Christ Founded a Visible Church

Jun 7th, 2009 | By | Category: Featured Articles

One of the most fundamental differences between the Protestant and Catholic ecclesial paradigms concerns the nature of the Church that Christ founded. According to the predominant Protestant paradigm, the Church itself is a spiritual, invisible entity, though some of its members, namely, all those believers still living in this present life, are visible, because they are embodied.

Pentecost

Pentecost
Jean Restout II, 1732
Musée du Louvre, Paris

In the Protestant paradigm, anyone who has true faith in Christ is ipso facto a member of the one Church that Christ founded. This Protestant paradigm does not acknowledge that Christ founded a visible hierarchically organized Body.1 By contrast, the Catholic Church for 2,000 years has believed and taught that the incarnate Christ founded a visible, hierarchically organized Body. In the Catholic paradigm, faith in Christ is not sufficient by itself to make a person a member of this Body; a believer is incorporated into this Body by valid baptism, but is removed from this Body either by heresy, apostasy, schism, or excommunication.

The Reformed confessions affirm the visibility of the Church, so that raises a particular question: with respect to visibility, how is Reformed ecclesiology distinct both from the common Protestant ecclesial paradigm and from Catholic ecclesiology? In this article we first show that Christ founded His Church as a visible Body, and why He did so. Then we present the various positions and argue that the Reformed ecclesiology is equivalent in essence to the common Protestant ecclesial paradigm. Finally, we draw out some important implications following from the visibility of the Church.

Contents:

I. The Body of Christ is a Visible Unity
II. Why Visible Unity is a Mark of the Church: Discipline & Schism
III. Denial of Visibility is Ecclesial Docetism
IV. What the Catholic Church Teaches About the Visibility of the Church
V. Reformed positions, and critique
VI. Implications
VII. Conclusion


I. The Body of Christ Is a Visible Unity

A. The Church Is the Body of Christ; He Is the Head of His Mystical Body

And I say to you, that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18.)

One reason Christ came into the world is to build His Church, that through and in His Church men might ultimately come to eternal life, that is, to the beatific vision of the Triune God.2 In the New Testament we find different terms used to show distinct aspects of the Church. One such term is “the Body of Christ” [σώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ]. To distinguish the Body of Christ which is the Church, from the body of Christ that was born of the Virgin Mary 2,000 years ago and now sits at the right hand of God the Father, we refer to the former as the “Mystical Body of Christ” and the latter as the physical Body of Christ.3

Concerning the Mystical Body of Christ, St. Paul writes to the saints in the church at Rome:

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one Body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:4-5)

St. Paul writes to the church at Corinth:

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the Body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the Body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the Body be? But now there are many members, but one Body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the Body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the Body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the Body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the Body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s Body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the Church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? But earnestly desire the greater gifts. (1 Corinthians 12:12-31.)

To the saints at Colossae St. Paul writes:

He [Christ] is also Head of the Body, the Church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. . . . Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His Body, which is the Church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. (Colossians 1:18,24.)

And to the saints at Ephesus St. Paul writes:

And He [God the Father] put all things in subjection under His [Christ's] feet, and gave Him as Head over all things to the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22.)

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him, who is the Head, Christ, from whom the whole Body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, causes the growth of the Body for the building up of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16.)

For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the Head of the Church, He Himself being the Savior of the Body. (Ephesians 5:23.)

In these passages St. Paul teaches that the Mystical Body of Christ is a unity; it is one Body. God has composed it so that there would be no division in it. Yet, in another sense, the Body is a plurality, because it has many members. And yet the members are joined together in one and the same Body. Each of the members of the Body has a different place and function in the Body. They do not all have the same function or role. Some are apostles, some are prophets, some are teachers, etc., each according to his gifts. And St. Paul teaches that some gifts are greater than others, even while each member is dependent on the others. This mutual dependency is true not only of the hands and feet, but even of the Head; the Head cannot say to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’4 In this way, the Body is hierarchically organized, each of the subordinate functions contributing to the unified activity of the whole Body.5 If the Body were not hierarchically organized, there would be many different activities, but not one unified activity. There would be many different individuals, and not one Body.

At the top of the hierarchy is Christ, the Head of the Body. The Head and members together form one Body, with one shared divine life. The life of a body is its soul, in which all the members of the body are made to be alive and to share in the same life of the body. So likewise, the Life of the Body of Christ is the Holy Spirit, who is the Soul of the Church.6 This is why St. Paul says that by one Spirit the Corinthian believers were baptized into one Body and all made to drink of that one Spirit. This incorporation into Christ’s Mystical Body is what is meant by union with Christ. When St. Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me,” (Gal. 2:20) this should not be understood in an individualistic ‘me-and-Jesus’ sense, but as referring to our union with Christ in His Mystical Body, the Church. Our union with Christ is accomplished through our incorporation into His Mystical Body, the Church, which is composed of many members. Likewise, when St. Paul says in Galatians 3:27-28 that those who have been baptized into Christ are all one in Christ, he is referring to believers being incorporated into the unity of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church. Concerning that union, St. Augustine wrote:

Let us rejoice and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ. Do you understand, brothers, the grace of Christ our Head? Wonder at it, rejoice: we have become Christ. For if He is the Head, we are the members; He and we form the whole man . . . the fullness of Christ, therefore; the head and the members. What is the head and the members? Christ and the Church.”7

Notice the strong language that St. Augustine uses. Because of our union with Christ the Head in His Mystical Body, we are not only Christians, but, in a true sense, Christ. How is that possible? Because the members and Head form one “whole man.” Of that “whole man” St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:

The Head and members are as one mystical person [quasi una persona mystica] and therefore Christ’s satisfaction belongs to all the faithful as being His members.8

St. Augustine and St. Thomas both maintained that through baptism we are incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body, and that this union is not extrinsic, but intrinsic.9 Through baptism we are incorporated into a unity greater than ourselves, and so become one with the Head and other members, yet without losing our individual identity.10 This unity of the Mystical Body is a visible unity, precisely because it is the unity of a Body. Bodies are visible and hierarchically organized, not invisible.11 Because the Church is a Body, the Church is essentially visible.12 The visibility of the Body is not reducible to the visibility of certain of its members; the Church per se is visible, just as your body per se is visible. Because the Church is a Body, “it must also be something definite and perceptible to the senses.”13 In order to understand how the Body is visible, we need to consider the ways in which a living body is unified.14

B. The Three Ways in Which a Body Is Unified

An organism is unified fundamentally in three ways. First, an organism is unified in its essence. Each of its parts shares the very same essence. All the cells of our human bodies are human cells. All the cells of a sunflower plant are sunflower cells. They all share the very same formal nature. And so, as St. Paul says in Ephesians 4:5, in the Church there is “one faith.” We all believe the same thing with respect to the faith of the Church. Throughout the history of the Church, when a catechumen is incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ through baptism, he publicly affirms the Creed, which is the faith of the Church. We are formally unified in the Mystical Body of Christ because we all believe the same doctrine. If the Church has not pronounced any decision regarding some question of doctrine, we may have different opinions about such questions. But the members cannot be formally unified as a Body if they are divided on doctrines concerning which the Church has definitively ruled. This is why Pope Pius XII wrote:

Hence they err in a matter of divine truth, who imagine the Church to be invisible, intangible, a something merely ‘pneumatological’ as they say, by which many Christian communities, though they differ from each other in their profession of faith, are united by an invisible bond.15

To be one in essence, all the members of the Body must believe and profess all that the Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.

Second, an organism is unified in its activity. Each part of an organism is performing some specific task, but each of these specific tasks is part of a larger unified activity, the activity of the whole organism. Likewise, in the Mystical Body all the individual activities of the members must be coordinated to the overall activity of the living organism that is the Church. What is the overall activity of this Mystical Body? It is the activity of the Head; it is the life of Christ. We all, in union with Christ, offer ourselves up to God as living sacrifices. We do so most fully in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, when we offer ourselves up to the Father in union with Christ’s sacrifice, and in return are nourished by His grace. The Mystical Body is one by its unified sacramental life: “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Cor. 10:17.) The members of the Mystical Body are dynamically unified because, through their partaking of the same sacraments, they all are engaged in one and the same liturgical activity. The dynamic Life of Christ the Head comes to the members of His Body through the sacraments. St. Paul refers to this in Colossians 2:19, where he writes, “and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the entire Body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.” The sacraments are the channels or arteries Christ has established in His Body by which the members of His Body receive the grace of divine life that flows from the Head.16 This is precisely why those who do not participate in the sacraments or in all the same sacraments are “deprived of a constitutive element of the Church” and “cannot be called “Churches” in the proper sense”.17

Third, an organism is unified in its hierarchy. Not every part of the organism is the head. The parts of a body are ordered hierarchically, in systems, organs, tissues, and so on. We saw this above in 1 Corinthians 12 in St. Paul’s description of the Mystical Body of Christ. If there were no hierarchy, then the whole would not be a body; it would be like a pin-cushion, Christ being the cushion, and all believers the pins, each one individually, directly, and independently of the others, connected to Him. That is why the Church, since it is a Body, must be hierarchically ordered. Members serve the Head (and whole) by serving the part of the Body proximate to themselves, according to the gifts and capacities with which they have been equipped, and under the authority of the hierarchy according to their place within it. The hierarchy of a body must be unified in the sense that each member of the hierarchy must be ordered to the head. If there were two or more hierarchies–that is, if there were two or more ultimate ends toward which members were ordered–there would either be two distinct organisms present, or something equivalent to a cancer within an organism.18 Because the existence of a body requires hierarchical unity among its members, so likewise the existence of the Mystical Body of Christ requires hierarchical unity among its members.

These three modes of unity correspond also to Christ’s three roles as prophet, priest, and king, respectively. Christ is the perfect prophet, and this entails that the members of His Mystical Body share one faith. Christ is the perfect high priest, and this entails that the members of His Mystical Body participate in the same liturgical activity, and thus in the same sacraments. And because Christ is the perfect king, this entails that the members of His Mystical Body share one visible hierarchy, and thus one visible magisterium. In this way, Christ’s perfect fulfillment of the roles of prophet, priest, and king entails the three “bonds of unity” in the Church.19 These are also the three ways in which the Church is visible. She is visibly united in her shared profession of faith, her shared celebration of the same sacraments, and in her shared ecclesial hierarchy, each of these three having been received and passed down by succession from the Apostles.20

C. Visibility and Unified Hierarchy of the Mystical Body

“Other sheep I have, that are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” (John 10:16.)

When we are talking about the visibility of the Church in the context of an ecumenical discussion involving Catholics and Protestants, we are talking primarily about the third mode of unity, because in the ecumenical dialogue the relevant question concerning visibility is this: When Christ founded His Church, did He establish the Church with essential unity not only in doctrine, and in sacraments, but also in its visible hierarchical government? In other words, is visible hierarchical unity part of the essence of Christ’s Mystical Body? Protestants and Catholics, though disagreeing somewhat regarding the content of the one deposit of faith, at least agree that Christ established the Church with unity of doctrine, that is, with one deposit of faith. Likewise, though Protestants and Catholics do not agree about the number and nature of the sacraments, they do agree that Christ instituted one sacramental order and gave it to the Apostles as part of the deposit of faith entrusted to the Church. Essential unity of faith and sacraments can be seen in Ephesians 4:5, where St. Paul says that there is “one faith, one baptism.”

But when we come to the question of unity of hierarchy, Protestants and Catholics do not agree. Protestants either claim that the visible hierarchical unity Christ initially provided to His Mystical Body was accidental (i.e., non-essential) and hence capable of being lost (and was in fact eventually lost), or they claim that Christ’s Mystical Body was never given visible hierarchical unity in the first place. The Catholic position, on the other hand, is that visible hierarchical unity belongs to the essence of Christ’s Mystical Body.21 For that reason, according to Catholic doctrine, hierarchical unity cannot be lost unless the Mystical Body ceases to exist. But since the Mystical Body cannot cease to exist, because it shares in the very life of the Son of God over whom death is powerless, therefore the visible hierarchical unity cannot be lost.22

For there to be a visible hierarchy, it is not enough for each member to be ordered to an invisible Head. Merely being ordered to an invisible Head is fully compatible with having no visible hierarchy. Yet for there to be a visible hierarchy, some visible human persons need to have an ecclesial authority that others do not. According to Catholic doctrine, the authority Christ gave to His Apostles and their successors is three-fold: the authority to teach, the authority to lead men to holiness by way of the sacraments, and the authority to govern the Church.23 These also correspond to Christ’s threefold office of prophet, priest, and king. Furthermore, for a visible hierarchy to be one, it must have a visible head. Only if each member of a visible hierarchy is ordered to one visible head can the visible hierarchy itself be one. And only if the visible head is essentially one can the visible hierarchy be essentially one. If the visible head of the hierarchy were plural, then the visible hierarchy would not be essentially unified, but at most only accidentally unified.

Since Christ, having ascended into Heaven, is no longer visible to us (“and a cloud received Him out of their sight,” Acts 1:9), therefore He appointed a visible steward (or ‘vicar’) before His ascension, to be the visible head of His visible Body. The single visible head of the visible hierarchy is implied when Jesus says, “there shall be one fold and one shepherd”. (John 10:16) Regarding Christ’s establishment of a visible head of His Body, Pope Pius XII wrote:

But we must not think that He rules only in a hidden or extraordinary manner. On the contrary, our Redeemer also governs His Mystical Body in a visible and normal way through His Vicar on earth. You know, Venerable Brethren, that after He had ruled the “little flock” Himself during His mortal pilgrimage, Christ our Lord, when about to leave this world and return to the Father, entrusted to the Chief of the Apostles the visible government of the entire community He had founded. He was all wise; and how could He leave without a visible head the body of the Church He had founded as a human society. Nor against this may one argue that the primacy of jurisdiction established in the Church gives such a Mystical Body two heads. For Peter in view of his primacy is only Christ’s Vicar; so that there is only one chief Head of this Body, namely Christ, who never ceases Himself to guide the Church invisibly, though at the same time He rules it visibly, through him who is His representative on earth. After His glorious Ascension into Heaven this Church rested not on Him alone, but on Peter, too, its visible foundation stone. That Christ and His Vicar constitute one only Head is the solemn teaching of Our predecessor of immortal memory Boniface VIII in the Apostolic Letter Unam Sanctam; and his successors have never ceased to repeat the same. 24

When Christ ascended, there would not have been visible hierarchical unity among the twelve Apostles had Christ not given unique authority to one of them to be the visible head. Before His ascension Christ gave to Peter the keys of the Kingdom, charged him to strengthen his brothers, and appointed him to feed Christ’s sheep until He returned.25  If Christ had not established an essentially unified visible head, any schism at the vertex of the visible hierarchy would separate His Mystical Body into two or more Bodies. Hence St. Jerome says:

But you say, the Church was founded upon Peter: although elsewhere the same is attributed to all the Apostles, and they all receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the strength of the Church depends upon them all alike, yet one among the twelve is chosen so that when a head has been appointed, there may be no occasion for schism.26

And Pope Leo XIII, says,

Indeed no true and perfect human society can be conceived which is not governed by some supreme authority. Christ therefore must have given to His Church a supreme authority to which all Christians must render obedience. For this reason, as the unity of the faith is of necessity required for the unity of the church, inasmuch as it is the body of the faithful, so also for this same unity, inasmuch as the Church is a divinely constituted society, unity of government, which effects and involves unity of communion, is necessary jure divino. “The unity of the Church is manifested in the mutual connection or communication of its members, and likewise in the relation of all the members of the Church to one head.”27

We see here that grace does not destroy nature, but builds on it and perfects it. This is why villages and cities have mayors, and even why our country has a president. Just as in a natural society there needs to be a unified hierarchy and a visible head, so in the society of the faithful there must be a unified hierarchy and a visible head. For the same reason that virtually every Protestant congregation has a head pastor, the entire visible Church also requires a visible head. The Church as a visible organism preserves the visible head established by Christ, and thus retains all three marks of unity. Without a visible head, the Mystical Body would be reduced to the ontological equivalent of visible pins invisibly connected to an invisible pin-cushion. That is because without a visible head, a visible hierarchy is only accidentally one, because intrinsically it is potentially many separate hierarchies. Many separate hierarchies are not a visible unity; they are ontologically equivalent to many separate individuals.  They are a mere plurality, not an actual unity.

A ‘visible Church’ made up of separate visible hierarchies would be equivalent in its disunity to a merely invisible Church having some visible members.28 Therefore a visible head belongs to the essence of the Mystical Body, since a body cannot have mere accidental unity, but must have unity essentially. In other words, an ecclesiology that is analogous to visible pins invisibly connected to an invisible pin-cushion is equivalent to a denial of the visibility of Christ’s Mystical Body because  such an ecclesiology denies the essentially unified hierarchy necessary for a body to be a body. It makes no difference whether the pins are individual Christians or individual congregations. Without an essentially unified visible hierarchy, a composite whole cannot be a body, let alone a visible body. And when hierarchical unity is abandoned, nothing preserves unity of faith or unity of sacraments. In this way each one of the three “bonds of unity” depends on the other two.29

II. Why Visible Unity Is a Mark of the Church: Discipline & Schism

A. Discipline.

The Church must be one, because Christ is one, and God is one. Scripture repeatedly proscribes divisions, an imperative that makes no sense in an “invisible church” ecclesiology. Likewise if the Church per se were not visible, then our “call to communion” would be both impossible to achieve and already achieved, so not much of a “call” at all.  Here we can point to passages of Scripture that show the importance of church discipline, and obedience to ecclesial authority:30

And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church; and if he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer.  (Matthew 18:17.)

Jesus had just said in Matthew 16 that He would build His Church, a singular thing. Now here, in Matthew 18:17, through what He says about Church discipline, He shows us that the Church has a visible hierarchy, something to which we can tell things, and (perhaps more importantly) to which we can listen. This verse shows that the Church can excommunicate those in sin.  (Cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1-5.) But since communication is a visible thing, only a visible hierarchy can excommunicate those in sin. For an “invisible church” to be able  to excommunicate, communion would also have to be invisible.

Furthermore, the imperative to excommunicate makes little sense in the denominations-are-mere-branches ecclesial view, since an  excommunicate can simply go down the street to the next church agreeing with or tolerating his doctrine or moral conduct.  This ability runs against the Church’s duty to “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”31 The visible Church therefore must have one visible hierarchy. There is no small irony in the Protestant notion of discipline as a “mark of the Church”, when discipline requires precisely the hierarchical unity that Protestantism lacks.

B. Schism.

There is nothing more grievous than the sacrilege of schism . . . (St. Augustine, Contra Epistolam Parmeniani, lib. ii., cap. ii., n. 25.)

If Christ had founded the Church without a unified visible hierarchy, then schism could be at most only a deficiency in charity towards other believers. Schism would be the equivalent of one of the pins in the pin-cushion failing to be charitable to another pin. And that would be the case whether those pins represented individual Christians or local congregations or denominations. Schism per se would always be visibly symmetrical with respect to the boundaries of the Church, even if culpability were not. That is, neither party in the schism would ipso facto be visibly departing from the Church, unless it were also abandoning the faith or the sacraments. But abandoning the faith or the sacraments is heresy or apostasy. So the separation of parties per se would not be schism from the Church; the separation from the Church, if there were any separation from the Church, would be due only to heresy or apostasy. Perfect ecclesial unity would be fully compatible with remaining divided in many different visible hierarchies, denominations, etc.  So long as Christians shared the same faith and the same sacraments, and had charity toward one another, separation into distinct autonomous organizations would not detract from perfect ecclesial unity. When a congregation would split into autonomous bodies, this would not necessarily be a schism; it could be a mere branching, so long as the new congregations retained the same faith, sacraments, and charity toward each other.

One obvious problem here, however, is that visible separation is almost always predicated on (or rationalized by) disagreement in faith or sacrament. The unity of faith and sacraments cannot be preserved apart from the unity of ecclesial government, i.e., a shared visible hierarchy. Apart from visible hierarchical unity, fragmentation of faith is inevitable. But another problem is that this ecclesiology in effect eliminates the very possibility of schism understood as separation from shared visible ecclesial authority. And when an ecclesiology has no conceptual room for the possibility of schism, the many warnings about schism in Scripture raise a red flag that ecclesial unity has been defined down.

. . . that they may be one, even as We are . . . . that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee . . . that they may be one, just as We are one . . . that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Though didst love Me.  (John 17:11,21-23.)

I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions. (Romans 16:17.)

Now I exhort you brothers through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that all of you confess the same thing, and there be no schisms among you, but you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. (1 Corinthians 1:10.)

God has composed [the body of Christ] … that “there should be no schism in the body. (1 Corinthians 12:25.)

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: . . . disputes, dissensions, factions. (Galatians 5:19-20.)

Forbearing one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3.)

In the last time there shall be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts. These are the ones who cause divisions. (Jude 1:18-19.)

Given an essentially unified visible hierarchy, schism can never be visibly symmetrical. It will always consist of the Church and the party in schism from the Church. We know that separation from shared visible ecclesial authority never results in two Mystical Bodies. Obviously there cannot be two Mystical Bodies, since the clear answer to St. Paul’s question “Has Christ been divided?” is ‘No.’32 St. Cyprian writes:

God is one and Christ is one, and one is His Church, and the faith is one, and one His people welded together by the glue of concord into a solid unity of body. Unity cannot be rent asunder, nor can the one body of the Church, through the division of its structure, be divided into pieces.33

But what makes that to be so? There are only two possible answers: the invisible pin-cushion conception of the Church, since what is invisible cannot be divided, or a visible principium unitatis, i.e., a perpetual visible head of the visible ecclesial hierarchy. We have shown above why the pin-cushion conception of the Church is incompatible with the Church being a Body. Thus only if there is a principium unitatis can there be such a thing as “schism from,” which is not reducible to heresy or apostasy. This idea of “schism from” can be seen both in Scripture and in the Church fathers:

They went forth from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, surely they would have continued with us. (1 John 2:19.)

Does he think that he has Christ, who acts in opposition to Christ’s priests, who separates himself from the company of His clergy and people?  (St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, d. AD 258, On the Unity of the Church, 17.)

We think that this difference exists between heresy and schism: heresy has no perfect dogmatic teaching, whereas schism, through some Episcopal dissent, also separates from the Church. (St. Jerome, Comment. in Epist. ad Titum, cap. iii., v. 10-11, emphasis added.)

See what you must beware of — see what you must avoid — see what you must dread. It happens that, as in the human body, some member may be cut off — a hand, a finger, a foot. Does the soul follow the amputated member? As long as it was in the body, it lived; separated, it forfeits its life. So the Christian is a Catholic as long as he lives in the body: cut off from it he becomes a heretic — the life of the spirit follows not the amputated member. (St. Augustine, Sermo cclxvii., n. 4.)

And this is how ‘schism’ has been understood and defined in the Catholic Church: schism is defined as “the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”34 No other definition makes sense, in part because no other definition distinguishes schism from excommunication. Otherwise each party in the schism could with equal warrant say, “No, I excommunicated you.” No other definition shows  why schism is always wrong, even while excommunication is sometimes required. Thus we see that both discipline and schism do not fit into a conception of the Church in which there is lacking an essential visible hierarchical unity. A model of ‘church’ in which both discipline and schism are not possible does great violence to the imperatives of Scripture on both these matters, and is completely at odds with the first fifteen hundred years of Church tradition.

III. Denial of Visibility is Ecclesial Docetism

A. Ecclesial Docetism

In Catholic ecclesiology, the ground of the Church’s unity is Christ, who is both spirit and flesh. We are united to Christ by being united to His Mystical Body through the sacrament of baptism. We are more deeply united to Christ and the Church through the sacraments of Confirmation and the Eucharist. An act of schism separates a person from the Church, and hence from Christ, because the Church is Christ’s own Mystical Body. Catholicism is sacramental, in that it looks for the spiritual through the material, just as we know Christ’s divine nature only through His human nature. We do not, as in gnosticism, attempt to bypass the material, and try here in this life to skirt the sacramental and see directly the divine nature or take the God’s-eye point of view, because that is presently beyond us as material creatures. If we want to know our status in heaven, we inquire concerning our status in His Mystical Body on earth. This earth-to-heaven direction of faith’s epistemology is seen in what Jesus says to the Apostles: “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.”35 The visible and the invisible are bound together because of the incarnation, wherein what is done to the flesh of Christ is done to the Person of Christ. That is precisely why excommunication has teeth; it truly cuts a person off from Christ.

Consider one common Protestant position, according to which all Christians are equally united to Christ by faith alone, and therefore equally united to the Church. I have described this position above as the pin-cushion model. According to this notion of the Church, schism does not do anything to the unity of all Christians, only to the outward manifestation of our otherwise intact spiritual unity. This is a de-materialized (i.e., spiritualized) ecclesiology that in this respect is both gnostic and docetic. Since the incarnate Christ is both spirit and flesh, the visible unity of His Mystical Body is not merely an “outward expression” of the Church’s real spiritual and invisible unity, just as sexual union is not merely a physical expression of the inward/spiritual unity of husband and wife. Sexual union truly should be a bodily expression of a spiritual union. But sexual union is not merely an outward expression of spiritual unity; it is itself a real union of husband and wife. Likewise, the visible unity of the Church (including hierarchical unity) is a real unity of the Mystical Body, not merely an outward expression of the real unity which is spiritual and invisible.

The root problem here is a kind of dualism that treats the spiritual as the really real, and the material as a mere context for the expression of the spiritual. This reduces the Mystical Body to a spirit having some visible members, an invisible pin-cushion with some visible pins. Wherever schism is treated as not separating a person (to some degree) from Christ, there the Church is being treated as fundamentally and intrinsically invisible, with some visible members. Denying the essential unity of the visible hierarchy treats the Mystical Body of Christ as though it is not actually and essentially a Body, because visible hierarchical unity is essential and intrinsic to a body. If a body ceases to be visibly hierarchically one, it ceases to be. This is why a human being cannot survive disintegration of his body. So if visible unity is only accidental to something, that thing is not a living body; it is, at most, only the appearance of a body. Hence those who claim that the Mystical Body of Christ is invisibly one and visibly divided are treating the Body of Christ as though it were merely an apparent Body, not an actual Body. That is why this position is rightly described as ecclesial docetism,  because docetism is the heresy which claimed that Christ only appeared to be a man.

That does not mean that we must fall into some kind of ecclesial Eutychianism. Eutychianism, which is also called Monophysitism (meaning “one nature”), was condemned at the Fourth General Council, the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451. According to the Monophysites, Jesus’ humanity was absorbed into His divine nature such that He no longer has a human nature, having only His divine nature (hence “Monophysitism”). Docetism and Eutychianism both deny that Christ has a human nature. For that reason, both docetic and Eutychian notions of the Mystical Body of Christ treat the Church as in itself invisible, spiritual, and immaterial, only visible in the sense that it makes use of embodied human believers in much the same way that the Logos (i.e. the Second Person of the Trinity), according to a docetic conception, perhaps made use of material elements in order to appear as though having a physical body, but was not actually made up of those material elements, nor were they parts of Him. Chalcedonian Christology, with its affirmation of two distinct natures united without mixture in one hypostatic union, entails that the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ is in itself visible and hierarchically organized as one corporate entity.36

The charge that Catholic ecclesiology is Eutychian asserts that the Catholic claim [that the visible Body of Christ is essentially one] mistakenly attributes to the visible aspect of the Church what is only true of the invisible aspect of the Church, and in that way falsely attributes what is only true of the divine nature of Christ to His human nature, as Eutychianism does. But this charge is based on the mistaken notion that visible hierarchical unity is not intrinsically essential to a living human body. The real distinction between Christ’s divine nature and His human nature does not imply that the Mystical Body of Christ is not necessarily visibly one any more than it would imply that Christ’s physical body could continue to exist even if all its parts were separated. Rather, because Christ truly possesses human nature, His Mystical Body is necessarily visibly one in its hierarchy, just as his physical body is necessarily visibly one its hierarchy. A living human body is essentially visibly one. If it ceases to be visibly one, it ceases to be. Hence, its visible hierarchical unity is essential to its being. That is why the Catholic doctrine that the Mystical Body of Christ is essentially visibly one in its hierarchy is not Eutychian.

B. What Does Ecclesial Docetism Look Like in Practice?

The spirituality and visibility of the Church are no more opposed to each other than the soul and body of a man, or, better, than the divinity and humanity in Christ. . . . It is because it ignores this inseparable twofold character of the Church that Protestantism, Lutheran and Reformed, has never succeeded in resisting the temptation to distinguish, by opposing them, an invisible and sole evangelical Church, on the one hand, and, on the other, visible, human, and sinful Churches.37

In practice, ecclesial docetism entails ecclesial consumerism, because it eliminates the notion of finding and submitting to the Church that Christ founded. In the mindset of ecclesial docetism, what one looks for, insofar as one looks, is a community of persons who share one’s own interpretation of Scripture. In ecclesial docetism the identity of the Church is not determined by form and matter, but by form alone. Which form? The form of one’s own interpretation of Scripture. This reveals why there are so many different Protestant denominations, worship centers, and ecclesial communities, none of them sharing the three bonds of unity with any of the others. Just as the practical effect of docetism is a Christ of our own making, disconnected from the historical flesh-and-blood Christ, so the practical effect of ecclesial docetism is a Church made in the image of our own interpretation, disconnected from the historical Church.

This is expressed doctrinally as a denial of the materiality or sacramentality of apostolic succession. Ecclesial docetism redefines ‘apostolic succession’ as preservation of form, i.e., preservation of the doctrine of the Apostles. But without the material component of apostolic succession, the individual becomes the final interpretive arbiter of what the apostolic doctrine is. And so the ‘church-shopping’ commences. And where there is a great variation of demand, a great variation of supply arises. ‘Church’ is reduced to a consumer-driven enterprise, based on each person’s own internal perception of his own spiritual needs and how the competing organizations, institutions, or communities meet those needs. This turns ‘church’ into something egocentric rather than God-centered.

Another necessary effect of ecclesial docetism is apathy regarding visible divisions between Christians, communities, and denominations. If the unity of the Church is spiritual, insofar as each believer is invisibly united to Christ by faith alone, then pursuing visible unity is superfluous, even presumptuous in its attempt to outdo Christ.38 If there is no essentially unified visible hierarchy, then while there may be certain pragmatic reasons for ecumenical cooperation, as there are within political parties, there can be no divine mandate that there be no schisms among us. Ecclesial docetism redefines the term ‘Church’ to refer to an invisible entity into which all believers are perfectly joined no matter to which visible institution (if any) they presently belong.

Herein lies a noteworthy point.  Ecclesial docetism conceptually eliminates the very possibility of schism. It does so not by reconciling separated parties, but by defining unity down, as something merely spiritual, and so de-materializing schism as something invisible, and spiritual, i.e., merely a deficiency in charity. Ecclesial docetism treats visible divisions of separated hierarchies as branches. Ecclesial docetism denies the sinfulness of schism, not openly or explicitly, but definitionally and thus surreptitiously. It calls what is actually evil (i.e., schisms) innocuous, if not good. It hides from schismatics their state of not being in full communion with the Mystical Body of Christ, depriving them of the fullness of grace they would receive in full communion with Christ’s Church.

IV. What the Catholic Church Teaches About the Visibility of the Church

A. Church Hierarchy and Unity

From the first century, the Catholic Church has always taught that schism is sinful, and that it is not merely a deficiency of charity, but a separation from the visible hierarchy of the Church. This is evident in the letter of St. Clement of Rome to the Corinthians at the end of the first century, just a few years after the death of the last surviving apostle. We can see it also from St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch (d. AD 107), who wrote:

Where the bishop is, there is the community, even as where Christ is there is the Catholic Church.39

and

As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do anything without the bishop and presbyters. Neither endeavour that anything appear reasonable and proper to yourselves apart; but being come together into the same place, let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled. There is one Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is more excellent. Therefore run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one.40

We can see it too in St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (d. AD 258):

It must be understood that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop and he is not in the Church who is not with the bishop.41

St. Jerome writes most plainly:

Between heresy and schism there is this difference, that heresy perverts dogma, while schism, by rebellion against the bishop, separates from the Church. Nevertheless there is no schism which does not trump up a heresy to justify its departure from the Church.42

Pope Leo XIII, in unambiguous language, teaches that the notion that the Church is “hidden and invisible” is a “pernicious error”:

[T]hose who arbitrarily conjure up and picture to themselves a hidden and invisible Church are in grievous and pernicious error: as also are those who regard the Church as a human institution which claims a certain obedience in discipline and external duties, but which is without the perennial communication of the gifts of divine grace, and without all that which testifies by constant and undoubted signs to the existence of that life which is drawn from God. It is assuredly as impossible that the Church of Jesus Christ can be the one or the other, as that man should be a body alone or a soul alone. The connection and union of both elements is as absolutely necessary to the true Church as the intimate union of the soul and body is to human nature.43

Pope Pius XII says something quite similar about the notion of the Church’s being invisible:

Hence they err in a matter of divine truth, who imagine the Church to be invisible, intangible, a something merely “pneumatological” as they say, by which many Christian communities, though they differ from each other in their profession of faith, are untied by an invisible bond.44

From what We have thus far written, and explained, Venerable Brethren, it is clear, We think, how grievously they err who arbitrarily claim that the Church is something hidden and invisible, as they also do who look upon her as a mere human institution possession a certain disciplinary code and external ritual, but lacking power to communicate supernatural life. On the contrary, as Christ, Head and Exemplar of the Church “is not complete, if only His visible human nature is considered…, or if only His divine, invisible nature…, but He is one through the union of both and one in both … so is it with His Mystical Body” since the Word of God took unto Himself a human nature liable to sufferings, so that He might consecrate in His blood the visible Society founded by Him and “lead man back to things invisible under a visible rule.45

For this reason We deplore and condemn the pernicious error of those who dream of an imaginary Church, a kind of society that finds its origin and growth in charity, to which, somewhat contemptuously, they oppose another, which they call juridical. But this distinction which they introduce is false: for they fail to understand that the reason which led our Divine Redeemer to give to the community of man He founded the constitution of a Society, perfect of its kind and containing all the juridical and social elements – namely, that He might perpetuate on earth the saving work of Redemption, – was also the reason why He willed it to be enriched with the heavenly gifts of the Paraclete. The Eternal Father indeed willed it to be the “kingdom of the Son of his predilection;” but it was to be a real kingdom in which all believers should make Him the entire offering of their intellect and will, and humbly and obediently model themselves on Him, Who for our sake “was made obedient unto death.” There can, then, be no real opposition or conflict between the invisible mission of the Holy spirit and the juridical commission of Ruler and Teacher received from Christ, since they mutually complement and perfect each other – as do the body and soul in man – and proceed from our one Redeemer who not only said as He breathed on the Apostles “Receive ye the Holy Spirit,” but also clearly commanded: “As the Father hath sent me, I also send you;” and again: “He that heareth you, heareth me.46

The constant teaching of the Catholic Church is that Christ founded a visible Church with an essentially unified visible hierarchy. Some people incorrectly think that Vatican II denied the essential unity of the visible hierarchy of the Church. Vatican II did not deny the essential unity of the visible hierarchy of the Church. The issue here is not whether grace and the work of the Holy Spirit can extend beyond the visible boundaries of the Mystical Body of Christ. Of course it can, otherwise no one would ever enter the Church. The issue has nothing to do with invincible ignorance and salvation.47 God could have given grace directly, but He wished to give men also the gift of collaborating with Him in dispensing the graces of Redemption, and so He founded His visible Church.48

B. The Church and the Kingdom

Many Christians do not realize that the Catholic Church is and claims to be the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, in the Kingdom’s nascent stage. They mistakenly think of the Kingdom as either entirely invisible, entirely spiritual, or entirely future. Lumen Gentium specifically affirms that the Church is Christ’s Kingdom:

The Church, or, in other words, the kingdom of Christ now present in mystery, grows visibly through the power of God in the world.49

By “present in mystery” the Council meant that the Catholic Church is the Kingdom of Heaven in its beginning or seminal stage, i.e. the stage prior to the return of Christ. We do not now see the fullness of the Kingdom. But the Catholic Church is the present rule of Christ on the earth. Jesus did not say to Peter, “I give you the keys of the Church, but I retain the keys of the Kingdom.” Rather, Jesus said to Peter, “I will give to you [singular] the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.”50 The keys of the Kingdom of Heaven are the apostolic authority over the Church. That is why the Catechism says,

The Church is the seed and beginning of this kingdom. Her keys are entrusted to Peter.51

To fulfill the Father’s will, Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth. The Church is the Reign of Christ already present in mystery.52

The Church is ultimately one, holy, catholic, and apostolic in her deepest and ultimate identity, because it is in her that the Kingdom of heaven, the Reign of God, already exists and will be fulfilled at the end of time.53

In the Gospels Jesus refers to the Kingdom of Heaven (or Kingdom of God) over eighty times. He compares the Kingdom to a mustard seed that grows into a tree, and to leaven that comes to leaven a whole lump.54 Those examples do not fit with a merely eschatological conception of the Kingdom. Nor does Christ’s teaching that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. (Matthew 4:17) Nor does His claim that the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence at the hands of violent men. (Matthew 11:12, Luke 16:16) Nor does His claim that the Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to the parable of the wheat and tares, (Matthew 13:24ff) or to the laborers in the vineyard. (Matthew 20:1ff) Christ’s teaching that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a dragnet that gathers fish of every kind is paralleled in the account in John 21 where the disciples catch 153 fish and draw the net upon the land. That account clearly refers to the Apostles, as fishers of men, bringing all the nations into the Church, and in this way we again see that the Church is the Kingdom in its present stage.  That is why Jesus says, “I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28), because John was martyred before Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom, i.e. the Church.

A number of “Kingdom” passages in the Gospels refer to the Kingdom in its final state, but some interpreters mistakenly conclude from that fact that all Gospel references to the Kingdom are eschatological. One Protestant reading of Jesus’ statement, “For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21), interprets the Kingdom as something in itself internal, spiritual, and invisible, in our hearts. But the notion that the Kingdom must be either internal or external is a false dilemma. Christ now governs His people through His Church, through the Apostles and the bishops they appointed.

The New Testament authors understand the Church as the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant.55 The angel Gabriel tells Mary that the Lord God will give her Son the “throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”56 God had promised to David that his throne would be established forever, and that he would not lack a man on his throne.57 This promise was fulfilled when Christ the King, the Son of David, conceived by the Holy Spirit, established the Kingdom that will never end. Likewise, God had promised David that his son would sit on his throne in his place, and build the house for God’s name.58 But Solomon was a type of Christ, because Christ is building the Church, which is the true and everlasting temple of God. That is why St. Paul, quoting Isaiah, refers to Christ as the “root of Jesse” who “arises to rule over the Gentiles.”59 This ruling over the Gentiles is taking place now, through the Church. And at the Jerusalem Council, St. James, the bishop of Jerusalem, quotes the prophet Amos regarding the Church age as “that day” when God raises up the fallen tabernacle of David, so that “the rest of mankind may seek the Lord.”60 We have come, says the author of Hebrews, not to Mount Sinai, but to Mount Zion, the city of David, the heavenly Jerusalem. That city is the Church, the house of God, a kingdom that cannot be shaken.61

The prophet Isaiah had written of Christ’s Kingdom:

“Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”62

His kingdom will continue to increase, will never be overturned, because it is divinely established. The prophet Daniel also wrote of Christ’s Kingdom. Speaking to Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel says:

“As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces … But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. … And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignty be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever.”63

When would God set up this Kingdom that will never be destroyed? At the time of the fourth kingdom of men, namely the kingdom of Rome. This was fulfilled at the time of Christ. A Protestant who conceives of Christ’s Kingdom as something invisible or spiritual may agree that Christ introduced His Kingdom two-thousand years ago, but not see that this Kingdom is the Catholic Church. But Jesus said the following:

“As My Father appointed a kingdom for Me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Simon, Simon, behold Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”64

Christ shows His Apostles that they will eat and drink in His Kingdom and sit on twelve thrones. Eating at His table refers in the present age to the Eucharistic table. Sitting on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel refers to their governance of the Church, because the Church is the New Israel, the universal (i.e. catholic) reign of the Messiah. This term for throne (θρόνος) is where we get the word cathedral, which derives from the Latin cathedra, meaning ‘chair of the bishop.’ From this passage in Luke we also see that Christ prays especially for Peter, and charges him to strengthen his brothers. In Matthew 16:18-19, Christ, the Chief Cornerstone, designates Simon to be Peter, the rock upon whom Christ will build His Church. This is the Kingdom that will never be defeated, but will prevail to the end of time.

“And I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”65

What are these “keys of the Kingdom”? They are the keys of the house of David, which Isaiah prophecies about as being entrusted to the King’s steward.66 Christ has given the keys of the Kingdom to Peter, His steward. This is the Petrine office, the chair of St. Peter the Apostle. Jesus refers to this role in a parable, when He says,

“Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time?”67

Christ rules the Church through the men He has entrusted with the keys of His Kingdom, and given the authority to speak in His name. The Church has always understood herself to be the present stage of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.  Christ does not have two Brides: His Church and His Kingdom. He has one Bride, which is His Church and His Kingdom. He and His Bride are “one flesh”, that is, one Mystical Body. For this reason, the Catholic understanding of “advancing the Kingdom of God” is to bring people into the reign of Christ, that is, into the Catholic Church. The Lord’s Prayer does not ignore the Church; when we pray “Thy Kingdom come”, we are praying for the growth of the Catholic Church, the increase of Christ’s reign within her, and the final glorious return of the King. Understanding that the Church is the present form of Christ’s Kingdom helps us understand why the Church must have a unified visible hierarchy; it also helps make sense of the way St. Ignatius of Antioch exhorts Christians to follow their bishops, as a general might urge his troops to follow their commanders. When the centurion said, “I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me” (Matthew 8:9, Luke 7:8), his words applied not only to the Roman army, but to the enduring Kingdom Daniel saw in his vision, that is, to the Catholic Church.

V. Reformed positions, and critique

A. Positions

Here we will consider two Reformed positions on the visibility and invisibility of the church.

1. Position: The Visible Church Is the Church as People See It

One Reformed perspective maintains that by “church” a distinction must be drawn between that which people see and that which God alone sees. This distinction has historically been coined in the two terms “visible church” and “invisible church.” In this use, the “invisible church” is not completely without parts that can be seen; rather, its exact boundary is not perceivable or knowable to us. That is because in this ecclesiology, “invisible church” refers to the set of all persons elected to glory. Only God knows which members of the earthly congregations are elect and inwardly born again,68 and thus belong to the eternal and spiritual fellowship of the Church. Contrariwise, we can perceive, and thus know who is a part of the “visible church,” that is, who is a member of an Evangelical body, whether that be a denomination or a local congregation unaffiliated with any denomination. But this affiliation provides no guarantee about the affiliant’s inward conversion. Jesus taught that in this organized church there would always be members, not excluding its leaders, who seemed to be Christians but were nevertheless not renewed in their heart and would be rejected at the Last Judgment.69

These terms do not mean that there are two churches, one visible and another hidden in heaven. Rather, in Reformed ecclesiology there is only one church, and it is known perfectly to God and known imperfectly on earth.70 This church on earth is one in Christ despite the great number of local congregations and denominations.71 It is holy because it is corporately consecrated to God,72 just as each Christian is individually. It is catholic, meaning “universal,” because it exists worldwide. Finally, it is apostolic because it is founded upon apostolic teaching.73 All four qualities may be seen in Ephesians 2:19-22.74

2. Position: Christ Founded a Mere Plurality of Believers Without a Shared Hierarchy

Luther, Calvin, and the other Reformers taught that the visible church was merely the “multitude” of believers spread over the earth. Martin Luther described the visible church as “the holy Christian people.” He wrote:

If the words, “I believe that there is a holy Christian people,” had been used in the Children’s Creed, all the misery connected with this meaningless and obscure word (“church”) might easily have been avoided…. Ecclesia … should mean the holy Christian people, not only of the days of the apostles, who are long since dead, but to the end of the world….75

John Calvin wrote:

How we are to judge the church visible, which falls within our knowledge, is, I believe, already evident from the above discussion. For we have said that Holy Scripture speaks of the church in two ways. Sometimes by the term “church” it means that which is actually in God’s presence, into which no persons are received but those who are children of God by grace of adoption and true members of Christ by sanctification of the Holy Spirit. Then indeed, the church includes not only the saints presently living on earth, but all the elect from the beginning of the world. Often, however, the name “church” designates the whole multitude of men spread over the earth who profess to worship one God and Christ.76

The church universal is a multitude gathered from all nations; it is divided and dispersed in separate places, but agrees on the one truth of divine doctrine, and is bound by the bond of the same religion. Under it are thus included individual churches, disposed in towns and villages according to human need, so that each rightly has the name and authority of the church.77

Finally, and helpfully explicit, the Westminster Confession of Faith says of the Church visible:

The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof… The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal…consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.78

Instructing on this section, PCA Pastor TM Moore explains that “the most important institution that God has ordained for His people is, in fact, no institution at all. Rather, it is His own Body – the Church.”79

In sum, this visible church is the non-hierarchical collection or plurality of all professing Christians, some of whom are elect and others of whom are not; there are no elect outside of this visible church.80

B. Evaluations

These two Reformed ecclesial positions are essentially equivalent because there is no principled difference between them.  For both, what is called “the visible Church” is a mere plurality of visible things. In the first description, the members are individual congregations not hierarchically united under a single visible hierarchy. In the second description the members are individual believers not hierarchically united under a single visible hierarchy. Therefore under both descriptions what is absent is a unified visible hierarchy, and that is why the result can be nothing more than a mere plurality of visible things, united at most by their invisible union to the invisible Christ.

To understand why it cannot be that Christ founded a “visible church” consisting merely of a multitude of believers spread across the world, we need to consider the difference between a mere plurality and an actual composite whole. A mere plurality is not an actual entity, but only a conceptual entity, i.e. an abstraction of some sort. Imagine the set of all the objects on my desk. The members of that set include books, a printer, some photos, some coins, pens, prayer cards, a toy space shuttle, a piece of hard candy, a lamp, etc. I can refer to these things with a singular term: “set” (as in, “The set of all the things on my desk”). But on my desk there is no single thing consisting of the books, the printer, the photos, the coins, pens, etc. There is no set-of-things on my desk, only individual things that can be referred to collectively as belonging to a set. Though the members of the set are actual, the set itself is only a mental construct, not an actual entity.

Contrast that with the parts of my body. The parts of my body are not a mere plurality, or a mere set. They compose an actual whole, namely, me. In that respect, the parts of my body are not like the objects on my desk. The parts of my body are a plurality, but they are not a mere plurality like the objects on my desk. The parts of my body compose an actual whole.

So when a person claims that the visible Church is the set of all embodied believers, he is reducing the visible Church to a mental construct. He seems to be affirming the existence of the visible Church, but he has adopted an ecclesiological position in which there is no such thing as the visible Church — there are only embodied believers, just as in actuality there are only objects on my desk, and not, in addition to the objects on my desk, one more item, namely, the set of objects on my desk. That is why those who claim that the visible Church is the set of all embodied believers hold a position in which there is no visible Church per se; there are only visible believers, invisibly connected to the invisible Christ. And that is why those who claim that the visible Church is the set of all embodied believers hold a position that is equivalent in principle to that of those who deny that the Church is visible, and who affirm that the Church per se is invisible. For this reason, the claim in the Westminster Confession of Faith that “the visible Church … consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion,” is equivalent in principle to the claim of those who deny that the Church is visible .81 In other words, even though the Reformed confessions refer to a “visible Church”, this is only semantically different from those Protestant ecclesiologies that explicitly deny the visibility of the Church. But neither the pin-cushion ecclesial model nor the mere plurality ecclesial model are compatible with St. Paul’s teaching that the Church is the Body of Christ.

Catholic ecclesiology is not subject to this problem precisely because the Catholic Church is hierarchically unified. Reductionism treats actual composite wholes as though they were mere pluralities of smaller simples, and in this way fails to account fully for the being, unity and activity of actual composite wholes.82 Because the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church is analogous to that of an organism, it is for this same reason not subject to eliminative reductionism. The visible hierarchical unity of the Catholic Church unites all its dioceses, parishes and members not in a mere plurality or in a pin-cushion model, but in an actual composite whole, i.e. a visible unity.

VI. Implications

A. The Identity of the Church

Given that the Church Christ founded is visible, and has an essentially united visible hierarchy, it follows that the identity and extent of the Church can be known, by tracing its visible hierarchy through history. When the early Church fathers write about the Catholic Church, they are referring to a definite Body. They are not referring to a mere plurality of persons or congregations, without an essentially unified visible hierarchy. They are referring to the visible Body picked out precisely by the essential unity of its visible hierarchy, and especially the visible head of that visible hierarchy. This involves two of the four marks of the Church as specified by the Nicene Creed: unity and apostolicity. “We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” This Church referred to in the Creed (as an article of the Christian faith) is the Catholic Church. We saw above the visible hierarchy of the Church treated as the locus of the Church’s identification in St. Ignatius of Antioch, who wrote, “Where the bishop is, there is the community, even as where Christ is there is the Catholic Church.”83 St. Irenaeus (d. c. AD 200) likewise speaks of this Church:

The Catholic Church, having received the apostolic teaching and faith, though spread over the whole world, guards it sedulously, as though dwelling in one house; and these truths she uniformly teaches, as having but one soul and one heart; these truths she proclaims, teaches, and hands down as though she had but one mouth.84

St. Eusebius of Caesarea (AD 263-339) speaks of her:

But the brightness of the Catholic Church proceeded to increase in greatness, for it ever held to the same points in the same way, and radiated forth to all the race of Greeks and barbarians the reverent, sincere, and free nature, and the sobriety and purity of the divine teaching as to conduct and thought.85

St. Augustine (AD 354-430) writes:

This has been brought to pass [Hoc factum est] by the Divine Providence, achieved through the prophecies of the prophets, through the Incarnation and the teaching of Christ, through the journeys of the Apostles, through the suffering, the crosses, the blood and death of the martyrs, through the admirable lives of the saints, and in all these, at opportune times, through miracles worthy of such great deeds and virtues. When, then, we see so much help on God’s part, so much progress and so much fruit, shall we hesitate to bury ourselves in the bosom of that Church? For starting from the apostolic chair down through succession of bishops, even unto the open confession of all mankind, it has possessed the crown of teaching authority.86

Perhaps St. Ambrose (340-397), bishop of Milan, sums it up best, when he writes:

“It is to Peter himself that He says, “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” Where Peter is, there is the Church. And where the Church, no death is there, but life eternal.”87

In short, given this analysis of the essential unity of a visible ecclesial hierarchy, the only plausible candidate for the Church Christ founded, identified by an essentially unified visible hierarchy tracing its succession back to the Apostles, is the Catholic Church. Given that the Church Christ founded is visible, and so has an essentially unified visible hierarchy, it  thus follows that the Church Christ founded is the Catholic Church, i.e. that society of faith in full communion with the episcopal successor of St. Peter.

B. The Promises to the Church Are to the Visible Church

If the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, then the promises Christ makes to the Church are not promises to a merely invisible entity having visible members, but are promises to the Catholic Church. The gates of hell shall not prevail against the Catholic Church.88 Christ has promised to be with the Catholic Church to the end of the age.89 Christ has promised that the Holy Spirit will guide the Catholic Church into all truth.90 Whatever the Catholic Church binds on earth will be bound in heaven.91 The Catholic Church is the pillar and ground of truth.92 All these promises would be superfluous and unhelpful if intended only for the set of all the elect. Only if they refer to a Body with a visible hierarchy do they even make sense. Once we see what it means for the Church to be visible, then we see precisely why we can trust Christ by trusting the Catholic Church. Grasping the visibility of the Church, and thus the identity of the Church, and thus the divine guarantees concerning the Church, we can then understand how it follows that the Catholic Church is indefectible.

Christ’s promise to the Church that the Holy Spirit will guide her into all truth grounds the possibility for the development of doctrine. “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth.”93 The possibility of development of doctrine depends on an essentially unified visible hierarchy. Otherwise there is no definitive determination of the canon, or of orthodoxy and heresy. No mere association of denominations or congregations has the authority to bind the conscience of followers of Christ. Every decision of every synod or session or council or assembly would remain ‘up-for-grabs’, subject to subsequent refutation. Development requires the definitive resolution of disputes, so that the Church as a whole can recognize a question as definitively settled, and then build upon the Magisterial answer. Without an essentially unified visible hierarchy, we are left with biblicism. And that is why Protestantism, lacking an essentially unified visible hierarchy, must trace a path of decay through one of two paths: liberalism or a biblicism that fades into what Michael Spencer calls “the post-Evangelical wilderness.” Christ’s promises to the Catholic Church built on Christ the Cornerstone, and the rock of Peter, insure that ecclesial deism is false; they ensure that when the Magisterium speaks definitively, it is the Holy Spirit speaking.

The essentially unified visible hierarchy of the Church allows her to be not only Magistra (i.e. teacher) but also Mater (mother). This is the meaning of the phrase “Mater et Magistra.” John Calvin maintained that the  holy Catholic Church is our mother.94 He writes,

But because it is now our intention to discuss the visible church, let us learn even from the simple title “mother” how useful, indeed how necessary, it is that we should know her. For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels [Matthew 22:30]. Our weakness does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils all our lives. Furthermore, away from her bosom one cannot hope for any forgiveness fo sins or any salvation, as Isaiah [Isaiah 37:32] and Joel [Joel 2:32] testify. … By these words God’s fatherly favor and the especial witness of spiritual life are limited to his flock, so that it is always disastrous to leave the church.95

Calvin was not intending to speak of the Catholic Church in union with the successor of St. Peter. However, without an essentially unified visible hierarchy, what Calvin says here about the Church as our mother, makes no sense. That is because without an essentially unified visible hierarchy, there is no visible catholic (i.e. universal) Church; there are only visible Christians, and visible congregations and provincial denominations. None of these is our mother. Nor are they, without being under the essentially unified visible hierarchy, part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. They may be invisibly joined to Christ, but they do not form a unified visible entity; they remain only a visible plurality indistinguishable from a plenitude of schisms. Without an essentially visible hierarchy, there is no visible Church, and thus there is no Church as Mater.

C. Ecumenicism

If Christ founded a visible Church, and His promises refer to this visible Church, then the goal of ecumenicism is not only agreement on doctrine and agreement on sacraments, but full communion under the same visible hierarchy, the one authorized by the Apostles and their successors. Christ’s prayer in John 17 concerning our unity, “that the world may know” entails that we are called to full visible unity. Yet these three bonds of unity are so related that each depends upon the other two. Just as we cannot maintain unity of faith and sacraments without visible hierarchical unity, so we cannot determine or discover precisely what faith it is that we are to hold, apart from this unified visible hierarchy. Insofar as the ‘mere Christianity’ form of ecumenicism seeks to determine some set of essential doctrines, apart from the essentially unified visible hierarchy, this form of ecumenicism is intrinsically incapable of attaining its goal.96 For this reason the success of ecumenicism depends not on first finding doctrinal agreement, but on locating the ground and basis of magisterial authority. As Fr. Jeffrey Steel recently said, “on whose terms does this reunion take place?”97 This metalevel question lies at the very center of the ecumenical endeavor.

Without reference to the unified visible hierarchy, the “mere Christianity” form of ecumenicism is indistinguishable from a call to settle for common ground between the Church, heresies and schisms. And that is what makes the Catholic Church’s approach to ecumenicism almost intrinsically offensive to all other Christians. It makes the Catholic Church stick out among all the Protestant demoninations, because none of them claim to be the Church that Christ founded. For example, when the Holy See released Responsa ad Quaestiones in July of 2007, the World Council of Churches expressed its disagreement, claiming that “Each church is the Church catholic and not simply a part of it. Each church is the Church catholic, but not the whole of it.” To the “World Council of Churches” (of which the Catholic Church is not a member), the very notion that one visible Body individuated by one visible hierarchy is the one true Church that Christ founded, is offensive. But the exclusivity of the claims of Christ’s Church should be no more surprising than the exclusivity of the claims of Christ Himself, who said, “No man comes to the Father, but by Me.”98

VII. Conclusion

We have provided evidence and argumentation here that Christ founded a visible Church, and that this Church is visible not merely because some of its members are embodied, and not because local congregations and denominations exist. The Church Christ founded is visible because, as His Mystical Body, it necessarily has an essentially united visible hierarchy; this is the hierarchy of bishops and priests united under the episcopal successor of St. Peter, the visible head appointed by Christ. Without an essentially united visible hierarchy, Church discipline would not be possible. That is because only Catholic ecclesiology is sacramental, i.e. non-gnostic. Any ecclesiology in which members, whether these be individual Christians or congregations, are said to be fully united to Christ’s Church through an internal invisible connection, nullifies the spiritual consequences of visible excommunication. Yet every ecclesiology denying that Christ founded an essentially united visible hierarchy must posit an invisible connection between the members and Christ. Likewise, denying that Christ founded an essentially unified visible hierarchy reduces schisms to branches, and treats them as innocuous or even desirable, falsely construing them as much-needed diversity. If that seems inconceivable, ask yourself this question: If these were not branches, but schisms, what would be different about them? Treating schisms as mere branches calls ‘good’ what is evil, so it is essential that we be able to distinguish a branch from a schism, and yet nothing short of Catholic ecclesiology makes sense of the distinction. Every ecclesiology short of Catholic ecclesiology falls into some form of ecclesial docetism, since it treats the universal Church per se as though it were not visible, not having an essentially unified hierarchy, and thus not as a Body. The bodily nature of the Church allows the Church to be both Mater et Magistra. It makes sense of Scripture’s teaching regarding the locus and universal nature of the Kingdom of Heaven presently on earth. This Kingdom is not invisible, but visible, present in the mystery of the Catholic Church. Though the Kingdom (i.e. the Church) will achieve its fullness only when Christ returns, even now the thrones of its stewards are visible, not invisible, and its law is canon law. Reformed ecclesiology attempts to avoid denying the visibility of the Church, but without a unified visible catholic hierarchy, what Reformed ecclesiology refers to as “the visible Church” cannot be a Body, only a mere plurality of members (whether individual persons or congregations) each invisibly connected to Christ. The ‘visible Church’ terminology in Reformed ecclesiology is for that reason merely semantical, not substantive. A mere plurality of congregations is no more of a unified Body than is a mere plurality of persons. That is why Reformed ecclesiolgy in essence is indistinguishable from the ecclesiology of those who deny the visibility of the Church per se. The visibility of the Mystical Body of Christ implies that it is a definite Body that can be traced through history, that the promises Christ made concerning the Church apply to it, and that the key to the ecumenical endeavor centers not around some shared minimum of doctrinal common ground, but around the identification of the Church’s unified visible hierarchy in succession from the Apostles.

May God grant all Christians the joy of being in full communion with His Mystical Body. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Bryan Cross and Thomas Brown, Octave of Pentecost, 2009.

  1. Some Protestants grant that Christ founded a visible, hierarchically organized Body, but believe that at some point in history it ceased to exist. []
  2. “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”  (John 17:3.) See also Matthew 5:8; 1 John 3:2; 1 Corinthians 13:12; Revelation 22:4. “[T]he divine essence immediately manifests itself to [the souls in heaven], plainly, clearly and openly, and in this vision they enjoy the divine essence. Moreover, by this vision [i.e. the Beatific Vision of the divine essence] and enjoyment the souls of those who have already died are truly blessed and have eternal life and rest.” (Benedictus Deus, from AD 1336.) []
  3. Cf. Mystici Corporis Christi, 60. []
  4. Pope Pius XII wrote:

    It is manifestly clear that the faithful need the help of the Divine Redeemer, for He has said: “Without me you can do nothing,” and according to the teaching of the Apostle every advance of this Mystical Body towards its perfection derives from Christ the Head. Yet this, also, must be held, marvelous though it may seem: Christ has need of His members. First, because the person of Jesus Christ is represented by the Supreme Pontiff, who in turn must call on others to share much of his solicitude lest he be overwhelmed by the burden of his pastoral office, and must be helped daily by the prayers of the Church. Moreover as our Savior does not rule the Church directly in a visible manner, He wills to be helped by the members of His Body in carrying out the work of redemption. That is not because He is indigent and weak, but rather because He has so willed it for the greater glory of His spotless Spouse. Dying on the Cross He left to His Church the immense treasury of the Redemption, towards which she contributed nothing. But when those graces come to be distributed, not only does He share this work of sanctification with His Church, but He wills that in some way it be due to her action. (Mystici Corporis Christi, 44.)

    []

  5. Again, as in nature a body is not formed by any haphazard grouping of members but must be constituted of organs, that is of members, that have not the same function and are arranged in due order; so for this reason above all the Church is called a body, that it is constituted by the coalescence of structurally untied parts, and that it has a variety of members reciprocally dependent.” (Mystici Corporis Christi, 16.)

    []

  6. “What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church.” CCC 797. Similarly, Pope Leo XIII wrote, “Let it suffice to say that, as Christ is the Head of the Church, so is the Holy Spirit her soul.” Divinum Illud Munus, 6. []
  7. In Ioan. 21.8. []
  8. Summa Theologica III Q.48 a.2 ad 1. []
  9. An extrinsic union is one in which, for example, a mere plurality is conceived in the mind as if it were an actual unity, though it remains in actuality a mere plurality. An intrinsic union, by contrast, is one in which individuals, in their very being, become parts of something else. []
  10. “In a natural body the principle of unity so unites the parts, that each lacks its own individual subsistence; on the contrary in the Mystical Body that mutual union, though intrinsic, links the members by a bond which leaves to each intact his own personality.” Mystici Corporis Christi, 61. []
  11. Even Christ’s resurrected physical body was hierarchically organized. Jesus said “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Luke 24:39. []
  12. “[P]recisely because it is a body is the Church visible.” Satis Cognitum, 3. []
  13. Satis Cognitum, 3. []
  14. If we were to have touched Christ’s physical Body, we would truly have touched God, because His physical Body is truly united to Him through what is called the hypostatic union. Likewise, when we touch His Mystical Body, we also touch God, because by the union of members and Head, the Body of Christ is Christ. This is how we understand Christ’s own identification with us in verses such as Matthew 25:35 and Acts 9:4. We are members of His Mystical Body, and this union of members and Head is so intimate that we form one Mystic Person, just as the cells in a body form one organism. []
  15. Mystici Corporis Christi, 14. []
  16. See also here. []
  17. Responsa ad quaestiones. []
  18. This is why Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.” (Matt. 6:24.) We cannot be oriented fundamentally toward two (or more) distinct ends, unless one end is ordered to the other. []
  19. Catechism of the Catholic Church 815. []
  20. Ludwig Ott writes: “A threefold sensible bond binds the members of the Church to one another, and makes them known as such: the profession of the same Faith, the use of the same means of grace, and the subordination to the same authority.” Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma 301 (1952). []
  21. Hence as the Apostles and Disciples were bound to obey Christ, so also those whom the Apostles taught were, by God’s command, bound to obey them. And, therefore, it was no more allowable to repudiate one iota of the Apostles’ teaching than it was to reject any point of the doctrine of Christ Himself. . . . But . . . the Apostolic mission was not destined to die with the Apostles themselves, or to come to an end in the course of time, since it was intended for the people at large and instituted for the salvation of the human race. For Christ commanded His Apostles to preach the “Gospel to every creature, to carry His name to nations and kings, and to be witnesses to him to the ends of the earth.” He further promised to assist them in the fulfillment of their high mission, and that, not for a few years or centuries only, but for all time – “even to the consummation of the world.” Upon which St. Jerome says: “He who promises to remain with His Disciples to the end of the world declares that they will be for ever victorious, and that He will never depart from those who believe in Him” (In Matt., lib. iv., cap. 28, v. 20). But how could all this be realized in the Apostles alone, placed as they were under the universal law of dissolution by death? It was consequently provided by God that the Magisterium instituted by Jesus Christ should not end with the life of the Apostles, but that it should be perpetuated. We see it in truth propagated, and, as it were, delivered from hand to hand. For the Apostles consecrated bishops, and each one appointed those who were to succeed them immediately “in the ministry of the word.” Nay more: they likewise required their successors to choose fitting men, to endow them with like authority, and to confide to them the office and mission of teaching. “Thou, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus: and the things which thou hast heard of me by many witnesses, the same command to faithful men, who shall be fit to teach others also” (2 Tim. ii., I-2). Wherefore, as Christ was sent by God and the Apostles by Christ, so the Bishops and those who succeeded them were sent by the Apostles. “The Apostles were appointed by Christ to preach the Gospel to us. Jesus Christ was sent by God. Christ is therefore from God, and the Apostles from Christ, and both according to the will of God. . . . Preaching therefore the word through the countries and cities, when they had proved in the Spirit the first-fruits of their teaching they appointed bishops and deacons for the faithful . . . . They appointed them and then ordained them, so that when they themselves had passed away other tried men should carry on their ministry” (S. Clemens Rom. Epist. I ad Corinth. capp. 42, 44). On the one hand, therefore, it is necessary that the mission of teaching whatever Christ had taught should remain perpetual and immutable, and on the other that the duty of accepting and professing all their doctrine should likewise be perpetual and immutable. “Our Lord Jesus Christ, when in His Gospel He testifies that those who not are with Him are His enemies, does not designate any special form of heresy, but declares that all heretics who are not with Him and do not gather with Him, scatter His flock and are His adversaries: He that is not with Me is against Me, and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth” (S. Cyprianus, Ep. lxix., ad Magnum, n. I).

