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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hilarious Com-Box Quote of The Day: "I was caught immediately because it is the Acts of the Apostles, not the Acts of the Holy Spirit Acting Erratically."--Donald Todd, reacting to the inartful opposition of the Holy Spirit and the Magisterium. Mark Galli, an editor at Christianity Today, had suggested that today's "confusion" in evangelicalism replicates a confusion on the day of Pentecost. Mr. Todd commented after this reply, and the original article is here.
My thoughts: By what means was this Church-less "consensus" formed? If the Council did not possess the authority to adjudicate such questions, who does? If the Council Fathers did not intend to be the arbiters, why do they say that they do? At the risk of being rude, I would define evangelicalism as, "Whatever I want or need to believe at any particular time." Ecclesial authority to settle a particular question is a step forward, but only as long as, "God alone is Lord of the conscience" is rejected as a reduction to, "Your authority is contingent upon or derivative from my interpretation of the Scriptures." Not to mention the thorny question of ecclesial validity itself. Y'all could use some of that "principled creedalism" I wrote about. [Don't say it.--ed.] Say what? That respecting the historical context of creeds and Councils and the real authority they possess leads inoxerably in one direction? That there is one Church? That she is served humanly speaking by a German theologian of some repute? I didn't say anything.

17 comments:

Timothy R. Butler said...

This is where, as I was discussing with the good Mr. Cross, I think Catholic presuppositions slip into your (plural -- y'all's) arguments. No right thinking Evangelical is going to say there was a Church-less consensus. Instead, we'll say, "of course it was the Church that came to consensus." However, just as none of us wants to say that the proper doctrinal authority was invested solely in the religious leaders in, say, Jesus's day, neither do we want to say it was solely invested in the bishops in the time of the councils.

"God alone is Lord of the conscience," applied with principle, is not freedom to individual interpretation, but frees people from being victimized by the corruption and evil within the hearts of men. As I've said before, my life was nearly destroyed by people who rejected this principle. It means something more to a person after seeing why it is so important in application. Had I denied it, I tremble to think where I would be today. By the Grace of God, however, his Scripture would not allow me to accept the denials.

Timothy R. Butler said...

Put another way: if I rejected that principle, that wouldn't make me Catholic, it actually would have made that possibility -- if anything -- even more distant. The natural flow for many of us isn't to assume that, if God is not alone Lord of the Conscience, the Church in Rome must be the other lord.

Jason said...

Dear Tim,

I must cite two incontrovertible facts: First, you were not injured by Catholics; Second, the sins of the Reformation by the Church were not remedied by the Reformers' separation. As with anything, the remedy is repentance, or as we prefer to say, conversion. The authority to believe and teach contrary doctrines has not been established, and there is no principled way to establish their truth. Worse still, Sola Scriptura (based in the primacy of individual interpretation) multiplies the errors possible. Still, I lament your ill treatment.

Timothy R. Butler said...

Thanks, Jason. To be clear, I don't blame my treatment on the Catholic Church, but I note that rejecting the sole authority of the Lord over the conscience by itself gets one no where (good). One can reject it and end up some place very bad.

As to the sins of the Church not being remedied by separation, given how much folks like my man Bucer tried to bring everyone back together, I also am not convinced it is best to say the Reformers wanted to separate. I think many of them wanted simply to reform...

Jason said...

We are saying more than, "The Church came to consensus." We are asserting that the Church came to consensus by means of the exercise of its own authority, through the organs of that authority (like a Council). Under what circumstances does an ecclesial body lose its authority to define itself? Because new communities arose as a result. And a new understanding of "Church" emerged. If the Catholic Church was wrong in the 16th century, then it was and is always wrong. The corruption of the time was no worse than any other point in history. It's very simple: either they have the keys, or they don't, because the Donatist objection can be raised in every age. If it was and is always wrong, either in the doctrinal formulation or in the exercise of authority, then the creeds and the story of a unified history is an illusion, because nothing was settled, at least beyond an individual's right to redefine. "Councils may err" means the same as, "The Councils need not exist" if the arbiter of their truth is the individual.

Timothy R. Butler said...

