Sunday, November 12, 2006

Dialogue on the Alleged "Perspicuous Apostolic Message" as a Proof of the Quasi-Protestantism of the Early Church (vs. James White & Eric Svendsen)

[James White's words will be in blue; Eric Svendsen's in green; another Protestant's in purple]

The following series of dialogues took place on James White's Sola Scriptura discussion list, from 21 May to 26 June 1996.

* * * * *

James White: 21 May 1996 (with my response, as throughout)

There would be no criticism if the Roman Catholic side was not using the argument "sola scriptura doesn't work because sola scriptura hasn't brought about monolithic theological agreement on all issues." Dave Armstrong has made that argument in posts here,

Maybe you have me confused with one of the other two Daves in the group, since, to my recollection, I have never made such an argument. What I said was that perspicuity fails as a thought-system because it presupposes possible (and actual) agreement among Protestants, at least on the so-called "central" issues, based on recourse to the Bible alone. This is clearly false, and a pipe-dream, as I showed in my paper on perspicuity (to my mind it has not been anywhere near answered). My point was, (paraphrasing): "what criteria of falsifiability will suffice to challenge the Protestant notion of perspicuity, given the fact of 24,000 sects?" In the opinion of Catholics, this sad state of affairs is more than enough to put the lie to perspicuity, as formulated by Luther, Calvin, and current-day evangelical scholars such as R.C. Sproul.

Now don't try to tell us that "this is not how perspicuity is defined," etc. I've heard it 1000 times if I've heard it once that Protestants agree on the central issues, and that this "fact" supposedly salvages perspicuity and sola Scriptura. But I can't find any Protestant willing to face this ridiculous division squarely. In this group, the only response to my paper has been what might be called the "partim-partim/Sedevacantist" tactic, which I contend is like comparing a mole hill to a mountain, in terms of relative quantitative discord. And that kind of "response" is what I have called "desperate," with no apology.

James White: 28 May 1996

I believe it is vitally important to believe in what the Apostles taught. Which, of course, is exactly why I cannot embrace the teachings of Rome. In fact, it is fidelity to the apostolic message that is the strongest argument against the innovations of Rome over time, Dave.

Why not boldly tell us, then, James, precisely what "the Apostles taught"? In particular, I am curious as to their teaching in those areas where Protestants can't bring themselves to agree with each other; for example:

    • 1.TULIP
    • 2. Baptism
    • 3. The Eucharist
    • 4. Church Government
    • 5. Regeneration
    • 6. Sanctification
    • 7. The Place of Tradition
    • 8. Women Clergy
    • 9. Divorce
    • 10. Feminism
    • 11. Abortion
    • 12. The Utility of Reason
    • 13. Natural Theology
    • 14. The Charismatic Gifts
    • 15. Alcohol
    • 16. Sabbatarianism
    • 17. Whether Catholics are Christians
    • 18. Civil Disobedience

I've heard recently that even John Stott and F.F. Bruce have questioned the existence of eternal hellfire. And they're supposed to be "evangelicals"?!

How can you have "fidelity" to an "apostolic message" if you can't even define what it is? And if you either don't know, or are reluctant to spell it out here, then you illustrate my point better than I could myself: either your case collapses due to internal inconsistency, or because of the chaos of Protestant sectarianism, which makes any such delineation of "orthodoxy" impossible according to your own first principles; or if theoretically possible, certainly unenforceable.

I think this is at least as compelling as the "infinite regress" scenario, with regard to infallibility, which would wipe out all authority and/or certainty, whether from a Protestant or Catholic (or Orthodox) perspective. After all, one must exercise some faith, somewhere along the line, as I think all here would agree. When Catholics accept infallibility of popes and councils, this is an implicit faith in our Lord, Whom we believe protects same from error.

Absent some response to this, Protestants are simply engaging in fantasy, pipe-dreams, and games, in violation of biblical, divine injunctions such as, ". . . teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matt 28:20) - not just the mythical "central," "primary," "essential" doctrines, and "who cares whether we agree on the peripherals." Get real (and biblical)! :-)

Eagerly awaiting your response (nothing fancy required, just a laundry list) to my - as of yet - unanswered challenge.

Sincerely in Christ and His Mystical Body,

Dave A.

Jame White: 30 May 1996

    Why not boldly tell us, then, James, precisely what "the Apostles taught"?

That's pretty easy, Dave. I have 27 books filled with their teaching. Where shall we start? I guess we could start with the apostolic teaching that we are justified by faith and so have peace with God (Romans 5:1). That's a wonderful thing to know, isn't it?

It certainly is. And we agree in large part. But when you guys corrupt the traditional understanding into sola fide, we must part ways. Why, though, if sola fide is true, did "scarcely anyone" teach it from Paul to Luther, according to Norman Geisler, in his latest book Roman Catholics and Evangelicals (p.502)? Very strange, and too bizarre and implausible for me.

The Apostles also taught that Jesus Christ was and is fully deity (Colossians 2:9), and that's really important, too!

Absolutely. But you guys got this doctrine from us, so big wow!

