Catholic or Roman?

John Z at The Boar’s Head Tavern writes:

[Francis] Beckwith seems to think that his particularly vocal Protestant apologist detractors are using the prefix “Roman” as a pejorative instead of being merely descriptive. This is probably true to a certain extent, because I’m sure many of them have no use for the word “catholic” themselves.


I certainly can’t speak for all of Beckwith’s detractors, but many of us take being catholic (in the true sense of the term) seriously. For us, to be “catholic” means to have the universal (that’s what “catholic” means) faith. It means to believe in the gospel. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church. Rome is not a part of that church. The Roman church is not a catholic church because it has anathematized the gospel. The way of salvation that Rome teaches will not lead one to heaven, but to hell. It is, therefore, misdescriptive to call the church of the pope, “the catholic church.”

John Z continued:

I have no problem if Beckwith and other Roman Catholics want to identify themselves as just simply “Catholic.” The terminology has evolved in such a way that it’s the first thing people think of when they hear the word. However, in the comment box, people are gently pushing back, reminding him that the creed talks about the “holy catholic church” and that there are plenty of Protestants (myself included) that are perfectly comfortable using the term for themselves in the sense that it means in that context. In this sense the “Roman” prefix would not be a pejorative but would rather be descriptive of what sort of “catholic” you are talking about.

There seems to be something of a dichotomy here. We don’t use the term “Roman” to specify which sort of “catholic” a person is, but to indicate that the term “catholic” is not being used in its ordinary sense, but as part of a sectarian designation.

There are other ways we can designate members of that sect: “Romanist” and “papist” are two that have been in common use among the Reformed churches for centuries. Both of those terms are descriptive labels relating to the ecclesiology of Rome (“papist” referring to being an adherent to the papacy, and “Romanist” referring to being an adherent of the bishop of Rome). When folks like Beckwith complain that there are many rites of Roman Catholicism and that the Latin rite is just one of those rites, it encourages folks like me to use the term “papist” to avoid any confusion over the fact that I don’t mean “Latin rite” by the term “Roman.”

Of course, the term “papist” tends to ruffle the feathers of Roman Catholics worse than any other descriptive term, so we sometimes try to minimize needless (even if it is unjustified) offense by using the term “Roman Catholic” or “Romanist” instead of “papist.”

After a brief quotation from Beckwith (which we’ll address last) John Z concludes:

Beckwith is my brother in Christ (internet apologists send in the attack dogs!), but I think this is kind of an immature response. In my opinion, he ought to be pleased that more and more Protestants are seeing the necessity to call themselves “catholic” with all it entails (first and foremost that we don’t think that centuries went by without any true church).

Francis Beckwith is an apostate evangelical. We have no good reason to think that he has saving faith in Jesus Christ. Folks who view Beckwith as their “brother in Christ” seem to have either a different notion of the gospel itself (which I am inclined to suspect is the majority of the cases), a very different notion of who should be called a brother in Christ (perhaps some of the Federal Vision folks would fit in here), or perhaps a different experience with Beckwith (after all, just because someone is a member of an apostate church does not guarantee that the person themselves is a full adherent to their church’s teachings).

I doubt many folks would be willing to call Bart Ehrman, another and more famous apostate evangelical, their “brother in Christ.” But if you claim to be an evangelical Christian, why would you accept one apostate and not the other? Do you think that the legalism of Rome saves? Do you think that adherence to the Roman pontiff is a true way to the Father?

I realize that John Z may be a very kindhearted person who does not like to judge someone. Yet there are some times when judgment is necessary and appropriate:

1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

Furthermore, I think John Z must be a bit naive. Why would Beckwith be pleased that those he must view as “heretics” (though perhaps Beckwith does not view them as Trent did) want to consider themselves “catholic”? We who view Rome as a proponent of heresy are not happy that Rome is attempting to call herself “catholic” – why would Rome be happy to have heretics apply that label to themselves? But John Z does not view Rome as heretical, so it is not so obvious to him. Hopefully, he recognizes that Mormonism is heretical. If so, is he happy when Mormons refer to themselves as Christians? I would hope not.

