Monday, September 08, 2008

The what iffy church

A Roman Catholic posted some belated comments on an older post of mine, so I’ll address them separately here:


The form of the Revelation tends to dictate the nature of the issues that arise from it.

Not assumptions, but prior conclusions based on the nature of the Revelation that we are discussing.

That's because of the nature of the Revelation and the nature of the P-C dispute and the nature of how we know Revalation through other men and through history.

It is not about the questions, but about the nature of Revelation itself that we must get at here. There are things that are built into the nature of Revelation that cannot be avoided, especially when that Revelation comes to us through other men.

You keep repeating yourself without bothering to define your terms, defend your position, or show how you’d apply it to the case at hand.

This is a false dilemma. First, we do not have to choose between the authority of Scripture and the authority of the Church.

Even if that were the case, I’m not discussing the hypothetical question of whether we can have both, but the factual question. Even if Biblical authority and ecclesiastical authority aren’t logically contradictory, that doesn’t mean, as a matter of fact, that God has vested authority in two sources rather than one.

We can have both.

That depends on how you construe their interrelation. A 3-star general and a 4-star general both have authority, but one can overrule the other.

Second, there is not just the issue of how to relate the authority of Scripture to the authority of the Church, but, for Protestants, whether there even is an authoritative Church.

I think the church has disciplinary authority. And a competent pastor has the authority of an expert witness (although some layman also have the authority of an expert witness).

And, if there is, what it is and where it is to be found.

NT polity has congregational and presbyterial elements.

Furthermore, human authority is derivative. Church officers derive their disciplinary authority from their adherence to the word of God.

Third, if there is an authoritative Church, for Protestants, there is the issue of how the individual Protestant's authority relates to that authority. Some Protestants claim that Scripture is the ultimate authority and then claim themselves to be the final authority in interpreting Scripture and forming a theology based on it.

You’re simply reiterating the same framework as Bryan Cross. You assume that interpretation is an exercise of authority, whether individual or ecclesiastical.

That begs the question. The whole point of my post was to challenge that assumption. Repeating Bryan’s framework doesn’t nothing to advance the argument.

Scripture is the final authority, not any Church, in one respect, but the individual is the final authority in interpreting Scripture, not the Church.

Only if you assume that interpretation is an exercise of authority. I’m still waiting to see your supporting argument. You’re so used to casting the issue in these terms that you can’t break free of your Catholic conditioning.

When I read a comic strip like Peanuts, I’m interpreting the words and actions. Is that an authoritarian exercise?

That is one approach offered by some who work under the title of 'Protestant'. Others place themselves under the authority of other individuals who they judge to be superior to themselves with respect to such matters. Others think there is a general consensus that they should yield to. Others yield on some things, but not on others, suggesting that when they place a Church or group of people or organization over them, they will not always do so across the board. Lots of variations come to mind here.

And by what authority do you sift these variations? Not by the authority of the church, I hope, since ecclesiastical authority is just one more variation.

But this does not mean that authority can be brushed aside, regardless of matters of extension.

Which assumes an authority I’m guilty of brushing aside. You continue to beg the question.

Can the matter ever be settled without addresing the authority issue?

You need to establish that there is an authority issue in the first place. You keep running in circles, like a cat chasing its tail.

Steve's approach would have to try to figure out what criteria to rely on and then which interpretation was really correct given that criteria.

I don’t have a problem with discussing criteria for canonicity.

And it’s not as if you escape the problem you pose for yourself. Eric’s approach would have to try to figure out what criteria to rely on to identify the true church, and then which interpretation was really correct given his criteria.

And if that’s an authoritarian exercise, then Eric is making himself the final authority in deciding which church is the true church.

But the options are many, and many are reasonable.

If there are many reasonable options, then it’s reasonable to be either Catholic or Protestant. How does your concession help your own case?

The focus of Cross' questions, for the most part, is on 'Whose determination' and 'Whose interpretation' we should rely on as authoritative. Steve relies on the same concepts here, but instead of focusing on a resolution in terms of authority, Steve wants to resolve the issues by by-passing authority, as though it does not matter. How could Steve ever determine whose interpretation is best? Would it always be his? Would he be the interpretational trump card or king instead of an authoritative church?

How do we determine which interpretation of any statement is best? How do we determine the best interpretation of Huckleberry Finn?

Benedict XVI has written a number of books and encyclicals since his elevation to the papacy. How could Eric ever determine whose interpretation is best?

Regarding these questions, note that Steve is placing the Bible in one position of authority, but ignoring the fact that the Bible has to be interpreted.

That’s an outright falsehood. Did I ignore the fact that the Bible has to be interpreted? Not at all. What I challenged was the facile equation between interpretation and authority.

And can be interpreted authoritatively or non-authoritatively.


But, if non-authoritatively, why should anyone believe Steve's interpretation over John's?

Why should anyone believe Daniel Block’s interpretation of Ezk 1 over Erich von Däniken’s? Does Block’s interpretation have to be “authoritative” (whatever that means) to be obviously superior to von Däniken’s?

Does Eric interpret a papal encyclical authoritatively or non-authoritatively?

The questions 'assume' or have concluded to the truth of perspicuity.

Wrong! As I’ve explained, my position isn’t predicated on the truth of perspicuity. Eric simply parrots the argument of Bryan Cross, without ever addressing my counterargument.

They have also 'assumed' or concluded to the notion that the Bible gives answers to all of these questions. And, implicitly, I wonder if Steve is not assuming that the authority issue can be avoided.

No, I don’t assume the Bible gives an answer to every question we can ask. Rather, the Bible answers the questions we need to ask.

The best way to learn the right questions is to begin with the answers. You can tell by the answers God has given us what questions we should be asking.

In the past, there was a Seat of Moses and there was an office of authority.

Citing Scripture and exegeting Scripture are two different things. What does Mt 23:2 actually mean?

How does Eric interpret Mt 23:2? Where is the Magisterial interpretation of Mt 23:2?

For a good interpretation of Mt 23:2, read Nolland’s commentary on Matthew (pp922-23).

But nature is full of heirarchical arrangements.

True, including matriarchal arrangements, e.g. hyenas, black widows, praying Mantes. So, if we take nature as our guide, why not a popess instead of a pope?

Christ is the head, but that would not prevent Christ from offering a leader on earth as well. Different senses are at work in the term 'head' and so the analogy, which relies on the term 'head' being used in the same sense, fails.

In that case, Bryan’s argument from analogy is invalid since it suffers from a fatal equivocation of terms.

But the answer will be in the form of an interpretation of the Bible. It is at the level of interpretation that we must also deal with the issue of authority.

Notice that Eric constantly assumes what he needs to prove. Why does interpretation raise the issue of authority? When I read Peanuts, does that raise the issue of authority?

Here's another 'whose determination' question. 'Whose' has to do with who which has to do with a person, not a book. In fact, even the questions that Steve rephrases in terms of the Bible giving the answer rely on an interpretation of the Bible. But only a person can interpret the Bible and so we are back to the person category again, i.e., 'whose determination', 'whose interpretation'?, which is the form of most of Cross' questions. Steve could not avoid that form on several questions, and really cannot avoid it in the end, either.

Eric is missing the point. The point at issue is whether who questions are equivalent to authority questions.

It is not a matter of prejudice. It is a matter of the nature of Revelation and the nature of the P-C controversy.

Eric must be getting dizzy running in circles.

Questions regarding authority demand an answer about who the authority might be, if there is one.

A tautology, since questions concering authority cast the question as a question concerning authority. But this takes for granted that we should frame the question that way in the first place.

Eric can never see above or around his Catholic conditioning.

That is because authority is critical when we talk about Revelation.

How many times can you beg the question in 30 seconds flat?

Moreover, it’s not as though Eric is an authority figure. He’s just a Catholic layman. By what authority does he speak to the issue of authority?

He is trying to help people unite as Christians in the truth.

Isn’t it rather presumptuous for a Catholic layman like Bryan Cross to assume that lofty role?

That is important and we should all let unity weigh on our hearts, as well as love and truth.

Why should unity be more important to me than it is to God? It’s within God power to make more people think alike that he does. If God declines to make everyone agree, or even every Christian, why should I lose sleep over the specter of disunity?

But we must remember that just as Democrats and Republicans are Americans first.

A lousy comparison since many Democrats are quite anti-American.

The nature of Revelation and the nature of the P-C controversy drive the questions in that direction.

You say it but you don’t show it.

If the questions are not adequate to begin with, other questions will come up and eventually we will be back to the issue of interprational authority.

An assertion in search of an argument.

'Fixatd' here is not charitable, as though there is something terribly wrong with him. He is focused on what is important based on an understanding of the nature of Revelation and the nature of the P-C controversy.

Why should I be charitable to Bryan Cross? If this is ultimately an issue of authority, then he is speaking out of turn. It’s not as if Bryan is an authority-figure.

If this all boils down to an issue of authority, then Bryan should shut up and let the Magisterium do the talking. But like so many Evangelical converts to Rome, he acts like a Protestant.

That influences unity, recalling that Christ prayed for unity, and that unity is better than disunity.

How does Eric interpret John 17? Is Eric his own interpreter?

Did Christ’s prayer succeed or fail? Eric obviously thinks his prayer failed since Eric is bothered by all the disunity in Christendom.

It’s been 2000 years since Jesus uttered that prayer. When, if ever, does Eric think that Christ’s prayer will be answered? And if it’s gone unanswered for so many centuries, then unity, as Eric defines it, doesn’t seem to be a priority for God.

He may be noting the theoretical and practical problems that arise when we do not grant an authority, and then concluding that this is good reason to think we should. But this is not an example of painting a target around his own arrow.

Of course he’s painted a target around his own arrow. He posits unity as his goal. Then he posits a Magisterial means to that end.

Why would Christ not give us an authoritative Church? Why would He not give us an enduring guide along the way so that we are not left alone to decide all of this?

Why would Christ not privately inspire every Christian so that we’re not left alone to decide all of this?

And how does Eric avoid individual decision, anyway? The church of Rome is not the only claimant. Eric, all by his little lonesome, must decide for himself that the church of Rome is the one true church.

The founding fathers did not just give us a Constitution and then leave us to do the rest. They also gave us a government with leaders along with the Constitution, a living tradition and a written document.

Whether you think that’s a good analogy depends on whether your Larry Tribe or Robert Bork.

But if Christ did more than Protestants think in the form of a Church, the consequences are avoidable for those who will join the New Covenant Family of God and recognize what Christ instituted for us. This does not reduce to what this or that person wants in terms of unity. We have to consider what Christ wanted and what Christ started, himself and through the Apostles.

Okay, let’s start with what Christ wanted. Does Christ get what he wants? Did Christ want the sort of unity that Eric thinks we should have? But we don’t have the sort of unity that Eric thinks we should have. So either Christ is impotent or Eric has the wrong definition of unity. I think I’ll choose Christ over Eric.

God could have avoided making an institutional Church that would be opposed by so many. Those who do oppose it need to conform to it, though, even if they do not like it, instead of creating their own versions of it. See how this thinking goes both ways. Steve is implying that God did not make a certain arrangement, even though God very well might have, and Steve may simply be wrong about Him having done so.

In that case, unity isn’t God’s objective. In that case, disunity is his objective.

I may be wrong, but I doubt Bryan Cross is trying for the type of certainty Steve is thinking of here. All of us have to make judgments about the Bible, about the Church, about whether there is authority, whether there is not authority, etc. We then have to make judgments about how to relate to that authority, if we think it exists. Our epistemological status at that level of judgment is one thing. Our status at another level, i.e., at the interpretational level once we submit to the authority of the Bible, or the Bible and the Church that canonized it, is another. It would seem to me that Bryan would, at least not be any worse off here.

So the Catholic isn’t any worse off than the Protestant? That’s your bottom line?

But God can guide us in different ways and He could be guiding us through a Church that He started. If so, then we have a bunch of people trying to figure out a bunch of things under God's guidance, but are unwilling to go to the Church that God started for further help.

That’s a hypothetical in search of a supporting argument.

This is unfair. It compares the Church Christ started, if the Catholic Church is that Church, with a psychic, and compares those who are willing to walk in faith with Christ's Church to those who need to see where they are going before they take the next step. Further, I would say that if Christ did start an authoritative Church that such a Church can be thought of as a light to the world whereby we can know, broadly, where we should walk and boundaries which we should not cross over.

When are you going to shift from iffy…iffy…iffy to something resembling an actual argument for your position?

But the Church may be the divine guide, along with the book it canonized.


Maybe not…maybe not…maybe not…

God has consistently guided us, in the Old and New Testaments

The Old and New Testaments? Hmm. That would be his Word.

Through other people, at least in part, even people with authority or an authoritative office.

What authoritative office?

But the walk of faith may have to do with walking in faith with the Church that Christ [and His Apostles] started, with that Church having an authority over the individual in matters of faith and morals. That could be the walk of faith that Christ really had in mind.


Christ gave us the Apostles.

They died.

Not just a message and life.

They wrote.

They gave us other leaders.

Pastors, not popes.

We know what is true about Christ because of those leaders.

Writers write because writers die. We’re left with the writing, not the writers.

If those leaders are rejected, the entire field darkens and the path becomes just about whatever path a person wants it to be within the context of Scripture, with Scripture having to be interpreted and so not limiting the path by much.

Really? What about Eastern Orthodoxy. It doesn’t have a pope. Does the modern church of Rome think the Orthodox church is walking in darkness? No.

Instead of walking down a path with the help of Christ's Church, the person is walking through fields, with a lot of other people telling him which way to go and left to decide it all, every step of the way.

You have to decide for yourself which church is the true church.

BTW, show me an infallible list of infallible magisterial teachings so that I don’t have to decide for myself, every step of the way, which magisterial teachings are fallible and which are not.

We do not have to choose between the authority of Scripture and the authority of the Church, as though this an either/or. The Bible itself tells us that the Church is the pillar and bullwark of truth.

How does Eric interpret 1 Tim 3:15? Where can I find the Magisterial interpretation of 1 Tim 3:15?

Does Eric interpret 1 Tim 3:15 with or without the Magisterium? If he relies on the Magisterium to interpret 1 Tim 3:15, then how does he know that 1 Tim 3:15 in fact applies to the Magisterium? Couldn’t a cult apply 1 Tim 3:15 to itself?

But if he interprets 1 Tim 3:15 apart from the Magisterium, then is he making himself the “final authority” on the interpretation of 1 Tim 3:15?

If we read any authority at all into that passage, we do not have to then put the Church above the Bible in any sense, necessarily, and especially not every sense. It could be that the Bible has more authority in one or more senses, while the Church has authority in other senses. It could be that they have complementary authority or some sort of co-authority. There are many logical possibilities here to consider.

How do “many possibilities” select for Roman Catholicism? The Magisterium can’t very well be the arbiter since the Magisterium is just one more “possibility.”

Yes. Whether one only accepts the Bible that the Church canonized or the Church and the Bible that the Church canonized will make a difference.

Did the Church canonize the OT? Were the Jews without a canon until the church came along?

Which church canonized which canon? There’s more than one claimant.

The issue of authority is being brought in, but needs to be brought in at that level. Why? Because it is important. Why? B ecause the Bible has to be interpreted, and we have to decide how we relate to others at this level, some of whom may have a legitimate office of authority, others of whom do not, without just assuming that no one has any more authority than us at this level.

Eric is like a child trapped on a merry-go-round. The music keeps playing. The horses keep circling. A lot of motion without a lot of locomotion. All that motion and commotion to end up exactly where you began, over and over and over again.

We need authority because authority is needful, and authority is needful because we need authority. Paraphrase ad nauseum.

At one level, we have to deal with the relation between an authoritative Church (if we grant one) and the authority of Scripture. At another level, we have to deal with the relation between the teaching office of an authoritative Church and the individual lay Christian.

We only have to deal with that if we grant all of your tendentious assumptions.


  1. Steve wrote:

    >Okay, let’s start with what >Christ wanted. Does Christ get >what he wants? Did Christ want >the sort of unity that Eric >thinks we should have? But we >don’t have the sort of unity that >Eric thinks we should have. So >either Christ is impotent or Eric >has the wrong definition of >unity. I think I’ll choose Christ >over Eric.

    Christ does want a deeper unity for us. He allows us a free will on such matters. We have failed. Some of us then act as though Christ is either impotent to bring it about or we were simply wrong about Christ wanting it, forgetting that we have some role in this as well. What we want to do is to realize that unity was important to Christ, allow it to weigh on our hearts, and then in all honesty seek to really understand the type of unity Christ called for. After this, we should seek to obtain it, in love and truth.


  2. I am reminded here of a family being united in terms of genes or 'blood' or name or geneology, but *not* sharing a table with one another, not praying with one another, not standing with one another publicly, not joining hands publicly, and not helping one another.

    I am also reminded of a group of soldiers united in name, but not in code or not in training or not in deep loyalty to one another.

    I am also reminded of a husband and wife united in marriage vows, but not speaking to one another, not sharing meals with one another, not praying with and for one another, not joining in conjugal love with and for one another, and not living with one another.

    Each of these examples shows that there are degrees of unity. They also show how important richer forms of unity really are to a family, to a group of soldiers, and to a marriage. The same is true regarding Christian unity.

    Followers of Christ have an obligation to pursue a richer form of unity with one another because we have an obligation to pursue a richer form of love with one another. Love necessarily includes or entails a richer and more real unity with God and neighbor.

    Part of the way we love God is by worshiping God and loving our neighbors. Part of the way we love our neighbors, even our neighbors who are followers of Christ, is to be united with them, not just in some remote, abstract, vague 'floating' sense, but in very real, concrete, physical senses, i.e., spending time with, praying with, eating with, sharing a table with, joining hands with, sharing the same Church with, sharing the same sacraments with, sharing the same code with, and the rest.


  3. Steve,

    We should also note that we are not just talking about interpreting passages, but about saying one interpretation is better than another, and also about building theologies based on the interpretation. The issue of authority, in part, comes up because Christ may have started an authoritative, visible, heirarchically organized Church to help guide the way, along with the Bible that the Church canonized. If so, and if the Church has set things in a certain direction in terms of theology or defined a rough path in terms of theology, then when we, as individuals go to interpret and then build our own theology, the issue of authority comes up. For if the Church really has authority over us, we should think twice about acting as though we have authority over the Church on matters of faith and morals, as though we can build whatever theology we like based on whatever interpretations we like based on whatever we judge the Bible to be.

    The alleged problems that you mention regarding the need to still interpret the teachings of the Church are not so problematic. Actually, Protestants should like the fact that there is still some flexibility allowed. Not every issue is decided. The Church does not interpret every passage. It does, however, provide a rough theological outline and asks that we work within it, but we can work within it and still have plenty of room to interpret and hypothesize about different possibilities.

    The fact that we would still need to interpret what the Church is saying is true. We are rational agents. No one is trying to take away our rational agency or evaluative efforts here. They are just being placed in a context, not just the Bible context but the Church-Bible context, where the Church and Bible both rank higher than we do on matters of faith and morals. I think I addressed some more of this in another response to one of your other threads, perhaps the one on individualism. We all recognize that we have to still interpret the law, for example, once we have the law, but that does not mean that we should have no law. Nor does it mean, with respect to this issue, that just because we would still have to interpret the authoritative Church that Christ did not give us or would not give us an authoritative Church. Having an authoritative Church does not get rid of all problems. It does not erase all issues. It does not get rid of the need of personal judgment. It does, however, change the landscape, limiting it and providing a more definite direction to it, reducing the interpretational field or interpretational possibilities, as well as the theological possibilities.

    In Christ,

  4. Steve wrote:

    Furthermore, human authority is derivative. Church officers derive their disciplinary authority from their adherence to the word of God.

    (1) 'Word of God': Christ or the Bible?

    (2) Who decides if they are really being adherent to the word of God?

    (3) Which Church leaders will you allow yourself to be disciplined by?