Called to Communion

1%d0%b3_ugolino_di_nerio-_the_last_supper_metropolitan_mus-_n-yThe most influential resource for me in becoming Catholic has been the website, Called to Communion. The authors are former Reformed/Presbyterian pastors, seminary students, and laymen who have all converted to the Catholic faith and who started the site in order to discuss the obstacles that exist between Protestants and Catholics, being motivated by Christ’s prayer for unity in John 17. They’ve written on pretty much every contentious issue out there, and the debates in the comments section are perhaps the site’s most valuable feature. It was reading through those debates late into the hours of many nights that helped to change my mind.

Anyways, they’ve been kind enough to host my “Thitherward” post, and you’re welcome to leave comments. I’m still undecided as to whether I’ll open comments here or not, as it could mean a lot of extra work on my part. We’ll see.


On Scripture and the Bereans

In my previous post I argued that the Church has a divine teaching authority, which means she has the authority to declare which doctrines are true and which are false. One of the objections I’ve encountered in discussions about this comes from the account of the Bereans in Acts 17. The Bereans, the objection goes, were praised for not simply submitting to Paul’s teachings but for checking those teachings against Scripture before accepting them. If the Bereans were praised for doing this with an Apostle, how much more ought we to do this with the Church? Therefore, we shouldn’t just accept the Church’s teachings – we should always check them against the Bible.

The context of Acts 17, as well as of Paul’s broader ministry, however, shows that this objection is unfounded. At the beginning of Acts 17, Paul has paid a visit to the Jewish synagogue in Thessalonica. Scripture tells us,

And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ” [Ac.17:2,3 all quotes from the ESV].

Paul's journey through ancient Greece. Courtesy Lambert Planet

Paul’s journey through ancient Greece.
Courtesy Lambert Planet

Paul opens the Scriptures and demonstrates to the Thessalonians how those Scriptures proclaim Christ. This was his main method for ministering to the Jews, as we can see from other examples in Acts (Acts 13, for example, gives a detailed look at how Paul went about “explaining and proving” Christ from the Old Testament). Some of Paul’s hearers were persuaded [v.4], but the Thessalonian Jews were not, and made their disagreement known with a city-wide temper tantrum [v.5]. In response, Paul and Silas leave under cover of night and travel to Berea. They do just what they did in Thessalonica and they pay a visit to the synagogue [v.10]. But the response of the Berean Jews was very different from the jealous Jews of Thessalonica. We read,

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 [Ac.17:11].

The Holy Spirit praises the Berean Jews, informing us that they “were more noble than those in Thessalonica.” But what exactly are they being praised for? Are they being praised for not merely accepting Paul’s gospel but for double-checking Scripture before accepting it? The nobility of the Bereans is contrasted here with the ignobility of the Thessalonians. So if the nobility of the Bereans lay in double-checking Paul’s teachings before accepting them, then the ignobility of the Thessalonians lay in accepting Paul’s teachings without double-checking them. But as we’ve seen, this isn’t what happened in Thessalonica. It wasn’t that they accepted Paul’s teachings without first seeing if Scripture supported them; it was that they didn’t accept Paul’s teachings at all. Their response to Paul’s ministry was one of sorely undignified unbelief.
Continue reading

From Sola Scriptura to a Radical Surrender of Fate


A Hermit Praying, by Gerrit Dou, 17th c.

As you can imagine, we’ve received many comments, questions, and exhortations from Reformed people over the last few months. Perhaps the main critique we’ve received is that we need to obey the Bible, or attend a church that is biblically sound, or something along those lines. One of the reasons behind the Reformation was that the Reformers had accused Rome of forsaking God’s Word. So if someone from a Reformed background becomes Catholic, this must involve a lower view of Scripture.