    Satis Cognitum, 8. []

  22. St. Paul, speaking of Christ, writes in Romans 6:9 that Christ, “having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.” []
  23. Mystici Corporis Christi, 38. []
  24. Mystici Corporis Christi, 40. []
  25. Matthew 16:19,  Luke 22:32, John 21:15-17. []
  26. St. Jerome, Contra Jovinianus I.26. []
  27. Satis Cognitum, 10. The last sentence is a quotation from St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II Q.39 a. 1 []
  28. Not only that, but if the Church were the accidental unity of separate hierarchies, the only remaining essential unity would be that of each individual. The separate hierarchies would each be reduced to accidental unities when not either themselves essential or part of another hierarchy that is essentially unified. []
  29. “The bishop of the diocese is the only official teacher, guardian, and interpreter of the Catholic tradition (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 888, 894, 895, 1560; Code of Canon Law 375.1, 392.1, 393, 394.1, 394.2) While the bishop may appoint others, i.e. priests, deacons, lay people, to work and act on behalf of the Church, the task of authentically transmitting the deposit of Faith belongs to the bishops of the Church.” Source []
  30. e.g. Hebrews 13:17 []
  31. 1 Corinthians 5:5. []
  32. 1 Corinthians 1:13 []
  33. St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, d. AD 258, On the Unity of the Church, 23. []
  34. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2089. []
  35. Mathew 18:18 []
  36. Cf. Mystici Corporis Christi, 16. []
  37. Charles Journet, Theology of the Church, 13. []
  38. Cf. “Institutional Unity and Outdoing Christ.” []
  39. Epistle to the Smyrnæans, 8.2. []
  40. Epistle to the Magnesians, 7. []
  41. Epist., lxvi, 8. []
  42. In Ep. ad Tit., iii, 10, emphasis added. []
  43. Satis Cognitum, 3. []
  44. Mystici Corporis Christi, 14. []
  45. Mystici Corporis Christi, 64. []
  46. Mystici Corporis Christi, 65. []
  47. For a more detailed explanation, see Baptism, Schism, Full Communion, Salvation.  See also Thomas Storck’s very clear answer to the Vatican II charge, What is the Church of Jesus Christ? Finally, Responsa ad Quaestiones gives the Church’s own recent clarification. []
  48. Mystici Corporis Christi, 13. []
  49. Lumen Gentium, 3 []
  50. Matthew 16:19 []
  51. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 567 []
  52. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 763 []
  53. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 865 []
  54. Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 13 []
  55. I wrote about this earlier this year; see “Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle.” []
  56. St. Luke 1:32-33 []
  57. 1 Kings 9:5 []
  58. 1 Kings 5:5 []
  59. Romans 15:12 []
  60. Acts 15:16-17 []
  61. Hebrews 3:4-6, 12:22-28 []
  62. Isaiah 9:7 []
  63. Daniel 2:34,35,44 []
  64. Luke 22:29-32 []
  65. Matthew 16:18-19 []
  66. Isaiah 22:15-23 []
  67. Luke 12:42 []
  68. 2 Timothy 2:19 []
  69. Matthew 7:15-23; 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-50; 25:1-46. []
  70. See The Reformation Study Bible, “The Church.” Cf. Belgic Confession, art. 27 (“We believe and confess one single catholic or universal church—a holy congregation and gathering of true Christian believers.”). []
  71. Ephesians 4:3-6. See also PCA BOCO ch. 2-2 (“This visible unity of the body of Christ, though obscured, is not destroyed by its division into different denominations of professing Christians; but all of these which maintain the Word and Sacraments in their fundamental integrity are to be recognized as true branches of the Church of Jesus Christ”). []
  72. Ephesians 2:21. []
  73. Ephesians 2:20. []
  74. The Reformation Study Bible, “The Church.” []
  75. Martin Luther, On the Councils and the Church – Part III (1539). []
  76. Institutes of the Christian ReligionIV.1.7. []
  77. Institutes of the Christian Religion IV.1.9. []
  78. Westminster Confession of Faith XXV 1-2. The Book of Church Order for the Presbyterian Church in America defines the “Visible Church” as consisting of “all those who make profession of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, together with their children.” Ch. 2-2. []
  79. T.M. Moore, A Foundation of Truth: Studies in the Westminster Confession of Faith, 50 (1993).  Notice that the invisible church transcends time, which can be considered as vertically universal, and the visible church transcends place or nation, so can be thought of as horizontally universal. []
  80. Scott Clark, a professor of Church history and historical theology at Westminster Seminary, refers to ‘connectionalism’ in his article on ecclesiology. There he writes:

    Closely related to the Biblical understanding of the relationship of the Church Universal to the Church individually considered is the question of connectionalism in the New Covenant. It is often assumed in the American Church that the New Testament Churches were independent of one another and autonomous, that is, subject to no one’s authority but their own. In fact this is less a New Covenant picture than an amalgam of the historic Anabaptist view of the Church with traditional American self reliance. Connectionalism is sometimes portrayed by its opponents as a Roman Catholic corruption of the true Church. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

    This thesis would require its adherents to treat the visible Church as either their own denomination or the group of denominations having some minimal level of formal relations with one another. In Prof. Clark’s case, the implication would seem to be that the visible Church Christ founded is NAPARC. []

  81. Cf. Westminster Confession of Faith, XXV.2 []
  82. See Leon Kass’s “The Permanent Limitations of Biology.” []
  83. Epistle to the Smyrnæans, 8.2. []
  84. Adv. Haer., 1.x.2 []
  85. Ecclesiastical History, 4.7.13 []
  86. De Utilitate Credendi []
  87. Commentary on Twelve Psalms of David 40.30 []
  88. Matthew 16:18 []
  89. Matthew 28:20 []
  90. John 16:13 []
  91. Matt 16:19, 18:19 []
  92. 1 Timothy 3:15 []
  93. John 16:13 []
  94. Institutes IV.1.1-4 []
  95. Institutes IV.1.4 []
  96. Cf. Here and here. []
  97. Journey Home to the Catholic Church: I Have Jumped into the Tiber to Swim Across“ []
  98. John 14:6 []
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  1. A great article!

    I have often thought that our separated brethren have inherited an ecclesiology which emphasizes the “mystical” in opposition to the “visible” because so many contradictory systems of doctrine developed out of the Reform. The only way to transcend the differences is to diminish the importance of certain doctrines, making the Church a loosely knit spiritual union with a bias towards minimalism to keep the peace between denominations. Once there is no head of a local church with an historical line of succession going back to Christ and the apostles, Acts 2:42 risks becoming an ideal which can only be partially achieved. The sheer range of differences around styles and structures of worship among denominations is a manifestation and fruit of a fractured ecclesiology. How can one truly believe that the same God of OT Israel is unconcerned about the unity & structure of leadership & worship in the NT Church? Without a unified Tent of Meeting, there is always the risk of descending into tribalism.

  2. This one was especially timely, guys, in view of Pentecost and Trinity Sunday. As I read this my mind was drawn particularly to St. Cyprian’s budding ecclesiology as expressed in the Unity of the Catholic Church, which reflects an understanding of the Body of Christ as deriving from the fundamental mysteries of the Faith. That is, his vision of the Church — as the one visible, material organism uniquely invested with the Holy Spirit — had crystallized not only around the doctrine of the Incarnation, but also around the developing doctrine of the Trinity.

    To the minds of the early Fathers, the essential unity of God who is Father, Son and Holy Ghost was the thing that guaranteed the objective and continuing unity of all the different members constituting Christ’s Body on earth, because the Church’s unity was precisely a sharing in, or partaking of, the indivisible unity of God the Three-In-One. In other words, the Church was the place where people who were by nature divisive and closed-off from one another got swept up into the life of the Triune God, where they could then be “patched up” together again in one and learn how to love.

    What that meant for the Fathers was that the Church – in her capacity as sacrament – was marked by a visible, objective unity which flowed from the invisible unity of the Godhead as its source. That was a reality, a given. But to whom much is given much is expected: it also meant that the Church – in her capacity as the Body and thus the collective Image-Bearer of God – had to reflect the Trinitarian image of unity-in-diversity-in-love before the watching world (Jn 17). That was both the Church’s nature and her vocation: she was to be the earthly thing which realized and exemplified physically both the plurality and the indivisible unity of the One Triune God, whose Temple and visible reflection she really was.

    And that was also what made her a specifically Christian Church. She was the Church of Incarnation, of Sacrament, of Trinity. Far from mere theological abstractions, these things were as practical as potatoes and as real as eighteen-wheelers.

    Seen from this perspective it becomes easier to grasp why folks like St. Cyprian (in AD 250-ish) could speak as though the indivisibility of God and the indivisibility of the Church almost amounted to the same thing:

    He who breaks the peace and the concord of Christ, does so in opposition to Christ; he who gathereth elsewhere than in the Church, scatters the Church of Christ. The Lord says, “I and the Father are one;” and again it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, “And these three are one.” And does anyone believe that this unity which thus comes from the divine strength and coheres in celestial sacraments, can be divided in the Church, and can be separated by the parting asunder of opposing wills? He who does not hold this unity does not hold God’s law, does not hold the faith of the Father and the Son, does not hold life and salvation … Who, then, is so wicked and faithless, who is so insane with the madness of discord, that either he should believe that the unity of God can be divided, or should dare to rend it – the garment of the Lord – the Church of Christ?

    For those guys, the notion that the Church could be visibly chopped up into a gazillion disunited bits was quite as inconceivable as the Father splitting up with the Son, or either one of them filing for a divorce with the Holy Ghost. And I think in this case the Fathers can be seen as faithfully carrying forward the spirit of the Scriptures to which you advert in this article.

    Sorry for hijacking the article and getting preachy. But I guess if I’ve got a hotbutton issue this is it! Thanks for writing this.

    Neal

  3. Brothers and Fellows,

    The discussion of ecclesiological docetism and the relation between kingdom and Church, together with the Trinitiarian reflections, have also reminded me of this nice passage in the late Fr. Neuhaus’ Catholic Matters:

    The Church participates in nothing less than the very community, or communio, of God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Although the English word “community” can hardly bear the full weight and depth of what is intended by communio.)

    This is an unabashedly theological, even mystical, way of understanding the Church. It in no way excludes the very human, historical, and even sociological ways of thinking about the Church. After all, we are not ecclesiological docetists. Docetism was an early (and ever recurring) heresy that Christ did not really have a human body, that he did not really suffer and die on the cross. Ecclesiological docetism is to view the Church as a theological abstraction that remains aloof from the very human messiness of history. As important as it is, however, to understand the “pilgrim Church on earth” in earthly and even earthy terms, she remains always and primarily the temporal communio with the eternal life of the triune God; she is that part of history which, by virtue of the incarnation in which God becomes man, guides and impels humanity’s pilgrimage toward our transcendent destiny. She is the prolepsis – the present anticipation – of the fulfillment of the story of the world. If that is not, above all, how we understand the Church, it is not evident that the Church has a major claim on our attention, never mind our allegiance, at all.

    More fuel for devotion or food for thought, as the case may be.

  4. Excellent article, Bryan and Thomas. I look forward to digesting it more thoroughly as time allows. Am I incorrect to quibble with your prefatory statement that a Catholic is removed from the Church “either by heresy, apostasy, schism, or excommunication”? My understanding — and it’s a point that arises often in my discussions with Reformed brethren — is that neither heresy nor excommunication necessarily revokes one’s membership in the Church.

    The quotation that you twice note from St. Jerome seems to speak to heresy’s inability, in and of itself, to do so. And although excommunication is the most serious medicinal penalty that the Church can dispense to its members, I think that an excommunicated person remains a Catholic (albeit one with severely diminished rights). Thanks to you all for the important work that you’re doing here.

  5. Hello Zach,

    The word ‘member’ is used in different senses, and that creates the ambiguity to which you are referring regarding membership. So, let’s define some terms.

    By ‘heresy’ here we are speaking of formal heresy, as it is defined in the Catechism:

    “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same.” (CCC 2089)

    This is the definition used in Canon Law (see Can. 791).

    Notice the repeated word ‘obstinate’. This involves a person who isn’t merely accidentally or unknowingly denying something that the Church teaches must be believed with divine and catholic faith. (Doing so unknowingly or without an awareness or understanding that the Church taught otherwise, would be material heresy.) In a case of formal heresy, the person is told clearly what the Church teaches must be believed with divine and catholic faith (the phrase ‘divine and catholic faith’ is a technical term, and refers to that which requires the highest level of assent — see Canon 750 in the Code of Canon Law), and he obstinately denies it or obstinately doubts it.

    Formal heresy incurs automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication:

    Can. 1364 §1. … [A]n apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.

    The word ‘heresy’ there is being used as it was defined in Canon 791. In other words, it is referring to formal heresy, not material heresy. In light of that, now consider what Pope Pius XII says in Mystici Corporis Christi:

    Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed. “For in one spirit” says the Apostle, “were we all baptized into one Body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free.” As therefore in the true Christian community there is only one Body, one Spirit, one Lord, and one Baptism, so there can be only one faith. And therefore, if a man refuse to hear the Church, let him be considered – so the Lord commands – as a heathen and a publican. It follows that those who are divided in faith or government cannot be living in the unity of such a Body, nor can they be living the life of its one Divine Spirit. (Mystici Corporis Christi, 22)

    So this gives us the definition of the word ‘member’ as we were using it in the article. A member (in this sense) of the Catholic Church is a person who has been baptized and professes the true faith (i.e. and therefore is not a formal heretic), and has not separated himself from the unity of the Body (by entering a schism), and is not in the excommunicated state. Clearly then, a formal heretic is not a member of the Catholic Church, in that sense of the term ‘member’, because he does not profess the truth faith, and on account of his [formal] heresy has incurred latae sententiae excommunication, according to Can. 1364.

    But does the formal heretic remain under the jurisdiction of the Church? Yes. Excommunication does not take the excommunicated person out of the jurisdiction of the Church. So in that sense, the formal heretic remains a Catholic, but not a Catholic in full communion with the Catholic Church, and thus not a member according to the necessary conditions listed in Mystici Corporis Christi 22.

    I hope that helps answer your question.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  6. Thanks, Bryan. Your answer is very helpful, and I agree that we’re coming at the term “membership” from slightly different perspectives. When these topics come up in ecclesiological conversations with my Reformed friends, they are fond of pointing to dissident theologians and arguing that there are “schisms within the Catholic Church”. My reply is that although a dissident may be guilty of many sins (heresy, perhaps, being among them), so long as he does not depart the Catholic Church for some other communion, schism is the one sin of which he is not guilty.

    I find that many Protestants think excommunication does (or should) entail “kicking the bums out”, but that’s not how the Church operates. The continued presence “within” the Catholic Church of excommunicated persons (whether latae or ferendae sententiae) is baffling–even scandalous–to these Protestant brothers. I like to point out that despite the errors that Luther and Calvin espoused, the Church did not force them into schism (as is often claimed). Schism was a step that they took in addition to their prior errors. Thanks again for your explanation.

  7. “Indeed no true and perfect human society can be conceived which is not governed by some supreme authority. Christ therefore must have given to His Church a supreme authority to which all Christians must render obedience. For this reason, as the unity of the faith is of necessity required for the unity of the church, inasmuch as it is the body of the faithful, so also for this same unity, inasmuch as the Church is a divinely constituted society, unity of government, which effects and involves unity of communion, is necessary jure divino. “The unity of the Church is manifested in the mutual connection or communication of its members, and likewise in the relation of all the members of the Church to one head” Leo XIII

    A futher point…

    For the Fathers, the Head of the Church was ultimately Christ with the Bishop of the local Church as the visible sign of unity for all Christians within his fold, the icon of the Father (cf. St. Ignatius of Antioch’s ecclesial typology). The Petrine ministry exercised by the Apostolic See of Rome and its bishop who presides “in love” (“Roma presides in amor”) is one which must uphold the service of of his brother bishops, and not undermine them. “Unity of governance” cannot and should not be equated with the notion of the local bishop simply acting as the Pope’s delegate. He is the Pope’s equal in ministry as a bishop. That said, as Patriarch of the Latin Church the Pope is the proper head of the sui juris Latin Church, responsible for all matters pertaining to the disciplines, practices and governance of that particular Church, the largest of all the 21 or 22 autonomous Churches that form the communion of the Catholic Church. As Successor of St. Peter (the Vicar of Peter, as he was called for centuries) he stands as head of the college of Catholic bishops throughout the world, exercising the power of the Keys when and where necessary, but always (it is hoped) to uphold the ministry and unity of his brother bishops and, ultimately, the one flock of Christ. To the extent that a Pope fulfills this mission of feeding the flock and strengthening his apostolic brethren, he is fulfilling his proper role within the communion of the Catholic Church.

    Historically, however, this has not always been the case. There has sometimes been a “union with confusion” of these roles (Bishop, Patriarch and Pope), a fact bemoaned by then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. The imposition of all sorts of Latin disciplines upon Eastern clergy and faithful is just such an example. (e.g., the imposition of mandatory celibacy and fasting rules and regulations) In acting in this manner, various Popes have attempted to be “more than a Pope,” acting like a monarchial head and ultimately undermining both his ministry and the ministry of his brother bishops.

    I say this because the pendulum appears to be swinging back regarding the need for unity within the Latin Church. Such a “swing” is a welcome one on many levels, since it will mean a return, hopefully, to liturgical and doctrinal sanity within that jurisdiction. The much smaller Eastern Catholic churches can only stand to benefit from this shift, since it means the strengthening of our brethren in the West, SO LONG AS the traditions of the East that differ from the West are protected, vigorously defended and upheld. The push towards unity in principle can often be corrupted in practice and turned into a push towards uniformity.

    Ultimately the Church cannot descend, as I said before, into rank tribalism, which, I am sad to say, has often become the fate of the Protestant communities and Orthodox churches. The Church’s unity must reflect the Divine Unity which is ultimately a Tri-Unity of Persons (unity and diversity). The Catholic Church with its representatives of East and West, is a vast mosaic which forms the icon of Christ to the world and can speak prophetically and polyphonically with “one voice,” much like a liturgical choir. The unity of the Church can only be strengthened by a corresponding commitment to its organic and orthodox diversity.

  8. Thanks for the useful info. It’s so interesting

  9. Hi guys,

    I have read this article again and again over many months, (ever since Brian referred me to it from the Ecclesial Deism article), and I really am trying to understand your argument. But the fact is I am still not getting it.

    It seems to me that Christ can be the invisible head of an invisible Church without requiring a “visible” head of a human hierarchy/institution.

    Is Christ’s body divided? No, because Christ knows the members of His Body. But are we in perfect unity with one another? No, far from it. But why would we be urged by Jesus and Paul to work for unity if we were already perfectly united?

    Is believing that unity in the Church is currently imperfect a contradiction with Jesus’s prayer in John 17? I don’t see how that is necessarily so. I think it is only in heaven that our unity will be perfected.

    Can we be ordered to a common purpose without a visible hierarchy? I think so. All members of the Church can be ordered to a common purpose because of their living faith in the living Christ. We cannot see Christ, but we can still follow Him.

    Here’s a couple things that seem inconsistent in the RC position:

    Putting the pope in place of Christ as a “visible” head seems to contradict Paul’s declaration that Christ (though invisible) is the head. Doesn’t it make more sense that Christ, even though invisible, is the head, and the Church is therefore invisible as well (currently, at least)?

    It seems these three beliefs are inconsistent when taken together:
    1. Baptism is the sacrament by which one enters the Church
    2. Vatican II recognizes trinitarian baptism outside the RC Church
    3. The Church is the RC Church

    How can someone enter the Church and be in schism from the Church at the same time? Is the visible Church made up of all the Saints, or just some of them?

    As for these last two points, I am sure you have an explanation that is consistent – I would just like to understand it.

    Thanks for your consideration here.

    PS I am still eagerly awaiting the article on apostolic succession…

  10. Jonathan,

    You wrote:

    It seems to me that Christ can be the invisible head of an invisible Church without requiring a “visible” head of a human hierarchy/institution.

    The question is not what Christ could do, but what Christ did. Tom and I have provided much evidence and argumentation in the article that Christ founded a visible Church. Is Christ the Head of the Church? Of course. But a visible Church cannot lack a visible head, just as every society on earth has a visible leader, from the family, to the local community, to the state. Grace does not destroy nature, but builds upon it. Hence the supernatural society founded by Christ does not nullify the natural principles of a human society. It belongs to human nature to be ordered in societies, and thus to be unified under visible unified leadership. This belongs to human nature in the way that marriage belongs to human nature. So the Church, being visible, needs a visible head. And Christ was not unaware of this. This is why He gave the keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter, to be the steward (i.e. visible head as Christ’s representative) until He returns.

    You wrote:

    Is Christ’s body divided? No, because Christ knows the members of His Body.

    Christ’s Body is not divided. But the basis for its unity is not that Christ knows the members of His Body. He knows all human beings, but not all human beings are members of His Body. So the basis for membership in His Body cannot be that Christ knows them. Nor can the basis be that He knows they are members, because that just pushes the question back: On what basis does He know that those who are His members are His members, and know that those who are not His members, are not His members? Something about the members must make them members, and on that basis He knows them to be members, and knows that others not having it are not members.

    You wrote:

    But are we in perfect unity with one another? No, far from it. But why would we be urged by Jesus and Paul to work for unity if we were already perfectly united?

    I’m not sure who the ‘we’ here refers to, whether only Catholics, or all Christians. Catholics who hold the same faith, participate in all the same sacraments, and submit to the same government, are in perfect unity, because this is the peace and unity of the Spirit of God, our participation in the unity of the Trinity. The bond of charity is expressed through each of these three bonds of unity (i.e. same faith, same sacraments, same government). But insofar as we [Catholics] do not love one another, our union with each other is less than perfect. Regarding this, we are urged to love another, and to abound further still in our love for one another. And insofar as some dissenting Catholics reject certain doctrines of the Catholic faith, they remove themselves from the Church’s perfect unity; it is part of our task to help them be brought back into that perfect unity of the one faith of the Church. And insofar as others (e.g. Protestants) are separated from us by schism, heresy, or ignorance or unbelief, we are to seek their reconciliation with the Church, in Christ’s Name, that we all may be brought into full communion within Christ’s Church, to the glory of God the Father and an incontrovertible testimony to the whole world that Christ is the Light of the world, the only One through whom all men of good will may have true peace with one another.

    You wrote:

    Is believing that unity in the Church is currently imperfect a contradiction with Jesus’s prayer in John 17?

    There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one body, and one Spirit. St. Paul tells us this in Ephesians 4. Jesus’ prayer recorded in John 17 is infallible, because He is God. The Church has always maintained the three bonds of unity (i.e. same faith, same sacraments, and same government), and those who have fully embraced all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God enjoy this perfect unity with each other, a unity which will be perfected still further in the age to come, when concupiscence is done away, and we behold Him face to face.

    It is one thing to say that there are many who believe in Christ who are in schism from the Church. That is true, and in that sense, Christians are divided. But it is not true to say that the Church is divided or fragmented. If that were so, there would be no visible unity into which, by incorporation into it, those now divided could be united. The unification of men would be into a unity that is not now present on earth, and which therefore remains to be established by men. But, any unity established by mere men is a natural unity, not a supernatural unity. And no natural unity is capable of uniting all men. Only the God-man, Jesus Christ, could establish a supernatural unity. And this is exactly what He did, when He founded the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church and gave to St. Peter the keys of the Kingdom. This unity is supernatural, and cannot be lost or destroyed by men or devils, because it is a divine unity, and God cannot be divided. This supernatural unity is located in the Church, which is His Mystical Body. And men are truly and divinely united to each other through being incorporated into this supernatural unity, by being incorporated into His Church.

    You wrote:

    Can we be ordered to a common purpose without a visible hierarchy? I think so.

    That’s like saying that societies and nations can function in an ordered way without a government. This is a common notion among twenty-something anarchists and anarchist-leaning libertarians, and hippies. But it is naïve. In reality, throughout the entire history of civilization all societies have understood that without a visible hierarchy, the immediate result is that each man does what it is right in his own eyes, and the short-term result is chaos, which inevitably and shortly leads to tyranny. (See Plato’s Republic, Bk VIII) No country sends out an army that has no hierarchy. An army has a hierarchy, precisely so that they will work together as one body. And that is why Christ established Apostles in His Church, and gave them authority. And it is why they ordained bishops to succeed them, in a perpetual succession until He returns, so that His Church is never left as sheep without a shepherd.

    You wrote:

    All members of the Church can be ordered to a common purpose because of their living faith in the living Christ. We cannot see Christ, but we can still follow Him.

    Without a shared visible hierarchy, what it means to “follow Him” will be different for every man, and in many cases, contradictory, in part because who “He” is, will be different for every man. This is why there had to be ecumenical councils in the fourth and fifth centuries, regarding who Christ is. If you don’t believe me, just look around. Think about all the contradictory claims the world is hearing about Christ and His Church, from all the thousands of sects each divided from all the others in matters of doctrine, sacraments, morals, and practice. Imagine if all Christians were truly united under the Pope, all holding and teaching the same faith, sharing all the same sacraments, and submitting to the same visible leadership. For example, instead of millions of people hearing Benny Hinn teach that there are nine members of the Trinity, they would hear the teaching of the Nicene Creed on the Trinity. Or instead of this:

    they would hear what the Church has always taught about suffering for Christ (here and here).

    You wrote:

    Here’s a couple things that seem inconsistent in the RC position:

    Putting the pope in place of Christ as a “visible” head seems to contradict Paul’s declaration that Christ (though invisible) is the head. Doesn’t it make more sense that Christ, even though invisible, is the head, and the Church is therefore invisible as well (currently, at least)?

    There is no contradiction between Christ being the Head of the Church, and the pope being the head of the Church, so long as we are very clear that the word ‘head’ is being used in two distinct senses here. Christ is the Head of the Church, because He is the Church’s source, life, highest authority, and end (i.e. telos). But the pope is the vicar of Christ, that is, the visible representative of Christ, under Christ’s authority but acting in His authority as steward of the Church until Christ returns. So the pope is the head of the Church in a different sense than Christ is the Head of the Church. The pope is subordinate to Christ. But we are subordinate to Christ by being subordinate to the pope, as Jesus said, “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the on who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.” (Luke 10:16) But if it were true that no one could speak for Christ without undermining Christ’s unique authority, this verse could not be in the Bible. This verse (along with others) shows how Christ’s delegation of authority in His Church does not undermine His unique authority, but allows others to participate in it, in a subordinate way.

    You wrote:

    It seems these three beliefs are inconsistent when taken together:

    1. Baptism is the sacrament by which one enters the Church
    2. Vatican II recognizes trinitarian baptism outside the RC Church
    3. The Church is the RC Church

    How can someone enter the Church and be in schism from the Church at the same time?

    Baptism is that sacrament by which one enters into sacramental communion with the Church and by which, if one publicly affirms the faith of the Church one is incorporated into full communion with the Church. But those who do not publicly affirm the faith of the Church are not, by their baptism, brought into full communion with the Church. As the Catechism teaches:

    Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion among all Christians, including those who are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church: “For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. Justified by faith in Baptism, [they] are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.” “Baptism therefore constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn.” (CCC 1271, my emphasis)

    They reason why such men have only an “imperfect” communion with the Catholic Church is because, though they are baptized and believe in Christ, they do not hold the Catholic faith, but depart from it in some respect. For a fuller explanation of this, see my “Baptism, Schism, Full Communion, Salvation.”

    Lastly, you wrote:

    Is the visible Church made up of all the Saints, or just some of them?

    Pope Pius XII explains:

    Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed. (Mystici Corporis Christi, 22)

    Does that mean that all these members are in a state of grace? No. Nor does it mean that all members die in a state of grace. There are wheat and tares together as members in the visible Church. (cf. Matthew 13)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  11. Jonathan,

    If I may suggest, I would encourage you to read Lumen Gentium (Vatican II document on the Church). As Bryan stated the Church believes and knows Christ to be the Head of the Church. The Pope does not rule in the place of Christ but on behalf of Christ as His Vicar. The Apostolic structure of the Church is of its essence for it was willed and instituted not by men but by Christ. Thus, the structure of the Church, the hierarchy, the magisterium is something given by Christ and without this structure it would be impossible to know where the Church is and what the Church believes and teaches. Doctrine would be reduced to mere opinion and could have no binding authority. As DeLubac once said, “An invisible Church is no Church at all.”

  12. Bryan,

    Thanks for the explanation about the pope and baptism. Is it correct then that Catholics believe that someone enters the Church through baptism only if the baptism includes a statement of faith?

    You said:

    “Tom and I have provided much evidence and argumentation in the article that Christ founded a visible Church.”

    I should have clarified. The article doesn’t have a _convincing_ argument why the Church is _necessarily_ visible.

    Here are the arguments I see in your article:
    1. The Church is a Body (by Paul’s analogy), and Bodies are always visible.
    — But I think Paul wasn’t necessarily saying that the Church is in _every way_ like a human body. He was making an analogy to say in what ways the Church is like a Body. And a Body is not always visible, if you include Christ’s body, which is invisible to us mortals.
    2. In the Church there is “one faith”.
    — OK, but that doesn’t mean the “one faith” is the creed of the RC Church. When Paul says “faith” is he saying one set of beliefs, or a shared following of Christ? I think the latter.
    3. “We who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.”
    — I agree, but lots of Christians, not just Catholics, partake the bread. Surely you would consider Orthodox at least as participating in the same sacraments? Does that not make them part of the one Body, by Paul’s very statement?
    4. Bodies are unified in hierarchy. There is one head.
    — I agree, but I would disagree with the Pope being the head, and I would say the head of that Body is Christ.

    Regarding your new argument, I see how it is possible that Christ worked with human nature to structure a Church that was structured like a human society, but I do not see how that is necessarily so. The gospels go on and on talking about the Kingdom of Heaven and how things are different in the Kingdom. So it would be more obvious to me if the Church were quite different from a human society. I do not disagree that the Church is hierarchical. But the straw man I am proposing (which is only what I have believed for a long time) is that the hierarchy of the Church is pretty flat. There is Christ, on top, and then there are the members, united in an invisible way directly below Him.

  13. Jonathan,

    Very interesting points. Here are a few questions

    1. What do you think are the practical consequences of a Church which is purely invisible?

    2. What are the principles which define the nature of the (presumably universal) “shared following” of Christ? What is the origin of these principles and who determines them?

    3. Orthodox and Catholics share a common understanding as to the nature of the “One Bread” that most Protestants do not share and in fact in many cases explicitly reject. What are the implications of this as it pertains to the unity that is supposed to be signified and effected by the “One Bread”? What unity does it signify then? I’m also curious if you see any relationship between the understanding of the One Bread and Acts 2:42?

    As to your 4th point, I am inclined to agree with you in certain respects. Christ is the head of His Body and the Pope is the Petrine head and spokesperson of the College of Bishops (just as Peter was for the apostles). As Vatican II affirmed quite properly, every bishop is the Vicar of Christ and, according to Ignatian typology, the “icon of the Father” to his local Church, but the Pope alone is the Vicar of Peter serving his brother bishops and through them each of the local Churches, without neglecting, of course his own diocese.

    I think a more balanced ecclesiology would recognize the need to properly weigh the concerns of the local Church with the regional and the universal. Each Bishop is the apostolic head of the Catholic Church within the jurisdiction he has been called to serve. To the extent that the Pope in essential matters serves his brother bishops’ headship defined by service, he is fulfilling his Petrine ministry. To the extent he undermines or overpowers it in the interest of his own sui juris (self-governing) Church – (and there are examples of this historically, especially with the Eastern Catholic Churches) he weakens his brethren and fails to fulfill his vocation. Local, Regional and Universal dimensions of the Church must always work to maintain the balance of its dual hierarchical and conciliar nature.

  14. Jonathan,

    You wrote:

    Is it correct then that Catholics believe that someone enters the Church through baptism only if the baptism includes a statement of faith?

    No, because that over-simplifies what it means to “enter the Church.” As I said in my previous comment, those who do not publicly affirm the faith of the Church are not, by their baptism, brought into full communion with the Church, but are brought into an imperfect communion with the Church. When a man is validly baptized in a heretical sect, for example, he does obtain an imperfect communion with the Catholic Church, but he does not thereby enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.

    I should have clarified. The article doesn’t have a _convincing_ argument why the Church is _necessarily_ visible.

    The article doesn’t contain any argument that the Church is necessarily visible. The article argues that Christ founded a visible Church, and that He did so for good reasons.

    Here are the arguments I see in your article:
    1. The Church is a Body (by Paul’s analogy), and Bodies are always visible.
    – But I think Paul wasn’t necessarily saying that the Church is in _every way_ like a human body. He was making an analogy to say in what ways the Church is like a Body. And a Body is not always visible, if you include Christ’s body, which is invisible to us mortals.

    Christ’s physical body is not invisible per se, but only because He ascended into Heaven. When He ascended His physical body did not turn invisible; it departed, with the result that His physical body is not visible to us, though it remains visible in itself. The ascension is thus not a defeater for the claim that bodies are visible. If the Church were not visible, then it would not be like a physical body; it would be like a pile of amoebas. What makes the Church visible is its hierarchy. If the Church’s only hierarchy were Christ the Head, then the Church would not be visible, since Christ is now invisible to us. But in order to adopt such a view (i.e. that the Church’s only hierarchy is Christ), you have to be an ecclesial deist, because all the Church Fathers believed and taught that Christ established a perpetual hierarchy, being themselves members of that hierarchy. (Just read the seven epistles of St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, who died around AD 107.) And that is because they believed that Christ authorized and commissioned Apostles, who then authorized and commissioned bishops as their successors.

    Consider Jesus’s statement to the Apostles in John 20:23, “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” He is not saying that any Christian can forgive any other persons sins, or retain a persons sins. He is talking about an authority He gave especially to the Apostles (and through them to their successors) to forgive and retain men’s sins in His Name and as His authorized representatives. So the idea that the only hierarchy in the Church is Christ, is contrary to all the Fathers, and contrary to much of the New Testament, insofar as it denies the special authority of the Apostles, and thus denies that they are part of the hierarchy of the Church. It denies that the Apostles authorized bishops and presbyters and deacons. But this is what all Christians have believed from the beginning, so the burden of proof is on the person who denies that the Apostles had any unique authority in the Body of Christ, and denies likewise that the bishops, presbyters, and deacons had any unique authority.

    2. In the Church there is “one faith”.
    – OK, but that doesn’t mean the “one faith” is the creed of the RC Church. When Paul says “faith” is he saying one set of beliefs, or a shared following of Christ? I think the latter.

    The heretics would have loved that. That way, fidelity to Christ would allow them to deny any line of the Creed, and still be ‘following Christ.’ They could deny any line of the Bible too, and still claim to be following Christ. Nobody in the history of the Church has ever believed this. The Church has always taught that believing in Christ included believing certain truths revealed by Christ and about Christ. Before anyone was baptized, he had to affirm publicly the articles of the faith. And this is still the practice in the Church to this day, which you will see if you witness a Catholic baptism. The catechumen must affirm all the articles of the Apostles Creed, a Creed which we can trace back, in nascent form, to late first century / early second century Rome. Here’s an excerpt from St. Hippolytus, describing the baptismal rite, in the early third century in Rome:

    When the person being baptized goes down into the water,
    he who baptizes him, putting his hand on him, shall say:
    “Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty?” And the
    person being baptized shall say: “I believe.”
    Then holding his hand on his head, he shall baptize him
    once.

    And then he shall say: “Do you believe in Christ Jesus,
    the Son of God, who was born of the Virgin Mary, and was
    crucified under Pontius Pilate, and was dead and buried,
    and rose again the third day, alive from the dead, and
    ascended into heaven, and sat at the right hand of the
    Father, and will come to judge the living and the dead?”
    And when he says: “I believe,” he is baptized again.
    And again he shall say: “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit,
    in the holy church, and the resurrection of the body?”
    The person being baptized shall say: “I believe,” and
    then he is baptized a third time.

    It is done almost exactly like that to this day.

    You wrote:

    3. “We who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.”
    – I agree, but lots of Christians, not just Catholics, partake the bread. Surely you would consider Orthodox at least as participating in the same sacraments? Does that not make them part of the one Body, by Paul’s very statement?

    Lots of Christians partake of bread. Lots of non-Christians partake of bread too, whenever they eat a sandwich or toast. Eating bread doesn’t make us one. Only where men are validly ordained is the bread by consecration transformed into the Eucharistic Body of Christ, such that by eating His Eucharistic Body we are incorporated into Him and thus unified. Regarding your question, yes, the Orthodox participate in the same sacraments. But as I explained above, Protestants who are validly baptized also have the same sacrament of baptism, and yet that it is not sufficient for full communion with the Catholic Church. Schism and heresy prevent full communion. Sharing in the same sacraments is only one of the bonds of union. The other two bonds of union are sharing in the same faith, and sharing in the same ecclesial government. Without all three bonds of union, there is not full communion. And the Orthodox do not share the other two bonds of unity with the Catholic Church, though with respect to “one faith” it is very close.

    4. Bodies are unified in hierarchy. There is one head.
    – I agree, but I would disagree with the Pope being the head, and I would say the head of that Body is Christ.

    If you don’t believe in the visible Church, then not only can you not recognize the Pope as in any sense being the head of the visible Church, but you cannot recognize any pastor of any local congregation as having any authority. It is just you and Jesus.

    Regarding your new argument, I see how it is possible that Christ worked with human nature to structure a Church that was structured like a human society, but I do not see how that is necessarily so.

    I agree that God was not bound to do it this way. God, being omnipotent, could have done it other ways. God could have set up His Church such that it had no visible hierarchy, and each man was guided entirely by the Holy Spirit through his own reading of Scripture. But, that would be entirely unfitting to human nature. We are social beings, and our nature is expressed in societies, as Aristotle explains in his Politics. In addition, God delights in allowing us to participate in His work, and by setting up a hierarchy, Christ has given men the gift of participating in many unique ways in the extension of His work, with His authorization. The Body is an extension of the Head. The Apostles and their successors have been given the great gift of participating in a very special way in the work of Christ, governing Christ’s Church, sharing in His priesthood ministerially, and guarding and providing the authentic interpretation of the deposit of faith.

    The gospels go on and on talking about the Kingdom of Heaven and how things are different in the Kingdom. So it would be more obvious to me if the Church were quite different from a human society.

    The difference is that it is from above, not from below. That is, the authority is supernatural, not natural. But the general principle in theology is that grace perfects nature; grace does not destroy nature. So the Kingdom does not destroy or obliterate human nature; it perfects human nature. The same God who made us, is the same God who glorifies us. To deny that grace perfects nature is to adopt a kind of Manicheanism, wherein the God of Jesus acts in a way contrary to the God of Genesis chapter 1.

    I do not disagree that the Church is hierarchical. But the straw man I am proposing (which is only what I have believed for a long time) is that the hierarchy of the Church is pretty flat. There is Christ, on top, and then there are the members, united in an invisible way directly below Him.

    Start noting the Apostles in the New Testament, then the bishops, presbyters, and deacons. Then read the epistles of St. Ignatius (read them slowly, out loud), the letter of St. Clement, the writings of St. Justin, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, etc., and ask yourself if anything even remotely resembling gnostic egalitarianism can be found in Scripture and in the Fathers. Such a notion is entirely foreign to Scripture, the Fathers and Church history.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  15. Bryan,

    You wrote:

    “And the Orthodox do not share the other two bonds of unity with the Catholic Church, though with respect to “one faith” it is very close.”

    Not just simply close in matters of faith, but in matters of ecclesiastical governance (many of their Churches are as ancient as – and some more ancient than – Rome and have maintained apostolic succession and governance since the time of the apostles), and the full sacramental life of the local Churches which is perfectly Catholic. These Churches are in fact Catholic Churches, albeit in an imperfect communion with the Apostolic See of Rome. Their union with the Catholic Church is much more profound then I think you acknowledge here. It is for this reason that Dominus Jesus ascribes the title “Sister Churches” to them alone, and does not extend it to any Protestant communion or ecclesiastical body. And Pope John Paul II of blessed memory made it clear that the term “schism” is perhaps too drastic to apply to the Orthodox Churches not in full communion with Rome. I am in inclined to agree.

    God bless,

    Fr. Deacon Daniel

  16. Fr. Deacon Daniel

    I won’t quibble about how close is close, or debate about informal comments made by any Pope. I agree that many of the Orthodox Churches are ancient, but the age of particular Churches does not in itself demonstrate anything about the degree of closeness between them and Catholics with respect to faith or governance. The Anglican Church, for example, is also quite old, but there are now significant differences between the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church, with respect to faith and governance.

    Regarding schism, the Catholic Church’s definition of ‘schism’ is:

    schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.” (CCC 2089)

    Since the Orthodox Churches satisfy this definition, it follows that according to this definition they are in schism. If they weren’t in schism, there would be no point in trying to reconcile with them, because we would already be reunited. The Catholic Church doesn’t have two definitions of ‘schism,’ one for the Orthodox, and one for all other non-Catholics. And if we don’t call a schism what it actually is, we won’t properly understand it or rectify it. The intention of the Pope’s comment was, I suspect, to emphasize the mutually shared hope of reunion, and the desire to avoid insinuations of culpability. That was probably prudential and conducive for furthering reconciliation. But it doesn’t change the fact that logically there are only three options: the Catholic Catechism’s definition of schism is false, the Orthodox Churches are submitting to the Roman Pontiff, or the Orthodox Churches are in schism from the Catholic Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  17. Bryan,

    You wrote:

    “I agree that many of the Orthodox Churches are ancient, but the age of particular Churches does not in itself demonstrate anything about the degree of closeness between them and Catholics with respect to faith or governance.”

    Yet you completely ignore my second (and more critical) point that these are infact true Churches which have in fact maintained apostolic succession which would include the charism of governance and sactification shared with their Catholic brethren (a claim Cantebury can’t possibly maintain). Orthodox Churches are in fact true Churches, albeit suffering from what the clarification of Dominus Jesus describes as certain defects.

    I think your point about Pope John Paul II’s assigning culpability for the break in communion between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches through the application of the term “schism” or “schismatic” is true. While I certainly do not disagree with the definition of the Catechism as to the “canonical facts” which define schism (drawn from the Code of Canon Law), I would not limit my understanding of “schism” or “schismatic” in its moral sense to this rather one-sided definition.

    Sectarianism and schismatic attitudes and behaviors can even be ascribed to the activities of certain Popes in history, and more recently by certain liberal (even heterodox) theological and liturgical elements in contemporary Western Catholicism. Schism is at its heart an attack upon the communion of the Church, and there is plenty of historical guilt to be spread around with hierarchs in East and West in this regard. That we have inherited a history none of us helped to create I think should inspire some reticence on our part to label as “in schism” those who are members of the Orthodox Churches. It is perhaps more accurate to say that we all function as “schismatics” to the extent that we are indifferent to or actively opposed to the reconciliation of our Churches. I certainly would include in that those Orthodox (many monastics) who radically and sometimes violently oppose any effort to dialog with the Catholic Church. But for the average faithful Orthodox Christian in the pew or Orthodox cleric who does not suffer from an explicit anti-Catholicism as referenced by Vladimir Soloviev, I am far more sympathetic to Pope John Paul’s attitude that the term “schism” is not appropriate.

    God bless,

    Fr. Deacon Daniel

  18. Hi Bryan and Father Deacon,

    Thank you for the comments. Bryan, I agree with the implications of an invisible Church, which are explained and discussed pretty well in your Ecclesial Deism article. What I am unsure of is whether those implications are better or worse than the concept of a Church structured as a human hierarchy. It is really unclear to me whether the hierarchical RC Church of today is what Christ intended to establish.

    As for your suggestion, I have read, out loud, parts of Ignatius’s and Irenaeus’s epistles, as described in Rod Bennett’s book the Four Witnesses. (My wife and I read that book together some months ago).

  19. Fr. Deacon Daniel, (re: #17)

    I think we are talking past each other. You are focusing on ‘schism’ in its moral or formal sense which includes the notion of culpable defiance, and I’m talking about schism in its material sense, according to the definition provided in the Catechism. Just as true Christians can be in schism from the Catholic Church in that latter sense of the term, so also true particular Churches can be in schism from the Catholic Church in that sense of the term. And that’s where the Orthodox Churches are. My point is not at all about the attitudes or behaviors that led to (and perpetuated) this schism, but about the present standing of the Orthodox Churches in relation to the visible Church that Christ founded, i.e. that they are not in full communion with the Church Christ founded, but are in schism from her.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  20. Jonathan –

    You said: “It is really unclear to me whether the hierarchical RC Church of today is what Christ intended to establish.”

    Stay tuned. We will be publishing a major article arguing for this very thing shortly – probably within the week.

  21. Bryan,

    Christ is Risen!

    Yes, I think you are indeed correct. Thank you for making such a helpful distinction.

    BTW, you (and Jonathan and other readers) might find this article extremely insightful regarding the 2008 incident where a Romanian Orthodox Metropolitan received communion at a Greek-Catholic Divine Liturgy.

    http://bekkos.wordpress.com/2008/05/29/fr-paul-on-the-timisoara-incident/

    The blog where this is posted is a wondrous source of insightful dialog on matters pertaining to East-West unity, and the author of the article is known only as an English (Latin) Catholic priest, Fr. Paul, currently studying the thought of Patriarch John Bekkos. (I have my own speculation on this point…it could possibly be Fr. Paul McParltan who authored “The Eucharist Makes the Church” which compares the Eucharistic ecclesiologies of Henri Cardinal de Lubac and Met. John Zizoulas. ) The blog is owned by Orthodox theologian, Dr. Peter Gilbert, who is one of the most lucid and balanced authors on matters pertaining to East-West unity, most especially the “divisive” issue of filioque.

    I think that there are some intersting connections here to our discussion on the One Bread, the Church, Christian Unity and Schism and the One Faith in Christ.

    Hope you enjoy it!

    God bless,

    Fr. Deacon Daniel

  22. Hi Father Deacon,

    Thanks for the post. You said this in the post “Since that Church is indeed one, and since it has to be visible on earth if Christ’s will is to have been efficacious, then you are either in it or you are not.”

    Why do you believe a visible Church is Christ’s will?

    Thanks,
    Jonathan

  23. Jonathan:

    I can’t speak for Fr. Deacon, but I’d answer your question thus: “For the same reason God became a man.”

    Best,
    Mike

  24. Fr Deacon:

    I concur with your view of Peter Gilbert and his blog. I stop in there regularly, though I rarely comment unless the Orthodox start piling on.

    Best,
    Mike

  25. Mike,

    You took the words right out of my mouth…

    Because the Word was made flesh and “pitched His tent” in our midst. The Church lives in this Divine Tent of Meeting – a communion of all the saints in heaven and on earth.

    Jonathan,

    I’m not sure that I wrote that particular quote…at least I cannot find it!

    Nevertheless, bear in mind that the Catholic position is that the Church has both invisible and visible, divine and human, heavenly and earthly dimensions to it.

    You might consider reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church which identifies the relationship between all of these dimensions.

    http://www.usccb.org/catechism/text/pt1sect2chpt3art9.shtml

    God bless!

    Fr. Deacon Daniel

  26. When I was reading through this, including the comments, I was reminded that the Church was the fulfillment of both Israel and the Temple, as well as being the successor to both. Israel was a kingdom, with a King, a Queen (the King’s mother), and a chamberlain or major domo who held the keys, representing access to the king. The description of King David’s chamberlain and of Jesus’ chamberlain read a lot alike; one is tempted to say almost verbatim.

    This is important because, like both Israel and the Temple, the Church is a visible (as contrasted with invisible) manifestation that God has involved Himself in the world He created for our use, in order to reveal His salvation to mankind. We are invited into His Kingdom, and we are invited to participate in His Sacrifice.

    The Temple was the site for the sacrifice to be performed. The High Priest and His associates would handle that function, which was reserved for them. The old covenant sacrifice was limited to the Temple in Jerusalem. The new covenant is universal and there are altars all over the world on which the perfect Sacrifice is offered. The new Sacrifice is a visible Manifestation of God, even as the animals offered on the altar at the Temple in Jerusalem were visible. No invisible animals were sacrificed at the Hebrew Temple in Jerusalem. No symbolic animals were sacrificed at the Hebrew Temple in Jerusalem. No symbolic blood was sprinkled on the people or the altar.

    Peter and his successors have a dual role as both the chamberlain, who is responsible for access to the King (hence the keys); and as the senior member of the priestly caste who is responsible for the maintenance of the Sacrifice (the altar).

    Peter and his successors are the symbol of unity within the universal Church, tying all those altars together in unity in a Kingdom Whose Head is also the Head of the Church, and are generally the Church’s most visible member on earth. Peter is not Jesus’ replacement as the Head of the universal Church, but rather His servant. I pray for Peter each and every day. I pray to Jesus each and every day. It is a major difference in focus relating to the ability of each. Should Peter be moved to pray for me, it is most welcome. Should Jesus decide that something needs to be done to my internal or external circumstances, may it be according to His word.

  27. Hey Bryan!

    An excellently-argued article, and one that I’ve reread slowly a few times to at least (try to) diligently seek out the meat of your position. I’m saddened at the (relatively) few comments this work of yours has received – definitely find myself hoping the fellow who refers to himself as a fan of Turritin, Bugay, or some actual Protestant academics would respond to the challenges you give. No doubt such persons are busy putting out Catholic brushfires on other blogs, or (gasps!) perhaps spending time with their families. It’s crazy, I know…

    Regardless, your thesis not having been refuted thus far, I’d like to inquire about the implications of your position. First, do you think that this question (of the visibility of Christ’s church) should be resolved prior to, posterior to, or simultaneously with the topic of sola scriptura? I can see both sides, after their own fashion (If one doesn’t decide on whether or not sola scriptura should be accepted, one can’t decide whether or not the church is visible. But, alternately, if one decides the church is (in)visible, that would seem to have massive implications as to whether or not one accepts sola scriptura). Thoughts/suggestions?
    Secondly, in your implications section, I didn’t notice something roughly like the following: If Christ founded a visible church, it seems to me that one should then ask which one (among the many visible churches) is the one that Christ founded. Would something like that indeed be an implication of your thesis, or have I misunderstood something?

    Thanks, and I hope your semester is wrapping up well!

    Sincerely,
    Benjamin Keil

    PS: Bryan, I’ve found out what you do in your spare time. ;-)

  28. Benjamin:

    In my experience, adherents of the Protestant hermeneutical paradigm (PHP) see little need to engage directly the claim that “Christ founded a visible Church.” The PHP itself excludes it. And its inherent methodology explains why.

    It goes roughly like this. The way to learn the Christian religion is to study and interpret “the sources”–primarily Scripture, and secondarily the documented evidence from the post-apostolic church–independently of the claim of any visible church to be “the Church” Christ founded. Assuming further, as most Protestants do, that one ought to be “churched,” one must accordingly pick or found a church on the basis of the interpretation one’s study has led to. Since no church is ever infallible, however, its orthodoxy always remains subject to assessment according to the criteria that one’s favored interpretation of the sources establishes as such. Of course, if that interpretation changes enough, then one’s ecclesial affiliation changes with it. What that entails, among other things, is that no visible church has the authority to propound doctrines that bind the consciences of believers as de fide. Hence, no visible church can be “the” Church Christ founded, if by ‘the Church’ is meant a body that speaks with his full authority. “The Church” is simply the collection of individuals, across time as well as space, who share a certain fallible interpretation of the s9urces faithfully enough. That collectivity can intersect with, but can never be identified with, any visible, hierarchical body. Some Protestant churches call such a collectivity “the saved”; others, “the elect.” But those are just the conservatives. The more liberal the church, the less likely its members are to believe that strict adherence to the sources, or to any particular interpretation thereof, is necessary for salvation. But liberals are at one with conservatives in denying that one can identify a visible body of people simply as “the Church.”

    When Protestants argue for that position, they do it in two ways: by pointing out that the Catholic Church’s claim to be “the Church” cannot be logically deduced from the sources, and by pointing to the many sins of Catholic hierarchs, especially popes. From the Catholic standpoint, of course, both arguments are profoundly question-begging. But the notion that any visible body can just be The Bride of Christ, one body with him in a mystical marriage, and bearer of his full teaching authority, seems absurd to committed Protestants as such. So a case such as Bryan’s above seems to them hardly worth refuting on its own. For somebody operating within the PHP, the evidence of logic and history amply suffices.

    Best,
    Mike

  29. Mike,
    I tried to find your email to contact you, but I will ask here.
    Can I have permission to quote some of your remarks on the PHP?
    Not as my own, of course, but for both written and verbal interaction with my Protestant brethren.
    Could you also “nutshell” some remarks like you have for the PHP, but as if adressing the Eastern Orthodox. I could probably glean it from the “I love the Orthodox too much” post, but I will have to go back and re-read it first.
    Pax Christi.

  30. Benjamin, (re: #27)

    You wrote:

    First, do you think that this question (of the visibility of Christ’s church) should be resolved prior to, posterior to, or simultaneously with the topic of sola scriptura?

    The two questions (visibility of the Church, and sola scriptura) are not entirely separable. If sola scriptura is true, then the Church is not visibly one (in which case the Church is not visible). On page 319 of his book The Shape of Sola Scriptura, Keith Mathison writes:

    The first observation we must make is that if sola scriptura is true then some form of a “branch theory” of the visible church is a necessary corollary- not as an expression of the ideal, but as a description of the reality.

    Likewise, if the Church is essentially visible, then the Church is essentially visibly one, and this requires not only a necessarily unified hierarchy, but also a charism of truth, in which case sola scriptura is not true. So the two questions cannot be separated.

    You wrote:

    Secondly, in your implications section, I didn’t notice something roughly like the following: If Christ founded a visible church, it seems to me that one should then ask which one (among the many visible churches) is the one that Christ founded. Would something like that indeed be an implication of your thesis, or have I misunderstood something?

    Yes it is. One finds the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded by starting in the first century from the time of the Apostles, and then tracing it forward, decade by decade, to the present day. As one traces it forward through the centuries, one encounters schisms from the Church (e.g. Novatians, Donatists); in each case, one notes the criterion by which the party in schism is the one in schism from the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded, and not the other way around.

    St. Augustine said concerning the Donatists:

    How many, believing that it mattered not to which party a Christian might belong, remained in the schism of Donatus only because they had been born in it, and no one was compelling them to forsake it and pass over into the Catholic Church! Others say: We thought, indeed, that it mattered not in what communion we held the faith of Christ; but thanks to the Lord, who has gathered us in from a state of schism, and has taught us that it is fitting that the one God be worshiped in unity. (Letter 93)

    Such a statement makes sense only if there are genuine criteria by which to distinguish schism within the Church from schism from the Church.

    One of the primary purposes for Christ founding a Church is to undo the division of men against men, the divisions of the human family effected by sin. These divisions began when Adam sinned, but were manifest in a universal way at the Tower of Babel. Pentecost is the supernatural reversal of Babel, and this is why the Church is the anti-Babel. (I discussed this more in “Pentecost, Babel and the Ecumenical Imperative.”) This is why it is fitting that she is built on Rome, which Peter refers to as Babylon (1 Pet 5:6), and which is the natural kingdom taken over by Christ’s supernatural Kingdom, according to Daniel’s prophecy in Daniel chapter 2. All the nations of the world are to stream into her doors (Isaiah 2:2), into one household, the household of faith. And so any candidate for being the visible Church Christ founded must be universal (catholic), not ethnically or politically defined, and must be intrinsically one, having a principium unitatis that does not allow the Church to lose her visible unity, even as it allows schisms from her.

    Sinful man cannot form such a unity, though he thinks he can. But sinful man’s attempt to do so is the mission of the Antichrist, to form by the mere natural power of man the whole of mankind into a universal social and political unity ordered to this present world as man’s final end. By contrast, the Church that Christ founded is a supernatural unity, coming down from Heaven, in Christ, and by His Spirit, at Pentecost. And this is why this [supernatural] unity is the first of the four marks of the Church, specified in the Creed: one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. The Life of the Church is the supernatural Life of the Trinity, not from man, but from the God-man, and not ordered to natural earthly bliss, but to the supernatural end which is the very perfect and eternal communion of the Three Divine Persons. If the Church were founded by mere men, it would have earthly, natural happiness as its end. Heaven would merely be a return to an earthly paradise, without disease, suffering or death, on and on forever without end, grace without glory.

    But Heaven is infinitely beyond the natural happiness of paradise, as the Life of the Creator infinitely transcends the life of mere creatures. Heaven is the eternal inner Life and Happiness of the Triune God, into which we are graciously called to participate. To have Heaven as its end (i.e. its telos), the Church must have Heaven as its principle and source, which is why the Church must be founded by the God-man, Jesus Christ. This is why no society founded by mere men can be the Church. Because the Church has a supernatural origin, it therefore has a supernatural end. And this is why apostolic succession is essential to the Church, because only by apostolic succession is the activity of the Church the continuation and extension of the supernatural Life and mission of the incarnate Christ, oriented toward a supernatural end. Hence the necessity of the third mark of the Church: apostolic.

    In the process of tracing the Church from the first century forward, when we get to the end of the eighth century and the beginning of the ninth, I think we will still be agreed concerning what and where is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded. (I went into that in more depth in comment #12 of the Tu Quoque post.) When tracing apostolic succession in an effort to find the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded, it is not that difficult to make a good deal of progress in short order, and narrow the question down to Orthodoxy or Catholicism. Those are the only two real candidates. Even if it were a toss-up at that point, needing to examine in greater depth only two possibilities to determine the identity of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded is a very different situation than just picking (or forming) a denomination or confession that most closely agrees with one’s own interpretation of Scripture and calling it a branch of the Church.

    You wrote:

    PS: Bryan, I’ve found out what you do in your spare time. ;-)

    Must be some other person with the same name; I’ve heard of WOW, but I’ve never seen it or played it.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  31. Bryan,
    Your comments are very helpful.
    Great quote from St. Augustine as well!

  32. The King James translation of 1 Corinthians 12:25 uses the terminology “that there should be no schism IN the body”. According to the Catholic view of schism, is this an incorrect translation? Would it be a more correct for this to be translated “that there should be no schism FROM the body” ? Or is it incorrect to use the word “schism” here?

    The RSV uses the word “discord” instead of schism. Other translations (NIV,ESV) use the word “division”.

  33. Hello Jonathan, (re: #32)

    Schism is of two sorts: in and from. This can be seen even in the definition of schism given in the Catechism:

    [S]chism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him. (CCC 2089)

    Refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff is schism from the Church, because it is a separation from the visible head of the Church. Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter in Matthew 16, and thus being in communion with the one holding those keys determines the visible extension of the Church. But the second part of the definition of ‘schism’ shows us another form of schism, namely, schism in the Church. In such a case, there are two parties who are each in communion with the Pope, but one or both of the parties refuse communion to the other party. Such a situation is necessarily short-lived, precisely because the Pope will issue an order of some sort either to one or both parties, requiring that they repent and restore communion to each other. If they comply, the schism is healed. But if one or both parties refuses to comply, then what was schism in the Church turns into schism from the Church, and the unity of the Church remains intact. So, translating 1 Cor 12:25 as “that there be no schism in the body” is fully compatible with Catholic doctrine.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  34. Hi Bryan,

    Hmm… if you say “schism” in scripture may refer to schism “in the Body”, then that weakens the argument you made in the schism section, since a symmetrical schism “in the Body” is compatible with the invisible Church paradigm.

    Each of the schism references above (John 17:11,21-23; Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 1 Corinthians 12:25; Galatians 5:19-20; Ephesians 4:3; Jude 1:18-19),
    could easily refer to a schism “in the Body”, as opposed to a schism “from the Body”.

  35. Hi Bryan,

    Oh – I see –

    1 Corinthians 12:25 is indeed referring to schism “IN the Body”, but it is saying that schism “IN the Body” is not possible, because of the way God has put the body together.

    I totally missed the point before. Thank you for your response.

  36. By way of critique:

    1/ To be fair, you are reading the text through your prior commitment to Roman Catholic theology. Protestants read the scripture through their prior commitment to their particular Protestant theology. Each hermeneutical approach is a wash unless one is committed to have their presuppositions challenged by exegetical work. Thus, which ever “tradition” is assumed the only way each generation can determine which tradition is faithful, more faithful, less faithful, or unfaithful is careful exegesis of scripture. If that is the case, and I am convinced it is the only way to proceed in determining what is true, then sola scriptura stands. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

    2/ Assuming your premise that the church needs a “visible head” (which I am not persuaded is biblical), mutual submission to one another solves the philosophical problem of needing a “visible head”. That is, the corporate nature of the covenant provides for corporate submission to one another without sacrificing authority or visible ecclesial connection. In the Presbyterian form of government, for example, the mutual submission of the courts of the church to one another provides for visible accountability, visible authority, and visible connection while preserving sola scriptura.

  37. Tobey:

    You wrote:

    …you are reading the text through your prior commitment to Roman Catholic theology. Protestants read the scripture through their prior commitment to their particular Protestant theology. Each hermeneutical approach is a wash unless one is committed to have their presuppositions challenged by exegetical work.

    There’s a pretty elementary problem with that argument: it assumes that one can conduct “exegetical work” adequate for the purpose at hand without first settling on either “hermeneutical approach,” or some other that would be equally controversial. We don’t accept that premise, and you have said nothing to show why we should. Thus your argument begs the question.

    Assuming your premise that the church needs a “visible head” (which I am not persuaded is biblical), mutual submission to one another solves the philosophical problem of needing a “visible head”.

    There are two difficulties with that argument. The first is elementary: Bryan does not “premise” that the Church needs a visible head; he argues for it, and you have not addressed his argument. The second is subtler. “Mutual submission” on the Presbyterian model addresses the issue at hand only if the authorities submitting to each other have the authority of Christ to begin with; otherwise, their mutual submission is by merely human agreement, which is not divine authority, and therefore can only propound doctrinal opinions that no Christian is bound to accept. The Catholic Church claims such authority; you deny that claim; yet you have said nothing to show that Presbyterian churches have the requisite authority.

    Best,
    Mike

  38. Mike

    Related to the question of by “whose” authority does one speak…

    Your statement “the Presbyterian model addresses the issue at hand only if the authorities submitting to each other have the authority of Christ to begin with… the Catholic church claims such authority.” Two thoughts:

    1/ Obviously and historically, many people disagree with Rome’s claim on scriptural grounds. There is a long well documented history of that. Protestants for example disagree with Rome’s reading of Matthew 16:18 and there have been exegetical reasons offered in doing so. To say Rome has authority and Protestants do not is analogous to the authority a girlfriend claims when explaining to her longtime boyfriend why she is breaking up with him. “I prayed about it and I don’t believe God wants us to date.” His retort, “I prayed about and I believe God does want us to date.” Who is to mediate that?!?

    2/ The authority Protestants claim is apostolic teaching as God has preserved it in the Scripture. When pastors, elders or any Christians restate apostolic teaching they speak with Christ’s authority (Matthew 28:18-20). Sola Scriptura is the requisite authority. When pastors, elders, any Christians, or even Apostles for that matter, are unfaithful to Scripture they are in league with Satan (Matthew 16:23).

    3/ Regarding hermeneutics, I don’t claim anyone comes to the text without presuppositions, including a presupposition about hermeneutics. We all do. My point is that the text has authority over those presuppositions regardless of time and place and thus is, at least in theory (and I would affirm in practice when it comes to Scripture) able to confront and correct those presuppositions.

    4/ “Premise”… wrong choice of words. I stand corrected. Bryan “argues” for a visible head. The point I was trying to make in a brief amount of space though is still the point – “That is, the corporate nature of the covenant provides for corporate submission to one another without sacrificing authority or visible ecclesial connection.” One person (the Pope in this case) filling the role is not required to fulfill the condition. Thus, even though disagreeing with Rome’s exegesis of Matthew 16:18 it does not mean that the visible church (in this case the Presbyterian form of government) cannot have a visible authority. The Elders of the church exercise the authority of Christ as they are faithful to the Scripture. Otherwise, they have no authority. Christ is the Head of His church. (For the sake of space I’ll just assume for now the reader of this blog has some familiarity with the Presbyterian form of government or at least is interested enough to research it.)

  39. Tobey –

    It seems like you’re accepting an awful lot a priori in the statement, “My point is that the text has authority over those presuppositions regardless of time and place and thus is, at least in theory (and I would affirm in practice when it comes to Scripture) able to confront and correct those presuppositions.”.

    Coming to a text with a presupposition that that text alone is able to determine whether or not our presuppositions are in need of correction is a pretty difficult presupposition to disprove.

    Can you think of any type or argument or line of reasoning that would disprove it?

  40. Tobey,

    My point is that the text has authority over those presuppositions regardless of time and place and thus is, at least in theory (and I would affirm in practice when it comes to Scripture) able to confront and correct those presuppositions.

    If you think deeply about that statement, I think you will begin to see the unavoidable problem in your approach. No “text” – as a text – can “confront and correct . . . presuppositions”. Texts simply do no such thing. People interpreting texts might attempt to do so. Yet the act of interpretation itself, entails fundamental cognitive presuppositions brought by the reader to the text through which he attempts to understand (i.e. interpret) and perhaps communicate what he reads. Your statement inadvertently glosses the necessary role of the interpretive agent, making it seem as though the “text” has some ontological life of its own by which it might do something so marvelous a correct a presupposition. Therein lies the central interpretive problem for Protestantism; any “authority” putatively assigned to the Scriptural text – as text – really amounts to nothing other than the fallible authority of the textual interpreter himself, since the meaning of the text makes its way to the reader’s mind ONLY through a fallible act of interpretation. There is no such thing as the text – simplicter -standing outside of the human interpretive process declaring a universal meaning capable of guiding the interpretive process. The notion that the Scriptural text “acts” as an independent, solitary, arbiter of presuppositions or interpretations results from an unreflexive semantic slight of hand.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  41. Tobey (#38):

    Obviously and historically, many people disagree with Rome’s claim on scriptural grounds. There is a long well documented history of that. Protestants for example disagree with Rome’s reading of Matthew 16:18 and there have been exegetical reasons offered in doing so. To say Rome has authority and Protestants do not is analogous to the authority a girlfriend claims when explaining to her longtime boyfriend why she is breaking up with him. “I prayed about it and I don’t believe God wants us to date.” His retort, “I prayed about and I believe God does want us to date.” Who is to mediate that?!?

    That overlooks a crucial distinction. If the Catholic Magisterium’s claims for itself are true, then it just does have divinely bestowed authority to “mediate”–better, “adjudicate”–between conflicting interpretations of the sources by which divine revelation is transmitted to us. Accordingly, when you ask “Who is to mediate that?,” you’re only begging the question—unless the word ‘that’ refers to the debate between Catholics and Protestants about which understanding of authority is the more reasonable one to adopt. But if that’s what the debate is about, nothing you’ve said so far has managed to contribute to the debate.

