Sunday, September 30, 2007

Laying On Of Hands

[Thank you for your patience as I've been trying to intentionally slow down blogging a little bit to allow me to focus on the remainder of the Fall semester.]

Here's a simple thought. I was struck today by Deuteronomy 34:9. This culmination of the Pentateuch has Moses passing on his positional authority to Joshua:

"Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses. (NIV)"

I see that Numbers 27 gives us a fuller account:

"Moses said to the LORD, "May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD's people will not be like sheep without a shepherd."

"So the LORD said to Moses, "Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand on him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him. He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the LORD. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in."

"Moses did as the LORD commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the LORD instructed through Moses. (vv. 15-23, NIV)"

The Spirit filled Joshua because Moses had laid his hands on him. This occurred to Joshua, so the Israelites listened to him. I find this most ancient account of laying on of hands, filling with the Spirit, and the passing of authority to be fascinating.

Our belief is that Moses wrote the Pentateuch (at least, all but its last chapter). Does the fact that the Israelites followed an ordained leader when they had the first iteration of the "Bible" in hand tell us anything about the Catholic-Reformation debate?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Original Creed: Catholic Church and Saints' Communion

In the combox of my previous post, Jim and I discussed the original intent behind the terms "holy catholic church" and "communion of the saints" in the Apostles' Creed. In the course of researching this point, I came across a fabulous resource worth noting here.

GoogleBooks has Union Theological Seminary Prof. Arthur McGiffert's "The Apostles Creed: Its Origin, Its Purpose, and Its Historical Interpretation" (1902). In analyzing the "catholic" and "communion" terms of the Apostles' Creed, McGiffert notes the following:

1) At the time "Catholic" was added to the creed, the word had an exclusive meaning, a belief in the particular institution of Church, and not a "holy church universal". McGiffert says, "The common Protestant interpretation of the article in the creed, which makes it refer to the holy church universal, is therefore historically incorrect. (emphasis added)"

2) Prof. McGiffert notes the historical obscurity of the origin of the "communion" term. But he says, "It was used sometimes to denote participation in sacred things, that is the sacraments, sometimes to denote communion with departed saints. And one or the other of these meanings probably attaches to the article in the creed." Further, "There is no sign that the article was intended to express the communion or fellowship of believers with each other, or that it was meant as a closer definition of the word "church," as we so commonly interpret it to-day." Citing the first appearances of the term in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, McGiffert wraps up his thought:

"In which [of the above two senses "communion"] was understood when it was inserted in the creed we do not know; possibly in both [...], for the two meanings were closely associated and often appear together in the same writer. Whoever enjoys real participation in the sacraments enjoys also communion with the saints and vice versa.

"The interpretation which commonly attaches to the phrase to-day -- communion or fellowship of believers with each other -- cannot be regarded as correct, for if this were the meaning we should hardly expect sanctorum to the receive the emphasis which its position before communio gives it, and moreover this interpretation does not appear until much later, at any rate in that part of the world where the article was first added to the creed...

"And so the interpretation of the word communio as if it were a concrete noun and equivalent to congregatio [the Lutheran view] is also incorrect. (emphasis added; internal citations omitted)"

See the Wiki article on McGiffert for an interesting tale of his facing Presbyterian heresy charges for a book on church history he wrote five years earlier (I wrongly said in the previous combox that the charges were for the present book -- When McGiffert wrote this book, he had taken flight to the Congregational Church (though retaining his UTS professorship).

Assuming Prof. McGiffert is right, was the reformation right to commandeer the meaning of credal language to new uses? Why do it?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

More Credal Interpretation From The Reformers

In my old post Creeds and Catholicity, I noted the need to consider the "original intent" of the Creeds' progenitors. In reading more of the McNeil Edition of Calvin's Institutes, I came across an interesting observation of Luther and Calvin's interpretation:

"[Calvin] follows Luther in the view that in the Creed, "catholic church" and "communion of the saints" are terms that refer to the same entity, in which all Christians are members. The invisible church of the elect, whose membership is known to God alone, is differentiated but not dissevered from the organized church visible on earth, whose members are known to each other. (Intro. XII)"

An old judicial canon of interpretation goes something like this: 'where a list is given, no two terms are to be read as identical (or an interpretation reading two terms as identical is to be disfavored)'. The underlying rationale of this judicial canon seems relevant in this instance. Can we fairly say that in our short and carefully wrought creeds, where (otherwise) each term is distinct and precisely written to address some heresy or other, these two terms actually just mean the same thing?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Was Calvin Augustinian?

After being referred to a noteworthy quote from Augustine posted on the Catholic Encyclopedia article on "Justification", I wondered how Augustinian Calvin truly was.

The excellent Introduction to Calvin's Institutes provided with the McNeil Edition, citing B. B. Warfield, says "the Reformation, inwardly considered, was just the ultimate triumph of Augustine's doctrine of grace over Augustine's doctrine of the church. (Intro. X, on predestination)" Fascinating. Augustine's predestinarian thought (which was integral to Calvin's reformational 'doctrine of grace') prevailed by way of a methodology of which he would have disapproved. But was this thought even really Augustine's thought?

Now to Augustine: "He who made you without your doing does not without your action justify you. Without your knowing He made you, with your willing He justifies you, but it is He who justifies, that the justice be not your own. (emphasis mine) (Serm. clxix, c. xi, n.13)"

The McNeil Edition is frank in admitting that Calvin "goes beyond Augustine in his explicit assertion of double predestination, in which the reprobation of those not elected is a specific determination of God's inscrutable will." And further, "He feels under obligation to close the door to the notion that anything happens otherwise than under the control of the divine will." If the former quote means that Augustine may have implicitly agreed with double predestination, I think Augustine above (...'does not without your action justify you.') belies the idea. Further, Calvin seems boxed in by the idea of God possessing a single will equally in force in creation as it is within the Godhead. "They will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven." Could double predestination (i.e., double election), if novel to Calvin in the 16th Century, be right?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Predestinarianism and Functional Arminianism

Calvinism sees our freedom to be like that of water flowing down a hill

I've recently been confronted with this assertion: those who rely on something other than faith alone for salvation are Hell-bound. This is based on an interpretation of Galatians 1:8-10, (in part) "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. (NKJV)" [these interpreters invert the curse on teachers of an other gospel and put it on followers of the same.]

