Thursday, December 23, 2010

Paint-by-numbers piety


What's amusing about this line of logic is that it can be used against Sunday worship as well, making it something entirely optional. The result is a Christendom without any unified worship, and clear proof that Sola Scriptura doesn't work in practice.

Here's a textbook case of how a papist approaches religious issues:

i) Nick doesn’t begin with the word of God. Rather, he begins with his prejudicial notion of how things ought to be. If the word of God doesn’t conform to his antecedent bias, he then judges the word of God to be defective, and turns to the ecclesiastical divination to supplement the alleged deficiencies in the word of God.

ii) Suppose that Scripture doesn’t specify a day of worship. How does that consequence prove the insufficiency of Scripture? Notice that Nick isn’t taking his cue from what God says.

Assuming that this follows from sola Scriptura, it would be more logical, as well as more pious, to conclude from this consequence that a fixed day of worship is unimportant to God. For if that was important to God, then God would specify a fixed day of worship. But Nick doesn’t begin with God’s priorities. Nick begins with his preconception of how things ought to be. Then he goes in search of whatever gods ratify his preconception.

iii) In fact, given Paul’s remarks in Rom 14:5 and Col 2:16, the issue of Sunday worship is, indeed, an open question in theology. This is subject to legitimate debate. It’s not something that can be prematurely and arbitrarily settled by self-appointed church authorities like the pope. The pope is not entitled to prejudge what the apostle Paul (to take one example) is allowed to teach us on the subject.

iv) The question is also ambiguous. For we’re really dealing with at least two distinct issues:

a) Is weekly worship a Christian duty?

b) Is Sunday worship a Christian duty?

In principle, you could answer (a) in the affirmative, but (b) in the negative.

v) Even if (arguendo), Scripture doesn’t give us specific direction on when to worship, Scripture could still give us some general guidelines–leaving us free, within the range of those guidelines, to select one option or another.

For instance, we could infer something like weekly worship from NT ecclesiology. By definition, the church is a corporate entity. It has a communal life. But to be a “fellowship,” Christians must congregate from time to time. Therefore, Christians would need to worship together to have fellowship. To be a fellowship. And that, in turn, requires them to be at the same place at the same time.

v) This doesn’t give you a scientific formula, but what’s wrong with leaving the details a bit flexible? For instance, we live in the age of cars and clocks.

But in early times, some churches were built near tidal rivers. Churchgoers would commute by river. The service schedule was pegged to the tide cycle. For the tide determined the direction of the current. A floodtide generated an upstream current while an ebb tide reverted to a downstream current. If you lived upriver, and your church was downriver, you’d come to church on ebb tide, and leave on floodtide.

vi) To take a different example, for a time I used to attend a Messianic congregation. They worshipped on Saturday rather than Sunday. Does Nick think that’s inherently wrong?

vii) Or take the house-churches in 1C Rome. These were truly “community” churches. You attended whichever church lay within walking distance of your home. There’s no reason to think Roman house-churches synchronized their worship. Indeed, it wouldn’t even be feasible at that time and place to have synchronized worship services. They were widely separated in the already sprawling city of Rome. And it’s not as if our ancient churchgoers had a Timex or Rolex–or even church bells–to go by.

So I imagine that subsets of Roman Christians met whenever it was most convenient for all parties concerned. Each neighborhood church had its own rhythms.

Did they all meet on Sunday? Who’s to say? Some of these house-churches were of Jewish origin, so they may well have favored the Jewish Sabbath as their day of worship.

Contrary to Newman’s famous slogan, Roman Catholics are far from being “deep in history.” Rather, they have their preconceived idea of how things ought to be, and they impose that preconception regardless of history’s varied particularities. 


  1. This argument seems like an argument against legalism ... Hmmm.

  2. Another great post. Steve, you and Jason constantly post home run hitting blogs that I've (and I'm sure many others) just come to expect them on a nearly daily basis.

    Just because people don't respond to a post doesn't mean that that particular post is mediocre. I'm sure like me, many readers don't bother to post because sometimes there's really nothing more to add.

    BTW, do you think the fact of the Inquisition strongly undermines the claims of the Catholic Church? Sure, some of the Reformers persecuted groups they considered heretical, but they were just taking their cue from Rome (i.e. they inherited that mentality and method from Rome). However, the Reformers never claimed infallibility. While the Catholic Church's Inquisition was ordered and supported by Papal authority (founded on Papal claims) and with the approval of the magisterium.

    If anyone is interested, here's a link to Richard Bennett's documentary on the Inquisition:

  3. I'll add, that I don't think the slaughtering of the Canaanites (and other groups) in the Old Testament is parallel to what the Catholic Church has done because in the OT it was by direct divine Command. That's not the case with the Catholic Church.

    My understanding is that she officially teaches that universally binding public inspired Revelation (on par with Scripture or the verbal preaching of the Apostles) has ceased. Though, IMO, they virtually do claim such ability.

    A case in point would be the dogma of the Bodily Assumption of Mary. There's absolutely no biblical or patristic evidence for the doctrine in the earliest centuries of the church. Its proclamation in 1950 is, for all intents and purposes, a claim to be able to give inspired Revelation.

  4. By the way, if anyone does watch the documentary produced by Berean Beacon, I don't necessarily agree with Richard Bennett's conclusion that the Abigensians, Waldensians, and Vudois (et al.) were for the most part orthodox in their teaching. I haven't studied their history enough to make any conclusions about whether some were or were not. That's a controversy for historians to debate.

    My point in posting a link to the video was to show how systematic the Catholic Church's persecution and torturing of others has been, contrary to the example of Christ (while on earth) and of the 1st century apostolic Church.

  5. Annoyed Pinoy said:
    BTW, do you think the fact of the Inquisition strongly undermines the claims of the Catholic Church?

    One thing I have to point out is that historical reporting on the numbers killed during the Inquisitions have been vastly inflated. We tend to think of it as a huge, Holocaust-like thing. But from what I read (sadly, I have no sources handy, but I will look for them if you need me to), the number of people that can be validly traced back to having been killed by the Inquisition, over the course of 400 years, is about 2,000 (so, roughly, 5 per year). Of course, it waxed and waned, which is why it seems worse (i.e., there would be decades without any executions, followed by 50 in one year).

    But if you look at the rate, one of the quotes I remember said something like more people are executed each year in the state of Texas than the Inquisition executed.

    Not to let the Inquisition off the hook or anything--it was still evil. But it's not quite what it's made out to be either.

    Oh, and that is an entirely different answer than the question you were asking warranted :-D After all, even though it "wasn't as bad as we think" it hardly serves as a shining example of why we should put our trust in one dude with a pointy hat....

  6. Peter Pike said: "But if you look at the rate, one of the quotes I remember said something like more people are executed each year in the state of Texas than the Inquisition executed."

    Brings a tear of pride to m'eye. :*)

  7. Peter, I'd appreciate it if you could let us know what those sources are.

  8. Peter,that doesn't say much considering that Texas is the second largest state, has a large population, and 8 out of 10 Texans are criminals. Unlike you, my sources are readily available. Just look it up at ;-)

  9. Annoyed Pinoy said: "Peter,that doesn't say much considering that Texas is the second largest state, has a large population, and 8 out of 10 Texans are criminals."

    That's 7 1/2 out of 10, you lyin' dirty sumbitch, you! Don't you forget it!

  10. Pick up any classical Reformed or Lutheran Protestant confession on Sunday Worship and you'll never see the "it doesn't really matter" attitude on display. See WCF 21:7f, for example.

    The whole attitude of "everything except Jesus-is-Lord is non-essential" is a joke and mockery of Christianity and nothing short of a sign that Protestantism on it's last legs.

    The classical Protestant approach is that the moral principles behind the 10 Commandments are to be a guide for Christian life, and the 4th Commandment touches upon the Sabbath day and it's basic precepts. From there it is argued that the Mosaic Sabbath being fulfilled in Christ, the "New Sabbath" is Sunday. Notice, this isn't me the Romanist making this argument, it's Calvinists, using Scripture.

    Now, you're free to say these Westminster folks didn't have the Holy Spirit and thus couldn't really understand what Scripture was saying (which is what you're almost forced to say), but you surely realize where that put's you.

    It's nothing short of Luther's "Here I stand," perpetuated throughout Protestant history, each time eroding away more and more of the heritage that came before it until there was truly nothing left to call Christian heritage and society.