    I say so not despite the following, but because of it:

    The authority Protestants claim is apostolic teaching as God has preserved it in the Scripture. When pastors, elders or any Christians restate apostolic teaching they speak with Christ’s authority (Matthew 28:18-20). Sola Scriptura is the requisite authority. When pastors, elders, any Christians, or even Apostles for that matter, are unfaithful to Scripture they are in league with Satan (Matthew 16:23).

    The problem with all that can be exposed with a pair of questions which are by no means rhetorical: Why believe that all and only what’s in Bible is “apostolic” teaching? And why believe that only “apostolic” teaching is normative for Christians? Answers to such questions can only be supplied by Tradition. But if Tradition and/or those who appeal to it are always fallible, then the answers to the questions are just posed are also fallible. If so, then their authority is defeasible; and if their authority is defeasible, it can’t be divine. They are only human opinions. What we really need is a way to distinguish between divine revelation and human opinion about how to interpret the sources. You have offered no such way.

    You may think you have, by asserting that

    …the text has authority over those [hermeneutical] presuppositions regardless of time and place and thus is, at least in theory (and I would affirm in practice when it comes to Scripture) able to confront and correct those presuppositions.

    That faces the difficulty which Ray Stamper has just described, and therefore contributes nothing to the debate about authority. Again, you might think you’ve avoided that difficulty by asserting that “When pastors, elders or any Christians restate apostolic teaching they speak with Christ’s authority (Matthew 28:18-20).” But that just brings us back to the difficulty I described in my previous paragraph.

    With your last paragraph, you compound your difficulties:

    One person (the Pope in this case) filling the role is not required to fulfill the condition. Thus, even though disagreeing with Rome’s exegesis of Matthew 16:18 it does not mean that the visible church (in this case the Presbyterian form of government) cannot have a visible authority. The Elders of the church exercise the authority of Christ as they are faithful to the Scripture. Otherwise, they have no authority. Christ is the Head of His church.

    First of all, the Catholic Church does not teach that only “one person” has teaching authority in the Church. Every bishop does, and the college of bishops as a whole can teach infallibly even when the papacy has not formally ruled on a question (cf. Lumen Gentium §25). Second, you’re assuming that we may label as “the visible church” just any church with an authority structure, which begs the question by assuming what Bryan argues against. Third, when you imply that elders have authority only when they are “faithful to Scripture,” you’re dodging the question: “According to whose interpretation of Scripture,” which cannot be answered with a prior knowledge of which church actually has divine authority to adjudicate between conflicting interpretations of Scripture. Finally, nobody denies that “Christ is the Head of his Church.” The question at issue is which churchmen speak authoritatively for Christ. For the reasons already stated, the answer “those who are faithful to Scripture” does not help us answer that question.

    Best,
    Mike

  42. Oops, that’s “Third, when you imply that elders have authority only when they are “faithful to Scripture,” you’re dodging the question: “According to whose interpretation of Scripture?”, which cannot be answered without a prior knowledge of which church actually has divine authority to adjudicate between conflicting interpretations of Scripture.

  43. Ray & Mike,

    Actually… I do affirm that Scripture as the Holy Spirit uses it and works in us does have an “ontological” life of its own. The reason Protestants want people to read Scripture is because it is not just another text. It is the text of all texts! Scripture is sufficient for confronting and saving the reader… despite the spiritual, cognitive, emotional psychological condition of the reader!

    Hebrews 4:12-13, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

    1 Peter 1:22-25, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”

    1 Corinthians 2:10-13, “These things God revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”

    2 Timothy 3:14-17, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

    Acts 17:10-11, “The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

    Q: Does Scripture have an “ontological life of its own”?
    A: Yes.

    Q: Can Scripture overcome the presuppositions of the reader?
    A: Yes.

    Q: Does Scripture have authority over the visible church?
    A: Yes.

    Q: Does God instruct His people to use Scripture to discern truth from error?
    A: Yes.

    Since you closed in latin I will too.

    Sola Scriptura. Soli Deo Gloria.

    Tobey

  44. Tobey,

    Of course all Catholics affirm the Scriptural passages you cite above. Nevertheless, you have in no way established that the text has an “ontological life of its own”. On the contrary, you explicitly affirm otherwise:

    I do affirm that Scripture as the Holy Spirit uses it and works in us does have an “ontological” life of its own

    I must point out that you are no longer proposing that the text simply taken as a text (which was your initial claim) is capable of somehow speaking to human interpretations and presuppositions. Rather, your re-tooled position is that Scripture carries out such a function only insofar as the “Holy Spirit uses it and works in us”. How does this in any way support your position concerning the manner by which interpretive presuppositions might be adjudicated? How is one to determine when the Holy Spirit is working “in the reader” such that any faulty presuppositions or interpretations are being overcome?

    You are attempting to alleviate the intrinsic problem of fallible private judgment by adding the notion that the problem is resolved by an appeal to the assistance of the Holy Spirit during the interpretive act. Yet, given the vast array of conflicting interpretations of holy writ among persons all claiming to be guided by the Holy Spirit, what criteria do you propose for adjudicate mutually exclusive interpretive claims? Who has the Spirit and how do you know? Again, any subjective claim that one’s interpretation of Scripture is Spirit-guided, and therefore free from errant presuppositions or interpretations must always be experienced by the one evaluating such a claim as subjective and non-verifiable. It amounts to table-pounding for the veracity of one’s own (or one’s confession’s) particular interpretation over against the many others which contradict it.

    All I am trying to point out to you is that your employment of notions such as

    1.) Scripture (considered strictly as a text) being able to confront or correct presuppositions

    or else your modified edition

    2.) “Scripture as the Holy Spirit uses it and works in us” is able to confront or correct presuppositions

    are both instances of the employment of semantic terms whose effect is to obscure the problem of personal subjectivism in Protestant exegesis. Whether you hold up the text by itself, or else the text as mediated by the Holy Ghost; in both cases, there are absolutely zero non-subjective means by which to determine when any given person or Christian communion is – in fact – accurately interpreting Scripture according to the “mind of the Spirit”. One’s personal insistence that his or her interpretation – just is – the Spirit guided interpretation is manifestly unverifiable and haughty – unless one is prepared to offer some motive(s) of credibility as to why anyone should accept such a claim (say performance of miracles or verifiable prophetic utterances, etc).

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  45. Tobey,

    An honest question: In your above scriptural citations, why do you assume that “word of God” exclusively equals your Bible?

    Thanks for your response.

    Sebron

  46. Ray & all,

    In reading the “About Us” section of this blog the gentlemen who are highlighted take pains to make clear they have some type of Reformed or non-Catholic background. That being the case, I haven’t been going into great detail because I am assuming a Reformed understanding of Scripture, the nature of the church, the office of Elder and Deacon, the place the confessions and creeds have in the life of the Reformed church, soteriology, etc. If that is not the case I can take the time to be more precise.

    The Inspiration of Scripture – in addition to 2 Timothy 3:14-17, I would add 2 Peter 1:20-21, “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Scripture comes from the mouth of God.

    The Inerrancy of Scripture – truthful in all that it affirms in its original manuscripts. Since God authors His Word and because God does not lie, His Word as originally given is without error. Proverbs 30:5, “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Because it is inerrant and inspired by God this is true.

    Regarding the issue of the Clarity or Perspicuity of Scripture – the Bible is “clear” that some things in the Bible are “unclear”. 2 Peter 3:15-16, “…as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and the unstable twist to their own destruction as they do the other Scriptures.” However, that does not mean ALL Scripture is “hard to understand”. 2 Timothy 2:7, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” In general the emphasis and expectation in the Bible as well as the emphasis and expectation of Jesus, (Matthew 12:3, “He [Jesus] said to them, ‘Have you not read…'”) is that the Scripture is clear and is to be understood. Thus, when there is a disagreement over what the Bible teaches we are to assume the problem does not lie in the text but in the interpreter.

    This is why as Protestants and Catholics discuss these issues, particularly issues on which we disagree, the only source to turn to in light of its inspiration, inerrancy, and perspicuity is Scripture. Misunderstandings of Scripture are due to many factors but the emphasis in Scripture is that God’s people can read and study God’s Word and understand it. Certainly God provides teachers of His Word to help His people understand the Scripture, (Ephesians 4:11-12, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, building up the body of Christ.) And since some of those connected to this blog have Reformed backgrounds I’ll simply assume some understanding of the place and role of the Teaching Elder in the Reformed church.

    So Scripture is inspired, inerrant, clear, and thus sufficient for its God-given purpose (2 Timothy 3:15-17). Scripture contains everything that we need to know in order to know God, for salvation, for trusting God, for obeying God.

    Since Scripture has these characteristics it also contains a warning not to add anything to it that it does not teach.

    Deuteronomy 4:2, “You shall not add to the word which I commanded you, nor take from it; that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you.”

    Deuteronomy 12:32, “Everything that I command you you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to it or take from it.”

    Proverbs 3:5-6, “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you, and you be found a liar.”

    Thus, no other writings nor any other teachings are of equal value to Scripture. We are not to believe anything about God or His church that is not taught in Scripture. And that is the crux of this debate… What does Scripture teach and what is the place of Scripture?

    Because the Roman Catholic Church (I know, thankfully, you will correct me if I am wrong) would add that we cannot understand Scripture until we have listened to the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church throughout its history, those in the Reformed camp would say that the RCC is adding to what the Scripture clearly says about itself – the addition being, Scripture + official teaching of RCC = understanding. Reformed people would gladly affirm the value of church history in helping us understand God’s Word, but no where in the Scripture does God require us to believe or obey anything that has been added to it.

    Having stated that, I want to address a couple of the points that were raised by others.

    1/ To Deacon Bryan’s question, “Coming to a text with a presupposition that that text alone is able to determine whether or not our presuppositions are in need of correction is a pretty difficult presupposition to disprove. Can you think of any type or argument or line of reasoning that would disprove it?”

    I’m not trying to disprove it, I’m trying to prove it. The proof lies in understanding the Fall of man and the nature of Scripture. Because of sin man is in rebellion against God. His/her presuppositions about everything are thus tainted by sin. All of us need the confronting and correcting ministry of Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says Scripture serves that very purpose; “…profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Scripture itself, being God’s Word has power inherent in it (Hebrews 4:12-13, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”) to accomplish all that God intends for it to accomplish. Isaiah 55:8-11, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” And because it is God’s Word it does that very thing, whether for salvation, 1 Peter 1:23, “Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” Or for condemnation, John 5:45-47, “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words.”

    So my question in to Deacon Bryan would be, “If not the text of Scripture and in light of what the warnings of Scripture not to add anything to it, what other text would you point someone to?”

    2/ To Michael’s question, “Why believe that all and only what’s in Bible is “apostolic” teaching? And why believe that only “apostolic” teaching is normative for Christians? Answers to such questions can only be supplied by Tradition.”

    Because the Scripture itself defines the qualifications to be an apostle. As Peter says in Acts 1:20-26, “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, ‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it'; and ‘Let another take his office.’ So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us–one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, ‘You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”

    To be an apostle one had to be appointed by Jesus (Mark 3:13-19), with Jesus from his baptism to his ascension, and an eyewitness to Jesus’ resurrection, or according to the process described in Acts 1 as it relates specifically to and only to Matthias. Paul of course was uniquely chosen as recorded in Acts 9, and as Paul himself described it was as one “abnormally born”, 1 Corinthians 15:8. That is, Paul understood that he fell outside the normal process and qualifications of being an apostle except for one very important qualification – Paul was a witness to the resurrected Jesus.

    So, the answer is that to qualify as an apostle is to meet certain very specific conditions that would be impossible for anyone after the first century to meet. Your claim, that answers are “only supplied by Tradition” is a false claim. Scripture is clear who and who is not an apostle. Any other teaching contrary (i.e. “Tradition”) to that is a new teaching added on to Scripture and would be found to be both false teaching in light of what Scripture teaches as well as disobedient to the warnings of Scripture not to add anything that Scripture does not teach.

    3/ To Ray’s point about subjectivity… I tried to address some of that when I discussed the nature of Scripture – inspiration, inerrancy, clarity, sufficiency. More directly to your point regarding the “problem of personal subjectivism”… I would simply add that if a person were to claim that Jesus was incarnate as a dog, because God spelled backwards spells dog… none of us would take that person seriously. When Benny Hinn claims the Trinity is 9 persons, only a fool who does not know the Scripture would believe that lie. The reason being, Scripture is in general clear and consistent in what it teaches, and God preserves orthodox belief in the church – intramural debates within the church not withstanding.

    4/ To Sebron’s question, “An honest question: In your above scriptural citations, why do you assume that “word of God” exclusively equals your Bible?”

    If your question is, “What is the canon of Scripture?” there is a lot of stuff out there to read. I’ll make one book recommendation and 4 brief points. The book addresses the four gospels but it is also helpful in considering the canon of the New Testament. “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, by Richard Bauckham.

    Four brief points (as summarized by Wayne Grudem in his “Systematic Theology”):

    The Apocrypha should not be regarded as Scripture: (1) they do not claim for themselves the same kind of authority as the O.T. writings; (2) they were not regarded as God’s words by the Jewish people from whom they originated; (3) they were not considered to be Scripture by Jesus or the New Testament authors; (4) they contain teachings inconsistent with the rest of the Bible. Thus we must conclude that the Apocrypha were just human words, not God-breathed words like the words of Scripture, and thus have no binding authority.

    I want to close by saying that the Bible itself then teaches us how to interpret the Bible. Hermeneutics is not a philosophical science. It is part of doing theology. We know how to handle the Bible because the Bible teaches us what it is and how it speaks. Thus, I gratefully conclude with the five solas:

    Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria!

    Tobey

  47. Tobey:

    You’ve just written:

    To Michael’s question, “Why believe that all and only what’s in Bible is “apostolic” teaching? And why believe that only “apostolic” teaching is normative for Christians? Answers to such questions can only be supplied by Tradition.”

    Because the Scripture itself defines the qualifications to be an apostle….

    I’ve left out what follows because your very first sentence shows you have not even understood my questions. You’re assuming the very things I asked you to show. That’s why your answers, to me and others, are useless.

    Best,
    Mike

  48. Mike

    Thanks for the grace and the benefit of the doubt in our correspondence. It’s real manly of you. I appreciate it.

    If I misunderstood your point its either because I misunderstood your point or you weren’t clear. If you’d like a thoughtful reply take the time to give a better explanation of your question. It’s a blog. Not a verbal conversation.

    And if you find my posts to be “useless”…. The solution is simple. Don’t respond.

    Tobey

  49. Ray,

    Q: How would do you or the RCC understand what is taking place in Acts 17:10-11, “The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

    Isn’t this an example of the proper use of Scripture? “Examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” Even if it comes from the mouth of the Apostle Paul?

    It’s the use of Scripture I am arguing for.

    Tobey

  50. @Tobey:

    The Apocrypha should not be regarded as Scripture: (1) they do not claim for themselves the same kind of authority as the O.T. writings; (2) they were not regarded as God’s words by the Jewish people from whom they originated; (3) they were not considered to be Scripture by Jesus or the New Testament authors; (4) they contain teachings inconsistent with the rest of the Bible. Thus we must conclude that the Apocrypha were just human words, not God-breathed words like the words of Scripture, and thus have no binding authority.

    Not sure this will work for everything, Tobey.

    (1) Does, to take an example, Esther claim to be Scripture? In fact, I would say that most books of the Bible, except some of the prophets, don’t say “this is the Word of the Lord.”

    (2) What you are calling the ‘Apocrypha’ – which Catholics refer to as the Deutero-canonical books (thus recognising their secondary nature) – were part of the Septuagint, which was the Greek translation of what the Jews in – what? 120BC? – thought were Scripture.

    (3) Again, some of the OT books aren’t quoted in the NT, which is how I suppose you think that Jesus and the NT authors considered them Scripture – and doesn’t St Paul quote from a pagan writer in one of his letters? Don’t know how you know which books Jesus considered Scripture. And of course to say that what a New Testament writer considers Scripture must be Scripture already assumes that the NT writer in question had the authority to say.

    (4) Even the consistency of, say, Paul and James on salvation by faith (alone?) needs some explanation. And though I have read the ‘Apocrypha,’ I don’t know of anything in them that is inconsistent with the other books.

    I confess that this issue of the Canon – of what books are and what are not Scripture – was one of many that finally brought me out of the Reformed Church (that I had helped to found, here in our part of New Zealand) and into the Catholic Church.

    jj

  51. Tobey,

    I’m not a Catholic (yet?) but a fellow Protestant. However, my question was not concerning the canon of Scripture. My question, perhaps I’ll be more specific, was why do you assume in your scriptural citations that the “word of God” equals the words of any Bible? In the quotes from I Peter and I Corinthians, it seems that “word of God” does NOT equal the words of your Bible, but rather “word of God” equals the spoken words of divinely authorized men (namely, Peter and Paul). To grant that, at least for the sake of argument, unloads some of my Protestant uneasiness that “word of God” could also equal the spoken words of other divinely authorized men (namely, Pope Pius IX, Pope Pius XII, et al.)

    It is not my intention at all to derail your conversation with Mr. Liccione or Mr. Stamper. Just curious.

    Thanks for your response.
    Sebron

  52. Sebron,

    Your question might be to broad for me to answer in detail. And I’m not entirely certain what you mean by “words of any Bible.” I don’t know what you are stating/implying by that phrase.

    I’ll post this as it relates to the N.T. and the apostles and the implications for the church.

    I quote from a lecture given by David Chapman, Associate Professor of N.T & Archeology at Covenant Theological Seminary.

    “In the context of Jesus’ teachings He conveyed that same [prophetic] authority to His apostles. Note that I said “to His apostles.” I did not include His church, His followers, or His disciples. This authority was conveyed to His apostles because they are the ones who testified and witnessed to the revelation that is in Jesus. They did so in a special way that no one else could do. A couple of passages show this theologically in the New Testament. John 14:26 says, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” Very often when people are interpreting this passage in John 14, we want to see ourselves everywhere in Scripture that we can. We often interpret “He will teach you” to include all of God’s disciples, and therefore it includes us. But if you look at the context in John 14, He is speaking to His apostles. Therefore it is an argument that the Holy Spirit will teach the apostles all things, and they will remember the things that Jesus said to them. It is not that they will remember because it has been passed down through time. They will remember because they were there, and the Holy Spirit is inspiring them to remember what they account to be of Jesus. Jesus Himself says that the Holy Spirit is the One Who will bring them into the special apostolic authority of remembrance and teaching. John 16:13 says, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” In context, this has more to do with apostolic mandate than the authority that we have in the church today.” That is, the same does not apply to those who came after the Jesus’ apostles. See my point above on how Scripture defined the boundaries of who qualified as an apostle.

  53. @Sebron:

    Just a sort of additional comment on your comment. The Word of God – as I am sure you would agree – is Jesus Himself. The written Word of God is, of course, the Scripture. But as you suggest, the words (if I may put it that way) of God may include things like, for example, the understanding through the Church, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, of the two Natures of Christ, of the three Persons of the Trinity, and other doctrines – doctrines which, I believe, are clearly in the Scripture, but which I would suggest – and my Jehovah’s Witness friends would agree :-) – are not there in so obvious a way as to be unanswerable.

    Newman, whilst still an Anglican, concluded that the Bible is not to be used to deduce doctrine, but to prove and test it. Many Catholics – the convert from Reformed religion Louis Bouyer is one – would say that Sola Scriptura is right, if by it you mean that all the teaching of Christ is contained in it at least implicitly – but that is not the same as saying it is explicit.

    I think Tobey would agree. He did say that not everything is as obvious as everything else. I was just thinking today that Protestants (most of them :-)) worship on Sunday – yet there is little enough in the New Testament to make a forceful case for that, and the Seventh Day Adventists say – correctly enough as a matter of history – that the Roman Church is the reason Sunday is the new Sabbath. Sunday worship is clearly, I would say, not in conflict with Scripture; it would be difficult to make a case for, at least, its obligatory status, though the Reformed Church I belonged to before becoming a Catholic thought there was.

    jj

  54. Tobey –

    Thanks for your responses to the questions being asked of you. The questions pile up fairly quickly for the reformed commentators here, and anyone who patiently answers all of them earns my respect.

    Not to pile even more on you, but a couple of points:

    I agree with you when you said, “Because of sin man is in rebellion against God. His/her presuppositions about everything are thus tainted by sin,” and that is actually what I was sort of getting at with my question. What I’m curious about is how you know that your presupposition that scripture alone is the word of God is somehow not tainted by sin in the same way that you allege my presupposition might be tainted by sin.

    The purpose of my question was to hopefully get you to think about whether or not your presupposition is falsifiable. I’m not sure that it is, and would like to know if you can help me figure out the type of argument that would persuade you so we can (hopefully) learn from each other.

    You posed a question to me as well: So my question in to Deacon Bryan would be, “If not the text of Scripture and in light of what the warnings of Scripture not to add anything to it, what other text would you point someone to?”

    While affirming that the Bible alone is the word of God written, I would use non-scriptural historical texts to try and show you that the “Word of God” may have been a broader concept than the Bible alone and included things passed on orally (2Thess 2:15) through legitimate human authorities.

  55. Tobey:

    Forgive me for assuming that my questions and their importance were clear. It’s all clear to me, but of course I shouldn’t assume that it would be to a Protestant.

    My point in raising the questions I put to you was this: unless and until you answer them with an argument, not just with a repetition of your own assumptions, none of your appeals to Scripture can present themselves as anything more than some people’s fallible opinions, as distinct from authentic expressions of the faith “once delivered to the saints.” The most obvious example of the difficulty that poses for you is your evident belief that “the text” itself can enable us to adjudicate between competing hermeneutical paradigms. If the text alone could do that, we could get beyond our respective HPs, so that the true and relevant “meaning” of the text would emerge clearly enough to enable us to adjudicate between competing HPs—such as mine and yours–without itself standing in need of interpretation. But as you yourself have acknowledged, we all bring hermeneutical assumptions to the text whenever we read and interpret it. So we can’t eliminate HPs. All we can do is discuss, on grounds outside the text, which HP is the more reasonable.

    But given your version of sola scriptura, you don’t do that. You just assume that your own HP is unproblematic, by virtue of being identical with “the meaning” of the text. That assumption is unwarranted. It’s what’s called “glossing over the role of the interpreter.” You need to acknowledge and come to grips with that problem before we can have a useful discussion.

    Best,
    Mike

  56. Mike,

    It does sometimes seem that when Catholics are invited onto the exegetical battlefield, we are expected to there do exegesis as though we were solo scripturists, with the latter conceiving of SS as a hermeneutically neutral point of view. Of course, we don’t want to do that, or grant that, but it might not be that the only other option is to discuss the rationality of various HPs. Do you think that there is a way to resolve our difference with Protestants thorough reading and discussing the texts together, such that the discussion is not only hermeneutical / philosophical but also exegetical?

    Andrew

  57. Andrew:

    In my experience, one can sometimes get a Protestant to see the reasonableness of a Catholic interpretation of this-or-that biblical passage. But I have also found that that just isn’t enough. For if one leaves things there, then everything remains on the level of opinion, so that the Catholic “opinion” appears as just one among others. That’s playing the Protestant game of treating the Catholic Church as just one denomination among others.

    To get beyond that, we need to have a discussion about how one is to identify the doctrinal content of “the faith once delivered” as distinct from mere opinions. To make progress with that, one needs to show that it just isn’t enough to take a certain set of sources and draw from them conclusions that seem plausible, or even irresistible, to this-or-that individual. That is often helpful, but never sufficient. What we need to show is that limiting oneself to that method leaves us unable to make the necessary distinction.

    About that, I agree with Bryan’s comment here.

    Best,
    Mike

  58. @Michael Liccione:

    To get beyond that, we need to have a discussion about how one is to identify the doctrinal content of “the faith once delivered” as distinct from mere opinion.

    That sounds reasonable and I have assumed it in discussions with Protestants. But I was just reading what you wrote and reflecting that, at least in my own case, although calling into question the Sola Scriptura assumptions I had was probably important, it was really ecclesiology and then history that were the key.

    It was from my own Reformed Church and its traditions that I learned the importance of the visible Church idea – and it was from history that I realised that the Catholic Church was that continuation of the Church Jesus established.

    I think this was Newman’s experience also.

    In terms of what I was to believe, once I concluded that the Catholic Church was the Body of Christ in the world, I then had to look at what it had taught – and to reason that either there was at some point a charism of infallibility given to that Church – I had not got so far as the Pope – so that I could trust what it trusted, or else there was no way I could be certain of any religious doctrine in the world.

    jj

  59. Mike,

    it just isn’t enough to take a certain set of sources and draw from them conclusions that seem plausible, or even irresistible, to this-or-that individual. That is often helpful, but never sufficient.

    I agree with you about the need to step beyond the specific exegesis of particular texts and deal with the bigger, paradigmatic type questions. I tried to argue for this kind of approach here:

    http://www.creedcodecult.com/2011/01/paradigmatic-hermeneutics.html

    Cheers,

    JJS

  60. JJS:

    Thanks, I read that post. It’s a step in the right direction, but still not out of the Protestant HP. Of course you knew I’d say that. :)

    It’s still not out of the woods because it remains at the level of speculation and opinion. Yes, it is a useful exercise to inquire what aspects of Tradition the sacred writers were operating out of. Many Catholic scholars have done that. It weakens the perspicuity-of-Scripture bubble. But unless a Tradition that is not only older but wider than Scripture is identified in normative as distinct from speculative fashion, such an inquiry is just more grist for the sola scriptura mill. What’s really needed is to identify an abiding and living interpreter that can get us beyond mere opinions about what the pre-NT Church believed, and into what the Church of all times and places ought to believe, because those saying it are divinely authorized to say it.

    Best,
    Mike

  61. JTJ:

    I agree that identifying the visible Church is pivotal, and have said so on many occasions, most recently here.

    Best,
    Mike

  62. @Michael Liccione:

    I agree that identifying the visible Church is pivotal, and have said so on many occasions, most recently here.

    Thanks for that, Mike. Yes, I was just really commenting on my own experience – that finally it was the beginnings of the discovery that there was a Body in the world that made all the difference. I didn’t first discover the inadequacy of my own Protestant HP, and then discover the Catholic Church. It was almost the other way around.

    I remember saying to my wife once, when were in via, that I had felt my life as a Christian, which only started when I was 27, had been like a man walking through a fog – occasionally glimpsing some Shape appearing through the mists, and then disappearing – and wanting to know more about It – then one day things cleared more than usual and I realised that what I had seen all along was the Catholic Church.

    jj

  63. Jason, (re: #59),

    In addition to what Mike said in #60, hermeneutical presuppositionalism applied to particular passages still underdetermines the choice of hermeneutical paradigms. Whether a passage would likely have been written from within a paradigm is not a view-from-nowhere question, but depends on theological assumptions one brings to the likelihood calculation process, such as whether one includes the data from the Fathers, or implicitly assumes ecclesial deism. Moreover, there are cases even within a paradigm that wouldn’t have been humanly predicted from within the paradigm, and yet truly belong to the paradigm. The Ameriquest commercials come to mind as examples; the reason why the judgment of the onlookers is wrong in those cases is because the appearances have a low probability relative to the actual paradigm but a higher probability in a counterfactual paradigm. In such cases, in order to come to the true judgment (and avoid false judgment), one needs more data, i.e. the bigger picture, etc. That’s why I think that rather than trying to apply the paradigm comparison to particular passages of Scripture in piecemeal fashion, it is better to compare the paradigms as a whole, which, in the case of the Catholic paradigm, includes the data from the Fathers and Tradition.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  64. Gentlemen,

    Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to post a different perspective on your blog. I do appreciate it.

    I’ve been thinking the past couple days about a number of points that have been raised, as well as spending some time reading a number of different articles on this site. The information that is presented and the thought and detail that has gone into the articles and posts is impressive. You all have clearly given a lot of time and thought to this. No small task.

    I have been trying to hone in on the primary issue as it relates to Bryan’s article upon which I and many other Protestants differ and here is how I would express it as succinctly as I can (on a blog).

    In Bryan’s dialogue with Michael Horton, Bryan states that handling the deposit of faith and entrusting it to faithful men is both instructed in Scripture and the means by which the authoritative teaching office in the church would passed on through time within the visible church.

    Bryan writes,

    “Regarding the apostolic office and its closure, obviously because seeing the incarnate Christ was required in order to be an apostle, there could be no more apostles after the apostle John died at the end of the first century. On that we agree. But the point of disagreement, I think, is what kind of authority their successors had and how these successors acquired this authority. Catholics believe that these successors of the apostles were authorized to be such by the apostles themselves. This authorization gave them the authority to teach and govern, bind and loose. No one could take this authority to himself; it had to be given to him by those already having it. When St. Paul writes to St. Timothy, he tells him to guard the treasure that has been entrusted to him and urges him to entrust the things he has heard from St. Paul to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 1:14, 2:2). So we see in Scripture this apostolic understanding of handing on the deposit of faith and entrusting it to faithful men. We believe also that this ordination involved the laying on of hands, by those having the authority to confer such authority (cf. Acts 6:6; 1 Tim. 4:14).

    Those not having this authorization could not speak for the church or provide the authoritative interpretation of the deposit of faith. Believers who did not have this authority were to be subject to those having this authority. As the author of Hebrews says, “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account” (Heb. 13:17). What is meant by “leaders” here is not “those who agree with your interpretation of Scripture.” The “leaders” referred to are only those authorized by the apostles. The laymen’s understanding of Scripture was to be conformed to that of those authorized teachers. This shows that it wasn’t only Scripture that was normative but also the instruction and teaching by those authorized to explicate the deposit of faith. In that sense, the apostolic office continued after the death of the apostles—not occupied by apostles, of course, but occupied by those authorized by the apostles.”

    Bryan, I believe, rightful states, “When St. Paul writes to St. Timothy, he tells him to guard the treasure that has been entrusted to him and urges him to entrust the things he has heard from St. Paul to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 1:14, 2:2). So we see in Scripture this apostolic understanding of handing on the deposit of faith and entrusting it to faithful men.”

    Using that as a standard then, here is where Protestants take issue. 2 Timothy 2:1 tells us what the primary qualification and definition of “faithful men” is – those who are “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

    2 Timothy 2:1, “You then my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

    This is the first and primary qualification for those holding the teaching office in the church. “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Because it is, this is the first (not the only but the first and most primary) point where the doctrine of justification prevents Protestants from supporting the Roman Magisterium. Rome fails to preach justification by grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone. The doctrine of justification is THE central component of the deposit of faith that is to be guarded. Because Rome fails to guard this doctrine, Protestants looking at Scripture conclude that at best the Magisterium is teaching error, at worse the Magisterium is unfaithful in guarding the deposit of faith and thus unqualified.

    Like Jesus, Protestants do not believe that the “deposit of faith” is necessarily protected simply because of the existence of the visible community. In John 8, Jesus is confronting the visible people of God and their leadership for 1/ failing to guard the deposit of faith, and 2/ trusting in the “authority” they believe was rightfully theirs because of their visible descent from Abraham. John 8:31-32, 37-39, “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…. I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.’ ‘Abraham is our father,’ they answered. ‘If you were Abraham’s children,’ said Jesus, ‘then you would do the things Abraham did.'”

    Visibile descent is not a guarantee of faithfully guarding the deposit of faith. Abraham was strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, Genesis 15:6, “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” The Jews and Jewish leadership were not strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, thus Jesus rebuked them with the strongest of terms, John 8:44, 47, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire…. He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

    Point – visible descent, even visible authoritative descent does not guarantee that the deposit of faith has been faithful preserved.

    2 Timothy 2:2 then, has a qualifying ground – those who are “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” This is why the battle over justification through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone is so important. Who is it among God’s people who are speaking faithfully on the first, most central, and most primary qualification related to the authoritative teaching office? Protestants have been “protesting” for centuries that it is not the Magisterium.

    Justification by grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone is not an example of someone’s “own interpretation of Scripture.”

    It is THE central teaching of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Luke 24:27, 44, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself….He told them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.'”

    It is THE central promise of God the Father. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 6:28-29, “Then they asked him [Jesus], ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.'”

    It is THE central work of Jesus Christ. Romans 3:21-28, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

    Thus, it is THE central truth that the church must proclaim and live out. 2 Timothy 2:1-2, “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”

    Bryan almost gets it right in his dialogue with Horton:

    “Galatians 1:8-9 is not about the authority or infallibility of the church; it is about the established permanence of the deposit of faith within the New Covenant. Because that foundation is fixed forever, the church can never depart from it and can only build upon it.”

    I would agree that “that foundation is fixed forever”. I would disagree (unless one is talking about how gospel-centered sanctification works) with the notion that the church “can only build upon it” (particularly as Rome describes “building upon it.”) The atoning work of Jesus Christ is sufficient to save completely those who hope in Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”

    This then is the response I would offer as a rebuttal to what Bryan proposed in the article. If the teaching office is occupied by men who fail in the first and primary qualification, “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus”, then those men visibly robed or not, fail in their qualification to hold the teaching office in Christ’s visible church.

    Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria!

    Gentlemen, thank you again for the space to dialogue. Although I have enjoyed the interaction I can’t promise I’ll be posting much in the future. I do have a family and a job!

    As Bryan so rightfully offers,

    In the peace of Christ,

    Tobey

  65. Tobey,
    I’m looking forward to a response to you from Bryan or someone better qualified than myself, but in the meantime could you clear something up for me brother? You said:

    Justification by grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone is not an example of someone’s “own interpretation of Scripture.”
    It is THE central teaching of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

    Ok, I am assuming we both are thinking of the same meaning behind your definition of justification (I am assuming you mean the Reformed definition, which as you know has significant differences from many other definitions of the 3 solas you mentioned, namely TULIP), are you saying that (A) your definition of justification is NOT an interpretation? Or are you saying it is (B) an interpretation but that it is so self evidently true that basically it does not need interpreting?

    Either A or B are proveably and quite obviously false, so perhaps I am missing your option C?

    Peace,

    David Meyer

  66. Tobey,
    I too am a protestant working through this site and I share your appreciation for the thoughtfulness and work that has gone into the articles, blogs, and accompanying dialog. As I wrestle with this stuff, here are some thoughts that hit my mind while reading your comments.
    You said,

    Rome fails to preach justification by grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone. The doctrine of justification is THE central component of the deposit of faith that is to be guarded. Because Rome fails to guard this doctrine, Protestants looking at Scripture conclude that at best the Magisterium is teaching error, at worse the Magisterium is unfaithful in guarding the deposit of faith and thus unqualified.

    Of course many of us Protestants do and have concluded this. But, how can we be sure that our formulation is without error and must be believed? We have really smart people who study and do research and offer informed opinions and interpretations, but all along our people (including our church councils) contend that their opinions are not protected from error. Further, one of our really smart people, Alister McGrath, contends that Luther’s definition of justification is nowhere to be found in church writings prior to Luther’s time. That gives me pause. I believe McGrath also shows in that work that Luther believed in progressive justification throughout the life of Christian. Add this to the work between Lutheran and Catholic scholars that resulted in the “Joint Declaration” and I think we have serious reasons to consider whether your or my particular standard for defining justification is the standard by which to judge the church.

    Point – visible descent, even visible authoritative descent does not guarantee that the deposit of faith has been faithful preserved.

    I don’t think Catholics believe that visible descent, per se, does this. What does it is what they believe to be the promise and according faithfulness of God to the church as they believe God defines the church.

    You then go on to cite examples from Jesus confronting Jewish leaders to support your point. Of course, this doesn’t prove that your point is valid within the new covenant. Even Paul’s confrontation of Peter, recorded in Gal’s, does not prove your point b/c, as I understand it, Cath’s believe that God’s promise of faithful preservation only applies when the magisterium in communion with the pope, or the pope himself, declares that a position is de fide. They do not deny that there have been bad popes. This confidence that the Catholic church has in the force of its teaching is similar to the confidence and force behind the council of Jerusalem. Even though Peter had made personal errors (denying Christ, being wishy/washy in the face of the Judaizers) the council still taught definitively and with binding force. Now these were the actual apostles, along with elders, but this fact doesn’t disprove the Cath claim.

    Justification by grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone is not an example of someone’s “own interpretation of Scripture.”

    Every statement about the teaching of Scripture that is not a direct quote from Scripture is an interpretation of Scripture. See the article on Sola vs. Solo Scriptura, and the very long comments section, if you have not done so already. I don’t think one can prove Matthison wrong on this point. The question is, can any fallible opinion, no matter how well informed or scholary, have de fide binding authority and if not, where does this leave us?

    This then is the response I would offer as a rebuttal to what Bryan proposed in the article. If the teaching office is occupied by men who fail in the first and primary qualification, “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus”, then those men visibly robed or not, fail in their qualification to hold the teaching office in Christ’s visible church.

    I agree with you that there have been men in the teaching office of the Cath church who have failed this and other qualifications. But, have they taught anything as binding that is contrary to the gospel? I’m struggling with that one. I also struggle with whether the protestant response to unfaithfulness (real or perceived) on the part of church leaders has been appropriate. I think the Bible clearly teaches that believers are to submit to the church. As was argued in the Solo/Sola article, there is no actual submission going on and no actual authority, if the basis of my “submission” is agreement with my own interpretation of Scripture. I believe that submission must be real, that church authority must be superior to private judgment (no matter how many people share the same private judgment), and that God wants us to know what we are bound to believe as opposed to opinions about what we are to believe. I struggle with how the pronouncements and binding statements of all the early ecumenical councils that I accept as a Protestant can be understood as binding (as the council fathers certainly understood their pronouncements to be) if the church does not have authority over my private judgments, whether on justification or any other matter.

    I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. Let’s keep pressing on in this search.

    Mark

  67. Tobey (re: #64)

    There are four assumptions that you are bringing to the table, and these assumptions underlie the division between you and the Catholic Church.

    First, you are using your interpretation of Scripture regarding the subject of justification, to conclude that the Magisterium is in error regarding this doctrine, rather than allowing the authoritative teaching of the Magisterium concerning justification to show you that you have misinterpreted Scripture regarding this doctrine. In this way, you are begging the question, by presuming precisely what is in question between you and the Catholic Church, namely, that you have as much or more interpretive authority than does the Magisterium of the Church Christ founded. That’s the first assumption you are bringing to the table.

    That stance toward the Magisterium is something all heretics throughout the history of the Church have had in common, from the Arians to the Zwinglians. Heretics were heretics not merely because they did not reach your interpretation of Scripture, but because they denied what the divinely established Magisterium of the Church, drawing from sacred Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition, formally determined to be the orthodox doctrine on the doctrinal matters in question. Regarding this assumption, I recommend reading The Catholic Controversy, by St. Francis de Sales, who was the bishop of Geneva in the early seventeenth century.

    You wrote:

    Justification by grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone is not an example of someone’s “own interpretation of Scripture.”

    Actually it is, because Scripture does not include that statement, and any attempt to deduce that statement from Scripture requires bringing non-neutral theological and ecclesiological assumptions to Scripture, assumptions that you may not even be aware that you are bringing to the interpretive process. That’s the second assumption that you are bringing to the table, namely, that the Reformed doctrine of justification is not an interpretation of Scripture. See my “The Tradition and the Lexicon.” We haven’t yet posted articles (on CTC) explaining and defending the Catholic doctrine of justification, and how it fits with Scripture, though we intend to do so in the near future. But your statement about justification is not entailed by any or all of the verses [taken together] you cited (i.e. Lk 24, Jn. 3:16, 6:28, Rom 3, 2 Tim 2, and 1 Thess 5. In fact, Catholics affirm all those very same verses as divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit, and therefore as the very words of God. You are using a Reformed conception of grace (which differs from the Catholic conception of grace), in conjunction with 2 Tim 2:2, to argue that Catholic bishops do not qualify as leaders of Christ’s Church. But that argument begs the question, by presuming precisely what is in question between you and the Catholic Church, namely, that the Catholic Magisterium does not provide the authentic understanding of grace. In other words, if you are going to use a Reformed conception of grace, in your argument that Catholic bishops don’t have ecclesial authority, there is no point even making the argument, because you have already assumed your conclusion in your premises. It would be more transparent simply to pound the table, and assert that your interpretation is the correct one, and that all those who disagree with your interpretation ought to conform to your interpretation.

    Third, you are also assuming that if the Pharisees were in error, then the Magisterium of the Church in the New Covenant can formally teach false doctrine. That’s the third assumption you are bringing to the table. But that conclusion does not follow. There is no a priori reason to believe that on this matter there is no change from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, rather than that on this matter the New Covenant is better than the Old Covenant. The Catholic Church in the second and third and fourth centuries, believed and taught that Christ would never allow the Church to lose the faith. See “Indefectibility of the Mystical Body,” and “The Indefectibility of the Church.” So, one would have to assume some form of ecclesial deism in order to defend the assumption that the early Church was wrong about indefectibility. And that would just beg the question, i.e. assume precisely what is in question. But there is no good reason to believe that ecclesial deism ought to be the default position.

    Fourth, you are assuming that the preservation and authentic explication and development of the deposit of faith within the New Covenant is not through apostolic succession, but through whoever (in the past) agreed, or presently agrees, with your interpretation of Scripture. That’s the fourth assumption you are bringing to the table. The problem with that assumption is that you have no authority to determine for the people of God who has authority over Christ’s Church; your opinion on such matters is subordinate in authority to that of those who received such authority in succession from the Apostles. There is good reason from the record of the Church Fathers not to take the denial of apostolic succession as the default position, as though the Church just is whoever generally agrees with one’s own interpretation of Scripture.

    If you had lived during the time of the Apostles, presumably you would defer to the Apostles regarding the proper interpretation of their writings. But, now put yourself (mentally) in the Church at Antioch in the late first-century under the authority of the bishop of Antioch at that time, St. Ignatius, who wrote the epistles to various Churches in Asia Minor on his way to martyrdom in Rome in AD 107. He was the second bishop of Antioch, after Evodious, and according to St. John Chrysostom, who grew up in Antioch, St. Ignatius had been ordained at the hands of Apostles, including St. Peter. If you have read the epistles of St. Ignatius, you have some sense of his understanding and teaching regarding the authority of the bishop. If at that time you held your conception of ecclesial authority, you could not have been a member of the Church at Antioch (or any other Catholic Church), just as you couldn’t have been a member of the Church during the time of the Apostles, if you insisted that they conform to your interpretation of Scripture, rather than allow their teaching to inform and shape your interpretation of Scripture. What St. Ignatius says does not fit with your conception of ecclesial authority. He taught that the bishop has his teaching authority from Christ, through the Apostles, not from agreement with your (or any other lay-person’s) interpretation of Scripture. The lay person is to be subject to the bishop; see all his epistles, and also see Heb. 13:17. You are assuming that magisterial authority died with the last apostle, but that’s not what we find in the Church Fathers, as I explained in “Apostolic Succession.” A bishop could be heretical, and in that case the people ought not to follow him. But heresy and orthodoxy was not determined by one’s own interpretation of Scripture, but by the Tradition that had been received and upheld throughout the Catholic Church all over the world, wherever the Apostles had preached and taught.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  68. Bryan

    Thanks for your reply. A couple brief points

    1/ What Keith Mathison says in his essay “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority. Ditto.

    2/ Regarding the identification of my first assumption… I’m not claiming greater teaching authority than the Magisterium. I am claiming that a Christian can understand the self-attesting teaching of Scripture because the Spirit of Christ loves His child and desires to be known in spirit and truth by His child. I am claiming that throughout the history of the church a significant portion of the church has read the Bible as teaching justification through faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone, so I’m not flying solo with the solas. So, I don’t deny the first assumption. It’s a conclusion, and I’ve yet to hear anything to persuade me otherwise. It’s easy to drop the word heretic in a rebuttal, and the word certainly carries a lot of weight, but as one professor of mine would have asked when trying to clearly understand one’s argument, a heretic “in regard to what?” Failing to submit to all the teaching of the Magisterium? But I don’t see what you see in Scripture and Tradition that would support your conclusion about the teaching authority of the Magisterium.

    3/ Regarding the identification of my second assumption… Of course the conclusion that the Scripture teaches justification by grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone is an interpretation of Scripture. Following the lead of my former professor, the proper question would be, “Tobey, what do you mean that justification by grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone is not an example of someone’s ‘own interpretation of Scripture?'” What I mean is what I stated above. That I and millions of other Christians throughout the history of the church have understood Scripture to be teaching justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. My “in regard to what” than, is to confront your view of what at least reads as an accusation of out of control subjectivism regarding the individual along with those outside of Rome, and his/her/their reading of Scripture. You fault me for overcoming that apparent subjective reading by using a Reformed conception of grace. Yet you are free to overcome your subjective reading of Scripture by appealing to the authority of the Catholic Magisterium. Using your own argument, how does that not beg the question by assuming precisely what is in question between you and the Reformed church, namely that the Reformed interpretation of Scripture is wrong because the Magisterium says so? If there is going to be any “pounding of the table” why don’t you and I at least have some fun and play “rock, paper, scissors” to decide who’s right and who’s wrong? The question really comes down to this, “Is there an agreed upon starting point to have this conversation?” Your appeal to the Magisterium isn’t working any more than my appeal to Scripture. So what would that starting place be?

    4/ Regarding the identification of my third assumption… Actually, there is reason to believe that the religious leaders in the church could be in error just as religious leaders in Israel could be in error. The N.T. warns the church to beware of false teachers and false prophets. Jude addresses this head on. I don’t think I need to belabor this point because the warnings in the N.T. are so obvious. (However, I would be happy to identify more Scriptural teaching on this if needed.) Again, appealing to the teaching of Rome to support the position of Rome is begging the question. Do you want “rock”, “paper”, or “scissors” on this one?

    5/ Regarding the identification of my fourth assumption… My assumption of the preservation of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) is not rooted in “whoever (in the past) agreed or presently agrees, with my interpretation of Scripture. God has revealed Himself in the Scripture and in His final Word, the Lord Jesus. Hebrews 1:1-3, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (By the way, the Reformed believer affirms Hebrews 1:1-3. Nothing heretical about that.) God’s Word interpreted in God’s community (the church) is how God has and does preserve His revelation in Scripture and in Jesus Christ. I am unaware of any serious teaching in the Reformed tradition that the Church is “just whoever generally agrees with one’s own interpretation of Scripture. The very nature of the covenant and promises of God would defeat that view and it is certainly not held by anyone in the Reformed camp that I know of (although I’m sure if there is someone will find it and point it out. For the record than, I reject that view and characterization.)

    By God’s grace, yes, if I lived during the times of the Apostles I would have submitted to the teaching of the Apostles… but only if it conformed to the teaching of Scripture, as was modeled by the Bereans (Acts 17:10-15) who the Scripture describes as “more noble” and received the word of Paul “with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” Before I move on… that is an amazing text of Scripture and an amazing account of people who received the word of an Apostle… but only as it was in line with what the Scriptures taught AS THEY READ IT IN COMMUNITY. And yes, to the degree that Ignatius was faithful to teach what was recorded of the Apostles teaching (the N.T. Scriptures) by God’s grace I would have submitted to that teaching… but always keeping in mind the warnings of Scripture that false teachers were possible in the church. Reformed folk do not deny that there is authority in the teaching office or deny that some creeds and confessions properly interpret the Scripture and is thus the teaching of Scripture. We affirm that. But we ultimately affirm that Jesus loves His church and will protect and preserve “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Ultimately the authoritative Interpreter is the authoritative and faithful Author who is also the authoritative Preserver – the Spirit of Christ. And that, even in the midst of all the fallenness and fallibility and finiteness of His people, is truly the Rock the church is built on.

    I want to close with two final points:

    A. I really appreciated Keith Mathison’s essay. I agree with it. Thank you for posting it.

    B. I always thought in light of the history of Christ’s holy catholic church, in light of all the disagreements and differences, that the Lord Jesus’ command in John 13:34-35 is the key to our witness to the redemption we have in Jesus Christ. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

    With that command in mind, I do wish you the peace of Christ.

    Tobey

    P.S. Can we go best out of seven on “rock, paper, scissors”?

  69. Tobey, (re: #68)

    When a person contradicts Magisterial teaching, he is implicitly claiming greater teaching authority than the Magisterium. As for your claim that throughout the history of the church, a significant portion of the church has read the Bible as teaching justification by faith alone [where "faith alone" is understood in the Protestant sense as making repentance, agape and baptism have no part in justification], there is no good evidence that that is true, and much that it is false. See “St. Clement of Rome: Soteriology and Ecclesiology.” See also “The Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration,” “Ligon Duncan’s ‘Did the Fathers Know the Gospel?,” and my post titled “St. Augustine on Law and Grace.” See also my “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide?” Also, to better understand the Catholic doctrine of justification, listen to Prof. Feingold’s lecture titled “St. Paul on Justification”:

    St. Paul on Justification

    My reason for pointing out (in #67) the four assumptions you were bringing to the discussion was not to persuade you that you are wrong about them (although I do think you are wrong about them), but to highlight the fact that these assumptions underlie your criticisms of the Catholic Church, so that in order to begin to attempt to resolve the disagreement between you and the Catholic Church, we may discuss those underlying assumptions.

    Regarding your question concerning the “Reformed conception of grace,” that conception of grace arose in the sixteenth century. Prior to that, in the works of all the Church’s theologians going to back to St. Augustine and earlier, grace was never a mere divine favor (see the quotation from Scott Clark in comment #3 of the “Pelagian Westminster?” thread.) The mere divine favor conception of grace is in part the result of nominalism, which developed in the fourteenth century, and culminated in de-ontological [and hence stipulative, extrinsic, declarative] conceptions of grace and justification in the sixteenth century. So, it is not question-begging to recognize the older conception of grace as the traditional conception of grace, and the novel conception of grace as the one bearing the burden of proof.

    Actually, there is reason to believe that the religious leaders in the church could be in error just as religious leaders in Israel could be in error. The N.T. warns the church to beware of false teachers and false prophets.

    You are assuming that the fact of there being false teachers means that the Magisterium could fall into heresy. But that’s not a justified assumption. Just because some bishops could (and can) fall into heresy, it does not follow that the Magisterium could do so. Their heresy is known to be such not because they don’t conform to the individual’s interpretation of Scripture, but because they don’t conform to the faith of the Church (where ‘Church’ isn’t defined in terms of one’s own interpretation of Scripture, but in terms of the Magisterium — as St. Ambrose said, “Where Peter is, there is the Church,” and as St. Ignatius said, “Where the bishop is, there is the Church.”)

    am unaware of any serious teaching in the Reformed tradition that the Church is “just whoever generally agrees with one’s own interpretation of Scripture.

    Of course it is not worded that way. Instead, it is worded in terms of “the gospel” as a mark of the Church, [a notion unknown to the early Church] where “the gospel” refers to a set of doctrinal propositions that summarize one’s own interpretation of Scripture, typically in the form of a list of solas. And for that reason, in the Reformed tradition only those count as “the Church” who sufficiently conform to one’s own interpretation of Scripture concerning its primary message. (See section IV.A. of the “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority” article. See also PCA elder Andrew McCallum’s claims about who counts as ‘church’ in the comments of this thread.

    The Bereans

    You claim that had you lived in the time of the Apostles you would have submitted to the teaching of the Apostles … but only if it conformed to [your interpretation of] Scripture, “as was modeled by the Bereans.” I add “your interpretation of” because that’s the crux of the issue. Presumably the Apostles wouldn’t have been contradicting the actual statements of Scripture, just as the Catholic Church fully affirms the truth of every verse of Scripture. (See “Vatican II and the Inerrancy of the Bible,” and the exchange between TF and myself in the Solo Scriptura thread, beginning in comment #957 and continuing almost to the end.) So the actual question is what you would have done if they had affirmed the truth of Scripture, but you disagreed with their interpretation of Scripture. Would you have you presumed interpretive authority over them, or would you have submitted to their interpretation?

    This passage [i.e. Acts 17] doesn’t say that we should submit to the Apostles only if we agree with their interpretation of Scripture. One would have to bring certain assumptions to the text in order to draw that conclusion from it. One way to learn from a teacher of Scripture is to take the stance: “I won’t believe what you say until I determine for myself that this is in Scripture.” Another way is fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding). The former is not noble when the speaker is divinely authorized. But the latter is noble when the speaker is divinely authorized. Moreover, stating that something is referred to in Scripture, is not the same thing as giving an authoritative interpretation of Scripture. The Bereans were searching the Scriptures primarily to see whether they contained the claims St. Paul said they contained, not to verify or falsify his interpretation of those claims. The Bereans were praised because they were truth-lovers, not because they eschewed apostolic authority and preferred the rule of private judgment.

    In addition, the practice of Jewish non-Christians being evangelized by a Christian should not be taken as normative for Christians already incorporated into the Church. Non-Christians would not yet have recognized St. Paul’s authority as an Apostle, since they did not yet recognize Jesus as the Son of God. But those persons already incorporated into the Church recognize the authority of the Apostles and their successors. That’s not to say that Christians should not search the Scriptures, but Christians search the Scriptures not in order to come to faith, but to grow in the faith, not to determine whether the dogmas of the faith are true, but to seek to understand how they are contained and presented in Scripture. This passage in Acts 17 is about the truth-seeking open-mindedness of the [non-Christian] Jews of Berea to the preaching of the gospel. St. Paul was explaining to them that Jesus Christ fulfilled the prophesies and covenant of the Old Testament, and as Jews, they were examining the Scripture to see whether what he was saying about the OT was true. They didn’t yet recognize the authority of St. Paul as an Apostle. The truth-seeking open-mindedness of the Bereans is a model for us all. But their way of verifying what St. Paul said is not a model for how baptized Christians should relate to the Apostles or to a bishop or to the Jerusalem Council (of Acts 15). That’s because becoming a Christian means to come into the Church, and thus come under the authority of the Apostles and bishops. Of course coming under their authority doesn’t mean that one can’t look up verses if an Apostle or bishop says, for example, “The prophet Jeremiah tells us in Jeremiah 31 that in the New Covenant, God will write His law on our hearts.” But it does mean that the Church’s determination of what the Bible says (i.e. what is orthodoxy and what is heresy) is authoritative for us, rather than our interpretation of Scripture being the standard by which the Church is judged to be orthodox or heterodox. For another Catholic analysis of the Berean passage, see Steve Ray’s article titled “Why the Bereans Rejected Sola Scriptura.” UPDATE: See also Jimmy Akin’s article “Sola Scriptura & the Bereans,” and Patrick Vandapool’s “The Berean/Catholic Model Is More “Noble” than the Thessalonian/Protestant Model (Acts 17:11).”

    You wrote:

    Reformed folk do not deny that there is authority in the teaching office or deny that some creeds and confessions properly interpret the Scripture and is thus the teaching of Scripture.

    Protestantism came about when certain Catholics in the sixteenth century denied the authority of the Catholic teaching office, and presumed that authority to themselves, in some cases by attempting to exercise it themselves, and in others by choosing as their ecclesial ‘authority’ other unauthorized and heretical Catholics who most closely agreed with their own interpretation of Scripture. (See Bossuet’s History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches, Hughes’ A Popular History of the Reformation, Belloc’s How the Reformation Happened, St. Francis de Sales’ The Catholic Controversy, and Carroll’s The Cleaving of Christendom.) For this reason, the ‘authority’ of a Protestant teaching office is an illusion, for the reasons we explain in the “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority” article.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  70. Bryan,

    There are so many areas where we disagree that for me at least it’s time to wrap up the interaction. I want to reference one final thing you said as an example where I don’t think we will ever find agreement, frankly, because your view and Rome’s view is indefensible based on the observable work of Jesus in the world.

    You write,

    “But it does mean that the Church’s determination of what the Bible says (i.e. what is orthodoxy and what is heresy) is authoritative for us, rather than our interpretation of Scripture being the standard by which the Church is judged to be orthodox or heterodox.”

    Bearing in mind what I have already written on this post, your claim (I take “Church” to mean “Rome”) is contrary to the observable work of Jesus Christ in the world. All of us have a moral responsibility to question and know and love the truth. This nonsensical idea repeated ad nauseam that Christians cannot properly read and understand their Bibles apart from Rome in my view is one of the most farfetched claims one could make. God didn’t give us a mysterious book that only a select few connected to Rome could read and understand and the rest of us just follow “their” interpretation like lemmings.

    Millions and millions and millions of Christians can and have given testimony to the life transforming and saving power of God’s Word experienced in their lives and in their church communities apart from Rome. As long as Jesus is pleased to be known and save His people and fellowship with them and transform them through His Word and through the many different church communities that exist and have existed, frankly, I don’t see how anyone on this site or from within Rome itself can with any integrity make the claims for authority that she is making. The work of Christ around the world and throughout history is strong evidence against such claims. Jesus has shown time and time again that He is pleased to be known and continues to make Himself known within many different Protestant communities and in the lives of His children. Rome is demanding an authority that it was never given and that the church universal does not need her to have. At least Jesus has shown and is showing He does not need Rome to have that authority in order to pour out His saving work, life and joy on His people through the teaching of His Word. The historical and current witness to the mercy of Jesus poured out on His people through the ministry of the Word is strong evidence that what you are arguing for is false.

    May Jesus Christ have mercy,

    Tobey

  71. Hello Tobey,

    The issue is not whether the Bible is, on the whole, “understandable”. The point is that Christians disagree on what the Bible means in many places. These disagreements have fractured Christianity so that we don’t believe the same thing, and the result is we are not a unified witness to the world.

    Is Christ divided? Did God design the Church so that it would not be divided?

    If God did this, how did He intend us to be united?

    Did and does God intend unity to be achieved through humility, by asking us to submit to Christ, to one another, to our elders?

    Did the apostles actually work to maintain unity?
    Did they establish elders who continued on this work?

    Did God protect these elders from error in some way?

    Is the Roman Catholic Church the continuation of the unified Church which God built on Christ’s foundation, through the apostles?

  72. Tobey,

    You are right, God loves those that love him. The Holy Spirit is interested in the people in those ecclesial communities, but he has no interest in preserving the churches. That is the history of those communities, God’s gratuity to them yet their churches ending in ruin and apostasy.

    Also, I would be interested in how you would confront the “work of the Spirit” in the Mormon church and Jehovah’s Witnesses”? Are they real Christian communities, alive by the spirit?

    I think what you hear in this forum, and it is not what we are saying, is that God is not working in your “group”, but he’s in ours. No, that is wrong. He is working in the lives of people in your group because he cares intimately for all his children. The Holy Spirit goes “to and fro” where he wishes (Gen 1:2).

    What we are saying is that the Reformation was misguided, not a work of the Holy Spirit, has led to 38,000 denominations, division and that Christ established one Church. That looks like cancer to me. We are saying that sola scriptura, the principal that you can interpret scripture authoritatively as an individual is misguided, fails historically, and is harmful to souls (see Mormons). We are not saying that you cannot understand your Bible. In fact, the Church encourages it and reads it to her people in every Mass. Read PBXVI latest exhortation in the reading of scripture here.

    God bless,

    Brent

  73. Tobey, (re: #70)

    No one here claimed that apart from the guidance of the Catholic Church, Christians cannot read and understand Scripture to some degree, a degree that allows them to have a conscious saving faith in Christ. Thankfully, they can. All of us at CTC were Christians for many years before becoming Catholic. Part of the reason why Protestants get Scripture right in certain areas (e.g. the Trinity and Christology) is that Protestantism still enjoys a great deal of its interpretive framework by way of inheritance from the doctrines and Tradition of the Catholic Church and the early ecumenical councils — things it brought with it when it separated from the Catholic Church. But sadly, every decade that the Protestant-Catholic schism continues, the memory, inertia and implicit authority of that Tradition dims within Protestantism. This is why the make-up of Protestantism has shifted: confessional Protestantism has mostly all gone liberal, and non-confessional Protestantism has fractured into everything from Benny Hinn and TBN to Brian McLaren and Joel Osteen.

    The more unreasonable, and farfetched claim, would be that the Bible is sufficient for keeping all Christians in the one Church that Christ founded. History and a quick glance around are sufficient to falsify such a claim. The Bible was never intended to be in itself the sufficient means by which Christians are preserved in unity of faith, sacraments, and ecclesiology. That’s precisely why Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom (i.e. the Church) to St. Peter, and said that He would build His Church on him, so that the Church throughout the whole world could be one in faith, one in sacraments, and one in visible authority. And even a cursory study of the early Church Fathers shows that the early Church looked nothing like non-confessional Protestantism. Take the mass, for example:

    In addition, no one here has claimed that Protestants cannot experience the “life transforming and saving power of God.” Thankfully, they can and do, through the sacrament of baptism, through prayer and the study of Scripture. But, it wouldn’t be a good argument to reason from the fact that non-Catholics experience the transforming and saving power of God, to the conclusion that the Catholic Church isn’t what she claims to be, and that Protestants needn’t be reconciled to her, and united in full communion with her. Thinking that the work of Christ outside the Catholic Church is evidence against the Catholic Church’s claim to be the Church Christ founded, would be the inverse of the mistake St. Cyprian made in the third century, when he argued that heretics who had been baptized outside the Catholic Church needed to be baptized upon entering the Catholic Church, because in St. Cyprian’s mind, the boundaries of the Church coincided with the saving and transforming saving power of God in the sacraments. St. Cyprian was arguing that there is no saving activity of God outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church, but Pope St. Stephen stood firmly against him (see “The Chair of St. Peter“). Pope St. Stephen understood that the mercy of God extends outside of the Church, precisely in order to lead souls into the Church, not to nullify the necessity of the Church. It would be a very serious error to nullify the necessity of entering the Church by appealing to the Holy Spirit’s activity outside the Church, just as the reception of the Holy Spirit by Cornelius and his family did not make his subsequent baptism superfluous. (Acts 10) The extension of God’s work of grace and mercy in the world does not ipso facto determine or set the extension or boundary of the Church, because Christ is presently working even outside His Church to bring people into His Church. Those who have experienced His mercy should not presume on His mercy by neglecting either to receive His sacraments or to enter His Church. If you want to understand the ground for “the claims for authority that [the Catholic Church] is making,” then read Fortescue, Giles and Chapman in the Papacy section here.

    Yes Protestants can experience grace outside of the Church Christ founded, but there is so much more grace available within the Church, with all seven sacraments and the fullness of the Tradition, the saints, and the sacramentals. It is much more difficult to be saved outside the Church, than it is inside the Church. Moreover, it has always been a doctrine of the Church that no one who, knowing that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded as necessary for salvation, refuses to enter her or remain within her, can be saved. (CCC #846)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  74. Amen Bryan. Growing up in a “full gospel” tradition (as I believe you did), it is wonderful to actually have the FULL GOSPEL now. Not having Confession, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist handicapped my spiritual progress. I have truly experienced the transforming power of the grace of those sacraments in my life in terms of freedom from sin and a deepening awareness of Christ’s presence in my life. Further, being alienated from my Mother and spiritual family (Saints) made the Christian life unnecessarily an unaided one.

    Note: St. Augustine converted to Christ in 386, yet his baptism (reception into the Church) at the hands of St. Ambrose wasn’t until Easter of 387.

  75. Hi Bryan

    Nice work, though I disagree! Let me follow up… You state…

    “Each of the members of the Body has a different place and function in the Body. They do not all have the same function or role. Some are apostles, some are prophets, some are teachers, etc., each according to his gifts. And St. Paul teaches that some gifts are greater than others, even while each member is dependent on the others. This mutual dependency is true not only of the hands and feet, but even of the Head; the Head cannot say to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ In this way, the Body is hierarchically organized, each of the subordinate functions contributing to the unified activity of the whole Body. If the Body were not hierarchically organized, there would be many different activities, but not one unified activity. There would be many different individuals, and not one Body.

    In my humble opinion, you make an intellectual jump from “one body, many parts” to ‘the body must be hierarchically organized’. From the verses cited, one can only reach this conclusion if you assume that “greater gifts” implies a literal organizational hierarchy. I would suggest that this Scripture says precisely and clearly that there is NO hierarchy in the body, based on three principles:

    1. First, I would postulate that there is no concept of hierarchy implied in the term “greater gifts”. The term rather refers to “greater” in the sense of God’s economy, ie, “the love and care of each other”. Paul says “faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love”. Paul’s concept of the body is clearly one of mutual equality, not worldly hierarchy. The very verse you quote says, “On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the Body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the Body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the Body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the Body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” Paul is saying that we should go out of our way NOT to model the church after a worldly hierarchy … that an emphasis on hierarchy is the CAUSE of division within the body.

    2. You postulate that, without a human hierarchy, there would be disunity. One can only arrive at this conclusion if you accept that unity comes from human hierarchy, not from God. I quote the precursor of the 1 Corinthians 12 scripture that was skipped over when you quoted…

    “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”

    This Scripture clearly indicates that the Holy Spirit orchestrates the gifts and activities of the body, not some human hierarchy. Further, this orchestration of humans by the Holy Spirit accomplishes the will of God.

    3. Christ Himself and others subsequent say many times that whoever would be first should be the servant of all, and other similar paraphrases of this concept. Any hierarchy that might be espoused in the Kingdom is called by Christ to be up-side-down from a literal worldly hierarchy. In the up-side-down hierarchy, the Pope would be servant to all. This is clearly antithetical to the current reality… one does not generally kiss the ring of a servant, nor would an apostle of Christ permit this. Could you imagine someone kissing the ring of Peter or Paul? They would go nuts! Even Jesus demanded to wash Peter’s feet. The Kingdom of God has but one head and that is Christ.

    I agree with the notion that we should avoid schism and I confirm with you the verses cited in this regard. However, when the Church leaders leave the faith, it is not the believers who create schism, it is the Church leaders. Sadly, this has been the case. What are we to do in such a case? Ephesians 4:14-16 give us a picture… “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” So in such cases, the body is to “grow up” in Christ, and function as a body, taking its lead from Christ who is the head, for the growth and building of the body in love. What we are NOT to do is follow every wind of doctrine… from any source. Christ is the head of the church, as you quoted from Scripture. We are the body, He is the head. The Holy Spirit is our guide.

