"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

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bottle rockets from howitzer barrels

"I had joined the [Presbyterian] church because I had despaired of myself, and because despairing of reason I had wished to submit to authority. If the Presbyterian church had satisfied me that she had authority, was authorized by Almighty God to teach and direct me, I could have continued to submit; but while she exercised the most rigid authority over me, she disclaimed all authority to teach me, and remitted me to the Scriptures and private judgment. ‘We do not ask you to take this as your creed,’ said my pastor, on giving me a copy of the Presbyterian Confession of Faith; ‘we do not give you this as a summary of the doctrines you must hold, but as an excellent summary of the doctrines which we believe the Scriptures teach. What you are to believe is the Bible. You must take the Bible as your creed, and read it with a prayerful mind, begging the Holy Ghost to aid you to understand it aright.’ But while the church refused to take the responsibility of telling me what doctrines I must believe, while she sent me to the Bible and private judgment, she yet claimed authority to condemn and excommunicate me as a heretic, if I departed from the standard of doctrine contained in her Confession. This I regarded as unfair treatment. It subjected me to all the disadvantages of authority without any of its advantages. The church demanded that I should treat her as a true mother, while she was free to treat me only as a step-son, or even as a stranger. Be one thing or another, said I; either assume the authority and the responsibility of teaching and directing me, or leave me with the responsibility [of] my freedom. If you have authority from God, avow it, and exercise it. I am all submission. I will hold what you say, and do what you bid. If you have not, then say so, and forbear to call me to an account for differing from you, or disregarding your teachings. Either bind me or loose me. Do not mock me with a freedom which is no freedom, or with an authority which is illusory. If you claim authority over my faith, tell me what I must believe, and do not throw upon me the labor and responsibility of forming a creed for myself; if you do not, if you send me to the Bible and private judgment, to find out the Christian faith the best way I can, do not hold me obliged to conform to your standards, or assume the right to anathematize me for departing from them." Orestes Brownson, in The Convert; or, Leaves from my experience (1857), (pp. 23-25)
That was taken from a comment by Bryan Cross on Called to Communion. I think Orestes Brownson is spot on. His words mirror my recent experience in the PCA, and so well put! I want to read more of him. It is true about Presbyterians that they make discipline one of the “marks” of the church, and will certainly excommunicate, but at the same time will leave doctrine to the individual. That is just inconsistent. It is like they have a big howitzer, but instead of artillery shells they drop bottle rockets down the barrel with a helpless shrug. They know they *should* be firing the authentic magisterial rounds, but think the ammo ran out in the early church.


  1. thanks for this post. I was able to download the book online in pdf, and found this interesting:

    Presbyterians, like most of the Protestant sects in
    this country, adopt the doctrine of the old Donatists,
    that the Church is composed of the elect, the just, or
    the [saints only, and they therefore distinguish be-
    tween the church and the congregation,, or between
    those who are held to be saints, and those held to be
    sinners, that is, between those who profess to have
    been regenerated, and those who make no such pre-
    tension, although they may have been baptized.

  2. Thanks for the tip on the PDF Leonard. I pray all is well with you.