Apologetics for the Masses - Issue #191

Bible Christian Society

General Comments

Hey folks, I hope everyone’s summer is going well. Not a whole lot to report on right now, as I have no speaking engagements lined up for the next couple of months or so. One thing, though, please keep in prayer plans for a radio program I want to start doing in September. I would still be doing Open Line for EWTN Radio on Monday afternoons (which by the way you can listen to online at www.ewtn.com, from 2-4 PM Central), but I want to also start doing a Thursday morning show, from 11:00 – 12:00, for our local Catholic radio station here in Birmingham. This show is going to be a bit “edgy,” if all goes as planned (I know that might shock some of you that I would consider doing a show with a bit of a bite to it). I plan to have on Protestants, Evangelicals, Baptists, Church of Christ, Muslims, Atheists, Mormons, JW’s (if they’ll come), etc. and just go toe-to-toe with them on religion. I also hope to have bishops, priests, theologians, and such on to talk about things going on in the Church, and I hope to maybe have on some guests who could speak on happenings in politics, economics, and other topics of interest from a Catholic world perspective. And, even though it will be aired on the local Birmingham radio station, you would still be able to listen to it anywhere in the world as we stream the broadcast through our website: www.queenofheavenradio.com. I’ll keep you up-to-date on it in the coming weeks. Oh, the tentative title of the program is: Balaam’s Ride.


In the last two issues, I was commenting on Dr. Peter Leithart’s blog post entitled: “Too catholic to be Catholic.” In the first part of my commentary, Issue #189, I said the following:

“So, again, this example cited by Dr. Leithart, while he would try to take theology out of it, is actually a theological issue. It is an issue of good theology vs. bad theology. An issue of right theology vs. wrong theology. An issue, in essence, of what is the truth? And, how did the early church decide this matter? I’ll get back to that very important point in the latter part of this commentary – probably in the next issue.”

Well, I never got back to it in the next issue. It was one of the main points I wanted to make, and I forgot to include it in the 2nd half of my commentary, which appeared in Issue #190. So, I am going to devote this issue to addressing that particular point that I forgot to make. As background, I am first going to print the relevant part of Dr. Leithart’s blog, and then print my comments on that paragraph that I made in Issue #189, before making my new comments.

Oh, one thing I think you might find very interesting. A few years ago, Dr. Leithart was brought up on charges of heresy by the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA). Essentially, as I have been told, the charges were that he was too Catholic. The guy that served as the Prosecutor in his trial was a PCA pastor by the name of Jason Stellman. Well, Jason Stellman has recently sent a letter to the PCA resigning his position and telling them that he no longer believes in Sola Scriptura or Sola Fide. It went off like a bomb in the PCA world. You can read the letter by going to his blog: http://www.creedcodecult.com/ and reading the June 3, 2012 post.

My sources tell me that they don’t know if he is going to become Catholic or not,but that a group of former Presbyterians, now Catholics, have been dialoguing with Jason for the last four years and probably had a big role in what is happening. So, it would be reasonable to assume that he is leaning in the direction of the Church. Whatever his plans are, please keep him in your prayers, as I’m sure he and his family are experiencing a challenging time.


Too catholic to be Catholic, by Dr. Peter Leithart

Dr. Leithart:
This isn’t just a theological niche for me.  It’s a product of a deep conviction about the nature of the church.  I still remember the pain I felt when I first understood (with James Dunn’s help) what Paul was on about in Galatians 2, when he attacked Peter for withdrawing from table fellowship.  The division of the church, especially since the Reformation, has largely been a story of horror and tragedy, with the occasional act of faithful separation thrown in.  I regard the division of the church as one of the great evils of the modern world, which has seen more than its share of evils (many of which are, I believe, quite closely related to the division of the church).  What more horrific sight can we imagine than to see Christ again crucified?  Christ is not divided.  I think our main response to this half-millennium of Western division, and millennium-plus of East-West division should be deep mourning and repentance.

