Apologetics for the Masses - Issue #33

Bible Christian Society

General Comments

Hey folks, it’s time to crank up the 2007 issues of “Apologetics for the Masses.” Sorry for the longer than expected delay in getting going again, but, as I mentioned in my test newsletters, I decided the time was right to bring the entire newsletter process in-house, and I wanted to make sure we had as many bugs worked out as possible before we started sending out the “official” newsletter again.

So, here it is. If you have any problems with this newsletter – margins, questions marks, weird characters, etc. – any problems at all, please let me know so that I can get my web people looking into it.


Okay, this newsletter picks up where Issue #32 left off. In #32, I gave you the first couple of exchanges between Matt Johnson, an ordained minister in the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ non-denominational movement, and me. I’ll start off below with one of my emails to him, in which I answer his question about what I, as a “Roman Catholic believer,” consider to be the “essentials of faith.”

Following my email is his response, in italics, with my follow-up response, in bold, mingled in, and then a “Strategies” section after my response.



I read the material on the link you provided…very interesting. It sparked some questions that I’ll get to in a future email. But, for now, to answer your question: As a Roman Catholic believer, the truths of the Apostles’ Creed (see below) are what I consider to be the “essentials of the faith.” And, let me clarify, I consider these to be core beliefs…the beliefs around which all the other beliefs of the Christian Faith revolve. I do not believe, as many Christians I come across do, that there is such a thing as an essential vs. a non-essential doctrine. In other words, I don’t believe that as long as I have the essentials down, it’s okay to be wrong on the “non-essentials.”

The Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.


As I said, I have no formal training, I am basically self-taught. Reading books and listening to tapes. And, it was because of a virulent anti-Catholic program I heard aired on a local Christian radio station, that I became involved in the public defense of my faith…which led to the founding of the Bible Christian Society. (By the way, I’m hoping that since you are a scholar and I am but a layman, that you will go easy on me in this dialogue.)

God bless!


Dear John,


I agree that it is not ok to be on the wrong side of a so-called “non-essential.” Most people, if they really thought about it, would likely agree that it is not ok for them to be wrong about anything, especially God. If I know I am wrong (some still call that sin), why would I be ok with it? Why wouldn’t I change (some still call that repentance) and be right?

The problem is one of being able to know the truth…any truth. How do you know if you’re wrong, when your entire belief system is based on your own interpretation of the Bible? Are you infallible? Who is there who can tell you you’re wrong? Or that you’re right? This is why many non-Catholic Christians believe it is okay to disagree on the “non-essentials” as long as they agree on the “essentials.” This is merely a clever word game to get around the fact that they have no authoritative way of determining who is right and who is wrong when it comes to Christian doctrine and practice (other than the fact, of course, that everyone knows Catholics are wrong). By doing this, they don’t have to tell anyone else that they’re wrong (except, of course, the Catholics), and they don’t even have to consider the possibility that they could be wrong.

I have had Baptists, Methodists, Evangelicals, etc. tell me that they know their particular faith tradition doesn’t have it 100% correct when it comes to doctrine. They don’t believe any faith tradition does (so much for Jesus founding a church that knows what it’s doing). So, they have to devise a way of looking at things that makes them feel better about the fact that they don’t have it 100% right…and that is where the essentials and non-essentials come in.

They have to label certain Christian doctrines as being non-essential. That way, if they’re wrong about these doctrines, well, that’s okay, because those are “non-essential” doctrines. It makes them feel good. It helps them to sleep at night. Because, if these Christian doctrines that the Baptists, Methodists, Evangelicals, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Fundamentalists, etc. disagree on are indeed essential doctrines, then they’ve got a problem. The problem is they have no one who can authoritatively say which belief is correct and which is incorrect. Everyone can interpret the Bible authoritatively for themselves, so one Bible interpretation is just as authoritative as another Bible interpretation (unless, of course, it’s a Catholic interpreting the Bible – everyone knows Catholic interpretations are wrong).

But what happens when my God-fearing, Christ-loving, Bible believing neighbor is wrong about God? Now we have a different situation. I have a responsibility to seek the truth personally. But do I have a responsibility to demand that same level of understanding from all believers? Will I break fellowship with them over a theological or doctrinal disagreement? Will I discredit their faith? If so, over which doctrines will I break Christian fellowship or deny another’s faith? Where do I draw the line?

Do you have a responsibility to “demand the same level of understanding from all believers?” How about this instead – do you have the responsibility to teach the truth, the fullness of the truth, to all believers? People have to believe the truth with the full and free consent of their intellect and their will. You have the responsibility to present them with the truth and give them the option to accept or reject it. Doesn’t Jesus pray that we be one as He and the Father are one? Do He and the Father disagree on doctrine? Any doctrine? Even the so-called “non-essential” doctrines? No, of course they don’t. Did the Apostles disagree on doctrine? Did they teach all kinds of different doctrines to their disciples? Of course not.