Syllogistically, this assertion would look something like this. 1) The "gospel" is salvation by faith alone, 2) an adherent of any other "gospel" is damned, 3) any admixture of works to the "gospel" makes it an other "gospel", 4) the Catholics (as the assertion I faced went) rely on works in their "gospel", therefore 5) Catholics (and others with such admixture of works) are damned.

Soteriology (with the role of Predestination and Free Will as a subset) strikes me as one of the three most difficult doctrines of Christian theology (along with Trinitarianism and Ecclesiology). In the syllogism above, the purity of one's adherence to sola Fide becomes of paramount, soul-saving importance.

A question remains stuck in my craw: does a functional recognition of free will effectively become an admixture of "works" to the True "gospel" of sola Fide?

Of Free Will and Good Works, we cannot have one without the other. If sola Fide is not a "gospel" of works, then we have to reject the notion that it involves the good "work" of accepting Jesus. And in rejecting the view that accepting Jesus is to our credit (hence a work), sola Fide must be a "gospel" of strict predestination. Sola Fide then is simply (and beautifully, a Calvinist should add) a statement of on-the-ground facts that one indeed has True Faith which evidences one's predestined election.

I humbly posit that most Calvinists, lay and ordained alike, are Functional Arminians. We seem strained to avoid some notion of free will and the ability of individuals to reject God's offer at the onset or at some point during the faith-walk. Is our avoidance of rejecting God's grace - is the discipline (of our free will) to remain faithful, a creditable work unto salvation? If it is, then it would seem to be an admixture of beliefs other than sola Fide and, under the syllogism above, is damnable.

A clear example of this Functional Arminianism is our inclination to command those considering conversion to a heretical church to walk cautiously and pray about the dangerous ground on which they tread. Why? If God has strictly predestined that one is going to walk away from an outward appearance of sola-Fide faith, and if God is truly immutable, those prayers would be to no avail. But I doubt that any true red-blooded Evangelical will go there. Prayers move God to compassion, as we see time and again in the Scriptures. [Consider two other examples of our Functional Arminianism: 1) how predestinarians treat those who have left the faith, and 2) how we treat those who have lost an infant child.]

I for one think that Arminians and Calvinists alike can receive Salvation. I think we should show respect to those who believe that Christ may say "I know thee not" on the day of judgment unless we have fed the hungry and clothed the naked.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fed Picks Religion In Prison?

Check out this post (referring to this article) regarding alleged Executive Branch selection of "approved" books at Federal Prisons.

From my studies of the Religion Clause(s) of the First Amendment, I honestly am skeptical of the veracity of this report. It stretches my imagination to believe that the Attorney General would be interested in flying in the face of prevailing First Amendment jurisprudence.

For government to pick approved religious texts for prisoners, who are otherwise not able to exercise their religious freedom, the government would have to make a religious determination. The principle of government not answering religious questions was firmly settled over 50 years ago in United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78 (1944). It said, "The Fathers of the Constitution were not unaware of the varied and extreme views of religious sects, of the violence of disagreement among them, and of the lack of any one religious creed on which all men would agree. They fashioned a charter of government which envisaged the widest possible toleration of conflicting views. Man's relation to his God was made no concern of the state." [There are probably much better cases on point, but I don't have time to avocationally write a legal memorandum.]

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"I Hate Divorce," Says The Lord

Malachi 2:16 teaches, rather plainly, ""I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel... "So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.""

I noted in a post I made before anyone knew I blogged that the so-called "Pauline Privilege" taken from 1 Cor 7:15 evidences the liberal tendencies of America's democratic churches. I did not directly address there Matthew 19:9, "I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery. (NIV)"

I find convincing the argument that in Christ's supposed exception to His no-divorce rule, he was actually speaking of breaking off the betrothal contract.

The verb for "divorce" in Matthew 19:9 is the same as that used when Joseph intended to put Mary away quietly, apoluo. We know they were not married, but betrothed. By way of distinction, 1 Cor 7:27 ("Are you married? Do not seek a divorce."), which is the extension of our "Pauline Privilege" passage, uses the different verb lusis for "divorce".

Apoluo, according to Strong's, means "to free fully, i.e. (literally) relieve, release, dismiss..., or (figuratively) let die, pardon or (specially) divorce." When can we have such a release or dismissal? Christ says in the case of porneia, which simply means harlotry or fornication. The NIV uses "marital unfaithfulness" as its translation of porneia, but this is only sensible if one presupposes that apoluo is referring to our notion of divorce -- breaking the already-consummated marriage covenant. The verse more literally says something like 'whosoever shall release his woman, except in the case of fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery'.

It seems manifestly reasonable to think that this exception was for the marriage contract (the betrothal), when a man discovers that his bride is not actually a virgin. The betrothal period was to allow a man to work and save for a dowry payment. The worth of a woman, the cost of the dowry, plummeted if she were not a virgin. Would a man be held to his contracted dowry price for what turned out to be a lesser bride? By analogy, if you sign a contract to buy a house on a one-acre lot, and before closing day discover that the plot is actually only a fifth of an acre, you are not a contract-breaker for refusing to purchase the property. If the woman were not what was betrothed (i.e., a virgin), then the man did not break the contract by refusing to consummate the marriage.

In terms of God's relationship with his people, this is more than sensible, but flows from our experience. Paul tells us that a Christian marriage is a type of Christ and the Church. Christ is betrothed to his bride, the Church, and (eschatologically) we eagerly await the great wedding feast and the consummation of this marriage. She is properly called bride even before consummation, but we need not fear that God will simply call off the wedding! For, God hates divorce.

UPDATE: Ware And Church History

In an earlier post about Ware's discourse on church history, I made a huge gaff. I omitted a section of substantial importance to sustain my proposition that corruption and illicit practices do not negate the legitimacy of Catholic bishops any more than of Orthodox bishops.

On page 105 (2nd Ed.), Ware discusses the 15th Century treatment of heretics:

"Joseph [St., Abbot of Volokalamsk] upheld the view all but universal in Christendom at this time: if heretics are recalcitrant, the Church must call in the civil arm and resort to prison, torture and if necessary fire."

