Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Alister Begg's Podcast Series on the Church

Alister Begg is senior pastor at Parkside Church 
near Cleveland, Ohio. He is an author and his canty Scottish brogue is heard on his daily radio program, Truth For Life. His series called, "What is the Church" was recommended so I listened to several of the broadcasts.While he sticks to mainline Protestantism, I enjoy hearing him. I believe him to be a Christian who had dedicated his life to Christ. And who couldn't like anyone who so favors FOX News priest-commentator, Father Jonathon Morris?
 However, as a Catholic I have to stress to his listeners that he doesn't get a lot correct when it comes to understanding Catholicism. It's strange he almost brags that Catholics complain that he twists their beliefs. 

Perhaps we should, gently as possible, deconstruct some of his assertions so that the light of God's love and truth will bring us together in unity.  

Pastor Begg asserts that Christ is the head of the Church--not humans. As correct as that sounds, it doesn't work in reality. If taken literally, Begg would have to admit that if Christ is the head of the church, why do we need a pastor? Why do we need a Bible? Let us explain this with a sports analogy:


If the Kingdom of Heaven (the Church) was a sports team, we could think of the coach as the local pastor and the rule book as the Bible. While these are necessities for playing the game, what if there is someone offsides or seems to foul? Imagine if the doctrine of sola scriptura was the final authority for this sports teams. It would be total chaos, for the Bible gives us general rules, but can't make calls on specific plays. Nor are we able to ask God. 

There must be a human referee. God understood that and gave us His authoritative Church. (Very similar to what Jesus says in Matthew 18 and I Tim. 3: 16. When there are disputes, the Church is the final word.) A game without a referee, based solely on the rule book would be miserable because everyone would be insisting on his own take of the rules and plays.

In the first of the Church series, Begg quotes Pastor John Stott as saying that many Christians reject the authority of scripture, preferring their own teaching, neglect study, fail to relate the Bible to the real world, manipulate it into meaning what they want it to mean, selecting, discarding, and substituting the Word down to threadbare speculations. 

And yet Stott disagreed with Begg on several subjects including one of the most basic Christian beliefs--the nature of eternal hell. And Begg disagrees with many other Protestants on the necessity of confessing sin. So are Protestant scholars neglecting, selecting, discarding, substituting the Word? I doubt that Stott would say that about Begg. And yet they disagree on how to interpret scripture. 

God knew we would need a theological referee. Even if His authority isn't perfect and makes a wrong call, Christ knew that without the referee, no one would ever attend a game. It would take the point out of it. For everyone would go about doing what was right in their own eyes. 


Pastor Begg, as do most Protestant pastors, teaches that the Bible is so clear that the lay person can read and interpret it correctly. And yet, to make his points about scripture, he regularly goes to the original Greek and Hebrew. If the scripture is so apparent, why would anyone need to learn the original language? Why would anyone need to know the historical context? Why would anyone need to know hermeneutics and exegesis? Why would Christ need a church and set up teachers? This flies in the face of both reality and logic. As well as undermines the actual teaching of scripture. For the teaching of scripture is most clearly that the church is the foundation and pillar of truth and the final authority for the Christian. (See Matt. 18. I Tim. 3: 16) 

I love analogies, so I ask your patience for one more. Christ is both the head of the church and the family and the individual Christian. And yet if the children are fighting the kids don't go to scripture and decide for themselves who is correct. 

A Protestant pastor saying that the Bible is the final authority for the Christian is a self-defeating and logical fallacy something similar to a person saying, "Don't believe one word that I say." (Should we believe that?) 

Begg absolutely and authoritatively declares that Christians are obligated to believe that the final authority is the Bible. Why should I listen to him, then? Because with all sincerity, I go to scriptures and find that God gives His final authority to the Catholic Church. 

Now to Alister Begg's two broadcast on the The Nature and Meaning of the Lord's Supper.


Pastor Begg begins by defining a sacrament as,"an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace" as written by, interestingly, the 5th-century Catholic bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine. The reason that Pastor Begg does not use a scriptural text to define the term sacrament is because the word is nowhere found in the Bible. It is completely a Catholic concept.

