Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The church within the church

Randy has responded yet again. His comments will be, as before, in quotation marks--except where otherwise noted.

"Asking you is not the standard. I could explain such "contradictions" but I am sure you know the explanations. You would just say "I don't buy it".
That is your choice based on your bias. I know because I used to have that bias as well. My point is every theology can be trashed like this."

Randy could explain, but he won't. That's the Armstrong bluff.

I would just say, "I don't buy it." Really? Anyone who bothers to read my weblog can see for himself that I don't just say "I don't buy it" to an opposing position. Rather, I explain why I don't buy it by examining the argument for the opposing position.

Yes, we all have a bias. The question, though, is whether we have a reasonable bias. What is our bias based on? Do the facts filter our bias, or does our bias filter the facts?

Trashed? All I did was to compare one set of magisterial pronouncements with another set of magisterial pronouncements. How is that an exercise in trashing theology? More to the point, what does it say about Randy's belief-system that it cannot survive an internal comparison and contrast of its own dogmatic teaching?

This is precisely the sort of thing that Randy should have been doing all along--he ought to compare Trent or Lateran with Vatican II.

"And there are not liberal protestants? I don't defend liberal Catholics. I defend the faith as passed down from the apostles through sacred tradition, scripture and the magesterium. These guys don't represent that. I don't read them so I don't even know what they say. I just know they are liberal by reputation."

Yes, there are liberal protestants. But there is nothing in the Protestant rule of faith (sola scriptura) which commits a Bible-believing protestant to regard liberal protestants as representative of protestant theology. To the contrary, the protestant rule of faith commits a Bible-believing protestant to regard liberal protestants as unrepresentative of protestant theology. Liberal protestants are nominal protestants who, at best, pay lip-service to the protestant rule of faith.

Randy's problem is that he has no right to say that liberal Catholics like Brown and Fitzmyer don't represent him. He has no right to drive a wedge between them and the magisterium, for they have been elevated by the magisterium to serve as official consultants to the magisterium (on the Pontifical Commission). One could say the same thing about Rahner, who was a peritus to Vatican II. And what, again, about Cardinal Koenig?

He has no right to avoid them and observe a studied ignorance of what they write, for what they write receives the Imprimatur, Imprimi Potest, and Nihil Obstat.

Randy, like Hahn and Armstrong and other conservative converts to Rome, is trying to carve out a little niche within the church. Theirs is a church within the church. This is not Roman Catholicism, but an inner schism--a homegrown chapel within the Church of Rome.

Instead of coming into the Church of Rome through the main entrance--via her scholars and theologians, they come in through a hole in the fence--the lay apologist or popularizer. This gives them a skewed and inauthentic view of what the RCC really stands for.

I said:

"In addition, conservative Evangelicals have devoted a lot of time and attention to harmonizing apparent discrepancies in Scripture. By contrast, Randy doesn't lift a finger to harmonize the examples (out of many) that I have given of conflicting magisterial traditions."

Randy replied:

"Lots of time and energy has been spent. I don't see a need to duplicate the effort."

Don't need to duplicate what effort? The fact that Evangelicals have done much to harmonize Scripture goes no distance towards the harmonization of "sacred tradition." Where is the parallel effort to harmonize sacred tradition? Can it be done? Show us how.

"Scripture comes from the sacred tradition of the church. When you deny tradition you remove the foundation of scripture. Why do you think the Dan Brown can destroy the credibility of scripture so easy. When you distrust the church it is easy to translate that to distrust of scripture. You just have to quote history. "

Scripture comes from sacred tradition? This is one of those empty, airy, ahistorical abstractions that has no basis in concrete fact. The Bible was written by individuals, not by the church. The Apostles often wrote to the church, and even against the church, not from within the church. The prophets often wrote to the religious establishment and even against the religious establishment, not from within the religious establishment.

This is one of the problems with being Roman Catholic. You stop reading what the Bible actually says about itself and substitute a just-so story of how it came to be.

As to Dan Brown, readers are taken in by his fictional conspiracy theories because they are ignorant of Scripture and church history alike.

And let us repeat the fact that a measure of distrust in Scripture is now officially sanctioned by the magisterium.

