Answering a Protestant

Zoltan writes:

It seems to me that you require a level of assurance which is by sight and not by faith when it comes to the leading of the Church by the Holy Spirit.

It seems to me that this perspective on the question has things almost exactly backwards in significant ways. Consider: with respect to doctrine, the Reformed Protestant claims that he only accepts as true what is written in Scripture. But he goes further than that. He also says that this can only be determined by means of grammatical-historical interpretation of the Bible. And he goes further still than this: he also insists that the literal meaning of the Bible is “one” (WCF I.ix): that is, what God means or intends by a passage is the same as what the human author meant or intended by it.

Now, all this being the case, how is this not an assurance of the truth that is obtained “by sight”? In truth, this entire methodology revolves around man: Scripture’s content is what was intended by man, and its meaning is that which is discoverable by man, and because churches and councils may err (WCF XXXI.iv), each man must ultimately decide for himself what the meaning of the Bible is. Man becomes the measure of the content of revelation.

I would assert that this Protestant model is far better described as “assurance which is by sight” precisely because it is an assurance founded upon what a man sees for himself in the Bible.

In contrast, the Catholic is expected to assent to things he might not even understand. For example, I do not understand the doctrine of transubstantiation. I have read multiple explanations, but I still don’t get it. I have read St Thomas’ explanation, but it’s way over my head. Nevertheless, I believe it because the Catholic Church teaches it: I believe it by faith. How is this “assurance which is by sight”?

Zoltan continues, in an effort to buttress the previous assertion:

If Christ were visible on this earth and leading us with infallible decrees, things would be clear and easy for all.

And yet Christ actually was visible on this earth, and many of His disciples abandoned Him because of what He infallibly taught in John 6:30-71. All but a handful of them disappeared at the crucifixion. St Peter denied that he even knew Him. St Thomas flatly said he wouldn’t believe without tangible proof. The Israelites saw the plagues on Egypt, and they saw the parting of the Red Sea, and they heard the Voice of the Living God forbidding them from worshiping other gods, and they still made the golden calf.

So we see that things should not be expected to be “clear and easy” simply because the Magisterium occasionally makes infallible proclamations concerning faith and morals.

Zoltan continues:

All our knowledge is contingent and ultimately rests on some faith proposition of “authority”.

It appears that Zoltan is a presuppositionalist. But his assertion here is incorrect. We know, apart from any faith proposition, that a whole is greater than any of its constituent parts. We know, apart from any faith proposition, that “A” and “non-A” cannot both be said to be true at the same time and in the same respect. We know, apart from any faith proposition, that the sun is shining in the sky.

Herein lies the issue. Rome promises to sort out all the theological quandaries with infallible decrees.

The Magisterium does not promise to do such a thing. Here is what the Catechism says:

In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility. By a “supernatural sense of faith” the People of God, under the guidance of the Church’s living Magisterium, “unfailingly adheres to this faith.”

The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals (CCC §§889-890).

The Magisterium does not exist for the sake of answering just any question. It is not a Magic 8-Ball for theology. There will always be questions that it does not (and cannot) answer, precisely because God is infinite. We cannot fathom Him with our finite minds.

Zoltan continues:

However, the Scripture commands us to submit to all earthly authorities as well (eg: government, wives to husbands etc.) Are those authorities infallible? Is it possible for a Christian to decline to submit if that authority has crossed a boundary which scandalizes the conscience of that person or contravenes a commandment of God?

Scripture does indeed command us to submit to earthly authorities. But Zoltan erroneously identifies the Magisterium’s authority with that of mere human institutions (to whom we may say (verse 29), when necessary, “We ought to obey God rather than men”). But the Church is not a mere human institution. It is the Body of Christ. Consequently the two cases are not congruous, and the fact that we may under certain grave circumstances disobey earthly authorities does not mean that the Church’s teaching concerning faith and morals is fallible.

Advertisements
Posted in Apologetics
26 comments on “Answering a Protestant
  1. Zoltan says:

    You wrote:
    “the Reformed Protestant claims that he only accepts as true what is written in Scripture… He also says that this can only be determined by means of grammatical-historical interpretation of the Bible…he also insists that the literal meaning of the Bible is “one” (WCF I.ix): that is, what God means or intends by a passage is the same as what the human author meant or intended by it.”

    Here I think you take the meaning of the Westminster Confession completely out of context. Jesus Christ is the Word incarnate. In Him we have two natures (divine and human) and yet He is One person (The Second Person of the Holy Trinity). In this, you seem to be a Scriptural Nestorian. There is only One Truth (Christ). How is the Westminster Catechism in denial of that reality?
    Furthermore, your point about the “literal meaning” of the Bible seems to me a strawman unless you clarify your point. Poetic literature for example is not “literal”. When the Scripture teaches that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, I do not start counting.

    “Now, all this being the case, how is this not an assurance of the truth that is obtained “by sight”? In truth, this entire methodology revolves around man … Man becomes the measure of the content of revelation.”

    Here you completely exclude any operation of the Holy Spirit in the mind of the believer when he/she looks at Scripture. Are you maintaining that Protestants or even individual RC’s do not possess the guidance of the Spirit in any measure? That is not official RC dogma in my understanding. Therefore, your point here is another strawman because you ignore the agency of the Third Person of the Trinity which is most certainly not by sight. If Protestants believed what you assert, handing out Bibles is all that evangelism and discipleship would require but Reformed Christians do not act thus. Hence, you have failed to grasp the Reformed position.

    “I would assert that this Protestant model is far better described as “assurance which is by sight” precisely because it is an assurance founded upon what a man sees for himself in the Bible.”

    The Reformed position is akin to the Bereans in Acts 17 who were called “noble minded” because they searched the Scriptures to see if what Paul was teaching was correct. I have yet to hear a RC refute that except with sophistry that centres on epistemological quandaries that deliberately ignore any action of the Holy Spirit as you have.

    “In contrast, the Catholic is expected to assent to things he might not even understand. For example, I do not understand the doctrine of transubstantiation. I have read multiple explanations, but I still don’t get it. I have read St Thomas’ explanation, but it’s way over my head. Nevertheless, I believe it because the Catholic Church teaches it: I believe it by faith. How is this “assurance which is by sight”?”

    I accept the mystery of the Divine Nature of the Trinity and the Hypostatic Nature of Christ as wonderful examples of grasping things by faith. If you are unaware of this, please let me educate you that Protestants do affirm these doctrines. If you are aware of this, then I find your argumentation disingenuous. Which is it? Yours is an “assurance by sight” because of what you believe about the Magisterium. The Pope is the “Holy Father” to you and cannot err in essential pronouncements. You SEE the Vicar of Christ leading your church and RC’s argue that without such a visible perpetual office we would be lost. I do not SEE the head of the Church because it is Christ but nevertheless, I believe He is still leading despite all the Roman challenges to create doubt with “how do you know …” questions.

    I also believe as Calvin taught, in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in a fashion closer to the Easter understanding which is left to mystery rather than the precision attempted by the doctrine of transubstantiation. That Thomas Aquinas even tried to explain it speaks to his over-reaching rationalism and implicit faith in Natural Law.

    “And yet Christ actually was visible on this earth, and many of His disciples abandoned Him because of what He infallibly taught in John 6:30-71. All but a handful of them disappeared at the crucifixion. St Peter denied that he even knew Him. St Thomas flatly said he wouldn’t believe without tangible proof. The Israelites saw the plagues on Egypt, and they saw the parting of the Red Sea, and they heard the Voice of the Living God forbidding them from worshiping other gods, and they still made the golden calf.”

    ALL these examples stem from a time BEFORE the Holy Spirit was given and before Christ’s Person was fully revealed, therefore I find your argument very weak. Is the fact that Peter denied Christ proof that he or his alleged successors could err again or that the Roman See is therefore fallible? You would of course argue to the contrary claiming that the Holy Spirit would not allow such a thing but that seems to be as far as you allow the power of the Holy Spirit to reliably operate. Protestants hold that Christians have the gift of the Spirit and hear Christ’s voice. If He were physically present, the Holy Spirit would assure that all those called by His Name would come to Him as Jesus promised in John 6.

    “So we see that things should not be expected to be “clear and easy” simply because the Magisterium occasionally makes infallible proclamations concerning faith and morals.”

    Yes, it would be. If I accepted Roman authority as RC’s do, there would be no question that I would accept all her teachings. It is simply nonsensical to affirm the authority of the Magisterium and then not accept her pronouncements. That is “clear and easy”. Furthermore, there are aspects of Scripture which I find difficult to understand and doctrines which I have difficulty submitting to but nevertheless I strive to do so.

    “It appears that Zoltan is a presuppositionalist. But his assertion here is incorrect. We know, apart from any faith proposition, that a whole is greater than any of its constituent parts. We know, apart from any faith proposition, that “A” and “non-A” cannot both be said to be true at the same time and in the same respect. We know, apart from any faith proposition, that the sun is shining in the sky.”

    We do “know” these things at one level because we are made in God’s image but a faith proposition rests at a more basic level of which you seem to be unaware given your natural law presuppositions. First, we have to believe that what we sense actually corresponds to reality. Is this KNOWN without contingency? Eastern religions often assert that what we see is illusion and that what is real is not to be grasped with the normal senses. Hindu’s would argue that 1 + 1 = 1. Are you aware of this? As for A and non-A, you presuppose here that finite man knows how to completely define terms. If you know something is A then it follows it cannot be non-A. However, if you have inadequate understanding of either term, then your conclusions would be erroneous. Therefore, since we are finite and dealing with limited knowledge, it is entirely reasonable to hold an apparent truth provisionally in certain areas. In this way, the natural mind cannot comprehend that God can be One and yet Three Persons. It SEEMS a contradiction and we require God’s special revelation to grasp this truth.

    In our knowledge, we must have “faith” that God created a reasonable universe because of His very Nature. That this is not self-evident is abundantly clear in the teachings of many pagan religions where deities were most often seen as capricious or dualistic, would you not agree? This is why the Scriptures describe unbelievers as “groping in the dark” or “not knowing their right hand from their left”. Without some “faith” presupposition, we are left with Menos paradox.

    “The Magisterium does not promise to do such a thing… The Magisterium does not exist for the sake of answering just any question. It is not a Magic 8-Ball for theology. There will always be questions that it does not (and cannot) answer, precisely because God is infinite.”

    Here I think you are nit-picking. When I used the term “all” I did not mean every minute detail so allow me to clarify. My statement was referring to the more major quandaries; anything that she deems is essential. Are you asserting that Rome does not or cannot rule on these infallibly? Remove the word “all” if you wish and my point stands. Whatever is essential to believe, Rome promises to sort that out infallibly if you wish to coin it that way. Now I believe that the Church has ruled on certain things authoritatively because those pronouncements are thoroughly scriptural. However, the RCC has regrettably become more Roman and less catholic when she pronounces on things like the immaculate conception of Mary.

    “Scripture does indeed command us to submit to earthly authorities. But Zoltan erroneously identifies the Magisterium’s authority with that of mere human institutions (to whom we may say (verse 29), when necessary, “We ought to obey God rather than men”). But the Church is not a mere human institution. It is the Body of Christ. Consequently the two cases are not congruous, and the fact that we may under certain grave circumstances disobey earthly authorities does not mean that the Church’s teaching concerning faith and morals is fallible.”

    Here you beg the central question of authority. As a Protestant, I maintain that the Church has real and secondary authority to Scripture. Her authority is, however, fallible because she is the body of Christ as you say and NOT Christ Himself. Church history is very messy and at one point the majority held to the Arian heresy. In Revelation, Jesus spoke to the seven Churches and rebuked some of them for holding to false teaching or tolerating immorality. How can this be possible if the Church could never err? Was Jesus uttering idle threats when He said He would remove their lampstands from His midst if they did not repent? Could there be any application of these epistles to Rome?

    It seems you have missed my central point here which was not to argue the nature of Church authority at this stage but rather to illustrate that even though one may decide to disobey an authority on the basis of conscience, then that does not make previous submission to said authority “faux submission” as David Meyer asserted. Do you grant this point? Moreover, I would point out that if one states “I ought to obey God rather than men” are they not really saying they must obey their own understanding of God’s commands rather than men? Are they not therefore only submitting to themselves as Meyer argues?

    In Christ,

    Zoltan

  2. aquinasetc says:

    Zoltan, you wrote quite a bit, but since I want to keep things on-topic, I am going to cut right to the end, where you wrote:

    It seems you have missed my central point here which was not to argue the nature of Church authority at this stage but rather to illustrate that even though one may decide to disobey an authority on the basis of conscience, then that does not make previous submission to said authority “faux submission” as David Meyer asserted.

    I have re-read your comment at David’s blog. Please show me where you have made this point in that comment, because I have clearly missed it. I apologize.

    Since you say that this was the point of your comment at David’s, I will address it here. I would say that you have missed what David was actually asserting. He did not say that a decision to disobey an authority renders previous submission “faux.” He said, “We Protestants submit to our elders based on our agreement with them, and this is a faux submission.” This is not a statement that he now finds his previous submission to them to have been faux; it is a statement that all Protestant submission to elders is faux. This is because, as he attempted to show, Protestants generally do not submit when they find themselves in disagreement with their elders or confessional statements. Instead they say that their elders or confessional statements are mistaken, and in the worst case (which is common) they simply leave the congregation for one that is more amenable to their own views. But this is not submission. Consequently it does not appear that your point addresses what David actually said on this topic.

    Fred

  3. Fred, there is a context to this that you are missing which is why I referred David back to CtC to show him where I actually argued against what he now erroneously and it would seem disingenuously charges that all Protestants believe. I do not have time to show you all the points but if you are interested I direct you specifically to his comment #784 and my comments 789, 801 and 810 at the CtC Sola vs Solo Scriptura discussion.

    I have consistently maintained that the notion of agreeing with elders only insofar as they agree with me, is a perversion of the classic Sola position Keith Mathison was defending. This is not true for me and many others in my Church but the Protestant conception of submission I would argue is one of love not the islamic submission of RC doctrine.

    You have chosen to enter into the discussion and in so doing you attempted to rebut several points I made. When you have the time, I would gladly discuss matters further with you. However, I think that you have misunderstood the Reformed position and mischaracterized me. Your desire to keep things “on topic” now seems selective. Like many other RC’s I have encountered, it seems you want to narrow the scope of discussion when it suits you. In other words, your desire to be “on topic” was sorely lacking from your more comprehensive response to what I posted. If you thought my central point was unclear, a simple question would have sufficed. However, your posting here demanded a more comprehensive response which is what I gave.

    Therefore Fred, my point against David Meyer does stand. I am attending a church where I disagree with certain views of my pastor and elders. I have made those disagreements known and they have accepted that I am still within the latitude allowed in the formal Church confessions. You know of course that this also exists in the RCC and I trust you will not make any false arguments that members of your church share a unified doctrine. If that is true, it is true in name only. One need only point to all the prominent RC politicians who support abortion, birth control and homosexuality without any censure from Rome to know that this is a fallacy.

