"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history." -Cardinal Francis George

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Reponse to joelmartin

http://livingtext.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/i-cant-interpret-the-bible-but-i-can-interpret-history/ joelmartin: How slanderous of you to call me an apostate. Before God I demand that you retract this statement or provide proof of it's truth. Also, I NEVER have said that I can interpret history perfectly. This is another false statement that needs retraction and apology. It also ammounts to a straw man. If by "interpreting history perfectly" you mean looking for churches that claims to have a sacramental teaching authority and then using reason to see which one has the best claim, then yes, that is what I did. It is not that hard to do. There are only 2 real contenders. One does not need anywhere near a perfect "interpretation" of history to do this! This is polar opposite from the protestant who arrogates authority to decide for himself his interpretation. If you can not see the difference between me giving the assent of faith to the church's interpretation on the one hand, and DOING the interpreting on the other hand, then what can I say... you have had too much schooling and have lost all common sense perhaps. The difference is crystal clear to me. And the more protestants use this tu quoque form of argument, which has been soundly defeated, the more crowded the Tiber will get with all of us simple minded proles that can call a spade a spade. -David M.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mark Horne says I reason like a Chick tract!

(Mark Horne's Post is found on this site) Hello Mark, I am assuming you are refering here at least in part to a recent letter to my former church. You said: "You are not impressing anyone when you claim that you don’t have the ability to read the Bible for itself but you do have the ability to study all of Christian history and identify the supernatural office that can tell you what to think." I'm not sure where your going with the "not impressing anyone" comment. I wasnt trying to put on a puppet show, I wanted to give people at my former church some reasons why my family is leaving. I felt they deserve that. I have studied and interpreted the Bible for 20 years with the intention of serving my Saviour, and have done the best I can, as I presume you also do. If you can show me a way I can be sure I am interpreting it correctly, I will be there with you. I did not claim some great ability to interpret history as you seem to claim I did. What I did was look for churches that CLAIM to have an infalible teaching office. Once you start looking for those churches, history is fairly easy to manage. There are only a few that even claim it, and many (Mormons and JW) can be dismised outright. You said: "...while I’m not Eastern Orthodox, pretending you can dispense with their claims in two sentences and prove that we should all submit to the Pope is rather breathtaking. I don’t see any reasoning in Jack Chick tracts that is really any more shallow than that." I wanted to give a brief reason why I did not go in the Orthodox direction. (this is a letter to my church remember) I did not "intend to prove" anything in what I wrote about Orthodoxy, just to give a brief outline. Hope that clears that up. More shallow than a Chick tract? Wow that is quite a slam! I will try to be a deeper thinker like some of my Christian brothers appear to be. I will pray for more wisdom. Anyway, as far as your central point which was: "If you can really read and argue from history in the hope of persuading others, then why not simply argue for your views from Scripture? If you aren’t following your own authority in deciding which church to submit to then how are you following your own authority when you read the Bible and believe what it says?" This is called the tu quoque argument (see I can pretend to be smart!) and I don't think you quite understand where I am coming from epistemologically. No offence, perhaps it is just because all you read was the letter to my church, but there is a big difference between using my faculties to find the church Christ founded, and interpreting scripture for myself. You might not agree, but I would suggest familiarizing yourself with what converts like me actually think. Like in a debate where each person needs to explain the other persons position in a way they would agree with. Know what I mean? Check out an explaination of why the tu quoque is not persuasive to me at all here: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/05/the-tu-quoque/ At least you can then get a better feel (than the letter I wrote) of a convincing argument. By the way I am not necessarily the guy to give a solidly reasoned argument. Like most human types, I make decisions for a variety of reasons. Some of it intuition. This decision of mine was PRIMARILY based on the lack of internal logic in sola scriptura. The doctrine makes no sense to me after trying my best to make sense of it for 3 months. I even corespended with Keith Mathison. Still makes no sense. I am not a scholar, I am an Electronics Technician. I know I have heard your name before, forgive me if I forget who you are, but I know you are some well known Reformed Pastor or Profesor. I don't claim to be able to match wits with you, but the people who can have been way more convincing than Reformed attemters. The Chick tract comment was funny, kudos, but if you truly think people like me are in error for converting and want to stop us, then care enough about us to learn what arguments our little minds have actually been convinced by, and then defeat those arguments. you could start here: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/11/solo-scriptura-sola-scriptura-and-the-question-of-interpretive-authority/ Peace, David Meyer

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Protestant "Rave" Ecclesiology

Anyone who has ever been to a "rave" knows that the techno music just keeps going and going, no matter how sick of it you get. You can dance and dance, and you will never get to the end of the rave tunnel. Sort of like Protestant Ecclesiology. Check out this super short video by Tim Troutman on his blog, who apparently has worked for MTV at some point.

Create your own video slideshow at animoto.com.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What about the tares in Catholicism?

The following is a reply to a guy that wants to convert but the nominalism he sees in Catholic parishes worries him. Particularly in how the children are being raised. I post my reply here because my wife and I homeschool 4 daughters and I have this same concern, perhaps someone else can give advise in the comments to the both of us? As far as the lack of faith you mentioned, don't worry about that. If you are convinced of the Catholic church is the one, true church, I doubt anything will stop you from coming to her! If you are not convinced, give it more time and study. But know you will never have epistemic certainty, and will have to make a judgement call eventually based on evidence from all your faculties. Your concern for your family must enter in to every decision. But if this is the MAIN thing holding you back, then I would suggest you work through it soon. Once I was convinced of the truth of Catholicism (4 months ago!), I came to understand that it would become a mortal sin for me to remain outside of the church! So ironically, the closer I came to the church, the more desperate my situation. If you are not fully convinced, then that does not apply to you. Just like the anathemas at Trent are only for Catholics. I'm glad to help if I can. Boy did you ask the right question to me! For me this was THE first "side issue" I was worried about. It is a "side issue" for me because I was not including it into the greater issue of "is sola scriptura workable?" and the next question: "is it possible the Catholic church is true?" After those questions were answered for me, the next was this issue of nominalism and faithless Catholics. Will we be going to a place that is filled with tares!? Who will my children marry!? This is the biggest issue for my wife actually! She is not very theologically interested and just wants a solid church with solid people like our PCA church was. We have 4 daughters and are really committed homeschoolers. My wife had been using a bunch of Veritas Press homeschool curriculum which is Reformed when it comes to history and Bible, and she had everything planned out! I felt so bad to have to make her change all of that. Also our PCA church was VERY conservative. As in not a single kid in public school, and the majority of families homeschoolers! Seriously committed believers every one. So I will give you the bad news and then the good news. BAD NEWS: You (we) are unlikely to find the kind of parish that could compare to a single PCA church in terms of percentage of super conservative, committed believers. But here is my theory why. The PCA as a denomination is a "parish". By that I mean, the PCA is a conservative splinter of a huge, unfaithful group of Reformed churches. It is tiny! It is a very exclusive group that has segregated itself from the rest of Reformed Christianity, let alone the rest of Evangelicalism. So of course the pews are filled with wheat and not tares! How convenient. That makes our job as fathers easier, right? In a way it does, but this is not realistic. We cannot just make the church. We need to go to it. It is our job to raise our children, and to do it in an incubator where every person in the pew must be an uber conservative just like us is not healthy for us I think. It becomes more of a cafeteria that way. There is a comment you should read on CTC, it is more about superstitions, but the drift of it speaks towards what I am getting at here: that our local churches can be a "here comes everybody" place, while we can still remain conservatives. The third paragraph is great: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/03/doug-wilsons-authority-and-apostolic-succession/#comment-7322 GOOD NEWS: The Catholic church is HUGE! As homeschoolers my family will have perhaps few or no homeschoolers in our home parish, but I have already looked into it and in my area there are LOTS of Catholic homeschoolers in our area. Way MORE than the amount of Reformed ones. As far as your concern about children in general in Catholic churches being trained properly, I really think we need to be fair in comparing. The PCA needs to first join up with the PCUSA, then we can compare. We both know what that would look like. Same amount of tares on both sides. And no matter where you go, you will have to be the one to train your children (I know you know this) and that is hard in any environment. This is why I think homeschooling should be almost considered required for christians in our society. I would have no trouble with the Catholic church forbidding government school attendance, (at least for young children). If we want the next generation to keep the faith and spread the faith, they need intensive training. That intensive training should be so overpowering that a teen with a lip ring in the pew in front of you will want to be like YOUR kid. We can no longer be content in our bunkers and incubators, lets start breathing on these dry bones that surround us and the Lord will make an army! Come on brother, these Catholics are wainting for us conservatives to join up and renew them! Peace, David Meyer

