Friday, August 31, 2007

The Canonicity of Esther

Taylor Marshall over at Canterbury Tales has a challenge for Protestants: why is Esther Canonical? A better than average discussion follows (for Blogs touching on Catholic-Protestant debates).

I have been re-reading R. Laird Harris' Inspiration and Canonicity of the Scriptures: An Exegetical and Historical Study. I believe it expresses a normative PCA view, as it is written by an ordained PCA minister and career Covenant Theological Seminary (PCA) professor, who was also a charter member of the NIV translation committee. From his discourse, I have not been persuaded that there is a good reason to include Esther in the Canon.

I believe the party line is as follows: 1) what was considered to be canon at the Temple in Jerusalem would be normative/definitive for all Jews at the time of Christ, 2) the Jewish canon at the time of Christ should be our O.T. canon, 3) omissions of Esther from the oldest extant list of canon (Melito) was possibly by mistake, 4) the later testimony of Josephus (Jewish scholar), Jerome and Origen (both of whom studied under Jewish scholars) indicates Esther was accepted with the "Prophets" texts in the Jewish canon, so 5) Esther is canonical. As reinforcement (or a substitute argument), 6) those books referred to directly or by category by Christ in the N.T. are canonical, 7) and since Christ referred to the "Prophets" category, and Esther is likely in that category, it is canonical.

I really struggle with his reasoning and these arguments overall, and would appreciate hearing from anyone who can back it up.

First, this suggests that the Jews at the Temple in 90 A.D. [for the canon was not actually formed at Christ's arrival even in Jerusalem, but was only later settled] have the authority to definitively define canon. Since the Protestant says we cannot trust (or do not need) Christian authority to define canon, why am I to trust the Jews of Jerusalem after Christ's death?

Second, I fail to grasp why we should accept the rule I've given under #6 and #7 above over a rule that says 'if Christ and the Apostles quoted the N.T. in Septuagint, then the Septuagint is more reliable than what the Temple Jews of 90 A.D. thought'. [The Septuagint has the Apocrypha/Deuterocanon - think about that!]

Third, Harris leans very much on early writing by those who studied under Palestinian Jews, so were naturally persuaded by their view of canon, and denies that other early church fathers' testimony points otherwise than the accounts of Origen, Jerome and Josephus (re: their not including the Apocrypha/Deuterocanon). One doesn't have to search far on Google to find evidence to the contrary.

This is a complex issue, so I am amply prepared for reproof.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Doctoring Doctrine, Part III

I just finished reading an interesting Orthodox critique of sola Scriptura, written by convert Fr. John Whiteford, which a kind reader pointed out to me. In it I encountered yet another translation of questionable merit in the NIV.

In 2 Thes 2:15, we are told (in the NIV), "So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter." According to Fr. Whiteford, the Greek word translated here as "teachings", paradosis, literally means "what is transmitted", and should be translated as "tradition". The Greek Orthodox use this word to refer to their Sacred Traditions.

Where paradosis is treated negatively in scripture (e.g., Mark 3:8), the NIV translates it as "tradition" (as in, the dirty, bad stuff used by those dirty, bad Catholics and Orthodox). Where paradosis is treated positively in scripture (e.g., 2 Thes 2:15 supra, 1 Cor 11:2), the NIV has it translated as "teachings". The lesson then is clear: teachings are good, and tradition is bad. This makes a substantive impact on the meaning of infallible Writ, and definitely affected my attitude towards Apostolic churches for some time. I am glad to learn that "tradition" is spoken of positively in Scripture!

There is no need for the NIV to provide their attempted distinction between good and bad "tradition", because the text itself is sufficient. In each instance paradoseis is qualified as either "of men" or "from me (or us)". Here is a clear and easy rule: trust not teaching that is transmitted by vain men, but what is transmitted from the Apostles (whether it be directly or by epistle).

Separately, do check out Fr. Stephen’s Orthodox Blog for an excellent analysis of the Greek language in 1 John 1:6-7. He stresses a weakness endemic to English translations, where ‘koinonia’ with God should be treated as “communion” instead of “fellowship.” Wonderful stuff!

This all reminds me that we need qualified teachers bound to a normative standard to transmit the teachings of Sacred Scripture. (My apologies in advance for any botched conversions of Greek into our Roman alphabet.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Doctoring Doctrine Through Dynamic Equivalency, Part II

I previously wrote a post on an unnerving addition made to Sacred Scriptures by the NIV translators in an effort to make a "necessary" clarification. Let me reiterate that I have not been part of the Anti-NIV bandwagon, and have generally been sick of hearing people in the PCA say "out with the old (NIV) and in with the new (ESV or NKJV)!" But I am coming to appreciate that substantive changes were made to Holy Writ, and this merits serious attention. The NIV is among the most widely published English translations of the Bible.

Consider Hebrews 11:11, where the NIV tells us that, "By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise."

Would you be at all surprised to learn that Abraham is not mentioned in this verse in the Greek? I was! The verse is literally something like this (and do check out the Interlinear yourself, since I'm not really qualified to do what I do in the remainder of this sentence), 'through faith also [the also modifies the preceding passage which IS about Abraham] barren Sarah was empowered for the laying down of seed, obtained beyond her season of prime, because she believed the one promising.'

Let me paraphrase these side-by-side to highlight what the NIV translators dodged:
NIV: Abraham's faith in the promisor enabled him, though he and Sarah were past age, to father.
Greek: Sarah's faith in the promisor enabled her to receive seed in spite of her age.

This is a substantive change to our infallible, God-breathed, solely sufficient Bible. Two main complaints come to mind, one minor but obvious, the other major but subtle:
1) Simple biology dictates that men do not experience menopause and become BARREN. Women do.
2) The NIV denies the reader the ability to appreciate that Sarah is an antetype of (that is, she prefigured) Mary. This verse in Hebrews does more than encourage our belief that the Old Testament prophesied the Messiah's coming just as He did; it tells us something substantive about Mary. It underlines that Mary was made able to receive the laying down of God's seed in her otherwise barren womb BY FAITH. The Reformed, I believe, are squeamish about this possibility, and so inclined to filter this verse. We say that Mary just happened to be the one chosen by God, without any regard for her personal merit (and indeed that the wicked Catholics and Orthodox are blasphemous for presuming contrary to predestinarianism that Mary was selected for her merit). Let the Scripture speak for itself.

Worth mention is that the NIV translators included an alternate reading of the verse in a footnote (without explanation), but it is an inadequate substitute, and it still misses the notion of being able to receive seed. Seed theology is not for the hogs.

Ironically, the Today's NIV, which "was produced to meet the ever-growing spiritual needs of today's generation of believers", reversed the text option and the footnote from the original NIV! To get a feel for the TNIV, check out the picture of it's cover. (Story? Are we referring to a Fable? Singular? It's one fable, not a collection of sacred fables? Of God? Not of redemption, but of God? We've encapsulated the Almighty in one story? Wow!)