Are you saying that the Bible is insufficient to answer these questions? That God's Word is so unclear, so confused, so ambiguous, that these issues cannot be determined by a careful and honest examination of the Bible?

It's irrelevant what I think, because I'm asking you. But let's assume for the sake of argument that it is clear, sufficient, and perspicuous. Okay, now, please tell me what it teaches on these issues! Does anyone not understand my argumentation here? Is it that complicated? This is the essence of my whole argument in this vein. If we grant your perspicuity, then tell us these doctrines that are so clear. Yet you guys want to either run or cry foul when we hold you to your own principles!

Why not throw in the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and the person of the Holy Spirit, as most do when they decide to start going after the Bible?

We agree on these three doctrines, so they are irrelevant to the discussion. I'm asking for clarification on the issues which divide Protestants, for we regard this division as a disproof of perspicuity. No one's "going after the Bible." I for one have a whole wall full of 25+ Bible versions, and all sorts of Bible reference works. I don't need to defend my love for the Bible (nor does the Catholic Church, for that matter). I'm saying: be true to your own principles, and don't be ashamed of them. Either demonstrate this abstract, ethereal notion of perspicuity concretely and practically, or cease using it if it has no content, and if it is only useful as a content-less slogan to bash Catholics with.

People who call themselves Protestants disagree on every point above; people who call themselves Roman Catholics disagree on every point above, too. So what?

This is your typical evasion, which I severely critiqued in a related post. I don't care about "people who call themselves." One can only go by the official teachings of any given group. You don't go seek out a backslidden Mormon in a bar in Salt Lake City to determine the beliefs of Mormons! You go to Pearl of Great Price, Doctrines and Covenants, and The Book of Mormon. This is utterly obvious. Yet when it comes to us, you want to preserve your "argument from Catholic liberals," since it is apparently the only "reply" you have to a critique of your views. Is it a proper answer if an atheist, asked why he doesn't believe in God, says, "Well you theists can't agree whether God is a singular Being or a Trinity, so there!"? We are critiquing your position. Besides, we have already answered your tired objections on this point many times (myself at least five times, and David Palm, a few more). But you guys keep wanting to avoid my question as to the precise nature of this "apostolic message" to which you refer. Again, I'm just holding you to your own words. If you would rather admit that your own phrases have neither definition nor doctrinal or rational content, that would be one way (albeit not a very impressive one) out of your felt dilemma.

First, the apostolic message is far more narrow than you'd like to make it. The apostles did not address every single issue there is to address. They did not address the issue of genetic engineering, for example. Nor did they discuss nuclear energy. Does that make the Bible "insufficient"?

Another fruitless exercise in evasion: "if you don't have an answer, then hopelessly confuse the issue by introducing non sequiturs." This is no answer at all. Are you going to seriously maintain (with a straight face) that the Apostles (in the Bible) did not address issues on my list such as: baptism, the Eucharist, church government, regeneration, sanctification, tradition, or the spiritual gifts? How ridiculous! Why don't you select just five of this present list of items out of my entire list of 18 in which Protestants differ, and tell me what the Apostles taught, so I can know what you know?

Only if you make "sufficient" a standard that is absurd and beyond reason.

What's absurd? I'm simply asking you to define what you mean by "apostolic message." How is that at all "beyond reason"? Pure obfuscation . . .

Imparting exhaustive knowledge of all things is not one of the tasks of the Bible.

More obscurantism, designed to avoid (unsuccessfully) the horns of my dilemma.

I hope all on the list realize what is being said here. A person with the entire NT in his hand cannot know what the apostolic message was unless he likewise has Roman "tradition" alongside! Imagine it! Those poor Roman Christians. From about A.D. 55 until around A.D. 140 they could not have demonstrated fidelity to the apostolic message! Why not? Because they didn't have access to Roman Catholic tradition (there was no monarchial episcopate in Rome until the latter period, and hence no "Pope"). Does that make any sense? Of course not.

All the more reason for you to tell us what this mysterious "apostolic message" is. According to this curious illogic, one can "know" what the message is, without the Catholic Church, but they can't tell me what it is, what it consists of!

I am (hauntingly) reminded of my JW [Jehovah's Witnesses] friends who consistently point to the monolithic theology of the Watchtower Society as evidence of their "truthfulness."

Nice try. Here is a prime example of sophistry. This sort of "debate," as demonstrated here, is not worthy of the name, and is a mere exercise of obscurantism and mocking rather than rigorous logical dialogue. Note how, again, this has nothing to do with the discussion at hand. Rather than answer a simple question of mine, directly related to his own statement, he prefers to compare the Catholic Church to an Arian heresy (which happens to be my own area of expertise, by the way). Even so, if James will answer my question, I'll be happy to demonstrate how Catholicism is infinitely more credible than JW's.

    When Catholics accept infallibility of popes and councils, this is an implicit faith in our Lord, Whom we believe protects same from error.

I wish it were faith in Christ the Lord;

It is, James. Did you not read my last sentence? Perhaps, like John MacArthur, you would like to contend that us poor, ignorant Catholics worship a different Christ, too?

Christ is the way, truth, and life, and hence fidelity to Him would cause one to put truth and consistency in the forefront of the examination.

