The Witness of the “Lost Christianities”

May 26th, 2014 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Most Americans probably think of Christianity as either Protestant or Latin Rite Roman Catholic. They may have a vague understanding of “Orthodoxy,” which they identify with the Greeks, Russians, or other Eastern Europeans. But, by and large, “Christianity” means the Latin West or, to a lesser extent, the Greek (and Cyrillic) East. As generalizations go, this one is not terribly far from the mark. Out of the estimated 2.2 billion Christians in the world, the vast majority are Roman Catholic (1.1 billion), Protestant (800 million) or Orthodox (200 million). Most of the Orthodox are Russian (150 million) or Greek (25 million.)

Nestorian Priestst
Nestorian Priests in China

The problem with this view is that it obscures the importance of other groups in Christian history. At one time, Christianity spread widely across Asia Minor, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Coptic, Syriac, Persian and Arabic were more important to many Christians than Latin or Greek. Around the year 800, for example, about one quarter of the world’s Christians looked to the Syriac/Arabic speaking Catholicos (Patriarch) of Bagdad as their spiritual leader. Coptic Christianity was the majority religion in Egypt until the 10th century, and had wide influence in Ethiopia, Syria, and even into India.

Some of these Churches broke off from the Catholic Church, but not all. The Maronites of Lebanon and Syria provide an outstanding example of fidelity to the Pope. In 517, the Monastery of St. Maron could address Pope Hormisdas as “Hormisdas, the most holy and blessed patriarch of the whole world, the holder of the See of Peter, the leader of the apostles.” During the 11th century, at the same time that Constantinople was rebuffing Rome, the Maronites reaffirmed their unity with the Holy See. Pope Pascal II gave crown and staff to the Maronite Patriarch Youseff Al Jirjisi in 1100 A.D. Innocent III likewise recognized the authority of their Patriarchate, and a Maronite bishop was present at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.

Even those groups that broke away from the Pope were very important in the development of Catholic doctrine. Alexandria (Egypt) gave us the Church’s first systematic theologians and their influence was widely felt at the council of Nicaea. Egyptian monks were strong supporters of Nicene orthodoxy and their example of monasticism spread throughout the world. Syriac Christians have transmitted some of the greatest hymns and liturgies in the Church. We are indebted to all these Christians for the development of devotion to the Mother of God.

The rise of Islam caused great damage to these Christian communities. They no longer have anything like the numerical significance they once did. But their witness remains important for many reasons. One reason is that they witness to the principle of tradition, even when they broke fellowship with the Pope. If you compare the “Lost Christianities” to modern, “Bible-alone” Protestantism, you find stark differences. All the ancient Christian communities (even the non-Catholic ones) acknowledge the authority of priests, bishops, and patriarchs. They believe in apostolic succession. They practice a liturgical, Eucharistic spirituality. They pray for the dead. They venerate the saints.

These communities also witness to the importance of the Papacy even when they had previously broken with the Pope. In 2008, some Assyrian Christians sought reunion with the Pope because of their own liturgical and canonical tradition. Their Bishop Mar Bawai Soro said he was impressed with the prominent role ascribed to St. Peter and the Church of Rome in the history of the Assyrian Church.

Finally, these Churches are important because they demonstrate that Tradition alone is no more effective than Scripture alone in achieving Church unity. When these ancient communities broke fellowship with the wider Christian world, they did so in the name of tradition and antiquity. But some of them forgot that Catholicity is also a mark of the true Church. The Church is a visible unity spread across the globe. The true church cannot be simply the Church of the East, or the Church of the Copts, or the Russians, or the Lutherans or the Calvinists. Nor is it simply an ethereal, invisible, “spiritual” community of believers. As St. Augustine once said, the verdict of the whole world is conclusive! And this verdict can only be realized when there is a visible center of unity. For this reason, we need not only Scripture and tradition, but also the living Magisterium of the Church.

Non-Catholic historian Philip Jenkins has written an enjoyable book on these ancient Christian communities: The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died. Dominican theologian Aidan Nichols also treats them in his book Rome and the Eastern Churches.

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  1. What a shame then that the Roman Catholic Church broke away from the Orthodox.
    http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/church_history/michael_theschism.htm

  2. This is definitely something that had a great impact on me when I was trying to decide if the Protestant narrative or the Catholic/Orthodox narriative of Christianity were true.

    It’s possible to argue that the writings of the Church Fathers refer only to views of the privileged few Christians that were literate and were in favour with the few literate Christians who had the means to present a certain view of Christianity and all other views either weren’t recorded or didn’t survive for one reason or another. It’s a not far fetched scenario. Anyone familiar with history often constrast lived history (gained by diaries, correspondences, etc) from official history and notice that there is often a discrepency. You only need to talk to a WWI vet long enough to see the difference (not necessarily intentional or malicious), or look into the textual history of the Quran to official redaction of the Quran and the suras (unlike the Biblical texts).

    While this may appear to be arguing from silence, it’s an implicit assumption Protestant scholars who are learned in the Church have that allows them to accept some of what the Church Fathers say but not others but still not maintain mass apostacy of the early Christians. It’s also an argument that Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholics regularly make about the reliability of the Old Testament. If Jews didn’t exist today, one could claim that Christians simply modified the Old Testament to support Chrisitian theology. But since Jews still exist today and they agree on 99% of the texts, we can safely assume that no such Christian redaction took place.

    So given the commonality between the Orthodox and Catholic narrative and the historic antagonism after the Great Schism, it’s safe to assume that if the Protestant narrative was true, that narrative must have disappeared before the Great Schism. Given that Nestorian, Miaphysite, and early non-Nicene Christians that survive have nearly the same narrative and the historic antagonism and geographic diversity of these churches, it’s safe to assume that if the Protestant narrative was true that narrative must have disappeared before the Bible and Nicene Creed emerged. For all intents and purposes, that means we have no clue what Christianity really is given Jesus’s promise that the gates of Hell would not prevail, it’s more likely that Christianity was false than that it was always there in the common lives of Christians.

    Since Jesus is God without a doubt, the only question remained, which non-Protestant Christianity was *the true Christianity*?

  3. David,
    Thanks for the post. This is a similar thought I had been thinking through with Brandon Addison in his post on the historic evidences for Roman lineage of the Popes. His premise basically is that their isn’t enough evidence in the historic record of texts and histories for a line establishing Romans singular bishops. I found the actual arguments he made reasonable from a skeptical perspective. My main problem with the conclusion is that we have more than one apostolic lineage. Such as the sees of St. Mark’s see in the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, St Andrew’s see in the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, St. Peter’s see of Antioch in the Patriarch of Antioch, St. James’ see in the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem. These sees had name by name bishops which follow the leadership of the others to this day and to the importance of Reformed protestants beyond the council of Nicaea at least. My point was that these sees are part of witnessing a tradition of keeping up with the names of overseers/bishops. Basically setting a president for showing the importance of apostolic succession which would show that Rome would kept up with its list of bishops as a matter of Apostolic tradition rather than by innovation as asserted by Brandon Addison. I found this argument quite substantial and I guess I see its basic tenets in your post.

    The one weak point I find in my own argument is that I was not there in the early days to witness the possibly earlier false developments asserted by others who are skeptics of Catholic positions. Other than the fideistic assertions of the Biblical witness of the Holy Spirit’s protection of the Church established by Christ in the Apostles and then their appointed replacements there doesn’t seem to be much argumentation that is substantial. It seems possible God would provide some more substantial biblical witness for our separated brethren. I realize God does what He wills for his own reasons and He has done enough for me to see the truth of the Church’s faithful witness. For that I am most grateful! I just hope to help in doing more for others. What ideas do you have in this area?

  4. Around the year 800, for example, about one quarter of the world’s Christians looked to the Syriac/Arabic speaking Catholicos (Patriarch) of Bagdad as their spiritual leader.

    They were called the “Nestorians” (and heretics) by the west (Rome) and Constanstinople (later – Eastern Orthodoxy) – the Assyrian Church of the East. They spoke in Syriac – and today this language survives in modern Assyrian. (the closest language to the ancient Aramaic of Jesus’ day.) Eventually, they had to speak Arabic also, because Islam forced it on them after they conquered Persia. The New Testament was not fully translated into Persian/Farsi until the Protestant Reformed missionary Henry Martyn went to Persia and worked on it in the early 1800s. He died in 1812 in eastern Turkey, on his way to England. There were pieces of NT verses and some Psalms translated into Persian, but Persians had to go to the Assyrians and learn Assyrian/Syriac in order to hear the Gospel. The Assyrian church of the east did great outreach along the northern parts of Persia to Central Asia and into China (along the silk road trading routes), but, later, the Mongolian invasions and Muslims together pretty much wiped all those churches out. When Islam came in the 600s -900s AD, they were cut off linguistically and culturally. The Nestorian/Assyian churches were forced by Islamic law to do no evangelism or outreach; and the church leadership compromised and agreed.

    Nestorius was exiled as a heretic at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. He emphasized the 2 natures of Jesus to such an extent that it seemed to teach 2 persons. He objected to the phrase “Mother of God” for Mary because of the mis-understandings that phrase communicates. And he was right in that respect. The whole Muslim World still mis-understands these things because of the over-exaltation of Mary and icons and statues and praying to Mary and praising her in dulia and hyper-dulia. The Muslims see idolatry, even though officially, the Roman Catholic Church distinquishes between Latria (worship due to God alone) and “dulia” (honor and veneration to dead saints and hyper-dulia to Mary as “Queen of Heaven”.) What kind of a witness is that?

    The Coptic Church adopted Monophysitism or Miaphysitism, thinking they were defending Cyril of Alexandria’s doctrine at the Council of Ephesus in 431; the Coptic Church rejected the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. It seems they believe that Jesus’ divine nature swallows up His human nature and so He only has “one nature” – “mono” = one; “phusis” = nature. The Jacobite Syrian and Armenian churches also became Mono-physite (they prefer Mia-physite), from another Greek word, mia/ μια for “one”.

    It seems that the harshness of policies of Emperor’s such as Justinian (Emperor: 527-565 AD) and Hericlius (610-641 AD) in trying to force the heretics (Monophysites – Copts, Syrian-Jacobites, Armenians) – sending troops to the areas to fight the heretics; and branding the Nestorian Assyrians (in Mesopotamia [today: Iraq] as part of the Persian Empire) as heretics, resulted in these groups “welcoming the Arab Muslims in the 600s and 700s as liberators from their Chalcedonian/Byzantine oppressors”. Many historians have written this. This is a sad testimony, that those who had the sound and Biblical doctrines of the Trinity and the correct doctrine of the 2 natures of Christ in one person (Chalcedon, 451 AD) had “left their first love” (Revelation 2:4-5) and lacked mercy, love, and evangelism to the Arabs – this created a vacuum that Islam, a false religion, filled. When the blessings of the gospel are not passed on in evangelism, missions, and being a light to the nations, then God in His sovereignty brings the nations to judge and discipline His people. (Exodus 19:5-6; 2 Kings 17, 2 Kings 23-24; Revelation 2:4-5) The lamp stands were removed in judgment and discipline. (Revelation 2:5) The Goths and Vandals were the first, bringing the false doctrines of Arianism back to North Africa. After the Vandals conquered N. Africa, after the 430s AD, they became Arian in theology. Since they had already denied the Deity of Christ for some 200 years, by the time Islam came in the 600s, “another generation had grown up that did not know the Lord” (book of Judges); and since Islam also denies the Deity of Christ, they N. Africans submitted to Islam easily. The Coptic Church survived because they had a stronger doctrine of the Trinity and the Deity of Christ from Athanasius and the New Testament. Islam was allowed to conquer because of the sins of the early church in adding unbiblical doctrines and man made traditions and for not being a holy people who shined the true light of the gospel of Christ.

