Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My wheelchair was nearly destroyed by a car last night. That's a bit melodramatic, I suppose, because it is intact and undamaged. But we'd left my power chair ("Red Sam" in the official designation) in-between the maze of cars parked out front of Chris Yee's house for Bible Study. [Isn't that a Protestant Bible study?--ed.] They are good friends, and it is not under any official auspices. [Not BSF?--ed.] They're BSF guys, but it's not a BSF study. Anyway, I wasn't worried; I made a joke about calling the vendor the next day: "What seems to be the problem, sir?" 'Well, it was destroyed by a car.' As it happened, a guy bumped into it at slow speed. His car got the worst of it. And this only reinforces what I've said for a solid 13 years [Quickie commercial coming] If you want a power wheelchair that lasts, get a Quickie. They're fast, obviously, and they're tanks. Heck, my old one still would work, but the batteries are shot. Probably the greatest invention in the history of power wheelchairs is the metal foot-rest. When the things were mostly plastic (and we're talking the swing-away rests here) you could snap them by driving fast with them swung out, even if you didn't run into anything. Stupid.
I didn't come here to tell you that, as the great Cosby says. I'm beginning to realize what my role in the world is: I'm a provocateur, and I bring clarity when people are content with unclarity. It happened last night. And it made me sound angry. I wasn't. I just took note of the fact that all the possible answers for how to understand this text we were addressing were on the table except the right one. The Kingdom of God and the Church have to be the same thing. This was the text. I take it for granted that Jesus views the Kingdom of God in positive, glowing terms. I still haven't figured out why the Reformed separate the two. Why did we even begin to talk about how "leaven" often refers to sin in the New Testament? It obviously doesn't here, even if we grant that the birds of the air are evil, like they appear to be in the Parable of the Sower. Is not the Kingdom of God the place where God reigns? Has He not promised to be our God, and we will be his people? Last I heard, we were a spiritual house where God dwells by His Spirit. Oh, wait, he's talking about the Church. Exactly! But if somehow they were separate, isn't this a way of saying, "To hell with the Church"? The Reformed, we might say if we were being impolite, got around these thorny problems by absolutizing our lack of freedom and responsibility, and relativizing the Church. [That's not fair.--ed.] Oh? I think it is. If you can't find it, you're not guilty of being outside it. That solves one problem. Also, it is granted to be much easier to believe in the Church as the spotless bride of Christ if none of these terrible collections of people is put forward as the actual intended. Pardon me for being rude, but I've never known an invisible pillar in my entire life. If I were you, I wouldn't trust the guy promising to build your house on an invisible foundation, either. True, it didn't stop the Westminster assembly from trying to have it both ways on the matter. Not that it'd help if they chose the visible, because the fractions in that family allegedly following the same will would be hilarious, if it weren't so sad (and confusing). I do have to salute them, though; at one point, they were as opposed to 'toleration' as any medieval papist, and probably worse. They'd surely freak out if they saw what passes for 'normal' in ecclesiology today. Man, I didn't come to talk about that, either. I can't encapsulate the core of a really big problem any better than this. It doesn't commend the solution as obvious, true; still, it deserves a real answer, now.


Timothy R. Butler said...

I think there are three things worth noting. If we say that we should only believe in the visible, what of God himself? Personally, a whole lot more than what the church is seems staked for me on that which is invisible (yet real nonetheless).

Second, if Church and Kingdom are analogous entirely, is Christ only king over those within the Church? Or, if Christ is king over all the earth, then how do we intelligibly define the Church?

Third, if things must be visible to be believed in, if God's kingdom is loving and shows his glory, and the church is both entirely visible and completely analogous with his kingdom, then what do we do when that Church was far more wicked (or, at least, as wicked) than that which was outside it? What do we do if it is so today?

Jason said...

I never said I only believe in the visible; I do believe in a visible Church.
Second, of course Christ is King over all the Earth, and he has authority over every person. This is not in serious dispute. In addition, Lumen Gentium deals with that question better than I could, and since the people which produced that make the claim to be the Church which Christ founded, all the better reason to consider it and that claim.
Wickedness is irrelevant to the claims themselves; there is wickedness in every group of people, and in fact, the 16th century was no more wicked than any other period. What relation does the evil have to the novel doctrines of the Reformers? The fact that a person of any stripe can look at those events and call them evil testifies to the purity of God and the truth. I never met perfect people anyplace, have you? This is a silly argument. Another serious problem is that the means provided by the Reformers is not able to provide ANYTHING CLOSE to a reasonable level of confidence as to what this 'Church'--whether visible or invisible--is supposed to believe. If faith AT LEAST requires assent to revealed Truth from God, this is a huge problem. You end up with something 10 times more universalist than the worst Roman cleric thought of, because "conscience" is about as useful a guide as a screen-door on a submarine. Sooner or later, the Church has to be something external, binding its members to the Truth with which it has been entrusted. If "heresy" (and schism) is as transient as our denominational affiliations, we really can't know anything concerning Christ. I thought Fred put it well there: Either the Holy Spirit is leading people to mutually contradictory truths about doctrine, or someone has made an error with respect to how Truth is ascertained. Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church; what you must decide is whether you mean to say that the Church you envision is a Church of one, or if you've made a mistake in identifying the Church.

