Trueman and Prolegomena to “How would Protestants know when to return?”

Oct 31st, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

“So we stand here and with open mouth stare heavenward and invent still other keys. Yet Christ says very clearly in Matthew 16:19 that He will give the keys to Peter. He does not say He has two kinds of keys, but He gives to Peter the keys He Himself has, and no others. It is as if He were saying: why are you staring heavenward in search of the keys? Do you not understand I gave them to Peter? They are indeed the keys of Heaven, but they are not found in Heaven. I left them on earth. Don’t look for them in Heaven or anywhere else except in Peter’s mouth where I have placed them. Peter’s mouth is My mouth, and his tongue is My key case. His office is My office, his binding and loosing are My binding and loosing.” – Martin Luther 1

Last year on Reformation Day we posted a sermon by Stanley Hauerwas on that very subject. A short time later I was sitting in a living room, talking with a life-long Protestant about the Catholic Church. This gentleman was doing most of the talking, and I was mostly listening, trying to understand him and his point of view more accurately. At one point he said, “You know, I have a lot of respect for the Catholic Church, and for Catholics. They are good people, and they do a lot of good for our community. But the one thing that I find offensive about the Catholic Church is the arrogance of its claim to be the Church that Christ founded.”

The arrogance question aside, this gentleman was more informed about the Catholic Church’s claims about herself than are most people. In my experience most Protestants are unaware of the Catholic Church’s claim to be the Church that Christ founded, the very Church referred to in Matthew 16 where Jesus changed Simon’s name to ‘Peter,’ said to him, “Upon this rock I will build my Church,” and gave to him the keys of the Kingdom. From my experience, most Protestants suppose that the Catholic Church thinks of herself as just another Christian denomination. Upon learning that the Catholic Church claims to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded, they are utterly surprised and in some cases offended.2 For example, when Responsa ad quaestiones was released in the summer of 2007, some Protestants were surprised by its contents, and others were offended by it.3

One reason for their taking offense is that many do not know that the Catholic Church has always believed and professed that she is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded, and that any church or denomination or individual who is not in full communion with her is to some degree separated from the Church that Christ founded. For them, this teaching seemingly implies that non-Catholics are ‘second-class citizens,’ when from their own point of view they are no less united to Christ’s Church than are Catholics. So their taking offense is understandable.

But typically those who find the Church’s claim offensive do so not because they have researched the history of the Catholic Church and concluded that it began at some point later than the events recorded in Acts 2, but because they have a qualitatively different conception of what the Church is. Theologically they oppose the very notion that some communion or institution is the one that Christ founded, referring to such a notion as ‘sectarian’ or ‘sectarianism.’ From their point of view, all those who love Jesus are equally members of the Church that Christ founded. They do not believe that Christ through His Apostles gave charge of His Church to an hierarchy of bishops in a perpetual line of succession having an essential unity that is essentially visible. In their view, the Church Christ founded is fundamentally an invisible union of all those who love Jesus, no matter what their denomination or tradition. From that point of view, the claim by one institution to be the Church that Christ founded can be offensive.4

Some Protestants who know of the Catholic Church’s claim to be the Church that Christ founded are not offended by this claim. They are not offended by it, because they remember Protestantism’s historical origin in the Catholic Church. They remember that in the minds of the first Protestants, the intention was not to separate from the Catholic Church, but to reform the Catholic Church. For these first Protestants, their resulting separation from the Catholic Church was a kind of ‘necessary evil,’ not intended to create one or many schisms from the Church, but to bring needed moral and doctrinal reform to the very same Church that Christ had founded. In the minds of those first Protestants, this separation was to persist only until the Catholic Church was sufficiently reformed, so that they could return to full communion with her. The present-day Protestants who remember this obviously do not believe that the Catholic Church is infallible; that is why they believe that they can justifiably be separated from her. But they do believe that the Catholic Church from which they are visibly separated is (or has the best claim to being the visible continuation of) the Church that Christ founded, and they look to be reunited to her as soon as she is sufficiently reformed.5


Carl Trueman

Carl Trueman is a Protestant of this sort. Carl is the Departmental Chair of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, a Protestant seminary in Philadelphia. Over the last few years Carl’s writing pertaining to the Catholic Church has been simultaneously charitable and critical, often presenting both what he appreciates and admires about the Catholic Church as well as his reasons for disagreeing with other Catholic doctrines and practices. But without fail his writing about the Catholic Church reflects the memory of Protestantism’s origin in the Catholic Church. He writes about the Catholic Church as someone who knows that in a certain sense, the Catholic Church is his Church; she belongs to him, and he belongs to her, even though he believes he must now remain separated from her. In that respect, he writes of the Catholic Church as one writes about a parent from whom one is estranged, waiting to be joyfully reconciled.

In November of 2005 he wrote a review of the book co-authored by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom and titled “Is the Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism” (Baker, 2005). The concluding paragraph of Carl’s review demonstrates this memory of Protestantism’s origin in the Catholic Church, and why Protestants should daily consider the return to full communion with her. He writes:

When I finished reading the book [i.e. Is the Reformation Over], I have to confess that I agreed with the authors, in that it does indeed seem that the Reformation is over for large tracts of evangelicalism; yet the authors themselves do not draw the obvious conclusion from their own arguments. Every year I tell my Reformation history class that Roman Catholicism is, at least in the West, the default position. Rome has a better claim to historical continuity and institutional unity than any Protestant denomination, let alone the strange hybrid that is evangelicalism; in the light of these facts, therefore, we need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic; not being a Catholic should, in others words, be a positive act of will and commitment, something we need to get out of bed determined to do each and every day. It would seem, however, that if Noll and Nystrom are correct, many who call themselves evangelical really lack any good reason for such an act of will; and the obvious conclusion, therefore, should be that they do the decent thing and rejoin the Roman Catholic Church. I cannot go down that path myself, primarily because of my view of justification by faith and because of my ecclesiology; but those who reject the former and lack the latter have no real basis upon which to perpetuate what is, in effect, an act of schism on their part. For such, the Reformation is over; for me, the fat lady has yet to sing; in fact, I am not sure at this time that she has even left her dressing room. (my emphasis)

Carl carries with him a memory that many if not most Protestants have forgotten, the old ancestral memory of having once been Catholic, before the events of the sixteenth century. He carries within himself this memory of Protestants’ true home and family, understanding that Protestants as such are in essence Catholics-in-exile whose Catholic ancestors in the sixteenth century made the painful decision to live in exile from the Catholic Church until she had sufficiently reformed, never intending to be or form a permanently separate body or group of bodies. This is what Protestant fathers used to teach to their children. But memories are feeble and naturally fade and grow dull with the passing of the centuries. Eventually Protestant fathers no longer taught this to their children, and these children grew up not even knowing that they were in exile. They came to think that schism from the Church was normal, because they no longer retained even the concept of schism from the Church.

Trueman quotation

They came to believe that the Church Christ founded was not a visible institution, was not even visible at all, even though some still used the term ‘visible Church.’6 For many, if not most, the Church is an entirely spiritual entity to which one is fully united by a merely spiritual act of faith, such as a sinner’s prayer. These descendants of the earlier Protestants have completely forgotten that they were separated from anything. And without this memory, there no longer stirs within them any longing for the conclusion of the Catholic Church’s reformation so that they can be reunited to her. Instead, understandably, their discovery of the Catholic Church’s claim to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded arouses in them some degree of resentment and offense.

For them, the question “How would Protestants know when to return?” makes no sense, because they have forgotten that they were waiting to return to anything. They have forgotten from whence they came, as Protestants. Carl would have them remember. He would have every Protestant get out of bed each morning asking himself whether there remain any good reasons for not returning to full communion with the Catholic Church. Carl understands that those who have no such good reasons, but who remain Protestant, are perpetuating an “act of schism.”7 By his prescription, every Protestant should place the following question in a prominent place by his bed, and read it aloud every morning first thing when he gets out of bed, and teach his children to do the same:

Why have I not yet returned to full communion with the Catholic Church?

Not only would this daily practice help Protestants see the Catholic Church as their true home, and Catholics as their separated brothers and sisters, it would also encourage Protestants to pray for Catholics and the  Catholic Church from a perspective of love and affection and longing, as one would pray for an estranged sibling, spouse or parent. Before we can begin talking about whether the Reformation is over, and how Protestants would know when it is time to come back to the Catholic Church, Protestants (and Catholics) must first recover our collective memory of our former union in one and the same Church, and the fact of our having become separated in the sixteenth century. The “when should we return” question can make no sense to Protestants until they see themselves daily as Catholics-in-exile from the their own Catholic Church, waiting eagerly to return home and be reunited to the family from which they have been separated now for almost five hundred years.

Today, as many Protestants celebrate “Reformation Day,” and we Catholics reflect upon the events that separated millions of Christians from us, we would do well to remember that reforming and separation must never be ends in themselves, least of all to the point of becoming so comfortable with schism that we forget that it exists, or that we are in it. Today we ought to reflect on the schism that continues to divide Protestants and Catholics, and earnestly pray that God by His grace may reconcile us, in one family, at one table, so that the world may see our unity in love and know that this love is from Christ, and that Christ is from the Father.

Ostende nōbīs, Domine, misericordiam tuam. Amen.

  1. Martin Luther, The Keys, in Conrad Bergendoff, ed. trans. Earl Beyer and Conrad Bergendoff, Luthers Works, vol 40, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1958, pp. 365-366. []
  2. For the Catholic Church’s claim about herself, see Mystici Corporis Christi (1943), Lumen Gentium (1964), Dominus Iesus (2000), and Responsa ad quaestiones (2007). This has always been the teaching of the Catholic Church, and the Church has no authority to remove or revoke this doctrine about herself. []
  3. See here for some examples. []
  4. See our article titled, “Christ Founded a Visible Church.” The notion that any institution’s claim to be the Church that Christ founded is sectarian is the ecclesial equivalent of the Christological claim that any man’s claim to be the Son of God is divisive and arrogantly exclusivist. See my post titled, “Among You Stands One Whom You Do Not Know.” []
  5. This stands in contrast with the branch theory of the Church with no visible principle of unity. According to such a theory, there is no such thing as schism from the Church; all ‘schisms’ are eo ipso branches of the Church, and there is no objective touchstone for distinguishing between schisms from the Church and branches within the Church. The criterion for determining whether some community of persons is a branch within or a schism from the Church is sufficient conformity to one’s own interpretation of Scripture. A Protestant holding to this branch theory does not view himself to be in any sense or degree separated from the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded, but rather sees himself as a member of one of many legitimate branches of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded. If the Church is conceived as a set of branches with no objective principle of unity, nothing requires that the branches be visibly, doctrinally, or sacramentally united, and so the perpetual separation of the branches is acceptable by default. In this way, the branch theory ‘defines schism down,’ making it seem to be something morally and theologically acceptable. With a simple semantic sleight of hand, schisms from the Church are defined away, wiped from the conceptual horizon and hence no longer perceived as something to be opposed and overcome by all those who love Christ and seek the full visible unity of all Christians. See my post titled, “Branches or Schisms?“ []
  6. See my post titled, “Why Protestantism has no visible catholic Church.” []
  7. Those who believe they do have good reasons for not returning to the Catholic Church are also perpetuating an act of schism, but they, at least in their own mind, have some justifying reason for remaining in schism. []
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108 comments
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  1. Thanks Bryan, as always, a great and bright post. But I have to say that there would be other reformed folks like Trueman, but there are also those like my pastor who today in his sermon on Reformation, mentioned among other that it is not us that have seperated from the Mother Church, but they from us, because of the hard insistence of the pope of that time and of the Church to not listen to the reformer’s call to reform the church. So you see there are those who recognise the Mother Church, but blame the Catholic Church for the schism, and I wish many more reformed guys would have the attitude that you refer in this article. Also another thing from today’s sermon: he said that true unity is only in truth, as a whole Church and between us and evangelicals, and unity will be achieved with them only when we will have one mind, one interpretation of the Word. But the question is, what is the standard that is aimed, the WCF imposed on evangelicals?

  2. […] Day,” though it seems not to be celebrated as much anymore. A couple of posts here and here prompted me to think about this, as I am always painfully aware of how difficult it is […]

  3. I would go farther and say that any Protestant must daily ask himself not only why he is not in communion with the Catholic Church but also why he is not in fully communion with other Protestants. I do not understand the glibness that some have of “Reformation Day”. How can one celebrate sticking it to the Pope and not notice that what they received for their act of bravery was not a church but discord of dissonant voices each claiming to contain the true spirit of the Reformation?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_Bruegel_d._%C3%84._025.jpg

  4. Andy, (re: #1)

    Thanks for your comment. You raise a good question: How can we know who separated from the Church? I didn’t intend in this post to address that question; or the subsequent question “How would Protestants know when to return?” I simply wanted to address the problem of forgetfulness of the fact of being-in-a-state-of-separation, or being-in-exile, if you will. Reconciliation requires first a remembrance and recognition of the state of separation as not-the-way-its-supposed-to-be.

    From a Protestant point of view, the Catholic Church had gradually but continually been corrupting the gospel, from the time of the death of the last Apostle at the end of the first century. This is why the Baptist David Cloud claims that the early Church Fathers were “mostly heretics.” So if ‘Church’ is defined in terms of adherence to the Apostles’ doctrine [as determined by one’s own interpretation of Scripture], then according to many Protestants, the Catholic Church (consisting of all those persons in full communion with the episcopal successor of St. Peter in Rome) separated from the Church Christ founded at some indeterminate point between the end of the first century and the end of the first millennium. That’s because what was taught at the Council of Trent was not a novel doctrine, but what the Catholic Church had long been teaching. It was Luther’s notion, according to McGrath, that was the novelty. (McGrath writes, “[I]t will be clear that the medieval period was astonishingly faithful to the teaching of Augustine on the question of the nature of justification, where the Reformers departed from it,” and then later he writes, “The Reformation understanding of the nature of justification – as opposed to its mode – must therefore be regarded as a genuine theological novum.” [Iustitia Dei, pp. 185-187] So, it follows that if the Catholic Church had separated from the Church Christ founded, that separation had taken place long before the sixteenth century, and the Reformers were reinstantiating the Church, and the Catholic bishops and the pope were obliged to submit to the Reformers’ interpretation of Scripture and conform the Catholic Church’s doctrine to that of the Reformers. By refusing to obey the Reformers and conform to the Reformers’ interpretation of Scripture, the Catholic Magisterium was thereby remaining outside the Church Christ founded.

    From the Catholic point of view, the events of the sixteenth century appear quite differently. First, the Catholic Church believes and teaches that Christ guards and protects within her the deposit of faith He entrusted to her. In this way, she has been imbued with the gift of indefectibility, the denial of which is a form of ecclesial deism. The Catholic Church believes that Christ gave to the Apostles, and they to the bishops whom they ordained, and their successors until He returns, the authority to determine the authentic interpretation of that deposit, including the authoritative determination of orthodoxy and heresy. So, from the Catholic point of view, the first Protestants were Catholics who, though likely well-intended in their desire to clean up corruption and abuse within the Church, were in their rejection of the Catholic Church’s doctrines placing their own private and unauthorized interpretation of Scripture above that of those to whom Christ gave this authority. The definition of ‘Church,’ according to the Catholic Church, is a sacramental definition, not just a formal definition. In other words, it is not defined only in terms of doctrine (i.e. pure form), but also in terms of matter (i.e. sacramental succession from the Apostles, in communion with the successor of St. Peter at Rome). So from a Catholic point of view, separation from that divinely-instituted and divinely-preserved hierarchy, is ipso facto separation from the Church Christ founded. Whereas, from the Protestant point of view, as I pointed out in the previous paragraph, separation from the Apostles’ doctrine [as determined by one’s own interpretation of Scripture], constitutes separation from the Church Christ founded.

    From the Catholic point of view, the Protestant definition of the ‘Church’ makes it possible for any group of heretics to claim that they are the continuation of the Church (since, in their minds, according to their interpretation of Scripture, they have the original doctrine of the Apostles). Every heresy in the history of the Church could, given a purely definition of the ‘Church’ in terms of doctrine, claim that the Catholic Church is the one who had separated from the Church Christ founded, by not following the [heretics’] determination of what was the Apostles’ doctrine. And from the Catholic point of view, this is what happened in the case of Protestants as well, as can be seen by reading through the canons of Trent.

    From the Protestant point of view, the Catholic definition of ‘Church’ makes it possible for any new or otherwise erroneous doctrine, in principle, to be taught by the Magisterium, and then treated as further elucidation of apostolic doctrine, simply on the basis of the supposed perpetual protection of the Magisterium by the Holy Spirit. That’s risky, from the Protestant point of view. Not only that, but from a Protestant point of view, God will hold us accountable for what He revealed in Scripture, not what a bunch of men in pointy hats say God said, or how they interpret Scripture. And so from the Protestant point of view we must take up Scripture for ourselves, and follow our own conscience with respect to its interpretation.

    So, you can see that the answer to your question hangs on apostolic succession, and the authority given to the Apostles and the bishops who succeeded them. If they do have this authority, and are protected by the Holy Spirit, then our (laymen’s) interpretation must conform to theirs, and if we depart from them, we have separated ourselves from the Church. But if they do not have this authority, then the Church is wherever those who sufficiently agree with our interpretation of Scripture concerning the essentials, are. And if that includes Catholics, then they are not separated from the Church Christ founded. But if that does not include Catholics, then they are separated from the Church Christ founded.

    To me, that’s the theoretical lay of the land, regarding your question.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  5. One book (John W. Kennedy, “The Torch of the Testimony”) that a Protestant sent me, when, in 1993-4, I was struggling to decide whether I had to become a Catholic (I did :-)), puts the decline right in the New Testament. Chapter 4 “Signs of Declension” sees the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 as a major (negative) turning point in the crystallisation of the magisterial church.

    jj

  6. Bryan,

    So, you can see that the answer to your question hangs on apostolic succession, and the authority given to the Apostles and the bishops who succeeded them. If they do have this authority, and are protected by the Holy Spirit, then our (laymen’s) interpretation must conform to theirs, and if we depart from them, we have separated ourselves from the Church. But if they do not have this authority, then the Church is wherever those who sufficiently agree with our interpretation of Scripture concerning the essentials, are.

    I have recently come across a very interesting piece of evidence for your statement here in the writings of Dr. John H. Gerstner. Dr. Gerstner writes,

    The invisible church is:
    1. Infallible (it knows its Master’s voice and will not follow a stranger, John 10:5).
    2. Indestructible (nothing shall separate it from “the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus,” Rom. 8:39; no one shall take it out of His hand, John 10:28).
    3. Indivisible (“that they may be one, as we are,” John 17:11; “I am the vine, ye are the branches,” John 15:5).
    4. Invincible (“the gates [defensive weapons] of hell shall not prevail [or stand] against it,” Matt. 16: 18; “the meek shall inherit the earth,” Ps. 37:11).
    5. Universal (“out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation,” Rev. 5:9; “the field is the world,” Matt. 13:38; “God so loved the world,” John 3:16).

    (Emphasis mine)
    (Source: http://www.the-highway.com/theology9_Gerstner.html)

    This is a very interesting statement, because several of the texts Dr. Gerstner cites are the very same verses I have seen cited here and elsewhere in Catholic apologetics to defend the Roman Catholic view of the Church. And now here is Dr. Gerstner, considered by R.C. Sproul Sr. to be a modern “king of the Calvinists,” admitting that all of these qualities are true of the Church. The whole catch lies in that one key word I’ve emphasized: invisible. If Dr. Gerstner were to have actually posited all of these traits of the Church and then declared it to be a visible body, then he would have had to have abandoned Protestantism at once, because no Protestant church has even tried to claim any of these traits for itself, except perhaps the mark of universality. If Dr. Gerstner had not argued earlier in the article that “the Church” most properly refers to an invisible group of people (but isn’t it an oxymoron to speak of an invisible body or invisible assembly?), he would have to seriously consider the possibility of the Catholic Church being the true Church. So long as he keeps the Church safely confined to a Platonic sort of ideal, which is invisible and is based on necessarily unobservable inward conversion, and his private interpretation of Scripture, he does not need to worry about the Church actually possessing any interpretive authority.

    Relating to your comments at the end of the article, I was wondering what you would say to a Protestant who does not feel the need to pray for the reunification of Christians–of Roman Catholics and Protestants–because he simply denies that Roman Catholics are Christians. This is somewhat of an extreme view, and I think many prominent evangelical figures would disavow it, but there are some (such as Dr. James R. White) who seem to display this attitude–in essence, that we have no reason to desire a “reunification” between Roman Catholics and Protestants, only the conversion of Roman Catholics to Protestantism.
    This is definitely not the view I hold (even though I am still, at this point, a Protestant) but it is one I’ve encountered before, and I would be interested in hearing your (or anyone else’s) thoughts on it.