    Grace and Peace,

    Zoltan

  4. aquinasetc says:

    Zoltan, you wrote:

    I have consistently maintained that the notion of agreeing with elders only insofar as they agree with me, is a perversion of the classic Sola position Keith Mathison was defending. This is not true for me and many others in my Church but the Protestant conception of submission I would argue is one of love not the islamic submission of RC doctrine.

    I’m fairly familiar with the discussion on the CtC post concerning solo vs. sola scriptura. Let me posit a hypothetical for you. If the session of your congregation came out as FV-ers (or as non-FV-ers, since I do not know your view), how would you respond? I put it to you that if your response is anything other than “they say X while I say Y, so I must be wrong,” you are not actually submitting to their teaching authority at all. But I reckon sufficient electrons have been spent on the subject over at CtC, and frankly I agree with the men there: their argument has in no way been answered.

    You wrote:

    You have chosen to enter into the discussion

    Yes—because you challenged not just David but all Catholic readers of his blog post to respond to you: I have yet to hear a RC refute what I wrote on June 27. I promise I was not trying to insert my nose where it wasn’t invited :-)

    You wrote:

    However, I think that you have misunderstood the Reformed position

    I was a PCA man for 20+ years. My degree from Covenant back in the 80s (magna cum laude) was in Biblical Studies. I subsequently studied at WTS-PA (though my studies were interrupted by marriage). I read Calvin, Van Til, and a bazillion other Reformed and presuppositionalist authors. I was an adult Sunday School teacher in two different PCA congregations; I was repeatedly asked by the sessions to teach. My teaching seems—based upon what I was told—to have been enthusiastically received not just by members of the congregation but by members of the sessions who attended my classes. At one time I was considering the pastoral ministry in the PCA and was invited repeatedly by one session (not my own) provide pulpit supply.

    I say all this not by way of boasting, but simply to suggest to you that perhaps I understand the Reformed position better than you seem to think :-)

    You wrote:

    [I think that you have] mischaracterized me.

    I sincerely hope that is not the case. Presumably you are referring to what you wrote in your comment at David’s blog and not to yourself, since I have said nothing about you personally. By way of a start at clearing the misunderstanding, please indicate the first place you think that I have mischaracterized you; indicate what my mistake was, and please indicate what the facts are on that specific case.

    You wrote:

    Your desire to keep things “on topic” now seems selective. Like many other RC’s I have encountered, it seems you want to narrow the scope of discussion when it suits you. In other words, your desire to be “on topic” was sorely lacking from your more comprehensive response to what I posted.

    Heh. To the contrary, Zoltan. I have a 4 page, 1325-word response to your first comment here. However, when I came to the final paragraph in your response here at my blog, it seemed that I had misunderstood what you wrote at David’s, and so my response to your comment here on my blog seemed superfluous. The topic in question was your comment at David’s to which you invited Catholic response. If my first response—to that comment at David’s—was founded upon a misunderstanding, how on earth is it “selective” of me to want to focus upon what you subsequently explained was your actual point there?

    You wrote:

    If you thought my central point was unclear, a simple question would have sufficed.

    Please note what I wrote at David’s: “It is by no means clear to me what exactly the challenge is in your comment from that date, but I have attempted a reply here.”

    So from the very outset of my involvement in this particular discussion, I made clear that I was not sure I understood you. I sincerely regret that you wrote so much in your first reply here at my blog before finally clarifying what your point was over at David’s, but I did point out the fact of my uncertainty.

    You wrote:

    Therefore Fred, my point against David Meyer does stand.

    You write this as though it is a conclusion from what you wrote in that comment, but that is not the case. You make no argument in it that could possibly lead to that conclusion. Perhaps you mean to include by reference the discussion at CtC concerning solo vs. sola scriptura, but as I already said I will stand with the men there: the argument there has not been refuted. If you mean something else, please say so.

    You wrote:

    I am attending a church where I disagree with certain views of my pastor and elders. I have made those disagreements known and they have accepted that I am still within the latitude allowed in the formal Church confessions.

    With all due respect, the question of whether there are allowable limits for disagreement isn’t really the point. Clearly there must be, since there are certainly matters of indifference even in Scripture. That you have made your disagreements known is certainly laudable, and I mean that sincerely, but that is not submission. Submission on doctrinal points has this character (for example): “My view is that on subject A, the true position is X. But my elders [or confession, or both] say that the true position is Y. Therefore I must be mistaken.

    But that is not how Protestants do things. When they find themselves in disagreement with their confession or church leaders over something that they consider to be sufficiently important, they do not say “I must be mistaken.” They say, “I need to find a new church.” This is not submission. And this is exactly the point of what David has said.

    You wrote:

    You know of course that this also exists in the RCC and I trust you will not make any false arguments that members of your church share a unified doctrine. If that is true, it is true in name only. One need only point to all the prominent RC politicians who support abortion, birth control and homosexuality without any censure from Rome to know that this is a fallacy.

    There is of course plenty of room for disagreement on all sorts of theological issues in the Catholic Church—but not on matters of dogma and morals. The fact that there are people who call themselves Catholic but who willfully flout the teaching of the Church is certainly the same problem of failing to submit as I have describe above.

    But the critical difference is that folks who do such things have thereby ceased to be Catholic, precisely because they have refused to submit to the Church’s teaching on these matters (this of course presumes that they actually know what the Church teaches, and that they are obliged to believe it).

    This is not the same situation as for the Protestant. The situation for him is what is described in this post.

    The point is that division among Protestants isn’t just unfortunate (though of course it is). It is an inevitable consequence of the principle upon which the Reformation was founded. But in contrast, the same is not true of the Catholic Church, since it is not founded upon such a principle.

    Fred

  5. […] thing at a time Posted on 2010/07/05 by aquinasetc Zoltan has the mistaken idea, apparently, that I am trying to avoid […]

  6. aquinasetc says:

    Zoltan,

    Since you have evinced an interest in my off-topic reply, I’ll break it up into smaller chunks as separate posts on the blog. The first entry is here.

    Fred

  7. Fred: I’m fairly familiar with the discussion on the CtC post concerning solo vs. sola scriptura. Let me posit a hypothetical for you. If the session of your congregation came out as FV-ers (or as non-FV-ers, since I do not know your view), how would you respond? I put it to you that if your response is anything other than “they say X while I say Y, so I must be wrong,” you are not actually submitting to their teaching authority at all.

    Zoltan: This is a bad example because the FV debate is still raging and it does not constitute a unified movement. Let us choose another real life example. When I joined my church, I was against paedo-communion but through the teaching of the pastor, like a Berean, I realized through Scripture that I was wrong. I was open to being convinced about my error and believe now that I was wrong. Now, you will charge that it took my being convinced to actually submit and therefore this is not true submission. However, I do not define submission in such terms. A wife submits to her husband. Does that mean that she must think he is always right or infallible? No. Still she submits to his headship. In the same way, I do not think my pastor is always right but I stay and listen to his teaching. In time, I usually come to see things more in keeping with his teaching but my “submission” in this way was that I did not reject his authority and I remained in the Church, open to his teaching. Moreover, I am allowing my children to hear his teaching and they will probably grow to see things more as he teaches than I do. This is submission of a much higher order in my view. Submission to teaching that one believes to be infallible is easy. Submission to a fallible authority out of obedience to Christ, is love.

    Now an even better example is to think of more foundational Church doctrines like the Trinity or the Hypostatic Nature of Christ. A man tried to join our church a while back who denied Christ’s humanity. The Elders diligently investigated the situation and after doing so, they issued a letter of admonishment calling him to repent. He did not and he left. If I were in that man’s shoes and realized that I stood against what has been affirmed by both Scripture and ecumenical councils, I would submit and say “I must be wrong”.

    Zoltan: You have chosen to enter into the discussion

    Fred: Yes—because you challenged not just David but all Catholic readers of his blog post to respond to you: I have yet to hear a RC refute what I wrote on June 27. I promise I was not trying to insert my nose where it wasn’t invited :-)

    Zoltan: I am not implying that you are butting in where you are not allowed. I am merely pointing out that if you choose to enter the discussion, please understand and read about the context before responding.

    Zoltan: However, I think that you have misunderstood the Reformed position

    Fred: I was a PCA man for 20+ years. My degree from Covenant back in the 80s (magna cum laude) was in Biblical Studies. I subsequently studied at WTS-PA (though my studies were interrupted by marriage). I read Calvin, Van Til, and a bazillion other Reformed and presuppositionalist authors. I was an adult Sunday School teacher in two different PCA congregations; I was repeatedly asked by the sessions to teach. My teaching seems—based upon what I was told—to have been enthusiastically received not just by members of the congregation but by members of the sessions who attended my classes. At one time I was considering the pastoral ministry in the PCA and was invited repeatedly by one session (not my own) provide pulpit supply.

    Zoltan: Your former reformed bona fides are acknowledged. Now I look forward to your answer of the substance of what I wrote following that statement.

    Zoltan: [I think that you have] mischaracterized me.

    Fred: I sincerely hope that is not the case. Presumably you are referring to what you wrote in your comment at David’s blog and not to yourself, since I have said nothing about you personally. By way of a start at clearing the misunderstanding, please indicate the first place you think that I have mischaracterized you; indicate what my mistake was, and please indicate what the facts are on that specific case.

    Zoltan: In this I kindly refer you back to your first paragraph of rebuttal. In that, you quote something that I wrote. You then go on to write about what the “Reformed Protestant” believes and how he views the Bible. I showed where that is not the case for me. In the context of your response, is there any way that a reader is not to imply that the “he” references apply to me? Now please let me clarify. When I wrote that you mischaracterized “me” of course I was referring to my position.

    Zoltan: Your desire to keep things “on topic” now seems selective. Like many other RC’s I have encountered, it seems you want to narrow the scope of discussion when it suits you. In other words, your desire to be “on topic” was sorely lacking from your more comprehensive response to what I posted.

    Fred: Heh. To the contrary, Zoltan. I have a 4 page, 1325-word response to your first comment here. However, when I came to the final paragraph in your response here at my blog, it seemed that I had misunderstood what you wrote at David’s, and so my response to your comment here on my blog seemed superfluous. The topic in question was your comment at David’s to which you invited Catholic response. If my first response—to that comment at David’s—was founded upon a misunderstanding, how on earth is it “selective” of me to want to focus upon what you subsequently explained was your actual point there?

    Zoltan: Let us be charitable with each other. I apologize for jumping to conclusions. I will freely accept and grant now that you were not being selective. However, under the circumstances, I think it was reasonable for me to see you as such. I now take you at your word that you were not. Please take me at my word that I am open to your RC response.

    Zoltan: If you thought my central point was unclear, a simple question would have sufficed.

    Fred: Please note what I wrote at David’s: “It is by no means clear to me what exactly the challenge is in your comment from that date, but I have attempted a reply here.”
    So from the very outset of my involvement in this particular discussion, I made clear that I was not sure I understood you. I sincerely regret that you wrote so much in your first reply here at my blog before finally clarifying what your point was over at David’s, but I did point out the fact of my uncertainty.

    Zoltan: This is freely granted. However, I hope you agree that it is entirely reasonable for me to muster a full response to what you posted even given the aforementioned uncertainty you alluded to. Fred, you broadened the discussion and then sought to narrow it. I think that is evident.

    Zoltan: Therefore Fred, my point against David Meyer does stand.

    Fred: You write this as though it is a conclusion from what you wrote in that comment, but that is not the case. You make no argument in it that could possibly lead to that conclusion. Perhaps you mean to include by reference the discussion at CtC concerning solo vs. sola scriptura, but as I already said I will stand with the men there: the argument there has not been refuted. If you mean something else, please say so.

    Zoltan: I have clearly written in more than one place that I am including the context of the CtC discussion in my posting. As for David, my point is that there is another way of looking at submission apart from the strict RC vs Solo way and that point flows from the CtC discussion in which I argued that if there is no principled difference between Sola and Solo, then there can be no true submission to any fallible authority. I am in the process of formulating further responses on CtC but my time is limited. What I think I have established there, however, is that a more fundamental question of epistemology must be worked through before we can even decide on how to examine the question at hand because I think it fails to make important distinctions.

    For example, the men at CtC have granted that the fruit of a Sola believer is vastly different than the common Solo. However, they maintain that they are the same tree. This is impossible. Christ said that trees bear fruit after their kind and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Likewise, damnable heresy, which Trent maintains key reformed doctrines are, cannot bring beauty, knowledge and prosperity which it clearly has in the world in keeping with the covenant promises of Deuteronomy.

    Zoltan: I am attending a church where I disagree with certain views of my pastor and elders. I have made those disagreements known and they have accepted that I am still within the latitude allowed in the formal Church confessions.

    Fred: With all due respect, the question of whether there are allowable limits for disagreement isn’t really the point. Clearly there must be, since there are certainly matters of indifference even in Scripture. That you have made your disagreements known is certainly laudable, and I mean that sincerely, but that is not submission. Submission on doctrinal points has this character (for example): “My view is that on subject A, the true position is X. But my elders [or confession, or both] say that the true position is Y. Therefore I must be mistaken.” But that is not how Protestants do things. When they find themselves in disagreement with their confession or church leaders over something that they consider to be sufficiently important, they do not say “I must be mistaken.” They say, “I need to find a new church.” This is not submission. And this is exactly the point of what David has said.

    Zoltan: Many Protestants do act thus. I would maintain that they are functional SOLO not SOLA. As one educated as much as you are about the reformed faith, you also know that this was not the case for most of the early reformed history. As Mathison pointed out, it has really been over the last 150 years that this radical individualism has taken hold. When I embraced the Reformed faith, there were many things that I learned and abandoned former ways of thinking. Your repeated “Therefore I must be mistaken” stance shows an anemic understanding of submission which is essentially infantile.

    Zoltan: You know of course that this also exists in the RCC and I trust you will not make any false arguments that members of your church share a unified doctrine. If that is true, it is true in name only. One need only point to all the prominent RC politicians who support abortion, birth control and homosexuality without any censure from Rome to know that this is a fallacy.

    Fred: There is of course plenty of room for disagreement on all sorts of theological issues in the Catholic Church—but not on matters of dogma and morals. The fact that there are people who call themselves Catholic but who willfully flout the teaching of the Church is certainly the same problem of failing to submit as I have describe above.

    But the critical difference is that folks who do such things have thereby ceased to be Catholic, precisely because they have refused to submit to the Church’s teaching on these matters (this of course presumes that they actually know what the Church teaches, and that they are obliged to believe it).

    Zoltan: With all due respect Fred, this is rubbish. In my native Canada, we have RC prime ministers who have liberalized divorce and abortion. The last RC PM brought us homosexual marriage! He has not been excommunicated by Rome or even publicly censured. If he were a part of our congregation, unless he repented, I guarantee he would have been excommunicated. Are you pronouncing as an individual that they have ceased to be “Catholic”? How many of the nominal 1 billion plus RC’s touted as part of your church have “ceased to be Catholic” by practicing birth control, not attending mass or getting abortions? What power do you have to make such statements? Your own magisterium has not made such pronouncements so do you arrogate to yourself the ability to do so now?

    Fred: The point is that division among Protestants isn’t just unfortunate (though of course it is). It is an inevitable consequence of the principle upon which the Reformation was founded. But in contrast, the same is not true of the Catholic Church, since it is not founded upon such a principle.