  5. I forgot one other point I wanted to make, that Nestorius in exile, agreed with Leo I (bishop of Rome) and the Council of Chalcedon of 451 AD; but all through history, the churches in the west did not know this, and continued to call them heretics; until the late 1800s when Nestorius’ work, the “Bazaar of Hercleides” was found, in which Nestorius agreed to the doctrine that Jesus is one divine person with 2 natures. I remember speaking to Assyrians from Iran, who told me that they had taught the correct doctrine all along on the 2 natures of Christ, but language and culture and politics and the boundaries and threats of Islam had separated them for centuries and resulted in mis-understanding. They agreed with Chalcedon, but they don’t agree that the Pope in Rome is the bishop over all the other bishops.

  6. As I understand it –
    Some of the Assyrians in today’s Iraq, parts of Turkey and Iran, who eventually unified with Rome in the 1500s, are called “Chaldeans”, but that name is a misnomer in that it does not mean exactly “Babylonian” in the OT ethnic sense. Babylonians and Assyrians together survive in the ethnic Assyrian and Chaldean churches. They took that name only to disquinquish themselves from the Assyrian Nestorian church; as I understand the situation and history.

  7. David,

    Thanks for the article. When you mention those specific churches that fell away due to Tradition, it reminded me of debates I have had with many Protestants (Lutherans specifically) regarding the fallible doctrine of sola scriptura. Not only did I ask them where in Sacred Scripture could you point to me the doctrine of “Scripture Alone,” but also where in any tradition/writings of early Church Fathers/Doctors and/or throughout the first 1500+ within the Catholic Church/Eastern Orth Church itself. I would get names such as Wycliffe and Huss, as spurious as those men were, but not one person could point to me where the doctrine of sola scriptura was even imagined upon up until Luther in 1534AD. I would suppose maybe that the sola scriptura (among others) doctrine was just as invisible for 1500 years as that “invisible church” was and is for 2000 years.

    It’s so ironic how, many Protestants hold such contempt for Sacred Tradition and Apostolic Succession, but yet all they can really do is hold on to their reformed traditions (and reformed succession) such as holding on to the tradition of sola scriptura, as it is not found anywhere the bible, but rather it was and is a fallible idea that has been handed down through word of mouth and by letter for the last 500 years and only for the last 500 years. What’s even more ironic is that they claim that the Pope, Bishops, Councils etc. of the Catholic Church arrogate themselves above God’s written Word (when in fact they really do not!); when it is Protestants themselves arrogating themselves above God’s written word as sola scriptura is not in Scripture and is not in Tradition!

    For me, all it comes down to for the majority of Protestant pastors and laymen is their handed down contempt for the Catholic Church and Her representatives of Christ. I would suppose it is also out handed down envy for the Magisterium and the right to proper interpretation of the written Word of God that the Catholic Church herself has composed and preserved for all those centuries before the printing press!

    So, I would say, Protestants hold more onto “tradition alone” than “scripture alone” as the doctrines they have, are nothing but handed down traditions (through divided, broken succession) not found in Scripture, but from a few disgruntled men who out of contempt and envy of Christ delegating representatives (Popes, Bishops etc.) successfully throughout two thousand years, via sacrament. Luther and Calvin wanted to be and have what those first Apostles had, the Holy Spirit literally breathed into them and Luther and Calvin wanted to be apart of laying the foundation for Christ’s Church. Too bad, so sad for those guys and THEIR “successors.”

    God Bless you David,

    Eric

  8. Thanks for the article. Another accessible book would be Robert Louis Wilken’s “The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity” (Yale University Press) http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=9780300198386

  9. I also forgot to include the Ethiopian Orthodox Church among the Mia-physites ( Mono-physites). They had that heretical doctrine that Jesus has only one nature (Deity), and the ancient churches in Yemen and Najran were from this theology. Islam eventually wiped them out and forced all Christians in Najran and Yemen to leave the Arabian peninsula – after the Pact of Omar II (Omar Ibin Abdul Aziz) , 717-720 AD, which was based on and developed out of Hadith traditions (“no two religions are allowed in the Arabian peninsula” and arguably, the Qur’an – 9:28-30) and the Assurance of Omar Ibin Khattab, the second Caliph, around 638 AD, when he and the first wave of Arab Muslims conquered Palestine-Syria-Lebanon-Persia (Mesopotamia and Iran) and North Africa into the 700s and Spain by 732 AD.

    The Christianity that Muhammad and the Arabs were exposed to was heretical, nominal, political, military-oriented, giving false witness by the appearance of worshiping Mary, and having lack of love in evangelism and missions.

  10. All the ancient Christian communities (even the non-Catholic ones) acknowledge the authority of priests, bishops, and patriarchs. They believe in apostolic succession. They practice a liturgical, Eucharistic spirituality. They pray for the dead. They venerate the saints.

    These are the earliest non-Biblical and man-made traditions, along with baptismal regeneration and later, infant baptism; that were allowed in, unfortunately. A big mistake was the worship and sacrifice language from the OT and priesthood was carried over into the New Testament, but all Christians were priests – 1 Peter 2:4-10; Revelation 1:5-6; 5:10; and it seems Latin especially developed the word “priest” from presbyter, but combined ideas of sacerdotal (other word for one who makes sacrifices) aspects.

    Apostolic succession could be right, when the successors stick to the Scriptures and the “rule of faith” which was an outline of correct doctrine, that functioned as doctrinal points in evengelism for baptismal candidates. (Irenaeus – Against Heresies, 1:10:1-2; 1:22:1; 3:4:2; Tertullian- Presciption Against Heretics, 13, Against Praxeas 2:1-2; Origen- “On First Principles”, preface, 2-8; Athanasius “To Serapion: On the Holy Spirit against the Tropici heretics”, Book 1, 28-30 – Athanasius defends the Trinity and Deity of the Holy Spirit based on Matthew 28:19, 2 Cor. 13:14 and other texts. ). But it was no guarantee of infallibility. The elders/overseers/pastors still had to cling to the Scriptures, which gave all the doctrines necessary for “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude 3. Irenaeus and Tertullian, Origen, and Athanasius used the argument of the rule of faith, the faith, the preaching, the tradition, against Gnostics and other heretics who denied the OT, the Father as creator of all physical matter, the goodness of matter and the body, etc. Protestantism agrees with that, and there is nothing in the lists that they give in those contexts that are the traditions that the RCC or EO later add to the Scriptures. They talk about other things / ideas in other contexts, but not in those specific contexts. Like Mary as the New Eve is mentioned in other places in their writings, but not within context of the rule of faith.

  11. […] of pon­tif­i­ca­tors. But a reader directed my atten­tion to Pr. Ken Temple’s mus­ings on this arti­cle at Called to Com­mu­nion; and for­give me, I am only human, but I could not resist. […]

  12. Hi Ken,

    I think you raise some valid and interesting points.

    However, am I correct in in believing that you are saying any body of Christians that have departed from what you term “…true light of the gospel of Christ…” are ‘up for the jump’ as they say and God’s hand of protection is removed?

  13. Scott Alt has pointed out a mistake in one of my statements at his blog, here
    http://scottericalt.com/calvinist-pr-ken-temple-says-bible-contains-mistakes/comment-page-1/#comment-1033

    and I wish to clarify:
    I wrote at his blog:
    Hi Scott,
    Thanks for your com­ments on my com­ments at Called to Com­mu­nion. I made a mis­take in that sen­tence that you have focused on, and I appre­ci­ate you point­ing it out.
    I did not mean that the NT has mis­takes in it by some­times refer­ring to the sac­ri­fi­cial lan­guage of the OT. For exam­ple, Jesus in Matthew 5:21 – 26 uses the tem­ple and sac­ri­fi­cial lan­guage to speak about mak­ing things right with peo­ple before you come and worship.
    I should have writ­ten, “A big mis­take was the wor­ship and sac­ri­fice lan­guage from the OT and priest­hood was car­ried over in church his­tory after the NT was writ­ten, into the inter­pre­ta­tion of the New Tes­ta­ment forms of gov­ern­ment and brought wrongly into early church his­tory to jus­tify the NT office of priest­hood as a church office, and sac­ri­fi­cial lan­guage of pas­sages like Malachi 1:11 being applied to the Lord’s sup­per as a sac­ri­fice, but all Chris­tians were priests – 1 Peter 2:4 – 10; Rev­e­la­tion 1:5 – 6; 5:10; and it seems Latin espe­cially devel­oped the word “priest” from pres­byter, but com­bined ideas of sac­er­do­tal (other word for one who makes sac­ri­fices) aspects.
    I hope that helps clar­ify what I meant. I in no way was try­ing to say any­thing against the inspi­ra­tion of Scrip­ture. Thanks for point­ing out my error in con­struct­ing my sen­tence.
    Sin­cerely,
    Ken Tem­ple

  14. However, am I correct in in believing that you are saying any body of Christians that have departed from what you term “…true light of the gospel of Christ…” are ‘up for the jump’ as they say and God’s hand of protection is removed?

    Thanks James for your comment and question!

    I don’t know about the phrase “up for the jump”; but . . .

    It seems that way. The Lord warned Israel in Leviticus 18 that the land would vomit them out, if they compromised and followed the practices of the pagan Canaanites and Egyptians.

    2 Kings 17 describes the Assyian invasion and captivity of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC.
    It says “the Lord removed them from His sight” – 2 Kings 17:18 and 2 Kings 17:23. Because of their disobedience, and lack of being a holy people (Exodus 19:5-6), a light to the nations (Psalm 67, 96:3, Isaiah 49:6; 42:6), a kingdom of priests among the nations (Exodus 19:5-6), God disciplined and judged them.

    2 Kings chapters 23, 24, and 25 describes the Babylonian invasions and captivity and destruction of the temple in 586 BC. “The Lord removed Judah from His sight” (see 2 Kings 23:27; 24:3; 24:12, 14, 24:20)

    Later, the Persians conquer Babylon and let the Jews go back to the land and rebuilt the temple. (books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Daniel, Zechariah 1:1 (Darius the Great, the Persian ruler), Haggai 1:1, etc.)

    the OT closes

    Later, the Greeks conquer Persia. (Alexander of Macedonia, 330 BC) OT translated into Greek.

    Later, the Romans conquer Greece. 63 BC

    Jesus was born in the fulness of time. Galatians 4:4

    Jesus ministers to people from other ethnic backgrounds in Israel as a result of centuries of these other peoples invading Israel. (Persian Magi come in Matthew 2 because of Daniel’s prophesy in Daniel 9:24-27; Romans, Samaritans, Greeks in John 12) Samaritans were the result from the inter-marriage with the Assyrians in the Northern Kingdom of 2 Kings 17.

