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.”
    []
Tags: ,

27 comments
Leave a comment »

  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.

  15. Hi Jeremy,

    Thank you for this post. I am a studying at a reformed college in Sydney taking up biblical theology. I am not looking to join Roman Catholicism. But, I would like to share my preliminary thoughts on some of the areas of you’ve written.

    Solo and Sola Scriptura Similarities and Dissimilarities

    I think there is tendency among Reformed Christians to point out dissimilarities between the two tenets. On the other hand, there is a tendency among Roman Catholic Christians to conclude that there is no difference between the two tenets. In my opinion, these tenets have similarities and dissimilarities and it would help to lay these out and further the discussion.

    Similarities
    1. Both Solo and Sola Scriptura hold the position that infallible special revelation are sourced in Scripture alone. Both tenets are contrary to the Roman Catholic (RC) dogma that teaches special revelation can be found in three sources. In my opinion, the difference between RC teaching and these two tenets is the scope of infallible special revelation.
    2. Both Solo and Sola Scriptura hold to the position that special revelation need to be interpreted by sinful men in order for it to be understood. This is no different from the Roman Catholic teaching. All three tenets believe that special revelation need to received and interpreted by its recipients; and that the recipient may misunderstood or misapply special revelation.

    Dissimilarities
    1. Solo Scriptura hold the position that knowledge of original languages, historical context and the history of interpretation are not important in understanding Scripture. This tenet assumes that the ordained ordinary means of understanding Scripture for a Christian is by reading it without any other aid. It holds to the position that the Spirit does not use any other instruments to help the Christian unlock the meaning of Scripture. Sola Scriptura, on the other hand, hold to the position that knowledge of original languages, historical context and the history of interpretation do help in understanding and applying Scripture.
    2. Solo Scriptura hold the position that all passages in Scripture are equally perspicuous and therefore an ordinary Christian can understand it without the need of other instruments. Sola Scriptura hold to the position that not all passages in Scripture are equally perspicuous and thus there are ordained means for a Christian to help him/her to understand Scripture.

    In my opinion both RC and these two tenets could have the same problem posed by the Solo and Sola distinction. This is because special revelation in the end needs to be communicated and explained. Even in triad sourced special revelation (per RC doctrine), the recipient still needs to interpret or understand it correctly. And, it is easy to foresee that methodologies on how to interpret special revelation can easily fall into a solo or sola view. There are always people (or group of people) who believe that it is just himself and the special revelation and that there are no other means to incorporate when interpreting what has been revealed.

    To illustrate, I remember the time when sedevacanticism in RCism was so popular. These people believe in the same triad sourced special revelation like the rest of RC adherents. They can read Scripture, Tradition and Magisterial Interpretations and yet they arrived with a different perspective on authority, liturgy, line of succession and validity of the sacraments from other people who believed in the same triad sourced special revelation. I asked myself, “Why is that?” This is because other instruments accepted by non-sedevacantists to which the canon of special revelation should be interpreted are not accepted by sedevacantists. This is akin to a solo / sola distinction. The scope may not be Scripture only but an extended special revelation. The difficulty is aggravated by the fact that in RCism, there is really no canon or boundary of what constitutes special revelation (which Tradition / which pronouncements by the Popes or Cardinals are considered authoritative?). Surely, there is much to discuss and debate theologically in this area and thus it easy for one camp to accuse one of a solo view versus a sola view.

    Sincerely,
    Joey Henry

  16. Hi Joey,

    Thanks for your comment. You wrote,

    In my opinion, these tenets have similarities and dissimilarities and it would help to lay these out and further the discussion.

    The only similarity or dissimilarity that matters to the existence of solo scriptura as a category distinct from sola scriptura is whether the latter category includes an interpretive authority higher than the individual or not. Those are Mathison’s categories, and that’s the distinction he makes between them. If there is an interpretive authority higher than the individual, then the categories are distinct from each other. If not, then they are the same.

