Monday, December 08, 2008

Dialogue With a Baptist About Sola Scriptura, Keith Mathison's Fallacious Critiques of Catholic Ecclesiology, and Anti-Catholicism

From the Coming Home Network Forum. My cited words will be in green; Keith Mathison's in red. My Baptist friend's words will be in blue.

* * * * *

I am reading two books: The Shape of Sola Scriptura, by Keith Mathison, and Not By Scripture Alone, by Robert Sungenis [editor]. But I am out of town and have to return them to the library soon upon my arrival back home. I may have to continue my study after I get back. Anyone have any experience with either of these books?

The second one is excellent: probably the best recent one that critiques sola Scriptura from a Catholic perspective.

Mathison's book is an able defense of sola Scriptura, but his ideas (rest assured) can be soundly refuted. I took on the book (at least part of it) myself:

How Different (In Nature and Ultimate Effect) Are SolO Scriptura and SolA Scriptura? (+ Part II)

I have tons of stuff critiquing sola Scriptura and explaining the Catholic notions of authority on these web pages:

The Bible: Sola Scriptura

The Bible, Church, Tradition, & Canon

Recently, I did a very in-depth series of critiquing a lengthy defense of sola Scriptura by Protestant C. Michael Patton.

What are the marks of this anti-Catholic bias?

The belief that Catholicism is not a species of Christianity. The marks are statements against all of the supposedly "unbiblical" elements of Catholicism (especially Mariology and the papacy), and often an irrational railing against all things Catholic, complete with rhetoric about the "Whore of Babylon" and "Antichrist" and "traditions of men" and Catholics needing to be "saved" and all the rest.

Are there any examples of non-Catholics who are not anti-Catholics?

The vast majority of Protestants believe that Catholicism is a form of Christianity. Anti-Catholics are a tiny minority and fringe group.

Here are my recent observations about Mathison in two combox comments:

I also find it highly ironic and humorous that I was, in effect, accused of belittling Protestants and regarding them as "stupid" and of being anti-Protestant, and of turning off many Protestants forever, merely by arguing that sola Scriptura entails circular reasoning and self-defeating propositions.

Yet when we go to one of the very best defenses of sola Scriptura, entitled The Shape of Sola Scriptura, by Keith A. Mathison (which I have responded to in part), we find the following language, which clearly belittles both Catholics and Orthodox far more than I ever supposedly ridiculed Protestants or indicated that their ranks are massively populated by dumbbells and imbeciles because they accept sola Scriptura:

The mystical concept of Scripture, Church, and tradition advocated by the eastern Orthodox church does not fare any better. It results in numerous ambiguities and much circular reasoning.. . . In both cases the supreme Lordship of Christ the King is compromised as the Church assumes the place of supreme authority.

(p. 235)

That's not all he says, either:

Of course, Rome claims that this naturally impossible process has been possible because of the supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit. . . . Of course, this argument is circular . . . Once more, Rome finds herself arguing in a vicious logical circle.

(p. 212)

Once again, however, we encounter a circular argument . . .

(p. 213)

Her doctrine of ecumenical councils is simply self-defeating . . . Historically considered, the doctrine of papal infallibility is impossible to maintain.

(p. 219)

It is not logically possible, however, that both Unam Sanctam and Vatican II are correct.
(p. 221)

It simply cannot be maintained that the pope, or the Roman Catholic church, is infallible without ignoring or revising history . . . In other words, church history as seen through the eyes of Rome is fictional. It simply did not happen the way Rome claims it happened . . . Rome becomes a law unto herself.

(p. 223)

This is autonomy and a rejection of submission to Christ . . . Every biblical warning and prediction of false Christs, false apostles, and apostasy is a denial of the doctrine of infallibility.

(p. 224)

GravatarNot only is the doctrine of infallibility in direct contradiction with the express teaching of Scripture, it is disproven by history.

(p. 225)

* * *

I guess I am a bit confused about being anti-Catholic and non-Catholic. I would classify myself as the latter. I don't consciously have any bias against Rome. as far as the marks go.