    I believe in both a visible and invisible church… ie, the body of all who believe that Christ died for their sins. I support missionaries all over the world who are being Christ in the flesh to people in need. I work in my community to do likewise. Obviously, so does the RC church. I would collectively call this the visible church. Likewise, you and I believe in and would agree (I think) on the basics of the doctrine of salvation… we are both saved by Christ. I would call us members of the church invisible, that is, the Holy Spirt is working through us to accomplish the will of God. I do not believe that a visible church means a hierarchy with a guy on the throne at the top (other than Jesus, who is the head of both churches, visible and invisible).

    It would be great if the church could be reunited in polity and affirmed theology. In the mean time, I think we are called to work together for the glory of God in any way we can. If we are truly seeking God, the Holy Spirit will do what man cannot.

    Highest regards
    Curt

  76. One other thought, as I scanned back up through your previous comments, you say…

    “What we are saying is that the Reformation was misguided, not a work of the Holy Spirit, has led to 38,000 denominations, division and that Christ established one Church. That looks like cancer to me. We are saying that sola scriptura, the principal that you can interpret scripture authoritatively as an individual is misguided, fails historically, and is harmful to souls…”

    I would postulate that a singular apostolic succession eventually led to Papal failures which looked like a cancer to the Reformers. I would further say that, while the reformation church retained the early theology of the orthodox church (The Creeds et al), the RC church has also undergone internal reformation that was spurred by the Reformers. And I would close by saying that if sola scriptura fails historically, then so does Papal succession by the same logic.

    The reality is that, from Abraham through the Pharasees, from Peter to Sixtus IV, from Calvin to Joel Osteen… every church that has been ordained by God has been found to be corruptible by man… no exceptions. This is not due to lack of knowledge, it is due to willful disobedience. This is the power of the body of Christ as previously discussed… that if we “grow up” in Christ, and function as a body, taking our lead from Christ who is the head, guided by the Holy Spirit who is give to each of us, we are less likely to be blown around by every wind of doctrine, no matter where the wind blows from. If Scripture and the Holy Spirit are insufficient, then no manmade institution based on them can be found stronger.

    Cheers
    Curt

  77. Curt #76,

    I’m sure Bryan will give you an answer that should right the ship, but you said a few things that made me want to comment:

    I would postulate that a singular apostolic succession eventually led to Papal failures which looked like a cancer to the Reformers.

    Were the failures moral or theological? Yes, we cleaned house during and after the counter-reformation, but a couple fixing their marriage doesn’t justify the affair before or after the marriage.

    Also, I don’t think the Reformers saw it as a cancer, but rather as a complete failure, “let’s re-do” situation. 38,000 sounds like a cancerous tumor to me. Lastly on this point, how do you understand, “I will build my church…and the gates of hell will not prevail”?

    RC church has also undergone internal reformation that was spurred by the Reformers. And I would close by saying that if sola scriptura fails historically, then so does Papal succession by the same logic.

    The Catholic IP isn’t Papal succession. The Catholic IP is Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, Magisterium (apostles in union with the Holy See). I would recommend reading Mike’s post here. How has Papal succession failed? We have a fantastic Pope with an unbroken lineage to St. Peter which provides visible unity for 1.2 billion people; dare I say a human phenomenon unrivaled in human history? Hardly a failure. Now, about sola scriptura, even if there were only 5 denominations, the fact that the major denoms (Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Anglican, Lutheran) all teach so dramatically different about the “essentials” demonstrates sola scriptura’s lack of ability to produce even nominal unity but rather evidences its principal effect of schism and theological chaos.

    The reality is that, from Abraham through the Pharasees, from Peter to Sixtus IV, from Calvin to Joel Osteen

    Yes, human history is marked by sinful people. However, that would encompass all of human history both Christian, pagan, jew, gentile. In the OT, the children of Israel by covenant were preserved despite schism (south/north), idolatry, war…

    The New covenant, mediated by Christ, embues his Church with a promise to not fail (gates of hell shall not…), to be the pillar of truth, for Christ to be with her until the end of the age (Eucharist), and for her to grow in holiness (internal reformation). Even when she has teetered on the verge of failure, Christ was faithful to protect her. This is the story of the Catholic Church for 2,000 years. As Newman perceived, every other church squirms at her title, “universal”, and no other church even tries to holds that title. They won’t claim it because they know they cannot. Every other church merely claims a regional, nominal, or or paternal heritage (Lutheran, Baptist, Anglican). Also, your quote demonstrates just how confusing it is outside the Church. Joel Osteen? If we include him, let’s include Arius, Pelagius, Montanus, Eutyches…

    Peace to you on your journey.

    Through the Immaculate Conception

  78. Curt,

    I believe in both a visible and invisible church… ie, the body of all who believe that Christ died for their sins. I support missionaries all over the world who are being Christ in the flesh to people in need. I work in my community to do likewise. Obviously, so does the RC church. I would collectively call this the visible church.

    In what sense is this church visible? Can we see who believes Christ died for their dins and who does not? We can make assumptions. Some people we can feel pretty confident about. But for the vast majority we just don’t know. People can have true faith in Jesus despite publicly professing bad theology. They can publicly profess true theology and have no faith.

    There are some organizations we call Christian. But Christians differ on how to define that. There is not easy way to tell if a person or an organization is part of this “visible” church. That seems to mean it isn’t really visible at all. It is something we see in a limited way with the discernment of the spirit. In other words it is what Catholics would call the invisible church.

  79. Hello Curt, (re: #75-76)

    Welcome to Called To Communion.

    In the article, we wrote:

    “Each of the members of the Body has a different place and function in the Body. They do not all have the same function or role. Some are apostles, some are prophets, some are teachers, etc., each according to his gifts. And St. Paul teaches that some gifts are greater than others, even while each member is dependent on the others. This mutual dependency is true not only of the hands and feet, but even of the Head; the Head cannot say to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ In this way, the Body is hierarchically organized, each of the subordinate functions contributing to the unified activity of the whole Body. If the Body were not hierarchically organized, there would be many different activities, but not one unified activity. There would be many different individuals, and not one Body.”

    You replied:

    In my humble opinion, you make an intellectual jump from “one body, many parts” to ‘the body must be hierarchically organized’. From the verses cited, one can only reach this conclusion if you assume that “greater gifts” implies a literal organizational hierarchy.

    Tom and I are not arguing merely from “verses cited.” We are also drawing from the early Church Fathers and from the relation of members of a body to each other and to a whole body. So, we are not jumping from “one body, many parts” to “the body must be hierarchically organized.” Grace builds on nature. Every body is hierarchically organized, and St. Paul wasn’t unaware of this. It is easy to see in the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch, for example, as I showed in “St. Ignatius of Antioch on the Church.” The only alternative, for explaining what St. Ignatius says, is some sort of ecclesial deism.

    You wrote:

    I would suggest that this Scripture says precisely and clearly that there is NO hierarchy in the body, based on three principles:

    1. First, I would postulate that there is no concept of hierarchy implied in the term “greater gifts”. The term rather refers to “greater” in the sense of God’s economy, ie, “the love and care of each other”. Paul says “faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love”. Paul’s concept of the body is clearly one of mutual equality, not worldly hierarchy. The very verse you quote says, “On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the Body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the Body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the Body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the Body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” Paul is saying that we should go out of our way NOT to model the church after a worldly hierarchy … that an emphasis on hierarchy is the CAUSE of division within the body.

    He’s not saying that hierarchy is the cause of division, otherwise, that would contradict what he says in 1 Cor 11:1-10, where he says that the hierarchy of man and woman is based on the woman coming from the man, which event preceded the fall, and therefore preceded division. Hence hierarchy per se cannot be the cause of division since it is fully compatible with unity. What you call “worldly” is what God calls “good,” since everything He made is good, and He made hierarchy when He made man and woman (and when He made the angels, since they too are in a hierarchy — this is why some are archangels). Of course man and woman are equal as persons. And yet because of the order of creation, there is a natural hierarchy. This natural hierarchy should not be confused with the domination God speaks of resulting from the fall, when he tells Eve, “your desire shall be for your husband, but he will *rule over* you.” (Gen 3:16)

    Likewise, you are assuming that if there is equality, then there is not hierarchy. That’s not a good assumption. Again, a husband and wife are equal as human persons, but there is an hierarchical order between them, on account of the natural order by God’s design. The verse you cite does not claim that hierarchy is bad or worldly; rather, it speaks of the importance of the strong helping the weak. And that is the purpose of the hierarchy, that those have God-given authority, might serve those entrusted to them. The worldly (fallen) notion of authority is one of domination and tyranny. That’s not the way God has created hierarchy in the family, and in the Church.

    You wrote:

    2. You postulate that, without a human hierarchy, there would be disunity. One can only arrive at this conclusion if you accept that unity comes from human hierarchy, not from God.

    No, that conclusion does not follow. You are positing a false dilemma: either ecclesial unity comes from human hierarchy, or it comes from God. Ecclesial unity comes from God, but grace builds on nature; grace does not destroy nature. Human societies are naturally hierarchical, as shown in Genesis. (The more that society loses sight of the hierarchical nature of husband and wife in marriage, the more difficult it is to see that any human society must be hierarchical to be unified. Otherwise, it is a mere plurality, for the reasons I explained in Why Protestantism has no “visible catholic Church”. The notion of an invisible unity that does not depend on visible unity, and therefore does not depend on hierarchy, is a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes. If such a ‘unity’ were in fact disunity, nothing at all would be any different. Such a ‘unity’ is fully compatible with a plethora of schisms and factions. But that’s not the sort of unity the Church Fathers conceived the Church to have. They spoke about schism frequently, as something contrary to the unity of the Church. For example, look at what St. Cyprian and St. Augustine say about the Novatian and Donatists schisms. These Church Fathers wrote a great deal about these schisms as schisms from the unity of the Church. St. Cyprian and St. Augustine did not think that the Novatians and Donatists remained in the unity of the Church, as the those two schism were still divinely joined to the Church. For St. Cyprian and St. Augustine (and the other Church Fathers) to separate from the visible Church is to form a schism, and no schism can justify itself by claiming that it is invisibly united to the Church than the excommunicated person can justify himself by claiming that he is still invisibly united to the Church. That would make excommunication of no consequence at all. The Church is visible, not invisible.

    This Scripture clearly indicates that the Holy Spirit orchestrates the gifts and activities of the body, not some human hierarchy.

    Once more, a false dilemma. That should be self-evident? Notice the Apostles in the book of Acts. To the question: Who was leading the early Church in the years following Pentecost, the Holy Spirit or the Apostles? The answer is, both. He makes the Apostles the foundation stones of the Church Eph 2:20, Rev 21:14. We are to submit to the leaders of the Church: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account.” (Heb 13:17) Does your church have a pastor? If so, then your practice contradicts what you are saying, because then I could say back to you: you should follow the Spirit, not some human hierarchy. Somehow, it seems, it is permissible to follow your own hierarchy, but not the one that Christ founded. But the one Christ founded has divine authorization, whereas no Protestant minister has authorization in succession from the Apostles.

    You wrote:

    3. Christ Himself and others subsequent say many times that whoever would be first should be the servant of all, and other similar paraphrases of this concept. Any hierarchy that might be espoused in the Kingdom is called by Christ to be up-side-down from a literal worldly hierarchy. In the up-side-down hierarchy, the Pope would be servant to all. This is clearly antithetical to the current reality… one does not generally kiss the ring of a servant, nor would an apostle of Christ permit this. Could you imagine someone kissing the ring of Peter or Paul? They would go nuts! Even Jesus demanded to wash Peter’s feet. The Kingdom of God has but one head and that is Christ.

    Indeed the leaders of the Church have been called to serve the sheep, and that is what they do, through their teaching, and their prayers, and their sacramental ministry. The Pope is the servant of all Catholics. He is also the servant of Christ. You seem to think that if someone is a servant, then no one would rightly honor him. But that is precisely why we honor our leaders, because they serve us. We honor the pope and our bishops because they stand in the place of Christ to us, as the Apostles did when Jesus had ascended. Jesus Himself said, “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.” (Luke 10:16) And “He who receives you receives Me.” (Mt. 10:40) So, we honor our leaders as a way of honoring Christ, because they represent Him and serve in His Name and in His place until He returns in glory.

    You wrote:

    I agree with the notion that we should avoid schism and I confirm with you the verses cited in this regard. However, when the Church leaders leave the faith, it is not the believers who create schism, it is the Church leaders. Sadly, this has been the case.

    The Magisterium of the Church has never left the faith, but has always maintained the faith. Of course I understand that the Magisterium has perhaps not followed your interpretation of Scripture, but that is not the same as “leaving the faith.” Their teaching authority entails that it is their interpretation of Scripture and of the deposit of faith that the sheep of Christ’s Church must believe and confess, just as the early Church did that of the Apostles. It never was the case that the Church was beholden to each individual person’s interpretation of Scripture.

    So in such cases, the body is to “grow up” in Christ, and function as a body, taking its lead from Christ who is the head, for the growth and building of the body in love. What we are NOT to do is follow every wind of doctrine… from any source. Christ is the head of the church, as you quoted from Scripture. We are the body, He is the head. The Holy Spirit is our guide.

    Many people who follow their own interpretation of Scripture claim that the Holy Spirit is guiding them; they do so because it gives [at least verbal and psychological] support to their interpretation. Many Pentecostals claim that the Holy Spirit is guiding them to do many different things — you can watch Benny Hinn if you want to see what this looks like. The problem is that they are all going in different theological directions, even while all claiming to follow the Holy Spirit. It testifies that they are not all following the Spirit, but are merely co-opting the ‘approval’ of the Holy Spirit to justify following their own opinions and interpretations.

    I believe in both a visible and invisible church… ie, the body of all who believe that Christ died for their sins. I support missionaries all over the world who are being Christ in the flesh to people in need. I work in my community to do likewise. Obviously, so does the RC church. I would collectively call this the visible church.

    There are visible believers, of course, but Protestantism has no visible catholic Church, for the reasons I explained here. Nor can there be a local Church without apostolic succession, for the reasons explained briefly in Responsa ad quaestiones. Without apostolic succession there is no Eucharist, and without the Eucharist, there can be no Church, only a community of like-minded believers.

    Likewise, you and I believe in and would agree (I think) on the basics of the doctrine of salvation… we are both saved by Christ. I would call us members of the church invisible, that is, the Holy Spirt is working through us to accomplish the will of God. I do not believe that a visible church means a hierarchy with a guy on the throne at the top (other than Jesus, who is the head of both churches, visible and invisible).

    If you can accept that the Church has twelve Apostles as foundation stones (Rev 21:14), and that does not compete with Christ being the Chief Cornerstone and Head of the Church, then there is no principled reason why Christ could not make one of those Twelve Apostles to have a unique authority in relation to the others (Mt 16:18-19), and make him the Rock on which Christ builds His Church, without this in any way competing with Christ. This is what the Church Fathers believed Christ had done in giving the keys of the Kingdom to Peter — see “The Chair of St. Peter.”

    It would be great if the church could be reunited in polity and affirmed theology. In the mean time, I think we are called to work together for the glory of God in any way we can. If we are truly seeking God, the Holy Spirit will do what man cannot.

    The Church is united, in the three ways we describe in the article. Unity is a permanent mark of the Church. Many schisms have departed from the Church, and that is why you think that the Church is divided, because you are counting the schisms as though they too are part of the Church. But those in schism have gone out from us, as St. John says. “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.” (1 John 2:19) Jesus commanded us to seek first His Kingdom, the same Kingdom whose keys He gave to St. Peter. Yes we are called to work together for the glory of God, but we are also called to seek out and find the Church He founded, and enter it without delay.

    I would postulate that a singular apostolic succession eventually led to Papal failures which looked like a cancer to the Reformers.

    You are conflating moral failures with doctrinal failures. See the Donatist controversy, where St. Augustine and others showed that we cannot rightly rebel against a divinely ordained leader of the Church merely because of a moral failure. Moral failure on the part of leaders never justifies schism from the Church.

    I would further say that, while the reformation church retained the early theology of the orthodox church (The Creeds et al)

    Yes, the early Reformers retained the early creeds, but they changed the meaning of the some of the terms. They changed the meaning of “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” They changed the meaning of “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” (see “The Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration.”) And they came up with an entirely novel soteriology in claiming that justification was by faith alone (see “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide?“), and an evacuated conception of ordination and the Eucharist, and eliminated the other sacraments.

    And I would close by saying that if sola scriptura fails historically, then so does Papal succession by the same logic.

    No, the Church remains firm, now almost 1.2 billion, almost two thousand years from its inception. The succession of popes continues unbroken, from Peter.

    The reality is that, from Abraham through the Pharasees, from Peter to Sixtus IV, from Calvin to Joel Osteen… every church that has been ordained by God has been found to be corruptible by man… no exceptions.

    No, the Catholic Church has never been corrupted, even though there have been corrupt men who have existed in her.

    If Scripture and the Holy Spirit are insufficient, then no manmade institution based on them can be found stronger.

    Fortunately, the Catholic Church is not a merely man-made institution; it was founded by the God-man, Jesus Christ. And hence it is indefectible (See “Ecclesial Deism.”)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  80. Hi Brent… thanks for the resonse! To make this easier to follow, I will use “You” and “Me” to identify who said what (since I don’t know how to do the nifty white inserts) I may also use caps as I would to underline or bold something… not to scream :-)

    You: Were the failures moral or theological?

    Me: Well, take your pick. Sixtus IV murdered the previous Pope and then seated himself. I would call that moral failure. Teaching that sins were forgiven through the payment of indulgences… I would call that theological failure.

    You: Yes, we cleaned house during and after the counter-reformation, but a couple fixing their marriage doesn’t justify the affair before or after the marriage.

    Me: I’m not sure I understand your point, but I WOULD understand that having an affair might cause a schism in the marriage.

    You: Also, I don’t think the Reformers saw it as a cancer, but rather as a complete failure, “let’s re-do” situation.

    Me: Well, I wouldn’t personally presume to speak for Luther or the others, but from their writings, I think they took the sinful nature of man and his dire need for salvation pretty seriously. Anyone or thing that was a massive impediment (even if only in their mind) for the common man to access grace would be a serious disease… life threatening… eternal life threatening.

    You: 38,000 sounds like a cancerous tumor to me.

    Me: Well, let’s be a little more practical… there are a handful of denominations that make up the vast majority of Protestant believers. Let’s also remember that there are a handful of denominations that claim apostolic succession right along with the RC church. The church is comprised of people. People are sinful. Schisms happen because of sin.

    You: Lastly on this point, how do you understand, “I will build my church…and the gates of hell will not prevail”?

    Me: Exactly what it says. The only difference between your view and mine is that I view the church as the body of ALL believers… you (I assume) view the church as one particular sub-set of my definition. That’s the first part. The gates of hell have not and are not and will not prevail against the church… that is, again, the body of all believers. Every person that Christ calls is protected and cannot be snatched from His hand. If you want my humble opinion, I believe this is precisely WHY the Reformation happened. The church had been corrupted, but God’s purposes could not be corrupted. God provided the Reformation to maintain communion with the common man even when the Churh had failed in its responsibility so to do.

    You: The Catholic IP isn’t Papal succession. The Catholic IP is Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, Magisterium (apostles in union with the Holy See). I would recommend reading Mike’s post here. How has Papal succession failed?

    Me: First, please understand that I do not want to be a basher of any church. I agree, the RC church has made incredible reform from within. But there were times when the church was led by murders, fornicators and money grubbing thieves who perverted the Gospel at best, or ignored it totally at worst. If this isn’t failure, then I guess you are right. I hope you would agree that most reasonable Christians would pose that Christ probably did not ordain these particular Popes to be His voice on earth.

    You: We have a fantastic Pope with an unbroken lineage to St. Peter which provides visible unity for 1.2 billion people; dare I say a human phenomenon unrivaled in human history? Hardly a failure.

    Me: We should probably try to avoid using numbers as a measure of success, lest we have to become a Muslim at some point to remain intellectually honest. :-) It also kind of smacks of a “might makes right” philosophy which is antithetical to the Christian view.

    You: Now, about sola scriptura, even if there were only 5 denominations, the fact that the major denoms (Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Anglican, Lutheran) all teach so dramatically different about the “essentials” demonstrates sola scriptura’s lack of ability to produce even nominal unity but rather evidences its principal effect of schism and theological chaos.

    Me: First, I would not consider Anglicans to be “Reformed”… they are basically Catholic Lite. Their reason for leaving the church had nothing to do with theology… it had everything to do with Henry VIII wanting a divorce. Regarding your argument against sola scriptura, I would counter that the Roman Church had first crack at maintaining the unity of the church and it failed. There were schisms of the various orthodox churches and ultimately the Reformation churches. This was primarily due to the sin nature of man, manifested in the aforementioned apostolic succession. Had they not been corrupted, many of the schisms would not have occurred. And even if you make the case that it was the fault of the departers, who picked those guys to be leaders? Was it not the aforementioned apostolic succession? This would indicate that not all apostles chosen by men were, by inference, chosen by God.

    You: Yes, human history is marked by sinful people. However, that would encompass all of human history both Christian, pagan, jew, gentile. In the OT, the children of Israel by covenant were preserved despite schism (south/north), idolatry, war…

    Me: Well, not really. You had, for example, the Saducees and the Pharisees who had different theological views. The Pharisees were descendents of the house of Levy, whom God ordained to be the class theologians. One could argue that they were akin to being the first “apostolic succession”. And look where they were by the time Christ arrived… keepers of the Word in their own mind, but hardly in tune with God. Sadly, they took down many of the people of God with them. How? Through abuse of authority.

    You: The New covenant, mediated by Christ, embues his Church with a promise to not fail (gates of hell shall not…), to be the pillar of truth, for Christ to be with her until the end of the age (Eucharist), and for her to grow in holiness (internal reformation). Even when she has teetered on the verge of failure, Christ was faithful to protect her. This is the story of the Catholic Church for 2,000 years. As Newman perceived, every other church squirms at her title, “universal”, and no other church even tries to holds that title. They won’t claim it because they know they cannot. Every other church merely claims a regional, nominal, or or paternal heritage (Lutheran, Baptist, Anglican).

    Me: Well, we say the Apostle’s Creed and claim to believe in the “holy catholic church”. We’re not squirming. The universal church encompasses all who believe in the saving grace of the ressurection, like you, like me. We are not arrogant enough to believe we have a monopoly on the purposes of God. Pardon the directness, but you made a direct affront on other denoms.

    You: Also, your quote demonstrates just how confusing it is outside the Church. Joel Osteen? If we include him, let’s include Arius, Pelagius, Montanus, Eutyches…

    Me: On this we shall agree. You might not have picked up on it, but my examples were intended to represent “good start, bad finish” in the three time segments of the church (Jewish, pre-Reformation, post-Reformation) when I listed “Abraham through the Pharasees, from Peter to Sixtus IV, from Calvin to Joel Osteen”. However, your point is taken. The problem is reconciling theologies, and while I think the churches are much closer than they were, even when I was a child, I don’t see any chance of reunification of the body in my lifetime.

    So what are we to do? I believe that we should work together to present a unified Christian front to the community… and that is happening more now than ever before. I have certainly participated in anti-abortion rallies that were organized by the RC Church. We have RC members who work with us on Habitat houses. As opposed to the disunity that existed when I was a child (I couldn’t go to church with my buddy next door cause he was Catholic… that was my mom’s rule… and he couldn’t come to church with me… that was his church’s rule), we now see Christians of all stripes work for the good together… that’s the message that rings true with folks… while they are different, they are united in Christ.

    As a sidenote… One of the things I love about my church (a Presbyterian USA denom) is the diversity. We are an evangelical church (theologically conservative) in a liberal denom. We have chosen to stay in the denom to be salt and light. Our senior pastor was raised Catholic… our associate pastor was raised Greek Orthodox. We live in Maryland so our church has more members who were raised Catholic than were raised Presby (Maryland was founded as a Catholic colony and is the home of the first cathedral in the US). We have political liberals, conservatives, libertarians and everything in between. All of that, yet I have never seen a body of believers function better as a body. I believe that unity in Christ exists and is a beautiful thing. Actually, its quite amazing. Its something that I pray for in the church regularly.

    Cheers
    Curt

  81. Hey Randy… great questions! As I did with my responses to Brent, I will use “You” and “Me” to identify who said what (since I don’t know how to do the nifty white inserts)… I may also use caps as I would to underline or bold something… not to scream :-)

    You: In what sense is this church visible? Can we see who believes Christ died for their dins and who does not? We can make assumptions. Some people we can feel pretty confident about. But for the vast majority we just don’t know. People can have true faith in Jesus despite publicly professing bad theology. They can publicly profess true theology and have no faith.

    Me: True… for everyone, I might add! Jesus said, “you will know them by their denomination”… No He didn’t! He said, “you will know them by their FRUIT”. That is the visibility Jesus wants the world to see. Lord knows we have enough institutions… but the world is asking, “what have you done for me lately?” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep”. Hitler claimed to be a Christian, but I don’t think anyone else thought so. If I stand in a garage, it doesn’t make me a car. Likewise, if I go to a church, it doesn’t make me a Christian. In Maryland, we have a Senator who is RC, and she always votes pro-choice. I’m pretty sure that you would stand with me (and my friends both Presbyterian and Roman Catholic) and say she is a woman of little faith. Our chuch is linked up with a number of churches in Baltimore doing a variety of urban missions from aids ministries to habitat houses to battered women shelters, etc. We work with churches from other denoms, and I don’t think the recipients of God’s grace in these ministries really care that we differ denominationally… we are united in purpose. When the Presbys join the RCs at an anti-abortion rally, they speak with one voice… the voice of Christ. That’s what fruit looks like.

    You: There are some organizations we call Christian. But Christians differ on how to define that. There is not easy way to tell if a person or an organization is part of this “visible” church. That seems to mean it isn’t really visible at all. It is something we see in a limited way with the discernment of the spirit. In other words it is what Catholics would call the invisible church.

    Me: The RC church puts great emphasis on faith AND works, the theology of which we won’t jump into now. But that is the very thing I’m talking about… people of faith will produce works (fruit). God has a plan for every person and every church. If a particular church is invisible, then they are not producing fruit. So, ironically, if a church is not visible, there’s a good chance its not invisible either. I think its pretty easy to see examples if you look. I work with an organization called the Helping up Mission. They own a whole city block in Baltimore and provide housing, meals and drug/alcohol rehab for 450 men who have lost everything in life to their addiction. I ran my entire manufacturing plant with guys who came through the mission program (its a year long program of spiritual renewal and physical healing). They have one of the best success rates in the country. The organization is run entirely on the charity of Christian churches around Baltimore. Before I sold the company, I ate lunch every day with guys from the mission and their stories were unbelievable. Men back together with their families… kids going to college…absolute love of God. Not only were we helping them, they were helping us become more Christ-like. What impact do you think that had on the other employees? Let’s just say the Spirit was moving.

    Cheers
    Curt

  82. Ok… last but not least, its Bryans turn… Thanks for the welcome!

    Me: First, regarding the whole discussion on 1 Cor 12… I would not argue that God does not establish hierarchy. My point was that this particular verse is not an establishment of hierarchy … it is a warning against the human tendency toward hierarchical abuse. The two primary points made are: All gifts are equally important, and hierarchical abuse will sow discontent. Beyond that, I will concede that I overstated the case. I believe that God organizes through hierarchy, though I also believe that Jesus established an up-side-down hierarchy. The problem with the early church was that the only organizational model they had was the Kingdom model. And this was often not good. When we read the aforementioned Scripture and others like it, it seems to me that both Jesus and the Apostles were trying to get a message out… this is the Kingdom of God, but it needs to look different than other kingdoms. The first shall be last, et al.

    I’m jumping past that discussion and picking up on this:

    You: Notice the Apostles in the book of Acts. To the question: Who was leading the early Church in the years following Pentecost, the Holy Spirit or the Apostles? The answer is, both. He makes the Apostles the foundation stones of the Church Eph 2:20,

    Me: I would observe the following: Eph 2:20-22 “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, [PAST tense] Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, [present continuing tense] in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, [PRESENT CONTINUING tense] in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. [PRESENT CONTINUING tense]”. So the church WAS built on the apostles and prophets, and CONTINUES with Christ as the cornerstone, while WE CONTINUE to be built IN THE SPIRIT.” This is an excellent verse showing the birth of the church through the work of the apostles, being now built by the Spirit working in and through the body.

    You: Rev 21:14.

    Me: This verse confirms that we are all spiritual descendents of the apostles. No surprise there. The apostles were the foundation on which the church was built. All true.

    You: We are to submit to the leaders of the Church: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account.” (Heb 13:17)

    Me: The NASB Heb13:17 says, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” I believe that we honor our Spiritual parents by honoring God, not the man… the Creator, not the creation. Jesus said time and again, “My Kingdom is not of this world”. He did not establish Himself as a worldly king, much to the dismay of the Jews and the apostles. Why, then, should we assume that He wants His church to look like a worldly kingdom, with someone who looks a lot like a king sitting on the throne?

    You: Does your church have a pastor? If so, then your practice contradicts what you are saying, because then I could say back to you: you should follow the Spirit, not some human hierarchy. Somehow, it seems, it is permissible to follow your own hierarchy, but not the one that Christ founded.

    Me: First, I am a Presbyterian. By this, you will know that the pastor serves at the will of the elders, of which I am one. So I do follow the Holy Spirit, as I am supposed to. The purpose of the Pastor is to serve the pastoral duties, not be a dictator. He is ordained (set apart) for that purpose. On Christ’s hierarchy, I’ll see you and raise you one: Here is the hierarchy that Christ founded… 1 Cor 11:3 “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man”. So the hierarchy that He established was: Christ, me. Now, you show me a Scripture that say Sixtus IV was ordained by God to be someone’s spiritual leader. Eph 1:22-23 “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in ALL.” Christ is the head. The following is stated to members of the body, not leadership: Eph 4:14-16 “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” Christ is the head and builder of the body. Col 2:18-19 “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.” To summarize, your view of the Holy Spirit, is weak in my opinion. You seem to argue that the common man is incapable of being guided by the Holy Spirit, or worse, that the Holy Spirit is incapable of guiding the common man.

    You: Indeed the leaders of the Church have been called to serve the sheep, and that is what they do, through their teaching, and their prayers, and their sacramental ministry. The Pope is the servant of all Catholics. He is also the servant of Christ. You seem to think that if someone is a servant, then no one would rightly honor him. But that is precisely why we honor our leaders, because they serve us. We honor the pope and our bishops because they stand in the place of Christ to us, as the Apostles did when Jesus had ascended. Jesus Himself said, “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.” (Luke 10:16) And “He who receives you receives Me.” (Mt. 10:40)

    Me: Again, that’s all well and good… I believe we are all descendents of the 12 apostles and accept the teaching of the apostles. Where it goes off the tracks is when you reach the not-so-good popes. The succession and preserving the purity of the church argument goes right out the window.

    You: So, we honor our leaders as a way of honoring Christ, because they represent Him and serve in His Name and in His place until He returns in glory.

    Me: I suggest that we are to honor our leaders by honoring God, not the other way around. God is the One who deserves praise and glory… we are scum, but by His grace. Proverbs says “He who builds his door high seeks destruction.”

    You: The Magisterium of the Church has never left the faith, but has always maintained the faith. Of course I understand that the Magisterium has perhaps not followed your interpretation of Scripture, but that is not the same as “leaving the faith.” Their teaching authority entails that it is their interpretation of Scripture and of the deposit of faith that the sheep of Christ’s Church must believe and confess, just as the early Church did that of the Apostles. It never was the case that the Church was beholden to each individual person’s interpretation of Scripture.

    Me: I agree… actually. I just believe in a bigger Magisterium… one that is not bound by your interpretation of “the Church”. I further believe that the Holy Spirit exists for a purpose, a position I find missing in your doctrine.

    You: Many people who follow their own interpretation of Scripture claim that the Holy Spirit is guiding them; they do so because it gives [at least verbal and psychological] support to their interpretation. Many Pentecostals claim that the Holy Spirit is guiding them to do many different things — you can watch Benny Hinn if you want to see what this looks like. The problem is that they are all going in different theological directions, even while all claiming to follow the Holy Spirit. It testifies that they are not all following the Spirit, but are merely co-opting the ‘approval’ of the Holy Spirit to justify following their own opinions and interpretations.

    Me: I heartily agree. However, that in no way negates the true work of the Holy Spirit. To believe that would be to believe that one bad cop means all cops are bad. I would further observe that that is exactly what the Catholic church did during its “bad years”, only they had power that Benny Hinn could only dream of. “I’m right and if you don’t like it, we’ll burn you at the stake.”

    You: There are visible believers, of course, but Protestantism has no visible catholic Church, for the reasons I explained here.

    Me: With all due respect, you started with a hypothesis and then developed your definitions to support it. I thought your example of the various crosses was an excellent representation of the opposing view. For though there are many shapes and types they are all visibly identifiable as a symbol and conjure up a unity of purpose… just like the body of Christ. Your example of the apples was lacking because it was inanimate, which the body of Christ is not. Now, if you took a box of clock parts that were all different, designed for a specific purpose by a creator, and assembled the into a working clock, then you might have a better model of the body of Christ. Further, you state, “This shows that the term ‘visible catholic Church’ does not refer to an actual unified entity (i.e. the visible catholic Church), but is merely a name used to refer to what is in actuality a plurality of things having something in common.” In saying this, you minimize the oneness we have in Christ through the Holy Spirit to nearly worthless status. The Protestant church has a vibrant visible church that is fully part of the universal church… we don’t exclude you like you exclude us.

    You: Nor can there be a local Church without apostolic succession, for the reasons explained briefly in Responsa ad quaestiones. Without apostolic succession there is no Eucharist, and without the Eucharist, there can be no Church, only a community of like-minded believers.

    Me: Ok, I read the links and pardon me again, but lol. The argument is, “The Pope said so”. Oh… ok. Reality check… Historically, the apostolic succession, if any, fell apart due to the sin of man. The church is what God creates, not what man ordains. I’m a little disappointed in your line of reasoning. It reads like, “my Dad can take your Dad.” To say that there can be no Eucharist is to say that you have the power to deny Christ to me. Sorry friend, your dog ain’t that big.

    You: If you can accept that the Church has twelve Apostles as foundation stones (Rev 21:14), and that does not compete with Christ being the Chief Cornerstone and Head of the Church, then there is no principled reason why Christ could not make one of those Twelve Apostles to have a unique authority in relation to the others (Mt 16:18-19), and make him the Rock on which Christ builds His Church, without this in any way competing with Christ. This is what the Church Fathers believed Christ had done in giving the keys of the Kingdom to Peter — see “The Chair of St. Peter.”

    Me: Again, I read the link. If you want to place the entire foundation of your doctrine on a legend corroborated by people the church excommunicated as heretics… well ok. In a similar story, God gave the Levites the “Keys to the Jewish kingdom”… they were the only of the 12 tribes authorized to be priests. When Jesus arrived, they were better known as Pharisees. Seems to be a pattern here. I accept that the church had 12 apostles and upon their foundation, the Church was built… the whole Church… everyone called of Christ.

    You: The Church is united, in the three ways we describe in the article. Unity is a permanent mark of the Church. Many schisms have departed from the Church, and that is why you think that the Church is divided, because you are counting the schisms as though they too are part of the Church. But those in schism have gone out from us, as St. John says. “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.” (1 John 2:19)

    Me: First, I don’t think the church invisible is divided, you do. I do think the church visible is divided, because it is. In your quote, you conveniently skip over the operative verses… “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” Yes, this defines the fallen Popes… but there was a problem… they were wrongfully given the full power of the church. From this many schisms were formed, but the bad guys were the Popes, not the ones seeking Gods righteousness.

    You: Jesus commanded us to seek first His Kingdom, the same Kingdom whose keys He gave to St. Peter. Yes we are called to work together for the glory of God, but we are also called to seek out and find the Church He founded, and enter it without delay.

    Me: Yes, we are to seek His Kingdom and His Righteousness… exactly what Martin Luther WAS doing and the Pope WAS NOT doing. Your view of the church is limited… mine is not.

    You: You are conflating moral failures with doctrinal failures. See the Donatist controversy, where St. Augustine and others showed that we cannot rightly rebel against a divinely ordained leader of the Church merely because of a moral failure. Moral failure on the part of leaders never justifies schism from the Church.

    Me: I’ve read about the Donatists, Novations, et al. Ok… so if Satan takes over the church we should just go along. I agree with Augustine’s argument… we cannot rightly rebel against a divinely ordained leader of the Church. I don’t agree that these guys were divinely ordained… in fact it is patently obvious to me. Further, i believe we are calledto maintain the purity of the Church by excommunicating the bad leaders. Hard to do when they have the keys.

    You: Yes, the early Reformers retained the early creeds, but they changed the meaning of the some of the terms. They changed the meaning of “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” They changed the meaning of “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” (see “The Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration.”) And they came up with an entirely novel soteriology in claiming that justification was by faith alone (see “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide?“), and an evacuated conception of ordination and the Eucharist, and eliminated the other sacraments.

    Me: I read “Does the Bible teach sola fide?” and came away even more convinced that it does. What it does not teach is the Church dogma which says, “if we add a few words in here or there, then it means what we say it means,” which was the argument attempted. What the Reformers did was revert to the plain, unamplified meaning. When Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” That’s what he meant. God’s grace is sufficient. He loves us too much to leave any part in our hands.” Matt 9:28-30 “When He entered the house, the blind men came up to Him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” Then He touched their eyes, saying, “It shall be done to you according to your faith.” And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them: “See that no one knows about this!” Matt 15:27 “But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.” I could quote ad nauseum. Salvation is the result of grace through faith, and even that is a gift from God (not the church). Works are the result sanctification, a holy Spirit process that occurs after salvation. To say that salvation is, in part, dependent on works is to say that God’s grace was insufficient… and we have to make up the difference. This is not my understanding of grace defined in Scripture.

    You: No, the Church remains firm, now almost 1.2 billion, almost two thousand years from its inception. The succession of popes continues unbroken, from Peter.

    Me: I would caution, as I did in a previous post… using numbers to claim “rightness” is dangerous… to maintain intellectual honesty using that argument, you might need to convert to Islam. I claim the same 2000 years. And the succession of Popes is severely marred, bringing into doubt whether the succession was God ordained.

    You: No, the Catholic Church has never been corrupted, even though there have been corrupt men who have existed in her.

    Me: Corrupt men did not just exist in her, they led her. Your argument always poses this mutually exclusive dichotomy: The basis of the entire doctrine rests on the apostolic succession through all of the Popes in the physical realm. Yet when there is a flaw in the physical realm, you revert to the mystical realm which relies on the physical realm for its logical being. You can’t have it both ways and be intellectually honest. Either God ordained ALL of the Popes including the bad ones, or the succession argument falls apart. Either way there is a problem with the doctrine. I would agree that the (entire) church invisible has never been corrupted, but that all of the church visible has been corrupted… we’re all sinners… how could it not?

    You: Fortunately, the Catholic Church is not a merely man-made institution; it was founded by the God-man, Jesus Christ. And hence it is indefectible (See “Ecclesial Deism.”)

    Me: God did not create the Roman Catholic Church. He created the Church. I defer to the aforementioned story of the Levites. God creates… man corrupts. This is a Biblical truth as old as Adam, and the only one that explains the schisms.

    Thanks for all your thoughtful responses!
    Pardon my typos… it was late when I was writing this.
    Curt

  83. Curt,

    Teaching that sins were forgiven through the payment of indulgences

    I would recommend reading Bryan’s post about indulgences. Tetzel’s teaching were rebuked by the Church. He represents a local issue, not an issue worth throwing out 1,500 years of history.

    I wouldn’t personally presume to speak for Luther or the others

    As a PCA, I would recommend becoming more acquainted with his writings.

    there are a handful of denominations that make up the vast majority of Protestant believers.

    No, the largest Protestant denomination is Pentecostals only half of which can be accounted for by one group (Assemblies of God) the other half of which is constituted by a vast array of sects and even non-Trinitarian heretics.

    I view the church as the body of ALL believers

    So does the Catholic Church. We just believe in a visible Church too.

    church was led by murders, fornicators and money grubbing thieves

    Yes, and those men very much wounded the body by their actions. Praise be Jesus Christ that the Petrine seat was preserved from teaching error during those times.

    We should probably try to avoid using numbers as a measure of success, lest we have to become a Muslim at some point to remain intellectually honest.

    Think Newman’s “convergence of probabilities”. The mere size of the church isn’t the sin qua non of her claims. But, we are comparing Christian churches and not merely all religions. Let’s assume we’ve decided upon Christianity. Now what? The preservation of the CC from the beginning of time and her size has to be assigned some value. You may value you it less than I, but it would be intellectually disingenuous to simply disregard this fact because “I want to avoid using numbers”.

    This was primarily due to the sin nature of man

    All this evidences is that schism is not a response to virtue but a response to sin. God required Hosea to marry a whore to demonstrate God’s commitment to his people. How much more should we stay committed to the new covenant Church he established?

    Well, we say the Apostle’s Creed and claim to believe in the “holy catholic church”. We’re not squirming. The universal church encompasses all who believe in the saving grace of the ressurection, like you, like me. We are not arrogant enough to believe we have a monopoly on the purposes of God. Pardon the directness, but you made a direct affront on other denims.

    No need to apologize about being direct. I’m very direct. It affords the opportunity for understanding. Saying the creed and believing in the universality of the Church is good, but doesn’t per se prove anything since Archer’s Farm Community Church down the street started by Billy Bob who had a vision of the God’s real people could do the same. Nonetheless, notice how what you said has meaning for you. Why? Because you (not you per se but your ecclesial community) inherit your doctrine prima facie from Mother Church, and then after suckling at her breast for 1,500 years, threw her off like the arrogant son who wanted his father’s inheritance now. Further, if the CC is the Church Jesus established, we are not being arrogant to defend her but rather loyal.

    As to your other comments:
    Curt, I too appreciate Christian unity towards the common purpose of upholding the dignity of the human person. That is good. The difference between PCA and CC diversity is that the vast theological landscape you describe in the PCA is due to her doctrine and leadership, but in the CC it is in contradiction to her doctrine and leadership. Private judgment ruling the day is a sign of the times, not a sign of unity. Unorthodox Catholics, especially those called to teach, will be held accountable for leading the flock astray. This life isn’t just about standing shoulder to shoulder and working to eradicate the world’s problems (this is a distorted humanism that PBXVI speaks about often), but rather true humanism emanates from the God-Man, Christ, and the truth about Him proclaimed by His Church. As society gets stripped of those teachings (Confession, Mary, Purgatory, Contraception, etc.) society searches for ways to replace those truths with their own version (psychoanalysis, feminism, etc). As our Holy Father said during his visit to the USA at the Ecumenical Prayer Service, “Even within the ecumenical movement, Christians may be reluctant to assert the role of doctrine for fear that it would only exacerbate rather than heal the wounds of division. Yet a clear, convincing testimony to the salvation wrought for us in Christ Jesus has to be based upon the notion of normative apostolic teaching: a teaching which indeed underlies the inspired word of God and sustains the sacramental life of Christians today.” You can find the rest here

    Peace to you on your journey

  84. Curt,

    The format issue is easy. The instructions are here:

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/about/comment-formatting/

    Me: True… for everyone, I might add! Jesus said, “you will know them by their denomination”… No He didn’t! He said, “you will know them by their FRUIT”. That is the visibility Jesus wants the world to see.

    Now you said you believe in a visible church? Are you saying you don’t believe in a visible church just the fruit of individual Christians? The trouble is Jesus talked about a church. Mat 18:15-18 says:

    “If a brother or sister sins, go and point out the fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

    Was Jesus referring to the fruit of individual Christians when He used the word “church” here? That would make no sense. So Jesus must have foreseen some visible entity that any two Christians would recognize and be able to appeal to. He also expects that entity to get the right answer when they have a dispute. He never says if you disagree with the church’s answer go start your own church.

    The rest of what you say I pretty much agree with. But you imply that if the Catholic church is the church Jesus is referring to then it must be perfect. You seem to think not only its leaders should be perfect but every member as well. But Jesus never says that about His church. Quite the opposite, he says the church has wheat and tares. He says we won’t be able to tell the wheat and the tares apart, mostly because even the wheat sin.

    I work with an organization called the Helping up Mission. They own a whole city block in Baltimore and provide housing, meals and drug/alcohol rehab for 450 men who have lost everything in life to their addiction. I ran my entire manufacturing plant with guys who came through the mission program (its a year long program of spiritual renewal and physical healing). They have one of the best success rates in the country. The organization is run entirely on the charity of Christian churches around Baltimore. Before I sold the company, I ate lunch every day with guys from the mission and their stories were unbelievable. Men back together with their families… kids going to college…absolute love of God. Not only were we helping them, they were helping us become more Christ-like. What impact do you think that had on the other employees? Let’s just say the Spirit was moving.

    This sounds wonderful. This would be a good example of an invisible church. The fruit is visible but the church is not. It is no less the work of God. It is just that not everyone will see that. People with spiritual eyes will but if a news network did a story on this they likely would not mention faith at all.

    The other reason it is not the visible church is because not every Christian will be involved. Many will focus their attention elsewhere. That is just fine. But the visible church is intended to include all Christians no matter what ministry they are called to. It might not fulfill that perfectly. Jesus said He would build His church. He didn’t say we would use it right. We know Jesus has done His part. It is just a matter of finding that church he built and then responding to that in obedience.

  85. Well, let me start by saying I love your honesty, devotion and desire for unity. After spending many hours reading many of the pieces on this and sister sites, I think prayer may be the only answer. I struggle with the mental gymnastics (for me) required to accept the divine inspiration of the apostolic succession as you and others have described it. Without that, it becomes hard to end up at the same place regarding the Church. I also struggle with the volume of extra-Biblical verbiage required to explain doctrine and dogma. Jesus said that all of the law of the prophets could be boiled down to two things: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and spirit, and love your neighbor as yourself. We do this by following the teachings of the apostles as laid out in Scripture… it just doesn’t seem that complicated… not necessarily easy, but not complicated. I agree with you that doctrine is important, but struggle to agree with the doctrine you defend.

    To your point about the reformation: “Because you (not you per se but your ecclesial community) inherit your doctrine prima facie from Mother Church, and then after suckling at her breast for 1,500 years, threw her off like the arrogant son who wanted his father’s inheritance now.” It was not the Reformer (Luther) who threw off the church, it was the church that threw off the Reformer. The church was the arrogant King who threw the pesty (God seeking) priest under the bus.

    This point, I want to understand: “The difference between PCA (I’m actually PCUSA) and CC diversity is that the vast theological landscape you describe in the PCA is due to her doctrine and leadership, but in the CC it is in contradiction to her doctrine and leadership.” Are you saying that all Catholics speak with one voice in all matters of life? ie all are liberal, or all are conservative? That’s how it reads, but you must be saying something different? And I’m not sure what vast theological landscape I described. We have probably the most specific theology in the protestant realm, but we consist of a diverse human realm. This is because we take seriously the call to evangelize people into the Kingdom, and we don’t care where they are starting from, just as Christ did not. Anyway, if you could clarify what you meant for me.

    Regarding Archer’s Farm Billy Bob Church… would they be any worse off than those who lived under the domain of the fallen Popes? It seems the Catholic dogma just allows no room, and I mean none, for the Holy Spirit to work in the life of a believer, except when its convenient to the dogma of the church. I’m not talking about fringe whackos, just normal God fearing believers. Do people run amok? Sure. Did the Popes? Sure. At least an errant individual believer is only wrecking his own life. The errant Pope is wrecking lots of lives.

    And then, this: “Yes, and those men very much wounded the body by their actions. Praise be Jesus Christ that the Petrine seat was preserved from teaching error during those times.” So the important thing is the seat of the Pope… not the parishoners? This in my view is a fundamental problem. Jesus said “Feed My sheep.” He did not say, “Save My seat”. This is an example of the mental gymnastics and extra-Biblical dogma I struggle with.

    I don’t mean to beat the horse, I’m just telling you how it reads to me. When I compare these concepts to the Westminster Confession, the latter seem straight forward from Biblical Scripture. The dogma of the RC Church seems like, well, mental gymnastics.

    Gotta go…
    Peace in Him
    Curt

  86. Dear Curt,

    I don’t have time to respond to your whole comment, and there are plenty of others who have been conversing with you. I just want to mention one thing. You said:

    When I compare these [Catholic] concepts to the Westminster Confession, the latter seem straight forward from Biblical Scripture. The dogma of the RC Church seems like, well, mental gymnastics.

    I’d like merely to offer for your consideration the possibility that the WCF seems straightforwardly biblical to you for the simple reason that it substantially agrees with your own interpretation of scripture. As you know, there are many avid Bible-readers — Catholic, Orthodox, and also a great many Protestants — who would firmly disagree with your assessment of the WCF. (I’m one of them.)

    The “mental gymnastics” you find in Catholic dogma are the result of twenty centuries of handing down the deposit of apostolic faith in a way adequate to its full preservation in the face of the challenges and possibilities of each age’s philosophies, politics, and heresies. If mental gymnastics were a sign of doctrinal falsity, incidentally, all of us who confess the Divine Trinity and the hypostatic union are in for it. I suspect that you just happen to have been inoculated against objecting to those particular doctrinal brain-wrackings. (And I ‘m glad you have been!)

    in Christ,

    TC
    1 Cor 16:14

  87. Good comments Randy

    To clarify, of course I believe that there is a visible church… there are multiple parts to it. Part of it is embodied in the visible good works that are done by the body of believers in the name of Christ. Part of it is the cathedral or church down the street where the believers meet to worship, pray and even exercise discipline within the body. Of course, there are blind people who cannot see the visible church in any form. And there are also those whom Christ touches begin to notice it in all its forms. What I was trying clarify earlier is the question of a Protestant visible church. You had asked, “Can we see who believes Christ died for their sins and who does not?” My answer was specific to this question… yes, we can see the by the fruit of their walk with Christ. To complete the thought, I would add that we see them in the church on the corner as well.

    Regarding the Helping Up Mission, you might regard it as the invisible church and I can see where you are coming from. BUT I can tell you that none of the guys whose lives have been saved from the torment of drug or alchohol addiction would say that, nor their families, nor the communities from which they come. Its as visible as it gets, and Christ is the central focus. Invisible to the news cam maybe, but not invisible to lost folks in need of love.

    I’m not sure I understood you last point… where is the visible church in which every Christian is involved? Are you referring to the Catholic Church as you would perceive that Christ would want it? If so, then I get your drift.

    Cheers
    Curt

  88. Curt,

    I’ll put this in real simple verbiage:

    1.You said it requires mental gymnastics to accept authority the authority of the Church. Simply put: either your belief is grounded between your ears or in Mother Church. It is one or the other. How do you know what you believe is true? I know because the Church teaches it, was invested by Christ was the authority to do so, and is empowered by the Holy Spirit to teach the Truth. You know what you believe is true because you believe you have interpreted the Scriptures correctly. My epistemic situation isn’t against common experience either. We both submit to the epistemic authority of doctors, lawyers, and teachers of all stripes. It is natural to believe something because an authority teaches it. Those experiences don’t affirm the authority of the Church per se, but they do affirm the notion that we rely on authority for vast amounts of what “we know”. I would go as far as to say that you likely accept sola scriptura because at some time you submitted your will to a learned theologian you trust (maybe a pastor or teacher).

    2. Luther was given ample time to recant. He did not. Further, Paul evidences that if anyone preaches another Gospel they should be anathema. Doesn’t it make sense that only the Church could do that? I mean if every believer could anathematize someone, where would that leave us? Maybe the state of Protestantism today?

    3. I’m not saying every Catholic in the world speak with one voice, I’m saying every Catholic’s voice can be compared to the teaching authority of the Church and what you might describe as accepted liberalism in the PC USA, the authority of the Church would call heterodox in Catholicism. Take contraception or abortion for example. PC USA position on abortion vs. The Catholic Church position. I’ll let you compare. No mental gymnastics needed. In other words PCA theology allows for the diversity wrought by sin, CC theology does not. Truth cannot be “A”, and “not A” at the same time. That is the most self-evident proposition, and as Scotus says one must be subjected to “sense and punishment” if he cannot obtain to the meaning of the principal of non-contradiction.

    4. Curt, the believer is very important. And as you note, his or her well being is tied to Peter feeding the sheep. The subject of his command is Peter, but the object is us. The Petrine seat safeguards the Gospel (feeding) until the King returns to establish His Kingdom forever. We will admit that some of our Popes may not be in heaven, because God will judge even more harshly his servant(s) who were set in charge of His church, especially the prime minister.

    5. I would encourage you read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and then Cardinal Ratzinger’s “Introduction to Christianity.” Make a judgment about the WC vs. Catholicism based upon formal communications not the WC vs. a Protestant/Catholic blog or series of links. Regarding the catechism, I will buy you one for you if would like to have a hard copy. My email address is blessedsacrament2010@gmail.com and we can work out the arrangements.

    Peace to you on your journey.

  89. Thanks TC… and someone should have warned me that this was a team sport!

    First, I agree with you that the Trinity is more mystery than humans like to endure in their doctrine. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the WCF when you have time…. off line if that’s the necessary protocol.

    To this one quote:

    “The “mental gymnastics” you find in Catholic dogma are the result of twenty centuries of handing down the deposit of apostolic faith in a way adequate to its full preservation in the face of the challenges and possibilities of each age’s philosophies, politics, and heresies.”

    One could equally make the argument that the Reformation was part of preserving the Church against the heresies of that time.

    Cheers
    Curt

  90. Curt,

    Thanks for the honesty. I shall pray for you. Do you believe in a visible church? I understand what you believe. I used to think that was the visible church. I still believe it. I just now see it as the invisible church. Invisible because only God knows the boundaries of it. You can’t ask that church a question. You can’t get that church together for worship. It can’t conduct sacraments. It’s can’t ordain leaders. You can define it only in vague generalities. Once you get specific the questions get hard. You talk about the church on the corner but the church on my corner is a Mormon church. Is that part of the invisible church? It depends who you ask.

    This article on the topic is good

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/09/why-protestantism-has-no-visible-catholic-church/

    That does not make this church unimportant. Your example shows just how important it is that Christians who right now cannot be in the same visible church can at least live out their faith in the same invisible church. It is a sad second choice but it is better than fighting.

    I’m not sure I understood you last point… where is the visible church in which every Christian is involved? Are you referring to the Catholic Church as you would perceive that Christ would want it? If so, then I get your drift.

    I think you got it. Eph 4 talks about one faith, one baptism. John 17 talks about Christians being united as closely as the trinity is united. Throughout scripture unity is assumed and division is bad. Protestants sacrificed unity in pursuit of truth. Guess what? They have neither. Jesus said He would build the church (Mt 16:18). We don’t have to built it. That is His job. We are just called to be united with it. Yes, that means Jesus wants all believers to be Catholic. Not all will. But that is God’s heart and that is the path of greatest blessing for each of us and for society as a whole.

  91. Whew gettin steamy in her Brother Brent! Its ok, I like the mix. Simple language is good.

    1.You said it requires mental gymnastics to accept authority the authority of the Church. Simply put: either your belief is grounded between your ears or in Mother Church.

    Only if you believe the Holy Spirit has no impact on individuals… perhaps even individuals outside of your church. Yes I submit to the learning of others… That does not, therefore, imply that everyone who knows more than me is always right.

    2. Luther was given ample time to recant.

    True, but he was right … and he was ordained by those “in the know” … or was he?

    Paul evidences that if anyone preaches another Gospel they should be anathema.

    True again… the question is: who was preaching the “other gospel”?

    3. I’m not saying every Catholic in the world speak with one voice, I’m saying every Catholic’s voice can be compared to the teaching authority of the Church and what you might describe as accepted liberalism in the PC USA, the authority of the Church would call heterodox in Catholicism. Take contraception or abortion for example. PC USA position on abortion vs. The Catholic Church position. I’ll let you compare. No mental gymnastics needed. In other words PCA theology allows for the diversity wrought by sin, CC theology does not

    True again. The PCUSA is in sin on the abortion issue, and trying to be on others. There have been time when the Catholic Church was in sin doctrinally as well. As I have stated in other posts, man is given the option to do good or ill. There are evil people who are using the PCUSA to push a social agenda, just as there were evil popes who had their own agendas. No church ordained by God from Adam til now has escaped the ills of man’s corruption. By the way, our church is very conservative theologically, but has chosen to stay in the denomination to be salt and light… a principle I think you would agree is good. In the Presbyterian church, we can compare every Presbyterian’s voice to the Scripture. Fortunately, because the Presbyterian church is governed from the bottom up, we are not forced by the denomination to follow wrongful teachings. You would have no such option. Score one for the Holy Spirit.

    4. I would not argue with your understanding here. If I were to assume that the Petrine seat was God ordained I would see it the same way.

    5. I think there is a copy in our church library. As I mentioned berfore, our senior pastor was raised RC. We also have more former RC members than those raised Presbyterian. Not making a point here other than we are pretty close with the RC church.

    Cheers
    Curt

  92. Randy… best post yet… I’d like to comment, but not on line. Email me at curtrussellse(at)verizon.net if you want to continue the thought.

    Cheers
    Curt

  93. Brother Curt,

    I’ll put some cold water on it to keep things all cordial (I’m Irish/German/American Indian with just enough english to keep me civil). I apologize if I offended you personally in any way, but I do understand that Catholic dogma and PC dogma are repugnant to each other on many points which is what we are here to discuss.

    Only if you believe the Holy Spirit has no impact on individuals

    Can the Holy Spirit lead and guide the Church and lead individuals to submit to that authority? It’s not one or the other (HS and me–or–HS and CC ) is it?

    That does not, therefore, imply that everyone who knows more than me is always right.

    Agreed and that is not what I’m saying. I’m saying from common experience we can recognize that it isn’t against reason to submit our wills and intellects to authorities. We do it all the time. Late medievalist Regine Pernoud in Those Terrible Middle Ages makes the argument that the scientist has taken place of the cleric in our society. You can disagree with the Church’s authority, but it is not necessary to fight this general premise. Is it? What I am saying is that a Protestant has no authority other than themselves. That’s why there are so many schisms in Protestantism. The history of Protestantism (which was my formal undergraduate training), particularly in the last 100 years, is one where private conscious has ruled the day. At this point, I’ll defer to your offline conversation with Randy and your reading of Bryan’s post about the visible church. God bless.

    Catholic Church was in sin doctrinally

    I’m not sure a “you too” argument works. All it would prove is we are both in the wrong church. But, I’m not certain you can produce one dogmatic proclamation to that effect. What you can demonstrate is where your interpretation of Scripture/Tradition is in opposition to the Magisterium’s. Which dogmatic teaching of the CC is sinful? Inherently disordered?

    I would not argue with your understanding here. If I were to assume that the Petrine seat was God ordained I would see it the same way.

    Are you saying the Holy Spirit hasn’t taught you this or something else?

    Peace to you on your journey.

  94. Curt (#89),

    Yes, sorry for the pile-on effect. If you wish to discuss the WCF or anything else further with me, please feel free to request my email address from the moderators. I should mention, though, that if you want a really well informed Catholic critique of the WCF, you’ll probably have better luck with the regular contributors to the blog, who were all Reformed in the past. (I never was, though I was a Protestant.)

    One could equally make the argument that the Reformation was part of preserving the Church against the heresies of that time.

    Well, yes, obviously. That’s exactly what I assume virtually any Protestant would want to argue? Of course, I don’t think that argument can be made equally well, not by a long shot. But I’m certainly aware that there are those who make it.

    in Christ,

    TC

  95. Curt,

    Glad to see you are getting good discussion going here. I would point out one item you mentioned above (and from our own correspondence):

    2. Luther was given ample time to recant.
    True, but he was right …

    But I recall that you do not think he was right on many issues: sacramental baptism (his sola fide was inextricably linked to one’s baptism), his understanding of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, his views on the canon (many Lutherans today still hold to a “canon within a canon” for the NT books Luther dismissed), and so on.

    You may say he was right on “salvation by grace” but my challenge to you was to research and try to find where the Church ever taught salvation by works in her doctrine.

  96. Hey man, not to worry! I am 100% Scottish, so maybe it was the N Ireland thing… my bad :-)

    Can the Holy Spirit lead and guide the Church and lead individuals to submit to that authority?

    Here’s what Peter had to say about it:

    Acts 5
    29But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.
    30″The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross.
    31″He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.
    32″And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

    So apparently the Holy Spirit is big enough to figure it out? The holy Spirit is given to those who obey… for what purpose? If its not to activate our conscience for God, then it seems a little pointless. If we are all in the Spirit, there will be harmony. When we are not in harmony, someone must be in sin. You would say its the Protestant Church now. I would say the it was the Catholic Church at the time of the reformation, and maybe we’re both right?

    What I am saying is that a Protestant has no authority other than themselves.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. We have Scripture informed by systematic theology and the Holy Spirit. What you have is one guy, good bad or indifferent who is said to be elevated above my three. We would argue that he is one of “themselves” too. The problem is you define authority as one man. We define authority as Christ and the revealed Scripture. We act on that authority through the power of the Holy Spirit.

    The history of Protestantism (which was my formal undergraduate training), particularly in the last 100 years, is one where private conscious has ruled the day.

    I’m not sure I would go that far. In some it has and others not. But I would cede the point for the most part, there is too much division. However, if you look at the doctrine of the PCUSA church, it has probably changed less overall than the dogma of the Catholic Church in the past 100 yrs… its just been a few bad things. Presbyterians are like the RC church in this regard, slow to change I mean.

    I’m not sure a “you too” argument works. All it would prove is we are both in the wrong church. But, I’m not certain you can produce one dogmatic proclamation to that effect. What you can demonstrate is where your interpretation of Scripture/Tradition is in opposition to the Magisterium’s. Which dogmatic teaching of the CC is sinful? Inherently disordered?

    Acts 8:20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!” Monetary payment for the remission of sin. I am fully confident that this teaching was not based on Biblical doctrine, and so said the Church in the Council of Trent. This teaching denies the doctrine of complete grace. You can argue that it was “localized” which would imply a partial Magisterium… only part of the Church is protected… not buying any of that :-) I’m not sure how you could have a magisterium that was meaningful tied to the Papal seat of an egregious sinner… and I hope we agree there were at least a few of those. Let me be clear though, I do believe in the Magisterium concept… only in my version, Christ is the head, the Holy Spirit and Scripture are our source of information, also informed by learned theologians.

    Are you saying the Holy Spirit hasn’t taught you this or something else?

    I’m saying that I don’t buy the Papal succession theory, but if i did I would agree it would be about “feeding the sheep”.

    Cheers
    Curt

  97. Curt

    Thanks for the compliment. I tried the e-mail and it came back Undeliverable. Is the address right?

  98. Hey Devin

    No jumping in and out… your page is over there somewhere :-)
    Seriously… this forum gives new meaning to “You’ve got mail”

    You are right… I was thinking of the payment of indulgences for the remission of sin. I’m not accustomed to the multilevel Hell/Purgatory/Heaven way of looking at salvation. When Jesus says “your sins are forgiven,” I take that to mean “its done”. “Christ died once for all” means what it says.

    Nonetheless, on this rather important doctrinal issue, Luther was right and the “keepers of the Magisterium” were wrong.

    Cheers
    Curt

  99. Hey Randy… it looks like I had a typo… curtrussellsr(at)verizon.net

    Thanks
    Curt

  100. Curt,

    Thanks for your response. You said:

    We have Scripture informed by systematic theology and the Holy Spirit. What you have is one guy, good bad or indifferent who is said to be elevated above my three.

    So why does your church not agree with the church down the street who says the same thing? No, the authority of the Church is three-fold (Book-Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and Magisterium-by charism). Authority implies finality. In other words, once we are finished arguing, whose right? The PCA’s scripture informed by systematic theology and the HS has produced getting it wrong on abortion as you admit. We can talk about indulgences on Bryan’s post.

    I know you’ve made references to your church being full of fallen away Catholics, but there are just as many fallen away Presbyterians filling up other churches (according to Pew). All this evidences is the modern epidemic of private judgment being the rule of life. Also, the state of adult catechesis in the RC in the USA.

    I’m saying that I don’t buy the Papal succession theory

    I thought you were informed by systematics and the Holy Spirit. What do you mean by “buy the Papal succession theory”? By “buy in” do you mean the Holy Spirit and systematics shows you it to be true? How convincing would the argument have to be for you to accept that teaching? Can we establish some type of threshold of belief or disbelief? How do you go about generally accepting one PCA doctrine or another?

  101. Gents… If you scroll back up, you will see that I have been blogging on this site for 22 hours straight. My brain is done for now. Thanks for all the insight. I’m sure I’ll be back!

    Cheers and good night
    Curt

  102. Hi Brent

    So why does your church not agree with the church down the street who says the same thing? No, the authority of the Church is three-fold (Book-Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and Magisterium-by charism). Authority implies finality. In other words, once we are finished arguing, whose right? The PCA’s scripture informed by systematic theology and the HS has produced getting it wrong on abortion as you admit.

    The same reason that your church does not agree with the church down the street. I assume that you believe that the Pope is guided by the Holy Spirit. The difference is that in my denomination, we are not bound to follow decisions made by the general assembly. Thus if the Holy Spirit and Scripture lead us to the conclusion that abortion is wrong, we are free to teach that in our church. The Holy Spirit is not, therefore, bound by the potential errors of any one man or group. In the Catholic church, you must follow the teaching of the church or risk being cut off from Christ. First, I don’t believe that any man or institution has the power to cut us off from Christ. Second, Scripture clearly teaches that Christ was the only perfect human… all others are sinful. So if the one person with supreme authority happens to fall into sin, the entire church is at risk. Further, it leaves no door open to work for reform from within. Our church is very conservative theologically, and we have chosen to stay put to be salt and light within the denomination. This allows us to work, over time, to seek reform within the denomination. When Luther tried to do this, he was told to recant or leave. Yet clearly from subsequent activities at the council of Trent, the church admitted he was right on at least one point. I would conclude this way… Supreme authority is great when the guy at the top is living unto Christ. If he is not, as some of the Popes were not, then it is not so great. Is the Presbyterian system better? It is still subject to the sin of man, however, it does provide for internal correction and freedom to dissent when sin interferes with doctrine.