    That’s why I stressed the “who” and not the “what” in my article. When we talk about interpretive authority, we are talking about people – that’s the only way to further this discussion. If it’s true that in Reformed thinking there is an interpretive authority higher than the individual, then there is a person or group of persons to whom a Reformed individual will look to find the definition of sound doctrine. If he does not look to any such person or group of persons, then he himself is that person. The doctrines you hold to have been defined by somebody.

    Another way to ask this question is: Who today does what the Jerusalem Council did in 50 AD? Who sits in the judge’s chair, examines the evidence, and makes the final call regarding a given doctrine? Whoever does that is the one who has interpretive authority. If you believe that this authority exists, then you will judge your interpretation in light of their decisions. If you do not believe that this authority exists, you will judge every conceivable ecclesial decision in light of your own interpretation. I ran through a list of ecclesial authorities in my post to demonstrate that Reformed people have done just that – they have rejected decisions made at every level on the basis of their own interpretation. It’s through their own interpretation that they define sound doctrine; which is to say that in Reformed thinking it’s private judgment that does today what the public judgment of the Jerusalem Council once did.

    – Jeremy

  17. Hi Ted (#12),

    You asked,

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

    The quote of mine in which you replaced “the Church” was my answer to the objection that my argument applies to Catholics as much as it does to the Reformed. My argument is that in the Reformed system there is no person or group of persons other than me through whom the Spirit defines sound doctrine. But that isn’t true of the Catholic system, in which the Church has that authority. Inserting my argument for interpretive authority in the Reformed system into my discussion about interpretive authority in the Catholic system doesn’t work, since I’m making the case that the two systems are distinct.

    – Jeremy

  18. Jeremy,

    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.

    I don’t know how much you know about Reformed churches in the U.S., but Reformed people say “I will submit to this authority even if I disagree” all the time. In the PCA, for example, if you want to get ordained as a minister, you can disagree with the confession on certain points or with a local presbytery. Often the provision is that you can be ordained as long as you promise not to promote or teach your view that is contrary to the Westminster Standards. Provisions for this vary, but all sorts of people have been ordained in such a way.

    There’s no provision for this that I can see in Roman Catholicism. Can a priest be ordained if he disagrees with the RCC catechism or confessions? With the pope on a dogmatically defined matter? No. It seems that for Rome submission is agreement. So in point of fact, you only remain in submission to Rome insofar as you can continue to agree with her. As soon as you don’t, you aren’t in submission any longer. You submit only where you can agree.

    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?

    This is a red herring. To identify the church in Roman Catholicism, you must have some nature of what the church is. Even to say that the true church is the church that Jesus founded is a doctrinal claim. So YOU must first define sound doctrine before finding that Rome is the true church. Maybe you do this completely independently, but unlikely. Generally, you examine the claims of Rome as to what a true church is, agree with Rome that said doctrine of what the church is is definitional of the church, then you conclude that Rome is what she says.

  19. Hello Robert (re: #18)

    To identify the church in Roman Catholicism, you must have some nature of what the church is. Even to say that the true church is the church that Jesus founded is a doctrinal claim. So YOU must first define sound doctrine before finding that Rome is the true church. Maybe you do this completely independently, but unlikely. Generally, you examine the claims of Rome as to what a true church is, agree with Rome that said doctrine of what the church is is definitional of the church, then you conclude that Rome is what she says.

    You raised this objection, and we already addressed it, in comments #61 – #103 of the motives of credibility thread. So that’s the place to address it. Otherwise, by raising it here, without referring to our reply, you make it seem as though it has not already been addressed.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  20. Bryan,

    Actually, you have not yet addressed the claim. All you do is keep proposing the motives of credibility as some kind of neutral ground. The only problem with that is that if I ask what the motives of credibility are, you have to point me to some theological statement from one of your theologians or from the hierarchy. The motives of crediblity aren’t some independent verification that exist apart from the church. For example, the church tells me that holiness is a motive of crediblity and then defines what holiness is. Because the RC definition of holiness is not the Protestant definition is not the Muslim definition, is not the Buddhist definition.

    And with Apostolic Succession, first the church has to tell me that the RCC is the church on account of it being the church Jesus founded. Then, in order to to know what the church Jesus founded is according to RCC, I have to believe the RCC definition of Apostolic succession because if I follow the EO definition or the Protestant definition, I get a different church.

