Thursday, June 21, 2012

Paul: on authority: “They added nothing to my message” (Gal 2:6)

What follows here is my response to comments by Michael Liccione and Bryan Cross, probably two of the more significant thought leaders among the “Called to Communion” gang, on the topics, roughly, of “Scripture and church” or “authority” or “apostolic succession and New Testament canon”.

Regular readers here will recognize many of the themes I’ve written about in the past. But what I’ve put down here for the first time is something I’ve had in mind for a long time, but have not till this point been able to articulate it succinctly enough. Indeed, what follows here is rough, but it is the thing I’ve had in mind from the moment that I decided I could no longer be Roman Catholic. This is where the battle is, and must be joined. This is where the battle for Jason Stellman’s heart and mind and soul is occurring. It is where Joshua Lim goes wrong.

What follows here is what makes the Reformation [warts and all] the most worthwhile thing that could have happened in church history.

You will note that this is necessarily incomplete. What follows has been submitted in an even rougher form as a series of comments in this Called to Communion thread. Lord willing they will let my comments be published, and it will lead to further discussion.

Given the incompleteness of what I write here (I’ll call it an “outline” of my primary argument against Roman Catholic authority), I do need to thank Dr. Michael Kruger and his work Canon Revisited, for closing the circle. For completing the “authority of Scripture” loop. It is my intention to “tear down” the Roman Catholic authority structure, and that’s what I do in this piece. But Dr. Kruger builds and rebuilds. He shows, in detail that I have not yet covered here, the reasons why the New Testament canon stands alone. I think a lot of people will be eternally grateful to Dr. Kruger for his work.

Michael Liccione said (comment 253):
“The faithful believed them because, in making that claim, the Apostles and those they authorized were known to be exercising the authority the Lord had given them
The NT Scriptures were books of the Church: written through her instrumentality, and recognized as such by her authority. That is historical fact, not theological dogma.
Everyone agrees that the Reformation was about “authority”. This discussion, too, is about “authority. But neither of these claims that you are making can be supported. Not exegetically from the Scriptures, nor from history.

Before I go any further, I want to point out that you make the assumption of a “her”. You already here are assuming a “church structure”, a “church hierarchy” that was not in existence at this time. This is Horton’s “overrealized eschatology”. I’ll have more to say about this below.

You’ll also want to invoke Newman here, and say something like “no doctrine is defined until it is violated”, but this is what I meant above by “facile” – the historical details we know – what actually happened – betrays this simple attempt at explanation. The whole concept of “authority” as passed along either in a “monarchical bishop”, and much less a “succession” of bishops, is far, far removed from the kind of authority with which the New Testament authorizes the elders of the church.

Paul’s imagery in the Pastoral letters and elsewhere, is strongly and thickly that of “estate stewardship” – household servants, not household masters. What Paul has in mind is more the Butler managing the household staff.

So exegetically, you can look to other Scriptures which bear witness to how a steward should behave.

* * *

Scripturally, of course, the Apostles were” sent”. But in what way were they “sent”? What kind of “authority” did they perceive that they had? And what kind of “authority” did they perceive that they were giving to those they named as elders? These are appropriate questions.

Christ himself (John 17:20) made the distinction between his apostles, whom he prayed for – “them alone” – and “those who will believe in me through their message”.

Paul, an Apostle, noted too his “message” – (Galatians 2:6) – he is critical to note that even the “pillars”, those who “seemed to be influential” (ESV) or “were of high reputation” (NASB) in truth “added nothing to my message”.

So when Bryan talks about Peter’s “authorization” (comment 255), so too, what “the church” does when it “authorizes” adds precisely nothing to the Scriptures.

We are of course talking about “authority”, and as a proof-text, Roman Catholics point to Titus 2:15, where Paul tells him “These, then, are the things you should teach” – the entire previous portion of the letter being devoted to “the message” – “Encourage and rebuke with all authority”. But the authority here is not something that is “divinely protected from error under certain conditions”. The charge to Titus is to constantly be on guard for error.

Paul does not say to Titus, “teach, encourage and rebuke with all authority, then pass that on to those you are appointing”. That, of course, is the Roman doctrine, but it is not at all in view as Paul is instructing Timothy.

The entire theme of the letters to Timothy and Titus, the “controlling theme” in these Epistles (in a study by Alan Tomlinson (“The Purpose and Stewardship Theme within the Pastoral Epistles”, in “Entrusted with the Gospel,” Andreas Kostenberger, Terry Wilder eds., Nashville, TN: Baker Academic, ©2010), is the “οἰκονόμία θεοῦ”, “the household of God”, and Apostles and elders as “stewards”.

