Rick Warren And Catholics Together

Darryl Hart has a thought-provoking post today on Rick Warren’s recent comments about what Rome and Protestants have in common.

Warren’s comments are a sterling reminder of the importance of knowing our church history. Yes, Christians of all the major traditions receive the biblical and catholic truths of the Holy Trinity and the two natures of Christ. Yes, confessional Protestants are committed to the protection of unborn humans and the affirmation of a creational order for sex and marriage—is Pope Francis committed to the latter?—but we share these commitments with Mormons, Jews, and even some atheists.  Obviously, these concerns, as important as they are, are hardly a basis for making the sorts of sweeping generalizations that Warren expressed in the interview.

It is also true that we understand those biblical, catholic truths and their implications rather differently than Rome does, a fact that Warren ignores. No one who knows what Rome teaches accuses her of confessing that Mary has been deified. Roman dogma is offensive enough without embellishment. Rome confesses that Mary is mediatrix, an adjutrix (helper). The very notion that anyone other than Jesus hears our prayers and intercedes for us is nothing less than blasphemy against the Son of God, about whom Scripture says, “For there is one God, and there is one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus… (1 Tim 2:5). There are no other mediators. Just Jesus. Hebrews 9:15 says, “Therefore he is the Mediator of a new covenant…” (Heb 9:15). He is “the Mediator of a new covenant…” (Heb 12:24). Nowhere does Holy Scripture teach, imply, or even vaguely suggest that the blessed virgin Mary was ever to be a mediatrix. It is blasphemy against Christ to suggest that she is because it clearly implies that Jesus’ work and person are insufficient. They are not. They could not be.

We heartily confess, with Chalcedon (451) that Mary was the God bearer (θεοτόκος) but Jesus is God. He was in the beginning with God and is God (John 1:1). Mary is not. The earliest Fathers knew nothing about Mary as mediatrix. The notion that Mary was anything more than God bearer was hotly controverted in the medieval church. The magisterial, confessional Protestants, rejected the sectarian doctrine of Mary as mediatrix. That’s not a small thing. We also reject the sectarian dogma that other deceased Christians hear prayers or intercede for us on the same grounds. There is no other name given under heaven (Acts 4:12). None. Rev. Warren, says, “”When you understand what they mean by what they’re saying, there’s a whole lot more commonality.” That’s simply and categorically false. Read the teaching of the Roman catechism and the other magisterial documents. I have. It’s quite clear and it’s not at all clear that Warren has or that he has understood what Rome teaches.

He says, “Now there’s still real differences, no doubt about that. But the most important thing is if you love Jesus, we’re on the same team.” Again, the question has never been “who loves Jesus.” This was one of the red herrings of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement. Indeed, there are real differences:

  1. Does God accept us because of what Christ did for us (pro nobis) or on be basis of what God the Spirit is doing in us with which we are freely cooperating?
  2. Do we stand before God partly on the basis of Spirit-wrought, condign (complete) merit and our (covenantal) congruent merit or on the basis of Jesus’ condign merit imputed to us?
  3. Is grace a medicinal substance with which we are infused by the sacraments and with which we cooperate unto final acceptance with God or is it God’s unconditional favor toward sinners earned for them by Christ’s condign merit?
  4. Is faith a Spirit-wrought virtue formed by medicinal grace and acts of charity done by our free will or God’s free, Spirit-wrought gift and the sole instrument through which we rest in and receive Christ and his finished work for us?
  5. Is Scripture one of two sources of authority and ultimately subordinate to the Roman church or the sole, authoritative, Spirit-inspired rule for faith and life imposed on the church by God through the prophets and apostles?

So, yes, there are real areas of disagreement. Confessional Protestants understand these to be fundamental to the Christian faith, so basic that we charged the Roman communion of departing from the catholic faith and of becoming a sect.

Warren’s comments illustrate the importance of having a robust doctrine of creation and providence. Absent those, Warren’s only recourse is to minimize the theological and ecclesiastical differences between Protestants and Rome. He knows of no other way to make common social, cultural cause with them. Here is where distinguishing between spheres or recognizing God’s twofold kingdom in the world helps us to recognize what is, in God’s general providence, common (not neutral) to believers and unbelievers or common to citizens in the common cultural or civil sphere and what is not. Confessional Reformed Christians need not cash in the Reformation in order to make common social, cultural, or civil cause with those with whom we have deep theological and ecclesiastical disagreements.

