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

16 Nov

Round 3: A few good Pharisees

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

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

–Augustine, On John, tractate 46

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

–Johann Gerhard, On the Church, 146.

Prolegomenon (declaration and public email exchange with Dave Armstrong)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Before you read it:

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

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

And after you read it you said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(end of email)

Round 3a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

What would Socrates do?  : )

You go on:

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

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

You go on:

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

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

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

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

You go on:

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

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

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

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

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

So when you quote Paul saying:

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

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

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

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

-covered sufficiently above.

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

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

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

-dealt with sufficiently above.

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

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

e)      Vs. Jesus himself (John 5:39)

-covered sufficiently above.

I now also mention the additional points:

f)       vs. John the Baptist

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

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

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

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

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

i)        Matthew 16

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

Dave, near the end of your post you say:

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, I will quote your ending in full:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Round 3b

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

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

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

Dialogue on Lutheranism and Catholicism, Part One: Introductory

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Nathan b: see above. 


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

I had challenged you, stating:

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Nathan b:  Hope this helps


* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

You have said elsewhere:

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

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

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

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

Like a child resting in its mother’s arms.   

Semper pax,




Posted by on November 16, 2011 in Uncategorized


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8 responses to “Round 3 with RC apologist Dave Armstrong: A few good Pharisees

  1. Dave Armstrong

    November 17, 2011 at 7:03 am

    they also continue to uphold Trent, which says, for instance: “If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake… let him be anathema.

    What is condemned here is antinomianism: a radical faith alone disconnected to any notion of works or “a faith that works” at all. Since Luther and Lutherans (rightly understood) do not teach that, it is not an anathema against them.

    This is not intending to anathematize sola gratia at all, because in other places Trent plainly affirms that and denies semi-Pelagianism (which the Book of Concord constantly falsely accuses us of holding).

  2. Dave Armstrong

    November 17, 2011 at 7:33 am

    Hi Nathan,

    I have read the whole thing, and have decided to let you have the last word, because it is again on a huge grand scale, and would require way too much work to refute.

    The reason is because our disagreements are in the end on a very fundamental level of presuppositions. Each one of those takes a tremendous amount of work to refute, and I have neither the energy nor desire nor time to do that much work. It’s a project on too large of a scale, and most of those issues I have already written about many times anyway.

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

    You make a good and consistent case, which is Lutheranism. I simply deny many of the premises that you construct it upon. A view is only as good as its premises are solid. It gets into, as I have said, the nature of the Church and of apostolic succession, the relation of Scripture to Tradition, etc. Lutherans have redefined these things from how they were traditionally understood. You deny it. Well, that is another huge argument itself, and requires gigantic discussions about each issue individually.

    I will link to this paper on my last two responses.

    In the future, I would definitely like to debate further, but it has to be, I think, on very particular, more factually-based issues, that we can wrangle about: either patristic stuff or comparative exegesis: e.g., “what does such-and-such a verse mean, and does it support Lutheranism or Catholicism?” “Did Church Father X believe B?” I have said this before, more than once. It’s nothing new.

    We can’t do everything at once: not with the thoroughness that each issue demands. Apologetics is a matter of cumulative evidences. And for any apologist to succeed in his task of defense and persuasion, he has to work little by little. It is always the Holy Spirit Who moves anyone into some particular belief-system, and of course, Who saves people. We simply remove roadblocks and objections, as best we can. We can’t build an entire freeway from coast to coast all at once. 🙂

    God bless you!

  3. Nathan

    November 17, 2011 at 2:23 pm


    I’ve only read your first comment so far. One at a time.

    “they also continue to uphold Trent, which says, for instance: “If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake… let him be anathema.

    What is condemned here is antinomianism: a radical faith alone disconnected to any notion of works or “a faith that works” at all. Since Luther and Lutherans (rightly understood) do not teach that, it is not an anathema against them.”

    I think you are wrong. In Rome, faith – even true faith – is not enough. One must, empowered by grace, do good works in order to secure one’s salvation. Peace with God – via a sure confidence in *nothing* other than God’s free forgiveness and mercy in Christ – is not permitted.

    I would challenge you to find me anything written by any respected RC writer before the last 40 years that would say what you are saying here. Can you?

    “This is not intending to anathematize sola gratia at all, because in other places Trent plainly affirms that and denies semi-Pelagianism (which the Book of Concord constantly falsely accuses us of holding).”

