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Monthly Archives: November 2011

Forgiveness free and true: the crux of the Reformation, the essence of the Christian life

Cardinal Cajetan confronts Luther in the 2003 Luther movie

Follow-up to this post.

A few years after Luther’s death the Council of Trent said: “If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake… let him be anathema.”

The condemning of this view had been happening for a while. In fact, all of this is related to the beginnings of the Reformation (as I’m guessing Benedict has discerned as well). As a pastor, Luther was being told that he could not do confession and absolution the way he was doing it (which was the biblical way).

Here is something I wrote a while back that explains this:

“I heard this objection with grief, because I had misdoubted nothing less than that this matter would be called into question”. These were Martin Luther’s words following Cardinal Cajetan’s pronouncement towards Luther’s view of confession and absolution. Luther also said that he would not become a heretic by recanting the opinion that had made him a Christian, but that he would rather die and be burned, exiled, or cursed. Exsurge Domine, the bull written against Luther shortly after this, condemned this statement of Martin Luther: “By no means can you have reassurance of being absolved because of your contrition, but because of the word of Christ: ‘Whatsoever you shall loose, etc.’ Hence, I say, trust confidently, if you have obtained the absolution of the priest, and firmly believe yourself to have been absolved, and you will truly be absolved, whatever there may be of contrition.” One may make a strong case that, for Luther, the Reformation was primarily about this very matter. According to historian Scott Hendrix, after hearing Cajetan’s pronouncement on his view, Luther had determined that the question at stake was not merely the formal issue of authority in the church, but the essence of the Christian life and the heart of his own religious experience. Christians, of course, had always assumed that the ultimate reality of the universe is a rational Person who became in-fleshed among us and who communicates with people in the world using meaningful words. And for Luther, this communication in particular – the living voice of God which proclaimed, “I forgive you – be at peace my child” – was not to be silenced.

To receive these words like a child…

My footnotes to this remark:

“Although the controversy over Unigenitus clarified the already existing disagreement between Cajetan and Luther over papal authority and credibility, Cajetan’s second objection revealed a substantial difference which had serious consequences for Luther’s ensuing attitude towards the papacy. Luther had asserted that Christians approaching the sacrament of penance should not trust in their own contrition but in the words of Christ spoken by the priest in the absolution. If they believed in these words, then they could be certain of forgiveness, because these words were absolutely reliable, whereas the sufficiency of their contrition was never certain. In reply, Cajetan upheld the prevailing theological opinion: although it was true that contrition was never perfect, its presence still made one worthy to receive the grace conferred by the sacrament. Still, one could never be certain that one’s contrition was sufficient to effect the forgiveness one hoped to receive. To hold the contrary, said Cajetan, was to teach a new and erroneous doctrine and to “build a new church.”… “Part of the reason for Cajetan’s sharp reaction lay in the different concepts of faith which he and Luther espoused. For Cajetan, faith was one of the virtues infused with grace, and it entailed belief that the doctrine of penance itself was correct. For Luther, faith was not this general confidence in the correctness and power of the sacrament but “special faith” in the certain effect of the sacrament on the penitent Christian who trusted the word of Christ. Cajetan quickly perceived the difference but failed to appreciate Luther’s underlying concern. To him Luther’s “special faith” appeared to be a subjective human assessment which undermined the objective power of the keys at work through the pronouncement of absolution. It imposed a new condition on the efficacy of the sacrament beyond that most recently defined at the Council of Florence; therefore, Luther was again challenging an explicit decree of the church. Luther, however, was striving for just the opposite: to put the sacrament on a more objective basis. He was trying to remove the uncertain, subjective element of human contrition as a basis for the efficacy of the sacrament and to replace it with the objective, certain words of Christ pronounced in the absolution” (Hendrix, Scott, Luther and the Papacy, Minneapolis: Fortress, 1981, p. 62, italics mine).”

and

“What kind of church is the pope’s church? It is an uncertain, vacillating, and tottering church. Indeed, it is a deceitful, lying church, doubting and unbelieving, without God’s Word. For the pope with his keys teaches his church to doubt and to be uncertain… It is difficult enough for wretched consciences to believe. How can one believe at all if, to begin with, doubt is cast upon the object of one’s belief? Thereby doubt and despair are only strengthened and confirmed.” (Luther, 1530, quoted at the beginning of one of the chapters in Hendrix, Scott, Luther and the Papacy, Minneapolis: Fortress, 1981). This quote also from Luther: “There hasn’t been a more destructive teaching against repentance in the Church (with the exception of the Sadducees and the Epicureans) as that of Roman Catholicism. In that it never permitted the forgiveness of sins to be certain, it took away complete and true repentance. It taught that a person must be uncertain as to whether or not he stood before God in grace with his sins forgiven. Such certainty was instead to be found in the value of a person’s repentance, confession, satisfaction, and service in purgatory.” Luther, Martin. Antinomian Theses, Disputation #4, 1938 (translated by Pastor Paul Strawn) Minneapolis: Lutheran Press, Inc., 2005 (The whole book is available for free at: http://www.lutheranpress.com/

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Left cold by “mystery, magic, and divinity”

Regarding the video below (that is making the rounds today), note this comment from the wonderful site Open Culture (I highly recommend it – subscribe!)

“The visuals are impressive. There’s no denying that. But what might leave you cold (or not) is his willingness to talk about human development in terms of “mystery, magic, and divinity” rather than trying to grapple with any scientific analysis. Is this a nod to “Intelligent Design”? Or an unfortunate byproduct of the short talk format? Who knows….”

Wow.  What really leaves us cold?  It makes me think of a quote in the beginning of one of my college biology text books: “We are no more than sunlight dancing on a stream – and no less.” (or, maybe you really mean this?).

In the past, wonders such as this provoked worship, even among the highest of the elites.  And now, the ever-increasing cadre of godless among us somehow presume that the default reaction here should be scientific analysis?

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Once again….

I am noticing that my latest reply to Dave Armstrong does not appear to have made it into Google Reader (length?).

In any case, it appears the debate with Dave is over for now.  He has given me a very nice complement following my most recent post:

“I think you have argued your case well. I commend you, and you have earned my respect, without question (including very much so, your cordiality). This is not saying that I can’t possibly answer you. :-) I am saying it would take too much effort to do so, and I choose not to do it at the moment, as a time-management issue. Take it as a compliment. If it takes a ton of work to answer someone, it is because they have argued well.”

Here is the post: https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/round-3-with-rc-apologist-dave-armstrong-a-few-good-pharisees/

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Round 3 with RC apologist Dave Armstrong: A few good Pharisees

Round 3: A few good Pharisees

(My second response to RC apologist Dave Armstrong is found here, and his counter responses can be found here and here)

“You must listen to those who are seated upon the throne, for by sitting upon the throne they are teaching the Law of God.  Therefore, God teaches through them.   But if they are teaching their own things, do not listen, do not do.”

–Augustine, On John, tractate 46

In the same way, in the mystical body of Christ, which is the Church, these same two states may be observed.  One is of emptying or humiliation, when the force of persecutions, the cleverness of heretics, or the large number of growing scandals oppress the church.  The other is of exaltation or glorification, when the church enjoys the peaceful administration of its holy things, when it shines with the splendor of an uncorrupted ministry, when it gleams publicly with the quiet exercise of pure divine worship.  In this state the church is visible, manifest, and glorious; in the other it is invisible, hidden, and shameful.

–Johann Gerhard, On the Church, 146.

Prolegomenon (declaration and public email exchange with Dave Armstrong)

First of all, I think it would be good for me to be upfront about this: there is nothing that I find more compelling – or am more confident of – than that the Lutheran faith is the Christian faith, which is the only true faith.  Even if the Pope is who he says he is by Divine Rite, he would need to be disobeyed if he taught falsely (see #38 here).  To deny this would be to deny life itself.

That is what I have been re-affirmed of in the course of my conversation with Dave Armstrong.  Being in conversation with Dave (a great blessing) has only strengthened my convictions.

I hope my reasons for saying this will become more clear as persons read on, assuming I have not just caused them to stop reading!

I thought long and hard about the wisdom of making such a bold pronouncement to open “round 3”.   I know many might think that I can’t possibly be open to hearing from, and considering the views of, anyone who says otherwise (I hope that Dave would not be among those).  That would not be true though.  There are always things we can learn – and I don’t deny that I never have doubts (doubts that perhaps, based on this or that evidence, seem at times to me legitimate….hence my obsession with the papacy…)

But let us go to the Scriptures, that most pure font of God’s word, which are written to dispel such doubts, and were written to encourage us and give us hope…

First though, here is the exchange Dave and I had over my last response.  I consider both his and my words to be important to understanding what is happening in this debate.

Dave,

Regarding my latest response to you, here’s what you said to me in a couple emails and then posted on your blog:

Before you read it:

If it’s all over the ballpark, I will be forced (by time-management considerations) to give short answers (mostly will link to other papers); otherwise it becomes War and Peace II. My main concern (far more than a preference for line-by-line organization) is that we narrow down the subject matter.

We can’t argue everything at once.  No one can do so, no matter how good a debater they are or what their position is. I will respond for sure, but like I said, if the subject matter is too broad or scattered, it won’t be a very extensive reply.

And after you read it you said:

I think I see or conceive better now (having heavily skimmed your reply) how and why we clash methodologically (which is a separate issue from a theological clash). You seem to approach things from what I would call a (holistic) “dogmatic / philosophical” viewpoint, stressing entire worldview and what you think is superior Lutheran coherence, whereas my apologetics is more particular, concentrating on facts and individual issues: either utilizing Scripture (usually systematically or topically) or patristics (dealing with narrowed-down topics or one father and his views), with special emphasis on history and development of doctrine (tying into Catholic tradition).

The only way I could adequately respond to your piece from within your own paradigm would be to unleash extraordinary amounts of energy and spend, say, six-eight weeks on it, and I have neither the energy nor desire to do all that (with other projects in the works), and don’t think it would accomplish much of anything, even if I did. I can write entire books, even two books, in that span of time.

When there are major worldview differences, they have to be dealt with, in my opinion, with “little chunks” at a time.

I think what your presentation does is at least offer some reply to a Catholic apologetic (i.e., mine), which is good for Lutheran readers. It gives them confidence that their view is (according to you) coherent and consistent and able to be believed. I don’t think it would convince many Catholics to become Lutheran (nor would a long, exhaustive reply from me cause many or any Lutherans to become Catholic). It’s “preaching to the choir”, which is what dogmatic (or more catechetical) material does: embolden and exhort those who already hold to it.

As you would guess, I’m not too big on preaching to the choir, either. My task as an apologist, as I see it, and according to my particular style, is to compare Catholicism with non-Catholic views x, y, z, etc., and to show how Catholicism is more believable on matters a, b, c, d, e, etc. It’s particularistic. I believe that if enough doubt is cast on enough different things, then a person starts to experience cognitive dissonance and eventually leans to and then adopts Catholicism, from the accumulation of evidences in its favor. I’ve observed many hundreds (some as a direct result of my work) indeed do that.

I can’t do that from within your method, because everything is undertaken on this grand, holistic scale. I can’t re-invent the wheel or lay the foundations of a skyscraper with every reply I make to something you write.

All I can do (given all this) is pick and choose (just as you are already doing with my material) and cast doubt on small particulars of your huge skyscraper that you have constructed: showing how this foundation has cracks, how that beam will break, or that the windows are drafty and unreliable, the plumbing is bad, etc.

I think this is why it seems frustrating and exasperating to me, to deal with all your arguments. It has little to do with content (I could give some sort of answer to everything you write, if I were motivated enough to do so); it’s almost all about methodology and organization: how things are approached and one’s goals.

Anyway, hopefully this will help you understand the position I am coming from on this stuff. Issues of this sort come up frequently during debates. People have different ideas of how to go about it. Minds work differently. Theological systems differ. I suppose that is why it is usually helpful to have a lot of limitations on numbers of words and on topic, as in formal debates. It does keep things in check to a large extent. (bold portions originally italicized)

In reply, here’s what I said to you by email (I have now added italics to parts I consider really important):

Dave,

I know we are both praying the Holy Spirit would use our words to convict the other person.  This is certainly my prayer.  And it is my prayer that simple followers of Christ who know His word – no matter who they identify with externally – would find truth in my words.  That may mean I need to work on popularizing my arguments (but somehow without losing nuance… [and] misrepresenting persons).

Let me briefly say this: like so many things in life, it really comes down to how someone frames the question/problem.  And ultimately, we want to be in line with Christ’s concerns about how this should be done, thinking God’s thoughts after Him.  And I submit that He is not indifferent to “methodology”, which is hardly a neutral topic! (yes, there is some latitude here, but not full latitude!)

It seems to me my approach is all about content, just as yours is.  Just different content from yours…. (note that there are very few, if any, facts that I do not take account of and offer an explanation for).

Certainly, we all have a worldview, and this impacts what we see as important, and what we pay attention to.

That’s not to say that there is not Truth, or that it is not discoverable.  It is indeed!  And there are all kinds of facts that you and I can agree on.

It seems to me that God often uses little truths (facts) to influence our view of Truth (big t) – showing the cracks [in our worldview] so to speak, as you say.  I agree: “‘little chunks’ at a time.”

My “holistic approach” might be just that, but I submit that we all have these, although we are simply more or less aware of it, and some “mental maps” are more and less developed.  I simply I think my view is more compatible with the available data (and better explains it) than your system (which I must say, is quite all-encompassing and holistic as well!)  The “crack” that I initially focus on is your view of Matthew 23:2,3… as I see it, it all unravels from there…

And if I’m wrong, my apologetic is not good for Lutheran readers or any readers.  They need the truth, for only this will set them free.  Therefore, be vigorous in finding and exposing the cracks Dave – and feel free to “reframe” anyway you like to do it.

Of course, I will probably object here and there that you are not really accurately representing me if you do that.  But that’s unavoidable, I think.  Hopefully, I just won’t feel like that too much.  : )“

(end of email)

Round 3a

Dave, let us first deal with the issues surrounding Matthew 23:2-3, which you cover in this post, “Reply to Lutheran Nathan Rinne: Exegetical Exposition on Whether the “Leaven” of the Pharisees is Hypocrisy or Doctrinal Falsehood” (linked to above)

a)      Christ certainly encounters hypocrisy (and pride, I now add) – but he does not only do this

b)      Even in Matthew 23 he confronts the Pharisees for their false teaching (verses 16-22)

c)      When Jesus says “call no man father” you do not apply this in a wooden, literalistic, and all-encompassing fashion (nor do I, by the way) – why do you do so here, with Matthew 23:2,3 as if context is unimportant?

d)      Jesus confronts the Pharisees over their false teaching… (Mark 7, corban, etc.)

e)      They oppose Jesus himself (John 5:39), and hence the Creeds of the Church.

And I now do so again.  I honestly do not see how any of this can be denied.  Can we still have a conversation if I keep bringing these things up?  : )  I certainly desire to do so, for you are a very friendly adversity who really does try to do all things with gentleness and respect.  For this I praise God.

Details:

“It is obviously hypocrisy, again, which is in Paul’s mind, not false teaching per se. The teaching is false, only insofar as the application by bad example is false. The know what is right, but don’t do it. They teach the right thing, but don’t observe it themselves: just like Matthew 23 and the Peter-Paul incident about Jewish-Gentile Christian relations. Paul calls himself (referring to his present Christian state) a Pharisee twice, as I noted in past installments; therefore, neither for Jesus nor Paul, are the Pharisees a completely corrupt entity.” (bold word originally italicized)

Of course the Pharisees and those associated with them aren’t completely corrupt – one thinks of good men like Nicodemus and Joseph of Aramathea for example.  I never did claim this.  And of course Jesus condemns the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, scribes and teachers of the Law (as does Paul in Romans 2, as you point out).  But this is hardly all that is going on here, for these men do not recognize and support the person and teachings of the Author of Scripture itself.  Here they teach falsely in their behavior because they teach falsely (at least to themselves – for they dare not do so to the people, for fear of them) about the Son.  It seems clear to me that this is most likely due to the fact that even though they quite literally sit in Moses’ seat and read the Scriptures to the people week by week in the synagogues, they, like the Saducees, do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.   One thinks about the Sermon on the Mt, where Jesus repeatedly says “ you have heard” and “but I tell you”…. and Jesus does not claim to be bringing new teachings, but to be clearly unveiling what was there all along for those with eyes to see.

John 5:39 disavows us of any notion that the Pharisees, generally speaking, understood the Scriptures either.  Again, to say this does not mean that there were no good Pharisees, or that one could not possibly be a good Pharisee.  Not all Pharisees per se are being condemned, only those who taught falsely: good Pharisees would be those like Nicodemus, who eventually saw that Jesus taught the truth.   This is why Paul also can, without any dishonesty, say in Acts 23:6 that he is a Pharisee.  So, Jesus’ words of condemnation would not hit such Pharisees.  Just because the office of Pharisee was not established by Divine Rite (as it is not present in the Old Testament) does not mean that it was a legitimately established authoritative office in the Church.   Further, there is nothing wrong with their belief in oral tradition per se, just their oral traditions that conflicted with, and mitigated the messages found in the Oracles of God.

Therefore, Dave, when you say “they teach the right thing”, all I can think about are questions like these:   “What about corban?  What about the traditions of men?  What about their telling the persons to swear falsely about the temple and the alter? (Matthew 23)   What about not supporting John?  What about condemning Jesus?”

Honesty Dave – I don’t think this is just my Lutheran spectacles (by which I admittedly view the world) talking.

What would Socrates do?  : )

You go on:

“Nathan states, “he even points out some false teaching in Matthew 23.” I looked through it and I don’t see false doctrinal teaching per se. I see numerous examples of hypocrisy and spiritual pride and lack of foresight.”

Verses 16-22.  They were saying false things, and Jesus rebukes them for it.  We would agree that they knew that what they were doing was wrong, but on the other hand we would say that persons always know, in some sense, that they are doing wrong when they do it.

You go on:

“The clincher for my interpretation, I believe, is another passage where Jesus Himself defines what He means by leaven. This is good ol’ Protestant (and Augustinian and Catholic) hermeneutical principles: interpret the less clear portions of Scripture by the ones that are more plain and clear. If Jesus tells us what He means by using the metaphor of leaven, then we can know for sure! He does this in Luke 12, which follows the latter half of Luke 11: the parallel passage to Matthew 23 (excoriations of Pharisaical hypocrisy). Right after that, He states:

Luke 12:1-3 In the meantime, when so many thousands of the multitude had gathered together that they trod upon one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. [2] Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. [3] Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. 

So there we have it: precisely as I have been contending all along. This is fascinating, since Nathan seems to think that his interpretation of Matthew 23 and Pharisaical corruption as false doctrine rather than hypocrisy, is some sort of silver bullet and a big plus for his battle for the superiority of Lutheranism and against the indefectibility of the traditional Catholic Church. But it is not, because he has eisegeted the Scripture rather than taking it at face value and according to its own definitions and proper cross-referencing. This is classic erroneous Protestant exegesis and false application of isolated prooftexts, according to man-made tradition.”(bolded parts originally italicized, underlined part originally bolded)

Dave, I do not disagree that Jesus defines “leaven” as hypocrisy. But as you go on to show, there is more to the story.

You go on:

The best contrary argument, I think, comes from a seemingly straightforward interpretation of another passage in Matthew:

“Matthew 16:11-12 How is it that you fail to perceive that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sad’ducees.” [12] Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sad’ducees. 

“Teaching” here is didache, also often translated as “doctrine.” So how do we interpret this, over against Matthew 23:3: “practice and observe whatever they [the Pharisees] tell you,” and Luke 12:1, where our Lord defines “leaven” as hypocrisy? I think we harmonize them by understanding that the notion of “teaching” can have a wider application, beyond content alone: incorporating example and overall living of a life according to one’s own outlook or belief-system. The Pharisees were teaching by their actions and hypocrisy as well as their doctrines. Jesus repudiated their hypocrisy but not their upholding of the Law.”

Dave, I don’t understand this – you say that the notion of “teaching” can have a wider application beyond content alone.  I wholeheartedly agree with this, but does not your definition here exclude content entirely? (in other words: you are not really talking about a “wider application”, but an application that is missing a crucial part).  Again, I am not denying that Jesus said that the leaven of the Pharisees includes hypocrisy.  You, on the other hand, are denying that the leaven of the Pharisees includes what they teach, at least insofar as we are talking about the content of their teachings (in Matthew 16 this is specifically in the context of the Pharisees “teaching” that it is OK to demand a sign).  For you, it all comes down to hypocrisy –they do not embody their teachings.  But that is not what Jesus is getting at here.  Because they did not understand it, they clearly did not uphold the Law – either in their actions, or in what they taught.

Put another way: In order for me to say this, I don’t need to deny that there is a connection between doctrinal teaching and behavior, or that we in fact do teach by our behavior as we embody teachings which others imitate.  Of course right teaching and right behavior are to go hand in hand, and we do teach people by our ways.  As you say, it has a wider application.

So when you quote Paul saying:

“1 Corinthians 4:15-17 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. [16] I urge you, then, be imitators of me. [17] Therefore I sent to you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. “

How can I not pounce on this and point out to you that Jesus said to “call no man father”?  Why is Paul encouraging this kind of behavior?  But here you will say “context” good man.  And this is just what Gerhard and I have been saying as well.

Let’s look at my original list again in more detail (and with even more data points now):

a)      Christ certainly encounters hypocrisy (and pride, I now add) – but he does not only do this

-covered sufficiently above.

b)      Even in Matthew 23 he confronts the Pharisees for their false teaching (verses 16-22)

-would your argument here be that when Jesus confronts the Pharisees about their teaching to swear falsely about the temple and the alter that they did not say this directly to the people?

c)      When Jesus says “call no man father” you do not apply this in a wooden, literalistic, and all-encompassing fashion (nor do I, by the way) – why do you do so here, insisting that context is unimportant?

-dealt with sufficiently above.

d)      When Jesus confronts the Pharisees over their false teaching… (Mark 7, corban, etc.)

-it is not just that the Pharisees majored in the minors (“you neglect the weightier matters of the law… You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former….”), it is that “their teachings are merely human rules” (Mark 7:7).  They are hypocrites in part (Mark 7:6) because they claim to speak God’s words to the people, but speak their own instead:  “For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’[e] But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)—  then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother.  Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” (Mark 7:10-13)

e)      Vs. Jesus himself (John 5:39)

-covered sufficiently above.

I now also mention the additional points:

f)       vs. John the Baptist

-again, they did not acknowledge his teachings as being from God… they did not participate in the repentance John called them to…  like many of the common people did, who recognized the authority that Jesus, for example (and undoubtedly, John), had – in spite of their not sitting in Moses’ seat, and having formal authorization by the Church.  Romans 4:6-8 comes to mind: “it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.”

g)      Did not Jesus and his disciples disobey the head authorities in the Church?

-just curious to know at what point RC teaching thinks that this was permissible.  Keep in mind that Jesus Himself disobeyed the Pharisees man-made additions to the Sabbath commandments, and encouraged his disciples to ignore their commands about washing hands – all before His death and resurrection.

h)      When did the average Jew listen to the Pharisees?

-Andrew M. on my blog says the following: “Note that the average Jew listening to Jesus interacted with the Pharisees very little. When they did they were listening to them read from the Scriptures for it is here that the Pharisees quite literally sat in the seat of Moses. But were the Pharisees always sitting the seat of Moses when they spoke?”  Again, note that Jesus repeatedly says “you have heard” and “but I tell you”…. in the Sermon on the Mount (not bringing new teachings) and “John 5:39 disavows us of any notion that the Pharisees, generally speaking, understood the Scriptures.”  They were like the Sadducees, who did not know the Scriptures or the power of God.

i)        Matthew 16

-covered sufficiently above, in response to your interpretation of that passage.

Dave, near the end of your post you say:

“This is how I harmonize all of the biblical data, as to whether Jesus condemned the doctrine of the Pharisees, or rather (as in my interpretation above), only their “teaching” insofar as it is presented to the world hypocritically, as an entire package. Otherwise, if the entire pharisaical system of doctrine is condemned, Matthew 23:3 seems contradictory to Matthew 16:12, and Paul calling himself a Pharisee, etc. Jesus puts it all together in the Sermon on the Mount. He is not rejecting the continuance of the Mosaic Law in some real, tangible sense, but rather, coupling righteousness and a deeper, more spiritually profound outlook with it…” (bold mine)

Although you claim otherwise, I still can’t escape the sense that it is I, and not you, who has harmonized all of the biblical data.  Again, I am not saying that Jesus condemned the entire pharisaical doctrine, because clearly he did not.  And again, there were good men among the Pharisees such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Aramathia.  And finally, I agree *totally* with your last sentence about what Jesus was doing with the Mosaic Law.

Dave, I am sorry, but I do not get the sense that you are  arguing with me…

“…[Nathan] can’t just pick out of Scripture what agrees with his previously held dogmatic Lutheranism and polemics against Catholicism (making us analogous to the Pharisees, as is almost always done) and ignore what doesn’t fit. That won’t do. In any event, using a few passages while ignoring others will not provide a pretext for the ignoring of the binding authority of the Church (when an individual — like Luther himself — sees fit to do so), let alone as an undermining of the indefectibility of the Church, according to the worldview that Lutherans and other Protestants must adopt in order to justify their own continuing existence.”

I don’t think that I have just picked what agrees with me – I think that is precisely what you have done, as I have demonstrated above.   I am not sure just what you think I am ignoring that does not fit my viewpoint.  Further, as I demonstrated in my paper, the Confessional Lutheran view is that the Church certainly is indefectible.  Not only this, we also do really believe in authority, and always respecting the person who holds an office, even if they teach falsely, whether in word or deed (i.e. hypocrisy).  Part of this respect for authority would be having the courage to help them when they are in error, when they stray in their agreement with what those saints of old proclaimed.

Finally, I will quote your ending in full:

“Nathan can’t demonstrate his Lutheran notion of a fallible Church that can be disobeyed by the atomistic individual with Bible in hand, from the Bible itself. I challenged him to do this in one of the comments under our first exchange:

The Bible has no room for your notion of the Church, either. I challenge you to find me a passage anywhere in Scripture that tells us that the Christian Church ever “officially” teaches error. It is always stated that the “truth” or “word of God” (beyond Scripture alone), the “message” or “doctrine” or “the faith” or “tradition” is absolutely true (hence infallible). 

Paul always assumes his teaching is absolutely infallible and without error. The Church is called “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). I wrote an entire paper on that passage, showing that the only logical interpretation is infallibility. The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) speaks in quite certain terms, and Paul goes out and informs his hearers of the decisions of the council, for obedience and observance (Acts 16:4). Infallibility, therefore, is all over Scripture, whereas Luther’s invention of sola Scriptura is not at all.

If the Church was allowed by God to teach error, we would be in rough shape. But the Church is indefectible, according to Scripture, and contra Luther.”

Again, we agree that the Church is indefectible (as well as visible), as I have shown.  I think really, when it comes down to brass tacks, we may just be arguing about whether size and conspicuousness is an essential mark (something even Roman Catholic theologians have denied) – although I won’t say that for sure.  In any case, if you so desire, I wish to continue the debate.  What Bible passages would you call upon to show that the Church will never “officially teach error”, as opposed to unofficially?  And do think that the Bible itself can provide us with some guidance regarding the term “officially”?

Until, I hear more, I can only conclude that this post is where I must cast my lot (and this one to, insofar as Luther specifically is concerned).

Here I stand (spoken without presumption, I pray).

Round 3b

In response to Dave’s second post, I will this time address him line-by-line, which is Dave’s preferred method of doing things.  My comments, from before and now, will be in italics (the new ones are prefaced with “Nathan b”)

Nathan is a friendly Lutheran theological adversary. We previously engaged in the following exchanges:

Brief Exchange With Lutheran Nathan Rinne on Luther’s Revolt and Fundamental Differences of Perspective Regarding the So-Called Protestant “Reformation”

Dialogue on Lutheranism and Catholicism, Part One: Introductory

Dialogue on Lutheranism and Catholicism, Part Two: Church Fathers + Sola Scriptura

Dialogue on Lutheranism and Catholicism, Part Three: Soteriology and Miscellany

Dialogue on Lutheranism and Catholicism, Part Four: Rule of Faith, the Fathers, and Ecclesiology

Reply to Lutheran Nathan Rinne: Exegetical Exposition on Whether the “Leaven” of the Pharisees is Hypocrisy or Doctrinal Falsehood
Nathan’s latest reply — one portion of which I am now responding to –, is entitled, Round 2 with RC apologist Dave Armstrong: the unattractive body of Christ. His words will be in blue. I will be changing what I regard as excessive bolding in Nathan’s replies (harsh on the eyes) to italics.

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Nathan b:  First of all, I vigorously defend my use of “excessive bolding”, as Dave so uncharitably puts it! (just kidding Dave : ) )  Seriously, I do so primarily because I am writing a lot, and I think reading the bold will help people to at least get the main thrust of the responses as a whole.

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. . . I drew the conclusion that persons can hold a legitimate, authoritative office in the Church by God’s will and yet teach falsely.

Yes, they certainly can. A bishop can teach wrong things; even be a heretic. There were hundreds of Arian and Monophysite bishops. A council can teach wrongly: the Robber Council of 449 is an example. Even, in our view, popes can both teach heresy and personally be heretics. We only think that if he attempts to proclaim a heresy as binding on the faithful, that God would prevent it. He is infallible under certain carefully defined circumstances. The ecumenical council is infallible if it proclaims, in legion with the pope, some teaching as binding and obligatory.

The problem with your view is that it proves too much: it takes out biblical requirements of indefectibility and the universal casual assumption in the New Testament that there is one doctrinal truth and one faith: not competing sectarian visions. The two aspects have to be balanced. We believe that our position on it incorporates all the relevant realities: human frailty and fallibility (which needs no proof!), and the other non-optional consideration of divine infallibility and guidance of the Church through God the Holy Spirit (John 14-16).

You say you believe in the indefectibility of the Church, too, but I retort that in order to do so, you have to change the definition of Church as always historically understood in apostolic and patristic and medieval Catholic Christianity. Thus, you have difficulties in ecclesiology. Protestantism is always, always, internally incoherent and self-contradictory in the final analysis. There is no way out of it. You have to either forsake history or logic or consistent biblical exegesis at some point in order to hold any form of Protestantism.

I hate to put it in such crass terms, but that is what I sincerely believe, with all due respect to my brothers and sisters, whom I highly respect and esteem on an individual level, and to you (whose apologetic and analytical abilities I do respect). Lutheranism has, I think, less internal difficulties than any other Protestant view, save Anglo-Catholicism, but there are still severe difficulties, unable to be resolved. We’ll get to those, the longer we interact. I’ve already debated many of them with other Lutherans.

