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The Problem With Protestantism, Part 3

In addition to the two problems presented by looking at Scripture in a deeper way, there is a third. Actually, the first two aren't problems; they're observations which present problems when their truth is acknowledged. The third is a bonafide problem: What does the Bible say? Even granting the fact that figuring out what the Bible says is not the entirety of what Christians are to believe, it's a very important question. So what method will you teach us so that we can know and do what it says? You cannot retreat to lexical and exegetical expertise, because nearly all interpreters have experts and schools where that expertise is taught. We cannot appeal to the Holy Spirit; anyone holding any position can appeal to Him whenever he wishes. We owe it to ourselves to rule out everything that is not unique or dispositive, and then examine the presuppositions undergirding the rest.

In fact, when we bring this problem into the ecclesial dimension of our Christian lives, we see the problem most clearly. What are denominations, if not authority structures to promote the favored interpretation? The biggest reason we cannot simply accept the reasoning that these formulations apply only to the people in those communities, and that the 'Church' is wider than one interpretation is that no one acts that way, practically. It's a restatement of what I said earlier: We need to know what God says in the places closest to our lives lived in order to be Christians. We've opted for a theological relativism in order to serve our ecclesiology. We have been unwilling to challenge the premise underlying that ecclesiology: that we possess the ability and the authority to decide for ourselves the content of revelation.

When we see the witness of history for what it is, it does not matter that Catholic doctrine does not appear obvious in its particulars from where we stand. Rather,--and this is a point often overlooked--what matters is that the new ecclesiology does not achieve its goal on its own terms. Call it the Presumption of Return; if we are not holding at least what we started with when we follow the paradigm to its logical end, it cannot be correct. We know that as Protestants we were the arbiters of revelation because our authority structures do not carry weight outside themselves, and our subjection to them is voluntary, and always contingent upon their agreement with us. This is the full implication of ecclesial fallibility.

If there is a distinction between doctrines outside the "tribe," and doctrines outside of Christ, it cannot be made clear from either the exercise of ecclesial authority, or the contemplation of the extent of that authority. When we talk next time, we'll talk about history and comparing paradigms.

Comments

Nathan said…
"We cannot appeal to the Holy Spirit; anyone holding any position can appeal to Him whenever he wishes."

What's wrong with everyone, everywhere, appealing to Him? Wouldn't there be a lot more truth in the world if we did?

I suppose you mean that anyone holding any position could say that the Holy Spirit agrees with them, even if they're lying or deceived. Well, so? Anyone could say the Catholic Church agrees with them, too. Of course, we would soon find out that they were wrong by consulting the Church herself. Similarly, we can find out if someone is making a false appeal to the Holy Spirit by consulting with the Holy Spirit. He is a real person, capable of communicating. Appealing to Him seems totally legitimate, and in my case it is even necessary to sustain faith. ("I am the vine and you are the branches" and "Apart from me you can do nothing." Jesus did not say that apart from the Catholic Church we could do nothing. He used the pronoun he used.) If I could not appeal directly to God and hear his response, I don't think I would be a Christian at all.

Some aspects of Cathoicism are beautiful and life-giving, but I don't understand why it is any better to appeal to an institution than to appeal directly to the source. I remain interested in your thoughts on this.
Jason said…
Nathan,

Lying or deception in regard to the Holy Spirit is not the problem, necessarily. It's a good faith dispute that causes the most trouble. God the Holy Spirit cannot inspire two contrary opinions on the same question at the same time. The Noltie Conundrum: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2011/07/the-accidental-catholic/.

You are right that this is about Jesus and His Church. What is the Church? What does she believe? And how do you know?

"Come Holy Spirit! Fill the hearts of Thy faithful. Enkindle in them the fire of Thy Love. Send forth Thy Spirit, and they shall be created, and Thou shalt renew the face of the Earth.

Let us pray: O God, who instructed Thy faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant that in that same Spirit we may always be truly wise, and ever to rejoice in His consolation, through Christ our Lord. Amen."
Anonymous said…
"The Noltie Conundrum". I like it! :-)

May I shamelessly borrow this, Jason?

-- Fred
Jason said…
Fred,

It's yours, my friend. I go back to your piece again and again.

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