    In terms of the Papal succession… if we look at history, there were certainly some Popes who were not “living unto Christ”… that is, they led very sinful lives. Even if you argue that they had no impact on church doctrine, which I find hard to believe but will not try to confirm or deny, it calls into question the whole concept of an apostolic lineage of men who were chosen by God to be the voice of Christ on earth. There just seems to be an inherent logic problem with this concept. I believe in a big God. I believe that if the apostolic lineage was what He intended, He would have seen to it that these “problem Popes” would never have been seated so that it was clear and obvious that this is what He intended. We also see in Biblical history that God allows for the corruption of the church and then provides corrections. For example, the Levites were chosen by God to be the keepers of Scripture for the entire Jewish church. They had absolute authority over all things related to God. Yet, by the time Christ came, they had become the Pharisees, whom Jesus called a “brood of vipers”. Wow! They were selling “special” doves for a high price to the commoners who came to offer sacrifices for the repentence of their sins… sounds eerily like what Luther complained about. This is why Jesus overturned the tables in the synagogue. Then the correction… Jesus called us to a new church… one in which we would worship God, as Jesus put it, “in spirit and truth”. Sounds a lot like the Bible and the Holy Spirit to me.

    Blessings,
    Curt

  103. Curt,

    First, are you the famous actor? That would be cool..

    You say,

    he difference is that in my denomination, we are not bound to follow decisions made by the general assembly. Thus if the Holy Spirit and Scripture lead us to the conclusion that abortion is wrong, we are free to teach that in our church. The Holy Spirit is not, therefore, bound by the potential errors of any one man or group. In the Catholic church, you must follow the teaching of the church or risk being cut off from Christ. First, I don’t believe that any man or institution has the power to cut us off from Christ. Second, Scripture clearly teaches that Christ was the only perfect human

    and then…

    if we look at history, there were certainly some Popes who were not “living unto Christ”… that is, they led very sinful lives. Even if you argue that they had no impact on church doctrine, which I find hard to believe but will not try to confirm or deny, it calls into question the whole concept of an apostolic lineage of men who were chosen by God to be the voice of Christ on earth. There just seems to be an inherent logic problem with this concept. I believe in a big God. I believe that if the apostolic lineage was what He intended, He would have seen to it that these “problem Popes” would never have been seated so that it was clear and obvious that this is what He intended.

    1. You show that your church has no authority and that it is led by the private judgment of the parishioners to study the word, pray, and hope they come up with the best answer. In the mean time, it would be possible that your church could teach things intrinsically evil because the study of scripture and prayer didn’t get the conclusion you came to. You admit this by saying you are not bound by the teachings of your church. Therefore your church cannot be “the ground and pillar of Truth” Paul is talking about when referring to “The Church”.

    2. You say you believe in “a big God”, but is that God apparently too small to keep the Magisterium free from teaching error on morals and faith? It appears you have a God who conveniently will affirm whatever your prayer and study produces for you.

    3. If no “institution can cut you off from Christ”, and you are right if you mean nothing can separate you from the love of God, but how do you understand Matt 18:17 and I Cor 5:5. These passage instruct the Church to treat a “brother” as a pagan and to “turn him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh”. I would recommend reading David Anders comment here about <a href="http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2011/03/tradition-i-and-sola-fide-2/#comment-16369&quot;.small God/big God.

    4. If “Christ was the only perfect human” than why do you always harp about the sinfulness of our bad Popes? Which is it? Further, you have two ways to look at the “problem Popes”. Either you see it as a reason to “jump ship” or a reason to see the Glory of God revealed in our weakness. You and I were born on different ships (I wasn’t born Catholic either). Nevertheless, when your own ship pulls close to the Mother ship it would be time to jump off and ride on the one God built and not your own. What Luther did, and every willful Protestant since, is instead of purifying the temple, they built their own. Jesus didn’t tell the people in the synagogue, “Go away from here.” No he cleaned the house. That’s what he did at the counter-reformation, only sadly some left to start their own thing.

    Peace to you on your journey.

  104. Curt,
    I’d be interested in your perspective on where the Council of Trent gave in to the calls of Luther. The Catholic Church has always understood salvation by grace if that is what you mean to imply. I would argue that the declaration of the Council of Trent is simply an affirmation of what was already within the Catholic Church’s teachings and grasp.
    God bless,
    -Steven Reyes

  105. Hey Brent

    Fortunately, I’m not the actor… my wife is much better looking than Goldie Hawn (and we’re married)!

    I’m going to lump all of our comments together, because they all go to the same point in the end. In the biggest sense, what we are talking about is Godly authority. Your church has a top down approach with one guy at the top who has absolute authority. My church has 12 elders (like the apostles) who have absolute authority. Both your guy and my 12 are sinful humans. I’m not harping on the sinful popes, I’m pointing out that both authority models can be affected by sin. Again, the difference is in what we can do about it. An analogy would be living in a democratic republic versus a kingdom. A good king makes for a good kingdom… a bad king, not so much. In a republic, you can vote the guy out. This is why the govt of the US was modelled after the govt of the Presbyterian church… and why King George called the Revolutionary War the Presbyterian uprising.

    Regarding your question #3, you apparently see the church as Christ. I see the church as the bride of Christ. We, as elders, exercise discipline within the church, just as it is defined in Matt 18, up to and including expulsion from the church. We do not assume that, through this action, they are cut off from Christ. That’s between God and them. And, as an observation, I have seen people repent later and come back into the fold, so God was obviously working on them, even as they were cut off from the body.

    I like your reasoning in #4, but I’m not sure what you mean ” instead of purifying the temple…”. If you have no voice, no power, how can you purify the temple? If you speak up and are told to recant or leave, what impact can you have?

    Cheers, Curt

  106. Hi Steve… thanks for jumping in!

    In the 25th session of the Council of Trent, a ban was placed on the sale of indulgences. The sale of indulgences was one of Luther’s greatest complaints against the church.

    However, in the sixth session, justification was declared to be offered upon the basis of faith and good works as opposed to the Protestant doctrine of faith alone. This flew in the face of Luther’s call for reform, (and Ephesians 2:8-9 for that matter). So no, the Church did not believe in salvation by grace… but rather salvation by grace plus works. Protestants see this as a big difference. Was the cross sufficient or wasn’t it? Is there really something I can add to what Christ did? We say no. Is faith without works dead? Absolutely! Works are the RESULT of salvation, not the cause.

    Cheers
    Curt

  107. Good evening Curt.

    You said:

    Your church has a top down approach with one guy at the top who has absolute authority. My church has 12 elders (like the apostles) who have absolute authority. Both your guy and my 12 are sinful humans.

    The CC has over 5,000 bishops. They have authority in their respective diocese. However, the Petrine office isn’t the way you describe it. Who settles disagreement amongst your 12? We have the gift of the See of Rome, St. Peter’s descendent to do that.

    You mentioned the USA. Our own government allows for an executive branch. Why? Wouldn’t a congress be good enough? Couldn’t they shake-off the monarchal tendencies of their ancestors? Let’s cast a ballot for everything! The fundamental difference between the PCA, USA, and the CC is the first two are man-made authorities without the protection of the HS to keep from error and the later is a God-made authority, empowered by the HS to keep from error.

    How do you understand the church to be the ground and pillar of truth? To put it another way, how do you interpret this passage?

    Regarding your question #3, you apparently see the church as Christ. I see the church as the bride of Christ. We, as elders…

    I re-read and re-read my post and I cannot see how that follows. I’ll wait for an explanation.

    Nevertheless, Christ himself when addressing Paul on the road to Damascus alludes to the mystery of the the Church as The Body of Christ. Jesus says, “Why do you persecute me?” When had Paul, then Saul, ever touched Christ? All he had done was throne stones at the Church.

    What does the word anathema mean to you? How does that term function inside your PCA tradition?

    I like your reasoning in #4, but I’m not sure what you mean ” instead of purifying the temple…”. If you have no voice, no power, how can you purify the temple? If you speak up and are told to recant or leave, what impact can you have?

    Luther’s movement did not lead to increased holiness, but rather the opposite (from his own mouth)nor was that his goal per se as it was him asserting his understanding of the faith. Regarding the temple cleaning, think about it like this. If I run into my bosses office and notice things don’t look right, and I try to “fix things” and then I come in 2 hours later and find out the place has been professionally cleaned, what follows is that it wasn’t my job.

    However, in the sixth session, justification was declared to be offered upon the basis of faith and good works as opposed to the Protestant doctrine of faith alone. This flew in the face of Luther’s call for reform, (and Ephesians 2:8-9 for that matter).

    Regarding works (from Trent, Session 6):
    CANON I.-If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.
    CANON VII.-If any one saith, that all works done before Justification, in whatsoever way they be done, are truly sins, or merit the hatred of God; or that the more earnestly one strives to dispose himself for grace, the more grievously he sins: let him be anathema.
    CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.
    ….the rest can be found here.

    Curt, you are at liberty to isogete Ephesisans 2:8-9, although I’m not sure that makes such a compelling case by itself. Verse 10 says we are made for “good works” and that we “should walk in them.” Leading up to Chapter 2, Paul address the letter to the “faithful”, that we should be “holy and blameless”, and that his Church is “the fullness of him who fills all in all”. Following verses 8-10, he says that this faith is “rooted and grounded in love” (action/obedience), that God’s glory be found “in the church”, that we should “walk in a manner worthy of the calling”, eager to maintain “Unity”, and that we “must no longer walk as Gentiles do” (they were given to sensuality, greed and impurity). But then Paul says, “This isn’t the way you learned Christ!” (4:20). Apparently we have to “putt off” (v.22), “put on” (v.24), “not sin” (v.26), “don’t give the devil an opportunity” (v.27), not steal but do an honest days work (v.28), be careful what we say (v.29) don’t grieve the Holy Spirit (v.30), don’t be bitter (v.31), and be kind (v.32). Ephesians 5 continues, “no sexual immorality” (v.3), “no filthiness or foolish talk (v.4), because those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of Christ and God (v.5). Lastly, I should, “Let no one deceive (me) with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (v.6). But rather I should discern “what pleases the Lord” (v.10).

    Does this look like Luther had it right?

  108. Curt, (re: #82)

    You have written much, so I’ll respond to it a bit at a time, over time, rather than respond to the whole of your comment at once. You wrote:

    I believe that God organizes through hierarchy, though I also believe that Jesus established an up-side-down hierarchy. The problem with the early church was that the only organizational model they had was the Kingdom model.

    Implicit here, it seems to me, is a lack of trust of the Apostles, on your part. You apparently think you know better than the Apostles, how the Church is to be organized. They, foolish men that they were (after having spent three years walking around listening to God-in-the-flesh) mistakenly assumed that the Church was to follow the “Kingdom model,” perhaps like the Roman Empire. But, you have figured out that there wasn’t to be hierarchy, only service.

    If, however, you can’t trust the Apostles with respect to the structure of the early Church, then you cannot trust anything they said or did. If your own reason is to be the judge of whether what they said and did was truly what Jesus intended, then you don’t need the Bible at all, and you can just follow your own reason. That stance reminds me of those Protestants (just some, not all) who claim that Peter and the other Apostles made a mistake in choosing Matthias to replace Judas in Acts 1; they claim that this was a merely man-made effort to replace Judas, when God’s own choice was Paul. (They tend to overlook 1 Cor 15:5)

    But if Peter and the other Apostles were not being guided by the Holy Spirit in selecting Matthias to replace Judas, this then calls into question everything the book of Acts shows the Apostles to have done and said. And that’s a form of rationalism. The Scripture becomes mere fodder for one’s own judgment, rather than that to which one must submit. The whole of the New Testament can be dismissed (in principle), because the Apostles and the early Church didn’t really know what they were talking about; they were still unenlightened regarding servant-leadership, and were thinking as men of their times. Such a notion eliminates the possibility of faith. Jesus is then what one wants Him to be, a person made in one’s own image, since those whom He trained, authorized and sent out to speak in His Name and on His behalf cannot be trusted. However, faith in Christ is possible only through faith in those whom He authorized and sent.

    Regarding the hierarchy of the Church, you seem to think that what is heavenly or supernatural, must be the opposite of what is human and of nature. So, if hierarchy is natural, then you conclude that since the Kingdom of Heaven is supernatural, therefore the Church must have no hierarchy. The problem here is the premise, namely, that what is heavenly or supernatural is the opposite of what is of nature. Implicit in that premise is the dualism of Manicheanism, namely, that nature has an evil source other than God. But, as St. Augustine argued, Manicheanism is contrary to the Christian belief that creation is good, because creation comes from God who is goodness itself, and who said that it is good. Because creation is good, therefore what is heavenly or spiritual is not contrary to nature, but instead perfects and elevates nature. Hence the principle “grace builds on nature” is an expression of the Christian affirmation of the goodness of nature and matter, and the Christian rejection of Manichean dualism.

    Of course a tyrant does not serve those whom he rules. But tyranny is an abuse of government, not the proper use of government. The true ruler of any society serves that society through his leadership. Hence, when Jesus says that the Apostles should not “lord it over” them, as the Gentiles do, Jesus is not contrasting leadership in the Kingdom with the way leadership in the state should be (as though civic leaders should not serve those whom they lead). Jesus is instead contrasting leadership in the Kingdom with the way leadership in the state often is, i.e. tyrannical.

    Next you wrote:

    I would observe the following: Eph 2:20-22 “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, [PAST tense] Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, [present continuing tense] in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, [PRESENT CONTINUING tense] in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. [PRESENT CONTINUING tense]”. So the church WAS built on the apostles and prophets, and CONTINUES with Christ as the cornerstone, while WE CONTINUE to be built IN THE SPIRIT.” This is an excellent verse showing the birth of the church through the work of the apostles, being now built by the Spirit working in and through the body.

    Again, you are reading “in the Spirit” as if it means apart from divinely established Church authority. But the Spirit works primarily and ordinarily through those having divine authorization to lead the Church. That is one aspect of the sacramental character of the Church. Your position seems to imply that when the last Apostle died, then there was no more human leadership in the Church, and that every believer followed the Spirit by following the burning in his bosom, as each one read the Bible for themselves. But that’s not what the Church looked like (or believed or practiced) when the last Apostle died at the end of the first century. See the section on Apostolic Succession, especially the Evidence from Scripture” for Apostolic Succession, and David Anders’ recent post on that very subject: “Sola Scriptura vs. the Magisterium: What Did Jesus Teach?.” The reason Jesus ordained Apostles before He ascended is the same reason the Apostles ordained bishops to succeed them before they died. It would have been irresponsible and imprudent to leave the Church without designated shepherds, leaving the believers like sheep without a shepherd.

    I had written: We are to submit to the leaders of the Church: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account.” (Heb 13:17)

    You replied:

    Me: The NASB Heb13:17 says, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” I believe that we honor our Spiritual parents by honoring God, not the man… the Creator, not the creation. Jesus said time and again, “My Kingdom is not of this world”. He did not establish Himself as a worldly king, much to the dismay of the Jews and the apostles. Why, then, should we assume that He wants His church to look like a worldly kingdom, with someone who looks a lot like a king sitting on the throne?

    First, what you quote is (I think) the 1995 version of the NASB, not the older versions of the NASB which read, “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account.” (NASB, 1971) And that is in line with the Greek, which reads:

    Πείθεσθε τοῖς ἡγουμένοις ὑμῶν καὶ ὑπείκετε, αὐτοὶ γὰρ ἀγρυπνοῦσιν ὑπὲρ τῶν ψυχῶν ὑμῶν ὡς λόγον ἀποδώσοντες, ἵνα μετὰ χαρᾶς τοῦτο ποιῶσιν καὶ μὴ στενάζοντες, ἀλυσιτελὲς γὰρ ὑμῖν τοῦτο.

    The first word should not be translated ‘Remember.’ These are present leaders, because they are presently “keeping watch” over our souls, as those who will have to give an account. The first word should be translated “Obey,” and the next phrase is not rightly translated “who spoke the word of God to you”. That’s not even in the Greek. Rather, the Greek says that we are to submit [ὑπείκετε] to them.

    When Jesus says, “My Kingdom is not of this world,” He means that His Kingdom does not come from this world, nor is it ordered to a merely natural end, but rather to a supernatural end (i.e. the beatific vision, seeing God). It is not a merely human Kingdom, because He is not merely human. But it is a truly human Kingdom, because He is truly human (and divine). This is why Christ give to only some Christians the authority such that whatever they bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever they loose on earth is loosed in heaven (Mt 18:18). Only to some did He give the authority to forgive sins and retain sins (Jn 20:23). He authorized only some to speak in His Name, such that to listen to them is to listen to Him, and to reject them is to reject Him (Lk 10:16). Those to whom He gave this authority constitute the hierarchy of His Church.

    Notice what Jesus says to His Apostles:

    And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Mt. 19:28)

    and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Lk 22:29-30)

    He is speaking here of the time of the Church. (Or do you think that there is only hierarchy in heaven as the Apostles govern the glorified saints, but no hierarchy in the Church Militant?) The Old Covenant had Moses and the continuing “seat of Moses” (Mt 23:2), and the faithful Jews were to obey what has taught from that seat. The New Covenant has the Chair of St. Peter, and we are to obey what comes from that chair. What is ad hoc about your position is that you either say that the Apostles got it wrong (as I explained above) in thinking of the Church as a worldly kingdom, or if they were right about all this hierarchy stuff, it was all intended to vanish when the last Apostle died. But why would Christ institute a hierarchy, only to remove it all in less than a hundred years? That makes no sense. If Christ instituted a hierarchy (and He did), then we should expect that hierarchy to be perpetuated through the ages, and the gates of hell never to prevail over it.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  109. Hi Bryan

    I follow your logic, but would observe: The seat of Moses followed with Joshua and then to the Sanhedrin which was a council of elders… there was no singular lineage of persons who became the voice of God down through the history of the Jewish church. Following on then, using your translation, we are to obey our leaderS, not singular, but plural. This means we should follow the teaching of those 12 apostles. We also learn from the subsequent guys like Timothy, but the authority goes only so far as any subsequent teaching is in alignment with what Jesus and the early apostles taught.

    You also make the comment, “But the Spirit works primarily and ordinarily through those having divine authorization to lead the Church.” To this I would say “Really?” In my humble opinion, this is a very small view of the Holy Spirit. I had an elderly friend who want to go to China as a missionary in the late 40’s. The week before he was to set sail in 1949, China closed its borders, and he was not able to go. In the early 1990’s he finally got to visit China and found that, even though the churches and missionaries had been forced out 50 years prior, the Chinese Christian Church had grown dramatically. The gates of hell shall not prevail… God chooses whom He will and the Holy Spirit moves with or without us.

    Yes, Jesus grants that all twelve disciples will sit upon the twelve thrones, with Christ at the head. He does not call out one to be above the others. Neither does He resolve their numerous arguments when they debate “who is the greatest among them”. If He intended a particular hierarchy, these would have been great opportunities to provide clarity, particularly at the last supper.

    Cheers
    Curt

  110. Curt,

    (continuing my response to your comment #82)

    You wrote:

    On Christ’s hierarchy, I’ll see you and raise you one: Here is the hierarchy that Christ founded… 1 Cor 11:3 “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man”. So the hierarchy that He established was: Christ, me.

    You are reasoning from the fact that Christ is the head of every man, to the conclusion that Christ is the only ecclesial authority over any man. That is a non sequitur, as can be shown by the fact that the verse you cite is fully compatible with there being an ecclesial hierarchy that includes Apostles, bishops, priests and deacons. Otherwise, Jesus would have been contradicting Himself when teaching that “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.” (Lk 10:16) Not only that, but St. Paul would have been contradicting himself when teaching that everyone is to be subject to the governing authorities (Rom 13:1). The Roman Christians could have responded, “Sorry, Paul, but you wrote elsewhere that Christ is the head of every man; therefore, we don’t have to submit to anybody but Christ, according to our own interpretation of Scripture, guided by the moving of the Spirit in our bosoms.” St. Paul’s response to such a claim may well have been, “Their condemnation is deserved.” (Rm 3:8) When St. Paul says that Christ is the head of every man, he means that Christ is the ultimate authority over every man, not that He is the only proximate authority over men. Otherwise, when the centurion said, “For I also am a man under authority” (Mt 8:9; Lk 7:8), then instead of praising him, Jesus should have condemned both him and the soldiers under him for idolatry, for not recognizing that military hierarchy is incompatible with Christ being the head of all men.

    Now, you show me a Scripture that say Sixtus IV was ordained by God to be someone’s spiritual leader. Eph 1:22-23 “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in ALL.” Christ is the head.

    Again, you seem to think that Christ being the head over all things is somehow incompatible with ecclesial hierarchy. But the two are fully compatible. Otherwise, Christ’s being the head over all things would be incompatible with any government authority, or with the authority of a father over his children. It would make all children equal in authority to their fathers. But if it doesn’t do that, then it is fully compatible with ecclesial hierarchy. Christ is the head of all men as our Creator and Judge, and He is the head of the Church through the hierarchy He established. Hierarchy does not compete with Christ’s authority; it is the means by which Christ exercises His headship over His Church. He established that hierarchy when He commissioned the Twelve and gave to one of them (i.e. St. Peter) the keys of the Kingdom (Mt 16:19), and prayed for one of them (i.e. St. Peter) that his faith would fail not (Lk 22:32), and entrusted to one them (i.e. St. Peter) the responsibility of feeding His sheep (John 21:15-17) The authority of the Apostles is handed down through apostolic succession, and so likewise is stewardship of the keys of the Kingdom handed down in the succession from St. Peter. See Stephen Ray’s Upon This Rock, and Adrian Fortescue’s The Early Papacy.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  111. Bryan

    OK you got me with a fine theological arument right up through Peter and the twelve. Beyond that, I don’t follow the Scriptural argument for a particular devine succession. I have no problem with the concept of Biblical hierarchy defined as elders, deacons and the like. Every time the apostles argued about “who was greatest”, Jesus declined to answer, telling them all to be servants. In Matthew 19:28, Jesus offers the reward to the twelve, “And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” He does not call out one particular disciple as “the one”. This is clear evidence that Jesus called the twelve to a specific purpose, and we know from history that the purpose was different for each one, ie, they went to different places and ministered to different groups. If Jesus wanted one particular authoritative apostolic lineage from one of the twelve, He could have called it out clearly here or when the disciples were arguing about it. But He didn’t.

    Cheers
    Curt

  112. Curt,

    As an aside to your conversation with Bryan, it might be interesting for you to know that the Pope, whom many think of as the “head honcho” who decides everything and calls the shots, is actually called “the servant of the servants of God.” In other words, we are the servants of God and the Pope serves us, which inverts in a paradoxical way the normal understanding of hierarchy. Like Christ who said “I came not to be serve, but to serve.”

    While Bryan and you ponder further responses, I would suggest reading some of St. Ignatius of Antioch’s letters, focusing on what he said about the three-fold hierarchy of bishop, priest, and deacon. Keep in mind while reading that he was a contemporary of the Apostles, a direct disciple like Timothy and Titus, men who you conceded (on my blog) had rightful authority to lead the Church.

  113. Hi Devin

    Point taken on the Popes… particularly the current and recent Popes, as well as other good ones along the way. I might have a problem finding that same point of view in the actions of some of the earlier Popes, which, in fairness, you have not denied, but in fairness to me, you have circumvented.

    I’ll take a closer look at Ignatius.

    Thanks
    Curt

  114. Curt,
    I appreciate your response, thank you for taking the time to discuss this with me.

    You wrote:

    However, in the sixth session, justification was declared to be offered upon the basis of faith and good works as opposed to the Protestant doctrine of faith alone. This flew in the face of Luther’s call for reform, (and Ephesians 2:8-9 for that matter). So no, the Church did not believe in salvation by grace… but rather salvation by grace plus works. Protestants see this as a big difference. Was the cross sufficient or wasn’t it? Is there really something I can add to what Christ did? We say no. Is faith without works dead? Absolutely! Works are the RESULT of salvation, not the cause.

    Catholics don’t believe in salvation by grace plus works. They believe in salvation by grace through faith and good works (which are necessary in order to maintain proper faith and to be living a life of grace). If I may suggest the writings of St. John the Apostle:

    1 John 2:3-11
    3 And by this we know that we have known him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He who says that he knows him and keeps not his commandments is a liar: and the truth is not in him. 5 But he that keeps his word, in him in very deed the charity of God is perfected. And by this we know that we are in him. 6 He that says he abides in him ought himself also to walk even as he walked. 7 Dearly beloved, I write not a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8 Again a new commandment I write unto you: which thing is true both in him and in you, because the darkness is passed and the true light now shines. 9 He that says he is in the light and hates his brother is in darkness even until now. 10 He that loves his brother abides in the light: and there is no scandal in him. 11 But he that hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness and knows not whither he goes: because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

    1 John 3:21-24
    21 Dearly beloved, if our heart do not reprehend us, we have confidence towards God. 22 And whatsoever we shall ask, we shall receive of him: because we keep his commandments and do those things which are pleasing in his sight. 23 And this is his commandment: That we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as he has given commandment unto us. 24 And he that keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in him. And in this we know that he abides in us by the Spirit which he has given us.

    1 John 4:15-17
    15 Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and have believed the charity which God has to us. God is charity: and he that abides in charity abides in God, and God in him. 17 In this is the charity of God perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment: because as he is, we also are in this world.

    1 John 5:2-4
    2 In this we know that we love the children of God: when we love God and keep his commandments. 3 For this is the charity of God: That we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not heavy. 4 For whatsoever is born of God overcomes the world.

    As St. John the Apostle is exhorting in his first epistle it is that he who does not love others and is not filled with a love towards God that completes and fulfills his commandments, whether they are of the old moral precepts of the Law (the Ten Commandments) or the new commandments to love our neighbor as ourselves and love God with all our heart that we commit sin and our hearts reprehend us. If our hearts reprehend us then we do not have as much confidence towards God because we are living contrary to God’s law and are not servants of righteousness as we are supposed to be after our regeneration in Christ:

    Romans 6:16 Know you not that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are whom you obey, whether it be of sin unto death or of obedience unto justice.

    In this regards this matches up almost perfectly I think with St. Augustine of Hippo’s theology, and consequently the Medieval Church which is highly Augustinian, and hence the Council of Trent.

    I highly suggest you look at Bryan Cross’ work in showing how St. Augustine shows that the life of faith must be a life of fulfilling the commandments through grace and charity. St. Augustine extensively analyzes the Pauline literature and comes out with the current Catholic understanding of salvation by grace. St. Augustine on Law and Grace

    In Catholic theology the cross is sufficient for salvation, and it brings about everybody’s salvation, however the distinction is that Christ’s perfect mediation in the crucifixion wins over the grace for all men to be saved, however men must accept and co-operate with this grace so as to receive it’s effect, perfect sanctity and righteousness in every deed, thought, and action, so as to be made like angels and saints. It is not that Catholics believe in grace plus works, but they believe in a transformative grace that moves the free will to living a saintly life.

    Perhaps if I may suggest this excerpt from St. Augustine’s “On the Letter and the Spirit”

    What the difference between them [i.e. the law of works and the law of faith] is, I will briefly explain. What the law of works enjoins by menace, that the law of faith secures by faith. The one [i.e. the law of works] says, “You shall not covet;” (Ex 20:17) the other [i.e. the law of faith] says, “When I perceived that nobody could be continent, except God gave it to him; and that this was the very point of wisdom, to know whose gift she was; I approached unto the Lord, and I besought Him.” (Wisdom 8:21) This indeed is the very wisdom which is called piety, in which is worshipped “the Father of lights, from whom is every best giving and perfect gift.” (James 1:17) This worship, however, consists in the sacrifice of praise and giving of thanks, so that the worshipper of God boasts not in himself, but in Him. (2 Cor 10:17) Accordingly, by the law of works, God says to us, Do what I command you; but by the law of faith we say to God, Give me what You command. Now this is the reason why the law gives its command — to admonish us what faith ought to do, that is, that he to whom the command is given, if he is as yet unable to perform it, may know what to ask for; but if he has at once the ability, and complies with the command, he ought also to be aware from whose gift the ability comes. (chapter 22)

    -God bless
    Steven Reyes

  115. Whoops, should have re-read some of my sentences:
    “As St. John the Apostle is exhorting in his first epistle it is that he who does not love others and is not filled with a love towards God that completes and fulfills his commandments, whether they are of the old moral precepts of the Law (the Ten Commandments) or the new commandments to love our neighbor as ourselves and love God with all our heart that we commit sin and our hearts reprehend us.”

    Let me rephrase, “St. John the Apostle here is telling believers here that the person who does not love others and is not filled with a love towards God, that is a love that fulfills the commandments (old and new), does not really know God, that is his faith is not true faith. As such true Christians must fulfill the commandments in all their works as obedience to God and the must do works filled with charity to be saved, otherwise God does not abide in them.”

  116. Hi Steven… thanks for coming back in!

    “It is not that Catholics believe in grace plus works, but they believe in a transformative grace that moves the free will to living a saintly life.”

    I would absolutely agree with this statement in terms of my own theology, and for that matter, the theology of the Presby church to which I belong. All of your John verses confirm this view. Doesn’t this go back to my point that works are the result of grace, not the cause of it?

    God gave us the law through Moses to show us that we were sinful and in need of salvation … that we could not earn that salvation through good works. Jesus fulfilled the law by giving us salvation from the doom we faced under the law. That work was completed on the cross and in the resurrection. That grace is transformative, thus we seek to live “as Christ” in the world. Thus, we are saved “by grace through faith, not as a result of works” Eph 2:8-9 but also, “faith without works is dead” (James 2).

    Other support for this view:

    Romans 3:27
    Where then is boasting? It is excluded By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.

    Romans 9:32
    but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone,

    Romans 11:6
    But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.

    Galatians 2:16
    nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.

    Galatians 3
    1 You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain? 5 So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 6 Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. 7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.

    2 Timothy 1:8-9
    Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity,

    Hebrews 6:1
    Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,

    Eph 2:8-9
    For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

    When you say “however men must accept and co-operate with this grace so as to receive it’s effect, perfect sanctity and righteousness in every deed, thought, and action, so as to be made like angels and saints” you are making God’s grace dependent on man’s actions. I would offer, based on the verses cited above, that those attributes (righteousness in every deed, thought, and action) are the sanctification process that is the RESULT of God’s grace, not a precurser to it.

    Thanks
    Curt

  117. Steven

    Thanks for the correction. Following on, you say, “As such true Christians must fulfill the commandments in all their works as obedience to God and the must do works filled with charity to be saved, otherwise God does not abide in them.”

    I would change this slightly, “As such true Christians must fulfill the commandments in all their works as obedience to God and they must do works filled with charity to INDICATE that they are saved, otherwise God APPARENTLY DOES not abide in them.”

    Curt

  118. Steven

    One other important point to consider is this… The most amazing thing that sets Christianity apart from every other religion is the concept of “salvation through grace”, a doctrine found only in Christianity. Every other religion is based on some form of “works righteousness”… that somehow, we have to earn our way into heaven. As Christians, we have the assurance that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life” period, end of statement. No other religion can claim this. If we tack on anything that smells like works righteousness to this amazing doctrine, we denegrate what God did through Christ, and throw the Christian faith on the pyre of all other works righteousness religions. What, then, would be the Good News of the Gospel?

    Cheers
    Curt

  119. Curt and gents,

    I would just point out for clarification purposes that when Catholics speak of justification they can mean it in two senses:

    1. initial justification: by grace through faith (works play no part)
    2. ongoing justification: ala the book of James, where the works done in love by God’s grace increase our justification

    Protestants in my experience always just mean #1 when they say “justification” and then confusing ensues.

    Bryan Cross can correct me if I am in error here.

  120. Devin

    I’m with you, we would call it salvation and sanctification. Salvation is by grace alone. Sanctification is the “working out” of our faith, as I believe Paul put it. The James doctrine, to me, says “if you claim to be saved by faith in Jesus, we better see some works, or we won’t be believing you” (New Curt Translation).

    I probably would not go so far as to call it “ongoing justification”, as this would imply a works righteousness doctrine of “continuing salvation”. I believe “once saved, always saved”. No one can be snatched from the arms of the Savior, nor can we wiggle our way out of His arms. If there is a failure to produce works, I would postulate that salvation never really happened for that person. This follows the principle that what God binds cannot be subsequently loosed by man.

    Cheers
    Curt

  121. Devin, Curt, and Steve,

    I’m tied up right now, because this is mid-term week, and I have a heap of grading to do, and there is no way for me to keep up (as a contributor) with the pace of your comments. Let me suggest that on this thread we stay on topic (i.e. ecclesiology). If you wish to discuss justification, perhaps you could do so at either “Justification: The Catholic Church and the Judaizers in St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians” or “A Reply from a Romery Person,” or “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide?.” Also, I recommend reading “The Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration,” “St. Augustine on Law and Grace,” and the comments at The Protestant-Catholic Divide: A Path To Unity.” Finally, I recommend the following lecture by Prof. Feingold titled “St. Paul on Justification.”

    The Q&A for that lecture, as well as the mp3s, can be downloaded here.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  122. Gents,

    I also recommend the http://www.catholic.com article here

    A word study on St. Paul’s use of the three tenses of salvation: I am already saved, I am being saved, I will be saved (past, present progressive, future)
    (I’m sure Prof Feingolf goes into)

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  123. Hey Bryan

    Oh nooo……. I’ve been excommunicated from the Called to Communion page! Just kidding… I was beginning to wonder if any of you guys had real jobs! Now I know.

    I’ll take a look at some of the other pages.

    Cheers
    Curt

  124. Curt (re#116-118)
    I appreciate your replies. I am not a theologian here nor a philosopher so I defer completely to Bryan Cross on the proper understanding of Catholic justification, but perhaps I may be able to put in my own input on the subjects touched upon. We really should move the soteriological questions to another page though.

    You wrote:

    God gave us the law through Moses to show us that we were sinful and in need of salvation … that we could not earn that salvation through good works. Jesus fulfilled the law by giving us salvation from the doom we faced under the law. That work was completed on the cross and in the resurrection. That grace is transformative, thus we seek to live “as Christ” in the world. Thus, we are saved “by grace through faith, not as a result of works” Eph 2:8-9 but also, “faith without works is dead” (James 2).

    Coming from my perspective, it is that we are saved by Christ’s cross through regeneration as per baptism which unites us to His cross (as per Romans 6). Within this regeneration we are renewed and begin to partake in the divine nature, that is our hearts are renewed and the law, both old and new commandments, are written in our hearts as a law of faith as you cited in Romans 3:27. The writing of the laws of God on the heart is predicted by the Old Testament and stated in the New:

    Jeremiah 31:33
    33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, says the Lord: I will give my law in their bowels, and I will write it in their heart: and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

    Hebrews 8:10, “For this is the testament which I will make to the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will give my laws into their mind: and in their heart will I write them. And I will be their God: and they shall be my people. ”

    2 Corinthians 3:3 Being manifested, that you are the epistle of Christ, ministered by us, and written: not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God: not in tables of stone but in the fleshly tables of the heart.

    In this sense as is seen in 1 John, we are bound to keep the commandments by charity that abides in our hearts, it is this adoption that saves us, that indwelling of God in our hearts and the manifestation of supernatural charity in our hearts which makes keeping the commandments possible. Only by grace and our participation in it are we able to keep all of the commandments, or so is my interpretation. This is how I interpret St. Paul’s understanding of being servants to righteousness and St. John’s discussion that he who refuses to keep the commandments and does not repent of sin does not have charity living in him. There is a certain necessity to being obedient to God as you point out, and there comes a certain chastisement for breaking the law of faith unless one repents and rectifies his heart. I do not take this to be works-righteousness, it’s justification by grace in that God justifies us by cleansing us of all sins in baptism where we are united to Christ’s Passion, buried with Him, and given the hope of final resurrection, and by grace makes us truly just in all of our ways, hence by Romans 6:16, “Know you not that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are whom you obey, whether it be of sin unto death or of obedience unto justice.”, we either live in obstinancy to grace and commit sins unto death (mortal sins) or co-operate with grace in obedience unto justice. In this sense I take the approach of St. Augustine (or so I hope) that we are not justified by the law alone because the law offers no means of forgiving our sins and truly making us just before God, but it is by grace and faith that we are forgiven our sins and made truly just before God, that is we truly become just in our ways and this is the process of an ongoing justification by grace.

    As you cite Galatians 3 emphasized that Abraham was justified by believing in God, but it is also in James 2 that Abraham was justified by his faith and his good works, indicating perhaps that not only were his sins forgiven him upon his faith but that grace worked in him to do good works so that he could remain just and truly be just in all of his actions, hence a justification that proceeds along his life as he strives with the assistance of grace to be just in all his actions.

    Your citation of Hebrews 6:1 seems to me to mean that a repentance of dead works is not that works are dead and have no meaning, otherwise all of Jesus’ words in the Gospel about rewarding us according to our acts of mercy seems void, but rather that we repent of works that are dead or in other words repent of our sins.

    In reference to perverting the Gospel by an idea of works-righteousness, I would reply that Christianity’s grand appeal is in that Christians extend a hand of mercy to all individuals and are not short in acts of corporal and spiritual mercy. It is our willingness and complete subjection to God in piety and loving sacrifice that makes us so much more different from non-Christians. I don’t see works-righteousness in believing that our works are rewarded in Heaven by God because all of these works are only achieved by the grace of God. The Good News of the Gospel to me is that our hearts are miraculously regenerated and transformed so that no longer do we feel an outer compulsion and dread for doing the commandments of God but now we long for God’s commandments and in the greatness of charity truly love God and doing all that He wills for us to do. This is the Good News, to be offered mercy and the forgiveness of sins so that we can truly cleave and be united to God in every word and deed.

    I hope I have spoken according to orthodox Catholicism, somebody correct me if I’ve gone astray in reflecting the Catholic faith.

    God bless,
    -Steven Reyes

  125. Bryan,
    Sorry for de-railing the post. Thanks for the posts and links.

    I’ll stop discussing justification now on this thread.

    Sorry!

    God bless,
    Steven Reyes

  126. Curt,

    (continuing my reply to your comment #82)

    You wrote:

    To summarize, your view of the Holy Spirit, is weak in my opinion. You seem to argue that the common man is incapable of being guided by the Holy Spirit, or worse, that the Holy Spirit is incapable of guiding the common man.

    Neither of those conclusions follow from Catholic ecclesiology, for the same reason that neither of those two conclusions follows from the fact that Presbyterians have elders, or that Christ appointed twelve Apostles. The Holy Spirit’s omnipotence is not impugned when Christ chooses to use a divinely established hierarchy by which to lead and govern His Church. Of course Christ could have set it up such that there was no hierarchy, such that every individual followed the Spirit through a direct internal witness. That He did not do so can be seen not only in Scripture, and in the Church Fathers, but also in the massive fragmentation that has taken place within Protestantism since its inception less than 500 years ago — they all claim to be being led by the Holy Spirit, but they are each claiming something incompatible with the claims of the others, such that they are divided. The Spirit, however, is the Spirit of peace and unity. The notion that we are directly led by the unmediated movement of the Spirit, and not through the divinely established Magisterium of Christ’s Church, is a form of the late second-century heresy of Montanism. (See “Solo Scripture, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority,” for Mathison’s helpful critique of what he calls “solo scriptura.”)

    The primary point is that when Christ deigns to work through mere creatures, this does not entail a weakness of the Spirit; rather, it manifests the love of God, by which He graciously allows men to participate in His work, in the role and office to which He calls us. It shows His power that He is able to govern the Church even through the finite, fallen and fallible men He has appointed, and graciously lets them share in the work He is doing to bring men from every tribe, tongue and nature to salvation (cf. Col. 1:24).

    I believe we are all descendants of the 12 apostles and accept the teaching of the apostles.

    Anyone can claim to be a “descendant” of the Twelve. But only those having succession from the Apostles are the successors of the Apostles. That’s just what is meant by apostolic succession. Everyone who believes in Christ as the Son of God has received an important part of the Apostolic teaching. Apostolic succession, however, does not merely mean having something from the Apostles’ teaching. It means having the Apostles’ authorization to govern the Church Christ founded, to ordain others to so do, and to administer the sacraments Christ entrusted to the Apostles.

    Here is a video of a recent episcopal ordination conferred by Pope Benedict XVI upon Savio Hon Tai Fai of Hong Kong:

    In that video you will see Pope Benedict lay his hands on the candidate’s head. And two other bishops do so as well. (That there are at least three bishops present at an episcopal ordination has been the requirement from at least the second century.) The laying on of hands by the bishop, with the prayer of consecration, is the essential element on the sacrament of Holy Orders, by which apostolic succession takes place.

    You wrote:

    Where it goes off the tracks is when you reach the not-so-good popes. The succession and preserving the purity of the church argument goes right out the window.

    I understand why it might appear that way, but rebellion against a divinely ordained leader is not justified by that leader’s moral failings. This is why David refused to usurp the throne of Israel so long as Saul sat on it. And it is why he punished the man who killed Saul. (2 Sam 1) In the fourth century after Christ, the Church had to wrestle with this very question when certain bishops gave in (in certain ways) during the Roman persecution, and handed over sacred texts to the Roman authorities. The Donatists separated from the Catholic Church in AD 311, over this very issue. They maintained that the Catholic bishops were not pure enough, and that their sacraments were therefore void. (The issue was very similar in the Novatian schism in the third century). But St. Augustine and others argued against the Donatists that the validity of the sacraments does not depend on the moral state of the bishop or priest. In part due to St. Augustine’s efforts, the Donatists were reconciled to the Catholic Church during St. Augustine’s episcopacy. (See, for example, St. Augustine’s Answer to Petillian the Donatist.”)

    The indefectibility of the Church from the faith is not undermined by the moral failures of priests, bishops, or even popes. Christ preserves the Church even in spite of the failings of such men, and preserves intact the faith handed down from the Apostles. That is why we must not allow the moral failings of any member of the Church to be a stumbling block to prevent us from entering His Church and remaining in her.

    I suggest that we are to honor our leaders by honoring God, not the other way around. God is the One who deserves praise and glory… we are scum, but by His grace. Proverbs says “He who builds his door high seeks destruction.”

    Again, you are presuming that if we give any honor to any human being, then we are detracting from the praise and glory due to God. But, how then could we be commanded to honor our parents? How could we be commanded to love our neighbor, if doing so detracted from love for God? You are using this either/or mentality that is foreign to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Just as God is not the only cause, even though He is the First Cause and all other causes are secondary causes (i.e. occasionalism is false), so even though every good comes from God, and therefore He is to be thanked and honored and praised for every good, nevertheless, those created persons whom God has given responsibility, virtue, and authority rightly deserve our obedience and respect, under God. To honor a creature God has made honorable, is, in that way simultaneously to honor the One who made that creature. Likewise, to obey one to whom God has entrusted authority, is to obey Him from whom that authority came, all other things being equal. When we love our neighbor for God’s sake, we are loving both our neighbor and God, in the same act. Likewise, when we obey and honor our bishop, because of the ecclesial authority given to him by Christ through the Apostles, we obey and honor Christ Himself.

    The Apostles’ statement that we should obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29) is not a rejection of divinely established hierarchy. It is rather the claim that when human authorities oppose divine authority, then we must obey divine authority. Thus, rightly interpreted, the truth that we should obey God rather than men is not a justification for rebellion against divinely established authority; it is rather a recognition that rebellion against God on the part of those who have been given such authority does not require those over whom they have been given authority to follow them in that rebellion; indeed, we must not follow rebellious leaders in their rebellion against God. At the same time, the standard for obedience to God isn’t one’s own interpretation of Scripture, such that any Church leader who doesn’t conform to one’s own interpretation of Scripture is ipso facto in rebellion and therefore can rightfully be disregarded. That notion would eliminate the very possibility of Magisterial authority. See “Solo Scripture, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  127. Bryan

    Thanks for your comprehensive response. I was following along with your logic … until you got to the last paragraph. You concluded from Acts 5:29, “Thus, rightly interpreted, the truth that we should obey God rather than men is not a justification for rebellion against divinely established authority;”… That’s exactly what Peter is doing in Acts 5:29. The Sanhedrin brought these “rebels” in and had told them to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. Peter basicly told them to stick it… ““We must obey God rather than human beings!” He was invoking the Holy Spirit over the accepted authority who had been ordained by God.

    You also said, “Anyone can claim to be a “descendant” of the Twelve. But only those having succession from the Apostles are the successors of the Apostles…” I would add “to you”. If I study and agree with the works of John Maynard Keynes, I am a Keynesian economist. I don’t need to be a direct descendent to claim this. The claim that God requires this absolute direct lineage from Peter to now is self-proclaimed by the Roman Church, but not overtly defined in Scripture. If God wanted it to be that way, why did He not make it clear in Scripture, as He did with the Levites in Numbers?

    Cheers
    Curt

  128. Curt,

    I’m sure Bryan will give you a thorough response, but this one hit close to home.

    If I study and agree with the works of John Maynard Keynes, I am a Keynesian economist. I don’t need to be a direct

    Is this really all we get to vouchsafe the truth? Study up. This was actually one of the crucial “moments” for me in my intellectual journey to Catholicism. As someone who was born into a Christian tradition almost post-protestant, non-creedal, our only stake at Christianity was to do what you are suggesting. The only problem is that it doesn’t help you get outside of your mind to the Incarnational truth of Christ. God in flesh. Apostolic succession follows the Incarnational pattern and grants me access to the Apostles. What you suggest leads to a skeptical reading of Church Fathers whereby we have just as much right to get it right as they do. I can be every bit as Keynesian as Skidelsky. Once you lay that sword down and realize the ECF had Apostolic Succession, then it follows that Apostolic Succession is orthodox.

    Christ undid the authority of the Sanhedrin. That’s the old guard. However, in Galatians and in numerous other places Paul explicitly mentions the importance of deference to human authorities established by God. Even Paul, who says he received his revelation from Christ “went to Jerusalem to see Peter” for 15 days, and that Peter, James and John, after perceiving the grace on Paul, gave him the “right hand of fellowship”. Why would Paul mention that? Because he is demonstrating that he is one under the authority that God established not just in concept but in person. Who? The Apostles.

  129. And then there is this verse from Galatians 2:

    11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.
    12 For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.

    13 The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.

    14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?

    15 “We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles;

    16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.

    17 “But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be!

    18 “For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor.

    19 “For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God.

    20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

    21 “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

    So I am confused. I thought Peter was the Apostle-in-Chief. Here, Peter gets called down by Paul for false teaching over, of all things, a works-righteousness doctrine… hmmm… sounds familiar. I guess I’m not the only one who questioned the “Peter is King” point of view.

    I am also therein reminded of 1 John 1:9… “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”… No intermediary required? Amen!

    Cheers
    Curt

  130. Curt,

    Can we put aside our disagreement about how to exegete Galatians for a moment? (Don’t get me wrong, its fruitful and I would be happy to do it @ blessedsacrament2010@gmail) Rather can we talk about:

    Is this really all we get to vouchsafe the truth? Study up. This was actually one of the crucial “moments” for me in my intellectual journey to Catholicism. As someone who was born into a Christian tradition almost post-protestant, non-creedal, our only stake at Christianity was to do what you are suggesting. The only problem is that it doesn’t help you get outside of your mind to the Incarnational truth of Christ. God in flesh. Apostolic succession follows the Incarnational pattern and grants me access to the Apostles. What you suggest leads to a skeptical reading of Church Fathers whereby we have just as much right to get it right as they do. I can be every bit as Keynesian as Skidelsky. Once you lay that sword down and realize the ECF had Apostolic Succession, then it follows that Apostolic Succession is orthodox.

    I’m very interested in your thoughts about this and I think it ties into the thread here about visible vs. invisible Church. We could say a visible Keynesian school vs. and invisible Keynesian school to go with your analogy.

    God bless,

    Brent

  131. Brent

    I can understand your frustration with, as you call it, “a Christian tradition almost post-protestant, non-creedal, our only stake at Christianity was to do what you are suggesting.” I would be frustrated with that as well. I am, for sure, not into the Billy Bobism that some denoms have become, though I am also very careful not to pass judgment… only God knows what He is doing. There are some mega churches in my area that are very good at getting people pointed toward Christ, but not so good at deeper theological teaching. Some people stay, and others move on to churches that have a stronger theological basis. But not all Protestant denoms are like that, certainly not the Presbyterians. We are a creedal church rooted in Scriptural teaching, apostolic teaching and an understanding of theology based on the work of Reformation theologists. We require that all of our pastors have advanced degrees in theology from premier institutions like Princeton Seminary, not just a web based certificate from some self acclaimed “seminary”. We believe that, as gentiles, we have been grafted into the New Covenant as described by Jesus, Paul and others. When we ordain people into the ministry, we (the elders) lay hands on them and commit their work to Christ by the authority that was granted to us as elders in the New Covenant. We also believe that Christ calls all people to a particular purpose which he has ordained. We spend a lot of time helping folks discern their gifts and their sense of call to plug them into ministries that fit. We believe that we are saved by grace and our sins are forgiven but we are called to serve Christ with our lives as a result of His great sacrifice.

    You also say, “What you suggest leads to a skeptical reading of Church Fathers whereby we have just as much right to get it right as they do.” This might surprise you, but that is one of my pet peeves with the modern church. In fact, I was just teaching a bunch of 9th graders about this in their Sunday School class last week. Its what I call generational snobbery… the concept that we are somehow smarter than generations who lived before us. Any serious student of history knows this to be rediculous, yet, particularly in politics, it is common place. Back to the church… if you look at the Presby church, the doctrine is to this day rooted in Reformation doctrine which evolved from Luther to Calvin to Knox in the 1500’s. Our theological doctrine is exactly the same now as it was then. Yes, there have been assaults on our polity by socialists who are trying to use the church as a platform for social change. And yes they have had a few wins, but not many. All churches deal with these pressures… we read about them in Paul’s letters to various churches in the beginning. We read about various movements within the Catholic church as well. For example, over the years the Catholic church has changed its stance on divorce. Yes, they do the hokie pokie around the issue by calling it an annulment, but the reality is that the position is different now than when Henry VIII was king. No one is in favor of divorce… God hates it, according to Scripture… we all recognize that. But the church was never intended to be a rest home for saints… it is a hospital for sinners, and that will always be messy if we are evangelizing new sinners into the faith. So regarding doctrine, yes we believe that the Reformers had valid reasons for breaking with the church, and we believe that a Biblical systematic theology evolved out of that break. We do not take lightly any deviations from the Reformed theology that was adopted by the Presbyterian church in the 1500’s. We believe it is rock solid theology that has served the body well for 500+ years.

    Finally, you wanted to tie the principles above back to the discussion of the visible and invisible church. From my study of your thoughts and others on these posts, I think we have a semantics difference that cannot be decided through an argument process. We can only seek to understand the other point of view from its frame of reference and agree to disagree. As I read you and others here, the only visible church is the Catholic church, plus (according to Catholic dogma) some of the other orthodox churches. It does not recognize reformed churches. As I have posted before, I believe the visible church includes the body of all believers in Christ. To me (and other reformed church types), “the church” does not refer to a building or an organization. When Christ comes back to take His Bride, He will gather His sheep together as in John 10:27-28… “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” He will not ask for our Club Card, He knows who we are, and we know Him. The visible church is the sum total of those who are the hands of Christ in the world. “I was hungry and you fed me, I was in prison and you visited me”… doing these things in the name of Christ … that is the visible church.

    Example: I was speaking with a guy at church this morning. For the last 20 years, he has been a missionary in China. He has developed covert ways to build the church in China and more recently in N. Korea (much more difficult). Next month he will be smuggling 10,000 Bibles into N. Korea to support churches he has started there (they have 60,000 members now, all underground). If caught, he and his helpers will be executed. To those people, he is the visible church. One of my best friends moved his family to Kiev after the fall of communism. The underground church could finally surface, but they had no trained pastors to carry forward the building of the “visible church”. Rather than sending outsiders in to pastor the fledgling churches, the Presby denom sent my friend and some others to found a small seminary that began training native pastors to build the Ukrainian church from within. There are now well-established churches throughout the Ukraine that continue to grow as people are drawn to Christ. I could list lot more, and my point is not that the Catholic church doesn’t do these things… of course, they do. I’m just pointing out my view of the visible church… its all of the things that we all do in the name of Christ… its how the world perceives Christ … through our cumulative good works.

    Would it be nice if we were all joined under one banner? Of course. Will it happen? Probably not in my life time. (But we’re offering group rates, if you’re interested). :-)

    Cheers
    Curt

  132. Curt,

    Just a couple of quick comments. You claimed that Paul challenged Peter for teaching a works righteousness, which is not exactly what the text says. The text says plainly that Peter, because of certain men from James, refrained from eating with the Gentiles. It was precisely because Peter knew better and taught that the Gentiles were full members of the Church with the Jews based on Christ that Paul rebuked him, not for teaching false doctrine, but for living like a hypocrite. This, as you know, does not really present a problem for the Catholic understanding of the Petrine Office. The Pope can err in practice of the faith as the witness of many saints in history, most notably, St. Catherine of Siena, rebuking wayward Popes.

    As for your next comment about the Church not being a building or an organization, we are certainly agreed that the Church cannot be reduced to a building. Last May our Church building burned down and Father sent a letter reminding the faithful that our parish community will go on and press forward because the Church is a living reality united by our baptism in the Holy Trinity empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Church also is not an organization in the way a corporation is an organization. The institutional structure of the Church is a given. That is to say, it is of Divine and not human origin. The then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote a wonderful article in Communio (Theological Journal) some years back entitled, “Ordo, Charism, and Pneuma” in which he wrote about the fact that the Institutional order of the Church is a charism empowered by the Holy Spirit. Recently, the Pope gave a beautiful reflection on the priesthood to priests of the diocese of Rome about the priesthood not being a career choice but a vocation in which a man embraces the call of God to lend himself to Christ.

    Now, certainly, you, as a Presbyterian cannot deny that institutional structure for why then do you have Presbyteries which license men and ordain men for the ministry? In fact, a man technically does not preach a sermon in the PCA until he has been licensed and he cannot administer the sacraments or give a benediction until he has been ordained, which is why the first act of a newly ordained teaching elder is to give the benediction at his ordination.

    The difference it seems is that we believe as Catholics that this institutional structure is of the essence of the Church and of divine origin and you think it is of human origin.

  133. Tom:

    As Scott Hahn has pointed out, most Protestants (save perhaps some high-church Anglicans) either deny that the visible church has a unitary structure, or view the structure of visible church bodies as the product of human judgments rather than of divine institution. Thus “the Church,” as Mystical Body of Christ, is the collection of individuals with the right religious beliefs and/or dispositions, not a supernatural organism greater than and antecedent to the sum of its individual parts. The Church Militant and Triumphant does not comprise, with the risen Christ, “the whole Christ” as St. Augustine thought, but is rather an assembly of convenience for those of us still working out our salvation. She is not an extension of the Incarnation.

    In my experience, the paradigm shift needed for becoming Catholic cannot take place until a Protestant questions that view of the Church.

    Best,
    Mike

  134. Mike,

    Very well put. The Church, in most Protestant conceptions of the Church, reduce the Church to a community of like minded individuals. I love how the beloved late Father Neuhaus put it in his work Catholic Matters (paraphrasing) : “For the Catholic faith in Christ and faith in His Church is one act of faith. For the Protestant it is faith in Christ and then after that finding a Church that best agrees with his understanding of the faith.”

    I find it so ironic that Catholics are accused of putting their trust in a man (the Pope) or men (the Bishops), yet, most Protestants embrace a human/social understanding of the Church. The faith, in a Catholic understanding, is truly gift, something given, something received, not something made.

  135. Mike,

    I would add that a Protestant should also question on what epistemic ground they hold that view of the Church.

    Curt,

    First, the Reformation gave me a “non-creedal, post-protestant, Billy Bobism”. Even though “not all are like that”, they did not exist on the scale before the Reformation. Second, I don’t need a Bible Church grounded on theologians from prestigious, heretical seminaries. The Apostles didn’t have such pedigrees. I need a Bible Church grounded on Christ. When Christ called Mark, Matthew didn’t speak up and say, “Where’s this guy’s credentials?”(I’m not saying education isn’t important, but we have Doctors in the CC without it). Further, he didn’t give us a Bible so that must mean Tradition is important too. Since I notice he did grab 12 disciples, I’m interested in seeing where they go, and if they hand that ministry off to anyone in a ceremony like you describe. Now, I need to find a Church founded on Scripture, Tradition, and Apostolic Leadership. I’ve got a couple options, but I’m not going to air my reservations about EO here because that’s an in-house quabble.

    Nothing wrong with farthingales, but I’m not falling in love with the 1500’s. You said, “So regarding doctrine, yes we believe that the Reformers had valid reasons for breaking with the church.” Did the Reformers understand the Church to be visible as you understand it or as a Catholic does? Were they looking to “reform” the invisible Church but protest the visible one? Further, if they were able to “protest” the Church, leave it, and start over the new work of God, wouldn’t it be possible for that new work to go through the same type of reform/renewal in the future? So, for example, you wanted to protest/reform Protestantism. Where would you go? What would you do? Wouldn’t the reformers want it to be such a Church that could undergo the same dynamic sanctification that was wrought at their hands?

    I think the answer is telling and proves that it isn’t a matter of semantics, but rather of ontology. Protestantism has no visible Church because it has no positive existence. It’s existence is in contradiction to an ontological reality, namely the Catholic Church. So, for example, I could be anti-American, but that doesn’t tell me what I am, it tells me what I am not (American) and it also implies what is (America). I can then became a type of anti-American (Marxist, Stalinist, etc.). In the same way I can be a type of anti-Catholic (Calvinist, Lutheran, Anglican).

    It is sad to hear that Ukrainian Greek Catholics may have to fight to keep their sheep instead of being aided in that fight. Nonetheless, your examples of Christian courage are moving. I pray for the peace of all Christians. You find those stories in all Christian groups. The charismatic/pentecostal, non-creedal, almost post-protestant ecclesial bodies do more than most. They, too, see themselves as the visible church. The problem isn’t in our perceptions but in the vantage of that perception. A local view can always render the visible unity of me and a group of people holding a bible study together as the “visible church”. However, when you move that vantage to a universal/catholic scale, the picture is far from ontic. Which would lead to two possible conclusions: (1) there is no macro visible Church or (2) there is and its one of them (the other are somehow out of communion with it). I’m Catholic which implies how I voted here.

    Peace to you on your journey.

  136. Tom

    Thanks for joining in. I would agree with most of what you have said including the last two paragraphs, remembering of course, that in the Presbyterian church, the hiearchy serves at the will of the members. So there is institutional structure with accountability to the elders who are, in turn, elected by the members. We believe that the institutional structure is human occupied and divinely ordained. The other big difference is that we believe that all who accept Christ as their Savior are members of “the Church” even if they are not members of our church. The Catholic church does not.

    Cheers
    Curt

  137. Brent

    Oh boy … here we go again. I’ve been trying to play nice, but you keep throwing darts. No the reformation did not give you the Billy Bob church, Billy Bob gave you the Billy Bob church. Its up to you and me to know the difference between Billy Bob theology and Biblical theology. The same applies to the Catholic Church, which brought you the Reformation due to the sin of the alleged “perfect ones”. To ensure that we don’t go down the same path as the Pharisees, following ordained corrupt leaders, Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to all believers to recognize errors in teaching. While I’m sure that Christ did not want the church to split in the 1500’s, I am equally sure that He did not want the church to die unified as the Jewish church had, by following leaders who were corrupted by wealth, power and greed. We also are reminded that Luther and other reformers were not educated in “heretical protestant seminaries”, they were educated in Catholic institutions. The reformers were given no opportunity to reform the church from within due to its absolute top down power structure which had been corrupted. OK… darts removed… enough said.

    The Protestant church has its own ontology. Just because the Catholic church does not recognize its existence as part of the universal church doesn’t negate its existence. I could argue that you don’t exist because I have never seen you… that doesn’t make it true. To your second point, the Protestant church does not see itself as the anti-Catholic church. Thats like saying Americans see themselves as anti-Europeans. No, we’re Americans. We have our own identity. Yes there are doctrinal differences, but that seems to bother Catholics a lot more than it does most Protestants. We’re not trying to control the world… we’re just trying to bring Christ to a world that’s hurting… we’re just feeding His sheep wherever we can. Others can think what they want, and that’s just fine with us. We can join together to feed His sheep or we can do it individually. Together is better, but that can’t happen if one group doesn’t recognize the existence of the other.

    Finally, regarding the universal Church… The reality that the Christian church is not unified under one government does not negate the Church universal any more than the fact that there are 50 states negates the unified power of the United States. God has the power to work through His Church, the entire Church, as He sees fit, and he does. If the church has flaws on the outside… well He probably knew it would or else he would have not have chosen humans to run the thing… but he did. We see those flaws in the Biblical accounts of the early apostles, the early church and on through its history. We can pretend that it is perfect, but reality plainly shows us otherwise. That is the macro view of the visible church… a hospital for sinners, run by sinners. That’s the way God built it. I’m happy that He did. I’m also glad that He called me to be a part of it, sinner that I am.

    Lovin you brother,
    Curt

  138. One more point of clarification…

    You said, “It is sad to hear that Ukrainian Greek Catholics may have to fight to keep their sheep instead of being aided in that fight.’

    The folks that the seminary were working with had long since left the orthodox church, primarily because it had come under overbearing and dominanting rule of the communist party… not necessarily their fault, but reality nonetheless. Over the years, certain protestant denoms have gotten pretty good at working underground in closed countries. Once liberated, its not unusual for them to approach the “outside church” for help, and that’s how this story began. Further, their mission was not and is not to suck people away from the orthodox church, but rather to evangelize new people into a faith in Jesus Christ. Lord knows, the fields are plentiful after so many years of communist dominance.

    Cheers
    Curt

  139. Curt,

    Could you explain what you mean when you say that the Protestant reformers had no chance to pursue change within the Church? Just on the face of it, this assertion seems to be easily refuted by noting first the presence of Reformers in the Church prior to the 16th century who brought about real change without causing the denominational disaster that is Protestantism; second, the fact that the Catholic Church of Luther’s time was receptive to and in agreement with many of the criticisms that he made in the beginning of his career; and third, the fact that the Catholic Church was full of reformers of its own throughout the 16th century, who sought to reform the moral failings of the Church but sought to distinguish between correcting moral failings and overthrowing the Church’s actual teaching. Again, given these facts, how can you say that the Protestants had no chance to seek reform from within?

    Secondly, how is it that you believe that the evil of divisions justifies whatever good the divisions brought about? Surely you would agree that the bible categorically condemns disunity and division. I would hazard to guess that your preference for an invisible Church allows you to skirt this issue, since schism is impossible within a Church that is fundamentally invisible.

    Third, you say that Protestants don’t mind as much as Catholics that they disagree amongst themselves over any number of doctrines. This could not be further from the truth. It seems to me that Protestants only ignore their many doctrinal differences when they need to defend their schism from the Catholic Church and when they have taken a modern, “emergent” approach to theology that downplays the latter’s importance. I converted to Christianity as a non-denominational Protestant at age 17, was Reformed in college, and there was not a moment when I didn’t feel the harmful effects of Protestants’ bickering and arguing with each other about every issue under the sun. Practically, this disunity affects Christian mission in very serious ways, even though you act like it doesn’t really matter. As Christ says, it is by our love for one another that the world will know we are His, and a house divided cannot stand. The history of Christianity since the Reformation is a history of the house not standing because of its disunity. Aside from the lack of credibility that Christian disunity brings, the fact that churches at home and on the mission field are constantly fighting for each others’ parishioners (whether consciously or consciously) is another big impediment to mission. I have a Protestant missionary friend in Southeast Asia who was just telling me about these difficulties recently.

    Finally, I’d like to quote something you said in your last paragraph:

    Finally, regarding the universal Church… The reality that the Christian church is not unified under one government does not negate the Church universal any more than the fact that there are 50 states negates the unified power of the United States.

    Maybe you meant to add something here or I’m reading it incorrectly, but this statement actually corroborates what we’re trying to say about the way human societies function by nature. The reason that the existence of the 50 states does not negate the unified power of the United States is that we have 50 state governments all united under one federal government. To draw a crude analogy, the state governments would be like regional synods and governors like patriarchs, with the federal government being like the college of bishops convened in an ecumenical council, with the Pope as prime minister. Protestantism does not have the equivalent of a federal government, which is why its many factions are not able to work together. More often than not, it does not even have the equivalent of state legislatures and governors. In the vast majority of cases (and the trend is growing), it only has individuals with their bibles pontificating to everyone and claiming, in the fashion you are describing, that they have the authority of the Holy Spirit behind them.

  140. Hi David

    Thanks for jumping in. As to your first paragraph, Martin Luther was told to recant or leave. Here is the brief history: On March 16, 1517, the Fifth Council of the Lateran closed its activities with a number of reform proposals (on the selection of bishops, taxation, censorship and preaching) but not on the major problems that confronted the Church in Germany and other parts of Europe. A few months later, October 31, 1517, Martin Luther issued his 95 Theses in Wittenberg. It took a generation for the council to materialize. Pope Paul III (1534–49) —seeing that the Protestant Reformation was no longer confined to a few preachers, but had won over various princes, particularly in Germany, to its ideas— desired a council. Yet when he proposed the idea to his cardinals, it was unanimously opposed. Nonetheless, he sent nuncios throughout Europe to propose the idea. Paul III issued a decree for a general council to be held in Mantua, Italy, to begin May 23, 1537. Martin Luther wrote the Smalcald Articles in preparation for the general council. The Smalcald Articles were designed to sharply define where the Lutherans could and could not compromise. However, the council (Council of Trent) was delayed until 1545, and convened right before Luther’s death. The Council of Trent lasted 18 years, long after most of the early reformers were dead. Though a few reformers were invited to attend, they were given no vote and other than a few obvious abuses that were stopped, the church basically took an anti-reformation stand. So no, the Catholic Church was not recpetive to discussion and waited so long that Luther and others died before they even convened a meeting to discuss the reform issues.

    As to your second paragraph… I could ask you the same question. You believe that the Catholic church is the only church which can supply unity, yet I would argue that this is historically inaccurate, not just with the reformation, but with the earlier departure of what, 20-30 different orthodox denominations? Perhaps the problem of unity rests with the Catholic church. I’ve said this several times, but for the sake of those who did not see earlier posts, consider the Pharisees. They were the “rightful keeper” of God’s Word, appointed and ordained throughout pre-Christ Judaism to that post. Yet when Jesus came, they were so corrupt in their teaching, they did not recognize Him nor did He submit to their authority. The Jewish church spiritually died in their unity. The reformers believed that it was better to be divided and spiritually alive than to lead people with false doctrine and overt moral turpitude.

