome, and the ancient Roman Empire. The pope is the head of the first four of these, and for about a thousand years, also was in charge of the fifth.

Aurea Luce, the hymn I quoted earlier, reminds us that the Christians of Rome were largely killed by Roman authorities. Shortening that to say that “Rome” was persecuted by “Rome” renders the statement incoherent. But that’s just what Hunt has done: throwing all six of these entities together under the label “Rome,” so that Revelation 17:9’s condemnation of the Roman Empire gets treated as a condemnation of the Church of Rome, the very Church that Scripture praises (see Part I). That’s sloppy, conspiratorial exegesis.