Monday, June 04, 2012

On not attributing the best motivations to everyone, all the time

I would not be blogging about Roman Catholicism, if not for Jason Stellman.

Note, in the image nearby, that I get both a mention and a link, in his blog post where he says he "will no longer post anything having to do with Catholicism". The debates had become too raucous for his sensitive soul, apparently. Well, now, my fears from those days -- that a WSC grad would convert to Rome, and the Called to Communion site could trumpet it, have come true. Now, evidently, there are two of them.

To be sure, Jason Stellman hasn't quite announced that he's converting to Rome. He's only just leaving the PCA. But the language he's using is pretty much a pick-up from uber-Roman-Catholic-philosopher Michael Liccione:
... unless the church’s interpretation of Scripture is divinely protected from error at least under certain conditions, then what we call the “orthodox” understanding of doctrines like the Trinity or the hypostatic union is reduced to mere fallible human opinion ...

Back in late 2008, I had pretty much given up "arguing with Roman Catholics". In 2002, I had been one of the more junior members of Eric Svendsen's old NTRMin discussion board -- I was looking for ways to respond to my own Roman Catholic friends, as to why I was leaving the Roman Catholic Church. But that need had pretty much cycled itself out, and at the time, I was spending time at Jason's site, looking into something I had heard at a Michael Horton seminar, "two kingdoms" theology.

But soon after I got there, Jason started having discussions with Bryan Cross and [pre-"DR"]Taylor Marshall and some of the other individuals who went on to found "Called to Communion". It seemed to me at the time, that they all met at Jason's site, in the comments, and Jason never did a thing to dissuade them.

Now, just as a disclaimer, Jason's PCA church was one of a handful of churches that donated money to my family during my wife's illness. I am grateful to Jason's church, but not to him. How much money did Jason's church "donate" to him -- in the form of salary, living expenses, etc., over the last three or four years, while he was wringing his hands, having secret talks behind the scenes with Roman Catholics, doing his investigations. It seems as if Christ's disciples always will be "sheep in the midst of wolves".

There are Reformed folks around who remind us that we ought always to attribute the best motivations, to look at what someone does with the most charitable eye. I've been told, too, that my approach to things is not always the most winsome. Even though I'm making a good argument, using good information, and doing it with passion, my failure to be as charitable as I possibly can, is a turn-off for people.

Well, one of the reasons I was not one of Jason's favorite people back then, was because I was not willing to attribute the best motivations to him, even back then. Now, he has just confirmed that my suspicions were correct.

I'm neither a pastor nor a theology student. As a profession, I have worked in marketing and advertising for many years. In college, I studied journalism. I'm sure many of my co-blogger consider themselves to be exercising a kind of ministry, and that's all right. We need more of that. But I consider myself more of a journalist and a reporter and a communicator. When I look for the history of the early house churches in Rome, I'm investigating something, and reporting on it. If I repeat myself, it's because I know that it takes many, many "impressions" upon a reader just to gain some attention for one's message.

I do admire people who are restless with their own theologies, and seeking for something better. The big lie, from Rome's part, is that it promises to be the best of all. That's why some of these "big ego" converts, convert to Rome. Only the "best" for these guys. For Rome's part, it really doesn't care about "them". It encourages people to "come home" and park there. But in reality, it will just grind them up to the point that they become "cafeteria Catholics" (as many "cradle Catholics" are). Note the Andrew Preslar comment to the effect that Roman Catholicism is “a marriage, in which romance does not reduce to sentimentalism, nor prescind from difficulty and pain, but rather flows from the realities of a life shared together, come what may”.

I don't know about Andrew Preslar and his Roman Catholicism, but after 25 years, I am very much in love with my wife.

In truth, I don't see any of these folks as "settled" in Rome. Life is too unsettled, and Rome just simply has too many discrepancies for a genuinely tender conscience to come to grips with it. Maybe some of these converts will be happy being Roman Catholics for a while; many others have ended up merely visiting Rome as a weigh station on the road to something else, however.

Roman Catholicism is "the big lie" in our world -- I'm convinced of it -- and from an evidentiary perspective, it's fitting that they need to have a list of rules for how to handle discrepancies between Roman doctrine and reality.

You can't, in good conscience, be a good Roman Catholic, without you having to lie to yourself.


