Sunday, April 23, 2006

Fightin' Words!

I'd like to address, specifically, the anonymous person who left the comments below (in response to my two posts, "Elizabeth I appearing on HBO!" and "Think you've got stress?"); and more generally, to any Roman Catholic who finds her/himself here in our little corner of cyberspace; and most generally, to anyone with any interest in this blog, at all. Here are the comments (I've labelled them so that I can respond to them in an orderly way):

A) "The Protestant Reformation is dead.
The the protestant churches in Europe are dead. The protestant churches in the USA are dead and a confused Evangelical Movement is replacing it"

B) "Interesting all this so Henry the VIII could live a sexually deviant Life and Now the Catholic Church is now the largest Christian denomination in England so much for the Reformation"

First of all, let me say that we at the Conventicle welcome comments and opinions from folks of any religious persuasion and background. Though we may not agree with some of you, we're happy to engage in conversation and even debate with you, provided things are kept civil and relevant.

To the person who wrote these comments and (I assume you're the same one who) copied large chunks of material from (it appears) the Catholic Encyclopedia, let me say, it sounds like you're somewhat upset by what you've read here. Perhaps you are a devout Roman Catholic and have always been, or you were formerly a Protestant and had a bad experience as such, and converted to Catholicism. And then you read some posts here (I guess the two to which you responded) and you were angered. I'm sorry that happened. Let me just say a few words about these posts, and about the blog in general, and then I'll address these comments specifically.

Look again and you'll see that I wrote the "Stress" post from the point of view of English Puritans, not my own. My research addresses the use of Counter-Reformation (Catholic) spiritual literature by Elizabethan Puritans. In particular I'm trying to figure out how they could willingly appropriate Catholic works in the way they did, given their own experiences and their belligerent attitude towards Rome. I tried to portray how an Elizabethan Puritan might perceive all the major events of the late 16th century, and adopt such an attitude, in my post. That was the point. I'm actually not sure what you find offensive about the post on the Elizabeth movie. Perhaps you resent the heroic manner in which she and other Protestant monarchs have been portrayed. I can see how you'd feel that way. But on this point, please see my post on "Writing Truthfully About History" below, in which I address this tricky aspect of historical writing and revision. There's an old saying that might fit here: There are always three versions to every story: what you believe, what I believe, and the truth.

About this blog: To my knowledge, every one of the contributors to the Conventicle, including me, is a Protestant. Obviously that will be reflected most clearly when we write on matters of doctrine. But the main point of the Conventicle is not to trumpet the superiority of the Protestant faith over others (Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jainist, Taoist, etc.) Our primary raison d'etre is spelled out in our banner: to provide each other, and other people who are interested in the Puritans, with information, insight and encouragement. I think all the contributors would say they admire many aspects of the Puritans, but none of them would say they agree with them in every point, doctrinally or otherwise. I like to celebrate Christmas, for instance. Puritans didn't. I don't believe the Pope is Antichrist. Most Puritans (and many conforming Church of England clergy) did, however. To put it another way, we started the Conventicle as a place for mostly scholarly, academic discussion about the topic -- not chiefly as an arena for doctrinal controversy.

Now, regarding your comments:

A) Yikes. That may be your perception, but it certainly isn't my experience. I belong to a Baptist church here in Edinburgh. Just last Sunday six people came forward and told how Jesus Christ had changed their lives, and they were joyfully baptized. Theirs is, by any measure, an evangelical Protestant faith. In evangelical churches here (the UK) and all over the world, people are getting saved from drug addiction, failing marriages are being healed, enemies are being reconciled, the poor are being rehabilitated and are prospering, and in general people are turning from aimlessness and despair to jubilance and purposefulness, through faith in Jesus Christ, in the context of evangelical Protestantism. I see it happening over and over and over again. Yes, evangelicalism is waning here in Europe, but so is Roman Catholicism. It's a post-Christian era. People are turning away from traditional organized religion altogether -- not just evangelicalism.

