[This is part of an ongoing series. See my introduction.]
[In his chapter on the Church, Mr. Armstrong has a section entitled “Sinners in the Church” in which he uses 2 Corinthians 11:2-4, Galatians 1:1-6, and Revelation 3:1-6. This is a section which I don’t have too much disagreement with, and so, those verses do not need to be exegeted. However, though Matthew 13:24-30 is not one of his “Catholic Verses,” Mr. Armstrong uses it eisegetically in this section, and so, an exegesis of this passage will serve as an introduction to my review of the rest of this section of his book.]
“Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” –Matthew 13:24-30
Issue Raised: The Wicked in the True Church?
Dave Armstrong, after citing 2 Corinthians 11:2-4, Galatians 1:1-6, and Revelation 3:1-6, writes:
“St. Paul “betrothed” the Corinthians to Christ and writes to the “churches” of Galatia, even though he rebukes both churches for turning to a “different gospel.” He does not claim that they never were Christians, nor does he take away that title from them. Jesus refers to the “seven churches” in the book of Revelation, despite the host of sins and shortcomings for which he rebukes them. This is the Catholic position: there are sinners in the Church alongside “saints,” as in the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13:24-30)…The Bible teaches that there are sinners in the true Church.” -Dave Armstrong, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2004), p.16, 19.
As I take it, Mr. Armstrong is implying that the “tares” in Christ’s parable represent true Christians, those who had at one time been regenerated and included into the covenant by the Holy Spirit, albeit ones that have since turned to wickedness.
The exegesis of this text is really quite simple since it is explained by Christ in vv.36-43:
“Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”” –Matthew 13:36-43
So, the “tares” in vv.24-30 are sinners, just as Mr. Armstrong said. However:
a.) They were sowed into the “field” by Satan, not the Holy Spirit.
b.) They were always “tares” from the beginning implying that they were never true Christians at any time.
c.) Most importantly, according to v.38, the field is “the world,” not the Church. Thus, the tares would be unbelievers, not sinful Christians.
A Review of Dave Armstrong’s The Catholic Verses on “Sinners in the Church”
Before I review this section of Mr. Armstrong’s book, some things need to be stated:
a.) I do not disagree with the belief that sinners are in the true church since every saint is also a sinner until death (iustus et peccator simul, at once both saint and sinner).
b.) I do not deny that many of those who will be condemned to perdition are found in the visible church.
c.) I agree that leaving a church because of a few bad apples is wrong (though there is a limit to this principle as I will spell out below).
However, there are standards by which the members of the church must live up to, especially the church leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9). Both Christ and Paul gave clear directions for excommunication (Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 1 Timothy 1:18-20, Titus 3:10-11, etc.), and if a church no longer enforces these standards, then it is no longer a church (e.g. Revelation 2:5, 15-16, 3:15-19).
[Unless otherwise stated, all of these quotes come from Dave Armstrong, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2004).]
After citing the above passage on Matthew 13:24-30, Mr. Armstrong writes:
“Many Protestants persist in believing that the Christian Church can be pure and without sinners or instances of hypocrisy, even though these passages show that this was not anticipated by the Apostles or by the Lord Jesus. In hopes of finding this “pure” church, Protestants proceed to form new sects all the time.” (Armstrong, op. cit., p.17)
The very individualistic tendencies of many American Protestants who practice “church hopping” should be rightly condemned, and every Christian is bound to endure the instances of sin that happen within a church body since everyone is by nature a sinner. However, when a church refuses to enact church discipline, whether it is correction or excommunication, then it is no longer a functioning church. Mr. Armstrong cited one of the letters of Christ to the seven churches in Revelation, but he did not note that Christ told the other churches who tolerated heresies and the wicked that these churches would be destroyed (Revelation 2:5, 15-16, 3:15-19).
This is exactly the kind of thing we find within the structure of the modern Roman Catholic Church: a refusal to excommunicate both heretics and the wicked. Ever since the Darwinist writings of Teilhard de Chardin, the Catholic hierarchy and priesthood in general have slid into all sorts of problems, one of which is the (unofficial) belief in universalism. As Michael Whelton writes:
“In spite of de Chardin’s ideas being officially censured, by the opening of the Second Vatican Council in 1960, Fr. Malachi Martin states that “his name and theories were bathed in a vogue that could not be breached by mere ecclesiastical documents…This man’s influence on Jesuit thinking and on Catholic theologians as well as on the thought processes of Christians in general has been and still is colossal.””
-Michael Whelton, Popes and Patriarchs: An Orthodox Perspective on Roman Catholic Claims (Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 2006), p.28.
Also, the Roman Catholic hierarchy refuses to excommunicate those who believe in and advocate abortion. The works of Teilhard de Chardin in the mid-twentieth century have taken their heavy toll. The past claim that the Catholic Church is “never changing, always the same” is no longer true; it has…evolved…into a “church” filled with the most monstrous heresies and toleration of wickedness. As the voice from heaven in the book of Revelation would say, “Come out of her, my people…” (Rev. 18:4, cf. 2 Cor. 6:17).
BTW: I encourage my readers to give comments on what I can add to these posts to make my arguments/counter-arguments more complete, and of course, I encourage criticism as well.