Robert Koons has posted “A Lutheran's Case for Roman Catholicism.”
And this is making the rounds of the Internet.
So who is Robert Koons? And why should we care? He’s a Christian philosopher and one-time Lutheran who has converted to Roman Catholicism. So his case for Roman Catholicism is important inasmuch as we would expect a philosopher to make a tightly reasoned case for his transition from one religious tradition to another.
Let’s see what he has to say:
“I’ve always thought that the doctrine of justification is the crux of the Lutheran/Catholic controversy. If the Roman church has been in error on this point, to the extent of condemning the true understanding of the basis of our righteousness before God, then the Reformation was fully justified. Conversely, if Rome has not been in error, if her position can be charitably interpreted as a faithful exposition of the gospel and her condemnations (at Trent) as the rejection of genuine errors, then the Reformation, which destroyed the visible unity of the Church and broke ancient bonds of fellowship, could not be justified. All other issues are secondary: sola scriptura, the role of the papacy, purgatory, the
veneration and invocation of the saints, and so on.”
i) From what I can tell, this does, indeed, reflect Lutheran priorities. By contrast, although sola fide is equally essential to Calvinism, it is not equally central to Calvinism.
For Calvinism, the main soteriological conflict with Rome is not over sola fide, but sola gratia. Sola fide is just one aspect of sola gratia. Rome denies sola fide because Rome is committed to synergism.
From a Reformed standpoint, therefore, it’s deeply misleading to suggest that if you can just get sola fide out of the way, then all the other differences amount to a mopping up operation.
ii) It’s also odd to have him treat the debate over sola Scriptura as a secondary issue. For one of the questions at issue is whether the Catholic doctrine of justification is unscriptural. If Scripture is the rule of faith, as the source and standard of doctrine, then the exegetical foundation of any given doctrine is hardly a secondary issue.
“One of the most fundamental questions is this: should the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church be interpreted charitably or uncharitably? This is not merely a rhetorical question. There is a serious case to be made for subjecting the teachings of any church to as uncharitable a construction as possible. It is the responsibility of the Church to proclaim the Gospel with unmistakable clarity. If a church’s teaching can reasonably be interpreted in a way that brings them into conflict with the Gospel, then that is a grave fault.”
I don’t think we should either adopt charitable or uncharitable interpretation in every case. That’s too aprioristic in dealing with a concrete phenomenon. Rather, we need to approach this on a case-by-case basis, depending on what else we know about a religious institution. For example, given what we know about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, there is every reason to interpret their claims uncharitably.
“There are two reasons why the Lutheran position must bear the burden of proof: the Lutheran doctrine was novel, and it precipitated a fragmentation of the Church’s unity.”
This begs the question, and it fails to draw an elementary distinction. “Novel” in relation to what? Novel in relation to Scripture or church history?
Even if sola fide were novel in relation to historical theology, that doesn’t mean it's novel in relation to biblical theology. Even if it’s novel in relation to Augustine or Chysostom, that doesn’t mean it’s novel in relation to St. Paul. Putting this another way, Tridentine theology might not be novel to Aquinas, but still be novel to St. Paul or St. John.
“One might claim that the Reformation did not destroy the visible unity of the Church by arguing that the Scriptures teach that the true Church is always constituted by a divinely preserved ‘remnant’. Thus, the Reformation simply freed the true Church from its captivity to a much larger but inauthentic “church”. However, all of the relevant Scriptural references (including Romans 9) refer to the remnant as a part of the people established by the old covenant.”
This is off-base on several counts:
i) Some OT references are prophetic of the new covenant community.
ii) The remnant motif carries over into the NT.
iii) Rom 9-11 is prospective as well as retrospective.
Cf. “Remnant,” ISBE 4:130-34.
“Jesus’ prayers for the Church and His instruction about the Comforter in the Gospel of John reinforce the importance of this new factor. The Holy Spirit will teach “you” (plural) all things and (John 14:26) lead ‘you’ (plural) into all the truth. (John 16:13) If the Church is collectively taught by the Holy Spirit and guided by the Holy Spirit into all the truth, we should not expect orthodoxy to be confined to a tiny remnant.”
Notice how he pole-vaults from the plural to the church. That’s a non-sequitur. In context, the plural is used because Jesus is addressing the Twelve, who were assembled in the Upper Room. And even Judas was implicitly exempted from the promise.
This happens when people read the Bible without attempting to visualize the original setting. Who was Jesus talking to?
“The Gospel of John gives us good reason to expect the Church to be both thoroughly orthodox and visibly united. The members of the Church are commanded to ‘love one another’ (John 15), which presupposes a kind of visible unity (in particular, in the form of Eucharistic unity, i.e., fellowship in what the early Church called the “agape” meal).
i) Notice how he pole-vaults from Jn 15 to Eucharistic unity.
ii) Are Catholics more loving than other Christians?
“Jesus prays that the Father would sanctify ‘them’ (plural) in the truth of His Word (John 17:19), and He prays that all who believe in Him should be made ‘one’ and ‘perfected in unity’ -- visibly one, so that the world might believe in Christ (17:21-23). It is only through the apostolic succession, centered in the successor of Peter in Rome, that the Church has been able to maintain both doctrinal discipline and global eucharistic unity.”
i) Look at the way he rips these verses out of context. In context, they have reference, not to the visible church as a whole, but to the elect or chosen people of God—to those whom the Father has “given” to Jesus, before the foundation of the world.
ii) Do all baptized Catholics and communicant members of the Catholic church believe in Jesus? Or is there a certain percentage of merely nominal believers in the Catholic communion? And is this distinction visible or invisible? Can you tell by looking at a Catholic whether he’s in a state of grace or moral sin?
iii) Observe the leap from “visible unity” to “Eucharistic unity.” What is the exegetical basis for this synonymity?
iv) Do all communicants fulfill the terms of Jn 15 or Jn 17?
“History demonstrates that churches following the Protestant principle must sacrifice either one or the other: either choosing doctrinal purity over unity (conservatives) or choosing unity over purity (liberals and latitudinarians). Only through a visible authority (popes and councils) able to bring controversies to a decisive conclusion can the Church realize both of Christ’s stated intentions for it.”
Has Dr. Koons made anything resembling a serious effort to exegete this conclusion from Jn 15 or Jn 17?