What does this have to do with anything? Consistency is primarily what I'm calling for, and I'm asking you what the truth is, but you don't want to tell me! There are delicious ironies here to savor!

Yet, any honest examination of councils and Popes demonstrates that they have often contradicted each other. But, the committed Roman Catholic finds a way around these contradictions, not because they are not really contradictions, but because of the pre-existing commitment to the Papacy and the related institutions.

Straying. What is this, a replay of the Diet of Worms or something? I was chided for entering in articles which were on the general subject, so how can I answer here broad swipes at my Church such as these?

I get the real feeling, Dave, that you well know that your questions have been and will be answered,

If they have, I've missed it. Please, somebody send me that post. If they "will" be answered, when, and by whom, I wonder? But I don't "know" one way or the other, despite your "real feeling."

but that isn't going to stop you from using such language in the future in another forum, to be sure.

No, you're right, not till I get an answer. Sure, the language was exaggerated, but such excesses result from the frustration of repeatedly not receiving a simple answer to a simple-enough question.

You may wish to say that you "know" "everything" Jesus taught His disciples. Do you really, Dave?

No. Do you wish to say this?

Are you prepared to defend the thesis that Jesus taught the disciples the Immaculate Conception, predicted the Bodily Assumption, and that Peter really did believe in Papal Infallibility? I challenge any Roman Catholic apologist on this list: you can't defend those doctrines from the Fathers. Those doctrines are not a part of the patristic literature. I'll be glad to demonstrate that.

Answer my question, and us Catholics will be glad to deal with yours, but I would say that it would be more profitable to do that in a whole 'nother discussion group, so as not to cloud the issues which will take a considerable amount of time to work through as it is.

[this list was supposed to be devoted to sola Scriptura and related issues of Tradition, after all, so the reader will note that I sought to stay on topic, while James wished to go all over the ballpark, in his evasions]

    Eagerly awaiting your response (nothing fancy required, just a laundry list) to my - as of yet - unanswered challenge,

What challenge is that, Dave?

Please read the first sentence above, after the introductory line. That explains it! You didn't know what I was asking for! Now that you know it, surely there is an answer, no? Just a list of the true apostolic teachings on baptism, etc. . . . Yours truly in Christ,

Orthoconservativocatholico, Jr.

Eric Svendsen: 30 May 1996

Dave A. wrote:

    But what of, say, contraception? Luther and Calvin thought it murder, and all Christians opposed it until 1930, but now it is a perfectly moral "choice" in the opinion of the vast majority of Protestant sects. Thus, "orthodoxy" changed, and on the flimsiest of grounds (faddism and moral compromise).

What year did contraception become a sin, Dave?

It never did "become" a sin, since sin is sin, in God's eyes. God is eternal; therefore contraception has been a sin for eternity (unless, as the Anglicans would have it, God - and hence Christianity - changed His mind in 1930).

    At this point, I'd accept ANY interpretation. Again, I reiterate: at least Luther and Calvin had the strength of their convictions to excommunicate other Protestants for dissidence, because they truly believed in their own brand of Christianity. There is something to be said for that.

So now, Dave, you would like us to have the courage of conviction to anathematize our brothers who disagree with us on all points of dogma. And once we do that, we will have earned your respect and praise for acting upon our conviction?!

I'm saying have the courage to take a stand. You're courageous enough to bash the Catholic Church with impunity, but won't even say that your fellow Protestants are wrong on something or other?! Your fathers Luther and Calvin did it; why not you? Or is it the case, rather, that God doesn't care about truth when it comes to baptism, the Eucharist, ecclesiology, etc.? Is Protestantism thus reduced to an Orwellian "some doctrines are more true than others"? Besides, you can disagree but still be brothers in Christ. I'm doing that in this group. My Church does it officially with regard both to the Orthodox and Protestantism. The two aren't mutually exclusive, you know.

I take it you finally see the force of my point that John 17 does not refer to doctrinal disagreement, but to oneness in love.

Guess again. I say it is primarily referring to love, but also secondarily to doctrine, because Scripture doesn't separate the two, but holds them in unity (no pun intended).

No Dave, I am not going to anathematize a brother in Christ for believing wrongly on the issue of baptism or the Lord's Supper. I will certainly disagree with him, and point out his error.

Maybe we're not that far apart after all, then. But you miss the fact that I was asking for James White's answer as to what the Apostles believed on my 18 points. The original context of my challenge was for James to define his own terms. His reluctance (and everyones') is heartening to me at least to the extent that Protestants are squeamish about their own disunity, chaos, and relativism, as evidenced by the fear of dealing with it straight-on in answering a friendly Catholic critic. One tries to avoid dilemmas that might possibly be fatal to one's position. Understandable. But I will not cease my probing, especially as long as you guys accuse or misunderstand my Church. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

It occurs to me that it is exceedingly strange for Protestants to relegate the Eucharist to relativism and relative insignificance, when our Lord (yes, ours, despite John MacArthur's insistence that I worship a different one) made it a point of division Himself. John 6:66 tells us of "many of his disciples" forsaking Him. Now, if the Eucharist were just minutiae on the grand scale of matters theological, why didn't Jesus beg and plead with these people to stay? If your view is correct, it seems reasonable that Jesus should then have said, "Hey, don't go: this isn't a matter which should divide us - we agree that I am God. Who cares about what happens in the central act of Christian worship!" And we know also that Jesus said "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (Jn 6:53). But that's "secondary," "non-essential"? I'm sorry, but I can't give my assent to such an incoherent and unbiblical viewpoint. Call me obtuse if you like.

