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

Monday, November 12, 2007

Reply to Jonathan Bonomo on Sacramental Authority

Jonathan Bonomo recently wrote:

"... how the ordination of a minister by consent of the church as one who is uniquely set apart by God to fulfill the duties of his office entails individualism is beyond me."

If the ground of the "minister's" authority is the consent of the laymen, then he retains authority over them only so long as they consent to him. If some (or all) of them no longer consent to him or to what he is saying, then since by their consent they gave him his authority in the first place, they can by their dissent take it away, i.e. take themselves back out from under his 'authority'. They can either remove him or replace him, or simply leave, go somewhere else and 'ordain' someone else who more closely reflects their own views to be their authority. What makes this a form of individualism is shown by the fact that the number of persons involved in the consenting is irrelevant. There is no principled difference between one hundred persons consenting to a minister's being placed 'over' them, or ten, or five or three or one. The number of persons involved is accidental to the nature and ground of the minister's authority. The group of individuals giving authority has no pre-existing intrinsic unity. They have, at most, an extrinsic unity in virtue of a shared theology. That is why the authority had by the minister (ordained in this way) is not by nature an authority over a group, but over individuals. Otherwise the authority per se would ipso facto cease to exist if there were only one member of the congregation left. Fundamentally, the nature of this sort of authority is derived from each individual layman.

When the individual layman is the ground of the minister's authority, then in theory there can be as many churches as there are individual laymen, because each individual (or each group of individuals sharing a similar interpretation of Scripture) can start their own 'church', and ordain their own 'minister'. (This is the reason why individualism is intrinsically disposed to fragmentation and disunity.) And this seems to be precisely the kind of disordered authority structure that St. Paul discusses in 2 Timothy 4:3 when he says that the time will come when people will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires. That is what non-sacramentally grounded magisterial authority has to be, people choosing teachers based on what they want to hear, based on their own interpretation of Scripture. This is what we see clearly in the "emergent" church and in Hybels and Osteen. But there is no principled difference between that and any other way of choosing one's 'minister' except seeking out those whose magisterial authority comes not from the consent of individuals but from Christ through sacramental succession from the Apostles. That is the only alternative to the ecclesial consumerism intrinsic to the individualistic, bottom-up notion of ecclesial authority warned about in 2 Timothy 4:3.

Update: The discussion continues here and here.

13 comments:

Jonathan said...

Bryan,

What you have described here is the Independent, or Congregational form of church government. But I am a Presbyterian. In Presbyterianism, the congregation does not possess authority to discipline or fire a Pastor, only the Presbytery does. Though a congregation must consent to the placement of a particular pastor over them, the pastor is not thereby simply a hireling. The entire congregation is under the authority of the Session, at the head of which stands the Pastor. And over Sessions preside Presbyteries, and over Presbyteries presides the General Assembly.

If the congregation sees a problem with the Pastor, it must be brought up with the Session, and if deemed by the Session to be serious enough, it must go before the Presbytery of ordained clergy which presides over that specific district before any action is taken. And if any action is taken, it is taken by the Presbytery. And Presbyteries themselves are responsible to the General Assembly of ordained ministers of the entire church.

You seem to lack any understanding of the Presbyterian form of church government, and its system of graded clerical courts. And it really is hard to see how you can presume to intelligently discuss such matters with a Protestant without even understanding the form of church government to which they subscribe.

Principium unitatis said...

Jonathan,

You are claiming that there is an important difference between a Presbyterian form of church government, and a Congregationalist form of church government with regard to this issue. I'm arguing precisely that there is no principled distinction between them at the level of ground of authority. The reason that the Presbyterian form of church government seems not to be equivalent (with respect to the ground of ecclesial authority) to the Congregationalist form of church government is that the ultimate ground of authority is much less obviously congregational in the Presbyterian system than in the Congregationalist system. But with respect to the ground of authority, Presbyterianism is just a different form of Congregationalism. That is because the "General Assembly" is itself just a congregation.

Rather than appointing anyone over itself, this congregation typically only appoints persons under itself (excepting moderators or others with similar roles). In this way it holds authority more in the congregation itself than do even Congregational churches. So this congregation (i.e. the "General Assembly") is in this respect even more congregational than Congregational churches, for they appoint authorities over them, but the congregation which is the "General Assembly" typically does not even do that.

The individual layman who agrees with the congregation called the "General Assembly", and places himself under it (by placing himself under the local Presbyterian pastor) in doing so gives authority (over himself) to that congregation called the "General Assembly". If he (at some later time) no longer consents to that congregation, then since by his consent he gave them authority over himself in the first place, he can by his dissent take it away from them, and give it to some other person or congregation. The congregation called the "General Assembly" has no standing authority over the individual believer apart from his giving it to them. By choosing to give authority (over himself) to that congregation, based on his agreement with that congregation, he is accumulating to himself teachers in accordance to his own desires and interpretations (2 Timothy 4:3), just as the "emergent church" folks do. He should instead be finding those ecclesial authorities who were sent by the Apostles, or by the bishops sent by the Apostles, or by those bishops in turn, etc. That can be seen when Jesus tells the Apostles, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me." (St. John 13:20) Jesus then tells the Apostles, "... as the Father has sent Me, I also send you." (St. John 20:21) So the Apostles can likewise say: He who receives whomever we send receives us; and he who receives us receives Christ. (2 Timothy 2:2) This sacramental succession can also be seen in Acts and in Romans.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

TJW said...