Nathan b: Dave, you say, We only think that if he attempts to proclaim a heresy as binding on the faithful, that God would prevent it. He is infallible under certain carefully defined circumstances. The ecumenical council is infallible if it proclaims, in legion with the pope, some teaching as binding and obligatory” and I would simply point out that this seems ridiculously arbitrary.  I suppose this doctrine – which I assume is infallible – developed as well, but what kind of precedent is there for conditions as arbitrary as this in either the Scriptures or Church history – even recent RC Church history (that is, before the late 19th c.)?  As I said here, “I think intellectual honesty requires us to admit that some Popes of the 15th and early 16th century who put forth authoritative documents would surely take exception to the idea that their pronouncements were not solemn, ex cathedra exercises. When this doctrine was formally defined in the late 19th century, it was not a new doctrine, but was one (namely, the Pope’s voice is more or less God’s when he says it is) that had had some currency for a while”, and I think that is rather obvious, is it not?).  It seems to me therefore, that it is not my view that proves too much, but yours. 

You say that my view excludes “biblical requirements of indefectibility and the universal casual assumption in the New Testament that there is one doctrinal truth and one faith: not competing sectarian visions”, but I have hardly asserted this.  Again, we believe firmly in indefectibility, and the Confessional Lutheran Churches in communion with us – which are a small and relatively unimpressive visible Church – definitely have this.  There is only one doctrinal truth (one Lord, one faith, one baptism) and we have it.  As far as competing sectarian visions, I will make no definite assertions whether this or that groups are in fact truly Church (even as I will point out their errors), but will also not be shy about recognizing many of them to be hopelessly beyond the pale (without any doubt, “a bridge too far”).  No, I will only speak for what I know (and many Lutherans would take a similar view): I know the truth is here.  

Further, I deny that I “ have to change the definition of Church as always historically understood in apostolic and patristic and medieval Catholic Christianity.” As I pointed out in my last response to you, there are many definitions of the Church from all times that are in accord with our understanding of who the Church is.  How can you be so confident that *continuous and unbroken* Apostolic Succession is of the absolute essence of the Church – and that a failure to see this automatically should exclude one from the true fellowship?  Again, although we assert that the true Apostolic Succession is succession of right teaching, I do not believe in any case that you can prove that we have a “broken line”.  To my knowledge, it is true that we did not have an “official bishop” recognize the call of the Lutheran pastors, but given that pastors are necessary for God’s Church, if an “official bishop” will not ordain *faithful* (yes indeed) ministers, than a regular presbyter will have to fill the bill.  And why not?  After all (again), why are there multiple bishops in one city? (Phil. 1:1)  Why not only this, but why are they also called presbyters? (Acts 20:17-28, Titus: 1:5-7)  Why do presbyters ordain? (I Tim. 4:14), etc., etc.  Again, what do the Scriptures seem to imply is the genuine Apostolic tradition here?  Who has departed from this, insofar as they insist on things they ought not be insisting on?

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There is no hostility here! Just a desire for the truth . . . 

Whatever I said to elicit this reply from you, it was (I know for sure) referring to hostile premises or opposing ideas, not personal hostility. There is (quite refreshingly) none of that from you, and none from my end, either: just a great theological conversation: a thing that ought to be possible for any and all Christians to do, but alas, it is sadly rare.

Nathan b: Yes.  Thank God we’re not like other men, huh? : )

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 (is what I said above regarding Jesus’ seemingly contradictory stance towards the Pharisees as teachers of truth not interesting, and worthy of more thorough reflection?) . . . I simply wanted him to acknowledge “Jesus’ seemingly contradictory stance towards the Pharisees as teachers of the truth” (which yes, could have implications depending on how one views God working in the Church). . . . If he does not find the following response to his objections convincing at all, I would, first of all, like him to tell me why it has nothing to do with his failure to thoughtfully and carefully deal with (and produce an adequate explanation of) these simple and clear Biblical facts.  Because, you see, I think these facts of Scripture are lynch-pins to the whole of the case I have against him and the particular church of which he is a part.

It was quite worthy of response, which is why I devoted my last reply to it, with lots of substance for you to grapple with. I was delighted at the opportunity to strengthen the Catholic case on a key issue (as you say). I have proposed a way to resolve the seeming contradiction (that I don’t — like you — believe is really there). Now, your task is to propose a better solution, taking into account the relevant passages that I brought to bear. I found the entire topic a fascinating one to ponder. I think my explanation was quite thoughtful and careful and adequate. Now I hope you will grant me the same courtesy and not pass over my counter-argument. Then this dialogue can get very interesting indeed, and constructive, too.

Nathan b: I hope you are pleased with my response above.  As you can tell from what I wrote, I do not think that your explanation was adequate – I think it is very clear that there are some real difficulties there.

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OK, here’s my recap of the things he is talking about.  He says Irenaeus was a Roman Catholic because he believed in “episcopacy, apostolic succession, apostles’ choosing of bishops to succeed them, Roman primacy, the papacy”, etc.  I don’t deny that Irenaeus believed these things, but essentially ask “can any of this be proven from the Scriptures?” (it seems to me that they certainly cannot).

It seems to me that they certainly can be so proven or strongly indicated at the very least (excepting Roman primacy, which is a post-biblical development, but clearly apostolic, starting right with St. Clement of Rome). I give much biblical argumentation for all the other elements on my Church and Papacy web pages. Apostolic succession is very straightforward, as seen particularly in the replacement of Judas with Matthias. Judas is even called a bishop! So it’s all right there: an apostle being replaced, and bishops as successors to the apostles.

What St. Irenaeus believed (agree or disagree with him), on the other hand, is a matter of historical record. I backed up my contentions about his beliefs from Protestant historians. It’s not rocket science. He was a thoroughgoing Catholic, and believed exactly what we would expect, in a Catholic outlook, at that point of time and development in the history of Church doctrine: not some kind of proto-Lutheran. What Protestants try to do is special plead and make out that the fathers were closer to their beliefs than ours, and it just isn’t the case. It’s a losing battle; a hopeless cause; fails miserably every time: even with good ol’ St. Augustine: every Protestant’s favorite Church father (who believed, e.g., in all seven Catholic sacraments). You can’t make a square peg fit into a round hole.

Nathan b: I agree with you that Apostolic succession is very straightforward.  One of the twelve Apostles was definitely replaced (though Paul messes things up a bit!), but of course, the original twelve (as a number) did not continue being replaced… again, bishops and pastors, according to the Bible, are the same thing, per Jerome.  We have no trouble recognizing bishops by human rite, and could even be in full communion with such a Church (and in fact are, I believe). 

Regarding what St. Irenaeus believed (agree or disagree with him), it is indeed a matter of the historical record as I said in my last reply.  You pass over the crucial element here however, which is that Irenaeus believed that the whole of the Apostolic doctrine was in agreement with the Scriptures (and his writings obviously imply one can check to see whether there is explicit or implicit agreement), which, it seems was not the view of the papacy or any other influential RC theologian in the 1520s.  When I read Irenaeus I see a brother and recognize someone that I could be in full communion with – this is not the case when I read those of Rome.  Obviously, Irenaeus would need to return the favor, but if my confidence that he would is misplaced, I know that I would be more willing to listen to such a man than those who occupied the curia in Luther’s day.  “A different spirit” indeed. 

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Further, I ask this because the Roman Catholic Church says that if these things aren’t believed, my particular church (LC-MS) is placing itself outside of the Church and salvation, which to me seems to me quite radical.

This is far more complex than you make out. We believe that Protestants are part of the Church in an imperfect manner, and that they can indeed be saved, since they have the true sacrament of baptism and believe many things in common with us. This was highly stressed at Vatican II and many ecumenical papal encyclicals and other papal statements since. If one knows for sure that the Catholic Church is the one true Church in its fullness: unique and set up by God, and rejects it, then we’d say they cannot be saved. God meets people where they are at. People who have never even heard of Jesus or the gospel can possibly be saved (Romans 2). We say that Protestants are simply wrong with regard to all these things you mention, which are strongly supported in the Bible itself, except for Roman primacy, which is secondary to the papacy, anyway, which is indicated by St. Peter’s leadership and many things said about him in the Bible.

What is “radical” are many statements about the Catholic Church made in the Book of Concord (following Luther’s anti-Catholic nonsense and hogwash), such as that we are the seat of antichrist, that we worship Baal in the Mass, and are rank idolaters and semi-Pelagians, etc. There are a host of falsehoods there. Example:

Apology of the Augsburg Confession [1531], Article XXIV: The Mass

Carnal men cannot stand it when only the sacrifice of Christ is honored as a propitiation. For they do not understand the righteousness of faith but give equal honor to other sacrifices and services. A false idea clung to the wicked priests in Judah, and in Israel the worship of Baal continued; yet the church of God was there, condemning wicked services. So in the papal realm the worship of Baal clings — namely, the abuse of the Mass . . . And it seems that this worship of Baal will endure together with the papal realm until Christ comes to judge and by the glory of his coming destroys the kingdom of Antichrist. Meanwhile all those who truly believe the Gospel should reject those wicked services invented against God’s command to obscure the glory of Christ and the righteousness of faith.

(The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore Tappert, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House / Muhlenberg Press, 1959, p. 268)

Nathan b: Dave, you say thatIf one knows for sure that the Catholic Church is the one true Church in its fullness: unique and set up by God, and rejects it, then we’d say they cannot be saved”, but from my perspective, Vatican II is simply adopting the Lutheran position regarding those outside the true visible Church (i.e. they can be saved) without the Lutheran content.  Lutherans say that all who trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness, life, and salvation will be saved – people simply must cling to the mercy of God apart from anything that they have done in the body, good or bad.  On the other hand, granted that Rome means what you say they do, they also continue to uphold Trent, which says, for instance: “If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake… let him be anathema.”  So I am clearly anathematized as well, and any assurances you might give me will be continuously be mitigated by words like these, which, frankly, I consider poisonous and antichristian. In any case, whatever it is for Rome that allows someone – or some “church” – who is outside of their fellowship to somehow be connected with her in a way that saves, presumably it is *not this*.  So, again, even if I were to become convinced that the evidence for the Papacy is as clear (implicit, I suppose) in Scripture as you say it is (Isaiah 22 and all that entails), I could not thereby give up the certainly that I know God desires to give us in His mercy (Romans 5:1, I John 5:13).

As regards the “radical” statements from the Book of Concord, I would point out that in the part from the Apology about the Mass Melanchton is speaking about the “abuse of the Mass” (e.g. being paid to “perform the sacrifices” with the intent to obtain merits and indulgences for the dead, for example – that is the section your quote is from, incidently), and “it seems that this” will endure *together with* the “papal realm” until Christ returns.  I am not sure this is as controversial as you make it out to be.

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In addition to Irenaeus’ beliefs mentioned above, he also believed that all the things that the Apostles orally passed on to their successors (i.e. the “Apostolic deposit”, the “Rule of Faith”) were in “agreement with the Scriptures” (his actual words).

Yes, so do I; so do all orthodox Catholics. That proves nothing with regard to our dispute about sola Scriptura. Protestants have the most extraordinarily difficult time grasping this. You seem to think it is some big “score” for your side, when the fact of the matter is that we are entirely in agreement, so that it is useless for you to point this out at all. It’s like saying, “we believe that the sun goes up!” There is no need to state the obvious that all agree upon. All this shows is that, apparently, you think for some reason that Catholics would deny that our doctrines are in complete harmony with Holy Scripture. Else, why bring it up at all?

Nathan b: Dave, here’s why.  You say we [Catholics] are entirely in agreement”.  So what do you mean when elsewhere you say that “most Catholics” hold to the “material sufficiency of Scripture”?  The words of Prieras seem opposed to this and those of the highly respected Andrada (Chemnitz’s opponent) surely are.  Again, are both opinions allowed in Rome? Does the Catholic Church reserve the right to teach things that are not found in the Scriptures, as Pieras seems to imply and Andrada explicitly said?  Have Andrada’s view been condemned, or is what he said true but “unhelpful”?  Second, as regards I suppose your personal opinion [?] (“material sufficiency”), you claim that the Rule of Faith will not only be found in the Scriptures explicitly or implicitly, but in other ways…  for example,“[the Assumption] is directly deduced from a doctrine that has much implicit indication in Scripture, which is completely in accord with material sufficiency.”  I dealt with what I see to be the immense problems with this in my last response as regards this issue of “harmony” (it is part VI there)

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Therefore, if these things Irenaeus mentions cannot be found in the Scriptures, either explicitly or implicitly, how should we react to such beliefs (given his other stated beliefs)? 

You should reject them (so should I). I strongly deny that they are not found there.

Nathan b: Dave, in the past you have said that “all Christian, Catholic doctrines can be found in Scripture, explicitly, implicitly, or deduced from same. And all Catholic doctrines are certainly harmonious with Scripture”. The key word in this sentence is “or”, i.e. here you are at the very least tacitly admitting that you are doing more than insisting that the Rule of Faith will be found in the Scriptures explicitly or implicitly. 

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I suggest that Jerome, writing in the 4th c., gives us a good clue about what is really happening here: things like distinctions between bishops and presbyters are by human, not divine rite. They are arrangements that pastors, working together and led by the Holy Spirit, came up with in their times to effectively order the Church for the sake of order, love, and unity. To say that this is a matter that determines whether a particular church is “truly Church” seems very wrong, to say the least. 

The distinctions are clearly laid out in Scripture itself. I go through them, particularly, in my paper, The Visible, Hierarchical, Apostolic Church, which is part of my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism.

Nathan b: Dave, I am not convinced that any of these arrangements are by Divine Rite. Your article contains unconvincing arguments like this: “Upon closer observation, clear distinctions of office appear, and the hierarchical nature of Church government in the New Testament emerges. Bishops are always referred to in the singular, while elders are usually mentioned plurally.” (the key word being “usually”).  In fact, it seems clear that the Scriptures in fact teach otherwise (see above), as Jerome would point out, and I did above.  Perhaps this is why Trent seems to have studiously avoided this topic.  If God wanted us to be dogmatic about this, it would have been made clear in the Scriptures, either explicitly or implicitly (again, see my section on “Harmony” from the last response)

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I suggest that had Ireneaus actually had to think about these things (in his context he didn’t) he would side with my particular church, not Rome.

I suggest that he wouldn’t have. All the many novel and heretical things that Luther introduced would have been foreign to his very categories of thought.

Nathan b: I want to make all kinds of smart remarks here, but the Holy Spirit, praise be to God,  has restrained my flesh! : )

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. . . even a great like Saint Augustine talked about how he, in his conflicts with the heretics, consistently came across fathers who had spoken carelessly, or not as circumspectly as they should have – and he tried to cover their errors.
 For example, before Pelagius, many fathers had spoken quite loosely about free will, not seeing original sin as the horrible contagion that it was.  It was only after this error drove Augustine back to the Scriptures that he was able to look upon the writings of the Fathers – with new eyes – and to see how badly they had erred.

That’s all quite true. Original sin developed slowly. True doctrine is always clarified in disputes with heretics. Cardinal Newman noted that there was more of a consensus in the fathers for purgatory than for original sin. This poses no difficulty for our position. Christology, after all, developed slowly, too (for at least another two hundred years after Augustine, working through the natures and wills of Christ. So did the canon of Scripture and Mariology and the communion of saints. Protestants arbitrarily cherry-pick some things (canon — minus the deuterocanon — original sin, Christology), and reject others (Mariology, intercession and invocation and veneration of saints, purgatory), but all of these developed slowly for hundreds of years. Lutheranism developed so extremely slowly that it took almost 1500 years to appear at all.

Nathan b: It’s all about harmony, brother. I can only refer you back there again.  Your assignment this week: memorize Isaiah 8:20, Acts 17, Deut. 17:18-20, 31:26 ; Philippians 3:1. : )

I repeat from my last response: “Whenever Christ and the apostles in the New Testament assert that the prophets said something, that God spoke by the mouth of the prophets, or when they call a saying prophetic, they are not directing us to silent unwritten traditions: they mean that which is written in the Scripture” (59).  Hence in Luke 24 we hear the words, “Thus it is written”, as Christ reveals what God’s revelation really meant.  Unlike many of the scribes and Pharisees (who also appealed to a long, continuous line of unbroken succession) who had created traditions they preferred to the true ones (see Matt 5:21, 27, 31,33,38, 43 ; 15:1-9; 23 ; Mark 7:2-13 ; Luke 11:37-52 ; 18:12 ; Matt 23), even after His resurrection Jesus desired to focus on nothing other than the written Scriptures…. Of his teachings, Luke says that he wrote down things of the greatest reliability for their safeguarding (i.e. to counter threats of corruption). 

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Therefore, like Noah’s children covered him in his nakedness, Augustine covered their errors as much as he could while at the same time trying not to being dishonest about what they had actually said.  The Lutherans were simply following in Augustine’s train.  

You guys rejected some of his (and Luther’s) more extreme predestinarian views just as we did. But he was not a Calvinist, either, despite what the Calvinists vainly try to argue. Luther was more of a Calvinist than Augustine ever was, in terms of predestination and free will.

Nathan b: I’m not so sure about that.  I know disturbing passages from Luther can be quoted to the effect that he was like Calvin.  In any case, let’s leave this alone for now….

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. . . sometimes the church only gradually comes to realize that some of the doctrines it would never have thought to wonder about (i.e. is this doctrine really important or not), it does come to wonder about when people begin to misuse it in some way and then it can [quite readily] be determined to be essential or non-essential.

I agree, excepting those doctrines which are essential but which Lutherans (along with many other Protestants) wrongly deny are essential. Doctrines develop, but if they are part of the apostolic deposit, they can never be “demoted” to non-essential or optional status.

Nathan b: Again: all about harmony and the purpose of the Scriptures (see above)….

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I hope this makes it more clear why, when it comes to the Rule of Faith and the development of doctrine, that it is not always useful to simply focus on the quotations of the fathers. You see, I submit that there are other concrete facts that are even more important – that trump whatever this or that father may have said (I am not saying that they are not important!). These facts suggest a different story, an alternative narrative to the one that Dave has. 

It all depends on what one wants to talk about. The historical and biblical arguments in favor of doctrines are distinct. Chemnitz (the original impetus for our discussions)  talked about Church fathers, so I did, too, because he stated many factual errors in that regard. For the Protestant, they can always ditch what any father says, or what all (or nearly all) of them hold in consensus, if they wish, because for them there is no infallible authority except Scripture.

Nathan b: Hmmm.  “Many factual errors”?  I don’t think so…. it seems to me clear that Chemnitz knew the Fathers better than any other person in his day.  Also, we need to admit that “consensus” is a very flexible and subjective term, and there is no way to “nail down” a definition of this.  It is one consideration among other factors. 

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Now, above, you have said that the promises made to the New Testament Church are of a fundamentally different nature than those made to the Assembly of the Israelites.  To say the least, that is far from obvious. 

What is so difficult to grasp about my statement, ”The Old Testament proto-Church did not have the Holy Spirit and express promises from God that it would be protected and never defect”? This is rather straightforward and plain. The Holy Spirit was only given to select individuals in the old covenant: but now to every baptized Christian and in greater measure to Church leaders. There are promises of indefectibility, too (that I have collected), that are not present in the old covenant. For example:

Matthew 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.

This is the Church: Jesus’ Church, headed by Peter and his successors the popes: not just a tiny remnant. What remains constant in the old covenant is God’s mercy towards his always-straying children, and holding to His covenants despite their rebelliousness. Hence we have the notion of remnant that you often bring up. But that is distinct from institutional indefectibility. That is simply a few followers who remain true, whereas in the new covenant, the promise is that the truth and the apostolic deposit (of which it is Guardian) will never depart from the Church. It would be like the two or three high level pro-life Democrats that still exist as a tiny remnant of what once was. That’s your remnant idea. In our view (to follow the analogy) the entire party (in its platform) remains on the right path, and isn’t reduced to just a few people of a once-great corporate assembly.

The Church is also obviously after Jesus, and He is with us as well, which makes it quite different (Matthew 28:20: “I am with you always, to the close of the age”). It’s quite ironic that Protestants accuse us of being stuck in Pharisaical legalism and works-righteousness, yet in the present discussion you are maintaining that the new covenant is not essentially different from the old, and I am maintaining that it is quite far beyond the old, and that Catholicism is the fullness of the development of a Church and the new covenant and Christian post-pentecostal age. You’re defending the identity of the old system with the Christian one in the sense of ecclesiology; I am saying that the new covenant “new wineskins” are far more advanced.

Nathan b: Dave, many RC theologians have not agreed with you that the Church is obviously after Jesus.  The Old Testament quite clearly talks about an “Assembly” which is basically synonymous with the Church.  On this no one disagrees.  Strictly speaking, Acts does not feature the birthday of the Church, but the birthday of the New Covenant being poured out on the Church.  The Pharisees, High Priests and everyone else should have gotten behind that, so as to continue in the train of the authentic Church.  We know that many Pharisees did – and that many priests became followers of Jesus, as they should have.  They recognized what God was doing with the wineskins with Jesus – bringing all things to fulfillment in Him.  There is nothing “Old Testament” about this way of thinking.

Dave, we believe that visible corporate assembly (Church) that God formed under Moses was indefectible as well – and that there are plenty of Old Testament promises to this effect.  In other words, there are promises in both the Old and New Testament that assure us that God will preserve a people for Himself – and He wants those He assures to be a part of – to continue being a part of – this sure thing!  (also: I note that in Psalm 89:28-29, and 34-37, which you quote on your indefectibility page, this is clearly is talking about the Old Covenant, even as it foreshadows the New Covenant)  Here, I would note that a smaller and less conspicuous gathering of persons is no less “institutional” than a larger gathering – for example, a simple family is properly called an “institution”.  As is marriage.  In other words, the institution of God’s Church can be impressive and conspicuous, or the faithful may only be able to discern it as a remnant (that is, they may only be *certain* that the Word of God is taught in sufficient truth and purity in small and inconspicuous quarters).  Again: although I certainly believe that God desires this to be the case, where is there a promise or guarantee of “conspicuity” anywhere in the Scriptures? 

Also, please know that I to believe in the uniqueness and power New Covenant: but Biblically speaking, this has to do with all of God’s people being indwelt and possessed by the Spirit, not needing people to teach us (i.e. no longer under the supervision of the Law – His people can now more readily [and gladly] understand, hold to, and keep His Words, now that God has come in the flesh and generously poured out His Spirit Who testifies to Christ), testing all things, and all speaking the oracle of God.  And I can say this while also asserting and affirming wholeheartedly in a distinction between this priesthood of all believers and the authoritative and necessary office of the pastoral ministry, which follow in the train of the Apostolic ministry, and is non-negotiable in the Church.

So, the Church is indefectible – it will not fail, and we to desire to be a part of it, by trusting in Christ’s promises of forgiveness and all His blessings.  That said, we would say that in both the Old and New Testament, the purity, health, and strength (not necessarily size, as regards numbers or locations) of the Church, the Assembly, the Body is directly dependent on obedient hearing of the Word of God.  If this does not happen, God will certainly depart from the larger institution that bears His Name and allow the famine of the Word that those in the Church show they want to occur.  In addition to this of course, believers know the Church will be a small flock in the Last Days, as we have already mentioned.     

In short, as regards the measure of the Church’s purity, health, and strength – its viability – (not its size or conspicuity) all of this is connected with the faith and ongoing repentance of God’s people.  For the faithful know that in the last days when the love of many will grow cold, the Church will seem to be losing ground to Satan rather than gaining it.  How much they will be able to withstand depends on their faithful hearing and keeping of God’s words.  Yes, God is with His people such that the “Gates of hell will not overcome it” and “He is with them to the end of the age”, but again – we should not take this to mean that the Church cannot become very small and hidden.  It certainly can.  Because the assaults of the devil lead to persecutions (deaths) as well as disobedience and falling away, the external Church can be very much inglorious.

Therefore, there may well come a time – and we say that time has come – when the faithful no longer recognize the “platform” of the larger Church which excludes them – when there is so much falsehood that they fear that they or their children will be lost if they were to continue in it.  Your own Roman Catholic theologians have argued as much (not about the kids part – I threw that is my sense).  At this point, groups of those still holding on to the Apostolic faith find one another, as we have with the churches in fellowship with us (though perhaps we will get smaller yet as we are refined and purified, something I know Pope Benedict has talked about within the Roman Church – to the consternation of some). This is where indefectibility comes in again – those with faith know that God will always gather His sheep together in one place by His voice.  As you say, “God Himself protects the doctrine of the Church from being corrupted” – but we do not find where He does this by looking at things like size, grandeur, earthly glory and conspicuousness, but rather by hearkening to the voices of the prophets and apostles in whose train we follow. 

Again: Ever since the times of Moses the faithful have been assured from age to age – though this or that prophet of God – that there will be a remnant – those who do not bow the knee to Baal!  Amen and amen!  There is no doubt that God will do this (and now we have Matthew 16:18 and Matthew 28:20 to strengthen us!).  Holding tight to the Apostolic deposit (again, this does not preclude any “development”: “Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is at the heart of all the great controversies that shook the Early church as it tried to work out its own self-understanding” —Douglas Johnson, The Great Jesus Debates), we just need to find those who hear the Shepherd’s voice, and to offer the right hand of fellowship.  His Church will never fall, and though it be small and seemingly insignificant, Sunday is coming.  Glory is coming.  The new heavens and new earth and Kingdom of our God – of whom Jesus is the Firstfruits – is eminent and imminent – even in the midst of great turmoil and suffering.  

Romans 8 may be somewhat instructive here.  There, we learn how nothing can separate us from the love of God – and Paul goes through a marvelous list that is meant to encourage beleaguered believers.  But then again – this does not mean that unrepentant sinners can take any refuge in these promises – our sin, including our refusal to hear His word, does indeed separate us from the love of God.  This goes for all of God’s people called according to His Word – brought into His Church by Holy Baptism.  In short: we are told that the Church will indeed be small in the Last Days, but we should not make it smaller yet by scorning, ignoring, contradicting, or mitigating the words that He has assured us are spirit and life.     

Again, we would say that there is indeed a great famine of the Word in Rome, even if God has mercifully allowed sound patterns of words to remain in their liturgies (though not as much in the preaching).  And even if God has, let us say, removed His Presence from the Eucharist among the Churches of the Reformed, the simple believers that – in spite of false teachings that they might be exposed to or hold – takes His forgiving words to heart still has God indwelling them directly.  Thanks be to God, in Jesus they have all things. 

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I think the default conclusion of any reader of the Bible as a whole will be that we are dealing with continuity here,. . . 

You can claim that (in a particular sense), but you have (so far) passed right over the many biblical evidences I gave that this is not totally the case . . . This seems to be a growing pattern in our interactions: I provide lots of Scripture for my view, and you ignore most of it and go right on asserting Lutheran traditions of men, such as a defectible (Catholic) Church. Let me be more specific: I think (with you) that there is continuity (I believe in development of doctrine), but I think it is a huge leap from the OT assembly to the NT Church because of the elements I have been discussing. Insofar as there is consistent continuity, the analogy is far more towards the Catholic Church rather than to Lutheranism.

Indefectibility is the striking development in ecclesiology after Jesus. Previous to that time, the Bible was regarded as an unchanging truth, but not assemblies of men, so much. Rather, infallibility was isolated, in the form of prophets, who brought God’s message in a profound way (they are analogous in some important ways to popes, whereas Lutherans have no such authority figures anymore and go back to infallible and/or binding books alone, as in the old covenant: Bible, Book of Concord).

Nathan b: It seems to me that in the Old Testament people trusted the Scriptures, assemblies of men, and prophets.  If infallibility was located in the form of prophets (and yes, I believe they had this gift), I think this proves my point, because the prophets never told anyone that they were infallible – they were recognized as such by what they did and said (there was no up-front guarantee).  They simply preached the Word of truth. 

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and I think that you need to demonstrate that the promises to the New Testament church suggest more discontinuity with the Old Testament Church than they do continuity (or at least define well the difference in continuity). 

Just reiterated that. It was already present in my collection of indefectibility passages, that I have referred you to several times.

Nathan b: see above. 

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I go by Romans 1, which talks about going from faith to faith, from first to last.  The Bible is fundamentally the story of God calling His people and giving them promises by His Spirit to keep them strong in the faith.

I don’t disagree with any of that. It is neither here nor there in relation to our particular dispute at present. I would simply say again, that Protestants have less faith than Catholics, because we believe that God can preserve institutions (His Church) as well as Bibles and individuals. That takes more faith. We have that; you do not, because you deny the very possibility. I think Protestantism suffers greatly from that deficiency because it tends to a-historicism, anti-institutionalism, and excessive individualism: all things that run counter to the biblical worldview.

Nathan b:  Interesting – I think you are wrong about this, because faith is certain in the midst of all kinds of dark nights, as faithful Mary was (the only one who “got it”).  Again, “a smaller and less conspicuous gathering of persons is no less “institutional” than a larger gathering – for example, a simple family is properly called an ‘institution’.”  It is certainly nice to imagine that God would do more impressive looking things, but I remember the shame of His Son.  I do believe that God preserves the Church in spite of errors, but I also believe that there comes a time when the foundation is overthrown, and particular churches cease to be.  How accurately that can be pinpointed is not clear, I submit – best to strive for purity of truth where one can. 

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Note that the Church (or Assembly) of the Old Testament also had specific promises about the temple that “God wills to dwell there forever” (also see Deut. 16:2; 2 Chron. 6:2; Neh. 1:9; Isa. 31:9; Isa. 59:21 ; Jer. 31:36-37, 40etc.).

God in fact didn’t dwell in the temple forever, and the temple (three different buildings) was destroyed three times: by the Babylonians and the Romans twice (both things disanalogous to indefectibility). In the old covenant, God’s presence was conditioned upon obedience. For example:

Ezekiel 13:8 Therefore thus says the Lord God: “Because you have uttered delusions and seen lies, therefore behold, I am against you, says the Lord GOD”.

Malachi 3:7 From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts.

That’s not the case in the new covenant, with all the promises of the gates of hell not prevailing against the Church and His presence in Christians in perpetuity.  The Bible actually describes God and the “glory of the Lord” or the shekinah presence departing from the temple, prior to its destruction:

Ezekiel 8:6 And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater abominations.”

Ezekiel 11:23 And the glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city. (cf. 9:3; 10:4, 18-19)

Getting back to your prooftexts, God is said to dwell in Jerusalem forever (1 Chr 23:25) but that is not the temple, and hence, not an institution analogous to the Church. Deut 16:2 says God will dwell at a certain “place,” but it doesn’t say it will be forever. Solomon says in another of your texts, “I have built thee an exalted house, a place for thee to dwell in for ever” (2 Chr 6:2), but this doesn’t prove that God always will do so. Ezekiel 8:6 and 11:23 show that He did not in fact always dwell there, and three destroyed temples make that obvious, anyway, I should think. Right now a mosque stands where the temple stood, so if God is still there “forever” it is in the shrine of a false religion.