And of course, Scripture intimately relates baptism with both repentance and salvation (for the latter, see e.g., Acts 2:38, 1 Pet 3:21, Mk 16:16, Rom 6:3-4, Acts 22:16, 1 Cor 6:11, Titus 3:5). But no matter, "us Protestants value a false, pick-and-choose unity rather than biblical truth." Or so it seems to this observer, one who has lived a committed Christian life in both worlds. Now I will give you a multiple choice test. Please mark an "x" in the appropriate boxes (Protestants can have more than one right answer, Catholics only one):



Belief in the Real Presence

Belief in the Eucharist

Belief in infant, regenerative baptism


Now, for your homework tonight, I'm asking you to explain why (if you differ from either the Bible, the Apostles, or the vast majority of Christians for 2000 years), your belief diverges from that of the others. In 500 words or less. Thank you. Protestants will be graded on a scale, so that most of them will get an "A" no matter what their answers are . . .

NOTE: I want all of you Protestants out there to take this test, not just Eric. You've ignored my questions long enough, and it is getting downright rude! [none answered]

But love covers over a multitute of sins, it does not quickly condemn (contra the historic practice of the Roman church).

What do you call Lutherans or Calvinists drowning and torturing Anabaptists - a quibble among family? How do you view the multitude of capital offenses for heresy in Protestant countries in the 16th and 17th centuries (is that "coercion"?). What about the thousands of "witches" who were put to death by Protestants (the Spanish Inquisition having condemned witch hunts as mass delusion)? Need I offer any more examples? But the wicked Catholic Church and its anathemas . . . How do we regard Protestants now (however one regards our views in days past when men still cared enough for religion to fight over it)? And how do many of you regard us (e.g., James White and Phillip Johnson, and you)? A bit hypocritical of you, wouldn't you say, Eric? You ought to spread your moral outrage around a little more - shall we say indiscriminately.

    Thus, you guys went from one extreme to the other: baptism once meant everything; now it means virtually nothing.

Gee, I wonder if the Catholic "old man" has its share of these? Let's see, at one time Catholics were killing and condemning to hell all Protestants who opposed Rome's authority, denying them salvation. Now, suddenly, we are "means of salvation."

Is this not a fine example of bigoted, foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Catholicism? "killing . . . all Protestants who opposed . . ."? We don't condemn anybody to hell, not even Luther. This is not what "anathema" means, any more than it was when Paul used it. The Catholic Church doesn't claim the authority to sentence people to hell. Last time I checked, that was God's sole prerogative.

    (how could it, since you are divided into five camps?). So your sinful divisions lead to compromise on doctrine.

Who has compromised doctrine? Not I.

Good, then please give me your list of my 18 points, since you're a good, "uncompromised" Protestant. That will be a wonderful start for the man on the street to ascertain apostolic and Christian truth. Real progress . . .

But if your suggestion is that I join the Catholic church for the sake of unity

We're working on that. Rome wasn't built in a day. :-)

- then, indeed, I would be compromising doctrine.

Certainly no more than you and yours are now! It'll be a giant step up!

There certainly is virtue in unity of belief.

Now that is a true statement, provided the beliefs are true, of course.

But what you don't seem to be grasping here is that it is no virtue to hold to uncompromised unity of belief if that belief is in error!

I agree 100%. Thus the question boils down to (as always): is what the Catholic Church teaches true or false? (and the same for Protestantism). But you (and James White) try to caricature my position as calling for a blind, absolute, clone-like unity (hence the Jehovah's Witnesses comparison). Of course not, as this is clearly lunacy. My whole point in critiquing Protestant disunity is that that is clearly, unarguably against the biblical injunctions to be unified, of "one mind," etc. Try as you may, neither you nor any Protestant can overcome the strength and validity of this objection to your position. That's why I asked someone "what would convince you that your view is wrong: 240,000 sects?" (rather than 24,000). What does it take? How absurd and chaotic must things become before you start to question your first principles?

As the old pop song goes,

"There, I've said it again."

James White: Early June 1996

    Why don't you select just five of this present list of items out of my entire list of 18 in which Protestants differ, and tell me what the Apostles taught, so I can know what you know?

Your argument won't get you anywhere, Dave (and your style is certainly not going to win you any points with the more serious of our readers, either).

Is that why no one is answering? My style? Maybe I'll try a boring, staid approach, then. :-(

You well know what the Bible teaches on these topics.

James, James! This is the whole point! We know, but you guys can't figure it out. Hence your reluctance to answer (I can think of no better reason). You claim busy-ness, which plagues us all, but you still have time to write this and evade my question again. A short answer to my question surely wouldn't put you out. Stop arguing with the irrational Orthodox [on the list] you'll create plenty of extra time for yourself. :-)

Problem is, you don't accept that.

