Sunday, August 31, 2008

Paul, James, and the Word-Concept Fallacy

It is often suggested that James's statements in his epistle (2:14-26) necessitate a re-assessment of the doctrine of justificatio sola fide. If James explicitly says that Abraham was not justified by faith alone, we are asked, how can we not take this into account when formulating our doctrine of justification?

There is an underlying assumption at work here, which is that the existence of a word in a passage necessarily means that a related concept is also present. This error, called the “Word-Concept Fallacy,” insists that if the term “justify” or “justification” is used in a certain text, the biblical doctrine of justification be expanded to account for this usage.

Concerning what he calls the “unwarranted neglect of disting-uishing peculiarities of a corpus,” D.A. Carson writes:
Because Paul uses δικαιόω to mean “to justify,” and often uses δικαιοσύνη to mean “justification,” many scholars have applied this meaning to the term when it is used by other writers. Not a few, for instance, take “justification” to be the meaning of δικαιοσύνη in Matthew 5:20; but Benno Przybylski has convincingly shown that in Matthew δικαιοσύνη always means an individual’s conduct of righteous life, not forensic righteousness being imputed to him.... The fallacy involved in this case is the false assumption that one New Testament writer’s predominant usage of any word is roughly that of all other New Testament writers; very often that is not the case.
Turning to James, we observe that “The meaning of such terms as ‘faith,’ ‘works,’ and ‘justify,’” writes James White, “cannot be ascertained outside the context in which James uses them.” He continues:

Polemicists who need to find in this passage a foundation for some kind of synergistic works-salvation system insist that James’s use of the identical term for “justified” (δικαιόω) and the identical phrase for “by works” (ἐξ ἔργων) proves beyond question that we must read James’s use of these terms in the same context that Paul uses them in Romans and Galatians. But we have already seen that James is arguing against a use of the word “faith” (a deedless, dead, empty, useless faith that exists only in the realm of words and not action) that is not paralleled in the Pauline passages that speak of how one is justified.
It is illegitimate and fallacious, therefore, to simply appeal to “justification language” found in various biblical contexts in order to demand that we broaden our doctrine of justification to incorporate that language. This is why, White points out, the NIV is correct in rendering ἐδικαιώθη as “considered righteous” in James 2:25. This flows not from some “precommitment to a theological perspective, but from the context itself.”

Luke Timothy Johnson writes:

The precise meaning in each case must be determined by context, not some general theological concept. Given the previous statement demanding the demonstration of faith, the translation here as “shown to be righteous” seems appropriate.... It is in this light that the present translation renders the Greek as “shown to be righteous,” (2:21, 24), for the entire line of argument here has involved demonstration: “show me your faith apart from deeds, and by my deeds I will show you my faith (2:18).”
The fact that the event to which James appeals to demonstrate Abraham's justification by works (the sacrifice of Isaac in Gen. 22) transpires a few decades later than the event to which Paul appeals to highlight Abraham's justification by faith (Abraham's initial response to God in Gen. 15) further illustrates that these two authors have different phenomena in mind. Paul is using “justification” to refer to the patriarch's initial acceptance by God, while James's term denotes the demonstration of this prior reality before men. Hence the latter's challenge:
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone (vv. 18, 20-24, emphasis added).
The issue here is clearly Abraham's being vindicated and his righteousness being demonstrated to us, not to the God who already declared that it was so.

OK, fire away....

Friday, August 29, 2008

Who are the "Doers of the Law" Who Will be "Justified"?

A favorite passage of all, whether Catholic or Protestant, who affirm some place for the believer's works in the justification equation is Romans 2:13, which reads, "For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be justified."

The first thing that must be pointed out is that confessional Protestants actually agree with this statement (remember: we're all about the Bible). The real question is not whether the principle of justification by works is true, but for whom it is applicable.

Reformed theology teaches that:

The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience (Westminster Confession of Faith VII.2).
In the garden, Adam was both able and expected to obey his Creator which, if he had succeeded in doing so, would have brought about his glorification and entrance into eternal Sabbath rest based on that obedience. Now we all know the story, how that he failed and fell, plunging us all into sin and misery. This is why the Confession goes on from the covenant of works and expounds the covenant of grace, according to which sinners receive the life that Adam forfeited, only now through the work of a second Adam, Jesus Christ.

Now if you're wondering where this structure and movement from works to grace comes from, look no further than the book of Romans. The obedience according to which man will be justified in 2:13 is speaking of the just demands of God upon all people by virtue of the original creation covenant which are still incumbent upon the sons and daughters of Adam.

Now if we keep reading in Romans we see, of course, that no man can perform the "works" that we need to be justified: "For we charge that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written, 'There is none righteous, no, not one'" (3:9-10).

The good news, therefore, is not that God will recognize our works and justify us, but that he will reckon the work of Christ as our own and save us based upon the labor of Another: "But now... the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ [is revealed] for all who believe."

Again it appears that the attempt to couple faith and works for justification fails the exegetical test (especially since Paul will go on to say that justification comes "to him who does not work, but believes").

And yes, we will get to James 2 eventually, so hang in there....

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Which Kind of "Works" Do Not Justify?