“It is also important to be clear about the doctrine of papal infallibility as taught by Rome. It is certainly the case that wild and extravagant claims were made for the primacy and infallibility of the pope in Luther’s day. The normative doctrine of Rome is subtler and more qualified. The pope is infallible only on matters of faith and morals, and only when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, with the intention of speaking authoritatively on behalf of the whole church. Similar restrictions apply to the infallibility of church councils: their pronouncements are infallible only when they address matters of faith and morals and are intended to be authoritative statements of the teaching of the Church, and only when accepted as such by the pope.”
i) Pay careful attention to how the theory of doctrinal development undercuts religious certainty. He’s saying that Catholics had to wait for 19 hundred years to have a clear, working definition of papal infallibility. Same thing with the definition of conciliar authority, which had to await Vatican II for its latest reformulation.
ii) Also observe how this undercuts his appeal to ecclesiastical unity. It isn’t the same church from one period to the next. Rather, it passes through various phases. What it represents at one stage in its development is altered at a later stage it its continuous evolution.
“The Scriptural basis for infant baptism is, as any candid Lutheran would have to admit, less than compelling.”
How is that candid admission an argument for Catholicism? Why not become a Baptist?
“If Roman Catholics can show that the Scriptures do not teach sola scriptura (Scripture as the sole authority), the Lutherans are hoisted by their own petard.”
Even if that were so, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Protestantism as a whole is thereby undermined. One could argue that sola Scriptura wins by default through process of elimination. If there is no genuine alternative, then it’s sola Scriptura or bust.
I’m not saying that there is no scriptural argument for sola Scriptura, but merely drawing attention to his false dichotomy.
“Lutherans argue that an authoritative Church is unnecessary, since the Scriptures themselves can act as the judge in any case of doctrinal controversy. This claim depends of course on the thesis of the perspicuity or clarity of the Scriptures. I have not been able to find a consistent formulation of this thesis among Lutherans. Sometimes, it is admitted that the Scriptures are not always clear (as Peter writes about some of Paul’s epistles). However, if the Scriptures are not always clear, then there will be questions about which it is not clear what, if anything, the Scriptures have to say. The Lutheran position, however, depends on the claim that, on every disputed question, the Scriptures can always act effectively as the supreme court of appeal.”
Suppose that Koons is right about this? So what? What’s the next step?
i) He acts as if there are only two choices: Catholicism or Lutheranism. Where is his argument for such a restrictive choice?
ii) There is also the paradoxical way in which he allows a great deal of internal development and alteration in the case of Catholicism, while allowing no flexibility in the case of Lutheranism. Why treat Catholicism as fluid, but Lutheranism as static?
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Lutheranism did overstate its case. Maybe it can’t nail down quite as many things as it originally claimed.
Why does he cut Catholicism so much slack when he’s unwilling to cut Lutheranism any slack? Why not make the same retrospective allowances for Lutheranism as he’s made for Catholicism?
This is especially odd because he regards Catholicism as indefectible and, in some cases, infallible. So Catholicism ought to be less revisable than Lutheranism.
iii) But suppose that Lutherans don’t want to modify their position? Even if they are inflexible, how does that disprove other Protestant alternatives?
Why can’t a Protestant say that where Scripture is silent, that’s a point of liberty? It isn’t necessary to stipulate in advance that Scripture has an answer to every question we pose. If Scripture offers no specific guidance on certain questions, how does that invalidate sola Scriptura? Why would it not mean that there is more than one right thing to do?
“Lutherans have held, in fact, that every doctrine taught by Scriptures is a doctrine upon which church fellowship hangs. The Book of Concord is an attempt (futile, in the end) to settle in advance every possible dispute about the interpretation of Scripture, in order to provide a sufficient and permanent basis for confessional unity.”
And maybe Lutherans are wrong about that. Perhaps they overplayed their hand. But how is that an argument for Catholicism?
“Lutherans must insist that the Scriptures are not only clear, but clearly clear, when they are clear, and clearly unclear, when they are unclear. Even if the Scriptures are utterly clear on all the important doctrines, unless we can all tell exactly which passages address the ‘important’ doctrines, the Scriptures will not be able to act as the unmistakable judge in all doctrinal controversies.”
Assuming that this is correct, it would only mean that Lutherans need to scale back some of their exaggerated claims, not that Catholicism is true. In the heat of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, it was quite possible for polemical theology to get a bit carried away, for fear of making any damaging concessions. And, from our distance, it is possible for us to modify or moderate excessive claims.
For example, this is what a lot of Presbyterians have done in reference to the Puritan form of worship. They decided that the Puritans overreacted in this respect. Protestant theology has a capacity for self-criticism, and that’s because we submit to the Bible as our rule of faith. Our commitment is to Scripture, and not to tradition—not even Protestant traditions.
“There is only one coherent basis for the doctrine of sola scriptura: an empirical, a posteriori argument that uses actual error to eliminate all other claimants to infallible. If it can be shown that popes and councils have actually erred (by contradicting the Scriptures, for example), then the Scriptures will be left as the only remaining infallible authority. This basis places a heavy burden of proof on the Lutheran side, however. The Lutheran must demonstrate, without begging any question, that popes and valid councils (when properly interpreted) have in fact erred when proclaiming dogma (that which must be taught and believed in the Church).”
I agree that a Lutheran apologist or theologian (or Protestant in general) assumes a burden of proof. But why does he assume the sole burden of proof or even a preponderant burden of proof? Why isn’t there an equal onus on a Catholic apologist or theologian to “demonstrate, without begging any question, that popes and valid councils (when properly interpreted) have never erred when proclaiming dogma”? Both sides have their own burden of proof to discharge.
There is a danger of circular reasoning here. It is tempting to argue in something like the following way:
(i) Sola scriptura is true because popes and councils have erred.
(ii) We know that popes and councils have erred, because they have taught doctrines that cannot be supported by Scripture alone.
(iii) We know that these church teachings are in error, because sola scriptura is true.
This is obviously unacceptable. To establish the truth of sola scriptura, Protestants must demonstrate a contradiction between a dogmatic definition of the Church and the clear and unmistakable teaching of the Scriptures on a matter of faith or morals.
But this is clearly fallacious, and I don’t know why a trained logician would frame the issue in such utterly fallacious terms.
You don’t have to assume sola Scriptura to show that something is unscriptural. Even if sola scriptura were false, a Catholic dogma might still contradict Scripture.
There are liberal Protestant scholars who don’t believe in sola Scripture because they don’t believe in Scripture, period. They deny Biblical authority. They also deny ecclesiastical authority.