To me, this raises a more central question: is truth dependent on those who declare it? If it is, then you would be right, but the Church is essentially Nietzschean. If it is not, then the authority -- such as it is -- only exists so long as the entity is in line with the truth that authorizes it and no longer.

But, the question hardly is one of the 16th century. The question becomes unavoidable in the 11th century. Two groups -- both of which we want to call Christian! -- declare the other to be heretical. If the Church's authority is the only way to arbitrate such claims, then we are in a hopeless situation, since the Church is split. To heal that split, truth must be external to that which is split.

(And herein we start to move on to my issue with Hauerwas.)

As to councils: I need not invest them with infallibility to find them authoritative. I can assume they are right, but also seek to be a Berean and check what they claim against Scripture "every night." If authority overrides Scripture, the Bereans were foolish...

Jason said...

It is foolish to check everything "against Scripture" because that means, "my interpretation of Scripture." It might've worked but for the reasonable plausibility of other interpretations in the absence of an authoritative interpreter. BUT THERE IS ONE, that's the whole point. What is the Church? What is heresy? What is the Gospel? Not part of it, not most of it, the whole thing. In the absence of an infallible Church that we can actually find, you need a definitive hermeneutic. No offense, but good luck with that. So if my community lacks even the reasonable certainty to determine truth and error, or to show itself as the Church of Christ, to which others can only pretend, my only logical course is to reject the premises on which this confusion is based.
Even if you never settled the dispute between the two claimants, it would be vastly superior to this individualist nonsense the Reformation stuck us with. That's all I can say.

Timothy R. Butler said...

But what of the Bereans? Were they wrong to check everything against Scripture, then? Luke certainly doesn't seem to suggest so.

The bigger problem is that you can't prove the Catholic Church is the Church of Christ any more than I can prove we are *both* in the Church of Christ, per se. But, I do have the advantage that I'm working with the "common currency" of all Christians: Scripture. Given that a Catholic accepts as authoritative that which other Christians do not, arguing from that which we who are outside of Rome do not acknowledge cannot prove anything until first you've demonstrated why we must accept those sources as authoritative.

Ultimately, that is up to the Spirit, since you can't circularly support authority, which is why I think the whole question we are discussing is the wrong question.

I have no desire to prove the Presbyterian Church is *the* Church of Christ. I'm much more interested in showing how both you and I are in the Church of Christ.

Jason said...

There's nothing "outside" that I'm trying to prove. If there is, I don't see it. If McGrath is correct to say that the Reformation was a theological novum, then please submit the means by which we discover that it was legitimate. If you don't even suggest that the PCA is the Church, then why be in it? Its juridical decisions would be more than open to question, and entropy would rule the day.

You precisely can't do that without knowing where that Church is, or what it believes. At present, we believe opposing things on a whole host of questions. Does the Spirit lie? What canon of Scripture are you referring to, by the way?

Jason said...

There was a living apostolic witness to correct any possible errors in the Bereans' scriptural exegesis.

Jason said...

Yes, truth depends on the authority of the One who declares it, in this case, God. If the Church which assembled in an ecumenical council did not have authority from God, then every single decision ever made by one is suspect. The fact of our Christological agreement, as far as it goes, you would have us believe would persist without the councils that determined its parameters. If Scripture was all we needed, the council's presumed authority is superfluous. Montanus would be thrilled, but that's not good enough for me.

Principium Unitatis said...

Tim,

You wrote:

This is where, as I was discussing with the good Mr. Cross, I think Catholic presuppositions slip into your (plural -- y'all's) arguments.

Which arguments are you referring to, and which "Catholic presuppositions" are you referring to?

No right thinking Evangelical is going to say there was a Church-less consensus. Instead, we'll say, "of course it was the Church that came to consensus."

And as I explained to Mark Galli, such a claim amounts to "those who agree with me came to a consensus." It co-opts the term 'Church' to refer to those who agree with oneself.

However, just as none of us wants to say that the proper doctrinal authority was invested solely in the religious leaders in, say, Jesus's day, neither do we want to say it was solely invested in the bishops in the time of the councils.