Monday, June 21, 2010

To my Extended Family

Because most of us have worshipped in separated communions for decades anyway, this change might elicit a yawn from some of you. But if you are disturbed, worried, or I can clarify anything, please let me know. I don't expect you to be happy for us, but if there are areas that are grossly misunderstood, In which we could come to understanding or if I could alleviate fears you may have for your brother/uncle/(fill-in-the-blank) and his family, I hope I can at least get a chance to do so. Lay it on me. For instance, we will not need to be re baptised as some people have warned us we would. Also, the Catholic church believes you (as a faithful Pentecostal, Baptist, Dispensationalist, Reformed, etc.) are NOT anathema and are going to heaven when you die because of Christ. So lay your concerns on me and I'll see if I can try to dispel some if I can. Don't worry about offending me. Any well reasoned, charitable dialog is welcomed by me as my extended family relationships are next in importance to my family ones. Feel free to comment on this post with any questions/concerns. In short, I still love Jesus, and I still love you! -David

Boring New Atheism

Father Barron has an awsome explaination of why the "new atheists" are just plain boring and stupid. Yawn. Find it here. At least Nietzsche was an interesting train wreck to watch. He went insane and thought he was Jesus. these guys are just content we sleep in on Sundays. Double yawn.

Men: Stand up and serve.

Michael Liccione has a great post for fathers day on his blog Sacramentum Vitae. (Along with reading some uber intelligent points, I learned what fungible means also)

http://mliccione.blogspot.com/2010/06/fathers-are-not-fungible.html

Here are my thoughts. We fathers, and men in general for that matter need to move past the hippy mindset of our fathers generation, who conceived of patriarchy as something just south of Hitler on the authority scale. We need to see it through the eyes of the gospels, where true masculinity and patriarchy was shown. Christ, the strongest, most masculine man who ever lived, could not by the most rabid feminist be called a dominating, oppressive, patriarch. His great strength was shown in sevice and love. If we cultivate these virtues as fathers in His kingdom, the watching world will be silenced. We have a ways to go, (I know I do at least) but the world is waiting. Lets stand up and serve, men!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Letter to GSPCPCA

To our brothers and sisters at Good Shepherd Presbyterian:

This letter is to explain why we will be leaving Good Shepherd. We want to make sure our reasons are understood as much as possible, so you will not wonder why we left, and will not think it was for a trite reason. I do not expect you to agree with our decision, but my hope is that this decision will not be misunderstood.

Over the years at Good Shepherd, I have grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of unity in the Reformed community. After a family recently left our church for Eastern Orthodoxy, I felt a deep sense that something was very wrong with the state of unity among Christians. And at first, I thought they left for similar reasons as many other families have done over the past 9 years. Since my family has been at Good Shepherd, some people have left for the pickiest of reasons. Most recently a handful left us to form a new congregation of a 11 year old denomination called the CREC for reasons that I would say are anything but central to the Reformed faith. Another left with the particular desire to not be under any church authority at all! No pretense even. In my opinion, these people have not submitted to the authority of the church, which we Reformed believe is the arbiter of Scriptural Truth and interpretation, but rather they have become their own authority. They are rogues who have arrogated the authority of the Holy Spirit to themselves, placing their conscience and private judgment over the authority of sessions that they have sworn to be faithful to.

This got me thinking... What makes me submit to the session at Good Shepherd? I have always seen it as a Divinely instituted body put there to guide my family on the Christian path, but what if I disagree with them on some matter of doctrine? EVERY Reformed person I have ever talked to about this situation has said there is nothing wrong with leaving a church and placing my family under another session that agrees with my convictions. When I have mentioned points of disagreement with the PCA everyone has said I could and should leave if it is a big deal to me. What this means is that the authority of Scripture, which is supposed to be exercised through the church, is instead exercised through my personal interpretations by ME!

According to Sola Scriptura, as defined by Keith Mathison, Scripture is
'the sole source of revelation; [the] the final authoritative norm of doctrine and practice; to be interpreted in and by the church, and that it [is] to be interpreted according to the regula fidei.'.

The problem with this doctrine is that when a believer disagrees with the leaders he is supposed to submit to, he then finds other leaders that agree with his interpretation to submit to. This is not submitting to church authority, it is submitting to self. Submitting to yourself is just another way of saying you don't submit at all! There is a helpful way to remember this concept:

If I only submit when I agree, the one to whom I submit is me.
Anyone who has raised children can recognize the obvious truth of this. Or any wife that has tried to submit to a husband. Or submitting to an employer, etc... True submission is shown in conforming our mind to that mind to which we submit. If we are submitting to someone based on a shared set of beliefs, or because we agree with them, that is not true submission! It is actually a dangerous opposite of submission, because it can appear to be submission. If a disagreement never comes between a husband and wife in the entire time of their life together (bear with me I know it is far fetched) we could look at the relationship and see submission. But if inside her heart she is ready to split at the first sign of disagreement, she in no way is submitting to him. Apply this wife/husband scenario to church/Christ, and you can see where my mind is on this issue. We Protestants submit to our elders based on our agreement with them, and this is a faux submission. This is no longer an option for my family. I do not trust myself to interpret the Scripture when generations of brilliant Protestants (like Dr. Joshua Moon!) can not agree on what it says. If I listen to Josh, then I must ignore Mike Horton. If I listen to Mike Horton, I must ignore Doug Wilson, If I listen to Doug Wilson, I should ignore RC Sproul, and on and on it goes. If I come up with a synthesis of all these men's interpretations, then I have Professor David Meyer's interpretation, and he is an electronics technician, not a theologian. I am not inclined, (and nor should you be) to trust his interpretation.

So after coming to the above conclusions, what then? Should I just continue to form opinions and interpretations with lots of prayer and reflection? Should I just do my best to be part of the group I feel conforms most closely with Scripture? No, I can't because any options within this paradigm of Sola Scriptura lead to the same fateful conclusion that I am my own authority.

The only options left for me are:

A. Remain with Reformed Christianity and continue the cycle of “self submission”, knowing in my heart it is wrong.

B. Some form of non-theism,

C.“Choose-your-own-adventure” Christianity that I self consciously make up for myself and do not worry about submitting to church authority.

D. Submit to a form of Christianity that does not subscribe to Sola Scriptura and which has a interpretive authority which can plausibly claim to be led by the Holy Spirit, so as to remove myself as the authority.

Option A: I cannot in good conscience stay with option A I because within Sola Scriptura, I have no way of knowing if I am in schism from Christ's church. Whether I am in schism or not, the situation will look exactly the same from my perspective. I will consider myself to be following the Scripture whether I was in schism or not! If I was in grave error, my circumstances would look no different from being in the fullness of truth. Either way I would be surrounded by a session of my own choosing that would be quick to reassure me I was on the right path.

Option B: For the regenerate Christian that has tasted the beauty of Christ, this is not a real option.

Option C: This is a tempting option. Perhaps Christ is OK with us just making this stuff up as we go? Perhaps that is part of the plan? Pray, read the Scripture, come up with an interpretation, stick with it, and look around at the rest of Christianity totally disagreeing with you. Then pray everyone comes to see the “truth” of what you believe. Unfortunately the church in scripture was not like this. There was authority given and maintained by the Holy Spirit to lead the Church into all truth. (Jn. 16:13) So even though this is perhaps a more consistent position than Sola Scriptura, it is not an option for someone who desires to be “led” into all truth by the Spirit.

Option D: This makes the most sense. Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiology takes into account the fact that people will disagree about the content of divine revelation. Not that disagreement implies errancy or fallibility, but without a magisterium that is supernaturally protected from error, there is no way for me to be sure I am getting the interpretation that is the right one. If I am able to toss out the 7th ecumenical council (as nearly all Protestants do) because it doesn't match my interpretation, where will the tossing out stop? If church councils themselves are to be judged by a 21st century layman, theologically untrained, and unordained Christian like me, what is the point then of church councils other than to provide some really good advise from some really great men from the history of our faith? If they were not being guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit in these councils, with the expectation that all believers should submit to their decisions, then what use are they other than to help me form my own interpretation to submit to? The ecclesiologies that claim to have living, breathing successors of the apostles which are divinely gifted with the ability to define doctrine in certain situations are the only ecclesiologies that make sense.