    I think it is intended to anathematize the sola gratia insofar as we do not view grace in the same way you do. For us, grace is a relational term. For you it is some kind of substance that comes from the Divine.

    As to false accusations, I will continue to study the matter. See the conversation with Jonathan Brumley in the Round 2 comments section. I think we get to the crux there…

  4. Nathan

    November 17, 2011 at 2:53 pm


    Thank you for your compliment. It means a lot to me coming from you. I will try not to feel triumphalistic in any sense! I understand your concerns about time management. I have those to, but felt that this was one battle I should make sacrifices over.

    “It gets into, as I have said, the nature of the Church and of apostolic succession, the relation of Scripture to Tradition, etc. Lutherans have redefined these things from how they were traditionally understood. You deny it. Well, that is another huge argument itself, and requires gigantic discussions about each issue individually.”

    Of course, I dispute this. I think that what has happened is that in the West we have come more and more to realize the complicated nature of knowing the truth. What you see as redefinition, I simply see as refinement, I think. I would argue that the Lutherans are faithful to the practices of the Church as it has existed from the beginning, i.e. that the true tradition involves consistently lifting up the voices of the past, particularly those who were canonized in Scripture (since those teachings were, being summations of what was valuable, put in writing for preservation *and* safeguarding), and being suspicious of anything that would even seem to depart from them in the least. Again, this “looking back and testing” is part and parcel of the rule of faith, which admittedly, if often implicit and only becomes more clear in the light of heresies and challenges to the truth (which those holding to the regula fidei know in their bones if they have been immersed in the Word of God). I think my round 2 response to you dealt with all of this in quite a bit of depth (VI and VII of that).

    That said, let me briefly address the issue of premises/presuppositions…

    You said:

    “The reason is because our disagreements are in the end on a very fundamental level of presuppositions. Each one of those takes a tremendous amount of work to refute, and I have neither the energy nor desire nor time to do that much work. It’s a project on too large of a scale, and most of those issues I have already written about many times anyway.”

    I think people’s presuppositions can also be subject to debate to, once they have been made more explicit. If you have indeed dealt with this kind of thing, I would like to read what you have written – please link me to some relative articles if you have the time….

    I think it may indeed be true that sometimes our arguments and questions assume our “conclusions”, but more must be said, think. Perhaps we are all ideologues of one sort or another, but what kind of ideologues are we? (there is a moral component to this as well, as I am sure you will agree). In addition, our views of what constitutes reality may be more or less conscious, and I suggest that it is good when we can become more conscience of these, and state our presuppositions more explicitly (maybe we can say presuppositions are in some ways our assumptions made more conscious?).

    In any case, I think our assumptions/presuppositions (premises) may be more or less reflected on, developed, and tentative, i.e. subject to change….

    So, when you say:

    “In the future, I would definitely like to debate further, but it has to be, I think, on very particular, more factually-based issues, that we can wrangle about: either patristic stuff or comparative exegesis: e.g., “what does such-and-such a verse mean, and does it support Lutheranism or Catholicism?” “Did Church Father X believe B?” I have said this before, more than once. It’s nothing new.”

    I agree with you in part, but our methodologies are so different, it seems. We believe that Scripture should interpret Scripture (Bereans again) and as we’ve both agreed, Church Fathers at times have erred and need to be covered – if for no other reason than for speaking carelessly….

    I do think if we pick up again sometime in the future, you should deal with at least the first part of my post (on Matthew 23:2-3) : )

    You and I seem pretty firm in our presuppositions, but again – each one of us believes the other to be believing falsely – and so I am sure that you would agree that one of us needs to get knocked off our horse! I agree in full with your final paragraph about apologetics.

    Semper pax,


  5. Dave Armstrong

    November 17, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    I would challenge you to find me anything written by any respected RC writer before the last 40 years that would say what you are saying here. Can you?

    I produce the present pope and the German Conference of bishops, among others. Details under #19 of the following paper (near the end):

    The Catholic Understanding of the “Anathemas” of Trent and Excommunication

    That’s not before 1971, but that is irrelevant. The Church continues to expand its understanding and develop. Ecumenism has developed rapidly since WWII, and I’m delighted to see it.