It only seems logical that you cannot give to someone, or something, more than you yourself have. Secular theories of authority begin with the inherent authority of each individual to govern their own affairs. They can 'give away' that inherent authority (or some of it) to an entity of some kind, the state for example, in return for order.

In an ecclesiastical setting, God is the source of all authority. It is meaningless to talk of elected representatives having 'authority' - at best, they have secular authority. Given individuals have no God ordained authority to begin with, they can hardly be said to have given their leaders something they themselves lack.

It seems that some people idolise the secular, as though there is something supernatural about a consensus of human beings. But if someone believes in God why should they think that a consensus of human beings is any more likely than not to discern the divine? The question they should themselves is whether any religious group has a theory of authority that includes specific supernatural protection from error. If they do not, not only is it incoherent for them to subscribe to such an understanding, it is incoherent to believe in God at all - at least beyond a vague and blurry concept that includes little or any of the Christian God’s sophisticated character, and history.

Andrew McCallum said...

Bryan,

If I were to make the jump to Roman Catholicism this would be a personal judgment just as much as if I made a personal judgment about any other church body. We cannot escape personal judgment, we have to decide whether or not a given tradition is in line with Scripture/tradition or not. When a Protestant moves from his communion to Roman Catholicism he is doing so because he believes that RC doctrine is correct, and of course vice versa. The layman is not the ground of the minister’s authority; it’s the Word of God. Of course each of us has to decide which communion is most correctly understanding and applying that authority. This includes you too, Bryan.

I was just reading the entry on the Sacraments in the Catholic Encyclopedia. When the author first speaks of the system of seven sacraments he adduces the Scholastics as proof (compare this with the entry for the Trinity where the author begins with the Old and New Testaments and then the writings of the Early Church). I think this is the proper place to start with peculiarities of the RC doctrine of the Sacraments because the distinctive version of the seven sacraments as summarized by Lombard and Aquinas and so on have nothing that I can see with either Scriptures or the Early Church (Note Bryan, I am not question that theologians of the Early Church saw ordination as sacramental in some sense. As I pointed out, Augustine, to use one example, called many religious rites as “sacraments.” I am questioning the peculiarities of the medieval understanding of the seven sacraments). It’s just Scholastic speculation from what I can see. But I did not really want to talk specifics of the modern RC doctrine of the Sacraments, I wanted to talk about how you can know whether Aquinas and Trent were correct. The question over whether or not Lombard and Aquinas and later Trent was correct is a matter of us firstly deciding on what standard we will adopt in order to judge whether or not RC doctrine on the Sacraments is correct, and then determining what principles we will bring to bear to make these judgments. It’s not a matter of you bowing to catholic tradition while I make my own judgment. We are both making judgments on the tradition of the Church. Just like the case of the infallibility of the bishop of Rome (another doctrine which has no basis that I can see in either Scripture or Early Church) that I mentioned before, we can either find this doctrine in the Scriptures and the Early Fathers or we cannot. If we can’t, then all the discussion about sacramental authority does not do us much good. RC magisterial authority can only be appealed to if your understanding of the seven sacraments is correct. If your personal judgment on the tradition of the Church is correct on this matter then you can appeal to this. So my question then is why should I accept your understanding of the tradition of the Church? We both have access to this set of data which we call church tradition at our disposal. What makes your interpretation of the tradition of the Church correct and mine in error? You cannot appeal to sacramental authority here Bryan, because it is exactly this doctrine of sacramental authority which I am questioning.

No escaping personal judgment here…

Jonathan said...

Bryan,

The difference is that Presbyterianism is a conciliar form of government, where the clergy of the church do in fact excercise the authority given them by Christ, though not in isolation from the other clergy. It is fallacious to say that this form of government places authority in the hands of the individual laymen. This is simply untrue. It places authority in the pastors and elders of the church.

For you, the only options are Hobbsian monarchialism or anarchy. I am arguing that there are not only these two options, and to reduce everything into these nice neet categories is simplistic and not condusive to productive dialogue.

I understand that you presume the truth of papalism, and thus cannot fathom that any other system can hold weight. But the Reformation Fathers, who were wrongly persecuted by the papalist system, rightly saw that this absolute monarchy did not have the support it was supposed to have in the early Fathers, much less in Scripture. The Conciliar principle is laid out continually in Scripture, not least in Acts 15, where we see the first major decision being made by the Apostles *in conjunction with* one another. Was this just a form of congregationalism? It seems that from your standpoint it would be, since in your estimation any time there is more than one person in authority it is just a form of congregationalism. Well if this is the case, I'll gladly be labelled a congregationalist, even though the label would be completely inaccurate, theologically and historically speaking.