Timothy R. Butler said...

Or take the bull by the horns, as it were, and note I mean neither side of the dilemma you state. I agree what you present is a neat and tidy solution. But, Jesus commanded we judge people by their fruit, so I don't think wickedness is irrelevant. Practical and theoretical theology must not be divided, so if the practical side is impossible to live out, then something must be wrong with the theory. I find no philosophical or Biblical reason to believe truth must be mediated by a certain class of priests (nor does abuse of interpretation mean that interpretation cannot yield truth).

Ultimately, your argument is a fine one, but it only makes sense if I assume what you assume. To a Protestant, it does not make sense. (Nor to someone outside of Christianity altogether.) It makes a little more sense for the Orthodox, but they'd say, "yes, so that's why you should give up your Western innovations."

And thus we return where we always return. I think the key point I'd make is that we as Protestants are not necessarily less interested in the question you raise in your post. But, for the life of me, I can't get that question to lead me where it leads you. My epistemology is very comfortable where I am, thus my point where I get stuck is where it always is: we agree all the way up to the end of the New Testament; now, show me (without assuming anything) how I move from those books to the Magisterium.

That is, if this is true, I should be able to take what came before and feel necessarily compelled to what follows without first having to assume what follows is inerrant.

Jason said...

Why would I move from the New Testament in an attempt to "prove" the Catholic claims? That is not possible. What is possible is to note a very identifiable group of people in actual history who defined themselves according to a plain rule of faith, for whom "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic" was something more than theoretical. The legitimacy of the Reformation protest (like it or not) utterly depends on continuity, and it is in this test of continuity that it fails. Tell me different. We get none of the Christological and creedal benefits you claim to cherish without acknowledging the ecclesial context within which it was promulgated. I grant you that if the Orthodox are correct, no charge can be levelled against the Reformers, because a Roman primacy of honor without jurisdiction is worthless. Solo Scriptura is less bad. But what I am saying is that derivative authority is a sham. There's no difference between Solo and Sola at all. As for me, knowing the true Jesus Christ is all that matters, and I've chosen accordingly.
You think I'm assuming something; All I did was ask what the church looked like (how she understood herself) prior to 1517. Who were her leaders, and how do you know? It's a red herring to suggest that I believe personal holiness is irrelevant; of course it's pertinent. But the question still remains: Who speaks with authority for Jesus Christ? Where is His Church? Where did it go after the apostles died? What is the faith once delivered to all the saints? Can we claim to hold it if we cannot declare it? If there is no ordinary means of salvation outside the Church, (WCF, by the way) then I'd say this is no minor question. I take the ecclesio-epistemic uncertainty that you're allegedly comfortable with as definitive proof that Reformational ecclesiology was wrong. And the theology that followed can't be tested or disproven! I don't need to prove Rome correct; what it claimed was never completely without precedent. Obviously, western cultural captivity is not the essence of being Catholic; I attended an Eastern Catholic liturgy where its only distinguishing feature from John Chrysostom's liturgy practiced by the Orthodox was a profession of loyalty to the Bishop of Rome.

Jason said...

The whole point of Noltie's article was that this ecclesial pluralism as a consequence of the Reformation wasn't an abuse. It is insoluable, even in the best faith. You can't escape it; it is the unavoidable result of the primacy of individual interpretation.

Jason said...

More clarification: What I'm trying to get at is that the burden of proof is on the Reformers, not the other way around. And they were happy with that, at first.

Jamie said...

Just a few questions. Does it matter at all that we know the true Jesus Christ as well? That we know the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Son of one substance with the Father, begotten before all worlds, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father? That we know Jesus Christ, the God-man in whom true and full humanity and true divinity are joined hypostatically, without separation, confusion, or mixture in one person? Why do we get none of the Christological benefits of the first four ecumenical councils when we accept them? We can deal with our basis for accepting them another day, but does it count for nothing that we believe this together with you? I feel perfectly comfortable on Protestant grounds saying that the acceptance of these dogmas are essential for any community that would claim the name of Church. It does not give you all the essentials you want from us, but this is the starting point of a fixed Protestant definition of Church. Is this not why Protestants and Catholics come to ecumenical discussions as brother and sister Christians and not rather as partners in interfaith dialogue? And why this parallel Catholic universe where the Catholic Church does not have to provide the answers you demand from Protestants? Why these different sets of rules? The Catholic Church has just as much a problem of unfalsifiability in regard to its dogmas as do Protestant churches? The wall of your presuppositions is so high that in the situation where empirical evidence that would clearly disprove Roman Catholic claims is put to the test, you cannot possibly see it. If Protestant unfalsifiability for you is part and parcel with our so-called "ecclesio-epistemic uncertainty" and results in your conclusion that our ecclesiology is false, why does the unfalsifiability in your system not lead you to the same conclusion? Pardon me if I find that quite convenient. Why not the Orthodox instead? They have just as much claim to apostolicity and catholicity immediately after the New Testament as does Roman Catholicism.

Jason said...

"It seems that my path out of Protestantism can be reduced down to a single question. If I believe ‘X’ about doctrine ‘A’ (which cannot be a matter of indifference) and the Church (however you define it — I don’t think it matters at this point) teaches ‘Y’ about it such that X and Y are mutually exclusive, who is right? This one question demanded that I address the presuppositional question (“Do I really have standing to judge for myself what Scripture’s truth is?”), the historical question (“Is it really credible to think that the Church ‘‘blew it’ by the start of the second century?”), and obviously the authority questions I discussed in the email with my friends.

If I say that I am right, I have to ask how it is possible that the Church could be wrong. If the Church could be wrong, then we are left with ecclesial deism: I am forced to conclude that God does not preserve the Church (however it is defined) from error. But if that is the case there is likewise no reason to suppose that I have been preserved from error. Consequently there is no principled reason to suppose that I am right rather than the Church. But if this is the case, then there seems to be no way that I can know what God has revealed, and Protestantism’s claims about how we know revealed truth do not work. Consequently they are false.

So I think that this is a fair question to put to the Reformers. If the Catholic Church can be wrong in what she teaches, why should we accept what Luther and Calvin said instead?"

I've posted the sharpest part of Noltie's article "The Accidental Catholic," and as a possible answer to part of your question.

Timothy R. Butler said...

Jamie hits the nail on the head. I guess I am channeling Jerram -- how can Catholics "build bridges" to where we already are? It shouldn't be hard if they really have the one, true Biblical faith. The question I raise would also solve the whole Orthodoxy issue. If a human organization were Christ's concern -- and he knew all of his saints would acknowledge Scriptural authority, but the physical organization would be called into doubt, why wouldn't he have inspired more description of that very important organization? He knew about the schisms before they happened, of course, and since we all agree there are believers in the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches, it seems to me he would not have left Scripture seemingly ambiguous (to put it generously, for the sake of argument -- I would suggest it isn't so ambiguous) on this key point.

As to the church having error in the second century, I don't find that difficult to accept, given that God's people have always had a mix of error and truth. As I said before, back before Christ, you had actual prophets trying tobcorrect the people, and the establishment still would get off course. Jesus himself taught and there was still error within the "church." For that matter, even within the apostles, you had one traitor and one well meaning, but quick to put his foot in his mouth guy.

You admit that the church could show wickedness, so the question becomes "how can it err, just as it did even before Christ, but yet it is never erring on doctrine?"

Timothy R. Butler said...

Incidentally, I realize an argument from omission does not prove anything. I just find it odd that a certain polity would be allegedly so central to a proper relationship with our Lord and yet Scripture, if anything, seems to most naturally read towards a different polity. I just don't think saying "Peter, on this rock, I will build my church," would have caused the apostles or other early followers to immediately think of apostolic succession and the bishop of Rome. Yet, if it were crucial, how odd it is that such a doctrine is not firmly established in the Gospels and Epistles.

Jason said...

Why? Tons of stuff we believe has no explicit basis in Scripture. The two natures of Christ, for example. In fact, my whole point is, most of Jamie's questions, giving examples of non-negotiables, are quite explicitly from Tradition (Councils, mostly). Grounding them in Scripture is great, but noone doubts that that's after the fact of its definition. They DID immediately think of the Bishop of Rome (and the other bishops). That's all there in the Fathers.

Jamie said...

Um, do you actually know the arguments and the evidence the councils used in defining these questions? The councils looked to the Scriptures for the answers. That you would say that the grounding of the doctrines of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ in the Scriptures only follows after the definition of the doctrines in the councils is absolutely baffling to me. They were appealing to the authority of the Scriptures as the basis for their definitions, not just relying on their own weight independent of the purpose for which they were given said authority. At this point I do not care so much about winning this argument, but I would caution you, my good friend, from so striving to make your arguments bulletproof that you fall into absurdity and distort what your own Church teaches in these matters. Is it not the case that in Roman Catholic thinking the grace of teaching infallibility is given to the Church in order for it to rightly interpret the Scriptures and Tradition? Is this not given so that the Church might be rightly normed by Scripture and Tradition? Does the Church really rule in the present independent of the weight of Scripture and Tradition? I did not think they were giving new teachings in the councils but simply investigating and defining what Jesus, the apostles, Scripture, and the Church taught all along about these matters.

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