Second, they illustrate why it is so important for all Christians to have a basic knowledge of church history. Were Warren better educated in church history, were he to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other more recent declarations, in light of the history of the church he would know how idiosyncratic, how novel, and utterly Tridentine Rome really is. The truth for all those who are tempted to swim the Tiber (covert to Rome) is that there is no “Rome Sweet Home.” There are as many “Romes” as there are converts. The ex-evangelical converts have their version of Rome. The liberals have their version of Rome. It’s a Babylon of competing visions only apparently unified. All one need to do is read Darryl Hart’s running commentary on contemporary Romanism to know how deeply divided Romanists really are. To paraphrase Obi Wan, Rome is not the church you’re looking for. The second-century Apostolic Fathers would be horrified by Rome as would most of the church through the 13th century. When the Protestants rejected Romanist innovations they were not rejecting the ancient Christian faith, they were seeking to recover it.

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  1. Scott, have you read the Leonard De Chirico book that Lane Keister recommends? The five items you have listed above as “key areas of disagreement” rarely now show up on the Roman radar screen. Now, they’re all about “the Church is the ongoing incarnation of Christ”. The disagreements do exist as you’ve listed them, but for any Roman Catholic, what’s going to be more real is the “medicinal substance” of the sacraments, especially the Lord’s Supper, and the fact that Catholics can become “deified”, inherently righteous. We do find both Irenaeus and Augustine (maybe Athanasius) saying things like “God became man so that men might become God”.

    I totally agree with you that Christians need to know so much more church history — it’s especially distressing that someone as old and popular as Rick Warren can say the things he’s saying.

    But the emphasis coming out of Rome these days is far away from God-glorifying forensic justification message of the Reformers and their followers.

    • John,

      Scripture says:

      His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire (2 Pet 1:3–4; ESV).

      Peter was discussing sanctification and glorification, not deification. That passage must be read in light of the rest of Peter’s writing and in light of his high doctrine of God, his anthropology, and soteriology and in light of the whole of Scripture. After all Jesus said,

      If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? (John 10:35–36; ESV).

      He certainly was not teaching that humans are actually, literally, gods. Context makes all the difference.

      Peter’s language, however, was picked up by some Fathers and re-contextualized and re-interpreted in light of their realism and middle and neo-Platonism to imply more than sanctification and glorification.

      Yes, I’ve read some of De Chirico’s but not extensively. It’s on the list.

  2. John, here’s a bit more. Years ago, I met a Roman Catholic theologian/priest, hired by Rick Warren to teach regularly at Saddleback. Like always, Mr. Warren out-sources those important topics (church history) to be taught in his church by the very “best” experts in the field.

    It must be at least 15 years ago by now – so Warren has been embracing Rome for some time? Meanwhile, to add even more drama . . . I have a music student who prepares an annual Christmas concert that her church (LDS/Mormon) collaborates with our local Roman cathedral. The two churches have a solid relationship where they share theology classes in addition to hymn concerts — going on for at least 4 years, that I know of.


  3. Yeah, when I read that blog topic over at DGH’s site this morning and came to this, “… He said that Church unity would realistically be “not a structural unity but a unity of mission …”, I thought, oh brother, there’s that ‘M’ word again. And all of mainline North American protestantism seems to be aligned the same way – “Can’t we all just get along? There are important social (gospel) issues that we should be working on together!” And the new pope seems to feel the same way if one listens carefully to some of the faux pas remarks he’s made in the public sphere since assuming the position.

  4. Great post, Dr. C. That’s why when Jorge become Pope, Warren tweeted “we have a new pope”. We? No, sir.

  5. Dr. Clark,

    The concern I have over the outrage on Warren’s comments is that it places Reformed Protestants in a bind *if* we think that things like prayers to Mary irretrievably corrupt the church. If we were to do that we would cut ourselves off from Augustine (to Mary: “obtain by thy prayers the remission of our offenses,”)– Anselm (“Give me strength humbly to pray to thee [Mary]”– Aquinas (“in every danger you can obtain salvation from this glorious Virgin,”)– Bernard of Clairvaux (“O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.”)

    Many other examples could be listed, but if you are charging Rome with departing from the catholic tradition based on examples like this, then I wonder which catholic tradition you have in mind. Who are the men and where are the churches that retained the catholic tradition *if* prayers to Mary make such traditions a “sect”?

