>CRMafia’s report from The Forum of DTS’ Q&A with Dr. Bingham continues.
Dr. Bingham answers questions from members of The Forum
Q – In a May 2007 Christianity Today article, Francis Beckwith cited his attraction to RCC practices such as penance and he connects these practices to the early church fathers. Do we find the practice of penance in the early church fathers?
[In the CT article, Beckwith said, “Looking at tradition would also help evangelicals learn about Christian liturgical traditions, like Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism, that many evangelicals reject because they say liturgy is unbiblical. When did these practices come to be? It turns out many of them came to be very early on in church history when people were close historically to the apostles themselves. There must be something to these practices that the early Christians thought was perfectly consistent with what they had received from the apostles.
And I think that would do a couple of things. It would turn down the volume of the rhetoric from evangelicals, at least free-church Protestants. They would understand this goes back a long way. That may not convince them that it is right, but at least it would show them that it was widely held and that Christians who were right there on top of the early church practiced them. That was quite liberating for me, when I became aware of the writings of some of the church fathers and especially the liturgical aspects. Some of the folks who have read my blog post on my return to the church have misunderstood my reading of the church fathers. They think I went back and tried to find theology, and that really wasn’t it for me. It was the practices of the church that were more important. I did some research years ago on the relationship of Greek philosophy and the Christian doctrine of God, and that was very helpful. But that’s when I first began reading the fathers. One finds the practice of penance very early on during the times in which Christians were being persecuted. Some of the Christians who had denied their faith had to publicly repent for their sins and suffer penance. This was considered to be perfectly consistent with a doctrine of faith.”]
A – No, early Christianity had the theme of martyrdom, not penance. In the mid 3rd century martyrdom begins to go away. There is no persecution so now we see “spiritual” martyrdom imitating the suffering of the cross apart from martyrdom but this is not penance. There was self-denial and self-discipline to teach oneself the value of giving up self.
Q – Do we see the concept of purgatory in the early church?
A – No, there was the judgment of the ungodly. There was the judgment of those who appear to be like us but are not. If there sins paid for by us in an intermediary state between death and resurrection? No. This was not developed as a concept in the 1st and 2nd century. [Someone asks if purgatory is found in Augustine] No, Gregory the Great taught it but not Augustine.
Q – We hear of the veneration of Mary as co-redemptrix in the RCC. If this is RCC doctrine, how could one join the RCC?
A – Even if there is an Augustinian element in the RCC, you join the communion and that which the communion holds. So, you can’t pick and choose elements of the communion. Mary as co-redemptrix is not RCC dogma. It is dogma that she be venerated. Some Roman Catholics worship Mary but Pope John Paul II actually preached against this. In Chalcedon, Mary mother of God is not about a divine Mary rather it is affirming the humanity of Jesus by mentioning Mary, His mother. Protestants believe in mediators to gain access to the Father but they are the Son and Spirit, not anyone else.
Q – Are you saying that Roman Catholics are not Christians?
A – Let me answer it this way. Are there Roman Catholics who are Christians? Yes. Are there expression of Roman Catholicism that are Christian? Yes. Are there expressions of Roman Catholicism that are not Christian? Yes.
Follow-up Q – What about evangelicalism, same thing?
A – Yes. Just because its evangelical doesn’t mean it is Christian.
Q – Many evangelicals say that Roman Catholics need to be evangelized. Do you agree?
A – Yes. Perhaps the majority of Roman Catholics need to be evangelized.
Q – Beckwith cited his reading of the early church fathers as a reason for converting to Catholicism.
A – The things that evangelicals find attractive with Roman Catholicism [see Part One] can be found in the early church fathers and can be a part of evangelicalism today. It grieves me that Beckwith had to find these attractive elements [Part One] in Roman Catholicism. I am willing to say two things: One, he shouldn’t have converted. But two, evangelicals are infatuated with culture that is not distinctively Christian. Evangelicals have a lust to imitate culture and it is leaving people stranded.
Q – How can evangelicals address the concerns you mentioning in your opening statements [Part One]?
A – It depends on what we do on Sunday mornings. We need to bring about a sense of the holy and sacred, not informality. We need to return the Supper to worship. We need to return to the creeds to give historical connectedness, confessing them together, reciting them together. We can emphasis the universality of our communities outside of our local churches, broaden awareness beyond our local church. Three things are inevitable: death, taxes, and evangelicals imitating culture. We must look like the culture? No, we must be distinctively Christian. Our architecture, for example, should look Christian rather than a shopping mall because this communicates consumerism. Our buildings should say, “Worship the transcendent God.” We trick people by looking one way outside but another inside. We should be distinctively Christian in our songs, families, workplaces, in every way we can.
Q – For evangelicals who won’t join the RCC but are dissatisfied with the disunity of the free churches, how can we move forward in the area of church unity?
A – This is very hard with our tribal concept. We have no accountability. Our local infrastructure is our only accountability. We’re autonomous, we answer to no one. Sadly, this is almost impossible within free church evangelicalism. The only solution available is to join a denomination.
Follow-up Q – What about groups such as the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals?
A – There you have doctrinal unity but still no accountability.
Q – What about Greek Orthodoxy
A – The main concern is the right of Scripture to criticize tradition. I am less concerned with Greek Orthodoxy than Roman Catholicism. There is no problem with Greek soteriology. It is not Augustinian but it is orthodox.
Q – Why are creeds not common with the free churches?
A – It is partly an anti-RCC response. Some think they have the creeds. But this is only a partial answer because Lutherans have the creeds too. Evangelicalism is not defined by the Reformation today. The Second Great Awakening of the 19th century – this defines modern day evangelicalism. The Second Great Awakening was non-doctrinal, non-creedal. It was characterized by revivals and consumerism. This is our DNA. You can sell personalities, bands, music, a modus operandi, your children’s ministry, etc. but you can’t sell creeds or confessions so they’ve got to go. You grow from one church service to three by providing services not with creeds.
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