John Martignoni (Issue #189):

He says that this issue is not “just a theological niche” for him, but he then goes on to use a scriptural example that involves a “theological niche.”  A theological niche, or dispute, that was threatening to divide the church.  The particular dispute between Peter and Paul (Galatians 2) arose over the question of whether or not the Gentile Christians had to follow the prescriptions of the Old Testament Law or not – specifically, circumcision, the dietary laws, and so forth.  Peter, because of the vision and experience that he had as related in Acts 10, had taken the position that the Old Testament practices were no longer necessary.  Therefore, he was eating with (sitting down at table with) the Gentiles and not keeping kosher and so on.  This was all well and good until a certain faction of Jewish Christians, known as the Judaizers, came down and were scandalized by Peter’s behavior.  The Judaizers were insisting that the Gentile Christians had to be circumcised and had to keep the kosher laws and the other Jewish practices. 

So, Peter, because of pressure from his fellow Jewish Christians, “withdrew from table fellowship” with the Gentiles.  Paul, who knew that this was not right for Peter to do, took issue with Peter over the whole situation and, in his letter to the Galatians, really took them to task because they, too, were succumbing to the influence of the Judaizers and were apparently considering requiring circumcision of all male believers.  Paul excoriated them for thinking of doing such a thing and told them, in Galatians 5, that if they received ritual circumcision, they would be “severed from Christ.”  Now, this was not really a theological dispute between Peter and Paul, as Peter believed the same as Paul on this matter, as his initial actions with the Gentiles clearly showed.  No, this was primarily a theological dispute between Paul and the Judaizers.  Peter was not a Judaizer, but his “sin” was being unduly influenced by the Judaizers in this instance. 

So, again, this example cited by Dr. Leithart, while he would try to take theology out of it, is actually a theological issue.  It is an issue of good theology vs. bad theology.  An issue of right theology vs. wrong theology.  An issue, in essence, of what is the truth?  And, how did the early church decide this matter?  I’ll get back to that very important point in the latter part of this commentary – probably in the next issue.

John Martignoni (new comments):

Okay, to continue where I left off in Issue #189, how did the Church decide this matter?  First of all, let me emphasize that the problem Paul had with Peter was not simply some sort of "pastoral" issue, but was indeed a theological one.  Did the Gentile converts to Christianity have to be circumcised, in particular, and, in general, follow the Mosaic Law – with the dietary regulations and such – in order to be fully Christian or not?  This was an issue that threatened to tear the early Church apart.  Peter, due to his vision and his experience with Cornelius (Acts, chapter 10), did not think so.  Paul did not think so.  Yet, a very powerful group of Jewish Christians, known by us as the Judaizers, and called the "circumcision party" by Paul (Gal 2:12), did think so.  Their influence was great enough that when they found out Peter was hanging out with uncircumcised Gentiles they raised such a stink that Peter "withdrew from table fellowship," as Dr. Leithart puts it, with the Gentile Christians.  That then caused Paul to raise the roof with Peter.  So, Peter was catching it from both sides.  He was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. 

And we know this wasn’t just some small isolated incident, because if you read Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he takes them to the woodshed for letting themselves be influenced by the Judaizers.  In Galatians 5, he specifically tells them that if they receive circumcision, "Christ will be of no advantage to you…You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law."  The "law" he is speaking of here, is the Mosaic Law…the Old Testament law.  He calls what the Judaizers are preaching "a different gospel" (Gal 1:6). 

So, again, this is not simply a pastoral issue, it is an issue in which the salvation of souls is at stake.  Paul told the Galatians that if they receive circumcision, as the Judaizers were trying to make them do, then they would be severed from Christ.  If you are severed from Christ, you have lost your salvation.  It is indeed a theological issue.  As I said in Issue #189, this is an issue of good theology vs. bad theology; an issue of right theology vs. wrong theology; an issue of what is the truth?

This issue was so big, and the passions of folks on both sides so strong, that if it wasn’t resolved, it threatened to tear the Church apart.  So, what did the early Church do?  How did the early Church decide what was good theology and what was bad theology?  What was right theology and what was wrong theology?  How did the early Church decide the truth?  Did James, who appears to have been the head of the Judaizers (Gal 2:12), do as Martin Luther did and simply break off and form his own church with its own truth?  Did he do as many Protestants do today when they feel their church is wrong or their pastor is wrong and simply break off and form their own church…their own denomination…with their own truth?  Did James commit one of those occasional "acts of faithful separation" that Dr. Leithart mentions?  No!  Never in the Bible, even in the Old Testament when Israel quite often strayed, do we find priests, prophets, or kings breaking away and forming a new church or a new denomination.  It just doesn’t happen.  Well, one exception, when the Kingdom of Israel split off from the Davidic kingdom after the death of King Solomon.  They essentially did form their own church…their own religion.  But, it was a false religion.