How silly is this? I "don't accept" what the Bible teaches on these points, but you don't have the courtesy to explain to me just what it is that it teaches on them. Such a view is below contempt, and should cause you to blush with shame.

Instead, you accept another authority that tells you something different.

Sheer goofiness. Different than what? Again, if I don't have your answer, what do you expect me to believe? If this isn't "The Emperor's Clothes," I don't know what is.

Tell us all again, Dave: are you saying the Bible is insufficient to answer these questions? Are you saying we can't know what the Bible teaches about tradition, for example? That a serious exegesis of relevant texts can't provide us with any level of certainty or knowledge? Is that what you really want to say to this group, Dave?

Quadruple "NO" (that's NO NO NO NO). Now, how 'bout your equally forthright answer to me?

Anonymous Protestant on the List: 6 June 1996:

Or is there a consistent double standard being played here? It seems as long as there is disagreement among Protestants, then sola Scriptura is a failure, but if there is disagreement among Catholics, there are only dissenters. The same standard you apply against the Protestant is even more so applied to you...with a 4x4. Sorry Dave, I can only see your argument as valid as long as it does not apply to you. If it is true, then your own argument condemns you.

I respectfully disagree. This is one where we will have to just agree to disagree. You guys don't think my "perspicuity" argument applies to you, and us Catholics return the favor when you say liberals in our ranks cast doubt on our general position on authority/Tradition, etc. So what can you do? I've seen nothing to cause me to change my mind on this particular point thus far.

You place an infallible interpreter to explain an infallible authority (whichever you believe-partim-partim or material - I can never tell from one post to the next) and still end up with differing interpretations over what the infallible interpreter meant.

I stated that if one had a Bible on a desert isle, and that's all he had, sure, he could be saved. But I also said that some Church or authority will be ordinarily necessary, so that, in the final analysis it is a moot point. I believe that all Catholic doctrines can be found in Scripture, either explicitly or implicitly or indirectly. If that is material sufficiency, then I am in that camp. But if it means that somehow the Church and Tradition are thereby taken out of the picture as not intrinsically necessary to Christianity, then I must dissent, because I don't see that in Scripture (I believe sola Scriptura is self-defeating, in other words). Catholics regard Scripture as central, but not exclusive, with regard to authority and Tradition. Thus, to critique sola Scriptura does not at all imply a lessening of respect for the Bible, as has been implied in this group and elsewhere.

All in all, personally I see this "partim-partim" debate as boring and irrelevant (that's not to say that others can legitimately think differently). I think we need to determine what Tradition(s) were in fact believed by Christians through history, and whether these can be found to possess a scriptural basis, and I consider Church history as evidence of God's hand, working to sustain and protect His Church (however that is defined) from error. I approach these things (i.e., the sola Scriptura/Tradition debate) from an historical and pragmatic perspective (and of course, biblically, as do we all), rather than more philosophically. I'm all for philosophy, but since the nature of authority is a very practical matter, I think it is better to stick to a pragmatic method in this case.

    Now when James White says that Arminians are not true Protestants (and hence, by deduction from his own premises, not true Christians, either), who am I (or any inquirer) to believe, and why? What "Catechism" or "papal figure" would I appeal to in that case?

Karl Keating.

Ha ha ha. I meant Protestant figure, of course. In any event, we can determine what our Church teaches by looking in the Church's official documents. That's the point I was making.

James White: 8 June 1996

We all have our traditions. In point of fact, all of our traditions are fallible outside of Scripture. Those of us who recognize the fallibility of our traditions will test those traditions by Scripture. I know that's what I do, anyway. And, thankfully, the Scriptures are more than capable of providing the means of testing those traditions.

Yes, but since you guys can't agree with the interpretation of Scripture, of what practical use is an infallible Bible? If the interpretation is fallible and contradictory, then - practically speaking - the Bible in effect is no more infallible than its differing interpretations. But, if you're a Protestant, this is apparently of no consequence. Relativism is smuggled in under the aegis of private judgment and so-called "tolerance." This is all old news, but maybe if we repeat it enough times it will start sinking in.

But the simple fact of the matter is that the Catholic Church of 400 AD is not the Roman Catholic Church of 1996.

Correct. There is a 1596-year difference, and living bodies grow quite a bit in that great time-span. But this does not make them different organisms. The city of Jerusalem is a lot different now than in 400, but it is still Jerusalem, is it not? I'm a lot different than I was in 1966, but I'm still me! This aspect involves development of doctrine. One thing we know for sure: this "Catholic Church" of 400 (which was also very much centered at Rome) is certainly not organically connected to the current-day chaos of Protestant sectarianism.

James White: 12 June 1996

Is it really true that there are some on this list who believe that without outside "tradition" or revelation, that we cannot, in fact, demonstrate the deity of Jesus Christ?

