The Tweet Heard Round the World
Rachel Held-Evans (RHE) is a social justice warrior, feminist who masquerades as a Christian, holding to very few Christian beliefs at all. This makes her frustrating, but entertaining to follow on Twitter.
She recently posted a Tweet that further demonstrated her ignorance of the Christian worldview. The Tweet was a picture of Trump during his recent visit to meet the Pope, and in the picture, the Pope looks miserable.
RHE, who despises Donald Trump, celebrated this and told Evangelicals to “take note” and become more like the current Pope. I re-tweeted this with my own caption, reminding RHE that evangelicals should not “take note” because the Pope believes in a false gospel, and practices idolatry.
Being the absolute irrelevance that I am on social media, I was not expecting a response from anyone. Obviously RHE did not respond, as celebrities rarely have the time to, but to my surprise a couple of Roman Catholic personalities fired off.
After calling me an “anti-catholic,” one papist said this:
I responded in kind saying this:
After that, another catholic apologist jumped in with a very long, multi-tweet response. I wanted to examine this, as any Christian who may run into devout Catholics will hear these arguments.
Although I have addressed this issue before, I would like to expose the refutation of these common arguments point by point. I was going to hold off on any blogs dealing with Roman Catholic theology until my upcoming blog series this Fall. (In honor of the 500th year anniversary of the Reformation, most of my blogs then will be on Roman Catholicism and her doctrines.) However, this topic is so multilayered it really cannot be covered too much.
The lay internet apologist said this:
“You keep making big bold statements that are based in circular reasoning. First off, where are you saying they received them from? In what manner are you saying they received them from? Are we being sane and discussing inspiration or are you saying the KJV came down cloud, straight from heaven? Yes, Scripture was divinely inspired. Multiple writers over a span of decades in various places wrote them all. However, many people were writing many things. The actual canon of Scripture had to be determined by an infallible source. For all false claims of Sola Scriptura, it is interesting that Scripture cannot define itself. There is no inspired Table of Contents for Sacred Scripture. What do I mean by the Catholic Church? I mean the Church that Christ founded, which has continued in a chain of Apostolic succession for 2,000 years. The same Church that used Her authority to define what Scripture consisted of. So yes, the Catholic church did ‘pick’ the books of the Bible. You cannot find writings of the [early church fathers] that support Protestant doctrines. Just like they are not found in Scripture. However, the Catholic Church can trace its doctrines back to the 1st Christians. #checkmateheretic”
Let’s take this apart claim by claim.
“You keep making big bold statements that are based in circular reasoning.”
Thus far I had made two statements. One was that the pope is not saved, and the other was that the church did not pick the books of the Bible. Whether those are true or not, they are certainly not circular.
“First off, where are you saying they received them from? In what manner are you saying they received them from?”
2 Peter 1: 21 says,
“For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Men were communicating under the influence of the Holy Spirit. This means the early Church received the New Testament truth from the apostles, or through one of the apostolic companions who were writing under inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Church received revelation from God, through the Apostles. They received them in written and oral form.
“Are we being sane and discussing inspiration or are you saying the KJV came down cloud, straight from heaven?”
I was called the anti-catholic, but I was not the one to initiate name-calling nor the adorning of my words in condescension. That aside, the Protestant position is certainly sane. Ironically, inspiration is not the true issue at hand: epistemology is.
Our Roman Catholic (RC) friend is actually asking about epistemology: how do we know what speaks for God? This is a question of epistemology more so than inspiration. We both agree the Scriptures are inspired, as he said “Yes, Scripture was divinely inspired. Multiple writers over a span of decades in various places wrote them all.” But the question is, how do we know this?
“The actual canon of Scripture had to be determined by an infallible source.”
This is arguably the most common Roman Catholic apologetic. Most Roman Catholics will start right out of the gate with this one, as my Twitter opponent did. Others will eventually fall back on this if they feel they are losing an argument. Christians need to be prepared to answer and refute this claim.
To clarify the argument, the point being made is that, even though God inspired the books of the Bible, we cannot know which ones they are in and of ourselves. How does a Christian know the Gospel according to John is inspired, but the Gospel of Thomas is not?
The Catholic answer is that without an infallible Church to tell us, we cannot know. The point being that the Protestant needs to be willing to accept the Church’s authority on all issues since we need to accept their authority on compiling the Bible and giving it to us.