    My point is not that these Fathers are right–we agree they are not–but I think it is important to handle these issues with appropriate nuance. If we don’t then the EO and RCC will sound much more part of the catholic tradition (because we are saying prayers to Mary eliminate one from being part of the catholic tradition). If, on the other hand, we allow some latitude in terms of what is part of the catholic tradition while also noting that the catholic tradition possess strands that subvert the Apostolic teaching, then I believe our apologetic is more credible.

    • Brandon,

      Catholicity does not entail slavish adherence to everything every writer, however influential he may have been, has said. Catholicity means, among other things, adhering to what the churches have said and the churches, as institutions, did not affirm anything like what became the mainstream of Romanism for a very long time. I defy anyone to read the Apostolic Fathers and find anything like sort of Marian piety that developed. I should very much like to see the citation and context for the claim about Augustine. I’m not saying that it’s not possible that he said something like this but I’ve learned over the years that Augustine is alleged to have said things he never said. Ad fontes. As you know I always encourage Reformed folk to identify with the great tradition(s) of the church but to do so critically, in light of Scripture as confessed by the Reformed churches. I’m with Perkins (linked above). Reformed theology, piety, and practice is much more truly catholic than Tridentine Romanism. Certainly one could not reasonably say that because Anselm said x that everyone, in all places, is bound to it. I’m sure you’ve read Charles Hodge’s letter to Pius the 9th. In short, private opinions, which later became erroneous Roman dogma is a poor standard of catholicity. Were that the standard, then we should all be bound to 5 false sacraments and that seems foolish. We know whence the 5 false sacraments: popular piety that was gradually ratified by the Western church and morphed into “sacraments.” That’s not catholicity. That’s sectarian.

    • Dr. Clark,

      I had the Augustine quote in some notes without references, but I just did a quick Google search and discovered that it is not a reliable quote (Doh!). Here info on the source of the Augustine quote:

      Written by Bishop Fulbert of Chartres (ca 951-ca 1029), it appears in his Sermo IX, De Annuntiatione Dominica. The prayer is sometimes attributed to St. Augustine, Book 10, Sermon 18, de Sanctis, since Bishop Fulbert’s sermon appeared in the collected works of St. Augustine at one time. However, it is now known that the sermon is not Augustine’s, but Bishop Fulbert’s.

      I should also note that I agree with you that Marian piety developed and that I don’t think modern practice is equivalent to ancient practice. I also do not suppose that one writer constitutes the tradition of the church. There were certainly erroneous opinions that became codified (like Petrine Primacy). I only wanted to emphasize that even on important points the catholic tradition has a number of people affirming things that are problematic. I think we can agree that prayer to saints and Mary was a widespread practice by many people we would considered our spiritual forefathers, right?

      If we can agree there, then my only point is that people who want to go after Warren on his statements need to be careful that in their vigor to protect orthodoxy that they don’t begin unintentionally anathematizing members of our family.

      • Brandon,

        1. I’m not outraged at Warren but I do take him to be symptomatic of the rush to ditch theology, church, and confession on the way to the culture-war altar.

        2. You may recall hearing me beat the drum, in class, for genuine catholicity. The Fathers are ours (the Reformed were among the earliest pathologists in the 16th and 17th centuries). Nevertheless, we never receive any part of the Western (or Eastern) tradition uncritically. I love my family. My identity and habits are inextricably bound up with my family history. Nevertheless, I disagree with my family. That disagreement doesn’t mean that I have to leave the family or consider that they are no more my family. I cannot help but receive the Fathers, even the Apostolic Fathers, selectively and critically. E.g., I’m a great fan of Ad Diognetum but I despise the cheap, apocalypticism, moralism, and even binitarianism of Hermas. Nor does my familial affection for the great tradition keep me from criticizing those fathers who thought that we should (horrors!) receive the wacky Left Behind of the 2nd century as canonical. It most certainly was not produced by anyone in the Apostolic circle nor was it imposed on the churches as canonical by the apostles. I’m happy to criticize the Western fathers for their hesitation over Hebrews (until it became associated with Paul) as I am to criticize the Eastern fathers for their refusal to see how dangerous Origen was on so many levels. There are things to appreciate about Nazianzen’s Baptismal Oration but its Origenist soteriology is not one of them. Recognizing such faults and errors is not anti-catholic. It is a genuinely catholic act of charity to push Christians and the church to using the true plumbline for theology, piety, and practice: God’s perspicuous Word, which is what the Reformed churches have done.

  6. (2 Pet 1:3–4; ESV).Peter was discussing sanctification and glorification, not deification.