"I am just trying to show how so many problems go away when you look at history and the church from a catholic perspective. Scripture makes more sense. The many saints who embraced the church teachings make sense. The concept of the kingdom of God that Jesus keeps talking about makes sense."

Unfortunately for Randy, he is confusing the elementary distinction between showing and telling. He keeps telling us that Catholicism solves so many problems without ever showing us what problems it solves, and how it does so. Just saying something over and over against is not at all the same thing as showing us, by way of an actual demonstration, how that is so.

I said: "And let us keep in mind that contemporary Catholic scholarship is no longer committed to the proposition that Jesus said all the things attributed to him in the canonical Gospels. Consider the three-stage theory of composition issued by the Biblical Commission. Cf. J. Fitzmyer, A Christological Catechism, appendix. Or consider Ray Brown's five-stage model for the composition of the Fourth Gospel."

Randy replied: "Again, Catholic in name only."

Really? The members of the Biblical Commission, appointed by the papacy, are Catholic in name only? Once again, see how Randy and other "Evangelical" converts have created a church within a church. Their church is not the church authorized by the magisterium. They are merely camping out in the RCC.

He claims to submit to the magisterium ("Being Catholic is a surrender of your will to God"), but when push comes to shove he sits in judgment over the judgments of the magisterium. He and Hahn and Armstrong are spiritual amphibians with their head in sola Scriptura and their tail in the baptismal font of Catholicism.

The PBC is not some rogue agency. Just consider, for example, "The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church," issued by the PBC in 1994, which comes with a preface by then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict. And while we're on the subject, while don't we sample the document to get a flavor of its critical stance:


But one of the results of this method has been to demonstrate more clearly that the tradition recorded in the New Testament had its origin and found its basic shape within Christian community or early church, passing from the preaching of Jesus himself to that which proclaimed that Jesus is the Christ. Eventually, form criticism was supplemented by (redaction criticism), the "critical study of the process of editing." This sought to shed light upon the personal contribution of each evangelist and to uncover the theological tendencies which shaped his editorial work.

When this last method was brought into play, the whole series of different stages characteristic of the historical-critical method became complete: From textual criticism one progresses to literary criticism, with its work of dissection in the quest for sources; then one moves to a critical study of forms and, finally, to an analysis of the editorial process, which aims to be particularly attentive to the text as it has been put together. All this has made it possible to understand far more accurately the intention of the authors and editors of the Bible as well as the message which they addressed to their first readers. The achievement of these results has lent the historical-critical method an importance of the highest order.

Oriented in its origins toward source criticism and the history of religions, the method has managed to provide fresh access to the Bible. It has shown the Bible to be a collection of writings, which most often, especially in the case of the Old Testament, are not the creation of a single author, but which have had a long prehistory inextricably tied either to the history of Israel or to that of the early church. Previously, the Jewish or Christian interpretation of the Bible had no clear awareness of the concrete and diverse historical conditions in which the word of God took root among the people; of all this it had only a general and remote awareness.


Notice how this analysis has set aside the self-witness of Scripture to the circumstances of its own composition in favor of a hypothetical historical reconstruction. So the critical view of Scripture is now the official view of Scripture according to Rome.

And if we are no longer bound by the record of Scripture regarding the time, place, and reporter of the events so recorded, why would we be bound by the content of the record, especially when the report is often inseparable from the reporter?

"I didn't pick the church. Jesus did. Every other church was begun by somebody else. The real question is how can we be so arrogant as to have more than one church."

i) And which church did Jesus pick? Randy continues to equivocate and procrastinate. Even if, for the sake of argument, you believe that there is only one true visible church on earth, there are plenty of false churches competing for that title, so how does Randy know that his church is the true church and not one of the many false claimants? If, as Randy maintains, there are so many false claimants, then, just as a matter of the odds, he is much more likely to land in false church than the true one absent some independent criterion. What is his criterion? It can't very well be the church itself. That's the real question, Randy.

ii) Calvin didn't begin a church, he began a theological movement--just as Augustine began a theological movement, and Aquinas, and the Cappadocian Fathers, &c. Evangelicals don't equate "the church" with a particular manifestation of the church on earth. Randy is committing a semantic fallacy by equating words with concepts.

iii) BTW, the Reformed don't believe that the "church" began with the NT church. The NT church is an extension of the OT church (e.g. Acts 7:38). The church is the covenant community. So it all depends on how we define the church.