    As to your third paragraph… I am not in favor of disunity any more than you are. But it was the failure of the Catholic church that brought about the disunity, and continues to this day to reject some basic Biblical principles that all protestant churches would affirm. It more than a little self-serving to say disunity is bad so come on and join us, we’re the only one who could possibly be right … just ask us. Our church sponsors missionaries all over the world. Every Sunday, we have missionaries visting from far and wide. We also support a number of local missions in cooperation with other churches from various denoms. Maybe you just had a bad experience, but I see denominational distinctions falling by the wayside as Christians are uniting to be Christ unto the world. I have personal friends who are missionaries in China, Burma, Thailand, Ukraine, Uganda and Kenya. None of them have mentioned denominational issues as being an issue, and they are all cross denominational missionaries.

    As to your final paragraph… In your analogy, the Pope would not be Prime Minister (who could be voted out)… the Pope would be King (all powerful, corruptible, and permanent). In the US, we got rid of the concept of King, and installed the Presbyterian form of government… elected representatives. Its worked pretty well… not perfectly, but pretty well. Not sure if you noticed, but kingdoms lately are taking a hit… democracies are rising. I wonder why? You conclude by saying, “In the vast majority of cases (and the trend is growing), it only has individuals with their bibles pontificating to everyone and claiming, in the fashion you are describing, that they have the authority of the Holy Spirit behind them.” The difference is, in Protestantism, we don’t have to listen to individuals pontificate claiming the authority of the Holy Spirit if their doctrine is wrong. How about in your church? Oh.

    Blessings
    Curt

  141. Curt,

    Dear brother in Christ. I’m going to respectfully exit stage left. I think it will be better for there to be less side conversations, detractions, and more fruitful dialogue. I hope none of my words have been unnecessarily offensive. Obviously some of these issues are visceral and offensive by nature. Further, blessings upon your friends who are helping to convert lost sinners to Christ. Whether they are with us officially or not, the gospel is preached so praise be Jesus Christ.

    Peace to you on your journey.

  142. Curt (#140),
    I don’t want to butt in to your conversation too badly here, but I was curious about something. By the way, I like your style, great conversation going on here. And I liked Tango and Cash by the way. ;-) As background, I just converted to Catholicism and the main reason was the disunity and lack of objective authority to define doctrine as I see it in Protestantism.
    You said to David Pell:

    I am not in favor of disunity any more than you are. But it was the failure of the Catholic church that brought about the disunity, and continues to this day to reject some basic Biblical principles that all protestant churches would affirm. It more than a little self-serving to say disunity is bad so come on and join us, we’re the only one who could possibly be right … just ask us.

    There is not a little irony in that statement. You say you are not in favor of disunity, and say that the reason for the continuing disunity is the Catholic rejection of some Protestant basic “biblical” principles, then say it is self-serving for Catholics to say “disunity is bad so come on and join us, we’re the only one who could possibly be right … just ask us.”
    Yet you do exactly the same thing you accuse the Catholic Church of doing. You basically say that unity would improve if they only would accept some “basic Biblical principles that all protestant churches would affirm”. So, in other words, if they only agreed more with certain basic Biblical principles as seen by “certain” Protestants, the cause of unity would be improved. So in other words you basically have said “disunity is bad so come on and join us, we’re the only one who could possibly be right … just ask us.” The only difference between your view and the Catholic view is they fully admit to their exclusive claims, while your exclusive claims are couched in language that seeks to make your claim more humble and “just so”. As if it is just … well, obvious to anyone that there are basic “Biblical” principles that are being ignored. It is quite obvious that both you and the Catholic Church are each making very exclusive demands on the other. My only question is “who to listen to?”, the one who admits that exclusivity, or the one who denies it. I have been on both sides of this divide, and there are absolutely not basic, obvious principles that are being missed on either side. (and you MUST admit that for any semblance of reasonable conversation to continue) There is sincere disagreement on what you call basic. Both sides have genius theologians that disagree. And the many “sides” within Protestantism each have their geniuses as well. The basic principles you mention are not obvious, and if they aren’t obvious, who decides what is the truth?

    I have a few questions:
    1. What are these “certain basic Biblical principals as seen by some Protestants”. If they are basic, it should be easy to name them.

    2.Which “certain Protestants” should Catholics model in their acceptance of these principles? Feel free to be specific.

    3.Can you see how from my perspective (someone desiring objective truth above all else) that the Catholic claim at least fits with Jesus’ claims of exclusivity? (“I am the way, the Truth…”) because they have a unity of government/doctrine?

    4. Can you see how from my perspective (someone desiring objective truth above all else) your claim of exclusivity might not appear to fit with Jesus’ claims of exclusivity because the churches you point me to (“basic Biblical principles” in “certain” Protestant churches) are self consciously subjective on truth claims(self consciously= they have a “agree to disagree” doctrine on many important issues).

    Peace to you,

    David Meyer

  143. Hi David… Thanks for butting in! You got my point precisely. This whole discussion is about being called to communion. The Catholic perception is: we are the only true church, thus the only way to be unified is through the Catholic church. The problem is that Protestants are willing to discuss our understanding of theology and admit that we might be wrong. The Catholic church has hung a millstone around its neck with the doctrine of infallibility, and thus cannot discuss theology… it can only parrot the theology that the supreme authorities project as infallible truth. This makes unification impossible for people of conscience, unless you accept the infallibility of leadership argument, which none of the Protestant denominations do.

    So now to your questions:

    1. What are these “certain basic Biblical principals as seen by some Protestants”.

    The first and most obvious Biblical principle that Protestants as a group reject, as i just mentioned, is the concept of apostolic succession and the resulting doctrine of infallibility. While this is a convenient way to maintain unity, Protestants do not accept that there is a Biblical mandate for apostolic succession nor most critically, a doctrine of infallibility resulting from it. Dictators can command unity, but that’s not always a good thing. As we have discussed earlier on this page, there were certainly numbers of Popes who were evil people. The church has conveniently tried to slide around these guys, but many of us see that as self-serving rather than honest.

    A second major area of disagreement is in the area of salvation. Protestants believe that our sins are forgiven when we accept Christ as our Savior, that is we are justified through faith. Good works are the result of the Holy Spirit working through us, and are a reflection of God’s grace, not a requirement for it. The Catholic Church says that we are saved by grace, but that we must atone for our sins through good works. It further claims that the Church is the only dispenser of this atonement. Now, if we look at this central point of the Reformation, the reformers had no gain to make by espousing this theological point… they were simply trying to clarify a Biblical principle. The Catholic church, however, had everything at stake. They had built a power and control system that was based on their monopoly over matters of faith and salvation. At worst, they used this power to net lots of money through the sale of indulgences. Unfortunately, at the Council of Trent, they could not therefore reverse themselves, as this would have neutered their power system and given further creedance to the reformation movement. Had they, instead, worked with the reformers to come to a unified understanding of the important Biblical principles, perhaps the disunity could have been avoided. By they did not.

    2. “Which “certain Protestants” should Catholics model in their acceptance of these principles? Feel free to be specific”

    Well, on the two I cited, pretty much any of them. Again, I said there are basic principles to which essentially all protestants subscribe… these two would fit that bill.

    3. “Can you see how from my perspective (someone desiring objective truth above all else) that the Catholic claim at least fits with Jesus’ claims of exclusivity? (“I am the way, the Truth…”) because they have a unity of government/doctrine?”

    I can. But the Bible also tells us that we are all sinners… failure to admit the word ALL is a serious rejection of Biblical truth. God chose to build the church through sinners, for sinners. We see this in the selection of the twelve, who were sinners. We see this in the errors of Papal leadership along the way. It just is the reality. I too desire objective truth above all else. Can you see how, from my perspective, that I cannot accept Sixtus IV as an apostle ordained by Jesus? He murdered the sitting Pope and placed himself of the throne of the church. There comes a point where certain things are so obvious, we cannot ignore them. Unity at the expense of truth took the Pharisees and the Jewish race down. Is that somehow better than the division that occurs when fallible humans seek after the heart of God?

    4. Can you see how from my perspective (someone desiring objective truth above all else) your claim of exclusivity might not appear to fit with Jesus’ claims of exclusivity because the churches you point me to (“basic Biblical principles” in “certain” Protestant churches) are self consciously subjective on truth claims(self consciously= they have a “agree to disagree” doctrine on many important issues).

    First, I don’t think I claimed exclusivity… I claimed the right to inclusivity… that protestants have something to bring to the table, but the table is not open for discussion by the Catholic Church. I think the balance of this question was answered in item 3.

    David, thanks again for your comments.

    Cheers
    Curt

  144. Hey brother Brent

    The depth of our discussions has been very worthwhile, and the depths to which we defend our beliefs is joyfully an indication of the the infinte depth to which the calling of Christ reaches within each of us. There can be no harm nor foul in the search for the heart of Christ and His truth… in this, I believe, we stand united! Praise be Jesus Christ.

    Blessings
    Curt

  145. Curt,

    I see that the first part of your reply to me in #41 is a stringing together of various sections from the Wikipedia article on the Council of Trent.

    Putting that aside, it is important to note that your patchwork, anecdotal reply does not reply directly to my question. The thrust my of my question was: based on the three facts of history that I mentioned (successful reform movements before Luther that didn’t devolve into vast schisms and divisions from the Catholic Church and amongst themselves; the Church’s willingness to concede that Luther was correct in many of his theses; the existence of a host of Catholic reformers during the 16th century who were willing to reform what needed to be reformed but not overturn fundamental Christian theology or send Christianity into a spiral of dissensions in order to get what they wanted), how can you maintain the simplistic (yet, I suppose, common) Protestant narrative that the Church just didn’t give a rip about Luther and his concerns? Is it not possible that Luther’s protestations began innocently and were in line with the current of interest in reforming the Church, but eventually became less than innocent when his concerns about abuses turned to condemnations of established things-in-themselves? It should be plainly obvious that Luther was not excommunicated for protesting the sale of indulgences. He seems to have become a theological loose canon, and it was his insistence that major doctrinal changes take place in the way he sought fit that led to his excommunication. And, in like fashion, the movement that he began immediately imploded on itself as each took upon himself the mantle of theological reformer, demanding that everyone see the correctness of his interpretations of scripture.

    This attitude is reflected in your dismissive treatment of the Council of Trent, where, according to you, “Other than a few obvious abuses that were stopped, the church basically took an anti-reformation stand. ” You pass over the few “obvious abuses” that were condemned, the great change that actually took place, and move directly to the accusation that the Church was “anti-Reformation.” This comes across to me as, “The Protestants didn’t get what they wanted, so the Catholci Church was wrong.” Of course the Church was against letting a few individuals with novel intepretations of scripture dictate to everyone what they should believe. In the 4th century, the Arians could have said that the Council of Nicaea “basically took an anti-Arian stand.” The christological heretics of the 5th and 6th centuries could have done the same thing. Heretics can always pound the table, demanding that everyone conform to their interpretation of scripture and complaining that their concerns are not being taken seriously enough by the Church. But since apostolic times the Church has not operated by allowing individuals with novel opinions about what scripture means to dictate to the entire Church what it should believe. The Church of the 16th century, then, wasn’t against true reform, the kind of reform that the Catholic reformers before, during and after Trent sought. And this is the reform that actually took place.

    Moving on, the schism between the Catholics and the Orthodox no more proves that the Catholic Church doesn’t hold the principles of unity than the existence of sectarian Protestantism does. If either of these things were true, then the existence of Donatists, Arians and Nestorians in the early Church would do the same, but none of this is the case. The existence of sectarians does not detract from the Church’s claim to be the Church. On the contrary, the existence of the One Church establishes the fact that the sectarians are just that. And just to be clear: the Eastern Orthodox maintain apostolic succession and all of the sacraments. We consider their particular churches to be true churches, and full communion in the (near?) future is a real possibility that our leaders are actively discussing.

    As for this statement:

    The reformers believed that it was better to be divided and spiritually alive than to lead people with false doctrine and overt moral turpitude.

    …it shows how seriously deficient Protestant ecclesiology is. As Paul says, we are not to answer evil with evil. We must overcome evil with good. It is not better for a husband and wife who cannot get along to divorce so that they can both be “happy” in new marriages. At many times throughout history it has been necessary to suffer greatly for good, often without seeing the fruits of that suffering in one’s own lifetime. If the Protestants had remained obedient to the Church instead of instigating their theological revolution, and if they had remained steadfast in prayer and, when necessary, the suffering of not seeing the change they wanted to see as quickly as they demanded to see it, I can only imagine what Christianity today might look like. As for overt moral corruption, we know that this cannot be the reason for their introduction of division since the Church was concerned about it and that reform happened.

    As to your final paragraph, which responded to my comments about your state-federal analogy, you are focusing very narrowly on what you consider to be a breakdown or innacuracy of my analogy rather than responding to the actual point of my comments. If you re-read my paragraph, you will see that I was saying that the analogy doesn’t work at all for Protestantism because Protestantism has no “federal government.” You end with a rather sarcastic remark about Catholic obedience to authority. You are right that, as a Protestant, you do not have to listen to anyone. You can simply put them in the category of “preacher of false doctrine” and ignore them. You do not actually need to be in relationship with anyone. You can assert the validity of your interpretations of scripture, associate with whoever agrees with you, and part ways with whoever doesn’t without any recourse to maintain unity when there is major disagreement. You are also right to imply, however sarcastically, that this is not possible for a Catholic. I have made a commitment that requires submission and obedience on my part, but that is what the New Testament calls us to, in passages like Hebrews 13:17, which I know has already been referenced for you.

    I know that the authority of the Catholic Church sounds scary to you because it sounds like a trap waiting to spring when the Church gets it wrong. Let me just encourage you, though, to consider the possibility that what we’re saying about it is right. The Church may err morally, but it is protected by the Holy Spirit from teaching heresy as dogma. Isn’t that a wonderful gift? It means that you and I have a recourse to unity without having to debate esoteric theology. Coming to see the Church this way is, I think, like the revelation that the one thief on the cross had when he decided to look past Jesus’ exterior. How fitting since the Church is Christ’s body. We can see it with natural eyes, or with the eyes of faith.

  146. Curt, (re: #143)

    I’ll get to some of your other comments when I get a chance, but I want to comment on one thing you said in #143. You wrote:

    The problem is that Protestants are willing to discuss our understanding of theology and admit that we might be wrong. The Catholic church has hung a millstone around its neck with the doctrine of infallibility, and thus cannot discuss theology… it can only parrot the theology that the supreme authorities project as infallible truth.

    I discussed that objection in a prior post titled “Two Ecumenicisms.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  147. Hi David

    “…successful reform movements before Luther that didn’t devolve into vast schisms and divisions from the Catholic Church and amongst themselve…”

    Well, the fact is that there were also a number of schisms that occured prior to the reformation. That is the history. There are 20-30 orthodox denominations in existence today that parted company with the Pope prior to the reformation. So if we want to be factually correct, there were some reform movements prior to the reformation that were successful, and some not successful.

    “the Church’s willingness to concede that Luther was correct in many of his theses”

    Would you be specific here? Luther had 95 that he nailed to the door, and that was just Luther. What were the “many” that were conceded?

    “And, in like fashion, the movement that he began immediately imploded on itself as each took upon himself the mantle of theological reformer, demanding that everyone see the correctness of his interpretations of scripture.”

    No, it exploded into the Reformation all across Europe. Yes there were theological discussions (finally). The Catholic Church was still internally debating theology 1500 years into its existence, why would you expect that the Reformers would leave and get everything perfect from day one?

    “You pass over the few “obvious abuses” that were condemned, the great change that actually took place, and move directly to the accusation that the Church was “anti-Reformation.” This comes across to me as, “The Protestants didn’t get what they wanted, so the Catholic Church was wrong.”

    Well, you don’t like wiki so I’ll quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia… “The nineteenth ecumenical council opened at Trent on 13 December, 1545, and closed there on 4 December, 1563. Its main object was the definitive determination of the doctrines of the Church in answer to the heresies of the Protestants; a further object was the execution of a thorough reform of the inner life of the Church by removing the numerous abuses that had developed in it.” That is exactly what happened… they dealt with the obvious abuses, but rejected theological reform, calling them heresies. I point out again that it took the Church so long to get around to these conclusions that the original Protesters were all long since dead… so they weren’t complaining about anything. The remainder of the reformers saw this conclusion as an outright refusal of the church to seriously consider its own theology or consider the points the reformers had brought forth. It essentially made permanent the us vs them schism that had been festering.

    “it shows how seriously deficient Protestant ecclesiology is. As Paul says, we are not to answer evil with evil. We must overcome evil with good.”

    Exactly the reason for the reformation. Let’s finish the verse: I Thess 5:15… “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.”
    Its the seeking after good for one another and for all people. Other thoughts… Matt 7:15-16 says “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?” I guess the reformers were looking at the corrupt leadership of the church and applying this principle. Rather than submitting to corruption, they responded to evil with good. John 3:20-21 “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” Rom 12:9 “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” Rom 16:18-19 “For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.” etc etc You can say that the protestant ecclesiology is deficient, nut others might disagree. To use your marriage analogy, would you insist that a woman stay with her husband if he were physically abusive? I hope not. In the same way, the reformers could not stay in a church that was morally and theologically abusive.

    “As for overt moral corruption, we know that this cannot be the reason for their introduction of division since the Church was concerned about it and that reform happened.”

    So this is not true… the reform you speak of happened years after Luther and other were dead.

    “You are right that, as a Protestant, you do not have to listen to anyone. You can simply put them in the category of “preacher of false doctrine” and ignore them. You do not actually need to be in relationship with anyone.”

    Again, not true. I am in two relationships, first with Christ, and second with fellow believers. Do I agree with all believers on every doctirnal issue? No. Do you? No. Can I point to my church and say it is alway correct? No. Can you? No. Do I say that there are some who teach false doctrine? Yes. Do you? Yes. The question always comes back to the authority issue. You say that the Catholic Church is perfected in theology because of divine apostolic succession. I say that history proves otherwise. Sure, it would be nice to believe… I just can’t get around evidence to the contrary.

    ” I have made a commitment that requires submission and obedience on my part, but that is what the New Testament calls us to, in passages like Hebrews 13:17, which I know has already been referenced for you.”

    Hebrews 13:17 self-refers to faithful leaders. “…for they keep watch over your souls.” If the leaders are unfaithful, why would Christ want us to follow them? I refer again to the Pharisees and to the numerous verses I listed above warning about false teaching. This warning was given to the common man, inferring that God expects the common man to act upon the warning.

    “I know that the authority of the Catholic Church sounds scary to you because it sounds like a trap waiting to spring when the Church gets it wrong. Let me just encourage you, though, to consider the possibility that what we’re saying about it is right.”

    I love and appreciate this encouragement, and I am here to consider the claims of the church… otherwise I would be wasting my time. The banter is how we learn… iron sharpening iron, to put it Biblically.

    “The Church may err morally, but it is protected by the Holy Spirit from teaching heresy as dogma. Isn’t that a wonderful gift?”

    Yes it would be… if I could only see it that way. Unfortunately, when I read the Bible, I see too many discrepancies between church dogma and Scripture. Man, I don’t like saying that here… I’m going to be called to spend the next 30 years of my life defending that statement.

    Love in Christ
    Curt

  148. Curt @143,

    The problem is that Protestants are willing to discuss our understanding of theology and admit that we might be wrong.

    Given that all sides w/in Protestantism argue their positions with intelligence and in good faith, and admit they are fallible, when do these discussions ever move forward? This is a frustration I have as a Protestant. At what point do we start to question the whole Protestant endeavor given these things: 1. God wants us to know what we are to have faith in as essential truths. 2. Really smart and well-intentioned people on the Protestant side do not agree about these matters.

    Because of my background, I have no personal loyalties to any particular Protestant tradition. So consider a distinctly Christian practice like baptism. If I choose to baptize my children, within the paradigm you present, I cannot do it with a solid sense of faith about the reality of what is taking place. What if the Missouri Synod Lutherans are right, or the Presbyterians, or the Methodists, or the Anglicans, or the Baptists (meaning I shouldn’t be doing infant baptism at all)? Am I really exercising FAITH if I baptize my children and think (as you would seem to require me to think), “Lord, this is my best understanding of what you want, but I recognize other groups don’t agree with me so I might be wrong.” I think faith is supposed to involve confidence and assurance in what we are hoping for, but this doesn’t sound like confidence or assurance.

    What about eternal security? Do I teach my children that it is possible to fall away from the faith, even though God’s grace is more than abundant to keep us in the faith? Or do I teach them that no true Christian will fall away and if you ever do fall into a serious sin, like what Gal’s 5 talks about, then that is just evidence you may have never been a Christian to begin with. In my mind, these are such serious questions that maybe we need more than fallible, well-informed, and good-intentioned opinions on these matters.

    The obvious retort to all of this back at Catholics is what this site has referred to as the Tu Quoque objection. And I am working through the arguments about that.

    Your paradigm (and I’m not disputing that it’s a truly Prot paradigm) seems to require that we Protestants turn faith into either our best opinions about the truth or into whatever fits most closely with our experiences. That is ever bit as much of a problem for me as is the matter of the Catholic belief that the faith has been faithfully preserved in the church in spite of some really bad people having held the office of the papacy.

    All the best to you on your journey through these important matters.
    Mark

  149. Hey Bryan

    Thanks for popping in. I read the Two Ecumenicisms piece and principly agree with the point. However, short of a divine council of theology that brings all Protestant denominations together with all the Catholic orthodox churches to reach full harmony as to the interpretation of revealed Scripture, I think we’re stuck. (I know you disagree, but you have to convince me that you are right to get unstuck… until then, we’re stuck). :-)

    The movement in protestant churches recently has been toward “majoring in the majors”, in other words, being the body of Christ in unity when it comes to “feeding the sheep”, while setting aside our bickering over theological points. Its not that theology isn’t important, its that the theological differences in protestantism tend to be sideline issues that are not more important than our commandment to serve the flock. Let me give several examples. Our Presby church works with a large independent church to provide an aids ministry in Baltimore City (the aids capital of the US). Together, we bring a message of hope in Christ to those whose lives might otherwise wither on the vine of sin and hopelessness. Our church has partnered with several Black Baptist churches in the city, sending members of our congregation to join those churches, and providing financial stability and core leadership to help re-establish vibrant Christian communities in drug infested neighborhoods. I could go on, but you get the idea. We are active cross-denominationally in many things we do in the name of Christ. Now we could choose instead to argue with the Baptists over infant vs adult baptism, or the pentecostals over the speaking in tongues. Would Jesus want us to do that in lieu of joining together to feed His sheep… I don’t think so, and I don’t think you do either. We don’t have to agree on every theological point as a preamble to successful ministry in the name of Christ.

    However, I do agree that we have to be vigilant not to let ecumenism devolve into “least common denominator” theology. Yuk! While you and I disagree on some pretty important theological points, I don’t think anyone reading this board would accuse either of us being milktoast on our theological views.

    Blessings,
    Curt

  150. Bryan

    I would like to tackle your thesis under Section V Reformed positions and critiques. Ironically, you quote TM Moore who was the pastor of the church where my wife grew up and we got married.

    First, I will agree with your assertion that the two Reformed views you outline are fundamentally the same, and are fundamentally embodied in the Westminster Confession which you quoted.

    Then you say this, “Therefore under both descriptions what is absent is a unified visible hierarchy, and that is why the result can be nothing more than a mere plurality of visible things, united at most by their invisible union to the invisible Christ.”

    I agree that the visible unified hierarchy is not evident, but disagree with the balance of the statement. When you say, “united at most by their invisible union to the invisible Christ,” are you saying that the “invisible union to the invisible Christ” has no value? It sure reads that way.

    You go on to postulate that, “A mere plurality is not an actual entity.” This is true if you assign no value to the “invisible union to the invisible Christ”, but far from true is there is a mystical value to the “invisible union to the invisible Christ”. Your example lists a plurality of inanimate objects on your desk that have no particular connection to each other. This is hardly representative of individuals chosen of Christ for a particular purpose, indwelt a bound by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. You conclude that, “Though the members of the set are actual, the set itself is only a mental construct, not an actual entity.” Again, I would counter that this is true only if you assign no value to the “invisible union to the invisible Christ”, and if you ignore the physical body of the church in action. Your position presumes that there must be a singular hierarchy to claim visibility. That’s like saying there are no visible gas stations because they are not all the same brand.

    You continue, “The parts of my body are a plurality, but they are not a mere plurality like the objects on my desk. The parts of my body compose an actual whole.” Using this analogy, you presume to know how God is intertwining all of the church visible into a functioning body to accomplish His purposes. That’s a very big assertion.

    You continue… “He seems to be affirming the existence of the visible Church, but he has adopted an ecclesiological position in which there is no such thing as the visible Church…” only by your definition, not ours.

    Then you assert… “Catholic ecclesiology is not subject to this problem precisely because the Catholic Church is hierarchically unified.”

    Yes, but the Catholic Church has a different and more egregious problem in my humble opinion… by denying that protestants are part of the visible church, you must admit that you are hacking off huge parts of the body, unless you are asserting that no protestants are called of Christ. Which is it?

    Blessings
    Curt

  151. Mark

    Thanks for contributing to the discussion! I am a Presby who has been bantering on this site trying to gain a further understanding of the RC position, but if you don’t mind, I’d like to consider your comments as well.

    You state… “Given that all sides w/in Protestantism argue their positions with intelligence and in good faith, and admit they are fallible, when do these discussions ever move forward?”

    First, your question implies that there is a need to move forward, thus pehaps implying that God is not fully capable of redeeming us even if we make mistakes. I believe God is big enough to weave those whom He calls into His holy tapestry, even in our brokenness. Is this not the Good News of the Gospel… that while we were yet sinners, He has saved us? Do we trust in that, or doubt it? Whether we come through different paths is, I think, much less important than whether we come at all.

    “This is a frustration I have as a Protestant. At what point do we start to question the whole Protestant endeavor given these things: 1. God wants us to know what we are to have faith in as essential truths. 2. Really smart and well-intentioned people on the Protestant side do not agree about these matters.”

    Of course structural unity would be better, but this would require agreement of the Catholic church and all denoms of the Protestant church, plus the non-submissive orthodox churches. I don’t believe that any one of those can lay a claim to the whole truth and nothing but the truth… so yes, we remain frustrated. Further, unity does not imply rightness. It only implies a leadership structure which prohibits the ability to question rightness.

    “Because of my background, I have no personal loyalties to any particular Protestant tradition. So consider a distinctly Christian practice like baptism. If I choose to baptize my children, within the paradigm you present, I cannot do it with a solid sense of faith about the reality of what is taking place. What if the Missouri Synod Lutherans are right, or the Presbyterians, or the Methodists, or the Anglicans, or the Baptists (meaning I shouldn’t be doing infant baptism at all)? Am I really exercising FAITH if I baptize my children and think (as you would seem to require me to think), “Lord, this is my best understanding of what you want, but I recognize other groups don’t agree with me so I might be wrong.” I think faith is supposed to involve confidence and assurance in what we are hoping for, but this doesn’t sound like confidence or assurance.”

    That is only true if you stake your salvation and forgiveness on a rules-based faith. I don’t believe Christ called us to do that. Our salvation is based on faith in Christ alone, and we are given endless assurances of this in Scripture from Christ Himself, as well as confirmation from the apostles. What you postulate doesn’t sound like faith at all… it sounds like a cookbook. Just tell me the right answer and I will mimic it. Neither Jesus nor the apostles said being a Christian was easy. We are called to know the Scripture, as in I Pet 3:15 “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

    How do we do that? First Jesus said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” So God’s Word is the foundation for all that we believe.

    Jesus further taught in the parable of the sower, “And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.” Apparently we have the ability to hear God’s Word AND understand it.

    Rom 8:26-27 says, “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” So God has also given us the Holy Spirit as an intercessor.

    I Cor 2:12-13, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God; which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.”

    1 John 4:1-4, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”

    Eph 4:14-16 “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”

    So we are equipped and expected to rely on Scripture and the Holy Spirit to discern God’s will. Do we do this perfectly? Nope. Does God understand? Yep.

    “What about eternal security? Do I teach my children that it is possible to fall away from the faith, even though God’s grace is more than abundant to keep us in the faith? Or do I teach them that no true Christian will fall away and if you ever do fall into a serious sin, like what Gal’s 5 talks about, then that is just evidence you may have never been a Christian to begin with. In my mind, these are such serious questions that maybe we need more than fallible, well-informed, and good-intentioned opinions on these matters.”

    These are serious questions, and you do have more than fallible, well-informed, and good-intentioned opinions on these matters. You have Scripture:

    John 10:27-30, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

    Are we His sheep? If we hear His voice and follow Him, then yes. Can we be snatched? Not a chance. That’s what Jesus said. That’s what I teach my children.

    I’ll let the others chime in about the balance of your comments as they were addressed to them.

    Blessings
    Curt

  152. Curt (@151),
    I appreciate your response.

    First, your question implies that there is a need to move forward, thus pehaps implying that God is not fully capable of redeeming us even if we make mistakes. I believe God is big enough to weave those whom He calls into His holy tapestry, even in our brokenness.

    I’m not implying what you say about redemption at all. My question only implies that intelligence, knowledge of the Scriptures, and good intentions may not be enough for discerning the essentials of the Christian faith among the competing claims out there.

    Regarding my comments about infant baptism you say:

    That is only true if you stake your salvation and forgiveness on a rules-based faith. I don’t believe Christ called us to do that. Our salvation is based on faith in Christ alone, and we are given endless assurances of this in Scripture from Christ Himself, as well as confirmation from the apostles.

    I take your statement to mean that either you think baptism plays little or no role in salvation or that we cannot know for sure that it does. But this does not deal with the question I raised. Again, think of all the Anglicans, Lutherans, EO’s, RC’s and others that believe baptism is a means of receiving God’s grace, including for children. Have these people just not read their Bibles closely enough? Or do they have ill intentions? Some combination? They tend to think that baptism is used by God in the salvation process, that we can know this is a doctrine of the faith, and that we are not accepting God’s best for our children if we do not have them baptized. Why are you so sure that you and your army of church leaders, scholars, and everyday believers is right and their army of the same is wrong?

    What you postulate doesn’t sound like faith at all… it sounds like a cookbook. Just tell me the right answer and I will mimic it. Neither Jesus nor the apostles said being a Christian was easy. We are called to know the Scripture.

    I don’t know what you mean by “mimic.” What I’m talking about is tell me the right answer and I will believe it and follow accordingly.

    Jesus further taught in the parable of the sower, “And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.” Apparently we have the ability to hear God’s Word AND understand it.

    So I take it that you think you and people who agree with you are hearing God’s Word, but others who disagree with you about what counts as an essential doctrine of the faith and the meaning of those doctrines, are not hearing the Word. Again, that does not answer my question. I’m asking, how are we to discern among competing intelligent, reasonable opinions about the meaning of the Word. On the flip side, the Catholic position, as I understand it from what the guys on this site are saying, is not to deny that your position (and that of those who agree with you) is intelligent, informed, or well-intentioned. It’s to say that we need, and God has provided, an authoritative interpreter to clarify what is in error from what is not in error.

    So we are equipped and expected to rely on Scripture and the Holy Spirit to discern God’s will. Do we do this perfectly? Nope. Does God understand? Yep.

    This sounds like a “solo-scriptura” position, which is loaded with problems like those articulated by Keith Mathison and the operators of this site.

    I’m glad you agree that eternal security is a serious matter. You said,

    Are we His sheep? If we hear His voice and follow Him, then yes. Can we be snatched? Not a chance. That’s what Jesus said. That’s what I teach my children.

    That seems to me to be a pretty good argument from a commonly cited verse on this issue. Yet, I’ve met and read numerous Christian teachers and writers who make very strong arguments for the opposite view. And they can play the proof-text game ever bit as well as you do.

    Some hear my concerns and say that I must not believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. I’m sorry, but it just puzzles me to hear this when the Protestant traditions that believe in the formal sufficiency of Scripture do not agree on the list or meaning of the essentials of the Christian faith. To illustrate what I mean, consider this article from a fellow Presbyterian: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/we-believe-bible-and-you-do-not/
    Here Mathison takes offense at a Missouri Synod Lutheran who does not think Presbyterians believe the Bible when it comes to Baptism. I don’t see how Mathison can take offense and hold to the sufficiency of Scripture. Consider also that this same Lutheran’s tradition does not teach eternal security.

    Curt, I understand that we are impacted by sin, and that it affects our ability to understand God’s truth. But, I take it you would agree that this applies to Presbyterians just as well as Christians from other traditions. So is there any alternative for resolving disagreements over the content and meaning of the teaching of the Scriptures apart from appealing to fallible, sin-impacted, opinions? The guys on this site argue the alternative is authority via apostolic succession and that this paradigm is preferable because it takes us beyond opinions to de fide explications of the truth. I agree that this view does this, IF it is true. My problem has been (and Michael Liccione has helped me understand this more deeply), that even if the Protestant paradigm is true, we are still only left with opinions about many essential doctrines. That is, unless everyone who disagrees with you is either uninformed or ill-intentioned.

    Blessings to you. And thanks again for the interaction.
    Mark

  153. Mark

    You bring up some great discussion points. Since this site is not my site, I’m a little reluctant to go further in a Protestant to Protestant discussion in deference to others here. However, I’d be happy to go further off line if you like. My email is curtrussellsr(at)verizon(dot)net. Shoot me an email if you want to continue.

    Thanks
    Curt

  154. Curt,

    (continuing my response to your #82)

    You wrote:

    I just believe in a bigger Magisterium… one that is not bound by your interpretation of “the Church”.

    There is no “bigger Magisterium” — that is, other than the Catholic Magisterium, there is no unified teaching authority that makes doctrinal decisions to which all Protestants are subject. Nor can there be multiple magisteria, each being led by the Holy Spirit, and each contradicting the other. (That would imply some form of polytheism.) So the appeal to a “bigger Magisterium” is like an appeal to the tooth fairy; there is no such thing. The term “bigger Magisterium” is a term without a referent. If you disagree, then please point out this bigger Magisterium, and explain why all Christians should submit to it.

    I further believe that the Holy Spirit exists for a purpose, a position I find missing in your doctrine.

    Catholics do not believe that the “Holy Spirit exists for a purpose.” The Holy Spirit is God, and God has no end or purpose. He is not for something else, the way teeth are for chewing, and eyes are for seeing. God is the end to which all other things are directed. If He too had a purpose, then there would be something higher than Himself to which He was directed or ordered. But there is nothing higher than God. Therefore God does not have a purpose. And since the Holy Spirit is God, therefore the Holy Spirit does not have a purpose.

    However, that in no way negates the true work of the Holy Spirit. To believe that would be to believe that one bad cop means all cops are bad.

    Of course what I said “in no way negates the true work of the Holy Spirit.” But, I was responding to your claim that “The Holy Spirit is our guide.” I was pointing out that this is something that lots of people who disagree with you in many various ways, also claim. And that fact calls into question the truth of your claim, and the reliability of the method of “following the internal witness in one’s heart,” as a way of following the Holy Spirit. If the internal witness goes against the teaching of the Church, then the internal witness is not the Spirit, because the Spirit is speaking through the Church (Acts 15:28); Montanism is a heresy.

    In saying this, you minimize the oneness we have in Christ through the Holy Spirit to nearly worthless status. The Protestant church has a vibrant visible church that is fully part of the universal church…

    I never said that Protestants had *no* oneness, nor did I say that Protestants have less unity than they actually have. Insofar as all Protestants believe that Jesus is the Son of God, they are united in sharing that belief, and any other beliefs all Protestants might share. But consider the fact that the Pelagians and Donatists also believed that Jesus is the Son of God, and yet their unity in that belief did not make them “fully part of the universal Church.” So having some beliefs in common, even articles also held by the Catholic Church, is not sufficient to make one’s sect “fully part of the universal Church.” If Protestantism were in fact a heresy, and were in actuality presently separated from the visible Catholic Church Christ founded, what exactly would be different? How would you know?

    Historically, the apostolic succession, if any, fell apart due to the sin of man.

    No, it never “fell apart.” It continues on; see, for example, the video in comment #126. The sin of a bishop does not remove Holy Orders from him; “the gifts and the calling are irrevocable.” (Rom 11:29) This is the continuous Tradition of the Church. Otherwise, one would never know whether one’s baptism was valid, because one would not know whether the person who administered the baptism was in a state of grace, or in a state of mortal sin.

    The church is what God creates, not what man ordains.

    That’s the heresy of Docetism, because it denies that the divine Person who established the Church is also true man. In order for your dilemma to be true, Docetism would have to be true. But Docetism is a heresy. Therefore, your dilemma is a false dilemma. The Church is what the God-man (Jesus Christ) created and continues to build up, through the men He appointed and authorized. When divinely authorized bishops ordain candidates, it is Christ who ordains those candidates. This is the same principle that Jesus speaks of in the gospels, when He says “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” What divinely authorized men ordain, God ordains, on account of His divine promise to be with the Church and operate through the sacramental and magisterial acts of those to whom He has entrusted divine authority, who speak in His Name, with His authority, by His authorization.

    To say that there can be no Eucharist is to say that you have the power to deny Christ to me. Sorry friend, your dog ain’t that big.

    Of course I don’t have the power (or wish) to deny you the Eucharist. I wish to share the Eucharist with you. But, just because a person asserts that he has the Eucharist does not mean that he has the Eucharist. There are necessary conditions in order to have a valid Eucharist, just as there are necessary conditions for a valid baptism. If I am right, that only those persons validly ordained to the priesthood by a bishop having valid apostolic succession, can consecrate the Eucharist, and therefore that Protestants do not have the Eucharist, how would you know? I mean, just for the sake of argument, say I’m right. In that case, your objection that those having apostolic succession don’t have the power to deny you the Eucharist, would just beg the question (i.e. assume precisely what is question), and keep you in the darkness of error on this point. So that’s not a truth-seeking response, since a truth-seeker wouldn’t wish to remain in error if he might presently be in error. I discuss in more detail why Protestantism does not have the Eucharist in comment #311 of the Keith Mathison’s Reply thread.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  155. Hi Bryan

    Thanks for your response. As I am still learning about the Catholic dogma, can you answer this for me: I came across the following quote on Catholicism.org…

    “The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.” (Pope Eugene IV, the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441.)

    Is this still the dogma of the Church? If not, when did it change?

    Thanks
    Curt

  156. Curt, (re: #155)

    Regarding Cantate Domino, see comments #322, 326, 327, 329 of the post titled “Keith Mathison’s Reply.”

    Also, Comment #1128 of the Solo Scriptura thread (give it a minute to load) contains references to the other comments in that thread addressing Unam Sanctum.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  157. Hi Bryan

    I tried navigating around to some of the previous discussions you pointed me to, but it was a little hard to follow. Could I just get a “yes, it is still part of the Church dogma” or “no, it was modified/superceded by X”?

    Thanks
    Curt

  158. Having come out of Protestantism, what I left behind was chaos, not simply an admission that I could be wrong, but rather that Jesus could be wrong.

    He founded a Church (as opposed to a Jesus and me movement), guaranteed it against the powers of hell, gave it the authority to confect His Body and Blood under the guize of bread and wine, gave it the authority to forgive – or retain – sins, and never abandoned it. He promised to send His Holy Spirit to guide the Church into the Truth. (That presupposes that there were things not yet understood or in need of development, such as the Trinity, the divine humanity of Jesus, and other such vital truths which needed to be clarified for us.)

    Early in my Christian walk, I was aware of the profound differences in Protestantism. We agreed on scripture alone, but in fact virtually nothing else. Trinitarians. Unitarians. Oneness. Pentecostal / non-Pentecostal. Churches practicing a rite (Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian) and churches operating in a low church motif. Scripture alone as I/we interpret it.

    We parsed everything through Paul in Romans, being saved by grace through faith and not by works lest any man boast. It often led to a minimalist response. We were saved. Period. End of sentence. We were sure that He had us and it hardly mattered how we responded. We were very conscious of not being a “works” oriented group. He did all the work and nothing was required of us. There was not much need of a response to grace. We were saved.

    We parsed the words of Jesus through Paul. We parsed Peter, James, John and Jude through Paul. Paul became our touchstone, yet it is Paul who noted that the party spirit which was animating one of the churches (I am for Cephas, I am for Paul, I am for Jesus) was the wrong spirit to be animated by.

    It was not that there weren’t people in my old denomination who loved God, it was that God was no longer in charge. Scripture alone means that I/we are interpreting scripture as I/we want to. “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, while you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” God would have to settle for what we were willing to do for Him/on His behalf. If He wanted to take exception, tough. You God will take what You get from us and nothing else. And don’t try anything funny. We won’t have it. You are not permitted to do anything we don’t agree with. So communion ended up as a symbol, not a reality. No wine because wine has an alcoholic content and God is against imbibing alcohol. A lot of negative prohibitions on God.

    The best we could do for our competitors in Christianity was to see “sincerity” in them. Not truth. How does a Pentecostal see truth in a non-Pentecostal? How does someone whose pastor wears a business suit recognize someone in a vestment? Sincerity, but not truth.

    If the Catholics of the age of the reformers found that members of the Church were sinfully wrong, and they did, they are joined by the Catholics of other ages – including our own age – who find that Catholics can be sinful in a huge way. That was not a surprise to me. As a Protestant I read about Judas Iscariot, an apostle, taking money to sell out our Lord. Bad popes? No surprise there, but the Church is not saved by Peter or his successors, it is maintained and saved by Jesus.

    Jesus came to save sinners. Thanks be to God for that or I would be condemned with no hope of the remission of sin, which is a hell of a place to be. How does He intend that this normally occur? Through the Church He founded. The one that confects the blessed Sacrament and forgives sins in His Name. The one which encourages a response to the grace He gives.

    So the question for me became one of who I really trusted. Did I trust me? Being a fallible human being, and finding myself truly incapable of determining and maintaining the truth, I opted out.

    Did I trust my denomination? Much too often the very words of Jesus were contravened. But we were filtering them through Paul, so long as Paul represented what we wanted said – Paul had to agree with himself in order for us to agree with him. When he did not, such as when he told us to “work out our salvation in fear and trembling,” we saw “work” and negated that directive.

    Did we agree with the non-Pentecostal bodies? Nope. Did we agree with the Oneness Pentecostals? Nope. Did we agree with those churches practicing a rite? Nope, we expected God Himself to animate our Sunday fellowship (although after a time I recognized a sameness about it from one Sunday to the next).

    That is what I left. The Church which He founded and which He maintains and protects is what I came to. The generosity of God is truly beyond me comprehension, but everything I can comprehend is most welcome.

    I suspect that many of the people reading this website, and hopefully contributing to it are asking the same questions I did, and praying mightily to God for answers. If He puts a trail of bread crumbs out for you to follow, please do. The crumbs are food for this particular part of the journey. They are intended to open your intellect and heart to what He does.

    When I got to the water, He extended His hand to me and I was able to transit the Tiber. He is trustworthy. He never let go of my hand.

  159. Curt, (re: #157)

    Once a dogma, always a dogma. The Church has no power or authority to rescind, renounce or abrogate any of her dogmas. But she does continue always to grow in her understanding of the deposit of faith, including her understanding of her own dogmas. This growth is the work of the Spirit, who searches out even the depths of God. (1 Cor 2:10) In the course of this growth, no dogma is rejected, but the Church acquires a deeper understanding of her dogmas, retaining their immutable truth but situating them in a fuller understanding of their meaning, and relation. This we call “development of doctrine.” In addition, it is important not to impose on previously defined dogmas a meaning the Church herself has never believed them to hold, as a way of opposing development of doctrine. A very good book to read on the subject of development of doctrine is Blessed Cardinal Newman’s An Essay on the Development of Doctrine.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  160. Bryan

    Responding to 154…

    “Catholics do not believe that the “Holy Spirit exists for a purpose.” The Holy Spirit is God, and God has no end or purpose.”

    Bryan, stop and think of the magnitude of that statement. To say that “God has no purpose” is to say “I know the mind and the will of God”. That’ a very big statement! What we do know is God’s revealed will as in John 14:26?… “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” This sounds like a purpose to me. True, God does not exist for some higher purpose, but God purposes to do particular things, as this and other Scriptures point out, that are consistent with His will and desires. He is a God of action which means He is a God of purpose… He intends to do certain things… He has a will which He, in His own purposeful way, is working out… and which none of us fully comprehend.

    But, I was responding to your claim that “The Holy Spirit is our guide.” I was pointing out that this is something that lots of people who disagree with you in many various ways, also claim. And that fact calls into question the truth of your claim

    This is not my claim… The truth of the claim is affirmed by Peter in Acts 11:15-17 when he speaks of the Gentiles: “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them [the gentiles] just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” Peter claims that we, the average gentile, have the same gift of the Holy Spirit as the apostles. This is the same Helper that Jesus speaks of in the John verse I quoted above. The Helper that “teaches us all things”. Peter further confirms this in Acts 15:7-10 “After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” This is one of Peter’s best and most all inclusive testimonies to the Gospel message. He makes three points:

    1. We are saved by faith
    2. We are given the Holy Spirit, just as the apostles were
    3. We are no longer under the law

    If we affirm Scriptures above including John 14:26, then it is clear that the purpose of the Holy Spirit is to guide us.

    I never said that Protestants had *no* oneness, nor did I say that Protestants have less unity than they actually have.

    Yet the Church says… “The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.” (Pope Eugene IV, the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441.)

    That is a definitive statement, and you articulate that it is still the dogma of the Church.

    If Protestantism were in fact a heresy, and were in actuality presently separated from the visible Catholic Church Christ founded, what exactly would be different? How would you know?

    I would know from Scripture… I John 5:11-13 “And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life.” Clear to me… I know that I have eternal life through Christ (not the church). My sins are forgiven, even if I chose the wrong denomination. By the way, the same would hold true for you, should you be wrong about apostolic succession.

    “the gifts and the calling are irrevocable.” (Rom 11:29)

    This is an unusual reading of this verse. Paul is speaking of the ultimate salvation of the Jews… the verse has nothing to do with the apostles or any concept of apostolic succession.

    Otherwise, one would never know whether one’s baptism was valid, because one would not know whether the person who administered the baptism was in a state of grace, or in a state of mortal sin.

    First of all, since we know that there were Popes who lived in states of mortal sin, we could make the same argument about the Catholic church. But the concept is a false argument because the “validity” of baptism is not seated in man, but in the promise of God. It would be a frightful thing if our baptism (and resulting salvation, by Catholic dogma) were dependent on the particular life of the individual who is baptizing!

    That’s the heresy of Docetism, because it denies that the divine Person who established the Church is also true man. In order for your dilemma to be true, Docetism would have to be true.

    To argue this point fully would require rehashing the entire question of apostolic succession, which I won’t submit you or me to at this point. My original point was simply that God’s development of the “Church universal” in time and space might actually exceed the Catholic understanding of the Church. Just as you allow that the understanding of dogma may evolve over time, so might God reach out in ways we don’t fully understand to bring others to Himself as He sees fit. I’m sure it was a shock to the Jews when the apostles took the Messiah’s message to the gentiles… after all, they weren’t a part of “the Church”.

    But, just because a person asserts that he has the Eucharist does not mean that he has the Eucharist.

    Since I am Presby and you are Catholic, we have different understandings of the sacrament of Communion which would impact on this line of discussion and would require pages to unpack. I won’t go there for now. The simpler crux of my point was that no man or institution can separate us from communion with Christ.

    Rom 8:33-39
    “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    Blessings
    Curt

  161. Hi Donald

    Thanks for your thoughts…

    Having come out of Protestantism, what I left behind was chaos, not simply an admission that I could be wrong, but rather that Jesus could be wrong.

    Yes, unfortunately there are protestant churches that have very little rudder. Of course, not all protestant churches are like that.

    He founded a Church (as opposed to a Jesus and me movement), guaranteed it against the powers of hell, gave it the authority to confect His Body and Blood under the guize of bread and wine, gave it the authority to forgive – or retain – sins, and never abandoned it. He promised to send His Holy Spirit to guide the Church into the Truth. (That presupposes that there were things not yet understood or in need of development, such as the Trinity, the divine humanity of Jesus, and other such vital truths which needed to be clarified for us.)

    This you know by what you’ve been told, similar to your last church.

    Early in my Christian walk, I was aware of the profound differences in Protestantism. We agreed on scripture alone, but in fact virtually nothing else. Trinitarians. Unitarians. Oneness. Pentecostal / non-Pentecostal. Churches practicing a rite (Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian) and churches operating in a low church motif. Scripture alone as I/we interpret it.

    Yes the denominations differ… is your point that if the protestant churches have differences, the Catholic church must be right? That is a non-sequitur.

    We parsed everything through Paul in Romans, being saved by grace through faith and not by works lest any man boast. It often led to a minimalist response. We were saved. Period. End of sentence. We were sure that He had us and it hardly mattered how we responded. We were very conscious of not being a “works” oriented group. He did all the work and nothing was required of us. There was not much need of a response to grace. We were saved.

    This is a sad commentary on the church you left… I would have left too. Nothing could be more anti-Scriptural than “He did all the work and nothing was required of us.”

    We parsed the words of Jesus through Paul. We parsed Peter, James, John and Jude through Paul. Paul became our touchstone, yet it is Paul who noted that the party spirit which was animating one of the churches (I am for Cephas, I am for Paul, I am for Jesus) was the wrong spirit to be animated by.

    Again this is obviously poor theology… but it has nothing to do with my church.

    It was not that there weren’t people in my old denomination who loved God, it was that God was no longer in charge. Scripture alone means that I/we are interpreting scripture as I/we want to. “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, while you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” God would have to settle for what we were willing to do for Him/on His behalf. If He wanted to take exception, tough. You God will take what You get from us and nothing else. And don’t try anything funny. We won’t have it. You are not permitted to do anything we don’t agree with. So communion ended up as a symbol, not a reality. No wine because wine has an alcoholic content and God is against imbibing alcohol. A lot of negative prohibitions on God.

    Again just really bad theology.

    The best we could do for our competitors in Christianity was to see “sincerity” in them. Not truth. How does a Pentecostal see truth in a non-Pentecostal? How does someone whose pastor wears a business suit recognize someone in a vestment? Sincerity, but not truth.

    Again just really bad theology, but not much different that the Catholic position.

    If the Catholics of the age of the reformers found that members of the Church were sinfully wrong, and they did, they are joined by the Catholics of other ages – including our own age – who find that Catholics can be sinful in a huge way. That was not a surprise to me. As a Protestant I read about Judas Iscariot, an apostle, taking money to sell out our Lord. Bad popes? No surprise there, but the Church is not saved by Peter or his successors, it is maintained and saved by Jesus.

    Thank God!

    Jesus came to save sinners. Thanks be to God for that or I would be condemned with no hope of the remission of sin, which is a hell of a place to be.

    Amen to that my brother!

    How does He intend that this normally occur? Through the Church He founded. The one that confects the blessed Sacrament and forgives sins in His Name. The one which encourages a response to the grace He gives.

    Hmmm… so you KNOW what God intends? How have you come by that knowledge? Pleas share it with me so that I may KNOW as well!

    So the question for me became one of who I really trusted. Did I trust me? Being a fallible human being, and finding myself truly incapable of determining and maintaining the truth, I opted out.

    But opting out isn’t a Biblical response. I again refer to Eph 4:14 “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” We are to mature spiritually and guard against false doctrine, being a part of the body with Christ at the head.

    Did I trust my denomination? Much too often the very words of Jesus were contravened. But we were filtering them through Paul, so long as Paul represented what we wanted said – Paul had to agree with himself in order for us to agree with him. When he did not, such as when he told us to “work out our salvation in fear and trembling,” we saw “work” and negated that directive.

    Again, bad theology.

    Did we agree with the non-Pentecostal bodies? Nope. Did we agree with the Oneness Pentecostals? Nope. Did we agree with those churches practicing a rite? Nope, we expected God Himself to animate our Sunday fellowship (although after a time I recognized a sameness about it from one Sunday to the next).

    Again, bad theology.

    That is what I left. The Church which He founded and which He maintains and protects is what I came to. The generosity of God is truly beyond me comprehension, but everything I can comprehend is most welcome.

    I certainly can’t blame you for leaving! But again, having a bad experience in one protestant church does not make the Catholic church right.

    I suspect that many of the people reading this website, and hopefully contributing to it are asking the same questions I did, and praying mightily to God for answers. If He puts a trail of bread crumbs out for you to follow, please do. The crumbs are food for this particular part of the journey. They are intended to open your intellect and heart to what He does.

    That’s why I am here… to investigate the claims of the Catholic church.

    When I got to the water, He extended His hand to me and I was able to transit the Tiber. He is trustworthy. He never let go of my hand.

    Amen!

    Curt

  162. Curt,

    I would just interject briefly to point you to read Bryan’s comment #10 (up above a ways), where he talks about Protestants being in a real, though imperfect communion with the Church. So the Catholic Church isn’t separating you from communion with Christ; rather, in the Catholic Church you would be in full communion and have the fullness of the means of salvation.

  163. Thanks Devin

    With all due respect, that sounds like double speak to me. The quote I cited in #155 above seems pretty clear… (Pope Eugene IV, the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441).

    Can you unpack your comment a little more? Is there a partial means of salvation and a partial communion?

    Curt

  164. Curt,

    I don’t want to side-track things, but I would suggest reading Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) if you haven’t already. You (and most Protestants) have valid baptisms, which (in the Catholic Church’s understanding) is a sacrament instituted by Christ as an important part of our salvation. But you don’t, for instance, have a valid sacrament of Confirmation (since you lack valid Holy Orders), and that sacrament, too, was instituted by Christ (as was the Eucharist, Confession, etc.). So you are lacking in the fullness of the means of salvation, but you have some of the means, including the Holy Spirit (and His gifts) through your baptism.

    I think C.S. Lewis’ quote is applicable: “We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.” I would say a similar thing in regard to Christ’s Church (given that the Catholic understanding is Christ and His Church not “Christ, yes; the Church, no.”). So there are those who are in some communion with Christ’s Church through their valid baptisms and faith, yet are not in the full communion He desires. The wording is important, and I wouldn’t presume to change the Church’s verbiage to say it is “partial” communion instead of “imperfect”.

    Again, not to side-track, but it may be helpful to note that the Catholic Church several years ago, after a long investigation, determined that Mormon baptism rites were invalid. They are therefore (in my understanding) not in any communion with the Church (whereas Protestants are), which shows a significant difference.

  165. Curt,
    re your response to my comments.

    I don’t know what church you are part of, so it would presumptuous of me to get overly particular in responding by any other way than what follows.

    When I was working this through, which took me about four years, I was caught by the idea that scripture was the touchstone. A common difficulty in evangelicalism is that while we prided ourselves on knowing the scripture, we did not hold to the “plain meaning” of scripture anywhere it conflicted with our idea of what was right.

    So when Jesus says, “this is My Body,” we said it was a symbol. At the end of John’s gospel where Jesus tells the apostles “whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you retain, they are retained” it conflicted with the idea that we could go directly to God for the forgiveness of sins. Who was right? Me, my denomination, or Jesus? If Jesus set up a mechanism through which He – using His people – would hear confessions and provide or deny absolution, could I deny it?

    Luther saw a particular position of Paul’s given in Romans as the focus for everything. You are saved by grace through faith and not by works lest any man boast. However if one follows Paul in Acts and in the letters he writes (Hebrews being the exception) he addresses the Jews first, and then the Gentiles. There is theme that reoccurs throughout Paul, as he contests the Jews who want Christians run through Moses before being given to Jesus.

    When Paul writes in the early part of Romans, he is writing to Jews. He is writing about the works of the law, such as circumcision. Circumcision is no longer required, the dietary laws are no longer required, however a lot of Jews who converted want the Law maintained. They are used to it (see Peter’s failure in regard to sharing meals with the Gentiles for which Paul corrected him) and like a lot of us, we want to hold on to what we are used to.

    We are saved by grace through faith, Paul tells us, and later tells us to “work out our salvation in fear in trembling.” That is consistent with James who tells us that he will show us his faith through his works, because faith without works is dead. The apostles are both consistent with Jesus Who tells us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick and those in prison. Grace, it appeared to me, needed to be acted upon. But I wasn’t required to be circumcised to acquire that grace.

    John is also aware of all of this, and tells us that we cannot love God Whom we cannot see if we don’t love our neighbor who we can see. Love of neighbor is related to love of God, which is consistent again with what Jesus told us.

    However Luther depicted James’ epistle as an epistle of straw. The conflict between you are saved by grace through faith and I will show you my faith through my works is obvious, unless one recognizes the difficulties that Paul was having with the Judaizers and their call for maintaining the works of the Law.

    So what I was seeing, working my way backwards through Protestantism, was problematic. If the scripture doesn’t fit my/our beliefs, the scripture took the hit.

    I was seeing a Being of immensity, the Lord and Creator of everything. Matter from nothing. Matter maintained from moment to moment by His choice. When I first read about Moses’ extending his staff and the parting of the Red Sea, I had no difficulty with it.

    When a virgin woman conceived and bore a Son, I had no problem with it.

    When I read about Jesus’ turning water in to wine (with no intermediate steps such as planting a grape vine and bringing it to maturity, harvesting and pressing the grapes and allowing them to ferment into wine), I had no problem with it.

    When I read about the five loaves and two fish feeding the five thousand and generating a dozen baskets of leftovers, and about the seven loaves used to feed the four thousand and generating seven baskets of leftovers, I had no problem with it.

    When Jesus told me that I had to eat His Body and drink His Blood, I had no problem with it, but my denomination did. Evangelicalism as a whole did not accept that statement, and it appeared to me to be exactly what I saw at the end of John 6. A lot of the people who heard Jesus speak grumbled, denied and departed.

    The Lutherans had a different idea of communion, but it seemed to require the faith of the congregation. The Calvinists listed a sacrament, but in fact it was very obscure to me. The Anglican/Episcopalian Churches held that the believer could believe anything, from the Real Presence (very Catholic sounding) to a symbol. Given that the Anglican communion is made up of both high church and low church congregations, it tailored its beliefs to accommodate the individual.

    However that was the problem I was having. I did not believe that the scripture I was reading was subject to dismissal. God did not give me the veto. I was not in charge. So I was caught. I took Him at His word. His word included the founding of a Church which He maintains and through which He saves. (Is He limited by His Church? He is not limited by the laws He set up, as the water into wine or the few loaves sufficient to feed the multitudes indicates. Should He decide to operate outside of those laws, He is fully capable of doing so.)

    That is how I ended up becoming Catholic. It turned out that the Catholic Church believed all those things like the Real Presence, the forgiveness or retention of sin, even as it is written in the Book that the Catholic Church actually defined at one early ecumenical council and reaffirmed at the next council. Luther might not like James’ letter but the Church recognized its validity and kept it.

    I have gone back and looked at my conversion repeatedly. Like Paul, I am not my own judge. I am dependent on the Church Jesus founded and maintains for my direction. I found it to be the fulfillment of Israel and of the Temple, of governance and the rites surrounding the sacrifice. I found Jesus to be the King of the Jews, and the High Priest Whose sacrifice is the only acceptable sacrifice. I found every type and theme of the Old Testament fulfilled by Jesus, by the Church, by Mary, by Peter.

    God is no longer bound by me. He is capable of surprising me.

    There is actually a lot more, should you want it. If so, let Bryan Cross or one of his peers know and we can do this directly.

    Keep me in your prayers.

    Cordially,

    dt

  166. Curt,

    In #136 you wrote: “We believe that the institutional structure is human occupied and divinely ordained.”

    Then you write in #160: “no man or institution can separate us from communion with Christ.”

    Now, if you meant that the institutional structure of the Church is divinely ordained, then, failure to obey that institutional structure would be failure to obey God, and as such could separate us from communion with Christ, for Christ established that institutional structure and endowed it with His authority and empowers it by the Holy Spirit.

  167. Curt,

    I would recommend re-reading Bryan’s response in #159 to your question in #155.

  168. Gentlemen,

    Thanks for all the responses. So I’m getting two conflicting messages, both Papal, as follows:

    Unitatis Redintegratio, Paul VI
    “The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection. For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect.”

    Bull Cantate Domino, Pope Eugene IV
    “The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her;”

    Can you understand the difficulty I’m having here?… Particularly with the “infallibility of the church teaching” doctrine.

    Curt

  169. Tom

    Regarding #166

    What you say is true except for one little thing. I said, “We believe that the institutional structure is human occupied and divinely ordained.” It the human occupied thing. If there is sin in the leadership, I am not bound to follow in that sin. For sin, too, is disobedience to God.

    Thanks
    Curt

  170. Curt,

    I understand the difficulty you’re having. I’ve had to wrestle with it too.

  171. Curt,

    (This is my reply to the last part of your comment #82.)

    You wrote:

    Again, I read the link. If you want to place the entire foundation of your doctrine on a legend corroborated by people the church excommunicated as heretics… well ok.

    It is not clear to me what this “legend” is to which you are referring, and to whom you are referring when you say “people the church excommunicated as heretics.” If you want to read the patristic evidence concerning Christ’s giving the keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter, and its ecclesial implications, see Adrian Fortescue’s The Early Papacy, and Dom John Chapman’s Studies on the Early Papacy. Also, Steve Ray provides an accessible and ordered examination of the biblical and patristic evidence in his book Upon This Rock, as do Butler, Dahlgren and Hess in Jesus, Peter & the Keys.

    In a similar story, God gave the Levites the “Keys to the Jewish kingdom”… they were the only of the 12 tribes authorized to be priests. When Jesus arrived, they were better known as Pharisees. Seems to be a pattern here.

    First, it would be unwise to assume as a working presupposition that the New Covenant is no greater than the Old Covenant. Such an assumption would nullify Christ’s reason for coming and suffering. Moreover, Scripture teaches us that such an assumption is false. (Heb 7:2, 8:6, 12:24) Second, Jesus teaches the people under the Old Covenant (for our benefit and application within the New Covenant) that they are to submit to what the scribes and Pharisees teach from the “chair of Moses,” (Mt. 23:2) even when those men do not do what they teach. Jesus didn’t teach that their teaching authority was abrogated by their hypocrisy. Therefore, the Church has always believed and taught that in the New Covenant, as St. Augustine argued to the Donatists, the magisterial and juridical authority of bishops is not lost when they sin. We cannot justifiably rebel against the Lord’s anointed when he sins, except if he were to command the faithful to believe or do something that contradicted prior Magisterial teaching, or the natural law, in which case the laity must not follow him. To submit to the teaching of the Magisterium Christ established in His Church, is to submit to Christ, not only when they are righteous, but even when members of that Magisterium are in a state of sin. If you, as a Calvinist believe that the Apostles were sinners, then when Jesus said, “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me” (Lk 10:16), then, for you, this must mean that the early Christians ought to have listened to the Apostles, even though the Apostles were sinners. And so it is with the successors of the Apostles.

    I accept that the church had 12 apostles and upon their foundation, the Church was built… the whole Church… everyone called of Christ.

    If “called of Christ” means believing truths of faith about Christ, then schismatics too are “called of Christ.” Likewise, excommunicated persons often retain belief in Christ. Invisible-church ecclesiology makes schism from the Church impossible, and likewise eliminates the possibility of excommunication, because given that ecclesiology, so long as the ‘excommunicated’ person is “called of Christ,” he remains in the Church, even if he separates himself from the communion of the Church by schism or by excommunication. But that implication testifies to the falsehood of invisible-church ecclesiology. It is truly possible to be separated from the Church by an act of excommunication, and by an act of schism. Hence any ecclesiology that eliminates the very possibility of excommunication or schism from the Church (as something distinct from heresy), is ipso facto shown to be false. (Tom and I discussed this in the article above.)

    First, I don’t think the church invisible is divided, you do. I do think the church visible is divided, because it is.

    No, I don’t think the “Church invisible” is divided. That’s because there are not two catholic Churches, one visible, and the other invisible. Christ founded only one Church, the Church referred to in Matthew 16 and 18. This Church He founded is essentially visible, but it has an invisible dimension, just as the incarnate Christ was visible, but also had an invisible dimension, in His human spirit and His divinity, which was not visible to the human eye. The invisible dimension of the Church is the Holy Spirit and the grace that comes to us by the Spirit, through the sacraments of the Church; it also includes the souls of all the saints who have gone before us (though in their relics they remain visible to us in a certain respect — see here).

    An ecclesiology in which the “visible Church is divided” is an ecclesiology that has no visible catholic Church, and is therefore merely an invisible-church ecclesiology. It has no [conceptual] place for schism from the Church, and for excommunication. Excommunication is merely an opportunity to start another branch, even a ‘branch-of-one’ if necessary. And that is no excommunication at all.

    In your quote, you conveniently skip over the operative verses… “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” Yes, this defines the fallen Popes… but there was a problem… they were wrongfully given the full power of the church.

    The popes were not “wrongfully given” the authority they received in the keys, by way of succession from the Apostle Peter. Christ is overseeing the handing on of authority in His Church, and ensuring in each case that it is received by the man He has chosen, according to His divine providence.

    From this many schisms were formed, but the bad guys were the Popes, not the ones seeking Gods righteousness.

    An immoral pope is an occasion for stumbling. They will answer to God on the Day of Judgment. But, two wrongs do not make a right, and for that reason separating from Christ’s Church, because of the sins of its leaders is never justified. The right thing to do, in such a case, is to remain in the Church, praying for her, making reparations, and urging those in sin to repent, even if we are required to suffer for it. Better to suffer within the Church and not sin, than to create a schism or lead others into a schism by one’s own example of entering a schism, and enter into hell. On the Day of Judgment such persons will not be able to justify their sin of schism, by pointing to the sins of popes, any more than Adam got off the hook by pointing to Eve.

    Yes, we are to seek His Kingdom and His Righteousness… exactly what Martin Luther WAS doing and the Pope WAS NOT doing. Your view of the church is limited… mine is not.