    Jesus warns the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:4-5 – that He is coming and will remove their lamp stand.

    The Barbarians invade the Christians in the early centuries and conquered many parts, especially in 400s AD – Vandals in 430 in North Africa. Goths, Visi-Goths, Huns, Franks, Britons, etc. Ulfilas was a missionary to the Goths, but too Arian false doctrine to them, to the Vandals and Goths. When they conquered N. Africa in the 400s, they brought Arian false doctrine. When Islam came in the 600s, they were a new generation that “did not know the Lord” (book of Judges). They secumbed to Islam because they already denied the Deity of Christ and the Trinity and not longer had the gospel. The Coptic Church survived because of strong doctrine of the Trinity and the Deity of Christ from Athanasius.

    The Vikings invaded Europe from Scandanavia in the 800s AD and forward because of failure to reach out in evangelism and missions.

    So, yes, it does seem like a pattern in both Biblical history and church history – ‘When the blessings of the gospel are not shared with other nations in Evangelism and missions and Biblical truth; then God brings the nations to judge and discipline His people.”

  15. but too Arian false doctrine to them,

    Should have been:
    but took Arian false doctrine to them,

    Sorry for typos

  16. Hey Ken,

    I appreciate the response. Give me a little time to mull over what you have said and I will likewise get back!

  17. Hi Ken,

    So to just get this clear, do you subscribe to the notion that Sacred Scripture is the ‘sole’ authority for Christians?

  18. So to just get this clear, do you subscribe to the notion that Sacred Scripture is the ‘sole’ authority for Christians?

    No. Scripture is the sole infallible rule; it is the final court of appeals and judge; but there are secondary authorities and sources – creeds, doctrinal statements, scholars, pastors, elders, good theologians in history, etc.

  19. I guess what I’m getting at is where do you peg this exact time and place where everything went wrong?

  20. Ken,

    I haven’t seen you since Dave Armstong’s discussion on Penal Substitutionary Atonement with Adomnan a few years back. I hope you are well.

    Scripture is the sole infallible rule

    Great. Where is this concept *asserted* in the whole of Scripture? To review, where does the Holy Writ *assert* the *concept* that the Scriptures are the “sole infallable rule of faith?”

    I contend that this concept is *not* asserted in the Bible.

    I would, of course, be more willing to “buy” material sufficiency… you know… if that is what you were selling… ;)

    IC XC
    Christopher

  21. Also, what denomination are you? Just so I can get a better idea of where your coming from.

  22. Are you Calvinist in polity?

  23. David Anders: From your original blog post:

    If you compare the “Lost Christianities” to modern, “Bible-alone” Protestantism, you find stark differences. All the ancient Christian communities (even the non-Catholic ones) acknowledge the authority of priests, bishops, and patriarchs. They believe in apostolic succession.

    This is entirely not accurate. Samuel Hugh Moffett, writing in A History of Christianity in Asia, Volume 1 (Second revised and corrected edition, © 1998, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books) relates:

    There is very little reliable evidence of a developed episcopate in Persia until much before the year 300. It is apparent from the evidence in other parts of the Persian border regions, notably Edessa and Arbela (Adiabene), that ever since about the end of the second century the church had slowly been moving in the direction of greater centralization of authority and that in the third and fourth centuries the process accelerated. What had once been a collection of congregations and preaching points, each apparently independent but knit together by a common loyalty to Jesus Christ [and certainly reflecting an evangelical and congregational governmental structure - jb], became in the first half of the fourth century a nationwide community, with no single head but with graded church structures (bishops, priests, and deacons) separated geographically but in communication with each other (117, emphasis added).

    He is very clear about this: No document dating to before the year 200 mentions a bishop. “Later historians, however, labored to fill the gaps with unbroken lines of episcopal succession back to the apostles”. In a footnote, Moffett lists numerous documents from that region, dating to that time, and none of them mentions either a “bishop” or an episcopal office.

    This process mirrors the process that Brandon Addison outlined in his article on the early “bishops” of Rome. In the late second and early third centuries, there was an apologetic effort to shore up the notion of “apostolic succession”, even though, especially in this part of the world, it was not a consideration before Irenaeus wrote about it.

    Moffett continues to relate other, later documentation which affirms that this is how the process worked:

    The years of relative toleration under the late Parthians and early Sassanid emperors would have furnished opportunity for visible, organized Christian leadership to emerge. However, though the evidence is more reliable in the third century, it is difficult to prove the existence of bishops in eastern Syrian and Mesopotamia before the year 300. Even in Edessa the first bishop in the Chronicle of Edessa (c. 550) is Qona, who is reported to have begun the building of the great Cathedral there in 313. The important center of Nisibis [a center of Christian education] had no bishop before 301, and the first bishop mentioned by name there, James of Nisibis or perhaps Babu (it is uncertain which was first), was not a metropolitan and therefore had authority only in his own congregation (118 emphasis added).

    In fact, there are records (though disputed) of the first ordination of both “bishop” and “priest” in the capital city of Seleucia-Ctesiphon (near modern day Baghdad).

    It was not tradition but pragmatic and sometimes sordid ecclesiastical and political developments that eventually elevated the bishop of the Persian capital, Seleucia-Ctesiphon, to headship over all the church of the East (later called the Nestorian church). As late as 270 the small group of Christians in the capital had no bishop, much less a catholicos (or patriarch). In that year, according to the disputed account in the History of the Church of Adiabene), the Christians of Seleucia-Ctesiphon begged Shaklupa, “bishop” of Arbela, who was visiting them, to choose and ordain their first priest, which he did. About 20 years later, perhaps between 280 and 290, the two bishops of Arbela and Susa, deciding that it was now fitting that the capital city should have its own bishop, elevated its priest, Papa bar-Aggai, to the rank of bishop (120).

    The concept of priest took more than 200 years to make it to this eastern church, in the capital city of a neighboring empire, even though the “churches of the east” claim apostolic foundation (Thaddeus). Moffett relates that of the late first/early second century hymnbook the Odes of Solomon contains a list of “church officers” of that period, which includes “interpreters”, “narrators”, “confessors”, “preachers”, and “teachers”, noting that this “points to an order much more loosely defined than the bishop-presbyter-deacon formula found in Edessa in the third century” (55).

    I think the deeper you look into the history of these churches, the more you’ll find that “episcopacy” is a late “development” that was not a part of the thinking of the earliest Christians there. All of this shows first of all, a reflection of the history of how “apostolic succession” “developed” and further, it enables one to see the truly provincial are the later claims of the Roman church that it somehow, ever, had any sort of jurisdiction over this part of the world.

  24. I guess what I’m getting at is where do you peg this exact time and place where everything went wrong?

    James,
    There is no set date of an exact time; it was a slow process. It was not all at once. But it is worse after Augustine died (430 AD) and after the Council of Orange (529 AD). The problems of exalting Mary too much slowly began from calling her “Mother of God” and the Council of Ephesis in 431 AD. Originally, it was meant to communicate that Jesus was God in the womb of Mary and pre-existed, but the title and prayers and praises and icons and statues of her and lack of proper doctrine and outreach to the Arabs eventually created a situation where God allowed Islam to arise and attack the churches. From 632 AD, death of Muhammad, to the conquering of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks – 1453 – God in His sovereignty allowed [the Goths, Vandals(400-600s)], and Islam to judge the churches for “leaving their first love” (Ephesians 2:4-5) From 600 AD onward is the exelleration of the doctrine of Purgatory, indulgences, Transubstantiation from 800s to 1215, – until Wycliffe (1300s), Hus (1400s), and Luther (1517 – 1546) started rightly objecting to the problems.

    I am a Calvinistic Baptist, Southern Baptist, college of elder rule for each independent local church. (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5-7; Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1-6) Similar theology and church government doctrine as James White, John Piper, Al Mohler (Southern Seminary), John McArthur, Mark Dever, if you want some names of well known Reformed Baptists.

  25. Christopher: (# 20)
    Greetings. Yes, I stayed away from Dave Armstrong’s blog for a while, but have been back “at it” recently with Adomnan again. Even this is talking up too much time; but this subject here and the connections to the history of Islam is a very interesting one for me.

    Great. Where is this concept *asserted* in the whole of Scripture? To review, where does the Holy Writ *assert* the *concept* that the Scriptures are the “sole infallable rule of faith?”

    I contend that this concept is *not* asserted in the Bible.

    We already debated that issue a lot with each other as I recall; and there are some threads here at Called to Communtion that go into the 300s, 500s, and 1,000 comments on Sola Scriptura, Canon, Hermeneutics, and related issues. (since 2009) It’s all too much for me to read and keep up with totally, though I have commented here before on some of these when my comments were allowed.

    As I recall, and still maintain, the words “The Bible is the sole infallible rule of faith” is not in those exact words in Scripture, just as the doctrine of the Trinity as “One God in three co-eternal persons” or “One God in substance, three persons/hypostasis/persona” is not there is those words. But, Protestantism has always maintained that the concept is there in general form by passages such as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (whatever is God-breathed is Sacred Scripture, therefore it is infallible, therefore it is “canon” (standard) when written(48-96 AD); and 1 Cor. 4:6 (“do not go beyond what is written”) and that all traditions must be subject to Scripture (Matthew 15, Mark 7). The writings are what “the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation chapters 2-3). I think Athanasius taught Sola Scriptura in a seed form, a general principle, though not in the exact wording of what Luther and Calvin taught.
    Even Irenaeus and Tertullian, with “the rule of faith”, is combatible with Sola Scriptura, since they are doctrinal statements structured around Matthew 28:19 and the three persons of the Trinity, that became the Apostles Creed and Nicean Creed later; because there is nothing in the rule of faith when it is explicated, that has those other man-made traditions that were not Biblical. (all the ones Protestants have trouble with)

  26. John,

    “No document dating to before the year 200 mentions a bishop.”

    Is not the term overseer synonymous with that of bishop?

    Take heed to yourselves, and to the whole flock, wherein the Holy Ghost hath placed you bishops, to rule the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. – Acts 20:28 (DRA)

    A faithful saying: if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. – 1 Timothy 3:1 (DRA)

  27. Ken,

    I’m quite curious as to how you would take this passage when dealing with God’s written Word being the “sole norm or rule of faith.”

    “if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” – 1 Timothy 3:15 (NIV*)

    I used the protestant translation of bulwark (safeguard) to foundation as you see in the above passage just for arguments sake.

  28. Ken,

    Thanks for the reply? Where are you “back at it” with Adomnan? I would be interested in reading the discussion.

    “As I recall, and still maintain, the words ‘The Bible is the sole infallible rule of faith’ is not in those exact words in Scripture, just as the doctrine of the Trinity as ‘One God in three co-eternal persons’ or ‘One God in substance, three persons/hypostasis/persona’ is not there is those words.”

    I asked merely for where the *concept* was asserted in Scripture, not the wording. I used the quotes around “sole infallible rule of faith” to make sure you know that I had a decent, basic, understandingg of what Protestants of your ilk mean with they say “Sola Scriptura.”

    None of the Scriptures you quoted to me make me want to buy that the Bible asserts the concept that that the Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith… perhaps it’s just not perspicacious enough for someone whom might have his mind darkened? ;)

    I would love to know more about your current Adomnan discussion, but… I think our Sola Scriptura discussion is at an impasse.