While that’s how it looks from the Reformed end, that isn’t at all what changes in the heart and mind of a convert to Rome. Catholics believe as much as Reformed people do that their beliefs are in accord with God’s holy and authoritative Word. Rome teaches that that Bible is inspired by God, and because of its divine source man must live in submission to its every word. What changes in the heart and mind of a convert rather, and perhaps surprisingly, is one’s amount of faith. It’s not a matter of a higher or lower view of Scripture, it’s a matter of more or less faith. And becoming Catholic requires much more faith than I had as a Reformed person.

The reason for this is simple, and it has to do with sola scriptura. According to sola scriptura, Scripture alone is the infallible authority for our doctrines, worship, and lives as Christians, because Scripture alone has divine authority. The Reformed have a high view of other authorities like the Church, creeds, and confessions, but these are all human authorities. Their words are only a human response to divine speech, so none of them has more right than any other to lay claim to our unquestioning submission.

Rome, however, teaches that the Bible is not alone as a divine authority in the world. She teaches that Jesus Christ granted to His Church not just human authority, but His own divine authority. Because of this, Catholics must submit to the Church in faith. A Catholic accepts the Nicene Creed, for example, not because he’s necessarily convinced from Scripture that every article is true, but because Jesus Christ through the Church has told him that it’s true. As a Reformed person I understood the Church as being loved by Christ, guided by Christ, taught by Christ – but not as having Christ’s authority. I had to judge, then, whether I thought her teachings were biblical. It was an exercise of my judgment, not of my faith. But when you become Catholic, you put your judgment off to the side. It doesn’t matter anymore whether you’re convinced of a certain doctrine or not. Since the Lord Jesus through His Body has told you that it’s true, you believe it. It’s an exercise of faith, not of judgment.

This question of divine authority is the most important question of all. Were the Reformers right in claiming that only Scripture has divine authority? Or does Scripture itself teach us that the Church has it, too? The significance of the issue can’t be understated. If the Church has divine authority, then submitting to her is submitting to Jesus Christ, and rejecting her is rejecting Jesus Christ. If she has this authority, then every Christian on earth has the duty to seek her out and submit to her in obedience and humility.

What I hope to explain here is why I think that Scripture plainly testifies to the divine authority of the Church, and how the great teachers of the early Church confirm it.

Just to make this concrete, here’s a scenario to show the difference between a sola scriptura world and a non-sola scriptura world. Let’s say you’re sitting at the kitchen table with Alphonse, a friend from a different denominational background. You’re arguing about a certain doctrine, a doctrine Alphonse thinks Scripture teaches, and one that he thinks is essential to salvation. You’re convinced that he’s misinterpreting Scripture, and you argue for a different interpretation of the passages in question. This goes back and forth as you wind your way through Scripture, but eventually you both realize you won’t change the other’s mind. You both have explanations for every relevant passage, and you both believe that you have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit to the truth.
Continue reading

With Faces Thitherward

“They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward.”
– Jeremiah 50:5 (KJV).

Sitting at last year’s convocation, I never could have guessed that a year later I’d be watching my own convocation from our dinner table five thousand kilometers away, hollering at the kids to be quiet so we could listen to Jake’s valedictorian address. Even more impossible to guess would have been the reason: that a week or so earlier I had knocked on the door of the local parish church and announced to the surprised priest and secretary our intention to seek communion with the Roman Catholic Church. It didn’t seem right to attend convocation, a celebration of Reformed teaching, when we were calling into question the validity of the Reformation itself. But I should say that although that convocation was the forty-second in order of time, it really was the first in order of quality – a fitting end to a unique and challenging chapter of our lives.

St. Rita of Cascia - through her humility and intercession her wicked husband was converted and her sons were spared a life of sin.

St. Rita of Cascia – through her humility and intercession her wicked husband was converted and her sons were spared a life of sin.

Arenda and I had been attending Mass at St. Rita’s, here in Fruitvale, for some time, and in a congregation of fifty or sixty people you and your three young kids don’t exactly slip in unnoticed. But we hadn’t introduced ourselves. So when I popped into the office that day and sat down with Father Ben, I explained who we were and where we’d come from. Of course, the fact that I’d recently graduated from a Reformed seminary was an attention grabber, and he asked all sorts of questions.

But if it provokes questions for a Catholic priest, it probably provokes even more for a Reformed person. Probably all the subtle variations of, “What on earth?” I don’t know that I can sufficiently answer that, but it’s worth a shot. While I won’t go into detail here about every doctrinal question, for the sake of space, I will give you the shape of my overall thinking over the last year.

At the close of the summer of 2015 I’d just finished a preaching practicum in Fergus, Ontario. I was looking forward to my fourth and final year at seminary and to the ministry beyond it. I hadn’t been a complete flop in the pulpit, and my sermons contained, if nothing else, proper English grammar. No one told me that I’d be wasting everyone’s money if I continued in my studies, so I went ahead hoping that I’d maybe get a call when I was done. It was exciting to finally see land in the distance, and there wasn’t a Catholic cloud in the sky.

Up to this point, my views on the Catholic Church were pretty normal for a Reformed person. I didn’t believe that all Catholics were damned, but if some were going to be with me in heaven it would be in spite of all the rubbish their Church taught – certainly not because of it. After all, in the very name “Reformed” itself is a rebuke of the Catholic Church, for it was the apparent corruptions of that Church that the Reformers had sought to reform. Catholics prayed to dead people, they worshipped Mary, they thought the blood, hair, bones, and organs of a dead saint could be magical, they bowed down to idols, their claims to papal and magisterial infallibility could be debunked by pointing to the many inconsistencies and historical falsehoods; name any teaching of Scripture and Rome had buried it beneath idolatry, superstition, and man-made doctrines. Catholics had mastered the art of erring, and had solemnly festooned their errors with incense, candles, chants, and fancy robes. Considering all that, it never really crossed my mind to take Rome seriously.
Continue reading

Post Script

Although I formally ended this blog a month or so ago, I thought it may be helpful to explain in a public forum a little bit more about our situation. It’s becoming public knowledge that the reason I did not enter the ministry was because of substantial misgivings about the truthfulness of Reformed teaching. These misgivings are not mine alone; Arenda shares them. These questions have led us on a search for the truth, to find out whether or not the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints is found in Reformed teaching, or is found elsewhere.

Although a small handful of people had known about this for some time, we only very recently shared our misgivings with a broader audience. As a result of this information becoming more public, we’ve received many notes of support, prayer, and, understandably, disappointment, notes for which we are most grateful. But this has all been further complicated by our move three weeks ago from Hamilton to the small town of Fruitvale, in the West Kootenays region of BC.

It’s clear from the notes that we’ve received that our questioning of Reformed teaching and our move to Fruitvale have led to some speculation regarding our motives and our faith. I’ve enjoyed a certain amount of publicity over the past years, not only as a CRTS student, catechism teacher, and tenderfoot preacher, but also as a blogger, and it’s expected that people will be concerned, and that this concern will in turn lead to some speculation. I understand this, and I hope here to fill in the picture a little.

Seeing as we knew months before school ended that I would not be entering the ministry, we had considered many possibilities for what to do. Did we want to move back “home” to BC? If we stayed in Ontario, did we want to stay in Hamilton? What did I want to do in the long term? Go back to woodworking? Teach? I considered a wood-finishing job in Cambridge, ON. I applied for a cabinetry job on Vancouver Island. I thought about being an arborist in Brockville, ON. Did I want to commit to something long-term while at an unstable point in our lives?

Fruitvale, nestled in the Selkirk Mountains, in a valley above the mighty river from which British Columbia gets its name.

Fruitvale, nestled in the Selkirk Mountains, in a valley above the mighty river from which British Columbia gets its name.

We eventually made up our minds that we were going back to BC. The pull of family, and the pull of the landscape that had shaped our imaginations, was what did it. We didn’t want to live in the Fraser Valley, though, wanting both emotional and physical space. It’s just way too crowded and busy there to think straight about anything. We also concluded it would be best if Arenda worked as a nurse. This would give us the income we needed, as well as the necessary time to fully engage with our questions. So she applied for a number of positions throughout the interior of the province, and it was Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital in Trail that bit. So here we are in Fruitvale, just outside of Trail, on two thirds of an acre, carrots, radishes, beets, corn, and potatoes freshly planted in the raised beds out back, tomatoes and hot peppers in the greenhouse, all the fresh air we could hope for, and a view of the mountains that lifts our souls to God.

When people hear that I am not convinced of the truth of Reformed teaching, it leads to deeper questions about faith and the heart, and I understand that. There’s an ancient maxim, however, that prescribes the way in which a Christian must learn the truth: faith seeking understanding. One must first believe, and only then will one understand. You don’t first try to make sense of a man ascending into heaven, and then believe it. Rather, you first believe that a man ascended into heaven, and only then will you understand how the whole meaning of life depends on that fact.
Continue reading

Thy Paths Drop Fatness

Seminary is not something to sum up in a single blog post, and I won’t even try in this final post. First of all, the whole Sixteen Seasons project was to provide a summary picture of seminary life – and all its tangents – through the eyes of one student. But even four years of blogging has been more than inadequate. Second, what kind of summary could you really make? “Well, it was tough, but good.” Or, “You know, we just, uh, went out there and gave it 110%. Got the right bounces and it just sort of went our way.” That’s true as far is it goes, but it doesn’t go far beyond useless. And it’s also true that there’s no way to avoid understating the whole venture, even with thousands of words and a longer blog post than anyone cares to read. To close, then, for good, I’ll do what I’ve done here since the beginning: I’ll offer some reflections, with some actual seminary experiences sprinkled throughout.

People love to use the old cliché, “time flies.” But I don’t think that it’s quite right. It’s not that time passes so quickly, it’s that the future arrives so suddenly. The first day of first year, when I showed up late to chapel, and the only open seat was in the front row, does feel like a long time ago. At the same time, suddenly I’m here, a few days after the end. What was once a great wilderness of dreams, possibilities, anxieties, and unknowns, has now been charted. What was future is now past. And the thing we call the “present” isn’t so much a moment as it is a process, the process of the potential becoming the actual. The present is the continual churning out of the one string of events that was meant to happen.

But I hesitate to use the words “has now been charted.” Yes, all the events of those four years are now completed, but the significance of those events is only just being revealed. So if the present is the process of the potential becoming the actual, remembering is the same process in the other direction. It is the process whereby the meaning of those actual events itself becomes actual. A few months back I posted a passage from C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet. The main character, Ransom, is speaking with a creature called a hross on the planet Malacandra. The hross says to Ransom:

‘A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hman, as if the pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing. . . What you call remembering is the last part of the pleasure, as the crah is the last part of a poem. When you and I met, the meeting was over shortly, it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it. But still we know very little about it. What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then – that is the real meeting. The other is only the beginning of it. You say you have poets in your world. Do they not teach you this?’

‘Perhaps some of them do,’ said Ransom. ‘But even in a poem does a hross never long to hear one splendid line over again?’

‘. . . The most splendid line becomes fully splendid only by means of all the other lines after it; if you went back to it you would find it less splendid than you thought. You would kill it. I mean, in a good poem’ (Out of the Silent Planet, p.73).

Only at the end of your life will all the events that happened to you find their fullest meaning. The four years of seminary are merely like the grain of sand, or some other particle, that gets trapped inside a clam, and the accretions that form the pearl are the layers of meaning that remembering unfolds throughout a lifetime. So it’s never a cheap string of events left to us by the present.

Someone dug up an old picture of me and memed it for the class notes...

