"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history." -Cardinal Francis George

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

R.C. Sproul Jr. on converts to Catholicism

On May 14, I received one of R.C. Sproul Jr’s “Kingdom Notes” in my inbox that all but said that it was written to me. The Kingdom Notes are sent out by R.C. once or twice a week and just give a little thought from R.C. or they answer one of the “Ask R.C.” questions. A whole string of emails with Keith Mathison began by me asking R.C. a question about Sola Scriptura which he forwarded to his friend and co-worker Keith Mathison. (Who has been very helpful and treated me as a brother in Christ)In RCJr.'s seeming response to me he discarded my specific question about Sola Scriptura and made it into something he could answer easier. I was disappointed at what he said. Not only with the attitude displayed, but also with the seeming lack of knowledge of Trent and just plain poor argumentation. I guess I expected better from him. He seemed to have the attitude of his (and his father’s) mentor Dr. John Gerstner in his screed A Primer on Roman Catholicism which is the apologetic equivalent of “Catholicism is bad, everyone who is smart knows it, and anyone who disagrees with me does not deserve respect, neener neener Catholics are evil.” (I would recommend this booklet by Dr. Gerstner by the way for anyone that wants reasons to convert to Catholicism) R.C. Jr. has been one of my Reformed heroes and to hear him say these words in this email was chilling for me. I had never seen him as being bitter or unreasonable until I read this. I felt sad to hear his words that were directed it seemed at people in my exact situation. I will always consider him a brother working in the Kingdom for the glory of our King, so to hear him say he does not consider me one was heartfelt for me. I felt like “Buddy” in the movie The Incredibles when Mr. Incredible says “go home Buddy, I work alone!” I have heard him speak wonderfully about loosy goosey evangelicals and even unbelievers he knows and how we can be winsome and loving to them. I don’t see that attitude towards Catholics. I include the entirety of the email here.
May 14, 2010 In this Issue: Ask RC Ask RC What would you say to a Christian who is thinking of converting to Roman Catholicism? First- don't. After that my approach would likely adjust for the particular person, and what I knew about what was motivating them to make that move. Any approach, however, would look at both personal issues and theological issues. Too often we unwisely focus on one to the exclusion of the other. In my own circles we tend to jump to the theological. The problem is, precious few, if any people I've ever known to be tempted in this direction went Roman Catholic, from their own perspective, because they had done a serious study of the important theological issues and found Rome to be more faithful to the Scriptures. Their motives tend to be more about practice than dogma. That is, they are active in the pro-life movement, and like what they see in Rome on this issue. Or, they are frustrated with the aesthetic and even intellectual barrenness of the evangelical world. Or, more often than anything else, after living through church splits and denominational squabbles, they long to be a part of the one true church. All of which is at the end of the day wishful thinking about greener grass. Rome is not a united body as they would have us believe. They are no more likely to be pro-life in conviction or in terms of activism than evangelicals. Their worship may have pleasing smells and bells, but it culminates in an abomination, the immolation of the Lord Jesus Christ in the mass. The desires for these things, beauty and intellect, unity and activism in the cause of life, these are all good. They are just not any better in Rome than they are in the evangelical church. Their strengths are just as much ours, and our weaknesses just as much theirs. Which brings us to the theological. I typically direct these folks to the sixth session of the Council of Trent. Trent was convened to deal with issues arising out of the Reformation. It is, as even Vatican II and the current Roman Catechism affirm, unchangeable dogma not just for the church, but for all within its pale. And it, the sixth session, says that those who affirm that a man is justified apart from the works of the law should be damned. I have yet to meet a potential or actual convert to Rome who is willing to agree with this bald damning of the Biblical doctrine of how we have peace with God. And yet, by joining Rome they formally confess the truth of this damnable doctrine. In short, even if Rome beats the evangelical church hands down in principled activism, in intellectual and aesthetic fruitfulness, in unity of mind and purpose, so do the Shriners. The evangelical church is that place where the good news of Jesus Christ is not damned, but preached. With Rome it is exactly the opposite. Finally, with my friends who have made the jump I seek to make sure they live with the consequences. That is, though they don't believe the sixth session of the Council of Trent, I make them live with it. That means that if they are right, they must not treat me as a brother, for I hold to damnable doctrine. If they are wrong, I must not treat them as a brother, for they hold to damnable doctrine. There is no option where we can both be right. My friends know that if they should repent, if they should return to the one true church, the evangelical church, if they should publicly and formally affirm their dependence on the finished work of Christ alone, I will rejoice with them. Until they do, however, we are not united in Him.
I will always see you as my brother in Christ R.C. and will pray you join into full unity with the Church Christ founded so that your vision of the Kingdom can have glorious success as you realize that Kingdom is the Catholic Church! As for some of the other aspects of the email let me quote a friends response after reading it:
I was intrigued by two things in the Sproul note. First, he said, "And it, the sixth session, says that those who affirm that a man is justified apart from the works of the law should be damned." The Sixth Session doesn't say this, anywhere. Canon 19 says: "If anyone says that nothing besides faith is commanded in the Gospel, that other things are indifferent, neither commanded nor forbidden, but free; or that the ten commandments in no way pertain to Christians, let him be anathema." And Canon 20 says this: "If anyone says that a man who is justified and however perfect is not bound to observe the commandments of God and the Church, but only to believe, as if the Gospel were a bare and absolute promise of eternal life without the condition of observing the commandments, let him be anathema." But the commandments there shouldn't be equated with "works of the Law", which is a Pauline phrase referring properly to the Jewish law (particularly the ceremonial law) under the Old Covenant. The Sixth Session of Trent is referring to the moral law (revealed in the Decalogue). Sometime later this summer I hope to post something on justification on CTC. The other thing that Sproul misunderstands is the nature of the anathemas. See, for example, here.
Again if you read this R.C. I consider you a brother and wish you well. I would suggest to you that you first be able to describe accurately the opposing viewpoint before trying to dismantle it. This will avoid the appearance of straw man arguments. Much of what you said seemed tailor made to speak to people firmly convinced of the errors of Catholicism rather than, as the "Ask RC" question implied, that you were speaking to someone like me who was thinking of converting to Catholicism. Let me give an example. You said:
Their worship may have pleasing smells and bells, but it culminates in an abomination, the immolation of the Lord Jesus Christ in the mass.
This is unfair. You should know better that this is not how Catholics would describe their position. They say that the Mass is the same moment in time as Christ's immolation at Calvary. You believe as much about the worship we offer in church in the sense of being lifted up to heaven during worship. (I have heard as much from listening to you in dozens of "basement Tapes") We are then "outside time" in a sense when we participate in Christs body and blood. So why falsely characterize Catholics as participating in an "abomination"? They see themselves as being at the foot of the cross and at Jesus side as he offers a pleasing sacrifice to the father. Was Jesus not immolated? I don't get your position.