There are three major fallacies in this that Christians need to memorize, primarily the last two. I will argue from the weakest to the greatest.
1) The Non-Sequitur Fallacy
If you cannot remember the fallacy, but only the argument, you will still be just fine. However, I would like to explain the broken logic.
The Non-Sequitur fallacy is a fallacious argument where one proposes a logical argument, but the conclusion is not the natural consequence of the premises. This is colloquially known as jumping to conclusions.
Here is an extreme example to clarify:
Premise 1: The sun rises in the east.
Premise 2: My window faces east.
Conclusion: My dog will run away tomorrow.
That conclusion does not follow from the premises. You would expect something like “the sun will shine through my window in the morning.” Where my window is and where the sun shines is not relevant to my dog’s behavior.
This is what the Catholic is doing covertly. Even if the protestant grants what he later says, that “the Catholic church did pick the books of the Bible,” it does not follow that the Roman Catholic church is an infallible authority on all religious issues. It is possible to accept the authority of a person or institution on particular issues, without subscribing to them in all things wholesale. In fact, all of history is predicated on this.
I believe that Abraham Lincoln was murdered during a play. How do I know this? There are plenty of reliable, first-hand sources which confirm this event. Does this mean these sources are then to be received as infallible on all historical news? Is the newspaper which reported his death, or his wife who wrote it in her journal, or any other potential source infallible on all issues? Of course not. We have good reason to accept their testimony on the issue of Lincoln’s death, and it does not follow they must be believed on all issues.
Thus, the Catholic cannot claim that protestants must surrender to Rome’s authority just because we trusted Rome’s judgment on Scripture (which of course is not the case).
2) The Fallacy of Begging the Question
To beg the question is to create a new problem by attempting to solve the initial one. It leaves a whole new question which now needs to be answered.
A colloquial phrase for this would be “kicking the can down the road.” Imagine yourself and a friend are walking on the sidewalk and you come upon an empty soda can on the sidewalk. You are upset that someone littered, and you wonder how you can get rid of the can. Before finding a trash can, suppose your friend kicks the can five feet ahead and claims the problem is solved.
It is true the problem seems solved, the can is no longer on the ground in front of you, it appears to be gone just as you desired. But what happens when you walk five more feet? There is the can. The issue has not been solved, it has been moved.
This is what the Catholic does when he tries to answer the epistemological question of how we know the Bible is from God. The Catholic inserts the church: “We know because an infallible Church told us!” The leak is plugged! But what’s the problem? We still have a can on the road; namely, how do we know the Catholic church is infallible?
The Catholic has not answered the question, he has simply begged a new one. He has removed the question from the Scripture, and placed it upon the church.
3) The Fallacy of Double Standards
This one is the most important. Notice his double standard when he says, “The actual canon of Scripture had to be determined by an infallible source.” If the Canon of Scripture needs to be determined by an infallible source, why does that said source not need to be verified by another infallible source?
The Roman Catholic has created a logical conundrum known as an infinite regress. If we cannot know something is an infallible, authoritative, Word from God without an external infallible authority, then we have created an endless need for infallible authorities, all verifying the infallible authority beneath them, and it never ever ends.
Thus, to escape the endless regress, our RC opponent has created a double standard; he requires of the protestant what he himself cannot provide. He tells me I cannot come to know that the Bible is an infallible authoritative book without an external authority, but he was able to know the RC church is an infallible church without any other authority. And this is the key response to memorize and understand.
The question that needs to be asked back after explaining the double standard is then:
How do you know the Roman Catholic Church is an infallible authority?
Notice the predicament the Roman Catholic is in. No answer he can give to that question is consistent with his charge toward Protestant epistemology.
a) He may try and quote the Bible to validate Rome’s authority. However, he cannot use the Bible to validate the authority he claims he needs in order to even know whether or not the Bible is reliable. Thus, it is always circular logic when a RC apologist tries to use Scripture to vindicate Rome, because Rome;s authority must be granted prior to Scripture so one can know what Scripture is and how to interpret it. Rome must be embraced before any reading of Scripture can be.
b) He may try to appeal to church history. However, how would he study history? He would have to study books, fallible books, written by fallible men. What are the problems of this? According to the RC worldview, if the books he studies are fallible, he cannot have certainty they are true. On top of that, the reasoning process he uses to interpret these books is fallible, so there is a second layer of uncertainty. Thus, no reading of history books can validate Rome’s claims with certainty.