    IC XC
    Christopher

  29. I apologize for all my typos; I hope that everyone can tell what I meant.

    taking up too much time,
    instead of “talking too much time”

    communion, not “communtion”

    acceleration, not “excelleration”

  30. Gentlemen,

    Just a reminder. The focus of this post is the history of “The Lost Christianities.”
    Let’s stay on topic, or move the discussion to a post that addresses your concerns.

    -David

  31. John Bugay has provided good material from Samuel Moffat’s book.

    Moffat’s book is a much better and more scholarly, and detailed book than Philip Jenkin’s book. I have both. I was disappointed in Philip Jenkin’s seemingly political correctness attitude toward Islam (p. 43, 99-101; 109; 242 – says the harshness against Christians and Jews is not inherent in Islam) and the Dhimmi policies against the minority Christian communities. He mentions this, but avoids grounding Dhimmitude in the Qur’an and Hadith and does not hardly mention Omar ibn Al Khattab and Omar ibn Abudul Aziz. Some details are helpful, but Jenkin’s also is positive toward Gnostics, Bart Ehrman, Elaine Pagels, and Karen King and Karen Armstrong. I was very disappointed in his approach of always couching the violence and persection of Islam with “But Christians did it too” and proceed to focus on that.

    Eric,
    I think the moderators (see David Ander’s exhortation) want us to stick to the subject, and I don’t think my take on 1 Tim. 3:14-15 would be seen as relevant to the subject. ( ?) Basically, Paul exhorts Timothy to follow the writings – “I write this so that . . . ” The wrting tells them how to do church. The local church is to guard the truth, uphold the truth, proclaim the truth. (bulwark and pillar) Many local churches failed and drifted and left the faith. (Galatians 1:6-9; Revelation chapters 2-3 – all were conquered by Islam – Colossea also.)

    Christopher,
    You can easily find my recent discussions with Adomnan over at Dave Armstrong’s blog. Look for my 3 part review of my friend Rod Bennett’s book. (at Beggar’s All) Then, Dave critiqued my review of Rod’s book at his blog.

  32. Is not the term overseer synonymous with that of bishop?

    Eric,
    John may comment himself, but I am quite sure he means no extra-biblical document after the NT was written, about a mono-episcopate, about the eastern churches discussed in this article and these 2 aforementioned books. I checked the page no. 117-118 and sure enough, Moffat talks about the fact that presbyter and overseer are the same office in the NT after the quote John provided on p. 117, and goes on to write, “No document so far found dating to before 200 mentions a bishop.” (top of p. 118, Moffet) So, he means after the NT Scriptures.

  33. Also, don’t forget, the exhortation to Timothy in 1 Tim. 3:14-15 was while he was pastoring in Ephesus. It was Ephesus especially that served as an example of Jesus coming in judgement and taking away their lamp stand. The local church is a lamp stand – suppossed to hold up the light and be a light and shine the light. Today, no Christianity is in Ephesus. The Goths destroyed it in 263 AD; then the Seljuk Turks before the Crusades, then the Ottoman Turks after the Crusades. They left their first love. Revelation 2:4-5. This is also the root cause of all Protestant churches that were once vibrant in England, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Scottland, USA – New England Puritanism. Liberal theology and compromise was also “leaving their first love”. Today, the compromises with same sex marriage and other liberal issues will cause those churches to apostatize also.

  34. Ken,

    The reason I was asking you the bullet point questions was to discern where your coming from. The glaring problem with your supposition (again I am assuming much) is that you believe and take on faith that your interpretation of Sacred Scripture (and history) is free of error; ergo the 1.6 billion Catholics are wrong, the 200 million strong Eastern Orthodox is wrong, and the vast majority of your 800 million strong Protestant kin are also wrong.

    I won’t pursue this line as per David’s request (sorry David!). That being said (although I have not read much of your blog) I do admire that burning Protestant desire to seek out Truth.

  35. One last thing! Ken by your logic, wouldn’t the Catholic Church have been done away with by now? It’s been 2000 years after all…

  36. James –
    I hope the moderators will allow me to answer you; for they may not think this is on the subject.
    In a sense, it is on the general subject of “lost Christianities”, but with a different meaning that Jenkins’ book.

    I don’t accept your premise that the early “catholic” church is the same as the modern Roman Catholic Church that this site is doing apologetics for; and I don’t accept your premise that it has been around for 2000 years.

    The Roman Catholic Church, in its current form, has only been around since – one could argue, it seems to me -

    since the 500s-600s – growth of Purgatory and related issues, exaltation of Mary, bishop of Rome becoming more powerful, rituals and sacraments overshadowing Augustine’s theology of grace, etc.

    or

    since
    1054 – split from EO
    or
    1215 –
    or
    Trent (1545-1563) (condemning the biblical doctrine of Justification by faith alone)

    or Vatican 2 (1963-69) – The Traditionalists, and Sede-Vecantists argue that there was a fundamental change from “no salvation outside the church” to “separated brethren” and atheists may be saved (CCC # 847) and Muslims worship the same God as we do ( CCC # 841)

    So, no, I don’t accept your premise that the Roman Catholic Church has been around for 2000 years. You call her “Catholic”, but they are actually 2 different entities/ realities.

  37. Anil Wang and Ken,

    Anil:

    While this may appear to be arguing from silence, it’s an implicit assumption Protestant scholars who are learned in the Church have that allows them to accept some of what the Church Fathers say but not others but still not maintain mass apostacy of the early Christians.

    This is exactly what I’ve been saying all along on this site. Catholics all too quickly rush to present our case as a false dichotomy. But the early Church didn’t go into apostasy. I suppose it’s possible some dissented and created their own churches that got suppressed and erased from history, but I think the more likely explanation is that the Spirit-filled Christians and priests bit their tongues while accretions and the institution emerged in the 3rd century. I suppose this would lead me to conclude God did not consider various accretions to be apostasy, otherwise the gates of hades really would have prevailed.

    Nevertheless, Catholics err in believing that just because God allows something, doesn’t mean He approves or endorses it. He allows sin and error up to a certain point. When things got so out of control that the Popes began testing God how far they could go in sin and error before being cut off from God’s protective hand, they found out with the Reformation. (And to a lesser extent loosing the Eastern Christians during a wicked time of the RCC – Read how prevalent sodomy in the hierarchy was by Peter Damian).

    God took away their temporal power grab error and smacked their sin down by raising up common men disgusted with the heirarchy’s lack of morals.

    God may have held his patience with accretions because the alternative was far worse: get gobbled up by the pagan armies. But once that was no longer a threat, the Spirit began departing from the RCC and into many of the Godly true followers of Christ in the Reformation, as He does to this day.

    The question in recent ages is whether Catholics should remain in the RCC.

    I think there can be Spirit-filled Christians in it but it seems only inspite of the RCC, not because of it. They must first accept the Lord into their hearts as their personal Savior and truly look to Him and no other for salvation. If they do this, the accretions might be able to be managed and a healthy skepticism of the Magisterium exist.

    The majority of Protestants believe the same essentials, just as perhaps a majority of Roman Catholics follow their magisterium’s teachings. Neither has perfection, both have uncertainties.
    Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is the one true church.

  38. Hi David,

    One thing that interests me about your comment is the implicit assumption that we can easily determine which historical movements count as divine judgment on sin/apostasy and which ones count as benign toleration of error. Also, I’m interested in your claim that God allowed the Reformation in response to sin and temporal ambition. (Calvin sometimes speaks of the Papacy in terms of a power grab, but Luther and Calvin both denied that they were primarily interested in a Reformation of morals.)

    Do you really think we are in a position to evaluate schism in this way, without some “inside information” on the divine will?

    To illustrate, both the monophysite and the Nestorian schisms could plausibly be interpreted the same way. (and, heck, why not the Arians, too?) The Jacobite Church, for example, was very large and important in its day. They saw themselves as heirs to an ancient, apostolic tradition of the Alexandrian Church. They opposed the “temporal power grab” of the Byzantine, Chalcedonian, Imperial Church. How do you know that this schism was not the divine smack down you speak of?

    On the other hand, there were many other “righteous remnants” that popped up in the Catholic Middle Ages. Radical Franciscans, Waldensians, and others. Some of the 12th century “heresies” were soteriologically must closer to the 2nd century church than to the Reformation. Do you see my point?

    Your historiography, your historical hermeneutic is highly theological. Apart from revelation or some divine authority, how can it avoid also being unwarranted and tendentious?

    -David

  39. David (#37)

    I think there can be Spirit-filled Christians in it but it seems only inspite of the RCC, not because of it. They must first accept the Lord into their hearts as their personal Savior and truly look to Him and no other for salvation. If they do this, the accretions might be able to be managed and a healthy skepticism of the Magisterium exist.

    This is quite interesting, David. So does this mean that people like myself, who converted to the Catholic Church, not in spite of the Church and its teachings, but because of it and its teachings; who hold not to any scepticism of the Magisterium, but quite the contrary, that we believe the Magisterium is ordained of God and cannot err – that such people as I am cannot be Spirit-filled (and perhaps cannot be saved)?

    I have interacted with you in another post. There I had the impression that your view was simply that the Catholic Church ought to ease off in its anathemas. Now it appears that it may be that if I wholeheartedly agree with the Church, and am a Catholic precisely because of those things that you think are accretions, that by that fact my salvation may be in danger.

    What exactly is your view of the Church. Can a person who is a Catholic wholeheartedly be saved whilst remaining a wholehearted papistical Catholic?

    jj

  40. Hi Ken,

    I believe (and can prove) your picking and choosing what and what is not, and who and who is not apostate holds water only within your own personal take on history and how it has played out.

    Okay so you contend that the current Roman Catholic Church is NOT in any way linked to the historic Church established by Christ. Right.

    Pray tell Ken, when Charles Martel sent the Islamic conquerors packing in the 730′s and is widely recognized as the savior of Western Christianity; who’s side was God on, the Christian Franks or the Islamic conquerors?

  41. Ken (re: #36),

    The Roman Catholic Church, in its current form, has only been around since – one could argue, it seems to me – since the 500s-600s – growth of Purgatory and related issues, exaltation of Mary, bishop of Rome becoming more powerful, rituals and sacraments overshadowing Augustine’s theology of grace, etc.

    This assertion betrays the assumption that the early Church cannot be identified with the current Catholic Church since the latter affirms doctrines that were refined/developed (and précised) after the Apostles died. However, that assumption would also imply that the early Church could not be the same as the Church that affirmed Chalcedonian Christology, since the appropriate categories and distinctions were not laid out in the 1st century (at least not in any extant writings). If one responds that the essentials of the Trinity are clear in Scripture, then a RC may similarly respond that the essentials of “Purgatory and related issues” (even if in seed form) are present in Scripture and Tradition.

    So, no, I don’t accept your premise that the Roman Catholic Church has been around for 2000 years. You call her “Catholic”, but they are actually 2 different entities/ realities.

    To show that they are “2 different entities”, one would have to do more than point to distinctions/developments made in doctrine over time. A tall oak tree can still be properly identified with its previous shorter stature, and a grown man can still be properly identified with youthful self, even in the presence of manifest differences.

