Monday, April 11, 2005

The Perils of Apostasy

Apostasy is a horrible thing because it results in the damnation of one who was once enlighten to the truth, and who should therefore have known to stay in the truth. It is precisely because he was enlightened that his condemnation will be greater than that of the one who never knew the truth to begin with.

As great a tragedy as that final apostasy is, comparatively speaking, the process of apostasy is even more dangerous than the apostasy itself. Why? Because an apostate rarely “goes down” by himself. He normally takes as many others with him as he can take. He does that by stirring up controversy, by asking loaded questions that rhetorically seem to support his decision, by attempting to justify his direction in the minds of others so it doesn’t seem like apostasy.

Recently, one of the purveyors of “reformed” catholicism expressed horror over the fact that a commenter on his blog suggested it might be better if the newly selected Roman pontiff finally led the Roman Catholic denomination in a descent into total apostasy. Why is that better? Because then at least it would be clear to all what Roman Catholicism really is. The process of apostasy is always accompanied by confusion. The Galatians were “bewitched” by something that appeared to be Christian, not by something overtly non-Christian. The churches in Asia Minor were confused and emotionally distraught over the fact that some from among their own ranks had left them for something that appeared (at least to them) to be Christian—that is, at least until John assured them that “they went out from us, but they did not really belong to us” (1 John 2:19). Knowing that simple truth—“if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us”—makes all the difference in the world for how we view final apostasy compared to the process of apostasy. It is infinitely better that one on the apostate road finally reaches that goal than that he stick around for a long time and subtly deceive many more into going the direction he himself is going.

The same principle holds true for the entire denomination of Rome. So long as that denomination appears to be Christian to scores of undiscerning evangelicals, those evangelicals will continue subtly to be deceived by it and will begin to spiral down with it. Some evangelicals simply will not accept the notion that Roman Catholicism officially apostatized into a false gospel that is both universalistic and works-based. It’s not so much that they aren’t able to read the documents themselves to see that this is true; it’s rather the case that they simply refuse to accept it. Why? Well, because Roman Catholics believe so many of the same things we do! How could they possibly be outside the pale of biblical orthodoxy?

The evangelical flirtation with Rome should not surprise us. After all, the Galatian Christians flirted with the Judaizers, and the Christians in Asia Minor flirted with the Gnostics. But, as I’ve already mentioned, there is an even greater danger than the apostates themselves; namely, those who are in the process of apostasy. Such is the case with the so-called “reformed catholics.” Here is one example:
Redemptoris Mater

Someone please show me the heresy in these words:

And now, standing at the foot of the Cross, Mary is the witness, humanly speaking, of the complete negation of these words. On that wood of the Cross her Son hangs in agony as one condemned. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows . . . he was despised, and we esteemed him not: as one destroyed (cf. Is. 53:3-5). How great, how heroic then is the obedience of faith shown by Mary in the face of Gods unsearchable judgments! How completely she abandons herself to God without reserve, offering the full assent of the intellect and the will to him whose ways are inscrutable(cf. Rom. 11:33)! And how powerful too is the action of grace in her soul, how all-pervading is the influence of the Holy Spirit and of his light and power! Through this faith Mary is perfectly united with Christ in his self-emptying. For Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men: precisely on Golgotha humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (cf. Phil. 2:5-8). At the foot of the Cross Mary shares through faith in the shocking mystery of this self-emptying. This is perhaps the deepest kenosis of faith in human history. Through faith the Mother shares in the death of her Son, in his redeeming death; but in contrast with the faith of the disciples who fled, hers was far more enlightened. On Golgotha, Jesus through the Cross definitively confirmed that he was the sign of contradiction foretold by Simeon. At the same time, there were also fulfilled on Golgotha the words which Simeon had addressed to Mary: and a sword will pierce through your own soul also. Yes, truly blessed is she who believed!
In the first place, something doesn’t have to be “heretical” to be wrong, just as someone doesn't have to be a heretic to be wrongheaded. It is not so much of a concern that the statement betrays someone with an erroneous understanding of how to do biblical exegesis (something that is easily forgiven since it is something evangelicals engage in regularly). The primary concern is the heretical Marian mindset from which that statement springs. The two passages to which the author alludes are as follows:
John 19:25-27: Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
This is purportedly the “fulfillment” of another passage:
Luke 2:34-35: Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."
Let’s start with Luke 2. Although the author’s understanding of the “sword” that would piece Mary’s soul is the popular Roman Catholic interpretation of this episode (namely, that she would be pierced by the sorrow of witnessing the death of her son), the author—and his admirer—seems completely oblivious to the fact that most scholars—even the major Roman Catholic ones—reject that interpretation as even possible. The context of the Luke 2 passage is the “rising and falling of many in Israel” due to their response to Jesus. The “sword” is one of discipleship and judgment. It will test the thoughts and hearts of those whom Jesus confronts. Many must pass through this "sword," including Mary. It has nothing to do with Mary’s sorrow at the cross. Indeed, Luke doesn’t even record Mary’s presence at the cross. Hence, if Luke 2 refers to Mary’s sorrow, then Luke leaves that prophecy unfulfilled. Nor does the writer (or his admirer) seem to know that the earliest interpretations of this passage are right in line with what I have just presented as the correct exegesis.

The statements regarding the second passage (John 19:25-27) also represent the popular Roman Catholic, nevertheless incorrect exegesis of the passage. There has been much ado at the “reformed”-catholic blog over the notion that unless we posit the spiritual motherhood of Mary as the theological meaning of this passage, all we are left with is a mundane interpretation with mundane significance—John simply records that he was entrusted with the care of Jesus’ mother after Jesus’ death. Jesus must be appointing Mary as “caretaker (or mother) of the church,” we are told, else John’s highly theological gospel makes no sense at this point.