"The Watchtower is a good point. I studied them as a protestant. They claim infallibility and in a much shorter history have dozens of huge contradictions. As a protestant I was sure I would find much worse in the Catholic church. I didn't. Just a few issues that were easily explained if you understood the history. The Watchtower has more problems. They don't go back to Jesus. They contradict scripture. "

So what's the criterion? That they contradict Scripture? So is sola Scriptura Randy's criterion? Doesn't sound very Catholic to me!

Or is it history? "They don't go back to Jesus." But when it came to Dan Brown, Randy repudiated the historical criterion. Remember what he said? "Why do you think the Dan Brown can destroy the credibility of scripture so easy. When you distrust the church it is easy to translate that to distrust of scripture. You just have to quote history."

So Scripture is a valid criterion to falsify the Watchtower, but an invalid criterion to falsify the RCC. So history is a valid criterion to falsify The Da Vinci Code, but an invalid criterion to falsify the RCC. Am I the only one who sees a slight problem here?

I said: "Should we judge Joseph Smith or Brigham Young by the same standard as Randy applies to the RCC?"

Randy replied: "Yes. Do the Mormons go back to the first century? Is there any evidence of their claimed apostasy?"

i) No, this is not the same standard. Randy is shifting ground. Randy's aforesaid standard was: "It is very different from interpreting sacred tradition because the church is a living community. You can't say the church says x when the church is right there saying y."

And I asked Randy if he would apply that same standard to Mormonism or the Watchtower. Now, however, Randy suddenly throws that standard overboard like a killer ditching the murder weapon, and instead whips out his historical criterion.

ii) At the same time, Randy regards the historical standard as applicable to Joseph Smith, but inapplicable to Dan Brown. Go figure!

I said: "Notice how Jesus and the Apostles deal with Jewish tradition. They don't reject Jewish tradition in total. But neither do you hear them claim that, You can't say the Sanhedrin says x when the Sanhedrin is right there saying y. No, what Jesus and the Apostles do is to go back to Scripture, quoting from the OT."

Randy replied: "Jesus is claiming that the kingdom was taken away from the Jews."

This is a non-sequitur. To begin with, I didn't limit my appeal to what Jesus said. You also find this in Acts, Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, &c.

But, in any event, the major point remains: conformity to the OT was the yardstick against which Jewish tradition was measured. Not the OT refracted through the lens of Jewish tradition, but a direct appeal to the OT apart from tradition and in judgment of tradition.

"Before that happened he said to do as they say and not as they do. In other words these guys are jerks but their authority from God is legit. (Mt23:1-4)"

Yes, they had a legitimate position of authority, but it was not unconditional or infallible. After all, they were wrong about the identity of the Messiah, which is no minor mistake, is it? And their position of authority did not prevent Jesus or the Apostles from challenging their interpretation of the Law on many points, did it?

"This is the point. The Calvinist has no rational basis for protecting the core doctrines from question. They claim God never gave us a way to be sure of these things yet you say Calvinists agree it is needed. Did God fail to give the church the graces it needs to prevent heresy and schism?"

i) The Calvinist has the same basis as the Jews had. The covenant community in OT times had no magisterium. The patriarchs had no priesthood. And even when the priesthood was established under the Mosaic Code, the high priest was not a quasi-Pope who could speak ex cathedra. Nor were there ecumenical councils blessed with the unction of infallibility. When the covenant community went astray, this was not for lack of guidance, but lack of obedience to the revelation it already had.

ii) "They claim God never gave us a way to be sure of these things yet you say Calvinists agree it is needed." What is this assertion based on?

a) Randy is fallaciously assuming that unless God gave us a magisterium, then we have no source of religious assurance. How does that follow? The same hermeneutical issues arise with reference to tradition as they do with reference to Scripture. And adding another layer on top of Scripture only complicates rather than simplifies the interpretive process.

b) I never said that that Evangelicals can be certain of nothing. What I said is that we can discharge our duties to God without being equally certain of everything. Aside from the necessary and sufficient conditions of certainty, there are degrees of evidence and degrees of belief, as well as first and second-order beliefs.