    Pax Christi,

    Spencer

  7. Spencer –

    I share your perplexity at those who feel no need to seek unity because they believe Catholics are not Christians. I have dealt with a less extreme version of this sentiment within my extended family, and it leaves me mystified. It is not that I don’t understand why such people believe as they do. In my experience within the Reformed tradition, the belief that Catholics are apostate often stems from the belief that Catholics misunderstand the doctrine of justification. What bewilders me is that the affirmation of a particular formulation of this doctrine could be considered a necessary condition for being a Christian. For, on this definition, one could sincerely and wholeheartedly embrace a statement of faith as comprehensive as the Nicene Creed and still not be a Christian. In my view, this is a reductio against such a narrow definition of “Christian”. But for those who are perfectly happy to accept this conclusion, I know not how to respond.

    – Max

  8. Spencer,

    Those concepts seem to make very little sense when applied to an invisible church. What does it mean for an invisible church to be Infallible? Yes, Jesus has promised a church that will recognize the voice of Christ. But can Gerstner name one infallibly defined doctrine? Was the church infallible before the reformation?

    You move on to Indestructible. What would the destruction of an invisible church look like?

    Indivisible. The invisible church has been divided in every way imaginable. So what does Indivisible really mean?

    Invincible. Again, a claim is meaningless unless it is falsifiable. If the “church” is reduced to just one guy can he still claim that one-member church as invincible?

    Universal. In what sense are two Christians in different fellowships in different parts of the world in the same invisible church? They might have some things in common. I have things in common with Java programmers in India. I would never assert some invisible Java programmer community exists.

    So saying these attributes apply to an invisible church makes them either incoherent or pretty trivial. Do we really believe God’s promise is incoherent and/or trivial?

  9. Randy,

    For the most part, I agree with you. My point in citing Dr. Gerstner was not to agree with him, but to point out that C2C is correct in consistently pointing to apostolic succession and the visible Church as being two of the most central issues in the divide between Catholics and Protestants.

    I believe universality could be reasonably applied to an assembly, the members of whom are only known with certainty to God, which has members from many nations and places around the world. However, applying his other terms to an invisible assembly becomes more problematic. Invincibility would be reduced to simply meaning “all the members will be finally saved,” indivisibility would be a purely spiritual and future reality, not in the least something to be realized on earth, indestructibility would be the same as invincibility, and I fail to see how infallibility can mean much of anything when applied to an invisible assembly. Dr. Gerstner certainly does not mean that each individual genuine Christian is infallible, so I suppose all this can really mean is that all who are truly converted and thus part of the invisible church will never finally fall into heresy (which is not necessarily the same as being unable to err). However, these terms lose most of their force when applied to “the sum total of the elect,” and for all practical purposes, are meaningless in this world.

    I am not convinced of apostolic succession at this point, but more and more I see its importance as the central issue that must be decided on one way or the other, and which has major ramifications for the unity of Christians.

    Pax Christi,

    Spencer

  10. Max Parish:I share your perplexity at those who feel no need to seek unity because they believe Catholics are not Christians. …

    Men belong to innumerable Protestant denominations that claim that no man can interpret scriptures with infallible authority. If an article of faith is proposed as something that should be believed by one Protestant denomination, there will be some other Protestant denomination that objects to it, since the Protestants cannot agree on how to interpret the scriptures. How can sola scriptura believing Protestants ever credibly claim that Catholics are not Christians because Catholics don’t interpret the scriptures correctly? The sola scriptura believing Protestant can only claim that his private interpretation of scriptures is what he personally believes to be true … a weak statement of belief that that anyone can make, including Catholics.

    Peter’s mouth is My mouth, and his tongue is My key case. His office is My office, his binding and loosing are My binding and loosing.” – Martin Luther

    Interesting quote! How can Luther claim that he was reforming the Catholic Church by going into schism with the Catholic Church? How is founding your own personal Protestant denomination based on your own private interpretation of scriptures in any way a reforming of the Church that Christ founded? One can only reform a church by staying in that church and changing it from within.

  11. Spencer: I am not convinced of apostolic succession at this point, but more and more I see its importance as the central issue that must be decided on one way or the other, and which has major ramifications for the unity of Christians.

    Today, I learned this:

    Wikipedia article Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church

    The Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church (ALCC), formerly the Evangelical Community Church-Lutheran (ECCL), is a church in the Lutheran Evangelical Catholic tradition. The ALCC claims to be unique among Lutheran churches in that it is of both Lutheran and Anglo-Catholic heritage and has also been significantly influenced by the traditions of Roman Catholicism. The church was founded in 1997 by former members of the Lutheran Church –Missouri Synod. Its headquarters are in Kansas City, Missouri. …

    On May 15, 2009, the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church officially filed a formal petition to enter the Roman Catholic Church “as a unified body” in whichever form the Pope and the Curia decides is the most appropriate. The ALCC’s petition was filed with the Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and is now before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is a separate petition from that of the Traditional Anglican Communion.

    The Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church website posts this:

    The word episcopal derives from the Latin word “episcopus” meaning “of bishops”. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy there are descriptions of the hierarchy of the church including the elders, or overseers, who head the church, which in Latin would be the “episcopi”. In addition Christ handed the keys of his kingdom to the apostle Peter in effect making him the head of all the “episcopi” or bishops.

    There are two types of bishops, those in apostolic succession and those who are not. The Anglo-Lutheran Catholic church only recognizes those bishops in apostolic succession. What does this mean? Christ appointed the original apostles. Following Christ, the apostles developed a ceremony by laying hands on a devoted member eligible to be a bishop. This ceremony has been handed down from bishop to bishop for 2,000 years. That is the apostolic succession.

    THE ARCHDIOCESE OF THE WEST ANGLO-LUTHERAN CATHOLIC CHURCH posts this:

    Because they are trustworthy witnesses to the Gospel and to authentic Catholic Faith and Tradition, this Church subscribes to the Lutheran/Roman Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, Augsburg, Germany, 1999. Because they are trustworthy witnesses to the Gospel and to authentic Catholic Faith, Tradition, and Spirituality, and because the ecumenical goal of the ALCC is visible, corporate reunion with the Bishop and Church of Rome, it accepts the documents and teachings of the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church though it is not under Papal Authority at this time. … The ALCC recognizes the Pope as the Bishop of Rome, Successor to St. Peter, and Vicar of Christ; a prayer is said for him in our communion liturgy; and it accepts Papal Primacy and Papal Infallibility. (Ps 119:1-5; Jn 17:17; 2Tim 3:16; Rev 22:18- 19).

    St. Michael’s Lutheran Church ALCC, Kansas City, Missouri posts this:

    The ALCC accepts the Catechism of the Catholic Church and all other documents of the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church as its ultimate standard of Faith, Order, Tradition, and Spirituality. It believes and teaches nothing contrary to the Catholic Magisterium. All ALCC clergy are required to sign and abide the (Roman Catholic) Mandatum, a vow in the form of a legally binding contract requiring them not to preach, teach, write, or publish anything contrary to the Catholic Magisterium.

    The ALCC accepts Papal Primacy and Papal Infallibility. Though it is not legally under Papal control at this time, it acts as if it is, and is actively working toward visible, corporate reunion with the Roman Catholic Church. The ALCC also operates under Roman Catholic Canon Law to the greatest extent practical in matters not covered by its own Canon Law Code.

    I never would have thought that Lutherans coming out of Missouri Synod would be leading the way for reunification with Rome. Truly, with God, all things are possible!

  12. Gentlemen:

    The reason why Protestantism tends to devolve into invisible-church ecclesiology, despite the intent of the “magisterial” Reformers, is that the Protestant “hermeneutical paradigm” (HP) cannot ultimately entertain the question “Which church is the Church?” Once the question is allowed as legitimate–i.e., as one which might have an answer we can learn–then we have admitted the possibility that some clearly identifiable church speaks with the authority of Christ himself, and thus trumps any opposing voice’s claim to interpret the sources rightly. That in turn means that nobody can reliably identify and understand divine revelation without accepting the authority of whichever church is the Church. Such a consequence cuts the ground from under “the Protestant principle.” According to that principle, people are supposed to be able to apprehend the content of divine revelation well enough to be orthodox without appeal to the authority of something called “the Church,” and to judge the orthodoxy of any visible church by means of that understanding. If that’s the case, then no church can define orthodoxy with a degree of authority that trumps any other, opposing voice. Thus, no visible church is just “the Church” Christ founded. So if there is an indefectible church, she’s not any visible church. She’s invisible. But if there is a visible church that is the Church Christ founded, or even could be, the Protestant HP is exploded.

  13. Carl wrote a gracious response here. What’s not to like about this guy? :-)

  14. @ Bryan, 13. Indeed. Great post, and thanks for highlighting a theologian we Protestants ought to model.

  15. Very thought provoking article, Bryan! Growing up Protestant, for me at least, I didn’t even consider these questions. Reason being, I knew nothing of Church history. When one begins to read and understand what the Fathers taught, the Protestant, at the very least, has to acknowledge it’s debt(if one can call it such) to the Catholic Church!

    Dr. Trueman is the first Protestant leader I’ve ever heard to ask such a question. I also read his response and was very encouraged to read such a thoughtful and charitable article.

    In Christ,
    James

  16. Bryan, what could Carl mean by: Catholics generally cultural rather than committed or better, what have you to say about this idea, I would not say charge, since he is very graciuos?

  17. Andy, (re: #16)

    Carl is saying (rightly) that there are many Catholics (especially in the US) who are Catholics only in a cultural way, that is, because their parents were, and they have grown up going to mass only at Easter and Christmas. These cultural Catholics generally don’t understand the Catholic faith for themselves, especially not in a propositional sense. They may have more understanding than they can articulate, but, unfortunately their catechesis was typically so poor that not only have they never read the Bible or the Catechism or the Church Fathers, but they may not have been taught much of anything about them.

    Carl is offering a sort of tu quoque, in response to my claim about what he is calling “Protestant amnesia.” The point is well-taken. I wasn’t intending to claim (or imply) that Catholics know their faith better than do Protestants. I was trying to point out that the reconciliation question (between Catholics and Protestants) requires that we (Protestants and Catholics) remember our history, such that we now see ourselves in a state of separation, in a not-the-way-its-supposed-to-be condition. Otherwise, we (Catholics and Protestants) simply see each other as being in different denominations, and that condition is conceived of as normal, and not as schism.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  18. Thanks Bryan for the clarification. I understand your point and even better the whole point of the post, but it cannot be generalised to protestants to be essentially committed, versus cultural, because only a minority in protestantism, and especially in the most consistent camp, the reformed church, contains such comitted christians, which more consistently apply Christianity in all areas of life.

  19. I don’t know how valid Carl’s counterpoint really is. There are many protestants who rarely attend church, don’t know the scriptures and basically live a secular life. When critiquing protestantism Catholics never point to those people. They point to those protestants that have embraced the faith fully. That is how a faith is to be judged. You don’t judge music by listening to musicians who never practice. You judge everything by those who are recognized as the best examples. So why judge Catholicism based on Christmas and Easter Catholics?

    Are there many serious Catholics who have the same kind of historical amnesia protestants have? I don’t even think the question makes sense. They are not in schism. So they don’t need to insure they still have good, solid reasons to continue the schism. They do view separated brothers and sisters in protestant denominations as not-the-way-its-supposed-to-be. But that just boils down to believing they should be Catholics. That seems self-serving. It is more than that. It is believing that the whole idea of denominations is deeply sinful. So the particulars of each protestant group become largely irrelevant.

  20. Bryan wrote:
    “That’s because what was taught at the Council of Trent was not a novel doctrine, but what the Catholic Church had long been teaching. It was Luther’s notion, according to McGrath, that was the novelty. (McGrath writes, “[I]t will be clear that the medieval period was astonishingly faithful to the teaching of Augustine on the question of the nature of justification, where the Reformers departed from it,” and then later he writes, “The Reformation understanding of the nature of justification – as opposed to its mode – must therefore be regarded as a genuine theological novum.” [Iustitia Dei, pp. 185-187] So, it follows that if the Catholic Church had separated from the Church Christ founded, that separation had taken place long before the sixteenth century, and the Reformers were reinstantiating the Church, and the Catholic bishops and the pope were obliged to submit to the Reformers’ interpretation of Scripture and conform the Catholic Church’s doctrine to that of the Reformers.”

    Parts of the Catholic Church may have long been teaching what was codified at Trent (obviously the decrees did not come out of nowhere), but that was definitely not universal.

    Firstly, would you not say that the via moderna view of grace and influence of Biel/Ockham led to virtual semi-pelagianism in many Catholic areas for centuries? Indeed, some argue that Luther and Calvin were primarily exposed to this view (the universities in Erfurt where Luther studied apparently were inundated with nominalist thought) which drove their initial opposition – of course, Calvin still ended up rejecting the more Thomistic/Augustinian perspective of Trent. Would you say Erasmus or Pighius or other RC disputants accurately represented what ended up being defined by Trent in terms of grace and justification? And if not, why was no correction from the hierarchy if Trent’s doctrine was just formalizing what was already being taught?

    McGrath also notes in The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation:

    “…an astonishingly broad spectrum of theologies of justification existed in the later medieval period, encompassing practically every option that had not been specifically condemned as heretical by the Council of Carthage. In the absence of any definitive magisterial pronouncement concerning which of these options (or even what range of options) could be considered authentically catholic, it was left to each theologian to reach his own decision on this matter. A self perpetuating doctrinal pluralism was thus an inevitability. The point is of importance for a number of reasons. First it can be shown that Luther’s theological breakthrough involved his abandoning one specific option within the broad spectrum of theologies of justification, and embracing another within that spectrum. In other words, Luther’s initial position of 1513-1514, and his subsequent position (probably arrived at in 1515), were both recognized contemporary theological opinions, regarded as legitimate by the doctrinal standards of the time.”

    And elsewhere in Iustitia Dei:
    “The Council of Trent was faced with a group of formidable problems as it assembled to debate the question of justification in June 1546. The medieval period had witnessed the emergence of a number of quite distinct schools of thought on justification, clearly incompatible at points, all of which could lay claim to represent the teaching of the Catholic church.”
    And there “…was considerable disagreement in the immediate post-Tridentine period concerning the precise interpretation of the decretum de iustificatione”. If it had merely been what had always been taught, there wouldn’t be confusion.

    During session 6 of Trent where justification was discussed, bishops themselves were quite at odds with each other, some adopting a very close concept of sola fide, although the Jesuit contingent won the day. Not to mention the viewpoint of cardinals like Contarini and Pole who got very close to Calvin with Contarini’s concept of duplex iustitia/grace but which got stifled at Regensburg. To be fair, Pole did end up submitting to Trent, though through much anguish.

    Pelikan notes in the Riddle of Roman Catholicism:

    “Existing side by side in pre-Reformation theology were several ways of interpreting the righteousness of God and the act of justification. They ranged from strongly moralistic views that seemed to equate justification with moral renewal to ultra-forensic views, which saw justification as a ‘nude imputation’ that seemed possible apart from Christ, by an arbitrary decree of God. Between these extremes were many combinations; and though certain views predominated in late nominalism, it is not possible even there to speak of a single doctrine of justification.”
    and
    “In these decrees, the Council of Trent selected and elevated to official status the notion of justification by faith plus works, which was only one of the doctrines of justification in the medieval theologians and ancient fathers. When the reformers attacked this notion in the name of the doctrine of justification by faith alone—a doctrine also attested to by some medieval theologians and ancient fathers—Rome reacted by canonizing one trend in preference to all the others. What had previously been permitted (justification by faith and works), now became required. What had previously been permitted also (justification by faith alone), now became forbidden. In condemning the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent condemned part of its own catholic tradition.”

    Justification was a mess within Catholicism in the centuries leading up to the Reformation and Trent. There was not some single smooth doctrine in place that developed simply and easily into what Trent defined.

  21. Interloculor~

    Justification was a mess within Catholicism in the centuries leading up to the Reformation and Trent. There was not some single smooth doctrine in place that developed simply and easily into what Trent defined.

    Being a student of history, I just don’t see that. In the understanding of justification, there is development and there is variance but that is not to say that the fundamental bedrock of what justification is is not located within Catholicism from the very beginning and that Protestantism’s concept of justification is a new thing and not a development of the preceding Catholic tradition. The simple proof of this is to consider the Eastern Catholics, Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox. None of these traditions developed out of western scholasticism so they are unhindered by the baggage of scholasticism. None view justification through the lens which formed the various Protestant theologies. All of them simply concur with Catholicism’s basic understanding of justification and find the Protestant concept to be heretical.

    Patriarch Jeremias II of Constantinople in his dialoge with the 16th century Lutherans constantly accuses them of innovation when it comes to the topic of justification and a failure of the Lutherans to accept the holy and orthodox teachings concerning justification. The Melanchthon’s Augustana Graeca is rejected by him.

    Thus we have evidence that there was in fact a universal doctrine in place on the topic of justification and that the Protestant concept of justification was something not within the scope of orthodoxy.

    If we simply step back and look at things Catholic/Orthodoxy teaches justification as a synergistic infused thing and Protestantism teaches justification as a monergistic imputed thing. Those concepts don’t grow out of the other or diverge from each other. Protestantism is simply teaching a new theology of justification even as its concepts and language was formed out of the western scholastic tradition.

  22. Interlocutor & Nathan:

    In a way, you’re both right. As McGrath showed in his book, a number of theories of justification competed among Catholic theologians in the late Middle Ages, and some of those theories were indeed incompatible with each other. But it does not thereby follow that there was no consistent Catholic doctrine on justification prior to Trent. Patristic authors from West and East, magisterial sources such as the Council of Orange, and theologians from the High Middle Ages such as Aquinas, Bonaventura, Duns Scotus, and Durandus, indicate that Catholic doctrine on justification had avoided the extremes of Pelagianism and monergism. Yet in the late Middle Ages, the Magisterium did nothing to adjudicate between the competing theories that had developed by that time under the influence of nominalism in philosophy and the via moderna in spirituality. Such inaction precipitated what McGrath calls a “crisis of authority.” And that opened the way for nova such as Luther’s and Calvin’s.

    Trent’s job, accordingly, was to undertake an adjudication which, without resolving all disputed questions, clarified the boundaries of orthodoxy. That’s exactly what it did, and the nova were thus excluded. It was a classic instance of development of doctrine.

    The problem that many conservative Protestants, and Orthodox, have with such a thing is precisely that it’s development of doctrine, which purports neither to add to nor subtract from the deposit of faith. Their problem is with such a concept itself. Until the influence of John Henry Newman and other scholars had made itself felt, most Catholic theologians and Rome herself had that problem too. It just does take a good deal of historical reflection and intellectual honesty for the true course of DD to emerge clearly, on this question and many others.

    Best,
    Mike

  23. Michael Liccione~

    I agree with what you wrote, though I would futher stress that while there were a number of theories of justification during the late Middle Ages some were Catholic and some of were not. Protestants (and not a few Catholics) tend to see the function of the Magisterium as an institutional body that determines truth based on the authority that it has gathered to itself. This is not the case. The Magisterium rather serves scripture and tradition, and as such, simply reveals what is true through a charism of discernment, that is particular to the episcopacy, which allows the episcopacy to, as moved by the Holy Spirit, ascertain and reveal truth content to the world. What is declared to be true has always been true and what is declared to be false has always been false. As Catholics, we must be very clear on this least we appear to be inventing doctrine.

    For the Orthodox who do in fact have a concept of “development of doctrine” (cf http://www.christendom-awake.org/pages/anichols/fromnewman2.html), in my experience the issue is a political one (dislike for the development of the monarchical papacy), which is really about ecclesiology not truth content, and is about respect for the Church Fathers and the organic connectivity between liturgy and doctrine. The tendency of the Western Church (especially of the Middle Ages) to couch its doctrinal language in philosophical explanations that do not adequately rest upon the Church Fathers or show its connectivity to the liturgy and spirituality is disconcerting, to say the least, for it comes off as inventing something new. (As it does for Protestants that are looking for more of a point by point biblical foundation.)

    Another good way to point out that the Protestant concept of justification was something new is to point out how as Protestantism developed there is an ever increasing rejection of the Church Fathers and of the liturgy by the Reformers.

  24. If Protestants are to daily ask themselves “Why have I not yet returned to full communion with the Catholic Church?” Should Roman Catholics daily ask themselves, “Has the Roman Catholic Church reformed itself from the moral and doctrinal corruption which lead so many to their tearful separation?”

    Perhaps the wound of separation might have healed three centuries ago if not for the flames that consumed so many; flames lit by men with hearts full of pride and arrogance rather than love and humility.

  25. Nathan:

    The Magisterium rather serves scripture and tradition, and as such, simply reveals what is true through a charism of discernment, that is particular to the episcopacy, which allows the episcopacy to, as moved by the Holy Spirit, ascertain and reveal truth content to the world. What is declared to be true has always been true and what is declared to be false has always been false. As Catholics, we must be very clear on this least we appear to be inventing doctrine.