That leaves two possibilities. Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy has stopped having church councils, would not be able to convene one if they wanted, and it can not claim the universality needed in the fourfold definition of the creed. (One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic) because it is still largely a regional church and not world wide. Also there is no unifying head to resolve differences.

The Catholic Church is the only option left. In many ways it is a bitter pill to swallow for me. I have been very critical of Catholic doctrine as a Protestant. Much that they believe I am not inclined to believe. But I will have to submit to the mind of what I must believe is the Church Christ founded.

To all of you I say that we have loved being at Good Shepherd. If left to my own opinions and interpretations, I would be right there with you guys. Josh Moon is going to turn that church into a shining gem in the PCA, I know it. The little changes he has made here and there are definitely heading Good Shepherd in a great direction. I wish we could speak to each member personally but that is just not possible. We have many friends that we will miss, but please know that we harbor no ill will, and on the contrary, see Reformed Christianity, and Good Shepherd in particular as bright spots in the Protestant world. We all wish for a unified Church. And while I don't expect you to agree with my decision, I hope you will see it as something I am doing out of a great love for Christ's Church and its unity.

Peace to all of you, our brothers and sisters in Christ.

David Meyer and Family.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Response to the "Tu Quoque"

(The following comment was left here at green baggins blog. I spent so much time responding I felt like I should post it here. ) Ron: Your #174 was not to helpful as far as the tone. Was hard to not get offended at some of it. Maybe im just sensitive. : ) I’ve done worse myself and it takes one to know one, but winsome you are not my friend. Take a cue from TurretinFan as far as a good way to come across. I am trying harder too. The comments about prayer to saints have been interesting to me and I have leaned a little, but you seem to want to go in a direction of discussing church authority/epistemology etc. which I have been discussing and mulling over for months. It is not something I care to spend hours blogging about in this thread which seems a bit of a different topic. That is why I gave the tu quoque link: to save verbage. And from your use of that argument style, I could see you were missing where I was coming from as far as the difference between Protestant and Catholic authority structures. (my lack of clarity no doubt) It is a really common argument used and you should really read that article and see how it is not a valid argument. http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/05/the-tu-quoque/ I myself used the tu quoque when my friend converted to Eastern Orthodoxy last year because of the authority issue. At the time I thought he was equivocating by claiming I was my own authority and he was not. But the difference is not in the ACT of submiting, but WHAT is being submitted to. SCENARIO 0: Inquiry and use of will and intellect are used to come to conclusions about truth claims. SCENARIO 1: The Protestant believes (or used to) that (as Keith Mathison says,) “Scripture is the sole source of revelation; that it is the final authoritative norm of doctrine and practice; that it is to be interpreted in and by the church, and that it is to be interpreted according to the regula fidei.” Protestant confessions are self admittedly the words of men that each Christian must in a sense be a judge of. Protestants can reject or accept any interpretation of divine revelation based on their private judgement. If they are convinced the WCF is in error on some point when compared with Scripture, they side with private judgement over the WCF. Their conscience and private judgement (after being informed by the above description of Sola Scriptura through the church and regula fidei of course) have the FINAL SAY. SCENARIO 2: The Catholic or “Romanist” as you say, submits to a Divinely authorized and sustained interpretive authority that requires the full submission of faith on some doctrines. His consciense and private judgement are to conform to IT where he is in disagreement. Catholics cannot take an “exception” to the 7th ecumenical council like my PCA pastor (and you) can take an exception to it. They believe the Holy Ghost guided the councils and protected them from error, so submission to them is submission to Christ. Conscience and private judgement are conformed to the interpretive authority, not placed as judge of it. Both scenarios 1 and 2 START with scenario 0. Inquiry and use of will and intellect are used by all to come to conclusions about truth claims. But they quickly diverge. The Protestant retains his private judgement as the final say in all matters of the faith, and consistent with his system of belief he can diverge in his opinion from his church and still be considered a faithful Protestant. The Catholic cannot retain his private judgement and remain consistent with his system of belief. i.e., within his system (chosen at scenario 0) he is not his own authority. Within the Protestants system (chosen at scenario 0) he retains the crucial ability to decide what interpretive authority to submit to and this retention is consistent with his system of belief. Because we all do scenario 0 in no way means that scenarios 1 and 2 are the same in respect to retaining authority. In fact they are worlds apart. I hope that clears up where I am coming from. Now I will go say a Hail Mary and ask her if it is OK to pray to saints. te he. David M.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Real Strength

Strength is not virtue. Virtue is strength.
Where was strength shown on Calvary? The lightning rent the sky after our Lord died, and not before it in a show of strength to rescue Him from His accusers. No spear was wielded by the heavenly host in defense of their Captain, but the spear which pierced His Holy flesh that day brought forth torrents of grace showered upon humanity. The only weapon to ever touch His Sacred Body instead of showing man’s strength in war or domination over his enemy, showed Christ’s power. The Lord of Glory, hanging dead on a tree and stabbed by a weapon of temporal strength, showed forth true strength in the virtue of His self sacrifice as the River of Life flowed from His heart to the ends of the earth to enliven the dry bones of His people. Let us forever drink deep of His life giving water!
In nomine Patris et fillii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Email exchange with Keith Mathison