- I would certainly consider Catholicism a species of Christianity. - I do not believe in the papacy or the veneration of Mary (not yet anyways :) ), and therefore would not hesitate to use it as an example of 'unBiblical doctrine.' but at the same time I do not hold that these beliefs are 'evil' just merely 'unBiblical' from a SS interpretive scheme. - I do not think Rome is the anti-Christ or the Whore of Babylon. Even as an EP [evangelical Protestant] this makes me sick. - I do wonder sometimes about the traditions of men thing (if i accepted Rome's traditions as of God then i would have to become a Catholic out of obedience... i do not see them as such yet). Would that make me an anti-Catholic by your definition?

Nope, not at all. It makes you an inquiring evangelical Christian who is being true to your own beliefs but wondering about some of them. I was almost exactly like you in these ways, as an evangelical.

is it just an antagonizing tone taken on these subjects that makes one an anti-Catholic or just merely holding to these points that makes one so.

For me and for most apologists, anti-Catholic means "one who thinks that Catholicism is not Christian." That's the basic definition, and note that it has nothing directly to do with attitudes, biases, prejudice, etc. Those things are often in fact associated with the belief but are not essential to the definition.

I am not starting an argument, just seeking for more clarity on my part.

I hope I've provided it! It's a very common question. Some folks never grasp the distinctions here, but I don't see what's so difficult about it.

and in your combox remarks (very helpful by the way) it seems you think that just by claiming a certain belief is circular, that does not necessarily make you anti-Protestant. You called it ironic (which it is) I would agree with that.

But it seems like many of Mathison's quotes that are taken as proof of his being anti-Catholic are simply stating his belief that the Church's arguments for Tradition and Scripture are circular (in his viewpoint). Would he be an anti-Catholic simply for claiming that this reasoning is circular?

I anticipated this reply (I think it is very perceptive of you to make it). No; I agree with you. It was the overall tenor of his remarks that led me to conclude that he was anti-Catholic. I might be wrong on that (I hope I am!) NOTE: later I concluded that I didn't have enough information to make this judgment, which is my present position.

Not accusing you of anything. As a matter of fact you are much more informed about this than I am. Just looking for clarification. if his anti-Catholicism is more sophisticated, as you said, then it would be harder and more difficult for someone (esp an EP like me) to pick up on it.

No! It's perfectly legitimate questions, and good ones, and I am happy to clarify. I love to get good, probing questions. It's probably my favorite part of this job.

* * *

Thanks for the lengthy reply. I am enjoying the dialogue very much.

I hope you don’t think I have been ignoring you this week. The Christmas season (and missing 10 days of work for a convention and Thanksgiving) have left me very busy. This is the first day I’ve had a chance to catch a breather.

No problem. We have no requirements here except being nice and following the rather minimal forum guidelines.

I will try to keep up with these posts over the coming weeks but I will honest, I will not be able to put the time into it that it deserves. I go out of town a week from this Thursday, I have tons of Christmas and end-of-the-year stuff to finish, and I will be on the road for 17 days, driving almost 2,000 miles, and seeing family and friends I haven’t seen for six months to a year! Very excited about that!!!

Everybody's busy. I've been working hard on planning a high school reunion in my spare time and trying to track down several hundred people who were in the musical groups, as I was. Very time-consuming. You're kind to be so considerate in this way, but you need not feel any pressure. We're here to try to assist you in working through the issues and providing some decent Catholic answers to honest questions coming from a devout Protestant perspective. We'll be here whenever you are.

But I will not be able to put in the time required for my "search" over the next month. I am not giving up, nor am I wimping out. I will still be hangin’ around the board here and there. It is kind of a break, and I think I need it. Even if it is just to rest up and clear my head enough to search better. I am so fatigued it is getting difficult to process the increible amounts of information and apologetic I am digesting.

I think it is good to take these things slowly. That is usually the advice any Catholic who converses with a potential convert will give. These are some of the most important things in life. We can't run through them quickly. That doesn't help anything and may even cause significant problems in many ways.

So with that here are few of my questions and comments on the last batch of posts I have received...

Great! Thanks!

Oh and Dave, I am not trying to get argumentative here or split hairs (... well maybe splitting hairs but not argumentative). You said in your definition of anti-Catholicism...

Clarification is fine. I let people know if I think they have crossed the line and violated the guidelines. You are nowhere near that; not to worry.

