One of the topics I spoke on at a church retreat recently was Roman Catholicism. One of the points I made was that Rick Warren stated at the Pew Forum that he doesn’t see much difference between Roman Catholicism and what he believes. I pretty much followed the outline of our Journal article Thus Saith Rome! which poses some questions based on Rome’s official teachings. On August 1, 2008, John H. Adams published his article ‘Emerging church’ spreading in PCUSA on The Layman Online. To those reading, these may not really seem connected at first glance. The connector comes in through a quote a friend emailed this week which bears on both of these issues. The quote is from the book Faithfulness and Holiness by J.I. Packer (Crossway Books, 2002). On pages 38-39 Packer quotes the late J.C.Ryle, whom the book was about:
‘I believe the most powerful champion of the Pharisees is not the man who bids you honestly and openly come out and join the Church of Rome: it is the man who says he agrees on all points with you in doctrine …..all he asks you to do is to add a little more to your belief, in order to make your Christianity perfect….
‘I consider the most dangerous champion of the Sadducee school is not the man who tells you openly that he wants you….to become a free-thinker and a skeptic. It is the man who begins with quietly insinuating doubts…..whether we ought to be so positive in saying ‘This is the truth, and that falsehood,’ doubts whether we ought to think men wrong who differ from us on religious opinions, since they may, after all, be as much right as we are…It is the man who always begins talking in a vague way about God being a God of love,and hints that we ought to believe perhaps that all men, whatever doctrine they profess will be saved.’
Although this came from Ryle over a century ago his points are just as relevant and poignant today, perhaps even more so. It is more honest for a Roman Catholic to come straight out and say they affirm the Counsel of Trent than those who try to soften the differences with a claim that Evangelicals are “separated brethren.” It is worsened when someone who is viewed as a leader in the Evangelical church publically proclaims that there is little difference between Rome’s teachings and his beliefs. It may be true there is little difference, I can’t speak to that, but if this is so then Warren isn’t an Evangelical in any meaningful way and he assists Rome in deceiving believers by conveying that there is little difference which paves the way for Rome to step in and say that all we need to do is add a little more to our belief, in order to make our Christianity perfect.
Contemplative prayer and its appeal to Roman Catholic mystics of the past as authoritative about the true nature of the spiritual life. Willow Creek Community Church has weighed in supporting this direction in their magazine “The Willow” in an article by Keri Wyatt Kent titled, “Shifts: Rediscovering Spiritual Formation: From Monastic Communities to the emergent church, spiritual formation continues to shift and change a whole new generation of Christians.” Where she writes:
Such disciplines have been part of the Catholic tradition for a long time, although they were often practiced primarily within the walls of the monastic community. Foster and Willard brought them to the evangelical community, although it took a while for mainline and evangelical churches to embrace them
Are they advocating adding a little more Roman Catholic belief and practice to our belief and practice to improve or make their Christianity more perfect? Isn’t it the case that the more Roman Catholic one becomes in behavior and practice the more Roman Catholic they will become in doctrine?
Ryles second comparison sounds almost as if he had Brian McLaren and the emerging church in mind when he said:
‘I consider the most dangerous champion of the Sadducee school is not the man who tells you openly that he wants you….to become a free-thinker and a skeptic. It is the man who begins with quietly insinuating doubts…..whether we ought to be so positive in saying ‘This is the truth, and that falsehood,’ doubts whether we ought to think men wrong who differ from us on religious opinions, since they may after all be as much right as we are….It is the man who always begins talking in a vague way about God being a God of love,and hints that we ought to believe perhaps that all men, whatever doctrine they profess will be saved.’
McLaren writes in Generous Orthodoxy:
I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish contexts … rather than resolving the paradox via pronouncements on the eternal destiny of people more convinced by or loyal to other religions than ours, we simply move on … To help Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and everyone else experience life to the full in the way of Jesus (while learning it better myself), I would gladly become one of them (whoever they are), to whatever degree I can, to embrace them, to join them, to enter into their world without judgment but with saving love as mine has been entered by the Lord
How does Adams see this affecting the PCUSA?:
It is anything but confessional. Its tenets are non-tenets: No catechisms allowed; yes, Jesus is Savior and Lord, but people of other religions may be saved in a different way; homosexual practice may be wrong for some people, but not others. Once asked about same-gender marriage, McLaren declined: He didn’t want to upset anyone on either side of that issue.
I think J.C. Ryle was on to something. Give me someone who willingly goes on the record with what they actually believe so we can deal with it head-on. Either it is true or false. Either the gospel of Rome is the biblical gospel or it is not. Either we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone or we are not. Either I am spiritual because I am born again and the Holy Spirit indwells me or I need Roman Catholic mysticism to perfect my spirituality. Either Jesus is the only way to the Father and salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone or there are many ways to be saved and come to the Father.
Give me an honest atheist who straight out denies the faith, like a Christopher Hitchens than what we are finding in much of the emerging church, doctrineless Christians which in reality and practice is a denial of the faith while attempting to maintain the label Christianity. McLaren comes the closest to admitting this on page 35 of his book Everything Must Change when he wrote:
In this way, I found freedom to articulate dissatisfaction and concern about a version of the Christian religion — the modern Western version, or the modern colonial version —without rejecting Jesus and the Christian faith as a whole.
What is he rejecting? He outlines that on page 208:
With no apologies to Martin Luther, John Calvin, or modern evangelicalism, Jesus (in Luke 16:19) does not prescribe hell to those who refuse to accept the message of justification by grace through faith, or to those who are predestined to perdition, or to those who don’t express faith in a favored atonement theory by accepting Jesus as their “personal Savior.” Rather, hell — literal or figurative — is for the rich and comfortable who proceed on their way without concern for their poor neighbor day after day.
Salvation, whatever that may be to McLaren, is based on one’s works and there is in this view a complete rejection of the essentials of the faith while there is some attempt to hold on to the name Christian or in his case, follower of Christ. The Sadducean doubts are ever-present on the lips of emerging leaders and exemplify the final words of Ryle:
It is the man who always begins talking in a vague way about God being a God of love, and hints that we ought to believe perhaps that all men, whatever doctrine they profess will be saved.’
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