    Of course that’s true, and I’ve said it many times. Generally, though, one can’t get Orthodox and conservative Protestants to agree that that’s what the Catholic Magisterium does. They still hold that the Catholic Church has “invented” doctrine because they point out, with some justice, that distinctively Catholic doctrines cannot just be logically deduced from the early sources. Unless, therefore, one antecedently accepts the claims of the Catholic Magisterium for itself, one cannot present such doctrines as binding on the faithful. The authority of the Magisterium, as you describe it, is indeed necessary. If it weren’t, then magisterial authority could in principle be replaced by a computer with the right software.

    It should be evident from the history of even Orthodox doctrine that such authority cannot be thus replaced. The history of Protestant doctrine speaks for itself on that score. So the key question is not whether there is development of doctrine, guided by “the charism of discernment,” but who speaks for the Church in authenticating or rejecting the developments. And that question cannot be answered without knowing which church is, well, the Church.

    Best,
    Mike

  26. Dave~

    What moral and doctrinal corruption are you talking about?

    Love is actually one of the core differences between Catholics and Protestants, especially Reformed Protestants. For Catholics, love is a necessary factor in justification (saved by grace through faith and works of charity), for Reformed love is a byproduct of justification — it is a fruit. That is not something small and not that can be resolved by being humble about things.

    For myself, I ask myself “daily” what is it that I might do to help my Protestant friends understand and experiance the true biblical understanding of love / charity or in the Hebrew tzedakah. True morality and true humility can only be found by understanding this and and unlocking why God is love/charity/tzedakah. Love can only be synergistic and never monergistic, for love is, at its perfection, the mutual gift of self between persons — the fullness of which is the Eucharist.

  27. @Interloculor,
    With all the controversies we are having today among scholars and theologians(both in Catholic and Protestant circles) on the Virginal Conception and the Resurrection of Christ.If 200 years later(when we all would have gone to meet the Lord) it so happens that the controversy heats up to the point that the Church steps in and defines the true concept of those doctrines condemning let say some of John P. Meier ,Hans Kung and McBrien ideas on them,would that in anyway imply that the Church in the 21st century or the Church from the very beginning was confused as per the true doctrine of the Virginal Conception or the true doctrine of the Resurrection of Christ?If you have the chance to speak to those who are alive 200years later(we are still thinking here) would you tell them that what is defined as Catholic dogma in their time was never part of the deposit of faith Christ and the apostles handed on to the Church?

    Most ,if not all,of the accepted Christian beliefs and ideas in medievel times are not compatible with the Reformers’ doctrine of Justification.Some like Luther,Calvin and Zwingli in many of their works in which they condemned the authors of that period(Medievel)admitted this fact.They knew that the medieval Church was the last place they could find a claim to the idea that the doctrine of Justification which they(the Reformers) now teach was held up for belief by Orthodox Christians in the previous centuries.Infact,many informed Protestants know that the reformers’ concept of Justification cannot be found amongst orthodox Christians in the centuries prior to the reformation and so they make the claim that after the death of the Apostle Paul his doctrine of Justification by faith(in this case their own interpretation of that doctrine) remained a dead letter and was forgotten until the 16th century when it was re-discovered and brought to light by Luther.Anyone who thinks that in the early or medievel Church it was ever held up for belief that God does not really forgive sins in the sense that the sinnner is truly cleanse and becomes holy but merely declares this knows nothing about the Church and the era which he speaks off.

  28. Nathan,

    “True morality and true humility can only be found by understanding this and and unlocking why God is love/charity/tzedakah. Love can only be synergistic and never monergistic, for love is, at its perfection, the mutual gift of self between persons — the fullness of which is the Eucharist.”

    I love the way you put that. I have been struggling with how to explain this to Reformed family and friends. May I quote you?

  29. “Dogma is by definition nothing other than an interpretation of Scripture … which has sprung from the faith over the centuries.” – Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

    David Eland: If Protestants are to daily ask themselves “Why have I not yet returned to full communion with the Catholic Church?” Should Roman Catholics daily ask themselves, “Has the Roman Catholic Church reformed itself from the moral and doctrinal corruption which lead so many to their tearful separation?”

    How can a Protestant credibly make a case that Protestants reformed the Catholic Church of “doctrinal corruption”? Before a Protestant can make that case, the Protestant needs to have some way of knowing what orthodox doctrine actually is. But how can a Protestant ever know what constitutes orthodox doctrine? Protestantism is based on the private interpretation of scriptures, and five hundred years of the private interpretation of scriptures has led to thousands upon thousands of Protestant sects preaching conflicting and irreconcilable doctrine. In this sea of doctrinal chaos, how does one discern which Protestant sect, if any, is proclaiming orthodox doctrine? One thing that is absolutely certain is this: since Protestants preach conflicting doctrine, some of the beliefs taught by Protestants must be heresy.

    The doctrinal anarchy that reigns within Protestantism as it exists today is so great that “Protestantism” can no longer be defined by what Protestants believe … but I think that I need to clarify what I mean by that statement, so let me give it a shot:

    Define set “P” as the set of all Protestants.

    Define the set “D” as the set of all doctrines that Protestants hold in common (i.e. the doctrines that no Protestant sect would ever dare dispute).

    Define set “C” as the set of all people that accept as normative the doctrines of set “D”.

    Is set “D” congruent with set “C”? That is to say, is the set of all people that are Protestants the same as the set of all people that believe in the commonly held doctrines of Protestantism? The answer is no, because set “D” a null set since there is no doctrine that is not disputed within Protestantism; and if set “D” is a null set, then set “C” (if it existed at all) would be the set of Protestants that believe that there are no doctrines that Protestants must believe. This is why I say that “Protestantism” cannot be defined by what Protestants believe, since there is no commonalty of belief within Protestantism.

    Carl Trueman, in his article Protestant Amnesia writes this:

    Second, those familiar with recent scholarship on the development of Protestant thinking, Lutheran or Reformed, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, know that Protestant theologians were careful readers and appropriators of Catholic theology, exegesis, philosophy, and casuistry. For some years now, I have considered that it would be not only academically nonsensical but also an act of a curmudgeonly ingrate to refuse to acknowledge such debts. This is not to say that there were not — and are not — fundamental differences in key areas, not least those of authority, justification, and sacraments; but it is to point to a heritage which both orthodox Catholicism and orthodox Protestantism holds in common.

    Carl Trueman apparently believes that there exists a subset of Protestants within Protestantism, i.e. the set of Protestants that confess the beliefs of “orthodox Protestantism”. I would like to ask Mr. Trueman this question: How can a Protestant ever know with certainty that he is an orthodox Protestant?

    I am curious David, how would you answer that question?

  30. Mateo,

    Are you sure that D is a null set? There seems to be ubiquitous unity regarding the doctrine that “The Catholic Church teaches heterodox doctrine”. After all, as much is entailed in the descriptive Protest-ant :>).

    Of course, if this is the only globally recognized point of doctrinal unity, it only serves to enhance your overall point regarding the intrinsic impossibility of making any meaningful orthodox/heterodox distinction given a Protestant notion of “doctrinal epistemology”.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  31. Ray Stamper: Are you sure that D is a null set? There seems to be ubiquitous unity regarding the doctrine that “The Catholic Church teaches heterodox doctrine”.

    Hindus and Muslims would also agree that the “the Catholic Church teaches heterodox doctrine”, so merely believing in that particular doctrine does not suffice to give one an identity that is uniquely “Protestant”. But that said, even that doctrine is disputed by some Protestants, since Protestants dispute among themselves about every doctrine of the Christian faith. See my post # 11 in this thread where I quoted this from a Protestant website:

    The ALCC [Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church] accepts the Catechism of the Catholic Church and all other documents of the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church as its ultimate standard of Faith, Order, Tradition, and Spirituality. It believes and teaches nothing contrary to the Catholic Magisterium. All ALCC clergy are required to sign and abide the (Roman Catholic) Mandatum, a vow in the form of a legally binding contract requiring them not to preach, teach, write, or publish anything contrary to the Catholic Magisterium.

    Ray Stamper: After all, as much is entailed in the descriptive Protest-ant :>).

    The members of the ALCC are Protestants that don’t protest! :-)

    The only reason that Muslims aren’t called Protestants is because that distinction is a matter of convention, and not a matter of doctrine. I would say that practicing Catholics and Missouri-Synod Lutherans share more doctrinal unity with the average Muslim than they do with the average Mormon. The Muslims that I know don’t seem that different in their beliefs to me than the Protestant Jehovah Witnesses that I know. But of course, some Protestants would protest that Mormons and JWs aren’t orthodox Protestants. But how in the world is anyone supposed to know what constitutes the doctrines of “orthodox” Protestantism as distinct from heterodox Protestantism? The JW’s that I know sincerely believe that the doctrine they profess is “biblical” – as does every other sect of Protestantism.

  32. Mateo said:

    But that said, even that doctrine is disputed by some Protestants, since Protestants dispute among themselves about every doctrine of the Christian faith.

    I am going to call you out on that. This statement is an out and out lie. Protestants agree on the Trinity, salvation through Jesus Christ, the doctrines of God (his omnipotence, omniscience, etc.), the Five Solas and any number of other doctrines. I suggest you apologize for bearing false witness against your “separated brethren” .

    The only reason that Muslims aren’t called Protestants is because that distinction is a matter of convention, and not a matter of doctrine.

    Really? Protestants are no different doctrinally than Muslims? Do you really believe that? Then you better check with the Magisterium as you are denying your own church’s teachings. Your own church considers Protestant as Christians. I don’t think they feel the same way about Muslims.

    But of course, some Protestants would protest that Mormons and JWs aren’t orthodox Protestants. But how in the world is anyone supposed to know what constitutes the doctrines of “orthodox” Protestantism as distinct from heterodox Protestantism?

    Good question. Perhaps you need to ask your own Magisterium since they don’t consider Mormons to be Christians and require rebaptism of former Mormons, which they do not require of Protestants. Perhaps you should do some reading at some Catholic websites:

    http://www.catholic.com/library/Distinctive_Beliefs_of_Mormon.asp

    Are Mormons Protestants? No, but their founder, Joseph Smith, came from a Protestant background, and Protestant presuppositions form part of the basis of Mormonism. Still, it isn’t correct to call Mormons Protestants, because doing so implies they hold to the essentials of Christianity—what C. S. Lewis termed “mere Christianity.” The fact is, they don’t. Gordon B. Hinckley, the current president and prophet of the Mormon church, says (in a booklet called What of the Mormons?) that he and his co-religionists “are no closer to Protestantism than they are to Catholicism.”

    That isn’t quite right—it would be better to say Mormons are even further from Catholicism than from Protestantism. But Hinckley is right in saying that Mormons are very different from Catholics and Protestants.

    Pretty bad when a Protestant has to correct a Catholic using a Catholic website, isn’t it? :)

  33. Steve,

    When Mateo said that the distinction between Islam and Protestantism is one of convention and not doctrine, I think he meant that, while Islam and classical Protestant Christianity obviously differ in some points of doctrine, they do so primarily incidentally. Their differences in doctrine are incidental to what they both hold in common, which, as we try to point out here often, is the claim to be the inheritors and propagators of the true Faith combined with the lack of a visible teaching magisterium with the authority to teach in God’s name (holding instead to a theory of unique doctrinal authority in a collection of texts). As to the first point, Islam, Mormonism and classical Protestant Christianity use very similar historical narratives as justification for their departure from Catholic Christianity. It goes something like this: “everything was good when Jesus was around, but then His followers took and corrupted His original message; now our movement is necessary to put the proclamation of God’s pure revelation back on track.” All of these movements assume that God did not establish a visible, catholic Church protected for all time by the Holy Spirit from teaching error as truth. And although the methods are similar, the practical results in each case differ in varying degrees – though there is, in many cases, a striking degree of similarity – which is why we can still consider classical Protestants Christians. The point is that there is no coherent, non-question-begging principle that keeps classical Protestants from becoming non-classical Protestants. That’s why I keep saying “classical Protestant.” There are a lot of Protestants who actually do not agree with classical Protestantism on the issues you’ve listed above, but the only criteria that classical Protestants can adduce to claim that they themselves are the “true” Protestants whereas the others are heretics are internally inconsistent, incoherent question-begging criteria. Here, again, I think Mateo was pointing out that, among professing Protestants as between Protestants and Mormons and Muslims, the same principle is at work. In order to rebut Mateo, you had to draw a target around the arrow of what it means to be Protestant. Your definition, by means of which you assert that Protestants do, in fact, agree on some list of (again, arbitrarily defined) essentials is just that: your definition. There is no principle inherent within Protestantism that would keep the Oneness Pentecostals, for example, from equally claiming the right to be considered orthodox Protestants even though they don’t hold to the same Trinitarian theology characteristic of classical Protestantism.

  34. Protestants agree on the Trinity, salvation through Jesus Christ, the doctrines of God (his omnipotence, omniscience, etc.), the Five Solas and any number of other doctrines.

    Dear, dear, dear, Mateo. I certainly know persons who would call themselves Protestant Christians who definitely do not agree with the above, particularly the Trinity – look at Church of Christ Life and Advent people, or Armstrongists, Jesus-Onlyists – and surely most people would call Jehovah’s Witnesses Protestants – don’t know if they use the term themselves.

    Unless you define ‘Protestant’ by those who hold particular doctrines, I don’t think you can say there is any one thing amongst them – except anti-Catholicism.

    jj

  35. I think you are abusing the Luther quote and taking it out of context. He was saying roughly the opposite of what you are saying. He was saying that the papal church was a deceitful vacillating church with false painted keys, that those erred who saw the papal keys as Christ’s keys.

    If you read it in context, you’ll see that he was saying that there is one pair of keys and that when ordinary parish churches baptized and pastors absolved, they were by their very words wielding those keys.

  36. Steve, (#re:35)

    I obviously wasn’t suggesting that Luther thought the Pope retained the keys of the Kingdom; otherwise, Luther would have submitted to the Pope. Setting aside the questions of who now holds the keys and what is the nature of the keys, what Luther says in the quotation about Christ giving the keys to Peter is true, even if Catholics believe it has a different implication than the one Luther draws from it. In other words, there is common ground regarding the quotation, even if we disagree regarding its implications and application. If you thought I was intending to suggest that Luther believed that only the Pope held the keys, then you misunderstood my reason for including the quotation. For Luther, we could almost say that everyone except the episcopal successor of Peter holds the keys.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  37. “Really? Protestants are no different doctrinally than Muslims?”

    Steve G.,

    Protestants and Muslims are similar in form, they are both “people of the Book” who deny the sacramental authority of their teachers. For Muslims and Protestants, they claim that their holy books are the sole authority of their particular belief systems. This is why there are hundreds, if not thousands, of interpretations of the Koran amongst the two major sects of Islam. This is why my Muslim friends at work are truly good people who condemn all and every attack by Muslims on innocent people who, in their view, misinterpret their holy book. It is the same reason that there are tens of thousands of separated denominations in the Protestant world. Each claim that individually they hold the true understanding and interpretation of their holy book, and none of them agree on their interpretation over fundamental teachings derived from those interpretations (otherwise, there wouldn’t be tens of thousands of separated denominations). It is because human authority is asserted despite the fradulent and superficial belief that “the Book” is the sole authority. It always results in whose interpretation of that Book is the correct one, which means that the interpreter is the sole authority, not the Book.

    In this way, Islam and Protestantism are in full accord. By contrast, the Catholic Church has never made the claim that “the Book” is the sole authority. We are not a “people of the book”. The Book is the word of God, is ineffable, and holds authentic authority over the Christian, but it is not the “sole” authority.

  38. Tony: Protestants agree on the Trinity, salvation through Jesus Christ, the doctrines of God (his omnipotence, omniscience, etc.), the Five Solas and any number of other doctrines.

    No, some Protestants agree on those doctrines, but not all Protestants accept these doctrines. I see that I should have defined my set D more carefully to make the point I was trying to make. Perhaps I should have said:

    Define the set “D” as the set of doctrines that all Protestants, and only Protestants, hold in common (i.e. the uniquely Protestant doctrines that no Protestant sect would ever dare dispute).

    This set D would be a null set, because for every uniquely Protestant doctrine that might be found within set D there is at least one of the thousands upon thousands of Protestant sects that would dispute that doctrine. This set D would also exclude any of the doctrines that a Protestant sect might hold in common with Catholics since these doctrines are not unique to Protestantism (e.g. the doctrines confessed in the Nicene Creed).

    Tony: Protestants are no different doctrinally than Muslims?

    Some Protestant sects (e.g. the Protestants belonging to the sect of Jehovah Witnesses) aren’t that doctrinally different than Muslims – i.e. they are monotheistic, non-Trinitiarian, believe that Jesus was a holy man, and that men need to live holy lives to be pleasing to Jehovah/Allah. Salvation is gained by believing in God, and by doing the works that make one holy.

    Tony: Your own church considers Protestant as Christians.

    The Catholic Church teaches that some Protestants are Christians – and those would be the Protestants that believe in the Trinity and baptize their member in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. A Protestant wishing to convert to the Catholic faith from a non-Trinitarian Protestant sect would be seen in the same light as a Muslim convert that desires to embrace the Catholic faith – i.e. both are non-Christians that need to receive the Sacrament of Baptism so that they can become Christians.

    Joe Palmer: … my Muslim friends at work are truly good people who condemn all and every attack by Muslims on innocent people …

    This is my experience also. What I find interesting as I get to know my Muslim friends better is how much they respect Jesus and Mary. I know Protestants that are far more virulently anti-Catholic and anti-Mary than any Muslim that I personally know. I don’t doubt that there are Muslims that are as anti-Catholic as the worst anti-Catholic Protestant. I just don’t personally know any Muslims that are like that, which isn’t saying a whole lot.

    David Pell: That’s why I keep saying “classical Protestant.” There are a lot of Protestants who actually do not agree with classical Protestantism on the issues you’ve listed above …

    But what, exactly, is a “classical Protestant” other than yet another convention that we typically give to a set of people that disagree about matters of Protestant doctrine? There is a reason why the members of the church that Luther founded had an identity that was different than the members of the church that Calvin founded, and that is because these two new Protestant “churches” each taught a different Gospel – one taught the Gospel according to Luther, and one taught the Gospel according to Calvin. Five hundred years after Luther and Calvin, there are now thousands upon thousands of Protestant “churches” each preaching a different Gospel. The classical Protestants denominations are all in decline, while some of the fastest growing branches of Protestantism are the branches of fundamentalist Evangelicals that preach the Gospel of non-Lordship salvation.

    I personally think that Protestants are way to blithe about the doctrinal chaos reigning within Protestantism, since Catholics believe unrepentant heresy can lead to eternal damnation. But if the Gospel of non-Lordship Salvation is true, then a Christian can die as an unrepentant apostate with no fear of being damned. It makes perfect sense from that point of view that the doctrine that a Christian believes is wholly irrelevant as to whether or not a man or woman will be damned, since an unrepentant apostate doesn’t believe anything of the Christian faith. From the POV of a Protestant that embraces non-Lordship salvation, the Catholic that makes an issue of sound doctrine is making a big fuss over nothing, since the only important thing is to get “saved”. I believe this rapidly growing acceptance by Protestants of the Gospel of non-Lordship salvation is the real reason why so many Protestants think that their doctrinal chaos is no big deal. :-(

  39. John Thayer Jensen: Dear, dear, dear, Mateo. I certainly know persons who would call themselves Protestant Christians who definitely do not agree with the above, particularly the Trinity – look at Church of Christ Life and Advent people, or Armstrongists, Jesus-Onlyists – and surely most people would call Jehovah’s Witnesses Protestants – don’t know if they use the term themselves.

    It was Tony, not me, that asserted that all Protestants believe in the Trinity. Which is, of course, not true. To your list of non-Trinitarian Protestants we can add the Church of God Abrahamic Faith, Oneness Pentecostals and Unitarians. Does anyone think that these aren’t Protestant sects?

    It is a fact that some Protestant sects are both monotheistic in their theology and deny the Trinity – and it is this fact is that prompted me to say that the only reason why we don’t call Muslims “Protestants” is because that is merely a matter of convention. Muslims are monotheists like Unitarians and Jehovah Witnesses, and Muslims, like Unitarians and Jehovah Witnesses, believe that Jesus was a holy man. Historically, when the Muslims first appeared on the scene, they were considered to be Christian heretics – people who were not unlike the earlier Arian heretics in their understanding of Jesus. The followers of Mohammed taught that Jesus was a holy Prophet of God, that Mary was the holiest woman that ever lived. The Muslims were iconoclasts like the other Christians caught up in that heresy, and they believed (not unlike the followers of Marcion, Arius, Montanus, Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russell, Martin Luther, and John Calvin) that God had given special insight to a holy man so that he might correct the errors taught by the bishops of the Catholic Church.

    John Thayer Jensen: Unless you define ‘Protestant’ by those who hold particular doctrines, I don’t think you can say there is any one thing amongst them – except anti-Catholicism.

    I am trying to say that it is impossible to define the “ism” in “Protestantism” by what Protestants believe, since Protestants believe in everything and anything. The doctrinal chaos within Protestantism is greater than any other religion on earth. As for anti-Catholicism being a defining belief of Protestantism, that isn’t correct since the ALCC sect of Protestantism isn’t anti-Catholic, and neither are the members of the Traditional Anglican Communion. Some Protestants are indeed anti-Catholic, but so what? Some Muslims and some Hindus are anti-Catholic too. Merely being anti-Catholic doesn’t give one a “Protestant” identity based on adherence to a particular belief.