Regarding Protestant evangelicalism in the States: There are divisions and there is some confusion, but the outward face of conflict can hide the real unity that exists within, all too easily. John Tweeddale (another Conventicle contributor) and I have differing views on baptism -- a fairly important doctrine, we would both say -- and yet we share a profound sense of communion and fellowship with one another, because we both possess a personal, vibrant faith that is most accurately labeled as Protestant and evangelical. He is a Reformed Presbyterian. I am a progressive-dispensational Baptist. Are we confused? Divided? Hardly. We know whereof we differ, but on the most central doctrines we are united. And so stand the vast majority of American (and European) evangelicals. By the way, a religious group's unity doesn't necessarily signify its proximity to orthodoxy. Some cults are very unified. I won't even begin to comment on the divisions that have existed within the Roman Catholic Church throughout history.

B) First of all, whether the Protestant Reformation would have prospered in England if Henry hadn't wanted an illegitimate divorce is a matter whose discussion will have to be postponed. Your argument seems to rest on the principle that, if a religious movement thrives, in large part, as a consequence of an immoral act, then it must be heretical. A cruder and simpler way to articulate that might be to say, 'Good cannot come from bad'.

I would just respond by pointing out that Scripture itself is full of events that seem to discredit the validity of this principle. For instance, David's dynasty passed (by the Lord's will) to Solomon, whose mother was none other than Bathsheba -- whose husband David had murdered in cold blood. Since Solomon was born of such a union, does that render his writings of no use to the believer? Should we not read the Proverbs, or Ecclesiastes, because they were penned (in large part) by someone born of a relationship that began in immorality? What about the Old Covenant religion that flourished in the Temple that Solomon built? Was that heretical because it took place there -- a sanctuary known by his name? I don't know of any Protestant who would condone what Henry VIII did to Catherine of Aragon. But Protestants do rejoice in the spread of faith that at least partially occurred -- strangely enough -- as a result of his ghastly decisions.

On behalf of all the Conventicle's contributors, let me say to you and all other non-Protestants:

"No hard feelings ... come back if you'd like, and come often!"

5 comments:

Chris Coleman said...

Thanks for an honest and reasonable response to posts that had such a mean and negative tone.

But I also had a question. Mark Noll's book "Is the Reformation Over?" seems to address the same question (if it can be labeled such) of the commentor. Namely, is the reformation over? I guess Noll's position is different in that he sees Roman Catholicism becoming more Protestant in their recent catechisms.

So my question is: "Is Noll's point valid? Do protestants still need to protest?"

Anonymous said...

On H.C. Ross's response to "A)" -- this is not meant to be a broadside, but the case you make for evangelical faith being vital -- you may notice that all the evidence you offer is grounded in human change and happiness. I believe this is exactly why the Church is diminishing in strength, and at least one way in which we differ so much from the Puritans themselves, who were so careful to ground all in God himself and his purposes. As I know you understand, in the kingdom of God, it is impossible to make sense of any act grounded in the creature, and benefits to the creature, rather than the Creator, and that which first of all glorifies the Creator.

In his "Mortification of Sin" Owen speaks of our tendency to attack only those sins that disquiet us, his point being that we do not hate sin because it is an offense to God, but to us. Your response is so telling because it seems to assume that the ultimate power and proof of a legitimate faith is in its effect in relation to men rather than God. I believe it is fair that we are criticised (speaking as an evangelical) as dying so long as we continue to fail to see that all our purposes, all our conduct, must be grounded first, and very practically, in the glory of God. While God tenderly loves and heals his people, redemption is first of all forensic, not therapeutic. It is rare, now, that I meet anyone, in any tradition, who grasps this with any practical import. It is not how much a thing helps us, but whether or not it honors God, that makes it valid. And this is why the Puritans so refresh my soul.

Apologies for jumping on you, but this must be said again and again in our day.

Eric

H.C. Ross said...

Eric,

I don't know if you'll even bother to check back here, but I want to assure you that I wasn't trying to imply God's glory was not the chief end in man's salvation. I understand your concern, and I assure you I'm not interested in reducing the Gospel to a bandaid for human felt needs. (Have you ever heard Paris Reidhead's sermon, 'Ten Shekels and a Shirt'?; or read Ray Comfort's book, 'Hell's Best Kept Secret'?; they're suberb treatments of this exact problem in the church today.)