For me and for most apologists, anti-Catholic means "one who thinks that Catholicism is not Christian." That's the basic definition, and note that it has nothing directly to do with attitudes, biases, prejudice, etc. Those things are often in fact associated with the belief but are not essential to the definition.

and then later you said that:

It was the overall tenor of his remarks that led me to conclude that he was anti-Catholic. I might be wrong on that (I hope I am!

Here are my questions about these comments. What do you mean by 'tenor' if not “attitudes, biases, prejudices”?

I meant certain positions that critics of Catholicism often exhibit. These can be a manifestation of a strong bias (towards one notion over against another), which may or may not be connected to an attitude. I'm not a psychologist who deals with motives and attitudes; I am an apologist who deals with comparative theological ideas and doctrines. That's where the battle always ultimately takes place.

It just ‘seems’ like you said it was not an essential part of the definition but yet it was what led you to mentally define Mathison as such. Just curious what you meant by using the term “tenor,” that’s all. I’m sure you’ve got a reason.

I can comment more as we look at some of the specifics. But I did reconsider categorizing him as an anti-Catholic, because on reflection I think the proof was lacking.

I hope I've provided it! It's a very common question. Some folks never grasp the distinctions here, but I don't see what's so difficult about it.

I know it doesn't look difficult to you, but here is why it was for me. I asked for the marks of anti-Catholicism and you gave them to me. Some of the marks you gave apply to me (not believing in prayers/veneration to Mary or the authority of the papacy), but I do not “feel” I am an anti-Catholic. At least that is not my intention.

You're not. You are still misunderstanding my position a bit. The anti-Catholic (in the definition that apologists habitually use) is the person who says Catholicism is not Christian. You don't say that. You're not anti-Catholic. Period. End of sentence. Case closed. It doesn't mean merely "one who disagrees with various Catholic doctrines." All that means is "non-Catholic" or "Protestant" or something different from orthodox Catholic.

According to your definition, however, I am not one. I suppose it was the perceived differences in the marks of anti-Catholicism and the definition of anti-Catholicism that gave my mind the run around.

Yes; I did make that distinction. Some of the confusion, too, comes in the way that sociologists and historians often use the term "anti-Catholic." They mean things like the Know-Nothing movement in 19th-century America ("No Irish need apply"), or persecution and discrimination, or the stuff that goes on in Northern Ireland, or formerly in England for several hundred years, with people being hanged, drawn, and quartered for attending a Mass. That's not what I mean because my area is doctrine, not behavior. The term has more than one definition, as I have documented in my studies of how it is used.

That is not your fault, but perhaps you can now see why it was so difficult for me. By one set of criteria I was anti-Catholic and by the definition I was not. And I very much do not want to be anti-Catholic.

Mere disagreement was never any criteria. It was the specific way that Mathison argued that led me to be suspicious. But I went too far and caused some of the confusion myself. By not classifying him as anti-Catholic, my argument became more self-consistent and less confusing. :)

on to Mathison...

"the supreme Lordship of Christ the King is compromised as the Church assumes the place of supreme authority."

This is sheer nonsense. Neither Orthodox nor Catholic Christians are placing the Church above Christ. To do so would be blasphemy and diabolical. That's not what we believe. Would Mathison make the same charge against fellow Protestants? One tries to envision the person doing that. I doubt that he would say such a thing about Methodists or Lutherans. It is when Catholicism is put into an exclusive "false" or "evil" category, in a class by itself (or along with Orthodoxy, in this case) that Catholics strongly object.

That's the classic example of why I suspected what I did, because it is clearly an over the top comment. We don't have to question each others' obedience to God as our highest authority. Catholics don't put the Church above God anymore than Protestants put the Bible above God. We think God guides the Catholic Church (just as Protestants and Catholics both agree that God guided and inspired the Bible-writers; but infallibility is a far lesser gift than inspiration).

We must take the greatest pains to characterize each other accurately. It was an irresponsible statement, and I think he knows far better than that, as he is an educated man (a professor, I believe).

I can sympathize with Mathison here. Granted the Catholic Church DOES NOT teach this.

That's my point . . . if we don't teach it, then where does he get off saying it? On what basis? It is highly offensive for us to be characterized in this fashion.