And with regard to a layman placing himself in submission to the Presbyters of the church: I fail to see how in principle this is any different from papalism in our society. Does the church of Rome still force people into submission to her? No. People in America choose to be Roman Catholics. That is, they give Rome the authority over them, practically speaking. If they decide they don't want to be in communion with Rome anymore, they move on to whatever else pleases them. This is a modern American problem, *not* necessarily a Protestant problem. In the original churches of the Reformation, the Protestant churches held authority just as Rome did, because they were churches of entire lands. If you rejected the authority of the church establsihed in that land, you couldn't just choose to go to the church down the street. But now this is no longer the case in *either* Protestantism *or* Romanism.

Remember too, that historic Protestantism considers schism to be a grievous sin, and that if a layman just chooses to break away from a church to whose authority he submitted himself he is to carefully consider the gravity of such an action. It's not just "oh, go do whatever you want because the authority is in your hands," such as you are seemingly wont to slander us as believing. Again, the "go do whatever you want" thing is modernism, not Protestantism. Now I suppose you could argue that modernism is a result of Protestantism (with which I would ardently disagree), but this would be another discussion for another day.

Principium unitatis said...

Andrew,

Thanks very much for your comments. Perhaps the easiest way for me to reply is to intersperse my comments with yours below.

If I were to make the jump to Roman Catholicism this would be a personal judgment just as much as if I made a personal judgment about any other church body. We cannot escape personal judgment,

That is absolutely correct, and Catholics are not claiming otherwise. We fully agree that we make use of personal judgment in coming to be Catholic.

we have to decide whether or not a given tradition is in line with Scripture/tradition or not. When a Protestant moves from his communion to Roman Catholicism he is doing so because he believes that RC doctrine is correct..

Not necessarily. One rightly becomes Catholic not by determining for oneself that all the doctrines of the Catholic Church are "correct"; if one did so, one would still be thinking like a Protestant. One rightly becomes Catholic by determining that the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded; and one rightly determines that not by judging all her doctrines to be correct, but by (among other things) discovering who has been given the authority to pronounce definitively which doctrines are orthodox and which are heterodox. Protestants choose their 'authority' based on agreement with that authority; Catholics (who come into the Church rightly, and not for the wrong reasons) choose to place themselves under Catholic authorities not based on their own agreement with those authorities, but rather, based on discovering the authority of that authority, by which the Catholic then determines which doctrines are orthodox and which are heterodox. That is what is meant by "faith seeking understanding". The Protestant method puts it exactly the other way around, believing only what he himself (by his own study of Scripture) has come to understand is true.

The layman is not the ground of the minister’s authority; it’s the Word of God.

But the layman has the Bible too. So if the ground of the minister's authority is the Bible, then since the layman too has the Bible, therefore they both have equal authority. And that is individualism.

I was just reading the entry on the Sacraments in the Catholic Encyclopedia. When the author first speaks of the system of seven sacraments he adduces the Scholastics as proof (compare this with the entry for the Trinity where the author begins with the Old and New Testaments and then the writings of the Early Church). I think this is the proper place to start with peculiarities of the RC doctrine of the Sacraments because the distinctive version of the seven sacraments as summarized by Lombard and Aquinas and so on have nothing that I can see with either Scriptures or the Early Church (Note Bryan, I am not question that theologians of the Early Church saw ordination as sacramental in some sense. As I pointed out, Augustine, to use one example, called many religious rites as “sacraments.” I am questioning the peculiarities of the medieval understanding of the seven sacraments). It’s just Scholastic speculation from what I can see.

"It is just speculation from what I can see" is what could be said for some lines in the Nicene Creed as well. Before you can judge doctrine, you have to find the locus of authority, and the locus of transmission of authority, and not by means of judging doctrine, for that begs the question in favor of individualism. In other words, we have to determine what is it precisely (in the early Church) that gives Church authorities their authority, and then once we determine that, we ask ourselves what those who have received this authority have said about the doctrinal claim in question. And then instead of using our own evaluation of the doctrine to judge whether that authority is the rightful authority, we look to the rightful authority to determine what we should think about the doctrine.

But I did not really want to talk specifics of the modern RC doctrine of the Sacraments, I wanted to talk about how you can know whether Aquinas and Trent were correct.

The same way I know that the Council of Nicea was correct – not by confirming for myself that everything it said agrees with my own interpretation of Scripture, but by determining what it was that made Ecumenical Councils authoritative.

What makes your interpretation of the tradition of the Church correct and mine in error?

Feel free to show any examples in the fathers where magisterial authority was thought to be transferred to the bishop (being ordained) not by the laying on of hands by other bishops who had received their authority in a line of succession from the Apostles. The fathers all understood the grounding of authority precisely as the Catholic and Orthodox do today, by a handing down of Apostolic authority through the laying on of hands by those who themselves had received such authority in that manner in a line of succession going back to the Apostles. Why was it, do you think, that the Donatist bishops were not the actually authoritative bishops? (The Catholic way of understanding the ground of magisterial authority through succession from the Apostles by means of the laying on of hands is a given for both sides in that dispute!)

