"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Individualism cloaked as Conciliarism

The Westminster Confession of Faith:
"It belongeth to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, 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." (WCF 31.2)
It belongs to synods and councils to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience, except when the individual's conscience feels that those determinations are not "consonant to the Word of God". In other words, it belongs to synods and councils to determine and decide only what is in agreement with the individual's own interpretation of Scripture. Whenever the individual's interpretation of Scripture disagrees with the decisions and determinations of synods and councils, those decisions and determinations have no authority. But whenever the individual agrees with the decisions and determinations of synods and councils, then they do have authority. Whenever you agree with me, your decisions are authoritative. Whenever you disagree with me, your decisions are not authoritative. This is pure individualism, cloaked in the language of conciliarism.

19 comments:

Tim Enloe said...

Bryan, I am really trying to be nice here, but dude, you just don't have any idea what you are talking about. No wonder no one wants to engage you--you're just confusing your own autobiographical journey to Catholicism with Objective Truth.

I suggest you read A.A. Hodge's commentary on WCF 31 for starters, and once again, try to engage in some self-critical reflection on what YOU YOURSELF have to do every minute of every day in order to submit to the Roman Catholic "sacramental magisterial authority." You are simply not in any better position than the guy who, at the end of Hodge's commentary, has to decide to receive with reverence the ministerial decrees of the synod because they are (1) in consonance with the Word of God, and (2) a God-ordained ordinance of the Church.

Besides, if you were familiar with the conciliarist program of the 15th century and its influence upon the Reformers, you would not fall into so easy an error as assuming it's about individualism. The qualifications in the WCF come straight out of Scottish conciliarism, transmitted by the 15th century divine John Major, and they are entirely directed at the ABUSIVE use of councils by the entrenched Romanist position of the day. It was Romanists who, from the mid 15th century on, tried to use the word "council!" to scare their opponents into submission. It was a bare authority claim, all the way up to their pathetic performance at the Diet of Worms, urging decrees of Councils simply because they were decrees of Councils, and also using conciliar decrees quite indiscriminately and not allowing any kind of intelligent discussion at all. All WCF 31 is doing with its qualifications is reminding people that a thing is not true MERELY because a Council says it. The Council gets its authority from something OUTSIDE OF IT. It is entirely proper when dealing with militant autocratic fanatics, like the Romanist party of the later 16th century and mid 17th century, to point out what those fanatics are NOT telling you about the "authority" they are claiming.

Bryan, please stop. You are woefully ignorant of the history and principles of these things. You are simply embarrassing yourself with your untaught pontifications on these matters.

Principium unitatis said...

Tim,

I've read Hodge's commentary; it seems to support what I said regarding being "consonant with the Word of God". Hodge acknowledges that if the individual ["private member"] thinks that the council is teaching something contrary to the Word of God, the individual should disregard the council and take the penalty. All the supposed powers given to councils and synods in this section of the WCF are eliminated by that concession to individualism.

Your historical claims do not make the individualism in this section of the WCF into conciliarism. If each individual gets to stand in judgment of councils and synods, that's individualism, no matter how it got into the WCF and what it was called then. Then councils and synods have no more authority than does the individual interpreter of Scripture, because he is able to trump them all, if he wishes, by appealing (Luther-style) to his own interpretation of Scripture.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jonathan said...

"All the supposed powers given to councils and synods in this section of the WCF are eliminated by that concession to individualism."

But you need to take the WCF as a whole and not isolate individual statements. The confession also states that outside the visible church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation, and that her sacraments are efficacious means of saving grace. Thus, to reject the doctrine which the church has determined to be authoritative doctrine and thereby be excommunicated from fellowship with the church is a serious matter, and puts the excommunicated individual in jeorpardy of damnation. So it simply is not true that the confession--takien as a system of doctrine rather than a collection of isolated statements--empties councils and synods of any real authority. It simply leaves their decrees open to being revised and altered by later councils.

Blessings,

Jonathan Bonomo

Principium unitatis said...