I certainly learned that over the past few weeks, and it is very encouraging knowledge! This very idea seems unthinkable and even insulting to all the Catholics I have spoken with. It is very becoming of all of you.

In Mathison’s defense, he does not say that the Church teaches that. At least not here. If he says that somewhere else the Catholic Church does teach this he should be strung up by his shoes and beaten with a rubber hose.

But while the Church does not teach this, it could be that the Church becomes the supreme authority whether She chooses to be so or not. This is how it appears to many (most) EPs and even to me. EPs and Catholics all recognize the authority and excellence of Scripture, yet it seems to the EPs that the Church, as it’s interpreter, really holds the meaningful authority. The Scripture is a mean fightin' dog, but the Catholic Church holds the leash, keeping the dog, in a sense, in bondage.

It's a long, complex discussion. Mathison doesn't have a very good grasp of either Catholic or Orthodox ecclesiology. He proves that in this section. Take a look at it in the Google reader (pp. 233-235).

Here is his argument in a nutshell (an atrociously bad one, with many gratuitous premises unexamined):

1) Infallibility of the Church in Orthodoxy and Catholicism renders the Church a "law unto itself." (p. 233).

We reply that he is irrationally pitting the ultimate head of the body (God) against the body of Christ, the Church, which makes no sense. Our claim is not that we are cut off from God and autonomous, but rather, that we are specially guided by the Holy Spirit and protected from error. It's like a child learning to ride a bike. The parent may be right behind, preventing a fall a few times. The child may not even be aware that the parent is doing so, and so thinks he or she is "autonomous." But the parent prevented a fall. That is how God is in our doctrine of infallibility. It's the furthest thing from autonomous imaginable. God's in control of the whole thing.

2) Infallibility leads to the Church as the final authority. "This doctrine necessarily leads to the supremacy and autonomy of the Church . . ." (p. 234)

Again, Mathison (following Luther) has ditched the patristic notion of conciliar infallibility, as well as papal infallibility. But he clearly doesn't understand it (as understood by adherents of it). If the Catholic Church is placing its authority "above God," then the Church fathers en masse are doing the same, because they all appeal to Church and conciliar authority and apostolic succession (and the majority appeal to Rome and the papacy as well in matters of dispute). But he doesn't go after them; he only goes after Catholicism and Orthodoxy. This is the ludicrous double standard involved.

He is the sort of Protestant who will himself appeal to the fathers (he does in these very pages) without adequately understanding their view of tradition and apostolic succession. But believing in an infallible Church does not in any way, shape, or form, require some sort of autonomy from God. We're not the final authority: God is. We believe in faith that He guides His Church. Protestants appear to lack the faith to believe that God could or would do that, which is really the fundamental problem in this discussion: can God do that and would He do it, and did He do so? He certainly did in the Jerusalem Council, recorded in Acts 15, so why is it so unthinkable to hold that He continues to guide His Church? We're not orphans . . .

3) He then follows these already erroneous premises and contends (on p. 235) that "either the Church is God or the Church is autonomous". This is ridiculous. It doesn't follow at all! Why is it inconceivable that the Church is simply God's chosen instrument to preserve and promulgate His gospel truth and fullness of spiritual and theological truth? That doesn't require an either/or dichotomy, which is purely, classically a Protestant tendency: pitting things against each other necessarily. Now, one might quibble with the fact of that or with the identification of the Catholic Church headed by the pope in Rome as that biblical one true Church which is God's own: begun and protected by Him. That is one thing. But Mathison goes far beyond that: for him (typically of the Reformed approach), it is a wholly logical argument: one who believes in infallibility is inexorably led to deny the authority of God, which is sheer nonsense.

4) Then he extends his faulty logic even further: "One option is blasphemy of God, and the other option is rebellion against God."

Thus, all Catholics, according to Mathison, are blasphemers or rebels. There is no such thing as a consistent catholic who is truly following God, and neither blaspheming Him or rebelling against Him. Now, does that strike anyone as a fair judgment of fellow Christians? That to be true to themselves they must be blasphemers or rebels? This is why I suspected he was anti-Catholic (and he may still turn out to be, for all I know), because this is one way that the anti-Catholic argues: the Catholic option always leads to blasphemy or idolatry or paganism or Pelagianism: anything but legitimate Christianity. Mathison can't grasp that the Catholic position doesn't require any of that impiety and outrage.