  40. @mateo

    But what, exactly, is a “classical Protestant” other than yet another convention that we typically give to a set of people that disagree about matters of Protestant doctrine?

    I have no idea what “classical Protestant” means. I have noticed the term cropping up as “classical Reformed” amongst some of my friends but they use it differently. It is used as a wedge to divide the “good” protestants from the “bad” protestants — where bad mostly means liberal or modern though often some of the groups that they would consider not “classical” are far from modernists and some of those that consider themselves “classical” do not hold to the classical definitions of the Reformers.

    I’ve met several individuals who would call themselves “classical Reformed Protestants”. They agree on the usage of buzzwords but that is about as far as it goes. One is a gnostic that rejects baptism. Another one is a fatalist who sees baptism as doing something sacramental but not regeneration. It is really rather confusing.

    Does anyone know where the term “classical Protestant/Reformed” is coming from? It feels to me as an attempt to carve out a nitch against stuff such as Federal Vision and NPP and on the other end of the spectrum the emergent church phenomena.

    But anyway I would like to throw my hat in the ring with your “set D” actually being a nullset.

    Let us just look at Reformed Protestants, let me just list a few off the top of my head

    Federal Vision Reformed
    New Perspective on Paul Reformed
    Hyper-Calvinists
    Puritian Reformed
    “Classical Reformed”
    Emergent Reformed
    Mainstream Reformed
    Contenental European “Barthian tradition” Reformed
    Evangelical “Whitefield tradition” Reformed
    4 Point Calvinists

    These groups are not like having Dominicans, Jesuits, and Franciscan disagreements for in the Catholic family they are all in communion with each other, but the above groups are not in communion with each other because they have decided that their disagreements are diverse enough to prevent communion.

    I think though if we switch your criteria for your “set D” from looking at positive attributes (which returns a nullset) to negative attributes, ie what they reject, that we can find a common ground. The above groups all reject ontology from partially to completely and they also reject man’s capacity for epistemological knowledge from a weak view to a strong view (which is why gnosticism is a problem within the Reformed traditions. If you believe that scripture is the only source of epistemology and you believe only the elect can understand scripture, then you have been reduced to gnosticism).

  41. I was using “Classical Protestantism” to refer to Protestants whose faith is based on the systematic expressions found in the Reformed creeds of the 16th and 17th centuries. It wasn’t meant to be logically precise.

  42. @ David Pell

    Can it not be said that it is few and far between for the Protestant that would call them selves such and yet say that their faith is not based on the expressions found in protestant creeds of the 16th and 17th centuries?

    On the flip side, I grew up Methodist and currently I know many Protestant of the Reformed strip that would deny the faith of my childhood the term “classical christianity” even if it was taught and held precisely as Wesley taught it. Yet when I stand here and look and ponder my friends who claim to be “classical Reformed” I see much that they would disagree with the Reformers on and what they hold to is younger than Methodism. I say this because I find quite a bit of lip service paid to various creeds of the Reformation, because when I quiz and poke and test using the language of the creeds, the answers that I recieve are often quite diverse.

    Because there is no teaching authority in Protestantism, who is to say which modern interpretation of the Protestant creeds is the correct one and the “classical” one – is it the one done to the spirit or the letter or perhaps another way?

  43. I’ve heard “classical” Protestantism used before as well. When pressed, those who use it will reveal through implication are doing so to lend some sort of legitimacy to their brand or interpretation of Protestantism through tradition. However, that’s a contradiction in their own system because if that “tradition” is what makes their version of Protestantism more legitimate than all of the others, then that implies that “tradition” bears some importance to locating the truth other than the Scriptures. The oft used accusation levelled against Catholics is that “Catholicism = Scripture + Tradition”. So, when a Protestant invokes the “classical” Protestantism to lend legitimacy to his argument, he’s actually, unknowingly, admitting that the equation is actually “Protestantism = Scripture – Tradition” and that Tradition is not something that was added, but rather taken away with the Reformation, along with the seven books of the canon.

    Also, “classical” Protestantism (which implies the Protestantism of the founders Luther, Calvin, etc.), at least from a Lutheran perspective would require, if followed, a devotion to Our Lady if intellectual honesty is employed. I’ve yet to see anyone who invokes “classical” Protestantism say that they are willing to take their claim to its logical conclusions.

  44. mateo,

    I am trying to say that it is impossible to define the “ism” in “Protestantism” by what Protestants believe, since Protestants believe in everything and anything. The doctrinal chaos within Protestantism is greater than any other religion on earth.

    If Protestantism can’t be defined, then how can you refer to it as a religion which contains doctrinal chaos? ;)

    But more seriously, I’m curious as to whether you think it’s possible to define Protestantism in any meaningful and historical way, even if you can’t do so based on what Protestants believe. Forgive me if you’ve already addressed the issue directly and I’ve missed it. Earlier, you referred to the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a Protestant sect, and also mentioned that the only reason we don’t call Muslims Protestants is convention–which encompasses a much wider spectrum of beliefs than most people would be willing to give to Protestantism.

    The problem is that you’ve also said that, “Merely being anti-Catholic doesn’t give one a “Protestant” identity based on adherence to a particular belief.” But if “Protestantism” is broad enough that it could potentially contain not only clearly heretical sects such as the JWs but also Islam itself, and cannot even be defined by “opposition to Catholicism,” then it would seem that the term has no real definition and thus no meaning.
    So how would you define “Protestantism?” Even if it can’t be defined by the beliefs Protestants hold, it must still be defined somehow, otherwise we couldn’t refer to the “Protestants” who hold multiple beliefs.

    Thanks, pax Christi,

    Spencer

  45. mateo: I am trying to say that it is impossible to define the “ism” in “Protestantism” by what Protestants believe, since Protestants believe in everything and anything. The doctrinal chaos within Protestantism is greater than any other religion on earth

    Spencer: If Protestantism can’t be defined, then how can you refer to it as a religion which contains doctrinal chaos?

    I didn’t say that Protestantism couldn’t be defined, I said Protestantism can’t be defined by what Protestants believe.

    We don’t call fifth-century Nestorians “Protestants” because of convention, even though many Protestants are Nestorian in their beliefs. We don’t call the fourth-century Arians “Protestants” because of convention, even though some Protestants that are Arian in their Christology. We don’t call the third-century Sabellians “Protestants” because of convention, even though some Protestants are modalist in their Christology. The only reason that we don’t call Muslims “Protestants” is because of convention – the Muslim religion was started too soon to be called a branch of Protestantism.

    Spencer: The problem is that you’ve also said that, “Merely being anti-Catholic doesn’t give one a “Protestant” identity based on adherence to a particular belief.” But if “Protestantism” is broad enough that it could potentially contain not only clearly heretical sects such as the JWs but also Islam itself, and cannot even be defined by “opposition to Catholicism,” then it would seem that the term has no real definition and thus no meaning.

    Obviously merely being “anti-Catholic” doesn’t make one a Protestant per se, since atheists, Hindus and Muslims can be virulently anti-Catholic. But I am curious, how is it that you make the claim that Jehovah Witnesses are “clearly” a heretical sect? Why is that so clear to you? Why aren’t the Protestants sects that embrace Nestorianism clearly heretical sects too? How would I know a non-heretical sect of Protestantism from a heretical sect of Protestantism?

    When Carl Trueman speaks of “orthodox Protestantism”, I want him to clarify what that is. Orthodox Protestantism seems to me to be an oxymoron, but maybe if Carl Trueman could define what “orthodox Protestantism” actually is, then we could know which Protestants sects are orthodox and which are heterodox.

    What is absolutely clear to me is that Protestantism is a broad enough term that it can include people that hold the beliefs of Nestorianism, Modalism, Adoptionism, Gnosticism, Monthelitism, Monophystism, Donatism, Apollinarianism, Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Antinomianism, Deism, Universalism, Quietism, Modernism, Americanism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, Anglicanism, etc., etc, etc. Doctrinal chaos is a defining mark of Protestantism as it exists today, and whatever Protestantism is, it must be broad enough to include the beliefs of the millions of Non-Lordship Salvation Protestants that teach that even unrepentant apostates can be “saved” Protestants.

    Spencer: But more seriously, I’m curious as to whether you think it’s possible to define Protestantism in any meaningful and historical way, even if you can’t do so based on what Protestants believe.

    Men didn’t start using the term “Protestant” until a certain point in history. A fifth-century Nestorian is not called a Protestant in the literature written prior to the “Reformation”, but a twenty-first century man the embraces Nestorianism might easily be identified as a member of a Protestant sect. I would say that any meaningful definition of “Protestantism” is going to implicitly include the idea that people are “Protestants” only if they belong to an era in time that begins around the time of Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

    Spencer: So how would you define “Protestantism?” Even if it can’t be defined by the beliefs Protestants hold, it must still be defined somehow, otherwise we couldn’t refer to the “Protestants” who hold multiple beliefs.

    That is a really good question, and a really tough question to answer. I once participated in a discussion on the Internet where we tried to define Protestantism by what Protestants believe. There were Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Methodists, Unitarian Universalists, Lone-Ranger non-denominationalists, and others participating in the discussion. It went over a thousand posts and we never were able to define Protestantism as a set of beliefs that must necessarily be held by someone to be called a Protestant. The only definition of “Protestant” that seems to work is this: A man is a Protestant if he says he is a Protestant. As a Protestant, he can call himself a Christian and believe anything that he wants to believe. Which eliminates a definition of “Protestantism” as a set of doctrines that must be believed by men who call themselves Protestants.

  46. @Spencer

    I don’t think Mateo referred to Protestantims directly as a religion. Personally I would not define it as a religion but rather religions, though I prefer to use the term “belief systems” because the term religion implies “of divine origin” while much of Protestantims is of human origin especially when we consider that most if not all Protestants consider the visible church to be of human origin and thus implicitly the doctrines creeds etc. are of fallible human origin and do not hold authority beyond a human sense of authority. That of course is the elephant in the room in Protestant theology, though in practice many protestants implicitly ascribe infallibility and a sense of divine authority to their doctrines and creeds when it does not exist or exists only in so far as they are the exact text of scripture minus of course the human explainations of the text.

    Part of the problem with trying to define what Protestantism is, is that within Protestantism, its own definition of what it is is often so broad as to render the term mostly meaningless. For example, Wyclif and Huss are often labeled as Protestants by Protestants when their full theology doesn’t actually fit within the belief system of the Reformers and let us not forget that Augustine is often labeled as a “Protestant” which is to stretch the definition of what a Protestant is beyond breaking.

    How would I describe “Protestantism”? The sundry western european belief systems and communities that developed from the political and epistemological upheavals and resurgence of humanism in 16th century medieval Europe, that generally hold to the post-Christian Rabbinical canon of scripture and the Greek New Testament as their primary books of religious experience and are generally exclusively rooted in post scholastic western european philosophy as their means of exegesis. Protestantism is marked by rejection of ontology and suffers from various forms of dualism with tendencies towards rational materialism or angelism/spiritualism. They tend to be iconoclasts that gravitate towards non-universal buzz words, which can be hollow in meaning, to separate themselves and protect themselves from the “non-believing outsider” and to further divide and carve out a nitch of what is considered “authentic christianity” by the particular Protestant group (each protestant group so subdivides resulting in an exponentially increasing number of Protestant groups). Protestantism is marked by a rejection of the veracity historical narrative (everyone but the founder of my group got it wrong and the historical record is incorrect).

    @mateo

    Do you have a link to this 1000+ post discussion or is it gone?

  47. First I have read everything written here, including the Trueman item at another website.

    Second, thank you. I remember the chaos I was involved in. I remember that we Pentecostals did not credit the Baptists (or fill in the blank) with Truth, we merely credited them with sincerity. Since I was an avid reader of the Bible, I knew that Jesus was the Way, the Truth, and the Life, but nowhere did any of the New Testament authors indicate that He was the Sincerity. That word appeared to be to be somewhere between faint praise and eternal damnation. It was kind of like saying “good luck” to someone, and not knowing if you were honestly hoping for their best or giving a sarcastic response.

    My understanding of the varieties of Protestantism has grown, largely due to websites such as this. I’ve read the theologies and related books, but did not walk those walks (eg, Luther, Calvin, the Wesleys, Joseph Smith, etc) so there are parts I have no idea about.

    When I moved over to the Catholic Church, with the desire to become a son of the Church, I shed my role as a (if not the) primary interpreter of Scripture. It has been God sent, in the literal sense. Scripture makes so much more sense to me than it did when I was a Pentecostal. I don’t find myself avoiding or ignoring the items that were contrary to the position of my old church or my own wants.
    Actually being Catholic is like painting and having all the paints available. The canvas is beautiful and the picture stunning.

    The Church did one more thing for me in relation to my previous religious position. As noted above, it told me that people baptised with water using the Trinitarian formula (eg, people who want the same thing the the Church wants when It baptises) are my brothers and sisters, albeit separated. God came to save the world, not to condemn it. The Church, representing the mind of Christ, told me how to see this issue. Thanks be to God.

  48. mateo,

    Thanks for the reply. I agree that the question of a definition for Protestantism is a tough question, and it’s not one to which I think I have a certain answer, but I would offer a few thoughts on the subject.

    You said,

    What is absolutely clear to me is that Protestantism is a broad enough term that it can include people that hold the beliefs of Nestorianism, Modalism, Adoptionism, Gnosticism, Monthelitism, Monophystism, Donatism, Apollinarianism, Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Antinomianism, Deism, Universalism, Quietism, Modernism, Americanism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, Anglicanism, etc., etc, etc. Doctrinal chaos is a defining mark of Protestantism as it exists today, and whatever Protestantism is, it must be broad enough to include the beliefs of the millions of Non-Lordship Salvation Protestants that teach that even unrepentant apostates can be “saved” Protestants.

    and

    The only definition of “Protestant” that seems to work is this: A man is a Protestant if he says he is a Protestant. As a Protestant, he can call himself a Christian and believe anything that he wants to believe. Which eliminates a definition of “Protestantism” as a set of doctrines that must be believed by men who call themselves Protestants.

    In the content of these two quotations it almost seems as if you are saying that, “If a man says he is a Protestant, and believes X, then X is a Protestant doctrine.” I know that’s a little bit of a simplification of your argument, but that’s what it seems to boil down to, as you have said that the only working definition of “Protestant” is “Anyone who calls himself by the name of ‘Protestant,'” because so many people call themselves Protestants and believe all sorts of things.
    Now I would certainly agree that many people have held different and contradictory views under the banner of “Protestant,” but I have this point to make: A person is certainly free (in a political sense, at least) to believe whatever he likes. If a person wants to believe, for instance, that he can somehow combine pagan worship of the earth with a Gnostic brand of Christianity, then he is free to do so (though you and I would agree that he is seriously in error and should repent of it). But what he is not free to do is to call himself or his beliefs “Protestant,” and for this reason:

    “Protestant,” taken in a historical sense (i.e., understood as representing the beliefs represented by the Reformation) does in fact have a definite doctrinal substance, even if there were disagreements among those who broke off from the Church of Rome in the 16th century. If you examine the Thirty Nine Articles (Anglicans), the Westminster Confession of Faith (Presbyterians), the Book of Concord (Lutherans), the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith and 1678 Orthodox Confession of Faith (Particular and General Baptists respectively), you will find a remarkable consensus of beliefs. There is unanimity on the nature of God and Christ, on human nature, on how people are justified before God, on the authority and perspicuity of Scripture, on the error of the Roman Catholic doctrines of purgatory, the sacrifice of the mass, the papacy, etc., on the existence of only two sacraments/ordinances established in the New Covenant–that is, baptism and the Lord’s Supper–and so on.
    Are there differences between these statements of faith? Of course there are. But the unanimity is far greater than the differences. These beliefs were the beliefs that were common and foundational to nearly all the major sects that divided from Rome, and it is to these beliefs that the name “Protestant” has been historically given.

    That’s why I can’t bring myself to agree with you that “Protestantism” cannot be doctrinally defined. Granted, if we accept anyone as a Protestant simply because he says he is, and then consider whatever he believes to be Protestant doctrine, then “Protestantism” cannot be defined by what Protestants believe. But the identity of “Protestantism” is simply based on the facts of history, as I’ve argued above, nd so for someone to hold beliefs radically different from the Reformation’s beliefs and claim to be a Protestant is for that person to simply be engaging in intellectual falsehood.
    If I were to define myself as “Roman Catholic” while continuing to hold my (presently) semi-Calvinistic Baptist beliefs, and then had a large group of other people, holding vastly different beliefs, call themselves by that name as well, this would not mean that “Roman Catholic” is an indefinable term. It is defined by what the Roman Catholic Church has historically taught and still teaches, and so our hypothetical group’s calling themselves “Roman Catholic,” rather than obscuring the meaning of the term, would simply be a failure on their part to understand what it means in a historical sense. The same principle applies to Protestantism.

    Pax Christi,

    Spencer

  49. Nathan B: Do you have a link to this 1000+ post discussion or is it gone?

    That discussion was several years ago, and I didn’t bookmark it. I don’t know if it still exists. Trying to get the Protestants to define the doctrines that Protestants must believe mostly ended up in rants from Protestants about how Catholics don’t understand that Protestants don’t think like Catholics who are way to obsessed with doctrine … sort of like the arguments I have heard from the Orthodox about how they determine what is orthodox belief – you Catholics can never understand what we believe because you have a Western mindset and we have an Eastern mindset … and that argument often comes from ex-Protestants that are now Eastern Orthodox. Go figure.

    Nathan B: Part of the problem with trying to define what Protestantism is, is that within Protestantism, its own definition of what it is is often so broad as to render the term mostly meaningless. For example, Wyclif and Huss are often labeled as Protestants by Protestants …

    Wyclif – the Morningstar of the Reformation – I have seen that bandied about. If a Protestant can be someone that lived before Luther, then who is to say that that Muslims aren’t proto-Protestants? Actually, I have had Jehovah Witnesses tell me that the third century Arians were the True Christians ®™ that were suppressed by the Catholic Church – Charles Taze Russell merely recovered the essence of true Christianity from the doctrinal corruptions of the Catholic Church …

    Nathan B: How would I describe “Protestantism”? The sundry western european belief systems …

    Very funny. :-)

    I think most Protestants understand that the beliefs confessed by Protestants are so varied that it becomes necessary to add an adjective to the word Protestant to narrow the scope of belief down a bit when attempting a conversation involving one’s beliefs as a Protestant – for example, one might claim that he is a “classical Protestant” , an “orthodox Protestant”, or my favorite, a “traditional Protestant”.
    :-)

  50. @mateo

    Thanks, thats ok that it is gone. I have never understood the argument that

    Catholics don’t understand that Protestants don’t think like Catholics who are way to obsessed with doctrine … sort of like the arguments I have heard from the Orthodox about how they determine what is orthodox belief – you Catholics can never understand what we believe because you have a Western mindset and we have an Eastern mindset …

    Its insanely silly and smacks of gnosticism to me — you cannot understand because you are not part of the enlightened group.

    Part of the problem I find is that Roman Catholicism retained part of the Eastern mindset while Protestantism became truncated philosophically to post scholastic western thought (thus twice removed from the East). Modern Catholicism has become much more Eastern in its mindset thanks to the work of the French resorcement movement of the early 20th century.

    Personally I find Protestants, especially my Reformed friends to be way too obsessed with doctrine. As I have written before there is such a fear of straying one iota from their doctrine as that would be proof that they are unregenerate and eternally damned. I do think that the Eastern Catholics/Orthodox have it right…that the western mind needs to be more “mindful” of the liturgy and prayer not focused simply on theological explanation. Protestant theology is very linear and algebraic in how it is constructed but at the same time it has major holes in it that prevent a true systemization and relies way too heavily on unproven presuppositions. With a lot of Protestant theology, you have to simply memorize the presupposition and axioms, you cannot logically reason from one point to the next. Catholic theology is not very algebraic, it reminds me a lot of matrixes and differential equations with multiple variables. It is much deeper but at the same time it is pretty easy to figure out what catholicism is because it is not rooted in presuppositions and thus it is pretty easy to “guess” at what the next piece of Catholic theology is in the sequence of thought, as long as you have your bearings right.

    A good example of that is the Reformed Covenant of Redemption. Its grounded in presuppositions and it is recognized as not being explicit in scripture. You cannot figure that out without being specifically instructed in those presuppositions and the specific doctrine. On the reverse Purgatory is super easy to figure out even if we didn’t have recourse to scripture. In order to be with God, we need to be perfect (else Heaven would be a Hellish experience for us) but when we die most of the elect are not perfect. Thus there must be a transition after death to get us from not being fully in tune with God to being in tune with God, purgatory by definition.

