We don’t need no magisterium: A reply to Christianity Today‘s Mark Galli

Nov 19th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Mark Galli is the senior managing editor of Christianity Today. Two days ago he published an article titled “The Confidence of the Evangelical: Why the Spirit, not the magisterium, will lead us into all truth.” Galli notes that a number of well-known Evangelicals have become Catholic, and acknowledges the attraction of the Catholic magisterium for the definitive resolution of doctrinal or interpretive debates among those who call themselves Evangelical, but writes to explain why he resists the pull to become Catholic.


Mark Galli

His reasoning begins with a notion of the early Church as “Massive confusion.” He writes, “The Holy Spirit set the pattern for what church would be like at the day of Pentecost. And it looked like this: Massive confusion.” For Galli, the New Covenant introduced “radical leveling” such that there was no magisterium, and widespread doctrinal disagreements, often taking decades to resolve. No decisions by Apostles or councils were authoritative. The Apostles tried to use their authority to settle disputes, but the best they could do was appeal to Scripture just as any other Christian could. Doctrinal disagreements were eventually resolved by Christians who “lived and argued together at the prodding of the Holy Spirit,” without any magisterium. Galli concludes, writing, “We don’t need a magisterium. We already have a Lord, who told us that not even the gates of Hades (whose landlord loves to sows confusion in the church!) will prevail against the church. In short, we don’t need premature closure as much as we need persevering confidence that the Spirit will lead us into all the truth we need, when we need it.”

Did the Early Church have a Magisterium?

Of course having a magisterium is useful, but the utility of having a magisterium is no reason to become Catholic. Ultimately, one should become Catholic only if the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, and thus only if the authority of the Catholic magisterium is a divinely established authority, having been established by the incarnate Christ before His Ascension. If the Catholic magisterium was not established by Christ, then the Catholic magisterium is not even useful, because it has no authority at all, and thus cannot authoritatively adjudicate any question whatsoever. But if the Catholic magisterium was established by Christ, then the due response is not determining whether having this magisterium is useful, but submitting to it, as an expression of our submission to Christ who governs His Church through it.

So the right starting question is whether Christ established a magisterium (i.e. a teaching and governing authority) in His Church. For Galli, the day of Pentecost is the paradigm, and he sees there only chaos and confusion. But that conclusion may itself be premature. Between Christ’s Ascension and Pentecost, the only event Scripture records is the filling of Judas’ office, under the leadership of St. Peter. That would have been superfluous and misguided if in a few days there would be a radical leveling that eliminated any magisterium. In fact, nothing about Pentecost is disordered. Those persons who did not understand the other languages the Apostles were speaking were possibly bewildered by the fact that simple men from Galilee were able to speak foreign languages. The event itself, however, was not “massive confusion” but well-ordered for the very purpose that persons of all different languages could hear and believe the one message the Apostles were preaching, not a multiplicity of contrary teachings. The purpose of the birth of the Church at Pentecost was precisely to ‘unconfuse’ the separation and confusion God had sent on prideful man at the Tower of Babel.1 If the Church were to be “massive confusion,” that would not be any different from the post-Babel situation; disorder and confusion cannot possibly rectify disorder and confusion.

And there is evidence in Scripture not only of order, but of a magisterium. About seventeen years after Pentecost, when a dispute arose in the universal Church, we see in Acts 15 that it was settled in an orderly way at the Jerusalem Council attended by Apostles and elders. And in his first letter to the Corinthians St. Paul writes clearly, “for God is not a God of confusion [ἀκαταστασίας — disorder] but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” (1 Cor. 14:33) A few verses later he writes: “But all things must be done properly and in an orderly [τάξιν] manner.” (1 Cor 14:40) To see only confusion on the day of Pentecost and in the early Church is to miss the clear evidence that Christ gave authority to His Apostles, and that they authorized others to succeed them in governing and teaching the particular Churches so that all things would be done in an orderly manner, and that there was an established means by which the unity and peace of the Church would be preserved.2

Confidence in the Holy Spirit Requires not Co-opting the Holy Spirit

According to Galli, even though there was no visible order or structure in the early Church, nevertheless the Spirit always continued to lead the Church into all truth, not only in that first generation of Christians but even down to the Evangelicalism of the present day. He writes:

But even after they [i.e. the Apostles] spoke or wrote, the church had to go through a period of discernment to determine what the Holy Spirit was, in fact, teaching the church. … The full sweep of church history suggests that the Holy Spirit has, in fact, led us into all truth through no other way than men and women, slave and free, Jew and Gentile wrestling with one another about whatever issue is at hand until, in the Spirit’s good time, a consensus emerges. … We mustn’t forget that for a couple of hundred years, most Christians were not Trinitarians in the way we understand the Trinity today, but the Holy Spirit slowly led the church into a fully Trinitarian faith.

Galli’s notion of the Spirit continually and faithfully leading the Church into all truth is something that Catholics also deeply affirm.3 But there is a fundamental incompatibility in Galli’s position, because the notion that the Holy Spirit continually “guides the Church into all truth” justifies the “confidence” of which Galli speaks only if the Church has visible, institutional unity. The claim that “the Church” had to determine something is an objective claim only if “the Church” has a visible unity as a single institution. Otherwise, the claim reduces to “those with whom I agree reached the conclusion with which I agree.” By denying the existence of a magisterium, Galli is left to pick out “the Church” by way of agreement with his own interpretation of Scripture. And there is no basis for confidence that the Holy Spirit is uniquely leading that group of persons into all truth, because any group of heretics could make the very same claim.

For example, the reason the Arians could not credibly claim that the Church had to go through a period of discernment to determine that the Holy Spirit was, in fact, teaching the Church that Arianism is true, that after the Nicene Council the Church continued only with those in the Arian tradition and that those persons who followed the decision of the Council were the heretics who were thereby separated from the Church, is precisely that the visible Church made this decision at that Council by way of the magisterium of bishops in communion with the episcopal successor of the Apostle Peter.

Similarly, the monophysites could not credibly claim to be the continuation of the Church by the leading of the Holy Spirit precisely because the magisterium of the Church decided against monophysitism at the Council of Chalcedon ratified by Pope Leo. And the same is true of each of the heresies the Church faced in her early centuries. A magisterial decision made it possible for the claim that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church to be an objective claim, rather than a relativistic claim made by one of multiple parties, each attempting to co-opt the ‘guidance’ of the Holy Spirit to support their own particular interpretation of Scripture.

For claims about the Holy Spirit leading “the Church” to determine something to be objective claims, rather than merely self-serving attempts to co-opt the Holy Spirit to support the emergence of one’s own interpretations and theology, the Church must be visible and visibly one. Yet the Church can have a visible unity as a single institution only by way of a hierarchical unity, i.e. only if there is a magisterium, for the reasons Tom Brown and I explained in “Christ Founded a Visible Church.”

Confidence and the Consensus Criterion

Galli claims that “a consensus emerges,” but he does not include the “among whom” qualifier. A consensus did not emerge among the conjunction of those following the decision of the Council of Nicea and those following Arius. The magisterial decision against the Arians forced the Arians out of the visible Church, and thus did not allow Arianism to be even a “branch within” the Church.4 A consensus did not emerge between Catholics and Marcionites; rather, the magisterial decision by the Church of Rome forced the Marcionites out of the visible Church, and again did not allow Marcionism to be a “branch within” the Church. And so on, with all the heresies throughout Church history.

In order for the “a consensus emerges” criterion to be meaningful as a basis for confidence that this consensus is the result of the Holy Spirit’s guiding, this consensus must be distinguishable in principle from the sort of consensus that heretics can attain among themselves. But without a magisterium, the only kind of consensus possible is a consensus of precisely that sort, i.e. a consensus among those who agree with oneself and one’s own interpretation. Without a magisterium, any heretical group could claim to be the Church, and could claim that its own heretical beliefs are the result of what the Holy Spirit gradually taught the Church, and could claim that consensus was reached among those who agree with their particular heresy. When heretical groups make such claims, each claiming to be the Church uniquely led into all truth by the Spirit, while each group holds beliefs incompatible with beliefs held by the other groups, this shows that in claiming to have been led to their ‘truth’ by the Holy Spirit they are merely co-opting the Holy Spirit to support their own interpretation and the historical process by which their own set of beliefs and interpretations arose. For Galli to have a basis for confidence in the Spirit’s guidance of the group of persons who agree with his own interpretation of Scripture, he cannot be in the same epistemic situation as those heretical groups, groups which he himself would claim to be heretical. And yet that is exactly the epistemic situation he is in, defining “the Church” by way of agreement with his own interpretation of Scripture.

Church history shows that heretical groups naturally treat the divine providence by which they were divinely permitted to fall into heresy as though it were instead the Holy Spirit supernaturally and uniquely leading their particular group into the truth that none of the other sects holds. Any heretical group could claim like Galli that “the full sweep of church history suggests that the Holy Spirit has, in fact, led us into all truth.” Any group of persons can be an “us” and claim to be “the Church.” But without a magisterium instituted by Christ, every claim to be “the Church” reduces to a claim about a group of persons who shares one’s own theological opinion. Without a divinely established magisterium, the confidence one can have that one’s own theological opinion is what the Holy Spirit has led “the Church” to determine cannot be qualitatively greater than that of every heretical group throughout Church history who thought the same about themselves and their theological opinion.

Without a magisterium, therefore, there is no basis for confidence that the set of persons picked out by their agreement with one’s own theological opinion is the Church being led into all truth by the Holy Spirit, and that one’s own theological opinion is that to which the Holy Spirit has been guiding the Church for the past two thousand years. Without a magisterium, confidence in the Spirit guiding “the Church” is actually confidence in one’s own interpretation of Scripture, by which what counts as “the Church” is determined. So for any claim about “the Church coming to determine what the Holy Spirit is saying,” what has always made it possible for such claims to be objective and not a mere retrospective co-opting of the Spirit to give divine sanction to one’s own interpretation, has been the existence of a divinely established magisterium by which that determination was authoritatively made definitive in the visible Church.

Depending on the Magisterium while Denying its Existence

Thus in appealing to what the Church came to determine by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Galli is implicitly depending on the Catholic magisterium of the first millennium. In that sense Galli is implicitly borrowing from the Catholic Church in order to ground the determinations he claims were made by the leading of the Holy Spirit through the early centuries of the Church.5 For Galli, however, “there was no magisterium in the early church, but only Christians who lived and argued together at the prodding of the Holy Spirit.”

But as I have just shown, his claim that the Holy Spirit guided “the Church” to make determinations requires that there was a magisterium, because otherwise “Church” would be reduced to “those persons throughout time who generally agree with my own interpretation of Scripture.” In that case Galli’s claim that the Holy Spirit teaches and prods the Church would be a co-opting of the Holy Spirit in support of the process by which those who generally agree with Galli came to the set of beliefs and interpretations he himself affirms. By denying that there was a magisterium in the first millennium, Galli undermines his claim that anything has been determined or settled. Everything remains up in the air, an open question yet to be settled. And thereby he undermines the very story he tells about the Spirit guiding the Church into all truth. There can be no objective development of doctrine without a magisterium, because without a magisterium not only can nothing be definitively determined, but even the identity of the Church cannot be objectively determined; there can only be those who share one’s own interpretation, and all the other groups who do not.

Every heretical group in Church history could claim that it does not need a magisterium because it has the Spirit, and this fact undermines the objectivity of Galli’s claim, as I have shown above. But no less problematic for Galli’s position is that to hold that things have been determined in any definitive sense over the course of Church history, there has to have been a magisterium. Otherwise, what has happened is not in any sense a ‘determination,’ but merely a choice by Galli to place himself in one among hundreds of different theological traditions that emerged through various schisms and doctrinal disputes, each claiming to have been guided by the Holy Spirit to the ‘truth’ of their own unique position. In order to appeal to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the Church, and this not ultimately reduce to a burning in one’s own personal bosom, “the Church” must be picked out by something other than its agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture; it must be a visible body with a unified magisterium established by Christ. And if that is the case, then the proper response is to find that teaching and governing authority Christ established in His Church, and follow Christ by following it.

What would a Rejection of a Divinely Established Magisterium Look Like?

Galli claims that he does not need a magisterium, because he already has the Spirit:

We don’t need a magisterium. We already have a Lord, who told us that not even the gates of Hades (whose landlord loves to sows confusion in the church!) will prevail against the church.

The notion that “we don’t need a magisterium; we have the Spirit” is not a new one. The Montantists held something quite similar toward the end of the second century. Presbyterian minister Rick Philips replied similarly to Michael Liccione a few years ago.6 But there is a principled epistemic difference between submitting in the “obedience of faith” to the Church that Christ Himself founded when He was on the earth, not because it conforms to one’s own interpretation of Scripture but because Christ founded it, and forming or joining a novel community of persons because their doctrines generally match one’s own interpretation of Scripture. When we work our way through Church history and we examine the plethora of heretical sects that arose and decayed over the past two thousand years, we find that these heretical sects all have something in common; they were each formed on the basis of a particular novel interpretation of Scripture, and other persons not infrequently joined them on the basis of their agreement with that interpretation, rather than submitting to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded. Following the Church that is already there and has always been there in continuity from the Apostles, is an act of faith in Christ who founded it. But forming a new sect on the assumption that the Church that has always been there in continuity from the Apostles is wrong, has always been an act of pride and rebellion against ecclesial authority.

As Christians we know both that Satan wants to make us think more highly of ourselves than we ought, and that he wants to destroy Christ’s Church. Pride is the chief of the seven deadly sins, and this was the sin by which Satan fell. So we know that one of his chief goals in attacking Christ’s Church is to entice Christians to rebel against Christ, by rebelling against the teaching and governing authority Christ established in His Church. We also know that he is an angel of light, and that he tempts men by making evil seem good. So how can he persuade men to rebel against Christ, while making them think that they are serving Christ? What would it look like, if Satan were successfully to persuade Christians to rebel against Christ’s Church? He would do this through pride portrayed as zeal for Christ and His gospel, convincing men to think that they can interpret Scripture better than can the magisterium Christ established in His Church. It would in effect reduce to an ecclesial version of Pink Floyd’s ‘we don’t need no education.’

That is not the virtue of faith, but the vice of pride coated in the veneer of love for Christ and His gospel. Such persons take interpretive authority to themselves, rather than submitting in humility to the ecclesial authority Christ established, in succession from the Apostles. This is the way Satan causes schisms and heresies, through a pride in which a person takes to himself an ecclesial and interpretive authority not given to him by the magisterium Christ established. Faith is not expressed through ‘submitting’ to “the Church” as picked out by its agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture.7 That is neither submission nor faith. That is distrusting Christ, by distrusting the Church He founded, and distrusting His governance of His Church through the persons He chooses and authorizes to teach and govern His Church.