    And I could go on for every motive of credibility.

    IOW, the thinking Roman Catholic, no less than the thinking Protestant, identifies the church based on his agreement with the church’s doctrine.

  21. Robert, (re: #20)

    This exact objection has been addressed multiple times in the thread I mentioned above. If you wish to respond to those refutations, you’ll need to do so on that thread. Any further attempts to debate this particular objection on this present thread will not be approved.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  22. Hi Jeremy,

    I respectfully disagree that the distinction for solo and sola is limited to interpretive authority. However, here are my thoughts for interpretive authority.

    In the reformed worldview what the interpretive authority (particularly the ‘who’) who is higher than the each of the individual are the bearers of special revelation: the Apostles and the Prophets. What they’ve said about God, man, his creation and salvation is higher than any individual or groups of individual.

    Regarding the question on who can function currently like the Council of Jerusalem, the answer is ‘no one’. That is because the Jerusalem Council were delivered and decided by Apostles and NT Prophets who are bearers of special revelation. Since the Reformed worldview believes that there are no living Apostles today, then the canon of special revelation is closed and no one can add or remove from it.

    When we ask whether an individual (or groups) are responsible to receive and apply the canon of special revelation, then we answer in the affirmative. This responsibility to discern, accept and apply what the Apostles and Prophets spoke and taught is not making the individual the highest authority; no more than, in your worldview, the adherents of a triad sourced non-fixed special revelation should be received and interpreted individually by its recipients who sometimes misapply or misinterpret special revelation.

    Sincerely,
    Joey Henry

  23. Joey – as a kind of thought experiment, suppose your presbytery decided baptismal regeneration was what the Bible teaches, you could not convince them otherwise, and they required you to accept the position – what action would you take, and what authority would you cite for that action?

    I understand this is a hypothetical question, but just wondered what you would think of it.

    jj

  24. Hi Robert (#18),

    You wrote,

    I don’t know how much you know about Reformed churches in the U.S., but Reformed people say “I will submit to this authority even if I disagree” all the time. In the PCA, for example, if you want to get ordained as a minister, you can disagree with the confession on certain points or with a local presbytery.

    My phrasing was poor and it muddled things. What I had in mind with the “even when I disagree” clause was something like a member of the Pharisee Party who had strongly disagreed with Paul’s anti-circumcision teaching, but then believed that teaching on the grounds that the Jerusalem Council declared it true. The disagreement, then, comes to an end in the act of submission.

    That’s because the submission in view here is the act of belief, and agreement/disagreement are mutually exclusive with belief/disbelief. For example, if I had attended a lecture from Neil Armstrong back when he was alive, wherein he described what it was like to walk on the moon, and I stood up and announced to everyone around me, “Yes, I agree with Neil here,” they would all wonder just who in the world I thought I was. I would be implying with that statement that there was some degree of equality between Neil Armstrong and me as to what it’s like to walk on the moon. But since I haven’t walked on the moon, there’s no such equality.

    My choice in that situation is not to agree or disagree with Neil Armstrong. It’s to believe him or not to believe him. There may be very good reasons, despite his walking on the moon, to believe that he isn’t telling the truth about it, and therefore not to believe him as to what it’s like. That’s why motives of credibility are the necessary pieces of evidence when considering to believe or not to believe someone. I can gain knowledge about walking on the moon not because I have any direct evidence about it, but because I have evidence to believe that Neil Armstrong is a credible witness. But I cannot agree or disagree with him, because I am not in a position of equality with him. Jurors, too, in a court of law gain the knowledge necessary to pass judgment not from their direct experience of an event, but from people who are credible witnesses to that event. They don’t agree with the witnesses, because they aren’t in a position to. They believe the witnesses. That’s the difference between belief and agreement. A juror is inferior to a witness regarding the event in question, and thus the juror can only believe or not believe.

