Tom, Dick and Teri are employed by a large corporation. They meet in the lunchroom every day to encourage and pray for one another. Today, Teri is running late. She enters with a large salad, and seats herself next to Dick, who is discussing something earnestly with Tom.
“I’m so hungry, I could bury my head in this salad and eat my way to the bottom of the bowl! Move over, guys. What are you talking about? Not me, I hope!”
Dicks smiles and obligingly scoots to the right. He waits while Teri prays over her food.
“Tom’s just thinking way too much, as usual. He’s all twisted out of shape over Christian history.”
Teri chews on a carrot. “Christian history? You mean, like Martin Luther?”
Tom shoots Dick a “see what I mean?” look. “Yeah, in a way, Teri, that’s exactly what I mean.” Tom glumly slurps his soup, till Dick feels obliged to explain.
“Tom’s worried about people becoming Catholic. For some reason he thinks Christians just don’t know enough about Christian history, and he thinks if we were better informed we wouldn’t be tempted to become Catholic.”
Teri looked shocked. “Who’s tempted to become Catholic? Protestants don’t become Catholic – it’s the other way around! My church is full of ex-Catholics!”
Dick continues to speak for Tom, who is staring down at his soup bowl.
“Yeah, mine too. But he thinks a lot of theologically astute Protestants have become Catholic, and that worries him.” Dick peers skeptically at Tom.
“Name one!” Teri challenges belligerently.
Tom sighs. “Thomas Howard, Robin Maas, Reinhard Hütter, Bruce Marshall, Trent Dougherty, Robert Koons….”
“Who?” Teri asks.
“Who??” Teri repeats.
“… Jay Richards, R.R. Reno, Joshua Hochschild, Leroy Huizenga, Richard John Neuhaus, Robert Wilken…” Tom drones on.
“Who are these people?” Teri asks. “Do they go to your church?”
“…Paul Quist, Richard Ballard, Paul Abbe…”
Dick speaks up as Tom adds to his list.
“No, they are apparently well known, well respected Protestant scholars – theologians, philosophers, seminary professors, pastors – who have turned Catholic! Tom’s all upset because he thinks this proves something.”
“…Thomas McMichael, Mickey Mattox, David Fagerberg…”
“I haven’t heard of any of these guys!” Teri asserts as she bites into a tomato.
Dick, who has apparently finished his burger, says he knows a few of them.
“I know J. Budziszewski – he was a prominent Protestant philosopher. I heard about Joshua Hochschild getting kicked out of Wheaton when he turned Catholic.”
“…Philip Max Johnson, Michael Root, David Mills…”
Dick perseveres. “And Thomas Howard, he’s Elizabeth Elliott’s brother.”
Teri looks shocked. “THE Elizabeth Elliott?”
“Yep,” Dick continues. “He was a professor at Gordon College before he became Catholic.”
“…Douglas Farrow, Gerald Schlabach…”
“We get the picture, Tom!” Dick cries in exasperation. “What do you think it proves?”
It is Tom’s turn to look exasperated. “Don’t tell me you didn’t hear about Frank Beckwith!”
Teri opens her mouth, but thinks better of it.
Dick explains. “Beckwith was the president of the Evangelical Theological Society. He reverted to Catholicism.”
“And then there was the Geisler/Betancourt fiasco!” Tom blurts out. “Norm Geisler and Joshua Betancourt wrote a book trying to put Beckwith’s reversion into proper perspective from a Protestant point of view. Then, Betancourt becomes Catholic!”
Dick looks shocked. Teri looks bewildered. She stabs at her salad as she speaks.
“Well, I don’t see where it’s a big deal. I’ve never heard of any of these people except Elizabeth Elliott, and she’s not Catholic. So what if these guys wandered off? I mean, it’s tragic, but Catholics become Protestant every day. I mean, Catholics are converting to Protestantism in droves!”
Tom stares out the window.
Dick leans back in his chair. “Tom’s point is that these guys he’s talking about are theologians and professors, the cream of the crop who’ve been recognized by other Protestants as excelling in their fields. You can hardly say that they never really understood what the Bible teaches. So why are they going over to the other side?”
“To the Dark Side, you mean,” Teri snorts.
Tom glowers at her. “A well-known Reformed pastor said that all those former Catholics you’re talking about, the ones who are filling our pews, wouldn’t be welcome at his church because they’re ‘religious consumers’ who don’t care about doctrine! After saying that, HE became Catholic!”
“Look,” Dick says to Tom, who is slumped over his minestrone. “So a bunch of well-known Protestant thinkers defected. Teri’s right. Catholics become Protestant every day. I bet they’re losing their theologians and philosophers to us at 10 times the rate we’re losing ours to them!”
“Oh, yeah?” Tom queries, turning to look at his friend. “Name one.”
“I can name five!” Dick asserts, “Chris Castaldo, Josh McDowell, Rick Warren, James McCarthy, and Tim LaHaye – all well-known Protestants who are former Catholics. I’m sure there are dozens more.”
“You’ve got it exactly backwards,” Tom retorts sourly. “I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill Catholics who converted and then went on to become well-known Protestants. I’m talking about well-known, well-respected, theologically astute Catholics who converted to Protestantism – whether they then became well known as Protestants isn’t my point. And you can’t name anyone like that, can you?”
Dick frowns. “What difference does it make?”
“We’re losing our best and brightest!” Tom laments. “We’re losing our teachers – our leaders! Why? How? These people certainly understand the Bible – a lot of them were seminary professors; they taught the Bible!”
“My pastor didn’t go to seminary,” Teri chimes in. “He studied the word of God for 7 years before he founded our church. He’s like the apostle Paul; he learned the Gospel from no man.”
Dick senses the need to keep Teri on track. “Tom thinks the problem is Christian history.”
Tom becomes animated. “If we could just do a better job of teaching Christian history, I think that would help. I mean, the average Christian thinks that Christian history begins in 1517! People need to know what Christians were doing before the 16th century! A lot of these Protestants-turned-Catholic quote a 19th-century Protestant-turned-Catholic who said, “To be deep in history is to cease being Protestant.” We just do a lousy job of teaching Christian history!”
Dick looks thoughtful. “Well, yeah, but it’s pretty hard to teach about an underground church that left no records! I mean, after Constantine took over the church, the real Christians moved up into the mountains. Our minister explained that the last real Christians produced the Nicene creed in the 4th century, and from that point on the church basically lived in hiding. You know, Augustine, Athanasius, Ambrose, Jerome,” he eyes Teri, but decides not to explain,” they were still Christians – the Reformers referred constantly to their writings. But the reason no one hears about the Christians between the 4th century and the Reformation is that they went underground! There’s no way to tell the story of those people.”
Tom looks skeptical. “Actually, the ‘church fathers’ you’re talking about were already apostate. Augustine said things like “Faith without works is not sufficient for salvation,” and “Mortal sins are forgiven through repentance, prayer and almsgiving.” Athanasius, too, believed that a Christian could lose his salvation through “mortal sin.” He called Mary “the Mother of God” and believed in her perpetual virginity. He believed that the bread and the wine really become Jesus’ body and blood. I mean, seriously, the men who formulated the Nicene creed were Catholic bishops! No, Christianity went off the rails earlier than the 4th century. My pastor read to us from Fox’s Book of Martyrs about Ignatius and Polycarp dying for the faith in the 2nd century – they were real Christians. But after that, it was all downhill. That story about the true Christians going into hiding bothers me, though….”
Dick is about to ask Tom about this, but Teri pipes up.
“I know who those guys are!”
“What guys?” Dick asks.
“Ignatius and Polycarp!” Teri proclaims. “My pastor warned us about them!”
“He did?” Dick asks.