If you'll notice the context of my post, I was refuting a Roman Catholic who implied the evangelical Protestant church was dying. Jesus said we'll know people by their fruit. I was describing the EFFECTS of God's salvation in Christ, not its essence. This is exactly what Scripture does:

1 Peter 1:8 - Peter says that as a result of believing in Christ, his readers experienced great joy.

Galatians 5:22 - Paul noted that the fruit (results of possessing or being possessed by) the Spirit included love, joy, and peace.

Acts 2:42-47 - Luke describes what radical lives the first Christians lived as a result of being saved.

These effects of salvation glorify God. You kindly disclaim yourself by saying you don't mean to give a broadside, but then hang the failure of evangelicalism on the sentiment you think I express!

You wrote:
"I believe this is exactly why the Church is diminishing in strength, and at least one way in which we differ so much from the Puritans themselves, who were so careful to ground all in God himself and his purposes."

Are you not aware that the Puritans, particularly in the latter years of the 16th century and the early years of the 17th, were notorious for their preoccupation with looking for 'signs' of election in themselves, having confused the importance of this secondary effect of salvation with the first bedrock proof of election, the sure Word and promises of God? Paul Seaver tells the account of one Puritan layman, Nehemiah Wallington, who contemplated suicide because he could not find assurance of salvation, because he was not sure his life displayed the signs of true election and effectual calling. This is a telling symptom of what was a pretty prevalent problem. (See Seaver, 'Wallington's World').

I love the Puritans, but they weren't perfect. And while I agree that God's glory is the chief end of man, you'd have to cut out half of Scripture to ignore the legitimate effects shown in human life when Christ comes to indwell it.

Check out Ephesians 1:5-6. It speaks of the eternal praise of the glory of God's grace. Why is God praised? For the grace he has shown undeserving sinners.

Robert Smith said...

Your anonymous correspondent, sounded very sad and disillusioned with things. Can I just differentiate between the circumstances in England and Scotland at that time. The Reformation on Scotland was spiritual, but in England at that time it was a mixture of politics and personal gain for the monarchy. Henry v111 wasn't King of Scots.

If Churches and faith in general were based on numbers, wealth, power etc. Then I have no doubt that the Roman Church is a powerful instrument in worldly terms. That is not and never was the point of Our Lord Jesus Christ coming to Earth to set up his Church. It is about love, faith, kindness, spirituality, and worshipping God the way He wants in spirit and in truth.

You Correspondent seems to have missed the mark here completely. It matters nought what we as fallen humans think. We are totally reliant on The Holy Spirit working within us, as we try to reflect Our Lord Jesus Christ in everything we do and say, every day.

If your correspondent has had a bad experience of Protestantism, then I am sorry about that. People often make mistakes and sin in their words and deeds. Your correspondent should search around and he will find kindly, loving people in Protestant Church. He only has to ask God for help.

Sincerely,
Robert Smith

Robert Smith said...

Your anonymous correspondent, sounded very sad and disillusioned with things. Can I just differentiate between the circumstances in England and Scotland at that time. The Reformation on Scotland was spiritual, but in England at that time it was a mixture of politics and personal gain for the monarchy. Henry v111 wasn't King of Scots.

If Churches and faith in general were based on numbers, wealth, power etc. Then I have no doubt that the Roman Church is a powerful instrument in worldly terms. That is not and never was the point of Our Lord Jesus Christ coming to Earth to set up his Church. It is about love, faith, kindness, spirituality, and worshipping God the way He wants in spirit and in truth.

You Correspondent seems to have missed the mark here completely. It matters nought what we as fallen humans think. We are totally reliant on The Holy Spirit working within us, as we try to reflect Our Lord Jesus Christ in everything we do and say, every day.

If your correspondent has had a bad experience of Protestantism, then I am sorry about that. People often make mistakes and sin in their words and deeds. Your correspondent should search around and he will find kindly, loving people in a Protestant Church. He only has to ask God for help.

Sincerely,
Robert Smith

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