    I agree, but this was a mistake that was made early and often. It is hard to recover from that sort of thing; and when Rome wants to do its own sort of ressourcement, it then takes a scholar with a very thorough “grammatical-historical” understanding not only of the Biblical texts, but of the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th centuries as well (and not all of these last three will be the same person) to say precisely where the misunderstandings came from, and why they’re wrong.

    That’s something that we just don’t seem to have in our day. (Not sure where there’s a 16th or 17th century analysis of this that takes “deification” into account).

    Look at how Calvin addresses it:

    Whichsoever of the two readings you choose, still the meaning will be, that first the promises of God ought to be most highly valued; and, secondly, that they are gratuitous, because they are offered to us as gifts. And he then shews the excellency of the promises, that they make us partakers of the divine nature, than which nothing can be conceived better.

    For we must consider from whence it is that God raises us up to such a height of honor. We know how abject is the condition of our nature; that God, then, should make himself ours, so that all his things should in a manner become our things, the greatness of his grace cannot be sufficiently conceived by our minds. Therefore this consideration alone ought to be abundantly sufficient to make us to renounce the world and to carry us aloft to heaven. Let us then mark, that the end of the gospel is, to render us eventually conformable to God, and, if we may so speak, to deify us.

    But the word nature is not here essence but quality. The Manicheans formerly dreamt that we are a part of God, and that, after having run the race of life we shall at length revert to our original. There are also at this day fanatics who imagine that we thus pass over into the nature of God, so that his swallows up our nature. Thus they explain what Paul says, that God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28,) and in the same sense they take this passage. But such a delirium as this never entered the minds of the holy Apostles; they only intended to say that when divested of all the vices of the flesh, we shall be partakers of divine and blessed immortality and glory, so as to be as it were one with God as far as our capacities will allow.

    This doctrine was not altogether unknown to Plato, who everywhere defines the chief good of man to be an entire conformity to God; but as he was involved in the mists of errors, he afterwards glided off to his own inventions. But we, disregarding empty speculations, ought to be satisfied with this one thing, — that the image of God in holiness and righteousness is restored to us for this end, that we may at length be partakers of eternal life and glory as far as it will be necessary for our complete felicity.

    This is not a knock on Calvin, whose purpose wasn’t to explicate this passage thoroughly. And while we may accept his word (this comports with other writings of his), the Eastern Orthodox will complain that the early EOs were native Greek speakers, they knew what he meant …

    So what’s needed in a deep dive look at this passage is to go far beyond what the Manicheans thought — Peter wasn’t addressing Manicheans — he had literature at his disposal that he was thinking of; a definite meaning that he had in mind. Calvin simply doesn’t provide justification for his analysis of this passage.

    Similarly, does Irenaeus or Athanasius even use this passage when they say “God became man so that men might become God”? I don’t know. Who DOES know that — all the while, being prepared to say what cultural influences might have been drawn from by these two (or other similar) writers?

    Schreiner does cite J.M. Starr, “Sharers in the Divine Nature: 2 Peter 1:4 in Its Hellenistic Context” — from a 2000 article in a journal that you probably haven’t even heard of. That’s information that should be applied directly to this particular conversation, yet it’s so hard to find. And yet it’s incomplete. He takes care of the Biblical reference, but does nothing to address what the later writers have to say.

    (And this is not even to begin to question the date or authorship of 2 Peter).

    * * *

    So if you want to make the kind of statement you have made (here at the top of this comment), you can be assured that in an apologetic context, it is easily contested, and not easily defended.

    This is the kind of thing for which Protestant scholarship needs to put forth a full-court press. Without this sort of effort, the Rick Warrens of the world go merrily along.

    Reasons like this are why Calvin could say that “satan, in the papacy, has polluted EVERYTHING that God has given us for salvation”. The full court press needs to address each and every issue such as this one. It’s not strictly “the papacy”, but “the realm of the papacy” (“Roman Catholicism”) that spoils ALL of this for all Christians.

    • What’s wrong with what Calvin said? You seem to assume that Calvin’s account is inadequate. Why?

      Without a careful study of the Reformed tradition on this verse, I wouldn’t conclude that it hasn’t been addressed.

      • There is nothing wrong with Calvin’s account per se — but it is not enough to convince (much less persuade) a Roman Catholic, especially not one who’s persuaded by Vatican II Roman Ecclesiology.

        And as I said, “I’m not sure there is a 16th or 17th century account that takes this into account”. But as you suggest that it has been addressed, I’d be more than interested to know “where has it been addressed in the Reformed tradition” in a way that’s useful for 21st century individuals who need to talk “ecclesiology” with a Roman Catholic.

