The Scriptures, the Spirit, and the Sheepfold: A Reply to Dr. Wes Bredenhof

Apr 30th, 2017 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Jeremy de Haan was born and raised in the Canadian Reformed Churches, and completed a Master of Divinity at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Ontario in 2016. In his fourth year of seminary, Jeremy discovered more deeply the Catholic roots of the Reformed tradition and the way in which that tradition necessarily depends on those roots. He has recently described that discovery in “With Faces Thitherward: A Reformed Seminary Student’s Story.” He and his wife, Arenda, and three children were received into full communion with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil.

I. Introduction.

Over at his blog, Yinkahdinay, Dr. Wes Bredenhof has written a post, “True and False Catholicism.” He argues there that the Reformed are “the true Catholics,” and that the Catholic Church, in contrast, “represents the spirit of Antichrist.” To demonstrate this, he points to three areas where Catholic and Reformed teaching are at odds – authority, the doctrine of man, and worship – and concludes that in all three areas the Reformed are correct and the Catholic Church wrong.

Although I’d like to respond to all three, in particular the section on worship, I agree with Wes that authority is the most important issue. It’s because of this issue that so many Protestants convert to the Catholic Church. It’s been five hundred years since the Reformation, and with each passing generation the divisions among Christians are multiplied. The URC was established in my generation, the PCA in my parents’ generation, the CanRC in my grandparents’ generation, the OPC in my great-grandparents’ generation, and so on. With so many disparate bodies claiming to hold to the one faith, but not being one body, and with this pattern merely worsening as time goes on, the question of authority is forced upon any Christian who wants to know the truth about his faith.

In this post, then, I will be responding to Wes’s arguments about authority. According to Reformed theology, Scripture is the final authority for Christian faith and practice – the familiar doctrine of sola scriptura. In his post, however, Wes distinguishes between two different teachings: sola scriptura and “solo scriptura.” Solo scriptura, Wes argues, is not sola scriptura, but a corruption that is all-too-often confused with the real thing. He describes it as follows:

With this view of Scripture, the Bible stands with me all by itself. I will come with my private interpretation of the Bible and it is valid and authoritative for me. This “Solo Scriptura” view is not biblical.

In contrast, he describes what he believes sola scriptura truly is:

However, Scripture must always be interpreted in an ecclesiastical context – after all, it is the Church which has been entrusted with the Scriptures. We may not have an individualistic approach to the Bible. The Bible always has to be understood not only in its own context, but also in the context of the true Church. This is why astute Bible students (including ministers) place great value upon commentaries. Good commentaries (like those of John Calvin) give Bible students an excellent sense of how the Scriptures have been understood by those who have gone before us.

Wes uses here the arguments of Reformed theologian, Keith Mathison. About fifteen years ago, Mathison wrote a book, The Shape of Sola Scriptura, in which he responds to Catholic and Orthodox critiques of sola scriptura and attempts to correct prevailing misunderstandings about the doctrine among Protestants. According to him, what critics of the doctrine attack, and what all too many Protestants believe, is not actually sola scriptura, but solo scriptura. His purpose with the book is first, to agree that solo scriptura is unbiblical, unworkable, and ahistorical; and second, to demonstrate that sola scriptura is distinct from it.

II. Why Sola and Solo are the Same Thing.

According to Mathison, the thing that distinguishes these two doctrines from each other, such that sola is true and solo false, is the issue of interpretive authority. He argues that the wrong view, the solo view, is that the individual Christian is his own interpretive authority – that is, it is the individual Christian who ultimately decides for himself what the Bible means. The truth, rather, he argues, is that the Church has this authority, not the individual. It is the Church who tells you what Scripture means, not the other way around.

At the heart of the issue, then, is a who, not a what. I’ve italicized the pronoun because it’s the key to this whole debate about authority. It’s not about Scripture, or creeds, or confessions, or any other kind of writing per se, because those are things, and not people. It’s people who interpret things, people who judge things, and people who decide things. They may express those decisions in writing, in speaking, by pouring white smoke from a chimney, or with a grunt and a clenched fist at second base. But what gives that writing, speaking, smoke, or grunting its authority is the person or group of people, the author, behind it. And the dispute between Catholics and the Reformed is about which person or group of people ultimately judges for you and for me the meaning of Scripture.