You ask: “Will I break fellowship over a theological disagreement or doctrinal disagreement?” Have you looked at Protestantism lately? That happens every day! New denominations are forming all the time because people are breaking fellowship over theological and doctrinal disagreements. That’s how Protestantism came to be in the first place. If you don’t think you should break fellowship over theological or doctrinal disagreement, then get thee back to the Catholic Church. Besides, didn’t the Apostles break fellowship with folks who were teaching false doctrines?

You also asked, “Will I discredit their faith? If so, over which doctrines will I break Christian fellowship or deny another’s faith? Where do I draw the line?” (Sounds a lot like you believe in the essential vs. non-essential thing here.) Well, why don’t you draw the line at the truth? Isn’t that a good place to draw the line? In John 4 Jesus tells the woman at the well that her people “worship what you do not know.” Is that discrediting her faith? If so, so be it. I am not content to let people wallow in ignorance about God nor to let them wallow in error about God. Are you? Is it discrediting someone’s faith to tell them they’re wrong in some aspect of their belief? Or is that the ultimate in charity?

It seems to me that the Roman Catholic church has drawn some lines. The RC church does not seem to have doctrinal conformity from every country, parish, and Christian. All I have to do is call a RC friend and have a conversation about to birth control to verify this fact. But the RC church still accepts that “believer in error” as “one of theirs.” So, in a way, the RC church practices the concept I am talking about. It is not ok (according to the RC church) for these people to disagree about birth control. But it does not seem to be essential for fellowship and they are not excommunicated. I do not feel that the same understanding is extended to other sincere followers of Christ.

Here you seem to not fully understand Catholic teaching and practice. You are correct – the Roman Catholic Church does not have doctrinal conformity from every country, parish, or Christian – which is to the possible spiritual demise of those who are not in conformity with the teachings of the Church. However, the Church does have doctrinal conformity in its teachings. This cannot be said for the Christian faith traditions that teach essentials vs. non-essentials (by the way, who gets to decide what is an essential and what is a non-essential?). And, for those who are not in conformity with Church teachings…those who believe and practice, for example, contraception…this is a very grave matter, and fellowship indeed has been broken. The Church does not need to break fellowship with them, because they have broken fellowship with the Church.

Whether it be contraception or some other area of non-conformity to Church teaching, these folks have broken fellowship with the Church, with the Body of Christ. Again, this is a very serious and grave matter. They should not receive Communion (the Lord’s Supper) if such is the case. They should not receive Communion, because they are not in communion with the Church. They are, in essence, out of fellowship with the Church until they repent and confess their sins and receive absolution. They may be “sincere followers of Christ,” but they are sincerely wrong in what they are doing. And, the Church extends the exact same understanding to non-Catholics who err in their beliefs…it tells them they are wrong and asks them to come to the knowledge of the truth…the truth that will set them free.


Unity is a core value of the Restoration movement. Churches divide for many reasons. Some are significant, such as the issue of the deity of Christ. Some are less significant, such as the date that we celebrate Christmas or the Resurrection (which, by the way, is celebrated every week in both of our churches). It is possible that one of the reasons the Church (meaning all Christians) has become divided is because we have put restrictions where God has placed freedom or vice-versa.

I don’t believe we are divided because we have put restrictions where God has placed freedom, we are divided because of pride. We don’t want to submit to the authority that God has placed over us. We each want to decide for ourselves, based on our own limited understanding of the Bible what is right and what is wrong. What is true doctrine and what is false doctrine. What is moral and what is immoral. I don’t need any church telling me what to believe, no sir!

Do you realize that if you come up with thirty two disputed doctrines/issues where there are at least two opposing positions, then theoretically speaking everyone on this planet could claim a unique combination of beliefs and we could each have our own, single person church? My point is that demanding conformity on every issue is a recipe for division. It is not ok for our Christian brothers to be in error. But it is not ok for me to demand conformity to the point of promoting division.

You seem to be saying that we shouldn’t insist on the truth because it will cause division. Which would you rather have…unity or truth? Didn’t Jesus demand conformity? Didn’t He say the truth will cause division? Didn’t the Apostles demand conformity? We are, at least in Protestantism, indeed heading to the point where each person has their own single person church. That is what the dogma of Sola Scriptura is all about. I am my own church. I am my own Pope. I am my own authority. I am my own theologian. I am my own pastor. I decide everything that is right and wrong in terms of God based on what I read in the Bible. I am my own church. Demanding conformity isn’t the problem, not demanding truth is the problem. Having essential vs. non-essential doctrines is the problem.