5) This was the context of the original statement that I objected to ("the supreme Lordship of Christ the King is compromised as the Church assumes the place of supreme authority.").

I know that the same could be said of EPs. We place our interpretations above the Bible in a sense. Mathison doesn’t really bring that point up I don’t think.

Everyone has to interpret. This is the crux of the issue. The Bible can't completely interpret itself. So one either trusts himself or some ecclesiastical body. The Protestant ultimately trusts himself, with historical guides who are all as fallible as the individual is. The Catholic looks to the unbroken tradition of the Church, which he believes to be guided and protected by God. Take your choice. I think ours is far more biblical, and infinitely more in line with what the Church fathers taught. It just requires more faith, which comes only by grace. I can't create grace and faith in doing apologetics.

All I can do is remove illogical and factually incorrect objections and show that our view is neither unbiblical nor illogical nor unhistorical (Church fathers). Apologetics is a "negative" enterprise in that way. We remove roadblocks; we don't compel faith or create grace. That's God's job (thank God!). The reader then has more information to make an informed choice as to which system makes more sense.

This is the current dilemma I find myself in. It seems like one or both parties recognize the authority of Scripture and the Church, but it appears that they must emasculate one of the authorities.

No you don't. We reject the false dichotomy: which itself comes from faulty Protestant thinking. Why do I have to set the Bible against the Church: as if one is higher than the other? Protestants clearly place the Bible above the Church: because it alone is infallible, whereas the Church is not. We place the Bible above the Church, too, insofar as the Bible is positively inspired, whereas the Church is "negatively protected" from falling into error (infallibility). But we believe in the infallible Church too. The Church isn't above the Bible. Our belief is a "three-legged stool: "Bible-Tradition-Church.

I hope that term is not too graphic, but it conveys what I mean. I have never heard anyone else use it in this context, so if it is offensive to you there is only me to blame! But allow me to explain it..

It's not offensive; I just think it is false, because it is a false dichotomy based on false premises.

EPs accuse Catholics of ‘emasculating’ the authority of Scripture by it’s authority to interpret. Catholics accuse Eps of “emasculating’ the authority of the Church, because we give the Church no ‘teeth’ for authority. The individual always trumps the Church in the end in the EP way of things, or so the Catholic sees.

It's true! Did not Martin Luther himself prove that? He started the whole system. He felt perfectly "authorized" to disagree with 50 things in Church teaching (as I have documented), by 1520, even before he was excommunicated. Where did his authority come from? It came from nowhere; he had none. He simply claimed that he did: he claimed quasi-prophetic status. But he had that "right" to dissent in conscience, as a good Protestant. No Protestant can deny this: it is the Protestant system.

This is at least what I see now. I can make no comment on what other people see. It feels like a great trial and I do not know who to believe or how to find out the final answer. I want both authorities, but I want them both in the right way. And I do not know which way is right.

I think you can find everything you need in the Bible. The Bible points to an authoritative tradition and an authoritative Church (even to a papacy). It has apostolic succession; it has infallible councils. It has authoritative bishops. It's all in there. Catholicism is biblical: far more than any form of Protestantism. I'm not just making bald statements. I make all the arguments from Scripture. People can take 'em or leave' 'em, but I do make em'! And it is biblical argumentation.

"It is not logically possible, however, that both Unam Sanctam and Vatican II are correct."

This is an unsavory attitude I have often encountered, that assumes that the outside (anti-Catholic) observer knows more about Catholicism than Catholics themselves. The whole thing about "salvation outside the Church" has long been dealt with by Catholics. It's not a difficulty. Vatican II did not contradict previous Catholic doctrine. But it takes some work to understand this, and Mathison shows that he has not done that and is probably not willing to do so.

I hope I do not take that attitude (and always correct me if I do), I certainly know less about Catholicism than you all. That is why I am here to learn.

I believe you. I don't think Keith Mathison adequately understood the view he was critiquing: and that is the first responsibility and requirement of any good argument: knowing the position of the opponent as well or even better than the opponent does. This lack of understanding is quite habitual in Protestant critiques of Catholicism.