    Whatever Luther’s intentions may have been, and however immoral Pope Leo X was, one cannot find the Kingdom by starting a schism from the Kingdom. What matters is not whether my “view of the church is limited;” what matters is whether it is true.

    I’ve read about the Donatists, Novations, et al. Ok… so if Satan takes over the church we should just go along.

    Satan cannot take over the Church. Jesus has promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Aren’t you a Calvinist? Why do you believe in divine providence in every area of life except the Church?

    I agree with Augustine’s argument… we cannot rightly rebel against a divinely ordained leader of the Church. I don’t agree that these guys were divinely ordained.

    They were each ordained through the same sacrament shown in the video in #126. That a man sins after receiving such a sacrament does not show that he did not receive the grace of the sacrament, anymore than that a person sins after being baptized shows that he wasn’t validly baptized and didn’t receive the grace of regeneration.

    Further, i believe we are called to maintain the purity of the Church by excommunicating the bad leaders.

    The laity do not have the authority to excommunicate anyone. The laity can request (of the Magisterium) that a bishop be replaced. But the laity have no authority to excommunicate anyone, let alone a bishop. If just anyone could excommunicate anyone else, then excommunication would have no authority and no meaning. It would not “hand anyone over to Satan,” as St. Paul describes (1 Tim 1:20). As St. Ignatius of Antioch said in his epistle to the Smyrnaeans, “where the bishop is, there is the Catholic Church.” To separate oneself from the local bishop, if that bishop is in full communion with the episcopal successor of St. Peter, is not to separate one’s bishop from the Catholic Church, but to separate oneself from the Catholic Church. This is the sort of rebellion St. Clement of Rome addressed at the end of the first century, in his letter to the Corinthian believers, who had created a schism which he describes as a “shameful and detestable sedition,” in which the laity (or some portion of them) cast out the elders (presbyters) of the Church at Corinth.

    I read “Does the Bible teach sola fide?” and came away even more convinced that it does. What it does not teach is the Church dogma which says, “if we add a few words in here or there, then it means what we say it means,” which was the argument attempted. What the Reformers did was revert to the plain, unamplified meaning.

    You are assuming that Scripture is to be understood apart from the Apostolic Tradition, rather than within and through the Apostolic Tradition. If Scripture were designed to be understood apart from the light of the Apostolic Tradition, and apart from the guidance of the Magisterium, then there wouldn’t be thousands upon thousands of different denominations and sects, all deriving their various incompatible belief systems from Scripture, and each claiming that they have it right and everyone else is wrong. The Scripture, which is supernatural, can be rightly understood only by the light the Apostolic Tradition in which it was written, within the same community to whom it was given, for the reasons I have explained in “The Tradition and the Lexicon.”

    When Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” That’s what he meant.

    Of course that’s what he meant. But you are presuming you already know the meaning of the terms ‘grace’ and ‘saved’ and ‘works’. And in order to know what those mean, it is not enough simply to look in the lexicon, for the reasons I explain in “The Tradition and the Lexicon.”

    God’s grace is sufficient.

    Of course, but again, you have to fill in the “with respect to what.” Sufficient for what? Sufficient for the truth of antinomianism? By no means. You make interpretation seem easy, only by glossing over the hard questions, and overlooking your assumed answers that function as hermeneutical presuppositions to which all others are supposed to tacitly assent. But, in practice, that just doesn’t work, as a quick glance around shows.

    He loves us too much to leave any part in our hands.

    Scripture never says that. If you have children, you may understand how we (parents) need to resist the temptation not to entrust any responsibility to our children, so to protect them from ever failing. If you, as a parent, were to imitate what you think God is and does, you would still be dressing your teenagers in the morning, and brushing their teeth, and doing all their homework for them.

    Let’s take a look at the possibility that someone can apostatize. For fifteen hundred years (and to this day) the Church has believed that one can lose salvation. The Orthodox also have always believed that grace can be lost. There are many places in the Church Fathers where we see that grace can be lost. Here’s one example from St. Augustine:

    If, however, being already regenerate and justified, he relapses of his own will into an evil life, assuredly he cannot say, ‘I have not received [grace],’ because of his own free choice he has lost the grace of God, that he had received.” (On Rebuke and Grace, chpt. 6:9)

    But we can find the same teaching clearly in the New Testament. Jesus tells us:

    “Anyone who does not remain in Me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.” (John 15:6)

    Why would Jesus be wasting our time talking about impossible hypotheticals?

    St. Paul says:

    “On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud, and that your brethren. Or do you not know that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, Nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

    In this context, he is talking to believers about their wronging each other, even to the point of taking each other to court. His statement would make no sense if it had no applicability to the Corinthian believers’ wrongdoing to each other. His exhortation to them to stop wronging each other, by reminding them of the destiny of those who commit [mortal] sin, presupposes that they too could, by their wrongdoing, lose their possession of the kingdom of God. That is, they shall not enter into heaven.

    A few chapters later he says:

    “But I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:27)

    What would he be disqualified from receiving? The “imperishable” prize of eternal life, i.e. salvation. (verse 25) He then goes on in chapter 10 to talk about the Israelites who were ‘baptized’ in the cloud, but then disobeyed God in the desert, and perished under God’s displeasure. They were idolaters (recall, idolaters cannot inherit the kingdom of God). Idolatry is a mortal sin. They were immoral and God killed 23,000 of them in one day. Others for their disobedience were destroyed by serpents. Then he says:

    “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor 10:12)

    The fall that he is talking about is falling from grace. The very warning would make no sense unless St. Paul believed it is truly possible to fall, just as did those Israelites. If we couldn’t lose our salvation, then instead of warning them about taking heed lest they fall, he would be enjoining them not to worry, since they could not possibly fall.

    And in his letter to the Galatians he says:

    “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” (Gal 5:4)

    That verse makes no sense if it is impossible to be severed from Christ and to fall from grace. Again in Galatians St. Paul tells us:

    Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal 5:18-21).

    Notice the warning. He is speaking to Christians. If Christians cannot lose their salvation, then there could be no warning about not inheriting the kingdom of God. It would make no sense. The warning is an actual warning, because it is truly possible (through committing the mortal sins he lists there) to lose one’s salvation, be cut off from Christ, and not inherit the kingdom of God. He gives these lists of mortal sins frequently: (Rom 1:28-32; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Eph 5:3-5; Col 3:5-8; 1 Tim 1:9-10; 2 Tim 3:2-5).

    And in the book of Hebrews we find the same doctrine about the real possibility of losing one’s salvation.

    “For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt (Heb 6:4-6).

    These enlightened persons have tasted the heavenly gift and become partakers of the Holy Spirit (through baptism, which was early in the Fathers called the sacrament of illumination/enlightenment), and then rejected Christ. But it would be impossible for them to fall away if they were never regenerated (and hence justified) in the first place. And yet they do fall away — the warning is not merely hypothetical. Such persons cannot be restored to repentance by baptism, because in baptism we are crucified with Christ (Rom 6), and Christ died only once. (But they can be restored by the sacrament of penance.)

    Later in Hebrews the author writes about the apostasy of Christians in chapter 10:

    For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:26-31).

    The writer speaking as a Christian to Christians, says that if “we” sin deliberately [he's speaking of mortal sin] after receiving the knowledge of the truth, we face the fearful prospect of judgment and a fury of fire. How do we know he is talking about justified people? Because he explicitly says that a man who “was sanctified” by “the blood of the covenant,” who then profanes this blood and outrages the Spirit of grace, will deserve much worse punishment than those (Israelites) who violated the law of Moses and died without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. Then he says that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Under what condition is it fearful? Under this condition: when we who are sanctified by the blood of Christ, then sin deliberately [i.e. commit mortal sin]. Such a person forfeits all the benefits of the grace of the New Covenant, and, if he dies in that condition, is punished in the eternal fires of Hell. Yes, that’s something to fear. The Christian is not told not to fear this possibility because he can never lose his salvation. Rather, the warning (about falling into the “fury of fire” [i.e. Hell]) is precisely to Christians. The warning implies the real possibility of Christians losing their salvation.

    That is part of the gospel taught in Scripture, and it is the same true gospel handed down by the Apostles and laid out in the dogmas of the Catholic Church.

    You wrote:

    Salvation is the result of grace through faith, and even that is a gift from God (not the church).

    Salvation is the result of grace through faith, but faith is not only a gift from God, it is (at the same time) a gift of the Church, because, as St. Paul teaches, “How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Rom 10:14) The gift of faith is from God, but it is mediated to us by the Church, because Christ delights to involve us in His work, through union with Him. This dignifies us, and glorifies Him who, like a loving parent does not insist on doing everything Himself, but entrusts to men many things, such that St. Paul could say, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His Body (which is the Church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” (Col 1:24) This is how what men on earth bind, is bound in heaven, and what men on earth loose, is loosed in heaven.

    Works are the result sanctification, a holy Spirit process that occurs after salvation. To say that salvation is, in part, dependent on works is to say that God’s grace was insufficient… and we have to make up the difference. This is not my understanding of grace defined in Scripture.

    There is no “difference” that has to be made up. The problem here is a kind of conceptual deficiency such that the only two conceivable options are (1) Christ does everything or (2) He only does some percentage, and we have to make up the difference. The Catholic teaching is neither (1) nor (2), and that is something many Protestants do not realize. There is much more to say about this, but this isn’t the thread to discuss soteriology. I have pointed you to the relevant threads in comment #121.

    I would caution, as I did in a previous post… using numbers to claim “rightness” is dangerous… to maintain intellectual honesty using that argument, you might need to convert to Islam.

    Christ’s Church is the stone that struck the statue in Daniel 2, and becomes a great mountain and fills the whole earth. It is like a mustard seed that is very tiny, but grows up to becomes larger than all the other plants, and the birds (i.e. the nations) come and nest in its branches. So, we should expect to find the Church Christ founded to be very large and spread out throughout the whole world, unlike the sects and schisms.

    I claim the same 2000 years.

    Of course, but look at the desperation in trying to make the Fathers even be aware of the Reformed ‘gospel.’ Look at them deny the unanimous testimony of the Fathers regarding baptismal regeneration. Look at them deny apostolic succession (universally attested and practiced for the first fifteen years of the Church). Look at them deny that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, all the ecumenical councils after Chalcedon, etc. I could go on, and on. It is one thing to claim “the same 2000 years,” but in practice, Protestants believe that the Church fell into the darkness of error in the first centuries after Christ, and didn’t resurface with the truth until Martin Luther in the 16th century. So the claim to those 2000 years is rather disingenuous and mostly semantics; you can only claim those 2000 years only by rejecting most everything from 451 to 1517. (See “Ecclesial Deism.”) But the Catholic mass can already be seen in what St. Ignatius of Antioch says about the Eucharist in AD 107, and what St. Justin Martyr says in the middle of the second century:

    You wrote:

    Corrupt men did not just exist in her, they led her.

    Indeed they did, but again, we are not deists. It was not they alone who led the Church, but always Christ working through them, even in spite of them. You said earlier that the Catholic view of God made Him seem weak. No, He is so powerful, that He is even able to lead the Church through sinful men.

    Your argument always poses this mutually exclusive dichotomy: The basis of the entire doctrine rests on the apostolic succession through all of the Popes in the physical realm. Yet when there is a flaw in the physical realm, you revert to the mystical realm which relies on the physical realm for its logical being. You can’t have it both ways and be intellectually honest. Either God ordained ALL of the Popes including the bad ones, or the succession argument falls apart.

    Yes, God ordained all the popes. We are not “reverting” to the spiritual realm. God (who is immaterial) is always leading and guiding His Church. This notion that we cannot “have it both ways,” i.e. God leading the Church, and men leading the Church, is, once again, a form of Docetism, for the reasons I explained above. The very existence of the incarnate Christ shows otherwise. It shows that two wills (one human, and one divine) can act together.

    I would agree that the (entire) church invisible has never been corrupted, but that all of the church visible has been corrupted… we’re all sinners… how could it not?

    As I explained above, Jesus did not found two Churches (one visible, and one invisible). Persons in the Church have been corrupt, but the Church herself is holy; this [i.e. holiness] is one of the four marks of the Church ["one, holy, catholic and apostolic"]. No one can mar the holiness of Christ’s Church, just as no one could mar Christ’s holiness. When a member of the Body commits a mortal sin, he separates himself from the Holy Spirit, the grace, and the agape located in the Church and received through her sacraments. By returning to the sacraments, he returns to the holiness that has remained inviolate in the Church, and was not destroyed by his sins. To see the holiness of the Church, look carefully at the lives of the Church’s saints; that’s where it is most visible, even though in another respect it is most hidden.

    God did not create the Roman Catholic Church. He created the Church. I defer to the aforementioned story of the Levites. God creates… man corrupts. This is a Biblical truth as old as Adam, and the only one that explains the schisms.

    God did create the “Roman Catholic Church” when He said to St. Peter, “Upon this Rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The Catholic Church is made up of twenty three sui juris particular Churches in union with the successor of St. Peter. Only one of those twenty-three particular Churches is the Latin Church. So the rest are not “Roman” in that sense. But the Catholic Church is Roman in the sense that the bishop of Rome, as the successor of St. Peter, is the steward of the keys of the Kingdom, and serves as the touchstone for communion with, or schism from, the Catholic Church Christ founded. As St. Ambrose said,

    Where Peter is, there is the Church. And where the Church, no death is there, but life eternal. [...] In fine, Peter, after having been tempted by the devil [Luke 22:31-32] is set over the church. The Lord, therefore, foreshowed what that was, that He afterwards chose him as the pastor of the Lord’s flock. For to him He said, “But thou when converted confirm thy brethren.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  172. Curt,

    Your confusion about those two passages stems from not having a well-formed understanding of the concepts found in Cantate Domino (CD) and their place in the history of Catholic theology. This is only to be expected and I don’t mean to fault you for it. The Church has been reflecting on these issues for a long time, but the fullness of meaning of each word and concept is not always found in every document. This is a natural fact about communication. People who know each other or, on a wider scale, people who share a cultural context, can talk to each other in an idiom that they both understand without always having to qualify and nuance each statement (this is not to say, of course, that clarification and nuance are never necessary. See below.). I have only been a Catholic for 11 months and am still learning the “language” of Catholicism. Anyway, my point is that there is behind CD a long history of Catholic reflection on the relationship of the sacraments to salvation, the question of salvation for those who never have access to the Gospel, those who express interest in Christianity but die before being able to receive the sacraments, etc. The Church is not ignorant of the thief on the cross, the tribesman on an island somewhere who never met a missionary, or the person who has grown up their entire life in an anti-Catholic culture being fed prejudices and misinformation about Catholicism. We have to understand this when we read the Church’s documents. It’s a real problem when we try to read them without that background. It’s the exact same problem that Protestants run into when they try to read the Bible without being a part of the community in which the Bible was written and to which it was written. Bryan, I think, already pointed this out above.

    Underlying the Church’s condemnation of heretics and schismatics is its understanding of sin generally. Therefore, while it is possible for lots of people to be “formally” heretics, not all non-Catholics are knowledgeably and obstinately non-Catholic. To give a personal example: when I converted to Christianity at the age of 17 in the Protestant South, Catholicism was not even an option for me because I was taught indirectly by my culture that it was wrong. I knew what Catholics were: they worshiped Mary, believed the Pope never did anything wrong, had pagan ritual practices, etc. As I grew and learned, an even more anti-Catholic attitude rubbed off on me from my friends and congregations, but CD didn’t apply to me at that time, and it doesn’t apply to people in similar circumstances now. Documents which have been written latter, like the one you cite, are a living example of the Church reflecting on the tradition and clarifying it (not changing it). We certainly know that, while we believe the Church’s dogmatic pronouncements to be infallible, this doesn’t mean that each statement is the last word on the subject, or that the thing couldn’t be stated more clearly and with more nuance, even though we share the same idiom! But this is part of the beauty of the Catholic Church. We don’t change what we believe, but we have the genuine possibility of clarifying and further expounding our belief in each generation. The Church’s leadership is a living, breathing voice that addresses new topics as they come up; it can respond to questions and correct misunderstandings. We have a solid foundation that we are building on. The Lord continues to build on that foundation as the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth, in spite of the occasional morally corrupt leaders. This, as Bryan pointed out, shows how powerful God is in keeping his promise to the Church, and it is this incarnational union of the human aspect of the Church and its divine soul (the Holy Spirit) that keep the Church from being just a human institution as likely to run itself into the ground as Enron. We don’t choose between the false dichotomy of having visible, audible human leaders, and having Christ and the Holy Spirit as our leaders.

  173. Donald

    Thanks for your heartfelt comments. I really appreciate the thoroughness and the time you spent. In turn, I would like to express some of the struggles I am having with concepts expressed here, using your comments as a springboard, as they embody those struggles and you have spent considerable time wading through the same stuff.

    I don’t know what church you are part of, so it would presumptuous of me to get overly particular in responding by any other way than what follows.

    So just for the record, I am Presbyterian.

    When I was working this through, which took me about four years, I was caught by the idea that scripture was the touchstone. A common difficulty in evangelicalism is that while we prided ourselves on knowing the scripture, we did not hold to the “plain meaning” of scripture anywhere it conflicted with our idea of what was right.

    This really caught my eye, for this is one of the biggest struggles I have in my conversations with defenders of Catholic theology. It seems to me that when I ask questions, I almost always get referred to this guy or that guy, or some dogma statement, etc etc. At best, the use of Scripture is sparce and the reliance on what the Church says is overwhelming. This works fine if you buy into the apostolic succession concept, but I have not seen evidence that convinces me this is accurate. It seems to me fundamentally that theological positions should speak loudest from Scripture, augmented when necessary by Church teaching.

    So when Jesus says, “this is My Body,” we said it was a symbol.

    I have had communion at a Catholic Church … we got chipboard wafer and wine just like the Presby church. No flesh, no blood. In my book that is symbolic. Further, in terms of the concept of transubstantiation, I can show a LOT of verses that indicate that our sins are forgiven, period. No need to crucify Christ over and over. He died once for all. This again goes to the plain meaning discussion. I have no problem accepting that some Biblical verses are symbolic and some are literal. The plainest meaning of this verse would be… as often as you eat and drink, think of Me.

    At the end of John’s gospel where Jesus tells the apostles “whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you retain, they are retained” it conflicted with the idea that we could go directly to God for the forgiveness of sins. Who was right? Me, my denomination, or Jesus? If Jesus set up a mechanism through which He – using His people – would hear confessions and provide or deny absolution, could I deny it?

    This is a much better verse to substantiate your point above. The tension of this verse with so many other verses that claim justification by faith in Christ, and sometimes only faith in Christ, demands a much closer look at this particular verse. We know that Scripture must agree with itself, so a standout verse such as this
    must be conguous with the others. Since the plain meaning of all of the other verses is justification by Christ alone, this verse must not mean justification by the apostles… otherwise it would be in contradiction with the balance of the New Testament (no one comes to the Father except by me, etc etc.). If we look at the previous verses, Jesus is handing off His ministry to the apostles. He fills them with the Holy Spirit and He is sending them out to minister to the masses, just as He had been doing. Jesus had told them before that they would be able to do even greater things than Jesus had. I think in this he was not talking so much about miracles as He was referring to the numbers of people who would come to saving grace in Christ as a result of their ministry. Sins would be forgiven, or not, as a result of those ministries. This is congruous with the other verses.

    Luther saw a particular position of Paul’s given in Romans as the focus for everything. You are saved by grace through faith and not by works lest any man boast. However if one follows Paul in Acts and in the letters he writes (Hebrews being the exception) he addresses the Jews first, and then the Gentiles. There is theme that reoccurs throughout Paul, as he contests the Jews who want Christians run through Moses before being given to Jesus.

    When Paul writes in the early part of Romans, he is writing to Jews. He is writing about the works of the law, such as circumcision. Circumcision is no longer required, the dietary laws are no longer required, however a lot of Jews who converted want the Law maintained. They are used to it (see Peter’s failure in regard to sharing meals with the Gentiles for which Paul corrected him) and like a lot of us, we want to hold on to what we are used to.

    We are saved by grace through faith, Paul tells us, and later tells us to “work out our salvation in fear in trembling.” That is consistent with James who tells us that he will show us his faith through his works, because faith without works is dead. The apostles are both consistent with Jesus Who tells us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick and those in prison. Grace, it appeared to me, needed to be acted upon. But I wasn’t required to be circumcised to acquire that grace.

    John is also aware of all of this, and tells us that we cannot love God Whom we cannot see if we don’t love our neighbor who we can see. Love of neighbor is related to love of God, which is consistent again with what Jesus told us.

    However Luther depicted James’ epistle as an epistle of straw. The conflict between you are saved by grace through faith and I will show you my faith through my works is obvious, unless one recognizes the difficulties that Paul was having with the Judaizers and their call for maintaining the works of the Law.

    OK, first I am not a huge fan of Luther’s theology. However, I have no problem with the congruity of the various Scripture references you made, nor your context. I also do not have a problem with the reformed understanding of these verses, which would go something like this: We are saved by grace and grace alone. Our sins are forgiven by Christ and Christ alone. We are not justified by works, but we are spurred to works by the Holy Spirit as a result of grace working within us. Thus, the credit all goes to God, and we cannot add to His infinite grace. We can and will, however, reflect His grace if we are truly saved. This is why Jesus said “you will know them by their fruit”. He never says “they will be saved by their fruit”, or “by their fruit, their sins will be forgiven”. Don’t you think that Jesus would have said something like this if it were to be the crux of the entire justification doctrine?

    So what I was seeing, working my way backwards through Protestantism, was problematic. If the scripture doesn’t fit my/our beliefs, the scripture took the hit.

    We all see things from the vantage point we have started from… you from a Pentacostal perspective, me from a Presby perspective. As I have conversed on this web site, I have found the use of Scripture to be light, relative to what I’m used to, and references to dogma or “read blah blah blah by So In So” to be the primary voice for theological discussion. Between your comment and my observation, it seems to me that the reformed theologians rely deeply on Scripture and have to therefore have to deal with all of the theological implications, while the Catholic church can simply create a dogma and hold everyone to it. I know this is a brash statement, and I don’t mean to offend, but that’s what I have observed.

    I was seeing a Being of immensity, the Lord and Creator of everything. Matter from nothing. Matter maintained from moment to moment by His choice. When I first read about Moses’ extending his staff and the parting of the Red Sea, I had no difficulty with it.

    When a virgin woman conceived and bore a Son, I had no problem with it.

    When I read about Jesus’ turning water in to wine (with no intermediate steps such as planting a grape vine and bringing it to maturity, harvesting and pressing the grapes and allowing them to ferment into wine), I had no problem with it.

    When I read about the five loaves and two fish feeding the five thousand and generating a dozen baskets of leftovers, and about the seven loaves used to feed the four thousand and generating seven baskets of leftovers, I had no problem with it.

    When Jesus told me that I had to eat His Body and drink His Blood, I had no problem with it, but my denomination did. Evangelicalism as a whole did not accept that statement, and it appeared to me to be exactly what I saw at the end of John 6. A lot of the people who heard Jesus speak grumbled, denied and departed.

    The Lutherans had a different idea of communion, but it seemed to require the faith of the congregation. The Calvinists listed a sacrament, but in fact it was very obscure to me. The Anglican/Episcopalian Churches held that the believer could believe anything, from the Real Presence (very Catholic sounding) to a symbol. Given that the Anglican communion is made up of both high church and low church congregations, it tailored its beliefs to accommodate the individual.

    Well, again, I have attended mass and taken communion. My wafer was a wafer, and my wine was wine. Being of the Presby persuasion, we believe that Christ is with us always, not just at communion. We don’t believe that we are sacrificing Christ over and over through transubstantiation. Jesus said, “Do this in remberance of Me”, not do this to Me over and over. So our communion looks like His, we break bread and share the cup to remember in a special way all that Christ has done for us through His body and His blood.

    However that was the problem I was having. I did not believe that the scripture I was reading was subject to dismissal. God did not give me the veto. I was not in charge. So I was caught. I took Him at His word. His word included the founding of a Church which He maintains and through which He saves. (Is He limited by His Church? He is not limited by the laws He set up, as the water into wine or the few loaves sufficient to feed the multitudes indicates. Should He decide to operate outside of those laws, He is fully capable of doing so.)

    That is how I ended up becoming Catholic. It turned out that the Catholic Church believed all those things like the Real Presence, the forgiveness or retention of sin, even as it is written in the Book that the Catholic Church actually defined at one early ecumenical council and reaffirmed at the next council. Luther might not like James’ letter but the Church recognized its validity and kept it.

    I have gone back and looked at my conversion repeatedly. Like Paul, I am not my own judge. I am dependent on the Church Jesus founded and maintains for my direction. I found it to be the fulfillment of Israel and of the Temple, of governance and the rites surrounding the sacrifice. I found Jesus to be the King of the Jews, and the High Priest Whose sacrifice is the only acceptable sacrifice. I found every type and theme of the Old Testament fulfilled by Jesus, by the Church, by Mary, by Peter.

    God is no longer bound by me. He is capable of surprising me.

    And that is a very cool place to be! I get all of your previous struggles with your old church and their unusual theology, and I get your thoughts, struggles and comments along the way. I am still trying to understand your “therefore” (as in, therefore I ended up at the Catholic church). To me, solid reformed theology has answers to the things you were struggling with. Personally, I am still struggling with the apostolic succession question, the “bad popes” problem and the answers to these and other uniquely Catholic doctrines that come, in my view, more from dogma than Scripture.

    Thanks again for sharing your humble and candid story.

    Blessings
    Curt

  174. David

    Great explanation! Honestly, it still feels a little double-speaky to me, but you certainly closed a lot of the gap.

    Thanks
    Curt

  175. Bryan

    Thaks for taking the time to formulate such a lengthy response! I know you are a busy guy right now, and I appreciate it. I’m going to take a sabbatical and try to digest it all.

    Peace
    Curt

  176. Curt,
    If I may politely take up one point of tension in your post:

    “He never says “they will be saved by their fruit”, or “by their fruit, their sins will be forgiven”. Don’t you think that Jesus would have said something like this if it were to be the crux of the entire justification doctrine?”

    It isn’t faith alone that justifies, but love justifies too and is one of the causes for the forgiveness of sins. Love is characterized by works. Take the situation in this situation in the Gospel of Luke, 7:36-50)

    Jesus says that many sins were forgiven her because she loved much, and less is forgiven to those who love less. Yet at the same time it is her faith that Jesus says makes her safe. Perhaps is it possible that faith as used here in the Gospel indicates not only a trust and belief in Christ as Savior but also the works of love that branch out of faith? That would entail what you suggested that “by their fruits shall their sins be forgiven” since it seems that those who love more will have more forgiven of them, while those who love less will have less forgiven of them. So there does seem to be an indication by Christ that our salvation and forgiveness of sins is dependent on how much we love and show that love.

    Curt, I think if we want to talk about justification, that we should shift it over to one of the articles on justification.
    God bless,
    -Steven Reyes

  177. Curt,

    Your comment in #173 has many misconceptions of what the Church believes, especially in regards to the Sacrifice of the Mass and what Catholics mean when we say that. I think it is good for you to take a break and try to digest it all, there is much to consider and I believe the investment is well worth it, considering what is at stake; the possibility of the fullness of the faith and communion with the whole Christ. I will say a prayer for you as you do that.

  178. Tom

    Thanks for your prayers… in the mean time, can you point me to a better understanding of the Catholic concept of the Sacrifice of the Mass?

    Curt

  179. Steve

    Thanks for your comment, and guys, I really am trying to take a sabbatical… but Steve, I wanted to think your comment through. The NASB translation (regarded by many as one of the most literal translations) of the Luke 7 passage you cited says the following:

    47 “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” 49 Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” 50 And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

    In the last verse, Jesus says it was her faith that saved her. The love she exhibited was the result of that faith, as expressed in verse 47. This, to me, is consistent with the reformed concept, saved by grace, love (or works of love) are the result of our response to that grace, not the cause of it. It is also conceptually consistent with verses like “Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him as righteousness”.

    Thanks!
    Curt

  180. Hebrews 11:8-19:

    By faith Abraham:

    “obeyed” (v.8) “sojourned in the promise land” (v.9) “received power to generate” (v.11), “when tested. offered up Isaac” (v.18) ”

    They were saved by faith, but apparently they did not inherit what we receive but they only saw at a distance. So Ch. 12 continues…

    “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us” (12:1). If it followed that the New Covenant would be one of faith, where works (as demonstrated in the old covenant) were irrelevant, we would expect 12:1 to talk about how in the OC Abraham had to obey (faith + works animated by love) but in the new we must simply but our faith in Jesus. Further, if perseverance is assumed, I’m not sure why he describes it as something we do contingent on something external to us (the witnesses, “therefore…”). In fact Paul describes this prize as “not that I have already taken hold of it ” and “do not consider myself to have taken possession” (Phil 3:12,13). And so he concludes, “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you” (Phill 4:9).

    Hebrew 12 goes on to talk about the necessity of discipline, correction, and suffering. Further, v.14 says that we should make an effort towards “that holiness without which no one will see the Lord”.

    We can disagree about how to interpret these passages. But the case isn’t a slam dunk against the Catholic understanding nor is her teaching foreign to the language of scripture.

    Peace to you on your journey.

  181. Brent

    I’m not sure we’re that far apart, but it must be noted that all of the works done were the result of faith… hammered home in verses 20 and on… but I agree that the consequence and evidence of faith cannot be mute, as you point out in Heb 12… we must discipline ourselves to service in Christ. Whether we see those works as you do or I do in terms of justification, we would both agree, nonetheless, that works of love that are reflective of grace are necessary to the Christian walk.

    Cheers
    Curt

  182. Thanks Curt,
    I think perhaps we should stop Scripture slinging now, I think we’ve established that each side has a reasonable or at least possible interpretive framework that matches the Scriptural data. I feel like I’ve read what I just wrote before from the heavy hitters on this blog like Bryan Cross, Michael Liccione, Tim Troutman, and many of the others. I’m not quite sure where it is that we move on from here.

    I think it might be good for you to take a sabbatical for a while (we all could probably use one).

    One might interpret the story in Luke as the woman coming in faith and showing much love in Christ. Yet Christ does mention different degrees of forgiveness, he who loves much is forgiven much and he who loves little is forgiven little. Is there a Reformed understanding to which one can be forgiven a different variation of sins, or is it simply forgiven for all sins through imputation?

    A similar problem may occur in reading Jesus’ prayer on the Mount, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive the trespasses of others”, which seems like a conditional statement, your trespasses are forgiven if we offer forgiveness to others. There is actually a brief article on the statement here on Called to Communion if you are interested:
    Reformed Imputation and the Lord’s Prayer

    There seems to be a similar trend when Christ tells us: “23 If therefore you offer your gift at the altar, and there you remember that your brother has anything against you; 24 leave there your offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to your brother, and then coming you shall offer your gift. ” (Matthew 5:23-24)

    There almost seems to be a conditional in various places in the Gospel where people who forgive and love others hold more favor with God, than those who fail to do so.

    Just an interesting suggestion, that may help you to see where perhaps Catholics are coming from.

    We really ought to move the justification discussion to another thread. So if I may ask, please make comments about justification on the other threads on this site, so no need to reply to my post Curt, even if you disagree with me. You can make your disagreements with me on the other threads and I’ll be sure to see them on the sidebar of recent comments :-).

    God bless
    -Steven Reyes

  183. Re 173
    Curt,
    This is about appearances and, reading 173, it was you who chose it.
    Of Jesus it was said:
    “From Nazareth? Has anything good come out of that place?”
    “Is this not the carpenter’s son?”
    “Is He not a Samaritan.”

    You noted that you took communion in a Catholic Church and it was a wafer and wine.

    The synoptics are in agreement. And as they were eating, He took some bread (noting that this is the Passover and it is unleavened bread), and when He had said the blessing He broke it and gave it to them. “Take it,” He said, “this is My Body.” Then He took the cup, and when He had returned thanks He gave it to them, and all drank from it and He said to them, “This is My Blood, the Blood of the Covenant which is to be poured out for many.” Mark’s gospel

    I have no doubt that the apostles saw, smelled, and tasted the Passover bread and wine with which they were familiar, but something had changed radically.

    Paul had the same recognition and he wrote it out in 1st Cor 12. For this is what I received from the Lord, and in turn passed on to you; that on the same night that He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and thanked God for it and broke it, and He said, “This is My Body which is for you.”
    The appearance and taste are those of bread and wine. It is the underlying quality that has changed. The bread-ness of bread has been replaced by the Lord’s Body and the wine-ness of wine has been replaced by the Lord’s Blood. The accidents of taste, smell, texture, and color remain.

    Who did this? The Person through Whom matter came into existence and by Whom matter’s continued existence is maintained. The Person Who by a divine act was conceived in the womb of a virgin and of whom He was born. The Person Who, without planting a vineyard, raising grapes to maturity, harvesting, squeezing and fermenting them into wine, caused water in stone jars to become wine. The Person Who fed approximately 5000 men (and untold numbers of women and children) with five loaves and two fish, and fed approximately 4000 men (and untold numbers of women and children) with seven loaves, with baskets full of scraps left over from each of those feedings. The Person Who walked on the water, and permitted one of His best friends to do the same. The One Who rose from the dead.

    He is the Passover. The fulfillment of an idea coming to us from Moses that would have a much larger fulfillment than most of us would ever have guessed. As the Baptist tells us, Jesus is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. Each Mass is a Passover meal.

    Jesus appears to me to be unlimited by any measure that I am aware of. I have no desire to hold Him back. In this, my understanding is not required, but my agreement is. Like Mary, who did not understand how she would beget a son because she had not had a man, it was not reason or under- standing that was required, it was assent. As he did with Peter, it is Jesus saying to us, “follow Me.”

    That is what I had to deal with. Did I believe Him when He said that I needed to consume Him to have everlasting life? Did I believe Him when He said that He would found a Church which would not fail? Note that he did not guarantee the individual, but rather the Church He founded.

    The Protestants and the Mormons use a common idea: The church had to be reformed (or re-instituted). It contains the idea that Jesus failed. He could not control either diabolical or human beings who were contending with Him. The Person Who created spirit and matter out of nothing could not protect a part of His creation from another part of His creation?

    That men fail is a surety. The best of us have to deal with sin in our lives. However the existence of His Church was not dependent on a particular man, even such worthies as Peter and Paul, or a group of men such as the apostles. The Church was dependent on Him. The question was and is do I believe Him?

    I worked back through the Great Awakenings, back through Henry the VIII, back through Geneva and Germany, and got back to the early Church fathers and that history. Those men and that history convinced me to become Catholic. God did not fail. Neither did He abandon His Church. Jesus asked, “Will you now leave Me?” That is the question that I had to ask myself. Will I give up a lot of good things to become Catholic? Will I lose family and friends to become Catholic? Will I limit some career choices to become Catholic? Will I love something else so much that I would refuse to become Catholic?

    You already know the answer to each of those questions. Becoming Catholic had a cost for me. It was not the cost that Jesus bore while being beaten in the Temple or whipped and crucified to death by the Romans. It was however a real cost. If you love father or mother more than Me…

    It seems to come down to what one loves the most. Based on what Jesus did, He loved God the Father the most, and in an act of obedience redeemed His creation.

    If we judge by what we see, such as a wafer and wine, we might be missing the reality that is grasped by faith (not caused by faith, which I believe was one of Luther’s misunderstandings). If that wafer and that wine are in reality the Body and Blood of the Second Person of God, the Word, the Lamb of God, the Son of Mary, the Messiah, then Something new has happened, as in the remaking of a fallen creation by means much beyond my comprehension. I don’t have to understand it, I have to receive it. But only if Jesus is trustworthy.

    Hopefully that will answer at least one of your questions.

    dt

  184. Curt,

    I do not want to send this thread off the rails discussing the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. But it would be my privilege to respond privately via email. You can reach me at tomriello@gmail.com

  185. Gentlemen

    I need to go run my business for a while … four kids in college aint cheap. Thanks for all your contributions to the discussion! Steven, I had to chuckle… telling a Calvinist that you want to discuss theology, but he can’t use Scripture… there’s a challenge! My personal opinions aren’t worth the blog space, so off I go…

    Blessings to all
    Curt

  186. Curt,
    I didn’t mean to imply that you couldn’t use Scripture, I was just saying that the varying interpretations do have some amount ability to conform to the Scriptural data. Catholics and Protestants read the Bible in different ways. Catholics try to read it in light of the Tradition, Protestants typically refer to modern lexicons and don’t use much Tradition.
    God bless,
    -Steven Reyes

  187. Wasn’t sure where to put this, but just want people to know that Fr. Robert Barron’s series, Catholicism will be shown on EWTN starting tonight. Check your local listings and set your DVRs. If you don’t have EWTN you can stream it online at ewtn.com.

    I’ve been watching the DVDs and I think it is quite good – even moving at times. So please check it out!

  188. Here here to what Fr. Bryan said above. Today I made a post that has the complete schedule for the week, with episode descriptions, along with links to the streaming all on the same page. I wanted to make it easy for family and friends to watch. I cant wait!
    http://newchristendom.blogspot.com/2011/11/catholicism-series-tonight.html

  189. William W. Goligher, the senior minister at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, recently wrote a short article titled “What Kind of Unity?” at Ligonier. But, his article does not say anything about schism, or how one would know whether a particular group is a branch within the Church, or a schism from the Church (see “Branches or Schisms?.”) Nothing in the article says anything about visible unity. In short, Goligher’s article is fully compatible with a denial of the visibility of the Church, and a denial of the very possibility of schism as something distinct from heresy (see “Michael Horton on Schism as Heresy.”) That’s part of the problem Tom and I describe in the body of the article above, namely, that even though WCF XXV.2 affirms the visibility of the Church, Reformed ecclesiology in essence is that of a Church that is not visible, but fundamentally invisible. (See “Why Protestantism has no visible catholic Church.” )

  190. Dear friends,

    This is a good place to announce that my wife and I have been received into full communion with the Catholic Church. We were confirmed on Saturday, Dec. 3rd of this year. Devin Rose, a good friend and guest writer on this site, was my sponsor.

    We grew up baptist (her) and church of Christ (me). Since our marriage in 2002, we attended Friends meetings, Episcopal Churches, quite a few churches of other denomination, and a fair amount of bedside baptist. As adults, we never found a home in Protestantism, partly due to our unwillingness to conform to a specific denomination. Ultimately, I became frustrated with the “search for a church” in the wilderness of Protestantism, and became open to the idea that Christ intended something better. When I finally “discovered” the Catholic Church, my wife with great humility was willing to go deeper with me.

    The Catholic Church was at first like visiting another planet. But now, it seems like a new adventure and a new spring. We are quite overjoyed to feel a renewed sense of unity with the Church, with Christ (in prayer and in the sacraments), and in our marriage.

    I want to thank the writers on this blog for their writings and prayers. The arguments here were very good, but they were not enough. It certainly took a gift of faith before we were able to take this step.

    I hope Peter will catch some more fish with the help of your work here. I pray God will continue to bless your writings.

    O Come, King of the Nations!

    Jonathan

  191. Woo-hoo, Jonathan!

  192. Awesome News Jonathan – God Bless you and your family and I’m glad you’ve come aboard the Barque of Peter

  193. Jonathan,

    Congratulations! You and your wife’s story is similar to my wife and I’s. We are aiming to be received at Easter!

    Shalom,

    Aaron Goodrich

  194. Jonathan,

    Welcome home and amen. I rejoice with you and your wife. Also, cool to hear that you had a great sponsor!

    Andrew

  195. Jonathan,

    Thank you for sharing the great news. Welcome home!

    Brian

  196. Turretinfan has responded at length to this article:

    http://turretinfan.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-one-visible-church-argument.html

  197. # 196.

    John.

    I read his response. I would not call it a response ‘at length’ as he really only had two things to say.

    1) That since Christ is invisible to us right now that the Church could also be invisible to us right now.

    2) That Catholics should give up the doctrine of Transubstantiation because Christ’s body is invisible to us in the host.

    Here is what I responded:

    “Christ’s body is not currently invisible. He ascended into Heaven. When he ascended His body did not turn invisible; it deparated with the result that His body is not visible to us.”

    (From the comments on Called to Communion. Much of your arugument was covered in the comments, by the way)

    You are more than welcome to make your observations on Called to Communion by the way that way your arguments would find some more interaction.

    *Also, the Eucharist is visible to us. It is a indeed a visible sign of our unity. The substance is invisible to us but think of your body. Your body is visible but your soul (substance) is invisible. Likewise, the host is visible but the substance is invisible.

  198. Today, on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, when the Church recognizes the sacrifices of the children who were murdered by Herod in his attempt to kill Jesus, like many others my thoughts also cannot but turn to the recent tragedy in Newtown. The event itself was shockingly horrific in its evil, and was so painful that perhaps it is still too recent to discuss. But it is hardly an exaggeration to say that when the Westboro Baptist Church announced plans that same day to picket a vigil in Newtown and subsequently protest at the funerals of the victims, the whole nation and many around the world were rightly angered, and many people responded by organizing to prevent the protest. Firefighters, for example, lined the street and locked arms near the funeral, as shown in the photograph below:

    This photograph angers me as well. Why should the world have to protect the funerals of murdered people from protests by Christians? The petition to the White House to designate the Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group has already received more signatures than any other petition has ever received. (See here.)

    From the perspective of most Christians, the Westboro folks are deeply misguided. It seems clear that they need to be reigned in by some kind of Church discipline, under threat of excommunication if necessary. This is a situation, it seems, where Matthew 18:15-18 should be applied, and these Christians should either be reigned in by the universal Church, or if they refuse to comply, be excommunicated from the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” The problem, however, is that under the invisible-catholic-Church ecclesiology intrinsic to Protestantism, wherein the various denominations and independent churches are not “schisms from” the Church but are all “branches within,” the “catholic Church,” (see “Branches or Schisms?“) no such discipline is possible, because merely not belonging to one’s own Protestant denomination is not ipso facto excommunication from the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” Nor, according to this ecclesiology, is there a unified hierarchy governing the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church,” and capable of excommunicating anyone from it. (See “Why Protestantism has no “visible catholic Church”.”)

    The dilemma then takes the following form. On the one hand, because the Westboro Christians are Calvinists (see here), and from the Protestant perspective Calvinism denies no essential of the faith, therefore there is no Protestant basis for claiming that the Westboro Christians are not another branch of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. On the other hand, given the invisible-catholic-Church ecclesiology intrinsic to Protestantism, there is no way to discipline them or excommunicate them from the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. So given Protestant ecclesiology the Westboro folks must continue to appear before the world as un-excommunicated Christians, as a “branch within” no less legitimate than any other Calvinistic “branch within.” That is, the Westboro folks provide an example of one consequence of Protestant ecclesiology: they get to speak and act before the whole world as though they are simply one more branch within the universal Church, eccentric to be sure, but neither unexcommunicated from nor even reprimanded by the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” since there is no one who is authorized to speak officially on behalf of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” The consequence then of this ecclesiology is membership in the universal Church without the possibility of discipline by the universal Church. And that’s ironic given that “discipline” has long been considered by Protestants to be, as Al Mohler says, “the third mark of the Church.” (Source.)

    By contrast, given the Catholic visible Church ecclesiology Tom Brown and I described in the article above, the Westboro folks can be seen as not in full communion with the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” Christ founded, but as acting independently of and contrary to the leadership of the Church Christ founded, as rogue persons following their own unauthorized interpretation of the Bible, under a leader who does not even have valid Holy Orders, and is not subject to the pope in his role as shepherd of the universal Church. Of course a potential Protestant rejoinder is that there are or have been certain Catholics in the public eye who should be excommunicated but have not been excommunicated. And that may very well be true, particularly for persons who have publicly acted contrary to the teaching of the Church and who have obstinately remained unrepentant. But the difference I’m pointing out here is that at least in Catholic ecclesiology such persons can be excommunicated if the Church decides that doing so would be pastorally beneficially to the souls of such persons and to the overall good of the Church, whereas in Protestant ecclesiology excommunication from the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” is impossible, because in Protestant ecclesiology there is no unified hierarchy over the “catholic Church.” Any Christian who might be excommunicated from a denomination can join or start his own denomination or church, and thereby remain another “branch within.” That was the point of the section titled “Discipline” in the article above.

  199. Bryan

    Please, brother. To call the folks at Westboro Baptist Church “Christians” is like calling me a car because I am standing in my garage. You and I may have theological differences, but we are united by the love of Christ… and we both are trying to exemplify His love in the world. Not so with the Westboro group. Jesus was clear when He said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). By this measure, the Westboro group does not meet the criteria of disciples of Christ. In fact, quite the opposite… they exude hatred in every public venue. They are, in my humble opinion, demon-possessed people masquerading as Christians … which Catholics and Protestants alike certainly deplore. Using the Westboro group as an example of Baptists, or Protestants, or Christians reflects poorly on all Christians. We should stand united in our disgust… and not try to make doctrinal hay out of non-starter like this.

    Regarding church discipline… the depravity of man will always be an issue. It has been an issue in the Catholic church, and it has been an issue in the Protestant church. Both have methods of discipline, and both have been susceptible to failures of discipline at different times. Failure in one does not make the other any more or less right. It only proves that man is universally sinful, and sin can affect any church.

    Blessings… and Happy New Year

    Curt

  200. Curt (re#199),
    I am not attempting to speak on Bryan’s behalf. But I would say that the viewpoints held by the Westboro folks are, in certain pretty fundamental ways, not much unlike the doctrines held by many “fundamentalists.” The thing that makes the Westboro folks different is, I daresay, really just their brazen willingness to shout from the rooftops the notion that God hates sinners. My old pastor would probably disagree with their “marketing” but find himself quite in agreement with them as to who will end up in Heaven and also just what God thinks about the non-Christians of the world. Just 2 cents… herb

  201. Curt (re#199), Just a quick example of what I am asserting- this is taken directly from my old church’s website. This Church would be considered your average run-of-the-mill Baptist church (w/ strong Calvinist influences):

    “We believe that there is a radical and essential difference between the righteous and the wicked; that only those who are justified by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and sanctified by the Spirit of our God are truly righteous in His esteem; while all such as continue in impenitence and unbelief are in His sight wicked and under the curse; and this distinction holds among men both in and after death, in the everlasting happiness of the saved and the everlasting conscious suffering of the lost in the lake of fire. Malachi 3:18; Genesis 18:23; Romans 6:17, 18; 1 John 5:19; Romans 7:6; 6:23; Proverbs 14:32; Luke 16:25; Matthew 25:34-41; John 8:21; Revelation 20:14, 15.”

    That pretty much comports w/ the Westboro message, doesn’t it? The only difference is that the Westboro folks feel compelled to shove these truths in others’ faces at the most insensitive of times. Whereas, my former pastor just lives his life in silent self-assurance that he is one of the chosen ones. Thanks for your time. herb

  202. Herb

    Re 200: Any church that teaches “God hates sinners” is reading a different Bible than the one I know. If God hated sinners, then why did Christ come? Matthew 9…

    12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

    Re 201: Your blockquote simply states the truth of the human condition and the consequences thereof … something most Christians agree upon. The question is, “So, therefore, what do we do?” The Westboro clan chooses hatred where other churches choose grace. For example, our church is strongly opposed to the gay lifestyle, yet has one of the largest compassion ministries to gay AIDS patients in our city. In no way do we condone the lifestyle, yet in every way we try to be Jesus to those who are suffering… just as Jesus was to prostitutes, tax collectors and many others. I’m pretty sure the hatred exhibited by Westboro is not what Jesus would do.

    Blessings
    Curt

  203. Curt (#202

    Any church that teaches “God hates sinners” is reading a different Bible than the one I know.

    But Curt, the problem seems to me to be that, indeed, these people are, in fact, reading the same Bible the rest of read – yet they think it teaches the God hates sinners. If the Bible is perspicuous, isn’t this a problem? You must, it seems to me, then impute their misreading to their sinful hearts. But then … isn’t the perspicuity of the Bible not going to help us here? If our hearts are so sinful we can’t understand it, then (you – and I! – would say), they need the Spirit.

    But, would they not claim also to be being moved by the same Spirit?

    It really seems to me that the fundamental claim of this post – that Christ established a visible church – and one with dependable authority – is strengthened by situations like this.

    jj

  204. Curt, (re: #199)

    I think you and I have different definitions of what it means to be a Christian. For you, it seems, to be a Christian is to love Jesus and love others. But I’m using the traditional concept of Christian, as exemplified in St. Augustine, who wrote:

    Ask a man, Are you a Christian? His answer to you is, “I am not,” if he is a pagan or a Jew. But if he says, “I am;” you inquire again of him, Are you a catechumen or a believer? If he reply, “A catechumen;” he has been anointed, but not yet washed. But how anointed? Inquire, and he will answer you. Inquire of him in whom he believes. In that very respect in which he is a catechumen he says, “In Christ.” (Tractates on the Gospel of John, 44)

    Only catechumens or (validly) baptized persons who have not renounced the Christian faith (i.e. committed apostasy) are Christians. According to this definition, therefore, to be a Christian does not entail being in a state of grace. A person who has been validly baptized, and has not committed apostasy (i.e. renounced the faith), and then goes on a rampage of adultery and murder, does not thereby cease to be a Christian. Rather, he is in that case a Christian in a state of mortal sin, no longer in a state of grace. Likewise, a Christian who falls into heresy or schism is still a Christian, even if in doing so he ceases to be in a state of grace. He hasn’t become a member of another religion or ceased to belong to any religion. In other words, being a Christian is not synonymous with being in a state of grace, or loving Jesus, but involves belonging to Christ by baptism (or the desire thereof in the case of catechumens). So you can see, I hope, why from a Catholic point of view the Westboro Christians are nevertheless Christian. That doesn’t mean that they are orthodox or that they are in a state of grace. It means simply that they are validly baptized and have not renounced the Christian faith.

    I imagine that all the Westboro folks think they are loving Jesus, and if you were to ask them whether they love Jesus I imagine that they would say “yes.” They might point to what all they go through, in order to obey [their interpretation] of what He commands in Scripture. And it wouldn’t be loving to assume that they are lying when they say they love Jesus. So your claim that they are not Christians comes down to how they treat others in an unloving manner. They are not Christians, in your view, because even though they claim to love Jesus, they aren’t being loving to others. But then according to this definition of ‘Christian,’ a Christian would cease to be a Christian during the day every time he was unloving in some way: short with his wife, impatient with his children, selfish with his in-laws, etc. And then he would again become a Christian whenever he was loving again. He would be changing religions whenever he sinned, and whenever he repented. And if Calvinism is thrown into the mix then either he would retain his justification while going from Christian to non-Christian to Christian again (since according to Calvinism justification can never be lost), or all Christians would always remain loving (which doesn’t fit with my experience, unless I’ve never met a true Christian).

    I’ll refrain from quibbling about the definition of ‘Christian;’ I’ll just add the qualifier that my comment #198 was written with the traditional definition of ‘Christian’ in mind, and to those who share that definition or at least recognize that definition. And if we cannot even agree on the definition of ‘Christian,’ that seems to me only to support my point concerning the need for a magisterium.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  205. Curt (re:202),
    Check this link out: http://carm.org/does-god-hate-anyone
    The author there is a pretty highly regarded fellow among “Evangelicals.” What I am saying is that plenty of people really believe that God hates all non-Christians. And the Westboro people are just being over-the-top enough to go out and announce it to the world. As I said, I was a Baptist and the essential views of those I grew up around are really quite like the views of the Westboro folks in my experience. I can easily imagine, in a private Bible study environment, a member of my former church saying “God hates so and so.” Just like the Westboro people do on the street corners. So again, it’s application of a message, not the essential doctrine that distinguishes Westboro from my experience as a Baptist (I was reconciled with the Catholic Church @ the age of 30). Further, the idea that tragedy befalls us as God’s retribution for our (national) sinfulness was also a common theme among these fellow believers. Thanks, Curt.

  206. jj

    If we agree that the Bible is both perspicuous and authoritative, and if we agree that the Church is both perspicuous and authoritative; and if people choose to ignore certain teachings of Scripture, then they would, presumably, ignore certain teachings of the Church.

    But, would they not claim also to be being moved by the same Spirit?

    Jesus says, (Matt 7) “22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”

    He also says, (Matt 7) “15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.”

    Note, He does not say “you will know them by their church affiliation”. In fact, He is saying quite the opposite. Fruit is the key… So we look at Westboro and see bad fruit and discern from that.

    Blessings
    Curt

  207. Bryan

    Yes, I believe we disagree on the definition of “being a Christian”. I do not believe that “Christian” is a label we slap on people the moment they are baptized. Acts 11 gives a view into this:

    25 And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

    So Christians are disciples of Christ… those who learn and follow His teaching. This does not mean they never sin. Nevertheless, as I mentioned in 205, Jesus tells us

    (Matt 7) “22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”

    and

    (Matt 7) “15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.”

    So, yes there are people who claim to be Christians who are not, in fact, Christians. And we will not necessarily know who is who by their church affiliation. Jesus says we will know them by their fruit.

    If you want a theological concession from me… here it is: The Catholic theology of agape infusion and salvation by grace in cooperation with acts of good works should scream loudly that the Westboro folks are not Christians by any definition. Their actions fly in the face of the Sermon on the Mount, and assail every principle of evangelism that Christ (and the RC Church) has taught and modeled.

    That said, it does not seem to me that we need a Magisterium to discern this. We simply need to read Scripture and believe what it says. In fact, we are commanded in Scripture to “test the spirits” … 1 John 4:1

    Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

    This Scripture does not say, “go ask your priest” … it tells us to be on guard and discerning individually…

    Blessings
    Curt

  208. Curt (#206)

    If we agree that the Bible is both perspicuous and authoritative, and if we agree that the Church is both perspicuous and authoritative; and if people choose to ignore certain teachings of Scripture, then they would, presumably, ignore certain teachings of the Church.

    The problem with this is that the word ‘perspicuous’ is not something you can say about the Church. ‘Perspicuity’ means that I myself can know the meaning of something – I don’t need someone else to explain it to me nor to set it right.

    The Church isn’t a kind of supplement to Scripture, that we all, still, must go and read (or listen to or whatever), and then, still, interpret for ourselves. The Church is a personal authority – with emphasis on the word personal.

    I do not for a moment deny that men may disobey the Church, just as they disobey the Scripture. The problem here is, if there is no external personal authority, who is to say that the Westboro people are bearing bad fruit? Who is to say they are disobeying the Scripture? These people would say they are obeying Scripture. They would say – and would quote Scripture (see Psalm 139:21-22 – “21 Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? 22 I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.”, for example) – that it is they who are bearing good fruit.

    jj

  209. jj

    I do not for a moment deny that men may disobey the Church, just as they disobey the Scripture. The problem here is, if there is no external personal authority, who is to say that the Westboro people are bearing bad fruit?

    The external personal authority is Scripture… and so to answer your question, WE are to say that the Westboro people are bearing bad fruit. As I pointed out in 207 above…

    1 John 4:1

    Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

    This Scripture does not say, “go ask your priest” … it tells us to be on guard and discerning individually. Had more of the Jews been discerning at the time of Christ, perhaps fewer would have rejected Christ as their “rightful authorities” (the Pharisees) did.

    Blessings
    Curt

  210. Herb (re: 205)

    What I am saying is that plenty of people really believe that God hates all non-Christians. And the Westboro people are just being over-the-top enough to go out and announce it to the world.

    Herb, I think I get what you are saying, and don’t disagree… there are those who believe as you say (and worse). And what I am saying is this… they are wrong! If God hates non-Christians, why are we commanded to evangelize the world? The CARM piece refers only to OT Scripture… life under the old covenant. It totally ignores the new covenant.

    God is perfectly just and perfectly loving. Both natures of God are true. In fact, we find that God loved sinners so much that He gave of Himself on the cross to fulfill the justice requirement on our behalf. He paid the price for our sin. Thus, both the requirement for perfect justice and the outpouring of perfect love were completed in one merciful action of Christ on the cross. If God loves sinners that much, who the heck are we to hate them? And if we are the beneficiaries of that much grace, who are we to deny the same grace to others? Our job is to be the arms of Christ to the world… period. Will we get hurt, spat upon, rejected, ridiculed? Yes… and so was Jesus.

    In summary, people who believe God hates non-Christians are wrong… and the Westboro group is over the top wrong.

    Blessings
    Curt

  211. Curt (#209)

    The external personal authority is Scripture… and so to answer your question, WE are to say that the Westboro people are bearing bad fruit.

    Well, yes, exactly. If the Church is not authoritative, then, indeed, ‘we’ are to say … we are to say the Westboro people are bearing bad fruit; and the Westboro people are to say that those who don’t agree with them are bearing bad fruit. And … well, I think we are in complete agreement here. Every man, therefore, does what is right in his own eyes – referring it, to be sure, to the ‘external … authority … Scripture.’ But, you see, that authority is not personal in the sense that I meant. It is not a person, nor a body that can speak to me as a person; it is a record.

    So the Westboro people, referring to that impersonal (my word, of course, but I cannot see how it can be other) authority of Scripture – and, I am sure, invoking the divine Person of the Holy Spirit, say that those who are not willing to say with Scripture that God hates certain persons – the Westboro people say that it is we who are bearing bad fruit.

    And how am I to gainsay them, except by saying the same thing back? And who is to judge between us?

    jj

  212. PS – by saying that I think we are in complete agreement, I mean this: that if there is no one we can ask, whose answer we can trust precisely because of who it is we are asking – then it is up to us to decide what constitutes good fruit and what bad. And I think an excellent case could be made for the Westboro’s position – which is pretty much the same that would have been made by the Reformed church I used to belong to – from the same Bible you and I read. So that when you say it is up to us to decide – and if you and I decide differently – we must be content to leave the final judgement to God.

    Unless God has provided a way for that judgement to be made here on earth, by providing someone we can both ask – and whose answer we can trust not because it corresponds to what each of us thinks the Bible teaches – for we may disagree – but because that person’s answer has been authorised as trustworthy by God.

    Just getting ready to go off to the beach – sympathies with those of you whose Christmas is in the northern hemisphere :-)

    jj

  213. jj (#210),

    Thanks you very much for your answer. It is a good example how scripture alone works. And of cause the opponents are led by the same Spirit?

  214. jj

    I disagree… the Westboro folks would be unable to make a case for exuding hatred in the name of Christ from Scripture you and I read. Thus the Scripture is sufficient to make a discerning judgment.

    Sorry you were unable to enjoy the white Christmas! ;-)

    Blessings
    Curt

  215. Curt (#214

    …the Westboro folks would be unable to make a case for exuding hatred in the name of Christ from Scripture you and I read. Thus the Scripture is sufficient to make a discerning judgment.

    They certainly couldn’t convince me – or you! – but they appear to have convinced themselves – from Scripture.

    Just back home now – 24C at the moment. I’ll open the ‘fridge door just to remember :-)

    jj

  216. jj

    Agreed! Of course, Hitler claimed to be a Christian too… people can claim anything they want. But again, standing in a garage does not make you a car. We should also keep in mind that this “church” consists primarily of one guy and his extended family… not exactly a large movement. It shows us how much noise a small group can make in an age of media saturation.

    From Romans 12

    2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

    And then…

    9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

    14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

    We can “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Verses 14-21 address the problem with Westboro.

    Blessings
    Curt

  217. Curt (#216

    Agreed! Of course, Hitler claimed to be a Christian too… people can claim anything they want. But again, standing in a garage does not make you a car.

    Here, after all, we are simply arguing about the definition of a word. That there is some meaning to the word ‘Christian’ apart from the way people use the word will not work. Evangelical Protestants use the word to refer to persons who say they believe in the Bible and trust in Christ alone for salvation – and, in fact, who live, pretty much, a certain pattern of life. When I was a Protestant, I so often heard said about some person that he was not a ‘real Christian’ – and, indeed, I heard it said about Catholics, because (the sayer believed) the Catholic in Christian did not really rely for salvation on Christ alone.

    Sacramental churches – the Catholics, of course, many Anglicans, Lutherans – use it to refer to a person who has received valid Trinitarian baptism. A person living a bad life is a bad Christian – but still a Christian.

    And I will allow anyone – including Hitler – to say he is a Christian if he wishes to.

    I don’t think this business of whether the Westboro Baptist people are ‘really’ Christians or not. The point is that I do not, for the life of me, see what principled way, independent of the person doing the interpretation, there can be for saying that Westboro is wrong to say that the Bible says God hates sinners. They certainly claim that the Bible teaches that. There are plenty of Scriptures to back them up. To be sure, a large part of explicit Scripture to that effect is in the Old Testament. But I suppose you would not want to be a Marcionite, to talk about different OT and NT Gods. They think the Bible teaches that God hates sinners – at least some classes of sinner (cf their awful website!); you say it does not (and so do I, by the way). How will we prove them wrong independently of our own understanding of the Bible?

    jj

  218. jj

    First, one does not have to believe in a different OT vs NT God to understand that there is a difference between the OT and NT covenants. Further, there are new commandments in the NT and behavioral requirements in the NT that are clarifications and amplifications of the commandments under old covenant. The simplest and yet most poignantly applicable example might be this:

    Matt 22
    36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

    So… no matter what OT examples might be quoted, Jesus Himself has now set straight any misunderstanding with extreme clarity. Love God… Love your neighbor. The whole of the Law and the Prophets are structured upon this foundation. If you are not loving God and your neighbor, you’ve missed the whole point.

    The point is that I do not, for the life of me, see what principled way, independent of the person doing the interpretation, there can be for saying that Westboro is wrong to say that the Bible says God hates sinners.
    ……
    How will we prove them wrong independently of our own understanding of the Bible?

    First, your question implies that the only principled way to prove something is “independently”. There are, of course, plenty of ways to convince someone in a principled way without independent authority. People make agreements every day without a third party.

    Secondly, your argument implies that Scripture is insufficient as an independent authority. I have made several Biblical arguments herein which show clearly that the Westboro folks are wrong. I believe these to be principled arguments, and in fact, I think you agreed with me. But they do not. Ok. That does not mean I did not make a principled argument based on the authority of Scripture. It just means they choose to ignore the authority of Scripture in this case. Of course they would say otherwise, but they would obviously be wrong… not in my opinion, but by the very words of Scripture. That is a principled argument. It begins with an agreement that Scripture is the authoritative Word of God, and concludes with the words of Scripture speaking clearly for themselves. There is no mystery here… the message is clear.

    If we cannot make a principled proof using the very words uttered by Jesus, then on what possible authority may we rely?

    Blessings
    Curt

  219. Curt (#218)

    First, your question implies that the only principled way to prove something is “independently”. There are, of course, plenty of ways to convince someone in a principled way without independent authority. People make agreements every day without a third party.

    Secondly, your argument implies that Scripture is insufficient as an independent authority. I have made several Biblical arguments herein which show clearly that the Westboro folks are wrong. I believe these to be principled arguments, and in fact, I think you agreed with me. But they do not. Ok. That does not mean I did not make a principled argument based on the authority of Scripture. It just means they choose to ignore the authority of Scripture in this case. Of course they would say otherwise, but they would obviously be wrong… not in my opinion, but by the very words of Scripture. That is a principled argument. It begins with an agreement that Scripture is the authoritative Word of God, and concludes with the words of Scripture speaking clearly for themselves. There is no mystery here… the message is clear.

    Quite. This is, as I understand it, exactly the Protestant view. People make agreements. What is certainly not true is that all those who agree that Scripture is the authoritative Word of God believe that Scripture’s message on this point is clear. Certainly many in the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, of which I was a member for 25 years, and one of whose churches I helped establish, did indeed agree with the Westboro people, that God hates at least one category of sinner – homosexuals. And whilst Westboro Baptist may be a personality cult, it would be hard to maintain that about the Reformed Churches of New Zealand. I vividly recall the debates in, I think, about 1986 or -7, when New Zealand decriminalised homosexuality.

    That is exactly the point, Curt. Those who agree on the status of Scripture are far from agreeing about Scripture’s teaching at this (and, of course, many, many other points – baptism, relation of faith and works, even the Trinity itself – you are surely aware of these).

    Love God… Love your neighbor.

    Curt, those words are straight out of the same OT that stoned homosexuals, witches, adulterers, to death. My Reformed friends were very big on the idea that “love the sinner, hate the sin” was jesuitical garbage. If the man did those evil actions, loving him meant loving his sinfulness. Love thy neighbour meant, they said, hating him if he is in unrepentant sin, precisely because love wants what is best for the neighbour.

    These are not interpretations that are in some obvious contradiction to Jesus’s words – not according to them. These are interpretations that are precisely what – they say! – Jesus means by talking about the outer darkness and gnashing of teeth and so forth.

    If we cannot make a principled proof using the very words uttered by Jesus, then on what possible authority may we rely?

    If, indeed, God has provided no authoritative interpreter, then, indeed, we have no authority. Scripture alone is a weak reed. Jesus’s words include the statement that not one jot or tittle of the Law will pass away until all is fulfilled. The Seventh Day Adventists think this includes Saturday worship. I just don’t think your appealing to ‘differences’ between OT and NT is going to help.

    jj

  220. jj

    So what, then, is your point? That the RC magisterium is the authority? By what authority? The Scripture? Itself? The very disagreements which cause you to make an argument for needing an “independent” authority to settle these questions are essentially the same disagreements that preclude us from conformity on which authority to obey. This logic problem would lead us to the need for an independent independent authority. Then where do we go?

    Blessings… and Happy New Year

    Curt

  221. Curt (#220)

    So what, then, is your point? That the RC magisterium is the authority? By what authority? The Scripture? Itself? The very disagreements which cause you to make an argument for needing an “independent” authority to settle these questions are essentially the same disagreements that preclude us from conformity on which authority to obey. This logic problem would lead us to the need for an independent independent authority. Then where do we go?

    Stipulating, for the moment, that the magisterium is, indeed, the authority, we avoid the infinite regress because the authority – the interpretive authority – is personal and is continuous.

    The doctrine of the Trinity is a classic example. Is Scripture clear? Not clear enough that many convinced Arians, palaeo- and neo-, think that it does not teach the Trinity. The Church meditated this question for a long time, with growing clarity on the answer. And if I need to know about something new – the living Church is still there. I can ask it. This is the (scandalous to some) idea of ‘development of doctrine.’