And yet they are still able to demonstrate that Catholic dogma contradicts the Bible at various points. That’s a simply matter of consistency. It doesn’t require any personal commitment to either of the two comparative sources, whether Scripture or tradition.
The same holds true if one were comparing the Bible to the Koran, or the Bible to the Mormon apocrypha. An atheist could do that. He could judge the Koran or the Mormon apocrypha to be in conflict with Scripture without assuming the truth of sola Scriptura. Same thing with the Gnostic apocrypha in comparison to the NT.
“The demonstration of a contradiction is difficult, for two reasons. First, the matters at issue are subtle ones, and it is difficult to demonstrate that a particular interpretation of Scripture on such a subtle issue is the correct one.”
Other issues aside, this cuts both ways. Traditional Catholicism takes issue with Protestant exegesis at many points. It asserts a contradiction between the correct, Catholic reading of Scripture and the incorrect, Protestant reading of Scripture. So if Koons chooses to complicate the issue with a lot of difficulties and subtleties, then this will complicate his efforts to correct Protestant exegesis.
“Second, one must also interpret Church teaching in light of the Church’s explicit acceptance of the Scriptures as an infallible norm. Charity demands that the Church’s teaching be interpreted in such a way as to be consistent with the Scriptures, if at all possible.”
Why should we put the most charitable construction on the relation between Scripture and Catholic dogma? If we already knew that Catholicism stood for the one true church, then, yes, such a charitable presumption would be in order. But that assumes the very question at issue.
Would he apply the same standard to Mormons or Muslims or Moonies? Does charity demand that Mormon dogma be interpreted in such a way as to be consistent with the Scriptures, if at all possible?
“There is evidence in Scripture for tradition: I Corinthians 11:2, I Timothy 2:2, II Timothy 1:13, and Jude 1:3. Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will guide ‘you’ (plural), that is, the whole Church, into all the truth. (John 16:13) Paul describes the Church as “the pillar and ground of the truth.” (I Timothy 3:15).”
There’s a basic difference between quoting Scripture and exegeting Scripture. I’ve already pointed out some of the problems in his appeal to Jn 16. And if he bothered to consult the two standard Catholic commentaries on 1 Tim 3:15 (by Monsignor Quinn and Luke Timothy Johnson), he should be able to see how far off the mark he is on that verse as well.
“As is often pointed out, the Canon of Scripture was itself fixed by the teaching authority of the Church. It is surely essential that the Church recognize only canonical books (not the Quran or the Book of Mormon, for example), but this fact is inconsistent with sola scriptura, since the Scriptures themselves do not contain a list of which books must be included (nor even very explicit instructions about how to determine the list – is Luke or Mark an apostle?).”
I’ve often discussed what is wrong with this stock objection. There are two basic errors in his objection:
i) Sola Scriptura does not preclude the use of extrabiblical evidence. For example, sola Scriptura is not opposed to Biblical archeology.
ii) There’s a great deal of intertextuality in Scripture, both prospective (e.g. thematic foreshadowing) and retrospective (e.g. literary allusions).
There are a number of standard works that canvass both the internal and external lines of evidence, viz.
Beckwith, R. The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Eerdmans 1986)
Bruce, F. The Canon of Scripture (IVP 1988)
Carson, D. A. & D. Moo, An Introduction of the New Testament (Zondervan 2005).
Ellis, E. The Making of the New Testament Documents (Leiden: Brill 1999)
_____, The Old Testament in Early Christianity: Canon and Interpretation in Light of Modern Research (Baker 1992)
Hays, R. Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (Yale 1989)
Metzger, B. The Canon of the New Testament (Oxford 1987)
Sailhamer, J. Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach (Zondervan 1995)
Spawn, K. “As It Is Written” and Other Citation Formulae in the Old Testament (de Gruyter 2002)
Trobisch, D. Paul’s Letter Collection (QWP 2001)
_____, The First Edition of the New Testament (Oxford 2000)
“This fact results in an outright contradiction in the Lutheran position. Sola scriptura implies two things: that the Church must not dogmatically teach anything that is not deducible from the Scriptures (since otherwise sola scriptura is violated), and that the Church must dogmatically teach which books are inspired (since otherwise sola scriptura is empty). However, it is not possible to deduce the canon from the Scriptures. Hence, sola scriptura is unsustainable.”
This may or may not be true of Lutheranism, but it’s hardly true for Protestantism as a whole. There are both inductive and deductive lines of evidence for the canon, and the deductive lines of evidence enjoy dogmatic force, but whether or not we can “dogmatically” teach which books of the Bible comprise the canon is an arbitrary rule of evidence.
“The Lutheran position only makes sense if we can suppose that all the doctrines can be logically deduced from the explicit statements of Scripture. That is, Lutheran theology must be completely ‘deductivist’ in method, if it is to be coherent. In contrast, Roman theologians can legitimately make use of inductive and other ‘ampliative’ (to use Charles S. Peirce’s term) forms of inference. Roman theologians can see the doctrines of the Church emerging from the text of Scripture by a kind of organic development (as John Henry Newman argued). The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, develops a body of doctrine that completes and fulfills God’s revelatory intentions for inspired Scripture.”
i) Other issues aside, Koons rejected sola fide because this was, to his way of thinking, a theological innovation. But the theory of development is also a theological innovation. He keeps referring us back to Newman. Yes, Newman—the Victorian churchman. What is more, Newman developed this theory as an Anglican. It is alien to Catholic tradition. It comes from the outside, and it comes 19 hundred years down the pike.
ii) In addition, contemporary Catholic theology is often revolutionary rather than evolutionary:
“Catholics and Lutherans can agree that Scripture is, for the most part at least, the sole foundation of all theology. (Oral tradition plays a relatively minor role in Catholic theology.)”
No, they can’t, because Roman Catholicism pays lip-service to Scripture.
“Newman makes a compelling case that the development of such doctrines as the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, and infant baptism does not fit the deductivist model.”
i) If you really think these doctrines are underdetermined by revelation, then why not be a Baptist or an Arian?
The logic of this objection seems to be that if I don’t have a good enough reason for what I believe, I should keeping on believing it, but adopt some auxiliary support system which will underwrite my irrational belief. I’m afraid that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
ii) This also goes to the tension between scepticism and fideism in so much of Catholic theology. They’re very sceptical about the Bible, and they use their scepticism as a springboard to justify a blind leap into the arms of ecclesiastical authority.
iii) A final problem is that folks like this don’t ever seem to study the exegetical literature on this subject. There’s a lot of fine, scholarly material written in defense of a high Christology. You don’t need Catholicism to shore up a rickety faith in the Incarnation. You simply need to be better informed about the witness of Scripture.