    The fact that a member of the PCA asks himself whether or not he agrees with a given part of the Westminster Standards, or whether or not he agrees with his local presbytery, illustrates my point. A member of the PCA, for example, does not ask himself whether or not he agrees with a given part of Scripture. That’s because he believes himself inferior to Scripture. The fact that he does ask that question of the Westminster Standards, though, shows that he does not believe himself to be inferior to them. That’s why I ran through that list of conceivable ecclesial authorities in my article. At every level, a Reformed person asks himself whether or not he agrees with a given decision, even at the level of an ecumenical council. Therefore, he does not believe his interpretation to be inferior to anyone else’s. He believes that his own interpretation is equal to the interpretation of anyone else, and thus does not believe in a higher interpretive authority.

    Often the provision is that you can be ordained as long as you promise not to promote or teach your view that is contrary to the Westminster Standards. Provisions for this vary, but all sorts of people have been ordained in such a way. There’s no provision for this that I can see in Roman Catholicism.

    That’s because to deny a doctrine defined by the Church is to deny the Christian faith. The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 did not make provision for Pharisees who continued to believe that circumcision was necessary for salvation. That would have been making provision for heresy. Scripture commands us to hold to sound doctrine, not to make provision for those who don’t.

    Can a priest be ordained if he disagrees with the RCC catechism or confessions? With the pope on a dogmatically defined matter? No.

    Right. The Catholic Church doesn’t knowingly ordain heretics. Neither did the Apostles. In order to be ordained, you must confess that the Christian faith as defined by the Church is true.

    It seems that for Rome submission is agreement.

    No, submission is belief. A Catholic believes the teachings of Rome for the same reason that I believe that from the moon, the continents on earth have very little colour – not because I agree with Neil Armstrong that his description is correct, for I’m in no position to judge the truth or falseness of that description, but because I believe him. So, too, a Catholic doesn’t agree with the Church on the doctrines she has defined, for he is no position to judge the truth or falseness of those doctrines, but he believes her.

    So in point of fact, you only remain in submission to Rome insofar as you can continue to agree with her.

    If I disagree with Rome, it shows that I was not in submission in the first place. It shows that I believed myself to be in an equal position with her, a position from which agreement and disagreement are possible. But that’s not the position a Catholic believes himself to be in with regards to the Church. He’s in an inferior position, one from which agreement and disagreement are not possible. If he is in truly in submission to Rome, then he is in a position of belief, not agreement.

    As soon as you don’t, you aren’t in submission any longer.

    I’ve probably made my point by now, but I want to be clear. It’s true that if you disagree with Rome, you aren’t in submission. That’s because disagreement is only possible where belief is absent. If you’ve made the act of belief, then not only will you not disagree, but you will have excluded the possibility of disagreement.

    You submit only where you can agree.

    No, belief and agreement are two mutually exclusive acts. The first is done necessarily from a position of inferiority, while the second is done necessarily from a position of equality.

    This is a red herring.

    No, because it’s evidence that Mathison’s argument is wrong. Someone who decides that a given doctrine is true, and at the same time decides that anyone who disagrees with that doctrine is by definition a false teacher, does not recognize a higher interpretive authority than himself. If a person makes conformity with his own interpretation the gold standard of all interpretations, then clearly he sees his interpretation as the gold standard. It’s the one at the top.

    Since the Reformers believed that a mark of the true Church was conformity with their own interpretation, then they placed their interpretation in the unassailable category of “that which cannot be wrong.” Therefore, they were their own interpretive authorities.

    To identify the church in Roman Catholicism, you must have some nature of what the church is. Even to say that the true church is the church that Jesus founded is a doctrinal claim. So YOU must first define sound doctrine before finding that Rome is the true church.

    When Jesus told the Sadducees, “You know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God,” how ought the Sadducees to have responded? Response 1: A mark of the true Messiah is that he will teach in accordance with the law. This man teaches contrary to the law on the question of the resurrection. Therefore, this man is not the Messiah. Response 2: Whoever the Messiah is, he will have a superior understanding of the law to mine. I believe that Jesus is the Messiah, therefore I ought to scrap my wrong interpretation on resurrection and believe His.