I raise the matter primarily because I've heard from some considering Orthodoxy that they could not consider becoming Roman Catholic, as that church has tortured and killed people to convince them into the Church. It seems the shoe is on the other foot as well.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Jewish Scholar Re-Interprets Psalms

Listening to NPR on the way home today, I was struck by this report:

"Robert Alter, a professor of Hebrew and comparative literature at the University of California Berkeley, has published a new translation of the Psalms, The Book of Psalms.

"Among the most noteworthy absences from his version is the soul. Why Psalms with no soul and no salvation? Robert Alter [says] those are concepts superimposed on the ancient poems in more recent times."

At the risk of sounding anti-you-know-what (I don't like to use the word "Semite", because it's so often misused), this made me think of something related to the Christian Canon. It reminded me that the decision of Christian Old Testament canonicity could only ever have been properly entrusted to a Christian body, and not to a council of Hebrew scholars at Jamnia circa 90 A.D. Of course, I don't mean to imply that the views of this Berkley scholar are representative of Jewish adherents writ large. At least, I hope they are not.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Repetative Mind-numbing Praise Music

Driving home from church early this afternoon, I had the radio tuned to a local Christian station. I heard a woman using seductive coloration in her voice to sing a song my church has done several times during our worship. Without thinking about the song's words, I decided I do not like 1) women singing Christian music in a fashion that mimics sex-dripping pop songs; and 2) the use of complex pop solo songs in corporate worship (no one person in my church could recreate those complex vocal over-stylizations, let alone all of us recreating them together).

Then I went home and looked up the lyrics. This song, Breathe, so ably typifies some other general problems I have with modern pop-mimic "church" music, namely 3) the repetitive nature, dulling and lulling worshippers into a mindless state so as to fail to consider the words which we are supposed to be professing corporately to God; and 4) the self-focused, vice God-focused, nature of praise music, commonly personified by the zealous use of personal pronouns.

Here it is:
"This is the air I breathe/This is the air I breathe/Your holy presence living in me

"This is my daily bread/This is my daily bread/Your very word spoken to me

"And I, I'm desperate for you/And I, I'm lost without you

"This is the air I breathe/This is the air I breathe/Your holy presence living in me

"This is my daily bread/This is my daily bread/Your very word spoken to me

"And I, I'm desperate for you/And I, I'm lost without you

"And I, I'm desperate for you,/And I, I'm lost without you,/I'm lost without you,/I'm so lost without you.

"I'm so lost without you.

"I'm so lost without you,

"This is the air I breathe/This is the air I breathe/Your holy presence living in me

"This is my daily bread/This is my daily bread/Your very word spoken to me

"And I, I'm desperate for you/And I, I'm lost without you."

To make my point seem more compelling than perhaps it is, I have put personal pronouns in RED, and GREEN was going to be repeat lyrics, but there were too many, so I put original lyrics in that color. With this exercise it occured to me that a personal pronoun appears in every line of the song (while God, the object of worship, was not so fortunate). Doulia, or Latria of the self?, one could ponder...

Curry on Evangelical Amnesia

The current issue of First Things contains an excellent commentary on the depleted theological aptitude and interest of postmodern evangelicalism, entitled Evangelical Amnesia (subscription required). The article is written by Prof. Dean Curry of Messiah College.

Hopefully the Copyright police will not sic their dogs if I give you this brief teaser:

"Loss of historical memory, however, is not the only reason young evangelicals are less interested than their forebears in drawing lines in the theological sand. American evangelicalism itself has changed dramatically in the past several decades...

"...Over the past thirty years, American evangelicalism has witnessed the homogenization of its theology and the convergence of worship content and style as denominational identities have been strategically de-emphasized. Almost all evangelical churches have the same look and feel on a given Sunday..."

The vanilla-ization of evangelical churches is cause to pause and think about the relevance of our distinctives. How is one to train up one's children in the doctrines of one's church? How do I convince my children that there is any relevance in infant baptism when many of their youth group peers were not so baptized (and don't see what all the fuss is about)? 'Tis a challenge. Curry cites data that suggest a full 60% of Evangelical youths will not continue as churchgoers as they pass into adulthood...

If you have a subscription, do give this brief article a read. If not, now seems like a good time to log onto the First Things website and send in for a free trial copy (no, I'm not a paid advertiser).

The Gnostic Roots of Heresy

The good blogger at PrincipiumUnitatis keeps pumping me with good reading assignments, this time from his own 'pen'. His thesis is that "each of the heresies faced by the Church in the first
millenarian was in some way a denial of the complete divine-human union of Christ's incarnation." This fairly short piece (14 pages heavily foot-noted) is worth the time invested in reading it, especially for one considering the relationship of Orthodoxy and Catholicism to the proper constitution of Christ's Church.

I mean to point out here though two fairly unrelated points that struck me.

1) Here is one of those Luther quotes that made me deliver a staccato and loud "Hmm." in my throat:

"If the words, "I believe that there is a holy Christian people," had been used in the Children's Creed, all the misery connected with this meaningless and obscure word ("church") might easily have been avoided.... Ecclesia ... should mean the holy Christian people, not only of the days of the apostles, who are long since dead, but to the end of the world...." (Martin Luther, On the Councils and the Church – Part III (1539))

I merely comment that his suggested words were not used because they were in no way meant. "Church" is quite Scriptural, and thanks to the clear and repeated metaphors of a building and a body, is not so obscure a word.

2) Our author shares this comment, "By denying the efficacy of the sacraments, Zwingli was denying that the blood and water that flowed from Christ's side are our source of salvation. (That blood and water continues to flow from the side of Christ's Body, the Church, in the sacraments; these are the 'rib' by which the Father is making a Bride for His Son.)"

The parenthetical portion is most profound, in my opinion. I won't comment on it, because I have not had time to process its implications fully. I merely post it here because it was one of two profound, eye-opening moments I've had since the start of summer.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ware Airs Dirty Laundry From History

(See my prefatory piece here.)

Ware's exposition on Orthodox history is clear and forthright. Orthodox history, like Christian history generally, is far too nuanced and complex for me to outline here. My aim is simpler: to highlight some, uh, highlights, and share the impact these may have on the discernment process.