    Peace,
    John D.

  42. Greetings David Anders and JJ,

    David A,
    I think it’s safe to say when people stray from the Truth, God withdraws His divine hand of protection. One way to determine if divine judgment was invoked is to look at what was being taught and what sorts of fruit the area was bearing. I think you could perhaps entertain the very real possibility that because the Eastern territories were heavily Monophysite, that God withdrew His protection there. I am less comfortable doing this though since I cannot test the fruits of the monophysites. I can, however, do this with Protestants, and because there is much good fruit from the Reformation (passion to evangelize, zeal for the Word, doctrinal clarity, morality, God-fearing preaching, many healing miracles, focus on the Gospel and Jesus Christ as the only Mediator, countless shelters and assistance for the needy, a very real and full presence of the Holy Spirit…and the like).

    Because I know these to be real, I can say with confidence that the Reformation was divinely guided.

    Also both Calvin and Luther vividly speak out against the degenerate morals of the hierarchy.

    You mention the Waldensians. This is a very important period in the history of God’s Church. I think the Waldensians may be compared to the early Christians in Rome – a sort of prelude to a new birth on the horizon. They’re blood will always speak loudly as a testament to how Rome veered off course. In a way, they were like John the Baptist, and their story should make all Roman Catholics stop and think very carefully.

    JJ,
    Far be it from me to comment on the salvation of Roman Catholics who truly buy into everything their Magisterium instructs them in. I tend to see them like Saul prior to becoming Paul. I believe I probably would be executed by them in the Middle Ages.

    I think their zeal is misplaced. But Jesus always honors faith and knows our hearts. He is the Way, the Truth and Life. If these Roman Catholics truly believe in Jesus Christ as their personal and only Savoir, I think if they are honest with themselves, they will have some doubts about some of their Magisterium’s teachings.

    I believe God works on an individual basis. He might be calling such a Roman Catholic to leave the RCC. I see the RCC as a grand protective tent that served its primary purpose until the Gospel conquered paganism. About this time it lost its first love, as did one of the original seven churches (Rev. 2:4) and rather than turning back to a more primitive type of Church, it sought to expand and so fell in love with the world, like most institutions so often do when they outlive their primary purpose and forget their calling.

    Nevertheless, God works with individuals and I believe will honor sincere hearts sprinkled clean and made new (Ezekiel 36:25). And such a person with this type of clean heart that still can only see the RCC as God’s only true way, I believe He has ways of still keeping even this type of person, who has misguided zeal, from buying into all the accretions, despite their remaining within the church that breathes with only one lung. This would be the Roman Catholic back in the Middle Ages who’s eyes were opened and said, “No, we shouldn’t be burning Jan Huss, Waldensians and Protestants.” The Holy Spirit will work on this person his whole life, showing him what he should really focus on.

  43. David @37
    Good to see you back.

    As John asked above, in a previous post, you were criticizing our emphasis on the mutual exclusivity of Protestantism and Catholicism, our stating that if the Protestant perspective is true, Catholicism is, while not necessarily THE “Anti-Christ”, it is opposed to Christ, being antichrist. But now you state that a Catholic can be a spirit-filled Christian, just so long as he is actually a Protestant in spirit, and not a Catholic in actuality.

    NB: I am defining fervent and spirit-filled as one seeking to conform themselves to the will of God in all things, and displaying the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and not enthusiasm, for if enthusiasm was the criterion for Truth or the working of the Holy Spirit, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Communists would have, lamentably, most of us beat by their enthusiasm. Remember Matthew 7:15-23, “Lord, Lord, Did we not…”

    With this definition in mind, according to your thesis, those who are quasi-Catholics would be conspicuous in displaying the work of God in their lives, while those who are fully obedient to the Magisterium and Heirarchy, who practice “True Devotion to Mary”, who have a sacramentally-centered devotional life around the Eucharist and Confession, etc; these Catholics would be stand out for their laxity and tepidity in the Lord.

    But we see it entirely the other way around. It is those Catholics who pray the Rosary, who go to daily Mass and adoration, who are submissive to ecclesiastical authority, these Catholics are the ones on the front lines of the pro-life movement, who care for the poor (such as Mother Teresa), who stand up for the Commandments of God, etc.

    The miasma which, as you have correctly observed, hangs in the air of Western Catholicism like unholy incense (or as Pope Paul VI said, the Smoke of Satan) comes precisely from the neglect of the Eucharist, from the cooling of Marian Devotion, and from a skepticism of the Magisterium.

    In another post, I think, I linked to various lives of the modern saints. Particularly I would suggest looking to St. Maximilian Kolbe, because his spirituality, which could be described as ecstatically Eucharistic and entirely Marian, exemplifies that these “accretions” don’t separate us from Christ, but are the means He has given us to speed us towards, not just faith in, but union with Him.

    Finally, I would suggest that the thesis that the “accretions” were present, perhaps in seed form in some cases such as Marian Devotion, or perhaps simply not recorded until later (St. Basil explicitly said there were some things that were only passed on by word of mouth, and not entrusted to writing). Also, in the manuscript evidence being discussed above, from my understanding, terms may not emerge till later documents, but we don’t see them emerging with contention and controversy. My point is that, speaking from the Catholic paradigm, what I am seeing is Protestants decrying certain elements of Catholicism doctrine and practice as accretions similar to how a hand may separate itself from the body and then call the nose, legs, and feet of the body accretions.

    To put it in a list:
    1. Pristine Christianity was much like modern Protestantism
    2. Records from early on show Christian practice and doctrine as being more consistent to modern Catholicism / Orthodoxy than Protestantism.
    3. Therefore, a slow process of accretions took place and disfigured the simple truth of the Gospel during the first centuries after Christ.

    But I would suggest:
    1. Jesus Christ founded a visible and distinct institution. This has been undergoing an organic development (without contradiction), much like an acorn growing into a tree. This same Church is the modern Catholic Church.
    2. Various groups have separated from Her throughout the centuries. Some are still with us, some have died off. One particular group, Protestantism, accepted some parts of Catholicism but rejected others.
    3. These rejected elements have been and now are decried by them as accretions.

    I hate to constantly refer to my own experience, but I say this as someone who had strongly held the “Accretions” theory in the past–to the point that I could have been writing, albeit with less facility and charity, the same things you are–my suggestion is that what appear as accretions are actually elements of the “Full Gospel” that were alienated from Protesantism, and I would argue that the example of the saints and devout Catholics today are evidence that those alienated elements are not a wall separating us from Christ, but the road leading to Him.

  44. Also, several here have commented that the Reformation could have of been allowed by God in response to the sins of the late medieval Church/Society. As a Catholic, I am fine with that understanding. It isn’t a popular notion today, but God can allow things to happen to wake us up. Consider the history of the Old Testament and the Jews: fall away, disaster, repent, repeat.

    However, what I wouldn’t agree with is that this is a good thing, also, it is a poor guessing game to try and figure out whose sins caused which evil, as Our Lord reminded us in the Gospels. Whether its a plague, a war, or a schism, evil permitted as chastisement is not a good thing.

    And even when the Israelites turned to idols, they were called back by God. God didn’t choose another people when the Isrealites worshiped the Golden Calf (yes, He threatened to, and Moses interceded with the result being God *changed* His mind, but we know that prayer is only effective if it is in line with the will of God and God cannot *change his mind*).

    So, sure, the Reformation could have of been in response to a falling away by many. But that doesn’t make it a good thing, nor does it mean it was the direct will of God, It woke the Church up, and brought us the Counter-reformation with the Jesuits, St. Francis de Sales, the reforms of Sts. Teresa and John of the Cross, etc.

  45. A comment about ‘anti-Christ’ – it appears that several – possibly David and Fra Charles – take the prefix ‘anti-’ in its ordinary English meaning of ‘opposed to; against.’ I did not mean it in that way when I said that the Catholic Church, given its claims to be Christ’s official Voice in the world, is, if not what it claims, then it is anti-Christ. I meant by that what I understand the New Testament to mean when it uses the term: a false substitute for Christ. The anti-Christs in Scripture are what Jesus is referring to when He says “many will come in my Name” – and means that He has not sent them.

    Protestant churches do not claim to be His official Voice. They claim only to understand Him and to be telling of Him. They say that the only official Voice of Christ in the world is Scripture.

    The Catholic Church is not satisfied with that. It claims that it – and it only – is authorised and commanded by Christ to authoritatively be His vicegerent in the world. That claim is almost unique – I think the Mormons make it, and possibly Jehovah’s witnesses.

    If the Church is wrong about that, then it may still be absolutely right about many of the things it teaches. It could, in principle, even by right about everything it teaches. It would still be anti-Christ. It would be giving itself out as Christ’s official representative – as sent “in His Name.”

    This does actually seem relevant to the subject of the ‘lost Christianities.’ Those that do not accept the office of the Catholic Church have, tacitly, at least, labelled it anti-Christ.

    Anyway, I wanted to make clear that that is what I meant by saying that the Church, if not what it claims, is anti-Christ – not that you need to assume it is running around trying to oppose Christ, and nor, as David seems to have assumed, that I am talking about apostasy.

    jj

  46. David (#42)

    I think their zeal is misplaced. But Jesus always honors faith and knows our hearts. He is the Way, the Truth and Life. If these Roman Catholics truly believe in Jesus Christ as their personal and only Savoir, I think if they are honest with themselves, they will have some doubts about some of their Magisterium’s teachings.

    I must, alas, then be being dishonest with myself (my Protestant friends have said I was “wilfully self-deceived”). To have doubts about any of the Magisterium’s teachings, I would have to have doubts about the Church being what it claims; I have never, in the now nearly twenty years since I made my decision, had the slightest trace of a doubt. Like Newman, I can think of no more horrifying thought than again to be a Protestant.

    jj

  47. David (re:#42),

    Because the subject you have been raising on this thread (supposedly unBiblical “accretions” in the Catholic Church) is off-topic for this post, I propose that we should move the discussion of your concerns over to the comment boxes for the “Ecclesial Deism” article. That piece speaks much more to your concerns than does “The Witness of the Lost Christianities. I will respond to you over at “Ecclesial Deism,” and I hope that you will join me there. Thanks, and God bless! http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/07/ecclesial-deism/

  48. Michael #3,

    Since you mentioned my article, I only want to clarify something and then I’ll allow the conversation to move forward. If you’d like to discuss anything else about my article, we can feel free to take the discussion over to that thread. You said,

    His premise basically is that their isn’t enough evidence in the historic record of texts and histories for a line establishing Romans singular bishops.

    This is not accurate. My argument is significantly stronger than that, namely, that every piece of evidence that we do possess speaks to plurality and not to monarchical episcopacy. All of the evidence points in one direction, or, in other words, the evidence points in exactly the opposite direction from the idea that Jesus founded the RCC. We have plenty of evidence; it is just that it supports my position (“presbyterian” polity) and not CtC’s (that Jesus established the episcopate).

  49. Hello Fra Charles, @43

    With this definition in mind, according to your thesis, those who are quasi-Catholics would be conspicuous in displaying the work of God in their lives, while those who are fully obedient to the Magisterium and Heirarchy, who practice “True Devotion to Mary”, who have a sacramentally-centered devotional life around the Eucharist and Confession, etc; these Catholics would be stand out for their laxity and tepidity in the Lord.

