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?