When the Roman Catholic church was going through devastating scandals in Boston (and also recently here near Philadelphia), the subject came up with my (Roman Catholic) in-laws. Though I disagree strongly with many teachings of the Roman Catholic church, and though I feel excluded from parts of the corporate worship of the RC church, my attitude is that I truly believe in the holy catholic (universal) church. Therefore, concerning the scandals, I will grieve for those who were hurt while I pray for justice. I will not use this as an opportunity to attack Christian brothers. And I would hope for the same treatment if my congregation were in a similar situation.

I have a question: why, if you “disagree strongly with many teachings of the Roman Catholic church,” do you feel excluded from parts of the corporate worship of the RC Church? Isn’t it understandable that if you strongly disagree with many of our teachings, that you would be excluded from certain parts of our corporate worship? I mean, you don’t believe what we believe…particularly the part, the Eucharist, which signifies unity! Why would you want comm-union in the Church if you are not in union with the Church? That has never made any sense to me.

You see when the Roman Catholics use the word “catholic” it seems to be for the purposes of exclusion (vis., “Roman Catholic” seems to be another denomination). But when I use the word “catholic” it is for the purposes of inclusion (vis., all “Christians” are part of the universal church). Or, as Edward Markham wrote:

He drew a circle that shut me out. Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But Love and I had the wit to win. We drew a circle that took him in. (Circle)

Very nice.

I disagree 100% with your characterization. First of all, “Roman Catholic” is a name given to those who followed the Pope during the time of the Deformation (or, Reformation, as most call it). It was a term of derision. It still apparently bothers some Catholics…I am not one of them. Catholic means universal whether it is capitalized and used as a proper noun or whether it is lower case and used as an adjective. The Catholic Church is the same as the catholic church. It is the universal church. All Christians belong, in one way or another, to the Catholic Church, whether they realize it or not. There is nothing exclusionary about it.

Or if you prefer, as Jesus said:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.” John 17:20-22

How can you be one with a Christian who believes things about God, about Jesus, about the Church, about Christian teachings and practice, about Christian morals, that you do not believe? How are you one with that person? Are you one with a person who believes in error? Is there room for error in the teachings of the Church founded by Jesus Christ? Is there room for contradictory teachings in the Church founded by Jesus Christ? I say error has no place in the Church’s teachings, you seem to be saying otherwise.

Finally, though I am flattered to be called a “scholar” I would not consider a seminary degree the prerequisite for labeling someone thus. I have sat at the feet of real scholars, whose knowledge far exceed mine, and I am thankful for their instruction.

I look forward to your reply.

Fellow Servant,

Matt Johnson

Strategies: Still talking in generalities in these emails…not much on specific doctrines or dogmas. The one point I’ve already brought up, and which will probably be the main point throughout this conversation, is the point about Sola Scriptura and authority. Who gets to decide which interpretation of the Bible is correct, and which is incorrect?

Essentially, what’s going on here, is that he believes Catholics to be wrong…hasn’t specifically stated where yet…which means he believes himself to be right. Well, how does he know he’s right and Catholics are wrong? Because his interpretation of the Bible tells him he’s right. By whose authority does he declare himself to be right and Catholics to be wrong? By his own authority. This gets to the “But That’s My Interpretation” strategy that I teach…since everyone is allowed, under the dogma of Sola Scriptura (Bible only), to read the Bible and interpret for themselves what is true doctrine and what is false doctrine, then you can’t tell me that my interpretation is wrong. You can tell me that you believe your interpretation to be more valid than my interpretation, but you can’t tell me that mine is wrong. You can’t tell me that because it’s my interpretation, and, under your theology, I’m allowed (encouraged, mandated) to read the Bible for myself and decide for myself, without having to answer to any other authority outside of myself, what is true Christian doctrine and what is false Christian doctrine. So, if I have the right to do that, and then exercise my right to do that, how can you tell me I’m wrong when I do that?

Yet, that is exactly what folks who go by the Bible alone (in other words, their interpretation of the Bible alone) do when they come across a Catholic. We’re right, you’re wrong, they say. Based on what? Their own authority to interpret the Bible for themselves. And, what happens when the Catholic exercises his own authority to read and interpret the Bible and comes up with a different interpretation? Well, we, of course, are wrong. Hello?! This little bit of sleight of mind needs to be pointed out to folks over and over again. Again, the best they can do, under their theological system, is say they disagree with our interpretation…they can’t tell us we’re wrong without violating their own dogma.

In Conclusion

’Nuff said.

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Apologetics for the Masses