The following is an email exchange between Keith Mathison and myself. It started by me asking RC Sproul Jr. a question about Sola Scriptura, because I had been seriously questioning the doctrine. RC then forwarded my question to Keith Mathison who has written a well known book on the topic. (the Shape of Sola Scriptura) This book was also recommended to me by another one of my Reformed heroes Doug Wilson after I asked him for help with this issue. The irony is that over a month before Keith emailed me I had already read an article on the Catholic website Called to Communion that demolished the conception of Sola Scriptura put forth in Keith's book. I had also just finished re-reading his book. The article is titled Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority and is a must read to anyone that has read Keith's book or is interested in ecclesial authority. It is available at this link. I felt really blessed to have the author himself try to defend the Reformed position on Sola Scriptura. Keep in mind that although I did ask Keith early in the emails if I could post these publicly, and he agreed, I don't want the content of this post to be used in a way to attack Keith. He was nice enough to take time to help me in a difficult situation, and I don't want people pulling quotes from here and using them to slam him. Keith will be responding soon to the CTC article by the way. I was asked by a friend struggling with these same issues of authority that I have recently struggled with if I could share these emails with him, and I have been asked by others what Keith has said in them, and I think they may be helpful to both the Catholic and Protestant side to sort through these ancient issues. After all it's been almost 500 years folks, lets tear down the walls that divide us! Lord, may your people, united by baptism, be united in full visible unity as a witness to the unity of your Triune Glory. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Dear Mr. Meyer, (April 24) R.C. Jr. forwarded your comments to me asking if I could get back to you. I do apologize that it has been several months since I posted those comments on Called to Communion. I had every intention of working on a response right away, but some unforeseen things popped up preventing me from doing so as quickly as I had hoped. We had a unintended house renovation (due to a broken water pipe) that took three months. Then in February, I was asked if I could fill in at the last moment writing a chapter for a book when the original contributor was unable to complete it. They gave me three months to do something they would have normally given twelve months to do. I just finished that project this last Monday. So, to make a long story short, I haven’t had a spare moment to revisit the Called to Communion article in several months. I have to run in the next few minutes. If you want to sum up the main questions you have, I will try to get back with you this week. If you don’t hear from me right away, don’t worry, It’s just a matter of finding the time between meetings, etc. Blessings, Keith A. Mathison Dr. Mathison, (April 26) I am honored that you are willing to take the time to help me with this. Just to let you know, I am a “big fan” as far as that goes in our too small Reformed community. I also want to say that I am an utter layman with no formal theological training, so be merciful on me! I really just have one question for you, but first I would like to thank you, then give some background and examples of where I am coming from, then my question. Unfortunately this will be a bit lengthy, so please bear with me. Given for you has been profoundly influential for me and really helped me to understand the Lord’s Supper in a meaningful way. I wish Calvin’s view was the only view for the Reformed. I find Zwingli’s view extremely unfortunate and I hope it can be rooted out gradually. Thank you so much for that book. I think it has influenced me more than any other book on theology. Postmillennialism similarly has helped me gain a real love for an underrepresented doctrine in Reformed theology. That book also helped me steer clear of preterist heresy and helped me (along with your book on dispensationalism) better interact with some family members who are stuck in an ultra (consistent) dispensationalist rut. [edit] I did read The Shape of sola Scriptura shortly after release but at the time was more focused on the criticism of solo scriptura than on the criticisms of Rome. I just read it again and let me say that your criticisms (and outright condemnation) of solo scriptura were great! That book needs to be read by every evangelical! Let me also say I understand the difference between sola and solo where the meaning of sola scriptura is, as you state in the book: “Scripture [is] the sole source of revelation; that it [is] the final authoritative norm of doctrine and practice; that it [is] to be interpreted in and by the church, and that it [is] to be interpreted according to the regula fidei.” To that I say yes, yes, yes, and yes. This is a trillion times better than solo scriptura. If (big IF) this were followed by Protestants today, I think we could assume perhaps a half a dozen Protestant denominations would still find themselves separated. (Certainly no credo Baptists of any stripe, imo) To come to the point, I read the critique of your book by Bryan Cross on Called to Communion and found his argument compelling. Although different (very different!) in how they view the authority of Scripture, there is no principled difference between solo and sola scriptura. I’ll quote Bryan about the indirect way sola does this:
“The indirect way of making oneself one’s own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority is more complicated and subtle. In this case the individual, based upon his own interpretation of Scripture, either establishes or chooses an ecclesial community that conforms to his own interpretation in matters he considers to be essential or important. Then, he ’submits’ to this institution so long as it continues to speak and act in accordance with his own interpretation of Scripture. If it deviates from his own interpretation of Scripture in matters he deems important, he repeats the process of either establishing or choosing an institution or congregation that conforms to his own interpretation in matters he considers to be essential or important.”
I read that and realized that that is me! Although I (and my church) use the fourfold definition of sola Scriptura as you nicely describe it,
“Scripture [is] the sole source of revelation; that it [is] the final authoritative norm of doctrine and practice; that it [is] to be interpreted in and by the church, and that it [is] to be interpreted according to the regula fidei.”
This still means that when my interpretation is discerned by myself to be in line with the above statement and to be in line with scripture, that for a moment in time (when I leave my church) I am a solo scriptura adherent. (My interpretation prevails) Bear with a personal example: Many of my friends at my local PCA church have left to start a CREC church. They all left fully engaged with and subscribing to your (the) definition of sola Scriptura. They are solid, conservative Reformed men, and they did exactly as Turretin suggests concerning the creeds and confessions of the Church:
“Hence if they think they observe anything in them worthy of correction, they ought to undertake nothing rashly or disorderly and unseasonably, so as to violently rend the body of their mother (which schismatics do), but to refer the difficulties they feel to their church and either to prefer her public opinion to their own private judgment or to secede from her communion, if the conscience cannot acquiesce in her judgment. Thus they cannot bind in the inner court of conscience, except inasmuch as they are found to agree with the word of God (which alone has the power to bind the conscience).” (Turretin quoted in your book p.272)
My point is that when obedience is most needed, is the exact time it will not be given. I currently submit to my session’s “public opinion” on the issue of Paedocommunion. But I have been told numerous times by many godly reformed sola Scriptura believers that I could in good conscience “secede from her communion” because of this issue. This has every appearance of me being the one that is the real authority on this issue. And I believe that in good conscience I (and my friends) meet all the four requirements of the definition of sola Scriptura in my (our) determination of leaving our church or not. This is different than solo scriptura. There is a bunch more considerations involved before I fall back on my “private judgment” as Turretin calls it. I am not just saying “welp, it’s me ‘n ma Bible, see ya later!” So yes, IT IS DIFFERENT, it is way better. Sola Scriptura is far and away better than solo Scriptura. I get it. But where is the principled difference. In the end the result is the same. My friends (and I?) leave my church for their private judgment with sola just like the evangelical down the road does with solo. We are less likely to leave because we have more checks and balances to go through before we get down to “private judgment”, but we get there all the same. My judgment in matters of the faith is a test case for the effects of Total Depravity. Therefore, If this is what it comes down to, (my private judgment is the final authority) then I feel that in good conscience I must find a Church that claims sacramental interpretive authority. I don't trust myself. Where is the principled difference between sola and solo? Ideally what I would love is your response to Bryan’s article. If you feel you don’t have the time (yikes you have been busy!) to give it a proper treatment, I totally understand. If you only have time to respond to my ramblings in this letter, then that would be greatly appreciated. Also, do I have your permission to put your response to this letter on the net? I think others would find it helpful. If not, no problem. Thanks so much Dr. Mathison. And say thanks to R.C. Jr for forwarding this to you. Guys like you and him give me hope for the Reformed faith. Peace, -David Meyer Hi David, (April 27) Thank you for the kind words regarding my books. It’s encouraging to hear that they have been helpful. I still do hope to write a response to Bryan’s paper. The timing of that burst water pipe and that chapter writing assignment weren’t ideal for that. The two combined one after the other gave me little time for anything else for about five months. Since I haven’t even had the opportunity to begin that response, I do want to respond to your questions. If you want to post my response to you online, that’s fine. I would prefer, however, to post only those things that I’ve had time to properly edit. I do have a little bit of a time crunch today. I have to proofread two upcoming issues of Tabletalk, and I may not finish that project until sometime tomorrow. So...if you don’t mind, let’s consider this an ongoing discussion. To start, one of the underlying issues driving this disagreement is radically differing conceptions of the church. I believe Bryan sees no principled difference between solo and sola because of his understanding of the nature of the church. If you grant the Roman Catholic understanding of the church, then there probably is no way to see a real principled difference. I argued in my book, however, that a necessary corollary of the sola view is something along the lines of the “branch theory” of the church (which Rome rejects). In fact, I think it is the only way to escape the radical subjectivity and circularity that Bryan criticizes, but which he fails to see that even Rome falls into. The question is whether or not to grant the Roman Catholic concept of the church. I don’t for a number of reasons, which we can discuss if you’d like, but in short, Rome doesn’t escape the subjectivity issue; she just moves it. Then there’s the issue of how Jesus tells us to identify prophets (You shall know them by their fruits). And, significantly, it is historically impossible for Rome to be what she claims to be. If you don’t mind, I think it would be very helpful for this discussion if you wouldn’t mind re-reading pages 319–36 of The Shape of Sola Scriptura where I discuss all of this in more detail. The reason I ask that is because I want to know if that section answers some of your questions, or else redirects them. If so, great. If not, or if they made things less clear, then we can discuss that. To be continued... Blessings, Keith Dr. Mathison, (April 30th) Again, thanks for your time. I just want to reiterate that I respect your opinion and I want to say I don’t do this. By that I mean I have been Reformed for 9 years and I don’t write guys like you and R.C. with questions. Over the years I read Tabletalk, use tons of resources from Ligonier, read Doug Wilson, R.C. Jr. and you, and quietly form my views. So this is a sort of a crisis for me, it is not normal. I read the section of your book a couple times and some of it helped clarify your thinking to me. I also had some questions. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said: “one of the underlying issues driving this disagreement is radically differing conceptions of the church.” Are you saying our conception of the church will really decide where we fall on the issue of their being a principled difference between solo and sola and that therefore we can’t answer the latter without first answering the former? That seems different than the following from your book:
“If sola scriptura is true, then some form of ‘branch theory’ of the visible church is a necessary corollary –not as an expression of the ideal, but as a description of the reality.”
I couldn’t agree more. (If sola is true.) But should I start with sola scriptura to inform my conception of the church? Shouldn’t I go back and answer the “conception of the church” question first, then in light of that answer look at sola scriptura? I realize it is hard for anyone to be objective in looking at these questions, and they get mixed together at points. But even an unbeliever with no conception of the church should be able to come to conclusions as to whether there is a principled difference between solo and sola without taking Rome’s (or EO’s, or evangelicalism’s) view of ecclesiology. Considering your quote of Turretin:
“Hence if they think they observe anything in them worthy of correction, they ought to undertake nothing rashly or disorderly and unseasonably, so as to violently rend the body of their mother (which schismatics do), but to refer the difficulties they feel to their church and either to prefer her public opinion to their own private judgment or to secede from her communion, if the conscience cannot acquiesce in her judgment. Thus they cannot bind in the inner court of conscience, except inasmuch as they are found to agree with the word of God (which alone has the power to bind the conscience).”
It seems obvious to my mind that the final authority is the “inner court of conscience” under sola scriptura. Yes, there is solid stuff informing the conscience such as inerrant scripture, the regula fidei, church interpretation, and the witness of the church through the ages; but principally nothing different than solo because in the end they both come down to the same “trump card” of conscience. Is my mind missing some vital clue here? As conservative Reformed Christians aren’t we saying “hey, fine, there may not be a principled difference between solo and sola. In the end we are relying on our private judgment just like the wacky evangelical. But the difference is in how we get to that point of private judgment; it’s a BIG practical difference. When we as a Reformed use our private judgment under sola scriptura, we are first verifying that in our seceding from a communion or holding contrary doctrine to that of our church, we still can say (as you do of sola Scriptura) 'Scripture [is] the sole source of revelation; that it [is] the final authoritative norm of doctrine and practice; that it [is] to be interpreted in and by the church, and that it [is] to be interpreted according to the regula fidei.' And if we can believe this and still can’t agree with our church or a creed, THEN, and only then, we use our private judgment to secede. No principled difference, but still a big practical difference." Now of course Rome has no trouble claiming they are the one true church. I don't see how it gets circular like you claim on page 320 because they aren’t claiming to be right on the basis of closeness to the Fathers teaching or because of a correct interpretation. They are claiming a Spirit guided sacramental magisterial teaching authority that is based on physical succession to tell believers what THE correct interpretation is. The Spirit speaks through a living office that can clarify teaching when asked. An example: Think of abortion and contraception. The Bible speaks clear as crystal on these issues. We agree with Rome on these issues based on our correct interpretation of scripture. Catholics believe these are mortal sins because their interpretation is correct OR because they have corrected their malformed conscience to conform to the correct interpretation as stated by the magisterium. These didn't need definition until modern times when people have gotten so depraved as to claim to be Christians and do them. When that happened the magisterium steps in to say "uh, just to clarify, the Scripture says X and this is what it means... so change your conscience to conform to this or else!" "Seceding from communion" as Turretin puts it then becomes what that should really be called -heresy. Also they then have no problem of a ‘branch theory’ of the visible church to explain because there is only one doctrine from one Church. No problem explaining Christ’s high priestly prayer for unity. No problem explaining the visible church in a way that makes heresy possible. They have a more consistent view of authority, especially with the ‘visible church’ question. For the Reformed that question seems so shrouded with mystery that there is no visible church to point to. You seemed to concede this in your book when you said ”We have to pray that God will make the invisible church visible and work towards this goal in our respective communions.” P.326 That seems to imply that the visible church is a goal to work toward and not a current reality. Would you say that we Protestants really don’t have a visible church but must view it in a eschatological sense or “now and not yet” or something? If our “visible” in the concept “visible church” means apostolicity, which means conformity to scripture, which means an interpretation of scripture, which means… no certainty of where the visible church is. Then that is unsatisfying because this just leaves it up to me to determine the truth. And I don't trust myself. 1. The sola Scriptura “system” of authority has my fallible interpretation at its root. 2. The Catholic “system” has someone claiming the infallible authority to bind the conscience at its root. #2 allows me to: -Know what heresy is as opposed to the true faith. (Is Federal Vision a heresy? How can I know for sure when smart theologians disagree about it?) -differentiate my opinion from the true faith. I just realized I am rambling. Sorry for the length. I hope I have been clear enough for you to respond but in the end I really hope you can make a thorough response to Bryan at some point so I can “listen in” on your interactions with a more capable thinker than myself. Thanks again for helping me with this authority crisis, -David Hi David, (April 30th) It’s not a problem at all, and I’m happy to try and answer your questions. I have finally begun writing my response to Bryan’s article (I posted a comment to that effect on their site this morning). The basic argument is, according to Bryan, is this: “In this article we argue that there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura with respect to the holder of ultimate interpretive authority, and that a return to apostolic succession is the only way to avoid the untoward consequences to which both solo scriptura and sola scriptura lead.” I intend to address both of these issues, but they can’t be looked at in isolation from other issues, particularly the church. I do think our understanding of the church and our concept of the Scripture/tradition question inform each other. A person who assumes the Roman Catholic presuppositions about the church (whether through conversion to Rome, or for the sake of argument) will view the evidence of Scripture, tradition, and history in a completely different manner than someone who does not assume those presuppositions. To him, the church is defined by the Roman magisterium and being in communion with the Pope. If that is assumed, then everything else will of necessity look like what I termed solo scriptura. They will likely be unable to see any principles difference. Without the Roman presuppositions about the church, one can see a principled difference between sola and solo. One has theological boundaries. One does not. One sees an authoritative role for the church. One does not. One sees the individual interpreter working within established boundaries, interacting with other interpreters past and present to move toward greater understanding of the truth. One does not. One understands the difference between Scripture and his interpretation of Scripture. One does not. You mentioned my quote of Turretin on the conscience. That quote is provided in the context of discussing the difference the role of conscience plays in the individual and the role it plays in the Church (see pages 270-73). Those are two different things, and Turretin goes on the explain the difference. I don’t think Bryan took his additional comments fully into account. The church, as Turretin explains, has the authority to establish normative doctrinal boundaries [Here we see the mutual interrelationship with our concept of what the church is coming into play]. This is not the province of the individual conscience. But going back to the Roman presuppositions, Bryan says the way we identify the true church is to ask the successors of the apostles. By that he means the Roman Catholic Magisterium. Well, if you ask the Roman Catholic Magisterium the identity of the true church, it’s rather obvious what the answer will be. Ask a Greek Orthodox priest, and you’ll get a different answer that is ultimately irreconcilable with the Roman answer, and just as self-serving (BTW, some of the best and most interesting critiques of Roman Catholic claims have been written by Eastern Orthodox scholars, and they clearly demonstrate the question-begging nature of those claims). Bryan may say that all you have to do is read the early fathers and you’ll see Rome there. You will if you start with the assumption that Rome is the true church and that what she teaches now must be what she has always taught. But if you start with the assumption that the claim is merely plausible and must be demonstrated, then the conclusion is different. When I read the church fathers, I don’t see Roman Catholicism. Here are just a few of many examples that cause me to think there’s more going on here than Roman Catholic apologists are letting on: Ambrose (c. 339-97): Many times have the clergy erred; the bishop has wavered in his opinion; the rich men have adhered in their judgment to the earthly princes of the world; meanwhile the people alone preserved the faith entire. John DaillĂ©, A Treatise on the Right Use of the Fathers (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1856), p. 197. Latin text: Plerumque clerus erravit, Sacerdos mutavit sententiam, divites cum saeculi istius terreno rege senserunt; populus fidem propriam reservavit. In Psalmum David CXVIII Expositio, Sermo 17, §17, PL 15:1446. Cf. also Commentarius in Cantica Canticorum, Caput Septimum, §4, PL 15:1947C-D, Plerumque clerus erravit, sacerdos mutavit sententiam, divites cum saeculi istius terreno rege senserunt, populus fidem propriam reservavit. Jerome (347-420): The Church does not depend upon walls, but upon the truth of its doctrines. The Church is there, where the true faith is. But about fifteen or twenty years ago, heretics possessed all the walls of the Churches here. For, twenty years ago, heretics possessed all these Churches. But the true Church was there, where the true faith was. See William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd edition, 3 Volumes (London: John Henry Jackson, publisher, 1853), Vol. 2, p. 344. Latin text: Ecclesia non parietibus consistit, sed in dogmatum veritate. Ecclesia ibi est ubi fides vera est. Caeterum ante annos quindecim aut viginti, parietes omnes hic Ecclesiarum haeretici possidebant. Ante viginti enim annos, omnes Ecclesias has haeretici possidebant. Ecclesia autem vera illic erat, ubi vera fides erat. Breviarium in Psalmos, Psalmus CXXXIII, PL 26:1223. Augustine (354-430): I would not have the holy Church demonstrated by human testimonies, but by divine oracles. See William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd edition, 3 Volumes (London: John Henry Jackson, publisher, 1853), Vol. 3, pp. 164-165. Latin text: Quia nolo humanis documentis, sed divinis oraculis sanctam Ecclesiam demonstrari. De Unitate Ecclesiae, Caput III, §6, PL 43:395. Augustine (354-430): Whoever dissents from the sacred Scriptures, even if they are found in all places in which the church is designated, are not the church. See Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1992), Vol. 3, pp. 109-110. Latin text: Quicumque de ipso capite, ab Scripturis sanctis dissentiunt, etiamsi in omnibus locis inveniantur in quibus Ecclesia designata est, non sunt in Ecclesia. De Unitate Ecclesiae, Caput IV, §7, PL 43:395-396. Augustine (354-430): We are unwilling to prove our church either from a succession of bishops or from the authority of councils or from the frequency of miracles.