    Zoltan: Human sin is able to bring corruption to any “system” but Christ will lead His Church to glory. What is true of the RCC is that the gospel was being lost in the time leading up to the Reformation with the selling of indulgences. If you would look at the history of the early Reformation and the impact that it had on nations and human thinking (including in no small measure the very founding of the USA), I think the clear fruit of the Spirit is there in the music and expansion of the gospel. The impact of Protestantism can be readily seen when one contrasts the fruit of North America vs the fruit of RCC South America. Jesus commanded that we would know them by their fruits, not the theories that they espouse.

    Grace and Peace,

    Zoltan

    PS – I will try to respond to your other sections later. This splitting will now lead to a multiplying of responses all over your blog and as I said, my time is limited.

  8. aquinasetc says:

    Zoltan,

    You wrote:

    Zoltan: This is a bad example because the FV debate is still raging and it does not constitute a unified movement. Let us choose another real life example. When I joined my church, I was against paedo-communion but through the teaching of the pastor, like a Berean, I realized through Scripture that I was wrong. I was open to being convinced about my error and believe now that I was wrong. Now, you will charge that it took my being convinced to actually submit and therefore this is not true submission. However, I do not define submission in such terms.

    I don’t “charge” you with anything; this is not a court, and I am not a prosecutor :-)

    However, you are exactly right about my reaction: this sort of thing is not submission. This is being teachable, which is commendable, but it is not submission. You have not deferred to his teaching; you have accepted his position after being taught. That is different.

    Submission to teaching that one believes to be infallible is easy.

    This is a subject of my withheld comment that in the course of time will find its way into a blog post, assuming that our attention spans hold out that long. :-) So I will reserve response to that until then.

    If I were in that man’s shoes and realized that I stood against what has been affirmed by both Scripture and ecumenical councils, I would submit and say “I must be wrong”.

    And if a man does so it is not submission to his elders, in which he would have to say instead: “I thought X, but my session says Y, so I must be mistaken.” But even if I concede the point about yourself (and I would not presume to argue things that you say about yourself, since I do not know you), such an attitude is manifestly not ordinary among Protestants, and certainly was not characteristic of Luther and Calvin, who refused to submit to the authority of the Catholic Church on issues where their own opinions differed from the Church’s teaching. They did not say “I must be mistaken;” they said, “The Church is mistaken.”

    You wrote:

    Zoltan: In this I kindly refer you back to your first paragraph of rebuttal. In that, you quote something that I wrote. You then go on to write about what the “Reformed Protestant” believes and how he views the Bible. I showed where that is not the case for me. In the context of your response, is there any way that a reader is not to imply that the “he” references apply to me?

    Zoltan, I didn’t know you when I wrote my first post concerning things you said at David’s. I would therefore never have presumed to suppose that I could say anything about what you believe yourself, which is specifically why I spoke in general terms about what Reformed Protestants generally believe. You may think that I have mischaracterized Reformed thought, in which case I encourage you to explain how, but I certainly did not have your personal views in mind when I wrote that first paragraph, because I do not know your views. If I meant to say something about what you specifically believe, I would have said so. If you still think otherwise, I ask you take me at my word, since you do not know me. If you still do not believe me, then I see no point in our conversation since it would be rather clear in that case that you do not trust me. I don’t say this with any animus; I am simply pointing it out. Trust is an essential part of conversation.

    You wrote:

    Fred, you broadened the discussion and then sought to narrow it. I think that is evident.

    I had no intention of broadening the discussion by introducing off-topic material, which it appears that I wound up doing through misunderstanding. So yes, I did then seek to bring things back on-topic, which would involve ignoring the off-topic material that I introduced.

    Many Protestants do act thus.

    The vast majority do not, including Reformed folk. Personally, I never knew anyone who, possessing sufficient interest in theological matters as to investigate things himself, would have actually submitted under such circumstances. I say this based on my observation during twenty years as a Protestant and PCA member. My view is buttressed by the history of doctrinal division which began even with Protestantism’s founders, who could not agree on something as fundamental as the sacraments and who separated over it. It is buttressed by the history of Presbyterians in the USA, who have split repeatedly and who are unable to reunite even though they officially subscribe to the same confessional document. It is buttressed by gentlemen such as this one (referred to in a previous post of mine, too), who cannot bear to be in communion with his fellow Presbyterians despite the fact that he shares a confession with them.

    That there are various uninformed Protestants who lack any serious interest in theology, and who do not investigate such things for themselves, and who are willing to say “I was mistaken,” I will concede: but this is not an attitude which is consistent with the Protestant principles of the supremacy of individual conscience and the unmediated activity of the Holy Spirit in guiding individuals to the truth taught in Scripture.

    You wrote:

    With all due respect Fred, this is rubbish.

    It is not rubbish at all. A man materially ceases to be Catholic at the point at which he knowingly refuses to submit to the Church’s teaching. If a Catholic knows that he is obliged to believe what the Church teaches on faith and morals, and if he knows what the Church teaches on those subjects, and if he nevertheless deliberately ignores those things in order to do what he wishes, he has ceased to be Catholic materially. He remains formally Catholic until or unless he is formally excommunicated, but until that time is he Catholic in name only.

    A man might remain a Catholic in good standing if he is unaware of his obligation to believe what the Church teaches, or if he is unaware of what the Church teaches, and yet does or believes something contrary to that teaching. He remains in good standing until such time as his ignorance is removed (it should be said, however, that willful ignorance is culpable).

    I am not passing judgment on anyone. What I have said about this subject (both here and in my previous comment) is nothing more than what the Church has taught about the subject. I specifically said that this (i.e., materially ceasing to be Catholic) applies to people who willfully flout the Church’s teaching and refuse to submit to it. This is a subset of Catholics who happen to disagree with the Church on some point(s) or other, since many do so in ignorance and would correct themselves if they knew what the Church actually teaches.

    You wrote:

    Human sin is able to bring corruption to any “system” but Christ will lead His Church to glory…

    This last paragraph is not an answer to the quotation from me which immediately preceded it. Doctrinal division is an inevitable consequence of the principles of the Reformation, and was already in evidence in the inability of the Reformers to agree with each other about the sacraments. This disagreement came despite the claims on all sides that the Holy Spirit was guiding them, and despite the fact that there were scholars on all sides. It is not remotely plausible that the meaning and mode of the sacraments is a matter of theological indifference. It is not remotely plausible that there would be disagreement among even highly educated and devout Protestants concerning the sacraments if in fact the Holy Spirit guides them in their study of the Bible in the unmediated way that Protestants claim. And yet the disagreements among Protestants exist, and they have existed from the very beginning.

    You wrote:

    I will try to respond to your other sections later. This splitting will now lead to a multiplying of responses all over your blog and as I said, my time is limited.

    I fully appreciate time limitations; you’re going to suffer from mine as well :-) Sorry.

    I hope that the splitting I am doing will not be burdensome. I do not intend to post more than one chunk at a time, specifically to allow us to focus on one chunk at a time. I can’t do more than that. My computer can multi-task, but I cannot :-(

  9. F: However, you are exactly right about my reaction: this sort of thing is not submission. This is being teachable, which is commendable, but it is not submission. You have not deferred to his teaching; you have accepted his position after being taught. That is different.

    Z: So if a wife disagrees with her husband but nevertheless submits to his leadership on a matter, in your view this is in fact NOT submission in any way. Or, if I disagree with the imposition of a certain tax and I have within my means the ability to avoid it but nevertheless pay it, I am not in fact submitting to the tax by my action. The only way there can be true submission in your view is by saying that the other party is right? I believe your definition of submission is too narrow. I would kindly direct you to a dictionary to show me where I am wrong here.

    F: And if a man does so it is not submission to his elders, in which he would have to say instead: “I thought X, but my session says Y, so I must be mistaken.” But even if I concede the point about yourself (and I would not presume to argue things that you say about yourself, since I do not know you), such an attitude is manifestly not ordinary among Protestants, and certainly was not characteristic of Luther and Calvin, who refused to submit to the authority of the Catholic Church on issues where their own opinions differed from the Church’s teaching. They did not say “I must be mistaken;” they said, “The Church is mistaken.”

    Z: I am sure you know that Reformed Churches affirm the Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed, the Definition of Chalcedon. Calvin and Luther did not start de novo and reject all previous teaching and try to figure things out for themselves. If so you may have a point because we would have no historical leg to stand on. In reality, they did submit to much of past church teaching but the Reformers rightfully pointed out that there were innovations in doctrine introduced through the Middle Ages some of which were based on bad translation such as Jerome’s “do penance” instead of “repent”. Luther and Calvin saw that these were in error based on Scripture. That you claim this is “their opinion” is the issue at hand and begs the broader question so this is merely bald assertion. Since I do not grant that the Church cannot err ever and since I believe the Holy Spirit may move in a person or group to be a prophetic voice against corruption (as God so often did before and Christ admonished He would do in His epistles to the seven Churches) and since I see the fruit of the Spirit in the Reformation (and Christ said we shall know them by their fruits), I therefore stand firmly with the Reformation.

    F: Zoltan, I didn’t know you when I wrote my first post concerning things you said at David’s…

    Z: Fred, I am perfectly happy to leave this behind. I think you are mistaking my tone here for I did not take umbrage personally, but rather I was pointing out that you mischaracterized my views.

    F: The vast majority do not, including Reformed folk. Personally, I never knew anyone who, possessing sufficient interest in theological matters as to investigate things himself, would have actually submitted under such circumstances…

    Z: I do not think you can say “the vast majority” of Reformed act thus otherwise there would be literally hundreds of thousands if not millions of reformed denominations and that is simply not so. Perhaps your experience is different than mine. That there has been too much doctrinal division, I freely grant and I put this to a lack of love. What you point out about the inability to reunite is egregious and I have seen promising signs that the Spirit is moving to change this. I will be patient and hope. My ancestry is Hungarian. In Hungary there is a unified reformed church dating from the time of the Reformation. Therefore, I would submit that unity is possible but in the Reformed world it is more difficult. It also looks different than RC unity. For example, Robert Rayburn wrote a minority paper in favour of paedo-communion. The PCA ruled against the practice and he submitted to that ruling and remains united to them.

    F: That there are various uninformed Protestants who lack any serious interest in theology, and who do not investigate such things for themselves, and who are willing to say “I was mistaken,” I will concede: but this is not an attitude which is consistent with the Protestant principles of the supremacy of individual conscience and the unmediated activity of the Holy Spirit in guiding individuals to the truth taught in Scripture.

    Z: I think it is consistent with those principles if one remembers love which is the highest command given to us. The supremacy of the individual conscience is essential for one fundamental reason – we are judged as individuals. If we were to be judged corporately, then it would logically follow that submission to the body would be the highest order of obedience. If we could claim that we were merely following orders when we stand before the LORD with a purchased indulgence, then you would have a strong argument. However, since we are also to be held accountable for the teachers we have selected, such a defense cannot stand.

    F: It is not rubbish at all. A man materially ceases to be Catholic at the point at which he knowingly refuses to submit to the Church’s teaching…. many do so in ignorance and would correct themselves if they knew what the Church actually teaches.

    Z: I would like to see some references explaining this official RC doctrine please of what it means to cease to be materially RC. I would also like an explanation about how very public RC politicians like Teddy Kennedy can be staunch abortion advocates, receive no public censure for his very public stance and then receive an RC funeral. Furthermore, I would submit that under your definition, the vast majority of people identifying themselves as RC worldwide are RC in name only. Quebec for example is about 90% RC and yet they boast the highest abortion rate in Canada and they are the most hedonistic. I saw a report on Haiti where over 80% identify themselves as RC and of those, about 90% practice some form of voodoo as well. Is this the individual’s fault or the Magisterium’s fault?

    F: This last paragraph is not an answer to the quotation from me which immediately preceded it. Doctrinal division is an inevitable consequence of the principles of the Reformation….

    Z: What I was trying to explain here is that whether RC or Protestant, there is the potential for corruption. Given that we both have different strengths and weaknesses, the corruption will manifest itself differently. At this point in time, rabid individualism plagues the West and both RC and Protestant churches are affected by it. This does not affect the structure of the RCC per se because of her claims about herself. However, corruption in the RCC takes on different forms which is why I would submit there is such a contrast between the fruit of RC thought in South America vs the fruit of Protestant thought in NA. Another thing I would point out is that RC’s do disagree among themselves, perhaps almost as much as Protestants do. However, since you have a different ecclesiology, that does not result in division formally except perhaps with Old Catholics or Sedevacantists. Practically speaking, there is marked “division” among RCC’s if you take into account those who cease to be RC materially.

    
Grace and Peace,

    Zoltan

  10. aquinasetc says:

    Zoltan,

    You wrote:

    I believe your definition of submission is too narrow.

    I suppose that my explanation may not be the best. Let’s improve things by incorporating what the Catechism says about the subject:

    When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine “for belief as being divinely revealed,” and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions “must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.” [§891]

    What is “the obedience of faith?”

    To obey (from the Latin ob-audire, to “hear or listen to”) in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself. [§144]

    Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from our faith in any human person. It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says. It would be futile and false to place such faith in a creature. [§150; emphasis in print edition]

    These few quotations do a better job at describing what I was trying to get at concerning our submission to the Church.

    You wrote:

    Calvin and Luther did not start de novo and reject all previous teaching and try to figure things out for themselves.

    No. But they did reserve to themselves the right to dispute any and every dogma ever taught by the Church if they decided for themselves that it was not divinely revealed, which is categorically not submission to the Church in any reasonable sense: it amounts to saying, “What the Church says is true if and only if I determine for myself its teachings are divinely revealed.”

    That you claim this is “their opinion” is the issue at hand and begs the broader question so this is merely bald assertion.

    When Calvin and Luther (or any Protestant)’s theological beliefs differ from the teaching of the Catholic Church, they are nothing more than their own opinions. The only way, on their own terms, that their beliefs could rise above the level of mere opinion is if there were some means of establishing that their views correspond to God’s revelation. This, for example, is why Roland Bainton said:

    Luther believed that if Scripture were studied with the aid of all linguistic and critical tools, its sense would become absolutely plain, and no honest and competent inquirer would fail to miss the meaning, because the Holy Spirit would guide him to the true sense. If there were actually divergent interpretations, one would have to be wrong, and the Spirit lacking in the case of him who erred. (The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, p. 215; sorry, I don’t have a better link. The edition this quotation is from appears to be long out of print, and the page number might not be the same in another one).

    That may not be precisely the way that Calvinists would say things, but it surely is in the same spirit: The WCF (I.vi) says “we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word.”

    In short, then, both Luther and the writers of the WCF (sorry, I don’t have a quotation from Calvin ready to hand to make the parallel more complete) attempt to rise above the problem of their views being mere opinion by appealing to the Holy Spirit, so that their views are “certified,” to to speak, by God. And this is well and good—if and only if it really is true that the Holy Spirit does so for them. But I argue that this cannot be the case.

    It is fine that Protestants differ about matters of theological indifference. I do not say that their beliefs on literally every subject must be the same. However, it is likewise obvious and undeniable that there are subjects in the Bible which are not matters of theological indifference. For example, Protestants generally (or universally, if you prefer) say that justification is by faith alone. If there are subjects that are not matters of theological indifference, then it stands to reason that if (as Luther claimed, and as the WCF similarly says) the Holy Spirit guides the Christian’s understanding of the Bible, He would certainly do so with regard to those matters that are not adiophora.