  1. Welcome Home, David. I'm also a convert to Catholicism and both my husband and I returned to the CC 5.5 years ago. I cannot imagine leaving Her, our Holy Mother,the Bark of Peter, our safety and our stronghold in this tumultuous world, for the ever-increasing "individualism" of Protestantism/Evangelicalism ever again! It is sad that RC sounds so 'condemning.' I too have lost some "friends" but I pray for them, and for real unity of the Body of Christ at Mass. Mass. Universal, no matter the language or race. Beautiful and sublime, no matter her 'warts' and 'inner' shenanigans going on between the orthodox and heterodox, the "sheep and the goats" if you will, SHE will STAND forever! Jesus promised and He doesn't lie! God bless.

  2. Thanks for your encouraging words! I attended my first Mass yesterday at the Cathedral of Saint Paul. Wow. It is a spaceship to the throneroom of God! I look forward to Christ in the Eucharist.

  3. Hey David,

    Welcome, my brother. May the Holy Spirit guide you into the fullness of all that He has for His children.

    Catholic Revert

  4. You said: "So why falsely characterize Catholics as participating in an "abomination"?

    As you know, reformed folks like the Sprouls (and me), do see the mass as an abomination. Why wouldn't he say that? As to why he wouldn't treat a convert to the RCC as a brother, well, the gospel according to Rome is not the same as the Gospel according to the reformation. Logically either we are right and you are wrong, you are right and we are wrong, or we are both wrong. We cannot both be right. According to the apostle Paul those who preach a false gospel (one of us or both of us) are "anathema". I would suggest that it would be more intellectually honest of you, more respectful to your new church, and even more respectful to R.C. Sproul Jr. to NOT insist on calling him a brother in Christ.

  5. Reject your pope and the conversation will begin. Not until then.