However, on another forum, I got caught in the middle of quite a few Catholics who were arguing (quite heatedly to) over EENS. I don’t know if that is the same as Unam Santam or not. But since I don’t know much I will concede this point.

So-called "traditionalist" Catholics argue about it. But they have no authority. Go by what the Church teaches. Don't listen to people with an ax to grind.

Mathison is more of a theologian, not an expert on Catholicism... he most certainly cannot be quoted as an expert on Catholicism. He may be out of his league here.

You said it . . . ;)

"It simply cannot be maintained that the pope, or the Roman Catholic church, is infallible without ignoring or revising history . . . In other words, church history as seen through the eyes of Rome is fictional. It simply did not happen the way Rome claims it happened . . . Rome becomes a law unto herself."

This is a charge of supposed gross dishonesty in historical matters, which is a classic underhanded tactic by critics of Catholicism.

Yeah, even as an EP this looks a little bit like the “Nuh-uh, he is the one who did it” defense offered by kids in elementary school. I have taken Church history in college/seminary on two occasions, but always from an EP perspective. I have always wondered “how can Catholics think that the Pope is infallible” what with the scandal of the Avignon Papacy, Crusades, Abuses of Indulgences, the Inquisition. It always looked foolish to believe such a thing.

It's another huge discussion. I'll pass for now, to stay on the topic of sola Scriptura. But this was my biggest hurdle, too, when I was inquiring. "Inquisition and Crusades" could almost have been my middle name back then: I brought them up so often, as supposedly a huge disproof of Catholicism and its infallibility: that I thought was self-evidently ridiculous and absurd.

But, now understanding that infallible and impeccable are not synonymous, it does not seem so far fetched.

That's a key distinction to make (that is often missed). The other thing is to understand that Protestantism has plenty of skeletons in its own closet, too, and is in no position -- believe me -- to judge Catholicism as singularly evil and wicked and intolerant. Again, I've done the research and have gathered the facts, and they are undeniable.

I'm not sure I buy it yet, but I will explore the history at another time, but Mathison does seem to be a bit out into left field here with that accusation. He may disagree, but to claim that others are just inventing lies out of thin air to arrive at their position is ‘flinging mud.’

Exactly. I don't see the necessity to accuse one's opponent of outright lying and dishonesty. It's an honest difference and should be approached as such on both sides.

"This is autonomy and a rejection of submission to Christ . . . Every biblical warning and prediction of false Christs, false apostles, and apostasy is a denial of the doctrine of infallibility."

Melodramatic attempt to equate papal infallibility (a required Catholic belief) with false Christs, etc. Clearly over the line, and language not befitting one Christian describing a Christian of another tradition.

Really?!?! I don't think Mathison is calling the Pope (or Catholics) false Christs, or false apostles or anything at all like that. That would just be name calling (which he might do elsewhere) but I just don't think that is what he is doing here.

I look at his reasoning like this: since there are false Christs and false Apostles (and they exist in the Church from Mathison’s viewpoint) then what the Church does cannot be infallible. I don't think he is calling the Pope a false Apostle, but I do think he is saying that the presence of such false Apostles and false Christs infect the whole of the Church and would disprove the Church's infallibility. Every Biblical warning of this (for Mathison) is a reminder of this fact. I understand his reasoning. Not that I am saying I agree (or disagree) with it.

I didn't mean to imply that he was calling the pope Antichrist or what not. When I used the word "equate" (probably not the best word to use there) I meant "on the same level as; the same amount of credibility or legitimacy as . . . " Again, in this section (p. 224), Mathison would have us believe that to be a Catholic at all, one is necessarily involved in "a rejection of submission to Christ -- to refuse to submit to Jesus Christ." I can imagine fewer things that are more insulting to a devout Christian of any sort than that. And it is completely unnecessary.

Mathison could have simply accepted the fact that Christians (all trying to follow our Lord Jesus Christ) have different ecclesiologies. Protestants themselves have several varieties within themselves, that they wrangle about (congregationalism, presbyterianism, episcopal, no clergy at all in some sects. . . ). But he can't do that: he has to demonize his opponent (and I am using this term loosely). He doesn't allow any honest disagreement with his own peculiarly Protestant ecclesiology. There are no honest choices to make. It's either "Protestantism or blasphemy or rebellion and rejection of Christ's authority." Yet, ironically, thoughtful, educated Protestants are very often offended when we imply in any way that Luther rebelled against the Church (which he clearly did).