    I think that paragraph is fairly non-controversial.

    I think it is also fairly obvious and non-controversial that Protestants disagree about subjects that cannot reasonably be described as adiophora. One contemporary example from the Reformed world today is the Federal Vision. Various Reformed denominations are officially declaring that the views of FV proponents are non-confessional. RC Sproul, addressing FV at the PCA General Assembly, said “This is the gospel we’re talking about.” So I think we may safely say that the subject is not a question of theological indifference.

    And yet Godly, well-educated men are on both sides of the issue.

    Another example: the sacraments. I think it is safe to say that they are not a question of theological indifference. If they were, God would not have given them to us. Protestants disagree as to the meaning and mode of the sacraments.

    And yet there are Godly, well-educated men in all the different camps of belief on the sacraments.

    There are, of course, other matters of theological importance about which Protestants disagree (one example might be the Open Theism controversy), but the two I’ve already listed are sufficient for the purposes of this blog post.

    Since God does not lie, and since the various camps in the controversies I’ve mentioned cannot all be right, how can it possibly be said that the Holy Spirit has guided them all? I submit to you that it cannot reasonably be said at all. And Luther would agree:

    Luther came to feel that the Holy Spirit was responsible not only for the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed but even for the Augsburg Confession. If the dissenter appealed to his conscience the reply was that conscience as such has no claims but only a right conscience. … Only the correct conscience therefore is to be respected. (Bainton, loc. cit.; emphasis in original)

    Luther privileged his own viewpoint—as expressed in the Augsburg Confession—as a product of the Holy Spirit, and said that others were wrong (and consequently did not have the Holy Spirit, as Bainton pointed out in the previous quotation above).

    So if the Holy Spirit cannot reasonably be said to speak to all Protestants when it comes to subjects of undeniable theological importance, how can we know who has been guided by Him? Obviously Luther had his opinion, but we may charitably assume that Calvin and others did not share it :-) So how do we know?

    And the only possible answer to that question is: we can’t.

    More importantly: the Protestant viewpoint on the way the Holy Spirit works in teaching them from the Bible cannot possibly be true, precisely because Protestants differ about subjects that cannot possibly be adiophora. God does not lie, and consequently He would not tell Joe Baptist one thing about the meaning and mode of Baptism while telling Pete Presbyterian something else. He would not tell Larry Lutheran one thing about the Eucharist while telling Joe Baptist something else.

    Therefore He does not work in the way that Protestants claim that He does when it comes to the question of how He guides their understanding of the Bible. Therefore Luther’s claim that the Holy Spirit’s guides the believer’s study of Scripture, so that his interpretation of the Bible is not merely his own opinion, is false. And the same is true for the writers of the WCF (and for Calvin as well).

    There. Now what I said is not merely “bald assertion,” as you said :-)

    Now that is plenty for a single comment (it’s nearly 1300 words now). I will try to get to the rest of your comment, but it will take time, and if you write another lengthy one in response to this one, I may not get back to the previous one at all for quite a while. This is one of the problems with serious Internet discussions: it is practically impossible to keep them on-topic, and they almost always wind up in a quagmire of prolix posts on side issues. :-(

    Fred

  11. Fred,

    You wrote:

    “These few quotations do a better job at describing what I was trying to get at concerning our submission to the Church.”

    I appreciate what you mean by submission to the RCC. However, the issue at hand is that I do not share the same definition. To quote from the RC Catechism does not further the discussion. This quotation begs two questions but to begin with, I affirm that “ It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says.” That is what I seek to do as a Reformed Christian by faith, in obedience to His Word by the power of the Holy Spirit. It raises the question of whether or not the RCC is wholly speaking the Word of God and whether or not she is infallible in such pronouncements. At this point I believe my view stands, which is that I may still be submitting to a divinely ordained authority without having to say of that authority “you are right”. Clearly, there are other forms of submission.

    You wrote:

    “What the Church says is true if and only if I determine for myself its teachings are divinely revealed.”

    That every Church dogma is open to biblical scrutiny is of course a pillar of the Reformation but that does not mean that it is to be equally wielded by every individual and at every time. My point here is two-fold. The first is that although a Church dogma is subordinate to Scripture, it does not mean that it is without authority. Thus, in my example before, the man who rejected the Hypostatic Nature of Christ as clearly taught in the Definition of Chalcedon, was in violation of Church dogma that was established for centuries and thoroughly Scriptural. On that basis, he was effectively excommunicated and rightly so.

    The second point I would make is that there is a fundamental difference between public and private belief. Public confessions must be held to a higher standard and once written, bear considerable authority though subordinate to Scripture. Although an individual may detract from such, that does not mean they alter the public confession nor should they arrogantly assume they are right. Furthermore, such a person may in fact be open to Church discipline for such a rejection and if they stand at odds with Scriptural doctrines and Church history, they would hardly have a leg to stand on. They may still reject the authority just as numerous RC’s practice birth control but that is a universal problem, not a problem with Protestantism per se.

    I would maintain that what happened at the time of the Reformation was relatively unique in Church history. Calvin and Luther did not act as mere individuals; the Reformation was a groundswell. Nor did they have no basis in their views in Church history which I think is abundantly clear in Calvin’s numerous references to early Church fathers in his Institutes and other writings. I think the fruit clearly shows that the Holy Spirit moved in the time of the Reformation with the transformation of people’s lives, societies and the beautiful music composed (even JP II had Bach played at his funeral) and with it, providentially, the printing press was invented allowing rapid dissemination of both the Scriptures in vernacular and reformed writings even against RCC edicts. Was this the work of the Spirit or of the Devil?

    Now, what has happened over the past 150 years or so, is the result of rabid individualism which I agree the Reformed Christian has become prone to because we have forsaken our roots. However, there is a ditch on both sides of the road as the saying goes and the RCC has been guilty of over-zealous corporatism which flies in the face of the fact that we are to be judged as individuals and there is no getting around that. Did people purchase indulgences under assurance that this was sanctioned by the Roman See and therefore valid unto salvation (insert quotations of binding on earth and heaven here)? The answer to this is affirmative. Moreover, are there doctrines the RC taught which were later revised? Again, affirmative. Were individuals excommunicated and then that later revoked? Affirmative (eg: Joan of Arc).

    You wrote:

    “That may not be precisely the way that Calvinists would say things, but it surely is in the same spirit: The WCF (I.vi) says “we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word.””

    The key here is the “saving understanding”. Let me ask. Do you think Protestants can and do have saving understanding? Do we have a portion of the Spirit? If so (and I think that is RC dogma), then to what effect is the Paraclete helping us? Now, your demand that there be some “means of establishing that their views correspond to God’s revelation” is three fold in my opinion (in keeping with God’s Triune nature and by extension, the biblical principle of the need for 2 or 3 witnesses to establish truth). The first is Scripture, the second is corporate witness (ie: the Church) and the third is corporate and individual fruit (since we shall know them by their fruits). If a doctrine is clearly taught in Scripture, established by the majority of Christian Churches through history and in practicing it, it bears good fruit, then I would say the truth is established. If the teaching is less clear, then there is latitude and I would argue it is not “necessary for the saving understanding”. It is not that secondary doctrines are unimportant, but rather that they are not necessary unto salvation as Christ taught at the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:19). So is the immaculate conception of Mary essential unto salvation?

    You wrote:

    “I think it is also fairly obvious and non-controversial that Protestants disagree about subjects that cannot reasonably be described as adiophora. One contemporary example from the Reformed world today is the Federal Vision. Various Reformed denominations are officially declaring that the views of FV proponents are non-confessional. RC Sproul, addressing FV at the PCA General Assembly, said “This is the gospel we’re talking about.” So I think we may safely say that the subject is not a question of theological indifference.”

    The issue with FV is complicated but allow me to share some thoughts. If you consider Church history, things have often times been a lot messier than we would like (and I grant that the current RC method of formulating dogma is more efficient than the Protestant one). However, let us move back to the time of the Arian heresy. At one point, the majority of bishops were actually Arian and it seemed only Athanasius stood for orthodoxy (facing exile repeatedly for his opposition to the heresy – “Athanasius contra mundum”). This heresy raged for many decades and I would say that it was not adiophora. How long did it take the Holy Spirit to lead the Church through this controversy? How long until error was stamped out even among bishops? How many councils did it take? Imagine if you yourself lived at that time and your local bishop was in fact Arian but that did not sit right with your conscience. Indeed, many would have died before a definitive dogma was reached. How would you know you were right? How was the controversy decided? Simple edict from Rome? No.

    With FV, I am taking the long view. I think there are aspects that are good and some that are perhaps not. I have confidence that God will sort the matter out over time as He did in former times without Roman supremacy. I will be patient, pray, listen, hope and learn if it is His good pleasure. Those that have been quick to call all aspects of FV “heresy” have most often done so without proper consideration, church procedure or debate (similar perhaps to the hasty reaction of Rome to the plight of the Reformers which only helped ensure schism). I think there has been a real lack of love involved in much of the discourse but that is Church history. If God was able to sort the Arian heresy out without a universal acceptance of the power of the Roman See, then I think He can do the same now but do not ask me to make predictions. It will be sorted out in a more incarnational and hence more organic way than the mechanics of the RCC.

    You wrote:

    “And yet there are Godly, well-educated men in all the different camps of belief on the sacraments.”

    Churches that have a low view of the sacraments will over time bear the fruit of that and that is plaguing much of the Protestant world. In fact, that is one way I think a lot of issues are sorted out. In keeping with the epistles to the Seven Churches in Revelation, Jesus rebukes Churches that are not faithful to Him. He is gracious and long-suffering so judgement comes slowly. Churches that go after wrong doctrines will eventually die (their lampstand removed) as we see many mainline churches including the RCC in decline in the West or the loss of former EO nations to Islam and/or communism.

    You wrote:

    “So if the Holy Spirit cannot reasonably be said to speak to all Protestants when it comes to subjects of undeniable theological importance, how can we know who has been guided by Him? Obviously Luther had his opinion, but we may charitably assume that Calvin and others did not share it :-) So how do we know?
    And the only possible answer to that question is: we can’t.”

    As I explained above, I believe the Holy Spirit can sort this out and He gives that assurance to those of faith. I believe in the faith once delivered to the saints and that Christ’s sheep will hear His voice in the end when it comes to matters essential unto salvation. This has to do with an identity we have in Him. By contrast, it seems you want a clear and simple mechanism of discerning truth. A visible referee or the equivalent of a New Covenant Umim and Thummim. I assert that that is immature just as Israel was immature when God gave her such charisms. In the NC, God is commanding us all to wrestle with Truth and to grow in wisdom with the guidance of the Spirit poured out onto all flesh. We are told that we are to judge angels. If that is the case, how are we to do so if we cannot judge amongst ourselves?

    You probably know full well that the RCC previously discouraged and even forbade Bible reading for the laity or vernacular translations even though the epistles themselves were written to entire churches (not just the magisterium). Luke wrote his gospel and the book of Acts to Theophilus so that he would have “certainty concerning the things he was taught”. What more certainty would Theophilus need than the word of the Apostles? Knowing this, how could such edicts against vernacular translations for example exist within Rome if she were truly fulfilling her mandate, bearing witness to all truth? Only for those who speak latin I suppose.

    I would also submit that RC dogma violates John 17 as much as the solo scriptura Protestant for Christ prayed that we would be one as He and the Father are One. That Oneness in the Godhead is a unity of Persons who are co-equal and co-eternal. It is most certainly not one of infallibility to fallibility or a “Holy Father (Pope)” to an unholy laity. Hence, your ecclesiology reduces to practical monarchianism just as the solo Protestant is a practical polytheist.

    You wrote:

    “More importantly: the Protestant viewpoint on the way the Holy Spirit works in teaching them from the Bible cannot possibly be true, precisely because Protestants differ about subjects that cannot possibly be adiophora. God does not lie, and consequently He would not tell Joe Baptist one thing about the meaning and mode of Baptism while telling Pete Presbyterian something else. He would not tell Larry Lutheran one thing about the Eucharist while telling Joe Baptist something else.”

    There is of course another way of looking at this current morass and that is that God is more gracious and long-suffering than we all are even more than your beloved Magisterium who have apparently sorted out all the difficulties. The Holy Spirit meets us where we are at. My brother for example, attends a Church in a large city with many young believers. They hear more basic teachings about things like living chaste for Christ, male headship or seeking to build a family. Those teachings are not needed as much in my Church for we have different needs. Just as the writer to the Hebrews said that they needed to mature beyond the basics of “milk” to eat “meat”, so I find certain churches need to grow in different areas. It is not that the Holy Spirit is teaching different things in the abstract. Doctrines must be sustained within a certain framework so to speak. If Joe Baptist needs to grow to accept that his children are in the covenant and therefore to be baptized, he needs to first understand what a covenant is. If he neglects to grow in this, the fruit can so often be that his children leave the church.

    You wrote:

    “Now that is plenty for a single comment (it’s nearly 1300 words now). I will try to get to the rest of your comment, but it will take time, and if you write another lengthy one in response to this one, I may not get back to the previous one at all for quite a while. This is one of the problems with serious Internet discussions: it is practically impossible to keep them on-topic, and they almost always wind up in a quagmire of prolix posts on side issues. :-(“

    Why the frowny face? We are both busy men and LORD willing we will get through this. However, it may take some time. Sorry about the long posting. As Chesterton would say, I did not have time to write a short one.

    Soli Deo Gloria,

    Zoltan

  12. aquinasetc says:

    Zoltan,

    You wrote:

    I appreciate what you mean by submission to the RCC. However, the issue at hand is that I do not share the same definition. To quote from the RC Catechism does not further the discussion.

    To the contrary. You previously objected to the various presentations of a definition of it that I offered. If there is going to be any discussion about submission at all, understanding terms is essential. Consequently—in view of what I considered to be the poor efforts that I had managed thus far at getting at what I mean by it—I thought it best to express authoritatively what we mean by it.

    More generally, it is very often the case that disagreements persist precisely because men have different definitions of words in view, and so they wind up talking past each other. Consequently I consider it very important to make sure that what I am saying is understood, particularly when there appears to be a misunderstanding related to words. See this post (it’s very short).

    So when you say that you do not share the same definition, are you referring to “submission to the RCC,” or are you referring to “submission?”

    How do you view responsibility with respect to the teaching of the Bible? Is it not one of “submission?” And is it not a submission of an entirely different character than the “submission” that you offer to earthly/human authorities? And is it not different than the “submission” that wives are expected to offer their husbands? My guess is that you would describe your responsibility with respect to the Bible’s teaching as one of submission to it in a sense entirely similar to what the Catholic offers the teaching of the Church, and that you would distinguish between this submission and the other sorts of submission I mention in this paragraph.

    If my guess is correct, then it seems that the likely difference has little if anything to do with submission as such, but rather with whether such submission is to be offered to the Catholic Church or not. If you think that is a fair summary, then we can set this matter of submission aside as a secondary issue: secondary in the sense that the more relevant question is not the nature of submission, but whether the Catholic Church merits the submission she claims. It appears that you substantially agree with this from what you say in the balance of your first paragraph, so I’m content to set this aside at this time.