Faith, by contrast, “believes and professes all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.” Because faith does not presume eccleisal deism, faith submits to the Church that has always been there, even before the sixteenth century and all the way back to the Apostles, in the humility that is the very opposite of the pride that takes to oneself an ecclesial and interpretive authority that has not been given to oneself by those already having that authority. This is what St. Thomas Aquinas explained about the relation between faith and the Church, namely, that faith in Christ is faith through the Church Christ founded.8 It should be of no small concern that one’s position is indistinguishable in principle from a case of rebellion against divinely established authority. In order to justify separation from the already existing magisterium, one must have a principled basis for distinguishing rightful dissent from rebellion. And “following my own interpretation of Scripture” is no such principled basis, because it is common to all the heretical and schismatic sects and their founders.

We need a magisterium in order to have an ecclesial faith, rather than a me-and-my-Bible [along with whoever happens to agree with my interpretation] faith, and because otherwise Christ would not have established a magisterium in His Church, and enjoined us to “submit” to them and “obey” them as persons who keep watch over our souls (Heb 13:17). Christ chose and authorized Apostles not in order to force the early Church to choose between following the Apostles and following the Holy Spirit, but so that the early Christians could follow the Spirit by following the Apostles. Similarly, Christ’s promise concerning His Spirit leading men into all truth is not a promise that the Spirit will guide private interpretation or private bosom-burning into all truth. It provides no ground for certainty “that I am being guided into all truth” for those persons separated from the magisterium and following their own interpretation of Scripture along with others who share that interpretation. Christ’s promise that the Spirit will guide “you” into all truth has been understood in the visible Church as a promise that the Spirit will lead the Church through the magisterium He established. That is precisely how we can have confidence to know that we are being led by the Holy Spirit, and not co-opting the Spirit to sanction our own private interpretation or subjective bosom-burning.

  1. See “Pentecost, Babel, and the Ecumenical Imperative.” []
  2. See “Sola Scriptura, a Dialogue Between Michael Horton and Bryan Cross, section IX, Apostolic Succession. []
  3. See “Ecclesial Deism.” []
  4. See “Branches or Schisms?.” []
  5. Of course this borrowing is arbitrary, since Galli is taking some things determined by the Catholic Church, and rejecting others. But nevertheless, by taking magisterial decisions as determinations produced by the Spirit, Galli is implicitly relying on the Catholic magisterium. []
  6. My reply to Philips is titled “Play church.” []
  7. See “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.” []
  8. See “St. Thomas Aquinas on the Relation of Faith to the Church.” []
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  1. Interesting about the claim that the apostles – “the best they could do was appeal to Scripture just as any Chrisitan could.” What Scripture? I’m assuming the Old Testament as the New Testament didn’t exist yet.

  2. I wonder how he arrived at his reading of Pentecost. The Pentecost of Acts 2 involved people speaking in *intelligible* languages that were understood by all the “God-fearing Jews” present. It was an event of supernatural coherence and unity (not confusion). The people that thought the Christian disciples to be drunk are presented as “some” and without the “God-fearing” qualifier and they are the only ones confused.

  3. Bryan said:

    Church history shows that heretical groups naturally treat the divine providence by which they were divinely permitted to fall into heresy as though it were instead the Holy Spirit supernaturally and uniquely leading their particular group into the truth that none of the other sects holds.

    What a fine statement. Without a visible and unified church authority, how can this kind of ‘Ecclesial Subjectivism’ be thwarted?

  4. I wonder how he arrived at his reading of Pentecost.

    The post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy is necessitated by an *evangelical* view of history. It goes like this:

    Since Evangelicalism exists and *is the way God intended it*, Acts 2 must be the cause of it. Since Evangelicalism is “massive confusion”, therefore Acts 2 must be “massive confusion”. It is the reading into the cause what they see in the effect (assuming causality, thus the fallacy).

    Evangelicalism is either a development from Acts 2 or a novelty. Or, as Galli tries to argue (and in a way is a part of all of the restorationist movements–Evangelicalism included), Evangelicalism is a fundamentalist re-rendering of that which was always broken–i.e., always primitive, less organized, etc. This is where Galli makes the interpretive error. He is doing a traditional Evangelical reading of early Church history (primitivism) and importing into that reading a view of the facts that mirrors best the current Evangelical situation. This movement is his “fight or flight” instinct in responding to the ecclesial confusion in Evangelicalism (and conversions to Catholicism), and worse his re-imagining of the early Church motivated by his desire to retain Evangelical ecclesiology. In other words, if there is an Apostolic Church in Acts that is orderly and authoritative then Evangelicalism–in its lowest common denominator and democratic form–is a prodigal son. While not wanting to turn to the Tiber, turning back to whence Evangelicalism came (traditional denominational Protestantism) is not a viable option given that in those communities you get both “chaos” and codified liberalism.

  5. In support of Galli’s article, Chris Armstrong, who teaches at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, writes:

    A comment of my own, in response to the comment of a Catholic (formerly evangelical Protestant) friend who posted in the CT online comments section of Mark’s article. My friend points out that Mark dodges the question of how we DO, in the absence of a magisterium, decide what exactly the Spirit is saying to the church.

    I recognize that that’s a problem, and that in fact Mark speaks with two voices when he starts talking about the development and acceptance of Trinitarian theology (if anything, the Exhibit A of the case for a magisterium!)

    I think Mark might say (I hope I’m not putting words in his mouth) that we simply need to live with the messiness, and not to seek certainty in post-canonical human pronouncements.

    I might frame this in an Eastern way: God is serious when he says that his thoughts are higher than ours, and that we see through a glass darkly. Paradox, confusion . . . suck it up: these are part of our heritage as children of the Massive Unimaginably Powerful and Smart Invisible God of Everything.

    I’ve been receiving Christian History for many years, and have always enjoyed reading Chris’s contributions to the magazine. But I think his reply here is problematic, for the reason I will explain. For Chris, God’s thoughts are so much higher than ours that we cannot know how to determine what exactly the Spirit is saying to the Church. But according to Chris we can know with certainty that “we need to live with the messiness.” We can know with certainty that we cannot be certain about any Church decision following the closing of the canon. And we can know with certainty that paradox and confusion are part of the heritage of the children of God.

    This reply raises a serious difficulty, however, because it has implications that Chris himself presumably would not embrace. The fundamental problematic implication is that it makes theological error and heresy utterly immune to refutation. To every refutation of error, contradiction, or heresy, the interlocutor could simply respond, “we need to live with the messiness.” Problems pointed out with a heresy could always be parried away by appealing to the unavoidability of messiness, paradox, confusion, etc. However, when St. Irenaeus wrote his Adversus haereses, Tertullian wrote his Against Marcion, St. Hippolytus wrote his Against Noetus, St. Athanasius wrote his Apologia Contra Arianos, St. Gregory of Nyssa his work Against Eunomius, St. Jerome his works against Jovinianus, Vigilantius, and the Pelagians, and St. Augustine his works against the Manicheans, the Donatists, and the Pelagians, they did not believe that all their work would be in vain if those heretics against whom they wrote could simply dismiss all the problems they were pointing out by responding with “we need to live with the messiness you are pointing out in our theology.” All Christians recognized that the “we need to live with the messiness” defense is not an excuse for bad theology. Otherwise, there would be no way to distinguish good theology from bad theology, orthodoxy from heresy, since the problems pointed out with any error could always be excused and covered over with “we need to live with the messiness.” And there would be no point in attempting to critique bad theology.

    That’s why the person making use of the “we need to live with the messiness” defense must provide with that defense a principled basis for distinguishing mere messiness from the deficiencies of bad, erroneous theology. In this particular case, if not being able to know what the Spirit is saying to the Church were in fact erroneous theology, and not just messiness Christ left for all Christians to live with, how would Chris know? For this reason, the “we need to live with the messiness” defense is not by itself a sufficient defense of Galli’s position, because without a principled distinction between ‘mere messiness’ and bad theology, this defense eliminates the distinction between heresy and orthodoxy, and therefore can never be accepted by itself.

    The second problem with Chris’s reply, in my opinion, is that he has no basis for his certainty that “we need to live with the messiness” of the chaos that supervenes upon a situation of biblicism and “solo scriptura” without a magisterium. Scripture does not say “we need to live the messiness.” Nor has any magisterium ever said this. So Chris has no basis for his certainty that we cannot know what the Spirit is saying to the Church, that we cannot be certain about any Church decision following the closing of the canon, and that paradox and confusion are part of the heritage of the children of God. In general, skepticism refutes itself when it dogmatize its certainty that we cannot be certain about anything except its skeptical dogma. And theological skepticism does the same. So that’s another problem with Chris’s defense of Galli’s thesis.

  6. Bryan,

    The “we need to live with the messiness” defense is not a defense. What we can see from history, Scripture tradition (and “T”), and reason is that “we need to live with the messiness” is valid in so much that it describes the human condition without grace. Christ is the definitive, revealed Word of God that demonstrates how his ways are not our ways (e.g., the Crucified-King). Nonetheless, we would say that His Way, while not our way, is “most fitting” (i.e., not against reason).

    To describe what God does as “messiness” is an excuse, motivated by the necessity to give a reason for the existence of Evangelical ecclesial messiness. The problem is, I think, a lack of focus, a too general way of thinking about theology, or lack of discipline. I think Galli and Armstrong would agree with the second sentence of my first paragraph. When Galli and Armstrong go from that idea to then use it to describe what God did in establishing His Church and the teleos of that Church aided by the third person of the Blessed Trinity–is theologically bizarre.

    Which reveals their underlying assumption that Christ established a Church that would forever be in confusion–not progressively growing in grace, perfection and holiness from glory to glory. However, I think the observation turns the other way: that the Evangelical is like those who found themselves in the desert before–not wanting to follow God’s way but instead insisting upon creating their own means of salvation (own Church). Which is just another way of saying what you said in Pentecost, Babel and the Ecumenical Imperative.

    By the way, today is my three year anniversary of coming into full communion with the Church Christ established. Praise God, its good to be home!

    Happy Feast of Christ the King to all! He is King of a Kingdom, not a “mess”.

  7. Bryan,

    “Massive confusion.” He writes, “The Holy Spirit set the pattern for what church would be like at the day of Pentecost. And it looked like this: Massive confusion.” For Galli, the New Covenant introduced “radical leveling” such that there was no magisterium, and widespread doctrinal disagreements, often taking decades to resolve. No decisions by Apostles or councils were authoritative. The Apostles tried to use their authority to settle disputes, but the best they could do was appeal to Scripture just as any other Christian could.

    What seems especially ironic about this statement is that not only was Pentecost an event where, as you pointed out, there was a single unified message of the Gospel, but St. Luke records only one of the apostles speaking–and it just so happens to be St. Peter himself. It’s difficult to see how such a paradigm–St. Peter in communion with all the apostles, proclaiming a specific interpretation of divine revelation as being obligatory to be received de fide–could be more opposed to an ecclesiology in which we’re ultimately left to decide the truth for ourselves among a multitude of competing voices.

    Spencer

  8. I am honored that you all would consider my little column worth engaging. I find the arguments here thoughtful if not compelling, :-) but I do appreciate the conversation–which I happen to believe is a product of the work of the Holy Spirit, so that we might engage one another to come, perhaps, to a deeper consensus! I cannot respond to every point, but two clarifications might be helpful.

    When I talk about a consensus, I really mean an historical consensus. Sometimes that consensus is helped by a church council (e.g. Nicea on the divinity of Christ) but sometimes the concensus just emerges (e.g. the canon). If wasn’t until the Reformation that the exact outlines of the canon were construed (and this has led to some differences, while agreeing on the vast bulk of what constitutes canon). I really mean a view that is held “always, and everywhere, by everyone”–granting the hyperbole of that phrase. The Trinity is not Christian doctrine because some council said so, but because age after age, the church continues afresh to affirm it by the leading of the Holy Spirit. Despite the many strong arguments against it age after age, Christians still adhere to it. To stop adhering to it is to cease to be a Christian in any meaningful historical sense–that is, as one connected historically and sacramentally with the church historic.

    Thus is it absurd for heretics who want to remain in the church to say they have their own consensus on, let’s say, universalism, when in fact, the church has by historic and theological consensus rejected it. Instead, the actual numerical and historical consensus is perfectly summed up in the Creed: “he shall come again to judge the living and the dead.”

    Second, I don’t believe that we are called to “live in the messiness.” We have no choice about that! Church life is always messy. We are called to engage one another in the messiness as we work toward a consensus. Liberals assume messiness is the goal. I do not. Truth is the goal. And the way we get there is through the Cross of messiness, not around it by declaring some things not even worthy of discussion because some council somewhere ruled on the issue. No, if people today really doubt some cardinal doctrine–which has come about through the work of the Holy Spirit as it has come to consensus–charity obliges us to engage the doubters and skeptics with arguments (from both Scripture and tradition and reason) to show the genius of the church’s consensus.

    At any rate, I doubt that my few words will prompt a reversion to Protestantism on this website, but I trust it will clarify what it is we disagree about.

    Mark

  9. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I’m not sure if you’re wanting to engage any further in this combox, but I wonder if you could comment on when and why you think it’s appropriate to reject things that have emerged as historical Christian consensus, East and West. I’m thinking in particular of the rejection by (most) Evangelicals of the threefold hierarchy (bishop, priest, deacon), the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist, baptismal regeneration, public and fervent veneration of the Mother of God — I mean, the list goes on and on. I’d also want to bring up the novelty of justification by faith alone, but I don’t want to be going for the jugular, so to speak (see, I can kid, too ;-)). If you’ll forgive my frankness, it seems to me that your appeal to “historical consensus” is necessarily a wax nose of the worst sort.

    best,

    TC

  10. @Mark Galli:

    Thus is it absurd for heretics who want to remain in the church…

    Mark, probably I am just dense here, but I don’t see how, on your account, you can distinguish between heretics and the church. Can it just be sheer numbers – some sort of majoritarian criterion? But certainly that won’t work regarding the identity of the church itself, at least not today. There are surely far more people who call themselves Catholics than anything else. And I have read – don’t have a reference and maybe it isn’t true – but I have read that at one point in the Fourth Century, there may have been more Arians than Trinitarians.

    So … if ‘consensus’ means ‘a group of persons with the same opinion’ about some matter – how do you know, regarding any particular matter in question, which group’s consensus is that of the church, and which that of the heretics?

    jj

  11. Hello Mark,

    Thanks so much for your charitable response. We’re honored that you took the time to comment.

    Among the problems I pointed out in my post is that there is no way to begin to attain consensus, unless one first has a way of determining who are the persons among whom one is to attain consensus. Otherwise, all I have is “a consensus of those who agree with me,” which, as I pointed out above, is the sort of consensus every heretical group achieves within itself.

    I think your reply doesn’t get around that problem. Let me explain. You wrote:

    The Trinity is not Christian doctrine because some council said so, but because age after age, the church continues afresh to affirm it by the leading of the Holy Spirit.

    When you say “the church continues afresh to affirm it,” then, without a magisterium, your claim reduces to “those who affirm it continue afresh to affirm it.” If you don’t agree, then how, exactly, do you define “the church” in a non ad hoc, non-question-begging way, without implicitly taking to yourself a magisterial role and authority?

    Despite the many strong arguments against it age after age, Christians still adhere to it.