Not likely, James. If you can find even one, I'll eat my (free) copy of The Fatal Flaw {one of James' anti-Catholic books}. That said, I would point out, nevertheless, that, e.g., proponents of the heresies of Monophysitism (i.e., that Christ had one Nature, not two) and Monothelitism (i.e., that Christ had one will, not two) in particular, argued from Scripture alone and thought that Rome and the other orthodox churches were adding traditions of men to Scripture. So, when you get down to fine points, there is indeed a need for some authoritative pronouncements, as Church history itself clearly and unarguably affirms. Or is it your position that the pronouncements of Nicaea, Constantinople I, Ephesus and Chalcedon on matters of the Trinity were altogether irrelevant and unnecessary?

Something may indeed be quite clear (which I maintain is the case for many, many doctrines - it is the premise of my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, for Pete's sake), but there will arise people who manage to distort it, and so a conciliar definition and clarification becomes necessary in a practical, very "human" sense.

Surely we've all tangled with a Witness or two over the years. Am I to understand it that in the final analysis those who deny sola scriptura ended such conversations with the anathema of the infallible interpreter? Was the final argument "It means this because the bishop of Rome says so?"

Of course not. The response would be (at least in my case), if any appeal to Tradition be made, rather: "All of the predominant Christian traditions for 2000 years have agreed that Jesus is the God-Man, whereas your belief originates from a late heresy called Arianism." Personally, for 15 years now I've followed in my own evangelism and apologetics a guideline from Paul: "be all things to all people." In this instance, your polemical caricature of how a Catholic would approach such a situation is absurd, and no one I know would ever use it. But historically speaking, yes, orthodoxy was - in the final analysis - determined by the Roman position, again and again, and again. I detail this in my brief history of early heresies in my chapter on the papacy, lest anyone doubt this, and many non-Catholic scholars such as Jaroslav Pelikan freely concur with this judgment.

We see the same dynamic, e.g., with regard to eastern schisms. There were five major ones prior to 1054 (over Arianism, St. John Chrysostom, the Acacian schism, Monothelitism, and Iconoclasm), and in every case, Rome was on the right side, according to today's Eastern Orthodoxy. Note that these are simple, unadorned facts of history - they leave little room for differing interpretation, but they sure cast doubt on the tendency of certain members of a Church with such a history declaring it the historical repository of "orthodoxy" over against the Catholic Church.

I recently put together a 66-page paper on trinitarian proofs, consisting virtually entirely of Bible passages (some commentary on the Greek), and one bow to Tradition: The Athanasian Creed (which I think everyone here would acknowledge). This is my approach. But on the other hand, when it comes to doctrines such as baptism, all of a sudden the Protestant must appeal to tradition, but not universal Christian Tradition (prior to 1517). Rather, he resorts to a mere denominational tradition. Thus James White must appeal to a late tradition of non-regenerative adult baptism, which originated 15 centuries after Christ. He freely admits (for once) that practically all the Fathers erred on this doctrine, whereas the Anabaptists and himself got it right. And so, accordingly, he goes to the Scripture and finds his "proof texts."

But even his master Calvin disagrees with him (about when baptism should occur), and also people in this group. So Calvin and Wesley and Luther have their proof texts which they believe contradict James White's. And so on and on it goes. Protestants have five camps on baptism. So instead of "Rome saying so," now it is because Calvin, or Zwingli, or James White "said so." Or, well, I almost forgot: "The Bible says so!" Given the sterling record of orthodoxy of Rome, I would say that such an appeal (if made at all) carries far more weight than the appeal to a single, self-proclaimed, self-anointed "reformer" such as John Calvin.

No offense intended, but in reality, it seems to me that when a convinced Roman Catholic encounters another system that, like Rome, claims special authority (like the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society), do we not here have an impasse?

Have you not read my extensive analysis of how these heresies and Rome are fundamentally different? Now granted you disagree with it, but that's different from foolish proclamations such as the above , which attempt to bamboozle people into thinking that I espouse a position which I in fact argued strenuously against in this very group. How quickly also you forget my quadruple "no" to your query recently, and my reply that I had produced 40 proofs for the Personhood of the Holy Spirit (everyone here is my witness), and that it was a "clear" doctrine in the Bible. But no matter: just blithely go on misrepresenting another's position.

In my recently-completed book I wrote the following in the Introduction (for all who are interested in my ACTUAL views, not second-rate distortions of them):

    The widespread existence of evangelical Protestant COMMENTARIES and various LEXICONS, BIBLE DICTIONARIES,CONCORDANCES, and so forth, for the use of laypeople, is based on a presupposition that individuals without formal theological education can arrive at conclusions on their own. THIS IS LARGELY WHAT I AM ATTEMPTING PRESENTLY. The only difference is that I am willing to MODIFY or RELINQUISH any conclusions of mine which turn out to be contrary to the clear teachings and dogmas of the Catholic Church, whereas the quintessential Protestant ULTIMATELY can stand on his own (like Luther), 'on the Bible,' against, if need be, the whole Tradition of the Christian Church. I formulate my conclusions based on the work of Church Councils, great Catholic scholars, Fathers, Doctors, and saints, just as the conscientious Protestant would consult the scholars and great pastors and theologians of his own persuasion.