However there is a part here that really bothers me. The part that bugs me the most is the first part about this being autonomy and rejection of submission to Christ. This is outrageous!!! That’s like saying obeying your parents is replacing submission to Christ, or abiding by your nation’s laws is a rejection of Christ’s Lordship. He has got to be kidding me. The EP Churches could (and should) be rejected as authorities based on his reasoning. Heck Mathison’s reasoning should be rejected based on Mathison’s reasoning.

Exactly. Now you're thinking just as I am, in objecting to his language and "arguments" here.

Sorry that one got me a bit fired up... Its just that this goes against his whole argument on giving the Church more authority (not infallible authority) in later chapters in his book. He makes a point of this. Even as an EP it appears that he sets up a Church, calls for it have more authority than it currently does, and then he does nothing to defend or define what that authority is. He also leaves the backdoor open to the individual to leave any Church. This is an example of what I meant by EPs emasculating Church authority. We respect it, but do not obey it. In a sense it has no real authority. Its authority is only a shadow.

He is fighting a straw man throughout when he treats Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiology. Sadly, I can't say that this is a rare thing when it comes to critiques of Catholicism. It's as common as dust.

Secondly, this notion and many others are presented only implicitly or in kernel in the NT. They were more highly developed later on. All doctrines develop. Some do more than others, or at a faster rate than others, or more so in relation to what was initially presented in the NT, compared to other doctrines (such as, e.g., justification and salvation, where there is a ton of stuff in the NT). Development of doctrine is a huge doctrine that we can get into, if you like. It's just about my favorite topic in theology, and was key to my own conversion.

Being a former EP you would probably understand my objections to this.

Absolutely. They were my own. But I didn't understand development very well, myself, until it was adequately explained to me.

If it was not very much talked about a) it was probably not comparatively important

The doctrines of Mary and the papacy were certainly far less in mind for the NT writers than the gospel and the doctrine of Christ. This is precisely what we would expect. First things first. The NT is "Jesus-centered" or "Jesus-focused" or "Christocentric" above all else. It doesn't follow that Mariology and the papacy are nonexistent because they are not explicitly discussed in the NT.

and b) if the original authors did not make much of it, how are others, separated by centuries and millennia sometimes, to further develop something?

Because there is enough in the original documents to give us the fundamental aspects, which are then developed. All doctrines develop. That is what must be understood. Christology developed. Trinitarianism developed. Original sin and justification and sacramentalism developed. Angelology and eschatology (hell, Sheol, heaven) developed in the inter-testamental period. Etc., etc.

I understand that doctrine can and does develop sometimes (okay I am still personally working this out but I am very close to accepting this), but I do not see how this proves that these developments are infallible (I know, you did not say that).

One has to determine in a self-consistent way how to distinguish a true development from a false corruption. That was how the Church decided what was heretical and what wasn't, all through the centuries.

I understand the analogy of the tree that grows. But on a tree don't you also have to do some pruning once in awhile?

Yes, of course. Those are the corruptions and excesses.

Would your answer to my second objection be an appeal to the Spirit’s guidance of the Church and Church Tradition? Just curious.

To a large extent, yes. Arguments from development can be made on a mostly historical basis. But in the end everyone necessarily brings theological assumptions with them into the debate. It is religious faith, after all, that we are discussing, not merely philosophical theories.

There is very little, for example, about original sin in the Bible, yet almost all Protestants accept it. There is far less about that than there is about purgatory.

What!?!? No way! I mean, I’m not saying you’re an idiot or lying (I don't believe either), I’ve just never seen it myself. I couldn’t find a single reference (in a Protestant Bible) to purgatory if my life depended on it.

Why would you see that? You've never been taught to see any of it in the first place. I'm glad you considered my statement provocative. It was meant to be, just as the original statement from Cardinal Newman (where I got it) was meant to be. I found 25 arguments when I researched the question for my first book:

Biblical Evidence for Purgatory: 25 Bible Passages (from A Biblical Defense of Catholicism)

So I say “no way” not as in the sense that I know that you are wrong, but rather I say it because I would be shocked, amazed, and perhaps even a tad bit entertained to be proven wrong! I'm looking forward to this.

