Every year I tell my Reformation history class that Roman Catholicism is, at least in the West, the default position. Rome has a better claim to historical continuity and institutional unity than any Protestant denomination, let alone the strange hybrid that is evangelicalism; in the light of these facts, therefore, we need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic; not being a Catholic should, in others words, be a positive act of will and commitment, something we need to get out of bed determined to do each and every day.Bryan Cross has keyed in on this [type of] statement from Trueman to suggest that somehow Trueman has admitted that the Roman Church is "the Church that Christ founded" -- the one to which all Christianity should return.
Some Protestants who know of the Catholic Church’s claim to be the Church that Christ founded are not offended by this claim. They are not offended by it, because they remember Protestantism’s historical origin in the Catholic Church. They remember that in the minds of the first Protestants, the intention was not to separate from the Catholic Church, but to reform the Catholic Church. For these first Protestants, their resulting separation from the Catholic Church was a kind of ‘necessary evil,’ not intended to create one or many schisms from the Church, but to bring needed moral and doctrinal reform to the very same Church that Christ had founded. In the minds of those first Protestants, this separation was to persist only until the Catholic Church was sufficiently reformed, so that they could return to full communion with her. The present-day Protestants who remember this obviously do not believe that the Catholic Church is infallible; that is why they believe that they can justifiably be separated from her. But they do believe that the Catholic Church from which they are visibly separated is (or has the best claim to being the visible continuation of) the Church that Christ founded, and they look to be reunited to her as soon as she is sufficiently reformed.But Trueman did not say that the Roman Church is "the Church that Christ Founded." Bryan ignores a couple of things. Just as Bryan has misused Luther, Bryan has also misused Carl Trueman. It's true that at the time of the Reformation, the Church of Rome needed to be "Reformed." But it did not ever change, and in the last 500 years, it has even moved further off in its aberrant direction. But as Steve Hays has noted, Bryan is not interested in saying true things. Bryan is a demagogue.
Carl Trueman is a Protestant of this sort.
More recently, Jason Stellman chimed in on this, with puzzlement that seems to be typical from him but not really beyond his ability to think it through (I don't know why he seems puzzled by this). When I suggested that he has misunderstood what Trueman was saying, he responded that Trueman "lists his reasons why he will not do so (ecclesiology and justification), but says that since evangelicals don't share his protestations, that they should end the schism. How have I misrepresented or misunderstood him?"
Well, Trueman also responded, and he did not give any ground at all to Bryan Cross's suggestion:
... those familiar with recent scholarship on the development of Protestant thinking, Lutheran or Reformed, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, know that Protestant theologians were careful readers and appropriators of Catholic theology, exegesis, philosophy, and casuistry. For some years now, I have considered that it would be not only academically nonsensical but also an act of a curmudgeonly ingrate to refuse to acknowledge such debts. This is not to say that there were not -- and are not -- fundamental differences in key areas, not least those of authority, justification, and sacraments; but it is to point to a heritage which both orthodox Catholicism and orthodox Protestantism holds in common. I would not go so far as to say that the Catholic Church is my church, as Bryan argues, but I would say that the true catholic tradition is my tradition -- essentially Calvin's point in his reply to Cardinal Sadoleto.In his reply to Sadoleto, Calvin did not give any ground. Here is Calvin's response to the suggestion hat the Protestants were somehow responsible for the schism:
... the most serious charge of all is, that we have attempted to dismember the Spouse of Christ. Were that true, both you and the whole world might well regard us as desperate. But I will not admit the charge, unless you can make out that the Spouse of Christ is dismembered by those who desire to present her as a chaste virgin to Christ,—who are animated by a degree of holy zeal to preserve her spotless for Christ,—who, seeing her polluted by base seducers, recall her to conjugal fidelity,—who unhesitatingly wage war against all the adulterers whom they detect laying snares for her chastity. And what but this have we done? Had not your faction of a Church attempted nay, violated her chastity, by strange doctrines? Had she not been violently prostituted by your numberless superstitions? Had she not been defiled by that vilest species of adultery, the worship of images? And because, forsooth, we did not suffer you so to insult the sacred chamber of Christ, we are said to have lacerated his Spouse! But I tell you that that laceration, of which you falsely accuse us, is witnessed not obscurely among yourselves; a laceration not only of the Church, but of Christ himself, who is there beheld miserably mangled. How can the Church adhere to her Spouse, while she has him not in safety? For where is the safety of Christ, while the glory of his justice, and holiness, and wisdom, is transferred elsewhere?In his commentary on Malachi, Calvin duly notes the process by which, if it were true that God had given the Roman church some place or office of authority, God is well within his rights to "cut them off" as well, to "rub dung in their faces":
But as the Jews flattered themselves on account of their descent, and ever boasted of their fathers, and as that preeminence with which God had favored them proved to them an occasion of haughtiness and pride, the Prophet here ridicules this foolish confidence, I will scatter dung, he says, on your faces: “Ye are a holy nation, ye are the chosen seed of Abraham, ye are a royal priesthood; these are your boastings; but the Lord will render your faces filthy with dung; this will be your nobility and preeminence! there is then no reason for you to think yourselves exempt from punishments because God has adopted you; for as ye have abused his benefits and profaned his name, so ye shall also find in your turn, that he will cover you with everything disgraceful and ignominious, so as to make you wholly filthy: ye shall then be covered all over with dung, and shall not be the holy seed of Abraham.”The Roman church, reflexively, would defend itself by saying, "Well, he was saying this to the Jewish priests," but Calvin, as if anticipating that lame response, turns this curse directly upon the Romanists:
“I myself,” he says, “am present, to whom ye think your sacrifices to be acceptable; I then will destroy your seed, and I will also cast dung on your faces; all the dignity which ye pretend shall be abolished, for ye think that ye are defended by a sort of privilege, when ye boast yourselves to be the seed of Abraham: it is dung, it is dung,” he says. He afterwards shows what was especially the dung and the filth: for when they objected and said, “What! have our sacrifices availed nothing?” he answers, “Nay, I will cast that dung upon you, because the chief pollution is in your sacrifices, for ye vitiate and adulterate my service: and what else is your sacrifice but profanation only? ye are sacrilegious in all your empty pomps. Since then all your victims have an ill-savor and displease me, and as I nauseate them, (as it is also said in the first and last chapter of Isaiah,) I will heap the dung on your own heads, because ye think it to be your chief expiation.”