This may sound like I am playing semantic games, but I am playing the games according to Rome’s rules. For whenever a Christian debates Scripture with the RC, the Roman Catholic will almost always eventually appeal to our alleged inability to know what Scripture is and means since we are fallible (they will then bring up all of our denominations to bolster the claim that we cannot know what Scripture ultimately means). Thus, if we cannot read an inspired book and know what it means because out reasoning is fallible, then the RC certainly cannot read a fallible book with his fallible reasoning and have certainty on its meaning either! Thus, the Roman Catholic cannot appeal to history at all in order to validate Rome.
c) Lastly, the Roman Catholic cannot try to claim Rome somehow validates herself. He cannot make an appeal to self-authentication. The reason, is because it would be special pleading to not allow the same thing for Scripture!
In other words, if Rome is self-authenticating due to her nature as being from God, the Bible is also from God, and would thus need to be self-authenticating too. And if the Bible authenticates itself, Rome has given the protestant the means to know the Canon without the Roman Catholic church!
Clearly, it would be egregious special pleading and arbitrariness to say “The Church, we can just know it is infallible. The Bible, we can’t.” By what standard? Our Roman Catholic friend brought up how along with Scripture, many other books were being written which were claimed to be from God. How could we know which ones to choose? However, there are many other churches today which claim to be from God. By what standard does he fallibly choose Rome over the other options? He dies the same death he accuses Protestants of making.
Hopefully, by now, you see why this is such a strong rebuttal. Christians do not need an infallible church to identify God’s self-authenticating Canon.
As a side note, this same argument also applies to the mode of operation after Rome is blindly presupposed as an authority. Even if Rome were an infallible interpreter, how can I know I am interpreting Rome correctly? The problem for the Catholic is no alleged church takes away the reality that eventually God’s Word has to enter into our infallible reasoning processes. Whether reading Scripture and listening to the Pope, or reading a Papal Bull, or reading the Catholic Catechism, everything is all being interpreted by fallible people. They do not escape the trap they put us in.
Moving on, he next says,
“For all false claims of Sola Scriptura, it is interesting that Scripture cannot define itself.”
To the contrary, this is exactly what the Word of God is capable of doing. Without getting into all of the details about epistemology (Dr. Kruger’s work here could not be more helpful), allow me to demonstrate from the Scriptures how the are clearly capable of authenticating themselves.
The Old Testament Canon
One of the strongest most important questions to ask the Roman Catholic is this:
How did the Jewish believer know any O.T. book was inspired by God 500 years prior to Christ?
We know clearly that God held the Jews accountable for not only knowing the Scriptures, but for even interpreting them correctly!
In Matthew 19 Jesus tells the Pharisees and the present Jews that they should know the nature of marriage because it is rooted in Genesis. In Matthew 22, Jesus rebukes the Sadducees for not understanding the Scriptures, saying, “Have you not read what God spoke to you.” And in Mark 7 Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for allowing their oral traditions to contradict the Word of God through Moses.
Jesus clearly held the Jewish people accountable for identifying the Word of God, and for interpreting it correctly. The reason this is astounding is that they had no infallible church to tell them what the Scriptures were or how to interpret them!
1 Thessalonians 2:13,
Paul dearly loved the Thessalonian church. It was a generous, faithful, loving church. In his introduction to his first letter to them (along with his companions), Paul mentions all the many reasons why he is so encouraged by the faith of the people in Thessalonica. One of the reasons for thankfulness he gives is this:
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
Notice how these 1st century Christians, many of whom were Gentiles, were able to hear Paul’s Words and come to know them as being God’s very Words. They had no infallible council, no infallible church, no other authority breathing down their necks and force-feeding beliefs on them. The Word of God in Paul authenticated itself to that people.
The Catholic could not claim that Paul himself is the infallible interpreter, because he is the one in question. If Rome allows circular reasoning such as, “Paul is infallible because he said so” then we really do not need to discuss things further.
The problem is, the Roman catholic is here requiring something outside of Scripture to validate Scripture. However, the early Christians did not need something outside the Word of God to validate the Word of God. Paul’s message was accepting on its own merit.