    If I understand you correctly, you are saying that both responses are fundamentally the same. That’s because to conclude, as the second responder did, that the Messiah is a superior interpretive authority to him and that Jesus is the Messiah, is to draw conclusions from his own interpretation of Scripture no less than the first responder has. Therefore, someone who chooses the second response is in no position to critique someone who chooses the first response, because both responses have been made on the same grounds: private interpretation of Scripture.

    But no doubt you believe that the first response is wrong and the second is correct. In that case, these responses are not fundamentally the same, but fundamentally different. The fundamental difference is not that both responses are the result of studying Scripture. In that they are the same. The fundamental difference is that someone making the first response doesn’t believe in an interpretive authority higher than him, while someone making the second response does. Yes, they have both interpreted. Yes, they both believe that their conclusions are correct. But the second Sadducee believes that whether or not his interpretation is correct is itself a judgment that will be always inferior to that of the Messiah. For him, the definition of a right or wrong interpretation of Scripture is whether or not it conforms with the Messiah’s teaching or not. The first Sadducee does not believe that. He believes, on the contrary, that a mark of the Messiah is whether the Messiah conforms with his own interpretation.

    That’s the difference between recognizing an interpretive authority higher than yourself or not. And it’s the difference between someone interpreting his way to the interpretive authority of the Catholic Church, and someone interpreting his way to his own interpretive superiority. The difference is not in the fact of their interpretations, but in the status of them.

  25. Hi Joey (#22),

    In the reformed worldview what the interpretive authority (particularly the ‘who’) who is higher than the each of the individual are the bearers of special revelation: the Apostles and the Prophets. What they’ve said about God, man, his creation and salvation is higher than any individual or groups of individual.

    Right – Catholics, too, believe that the Apostles had the authority interpret the faith they were depositing to the Church.

    Regarding the question on who can function currently like the Council of Jerusalem, the answer is ‘no one’.

    Since you believe a whole list of doctrines that you consider to be orthodox over and against doctrines that differ from them, then the answer cannot be “no one.” Who is it that said, “This doctrine, and not that one” for each of the doctrines you hold to? For example, who concluded that you ought to reject the doctrine of apostolic succession held to by the Church Fathers?

    That is because the Jerusalem Council were delivered and decided by Apostles and NT Prophets who are bearers of special revelation.

    That’s not the reason given in Scripture. Luke tells us that “the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter” [Ac.15:6], and later he writes of “the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and the elders” [16:4]. The elders, who were not bearers of special revelation, were as much involved in the authoritative decision-making process as the Apostles were. The text doesn’t say anything about New Testament prophets being responsible for the decisions.

    Since the Reformed worldview believes that there are no living Apostles today, then the canon of special revelation is closed and no one can add or remove from it.

    Okay, but I don’t see how this relates to the Jerusalem Council. The Council wasn’t adding or removing anything from revelation. They were declaring which of two opposing teachings was orthodox.

    When we ask whether an individual (or groups) are responsible to receive and apply the canon of special revelation, then we answer in the affirmative.

    Sure, as do all Christians.

    This responsibility to discern, accept and apply what the Apostles and Prophets spoke and taught is not making the individual the highest authority;

    Right. That isn’t my argument.

    no more than, in your worldview, the adherents of a triad sourced non-fixed special revelation should be received and interpreted individually by its recipients who sometimes misapply or misinterpret special revelation.

    There might be a word missing here or something, because I can’t follow the grammar. I may be misunderstanding you then, but I assume from the comparison that your meaning is: because Catholics must interpret their respective documents, my argument applies equally to them as to the Reformed?

    If so, I addressed that objection in the article, in the “A Couple Objections,” part. It’s not the fact of our interpretations that is in question, but the status of them. Every reader of Scripture interprets as he reads. That’s the nature of things. The mere fact that you interpret does not make you your own interpretive authority. If, however, you hold to your interpretation of Scripture over and against every conceivable ecclesial authority, then you do not recognize an interpretive authority above you.