Both Catholics and Protestants agree with the bare assertion that justification is by faith. It's not the "fide" in Sola Fide that causes so many problems, it's the "sola." The disagreement, in other words, is over whether it is faith alone that justifies. Exchanges like this, therefore, are not uncommon:

Protestant: "We are justified by faith."
Catholic: "I agree, but not by faith alone."
Protestant: "Why, then, does Paul always insist that we are justified by faith and not by works?"
Catholic: "Well, in those passages Paul is not really contrasting faith and works, but faith and works of the law."
Protestant: "What are 'works of the law'?"
Catholic: "'Works of the law' are those specifically Jewish ceremonial laws like circumcision and dietary restrictions. Those are the kinds of works that do not justify."
Protestant: "Have you been reading the Bishop of Durham?"

I would agree that issues like circumcision and table fellowship provide the immediate context for a book like Galatians, and I will even concede that Protestant exegesis has not always been careful to give due attention to the issues that occasioned this epistle's writing.

What we must also point out, however, is that table fellowship was only the springboard to Paul's ultimate concern, and not his ultimate concern itself. So in Galatians 3 Paul contrasts "the works of the law" with "hearing with faith," equating the former with "flesh" and the latter with "Spirit" (vv. 3-4). He then quotes the familiar Genesis passage that "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness" (v. 6). Now if ta erga tou nomou (the works of the law) is a technical phrase denoting Jewish ceremonial practices like circumcision, then does the patriarch's "justification apart from works" necessarily preclude those Spirit-wrought acts of faith, hope, and love?

To answer this question we have to inquire as to why, according to Paul, circumcision and other works of the law were of no avail. The answer to this question comes a few verses later, in v. 10:

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them."
We see from this passage that, for Paul, the "works of the law" include but are not limited to ceremonial rites like circumcision, but extend to "all things written in the book of the law." Furthermore, the effect that the demands of the law have on us is to say, "Cursed be everyone." The conclusion, therefore, is that the "works of the law" that play no role in our justification are any human works whatsoever, whether ceremonial or moral, and the reason they play no role is because of our sin which brings about the law's "curse."

So yes, we are justified by works, but those works are Christ's, and not our own.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Can Sola Gratia Survive Without Sola Fide?

Paul's argument in Romans 4 is especially germane to our discussion of the doctrine of Sola Fide in general, and of the relationship of faith to works in particular. Some relevant points include:

1. "Works" and "faith" are set in antithesis to one another: "Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness" (vv. 4-5).

2. The works that Abraham is said not to have done cannot be understood to be "works of the law," for Paul says explicitly that "the promise... did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith" (v. 13). Plus, Abraham predated Moses by 430 years (cf. Gal. 3:17), meaning that Mosaic "Jewish boundary markers" could not have been in view (vv. 9-12).

3. Paul hints here at what he says explicitly elsewhere: there are two kinds of righteousness, one based on the law, and another based on faith (cf. Phil. 3:9).

4. The word logizomai ("reckon, count, impute") is used 11 times in this chapter.

5. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, according to v. 16 the fact that Abraham's justification was by faith and not works is what ensures the graciousness of the gospel: "That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring...." Please do not miss this point. The gospel is only "by grace" because it is "by faith" and not "by works."

My question for our Catholic readers is this: In the light of Romans 4, how can you affirm Sola Gratia while simultaneously denying Sola Fide?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Watch Your Language!

Some years ago while a missionary in Budapest, I was listening to a visiting pastor preaching to Hungarians through a translator. At one point in his sermon he used an illustration in which he mentioned a "disheveled man." The translator furrowed her brow and translated his phrase "lapát ember," which means "shovel man." Needless to say, it was all downhill from there.

My point is that it was only those few of us who spoke both languages well who realized that we were watching a train wreck happening in slow motion. Everyone else was just confused.

Now, I do speak Hungarian, but I don't speak Catholic. This means that I am at a disadvantage when it comes to moderating this discussion about Sola Fide, which is why we must turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church in order to understand what our new friends mean when they speak of justification. Here are some relevant passages:

1. Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.

2. Justification detaches man from sin which contradicts the love of God, and purifies his heart of sin. Justification follows upon God's merciful initiative of offering forgiveness. It reconciles man with God. It frees from the enslavement to sin, and it heals.

3. Justification is at the same time the acceptance of God's righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Righteousness (or "justice") here means the rectitude of divine love. With justification, faith, hope, and charity are poured into our hearts, and obedience to the divine will is granted us.

4. The Holy Spirit is the master of the interior life. By giving birth to the "inner man," justification entails the sanctification of his whole being.
Points 1 and 4 are key, for they make it plain that justification and sanctification are not distinct but inseparable phenomena like they are for Protestants (but they are inseparable). Point 2 says that "justification" is the label Catholics use for what Protestants call "regeneration" and "(definitive) sanctification." And lastly, point 3 equates justification with what Protestants call "conversion."

"Justification" for the Catholic, it seems, refers to what the Protestant would call "salvation."

The two questions that must be tackled head-on, therefore, are (1) Does the Catholic Church's nomenclature faithfully reflect the teaching of Scripture? and (2) Given the Church's terminology, is the Catholic's denial of justification by faith alone to be treated as seriously as it would be if it came from someone speaking from a Protestant lexicon?

Isaac to the Altar, Jimmy to the Stove

The second of the "Slogans of Protest" that Catholics re-ject is Sola Fide, the Protestant teaching that the believer is justified by faith alone apart from works. The way the Reformed tradition has expressed this doctrine con-fessionally is as follows:

Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone... by [God's] imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God (Westminster Confession of Faith XI.1).