To be continued...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Federal Vision Convert

Do stop by here for an interesting account of how the Federal Vision (FV) movement made one of its proponents (an OPC member) into a Catholic. I've heard tell elsewhere that many of the guys at the ground level of the movement have already become Orthodox or Catholic... (hearsay, I know...)

For those of you unaware, the PCA just approved a committee paper condemning what they understand to be Federal Vision theology. It an interesting debate, since no one admits to believing the unorthodox (so can't be disciplined), but they sure write like they do...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Burdens of Proof, Standards of Proof

[Forgive the legalese, and do view "opponent" in the spirit in which it is meant.]

My wife regularly notes that we are where we are, the Reformation happened, cats out of the bag, so who are we to go back? She is warmed by the C.S. Lewis saying (I paraphrase) that ‘the closer we are to the heart of our respective positions, the closer we are to each other.’

Hers is a common position, but one that presumes that the burden of proof for convincing any one Christian of any particular truth contrary to that which is taught in their current state is on the party opposite. I am the defendant-Protestant, and if you claim the truth is in [Orthodoxy] [Catholicism], you have to convince me.

If this standard is true, it sounds something of a death knell to the ecumenist. Each of us stands behind our wall of happenstance, refusing to believe without some degree of strong proof that we are in the wrong camp.

Is it possible to invert this formula? Can I place the burden on myself? Could we say, “I am the plaintiff-Protestant, and am confident enough in what I profess to believe that I can bear the burden of proof over my opponents”?

Even if we appreciate on which party the burden lies, we have to settle what the standard of proof for this burden is. In the secular law, various standards are used. To prove a case in civil court, one generally has to convince a jury with a preponderance of the evidence that one’s case is right (that is, somewhat greater than 50% certainty that claim X is right). To convict one of a capital crime, the state usually must present evidence that convinces the jury “beyond a reasonable doubt” of guilt.

Given the antiquity and obscurity of our primary evidence (the church fathers and scripture) in debates over the proper constitution of Christ’s Church, it seems that a discerning believer will never be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. Doubt is a low standard to meet. If we place the burden of proof on our opponent, and use “beyond a reasonable doubt” as our standard, each will remain convinced (relatively) of the supremacy of his own camp, and the fortitude of his own walls.

Truth requires better than this framework though. Instead of drowning in complacency, shouldn’t one be able to prove to others by a preponderance of the evidence that their position is justified? A fabulous courtroom drama it would be.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

James White's 10 Questions For Discernment

Reformed Baptist apologist, Mr. James White, recently shared 10 questions any so-called Protestant should answer before considering converting to Catholicism. Since I am in his target audience, I pulled up my socks and tried answering these questions. Forgive the length, but Mr. White wasn't able to keep his questions short (lest he should miss a chance to preach):

10) Have you listened to both sides? …Have you actually taken the time to find sound, serious responses to Rome's claims, those offered by writers ever since the Reformation, such as Goode, Whitaker, Salmon, and modern writers? I specifically exclude from this list anything by Jack Chick and Dave Hunt.

Yes, and who are Chick and Hunt, and why are you excluding them? Now I’m curious!

9) Have you read an objective history of the early church? I refer to one that would explain the great diversity of viewpoints to be found in the writings of the first centuries…?

Yes. Well, only one or two that are objective, and several that are very biased in favor of their Reformed authors. I have yet to read a Catholic history of the early church. Maybe I should, so I know I'm listening to both sides! (Actually, no one can write an objective history - the non-Christian academician will write as an agnostic seeking to debunk the Mystery of Christ, and the Protestant or Catholic will be biased to their own position.)

8) Have you looked carefully at the claims of Rome in a historical light, specifically, have you examined her claims regarding the "unanimous consent" of the Fathers, and all the evidence that exists that stands contrary not only to the universal claims of the Papacy but especially to the concept of Papal Infallibility? How do you explain, consistently, the history of the early church in light of modern claims made by Rome? How do you explain such things as the Pornocracy and the Babylonian Captivity of the Church without assuming the truthfulness of the very system you are embracing?

I believe I have looked carefully. I do not know what Mr. White means by “unanimous consent”. If he means that 100% of church fathers have to believe something for the Catholic claims to be valid, that would give, ex post facto, a limitless veto power to any one father (who would not have realized he was wielding this power when he wrote). I do not know if he means Papal Infallibility the way I have read it defended. I do not know what remains to be explained about the Pornocracy et al. The Catholics claim that the church is not free from sinful people; they say the Church is semper reformanda.

7) Have you applied the same standards to the testing of Rome's ultimate claims of authority that Roman Catholic apologists use to attack sola scriptura? How do you explain the fact that Rome's answers to her own objections are circular? For example, if she claims you need the Church to establish an infallible canon, how does that actually answer the question, since you now have to ask how Rome comes to have this infallible knowledge. Or if it is argued that sola scriptura produces anarchy, why doesn't Rome's magisterium produce unanimity and harmony? And if someone claims there are 33,000 denominations due to sola scriptura, since that outrageous number has been debunked repeatedly (see Eric Svendsen's Upon This Slippery Rock for full documentation), have you asked them why they are so dishonest and sloppy with their research?

I have applied the same standards to all my analysis, thank you for asking. Regarding circular logic, I believe the ‘Romanist’ would say that Christ promised us that he would give his Holy Spirit, and the Book of Acts records this very event. This, and Christ’s commissioning of the Apostles should give us some reason to believe that their claims to authority could be valid, certainly valid enough to identify which texts this same Holy Spirit inspired. Rome’s claims do not nearly produce harmony. Many walked away from Christ when he explained that His flesh had to be eaten for salvation. Rome’s criticism (in observing the factionalism of Protestantism) is that our claim that the Bible is a sufficient sole rule of faith has been disproved by reality, as we are in such wide disagreement on its interpretation, even in essential matters. There may not be harmony, or even obedience in Catholicism about the use of, say, the Pill (an abortifacient), but at least everyone understands that their Church has spoken against it. Incidentally, and speaking of essentials, I believe Calvin would say that Mr. White's Reformed Baptists are not part of the true church, since they do not properly attend to the Sacraments.

6) Have you read the Papal Syllabus of Errors and Indulgentiarum Doctrina? Can anyone read the description of grace found in the latter document and pretend for even a moment that is the doctrine of grace Paul taught to the Romans?

I just pulled these documents up, thank you. I do not understand what point was sought to be made by the first, so need elucidation. The errors refuted by the Pope are, e.g., that the philosophy of Relativism is not in accord with Christianity. No surprise. Regarding Indulgences and Paul’s doctrine of Grace, this textual criticism does not account for the Catholic defense that Indulgences are able to relieve only temporal punishment. Eternal punishment is cured by Christ’s grace alone (Cf. Paul's doctrine of grace taught to the Romans).