Neither does the Catholic Church make that claim either. There is a three-fold authority in the Catholic Church: Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium.

"God alone is Lord of the conscience," applied with principle, is not freedom to individual interpretation, but frees people from being victimized by the corruption and evil within the hearts of men.

God never said "God alone is Lord of the conscience." God said, "The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me." (Luke 10:16) When you import man-made notions such as "God alone is Lord of the conscience," you are creating a man-made religion.

As I've said before, my life was nearly destroyed by people who rejected this principle. It means something more to a person after seeing why it is so important in application. Had I denied it, I tremble to think where I would be today. By the Grace of God, however, his Scripture would not allow me to accept the denials.

I don't know the details of the difficulty you went through Tim, but in that case you were dealing with persons who had no actual ecclesial authority, because they did not have apostolic succession. Of course even a person who has apostolic succession can err, but if the magisterium could err when it definitively determines a matter of faith or morals, this would in fact entail "freedom to individual interpretation."

To be clear, I don't blame my treatment on the Catholic Church, but I note that rejecting the sole authority of the Lord over the conscience by itself gets one no where (good). One can reject it and end up some place very bad.

Christianity is not determined by pragmatism, by whether according to our human reasoning believing doctrine x could lead to "some place very bad." Otherwise Abraham would never have set out to sacrifice Isaac. When Jesus says, "The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me," we obey, and we don't try to fix His theology by way of our pragmatic human reasoning.

As to the sins of the Church not being remedied by separation, given how much folks like my man Bucer tried to bring everyone back together, I also am not convinced it is best to say the Reformers wanted to separate. I think many of them wanted simply to reform...

It is impossible to reform the Church while in schism from the Church. Two wrongs don't make a right. Rebellion against the bishops already in place is not the way to reform the Church. Sacrifice, suffering, prayer, service, and martyrdom, if necessary, are the ways to serve the Church, from within, as a Catholic.

Principium Unitatis said...

To me, this raises a more central question: is truth dependent on those who declare it? If it is, then you would be right, but the Church is essentially Nietzschean. If it is not, then the authority -- such as it is -- only exists so long as the entity is in line with the truth that authorizes it and no longer.

The truth of a truth is not dependent on those who declare it. Those declaring it do not make it true. But the authority of a truth depends on those who declare it. If a person with only human authority declares a truth, this truth has only human authority. To deny such a truth may be foolish, but it is not a denial of God's authority. However, if a person or set of persons has been divinely authorized to speak on God's behalf, and they declare a truth to be divinely revealed, then to deny such a truth is not only foolish, but it is also a denial of God's authority.

But, the question hardly is one of the 16th century. The question becomes unavoidable in the 11th century. Two groups -- both of which we want to call Christian! -- declare the other to be heretical. If the Church's authority is the only way to arbitrate such claims, then we are in a hopeless situation, since the Church is split. To heal that split, truth must be external to that which is split.

One of the four essential and indelible marks of the Church is her unity. When the Arians and Catholics separated in the fourth century, this was not a dividing of the Church. Rather, the Arians were finally put out of the Catholic Church. When the Donatists separated from the Church in 311, this did not divide the Church; rather, they were in schism from the Church, as St. Optatus as St. Augustine repeatedly argued. Similarly, when the Nestorians and Catholics separated in the fifth century after the Council of Ephesus, the Church was not divided. Rather, the Church continued in the bishops who remained in communion with the bishop of Rome. Similarly, when the monophysites and the Catholics divided in the middle of the fifth century, and Dioscurus was deposed by the Council of Chalcedon, the Catholic Church was not divided. Rather, the Church continued in the bishops who remained in communion with the bishop of Rome.

Principium Unitatis said...