  1. I had the same kind of suspicions - Jason's lack of defense of Protestantism/Biblical doctrine and lack of passion against Romanism was a little suspicious. (in his discussions I have seen in the com boxes at Called to Communion)

    It is still a little unclear as to what he will eventually choose, although it seems more than likely it will be RC. Really sad indeed.

    He still might choose Eastern Orthodoxy, but it seems to be between that and RC. Anglicanism ?

    So, while I am very grieved at this, I am not totally shocked or totally surprised.

    It is weird to me how anyone can be attracted to Roman Catholicism and it's denial of the gospel at Trent's condemnation of justification by faith alone, its superstition / idolatry in the Eucharist, it's exalting of Mary and all the unbiblical doctrines and dogmas about her and the devotional piety around her overshadows Christ Himself, and its arrogant claims of an infallible church and infallible Pope, and all the changes to doctrine that it has made to the original deposit/original teaching tradition (the meaning that Paul means in 2 Thess. 2:15 and I Cor. 11 and 15 and Jude 3 is the inspired teachings that are all eventually written down in the canonical books.) By adding all those traditions, they have distorted the original tradition.

  2. Ken, I would guess he has decided that when his thoughts conflict with the magisterium, that he will be assuming that his interpretation is wrong, and the Magisterium is right.

    1. yeah, that is how they rationalize; "don't lean on your own understanding" - my friend Rod Bennett did the same thing. (he authored the book, "Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words" (Ignatius Press, 2002) (on Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus) I debated him for 8 years - lots of emails, several face to face - 2 or 3 or 5- hour meetings,- emails, phone calls, from 1996-2004 - when he finally asked me to stop talking about RC vs. Protestantism. He said he couldn't trust his own mind or heart for the right interpretation; and needed an infallible interpreter to do it for him; a "living voice", an umpire, etc. He was the reason why I started studying church history and RC more and later went to Dave Armstrong's site. Rod said, "Go debate with Dave Armstrong, he likes to debate; I don't like debate anymore." Then I discovered Beggar's All soon after that. I had already been listening to Dr. White since 1996.

  3. What strikes me about this whole affair is the repetitious claim of sincerity, authenticity, transparency, etc., with which several of the commenters are in effect stroking Jason as if he were a wounded cat. "Be kind to him because he is sincere." DP Cassidy appears and says that he has no doubt that Jason has come to these conclusions through much consideration and prayer (echoing the sentiments of many others), but the question is, who is answering the prayers of a person who denies the Gospel? Does God 'guide' someone through heartfelt consideration and prayer to deny the gospel? I hardly think this is a word from the Lord, and certainly not something to be congratulated (contrary to Cassidy).

    Further, if Jason truly were humble, why post this letter to the internet for all of the world to see, a world which includes not just those who regularly read his blog but the flock over which he served as pastor. Why not just disappear into obscurity, joining whatever gospel-denying communion fits his fancy?

    I don't see any kind of humility here, precisely because he posted the letter.

  4. May the good Lord bless you, John, and may the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the holy Mother of God, of the glorious Apostles Sts. Peter and Paul, and of all the Saints help you and strengthen you, that your heart might burn bright with a love for Christ's Church, the pillar and foundation of truth.

  5. What gets me is this:

    The difference between Leithart and Stellman is that Leithart always said he was within bounds and the trial deemed him to be such when it exonerated him.

    Stellman, however, has admitted that he has abandoned the Confession and gone out of bounds, and that he was holding to these views while participating in Leithart's prosecution and even testifying against Leithart. But this is okay, according to Stellman, because he did what Leithart should have done: resign the PCA. Even though Leithart maintained his innocence and was exonerated.


  6. This is all really sad, and he is not the first protestant pastor I have known that has made the switch. I think the common theme among all three of them is that they were all willing to dialogue with Rome, but never turned to those who were Protestants to talk about it from our perspective. The other aspect is the thrill they get for making this bold decision... Hopefully, when the smoke passes... the wisdom of God will have its way with them.

  7. Timothy, I find it sad as well, but reading many of the responses people have had to the whole thing, I wouldn't have turned to those people either. I have no major theological issues with the PCA, but have been very close to leaving it on numerous occasions b/c of the attitude and presentation of many people within it, including some posting here. If Jason chose to not come to those people when struggling with these things, is of absolutely no surprise to me. Or maybe he did come to them and was chased away by their approach. Who knows.