Christendom divided first in the 5th and 6th centuries, when the Oriental Orthodox Churches divided from the 'main body of Christians'. These Oriental Churches are further divided into two, the 'Church of the East' (aka Assyrian, Nestorian or Chaldean), and the 'Non-Chalcedonian Churches' (aka Monophysite). [Note: their separation for not accepting an ecumenical council, and the Orthodox criterion for determining which ecumenical councils are infallible (i.e., that all the church accepts that council) will be a point worth raising at another time.]

The second major division of Christendom occurred at the Great Schism, regularly dated at 1054, but having earlier manifestations of discord and later manifestations of unity. Thus the church was trifurcated in its development amongst the following cultures: Semitic, Greek and Latin.

My opinion. Divisions have been with us from the time of the Apostles to the present. Therefore, a clear rule of proper vs. improper division seems essential, and Christians should be equipped to articulate the rule that they follow.

There was early infighting over the relative rank of the five great Patriarchates. When Constantinople won recognition as second only behind Rome, Alexandria (in third place) was none too happy (which brings to mind Luke 22:24, "A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest."). Ware notes that during the first eight centuries, while other Bishops fell into heresy, the Roman See was noted for the purity of its faith (p. 28).

The Eastern Church and State, since Constantine's time, have been closely linked. Constantine himself presided over the first ecumenical council (Nicaea) 'like some heavenly messenger of God' (said Eusebius). The Byzantine Emperor was believed to be God's living Icon, so that it was proper for Christians to Prostrate themselves before him. The Emperor could do what no other layman could: he wore vestments, censed the altar, held the Eucharistic elements in his hands, and would receive the Eucharist within the sanctuary as only the priests did.

It is interesting to contrast Orthodoxy's early devotion to the Secular Head with later resistance to devotion to the Pope. Ware believes that comparing Byzantium's imperial devotion to 'Caesaro-Papism' is unjust. To prove this he draws the familiar distinction between the separate spheres of sacerdotium and imperium (priesthood and imperial power) (pp. 40-41).

A most incredible tale follows the Moslem invasions. Sultan Mohammed II, conqueror of Constantinople, upon learning that the Patriarchal seat was vacant, personally installed the monk Gennadius as Patriarch (p. 88). Gennadius was a prolific writer against Rome and, Ware notes, the Sultan doubtless chose him to reduce the chance of the Greeks secretly seeking aid from Rome. Orthodoxy accepted this because of their practice of submitting to the imperium. Islam, on the other hand, saw no distinction between religion and imperial power, so the Christian ecclesiastical structure was assigned in toto as a secular administration. The Bishops became government officials, performing as civil heads of the Greek nation. This continued in Turkey until 1923, and in Cyprus until 1977.

Further, the Church's higher administration was plagued with corruption and simony. Each new Patriarch had to pay a costly "berat" to the Sultan to enter office, the cost of which was pushed down the line to the laity. Ware notes that, like in Rome, "everything was for sale." In a sad tale, the office of Patriach turned over often (so as to allow the Sultan to exact more "berats"). Outgoing office holders disappeared or mysteriously turned up dead to create more regular vacancies.

My opinion. Ware said it best: "Nationalism has been the bane of Orthodoxy for the last ten centuries." I learned from this romp through Orthodox history that, at the least, criticisms of Roman simony and corruption can be similarly made against Orthodoxy. If the validity of Apostolic Succession can be destroyed by such wretched human practices, it was destroyed equally in the East as in the West. No list of 'atrocities' is sufficient to settle the questions of succession and division, or to settle what Christ meant in His prayer for Unity and His promise that the Church would prevail. It is only so much hot air.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ware on Trinity

(See my prefatory piece here, and please note my comment in that combox about using "Ware" vice Bishop Kallistos without any intended disrespect.)

A Catholic suggested to me that the true dispute between Orthodoxy and Catholicism is not the filioque clause or original sin/guilt, but rather the primacy of the Roman See. I give full credit to this view, but feel better about leading up to that topic rather than working down from it.

Ware discusses the Orthodox view of the Trinity in Chapter 11 (page 208 of the 2nd edition). Part of the beauty of Ware's book is manifest in this section: he presents the spectrum of views within Eastern Orthodoxy, and ably compares this to Western Catholic and Protestant beliefs. Trinitarian doctrine makes my head spin; I fear I will badly oversimplify the profound. It takes only the slightest mishandling of words on this topic to throw off the balance. I will be cautious and, Lord willing, may be able to give you a flavor of how Ware sets out the trinitarian 'landscape'. Please remember that mine is only a layman's summary.

The Orthodox make use of the 'apophatic' and 'cataphatic' expository methods. By the former, they describe a doctrine in negative terms (e.g., Jesus was not made), and by the latter, they describe it in affirmative terms (e.g., Jesus was begotten). With trinitarian doctrine, negative language is essential to balance a positive description of the relationship within the Godhead.

Ware begins with this: God is transcendent over His creation, and nothing of the created order will ever have the slightest communion with the supreme nature. But God is not cut off from His creation. Rather, He is within it. Here the Orthodox employ a distinction between God's essence and His energies. His essence remains unapproachable, but His energies come down to us. [I note, as an aside, that this distinction sounds Scholastic. Ware is elsewhere highly critical of Western subjugation to Scholasticism.]

God is not a single person, but a Trinity of persons, each of whom dwells in the other two by virtue of a perpetual movement of love. While united, God is not a unity.

"Procession" is where it gets tricky. There is a distinction between the eternal procession of the Son, and His temporal mission. So the filioque dispute is not over the outward action of the Trinity toward creation (i.e., the temporal mission), but about the eternal relations within the Godhead. In terms of the sending of the Holy Spirit to His temporal mission, East and West are in accord. But in terms of eternal procession, we are not. The Orthodox point to John 15:26 as a proof-text ("But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me." (ESV)).

The Father is the origin and cause of the Godhead [this is where my head swims, where we say that the Father 'caused' the other Persons of the Godhead, but that he did not 'make' or 'create' them...]. The 'hawk' Orthodox view says that to see Jesus as a mutual cause of the Holy Spirit is heresy as it imbalances the Trinity, leading either to ditheism or semi-Sabellianism (i.e., modalism). Under this imbalance, either there were two separate 'causes' of the Holy Spirit (leading to ditheism), or the persons of Father and Son are dangerously blurred when acting together as one 'cause'. This latter view, by confusing the Persons, destroys their uniqueness and hampers the 'monarchy' role that is ascribable to the Father alone.