    But we see it entirely the other way around. It is those Catholics who pray the Rosary, who go to daily Mass and adoration, who are submissive to ecclesiastical authority, these Catholics are the ones on the front lines of the pro-life movement, who care for the poor (such as Mother Teresa), who stand up for the Commandments of God, etc.

    Not so. Simply being a “quasi-Catholic” doesn’t equate to Spirit-filled (and yes I approve of your definition clarifying this is not to be confused with enthusiasm). I am contending that Catholics that truly make Jesus Christ their one and only Lord and Savior, will be the ones that develop a healthy skepticism of the Magisterium and live Spirit-filled lives. But ultimately I believe these will eventually be led to see how their Church has erred on some important things. This is an important distinction. Your example of “quasi-Catholics” are nothing more than lukewarm Christians, and I agree with you that these types do not live Spirit-filled lives.

    Now it is possible that Roman Catholics who are zealous for their Church will display the qualities you hold up, however I would say the same thing about Saul prior to his conversion. Saul was second to none in devotion. The comparison is imperfect since Judaism rejects Christ and so is even further removed from grace, but to an extent I think this illustrates the point. Because the RCC has not fallen into apostasy, even its “Sauls” are in a better state than Saul himself was before his eyes were opened. The RCC is very large and organized so has an edge on the Protestant churches when it comes to pro-life movement demonstrations. I believe things like this are why God still blesses the RCC. Despite its accretions, He still uses it for good. Just because the RCC is off on some key things (or even one) does not mean God will completely abandon it (or that it is intentionally anti-Christ). But His tolerating accretions for a long time also doesn’t mean He is happy with or approves them.

    But what about all the RCC saints, you say. Here too we must be careful not to almost-deify anyone. No one except Jesus Christ alone is righteous (Romans 3:10), not even those the RCC has officially labelled “saints”. I believe some that made Rome’s list were saints, but others likely were not. For a long time I have admired Augustine’s mother, St. Monica, and I believe she is a saint, just as you and I could be if we persist to the end as saints (Romans 1:7). Indeed we are all called to be such.

    I am very suspicious of the medieval notion of the “dark night of the soul” especially when it lasts a very long time. I am aware Mother Teresa and some other RCC labeled saints experienced this. I recently acquired the book that includes Mother Teresa’s letters confessing she felt far away from Jesus for many years. I do not think God operates like this. Her very long darknight experience, like similar others which Rome awarded with the official saint title, may partly be sad but revealing lessons where misplaced zeal produces fruits yet from starved hearts feeding on blurred Gospel marred by accretions. Even if life be tortuous, I believe the man and woman who has a right belief in and relationship with Christ will always be able to feel His presence (Psalm 23) and will not hunger or thirst (John 6:35).

    Finally to your lists:
    The second seems nicer according to man’s wishes and thoughts. But God’s thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). God tolerated a lot of accretions with the ancient Israelites and even promted schism between Israel and Juda. He works in mysterious ways, and for Him, truth and doing right is more important than unity and valid oblations (Isaiah 1:11-17).

    Spirit-filled Christians are pilgrims in this life. We don’t need grand buildings and towering theology. Christ alone. Scripture first. Treasure in Heaven (Mathew 6:20).

    David

  50. David:

    My “spirit filled life” led me into the Roman Catholic Church. I’m a much better Christian for it. For example, I no longer believe that objectively immoral behaviors are acceptable. Ironically, I now agree more with Calvin and Luther on some points.

    St. James said the prayer of the righteous man avails much. Somebody righteous must have been praying for me.

    Peace

  51. David (#49)

    I am contending that Catholics that truly make Jesus Christ their one and only Lord and Savior, will be the ones that develop a healthy skepticism of the Magisterium and live Spirit-filled lives.

    David, how will you know which ones truly make Jesus Christ their one and only Lord and Saviour? Will it be by seeing which ones develop a healthy scepticism of the Magisterium? If so, it seems circular. I seek daily and moment by moment to make Jesus Christ my one and only Lord and Saviour – and have absolute confidence in the Magisterium. Indeed, I believe that it is precisely my seeking to make Jesus Christ my one and only Lord and Saviour and gives me that absolute confidence in the Magisterium.

    jj

  52. David (and Ken for that matter, if you are still reading)

    In Scripture, we have a strong motif of persecution. On your scheme, is there a way of telling which are the churches shrinking due to their apostasy and abandonment by God, and which are the churches shrinking because of their being persecuted for the sake of righteousness?

  53. Brent,
    The article you linked simply showed how RCC’s steep natural law worldview affected even the early Reformers (who didn’t surface out of a vacuum). Contraception/sin of Onan…worse than adultery? Please.

    JJ,
    Re-read my post to you in #42.

    Alec,
    It’s not about quantifying results. Not a science, no hard fast rule. The Spirit blows where He wills (John 3:8) and we must follow. There are indicators though: Matthew 7:16. God has ensured the Reformation kept the essential salvation message (the most important part of the Gospel that by then had become clouded). The Spirit is alive in a myriad of expressions of the Faith, blossoming like leafy branches on a mighty oak tree.

    Word of God first,
    David

  54. I wish I could keep up with all the growing comments. I read them once by email, unless really long and complicated, but I don’t have much time to keep interacting.

    I would just re-iterate that it was the persecution of the doctrinally sound Chalcedonian Trinitarians (but wrong on government unification with the church and punishing heretics, etc.) against the Nestorians (Mesopotamia, Syria) and Monophysites (Syria, Palestine, Egypt – Coptic Church, Armenians) that created the bitterness and resentments of those communities and so, they welcomed the Arab Muslims as liberators (from the Byzantine-Chalcedonian armies and policies) at first, generally speaking. The Muslims deceived them, established the Dhimmi principles, and did not allow new church buildings or evangelism; and they have been persecuted ever since; especially under the Ottomans and more recently with the resurrgence of Islamic Jihadism and throwing off of dictator regimes that grew out of the era of Colonialism and the abolishment of the Caliphate in 1924 by Mustapha Kemal Ataturk. The Muslim Brotherhood was started as a response to the abolishment of the Caliphate and the influence of western morality and ideas into Muslim society. Those minority Christian groups have been shrinking over the centuries because of the general nature of Islam to just be the way it is – it is by nature poltical and militaristic and seeks to conquer and dominate and wipe out.

    Persecution – the church of the Trinity and Deity of Christ (Nicea and Chalcedon – all good on doctrinal matters, but from 400s to 600s – trying to enforce Chalcedon by armies and troops into Syria and Egypt was wrong) later became the persecutors – too harsh on Nestorius, Monosphysites, then later, things like the persecution against the Waldensians, the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, burning of Hus, condeming Wycliff, condemning Luther, those that were killed under Bloody Mary,etc.

    We Protestants hold Polycarp, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Cyprian, etc. in high esteem for their faithfulness in persecution and Athanasius as he endured 5 times exile; and Chrysostom for being exiled by the queen.

  55. This is an interesting and helpful post for me personally. My mom’s family is from Lebanon and they attended in a Maronite Catholic parish in Massachusetts. She raised me in Protestant churches, but we have both found our way back to the Catholic Church (very much in spite of the way I perceived the cultural nominal Catholicism I was exposed to growing up) . In my journey, it was tremendously helpful to go back and look at the eastern traditions which have remained faithful to the see of Peter and to realize that it’s not just a “Latin” church but is truly universal.

  56. David (#53)

    JJ,
    Re-read my post to you in #42.

    Did. I’m not sure what your point is. It still says:

    I think if they are honest with themselves, they will have some doubts about some of their Magisterium’s teachings.

    Thus I conclude that I am not being honest with myself. Why did you tell me to re-read your comment?

    jj

  57. PS – I mean that I have no doubts about the Magisterium’s teaching. I thus conclude that, if you are correct, I am not being honest with myself..

    Kind of a tricky situation to be in, since I do actually believe I am being honest with myself – but if I am being dishonest, then wouldn’t I think that?

    I guess I am doomed.

    jj

  58. Hi Rose,

    Excellent News! I too was called out of what is lacking (i.e. Protestantism). I wish you all the best in your continued journey.

    David (and to an extent Ken)

    It comes across as highly convenient to state that God allows the literal wiping out of whom you deign ‘apostate’ in some areas; and yet when this paradigm utterly fails (i.e. Charles Martel’s saving of Catholic Christianity) it’s all of a sudden “Well you know…the Holy Spirit is mysterious and does what He wants…errr..umm”.

    It should be noted that I am in no way saying the Holy Spirit is NOT mysterious and works in ways we can not understand.

    Ken,

    I await your reply regarding Charles Martel.

  59. Pray tell Ken, when Charles Martel sent the Islamic conquerors packing in the 730′s and is widely recognized as the savior of Western Christianity; who’s side was God on, the Christian Franks or the Islamic conquerors?

    Hi James,
    Yes, I am grateful for the stopping of the Islamic Jihadism by Charles Martel. “savior of western Christianity” – yes; for a while. Self-defense and just war principle is a good Biblical principle – Romans 13:1-8, etc. It is difficult to judge other things though – like Vietnam, the Iraq War, etc. – the winner does not always mean they were morally right. Personally, I think USA was right in Vietnam and the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War, although sometimes our side has done specific things that were not good or not wise or just wrong. But hard to fault the brave men in the heat of the battle.

    God was on Charles Martel’s side in order to keep Europe/Christiandom going and provide the atmosphere that created the reactions of latter times, until Wycliff (1300s), Hus (1400s), Luther (1500s) and Calvin, etc.

    But God allowing liberal theology to conquer Europe, even Catholic France, Spain, and Italy are very secular and pagan. It is not just a Protestant liberal problem. The “living voice” does not seem to be able to help, even in Italy, and yet the Pope is right there close by.

    Nominalism, infant baptistm, external organizational unity, etc. is no guarantee of spiritual life or the working of the working of the Holy Spirit.

  60. The Crusades (1095-1299) – the aspect of the Crusades that was right was a self-defense/just war aspect. The problem was the indulgences and pentitential theology (motivating guilty sinners and criminals that if they go kill Muslims, they get an indulgence and time lessened in purgatory – Wow! ) behind it that motivated people and the evil actions of killing Jews along the way and the bloody sacking of Constantinople from the Greeks – that was really bad. It appears God allowed Islam to win in those areas, because of the wickedness of a lot of the actions of the Crusaders, even though the self-defense/just war principle/help the Byzantine Greeks aspect was right. The Greeks called on the west and the Pope to help – they went to help defend against the Seljuk Turks, who had just defeated them in 1071 at the Battle of Manzikurt near Lake Van (Armenia at the time, near the Turkish-Iran border today). If they had been more righteous in the way they carried it out, maybe the outcome would have been different. But, come on, everybody recognizes that the Latin Crusaders turning against the Byzantines and slaughtering them was wrong.

  61. For anyone still reading the comments of this post, I wanted to point out that, contra John and Ken, bishops are known in the writings of the Fathers before 200 AD: http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2011/10/on-authority-of-bishops-from-st.html. Thus far St. Ignatius of Antioch. I’m surprised this wasn’t mentioned anywhere here (that I saw).