Jonathan,

The confession also states that outside the visible church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation, and that her sacraments are efficacious means of saving grace. Thus, to reject the doctrine which the church has determined to be authoritative doctrine and thereby be excommunicated from fellowship with the church is a serious matter, and puts the excommunicated individual in jeorpardy of damnation.

Your reply seems to assume that the WCF has authority over the individual. But that is exactly what I'm showing is undermined by the WCF itself.

If the individual thinks either that those parts of the WCF (you mention) are not in agreement with Scripture, or that he is still part of the visible Church no matter whether he was excommunicated by the denomination to which he belonged, or that because of the priesthood of all believers he can consecrate his own bread and grape juice, none of those threats carries any weight.

If the individual's interpretation stands in judgment of the councils and synods, then the individual's interpretation stands in judgment of the WCF. And in that case, the individual can freely disregard the WCF. It has no more authority than his own interpretation, and he can then rest perfectly content with his own interpretation. He can either pick and choose from the WCF if he wishes, or he can apply the principle of parsimony and throw the WCF in the trash and carry on with his own personal Bible.

Individualim always works its way out. It is not an accident that we are presently awash in individualism in contemporary evangelicalism. It flows right out of the fundamental principles of the Reformation.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jonathan said...

But Bryan, my point was precisely that your reading of the WCF and its supposed reduction of all authority to the individual is faulty. Such an understanding of the confession's teaching can only be reached by isolating one statement from the system as a whole, which is exactly what you have done. And your statement that the WCF makes it ok for someone to go home and consecrate their own bread and grape juice is, to be honest with you, a pretty stupid thing to say. I think you're a smart guy, and I expected more from you than this sort of nonsense.

Joseph said...

And Tim wins! He scores with the "you're much more ignorant than I am" argument and the "you're confused and I'm not" point. Good show! Let's not forget the attack on Bryan's character with "you're just confusing your own autobiographical journey to Catholicism with Objective Truth". In other words, Bryan didn't find objective Truth in his journey to Catholicism, on which he is apparently writing an autobiography (I can't seem to find it anywhere on this blog).

Tim, your debate skills could earn you a spot on CNN's "Crossfire" or even "Hannity & Colmes". Good 'ol (Ummm... I mean, new) American debate, Fox News style. Excellent.

By the way, Bryan. Since Tim forgot to mention it, his mom is prettier than yours.

Principium unitatis said...

Jonathan,

But Bryan, my point was precisely that your reading of the WCF and its supposed reduction of all authority to the individual is faulty.

The WCF clearly gives the individual the right to judge the determinations of councils and synods based on the individual's own interpretation of Scripture. If the WCF didn't do that, it would undermine its own existence, for then Luther and Calvin would not have been justified in rejecting Catholic Ecumenical Councils (e.g. the Seventh Ecumenical Council, the Council of Trent, etc.). So, either the WCF gives the individual that right, or it undermines itself.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Principium unitatis said...

Joseph,

This is a painful dialogue for me, not because of anything negative said about me (God knows I deserve much worse), but because it reveals how deeply divided we are. I have no care whatsoever about 'winning' or 'losing' or 'debating'. I only want us to be one in the truth, to be loving and serving Jesus together in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. But the fundamental cause of our division, I believe, is individualism. Each person makes himself into his own ecclesial authority, arrogating to himself authority that was entrusted by the Apostles to the magisterium of the Church. The most insidious form of individualism is hidden in the language of conciliarism, for that allows a person to be an individualist while hiding it from himself. The explicit individualism of contemporary evangelicalism/fundamentalism is the natural development of the implicit individualism in early Protestantism. A position always eventually reduces to what it is in essentia, not what it is per accidens.

The only possible antidote to individualism is sacramental magisterial authority. That is what Protestantism needs to retrieve in order to be done with its individualism.

Thank you for being with me dear brother, and thank you for your prayers. We don't have unlimited time on this earth in which to labor to unify God's people. We must redeem the time. The Bride must make herself ready.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Adam said...