But it is worse than simply being a misdescription or simply a matter of Beckwith being grousy over a term that he should be happy for evangelicals to appropriate. Here is the final piece of John Z’s comment including his blockquotation of Beckwith:

Beckwith concedes this point but doesn’t seem to take it too seriously, finally saying:

I guess it should not surprise me that a Protestant would not only protest against the Catholic Church but also the Catholic Church’s use of the word Catholic. He’s not pleased with just leaving our church and having his own church; he wants to take our name and give us a new one. So much for the “priesthood of all believers.” :-)

Does Francis Beckwith really think we consider him a believer? We don’t. Surely Beckwith is aware of this.

But worse than that, notice that Beckwith claims that “catholic” is “our name.” He’s not only using a term that’s misdescriptive of his sect, but trying to claim exclusive use of the term for his sect. Rome and her pontiff try to claim universal dominion over Christianity. That is, after all, one of the reasons that the Reformers identified the office of Roman pontiff with the man of sin:

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.

Even Arminius understood this:

It is demonstrable by the most evident arguments that the name of Antichrist and of The Adversary of God belongs to him. For the apostle ascribes the second of these epithets to him when he calls him “the man of sin, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” (2 Thess. ii. 3-8.) It was he who should arise out of the ruins of the Roman empire, and should occupy its vacant digaity. These expressions, we assert, must be understood, and can be understood, solely respecting the Roman pontiff. But the name of “The Antichrist” belongs to him pre-eminently, whether the particle anti signifies opposition, or the substitution of one thing for another; not indeed such a substitution as is lawfully and legitimately made by Him who has the power of placing things in subordination, but it signifies one by which any man is substituted, either by himself or by another person through force and fraud. For he is both a rival to Christ, and his adversary, when he boasts of himself as the spouse, the head, and the foundation of the church, endowed with plenitude of power; and yet he professes himself to be the vicegerent of Christ, and to perform his functions on earth, for the sake of his own private advantage, but to the manifest injury of the church of Christ. He has, however, considered it necessary to employ the name of Christ as a pretext, that under this sacred name he may obtain that reverence for himself among Christians, which he would be unable to procure if he were openly to profess himself to be either the Christ, or the adversary of Christ.

– Arminius, Disputation 21, Section 12

These days, however, folks have lost sight of what matters – of the importance of affirming sola fide against the legalism of Rome. Arminius was wrong to treat faith as he did – and his errors were serious errors. Dordt was right, but Arminius looks positively orthodox against the backdrop of the broad landscape of contemporary evangelicalism and especially the “ecumenical” segments thereof.


14 Responses to “Catholic or Roman?”

  1. Pilgrimsarbour Says:

    I doubt many folks would be willing to call Bart Ehrman, another and more famous apostate evangelical, their "brother in Christ." An important difference here is that Ehrman disavows Christianity all together. He no longer claims to be a Christian. Beckwith, of course, does claim to be a Christian.It makes no sense and is not even up for debate whether we should call Ehrman a brother in Christ. It's at least up for debate whether or not to call Beckwith a brother in Christ.

  2. Turretinfan Says:

    Ehrman was (afaik) baptized. The fact that Ehrman does not call himself a "Christian" does change the parameters of the debate, of course, though not the substance (both Beckwith and Ehrman are apostates from evangelicalism).

  3. Turretinfan Says:

    For that matter, Beckwith still tries to call himself an evangelical. Ehrman does not. That is a real difference between them, naturally.

  4. natamllc Says:

    After reading this article and the comments too, I would put this spin on both this way:First I would acknowledge the dichotomy, the seemingly apparent contradictions that are not and yet are as one works their way through to the end with regard to being clear, precise and specific about what is afoot here with such apostasy and pure "Faith".What's up here with that? Why take such pains to be clear about things and terms and claiming one as a friend or not?I would go about it with these Scriptures as I ask, who can defeat them?:::>Luk 1:76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, Luk 1:77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, Luk 1:78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high Luk 1:79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." Luk 1:80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel. andPsa 139:19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me! Psa 139:20 They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain! Psa 139:21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? Psa 139:22 I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies. The Lord goes about treating His people with "tender mercies" at the hands of strong spirits all the while putting in their hearts such extremely strong emotions as we read there in Psa 139:19-22.Well, what is it then? Are we to be tender and full of mercies or are we to be strong in spirit as we go about the Work of the Lord?One could become confused about "how" God leads His people: "….to guide our feet into the way of peace."What's that old saw? "…Know Peace or no peace…".You might not agree with God or me, but I find both very very purposeful, making clear distinctions with both tender mercies and with a strong spirit as to who is and who is not "His people" and for those who I can ask God the questions: "….Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?….".Yes, to His people, we had better be of tender mercies. To those who hate Them we had better be of strong spirit!Why? These verses should remind us why:Psa 120:1 A Song of Ascents. In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. Psa 120:2 Deliver me, O LORD, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue. Psa 120:3 What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue? Psa 120:4 A warrior's sharp arrows, with glowing coals of the broom tree! Psa 120:5 Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech, that I dwell among the tents of Kedar! Psa 120:6 Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace. Psa 120:7 I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!and:::>Psa 149:6 Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, Psa 149:7 to execute vengeance on the nations and punishments on the peoples, Psa 149:8 to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron, Psa 149:9 to execute on them the judgment written! This is honor for all his godly ones. Praise the LORD! Tender mercies anyone, or not?