    Also, if there are early historical cases of under-developed Church structure in certain geographical areas, need we take that as proof that authoritative Church structure was not handed on as willed by God? I know of nothing from my historical studies that would not make the following a plausible explanation: the basic gospel message, transmitted through various means of intentional and accidental evangelization, preceded organization. How can it be otherwise? As the gospel spread by means of apostolic activity, conscious development of established churches followed.

  62. It doesn’t seem as if anyone directly answered “Irish Presbyterian” who was the first comment in reply to this article.

    It seems to me that a partial response from the Catholic perspective would have to be:

    (a.) The witness of the “Lost Christianities” demonstrates that, whatever the Church is, it is a visible hierarchical organization with bishops and Apostolic Succession, the Eucharist as sacrifice, aural confession, prayer for the dead, asking the saints for intercession, etc., …i.e., something a lot more like either Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy than like Irish Presbyterianism;

    (b.) To determine who has entered schism and who has stayed with the Church requires that there be a principled way to distinguish, between two groups, which one is the Church. But the belief that the other group is in doctrinal error does not provide a principled way to make that distinction. If one believes in a visible Church, only an objective and visible (and thus historically-traceable) criterion can be used to make such a distinction. And there is no historically plausible candidate for that criterion except for the question, “Which group of bishops has remained in communion with the successor of Peter?”

  63. Ken,
    I am unaware that an indulgence was ever offered for “killing Muslims”. Could you show us your sources pleas?

    Oh, for sure, I am well aware of the Crusades and the indulgences offered for recapturing the Holy Land from the Turks. Had I been alive in those days and fit enough, I would have joined Kings Louis and Richard in that noble effort. I would have wanted the indulgence too.

    You also wrote,
    “God was on Charles Martel’s side in order to keep Europe/Christiandom going and provide the atmosphere that created the reactions of latter times, until Wycliff (1300s), Hus (1400s), Luther (1500s) and Calvin, etc.”

    In your opinion, was God on the side of the Christians at Lepanto too when the Turks were defeated by the sword and the Rosary together?

  64. RE: Comment 23:

    John Bugay: Do you have any evidence from influential primary sources during the first 200 years that show the early church was NOT apostolic (ie. succession through bishops)?

  65. regarding # 61 –
    Dear Telemachus,
    Yes, both John Bugay and I are aware that Ignatius of Antioch, around 107-117 AD, wrote letters and speaks of the bishop over a church – the beginning of the Mono-episcopate = One bishop/overseer over the council of elders. However, earlier, in Titus 1:5-7; Acts 14:23; 1 Peter 5:1-5; Acts 20:17, 28; Philippians 1:1; and non-Canonical 1 Clement 44 (96 AD), also Didache – these earlier texts show that presbuteroi (elders) and episcopoi (bishops/overseers) were the same office in the early church. Ignatius made an innovation and first time practice that stuck and was developed after that. Thanks for your comment.

  66. Regarding # 64
    Dan,
    If I may venture a response, even though you addressed it to John Bugay. All Bible believing Protestants believe that the early church was to appoint elders/overseers/pastors who would replace those who either died or stopped serving as elders/overseers/pastors for some reason. Appointing new leadership is Biblical and we respect many of the early church elders/bishops. What we don’t believe in is that they were infallible or could not err in teaching. Only God and His word are infallible. That is an innovation/heresy – that elders / bishops/ pastors are infallible. We can hold to what they taught that was Biblical and judge what they taught as wrong if they taught an un-Biblical doctrine. For example, Augustine was right on election, grace, and salvation; but wrong on baptismal regeneration. Jerome was right on the Apocrypha not being inspired or canonical; but Jerome was wrong on the perpetural virginity of Mary. Irenaeus was right against Gnostics, but wrong on Jesus’ age. Tertullian was right to question infant baptism, and he was right that Joseph and Mary had a normal sexual marriage after Jesus was born, but he was wrong on venial and mortal sins and merit, etc. Cyprian was right in his rebuke of Stephen, bishop of Rome, but wrong on infant baptism and priests. Some aspects of the early church were following apostolic doctrine and practice, but they introduced innovations and heresies also, that were later developed into the heretical Roman Catholic Church, especially from Gregory 1, 600 AD and onwards.

  67. Regarding # 63

    Hi Jim,
    It is more common knowledge, and what is important is that the Crusaders took the Pope’s promise of indulgences and “ran with it”. Shows the fallibility and corruption of the Pope – if he was infallible he would have known that sinful humans would slaughter Jews and Eastern Orthodox also, because the motivation of promise of full indulgence was evil and unBiblical. If it had been communicated properly – a “just war” and that is all, without any promise of forgiveness, etc. (same way that USA was motivated to fight evil Nazis in WW2 and against Al Qaedah Islamic terrorists, etc.), maybe God would have blessed the outcome. But God judged western world by the sins of the indulgence false doctrine system and allowed Islam to win. Maybe you have the exact official Papal documents. Jonathan Riley Smith (A Roman Catholic scholar of the Crusades) called the Crusades “Pennitential Wars”. (I read some of his material years ago, don’t have the exact references in front of me; but he admitted the penance/indulgence aspect of it as the primary motivating force.

    The Just War aspect was right, but the indulgence theology of motivating people was wrong. The Crusades began on November 25, 1095, with the Papal edict of Pope Urban II calling for a “holy war” against the Turks (the dominant Muslim empire), which he referred to as “an accursed race, a race utterly alienated from God,” which he aimed to “exterminate this vile race from our lands.” By “our lands” the Italian Urban was referring to the Byzantine Empire (essentially modern Turkey, Syria etc.) and most specifically to the Biblical Holy Lands and, most specifically to Jerusalem, which had been passed from the Roman Empire to the Roman Christian Empire and then fallen to Arab-Muslim control in 638.
    Urban II offered full indulgence to any Christian participating in the Crusade. This meant quite simply that any and all sins would be forgiven and the Crusader would lessen time in purgatory and enter heaven. As you can imagine, this only encouraged Crusaders to engage in the worst types of sin — rape, robbery, murder — during the Crusades. (since they could get forgiveness later. This is a big problem with Roman Catholic theology – the indulgence system that lasted and dominated from Crusade period until Luther protested. ) By the time of the Crusades, indulgences were already granted by the Church to Christians for various reasons — a pilgrimage to Jerusalem could already buy one partial or full remission of sins, and those who died during the pilgrimage were believed to go directly to heaven, regardless of previous sins.

  68. # 63
    I don’t believe the Rosary had any power or effect on the battle’s outcome. they are empty words and beads and Mary cannot hear those prayers. Prayers to Mary is blasphemy and wrong. Pray to the Father through Jesus Christ, the one mediator. ( 1 Timothy 2:5; 1 John 2:1-2; Romans 8:32-34) Those verses prove Roman Catholic prayers to Mary and saints is totally wrong.

  69. Ken Temple #65,

    Your hypothesis both presumes and ignores a lot. First of all, why would Ignatius think he has the authority to invent a new form of church government? An innovation like that would require apostolic authority, would it not? Second, this ignores the fact that Ignatius takes it as a given that episcopal polity is already widespread. He writes to bishops well outside his sphere of ecclesiastical authority in Syria. So all these bishops from Asia Minor would have to be in on the promotion of his supposed innovations. Would they suppose that the older laity (who would still be able to remember the prior presbyterial form of the church) would be unaware of these radical changes to church governance? Your theory turns a saint into a destructive innovator, which is shameful. Third, there is already a threefold office in the NT period: apostles, presbyters and deacons. Originally, only the apostles could ordain presbyters for the churches. This shifts from apostles to apostolic delegates like Timothy and Titus as the apostles die off; the apostolic delegates were assigned to ordain bishops in their place. This leaves us with the structure of bishops, presbyters and deacons well before the end of the first century. Fourth, the first established church with apostolic ties was the church in Jerusalem, and it had a threefold office of James (the bishop), who oversaw a group of presbyters in the city, with the assistance of the deacons. Gradually, this form of church government spread outwards with the growth of the Christian mission outside Jerusalem until already by the beginning of the second century it could be taken as a given.

  70. I might add, that the fact that apostolic delegates like Timothy and Titus were appointed to ordain bishops tells us that this is what the apostles were already doing in preparation for their departure. The delegates obviously were appointed to do what the apostles were already doing, in those places where the apostles had yet to establish localized episcopal seats and could not travel to.

  71. Ken,

    Regarding Comment #66
    “All Bible believing Protestants believe…”

    I’m looking at this from the perspective of a 1st-Century Christian — and asking a question they might ask if they were brought into the 20th century:

    “What’s a ‘Bible’?”

  72. Don Carollo #71:

    I’m looking at this from the perspective of a 1st-Century Christian — and asking a question they might ask if they were brought into the 20th century:

    “What’s a ‘Bible’?”

    This is a good question, and since my good friend Ken has taken the time to respond on my behalf in this thread, I’ll return the favor.

    As I said, this is a good question — and a good approach. The way to approach these things is to try to understand, within the context of the times, what is meant when a certain word or phrase or concept is used. In understanding history (and theology), it’s very important to understand “what they knew and when they knew it”,

    So, in Ken’s phrase, the word “Bible” is anachronistically applied to first-century Christians. And of course, we all know that “anachronism” is both a logical and historical fallacy, to be called out when it is employed, and to be avoided in our thinking. For example, it would be an anachronism to say that the Medieval knights also employed a kind of Southern (US ante-bellum) chivalry. That would be taking a concept from one era, and applying it to an era when it did not exist.

    But while Ken’s use of “Bible” was anachronistic, the concept he tried to convey, the fact that there were “Scriptures” in the first century, is perfectly true and valid.

    Jesus referred on many occasions to the Hebrew Scriptures (“the Scriptures cannot be broken”, “not one jot nor tittle of the law shall pass away”, etc.). And even from a canonical perspective, he knew of “canon” in implying that he could identify each “jot” and each “tittle” that would never pass away.

    As well, he held his disciples responsible for knowing and understanding this canon. In Luke 24, for example: .

    44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

    45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

    They were reminded of this as if they should know it. It is possible for disciples to know and be held accountable to a canon of Scripture.

    Later, Peter refers to Paul’s letters as “Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16). Paul’s letters were collected and revered as “Scriptures”, even within his own lifetime. The general principle that distinguishes “canon” and “Scriptures” from that which is “not Scripture” is known to Jesus and his earliest disciples (i.e., in the “1st Century”, as you say).

  73. Hi Paul Owen,
    Good argumentation for the mono-episcopate and three fold church government. I respect Ignatius greatly and it seems to me that Jerome’s statement (see below – in Jerome’s commentary on Titus) is correct about the issue, that elders and bishops are the same, but because of custom/practice, and to ensure unity and get rid of the seeds of disunity, one of the elder/bishops who was more gifted in leadership and preaching/teaching naturally rose to the top. It was a practical development. Jerome calls it “a custom, not by divine appointment” – a practical decision, not commanded by God in Scripture. The problem is not so much with the way Ignatius or even Cyprian (250 AD) applied it, the problem was later with the claims of Rome of “bishop over all bishops” (Stephen and beyond – 258 AD and Gregory 1 (601 AD and beyond). At least Cyprian and 85 other bishops from all over the empire knew that Stephen was wrong in his arrogant claims. As a practical matter, modern pastors write letters and make decisions for the whole church after consulting with the elders and function as the “one leader” up front/ main teaching elder, but I think the plurality of elders is important to hold on to the principle of accountability to other elders, and guard against pride and arrogance and acting as a “dictator” in the local church.