Acts 17: 10-11,
After Paul first preached in Thessalonica, he then moved south to Berea. The Bereans serve as another great example of Christians rightly recognizing and properly handling God’s Word.
The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
Notice how the Bereans had God’s Word, and knew it was God’s Word. And they did this without an infallible church. And not only that, but they are so able to interpret God’s Word, they refuse to believe what Paul says until it is proved consistent with Scripture.
This would have been Paul’s chance to be a good Roman Catholic and rebuke them. How do they even know what they possess is the Word of God? And how dare those fallible lay people think they can interpret the Scriptures apart from proper ecclesiastical authority?
However, none of that happens. To the contrary, the Scriptures call the Bereans noble. If the Bereans could receive and interpret God’s Word without Rome, why can’t we?
All of this is consistent with Jesus’ very clear words in John 10, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.”
It is that simple. If the Bible is the Word of God, the sheep will hear them.
“There is no inspired Table of Contents for Sacred Scripture.”
The rebuttal above fits for this as well. I wanted to single this out to demonstrate one specific thought which is that this is a dishonest request.
The “inspired table of contents” argument (also known as the “golden index” argument) is dishonest because even if God had inspired a table of contents, Rome would not allow Protestants to know that document itself is inspired. They would still require us to submit to Rome in order to know the inspiration of the document containing the list of Canonical books.
The Fallacy of Equivocation
“What do I mean by the Catholic Church? I mean the Church that Christ founded, which has continued in a chain of Apostolic succession for 2,000 years. The same Church that used Her authority to define what Scripture consisted of. So yes, the Catholic church did ‘pick’ the books of the Bible. You cannot find writings of the [early church fathers] that support Protestant doctrines. Just like they are not found in Scripture.”
This part was thrown in because of my original question asking the first respondent to define “Church.”
Roman Catholic apologists far too often get away with the fallacy of equivocation. That is a formal logical fallacy in which a person uses an ambiguous term in different ways throughout the conversation.
For example, Catholics will regularly speak of the “church” is being infallible. But what does that mean? Is every local parish infallible? Is every Catholic infallible? No. Only the Pope and his magisterial council are infallible. Also, they are only infallible at certain times, they are not always infallible. Also, they are only infallible when speaking on certain issues (faith and morals). And, their infallibility is only allowed to be used for interpretation, unlike the Apostles, they could not infallibly declare new truth.
Thus, when the Roman Catholic says, “The Church is infallible!” What they mean is “The current Pope, and his few council members, are occasionally infallible when they interpret revelation!”
Now, try reading that definition of “church” into the famous text they use to try and justify Rome’s authority, Matthew 16:18. When Jesus says “I will build my church”, it would be obviously erroneous to replace that word with the phrase “occasionally infallible interpreting pope and his selected council members.”
Whenever discussing “church” with a Roman Catholic. Force them to define it, and see if they hold to that definition throughout the conversation.
It is easy to see how our Twitter friend fared, for he immediately defined the church in a fallacious circle just to get in a few more Catholic talking points.
“What do I mean by the Catholic Church? I mean the Church that Christ founded, which has continued in a chain of Apostolic succession for 2,000 years. The same Church that used Her authority to define what Scripture consisted of.”
In other words, he defined church like this: “the church…duh”. Move along folks, no circles to see here.
The last thing I want to address is the unfounded claim that,
“However, the Catholic Church can trace its doctrines back to the 1st Christians. #checkmateheretic”
This certainly is not true at all. Transubstantiation, the Marian dogmas, and almost every other Roman Catholic belief outside of their Christology and Trinitarianism are utterly absent from 1st century Christian theology. Most Catholics will even admit this, which is why so many have embraced the “Development of Doctrine” hypothesis which states that there were only “seed forms” of these doctrines in the early church, and throughout church history they have developed (blossomed). Even most believing Roman Catholics would not be willing to say anything other than seed form Roman Catholic doctrine was present among the 1st century Christians.
And about the heretic hashtag: it only got worse for me. Later on, a Twitter profile began to re-tweet all of the arguments that the others used against me, and the reason that is bad news for me is because the profile name is “Heretic Destroyer”, and the bio includes “Destroyer of Protestant Falsehoods. Repent and submit to the Pope.”