Thirty-three years later, the Acacian schism developed. Sixty-eight years after the Council of Chalcedon, Pope Hormisdas ended the Acacian schism of 484-519 when the bishops in schism signed what is now known as the "Formula of Hormisdas":

The first condition of salvation is to keep the norm of the true faith and in no way to deviate from the established doctrine of the Fathers. For it is impossible that the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church,” [Matthew 16:18], should not be verified. And their truth has been proved by the course of history, for in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been kept unsullied. From this hope and faith we by no means desire to be separated and, following the doctrine of the Fathers, we declare anathema all heresies, and, especially, the heretic Nestorius, former bishop of Constantinople, who was condemned by the Council of Ephesus, by Blessed Celestine, bishop of Rome, and by the venerable Cyril, bishop of Alexandria. We likewise condemn and declare to be anathema Eutyches and Dioscoros of Alexandria, who were condemned in the holy Council of Chalcedon, which we follow and endorse. This Council followed the holy Council of Nicaea and preached the apostolic faith. And we condemn the assassin Timothy, surnamed Aelurus [”the Cat”] and also Peter [Mongos] of Alexandria, his disciple and follower in everything. We also declare anathema their helper and follower, Acacius of Constantinople, a bishop once condemned by the Apostolic See, and all those who remain in contact and company with them. Because this Acacius joined himself to their communion, he deserved to receive a judgment of condemnation similar to theirs. Furthermore, we condemn Peter [”the Fuller”] of Antioch with all his followers together together with the followers of all those mentioned above.

Following, as we have said before, the Apostolic See in all things and proclaiming all its decisions, we endorse and approve all the letters which Pope St. Leo wrote concerning the Christian religion. And so I hope I may deserve to be associated with you in the one communion which the Apostolic See proclaims, in which the whole, true, and perfect security of the Christian religion resides. I promise that from now on those who are separated from the communion of the Catholic Church, that is, who are not in agreement with the Apostolic See, will not have their names read during the sacred mysteries. But if I attempt even the least deviation from my profession, I admit that, according to my own declaration, I am an accomplice to those whom I have condemned. I have signed this, my profession, with my own hand, and I have directed it to you, Hormisdas, the holy and venerable pope of Rome.


This was the pattern that had been laid down in the Church. And when bishops later in the 11th century broke fellowship with the bishop of Rome, the Church that had remained visibly united through all these schisms during the first millennium, did not suddenly cease to be visibly one. She remained one, consisting of all the faithful who remained in full communion with the episcopal successor of St. Peter. I have laid this out in diagram form in "Branches or Schisms?"

Principium Unitatis said...

As to councils: I need not invest them with infallibility to find them authoritative. I can assume they are right, but also seek to be a Berean and check what they claim against Scripture "every night." If authority overrides Scripture, the Bereans were foolish...

But what of the Bereans? Were they wrong to check everything against Scripture, then? Luke certainly doesn't seem to suggest so.


This passage in Acts 17 doesn't say that we should submit to the Apostles only if we agree with their interpretation of Scripture. One would have to bring certain assumptions to the text in order to draw that conclusion from it. One way to learn from a teacher of Scripture is to take the stance: "I won’t believe what you say until I determine for myself that this is in Scripture." Another way is fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding). The former is not noble when the speaker is divinely authorized. But the latter is noble when the speaker is divinely authorized. Moreover, stating that something is referred to in Scripture, is not the same thing as giving an authoritative interpretation of Scripture. The Bereans were searching the Scriptures primarily to see whether they contained the claims St. Paul said they contained, not to verify or falsify his interpretation of those claims. They were praised because they were truth-lovers, not because they eschewed apostolic authority and preferred the rule of private judgment.