The Roman Catholic, in the final analysis, says that John 20:28 says X because Rome says so (indeed, has Rome ever really said what John 20:28 means infallibly? I mean, Rome teaches the deity of Christ clearly enough, but what about the specific passages themselves?).

This is ludicrous. You assume falsely once again that because we believe Scripture does not function as a perspicuous authority apart from some human ecclesiastical authority, therefore every individual passage is an utter "mystery, riddle, and enigma" (to borrow from Churchill's description of Russia). Of course, this doesn't follow, and is another straw man - not very useful for the purposes of constructive dialogue. Besides, wouldn't your time be more profitably spent in rejoicing that we teach a doctrine of such paramount importance as the deity of Christ, instead of such minutiae?

The JW says John 20:28 can't say X, but must say Y, again, because Brooklyn says so. Both have ultimate commitments to ultimate authorities, and in the final analysis, how can any progress be made? For centuries the conflict was easily resolved: the heretics got burned, imprisoned, or banished. But, thankfully for many of us, that's not the case anymore.

The hidden false assumption here is that the Protestant has no such "ultimate authority." But of course he does, and must. It is either he himself, or some aspect of a denominational tradition, which contradicts other such traditions (some of which must necessarily be man-made whenever they're contradictory). Sorry, but I don't see how such a system is at all superior to ours. Keep it up with your references to persecution (along with Eric Svendsen) and I'll post my lengthy paper on "Protestant Intolerance and Persecution," which will surely provide a quick, shocking education for many, and cause yet more anti-Catholic bigotry to come out of the woodwork. I say such provocative statements are worthless in terms of promoting discussion, but they are emotionally volatile, so they are utilized for the purpose of obfuscation of whatever point is under discussion. If I ever put my paper in here, it will be for the purpose of fair play, after enduring the double standard of "inquisition polemics," as I call them, long enough. I never introduce the subject unless my Protestant brethren are relentless in their forays into this area.

Now, on the other hand, is it not part of the appeal of Rome to point to conversations such as this, and the struggle to refute the "heretics" like the JW's, and say, "See, you can only have arguments about probabilities with Protestantism. We give you final certainty through the Church." I think all Protestants need to recognize the draw this has for people.

So please tell me, James: was my conversion due to a sincerely-held, reasoned, faith-based, morally-influenced, historically-informed, biblically-justified conclusion (regardless of your obvious disagreement), or simply psychological and emotional, irrationalist, subjective criteria? And are not such speculations instances of "judging the heart?"

The scandal of the plowman is not universally attractive,

I'm happy to see you admit it is a scandal :-).

especially for those who have not lived under the oppression of a corrupt Church as those living at the time of the Reformation had.

Ah, yes. Of course, Luther's Saxony, Calvin's Geneva, Zwingli's Zurich, Knox's Scotland, and Henry VIII's England were Utopias, Shangri-La's, Eldorados, "Heavens-on-earth" (i.e., until one starts to read about the real ones, not the mythical fairylands that partisans create, and pastors promulgate). E.g., was Henry VIII guilty of "bloodthirsty power politics"? Of course not: that is a "feckless calumny." Anyone knows that. Trust me. Except for people like St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, merely two of the greatest scholars in Europe, both of whom succumbed to this merciless tyrant's butchery. And he is the Founder of a church!?!?

The draw of the "infallible fuzzies" is very, very strong, and we must be well aware of this reality in thinking about the reasons why individuals convert to Roman Catholicism (or any of the other systems that likewise offer such promises of infallible certitude).

Again, do you deny that my conversion (and that of the many other converts such as David Palm, James Akin, Scott Hahn, Gerry Matatics, R.J. Neuhaus, Howard, Muggeridge et al) is sincere and based on conviction and reflection? If so, how is this different from what Marxists, skeptics, atheists, various philosophers, etc. think of all Christian conversion? I have no problem granting sincerity and conviction to all here (after all, I once was an evanglical, and I fully remember my motivations and grounds for my beliefs). Some of us, James, think that certainty is an admirable goal in matters spiritual, moral, and theological. You despise Rome, we don't. We see it quite differently. Why must you stoop to crack psycho-babble-type "analysis" in order to explain our inexplicable odysseys?

The answer, of course, is not to come up with ways of offering what does not, in fact, exist. The answer lies in remaining true to the Word, explaining the issues clearly,

Theological certainty does not exist? So Christianity is indeed reduced to philosophy. That is a slap in God's face, as far as I'm concerned (although I'm sure you don't mean it in that way). The God I serve is able, through His Holy Spirit, to impart truth to us, as the Bible teaches. "True to the Word"? You seek to be, so do I (believe it or not), so does Orthodox Tradition. Now what do we do? "True to the Word," yet so many disagreements over that very Word of "truth." How do we resolve this dilemma? Throw up our hands in despair? Or admit that Catholics might be on to something?

and recognizing that in the final analysis, issues such as conversion to or from a position is primarily a spiritual matter. I can't stop someone from converting with all the arguments and facts in the world.