  5. Pilgrimsarbour Says:

    I don't think that tender mercies and strong spirits are in conflict with each other. They are both characteristics of the true disciple of Christ. They are to be manifest at different times and in different settings; perhaps even in the same setting.

  6. Reformation Says:

    The Romanist Gospel is anti-Christ and heresy.

  7. Burns Says:

    "That many Roman Catholics, past and present, are true Christians, is a palpable fact. It is a fact which no man can deny without committing a great sin. It is a sin against Christ not to acknowledge as true Christians those who bear his image, and whom He recognizes as his brethren. It is a sin also against ourselves. We are not born of God unless we love the children of God. If we hate and denounce those whom Christ loves as members of his own body, what are we? It is best to be found on the side of Christ, let what will happen. It is perfectly consistent, then, for a man to denounce the papacy as the man of sin, and yet rejoice in believing, and in openly acknowledging, that there are, and ever have been, many Romanists who are the true children of God."~Charles Hodge

  8. Turretinfan Says:

    Hodge's soft heart (though note that he would agree with Arminius and the Reformers) is one thing. Accepting apostates as brethren is quite another.

  9. Pilgrimsarbour Says:

    I should think that Hodge is acknowledging the fact that true believers can be found anywhere God has His people, despite serious (and even damning) doctrinal error in those systems.I thank God every day that He is in charge of His elect from start to finish; who they are, where they are, where they came from and where they're going. What a relief!

  10. natamllc Says:

    Pilgrim,when I read this attributed to you:::> "….I thank God every day that He is in charge of His elect from start to finish; who they are, where they are, where they came from and where they're going. What a relief!", I am reminded of these Words from the Psalms also exclaiming, "what a relief":::>Psa 139:5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

  11. ChaferDTS Says:
  12. ChaferDTS Says:

    "It's at least up for debate whether or not to call Beckwith a brother in Christ. "To me there is no debate on that matter. He has rejected the Scripture teaching of justification by faith only in Jesus Christ. And he has embraced Roman Catholicism. The Gospel of Roman Catholicism proclaimed by the Council of Trent falls under the condemnation of the apostle Paul in Gal. 1:6-9 and 2 Cor. 11:1-15. Beckwitch is accursed based on the standards of Scripture.

  13. Turretinfan Says:

    I assume that "Beckwitch" is an unfortunate typo. Yes. I see no reason to accept his profession of faith in Christ, and plenty of strong evidence against in his move from "Evangelicalism" to Rome.

  14. ChaferDTS Says:

    "I assume that "Beckwitch" is an unfortunate typo."I am sorry for that typo. I am sorry to Beckwith himself personally and those who read it. While I disagree with his conversion I have no ill will for him as a person but pray for him to at some point embrace the real doctrines of sin and grace and Sola Scriptura."Yes. I see no reason to accept his profession of faith in Christ, and plenty of strong evidence against in his move from "Evangelicalism" to Rome."After hearing and reading of it I do not believe that he understood true historical Protestantism. His own statements that the Scriture is not sufficient to refute Arianism made me glad that I left Roman Catholicism in June 1992 when I was just 19 years old. The issue back then for me was the authority of Scripture and the issue of justification. By the Spirit of God I was able to see through the gross misrepresentations and lies that Roman Catholicism has done towards the Reformers of the past and the present teachers of Reformed Theology. I had to turn away from something that was part of my family background. I am basically the only who in my family who holds to the five Solas of the Reformation. I gave the reformers a fair hearing and saw their very real concerns and false doctrines that they stood againist. And they were right. :)

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