In addition, the practice of Jewish non-Christians being evangelized by a Christian should not be taken as normative for Christians already incorporated into the Church. Non-Christians would not yet have recognized St. Paul’s authority as an Apostle, since they did not yet recognize Jesus as the Son of God. But those persons already incorporated into the Church recognize the authority of the Apostles and their successors. That's not to say that Christians should not search the Scriptures, but Christians search the Scriptures not in order to come to faith, but to grow in the faith, not to determine whether the dogmas of the faith are true, but to seek to understand how they are contained and presented in Scripture. This passage in Acts 17 is about the truth-seeking open-mindedness of the [non-Christian] Jews of Berea to the preaching of the gospel. St. Paul was explaining to them that Jesus Christ fulfilled the prophesies and covenant of the Old Testament, and as Jews, they were examining the Scripture to see whether what he was saying about the OT was true. They didn't yet recognize the authority of St. Paul as an Apostle. The truth-seeking open-mindedness of the Bereans is a model for us all. But their way of verifying what St. Paul said is not a model for how baptized Christians should relate to the Apostles or to a bishop or to the Jerusalem Council (of Acts 15). That's because becoming a Christian means to come into the Church, and thus come under the authority of the Apostles and bishops. Of course coming under their authority doesn't mean that one can't look up verses if an Apostle or bishop says, for example, "The prophet Jeremiah tells us in Jeremiah 31 that in the New Covenant, God will write His law on our hearts." But it does mean that the Church's determination of what the Bible says (i.e. what is orthodoxy and what is heresy) is authoritative for us, rather than our interpretation of Scripture being the standard by which the Church is judged to be orthodox or heterodox.

Principium Unitatis said...

The bigger problem is that you can't prove the Catholic Church is the Church of Christ any more than I can prove we are *both* in the Church of Christ, per se.

Actually, unless you are defining 'prove' in some mathematical sense, we can prove it. The only two contenders are the Orthodox and the Catholic Church. And those two options can be reduced to one; see the following four works:

The Russian Church and the Papacy, by Vladimir Soloviev
The Early Papacy To the Synod of Chalcedon in 451, by Adrian Fortescue
Documents Illustrating Papal Authority: AD 96 – 454, by Giles
Studies on the Early Papacy, by Dom John Chapman

I was born before the PCA even came into existence, so we can know that the PCA is not the Church Christ founded (because I'm not even close to two thousand years old.)

But, I do have the advantage that I'm working with the "common currency" of all Christians: Scripture. Given that a Catholic accepts as authoritative that which other Christians do not, arguing from that which we who are outside of Rome do not acknowledge cannot prove anything until first you've demonstrated why we must accept those sources as authoritative.

I agree that Catholics cannot argue for the truth of the Catholic Church from sources you do not accept as authoritative. But, if you are claiming that only Scripture is authoritative, then your position seems to fall into the "solo scriptura" position Keith Mathison criticizes. (See "Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.") Your position also, in that case, is ad hoc, insofar as you reject the teaching in practice of the Church of the first four centuries, but accept (some) of the books that very same Church affirmed as canonical, because she affirmed them, and not because you got an individual bosom-burning confirmation for the canonicity of each of the 66 books in the Protestant Bible.

Ultimately, that is up to the Spirit, since you can't circularly support authority, which is why I think the whole question we are discussing is the wrong question.

So far as I know, Jason has never argued that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded because the Catholic Church says so. That would be circular, but that's not Jason's argument. History itself shows the Catholic Church to be the Church Christ founded, having continued and grown century by century down to the present day. When we locate in the first century the Church Christ founded, and then trace it forward through the centuries down to the present day, we find that it is the Catholic Church.

I have no desire to prove the Presbyterian Church is *the* Church of Christ. I'm much more interested in showing how both you and I are in the Church of Christ.

If you want to show that you and I are both in full communion with the Church Christ founded, then you will need to lay out the principled and non-arbitrary bases for determining whether or not someone is in full communion with the Church Christ founded. Otherwise, it is merely an empty assertion that one is in the Church Christ founded. The assertion is empty if one has no means of distinguishing between those who are full communion with the Church Christ founded from those in schism from the Church Christ founded.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jason said...

Tim,

I am hopeful that the philosopher has yet to sap your strength, :) that you might recall who it is with whom you have engaged. "Because I say so" only works for a distinct class of people (let the reader understand) that is not currently present. Ahem. In any case, dispassionate reason clearly indicates that the Roman claims, measured against the writings of early Christianity, cannot be easily dismissed. The evidence, unmoored from prior attachments to much later theological and ecclesial assumptions, is more compelling than we might think. Subsequent acceptance of an authority that appears to arise from this data naturally conflicts with the hermeneutical paradigm of the Reformers, but the evidence of itself does not require this; it merely shows a discontinuity that must be accounted for without begging the question.
I respect the Reformers enough to test their essential claim of continuity with the early Church.