Nehemiah 1:9 proves my point (thanks!): God’s presence is directly dependent on obedience: “if you return to me and keep my commandments . . .” Therefore it is not permanent and unconditional as the new covenant indefectibility of the Church is. Isaiah 31:9 doesn’t mention the temple at all. Isaiah 59:21 is better, but it is still conditional on behavior, as seen in the preceding verse: “to those in Jacob who turn from transgression.” And it is not institutional. The old covenant religious system is not protected from error, and indeed in later prophetic books is described as virtually totally apostate. This is what you need to establish in order to make a proper analogy to the indefectibility of the Church.

Jeremiah 31:36-37 is in the context of the announcement of the new covenant (31:31-34). This in and of itself proves that the new covenant is vastly different from the old, because it foretells the indwelling (31:33), and God can be with His people forever precisely because He forgives their sin once and for all (31:34). The indwelling in turn is made possible by the sacrifice of Christ (Jn 14:16-20; 15:26; 16:7, 13). Jeremiah 31:40 is not about the temple. So I think all your “proofs” fail in their purpose, and mine are more relevant and decisive on this matter.

Nathan b:  Dave, I hope you won’t accuse me of not dealing with the Scripture proof-texts that you put forth here… I uphold all of these beautiful promises (as well as the warnings).  God did not abandon His people, as He assured Elijah and others in the Old Testament repeatedly – He always preserved and strengthened the faithful (not just individuals, but remnants – the faithful “institutions”) amidst the larger judgments against His Church.  Was Zechariah wrong to think that it was good, right, and salutary to serve God in the Temple in his day – since there was no *explicit* promise that He would meet there those who trusted in Him? Clearly not, because He approached (through His messenger) Zechariah in the Temple, not at home.  Imagine that – Zechariah as a wonderful example of great faith!  Likewise with Anna, Simeon, Joseph and Mary, and the disciples (even after the resurrection).  Jerusalem and Temple seem to have still been connected in the mind of the faithful, and there was nothing wrong with that – even if God is not limited by such places, they still seem to have believed that He would meet them there in a special way.  So, I think that all of these passages you list fit much better with what I have written already, particularly the longest reply above.   

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And note especially Leviticus 24 [should be 26]: 11 I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. 12 And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.”   That seems pretty firm and unconditional taken by itself, but of course we know that we need to take these words in the context of the whole narrative, including the other words that were spoken to them as well.

This is yet another conditional promise, so it is not an analogy to indefectibility: “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then. . .” (Lev 26:3-4a). Then 26:14 states: “if you will not hearken to me, and will not do all these commandments,. . .” followed by a horrible list of judgments (26:16-43). So this is a stranger “prooftext” for you to cite.

What you don’t seem to realize is that this is not the case in the new covenant and Church Age. The promises are unconditional. God will do what He promises regarding protection of the Church and her doctrine: “the powers of death shall not prevail against” the Church (Matt 16:18); period. It’s not based on obedience. God brings it to pass. End of story. “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt 28:20); no conditions again. It’s an absolute statement. God wills and declares and promises it, so it will happen, and cannot not happen.

Peter falters and denies Christ three times, but after he is filled with the Holy Spirit it is a different story. Jesus prays for him in a special way because he is the leader of the Church: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Lk 22:32); and indeed it doesn’t, after Pentecost. This is a type and shadow of papal infallibility, as is being given the keys of the kingdom (Matt 16:19): only given to Peter; and all the implications of that (rightly understood, in light of its OT precursors). All of this goes to show that your attempted analogy between old covenant disobedience and unfaithfulness and the Church, doesn’t fly. It fails at every turn.You’re not succeeding in making a biblical case for your opinion at all.

Nathan b:  Dave, I think I have made my case very strongly.  I don’t see why we have to say that God’s promise that the gates of Hades will not prevail against the Church needs to be set against our obedient hearing and keeping of His Word.  Why not a both/and here?  One would think you would be all for this, since all of our obedience is a result of God’s grace anyways (as Augustine says, God crowns His own works in us).  I agree that the gates of hell can’t prevail against the Church, but again, see above (long section).  As for Peter’s faith not failing, I agree, but as far as this being a proof-text for Papal infallibility, I think that goes a bit far (Matthew 16:19, with its connection with Isaiah 22, seems much more likely to me).   

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We know later on in the story, Jeremiah reproaches those who appeal to the promises about the temple of the Lord (“the temple of the Lord!  The temple of the Lord!”) for “trusting the words of a liar” (Jer. 7:8)  As Gerhard says: “Promises only pertain to those who allow the Word of God to rule them, who look to the Law and the testimony [Isaiah 8:20]; and who teach, judge and act according to the norm of the divine Word (161, On the Church)”.

Yes; that is exactly right with regard to the old covenant, but not the new covenant, with regard to promises made about the Church and its guardianship of truth and the one true faith: “the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). God Himself protects the doctrine of the Church from being corrupted. This is the entire point. if it were left up to men, this wouldn’t happen, but when God wants something done (in this case, preservation of true doctrine and theology and moral teaching), it is done. Gerhard, I guess, doesn’t know that things have changed with the new covenant. If you follow his line of reasoning, you’ll be wrong, too, and miss the glorious truths that the NT is teaching on this score.

Nathan b:  I agree that if it were left up to men, that this wouldn’t happen, but remember that God crowns His own works in us. You’re right, when God wants something done it is done – and Gerhard believes that as well.  The question is, will you or I – or this or that particular church – continue in the Church Catholic, which will remain?  The glorious truth is more about the message than the messenger (but does not leave the messenger out in the cold either – see above for more)

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So, due to the widespread corruption in His Church in the O.T., did the Lord forsake His people and abandon his heritage (see Psalm 94:14)?  Did the gates of hell prevail against the Old Testament Church – was God not with them [even until the end of the age…]?  Things got pretty rough, but persons like Mary, Simeon, Anna, Zechariah, Elizabeth and Nathaniel would suggest that the gates of hell did not prevail and God did not leave them or forsake them – He preserved His remnant through those who were faithful

He remained with the remnant of the faithful, but that is not the institutional assembly and religious system: which would be the priests and Levites and the scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees. Therefore, it is not an analogy to the Church, as I keep reiterating. This is why you have to redefine the Church in order to carry off this false analogy: as if the Church could be reduced to a few people here and there, like the survivors of a nuclear war, or the last dinosaur before extinction set in. This is not New Testament language regarding the Church. The Church is present even in the churches of Revelation that Jesus rebukes for many serious sins.

For example, the “church of Pergamum” (Rev 2:12) — note how Jesus Himself still calls it a church — , has members that even hold to false doctrine (“you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, . . . you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicola’itans” — 2:14-15). This goes against your contention that those who have false doctrine immediately lose the title of “church”. Jesus Himself refutes you. it couldn’t be any clearer.

Nathan b:  I agree that now, in the New Covenant, God remained with the “institutional assembly and religious system”.   How big do *you* think the Church needs to be before it can be described as an institution?  I’d say two about does it, and God will certainly preserve more than that.  You say this talk of an inconspicuous remnant is “not New Testament language regarding the Church”, but again, several of your own highly respected theologians (perhaps until Gerhard exploited their points?) have said otherwise – at least as pertains to the Last Days. Yes, “the Church is present even in the churches of Revelation that Jesus rebukes for many serious sins”, but those Churches are now no more.  Famines of the Word occur.  Lampstands are removed. 

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But now, given that Hebrews tells us that God has always gathered an Assembly for Himself by causing people to look in faith to the Promised Messiah (Hebrews 11) – even through horrendous persecutions where God, though fully faithful, seemed to have abandoned His people – what justification do you have for suggesting that the Church has fundamentally changed?

Hebrews 11 is about individuals of great faith, not the old covenant religious system. Moses (of those listed) was a religious leader, and this comes closest to an analogy to indefectibility, but he actually taught falsely in a sense, by implying that he could perform miracles by his own power, not God’s: “Hear now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” (Num 20:10). God had told him to merely speak to the rock (20:8), but he struck it twice (20:11), leading God to rebuke him: “you did not believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the people” (20:12). Therefore, in a way he was guilty of false teaching, and for this reason, both he and Aaron were not allowed to enter the Promised Land (20:12; Dt 34:4). Thus, it is again a disanalogy to the indefectibility of the Church. Moses failed in his teaching duty and was punished for it, and so was Aaron: also a religious leader, as a priest (20:24).

The prophets are far more analogous to the infallibility of popes, as I have argued twice in my papers (one / two), and will again in my new book against sola Scriptura. But they were not part of the religious system; they were outside of it: usually rebuking the corrupt people in it. The difference in the new covenant is that the institutional system of the Church is protected from error (“it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” — Acts 15:28: the Jerusalem Council). The Church is a far different thing.

Nathan b:  Not much more to add here. Obviously, we disagree…. I think you don’t take Hebrews 11 seriously enough here. Further, I am not sure that all of the  prophets were not a part of the religious system – Ezekiel comes to mind.  Cardinal Bellarmine thought that the prophets partook of the religious services in parts of the Church that were not corrupt. 

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…those who persecuted Micah, Elijah, and Jeremiah, for example, could have said (and in some cases did say) similar things.  [as were said by the Church to Luther]

That’s correct. But they didn’t have the promise of Christ of indefectibility, whereas the Catholic Church, an institution with an unbroken history and succession back to the apostles and Christ, did have that. Nor was Luther a prophet, as those men were.

I had challenged you, stating:

Show me in the Bible where there is ever such a thing as a mere layperson disagreeing doctrinally with a leader in the Church based on Bible reading and thereby being justified in his dissent and schism by that method? I say it isn’t there.

Nathan b:  Right, but even Paul commended the Bereans for testing the things he said.  Presumably, if something he said did not clearly agree with the Scriptures, he would want to know about it. 

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But here I need only point out how John the Baptist and our Lord Himself were not formally recognized or ordained by the religious hierarchy of the N.T. Church, as the Pharisees, who served on the council, were. The hierarchy even asked John by what right he said the things he did. 

This doesn’t overcome my argument and position because this is not yet the Church. There was no Church till Pentecost, after the death of both John and Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus couldn’t be “ordained” by the “N.T. Church” because it didn’t yet exist. Therefore, this proves nothing. They were rejected by the old covenant religious system which was never promised indefectibility in the first place.

Nathan b:  I send you up to my long reply again.

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And now that I have established an alternative narrative account that I do not think you can deny,  . . . 

Surprise! I eagerly look forward to your answers to all the material I have come up with.

Nathan b:  Hope this helps

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In fact, the Bible predicts that in the Last Days, the church will not look glorious at all, but will be beleagured on all sides… (see Matthew 24:24, Luke 18:8, 2 Thes 2:3-4). 

Matthew 24:24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.

Individuals will be led astray in great numbers (sounds like today!). This says nothing about the institutional Church, or magisterium, and so is irrelevant to the question of indefectibility, which has to do with the Church, not individual Christians.

Luke 18:8 I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?

Ditto. Widespread apostasy of men doesn’t prove that the Church has forsaken and failed in her God-given and divinely-guided mission. The text simply doesn’t say that.

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, [4] who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.

This is closer to what you need to show but still doesn’t by any means prove defectibility. It’s somewhat like the times when popes were held prisoner, or the horrors of the French Revolution or the English so-called “Reformation” with its wholesale butcheries (ripping people’ hearts out of their bodies, etc., simply for being Catholics) and Leninist-like repression. The Church didn’t cease to exist because this was the case, and strong-arm tactics used to suppress the head of the Church, or the entire institutional Church, as the case may be. Peter and Paul (and St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher) were martyred; the Church still existed. The structure (and the truth and apostolic deposit preserved in the Church) didn’t go into oblivion because of any persecution. The same will apply during the Last Days, no matter how bad it gets.

The seven churches of Revelation are again illustrative. Jesus still calls them “churches” no matter how many sins He condemned in them. They didn’t lose or forfeit the category. And there is indication that at least some of these local churches will persevere through the last days; for example, the church in Philadelphia:

Revelation 3:10 Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth.

When He says “you” He is writing to the church, not one person.

Nathan b:  I agree He is writing to that particular Church, which sadly, did not last.  I don’t think these passages by themselves help us to settle our dispute.  Again, I simply mention that many of your own respected theologians believed that these verses applied to the Church as a whole, as I think is the most natural reading of these texts (they believed that the Church would end up in deserts, caves, and prisons, but that these people would still be in fellowship with the Pope, who would also be in hiding). I do not believe their views were ever said to be false, or that this belief is not permitted in the RC Church.    

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. . . it’s just that such a Church can be a lot smaller than you might think.  

It may be very small in the end, but it is still there, preserving the truth. That’s the promise: essence and unbroken continuity, not size or appearance or influence or popular acclaim. But your champion Gerhard (as you cite him) wants to play games and equivocate: “It is one thing to say simply that the church is visible; it is another to say that it is visible to the world” (186). Right.

This reminds me of the Jehovah’s Witnesses ludicrous claim (made in desperation after false prophecies) that Jesus did return in 1914, but invisibly, not visibly. Likewise, for Gerhard, the Church will always be visible, but alas, not to the world. I trust that his other arguments are more impressive than this one. But in any event, it’s an absolutely classic case study of saying the right words (indefectibility, visible Church), but redefining them according to one’s own fancies, over against traditional Catholic use. This is the trademark of heterodoxy and liberalism at all times. Rather than admit that things have essentially changed, it prefers word games and equivocations.

Nathan b:  Now we are just down to Essence and continuity then…  I’ve addressed continuity and how it is desired but not essential (Gerhard also argues about broken continuity in Rome to, I believe) – what we are debating now is the Essence itself, the heart of all things. I say it comes down to doctrine.  

There is nothing equivocating about Gerhard’s quotation.  It’s like salvation: God desires all persons to be saved (i.e. His “proper work” is proclaiming that He has reconciled Himself to the world in His Son), but there are times when His “alien work” must take place first – that is “harming” us that our bones might be mended.  Purifying His people.  Likewise with the Church.  Generally speaking, God desires that His Church be not only one, but visible before the world (John 17).  That said, He lets it go through great fire, and even warns us that in the Last Days the number of those who believe will decrease…  Taken with all of his other argumentation, Gerhard’s argument here is impressive, especially when he simply shows that he is only saying what Rome’s own respected theologians have said based on their studies of the Scriptures.   

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that said, I would add that God certainly intends for His Church to be visible and discernible before the world, for He desires all persons to be saved.

Good; so even you disagree with Gerhard. You’re right. Welcome to catholic ecclesiology, in this respect.

Nathan b:  No. I have little doubt that Gerhard would have said the same.

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In any case, it seems to me that the major difference between you and I is that you start thing from the get go wanting certainty.  

It’s not a matter of what I (or anyone else) want or don’t want, but of what the New Testament everywhere casually assumes without argument, about the Church’s possession of the fullness of apostolic truth and doctrine. Belief that all this is so uncertain is one of the negative fruits of the relentless sectarianism of Protestantism. Because they can’t agree with each other, they start to pretend that Scripture sanctions their disagreements as of relatively little importance. This is sheer nonsense. The New Testament knows nothing of the “healthy diversity” of mutually contradictory doctrines. Falsehood is from the devil, period. Where logical contradiction exists, falsehood also must be present.

Nathan b:  It’s not uncertain at all. God allowed the voices of Luther and the Lutherans to be heard widely. 

When you say: “Because they can’t agree with each other, they start to pretend that Scripture sanctions their disagreements as of relatively little importance. This is sheer nonsense. The New Testament knows nothing of the “healthy diversity” of mutually contradictory doctrines. Falsehood is from the devil, period. Where logical contradiction exists, falsehood also must be present”, I can only say “Amen”.  If only men – guided by the Apostolic Fathers and their help – took the Scriptures more seriously.  The Gospel is only too clear.  Baptismal regeneration (and this even for infants), the real presence in the Lord’s Supper, the authority of pastors to bind and loose, and the exclusivity of salvation by grace, through faith in Christ alone are only too clear.  A suppression of the truth is the only thing that causes division. 

I’d say “come and see”, but you have already come and seen Dave.  I am wondering what you think now.  I can only pray the conversation will continue, and that the Spirit of God would be among us.

You have said elsewhere:

“Since sola Scriptura is devoid of any unquestionable patristic support (as I and many other Catholics have shown, I think), then it must be ditched, according to this true and wise maxim of Martin Chemnitz. I continue to await modern-day adherents of Chemnitz’ position (Lutherans) to come and defend both him and his argument.

Usually, at this point of the argument (i.e., after patristic demonstration), the argument from my esteemed Lutheran brothers in Christ ceases, or (as in cases such as the extreme polemicist Josh Strodtbeck, descends into the merely personal and ad hominem and is entirely devoid of rational substance). But where are the modern defenders of Lutheran orthodoxy, who will be willing to amiably engage a Catholic critic? Few and far between, they are . . .”

I just want to re-iterate that I am here and plan on continuing the conversation as long as you want to.  I have no doubts that there is much that I may need to be set right on…

Let us always remember that Satan is ultimately the One Christ came to defeat – not those for whom He came to bleed.  And die.  And give real peace and knowledge of salvation.

Like a child resting in its mother’s arms.   

Semper pax,

Nathan

________________

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Do spill the [pure] milk [of the Word]

Inspired by bits from Christopher Mitchell’s Song of Songs commentary…

Christians, not only pastors, are to be fixated on the pure Word of God. We are to hunger for it, desire it, and seek to nourish our neighbor with it.  To spread it far and wide…

Like Paul, we should say to other believers “I am jealous for you with God’s jealousy” (2 Cor. 11:2) – we are to seek to maintain the virginity of Christ’s bride until the wedding day. Much like those good brothers of old who were interested in protecting the virtue of their little sister in light of her wedding day.  Propagating right teaching and instruction as Jesus and the Apostles did – about theological and moral truths (see I Tim 1:10) – is to be our highest cause, for it is from this Word of God that we live.  Such words are “Spirit and Life”, as Jesus says…

We are to indeed be in the Watchtower of our God, ferociously holding to and guarding the truth with child-like simplicity and stubbornness… Faith has both a passive and active aspect.  When the Psalmist speaks of the Lord upholding his righteousness, he is speaking first and foremost of his compulsively clinging to “sound” doctrine – for the sake of the neighbor, as well as his own.  Keeping one’s self from sin and having clean hands (Psalm 18) mean that the Psalmist has trusted God’s word – of perpetual forgiveness/deliverance and more – and not the lies of men.  This is why he is the kind of person who says “Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression.” (Psalm 19).  This faith – this faithfulness – is the core component of the integrity and uprightness of which the Psalmist speaks.  Simply put, he is a believer, not an unbeliever.  God acknowledges the humble…”To the faithful [He] show [s] [Him]self faithful”  Good life flows from the good words of the Word which save.  Like Mary, we sit transfixed and receive…  What do we have that we have not…?

Indeed, “[my enemies] stumble and perish before your presence… For you have maintained my just cause….” (Psalm 9:3b,4a). This “just cause” is first and foremost zealously holding to, guarding and proclaiming the truth  (even if, sadly, we may be quite energized by fleshly impulses when we do this…)  It is God’s cause and purpose.

So Lord, guard us in our righteousness… this simple righteousness of child-like faith that eagerly goes on to embrace the whole, meaty counsel of God.  That counsel which orbits around the truth that God, in Christ, was reconciling the world to Himself.

Lord Jesus Christ, my God and Lord, my God and Lord.  Forsake me not, I trust your word!

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/akbar2/4791971243/sizes/m/in/photostream/

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Dave Armstrong responds to my latest post (Round 2…the unattractive body of Christ)

UPDATE:  Dave has let me know that there is more refutation of my views to come, therefore I will hold off on posting again, until he is finished entirely.  

UPDATE 2:  Dave has now finished round 2, and all of it is below.  I hope to start Round 3 within a couple weeks.

I have yet to hear from Dave whether or not this will be the end of Round 2 (it appears to be), but here is how he has responded to my latest post.  As I am copying and pasting this to my blog, my words will not be in blue, as Dave says below, but italicized.  I will respond to him later on today:

Nathan is a friendly Lutheran theological adversary. We previously engaged in the following exchanges:

Brief Exchange With Lutheran Nathan Rinne on Luther’s Revolt and Fundamental Differences of Perspective Regarding the So-Called Protestant “Reformation”

Dialogue on Lutheranism and Catholicism, Part One: Introductory

Dialogue on Lutheranism and Catholicism, Part Two: Church Fathers + Sola Scriptura

Dialogue on Lutheranism and Catholicism, Part Three: Soteriology and Miscellany

Dialogue on Lutheranism and Catholicism, Part Four: Rule of Faith, the Fathers, and Ecclesiology

His words will be in blue. I will be changing excessive bolding in Nathan’s replies to italics.

* * * * *

Nathan’s latest reply — just one small portion of which I am now responding to –, is entitled, Round 2 with RC apologist Dave Armstrong: the unattractive body of Christ. I have complained here and there about the broadness of subject matter and clashing methodologies. I wrote the following to Nathan to try to explain the difficulties we are encountering along those lines, as I see it:

If it’s all over the ballpark, I will be forced (by time-management considerations) to give short answers (mostly will link to other papers); otherwise it becomes War and Peace II. My main concern (far more than a preference for line-by-line organization) is that we narrow down the subject matter.

We can’t argue everything at once.  No one can do so, no matter how good a debater they are or what their position is. I will respond for sure, but like I said, if the subject matter is too broad or scattered, it won’t be a very extensive reply.

* * *

I think I see or conceive better now (having heavily skimmed your reply) how and why we clash methodologically (which is a separate issue from a theological clash). You seem to approach things from what I would call a (holistic) “dogmatic / philosophical” viewpoint, stressing entire worldview and what you think is superior Lutheran coherence, whereas my apologetics is more particular, concentrating on facts and individual issues: either utilizing Scripture (usually systematically or topically) or patristics (dealing with narrowed-down topics or one father and his views), with special emphasis on history and development of doctrine (tying into Catholic tradition).

The only way I could adequately respond to your piece from within your own paradigm would be to unleash extraordinary amounts of energy and spend, say, six-eight weeks on it, and I have neither the energy nor desire to do all that (with other projects in the works), and don’t think it would accomplish much of anything, even if I did. I can write entire books, even two books, in that span of time.

When there are major worldview differences, they have to be dealt with, in my opinion, with “little chunks” at a time.

I think what your presentation does is at least offer some reply to a Catholic apologetic (i.e., mine), which is good for Lutheran readers. It gives them confidence that their view is (according to you) coherent and consistent and able to be believed. I don’t think it would convince many Catholics to become Lutheran (nor would a long, exhaustive reply from me cause many or any Lutherans to become Catholic). It’s “preaching to the choir”, which is what dogmatic (or more catechetical) material does: embolden and exhort those who already hold to it.

As you would guess, I’m not too big on preaching to the choir, either. My task as an apologist, as I see it, and according to my particular style, is to compare Catholicism with non-Catholic views x, y, z, etc., and to show how Catholicism is more believable on matters a, b, c, d, e, etc. It’s particularistic. I believe that if enough doubt is cast on enough different things, then a person starts to experience cognitive dissonance and eventually leans to and then adopts Catholicism, from the accumulation of evidences in its favor. I’ve observed many hundreds (some as a direct result of my work) indeed do that.

I can’t do that from within your method, because everything is undertaken on this grand, holistic scale. I can’t re-invent the wheel or lay the foundations of a skyscraper with every reply I make to something you write.

All I can do (given all this) is pick and choose (just as you are already doing with my material) and cast doubt on small particulars of your huge skyscraper that you have constructed: showing how this foundation has cracks, how that beam will break, or that the windows are drafty and unreliable, the plumbing is bad, etc.

I think this is why it seems frustrating and exasperating to me, to deal with all your arguments. It has little to do with content (I could give some sort of answer to everything you write, if I were motivated enough to do so); it’s almost all about methodology and organization: how things are approached and one’s goals.

Anyway, hopefully this will help you understand the position I am coming from on this stuff. Issues of this sort come up frequently during debates. People have different ideas of how to go about it. Minds work differently. Theological systems differ. I suppose that is why it is usually helpful to have a lot of limitations on numbers of words and on topic, as in formal debates. It does keep things in check to a large extent.

With that in mind, I proceed: this time dealing with just one (rather important and fundamental) section of his paper. I think I can destroy or at least cast great doubt upon various key false premises that Nathan brings to the table (including the one presently dealt with). That is my specialty as a methodological socratic, anyway.

. . . I responded by pointing out that where in Matthew 23:2[-3] Jesus commands His followers to listen to the scribes and Pharisees and do whatever they tell them to keep, in other places he calls them false teachers (he even points out some false teaching in Matthew 23).  A very simple point.
Johan Gerhard, writing in his On the Church, makes the same point (though in less Scriptural detail then I do in the comments section of the post where all of this happened):
“’The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat; keep and do whatever they tell you to keep,’ says Christ in Matt. 23:2[-3].  He commands them to listen to the scribes and Pharisees not absolutely in all things but insofar as they sit in Moses’ seat, that is, insofar as they propose things that are in harmony with Moses’ teaching.  Elsewhere, He commands them to beware of their ‘leaven’, that is, of their false teaching (Matt. 16:11-12).  So, too, we should listen to the church, namely in those matters that are devout and holy and in harmony with the commandments of our heavenly Father.  If the church brings forth anything different from the teaching of Christ, to this extent and in this respect we should not listen to her.  (On the Church, p. 221, see also 201)… the scribes and Pharisees to whom Christ orders us to listen were mixing the ‘leaven of errors’ and corruptions with the pure teaching of Moses and the prophets.” (p. 226)

First of all, note that Gerhard fundamentally distorts what Christ said. He didn’t say to obey the Pharisees’ teaching “insofar as they sit in Moses’ seat, that is, insofar as they propose things that are in harmony with Moses’ teaching.” No; He simply said, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; [3] so practice and observe whatever they tell you”  (Matthew 23:2-3a). The difference is huge and essential; hence, the error that Gerhard and Nathan (following him) propose, is huge as well.

One take of the passage is saying that the Pharisees (by analogical extension, Church authorities now) have authority, period, and must be obeyed (i.e., infallibility; real binding authority). The other holds that they only have it as long as the individual judges that they are teaching truth, which is, in the end, no authority at all, because it so easily disobeyed, and the disobedience rationalized on allegedly “super-pious” but unbiblical principles.

Scripture has to be interpreted as a consistent, coherent (inspired, infallible) totality. The theme of hypocrisy in teachers is a very common biblical motif. Thus, I mentioned that this (as well as the related sin of spiritual pride) was in mind when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees in Matthew 23: for example, 23:3: “practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice“; 23:5: “They do all their deeds to be seen by men”; 23:6: “they love the place of honor at feasts”;  23:23: “neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith“; 23:25: “you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity“, etc. I also provided another example of rebuke of hypocrisy rather than doctrine: Paul’s rebuke of Peter’s hypocrisy in Galatians. Paul provides another example, in discussing the non-Christian Jews:

Romans 2:17-23 [RSV, as throughout] But if you call yourself a Jew and rely upon the law and boast of your relation to God [18] and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed in the law, [19] and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, [20] a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth — [21] you then who teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? [22] You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? [23] You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?

It is obviously hypocrisy, again, which is in Paul’s mind, not false teaching per se. The teaching is false, only insofar as the application by bad example is false. The know what is right, but don’t do it. They teach the right thing, but don’t observe it themselves: just like Matthew 23 and the Peter-Paul incident about Jewish-Gentile Christian relations. Paul calls himself (referring to his present Christian state) a Pharisee twice, as I noted in past installments; therefore, neither for Jesus nor Paul, are the Pharisees a completely corrupt entity.

They are a group with different factions (e.g., followers of Shammai and Hillel): some of which are corrupt in practice and rife with hypocrisy: which sounds of course, precisely like every group of Christians today that I am aware of. Sin is always in the Church: the wheat and the tares, etc. Lots of biblical teaching about that . . .

Nathan states, “he even points out some false teaching in Matthew 23.” I looked through it and I don’t see false doctrinal teaching per se. I see numerous examples of hypocrisy and spiritual pride and lack of foresight.

The clincher for my interpretation, I believe, is another passage where Jesus Himself defines what He means by leaven. This is good ol’ Protestant (and Augustinian and Catholic) hermeneutical principles: interpret the less clear portions of Scripture by the ones that are more plain and clear. If Jesus tells us what He means by using the metaphor of leaven, then we can know for sure! He does this in Luke 12, which follows the latter half of Luke 11: the parallel passage to Matthew 23 (excoriations of Pharisaical hypocrisy). Right after that, He states:

Luke 12:1-3 In the meantime, when so many thousands of the multitude had gathered together that they trod upon one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. [2] Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. [3] Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.

So there we have it: precisely as I have been contending all along. This is fascinating, since Nathan seems to think that his interpretation of Matthew 23 and Pharisaical corruption as false doctrine rather than hypocrisy, is some sort of silver bullet and a big plus for his battle for the superiority of Lutheranism and against the indefectibility of the traditional Catholic Church. But it is not, because he has eisegeted the Scripture rather than taking it at face value and according to its own definitions and proper cross-referencing. This is classic erroneous Protestant exegesis and false application of isolated prooftexts, according to man-made tradition.

I can even go further, if the above data is insufficient for my case, and delve into the biblical meaning of leaven. The New Bible Dictionary (“Leaven” in the 1962 edition, p. 726) states that leaven in relation to Pharisees, is:

. . . the Pharisees’ hypocrisy and preoccupation with outward show (Mt. xxiii. 14, 16; Lk. xii. 1) . . .

St. Paul again supports the concept of leaven as moral corruption and hypocrisy when he mentions the word:

1 Corinthians 5:6-8 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? [7] Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. [8] Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Linguist A. T. Robertson, in his six-volume Word Pictures in the New Testament, comments on Luke 12:1 (cited above):

He had long ago called the pharisees hypocrites (Matt. 6:2, 5, 6). The occasion was ripe here for this crisp saying. . . . Hypocrisy was the leading pharisaic vice (Bruce) and was a mark of sanctity to hide an evil heart.

(Vol. II, 171)

The best contrary argument, I think, comes from a seemingly straightforward interpretation of another passage in Matthew:

Matthew 16:11-12 How is it that you fail to perceive that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sad’ducees.” [12] Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sad’ducees.

“Teaching” here is didache, also often translated as “doctrine.” So how do we interpret this, over against Matthew 23:3: “practice and observe whatever they [the Pharisees] tell you,” and Luke 12:1, where our Lord defines “leaven” as hypocrisy? I think we harmonize them by understanding that the notion of “teaching” can have a wider application, beyond content alone: incorporating example and overall living of a life according to one’s own outlook or belief-system. The Pharisees were teaching by their actions and hypocrisy as well as their doctrines. Jesus repudiated their hypocrisy but not their upholding of the Law.

