Thursday, February 07, 2013

Sola Scriptura Up Close and Personal

I find this hilarious. No, not because they're getting nasty, but because it puts the lie to the perpiscuity thesis once again. Aside from a lack of patience and supernatural charity perhaps, is there anything inherent in the hermeneutical process being used to say that Strachan's conclusion is wrong? Is there anything to say Siebert is wrong, absent the Magisterium, or at least a makeshift one? Dr. Enns believes that Siebert has an interpretation or at least questions worth considering. Others do not. Isn't "tribalism" inevitable when there is nothing to definitively establish the "correct" view? Isn't it also inevitable when the ecclesial structures in play are nothing more than non-binding societies of people with a common interpretation? Bad faith is almost a given, even if it is polite and subtle, if one believes the interpretation he holds is divinely directed. Maybe even protected. This is what I have long called "The Noltie Conundrum." This is that, isn't it? What's left if there is no way to settle it? And if it is true that the individual is actually the final arbiter of "orthodoxy," then he decides the validity of the "secondary" structures that he imposes on himself or others. Moreover, it is clear that he decides the "what," the "how big," and the "who" of those in communion with himself. That's why scads of people can talk about "the Church" and the "Body of Christ" and unity all while using different definitions of what they mean, and who they mean. And as long as we don't ask too many questions, we don't realize this. This is how really important words in theology become buzzwords. The fuel of buzzwords is a lack of agreed-upon definitions, and the result of this state is equal parts sentiment and groupthink.

Humorously enough, a Protestant-Catholic type discussion broke out on the Facebook thread of Dr. Anthony Bradley, a professor at King's College, NYC. The "Tu Quoque" made its appearance again:

“John, there's nothing in Scripture implying that the magisterialism of Acts 15 continues after the apostolic era. There is no magisterium, only ministers of the Word.

The authority argument from Catholics actually undercuts their own system. It is true that once one accepts the authority of the RCC Magisterium one can define orthodoxy without direct appeal to their own private judgment (well, this is questionable because they must appeal to their own interpretations of the Magisterial documents). But every time they use the authority of the Magisterium to define orthodoxy they are appealing to an authority whose authority is determined by the individual according his personal judgment. They must do this to avoid circular reasoning. They can't say "I accept the authority of the Magisterium because it has declared its authority." Their basis for defining the content of orthodoxy is their private judgment concerning magisterial authority. Incidentally, determining this authority requires a fairly thorough theological system *prior* to any appeal to Magisterial authority, for that authority is very subject of the inquiry. So a Roman Catholic cannot declare orthodoxy without an appeal to his own private judgment.

Ahem. I can assure you as a Catholic that there is nothing provisional about the Church's authority over me or others. There isn't any real doubt about dogmas, either. I can be mistaken about what she teaches, but that doesn't mean the Church is mistaken or doesn't know what God has revealed. I can accept or reject what she proposes to be believed as a matter of faith, but it is most certainly not debatable in that same way.

The "John" in that exchange (the one who lodged the objection is a guy named "Stephen") is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, my old home. He guessed that Stephen is a congregationalist, and challenged some of those individualist assumptions. Later, John struck gold by asking:

 "Stephen, in recognizing the authority of a confession, isn't a pastor necessarily recognizing the authority of the 'magisterium' that created it?"

Exactly right. To ask this as a meta-question is to inquire as to the basis of this authority. That becomes historical very quickly. Lamely, Stephen replied,

"No, because they don't recognized the authority of those who wrote it, but the authority that normed it, namely, Scripture."

He elaborates, "I think the difference is that a denominational confession is exactly that, denominational. The confession is the universally agreed upon statement of the deposit of doctrine for that denomination. So the denomination is there to safeguard that body of doctrine. But there is the category of "all things essential" that all Christians must uphold. So there can be interdenominational work that solidifies unity in essentials despite disagreement in non-essentials. The Chicago *Statement* is not denominational confession, but it is thought of as a standard of orthodoxy. No one appeals (or should appeal) to the authority of those at the conference, but to Scripture who normed it.

The purpose of all these "normed" documents is to codify. It's a way of establishing and shaping the language of a position. That is really what all "normed" documents are all about. That is one reason why we have catechisms: to universalize language for unity."

Wow. There's more begging in this question than a kennel of dogs at a sausage convention. He favors the "club rules" version of denominations. But this does injustice to the reason for their creation at the first. Let's ask the Westminster divines if they think Catholics are part of the "Church." Do they have a permissive view of the Lord's Supper? Does the WCF chapter on the church sound like "we're all united in what matters" and, "This is true for us"? The only reason we hold this conceit at any point as Protestants is A) we don't know that it is plainly false; B) we lack the means to do anything about it; or C) we don't care.

I'll say it again: "Confessionalism" is nothing more and nothing less than establishing some secondary authority as a 'Magisterium', in the same way and for the same purpose as the real one. 

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