--St. Augustine (Ibid., 16) Augustine (354-430): Let no one say to me, What hath Donatus said, what hath Parmenian said, or Pontius, or any of them. For we must not allow even Catholic bishops, if at any time, perchance, they are in error, to hold any opinion contrary to the Canonical Scriptures of God. William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd edition, 3 Volumes (London: John Henry Jackson, publisher, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 165. Augustine (354-430): We ought to find the Church, as the Head of the Church, in the Holy Canonical Scriptures, not to inquire for it in the various reports, and opinions, and deeds, and words, and visions of men. See William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd edition, 3 Volumes (London: John Henry Jackson, publisher, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 165. Latin text: Ecclesia, quam sicut ipsum caput in Scripturis sanctis canonicis debemus agnoscere, non in variis hominum rumoribus, et opinionibus, et factis, et dictis, et visis inquirere. De Unitate Ecclesiae, Caput XIX, §49, PL 43:429. I am well aware that Roman Catholics find ways to interpret these and many other patristic statements to fit their presupposed notions about the church. I think it is historical revisionism of the most blatant kind. The problem is that Rome’s version of church history has nothing in common with real history. Roman historians are required by their presuppositions (See the quote by Oberman on page 134 and the quote by Burghardt on page 135 of The Shape of Sola Scriptura). You said: “If our “visible” in the concept “visible church” means apostolicity, which means conformity to scripture, which means an interpretation of scripture, which means… no certainty of where the visible church is. Then that is unsatisfying because this just leaves it up to me to determine the truth. And I don't trust myself. I think this is where the rubber meets the road for most people, and it is what makes the Roman claims so appealing. But the same issues are going to apply. Do you trust yourself to determine whether Rome’s interpretation of history and tradition is correct? Large numbers of historians who have spent their lives studying nothing but the early church and the writings of the fathers think Rome’s interpretation is preposterous. The point is, you are going to have to use your individual judgment to make the choice of whether to cross the Tiber. There are several relevant points, however. You say you don’t trust yourself. But, how did you determine whether the claims of Christianity were true as opposed to say, the claims of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Mormonism, etc.? Do you trust that God called you to Christ rather than to Buddha? If so, the next question we ALL face is the competing claims of all the communions claiming to be Christian churches. Some, such as Rome, Orthodoxy, and a number of Protestant groups claim that they are the one true church of Jesus Christ. I think that all of those who do this end up arguing in a circle – as I tried to explain in my book. The other option is to realize that we still see through a glass darkly in this time between the times. The state of the visible church at present is not necessarily the perfect ideal. We still have remnants of sin, and that will always cause problems. Furthermore, only God has a perfect theology, and we approximate it to the best of our ability. The sola view believes that certain boundaries are discernible in the early church and in Scripture, e.g. The rule of faith. Those communions who are within those boundaries are branches, however strong or weak they may be. The subjectivity that all of us face (Roman Catholics like Bryan included) is determining a branch on which to rest. Some think that the matter of choosing a branch of the church is really choosing between a church and a non-church. To assert that, however, is not to prove it. And every single time, one of those branches attempts to prove it, they argue in circles. (Rome is the true church because Scripture and tradition as interpreted by Rome say that Rome is the true church). Another point worth mentioning is the fact that for all the arguing about the necessity of the Magisterium in order to have an authoritative interpretation of Scripture, it doesn’t happen in real life. Through history and to this day, there are various schools of thought within the Roman catholic church. Theologians and commentators within the Roman church disagree on the interpretation of Scripture, tradition, conciliar decrees, and Papal pronouncements. If you as a Roman Catholic are studying Daniel, and you run across a verse you don’t understand, you’re still not going to be able to find a definitive Roman interpretation. There is no Vatican Study Bible with the definitive interpretation of every text. There’s only handful of biblical texts that have been given anything close to a definitive interpretation (e.g. “this is my body”). And ultimately, you as an individual are going to have to read and interpret the words of the Magisterium just as much as the words of Scripture, thus leading to all the disagreements over the interpretation of those words. As an adherent of the sola view, I think the church is still doing what it was doing in the early centuries , during the Trinitarian and Christological controversies. In those days, it took centuries of wrangling to work things out. No one called the Bishop of Rome to give them the answer. Ultimately, they met in councils. Now we are wrestling through different issues. Who is to say it won’t take another 1000 years? But as an adherent of the sola view, I can work within the established boundaries of Nicea and Chalcedon (things that have already been settled), read and interact with believers from the past and present in every branch as we strive together to come to one mind. Given the presence of sin and ignorance we all have, I don’t expect perfection until the final state, but I don’t think we should stop trying either. What sola scriptura ultimately boils down to is recognizing the difference between the word of God and the words of man. If we can ever get that point settled, we will be able to move to the next questions. Is this getting anywhere close to answering your main question? Gotta go. Blessings, Keith David, (April 30th) I thought of another way I might try to clarify the point about the principled difference between solo and sola. According to the sola view, the church does have an ultimate interpretive authority in the sense that she can and has established some hermeneutical boundaries beyond which the individual interpreter may not proceed. So, if an individual cannot in good conscience accept the doctrine of the Trinity, he is free to reject it, but he is not to be counted as Christian. According to the solo view, the church has no interpretive authority to establish doctrinal boundaries beyond which individual interpreters may not go. That much I think is clear. But this also illustrates the point I made in the last email about the concept of the church being so closely intertwined with our concept of Scripture. When you say “the church” has some authority, that automatically raises the question: “Where is the church?” It’s either all of those who who trust Christ or a few groups or one group. But if it is only one of them, their answer to the question: “What proof do you have that you alone are the true church?” cannot essentially be “Because we say so.” Blessings, Keith Dr. Mathison, (May 5) Your response was very thoughtful. Many of those quotes will give me something to think about. I am really anticipating your response to Bryan. There are 800 (!)comments on that thread and after reading all of them I found R.F.White's and yours to have the most potential, so it will be so awesome to see you flesh out an intelligent response. I have very little knowledge of the Fathers and have recently read Fortescue's book on the early papacy from a Catholic perspective. I am currently reading Chapman's book Studies on the Early Papacy. I think that you are 100% right that the question of "where is the Church?" is really the crucial one. You said "without the Roman presuppositions about the church, one can see a principled difference between sola and solo." and now that my brain has been on both sides of this, I see what you are saying. When I first became Reformed, I felt and saw the difference that sola makes compared with dispensationalist conceptions of authority for instance. You have helped me "remember" that difference. However, I find the arguments for a visible church hierarchy (only Catholic and Orthodox claim this) that is given supernatural authority to bind the conscience of the faithful compelling. And I don't find them compelling simply because Rome says so. I would probably be a Mormon if I were that dense. But it follows that if I look into Scripture, history, and even philosophy as much as my thick head will allow and become convinced that Christ must have indeed founded a visible hierarchical church, and then I look for the most likely candidate, I am doing something similar to a Reformed christian when he looks into Scripture, history, philosophy to determine sola and branch theory to be most plausible, and then to pick a branch. I don't think either one of these is circular. I think I might be just missing your point about the circularity thing. I mean, I see it, but I see it with us (Reformed) too. As an example of the circularity you characterized Rome as saying: "Rome is the true church because Scripture and tradition as interpreted by Rome say that Rome is the true church". If that statement works then the Reformed are saying "Sola and Branch Theory are true because Scripture and tradition (Tradition I) as interpreted by ___ (Sola and/or branch(es)) say that Sola and Branch Theory is true." My point is that I think you are over emphasizing the whole "circularity" thing. Some people on both sides of this debate do it and they are either simple (children) or not thinking very precisely. In response to my saying that I don't trust myself (my interpretation) you said: "I think this is where the rubber meets the road for most people, and it is what makes the Roman claims so appealing. But the same issues are going to apply. Do you trust yourself to determine whether Rome’s interpretation of history and tradition is correct? Large numbers of historians