Paul expresses this connection of doctrinal teaching and behavior in his several references to himself as an example whom Christians should emulate or follow:

1 Corinthians 4:15-17 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. [16] I urge you, then, be imitators of me. [17] Therefore I sent to you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.

Philippians 3:16-17 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. [17] Brethren, join in imitating me, and mark those who so live as you have an example in us.

Philippians 4:9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-9 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. [7] For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, [8] we did not eat any one’s bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you. [9] It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate.

Paul stresses to his successor of sorts, Timothy, that Christian teaching always includes right conduct and example:

1 Timothy 4:6, 11-12, 15-16 If you put these instructions before the brethren, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the good doctrine which you have followed.. . . [11] Command and teach these things. [12] Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.. . . [15] Practice these duties, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. [16] Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

And to Titus as well:

Titus 1:7-9 For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, [8] but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; [9] he must hold firm to the sure word as taught [didache], so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.

Titus 2:1, 7 But as for you, teach what befits sound doctrine.. . . [7] Show yourself in all respects a model of good deeds, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity,

St. Peter also reiterates this theme of “teaching by example,” in writing to the elders of the Church:

1 Peter 5:1-3 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. [2] Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, [3] not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock.

This is how I harmonize all of the biblical data, as to whether Jesus condemned the doctrine of the Pharisees, or rather (as in my interpretation above), only their “teaching” insofar as it is presented to the world hypocritically, as an entire package. Otherwise, if the entire pharisaical system of doctrine is condemned, Matthew 23:3 seems contradictory to Matthew 16:12, and Paul calling himself a Pharisee, etc. Jesus puts it all together in the Sermon on the Mount. He is not rejecting the continuance of the Mosaic Law in some real, tangible sense, but rather, coupling righteousness and a deeper, more spiritually profound outlook with it:

Matthew 5:14-20 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. [15] Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. [16] Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. [17] “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. [18] For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. [19] Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [20] For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Nathan’s task is to harmonize all these passages together, as I have done (agree or disagree). He can’t just pick out of Scripture what agrees with his previously held dogmatic Lutheranism and polemics against Catholicism (making us analogous to the Pharisees, as is almost always done) and ignore what doesn’t fit. That won’t do. In any event, using a few passages while ignoring others will not provide a pretext for the ignoring of the binding authority of the Church (when an individual — like Luther himself — sees fit to do so), let alone as an undermining of the indefectibility of the Church, according to the worldview that Lutherans and other Protestants must adopt in order to justify their own continuing existence.

Nathan can’t demonstrate his Lutheran notion of a fallible Church that can be disobeyed by the atomistic individual with Bible in hand, from the Bible itself. I challenged him to do this in one of the comments under our first exchange:

The Bible has no room for your notion of the Church, either. I challenge you to find me a passage anywhere in Scripture that tells us that the Christian Church ever “officially” teaches error. It is always stated that the “truth” or “word of God” (beyond Scripture alone), the “message” or “doctrine” or “the faith” or “tradition” is absolutely true (hence infallible).

Paul always assumes his teaching is absolutely infallible and without error. The Church is called “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). I wrote an entire paper on that passage, showing that the only logical interpretation is infallibility. The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) speaks in quite certain terms, and Paul goes out and informs his hearers of the decisions of he council, for obedience and observance (Acts 16:4). Infallibility, therefore, is all over Scripture, whereas Luther’s invention of sola Scriptura is not at all.

If the Church was allowed by God to teach error, we would be in rough shape. But the Church is indefectible, according to Scripture, and contra Luther.

Part b of his round 2 response:

Reply to Lutheran Nathan Rinne: Comparative Ecclesiology, “Lutheran” Church Fathers?, God Departing the Temple, OT Religious System Not Indefectible Like the Church

Nathan is a friendly Lutheran theological adversary. We previously engaged in the following exchanges:

Brief Exchange With Lutheran Nathan Rinne on Luther’s Revolt and Fundamental Differences of Perspective Regarding the So-Called Protestant “Reformation”

Dialogue on Lutheranism and Catholicism, Part One: Introductory

Dialogue on Lutheranism and Catholicism, Part Two: Church Fathers + Sola Scriptura

Dialogue on Lutheranism and Catholicism, Part Three: Soteriology and Miscellany

Dialogue on Lutheranism and Catholicism, Part Four: Rule of Faith, the Fathers, and Ecclesiology

Reply to Lutheran Nathan Rinne: Exegetical Exposition on Whether the “Leaven” of the Pharisees is Hypocrisy or Doctrinal Falsehood
Nathan’s latest reply — one portion of which I am now responding to –, is entitled, Round 2 with RC apologist Dave Armstrong: the unattractive body of Christ. His words will be in blue. I will be changing what I regard as excessive bolding in Nathan’s replies (harsh on the eyes) to italics.

* * * * *

 

. . . I drew the conclusion that persons can hold a legitimate, authoritative office in the Church by God’s will and yet teach falsely.

Yes, they certainly can. A bishop can teach wrong things; even be a heretic. There were hundreds of Arian and Monophysite bishops. A council can teach wrongly: the Robber Council of 449 is an example. Even, in our view, popes can both teach heresy and personally be heretics. We only think that if he attempts to proclaim a heresy as binding on the faithful, that God would prevent it. He is infallible under certain carefully defined circumstances. The ecumenical council is infallible if it proclaims, in legion with the pope, some teaching as binding and obligatory.

The problem with your view is that it proves too much: it takes out biblical requirements of indefectibility and the universal casual assumption in the New Testament that there is one doctrinal truth and one faith: not competing sectarian visions. The two aspects have to be balanced. We believe that our position on it incorporates all the relevant realities: human frailty and fallibility (which needs no proof!), and the other non-optional consideration of divine infallibility and guidance of the Church through God the Holy Spirit (John 14-16).

You say you believe in the indefectibility of the Church, too, but I retort that in order to do so, you have to change the definition of Church as always historically understood in apostolic and patristic and medieval Catholic Christianity. Thus, you have difficulties in ecclesiology. Protestantism is always, always, internally incoherent and self-contradictory in the final analysis. There is no way out of it. You have to either forsake history or logic or consistent biblical exegesis at some point in order to hold any form of Protestantism.

I hate to put it in such crass terms, but that is what I sincerely believe, with all due respect to my brothers and sisters, whom I highly respect and esteem on an individual level, and to you (whose apologetic and analytical abilities I do respect). Lutheranism has, I think, less internal difficulties than any other Protestant view, save Anglo-Catholicism, but there are still severe difficulties, unable to be resolved. We’ll get to those, the longer we interact. 🙂 I’ve already debated many of them with other Lutherans.

There is no hostility here! Just a desire for the truth . . . 

Whatever I said to elicit this reply from you, it was (I know for sure) referring to hostile premises or opposing ideas, not personal hostility. There is (quite refreshingly) none of that from you, and none from my end, either: just a great theological conversation: a thing that ought to be possible for any and all Christians to do, but alas, it is sadly rare.

(is what I said above regarding Jesus’ seemingly contradictory stance towards the Pharisees as teachers of truth not interesting, and worthy of more thorough reflection?) . . . I simply wanted him to acknowledge “Jesus’ seemingly contradictory stance towards the Pharisees as teachers of the truth” (which yes, could have implications depending on how one views God working in the Church). . . . If he does not find the following response to his objections convincing at all, I would, first of all, like him to tell me why it has nothing to do with his failure to thoughtfully and carefully deal with (and produce an adequate explanation of) these simple and clear Biblical facts.  Because, you see, I think these facts of Scripture are lynch-pins to the whole of the case I have against him and the particular church of which he is a part.

It was quite worthy of response, which is why I devoted my last reply to it, with lots of substance for you to grapple with. I was delighted at the opportunity to strengthen the Catholic case on a key issue (as you say). I have proposed a way to resolve the seeming contradiction (that I don’t — like you — believe is really there). Now, your task is to propose a better solution, taking into account the relevant passages that I brought to bear. I found the entire topic a fascinating one to ponder. I think my explanation was quite thoughtful and careful and adequate. Now I hope you will grant me the same courtesy and not pass over my counter-argument. Then this dialogue can get very interesting indeed, and constructive, too.

OK, here’s my recap of the things he is talking about.  He says Irenaeus was a Roman Catholic because he believed in “episcopacy, apostolic succession, apostles’ choosing of bishops to succeed them, Roman primacy, the papacy”, etc.  I don’t deny that Irenaeus believed these things, but essentially ask “can any of this be proven from the Scriptures?” (it seems to me that they certainly cannot).

It seems to me that they certainly can be so proven or strongly indicated at the very least (excepting Roman primacy, which is a post-biblical development, but clearly apostolic, starting right with St. Clement of Rome). I give much biblical argumentation for all the other elements on my Church and Papacy web pages. Apostolic succession is very straightforward, as seen particularly in the replacement of Judas with Matthias. Judas is even called a bishop! So it’s all right there: an apostle being replaced, and bishops as successors to the apostles.

What St. Irenaeus believed (agree or disagree with him), on the other hand, is a matter of historical record. I backed up my contentions about his beliefs from Protestant historians. It’s not rocket science. He was a thoroughgoing Catholic, and believed exactly what we would expect, in a Catholic outlook, at that point of time and development in the history of Church doctrine: not some kind of proto-Lutheran. What Protestants try to do is special plead and make out that the fathers were closer to their beliefs than ours, and it just isn’t the case. It’s a losing battle; a hopeless cause; fails miserably every time: even with good ol’ St. Augustine: every Protestant’s favorite Church father (who believed, e.g., in all seven Catholic sacraments). You can’t make a square peg fit into a round hole.

Further, I ask this because the Roman Catholic Church says that if these things aren’t believed, my particular church (LC-MS) is placing itself outside of the Church and salvation, which to me seems to me quite radical.

This is far more complex than you make out. We believe that Protestants are part of the Church in an imperfect manner, and that they can indeed be saved, since they have the true sacrament of baptism and believe many things in common with us. This was highly stressed at Vatican II and many ecumenical papal encyclicals and other papal statements since. If one knows for sure that the Catholic Church is the one true Church in its fullness: unique and set up by God, and rejects it, then we’d say they cannot be saved. God meets people where they are at. People who have never even heard of Jesus or the gospel can possibly be saved (Romans 2). We say that Protestants are simply wrong with regard to all these things you mention, which are strongly supported in the Bible itself, except for Roman primacy, which is secondary to the papacy, anyway, which is indicated by St. Peter’s leadership and many things said about him in the Bible.

What is “radical” are many statements about the Catholic Church made in the Book of Concord (following Luther’s anti-Catholic nonsense and hogwash), such as that we are the seat of antichrist, that we worship Baal in the Mass, and are rank idolaters and semi-Pelagians, etc. There are a host of falsehoods there. Example:

Apology of the Augsburg Confession [1531], Article XXIV: The Mass

Carnal men cannot stand it when only the sacrifice of Christ is honored as a propitiation. For they do not understand the righteousness of faith but give equal honor to other sacrifices and services. A false idea clung to the wicked priests in Judah, and in Israel the worship of Baal continued; yet the church of God was there, condemning wicked services. So in the papal realm the worship of Baal clings — namely, the abuse of the Mass . . . And it seems that this worship of Baal will endure together with the papal realm until Christ comes to judge and by the glory of his coming destroys the kingdom of Antichrist. Meanwhile all those who truly believe the Gospel should reject those wicked services invented against God’s command to obscure the glory of Christ and the righteousness of faith.

(The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore Tappert, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House / Muhlenberg Press, 1959, p. 268)

In addition to Irenaeus’ beliefs mentioned above, he also believed that all the things that the Apostles orally passed on to their successors (i.e. the “Apostolic deposit”, the “Rule of Faith”) were in “agreement with the Scriptures” (his actual words).

Yes, so do I; so do all orthodox Catholics. That proves nothing with regard to our dispute about sola Scriptura. Protestants have the most extraordinarily difficult time grasping this. You seem to think it is some big “score” for your side, when the fact of the matter is that we are entirely in agreement, so that it is useless for you to point this out at all. It’s like saying, “we believe that the sun goes up!” There is no need to state the obvious that all agree upon. All this shows is that, apparently, you think for some reason that Catholics would deny that our doctrines are in complete harmony with Holy Scripture. Else, why bring it up at all?

Therefore, if these things Irenaeus mentions cannot be found in the Scriptures, either explicitly or implicitly, how should we react to such beliefs (given his other stated beliefs)? 

You should reject them (so should I). I strongly deny that they are not found there.

I suggest that Jerome, writing in the 4th c., gives us a good clue about what is really happening here: things like distinctions between bishops and presbyters are by human, not divine rite. They are arrangements that pastors, working together and led by the Holy Spirit, came up with in their times to effectively order the Church for the sake of order, love, and unity. To say that this is a matter that determines whether a particular church is “truly Church” seems very wrong, to say the least. 

The distinctions are clearly laid out in Scripture itself. I go through them, particularly, in my paper, The Visible, Hierarchical, Apostolic Church, which is part of my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism.

I suggest that had Ireneaus actually had to think about these things (in his context he didn’t) he would side with my particular church, not Rome.

I suggest that he wouldn’t have. All the many novel and heretical things that Luther introduced would have been foreign to his very categories of thought.

. . . even a great like Saint Augustine talked about how he, in his conflicts with the heretics, consistently came across fathers who had spoken carelessly, or not as circumspectly as they should have – and he tried to cover their errors.
 For example, before Pelagius, many fathers had spoken quite loosely about free will, not seeing original sin as the horrible contagion that it was.  It was only after this error drove Augustine back to the Scriptures that he was able to look upon the writings of the Fathers – with new eyes – and to see how badly they had erred.

That’s all quite true. Original sin developed slowly. True doctrine is always clarified in disputes with heretics. Cardinal Newman noted that there was more of a consensus in the fathers for purgatory than for original sin. This poses no difficulty for our position. Christology, after all, developed slowly, too (for at least another two hundred years after Augustine, working through the natures and wills of Christ. So did the canon of Scripture and Mariology and the communion of saints. Protestants arbitrarily cherry-pick some things (canon — minus the deuterocanon — original sin, Christology), and reject others (Mariology, intercession and invocation and veneration of saints, purgatory), but all of these developed slowly for hundreds of years. Lutheranism developed so extremely slowly that it took almost 1500 years to appear at all. 🙂

Therefore, like Noah’s children covered him in his nakedness, Augustine covered their errors as much as he could while at the same time trying not to being dishonest about what they had actually said.  The Lutherans were simply following in Augustine’s train.  

You guys rejected some of his (and Luther’s) more extreme predestinarian views just as we did. But he was not a Calvinist, either, despite what the Calvinists vainly try to argue. Luther was more of a Calvinist than Augustine ever was, in terms of predestination and free will.

. . . sometimes the church only gradually comes to realize that some of the doctrines it would never have thought to wonder about (i.e. is this doctrine really important or not), it does come to wonder about when people begin to misuse it in some wayand then it can [quite readily] be determined to be essential or non-essential.

I agree, excepting those doctrines which are essential but which Lutherans (along with many other Protestants) wrongly deny are essential. Doctrines develop, but if they are part of the apostolic deposit, they can never be “demoted” to non-essential or optional status.

I hope this makes it more clear why, when it comes to the Rule of Faith and the development of doctrine, that it is not always useful to simply focus on the quotations of the fathers. You see, I submit that there are other concrete facts that are even more important – that trump whatever this or that father may have said (I am not saying that they are not important!). These facts suggest a different story, an alternative narrative to the one that Dave has. 

It all depends on what one wants to talk about. The historical and biblical arguments in favor of doctrines are distinct. Chemnitz (the original impetus for our discussions)  talked about Church fathers, so I did, too, because he stated many factual errors in that regard. For the Protestant, they can always ditch what any father says, or what all (or nearly all) of them hold in consensus, if they wish, because for them there is no infallible authority except Scripture.

Now, above, you have said that the promises made to the New Testament Church are of a fundamentally different nature than those made to the Assembly of the Israelites.  To say the least, that is far from obvious. 

What is so difficult to grasp about my statement, “The Old Testament proto-Church did not have the Holy Spirit and express promises from God that it would be protected and never defect”? This is rather straightforward and plain. The Holy Spirit was only given to select individuals in the old covenant: but now to every baptized Christian and in greater measure to Church leaders. There are promises of indefectibility, too (that I have collected), that are not present in the old covenant. For example:

Matthew 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.

This is the Church: Jesus’ Church, headed by Peter and his successors the popes: not just a tiny remnant. What remains constant in the old covenant is God’s mercy towards his always-straying children, and holding to His covenants despite their rebelliousness. Hence we have the notion of remnant that you often bring up. But that is distinct from institutional indefectibility. That is simply a few followers who remain true, whereas in the new covenant, the promise is that the truth and the apostolic deposit (of which it is Guardian) will never depart from the Church. It would be like the two or three high level pro-life Democrats that still exist as a tiny remnant of what once was. That’s your remnant idea. In our view (to follow the analogy) the entire party (in its platform) remains on the right path, and isn’t reduced to just a few people of a once-great corporate assembly.

The Church is also obviously after Jesus, and He is with us as well, which makes it quite different (Matthew 28:20: “I am with you always, to the close of the age”). It’s quite ironic that Protestants accuse us of being stuck in Pharisaical legalism and works-righteousness, yet in the present discussion you are maintaining that the new covenant is not essentially different from the old, and I am maintaining that it is quite far beyond the old, and that Catholicism is the fullness of the development of a Church and the new covenant and Christian post-pentecostal age. You’re defending the identity of the old system with the Christian one in the sense of ecclesiology; I am saying that the new covenant “new wineskins” are far more advanced.

I think the default conclusion of any reader of the Bible as a whole will be that we are dealing with continuity here,. . . 

You can claim that (in a particular sense), but you have (so far) passed right over the many biblical evidences I gave that this is not totally the case . . . This seems to be a growing pattern in our interactions: I provide lots of Scripture for my view, and you ignore most of it and go right on asserting Lutheran traditions of men, such as a defectible (Catholic) Church. Let me be more specific: I think (with you) that there is continuity (I believe in development of doctrine), but I think it is a huge leap from the OT assembly to the NT Church because of the elements I have been discussing. Insofar as there is consistent continuity, the analogy is far more towards the Catholic Church rather than to Lutheranism.

Indefectibility is the striking development in ecclesiology after Jesus. Previous to that time, the Bible was regarded as an unchanging truth, but not assemblies of men, so much. Rather, infallibility was isolated, in the form of prophets, who brought God’s message in a profound way (they are analogous in some important ways to popes, whereas Lutherans have no such authority figures anymore and go back to infallible and/or binding books alone, as in the old covenant: Bible, Book of Concord).

and I think that you need to demonstrate that the promises to the New Testament church suggest more discontinuity with the Old Testament Church than they do continuity (or at least define well the difference in continuity). 

Just reiterated that. It was already present in my collection of indefectibility passages, that I have referred you to several times.

I go by Romans 1, which talks about going from faith to faith, from first to last.  The Bible is fundamentally the story of God calling His people and giving them promises by His Spirit to keep them strong in the faith.

I don’t disagree with any of that. It is neither here nor there in relation to our particular dispute at present. I would simply say again, that Protestants have less faith than Catholics, because we believe that God can preserve institutions (His Church) as well as Bibles and individuals. That takes more faith. We have that; you do not, because you deny the very possibility. I think Protestantism suffers greatly from that deficiency because it tends to a-historicism, anti-institutionalism, and excessive individualism: all things that run counter to the biblical worldview.

Note that the Church (or Assembly) of the Old Testament also had specific promises about the temple that “God wills to dwell there forever” (also see Deut. 16:2; 2 Chron. 6:2; Neh. 1:9; Isa. 31:9; Isa. 59:21 ; Jer. 31:36-37, 40etc.).

God in fact didn’t dwell in the temple forever, and the temple (three different buildings) was destroyed three times: by the Babylonians and the Romans twice (both things disanalogous to indefectibility). In the old covenant, God’s presence was conditioned upon obedience. For example:

Ezekiel 13:8 Therefore thus says the Lord God: “Because you have uttered delusions and seen lies, therefore behold, I am against you, says the Lord GOD”.

Malachi 3:7 From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts.

That’s not the case in the new covenant, with all the promises of the gates of hell not prevailing against the Church and His presence in Christians in perpetuity.  The Bible actually describes God and the “glory of the Lord” or the shekinah presence departing from the temple, prior to its destruction:

Ezekiel 8:6 And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater abominations.”

Ezekiel 11:23 And the glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city. (cf. 9:3; 10:4, 18-19)

Getting back to your prooftexts, God is said to dwell in Jerusalem forever (1 Chr 23:25) but that is not the temple, and hence, not an institution analogous to the Church. Deut 16:2 says God will dwell at a certain “place,” but it doesn’t say it will be forever. Solomon says in another of your texts, “I have built thee an exalted house, a place for thee to dwell in for ever” (2 Chr 6:2), but this doesn’t prove that God always will do so. Ezekiel 8:6 and 11:23 show that He did not in fact always dwell there, and three destroyed temples make that obvious, anyway, I should think. Right now a mosque stands where the temple stood, so if God is still there “forever” it is in the shrine of a false religion.

Nehemiah 1:9 proves my point (thanks!): God’s presence is directly dependent on obedience: “if you return to me and keep my commandments . . .” Therefore it is not permanent and unconditional as the new covenant indefectibility of the Church is. Isaiah 31:9 doesn’t mention the temple at all. Isaiah 59:21 is better, but it is still conditional on behavior, as seen in the preceding verse: “to those in Jacob who turn from transgression.” And it is not institutional. The old covenant religious system is not protected from error, and indeed in later prophetic books is described as virtually totally apostate. This is what you need to establish in order to make a proper analogy to the indefectibility of the Church.

Jeremiah 31:36-37 is in the context of the announcement of the new covenant (31:31-34). This in and of itself proves that the new covenant is vastly different from the old, because it foretells the indwelling (31:33), and God can be with His people forever precisely because He forgives their sin once and for all (31:34). The indwelling in turn is made possible by the sacrifice of Christ (Jn 14:16-20; 15:26; 16:7, 13). Jeremiah 31:40 is not about the temple. So I think all your “proofs” fail in their purpose, and mine are more relevant and decisive on this matter.

And note especially Leviticus 24 [should be 26]: 11 I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. 12 And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.”   That seems pretty firm and unconditional taken by itself, but of course we know that we need to take these words in the context of the whole narrative, including the other words that were spoken to them as well.

This is yet another conditional promise, so it is not an analogy to indefectibility: “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then. . .” (Lev 26:3-4a). Then 26:14 states: “if you will not hearken to me, and will not do all these commandments,. . .” followed by a horrible list of judgments (26:16-43). So this is a stranger “prooftext” for you to cite.

What you don’t seem to realize is that this is not the case in the new covenant and Church Age. The promises are unconditional. God will do what He promises regarding protection of the Church and her doctrine: “the powers of death shall not prevail against” the Church (Matt 16:18); period. It’s not based on obedience. God brings it to pass. End of story. “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt 28:20); no conditions again. It’s an absolute statement. God wills and declares and promises it, so it will happen, and cannot not happen.

Peter falters and denies Christ three times, but after he is filled with the Holy Spirit it is a different story. Jesus prays for him in a special way because he is the leader of the Church: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Lk 22:32); and indeed it doesn’t, after Pentecost. This is a type and shadow of papal infallibility, as is being given the keys of the kingdom (Matt 16:19): only given to Peter; and all the implications of that (rightly understood, in light of its OT precursors). All of this goes to show that your attempted analogy between old covenant disobedience and unfaithfulness and the Church, doesn’t fly. It fails at every turn.You’re not succeeding in making a biblical case for your opinion at all.

We know later on in the story, Jeremiah reproaches those who appeal to the promises about the temple of the Lord (“the temple of the Lord!  The temple of the Lord!”) for “trusting the words of a liar” (Jer. 7:8)  As Gerhard says: “Promises only pertain to those who allow the Word of God to rule them, who look to the Law and the testimony [Isaiah 8:20]; and who teach, judge and act according to the norm of the divine Word (161, On the Church)”.

Yes; that is exactly right with regard to the old covenant, but not the new covenant, with regard to promises made about the Church and its guardianship of truth and the one true faith: “the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). God Himself protects the doctrine of the Church from being corrupted. This is the entire point. if it were left up to men, this wouldn’t happen, but when God wants something done (in this case, preservation of true doctrine and theology and moral teaching), it is done. Gerhard, I guess, doesn’t know that things have changed with the new covenant. If you follow his line of reasoning, you’ll be wrong, too, and miss the glorious truths that the NT is teaching on this score.

So, due to the widespread corruption in His Church in the O.T., did the Lord forsake His people and abandon his heritage (see Psalm 94:14)?  Did the gates of hell prevail against the Old Testament Church – was God not with them [even until the end of the age…]?  Things got pretty rough, but persons like Mary, Simeon, Anna, Zechariah, Elizabeth and Nathaniel would suggest that the gates of hell did not prevail and God did not leave them or forsake them – He preserved His remnant through those who were faithful

He remained with the remnant of the faithful, but that is not the institutional assembly and religious system: which would be the priests and Levites and the scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees. Therefore, it is not an analogy to the Church, as I keep reiterating. This is why you have to redefine the Church in order to carry off this false analogy: as if the Church could be reduced to a few people here and there, like the survivors of a nuclear war, or the last dinosaur before extinction set in. This is not New Testament language regarding the Church. The Church is present even in the churches of Revelation that Jesus rebukes for many serious sins.

For example, the “church of Pergamum” (Rev 2:12) — note how Jesus Himself still calls it a church — , has members that even hold to false doctrine (“you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, . . . you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicola’itans” — 2:14-15). This goes against your contention that those who have false doctrine immediately lose the title of “church”. Jesus Himself refutes you. it couldn’t be any clearer.

But now, given that Hebrews tells us that God has always gathered an Assembly for Himself by causing people to look in faith to the Promised Messiah (Hebrews 11) – even through horrendous persecutions where God, though fully faithful, seemed to have abandoned His people – what justification do you have for suggesting that the Church has fundamentally changed?

Hebrews 11 is about individuals of great faith, not the old covenant religious system. Moses (of those listed) was a religious leader, and this comes closest to an analogy to indefectibility, but he actually taught falsely in a sense, by implying that he could perform miracles by his own power, not God’s: “Hear now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” (Num 20:10). God had told him to merely speak to the rock (20:8), but he struck it twice (20:11), leading God to rebuke him: “you did not believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the people” (20:12). Therefore, in a way he was guilty of false teaching, and for this reason, both he and Aaron were not allowed to enter the Promised Land (20:12; Dt 34:4). Thus, it is again a disanalogy to the indefectibility of the Church. Moses failed in his teaching duty and was punished for it, and so was Aaron: also a religious leader, as a priest (20:24).

The prophets are far more analogous to the infallibility of popes, as I have argued twice in my papers (one / two), and will again in my new book against sola Scriptura. But they were not part of the religious system; they were outside of it: usually rebuking the corrupt people in it. The difference in the new covenant is that the institutional system of the Church is protected from error (“it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” — Acts 15:28: the Jerusalem Council). The Church is a far different thing.

…those who persecuted Micah, Elijah, and Jeremiah, for example, could have said (and in some cases did say) similar things.  [as were said by the Church to Luther]

That’s correct. But they didn’t have the promise of Christ of indefectibility, whereas the Catholic Church, an institution with an unbroken history and succession back to the apostles and Christ, did have that. Nor was Luther a prophet, as those men were.

I had challenged you, stating:

Show me in the Bible where there is ever such a thing as a mere layperson disagreeing doctrinally with a leader in the Church based on Bible reading and thereby being justified in his dissent and schism by that method? I say it isn’t there.

But here I need only point out how John the Baptist and our Lord Himself were not formally recognized or ordained by the religious hierarchy of the N.T. Church, as the Pharisees, who served on the council, were. The hierarchy even asked John by what right he said the things he did. 

This doesn’t overcome my argument and position because this is not yet the Church. There was no Church till Pentecost, after the death of both John and Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus couldn’t be “ordained” by the “N.T. Church” because it didn’t yet exist. Therefore, this proves nothing. They were rejected by the old covenant religious system which was never promised indefectibility in the first place.

And now that I have established an alternative narrative account that I do not think you can deny,  . . . 

Surprise! I eagerly look forward to your answers to all the material I have come up with.

* * *

In fact, the Bible predicts that in the Last Days, the church will not look glorious at all, but will be beleagured on all sides… (see Matthew 24:24, Luke 18:8, 2 Thes 2:3-4). 

Matthew 24:24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.

Individuals will be led astray in great numbers (sounds like today!). This says nothing about the institutional Church, or magisterium, and so is irrelevant to the question of indefectibility, which has to do with the Church, not individual Christians.

Luke 18:8 I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?

Ditto. Widespread apostasy of men doesn’t prove that the Church has forsaken and failed in her God-given and divinely-guided mission. The text simply doesn’t say that.

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, [4] who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.

This is closer to what you need to show but still doesn’t by any means prove defectibility. It’s somewhat like the times when popes were held prisoner, or the horrors of the French Revolution or the English so-called “Reformation” with its wholesale butcheries (ripping people’ hearts out of their bodies, etc., simply for being Catholics) and Leninist-like repression. The Church didn’t cease to exist because this was the case, and strong-arm tactics used to suppress the head of the Church, or the entire institutional Church, as the case may be. Peter and Paul (and St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher) were martyred; the Church still existed. The structure (and the truth and apostolic deposit preserved in the Church) didn’t go into oblivion because of any persecution. The same will apply during the Last Days, no matter how bad it gets.

The seven churches of Revelation are again illustrative. Jesus still calls them “churches” no matter how many sins He condemned in them. They didn’t lose or forfeit the category. And there is indication that at least some of these local churches will persevere through the last days; for example, the church in Philadelphia:

Revelation 3:10 Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth.

When He says “you” He is writing to the church, not one person.

. . . it’s just that such a Church can be a lot smaller than you might think.  

It may be very small in the end, but it is still there, preserving the truth. That’s the promise: essence and unbroken continuity, not size or appearance or influence or popular acclaim. But your champion Gerhard (as you cite him) wants to play games and equivocate: “It is one thing to say simply that the church is visible; it is another to say that it is visible to the world” (186). Right.

This reminds me of the Jehovah’s Witnesses ludicrous claim (made in desperation after false prophecies) that Jesus did return in 1914, but invisibly, not visibly. Likewise, for Gerhard, the Church will always be visible, but alas, not to the world. I trust that his other arguments are more impressive than this one. But in any event, it’s an absolutely classic case study of saying the right words (indefectibility, visible Church), but redefining them according to one’s own fancies, over against traditional Catholic use. This is the trademark of heterodoxy and liberalism at all times. Rather than admit that things have essentially changed, it prefers word games and equivocations.

that said, I would add that God certainly intends for His Church to be visible and discernible before the world, for He desires all persons to be saved.