So, what did the Church do?  The Church, according to chapter 15 of the Book of Acts, called a council, the Council of Jerusalem, to discuss the problem and to answer the question of whether or not the Gentile Christians had to be circumcised and had to follow the precepts of the Mosaic Law (Acts 15:5).  And, what did the Church decide?  The Church decided that, no, the Gentiles did not have to follow the Mosaic Law and they did not have to be circumcised (Acts 15:7-11).  What did James and the Judaizers do?  Do we read about them storming out of the Council and starting their own church?  No.  We see that James, once Peter had spoken, conceded the issue and simply asked that four conditions be put on the Gentiles (Acts 15:19-20).  James yielded to the authority of the Council…to the authority of the Church.  The decision of the Council was binding on James.  The decision of the Council of Jerusalem was binding on all Christians.  ALL Christians.

Did Martin Luther follow this scriptural example of how to settle theological differences?  No.  Did John Calvin follow this scriptural example of how to settle theological differences?  No.  Does any Protestant, when they break off from one denomination and form another follow this scriptural example of how to settle theological differences?  No.  Does Dr. Peter Leithart follow this scriptural example of how to settle theological differences?  No. 

Dr. Leithart, in describing himself as being "too catholic to be Catholic," builds his case around the example of Peter withdrawing from "table fellowship" with the Gentiles, and the subsequent conflict that resulted between Peter and Paul because of it.  Yet, while he cites the Scripture concerning the conflict and division resulting from Peter’s actions, and the actions of the Judaizers in general, he stops short of citing Scripture as to how this conflict, and how this division within the early Church, was resolved.   I wonder why?  

The reason Dr. Leithart cites the problem, and not the solution to the problem – the solution that is very clearly laid out by Scripture – is pretty obvious.  He just doesn’t want to go there.  Because, to go there, is to be so catholic that you are Catholic.  Scripture shows us that the ultimate way to solve the problem of theological differences within the Church, is to take the issue to a council that has the authority to decide such problems and whose decisions are binding on all the faithful.  An authoritative council?  A council that when it speaks is speaking on behalf of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28)?  A council that has the authority to bind all Christians to hold to its decisions (Matt 16:19; 18:18)?  The Bible very plainly shows us there is such a thing.  Yet, there is no such animal within all of Protestantism.  There has been no such animal within Orthodoxy since the split between Rome and Constantinople.  Yet, there is indeed such an animal within the Catholic Church.  So, the only place that Dr. Leithart could possibly turn to find a biblical solution to the problem of theological differences – theological differences that result in people withdrawing from table fellowship with one another – is the Catholic Church.  No wonder he mentions the scriptural problem, but not the scriptural solution. 

One last thing to note here when talking about the Council of Jerusalem.  I need to highlight the fact that the Council of Jerusalem did not operate on the principle of Sola Scriptura – the Bible alone as the sole authority in matters Christian.  If it had operated on that principle, then the only Scripture they had at the time – the Old Testament – would have clearly pointed them to a different decision than the one they made, because the Old Testament is very clear that it was necessary for a man to be circumcised in order for him to be in covenant with God (Genesis 17:9-14).  So, if they had gone by the Scripture alone, then the decision would had to have favored the position of the Judaizers.   The only conclusion one can draw, then, is that Sola Scriptura was not part of the theological environment that the Council of Jerusalem, and the early Church, operated within. 

In closing, I just want to say to Dr. Leithart: You are not too catholic to be Catholic…it is impossible to be too catholic to be Catholic.  You are too Protestant to be catholic.  One has to be so catholic that they are Catholic. 

In Conclusion

I hope you have a great week. I have a little surprise waiting for you next week…

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Apologetics for the Masses