Therefore, in the West the principle of unity within the Godhead flows from their shared essence and not from the person of the Father. The West has come to understand the persons of the Godhead not in terms of their personal characteristics, but in terms of the relationships within. This makes God remote and abstract, not the personal God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As the West wrongly stressed unity over diversity in its characterization of the Godhead, so it came to wrongly stress unity over diversity in its view of the Church.

Ware is careful to cabin how far this 'hawk' view should be taken, and he optimistically describes the 'dove' view, a view which holds much greater ecumenical hope. The 'doves' say that a critique of the Western doctrine is only effective when pushing Western views to the extreme. They note that if Orthodox views are likewise taken to the extreme, they could be seen as leading to Tritheism.

My thoughts? I must admit that the notion of eternal procession was foreign to me. I understood the filioque dispute to be about the transmission of the Holy Spirit to the created order, and, in that light, did not understand Orthodox objections to the Western view. I better understand their sensitivity now. However, my 'tritheism' feathers were ruffled as I read through this description of Orthodox teaching. It is hard to digest their sharp distinction between the Son and the Holy Spirit, and indeed between the Son and the Father.

I was also surprised by how hurriedly my Protestant views grabbed for the lifelines of Catholic theology. Especially in light of trinitarian doctrine, Protestantism is truly Western; our stomach is filled with Western tradition before we even come to the table of the Holy Scriptures to feed on the Word.

Finally, this is truly, absolutely, and certainly an issue of far greater complexity and importance than a layman can deduce from his reading of Scriptures. If I had to write a dissertation on the Trinity with nothing for source material but my Bible, what would my conclusion look like? I would not even come close to the refined nature of the East/West dispute. This is an issue for the Church to settle, and not for the individual.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ware and "The Orthodox Church"

(WARNING: Another prefatory piece!)

If the feud between Western Catholicism and Western Protestantism is a complex picture, adding the Orthodox Church to the discussion gives that complexity a third dimension. For me, it CUBES the confusion in the image I am trying to discern. Where there were 9 difficult facets with which to wrestle, there now seem to be 27.

With such pessimism in mind, I picked up the oft-recommended Penguin soon-to-be-Classic "The Orthodox Church", by Timothy Ware, aka Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia (for major excerpts, see here).

For the very well read, the book is likely too brief, and not heavily enough footnoted. But I, for one, feel foolish for not having read it sooner. Unless you are already quite familiar with Orthodoxy, it is a must-read.

Lord willing, I would like to do a few posts on Ware's work, as Orthodox v. Catholic seems to invoke spirited discourse. For example, I've learned that certain critiques of Catholicism, such as its propensity to have the state torture or kill non-believers, can be made with equal vigor against Orthodoxy. I've learned that the unity claimed under Orthodoxy's title is a markedly different unity than that which the Roman Catholic Church claims to defend. I've learned that the Orthodox teaching on Trinity is shockingly foreign to me as a Protestant.

In trying to discern the proper constitution of Christ's Church, the chore of addressing the Great Schism seems much larger than pondering our Western Reformation.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

When Is A Church Not A Church?

The good blogger at PrincipiumUnitatis recently put these questions to me. They were so thought-stimulating, I thought he wouldn't mind if I reposted them here for public consideration. This was in the context of discussing Christ possessing the "sacramental magisterial authority, for all authority had been given to Him by the Father (cf. Matt 28:18, and John 17:2)."

He continued, "Throughout the two-thousand year history of the Church, various sects have claimed that the Church had become so corrupted that it was no longer the Church, and that the true Church continued with them. So claimed the Montanists, the Novatians, and the Donatists. Other schismatics (e.g. Albigensians) made the same sort of claim. Often they called themselves Carthari (or "Puritans") to contrast themselves from the Catholic Church, which they considered impure and corrupt."

"(1) If in actuality you are presently in schism from the Church Christ founded, how would your experience be any different than it is right now?"

It is interesting that the visible Church and heretics have not been readily distinguishable if measured by size, the fervor of adherents, or the like. Another good blogger recently wrote to me along these lines. He noted the devotion to the Faith that is found in NEW churches, and how it tends to dissolve with age. Mormons tend to be extremely devout. Young Presbyterian denominations are conservative relative to their older forebears. The rate of weekly church attendance for PCA members is likely much higher than for Catholic members. Many ancient heresies still romp around (Modalism, Monophysitism, etc.), so age is no gauge. I dare say that one being in schism from the Church Christ founded may very well not realize it. (But, you shall know a tree by its fruit, Christ tells us!)

"(2) How are you not making the same error made by the Donatists?"

For clarity, CARM says that "Donatism was the error taught by Donatus, bishop of Casae Nigrae that the effectiveness of the sacraments depends on the moral character of the minister. In other words, if a minister who was involved in a serious enough sin were to baptize a person, that baptism would be considered invalid." They practiced rebaptism and taught that the Catholic Church was no longer "true".

I dare say that many Christian groups are making the same error made by the Donatists. (But the Reformation was concerned not with individual immoral priests or bishops, but with a whole structure endorsing immorality!)

"(3) If on account of corruption you have turned away from the Church Christ founded, then to whom have you turned, and what authority do they have to speak for Christ and His Church?"

Protestants have turned to some combined notion of democratic authority and Scriptural authority. I understand that Lutherans originally saw ordination and teaching authority to derive from the faithful allowing a teacher to speak. In a Calvinistic view, the authority to speak for Christ extends only as far as the teacher speaks in conformity to Authoritative Scriptures.

"(4) If they do not have the authoritative interpretation of Scripture, then how do you know that you are rightly interpreting OT passages as teaching that the hierarchical structures of the Church can be corrupted to the point of total apostasy?"

A bit philosophical, this bit. I am generally quite sympathetic to the notion that we need some normative (authoritative?) standard by which we interpret the Scriptures. But I don't think that in every instance our faculties of reason and common sense (not to mention conscience) are insufficient. For instance, "Thou shalt not murder" is a truthful command, the interpretation of which all Christians would be in agreement. To be fair though, I suppose some would be pacifists because of it, while others would feel comfortable joining the service (Go Navy!), some won't kill spiders, others try only to avoid killing another human in hate. Now that I think of it, I guess I follow a Matthew 5:28 type of rationale, and try to avoid 'murdering' in my heart through hateful thoughts (like when I drive!). I dare say we do need something (like the Holy Spirit) to lead us into a right and normative interpretation of the Scriptures.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Mathison Cont. (Clement of Alexandria)

(Read my prefatory piece on Mathison's The Shape of Sola Scriptura here.)