He adds at last, It shall take you to itself; that is, “Ye shall be dung altogether; and thus all your boastings, that ye are descended from the holy Patriarch Abraham, shall be wholly useless; though I made a covenant and promised that you should be to me a royal priesthood, yet the dung shall take you to itself, and thus whatever dignity I have hitherto conferred on you shall be taken away.”
For how have arisen so great impieties under the Papacy, except that pastors have exercised tyranny and not just government? For they have not regarded the purpose for which they have been called into their office, but as the name of pastor is in itself honorable, they have dared to raise themselves above the clouds, and to assume to themselves the authority of God himself. Hence it has been, that they have dared to bind consciences by their own laws, to change the whole truth, and to corrupt the whole worship of God: and hence also followed the scandalous sale of justice. How have these things happened? Because priests were counted as angels come down from heaven; and this same danger is ever to be feared by us.
This then is the vice which the Prophet now refers to; and he shows that the priests had no reason to think that they could shake off the yoke, Ye shall know, he says, that to you belongs this command. We indeed see what they objected to Jeremiah,
“The law shall not depart from the priests nor counsel and wisdom from the elders.” (Jeremiah 18:18.)
These are the weapons by which the Papists at this day defend themselves. When we allege against them plain proofs from Scripture, they find themselves clearly reproved and convicted by God’s word; but here is their Ajax’s shield, under which they hide all their wickedness, retailing as it were from the ungodly and wicked priests what is related by Jeremiah, “‘The law shall not depart from the priests;’ we are the Church, can it err? is not the Holy Spirit dwelling in the midst of us? ‘I am with you always to the end of the world,’ (Matthew 28:20;) did Christ intend to deceive his Church when he said this to his Apostles? and we are their successors.” The Prophet now gives the answer, Ye shall know, he says, that to you, belongs this command.
And he adds, not without severity, that my covenant may be with Levi; as though he had said, “On what account are ye thus elated? for God cannot get a hearing for himself, yet ye say that the covenant with Levi is not to be void, as though God had put Levi in his own place, and divested himself of all authority when he appointed that tribe, and made you ministers of the temple and teachers of the people; is he nothing? What was God’s purpose when he honored you with that dignity? He certainly did not mean to reduce himself to nothing, but, on the contrary, his will was, that his own right should remain entire and complete. When therefore I reprove your vices, and show that ye are become vile, and as it were dung, that ye are defiled by everything disgraceful, — when I make these things openly known, I do not violate the covenant made with Levi. God then justly summons you before his tribunal, and strips you of your honor, in order that the covenant he made with Levi may be confirmed and ratified.” This is, as I have said, a severe derision.
Now, I wish that Trueman had been clearer than he has been, and not permitted sophists like Bryan Cross an opening with which to twist his words. I wish he would not use the hyperbole he does.
The Reformation is not over. Trueman identified the "evangelicals" whom he said might as well "do the decent thing and rejoin the Roman Catholic Church." They are those
...who deny justification by faith as understood by the Protestant Reformers, who deny God's comprehensive knowledge of the future, who deny penal substitutionary atonement, who deny the Messianic self-consciousness of Christ, who have problems with the Nicene Creed, who deny the Chalcedonian definition of Christ's person, who cannot be trusted to make clear statements on homosexuality, and who advocate epistemologies and other philosophical viewpoints which are entirely unprecedented in the history of the orthodox Christian church...These are the people he has suggested should rejoin Rome (and indeed he lumps them all together); but he should more honestly have suggested that they become Occultists, because that religion, too, "has a better claim to historical continuity and institutional unity" than Rome has.
The keys to not going back to the Roman church in the days of the Reformation involve "justification by faith" and "ecclesiology." Those reasons have not changed since the time of the Reformation. In fact, those reasons have been exacerbated in the time since the Reformation. If Bryan thinks that Rome has "reformed" itself to the point that Protestants should "return," it is far more evident that Rome "remains stiff-necked after many rebukes" -- and that, with Calvin, we are more prone to say that any pretense to Roman authority was rather suddenly destroyed—without remedy.