Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15)
This exchange took place on Devin Rose's blog, in the combox of his review of my book, 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura. Phil Wood is a Mennonite, and sometimes calls himself an Anabaptist as well. His words will be in blue. This dialogue is posted with Phil's express permission.
* * *
* * *
Devin, as you know by now I’m no fan of Catholic/Protestant apologetic ping pong. I agree with your tack on this one for the first few steps, but part company half way through. It is quite right that Sola Scriptura is biblically untenable. I offer a loud ‘Amen’ to the role of the Church. Even a mainstream Conservative Evangelical scholar such as F.F. Bruce makes a cogent case for the importance of Tradition in ‘Scripture in Relation to Tradition and Reason’ (ed Dewery and Baukham, Scripture Tradition and Reason).
I’m curious how this is squared with the Jerusalem Council in Scripture (Acts 15)? Are you saying that this council was strictly a temporary (and henceforth merely optional) expedient, and that St. Paul preached its results as binding (Acts 16:4), but then as history goes on all that is kaput and we go to a strictly congregational model?
That makes no sense to me. There is also all the scriptural data about Petrine primacy that seems to presuppose an overarching authority of one “super-bishop” and leader of the Church, so to speak. I lay that evidence out most succinctly in my “50 New Testament Proofs for the Primacy of Peter”.
I am somewhat surprised that you should use the example of the Council of Jerusalem. Of Peter, Paul and James it is the latter who takes the lead role. Acts 15:22 makes explicitly shows ‘the whole church’ engaged in the decision-making.
I followed your link. My overall sense is that you are seeking biblical precedent to bolster the authority claims of a contemporary institution (i.e. it’s anachronistic). Petrine primacy is a phrase from a later period. As far as we know it was Clement of Rome who first used the term ‘lay’ to mean a non-minister in A.D.96. The idea of priestly ordination wasn’t fully complete until the 5th Century (as Herbert Haag points out).
Congregationalism makes far more modest claims. One of the few passages in the Gospels which mentions ‘church’ (Matt 18.15-20) follows the rabbinic precedent of binding and loosing, focusing on ethical reasoning, pastoral care and conciliation. Where two or three gather together in the name of Christ, there Christ is present (Matt 18.20). I see no mention of clergy or super-bishops.