Bryan,

I came across this post by way of a link from Reformed Catholicism, so if I am missing any context, forgive me. Also, I was raised a fundamentalist, and spent time in both the PCA and the Church of England, and am in the process of converting to Orthodoxy, so I'm fairly familiar with a lot of the points being raised here. I think that the real problem here is with the massive disjunct between the usefulness of a system of thought for protest and the usefulness of the same system of thought for the holistic formation of life. Tim is, I think, right that the Reformers were seeking to remedy abuses that both the Orthodox and many serious Roman Catholics I know acknowledge, and not to promote individualism of any sort. However, I think it is also right to acknowledge that the effect of the emphasis on the fact of protest, rather than on the fact of catholicity or orthodoxy (both of which the reformers claimed and were concerned with) led, systematically, to the inculcation of individualism in those raised in the Protestant churches. This is not, I think, something that the Protestant theological system ought to be held accountable for (although there are certainly plenty of things it should be held accountable for!); rather, it is something that later Protestant culture should be held accountable for. This is, I think, an important distinction to make, especially when dealing with people who are serious, intelligent, scholarly Protestants, and not merely broad-church evangelicals.

Anonymous said...

I just need to point out that no one who smells anything Catholic could go to the ReformedCatholicism site and portray the attitude that Mr. Enloe feels at liberty to display here and survive more than two posts. When the history of Christianity depends on a fellow with a bachelor’s degree in something, one must say that the entire Western civilization is in serious trouble. In any case, the puffing that is going around is from Mr. Enloe (as Joseph notes below) who wants to be seen as an authority on Western civilization and demands to be accorded certain respect he does not deserve. It seems that aAnyone who has anything to say about Western civilization has to check with Tim since he has become the custodian of Western history.

But here we have an individual who is practically unhinged from any respectable sense of history and is hanging on a nebulous and indecisive history that is “not cut and dry”. Here is an individual who hangs his hope on a sense of history that does not even exist, except in textbooks. As far as his religion is concerned, all the history he can scream about are contained in textbooks, written by authors who themselves do not agree on what that history is – very, very sad. Where does Mr. Enloe belong when it comes to history? He can vomit his guts (that is Tim at his best) all he wants when it come to the history of Christian religion but when the push comes to shove, Tim can not say anything meaningful about history or how he fits into it. I am surprised you let him post here and I am more surprised you keep interacting with his rude and baseless and angry snaps.

In the end, Protestantism, because it has no foundation, can only lead thinking men to atheism (as we continue to see the rise of Ex-Christians) or to other forms of religion. Tim feels this toggle all too often and reacts violently when his religion is questioned. I have never seen a man so torn apart as this man – one day he defends Rome and bites at his coreligionists; the next day, he loses it all. Stay away from him.

Dozie

Principium unitatis said...

Adam,

Thanks for your comments here. I agreed with everything you said except the following:

This is not, I think, something that the Protestant theological system ought to be held accountable for (although there are certainly plenty of things it should be held accountable for!); rather, it is something that later Protestant culture should be held accountable for.

I see the individualism in the Protestant theological system itself, right from Luther's "Here I stand", from sola scriptura's rejection of sacramental magisterial authority, to the anti-ecclesial implications of sola fide and the "priesthood of all believers".

The reason this individualism has become more manifest in the present time (in my opinion) is that Protestantism was living on Catholic inertia. But eventually the individualism that was implicit in early Protestant theology worked its way out and became explicit in the fragmentation upon fragmentation of denominationalism, and has begun to sink into the chaos of contemporary evangelicalism.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Adam said...

Bryan,

I'm note sure that Luther's "Here I stand," (which, it is important to note, is followed by "I can do no other," indicating a compulsion of some sort) is individualistic. Luther, I think, conceives of himself as standing within, if not the conciliar tradition, at least the reforming tradition in post-Schism Catholicism. Remember, Catholicism after the turn of the millennium was rife with the punctuation of reforming movements, and, I think, Luther saw himself as being a part of another of those movements. While the effect of Luther's actions might have been to encourage individualism (I think this starts to become evident in Melancthon's correspondence with Patriarch Jeremias II of Constantinople), I am not convinced that Luther himself intended any such thing. (And here I am defending Luther - what a day!) I think that the most important thing that Tim has to say is to remind us that Luther, Calvin, et. al., were not protesting against Roman Catholicism as it is now, but against Roman Catholicism as it was in the early 16th century (and even most serious Catholics I know will admit that it was in a pretty sorry state.)

