Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Response to Pastor James White on Rick Warren (Part I)

As most will have heard, Pastor Rick Warren, of the famous Saddleback Church in California, recently made comments about the importance of Catholics and Protestants working together. He also, while noting the many differences which exist between Catholics and Protestants, argues that the great truths we believe in: the Trinity, the incarnation, salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ are far greater than what divides us.

Not everyone agrees. One noteworthy critique comes from Pastor James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries. In a video found here, White accuses Warren of "capitulating" on fundamental issues of the Gospel.

At approximately the 3:35 mark of his video, Pastor White declares:

"There is a reason why, at the reformation, the solas were promoted... it is Christ ALONE, it is by the Grace of God ALONE, it is by faith ALONE; those solas have a reason." (emphasis Pastor White's).

This is a constant theme in Dr. White's criticism of Roman Catholicism. I've heard him say many times, for example, that the issue of the Reformation was the sufficiency of grace, that both sides agreed that grace is necessary to salvation but that the reformers believed grace alone saves while Rome held that salvation is by grace plus something else.

This is completely wrong. Both sides of the Catholic/Protestant debate have always affirmed that salvation is by grace alone through Christ alone. The contrary heresy, that humans, unaided by grace, can do anything towards our own salvation, is called Semipelagianism (as opposed to Pelagiansim which affirms that we can be saved without grace.) Semipelagianism was solemnly condemned at the Council of Orange in 529. A reaffirmation of this condemnation is implicit in chapters 5, 6, 8 and 13 of the Council of Trent's Decree on justification.

Pastor White goes on to argue that, even where we agree, the agreement is superficial because of our reasons for agreeing. At approximately the 4:15 mark, he says.:

"Why does a Roman Catholic believe in the Trinity? Because the Church tells him so. Why do I believe in the Trinity? Because God has revealed it to be true in His Word. Why do I believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Scriptural authority. Why does the Roman Catholic believe? Church Authority."

To say the least, it's quite a bit more complicated than that. While I'm certainly glad to have the many magisterial declarations on the Trinity, I affirm that the truth of the Trinity can be amply defended on the basis of the Bible alone and I'd be very happy to prove this in debate with any Jehovah's Witness, Mormon or 'Biblical Unitarian'. In fact, I've pretty much done it already, in my debate with Muslim apologist Abdullah Kunde, and I can recall Pastor White having some reasonably complimentary things to say about my performance.

As for the resurrection, no, my reason for believing in the resurrection is not Church authority, actually it's the other way around. I was first convinced of the historical fact of the resurrection, convinced from the this fact that Christ was who He claimed to be. I was then persuaded that Christ established the Catholic Church to teach in His name. So, far from me believing in the resurrection because of Church authority, it would be closer to the truth to say I believe in Church authority because of the resurrection.

I will, Deo volente, continue my response to Pastor White in the coming days.

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