who have spent their lives studying nothing but the early church and the writings of the fathers think Rome’s interpretation is preposterous. The point is, you are going to have to use your individual judgment to make the choice of whether to cross the Tiber." Before I became confused on this authority issue I had your exact thought and here was a thoughtful response by Dr. Michael Liccione on CTC. This response from him was devastating to me. I mean, of course we all use our judgement, but which system accounts more for our lack of good judgement? You said: "Theologians and commentators within the Roman church disagree on the interpretation of Scripture, tradition, conciliar decrees, and Papal pronouncements. If you as a Roman Catholic are studying Daniel, and you run across a verse you don’t understand, you’re still not going to be able to find a definitive Roman interpretation. There is no Vatican Study Bible with the definitive interpretation of every text." Strangely and paradoxically I find this to be a good argument FOR the claims of Rome! If it were just the interpretations of men in the magisterium, then I would fully expect a Vatican Study Bible with every single verse parsed out and submitted for belief by all the faithful. (al la Tim Lahay God forbid) But, if the Spirit were the one guiding the magisterium's interpretation, I would expect more silence. Now as to the disagreements, the fact is that there is a pronouncement to disagree on in the first place. Isn't it true that the early church had the same issue and usually within decades or a century or so things were clarified with further pronouncements to explain more clearly? Yes, this has a similarity to the situation under sola, but under sola there is no hope (other than direct intervention by the Spirit) or agreement on even major doctrines like the meaning of the sacraments. There is no mechanism to even make a pronouncement or to then measure agreement to that theoretical pronouncement. (How many Protestants know or care about the Chicago Statement) I don't think there is any serious dissent or confusion about the pronouncements on the nature of the Eucharist, for instance, in Catholicism or Orthodoxy. I read the catechism (CCC) on this topic and although there are expected elements of mystery, there can be no argument on what they give as the essentials for all Christians to believe about the Mass and Eucharist. Compare with the church in the "branch theory"... there really can either be no essentials or no agreement on even the basics of the Eucharist. Again, thanks for the thoughts and those quotes, many of which I have never seen, they will be giving me more avenues to explore and more angles to look at this issue from. And I really do think that the 'Visible Church' question is far more important as an informant to the sola/solo question than I previously thought. I will be focusing more on that aspect I think. Unfortunately I feel like D-Day has already occurred and I am Germany. Will there at least be a Battle of the Bulge? I am trying to put up a fight. Peace, David Meyer Hi David, (May 5th) I was talking with one of my colleagues over lunch today about this issue (it comes up a lot since I’m in the middle of writing the response). I told him that one reason I think I didn’t find the Roman claims all that persuasive the first time I started digging into them is because I was simultaneously digging into the claims of the Eastern Orthodox. It was like sitting in a room with Bryan Cross and Franky Schaeffer, listening to both claim to have discovered the one true, apostolic church and claiming that the other is schismatic. Like I said, the best critiques of Roman claims are authored by Orthodox writers. I don’t think either of these two communions realize how much the East-West schism damaged the idea of apostolic succession. If you go back to the first centuries, before the split, the identification of the true church first became a serious problem with the rise of the Gnostics. In response to their claims of being true churches and of having received secret traditions from the apostles, the fathers appealed to Scripture, to the rule of faith, and to succession from the churches founded by the Apostles. They also appealed to catholicity. If the teaching of any particular local church were questioned, appeal could be made to the teaching of all the recognized churches. This worked adequately until the ambitions for power in the local church of Rome led to her rejection of catholicity and a split with the Eastern Churches. At this point there now existed two communions plausibly claiming succession, each anathematizing the other, with no real means of adjudicating the problem that didn’t involve capitulating to the assumptions of one or the other parties. Five hundred years later, the degeneracy and apostasy of the papacy led to another split. The question of identifying the Church thus became much more difficult than it was in the first centuries. I argued in my book that what is required in light of the reality that now exists is some version of a “branch theory.” We simply are not in the same historical context as the church of the first centuries. Thankfully, the identification of the New Testament canon and the rule of faith were essentially accomplished facts before the splits. Since the canon of the New Testament and the early rule of faith are still identifiable, and since there is a consensus among all of the branches about them, they help identify the true fragments, or branches, of the church. You say there’s no way to resolve the problems and disputes with sola scriptura (Tradition 1). Apostolic succession can no longer solve it either. Both Rome and Orthodoxy believe in apostolic succession and they haven’t resolved that split or their disagreements, and they’ve had 1000 years to do so. The problem is more basic. The early church’s use of Tradition 1 worked within the context of a united church. The splits that occurred later are the problem. I’m arguing that each branch returning to as much of Tradition 1 as possible would be a necessary first step toward resolution. As long as Rome adheres to Tradition 3 (sola ecclesia), we will get nowhere. Rome needs to return to Tradition 1 so she can actually start dealing with the fact that what she claims doesn’t line up with real history. That is why my problem with the claims of Rome boils down to historical evidence more than anything. Allow me to illustrate. If an institution were to claim that by the grace of God it has been entrusted with the deposit of all mathematical truths and that it hands these truths down infallibly, we can grant plausibility to the claim. However, if we begin reading the official works of the institution, and we find these works repeatedly asserting and defending the “fact” that 2+2 = 5, we have every right to doubt the more basic claim of infallibility. And if we find these works repeatedly asserting and defending the “fact” that 2+2=chicken, we have the right to ignore the claims altogether and look elsewhere for the deposit of mathematical truths. We certainly have no duty to conclude that 2+2 must in fact really equal 5 simply because the institution claims to be infallible. Anyway, I’m still working on the larger response. If your mind is already made up, I don’t expect the response will change it. But I’m happy to keep discussing it. Blessings, Keith Hi David, (May 18th) Since you are interested in the historical question, here are a few pages I think you ought to read while studying this issue. The first one is taken from a book which is widely considered to be one of the most thorough studies of the church in Rome in the first centuries of its existence. It is by Peter Lampe and is titled From Rome to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003). Chapter 41 is particularly relevant to the question at hand. The link below is to the first page of chapter 41. Although the entire book is not available on Google Books, the entirety of chapter 41 is here: http://books.google.com/books?id=vOoxGmc1DGAC&lpg=PP3&dq=from%20paul%20to%20valentinus&pg=PA397#v=onepage&q&f=false The next book is Francis Sullivan’s From Apostles to Bishops: The Development of the Episcopacy in the Early Church (New York: The Newman Press, 2001). Sullivan is a Jesuit who taught at the Gregorian University in Rome for several decades before moving to the U.S. To teach at Boston College. You should read the Preface and the First chapter of his book. These two sections are also available on Google Books here: http://books.google.com/books?id=rn4PIZYLCskC&lpg=PP1&pg=PP13#v=onepage&q&f=false And here: http://books.google.com/books?id=rn4PIZYLCskC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false Considering the significance of the decision you are contemplating, you owe it to yourself to take a look at these works. Blessings, Keith (May 18th) Thank you for these. They are now at the top of my reading list. -David M. Keith, (June 14th) I want to thank you again for all your time helping me with these questions. Your explainations of the Reformed view of the church have been some of the best I have heard, and if it is any consolation to you I think you and my Pastor (Josh Moon) have done the best you could to prevent me from making this move. I have done about as much study as a layman can handle. I could read through all 2000 years of books on this topic and STILL find very smart scholars on both sides making good arguments. In the end, after all the reading and study, I find the simple prayer of Jesus in John 17 is what has pushed me to step over the line to Catholicism. Let me explain. Do you remember R.C. Sproul Sr.'s book The Last Days According to Jesus? In that book he says something to the effect of 'people have a good case for rejecting Christ as divine IF His prophecy in the olivet discourse did not happen in the disciples lifetime as he predicted'. He is spot on. It rings hollow when Christians try to twist Christ's words when He says "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” He either came or not. Likewise it rings hollow to me when His prayer, His High Priestly prayer, the Son praying to the Father, is twisted to mean that His church will be unified only "in love". As if love can be separate from all other types of unity. He compares the unity with the Trinity! Will we say the Trinity can have love and yet have disagreement! The church is either now unified or His prayer was not answered with all that that implies. If I may be bold with you, I think you are first looking around at what you think must be the church, and then seeing that picture in Scripture and history. But if you START with Christ's prayer, Pentecost, Acts etc... to have that devolve so badly as to become the Protestant picture of the "visible church" is just impossible Keith. And if it is possible I am more likely at this point to abandon the faith entirely. If the Spirit speaks with a forked tongue through hundreds (thousands!) of different branches of one "visible" church, how is that not a spirit of error? The spirit is then contradicting itself. Will I still have to deal with this problem to some degree in Catholicism? Perhaps. But finding the truth in Catholicism as opposed to Protestantism is like looking for a needle in a straw hat as opposed to a hay stack. The former can plausibly claim unity, the latter cannot. I must go with my conscience and trust that Christ has maintained the unity of His bride. It is strange that Luther's famous statement about conscience comes to mind here! I hope you can respect my decision on that level. Imagine if you woke up tomorrow and the Church was unified? That is what I feel like I have discovered here. I cannot express the joy of that discovery after having given up all hope of unity in the Church. I hope you are not offended if I say I will be praying for my Reformed brethren to enter this unity. Again thank you and God bless you. Peace, David Hi David, (June 15th) Thanks for letting me know of your decision. And, no I certainly don’t mind you being bold with me (as I’ve been with you). I wouldn’t expect anything less. Blessings, Keith