After giving us his impression of Irenaeus' view on Scripture and Tradition, Mathison sets out to cover Clement of Alexandria.

Mathison says. Clement's Stromata (Book VII, Ch. 16) describes scripture as the criterion by which truth and heresy are to be distinguished. To Mathison, Clement declares with the following the necessity of having all things proven from scripture:

"But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves."

Mathison takes the time in a footnote to observe that the perpetual virginity of Mary is denied in this very chapter of the Stromata.

My analysis. Here we are thankfully given actual words from the Church Father cited. Unfortunately, the precise point does not necessarily follow from the proof provided. Clement of Alexandria does say that Scripture is a criterion for distinguishing Truth from heresy. But Mathison is wrong to claim that this quote shows Clement's belief in the necessity of having all things proven from Scripture. Clement says in this little quote that those seeking truth (and he is referring to the philosophers) will not rest in what their mind finds as truth until it is in conformity with Scripture.

The Stromata is his 'miscellanies', an eclectic work that scholars describe as frustratingly hard to follow or within which to find any central meaning (see Tixeront here). Clement was engaged with Gnostics and philosophers of the academically-minded community in Alexandria. He sought to refute those who claimed to have the secret oral truths, and he is clear in stating that their claims are disproved by sacred Scriptures. He criticizes their willy-nilly use of Scriptures out of context in an attempt to prove their claims. He believes that the Scriptures are Truth and are from God, but I do not see in his work a claim that the Truth contained in Scripture is co-extensive with Tradition.

Clement's writing does resemble the "Tradition I" notion as set out by Mathison, but it does not follow from this that the Scriptures are all Authority. Rather, they are the highest source of Truth to be wielded by the proper Authorities, the Bishops within the Church. This is a distinction of fundamental importance: are the Scriptures Authority, or Truth?

Here are some quotations I found from Clement which might help paint a fuller picture:

"The knowledge of the truth among us from what is already believed, produces faith in what is not yet believed; which [faith] is, so to speak, the essence of demonstration. But, as appears, no heresy has at all ears to hear what is useful, but opened only to what leads to pleasure. Since also, if one of them would only obey the truth, he would be healed. (emphasis added)"

Here Clement discusses the truth among the faithful that is already believed, or Tradition. It is important to remember that there is no canon formed within Christianity at this time, and Clement himself quotes as "Scriptures of the Lord" texts that are Apocryphal (he quotes pseudo-Ezekiel as such; see Fr. Gambero's Mary And The Fathers Of The Church, page 70, footnote 5).

"Now, since there are three states of the soul—ignorance, opinion, knowledge—those who are in ignorance are the Gentiles, those in knowledge, the true Church, and those in opinion, the Heretics. Nothing, then, can be more clearly seen than those, who know, making affirmations about what they know, and the others respecting what they hold on the strength of opinion, as far as respects affirmation without proof. (emphasis added)"

"For those are slothful who, having it in their power to provide themselves with proper proofs for the divine Scriptures from the Scriptures themselves, select only what contributes to their own pleasures. And those have a craving for glory who voluntarily evade, by arguments of a diverse sort, the things delivered by the blessed apostles and teachers, which are wedded to inspired words; opposing the divine tradition by human teachings, in order to establish the heresy. (emphasis added)"

"But as the good man must not prove false or fail to ratify what he has promised, although others violate their engagements; so also are we bound in no way to transgress the canon of the Church. And especially do we keep our profession in the most important points, while they traverse it. (emphasis added; this is his well-known reference to an ecclesial canon, not the canon of Scripture)"

Plain error. Now to Mathison's claim that this quoted section of Clement proves his disbelief in Mary's perpetual virginity, I must note a plain and egregious error. The citation that supposedly shows Clement's disbelief is this:

"But, as appears, many even down to our own time regard Mary, on account of the birth of her child, as having been in the puerperal state, although she was not. For some say that, after she brought forth, she was found, when examined, to be a virgin. Now such to us are the Scriptures of the Lord, which gave birth to the truth and continue virgin, in the concealment of the mysteries of the truth. “And she brought forth, and yet brought not forth,” says the Scripture [this is the reference made to pseudo-Ezekiel]; as having conceived of herself, and not from conjunction. (emphasis added)"

Fr. Gambero, in the work I have already referenced, takes this same passage to indicate the opposite, that it evidences an early belief in Mary's perpetual virginity. He uses a clearer translation that reads, "...was found to be in the state of a woman who has given birth, while in fact she was not so", as opposed to "...the puerperal state, although she was not". If I were to guess, I would think that Mathison read that uncommon word as a typographical error meant to read "perpetual." But the word is real, and means "of or pertaining to childbirth."

So some believed Mary to resemble a woman who has given birth, on account of the fact that she did give birth, but Clement says this resemblance was not so. Mathison claims for Clement a completely opposite view, and this should be corrected if there is a future printing of his book.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola

A reliable source tells me that the Catholic Institute of the Incarnate Word (IVE, for their Spanish acronym), located just to the Northeast of Washington, D.C., is going to have a retreat next weekend preaching the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. It will begin on the evening of Friday, Sep 14 and finish on Sunday, Sep 16 in the evening. If you are interested in attending, you can contact Fr. Mariano Vicchi at

The Spirital Exercises are said to be a powerful tool for discernment of all types. To give you a taste of the good saint's writing on this topic, this is his "Principle and Foundation" for the first week of the exercises:

"Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

"And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.

"From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.

"For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created."

Thursday, September 6, 2007


I'll be underway until Saturday night, so please don't think I'm ignoring anyone's comments intentionally.

Peace in Christ!

Torodes and Contraception

I learned in an e-mail exchange with a reader that the Torodes, who wrote Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception, later re-rethought contraception. Scott Torode now seems to think that a view against contraceptive practices has at its roots an overly ascetic view of sexuality.

I read their book when it was new, and before their conversion to Orthodoxy. It would be true to say that I feel a little betrayed, but really I have no right to be. I should have borne in mind when I read their book that they were very young authors, and not in a teaching office of a church, nor trained in theology.