5) Have you seriously considered the ramifications of Rome's doctrine of sin, forgiveness, eternal and temporal punishments, purgatory, the treasury of merit, transubstantiation, sacramental priesthood, and indulgences? Have you seriously worked through compelling and relevant biblical texts like Ephesians 2, Romans 3-5, Galatians 1-2, Hebrews 7-10 and all of John 6, in light of Roman teaching?

Yes, still weighing them, thank you. I have read those passages in light of Rome’s teachings, and continue to pray about this. These are hard passages that could be taken different ways. I am poorly qualified to judge individually what they mean. This reading makes me doubt the sola Scriptura claim of the perspicuity of scripture.

4) Have you pondered what it means to embrace a system that teaches you approach the sacrifice of Christ thousands of times in your life and yet you can die impure, and, in fact, even die an enemy of God, though you came to the cross over and over again? And have you pondered what it means that though the historical teachings of Rome on these issues are easily identifiable, the vast majority of Roman Catholics today, including priests, bishops, and scholars, don't believe these things anymore?

Second point first, so many people doubt. As all of John 6 made clear, many of the disciples, people who walked with Christ and heard him directly, doubted and walked away. Judas did not believe his teachings. The O.T. Jews, entrusted with the very Oracles of God (Rom. 3:2) did not believe (but this does not disprove the Abrahamic faith!). So no surprise that many Catholics do not believe their Church even if it is (hypothetically) right. How many use the pill? It’s still an abortifacient, so an evil sin.

First point second, of course we can all die impure even though we come to the cross over and over again. 1 Cor 11 seems to support such a possibility nicely – if you eat of the flesh in an unworthy manner, you are eating judgment on yourself! I think this question mischaracterizes the re-presentation theology of the mass. But Mr. White may be more of a eucharistic scholar than I am.

3) Have you considered what it means to proclaim a human being the Holy Father (that's a divine name, used by Jesus only of His Father) and the Vicar of Christ (that's the Holy Spirit)? Do you really find anything in Scripture whatsoever that would lead you to believe it was Christ's will that a bishop in a city hundreds of miles away in Rome would not only be the head of His church but would be treated as a king upon earth, bowed down to and treated the way the Roman Pontiff is treated?

I have considered it, and I don’t like it one bit. The Catholics would say Mr. White confuses “holy father” with “Heavenly Father” here. I note the use of "father" and "fathers" in Stephen's speech in Acts, incidentally. Regarding Rome, the early church testimony (like ~ 80 AD early) at least makes this a reasonable proposition. I do not find anything in scripture that tells me I have to find anything in scripture telling me it’s okay that the church was run the way it was run in the early centuries.

2) Have you considered how completely unbiblical and a-historical is the entire complex of doctrines and dogmas related to Mary? Do you seriously believe the Apostles taught that Mary was immaculately conceived, and that she was a perpetual virgin (so that she traveled about Palestine with a group of young men who were not her sons, but were Jesus' cousins, or half-brothers (children of a previous marriage of Joseph), or the like? Do you really believe that dogmas defined nearly 2,000 years after the birth of Christ represent the actual teachings of the Apostles? Are you aware that such doctrines as perpetual virginity and bodily assumption have their origin in gnosticism, not Christianity, and have no foundation in apostolic doctrine or practice? How do you explain how it is you must believe these things de fide, by faith, when generations of Christians lived and died without ever even having heard of such things?

This question is a sort of litany of doubt, perpetuating much confusion and clouding a clear ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Protestants. I think it is imprudent. The origin of these teachings is not within Gnosticism, and much of Marian teachings (if not all) developed as Christology developed to refute Gnosticism and other early heresies. I seriously believe the Apostles could have taught Mary’s perpetual virginity, if it was true. I would not have slept with the woman who carried the Christ in her womb if I were Joseph. Calvin and Luther believed this doctrine. Anyway, this litany of doubt raises only secondary issues to the primary issue of church authority.

And the number 1 question I would ask of such a person is: if you claim to have once embraced the gospel of grace, whereby you confessed that your sole standing before a thrice-holy God was the seamless garment of the imputed righteousness of Christ, so that you claimed no merit of your own, no mixture of other merit with the perfect righteousness of Christ, but that you stood full and complete in Him and in Him alone, at true peace with God because there is no place in the universe safer from the wrath of God than in Christ, upon what possible grounds could you come to embrace a system that at its very heart denies you the peace that is found in a perfect Savior who accomplishes the Father's will and a Spirit who cannot fail but to bring that work to fruition in the life of God's elect? Do you really believe that the endless cycle of sacramental forgiveness to which you will now commit yourself can provide you the peace that the perfect righteousness of Christ can not?

I was actually offended by the first part of this question. If I ‘claim’ to have ‘once’ embraced the gospel of grace (followed by Mr. White’s definition of what that means), how could I embrace a system that does not give the ‘peace’ of assurance of salvation? Would such a system have been right to assure Judas that his selection as an apostle set in motion that good work that would result in his salvation? I think the Catholics would teach that God’s elect are preserved by the Holy Spirit, but that the rebellious are damned. Why else would Paul beat his body into submission? Why was Paul so concerned with running the race with perseverance, lest he should lost hold of the prize (1 Cor 9:27)? This is not cut and dry.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Young People Leaving

The Banner, the Christian Reformed Church's periodical, has an article worth reading entitled "Where Did Our Young Adults Go?"

Despite a point of minor bias over female ordination, the article is worthwhile for its multiple vignettes of those who left the Reformed Church in which they were raised. Some stopped going to church altogether, several joined baptistic or independent churches, and one fellow even goes to a Catholic Church occasionally.

Besides being geographically grouped so as to be an impracticable choice, the CRC lost me because of female ordination and like movements to 'modernize' (motivated in large part, I believe, by anxiety over the question "how do we keep our young people?"). But head-to-head, I think as much of the CRC as I do of the PCA.

It's a haunting question over at the CRC; how do we keep our young people?

Ancient Christian Commentary: Acts 1:3

The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, published by IVP, is "an ecumenical project, promoting a vital link of communication between the varied Christian traditions of today and their common ancient ancestors in the faith." These volumes give a sort of Church Fathers Gloss on scripture - excellent stuff!

I own a few volumes, and was perusing their New Testament Volume V on the Books of Acts online with Amazon's handy "Search Inside!" feature. I came across this marvelous passage of St. Chrysostom on Acts 1:3 (from his Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles, Homily 1) (taken from the New Advent website):

"But why did He appear not to all, but to the Apostles only? Because to the many it would have seemed a mere apparition, inasmuch as they understood not the secret of the mystery. For if the disciples themselves were at first incredulous and were troubled, and needed the evidence of actual touch with the hand, and of His eating with them, how would it have fared in all likelihood with the multitude? For this reason therefore by the miracles [wrought by the Apostles] He renders the evidence of His Resurrection unequivocal, so that not only the men of those times—this is what would come of the ocular proof—but also all men thereafter, should be certain of the fact, that He was risen. Upon this ground also we argue with unbelievers. For if He did not rise again, but remains dead, how did the Apostles perform miracles in His name? But they did not, say you, perform miracles? How then was our religion (ἔ θνος ) instituted? For this certainly they will not controvert nor impugn what we see with our eyes: so that when they say that no miracles took place, they inflict a worse stab upon themselves. For this would be the greatest of miracles, that without any miracles, the whole world should have eagerly come to be taken in the nets of twelve poor and illiterate men. For not by wealth of money, not by wisdom of words, not by any thing else of this kind, did the fishermen prevail; so that objectors must even against their will acknowledge that there was in these men a Divine power, for no human strength could ever possibly effect such great results. For this He then remained forty days on earth, furnishing in this length of time the sure evidence of their seeing Him in His own proper Person, that they might not suppose that what they saw was a phantom. And not content with this, He added also the evidence of eating with them at their board: as to signify this, the writer adds, "And being at table with them, He commanded." (v. 4.) And this circumstance the Apostles themselves always put forth as an fallible token of the Resurrection; as where they say, "Who did eat and drink with Him." (Acts x. 41.)" (All emphases mine).

We have been given not only well-equipped witnesses to the Resurrection, in the form of the Apostles and those they taught, but irrefutable evidence from the nature of the spread of the early church (we would say res ipsa loquitur, or 'the thing speaks for itself' in the law).

Friday, August 24, 2007


James Swan at Beggars All shared a Google Books nugget, George Stanley Faber's The Difficulties of Romanism, published in 1829. It reminded me of the importance of witnesses in the context of the Orthodox/Catholic - Protestant discussion.

Faber's premise is simple: Rome claims to have immutable doctrines, so these doctrines must have been held by the Apostles. To be believable, there must be evidence (in the form of an unbroken chain of witnesses through time in strict mutual harmony with each other) that the apostles taught these doctrines.

We believe what reliable people have told us. Early Mormons believed Joseph Smith saw the Book of Mormon through the Seeing Stones. They believed this because people they trusted as witnesses transcibed the writing while Joseph was behind a curtain. Today's Mormons accept the early Mormons' testimony. (I disbelieve the Mormon faith because of other witnesses and testimony.)

Likewise, Christianity depends on eye witnesses to Christ's life and teachings. We do not believe the Gospel of John to contain Truth because it feels good, or because the pages glimmer a special way. We believe it because the Church has borne witness to its authenticity through our history. (And, unlike in my Mormon analogy, I find no convincing contrary testimony.)

Faber said that if any gap appears in the chain of testimony, what is claimed earlier is unbelievable. I do not agree. If I can only see down the chain, say, 500 feet, should I disbelieve that it is 2,000 feet long, or that the links on the end are painted red? Maybe. But what if someone I trust is standing 500 feet down the line, and they hollar to me that it goes as far as they can see, another 500 feet? At some point we have to trust our witnesses.

Our Ancient Creeds are witnesses to me. I can't question the 2nd Century Apostles' Creed based on my individualistic interpretation of Holy Scriptures. I also cannot redefine the Creeds' terms (see my post on original intent in credal language).

There are rich scriptures on witnessing. Remember that the Prophets were witnesses, and those who claimed to be prophets but whose prophecies did not come true were to be STONED.

To note just a few passages: John 1:15, John 5:39 (I believe referring to the then-extant Prophecies of the Messiah's coming), Acts 1:8, Acts 22:20, 1 Thess 2:9-11 (where a particular church is witness to the Apostles' behavior), 2 Tim 2:1-3 (Paul taught Timothy in the presence of witnesses, instructing him to pass that teaching on to others), Heb 12:1 (I have to admit, I now read "witnesses" in the great cloud in a totally differnt light in this context - I always thought they witnessed me, and cheered me on, but now I realize they witness TO ME, through the life they live(d), the True faith - as evidence by the words "let us also").

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Adding To Sola Scriptura For Clarity

I had till now not joined the anti-NIV bandwagon that I've observed in several PCA churches. I remain displeased at the use of some other translation du jour (often the ESV or NKJV) from the pulpit and on the overhead while the NIV remains in the pews. I think that's inconsistent, and leads visitors to believe the Bible supplied to them by the church in the pews is unreliable. But in my devotions I just came across 1 Peter 4:6 and a bit of a shocker (for me) in the NIV Study Bible footnotes.

From 1 Peter 4:6, "For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit" (emphasis mine).

And the NIV Study Bible footnote, "The preaching was a past event. The word "now" does not occur in the Greek, but it is necessary to make it clear that the preaching was done not after these people had died, but while they were still alive. (There will be no opportunity for people to be saved after death; see Heb 9:27)" (emphasis mine).

A word does not appear in the Bible, but is necessary... sola Scriptura... not there, but necessary... sola Scriptura...?

Additions to the Bible published under the guise of being true scripture aside, I don't know that I find this addition even substantively agreeable. The previous passage in 1 Peter says, "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah..." (1 Peter 3:18-20, emphasis mine).

Peter tells us that Christ preached to those in prison who disobeyed in the days of Noah, and then he goes on to say that the Gospel was preached to those who are [now?!] dead. The two verses seem related, making the NIV translators' addition even more inappropriate. Just my layman's two cents, but my view is in accord with Clement of Alexandria, Hilary of Arles, Oecumenius and Theophylact, as they are quoted in my wonderful Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Volume XI (though opposing voices are given).

Revivalism's Infection: Grapejuice

Robert Latham, an OPC minister, wrote an excellent little book entitled The Lord's Supper, in which he notes the bad habit of serving grape juice in lieu of wine at the sacrament by the same name.

The widespread use of this alternative drink in the Protestant (esp. the PCA) sacrament is telling. Biblical instruction is clear on this point; both the Gospels and an epistle of Paul tell us to use wine. The use of wine in the sacrament is not an inference from scripture, we are directly told that the Lord used wine. Apparently though temperance and revivalism are ready rivals for sola Scriptura's mandates.

I often get in this debate with my fellows in the PCA, and have attended congregational meetings on the subject. The most common objection is that we might offend those with an uncontrolled inclination for the bottle. I note that in scripture Christ's students were offended by His own teaching on the matter, exclaiming, "this is hard teaching, who can accept it? (John 6:60)" Offensive indeed.

Alternatively, I hear that some people are pregnant or for whatever reason would have to pass up on one of the two elements if we used wine. Yet, wine it is to be. Wine is not grapejuice. Wine creates a particular sensation, and grapejuice quite a different one. We are not addressing the difference between Coke and Pepsi, but between a drink that gives a warmth in the chest (as if you can feel the Grace of the Sacrament entering you) and a drink that makes your cheeks pucker and your head want to shake at its tartness. Did Christ choose wine only because it is the same color as blood? Could he have just as easily chosen tomato paste? The distinctives of wine are relevant, and the Biblical teaching is clear. Let the reins of tent revivalism be loosed!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Unity, Orthodoxy, and Catholicism

Please note two excellent comments by Joseph, a Catholic contributor, on views held by Orthodoxy and Catholicism about the other's authority, posted on August 21st here. I note on his behalf that he merely intended to share his layman's perspective, and was not looking to pick a fight. If anyone wants to argue either side, I'll take up the other (for fun).

If it has taken me three years to decide if I believe sola Scriptura to be tenable, it seems like it would take me a lifetime to decide if the Catholics or the Orthodox take the right position (if its even an either-or query).

Lutheran Canon

I am enjoying an excellent discussion with Josh S. over at Return of the Prodigal Blogger (the author of which is going on hiatus). Do check it out.

Josh gave a brilliant explanation of the Lutheran approach to canon, saying they follow "the old scholastic rule of establishing dogma on the homolegoumena (universally attested books), only corroborating it with antilegoumena (books disputed in the early church, such as Revelation and Jude), and reading the Apocrypha as useful histories and moral examples rather than chief source of dogma..." He juxtaposes this view with "Trent's "flat canon," which is perpetually cracking under the stress of historical investigation and required the invention of papal fiat in order to buttress it.""

My interpretation of Josh's explanation of Lutheran Canonicity, in terms of authority, goes as follows: 1) we are bound to follow the writings of the Apostles, 2) we accept those writings that the early church universally accepted as Apostolic, such that we can form dogma from them, and 3) what some early churches did not acknowledge, we will not use in the formation of dogma.

My thoughts and remaining questions on this are posted in the comments string as linked above. I hope the richness of Josh's knowledge keeps unfolding there!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Navy OCS

To break from the usual routine, I thought I'd share some photos I found online of Navy Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida. If anyone is thinking of partaking in this suffering, I'm happy to discuss my own experiences.
Left: discovering you're a lowly Candidate. Right: forgetting same.
Note the fear in Candidate on the far right.

Beats holding it straight out (inside joke).

Apostate Apostolic Officers and Offices

Perhaps few Protestants appreciate this, but the Reformers depended upon the notion that the Western Church had become so apostate as to be no Church at all. This belief was necessary to justify their behavior in disregarding their contemporary ecclesial authorities. Calvin insisted that the offices of apostolic succession, at one time valid, had been destroyed through corrupt practices such as simony and the ordination of children (as young as ten years old).

The first governor of California, a lawyer and Catholic convert (Peter H. Burnett), made an excellent rebuttal argument about corrupt offices in his book about conversion. He observed that the corruption of an officer cannot abolish the office. To make a secular analogy, we would have very few seats in our Senate if it could. We’d have been a nation without a Chief Executive many, many Presidents ago.

The question then needs to be: were there really ever legitimate apostolic offices (vice officers) established by God?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Reformed Answers To Discernment Q's

As promised, this is what I believe to be the Reformed answer to the discernment questions posted below. I am most open to correction. WCOF is short for the Westminster Confession of Faith, the confessional standard of Presbyterian churches in this country, at least historically. I'm curious how Pentecostal, Baptistic and other denominational churches would answer these questions.

1) Is there authority or not within the church?
Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God to the visible church, which consists of all those throughout the world who confess the true religion, and their children. He gave this power for the gathering and perfecting of the saints. Outside the church visible there is no salvation. This church is under Christ alone, and not the Pope (WCOF, Ch. XXV).

Church officers are appointed by Christ to govern the church. To them are committed the keys of the kingdom; they can shut out those who do not belong. They can censure, discipline, and excommunicate to seek purity within the church (WCOF, Ch. XXX). The strongest authority exists within the church.

2) If so, who gave the church that authority? If not, where then lies the rule of faith?
That authority comes to the church officers from Christ, through the words of scripture (WCOF, Ch. XXX).

3) Was authority with the Apostles, and did they pass on this authority?
The Apostles were granted authority by Christ in the way that today’s church officers are granted authority. There's was not a continuing office, but a special foundational one. The apostles passed on no authority; all authority is with Christ.

4) If so, did they pass it to men or to their written words?
They did not have authority to pass on. Christ and the Holy Spirit hold Authority, and with authority God breathed the Scriptures through the Apostles, as well as other men, to be the Rule of Faith for those church officers who today are appointed by Christ to govern the church.

5) What authority permitted a definition of Canon, and why are the books therein contained beyond question?
No earthly authority was needed to permit the canon’s definition. Rather, the books in the Bible are beyond question because the Westminster Divines considered the matter and concluded that those 66 books in the Protestant bible are canonical. They noted that while the 66 books’ many perfections, excellencies and consistency are evidence enough, their "full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in [their] hearts” (WCOF Ch. I.5).

In questions of interpreting scripture, the infallible rule of interpreting scripture is scripture itself (WCOF Ch. I.9).

Sunday, August 19, 2007

What Authority Permitted Canon Formation?

This is the final answer to my five questions, as I answered it a while ago in my discernment. I will soon try to give Reformed answers to these questions as best as I am able.

5) What authority permitted a definition of Canon, and why are the books therein contained beyond question? Here is an exhausting topic.

The Catholics and Orthodox simply answer that the Church has the authority to define canon. It is interesting to note that the various Orthodox churches have varied canons.

The Protestant churches have used several explanations. I know of four methods (i.e., canon rationale) for arriving at the Protestant list of 66 books.

1) The Westminster Confession of Faith states that "our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority [of Scripture], is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts." This is the reformation's canon rationale; we know Scripture when we see it. I sheepishly admit that when I read Revelation and Ecclesiastes, I tend to doubt this inner-testimony doctrine.
2) Prof. R. Laird Harris of Covenant Theological Seminary, in his book Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible, downplayed the reformation claim as described in The Westminster Confession of Faith, and instead promotes a theory of historical-critical analysis to determine which texts belong in the Bible. Suffice it to say that Canon has been so hotly contested throughout church history that it is not self-evident or even self-identifying. It is not clear what the Jews had for a Canon at the time of Christ’s birth (if such a notion even clearly existed), nor is it clear that Josephus and early Hebrew scholars of the church were not heavily influenced by anti-Christian sentiment within Judaism, particularly against the Christian use of the Septuagint to prove that Christ is the Messiah.
3) Prof. Harris also promotes a view, and I don't know if it is better to refer to this as a complementary or a fall-back argument, that canonicity is determined by Apostolicity. Mark and Luke wrote for Peter and Paul, the argument goes, so are also Apostolic, and thus canonical. James could have been written by the Apostle himself, or by the "brother" of Jesus who is given a special status as an Apostle, the argument goes, such that either way this epistle also should be canonical.
4) Keith A. Mathison, in The Shape of Sola Scriptura, argues that the church was authoritatively reliable in choosing a canon, but only until the fourth century, at which point corruption made it unreliable.

We must concede either that some visible Church authority is responsible for defining a Canon for Christians, or that each individual has to read and reflect upon candidate Holy Books and the history of their acceptance to determine which he might choose as his own rules for normative and moral faith. Authority rests either with the church or the individual. A properly constituted and commissioned Authority is required to define canon, or else we are left with the depressing tailspin noted by R.C. Sproul, that the Bible is a "fallible collection of infallible books." Try explaining that to our relativistic world.

Since the Apostles themselves were not around to define the list of books to be included in Sacred Scriptures, their successors must have. I am loathe to admit this.

However, remember my earlier comment on the Sherlock Holmes inverse analysis. Even if all arguments cut in Catholicism's or Orthodoxy's favor but one, and that one is clearly wrong, those Churches must be wrong. It must mean I've been mistaken about everything else.

Did The Apostles Pass Their Authority to Men or Writing?

Again, this was written earlier in my discernment, and I've since felt hesitant.

4) If so, did they pass it to men or to their written words? Viewing the church from a written-word-as-authority theorem (i.e., sola scriptura), and judging by the squabbling sectarianism and even outright heresy (e.g., Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses) borne of it, one must ponder that the Apostles and the Holy Spirit left at best a very difficult rule of faith. As the presence of their Holy Writings and our understanding of the early church make clear, the Apostles did do something to pass on their authority or their authoritative teachings. I think with this I have finally climbed to the peak of my current obstacle. I am not compelled by existing evidence that the Apostles intended to leave an authoritative, mystically blessed, succession of church leaders. Neither am I compelled that the Apostles intended for their writings to be adequate teachings of the rules and norms of the Faith for all times. I am not compelled that the Apostles intended for councils or the Roman See to establish rule, nor that they would be in favor of a democratic church, a congregational church, or some other yet-to-be-construed ecclesial polity.

To argue in the negative, Scripture does not decisively outline a plan of Petrine or other apostolic succession, but other Catholic evidence is noteworthy. According to the New Advent Catholic website, “In the third century the popes claim authority from the fact that they are St. Peter's successors, and no one objects to this claim, no one raises a counter-claim.” The absence of dissent throughout church history on many points that were later deemed to be marks of an apostate church during the Reformation is worth considering. And in this case I cannot help but feel swayed by the lack of criticism of several early fathers' remarks on submission to the Vatican. Again from New Advent:

“St. Irenaeus (180-200) states the theory and practice of doctrinal unity as follows:
With this Church [of Rome] because of its more powerful principality, every Church must agree, that is the faithful everywhere, in this [i. e. in communion with the Roman Church] the tradition of the Apostles has ever been preserved by those on every side. (Adv. Haereses, III)”

Were all the would-be Luthers of the early church sleeping while on watch? Would they not have been alarmed, and therefore compelled to write to their sister churches, at this claim of central Christian authority? I have seen no such testimony of criticism.

With my bias growing stronger, let me more effectively argue in the negative regarding the possibility that the Apostles intended for their written word to guide the church. With knowledge of church history, and remembering Christ’s promise to have his church as “one flock” (John 10:16), it seems difficult to posit that the “Bible contains all the extant revelations of God, which He designed to be the rule of faith and practice for his Church; so that nothing can rightfully be imposed on the consciences of men as truth or duty which is not taught directly or by necessary implication in the Holy Scriptures (Charles Hodge, The Protestant Rule of Faith).” Would it be fair to believe that this approach, which has caused such clear opposition of belief even amongst reasonable and faithful Christians (e.g. the number of Protestant Sacraments as viewed by Lutherans and Presbyterians), is a reliable norm of authority? Scripture, like any other text, requires interpretation. The Interpreter must have authority to interpret for his interpretations to be Authoritative. Otherwise, we are all under the authority of none but ourselves.

Hodge says that Protestant believers “are bound to read and interpret it for themselves; so that their faith may rest on the testimony of the Scriptures, and not on that of the Church.” But then, “for an individual Christian to dissent from the faith of the universal Church (i. e., the body of true believers), is tantamount to dissenting from the Scriptures themselves.” This strange dichotomy leaves some serious doubts on the table. Do we measure this “universal Church” by numbers (Catholicism), history (Catholicism), or the individual’s conscience (Protestantism)? Hodge, and I think historically consistent Protestants as well, would subscribe to the latter. This talk of “private judgment” stirs violently my anxiety over individualism and its evil sibling, relativism.

Regarding Conciliar rule, Papal rule, Democratic rule, or Congregational rule, one can only say that scripture is not explicit, with a democratic notion being the most foreign to it (casting lots to choose an apostle being a more literal rule). Something resembling both Conciliar and Papal rule seems most consistent with the testimony of the church fathers.

To be continued...

Was Authority With The Apostles, And Did They Pass It On?

3) Was authority with the Apostles, and did they pass on this authority? Mark 6:7, Luke 9:1, Luke 10:19, 2 Corinthians 10:8, and 2 Corinthians 13:10 describe a delegation from Christ of His authority to the Apostles (the last, e.g., has Paul saying "This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down."). This delegation was finite and specific. The "you" to whom Paul writes were not given Authority by Christ, and it was for no one to assume but the Apostles. No one could set themselves up against the Authority of the Apostles. Authority was with the Apostles.

How has history shown this Authority pass through the early church and onto today? The Authority given to the Apostles of the church either continues through a line of succession as Catholics claim, or it was a special one-time event in history with the Apostles responsible to lay out articulate written teaching to sustain Christ's church until His return.

Now falling head-first into our fourth question: (to be continued...)

Who Gave The Church Its Authority, Or Where Else Is Authority?

Again, an answer I wrote some time ago. I will give what I understand the Reformed answers to be after I put out all five answers that I wrote earlier in my discernment process (before I hesitated more).

2) If so, who gave the church that authority? If not, where then lies the rule of faith? Starting with the “if not”, absent church authority, as I have already addressed, then authority rests in the souls or hearts of individual men. The rule of faith is left to each on his own, doing as he sees fit. Clearly this has carried Protestant believers down widely varying paths, each practicing their own moral norms. And in the extreme, this has caused Protestants to avoid fellowship altogether, for no two Christians, when held to their own individual standards, could possibly agree in complete uniformity on faith and morals. Indeed, this individual rule of faith seems to fly in the face of scripture, "Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves (Romans 13:1-2, NIV).” And further, “Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you (Hebrews 13:17, NIV).” I find it challenging enough to believe that I will give an account for my family as their spiritual head. In that light, I would be greatly relieved to come to the conclusion that I should submit to the visible church and allow her earthly leaders to give account for any failures of leadership and stewardship.

If the church does have authority, as I believe to be the correct answer to my first question, it could only come from above, namely God Himself. Following the doctrine of sola scriptura, one cannot hold that Holy Writ declares prima facie that Christ passed authority to a visible church (be it Rome, the Lutherans or others). Of course such a claim would be absurd as the church was in its infancy, growing as a Rod out of Judaism. John 10:14-16 speaks to Christ’s relationship to his Church with a promise, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd (NIV).” This promise that there shall be one flock is profound. Stipulating that Christ cannot break His word, we must conclude the there is somehow one flock (i.e. one church).

In fact, germane verses seem to show Christ passing His authority to men, to His Apostles. First let us remember Scripture’s clarity on the matter of Christ’s having authority. “Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Mat 28:18, NIV)” and “…the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . (Mark 2:10, NIV).” This leads to my third question: (to be continued)...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Is There Authority Or Not Within The Church?

Here's an answer I wrote to this some time ago.

1) Is there authority or not within the church? Can a human establishment, inherently sinful, make determinations on morals and doctrine? And if so, are the determinations of such an establishment binding on individuals, or can each individual do as he sees fit? I believe and posit that the church must inherently have authority. Imagine Christ’s church without an authoritative norm, when taken to the absurd. Such a world would be hopelessly lost to relativism. It was a sad time for God’s people when, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit (Judges 21:25, NIV).” But we now have a King and High Priest in the presence of Christ Jesus, who warned that, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Mat 7:21, NIV).” If the church lacks authority to articulate the will of the Father as revealed to man, then who can? Surely it is either the church or the individual – one authoritarian extreme or the other. A theory claiming that each individual can distinguish moral norms falls flat on its face when viewed in practice. Too voluminous would be the examples of opposing individual convictions of morality and doctrine, even when allegedly under submission to the Bible alone as a ‘normative’ source for authority. To list but a few: never divorce vs. divorce under specific conditions vs. divorce openly; women may lead in church unconditionally vs. women may lead in specific roles in church vs. women may not lead in church; masturbation is forbidden vs. masturbation is a divine provision; Christ is the elements of communion vs. Christ is present with the elements of communion vs. Christ is memorialized by the elements of communion; Trinitarianism vs. Tritheism vs. Unitarianism; and so on and so forth. Clearly reasonable minds have taken these positions in opposition to other reasonable minds. The individual, therefore, is de facto an unreliable norm for morality and doctrine, so the church must have authority.

Now what is the church? Common teachings hold that it is either 1) the spiritual collective of all saved believers or 2) one visible establishment, a supernatural society formed of living men. These are, of course, the typical definitions given by Protestantism, and Catholicism and Orthodoxy respectively. If conservative Protestantism holds that the church does have teaching authority, they mean that the Bible has authority, with the church imperfectly articulating that authority. Ruled outside of the authoritative envelope are those denominations failing to confess to the “Bible alone as the infallible Word of God” theorem.

To be continued...

Friday, August 17, 2007

Authority: Does the Buck Stop There?

When my efforts at discernment began over three years ago, no single argument rocked my deep-seated confidence in the claims of Reformed Protestantism as did an argument on Authority, and particularly the Authority to identify Scripture as canonical. Three pages written on this topic by a convert to Catholicism have been more compelling than several books I have read to date by Protestant theologians . In an effort to keep clear that which I was trying to discern, I developed the questions posted yesterday, which I felt all Christians should be able to answer with a clear conscience.

This sequence of thought seems to be the requisite starting point for any ecumenical Christian theological discussion. Those Catholic doctrines that are more commonly, if not hotly, debated, such as the Marian Doctrines, Transubstantiation, Purgatory, Indulgences, Prayers to the Saints, etc., are merely subordinate to the primary debate of reliable Authority.

I would qualify this, however, by quoting Sherlock Holmes, "Watson, as I have said, whenever all other possibilities have been ruled out, the improbable, however unlikely, must be the truth." Applying an inverse of this logic, I remember that even if all arguments cut in Rome's favor but one, and that one is clearly wrong, Catholicism must be wrong. It must mean I've been mistaken about everything else.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Conversion Discernment

My five questions for Catholic-Protestant discernment:

1) Is there authority or not within the church?

2) If so, who gave the church that authority? If not, where then lies the rule of faith?

3) Was authority with the Apostles, and did they pass on this authority?

4) If so, did they pass it to men or exclusively to their written words?

5) What authority permitted a definition of Canon, and why are the books therein contained beyond question?

I have a hard time answering these questions from either perspective. Maybe after my vacation I'll try to give what I think is the PCA / Reformed response.

Luther: There He Stood

I came across this fascinating Luther quote in Roland H. Bainton's famous biography of the Reformer (p. 185):

"Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason-I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other-my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

This paramount elevation of the conscience stuck me as profound. I'm really not sure how I feel about it. It raises my individualism-anxiety nerve, for sure. But the alternative too seems unacceptable, that you would submit to authority in conflict with conscience. The trouble is that "conscience" seems too malleable a term. One can too easily replace "desire" for conscience, or can simply have an ill-informed one. Is the weight of my conscience more reliable than the weighted opinion of the body of believers? If I believe 1 Corinthians 7 (do not deprive one another, except... for a limited time) means NFP is unconscionable, then my conscience may drive me to use the Pill or the Condom! But another person's conscience may conclude that those alternatives are unconscionable.

And around and around we go: each person deciding right and wrong for himself. The conscience is, perhaps, a poor man's guide to morality.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

re-Formed Reformed view on 1st Commandment

The latest word out of a Covenant Seminary (PCA) Associate Professor, Michael Williams, leaves a strong Anabaptistic flavor in my mouth, and I probably just need some educatin'. I fail to see the breath of a Reformed (Calvinistic) view in this writing. The article is entitled No Other Gods: The First Commandment. By staying brief, I may do his work some injustice, but this is the flavor of it (all emphases mine):

"The Law is an Expression of God’s Grace."

- God's Grace comes as a reaction to our repentance. You cannot be penitent until you break the law. Grace flows from transgression, so only indirectly from the law - this statement therefore seems misleading.

"I would like to suggest that the emphasis in the first commandment does not only protect the singularity and sovereignty of God, but also tells the people of God—each and every one of them—their true worth."

- I don't see that God's jealousy for our affection, his hatred of idolatry, is an expression of our true worth. If it is, it's because he has to fight for our affection - to woo us (more to come).

"A paraphrase of Exodus 20:2,3, the prologue and the first commandment, makes this point. “I, Yahweh, am your God. I saved you, I made you my own, my children. Do not waste your precious time on misplaced worship. I value you too much to see you court and run after the futile, the empty, the foolish, the detestable.”"

- I dislike paraphrases of Scripture, and dislike seeing a Professor at a major evangelical seminary using such in his exegetical writing. I suppose this is just a matter of my personal taste... But this type of love language from God the Father, who delivered the Ten Commandments to His people, is a re-write of history. It places the efficaciously gracious role of the Mediator-Messiah onto the Father. It makes the God of now look different from the God of the Old Testament (and I've heard non-believers use this opinion as proof against the truth of Scripture).

"To be sure, God calls us to be God-centered. But that does not mean that He is as well. If God were God-centered, wouldn’t that make Him self-centered, even narcissistic? I have heard Reformed Christians speak as if God is precisely that. He does all things to glorify Himself..."

- Williams here seems oddly out of step with the Westminster Confession of Faith, and this is where I must need some educatin'. The sole purpose of man is to glorify God (Q #1 of the Westminster Longer Confession). God's purpose is not to woo us. If He does woo us, it is solely for His glory. That is self-centered. God, in my lowly opinion, is perfectly entitled to be self-centered. He is entitled to have hated Esau. How can you reconcile a Predestinarian view with a notion that God is not self-centered?

"Why do we study the O.T.?"

At a Presbyterian college, my wife had an Old Testament professor ask why we study the Old Testament. His answer?

"Because it's two-thirds of the Bible." Do check out a great post at Canterbury Tales that points in another, more meaningful direction. Reading outside the pond of Presbyterian thought has brought to my attention the wealth that is typological exegesis.

I do have lingering doubts and concerns, however. When I start piecing together what this or that in Daniel or Revelation "really" means, I get that sinking feeling - do I sound like that guy on Channel 99 talking about how Russia will attack Israel from the North before the Savior's return? I guess I'll just have to stay in line.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Biblical Defense of Queen Mary?

There is a post at Steve Ray's blog that lays out an interesting Biblical position for Marian intercession... It rests on several other Catholic/Orthodox notions, but it is definitely worth a read. As memory serves me, this is very similar to the argument presented by Scott Hahn in his book Hail, Holy Queen.

While I enjoy hearing the argument made, I don't think any "Bible only" Christians are going to be so compelled by this logic as to start praying to Mary. Steve lays out eight steps in his logic. That may be seven too many. I've found that a not-insignificant number of people in my Reformed Protestant circle wrestle with infant baptism because it requires about two logical steps from any explicit Biblical mandate.

Ecumenicity is hard when we play from a different playbook.

Demographics continued...

I get the sense that there are many, many believers who have made what I perceive to be a fairly incredible move from the PCA to Catholicism. At PCA churches I have attended, I have not heard of a single such incident - were it not for Blogs, I would think I was the only one foolish enough to question the authority scheme outlined in the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Call it morbid curiosity, but how many of you are there? Does anyone dare venture a guess as to why the PCA seems to send more over than others? Does the CRC, RCA, or the like experience similar events (i.e., are Reformed churches more likely to lose congregants than independent Baptist movements)?

How many more have considered Catholicism's claims but then thought better of it?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Conversion Statistics

I'm curious. Does anyone know of reliable research on the number of converts moving between Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Protestantism?

It seems that those who have moved to an Apostolic Church are thoughtful enough to write about their experience, but are they actually few and far between? I go to church with many former (cradle) Catholics, this being my experience at a number of churches now. I wonder (and doubt) that a Catholic so commonly has former Protestants in church with him...

But this is all speculation - has any contemporary research been done on such trends?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Calvin on the Church

I've enjoyed writing the blogger at the God Fearin' Fiddler today. He left the PCA to become a Roman Catholic. Below I've summarized some comments I made on his blog about some reading of Calvin I've done recently:

Book IV of Calvin's Institutes (The External Means Or Aids By Which God Invites Us Into The Society Of Christ And Holds Us Therein) is fascinating and prescient for me as I attempt to refute (or accept) Catholicism. It is clear that we have seen a tremendous drift from Calvin's vision, and equally clear that Calvin appreciated the Pandora's Box that the Reformers may have opened.
Calvin writes with incredible respect for the God-ordained role of "pastor" to preach the word (i.e., the preacher sets the normative standard for Scripture's meaning). He writes with boldness on the need for submission to whatever is a properly constituted church, which he defines as any one that preaches the word and attends to Christ's instituted sacraments.

In Calvin's view, the Catholic Church does not fit his two-part rule above as it: 1) is led by anti-Christ (a conclusion he reaches from Dan. 9:27 and II Thess. 2:24), and 2) practices transubstantiation, the "greatest sacrilege".

Regarding Christ's promise to sustain his church, Calvin reaches the conclusion that it was either in vain (if "Rome" is right because, as they had become contaminated with "idolatry, superstition, and ungodly doctrine", Christ's church has not been sustained), or else it is not in vain and true church must be viewed as what preaches the word and attends to the sacraments.

On the act of ordination, Calvin believed that the holy spirit worked a grace through it, but it was a ceremony only (and not a sacrament). He noted that the precept for the ceremony was unclear, but the biblical testimony of the practice by the apostles is so strong that it serves as justification for the practice IN LIEU OF a known precept. Calvin gives practical benefits of the act, but recognizes its origins or ultimate purpose to be obscure. I've heard similar talk of the James account of anointing the sick with oil (see my first post) - some PCA pastors will do it because it was done in Scripture, even though they have to admit we don't know the precept for it or its inner meaning.

Calvin determined that the selection of pastors was to be by the people, based on his reading of Acts 14:23. This verse uses the Greek verb ‘cheirotoneO’ (“hand-stretching”), which is usually translated in English as 'ordaining' or 'appointing', but was translated by Calvin as “voting” (see In this debate (whether the stretching of hands was up to vote, or out to ordain) hangs a major tenet of Presbyterianism polity. If the Presbyterian view is right, I note that it is not the perspicuous reading of the text. A persuasive Catholic comment on this exegesis holds that it would be odd for new believers, still ill formed and on spiritual milk to choose their leaders. Most odd to me, if I choose my authority, I am the authority. God has given clear examples of authorities in the divine nature whose selection is outside of our control. My children did not choose to be under my authority, and yet they are. The Jews of the Old Covenant did not choose to be under God through His prophets. When they demanded a King, a divine Prophet identified who would be the first. A force can act authoritatively only when it has a subject to act in submission. If I choose my leader, I can choose one with my beliefs, so am in submission to nothing but my own will. Voting on our ordained pastors seems to conflict with this principal.

Calvin works hard to hold the tension in his view of church between a flock that needs to be in submission to authority and the seeming impossibility that authority flows from the Apostles through their successors.


Now that I'm done a summer internship and have some time, I'd like to return to the occasional blog posting. A little issue I have with compulsion, unfortunately, turns even the simplest intended entry into an endeavor...

We'll see what happens when 2L begins.