Don’t think of a “bishop” as someone in charge. Think rather of the Butler who runs the place. (In fact, imagine the scenes of the Butler pouring drinks for the pope. Think about how “out of place” that pope is – in the Pastoral epistles, Paul is telling Timothy and Titus what it takes to be a good Butler).

In the New Testament, you see primary images of “faithful stewardship” in Luke 12:35-48, Luke 16:1-13, Matthew 24:45-51 and Matthew 25:14-30. Consider just some of the imagery of those verses:
“Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
This is the kind of thing Michael Horton has in mind when he uses the phrase “overrealized eschatology”. He is far too kind. Rome has already assumed itself “in charge of all his possessions”.
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much”.
It is “the message” that is key. “The message” (John 17:20, Gal 2:6) with which these have been “entrusted”. Those in “authority” are “stewards” of it. But this is not the only instance of this theme.

Roman doctrine pays lip service to this concept, but in reality, the notion that “at some times” they have to speak infallibly is just a gift that they provide to themselves, which has no warrant in the Scriptures.

The whole Roman edifice is built upon equivocation on the word “authority”. You’re using the same word in different senses. To whom it is given. The kind of authority that is given [and the individualized circumstances for which it is given]. You are ignoring Paul’s original meaning of that word, and you are back-filling it with a current Roman Catholic definition of “authority”.

Of course, we are not talking about “the authority of the Apostles”. We are talking about “the authority” of “the message”. And the stewards as “adding nothing” to the message.

* * *

Following up on the historical portion of what I have been saying:

Historically, even in the earliest church, it was understood that there was a difference between “the Apostles” and everyone else. This much was recognized even at that time in question: the last half of the first century, the first half of the second century. The Apostles had the ability, because of their eyewitness status, to craft the message.

To be sure “the apostles” “appointed” “overseers and deacons” as 1 Clement said, but this was not the institution of a permanent office – there were no guarantees for the future. These men had to be, and were, “tested by the spirit”. The “permanent character” (1 Clem 44) of their office was not the promise of “a succession for all time”, it was permanent within their lifetimes. It was an effort to guarantee faithfulness within the lifetimes of these men. Rome, rather, suggests that a “permanent office” of some sort has been created and guaranteed.

But Clement already has, through the influence of the Roman military, mixed the metaphor, away from one of “stewardship of the household” to that of serving as “soldiers under commanders” (1 Clem 37). Nevertheless, in spite of his admiration for the Roman military, Caragounis noted that this is all that 1 Clement could do – persuade – and in fact, the literary form of that letter, a symbouletic letter, was one of persuasion. Caragounis notes:
The great difference between the model passage (Titus 1:5-7) and 1 Clement is that the former says nothing about any succession. Titus is merely to appoint presbyters or bishops, but they are not taking Paul’s place in any way. In fact, they cannot. In the 1 Clement passage, however, the thus appointed bishops “succeed to their” [i.e., the apostles’] ministry. There is thus an inconsistency in 1 Clement . On the one hand the writer—assuming him to be Clement, the third bishop of Rome—totally effaces himself, the letter being sent by and having the authority of the whole church, while on the other hand he seeks here to establish an apostolic succession between the apostles and his own office!
Clement may want papal authority, but he [contra Fortescue] clearly does not have it.

* * *

John Behr, in his introduction to Irenaeus of Lyons “Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching” (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, pgs 9-11), notes that Ignatius did not hold to “apostolic succession”. Behr discusses Ignatius’s repeated comments to the effect that as a bishop he, unlike the apostles, is not in a position to give orders or to lay down the precepts or the teachings (δόγματα), which come from the Lord and the apostles alone.

* * *

As a third example of the difference between the kind of “authority” that the Apostles viewed themselves as having, and what the later church “assumed” for itself, comes from the Shepherd of Hermas. Rome, the capital city, of course was esteemed, and the elders of the church of that city, may at one time have seen themselves as “servants”. But the Shepherd of Hermas notes that the elders (presbuteroi) who preside (proistamenoi – plural leadership) over the church (Vis 2.4) at Rome were “conducting themselves like sorcerers” (Vis 3.9).

And further, in the Quartodeciman controversy, “pope” Victor, failing to see that he was placed in a position to be a steward, viewed himself as a kind of military officer. Irenaeus, with no regard at all for anything “papal”, noted that Anicetus’s ability to interact with Polycarp was only his ability to “persuade”.