The possibility of knowledge is up to God. It is for him to supply adequate evidence in tandem with adequate faculties. That presupposition demands no special proof, for that's the basis of all proof in general. Our duty is not to second-guess the preconditions of knowledge, but to apply our faculties to the evidence at hand. Randy is attempting to dodge the detailed questions of evidence and argument for which we are responsible by airing hypothetical doubts.

I'm all for religious certainty. But I'm all for finding such certainty where God has given us assurance, and not where he has not, in some false sense and some false source of security.

"Did God fail to give the church the graces it needs to prevent heresy and schism?" Why doesn't Randy begin by answering that question for himself. Did God give the Church of Rome the grace to prevent heresy and schism?

Well, we wouldn't be engaged in this debate were it not for the Reformation. So by Randy's own benchmark, God did not give the Church of Rome the grace to prevent heresy and schism. So when we apply Randy's yardstick to Randy's church, his church doesn't measure up. Thank you, Randy, for helping us clear up that issue!

BTW, notice that Randy is once again equivocating over the identity of the church. From a Reformed standpoint, the phenomenon of heresy and schism is a refining process, a way of separating the wheat from the tares. Such a threshing exercise is a good thing, not a bad thing: "Purge out the old leaven that you may be a new, unleavened loaf" (1 Cor 5:7).

"The Orthodox split is a different beast. They have valid apostolic succession."

So is there one church, or many? Which is it, Randy?

"Freedom is not only messy but it is unchristian. Where did this "free marketplace of ideas" come from? The bible? I don't think so."

What is the alternative? Back to the Inquisition?

Freedom can be used for good or ill. But what you have in the absence of freedom is outward conformity and inward hypocrisy. Without the freedom to be a heretic or a schismatic, there is no freedom to be other than a nominal Christian.

From a Reformed standpoint, not all schism is sin. Indeed, there are times when schism is a moral imperative whereas the sin would be to remain within an incurably corrupt body. And it isn't coincidental that the nations with a history of national churches are among the most unchurched nations in the world.

"All sides spilt a lot of blood. Often you saw protestants killing other protestants as well as Catholics."

I don't deny this. But if that's why you believe, then why did you paint with such a broad brush before?

"Yes, bad popes discredit the papacy. Still you should believe it because God guarantees it."

Guarantees what? The papacy? This is a lonely assertion bereft of a supporting argument.

"Still blaming Americas moral problems on Catholic immigration is ... interesting. To use a polite term."

I guess we need to set the record straight. Randy had blamed the "long downward moral spiral especially in Europe and North America."

I then point out as a matter of elementary historical chronology that American started out as an overwhelmingly Protestant country. The mass infusion of Catholicism came later.

It is always quite revealing when you call the opponent on his own argument, and then have him behave as though you've said something simply outlandish. This is your argument, Randy. I'm running with your own argument. If you don't like the logic of your own argument, then withdraw the argument.

I said: "What about the pedophile priesthood? What about the majority of American bishops who facilitated the pedophile priesthood? Indeed, they continue to stonewall to this day. And did the Vatican not know of those confidential, out-of-court, multimillion dollar settlements?"

Randy replied: "Pedophile priesthood? No pedophiles among protestants? I know some cases personally. They never hit the media.:

i) Are these comparable cases? Can Randy name even one Evangelical denomination with a homosexual subculture and a pattern of clerical pedophilia?

ii) And assuming, for the sake of argument, that there were such a parallel, is moral equivalence sufficient? If the RCC is, indeed, the one true church, then should it not be a cut above the Evangelical sects and denominations?

iv) Notice how Randy soft-pedals the magnitude of the problem. There was a pattern of pedophilia in the RCC. There was a pattern of bishops covering for pedophile priests. And what about the role of the Vatican in all this? Why is Randy not bothered by the pervasive indifference or corruption of the magisterium?

v) Is there any line the RCC can cross, anything so bad that it would cause Randy to reconsider his conversion to the RCC? And if the sex scandal doesn't reach that threshold, what would?

