Friday, July 19, 2013

Fred Noltie Is Amazing

I just can't thank him enough for this. It is not an apologetic for the Catholic Church as much as it forces us to really critically examine perspicuity, and whether we can hold it. Sola Scriptura--no matter how cleverly nuanced--utterly depends on the alleged perspicuity of Scripture. For my part, I saw all our separate Christian communities not first as a scandal--though it is--but as repositories for different interpretations of Scripture. It added fuel to the real question: Who is the arbiter of divine revelation? There are two choices: Either I am, or someone else is. In the absence of a visible community claiming to be the one Church, imbued with a gift of infallibility, (we'll get there) it would seem that the communities would just be shorthand for the arbitration the individual is doing anyway; he could do it without them; he could defer because he believes the community to truly teach what Scripture teaches. In either case, he discerns what Scripture says; he is the arbiter. It seems therefore that the only difference between Dr. Mathison and the various fundamentalists of the "me and my Bible" stripe are the number and type of conversation partners and conclusion(s) reached. That's what I mean by "Rob Bell with a bigger bookshelf." It's not guilt by association; it's making the point that with respect to the question, Rob Bell, Peter Leithart, Keith Mathison, et al. are doing the exact same thing: being the arbiter of what counts as orthodoxy, whether in history, or in Scripture with varying results, of course. In other words, to submit to any authority in a real way requires that there is no "provisionally" about it. And simply invoking the Holy Spirit changes little; He either guides me infallibly as I interpret the Scriptures, (whether I care a whit for the developments in history or not) or He guides the Church. I'm aware that all Christians use the word, but Catholics mean it differently: The Church is visible fundamentally; it is not "all regenerate Christians throughout the ages, holding the true faith. [as defined by me, or to whomever I'm deferring]"  And that was a thorny little problem, because I realized that I couldn't even define "orthodoxy" (eventually) without running into an organ of the Catholic Church, most immediately in the form of an ecumenical council. My faith has always been a faith received; it struck me right away that I could not be the arbiter of Scripture or of the witness of history; I have a lot of knowledge; I cannot deny that. But for all my searching of the Scriptures then or now, I cannot but rely on another. "I, by the Holy Spirit, declare that the Scripture says..." sounds as arrogant to me as I hope it does it does to you. But are not all our scattered communities (even just on the Protestant side) just collections of people saying that to each other? Unless one of them is in fact the one "Church," the one he was talking about in Matthew 16:18 (which as Protestants, we were not willing to say) then it's fruitless to talk about or have a visible church at all. The only credible way to talk about it is to say that our community, our visible church, is in some way visibly connected to the larger Church. But we know that isn't the case. As much as I appreciate "Unto this catholic visible Church Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and does, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto" and, "The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth to worship God according to His will" (Westminster Confession of Faith, XXV, paragraphs 3 and 5, respectively) it's a cop-out; they realize that they have no fruitful visible connection with those other "Churches," and their judgment as to the purity or not of them only matters insofar as they speak for Christ Himself, which leads us back to the nature of our authorities, and their authority over us.
If it is at all coherent to speak of a "Mere Christianity," we must come to terms with the fact that the balance of it relies on the Catholic Church. It is comforting to live under the delusion that one can obviously use Scripture to arrive at the orthodox Christology of Chalcedon--and even rightly celebrate it as a high point of human history--until such a time as a fool uses Scripture to deny it. You can only say he is "obviously wrong" with a principled reason. Both the Catholic and the fool will accuse you of being ad hoc, and they would be right. When the desire to be both principled and safe from damnable error collide, a man's heart beats Catholic. I have more to say, but this is enough for now.

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