That’s what an interpretive authority is. It’s the person or group of persons who makes the yes or no call as to whether Scripture teaches a given doctrine or not. If this authority declares, “Scripture does not teach doctrine X,” then you must reject doctrine X, no matter what you may think Scripture teaches. A concrete scriptural example of this is the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. At that council, the Church declared that Scripture’s command to circumcise was not binding upon Christians. So, if you were a member of the Pharisee party, and if you believed that the council had authority over you, then you scrapped whatever you thought the law of Moses taught, and you went with the council’s decision. If sola and solo really are distinct, then at the heart of the distinction must be a person or a group of people who have this authority.

Mathison claims that this authority belongs to the Church. But the problem with that claim arises the moment we ask, Who is the Church? If you’re Reformed, who precisely is this person or group of people who can tell you what the Bible means? The Pope? Cute. Is it a Christianity-wide ecumenical council, then? No. Reformed people reject the seventh ecumenical council’s declaration on the veneration of images, and the fifth ecumenical council’s conferring on Mary the title of Ever-Virgin. Is it a general synod? Heck no. If you’re Canadian Reformed, your denominational forefathers rejected not only the doctrinal pronouncements of synod Sneek-Utrecht, but the very right of a synod to make binding doctrinal pronouncements at all (the Dutch “Liberation” controversy of the 1940’s).1 Is it your consistory, then? No again. During that same controversy, members of churches whose consistories upheld the synod’s actions left those churches in protest to join with the Liberated group. Is it your pastor? Again, of course not.

Reformed people have rejected decisions from every conceivable level of ecclesial authority in the past, whether those decisions were made by the hierarchy of the ancient Church, or by a Reformed or Presbyterian body. The rejection has been justified on the grounds that such decisions were unbiblical. In those situations, the people believed that the Church was calling them to obey something unbiblical, and so they went with what they thought the Bible said, as opposed to with what the Church said.

But it’s the very definition of “unbiblical” that is at issue here. It’s the definition of terms like “sound doctrine,” “true Catholicism,” “pure preaching,” “right administration of the sacraments,” “faithful summary of Scripture,” and so on, that is precisely the point in question. Who is it that defines those things for you? Who is it that decided, for you, that Colossians 1:15 in no way affects our understanding of the prohibition against making graven images? Who is it that decided, for you, that QA 60 of the Heidelberg Catechism gets justification right? Who is that decided, for you, that the Church has three marks, and that those are the three marks mentioned in article 29 of the Belgic Confession? Who decides for you what sound doctrine is?

The reason I emphasize the “for you,” is because it cuts through the abstractions that often cloud this discussion. Wes wrote that the individual is not his own final authority in interpreting the Bible. This means that for you as a Reformed person, there is an authority above you who tells you what the Bible means. It means that sound doctrine is not ultimately defined by you, but by this higher authority, just like in Acts 15. But this also means that this authority, if it exists, has authority even over those who disagree with it. The Pharisee Party believed that what Paul taught was contrary to Scripture. So, when the Jerusalem Council decided with Paul and against the Pharisee Party, then the latter had a decision to make. They could declare the council unbiblical, contrary to sound doctrine, falsely Catholic, and all the rest, on the basis of their own interpretation of Scripture. Or, they could declare their own views wrong, on the basis of the council’s higher interpretive authority.

Let me say it again: if there is an interpretive authority that is higher than the individual, then it has authority even over those individuals who disagree. So, if it’s true that Reformed people recognize a higher interpretive authority, then you as an individual Reformed person must submit to that authority even when you disagree.

Those four words are why Mathison’s argument cannot succeed. A Reformed person cannot say, “I will submit to this authority even if I disagree,” because his agreement is the very standard by which he identifies the Church. The Church, in Reformed theology, is the group of people who holds to sound doctrine. Notice the relationship there. The Church is not the body who defines sound doctrine. Rather, it is sound doctrine that defines the Church. You must first define sound doctrine, and only then you will find the Church, not the other way around. So, again, who is it that defines sound doctrine?

The answer is: you do. The individual believer must first search Scripture, decide for himself that X, Y, and Z are sound doctrine, and then find the group of people that teaches those things. Any group of people that teaches them are the true Church, and any group of people who rejects them are the false church. But at no point are doctrines X, Y, and Z themselves subject to a higher authority.

This was the path the Reformers walked. Calvin concluded from his own analysis of Scripture what the correct understanding of justification and the sacraments was, and concluded that only the group of people who shared his conclusion could be said to have “the gospel.” If the Church Fathers did not share his conclusions, then that was evidence of their errors and misunderstanding, not his own. According to Calvin, the scriptural conclusions of previous generations were at all times subject to his own conclusions. And when the Catholic Church unanimously declared Calvin’s teachings heretical, this was merely evidence to him that the Catholic Church was apostate, not himself.

In this way of thinking, the Church cannot have interpretive authority over you. It’s impossible, because that authority has been defined clear out of existence. The very definition of the Church in Reformed thinking is, “the body that agrees with my conclusions.” Therefore, any group of people who declares my conclusions false has by that very act defined itself as a false church. And since I obviously ought not to submit to the teachings of a false church, then I have no need to obey a body of people who oppose my scriptural conclusions. The truth is, if the Reformed definition of “the Church” is true, then I have no need to submit to anyone. Agreement or disagreement with my scriptural conclusions is the very standard I use to identify the Church, just as it was for Calvin, Luther, de Bres, and all the rest. And since a true interpretive authority is one to whom I must submit even if I disagree, then no such authority can exist in Reformed thinking.

There is, in the sola scriptura framework, no less than the solo scriptura framework, simply no higher interpretive authority than the individual. Mathison argues that the Church has this authority, but the very definition of the Church in Reformed thinking prevents this from being the case. There is no person or group of persons who can tell me that QA 60 of the catechism, for example, is a perversion of Scripture if I’m convinced that it isn’t. It is my decision that ultimately stands, not the Church’s. In fact, it is the Church who must submit to me, not the other way around. The Reformers believed that the Catholic Church had to submit to their interpretive authority, calling her to repent when she formally declared them heretics. That’s the story not just behind the Reformation, but also behind every church split in history. Every split lays bare the fact that there is no higher interpretive authority than the individual, since in every split each person goes with what he thinks Scripture teaches.

My argument, up to this point, has not been that sola scriptura is wrong. Rather, it’s that there is no distinction between solo and sola on the question of interpretive authority. They are the same thing. Those who hold to sola may give a lot of weight to previous readers of Scripture, as Wes suggests in his post, but weight is not the same thing as making a yes or no decision regarding the truth of a given doctrine. And that decision, the decision as to which doctrines constitute the Christian faith, whether we are talking solo or sola, is ultimately the individual’s to make for himself. That is the choice the Reformers made for themselves, and that is the choice their followers must live with. To break with that choice, and to truly adhere to an interpretive authority above yourself, would be to break with the Reformation as a whole.

III. A Couple Objections.

Well, you might object, it’s not a problem that solo and sola are the same, because Scripture is clear. God has not given us a jumbled revelation, but one in which anyone who searches sincerely, responsibly, and prayerfully will find clearly expounded all that is necessary for his salvation. Therefore, I can rely on my private judgment to make the correct yes or no call as to whether Scripture teaches a given doctrine.

The facts of Church history, however, do not support this. The Church Fathers taught, among many other things, that in the sacrament of baptism our sins are washed away and we are infused with the righteousness that brings us into friendship with God.2 This means that our salvation depends in some way on the sacrament of baptism. But according to Reformed teaching, making baptism a means of salvation is equivalent to teaching the false gospel of the Galatian Judaizers, who made circumcision necessary for salvation. Instead, forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of God come to us by faith alone, and introducing anything else into the equation is a perversion of the gospel.

This is an issue that obviously concerns our salvation, and my point here is not to argue which one is true. Rather, it’s to demonstrate how this bears on the question of the clarity of Scripture. Either the Church Fathers were not sincere, responsible, or prayerful in their reading of Scripture; or, sincere, responsible, and prayerful Christians can draw opposing conclusions from Scripture even on matters essential to salvation. Since the former is clearly false, the latter must be true.

Nor does this mean that God has left us a jumble of a revelation. Christ regularly taught things that His own disciples did not understand, and that wasn’t due to Christ’s poor communication skills. It simply means that man is hard of hearing, that our finite, lazy, and sin-confounded minds do not clearly grasp the things of God, no matter our sincerity, responsibility, and prayerfulness. This is why the guidance and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit are essential. The question, then, which I’ll get to in a moment, is where we find that guidance and enlightenment – whether we find it ultimately in ourselves or in the Church.

Or, you may object that what I’ve argued above applies to Catholics no less than to Reformed people. After all, Catholics must interpret the doctrinal decisions of the Church, and sometimes disagree with each other on what the Church teaches. This must make the Catholic, too, his own final authority. But the dispute isn’t over whether Christians ought to interpret Scripture, or any other text. Every human being is involved in interpretation all the time, whether they are interpreting a text, a movie, a conversation with a friend, or the erratic actions of the driver ahead. Whenever Catholics teach their children the Catholic faith, or share it with their neighbours, or defend it on blogs, they are interpreting that faith. Whenever a Catholic opens Scripture, he is interpreting it no less than his Reformed brother, since the very act of reading is an act of interpretation.

No, the dispute isn’t over the fact of one’s own interpretation – it’s over the authority of one’s own interpretation. And at all times, whether reading and explaining Scripture, or reading and explaining the Church’s teaching documents, Catholics recognize that there is an interpretive authority higher than themselves. A member of the Acts 15 Pharisee Party who rejects the council’s decision on the grounds that his understanding of the Mosaic Law is superior to the council’s, and a member who accepts the council’s decision on the grounds that the council has interpretive authority over him, are both interpreting. The one is interpreting the Mosaic Law, and the other, the council’s decision. But although both are interpreting, only the latter recognizes an interpretive authority higher than himself. That, too, is how Catholics differ from the Reformed, and is why the above argument against sola scriptura does not apply to Catholics.

IV. Some Concluding Thoughts on Obedience and the Spirit.

Each one of us is called to obey the truth. Apart from such obedience, we cannot be saved. Scripture teaches, “Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” [Jn.3:36]; and, “Being made perfect, [Christ] became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” [Hb.5:9]. We must obey Christ, living at all times in submission to His gospel of truth and life. Obedience is foundational to the Christian faith, which is why the question of authority is foundational. Unto which authority must we render the obedience of faith [Ro.1:5]?

When we are talking about interpretation, and we are talking about a who, we are ultimately talking about God. The doctrines of the Christian faith are divine truths, and discerning them in Scripture cannot be done apart from the illumination of the Holy Spirit. His work is not only important in this regard, it’s mandatory. The Christian faith is not a body of knowledge that human beings discovered through reasoning, or experimenting, or through a profound exercise of the imagination. The faith was revealed to us, unveiled by God in the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Since it is a divinely-revealed body of truths, those truths cannot be defined apart from the work of the Spirit.

So, where do we find this illumination of the Spirit? Do we look ultimately to our own judgment for that illumination, or do we look to the judgment of the Church? Will it be, at the end of the day, my own analysis of Scripture through which the Spirit defines the contents of the faith? Or will the Spirit define those contents through the teaching of the Church? Do I obey the Spirit working through me, or do I obey the Spirit working through the Church?

For example, Wes claims on his blog that the Reformed confessions are a faithful summary of Scripture. He advises his readers to check the statements of the confessions against the footnoted Scripture passages to determine whether the confessions really are a faithful summary. Let’s say that I do that, and let’s say that I agree with Wes that the confessions do faithfully summarize Scripture. Do I therefore conclude that my judgment is that of the Holy Spirit? And if I do conclude that, then on what basis do I do so? Where does Scripture tell me to look to myself to find the yes or no decision as to whether the Reformed confessions, or any other teachings, faithfully summarize Scripture?

That’s the question: where does Scripture teach me to look? If I desire to submit to Christ in all things, then should I leave the yes or no finally to myself, or should I leave it finally to the Church? Here’s a scenario I included in some email correspondence with someone on this very question:

You wrote about appearing before our Lord and giving account. My fear is appearing before Him and having to explain why I thought I knew better than His Church. He may ask me:

“Jeremy, do my Scriptures mention the Church by name, and do my Scriptures contain promises to and about her?”

Yes, Lord.

“Jeremy, what do my Scriptures say about my Church?”

She is your body, Lord. She has your mind; she is your fullness. She is built by you, headed by you, taught by you, perpetuated by you, protected by you. She is your Bride. She is your dwelling place. She has your presence, the presence of the One to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given, always, to the end of the age. She speaks truth to the heavenly places, she judges the cosmos. She looks forth like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army with banners.

“Jeremy, do my Scriptures mention you by name and make these promises to you?”

No, Lord.

“Then on what grounds did you exalt and lean on your own understanding rather than on hers? On what grounds did you elevate your judgment over and against the judgment of the authority that I established, the authority to whom all those profound words applied? Why could you not have trusted, as your children trusted in you, that I knew full well what I was doing when I patiently built my Church century after century? Or did you think that I was no better a king than Ahab, that my kingdom foundered as badly, and went astray for far longer, than his did? Jeremy, why, above all, why could you not have obeyed, even if you did not understand?”

Scripture gives me no grounds to deny the Church’s judgment in favour of my own. It gives me no grounds whatsoever to think that Christ gave the Spirit-illuminated understanding of Scripture to me and not to His Church. The same goes for Calvin, de Bres, Ursinus, and all the rest. There is no scriptural reason to think that Christ gave the true, Spirit-guided understanding of Scripture to those men instead of to His Church. But Scripture gives me plenty of reasons to deny my judgment, and theirs, in favour of the Church’s.

Christ goes with his Church 100% of the time – always, to the end of the age. Christ also told us that His sheep would know His voice. But Scripture does not lead us to rest in ourselves as the place where our Shepherd speaks; rather, Scripture leads us away from ourselves:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths [2Ti.4:3-4].

Sound teaching is not something Scripture leaves to our own itching ears to determine. We do not hear our Shepherd if our obedience is rendered finally to our own judgment. We will not find the truth there, but only myths, and only wandering. Rather, it’s the Church who is the pillar and bulwark of the truth [1Ti.3:15], and Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life [Jn.14:6]. To know the truth of Christ, one must know the Church, and therein one will find the true meaning of the Scriptures. It is within the walls of Christ’s own handbuilt sheepfold that we hear the voice of the Shepherd, not outside the walls, not among the hawkers who lead us wandering after their claims of superior scriptural understanding, and certainly not in ourselves.

And again, to truly believe in the existence of such a Church, this who, this interpretive authority above you, would be to break with the Reformation as a whole. It would mean recognizing that the five-hundred-year separation from the Church to whom we once belonged is a schism, a sin condemned in no uncertain terms by Scripture, and a sin born of following the divisive light of men, not the unifying illumination of the Spirit.3

  1. For an overview, see, “What led to the Liberation?” by J. Geertsema at Spindleworks.com: http://spindleworks.com/library/geertsema/liberation.htm, accessed April 24, 2017. []
  2. For a thorough look at this teaching in the writings of the Church Fathers, see “The Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration.” []
  3. For a more complete treatment of Mathison’s book and arguments, see “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.”
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14 comments
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  1. Hi Jeremy,

    Thank you fore this article. I am a frequent reader of articles at Called to Communion but never comment. I just about fell of my chair however when I discovered that you are responding to the writing of a pastor from the little city of Launceston in the Australian Island state of Tasmania. Of all places, that is where I live! I probably know a few people he knows. Anyway, keep it up. Oddly enough I’ve been praying this past lent for more awareness of the Catholic faith and its reasonableness among the reformed and pentecostal churches down here in this quiet little spot in the antipodes. Or my intentions have at least been loosely to that effect… Anyway, hopefully he will respond. Cheers,

    Joseph

  2. […] I’ve responded to Wes’s arguments about authority over at Called to Communion: The Scriptures, the Spirit, and the Sheepfold: A Reply to Dr. Wes Bredenhof. […]

  3. Interesting, Jeremy. It was realising the reality of church authority when I was Reformed that made me a Catholic :-)

    I recall a discussion in our adult Sunday School meeting one morning. I was then wondering if, after all, the Catholic Church might not be right. I suggested we discuss the question of church authority.

    We did not. Various objections were discussed. Our pastor’s wife said it best: she did not want to discuss something that made her feel uncomfortable.

    jj

  4. This is a great article. I was particularly struck by Wes Bredenhof’s references to the “true church,” which can be identified by referring to “good” commentaries that show the interpretive understanding of “those who have gone before us.” Those references clearly beg the question, assuming the very things at issue.

    I think the issue can be summarized as follows:

    Solo Scriptura: the individual determines right doctrine (and thereby, the “true church”) by consulting the Bible alone.

    Sola Scriptura: the individual determines right doctrine (and thereby, the “true church”) by consulting the Bible *and* “good” or “solid” historical information regarding interpretation of the Bible.

    Two obvious observations:

    First, both solo and sola begin with “the individual determines.” There is a difference regarding the evidence admitted for consideration, but there is no difference regarding who acts as the judge of that evidence.

    Second, whether a resource is “good” or “solid,” and therefore admissible for consideration, itself depends upon an individual’s interpretation (see observation number one).

    Some of my evangelical friends seem unfazed by having the individual serve as judge of right doctrine IF that individual is truly and authentically calling on guidance from the Holy Spirit (which would effectively make the Holy Spirit the interpretive judge). I suspect that Mathison (a Protestant) addressed and refuted this argument in refuting solo scriptura, but because this thread discusses solo and sola being materially similar, I would be interested to hear others’ opinions on the position that “Holy Spirit interprets for us.”

  5. Hi Jeremy,

    Thank you for this article. You did a great job demonstrating the position of sola scriptura adherents who as the tradition that espouses the doctrine, they also refuse to take complete ownership of being that single authority to whom followers of Christ must submit. I wanted my Reformed communion to declare themselves ” the”( not “a”) true church that I had, before, taken for granted that they were, and who, themselves, also seemed to believe they were, having confessional statements of the faith. I no longer had comfort in their referencing the bible as the sole authority( and the foundation of the Tradition) and, at the same time, claiming only ministerial authority. Instead, the more they continued to ground their authority in the bible, the more afraid that I got. In fact, it caused me such great angst that I couldn’t even read the bible for about 3 years after I converted, even though well before then I explicitly understood that the bible belonged to The Church.
    Before this time the “a” versus “the” never bothered me. But when they refused to call themselves the church that had no mistakes in its doctrine, and yet demanded that one recognize its doctrines as being dogmatic and its discipline as lawful, I saw that pushing the authority back to the scriptures was question begging. It was impossible that they had any kind of authority to invent the doctrine in the first place. It was when the non-negotiable doctrine( sola scriptura), was no longer logically tenable that I was effectively without even “a” true church to go to and couldn’t be Protestant.

  6. Hello Markesquire,

    Re: #4, where you wrote, “I would be interested to hear others’ opinions on the position that ‘Holy Spirit interprets for us.'”

    FWIW I discuss this topic a bit in this article.

    I hope this is helpful to you!

    Peace,

    Fred

  7. Jeremy, you wrote in the article on the hypothetical conversation at judgement,

    “Jeremy, do my Scriptures mention the Church by name, and do my Scriptures contain promises to and about her?”

    Yes, Lord.

    “Jeremy, what do my Scriptures say about my Church?”

    She is your body, Lord. She has your mind; she is your fullness. She is built by you, headed by you, taught by you, perpetuated by you, protected by you. She is your Bride. She is your dwelling place. She has your presence, the presence of the One to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given, always, to the end of the age. She speaks truth to the heavenly places, she judges the cosmos. She looks forth like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army with banners.

    You are confusing the Universal Church with the Roman Catholic hierarchy, I’m afraid. Taking into account texts like Mat. 16:18, The Universal Church includes three groups of persons: those already in heaven with Christ, those on earth living in saving faith, and those yet to come to faith.

    OTOH, The RCC is not any one of those.

  8. Ted Bigelow – you concluded:

    The RCC is not any one of those

    Just curious – were you going to give any arguments for that statement, or is it just an assertion?

    jj

  9. Hi Ted (#7),

    You wrote,

    You are confusing the Universal Church with the Roman Catholic hierarchy, I’m afraid.

    On the contrary, the point I was making in that section doesn’t depend on the existence of the Roman Catholic hierarchy at all.

    The point I was making is that Scripture says nothing about me directly, while it says a great many profound things about “the Church” (whoever that may be). So, if I want to have the right understanding of Scripture, should I rely on my own judgment as the Spirit-enlightened one, or should I look to the judgment of “the Church” (again, whoever that may be)? I have no scriptural grounds to go with the former, while I have many scriptural grounds to go with the latter.

    Protestants, however, go with the former. It’s not that they’ve merely broken with the Roman Catholic hierarchy. It’s that they do not recognize any person or group of persons, now, or at any time since the Apostles, as an interpretive authority above them. The Protestant looks to his own judgment to find the Spirit’s definition of doctrine, not to the judgment of “the Church” (again, whichever person or group of persons that may be). But there are no biblical grounds for choosing one’s own light as the Spirit-guided light over and against that of the Church.