    Except for the ones who don’t. (The UPCI headquarters is right here in St. Louis; I drive past it all the time.) Here’s modalist T.D. Jakes on The Elephant Room this very month. And here’s Joel Osteen saying recently that Mormons (who believe that God the Father was a human) are Christians:

    The point is, you’re loading into the term ‘Christians’ here something that amounts to ‘those who mostly agree with the doctrines I think are essential.’ It just so happens that your definition is closer to what Catholics mean by it than Osteen’s, and Jakes.’ But without a magisterium there is no principled or objective basis for what all you are including and excluding from your criteria for who is and isn’t a Christian.

    To stop adhering to it is to cease to be a Christian in any meaningful historical sense–that is, as one connected historically and sacramentally with the church historic.

    How is “church historic” defined except by way of those Christians who followed the decisions of the councils? Without a magisterium, there is no objective and principled way to determine what is within or excluded from the “church historic,” except in the broadest, and therefore most unhelpful sense (e.g. people who deny or reject Christ are not Christians).

    Thus is it absurd for heretics who want to remain in the church to say they have their own consensus on, let’s say, universalism, when in fact, the church has by historic and theological consensus rejected it.

    Without a magisterium, the claim that the church rejected universalism reduces to the claim that those persons who called themselves Christians and who rejected universalism, rejected universalism. If, however, you are going by the beliefs of the majority of those persons who call themselves Christians, well, that would rule out Protestantism, because Protestants were (and are) among the minority of persons who call themselves Christians.

    So, I hope you see why I think the problem I mentioned in my post is still there, in your reply. Thanks so much for your patience, and willingness to dialogue.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  12. I find so many Protestants, in defense of their doctrines, saying that they don’t “need ___” . Christians don’t need a magesterium, need a pope, need to pray to Mary, need works for salvation, need Tradition, need the Apocrypha . . . . But what is this concept of “need” doing? Aristotle introduced in his Metaphysics a notion of necessity (need) that he said meant “that without which a good cannot come about or an evil be avoided”. Hence, we need food and water to avoid the evil of starvation, we need friendship for the good of our hearts and minds, we need protection from the State and hence need civil authority, etc. When we ‘need x for y’ or ‘need x for not z’ we are saying two things. We are saying that x is good or z is bad and we are saying that without x we’ll not get y or we’ll not avoid z. So when I hear claims like “we don’t need a Magesterium” that means either, “Magesteriums” aren’t good (and so not needed) or the good they provide can be acquired by another means (and so aren’t needed). One good they provide mentioned by Galli is resolution in doctrinal disputes. But as you quote him “we don’t need premature closure…” and we do “need confidence in the Holy Spirit”. Why can’t premature closure be avoided and confidence in the Holy Spirit acquired by having a Magesterium? And isn’t denying the Magesterium’s Aristotelian necessity to avoid this bad and acquire this good entirely contrary to the empirical, historical evidence about the Christian communities through time?

  13. Again, some strong points. A quick reply.

    We have to distinguish between ongoing issues that we are still wrestling with, and issues that have been settled. It seems clear to me that we have a consensus among Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox on matters like the Trinity, that Scripture is authoritative, that baptism is THE initiation rite, and not a few others. Not uniformity, but certainly a strong, overwhelming concensus. So on “Protestantism” vs. Catholicism vs. Orthodoxy there is no consensus. The church is still working through the matters that separate us. I am assuming we will, in fact, be able to work though some of those, and some of those differences will be with us until the parousia.

    Again, it’s not majoritarianism, but consensus, and consensus over time. Consensus means near unanimity (assuming that in this life, we will never get complete unanimity on anything). So the fact that the Arians were in the majority for a period–and they definitely were–suggests nothing about this argument from consensus. There was always a vigorous and outspoken minority–orthodoxy–that fought and eventually won on those points. But Arianism was never the consensus.

    It’s not a matter of what I believe or would like to believe that defines the consensus, but the actual, historical theological consensus that I submit to and give myself to. T.D. Jakes is not wrong on the Trinity because he is going against some magisterial pronouncement, but because he fails to grasp the biblical and theological arguments for the Trinity that have emerged, which the magisterium itself relies on to make its pronouncements.

    Otherwise you have to end every conversation with “Rome said it, I believe it, that settles it, end of conversation” If I can put it perjoratively :-) This strikes me as unbiblical in content and tone. I will grant that Catholics believe that the magisterium is led by the Holy Spirit, but I would argue that it is not biblically or historically coherent to put all one’s epistemological eggs in that one basket.

    But of course, we’re going to disagree on this matter because of our starting points. But if the basis of authority (institutional vs. dynamic) was easy to decide, we wouldn’t continue to have a split between Catholics and Protestants. In fact, I see strong and coherent arguments for both points of view, and I think we need both POVs in Christendom to keep us both honest. We will find out who was “right” when we meet Jesus–though I suspect we both are to some extent. In the meantime, I wish you all well.

  14. So what happened at the reformation?

    1. the reformation did not break any historical theological consensus

    2. The reformation is an exception to this rule about not breaking historical theological consensus

    3. the reformation was wrong

    Is there any other choice I have not thought of?

  15. Mark,

    I also think that recognizing consensus over time, along the lines of St. Vincent’s canon (which you alluded to in your first comment), is a way that we can distinguish between authentic developments of doctrine and corruptions. I am intrigued that you refer to the “hyperbole” in the Vincentian Canon, and I agree (with what you seem to be implying) that it needs careful qualification in order to be useful. Otherwise, for example, anyone who disagrees with doctrines and practices within the ambit of hitherto prevailing consensus can come along, gather followers, and then proclaim that no consensus obtains on those matters. Obviously, this would render the appeal to consensus tautological, and therefore useless. There are other ways of rendering tautological the appeal to consensus, and I think that we should avoid those as well. Mike Liccione wrote about this a few years ago in his post, “Of what use is the Vincentian Canon?”

    We all have to end every conversation with something. With respect to defining the doctrinal content of divine revelation, that something can be called the “ultimate interpretive authority.” Yes, the ultimate interpretive authority for Catholics is the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. We have tried to understand who serves as such an authority for the Protestant, and, on the whole, it looks like the buck stops with the individual Protestant. And I definitely would not put all my eggs in that basket. Maybe we do disagree on our starting points, but it seems to me that our different ending points, i.e., where does the buck stop in Bible interpretation, are even more critical. Along the way, we all want to consider all of the relevant data, and to be as objective as possible in so considering. Catholics try to do this no less than (though in a different mode from) Protestants. Its just that, when it comes time to make a stand, we ultimately rely on different interpretive authorities. (By the way, thanks for noting how the Magisterium takes into account the biblical and theological arguments, i.e., the work of exegetes and theologians, in its act of defining doctrine. Some folks seem to think that doctrinal definitions are made up out of thin air!)

    Andrew

  16. Mark, (re: #13)

    I agree with you that there is common ground between Catholics, Orthodox, and most Protestants on certain doctrinal issues. That common ground is something I’m thankful for, and it provides us with a shared resource for ecumenical dialogue. But without a magisterium, not only has nothing been settled, but nothing can be settled, because nothing can be authoritatively determined and defined. Taking Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants as constituting “the church” is arbitrary; it arbitrarily excludes all the other groups that are part of Christian history (see Diagram 2 and Diagram 3 in “Branches or Schisms?“). So there is no basis for claiming that what is common ground between Catholics, Orthodox, and most Protestants is settled, if there is no magisterium. You are making this common ground seem settled by consensus only by arbitrarily and magisterially excluding all other voices (except Catholics, Orthodox, and most Protestants) from who gets to count as having a say in what is and isn’t settled.

    If, for example, the later rise of iconoclasts in the sixteenth century means that the question of iconoclasm was not settled at the Seventh Ecumenical Council in Nicea in AD 787, then it is arbitrary to claim to Jehovah’s Witnesses that the question of the Son being homoousious with the Father was settled at Nicea in AD 325. You might reply that between the Seventh Council and the sixteenth century there was some very small minority of Christians who remained iconoclasts, but there have also always been Arians from the fourth century down to the present day, so that would preclude excluding Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    You wrote:

    Again, it’s not majoritarianism, but consensus, and consensus over time. Consensus means near unanimity (assuming that in this life, we will never get complete unanimity on anything). … It’s not a matter of what I believe or would like to believe that defines the consensus, but the actual, historical theological consensus that I submit to and give myself to.

    Consensus as a criterion for truth or for what has been ‘settled’ by the Holy Spirit is worthless unless there is some objective standard by which we first know among whom there is or needs to be a consensus. That’s because otherwise a consensus can be achieved simply by arbitrarily excluding those who disagree with one’s own position from among those who get to have a voice in the matter. So whenever you appeal to consensus, you always have to provide with it not only an answer to the “Consensus among whom?” question, but also a principled, non ad hoc basis for why those persons (and not others) are included among the “whom” within which there is or is to be a consensus. And you seem to be including among those who have a voice only Catholics, Orthodox, and most Protestants. The problem with making those three groups the set of persons who get to have a voice in the consensus is that it is entirely arbitrary, because it arbitrarily excludes many other voices (both in the present and in history) of persons who call themselves Christian.

    I don’t know why you think that a question being settled by the magisterium is “unbiblical.” That’s precisely why I pointed to the example of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. The subsequent councils looked back to the Jerusalem Council as a biblical precedent. But if an ecumenical council could not possibly settle a particular question, how could emergent “biblical and theological arguments” in themselves settle any question once and for all? Any biblical or theological arguments, as such, could always potentially be overturned by ‘better,’ newer, biblical and theological arguments. That’s exactly how Protestants view Martin Luther’s ‘discovery’ of justification by faith alone. Alister McGrath has pointed out that the notion of justification by “faith alone” was unknown from the time of St. Paul to the Reformation, calling it a “genuine theological novum.” According to McGrath, the Council of Trent “maintained the medieval tradition, stretching back to Augustine, which saw justification as comprising both an event and a process — the event of being declared to be righteous through the work of Christ and the process of being made righteous through the internal work of the Holy Spirit.” (Reformation Thought, 1993, p. 115) The point is that Protestantism as such depends for the very authenticity of its existence on the perpetual openness to the discovery of new biblical and theological arguments that overturn centuries of unanimous thought and practice, to take us back to what the Apostles themselves actually thought, but that had been lost through the centuries. So to claim that something can be settled by “biblical and theological arguments” seems to be incompatible with Protestantism itself.

    I would argue that it is not biblically or historically coherent to put all one’s epistemological eggs in that one basket.

    I would like to see that argument.

    We will find out who was “right” when we meet Jesus

    Indeed. But I hope we both share an urgency to seek out the truth regarding this question now, and not to wait until we stand before the Judgment seat of Christ, before whom we must give an account for all those whom we have aided in truth or misled. So much hangs on this. In light of the schisms that divide us, we need to be actively and diligently pursuing reconciliation for the sake of the unity of all Christians, and for the sake of our witness to the world regarding the truth and power of the gospel of Christ to unite men supernaturally in one faith, one baptism, and one visible ecclesial government — a city set on a hill, one flock with one shepherd. Thanks again for your time and willingness to dialogue. May Christ bring us into full visible unity, and may we be instruments in this work for His glory.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  17. Hello Mark,
    Thanks for being willing to interact with us here. I have a few questions regarding your post #13. It seems that you are investing something you refer to as the “consensus of the Church over time” with some kind of authority. Leaving aside the issue of who actually constitutes “the Church,” I am curious, is this “consensus of the Church over time” fallible? If it were in fact fallible (which I assume is your position?), then all Mr. T.D. Jakes has to say is that the doctrine of the Trinity is one (among others, presumably) of those “consensuses of the Church over time” that happened to be wrong; you would disagree and we are back to individual interpretation. This would seem to rule out any invocation of anything called “the consensus of the Church over time” as in any way determinative as to what is, as opposed to what is not, orthodox Christian belief.

    On another note, it seems to me, echoing what Mr. Jensen said in #10 above, that if the doctrine of the Trinity has been sufficiently settled by “the consensus of the Church over time,” then, other issues aside, the Real Presence of Christ in the bread and wine would have to by the same criteria be likewise sufficiently settled, no?

    Shalom,

    Aaron Goodrich

  18. One complication here is that many of the areas on which Protestants and Catholics agree (Trinity, Hypostatic Union) were areas of fierce disagreement among the early Church, while some areas where Protestants and Catholics disagree (Regeneration in Baptism, Real Presence) were consensus among the Early Church.

  19. Mark (#13),

    Thank you for another thoughtful contribution. In my mind, your parting comment in #8 about getting clear about the particulars of our disagreement is spot on. If I or others here in the comments between have misunderstood your points, please do be forthcoming.

    I confess to wondering the same question Bryan implies:

    I don’t know why you think that a question being settled by the magisterium is “unbiblical.”

    It occurs to me that part of the reason you believe it is unbiblical has to do with assumptions you may be making about Jesus’ statement in John 16:12-13, coming as it does in the midst of his several-chapters-long discourse in the upper room. You allude to this statement (in John 16:12-13) in the subtitle of your own post at CT: ‘Why the Spirit, not the magisterium, will lead us into all truth.’

    John 16:12-13 12 ¶ “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

    Here is a place where exegetical context and precision are especially key (Catholics and Protestants unite!). Jesus’ statement about ‘the Spirit leading you into all truth’ is not an annunciation directed toward the Church as a whole (though the way you are using the phrase in your subtitle implies that it is directed to the Church as a whole). The ‘you’ whom the Spirit will lead, if it includes the laity at all, does so include them only by extension. In the text, however, Jesus directs this statement expressly to the apostles who are with him in the upper room and to no one else, as they privately recline together at table. The most natural assumption, if we had no other text, would be to suppose that whatever development of doctrinal truth accrues to the wider Church, and especially the laity, does so specifically from the apostles and the successors they are authorized to appoint, as they dispense it, having received it themselves directly from the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus promised. When we do introduce other texts (e.g. the so-called “Great Commission” in Matt 28), these only corroborate the sequence of the transmission of doctrinal content: from those commissioned to those who are not.

    The upshot is that the biblical reference in your subtitle raises an exegetical point which seems to run across the grain of the main point of your article. The Holy Spirit will guide the magisterium into all truth, just as Jesus promises throughout John 14-16. When you then write,

    We don’t need a magisterium. We already have a Lord, who told us that not even the gates of Hades (whose landlord loves to sows confusion in the church!) will prevail against the church.

    this only begs a question about what else our Lord has also said, having said many other things. Answering such a question becomes difficult to the degree we should be committed to the very preceding statement in your article:

    Of course the center will hold, because at the center is not a doctrine, nor some human authority figure, nor a complete and inerrant statement of faith. There is only the Center, Jesus Christ.

    It is not the case, on the witness of the Bible’s own plain statements throughout John 14-16 that ‘[t]here is only the center.’ Jesus himself takes the authority he receives from the Father and gives it specifically to his apostles to lead the Church forward.

    I remain curious whether a closer look at the biblical text to which your subtitle appeals tempers your perspective at all. If I’m overlooking something, I’m sure you will set it right. Thanks again Mark for continuing this amicable exchange.