Yes, as I suspected. Conversion (i.e., if to Catholicism) is an irrational decision. So in my case, all my reading of Newman, Merton, Bouyer, Ratzinger, Gibbons, Howard, Luther, Calvin, Adam, Chesterton, etc. was all just "surface material," irrelevant to my final decision, which was in reality predetermined by an obsession with "smells and bells," a fondness for an infallible "crutch," a prior hatred of contraception, hero-worship of Catholic pro-life rescuers, an infatuation with statuary and idolatry, an absurd affection for genuflection, etc. ad infinitum? Right.

But, I'm still called upon to present those arguments and facts, trusting that the Lord's will be done.

And so are we. Let the better argument prevail.

May God our Father open all our eyes to our own blind spots. May the Lord who gave us eyes and minds cause us to use them in order to see and know all of His truth, in its magnificent fullness and glory. And may there be unity in His Body, whether or not the institutional ruptures remain, as in all likelihood, they will, until He comes again. Amen.

Eric Svendsen: 26 June 1996

    The obvious retort is: of what use is "one" written "tradition" when it produces doctrinal chaos? What is gained by that? It's as if you have one ruler, but everyone has different systems of measuring with it!

But, ironically, you have succinctly and, no doubt, inadvertently described the Roman system in your very last sentence. Admittedly then, the Roman system has just as much chaos as does Protestantism (but this theme is perhaps more appropriately covered further down the road).

Aaargghhhh! :-( (exercising much self-restraint). I merely make one mini-argument in reply: if this is true, how is it that people in this group assume without question that Catholics believe certain things: e.g. (just recently), a very high regard for apostolic Tradition, apostolic succession, the Immaculate Conception, Assumption, and Perpetual Virginity of Mary, infused justification, baptismal regeneration, an ex opere operato notion of sacramentalism, papal infallibility, papal supremacy, etc.? On the other hand, there is no identifiable Protestant "position" other than C.S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity," which takes in Catholic and Orthodox theology anyhow, and so is not even distinctively Protestant. About all that "orthodox" evangelical Protestants agree on is sola Scriptura and an agreement that Catholicism must be wrong (and even a strict sola Scriptura view is questionable among Anglicans and many Lutherans).

They were in conflict with what mom actually said, in spite of the leprechaun in big brothers pocket that interpreted moms words otherwise.

According to which tradition: the Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Reformed, Anabaptist, Church of Christ, independent pentecostal, non-denom, Baptist, Church of God, Mennonite, Quaker, United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Assembly of God, Copelandites, self-described "Bible Christian," or some other group of your choice, from among the multiple thousands, or simply your own "biblical" view?

If Paul teaches it directly from his mouth then, yes, that teaching is authoritative. If Paul verifies someone else who also teaches the same thing then, yes, that teaching is authoritative. But this is not to say that the oral tradition of that message is authoritative.

Do you positively assert that such a scenario is a priori impossible? If not, what would constitute adequate proof for you?

I teach communication skills to corporations for a living. One of the exercises I love to do to illustrate the ineffectiveness of a message that has gone through many hands is this: I whisper a sentence to one of the participants in the seminar, and then have that person whisper the same message to the person next to him, and that person in turn whispers the same message to the next person, and so on until the message has made its way around the room (approx. 30 people). Then I have the last person to receive the message stand and recite it - invariably to the roaring laughter of the rest of the class who cannot believe how much the sentence has changed in the process! (try it sometime). The simple fact is, we will botch up the message every time. That, my friends, is why God chose to commit the essential teachings to writing in the first place.

Yes, I've heard this. But using it to shore up sola Scriptura is a classic example of the fallacy behind Protestant presuppositional objections to Tradition: they assume that (Catholic) Tradition is merely human, and therefore subject to all the foibles of that weak vessel, whereas we assert that it is guided by the Holy Spirit and hand of God, in order to preserve it from error (by means of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church). You assert that God could produce an infallible Bible by means of fallible, sinful (mostly Jewish) men (such as David, Matthew, Peter & Paul), and confirmed in its parameters also by fallible, sinful (Jewish and Catholic) men, and translated by fallible, sinful (mostly Catholic) men, and preserved for 1500 years before Protestantism was born by fallible, sinful (mostly Catholic and therefore apostate, according to James White) men, too. We contend that God can and does likewise create and sustain an infallible Church and Tradition, which is not a whit less credible or plausible.

As I've stated many times, we are discussing Christianity (which requires faith and a belief in the supernatural, God's Providence, etc.), not epistemological philosophy. Ours is a faith position, but no more than yours (I would say less so). James argues like an atheist when he tries to pretend that our view is largely irrational blind "faith in Rome," whereas Protestantism is altogether scriptural, reasonable, and not requiring faith in any institution outside one's own radically individualistic, subjective, existential "certainty" (perhaps also, in his case, Calvin). One must examine premises, and their relative merits. That's why I like to dwell on the foundations of belief-systems, knowing that if they are found weak and crumbling, the superstructure resting upon them will necessarily collapse. The two pillars of Protestantism are sola Scriptura and sola fide. Like Samson, I pushed the two pillars down, and the house of Protestantism collapsed upon my head, killing me as a Protestant, but luckily, a coherent Christian alternative existed, so I was resurrected. :-)

Compiled on 12 August 2000, from 1996 discussion list dialogues.

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