    For me, what I like about Catholicism, is that it never says that “everyone lied”. Jesus message was to say that the Jews were right and I am here to prove and fulfilled what they believed in. Not once does do Catholics say that the Church Fathers got it wrong, not once do they say that the historical narrative is wrong. In Catholicism, God really is the Lord of History and we believe even as Adam believed. That is the key to the Catholic faith and what makes it special, we can say that “This is the relationship that God has had with man since the very beginning. It has deepened and grown, but the faith that I receive today in the 21st century contains with in it the entirety of the faith of Adam and all of his sons. We are one people and one faith. We are CATHOLIC in that what we hold has been received as always true from the beginning and it is for all people to hold as well.”

  51. Spencer,

    you have given me a serious response to my post, and I would like to do my best to give you a serious reply in return.

    Spencer: In the content of these two quotations it almost seems as if you are saying that, “If a man says he is a Protestant, and believes X, then X is a Protestant doctrine.”

    Correct – X is a Protestant doctrine for that man. Let us say that he arrived at X by his own private interpretation of scriptures, and he is sincerely convinced that he is correct in his private interpretation. Who is claiming infallible authority within Protestantism to declare that his private interpretation of scriptures is not correct? No one. So how is this sincere man supposed to know that he isn’t allowed to privately interpret scriptures in this manner? Private interpretation of scriptures is the very foundation of Protestantism in whatever form it takes. There wouldn’t be a “Reformation” without the private interpretation of scriptures.

    Spencer: “Protestant,” taken in a historical sense …

    You are now trying to define what David Pell has labeled as “classical Protestantism”. What are the specific doctrines of classical Protestantism that are different from the doctrines of Catholicism?

    Define set “U” as a subset of doctrines that are found in the Thirty Nine Articles, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Book of Concord, the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith and the 1678 Orthodox Confession of Faith. Set U cannot contain any article of faith that is confessed by the Catholic Church, because we are trying to corral the specific doctrines into set U that give classical Protestantism its uniqueness compared to the doctrines taught by the Catholic Church.

    Spencer: …the unanimity is far greater than the differences.

    Perhaps so, but that is due in part because the most important doctrines found in the Protestant confessions that you have listed are also doctrines of the Catholic Church – i.e. the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of the hypostatic union … from a Catholic POV, the doctrines in set U are a set of Protestant doctrines that are heretical.

    Spencer: Are there differences between these statements of faith? Of course there are.

    Right! And that leads to a big problem for you, because set U contains contradictory doctrine. No one can be a classical Protestant if accepting set U is the criterion for being a classical Protestant, since there are no classical Protestants that accept every doctrine contained in set U. The relationship between set U and the men and women that are classical Protestants must be this: I can be a classical Protestant and reject doctrine contained in set U. Thus we have the principle that one can reject doctrines contained in set U and be a classical Protestant, but no principle for establishing how much of set U can be rejected before one ceases to be a classical Protestant.

    Spencer: Granted, if we accept anyone as a Protestant simply because he says he is, and then consider whatever he believes to be Protestant doctrine, then “Protestantism” cannot be defined by what Protestants believe. But the identity of “Protestantism” is simply based on the facts of history, as I’ve argued above, nd so for someone to hold beliefs radically different from the Reformation’s beliefs and claim to be a Protestant is for that person to simply be engaging in intellectual falsehood.

    What, precisely, constitutes a “radical” rejection of the doctrines in set U? Are the present day Lutherans and the Methodists that accept the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification too radical to be considered authentic classical Protestants? Is N.T Wright too radical in his understanding of the doctrine of Justification to be considered to be a classical Protestant? Protestantism didn’t arrive in its present sorry condition overnight. Over the last five hundred years the doctrines in set U were slowly rejected by some Protestants until set U became a null set for some Protestants. The question that you cannot answer with any authority is how much of set U can be rejected before one ceases to be a classical Protestant. This is not unlike the quandary that a Protestant is in when he claims that the Catholic Church became so corrupt in the doctrine that she teaches that she ceased to be Christian. When, exactly, did the Catholic Church cross the line, and how am I supposed to know when that happened?

    Spencer: If I were to define myself as “Roman Catholic” while continuing to hold my (presently) semi-Calvinistic Baptist beliefs, and then had a large group of other people, holding vastly different beliefs, call themselves by that name as well, this would not mean that “Roman Catholic” is an indefinable term.

    The doctrines that constitute the material content of “classical Protestantism” is an unknown because no one has the authority within Protestantism to definitively define those doctrines. So if N.T. Wright wants to claim he is a classical Protestant, who am I to say he isn’t one, just because he rejects the doctrine of Justification as taught by the original “Reformers”? Does the antinomianism of today’s Southern Baptists preclude them from being classical Protestants when the Southern Baptists are merely professing the soteriology of Johannes Agricola, a contemporary of Martin Luther? Who gets to define the classical Protestantism of the era of Luther and Calvin? Is Zwingli a classical Protestant? Is Agricola?

    The Catholic Church, unlike Protestantism, has the ability to formally define the doctrines of the Catholic Church. If one knowingly rejects a solemnly defined doctrine of the Catholic Church, then one incurs the penalty of automatic excommunication from the Church. A person that wants to define for himself the doctrines of Catholicism cannot ever be a Catholic. It doesn’t take some nebulously defined “radical” rejection of Catholic doctrine to be excommunicated from the Catholic Church – it only takes a rejection of one doctrine of the Catholic Church to be excommunicated.

  52. Mateo –

    Just a quick and relatively minor clarification regarding this statement:

    The Catholic Church, unlike Protestantism, has the ability to formally define the doctrines of the Catholic Church. If one knowingly rejects a solemnly defined doctrine of the Catholic Church, then one incurs the penalty of automatic excommunication from the Church.

    If I understand the canons regarding heresy correctly, not only does the person have to know that he is rejecting a solemnly defined docrine, but he has to know that excommunication is the penalty of this.

  53. Gentlemen:

    As I see it, Protestantism is not a set of doctrines, but rather a principle that works itself out in countless forms. The principle is this: the Christian religion is to be learned by interpreting “the sources” independently of the claims of any particular church to be “the Church,” so that one must pick or found a church on the basis of such an interpretation. The differences among Protestants arise from differences about what the relevant sources are, and about how they are to be interpreted. But the principle is the same.

    Best,
    Mike

  54. zeehjee: If I understand the canons regarding heresy correctly, not only does the person have to know that he is rejecting a solemnly defined doctrine, but he has to know that excommunication is the penalty of this.

    Thanks for that clarification. That is correct, to incur the penalty of a latae sententiae excommunication for the sin of heresy, the formal heretic must both know that he is rejecting an infallible teaching of the Catholic Church, and he must know that the penalty for rejecting that doctrine incurs the penalty of automatic excommunication.

    Your point is important because the doctrines of the Church are comprised of both the doctrines of the faith, and the doctrines of morals. One can be a heretic by knowingly rejecting a doctrine of morals, and it is moral doctrine infallibly taught by the ordinary and universal magisterium that practicing artificial contraception is intrinsically evil and involves grave matter. How many Catholics understand that willfully rejecting the Church’s moral doctrine concerning artificial contraception automatically excommunicates them from the Catholic Church?

    Pontifical Council for the Family
    Vademecum for Confessors concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life
    Issued February 12, 1997

    4. The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable. Contraception is gravely opposed to marital chastity, it is contrary to the good of the transmission of life (the procreative aspect of matrimony), and to the reciprocal self-giving of the spouses (the unitive aspect of matrimony); it harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life.[33]

    Code of Canon Law

    Can. 1364 §1 An apostate from the faith, a heretic or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication ….

  55. Nathan B: I don’t think Mateo referred to Protestantism directly as a religion. Personally I would not define it as a religion but rather religions

    By convention we speak about the Hindu religion and the Muslim religion, and that is why I don’t have a problem speaking about the Protestant religion.

    If I asked the question, what must I believe to be a member of the Hindu religion, I would be asking a difficult to answer question, since the Hindu religion is so vast that one can believe just about anything and be a Hindu. If I asked what must I believe to be a member of the Muslim religion, I again have a problem, because the Muslim religion has no living teacher that is recognized as authoritative by all who practice the Muslim religion. The beliefs of the Sufis that make the pilgrimage to Sehwan, Pakistan are not the same as the beliefs of the Wahhabi fundamentalists living in the federally administered tribal areas of Pakistan. If really bothers me when I hear blowhards on television and radio speaking about the Muslim religion as if it were a monolithic entity with a single set of beliefs. That is as wrong as claiming that the Reverend Jimmy-Jo Jeeter and his Protestant snake handling cult in ‘Possum Hollow West Virginia holds to the same set of beliefs as the Protestants of the Grace Cathedral Episcopal Church on Nob Hill, San Francisco.

    Michael Liccone: As I see it, Protestantism is not a set of doctrines, but rather a principle that works itself out in countless forms. The principle is this: the Christian religion is to be learned by interpreting “the sources” independently of the claims of any particular church to be “the Church,” so that one must pick or found a church on the basis of such an interpretation. The differences among Protestants arise from differences about what the relevant sources are, and about how they are to be interpreted. But the principle is the same.

    Perhaps Protestantism could be defined as a set of principles.

    The principle of private interpretation of the scriptures, and the primacy of self in determining the doctrines of the Christian faith.

    The original “Reformers” like Luther and Calvin decided that they were authoritative interpreters of scriptures and that they did not have to listen to anyone beside themselves when they created their novel doctrines.

    The principle of pick-and-choose as a foundational principle of Protestantism.

    The Reformers rooted through the doctrines taught by the Catholic Church and accepted some of those doctrines and rejected others. The doctrines of the Catholic Church that the Reformers rejected were replaced with novel doctrines of their own making. None of the Reformers could agree on the doctrines that Protestants must accept, but all held to the principle of pick-and-choose. The first Protestant sects were a do-it-yourself affair created by men out of what had been handed down from previous generations and what they made up from their own private interpretations of scriptures.

    The principle that no living man can ever speak with infallible authority about a matter of Christian doctrine at any time, and under any circumstance.

    It is a principle of Protestantism that no doctrinal dispute between the different Protestant sects can ever be settled once and for all.

    All of the original Protestant “Reformers” operated on these Protestant principles, but can we say those that happened to be born into the families that practiced the religion one of these Protestant sects also practice these principles? I don’t think that is necessarily true.

    Vatican II

    DECREE ON ECUMENISM UNITATIS REDINTEGRATIO

    … many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ Himself were divided. Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.

    Even in the beginnings of this one and only Church of God there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly condemned. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions made their appearance and quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church-for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. 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. …

  56. @mateo

    By using the language “protestant religion” instead of “protestant religions” you undercut your argument that set D is a null set by implicitly saying that there is some sort of positive fundamental unity that can link all Protestants together as a singular religion.

    We can call Islam a “religion”, even though it is fragmented, because a positive fundamental unity exists that links together all Muslims as a singular religion.

    Protestantism doesn’t come out of a singular source, attempts to make Luther the patriarch not withstanding. It rather comes out of a milieu and Luther is just one of the voices that put into words certain sentiments that people were feeling. It is also of note that Protestantism has nothing revealed about it. No Protestant leader claims to have had God tell him to do anything. When you compare the beginnings of the various Protestant communities to say, the beginnings of most of the Monastic Orders, or even non-Christian religions (Islam, Buddhism, etc.), it is not at all claimed to be a product of a divine command but rather simply the exercising of human intellect and the will to put certain things into motion.

    Anyway I digress. I don’t think you can create a positive set of doctrines or principles to define all Protestants. I would argue that they would have to be negative…things that all Protestants agree that they don’t believe in.

    I don’t agree that your principles fit all Protestants. “Private interpretation” of scripture is a resultant of some of the principles of the Reformation but the idea that scripture is interpreted privately is not held universally. Many Protestant groups understand that scripture’s interpretation is in a way normed by the elders/bishops/confessions/constitutions of the community. The “pick and choose” principle is way too broad for what happened. Protestant theology is not simply just a limited form of Catholic theology, a cafeteria catholicism. It is running off of different metaphysics and philosophical presuppositions. Your well trained Reformed Christian is Reformed because he has a very specific philosophical understanding of how the world works and he reads this into the scripture text — it is not simply choosing what he likes and doesn’t like about the Catholic interpretation as if the Catholic interpretation was ever before him to pick and choose from. “No infallible authority” I think is a misunderstanding of how many protestants understand the term infallibility. Infallibility is just not a term that, at least Calvinists would say, could be applied to a human speaker. It is not a case that the a man could but cannot not speak infallibly but rather that infallibility is a word that cannot be applied to the actions of a man. SOmeone who knows Reformed theology more than I do can correct me, but I am rather sure that a Reformed individual would not say that John wrote the Gospel According to John infallibly. Many Protestant elder/presbyter/minister/bishop can speak with binding human authority as to what is and what is not “kosher” for their community — difference of course is that the authority is typically strictly human authority though sometimes some Protestants understand it has having limited divine backing (typically in so far as it is directly quoted from scripture).

  57. “Actually being Catholic is like painting and having all the paints available. The canvas is beautiful and the picture stunning.”

    @Donald Todd

    What a beautiful statement. Thank you.

  58. Nathan B: By using the language “protestant religion” instead of “protestant religions” you undercut your argument that set D is a null set by implicitly saying that there is some sort of positive fundamental unity that can link all Protestants together as a singular religion.

    I have been saying all along that words “Protestant” and “Protestantism” are words that we understand because of convention. We don’t call a Muslim a Protestant because of convention. By convention we call some people Protestants and other people not Protestants, even though a non-Protestant such as a fifth-century Nestorian shares identical Nestorian beliefs with the majority of twenty-first century Protestants.

    I did a Google search on “Protestant religion” and “Protestant religions” and this was the result:

    “Protestant religion” 467,000 results
    “Protestant religions” 23,300 results

    A Google search on “Hindu religion” and “Hindu religions” yielded this:

    “Hindu religion” 602,000 results
    “Hindu religions” 140,000 results

    By convention, English speaking people don’t have a problem using the phrases “Protestant Religion” or “Hindu Religion”, and I am not trying to say anything more than that. But you make a good point that the words “Protestant religion” implies some sort of fundamental unity in belief among Protestants, when, in fact, there isn’t any real unity of belief found within Protestantism. This is something that causes confusion, and I see it all the time on the C2C threads when a Protestant will say something like, “you Catholics believe X, while we Protestants believe Y”. It might make sense to say Catholics believe X, but it makes no sense to say that Protestants believe Y because there is nothing that all Protestants hold as common doctrine.

    Nathan B: I don’t think you can create a positive set of doctrines or principles to define all Protestants. I would argue that they would have to be negative…things that all Protestants agree that they don’t believe in.

    I would like to see what that negative approach would yield. Can you give me an example of a doctrine that all Protestants, and only Protestants, don’t believe in? Here is the problem as I see it. Millions of Non-Lordship Salvation Protestants believe that one can be simultaneously both a “saved” Protestant and an unrepentant apostate, i.e. one can be an real honest to goodness Protestant that is also an unrepentant apostate that rejects every doctrine of the Christian faith. (An apostate, by definition, rejects all doctrines of the Christian faith). Therefore the my set D of the positive things that all Protestants, and only Protestants, believe in would have to include the Christian beliefs of “saved” Protestant apostates – which guarantees that my set D of the positive beliefs of all Protestants is a null set. In your approach, you have to take into account that the Non-Lordship Salvation Protestants believe that a “saved” Protestant could be an unrepentant Satan worshipping apostate.

    Let us define a set N, the set things that all Protestants, and only Protestants, agree that they don’t believe in. Included in set N would the set of things that the unrepentant apostate Satan worshipping “saved” Protestants don’t believe in. But one can be a Satan worshipper without being a Protestant. The set of things that Protestant Satan worshippers, and only Protestant Satan worshippers, don’t believe in is a null set, because anything that a Protestant Satan worshipper doesn’t believe in would be something that a non-Protestant Satan worshipper doesn’t believe in. Since Satan worshipping apostate Protestants are part of the set of all Protestants, the set of things that all Protestants and only Protestants don’t believe in must also be a null set. QED.

    If all Protestants rejected the idea that a “saved” Protestant can be an unrepentant Satan worshipping apostate, then we might make some progress with either the positive or negative approach. But I don’t see anytime soon that millions of Protestants are going to rise up and reject the doctrine of Once Saved, Always Saved – there is NO conceivable sin a “saved” Protestant could commit that would make him lose his salvation. Of course, I am just a Catholic that is way too obsessed with logic, reason and sound doctrine, and because of that, I don’t understand the Protestant mindset. So what do I know? :-)

  59. @mateo

    I don’t think we should understand our words simply based upon convention — rather we should try to have a direct coorelation between the word and that which it is atempting to represent. (besides you get better numbers when you limit to *.edu sites where people theoretically should know what they are talking about).

    When we are creating our negative set N we need to be sure that the statement says nothing about what is to be believed only what is not to be believed.

    Here are some statements that would belong to our negative set N.
    *The deuterocanonical books are not inerrant.
    *There is not an ontological connection between Jesus and the visable Christian community.
    *Catholicism is not wholy true.

  60. How interesting, the tangent, e-mails have taken from this website! I entered it typing in the key words “sacrificial nature.” My purpose is to serve others and the retail industry is one great place to achieve this. St. Augustine was quoted several times in this website. It was so rewarding to see some of his writings again. When I was confirmed A Catholic, we chose our patron saint, unlike baptism. Be very careful when doing this. Since confirmation, 49 years ago, I’ve discovered parallels to St. Augustines life and my own. He has been dubbed the greatest sinner turned greatest saint, not to espouse myself as being saintly. On another note, a Sacrament is an outward sign, instituted by Jesus Christ, to give grace. My Catholic church recognizes seven, Gods’ number. Having attended Mass at churches operated by Benedictan, Franciscan, Jesuit, etc. priests it interested me in how a Franciscan preached that even ourselves could be considered an outward sign, instituted by Jessus Christ, to give grace. Thoughts?

  61. Nathan B.,

    “The deuterocanonical books are not inerrant.”

    FYI, there is a growing number of evangelicals who are now willing to admit that the deuterocanonicals are inerrant. They are also willing to include St. Thomas’ gospel in the canon. So, this would be an inaccurate statement (unless you specified “which” Protestants agree with it).

  62. Everyone,
    Which has occurred on other websites and is apparent from the discussion in this thread, the exercise of trying to define a complete and definitive set of doctrines that can be applied to and professed by ALL Protestants seems impossible to do.

    Maybe a set of doctrines could be applied to the early Protestants when the term was first used. But now, isn’t the term protestant just the name of a diverse category of the Christian religion, a way of grouping various non-Catholic, and non-Orthodox Christian denominations.

    Michael described Protestants not as a set of doctrines but a principle that is applied multiple ways. In this thread, this is the most accurate description. It affirms that one set of doctrines can not be applied. It suggests a general, high level, process of how believing or practices may evolve. It allows the principle to be applied in a multitude of ways.

    What does the exercise of trying to attribute a set of doctrines to the entire group accomplish, especially when Protestants as a group do not claim to hold them? The group is so large and diverse we can always find one denomination that does not hold a particular belief. Think about the past posts and the difficulty of trying to attribute the doctrines of the holy trinity, and the divinity of Christ. Someone brought up a list of fringe denominations that incorrectly rejected these.

    If we want to find the set of doctrines, we should go to the offical Protestant web site or manual and find out for ourselves.

    Instead of trying to work with Protestants as a whole, why not limit our discussions to one denomination like the Reformed, or Lutherans or Presbyterians or schools of thought like Calvinists.

    thanks

  63. @Joe Palmer

    Can you cite a specific evangelical group that says that the deuterocanonicals are inerrant? I know of none. I would like to be better informed of this phenomena that you are speaking of.

  64. Nathan B: I don’t think we should understand our words simply based upon convention — rather we should try to have a direct correlation between the word and that which it is attempting to represent.

    I agree that it would be a good thing if we could correlate the set of all Protestants to the set of doctrines that all Protestants accept as inerrant, or even to the set of statements that Protestants, and only Protestants, don’t believe. Then we could say, if you believe these doctrines, or you don’t believe these statements, then you must be a Protestant. But I don’t believe that is possible, since the doctrinal chaos within Protestantism is far too great for either scheme to work.

    You listed three statements of non-belief, but these statements don’t correlate to only Protestants. A Muslim could easily make these same statements. And why don’t we call Muslims “Protestants”? Convention.

    The statement that all Protestants agree that “the deuterocanonical books are not inerrant” is incorrect since Protestants belonging to the ALCC and the TAC accept these books as inerrant. Other “high Church” Anglicans include the deuteros in their bibles, but whether or not these are seen as being inerrant depends on the particular branch of Anglicanism. Also, what about the early Protestants that read the Geneva Bible and the KJV in their first printings? The first editions of both these bibles contained the deuteros, and no doubt at least some of these Protestants accepted what was printed in their bibles as the inerrant word of God.

    Nathan B: I don’t agree that your principles fit all Protestants. “Private interpretation” of scripture is a resultant of some of the principles of the Reformation but the idea that scripture is interpreted privately is not held universally. Many Protestant groups understand that scripture’s interpretation is in a way normed by the elders/bishops/confessions/constitutions of the community.