“Yeah, he warned us about the writings of the so-called ‘Christians’ who lived after the apostles. Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna were two of the names he mentioned. They were the false teachers mentioned in 2 Peter 2! As soon as the apostles were out of the way, those false teachers commandeered the “Church.” It’s all there in the writings of the “church fathers”! My pastor said there was a first-century document called the DDK which told people to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times a day, and that gave prayers unknown in the New Testament as a pattern for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper! That’s not Christianity! Ignatius of Antioch called his church “Catholic” – that really oughtta tell you something! He said that communion bread really WAS “the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ”! That’s cannibalism, not Christianity! Polycarp – he is supposed to have been the disciple of John the apostle, but he went off the rails preaching works-righteousness. He wrote that the Lord Jesus will raise us from the dead IF we do His will and walk in His commandments and love the things He loved, abstaining from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, and false witness. That’s WORKS! And both of those men insisted that Christians must submit themselves to the “presbyters and deacons” as to God and Christ! “Look upon the bishop even as upon the Lord Himself,” is what Ignatius said. My pastor told us to run screaming if anyone tried to get us to read the writings of the ‘church fathers.’ There wasn’t a Christian among them! The true Christians went into hiding just as soon as the apostles died!”
Dick and Tom stare at Teri, and then look at each other.
“So, what’s your problem with the true Christians going into hiding?” Dick asks Tom.
Tom shifts uncomfortably in his seat. “Well, I’ve been thinking about that. That’s the story that I’ve heard all my life – that true Christians were driven out of the “Church” and were persecuted for their beliefs. So they took their Bibles and went up into the mountains, living in their own communities and teaching their children to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth.”
“Right…” Dick says leadingly.
“Well,” Tom admits, “I can think of a few reasons why that seems… implausible.”
“You think too much,” Teri tells him.
Tom continues. “I mean, what if Teri’s version is true – what if the apostasy happened almost immediately? Then there couldn’t have been all that many Christians, but they were scattered over a broad area, from Jerusalem to Antioch to Rome. So those Christians went into hiding in “the mountains” where they would escape notice. So that means no one was left in society to give a faithful witness to the truths of the Gospel. Isn’t that the opposite of what Jesus commanded? Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature was the commandment! If they were hiding, how did they do that?”
Dick frowns. “I’ve always assumed that when they went into hiding, they converted the people they came into contact with. I mean, it’s not like they would have refused to share the Gospel. They were running from the Catholic Church that wanted to silence them. Of course they would have converted the people in the areas they settled.”
Tom nods. “Okay, then who did they convert?”
“I’m serious!” Tom asks earnestly. “Who did they convert? If they were really fleeing from the reach of the Catholic Church, they would have gone out into barbarian territory, right? Well, who did they convert? Which pagan people groups were ever converted by Bible-believing Christians before the Reformation?”
Teri and Dick stare at Tom, thinking this through.
“The Catholic Church did not control the whole world – far from it! Those people most likely would have moved to other lands to get away from the Catholics, to places where their proclamation of the Good News would have set things on fire! Right? Where did that ever happen??
Tom is not done. “And another thing. My pastor preached a sermon on the canon of Scripture. He told us that the New Testament canon of Scripture wasn’t even decided until the 4th century. So if I’m right, or if you’re right, Teri, then those real Christians fled to “the mountains” without Bibles! I mean, I suppose they would’ve had the Old Testament, but not the New! How did that work??”
Tom is looking genuinely disturbed. “Seriously, are we talking about a tiny, inbred group of Bible-believing Christians living up in “the mountains” for centuries without Bibles? A group that went unnoticed by Catholic Europe because they were so ineffectual, so silent, so withdrawn, so invisible that no one knew or cared that they were there, until Martin Luther rediscovered the Gospel and they could come out of hiding? Seriously???”
Dick shakes his head slowly. “That doesn’t sound right….”
Teri stands up to go back to work. She scowls at Tom. “You think too much.”
On the sixth Sunday of Easter
Deo omnis gloria!