* * *

I’ve written a great deal more about each of these topics, and my hope is that all of this will come out. But In none of these instances, 1 Clement or Ignatius or Hermas, are we talking about “a succession” of bishops. That concept of succession” is, as I’ve borrowed from the writings of the words of Joseph Ratzinger, in his in his essay “Primacy, Episcopacy, and Successio Apostolica” in the work “God’s Word: Scripture-Tradition-Office (San Francisco: Ignatius Press ©2008; Libreria Editrice Vaticana edition ©2005), clearly from the second century. Ratzinger says:
“The concept of [apostolic] succession was clearly formulated, as von Campenhausen has impressively demonstrated, in the anti-Gnostic polemics of the second century; [and not in the first century] its purpose was to contrast the true apostolic tradition of the Church with the pseudo-apostolic tradition of Gnosis” (pgs 22-23).

The idea of a “New Testament” as “Scripture” is still quite inconceivable at this point—even when “office”, as the form of the paradosis, is already clearly taking shape” (Ratzinger 25).
This “office taking shape” is happening in “the second century”.

* * *

In any event, even at this late date, this “succession” is not offered as “a permanent charter for all time”. It is offered by Irenaeus as a looking back – it is offered as an evidence that there has been faithfulness. But it is one test of faithfulness, and in no wise is offered as a “permanent guarantee” of future performance.

* * *

This is contrasted even to what Bryan says in #255 – Peter clearly acknowledges that Paul’s letters are “scriptures” (but in doing so, as Paul notes, “adds nothing to my message”).

Rome is quite evidently dishonest with what it has. And it has been since about the 4th century. Somehow, the notion that “we are the household servants” became “we are in charge”. Beginning with Damasus and Innocent, the emphasis had completely shifted, from being stewards to being lawgivers.
But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
My argument is this: This is the kind of “authority” that the Apostles viewed themselves as having, was simply that of being stewards. Rome, the capital city, of course was esteemed, and the elders of the church of that city, may at one time have seen themselves as “servants”.

For them (or anyone – you, for example) to suggest that “the Church” does “add” to the stature of the Scriptures is blasphemy.

* * *

Bryan (comment 255):

The authority Scripture has by way of the Church’s recognition and approbation is that of divine attestation and testimony concerning the identity and nature of Scripture, much as the law and the prophets (including John the Baptist) testified concerning Christ, even though Christ, being the Son of God, already had divine authority intrinsically. The comparison is not perfect, of course, but it is an example of the difference between authority possessed by way of attestation from some divinely authorized representative, and intrinsic authority.

Not only is the comparison “not perfect”, but it is a category mistake. Bavinck addressed this when he discussed the difference between the Scriptures quoad se [in themselves] and the Scriptures quoad nos [as they have to do with us]. As one writer asked, “are [these] identical with one another and perfectly correspond at every single point? Is content and expression, essence and form, God’s absolute truth and the Church’s assimilation into her consciousness, confession, cultural language and ideas, articulation, and proclamation identical at every point?” (cf. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:30-32).

You also said:
St. Peter’s testimony concerning St. Paul’s letters is an example of the sort of attestation I’m talking about, except that the broader attestation I’m talking about wasn’t only attestation by St. Peter, but also by the other Apostles and apostolic churches that authenticated for the whole Church that these texts were apostolic in origin and had canonical authority to be read as the word of the Lord.

There is no hint that this “attestation” of the church is “divine”. I’ve spoken above of what an “authorized representative” is, and how, with humility, a steward ought to regard (the way Paul esteemed his “message”) – Paul did not even claim “divine” authorization, but “apostolic” authorization.

With this “attestation”, as Paul says to the Galatians, and as I explained above, “nothing” was added to his message.

* * *

We do not have the ability to give a “divine attestation” to Scripture. We are always urged to “watch and pray” because there is no “divine guarantee”.

The Reformation, to be sure, was God’s corrective to that. The Reformation was an instance of John 16:13, of not allowing the gates of hell to prevail: it was “the Spirit of truth” guiding the church back into “all truth”. The Reformation was the message that Christ spoke of, when he said, “he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment”. But Rome refused to listen to that message.

* * *

Finally, following up on the concepts of these three comments, Michael Kruger presses home the concept that (a) the New Testament writings were covenant documents, they were viewed as such. They had authority as such (which he calls “divine qualities”, and also, because they were acknowledged to have apostolic authority. His discussion of “the church receiving” these works takes up three chapters, and I don't have time to get into it here. But I’ve outlined my case fairly thoroughly in the two previous posts, and the contrast between the "authority" of the church following the Apostles, and the second century “development of office” and Kruger’s portrayal of the divine [“quoad se”] qualities of the New Testament writings, could not be clearer.

Much more can and will be said along these lines over the coming days and weeks, Lord willing. This is where Roman authority came from, and it is where it will fall apart.

I’d encourage anyone who has read this far, to take a look at that Called to Communion thread, and ask hard questions. They may not let your comments through, but reading them is sure to take the wind out of their sails.

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