Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Jimmy Swaggart: How NOT to Argue With Rome

Sometime last year, I borrowed a copy of Jimmy Swaggart's "Catholicism and Christianity" from a friend of mine. Now, Jimmy is no favorite of mine, I think his teaching leaves a lot to be desired. This would apply to his arguments against Roman Catholicism. While he does raise a few valid points, a large number of his points are incredibly spurious. I will highlight a few of these spurious arguments, so others would not fall into the trap of using them, especially against a seasoned Roman apologist.

1. Mystery religion type conspiracies - In my opinion, this has got to be one of the worst possible arguments one can make against Rome, yet Swaggart makes strong use of this when arguing against Roman Catholicism. The claim that many of the Roman Catholic doctrines were borrowed from Babylonian and Greco-Roman mystery religions is highly questionable, and I know of very few (if any) credible historians who will support this thesis. Also, keep in mind that this is the same tactic used by Atheists, Muslims and other detractors of Christianity to try and discredit the Christian faith as a whole (case in point: Tom Harpur's "The Pagan Christ").

2. Highlighting the clergy sex abuse scandals - While the scandals are a relevant issue concerning the Roman Catholic Church's disciplines regarding clerical celibacy, it is simply not something that you should use as a polemical device in arguing against Rome. I will have to agree with Turretin Fan here that "it should be something you should bring up with reluctance, and something that you should place in perspective".

3. Association with ancient heresies - Mr. Swaggart attempts to associate the modern Evangelical movement with various ancient movements such as the Montanists, Paulicians, Albigensians, etc. Unfortunately, this is another bad mistake on his part. Has it not occurred to Mr. Swaggart that the movements that he lists are mostly heretical and/or Gnostic sects who teach beliefs that most of us wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole? And besides, any connection that could be made would be extremely spurious, at best.

On the other hand, Mr. Swaggart does list one early church father (I forgot who, but it must've been either Hippolytus or Cyprian of Carthage) who he thinks represents Evangelicalism. Now, there might be some truth to this, but sadly, Swaggart does not give enough facts to give a cogent argument.

4. Dates on doctrines - Mr. Swaggart makes another major mistake in trying to come up with solid dates for when various Roman Catholic doctrines and practices were formulated. Once again, I think Turretin Fan said it best when he makes the following statements:

Yes, doctrines within Roman Catholicism are not static and modern Catholicism's beliefs do not much resemble the beliefs taught in the Bible or believed in the early church. Nevertheless, be careful about trying to assign dates to particular doctrines.

For example, it is frequent to see on various websites a list of doctrines and dates. The dates are when the doctrine was supposedly invented. The idea is to press home to the Roman Catholic the fact that his church has made up a lot of stuff as it went along.

There are usually a few problems with these lists. Sometimes the lists are actually not what you think they are. For example, sometimes the lists are when the doctrines were defined not when they were innovated. That's an important difference. For example, in the case of transubstantiation, we may have a doctrine that is innovated in perhaps the 11th century and then defined in the 12th century (don't rely on those dates, please - they are very approximate and just intended to illustrate the general point).

A more dramatic example is the Apocrypha. The dogmatic definition that requires Roman Catholics to accept the Apocrypha comes from Trent in the 16th century, but one can find many older writers (perhaps even a millennium before) who seemingly accept the Apocrypha as inspired.

It's important to remember that a lot of things in Catholicism were the result of a gradual development over a long period of time. As such, pinning specific dates on doctrines is liable to error and can place one in an embarrassing position.

5. Using the petros/petra argument - Here, it is clear that Jimmy does not know the first thing about Koine Greek. Simply pointing out the difference between petros and petra in Matthew 16:18 without providing a proper exegesis and good grammatical arguments does not make the argument stand very well at all. You have to take Roman Catholic apologists' counter-arguments into account when arguing the meaning of Matthew 16:18, and be sure that you can provide proper responses to these arguments when stating your case (as has been done here).

6. Questioning whether Peter was ever in Rome - So was the apostle Peter ever really in Rome? Apologists on both sides of the fence have made arguments for and against this, but I think that quite a few Protestant apologists have missed the point in this matter. Swaggart tries to point out that Peter is writing "in Babylon" (1 Peter 5:13), but as has been pointed out many times before, "Babylon" was commonly used back then as a code word for Rome.

Taking this into account, it is quite probable that Peter really did visit Rome, and that it is also quite probable that he really did die in Rome. When he moved there and how much time he spent there before dying, I don't know. Traditionally, it is believed that he was bishop there between twenty to twenty five years, though more modern historians have placed the date at around five years (link), but that is an irrelevant matter. Now, there is a huge leap between saying that Peter died in Rome, and saying that Peter instituted the Papacy (perhaps I should dedicate a future post to this), and that should be kept in mind when trying to tackle the history behind Peter and Rome.

7. Simplifying church history - Quite frankly, it is rather embarassing when Mr. Swaggart says "all the early church fathers were Evangelical and Pentecostal". I think this is the flip side to some (not all) Roman apologists' attempts at painting the early church fathers as Roman Catholics. If you're going to argue patristics, study the fathers' quotes, find out what they really believed, and present them as accurately as possible. To quote Dr. James White, "Allow the early church fathers be the early church fathers".

There are many other points I could raise here, but pointing these spurious arguments out should suffice, so that others who are attempting to converse with Rome's apologists will avoid making embarassing and unscholarly errors. Turretin Fan covers some of these arguments plus several others that one should be careful in using in his list of landmines to avoid regarding Roman Catholic apologetics.

I don't want to be disrespectful to Mr. Swaggart (strange and erroneous as his ideas may be), but he simply does not make much of a meaningful argument against Roman Catholicism at all. While he may raise a few valid points here and there, I think one will have to look elsewhere for good information. I believe there are good, solid arguments that one can make when arguing against Roman apologists. Look for them, and avoid the ones in Mr. Swaggart's book.

A final word of advice: Always be careful with what you say in your argumentation. Check your sources, and make sure you're not falling for any misrepresentations and false data. It's like what the apostle Paul said in his letter to the Colossians:

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5-6)

1 comment:

  1. Shouldn't we all go what the bible teaches because that's the Word of God.. not traditios made by men.