Note: The Wycliff and the Douay-Rheims versions are the only translations that use the word Sacrament and only in a handful of New Testament verses. However, the definition of sacrament means something quite different than a sign of grace. These translations go back to a much earlier usage that means hidden truths. Some of the texts also use it to mean dispensations or in the fullness of time. So there is actually no time the Bible ever uses the word sacrament as it is being used by Pastor Begg. So Pastor Begg must go to St. Augustine to get a definition of the Catholic term: sacraments.

He claimed that the meaning of the term changed over time, originally meaning a sign or symbol and that it was only after the time of St. Augustine that the church began to refer to it as containing and conveying grace. Since he did not give any source for that statement, no one can verify if there were some early church fathers quotes that back up his statement.

However, if you read the early church's discussions of what Catholics would eventually call sacraments, they did believe they were efficacious in conveying grace, even if they didn't have a fully developed theology to clarify what the church always believed.

He challenged Christians to find seven sacraments in scripture. The problem with that, as we wrote before, the word sacrament isn't in scripture. So one would have to look for a word or phrase that means an outward sign of inward grace. Which there is none. Therefore Pastor Begg changed the definition to ordinances. Which the word ordinance is not found in the New Covenant but to roundly condemned it. So he brings in a third definition to try and discern what a sacrament is: the public profession of our faith.

This definition is utterly dissimilar to Catholic's definition of a sacrament. Then he says we can find only two sacraments that meet this Biblical criteria—baptism and the Lord's Supper. So now we are speaking of the Protestant definition and not the Catholic definition. But even within that new context, we do not understand why marriage or holy orders wouldn't fit that definition. They are both public professions of our faith. Especially marriage which, if performed by the church, emphasized the correlation between marriage and the church being one flesh and the Bride of Christ. 

Begg tells us that if a sacrament contradicts the Bible it is not a sacrament. However, the sacrament of marriage and the priesthood doesn't contradict scripture. Under this new Protestant definition we could easily find four sacraments: the Lord's supper, Baptism, Marriage and the Holy Orders.

Then Begg brings up that baptism's grace does not remove original sin. However, he did not indicate any Bible verse that would support his view because original sin is another theology that comes from Catholicism.

Since the Bible does not refer to sacraments, it is interesting that Begg would make the statement that the Bible says that sacraments are symbols. Again, this is his interpretation of Catholic concepts not based in scripture, but based in tradition.


Begg becomes impassioned as he reminds Protestants that some of the Reformers died in a fiery death, so it behooves them to stand firm on the beliefs of the Protestant martyrs. 

The logic of this falls apart because Catholics were persecuted and martyred for their beliefs. In fact, often by the Protestants. Because people are willing to die for a belief does not make it ipso facto true. Anabaptists died for their beliefs. David Koresh and the branch Dividians as well as radical Moslems are willing to die for their beliefs. What if people die for a falsehood? 

In fact, many of the most bitter disagreements between the Protestants themselves that led to these martyrdoms were precisely because they disagreed on Biblical interpretations. This shows that the Bible is not always clear, nor does it claim to be perspicuous.  


Alistair Begg says that the true understanding of the Catholic sacrifice of the mass is clearly salvific. If you beleive wrongly you may be damned. 

Therefore I must take issue with Begg claiming this and also teaching sola fide or faith alone at the same time. For salvation, he is including proper doctrine and faith. Protestants, unfortunately, continually claim that a Christian must absolutely understand the correct doctrine of child baptism. Or absolutely understand the correct doctrine of baptism as a symbol and not regenerative. Or absolutely understand that baptism cannot be pouring but immersion. Or absolutely understand that it is a believers' baptism. 
These doctrinal requirements of baptism seem to add significantly to faith thus destroying the "alone" part. Protestants actually teach faith plus correct doctrine.


It astonishes myself and anyone who has ever attended a Catholic mass that Pastor Begg would say that, "when you observe the sacrifice of the mass you understand why there is hardly any scriptures at all." Has he ever  been to a mass? Unfortunately this statement alone destroys his credibility in the area of Catholicism. The mass is nothing but scripture from the three readings to the songs to the prayers. The entire first half is dedicated to scripture.  


Pastor Begg seems to be scandalized that not the gospel, but the Eucharist is to the Catholic the source and summit of our faith. If there ever was an example of semantics this is it. 

The source and summit means that the mass gives us the totality of the gospel. The mass tells us the entire gospel story from the first to the last in prayers and scripture. We go back to the cross. That--the Cross--is the source and summit of all Christians. 