This flip-flop is telling, though, about authority. When considering a moral question in the face of having to act against our will, we are in the worst possible position to judge morality. At these times it is most essential to submit to the teaching authority of our church. Who am I, as a 24 year-old newly-wed, to form the belief that the Fathers' understanding of sexuality over the centuries was aberrant (I'm older and not newly-wed, so am speaking hypothetically)?

This is no minor matter of Churchdom and morality either, and paints a clear target on the back of notions of our 'perspicuous' Scriptures. To take a fine example, the Birth Control Pill, which may be an abortifacient, is in wide and unrestrained use within Protestant circles. If it is a wrong act, it is horribly wrong - wrong at its core. But the Scriptures, being vague on this matter and open to individual interpretation, leave each person to do as he sees fit. (Judges 21:25, "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.") Not only are the young and desirous poor judges of morality, but their judgments may place in them in grave moral jeopardy.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Neuhaus on Discernment

I'm an unabashed fan of the ecumenical magazine First Things. Do check out this comment on discernment by Fr. John Richard Neuhaus, posted on the "On the Square" portion of their website (on August 31st). I just came across it today during a dry Evidence class.

"We are all uncertain about what God wants us to do. That is to say, we do not know for sure. Of course it seems silly, when you’re well past middle age and have spent your life doing what you believe you’ve been given to do, to get up in the morning or suddenly stop in the middle of the day’s work and ask, “Is this what I’m supposed to be doing?”

"I mentioned this to a young man who is discerning whether he has a call to the priesthood, and he was shocked, perhaps scandalized. He said, in effect: “You mean after all these years of being a priest, of writing books, of editing and lecturing, of organizing so many projects, you still aren’t sure you’re doing what God called you to do? How am I ever to know that God is calling me to the priesthood?”

"The answer is that we act in the courage of our uncertainties. I am fond of pointing out that the word decide comes from the Latin decidere, to cut off. You face choices—whether to be a priest, whether to go to this school or that, whether to marry a certain person, whether to pursue this line of work or another—and then you decide. And, in deciding, you have cut off the alternatives and pray you have decided rightly. But you do not know for sure. Alternatively, you are trapped in the tangled web of indecision."

His comments seem related to what I was trying to express in my post about Burdens of Proof. If you refuse to budge from whatever doctrinal/ecclesial position in which you've landed, unless persuaded beyond any reasonable doubt, then ecumenical dialogue is without meaning. Imagine if we refuse to ever leave an unhappy job or seek further eduction unless we are convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that the alternative we are considering will in fact work out, be better, be worth it (etc.)! We would forever hunker down in our trench, forsaking the possibility that we may be called to higher or more challenging things. We always have doubts; it's human.

Post Script. While on the topic of discernment, I recommend this post on a friend's blog (now an inactive blog).

Monday, September 3, 2007

Mathison Cont. (Irenaeus)

In The Shape of Sola Scriptura (see my prefatory piece here), Mathison sets out to prove that “Tradition I”, to which the Reformers sought to return us, was universally held by the unified early church. He believes this tradition consists of the doctrine committed to the Church by Jesus and the Apostles, and it is "coinherent" with Scripture (p. 21).

I would like to walk through the evidence and analysis he uses to reach the conclusion that the early church held to Tradition I. The entirety of his work is built around this premise, so his use of early church evidence deserves careful scrutiny. I will not scrutinize the overall theological and exegetical cogency of Mathison's argument (it has been well scrutinized and discussed here, ht: Chad).

In this post, I will discuss only his claim that Irenaeus held to the 'Tradition I' framework.

Mathison says. Irenaeus developed the concept of Regula Fidei (Rule of Faith), which was recited by catechumens as a summary of the faith handed down from the Apostles (p. 23). We are told that Irenaeus insists that the Regula Fidei, which was "inscripturated" into written form, as such is the foundation and cornerstone of the faith. We are told exegesis was probably the only theological method of the early church, and that the authority of the scriptures was "sovereign and supreme," with the Regula Fedei as the necessary interpretive norm. We are told that the Regula Fidei was distinguishable from Scripture only when in reference to its use in interpreting the same (p.24). We are given the conclusory statement that "plainly" what was written and what was handed down orally are one and the same body of teaching (think of two co-extensive circles in a Venn Diagram).

My analysis.
In this section about what Irenaeus taught, which sets the table for the entire book, not a single word from Irenaeus' pen is given. We are given one lengthy quotation from the venerable Bruce, one from Oberman, and a brief quotation of the (very Protestant sounding) Orthodox theologian Florovsky. I find this to be unpersuasive, and have no idea from the reading what Irenaeus truly held. A book of this breadth and length should offer factual statements and not merely resort to the conclusions of fellow Protestants (reputable as they may be).

Bearing in mind that I spend minutes and not weeks doing my research, I came across some germane Irenaeus passages, courtesy of the wonderful Christian Classics Ethereal Library. The first is from Book 1 of Against Heresies, Chapter III: "Texts Of The Holy Scripture Used By These Heretics To Support Their Opinions".

"And it is not only from the writings of the evangelists and the apostles that they endeavour to derive proofs for their opinions by means of perverse interpretations and deceitful expositions: they deal in the same way with the law and the prophets, which contain many parables and allegories that can frequently be drawn into various senses, according to the kind of exegesis to which they are subjected. And others of them, with great craftiness, adapted such parts of Scripture to their own figments, lead away captive from the truth those who do not retain a stedfast faith in one God, the Father Almighty, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

From Book III, Chapter IV: "The truth is to be found nowhere else but in the Catholic Church, the sole depository of apostolic doctrine. Heresies are of recent formation, and cannot trace their origin up to the apostles."

"1. Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?

"2. To which course many nations of those barbarians who believe in Christ do assent, having salvation written in their hearts by the Spirit, without paper or ink, and, carefully preserving the ancient tradition, believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He Himself uniting man through Himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendour, shall come in glory, the Saviour of those who are saved, and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise His Father and His advent. Those who, in the absence of written documents, have believed this faith, are barbarians, so far as regards our language; but as regards doctrine, manner, and tenor of life, they are, because of faith, very wise indeed; and they do please God, ordering their conversation in all righteousness, chastity, and wisdom. If any one were to preach to these men the inventions of the heretics, speaking to them in their own language, they would at once stop their ears, and flee as far off as possible, not enduring even to listen to the blasphemous address. Thus, by means of that ancient tradition of the apostles, they do not suffer their mind to conceive anything of the [doctrines suggested by the] portentous language of these teachers, among whom neither Church nor doctrine has ever been established.