Making formal agreement with the Scriptures (according to one's own interpretation) the ground of magisterial authority (as did Luther) is something you won't find anywhere in the first 1500 years of the Church. The operating principle is first to find who has the authority, and then to determine (by looking to that authority) what is the authoritative interpretation of Scripture/Tradition.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Principium unitatis said...

Hello Jonathan,

Thanks for your comments.

The difference is that Presbyterianism is a conciliar form of government, where the clergy of the church do in fact excercise the authority given them by Christ, though not in isolation from the other clergy.

How do you know that Christ gave them any authority? If you reject the successive handing down of authority from the Apostles through the laying on off hands by those who themselves received such authority in that manner (all the way back to the Apostles), then how do you know that a Presbyterian pastor has any more authority from Christ than does Joseph Smith, or anyone else?

It is fallacious to say that this form of government places authority in the hands of the individual laymen. This is simply untrue. It places authority in the pastors and elders of the church.

It is not untrue, precisely because the [Presbyterian] pastors and elders ultimately get their authority (over the layman) from the laymen (as I explained in my previous post). That is the only other source of authority, if they do not get it by a handing down of authority in succession from the Apostles, and if they do not get it the way Joseph Smith claimed to get it. If you know of a fourth alternative, I'm all ears.

The Conciliar principle is laid out continually in Scripture, not least in Acts 15, where we see the first major decision being made by the Apostles *in conjunction with* one another. Was this just a form of congregationalism? It seems that from your standpoint it would be, since in your estimation any time there is more than one person in authority it is just a form of congregationalism.

The difference between the Jerusalem Council and the General Assembly of, say, the PCA or the OPC is that those who participate in the former were either Apostles or had received magisterial authority from the Apostles, while those who participate in the General Assembly of the PCA or the OPC do not have magisterial authority from the Apostles, nor were they sent out or commissioned by those whom the Apostles sent. [That is the meaning of "Holy Orders".] The Reformers took this ecclesial authority to themselves. That is why, for example, we should ask what authority Calvin had. So far as we know, he did not receive Holy Orders from anyone who had received the authority (to confer it) by succession from the Apostles. So he had no more *ecclesial* authority than any other layman, even if he had greater scholarly authority. But scholarly authority is not the same as ecclesial authority, nor is the latter reducible to the former.

And with regard to a layman placing himself in submission to the Presbyters of the church: I fail to see how in principle this is any different from papalism in our society. Does the church of Rome still force people into submission to her? No. People in America choose to be Roman Catholics. That is, they give Rome the authority over them, practically speaking. If they decide they don't want to be in communion with Rome anymore, they move on to whatever else pleases them.

See my reply to Andrew above. The person who rightly becomes Catholic does not give authority to the bishop of his diocese; he discovers that the bishop already is his authority, and has that authority by a succession from the Apostles. He discovers that that bishop is his actual shepherd no matter where he may choose to worship on any given Sunday, whether in a Catholic parish or in a Protestant community. If he is excommunicated by the Catholic Church, then he is excommunicated from the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, no matter where else he goes to worship. But that is not the case if one is "excommunicated" by a Presbyterian community, because no Presbyterian denomination has that authority, because no Presbyterian denomination has Apostolic succession. (I have said more on that here.)

Whether Protestants think leaving a Protestant congregation is a sin (of schism) is not relevant to the issue in question, for the issue is the ground of the authority of the Protestant pastor. Even Jehovah's Witnesses think it is wrong to leave them, but surely you acknowledge that their pastors have no authority from Christ. So we have to focus on the point in question, which is the ground of magisterial authority, whether that ground is by the laying on of hands by those who themselves received such authority in such succession extending back to the Apostles, or whether the ground is agreement with one's own interpretation of Scripture.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Andrew McCallum said...

Bryan,

You say this:

“One rightly becomes Catholic by determining that the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded; and one rightly determines that not by judging all her doctrines to be correct, but by (among other things) discovering who has been given the authority to pronounce definitively which doctrines are orthodox and which are heterodox. Protestants choose their 'authority' based on agreement with that authority; Catholics (who come into the Church rightly, and not for the wrong reasons) choose to place themselves under Catholic authorities not based on their own agreement with those authorities, but rather, based on discovering the authority of that authority, by which the Catholic then determines which doctrines are orthodox and which are heterodox.”