    Reformed people do this not only by having rejected decisions from all levels of ecclesial authority, but by means of the definition of “true Church” in Reformed theology. Calvin believed that his interpretation of justification was a mark of the true Church. That is, no body of people who disagreed with Calvin on justification could be the true Church. But in doing so, he merely enshrined his interpretation in an unassailable place. Nobody could tell him that he was wrong, since anyone who denied his interpretation had by that act committed the sin of apostasy. That is why for Calvin, and for everyone who followed him, he was his own final interpretive authority. If there is nobody who can tell you that your interpretation is wrong, then there is nobody who has interpretive authority above you.

  26. Thanks Jeremy for the response. I apologise I did not edit my responses to smooth out spelling and grammar mistakes. Now I know, typing in iPhone is not ideal. However, let me share with you some of my thoughts to help clarify what I meant.

    When you ask the ‘who’ in the interpretive authority in the reformed worldview, I answered that these are the Apostles and the Prophets. Since they are the bearers of special revelation, their interpretation about God, man, salvation and all matters that they’ve addressed concerning our world and existence is ultimate. The Reformed also argues that this special revelation is contained in Scriptures which is the ‘what’ of special revelation. Furthermore, since there are no more living Apostles or Prophets today, we believe in a closed special revelation. I’ve argued then that in the Reformed worldview, the individual is not the highest authority because what the Apostles and Prophets revealed were higher in authority than any individual or groups – in fact, the revelation is ultimate authority.

    The responsibility to receive, interpret and apply what has been revealed through special revelation by individuals does not make the individual the final authority. For example, in your worldview, the individual still has to receive the data from Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium and interpret these. However, even in your worldview the interpretation of your triad-sourced-non-fixed special revelation can be wrongly interpreted. I’ve given you the example of sedevacantism, whose adherents read and interpret the same sources you do and yet they arrive at different conclusions about the most foundational doctrines. Either the sedevacantists are wrong or you are wrong. In this case, who concluded that you are right? You did or at least, you made the choice that the current claimants of the teaching office and their dogma are part of special revelation. But for sedevacantists, these shouldn’t be accepted as part of special revelation because of the statements of the same Magisterium made from the past. Why you do not believe in the hermeneutic of sedevacantist regarding Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium is as much as a personal choice when a protestant rejects a certain interpretation of apostolic succession based on the data of Scripture. Yet, the ability and responsibility of individuals to discern error from truth and make a choice between two alternatives does not mean that the individual is the highest authority.

    With regard Jerusalem Council, the elders were involved but the narrative clearly identify that the decision were done by the Apostles, specifically the Apostle James. The Prophets were also quoted as a vindication of their decision. I should have said OT prophets not NT. Sorry for the mistake. Today, we cannot recreate the authority of that council as there are no Apostles today. There are no body today that is composed of “Apostles and elders”, if you want to be more specific.

    The declaration of the council to exempt Gentiles from the yoke of the law was indeed an added revelation. The OT revelation was clear regarding circumcision and the mandate for Gentiles to follow the Mosaic Law while they live in the Promised Land. But this decision, informed by the death and resurrection of Christ, the special revelation received by Peter and Paul regarding the inclusiveness of the Gentiles as heirs of salvation, and the new function of the Mosaic Law was indeed new to everyone. Even Peter had to be shown a vision at the rooftop to be convinced that this move was from God.

    Lastly, I just want to point out the difference and similarities between our worldviews in matter of discerning true and false interpretations of special revelation. Both our worldviews recognise that an individual could wrongly interpret special revelation. Practically speaking, when an individual catholic has a wrong interpretation of a certain doctrine, the Magisterium does not speak to him right then and there that he is wrong. Usually, the people that may tell him or her that he has a wrong interpretation are deacons or priests or a knowledgeable layman. But these people are not infallible also in their interpretation. So unless an individual has direct access to the Magisterium, the people whom he has access are fallible also. And yet, usually an individual takes their interpretation as authoritative based on the consistency, reasonableness and logic of their interpretation with what he already knows about Scripture, Tradition and Magisterial Dogmatic Pronouncements. This has similarities with the reformed worldview. Even though we don’t access to the Apostles and Prophets, the interpretation of elders, deacons and knowledgeable Christians are taken as authoritative based on the consistency, reasonableness and logic of their interpretation with what he already knows about Scripture.

    However, you might argue that in your worldview, special revelation is not limited to Scripture but to Tradition and Magisterium as well and therefore, an individual has a hypothetical access to the Magisterium when he wants to ask whether a certain interpretation of the sources is correct. But is this what is happening practically speaking? The answer is no. Are you then ready to say that for the majority of the adherents of your worldview, these individuals who rely on the admonitions of fallible church leaders are making themselves the highest authority when deciding for or against the correctness of their own understanding? The second problem with your worldview is with regard to the canon of special revelation. If it is true that special revelation is contained in these sources then special revelation is not fixed. For example, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and Ascension of Mary are recent magisterial pronouncements considered as dogmas. These are things that are not dogmas in the past and therefore theologians can hold differing pious opinions on the matter and still remain good Catholics (e.g. Thomas Aquinas’ denial of the IC). But not after the dogma was declared and made tenets of the Catholic Faith. The evolving nature of special revelation in the RC worldview makes it harder for Individual Catholics to be assured of the correctness of a certain interpretation at any point in time as future dogmas might conflict with what they think are the correct interpretation for today. For example, homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. But this language might be replaced in the future as a book was released by a priest (with good standing) on the wordings of the catechism and arguing that the better word should be ‘different’ rather than ‘disordered’. This book has the imprimatur of two bishops.

    Sincerely,
    Joey Henry

  27. Hi Joey (#26),

    I apologise I did not edit my responses to smooth out spelling and grammar mistakes.

    No worries. These discussions depend on reasoning carefully, and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t misunderstanding you.

    I’ve argued then that in the Reformed worldview, the individual is not the highest authority because what the Apostles and Prophets revealed were higher in authority than any individual or groups – in fact, the revelation is ultimate authority.

    The question is who the final interpretive authority of this revelation is. If you don’t believe that the Apostles passed their interpretive authority on to anyone else, then each Christian ought to interpret Scripture as his conscience directs him. In that case, each individual is his own interpretive authority – not the Church, as Mathison contends.

    Why you do not believe in the hermeneutic of sedevacantist regarding Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium is as much as a personal choice when a protestant rejects a certain interpretation of apostolic succession based on the data of Scripture.

    Correct. As I stated in my article and in my previous comment to you, the reality of making a personal choice, or interpreting, or discerning, is not in question. When the Pharisees chose to follow their understanding of the law regarding the Sabbath, for example, over and against Christ’s, they made a choice. When the disciples chose to follow Christ, and conform their understanding of the law to His teaching about the Sabbath, they, too, made a choice. When many disciples abandoned Jesus after the Bread of Life discourse because they didn’t like His teaching, they made a choice. When the twelve chose to follow Jesus after the discourse because they believed He had the words of eternal life, they, too, made a choice. The difference in both circumstances is that one group chose to believe in an interpretive authority higher than themselves, while the other did not.

    So, too, when Reformed people choose to follow their own understanding of Scripture regarding apostolic succession, for example, over and against any conceivable ecclesial authority, they have made a choice. When someone chooses to submit to Rome and conform his understanding of Christian doctrine to her teaching about apostolic succession, he too, has made a choice. When the sedevacantists abandoned Rome following Vatican II because according to their interpretation Vatican II had embraced the heresy of modernism, they made a choice. And when someone chooses to go with Rome because he believes she has the words of eternal life, he too, has made a choice.

    The difference in both circumstances is not that one group makes a choice and one doesn’t. The difference is not that one group interprets while the other doesn’t, or that one group discerns truth from error while the other doesn’t. The difference is not that one group encounters internal differences regarding the meaning of their authoritative documents while the other doesn’t. The verbs in question are not “interpret” or “discern” or “choose.”

    Rather, the verbs in question are “conform” and “submit.” The question is whether there is an authority to whose past decisions I conform my discernment and interpretation, and to whose current definitions of faith and practice I will submit in faith. The answer for a Reformed person is no. The answer for a Catholic is yes. The two positions are not only not the same, they’re mutually exclusive. Concluding that the truth of my interpretation is at all times contingent upon conformity with the teaching of the Church is the opposite of concluding that the truth of the Church’s teaching is at all times contingent upon conformity with my own interpretation. The latter conclusion is a conclusion against interpretive authority, while the former is a conclusion for interpretive authority.

    The declaration of the council to exempt Gentiles from the yoke of the law was indeed an added revelation.

    The declaration itself wasn’t added revelation any more than the declaration of Nicaea that Jesus is consubstantial with the Father was added revelation. Luke doesn’t refer to the revelation given to the Jerusalem Council, but to the decisions made by it. The revelation itself had already been given, as Peter’s vision, which happened well before the council, demonstrates. The council, rather than providing new revelation, decided on the correct understanding of what had already been revealed to Peter and Paul, which has been a task of the Magisterium ever since.

    Today, we cannot recreate the authority of that council as there are no Apostles today.

    Yet you believe that there are such things as orthodoxy and heresy. Who determines which teachings go into which category?

    Practically speaking, when an individual catholic has a wrong interpretation of a certain doctrine, the Magisterium does not speak to him right then and there that he is wrong.

    Right, just as when an individual first-century, post-Jerusalem Council Christian had a wrong interpretation of Scripture regarding circumcision, the Council didn’t speak to him right then and there that he was wrong. Clearly, as the Council was no longer convened.

    Usually, the people that may tell him or her that he has a wrong interpretation are deacons or priests or a knowledgeable layman. But these people are not infallible also in their interpretation. So unless an individual has direct access to the Magisterium, the people whom he has access are fallible also.

    Yes. Same as you’d find in the first-century following the Jerusalem Council.

    And yet, usually an individual takes their interpretation as authoritative based on the consistency, reasonableness and logic of their interpretation with what he already knows about Scripture, Tradition and Magisterial Dogmatic Pronouncements.

    An individual Catholic can take a given teacher’s interpretation to be trustworthy, and in that sense as authoritative, but that isn’t the authority in question here. The authority in question here is final interpretive authority – the authority to whose judgment all interpretations must conform and submit in order to be correct. If that judgment is my own, then I’m my own final interpretive authority. If that judgment is someone else’s, then that someone else has interpretive authority over me.

    This has similarities with the reformed worldview. Even though we don’t access to the Apostles and Prophets, the interpretation of elders, deacons and knowledgeable Christians are taken as authoritative based on the consistency, reasonableness and logic of their interpretation with what he already knows about Scripture.

    They aren’t authoritative in the sense in question here. If the interpretation of those elders, deacons, and knowledgeable Christians conflicts with your own, as, for example, does the interpretation of the knowledgeable Christians who met at the Second Council of Nicaea, then rather than conforming your interpretation to the council’s decision, you judge the council wrong based on your own interpretation. There is no level of ecclesial authority that is above the possibility of being rejected by the private judgment of the individual Reformed Christian; rather, it is the individual Reformed Christian’s private judgment that is above all others. That is the judgment that is ultimately taken as “authoritative.”

    However, you might argue that in your worldview, special revelation is not limited to Scripture but to Tradition and Magisterium as well and therefore, an individual has a hypothetical access to the Magisterium when he wants to ask whether a certain interpretation of the sources is correct.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “hypothetical access.” A first-century Christian had access to the Jerusalem Council’s decisions through the council’s published letter, through the testimony of everyone who was there, and through trustworthy teachers who knew all about it. This was especially so when the Apostles and everyone involved in the decision had died. Was this only hypothetical access to that interpretive authority, or was it real access? Catholics today have the same kind of access to the magisterial decisions made throughout history.

    The second problem with your worldview is with regard to the canon of special revelation. If it is true that special revelation is contained in these sources then special revelation is not fixed.

    How does this relate to the argument in my article?

    The evolving nature of special revelation in the RC worldview makes it harder for Individual Catholics to be assured of the correctness of a certain interpretation at any point in time as future dogmas might conflict with what they think are the correct interpretation for today.

    Again, how does this relate to my argument?

Leave Comment

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

Subscribe without commenting