To this the Catholic responds by pointing out that the only place in the Bible where the phrase "faith alone" is used is in James 2:24, which reads, "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." He will further highlight the fact that the issue in James is not, as the Protestant claims, Abraham's justification before men, for the context makes it plain that the question is whether faith alone can "save" (v. 14).

Plus, Abraham's supposed "justification coram hominibus" must have fallen pretty flat since, besides God, there weren't any other people hanging around Mt. Moriah to "ooh" and "aah" at his "demonstration that he had been previously justified" (which, by the way, dikaioutai doesn't even mean).

Can Paul and James be reconciled, or must we "throw Jimmy into the stove"?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Authority of the Gospel and the Hermeneutic of Suspicion

I realize that I claimed to have wrapped up our Sola Scriptura discussion, but it's my blog and I can do whatever I want (so there). But in order to keep my word, immediately after I finish this final word on the subject I will move on to Sola Fide.

One of the most significant ramifications of Galatians 1:8-9 is that there is not only authority that Paul demands, there is authority that makes demands upon him. Whether or not he could have ever preached another gospel, the fact remains that if he did he would have brought the curse he uttered down upon his own head. In other words, Paul was a servant of the gospel, a minister of the Word of Christ.

Now if it is the gospel that creates the church rather than the other way around, then the Protestant Reformation may not be quite as scandalous as Catholics consider it. As the unbroken priestly succession stretching from Aaron to Caiaphas demon-strates, the mere existence of the form does not guarantee that the power of godliness is also present.

Lastly, there is a profound "hermeneutic of suspicion" with respect to the gospel on the part of Catholics that seems, at least to this renegade Protestant, unhelpful. Obviously the Bible has its deep and mysterious passages, but we still maintain that although "All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all," it is still true that

"... those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them" (WCF I.7).
Jesus' sheep hear his voice, and this applies not just to those sheep who belong to the Church's Sacred Magisterium. Yes, the church needs ministers to expound the Word, but I still maintain that it is possible, first, for the duly ordained shepherds of the flock (from Rome or Geneva) to go astray, and second, for the sheep to recognize and reject the voice of the stranger.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

God Said It, I Believe It, But What Settles It?

As we wrap up the Sola Scriptura installment of our ongoing discussion of Catholicism and Protestantism, I beg your indulgence (ahem) as I post something a bit longer than usual (my normal goal is for the entire text of each post to fit on your screen at once). That won’t happen with this one. Some of you have referred to my recent performance as devil’s advocate for Rome as being truly worthy of an Academy Award nomination (and you haven’t all meant it as a compliment either, but have half-convinced yourselves that I have taken up the rite of French-kissing my new statue of Joseph Ratzinger). I offer no apology, though. Who better to welcome the tough questions than the Calvinist, and what better forum to ask them than a blog? (Insert sarcastic-looking emoticon here.)

Before I weigh in directly I want to thank all of the Catholics who have braved these Protestant, two-kingdoms waters over the past couple weeks (especially Bryan Cross, Tim Troutman, Oso Famoso [a.k.a. Sean], Louisiana Catholic, Thos, and Peter Sean Bradley). I was impressed that, for the most part, this dialogue has been charitable and honest, producing more light than it did heat. As we turn our attention to Sola Fide on Monday, I trust the same peaceableness and humility will be demonstrated from both sides.

To cut to the chase, I have come to doubt whether “Sola Scriptura” is a helpful way to describe the Reformed position concerning the role that the Bible plays in the life of the Christian individual and the life of the church. My reasons are as follows: First, Reformed Christians believe that the Bible is the church’s book and must be interpreted in conjunction with, and not in isolation from, our forefathers in the faith as well as those who have authority over us presently. Consider these two passages from the Westminster Confession of Faith:
The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or Church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the Author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God (I.4).

It belongeth to synods and councils, ministerially, to determine controversies of faith… and authoritatively to determine the same: which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission, not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God, appointed thereunto in his Word (XXXI.3).

Now, while a Catholic may scoff at these statements for several reasons, an evangelical would not simply roll his eyes, he would wag his fundamentalist finger in our face and accuse us of denying the sole authority of the Bible. And you know what? He is right, we do deny the sole authority of Scripture, as do all heirs of the Reformation.

A second reason why the language of “Sola Scriptura,” when weighed in the balance of our Reformed confessions and catechisms, is found wanting is that we have always placed a higher premium on the believer’s hearing the preached Word than upon his own personal Bible reading. Again, the Westminster Standards:

Question: How is the Word made effectual to salvation?

Answer: The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation (Westminster Larger Catechism Q/A 155).

Unto this catholic and visible Church, Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world; and doth by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto (XXV.3).
Notice that preaching is exalted above quiet times, and that the means of grace which perfect the saints in this life unto the end of the world are given to the church, not to the individual. Under the Heading “The Preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God,” the Second Helvetic Confession teaches:

Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good.
It would obviously be anachronistic to insist that believers during the ministry of Clement of Rome listened to his preaching with leather-bound, thumb-indexed versions of the New Geneva Study Bible in their laps. Unless the Lord tarries another thousand years, the majority of saints in heaven will have never owned a Bible, but learned the gospel from duly ordained ministers gifted to the church by the risen Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12).

The third and final reason why “Sola Scriptura” in an unhelpful term is rooted in the Reformation’s doctrine of the two kingdoms. The synod or the council, we are told in Westminster Confession XXXI.5, is not to opine on any matter that is not specifically ecclesiastical, nor may it “intermeddle” in civil affairs. The obvious reason for this is that the Bible is not intended—and is therefore not sufficient—to address issues such as how a bill should become a law or whether pitchers should be made to bat in the American League.

The Bible, therefore, is our primary authority on matter concerning religion, but it is not our only authority.

What is the nature, then, of these secondary sources of authority such as preachers and synods? Ecclesiastical councils, argues Calvin, should “have the majesty that is their due; yet in the meantime Scripture would stand out in the higher place, with everything subject to its standard.” He writes:

However it may be, we cannot otherwise distinguish between councils that are contradictory and discordant, which have been many, unless we weigh them all in the balance of all men and angels, that is, the Word of the Lord (Institutes 4.9.9).
Does this, as our Catholic friends insist, leave us every bit as adrift in the sea of individualism as the evangelicals are, having no more hope of safe harbor than they?

Well on one level it is true: though we decry it with no small measure of smugness, we must admit if we’re honest that the Reformed are less afraid of individualism than Catholics are (although we all look alike to the evangelical). But when we have a properly hierarchical understanding of divine authority, this becomes less irksome (or at least it should). Consider Paul’s twofold approach with the Galatians who were so quickly turning away from the gospel of grace: first, he spends a chapter and a half touting his credentials as an apostle whose authority is to be taken seriously. But he doesn’t stop writing once his credibility is established, he actually goes on and seeks to convince the Galatians that his gospel is the authentic, not the counterfeit, one.

Why would a duly ordained apostle with the power to open and shut heaven stoop to the level of trying to prove to a bunch of former pagans that his message is not a sham?

Well, if the sole question concerns the who, as Rome claims, then it would seem that Paul spilled his ink in vain. After all, he’s Paul for crying out loud, isn’t that enough of a reason to believe him? As I highlighted above, church authority is indeed “an ordinance of God,” but only insofar as it conforms to the norma normans non normata, which is Scripture. In other words, the who, if he is a duly ordained who, is to be heeded as the very spokesman of Christ himself. But the ultimate authority of the who is the what, meaning that even the ambassador is bound by his treaty, even the judge is a servant of the law, and even the herald of the divine gospel is, when all is said and done, but a minister of the Word. Hence the bold apostle’s solemn oath at the beginning of this epistle:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9).
Paul’s willingness to subjugate himself to the true gospel, his potential anathematizing of the angels of heaven who preach a false one, and, perhaps most startlingly, his solemnly charging his own hearers with the responsibility to know the difference, all demonstrate that no authority in heaven or on earth has the power to tinker with, modify, take away from, or add to the glorious gospel of the blessed God.

In conclusion, I have been tremendously challenged by the Catholic position and have actually grown to appreciate it and look upon it with a measure of wonder. Part of me wishes it were true that the church of the apostles had continued on in an unbroken succession of leadership and doctrinal fidelity from that day to this. But at the end of the day I, along with millions and millions of other Christians over the past five centuries, believe that the what, somewhere along the way, got swallowed by the who. In a word, the message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone was compromised, only to be recovered in the sixteenth century by men who recognized, sometimes at the cost of their own lives, that the gospel trumps popes, the gospel trumps councils, and that the true church of Christ only exists where the grace of God is preached without mixture or dilution.

Setting that issue aside (at least until next week), I believe that the passion for unity I have seen on the part of the Catholics I have met is both commendable and humbling. For my own part, I wish that every Reformed and Presbyterian denomination, both here and abroad, would come together under the banner of a common confession of faith to which all ministers and members would strictly subscribe, even if a fresh one needs to be drafted for the occasion. And however miserably we may fall short of it, I do wish we Protestants, together with all believers, would grow ever closer to fulfilling the wish of our Savior, expressed on the eve of his betrayal:

“… that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Where in the World is the Church? - Part II: The Visible Church

In our last post we looked at the Protestant doctrine of the Invisible Church, noting that the Reformed understanding of ecclesiastical authority either gives rise to, or emerges from, its view that the church is primarily invisible.

Now if it is true of Geneva that church authority is bound up in whether that church is visible or invisible, it is even more profoundly true of Rome. You see, we Protestants could actually withstand a slight tweaking of our ecclesiology while still maintaining our view of authority, but the Catholic view of authority is so utterly and absolutely dependent on the visible nature of the church, together with its insistence upon unbroken, apostolic succession, that any modification would be a disaster of epic proportions.

Please do not miss this crucial point. Rome's entire case for why they alone have the authority to speak in Christ's Name hangs upon the single issue of apostolic succession, and, arguing in the opposite direction, if there is a single break in the chain of succession from Simon bar-Jonah to Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), then any reason to give the slightest heed to anything the Catholic Church says, according to her own testimony, immediately vanishes (at which point she, like her separated brethren, must stand or fall on the faithfulness of her exegesis alone). Or to put it more simply, Sola Scriptura would be true....

In a word, the visibility of the church is for Rome the true articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae. And if on this point she stands, she truly may stand proudly. But if she falls, how great will be her fall!

Not being anything even remotely close to a patristics expert, I will defer to those here at De Regnis Duobus who, from either side, have weighed in on this issue. From the Catholic side we have heard it proclaimed with all certitude that the list of Roman Bishops, provided by St. Irenaeus of Lyons, is completely and historically accurate: Peter appointed Linus, who appointed Cletus, who appointed Clement, who appointed Evaristus, who appointed Alexander, who appointed Sixtus, who appointed Telesphorus, who appointed Hyginus, who appointed Pius, who appointed Anicetus, who appointed Soter, who appointed Eleutherius, who served as bishop of Rome at the time of Irenaeus's death.

But we have also heard from the Protestant side that the primacy of the Roman bishoprick was a matter of political and practical expediency that did not manifest itself until the latter half of the second century, meaning that no Christian in Rome in, say, 140 AD would have had a clue about the supposed sacred chair of Pope St. Peter. Furthermore, we have heard that the need for unbroken succession in order to establish Rome's control over the church was felt so accutely that the list of bishops was fabricated in order to secure such control.

So who's right?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Where in the World is the Church? - Part I: The Invisible Church

As I have been hinting at, whether one adopts a Catholic or Protestant view of ecclesiastical authority is largely contingent upon whether he sees the church as primarily visible or invisible. In other words, before you figure out what the church can say, you first must determine who she is.

"The idea of an infallible and hierarchical Church," writes Berkhof,

"... found no favor with Luther. He regarded the Church as the spiritual communion of those who believe in Christ.... He maintained the unity of the Church, but distinguished two aspects of it, the one visible and the other invisible.... The invisible Church becomes visible, not by the rule of bishops and cardinals, nor in the headship of the Pope, but by the pure administration of the Word and of the sacraments."
In the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the invisible church

"... consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all."
Concerning the relation of the invisible church to the visible, the Confession goes on to say that:

"This [invisible] catholic Church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less, visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them" (XXV.1, 4).
The ensuing dialogue, of course, will look like this:

Catholic: "If the 'Church' exists wherever the Word is rightly preached and the sacraments are properly administered, who determines whether those things are happening?"
Protestant: "The Holy Spirit speaking through the Scriptures."
Catholic: "And who determines what it is that the Holy Spirit, through the Scriptures, is saying?"
Protestant: "The sheep who hear his voice."
Catholic: "Who, then, are the sheep?"
Protestant: "Those who gather to hear the Word rightly preached and the sacraments properly administered."

Is there any way off this merry-go-round?

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Church: What She Is, and How She Acts

By the middle of the second cent-ury, each local Christian church was led by a single bishop whose ministry was considered to carry apostolic authority. On his way to martyrdom in Rome in 110, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, wrote to the church in Tralles:

"... when you obey the bishop as if he were Christ Jesus, you are (as I see it) living not in a merely human fashion, but in Jesus Christ's way.... It is essential, therefore, to act in no way without the bishop, just as you are doing."
And to the church in Smyrna he wrote:
"You should all follow the bishops as Jesus Christ did the Father.... Where the bishop is present, there let the congregation gather, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.... Whatever [the bishop] approves pleases God as well."
Whether they were correct in their assessment or not, it appears that the early post-apostolic Christians thought that their bishops carried the same authority that the original apostles held: If they forgave sins, those sins were forgiven; if a thing was bound on earth, it was bound in heaven.

Now for this to "work," of course, it had to be determined whether a so-called bishop was in fact duly ordained through an unbroken succession reaching back to the apostles themselves. Unlike in movements such as Calvary Chapel in our own day, in which ordination is largely a logistical exercise in paperwork (for kicks, I still have my Calvary ordination card in my wallet, complete with Chuck Smith's signature), ordination in the early church was a serious matter. The reason for this was bound up in their belief in the church's apostolicity and catholicity. When a bishop or group of bishops spoke in an official capacity, their word was considered infallible, for "he who hears you hears me," Jesus had promised.

What drives the Catholic view of authority, as well as the Protestant one, is their respective understandings of what the church actually is. Is it an invisible entity with various local expressions, or did Jesus actually found a visible, institutionally-united church that could be pointed to with a "Lo! It is here," or "Behold, it is there"?

How we answer this question will determine how we answer a score of others, as I hope to demonstrate in my next couple posts.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Paul, Timothy, and the Nature of Post-Apostolic Authority

The first step in understanding the Catholic view of authority focuses on Peter and his unique leadership role among Jesus' disciples, as we saw in Friday's post. But what comes next?

In John 20:21-23 we read that Jesus said to his disciples, "Even as the Father sent me, so I send you." He then breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven. If you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld." As in all four gospels, Jesus here sends the apostles forth with his commission and the authority to carry it out.

As time went on the possibility became ever more likely that the apostles would die before Christ returned in glory, meaning that permanent offices would need to be established in the churches. We see both in Acts and the epistles, therefore, the emergence of bishops and deacons who would serve the church after the apostles passed from the scene.

The principle of passing on the God-given deposit from inspired apostles to others is demonsrated is such passages as: "Now I praise you, brethren, that you... keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you" (I Cor. 11:2); "Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle" (II Thess. 2:15); "Withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us" (II Thess. 3:6); "By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you" (II Tim. 1:14); "What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (II Tim. 2:2).

It was the bishops specifically who were ordained by the laying on of hands to the office of ministry of the Word: "Fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands" (II Tim. 1:6); "Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you" (I Tim. 4:14); "For a bishop, as God's steward, must be above reproach.... He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it" (Tit. 1:7, 9).

As I noted in Friday's post about the New Testament's evidence concerning the preeminence of Peter, so here, there is nothing particularly objectionable about any of this. The point at which the disagreement between the Catholic and Protestant does begin to take shape, however, is when we ask the question, "What was the nature of that authority that the first generation of post-apostolic bishops carried?"

We know that the apostles' authority was conveyed both in word and in writing, by preaching and epistle. We also know that non-apostolic elders were involved in the Jerusalem Council, the conclusions of which were binding upon all believers (Acts 15:2, 28). Must we then conclude that men like Timothy and his successors carried genuine apostolic authority? Or can we insist that with the death of the apostles and cessation of the revelatory gifts, all extra-biblical authority took on a different, derivative character?

And regardless of which view we take, can we prove it?

Fiona Rose

A couple pics of the new addition. Thanks for your prayers.
PS - New post coming later tonight....

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Church's (Petrine?) Apostolicity

Over at Principium Unitatis, Bryan Cross is proposing an interesting avenue for fostering unity among Catholics and Protestants. Since, he acknowledges, the tendency of both sides is to question-beg (to assume what we should be trying to prove), the only realistic option is to go back far enough in history until we come to a time when we were both on the same team. "To the fathers!" he cries.

Let's go back a bit further.

What does the Nicene Creed mean when it affirms that the church is "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic?" Catholics maintain that apostolicity refers to the church's being built on the foundation of the apostles, and further, that it exercises the authority that Christ gave them.

To "trace the matter," we begin with Jesus' training of the twelve and giving them authority to teach, preach, heal, and administer the sacraments. Though this authority was given to them all, it was focused more specifically on the apostle Peter. Some arguments that Catholics put forth to demonstrate Peter's primacy are: (1) Peter often speaks for the twelve in the Gospels, especially in climactic moments (Mark 8:29; Matt. 18:21; Luke 12:41; John 6:67ff); (2) Peter is often central in many dramatic Gospel accounts (Matt. 14:28-32; Luke 5:1ff; Mark 10:28; Matt. 17:24ff); (3) Peter is always named first in the Synoptic lists of disciples (Mark 3:16-19; Matt. 10:1-4; Luke 6:12-16; Acts 1:13). Sometimes the disciples are referred to as "Peter and his companions" (Mark 1:36; Luke 9:32; Mark 16:7); (4) John waited for Peter at the tomb of Jesus and allowed him to enter first (John 20:3-8); (5) Jesus singled out Peter as the shepherd of his people (John 21:15-17); (6) Paul mentions Peter first among those who saw the resurrected Christ (I Cor. 15:5). Furthermore, the book of Acts reinforces Peter's primacy among the other apostles.

Jesus had much to say about Peter's unique role as well. It was Peter that Jesus said Satan desired to sift as wheat, "but I have prayed for you," Jesus assures him. "When you have turned again, strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:31-32). In John's Gospel, It is Peter who is told specifically to nurture and feed Jesus' sheep (21:15-19). And of course, there is Christ's famous statement that Peter is to be called rock, "for on this rock I will build my church" (Matt. 16:18-19, both occurrances of "rock" are identical [kepha] in the Aramaic which Jesus spoke).

As Protestants, there is nothing we really need to fear by acknowledging this evidence as weighty. But as we "trace the matter" further and discuss whether Peter had a successor who had a successor, then the (ahem) you-know-what starts to hit the you-know-what, so hang on to your seats....

Thursday, August 14, 2008

"No Justification Without Representation!"

I have a question for my Catholic Readers (with some preamble to set it up):

As I understand your position, the only hope for unity and genuine ecumenical progress is for us Protestants to return to Rome. The reason for this is that, according to you, the Reformation began with rebellion against lawful ecclesiastical power, and regardless of how long our subsequent history or how well-ordered our subsequent polity may be, there is no statute of limitations on apostasy. To put the matter simply, as long as the prodigal remains outside his father's house he is just that, a prodigal. Even if his pig-sty experience evolves into a great empire in which he becomes a mogul in the pork industry (even "the Sausage King of Chicago"), his success began with unlawful division, and this being the case, no amount of years can transform what is illegitimate into something legitimate.

My question, then, is this: What do you make of the United States of America? If the case can be made that the beginnings of this country were rooted in rebellion against lawful power (i.e., the Crown, an authority that, while not ecclesiastical but civil, is nonetheless divinely instituted), then it would seem to follow that, regardless of how many years transpire or how powerful we as a nation become, our only hope of gaining legitimacy would be by submitting ourselves once again to the United Kingdom against which we rebelled (over issues, I might add, much less important than those that compelled Luther and Calvin to break from Rome).

Since I honestly have no idea how tis question will be answered, I offer it merely in humble curiosity and not as some "knock-down, drag-out" zinger.

So what gives, Catholics? Are the rules different for civil power than they are for ecclesiastical, and if so, why? And if not, is not our Protestant nation even less legitimate than our Protestant churches?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Would a Nicene Creed With Any Other Copyright Date Smell As Orthodox?

The "God-Fearin' Fiddler" has asked a series of provocative questions over at his blog, Army of Martyrs. The topic is the development of doctrine, and the Council of Nicaea's doctrine of the Trinity is being used as paradigmatic of the phenomenon as a whole.

The first point The Fiddler makes concerns the doctrine of the Trinity itself, and why we believe it. We do not believe it, he argues, because it is clearly taught in Scripture or because the post-apostolic fathers held to it uniformly (for it isn't, and they didn't). We believe it because the church lent to it her living and authoritative voice.

The Fiddler goes on to ask whether we would still believe in the Trinity if the Council of Nicaea had not been called until a few hundred years after it actually was convened. What about a thousand years later?

Building on point #2, the question arises: If the church can legitimately and authoritatively formulate the doctrine of the Trinity in 325, why can't it, with equal legitimacy and authority, formulate the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in 1854? If there is an historical point after which all conciliar decrees become non-binding, when is it, and who determines it?

The Fiddler quotes N.T. Wright to the effect that if the doctrine of the Trinity hadn't developed organically, the church would have had to invent it in order to combat the Arian heresy. If that is the case, who's to say that the same rationale couldn't have been in play in order for the church to combat the errors of Protestantism at Trent?

Lastly, we are told that we do not have the right nor the luxury of picking and choosing with which ecumenical councils, and with which decrees of those councils, we choose to agree and submit ourselves. We either respect tradition or we do not, meaning that if some of the ecumenical councils are authoritative then they all are, and if one of them isn't, then none of them are.

Now the Reformed response to all this is to insist that we adhere and submit to the ecumenical councils insofar as their decrees are in accord with Scripture (the latter of which is ultimately authoritative, while the former are only penultimately so). But whose interpretation of Scripture? And if we believe them because they're biblical, then why not just read the Bible and save ourselves the hassle?

In short, must Nicaea bow down before me?

We're Good To Go....

OK, you can continue fighting now.

Hang In There....

As you can see, we've made some changes here at DRD. The comments function will be operative shortly.

Thanks for your patience....

Sunday, August 10, 2008

On Barnacles, Time Travel, and Ancient Christian Worship

Roman Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft recalls a conversation he had with his professor while a freshman at Calvin College during his last days as a Protestant. The professor explained that the Christian church is like Noah's ark floating through the water, and that over the course of centuries it had accumulated a huge number of barnacles attaching themselves to its hull. "All the reformers did," the professor explained, "was scrape the barnacles off and restore the ship to its original simplicity." In other words, all the elements of Catholic worship were medieval pagan accretions and completely foreign to biblical, New Testament Christianity.

Kreeft raised his hand and asked, "So you're telling us that if we could travel back in time with a Catholic and visit a service in an early church, that it will resemble a Protestant church rather than a Catholic one?" "Exactly," the professor replied.

Kreeft became excited about this claim because, not being a theologian himself, it still allowed him to put each tradition to the test of history. He writes:

"I thought this made the Catholic claim empirically testable, and I wanted to test it.... I discovered in the early Church such Catholic elements as the centrality of the Eucharist, the Real Presence, prayers to saints, devotion to Mary, an insistence on visible unity, and apostolic succession. Furthermore, the Church Fathers just 'smelled' more Catholic than Protestant, especially St. Augustine, my personal favorite and a hero to most Protestants too. It seemed very obvious that if Augustine, or Jerome, or Ignatius of Antioch, or Anthony of the Desert, or Justin Martyr, or Clement of Alexandria, or Athanasius were alive today they would be Catholics, not Protestants."
The way we Protestants respond to this kind of thing is to insist that the decline in Christian ecclesiology happened almost immediately upon the dawn of the post-apostolic period (you know, everyone attending John's funeral on Patmos suddenly decided to hail Mary and re-crucify Jesus).

Does this version of history hold up? How do we explain the seemingly early appearance of such doctrines as apostolic succession and the veneration of Mary?

Friday, August 08, 2008

What Hath Jerusalem To Do With Nicaea?

I almost never post on Friday nights, but our ongoing discussion about the merits (no pun intended) of Sola Scriptura is showing no signs of dying down.

In the spirit of fairness, I would like to play the devil's advocate (well, more accurately the "bishop's advocate") and ask a question of my fellow-Protestant readers.

In the days of the infant church, theological controversies were settled in the context of the ecclesiastical council. The most obvious example is found in Acts 15, where the leaders of the Jerusalem and Antioch churches gathered together to decide what to do with all the uncircumcised, pigs-in-a-blanket-eating Gentiles pouring into Christ's church. The conclusion that was reached was then written in epistolary form and sent to the churches throughout the region. And, of course, it was to be taken as God's Word and therefore obeyed.

Now in the intervening years between the closing of the canon of Scripture and the ability of laypeople to procure their own personal copies of those canonical Scriptures, how were theological controversies solved? Does not history demonstrate that they were solved in the same way that the Jewish/Gentile controversy was solved in Acts 15, i.e., by conciliar decrees?

For a Protestant to counter the Catholic argument, then, must he (1) show that all post-apostolic, extra-canonical conciliar statements were to be considered suggestive rather than legislative (as in, qualitatively different from the conclusions of the Jerusalem Council); or (2) show that the conclusions of the Jerusalem Council were mere suggestions to be considered and ratified by individual church sessions; or (3) show that once the Scriptures were in the hands of the people, church councils were no longer necessary?

And if none of the above are incumbent upon the Protestant to demonstrate, then how else do we account for the rules of the game changing once the last apostle died?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Whoa! I Know Theology!

As I mentioned in a comment under a previous post, life is way easier in Rome or Wheaton than it is here in Geneva. While we con-fessional Reformed folk have to spend our energy searching the Scriptures, the Catholic can simply believe whatever he is told without having to engage in a bunch of critical thinking, while the evangelical stopped thinking critically a long time ago (he's too busy living his best life now).

There is, however, one really momentous decision that a Catholic is permitted to make on his own, namely, whether or not he wants to be permitted to make any more momentous decisions on his own. You see, once he swallows the red pill of apostolic succession, the Catholic has, for all intents and purposes, answered every question he will ever be asked, and has (implicitly) understood every verse of the Bible that has ever been written.

(You know, like Neo learning Kung-Fu by means of an instantaneous upload to his brain.)

Now I don't want to be dismissive of my new Catholic readers and their views, especially since if their major premise is in fact true, then I'll be the first to trade in my Geneva gown for one of those cool pointy hats. Make no mistake about what I'm saying: if the Roman Catholic Church is the church instituted by Jesus, whose authority was handed down to infallible apostles who then handed it down to infallible bishops to the present day, then we Protestants are pretty much $¢®εwεd.

So how do we answer this question?

According to the Reformed doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Tradition 1), the Bible is the church's book and must be interpreted communally according to the hermeneutical boundaries of the regula fidei (that much, at least, is established). But in order for this claim to have any force we must answer the question of the hour, "Which church? Where is it?"

If any one church claims that it is the only true communion because it is most faithful to the Bible (Protestants) or to the tradition of the fathers (Catholics), then subjectivism ensues, for the question arises, "To whose interpertation of the Bible or the fathers are you the most faithful?" The answer will always be the same, "Our own."

To escape this vicious circularity, we must insist that Christ's one invisible church is scattered throughout various branches, some more and some less healthy than others. It is to this church, both universal and local, that the Holy Spirit bears witness to the Word of Christ. And it is in this church that Christ's Word is interpreted according to the apostolic rule of faith.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Importance and Authority of the Creed

Keith Mathison argues that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, as understood by the Reformed tradition, bears little re-semblance to the "Solo Scriptura" of evangelicalism. Far from advocating "no creed but the Bible," believers in Reformation churches insist that the Bible is the church's book, and must be interpreted by the church within the hermeneutical bounds of the regula fidei, the apostolic rule of faith that existed before the canon of Scripture was completed.

What place, then, is there for creeds and confessions?

Aside from their inevitability (all Christians believe something, whether written down or simply made up and stored in their "heart of hearts"), creeds are necessary to give light and expression to the teachings of Scripture. The doctrine of the Trinity, for example, gains creedal status in the Apostles' and Nicene creeds. "Why not just believe the doctrine because it is biblical?" we are often asked, "Why the need to make it creedal?" The answer is that without the hard work of those who wrote these creeds it is unlikely that every individual believer would arrive at the difficult yet biblical doctrine that God exists in three divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

"But," the Catholic will object, "you just gave away the farm! By citing Nicaea you have effectively betrayed Sola Scriptura." To this the Reformed believer will respond by pointing out that the authority that our creeds and confessions carry is real, albeit secondary, penultimate, and derivative. In other words, the ultimate reason we hold to this or that creed is because it comports with the church's reading of Scripture as it is interpreted within the apostolic regula fidei, and not simply because it is a creed written by a lawfully-called church council.

This gives rise to a question for all my new Catholic friends: Why do you believe the conclusions of the Council of Trent? "Well," you might say, "because the conclusions reached at Trent were a conciliar statement of the one true Church." But even if I grant this for the sake of argument, I still want to know why you as an individual Catholic believe its decrees. Did you just get the memo and believe whatever it said before you read it, or did you seek to become personally convinced by history and Scripture that Trent was correct? Is this way of thinking "too Protestant"?

If a Catholic holds Trent's conclusions to be important because they represent the teaching of their church, but if a further layer of importance is added when he becomes convinced of those conclusions himself, then what I want to know is: Are you really that different from us, methodologically speaking?

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Is the Bible's Table of Contents Inspired?

One of the most oft-cited problems for proponents of Sola Scriptura is that of the formulation of the canon. "If nothing outside the Bible has authority," we are asked, "then how do you determine which books comprise that Bible? The table of contents is not itself inspired, but required an authoritative council with infallible knowledge to make this determination."

In response I will reiterate a few of the points made by Keith Mathison in his book The Shape of Sola Scriptura. First, infallibility and inerrancy are not the same thing, nor does the latter necessitate the former. I make inerrant (factually true) statements all the time without being infallible (unable to be wrong). In fact, Catholics and Protestants will agree that the Jewish Scriptures were inerrant despite the obvious fallibility of the covenant people who wrote and revered them (Rom. 3:1-2). The point here is that the Old Testament canon was preserved by the Jews to whom it was delivered without the need for infallibility, either of its leaders or of a council to formally adopt it.

Turning to the actual historical recognition of the canon, Mathison points out that although there were local synods in Hippo (393) and in Carthage (397 and 419) that addressed the issue, Rome did not express its opinion on the subject for another thousand years (at the Council of Florence in 1439 - 1443), and it did not authoritatively define the canon until Trent in 1546. The Catholic objection to Sola Scriptura on the basis of the canon, then, falls flat, for the Western Church existed for 1500 years before doing what Protestants are supposedly incapable of doing, i.e., recognizing an authoritative canon.

How, then, do we who hold to Sola Scriptura discover that Scriptural authority without an infallible body to direct us?

In his article entitled "The Canon of the New Testament," Roger Nicole has argued that the way we recognize the canon is by "the witness of the Holy Spirit given corporately to God's people and made manifest by a nearly unanimous acceptance of the NT canon in Christian churches." The sheep of God hear the Shepherd's voice, Jesus says (even without conciliar decrees to make it official, as Rome must admit).

What role does the church play in all this? Adherents of Sola Scriptura (properly understood) would say that the church, though fallible, has made an inerrant judgment concerning the New Testament canon. This is not tantamount to mere subjectivism, Mathison argues, for "it is an appeal to the corporate witness of the Spirit to the whole communion of saints. The Holy Spirit is the final authority, not the church through which he bears witness and to which he bears witness."