  6. Dave Armstrong

    November 17, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    We have beaten the Pharisee issue to death: have both thoroughly given our positions, and we reject each others’ conclusions thoroughly. I think I adequately answered you and that you didn’t overcome my argument. You feel the same. There is nowhere to go with that. I think we just have to leave it where it is and let readers draw their own conclusions. That’s the beauty of having confidence in one’s own position, as we both obviously do! A person like that is happy to let folks read their arguments, and is confident that they will persuade truly seeking, open-minded persons.

    But readers read things from the point of view of their prior presuppositions, too. I particularly know about all that because I went through the process of conversion and that entails examining and eventually overthrowing any number of firmly-held presuppositions.

    I used to think exactly like you in many ways (though not with the Lutheran label on it: more like a Baptist), before 1990.

    Relevant papers of mine would be found on my Church and Bible & Tradition and Luther, and Lutheranism pages (I recently separated the last two). There are subcategories that can lead you to what you are curious about.

    If we can mutually agree to settle on a much more narrow subject matter to debate, rather than trying to deal with the whole world at much, then I would be happy to oblige.

  7. Nathan

    November 18, 2011 at 2:44 pm


    Thanks for the comments. I am especially curious to read you paper on the anthemas (when I find time again).


  8. infanttheology

    December 8, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    I’m putting the following conversation that occurred on another blog about this thread here:


    You keep linking to your round 3 post. It is over 15,000 words so it would take many hours to refute. Not sure how much benefit there is in investing that time. Think of it this way. Suppose Jesus came down to my city and talked to my bishop and my priest and even talked to the pope. I would not expect that he would have nothing bad to say about them. I would expect a lot of very sharp attacks on the way they exercise their office as well as other matters. But that does not absolve me of the duty to obey them. They are fallible but legitimate leaders that I as a Christian need to obey.

    These men are all good leaders in my opinion but I still think they fall far short of being impeccable. The Pharisees are bad leaders. I think we still have a responsibility to obey bad leaders. How could Jesus teach that? How could Jesus tell us that we are not to judge leaders to be bad and simply stop obeying them? He could talk about the bad leaders of His day and command His followers to obey them. That is precisely what happens in Matt 23. Just in case anyone there thought Jesus was somehow unaware of their badness or endorsing their badness he explicitly condemns in the same breath many of the bad things they say and do. But He still says obey them.

    Now your argument documents the Pharisees badness. I get that. What you are essentially arguing is that Jesus is giving a very hard command. But then you make the jump to saying that implies Jesus does not mean it. That He does not want us to obey the Pharisees. I don’t buy that jump. In principle hard commands are not to be ignored or just obeyed to the extent we think they are reasonable. Our obedience to God must be complete and unconditional. I am sure you agree with that in principle.
    So your context misses the mark. You have a deeper assumption that God would not call us to obey really bad leaders. But He does. So our judgment of them does not matter. Their legitimacy is the only issue. Jesus shows us bad leaders can be legit. So if you think you have some great truth about God and your leader disagrees and asks you to stop teaching it then you have to stop teaching it. Even if you are right you need to obey that. Many saints had that happen and were later vindicated. But those are the exceptions not the rule. The rule is the church is right and the rogue teacher is wrong. Then the wisdom of God’s demand for us to obey is seen clearly. The faithful are not confused by some false teaching.



    I think you are starting to struggle with the realities of what the Biblical texts tell us about authority. Believe me, I am not averse to authority. I wish it was as easy as always obeying a duly appointed leader of the Church. That would make things much easier. Of course the “default ” is to obey.

    That said, here’s a nice summary of the relevant parts of my long post for you:

    Teaching can include behavior as well (we teach by our lives) but clearly Jesus is not excluding the content of the Pharisees teaching, which can be shown by several clear examples:

    a) Even in Matthew 23 he confronts the Pharisees for their false teaching (verses 16-22)
    b) When Jesus confronts the Pharisees over their false teaching… (Matthew 16, Mark 7, corban, etc.)
    c) The Pharisees obviously teach falsely about who Jesus is (John 5:39)
    d) The Pharisees reject the teachings of John the Baptist.
    e) Jesus and his disciples disobey the head authorities in the Church as regards things like man-made Sabbath Laws (not the Scriptural ones) and the washing of hands…?
    f) In Matthew 5 Jesus repeatedly says “you have heard” and “but I tell you”…. in the Sermon on the Mount (not bringing new teachings) and “John 5:39 disavows us of any notion that the Pharisees, generally speaking, understood the Scriptures.” They were like the Sadducees, who did not know the Scriptures or the power of God.



    “I think you are starting to struggle with the realities of what the Biblical texts tell us about authority. Believe me, I am not averse to authority. I wish it was as easy as always obeying a duly appointed leader of the Church. That would make things much easier. Of course the “default ” is to obey.”

    Actually Catholic teaching does deal with the hard cases. You assume a false choice. Choice #1 is blind obedience to every syllable that comes out of a leader’s mouth. Choice #2 is “default” obedience where there is a huge loophole that simply says we don’t have to obey when we feel the person isn’t speaking for God. Then you try and prove one by disproving the other. It does not follow.

    Jesus does put a kind of condition on obedience in Matt 23:2-3. It is not the condition you want to put on. He says we have to follow what they say because they sit on Moses seat. So their authority flows from the office they hold. Does everything they say and do carry that authority? No. But there needs to be a way to determine that. It does not involve just asking if you agree with the decision or teaching in question.

    First of all, failing to see a truth is not an error. So the Pharisees not seeing the many references to Jesus in scripture is not proof they are illegitimate. Same with John the Baptist.

    Secondly, errors of imprudent judgement still happen. Errors of doctrine matter because true doctrine should never change. Errors of bad judgement don’t saddle future generations in the same way. So God’s ordained leaders can execute God’s only begotten Son and not prove they are not legit. John 11:49:53 shows this.

    Third, errors taught without the full authority of the office can still happen. So Jesus saying they made some errors about oaths and Corban does not mean they are false leaders. It also does not mean we don’t have to obey. We might disagree with a decision about liturgy and we might be right. We still have to obey.

    Fourth, authority can be removed by a higher authority. Jesus was a higher authority. Later the apostles were. But Jesus does not say all His followers have that.

    These exceptions still take seriously what Jesus was saying in Mat 23. Most of the time the exception just means the leaders decision is not infallible. We are still called to obey. Some of the other conditions have called for more precision. Over time that has become clear. The point is Jesus was talking about something real. The concept of blind guides. He does not say these guys are blind so they are not guides. He calls them to be less blind precisely because they remain guides.

    So this all works in Catholicism. It does not work in protestantism. That is the one point that is clear. What Jesus is saying cannot be fit into the protestant model of authority. That model takes it as obvious that leaders we judge to be ungodly need not be obeyed. Jesus does not think that is obvious. Quite the opposite. So it means Jesus would not be a protestant.



    You say failing to see a truth is not an error, or sin. That would seem to be exactly the opposite of what Jesus tells the Pharisees in John 5. For their blindness they are culpable. They should have recognized Him. John the Baptist was culpable as well, but his blindness was more of the “I believe, help my unbelief” kind of blindness. Regarding your second example (“errors of imprudent judgment can happen”), I am really sorry, but I can’t figure out what you are saying here. It is not a part of my argument to insist that Caiaphas was illegitimate. As the Scriptures say, he was the high priest and made a true prophecy (ironically) – I do not question that he held his position by legitimate means. When you say that “Third, errors taught without the full authority of the office can still happen” I am assuming you mean these men have authority that flows from the office they hold, but all of their statements do not carry that authority (especially erring teachings). You say there “needs to be a way to determine that”, which is…. (though we still must obey). It seems to me that some of these not-“ex cathedra” teachings that should be obeyed will be less consequential than others (Jesus is pretty upset about the oaths and corban thing). Your fourth point is intriguing to me. It seems to me that there were days in the O.T. when prophets came who were to be obeyed against most all of the religious authorities (priests). These men did not claim to be infallible, but we rightly hear them that way. We have no reason to believe that John was given an office that would be officially recognized by Assembly in his day.

    “He calls them to be less blind precisely because they remain guides.”

    I agree.

    “[The Protestant] model takes it as obvious that leaders we judge to be ungodly need not be obeyed.”

    You misunderstand. We don’t fail to obey them because they are ungodly, i.e. unrepentant. As Augustine pointed out vs. the Donatists, even unbelievers can teach rightly and might validly hold office in the Church – which we should respect. We would disobey them when they are teaching falsely and what they teach is detrimental to the Gospel itself (i.e. if even an angel of God…).

    This is only responsible, and Augustine himself said so in explicit terms.



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