The real scandal of the sex scandal is not the clergy, but the laity--the acquiescence of the laity, the good men who make it possible for bad men go on by giving them a platform, the good men who stand by the system no matter what.

This is what happens when you believe in one true church on earth. It chains you to an abomination. Evangelicals would never put up with that sort of thing because we don't identify the church in any one visible institution. "Come out from among them and be ye separate, says the Lord. Touch not the unclean thing!" (2 Cor 6:17). John the Baptist was a schismatic. The whole Christian movement was schismatic (and heretical) in the eyes of the Jewish establishment. There are worse things than schism--far worse.

"Sure, Catholics are responsible for all evil in America. Whatever?"

Remember that it was Randy who tried to tar the Protestant Reformation with America's moral decline. But when I apply his mile-wide brush to equally obvious counterexamples in American Catholicism, he just shrugs it off.

"Sorry I missed the counter argument. You will have to connect it a little better. I will keep repeating this because it is my story. I met Jesus as a protestant. Becoming Catholic has connected me with Jesus through history. Historical Christianity is not protestant so protestants just jump from the new testament to the present day. That really made it hard to see how the new testament story is my story."

This is a Catholic caricature of the Protestant position. At the risk of stating the obvious, the present has its source in the past. Every modern-day phenomenon has a direct, linear, stepwise trajectory back into the past. This is no less true of Evangelicalism than it is of Roman Catholicism.

Randy's belief that the RCC has some special connection with the past is simply an artifact of his selection criteria. He buys into the claim that the RCC is this continuous entity, identical throughout its history.

But history of itself doesn't select for the segment of the church which branched off into Rome, and forked off into Trent, and sprung yet another offshoot at Vatican II.There is nothing in church history which selects for that particular stalk as over against the Orthodox or the Anglican or the Lutheran or the Reformed or the Anabaptist, &c. Modern Catholicism is just one more twig which goes back to a common trunk, along with all the rest.

If Randy really believes that the Church of Rome enjoys this unique chain of historical custody, then let him tell us who the true popes were between the death of Gregory XI and Martin V.

"The pope is ordained by God."

This is yet another orphaned assertion in search of a supporting argument.

"Calvin is ordained by Calvin."

Actually, there is no formal rite of ordination in the NT, so to cast the question in these terms is to beg the question.

"Besides the pope never makes up new doctrine. He only defends the faith given to the apostles."

This is not an argument. This is propaganda. And antiquated propaganda at that. That's how the RCC used to define tradition. Tradition was oral tradition, passed on by Christ to the Apostles. That's the Tridentine definition. But tradition was redefined at Vatican II. Tradition ain't what it used to be! Vatican II substituted a silly putty definition of tradition.

"So what do you see? There is no protestant theology of church that fits the scriptures. Jesus started one church. That is the one referred to in scripture. To start something new, call it a church, and then say it's not clear what church is referred to. That is saying you have the same right to start a church as Jesus does. I believe Jesus is Lord. He has the keys of the Kingdom. He gives them to whoever he pleases. We don't get to choose. He does."

One church? The one referred to in Scripture? Which one would that one be? When I turn to Scripture I see many churches referred to: Antioch, Asia, Bithynia, Caesarea, Cappadocia, Conchrea, Colossae, Corinth, Crete, Ephesus, Galatia, Jerusalem, Judea, Laodicea, Macedonia, Pergamos, Philadelphia, Philippi, Pontus, Rome, Sardis, Smyrna, Thyatira, Thessalonica, &c. These, and others, were all planted by the Apostles.

You do have a doctrine of the universal church in Ephesians, but this is never identified with any particular manifestation of the church on earth.

That's one of the many problems with being a Roman Catholic. You start to make claims about the Bible that are never found within the Bible. You indulge in these paper theories and fact-free abstractions.

"However God speaks he must have been speaking through all generations since Jesus. The idea that God has left this question unanswered seems indefensible to me."

God has spoken to use once and for all time in the Bible.


  1. This is getting quite long and hard to follow. If I have trouble I can imagine anyone else. Not sure there is anyone else reading this but in theory it is possible. I will make a few more comments but we are coming to the end of usefulness anyway.

    First of all, you characterization of the RCC as drifting off into liberalism is totally against the facts. The RCC is the only major church that is standing firm with the truth. That is why the choice of Benedict XVI confused so many people. The story has always been that the liberal wing of the church wins. It isn't happening in the RCC. It is showing once again there is a fundamental differance between the RCC and every other church.

    You can go through one billion catholics and find some bad apples. I'm sure your church has none. Still it is getting harder and harder to find a protestant church that hasn't gone totally liberal. There are some small rumps here and there but the story generally has been abysmal.

    As far as the rest goes it is hard to tell where you are serious and where you are just playing dumb and missing the point for rhetorical effect. I won't bother.

    I will make one more try at the history thing. The reformation assumes the first 1500 years of church history were seriously disfunctional. If the Catholic theology of the eucharist is wrong then it is condemnable idolatry. If the popes and the bishops do not in fact have legitimate authority from God then them claiming they do is a major error. Similarly on salvation, purgetory, Mary, sacred tradition, etc. These are major issues that the Holy Spirit was supposed to be leading us into truth about(Jn 14:26). Somehow He seems to have failed miserably. The history doesn't fit. Especailly since most of these teachings go back to the very early days of christianity.

    When you look at the life and piety of many of the people who lived in these times it REALLY doesn't fit. Why didn't Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Fransis of Assisi and hundreds of others speak out? They seem like they should have been in tune with the Holy Spirit.

    You add to that the biblical ideas of the church as the pillar and foundation of the truth(I Tim 3:15). And the idea of God's wisdom being made known though the church (Eph 3:10). Plus the concept of the church as a final appeal for differances amoung believers(Mat 18:17). You get a picture that does not correspond to the present day reality of 30,000 denominations with contradictory teachings on almost every issue.

  2. That would be Phil Johnson of the Spurgion Archive who is a reader of Steve's blog and is going to link it at his 'blogs I read' page. (I know because I emailed him about the blog and he kindly responded saying he was already a reader of it.) But of course with Phil Johnson linking something you have to go see if he's given you a good report or compared you and your theological understanding to Spanky and Our Gang... (I think Mr. Hays is going to get a thumbs up though...)

    May I recommend Berkhof's Manual of Christian Doctrine to anybody reading this. It is a special work. Berkhof writes with understanding and distills it all down to its core. It's sort of the result if his Systematic Theology conceived a child by Packer's Concise Theology. Though I see a little bit of inspiration in Berkhof's 370 page Manual that I don't see in similar type works.

    He and Bavinck (like Calvin) had that quality of recognizing mystery in the Bible and just saying what the Bible says and not smoothing anything over, not tidying up loose threads if the Bible doesn't do that, and not making certain what the Bible leaves in mystery. Not negotiating it down to human demands. Like a translator who translates a Grimm's tale just exactly like it is in the original and doesn't compromise it for the benefit of children's sensibilities...

  3. I'm reading. Thanks to Dave Armstrong for bringing Mr. Hays writing to my attention.

  4. Randy, like Hahn and Armstrong and other conservative converts to Rome, is trying to carve out a little niche within the church. Theirs is a church within the church. This is not Roman Catholicism, but an inner schism--a homegrown chapel within the Church of Rome.

    Perhaps you should take a look at the first page of Scott Hahn's (and most other Catholic apologist's) books. They are usually submitted to the local Bishop for an imprimatur (an official review and declaration of its suitability insofar as Catholic doctrine goes).

    You'd think a schismatic group would try to IGNORE the Bishops, rather than seek their approval.

  5. Perhaps you should open up to the first page of Scott Hahn's books (and most other books from Catholic apologists, for that matter). More often than not, they have been submitted to the local Bishop for an imprimatur (an official review and declaration of suitability, insofar as Catholic doctrine is concerned).

    You'd think a "schismatic" group would try to ignore their Bishop, rather than seek his approval.

    God bless.

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