I'm also not sure I'm comfortable with your implied dualism between "sacramental magisterial authority" and individualism. Can this dualism account for the Orthodox position? I'd be curious to see howe you can account for that. (I'm particularly choking on "magisterial," as I'm sure you can imagine.)

Principium unitatis said...

Adam,

I agree with you that Luther did not intend any sort of individualism. I think Luther didn't fully realize what he was doing. The Luther of the 1520s was very different from the Luther of the 1530s. He was much more individualistic in the 1520s. But when he started to see how much chaos that was causing, he started emphasizing ecclesial authority and hierarchy. The problem is that the Luther of the 1530s contradicts the Luther of the 1520s, as even his own Protestant critics pointed out.

I agree with your point about the state of the Catholic Church in Luther's day.

I'm also not sure I'm comfortable with your implied dualism between "sacramental magisterial authority" and individualism. Can this dualism account for the Orthodox position? I'd be curious to see how you can account for that. (I'm particularly choking on "magisterial," as I'm sure you can imagine.)

I'm glad you brought this up. It is interesting how the word 'magisterial' connotes different things to different persons. By the term 'magisterial' I mean "the living teaching office of the Church". The Orthodox Churches have a sacramental "living teaching office of the Church" in their bishops. So they fall into the SMA side of the dichotomy. They have preserved apostolic succession. So my argument implies that if a Protestant wishes to avoid individualism, he must become Orthodox or Catholic.

But of course that brackets the question of Rome and Peter. A very interesting blog by an Orthodox Christian examining this issue is Cathedra Unitatis, if you haven't already seen it. May God continue to guide us, and lead us to true unity in Him.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Principium unitatis said...

Dozie,

I appreciate your comments. I keep interacting with him because he is my brother in Christ, and I am called to "be reconciled to [my] brother". (Matt 5:24) I am to forgive 70x7. I am to turn the other cheek. I am to partake in Christ's sufferings (Col 1:24) for the sake of His Body.

The process of reconciliation is a painful and difficult road. I think we have to be willing to sit (or even kneel) at the dialogue table in complete humility, determined to bear every insult if necessary, until reconciliation and peace is achieved. In some cases we bear the penalty for the sins of others who have gone before us. But is that not a privilege for us? I don't mean that every Catholic is called to do that. I mean especially those Catholics on whom Christ has placed the burden and calling of working to restore unity to His Body.

I believe we can be the generation that (by the Holy Spirit's power) brings unity to the Church. But we cannot be passive. We have to make every effort to be reconciled to our brothers and sisters. We (Catholics) have to humble ourselves and go out to where our separated brothers and sisters are. We can't just wait for them to come to us. We have to say, "Come, let us be reconciled with each other. Let us commit ourselves to reconciliation."

Tim wants and loves the truth; so do I. He loves Christ; so do I. He loves the Church; so do I. So we have common ground. His motivation derives from his concern for the Gospel. He is concerned that I am leading people away from the truth. So, even though he and I disagree in very important respects, he is passionately committed to pursuing and protecting the truth. How can I not admire and respect that? I pray that some day we will receive the Eucharist together, as brothers in full communion, all differences reconciled, all wrongs forgiven. Please pray for that as well, if you would.

"Be at peace with one another" (Mark 9:50)

"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!" (Psalm 133:1)

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Joseph said...