    Pax,

    Chad

  20. My last comment! :-)

    A reminder: Luther did not leave the Catholic church, the church excommunicated him, leaving him no choice but to challenge the medievel consensus outside the magisterium. It is interesting to note today how appreciative most Catholic theologians are of Luther and how he brought the church back to its senses in many ways. A perfect example of the Holy Spirit working in the church outside the magisterium it seems to me :-)

    And if I may speak frankly with brothers in Christ: this search for an “objective” standard of truth can easily become a form of idolatry and self-justification–instead of giving oneself in full and radical trust to Jesus Christ as he comes to us in the Holy Spirit. That he comes to us through Word and Sacrament in the body of Christ I do not doubt (and regularly teach). But I fear my Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters so equate the authority of the church with the authority of God, the church has become an idol to some. Present company excluded, of course.

    Again, I grant that we may have to agree to disagree.

  21. Okay, one more comment! I have to say that I admire the depth and thoughtfulness of people on this blog. What a fine model of loving God with one’s mind. I trust you’ll continue to argue vigorously for the capital “C” Catholic faith, because the riches there are indeed deep and wide, and the rest of Christendom needs them.

    Blessings.

    Mark

  22. Mark,

    Thanks for dropping by. I have similar misgivings about how some conservative Protestants regard their own interpretation of Scripture. Thankfully, we are not caught in a dilemma between doctrinal skepticism and idolatry of either self or ecclesia. We can submit to divinely-appointed authority, and rest assured that in so doing we do not denigrate the majesty and authority of God. The question remains, when it comes to identifying the doctrinal content of Sacred Scripture, is the Church ultimately subject to private interpretation, or vice versa? In this light, we see that Luther did in fact have a choice. I agree that Luther had much to offer the Church, as is being recognized by many contemporary Catholic theologians. Would that he had offered it in submission to instead of prideful contempt of her authority.

    Andrew

  23. Mark (#20),

    I second Andrew’s appreciation for popping by, though I truly hope it will not be your last comment. I suspect that we submitted #19 and #20 almost simultaneously. I tried to respond to the dichotomy in your second paragraph of #20 above in #19, and I’ll remain open to being shown whether I’ve mistaken your point.

    About the reminder in your first paragraph, I’m always a bit puzzled when I hear this popular caveat regarding the historical situation surrounding Luther, which simply misdraws the chronology of events. Luther adopted an epistemology (to say nothing of his tone) incompatible with the authority Jesus vested in the magisterium prior to his excommunication, as the publication of his 95 Theses in 1517 demonstrates. The fact of the matter is that he did have a choice about how to address the problems he (rightly) identified prior to his excommunication (which did not take place until 1521). But rather than take up the sacramental means of correction and healing Jesus has given the Church, he chose to arrogate to himself the prerogative to pursue it in an academic context outside of these. This decision constitutes a willful act to walk out from under the ‘one holy catholic and apostolic Church’ by discarding the very apostolic authority Jesus gave to those among whom Luther was not included, though Luther’s decision would not be formalized until much later (and after he had been given ample opportunity to back up).

    It was for his own leave-taking–not before his own leave-taking–that he was excommunicated.

    We get into this discussion a bit here, and in #106 and #129 and some of the comments in between.

    Lastly and as earnestly as I may, it should concern us when we decide to throw up our hands and ‘agree to disagree’, since our Lord wants his Church rather to ‘agree’ (1 Cor 1:10). I grant it’s slow, hard work, but let’s keep trying to get to the bottom of things, and specifically, to discern whether the counterstatements we offer to each other work (i.e. whether they respond to and resolve the objection), or whether they fail to work. If we should discover that they fail to work, then let’s come up with better ones and try again until we can’t come with ones that work, and then let’s change our minds.

    Pax,

    Chad

  24. Dear Mark,

    I’ve enjoyed this exchange. Thank you for your participation. I am one who recognizes the good that God pulled out of all that was bad in the protestant reformation. But that is what God does. He pulls good things out of bad things. Martin Luther’s protest was objectively bad. But, God pulled goodness out of it.

    One thing that repeatedly seems to pop up in your reasoning is this false dilemma that the authority of the magisterium is somehow opposed to the authority of God. That “Giving yourself over” to the objective standards that are found in the Catholic Church is opposed to “Giving yourself over” to Jesus Christ. Obviously, we Catholics don’t agree. We see that God has shared his authority with people in the Church. Just like God shares his own ability to create new life with men and women. Just like God shares his own ability to forgive sins with the disciples gathered at the end of John’s Gospel. Just like God shared his ability to speak with the men who wrote the Bible.

    Do you disagree that God shares some of his own works and abilities with people? What is your principled reason for distinguishing which of these works and abilities he has shared with those he hasn’t shared?

  25. @Mark:

    Luther did not leave the Catholic church, the church excommunicated him, leaving him no choice but to challenge the medievel consensus outside the magisterium.

    Er… no choice at all? He didn’t have the possibility of submitting?

    jj

  26. Mark,

    First, I read your missive. I was caught immediately because it is the Acts of the Apostles, not the Acts of the Holy Spirit Acting Erratically. I found that Acts was primarily about Peter and Paul and what they were doing. I found that consistent with Paul’s note that “first there are apostles.” I found the apostles doing things never before done (opening salvation up to everyone), under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Whose coming was guaranteed by Jesus, Who told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem until they were given power from on high.

    Once this occurred, I found the Church under the apostles fulfilling the dual needs of the temple (sacrifice and rites) and of governance (the kingdom), with the apostles in general as associate high priests and Peter in particular fulfilling the positions of chamberlain (the keys or governance) and chief associate high priest (the sacrifice and the rites) in service of our Lord. I determined that through scripture and saw the old covenant and its functions being perfected in the new covenant.

    Even as an evangelical I could not conceive of God being different from day to day or person to person. That was what made the incoherence of the yellow pages under Church so problematic. Your missive reminded me that my old position made God the author of chaos. He was put in the position of being responsible for different people and different organizations believing competing and incompatible things. Was God being truthful to me while lying to someone else? Hard idea to grasp if Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

    I continually look for the truth, and your explanation did not satisfy that hunger.

    You are the second person visiting this site who has tried to excuse Luther, at least in part by misrepresentation. I read Luther and the history of Germany when I was leaving evangelicalism and found his writings and conduct reprehensible. History notes that Luther left the Church long before he was excommunicated.

    Cordially,

    dt

  27. Fascinating!

    I find it interesting that Mark considers it is a form of idolatry to desire certainty concerning the content of the faith.

    I find that this contrasts rather sharply with what Calvin held.

    Consider the following excerpt from his Short Treatise on the Holy Supper:

    “As the holy sacrament of the Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ has long been the subject of several important errors, and in these past years been anew enveloped in diverse opinions and contentious disputes, it is no wonder if many weak consciences cannot fairly resolve what view they ought to take of it, but remain in doubt and perplexity, waiting till all contention being laid aside, the servants of God come to some agreement upon it. However, as it is a very perilous thing to have no certainty on an ordinance, the understanding of which is so requisite for our salvation, I have thought it might be a very useful labour to treat briefly and, nevertheless, clearly deduce a summary of what is necessary to be known of it.”

  28. @Mark:
    I’m afraid I still don’t understand. You say:

    Again, it’s not majoritarianism, but consensus, and consensus over time. Consensus means near unanimity (assuming that in this life, we will never get complete unanimity on anything). So the fact that the Arians were in the majority for a period–and they definitely were–suggests nothing about this argument from consensus. There was always a vigorous and outspoken minority–orthodoxy–that fought and eventually won on those points. But Arianism was never the consensus.

    Near unanimity amongst whom. Amongst those who call themselves Christians? Like the Mormons? Amongst all men and women? Like the Muslims?

    Somehow, this just seems to me circular. If we are having a meeting in room, consensus, in your (perfectly reasonable) definition, obviously means agreement amongst us who are in the room.

    You also raise the point of timing. There was a time, apparently, when there was an Arian consensus amongst Arians – then there were fewer Arians. There certainly was a time when there was a consensus amongst self-named Christians on most Catholic doctrines, including the primacy of the Papacy – and then – again, amongst self-named Christians – there wasn’t.

    And, as I said, I don’t even know what the group of persons is that you think consensus must exist amongst. All men? All self-named Christians? All Trinitarians – but then, isn’t this circular? You have – arbitrarily, if consensus is the criterion – defined Christian as Trinitarian.

    As I said, I don’t understand, am perhaps just muddled – but I would love to know how you escape what certainly seems to me a radical and tight circularity in your usage of the criterion of consensus.

    jj

  29. Mark (re: #20)

    I don’t want to pile on, because I know it can feel overwhelming when many people express various disagreements and objections. Even if most of us are expressing some disagreement with you, please know that there’s no hostility — we really want to get to the bottom of this, as Chad put it. We embrace you as a brother in Christ (albeit separated), but we deeply want this separation to be over, to be something our children read about in the history books, no longer to be experienced when we go up to receive the Eucharist. It still pains me, five years later, whenever I receive, because of my Protestant brothers and sisters (and blood relatives) now separated from me. So our motivation for raising these objections is not to be belligerent or argumentative, but only to get to the bottom of what still divides us, and through the Holy Spirit, to remove those obstacles to reunion.

    You wrote:

    this search for an “objective” standard of truth can easily become a form of idolatry and self-justification–instead of giving oneself in full and radical trust to Jesus Christ as he comes to us in the Holy Spirit. That he comes to us through Word and Sacrament in the body of Christ I do not doubt (and regularly teach). But I fear my Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters so equate the authority of the church with the authority of God, the church has become an idol to some. Present company excluded, of course.

    I want to understand why you think that the search for objective [theological] truth, and trust in the magisterium of the Church, is (or can be) idolatrous. I included the word ‘theological’ because I assume you don’t think the search for objective mathematical truth is idolatrous, or the search for objective biological truth is idolatrous, etc. Rather, I presume you think that the search for objective theological truth is idolatrous when (1) it relies on some creature (whether human reason, or a magisterium) rather than relying on Christ alone, or (2) it seeks to try to know something that (in your opinion) Christ has not [yet] revealed. And in your mind, trust in a creature in the practice of religion, at least when that trust seeks to go beyond what God has revealed, is idolatrous. Is that an accurate description of why you think that the search for an “objective” standard of doctrinal truth and trust in the authority of the magisterium to adjudicate doctrinal questions, is idolatrous?

    If so, it seems to me that your claim depends on a Protestant way of conceiving of the authority of the magisterium and of the working of the Spirit in the development of doctrine. When the first Christians followed Christ by following the Apostles, they weren’t being idolaters, precisely because, as Jesus said, “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me.” (Luke 10:16) And “he who receives whomever I send receives Me” (John 13:20) So to listen to the Apostles, was to listen to Jesus, not because the Apostles were Jesus, but because He had authorized them to speak in His Name, i.e. with His authority, as His ambassadors. And given a Catholic understanding of apostolic succession (see the second footnote above), that authority was handed down to the bishops who succeeded the Apostles, and is handed down to this day, as they continue to exposit the deposit of faith, condemning heresy and defining orthodoxy, not introducing new revelation but plumbing the depths of the apostolic deposit in what we call the development of doctrine. (See our post on St. Vincent of Lérins’ teaching concerning the development of doctrine.) So if in the first century it was not idolatrous to obey the Apostles as an act of faith by which one obeyed Christ, then, given the truth of apostolic succession, it is not idolatrous to obey the successors of the Apostles (i.e. the magisterium) as an act of faith by which one obeys Christ. So, it seems to me therefore, that your idolatry objection depends on whether or not apostolic succession is true, and in fact depends on apostolic succession being false. Does that seem right to you?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  30. Mark,

    I know this comment may go beyond the statute of limitation given your recent exit, but I will leave it for the sake of anyone else reading this discussion as well. I write as someone who always worshiped within “orthodoxy” inside the evangelical world (well, maybe…Do you consider evangelical Pentecostalism orthodoxy? How about non-denominational charismatic led by a former baptist minister?–maybe I’m introducing something precarious about this whole discussion). I may have leaned more Reformed in my theology, but I never worshiped with those communions. In turn, I find your attitude one of the reasons I began to question evangelical Christianity. The desire for truth is not a desire for objectivity in the modern sense of “objectivity” meaning an inhuman, scientific vantage free from all personal commitments, predispositions, etc. Instead, the desire for truth is grounded in love for God, who is Truth. It means when questions go unanswered, we knock, seek, and ask. For example, a question I found troubling was, “Why am I not Catholic?”

    In your comments, you seem to be demonstrating what I will call “excuse determinism”. Another phrase that would work is “false eschatalogical hope” or “modern deconstructionist theory lightening the cross”.

    What I mean is this: when one is faced with truth or a lie, saying “we will find out” is an excuse when one cannot make a good defense or commit one’s life to understand the defense of their position and/or the reasonableness of the counter-position. It’s the “I’ll-stay-at-home-it-is-safer” retreat (not defense). Moreover, to follow Christ to the end–to put one’s hand to the plow faithfully–isn’t to say “we will find out” in an unfalsifiable position of assumed certainty of uncertainty in the present that projects a course of apathy in the future. It turns our Lord’s words into: “You won’t know the truth, but hang in there, there’s a lot of freedom to be had on the journey”. It is the cause for your current emergent mess.

    Also, who is to say Protestants are a part of the “consensus”? You assume that Protestantism/Protestants existed for most of the history of which you rely upon as “history”. Your redacted list of the “always believed” doctrines are precisely due to your inclusion of Protestantism–for to remove them would be to include a whole list of doctrines you would resist. What becomes even more problematic is that the actual means of salvation is NOT a consensus in “Protestantism”–whatever that is (I agree with Belloc that it is not a “thing”). To be a Protestant is one thing: to reject the authority of consensus, history, or a hybrid that you are arguing for in favor of personal conviction regarding that which I think is Biblical teaching. Tell the fastest growing Christian sects in the world, sects who reject the necessity of baptism for salvation that they are “missing the consensus”. They will laugh and build another mega-church.

    The attitude of “excuse determinism” is like a Jew in the 1st century saying, “We follow G-d, so we shall see at the judgment what this Jesus fellow was about”. If the Catholic Church is the Church Jesus founded, then it is not some theory we are debating but the very mission and work of Christ.

    Lastly, your “institution vs. dynamic” dilemma is a false one. There is nothing about an institution that cannot be dynamic if it is established by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit. I think the dilemma you are observing but inaccurately identifying is the Apostolic and Orderly vs. Non-Apostolic and Disorderly. Sin is in both, but the Holy Spirit is not, per se, interested in the success of both.

    Your separated brother,

    Brent

  31. Mark Galli- Just when things are getting interesting, you say “my last comment.” I am so interested to hear where this conversation could go. I would like to encourage you, for the sake of our witness to the unbelieving world, to remain open to dialoguing with the writers here at Called to Communion! Peace to you! Herbert Vanderlugt

  32. I’m a ‘Filipino’ Catholic from the Philippines and I really find your conversation/dialogue very interesting. Thank you for having such conversations…

    In Christ,

    Alito

  33. Herb and others, I do apologize if it seems like I’m running from the conversation. I mean no offense or petulance! But one only has so much time and the level of argument would require responses that would in turn require more reading and thinking. And I’m afraid right now other topics are demanding that type of attention from me at this time. I have no doubt that I would learn something in conversation with you all–and in fact have learned much already. I am glad to be aware of this website, and will surely pop in from time to time, and maybe even pop-off! If any of you are visiting the western Chicago suburbs, I’d love to have coffee and hear your story. Blessings!