    You wrote:

    That every Church dogma is open to biblical scrutiny is of course a pillar of the Reformation but that does not mean that it is to be equally wielded by every individual and at every time.

    A fundamental Reformation principle is that the Church and her ecumenical councils can and do err. The authors of the WCF claimed no privileged position for their work with respect to this weakness, though Luther certainly did (as I showed previously). If the Church can err with respect to the truth, who is to say whether she has done so or not? If the WCF is prone to error, who is to say whether it is wrong on some point(s) or other? There is but a single answer: the individual decides this for himself. The theological individualism that you rightly lament is an inevitable fruit of what Calvin and Luther did. They may try to put the genie back in the bottle, but it can’t be done on their own principles; if the Holy Spirit guides the individual Christian in his reading of the Bible in the way that they say, theological anarchy is the inescapable outcome. I appreciate the fact that they disapproved of this, and that you do too, but disapproval won’t do away with the consequences.

    If the Church (however so defined) may err, who decides that it has done so? On what grounds? And what reason do we have for listening to him? Calvin and Luther cannot answer these questions on any grounds that do not result in anarchy.

    You wrote:

    The key here is the “saving understanding”. Let me ask. Do you think Protestants can and do have saving understanding? Do we have a portion of the Spirit? If so (and I think that is RC dogma), then to what effect is the Paraclete helping us? Now, your demand that there be some “means of establishing that their views correspond to God’s revelation” is three fold in my opinion (in keeping with God’s Triune nature and by extension, the biblical principle of the need for 2 or 3 witnesses to establish truth). The first is Scripture, the second is corporate witness (ie: the Church) and the third is corporate and individual fruit (since we shall know them by their fruits). If a doctrine is clearly taught in Scripture, established by the majority of Christian Churches through history and in practicing it, it bears good fruit, then I would say the truth is established. If the teaching is less clear, then there is latitude and I would argue it is not “necessary for the saving understanding”. It is not that secondary doctrines are unimportant, but rather that they are not necessary unto salvation as Christ taught at the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:19).

    You say it’s my demand that there be a “means of establishing that their views correspond to God’s revelation.” I wouldn’t call it my “demand” exactly. :-) I think it is perfectly reasonable for us to ask why, on Calvin and Luther’s terms, I should believe that their views are true rather than the Church’s. Surely you agree? And consequently it is reasonable for us to expect them to provide some justification for their claim? To describe it as “my demand” seems like I’m being unreasonable, and I don’t see how that is the case.

    You continue by offering three rules by which to make this judgment. Before I get to the three themselves, I only observe that these rules are not Luther’s, which I presented in my previous comment (#10). Why should a man accept your opinion (that’s your word) about this rather than Luther’s? What principled grounds have we for accepting what you say and rejecting Luther’s view of the subject? If the Church errs, why should we expect that you or Luther will fare any better in identifying the truth?

    With respect to the first – whether a doctrine is “clearly taught” in Scripture: who decides this? The Baptists or the Presbyterians? The Arminians or the Calvinists? The Pentecostals or the cessationists? Calvin or Luther on the Eucharist? And why not the Catholic Church on any of these issues? Or is it I who decide for myself?

    (Obviously this issue is the one that I’ve been primarily harping on in my last comment and likewise earlier in this one, so I won’t say more about it here)

    With respect to the second – whether a doctrine is sufficiently justified by the history of the Church: Baptismal regeneration was affirmed by the entire Church up until the Reformation (see here, for example); even Lutherans still affirm it today (I know this from personal experience with them). Yet Presbyterians and other Calvinists reject it (well, maybe some FVers receive it, but that just exacerbates the situation for Protestants in my opinion). Presbyterians and Baptists reject this on what they consider to be scriptural grounds, but that gets back to the first of your rules (and why should we accept what Presbyterians and Baptists say about this rather than the Catholics and Lutherans?). But this just goes to show, I think, that history is fundamentally irrelevant for the Protestant: if he is convinced that something is taught in the Bible, he adheres to it regardless of what was taught by the Church (of whatever definition) in the past, and regardless of what is taught in Protestant churches today. I will concede that amongst confessionally minded Protestants, there is frequently an interest in remaining faithful to what has been taught historically among themselves, but that’s generally as far as things go. In my personal experience (admittedly anecdotal) I can say that Church history prior to the Reformation was simply never taught, and there was certainly never any effort to justify any Reformed doctrines from the Fathers with the lone exception of inadequately sourced appeals to St Augustine (who was absolutely not some proto-Reformed/Protestant at all).

    Consequently I think I am safe in saying that you are correct in describing this second rule as your opinion, since it is almost certainly not widespread among the Reformed at all (and far less among Protestants generally).

    I think that a further issue may be raised with regard to it. History is subject to interpretation as well. Why should a man accept a Protestant reading as to what the Fathers taught, rather than the Catholic one? Who decides what the Fathers taught? The Monophysites think that the ECF agreed with them, and they consider their view as being taught in Scripture; why should we reject their view? It’s not enough to say “they’re wrong.” I agree that they’re wrong, but they say the same about us; we must have something better to go on than that.

    All this goes to say that your second rule doesn’t, I think, help your case, because it is subject to the same problems as the first.

    With regard to your third rule – whether it bears good fruit: Why should we accept this as a measure of whether a given opinion corresponds to revelation? What constitutes good fruit?

    You then make some observations about what’s necessary for salvation and what’s not. What doctrines are necessary for salvation? On what grounds do you say that these are, and not some others? Previously I asserted that it is not plausible to suggest that the sacraments are adiophora. Am I correct in inferring (I hope that I am) that your view is that the sacraments are something about which the Holy Spirit would not leave Christ’s Church in uncertainty?

    You wrote:

    So is the immaculate conception of Mary essential unto salvation?

    In the sense that it has been infallibly defined by the Church, and that a Catholic is obliged to assent to infallible definitions, yes it is. Will some Christians be saved who do not actually believe in it? Certainly. Will some Catholics be saved who do not believe in it? Certainly—if they do not know of their duty to believe it, or suffer some other impediment to belief in it that is not culpable. Presumably you disagree, but on what grounds should I accept your opinion rather than the teaching of the Church?

    You write, in response to my assertion that the Protestant cannot know who is being guided by the Holy Spirit with regard to issues of undeniable theological importance (like the sacraments or the current FV-related disputes about justification):

    As I explained above, I believe the Holy Spirit can sort this out and He gives that assurance to those of faith. I believe in the faith once delivered to the saints and that Christ’s sheep will hear His voice in the end when it comes to matters essential unto salvation. This has to do with an identity we have in Him.

    I think perhaps I have been unclear. I apologize. I asserted that the Protestant view—certainly within the Reformed and Lutheran camps—is that the Holy Spirit guides the individual Christian to understand the truth taught in the Bible. I have briefly provided documentation in support of that assertion (all in my post #10). Do you agree with that assertion? If not, please let me know.

    If you do agree, then the issue that must be faced is that Holy Spirit-guided Christians, of unimpeachable godliness and with basically the same exegetical faculties, disagree about subjects that are of undeniable theological importance—so important that it is inconceivable to describe them as adiophora (like the sacraments). They disagree about them not just in matters of emphasis, but fundamentally: whether baptism regenerates or not; whether Christ is present in the Eucharist or not; etc. How then can it be said (as Protestants do) that the Holy Spirit is guiding them? God does not lie. How can it be that on subjects that matter Protestants differ if the Holy Spirit is guiding them?

    The comparison to the Arian controversy seems inapt. For starters, the people involved did not hold to a Protestant principle such as we are discussing. Second, if we say for the purpose of argument that they actually did hold to that principle (or if we just apply it to them) it seems to me that the situation is no better for the Protestant today: for we would be forced to conclude that the Holy Spirit was speaking to both sides then, too (for there were godly men on both sides). But that is of course absurd, and we know it: the two views are irreconcilable. Consequently we know for a fact that the Spirit was not guiding both sides. Now the same thing holds today: because God does not lie, we know for a fact that God is not guiding both sides on these (more recent) disputes. But this means either that the Protestant has to privilege one side or the other, or that his principle is wrong. I do not see how you have a principled way of saying that it will all just work out.

    Now Luther privileged his own view, and said that others lacked the Spirit’s guidance when they disagreed with his views as formulated in the Augsburg Confession (as I pointed out in my previous comment #10). I assert that he had no principled grounds for doing so. None. It is a completely arbitrary claim on his part. And I think the same holds for any other Protestant. And so I think we are forced to concede that this Protestant principle does not work.

    It seems rather astonishing to suppose, if I take your meaning correctly, that the disagreements among Protestants will just work themselves out over time. It has been 2000 years, and yet on your view the sacraments are still not figured out? That’s just plain inconceivable to me. :-)

    You wrote:

    By contrast, it seems you want a clear and simple mechanism of discerning truth. A visible referee or the equivalent of a New Covenant Umim and Thummim. I assert that that is immature just as Israel was immature when God gave her such charisms.

    It seems to me that this is a rather hyperbolic response to the problems I have described in Protestantism’s fundamental principle for discerning the truth. :-) I would say: a claim that demands either that the Holy Spirit contradicts Himself (as the Protestant one certainly does), or that we cannot know the truth with certainty (which seems to be the only alternative for the Protestant, invested as he is in denying infallibility to any church), is not one which may reasonably be described as mature but rather as skeptical or self-defeating.

    You wrote:

    Knowing this, how could such edicts against vernacular translations for example exist within Rome if she were truly fulfilling her mandate, bearing witness to all truth? Only for those who speak latin I suppose.

    Those rules were made because the Church understood that translation is a necessarily theological enterprise, and translations that obscure or distort the teaching of Scripture, or which advance the cause of errors, are a danger to one’s faith. It is not the case that no translations were permissible; the Douay-Rheims, for example, was published before the KJV (and the NT for the D-R was published in 1582).

    You wrote:

    I would also submit that RC dogma violates John 17 as much as the solo scriptura Protestant for Christ prayed that we would be one as He and the Father are One. That Oneness in the Godhead is a unity of Persons who are co-equal and co-eternal. It is most certainly not one of infallibility to fallibility or a “Holy Father (Pope)” to an unholy laity. Hence, your ecclesiology reduces to practical monarchianism just as the solo Protestant is a practical polytheist.

    My first observation is that your conclusion (“Hence,…”) does not follow from the assertions made in this paragraph. My second observation is that even if your argument were valid, it does not relieve the Protestant of the problems inherent in his own principle, which are insurmountable as far as I can tell. My third observation is that what you say above is not how the Church defines her unity. Rather, we may see what the Church says here:

    The Church is one because of her source: “the highest exemplar and source of this mystery is the unity, in the Trinity of Persons, of one God, the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.” The Church is one because of her founder: for “the Word made flesh, the prince of peace, reconciled all men to God by the cross, . . . restoring the unity of all in one people and one body.” The Church is one because of her “soul”: “It is the Holy Spirit, dwelling in those who believe and pervading and ruling over the entire Church, who brings about that wonderful communion of the faithful and joins them together so intimately in Christ that he is the principle of the Church’s unity. (CCC §813; italics added)

    Consequently our unity does not consist in infallibility, as you suggest, and your argument in this paragraph opposes a straw man.

    You wrote:

    There is of course another way of looking at this current morass and that is that God is more gracious and long-suffering than we all are even more than your beloved Magisterium who have apparently sorted out all the difficulties. The Holy Spirit meets us where we are at.

    I am glad that you consider Protestantism’s divisions to be something bad. But I think that you are underestimating the severity of the problem when you suggest that it may be excused on existential grounds. I am certainly not talking about things that don’t matter, as we both (apparently) agreed, and we are not talking about differences of mere emphases. We are talking about flat-out contradictions. More importantly, we are talking about what we apparently agree the Holy Spirit is telling people as they read the Bible. If the Protestant principle is correct, the Holy Spirit is contradicting Himself. But the Holy Spirit cannot contradict Himself; consequently the Protestant’s principle is wrong.

    Fred

  13. Zoltan says:

    Fred, I wrote a complete response and it is over 7000 words with inclusions of your quotations. This is becoming too cumbersome so I have opted to do this by sections and I hope you are agreeable to this. Lord willing we will get to them all.

    You wrote:

    “You previously objected to the various presentations of a definition of it that I offered. If there is going to be any discussion about submission at all, understanding terms is essential. Consequently—in view of what I considered to be the poor efforts that I had managed thus far at getting at what I mean by it—I thought it best to express authoritatively what we mean by it.”

    I would kindly ask you to go back to your previous posts to see how this evolved. First you wrote: “ He (David Meyer) said, “We Protestants submit to our elders based on our agreement with them, and this is a faux submission.” This is not a statement that he now finds his previous submission to them to have been faux; it is a statement that all Protestant submission to elders is faux.This is because, as he attempted to show, Protestants generally do not submit when they find themselves in disagreement with their elders or confessional statements. Instead they say that their elders or confessional statements are mistaken, and in the worst case (which is common) they simply leave the congregation for one that is more amenable to their own views. But this is not submission.”

    And then you wrote:

    “Submission on doctrinal points has this character (for example): “My view is that on subject A, the true position is X. But my elders [or confession, or both] say that the true position is Y. Therefore I must be mistaken.””

    Now, in none of these points did you ever qualify your point to state “ what the RCC means by” submission. For the sake of our discussion, you should obviously assume that I do not view the RC catechism as authoritative for definition, hence it seems now that you are back tracking from what you originally wrote. You should have written “submission on doctrinal points from a RC perspective has this character” or “this is not submission from a RC point of view” which in this context would be merely stating the obvious.

    Since this was the “on topic” point from the beginning, it seems odd that you now want to set the issue aside. I will do so if you concede that a Protestant is and can be in submission to the elders of his Church without saying “you are right and I must be wrong” and my example of Robert Rayburn’s submission to his presbytery over the paedo-communion issue is a perfect example of that. Furthermore, my original point against David Meyer stands that Protestants do not always merely engage in faux submission. This is an unfair generalization and your support for such an absolute is without warrant.

    You wrote:

    “More generally, it is very often the case that disagreements persist precisely because men have different definitions of words in view, and so they wind up talking past each other. Consequently I consider it very important to make sure that what I am saying is understood, particularly when there appears to be a misunderstanding related to words. See this post (it’s very short).”

    So let us look to the dictionary which is “mostly” sufficient. According to my lexicon, words like “obedience” or “yielding” are used in defining submission. In this way, Rayburn obeyed or yielded to the decision of the presbytery by accepting their ruling and refraining from practicing paedo-communion in his church. That is submission according to common usage and it does not necessitate a “you are right” posture.

    You wrote:

    “So when you say that you do not share the same definition, are you referring to “submission to the RCC,” or are you referring to “submission?””

    In this discussion, I am referring to “submission” in all its forms.