    I agree with what you are saying here. When we look at the case of the brother that was born into a family of Protestants and raised in a particular sect of Protestantism, he may indeed be submitting to the teachings of the elders of that community. But church hopping and shopping is a phenomena that is rampant within the Protestant world. The brother that is raised within a particular community may very well come to disbelieve the teachings of his sect because of his own private interpretation of the Bible. In general, the mature Protestant is submitting to only to those men that he agrees with:

    According to Turretin, the individual Christian should submit to the Church’s teaching and interpretation, except when his conscience, ultimately informed by his own interpretation of Scripture, cannot accept what the Church says.

    Mathison maintains that the only authority that can bind the conscience is the Word of God. So when the Church teaches something that is incompatible with one’s conscience, as informed by one’s own interpretation of Scripture, one should reject the Church’s teaching and follow one’s own conscience.

    Reference CTC article:
    Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority

    The Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura more or less forces the serious Protestant to search for a religion that conforms to his own private interpretation of the scriptures. In practice, this amounts to pick-and-choose church hopping and shopping … or if the Protestant is really ambitious, he starts a brand new Protestant denomination that conforms exactly to his private interpretation of the bible.

    Nathan B: Protestant theology is not simply just a limited form of Catholic theology, a cafeteria catholicism. It is running off of different metaphysics and philosophical presuppositions.

    That is a point well taken. I agree with that.

    Nathan B: “No infallible authority” I think is a misunderstanding of how many protestants understand the term infallibility.

    That would indicate that Catholics need to explain what they mean by the charism of infallibility, and how, and by whom, it is exercised in order to communicate with “Reformed” Protestants. Many reformed Protestants mistakenly think that the exercise of the charism of infallibility implies the necessity of a bestowing of the supernatural gift of impeccability upon the man speaking infallibly.

  65. Nathan B.,

    Citing a specific one would be irrelavent as the Evangelical umbrella is very large as it is the home for all of the do-it-yourself churches. I have two childhood friends who are evangelicals (attend different churches and adhere to different interpretations of the Scriptures). One of them teaches Scripture at his church, the other is just an inactive congregant. In the past 3 years, they have both told me that they believe the deuterocanonicals are inerrant and inspired by the Holy Spirit. One of them includes the gospel of Thomas in this proclamation. Both insist that their pastors are not against this view.

    Like I said, actually naming their churches will only implicate their individual churches (not sure if they are tied to a national brand), so it wouldn’t make a difference. Rest assured, they consider themselves Christians of a Protestant Evangelical nature. One (the one who accepts the gospel of Thomas) would be more of a Reformed Evangelical Baptist-type church. The other would probably best fall under the Evangelical Baptist (adhering to only a few Reformed doctrines) category, but neither, I think, is nationally affiliated.

    I don’t mean to be obtuse, but I don’t see the point in calling out their specific church names. Especially, when they are free birds as to what they themselves believe (they aren’t tied down by the beliefs of their pastors). We are already painfully aware of unfortunate perpetual fracturing of Protestant sects.

  66. Joe Palmer: … they are free birds as to what they themselves believe (they aren’t tied down by the beliefs of their pastors).

    I know many “free birds” like that myself within various Protestant sects. Even within a Protestant sect there my be no substantial unity of faith, and that is especially true of the “evangelical” Protestant sects that teach the Protestant doctrine of bible freedom:

    The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is a fellowship of Bible-believing Christians. … The Mission Statement spells out our shared commitment to core principles that have shaped our heritage and polity as Baptists … these “four fragile freedoms” include soul freedom, church freedom, religious freedom and Bible freedom. Let me quote the paragraph on Bible freedom:

    We believe in the authority of Scripture. We believe the Bible, under the Lordship of Christ, is central to the life of the individual and the church. We affirm the freedom and right of every Christian to interpret and apply scripture under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

    I once had a dialog with a man that was a member of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and this man firmly believed that the bible supported his belief in reincarnation. When I asked him how he could possibly believe in reincarnation and be a member of a conservative Lutheran church, his reply was essentially this: the most important doctrine that Luther taught was that men were free to interpret the bible for themselves, and that no man had any more authority in interpreting the bible than any other man. Luther taught a doctrine that had been suppressed by the Catholic Church – the doctrine of bible freedom, and this doctrine liberated men from the oppression of the Catholic Church.

    It is the Protestant doctrine of bible freedom that turns Protestantism into a do-it-yourself affair.

  67. Mateo,

    I wouldn’t mind if Protestants claimed to adhere the doctrine of “bible freedom”. If they did, they would at least be intellectually honest, and intellectual honesty is necessary for charitable and healthy dialogue to take place. I had no idea that this was a ‘doctrine’ accepted by any Protestant sect. In fact, I’ve never heard a single Protestant admit to accepting such a doctrine (I used to be a Protestant). Usually, they will give one an explanation very similar to the definition you provided, but I’ve never met a single one who would say that it is the doctrine of ‘bible freedom’, the implications of which they will emphatically deny because it proves the Catholic argument that it is a system destine for chaos and division.

    The two friends of mine that I referenced above would say something similar to the definition of so-called ‘bible freedom’ if asked what they believed about Scripture interpretation, but they would never admit to something so radical as placing oneself as the authority over the interpretation (I realize that the definition says ‘under the leadership of the Holy Spirit’, but the evidence shows how this can only be false and how impractical it is). What I’ve encountered most, when pressed, is that they will “accept” and “submit” to their current church, whichever it may be at the time; that in order to dodge the implications of so-called ‘bible freedom’, which is what they truly believe. The contradiction shows when they openly tell you that they approach their acceptance and submission to their current denominational preacher with extreme caution and cynicism, always prepared to “correct” him and, when they believe he goes too far, find another denomination to cautiously submit to. This, in reality, is a sort of denominational consumerism… which has ‘bible freedom’ at its root.

  68. With that said, I don’t know how helpful it is analyzing Evangelical Protestants. We know that this is where ‘most’ of the perpetual fracturing takes place in Protestantism and we know why. I’m not sure how it’s helpful to the discussion though. Maybe I missed something, but is there some reason why this became a critique of Evangelicalism? Even though modern-day Calvinism doesn’t look, feel, or act like Calvin’s Calvinism or modern-day Luthernism doesn’t look, feel, or act like Luther’s Lutheranism, the thousands of Evangelical sects of Protestantism, many of which have no history beyond a decade or two, have departed much more further from the original founders of Protesantism than those who claim their patrimony. The original article was not written from the viewpoint of an Evangelical Protestant, so it seems to me that speaking about them is unhelpful. I apologize if I took the coversation off the rails.

  69. Joe Palmer wrote: “With that said, I don’t know how helpful it is analyzing Evangelical Protestants. We know that this is where ‘most’ of the perpetual fracturing takes place in Protestantism and we know why.”

    I live in a small city and there are four Lutheran and three Presbyterian communions (not just congregations) listed in the Yellow Pages under Church. My impression is that the fracturing within Protestantism is not limited to evangelicalism. The mainline Protestant churches certainly found reasons to divide, whether or not it involved what their founders wrote or meant in the various theologies that were written.

    Just for clarities sake, I went back and got my local Yellow Pages, and again opened it to Church. I now know that there are no Reformed communions and that three forms of Methodism are listed. This appears to define that schisms within Protestantism are the norm, not the exception, and that the older “mainline” Protestant churches are not immune to the principle of “who” decides what is and what is not. The method for decision making may be in question and the Yellow Pages, which I presume are accurate as paying customers can make them, do not delve into the reasoning behind the various forms of Lutheranism, Methodism or Presbyterianism. The local Yellow Pages simply notes their existence locally.

  70. Joe Palmer: Maybe I missed something, but is there some reason why this became a critique of Evangelicalism?

    Reading the links in the main article I noted that Carl Trueman speaks of something he labels “orthodox” Protestantism. The question that immediately comes to my mind is what the heck is “orthodox” Protestantism? Once one seriously tries to define “orthodox” Protestantism, as opposed to heterodox Protestantism, the question of interpretive authority of scriptures immediately arises because of the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura. How would Carl Trueman ever recognize the true church if he maintains a belief in the doctrine of sola scriptura?

    Joe Palmer:The two friends of mine that I referenced above would say something similar to the definition of so-called ‘bible freedom’ if asked what they believed about Scripture interpretation, but they would never admit to something so radical as placing oneself as the authority over the interpretation (I realize that the definition says ‘under the leadership of the Holy Spirit’, but the evidence shows how this can only be false and how impractical it is). What I’ve encountered most, when pressed, is that they will “accept” and “submit” to their current church, whichever it may be at the time; that in order to dodge the implications of so-called ‘bible freedom’, which is what they truly believe.

    “When I submit (so long as I agree), the one to whom I submit is me.”

    The CTC article Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority
    show why it is a delusional thinking to believe that “submitting” to a church only when it agrees with your private interpretation of scriptures is in any principled way different than simply embracing the doctrine of “bible freedom”. From the CTC article:

    … there are two ways to make oneself one’s own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority. One is a direct way and the other is an indirect way. The direct way is to subject all theological questions directly to the final verdict of one’s own interpretation of Scripture. That is the solo scriptura position. Because it is direct, the nature of the position is quite transparent; we can see clearly in such a case that the individual is acting as his own ultimate interpretive authority.

    The indirect way of making oneself one’s own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority is more complicated and subtle. In this case the individual, based upon his own interpretation of Scripture, either establishes or chooses an ecclesial community that conforms to his own interpretation in matters he considers to be essential or important. Then, he ‘submits’ to this institution so long as it continues to speak and act in accordance with his own interpretation of Scripture. If it deviates from his own interpretation of Scripture in matters he deems important, he repeats the process of either establishing or choosing an institution or congregation that conforms to his own interpretation in matters he considers to be essential or important.

    In both the direct and indirect ways, the individual is acting as his own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority. But his doing so is more difficult to see in the indirect case because he appearsto be submitting to the interpretive authority of a body of persons other than himself. Yet, because he has established or selected this body of persons on the basis of their conformity to his own interpretation of Scripture, and because he ‘submits’ to them only so long as they agree with his interpretation on matters he considers to be essential or important, therefore in actuality his ‘submission’ to this body is in fact ‘submission’ to himself. To submit to others only when one agrees with them, is to submit to oneself. But submission to oneself is an oxymoron, because it is indistinguishable from not submitting at all, from doing whatever one wants. Yet because this indirect way of being one’s own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority maintains the appearance of being in submission to another body of persons, it allows those who practice it to believe falsely that they are genuinely submitting to another body of persons, and not acting as their own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority. Accumulating for themselves this body of persons to whom they ‘submit’ allows them to remain under a delusion that they are submitting to the Church.

  71. Until we (my wife and I and our children) became Catholics, we were members of the quite small denomination Reformed Churches of New Zealand. Actually, we moved to the small town we still live in in order to start a member church of that denomination – successfully, I am happy to say.

    In the year (1994) during which we were going through the throes of deciding whether to become Catholics, a schism happened even within that denomination and a group broke off to start … well, some other group. There are also at least two other Reformed groups around that I know of – one Reformed Baptists, the other not Baptist (I think). Don’t know what happened to the break-off group that happened in 1994. The fact of that schism happening at the time actually caused some confusion in our relation to the congregation we had helped start because the elder who was assigned to us as our pastor was very tied up with the matter and was extremely upset when he found we were going to become Catholics as he felt he hadn’t been able to give enough time to keeping us from such a – to him, disastrous – step. He is, by the way, a wonderful person and is now dying of cancer and I pray for him every day.

    But I am afraid that fissiparation (if there is such a word) is the name of the game in Protestantism – that, after all, is its origin.

    jj

  72. The title to this thread contains the question: “How would Protestants know when to return?” – i.e. how would a Protestant know when to return to the visible Church founded by Christ? As long as the individual Protestant maintains that he is the ultimate arbiter of what Christ said, then he will never return to the visible Church until the visible Church conforms to his personal opinions about what Christ taught. But Christ did not found a Church that must conform herself to what we think she should teach; Christ founded a Church so that we would conform ourselves to what she teaches with the authority bestowed on her by Christ. Christ’s Church teaches in Christ’s name, and we submit to Christ when we submit to the infallible teachings of Christ’s Church.

    Bryan Cross, in his article Sola Scriptura: A Dialogue between Michael Horton and Bryan Cross makes this comment:

    That man who remains his own highest arbiter of what Christ said and did has not yet discovered the Apostles and the living Church present in the world today. His gospel is a kind of gnosticism which grants him only an invisible Christ and an invisible Church. Where no radical trust in the Church is required, the Church has not yet been discovered. As the Church Fathers said repeatedly, “He cannot have God for His Father who does not have the Church for his Mother.”

    Bryan’s comment contrasts sharply with the Protestant paradigm of merely maintaining the appearance of submission to a church:

    “… this indirect way of being one’s own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority maintains the appearance of being in submission to another body of persons, it allows those who practice it to believe falsely that they are genuinely submitting to another body of persons, and not acting as their own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority.

  73. mateo,

    Thanks for the reply. I saw it not long after you had written it, but a combination of technical difficulties with this computer and general busyness have kept me from responding for several days.
    On reading some of your other posts here, I’m thinking we may not disagree as significantly as I thought before–and you’ve helped me clarify some of my thoughts on what we’re talking about.

    In comment #55, you suggested that Protestantism could be described as a set of principles, which were:

    The principle of private interpretation of the scriptures, and the primacy of self in determining the doctrines of the Christian faith.

    The principle of pick-and-choose as a foundational principle of Protestantism.

    The principle that no living man can ever speak with infallible authority about a matter of Christian doctrine at any time, and under any circumstance.

    If Protestantism is defined by these three principles/doctrines, then I would agree with you that it is impossible to define Protestantism by doctrinal content. And I will admit that sola scriptura, coupled with the right of private judgment, does seem to reduce to these principles, though some Protestants would be reluctant to state them with your wording, particularly those of the Reformed sector.

    In comment #51, you said:

    Define set “U” as a subset of doctrines that are found in the Thirty Nine Articles, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Book of Concord, the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith and the 1678 Orthodox Confession of Faith. Set U cannot contain any article of faith that is confessed by the Catholic Church, because we are trying to corral the specific doctrines into set U that give classical Protestantism its uniqueness compared to the doctrines taught by the Catholic Church.

    Well, I’m not so much trying to point out what divides classical Protestantism from the Catholic Church specifically, but what its total doctrinal substance is–even if part of that substance overlaps with Roman Catholic doctrine, which it does.

    Perhaps so, but that is due in part because the most important doctrines found in the Protestant confessions that you have listed are also doctrines of the Catholic Church – i.e. the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of the hypostatic union … from a Catholic POV, the doctrines in set U are a set of Protestant doctrines that are heretical.

    There are several doctrines on which they have substantial unity which would be considered heretical from a Roman Catholic perspective—justification by faith alone by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, the institution of two sacraments/ordinances and not seven, a denial of ex opere operato efficacy of the sacraments, an affirmation of the visible church as a congregation of all true believers and the invisible church as the sum total of the elect, etc.
    When it boils down to it, I think you’re mostly correct in stating that “Protestantism” is best identified as a set of principles, in the framework of which individual professing Christians operating with these principles develop doctrinal content. My main point is that the magisterial Reformation did entail a certain doctrinal core, from a purely historical point of view.

    Pax Christi,

    Spencer

  74. Spencer: … though some Protestants would be reluctant to state them with your wording, particularly those of the Reformed sector.

    I bet that they would be more than just reluctant … :-)

    What I am getting from reading the CTC posts from the “Reformed sector” is that at least some members of that sector think that there is principled difference between the “Reformed” doctrine of sola scriptura and the every-man-is-his-own-pope solo scriptura doctrine of the “bible freedom” Protestants. As yet, no one from the Reformed camp has shown what that principled difference is. Which is not to say that there aren’t practical differences stemming from the private interpretation of the Protestant Bible between a particular Reformed sect and, say, a non-denominational, über-kumbaya, hipster church.

  75. Hello and sorry for going off topic,

    Nathan B.

    You said: When I am out doing apologetics, I still have to deal with JPII kissing the Koran.

    I dont want to be rude, but could you perhaps explain to me what exactly you have to deal with and how you deal with it? What is the explenation for JPII doing that?

    Just out of respect – did he never read the Quran? Was he not informed?

    Thank you.

  76. Spencer,

    My main point is that the magisterial Reformation did entail a certain doctrinal core, from a purely historical point of view.

    This seems problematic to me for two reasons.

    First, there is substantial disagreement between the Lutherans and the Reformed (Presbyterians/Calvinists) on the nature of the sacraments. From the very beginning, it was the doctrine of the Eucharist that divided the Calvinists from the Zwinglians and both of these from the Lutherans, was it not? This is no small matter. The same goes for baptism. The views of baptism among the Lutherans, Calvinists and Zwinglians are also considerably different, and it seems that both of these sacramental issues must be viewed in relation to soteriology as well. Aside from the relationship between baptism and justification, the Book of Concord also clearly states that justification can be lost – a position held in very serious contempt by the Calvinists. It is telling that the “magisterial Reformers,” for all of that you say they had in common, immediately within the first generation of the Reformation, had to divide among themselves because of disagreements that they themselves considered to be so important as to warrant further schism. To this day, the more conservative Lutherans practice closed communion.

    A second, related point: you conveniently exclude the Anabaptists from your group of “magisterial” Protestants. Yet the Anabaptists existed almost as soon as the Reformation took off. Aside from the great differences on several key issues among the Lutherans, Anglicans and Calvinists, why should we include these groups as the true representatives of Protestantism rather than the Anabaptists who, indeed, believed such of themselves (the others still had one foot in Rome!). One ramification of the things that Mateo and the rest of us have been trying to point out is that Reformed Christians have no coherent criterion for making this judgment, even though showing why the Anabaptists “didn’t count” was a major issue for Reformed Christians back then and now.

  77. David,

    First, there is substantial disagreement between the Lutherans and the Reformed (Presbyterians/Calvinists) on the nature of the sacraments…It is telling that the “magisterial Reformers,” for all of that you say they had in common, immediately within the first generation of the Reformation, had to divide among themselves because of disagreements that they themselves considered to be so important as to warrant further schism.

    I didn’t mean to say that there were no divisions among the magisterial Reformers, but that there was (and still is) a significant doctrinal unity among them. It’s not perfect and complete, but it’s there, and it can’t be ignored by those studying the Reformation and its after-effects.

    A second, related point: you conveniently exclude the Anabaptists from your group of “magisterial” Protestants.

    Yes, I excluded the Anabaptists from the magisterial Reformation because they are, by definition, not part of the magisterial Reformation. I didn’t invent the terms “magisterial Reformation” and “radical Reformation,” they’re already in relatively common use. The former generally refers to those (like Luther and Calvin) who maintained some sort of church teaching authority, while the latter refers to groups like the Anabaptists, who rejected all church authority and tradition. There’s nothing arbitrary about excluding the Anabaptists; it’s simply a matter of defining the term “magisterial Reformation” properly.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

    Spencer

  78. Spencer: The former generally refers to those (like Luther and Calvin) who maintained some sort of church teaching authority, while the latter refers to groups like the Anabaptists, who rejected all church authority and tradition.

    Luther and Calvin maintained some sort of church authority. What does that mean? Suppose that I, along with Luther and Calvin, found my own personal church, and then demand that everyone who is a member of my new personal church must accept what I teach to be authoritative. How is doing that anything that is different from every other Protestant that founds his or her personal church? What is the practical difference between the church “authority” that is found in a particular Calvinist church as opposed to the church “authority” found in Amiee Semple McPhereson’s International Church of the Foursquare Gospel?

    Spencer: If Protestantism is defined by these three principles/doctrines, then I would agree with you that it is impossible to define Protestantism by doctrinal content.

    Suppose that I try defining “Protestantism” as the ever evolving religious beliefs espoused by the set of people that use these three principles. The problem with that approach is this: Mohammed used these three principles when he created his own personal religion, and so did Joseph Smith.

    I still maintain that the only reason that Muslims aren’t called “Protestants” is because that is merely a matter of convention.

  79. mateo,

    Luther and Calvin maintained some sort of church authority. What does that mean? Suppose that I, along with Luther and Calvin, found my own personal church, and then demand that everyone who is a member of my new personal church must accept what I teach to be authoritative. How is doing that anything that is different from every other Protestant that founds his or her personal church?

    I am familiar with the Argument from Subjective Interpretation (I don’t know if that’s what we should call it, but the argument you’re using has been used on C2C a lot, so it probably deserves a formal name), but it’s not relevant to what I was saying. I was not defending Luther’s or Calvin’s positions, or saying that they were consistent in their views. I’m simply saying that they asserted some view of church authority. The rightness or wrongness of that assertion is not the point; it’s just a matter of historical fact that they did, and the name “magisterial Reformation” is used to refer to this position.

    Spencer

  80. Spencer: I am familiar with the Argument from Subjective Interpretation (I don’t know if that’s what we should call it, but the argument you’re using has been used on C2C a lot, so it probably deserves a formal name), but it’s not relevant to what I was saying.

    How is my argument not relevant? If, as Luther and Calvin assert, that the Protestant Bible is the ONLY inerrant authority to which a Christian has access, then why isn’t every interpretation of Luther and Calvin merely subjective interpretation?

    Perhaps I don’t understand the point that you are trying to make with your phrase “subjective interpretation”. Would you please explain to me how I would know the when a Protestant is preaching a “subjective” interpretation as opposed to an “objective” interpretation?

    Spencer: I was not defending Luther’s or Calvin’s positions, or saying that they were consistent in their views. I’m simply saying that they asserted some view of church authority.

    Obviously Luther and Calvin weren’t consistent in their interpretations of the Bible, since they didn’t agree with each other’s interpretation of the Bible! Which means that we know with absolute certainty that, as a minimum, either Luther or Calvin taught heresy. We also know that since Luther and Calvin disagreed, that there is also a possibility that they both taught heresy.

    I don’t dispute that both Luther and Calvin “asserted some view of church authority”, but for the Christian, the authority of a heretic is no authority at all. You are quite right that both Luther and Calvin taught that they were teaching with church authority, but we also know with absolute certainty that at least one of them was a heretic. So we are left with an extremely important question that needs answering. How is the ordinary Christian that desires to be under authentic church authority supposed to know when a man’s interpretation of the inerrant scriptures is orthodox or heterodox? Until a man or a woman can answer that question, he or she should not submit to someone that merely claims that he is teaching with church authority, because even heretics claim that they are teaching with church authority.

  81. mateo,

    I don’t dispute that both Luther and Calvin “asserted some view of church authority”…

    Yes, and that was my sole point. I wasn’t defending their views–though if I was, then your arguments would be relevant to my point–I was just making a note on a historical point as it pertained to the definition of “magisterial Reformation.”

    …then why isn’t every interpretation of Luther and Calvin merely subjective interpretation?

    But since you’ve raised the issue, I’ll ask you one question that I’ve wondered about regarding this argument. You’re basically saying that Protestantism just leaves us with a mass of opinions since all anyone has are fallible interpretations, albeit of an inerrant document. The RCC is supposed to solve the problem by being an infallible interpreter, but you still end up using your “subjective” interpretive faculties in understanding what the Magisterium says. The use of interpretive faculties, and a subjective use, is inescapable for human understanding. The only way an infallible Magisterium could be solving the supposed problem of private Biblical interpretation is by being a great deal clearer than the Bible. As I understand it, one of the main Catholic charges against sola scriptura is that Scripture is not perspicuous. It’s not that “Scripture needs to be interpreted, therefore it is an insufficient rule of faith,” because everything that comes to us in the form of knowledge or information needs to be interpreted. If I understand rightly, the problem that you would raise is that “Scripture needs to be interpreted and is not clear enough to allow honest interpreters to definitively come to a right conclusion.

    Is that an accurate summary of your argument?

    Spencer

  82. I don’t think the argument is that there is something wrong with scripture. Rather there is something wrong with God leaving us alone with any document. The Catholic church is the continuation of the Immanuel. God is still with us. It is the difference between having a map and having a map and a guide. The guide is a person and thus can give a revelation that no map can give. A person can respond to the specific situation. He can answer questions about the map. No map can make up for a lack of guide. No book can make up for a lack of church. A book means God has abandoned us. A church means God is with us.

  83. Spencer: You’re basically saying that Protestantism just leaves us with a mass of opinions since all anyone has are fallible interpretations, albeit of an inerrant document.

    I am saying that if a teaching of the scripture has to be interpreted to be understood, the interpretation that is given can only ever be an opinion that may or may not be true. If Luther’s sola scriptura doctrine is true, then it is impossible for any man’s interpretation of the scriptures to be a source of inerrant teaching for a Christian. That is impossible, because sola scriptura doctrine makes an absolutist claim that the ONLY source of inerrant teaching for the Christian is the doctrine that is explicitly written down in a Protestant Bible. If someone has to interpret the Protestant Bible for me to arrive at a particular point of Christian doctrine, that interpretation given to me can never be anything more than a well-meaning opinion that may or may not be true. No matter how well educated, how sincere, or how well meaning a Protestant is, he or she can only offer me opinions when the Protestant bible is interpreted to arrive at point of Christian doctrine. And in the world of Protestantism there are thousand upon thousands of sects that offer me conflicting and contradictory opinions about what constitute the doctrines of the Christian faith. So how am I supposed to ever know with certainty whether an opinion offered to me is not heretical, when all I can ever get is another opinion from a Protestant about a particular interpretation?

    Spencer: The RCC is supposed to solve the problem by being an infallible interpreter, but you still end up using your “subjective” interpretive faculties in understanding what the Magisterium says.

    Let me see if I understand you. I may think that I understand what the Catholic Church is officially teaching, but I could be mistaken about that. And I will grant that is true, because I know that there are times that I have misunderstood official Catholic teaching. But I can (and have been) corrected in my misunderstanding by fellow Catholics, and in principle, I can always ask those who have the authority to define church doctrine to clarify for me a point about which I am disputing with my fellow Catholics. In principle, I can voice my understanding of a doctrine directly to the living magisterium, and then ask the living magisterium whether my particular understanding of a doctrine is correct. The living magisterium can answer “yes” or “no”, and either response does not require me to further interpret the meaning of the words “yes” or “no”. If the answer is “yes”, I can have the assurance of knowing that the living magisterium of the Catholic Church has told me that I understand a particular point of doctrine. I am not stuck in an infinite regress, as I would be if I were a Protestant, where I can only ever get an opinion of an opinion.

    Calvin and Luther are dead men, and neither man can tell me what they really taught about a matter that the Lutherans dispute about with other Lutherans, or Calvinists dispute about with other Calvinists. In these disputed matters, I can only get an opinion from a man that claims no infallible teaching authority as to what Luther or Calvin really taught. Calvinists and Lutherans can’t even settle their own internal disputes, because neither Calvin nor Luther can be asked to clarify what they, really, really, taught. If Lutherans can’t agree on what Luther really taught, and if Calvinists can’t agree on what Calvin really taught, then why should I believe that Lutherans or Calvinists understand what Christ taught or what Paul taught?

    Spencer: The use of interpretive faculties, and a subjective use, is inescapable for human understanding.

    I am not sure what you are trying to say here.

    Christ interpreted the inerrant scriptures that God had given to man in the writings of the Tanakh. Christ taught to all that listened to him the correct interpretation of the Tanakh. Were some people confused by Christ’s interpretations of the Tanakh? Sure. But does some men’s confusion in their understanding of Christ’s teachings prove that Christ was not an authoritative interpreter of scriptures? Or that no one ever understood Christ’s interpretations? No, that can’t be true, or there would be no point in Christ teaching anything. Nor does it follow that those who were authorized by Christ to teach in his name had no authority to interpret the scriptures just because some people might not have understand what was being taught by the authorized teachers. It is a strange thing to assert that everything that a Christian claims to believe is merely his subjective opinion. What is the meaning of saving faith, if saving faith boils down to just me having a bunch of fallible opinions? Perhaps I don’t understand your point.

    Spencer: The only way an infallible Magisterium could be solving the supposed problem of private Biblical interpretation is by being a great deal clearer than the Bible.

    First, there is not some “supposed” problem of private Biblical interpretation. The history of Protestantism shows that interpreting the scriptures is a serious and very real problem, because there are thousands upon thousands of Protestant denominations that teach contradictory doctrine. That means that there is much that is heretical in the opinions given to me by the Protestants that interpret scriptures. Secondly, we also have the words of the Apostle Peter that not everything that the Apostle Paul teaches is perspicuous:

    … our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. 2Peter 3:16

    The inerrant scriptures teach that not all the scriptures are easy to understand, and that the ignorant and unstable twist the hard to understand scriptures to their own destruction. Peter teaches that some of what Paul wrote is hard to understand, as anyone that has ever tried to teach a bible study of one of Paul’s epistles surely knows. But not everything in scriptures is hard to understand. I don’t see that that there is a pressing need for me to seek out an authoritative interpreter to understand what is proscribed to me by the commandments of, say, not to commit adultery or not to murder. But then again, the commandment to not commit adultery is related to the commandment against divorce (which is not a problem that vexes me since I am not divorced.) But what if I was divorced? Is the divorced man that remarries committing adultery? Is that an easy question to answer because the scriptures are so darned perspicuous about this issue? I think not, and I think that this is a perfect example of why Christ established a teaching office within his church – Christ established that teaching office because Christians need definitive answers to these types of questions if they are going to be faithful followers of Christ. I can’t believe that Christ wants us to stumble around in the darkness because we can never get definitive answers to such important questions.

    Spencer: As I understand it, one of the main Catholic charges against sola scriptura is that Scripture is not perspicuous.

    Personally, I believe that the main charge the Catholic Church has against Luther’s doctrine of sola scriptura is that it is false doctrine that is nowhere taught in scriptures. To me, sola scriptura is a logical absurdity, a self-refuting doctrine. First, the doctrine of sola scriptura claims that any doctrine that isn’t explicitly taught in scriptures can ever be known to be inerrant, while the doctrine of sola scriptura is itself nowhere taught in the scriptures… and even worse than that, Protestants tell me that I should just ignore the fact that sola scriptura isn’t taught in scriptures and simply make a leap of faith based on nothing but opinion that the doctrine of sola scriptura is a foundation of authentic Christian faith! Where are the scriptures that show Christ teaching the Apostles that he built his church upon the Protestant bible and the Protestant principle of the private interpretation of the Protestant bible? Where are the scriptures that authorize the founding of personal churches that exist in schism with the church founded by Christ?

    Spencer: It’s not that “Scripture needs to be interpreted, therefore it is an insufficient rule of faith,” because everything that comes to us in the form of knowledge or information needs to be interpreted.

    Everything? That some scriptures are hard to understand does not imply that all scriptures are hard to understand. For sure, the hard to understand scriptures must be interpreted correctly, or we won’t understand the hard to understand scriptures. Who can doubt that?

    Spencer: If I understand rightly, the problem that you would raise is that “Scripture needs to be interpreted and is not clear enough to allow honest interpreters to definitively come to a right conclusion.

    The scriptures that we both accept as being inerrant, explicitly teach that some scriptures are hard to understand. If I don’t agree with a particular Protestant’s interpretation of one of the teachings in scriptures that are hard to understand, is that because I doubt that he or she is being honest in interpreting the bible? That conclusion isn’t warranted. Just because I don’t agree with a Protestant’s interpretation, I don’t think that the Protestant must necessarily be either a knave or a fool – that he or she is either dishonest or illiterate. I know way too many Protestants that are highly educated, and in my opinion, they honestly believe in what they preach. Dishonesty isn’t the problem, the problem is that some well educated Protestants honestly believe their own interpretations, and their interpretations conflict with the interpretations of other highly educated Protestants that honestly believe in their own interpretations. It seems certain to me that the fact that some scriptures are hard to understand is a cause of Protestant division.

    History has shown that Protestants have never interpreted scriptures in the same way, and that has been true since day one. Five hundred years after the beginning of the “reformation”, Protestants are now more seriously divided than they ever have been. Centuries of debating the interpretation of scriptures has only lead to more division within Protestantism, not less division. The church that Luther’s founded has fragmented into hundreds of Lutheran churches that teach conflicting doctrine, and Calvin’s personal church in Geneva has splintered in the hundreds (thousands?) of “reformed” churches that teach conflicting doctrine. Honest differences of opinions have fractured the Protestants into a myriad of sects with no unity of faith. IMO, the root of the problem of all the division is that sola scriptura is a false doctrine that has led many well meaning Protestants into interpretations that are sincerely believed, but seriously mistaken.

  84. @Spencer:

    The use of interpretive faculties, and a subjective use, is inescapable for human understanding. The only way an infallible Magisterium could be solving the supposed problem of private Biblical interpretation is by being a great deal clearer than the Bible

    Maybe my take on this is a bit simplistic, but when I was in process of deciding to become a Catholic (having been a member of Reformed Church in the Dutch Reformed tradition, here in New Zealand), my conclusion was that the difference was that if the Catholic Church can give me infallible answers, and I don’t fully grasp the answer, I am not limited just to going off and saying, “well, I guess it must mean this” – I can ask again.

    Now, to be sure, I am not personally likely to fire off an e-mail to the Pope asking for more – but the Church as a whole does go through just this ‘discussion’ business and eventually anything unclear gets answered.

    This whole recent business about condoms seems to me an example. The Church is quite clear that artificial contraception is wrong. But then what about condoms in this homosexual business? What about condoms when it comes to a prostitute?

    This shows, it seems to me, how something that has been answered may still need understanding in the light of new situations. When it comes to the Bible, what is written is written – and that’s that. I can’t go to St Paul and ask him about how this or that bit of his writings apply.

    Don’t know if that helps, but it was how I thought the matter through.

    jj

  85. John Thayer Jensen: Maybe my take on this is a bit simplistic, but when I was in process of deciding to become a Catholic …, my conclusion was that the difference was that if the Catholic Church can give me infallible answers, and I don’t fully grasp the answer, I am not limited just to going off and saying, “well, I guess it must mean this” – I can ask again.

    Good point. You can ask a living magisterium to answer your questions. The Protestant cannot do this. The Apostles are all dead – the Protestant can’t ask Paul to clarify his hard to understand teachings. Calvin is dead – the Calvinist cannot ask Calvin to clarify what he wrote. Luther is dead – the Lutheran cannot ask Luther to clarify what he wrote. The Church Fathers are all dead – the Protestant cannot as the Church Father’s to clarify what they wrote. The Protestant can only ask another living Protestant what he thinks about a point of doctrine that is in dispute. But the Protestant that he is in dialog with claims no charism of infallibility, so all he can ever get are fallible opinions from those within the Protestant community with whom he may choose to dialog. The Protestant is stuck in an infinite regress, he can only get an opinion of an opinion, but he can never a definitive answer because his magisterium is a dead magisterium.

    It doesn’t make any sense to me that Christ would establish a visible church on earth, and then abandon his church after some of the writings of his church got collected into a book. Where do the scriptures ever teach that once the Protestant Bible was written, we would become sheep without a shepherd?

  86. @Mateo, John Thayer Jensen, Spencer

    I find that your discussion back and forth is revealing one thing — that there are catch phrases that sort of unite some Protestants but their meanings are hollow as the some Protestants cannot agree on what those phrases mean.

    @ Spencer

    But since you’ve raised the issue, I’ll ask you one question that I’ve wondered about regarding this argument. You’re basically saying that Protestantism just leaves us with a mass of opinions since all anyone has are fallible interpretations, albeit of an inerrant document. The RCC is supposed to solve the problem by being an infallible interpreter, but you still end up using your “subjective” interpretive faculties in understanding what the Magisterium says. The use of interpretive faculties, and a subjective use, is inescapable for human understanding. The only way an infallible Magisterium could be solving the supposed problem of private Biblical interpretation is by being a great deal clearer than the Bible. As I understand it, one of the main Catholic charges against sola scriptura is that Scripture is not perspicuous. It’s not that “Scripture needs to be interpreted, therefore it is an insufficient rule of faith,” because everything that comes to us in the form of knowledge or information needs to be interpreted. If I understand rightly, the problem that you would raise is that “Scripture needs to be interpreted and is not clear enough to allow honest interpreters to definitively come to a right conclusion.”

    Is that an accurate summary of your argument?

    The primary difference between Protestant and Catholic Reformation Era biblical interpretation is over cognition. It is important to remember that the first generation of Protestants were largely rationalists. The whole sola fide argument is predicated upon Luther’s idea that the minimum necessary for authentic interpretation of the bible is the cognitive capabilities of a plow boy. Luther and Calvin ultimately differ over this because for Calvin, it really is only the “elect” that can properly interpret scripture — but even still the underlying argument is still focused on cognition. We can see how you are a heir to this line of reasoning because your focus above revolves around questions of cognition — how can I know, what authority interprets, subjective interpretation, perspicuity of scripture, etc.

    The Reformation Era Catholic view of biblical interpretation, following the medieval four fold sense of scripture, first states that the literal sense of scripture is interpretated in a manner that is chiefly dependent upon cognition and the application of right reason and its perspicuity here is dependent upon an individuals capability to understand literature and their education. This is not too far off from Luther’s truncated view. Secondly the allegorical (typological), tropological, anagogical, senses of scripture are dependent upon how synergistically one is in tune with God — how close they are in communion with Him. The perspicuity here is dependent upon how illuminated the individual is. This is why Catholics say that scripture lacks perspicuity — it does not have to do with magisterial authority but rather that spiritual matters cannot be interpretated according to the flesh (cognition) but rather must be interpreted according to the spirit (illumination, or as Vatican II put it, interpreted in the same spirit in which they were written).

    Catholics say that the interpreter of scripture is the Church, the Body of Christ. Now the Church, that is to say Christ, teaches us chiefly through the episcopate which gives the authentic interpretation, for the head teaches the body not the body the head, but this does not mean that we limit the Church to the episcopate, rather simply that the episcopate is the organ through which the Church teaches. In Protestantism, lay individuals are interpreters, but in Catholicism lay individuals are interpreters of scripture only in so far as they are in union with the Church and thus the episcopate — again here we can see the focus on synergism and communion — that we understand scripture only in and through Christ and if we are outside of Him we will not understand it clearly.

    Now we have uncovered the real charge against Protestantism — it is not primarily that Protestantism lacks an infallible teaching authority and thus fragmented into a mass of personal opinions, it is rather that Protestantism in founding their own communities, with their own leaders, with their own theologies, with their own rules, with their own spiritualities, have cut themselves off from communion with the Church and thus Christ. Protestantims, lacking communion, cannot be anything but a mass of the personal opinions of men. When the chips are down on the table, the Lutheran must look at the Calvin and say to him “your community, your rules for exegesis, your worship is man made” and the Calvin will return the favor. They do not break bread with each other because in the other they see a community not resting upon God but upon the traditions of men, whether they be Calvin’s or Luther’s traditions.

    Protestants are always worried about the Magisterium and what keeps them in line. The charge is often that Catholics simply shift “subjective interpretation” to the Magisterium. Again this shows the strong focus in Protestantism on cognition and human reason for right interpretation of scripture. In reality what keeps the Magisterium in line is not cognition — it is not because they are super smart and well educated, it is because of synergism and communion. The episcopate must interprete in accord with that which has come to them from the apostles, all of it not just some of it. From a human perspective, the shear weight of history keeps it in line. From a spiritual perspective, what keeps them in line is that God chose them, God established them, and God vouchsafes them.

    When I became Catholic, I got the “its still just subjective interpretation, you still are making a personal subjective choice in what to believe”. My answer to that, which allowed me to become Catholic, was simply that it is not about cognition and what I should do is not dependent upon my cognition but rather upon God’s divine will. What He has done, I should simply believe. Why not simply accept what has been handed down? Lord I believe, help my unbelief. I believe that I might understand, not that I understand so that I might believe. Faith comes by hearing, not by cognition. We understand scripture because it has been preached to us, not because we were given a book and told to puzzle it out.

    And when it comes down to it, it is rather simple to figure out what faith it is that comes down to us from the apostles.

    Faith is a gift, not a cognative decision. We accept the gift, or we do not.

  87. It doesn’t make any sense to me that Christ would establish a visible church on earth, and then abandon his church after some of the writings of his church got collected into a book. Where do the scriptures ever teach that once the Protestant Bible was written, we would become sheep without a shepherd?

    Right. It struck me at some point that, as a Reformed Protestant who believed in “covenant theology,” the only substantial difference between the Old and New Covenants was that the New Covenant includes gentiles. Other than that, it’s not really special. Here we are again with another book, another set of stone tablets, another letter – just a bigger book, more tablets, more letters this time.

    As for your point about becoming sheep without a shepherd, it’s questions like these that make me read Jesus’ statements to Peter with even more amazement, especially the discussion where Jesus tells him three times to “feed My sheep.” What does that mean? When Jesus leaves, Peter is the shepherd in His stead.

  88. @Miroslav

    With JPII kissing the Koran, I will let Jimmy Akin’s article, which I find to be very good and mirrors my opinion on the matter, on the event suffice as an answer to your questions. http://www.jimmyakin.org/2006/04/jp2_and_the_qur.html

    To my knowledge the reality of why the event occured was never explained by the Vatican.

  89. @David Pell

    As for your point about becoming sheep without a shepherd, it’s questions like these that make me read Jesus’ statements to Peter with even more amazement, especially the discussion where Jesus tells him three times to “feed My sheep.” What does that mean? When Jesus leaves, Peter is the shepherd in His stead.

    Exactly. But even further still, if we dare call ourselves the sheep of Christ, then we must ask ourselves, “Are we being feed at Peter’s hand?” If we say we are Christ’s yet are being by someone who was not commanded by Christ to feed His sheep, are we in truth Christ’s sheep?

    That Christ commanded Peter to feed His sheep gives me such hope as a Christian, as a sheep, that there is and always will be food in this world, food that leads not to death but raises up to eternal life.

    I am a sheep not a goat. I cannot eat paper a book. I must be feed by hand and lead to pasture by hand. How wonderful it is that Christ has commanded that His sheep be taken care of.

  90. C2C community, as one who is in the process of determining whether it is time to return to the Catholic Church my wife and I are at the point where we are going to begin to attend mass when we are able (albeit covertly, as we are very involved with out current PCA church). This was the advice given to me by Fr. Kimel in another thread several months ago. There are several parishes close to me, one of them is a mission chapel that does the Tridentine Mass (I believe this is the correct term for the pre-Vatican II Latin liturgy) and is staffed by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. Any thoughts on type of parish to visit for someone considering converting?

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  91. Just to clarify, by “return” I do not mean revert. I mean, a la this article, to end schism with and return to the historical church from which I am currently in protest.

    Aaron G.

  92. Aaron,

    As someone who was received into the Church fairly recently (Feast of St. Mark 2009) I can say that my experience with the FSSP has been very positive, and in fact, I believe it was pivotal in my finally “seeing” the Catholic Church as the Historic Christian Church from which I, as a Protestant, was in schism, and to which I needed to return – in the sense used in this article.

    If you would like to converse off-line, my email address is my last name + first initial “at” gmail “dot” com.

    Pax Christi,
    Jeff Holston

  93. Aaron,

    The FSSP is doing really good work to keep visible the reality that there was not a rupture of tradition at the Second Vatican Council. I have many friends who attend a parish staffed by this order and they love it. That being said, I would encourage you to do your homework before you attend (assuming you haven’t yet). Perhaps make an appointment with the pastor so he can help prep you and your wife on some of the parish’s customs prior to your first mass. For example, it might be ‘required’ for your wife to wear a head covering or veil during the Mass, which might be a little awkward for her (though I don’t know your wife, so who knows). The Extraordinary Form of the Liturgy is very beautiful, but it can be a bit intense for a first timer.

    I would encourage you to take Mr. Holston’s invitation and send him an email.

    God Bless you in your journey.

    Fr. Bryan

  94. The episcopate must interprete in accord with that which has come to them from the apostles, all of it not just some of it.

    If only that were true, you’d have me. The problem is that there are all sorts of Catholic doctrines that cannot be traced to the apostles – the Marian dogmas, purgatory, treasury of merit, etc. If you say these can be traced to the apostles, then I’d gladly look at your evidence but I don’t think you have much. Show me which apostle taught Mary was sinless, which apostle taught Mary was bodily assumed into heaven, or which apostle taught the treasury of merit doctrines?

  95. Steve, (re: #94)

    During the time of the Apostles it was true that the Apostles had to teach according to what had come to them from Christ Himself and from the Holy Spirit. But the truth of that requirement was not nullified at that time by the impossibility of scientifically tracing every Apostolic teaching back to Christ or to the Holy Spirit. So likewise in the present the impossibility of scientifically tracing every Catholic doctrine to the Apostles does not nullify the truth of the statement you quoted. Hence if you want to be consistent in your rationalism, you need to be prepared to abandon Christianity altogether, since you cannot verify for yourself that what the Apostles taught did in fact come either from the mouth of Jesus or from the Holy Spirit.

    We exercise faith in Christ, by believing those He sent. (Luke 10:16) And such faith is greater than that from sight, as Jesus says to Thomas who put his finger into Christ’s side; we are blessed, who believe through those He sent. (John 20:29) If those whom He sent exercise His authority, then they did so in authorizing and sending their successors. And so we continue to this day to exercise faith in Christ by believing those He sent through the Apostles.

    There are two other points to keep in mind. First, the Apostolic deposit was handed down both orally and in writing, as explained in Dei Verbum, and second, the Church grows in its understanding of the deposit, and thereby brings forth at the same time treasures both old and new. (Mt. 13:52) This is what is called “development of doctrine,” taught already by St. Vincent of Lérins in the fifth century, and more clearly articulated by Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman in the nineteenth century in his An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  96. Steve (re:#94)

    In addition to Bryan Cross’s post above, on both the oral and written nature of the apostolic deposit of faith, please read 2 Thessalonians 2:15. Some Reformed apologists assert that the “traditions” mentioned therein refer simply to “the (Reformed version of the) Gospel,” but this is not warranted by the verse itself and/or the surrounding verses.

  97. Here’s Carl Trueman’s “Breakout Session” talk, titled “Why the Reformation Isn’t Over,” delivered at the most recent T4G conference (April 10-12, 2012):

    Trueman’s breakout lecture

    Or download it here.

    In this talk Trueman discusses five reasons why he believes the Reformation is not over:

    1. The centrality of the cross.

    2. The centrality of the Word (i.e. preaching from Scripture).

    3. The centrality of assurance.

    4. The centrality of the pastor (fix of the problem of absenteeism).

    5. The centrality of more than just the gospel (i.e. the need for organization and structure).

    For the most part, except for what he says about assurance, which I will come back to in a moment, a Catholic could affirm all of these. The passion and death of our Lord is the greatest event in human history, the center of Catholic liturgy (the most sacred days of the liturgical calendar are the Triduum), and the center of Catholic theology. Furthermore, if we do not make a false dilemma between the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist, then Catholics too can affirm the centrality of the Word, both in private devotion and in its liturgical role. In addition, the parish priest certainly has a central role in the life of the local parish — i.e. the Church rectified the problem of absenteeism at the Council of Trent. And of course a Catholic can (and should) affirm the centrality of the hierarchical structure of the Church. So if these are the reasons the Reformation is not over, they are also reasons for Protestants to return to the Catholic Church, because in that case returning to the Church is not only possible, but obligatory, given what Trueman says in the body of the post above:

    “[W]e need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic; not being a Catholic should, in others words, be a positive act of will and commitment, something we need to get out of bed determined to do each and every day.”

    But let’s look at the one reason I set aside, from his most recent lecture: assurance. In the 27th minute of the lecture he begins to talk about the centrality of assurance. Trueman asks, “What do you lose when you become Catholic?” According to Trueman, you lose assurance.

    I continue to be surprised that when attempting to understand and explain why Protestants become Catholic, leading Protestant figures seem to miss the primary and most fundamental reason. In the first five minutes of his lecture (beginning about 1′ 30″), Trueman lays out the main reasons he thinks Protestants become Catholic. He lists reasons such as concern for aesthetics, a sense of historical rootedness, issues of authority, and a cultural shift according to which moral issues eclipse the importance of doctrines about non-moral issues, especially soteriology.

    What is noticeably absent here, as it was in Scot McKnight’s analysis, is the primary and, as it were, all-trumping reason to become Catholic, namely, the discovery that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded. Once one makes that discovery, then it follows that in becoming Catholic, one isn’t losing any assurance. Rather, if one happens to belong to a Protestant tradition that denies the possibility of losing one’s salvation, one realizes that this theological tradition, insofar as it differs from that of the Catholic Church, has no authority, but is merely the opinion of certain unauthorized men proposed on the basis of their own personal interpretation of the Bible. The discovery that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded and which therefore preserves and faithfully explicates the authoritative Tradition of the Apostolic deposit, changes one’s paradigm such that one now, given, for example canons 16, 17, and 27 of the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, sees the assurance one previously had [of never being able to lose one’s salvation] as presumption. So given the paradigm switch, the prospect involved in becoming Catholic is not “losing assurance,” but rather losing presumption and acquiring genuine assurance, that is, the sort of assurance that is truly assuring precisely because we know that the Church’s teaching concerning this assurance is divinely authorized, and because this assurance is given to us by Christ through the sacraments He instituted in His Church.

    And that’s why what is going through the mind of the person considering conversion to the Catholic Church is not: “Which is more worthwhile: assurance or Catholicism? Can I really give up assurance in order to become Catholic?” A person thinking that way hasn’t grasped the Catholic paradigm. And a person who thinks that Protestants considering the Catholic question are faced with that dilemma hasn’t grasped the Catholic paradigm, or what takes place in the mind of Protestants during their conversion to Catholicism.

    We cannot falsify the identity and authority claims of the Catholic Church by our desire to have an assurance that we can never lose our salvation, any more than the Pharisees and Sadducees could falsify the identity and authority of Christ by their desire to remain in the seat of Moses. We cannot measure the truth of any candidate version of the gospel by how good or attractive it appears to us. This kind of thinking makes so many people susceptible to the Heath and Wealth ‘gospel’ offered by well-known figures such as Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland. If a Reformed person is inquiring concerning the Catholic Church, telling him that he will lose assurance if he converts is like telling a person whose been in the Health & Wealth tradition but is now considering the Catholic Church that if he becomes Catholic he will lose the guarantee of health and wealth. It fails to see outside the limitations of one’s own paradigm. To choose a particular theological tradition of a divine revelation based on the level of assurance that tradition purports to provide would be entirely upside-down; such ecclesial consumerism is contrary to the very nature of divine revelation, which is from above, and is therefore that to which we must conform. Ecclesial consumerism is in this way another form of the liberalism that denies God has spoken.

    The assurance question therefore hangs on the identity and authority of the Catholic Church, which isn’t one of Trueman’s five reasons. But it ought to be, not only because that is fundamentally why Protestants are becoming Catholic, but also because if the identity and authority of the Catholic Church are what she claims, then assurance is a moot point (as explained above), and the Reformation as a movement that began and has continued as a schism from the Catholic Church, ought to be over. So in listening to Trueman’s five reasons why the Reformation is not over, and seeing that a Catholic can affirm four of them, and that desiring an assurance that one can never lose one’s salvation is not a good reason to remain separated from the Catholic Church, it is very difficult to see from Trueman’s lecture why one should continue to perpetuate the Reformation in schism from the Catholic Church, rather than be reconciled to the Catholic Church and work to renew and build her up from within. If, as Trueman says, “we need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic,” and these five reasons are the best there are, then may God graciously expedite the restoration of Protestants to full communion in the Catholic Church.

  98. Bryan:

    Thanks for the above comment. Just as a point of relevance, Trueman posted a clarification/reiteration of his reason #5 on his blog.

    http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2012/04/the-gospel-is-insufficient.php

    If you have the time, I think many (myself included) would benefit from a Catholic response to this point in particular.

    Brendan

  99. Brendan (re: 98);
    Thank you for sharing the link to Trueman’s blog post. I think it illustrates the circularity problem in “high-church” Protestantism. Trueman says we need the church or church structure to preserve the gospel. Great. I see lots of church structures out there that teach different things as essential to the gospel. How can I identify which structure to go with? To say, go with the one that teaches the gospel, undermines the original point that we need the church in order to preserve the gospel and to make sure the correct gospel is being taught.
    Blessings,
    Mark

  100. Bryan,

    You said: “We cannot measure the truth of any candidate version of the gospel by how good or attractive it appears to us.”
    I don’t think the Reformed considered it a possibility that one could go “church shopping” within Presbyterian and Reformed circles, but that is what happens if you find that there is one article in the Reformed confessions that you just aren’t certain that you can agree with any longer. A person is in a real predicament if they find themselves alone, out of their whole family, not sure that their church’s confessions adequately express holy scripture. How can they be argued out of their view, once another, more likeable, one takes its place or why should their pastor even try to dissuade, considering that another one within the P&R world is an equally viable option? This still can separate a family and cause schism.

    Question:

    I understand that in the RCC the “center hold” and that it is neither completely liberal nor conservative. If the job of the Christian is also to “think” with the Church, and those correct thoughts are midline, but they find themselves in either a parish that is more extreme one way than the other, how do they know what is “official” church teaching? Can they lovingly, correct their pastor, so that everyone can once again “hold center”?

  101. Alicia,

    You asked: if “they find themselves in either a parish that is more extreme one way than the other, how do they know what is “official” church teaching?”

    They can read the Catechism. If that’s not enough, they can read the documents the catechism is built from: scripture as interpreted by ecumenical councils, synods of bishops, papal encyclicals and papal decrees. It is not at all uncommon for a Catholic caught in a bad parish to very quickly realize that their pastor has made serious mistakes through reading such documents. In particular, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) answers questions which even the laity have posed on which pastors have answered with conflicting statements, or statements erroneous to the tradition of the church. These CDF documents are quite timely real-time answers to things which take a little more work than just the Catechism or its source documents to answer. Either way, I see people in a bad parish realizing what’s wrong quite easily. The way that is used even more often than reading, is for them to contact their Bishop. I’ve seen and heard of many many cases in which Bishops set things right for their flock, correcting their priests as necessary after being warned and questioned by their sheep.

    You asked: “Can they lovingly, correct their pastor, so that everyone can once again “hold center”?”

    Yes! I have repeatedly heard of good Catholics with poor pastors who have corrected their pastors with citations of official documents of the magisterium. Usually this happens with the laity working with the Bishop, as far as I remember.

    Anyway, this stuff is the bread and butter of living in a Church of sinners. The laity have an important role of making sure that heretics in the clergy get treated to a dose of the truth. The Bishops and the Pope have been helping us with this for years. And the clergy are getting much much better.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  102. Brendan, (re: #98)

    I agree with Trueman’s claim, at the link you cited, that the gospel depends on Church structure or hierarchy. And I think MarkS’s point (in #99) is right as well. I think Trueman’s reasoning, in the link you cite, is primarily pragmatic: the purely egalitarian approach does not work, so we need some sort of structure and offices, or the result is chaos. And I think Trueman is trying to emphasize this, in contrast to Evangelicalism and its ‘collapsing ecclesiology.’ But, see my criticisms at that link. Forming a denominational structure among persons who agree with one’s own interpretation does not prevent the chaos of fragmentation; it merely provides a fragment with internal organization until it too fragments, or fades out of existence. The OPC denomination, to which Trueman belongs, is younger than my grandparents, and has about 30,000 members. That wouldn’t fill even a third of Michigan Stadium. It is less than the number of people who become Catholic each day. Relatively speaking, we’re talking about a very recent and very tiny fragment of Christianity. So Truman is obviously not saying that the gospel intrinsically depends on the OPC hierarchy. He is saying that the preservation and propagation of the gospel, wherever that is to occur, depends on Church structure.

    And he’s right. But, the more one recognizes that the visibility (in this sense) of the Church is part of, and inseparable from the gospel, the more difficult it is to remain Protestant, because Protestantism began by separating itself from the given hierarchy of the Church, and then groups of Protestants holding similar interpretations formed denominational structures within their respective groups. So even though the structures within these denominations are based respectively on that particular group’s interpretation of Scripture, they are merely pragmatic supports for individuals’ interpretations, not a continuation of the ecclesial hierarchy Christ Himself established. But Trueman surely didn’t out-think the Son of God, in determining the need for Church structure. So we should expect Christ not only to have handed down a message about the need for Church structure, but also to have established that hierarchy and deposited the truth of His gospel with that hierarchy, such that the relation of the gospel to the hierarchy is not merely pragmatic, or ad hoc (i.e. building a denomination around some unauthorized persons’ interpretation), but organic and intrinsic. And likewise we should expect the Apostles to have handed down not only a message about Church structure, but to have handed down the very hierarchy Christ had established. That’s very much the conception of the hierarchy we find in the epistles of St. Ignatius at the end of the first century, as I argued here. According to this understanding of the relation of the gospel and Church structure, we find the gospel through finding the hierarchy in succession from the Apostles, and we advance the gospel in union with that hierarchy.

    Otherwise the organization and structure is just a man-made attempt to preserve some unauthorized persons’ opinion regarding the meaning of Scripture. And that kind of hierarchy and structure involve no real authority, only utility, for the same reason that the Jehovah’s Witness organization has no real authority. In these cases the structure and organization of the community are man-made, in an attempt to preserve and propagate the particular interpretation of the members. And these man-made structures will eventually fade away. But the divinely established structure, not established by merely human hands, has endured now almost two millennia, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. To recognize the intrinsic relation of the gospel to Church structure, is already to begin the search not merely for the blueprint of that structure, but for the unbroken divinely established structure itself, namely, the Catholic Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  103. Alicia,

    I would also add to K. Doran’s comment that nowadays, especially with the internet, it’s not difficult to find what the Church actually teaches on a given issue. It seems to me that most Catholics who are vociferously out of line with the official teaching of the Church are usually aware of it; it’s not that they are confused as to what the Church teaches, they just think the Church needs to change. In this they are perhaps closer to Protestants in their understanding of the Church.

    Just my two cents.

  104. K. Doran,
    how about, they can read the Bible, SOLA SCRIPTURA to the previous comment above! The priesthood of all believers.
    Because of the Cross,
    Cornel

  105. Cornel,

    Scripture according to which interpretation? I say this because with that simple question we could enter into exactly the circular argumentation that K.Doran was hinting at. Plus as a former Baptist, I can tell you that the Catholic church also promotes the priesthood of the believer which came as a shock to me. Please challenge how you look at interpretation, and to whom you give authority to. For if you read the scriptures, you will find that Christ gave all authority to Bind and to Loosen to Peter and the Apostles. And that is just one aspect to look at when it comes to authority. There is so much more to learn and to discuss, but I can tell you that there is no point in scripture that says that the apostles had to write letters to certain parishes, and that needed to be collected and put into a Canon. The Church existed before it was written.

    William H

  106. MarkS (re: #99) and Bryan (re: #102):

    Thank you both for your responses. I agree with you both and benefit from your explanations.

    Bryan, your observation of the pragmatic and ad hoc dimension to Trueman’s need for authoritative hierarchy is very helpful to move the discussion from Trueman’s affirmation of the need of authoritative hierarchy to the question of where we are to locate that hierarchy. To your knowledge, has Trueman done any work that would show an attempt at trying to locate that hiearchy in a non-ad hoc method? I am expecting that has not been handled by him (yet), but I didn’t want to just simply assume.

    Thanks again,

    Brendan

  107. After reading Trueman’s book review, according to Frank Beckwith, then president of the Evangelical Theological Society, he

    knew then that the burden was on me, and not on the Church, to show why I should remain in schism with the Catholic Communion in which my parents baptized me. I could think of no incorrigible reason to continue as a Protestant. And then I knelt; I could do no other.

    In the preceding paragraphs Beckwith writes:

    But in order to arrive at this present state of theological diversity and ecclesial fragmentation, you needed more Luthers, of which there has been an endless supply. His success made Luther a towering example to emulate. Combine that with an ever-diminishing memory of a unified Western Christianity, along with the spirit of the Enlightenment – which suggested that detachment from familial, ecclesial, and cultural traditions is the beginning of reason – and schism then becomes a sort of secular sacrament. Although Luther argued that justification is by “faith alone,” it is clear that he did not anticipate or support the modern idea that the Church is by “the faithful alone.”

    It is not surprising, then, why it is sometimes difficult for both Protestants and Catholics to think of ecclesial unity as the proper state of Christ’s Church. Because we are modern people, we tend to think of the Church as a collection of individual choosers, each with his own autonomy that may not legitimately be subject to something outside itself without good reason. That is, we assume that the burden of proving the necessity of ecclesial unity is not on the individual believer, but rather on the corporate entity that demands his allegiance. The Church, in that sense, becomes the enemy of faith, an unwelcome intruder into the believer’s pious solitude. For the modern mind, it would be like the commodity choosing the buyer, since religion, like sex and commerce, is just another act between consenting adults, which by implication makes the authority of creeds the doctrinal equivalent of annoying chaperones.

    Ironically, this sort of mindset, which sees schism as proper and unity as unnatural, is one of the conceptual catalysts that helped lead me back to the Catholic Church. For I began to see that the whole idea of theology as something that is mine to choose – like a pair of slacks that I can have tailored for my own specifications – was precisely the problem. As long as “Church” was something that was under me rather than me under it, I was doomed to a life of ecclesiastical promiscuity despite my best efforts to practice safe sects. (source)

  108. In response to Carl Trueman, in comment #97 above, I wrote, “We cannot measure the truth of any candidate version of the gospel by how good or attractive it appears to us.” To do so is to engage in kerygmatic consumerism, picking or choosing which version of the gospel is “the gospel” on the basis of which candidate ‘gospel’ seems best to us, i.e. which seems to offer us the best deal. That’s just creating “the gospel” in our own image, i.e. placing the label ‘gospel’ (and thus annexing divine authority and divine origination) upon a man-made philosophy or idea, and falling into rationalism. But, strangely enough, I see this not infrequently. Here’s an example: Michael Horton, in criticism of N.T. Wright, says, “Without imputation, justification isn’t good news.” Of course from a Catholic point of view, infusion of righteousness is far better than mere extra nos imputation (otherwise, why not remain eternally in the extra nos imputation condition). But that’s not the point. The point is that Horton here seems to be basing his judgment whether or not we should accept or reject extra nos imputation, on how good the resulting doctrine would seem to us, rather than only on whether it is true. And not only does that criterion turn “the gospel” into the algorithmic limit of the that than which no greater good news can be conceived process of human reasoning, and thus into a man-derived ‘gospel,’ it hides from us the possibility of a receptive stance of faith in news said by God to be good, as judged to be good for us by an omniscient God, even if to our rational capacity this news might seem less good than news we could imagine or would most wish to receive from God.

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