Indeed, to use the church this way is to admit that the church is just a stopgap for an inadequate argument. Why would Koons (or Francis Beckwith), as a trained philosopher, find such a blatantly makeshift solution intellectually satisfying?
“Lutheran protestations to the contrary, I cannot believe that every proposition in the Book of Concord can be deduced directly from the text of Scripture, interpreted only by means of neutral, grammatical-historical methods. At some point, one has to make judgments about which system of theology best makes sense of the biblical data, and these human judgments will be fallible and variable, except where superintended by the Holy Spirit. Hence the need for an infallible magisterium of the Church.”
Even if that’s the problem, how is that the answer? You don’t need a magisterium to ensure a certain result. What one requires, rather, is a doctrine of providence. God, in his providence, will see to it that his elect come to a saving knowledge of the truth. What is needed is not an infallible church, but infallible providence. Providence is a deterministic process, using various means to secure its appointed end.
“Some Roman Catholics claim that the Scriptures, like any text, need an authoritative interpreter. I think this claim is too broad. There are context-free meanings. These context-free meanings are sufficient to fix the central doctrines of the Gospel. (Moreover, the idea that every text requires an authoritative interpreter would apply with equal force to papal and conciliar writings. Indeed, it would seem to apply to oral pronouncements as well, leading to a vicious infinite regress.)”
“However, the context-independent meanings of the Scriptures are not in fact sufficient to settle all doctrinal disputes that must be settled (including the question of which doctrines are essential and which are not). This is confirmed by the testimony of history, including Lutheran history. If the Scriptures were perspicuous comprehensively, there would be only one major sola scriptura
denomination, instead of hundreds.”
Other issues aside, that’s pretty simplistic:
i) Some sectarian and/or theological differences are due to differences in taste, national character, or national history.
ii) Some sectarian and/or theological differences are due to sin.
iii) Some sectarian and/or theological differences are due, not to disagreement over what Scripture says, but over what Scriptures leaves unsaid.
“It is hard for me to believe that God intended the Scriptures to be the sole and sufficient norm for doctrine, given their silence on so many issues that must be resolved if the Church is to function: May infants be baptized? Should those baptized by heretics or hypocrites be re-baptized? Which baptized Christians may commune, and which should not? Should repentant heretics and sinners be reconciled to the Church, and if so, how and under what conditions? Should orthodox members of schismatic sects be excommunicated? Should orthodox members of non-schismatic congregations be excommunicated, if those congregations practice improperly ‘open’ communion? Must the threefold ministry of bishops, presbyters and deacons be respected at all times? How
are clergy (in each order) to be ordained, elected, called or installed? Must there be at most one bishop in each city? What authority do bishops have, and what superior authority, if any, must they respect? What constitutes an authoritative council of the Church? These are matters upon which the Scriptures provide little explicit guidance, and yet, for practical reasons, it is impossible for Christians simply to agree to disagree about them.”
Two basic problems:
i) He is assuming, without benefit of argument, that there can only be one right way of doing anything. He needs to foster a proper appreciation for the principle of the adiaphora. In many cases, there is more than one licit option available to us.
ii) He is also trying to intuit God’s intentions instead of bothering to study divine precedent. There was no magisterium in second temple Judaism. As a result, you had a great deal of diversity in thought and practice. Cf.
Why is what was acceptable for God’s old covenant community unacceptable for God’s new covenant community? If you want to know God’s intentions for the future (e.g. the church age), a good place to start is with his historical modus operandi.
“The sola scriptura position puts an impossible burden on each believer: in order to recognize true congregations, the individual believer must evaluate the congregation’s confession for complete freedom from doctrinal error. To perform this task, the believer must not believe the essential doctrines of the faith, he must know exactly which doctrines are essential and which are a matter of legitimate difference of opinion. This seems inconsistent with the variety of talents, gifts and callings: not every believer can be expected to be a theologian. The sola scriptura theory condemns the majority of believers to de facto exclusion from the true church, by virtue of their inability to distinguish truth
from error on all disputed matters.”
This objection is predicated on a number of assumptions for which he offers no supporting argument:
i) There are degrees of responsibility according to one’s aptitude and opportunities (Mt 25:14-30; Lk 12:48). Sola Scriptura doesn’t not imply that every Christian has the same intellectual obligations.
ii) There are degrees of doctrinal error. Why must one belong to a doctrinally inerrant denomination (or independent church)? Maybe I’m an amil. Does that prevent me from joining a premil church?
iii) Not all “disputed matters” are matters of doctrinal truth and error. Some matters are disputed because of what the Bible has left unstated. That is left to individual discretion and conscience.
iv) Let’s also remember that church membership, in the modern sense, is a postbiblical development. In the NT, baptism is the rite of church membership. A baptized Christian was a member of the NT church, period. There is no Biblical mandate to belong to a particular denomination. Church membership, in the modern sense (i.e. the age of schism and sectarianism) is adiaphorous.
“The Catholic position, in contrast, places a reasonable burden on the layman: he must simply recognize which congregations are in fellowship with that global church that is most continuous historically with the church of the apostles, i.e., with that church that has the most secure claim to being the Catholic (universal) Church. In other words, the believer need master only one, relatively small set of doctrines: those concerning the identity of the true Church, not, as Lutheranism requires, an exhaustive knowledge of every disputed point of theology. This effectively limits the believer’s choice to two: the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox, each of which recognizes the other as a part of the true visible church.”
This is a classic case of special pleading:
i) Why should we assume that catholicity or historical continuity is the criterion? What about the possibility of institutional apostasy? We have examples of that in the OT.
ii) Does he really think it’s such a simple matter to identify the “true church”?
iii) Isn’t the identity of the true church related to true doctrine? Does he think a church that teaches false doctrine is a true church?
“To be fair, there is a kind of individual responsibility that is inescapable. The Roman Catholic layman, no less than the Protestant, must rely on his own judgment as to which church is the visible church in all its fullness. This burden cannot be shifted to another.”
“However, there is a palpable and historically real difference concerning the responsibility of the individual believer under the two conceptions of the Church. For Protestants, the individual believer has only one criterion to employ: he must compare the teaching of each intercommoning set of congregations with the teaching of the Bible on every point of doctrine, or, at the very least, on every essential point.”
This is a very artificial statement of the Protestant position:
i) God has given different Christians different aptitudes and opportunities. This varies in time and place. It is up to God who is born when and where. And this will, of course, impact their range of viable options. We work with what God has provided for us, to the best of our God-given ability. We are to be faithful to the circumstances in which we providentially find ourselves.
ii) Koons is also assuming there’s only one true church, so that a Christian’s mission in life is to go on a theological safari or expedition to discover the one true church. Now, that may reflect the Catholic outlook. And that may also reflect the viewpoint of confessional Lutheranism.
But many evangelicals, myself included, do not take the position that there is one true denomination, such that we must continue our quest until we hit upon the long lost church of the apostles. That’s all very romantic, and it makes for fun fiction, viz. In Search of Atlantis, the Holy Grail, the Fountain of Youth, King Solomon’s Mines, &c.
Many denominations and independent churches exemplify the true church in varying degrees. And saving faith does not demand membership in a doctrinally inerrant church. There’s a difference between good, better, and best.
Let’s remember that even in NT times, the apostolic churches were not doctrinally inerrant. For as soon as an apostle was away from one church, to plant or tend another, false teachers might come and sow seeds of heresy. It was then necessary for an apostle to write a letter or send a trouble-shooter to uproot the weeds.
“However, shifting from accuracy on all doctrinal matters to accuracy on all essential matters is, in practice, of very little help, since there is almost as much disagreement about which matters are essential as there is on the doctrines themselves. (Confessional Lutherans, for example, insist that the true church must take the correct position, with respect to each proposed
doctrine, on whether or not that doctrine is taught or implied by Scripture.”
Koons has made a horizontal conversion. He began and ended with a belief in the one true church, which he identifies with one particular denomination. He took his Lutheran paradigm and simply reapplied it to the Church of Rome. He’s never been able to see above or around his theological conditioning. Like an inmate in an underground dungeon, he simply burrowed a tunnel from one prison cell to another cell.
But I daresay that most Evangelicals do not operate with such a nominalistic paradigm, as if the true church must be identified with one concrete particular throughout time and space.
As I’ve said before, it depends on whether your ecclesiology is modeled on the temple or the tabernacle. Is the church portable in time and place? Or must it have a permanent mailing address? Is the church a pilgrim church, for spiritual wayfarers (e.g. Acts 7; Heb 11)? Or is it for those who dropped out of the race, exchanging their nomadic lifestyle for the cities on the plain? Is Abraham our role model? Or Lot?
“In contrast, on the Roman Catholic view, the individual believer can recognize the true church, not only by examining its doctrines one by one, but also by investigating its historical connection (via a physical and social chain of transmission) to the apostles.”
Of course, this is judging Catholicism by Catholic criteria. So how does an individual believer determine the true criteria before he can determine the true church?
To say that “on the Roman Catholic view, the individual believer can recognize the true church…by investigating its historical connection” gives the individual believer no reason to assume the Catholic viewpoint in the first place. Why is a Christian philosopher blind to such an obvious oversight?
“In some cases, this too can be a difficult process (for example, when there were two or even three competing “popes” during the Avignon period), but, for the most part, this has proved to be practically feasible, while the Protestant principle has utterly failed the test of history.”
i) Notice how he glosses over the Western Schism. But “for the most part” won’t do. If you’re going to hitch your wagon to historical continuity, then it must be just that: continuous. Any break or missing link in the chain of custody destroys the argument. His principle allows for no discontinuities at all. If the chain of custody breaks down at any point along the line, it’s a lost cause.
ii) Indeed, the Western Schism presents a Catholic conundrum. On the one hand, only a true pope can validate a church council. On the other hand, it was the council of Constance with deposed two papal claimants and elected a third.
iii) Even if the Protestant principle “has utterly failed the test of history” (whatever that’s supposed to mean), Koons has done nothing to establish that this test is the right test to administer to the issue at hand.
“Here’s another way of looking at the issue. The Scriptures clearly teach that the true church will possess two essential characteristics: unity and doctrinal purity. It is only the Roman Catholic Church (and, to a degree, the Orthodox churches) that has realized these two ends simultaneously.”
All assertion, no argument.
“The early Fathers (Ireneaus, Cyprian, Ignatius, etc.) all teach that apostolic succession was instituted by the apostles themselves and provides a guarantee of orthodoxy.”
i) There’s quite a chronological spread in their respective dates:
ii) He isn’t giving us any direct quotes or sources to evaluate.
iii) Later church fathers aren’t always independent historical witnesses, for they frequently repeat what they read in earlier church fathers. So we need to distinguish between primary and secondary sources. Do we count them as many, or as one—given their derivative character?
iv) As one scholar points out, Ignatius is describing an ideal situation, not a real situation. Cf. K. Aland, A History of Christianity (Fortress 1985), 1:123.
v) Cyprian was a critic of papal primacy.
“The most fundamental question is, perhaps, that of what the Church consists in. Is there really a visible church founded by Christ and the apostles? If so, it must have some kind of structure and hierarchy, as does every other human institution (the family, the state).”
i) Throughout his discussion we encounter an incongruous tension between apriorism and history. He constantly acts as if you can simply intuit God’s intentions. Yet he also appeals to history. But history is inductive rather than deductive, a posteriori rather than a priori.
ii) Why “must” the church have some sort of “hierarchy”? Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t, but his dogmatic apriorism is at odds with a genuinely historical rule of evidence.
iii) Here’s a novel idea: why not consult the Bible to see what kind of structure and hierarchy, if any, characterized the NT? Why not look out the window?
This is Koons’ method of argument:
a) Stipulate an axiomatic postulate regarding the identity of the true church.
b) Consult church history to see which denomination corresponds to your axiomatic postulate.
But why should anyone concede his stipulative methodology in the first place?
“This structure is not rigidly fixed: it evolves gradually over time. However, the reality of the visible Church entails that this evolving structure is there to be discovered in actual history.”
All assertion, no argument.
Speaking for myself, I don’t necessarily object to the idea of an evolving polity. The problem is when that postbiblical development hardens into dogma.
“On the Lutheran view, the visible Church consists of congregations, constituted by the gathering together in Christ’s name of some believers (along with some hypocrites) for the sake of preaching the Word and distributing the sacraments. What this picture lacks is any sense of the visible Church as an enduring entity, constituted by the faithful transmission of truth and the successive appointment of individuals to enduring offices from one generation to the next (2 Timothy 2:2).”
I’m not a Lutheran myself, but considering the fact that the Lutherans have been around for 500 years, and retained their confessional identity intact, I’d say that this picture presents the visible church as an enduring entity, constituted by a faithful transmission of the truth (as Lutherans define it) and regular ministry. Indeed, there has been far less dislocation in the Lutheran tradition than the Catholic tradition over that same period. Confessional Lutherans continue to confess the same creeds, according to original intent.
“It’s as though Christ founded the Church simply by inspiring the teaching and writing of the apostles and their associates, leaving it up to each subsequent generation to re-create a visible Church ex nihilo, using the written record of the apostolic teaching as its only guide. One obvious problem with this picture is that the Church continued to exist after the death of the last apostles for several centuries before the canon of the New Testament was definitively recognized as
You don’t need to have a full canon to have a functional canon. Indeed, as a practical matter, all denominations have a functional canon that is smaller than the full canon. For example, the Catholic church pays lip-service to Petrine primacy, but it’s not as if 1-2 Peter or the Petrine speeches in Acts have been either central or foundational to the formulation of Catholic dogma.
“Moreover, this picture seems to ignore the essentially historical nature of human existence, in favor of an excessively individualistic and rationalistic picture of humans as essentially disembodied and non-historical egos.”
This is just so much philosophical eyewash. Why doesn’t he study the way God administered the old covenant community. What about the religious life of the patriarchs? What about Israel in Egypt? What about the Exodus generation? Or the period of the Judges? What about the Babylonian exile? Or the Intertestamental period, including second temple Judaism? And what about the NT church, with its bare-bones, low-church polity? A collection of local house churches, hither and yon.
“The Church is not constituted by the Bible, since the recognition of the Bible as the permanent, normative record of God’s Word was an institutional fact (the formation of the canon), which presupposed a prior institutional fact: the existence of the Church as an enduring, trans-generational society. The Church is not prior to God’s Word, but it is prior to the delineation of Bible as the permanent source and standard of God’s Word.”
Another issues aside, have you ever noticed how Catholics are de facto Marcionites when they talk about the canon? They constantly act as if the OT canon didn’t exist.
“The articulation of God’s Word necessarily changes as language and culture change, so it is impossible for the Church to remain absolutely static in its
teaching. Inevitably, Christians face the task of distinguishing between legitimate and illegitimate expressions of the Gospel in contemporary language and contemporary thought-forms, and this task cannot be accomplished through the mechanical application of grammar and logic. An element of judgment is required, and if the Church is to be maintained in its unity, there must be a final court of appeal within the Church itself and outside the text of Scripture.”
Once again, his confident apriorism flies in the face of history. For Diaspora Judaism faced the very same challenges. Witness the targumim and LXX. Yet there was no “final court of approval” within Diaspora Judaism, in the sense of a Jewish papacy.
“First, there is a simple argument: the Church teaches that it is infallible; the Church is authoritative and reliable; therefore, we must believe that the Church is infallible. If the Church is infallible, and the pope is, both de facto and de jure, the head of the Church, with the power and authority to establish and enforce doctrinal standards, then the pope must be infallible in so doing (that is, when he speaks ‘ex cathedra’).”
Well, that is certainly a simple argument. And it’s so question-begging as to be unintentionally comical. Suppose Mormonism or Scientology were to adapt his tendentious argument for their own use?
“The exact number of ex cathedra pronouncements by popes is a matter of some
controversy among Roman Catholic theologians. I have seen numbers between two and twelve mentioned as possibilities.”
Pay careful attention to this admission. After going on and on about the inadequacy of sola Scriptura to give us the authoritative answers we need, this is what the Catholic alternative actually amounts to. It’s like one of those insurance policies that offers you 100% coverage, except that after you figure in all of the deductibles and copays and escape clauses, it’s more like 5% coverage.
“Here is a second, somewhat more complicated argument. Let’s suppose that the Church is at least reliable and “indefectible” (to use an Anglican term) with respect to essential Christian doctrine. That is, the Church cannot err in any essential points and is very unlikely to err on any matter.”
And where’s the supporting argument for that monumental supposition?
“We can further suppose that the Church has these characteristics in perpetuity, since Christ’s promises to the Church have no expiration date.”
i) And where did Christ promise that “the Church cannot err in any essential points and is very unlikely to err on any matter”?
ii) Also, where did Christ make that promise to the Roman Catholic church?
“Since theology develops over time, building on the settled conclusions reached in the past, if the Church were reliable but fallible, errors would not only accumulate over time but would actually tend to increase at a geometric or exponential rate, each error increasing the probability of further errors. Hence, a reliable but fallible Church could not remain reliable for very long.”
Sounds like what the Protestant Reformers said about the medieval church.
“Therefore, the Church must be (at least) virtually infallible.”
Even if this were a valid argument, the conclusion is only as good as the premise. Koons gives us no reason to accept his operating premise. Once again, how is it that a trained philosopher is such a slipshod thinker? Why does he constantly skip over crucial steps in his argument in his headlong dash to the conclusion?
“One final argument. If the Church were fallible but taught that it was infallible, then its erroneous belief in its own infallibility would magnify its proneness to error. A Church that wrongly believed itself to be infallible would be virtually impossible to correct.”
And that, in a nutshell, is where the Catholic church went astray.
“However, the Church does teach that it is infallible. Hence, it is either actually infallible or wholly unreliable. It cannot be wholly unreliable, and so must be infallible in fact.”
“Wholly unreliable”? Isn’t that an overstatement? For one thing, when the church of Rome was the only Western denomination, the remnant were generally members of the Catholic church—although you had some godly schismatics as well. And that was a partial preservative. For example, the Augustinian tradition was a bulwark against Pelagianism. `
“On the remaining issues, purgatory, praying to the saints, the veneration of Mary, and the supremacy of the pope, I don’t find the Catholic positions to be absolutely convincing, either on the basis of Scripture or on the basis of the traditions of the Church. However, these are relatively minor issues. None is weighty enough to justify dividing the Church. Even if we were to suppose, for the sake of argument, that the Roman church is in error on these points, that would not justify dividing the Church.”
That says a lot more about his priorities than the Bible’s priorities.
“To its credit, the Catholic Church has moved a long way from the over-emphasis on purgatory that characterized the period of the Reformation. In the new Catholic Catechism, for example, the discussion of purgatory takes up only four
Once again, this revisionism undermines his main argument for the unity of the church and necessity of having a divine teaching office.
“It is noteworthy that God does not instantaneously transform believers into a state of sinlessness at the moment of conversion. Instead, God invites us to cooperate in a gradual process of sanctification. This seems to follow from God’s respect for the integrity of the development of our personalities. He transforms us by persuasion and assistance, not coercively or violently. Given these facts, it is reasonable that our transition to sinlessness after death (the healing of our sinful proclivities) will also be a gradual one, requiring our willing cooperation. That such a continued process of sanctification might involve, as it does in this life, a measure of loving discipline also seems probable.”
i) He has cast the alternatives in the form of a straw man argument, as if sovereign grace must work “coercively or violently.” No attempt to seriously examine the actual alternative. Such intellectual impatience and resort to demagogical caricature hardly befits a Christian philosopher.
Moreover, it contradicts his own standard of charity. Is this the most charitable construction he can place on the opposing position?
ii) Actually, there is a categorical difference between the regenerate and unregenerate state, so why not a categorical difference between the regenerate state and the glorified state?
iii) It’s important to distinguish between the intermediate state and the final state. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Christians are not rendered sinless or impeccable right after death. That, of itself, would not be an argument for Purgatory, since heaven represents the intermediate state, not the final state.
So even if, for the sake of argument, we were still sinners, this doesn’t mean that we must suffer postmortem punishment to pay the remaining debt of venal sin. Even if the intermediate state were a further stage in our sanctification, that wouldn’t automatically debar us from heaven, or necessitate purgatorial penalties.
iv) In Catholic theology, a plenary indulgence can instantly cancel the temporal punishment due to venal sin, so it is possible for the departed to go directly to heaven without passing through Purgatory. Hence, Koon’s argument is inconsistent with Catholic dogma.
“If any of this is even possibly true, it is reasonable to pray for believers who have died. Why should death be a barrier to our love and concern, given that Christ, through His life, death and resurrection, has utterly defeated it?”
Other issues aside, prayers for the dead and requiem masses are consistent with Purgatory in one respect, but inconsistent in another. On the one hand they presuppose the existence of Purgatory. But if, on the other hand, it’s possible to expedite the time spent in Purgatory through our prayers or requiem masses, then the departed don’t need to spend all that time in Purgatory to either purify themselves or remit their venal sins.
“It is hard to see how asking the saints in heaven to pray for us is any more problematic than asking fellow believers on earth to do so. The epistle of James teaches us that the intercession of a righteous man accomplishes much (James 5:16).”
“The only reasonable barrier to this is doubt about whether the saints in heaven can hear our requests for prayer. Their awareness of our struggles would seem to be an implication of the communion of saints, as professed in the Apostles’ Creed.”
“There are a few Scriptural passages that suggest that the saints in heaven might well be aware of us. In the Book of Revelation 8:3,4, the saints of heaven are praying before God’s throne, and in Revelation 6:10 the martyred saints are aware that their blood has not yet been avenged. In Hebrews 12:1, we are described as surrounded by a ‘cloud of witnesses’, which would seem to include angels and departed saints. If they are witnesses of our lives, they are certainly able to pray for us in specific terms and respond to requests for prayer.”
i) The intercession of Mary and the saints is predicated on the treasury of merit.
ii) How can Mary, as a human being, hear millions of daily prayers simultaneously, much less process millions of daily prayers?
iii) None of the passages he cites tells us that the departed enjoy a specific knowledge of what is happening in the life of an individual. For example, the knowledge in Rev 6:10 is quite generic: they know that the final judgment has not yet arrived.
Heb 12:1 refers back to the exemplary witness of the OT and Intertestamental saints, during the days or their earthly pilgrimage. Their perseverance in the faith was a witness to those who come after.
As usual, there’s no effort on Koon’s part to seriously exegete his prooftexts.
“How could Christ’s victory over death be complete if death represented an unbreachable chasm between believers on earth and those in heaven?”
More of his armchair conjectures. He might as well ask, How could Christ’s victory over death be complete if we still die? Or if we still sin? Or if we still get sick?
His argument either proves too much or too little.
“The veneration of Mary is a hedge around the doctrine of the Incarnation. If Jesus is truly God, then Mary is truly the Mother of God. His uniqueness implies her uniqueness. To treat Mary as simply an ordinary woman puts at risk either the deity or the true humanity of Christ.”
Is this supposed to be an argument? How does “treating Mary as simply an ordinary woman puts at risk either the deity or the true humanity of Christ”?
“The immaculate conception of Mary, God’s supernatural protection of her from the effects of original sin, seems a reasonable inference in light of the uniquely intimate relation between her and Jesus. Would it really be appropriate for the incarnate Son of God to be borne and reared by a woman in the grip of original sin?”
Why would it be inappropriate for the Son of God to be born of a sinner? Would he be contaminated by contact with a sinner? Is that the implication?
And it’s not as if Mary was a single mom, and Jesus was an only child. He was also reared by Joseph—at least for a time. Joseph was a sinner. He grew up with his half-brothers. And if you want to say they were his cousins, they were still sinners.
He lived among sinners all his life. Touched them. Ate with them. He even sought them out. Notice how Mariolatry cultivates for Gnosticism.
“However, all Roman theologians are quick to insist that Mary’s mediating role is rather comparable to that held by all believers, who are a royal priesthood (I Peter 2:9) and ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).”
Comparable? Just compare 1 Pet 2:9 or 2 Cor 5:20 with the Catechism and ask yourself if it’s comparable:
“Mary played a unique role in God’s plan of redemption through Christ by allowing herself to become the mother of Christ (Luke 2).”
How did she “allow herself” to become the mother of Christ? What control did she have over a virginal conception? What could she do to either cause it or prevent it?
“It is true that there is a real conflict between Roman Mariology and the extreme form of monergism espoused by Luther and Calvin. Mary’s role as co-redemptrix highlights the fact that Christians are not utterly passive in the process of salvation, i.e., that we genuinely cooperate with God’s grace. This synergism is compatible with the fact that, in the final analysis, our salvation is God’s work alone, since even our acts of cooperation are the results of His grace. The Lutheran rejection of any positive human role is incompatible with sound Christology, since it is essential to our redemption that Christ be true man as well as true God. Humanity is not utterly passive in our redemption by God,
since Christ, the God-Man, is the redeemer.”
How is the Incarnation of God analogous to the regeneration of sinners? No, God Incarnate is not passive in redemption, for the Redeemer is sinless and impeccable, as well as being one of the architects (along with the Father and the Spirit) in the plan of redemption. How is that parallel to the plight of Adam’s fallen race?
“Some Lutherans and Protestants have argued that Marian devotion results from the intrusion of paganism (the cults of Isis, Astarte or Diana) into the Church…the same sort of claim could be made about all of Christian theology. There are many pagan precursors of a dying- and rising-god, for example.”
Faulty scholarship, based on parallelomania. Koons needs to brush up on Yamauchi, Metzger, and others.
“I find plausible the hypothesis proposed by C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien that pagan mythology is itself a kind of preparation for the gospel, a distorted foreshadowing of the True Myth of the Gospel. If so, it may be that the pagan worship of the virgin goddess or Earth Mother was a kind of crude anticipation of Mary’s role as Mother of God and Mother of the Church.”
If he wants to admit that Mariolatry represents a repristination of pagan idolatry and goddess worship, that’s fine with me.
“This presents another stark choice between a charitable and uncharitable construction. Interpreted uncharitably, the teaching of Trent seems to deny the uniqueness and sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and the uniqueness of His high priesthood. However, more recent theology, as expressed in the new Catholic Catechism, offers an acceptable interpretation: there is only one Sacrifice (on the Cross) and only one Priest (Christ Himself).”
Once more, see how his appeal to the doctrine of development undermines the unity of the church, or necessity of a divine teaching office. How are these retroactive reinterpretations consistent with the doctrinal unity of the church in time and space, as well as the role of the magisterium to forestall doctrinal error or incomprehension?
“In the past, private masses, in which only the celebrating priest communed, were common, but these have been, since Vatican II, actively discouraged as incompatible with the inner logic of the sacrament.”
Once again, we have a church which is constantly reinventing itself. Yet we’re told that this church alone preserves apostolic continuity and doctrinal unity.
“Second, Roman Catholic theology understands the benefit of the Mass to
include, not only communion as a means of grace, but also the satisfaction of the
temporal penalties for sin and the accumulation of ‘merit’. That is, it counts participation in (directly or indirectly) the Mass as a good work. This seems a reasonable position, given the rest of Catholic doctrine.”
Which undercuts the stated purpose of Purgatory if you celebrate enough requiem masses or, better yet, secure a plenary indulgence.
“Admittedly, the Scriptural arguments for Peter’s supremacy are inconclusive, at best. James seems to have presided over the first Church council, and Paul is adamant in insisting that his own authority derives directly from his calling by God and does not depend on Peter’s acknowledgment of it.”
“The best argument for it is that Christ clearly intended that the Church should be visibly one, empirically united in love (especially Christ’s extended prayer in John 17, especially verse 21).”
Notice that he doesn’t bother to exegete Jn 17:21, which, in context, has reference to the ingathering of the Gentiles, in union with the Jewish remnant, so that both Gentile Christians and Messianic Jews form a common faith in a common Lord.
“Since God willed the end, He must also have willed a sufficient means. History clearly teaches that such visible unity is impossible without a single office to which all good-faith doctrinal and ecclesiastical disputes can be referred. Christ promises that the Spirit will guide the Church (collectively) to the truth (John 16:13).”
Except that he’s drawn that inference on the faulty foundation of his misappropriated prooftext (Jn 16:13). What we see here is a process of cumulative error. He starts with a false premise. This yields a conclusion which, in turn, becomes a false premise for another conclusion, and so it goes.
“Thus, in my view, recognizing a duty to submit to the authority of the pope does not depend on believing that there was a direct, permanent divine appointment of the pope as Christ’s vicar or representative on earth.”
So he’s rejecting the argument of Vatican I. Cf.
“The visible Church must be a single, unitary institution of some kind, and such a unitary institution must have an enduring structure of authority.”
He pulls these solemn imperatives out of his hat.
“Within a given location, this authority would require a supervisor or bishop. The global unity of the Church requires an office that recognizes, on behalf of the whole church, which individual is in fact the bishop of each jurisdiction.”
So why is there no monarchal episcopate in Scripture?
“Historically, this role has been played by the five patriarchs (Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome), with the patriarch of Rome as first among equals.”
No, historically this role was played by the Roman Emperor or the Tsar.
“However, it remains the case that the Church is in need of a visible focus of unity, and only the papacy is capable of fulfilling that role.”
A much better candidate would be to make the Bible our visible focus of unity.
Of course, the Bible is a source of disagreement among Christians, but then, so is the papacy. So one is just as much benchmark of unity or disunity as another. But the Bible has the added advantage of being a divine benchmark rather than a man-made benchmark.
“Does the pope rule the Church by a divine right or merely a human one? The answer lies somewhere in between. The papacy did not receive a direct, once-and-for-all grant of a specific form of authority.”
This is a backdoor admission that you cannot establish the papacy as a dominical institution. You won’t find it in the Gospels.
“The authority of the pope depends on the facts of history, and it could change as circumstances change.”
Fine. Circumstances have changed. The Roman Empire is long gone. The historical significance of the papacy derives from his titular position in the imperial capital. Likewise, the papacy and episcopate were the sacred counterparts of the Roman imperium and aristocracy.
“In addition, I would not claim that the pope’s role as the successor of Peter can be found stated, even implicitly, in the text of the New Testament. At the same time, with the hindsight of two millennia, it is difficult to believe that the prominence of Peter in the Gospels as the spokesman of the apostles, the involvement of Peter and Paul in the establishment of the congregation in Rome and their martyrdom there, and the subsequent importance of the office of the bishop of Rome are mere coincidences. The references to Peter’s confession as a foundational rock for the Church (Matthew 16:18) and Jesus’ charge to Peter to care for his flock (John 21) should be sign as figures and prophecies of the crucial role that Peter’s successors were to play (as John Henry Newman argued in An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine35).”
One little problem with this line of argument is that, traditionally, Protestants have also seen the papacy prophesied in certain NT verses—to wit, the Antichrist (2 Thes 2:1-12; Rev 13).
“As Newman argues in that work, the recognition of the central authority of the pope developed gradually over time. The same logic that led the Church to acknowledge the monarchical authority of each bishop in his diocese (namely, the need for local unity and order), drove the Church to find the role of the pope as “center of unity” and supreme judge within the community of bishops to be indispensable in practice. Looking backward from the vantage point of this historical experience, it is easy to find many statements and events that are indicative of papal supremacy. As Newman argued, it is necessary ‘to interpret the words and deeds of the earlier church by the determinate teaching of the latter’.”
Looking backward from the vantage point of our historical experience, it is also easy to find many statements and events that are indicative of the October Revolution, the Krystallnacht, or WWII.