    Rather, Scripture points us toward this Church and it inspires us to find her and to submit to her teachings as those in which the truth of Christ shines for all to see, no matter what we may have thought Scripture meant.

    – Jeremy

  10. Hi Jeremy,

    In your article you keep on capitalizing ‘church’ – so it is practically always ‘Church’ – like 90 times. You bring some sort of presupposition to your understanding of the word, something other than its use in the first century, in which ecclesia always referred to a “gathering, assembly.”

    What do you mean by ‘Church,’ and what is your source for that definition?

  11. Hi Ted (#9),

    You asked,

    What do you mean by ‘Church,’ and what is your source for that definition?

    The only meaning of “Church” that is relevant to the success or failure of my argument is “any person or group of persons other than me.” If you wish to call it a “gathering, assembly,” go for it. It makes no difference. Mathison claims that “the Church” has interpretive authority over me in Reformed thinking. My argument is that, no matter how you define “Church,” this isn’t the case. In Reformed thinking, there is no person, and there is no “gathering, assembly” other than me through whom the Spirit defines sound doctrine. The “Church,” whatever that word means, does not have interpretive authority over the individual in Reformed thinking.

    – Jeremy

  12. Hi Jeremy,

    You wrote, “The only meaning of “Church” that is relevant to the success or failure of my argument is “any person or group of persons other than me.” ”

    Really? In the body of the article you wrote,

    ”And at all times, whether reading and explaining Scripture, or reading and explaining the Church’s teaching documents, Catholics recognize that there is an interpretive authority higher than themselves.”

    That’s the question: where does Scripture teach me to look? If I desire to submit to Christ in all things, then should I leave the yes or no finally to myself, or should I leave it finally to the Church?

    Scripture gives me no grounds to deny the Church’s judgment in favour of my own.

    So, I could replace “Church” in those representative sentences with “any person or group of persons other than me?” and the meaning would be unaffected?

    Here goes one.

    ”And at all times, whether reading and explaining Scripture, or reading and explaining “any person or group of persons other than me” teaching documents, Catholics recognize that there is an interpretive authority higher than themselves.”

    So, I could be “the Church” – or Joseph Smith and Brigham Young?

  13. Hi Ted,
    The argument states merely that I need an interpretive authority beyond myself as an individual. My personal submission to Joseph Smith or Birmham young (or yourself for that matter) might be compatible with the argument, but obviously does not sit well in the face of additional biblical evidence for what the church actually is. Ultimately no individual (saving Christ), including the Pope, constitutes ‘in themselves’ ‘the church’. Could the Catholic church in its wholeness however (not equated to its earthly leadership but with its authority expressed and active through the Pope and its magisterium) be the right candidate? It certainly fits. It (the Catholic Church) is bigger than its individual parts, including the Pope, who also must submit to the rulings of his predecessors, established doctrine, and church tradition. But this is still a separate issue and another matter. The argument in this article does not need to acknowledge this to establish that whatever the church is, Protestantism cannot be it, given its necessary and final appeal to the individual in his own right as distinct from the biblical model of submission to church whose headship participates in and is manifest through the authority of God.
    Joseph

  14. Ted,

    Please allow me to chime in, too!

    You wrote the following (to Jeremy):

    You bring some sort of presupposition to your understanding of the word, something other than its use in the first century, in which ecclesia always referred to a “gathering, assembly.”

    Is it accurate to say that the word “ecclesia” always and only referred to a “gathering, assembly”? Was the term only used in the sense you’re suggesting? It seems you’re overlooking another 1st Century use of the term which was clearly referring to a singular, universal Church, the principle of unity according to which all local Christian communities derived their authority. One rather clear example of this comes from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

    “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -Ephesians 3:10-11

    Another comes from Christ Himself:

    “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” -Matthew 16:18

    Was St. Paul referring to a mere local gathering here?

    Was Christ referring to a mere local assembly in this text?

    What of the early 2nd Century text (Letter to the Smyrneans, Ch.8), written by St. Ignatius of Antioch, which speaks of the Ecclesia Catholica? Is it not appropriate to allow such a 1st/2nd Century witness to the Faith to teach us concerning the various uses and meanings of the term ecclesia? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

    As I see it, any effort to understand scriptural (as well as extra-scriptural) uses of the term ecclesia in the early centuries should include a consideration of the principle of subsidiarity according to which universal, regional, and local expressions of divine authority may be justly exercised.

    Thank you.

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