    You wrote:

    “How do you view responsibility with respect to the teaching of the Bible? Is it not one of “submission?” And is it not a submission of an entirely different character than the “submission” that you offer to earthly/human authorities? And is it not different than the “submission” that wives are expected to offer their husbands? My guess is that you would describe your responsibility with respect to the Bible’s teaching as one of submission to it in a sense entirely similar to what the Catholic offers the teaching of the Church, and that you would distinguish between this submission and the other sorts of submission I mention in this paragraph.
”

    You are correct, that I would define submission to the Bible as a different type of submission than the other forms. However, you would know that as a Protestant I believe that the Scriptures alone are infallible and therefore worthy of such absolute submission.

    You wrote:

    “If my guess is correct, then it seems that the likely difference has little if anything to do with submission as such, but rather with whether such submission is to be offered to the Catholic Church or not.”

    This is also a point of difference and vital but it has nothing to do with my refutation outlined in the point to David Meyer per se. (now deleted from his blog!)

    You wrote:

    “If you think that is a fair summary, then we can set this matter of submission aside as a secondary issue: secondary in the sense that the more relevant question is not the nature of submission, but whether the Catholic Church merits the submission she claims. It appears that you substantially agree with this from what you say in the balance of your first paragraph, so I’m content to set this aside at this time.”

    I will if you concede the point that Protestant submission to Church teaching is not always “faux” as you alleged. I think you should in all honesty if there is a point in continuing the discussion unless you want to qualify your statements to refer to submission in the RC sense in which case the point you make is obvious because I do not submit to my Church leadership in the same way that you submit to yours. However, that reality does nothing to refute my original objection to David Meyer’s “faux” generalization and your support for his view.

    Soli Deo Gloria,

    Zoltan

  14. aquinasetc says:

    Zoltan,

    You wrote:

    I will do so if you concede that a Protestant is and can be in submission to the elders of his Church without saying “you are right and I must be wrong” and my example of Robert Rayburn’s submission to his presbytery over the paedo-communion issue is a perfect example of that.

    This is a perfect example of why understanding terms is vital, and why my adumbration of the Catholic view was important for our conversation. Have Mr. Rayburn’s personal views on the subject changed? It appears that they have not, based upon what a few minutes’ worth of searching turned up. The PCA doesn’t permit anyone (including children) to participate in the Lord’s Supper apart from a credible profession of faith; Rayburn appears to still believe that this is an error. His “submission” seems to consist in pushing the envelope: that is, it appears that he pushes for such professions from children as early as possible, which may be compliance with the letter of the PCA law, but cannot reasonably be described as obeying its spirit.

    So the situation for Mr. Rayburn appears to be along these lines: “I believe that the Bible teaches that children of believers may partake of the Lord’s Supper regardless of whether they have made a credible profession of faith. The PCA says that everyone must make a credible profession of faith prior to doing so. The PCA is mistaken on this point.”

    But this leaves the state of things precisely in the condition that I have been criticizing, and it is precisely this that constitutes the failure to submit that David rightly identified. When it comes to that “rubber hits the road” question, Rayburn—like all Protestants—reserves final judgment as to what the truth is to himself. For this reason David was completely correct when he described Protestant “submission” as faux submission.

    Consequently I do not think that Rayburn represents a valid counter-example that would undermine what David said in his original post; rather, he is an example of the problem.

    You wrote:

    So let us look to the dictionary which is “mostly” sufficient.

    It appears that you may have misunderstood that post. The specific purpose of the word “mostly” in the title is to highlight the fact that appeal to the dictionary is not always sufficient. That’s why I said, in the very last line of the post, “At the very least we shouldn’t be surprised to find that we sometimes need to define our terms.” And this is exactly why I deemed it necessary to offer the exact definition of submission in view in my argument by appealing to the CCC.

    Furthermore, it seems from what you wrote that agree that there are different types of submission. You wrote:

    You are correct, that I would define submission to the Bible as a different type of submission than the other forms. However, you would know that as a Protestant I believe that the Scriptures alone are infallible and therefore worthy of such absolute submission.

    Yes, I know that :-) In my opinion we are close to the very root of the matter here. And it appears you agree, since you wrote:

    This is also a point of difference and vital but it has nothing to do with my refutation outlined in the point to David Meyer per se. (now deleted from his blog!)

    If you’re referring to your comment from June 27, it’s not deleted; it’s here. That post of his merely rolled off the front page. It does not appear to me that any comments have been deleted from that post, but if you’re referring to some other comment of yours, maybe I have overlooked it.

    I disagree with your claim that this particular topic—whether Scripture alone is infallible, or whether the Catholic Church exercises infallibility in the way that she describes, alongside Scripture’s infallibility—has nothing to do with your argument with David’s post. It seems clear that David has accepted the Catholic viewpoint on the topic, and that it informs his description of Protestant submission as “faux submission.” Consequently it appears that if you do not take this fact into consideration in your argument, you will not be arguing against his actual position, and may be constructing a straw man.

    Fred

  15. Zoltan says:

    Fred,

    You wrote:

    “This is a perfect example of why understanding terms is vital, and why my adumbration of the Catholic view was important for our conversation. Have Mr. Rayburn’s personal views on the subject changed? It appears that they have not, based upon what a few minutes’ worth of searching turned up. The PCA doesn’t permit anyone (including children) to participate in the Lord’s Supper apart from a credible profession of faith; Rayburn appears to still believe that this is an error. His “submission” seems to consist in pushing the envelope: that is, it appears that he pushes for such professions from children as early as possible, which may be compliance with the letter of the PCA law, but cannot reasonably be described as obeying its spirit.”

    Your comment that he “cannot reasonably be described as obeying its spirit” is based on what? Your private judgement? Do you have a record of an official PCA ruling that what Rayburn has since done goes against the “spirit” of the ruling. How did you determine this?

    You wrote:

    “So the situation for Mr. Rayburn appears to be along these lines: “I believe that the Bible teaches that children of believers may partake of the Lord’s Supper regardless of whether they have made a credible profession of faith. The PCA says that everyone must make a credible profession of faith prior to doing so. The PCA is mistaken on this point.””

    Yes, Rayburn believes that the PCA is mistaken on this but he is submitting to their ruling in practice. Furthermore, it is my understanding (and I know people who attend his church) that he is not preaching against the ruling to stir up strife. That is also submission.

    You wrote:

    “But this leaves the state of things precisely in the condition that I have been criticizing, and it is precisely this that constitutes the failure to submit that David rightly identified. When it comes to that “rubber hits the road” question, Rayburn—like all Protestants—reserves final judgment as to what the truth is to himself. For this reason David was completely correct when he described Protestant “submission” as faux submission.”
    This is ONLY faux in the RC definition of submission Fred as I have demonstrated. You keep side-stepping this question – is my wife only submitting to me by saying “you are right and I am wrong”? Is it not still submission if she disagrees but nevertheless tells our children “do as your father has said”? David himself used the marriage analogy in his post so I do not see how you can accuse me of constructing a strawman here.

    You wrote:

    “It appears that you may have misunderstood that post. The specific purpose of the word “mostly” in the title is to highlight the fact that appeal to the dictionary is not alwayssufficient. That’s why I said, in the very last line of the post, “At the very least we shouldn’t be surprised to find that we sometimes need to define our terms.” And this is exactly why I deemed it necessary to offer the exact definition of submission in view in my argument by appealing to the CCC.”

    I realized what you meant by “mostly” but it seems you are missing my position here. Let me illustrate it clearly. I do not share the CCC definition of submission and there are other definitions as I argued.

    You wrote:

    “I disagree with your claim that this particular topic—whether Scripture alone is infallible, or whether the Catholic Church exercises infallibility in the way that she describes, alongside Scripture’s infallibility—has nothing to do with your argument with David’s post. It seems clear that David has accepted the Catholic viewpoint on the topic, and that it informs his description of Protestant submission as “faux submission.””

    Of course, since David has accepted the RC viewpoint of submission then he views Protestant submission as faux by that standard but this is not the point I was making to counter him. Neither he nor you qualified your statements to mean that you were defining submission in an exclusively RC way. I also pointed out to David quite clearly where I did not think he should part from his elders’ ruling over the paedo-communion issue despite his absolutist language describing all Protestants in the terms he did.

    Zoltan

  16. aquinasetc says:

    Zoltan,

    You wrote:

    Your comment that he “cannot reasonably be described as obeying its spirit” is based on what? Your private judgement? Do you have a record of an official PCA ruling that what Rayburn has since done goes against the “spirit” of the ruling. How did you determine this?

    Of course it’s my private judgment. :-) Does that ipso facto invalidate it? It is my opinion based upon what he says himself:

    We do not practice paedocommunion here at Faith Presbyterian.  We get as close to it as we can, the rules of our church being what they are, but a profession of faith is still required in the PCA for participation at the Lord’s Table.  So, we take professions of faith much sooner than used to be the norm; and, happily, many, many other PCA churches are doing the same.  And that is alright.  If it takes some years, as it will, to convince the church that the practice of many centuries is in error, so be it.  Our little children, having come to the table at five years of age or so, will not remember a time when they did not come, of a Lord’s Day, to eat the bread and drink the wine that Jesus Christ their Savior has provided for them by his body and blood.  And in its own mysterious way, that Supper will, by the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, do its work in nourishing their faith in Jesus Christ. [Emphasis added]

    People who openly confess their opposition to a rule, and who then “get as close … as [they] can” to doing what they really want without actually violating the rule, are not, in my opinion, zealous observers of the spirit of that rule. Your mileage may vary.

    You wrote:

    Yes, Rayburn believes that the PCA is mistaken on this but he is submitting to their ruling in practice. Furthermore, it is my understanding (and I know people who attend his church) that he is not preaching against the ruling to stir up strife. That is also submission.

    It is not the sort of submission that motivated David’s remarks, and it’s not the sort of submission that motivated my defense of his remarks. If you insist otherwise, you are propping up a straw man.

    You wrote:

    This is ONLY faux in the RC definition of submission Fred as I have demonstrated.

    Considering that it is precisely the Catholic definition that informed David’s argument and mine, what relevance is there in any other definition in this discussion?

    You wrote:

    David himself used the marriage analogy in his post so I do not see how you can accuse me of constructing a strawman here.

    I can do so because it is clear that David, a catechumen at the very most at this stage, had in mind the Catholic view of submission regardless of his choice of analogies. We can see that, for instance, in how he concludes the paragraph in which he used the marriage analogy:

    But if inside her heart she is ready to split at the first sign of disagreement, she in no way is submitting to him. Apply this wife/husband scenario to church/Christ, and you can see where my mind is on this issue.

    Furthermore, I can do so because you yourself have conceded that he had the Catholic view of submission in mind.

    You wrote:

    I do not share the CCC definition of submission and there are other definitions as I argued.

    Yes. I get that. Other definitions than the Catholic one are not relevant in the context of this discussion, because they are not relevant to what David meant in his blog post, and you have conceded this yourself.

    You wrote:

    Of course, since David has accepted the RC viewpoint of submission then he views Protestant submission as faux by that standard but this is not the point I was making to counter him. Neither he nor you qualified your statements to mean that you were defining submission in an exclusively RC way. I also pointed out to David quite clearly where I did not think he should part from his elders’ ruling over the paedo-communion issue despite his absolutist language describing all Protestants in the terms he did.

    See my previous paragraph or two. You are not going to successfully counter his argument as to why he is leaving the PCA for the Catholic Church by proposing a definition of submission that he did not have in mind. Secondly, I most certainly did specify what I meant by submission, in comment #10 (I will concede that it would have been better for me to have done so earlier). But I’m not really sure how this is relevant, since you concede that “David has accepted the RC viewpoint of submission,” and that consequently “he views Protestant submission as faux by that standard.” Are you saying here that you did not realize at the time that this is the standard implicit in what he said? If so, then I guess the discussion is over: you understand now where he was coming from, and his point was consistent with his views. If, on the other hand, you wish to argue the validity of that viewpoint that now informs his views, then that would be something else entirely. But you seem not to have had that in mind.

    Thirdly, he didn’t bring up paedo-communion in his blog post, which was the letter he sent to his session. If he didn’t bring it up with them, I think it’s safe to conclude that it wasn’t a significant issue in his decision.

    Fred

  17. Fred we are arguing in circles it seems. Who was David Meyer writing to? His letter was written to GSPCPCA. He was writing to Protestants. Does it make sense that without qualification he would write about submission in a purely RCC sense when speaking about “all” Protestant submission as faux? I am sorry but that is nonsensical as your posting about the importance of definitions illustrated. Either we need to define terms immediately or a broader definition has to be assumed especially when the target audience would likely not have a clue about what the CCC defines as submission. Given this broader definition, my submission to the Church is not faux.

    As for Rayburn, the fact that you make a personal judgement does not make it incorrect ipso facto. However in this case it is most certainly nothing more than your mere opinion because the body that ruled against Rayburn’s view on Paedo-communion have clearly made no move to discipline him over his church’s practice. So my question to you still stands – by what authority do you rule that he is violating the spirit of the decision? How do you know the spirit of the ruling or is this based on your assumptions of what a “credible profession” of faith is?

    There is certainly latitude in RC dogma and I am sure you are aware of it. If your church ruled that a group or order were considered in full communion, you would accept that regardless of whether or not their practice seemed fringe to you. Why do you not extend that same grace to Protestants?

    Now as I explained before, I had discussion with David before at CtC and I am assuming some of what went on there and what he wrote there. My posting to his blog was not merely to demonstrate the falsity of his argument, but also to correct error in how he portrayed the Reformed faith and a Protestant view of submission in such absolute terms. We may proceed further with the first (since you expanded the discussion), after we establish the second point which is that it is possible and in fact practiced that Protestants submit to Church authority in a way you have failed to grasp.

    Soli Deo Gloria,

    Zoltan

  18. aquinasetc says:

    Zoltan,

    You wrote (in #17):

    We may proceed further with the first (since you expanded the discussion), after we establish the second point which is that it is possible and in fact practiced that Protestants submit to Church authority in a way you have failed to grasp.

    I will certainly not concede that they actually are submitting in any meaningful way.

    As soon as an issue arises over which agreeing to disagree is too onerous in his eyes, the Protestant will leave his congregation or denomination. That’s how it is, and that is how it has always been. It is the very hallmark of Protestantism. They insist that the Church (however so defined) can and does err, and that councils can and do err. Consequently when they find themselves in disagreement with their congregation or denomination, they do not say, “I must be mistaken.” Instead, they make a judgment as to whether the issue warrants separation or not. If they decide that it does not, then they stay in their current place, but they do not change their opinion about the issue. In such cases, they have at least implicitly decided that the issue in question is a matter of indifference. If, however, they decide that it does warrant separation, then they leave for some other congregation or denomination, and if it turns out that there are enough other folks who think the same way as he about the issue, then they sometimes form new denominations for themselves.

    I see no reason whatsoever to describe all that as submission. Sorry. I will certainly not grant what you ask.

    Fred

  19. Fred,

    Are you saying that it is official Protestant dogma that an individual may decide to “make a judgment as to whether the issue warrants separation or not. If they decide that it does not, then they stay in their current place, but they do not change their opinion about the issue. In such cases, they have at least implicitly decided that the issue in question is a matter of indifference. If, however, they decide that it does warrant separation, then they leave for some other congregation or denomination, and if it turns out that there are enough other folks who think the same way as he about the issue, then they sometimes form new denominations for themselves.”