"3. For, prior to Valentinus, those who follow Valentinus had no existence; nor did those from Marcion exist before Marcion; nor, in short, had any of those malignant-minded people, whom I have above enumerated, any being previous to the initiators and inventors of their perversity. For Valentinus came to Rome in the time of Hyginus, flourished under Pius, and remained until Anicetus. Cerdon, too, Marcion’s predecessor, himself arrived in the time of Hyginus, who was the ninth bishop. Coming frequently into the Church, and making public confession, he thus remained, one time teaching in secret, and then again making public confession; but at last, having been denounced for corrupt teaching, he was excommunicated from the assembly of the brethren. Marcion, then, succeeding him, flourished under Anicetus, who held the tenth place of the episcopate. But the rest, who are called Gnostics, take rise from Menander, Simon’s disciple, as I have shown; and each one of them appeared to be both the father and the high priest of that doctrine into which he has been initiated. But all these (the Marcosians) broke out into their apostasy much later, even during the intermediate period of the Church."

[Continue to read the next Chapter if you're interested, which does lay some marvelous groundwork for the infallibility of Scripture. But I do not get the sense from this Chapter that Irenaeus saw Scripture as the exclusive source of teaching, co-extensive with the Tradition that he praises above.]

Conclusion. This does not support the unsubstantiated conclusion made by Mathison that Irenaeus insists on a Regula Fidei "inscripturated" into written form to be the cornerstone of faith. It would appear, rather, that Irenaeus saw the church as being that cornerstone (a very Scriptural view, I might add). Nowhere do I get the sense that Irenaeus saw Scriptural exegesis as the only theological source, nor a notion of co-extensive Scripture/Tradition that is "sovereign and supreme". It is not so plain, at least from the proofs provided, that what was written and what was handed down orally are one and the same body of teaching.

Mathison on the Church Fathers

Much has been written about Keith A. Mathison's The Shape of Sola Scriptura (for example, one blogger wrote this). I previously noted that Mathison describes one of five theories I've heard of the canon rationale churches follow to reach a 66-book canon. Mathison expresses that the church was authoritatively (though not infallibly) reliable in identifying canon, but only until the fourth century, at which point it become corrupt. Thus the Reformation, properly understood, merely recaptured the early church's purity.

I am struck by the fact that his work has been so well received and highly praised within my Reformed circle. Indeed, the book was given to me by a Reformed pastor as an antidote to the confusion I experienced from the likes of Catholic apologists (I noted this in a recent comment). It is striking simply because his theory may not be in conformity with the Westminster Confession. The Confession notes that while "[w]e may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture," "our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit..." (Chapter 1, Section V). Contrariwise, Mathison relies on the true church abiding under the regula fidei to determine canon and articulate the doctrines relating thereunto.

Admittedly, it is difficult to sum up his book so briefly, and I've probably done a poor job of it. He covers a great deal of territory and makes many controversial claims (what isn't controversial within Christianity?). I do recommend that you read him before you accept any of my compliments or criticisms. That said, I'd like from time to time to post on his interpretation and analyses of certain Church Fathers, and will refer back to this as a prefatory post. If you have read it, I hope some subsequent posts can spark fruitful discussion on the merits of his analysis.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Sola Scriptura is Dead

Dear friends,

I have been nagged by a feeling of slight disingenuity (which some of you have no doubt perceived) regarding the depth of my "Protestantism". I am a PCA member, and have made my doubts known to my Pastor, so that I can be properly under my elders' rule and discipline. However, the time has come where I must recognize, and admit to anyone reading my thoughts on this blog, that sola Scriptura has, to me, finally died.

My church teaches that, "The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God. (WCOF, Chapter 1, Section IV)"

Further, "The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly. (WCOF, Chapter 1, Section IX)"

Finally worth noting presently, "The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture. (WCOF, Chapter 1, Section X)"

I can no longer make these confessions. Taking these three sections in order:

1) Identifying which books are Holy Scripture is a prerequisite to obeying their inherent authority. I believe that we certainly rely on the testimony of the ancient church, and the testimony continuing through to the present, to know which books are Holy Scripture. While the spoken Word of God is authoritative because of its source, and without the approval of men, this Word is not self-authenticating. To say that the Holy Scriptures are self-authenticating is novel to the Reformation (later than Luther, even), and is an extra-biblical rule.

2) I believe that the rule of 'scripture interprets scripture; clear text interprets vague' has failed. It was a theory novel to the Reformation, to counter claims that a Church is needed to interpret Scripture. Who decides which passages are clear, and which are vague? Do the vague passages carry less truth than do the purportedly clear? Why would the God-breathed Word given to be our sole rule be so vague in the first place? The Holy Scriptures are no Constitution, and they are no Catechism. They are a collection of sacred and ancient writings. To interpret vague text by clear is an extra-biblical rule.

3) I do not believe that the Holy Spirit solely speaking in Scriptures is the sole judge of all councils, doctrines, and judgments of men. That the Holy Spirit can guide and judge in no other way is in clear tension with the practice of the early Church as noted in Holy Scriptures. Judas was replaced by the casting of lots, done in faith that the Holy Spirit would judge who was the most fit replacement. Paul was called on the Road to Damascus not by Scripture, but by Christ's immediate appearance. Peter called the Council of Jerusalem to set doctrine and settle dispute. That the Holy Spirit could teach in no way other than through the finite and particular word of Holy Scripture is to limit His ability to respond to prayer and work through the Sacraments of the Church. I believe that the Word is our ultimate authority, but the Word is bigger than the text of the words in Holy Scripture. That the Holy Spirit is so contained is a teaching novel to the time of the Reformation, and is an extra-Biblical rule.

I do confess that I don't know where to go from here. I'm in a ghastly no-man's land, truly a citizen neither of the World, nor of the Church. I do not mean in any way to disparage the Holy Scriptures, but only to point out that man's extra-biblical rules of interpretaion are no longer persuasive. If the Reformation was right, surely we can do better!