Nearly a decade ago, I visited a now-defunct Christian message board -- chat room, blog, or whatever such places are called these days. It seemed as though I had dropped into the middle of a firefight. What I saw set my eyes to burning. Plenty of harsh words and absolutes, but no perceivable indication of love or concern for the lost -- on either side. I was a newbie to this board and had no real idea what was going on, either on the board in general or that thread in particular.
The thread dealt with a claim that Catholics are not supposed to, or encouraged to read the Bible. Apparently, those in the Catholic lines were arguing that was not so; that the RCC has always encouraged reading the Scriptures. The non-Catholic forces, on the other hand, charged that reading the Bible has never been, or is not now, a practice of the Roman Catholic Church.
I tried to recall whether, in my Catholic upbringing and experience, I ever had been urged to read the Scriptures. I honestly could not recall a single time that had happened.
In my early years as a born-again follower of Jesus Christ, I was taught from the pulpit and in Bible College that the Roman Catholic Church prohibits those under her sway from owning or reading a Bible. I believed that. Why wouldn't I? I had left the Romish church behind me and now was feeding at the table of "Protestantism." I read the Bible daily and absorbed as much as I could from theology books and those terrible people who use TV and radio as a means to riches while corrupting the beliefs of the credulous. I had been taught that Catholics cannot and will not read the Scriptures. I believed this to be true.
As I progressed in my faith walk and grew in knowledge and understanding of theology and God's will, I dropped off the soured teat of media "evangelists" and mentors who operated from opinion rather than knowledge. I began to look into questions on my own. I was, in short, learning to practice discernment.
Among the many things I have learned from the piles of old books and church documents that make movement in my den an undertaking fraught with hazard, is that the Roman Catholic Church with but few glaring exceptions, has always encouraged the reading of Scriptures. Oh, there indeed have been limitations placed on that encouragement, such as chaining Bibles to pulpits so they would not get swiped, or prohibiting the reading of Scripture in the vernacular, etc. However, just about every single old Catholic theology book, catechism or devotional I own urges readers to read and study Scripture.
To tell the truth, this revelation came as a great surprise and one that I sought to disprove by searching in more and more old books and Church writings. All I found was additional support for the arguments so often proposed by Catholic apologists. I no longer boldly assert, in polemic or dialectic exchange, that the Catholic Church always prohibited or otherwise discouraged reading of Scriptures.
So. What's my message? Get your facts right. Don't be content to simply parrot what you read or heard somewhere else. Check it out yourself before going public. If you are an honest apologist, surely you would want your arguments to be respected, if not believed, because they issue from a person of demonstrated integrity. Besides, if you are successful in efforts to rebut an opposing argument by using flawed information, what have you gained? Can your cause be honorably and meaningfully advanced by lies? I think not.
An effective argument is one that is irrefutable and based on verifiable facts. No amount of emotion or invective will turn a weak and faulty proposition into a compelling truth. No amount of ad hominem will turn a lie into fact. It is a simpler and less emotionally trying tactic to devastate your opposition with truth, calmly delivered.
If you do not have an answer, or if you absolutely must reply based on your undocumented opinion, do not fall into the prideful trap of posting opinion as fact. All too often, such a tactic is transparent and easily discounted. If you are going to state opinion, by all means do so, but identify it as what it is. That way, you retain your credibility.
Do not label every soul in the opposite camp as a pagan or heretic. Similarly, do not identify all those on your side of the battlefield as true saints. There is but one Perfect Judge. There is but One Who can read the heart. At the very best, when we judge the fruits of another, we are making an educated guess as to his eternal state. Leave it to God to separate the sheep from the goats. Our job is to share the Gospel, confront error and build up the saints. Our primary job, and true purpose for our existence, is to glorify God.
Should anyone agree with and incorporate the above into their apologetic, his position will not be weakened nor will his arguments suffer. Truth is a mighty weapon. Truth calmly presented in Christian love can be a powerful tool.
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