  34. I second Herbert. My heart sank when I checked this morning and saw your “last” comment. Mark, I just converted to Catholicism last December. What drove me was the unity problem I see among Christ’s followers. You seem to also know the problem. I spent months trying to get answers from Protestant sources for my questions, and most often they do not want to discuss it because they think they won’t change my mind. I think that is a bad reason, and I have shown I can change my mind (as have most of the commentors on this site!) I have been Pentecostal, Reformed, and now Catholic, so I can change my mind.

    So please don’t give up. Engage Bryan Cross’ comment and do the real work of unity. Please don’t give it to the “we will find out in the end who was right” attitude. The unity of Christendom is too important to give up so easily. If you need a more practical reason, there are hundreds of people who “lurk” on this blog who are considering conversion to Catholicism and questioning things. They are looking for reasons to not convert from authorities from their tradition like you. Don’t let them down.

  35. Dear Mark,

    Thank you for being willing to dialog this far. We all understand that the internal dialog continues and hope you think more about what we have written. I assure you, the “firestorm” of responses were not motivated by any personal contempt but rather that your words in so many ways mirrored our own previously held beliefs and/or were reasons for questioning more deeply our presuppositions. In other words, these were the questions and/or responses we leveled against ourselves.

    The “why am I ______?” question is a question that is beginning to crop up amongst Protestants of all kinds. It is an existential question that is no longer nurtured by a Protestant culture that insulated itself from criticism and perpetuated itself with relative success over the last 200 years in the USA and abroad. This is not unique to Protestantism, for this is the exact question many asked almost 500 years ago and fled to Geneva or elsewhere. Yet the Catholic history will read something like this: Counter Reformation–>fragmentation of the Protestant rebels—>The Return of the glory of the Church right at the moment when the culture She raised up has been completely trampled under foot–just in time for persecution.

    We all (you and I) feel the pressure of that culture being extinguished (natural law, dignity of the family, credibility of the belief in God, the right to religious conscience, etc.), and in times like these–times of war, it is not normal for men to change footing. However, how can a good Christian stand? Must he continue to schism from his ecclesial body, watching it decay, so that he, himself, can be the securer of orthodoxy? No denomination within Protestantism seems immune from the poison of heresy which would necessitate such a sandy footing.. When the Universal pastor of the Church of Jesus Christ (Pope Benedict XVI) was here visiting just a few years ago, he said this to the religious leaders gathered:

    “Too often those who are not Christians, as they observe the splintering of Christian communities, are understandably confused about the Gospel message itself. Fundamental Christian beliefs and practices are sometimes changed within communities by so-called “prophetic actions” that are based on a hermeneutic not always consonant with the datum of Scripture and Tradition. Communities consequently give up the attempt to act as a unified body, choosing instead to function according to the idea of “local options”. Somewhere in this process the need for diachronic koinonia – communion with the Church in every age – is lost, just at the time when the world is losing its bearings and needs a persuasive common witness to the saving power of the Gospel (cf. Rom 1:18-23).

    He continues:

    For Christians to accept this faulty line of reasoning would lead to the notion that there is little need to emphasize objective truth in the presentation of the Christian faith, for one need but follow his or her own conscience and choose a community that best suits his or her individual tastes. The result is seen in the continual proliferation of communities which often eschew institutional structures and minimize the importance of doctrinal content for Christian living.

    The Catholic Church is the ark God has provided to weather the storm to heaven. We can make our own canoes and appear, at moments, to be afloat, to be riding the current above the storm. However, as the society closes in around us, no longer indifferent to our presentation of “objective truth” but instead putting forward a totalitarian regime of relativism–a certainty of uncertainty regarding the judgment of competing truth claims–the canoes will break; even the Ark will seem to teeter. Nonetheless, the Catholic Church is indefectible and infallible, empowered by the Holy Spirit and fed on the Body and Blood of Christ. Through that storm, she will emerge from the blood-bath of martyrdom–like her Head–glorious, rising to heaven to be with Her groom–without spot or wrinkle.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  36. Mark, I’m a former minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). I was pastor of a congregation in eastern Pennsylvania for just over five years. My wife and I entered into full communion with the Catholic Church at the beginning of 2011. If you’d be willing, I’m happy to take you up on that cup of coffee and conversation. We now live in Rockford, so meeting up wouldn’t be too difficult.

  37. What a great discussion! I know I’m jumping in too late for a response, Mark, and I hesitate to add more to the “objection pile”, but one of your statements in comment #13 left me confused:

    “Again, it’s not majoritarianism, but consensus, and consensus over time. Consensus means near unanimity (assuming that in this life, we will never get complete unanimity on anything). So the fact that the Arians were in the majority for a period–and they definitely were–suggests nothing about this argument from consensus. There was always a vigorous and outspoken minority–orthodoxy–that fought and eventually won on those points. But Arianism was never the consensus.”

    Even without challenging your paradigm for determining objective truth–which seems to be historical consensus–why wouldn’t this force you to the Catholic Church? Echoing TC (Comment #9), doctrines like the Real Presence of the Eucharist, baptismal regeneration, and (most important in this discussion) apostolic succession and magisterial authority, were accepted by the large majority of Christians through the large majority of history– the closest we have to “always and everywhere by everyone.”

    Likewise, if the sixteenth-century Reformers operated on the basis of historical consensus, they too would never have left the Catholic Church.

  38. Hello,
    I am a Reformed Christian and have a couple on this discussion.

    1) It really seems like the argumentation given by the Catholics here and elsewhere only work on the assumption of a post modern worldview being the only option outside of Catholicism. The only objective reason to not be an Arian etc. is because the magisterium ruled on the issue. It cannot be that a reason to reject Arianism is that it cannot hold up to a sustained interrogation using General and Special Revelation. There is no way to gain access to reality, so one has to just trust that the magisterium is correct.

    2)My view of consensus is simply the view held after a period of argumentation. Consensus changes overtime as holes are shown in the majority opinion, and people begin to reject it looking for something else. The Holy Spirit guides the individual and the church as they work through the various arguments for or against some position.

  39. Hello Hermonta,

    Welcome to Called To Communion. If the matters in question were knowable by the natural light of reason, or if the charism of illumination were given in equal measure by the Holy Spirit to all who named the name of Christ, then a magisterium would not be necessary. But, we are dealing not primarily with truth knowable by reason alone (e.g. 2+2=4), but with supernatural revelation, which is not knowable by the natural light of reason; grace is necessary for the intellect to assent, and this is why faith is a gift of God. Moreover, in His wisdom Christ set up His Church such that the Holy Spirit would guide the Church through an established hierarchy, rather than directly and immediately from heaven to the heart of each person. The Montanists of the late second / early third centuries erred in just this way, by assuming that they followed the Spirit directly, immediately, in their hearts apart from and independently of the magisterium. The fact that Christ did not set up His Church in the Montanist anti-magisterial manner is easily demonstrated by the widespread disagreement and incompatible beliefs held throughout Christian history by those who name the Name of Christ and claim to be following the Holy Spirit, whom Christ calls the Spirit of Truth.

    As for your claim about consensus, it suffers the same problem as Mark’s, pointed out both in the body of the post above, and in comments #11 and #16.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  40. @Hermonta – the problem of consensus is, consensus amongst whom? There is perhaps nothing on which every single human being on the face of the earth agrees – and certainly not on such topics as the Trinity or the Hypostatic Union. So unless you know in advance what group consensus must be found within – ‘consensus’ is circular.

    jj

  41. Hello Bryan,
    Oh there have been multiple disagreements throughout church history is no question. The question is whether or not those disagreements can/are squashed when the magisterium say, “the discussion is closed”, or if the arguments that are the basis of the ruling does the heavy lifting?

    That various disputes get into issues that can only be known by special revelation, is only a problem depending on how much one can know by General Revelation and what that knowledge can rule out before even getting into what the Bible says.

    The problem of the Montanists (as far as a quick Wiki read says) was not that they were outside of the Magisterium, it was that they supported an unsupportable position.

    As far as I can tell, posts 11 and 16, are only a problem if one holds to a postmodern worldview being the case if one does not hold to Catholicism. I don’t believe such.

    One question for you is: On What basis do you believe that a large number of issues are undecidable outside of a magisterium. It seems that your position necessitates the claim that not only are various issues undecided, but that they are in principle undecidable.

    On a last note, I am not against hierarchy, teachers etc. I am Presbyterian. I do reject the belief that the job of the hierarchy is simply to tell us what to believe, but not to get into why that is the case.

    Thank you for the response,

    Hermonta

  42. Mr. Jensen,
    In a way I agree with your position on consensus. Consensus is a symptom of the current philosophical and theological landscape. If one’s arguments hold, then the consensus will come. If they don’t then the consensus will fall apart. Simple trying to do a headcount is a fool’s game.

  43. @Hermonta:

    In a way I agree with your position on consensus. Consensus is a symptom of the current philosophical and theological landscape. If one’s arguments hold, then the consensus will come. If they don’t then the consensus will fall apart. Simple trying to do a headcount is a fool’s game.

    Probably I’m not understanding you, Hermonta, but what I meant was that consensus – which means general agreement – presupposes the group within which that ‘general agreement’ exists in order to call it ‘consensus.’ So … when you talk about consensus, you mean ‘general agreement’ within some group. What I don’t think I understand is how you define that group. Supposing the right view on the Trinity to require consensus. Within what group would you require agreement on the Trinity to exist in order to constitute consensus? There are many – the modern Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the “Jesus Only” crowd, the Muslims and the Mormons, would certainly not agree on the Trinity.

    jj

  44. Hermonta,

    Your objections to the magisterium and its claim to be divinely authorized would make sense if the magisterium gave us the fides and then prohibited us from seeking intellectus. But that’s just what theology is: fides quaerens intellectum. The magisterium both encourages this and itself participates in it.

    But, like St Augustine said, “do not try to understand in order to believe, but believe in order to understand” (Homilies on the Gospel of John 29.6). There are things that the teaching office of the Church proposes that I believe out of submission to Christ. Some of these I have come to understand as well after wrestling with them. Some I’m still wrestling with. But the cart mustn’t come before the horse.

    best,
    TC

  45. Mr. Jensen,
    I am not deriving my beliefs based on consensus being defined narrowly or being defined broadly. Let us imagine that 40% of the entire planet believes in the orthodox conception of the Trinity. That does not make me doubt the belief in the slightest. Either the position is true or it is not. Either the arguments for it, hold or they do not. If the arguments for it, answer the objections, then eventually that 40% will increase.

    Hermonta

  46. Hermonta, (re: #41)

    You wrote:

    The question is whether or not those disagreements can/are squashed when the magisterium say, “the discussion is closed”,

    Yes, when the magisterium definitively determines a doctrine, then the question is closed by that authoritative act. See Lumen Gentium 25.

    or if the arguments that are the basis of the ruling does the heavy lifting?

    No. As I pointed out in my previous comment, the matters about which we are dealing are supernatural, and therefore human reason cannot by itself attain to them, or stand over them in judgment, let alone come up with definitive knock-down arguments that persuade all those who name the Name of Christ.

    The problem of the Montanists (as far as a quick Wiki read says) was not that they were outside of the Magisterium, it was that they supported an unsupportable position.

    If they supported it, then it wasn’t unsupportable. Seriously, though, every heresy and schism is ‘supportable’ in some respect, or it would have no attraction whatsoever. And the same is true of Montanism, which survived for a long time, and deceived even one of the Church’s best apologists, so much so that we have no evidence he recanted before he died. Theological questions are not merely logical problems or intellectual puzzles; they typically have all kinds of implications, both moral and spiritual. And sinful man can impose on the process of theological inquiry and deliberation a priori assumptions based on what he wants the result to be. Sin clouds the intellect. For that reason among other reasons, we should not assume that whatever the majority of scholars say is the truth about the matter.

    As far as I can tell, posts 11 and 16, are only a problem if one holds to a postmodern worldview being the case if one does not hold to Catholicism. I don’t believe such.

    Nope. The arguments I make in those two comments in no way depend on a ‘postmodern’ worldview.

    One question for you is: On What basis do you believe that a large number of issues are undecidable outside of a magisterium. It seems that your position necessitates the claim that not only are various issues undecided, but that they are in principle undecidable.

    First, Christ wouldn’t have established a magisterium if it weren’t necessary. Second, because what underlies the doctrinal disagreement between Protestants and Catholics is not an exegetical dispute to be cleared up eventually by just pointing out the exegetical errors in the other side’s work, but more fundamental principles that lie under the different hermeneutics, such as Sola Scriptura and the role of Sacred Tradition, as I have explained in “The Tradition and the Lexicon.” Third, we’ve been conducting a five hundred year experiment to see how convergence regarding theological disagreements works without a magisterium. It is called Protestantism. The disagreements have only grown, and the fragmentation accelerated to the point where now the fragmentation is so severe that people are abandoning denominations altogether and each person forms an eclectic mix of beliefs that he likes. (We discussed this somewhat in “A Reflection on PCA Pastor Terry Johnson’s “Our Collapsing Ecclesiology”.”) The claim that all doctrinal questions can be resolved by reason alone, without a magisterium, has been refuted by this five hundred year experiment. If you don’t agree, then how many more centuries of continuing fragmention and theological disagreement would it take to falsify the claim? If you can’t answer that question, then this shows that it is not a grounded claim, but a mere assumption without an empirical basis.

    On a last note, I am not against hierarchy, teachers etc. I am Presbyterian. I do reject the belief that the job of the hierarchy is simply to tell us what to believe, but not to get into why that is the case.

    I understand. But the Catholic notion is that the authority of teachers over oneself is not based on their agreement with oneself. Anyone can pick ‘an authority’ on the basis of that authority’s agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture. But that’s not authority; that’s accumulating to oneself ear-itchers, who sometimes might itch in ways that one didn’t expect or don’t always like. The Catholic notion of magisterial authority is that this authority comes from Christ, through the Apostles, and then to those bishops the Apostles ordained, then to the bishops those bishops ordained, down through the centuries in an unbroken continuity to the bishops of the present day. (See footnote 2 in the post.) And if those bishops say that the job of the hierarchy is, among other things, to tell us what to believe concerning the deposit of faith, then that’s what their job is, and we aren’t going to second guess them about their job, because we don’t have apostolic authority.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  47. Hello TC,

    Let us imagine that I was born in a majority Muslim nation. Everyone I know is a Muslim. My elders give me this Augustine quote. How do you think this would turn out?

    As far as not knowing everything, I understand completely. I am the same way with Westminster. I have come to understand some things after struggle while other things I currently trust as I work them out.

  48. @Hermonta:

    Mr. Jensen,
    I am not deriving my beliefs based on consensus being defined narrowly or being defined broadly. Let us imagine that 40% of the entire planet believes in the orthodox conception of the Trinity. That does not make me doubt the belief in the slightest. Either the position is true or it is not. Either the arguments for it, hold or they do not. If the arguments for it, answer the objections, then eventually that 40% will increase.