    Clement of Rome ( 96 AD) – Presbyters and Bishops are the same office – I Clement 44, confirming Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5-7; I Peter 5:1-4. Clement, with the Biblical passages, along with Philippians 1:1 (bishops and deacons), along with the Didache (15) (bishops and deacons), and with Jerome’s statement that a “A presbyter, therefore, is the same as a bishop” and that the bishops being appointed above the presbyters was “a custom, not by divine appointment” (Commentary on Titus, PL 26:562-563, cited by James White in Perspectives on Church Government, Five Views of Church Polity, Broadman and Holman, 2004, p. 251-252) shows that the deepest and oldest history is that local churches had two offices 1. elders (overseers, who teach and shepherd the flock or do the work of pastors) and 2. deacons (servants, ministers); and that it was later that the office of bishop (episcopos/overseer) was separated out from and made above the college of plurality of elders for each church.

  74. Thanks John!
    I fully agree with what you have written. (# 72)

  75. Ken,

    Paul is of course free to respond as he will, but I want to point out that the question of the polity of the early church (and the position of St. Jerome on the same), has been addressed in the article, “The Bishops of History and the Catholic Faith,” on the front page of this website. See section II, sub-sections 2 and 3.

    Andrew

  76. Ken #73,

    Though I would differ with your understanding of some of the NT texts, I personally don’t deny that there are some places where the terms bishop(s) and presbyter(s) are used interchangeably, both in apostolic and post-apostolic literature. That does not mean there was no reservation of apostolic episcopal authority to designated men (something that does not require a distinct title). Since all ministers are ordained as priests, whether or not they have the additional authority to ordain, it should not surprise us if there is some fluidity of terminology in the earliest recorded history.

    As to Jerome, as I’ve mentioned in other threads, I’m not sure he gets you very far. He thinks originally that bishops and presbyters were the same; the same that is, in the earliest apostolic period. But the shift to episcopal government, with the power to ordain reserved for bishops in distinction from ordinary presbyters, took place in the first century when associates of the apostles like Mark were still alive, as Jerome makes clear in his letter to Evangelus. It is true that Jerome does attribute the consolidation of episcopal authority to the “custom” of the church in his commentary on Titus 1:5, but this is only because there was no “ordinance of the Lord” to that effect; meaning either that Jesus never commanded it, or God never gave this as an explicit instruction to the apostles. But Jerome most certainly did not see this as a second century development as most Presbyterians and Baptists do. He saw it as a change that took place when at least some of the apostles were still alive.

  77. Hi Paul Owen –
    you wrote in # 76 –
    “Since all ministers are ordained as priests, ”

    No; there is no such thing as a New Testament “priest” as a church office. All believers are priests – 1 Peter 2:4-10; Revelation 1:5-6; 5:10. Jesus is high priest in the book of Hebrews.

    Mark being still alive at the time of Ignatius does not seem like a strong point, in relation to Jerome’s point. So what? You would have to show some sort of relationship to the discussion of presbyters/bishops issue from Mark’s writings (is Mark quoted in the letter you reference by Jerome? if not, it is just a strained argument from silence) It was a practical decision, not a divine command or principle from Scripture.

  78. there is no such thing as a New Testament “priest” as a church office.

    Hi Ken,

    In the English language, the meaning of the word “priest” depends on context. When talking about the office of “priest” in the Catholic Church, the word “priest” in that context is shorthand for the Latin word “presbyter”, which comes from the Greek word “presbyteros”, which is commonly translated as “elder” in most bibles. If you search the etymology of the word “priest”, you’ll see how this happened.

    It’s very confusing.

    This table is useful:

    Bishop = “episkopos” = overseer
    Priest = “presbyteros” = elder
    Deacon = “diakonos” = servant

  79. The problem is that the Latin term carried concepts of a mediator and offering pagan sacrifices – sacerdotalism. Elder/Presbuteros carried no such connotation. This shows the danger of what happened when the Early church drifted from Greek into Latin as the main ecclesiastical language. The centuries of Christianity got locked into unBiblical traditions/bad translations (penance, iustification), especially from 400 AD to Luther, because of not sticking closely to the Greek.

  80. Hi Ken,

    The concept of mediation and sacrifice are not uniquely pagan. They are also Hebraic. “Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices.” (Hebrews 8:3) The baptismal priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9) shares in that work of offering praise to God. The idea of sacrifice is essential to biblical worship.

    I think what the Reformers objected to was the idea of a ministerial priesthood distinct from the baptismal priesthood. They also objected to the idea of Eucharistic sacrifice.

    I must confess puzzlement over your claim that the Catholic doctrine on Priesthood has anything to do with Latin as opposed to Greek.
    The anaphora of St. James – the oldest Eucharistic liturgy in the Church, preserved in Syriac and in Greek, reads as follows:

    Reject not, O my Lord, the service of this bloodless sacrifice for we rely not on our righteousness, but on Your mercy. Let not this Mystery, which was instituted for our salvation, be for our condemnation, but for the remission of our sins and for the rendering of thanks to You and to Your Only-begotten Son and to Your all holy, good, adorable, life-giving and consubstantial Spirit, now, always and forever.

    The concept of Eucharistic sacrifice and priesthood are not Latin innovations. If anything, the Rubrics of Byzantine worship would seem to bring this out even more clearly.

    Where did you get the idea that Latin became the “main” ecclesiastical language? Syriac, Arabic, Persian, Coptic, and Greek were far more significant world wide than Latin – which held sway only in the West. The theological developments you object to were worked out in the first 4 centuries and reflected in councils and liturgies that were non-Latin.

    Finally, I’m sure you know that Protestant scholars like Joachim Jeremias also find sacrifice in the Eucharistic words of Jesus. I’ll direct you to his exegesis, which is extensive, in his book on the subject.

    As to whether or not any of these traditions were unbiblical, I’d happily admit that some ancient Christian traditions are not reflected in Scripture. Especially liturgical traditions. But that just raises a question – which came first, the Scripture or the liturgy? Jesus never said, “read this in memory of me,” nor did he say, “Write this in memory of me.” But Paul did say of the liturgy, “The tradition I received from the Lord I hand on to you.” “Unbiblical” is no threat to Catholic tradition. But “untraditional” poses serious Problems to Protestant hermeneutics.

    – However, Penance is a perfectly biblical idea: 2 Sam. 12; 2 Sam. 24 – forgiveness and satisfaction are distinguished.

    As to whether Luther stuck closely to the Greek text, I rather doubt that. He imported a number of assumptions that do not emerge from the texts themselves – simul iustus et peccator, alien righteousness, the law/gospel hermeneutic, etc. All of these were novel inferences.

    -David

  81. Ken (re: #79)

    In addition to what David just said, the list of early Church Fathers (see the “Proof of Sacrificial Priesthood” section of our “Holy Orders” article) who taught the sacrificial character of the Eucharist does not seem to be any more Latin than Greek. If this were the result of some strange translation problem on the part of the Latins, there would have been a very serious controversy between the Latins and Greeks regarding this doctrine. But this has never been a disputed doctrine between Greeks and Latins, which indicates that it was not a Latin innovation, but something present from the beginning.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  82. Where did you get the idea that Latin became the “main” ecclesiastical language? Syriac, Arabic, Persian, Coptic, and Greek were far more significant world wide than Latin – which held sway only in the West.

    Thanks David Anders for your response, and Bryan Cross also –

    I am working on responding to your responses, (later) but just a quick note on David’s comment on Persian and Arabic. The Arabic Bible was not translated until the 900s AD. That is quite a long time after the early church of say the first 500 years. This is well documented. I will have to get the exact date later – Robert Louis Wilken , who is a scholar and convert to Roman Catholicism, similar to you gentlemen here at Called to Communion, mentions it in his book, The Land Called Holy. I will seek to track that down later.

    Henry Martyn in 1812 made the first NT translation into Persian in history. There were only pieces of the gospels and some Psalms that were translated into Persian (Farsi) before that time. The Assyrian church (called the Nestorian Church by Rome and Constantinople) was in Mesopotamia mostly (today’s Iraq) and at the time part of the greater Persian Empire. The Assyrian Church spoke Assyrian or Syriac, related to ancient Aramaic, the language of the Peshitta. Farsi/Persian was not used much, so I don’t know where you get the idea that it was very widespread in early Christian history. Most of the ethnic Persians were not touched by the gospel, the “Persian church” of the earliest centuries is more accurately “The Assyrian Church”, which was a minority language of the greater Persian Empire. Most Persians were Zoroastrians before Islam invaded in the mid 600s AD into the 900s.

    Syriac, Coptic, Greek – agreed. (for the east)

  83. Hi Ken,

    I’m no expert on Arabic and Persian translations of the Scriptures. I suspect you may be correct about this. If so, it demonstrates how vernacular translation of Scripture and liturgical language can diverge for quite a while across Christian traditions. I know that many of my Arabic-speaking Christian friends continue to worship in Syriac or Coptic. The vernacular Malayalam was not used in the Syro-Malabar rite until 1962. Some rites use Old Church Slavonic to this day.

    Just to be clear, I didn’t say that Persian was more widespread than Latin. I said that non-Latin Churches (collectively) were more prevalent in the first 1,000 years. Jenkins makes the claim, however, that perhaps 25% of world Christianity was at one time in submission to the Patriarch of Baghdad.

    In all of these traditions – regardless of liturgical language – we find priests and a sacrificial understanding of the Eucharist. Moreover, I think that the leveling tendencies of Protestantism (devaluing the ministerial priesthood) is something that emerges primarily in the Latin Church, not the eastern. We see it in the radical movements of the late middle ages – Lollards, Hussites, Wycliffites, radical Franciscans, Waldensians, etc. Far from being the source of “sacerdotalism,” the Latin Church seems to be the source of anticlericalism.

    -David

  84. Ken:

    Regarding Comment #77
    “No; there is no such thing as a New Testament “priest” as a church office. All believers are priests – 1 Peter 2:4-10; Revelation 1:5-6; 5:10. Jesus is high priest in the book of Hebrews. ”

    There was no such thing as a “New Testament” in the first couple centuries, either. In fact, both books you cite from (Revelation and Hebrews) were in dispute and came into the established canon quite late.

    The church’s liturgy preceded the written word — and not everything down in the liturgy of the early church was written down in Scripture. Even Paul himself alludes to church tradition that is oral vs. written down (See 2 Thessalonians 2:15)

    You also have the Eastern Orthodox Church, which also shares in the understanding of priesthood, and both the E.O. and the R.C.C. have a far greater claim to the historical continuity of Church tradition (it’s liturgy, church offices, sacraments, etc.) than does Protestantism. It seems to me that if both of these ancient traditions got it wrong for the first 15 centuries, then there is an awfully high burden of proof on the Protestant framework to prove its own universality and antiquity.

    Can you name one Protestant tradition today that does so?

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