    Note that what I have said is that it is the Church that meditated. The idea of the magisterium is often supposed to refer exclusively to the bishops, and maybe only to the Pope. It does not. ‘Magisterium’ means ‘teaching authority,’ not ‘teacher.’ And that authority belongs to the Church.

    But, you see, this is why I have said, in other comments (not on this post), that people often seem to me to make the mistake of deciding, first, what things are true – which implies some external canon – and then looking around for the body that teaches that.

    I think things are the other way around. Christ is truth. His Body is the Church – and, in order for that Body to be able to teach me, I must be able to discern when the Body is teaching as His Body. Thus the whole structure of authority within the Church – including, yes, the final buck-stops-here point: union with the successor of Peter. But one cannot, I think, start with ‘the Pope is Peter’s successor and is infallible, so I must be a Catholic.’ Rather, it is, ‘Christ, and His first followers, the apostles, intended me to learn from His Church; that Church must be discernibly one; there is no historically plausible candidate for that Church but the Catholic Church.’

    It could be that the whole thing is a dream. It could be that Christ did not intend such an earthly authority. In that case, I do not see how it is possible to point to a particular collection of writings, called the Scriptures, and say that there is something ‘specially unique about them. And, supposing that I did accept such a concept, the Westboro case – and the case of my Reformed friends – seem to tell me that I am still on my own.

    jj

  222. JTJ:

    You wrote:

    But, you see, this is why I have said, in other comments (not on this post), that people often seem to me to make the mistake of deciding, first, what things are true – which implies some external canon – and then looking around for the body that teaches that.

    And that is the very essence of Protestantism. One assumes that the deposit of faith is knowable independently of ecclesial authority, and that one knows its content. Then one chooses a church whose teaching conforms with that. Since, however, individuals operating that way have no divine authority, their beliefs are mere opinions, and their choice of church remains as provisional as opinions inherently are.

    I think it’s pretty clear that things were never supposed to work that way.

    Best,
    Mike

  223. Mike

    And that is the very essence of Protestantism. One assumes that the deposit of faith is knowable independently of ecclesial authority, and that one knows its content.

    OR… One could believe that ecclesial authority existed with early church leaders, and that there were obvious corruptions of that authority in later times.

    Blessings
    Curt

  224. jj (221)

    I think things are the other way around. Christ is truth. His Body is the Church – and, in order for that Body to be able to teach me, I must be able to discern when the Body is teaching as His Body.

    Exactly! So when we look at early ecclesial authority, we see conformity with the teachings of Christ, and are able to discern that they are, in fact, authoritative. Equally, when we look at the many corruptions of later “authorities” in the church, we must rationally discern that these are not authoritative because they are not in conformity with the teachings of Christ. From these factual observations, we must deduce that the Church Christ is building is a spiritual body … those who are called to the faith and guided by one mediator who is Christ… and not a particular organization that claims authority for itself in spite of obvious grievous corruptions across its history. When the Pharisees (ecclesial authorities of the time) told Jesus to silence His disciples, Jesus answered them, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” Thus the magisterium exceeds the boundaries of mankind.

    So when you say…

    The idea of the magisterium is often supposed to refer exclusively to the bishops, and maybe only to the Pope. It does not. ‘Magisterium’ means ‘teaching authority,’ not ‘teacher.’ And that authority belongs to the Church.

    I would agree, but only with the stipulation that the Church is made up of the body of believers that are chosen by Christ… not some particular organization of man. Thus, the magisterium is fluid to move as the Spirit sees fit, and believers can be united across the man made denominational barriers. All denominations have experienced corruptions in some way. The Spirit is bigger than the corruptions of man, and sometimes the stones must cry out.

    So yes, “Christ is truth. His Body is the Church – and, in order for that Body to be able to teach me, I must be able to discern when the Body is teaching as His Body.”

    Blessings
    Curt

  225. Curt (re223),

    If the original authority conferred upon the Apostles was indeed passed on and retained by the bishops of the Church, and was later corrupted (and therefore lost- as it seems you are suggesting), what guarantee do you have of holding to sound doctrine today in 2013? Do you simply accept the early Church teachings up to some mysterious point at which that Apostolic authority was lost? when did such apostasy take place? If it could have occurred in 1517, how do you know it couldn’t have occurred in 325? It seems that the suggestion that the Church (due to corruption) could altogether lose the authority you grant that it once had entails not that men failed God, but that God failed man (in that He didn’t uphold His end of the bargain, that His divine promises to the Church were not kept- or rather were granted conditionally, and therefore, not surprisingly, were lost!). Thanks.

  226. Herb

    It seems that the suggestion that the Church (due to corruption) could altogether lose the authority you grant that it once had …

    I did not grant that the “Church” (as you define the Church) ever had that authority. I granted that “ecclesial authority existed with early church leaders”. I do not assume that this implies an unbroken chain of divinely inspired apostolic leaders stemming from one particular church organization of antiquity. The obvious cases of apostasy within said chain seem to deny the concept of the unbroken chain unless we agree that Jesus chose to give the Church apostate leadership. Call me crazy, but this seems unlikely to me.

    but that God failed man (in that He didn’t uphold His end of the bargain

    WOW! God bargains with man? How presumptuous! God does not bargain with man. Further, I would postulate the exact opposite to your point… It was not God who failed man… it was man who failed his obligation to God. Did God fail man when the Levites, who were entrusted with the Word of God, devolved into the Pharisees of Biblical times? They were so lost, they couldn’t even recognize the Messiah when He stood right in front of them.

    So, to accept the RC concept of the apostolic succession, one must believe that in numerous cases, Christ chose to lead His Church with apostate leaders. If we believe that God loves His sheep, why would He send wolves to lead the flock?

    Blessings
    Curt

  227. Curt (#223):

    I had written:

    And that is the very essence of Protestantism. One assumes that the deposit of faith is knowable independently of ecclesial authority, and that one knows its content.

    And you replied:

    OR… One could believe that ecclesial authority existed with early church leaders, and that there were obvious corruptions of that authority in later times.

    That statement is pretty ambiguous. Taken in one sense, it poses no problem for me; taken in another sense, it simply begs the question.

    If by “corruptions” you simply mean abuses of authority in church history, I must of course agree there have been many. But I must also agree with the observation made by Cardinal Consalvi, Pius VII’s secretary of state, when informed that Napoleon was threatening to destroy the Catholic Church: “He can never succeed where we bishops have always failed.” One of the reasons I’m convinced of the divine origin and authority of said Church is that she manages to survive so many individual leaders so well. So this “corruptions” theme can cut both ways.

    If, however, you mean “corruptions” in the sense of heterodox doctrine, then we’re back to square one. If you think you know the deposit of faith independently of ecclesial authority, then on your showing, you get to judge the Catholic Church as heterodox, with the result that the real “Church” consists simply in the body of people who agree with you about what’s orthodox. But of course, you and the people who agree with you lack not only infallibility but also authority over anybody else. So all you have to offer are the opinions of yourself and your set. That plus a good dash of charisma might get you a megachurch, but you can’t expect us to believe that your opinions about the Bible or church history convey divine revelation.

    Of course, you might think you’re relying in part on the authority of the early Church for your knowledge of the deposit of faith, and that in light of the knowledge so gained, you can readily judge for yourself that the Catholic Church in later times corrupted said deposit, thus losing her authority. But cessationism like that just kicks the can a bit down the road. For your position would be, in effect, that the authority of the Church is indispensable only up to the point in time where you think it’s gone wrong, and from hence has proven itself unreliable. That entails holding that your interpretation of the deposit of faith, as preserved and expounded by the early Church, trumps that of the later Church. But you can offer no principled reason for holding that your interpretation of the deposit of faith, and your corresponding view of ecclesial authority, is a touchstone of orthodoxy while mine is not. For once again, all you’re really offering is your opinion and that of your set.

    It won’t do to retort that all I have to offer are the opinions of myself and my set. That would just be the tu quoque objection so often heard and rebutted on this site before. If that objection were valid, then there would be no principled way to distinguish theological opinions from divine revelation. I’m sure you believe there is such a way; at least I hope you do. But yours is not it.

    Best,
    Mike

  228. Curt (re226),
    You said:

    I granted that “ecclesial authority existed with early church leaders”.

    Even if this is as far as you’ll take it, I am interested to hear:
    1. which leaders held this authority
    2. how this authority was conferred upon them
    3. how they exercised this authority
    4. where, when and why they lost it
    5. where it went once they lost it
    That series of questions may sound patronizing. But I ask it with all sincerity because it seems like in the minds of many non-Catholics a public institutional Church was good enough only until it was no longer good enough… That is, the public, hierarchical church is something perfectly fine to accept as authoritative as long as it’s neatly tucked away in the dusty corners of the history books. And, as I see it, the way that such a transition from authoritative & public AND mystical to strictly mystical is, by these non-Catholic Christians, usually just glossed over. For me, as a person who was reconciled to the Catholic Church as an adult (I grew up Baptist) this particular issue meant a lot. As a result, I am still genuinely interested to hear how other Christians (who are not Catholic) explain their perspective.

    As far as my use of the term “bargain” in that context goes, I mean no disrespect. God does, in a certain sense, however, bargain with us (1st John 1:19, Gen 18:26, Deuteronomy 28:1 vs. Deuteronomy 28:15 among others). And what I am suggesting is that your position (as I currently understand it) grants the idea that God allowed for a certain authority to be exercised in the early church which was at some point, due to human failure, lost. In other words, God granted real authority to some mysterious set of early bishops and then as things became corrupted He stripped the of that authority. What’s most confusing to me is the idea that corruption within the church hierarchy (which God most certainly would have foreseen) is what would invalidate ecclesial authority. That is why I said that it seems your position calls God into question more than it does corrupt men. For if church authority would be contingent upon impeccability among the clergy, certainly the whole endeavor was bound to fail from the get-go! Thanks.

  229. Mike

    Since you are right by your standard and I am wrong by your standard, then I must be wrong. Thanks for your insight.

    Blessings
    Curt

  230. Curt,

    Mike’s argument concerning the consequences of your standard and approach are logically valid. Your approach logically prevents you from arriving at a principled distinction between orthodoxy and heterodoxy in a non-question-begging way. Even if Mike’s standard were wrong (which I deny), that would not change the situation with respect to the logical consequences which follow upon your approach. All that situation would entail is that neither one of you possess an approach which facilitates a principled distinction between heterodoxy and orthodoxy. In such case, you would need to either a.) seek different approach which might facilitate that goal, or b.) embrace the inevitability of doctrinal relativism.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  231. Herb

    Your questions are great, but if you are asking me to write a book on the first millennium of the church, I’m not the guy. But nested in your comments are a couple of thoughts that might get us to the crux of the conversation. Let me take a stab at these two, which seem to be the key thoughts:

    it seems like in the minds of many non-Catholics a public institutional Church was good enough only until it was no longer good enough…

    I won’t speak for others, but would phrase my understanding as follows: Leaders of the early Christian churches were entrusted with an authoritative role to point people to Christ. When later Church leaders stopped pointing people to Christ, they abdicated their authoritative role. The public institutional church never ceased. But it did fracture by necessity as a result of the sin of the apostate leaders.

    What’s most confusing to me is the idea that corruption within the church hierarchy (which God most certainly would have foreseen) is what would invalidate ecclesial authority.

    This comment works on a fundamental assumption. Namely, it is predicated on the view that Christ intended the “church” to be solely a physical institution led by man. I don’t subscribe to that view. We know from Scripture that Christ Himself is the head of the Church and the church belongs to Him. Jesus said to Peter, upon this rock I will build MY church… not Peter’s church. Since Jesus knew He would not be here in the flesh, He must have envisioned the church as a spiritual institution. Yes that spiritual institution had (and continues to have) a physical realm, but the physical realm is only a subset of the entirety of the church, with Christ at the head. Each person in the church has direct access to Christ as He is the shepherd of His flock. Thus we have Paul’s teaching of the “priesthood of all believers”. Christ is our intermediary, and the Holy Spirit is not only our guide, but also the guide for authoritative leaders in the physical church. Yes, Jesus also knew that man was and is susceptible to sin and error. This is why Christ by necessity is the head of the church… not Peter or any other man. He loved us too much to leave the church solely in our corruptible hands. And when corruption became rampant in the Roman church, He raised up other men (fallible as well) to correct the errors and preserve the church.

    Throughout history, God has raised up leaders of the flock. Some were stellar, some were corrupt. Nonetheless, Gods will moves onward. Scripture says that all authority comes from God. If absolute apostasy does not invalidate ecclesial authority, then we would necessarily have to assume that Christ wants us to follow apostate leaders. I just can’t get there. I’m more inclined to view the church as described in Hebrews 11…

    8 After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), 9 then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. 10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

    11 Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. 14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying,

    16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
    After those days, says the Lord:
    I will put My laws upon their heart,
    And on their mind I will write them,”

    He then says,

    17 “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
    18 Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

    19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

    Jesus is the high priest of the church. We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus. God promises us that “I will put My laws upon their heart, And on their mind I will write them”. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. We should hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. Finally, the church meets together to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.

    Out of time for now….

    Blessings brother
    Curt

  232. Ray

    I love how the term “principled” gets thrown around on this site. What principles are you referring to? That Jesus was unable to do anything about apostate leaders in the church? That Jesus didn’t care about apostate leaders in the church? That Jesus intended to have apostate leaders in the church? That Jesus was somehow bound / stuck with / hamstrung by Roman authority?

    As I stated above, the head of the church is Christ… not Peter or any other man. This is a Biblical principle. Christ will lead the church as He sees fit. That is my principled argument. Doctrinal relativism only exists in the minds of those who believe that Christ is not the head of his church and that He and the Holy Spirit are powerless and ineffective in leading the church. Yes, we all err in our doctrinal exegesis… but God is big enough to have His will be done in spite of us. He is also big enough to change horses when it suits His purposes.

    Blessings
    Curt

  233. Michael Liccione (222): “the very essence of Protestantism [is that] one assumes that the deposit of faith is knowable independently of ecclesial authority, and that one knows its content….”

    If that’s the case, then God first articulated this principle.

    Over at Triablogue, I’ve been working with Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic ©2011) in looking at the question, “what is the church?”

    Here’s God’s creation of, and charge to the first Adam:

    Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

    So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

    And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

    The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

    Beale notes that this breaks out into the following separate elements:

    The commission of Gen 1:26–28 involves the following elements, especially, as summarized in 1:28: (1) “God blessed them”; (2) “Be fruitful and multiply”; (3) “fill the earth”; (4) “subdue” the “earth”; (5) “rule over … all the earth.”

    Adam being made in the image of God “is what enables Adam to carry out the particular parts of the commission” (30).

    God’s creation of Adam in his image as the crown of creation is probably to be seen as the content of the “blessing” at the beginning of verse 28. The “ruling” and “subduing” “over all the earth” expresses Adam’s kingship and is plausibly part of a functional definition of the divine image in which Adam was made. This functional aspect is likely the focus of what it means that Adam and Eve were created in God’s image.

    After a brief discussion of how “image” and “function” were related in the ancient Near East (ANE), and noting that “Adam represents God’s sovereign presence and rule on earth”, Beale expands this to say “there is an additional ontological aspect of the “image” by which humanity was enabled to reflect the functional image”:

    Adam was made in the volitional, rational, and moral image of God, so that, with regard to the latter, he was to reflect moral attributes such as righteousness, knowledge, holiness, justice, love, faithfulness, and integrity (for the first three attributes as part of the divine image, see Eph 4:24; Col 3:10), and above all he was to reflect God’s glory….

    Adam’s commission to “cultivate” (with connotations of “serving”) and “guard” in Gen 2:15 as a priest-king is probably part of the commission given in Gen 1:26–28. Hence, Gen 2:15 continues the theme of subduing and filling the earth by humanity created in the divine image, which has been placed in the first temple [i.e., Eden. For Beale’s complete argument on this, see his work The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God].

    Adam was to be God’s obedient servant in maintaining both the physical and spiritual warfare of the garden abode, which included dutifully keeping evil influences from invading the arboreal sanctuary. In fact, the physical and spiritual dimensions of Adam’s responsibilities in relation to the Genesis 1 commission are apparent from the recognition that Adam was like a primordial priest serving in a primeval temple. Adam was to be like Israel’s later priests, who both physically protected the temple and spiritually were to be experts in the recollection, interpretation, and application of God’s word in the Torah. Accordingly, essential to Adam and Eve’s raising of their children was spiritual instruction in God’s word that the parents themselves were to remember and pass on.

    In this respect, it is apparent that knowing and being obedient to God’s word was crucial to carrying out the task of Gen 1:26–28 (and disobedience led to failure [cf. Gen 2:16–17 with Gen 3:1–7], pgs 32–33).

    Roman Catholics are fond of asking, “where is Sola Scriptura in the Bible?” The first instance of it is right here, at the beginning, establishing the principle from the start. Adam and Eve had a word from God (though no “infallible canon”), and they were simply expected to understand and obey.

    One should note that, according to Michael Liccione, this is “the very essence of Protestantism. One assumes that the deposit of faith is knowable independently of ecclesial authority, and that one knows its content.” So we have the formal principle of the Reformation right here starting with God’s word to Adam. One might say that God himself was the first to articulate the principle.

    With respect to Roman Catholic ecclesiology, this requirement to know what God’s word was saying, perspicuously, and in an unmediated way, was taken for granted. There is no provision for an “infallible interpreter” at this point.

    Thus, knowing God’s will as expressed in his word of command (Gen 2:16–17) is part of the functional manner in which humanity was to reflect the divine image, which assumes that Adam was created with the rational and moral capacities to comprehend and carry out such a command. The first two humans were to think God’s thoughts after him. Thus, Adam and his wife’s “knowledge” of God also included remembering God’s word addressed to Adam in Gen 2:16–17, which Adam’s wife failed to recall in Gen 3:2–3. After God puts Adam into the garden in Gen 2:15 to serve him he gives Adam a positive command, a negative command, and a warning to remember: “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge [LXX: infinitive of γινώσκω] of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Gen 2:16–17).

    When confronted by the satanic serpent, Adam’s wife responds by quoting Gen 2:16–17 but changes the wording in at least three major places (Gen 3:2–3). It is possible that the changes are incidental and are a mere paraphrase still retaining the same meaning as in 2:16–17. It is more likely, however, that she either failed to remember God’s word accurately or intentionally changed it for her own purposes. The telltale sign of this is that each change appears to have theological significance. First, she minimizes their privileges by saying merely, “We may eat,” whereas God had said, “You may eat freely”; second, she minimizes the judgment by saying “You will die,” whereas God said, “You will surely die”; third, she maximizes the prohibition by affirming, “You shall not … touch,” whereas God originally said only, “You shall not eat.” (33)

    In effect, Eve has given us the very first instance of “the development of doctrine”, and the consequences of an improper “interpretation” are quite severe.

    God expected the first man to be able to hear, understand, and obey his word, without the benefit of a “fixed canon”, without the benefit of an “infallible interpreter”. Perhaps you can remind us all again precisely when the need for these things entered into God’s plan?

  234. John, (re: #233)

    I noticed that in your comment you refer to Michael in the third person. Speaking as the moderator of this thread, please see the first paragraph in our Posting Guidelines. I’ve let your comment through, but any future comments referring critically to other participants in the third-person will not be approved. This is a place for dialogue, not a plurality of monologues.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  235. Brian, you are so kind. This is something that I also posted at Triablogue. The phrase, “according to Michael Liccione” appeared the original blogpost. I had intended to remove third-person references, but that is one that I missed. My apologies.

  236. Curt @ 224: “Exactly! So when we look at early ecclesial authority, we see conformity with the teachings of Christ, and are able to discern that they are, in fact, authoritative. Equally, when we look at the many corruptions of later “authorities” in the church, we must rationally discern that these are not authoritative because they are not in conformity with the teachings of Christ.”

    Before discussing this further, are you a Mormon?

  237. Curt (re231),
    Thanks for taking the time to respond to me. I must admit, though. Things still seem fuzzy. That’s alright for now, of course. It’s just that these issues are so fundamental to our current identity as Christians, it doesn’t seem to me that the fundamental details should be left to the historians. For example, when you say:

    Leaders of the early Christian churches were entrusted with an authoritative role to point people to Christ. When later Church leaders stopped pointing people to Christ, they abdicated their authoritative role. The public institutional church never ceased. But it did fracture by necessity as a result of the sin of the apostate leaders.

    I come up with a whole new set of questions. For example, if the responsibility of early church leaders was only to “point” the flock to Christ, rather than speak authoritatively on God’s behalf (that is, to deliver binding doctrine concerning matters of morality), so much for any real ecclesial authority. So now it becomes clear that we were talking past one another as far as our definitions of “authority” were concerned. Because as I see it any “authority” that I can choose to disregard (such as an authority that simply “points” to Christ rather than casting me out from the community and treating me “like a heathen or a tax collector.”) isn’t really an authority at all. An often-quoted phrase here at c2c goes something like this “When I submit only when I agree, the one to whom I submit is me.”

    Also, although Catholics acknowledge the priesthood of all believers, we do not do so in such a way as to delegitimize or render superfluous the ministerial priesthood. We hold to a Church constitution that is BOTH mystical AND public/visible. We don’t hold the view, as you indicated, that the church is solely a physical institution led by a man.

    Finally, you said:

    If absolute apostasy does not invalidate ecclesial authority, then we would necessarily have to assume that Christ wants us to follow apostate leaders.”

    First off, it seems to me the Church’s reaction to the Donatists focused upon the effect that an individual’s sins do or do not affect his ordination. 2nd, I would say that the Teachers of the Law during Christ’s time were quite apostate in their personal hypocrisy. However, Christ instructed His followers to submit to the teachings of these corrupt individuals by virtue of their occupying Moses’ seat. Christ warned them, however, to do as they say but to not do as they do. So the idea that a corrupt leader can still occupy a seat of authority despite personal failure is actually quite a Biblical notion, I would say.

    And as far as your citing the Letter to the Hebrews goes, I find that letter to have come alive for me as a Catholic. Its frequent mention of Melchizedek especially carries with it unique Catholic meanings concerning the nature of Christ’s Priesthood.

    So anyways, I do truly appreciate the time you invested in your responses to me and I enjoy following your comments here. Thanks and have a blessed 2013!

  238. Jim

    Before discussing this further, are you a Mormon?

    Lol… no :-) … No disrespect to my Mormon friends… if you knew me, you would lol too! :-)

    Blessings
    Curt

  239. Hey Herb

    For example, if the responsibility of early church leaders was only to “point” the flock to Christ, rather than speak authoritatively on God’s behalf (that is, to deliver binding doctrine concerning matters of morality), so much for any real ecclesial authority.

    When I said that, it was not intended to be an exhaustive description of the role of church leaders. But it is the primary purpose. Speaking authoritatively regarding doctrine is a subset of pointing people to Christ, as that is the primary purpose of doctrine. I am in full agreement that the church requires authoritative leadership. I come from a Presbyterian background. We are an apostolic church… that is, we believe in that we are part of the apostolic lineage of the church catholic. We have church discipline up to and including casting one out of the community. However, in the Presby church, both apostate members and apostate leaders are subject to church discipline. Church leaders cannot act any way they want and then claim immunity under the authority banner, as did the apostate popes of the middle ages.

    Also, although Catholics acknowledge the priesthood of all believers, we do not do so in such a way as to delegitimize or render superfluous the ministerial priesthood.

    Nor do we.

    We hold to a Church constitution that is BOTH mystical AND public/visible.

    But it is limited in scope to the RC church… which I find interesting because a high percentage of the RC posts on this site are written by folks who came to Christ through the work of Protestant churches.

    I would say that the Teachers of the Law during Christ’s time were quite apostate in their personal hypocrisy. However, Christ instructed His followers to submit to the teachings of these corrupt individuals by virtue of their occupying Moses’ seat. Christ warned them, however, to do as they say but to not do as they do.

    Quite right… but Jesus goes on to say a few more things in subsequent verses of Matthew 23…

    8 But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11 But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

    Jesus is telling them that the law the Pharisees taught was still valid and to be followed. And He continues with identification of the true authority… the One, the only… Christ. He also says, “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father.” Hmmm….

    So the idea that a corrupt leader can still occupy a seat of authority despite personal failure is actually quite a Biblical notion

    Apparently, not permanently… unless you believe that the Pharisees are still authoritative. Assuming you don’t, and since you have asked me a similar question, I would ask you, “when did the Pharisees lose their authority?”

    Thoughts?

    Blessings,
    Curt

  240. Curt (#229):

    You wrote:

    Since you are right by your standard and I am wrong by your standard, then I must be wrong. Thanks for your insight.

    In effect, then, your response to my argument that you’re begging the question is that I’m begging the question. That misses the point altogether. Why?

    The question is not who’s right by whose standard–we already knew the answer to that–but whose standard is the better one to adopt for the purpose at hand. The purpose at hand is to distinguish, in a principled way, divine revelation from human theological opinion. Given as much, Ray’s response to you (#230) is quite apt. Your reply to him (#232), on the other hand, shows that you don’t understand what we mean by ‘principled distinction’. So I shall now explain what such a distinction would be, why yours does not provide one, and why ours does.

    A principled distinction contrasts with an ad hoc distinction. For instance, defining justice as conformity to the law and injustice as violating the law is a merely ad hoc distinction, because even though it’s normally valid in the context of legal proceedings, it doesn’t address the question whether the law being applied in such proceedings is itself just or not. Thus it leaves open the possibility that some laws are unjust, so that obeying them would also be unjust. The needed, principled distinction between justice and injustice would arise from a philosophical account of what justice in general is, for all purposes. That would at least give us a principled way of addressing the question left open by the ad hoc distinction, even if the way we address that question later turns out to be wrong.

    Let us now apply the principled/ad hoc distinction to the matter at hand. You wrote to Ray:

    …the head of the church is Christ… not Peter or any other man. This is a Biblical principle. Christ will lead the church as He sees fit. That is my principled argument. Doctrinal relativism only exists in the minds of those who believe that Christ is not the head of his church and that He and the Holy Spirit are powerless and ineffective in leading the church. Yes, we all err in our doctrinal exegesis… but God is big enough to have His will be done in spite of us. He is also big enough to change horses when it suits His purposes.

    The reason why your view offers no principled distinction between divine revelation and human theological opinion is that, even supposing it’s true, you have no explanation why it is anything more than your interpretation of biblical data, and thus only your opinion. But opinions and four bucks will get you a decent latté: They are not expressions of divine revelation, and thus bind nobody. The explanation you need would tell us why we must regard the biblical canon as inerrant, and why your interpretation of it is not only better than ours, but also expresses what God would have us believe, not merely your opinion. Even if the explanation you go on to give turns out to be wrong, at least it would be principled, and thus an improvement over what you’ve said so far.

    As Catholics, on the other hand, Ray and I do offer a principled distinction between divine revelation and human theological opinions. We say that Christ established a living, human authority in the Church that speaks in his name when teaching with its full authority, and is thus infallible under that condition. So when that authority teaches with its full authority that such-and-such writings are divinely inspired, and thus inerrant, we believe it for the reason that an living, divinely established, and thus infallible agency says so. When that authority formally endorses a particular interpretation of the Bible, we accept that interpretation as an inerrant expression of divine revelation because a divinely established, infallible authority endorses it. Of course, the mere fact that said authority says it’s infallible does not make it so. The mere fact that Catholics accept that authority’s claims for itself does not make them true. But even supposing–as you do–that the Catholic doctrine of the Magisterium is false, at least it supplies a principled, not a merely ad hoc distinction of the sort needed in this context.

    I await your own principled distinction. Of course, I’m prepared for the possibility of disappointment. When I’ve had this conversation with some Protestants in the past, they simply admit that, on their view, religion is only a matter of opinion, and then challenge me to explain what’s wrong with that. But I hope you can see by now that that is just another way of missing the point.

    Best,
    Mike

  241. Hey Mike

    I hope I don’t disappoint, but I’m not optimistic.

    As Catholics, on the other hand, Ray and I do offer a principled distinction between divine revelation and human theological opinions. We say that Christ established a living, human authority in the Church that speaks in his name when teaching with its full authority, and is thus infallible under that condition.

    This is, of course, an opinion based your (corporate) interpretation of Scripture which, at its core, says that the RC Church has determined that it is solely authoritative and infallible, and we know this because the Church teaches it authoritatively. Can you see why some might think this is circular logic? Certainly if one accepts the fundamental premise that the RC church is the sole infallible authority, then the principled conclusion you espouse makes sense. But your argument is only principled if you accept the fundamental premise. It took the RC church 1800 years to institute the dogma of infallibility, so apparently they weren’t so sure about it either.

    Blessings
    Curt

  242. John, #234

    I am a brand new convert to the Catholic Church(12-16-2012) and I honestly struggled with the doctrine of sola scriptura——honestly—–struggled!, because all I could see……and I didn’t want to be in an epistemological conundrum…….was that Protestantism was terribly fractured. I wanted to know exactly what constituted orthodoxy, because I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t sinning, if I could help it. I put this dilemma to my pastors( smart and good, Reformed pastors of the URCNA in Southern Ca.), and they couldn’t define the pale of orthodoxy. From their view, if I had gone over to Rod Rosenbladt’s Lutheran church I would have material idols before my eyes and, yes, that would be a violation of the 2nd Commandement; however, I would still be regarded as a nonerring Christian because Calvinists and Lutheren’s agree on the “essentials”. I was at a loss at what to do because I could be perpetually bouncing back and forth among sacramental Protestant congregations depending on my interpretation of the day, OR I could keep attending a URC and debate the opining topic( which it has become) of idols to my heart’s frustration without ever finding agreement. But that would be ok, as long as I didn’t go outside the pale of orthodoxy……..huh? I asked my pastors directly, “which church should I submit to?”, and everytime they answered my question with the question, ” So you believe that Rome has an infallible interpreter?” Well, I hope somebody’s got some definate answers otherwise Christ left us oprhans! I went as far as to assert that they(Reformers) were relying on Reformed formularies much in the same way that Catholics rely on bishops and popes, for they are absolutely not relying on scripture to serve as the sole informant of their doctrines, but on men who believe that they were interpreting correctly whether you say they are infallible(not erring) or not. Further, if Reformers are not interpreting without any error in regards to faith and morals, why should I trust them and be required to submit to their authority? Also, when Reformers do consult the church fathers, they do so according to the paradigm they are obliged to operate within.
    Now, I have nothing on your learning. You are a man who is years ahead of me in study, so I feel completly out of my league:) But as a lay person trying with all her intellect and prayerfully pleading for the Holy Spirit to guide me, I could see that sola scriptura has never worked in practice. Everyone is sure that they are interpreting correctly, but I hear many, many voices all claiming the same.

    You said: “So we have the formal principle of the Reformation right here starting with God’s word to Adam. One might say that God himself was the first to articulate the principle.”

    How does this become a formal principle of the Reformation? God always acts first before man can respond. How long did it take for this manifestation to become inscripturated? What happened to a church where we are supposed to obey those who rule over us? I was told that I must submit to my church. On what grounds should I have submitted to their authority? How does one refute Catholic doctrine if they too are using scripture to develop their dogmas? Tradition is just doctrine that linearly precedes the present….so how does one adopt or throw-off a particular doctrine in a principled way using scripture alone? Try to account for a Reformed liturgy by using scripture alone.

    Appreciate you thoughts,
    Susan

  243. Herb

    Just a postscript to your comment at 237. You stated:

    First off, it seems to me the Church’s reaction to the Donatists focused upon the effect that an individual’s sins do or do not affect his ordination.

    I did not understand the point you were trying to make here. Are you speaking of the original Donatists (ca 300ad) or the “neo-Donatists” of reformation times?

    Thanks
    Curt

  244. Curt (#224)
    I am away on holiday at the moment and have only brief and limited access to a computer, so won’t be able to respond in detail. I did just want to make one comment In your response you said:

    Exactly! So when we look at early ecclesial authority, we see conformity with the teachings of Christ, and are able to discern that they are, in fact, authoritative.

    I think you are putting the cart before the horse, here – begging the question, in fact. When we “…look at early ecclesial authority…” Which authority? That is my (undoubtedly badly expressed) point. You speak as though you knew in advance what the teachings of Christ are – and then you know which are the (real) authorities by seeing which teach in conformity with what you understand.

    But as you know from the New Testament itself, there were many authorities teaching that Christ intended His followers to be circumcised; that Christ taught a different God from the Old Testament; that Christ taught, in fact, many things that we call heresies.

    It is because those who truly had His authority teach us that these are heretical that we know that they are. We are not Ebionites or Marcionites because the true authorities taught us that Christians need not be circumcised and that the God of the Old Testament is the God of Jesus Christ. We do not discern which are the true authorities because we already know those things are wrong.

    In the word of Monsignor Ronald Knox, Christ left us, not Christianity, but Christendom.

    jj

  245. Curt – a PS to this. You said you could follow those authorities whose teaching is in conformity with the teachings of Christ. But you know which are the teachings of Christ only through authorities. Jesus wrote nothing (except some words in the sand :-)). Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell you that He said certain things. The author of such works as the Gospel of Thomas tell you He said other things. You have already decided that you will believe certain things about Jesus because of which authorities you have followed.

    But it is evident that simply having words of Christ testified to by those authorities doesn’t settle very many questions. Do His teachings mean we should baptise infants or not? Some subsequent authorities say they do, others that they do not. Do His teachings even imply that He is God substantially (as opposed, say, to His being God in the sense that He Himself says Old Testament judges were gods)? Some say yes, some no. Do they imply that He is fully man?

    Either you follow those who are authorised to teach in His Name – and then believe things to be true because they say so – or else you believe that you can discern from reading those words that were passed on by those first authorities – Matthew and Co – what is the truth about these and other questions – and then you judge the authorities according to whether they agree.

    Clearly you are doing the latter. But then what about all those men, apparently in good faith, who study the same Words of Christ as you, but draw different conclusions? What of the Arians, the Monophysites, the Nestorians – not to mention the adherents of lesser differences, such as paedobaptists vs confessional baptists? Someone’s intellect is clearly darkened here. How can you know it is not yours?

    jj

  246. Curt, 239

    You wrote:
    “We have church discipline up to and including casting one out of the community.”

    But to have the power to bind or lose for ever and ever, to have the power over human souls is quite different Curt.

  247. jj

    It is because those who truly had His authority teach us that these are heretical that we know that they are. We are not Ebionites or Marcionites because the true authorities taught us that Christians need not be circumcised and that the God of the Old Testament is the God of Jesus Christ.

    True enough… and all I am saying is that I at least agree on the “accepted” authorities chosen by Christ in Biblical times, and perhaps for some period after that per the Church. But when we fast forward to the “bad times”, something obviously went horribly wrong. Where, when and how could be debated ad nauseum. But Christendom found itself numerous times with popes and bishops who were corrupt.

    I am reminded of Edmund Burke’s famous quote… “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing”. Well, good men did not do nothing. Eventually, they sought reform within the Church, which used its corrupted authority to protect itself and expel the reformers. Suddenly, there were two competing churches… the corrupt Roman church and the reformed church. Christians had to choose… who has true authority? The corrupt leaders of the Roman Church, or those who sought to reform their errors?

    Perhaps they read Titus 1 and decided…

    7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, 8 but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.

    10 For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain. 12 One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.

    Enjoy your holiday!

    Curt

  248. Curt (re239),
    I feel like we have a shotgun approach to conversation going on here. There are way too many irons in this fire. Not to mention the fact that I am just one of many people asking questions of you! Either way, let me attempt to respond to a couple things here. You said:

    I am in full agreement that the church requires authoritative leadership. I come from a Presbyterian background. We are an apostolic church… that is, we believe in that we are part of the apostolic lineage of the church catholic. We have church discipline up to and including casting one out of the community.

    Whether or not a given community goes so far as to cast out an unrepentant sinner has little or nothing to do with the question of whether or not that particular community is doing so on behalf of Christ. If a merely human-made organization casts me out, I couldn’t care less. Whereas, if the rightful successors of the Apostles, acting on behalf of Christ, cast me out of the one and only organization established by the divine man, Jesus, I should be seriously concerned. If a presbytery or synod casts me out (whatever that would look like), I can just go to another man-made organization and find a home there. This is why true apostolic succession, not mere “doctrinal apostolicity” is a necessary component of ecclesial constitution. This is also why ecclesial claims to apostolic lineage based solely on doctrine fall short of providing any basis for meaningful excommunication.

    Also, when I said that Catholics do not understand the priesthood of all believers in such a way as to render the ministerial priesthood superfluous, you said “Nor do we.” However, when a person places himself in a position to judge his ministers upon the basis of his own reading of Scripture (and his own determinations of what counts as “apostolic doctrine”), it seems he’s not really submitting to them because of the authority they represent by virtue of their office, but b/c of what he already believes. Thus, his association with them fluctuates as he changes his mind, or as they change theirs. This model for ecclesial “authority” seems to me nothing more than farcical. Because, as John Thayer Jensen said elsewhere, it puts the cart before the horse. If I retain the right to leave my church whenever I come to disagree with its leaders, I am fooling myself. I am my own teacher in such a case and have simply selected like-minded figures under whose authority I’ve falsely placed myself.

    As far as Christ’s subsequent comments there in Matthew’s Gospel are concerned, I realize they’re important and meaningful. But they don’t, as I see them, shed a new light on His preceding statements that force them to be reinterpreted in a manner at odds w/ what I was drawing from them initially.

    And finally, the Church was born on Pentecost. In Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection all the promises of God are fulfilled and a new and everlasting Covenant is established. Christ, His Apostles, and the prophets provide the foundation for the church. It is in light of this new and perfect covenant that we recognize the fulfillment of all that the Pharisees’ laws foresaw. So you asked me directly when I believe the Pharisees lost their authority. Maybe it would be possible to pinpoint a day. Was it that 1st Easter morning when death was overcome? Was it on Pentecost? I do not know exactly. But I prefer to look at it this way: The Pharisees’ authority wasn’t lost as much as it was properly exercised in the Rabbi, Christ. And through His satisfaction, all was settled and is now accessed through this perfect everlasting covenant.

    Thanks for the continued conversation!

  249. jj re 244

    Either you follow those who are authorised to teach in His Name – and then believe things to be true because they say so

    So by this logic, I am to believe that the decrees of Pope Urban IV, (1378–1389, who complained that he did not hear enough screaming when Cardinals who had conspired against him were tortured) is the inerrant word of God? Or perhaps Pope Benedict IX was speaking the inerrant truth even as he was a rapist, homosexual and murderer? So no… I would not follow such as these if they are “authorized” to teach in His name. If God strikes me dead, I will go with a clear conscience.

    But then what about all those men, apparently in good faith, who study the same Words of Christ as you, but draw different conclusions?

    Yes… what of Pope Benedict IX, Pope Urban IV and numerous others. As you said, “Someone’s intellect is clearly darkened here. How can you know it is not yours?”

    or else you believe that you can discern from reading those words that were passed on by those first authorities – Matthew and Co – what is the truth about these and other questions – and then you judge the authorities according to whether they agree.

    Yes. Hebrews 5:14…

    But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

    And the first letter to the Philippians, Paul prays for us…

    9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; 11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

    And finally Ephesians 4…

    14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

    We are not to be mindless dummies following every wind of doctrine. We are to speak the truth in love and grow up in all aspects of Christ who is the head.

    Will there be disagreements? Yes. But that is for God to sort out.

    Blessings
    Curt

  250. I understand the difficulty in allowing the option for varying interpretations but simply appealing to an infallible teacher does not solve the problem either because there is no history to that method. Just read the early fathers, if they thought the simple solution was to consult the bishop of Rome tonsertle all disputes, why did they feel the freedom to interpret the scripture.? Based on the principles you have put out, they were wasting their time exegeting scripture.

  251. John (#233):

    I had written:

    …the very essence of Protestantism [is that] one assumes that the deposit of faith is knowable independently of ecclesial authority, and that one knows its content..

    And you replied:

    If that’s the case, then God first articulated this principle.

    The rest of your post is your biblical argument for that assertion. Trouble is, that very procedure begs the question entirely, and is thus a waste of time in this context. Why?

    What you’ve done is interpret some biblical texts and present that as evidence that the Bible supports your interpretive paradigm (IP) over against the Catholic. Now I could reply by offering my own, Catholic interpretation of the texts you select. But I can find no good reason to so. For when the very question at issue is which IP, the conservative-Protestant or the Catholic, supplies a principled way to distinguish divine revelation from human theological opinion, neither of us can answer the question just by offering our own favored interpretation of selected biblical texts. You have interpreted, and I would be interpreting, the texts already in terms of our own respective IPs, which begs the question and gets us nowhere. So it is incumbent on anyone debating said question to argue, on grounds independent of the particular biblical interpretations he adopts, that his IP has a principled distinction between divine revelation and human theological opinion, so that by deploying it, he at least has an argument that his particular interpretations are reliable expressions of divine revelation, not just opinions. But if you deny that you or anybody else enjoys the gift of infallibility, and thus admit that you could be wrong, you have no way of making that argument.

    For several years now, I’ve been waiting for you to engage the essentially philosophical issue I’ve posed for you. If and when you do, our discussions might move forward.

    Best,
    Mike

  252. Mike re 247

    So it is incumbent on anyone debating said question to argue, on grounds independent of the particular biblical interpretations he adopts, that his IP has a principled distinction between divine revelation and human theological opinion, so that by deploying it, he at least has an argument that his particular interpretations are reliable expressions of divine revelation, not just opinions. But if you deny that you or anybody else enjoys the gift of infallibility, and thus admit that you could be wrong, you have no way of making that argument.

    Unfortunately, your position has the same problem. You presume that infallible ecclesial authority rests solely and eternally with the Roman Catholic Church, and thus you claim to have independent distinction of divine revelation and human opinion. Yet that very claim requires interpretation. It is possible to claim infallibility, but in fact, not be infallible… which leaves us back to stalemate.

    Blessings
    Curt

  253. Curt,

    You wrote:

    I love how the term “principled” gets thrown around on this site. What principles are you referring to?

    .

    That the term “principled” is merely “thrown around”, rather than used in a specific, non-question-begging way is merely an assertion. If you hope to argue that point, you will need to do so in a principled way! Mike has already noted that you seem to misunderstand the concept of a “principled means”, and has rightly responded to you by showing the difference between an ad hoc assertion and a principled argument. Perhaps an analogy will ad something to the discussion.

    Suppose you and I are given a poem by a famous poet and asked to explain what primary message or meaning the author hoped to convey to the reader through his poem. Antecedently, we suppose that basic English reading and comprehension skills, when applied to the terms and grammar of the poem, will suffice to lead each of us to an interpretation which is substantially the same. Here, implicitly, basic English reading and comprehension skills serve as the initial “principled means” which we both suppose will enable us to arrive at the author’s intended message. Yet after reading the poem, we substantially disagree about the primary message or meaning the poet intended to convey. We discuss the poem and its stanzas together at length and even agree on the meaning of many or most of the terms used by the poet. Still, we continue to disagree profoundly about the primary point or message the author intended the reader to take away from his poem.

    However, we note that the two of us are amateur literary critics. We understand that our respective interpretations are simply not-so-educated opinions; hence, it is not difficult to suppose that one or even both of our interpretations of the author’s intent might be wrong. We have come to see that basic English reading and comprehension skills are an insufficient “principled means” by which to determine the author’s intended meaning. If at this point, either one of us were to simply assert that his interpretation was correct and the other wrong, that assertion would be manifestly ad hoc, since neither one of us have any greater discernable claim to better English reading or comprehension than the other. Accordingly, we can either agree to disagree and leave the question of the author’s meaning perpetually open, as unavoidably a matter of opinion; or we can seek some new mutually recognized “principled means” by which to establish the author’s true intent over against mere interpretive opinion.

    Suppose we take the later course, and both pursue and achieve graduate degrees in literature. Greater education, a transition from amateur to expert literary criticism, we suppose will provide the new and true “principled means” by which the author’s intended message may be distinguished from various interpretive opinions. Having now been exposed to thousands of poems and having mastered all the linguistic and hermeneutical tools of the literary critic, the author’s intended message will become clear to each of us, leading to mutual agreement – or so we hope. But alas, after applying our newly acquired skills to the poem, we continue to find ourselves in substantial disagreement, perhaps holding interpretations of the author’s message which are mutually contradictory on one more points. We now possess two divergent “educated” opinions concerning the author’s intended message. Again, if at this point, either one of us were to simply assert that his interpretation was correct and the other wrong, that assertion would be manifestly ad hoc, since neither one of us have any greater discernable claim to being a better educated literary critic than the other. Extensive education, as a principled means by which to distinguish false interpretations from the author’s true intent, continues to leave us with mere opinion, even contradictory opinions, even if highly educated contradictory opinions. Failing some discovery of some new principled basis by which to determine the author’s intended message, we must again admit that the best we can do is agree to disagree and leave the question of the author’s meaning perpetually open, as unavoidably a matter of opinion.

    By imperfect analogy, that is essentially the Protestant situation vis-à-vis the effort to distinguish between orthodox (God intended) and heterodox (contrary to God intended) interpretations of sacred scripture; and such is the case not only with respect to peripherals, but also with respect to penultimate essentials, such as the doctrine of justification. There are, as a matter of fact, many well educated Protestant exegetes who show no discernable differences in moral virtue or docility to the Holy Spirit, who yet disagree profoundly on essential matters of Christian doctrine. Accordingly, assertions by this or that scholar, or this or that Protestant community (perhaps relying on this or that scholar or set of scholars), to the effect that their particular interpretation of some essential doctrinal matter is the one God intends (i.e. orthodox), is again an ad hoc assertion. There is no principle, no basis, no objective ground by which – and upon which – the distinction between orthodoxy and heterodoxy might be made which does not reduce to ad hoc table-pounding.

    Doctrinal relativism within Protestantism simply follows, as a matter of logical consequence, from the inherent deficiencies of principles such as ‘biblical perspicuity on essential matters of salvation”, or “exegetical training”, or “Illumination by the Holy Spirit”. None of these establish any discernable difference in interpretive accuracy between those offering incompatible doctrinal interpretive schemas. At best, educated exegetical opinion by virtuous scholars is all that can ever be hoped for. But with respect to knowing the essential doctrines which God would have us know here and now on the basis of His past revelatory efforts in space and time, with a knowledge that transcends mere human opinion, Protestantism’s own principles make that impossible. That is doctrinal relativism. One can, of course, bite that bullet and live with the personal and evangelistic dissonance of embracing that reality.

    The principled means in Catholicism for distinguishing orthodoxy from heterodoxy rests with arguments from scripture, patristics and history that Christ established a Church and invested Peter, the apostles and (through them) their successors with His own authority and Spirit so as to protect them from teaching doctrinal error (not from sinning personally or even grossly) when definitively addressing a doctrinal controversy on behalf of the whole people of God. Infallibility is the counterpart – like glove to hand – of Inspiration. The later being the gift by which God, for the sake of his people, used specific sinful men (even grossly sinful) to originally promulgate His truth without error (inerrancy) in scripture; the former being the gift by which God, for the sake of his people, protects the sinful men who govern His Church from error when teaching definitively on revealed matters. If the Catholic claim is true, the principled means proposed would indeed enable men to distinguish between orthodoxy and heterodoxy in a manner transcending human opinion. But as I indicated before, even if one thinks the biblical, patristic and historical claims which are offered as motives of credibility for the claims of the Catholic Church to be insufficient, that does not alter the fact that Protestantism – on its principles – entails doctrinal relativism.

    You wrote:

    That Jesus was unable to do anything about apostate leaders in the church? That Jesus didn’t care about apostate leaders in the church? That Jesus intended to have apostate leaders in the church? That Jesus was somehow bound / stuck with / hamstrung by Roman authority

    Every sentence here presupposes that you have some principled means of distinguishing when church leaders are apostate (since apostasy is a doctrinal matter formally entailing abandonment of the faith, not just moral failure). But that is the very question at issue; therefore, to the extent that these questions imply a prior knowledge of what does and does not constitute apostasy, they are question-begging.

    You wrote:

    As I stated above, the head of the church is Christ… not Peter or any other man. This is a Biblical principle. Christ will lead the church as He sees fit. That is my principled argument. Doctrinal relativism only exists in the minds of those who believe that Christ is not the head of his church and that He and the Holy Spirit are powerless and ineffective in leading the church

    None of that is a principled argument. It is not even an argument. It is question-begging table pounding.

    You wrote:

    Yes, we all err in our doctrinal exegesis… but God is big enough to have His will be done in spite of us. He is also big enough to change horses when it suits His purposes.

    Not only is the assertion that “we all err in our doctrinal exegesis” question-begging; even assuming it were true (i.e. the denial that God has gifted His Church any infallible authority to decide doctrinal controversies definitively), it would simply affirm my argument that Protestantism entails doctrinal relativism. God can certainly do His will in spite of us or change horses when it suits Him; but given Protestant principles, as it pertains to doctrine; there is no way to know what His will is, or if and when He has changed horses – with anything other than mere human opinion. Protestantism is doctrinally relative.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  254. Curt (#241):

    In response to my brief statement–and only to my brief statement–of the “principled distinction” Catholics employ between divine revelation and human theological opinion, you write:

    This is, of course, an opinion based your (corporate) interpretation of Scripture which, at its core, says that the RC Church has determined that it is solely authoritative and infallible, and we know this because the Church teaches it authoritatively. Can you see why some might think this is circular logic?

    You are quite correct to suspect that I would be disappointed by that. For one thing, it completely ignores what I said immediately after the brief statement you’re responding to, which was:

    Of course, the mere fact that said authority says it’s infallible does not make it so. The mere fact that Catholics accept that authority’s claims for itself does not make them true. But even supposing–as you do–that the Catholic doctrine of the Magisterium is false, at least it supplies a principled, not a merely ad hoc, distinction of the sort needed in this context.

    So I’m not making the “circular” argument you try to saddle me with. The argument I’ve making is that the Catholic approach supplies a “principled distinction” of the sort needed, and yours does not. And as part of that argument, I need not and did not base the Catholic approach on any interpretation of Scripture.

    To my actual argument, your pertinent response seems to be this:

    But your argument is only principled if you accept the fundamental premise. It took the RC church 1800 years to institute the dogma of infallibility, so apparently they weren’t so sure about it either.

    Both of those sentences are simply false. As to the first, I do not need to show, or even assume, that Catholicism is actually true. All I need to show is that Catholicism contains the sort of distinction that’s needed. It does–whether or not Catholicism is true. That is not sufficient to show that Catholicism is true, but it does show that Catholicism has something of the sort necessary for a revealed religion to be true.

    Second, it took the Catholic Magisterium a long time to get round to defining its infallibility not because it thought it might be wrong about things until then, but because it didn’t think such a definition necessary until then. Its talk of infallibility was never intended to add a truth materially absent from the original deposit of faith. It was intended simply to make formally explicit what was always materially present in the original deposit of faith.

    What I was hoping for from you was an explanation of how your approach supplies a better version of the sort of distinction that’s necessary. You have not provided it. Instead, you have gone on missing the point.

    Best,
    Mike

  255. How would David have used this principled distinction on the old testament? Was the theocracy of Israel infallible?

  256. Curt (re243),
    I was speaking of the Donatist Rebellion of the 4th and 5th centuries during which the sacraments celebrated by those who, under persecution, had renounced the faith and had subsequently returned to the faith were considered valid by the Catholic Church. In other words, failure on the part of the clergy to act in a manner consistent with their calling was NOT determined to invalidate the sacraments they celebrated.
    Thanks again…

  257. Erick (re #255),

    The first thing that occurs to me, in response to your question, is that David and the other Old Testament prophets were infallible when writing Sacred Scripture and prophesying.

    Andrew

  258. Mike (251), your appeal to “philosophical issues” is an evasion, and your concept of “interpretive paradigm” is a subterfuge.

    Here’s why.

    Consider the world of math. Math has rules, and you can, if you make up your mind that you are going to be as honest as possible in your understanding of math, it won’t take you long to understand that 2+2=4. With a bit more work, you’ll find out that 9×9=81, and with not too much more difficulty, you can go to a smart guy and understand that a2xb2=c2 and someone may even be able to figure out the square root of a number like 5,237.

    This is because we are talking about numbers, and numbers have properties that are constant, and they can be learned.

    Keep in mind that God is a God who created math, with its properties unique to math.

    Knowing what I do about math, it is very hard for me to imagine an “interpretive paradigm” (IP) in the universe that is going to make 2+2=5 a true statement. If there is one, it is going to be something very twisted and counterintuitive.

    Even such concepts as “relativity”, as complicated as they are, are merely extensions of the “paradigm” that causes 2+2=4 to be true.

    That’s the problem with the Roman Catholic “IP”.

    If you consider, too, that God has properties, he tells us what these properties are, [we know them because he reveals them], and that he honest with us and is not some kind of loon, then understanding God’s revelation to us is not too different from understanding math.

    Further, since we live in the universe that God created, and that he created us, it is no stretch at all to consider that he has made us with “receptors” to what he is “transmitting”. Turretin said it with a bit more precision:

    …it is even most absurd that the rational creature as rational should not be subject to him [God] in the genus of morals and not be governed by him suitably to his nature (i.e., by moral means) by the establishment of a law. Hence it follows either that man ought to have been created independent by God (which is absurd) or that he has a natural law impressed upon him, in accordance with which he may be ruled by him

    God is not going to make creatures that can’t hear and understand him. That’s the point of my comment 233 above.

    Let’s look at this. God reveals something to Adam; Adam does something, and there is a consequence. God says more. Then he talks to different people – Noah, Abraham, Jacob. There is more history. We know the words, and we know the history.

    If your “interpretive paradigm” is to be as honest with those statements, and with the history, as you can possibly be (and knowing that our understanding of both the languages of those statements, and the history, especially moving closer to our time), you are not going to have a difficult time understanding the basics.

    The fact that many people aren’t good at math doesn’t make math untrue.

    Now Mike, you want an “interpretive paradigm” that runs extremely counterintuitive to not only the “relativity” that has been calculated out, but counterintuitive to the 2+2=4 and the 9×9=81 statements.

    Look at the other side of this: What kind of “interpretive paradigm” does the “infallible magisterium” use to come up with the things it comes up with.

    The deliberations over the Trinity and Christology required no “infallibility”. It required [and Athanasius and others are clear about this] an honest look at Scripture. Athanasius Contra Arianus contains Athanasius’s “proof” of the Trinity. But

    We know too the sources of some of the uniquely “catholic” items and the uniquely “Roman” doctrines that you say are “materially present” “in the original deposit of faith” [and one might add, “somehow”, “implicitly”].

    We know, for example, that there is no historical record for the Assumption of Mary. There are no numbers of any kind that add up to “Assumption of Mary”. Assumption of Mary is a 2+2=5 statement. Consider:

    Tertullian can write a long treatise of sixty-three chapters On the Resurrection of the Dead, mentioning and discussing the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the raising of Lazarus, the translation without death of Enoch and of Elijah, the returning from the dead of Moses for the Transfiguration, and even the preservation from what was humanly speaking certain death of the three young men in the fiery furnace and of Jonah in the whale’s belly. He does not once even slightly mention, he does not once remotely and uncertainly hint at, the resurrection or corporeal assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Tertullian quite clearly, like all his contemporaries and predecessors, had never heard of this story.

    Tertullian, who was one of the most well-informed of the writers of the early (late 2nd, early 3rd century) church. If anyone had the slightest hint in his day that it had happened, he would have known about it.

    And yet, the “infallible Magisterium” of the 20th century knows enough about this event to include this non-event in the “formal proximate object of faith”. There is now no question, it was a true event. Even though, as my source says, “this idea first made its appearance in the fifth-century Coptic Christianity under marked Gnostic influence.”

    What kind of “paradigm” gives the “infallible Magisterium” the “authority” to make a non-event into a dogma? What’s in that thought process? What kind of magic dust makes “2+2=5” into a true statement?

    This is one event, and one of the most egregious, but it is standard operating procedure for the Roman “teaching authority”.

    Do we start with simple math and work our way up to calculus? Or do we commit our lives and eternal destinies to the “interpretive paradigm” that makes 2+2=5?

  259. Susan 242, please see my response to Michael Liccione immediately above this one. I’ll try to answer more specifically in the morning.

    Kind regards,
    John Bugay

  260. One more thing Mike. I’m sure you have kids. You don’t “define” the “formal proximate object of” what it takes to be a Liccione kid, before you have a relationship with them and tell them “don’t play in traffic”. You simply say, “don’t play in traffic”, you put down the rule, irrespective of what “the total deposit” of your other rules might be. You expect it to be done, and you observe the consequences when your word on that one thing is not heeded.

  261. Curt (#(a href=”http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/06/christ-founded-a-visible-church/#comment-42768″>247)

    True enough… and all I am saying is that I at least agree on the “accepted” authorities chosen by Christ in Biblical times, and perhaps for some period after that per the Church. But when we fast forward to the “bad times”, something obviously went horribly wrong. Where, when and how could be debated ad nauseum. But Christendom found itself numerous times with popes and bishops who were corrupt.

    If the ‘something’ that went wrong is the undoubted moral corruption that happened, and that – may God forbid it! – may happen again – indeed, has in the case of some bishops – then this has nothing to do with whether Christ established a visible Church whose word we can trust. If it means that you think that word could no longer be trusted, then you don’t believe they were authorities in the sense that you must trust them. Their authority only lay in their agreeing with some independent standard – and that agreement is up to you to judge.

    And #249

    So by this logic, I am to believe that the decrees of Pope Urban IV, (1378–1389, who complained that he did not hear enough screaming when Cardinals who had conspired against him were tortured) is the inerrant word of God? Or perhaps Pope Benedict IX was speaking the inerrant truth even as he was a rapist, homosexual and murderer? So no… I would not follow such as these if they are “authorized” to teach in His name. If God strikes me dead, I will go with a clear conscience.

    I am sure you know enough Catholic teaching to know that the Word of God (in the sense of inspired utterance) ended with the death of the last Apostle. I don’t know what the decrees of Urban IV are, but are you saying that he defined teaching as to be held with divine faith that you consider untrue? Or is it simply the case that you would not obey someone whom you knew to be ordained by God to have authority over you if you knew him to be a grievous sinner?

    My only point here is that, either there is a God-ordained authority (in the Catholic sense of the word), or it is every man doing what is wise in his own eyes. I think the latter describes the world outside the Catholic Church. It seems to me a logical necessity. If I cannot trust the Church (again, in the Catholic sense), I must rely on my own judgement – reading, to be sure, what men call the Scriptures, but with only my own judgement to rely on that these particular books are Scripture – and so forth.

    jj

  262. Yes but would the average Israelite be able to identify the infallible pricipalized distinction. In order to justify his opinion in the divinity of Israels faith and belief in the canon. If so was this infallibility realized

  263. Ray

    Beautifully said, but unconvincing. A principled argument is simply one that is based upon an mutually agreed (or widely recognized) set of principles or assumptions. Not that complicated.

    The principled means in Catholicism for distinguishing orthodoxy from heterodoxy rests with arguments from scripture, patristics and history that Christ established a Church and invested Peter, the apostles and (through them) their successors with His own authority and Spirit so as to protect them from teaching doctrinal error (not from sinning personally or even grossly) when definitively addressing a doctrinal controversy on behalf of the whole people of God.

    This is the corporate interpretation of one church. Again, it is only a principled argument if it is based on mutually agreed or widely recognized underlying principles. But many others have a different opinion… that the means in Catholicism for distinguishing orthodoxy from heterodoxy rely on claimed authority that is not universally regarded. Since your underlying premise is not mutually agreed nor universally regarded, your position reduces to one more ad hoc assertion. You say Protestants are wrong … Protestants say you are wrong.

    Every sentence here presupposes that you have some principled means of distinguishing when church leaders are apostate (since apostasy is a doctrinal matter formally entailing abandonment of the faith, not just moral failure).

    Ok… If certain popes commit ongoing heinous acts including murder, rape, homosexuality, torture, and selling the papal seat … can you honestly say that they are just morally bad and not apostate? Even if you said no, can you really believe that Christ intended for these popes to be the spiritual caretakers of His bride? Is there no Biblical standard for a church leader? Of course there is… and a number of the popes did not come close to any reasonable understanding of those Biblical qualifications. How then, under the inerrant authority of the church could these guys become the headmaster of said church… unless…. unless maybe there is a flaw in the concept inerrant authority doctrine. I suppose it is possible for some to just overlook the obvious, but some of us find it hard to ignore.

    God can certainly do His will in spite of us or change horses when it suits Him; but given Protestant principles, as it pertains to doctrine; there is no way to know what His will is, or if and when He has changed horses – with anything other than mere human opinion. Protestantism is doctrinally relative.

    Of course one can claim a principled means of interpretation without reliance on human opinion if one can claim inerrant authority from God. Its much simpler to just claim inerrant authority and then exercise that authority absolutely. But claiming authority does not necessarily prove authority to anyone other than those who just choose to accept the notion. We can claim to know what God’s will is by invoking absolute authority… but that does not make it so. And in the absence of that authority, Catholicism becomes just one more doctrinal opinion.

    Since I cannot claim inerrant authority, I’ll turn it back to you so you can tell me I am begging the question and table thumping. :-)

    Blessings
    Curt

  264. Curt (#252):

    I had written to John Bugay:

    …when the very question at issue is which IP, the conservative-Protestant or the Catholic, supplies a principled way to distinguish divine revelation from human theological opinion, neither of us can answer the question just by offering our own favored interpretation of selected biblical texts. You have interpreted, and I would be interpreting, the texts already in terms of our own respective IPs, which begs the question and gets us nowhere. So it is incumbent on anyone debating said question to argue, on grounds independent of the particular biblical interpretations he adopts, that his IP has a principled distinction between divine revelation and human theological opinion, so that by deploying it, he at least has an argument that his particular interpretations are reliable expressions of divine revelation, not just opinions. But if you deny that you or anybody else enjoys the gift of infallibility, and thus admit that you could be wrong, you have no way of making that argument.

    To that, you reply:

    Unfortunately, your position has the same problem. You presume that infallible ecclesial authority rests solely and eternally with the Roman Catholic Church, and thus you claim to have independent distinction of divine revelation and human opinion. Yet that very claim requires interpretation. It is possible to claim infallibility, but in fact, not be infallible… which leaves us back to stalemate.

    That particular version of the tu quoque objection evinces once again that you’re missing the point. First of all, I do not “presume,” for purposes of the argument I’ve been making, that the Catholic Magisterium is infallible. My argument, rather, is that some infallible agency is necessary if we are to have a principled distinction between divine revelation and human theological opinions. That neither assumes nor proves that there actually is such an agency, still less that it is the Catholic Magisterium; all I’m indicating is one of the necessary conditions for making and deploying the kind of distinction I’ve been talking about. For all I’ve said so far in this discussion, no such distinction might be available–which is what many of my Protestant interlocutors actually believe, thus reducing religion to a matter of opinion. But that is a separate discussion.

    Second, my “claim” certainly does require “interpretation”; if it didn’t, you would have understood it by now. But that is not an objection to the claim. The mere fact that a claim requires interpretation is no evidence that the claim is false; although it’s logically possible that my claim, when duly interpreted, is false, that is no reason to believe that it actually is false. It is logically possible that the world came into existence five minutes ago with all the features it had five minutes ago, but that is not evidence that it did, or even evidence that we should seriously reconsider our belief that it did not.

    Unless and until you cease setting up and knocking down strawmen, and instead attend to what I’m actually saying, our discussion will continue to go nowhere.

    Best,
    Mike

  265. Mike … re 241

    What I was hoping for from you was an explanation of how your approach supplies a better version of the sort of distinction that’s necessary. You have not provided it. Instead, you have gone on missing the point.

    Well I am sorry brother. I had hoped to do better. From your last post, I think the problem is that your point is so obvious, I was looking beyond your point for something more.

    As I read it, your bottom line is this:

    I do not need to show, or even assume, that Catholicism is actually true. All I need to show is that Catholicism contains the sort of distinction that’s needed. It does–whether or not Catholicism is true.

    Clearly stated and I agree. It is rather obvious that, if one claims to have inerrant authority from God, one does not need to rely on human interpretation. And since Protestants do not claim such inerrant authority, there is a distinction. I guess at this point, I was hoping for a little more meat.

    The problem is that the truth does matter. So arguing that the church holds a superior method for discernment in a vacuum of whether or not Catholicism is true in kind of an empty discussion, is it not? But that’s not all you said…

    The argument I’ve making is that the Catholic approach supplies a “principled distinction” of the sort needed, and yours does not. And as part of that argument, I need not and did not base the Catholic approach on any interpretation of Scripture.

    Your statement is technically true, but is also a red herring. Yes there is a principled distinction. Yes one can point out that distinction without Scriptural interpretation. But the salient points of that distinction absolutely rely on Scriptural interpretation to substantiate their validity.

    In the final analysis, I would agree that there is a distinction, and would even go as far as to say that the Catholic method of divine revelation would be the superior method… if it were true. But we’re not addressing that, apparently.

    Blessings
    Curt

  266. John (re: #258

    You wrote:

    If you consider, too, that God has properties, he tells us what these properties are, [we know them because he reveals them], and that he honest with us and is not some kind of loon, then understanding God’s revelation to us is not too different from understanding math. Further, since we live in the universe that God created, and that he created us, it is no stretch at all to consider that he has made us with “receptors” to what he is “transmitting”. … God is not going to make creatures that can’t hear and understand him.

    Your claim that since human reason can understand math, therefore human reason can understand supernatural divine revelation, presupposes a denial of the nature/supernatural distinction (which distinction I explain in “Nature, Grace, and Man’s Supernatural End“), and falls into the error of hermeneutical pelagianism, which I explained in comment #68 of “The Commonitory of St. Vincent of Lérins” post. When you claim that “God is not going to make creatures that can’t hear and understand him” you show that what is doing the work in your argument is a philosophical premise concerning what God would or wouldn’t do. Since, in your opinion, God would not make a creature who could not (without the aid of a divinely established Magisterium) understand divine revelation correctly, therefore the Magisterium is superfluous with respect to understanding Scripture. The problem here is that this assumption makes God in man’s image, by determining a priori that whatever God is capable of revealing to man must be something that each man is capable of understanding correctly on his own.