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

R.C. Sproul Jr. on converts to Catholicism

On May 14, I received one of R.C. Sproul Jr’s “Kingdom Notes” in my inbox that all but said that it was written to me. The Kingdom Notes are sent out by R.C. once or twice a week and just give a little thought from R.C. or they answer one of the “Ask R.C.” questions. A whole string of emails with Keith Mathison began by me asking R.C. a question about Sola Scriptura which he forwarded to his friend and co-worker Keith Mathison. (Who has been very helpful and treated me as a brother in Christ)In RCJr.'s seeming response to me he discarded my specific question about Sola Scriptura and made it into something he could answer easier. I was disappointed at what he said. Not only with the attitude displayed, but also with the seeming lack of knowledge of Trent and just plain poor argumentation. I guess I expected better from him. He seemed to have the attitude of his (and his father’s) mentor Dr. John Gerstner in his screed A Primer on Roman Catholicism which is the apologetic equivalent of “Catholicism is bad, everyone who is smart knows it, and anyone who disagrees with me does not deserve respect, neener neener Catholics are evil.” (I would recommend this booklet by Dr. Gerstner by the way for anyone that wants reasons to convert to Catholicism) R.C. Jr. has been one of my Reformed heroes and to hear him say these words in this email was chilling for me. I had never seen him as being bitter or unreasonable until I read this. I felt sad to hear his words that were directed it seemed at people in my exact situation. I will always consider him a brother working in the Kingdom for the glory of our King, so to hear him say he does not consider me one was heartfelt for me. I felt like “Buddy” in the movie The Incredibles when Mr. Incredible says “go home Buddy, I work alone!” I have heard him speak wonderfully about loosy goosey evangelicals and even unbelievers he knows and how we can be winsome and loving to them. I don’t see that attitude towards Catholics. I include the entirety of the email here.
May 14, 2010 In this Issue: Ask RC Ask RC What would you say to a Christian who is thinking of converting to Roman Catholicism? First- don't. After that my approach would likely adjust for the particular person, and what I knew about what was motivating them to make that move. Any approach, however, would look at both personal issues and theological issues. Too often we unwisely focus on one to the exclusion of the other. In my own circles we tend to jump to the theological. The problem is, precious few, if any people I've ever known to be tempted in this direction went Roman Catholic, from their own perspective, because they had done a serious study of the important theological issues and found Rome to be more faithful to the Scriptures. Their motives tend to be more about practice than dogma. That is, they are active in the pro-life movement, and like what they see in Rome on this issue. Or, they are frustrated with the aesthetic and even intellectual barrenness of the evangelical world. Or, more often than anything else, after living through church splits and denominational squabbles, they long to be a part of the one true church. All of which is at the end of the day wishful thinking about greener grass. Rome is not a united body as they would have us believe. They are no more likely to be pro-life in conviction or in terms of activism than evangelicals. Their worship may have pleasing smells and bells, but it culminates in an abomination, the immolation of the Lord Jesus Christ in the mass. The desires for these things, beauty and intellect, unity and activism in the cause of life, these are all good. They are just not any better in Rome than they are in the evangelical church. Their strengths are just as much ours, and our weaknesses just as much theirs. Which brings us to the theological. I typically direct these folks to the sixth session of the Council of Trent. Trent was convened to deal with issues arising out of the Reformation. It is, as even Vatican II and the current Roman Catechism affirm, unchangeable dogma not just for the church, but for all within its pale. And it, the sixth session, says that those who affirm that a man is justified apart from the works of the law should be damned. I have yet to meet a potential or actual convert to Rome who is willing to agree with this bald damning of the Biblical doctrine of how we have peace with God. And yet, by joining Rome they formally confess the truth of this damnable doctrine. In short, even if Rome beats the evangelical church hands down in principled activism, in intellectual and aesthetic fruitfulness, in unity of mind and purpose, so do the Shriners. The evangelical church is that place where the good news of Jesus Christ is not damned, but preached. With Rome it is exactly the opposite. Finally, with my friends who have made the jump I seek to make sure they live with the consequences. That is, though they don't believe the sixth session of the Council of Trent, I make them live with it. That means that if they are right, they must not treat me as a brother, for I hold to damnable doctrine. If they are wrong, I must not treat them as a brother, for they hold to damnable doctrine. There is no option where we can both be right. My friends know that if they should repent, if they should return to the one true church, the evangelical church, if they should publicly and formally affirm their dependence on the finished work of Christ alone, I will rejoice with them. Until they do, however, we are not united in Him.
I will always see you as my brother in Christ R.C. and will pray you join into full unity with the Church Christ founded so that your vision of the Kingdom can have glorious success as you realize that Kingdom is the Catholic Church! As for some of the other aspects of the email let me quote a friends response after reading it:
I was intrigued by two things in the Sproul note. First, he said, "And it, the sixth session, says that those who affirm that a man is justified apart from the works of the law should be damned." The Sixth Session doesn't say this, anywhere. Canon 19 says: "If anyone says that nothing besides faith is commanded in the Gospel, that other things are indifferent, neither commanded nor forbidden, but free; or that the ten commandments in no way pertain to Christians, let him be anathema." And Canon 20 says this: "If anyone says that a man who is justified and however perfect is not bound to observe the commandments of God and the Church, but only to believe, as if the Gospel were a bare and absolute promise of eternal life without the condition of observing the commandments, let him be anathema." But the commandments there shouldn't be equated with "works of the Law", which is a Pauline phrase referring properly to the Jewish law (particularly the ceremonial law) under the Old Covenant. The Sixth Session of Trent is referring to the moral law (revealed in the Decalogue). Sometime later this summer I hope to post something on justification on CTC. The other thing that Sproul misunderstands is the nature of the anathemas. See, for example, here.
Again if you read this R.C. I consider you a brother and wish you well. I would suggest to you that you first be able to describe accurately the opposing viewpoint before trying to dismantle it. This will avoid the appearance of straw man arguments. Much of what you said seemed tailor made to speak to people firmly convinced of the errors of Catholicism rather than, as the "Ask RC" question implied, that you were speaking to someone like me who was thinking of converting to Catholicism. Let me give an example. You said:
Their worship may have pleasing smells and bells, but it culminates in an abomination, the immolation of the Lord Jesus Christ in the mass.
This is unfair. You should know better that this is not how Catholics would describe their position. They say that the Mass is the same moment in time as Christ's immolation at Calvary. You believe as much about the worship we offer in church in the sense of being lifted up to heaven during worship. (I have heard as much from listening to you in dozens of "basement Tapes") We are then "outside time" in a sense when we participate in Christs body and blood. So why falsely characterize Catholics as participating in an "abomination"? They see themselves as being at the foot of the cross and at Jesus side as he offers a pleasing sacrifice to the father. Was Jesus not immolated? I don't get your position.