Begg claims: 

1. The Mass is Idol Worship
We are worshipping Christ and not the bread and wine. How can you idolize Christ? That is impossible. Christ is God. 

2. The Mass is Re-crucifying Christ
It would be impossible for Catholic priests to re-crucify Christ unless God gave them that authority. But, Catholics vehemently reject the assertion that we are re-crucifying Christ! That is against scripture. We are re-presenting the one sacrifice of the Cross. Every time a Protestant asks God to forgive his sin, in essence he is also re-presenting the Cross. 

Christ commanded His disciples to do this in remebrance of him, thus, we are repeating the Lord's Supper that He did with his disciples. Are we doing a new one? Absolutely not. Just as the Passover was once and for all, when the Jews celebrated Pasch, they understood they re-presented it as if they were reliving it again. They were making it present in their liturgy. It is in a sense bilocating.

When we celebrate anniversaries with our spouse we are not getting remarried, we are in a much more superficial sense reliving our commitment. If we were remarried, then I would understand the problem.

3: The Eucharistic Sacrament is not a Saving Ordinance
We have to ask ourselves as Christians, does Pastor Begg have the authority to make a positive assertion that his interpretation of scripture is absolutely unquestionable? That he knows for a fact that it is solely symbolic when Christ specifically says that if you are to have life in you, you must eat His Body? I would think you would have to be absolutely certain about this interpretation, for it can be absolutely salvific if you take Christ's words literally. How does he and we know that his interpretation of John 6 is the authoritative one?

He brings up the instance where the thief on the cross did not partake of the body and blood of Christ as a sacrament, yet Christ said to him that he would be in Paradise. 

Firstly, the thief spoke his faith in Christ before Christ died. Pentecost hadn't come, when the New Covenant was formally instituted. Also remember all commandments of Christ are for us to obey who follow Him. He can change the rules for anyone He wants; He is sovereign. He has ways of saving we are not privy to. There is a huge difference in not knowing to do something and hearing Christ's commandment but disobeying Him.

4. Wrongly considered an application of the Atonement
Scripture teach that when we are repentant and ask forgiveness we are forgiven but not before hand. That is how Jesus can say that if we don't forgive we will not be forgiven. That is how he can say to the Apostles whatsoever you forgive will be forgiven. Forgiveness happens after we repent and not before or why are we not all in heaven now? If we are all forgiven without our freewill choice to repent why aren't all saved?  


Pastor Begg made a false historical statement that the early Christian (Ante-Nicene Church) didn't beleive in the real presence. This is easily refuted.


AD 70
The Didache

Assemble on the Lord’s day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until he has been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice [Matt. 5:23–24].


Ignatius of Antioch. Antioch
was the town where the followers of Christ first were called "Christians." After Jerusalem fell in AD 70, this was the main hub of Christianity until Rome. Ignatius, born less than twenty year after the Cross, was instructed in the faith, anointed and ordained as bishop by the Apostle John. He also met other of the Apostles and disciples who spoke to and learned from Christ., He wrote the following letters after many decades as the bishop of Antioch as he was on his way to Rome to be martyred. Keep in mind that when the books of the New Testament were being decided upon, the church went back to these early church fathers to authenticate the gospels and epistles. (As there were many spurious letters claiming to be written by one of the Apostles.)

AD 110 From the Letter to the Romans:

I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible.

AD 110 From the Letter to the Smyrneans:

Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the
Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes. 

AD 110 From the Letter to the Philadelphians

Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with his Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice—even as there is also but one bishop, with his clergy and my own fellow servitors, the deacons. This will ensure that all your doings are in full accord with the will of God.

Justin Martyr

AD 151 From the First Apology, 66

We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus. 

AD 155 From the Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 41

God speaks by the mouth of Malachi, as I said before, about the sacrifices at that time presented by you: ‘I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord, and I will not accept your sacrifices at your hands; for from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, my name has been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering, for my name is great among the Gentiles . . . [Mal. 1:10–11]. He then speaks of those Gentiles, namely us [Christians] who in every place offer sacrifices to him, that is, the bread of the Eucharist and also the cup of the Eucharist. 

AD 189 From Against Heresies 4:33–32: 5: 2  

"If the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood?"  

"He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies. When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life—flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him?" 