        If you can point me to such sources, I’ll be very grateful.

        • John,

          I think we operate with different assumptions and interests. I think the truth should be persuasive to everyone. If someone isn’t interested in the truth, there’s not much I can do for them. I can try to get them to question their own assumptions and I’m willing to discuss why someone thinks they know what Scripture says, in it’s context, according to its grammar, can’t be right. Finally, however, it is the Holy Spirit’s work to convince people o truth.

          Thus, perhaps I’m not a very good apologist but I don’t think it matters much from what century truth comes. If it’s true, it’s true.

          As to resources, you’re asking me to do research. I’m booked for the next several months but I will try to get back to it.

  7. If anyone is in the So Cal area or if you have access to Univision at this moment of my writing, which I know Mr. Warren does, check out the idolatry for the “Virgin Guadalupe”. The program on as I write this is “Las Mananitas a La Virgen Guadalupe”. This is no unofficial celebration; part of the activites are at the main Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mexico in Mexico City; I think it’s the closest thing to the Vatican you can come to in Mexico. If this is not idolatry, then all us Latin American Christians have been so deceived and need Rick Warren to teach us what is.

    I recommend anyone interested in Romanism also study its development in Latin America. I think it’s clear that syncretism with native paganism took place as time went by, and it’s current form seems to have approval from the Vatican.

  8. There are many other examples of songs being sung to the Virgen Guadalupe, but this one shows how big it is. The singers are big time singers in Spanish music. Once from this page, you can probably get links to hymns being sung to the “Virgen” by some of the same singers.

    Oh, and if you are Latino and attend a church like Warren’s, you deserve a fiery rebuke. People like Warren and their churches help to stop evangelism to these people to bring them out their ignorance. If some Christians had not cared to present Christ to my family and followed the example of others (Billy Graham?), they might have been told to go to a Roman church and remain faithful Roman Catholics. American Christians in general don’t realize how serious this is to Protestant Latinos; when I first heard of the ecumensim found American Christians, I couldn’t believe it. It was shocking; at one point I was crying from part of the confusion it was causing me.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Roman Catholics. I have pleasant interactions with many. However, I have no freedom to give them a sense of false security in their religion.

    • Alberto,

      I understand completely what you are saying and your experience parallels mine. I am originally from Singapore and my ancestors were once Protestants (Dutch Reformed Church in Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka). However, the last female descendant married a Monteiro and since then they became Roman Catholics. Since then I returned to the true faith of my ancestors and repudiated my Roman Catholic upbringing. It was very difficult for me but when I became regenerate by the Holy Spirit, I embraced the Reformed faith of my ancestors and became extremely anti-Roman Catholic. Their priesthood kept me from the full revelation of the Cross-work of Jesus Christ by shielding Him behind the Mass and their peculiar sacramental system as the only means of grace. Now that I am free I am appalled by the grip that Roman Catholicism had/has on my whole entire and extended family. I could not believe it when men like Chuck Colson and especially James I. Packer and many other so-called evangelicals signed/tacitly agreed with “Catholics and Evangelicals Together.” It is with anguish that I report my family’s rejection of the true Gospel, the Power of God unto salvation in His Son Jesus Christ. My hatred of the Roman system does not mean that I hate Roman Catholic people but rather the bondage that Roman Catholicism continues to keep so much of world’s population especially in the non-Western world.

  9. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries has recorded several videos critiquing Rick Warren’s “capitulation” to Roman Catholicism. On YouTube, just search for “James White Rick Warren” and you’ll easily find all three. Dr. White, to his credit, gives us real “red-meat Protestantism” (a phrase I’ve used since first reading d’Aubigne on the Reformation). Some of the other critiques of Rick Warren sound positively squishy by comparison. What Dr. White said should be repeated forcefully and often (I might have said constantly.) Thank God for this bold Reformed Baptist for a clear sound of the trumpet to prepare us for battle.

  10. We may be putting the cart before the horse in thinking this is inept theology at work. The spirit that drives this ecumenism may have more to do with the CFR than it is does with explicit theological rationale (or renunciation of protestant mores).

  11. As a further note to some of the things stated here, in my research on Gottschalk of Obaise, I came across some writings that were deemed false. They were credited falsely to both Augustine and Jerome. The Carolingian era, I believe, demonstrated the beginning of the long process of transition toward a sacerdotalism that culminated in the 4th Lateran Council.

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