    Excellent! We are making progress. Neither do I base my belief in the Trinity on consensus.

    So … the question now is, on what do you base your belief in the Trinity?

    jj

  49. I hope the formatting works.

    Bryan, (re: #46)

    The question is whether or not those disagreements can/are squashed when the magisterium say, “the discussion is closed”,

    Yes, when the magisterium definitively determines a doctrine, then the question is closed by that authoritative act. See Lumen Gentium 25.

    My question concerned the difference between squashing an idea or just removing it from your premises and allowing people to present that idea elsewhere.

    or if the arguments that are the basis of the ruling does the heavy lifting?

    No. As I pointed out in my previous comment, the matters about which we are dealing are supernatural, and therefore human reason cannot by itself attain to them, or stand over them in judgment, let alone come up with a definitive knock-down argument that persuades all those who name the Name of Christ.

    The ability to differentiate between the different supernatural claims are based on what is revealed in natural revelation/reason. Therefore certain supernatural claims can be ruled out due to what God has cleared revealed by the created order (Romans 1). So you would need to make a further argument that “this or that” claim is somehow completely unrelated to what is known by General Revelation.

    The problem of the Montanists (as far as a quick Wiki read says) was not that they were outside of the Magisterium, it was that they supported an unsupportable position.

    If they supported it, then it wasn’t unsupportable. Seriously, though, every heresy and schism is ‘supportable’ in some respect, or it would have no attraction whatsoever. And the same is true of Montanism, which survived for a long time, and deceived even one of the Church’s best apologists, so much so that we have no evidence he recanted before he died. Theological questions are not merely logical problems or intellectual puzzles; they typically have all kinds of implications, both moral and spiritual. And sinful man can impose on the process of theological inquiry and deliberation a priori assumptions based on what he wants the result to be. Sin clouds the intellect. For that reason among other reasons, we should not assume that whatever the majority of scholars say is the truth about the matter.

    No doubt, we should not call assign the title of truth to whatever a group of scholars, no matter how large, says.
    My point was that it was ultimately unsupportable. Various ideas can be prima fascia supportable for a while, but when one kicks the tires, flaws are exposed. We are responsible to know when the shepherd is speaking.

    As far as I can tell, posts 11 and 16, are only a problem if one holds to a postmodern worldview being the case if one does not hold to Catholicism. I don’t believe such.

    Nope. The arguments I make in those two comments in no way depend on a ‘postmodern’ worldview.

    I have yet to see a reason to change my position.

    One question for you is: On What basis do you believe that a large number of issues are undecidable outside of a magisterium. It seems that your position necessitates the claim that not only are various issues undecided, but that they are in principle undecidable.

    First, Christ wouldn’t have established a magisterium if it weren’t necessary.

    If by magisterium, you mean preachers, teachers, elders etc. then okay. If you mean some infallible group, then that is something under dispute.

    Second, because what underlies the doctrinal disagreement between Protestants and Catholics is not an exegetical dispute to be cleared up eventually by just pointing out the exegetical errors in the other side’s work, but more fundamental principles that lie under the different hermeneutics, such as Sola Scriptura and the role of Sacred Tradition, as I have explained in “The Tradition and the Lexicon.”

    Oh the dispute does hit a lot of issues. The main issue is whether or not, it can be adjudicated on some basis other than, “if you don’t do what I say then you can have no certainty.”

    Third, we’ve been conducting a five hundred year experiment to see how convergence regarding theological disagreements works without a magisterium. It is called Protestantism. The disagreements have only grown, and the fragmentation accelerated to the point where now the fragmentation is so severe that people are abandoning denominations altogether and each person forms an electic mix of beliefs that he likes. (We discussed this somewhat in “A Reflection on PCA Pastor Terry Johnson’s “Our Collapsing Ecclesiology”.”) The claim that all doctrinal questions can be resolved by reason alone, without a magisterium, has been refuted by this five hundred year experiment. If you don’t agree, then how many more centuries of continuing fragmention and theological disagreement would it take to falsify the claim? If you can’t answer that question, then this shows that it is not a ground claim, but a mere assumption without an empirical basis.

    I don’t see the problems of the past 500 years as a refutation of relying on reason. It is a refutation of relying on Aquinas’s version of what can be done known by reason etc. Most things were pretty stable until the Enlightenment took off. When Descartes, Hume, Kant etc. attacked, neither the Protestants or the Catholics responded properly. Before all the problems are placed on the Protestants, one needs to remember that people didnt just exit Protestantism and head directly to Rome. If Rome had all the answers, then that is where people would have headed.

    On a last note, I am not against hierarchy, teachers etc. I am Presbyterian. I do reject the belief that the job of the hierarchy is simply to tell us what to believe, but not to get into why that is the case.

    I understand. But the Catholic notion is that the authority of teachers over oneself is not based on their agreement with oneself. Anyone can pick ‘an authority’ on the basis of that authority’s agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture. But that’s not authority; that’s accumulating to oneself ear-itchers, who sometimes might itch in ways that one didn’t expect or don’t always like. The Catholic notion of magisterial authority is that this authority comes from Christ, through the Apostles, and then to those bishops the Apostles ordained, then to the bishops those bishops ordained, down through the centuries in an unbroken continuity to the bishops of the present day. (See footnote 2 in the post.) And if those bishops say that the job of the hierarchy is, among other things, to tell us what to believe concerning the Apostolic of faith, then that’s what their job is, and we aren’t going to second guess them about their job, because we don’t have apostolic authority.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

    My position is that one can know truth and not just what one agrees with another concerning a matter. Remember my position, is that the world outside of Roman Catholicism is not Post Modern.
    I do not believe that Bishop are without integrity in their beliefsl; I simply believe that they are wrong.

    – Hermonta

  50. Hermonta,

    Let us imagine that I was born in a majority Muslim nation. Everyone I know is a Muslim. My elders give me this Augustine quote. How do you think this would turn out?

    I’m not aware that Muslims are accustomed to appealing to St Augustine as an authority ;-) But seriously, this is a conversation about faith and reason among Christians who, I take it, agree that we are not and should not be either fideists or rationalists. I’m not going to play ball on a hypothetical like this unless you give me a good reason to.

    I am the same way with Westminster. I have come to understand some things after struggle while other things I currently trust as I work them out.

    Why would you submit to Westminster about anything that it hasn’t demonstrated to you? Where did it get that kind of authority over your mind? This seems to run counter to your skepticism about the Catholic magisterium, which, whatever else you might say about it, at least claims to be divinely ordained. Westminster makes no such claim, and should therefore on its own terms ward you off from placing such trust in it until you’ve been duly convinced by scripture of its accuracy.

    best,
    TC

  51. TC,
    My point with the Augustine quote was simply that it cannot be used to cut off all dissent. As far as Westminster goes, I do not give it the title of infallible. Do I have to give it that title in order to trust them on the things that I have not fully investigated after agreement concerning the things that I have?

  52. Hermonta,

    You wrote:

    My question concerned the difference between squashing an idea or just removing it from your premises and allowing people to present that idea elsewhere.

    That isn’t a question, but if you’re intending to ask a question, I don’t understand what you’re asking.

    The ability to differentiate between the different supernatural claims are based on what is revealed in natural revelation/reason.

    If by ‘differentiate’ you mean ‘determine the truth of’ then I do not agree. St. Paul writes “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (1 Cor 2:14) If the truths of supernatural revelation could be known by the natural power of reason, and verified by the natural power of reason, then it would not require grace to understand them, and there would be no difference between special revelation and what you are calling “general revelation.” One of the fundamental errors of Protestantism is an implicit denial of the distinction between nature and grace, as though they are both on the same level. See “Nature, Grace, and Man’s Supernatural End: Feingold, Kline, and Clark.”

    My point was that it was ultimately unsupportable. Various ideas can be prima fascia supportable for a while, but when one kicks the tires, flaws are exposed.

    Well, here’s the Catholic Church, still around after two-thousand years of people kicking her tires, and growing at 34,000 people per day. Feel free to expose the fatal flaw. If your great trust in human reason’s reach into supernatural matters is right, and if all the theological disputes presently dividing us can be settled without relying on a divinely established magisterium, then not only should you be able to refute the errors of Catholic theology, but you should be able by reason alone (i.e. without relying on any magisterial authority) to persuade all the Catholic participants in this discussion that your Presbyterian position is correct. Start any time you wish.

    I have yet to see a reason to change my position.

    Then don’t. Anyone can assert, as you have, that an argument presupposes postmodernism. It is quite another thing altogether actually to show which premise of my argument presupposes postmodernism.

    If by magisterium, you mean preachers, teachers, elders etc. then okay. If you mean some infallible group, then that is something under dispute.

    I had in mind the Apostles. If Christ’s ecclesial setup was that each Christian has a direct, unmediated pipeline to God regarding the truth of the content of the gospel and the proper interpretation of Scripture and the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy, such that there was no need for Apostles and elders but something like Montanism were true, then Christ wouldn’t have chosen, trained, authorized and commissioned Apostles. Instead, on the day of Pentecost each person would have been zapped by the Holy Spirit directly, and there never would have been a Jerusalem Council, because the Holy Spirit would have already guided all Christians to the same position, so the resolution of the dispute at the Council would have been unnecessary. In fact, you and I wouldn’t be in disagreement right now, because the Holy Spirit would have already guided us into the very same unity of the faith. Presumably, your response will be that either I’m not listening to the Holy Spirit, or that I’m not being reasonable, one of the two. Well, if you think I’m not being reasonable, feel free to show where and how. But if you think I’m not listening to the Holy Spirit (but you are listening to the Holy Spirit), then we need to talk about how we know who is really following the Holy Spirit, and who is (as I explained in the body of the post at the top of this page) co-opting the Spirit to support their own opinion.

    I don’t see the problems of the past 500 years as a refutation of relying on reason. It is a refutation of relying on Aquinas’s version of what can be done known by reason etc. Most things were pretty stable until the Enlightenment took off. When Descartes, Hume, Kant etc. attacked, neither the Protestants or the Catholics responded properly. Before all the problems are placed on the Protestants, one needs to remember that people didnt just exit Protestantism and head directly to Rome. If Rome had all the answers, then that is where people would have headed.

    Wow. I’ll leave that one alone. Feel free to kick the tires and expose the fatal flaw.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  53. Hermonta,

    My point with the Augustine quote was simply that it cannot be used to cut off all dissent.

    Fair enough.

    As far as Westminster goes, I do not give it the title of infallible. Do I have to give it that title in order to trust them on the things that I have not fully investigated after agreement concerning the things that I have?

    I’m not in a position to comment about what you “have” to do. But if it were me, and matters of divine faith were at stake, then I’d say yes. But that’s just me. I’m not much of a daredevil.

    best,
    TC

  54. Hi Hermonta,

    In #49, you wrote:

    If Rome had all the answers, then that is where people would have headed.

    Is it because Christianity does not have the answers that some people have not “headed to” Christianity, or might there be other reasons?

    I wonder if wrestling around with this question a bit may help us to be more precise about what is at stake when magisterial authority is eschewed.

    Pax,

    Chad

  55. Hi Chad,

    Hi Hermonta,
    In #49, you wrote:

    If Rome had all the answers, then that is where people would have headed.

    Is it because Christianity does not have the answers that some people have not “headed to” Christianity, or might there be other reasons?
    I wonder if wrestling around with this question a bit may help us to be more precise about what is at stake when magisterial authority is eschewed.
    Pax,
    Chad

    I would say that Christianity has not dug down and presented the proper answers to the questions instead of saying that it has no answers to the questions. If the proper answers are presented then the consensus will come. My model of intellectual development can be found here – http://www.opencourtbooks.com/books_n/myth_of_the_closed.htm

  56. Bryan re to #52

    My question concerned the difference between squashing an idea or just removing it from your premises and allowing people to present that idea elsewhere.

    This isn’t a question, but if you’re intending to ask a question, I don’t understand what you’re asking.

    You are right, that wasnt as clear as it was in my head. What I was trying to get at, was the situation after a ruling comes down on an issue. The magisterium can excommunicate the heretics, but they cannot prevent the heretics from operating outside the church. If the church decree is doing the heavy lifting, then the one should see the heretics (who are well within their intellectual rights) begin to propogate their errors outside of the normal church structure. The only exception would be when the church has the power of the state/sword on its side. If reason is doing the heavy lifting, then the heretics will not be able to propogate their beliefs, regardless of the state power of the church. I am not exactly sure how I would propose a test but I’ll think a bit more on the issue.

    The ability to differentiate between the different supernatural claims are based on what is revealed in natural revelation/reason.

    If by ‘differentiate’ you mean ‘determine the truth of’ then I do not agree. St. Paul writes “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (1 Cor 2:14) If the truths of supernatural revelation could be known by the natural power of reason, and verified by the natural power of reason, then it would not require grace to understand them, and there would be no difference between special revelation and what you are calling “general revelation.” One of the fundamental errors of Protestantism is an implicit denial of the distinction between nature and grace, as though they are both on the same level. See “Nature, Grace, and Man’s Supernatural End: Feingold, Kline, and Clark.”

    The lecture and book by Feingold look to be very interesting. Thanks for pointing them out.
    Natural/General Revelation reveals truths about God and how he wants us to act. We are without excuse if we deny these truths. If a supernatural claim is made that denies one of those truth, then it is to be rejected. As far as I can tell, to deny such is to attack the inexcusability of the rejection of natural revelation or put another way, to attack the clarity of natural revelation. This does not attack the view that there are things revealed in the Bible about God, that cannot be read from Natural Revelation.
    Calvin’s Extra comes to mind.

    My point was that it was ultimately unsupportable. Various ideas can be prima fascia supportable for a while, but when one kicks the tires, flaws are exposed.

    Well, here’s the Catholic Church, still around after two-thousand years of people kicking her tires, and growing at 34,000 people per day. Feel free to expose the fatal flaw. If your great trust in human reason’s reach into supernatural matters is right, and if all the theological disputes presently dividing us can be settled without relying on a divinely established magisterium, then not only should you be able to refute the errors of Catholic theology, but you should be able by reason alone (i.e. without relying on any magisterial authority) to persuade all the Catholic participants in this discussion that your Presbyterian position is correct. Start any time you wish.

    How many of the 34k are like this – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qY9Pzaq2rG0
    My view is not that I can/should be able to persuade you in the next couple days. Next couple decades is a different story.

    I have yet to see a reason to change my position.

    Then don’t. Anyone can assert, as you have, that an argument presupposes postmodernism. It is quite another thing altogether actually to show which premise of my argument presupposes postmodernism.

    I am still in shock that you somehow deny this? You consistently maintain that without an appeal to the Catholic Magisterium, one cannot know which way is up, and it is simply a case of everyone doing whatever is right in their own eyes. That this is equivalent to saying that outside the Catholic church, the situation is a postmodern one, seems like a slam dunk.

    If by magisterium, you mean preachers, teachers, elders etc. then okay. If you mean some infallible group, then that is something under dispute.