    If so, please show me in a major Protestant confession of faith (eg: Westminster, Three Forms of Unity etc), where this is taught.

    If it is not actually taught, are you making this judgement as merely a practical observation?

    Zoltan

  20. Correction:

    I meant to ask in the last two paragraphs:

    “If so, please show me in a major Protestant confession of faith (eg: Westminster, Three Forms of Unity etc), where this is EXPLICITLY taught.

    If it is not actually taught, are you making this judgement as merely a practical observation or do you think it is implied or is it both? If it is implied, upon what do you think such an implication is based?”

    Zoltan

  21. aquinasetc says:

    Zoltan, you asked:

    Are you saying that it is official Protestant dogma…

    To speak of official Protestant dogma would be attempting a bit much, since the various Protestants bodies disagree among themselves. There again, since Protestants consider that all churches and councils can and do err, it would be impossible to speak of something that could be described as dogmatic per se for all Protestants. Hence I think that to speak of “official Protestant dogma” is impossible, and so the answer to your question is, “No, I am not.”

    You asked:

    If it is not actually taught, are you making this judgement as merely a practical observation or do you think it is implied or is it both? If it is implied, upon what do you think such an implication is based?”

    I did not say that I think it is not actually taught. To say that it is actually taught is not to say that it is “official Protestant dogma.”

    I think that it is an unavoidable implication of two or three things.

    1. I think that it is an unavoidable implication of the fact that they say the Church and councils can and do err.

    2. I think that it is an unavoidable implication of “sola scriptura.”

    3. I think that it is implicit in the approval given by (basically?) all Protestants to Luther’s “here I stand.” They could not endorse his action if they did not think that there are conditions under which splitting from the Church is warranted; they could not endorse his action if their attitude towards doctrinal differences with their denominations’ teachings was to say, “I must be mistaken.”

  22. Fred, 
(sorry for the delay):

    You seem to be engaging in self contradiction and double standards unless I am misunderstanding you. Here you decline to give any major Reformed confession that supports what you say (because there is not one) and you merely argue by implication. I asked you to take a major Protestant confession like the Westminster or the Three Forms of Unity but you obfuscate saying “it would be impossible to speak of something that could be described as dogmatic per se for all Protestants”. But that is not what I asked you to do. You also support your position repeatedly by appealing to history (fruit) when you wrote such things as:

    “My view is buttressed by the history of doctrinal division which began even with Protestantism’s founders…”

    Or,

    “The point is that division among Protestants isn’t just unfortunate (though of course it is). It is an inevitable consequence of the principle upon which the Reformation was founded….”

    In both of these statements, you are claiming support by looking at historical fruit borne in the Protestant movement. However, when I argued that looking at fruit was a way of discerning truth claims, you rejected that and wrote:

    “With regard to your third rule – whether it bears good fruit: Why should we accept this as a measure of whether a given opinion corresponds to revelation? What constitutes good fruit?”

    (Parenthetically, we should accept this measure because Jesus commanded it (Matt 7:16 to 20) and the Bible gives definition of what spiritual fruit is (Gal 5:22 – 23) and of what the blessings of God look like as in Deuteronomy or the Sermon on the Mount. Now just to be clear, I believe the bad fruit of division you allude to is to be ascribed to a tacit or overt adherence to solo scriptura and a lack of love rather than the tradition of sola scriptura properly understood for that is, as Mathison correctly argued in his book, what was in place in the early church and it functioned quite well then and will do so again Lord willing).

    Your self contradiction seems to go even further as you have repeatedly “rebutted” the Protestant position with such statements as:

    “the issue that must be faced is that Holy Spirit-guided Christians, of unimpeachable godliness and with basically the same exegetical faculties, disagree about subjects that are of undeniable theological importance—so important that it is inconceivable to describe them as adiophora (like the sacraments). They disagree about them not just in matters of emphasis, but fundamentally: whether baptism regenerates or not; whether Christ is present in the Eucharist or not; etc. How then can it be said (as Protestants do) that the Holy Spirit is guiding them? God does not lie. How can it be that on subjects that matter Protestants differ if the Holy Spirit is guiding them?”

    This whole argument is predicated on observation and apparent fruit that you claim you are able to discern while you repeatedly reject my points from history as mere “opinion”. Furthermore, you are making doctrinal unity and your restricted view of submission as the acid test for Holy Spirit activity in the Church. However, unity (though important) is not listed as the fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5:22 to 23 where we read of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. True unity will flow organically from such but it is not primary. Moreover, I would maintain that the “unity” achieved by RC dogma is fundamentally Islamic not Trinitarian at heart for authoritative submission in a very restricted sense is the basis for it. As I have already demonstrated, this notion of submission is not compatible with the idea of marriage at all which David Meyer used as an example in his post. If you think it is, then I say your wife would rightly label you a tyrant. You would have to treat her like a perpetual child not an equal, forcing her to mouth the words “I must be mistaken” each time you have a disagreement.

    You have also begged the deeper question of what qualifies as adiophora which I shall come to; but what constitutes something as adiophora or not cannot be merely based on what is conceivable to our mind, which I hope you will agree is not necessarily inconceivable to God, and I believe there are many examples from Church history to support that, which I shall also come to.

    With regard to Robert Rayburn, you have leveled private judgements against him and you even went so far as to assert that he was not obeying the “spirit” of the PCA ruling (how you can possibly know that still baffles me). When I pointed out that this was merely opinion and not supported by any official PCA ruling against him, you simply let it drop but you do not have a defense for that private judgement (except that it violates your RC principles which is a moot point in this context). Moreover, you have made a gross assumption when assessing the situation in the PCA with regard to paedo-communion which is that the ruling made was akin to a definitive pronouncement (“ex cathedra”) which of course it was not. A PCA ruling against paedo-communion now does not mean that they are anathematizing those who practice it, nor are they saying things could never change in that regard. A study of church history demonstrates that some strongly held doctrines (like the exclusive Latin mass), changed with time (even if it took over a millennia!).

    Your stance against Rayburn, seems to ignore Church history and even the current situation in the RCC. What are your thoughts about Hans Kung? Have you read his open letter to bishops? If not let me give you the link:

    http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=15996

    In that letter, he openly reproaches Benedict XVI for his support of such RCC doctrines like opposing birth control, declaring that Protestants are not members of the Church. Here is a quote:

    “Unconditional obedience is owed to God alone: Although at your episcopal consecration you had to take an oath of unconditional obedience to the pope, you know that unconditional obedience can never be paid to any human authority; it is due to God alone. For this reason, you should not feel impeded by your oath to speak the truth about the current crisis facing the church, your diocese and your country. Your model should be the apostle Paul, who dared to oppose Peter “to his face since he was manifestly in the wrong”! ( Galatians 2:11 ). Pressuring the Roman authorities in the spirit of Christian fraternity can be permissible and even necessary when they fail to live up to the spirit of the Gospel and its mission. The use of the vernacular in the liturgy, the changes in the regulations governing mixed marriages, the affirmation of tolerance, democracy and human rights, the opening up of an ecumenical approach, and the many other reforms of Vatican II were only achieved because of tenacious pressure from below.”

    Why is this man tolerated in your midst? He sounds like a practical Protestant. Should he not be excommunicated for so brazenly flouting RC doctrine even in an open letter to bishops? Think of his influence. Or what of the multiple RC politicians who take public stands against RC dogmas like abortion or homosexuality? In my native Canada, Paul Martin, a Roman Catholic Prime Minister, brought us homosexual marriage and remains in full communion. What do these fruits say about the fundamental problems with the RCC (he would have been excommunicated from our church!)? If you shrug this off or merely point to formal RC doctrine as not being compatible with this, then you are indeed simply using a double standard and what point is there to this discussion. You would not extend such grace to Protestants so this seems to me as arbitrary. If I see rotten fruit being borne openly or corporately within the Roman church, then, in accordance with your approach to Protestants, is it not affirmation of wrong doctrines which lead to such fruit by implication? How can a quotation from the RC catechism be sufficient to rebut me? To take an historical example, that Roman teaching even allowed for the official sale of indulgences, is sufficient enough evidence in my view that there is by implication something deeply wrong with your view of justification. Or what of a more current example. Rome teaches against abortion and birth control. However, if one scans the birth rates of such predominantly RC countries as Poland, Portugal, Spain, Austria and Italy, we see either nations full of eunuchs or the purported majority of RC members are “materially” separated from the RCC as all these nations actually have birth rates lower than the predominantly Protestant USA, Australia and UK. Therefore the teaching of the RCC on these issues must be deeply flawed not necessarily in the letter of the law, but in how this truth is taught and lived out – ie: incarnational truth.

    Now let us come back to Church history and see how your views of ecclesiology and adiophora hold up. You have argued that the Holy Spirit could not possibly be leading the Protestant churches because we disagree on “foundational” issues like the sacraments. I think we will arrive there over time Lord willing. However, let us look at RC Church polity and ecclesiology for comparison. Is this adiophora? If not, then how is it that the Holy Spirit took until the 19th century to formalize the doctrine of papal infallibility? Is it “conceivable” that such a necessary doctrine could take so long to formalize? Meanwhile, I have already illustrated that the Holy Spirit lead the early church without the modern conception of the papacy (that orthodoxy was achieved at Nicaea without papal decree is a case in point) and RC’s admit that the current understanding of the papacy developed over centuries. Let us also look at how certain and workable apostolic succession is at bringing unity and orthodoxy as an infallible system. Were there duly appointed bishops of apostolic succession who embraced heresy? Yes. Were there heretical church councils? Yes. Were such Church councils or bishops dealt with in the early church by edicts from Rome? No. Were they dealt with through more “organic” means employed by the Spirit? Yes (eg: heretical groups remained small or died off). Therefore, your absolutism in begging the constant epistemological question of how one is to know what is orthodox is not easily answered even from the early church perspective. It is far more organic than you realize or allow for and I think you must view church history with rose tinted spectacles.

    Does the notion of apostolic Church authority embraced by RC’s and EO’s ensure unity? No. In fact, you have not been able to resolve your differences for almost 1000 years and then you turn around and criticize Protestants for 500 years of division. Does the RCC and EO church share much in common? Yes. Protestant churches also share much in common but such commonality means nothing to you it seems, all you see is division. What of the division in apostolic succession? What of the divisiveness of Vatican I which basically placed an insurmountable wedge between RC’s, EO’s and Protestants with the decrees of papal infallibility and the Immaculate Conception of Mary (ie: not adiophora). This council was truly Roman but most definitely NOT catholic.

    Now let us come back to the sacraments. That Christ commanded us to be baptized and to partake of the Eucharist is not in question. Simple obedience to Christ in this with a pure heart is sufficient I would argue and this is practically true in the RCC as well, otherwise you engage in some kind of theological donatism whereby it is the actual understanding of the person receiving the sacrament that ultimately determines its validity or effect. However, God is the primary mover in the sacrament not man. I would venture there are large numbers of practicing RC’s worldwide who would not be able to elucidate the official RC dogma about the Eucharist and therefore would you maintain that they do not partake of it truly?

    What is in question among Christians is the how and why of the sacraments. This is not adiophora in a sense but it has profound implications on how we understand the Church and therefore God Himself. I think we fail to grasp the profundity of the issue if we think this can be simply sorted out quickly (ie: in early church history) or by papal decree. Thomas Aquinas was a man of his time like any theologian. If you think he wrote a definitive doctrine on the nature of the Eucharist, then I would argue you essentially think he figured out the nature of God. Nay, the Church will wrestle with the mystery of the Eucharist and baptism and all their implications until the second Advent because God’s nature is incomprehensible. EO’s rightly criticize the over precision of Rome which I think is very rational and attractive to people who pride themselves in intellectualizing and discourse. In fact, I find that many reformed men jump to Rome because they charge that Protestant doctrines are irrational to them or “inconceivable”. The final arbiter here of course then is the intellect. The biblical doctrine of God’s sovereignty (defended by Calvin) is regularly mocked by RC’s as “irrational”. Rather than leave such as a mystery (which David did in Psalm 139), you instead come up with a system whereby aspects of Scripture are tossed out or twisted to suit what makes sense in a Thomistic system of theology.

    So here is where things stand in my view. You have established that according to RC doctrine, I do not submit to my Church. I freely grant this for it is a non-issue but that is not the same as arguing that my submission is “faux”. What I have established is that there are other forms of submission which are evident in Reformed Churches which you fail to grasp and I have given repeated examples of such. I have also argued that RC doctrine and polity is fundamentally (not merely functionally) hierarchical. Since that is so, Jesus’ High Priestly prayer in John 17 is violated in your denomination as there is no fundamental hierarchy in the Trinity (which is monarchianism – a heresy). Jesus exhorts us to be one as He and the Father are One – that is NOT how the RCC operates and I would submit that the fruit of her teachings throughout history are there to buttress my views.

    Grace and Peace,

    Zoltan

    PS – It has taken me some time to complete this because my family and professional schedules are becoming increasingly busy. Moreover, I will soon be going on holiday for two weeks and depending on when you respond, I may not have time to respond back until later next month. Have a blessed summer.

    • aquinasetc says:

      Zoltan,

      You wrote (in #22):

      You seem to be engaging in self contradiction and double standards unless I am misunderstanding you. Here you decline to give any major Reformed confession that supports what you say (because there is not one) and you merely argue by implication. I asked you to take a major Protestant confession like the Westminster or the Three Forms of Unity but you obfuscate saying “it would be impossible to speak of something that could be described as dogmatic per se for all Protestants”. But that is not what I asked you to do.

      First off, we are obviously not on the same page concerning what you asked in #19. Here’s what you asked:

      Are you saying that it is official Protestant dogma that an individual may decide to [and here begins a quote from my #18 – F.] “make a judgment as to whether the issue warrants separation or not. If they decide that it does not, then they stay in their current place, but they do not change their opinion about the issue. In such cases, they have at least implicitly decided that the issue in question is a matter of indifference. If, however, they decide that it does warrant separation, then they leave for some other congregation or denomination, and if it turns out that there are enough other folks who think the same way as he about the issue, then they sometimes form new denominations for themselves.”

      [Emphasis added]

      My response to that was:

      To speak of official Protestant dogma would be attempting a bit much, since the various Protestants bodies disagree among themselves.

      [Emphasis added again]

      You asked about “official Protestant dogma;” I answered concerning “official Protestant dogma.” And because it is not possible to speak about “Protestant dogma” in any meaningful sense, as though there are dogmas officially and bindingly taught by all Protestants, as I wrote, I answered your question succinctly: “No, I am not” saying anything about “official Protestant dogma” because it is impossible to do so.

      You then offered this conditional followup question (in #20):

      If so, please show me in a major Protestant confession of faith (eg: Westminster, Three Forms of Unity etc), where this is EXPLICITLY taught.

      [Emphasis added again]

      Because I was not saying that it was “official Protestant dogma,” I was not bound by this followup question, and consequently I did not answer it.

      You then continued with another conditional question (in #20 again):

      If it is not actually taught, are you making this judgement as merely a practical observation or do you think it is implied or is it both? If it is implied, upon what do you think such an implication is based?