It seems to me that you are trying to here to assume something about Protestants which is not necessarily true. There are lots of Protestants who do take a cafeteria approach to their faith but needless to say that’s true with Roman Catholics as well. Like you, we have to make judgments on whether a church (Baptist, Presbyterian, etc) is biblical, but then when we are inside that church we are bound to the confessional position of the church. And for those of us Reformed Christians who are connected to the history of our faith, there is little difference between the confessional statements. They are products of a catholic understanding of the Christian faith. And yes, we are bound to these positions. Reformed Christians are not free to make their own judgments about the faith outside that confessional position. If they do in any good church, they will find themselves very quickly set straight. So we are both doing something similar. I judge the Reformed faith to be (although imperfect) a correct statement of the faith taught by the Scriptures. Of course I could leave if I disagreed with something but then so could you in your situation. We might be in sin but then maybe we wouldn’t be. If I’m in a Catholic Church and after analyzing the situation I come to the conclusion that one of the cardinal doctrines there is in error I should leave, shouldn’t I? If for instance I do my homework and I come to the conclusion that the teaching concerning the infallibility of the Roman bishop in de fide matters is not something that is taught either in Scripture or the writings of the Early Church then I must leave, correct? I think that the difference between us is NOT that I’m acting in the individualistic way that you represent. You can try to convince me of this but I know that I’m not thinking this way. I know you want to frame the debate in terms of the individualistic Protestant but I think you are barking up the wrong tree here. This just is not the way we think or act. Two of the ways where I think we DO disagree is on the matter of 1) how to interpret tradition and 2) whether or not tradition can be used as the ultimate basis for forming a system of doctrine. It is at this point that we can talk. Either such doctrines as papal infallibility and the seven sacraments as formulated at Trent and elsewhere can be found in the theology or the Early Church and Scriptures or they cannot. I don’t find anything about seven distinct sacraments or about papal infallibility here and I cannot see that the Medieval formulations of these doctrines can possibly be developments of earlier doctrine. It seems to me that your job as Catholic apologist is not to convince me that I am thinking individualistically but rather to give me feel for why you interpret tradition the way you do. I know that you would not analyze a given doctrine this way if you were speaking with another Catholic since you have both accepted the Roman understanding of the Christian faith. But then I’m not Catholic and I think I’m asking a reasonable question as to how you accept such doctrines as papal infallibility since they are not found either in Scripture or secondarily in the writings of the early Fathers.

Scholastic speculation on the sacraments and the Scholastic twist on seven distinct sacraments is certainly an interesting topic but I think I’ve gone on too long and I really wanted to emphasize methodology of Protestant-Catholic interactions rather than the specifics of doctrinal differences. If you are not understanding the frame of reference that your Protestant friends are operating in, you won't communicate with them at all. So it seems to me that your first job is to understand their mode of thinking.

Cheers,

Andrew

Principium unitatis said...

Hello Andrew,

It seems to me that you are trying to here to assume something about Protestants which is not necessarily true.

What exactly am I assuming about Protestants that is not necessarily true?

There are lots of Protestants who do take a cafeteria approach to their faith but needless to say that’s true with Roman Catholics as well.

I agree.

Like you, we have to make judgments on whether a church (Baptist, Presbyterian, etc) is biblical,

Did you read my reply to your previous post? The person who comes into the Catholic Church rightly, does not do so on the ground that the Catholic Church is "biblical" (i.e. fits his own interpretation of Scripture). He does so on the ground that this is the very Church that Christ founded, whether it fits his own interpretation of the Bible or not.

but then when we are inside that church we are bound to the confessional position of the church.

Why? Were people who joined Marcion's 'church' bound to it? Why? It had no actual authority.

And for those of us Reformed Christians who are connected to the history of our faith, there is little difference between the confessional statements. They are products of a catholic understanding of the Christian faith.

What work is the word 'catholic' doing in your phrase "catholic understanding of the Christian faith"?

And yes, we are bound to these positions.

Why? What exactly is binding you to a position?

Reformed Christians are not free to make their own judgments about the faith outside that confessional position. If they do in any good church, they will find themselves very quickly set straight.

Where "set straight" means disciplined in accordance with the position of the institution of which he is a member. Of course I agree that if a Baptist starts openly rejecting Baptist teaching he will be disciplined (if he does not leave). And if a Presbyterian starts openly rejecting Presbyterian teaching he will be disciplined (if he does not leave). I have never denied that.

So we are both doing something similar.

No, not at all. I think you may not be understanding my claim. Let me try it again: Your method of finding your present institution was looking at the Bible, interpreting it, and trying to find a denomination that came closest to teaching according to your interpretation. My method of finding the Catholic Church was looking at the fathers, and seeing which Church was the Church Christ founded. Christ didn't found the PCA, for example. That institution was founded about 34 years ago. I don't know which Reformed denomination you belong to, but I have never encountered a Reformed denomination that looked more like the teachings and practices of the Fathers than does the Catholic Church (including the Orthodox Churches). I looked for lines of succession – starting from the first century, and working my way forward. I wanted to find the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded – not a man-made institution. And by studying the fathers it became clear to me that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church retained its identity through time in large part by way of its apostolicity, i.e. through apostolic succession. Ordination of bishops has always been a passing down of authority, in a succession going back to the Apostles, as I have explained before. No Protestant denomination has this. And therefore, no Protestant denomination can be called the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded.


I judge the Reformed faith to be (although imperfect) a correct statement of the faith taught by the Scriptures.

I understand that that is your interpretation of Scripture.

Of course I could leave if I disagreed with something but then so could you in your situation.

True, but if I did so, I would become a schismatic, by leaving the Church Christ founded.

If I’m in a Catholic Church and after analyzing the situation I come to the conclusion that one of the cardinal doctrines there is in error I should leave, shouldn’t I?

No. In that case you should pray for faith, and trust in the Church more than your own self.