    I had in mind the Apostles. If Christ’s ecclesial setup was that each Christian has a direct, unmediated pipeline to God regarding the truth of the content of the gospel and the proper interpretation of Scripture and the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy, such that there was no need for Apostles and elders but something like Montanism were true, then Christ wouldn’t have chosen, trained, authorized and commissioned Apostles. Instead, on the day of Pentecost each person would have been zapped by the Holy Spirit directly, and there never would have been a Jerusalem Council, because the Holy Spirit would have already guided all Christians to the same position, so the resolution of the dispute at the Council would have been unnecessary. In fact, you and I wouldn’t be in disagreement right now, because the Holy Spirit would have already guided us into the very same unity of the faith. Presumably, your response will be that either I’m not listening to the Holy Spirit, or that I’m not being reaasonable, one of the two. Well, if you think I’m not being reasonable, feel free to show where and how. But if you think I’m not listening to the Holy Spirit (but you are listening to the Holy Spirit), then we need to talk about how we know who is really following the Holy Spirit, and who is (as I explained in the body of the post at the top of this page) co-opting the Spirit to support their own opinion.

    So there are only two options:
    1)Every person has an infallible direct pipeline to God
    2)The few (the magisterium) have an infallible direct pipeline to God while everyone else just spins there wheels
    I’ll go with
    3)The infallible pipeline does not exist. God sends heresies when the church is not digging down deep into his natural and special revelation to know Him better. The Church works hard to deepen its understanding. Based on this deeper understanding, a decision is rendered. If it is comprehensive, then the heresy will die. If it is, then it will morph into another form, to be fought later. Rinse and Repeat.
    —-
    I am not sure why you believe the Holy Spirit can only work through a direct pipeline or not at all.
    Lastly, reason and its use is not a 1 or 0 proposition. I would say that the Holy Spirit vs. proper reason is a false dichotomy. The Holy Spirit works through our reasoning individually and corporately, just as He operates when He bring us to faith.
    I have no reason to believe that you are being unreasonable, by willingly holding contradictory views, or reason to believe that the Holy Spirit is not working. The issue is whether or not you hold to beliefs that are contradictory but you don’t know it yet. If you seek the Lord, he will be found.

    I don’t see the problems of the past 500 years as a refutation of relying on reason. It is a refutation of relying on Aquinas’s version of what can be done known by reason etc. Most things were pretty stable until the Enlightenment took off. When Descartes, Hume, Kant etc. attacked, neither the Protestants or the Catholics responded properly. Before all the problems are placed on the Protestants, one needs to remember that people didnt just exit Protestantism and head directly to Rome. If Rome had all the answers, then that is where people would have headed.

    Wow. I’ll leave that one alone. Feel free to kick the tires and expose the fatal flaw.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

    Okay. Thank you very much for the discussion.
    Hermonta

  57. Hermonta (re: #55),

    If it is the case that the reason some people have not “headed to” Christianity is not because the answers to their questions are unavailable, then you’ll need an additional premise before concluding that the reason some people do not “head to” Rome is because Rome doesn’t have the answers.

    Put another way, you’ve granted that the absence of a component (having answers) is not a sufficient condition to explain why some people do not head to Christianity. But just above, you concluded that the same absence of the same component was sufficient on its own to explain why some people have not headed to Rome.

    Perhaps there are reasons other than that Rome does not have the answers, in the same way there are reasons other than that Christianity does not have the answers. Because if we are not justified concluding that Christianity does not have the answers simply because some people have not headed there, neither are we justified concluding that Rome does not have the answers simply because some people have not been received into the Church Jesus established, which we have been calling ‘Rome’. Perhaps the magisterium of the Church Jesus established does have the answers at its disposal, and we should expect, as you assert about Christianity, that as the magisterium of the Church continues to sharpen its answers, a consensus [larger than what already has obtained] will emerge.

    Or, might there be other mitigating factors? We have to be careful here, because if we decide there are other factors which mitigate the path to communion with the Church for some people (which it appears we must do), we will have in front of us factors which also mitigate the impulse to dismiss the claims of the Church on the basis of dissent. That is, we’ll need to provide better reasons–objective reasons–for resisting communion than simply, ‘I disagree.’

    Pax,

    Chad

  58. Hermonta,

    You wrote:

    What I was trying to get at, was the situation after a ruling comes down on an issue. The magisterium can excommunicate the heretics, but they cannot prevent the heretics from operating outside the church. If the church decree is doing the heavy lifting, then the one should see the heretics (who are well within their intellectual rights) begin to propogate their errors outside of the normal church structure. The only exception would be when the church has the power of the state/sword on its side. If reason is doing the heavy lifting, then the heretics will not be able to propogate their beliefs, regardless of the state power of the church. I am not exactly sure how I would propose a test but I’ll think a bit more on the issue.

    Ok, I think I get what you are saying here. But, I think it supports the Catholic position. Among people who call themselves Christian, there are all kinds of incompatible beliefs, and these have continued for many years, even centuries. But two incompatible beliefs can’t both be true. So if, as you put it, “reason were doing the heavy lifting” then all the false beliefs would not be able to be propagated. But, they can and are propagated. Look at the way Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses have grown over the last century. (I use them as an example, because we both agree that they are wrong.) Or even look at the way Pentecostalism has grown. The test you propose seems to show that beliefs you believe to be wrong are quite capable of propagation.

    Natural/General Revelation reveals truths about God and how he wants us to act. We are without excuse if we deny these truths. If a supernatural claim is made that denies one of those truth, then it is to be rejected. As far as I can tell, to deny such is to attack the inexcusability of the rejection of natural revelation or put another way, to attack the clarity of natural revelation. This does not attack the view that there are things revealed in the Bible about God, that cannot be read from Natural Revelation.
    Calvin’s Extra comes to mind.

    I agree that natural/general revelation reveals truths about God and how He wants us to act, and I agree that we are without excuse if we deny these truths. But our awareness of general revelation cannot allow us to verify actual supernatural revelation, because otherwise supernatural revelation could never exceed general revelation, and that would be a form of rationalism. Given your comment on the extra Calvinisticum, I think we don’t disagree on this point.

    How many of the 34k are like this

    I’m not exactly sure what you saw in the video that concerned you. Syncretism distorts or corrupts the Christian faith. But catholicity allows for great flexibility and receptivity in the form and expression of the Christian faith. What might appear like syncretism could in fact be the catholicity of the Church. To know for sure in the scene in the video, we would need to know more than what is stated [in English] on the video. Grace perfects nature, and so it has the power to transform older pagan festivals and rituals into Christian festivals and rituals. Terms can be redefined and applied in a Christian way. We see God as providentially in control, and therefore providentially preparing all these people groups for the gospels. So their pagan rituals, though distorted and erroneous, typically contain some precursor of truth that is fulfilled in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that is why these pagan practices can be baptized and redeemed, so that what is true in them can be preserved and elevated, while what is intrinsically evil in them is removed and cast away.

    My view is not that I can/should be able to persuade you in the next couple days. Next couple decades is a different story.

    Ok. I hope you’re willing to engage in that kind of lengthy, long-term dialogue.

    I am still in shock that you somehow deny this? You consistently maintain that without an appeal to the Catholic Magisterium, one cannot know which way is up, and it is simply a case of everyone doing whatever is right in their own eyes. That this is equivalent to saying that outside the Catholic church, the situation is a postmodern one, seems like a slam dunk.

    I think there is a misunderstanding. You asserted that my arguments to Mark regarding “consensus” in comments #11 and #16 depended on a postmodern worldview. But they don’t. My point there is that you can’t talk about a meaningful consensus unless you establish in advance who gets to participate in the process. Otherwise, you’re just forming a consensus “among those who agree with you.” And even the heretics do that. Nothing about that argument presupposes postmodernism.

    Now, your concern, I think, is that the notion that Christian doctrine cannot all be worked out from Scripture through reason alone, without the aid of a magisterium, presupposes a lower view of reason, and is in that respect characteristic of postmodernism. Ok, I hear what you’re saying. But my response is that I’m not presupposing a lower view of reason at all; rather, in Catholic theology we’re talking about something much higher than human reason. So it is not a lowering of human reason, but rather the staggering height of something so far above human reason, because is it precisely supernatural, above our natural capacity to know. See comment #61 in “Nature, Grace and Man’s Supernatural End: Feingold, Kline, and Clark.”

    So there are only two options:
    1)Every person has an infallible direct pipeline to God
    2)The few (the magisterium) have an infallible direct pipeline to God while everyone else just spins there wheels
    I’ll go with
    3)The infallible pipeline does not exist.

    If you’re going to use reason to resolve the disagreement between Catholics and Protestants, then you can’t just assert your position. You need to back it up. You would have to prove that the Catholic doctrine of magisterial infallibility is false — because the Protestant in separation from the Catholic Church has the burden of proof; see “Trueman and Prolegomena to “How Would Protestants Know When To Return?”.” (The doctrine of magisterial infallibility is summarized in Lumen Gentium 25.)

    I am not sure why you believe the Holy Spirit can only work through a direct pipeline or not at all.

    I don’t believe that the Holy Spirit “can only work through a direct pipeline or not at all.”

    Lastly, reason and its use is not a 1 or 0 proposition. I would say that the Holy Spirit vs. proper reason is a false dichotomy. The Holy Spirit works through our reasoning individually and corporately, just as He operates when He bring us to faith.

    I agree.

    I have no reason to believe that you are being unreasonable, by willingly holding contradictory views, or reason to believe that the Holy Spirit is not working. The issue is whether or not you hold to beliefs that are contradictory but you don’t know it yet. If you seek the Lord, he will be found.

    Amen. May God lead us to the truth, and show us any errors that we might presently hold.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you!

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  59. […] Cross concludes a posting about why we need the Church’s magisterium over at Called to Communion with: Faith, by contrast, “believes and professes all that the holy Catholic Church believes, […]

  60. […] just read a wonderful piece by Bryan Cross that Kristen shared from Called to Communion (a blog I have never read before, but which I think will now become a favorite), addressing the […]

  61. Maybe you’ve covered this somewhere else already–if so, forgive me.

    But why isn’t the Catholic interpretation of the magisterium itself subject to the same “agreement among whom” or “no non-arbitrary way to discern heritics” arguments you’ve made against Galli’s position?

    –guy

  62. Guy,

    Good question. The short answer is that the Magisterium, being comprised of visible persons, can continue to answer questions about its own teaching as those questions arise. Catholics must of course interpret Magisterial teaching, but it is the Magisterium itself that provides the authoritative interpretation of its own teachings. Imagine being in a classroom with a teacher: You fail to understand a point in the lecture, and ask for clarification. But something in the clarification remains obscure, and so you ask for further explanation, until you understand the original point. At no point in this process does the student reckon that his own interpretation of either the lecture or the teacher’s answers to his questions the lecture can trump the teacher’s self-clarification (Imagine saying to the teacher: “No, that’s not what you meant”!). Nor does the student believe that the way to gain clarification or come to a resolution is to take a poll among the other students regarding what the teacher meant. Such polls may be useful and informative, but not nearly so much so as consulting the teacher.

    A more extensive answer to your question has been given in Bryan’s post, The Tu Quoque, and a related matter is addressed in my piggy-back post, Son of a tu quoque.

    Andrew

  63. Guy- I would say that the answer to your question has everything to do with episcopal succession. The Magisterium traces its origin to the very Apostles themselves. Historically speaking there aren’t numerous MagisterIa in competition with one another. There is simply one. Thanks. Herbert Vanderlugt

  64. Andrew/Herbert,

    i started the articles Andrew posted which are addressing precisely what i was asking.

    But another curious question: Does the Eastern Orthodox Church present a competing magisterium to that of the RCC?

    –guy

  65. Guy- Great question. The short answer is “no.” Based upon what I’ve read here and elsewhere I’d respond by saying what we call Orthodoxy is comprised of something like 14-16 (I can’t remember exactly b/c which groups one categorizes as Orthodox depends upon certain factors which are themselves open to disagreement) autocephalous churches who, by virtue of their valid Apostolic lineage do retain an ecclesial status significantly different from that of Protestant communities of faith- but are at the same time in an interesting bind due to the fact that they are not in a position which allows them to uphold that essential mark of the Christian faith, unity, due to their fragmentation. For example, (and someone correct me if I’m wrong!) I’ve read that what we think of as the Orthodox haven’t the means to convene a council to settle a doctrinal issue even if they wished to do so.

    As i understand it, the Magisterium of the universal Church, made up of the Bishop of Rome and all the Bishops in communion with him, is unique in the world, being among the oldest institutions in existence. There is no similar structure to be found in the world. It’s one of the things that allows the Catholic Church to retain those essential 4 marks (Unity, Catholicity, Holiness, Apostolicity). There are certainly others who are more qualified than I to respond to ya! But the beauty of this type of interaction is that my understanding of things is right out there in the open ready to be corrected or modified by those who are more knowledgeable than I.

    Great conversation, Guy! And a Merry Christmas to you!
    Herbert Vanderlugt

  66. In Revelation are the seven “different” churches not allowed. Thyatira (the catholic church) gets a good commendation apart from those who follow or tolerate Jezebel.
    Thyatira advised to continue until Jesus comes back.
    Philadelphia is the best – wesley spurgeon etc – era up until today.
    What perplexes me – do you see any mention there of doctrinal differences eg on communion and the
    veneration or worship of Mary.
    eg – Since everyone in the Catholic Church takes communion and often in a different manner from Philadelphia why is it this does not appear to be a problem in the letters to the churches.

    Do any of you see Mary worship in the seven letters.

  67. Charles,

    I doubt anyone here would be willing to stipulate your analysis of the section of the The Revelation of Jesus Christ dealing with the letters, but that aside, why do you say that the Catholic Church worships Mary?

    -Mike

  68. Many theologians agree with each other on the seven church types and church periods in Revelation.

    Which means that Thyatira – with its emphasis on transubstantiation (which I believe in ) and the
    prayers to dead saints , statues and OK veneration of Mary is running alongside the Philadelphian
    type churches (until the return of Jesus) which mainly don’t have these characteristics.

    I thought this was relevant since it implies there is not full agreement on their doctrinal differences
    but they were both commended whereas the church of Sardis (early Protestant) was not – apart from those who had not soiled their garments.

    Therefore I think the seven churches are relevant to the question – is there only one true church.

    Ps – One could be a Philadelphian church member of say Sardis – it is about types and historical periods.

  69. Many theologians agree with each other on the seven church types and church periods in Revelation.

    Really? What percentage of Christendom does that make up? Not the Christians you have chosen to listen to but all Christians. The next question is how old is that particular reading of Revelation? How many years do we have to accept that the church just missed the true meaning of these passages?

    The seven churches are not Jesus declaring He has somehow given up on church unity. That would be silly. Before the schism of 1054 there was great unity in the church. Why would He give up on the idea in the first century? The 7 churches are describing 7 different dynamics that could go on in local churches. That were going on then and have strong parallels in other time and places.

    Even as a protestant I would object to saying Thyatira is the catholic church. That would be giving myself a pass. I would no longer have to find the parallels to Thyatira in my church. I could write off the words of Jesus as being for someone else when they might well be meant for me. So I, and the protestant teachers I tended to listen to, didn’t buy that exegesis.

  70. Charles,

    We can of course speak of the different parts of the body, but they are all necessarily parts of the body. So there is certainly a sense in which we can and do speak of different particular churches. But particular churches are necessarily all parts of the one visible Church, which is the Body of Christ. So the fact that the Lord Jesus addresses seven particular churches does not imply anything about whether there is in fact one Church.

    As an aside, the fact that some number of theologians share an opinion does not imply anything about the nature of the Church. For the Catholic, theology is an attempt to understand what has been revealed by God and not to declare what He has revealed: it is faith seeking understanding. To say that theological understanding dictates the content of the Faith is to reverse the formula: understanding seeking faith. But the content of the Faith is not measured by or defined by what men understand.

    Thus necessarily for the Catholic how we understand the book of Revelation must necessarily be guided by the Faith, and not the other way around.

    I hope this helps.

    Fred

  71. charles allen asks: In Revelation are the seven “different” churches not allowed …

    Charles, let me ask you a question. Suppose a man living today wrote a letter to, say, New Life Lutheran Church in Norwalk, Iowa; Glen Avon Presbyterian Church in Duluth Minnesota; Calvary Chapel On the Horizon in Indianapolis, Indiana; St Simon the Fisherman Episcopal Church in Port Washington, Wisconsin; Cherry Hills Baptist Church in Springfield, Illinois; Rock of Faith Wesleyan Church in St. Louis, Missouri, and Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan. What if that man pointed out the defects in these seven Protestant “churches” and told them to shape up. Would any of these Protestant “churches” pay him any heed? No, they wouldn’t, they would all ignore him because of the rebellious nature of Protestantism. Protestantism, as a whole, recognizes no man as having authority to correct what the individual Protestant “churches” preach, believe, or manifest in their actions.

    Charles, I think that you missed one of the main points of the Book of Revelation, and that is this, that the author writing to the local particular churches in seven different cities had the authority to point out where each local particular church was either falling short or was keeping the faith uncorrupted. But who is this man that believes he has the authority to write to local churches in seven different cities? Why does he think he has the authority to do that? And who gets to set the standards that local churches must measure up to?

    It is completely wrong to think that the seven churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation are analogous to the “seven church” of the Midwest that I just mentioned above. The seven churches in the seven cities in the Book of Revelation belonged to ONE church, the church that Jesus Christ personally founded. These churches could receive a letter of either rebuke or commendation from a man that had teaching authority in the ONE church. Which is exactly what cannot happen in the world of Protestantism, since Protestants don’t belong to the church personally founded by Jesus Christ – they belong to doctrinally divided sects founded by mere men. And these doctrinally divided sects recognize no man as having authority within Protestantism as a whole.

    “We don’t need no magisterium” – that exactly characterizes sola scriptura confessing Protestantism, and that is why sola scriptura confessing Protestantism consists of thousands upon thousands of doctrinally divided denominations with no unity of faith, and with no possibility of being corrected in their errors.

  72. If I understand Charles Allan correctly, he believes in the “Seven Churches Seven Ages” theory of W. M. Branham – indeed, Charles appears to think it is an uncontroversial theory. I confess the theory seems really silly to me, but it is certainly not uncontroversial and I hardly suppose there are many who do accept it.

    I only point this out because, if I understand what Charles is saying, some of the replies to him may miss his point (that said, I fear I don’t quite see his point, myself).

    Charles – in particular, I don’t understand what you mean by this:

    Since everyone in the Catholic Church takes communion and often in a different manner from Philadelphia …

    I have just read carefully the letter to the Church at Philadelphia and I don’t see anything in there about how the Church at Philadelphia takes Communion. Can you explain, perhaps?

    jj

  73. John – I believe in the seven church ages – eg we seem to be in the last church age ie the Laodecian age (lukewarm ) (this does not mean that every church member is a Laodecian)
    The seven church ages were not just an invention of W Branham. If you google up “seven church ages”

    Catholics believe in the real Body and Blood (thyatira – it actually means continual sacrifice).

    Philadelphian churches (if you believe that they represent the protestant churches around the 17th 18th 19th centuries) generally dont believe in the real presence in the bread and wine.

    The point I was making was – this major difference does not seem to be in these two letters – so is it serious enough to affect salvation ? And it represents two different churches.

    Mateo – but there is no church of Rome in the seven letters – is this significant.

    Randy – the churches had the letters of John – eg the church of Ephesus had its lampstand removed…

  74. @Charles Allan:
    I’m afraid I can’t take seriously the ‘seven church ages’ reading of Revelation’s letters to the churches – and so far as I know, it really is Branham’s invention. Just a couple of points:

    The name of Thyatira is not, according to Wikipedia, anyhow, related to ‘continual sacrifice’ – it’s said to be from the Greek for ‘daughter’ I can see how a false etymology might relate the name to Greek ‘thuos’ – ‘sacrifice’ and ‘ateirees’ – unending – but there is no historical reason to suppose this was why it was so-called. In any case, your whole point depends on the acceptance of the ‘seven church ages’ theory. I’m afraid I would want some proof of the accuracy of that theory other than simply the ability to match up a fairly crude church history with characteristics of John’s letters.

    There is no church of Rome in the seven letters because John is living in Ephesus and is writing to the churches of Asia.

    jj

  75. John – since the thyatiran church was around in 100ad and is to continue until the end – is this not
    an age. The Laodicean church would be expected at the end of the age – eg rich and needing nothing.

    Thyatiran church (which means “sacrifice of contrition” or “sweet savor of labor”)


    Branham is just one man but most famous evangelists have sermonised on the seven churches.
    Its not my theory – I was just googling the websites since being a mixure of catholic and protestant
    I was wondering if their is only one true church.

  76. Randy – the churches had the letters of John – eg the church of Ephesus had its lampstand removed…

    I can’t actually make any sense of that comment. Maybe you could explain it further.

    I am wondering. In terms of protestant ecclesiology, what does it mean for a church to have it’s lamp stand removed? As a Catholic I could see that as a reference to the altar. That sacraments would no longer take place there. They would no longer have a priest. But as a protestant what does it mean? If the church is just the human institution that allows a certain set of believers to live in fellowship then what lamp stand is being removed? It seems like there is grace coming to the believers from God through the church as church. Not through the church as individual believers who happen to be hanging out together. Whatever the lamp stand is it is something the church has received as church and is blessing it’s members with. Something it can lose.

    When protestants choose a church, do they worry about whether it’s lamp stand has been removed? Some protestants might equate it to a subjective feeling of God’ presence there. But it seems objective in nature. I think most protestants would have an intuition about that. That there is some objective grace they want from a church that not every church will have. But there does not seem to be a theology for it. What is that something? How can you identify it? How do you know when your church has lost it? Those questions are unanswerable so most protestant theologians deny it exists. A church is just as good as the people who go there. Except this passage seems to indicate it does exist.

  77. Charles – Sorry, I’m not sure exactly what you are getting at. I don’t think you can possibly tell from the 7 letters whether there is ‘only one true church’ – indeed, I don’t see how there can be more than one true church. The whole idea of ‘church’ – the ‘ecclesia’, the ‘congregation’ – is singular.

    I really would advise you not to try to follow up your etymologies of Thyatira. I know Greek fairly well – read the New Testament in it annually, and read, occasionally, the Greek classics. The ‘meaning’ of Thyatira – other than, of course, its designating the city itself – is the meaning the creator of the name intended for it. It doesn’t in any useful sense have any other meaning, and you would, I think, be going astray to try to infer something about the Church by these folk etymologies.

    Again, I just am not sure what specific aim you have in your very first comment on this topic – which is whether Scripture interpretation can lead to satisfactory and reliable results without an authoritative teaching office, set up by Christ, to judge amongst contradictory interpretations.

    Who, for instance, is to decide whether your ‘seven church ages’ idea is a correct interpretation of the seven letters of Revelation?

    jj

  78. John – I know there is only one true church – the body of Christ. Since this blog touched on different churches such as the evangelical and the catholic churches I was wondering how these churches fitted the pattern of the churches in Revelation – but if you dont believe in the seven church ‘ages’ as well as ‘types’ of church then you would difficulty in answering this .
    I know no greek – any information on the 7 churches comes from the bible commentary websites – about 8,000,0000 on this topic.
    Catholics say that outside of their church no one can be saved – now if the Catholic church is represented by thyatira and there is also 6 other churches – in particular 2 protestant churches Sardis , Philadelphia (brotherly love) then how can many of their representative denominations be exclusive to salvation as they say.

  79. Randy – googled this study – there are plenty – it is relevant to every generation- I wish I had studied these letters earlier – I would have avoided so much error and sin.

    SECOND — “Without brotherly love a church must become extinct” (Dr. Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John, p. 450). “The fervor of their original love — their ‘love for all the saints’ (Eph. 1:15) — had waned. And nothing — no amount of good works or sound doctrine — can take the place of agape in a Christian community. Unless there was a change of heart …. that church’s days were numbered; its lampstand (vs. 5) would be removed” (The New Layman’s Bible Commentary, p. 1683). What was it that caused this love to be abandoned?

    Assuming that this refers to the first major position above (lack of love for Christ), the cause may well be that they had lost their focus; they were focusing more on works, duty, religion — and not on Jesus! “Their religion had become a lifeless, mechanical, ritualistic thing, to be done out of a sense of cold duty, rather than of glorious privilege motivated by love” (James M. Tolle, p. 31). “Loving devotion to Christ can be lost in the midst of active service” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, p. 434).

  80. @Charles Allan:

    Catholics say that outside of their church no one can be saved – now if the Catholic church is represented by thyatira and there is also 6 other churches – in particular 2 protestant churches Sardis , Philadelphia (brotherly love) then how can many of their representative denominations be exclusive to salvation as they say.

    I think there can be a misunderstanding here. What the Catholic Church teaches is that salvation always comes through the Catholic Church – even to those who do not know it. What the Catholic Catechism (pp 845-8) says is:

    845 To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is “the world reconciled.” She is that bark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.” According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah’s ark, which alone saves from the flood.

    “Outside the Church there is no salvation”

    846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

    Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.

    847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

    Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.

    848 “Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”

    I’m not sure from your statement that you understand that the Church by no means says you need to be a “card-carrying Catholic” to be saved.

    You and I differ fundamentally on the character of the Church. You said, above, that you know “…there is only one true church – the body of Christ.” The Catholic Church understands itself to be that Church. Thus, before I was a Catholic, I was a member of – indeed, one of the founders of – the Pukekohe Reformed Church, here in New Zealand. Because I was a baptised person, I was, ipso facto, a member – albeit unknowingly, and in an imperfect sense – of the one true Church, the Body of Christ – the (Roman) Catholic Church. It was not my membership in the organisation called the Pukekohe Reformed Church that made me a member of Christ’s one true church; it was my baptism.

    The Pukekohe Reformed Church – and, indeed, the seven Churches in Revelation, including that at Thyatira – are not Churches in parallel fashion with the Catholic Church; they are all manifestations of that Church in those places. To be sure, the Pukekohe Reformed Church, considered as an entity in itself, because of its lack of episcopal succession, is what the Church calls an ‘ecclesial body’ rather than a Church proper. And considered as an ecclesial body, it is both in schism – naturally, because it has broken Communion with the Church as a whole – and is in heresy – because of a variety of beliefs that it professes that are not consistent with the faith “once delivered to the saints.” But insofar as it is church at all, it is a manifestation of the Catholic Church. There is no other Church. Jesus has only one Body, one Bride.

    jj

  81. John – Yes – but could the Bride of Christ be in many churches. If the Pukekohe church is in heresy
    – then the Philadelphian churches might also be in heresy under your definition – having a major difference on the taking of communion and catholic prayers to Mary and the Saints.

    So my problem is with protestants who say that the catholic church is in complete error since how can this be if it is the church of thyatira which with commendation continues to the end (ie only those who expel jezebel)- and also with catholics who say the protestant churches are in heresy since it is clear that the very commended Philadelphian type protestant churches even escape the end time tribulations.
    An example of the philadelphian church might be the New York Times Square Church.

  82. @Charles Allan:

    could the Bride of Christ be in many churches?

    I don’t see what that could mean. The Bride of Christ isn’t in any church; it is the Church.

    the Philadelphian churches might also be in heresy under your definition –having a major difference on the taking of communion and catholic prayers to Mary and the Saints

    Unless I accept your ‘seven churches seven ages’ idea – and I really see no way of doing so – I don’t see how you know what their views on taking Communion or prayers to Mary and the Saints were. My understanding is that the seven churches of John’s Revelation are seven contemporary local churches in Asia during the first Century, and that their errors are the ones listed in those letters. Those letters say nothing about Communion or about prayers to Mary and the Saints. If, somehow, some application of those letters to church history is possible – I don’t say it isn’t but I don’t see how it is – that would have nothing to do with the actual church of Philadelphia or the church of Thyatira.

    I think that unless you want to give me some convincing evidence of your ‘seven ages’ idea, we have just about come to an end of useful discussion!

    jj

  83. “Without brotherly love a church must become extinct” (Dr. Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John, p. 450). “The fervor of their original love — their ‘love for all the saints’ (Eph. 1:15) — had waned. And nothing — no amount of good works or sound doctrine — can take the place of agape in a Christian community. Unless there was a change of heart …. that church’s days were numbered; its lampstand (vs. 5) would be removed” (The New Layman’s Bible Commentary, p. 1683). What was it that caused this love to be abandoned?

    This just does not sound like Sola Fide, “once saved always saved” thinking. This sounds like works are required and even a connection with the church is required. Salvation does not sound like a purely individual thing. That lamp stand at the church has is vital. I just find that interesting.

  84. John – the seven ages church idea is not really from me but there are millions of websites on this subject and that was where I was getting my questions from

  85. @Charles Allan:

    John – the seven ages church idea is not really from me but there are millions of websites on this subject and that was where I was getting my questions from.

    I wasn’t suggesting the seven ages idea was from you. I know where it comes from. When I refer to “your ‘seven churches seven ages’ idea” I only mean “the idea which you appear to find plausible.” My point is that I do not, and that your arguments – your ascribing certain view to the different ‘churches’ (really different ages) regarding Communion or prayer to the saints – that ascription depends critically on the acceptance of the ‘seven churches seven ages’ idea. I see no reason to accept the idea, so I don’t accept the ascription, either.

    If you want me to accept your idea that, for instance, the Church at Thyatira tells me something about Catholic view on Communion, you will need to give me some reason to believe the equation of the seven churches with seven ages. Just telling me there are ‘millions’ of websites advocating the idea doesn’t tell me anything about its truth. There are many websites telling me the ideas of astrology, and that the date of my birth tells you something about my personality, or the things likely to happen to me. I do not, however, accept the ideas of astrology. It doesn’t matter how many websites there are advocating it. I have seen no reason to suppose it true.

    And I have seen no reason to suppose that the seven churches in Revelation somehow correspond to seven ages in the history of Christianity. Unless you want to give me reasons for believing that correspondence, I don’t see that we can usefully continue the discussion.

    jj

  86. Tylor Standley points to the same consensus problem discussed above in “6 Heretics Who Should Be Banned From Evangelicalism: (Or, a Lesson in Consistency).”

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