Someone dug up an old picture of me and memed it for the charismatic gifts part of the Contemporary Issues class notes…

As it is, the events of the past four years belong now to the gallery of the past, right alongside that one time you went skydiving on the morning of your wedding. Events like listening to your professor lecture straight-faced about an eighteenth-century Dutch religious group called “the Coetus party.” Or another professor telling you, in front of the other students, that your good looks and comfortable manner could prove distracting for the women in the congregation. Or the collective lecture notes taken by some of our classmates in a shared Google doc, notes they always shared with the class at the end of the semester. They really were quality lecture notes, but it was the memes, asides, and imagined conversations that made reading them a delight.

Without question, without argument, far beyond any kind of reasonable dispute whatsoever, we had, as fourth-year William put it on Facebook, the “best class ever. Bar none.” For me, it’s only because I got to tag along with classmates who were smarter, funnier, and more gregarious than I was. Although Pipes & Steins faded away this year (third-year Jay-Z stayed faithful to the very end), as the semester wound down, some of us fourth-years revived the weekly bash, this time at night, and once even around the pleasant coals of my charcoal barbecue. Not only was it a welcome break from school work, it was a way to share the fading moments of an experience we’ll never share again.

I could tell you about each of the students, but you’ve already read their profiles on Facebook. Our secretary, Leanne, had arranged with a local minister/former statistician to analyze the Facebook data for those profiles and to determine which of the profiles was the most popular. Jake won a little trophy. Yours truly finished somewhere near the bottom of the list.

Speaking of Leanne, and Catharine, and Margaret, the reason the seminary doesn’t disintegrate into administrative dust is because of their excellence. It’s the students and the professors who get the publicity, but we’re merely the surface film. I’m sure Margaret had better things to do than to hunt down that book that you could’ve done without, or show you for the third time how to navigate the library software, when the instruction manual was lying right beside the computer. But she did it anyways, and she never left you feeling like you’d inconvenienced her at all. Catharine and Leanne, too, having to put up with students who don’t read emails properly, who leave dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, and who generally have difficulty following procedure. As was noted in the Dogmatics class lecture notes when we covered eschatology, one day the books will be opened and Catharine will know who left that big coffee stain in the carpet.

But it was the professors who had the privilege of introducing us more deeply to Christ. A seminary education is rewarding in many ways, but the greatest reward is a more intimate encounter with Christ through His Word. Although the professors showed us the Word through many different windows, it was only the one Christ whom we saw. We saw Him in Greek class, in Dogmatics, in Israelite history, Church history, and in Poimenics. We saw that He cannot be exhausted by any one field of study, but rather increases exponentially the more you learn. For these reasons, if you tended toward sloppy thinking and hasty conclusions, you soon came up hard against the diligence and care for detail the professors demanded of us in reading Scripture. For respect for Scripture is respect for Christ. I am indebted to these men, and thank them greatly for these gifts!

I’ve been reading the book of Ecclesiasticus lately, and there are plenty of verses in there that can work as windows into seminary life. For example: “A wife’s charm delights her husband, and her skill puts fat on his bones” (Ecclus. 26:13). There are layers of meaning here. There really is the bodily fat that results from wifely skill. And there really is delight in that too. But on another and more important level, there’s a different kind of charm, delight, and fat. The KJV retains the Hebrew idiom that uses fatness as a picture of blessings: “Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness” (Ps.65:11). Written back when men believed that words did more than just “convey information.”

Anyways, wives, through their “skill,” that is, their tenderness, patience, and devotion, put “fat,” that is, strength and goodness, onto the bones of their husbands. That is the true charm that delights. It’s true of any good wife, it’s certainly true of seminary wives, and above all, it is true of my wife. I could have gone four years at seminary without being married; I could also go running uphill in a foot of snow, barefoot. Some people might consider being married with a family a hindrance for intensive study; and that’s true. It is a hindrance. If your goal is to get the highest marks you could get, then yes, reading nursery rhymes with your kids will certainly get in the way. So will bathing yourself, and eating anything beyond peanut butter on toast. All of life’s treasures are hindrances when looked at the wrong way. They all come at the cost of personal success and glory. And what a bunch of wasted effort and heartache to discover that personal success was a stupid joke, anyways, and that those crazy parents with eight kids had it right all along. No, I know that it’s as true of my classmates as it is of me that our families were the heartbeat and the sunshine of our time here, and that our wives are largely responsible for us having finished at all.