Cyprian of Carthage
AD 251  From The Lapsed 15–16 

"He [Paul] threatens, moreover, the stubborn and forward, and denounces them, saying, ‘Whosoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord’ [1 Cor. 11:27]. All these warnings being scorned and contemned—[lapsed Christians will often take Communion] before their sin is expiated, before confession has been made of their crime, before their conscience has been purged by sacrifice and by the hand of the priest, before the offense of an angry and threatening Lord has been appeased, [and so] violence is done to his body and blood; and they sin now against their Lord more with their hand and mouth than when they denied their Lord" 

Cyril of Jerusalem
AD 350 From the Catechetical Lectures 19:7 and 22: 6, 9

"The bread and the wine of the Eucharist before the holy invocation of the adorable Trinity were simple bread and wine, but the invocation having been made, the bread becomes the body of Christ and the wine the blood of Christ" 

"Do not, therefore, regard the bread and wine as simply that; for they are, according to the Master’s declaration, the body and blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm. Do not judge in this matter by taste, but be fully assured by the faith, not doubting that you have been deemed worthy of the body and blood of Christ. . . . [Since you are] fully convinced that the apparent bread is not bread, even though it is sensible to the taste, but the body of Christ, and that the apparent wine is not wine, even though the taste would have it so, . . . partake of that bread as something spiritual, and put a cheerful face on your soul"

Ambrose of Milan
AD 403 Homilies on Hebrews 17:3, 6

"Perhaps you may be saying, ‘I see something else; how can you assure me that I am receiving the body of Christ?’ It but remains for us to prove it. And how many are the examples we might use! . . . Christ is in that sacrament, because it is the body of Christ" (The Mysteries 9:50, 58 [A.D. 390]).

What then? Do we not offer daily? Yes, we offer, but making remembrance of his death; and this remembrance is one and not many. How is it one and not many? Because this sacrifice is offered once, like that in the Holy of Holies. This sacrifice is a type of that, and this remembrance a type of that. We offer always the same, not one sheep now and another tomorrow, but the same thing always. Thus there is one sacrifice. By this reasoning, since the sacrifice is offered everywhere, are there, then, a multiplicity of Christs? By no means! Christ is one everywhere. He is complete here, complete there, one body. And just as he is one body and not many though offered everywhere, so too is there one sacrifice" 

Theodore of Mopsuestia
AD 405 From Catechetical Homilies 5:1 

"When [Christ] gave the bread he did not say, ‘This is the symbol of my body,’ but, ‘This is my body.’ In the same way, when he gave the cup of his blood he did not say, ‘This is the symbol of my blood,’ but, ‘This is my blood’; for he wanted us to look upon the [Eucharistic elements] after their reception of grace and the coming of the Holy Spirit not according to their nature, but receive them as they are, the body and blood of our Lord. We ought . . . not regard [the elements] merely as bread and cup, but as the body and blood of the Lord, into which they were transformed by the descent of the Holy Spirit" 

AD 411 From Sermons 227, 272

"I promised you [new Christians], who have now been baptized, a sermon in which I would explain the sacrament of the Lord’s Table. . . . That bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ"

"What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction." 

Council of Ephesus
AD 431 From Session 1, Letter of Cyril to Nestorius  

"We will necessarily add this also. Proclaiming the death, according to the flesh, of the only-begotten Son of God, that is Jesus Christ, confessing his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension into heaven, we offer the unbloody sacrifice in the churches, and so go on to the mystical thanksgivings, and are sanctified, having received his holy flesh and the precious blood of Christ the Savior of us all. And not as common flesh do we receive it; God forbid: nor as of a man sanctified and associated with the Word according to the unity of worth, or as having a divine indwelling, but as truly the life-giving and very flesh of the Word himself. For he is the life according to his nature as God, and when he became united to his flesh, he made it also to be life-giving"

I enjoy listening to Pastor Alister Begg, however, he truly needs to become more acquainted with Catholicism. I consider him a brother-in-Christ and it is with great sadness that I hear that he feels Catholics are not within the definition of Christian. He in essence excommunicates us. And that is the problem with rejecting God's authoritative voice (referee) in Christendom. Everyone believes they personally have the right to excommunicate others depending upon their own personal interpretation of scripture. 

May God more fully reveal His will to each one of us and may we be humble enough to obey Him at every step of His revelation. Blessings.

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