Adam,

I'm taken aback by your comments. I understand that each individual Christian has their own opinions, but I have never met a real Eastern Orthodox (the few that I know are actually from Russia, not American Protestant converts) Christian who does not look upon Martin Luther with disdain. In him they see a prideful, arrogant heretic. He was not a schismatic, he was a heretic! In him they see the cause for what has become the sad decay of a sizable portion of Western Christianity, the cause of irreparable damage to unity. They also see Luther in the eyes of all of the evangelicals who began banging their incomplete Bibles over the heads of the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics in the former U.S.S.R. countries after the U.S.S.R. was desolved. They see the evangelicals and all Protestants as a sad collection of Christian wanna-bes. When asked whether or not Protestants can be Christian, I received an ambiguous "I don't know" from several real Eastern Orthodox. I also read the same response from a Metropolitan. The Russian Orthodox Church has recently stated (paraphrase) that they don't feel the need to bother with communities who don't know how to worship (referring to the Protestant communities). They've cut off any formal ties to the last Protestant group they had any to, the Anglicans (who were at once not that far from orthodox Christianity besides the fact that they did not retain Apostolic Succession and their understanding of Real Presence became flawed over time), because they started to flippantly ordain active homosexuals and have otherwise completely lost all resemblance to orthodox Christianity.

I don't completely share in their disdain for Martin Luther, though, after talking with them over it, I can definitely understand their reasoning behind it. However, I've heard from other American Protestant converts to Orthodoxy the same sympathetic tone towards Martin Luther and the other Protestant reformers. Is this only an trend in American Orthodoxy? Just curious, as the real Eastern Orthodox Churches don't seem to have the same understanding.

Anonymous said...

"Tim wants and loves the truth; so do I. He loves Christ; so do I. He loves the Church".

It is good to know these. However, when I speak of "the truth", I am refering to that taught in Scripture, Tradition, and by the Church. When I speak of the Church, I am refering not to the Texas Blue Sky, but to that organization founded by Christ which is organized in the world and headed by the Bishop of Rome. Words are supposed to have meaning and what Church and truth mean for a Catholic may not be the same for Tim and his cohorts, hence it would be misleading to imply that common ground exists.

Dozie

Joseph said...

Adam,

One more thing, the Russian Orthodox Christians and the many quotes I've seen from Russian Orthodox leaders describe Protestantism as "the Protestant Heresy". That doesn't seem to jive with your understanding of the virtue of Martin Luther.

There is a deep sense of loss felt by the Russian Orthodox for each Russian Orthodox or even Russian atheist who becomes Protestant. It is a grave sin to them. They believe that Protestant priests, bishops, pastors, ministers, presbyters, and preachers are the robbers and the theives who have jumped the fence into the sheepfold and did not go through the Gate (Jesus Christ; Apostolic Succession), misleading the flock. They see Protestants as those who cling to grave errors and dangerous to any Christian flock. There is no reconciliation with Protestants.

I'm curious where you have come to what seems to be the notion that Eastern Orthodoxy views Luther as virtuous and noble. To them, at least in my experience, he fell hard and fast in the sin of pride, vanity, and envy. They pity Protestants who stumble blindly, forcefully misinterpreting the Scriptures and now attacking the Early Fathers with that same zeal.

They believe that Protestantism gravely misunderstands the Church. As I said, this seems to be the consensus within the Russian Orthodox circles (Christians from Russia) whom I have ties to. This also seems to be the consensus out of Russia.

Principium unitatis said...

Dozie,

The Church herself teaches that common ground exists.

Do Jews worship the same God we worship? Yes. Do they believe that God is a Trinity of Persons? No. But that does not mean that they worship a different God. Likewise, even though the Protestant conceptions of the Church are mistaken in certain respects, that does not mean that the Church they speak of and the Church we speak of are different Churches. There is only one Church, for Christ has only one Bride. Some of the conceptions of this one Church are in error in certain respects, but those conceptions still refer to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

The Scylding said...

I realize this thread is cooling off, but one quick comment: I've met Orthodox folk, even clergy, who have a high regard for Luther.

And let us not forget the recent Finnish movement which has produced some outstanding works on Orthodox readings of Luther, incorporating theosis etc.

One-dimensional depictions are never right.