If for instance I do my homework and I come to the conclusion that the teaching concerning the infallibility of the Roman bishop in de fide matters is not something that is taught either in Scripture or the writings of the Early Church then I must leave, correct?

No. You should exercise faith, and seek understanding. That is what "faith seeking understanding" means. Just as you should never leave the Apostles, even if it seemed to you that they were wrong, so you should never leave the Church, even if it seems to you that it is wrong. In such a case, remember that there is another possibility: you could be the one who is wrong. What authority do you have to determine that the Church Christ founded is wrong in what she teaches as dogma? I don't have the authority to determine that the Church Christ founded is wrong in her dogma.

I think that the difference between us is NOT that I’m acting in the individualistic way that you represent.

I understand that that is what you think.

You can try to convince me of this but I know that I’m not thinking this way.

See my Ecclesial Consumerism post, and the link within that article.

I know you want to frame the debate in terms of the individualistic Protestant but I think you are barking up the wrong tree here. This just is not the way we think or act.

My argument has nothing to do with what I want. If anything I have said is false, please feel free to point out which of my statements is false, or which of my arguments is unsound.

Two of the ways where I think we DO disagree is on the matter of 1) how to interpret tradition and 2) whether or not tradition can be used as the ultimate basis for forming a system of doctrine. It is at this point that we can talk. Either such doctrines as papal infallibility and the seven sacraments as formulated at Trent and elsewhere can be found in the theology or the Early Church and Scriptures or they cannot. I don’t find anything about seven distinct sacraments or about papal infallibility here and I cannot see that the Medieval formulations of these doctrines can possibly be developments of earlier doctrine.

Have you read Stephen Ray's book Upon This Rock? What do you think it means that Peter is a Rock? The fathers referred to the Petrine See as the "unbreakable Rock". What do you think it means that the gates of hell shall not prevail against that Rock?

Regarding the sacraments, have you read Willis's The Teaching of the Church Fathers? You might find it helpful.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Andrew McCallum said...

Bryan,

You sais this:

“Did you read my reply to your previous post? The person who comes into the Catholic Church rightly, does not do so on the ground that the Catholic Church is "biblical" (i.e. fits his own interpretation of Scripture). He does so on the ground that this is the very Church that Christ founded, whether it fits his own interpretation of the Bible or not.”

Yes, I read it but from your answer you are not comprehending my point. We take our position because we are convinced that just like you that the Church we join is that which Christ founded. Both Catholics and Protestants (that is those who are connected to history) are both convinced that they are part of a church that is faithful to the Church that Christ founded. This is why I have all the examples of where Catholicism has gone astray. We try to find things like papal infallibility in the Scriptures and the Early Church and it’s just not there. Now maybe this doctrine is a proper development of the doctrines of the Early Church, but my point is that what Protestants are doing here is going through the same exercise as you do when you look at the “teachings and practices…” We look at the claims of the RCC like you have, but in the final analysis we disagree with Rome’s interpretation of herself.

Later you say this:

“I don't know which Reformed denomination you belong to, but I have never encountered a Reformed denomination that looked more like the teachings and practices of the Fathers than does the Catholic Church (including the Orthodox Churches). I looked for lines of succession – starting from the first century, and working my way forward. I wanted to find the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded – not a man-made institution. And by studying the fathers it became clear to me that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church retained its identity through time in large part by way of its apostolicity, i.e. through apostolic succession. Ordination of bishops has always been a passing down of authority, in a succession going back to the Apostles, as I have explained before. No Protestant denomination has this. And therefore, no Protestant denomination can be called the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded.”

And there are some things which Catholicism practices which do look like the Early Church and some which don’t. We both evaluate Scripture and tradition and both believe that we stand on the faith of our Fathers. The issue of PCA vs. OPC or whatever is a red herring. As you may have picked up from ReformedCatholicism we are part of different communions with different worship styles and different church governments, but we are all united on the essentials of the catholic faith. Your arguments of literal succession are as important as those of Jews who made arguments from the literal succession they had to Abraham. The RC bishops of the Reformation era were literally successors of earlier bishops, but as I’ve pointed out before they were not bishops in any biblical sense. The ordination of bishops only makes sense if it guarantees that faithful bishops are put in place. In so many times in history the succession of bishops has guaranteed that the most evil of men took this role. These people were not bishops in ANY Christian sense of the term. The Scriptures do NOT define bishops by their succession; it defines them by their character. You know this.

You say “Let me try it again: Your method of finding your present institution was looking at the Bible, interpreting it, and trying to find a denomination that came closest to teaching according to your interpretation. My method of finding the Catholic Church was looking at the fathers, and seeing which Church was the Church Christ founded. Christ didn't found the PCA, for example. That institution was founded about 34 years ago.”

And I’m trying to say that your second sentence is true of Protestants (those Protestant who care about such things which most don’t) like it is of Catholics (those Catholics who care about such things which most don’t). Every good Protestant seminary has men with advanced degrees that have studied the Fathers for 30, 40, 50 years or more and they are all convinced that their faith is in line with this historic Christian faith. Do you understand this? If so, why do you try to say that these folks (many who have studied the history of the Church far longer than you) are taking their position solely from their particular interpretation of the Bible? Now maybe these experts in the history of the church are wrong in their understanding of this history or wrong in their understanding of the Scriptures and if you want to make this case then OK. But if you start with a mistaken view about what Protestants believe, then right from the very beginning you are pushing the conversation in the wrong direction. Let me add that what you say about Protestants in sentence one above is certainly correct, we do look to the Scriptures to determine what church we might be involved in. But like I said above we also do what is in your second sentence. There should not be any either/or here, I hope you are not positing this.

Do you think maybe you are generalizing your understanding of Protestants from your experience as a Pentecostal and from the experience of other Protestants who had no understanding of historic Christianity?

Andrew

Principium unitatis said...

Andrew,

We take our position because we are convinced that just like you that the Church we join is that which Christ founded.

What denomination are you in?

Both Catholics and Protestants (that is those who are connected to history) are both convinced that they are part of a church that is faithful to the Church that Christ founded.

No. That is not what we believe. You are describing Catholics as if Catholics think like Protestants. We don't believe that we are "part of a church that is faithful to the Church that Christ founded"; we believe that the Catholic Church *is* the Church that Christ founded. The idea that we are in a part (or a branch) is a denial of schism – see here.

This is why I have all the examples of where Catholicism has gone astray. We try to find things like papal infallibility in the Scriptures and the Early Church and it’s just not there.

Yes it is. I just pointed you to some readings in my last post.

Now maybe this doctrine is a proper development of the doctrines of the Early Church, but my point is that what Protestants are doing here is going through the same exercise as you do when you look at the “teachings and practices…” We look at the claims of the RCC like you have, but in the final analysis we disagree with Rome’s interpretation of herself.

So have heretics [whom you would agree to be heretics] through all time. So whose interpretation is authoritative?

but we are all united on the essentials of the catholic faith.

What are the "essentials of the catholic faith", and on what basis are they the "essentials of the catholic faith"? Who gets to decide what are the "essentials of the catholic faith", and what authority do those persons have?

Your arguments of literal succession are as important as those of Jews who made arguments from the literal succession they had to Abraham. The RC bishops of the Reformation era were literally successors of earlier bishops, but as I’ve pointed out before they were not bishops in any biblical sense.

According to *your* interpretation of Scripture. The Scripture *does* recognize the significance of the laying on of hands. And the fathers are even clearer. Character does not determine who the rightful bishop is, otherwise the Donatists would have been right, and the Church would be in absolute schism, as each person followed that person whom he thought had the best character.

The ordination of bishops only makes sense if it guarantees that faithful bishops are put in place.

Then was Judas an Apostle or not?

In so many times in history the succession of bishops has guaranteed that the most evil of men took this role. These people were not bishops in ANY Christian sense of the term.

According to *your* interpretation of Scripture. But what authority does *your* interpretation have? Why weren't the Donatist bishops the rightful bishops?

The Scriptures do NOT define bishops by their succession; it defines them by their character.

That's your *interpretation* of Scripture. Scripture nowhere defines bishops by their character. It specifies character traits as criteria for the *selection* of bishops. But once a bishop has been ordained, he retains that charism and that authority, even if his character degrades.


And I’m trying to say that your second sentence is true of Protestants (those Protestant who care about such things which most don’t) like it is of Catholics (those Catholics who care about such things which most don’t). Every good Protestant seminary has men with advanced degrees that have studied the Fathers for 30, 40, 50 years or more and they are all convinced that their faith is in line with this historic Christian faith.

What evidence do you have for believing this to be true? Have you been to all the Protestant seminaries and examined how extensive is their faculty's knowledge of the fathers?

Protestants don't trace lines of succession. At the Reformation they explicitly abandoned the idea that apostolic succession had anything to do with matter. That is why surveying contemporary Protestants is unnecessary on this point. Part of what it means to be Protestant is to deny thinking of ordination in terms of apostolic succession in its traditional sense, and redefine it in terms of pure form, i.e. doctrine. See here.)

If so, why do you try to say that these folks (many who have studied the history of the Church far longer than you) are taking their position solely from their particular interpretation of the Bible?

Because that is intrinsic to the Protestant position, with its commitment to sola scriptura and a purely formal notion of apostolic succession. It is very clear that the fathers were Catholic. McGrath and Geisler, for example, both acknowledge that the idea of imputed justification was essentially absent between the time of the Apostles and Luther. And the Protestant notion of 'sola scriptura' is not part of the tradition of the Church. (See Sungenis's Not By Scripture Alone and my review of Keith Mathison's The Shape of Sola Scripture. The fathers clearly affirm baptismal regeneration as part of the gospel, as well as the notion that the Eucharist truly becomes the Body and Blood of our Lord. The list goes on and on. The early Church was the Catholic Church (see Whitehead's book: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic: The Early Church was the Catholic Church.) This is why Newman rightly said that to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant. Since the Protestant position is built on sola scriptura and a purely formal notion of apostolic succession, it follows (logically) that the Protestant determines the identity of the Church by seeing which persons presently come closest to his own interpretation of Scripture. That is part of the essence of Protestantism.

