Thursday, January 14, 2010

Up from the acorn

Dave Armstrong is attempting to critique a post by Jason Engwer. After several paragraphs devoted to poisoning the well, Armstrong tries to rebut Jason’s argument.

I’m not going to reply to everything. Armstrong’s missive is directed at something Jason wrote, not something I wrote. Depending on his time and priorities, Jason can comment on whatever he thinks is relevant. And he isn’t bound by what I said. I’ll just comment on what I think is most germane.

That's it, and the concept is already (I would contend) explicitly present in Scripture, in the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), which not only claimed profoundly binding authority, but even the express sanction of the Holy Spirit, making it close to the concept of biblical inspiration: a thing that goes beyond all Catholic claims for infallibility: an essentially lesser gift than inspiration.

Is the council of Jerusalem really the archetype and prototype for the ecumenical councils of Rome? Does the council of Jerusalem point to an “authoritative church,” as the church of Rome defines herself?

i) What makes a church council ecumenical by Catholic criteria? Let’s see:

Ecumenical Councils are those to which the bishops, and others entitled to vote, are convoked from the whole world (oikoumene) under the presidency of the pope or his legates, and the decrees of which, having received papal confirmation, bind all Christians.

The bishops in council…hold no power, no commission, or delegation, from the people. All their powers, orders, jurisdiction, and membership in the council, come to them from above — directly from the pope, ultimately from God.

The council is, then, the assessor of the supreme teacher and judge sitting on the Chair of Peter by Divine appointment; its operation is essentially co-operation — the common action of the members with their head — and therefore necessarily rises or falls in value, according to the measure of its connection with the pope. A council in opposition to the pope is not representative of the whole Church, for it neither represents the pope who opposes it, nor the absent bishops, who cannot act beyond the limits of their dioceses except through the pope. A council not only acting independently of the Vicar of Christ, but sitting in judgment over him, is unthinkable in the constitution of the Church.

On this model, you have one authoritative, hierarchical institution. The bishops are papal appointees. They derive all their authority from the pope. The church of Rome is the central institution which empowered them in the first place.

ii) Compare that to Acts 15.

a) ”Pope” Peter doesn’t even preside at the council. James does. What is more, “Pope” Peter doesn’t even confirm the proceedings of the council.

b) The council of Jerusalem exists to pass judgment on Peter’s actions–as well as Paul’s. Peter is not above the council.

Mind you, this is collegial. No individual mission leader outranks any other individual mission leader in these proceedings. No one is above another.

Indeed, as Paul makes emphatically clear in Gal 1-2, his authority did not derive from the “authoritative church” of Jerusalem.

c) Each speaker in this debate (Peter, Paul, Barnabas, James) is the coequal leader of different mission churches or missionary fields. There is no hierarchy in which one individual (the “supreme leader”) appointed the others to subordinate positions in the power structure. No chain-of-command at this level. There may be people under Peter, Paul, James, &c. But no one is over them.

What we have, rather, are representatives of different, semiautonomous mission churches who come together to hammer out a common policy for the good of the church at large. On the one hand they aren’t entirely independent of each another. On the other hand, no one church can unilaterally impose its will on other mission churches and mission leaders.

That’s a completely different polity than Roman Catholicism. Yet this was Armstrong’s paradigmatic example of the “authoritative church” in action.

Now, Dave may claim that things change when we transition from the apostles to their “successors,” but he can’t logically evolve the Catholic ear from the kernel of Acts 15.

d) Although Paul complies with the policy which he and his fellow mission leaders agreed to at the time (15:30), he does so at his own discretion–for he also feels at liberty to demur from the conciliar prohibitions regarding sacrificial food when he must later deal with the Corinthian situation (1 Cor 10:27-28).

Therefore, he doesn’t regard the “canons and decrees” of the Jerusalem council as binding on him or his congregants. Rather, it’s a pragmatic compromise which can be selectively set aside depending on the demands of the situation at hand.

And this is a textbook example of Catholic spooftexting, whereby Armstrong begins with Catholic ecclesiology as his frame of reference, then anachronistically superimposes that grid onto Acts 15, conveniently overlooking or disregarding the fundamental differences.

The authoritative Church also includes apostolic succession. The true apostolic tradition or deposit is authoritatively passed down.

Of course, that simply begs the question.

All that really needs to be found, then, is a notion of an authoritative Church that can "bind and loose," over against sola Scriptura, in which Scripture alone is the infallible authority.

i) Dave would need to properly exegete the concept of “binding and loosing” in the Gospels.

ii) Paul didn’t feel bound by the particulars of Acts 15 when it came to Corinth.

Aspects of particulars such as where this Church resides, exactly how it is governed, etc., are distinct from this basic kernel, and we would fully expect relatively more disagreement in the early centuries, just as we would expect the known fact of disagreement over the NT books (the canon): more so, the further we go back. That should surprise no one or make no one think Catholic doctrine is brought into question on this ground by itself. Men could differ on the exact nature of the infallible Church, while agreeing that there is such a thing, just as men can differ on individual books, while agreeing that there is such a thing as a Bible, that is inspired.

i) If we equate early tradition with apostolic tradition, with a deposit of faith handed down without adulteration from one successor to another, then we wouldn’t expect more disagreement the closer back in time we go to the wellspring. To the contrary, we’d expect more unanimity.

ii) Dave can’t legitimately isolate the bare “kernel” of an infallible/authoritative church from the “particulars,” for, on his model, the true church is self-defining and self-identifying. The infallible church is the custodian of the “kernel.” It defines the “kernel.”

So you need the true definition to identify the true church, yet you need the true church to identify the true definition. Unless you already know where this church resides, you can’t specify what is meant by an infallible, authoritative church. For the church itself must specify the concept. Otherwise, words like “authoritative” and “infallible” are simply ciphers.

But unless you already have an accurate definition, you can’t use that to pick out the one true church. So how does Dave ever get started?

iii) He can’t very well invoke the criterion of “binding and loosing” in the canonical gospels, for, according to him, it’s up to the authoritative church to authorize the canon in the first place. Without his infallible church, he has no warrant for the “binding and loosing” criterion.

iv) And if all we need is the bare concept of an authoritative, infallible church, then the LDS church might as well claim to be the oak which sprang from this indistinct acorn.

Well, obviously -- if we are talking about the fathers --, because Protestantism didn't exist. When it does come around over a thousand years later, it obviously has to be derived from Catholicism (being a western European phenomenon) in order to claim historical continuity, and then it has to provide a rationale for the "primacy" supposedly being switched over to them over against the existing Catholic Church.

But given the principle of development, Protestantism, in its “particulars,” didn’t have to “exist” back then. All we’d need to unearth is a Protestant acorn from which the Protestant oak tree arose.

The existence of apostolic succession as a major part of the rule of faith in the fathers isn't even arguable. It is simply a fact. It also has a directly biblical basis and a secondary, indirect (deductive) biblical basis, if the thing itself is to be disputed.

It’s gratifying to see Armstrong’s bold confidence in the perspicuity of Scripture. But now that he’s affirmed his faith in the perspicuity of Scripture, the Magisterium is dispensable.

They could conceivably be so, but the historical pedigree in those cases is far inferior to the pedigree of Rome: largely because of the historical function of the papacy.

Would the pedigree of Rome include the False Decretals, fraudulent papal elections, &c.?

East and West were united at that time, not separated, so it is anachronistic to apply those categories of some 800 years later, after the schism, to him.

In which case it’s anachronistic to claim that Jesus Christ founded the Roman Catholic church. Thanks, Dave. Perhaps I should move aside while you demolish your own denomination.

We can't jump from the second century to the 16th and after.

Why can’t we jump from the “kernel” of the 2C to the “ear” of the 16C?

But I suppose that would put Jason out. How many Christians, period (including Protestant pastors), abide by the scriptural admonitions of John?:

1 John 3:9 (RSV) No one born of God commits sin; for God's nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God.

1 John 5:18 We know that any one born of God does not sin, but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.

Once again, we're terribly impressed by his boundless confidence in the perspicuity of Scripture. He doesn’t even bother to exegete his prooftexts. For him, their meaning is self-evident. Who needs the Magisterium when we can simply input key search terms into our online concordance, then copy/paste the unadorned verses of Scripture to prove our point?


  1. With regard to the Jerusalem Council:

    "Paul and Barnabus and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their by the church...." (Acts 15:2-3).

    It appears that they were appointed by the local church, rather than being designated from above.

  2. And they were appointed as delegates to the council, to represent the local church back home.

    But Paul, for one, didn't depend on papal/Petrine authorization to preach the gospel.

  3. The now codified Holy Corpus provides a look see into what we ourselves can expect in our own particular mission field daily, while we too, rise up to the occasion of our called for and elected service and witness to the dark world sharing about Christ and the Gospel of the Kingdom. We ought to pay close attention to the way the wind blows from Rome.

    Reader beware!

    **I have broken this response up into two parts because of length.

    This matter of the "kernel", [being Native American, I am more accustomed to acorns being of more nutritional value as well as shade on a really hot day, so I will use the kernel idea, thank you, besides we pride ourselves as being grand oak trees and not stalks of corn], is of importance to Satan himself; here we are years and centuries and a millenium later with a few more centuries and counting dealing with this matter today.


    Well, like the old politician said, "all politics is local". Unless you are a moonie, the soul of Heaven becomes such in a local venue. There can be mass interuption, to be sure, but my fancy is being carried along by the Spirit of Grace to lite upon a chariot carrying a well versed soul only wanting to assist him in his death and burial so that he too can be conjoined to our common salvation, the Resurrection and the Life, risen Himself from the dead.

    One can step back and see the import of this reality being exported to all particular mission fields in the world today, who hold the same mandate as we all:::>

    Mat 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
    Mat 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
    Mat 28:20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

    This work is to be done, to be sure, by the laborers prayed for and sent out for that task at hand from where? From the Hands of the local Church.

    But, the question then?

    Here's an insight that came to me years ago as I pondered this wrestling match between the RCC and those of the True Mother Church setting up missions in the mission fields with fields ripe for the harvest.

    One need weigh carefully two Scriptures and ponder "their" local import and the purpose for this sort of Wisdom from above being codified into the Holy Corpus we are solely guided by as brethren together with this common task, the harvest of souls for the Kingdom?

    To be continued:::>

  4. Here:

    Act 13:4

    The Holy Spirit sent them out to the mission field.

    Act 16:5-7

    Now, we all ought to be as Paul, hard headed and stedfast in delivering the goods to the lost souls of Adam's Race preselected beforehand and before the foundation of the world. But, when your heart is set but not "sent" and then some, as we !can ascertain from those verses with regards Paul the Apostle encroaching on Peter's turf, not only the Holy Spirit but also Jesus Himself had to provide intervention to get Paul back on course.

    Aaaah, all is well that ends well.

    Why are these words available to us today? Could it be that some of us are just as hard headed as he that it takes both the Holy Spirit and Jesus Himself to redirect us from our imagination of "not by might, not by power, but by the Spirit, says the Lord?" magisterium greater in might and power and wisdom and might, ....I said might already, didn't I?

    Referring to Psalms and Proverbs and the horse and mule, or, the ants, can provide us the solace for the soul's endeavor to understand? The Magisterium is from Heaven itself and need not be applicated by men on earth. Men have better things to do with their time, don't you suppose?

    Consider the opening to the grand Wisdom of God's True Grace as written by Peter:::>

    1Pe 1:1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
    1Pe 1:2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

    Could it be that the Apostle Paul, as before, when he confronted Peter, hadn't let things go and decided to take what he then thought right, some unauthorized matters into his own Blood purchased hands of liberties as God's newfound twelfth Apostle and go into the personal mission fields of Peter and harvest souls for the Kingdom assigned to Peter's hand?

    I know speculations abound! But it's just a thought, out of hand, and worthy, I suppose of some consideration, that the Only True Magisterium is still God our Heavenly Father with Christ at His Right side all the while the Holy Spirit leads Christ's Bride down here, teaching us that calling out to those who sit in darkness waiting for the Light of the Glorious Gospel of God to shine, shine, shine in their darkened soul is better than debating who's on first and what is on second?:::>

    Rev 22:16 "I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star."
    Rev 22:17 The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

    So, my bet is, Satan is about to be, once again, so frustrated by the True Apostolic Church in this generation too, as he has been all throughout all of history past, that he will, in the end times, raise up more kernels like Mr. Armstrong to strong arm us all?

  5. "Would the pedigree of Rome include the False Decretals, fraudulent papal elections, &c.?"

    Let's not forget antipopes!