Thursday, May 31, 2012

"O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial"

Do ecclesiastical scandals uniquely discredit the church of Rome? One objection to this tactic is that it seems to be double-bladed. After all, Protestant churches aren’t scandal free.

i) There's a sense in which I agree, but I draw a different conclusion–because I apply the reasoning at a different level. Yes, it does cut both ways. If a Protestant denomination were guilty of the same abuses, that would discredit said denomination. I'm happy to apply the same yardstick in both cases.

ii) There is, however, a fundamental difference. In Roman Catholicism there's a one-to-one correlation between Roman Catholic theology and the Roman Catholic Church, whereas in Protestantism, there's a one-to-many relationship between Protestant theology and Protestant denominations.

Roman Catholicism regards its own denomination as the one true church. You can't detach the theology from the church which produces and attests the theology. Catholic theology doesn't stand on its own. It rises for falls with the claims of the sponsoring denomination. For Catholic dogma is not independently verifiable. It must be authorized by the Magisterium. So it can't rise any higher than its source.

By contrast, Protestant theology is detachable from any particular Protestant denomination. Portable. Like the relationship between abstract universals and concrete particulars.

iii) And this isn't just theoretical. As a matter of fact, conservative Protestants draw that distinction in practice. We think some Protestant denominations are apostate denominations. They've liberalized in theology, ethics, or (usually) both to the point where they cease to be Christian.

iv) Protestant denominations are fleeting, disposable vehicles. Not the destination. Not the goal, but a temporary means to the end.

v) In addition, a Catholic apologist can’t turn tables without contradicting himself. On the one hand, when Catholics attack sola scriptura, they accentuate the internal divisions within Protestantism. The mythical “33,000” denominations.

But when they accuse Protestant churches of corruption, they lump us altogether. So which is it?

If you’re going to accuse Protestants of comparable abuses, you have to specify which leaders or denominations in particular are the culprits. You can’t count us as one when paralleling Catholics scandals with Protestant scandals, then count us as many when attacking sola scriptura.

vi) Finally, the alleged parallel breaks down in one other respect: The Bible isn't committing sexual abuse. The Bible isn't corrupt. That's quite different from institutional abuse.

So these aren’t comparable authorities. That’s equivocal. 

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