Good; so even you disagree with Gerhard. You’re right. Welcome to catholic ecclesiology, in this respect.

In any case, it seems to me that the major difference between you and I is that you start thing from the get go wanting certainty.  

It’s not a matter of what I (or anyone else) want or don’t want, but of what the New Testament everywhere casually assumes without argument, about the Church’s possession of the fullness of apostolic truth and doctrine. Belief that all this is so uncertain is one of the negative fruits of the relentless sectarianism of Protestantism. Because they can’t agree with each other, they start to pretend that Scripture sanctions their disagreements as of relatively little importance. This is sheer nonsense. The New Testament knows nothing of the “healthy diversity” of mutually contradictory doctrines. Falsehood is from the devil, period. Where logical contradiction exists, falsehood also must be present.

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Reformation history: what would you have done?

Luther and the Papacy, by Scott Hendrix, 1981

Kids call things like they see them.

What would you have done during times like those in the Reformation when even the top authorities (the Roman Curia) were condemning teachings they ought not to have been condemning?  Or teaching what they ought not to have been teaching?  For example, regarding the beginnings of the Reformation, the Papacy had expanded indulgences to include the claim of granting forgiveness itself (note: full forgiveness from temporal penalties [including purgatory], not eternal ones [hell]).  Not only this, but “the extreme papal position on the authority of the unwritten tradition (controlled by the papacy) and also the extreme claims to power over Scripture and gospel [were the views held by most of Luther’s opponents].”  The highest curial theologian, a Dominican by the name of Prieras, said the following: “In its irrefragable and divine judgment the church’s authority is greater than the authority of Scripture…the authority of the Roman Pontiff…is greater than the authority of the Gospel, since because of it we believe in the Gospels.”)” (see Tavard’s Holy Writ on Holy Church)…  He was really not opposed by any prominent voices within the Church (Erasmus may have written somewhat more sensibly, but he quickly fell out of favor with Rome).  By the study of church history and historical study of Scripture, Luther called into question this whole view of tradition and authority (see Headley’s Luther’s View of Church History).” Also, in defense of Luther, one has said, “Luther’s concerns were always ecclesiological. His was not an affair of the private conscience or judgment against the social, institutional church. His was not a subjective, individualistic experience opposed to objective authority.” (Robert Goeser, from his review of “Luther and the Papacy” here: http://www.luthersem.edu/word&world/Archives/2-4_Healing/2-4_Reviews.pdf )

But there is more!  A few years ago I was thrilled to find out that one of my R. Catholic heroes Sir Thomas More (A man for all seasons, the movie, rocks! – he was certainly on the side of the angels!) had written a work in the mid-1520s versus the Lutherans (though he wrote it under a pseudonym at the time – he wrote as some Spanish monk, I believe).  I checked out the first of the big two volume books from our local library system, and had a look. More’s main argument?: Basically (crassly), since the Church owns the Bible it can interpret and do with it as it pleases (not much room for exegesis of the actual text in his view – nor the Fathers for that matter). If a great Christian man like More could be so careless in taking the extreme position that he did, its little wonder that things progressed in the Reformation as they did.

Therefore, I think intellectual honesty requires us to admit that some Popes of the 15th and early 16th century who put forth authoritative documents would surely take exception to the idea that their pronouncements were not solemn, ex cathedra exercises. When this doctrine was formally defined in the late 19th century, it was not a new doctrine, but was one (namely, the Pope’s voice is more or less God’s when he says it is) that had had some currency for a while.

So what should Luther have done when Rome rejected his efforts to turn around the Mothership?  Being the lowly friar that he was, could he have submitted without giving the impression that he could accept this kind of rhetoric?

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Reply to Dave Armstrong too long for blogreader software?

I have posted my second reply to Dave Armstrong but noticed that it does not show up in my Google Reader account.

This may be due to its length: 48 pages!

So, in case you missed it, here it is.  Dave has told me he’ll reply when he gets the time.

In it, I focus on the following topics:

-history of old and new testament churches
-rule of faith
-justification
-nature of church
-indefectability
-infalliblilty
-“harmony” of tradition and scripture
-primary and secondary doctrines

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

What am I… but one suckled on thy milk and feeding on Thee…?

Let the proud laugh at me, and those who have not yet been savingly cast down and stricken by thee, O my God. Nevertheless, I would confess to thee my shame to thy glory. Bear with me, I beseech thee, and give me the grace to retrace in my present memory the devious ways of my past errors and thus be able to “offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving.”[82] For what am I to myself without thee but a guide to my own downfall? Or what am I, even at the best, but one suckled on thy milk and feeding on thee, O Food that never perishes?[83] What indeed is any man, seeing that he is but a man? Therefore, let the strong and the mighty laugh at us, but let us who are “poor and needy”[84] confess to thee.

–St. Augustine, Confessions, bk. 4, chapter 1

[82]Ps. 50:14.[83]Cf. John 6:27.[84]Ps. 74:21.[85]Cf. Ps. 4:2.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rachelfordjames/2718168289

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Round 2 with RC apologist Dave Armstrong: the unattractive body of Christ

Round 2 with RC apologist Dave Armstrong: the unattractive body of Christ

(see original post on this topic here and round 1 with Dave Armstrong here)

“Wherever Christ Jesus is, there is the catholic church.”

— Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans.

“When they are proved wrong from the Scriptures, they…[say] the truth cannot be found from Scripture by those who do not know the tradition; for (so they say) the truth was not given though epistles, but through the living voice….”

 –Irenaeus, Against Heresies, chapter 2

“Not all things that the Lord did have been written, but what the writers believed would suffice both for morals and dogmas.”

–Cyril of Alexandria, In Johannem, bk. 12

“Whatever Christ wanted to have us read concerning His works and sayings, that He commanded the evangelists to write.”

–Augustine, De consensus evangelistarum, bk. 1, ch. 35

“We do not wish to prove our church from the succession of bishops nor from the authority of councils nor from the frequency of miracles nor from dreams and visions.  All such things that happen in the catholic church must be proved for this reason, because they happen in her: they do not, therefore, prove her.  The Lord Jesus Himself, when He rose from the dead, sent His disciples back to the Scriptures of the Law and the prophets.”

–Augustine, De Unit. Ecclesiae, ch. 16

“You must listen to those who are seated upon the throne, for by sitting upon the throne they are teaching the Law of God.  Therefore, God teaches through them.   But if they are teaching their own things, do not listen, do not do.”

–Augustine, On John, tractate 46

“…let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth.”

–Basil, Letter 189, 3

In the same way, in the mystical body of Christ, which is the Church, these same two states may be observed.  One is of emptying or humiliation, when the force of persecutions, the cleverness of heretics, or the large number of growing scandals oppress the church.  The other is of exaltation or glorification, when the church enjoys the peaceful administration of its holy things, when it shines with the splendor of an uncorrupted ministry, when it gleams publicly with the quiet exercise of pure divine worship.  In this state the church is visible, manifest, and glorious; in the other it is invisible, hidden, and shameful.

–Johann Gerhard, On the Church, 146.

 

When I first started talking with Dave Armstrong a few months ago, he zeroed in on what he thought to be a contradiction in my thinking as regards Matthew 23:2,3:

It’s precisely the opposite of the way you are portraying it. Jesus was not against Pharisaism per se, but against hypocrisy in particular Pharisees: a far different thing. He Himself followed Pharisaical traditions, and Paul called himself a Pharisee twice (after his conversion).

Jesus didn’t reject their teaching authority at all: quite the contrary. He stated, “practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.” (Matthew 23:3, RSV)

It was a rebuke for hypocrisy; not false teaching (having just upheld their continuing authority on the basis of Moses’ Seat, which is an extrabiblical tradition, not in the OT). It was exactly analogous to Paul’s rebuke of Peter in Galatians for hypocrisy. They agreed in principle, but Peter was acting hypocritically.

In brief, I responded by pointing out that where in Matthew 23:2[-3] Jesus commands His followers to listen to the scribes and Pharisees and do whatever they tell them to keep, in other places he calls them false teachers (he even points out some false teaching in Matthew 23).  A very simple point.

Johan Gerhard, writing in his On the Church, makes the same point (though in less Scriptural detail then I do in the comments section of the post where all of this happened):

“’The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat; keep and do whatever they tell you to keep,’ says Christ in Matt. 23:2[-3].  He commands them to listen to the scribes and Pharisees not absolutely in all things but insofar as they sit in Moses’ seat, that is, insofar as they propose things that are in harmony with Moses’ teaching.  Elsewhere, He commands them to beware of their ‘leaven’, that is, of their false teaching (Matt. 16:11-12).  So, too, we should listen to the church, namely in those matters that are devout and holy and in harmony with the commandments of our heavenly Father.  If the church brings forth anything different from the teaching of Christ, to this extent and in this respect we should not listen to her.  (On the Church, p. 221, see also 201)… the scribes and Pharisees to whom Christ orders us to listen were mixing the ‘leaven of errors’ and corruptions with the pure teaching of Moses and the prophets.” (p. 226)

In the course of our conversation, Dave has been disappointed (hopefully not too exasperated) that I have failed to deal with some of the points and questions he has raised. I understand that, and in this paper, I hope to leave no stone unturned (even if I am not going through his response to me line-by-line, as it seemed to make more sense to cover things topically – I hope that he finds this arrangement to be acceptable).  That said, surrounding the questions created by these biblical facts I am pointing out here  I drew the conclusion that persons can hold a legitimate, authoritative office in the Church by God’s will and yet teach falsely.  To this Dave responded: “Jesus commands His followers to observe the teaching of what you call ‘false teachers.’ A very coherent position indeed!”.  Later, he commented that We can’t agree on this particular principle. For me to do so would mean that I have to accept hostile Protestant premises. Been there, done that. I reject them, and I do so on the basis of the Bible, reason, and apostolic succession and the unbroken history of the Catholic Church…. We can only discuss individual doctrines. I’d be happy to do so if you like.”

To which I replied: “There is no hostility here! Just a desire for the truth (is what I said above regarding Jesus’ *seemingly* contradictory stance towards the Pharisees as teachers of truth not interesting, and worthy of more thorough reflection?) May God guide us into it.” (bold now added)

Again, I do understand how Dave wants to talk about individual doctrines – and this I will do quite a bit below.  That said, when we get down to what I really wanted from our discussion,  I was not asking Dave to agree about any particular principle (at least at that point).   I simply wanted him to acknowledge “Jesus’ *seemingly* contradictory stance towards the Pharisees as teachers of the truth” (which yes, could have implications depending on how one views God working in the Church).  So, I want to be clear up front that I think it goes without saying that the kind of “methodology” Dave is advocating and practicing here will create some problems!   If he does not find the following response to his objections convincing at all, I would, first of all, like him to tell me why it has nothing to do with his failure to thoughtfully and carefully deal with (and produce an adequate explanation of) these simple and clear Biblical facts.  Because, you see, I think these facts of Scripture are lynch-pins to the whole of the case I have against him and the particular church of which he is a part.

All that said, let me first start by dealing with some of Dave’s major objectives to my methodology.

At one point in his final response to me in the first round of our debate, he said the following:

“…you do a lengthy commentary on what Irenaeus supposedly might believe (if asked certain things). I think the methodology is fruitless, where people have generally different interpretations. Instead of speculations upon speculations and summary statements (which mean little, as neither you nor I are patristic scholars), your burden is to try to establish and document by the actual words of Irenaeus that he believed such-and-such and denied so-and-so. I’ve done that in several of my papers and books, and in links that I have provided.  I have provided concrete facts; by and large you have not. So it makes it awful difficult to interact with. If you give me some quotes to examine, I can look them over and make some kind of cogent reply.

… We have to either document words of the person being discussed, or at least cite a scholar who is familiar with all the relevant data.” (bolded words originally italicized)

In his third response at one point he says:

“I don’t see the purpose of my simply having to repeat arguments I already made, that you are not interacting with, and passing by as if they weren’t there. Your task is  to overthrow my contentions, not merely state that they are wrong: which is mere bald assertion.” (bolded word originally italicized)

OK, here’s my recap of the things he is talking about.  He says Irenaeus was a Roman Catholic because he believed in “episcopacy, apostolic succession, apostles’ choosing of bishops to succeed them, Roman primacy, the papacy”, etc.  I don’t deny that Irenaeus believed these things, but essentially ask “can any of this be proven from the Scriptures?” (it seems to me that they certainly cannot).  Further, I ask this because the Roman Catholic Church says that if these things aren’t believed, my particular church (LC-MS) is placing itself outside of the Church and salvation, which to me seems to me quite radical.  In addition to Irenaeus’ beliefs mentioned above, he also believed that all the things that the Apostles orally passed on to their successors (i.e. the “Apostolic deposit”, the “Rule of Faith”) were in “agreement with the Scriptures” (his actual words).  Therefore, if these things Irenaeus mentions cannot be found in the Scriptures, either explicitly or implicitly, how should we react to such beliefs (given his other stated beliefs)?  Dave Armstrong suggests that such beliefs in fact are in agreement, or harmony, with Scripture (much more on these concepts below).   I suggest that Jerome, writing in the 4th c., gives us a good clue about what is really happening here: things like distinctions between bishops and presbyters are by human, not divine rite.  They are arrangements that pastors, working together and led by the Holy Spirit, came up with in their times to effectively order the Church for the sake of order, love, and unity.  To say that this is a matter that determines whether a particular church is “truly Church” seems very wrong, to say the least.  I suggest that had Ireneaus actually had to think about these things (in his context he didn’t) he would side with my particular church, not Rome.

Okay – end of summary statements.  : )  On to some relevant facts:

I feel justified in operating in this fashion above because even a great like Saint Augustine talked about how he, in his conflicts with the heretics, consistently came across fathers who had spoken carelessly, or not  as circumspectly as they should have – and he tried to cover their errors.  For example, before Pelagius, many fathers had spoken quite loosely about free will, not seeing original sin as the horrible contagion that it was.  It was only after this error drove Augustine back to the Scriptures that he was able to look upon the writings of the Fathers – with new eyes – and to see how badly they had erred.  Therefore, like Noah’s children covered him in his nakedness, Augustine covered their errors as much as he could while at the same time trying not to being dishonest about what they had actually said.  The Lutherans were simply following in Augustine’s train. 

This is exactly what I was trying to say when I had said the following:

In other words, if these men [i.e. the church fathers] had been challenged by heresies that took teachings they had never questioned as being non-essential too far (in a way that endangered the proper teaching of Christ, grace, and faith), they would have gone back to the Scriptures, and begin the process of righting their wrongs.   

To which David had responded:

Indeed, they did do so. They went to Scripture first, and made the appropriate arguments. If the heretic was still obstinate, their trump card was to appeal to the authority of the unbroken apostolic tradition of the Church. (bold word originally italicized)

So it looks like he agrees with me, but I think he probably misunderstood me (which is not surprising, judging by how unclear my statement was).    I meant to say by this that sometimes the church only gradually comes to realize that some of the doctrines it would never have thought to wonder about (i.e. is this doctrine really important or not), it does come to wonder about when people begin to misuse it in some way – and then it can [quite readily] be determined to be essential or non-essential .   More on this below.

I hope this makes it more clear why, when it comes to the Rule of Faith and the development of doctrine, that it is not always useful to simply focus on the quotations of the fathers.  You see, I submit that there are other concrete facts that are even more important – that trump whatever this or that father may have said (I am not saying that they are not important!).  These facts suggest a different story, an alternative narrative to the one that Dave has.  Part of it I have already mentioned above (i.e. the part about Matthew 23)

And with that, I am going to start arguing directly with him again.  : )

Dave, near the end of part IV, there is this exchange:

Me: Let us remember that something similar [i.e. the rejection of the faithful messenger of God] happened in Jesus’ day.  The Assembly, or Ekklesia (Church), or that day – those who sat in Moses’ very seat – rejected the One who told the people to listen to them (obviously, insofar as they, the legitimate rulers of the Assembly [at this time], spoke the truth – elsewhere he counters them as false teachers nonetheless). 

You: And he told his followers to do what they teach, even though they were hypocrites, and Paul acknowledged the authority of the high priest  and kept calling himself a Pharisee, and Jesus and Paul and early Christians still observed temple rituals, even though they were not “Christian” rituals, and observed feast days, etc. Therefore, none of that can be applied to any analogy of Lutherans and other Protestants deciding to split from the Catholic Church.

 Me: Likewise, similar things happened in the days of the prophets, when those who were supposed to be the leaders (priests and prophets) failed to speak the oracles of God, running where God had not told them to run.  The Assembly has always been unfaithful in their teachings and their practices, but God has always been faithful in spite of this, bringing the Church through via faithful remnants in this or that quarter.

You: The Old Testament proto-Church did not have the Holy Spirit and express promises from God that it would be protected and never defect. So that analogy won’t fly, either. We’ve advanced and developed far beyond the Old Covenant. God is indwelling each individual believer.

Let us address these points more fully below.

As far as I am concerned, all my speculations are highly relevant and justified seeing as how my account is also based on concrete evidence and facts: particularly the facts we know about the whole history of the Church.  In other words, both of us are very concerned to be dealing with facts (not just ignoring stuff that does not fit our framework or narrative of choice) it is just that at the present time we think we should be focusing on different facts.  Therefore, I suppose charity puts up with this inconvenience as best it can.  Now, above, you have said that the promises made to the New Testament Church are of a fundamentally different nature than those made to the Assembly of the Israelites.  To say the least, that is far from obvious.  I think the default conclusion of any reader of the Bible as a whole will be that we are dealing with continuity here, and I think that you need to demonstrate that the promises to the New Testament church suggest more discontinuity with the Old Testament Church than they do continuity (or at least define well the difference in continuity).   I go by Romans 1, which talks about going from faith to faith, from first to last.  The Bible is fundamentally the story of God calling His people and giving them promises by His Spirit to keep them strong in the faith.

Note that the Church (or Assembly) of the Old Testament also had specific promises about the temple that “God wills to dwell there forever” (also see Deut. 16:2; 2 Chron. 6:2; Neh. 1:9; Isa. 31:9; Isa. 59:21 ; Jer. 31:36-37, 40etc.).   And note especially Leviticus 24: 11 I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. 12 And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.”   That seems pretty firm and unconditional taken by itself, but of course we know that we need to take these words in the context of the whole narrative, including the other words that were spoken to them as well.  We know later on in the story, Jeremiah reproaches those who appeal to the promises about the temple of the Lord (“the temple of the Lord!  The temple of the Lord!”) for “trusting the words of a liar” (Jer. 7:8)  As Gerhard says: “Promises only pertain to those who allow the Word of God to rule them, who look to the Law and the testimony [Isaiah 8:20]; and who teach, judge and act according to the norm of the divine Word (161, On the Church)”.

So, due to the widespread corruption in His Church in the O.T., did the Lord forsake His people and abandon his heritage (see Psalm 94:14)?  Did the gates of hell prevail against the Old Testament Church – was God *not* with them [even until the end of the age…]?  Things got pretty rough, but persons like Mary, Simeon, Anna, Zechariah, Elizabeth and Nathaniel would suggest that the gates of hell did not prevail and God did not leave them or forsake them – He preserved His remnant through those who were faithful (for more on the Old Testament history and how it fits with the Lutheran position on the church, see Gerhard 165-171, 199-201, and 203-204). Now of course it is true that with Christ’s death (and his subsequent resurrection, and ascension where “all power if given to Him”) things have changed in some respects.  For instance, it is true that today, since Pentecost, all believers are indwelt with the Holy Spirit.  This is the One who guides His people such that, in a sense, we do not need anyone to teach us (as we have already been given all things in our lives via the heavenly doctrine that grants repentance and faith in Christ), we test all things, and we understand all things (if we remain “in step with His Spirit”).  But now, given that Hebrews tells us that God has always gathered an Assembly for Himself by causing people to  look in faith to the Promised Messiah (Hebrews 11) – even through horrendous persecutions where God, though fully faithful, seemed to have abandoned His people – what justification do you have for suggesting that the Church has fundamentally changed?  (for more on New Testament history and how it fits with the Lutheran position on the church see Gerhard 171-175, 201-203, and 207).  Perhaps you have some citations from early church fathers that this is the case? (if so, I’d be interested in examining those).

Really Dave, when you say the following…  :

“I think this is an excellent short summary of the Protestant outlook (and it is pure sola Scriptura, right from the originator of that error):  “I’m king; I’m the quasi-prophet super-pope: me, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit; I know more than the entire history of the Church; I know more than popes and councils [i.e., a rejection of the infallibility of the hierarchical Church];  I go by the Bible alone [i.e., how he interprets it, regardless of precedent]. I go by reason and conscience, too” [i.e., he ultimately decides what is reasonable and true, rather than a Church doing so]. The problem is that when everyone takes such a radically subjectivist and individualist view, chaos necessarily ensues, and it did, and has characterized Protestant division and sectarianism ever since.

Luther couldn’t and wouldn’t recant because he had changed the principles of authority: in his decided mind, he no longer had to abide by what Holy Mother Church required him to do (recant his heresies). Yet it is said that we booted him out. Luther had already long since decided he could believe what he liked regardless of what the Church taught, as early as three or four years previously….” (bold mine)

…those who persecuted Micah, Elijah, and Jeremiah, for example, could have said (and in some cases did say) similar things.   

In addition, after I said this:

But the faithful will also recognize them by the words they speak, for even faithful laypeople recognize the voice of their Shepherd, and even if their understanding of the Rule of Faith is not terribly firm and strong, they still know enough to be driven back to the Scriptures, which were firmly established by the fulfillment of prophecy, the workings of signs (“miracles”) and of course their continuity with the faith received by Adam and Eve from the beginning (Gen. 3:15) up until their present time…  Again, the sheep hear the voice of the Shepherd …and they are always going back the sacred writings of those prophets and Apostles whom their Shepherd chose.  . . . Of course, the sheep do not go looking for gross falsehood among the pastors who have been validly ordained, but when they encounter it, they know something is wrong…. 

You said this:

Show me in the Bible where there is ever such a thing as a mere layperson disagreeing doctrinally with a leader in the Church based on Bible reading and thereby being justified in his dissent and schism by that method? I say it isn’t there. And if that is true (if you can’t produce it), the question becomes: why do you believe this in the first place, since it isn’t biblically grounded at all? St. Paul warns against division, contentiousness and schism again and again and again. It’s believed because this was Luther’s initial methodology, and to deny it would be to go against the entire spirit of his revolt from the Church. One can’t start denying foundational things that typified the founder of the belief-system one is part of. (bold mine)

But here I need only point out how John the Baptist and our Lord Himself were not formally recognized or ordained by the religious hierarchy of the N.T. Church, as the Pharisees, who served on the council, were.  The hierarchy even asked John by what right he said the things he did.

I summon Gerhard to solidify my point:

 It seems rather clear that in the Old Testament the truth and integrity of Moses’ doctrine was not bound to the Aaronic priesthood and that it is even less true in the New Testament that the truth and integrity of Apostolic doctrine depend on Rome.  “Prophets, restorers and reformers of divine worship” were raised up by God, even if they could not always boast in any kind of external succession on the throne of Moses and Aaron (Gerhard, 374).

And now that I have established an alternative narrative account that I do not think you can deny, let us move on to some of the other matters in which we disagree.

Dave, you also said to me:

 I’ve found this to be, unfortunately, standard (lay) Protestant practice: cite what seems to fit with one’s view, while ignoring massive patristic data (from the same father) that doesn’t. The same is too often done with Holy Scripture. If only patristic passages about Scripture are cited, while ignoring ones about apostolic succession, bishops, popes, councils, and tradition (in order to get the full picture of what someone thought about the rule of faith), then a false portrayal is set forth, as if a father is proto-Protestant. The Catholic needs merely to produce the other passages that are relevant to the question of authority, and the refutation is rather easy and decisive. (bold mine)

Well, as you have said yourself, we can’t cover everything, and so I thought we could focus primarily on three doctrines: the church, indefectibility, and infallibility (and doctrines related to these).  As regards the others points about apostolic succession, bishops, popes, councils, in brief I would say that my first response did touch on all of these things, even if I did not spend much time on them.  I may touch on them more below, but still will not focus on them.   In short, we consider bishops and popes to be by human, not divine rite (though as Melanchton wrote in the Tractate I believe, even if the Pope is who he is by divine rite he would still need to be resisted if he rejected the doctrine of justification [at the time of this writing, the Lutherans were still consistently emphasizing that justification transformed us, making us righteous – it differed from Rome in pointing one outside of one’s self to Christ’s words in an effort to take the focus off or our own “works done in righteousness]), and we do believe in apostolic succession and councils, although the former does not absolutely need to be continuous for each and every pastor (see section on indefectibility) and the latter (I’ll assume you are talking universal councils, with the Pope or his legate in attendance) are not necessarily infallible, with or without a papal presence (see quote from Augustine in the beginning as well).  The reason we think all these things is based on what was said above about the history of the Church (above), and the idea that the whole of the Rule of Faith is in “agreement with the Scriptures”.  We don’t think that these doctrines of which you speak are even implicit in Scripture (though I personally want to study the Papacy question more), and in the case of bishops think the Apostolic tradition we see in Scripture is actually opposite of the Roman (and EO, Anglican) views (as I showed in my first response to you)

Let us address 7 points overall:  the Rule of Faith (for the sake of clarification), justification, the nature of the church,  the indefectibility of the church, the infallibility of the church, what it means for tradition to be in agreement, or harmony, with Scripture, and the issue of essential and non-essential doctrines.   The lion’s share of my time and effort will be given to the doctrine of the church, indefectibility and infallibility (since here is where I will be doing the most new research, giving you the choicest nuggets from Gerhard’s On the Church, recently published in English).

I. Rule of Faith

Please note that this section below will not deal specifically with the issues of what it means for tradition to be in agreement/harmony with  Scripture, and the issue of essential and non-essential doctrines (as well as indefectibility and infallibility!) – these will be covered in sufficient detail later on (and they will be seen to complement what I write in this section).

Before we delve into my own explication of the Rule of Faith, I need to quickly defend Martin Chemnitz.

Earlier, I had said the following:

For example, regarding the opponents he savages in the first several pages of volume 1 (primarily Andrada, for example, who was at the Council of Trent), I would guess that he used them as his typical example of RCC belief because he really believed that they were the only people who had attempted to address the writings of the Lutherans in a substantial way (I wonder if any individuals comparable to the one you held up as a model, namely Francis de Sales, existed during Chemnitz’s time – I’m guessing not).

You replied:

St. Robert Bellarmine would be one. He is the primary opponent of William Whitaker, whose defense of sola Scriptura I have critiqued. Not much of his writing is available in English. Erasmus did a fine job of responding to Luther, in his Hyperaspistes (I have excerpted that at length). By Chemnitz’ time the Catholic Reformation was really starting to kick in (since Trent was part of that).

David, again, let me take you to task on the matter of history.  Bellarmine was only 3 when the Council of Trent was beginning.  Again, Andrada was no slouch, and was at Trent.   He was no Bellarmine, but nevertheless was widely respected and of no small influence.

(In addition, let me add that you criticize me about talking about why Chemnitz wrote the way he did [where he does not deal with the doctrines that Irenaeus and Tertullian hold to that Lutherans don’t], but I’ll hold my ground, as my pastor has done almost as much research on the man as anyone.  Chemnitz knew the brightest Lutheran scholars who were certainly aware of every little word Ireneaus and Tertullian said, and most all of them would have readily understood why he did not feel the need to cover the topics you mention.  Remember that Chemnitz lived during the time where the Church father’s writings were being disseminated like never before – scholars were not devouring these works [they certainly were buying the ones that were published].   Another very interesting note: “The city in which Chemnitz worked never accepted the Book of Concord and the prince for whom he worked allowed his sons to become Roman Catholic priests; thus Chemnitz’ interest in Trent and its doctrines had a practical and pastoral aspect.” [from my pastor])

Moving onto the issue at hand, surely the Scriptures are supremely  important in Chemnitz’s view and those of serious Lutherans today.  Again, I have maintained that the Rule of Faith is also important in that it is something distinct from the Scriptures and it is a pillar of authority in the Church.  This is why I called my first response to you “True Rule of Faith Alone” (as in Faith, Grace, Christ and Scripture alone).

As I said in the comments to your first response to my first post:

….in case it was not clear, the title of the paper: “True Rule of Faith Alone” is meant to refer to Chemnitz’s traditions 3-7, not 1 and 2. I am not equating “Sola Rule of Faith” with “Sola Scriptura”.  I am saying that they are independent of one another – they are really two things that can be considered distinct. I suppose one may speak loosely of Scripture as being the Rule of Faith, as Pelikan does (who you cite in favor of your position), but I do not even think that is really the way to go. In reality, I am making the case that really, Chemnitz does not, strictly speaking, believe in Sola Scriptura – certainly in the modern “general Protestant” sense. In fact, I think one can make a strong case that he does not really hold to “Sola Scriptura” in any sense, at least insofar as this means that the Rule of Faith is not, on the ground (practically speaking), of like authoritative weight. “Sola Scriptura” may be handy shorthand for revealing some major distinctions (particularly variations of how one generally interacts with the Scriptures) in a simple but unrefined way between Lutherans and Roman Catholics, but I think that is all it is. (bold added)

With that out of the way, I had also said in the original paper:

“The real problem, as Chemnitz would see it, is going beyond that proper Rule of Faith, in the sense that this means insisting that certain traditions without sufficient Scriptural warrant (this does exist for infant baptism – it is unacceptable to deny the wealth of evidence implicit in Scripture, as well as the consensus of antiquity [save Tertullian] here) need to be adhered to with the same level of devotion as those revealed in the Scriptures (with the implication that, for those who know better, salvation is at stake if the Magisterium is refused). Furthermore, things become especially problematic when these said traditions clearly mitigate the Gospel comfort that God means to provide.  In other words, this would, in effect, actually be mitigating the Rule of Faith itself, that central truth in the creed: that God, in His grace, promised to, and was, reconciling man to Himself through His Son Jesus Christ, rescuing us from sin, death, and the devil by the confidence-creating proclamation of His forgiveness, life and salvation won by His life, death, and resurrection (the Gospel in its narrow sense, particularly comforting to Christians who are struggling against the sin that continues to best them [see Romans 7])”  (bold not in original)

In your response I note that though you had criticism for me (about how you can’t dispute “these summary statements [since] the charge has to be argued with regard to particular individual instances”), you did not criticize my particular formulation of the Rule of Faith here (though of course this is the Rule in a nutshell: with it is also the oral tradition of the Apostles, the proper interpretation of the Scriptures, and the reflexive impulse to go to the Scriptures to test all things [since the voice of the past must be one with the voice of the present]: I suggest all of these aspects of the Rule of Faith exist in order to support the Rule of Faith as summarized above).  I found that heartening. 

At this point let me deal with some of your significant complaints about my first response (where we dealt with the Rule of Faith):

I… cited historian J. N. D. Kelly at length, about Tertullian. That can be read in the other paper. Here are the most relevant two of the five paragraphs:

But Tertullian did not confine the apostolic tradition to the New Testament; even if Scripture were to be set on one side, it would still be found in the doctrine publicly proclaimed by the churches. Like Irenaeus, he found [E.g., de praescr. 21; 32; c. Marc. 4, 5] the surest test of the authenticity of this doctrine in the fact that the churches had been founded by, and were continuously linked with, the apostles; and as a further guarantee he added [De praescr. 28] their otherwise inexplicable unanimity . . .

This unwritten tradition he considered to be virtually identical with the ‘rule of faith’ (regula fidei), which he preferred to Scripture as a standard when disputing with Gnostics . . . where controversy with heretics breaks out, the right interpretation can be found only where the true Christian faith and discipline have been maintained, i.e., in the Church [De praescr. 19] . . .

I don’t see the purpose of my simply having to repeat arguments I already made, that you are not interacting with, and passing by as if they weren’t there. Your task is  to overthrow my contentions, not merely state that they are wrong: which is mere bald assertion. (assertion was italicized in original quote)

Kelley says of Tertullian: “the surest test of the authenticity of this doctrine is the fact that the churches had been founded by, and were continuously linked with, the apostles…” Since Tertullian also said “I adore the fullness of the Scripture… If it is not written, let [Hermogenes] fear that woe which is destined for those who add or take away” I am fine with what he says about the train of authentic tradition here, and actually agree with him.

Further, as I said, Luther was a validly ordained pastor within the Church, and many of his “new” ideas were not “new” at all in any sense, but were widely expressed by other respected teachers in the Church.  It has long been the Lutheran contention, from Melanchton, to Flacius, to Chemnitz, to Gerhard, to Krauth (late 20th c.) that, in the midst of the Church turmoil of the early 16th c., the Lutherans only took what was the best from posterity in the Church in their effort to fight the errors that had overtaken her (the first 21 articles of the Augsburg Confession had always been an “option” within the RC church up until this time…we could point to many writers who were doing things that we clearly see as “Lutheran in intent”…) .  But what the Lutherans held was no longer deemed acceptable for continuing in communion with Rome (you are familiar with this piece).  I know you disagree (here you may provide me the link to the 50 ways Luther had strayed, and I really would like to get to that someday and treat it appropriately… : ) )

Kelley also says of Tertullian: “This unwritten tradition he considered to be virtually identical with the ‘rule of faith’ (regula fidei), which he preferred to Scripture as a standard when disputing with Gnostics . . .”  Key words: “when disputing with the Gnostics”.  In his shoes, I would have done the same thing.  Scripture alone – i.e. apart from the authoritative interpreters – is not the trump card.  The Scriptures interpreted properly, according to the Rule of Faith – which must be in agreement with the Scriptures (explicitly or implicitly) – is the trump card.

In your responses to me you point out how the RC church has a high view of Scripture, but that this is not the same as making the Bible “the sole infallible rule of faith”.  You go on to talk about holding on to the “material sufficiency” of Scripture that you and most Catholics hold (what is this “most Catholics” qualification for – I take it this is not RC dogma then…? – if an alternative view is allowed, it would seem that Chemnitz was not wrong to assume that Andrada accurately expounded on the meaning of the Council of Trent, of which he was a key part – note: Andrada was respected), but that you deny the “formal sufficiency” of Scripture which is “sola Scriptura as the rule of faith” (a “16th-century novel innovation that cannot be traced back to the fathers or apostles or the Bible itself”).  Discussing the meaning of “corporate interpretation”, you say “Lutherans go back to the authority of their confessions in the Book of Concord. But I say that they, in turn, have to be in line with apostolic (and Catholic) tradition, going all the way back, and that in fact they are not in accord with that, where they differ from Catholic teachings and doctrines.”

Again, we also deny sola Scriptura as the Rule of faith.   And of course we deny that we differ from [essential] Catholic teachings and doctrines.  We’ll take a brief look at a couple of other examples in the next section on justification.

Dave, you also say:

. . . Nowhere does it say in Holy Scripture that the Bible only is the infallible guide and rule of faith, to the exclusion of an infallible Church or infallible apostolic tradition

I agree.  We weren’t given specific promises, like the Apostles were, that we will be led into all truth, but in keeping with the traditions of the Scriptures and the Rule of Faith (which again, encompasses the authentic oral tradition, the reflexive action to test all things against the faithful teachers who wrote the Scriptures, and the right interpretation of the Scriptures), we, empowered by the Holy Spirit, cannot go wrong.  We need these right traditions.  We need an authoritative Church. 

Dave, you said:

Formula of Concord, Part I: Epitome, asserts sola Scriptura:

“. . . Holy Scripture remains the ONLY judge, rule, and norm according to which as the only touchstone all doctrines should and must be understood and judged as good or evil, right or wrong.”

This excludes both the Church and apostolic tradition from the equation of final authority, and is the classic sola Scriptura position, that virtually all Protestants adhere to. It is a radical departure from Scripture, the fathers, and previous unbroken Christian tradition.

The same teaching is repeated in Part II: Sandy, oops, Solid Declaration; Summary Formulation:

“. . . the only true norm according to which all teachers and teachings are to be judged and evaluated.”

It is true that the Scriptures are the “sole source and norm” – but we must not be simplistic here.  *How* is it this the case?  In this way:  The authoritative Church lives the Rule of Faith not only by interpreting the Scriptures of Christ’s Apostles and prophets rightly, but by consistently looking back to these recognized-as-authoritative writings – and testing all things.  Insofar as it does this, it acts infallibly, keeping in step with the Spirit.  It is not helpful for infallibility to be considered as a possession or quality that properly belongs to the Church, but rather as a gift received in communion with Christ in faith (more on this below in the infallibility section).

Dave:  But [the church fathers] still deny the formal sufficiency of Scripture, which is sola Scriptura, and take far more of a Catholic than Lutheran view. In other words, they don’t support Lutheranism in this regard. They deny whatever is innovative and distinctive in Protestant teaching about the Bible. Someone could even hold to perspicuity (as I do in large part), while not accepting sola Scriptura. One can believe that and still think that Church and tradition are authoritative and alongside Scripture as the authority and (collectively) constituting the rule of faith.

A hearty “amen” to your last sentence.

Finally, you recently had a dialogue with an individual who said about your view of Paul in Galatians:

“Paul is saying in Gal. 1:8-9… that he -even as an apostle- is to be rejected if he strays from God’s word. If he strays from God’s words then he is “accursed” and he commands the Galatians to reject him. Why would he issue such a command unless his own authority -apostle though he was- is derivative from God’s words?”

You replied:

It’s “under” the authority of the Bible in the sense that it will not contradict what is in the Bible. It is not “under” it in terms of the authority of the Bible being intrinsically superior to the authority of the Church. The Bible presents both and never implies that one is “higher” than the other.

I actually agree with you here David.  When it comes to the content of God’s revelation for man, as handed down to us, there is nothing “superior” about the written tradition (Scriptures) vs the oral tradition.  They are part and parcel of one another and complement one another (more on this below).   However, not only will current authority not directly contradict Apostolic authority as it is found in the recognized-as-infallible Scriptures – it also will not add teachings to God’s overall revelation that seemingly do not contradict (in the eyes of those advocating such teaching) its “harmonic structure” while insisting that they must be followed at pains of separating oneself from the Church, and hence Christ. 

Hopefully, as we proceed, all of this will become more clear.

II.  Justification

We can actually continue this discussion about the Rule of Faith as we briefly address the validity of the doctrine of justification.  Two birds with one stone.

Dave:

“….any such true concepts would have to be grounded in continuous Catholic teaching. St. Vincent of Lerins’ “dictum”: “believed always, everywhere, and by all” (which is a strong generalization, but we get the point). Development of doctrine comes into play here. Things were present in kernel form at first, for many doctrines, and developed through the centuries.”

We agree that this is important, but it is further down the list in importance.  This is because of all the stuff that I have written above.  No one else besides Tertullian seems to have talked about the Trinity, but this man (an eventual heretic) put things well, and in a way the Church could recognize as being true and helpful.  Before Pelagius came on the scene and Augustine answered him, fathers had been less careful about how they talked about free will.  Before Arius came on the scene and Athanasius addressed him, fathers like Origin (now he becomes heretical…) had spoken less carefully about how the flesh of Jesus and body of Jesus was created and connected with the pre-existing Son of God, the Logos.  Before Cyril of Alexandria came on the scene, Nestorius, who certainly talked about the divine and human natures of Jesus, had captured many hearts with his heresy – and no one else before Cyril had really written clearly about just *how* Jesus was both human and divine (which needed at this point to be done).  Even Cyril himself was corrected just a bit, but was willing to accept that correction.  Still, there is no “consensus” of statements even close to his before his time.  He came to the conclusions that he did as he was driven back to the Scriptures, and zealous for the truth, aimed to vanquish his heretical opponent. 

When you say elsewhere on your blog: “Every heretic in the history of the world thumbed their nose at the institutional Church and went by Scripture alone. It is the heretical worldview to do so, precisely because they know they can’t prove that their views were passed down through history in an unbroken succession”, I do not think that you can defend this statement as regards Pelagius and Nestorius in particular.  They largely tried to prove their cases from the fathers who had gone before them.

“[Chemnitz] is wrong about Lutheranism being “greatly confirmed by the testimonies of the ancient church.” The exact opposite is the case (i.e., if we are comparing the relative strengths of Catholic and Lutheran doctrines where we disagree — which is always my primary interest as an apologist). He is right about things not conflicting with “all antiquity,” but I would say he is inconsistent in the application of that standard, as a Lutheran…”

On the contrary, of course I believe – and think many have shown – how the doctrine of justification as we practice it is certainly present among the early church fathers, although one can only see this implicitly (as infant baptism is implicit in the Scriptures).  Also on the contrary, I think Chemnitz is relentlessly consistent in his method, which takes into account the historical sketch that I have laid out above and heavily leans on St. Augustine’s views of doctrinal development (i.e. covering the errors of the fathers who wrote more carelessly in times, such that the heretics could seize on those careless writings in support of their errors).   To say the least, the church has never been very monolithic in its doctrine.  There were in fact times they seem to have been monolithic when it came to writing carelessly, and not being as clear as the Scriptures were about distinctions that can be discerned when reading the text very closely (usually when driven there by new problems and questions it seems).

So when I said: “Analogously, Cyril of Alexandria’s ideas about Christ’s divine and human nature were somewhat “new” (a new way of putting things) and only implicit in the writings of other early church fathers – not to mention few and far between.    To my knowledge, in the early fathers there is no “explicit” Cyril-like talk about Christ’s divine and human nature in the centuries before him (much like the situation with Luther and his understanding of the peace and confidence-creating power of justification).” (bold in original)

…and you replied:  Yes, but that is the distinction between a development and a novelty. Scripture states all over the place in many different ways that Jesus is God and that he is also Man. The two natures develops what is clearly already there (describing how He can be both God and man, and the relationship). But Scripture doesn’t teach faith alone at all; thus the fathers do not, either. In fact, the only time the phrase appears in the Bible, it is expressly denied…(bolded words italicized in Dave’s original statement)

 …. I find this a bit frustrating.  I agree that “The two natures develops what is clearly already there (describing how He can be both God and man, and the relationship)”, but the point is that Nestorius taught about the two natures as well – and that others who agree Jesus was both God and man also disagreed with Chalcedon.  There were massive splits in the Church at this time.  The schism of 1054 was huge, but so were the splits before this.  Here, so many of the successors of the Apostles went wrong…  To be clear: no one wrote like Cyril before Cyril: everything that might be said to resemble his teachings in other fathers was only implicit.  Likewise with Luther and justification.  You say, “If [the doctrine of justification] had been a true doctrine it would have been present before in history“ and I, and Chemnitz, argue that it is (and show citations), and these citations resemble in their implicitness those made by Cyril’s predecessors who speak of the “two natures”  (by the way, even N.T. Wright, for all of his criticism of the Reformation, asserts strongly that Luther was right to say faith alone).

All this said, as far as the actual Biblical arguments for (and against) the doctrine of justification this has been beaten to death, hasn’t it?  Of course we disagree on this.  I am really quite content to not expand on what I have already written, but I should answer a couple of your points directly.

You quote James Akin favorably:

“Therefore, we see that Abraham was justified on at least three different occasions: he was justified in Genesis 12, when he first left Haran and went to the promised land; he was justified in Genesis 15, when he believed the promise concerning his descendants; and he was justified in Genesis 22, when he offered his first promised descendant on the altar.”

We have no problem with this really.  In each case Abraham trusted the promises of God, not strictly because he offered Isaac, for example (faith in the Promise was at the bottom of his acting as he did for offering Isaac, as Hebrews clearly says).   Again, as I’ve said, Paul and James clearly have different definitions of faith (since he says even devils believe – obviously , this is not the kind of trust, knowledge and assent Paul is discussing).  In any case, I’d prefer to stick with the way Paul argues….

“If you want to show how Lutherans distinguish [justification and sanctification] from Scripture (and whatever it is in our understanding that is so “faulty” according to you), then I’ll be happy to show how we put them together, based on Scripture.”

Regarding the faultiness of the Roman view let me say the following (again – quote from my blog):

Are God’s commands, threats, and punishments – His Hammer which shatters – to be proclaimed so that persons may see themselves as sinners – sinners who should then be given the confidence of faith – i.e. be actively persuaded via the Promise (Christ) that they have God’s forgiveness for all their sins (and hence, life and salvation) – even as they tremble?

Is this to continually occur in the life of the Christian, until death comes, or not? Is this pattern of “Law and Gospel” to be that which the heralds of God’s Word bring – or not? This, in my mind, is *the* question for the Church posed by the Reformation – and everything else flows from this.”

Here where is the rubber meets the road.  Obviously if one cannot and should not have certainty, one should not try to give it as well.  We find this utterly damnable. 

How am I defining certainty?:

And yet, there is nothing greater than the certainty – the knowledge of eternal life – that the received Promise creates in the individual believer.  Here of course we are not talking about mathematical certainty, or that certainty which can be derived from axioms or discerned patterns (based on repeated experiments and observations), but rather personal certainty, personal knowledge – knowing a Person….  (for an in-depth look at this topic, see here and here)

Dave: Yep; regeneration, justification and peace with God are all crucial in the Christian life.

Why am I wrong to think “peace, peace where there is no peace….”?

Along these lines, I would only point out that your view of Romans 4:5 is careful to include love (not in the Scriptures) which mitigates the comfort the doctrine brings to those who are under attack from the devil (“you don’t love God with your whole heart”), as he hurls half-truths at the beleaguered believer.  You think N.T. Wright is essentially right, and I think that he has some good points, but is basically wrong.  I am not averse to discussing it more, but it seems to me that persons like Chemnitz have done this the best (esp. in his Loci Theologoci) – reading Chemnitz on justification in parallel with folks like N.T. Wright is a very interesting exercise – and in my view the latter gets the short end of the stick.  All of this – combined with the fact that I got into a pretty detailed back and forth about this stuff here – means I’m going to leave this alone at this point (as I mentioned in the comments there, if you want to see Wright’s arguments dealt with effectively, Andrew Das is your man – as far as I am concerned, he does a wondrful job of answering Wright here).  I think in any case we’d probably be better off discussing something like original sin.

Finally, I think it might be most interesting and valuable to discuss the following 3 points (nature of church, indefectibility and infallibility), because I think if some of those points are explored and discussed in some detail, I think there will be a greater *possibility* that some people will find themselves powerfully convinced when they read someone like Chemnitz when he *meticulously* expounds on the Scriptures that deal with original sin and justification .  I think that the man most deeply immersed in the Scriptures will find himself recognizing Chemnitz as the one who speaks the truth.

Now, as we transition from justification to the nature of the Church, I offer the assessment of one Roland Bainton:

“The center about which all the petals clustered was the affirmation of the forgiveness of sins through the utterly unmerited grace of God made possible by the cross of Christ, which reconciled wrath and mercy, routed the hosts of hell, triumphed over sin and death, and by the resurrection manifested that power which enables man to die to sin and rise to newness of life. This was of course the theology of Paul, heightened, intensified, and clarified. Beyond these cardinal tenets Luther was never to go.” (Roland Bainton, Here I Stand, p. 6)

III.  The nature of the church

Let me start by addressing some of your comments that I think are relevant to this section.

I had said:

…you must know that from the Lutheran perspective, matters as put forth in the Scriptures are very clear – even if Augustine, for example, did not believe quite the way that we do (this will be addressed later on… still, we would continue to argue that on some critical points – on original sin, for example – he is closer to us than you) – and when others won’t acknowledge the essential truths that we see clearly on display in the Scriptures, it can be highly frustrating. . .

You replied:

“As for Lutherans seeing things so clearly, I beg to differ. Luther denied free will; the Lutheran Confessions (following Melanchthon) restored it. Luther had a very “high” eucharistic view; Melanchthon did not. The high view seems to have prevailed, confessionally, but maybe not always in practice or with individual Lutherans (just as many individual Catholics deny transubstantiation). Luther had a very high Mariology; Lutherans for the most part have not continued that tradition. Melanchthon wanted the bishops to be restored, rather than a State Church (only a few bishops are present in the various strains of Lutheranism, as I understand it).

Then there were the fights between the Gnesio-Lutherans and Philippists and Crypto-Calvinists…. Now, of course you’ll say that all this was wrapped up in a pretty bow and resolved once and for all with the Formula of Concord in 1580, but we can see that there was plenty of disagreement among prominent figures….”

To which I say: Yes, but by the grace of God things did get resolved… there was Concord.   And as things go sour in the future, we pray and hope for this again.

You also mention:

There are still lots of differences today (as in all denominations); for example, concerning disposal of the consecrated elements; when the real presence ceases, the propriety of eucharistic adoration, etc. (things perhaps not specifically covered in the confessions).

You go on to quote the article by Arthur Carl Piepkorn here.  He wraps things up as follows: “The view that the sacramental union takes place only during the distribution and reception is a pious opinion that Lutherans must tolerate as long as no exclusive claim for its correctness is made.” I think he is right on every point and many LC-MS pastors would agree while others probably do not think about it very much.  In any case, do Roman Catholics (or EO for that matter) – those who claim to be in some sort of communion with the Pope – have no points at all among which there is contention among their people?   It seems they do, in which case your argument here loses some force.  The reason Piepkorn says this is a matter of pious opinion is because the Scriptures do not say what the case is here.  We are free to disagree.  Regarding matters of close communion, almost everyone agrees in principal about it but differ as regards its application.  The RC church occasionally practices “Eucharistic hospitality” (since Vatican II and the ecumenical movement), and I’d say that some pastors think that similar things should be done here on occasion (depending on each situation to some degree)

On to the theological nitty-gritty.  David, you said to me in the comments section of part 1 of your response:

The unbiblical invisible church notion is espoused in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Articles VII and VIII: The Church:

“. . . the church in the proper sense is the assembly of saints who truly believe the Gospel of Christ and who have the Holy spirit.”

In practice, this inevitably reduces to theological relativism and ecclesiological chaos, because it is, in the end, subjective mush.

These things are real, but when it comes to deciding who truly has the Holy Spirit, who believes the gospel, what the gospel is, then we are back to doctrine and must rely on authority, because men endlessly differ in interpreting the Bible.

You have pointed out how the proper definition of the Church is related to indefectibility and infallibility.  I had said in my first response to you:

But Lutheranism does not reject this [an infallible Church].  We believe that this is indeed the case, but that we need to take more seriously than ever before the concept of remnant, and the actual histories of God’s people in the Old and New Testament.  As regards infallibility, here it is like what C.S. Lewis said about not getting the “second things” unless the “first things” are focused on.

You replied:

It does indeed reject it in effect, by changing the definition of the Church. If I have to change the rules of arithmetic so that 2+2 no longer equals 4, then it is a rejection of arithmetic as it has always been known. That being the case it would be foolish to call “arithmetic” by the same name, because it had always meant something — always had certain characteristics — and now no longer does.

In your saying this, am I right to assume that you see us as asserting that the Church, in fact, has not, since Pentecost, been a continuously conspicuous and identifiable (i.e. visible) historical institution?  It is true that we do not think that this always needs be the case (see more below, in the indefectibility section).  That said, perhaps persons who see the Church in this way, might also be able to put it this way: since the Church is in some very real sense Christ’s body it needs to – in order to act as Christ’s teaching office – in some sense be a visible and a definable human society.  Along with this, we might also quote First Things’ David Mills, who says, “For the Catholic unity comes from shared membership in the Catholic Church, not from agreement on some distilled essence of Christianity.”  (in other words, to say something like “nondenominationalism [i.e. “generic Christianity”] is the new ecumenism”… “ the fulfillment of the dream of Christian unity” is completely wrong).   If this is the case we agree in full, and submit that we think this is how the Church has always been understood throughout the ages. 

But still, this definition, you would say, is incomplete.  Here we must add that you say the Church is that body of persons that submits to, and thereby is in communion with, the continuous line of the successors of Saint Peter.  The Catholic Church is therefore properly called that which is governed by the Successor of Peter (and by the Bishops in communion with him you would say).  In which case, to some degree, it is not only us Lutherans who have evidently re-defined the Church, but the EO churches as well.  I know you think that there is more wrong with us then there is with them, but in any case, we are happy to be in their company here (this said, since Vatican II, the RCC also says that “The Churches which [even if] not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches. [Dominus Iesus §17]: recently, Benedict said to an EO delgation:  “the incomplete communion that already unites us must grow until it attains full visible unity.”)

This brings us to another issue:  you would say that our definition is yet incomplete because we do not insist on a continuous Apostolic Succession (something I think we have nonetheless).    You said to me “Lutherans redefine apostolic succession as well, in a way quite different from how it was always understood”, and “Bishops are casually assumed in the Bible to be a permanent Church office. Why is it, then, that Luther got rid of them and placed power in the secular princes? Why do most Lutherans no longer have bishops today?”  Although we disagree that bishops are different than presbyters by divine rite, I do think the Reformers made a great mistake here.  Second, again note again that Luther himself had been validly ordained in Rome’s eyes (and also note that Irenaeus, though he recognizes the hierarchy in the church, also notes that all of the churches pastors share the “infallible chariism”: again, we follow Jerome in saying that Biblically, the distinction between bishops and presbyters can be shown to be by human, not divine rite).  Third, please note that since Christ succeeded Melchizedek (“a priesthood that does not pass over to others”, Hebrews 7:24), we see that true succession “can be interrupted, provided that it has the succession of doctrine connected with it”.  The Apostles, who immediately succeeded no one, were the true successors of the prophets (who did not always have a succession of their own – one especially thinks of John the Baptist here) because they received and spread their pure doctrine, following their faith. (Gerhard, 372).  Finally, a fine quote from Epiphanius’ Panarion: “For He abides forever to offer gifts for us – after first offering Himself by the cross, to abolish every sacrifice of the old covenant by presenting the more perfect, living sacrifice for the whole world. He Himself is temple, sacrifice, priest, altar, God, man, king, high-priest, lamb, sacrificial victim – became all in all for us that life might be ours in every way, and to lay the changeless foundation of his priesthood forever, no longer allotting it by descent and succession, but granting that, in accordance with His ordinance, it may be preserved in the Holy Spirit.” (55)  This is our view.

Tying this back to the rule of faith, I quote Gerhard again:

For indeed God has not entrusted to us only the holy deposit of His Word, but also instituted the ecclesiastical ministry among us, whose chief duty is to interpret the scriptures. This is the “ministry of the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:8) through which “he desires to lead us into all truth” (John 16:13). Therefore we should not “snuff out the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19). (Loci, 1610, untranslated, found here)

Getting back to what Benedict says above, Lutherans also would talk about an incomplete communion that already unites believers in Christ across all boundaries that “must grow until it attains full visible unity”.  That said, for us, this incomplete communion is predicated on faith in Jesus Christ, trusting Him and Him alone for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation (love, done by this or that “noble pagan”, is not what is required before God).  That said, we would hesitate to ever declare who “clearly has faith in Christ”, as we  believe that, on earth, we can only go by external confession.  In addition, we would not say that there are those who have faith in Christ who cannot be saved, but would say that all who will be saved will have faith in Christ – they will trust in Him… cling to Him.  Lutherans do not want to judge the souls of brethren separated from them, but also want to be earnest in pointing out the serious errors of their brothers – on the left and on the right.  I recently read one Catholic blogger write that we are not saved on the basis of doctrinal opinion.  I suppose this may be true, but we are saved by right doctrine, for true doctrine brings life and salvation.

As regards these various aspects of the definition of the Church, I note that in his massive book On the Church, Johan Gerhard provides in several places statements and definitions of the church from early church fathers that correspond with our view of what the church is (spoken of it more detail below).  If you’d like to see some of these, I found several on pp. 125-130 and 252-259.  From my reading, early church quotations connecting the Church with things like baptism, faith, and right teaching (as well as the militant and glorified motif) are far more common than ones that delve into details about popes and bishops or their offices. 

Having laid out the issues as best I can, let’s get into some details.  In order to help me get a better sense of how I am re-defining church you shared the following there:

The 4th Council of Constantinople (869-870) decreed about Roman Primacy (and hence about the government of the Church):

341 Can. 21. We, believing that the word of the Lord which Christ spoke to His Apostles and disciples: “Who receives you, receives Me” [ Matt. 10:40 ]: “and who spurns you, spurns me” [ Luke 10:16], was said to all, even to those who after them according to them have been made Supreme Pontiffs and chiefs of the pastors, declare that absolutely no one of the powerful of this world may try to dishonor or move from his throne anyone of those who are in command of the patriarchial sees, but that they judge them worthy of all reverence and honor; especially indeed the most holy Pope of senior Rome; next the Patriarch of Constantinople; then certainly of Alexandria and of Antioch and of Jerusalem; but that no one compose or prepare any writings and words against the most holy Pope of older Rome under the pretext, as it were, of some evil crimes, a thing which both Photius did recently, and Dioscorus long ago.

Whoever, moreover, shall use such boasting and boldness that following Photius or Dioscorus, in writings or without writings he may arouse certain injuries against the See of Peter, the chief of the Apostles, let him receive the equal and same condemnation as those. But if anyone enjoying some secular power or being influential should try to depose the above mentioned Pope of the Apostolic Chair or any of the other Patriarchs, let him be anathema. But if the universal Synod shall have met, and there will have arisen even concerning the holy church of the Romans any doubt or controversy whatever, it is necessary with veneration and with fitting reverence to investigate and to accept a solution concerning the proposed question, either to offer to have offered but not boldly to declare an opinion contrary to the Supreme Pontiffs of senior Rome.

(13) If anyone should employ such daring as, like Photius and Dioscorus, in writings or without writings, to rouse certain inquiries against the See of Peter, the chief of the Apostles, let him receive the same condemnation as those; but if, when the ecumenical synod has met, any doubt arises even about the church of the Romans, it is possible to make an investigation reverently and with fitting respect concerning the question at hand, and to accept the solution either to be assisted or to assist, but not boldly to deliver (an opinion) contrary to the Supreme Pontiffs of senior Rome.

(Denzinger 341)

http://www.catecheticsonline.com/SourcesofDogma4.php

You then add:

The one visible, hierarchical Catholic Church with bishops, apostolic succession, councils, had long since been established. We see it in operation already in the Bible (Jerusalem Council and a host of indications of Petrine Primacy: the kernels of the papacy).

There are all sorts of instances of papal authority in the first millennium: one of the most notable being the acts of Pope Leo the Great at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

Some comments. First of all, I note that this is from a 9th c. council, and here, defining what the Church is not the issue (as it was for Augustine, for example, when he wrote against the Donatists – this work is worth looking at).  There is nothing here about the Church triumphant or militant, visible, or invisible which needs to be dealt with in any real definition of the Church.   Second, let me concede, for the sake of argument, the point about the papacy being a divinely appointed office of God (as Lutherans have always said that this does not mean that he would always need to be obeyed anyway – as regards justification in particular).   Now if that is the case, I think what is written here looks pretty good… after all, we know that the Church must have governance and again, since the Church is in some very real sense Christ’s body it needs to – in order to act as Christ’s teaching office – in some sense be a visible and a definable human society.  Not only this, but comparing this document with the Lutheran’s views, Lutherans and the Lutheran princes certainly never tried to unseat the papacy (at least, I don’t think they did).  Still – it really does not go far enough: why should the “powerful of this world” move *any pastor* from their place in the Church?  Of course, that said, what is good for the goose is good for the gander – I also think that the papacy was wrong to use secular force (I am using the term in its ancient Christian sense, not its modern non-Christians sense) to punish heretics…  (yes, I, chronological snob that I am, condemn all the Church-state instances of this in those times).   As for Photius and Dioscorus, I am not familiar with all that they did, but as long as this decision from the council is not saying that a Pope’s views should never be criticized in writing, I would not have a problem with it.  However, given that there is a statement about not boldly declaring an “opinion contrary to the Supreme Pontiffs of senior Rome” I am not sure that this is what is being said…  I would not want to limit all “bold declarations”, nor do I think would other fathers of the Church.  Obviously, it would be best if all matters of disagreement with the papacy could be handled like Ireneaus handled them.  Still, to insist that this must happen seems to me an unbiblical “tradition of men”, as you like to say.

To my comment here:

….Of course the “Church’s peculiar and traditionally handed down grasp of the purport of revelation” can also be found in the Scripture as well, although this does not thereby mean that an authoritative and interpreting church is not necessary!

…you said:

“How is a Church”authoritative” if any individual can judge it and decide it’s wrong and split? Of what use is it? Even civil laws are more binding than that! This is what Luther did. He thumbed his nose at the authority of the Catholic Church of history, and now he expects his followers to respect the merely arbitrary authority in Lutheran circles? Hence Protestant tradition and history has at least been consistent: men can decide to start new denominations at whim. Luther detested that, but he never showed how it wasn’t consistent with his own actions and beliefs….

We had also had this exchange:

Me: Just because these Fathers also clearly uphold the authority of the Church as the ground of truth in addition to Scripture – admittedly, talking in ways that most Lutherans generally don’t talk today – does not mean that they, in actual practice, do not utilize the Rule of Faith the way Chemnitz says the Church does/should (i.e. they do not do the wrong tradition of #8)

You: They believe in an infallible Church. Ecumenical councils presuppose this. Lutherans do not. It’s as simple as that. You guys have departed from the precedent set by 1500 years of Church history. Pelikan, Schaff, Oberman, and Kelly all confirm that the Church fathers en masse viewed the rule of faith in this way. They did not hold to sola Scriptura.

All of this will be dealt with more in the section below, as regards indefectibility and infallibility.

And this one:

Me: So long as they do not contradict the doctrine of justification in the way they do these things – and do not tell us we are cutting ourselves off from the Church if we think that such opinions either ought not be held at all or not be held with the same reverence as those essential things clearly revealed in the accepted Scripture.  In other words, these could perhaps be held as “pious opinion” or “pious practices” – concepts I know are not foreign to Roman Catholics.  As early 17th c. theologian John Gerhard said, “If the confession of true doctrine and the legitimate use of the Sacraments had been left free for us, perhaps we would not have departed from the external fellowship of the Roman church”. (On the Church, p. 139)

You: The problem is that all this is merely abstract and a mind game. It’s like Anglo-Catholicism. In principle, there could be all sorts of Lutheran approaches to Catholicism and affinities and warm touchy-feeling unity on many fronts. But in practice, it can scarcely be found in actual existing Church bodies. It exists only on paper and in a few individual heads (like yours) who care about Church unity. Cardinal Newman observed this about his friend Edward Pusey’s religious views. The Catholic Church is the only Christian body that can demonstrate historical continuity and institutional unity all the way back to Christ. We still have a pope and councils, and bishops and all the rest, as they had existed in the Church from the beginning. 

I think I understand your view.  From our view the purported “historical continuity” and “institutional unity” of the Roman Church is shown to be false though a careful examination of what the Scriptures and Fathers have to say about the history of the Church, and the reality that the Rule of Faith passed on orally by the Apostles was “in agreement with” the Scriptures (see section on harmony below).

Finally, I had asked this important question:

What happens when presumably faithful believers in the Church can no longer convince themselves that the Scriptures and the supposed “Apostolic tradition” – which one knows really must not (can’t ever?) contradict each other – are saying the same thing?

And you said:

Then obviously they reject the Catholic Church, having lost faith in God’s guidance of her, and in the infallibility and indefectibility of the Church. They do so by adopting new arbitrary traditions that are not Bible-based (things like sola Scriptura, an invisible church, denominations, etc.).”

Of course I vociferously disagree.  These topics shall be covered next, with much help from Johan Gerhard.  First, see here for a preview: http://weedon.blogspot.com/2011/08/i-am-definitely-thinking.html   For now, I leave you with a couple quotations from the great 20th century Lutheran father Herman Sasse, putting these issues into a bit different context:

“Lutheran theology denies this characterization [reform as simply a return to Scripture] of the nature of that great event of church history which makes it a reformation, hits the mark. A renovation of the Church through a return to the Scriptures, through a renewed consideration of what God tell us in the Scriptures – this is by no means the essential characteristic of that event of the 16th Century. Reformation, so understood, is a continuous process. It is a continuous process not only in the sense that this renewal from the Word of God ought to take place again and again, but also in the sense that it is actually happening all the time. Every real sermon contributes to such a renewal. This kind of reformation takes place every Sunday – every day, in fact. For the church literally lives by the Word of God. It would not exist any longer, if it did not experience a renovation by the Word of God again and again. (Here We Stand, pgs 65-66)

…” For the church does not live by morals, by the knowledge and observance of God’s law. Nor does it live by religion, by lofty experiences of the divine and an awareness of the mysteries of God. It lives solely by the forgiveness of sins. Hence reformation does not consist, as the Middle Ages believed, and as has even been believed in wide circles of the Protestant world, of an ethico-relgious correction, of a moral quickening and a spiritual deepening throughout the church. It consists, rather, according to its own peculiar nature, of the revival of the preaching of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake. That such a revival of the church’s message must have important consequences also in reviving the life of its members and in renovating the external forms of the church is only natural. But these are only consequences.” (Here We Stand, pgs 69-70)

IV.  Indefectibility

In my original reply to your treatment of Chemnitz, I had said:

Now, Irenaeus says: “Inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously…”  And he can speak from experience.  He knows that this has worked – that the faithful men really have held to the Apostolic teaching, and this is clearly what the Scriptures put forth, even if the heretics deny it.  There is no good reason for him to be speaking and thinking any differently at this point.  But now: what if historical circumstances, when compared vis a vis Scripture, seem to clearly imply that “the apostolic tradition has not been preserved continuously” – at least, among the majority of the top leaders of the church?

You replied:

This is where Lutherans and Protestants at large lack faith in God’s preservation of His Church, which is discussed in Scripture, with promises of indefectibility. We have the faith that God can preserve truth in an institution comprised of a bunch of sinners, just as He preserved inspired words in a Scripture written by a bunch of sinners. Infallibility is not as extraordinary of a thing as inspiration is. Therefore, if one can believe in an inspired Scripture (the more difficult proposition), one can certainly believe in faith the lesser proposition of an infallible, indefectible Church. But Protestants reject the latter. In short, it is most unbiblical to believe that the Church could fall away, institutionally, and depart from the apostolic deposit of faith. To believe that is not simply not being (distinctively) Catholic. It is also a most “unbiblical” notion.

The question also becomes: who is competent and has the authority to judge, by scriptural criteria, if and when the Church has not faithfully preserved the apostolic tradition? Certainly one monk had no such authority. It is ridiculous to think that he did….

You also had said:

“The Catholic-Lutheran (or Catholic-Protestant) beef is not whether the Church (however defined) has authority at all, but whether it has infallible authority. Lutherans and Chemnitz reject the latter; we affirm it. I’m either right or wrong about it. If I am right, then the discussion must proceed on that basis (disputing the parameters of infallibility). If I’m wrong, then please show me where Chemnitz affirms an institutional, historical, infallible Church. When he talked about indefectibility, he simply defined that as the invisible, mystical Church, whereby anyone can assert just about anything, because it is not historical, objective analysis. He certainly rejected the authority of the existing (Roman) Catholic Church (bolded portions were italicized in Dave’s original reply)

Having done that, he has to argue why that Church somehow ceased to be the Church (since there is only one such), and by the same token, why anyone should believe that a new movement begun in the 16th century somehow magically becomes “the Church” to the exclusion of the historical one, or why the definition of “Church” all of a sudden becomes purely mystical and invisible, when it had always included a visible, institutional, historical aspect. He can’t do any of that. This is always the unsolvable problem that belief-systems run up against in trying to argue from Church history. There are a host of interconnected problems that I don’t see can be resolved at all.”

This was not the issue for Chemnitz.  He never did deny an indefectible, visible, institutional, historical (let’s wait on infallibility for a second) Church.  In fact, he’d say that Church existed in the Lutheran Church of his time (and perhaps elsewhere to).  Gerhard never denied these things as well, for of the visible church in Jesus’ day that Simeon, Anna, Elizabeth and Zechariah partook in (and perhaps Nathaniel and other disciples, I add…), he says, “the visible church is not always evident in the same way, nor is it immune from every error” (138 and 139, On the Church)  Read the whole section (2 pages) of the book here.  So there is no denial here.  Bellarmine had said that “the church is an assembly as visible and palpable as the Roman people or the kingdom of France or the republic of Venice” (145, quoted from De eccles., bk. 3, ch. 2) (even as he also cites the testimonies of certain Catholics [Alexander of Hales and Joannes de Turrecremata] who say that “During the Passion of the Lord, true faith remained only in the most holy Virgin Mary”).  To this (and other statemtents of Bellarmine’s) Gerhard says that “they think that the church consists of an external succession of popes, the large size of their provinces, and temporal felicity” and “we deny that this external splendor of the church is permanent , and we claim that there are two states of the church that recur one after the other.  Here is a comparison. Christ is considered as the Head of the church according to His two states: of emptying and exaltation.  In the former, His majesty did not appear outwardly but seemed to be covered by the weakness of His flesh.  In the latter, on the other hand, His glory and majesty shine in their full light.  In the same way, in the mystical Body of Christ, which is the church, these same two states can be observed…” (italics his, 145)

Elsewhere he says that the “entire visible church (note: we can only see particular churches, which can fall and cease to exist, but cannot see the whole church catholic whom hell will not overcome, since it also includes the saints in heaven and Christ Himself – further, obviously, all of the particular churches should be in fellowship and one with one another) can be overshadowed by clouds of corruptions, errors, scandals, heresies, persecutions, etc.” and “its exterior splendor and brightness can cease to exist (i.e. it is “invisible, hidden, and shameful” [146]) such that “no clear and evident assembly remains to rejoice in the pure ministry of the Word sounding forth publicly”, even as some will “always remain, even through a corrupt ministry” (see Old and New Testaments!).  Again, Gerhard nevertheless does not totally say these Churches have defected through and through in such a way that some cannot be saved: “the visible church is not always evident in the same way, nor is it immune from every error” (138 and 139).  The main thing is that any visible church like this would simply not be “shin[ing] with the splendor of an uncorrupted ministry… [and gleaming] publicly with the quiet exercise of pure worship” (such that it would be exalted and glorified, 146).  Rather, it’s like the moon, which sometimes shines with its full light and at other times is invisible.  “It has various phases: settings and risings, wanings and waxings” (146)  As Ambrose said “The church can become shadowed, but it cannot cease to exist…. When many people fall away from religion, bright faith will become shadowed by the clouds of faithlessness…” (on Luke, bk. 10, ch. 21, in On the Church, 146). Sometimes pious confessors are driven away and hide in the wilderness and caves.  Sometimes they are imprisoned.   Due to persecutions and corrupt doctrine spreading sometimes an uncorrupted ministry of the Word no longer has a place in the visible church (see I Kings 18:4, for example, coupled with II Kings 17:19).  Elijah did not say “I alone am left” for no reason (after all, as Tertullian said: “The church can be in one person or another” [Exhortat. Ad cast] [On the church, 148]) – the “external and visible splendor of the Church is [not] permanent or unchangeable” (141)

In fact, the Bible predicts that in the Last Days, the church will not look glorious at all, but will be beleagured on all sides…   (see Matthew 24:24, Luke 18:8, 2 Thes 2:3-4).  Even RC writers of Gerhard’s time, men by the name of not only Bellarmine but Lyra and Gregorious de Valencia, etc.  believed that these prophecies would come true and that in the time of the Antichrist (as did Augustine, Chrysostom, Jerome, etc), the external splendor and brilliance of the church and the public exercise of the true religion will cease. They say that the church will become corrupt and that public errors will be common and spread throughout the earth.  In other words, they admit that the church will not always be visible and conspicuous as well.  At this time, what is to become of the size, succession of bishops and temporal felicity of the church that Bellarmine speaks of?  He and others fully expec t that in the time of the Antichrist, believers will be forced to hide in very secret places that the church will cease being visible. 

In On the Church, Gerhard cannot really deny the indefectibility of the visible Church, no matter how bad things might get.  This is because, in the context of talking about the Church in the New Testament, Gerhad does not hesitate to assert that all the invisible church is contained within the visible church and not vice-versa (113) (even if this did happen at one point in time: with our first parents, when the whole human race did fall away from God: “now that the covenant of grace has been made and the promises of the perpetuity of the church have been given, we no longer have to fear that the entire church may cease to exist in the future” [147] ; speaking of the Old Testament and the idea that “the church can become so obscured by an infestation of heretics and by a multitude of scandals that its exterior, conspicuous splendor is no longer apparent” [164, see 168 also], Gerhard also notes later, bolstered by some of Augustine’s comments, that “before the calling of Abraham one could nowhere find a pure ministry of the Word completely free of idolatry” [166] ; Augustine also believes that there were times when the Church only existed in Abel, or Cain, or Abraham [166])  Gerhard also says that “One and the same church is visible and invisible in diverse respects” (110).  After all, although we can externally see the Word and Sacraments confessed and administered rightly, we can’t internally see the faith of all those joined by the inner bond of the spirit.  There are wheat and there are tares, but only God knows who is who (II Tim 2:19).  The tares only belong to the external fellowship of the Church (by confession) and simply for this reason, it is useful to speak of the church as being invisible in this sense.  Moreover, of course the Church triumphant, with whom the assembly on earth is joined, is invisible (Bellarmine: “the church triumphant is united or, rather, is one with the church militant” [137] – note Hebrews 12:22-23 here)  Even the ultimate head of the Church Himself, Jesus Christ (whether we believe the Pope is His appointed and visible representative or not) is invisible.  In sum, strictly speaking some are in the Church but not of it – some are not living members, but “dead and rotting members” (113).  They are in the body, but they are like the waste of the body, about to be expelled (Issues Etc interview with the editor of this volume, Benjamin Mayes).

Not only this, but note that Bellarmine admits that “a person who is unjustly excommunicated can be saved because he is still in the church by heart or by desire, though not in body nor in the external communion” (ch. 6, resp. ad 1)  Gerhard says: “therefore one cannot and should not take that necessity of joining with the church to mean the external joining with the visible church, but rather the internal and spiritual joining with the church catholic.  A person unjustly excommunicated is deprived of the external communion and connection with a particular, visible church.  Yet he is not deprived of the internal communion and connection with the invisible church catholic.  Hence he also is not deprived of his salvation.” (p. 140)  In discussing particular churches he notes, “there always remains in the world a visible church.  But from this one cannot infer that it is visible in the way and sense that the Papists want”.  (186)

“The church is never so hidden that it is not noticed by some people – if not by the worldly and faithless, then by the devout confessors who together are in exile and in hiding. In fact, as Christ, the Head of the church , in the depths of His state of emptying still revealed some rays of His divine majesty from which one could recognize His true divinity, so also in the depths of the church’s oppression the confessions of some martyrs sparkle and give a very clear testimony to the perpetuity and truth of the church” (146)  Obviously, if a pious confessor is in a Turkish prison, the wilderness, or hiding in a cave, they can have no external association with a particular church.  In sum we cannot say that “only the invisible church exists on earth at some times.  Although the catholic church of the saints is invisible, it still does not exist by itself and separate from the visible church, because one must not look for the elect outside of the assembly of the called.  Even though the church can be reduced to such scarcity that it is not glorious and visible in its external splendor in the way the Papists claim, yet one cannot infer from this that the church is not visible, speaking absolutely and simply, because even if those few confessors are not known publicly to the entire world, they still can be known to one another, and even if they are not visible actually, still they are visible potentially.  Just as the sun does not cease being visible even if it is not actually seen at times when clouds cover it – since its radiance later shines with very brilliant splendor – so the church does not cease being visible even if the true confessors are hidden in caves and secret places, because they will again come into public when the madness of their persecutors cools and the darkness of heresy has ended” (185).

“It is one thing to say simply that the church is visible; it is another to say that it is visible to the world” (186).

(that said, I would add that God certainly intends for His Church to be visible and discernible before the world, for He desires all persons to be saved.  It seems to me that in the Church’s better days, a journalistically-inclined unbeliever would at least be able to tell, upon doing some “leather-foot” reporting, that there really did seem to be united groups of persons that gather together to worship a supposed a person named Jesus Christ, whom they say is Divine and associated with the Being responsible for all of creation (with their Creeds, that explain who God is and what He has done for His creation, for He is the “Other”, i.e. not a part of nature).  In other words, such an unbeliever would not believe in the Church, but in some sense see it.  This would be the case, as long as in its outward worship there is some clear presentation of the Gospel and those articles related to it (Creeds) in the liturgy – things that can be sensed and experienced (even if there is much that might not be perceived and understood).

Dave, elsewhere on your blog you have said:

“The Bible repeatedly teaches that the Church is indefectible (see my paper on that); therefore, the hypothetical of rejecting the (one true, historic) Church, as supposedly going against the Bible, is impossible according to the Bible. It is not a situation that would ever come up, because of God’s promised protection.”

Right – it’s just that such a Church can be a lot smaller than you might think.  And when it comes to where our leaders put their trust (and by extension us) they need to be trusting the words of those original Apostolic men who are now Church triumphant above all else.

You also said:

“The one true Church is and always will be in harmony with God’s inspired revelation, the Bible; yes. Thus, we reject any form of Protestantism, because they fail this test.”

We agree.   “Protestant” really is not the name we prefer to claim.

And:

“We simply have more faith than you guys do. It’s a supernatural gift. We believe that the authoritative Church is also a key part of God’s plan to save the souls of men. We follow the model of the Jerusalem Council, whereas you guys reject that or ignore it, because it doesn’t fit in with the man-made tradition of Protestantism and a supposedly non-infallible Church.”

But we follow the model of the Jerusalem Council as well.  Councils can error, as you know, but that one certainly did not.  God kept His promise to lead the band of Apostles into all truth, and part of the reason that it was recorded in the Scriptures as well was to make sure that the truth of circumcision not being necessary for salvation was not lost.  Furthermore, we are happy to follow the Holy Spirit-informed-decisions  in Councils that do not contradict the Scriptures, for in this way the Gospel that is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone can be clearly preached and peace and order can exist in the Church.

V.  Infallibility

Dave, I had said:

Scripture is not over the oral, unwritten tradition, the Rule of Faith – insofar as the Rule of Faith really is the rule of faith.  As Irenaeus and other Fathers pointed out, these must always go hand and hand and say the same thing (more on how this plays out on the ground with Lutherans and Irenaeus directly below).  Further, the continuance of the Apostolic ministry is critical: necessary, but not sufficient.  We simply see this as unfolding and playing out in a different way.

To this you replied:

Lutherans deny an infallible Church. It always comes down to that. It is the essential difference: the nature and role of the Church….

Elsewhere, you said to me:

“The Catholic-Lutheran (or Catholic-Protestant) beef is not whether the Church (however defined) has authority at all, but whether it has infallible authority. Lutherans and Chemnitz reject the latter; we affirm it. I’m either right or wrong about it.”

I had also said:

“…first of eight different types of traditiones as Scripture itself, i.e. the things that Christ and the Apostles preached orally and were later written down. Then follows: 2) the faithful transmission of the Scriptures; 3) the oral tradition of the Apostles (which by its very nature must agree with the contents of the New Testament canon); 4) the proper interpretation of the Scriptures received from the Apostles and “Apostolic men”…

I now say:

Looking at traditions #3 and #4 specifically, of course we have them.  And in order to have 4 in particular (as you say: “Interpretation had to be within the matrix of the Church’s orthodox theology”), we need not just “proper” interpretation by real men embodying the Rule of Faith, but, yes, the Church also has a need for infallible interpretation

Above, it has been clearly demonstrated that the Lutherans believe that the visible church on earth is indefectible, though it be only a remnant.  I further assert that we believe the church has infallible authority.  We simply don’t insist that we know who is going to be speaking infallibly up front.  That said, I now summon Johann Gerhard again to deal with the more specific issue of infallibility. 

First of all, the Church in heaven (the elect triumphant) is subject to no error, “not even the tiniest… remains with the clear vision of God.” (188)  With regard to the Church militant, there are fundamental errors that overturn the foundation and non-fundamental ones that exist with the foundation of faith (188).  Gerhard says that those who are elect overcome fundamental errors  before the end of their life. “The catholic church of the called includes all the faithful or confessors of all times and places.  If the question is about it, whether it can err, we respond that it does not err as a whole, something we explain in respect to both times and places.  Although times of this kind can happen, and at times actually do happen, when corruptions take hold of the public exercise of religion, nevertheless the entire church catholic of all times does not err.  This is because God again and again, raises up prophets and other faithful ministers to reprove those corruptions of doctrine, to reform divine worship, and to restore the church to its pristine splendor.  There are, indeed, times when corruptions take over the entire visible church and its public ministry in all the particular churches of all places in such a way that the ministry nowhere remains pure and uncorrupted.  Yet the entire church never errs in such a way that there are not any who follow the simple leading of the Word and who are sanctified by the direction and effectual operation of the Holy Spirit in truth and faith such that they retain the foundation of salvation, persevere free of fundamental errors, and are preserved by the power of God through faith unto salvation.  However, sometimes they are few, and when persecutions and corruptions rage publicly, they hide in such a way that they are not noticed publicly in the world.” (189)

Here is what I, jumping off from what Gerhard says, think the Lutheran argument is.  Strictly speaking, the infallible Scriptures can only be properly understood as much as they potentially can be (while in particular historical circumstances on earth) by an infallible interpreter.  But this is simply to say that such an interpreter receives by faith *everything* that God desires to give.  Further, such an interpreter does not say that persons should listen to them because they are infallible (I ask: which prophet or apostle in the Bible *ever* did this?…  they themselves do not think this about themselves), but only that the clear Word of God the faithful have recognized is infallible. 

It is not necessarily true that certain persons are infallible, by office and/or otherwise, strictly speaking.  It is not that they have some gift that prevents them from making errors as long as they hold an office, but rather that they simply speak infallibly in their kairos (particular circumstances) as God gives them the faith and understanding they need in order to do so.  This is able to occur when all that God gives is received in faith, just like Mary.  His very Words are Spirit and Life – and deliver to us everything that we need.   “It is written” and “is not your problem that you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” are watchwords.  Again, every word that proceeds from the mouth of God – His Words are life and salvation – creates these faithful persons.  Further, not everyone who speaks infallibly (note that no one is infallible per se) is of great spiritual maturity.  They may, in child-like fashion,  just be parroting true words from someone whom they have recognized as someone who is spiritually wise – they recognize them as speaking truth when they speak, and as they mature in the faith they further see that what they say correlates with the Scriptures that the Church has received  as being catholic, apostolic, orthodox, and of great value to Body.  That said, in order for this to occur, there does need to be at least someone who speaks infallibly about what the Scriptures contain – even if the true believers may not always be able to recognize a person as such immediately (that is, perhaps without the presence of error by which truth may be sharpened and become more clear).  Pastor Will Weedon has said of the Church “It was because she clung to Him who alone is truth, allowed His Word to judge everything she taught and submitted herself to Him, Truth Incarnate, the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth. It is not that her saying so makes things so; it is that she speaks the words of God faithfully.”  We just would dispute that this person is necessarily the Pope or even a pastor – (it may be pastors who recognize the truth the lay person, or Nazarite [John the Baptist], speaks) or that they will only be infallible when they are holding an office and speaking in more authoritative instances (like when they are speaking “solemnly” from “the chair”).   Further we would also assert that one can lose infallibility through sin.  The Holy Spirit’s voice, always speaking in agreement with the Words of the Scriptures, can be quenched.  Further, this person may be in a cave, not in a one of the [increasingly more infrequent] true visible churches (i.e. places where Churches preach the Word accurately and administer the Sacraments rightly, thereby able to create and nuruture faith – even if they are saddled with some error and lack of purity).

Again, as I have said before, we have never denied that there is, or even must be, an infallible Church.  We just maintain that it is smaller and less impressive and grand than you – and think the Scriptures say this will be the case to boot (as do many RC theologians, like Bellarmine himself, who speak about the Last Days)  In any case, it seems to me that the major difference between you and I is that you start thing from the get go wanting certainty.  Jesus amazed the people, because He spoke as one having authority (and later we hear from the Pharisees: “Have any of the rulers believed in Him?  But this crowd that does not know the Law is accursed” [John 7:48,49]) But you want to know who that [reliable] authority is right up front.  From my perspective, this is not the way it has ever been with the Church (see history above), nor ever will be.  From my perspective you really need to justify this radical discontinuity.  The Scriptures simply do not really focus on the concept of infallibility.  In reality, it is a non-issue.  This is not to say that the concept is unimportant, or worth discussing (as I just did above), it’s just that the emphasis is in the wrong place.  Nowhere is the Church ever told to assert its authority or infallibility. It is to preach the Gospel.…  As a matter  of fact, writers like Ireneaus and Tertullian and Cyprian – in the quotes that you provided in your original Chemnitz postings – all talk about the possibility the Church failing (to preach truthfully, that is).  It seems that indefectibility, rather than infallibility, might be a better way to discuss things.  The point here, would simply be: can an indefectible church be small? 

Let us again close again with Gerhard, that faithful witness:

“Because we receive only the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit in this life and because our intellect is not so fully and perfectly illumined by the light of the Holy Spirit that all the oldness of the flesh is removed, therefore the rule and illumination of the Holy spirit do not make the church exempt from the danger of erring.  Rather, the church must follow the leadership and what might be called the Spirit’s “leading by the hand” by paying attention to the light of the heavenly Word.  Even if the Chruch departs from it in the tiniest part, if falls into darkness” (218)

VI.  The issue of tradition being in “harmony” with the Scriptures

From my first response to you:  “What happens when presumably faithful believers in the Church can no longer convince themselves that the Scriptures and the supposed “Apostolic tradition” – which one knows really must not (can’t ever?) contradict each other – are saying the same thing? “

And you said:

Then obviously they reject the Catholic Church, having lost faith in God’s guidance of her, and in the infallibility and indefectibility of the Church. They do so by adopting new arbitrary traditions that are not Bible-based (things like sola Scriptura, an invisible church, denominations, etc.).”

This is a far-reaching indictment.  We deny that we reject the Catholic Church and God’s guidance of it.  We deny that we reject infallibility and indefectibility (above).  We deny that we have adopted any new traditions (see above).

I had written:

I want to focus on tradition number 8, the one Chemnitz rejects.  Notice the argument of Paul Strawn: the fact that these traditions existed was not necessarily the problem.  The problem was that these traditions regarding faith and morals which were not provable from Scripture were to be regarded as equal to those clearly demonstrable from Scripture.  I take this to mean that they were to be considered central or essential teachings – i.e. as going hand in hand with the rule of faith – and that a refusal to acknowledge them at such (see p. 296 of the Examen) would result in separating one’s self from the Church, and therefore Christ.  This Chemnitz rightly rejects (see p. 269 and 306 of the Examen)

You replied:

This hinges on what is meant by “proved” from Scripture, and the criterion of “clearly demonstrable.” Those things are subjective, and reasonable men can disagree. The nature and scope of “proof” cannot simply be some tradition of men, itself unattached to biblical criteria. It seems to me that it has to be in harmony with biblical thought. Likewise, clarity or perspicuity is often arguable, concerning particular doctrines and how “proved” they are (bold mine).

And at another time you said the following:

What Catholics would regard as perfectly harmonious with Scripture; therefore, “biblical”; Chemnitz would reject as “unbiblical.” It comes down to a matter of definition and criteria for levels of “proof” or demonstration. In the end, each doctrine will have to be gone through individually, to establish if it is sufficiently “biblical.” That is my apologetic specialty, so I’d be glad — more than happy — to do that. Every time I’ve set out to find biblical indication of a Catholic doctrine, I’ve found it. Relative strength or weakness may be debated, but I found something every time. (most bold mine ; the bolded word “something” was originally italicized in Dave’s reply)

Elsewhere I said:

That there may not always be explicit proofs is a key part of Chemnitz’s point and method.  However saying that there need not always be explicit proofs does not mean that there can be no proof – or proof that is less than strong and insurmountable.  What is really essential about this quotation is that Tertullian really believed that all essential and binding doctrine should be grounded in Scripture.

To this you replied:

So do Catholics; so do I. The question here is what is meant by “grounded.” … Tertullian believed in the Catholic rule of faith: all doctrines must be in harmony with Scripture; not necessarily expressly stated in Scripture. (bold mine)

David, I have pointed out that for Chemnitz it is an explicit part of his method that all doctrines – even absolutely essential doctrines like infant baptism – do not need to be expressly stated in Scripture (i.e. explicit).  You are therefore incorrect when you say that Chemnitz has the notion that explicitly revealed doctrine is of greater worth than implicitly revealed doctrine (it would however, be true to say that both explicit and implicit doctrines would be superior to those that are only able to be deduced from other things – from things that some find convincing and others simply struggle to find – at least in a way that creates the necessary certainty in their hearts).  It seems to me that there is a huge difference between the insurmountable implicit evidence that exists for infant baptism (within the Scripture AND from the early church fathers –again  they are key here [Chemnitz’s tradition #5]) and the kind of reasoning that constructs doctrines like the immaculate conception, the assumption, etc (and then says that they need to be obeyed lest one separate one’s self from Christ’s church).  It is the difference between narrow and broad definitions of the term “harmony” (probably not so much for the word “agreement”, the meaning of which seems more or less consistent). 

(see here for some biblical examples of how the Greek word sumphōnēsis, and its roots, is used in the Bible: the one time it is translated “harmony” [2 Cor. 6:15], it is speaking of there being no harmony, or unity, existing between Christ and Belial (see also Philippians 2:2 here: “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind”) ; in general, the rest of  uses of this word-root have to do with agreeing [or confessing!] that a particular proposition is true [e.g. Rom. 7:16 – I agree that the Law is good], or agreeing to abide by a particular proposal [e.g. Matthew 20:2 – “After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day”], or coming to an agreement about a particular thing or arrangement [e.g. Matthew 18:19: “if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask…” or Acts 5:9: “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test?” or I Cor. 7:5: “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time”] or particular material things that seem to be alike not being able to function with one another [e.g. Luke 5:36: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old.”] or counting up the value of something [Acts 19:19: “And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver”] or persons, nations, or animals assembling someplace together [e.g. Acts 4:5, 11:26, I Corinthians 5:4]… there is an example of unlike things “having grown together” but this describes thorns growing with the seed of God’s word before choking it out [Luke 8:7])

Gerhard says that it was Aquinas’[correct] view that “In articles of faith, necessary conclusions are drawn only from the canonical Scriptures.  From the fathers, only probable conclusions are drawn… (Johann Gerhard, On the Church, p. 382).  But here you might ask: “What is ‘probable’ though?” just as you essentially ask the following:  What is “clearly demonstrable”?  What is What is “provable”?  What is “perspicuous”?  What is “grounded”?  What is “in agreement with”?  For because of subjectivity and  reasonable men disagreeing we need to look to the solution (well, besides simply bowing to assertions of infallibility, that is) to our impasse: harmony.

So when I quote Chemnitz saying of Irenaeus (who is quoted in Eusebius –see full quote here):

“The apostles handed down many things orally; apostolic men received many things from the apostles by oral tradition which they on their part later delivered to their own disciples. But Irenaeus says that all these things were “in agreement with the Scriptures.”

You simply say: “Of course they are in agreement with the Bible. That is the Catholic position of the three-legged stool: Bible-Tradition-Church: all harmonious: all of a piece.”

I think I understand your viewpoint.  In fact, I actually sympathize with it and have at times been attracted to it.  But then I have to hold myself in check.  Some things may not be so clear, but others are: and this is where I must –guided by the Rule of Faith I have discussed at length above – focus.  The Holy Spirit is no skeptic indeed: there is a reason he inspires Paul to write of the “pattern of sound words” (by the way, you have said elsewhere: “Words in and of themselves [even biblical ones] do not save us; they merely convey the gospel of Jesus’ death on the cross, which saves us by God’s grace and power. It’s like saying that the tube that carries blood saves the person who receives a blood transfusion, rather than the blood itself”, and while I understand what you are saying, I am not sure we can really say this insofar as Jesus insists that His Words “are Spirit and life”).  One of the major problems with mankind is the suppression of truth: we hold it down, as if trying to drown it out, in unrighteousness (in the Irenaeus quote in question, the context of this letter of Ireneaus seems to indicate that the Apostolic teachings that Polycarp heard were all clearly to be found in the Bible…and so we would ask: “is it not reasonable to infer and conclude that Ireneaus is assuming that the person to whom he writes [Florinus] should be able to discover this himself by looking at the words of the texts of Scripture?”)

Knowing this truth about human nature, there is a clear reason why stuff gets written down – it is because oral tradition is often unreliable (I’m sure you can make the case that in some very select circumstances oral tradition would be more reliable for various reasons that a written one, but we are talking about realities that spring from general observations of human nature here).  What is important to be known, gets written down, so there is no confusion.  People are very careful to write down to do this, how much more so with God?  You evidently concede this, because when I said:

“Christ and the Apostles repeated the process with the production of the New Testament writings…. Christ and the Spirit assisted Apostles who gave the Word verbally, and after a time the Apostles or their assistants committed the Word to writing to secure it from the dangers of verbal transmission…” (italics added to original quote)

You replied: “This is essentially asserting the material sufficiency of Scripture, which I and Catholics generally accept. Thus, this particular aspect of Lutheran teaching on authority, we have no gripe with.

At this point then, let us review Chemnitz’s insight from the beginning of his Examination of the Council of Trent, where he discusses in great depth the origins of the Scriptures.

“It does much to shed light on the dignity and authority of the Holy Scripture that God Himself not only instituted and commanded the plan of comprehending the heavenly doctrine in writing but that He also initiated, dedicated , and consecrated it by writing the words of the Decalogue with His own fingers…. (53)  In order that those things which were either to be written through men of God, adorned for this by miracles and divine testimonies, or to be approved by them after they had been written, should not have a lesser authority or no authority at all for the confirmation of dogmas and the refutations of errors, God chose not to write the whole Law Himself, but, having written the words of the Decalog, He gave Moses the command that he should write the remainder from His dictation. And in order that the people of God might be certain that this Scripture of Moses was not introduced by the will of man but was divinely inspired, God gave the testimony of Moses authority through many might miracles both before and after the writing, and during the writing itself… (54)

…We have thus shown two things from the most ancient sacred history: (1) that the purity of the heavenly doctrine was not preserved always and everywhere through tradition by the living voice but was repeatedly corrupted and adulterated ;  (2) in order that new and special revelations might not always be necessary for restoring and retaining purity of the doctrine, God instituted another method under Moses, namely, that the doctrine of the Word of God should be comprehended in writing. “ (54)

All throughout this discussion, Chemnitz will cite several Scriptures, including passages about how Moses’ writings were put in the Ark for custody and protection (Deut 31:25-26), how the King should have his own copy (Deut 17:18-20), how the people should teach their families (Deut 6:9 ; 11:20), etc.  Prominent especially is this passage:   “Place this book in the side of the ark of the covenant that it may be to you a testimony against you.  For I know that after my [Moses’] death you will depart from the way I taught you.”   Chemnitz goes on to say that the guardians of this Scripture were to share its doctrine by which the people should find everything essential for their life of faith: “…to them had been committed the oracles of God (Rom. 3:2). But this did not give them license either to establish anything arbitrary or to impose upon the church from unwritten traditions as dogmas for faith things other and different from those which had been written… if they departed from the commandments of God, this Scripture was to be a testimony (Deut 31:26).  Therefore Moses commanded a copy of the Law to be written, that it might be canon, norm, and rule from which they were not to depart (Deut. 17:18-20).   And God magnificently glorified and commended this custodianship of His Word by the building, carrying, and service connected with the splendid tabernacle.”  (56)

What about the oral tradition?  “…it was true that during so many years the patriarchs had spoken far more words about the heavenly doctrine than could be comprehended in the one very short book of Moses ; but that of all the things which the patriarchs did and taught by divine inspiration those were chosen to be written down which were judged to be sufficient for posterity for faith and for rules of godly living.  There is no doubt that God Himself is the author of this judgment or selection.  For what Moses writes in the first chapter as having been done and said before the creation of man he could have learned from no man but solely by the revelation of God.  It is therefore certain, and I believe that not even the papalists will deny it, that those things which God judged to be necessary for posterity concerning the doctrine and faith of the patriarchs are contained in the writings of Moses.  And surely there can be no doubt that certain stories concerning the sayings of the patriarchs which were neither wrong nor useless must have remained in the memory of the godly.  But these had to be neither contrary to nor different from, but in harmony with, the things which Moses wrote, so that the writing of Moses might be the rule and standard according to which whatever was said concerning the doctrine of the patriarchs and of Moses should be tried and examined. “ (57)

Note carefully the kind of harmony Chemnitz is talking about…. a harmony that can be readily cross-referenced with what was written.  If there are things that might be “harmonious” but are not in those things that are written, we are not dealing with “must-need-to-know” kinds of things.  “It is written” is the believer’s watchword, as Isaiah (8:20) and Bereans (Acts 17) well knew. 

(by the way, you have written elsewhere about all of the things not included in the Old Testament that are included in the canonical books of the New Testament – I want you to know I fully acknowledge that I, like Chemnitz, realize that certain aspects of this tradition were taken up by the New Testament writers and given solidification by them [there really are no essential doctrines here though – just some factual information that the writers feel compelled to mention to help them as they encourage the people on issues of faith and how to live], as they wrote their works according to the Holy Spirit – works that were attested to by miracles as well).

Other Old Testament passages that track with what Chemnitz is saying here: In Is. 30:8 God says to the prophet: “Now go, write it before them on a tablet and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come as a witness forever.”  In Hab. 2:2 we read: “Write the vision; make it plain upon tablets, so he may run who reads it.”  Is. 8:1 (not long before 8:20!) says: “Take a large tablet and write upon it in common characters” (see also I Sam. 10:25, Jer. 36:2 ; 45:1 ; 51:60, II Chronicles 17:7-9 ; 31:20-21 ; ).  God seems pretty serious about getting His Words “written in stone” so to speak, that they might be a certain testimony in the faithless years that His faithful people will endure.  “To the teaching and to the testimony!  But if they speak not according to this word, there will be no dawn for them” indeed. 

Passages from the Gospels and Acts also track with what Chemnitz is saying here.  As Chemnitz points out, “for, that the evangelists and apostles saw to it that their doctrine was written down , this they took from the very first origin of the Scripture” (62-62) and “Whenever Christ and the apostles in the New Testament assert that the prophets said something, that God spoke by the mouth of the prophets, or when they call a saying prophetic, they are not directing us to silent unwritten traditions: they mean that which is written in the Scripture” (59).  Hence in Luke 24 we hear the words, “Thus it is written”, as Christ reveals what God’s revelation really meant.  Unlike many of the scribes and Pharisees (who also appealed to a long, continuous line of unbroken succession) who had created traditions they preferred to the true ones (see Matt 5:21, 27, 31,33,38, 43 ; 15:1-9; 23 ; Mark 7:2-13 ; Luke 11:37-52 ; 18:12 ; Matt 23), even after His resurrection Jesus desired to focus on nothing other than the written Scriptures.  At the first council in Jerusalem, an epistle was written to the churches that had been gathered from the Gentiles because the Apostles themselves could not be present everywhere to counter the false traditions people tried to spread, and a solid word was needed.   Judas and Silas were not sent to these churches with the true oral tradition alone, but with words on ink and paper (note how Peter and John approve Philip in Acts 8:14, verifying him ; elsewhere Apostles must use letters to do this).  Chemnitz sums up the reasons given by the fathers for the origin of the book of Matthew in this way: 1) because of his departure and his absence from those he eventually wrote it for, 2) because memory is frail and fallible, 3) to provide a summary of the whole faith for those who could not hear the Apostle and 4) it was necessary on account of the heretics and their corrupt teachings posing as the Gospel (87).  Of his teachings, Luke says that he wrote down things of the greatest reliability for their safeguarding (i.e. to counter threats of corruption).  Elsewhere this word is used in relation to confining prisoners (Acts 16:24) or to making secure Christ’s tomb (Matt 27:64).  Chemnitz, noting the history that surrounds the origins of John’s Gospel, says that he wrote what he did (which contains those things necessary for people to have life in Jesus’ Name) after the others “so that the church might not in the future be carried about by any wind and pretense of traditions but be sure in the doctrine of the apostles concerning the deeds of Christ” (93).

Passages from the Epistles also track with what Chemnitz is saying here.  Paul writes his letters not only because he wants them to remember what he taught them in person (see II Cor. 1:13: “his epistles are recognized by the doctrine which he had delivered orally when he was present…. as he was in his speech when he was present, so he is also in his letters…” p. 121 ; see also Rom. 15:14-15, Heb. 2:1), but also so that those eager to do so could not foist “doctrines… on the church under the pretext and name of Apostolic tradition” (see II Thes. 2:2, II Cor. 12:11-13, Colossians 2:1,2,4,8, I Peter 11:10-12, II Peter, Jude, I John: “those who would deceive you…”, 4:1, ).  It was critical that he got his teaching down in writing (especially as he was in constant danger of death) because of the constant danger of false teaching (especially as the Last Day nears…)  Hence, he often asks that his letters would be sent to other places (“as I teach everywhere in every church” [I Cor. 4:17] comes to mind…) and signs them in his own name so that others could prove that these letters had Apostolic authority (108, 109) – so they could have the “full assurance” he mentions in Colossians.   II Tim. 3:14-17, which surely need not exclude the N.T. Scriptures (he would not need to say “all Scripture” if we was only talking about the Old Testament), is a well-known passage illustrating the centrality of the holy writings in the Church, and their importance in the defense of true teaching.  Further, in Philippians 3:1 he talks about how “[writing] the same things to you is not irksome to me, and it is safe for you” (immediately going on to warn of the “dogs” and “evil workers”).  Not long later, in Philippians chapter 3:16 he says, “Let us walk by the rule to which we have attained”, that is, what he previously delivered orally and has now been made safe by writing.  At the end of the book of Galatians, Paul surely is thinking about those things we have been discussing above, as he says “as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16; also see Romans 1:1-2, 3:2, and 15:4, which indicates that Paul seems to compare his own writings to the Old Testament writings [since he uses the same technical word for both his and the Old Testament writings], which were, as it were, “put up for public display”, p. 129).  In I John we learn “that that Word which they heard from the beginning has [now] been written” (they already know the truth, and this is in fact why he writes them, p. 145).

Finally, let us again note that Acts 17:11 of course parallels Is. 8:20 in its focus: examining and testing statements against the received Scriptures, a God-pleasing activity indeed.  

So we see over and over that God initiated and continued this written tradition in part so that His people would be held in check in a way that the bare oral tradition could not.  As to why things should work this way, I suggest that it has to do in part with the fact that this is the normal way among men of dealing with matters surrounding written documentation.   Thus the Lutheran view of how God works in His Church through the written word.  Again, all of this simply coincides with basic principles of interpretation that derive from our nature as human beings, and we know this is generally how things work in this fallen world.  Therefore, I do not think it is unreasonable in any sense to say that, for example, in a court of law, the Roman Catholic idea of harmony that you espouse would never be acceptable.  Certainly there are things that can be reasonably deduced from non-explicit texts, i.e. things that though implicit in the writing become clear when presented with additional evidence (for example, from the early Church fathers interpretations of those texts).  This kind of harmony would be acceptable in any court of law, by any reasonable standards of dealing with the evidence written documentation can provide.  When it comes to proclaiming the Church’s doctrines, explicit or implicit Biblical support is primarily required for this common sense reason that we see supported in the Scriptures themselves (not because it is a Protestant “entrenched, arbitrary tradition of man”).

I myself can think of objections to what I have written above.  Obviously, the image of the child ignoring or downplaying their parents commands with a snide “but you can’t prove it to me….” is not a pretty picture (to flesh out one objection).  Nevertheless, we cannot deny that Scripture clearly indicates that the Church is to always be testing what they hear.  We must always remember that Bereans are commended for wanting Paul to prove things to them.  So, obviously, since the Scriptures themselves indicate that proof is in some sense possible, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the Holy Spirit convicts us in the very straightforward fashion described above….  Are there counter-arguments to this?

As regards human beings it is true, when we talk about why people write down what they do for others, that they cannot always foresee all of the things that should be said about something (since so much of our knowledge is tacit or implicit knowledge and it really takes conversation and exact circumstances to help us know what must be recorded).  But we trust that God, through His Holy Spirit, clearly revealed to His Apostles all that we need to know for our salvation.  He is not like mere men. 

Let us address your kind of harmony in more detail.   First of all, let me quote you, to show how this harmonizing works:

 “….As for “new dogma”: that has to be carefully defined. Development of doctrine is intricately involved in all that…

So, for example, the Catholic would say that the initial kernel and essence of the Immaculate Conception is the sinlessness of Mary: almost universally held by the fathers (a tiny minority thought she committed a few sins), and the notion of the Second Eve (Mary said “yes” to God whereas Eve had said “no”, thus opening the way to the Incarnation; Eve was sinless; by analogy, so was Mary).

This essential kernel (that is indeed indicated in Scripture: I make no less than four distinct biblical arguments for that (see my dialogue with Dr. Gene Edward Veith), then develops over centuries, with much reflection, to the Immaculate Conception, which is a consistent development of sinlessness: merely extending it back to her conception and to original as well as actual sin. So if you or Chemnitz claim there is “nothing” in Scripture whatever about this doctrine, I strongly disagree, and demonstrate otherwise. The Assumption follows logically: if Mary is without sin, even original sin, then it follows that she would not necessarily have to undergo the decay of death: she becomes like Adam and Eve before the fall. Thus it is directly deduced from a doctrine that has much implicit indication in Scripture, which is completely in accord with material sufficiency.”

Now what should we make of harmony like this?  Earlier I had said this in your comments box:

I think whether something is in agreement with something else is usually pretty straightforward (clear). I contend that “harmony” is a different matter though. Harmony, it seems to me, points to many things that are not the same at all but go together in a way that produces one thing that greater than the sum of its parts – parts which are complementary, but not the same in any real sense. Further, when we are not talking specifically about music, I think it is more difficult to really tell when something is harmonious: I suggest that it is quite easy for something to appear to be in harmony with something else when it really is not. According to you, apostolic tradition can never contradict the Scriptures. Certainly, you would say that it cannot express the opposite of propositions in Scripture – nor can it deny them in any way. Nor would you, I believe, say that it can be contrary to, or inconsistent with the Scriptures. But again, many things can appear to be harmonious, or consistent, when they are not. You say, “The nature and scope of “proof” cannot simply be some tradition of men, itself unattached to biblical criteria” and I agree, but I also submit that we can be easily taken in by things that are do not deserve to be reverenced equally with those things that are more clearly displayed. Stuff that has a semblance of plausibility can be added to the Scriptures – and then made essential doctrine whereby those who do not comply – and who do not think they can comply (by their consciences) – are to be found outside the door of the Ark. And all I can think about is “Do not go beyond what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other”….  (bold added)

I asked a wise musically-inclined friend about the notion of harmony and he said the following: “ Every composer uses different rules for putting together the notes! That is why it is relatively easy to tell in a chord or two whether you are listening to Bach, Mozart, Puccini, Sibelius, or Mahler! When learning music theory, whatever music is written by the student to be submitted to the teacher is compared to the harmonic structure that is being taught, which initially is Bach. If a note written is found not to be ‘in agreement with’ the ‘harmonic structure’ used by Bach, it would be deemed to be incorrect.

So what does this mean for theology?  Perhaps we could put the question this way:  Though lots of things might initially sound “good”, which ideas are “in agreement with” the “harmonic structure” that accurately reflects God’s message for us?  (which we contend is found in seven kinds of tradition Chemnitz finds acceptable, primarily, but not limited to the Rule-of-faith confirming Scriptures).  When it comes to making this explicit in our minds, we might call this thing not just “dogmatics” but “systematic theology”.  I submit that when one defends a “harmonic structure” that denies that God creates (through his messengers) willing people out of unwilling ones (i.e. God saves spiritually powerless persons and causes them to begin to fear, love and trust in Him), and certain people out of uncertain ones (i.e. we can have “peace” with God and know that we have eternal life), there is an absolutely fundamental problem with the system that is being put forth.  Why is Trent’s insistence that free will actively cooperates with grace to begin salvation acceptable?  Why is Mother Theresa’s admission of uncertainty as regards the stability of her relationship with God a virtue? 

So here we are back to harmony and agreement and our definitions thereof.  I have no trouble with anyone believing the Marian doctrines you mention above.  I think personally she was ever-virgin and probably sinned less than most anyone.  Still, if you are going to insist that this is essential doctrine – and that I place myself outside the Church for something I simply can’t see in the Scriptures, I really cannot abide by this.

Dave, related to this matter of agreement and harmony, I had also asked what you would say were your “strongest cases” from the “Catholic verses” you found  in the Scriptures, and you said they were the Catholic rule of faith (falsity of sola Scriptura), the Catholic view of justification, purgatory, and the papacy.  I note that Gerhard looked at the evidence for a couple of the doctrines mentioned above and came to this conclusion:

“The Roman church condemns the Eastern churches of today because they do not accept the primacy of the pope, the celibacy of priests, the mutilation of the Lord’s Supper, purgatory, etc.  Therefore either the Eastern churches are erring or the Roman church, which hurls the thunderbolt of anathema at them because of this, is in error.” (208)

I will continue to look (did Rome really anathematize the EO over their denial of purgatory and the lack of celibacy in their priests!?) into these questions as time allows.

We end this section with a quote from Gerhard:

“Not all the fathers appeal to the church, nor in all questions, nor when arguing against all adversaries.  Far more fathers, including those whose testimonies we cite, appeal more frequently to Scripture, as will be apparent from their statements in the question of the marks of the church (#138).  When they argue against those who denied or corrupted the canon of Scripture, then they appeal to the churches in which the Scriptures have been preserved through succession from the apostles.  But when they argue against those who neither remove nor corrupt the canon of Scripture, they appeal to the Scriptures primarily, and they add the testimony of the church secondarily and less principally.” (p. 125)

VII.  Lastly, essential and non-essential doctrines

Dave you said:

Catholics don’t believe that anything deemed to be part of the apostolic deposit is up for grabs or merely optional (as you guys think) because it is regarded as of less importance….” (bolded parts originally italicized)

And

there has to be some method to determine how many dogmas ought to be binding. We go by the judgment of the historic Church, which has decided things, just as the Jerusalem Council did, with Peter, Paul, and James present.” (bold mine)

First of all, we in no way are saying that we think that any part of “the apostolic deposit is up for grabs or merely optional “)…  because it is regarded as of less importance” (so we don’t, in fact, think this – see below).   Second, the fact that you go on to talk about the Church recognizing/realizing/determining “how many dogmas out to be binding” essentially nullifies all of the following exchanges:

Me: ….(Or: do the early church fathers explicitly [and consistently] say that [non-Lutheran] doctrines are inseparable from the Rule of Faith?)

You: Church fathers (like the Bible and the Catholic Church) generally think all doctrines and practices are important, and don’t as readily draw fine-point distinctions along these lines that Protestants are prone to make. (note the bold, which are mine)

Comment: So fine-point distinctions are made nonetheless…

Me: It seems to me… that all the essential doctrines of the faith ought to be able to be clearly established, demonstrated, and proved from the Scriptures – not just for the Lutheran but for the Roman Catholic.  I guess this is your calling card Dave… after all, you are the guy who literally writes the books about how, after being correctly informed about Roman Catholic teachings, one can then go back to the Scriptures and find Scriptural support for those teachings (e.g. the “Catholic verses”, etc.: “all Christian, Catholic doctrines can be found in Scripture, explicitly, implicitly, or deduced from same. And all Catholic doctrines are certainly harmonious with Scripture” you have said).

You: Indeed. We can provide such corroboration. Protestants cannot when it comes to key distinctives that they invented in the 16th century. 

Comment: Inevitable implicit take-away for me: there are essential doctrines of the faith.  : )

Me: Lutherans accept that there are non-essential teachings or practices (i.e. those that cannot be clearly demonstrated from the Scriptures) that can, in principle, be present, and practiced, and even upheld in the Church (how is it upheld though?).

You: Well, then it is the game of “essential” vs. “non-essential” that is another arbitrary Protestant tradition of men, and very difficult (if not impossible) to prove from the Bible itself. …

Comment: If this is a tradition of men, its one we all share.  I submit that at the very least it is a legitimate development of doctrine in the church. 

All of that said, let us look at this exchange:

Me: … Note that insofar as any tradition not specifically sanctioned in Scripture does not mitigate the Gospel, it can be accepted (i.e. we are “conservative” when it comes to traditions: with Chrysostom we think that even unwritten traditions of the Church are “also worthy of credit”) – but again: only insofar as it is not insisted that these traditions be held with the same reverence as those which are clearly put forth there (i.e. stuff that was so important it found its way into the Scriptures in a way that cannot be denied: even baptism is like this: “the Promise if for you and your children”) in the Scriptures.  And of course, in the background here is the idea that our very salvation depends on our keeping these traditions that Rome insisted on.  Saying all this is not to say that Lutherans will never have a good, knock-down debate about what we believe among ourselves, but this is indeed our faith – which we would contend is synonymous with the Rule of Faith.

You: Again, I would contend that the Bible itself doesn’t seem to make these distinctions of primary or essential and secondary (or optional) doctrines. About all that can be found along these lines is Romans 14; but note what Paul is discussing there: what to eat and drink and what holy days to observe. That is not even doctrine; it is practice. I devoted 20 pages in my book, 501 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura, to this question of so-called essential and secondary doctrines.  There I provided dozens of Bible passages that don’t seem to differentiate; they merely assume a “truth” that is known and binding upon all believers:

Comment: A) again, we are not saying that secondary doctrines are optional.  B) For the RC, would it not be right to say that binding doctrine and essential doctrine are synonymous phrases?   If not, why not?

Dave, Gerhard’s main opponent, the great sainted Cardinal Bellarmine himself believed that there were essential and non-essential doctrines (Gerhard, On the Church, 224).  I am guessing that we would find that most all RC theologians have believed this – I think that the challenge would be to find one who does not believe it.   Does not the RC Church today not draw rather sharp lines between dogmas, disciplines, and pious opinions, for example? 

Next, I agree with you (our statements are in harmony! : ) ) that it is good, right and salutary for a person, generally speaking, to simply assent to all the commands of the church (although as Augustine pointed out, in the Creed we are talking about believing that there is a Church: faith, or trust, in the Church, while not unimportant,  is not in view here at least).  There are things that I tell my children to do that are really important, and there are things I tell them to do that are less so.  In any case, I expect them to obey – and preferably without always asking me “Why?” (even politely) – in both cases.  The reasons that I would give for each command vary, but in general, it is good to obey with those that God has placed over you for your own good and the good of your neighbor.

Here I cite this exchange:

Me: In other words, we are not just talking about this or that father, for instance, simply sharing how churches in their region, for example, use this or that custom [perhaps from this or that Apostle]  – after all, while essential doctrines are not adiaphora, or “indifferent things”, how they are taught and encouraged though rites and ceremonies can be.  Further, if you can come up with examples of them rebuking error and correcting and binding people in this way (i.e. without Scriptural demonstration), what are the reasons that they give for saying that people should believe/do  these things – and what are or should be the consequences if they don’t?

You: Because the Church says so, in turn because it had always been believed in some fashion. If we want to move forward, we’ll have to get specific and discuss one doctrine or one father at a time.

I don’t deny that there is much truth to your first sentence above.  And regarding the second sentence, we now have.  Again, the point is that the Church has always recognized/realized/determined that some teachings are binding and others aren’t, i.e., that there are primary and secondary doctrines, (let’s put it this way right now, as perhaps we can be more clear about what we mean in this way).   The fine Lutheran Pastor Will Weedon, always helpful in these matters, tells us to think concretely about the history of the church here: “The distinction as Lutherans practice it is based on the living experience of the Church…. The Lutherans thought out from 1 Cor. 3.  There are doctrines that are part of the ‘foundation’ – other than which none can lay, which is Christ.  To err in these is to ‘overthrow the foundation.’  But if one holds the foundation, it is still possible to build on it with ‘wood, hay and stubble’ rather than with ‘gold and precious stones.’  When a father erred in teaching something the Church judged to be an error on the basis of Scripture, then that father erred in a secondary doctrine [one thinks of Irenaeus and his chiliasm, for example].  These are not optional – not in the sense that they are harmless – they are still false, but they do not overthrow the foundation.”

Think about it: councils were called, in part, because different churches had declared certain things to be of importance and others had not (think about the debates between Alexandria and Antioch for example: a monolith the early church was not).   When councils finally do decide things as well, note that it is often significant how they do so: even if they decide that all should celebrate Easter at the same time (Nicea I), note that they do not “anathematize” those who would resist such a command.  This can be seen as a logical extension of the principle Irenaeus had expressed long before: “Disagreement in fasting does not destroy unity in faith.”  On the other hand, Arius, Pelagius and Nestorius are condemned as heretics and anathematized.  Why?  Although the difference with the Easter declaration may not be said in so many words (i.e. it is tacit or implicit, not explicit), it really is rather obvious, isn’t it?  Because they are no longer building on the foundation, but setting up another one (I think that many times what teachings were important only became obvious in light of error).  Therefore, I conclude that it is very clear that there have always been distinctions between primary and secondary doctrines (think of Hebr. 1:1, Mark 16:16, Matt. 22:34-46: the great commandment and a second that is like it, “upon whom all the law and the prophets depend.”)

Does this mean that all “secondary doctrines” are exactly the same?  Not necessarily.  First of all, a distinction between primary and secondary doctrines is never intended to teach us that some of the things that God has revealed to us are unimportant (although some things that are done by human rite for the sake of love and order in the church may be, and hence we call them adiaphora, or “indifferent things”,  a term that even Roman Catholics appreciate, I think: here is where we can really talk about “essentials” and “non-essentials” with no qualifications at all).  On the contrary, while we would say that there is error that occurs among churches that does not overthrow the foundation of salvation (perhaps things like chialism, insisting that martyrs should not flee, denying the Scriptures are inerrant in their original manuscripts, or, to give an example Luther gave, denying that Balaam’s ass spoke), meaning that we can be confident people can still be saved in churches where such teaching occurs.  Still, on matters such as these we would still insist that doctrine be entirely pure, because though we judge that these things may not immediately undermine someone’s salvation (i.e. they don’t affect the Creeds, for example), there is still the danger as some of the real or imagined implications of these teachings spread, therefore pastors denying these things should experience rebuke and possibly forms of discipline….  For the true Rule of Faith always runs back to the recognized Scriptures and treasures each precious sentence they contain – from the least of these and the greatest.  We rejoice that Balaam’s ass spoke. 

At this point, let us examine the following quotation from you:

“… It is perfectly permissible to say that truth is grounded in apostolic succession and the Church grounded therein. It is also true to say that truth is grounded in Holy Scripture. The two do not contradict. But they need not always be stated together. Chemnitz will only state them together while stressing over and over again that Scripture is over Tradition and the Church.

But Tertullian, Irenaeus, and other Fathers saw no need to dichotomize and categorize like that. They simply didn’t think in those terms (as historians of doctrine have stressed). It requires revisionism and historical anachronism to make out that they thought like 16th century Lutherans on these issues.”

We don’t need to think they thought just like us, but if the idea of essential and non-essential doctrines is at the very least a legitimate development of doctrine, than it is perfectly legitimate to go back and explore whether, according to Scripture, doctrines such as these are either essential or practical doctrines (for certain times) – when the Church is being told that they are, and that a denial of such results in excommunication, it must do this.  Perhaps if Rome would have listened to the voice in the wilderness calling out to them, we to would have seen no need to “dichotomize and categorize” as you say.

We need to look at this situation with our eyes wide open.  The distinction between essential and non-essential doctrines is hardly a Protestant invention.  It is not that the Roman Catholic church does not have essential and non-essential doctrines.   Interestingly, to a certain extent, the plurality which exists within the Roman Catholic church is that their unity is not so much doctrinal, but based upon a submission to authority (well, I suppose that is the doctrine: submit to the infallible heir of Peter, the visible head of the Church!)   In any case, because this is so, it is no big deal at all (I will not insist that it should be, even as I disagree with many aspects of RC monasticism) that a group of nuns in France can follow a certain set of rules, and monks and New Mexico and follow another, even as they all must submit to the authority of the church.  Still, I wonder if there is an even more essential doctrine than submission to the Pope.   Did not John Paul II make clear that it was love, so even if you were outside of the church – even if you did not know Christ by faith – you had a chance of entering heaven?

After all, in Lu-men Gentium from in Vatican II we read:

“Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience— those, too, may achieve eternal salvation” (24).

Of course, this does not nullify what Trent said which was that free will actively cooperates with grace to begin salvation.  These agree with one another (related aside: they are not just in “harmony” with each other, but can really be tested against one another as stand-alone statements, and seen to agree)

So David, this is why, when I think about these things, I grow concerned for you.  Embracing an unwarranted use of the words agreement and harmony, I submit you have embraced a concept of tradition which undermines the true Rule of Faith, which always flees to the original Scriptures, and tests all things against them: for it is only responsible to conclude that everything the Apostles passed on orally will be in agreement with the Scriptures, in the sense that it will be readily found there.  The RC Rule of Faith is not the true one.  By insisting that all Christians adopt what are, in all honesty, doctrines that on the face of it seem less than Biblical (i.e. using any definition of “proof” it is hard to see how they are really contained in the Scriptures), the Roman Catholic Church is binding consciences in a way they ought not.  They are insisting on a foundation which many devout and simple Christians, in their consciences, cannot readily embrace.  When Jesus says, “it is written”, and when Paul says “do not go beyond what is written…. Test all things”, they are going to take this very, very seriously.   Many so much so that they will never even consider your arguments that you present – they know their Bibles well (granted this is not the majority of those in some sense claiming the name “Evangelical” today), and they see that what you’re saying is at the very least a stretch.  Now: if these doctrines were not insisted on, matters might be quite different.  Again, as Gerhard said “If the confession of true doctrine and the legitimate use of the Sacraments had been left free for us, perhaps we would not have departed from the external fellowship of the Roman church.” (139)

But as it stands now, this believer can only conclude that great deception is involved.   One foundation is being swapped for another, even if remnants of the truth which save continue to preserve some within the Roman Church.  I will not insist that there is nothing of the visible church in Rome, but I will say that it is like riding a roller coaster at an amusement park that has failed to abide by regulations: do you really want to take that risk?  If I had grown up Roman Catholic, it was just me, and my priest upheld God’s Law and preached free grace in Christ (i.e. they did not make absolution contingent on my remembering all my sins, doing my penance exactly right, etc.), I might remain a RC-Lutheran in the Tiber, looking to learn as well as teach.  But definitely not with my children.  My children will hear that they are sinners and that when they call their sin sin and receive grace that they have peace with God.  Period. 

Period.  As Chemnitz says in one place: “Let us therefore be content with those things which were written briefly and simply because of our slowness and infirmity” (130)

Lord have mercy.  

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2011 in Uncategorized