    I consider myself a fairly conservative reformed Christian. I also am terribly ashamed of the culture prevalent in this circle, that "right doctrine" is all that matters, damned be anyone who stands in the way of people bashing that over everyone's heads. As long as we get the doctrine right and lambaste anyone who varies at all from that, we're golden. This is purely Pharisaical, and is destroying the church.

    Please, reformers, don't walk away from your beliefs, don't water them down, don't dismiss them. Don't give up on them and seek other systems that have some attractive features, as Jason seems to be doing (though I don't know the situation that well and could be wrong). I don't think this is of any challenge to any of you. However, also don't be asinine jerks about it. This is rooted in selfish pride, and hateful apostasy, not Christ. Be firm in your beliefs, and loving in your approach. What a difference this would make in the spread of the gospel.

  8. Hi Mike, I'm glad you stopped by.

    [For those just joining us, Mike and I used to attend the same church not long ago, and we even worked side-by-side to help with set-up and tear-down, and I thought we were sort-of ok friends, until yesterday, when he saw some of the ruckus on the Jason Stellman thread, saw my name, and commented about "hateful" comments I was making. He and I spent some time in private chat, and when I pressed him, he really couldn't point to any actual "hateful" statements, just that "I read your comments and the comments that follow them over and over, people are picking up on it ... i didn't need a single one of them to feel the way i do". A vague feeling of unease and that I need to "put it before Christ".

    Michael, you ask, "Please, reformers, don't walk away from your beliefs, don't water them down, don't dismiss them. Don't give up on them and seek other systems that have some attractive features"

    How, precisely, do you do that, without using words and arguments? How do you say to a Roman Catholic, "Roman Catholicism is wrong", without giving offense in the least possible way?

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Somehow my first comment didn't post and my 2nd posted twice, hence the deleted post and the post starting with "Continuing...)

    I won't bother to retype my first comment about John's statements about our private conversation. It's probably best, I don't need to justify myself about a conversation that really shouldn't have been posted about here without my permission, but thats a different story, and I don't really care that much, just think it was a pretty class-less move from someone who's upset at me for challenging him. Enough said about that. Most of the real content is in the 2nd post above anyway...

  11. I think arguments about a person's tone are completely subjective and irrelevant. I know I was shaken from my Arminian slumber years ago by a couple of completely obnoxious Calvinists. Also, I think John's remarks, from what I've seen here and on Stellman's blog were completely biblical. Didn't the Apostle John tell us to even say "God speed" to someone like Stellman is to participate in his evil deeds (see 2 John). I don't know, but for me what I find disturbing in all this, and besides all the Romanists coming out of the woodwork warmly welcoming Jason into their fold while they're saying prayers for him before "the blessed sacrament," is the complete lack of compassion for all the souls Jason was responsible for as a pastor along with the good name of Jesus Christ and His finished work which has been sullied because of Jason's defection from the faith.

  12. I'd really like to hear his breakdown of 1 Timothy 4 at this point. As a person who grew up Roman Catholic, until the Holy Spirit opened my eyes at 19 and I discovered the Book of Romans which I figured would be a coronation of Roman Catholic beliefs - was anything but.... I can't imagine how someone can go from a reformed perspective to Roman Catholicism.... unless...............

    For example he now worships at a church that believes Mary was both immaculately conceived without the stain of sin... and remained without the stain of sin to the point that she was assumed into heaven and yet also a perpetual virgin... By the way... by Jewish law this is impossible... she would have been in sin by never consummating her marriage with Joseph.

    Oh and enjoy embracing the Alexandria Jew's Canon for the Old Testament instead of the Holy Land Jews Canon for the Old Testament. I mean you now get to enjoy lines of scripture such as "The birth of a daughter is a loss" and trying to figure out which of the 3 recorded versions of Antiochos Ephiphanes death really occurred.

    Maybe he should seek out scripture for Mary's own words at the wedding feast "Do whatever he tells you to" and realize it's good advice. We can only know what he tells us to do - by our daily bread... which is of course the very WORD of God. Not a sacrament infused with some fables and worldly superstitions.