Is there theological significance to this episode? Of course; but it’s not what the Roman Catholic sycophants at “reformed catholic dot com” think it is. On the cross Jesus is communicating with finality what he has been teaching all along; namely, that whatever earthly or biological ties anyone may have claimed over him are severed at the cross. When Mary approached Jesus in John 2 and expressed her concern about the lack of wine at the wedding banquet in Cana, Jesus aided that situation, but not until after he took that opportunity to make clear to Mary that she has no basis for making that request based on her biological relationship to him: “What do you and I have in common, woman?” If Mary thought she had clout to make a request as Jesus’ mother, Jesus rebuffs that notion. His time for supplying wine (at his own messainic wedding banquet) had not yet come.

This is the very same point Jesus makes in all four gospels. When Mary and Jesus’ brothers request to speak to him after having set out to take charge of him because they thought he was insane (Mark 3), Jesus responds, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then, referring to his disciples he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

In other words, no one may approach Jesus on the basis of biological ties. Why? Because Jesus is severing those ties in favor of his new eschatological family. That severance is consummated at the cross. Hence, for the “reformed catholic to posit that what Jesus is really doing in John 19 is not only recognizing the biological ties his mother has to him but also exalting her as “mother of the church” is to engage in crass eisegesis that has its basis in a disturbing, unbridled infatuation with a biblical character from whom Jesus took pains to distance himself while on this earth. That kind of devotion does not honor the real Mary. Indeed, it dishonors the biblical Mary and trades her in for the romantized goddess of Roman Catholicism.

Nevertheless, we continue to receive such insightful gems as this from “reformed” catholicism dot com:
Several scriptures "during the apostolic period" outside the gospels contain references to Mary: Acts 1:14; Galatians 4:4; Revelation 12:1-6.
Only the first two of these refer to Mary, neither of which states anything remarkable about her. The third (Rev 12) is thrown in as a Marian passage as though it’s a given that passage refers to Mary. In fact, the “woman” of Revelation 12 is the people of God, not Mary. A Marian interpretation doesn’t even make sense exegetically. Moreover, no one of note in the first six centuries of the church interpreted as anything but the people of God—and it was a full two centuries later before anyone saw Mary as the primary referent (as opposed to a symbolic referent after the people of God). Yet, the “reformed” “catholic” who made this comment seems happily ignorant of the fact that his “catholicism” is limited to the modern day, and excludes the entire church of the first eight centuries.

Returning momentarily to the John 19 passage, one of the “reformed” catholics had this to say:
Furthermore, the text itself encourages us to see in Jesus' actions a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. It is only after Jesus identifies Mary as the mother of the beloved disciple, who is present as Jesus defeats Satan on the cross (John 12:31-32), that the text tells us now "all things had been accomplished to fulfill the Scripture" (John 19:28). This clearly connects the identification of Mary as the mother of the disciple (who stands with Jesus at the moment of Satan's defeat) with the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Hmmm. What biblical prophecy has to do with a woman and her offspring, set in the context of the Messianic defeat of Satan?
Anyone reading this episode in John 19 can clearly see for himself that anytime John wants us to see fulfillment of some OT passage, he makes that connection for us. When the soldiers cast lots for Jesus garment in 19:23, John explicitly tells us “this happened that the Scriptures might be fulfilled” in v. 24. When the soldiers decided not to break Jesus’ legs in v. 33 and pierce him in v. 34, John tells us in vv. 36-37, “these things happened so that the Scriptures would be fulfilled.” Yet, John gives us no such statement about “the seed of the woman” in this episode. Why? Simply put, John does not make the connection that Mary is the woman referred to in Genesis. There is absolutely no sound exegetical basis for the highly embellished, highly convoluted notion that Woman in Genesis = Mary = Mother of the church in John 19= exalted figure of Revelation 12. It is a construct that is based on inference upon inference, and which easily breaks down to nothing under close exegetical scrutiny. I don’t have the space here to reproduce my doctoral thesis on this issue. Anyone interested in learning more may be helped by reading my book, Who Is My Mother?

The point of all of this is to show why apostasy in progress is more dangerous to the church than apostasy completed. If we were all equally informed and convinced of the false gospel of Rome, there would be little else about it that could attract us and take our gaze off Christ. But it is precisely because not everyone takes seriously the heretical nature of Rome’s gospel that the peripheral trappings (such as Marian veneration) come into play and become attractive to some who are on the road to apostasy. In short order, those attractions soon become convictions. And then those convictions become the very motivation—through websites, blogs, etc.—for convincing others of what they themselves have experienced on this road. After all, no one wants to make that journey alone; and of course, no one wants to do it without some basis for it. So they end up publishing large amounts of material in an attempt to justify their course of action—justify it, that is, to the larger audience they are seeking to win over, but also (I believe) to justify it to themselves.

Do they recognize that road as one leading to apostasy? Of course not; no apostate ever thinks he’s apostate! They think they’ve been enlightened, and freed from the slavery of their former way of thinking. In reality they have abandoned the truth of the gospel, and that abandonment of truth has a spiraling effect that should act as a sober reminder to all of us. Once one has successfully resisted some degree of truth, God releases his grip and allows him to pursue more severe rejection of truth. Once they accomplish that, the spiral continues in its downward course to apostasy—and, of course, along the way, they’ll end up taking many others with them. That’s the real danger. It’s easy to recognize error when it doesn’t look Christian—not so easy when it does. That’s why it’s always better for those who will eventually become apostate to do so quickly. If you’re going to “go out from us” and romance Rome, do so. Do it with gusto. Do it with courage. Do it with conviction. But do us all a favor and cease being subtle about it. Why contribute to someone else’s destruction? And stop hanging around and calling yourselves “evangelical” or “Reformed.” You’re neither.