And while I’m here, and you’re reading this, go ahead and give the above-mentioned book of Ecclesiasticus a read-through. It’s a book of proverbs, and like the book of Proverbs the author of Ecclesiasticus would fail spectacularly at modern sensitivity training. Nor is that surprising – anyone who’s going to write anything that’s worth reading is going to write according to truth, not according to the pharisaical posturing we call “political correctness.” Political correctness is just a big lie that everyone knows is a lie but that everyone plays along with anyways.

And with that, I should part with an appreciative nod to my readers. I gained a few regular readers over the years, and lost a few, and usually as the result of the same posts. There were some posts that were popular because everyone liked them, such as The Anatomy of a Classis Exam, or Thoughts and Stories From the Conference. Those two posts have been read 1600 and and 1700 times, respectively. There were other posts like Evolution and the Gallery of Glory (900x) that were more contentious, but not nearly as contentious as those things can be. But the real high achiever here was A Time to Speak. I wrote it in 2013, and in both 2014 and 2015 it remained among the ten most popular posts. Every week it still gets read, and at last check it’s been read 4500+ times. It was read 2600x in one day, which is real star power for a blog that gets on average 25 hits a day.

I read a few years back that Tim Challies gets 10,000 hits a day on his blog; so compared to that, the brightness of this blog sits somewhere around the 20th magnitude. But really, the fact that anyone bothered to read it all is flattering, and I was overall quite tickled by some of the attention. I can only offer a heartfelt thank-you to everyone who commented, or emailed, or read a single post and thought, “Hey, this isn’t bad.”

As most of you know by now, I won’t be entering the ministry. I don’t know what lies ahead quite yet. Perhaps another blog, perhaps a book. Before my English 105 professor at UFV embarrassed me in front of my classmates by embarrassing herself in profusely praising my writing, I had never considered writing as a personal strength. But whatever strength is given to a man is given because there is a God in heaven, and because He is Almighty, and glorious, and wise, and terribly worthy: “Neither is [God] worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25). What could we ever give to such a Lord and Master? We are not the givers, but He gives to us. We receive, we marvel, we journey along the fattened path. We accept His gifts as gateways into the garden of faith, and hope, and love. We use His gifts as tools to build up our neighbours in the love that Christ first showed us. In all things, serve that crucified and risen Lord. Serve the one to whom David wrote, “Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty. And in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness” (Ps.45:3,4).

May your Name be hallowed, O most gracious Father!

A Curl From the Burl

Mark Twain_zpssqyzpkfgWe are midway through the last exams we’ll ever write at CRTS. The profs sent us packing with seven of them, the most we’ve written in a semester outside of first year. We’ve done four – Dogmatics, Poimenics, Church Polity, Greek – with the other three waiting patiently and ominously, as exams are wont to do.

Personally, I think it’s a shame that we can’t smoke during exams. Some of our readings this semester were from Rev. Van Oene’s book, Inheritance Preserved. There’s hardly a picture in the book where the men aren’t smoking – that has to count for something. I’d probably score lower on my exams overall, as packing and tamping the pipe does take time. That, and smoking itself tends to be ponderous and lazy, whereas exams require speed and diligence. Who knows, though, the tension between the two may just result in some Barthian insights. But even if the grades were lower, they’d be better, if you know what I mean. (And yes, you do gain a thing or two in life by not smoking. But what do you lose? For an enjoyable read, check out Michael P. Foley’s essay, “Tobacco and the Soul,” over at First Things.)


Shifting in my seat
Warming briar deepens thought
Dogmatics complete


Hand on the brow, the mid-exam phase.
Room’s too clear for proper mind-gaze.
A match and a flare,
Slow draw debonair;
Fresh air matures into a blue haze.