      [Emphasis added again]

      This is also not what I was saying, but since it was closer to the point, I responded to it:

      I did not say that I think it is not actually taught. To say that it is actually taught is not to say that it is “official Protestant dogma.”

      I followed this up with a further adumbration of what I was attempting to say, which you can read in #21.

      In short: You asked me a yes or no question, and offered two followup questions (one if my answer to the first question was “yes,” and another if my answer was “no”). My answer was certainly not “yes,” as we have seen. So your first followup did not apply. Your second question was somewhat closer, but required that I clarify my position, which I did.

      To conclude: I don’t know what you think I was supposed to do here that I didn’t do, based upon what you wrote. I most certainly did not obfuscate, as far as I can tell. I answered the questions I thought I was “supposed” to answer. You apparently wanted an answer to the first of your conditional questions in #20, but I was categorically not obliged by that since it was obviously asked of me only if I affirmed your first question (which I did not and do not).

      It is sufficiently difficult to carry on an occasional discussion, over weeks and weeks, without misunderstandings occurring on both sides. This is all the more true when the comments on both sides amount to veritable essays. I would appreciate it if you would stop attributing motives to me by charging me with obfuscating, or having double standards, or the like. It is contrary to charity. It does not give me much incentive to continue the conversation when I have to first defend myself against these unjust claims. If it is really your opinion that I am not being honest, then we would both be better served by investing our time elsewhere than in this conversation.

      Fred

  23. aquinasetc says:

    Let’s try to distill things a little bit.

    Here’s my argument, without a lot of frills.

    1. The Holy Spirit either guides Protestant interpretation of Scripture, or He doesn’t.
    2. If He doesn’t, then their interpretations of Scripture are mere opinion and as such do not have the force of binding truth.
    3. If the Holy Spirit guides their interpretation of Scripture, then their interpretations should never contradict each other when it comes to subjects that are not adiophora.
    4. Their interpretations of Scripture do contradict each other on subjects that are not adiophora.
    5. Therefore either the Holy Spirit does not guide their interpretations, or He contradicts Himself.
    6. The Holy Spirit cannot contradict Himself.
    7. Therefore the Holy Spirit does not guide their interpretations.
    8. Therefore their interpretations of Scripture are mere opinion, and as such do not have the force of binding truth.

    That’s not entirely perfect in form, maybe, but presumably you object to more than one of these points. Let’s start with the first with which you disagree, and see where we go from there. One at a time, please; maybe this way we have a hope of making some sort of progress without so many giant essays on both sides :-)

    One point of clarification: When I ask whether the Holy Spirit “guides Protestant interpretation of Scripture,” I have in mind the sort of unmediated illumination that Protestants generally (and Lutheran or Reformed types certainly) claim for themselves: they say that they do not need the guidance of any church in order to understand Scripture correctly because He guides them to understand it apart from any church. Besides, since (as the WCF says, and as Protestants generally agree) churches and councils “can and do err,” it cannot be possible (on Protestant terms) that the Holy Spirit would guide their interpretation of the Bible through churches or councils, because the Holy Spirit cannot err. Consequently if the Holy Spirit does guide their interpretation, it must be in an unmediated way.

    For what it’s worth, I believe that this argument gets at the root of what David Meyer wrote to his session. He lost all confidence in sola scriptura as a principle by which truth may be attained, and realized that submission to his session (and all Protestant submission, for that matter) could be summarized by this aphorism from Called to Communion: “If I submit only when I agree, the one to whom I submit is me.”

    Fred

  24. aquinasetc says:

    Zoltan,

    You claim that I have contradicted myself and/or that I am wielding a double standard with respect to your claim that “good fruit” is a proof that a proposed doctrine is true.

    Here’s why I think your proposed principle doesn’t work, in a couple counter-examples. First, the very principle of sola scriptura logically leads to doctrinal division, as I have argued. Yet you would no doubt say that it has borne “good fruit.” So who is to decide whether a proposed doctrine has produced “good fruit?” Secondly, the filioque: Orthodox and Catholics differ over this doctrine, which proved to be the occasion for schism. Catholics (and at least some Protestants, but apparently not all of them) deny that this means the dogma is wrong; Orthodox probably disagree.

    The point is that the goodness of such “fruit” is a matter of interpretation, and consequently cannot reasonably be said to help us in determining whether a given proposed doctrine is true or not. It is subjective, as I attempted to indicate in the (somewhat rhetorical) questions that I asked about it.

    I don’t think that there’s a double standard in play with respect to my use of history; certainly I do not intend one. In the first place, my argument (that sola scriptura’s logically inescapable consequence is doctrinal division—although it’s not merely my argument of course) should be judged on its merits apart from history; if it’s false, then historical appeals are irrelevant. If it is true, then it is a valid principle for explaining the doctrinal division among Protestants. I think that it is beyond argument that the divisions exist; the question is: why? If you are going to reject my argument, then you would need to offer some other explanation for the divisions.

  25. Fred,

    Before we continue with any hope of meaningful discussion, I do think it necessary to clarify a few things.

    You wrote:

    “I would appreciate it if you would stop attributing motives to me by charging me with obfuscating, or having double standards, or the like. It is contrary to charity.”

    Now I fail to see how this accusation against me bears any merit. In my lexicon, “obfuscation” means to evade or to make obscure and a “double standard” is a set of principles that applies differently and usually more rigorously to one group of people or circumstances than to another. Neither of these speak to motive per se and indeed cannot in the context for I do not know you and therefore cannot know your motives. I am not charging you with maliciously doing this but that is how I saw your argument. These are valid points to be made in discourse and if you are quick to take umbrage and imply that I am being uncharitable in pointing out what I believe is a fallacious argument, then perhaps it is better we not proceed further. Moreover, I prefaced my comment with the statement “unless I am misreading you”. In other words, I am allowing for the possibility that I may be mistaking your position. So who is making assumptions and looking at his brother in an uncharitable light here?

    Another point which needs to be made is that I view this as a discussion not a formal debate. In other words, I believe my follow up question clarified what I meant by “official Protestant dogma”. I apologize if that was not clear but allow me to rephrase the question then – “Are you saying that it is a formal Protestant dogma as taught in a major Reformed Confession like the Westminster or the Three Forms of Unity, that an individual may decide to “make a judgment as to whether the issue warrants separation or not. If they decide that it does not, then they stay in their current place, but they do not change their opinion about the issue. In such cases, they have at least implicitly decided that the issue in question is a matter of indifference. If, however, they decide that it does warrant separation, then they leave for some other congregation or denomination, and if it turns out that there are enough other folks who think the same way as he about the issue, then they sometimes form new denominations for themselves.” or is it merely implied. If it is only implied, upon what do you base such implications?

    The salient point I was making, however, is not contingent upon how this question is phrased at that point as far as I can tell unless you would demonstrate that and since it is not, you seem to be avoiding the main point I was making. These points stand – you have judged Protestant doctrines by implication ignoring the letter of doctrine and you have repeatedly begged the question of historical Protestant fruit to buttress your opinion while claiming that I cannot use fruit to assess truth claims. How is it “unjust” for me to point out this apparent double standard? Rest assured that when I make that observation, I impugn no malicious motive on your part here whatsoever (I can accept that you do this unintentionally). Moreover, I am not saying that arguing by implication or fruit is necessarily wrong, only that this should then be applied equally to both sides. Thus merely quoting the RC catechism to me to oppose what is evident in RC doctrine by implication cannot be sufficient to make your argument unless you extend such grace to Protestants.

    As for your next post perhaps we will come to that in detail eventually but I have responded below to each one in brief. However before we look at those, I think you should respond to my last post more comprehensively first as those are the current points on the table. Otherwise perhaps I am wasting time on this for you may simply decide that what I write constitutes “frills” without giving a specific reason and yes, that seems evasive.

    1) The Holy Spirit either guides Protestant interpretation of Scripture, or He doesn’t.
    Agreed!

    2) If He doesn’t, then their interpretations of Scripture are mere opinion and as such do not have the force of binding truth.

    Agreed in part. This does not necessarily apply to all our interpretations. For example, we Protestants have interpreted Scripture as supportive of the doctrine of the Trinity and hypostatic nature of Christ and we therefore give assent to the Nicene Creed and the definition of Chalcedon. In affirming these, does that make such creeds as nothing more than mere opinion or do they bear the historical force of authority which I think the classic doctrine of Sola scriptura is consistent with and defends?

    3) If the Holy Spirit guides their interpretation of Scripture, then their interpretations should never contradict each other when it comes to subjects that are not adiophora.

    Agreed. However, this begs the question of what is or is not adiophora. The One who ultimately defines this is God and the Church bears witness to it when she is faithful. The epistles to the Seven Churches in Revelation clearly show that churches may err in practice and doctrine, even listening to false prophets for a time. Jesus is far more gracious and long-suffering than us or RC dogma allows for as He does not say such are not Churches by definition but rather calls them to repentance. If they do not repent, He removes their lampstand from before Him.

    Moreover, this is point makes a false dichotomy demonstrable from Church history. The modern concept of the papacy cannot be deemed adiophora by you in any way. Moreover, RC apologists generally like to ask “how do you know” questions of any Protestant who rejects their view on dogma. This extends even to EO’s who reject papal authority or the Immaculate Conception of Mary. So here we have the ESSENTIAL doctrine of the papacy as an insurmountable wedge between RC and EO. It is not adiophora and yet these two “apostolic” traditions contradict each other. Therefore, according to your test, the HS cannot be guiding the EO’s and they cannot be a true church but this contradicts the official position of how Rome views the EO’s. Hence, I must conclude that there is an arbitrary standard being applied in some measure here. These matters are evidently not as clear cut as you make them and your line of questioning fails to make a proper and vital distinction in identifying the action of the HS.

    4) Their interpretations of Scripture do contradict each other on subjects that are not adiophora.

    Again begs question of what is adiophora without objective standard shared by RC, EO and Protestants. It also ignores the great degree of doctrines and creeds we share in common which could be argued as the basis for what is not adiophora.

    5) Therefore either the Holy Spirit does not guide their interpretations, or He contradicts Himself.

    Or, the HS guides in ways that our limited understanding cannot fully grasp and He does not entirely share our view of adiophora.

    6) The Holy Spirit cannot contradict Himself.

    Agreed.

    7) Therefore the Holy Spirit does not guide their interpretations.

    Not all interpretations so here you make an unwarranted generalization which is made from points of disagreement. To say He “does not guide” implies an absolute but I have already demonstrated where Protestants do affirm much of the early ecumenical creeds so did we merely “luck” into such interpretations or did the HS in fact reveal to us for example that God is Triune (a concept one cannot deduce by mere reason)? Moreover, Paul taught that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit (1Cor 12:3). Thus your absolute statement fails. For my part, trusting in Jesus’ promises told in John 10, I believe He is leading His sheep faithfully into all truth but He graciously takes into account where we are at before imparting His truth (cf: John 16:12 and 1 Cor 3:2) and that is influenced by time and geography for He knows our frame.

    8) Therefore their interpretations of Scripture are mere opinion, and as such do not have the force of binding truth.

    Such a conclusion fails based on the objections made above (#2, 3, 4, 5 and 7).

    Now as to your last post, you wrote:

    “First, the very principle of sola scriptura logically leads to doctrinal division, as I have argued. Yet you would no doubt say that it has borne “good fruit.” So who is to decide whether a proposed doctrine has produced “good fruit?”

    I would argue that sola Scriptura does not necessarily lead to doctrinal “division” per se but rather two other realities do – human sin and our finite nature. Given the Subject we are wrestling with ie: the very Being and Nature of God and His Church, it makes sense in some measure that we each see things differently for none has the mind of God. I actually find it incredible how much we do agree upon given that we “see in part and we prophesy in part”. However, our fallen human nature likes to make mountains out of mole hills and divide over issues which are not worthy of such division as the solo scriptura Christian does. But even within the “apostolic succession” traditions of Rome and EO, there is also division. There is also division within Rome especially when one considers the sedevacantists and the “Old Catholics”. It is also evident at the popular level as there are a multitude of communed RC’s who practice birth control or support abortion. Finally I would point out that the Roman tradition makes corporate error more likely since I reject the idea you ascribe to that the RCC cannot err in whatever she deems is essential dogma.

    As for the filioque, this controversy was the culmination of a divide that was already developing over centuries and merely the proverbial “straw” that broke the camel’s back. The bishop of Rome unilaterally revised an agreed upon ecumenical creed and the EO’s were rightfully chagrined. Now we probably agree theologically about the filioque. However, the historical point cannot be overlooked by our theological agreement. Here we have an example of the very issue you accuse Protestants of found in the “apostolic succession” tradition. We have an issue that is not adiophora and we have disagreement. Moreover, we have no mechanism of resolution unless the bishop of Rome were to bow to the protestations of the Eastern patriarchates and renounce the claims made at Vatican I as an example of arrogance or unless the EO patriarchates bow to Roman supremacy. It has been almost 1000 years without resolution.

    You wrote: “the goodness of such “fruit” is a matter of interpretation, and consequently cannot reasonably be said to help us in determining whether a given proposed doctrine is true or not”.

    If this is so, then the “badness” of doctrinal division you perceive in the Protestant world is equally nebulous. I do not share your view of the Church. I see the Church as branches from Christ who is the base (not emanating from a Roman base). The Scriptural support for this is great from the imagery of the lampstand in Revelation or a vine or a tree. Christ is the foundation or trunk. However, with your polity it necessitates a “vicar”. Let me emphasize what I mean here. With your constant “how do you know” questions, you are making the Pope an absolute necessity to solve the limitations we all face as finite beings in our epistemology about ultimate things and there is no other viable option in the strict either/or rationalism you have ascribed to. In other words, God essentially cannot do it otherwise (ie: He is not omnipotent) and if you postulate that He could but merely did not, the way you KNOW that He did not is purely based on the same test you have used to ratify your system, therefore it is circular. (ie: Christ’s Church should look like X. Rome looks like X. Therefore that is Christ’s Church. But how do you KNOW what X is apart from Rome?) Moreover, it is at the least heavily based on empiric observation (fruit) which you have said cannot help us in determining whether or not something is true. Here you beg the question. In other words, you are being subjective by making the acid test of how one identifies the Church as being in apparent unity (however artificial such unity actually is). That such a vital doctrine of the papacy which is absolutely necessary to ensure unity of Church doctrine and to protect her from error would take 19 centuries to formalize is “inconceivable”. Moreover, one is left wondering how the early church managed to make such doctrinal progress without the formal Roman doctrine.

    As for your last paragraph, there is much agreement there. I would advance that the reason such divisions exist is primarily due to human sin. If one actually cared to look, they would see great concordance amongst the different Protestant groups and indeed with RC’s and EO’s. However, I think you need to look at your own tradition more critically. If the sale of indulgences was condoned and even promoted by official RC teachers, then there must be a fundamental problem with how the RCC views justification. If you claim a good tree can bear such rotten fruit, I will leave you to the words of our Lord (as nebulous and “powerless” as they seem in this discussion?) – “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit” – Luke 6:43 or “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” – Matt 7:18. In your view it seems we cannot know what Christ meant by fruit at all here.

    Grace and Peace,

    Zoltan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories
Pages
Archives

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 162 other followers

%d bloggers like this: