Round 2 with RC apologist Dave Armstrong: the unattractive body of Christ
“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).
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?”
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.
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.
“….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. . .
“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.
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.
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!
“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)
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?
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” ) 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”  ; 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”  ; Augustine also believes that there were times when the Church only existed in Abel, or Cain, or Abraham ) 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”  – 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.
“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.
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)
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)
“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.