See the above paper! I think you're in for a lot of surprises.

I contend that there is nothing about sola Scriptura (yet Protestants have made it one of their pillars and their formal rule of faith). There is clearly nothing whatsoever in the Bible about the canon of the Bible (what its own books are). No one disagrees with that. So even Protestants believe things that are either not in the Bible at all, or only implicitly or in a few passages only. So they are not entirely consistent in their framework of sola Scriptura.

I am afraid I cannot see this to be true at the moment. I see some things about Sola Scriptura in the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:16 (I know you all must be sick of having this trudged out time and time again). It is not the “God-breathed” part that does it for me, but the fact that it is capable of equipping for every good work. It is not much but does show some of Sola Scriptura depending on the interpretation thereof.

Not really, but I'll leave that aside for the moment. I'll send you the Word version of my Biblical Defense of Catholicism for free. Read the Bible and Tradition chapter. I treat this passage.

The others for me are the Bereans (not as convincing for me as the next two),

Catholic apologist Steve Ray takes that argument apart.

the passage in Galatians 1:8-9,

But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.

Yes, of course. But Paul doesn't confine his apostolic gospel message to the words of Scripture. It is also oral proclamation, described as tradition. He is distinguishing between true Christian tradition and false, corrupt heresy, not between written authority and oral, let alone between the Church and the Bible. Those are simply assumptions brought to the text (eisegesis); not expressed in the text itself (which is classic fallacious sola Scriptura circular reasoning). Nothing here would establish the notion of "Scripture as the only infallible authority" in the least. It just ain't there!

In fact, Paul is referring to "preaching" rather than writing, so I fail to see how this can be seen as a proof that only the written NT is an infallible authority when Paul is referring to his own preaching; not even his writing. He can hardly be thought to be referring to Scripture. He probably didn't even think his little letter to the Galatians would wind up being regarded as Scripture.

and at the end of John where it says that these things are written that by believing, you may have life in His name.

John 20:31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.

Yes, great. The gospel saves. How does asserting that a particular piece of literature communicates the gospel for salvation have anything to do with the principle of sola Scriptura? It doesn't exclude the Church or tradition at all (or any Catholic distinctive). In fact, in the verse immediately preceding John refers to things Jesus did (which would surely include teaching) that he did not record:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;

I am sorry I have no references for you my internet is being RIDICULOUS at this moment and all of my Bibles are across an icy parking lot at Church (I know a great place for the “sole rule of faith” for the Protestant huh). You probably know what I am speaking of though and I do apologize for not having the references. I have been looking for time to post all week and now I don’t have what I need around me.

Frustrating, huh?! ;) S'ok; I have my online concordances to find stuff for ya!

That's fine. We're offering a friendly challenge.

This was about the development of doctrine. I am not sure what the challenge was specifically, but from what I read... I gotta admit I am coming to see this as possibly being True.

Just a general challenge to consider that the whole concept is an entirely biblical one, and legitimate.

It seems more possible of being true than its opposite. I will go back and reread it just to make sure I got it down pat before I come out and say I am totally convinced of it... But thus far I am close to being convinced and can think of no major objections to this idea.

Excellent. Thanks for the edifying discussion. I enjoyed it and hope I have been of some aid to you as you work through these issues.


tonya said...

This is a great dialog. I believe we are given Scripture to reveal to us what the Church already knows. :) When the Scriptures call for us to read, it is calling us to become enlightened by the Truth which always exists in Christ. We read to become enlightened to Truth that is eternal and cannot be bound. This is what is passed down by Tradition, not interpretation.

1 Timothy 4:13 (King James Version)

Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.

This is a perfect example of Scripture and Tradition working together.

~God Bless

Dave Armstrong said...

Thanks for an excellent comment, Tonya. :-)

Peter Porcellato said...


Peter Porcellato said...

Buliding on Tony'a comment:

I have been under the impression that when the bishops of the Church were evaluating what books were considered inspired, did they not, among other things, evaluate the truth of a particular book by comparing it to what they already taught. Is this the case?

Dave Armstrong said...

I believe so, yes.