Now maybe these experts in the history of the church are wrong in their understanding of this history or wrong in their understanding of the Scriptures and if you want to make this case then OK. But if you start with a mistaken view about what Protestants believe, then right from the very beginning you are pushing the conversation in the wrong direction. Let me add that what you say about Protestants in sentence one above is certainly correct, we do look to the Scriptures to determine what church we might be involved in. But like I said above we also do what is in your second sentence. There should not be any either/or here, I hope you are not positing this.

Protestant seminary students spend very little time in the fathers. Just look at their curricula. They typically get one semester in early church history, and that is an overview of *events*, reading mostly secondary sources, containing various (and carefully selected) quotations from the fathers. Compare that, say, to what the students at the local Catholic seminary here in St. Louis do with the fathers. I talked to one last year, and he had already read all of the fathers from the first century up through St. Augustine. The contrast is astounding.

Do you think maybe you are generalizing your understanding of Protestants from your experience as a Pentecostal and from the experience of other Protestants who had no understanding of historic Christianity?

I became a Reformed Presbyterian right out of college, and went on to receive an M.Div. from a well-known conservative Presbyterian seminary, taking over 120 graduate credit hours in the process with a GPA just under 4. So I'm not shooting from the hip. But instead of focusing your attention on *me* (and whether I am speaking from a state of ignorance), it would be better to focus your attention on whether what I'm saying is true or not.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Andrew McCallum said...

“’Both Catholics and Protestants (that is those who are connected to history) are both convinced that they are part of a church that is faithful to the Church that Christ founded’.
No. That is not what we believe. You are describing Catholics as if Catholics think like Protestants. We don't believe that we are "part of a church that is faithful to the Church that Christ founded"; we believe that the Catholic Church *is* the Church that Christ founded. The idea that we are in a part (or a branch) is a denial of schism – see here.”

When I say “part of” I don’t mean that the Church is split into parts. I’m not saying anything about parts or branches here. “Part of” is an expression meaning to be joined to. I still think we are doing something similar here and I really think that if looked at the matter in a little different light you would see that there is a genuine touching point here. But you convinced that we are at odds. OK, well I tried.

I just cannot take the time to go through your whole post here. I answered you originally in an attempt get you to understand something about Protestantism but you just are determined to see Protestants in a certain light. If you really want to believe this then you will continue to get the kind of irritated responses that you get a ReformedCatholicism. Do you understand that some of the reason that people get frustrated at you here is that you are not understanding their mindset? Unlike many of the RC apologists who are out there, you are very gracious and this is certainly a good thing. But I think you are starting off on the wrong foot. You are trying to force the discussion/debate into a mode where I don’t recognize my side. I have tried to convey something about what the Protestant mindset is and I think I just have to give up at this point. If you want to frame things in terms of the Protestant as individualistic then intelligent Reformed Protestants are going to turns you off. Perhaps this is no concern to you but I thought it might be. There’s no way to go further into any of the details before you understand how your opponent thinks. Do you see what I’m saying? If your assumptions about how I think and my assumptions about how I think are different then discussion is over.

I think that the only other thing I was trying to do here was to try to get you to understand that your positions are just your interpretation of tradition (or more generally I could say they are Rome’s interpretation of Rome). We don’t accept Rome’s interpretation and don’t agree that her perception of herself is correct. I asked you a few posts ago basically whether some one should leave Rome if they became convinced that the doctrines that Rome held to were in error and your response was, “No. In that case you should pray for faith, and trust in the Church more than your own self.” But do you see where this puts me? There is no debate or discussion here. I cannot possibly prove anything to you. The discussion and dialogue is not just over, it never got started. Bryan, I get into lots of interesting discussions on issues of theology, philosophy and science in various venues. When I start of these discussions, both sides generally have to agree as to what it would take to prove the other is not correct in their premises. In a word, both positions have to be “falsifiable.” If they are not then there’s no discussion, the dialogue is dead in the water before the first argument is made. I really don’t understand what it would take to prove you wrong. It’s as if you are right by definition. While that might be fine for you to adopt this position as you walk in the door of your church, it seems to me to be pointless when you enter into a discussion with someone who is at odds with some of these assumptions.

Andrew

Principium unitatis said...

Andrew,

Genuine ecumenical dialogue requires a very serious commitment, a willingness to remain at the dialogue table (even if the process is long and slow, and requires frequent breaks) until reunion is achieved.

Let's just take our time, but remain committed to dialogue.

As I said to Jonathan, I don't think our disagreement is at the level of first principles. So, we have to find the fundamental points of disagreement, and try to figure out how to adjudicate between them. I think there the difference between us is a kind of paradigm difference. Paradigm differences are not worked out by syllogisms directly, but by working hard to see things from the other point of view. I have lived in both paradigms. I was a Protestant for 36 years, so I have a fairly good idea of what it is like to see the data from the Protestant perspective. I'm not sure if you were ever a Catholic, but it might help (for mutual understanding) to try to see things from the Catholic point of view. The more we come to understand and see both paradigms, the more easily we can have genuine ecumenical and fruitful dialogue.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan